Peter VS Technology

While researching this column, I discovered some interesting information about Ned Ludd, the founder of the Luddite movement, whose adherents would smash machinery with hammers because they feared job loss from industrialisation. There is some dispute as to whether he, in fact, even existed.  Also, at that time, “factories” as we know them today were very rare. Hence it was generally a case of a mob breaking into a private home to destroy the machinery. Undoubtedly this was a recipe for violence.

I am a Luddite, although I have never killed anyone. (I have bored many to death, I’m sure.) For most of my career, I sat in front of a computer. Our initial training password was “WKRP”, so that should you an idea of the time frame of which I speak. My love of obscure military aircraft kept me well supplied with passwords through my entire career, and my assigned computer code was 3505J79, appropriate for a Phantom Phan.

I had this box the size of a portable television on my desk, and oh, was it slow! I remember when they computerized our ordertaking, the response time wasn’t the best. One of my coworkers was transmitting an order as a “wheel” from Regional office walked by on a tour of the trenches. The coworker complained about the slow response time of the system, and despite frantic attempts by his handlers to get the “wheel” to a safe place, to his credit, he stood and waited the whole 18 minutes it took for the response to process. “This is unacceptable.” he pronounced, and went back to Region, where he got the problem resolved almost overnight.

We had several “techies” co located in our office at first, and they were quite responsive, if sometimes a little “out of touch”. One came into my office once while I was exercising my NSFW vocabulary. “Is there a problem?” he asked, sounding like the prince in  Blackadder. “Yes.” I replied tersely. “Well, have you tried rebooting it?” I turned and hissed ” If I boot this thing once more, it’s going to be for yards!”

When they would come in and ask me to reboot, I would just unplug the infernal machine and count to “10”. I used to tell them that I was “downloading JAVA” when I was drinking coffee at my desk. The computerized “job bank machines” crashed once. I sought out a “techie” and asked for some help. We had a lot of clients in the office who wanted them up and running again. The “techie” said that she would look at them once she had finished configuring the manager’s new laptop. I advised her that that was unacceptable, so she reluctantly tended to the system problem.

After a while, it was decided to centralize tech support in one office. To cover all of Toronto. Bad idea. The resultant time delays in getting service only added to our frustration on the frontline. Then came the “National Service Desk“, a call centre located in Ottawa. They were always available, and I don’t recall any of them being unpleasant. I used to enjoy talking to them, having a bit of a chat, trying to make them laugh. I kept them up to date on my “retirement countdown”, would ask them how the weather was or if they’d seen Harper lately. One morning, after a number of problems with my cursed electronic co worker, I called (yet again), and gave the rep my name, office, identifier and my Air Miles number. When she said that my Air Miles number wasn’t necessary, I replied that I had called them so often that morning that I figured I should get something extra besides a working computer! (I don’t know if they drew lots to see who would deal with me.)

I remember having SINRA, the Social Insurance Number issuing system, go down. I called the dedicated help desk and the guy seemed to think it was a big joke. I told him that if he thought it was so funny, he could get his ass out from behind his desk, jump on a bus and come down to explain the joke to the 26 people who were sitting fuming in my waiting area. He assumed a proper, respectful tone for the balance of the conversation.

While the “National Service Desk” handled general systems problems, sometimes a glitch would have to be referred to a “techie” in another office. Once a problem of mine was referred to a guy in Alberta. He took a 45 minute lunch, as opposed to the half hour that I got. We played “telephone tag” for several days, before he left me a snarky message about my apparent inability to answer his calls in a timely fashion. When I worked, my two main rules were 1) If you walk into my office while I’m interviewing, it damn well better be to let me know that the building is on fire; and 2) I never answer the phone during an interview. At my first opportunity I called the fellow back, apprised him of Rule 2) and icily reminded him that he was there to support the front end, not the other way around, and we dealt with “walk-in traffic”. Problem solved 😉.

There was a Employment Insurance telephone system established as well, so we could have certain decisions made on the spot. I called it “the phone sex line” and some of my encounters with the creatures who inhabited it were memorable. Note that this is not the E.I. Telecentre number which the public calls, by the way. Personnel from the UIT/EIT used to get seconded to work in the front end sometimes, interviewing the public. I remember once I was standing by my office and was introduced to one and said “Welcome to the jungle.” She looked at me and replied “You’ve never worked at the U.I.T..” (“Thank you”, I thought!) I said that I had worked in the phone room when each office had its own enquiry section, and that there was one thing that she had at the U.I.T. that she wouldn’t have in the front end. What was that? I smiled and said “A hold button.” First person she got was a screamer. She went to break at 10:00 A.M., a person supporting her on each side( looking much like the tanker “Ohio” coming into Valetta Harbour), while she displayed a credible “thousand yard stare”.

We upgraded our systems, my “portable TV” was replaced by ever thinner monitors, while the operating systems became faster. I’m sure that in the time since I’ve left, the systems have been even more updated.

If you’re still awake, let me close with this little anecdote. We had a number of different systems, for E.I., C.P.P. and several other purposes.My supervisor came to me once and asked if I wanted to sign up to get my pay stub on line. I looked over my glasses at her and asked “Do I really look like I need another password?”

Please enter your new password:

Sorry, the password must be more than 8 characters.

“boiled cabbage”

Sorry, the password must contain 1 numerical character.
“1 boiled cabbage”
Sorry, the password cannot have blank spaces.
Sorry, the password must contain at least one upper case character.

Sorry, the password cannot use more than one upper case character consecutively.

Sorry, the password cannot contain punctuation.

Sorry, that password is already in use.

See you soon


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