Saturday, September 16, 2006

Week 5 - I Dream of Wires

Well, that’s five weeks and I’m coming to the dread realisation that the horror of this industry continues on the same inexorable path towards damnation. One of my main tasks at the moment is checking the drawings of other designers for CAD compliance, so the other day I’d spent the best part of an hour identifying and correcting all the errors in a design, and then I came to a near identical sheet expecting to find the same errors but no, an entirely new set of errors had been created especially for each sheet in the sequence. Later, I spent some considerable time fixing a quite horrific drawing for one designer, and immediately afterwards he created a new sheet based on the source of that sheet before I’d made the corrections. I had to go outside for a bit at that point.

The thing is, thanks to the wonder of cut and paste, these alleged designers will grab portions of one circuit and stick it into another diagram by just slapping it down in the approximate area and drawing lines over it. Unfortunately, our clients are quite hot on ensuring that computer produced drawings are of a slightly higher quality than sketches produced on the back of a beer mat, and this demands that my colleagues have an degree of competence which I suspect they are incapable of achieving. Worse, the accuracy of their errors makes them almost undetectable – I am typically finding wires which miss their contact point by sixty-eight ten-thousandths of a millimetre, which almost makes me think that they’re doing it deliberately. I try to explain to people how to produce diagrams precisely so that they aren’t just generating landfill when they go to the printers, and get told “yes, but I’m in a hurry and it’s easier for me to do it like this.” Yeah, and it would be easier for me to kill you and hide the body than to attempt to train you to do something right, but we can’t always be going for the easy option, can we?

So, what it seems to be is this: a designer who has no knowledge of CAD and no interest in learning produces an engineering drawing of the most abysmal quality (broken cells, nothing set to grid, wires constructed from disjointed fragments and straight lines which aren't even straight) which are illogically laid out and of the kind of aesthetic quality that would make any wireman say "stuff it" and go home early, and when it is suitably atrocious, having the appearance of being drawn by someone stood fifteen metres from the screen and using a light pen in their non-favoured hand, it is then taken and copied into every other signalling installation before it has a chance to be compliance checked. I am endeavouring to pursue these errors in the vain hope of actually catching them up and overtaking these rogue designers but, because it is quicker to throw elements onto a sheet than it is to go in and check every single connection and then repair the circuits, I have no chance of success and will probably still be correcting this mess long after rail has ceased to be a mode of transportation and everybody has switched to driving solar-powered air-cars. I increasingly suspect that I am actually living in a mythological Greek vision of hell. I’m putting in fifty hour weeks and seem to be achieving nothing.

As if this were not enough, we have no graphics cards in our computers, for reasons which continue to be unclear but are probably related to working for a multi-million pound engineering firm instead of all the two-bit, fly-by-night charlatans I have worked for who managed to have fully-specified machines. Normally, this would merely be seen as an unacceptable level of cheapness, but because of the level of accuracy, or rather inaccuracy, which we work to, contact point errors are visible which do not actually exist: that is to say, I can see a contact point disconnection which measures 0.0000mm. Of course, it isn't there, but if one can't rely on the evidence presented by one's own eyes when using what is essentially a graphical device, then there is absolutely no chance at all of compliance checking engineering drawings accurately. Far be it from me to complain.

Beyond that, I noticed that off-circuit connectors from sheets 2156 to 2157 were labelled TA and TB, and that sheets 2160 to 2161 also has OCCs labelled TA and TB. I drew this to the attention of a designer and was informed that only last week it was decided not to use the same OCC names in any book of circuits more than once. Last week! Apparently rationing of letters only ended recently, or perhaps electrical engineering is still in its infancy in this part of the world. I'm quite used to going to places where they're still trying to re-invent the wheel, but these guys are still inventing the straight line, and they're struggling with that.

Meanwhile, I have taken to wearing a Post-It note stuck to my lips whilst at my desk, as it became evident that I was unconsciously talking to myself whilst working and that most of what I muttered was unnecessarily graphic and quite profane.

The canteen continues to impress, providing sausage sandwiches and bacon rolls in the mornings (necessary when one starts work between 6:30 and 7am), and full cooked-breakfasts on Fridays. They also produce some pretty damn fine curries, hot-pots, pies and lasagnes and even offer a roast on Thursdays and fish ‘n’ chips on a Friday. There is also allegedly-fresh orange juice available in cans produced by Minute Maid (a division of The Coca Cola Company which offers no explanation as to whether said Maid is very fast or merely extremely small), who claim on their packaging: ‘We hope you enjoy drinking this as much as we enjoyed making it.’ Well, that's just too much pleasure.

I have finally joined the on-site social club and gym, but cannot comment further on these facilities because those responsible forgot to activate my swipe card so that I couldn’t get in, although I am assured that this state of affairs has now been rectified. Fortunately, the proximity of the Cutty Sark (real ale, good food and busty barmaids) has allowed me to take advantage of the opportunities presented by 18:00 GBT (Greenwich Beer Time).

More as it breaks. Live from Blighty.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Week 3 - British Life

This is a sequel to Nederfles at

Well, I’ve started my new job in Alcatraz and all seems to be going well – it’s actually quite a shock to be working with standards and proper information again (I’ve already attended two courses, one presentation and a teleconference between Greenwich, Norway and Toronto). Overtime is healthy, and so far I have done two fifty-plus and one forty-plus hour weeks (look, there was a Bank Holiday). It’s certainly great to get back to real food in the subsidised canteen (the quality of which is testified to by our resident urban fox, who seems to live on leftovers) and choice in the shops. Oh, and real ale, of course.

One of my first jobs in my new position was to clean up the cell library books by editing a few text fields and tidying up the drawings to bring them into an auditable form. Unfortunately, I spotted that there were duplications in every drawing which needed to be removed and other minor but repeated errors. There were only 72 files to update, so I offered to fix them, but then I found another 95 and then I realised that there were an additional 317 and then a further 147, giving a grand total of 631 sheets upon which I had to perform virtually identical operations. Fortunately, I was able to produce macros to carry out most of these operations, but tragically I was able to produce macros to carry out most of these operations, because then I had over six hundred of these tedious drawings upon which to perform an identical 10 mouse-click, 8 keystroke operation and I found myself getting kinda depressed that a chimpanzee could be trained to do what I'm doing. The only upside I could think of was that the cost of training that chimpanzee would be incredible and that I was therefore saving the company an absolute fortune.

Life in Britain seems to be much more nannied than it was when I left: in the kitchen there are sachets of Nescafe labelled SOLUBLE COFFEE (as opposed to what, one wonders) and I recently purchased a bar of Dairy Milk upon which was printed the advice 'for more information about how this product fits into your lifestyle and diet, visit’. Does anybody really need advice about how to fit chocolate into their lifestyle? Surely just fitting it into your mouth is sufficient. Beer bottles are now emblazoned with the messages ‘drink sensibly’ or, worse, ‘drink responsibly’. Moreover, they go on to tell you how many alcohol units they contain (the bottle in my hand has 3.7) and how many units responsible drinkers don’t exceed (4 apparently). From this, it appears that responsibility limits one to a single serving of beer in a day, and thus it seems I am doomed to a life of even less responsibility than even I had previously imagined.

More disturbing, television advertisements seem to be offering assistance to those who are struggling with mortgage repayments: it seems that they are prepared to buy houses for well below market value and then rent said properties back to the current occupants, who were obviously struggling to make payments in the first place. Draw you own conclusions, mine can’t be printed. Not much else to say for the moment, except to observe that if Greenwich was literally the home of time, it would never have made it through the Blackwall Tunnel to the rest of the world. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tunnel in question, it is the main route between the parts of London South of the river to the North and vice versa, and the consequent peak flow of traffic through it can probably best be compared to trying to empty a reservoir through a garden hose.

That’s pretty much all for the moment. I guess this will be updated more occasionally than Nederfles was, depending on what news is worthy of note and whether it seems than anybody’s actually reading this.

Live from Blighty.