Thursday 9 May 2013

Moving gaily forward...

Wow - we are talking a completely new beast here.  The council is rigidly hierarchical and is essentially run as an old boys club by the speaker (who is retiring next year, apparently).  There is a major culture clash happening between the council old-guard - people who have been there for decades and who were born and bred in the area and people like me, who were brought in from the outside to start to affect change.

I currently have 3 team members.  One does mapping, one the address database and one the sort of spillover from the other two.  They have been at the council for ages, in one case since 1978.  They are all older than me and they are all from the area.  Mapping guy started off as a draughtsman for planning - proper old school technical drawing.  He is a very good mapper - but that's what he does - maps.  The software used - cadcorp - seems like a pretty decent piece of software with a lot of capability for analysis, but he's not really that interested.  He does maps.  50 something year old, divorced, balding, proper South London. Quiet type. H e has to give a presentation in the large-team meeting and he is terrified - has never done one before - but he won't admit it, so I am scheduling a few short meetings with him to talk about presentation stuff.  I like him - took him a while to warm up to me, but he seems like a good guy. The address guy is a bit more intellectually curious - he likes to tinker with data and is quite good with Access. The state of the address database is very good and it is mostly down to it being his baby.  He seems like a bit of an overgrown, 40something lad.  Very much no girlfriend.  I like him but he can be a bit of a pushy pain in the butt sometimes.  There is a woman then who sort of does the overflow for the two of them but is taking over the land terrier role, so will be a bit more busy. (Land terrier holds the records for the publicly owned property and is part of the planning system, but the records are transactional and are going to be a complete nightmare to make use of in another context).  She is quite quiet but I feel like she is trying to put the wool over on me sometimes.  One to watch.

I am then inheriting two people who work on street naming and numbering.  One of them I see no problems with - she is a fairly quiet woman - very intelligent - and just wants to do her job properly.  The other - well - the other is a loud-mouthed, chain smoking, hot-headed late 50s woman who is apparently in very bad health (has had serious surgery lately) who knows everything about everything in the area and has all the general tact and charm of a brick.  She is very important in her world and her job the most important in the council, and the only way to get her to change anything she does without a huge and very public fight is to play to this sense of imortance. There is a serious effort underway by me and my boss to get her to quit shouting at people.  Good times there.  I will likely also be inheriting the LSG custodian (road naming) and possibly the census and policy person.  This was all news to me when I got there!

In short, there is no GIS or data policy.  The council doesn't seem to be much on project or IT management, has no culture of data sharing, no council DBAs, no interest in encouraging in-house IT development and very little interest in thinking outside of the box (this being the heart of the conflict between old and new, it seems).  So, I have been tasked with developing, pretty much from scratch, the GIS policy.  A big part of this is going to be wresting some sort of minor control over our servers and our very-underused Oracle database.  Spatial data at the moment is scattered hither and yon across two servers and across the council.  There is an Oracle database for the planning system, managed (at large cost) by the GIS provider. T here is no test database and no test planning system.  The council servers are all in the basement - they used to be in a server farm, but as a cost saving measure, they brought it all back in house and have 3 different companies managing separate aspects.  The first server farm flooded. (oops) so they made another one - in the basement.  There is a single choke point - a NAS - hooking into the SAN in the basement.  All profiles are virtual - nothing is cached - and the whole council - 2500 people - grinds to a halt if someone tries a large print job or if (god help them) we try to open a large dataset.  It is an untenable situation and has been going on for many months with promises of it getting better at some distant point in the future.  Very cleverly, they fired the people who designed the system before having them fix the system, and the main project manager for fixing the whole thing admitted the other day, in a meeting, that no one knows how it works.  Good planning then.  Reminds me of the university computer setup 20+ years ago.  We'll get there- I just need to demonstrate that none of the amazing things they want us to do are possible with the current network.

I'm actually really enjoying myself - I like the people I'm working with and I see huge possibilities for the team, but wow.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Well, that was a lot of work!

Back on the track, hurtling backwards towards London, stinky in first class. I love going stinky in first class. Actually, I'm not particularly whiffy, as today wasn't particularly warm. Started off in the microdink town of Bainbridge this morning after not great sleep and a very big breakfast. The lovely, Yorkshire accented Lithuanian woman who ran the b&b said she didn't smell rain today, though this may actually be because she smelled bacon and set the smoke alarm off. Oopsie.  Anyway, I headed up over an absurdly steep pass, up into the clouds and into that peculiarly British heavy duty mist that gets things even wetter then rain. When that got boring, it settled for plain old sideways rain. I have proper goretex rainwear. Unfortunately, it's been a while since I rewaterproofed it and the goretex sort of wimped out after a while. Waterproof seems to mean just that for a while, after which it says oh, if you must, I suppose so to the water. How accommodating. There was an annoying amount of traffic out today, it being bank holiday weekend and loads of motorcycles. I don't understand the thing for riding a motorcycle up a mountain pass, especially in a group. Wow, your engine carried you to the top and you got wet, but you are still fat and your motorbike makes an irritating amount of noise. Ride a bicycle instead. Experience the world, quietly and with less baggage. Hmph. Anyway, small narrow roads with stupidly steep hills and great Wyoming like grassy vistas eventually levelled out into rolling English countryside. Dour grey stone houses gave way to cheery red brick and I arrived at York with 35 minutes to spare. I've decided that hill riding in England is really a lot of work, because unlike sensible places like Switzerland, with switchbacks and smooth roads, English roads seem to take great glee in finding the steepest way up the hill with the most potholes. I guess it's more exciting or something. Tomorrow back to normal things and then Tuesday back to work. I think it's time for another bike ride... ;-)

Saturday 4 May 2013

Local pub for local people...

Well, that was possibly the most socially awkward dinner I've ever had... I rolled into Bainbridge, this absolute dinkyshit nothing of a village in the northern Yorkshire Dales. Found the b&b, spent 20 minutes farting around with the WiFi so I could send a message that I'd arrived, as no phone service, showered  and walked over to the single and only pub in the village. They were out of food. Saturday night, you know, and there must have been at least 10 people there. Silly me. So, in the deepening gloom, I cycled 1.5 miles down to the next village, where there was a pub still serving. Granted, I had showered and wasn't wearing cycle gear except for my yellow jacket (carrying helmet and such), but I was still wearing shorts and most definitely not a Local. The Locals, mostly men in various states of grumbling geriatrichood and a few older women, some without makeup and some apparently trying to use the makeup as wrinkle filler, sat or stood around in groups, talking, it seemed, without actually opening their mouths. The rather stout woman behind the bar pointed towards where I was to sit. Yep,nothing says awkward like sitting alone in a crowd in a bar with no mobile phone service and nothing to read. Anyway, I survived, then cycled back on the very very dark winding country road, the glowing dark blue remnants of the sunset an hour before still hanging in the northern sky. I do love that... No camera tomorrow, just my phone, because Dingdong forgot to charge it, and of course it has to have its own plug size. Of course. Anyway, though I was deliriously tired and out to lunch most of the day, I still enjoyed today's ride. 74 miles. The first 50 or so were generally rolling farmland. I stopped for a coffee in Lancaster. For some reason I always had this romantic idea of Lancaster, sandwiched between the Yorkshire Dales and Morecambe Bay. Well, the setting is, in fact, beautiful and you can see the Lake District off to the north. Much of the city is gorgeous, all grey stone witch churches and castly things. And the people, well they all seem to be quite closely related. Lots of pinched looking faces and generally doughy complexions. Not pretty. From Lancaster, I headed northeast and up, and up. Green rolling farmland opened up into tawny grass covered hills and rocks. Lots of rocks. Not so many trees. Lots of sheep. There may just be a relationship between all those sheep and the barrenness of the land. Just maybe. Its not spring yet either here, even though the pass was only 1700 feet or so. It felt quite desolate coming over the pass. It's easy to forget sometimes on this silly little island how much landscape there is, even if it has all been denuded by logging and hungry sheepies! Anyway, off to bed now...

Northern Adventure

And we're off, with my usual complete inability to take the train without some kind of drama. Today they had to call the police for some stupid reason, which means I have now missed my connection and am going to have to improvise. I hate public transportation. Problem is, it is full of the public. Anyway, I got up this morning at 0520, which was a little bit of a trial and tribulation. Going to cycle for two days in the Yorkshire Dales. I was meant to do that over Easter, but a foot of snow suggested to me that it must just be better to wait. So, yeah, just finished my third week in new job. Much to my slight surprise and immense relief, I'm actually enjoying it, though I'm not sure I've ever been so tired in my life. I bitch and moan about having to get up at 7 every day, as opposed to 740, but my team members are all at their desks at 8. 915 for me is just about all I can muster. Of course, they all live locally and I have an 8.5 mile cycle to get there in the morning. Wah wah. They are also born and raised locally, have worked for local government for many years and are older than me. I've moved from a situation where I was doing projects for others but working in a situation offering a relative amount of autonomy and room to experiment to one where I develop the projects, the policies and the methodology, but within an astoundingly hierarchical setting that doesn't even trust its employees to be able to map their own network drives. The work performed, though usually of pretty high quality, is generally reactive and at the whims of the higher-ups. There is little room to experiment, little thought to collaboration between departments and little interest, by those in power, in seeing that this represents the last, dying gasps of the old public sector. I am rapidly realising that I was brought in not just for technical background and general management, but to help affect large scale cultural change in the institution. My immediate line managers are definitely not part of the old guard, but my team, now three, soon to be five and then seven, most definitely are. It's kind of exciting actually, the first time I have ever felt that about a job, but also think OMG I've really been dumped into it this time. But, if I can pull this off, woohoo! :-)