Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in
Your question

Who Designed This Crap? UPDATE On The 11 Pound Pencil

Last response: in Laptops & Notebooks
May 5, 2006 10:43:34 AM

Barry Gerber revisits the social services agency with the IT system from hell. This time he reports that the amateur's who designed the system continue to dig themselves deeper and deeper into an embarrassing and costly hole.
May 5, 2006 3:01:37 PM

It will probably end with them firing a couple of the socialworkers and having their own wages raised to compensate for all their troubles. That´s the way it usually goes. In many countries 11 pound laptops would be illegal.
May 5, 2006 3:05:24 PM

i have nothing more to add to this other than to say nothing they did surprised me. just reading this brought back memories of a couple of years ago at my old job. i had forgotten about it until you wrote this. basically i typed work instructions for a workshop. due to the laziness of the workers they never signed the boxes to say what had been done and what hadn't. so the bosses, instead of giving them a kick up the backsides, changed the sheets to make less boxes. they then added different boxes meaning there was no less. i, the person you typed these up wasn't even consulted. only people who didn't and had never done the job before decided on the changes. so yes i know how this process you describe works.

on the subject of printers, they gave me a printer only capable of single sided printing. so i had to flip them over and re-print the backs. it was ridiculous but i was an office worker so didn't matter.

i am glad you gave an update, if not to show that they haven't learn't anything. if they only thought of the cost in the long run they would realise it is cheaper to spend the money in the first place than all these lost work hours.
Related resources
May 5, 2006 4:05:26 PM

Bash that Crap part II
Cool :twisted:
May 5, 2006 4:07:31 PM

I am completely with you my scottish friend. In fact, this article (and the previous one) just go to show what a sorry state our NGO's are in. Frankly, this reminded me forcibly of "The Dilbert Principle" (Awesome book, it is a must read) I mean the bosses are so miserly that they won't even spend 300$ on a printer!! Don't tell me that they cannot afford that.

All in all, I deeply sympathize with all those employees for having such moronic bosses (as well as some employees)
May 5, 2006 4:33:28 PM

It doesn't suprise me at all as I work for a company that has the same issue. Where I work, spending money isn't the problem, but they use MQ1 to keep their thousands of document templates "in order".

However this order is really just a mess as every... single... document... starts with the initials of our company and a revision number. *blinks* problem is MQ1's primary search feature is the document file name. They have to maintain a seperate access database with the names of the files next to what the file is just to find the file they want from MQ1. Oh it gets better... they can't maintain the Access database because in order to access it you have to have rights from a certain group set by IT, and that group of people have no responsibility with those files. To get anything address to the access database you have to write out a 2 page form, send it in triplicate to HR, they send a copy to Team Relations and IT, IT approves the access and Team Relations makes the changes to the database.

AHH!! It's a nightmare that takes weeks to complete! Want to know their reasoning behind this? Security... want to know the funny part? Enterprise Edition of MQ1 uses 256-bit encryption and it's database of files is maintained inside a 3-door lockdown along with other extreamly important files (blueprints, so forth).

Oh well... I've suggested changes, but I recieve the same response. "We like to see our employees show interest in wanting to change our systems for the better, however at the present time our system in it's current state has been found to be effecient enough for our needs"

Question is... who's we? They don't use the files, so who are they speaking for... me? I think not...
May 5, 2006 5:18:13 PM

The tragedy here is that they keep on thinking in terms of pure paper forms. Most of the big agencies here in Ontario, Canada have gone to online recording with paper files only kept because of the law. Your electronic notes are backed up religiously and stored on the server, and some systems allow a Lotus Notes "sync" system so you can do hours or even days of paperwork on your laptop at home and then sync to the office when you get there (or I suppose via high speed and a direct dial-in line they have to their office but that takes forever).

The system can keep track of versions and dates, and locks down sensitive documents so they can't be altered or it may just record what alterations were made. Electronic documents of this type are considered legitimate legal evidence (if that is needed) even if they are not actually put onto paper until months after they are written

When a file closes everything has to be printed out and stored in the file (that's the law here, paperwork copies kept for ages) but until then you can just type your note up once, and you DEFINITELY don't have to print up a hard copy for data entry. These systems are set-up specifically for the type of agency and collect your data for funders, etc with simple queries.

What I have found is these solutions are available where multiple agencies of the same type band together and get them done with their few legitimately techno-savy folks going together on co-ordinating a project. There are the odd bumps admitedly (like the system we use in children's mental health that allows remote access only via PC Anywhere rather than secure links) but overall it's dandy, and you don't have to rely on local agency management to have some kind of clue about technology.

Being a professional social worker myself, I must say it is exceeding rare even my younger colleagues show any kind of clue about technology, and usually they need to have these solutions provided for them rather than having to come up with them by themselves.
May 5, 2006 7:25:12 PM

Your story, and the original one, reminded me of a place I used to work at.

This boss of ours, who also owned the place, had the money, and our IT guy had been telling him for ages what needed to be fixed and what to get done, but this boss was 1. Stupid and 2. A Penny Pincher!

You see we had our phone system which was an ageing prehistoric hulk of steel the size of a bar fridge. The company that provided the software for it went bust in the 80's, so you can figure how old it was! Every two weeks or so, it would crash, rendering our lines useless and our call centre of 20 or so agents tone deaf. I happened to be one of three people in the building, along with the IT guy, who knew the 20 or so steps on how to reboot the damn thing so that the lines would come back on. Problem was the software would sometimes refuse to reboot and the jumper switch on the panel would click like crazy without doing anything. Many times I sat there for minutes just praying that the damn thing would just come back to life.

This went on for years, until one day, the system crashed and never came back to life again. By that time, I was no longer working there, so I cannot tell you for how many days the place was without phone service. But hearing from a friend who was still there, the owner was forced to purchased a brand new system for $30,000.

Now, add the several thousands of dollars in lost revenue, the cost of paying a team to install the new equipment and wiring overnight and pay overtime and premium labor fees, and it jumps another $15,000.

And he had the money to pay for it all overnight.

Another great example was our fax machine. They purchased the cheapest sub-$100 HP multifunction printer that they could find at office depot, only to realise that the ink would run out every three days, the machine would crap out after 500 pages/hour and they would need to buy another same sub-$100 fax machine at the end of 3 months because it couldn't stand up to the use.

The money they spent on 3 fax machines and a truckload of ink cartridges could have bought a....... Well, do you get the idea?

Moral of the story? The analogy below is so true:

It is the stupidest people in this world who end up having all the money and end up being in control.
May 5, 2006 8:02:49 PM

The thinking process of corporate decision makers (which might better be described as the thoughtless process) has not changed.

25 years ago, I was working for a major US firm. I worked out of the corporate office, but had to spend a couple years at a plant in Texas (developing and installing a new system). My hotel and rental car alone ran in the neighborhood of 4000 per month, and there were at least four of us on this project.

Knowing I would be there for at least another year, I offered to rent an apartment, furnishings and a car for 2500/month, but they declined. For some reason, they fealt that a rented apartment would have to be shared, while a more expensive rented hotel room would not.

I wouldn't expect any sudden changes at the social workers office. If the workers are too afraid to suggest changes then the bosses are sitting pretty with the belief that there excrement does not stink.
May 6, 2006 1:32:30 AM

Man oh man. Does this story remind me of the past 6 months...
They are planning a new bounus system (I'm lower middle management) to reward the employees. Part of the system is classification of jobs, calculating each employee's potential and what not. Well this data has been around for _years_ but they decided it was not accurate enough for their needs (the owners btw.) So now in addition to an easy to use, 99.9% accurate piece of software I wrote for the task, they have a paper that each person must fill out with the time the spent on a job with a code (the software took care of this too) the rate of work, and written description of the work done. Well, after some time, it was deemed that this was not accurate enough as well! Now there is a second sheet that _MUST_ be filled out, along with the first sheet and in the software. Human nature says that we will error, and boy are the times/rate of work etc WAY off. No one item matches the other as far as time. Which throws off the rate of work. I watched one of the employees filling out their sheets, it took this particular person, of average productivity, 30 minuites to fill it out!!!

Now, here is the good part: they had to hire a person (data entry only) to enter the forms into an Excell sheet (the software uses a database, and gives a report already.) This data is then taken by a second person, who verifies the two sheets against eachother and fixes any 'mistakes.' I then get the corrilated data where it is now my job to verify the data against the software, and make any adjustments there. Now, with all the hands verifying the data etc is costing the company USD100K per year just for this bounus system. Where each employee may see a maximum of $500 per month (12 people get this.) On average however, they see about $200.

Waste done yet? you bet not! They hired a conultant about half way through to analize our work habits. At the end of his observations and suggestions: the company owners weren't too happy. Why? Well he recomended we throw out the time sheets and use the software. He figured we waste on an order of a quarter of a million dollars a year on wasted time and extra staff.

One good thing tho came out of penney pinching. We got a new larger format pritner (A3.) We had been previously printing out drawings on 11" wide roll paper. Each sheet of 11X17 out of the plotter cost the company about $.75. With the new printer and standard, cheap laserjet paper (11X17) it only costs the company $.03 per sheet. (For a job, there is generally 4 sheets, 10 jobs printed a day.) Don't get me going on the IT budget.... (NO! A P3 is NOT a database server!!!)
May 6, 2006 8:24:20 AM

yes, you bring back some painful memories barry.
May 7, 2006 2:02:13 AM

Caution rant ahead:
Wow, this reminds me of my own work. I am a Marine, in Okinawa, and somewhere in Washington they got the idea to chance out computer system to one ran by civilians, the computer network is more secure now, but somewhere in the contract it was written that a printer will be every 50’ so we only have one printer in our office when we really need 2 for the amount of work we do. We also went from a network printer that can print double sided, staple, whole punch, and scan. So a slower HP printer that can’t even print double sided. We have no scanning capabilities now too. And this new contract costs severely more, I don’t know the exact cost of our old system to say the difference though. Now we know why there is a body armor shortage in Iraq, and why taxes are so damned high.
May 7, 2006 11:10:15 AM

heres a suggestion, storm the white house and take control. then you can decide such things :twisted:
May 8, 2006 1:01:05 AM

For me - I'm in an environment where one enters as student and graduates as a computer grad.... and even some of them are so clueless that they use their username as a password,.. or think its ok to ask for the best in computing only to let it sit and do nothing, or use it for gaming instead. Or as one person had done, order something and never use it, like a server cluster thats only 2 yrs old yet just sits there, turned on, and does nothing else!

Not only are amateur IT ppl sometimes poor at making decisions, so too are the best in their field. One gentleman bought a $10G colour laser printer a few years back,.. once he learned that his students never used it, but his colleague's students need it, he asked that person to pay for toners,.. the colleague refused, so it sits, doing nothing, when said person is in charge of dept. and knows that the dept has begged for a good colour printer for years! Only thing is - no on wants to pay for the upkeep.
May 8, 2006 3:06:38 AM


This makes me laugh AND cry at the same time.

My g/f has a laptop for her job as a primary school teacher. As the end of the school year is fast approaching she's got to get the reports for her students done. Because some of the students are obviously taught by more than one teach you have the situation whereby more than one teacher will have to work on a report for a particular student.

Guess that the IT department has decided as a solution? Teachers will SWAP their laptops :lol: 
May 8, 2006 4:02:15 AM

Wow, the actual screw up isn't what surprised me, what got me was they were given the perfect solution and turned it down in an effort to further screw themselves and waste tons of time. The whole thing together only makes me very mildly queasy, I personally know the people who work at the SS offices are a bunch of dunces, they mostly hire people based on their little Ethics test, which every honest person fails, and every narcissist passes with flyging colors(Happens to businesses too), and of course these people just have no reasoning skills or common sense, as is evident at my local SS office and from this article. All the same, great read, nice to know at least ONE person at ONE SS office isn't a dunce, albeit afraid of losing their job. ;) 
May 8, 2006 6:17:53 PM

They hired a conultant about half way through to analize our work habits. At the end of his observations and suggestions: the company owners weren't too happy. Why? Well he recomended we throw out the time sheets and use the software.

Anyone know I get that consultant's job? I'm completely serious. I would love to work fixing problems like this. Subconciously, my brain is always trying to figure out how to make things better no matter what environment I'm in. I'd love to do it for a living.
May 8, 2006 8:52:05 PM

Being a college student, I've noticed the dumb kids are usually either Management or Art majors (tho I'd give the edge to Mgmt). I think the intelligent people do something more intellectually demanding. For example, I have a double major in Math & Physics with a minor in Actuarial Science (this is where my knowledge of mgmt majors comes from), and I haven't found a dumb kid in either of those majors (well Math majors need Calculus Based Physics I & II which confuses some of them quite a bit).

Anyways, I work on campus as well and have seen some of the decisions of IT. For example, recently we replaced two 5 year old HP laserjet printers with 2 HP 8150N laserjets. These go for about $2500 each and have 32ppm speed, 1100 pg capacity and are rated for 150k pgs/mo, and have an Ethernet connection. I noticed HP also makes a 4350N, which has the same 1100 pg capacity, is rated for a higher 250k pgs/mo, has a faster 55ppm, an Ethernet connection, and a lower price tag of $1500. A little research would've figured that one out. And 32ppm is actually slower than what we had, I think they were 36ppm before.

Oh, it gets a little better. Before we had the 2 old printers, we had 4 of them. So essentially we traded 4 printers for 2, and then traded those 2 for 2 slower ones. On top of it, the printers are controlled through a 'print release station' which is an extra 2.8GHz P4 Dell which runs just one app where you login to the domain and can then release your print jobs and cancel the ones you don't want anymore. Now, this print release station gets its queue from a server. One day I went into work, and the director of the place tells me the printers are down. I'm like 'OK...' I mean, seriously, I'm getting little more than $8/hr and that's a problem that I can't fix because it's all controlled by IT which I am not working for. So I just went in to my office (shared with my immediate boss who was out that day). Then the director comes back and says IT fixed the problem, and it turned out the art department was copying a lot of files on the server. Turns out the printer queue server is also a file server. Stupid retards, give art their own server, or make the print release station the server.

Moreover, when you print to these printers you get charged something like 10 cents a page. The first $30 are free every semester, the next $30 cost you and anything beyond that you need authorization for. If you just look at what IP address the print queue goes to you can print to the printers directly for free and they're not going to find out since that traffic never went through any server. The PCs are setup to not allow new printer connections, but laptops are required for all new students for the last 2 years, and we have a campus wide wireless network (rated in the top 10 by Intel in their 'Most Unwired College Campuses') so you could easily configure it on your laptop, and print to the server for free.
May 9, 2006 5:36:10 PM

Wow, Do you work for WMU? Sounds just like them.
May 11, 2006 2:10:29 PM

From Linux VIM :help hardcopy
It is possible to achieve a poor man's version of duplex printing using the PS utility psselect. This utility has options -e and -o for printing just the even or odd pages of a PS file respectively.

First generate a PS file with the 'hardcopy' command, then generate a new files with all the odd and even numbered pages with: >

psselect -o
psselect -e

Next print with your platform's normal print command. Then take the print output, turn it over and place it back in the paper feeder. Now print with your platform's print command. All the even pages should now appear on the back of the odd pages.
May 11, 2006 9:45:21 PM

Maybe this is beside the point..

But.. at the end of the article I was surprised that they were thinking of attaching another sheet of Blank Paper....


Hmm..... where else could they get blank paper?

How about on the back of the 1 sided sheet they just printed?
Surely you can write comments on there?
May 13, 2006 10:37:52 AM

haha so true mystic, i mean there were just tons of solutions that were spinning thru my head as i was reding the article

and as for me i used to work as an aide to the IT manger at the school distric office and oh man do those people even know how a computer works?

this one time i had a call cus X person couldn't get her computer on, she said not even the monitor could turn on so when i get there as i begin to look at the computer i was like hrm... when i get to the back it comes to my surprise that... you guessed it the power was unplugged 8O also one of my friends called me one day at like 2 am and said his laptop had just turned off and it wouldn't turn back on, he said that he was using it and it had just shut off, so i had remembered the incident at the school and jokingly i asked, well is it plugged in and he replies "what do you know, thanks" and hung up, scared to even wonder if it was true i went back to sleep.

so i guess that those "tech reps" that are really indians with no knowledge of computers are right " but sir is your computer pluged in? "

this brings me to... i couldnt get my desktop on my network so just fork kicks i call up D-Link's service dept, the moron had me re-booting the router for like an hour and transfered me to his manager, who amazingly did the same thing, i mean why dont they just hire monkeys and teach them to say " put a paper clip in the small hole on the back, wait 10 seconds and throw it in the trash "
May 30, 2006 3:42:52 AM

Almost any large organization has similar problems, although some are more idiotic than others. I witnessed a similar event while in the Fire Department on a US Military base several years ago. When it came time to replace one of the aging 4x4 military fire trucks used on most bases with a more updated model, the powers that be decided to purchase a fire truck from a company that had been building trucks for civilian fire departments for many years. The military wanted the truck to meet some specific requirements which were added to the contract (4x4, specific color paint, specific lighting and equipment). One essential requirement was the truck must fit inside a C-130 cargo aircraft without major disassembly, so it could be delivered to deployed locations and be usable upon arrival. When the trucks were delivered, it was discovered that an error had been made and the trucks were 2 inches too tall to fit in the C-130. The military contracting people and the engineers from the manufacturer came up with the idea to remove the spacers between the springs and the axels and replace them with ones that were 2 inches shorter. All the stations that had one of the new trucks received a kit with the shorter blocks and new shock absorbers. The old parts were to be disposed of. After the new blocks were installed, the driveshaft started hitting the transmission and the differential started hitting the engine oil pan because of the decrease in suspension height and clearance to the drivetrain components. The next brilliant solution was to put the taller blocks back in to increase the clearance and limit the damage to the drivetrain. Unfortunately, they didn't send new shocks with the taller blocks so once the blocks were installed the shocks were too short for the increased suspension travel and the shocks started breaking. New original length shocks had to be re-fitted to the truck to fix this problem but they were now back to strating point. A short time later, the fire chief from the station where I worked met one of the engineers and the contracting officer at an emergency equipment trade show and asked why no one had thought to "just let some air out of the tires until the truck was two inches shorter!"