Wednesday, August 31, 2022

What Doesn't Quite Work

One of the most useful things I have ever learned I got from a friend of mine, up in the lighting booth while working on a play over at Home Campus. We were discussing the vagaries of the new automated equipment that we were working with on this particular play and whether or not any of it was trustworthy.

“Technology is what doesn’t quite work,” my friend said. “When it works all the time, it’s an appliance. Refrigerators used to be technology. Now they’re appliances. Computers are still technology.”

This past week has been absolute proof of the fact that computers are very much technology.

Set the Wayback for two weeks ago, Sherman, and let’s see how this tale unfolds.

My status at Home Campus, and indeed at every campus I’ve ever worked on or for, is contingent. I am never guaranteed employment more than 36 weeks in advance, and often not more than 17 weeks in advance. Welcome to the adjunct life. You get used to it, eventually.

But most of the time the folks who make those decisions know well in advance that they’re going to extend my contract so the word simply gets passed along to whatever HR department needs to hear it so they can keep me on the payroll while the paperwork gets processed.

For long and complicated reasons that have been outlined but not fully explained to me and which I probably wouldn’t understand even if they were so I am not complaining about this fact, this did not happen this year. So while Home Campus was going through the usual process of saying, “Yes, he’s coming back, don’t do anything drastic,” the good folks at the Mother Ship (and, from what I gather, the Home Planet as well) saw my contract expiring and said, “Well, he’s out. Cut him off immediately.”

So I was officially “fired” last Monday when the new contracts started, along with a number of others in the same predicament. And then the folks at Home Campus went “What?” and got corrections made and I was officially “rehired” last Thursday, after three days of unemployment during which I got no notice of any of this and still thought I had a job and still showed up to do it. I’m assuming I was hired retroactively. I’ve been assured that I still have insurance and whatever benefits, sick leave, and general fringes that I had prior to this. I’m hoping I got paid for working. It is quite possible that all of this is true.

Unfortunately, when the various HR departments did this they also wiped all of my access from all of the shared drives that I need to do my job. Eventually this became obvious (vide supra, re: no notice) and after a 45-minute phone call with the IT people over at the Mother Ship on Monday it turned out that I needed to file an individual ticket for each folder I had ever been given access to in order to get that access back. After several minutes of searching they did provide me a list, and I filed the tickets which all went to whomever owned the folder so they could approve me. There were five. Four came back in an hour or two, but the most important folder – the one most directly connected to my job as an advisor – can only be approved by my former boss, who left in March.

Remember how quickly they “fired” me? My boss, as described above, left in March. MARCH! This sticks in my head for some reason, perhaps because it’s been several days and the situation remains unresolved despite the intervention of my current boss on my behalf as he’d like me to go back to doing my job thank you very much.

So that’s the first issue.

While this was going on, I was receiving frantic emails from Apple that I needed to update my work computer to the newest OS (12.5.1) because there was some Monstrous Hack (tm) going on that allowed any random scraggly-bearded incel tapping away in his mother’s basement to take over and render odious my entire computer. I know from hard experience that I do not have permission to update an OS on my work computer because reasons. This is why I was still running 10.15.7 and hadn’t even sniffed at 11.0. Another phone call to IT and eventually they said, “Sure, go ahead. We’ve given you permission. Just do it at the end of the day, as it will take a while.”

So I did this on Monday as well.

Tuesday morning I came in and the computer had in fact updated, and while it needed several restarts to do things like find the keyboard and put the menu bar back on the desktop such things are to be expected and eventually it was up and running. It’s faster, so that’s nice.

And then it got complicated.

I have three browsers on my computer. I mostly use Firefox, because I like it and I see no need to justify that any further. I also use Chrome when necessary, and because some of the programs I use can’t have multiple log-ins on one browser I also use Safari.

After about an hour’s use, Firefox randomly decided I needed a new “profile” and gave me the choice of accepting this immediately or accepting this immediately. I weighed those options and decided to accept it immediately, whereupon it restarted and promptly erased several hundred bookmarks and all of my saved passwords.

There was an interlude of colorful language.

Some internet searching eventually revealed that there is a way to access old profiles to get all that back and gave step by step instructions on how to do that except that all of the pathways necessary to get to any of the relevant folders in that process had been diligently greyed out and rendered unusable. I’m sure there was a reason for it and I’m sure that reason involved “security” because that’s the catch-all reason for everything inconvenient and maddening involving computers, but the upshot is that at some point in the next few weeks I will have to recreate all those bookmarks individually and try to remember all of the passwords. I’ll probably end up just writing the passwords on a list and taping them to the side of the computer because that’s what happens when “security” becomes more important than actually being able to use a machine. It’s kind of counterproductive that way, but so it goes.

That’s the second issue.

Another of the consequences of updating the OS was that now every time I wake the computer from sleep there is a window dead center that cannot be hidden, only moved, asking me to choose a certificate from a pull down menu (which one? who knows) and log in to confirm it (can I do that? who knows). I can also hit Cancel. In any event the net result of any of the choices offered is the same: it goes away until the next time the computer wakes up and then the cycle starts over.

That’s the third issue.

The fourth issue is rather more worrying.

As part of the latest round of “security” we all must download an app onto our personal cell phones that the university is not actually paying for and every time we log in to an ever-increasing range of programs the log in process now includes the browser version of the app having to get approval from the phone version of the app, which means that I can’t actually do my job without my personal cell phone that the university is not actually paying for, which sticks in my mind for some reason. The app must be satisfied.

But I have the app in all of its versions – all of the various campuses (campii?) that I work for require one or another of these apps and eventually even I figured out that resistance was futile – and it generally does what it ought to do, though often at its own chosen pace.

But on Tuesday I tried to log into a mission-critical program and when I told the Firefox version of the app to contact the phone version of the app to get approval it gave me a popup window that basically said, “Your browser is out of date and you can’t use our app anymore until you update it.” It then provided step by step instructions on how to do that.

Bear in mind that this app is an officially sanctioned product here, approved by the University as being appropriate. You would think this would mean those instructions could be trusted. You’d be wrong, of course. But you would think.

So I followed the instructions and was soon greeted by ANOTHER popup window notifying me that I do not have the permission of the IT department to update my browser. So I am required by “security” to do what “security” will not let me do, which means that I can’t do anything.

I switched to Chrome and discovered the same thing, except that my Chrome browser expires tomorrow rather than this past Tuesday so I did get a couple of days to work with it before it disappears.

So I called the IT folks again. We’ve gone back and forth several times now to no great success, and tomorrow I will neither have access to my shared drive files nor to almost all of the mission-critical programs I need to do my job. Meanwhile, classes start Tuesday, we still have incoming students who need to be enrolled, and I have several large summer projects that need to be completed before the fall officially begins but likely won’t.



LucyInDisguise said...

Word choice is important.

And I absolutely love your choice of the word interlude.

In solidarity with your predicament:

I will (for not more than the next three days or, at the very least, the next 8.62578 minutes) stop bitching about my technology issues in a vain attempt to placate the Cod of Technology from raining her wrath down upon my weary head. Or my computer. Or, for that matter, my phone.

This will, of course, have no effect.

However, I can't see where it's going to make much difference either way because it could cause her to take notice of the fact that I'm doing this in support of your issues and smite me (and my computer. And my phone.) for my sacrilege.

This is how Technology works.


Editor's (?) note: I had a response all typed up in my text editor - all spell-checked and marked up and everything - going on and on about how you're not suffering alone and here is all of the shit I have to deal with; then I copied and pasted it in here and gave it one more read through and ... well, I decided (I think correctly) that that was a very dickish thing to do, so I deleted it and wrote this instead. It is my sincere hope that this launches a smile instead of another 'interlude'. 😳

David said...

Well, this did launch a smile so you succeeded. :)

But there is something to be said for "you're not alone" as well - especially with technology, since there is always this nagging feeling that everyone else gets it just fine and I should just go back to parchment and quill. It's like I'm back in high school biology again, not realizing until October that nobody else in my class understood it either.

The Tech Gods be bloodthirsty and unpredictable beasts, uninterested in placation and wholly focused on sacrifice, namely yours, which doesn't help because vide supra not interested in placation. We do our best and we see what happens, I suppose.

I'm glad you enjoyed "interlude" there! It seemed a fitting choice.

Tech updates since this was posted:

I now have access to my shared drive file, since they eventually decided that my new boss could in fact approve this.

The certification thing eventually gave up - I have no idea what happened to it and really don't care as long as it stops cluttering up my screen.

I haven't even begun to try reconstructing my Firefox. I'll save that for another day.

The security app issue has not been resolved and has since spread to other corners of the university. I suspect there was a Category 5 Shitstorm parked over the IT department on Thursday as it took me two tries and an hour on hold to get through to them by phone (emails are easy to ignore - calls are harder) and we're not that big a place. They acknowledged that there exists a problem and swore that they were working on it. This is better than the IT guys I found on campus, whose basic attitude was, "Yeah, of course it works this way" followed by "Sucks to be you, dude."

Here is where it gets weird.


Because I can no longer use Firefox or Chrome, I am down to Safari on my computer. I tested my remote class with the folks up at Really Far Away Campus to see if we could resolve the Zoom issues we had last week (answer: yes, for those specific issues) and discovered that because Zoom is embedded in Canvas and Safari blocks cookies automatically even if you explicitly tell it not to do so, apparently, it refuses to let you see the embedded Zoom links. The RFAC rep I was on the Zoom call with is actually an IT person and we spent half an hour sharing my screen and walking through various possible fixes, to no avail, and now I have an IT ticket in on TWO different campuses at once! It's not as exciting as you'd think.

Classes start Tuesday. On the 12th our campus and the Mother Ship both switch over to a hardcore enforcement of the "you must have the most updated version of this software possible" rule and I plan to bring in a tribal-sized bag of popcorn because the Fecal Tornado that will come from that will just be EPIC.

The hits keep coming!

LucyInDisguise said...

So be it. You are not alone … Grab some popcorn, I'll wait right here ...

So, I have to punch/login/out for work & breaks. I have two apps on my phone - one (Time Card) that I get paid from, and one (Electronic Log Book) that tracks every waking and sleeping moment* every day which is required by law. The latter REQUIRES me to stay logged in while I’m On Duty & working regardless of what I’m doing, the former requires that I (securely) login/out for every interaction.

USDOT requires that my On Duty/Off Duty times [LOG] vary by no more than 15 minutes (cumulative, rounded up to the nearest 15-minute block) in each 24-hour period from my time card punches [PUNCH].

The Corporation I work for requires that my PUNCH times occur within the same minute as my LOG times. Every. Single. Time.

The time card app will not allow me to stay logged in for more than three minutes without doing something, and if I change apps while I’m logged in it will automatically log me out and I have to start over.

So simple. I sign into the Electronic Log app and LOG in, switch to the time card app, sign in and PUNCH.

Except that … It takes about 30 seconds to securely sign in to the time card app and then anywhere from two to three minutes for the app to load the menu that allows me to PUNCH. Then it takes another minute or so to load that screen so that I can actually punch in. That's a problem - no way those times are going to match.

So, here’s the routine: sign in to the LOG app eight minutes prior to the time I need to punch in/change duty status. Enter all the info but don’t hit save. Switch and sign in to the time card app, wait for it to load, and sit there and watch the time until it hits the minute I need to punch. PUNCH. Switch to the LOG and hit save. Go back to the time card app and sign back in and securely sign out.

It’s a PITA, but doable. Here’s where it gets dicey: the time card app uses something called System Time, not the time displayed on my phone. The Electronic Log Book uses the time on my phone. So, every few days I get a notification that the carrier has edited my log book resulting in a potential Hours Of Service Violation. “Do I want to accept the edit?” HELL NO! Somebody sitting in a cubical back East somewhere noticed that a PUNCH time and LOG time are off by a minute so they change my log time to match the punch time which is easier but is against the law! So now, my time card is off. Payroll doesn’t want to pay me for that day because there is an error on my time card. A close examination of the actual times always comes down to two or three seconds difference. So, fix it, my supervisor has to log in, edit my time card to match my LOG time, then email whoever to tell them that the error has been corrected so I can get paid. This has been going on for more than two years now.

There is a simple solution: pay me from the Electronic Log Book times. But no, I work for a corporation ...

I could do the Order Management and Asset Control apps but those are even more messed up than the time card app.

Microsoft-trained programmers working in an Apple IOS environment. Nothing good can come of this.


* That may be a 'bit' of an exaggeration, but it’s not a very large ‘bit’.

David said...

Dayum, man - that's three shades of stupid on a single test swatch of fabric isn't it?

I love how the Powers That Be go out of their way to make their lives more difficult. I understand them making your life more difficult - that's what PTBs do, after all. It's how they justify their salaries. But making their own lives more difficult in the process - knowingly, deliberately, repeatedly so - is a whole new level of what-the-fuckery.

Not enough popcorn in the world.

Be strong, my brother in tech SNAFUs. We shall overcome. Or be overcome. Whichever. Either way it won't be our problem anymore.

Part of my problem is shared with you in that I am an Apple IOS person working in an entirely Windows/DOS environment. Sometime in the late 1990s our entire university system walled itself off from Macs. No Macs on campus for any reason. No support. No programs that worked on Apple products. They finally gave that up about eight or nine years ago but they've never fully integrated Macs back in.

So every time we get an announcement about a snazzy new feature that nobody asked for or shiny new program that will save a few seconds if you devote an hour or two to figuring out how to use it, I ask "Does this work with Macs?" and about half the time the answer is "Uh, no."

I am old enough to remember when work was done by people rather than algorithms and apps. Put me out to pasture now, I suppose.

Good to know I'm not alone in all this. :)