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Dabbler Diary – Job Justification

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I don’t know if you’re the same, but whenever I watch coverage of the Glastonbury Festival on the BBC and see the sheer scale of Michael Eavis’ achievement – the array of great music and performers, the creativity, the tradition, the vibe, the extraordinary range and diversity of people all there to celebrate in a spirit of communal good will – I think to myself: well thank God I’m not at that.

I could probably hack a day of it. But the idea of spending all day at Glastonbury, going to sleep in a tent and then waking up in the morning and still being at Glastonbury is too terrible to contemplate.

That said, we do go to festivals as a family – little boutiquey day ones where you don’t have to camp (it’s hard to avoid them such is their proliferation). These are generally in Bristol but we did attend the Gold Coast Oceanfest in Croyde, North Devon last week, partly because we had nearby warm beds and free babysitting, and partly because the excellent Gaz Coombes was playing. It was ok I suppose, a bit surfy-skatey as North Devon tends to be, but what was really noticeable was the demographic of the festival-goers. There were lots of teenagers too young to buy drinks at the bar, and there were plenty of people in their late-thirties or above (parents of young children, crusty old hippies and loons etc), but virtually nobody in their twenties.

Why that would be the case? Is it a phenomenon particular to that festival or a general trend? Can people in their twenties just not afford to go to festivals? Are they all at Glastonbury? I don’t know. Or even much care, really, now I come to think of it.

***

Glastonbury as done by people in pubs, on Facebook etc (including me): “I’ve never been to Glastonbury and have no intention of ever going, but nonetheless as someone who idly watches it on telly while slightly tipsy, I demand that the headline acts precisely conform to my particular musical taste, damn it!”


***

My new business is starting to consume huge amounts of my time (a good thing in most ways), thus making writing this Diary difficult to squeeze in. Luckily I’ve hit on a cunning plan: I can go back into my deepest blogging archives and simply rehash old stuff I wrote years ago! It’s brilliant – saves so much time and pads a column out nicely. I’m fairly certain that no other writer has ever thought of doing this.

***

One thing I’ve found about my business is that it’s surprisingly easy to manage without any kind of IT support. True my enterprise is uncomplicated, but the key is the way that technology has moved from software held on hard drives to cloud apps, which  just seem to work, are largely free, and when problems arise they can be solved by searching user forums and Google. I now do virtually everything on a Google Chromebook, and that doesn’t even need antivirus. True, you’re totally dependant on access to wifi, but then that’s better than being dependant on an IT department.

I wonder what effect this may eventually have on said IT departments? When I worked in a medium-sized business, it seemed to me that there was a structural flaw whereby the IT tail too often wagged the business dog. The techie team was, inevitably, all male and dwelt in the darkest recess of the building – the IT dungeon – from whence it exerted a dark and terrible influence over the rest of the business. The directors were frightened of it.

As I saw it, an ideal IT department would:

1) introduce systems to serve the needs of the business, which are sufficiently effective to have a net benefit on profitability when the cost of the system (including the IT staff) is taken into account; and

2) train staff and maintain, secure and troubleshoot on those systems

Whereas in reality what happened was:

1) the business decided it wanted to do something, consulted the IT department and then, having heard their lengthy and baffling objections, compromised on what it wanted to do for the convenience of the IT department

2) the IT department regularly ‘upgraded’ systems for esoteric IT reasons, as opposed to obvious business reasons, requiring users to retrain and creating endless new troubleshooting opportunities for itself.

The frequency of (2) not only justifies the existence of the current IT department, it requires it to regularly expand. Each of its members is, I imagine, on a pretty hefty salary – significantly heftier for example than a ‘low-skilled’ admin worker of the kind that used to populate businesses that relied on less ‘efficient’ manual or paper-based systems.

I appreciate there’s another element here, which is that as suppliers, customers etc upgrade their systems, so the pressure is on everyone else in the chain. But what drives this? Is it business efficiency, or marketing by IT suppliers, or IT departments themselves? And has the inexorable rise of IT actually benefited the average business, or would we have been better off, from a cost/benefit point of view, had we stopped when we invented the fax machine and the photocopier?

It will be interesting to see if the rise of user-friendly cloud software means that IT staffing (for ordinary businesses) has peaked. (Incidentally, one chap I know who made a very lucrative career doing freelance techie support once told me: “Do you know how I’ve really done so well in IT? I just put the error codes into Google.”)

***

On the subject of job justification, I came across an interesting argument for why you get such daft legislative proposals coming through the Welsh Assembly.

Because the Welsh Assembly looks and feels like a proper Parliament, but doesn’t have control over important matters, such as income tax and welfare levels, it suffers from a job justification problem. Its members feel they have to do something, so inevitably they listen to and even debate trivial pressure group issues, including really obviously dumb, pointless, unworkable stuff like banning vaping or making any kind of smacking your children a criminal offence.

This raises the possibility that devolution, which is all the rage on both the left and right of current political thought, may have a serious and perhaps counter-intuitive problem. Rather than empowering local populations to implement common sense measures that matter to them and freeing them from the impositions of the notorious ‘metro-liberal elites’, it will in fact leave them at the mercy of ever more absurd and intrusive law-making, served up by single-issue pressure groups and enforced by local busybodies who feel that because they have powers they ought to use them.

***

As I said above, I reckon I could stick Glastonbury for a day, which would put it surprisingly low on my Abnormality Tolerance Index. This is the measure of the time it takes until a disruption to everyday routine ceases to be fun and a desire for things to return to normal commences. I came up with the ATI about five years ago when it snowed heavily for a while and found that after a day and a half I was fed up with the old ‘deep & crisp & even’ and had lost any desire to throw snowballs, build sinister snowmen in the back garden or comment on how different everything looked.

Selected other entries rank as follows:

 

Lazy beach holiday – 13 days

Olympic Games – 5.5 days

Blistering heatwave – 5.0 days

Skiing holiday – 4.5 days

City break – 4.3 days

Walking holiday – 4.2 days

Being a guest – 3.8 days

General Election Campaign Coverage – 3.6 days

Being a host – 3.2 days

Christmas – 2.5 days

Snow – 1.5 days

Coach tour – 1.2 days

Festivals – 1 day

Stag do – 0.8 days

Camping – 0.6 days

Spectacular thunderstorms – 0.5 days

Fireworks – 0.2 days


How does that tally with your Index?

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About Author Profile: Brit

'Brit' is the blogging name of Andrew Nixon, a writer and publisher who lives in Bristol. He is the editor and co-founder of The Dabbler.

15 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Job Justification

  1. wormstir@gmail.com'
    June 29, 2015 at 09:59

    re. the north devon festival- Only 30 and 40 somethings know who Gaz Coombes is, the missing twenty-somethings have probably all moved to London, or only attend trendy uk bass events in Bristol, and the teenagers will go to absolutely anything because its north devon and there’s nothing else to do

    you are much more patient than me it would seem on your Abnormality Tolerance Index – I manage around 5 days on a beach holiday before getting a bit listless. And either being a guest or a host I would put at around 12 hours before wishing it to end

  2. Gaw
    June 29, 2015 at 10:26

    Are people in their 20s too broke to go because they’re spending all their money on housing?

    I’ve never been but I do look forward to watching it on telly with a glass of cold white wine and an excess of strong opinions.

  3. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    June 29, 2015 at 10:48

    Jeremy Vine – 2 seconds
    BBC News – 30 seconds
    Empty dishwasher – 3 times
    Visit Optical Express – 5 mins
    Listen to people banging on about how well their kids are doing – 2 mins
    Wander around the Uffizi – for eternity
    Repair the track – 2 hrs
    Visit NT property – 3 hrs
    Visit Blenheim – 30 mins (wot a rip off)
    Zip sliding – 1 month
    Watch tennis – 2 mins
    Watch Joanna Lumley – until the day I die
    Watch Homeland – as long as it runs (I have known a goodly number of Carrie Mathisons)
    Watch the sunrise over the Matterhorn from Mont Blanc, 40 miles away – 4 months
    Read Tolstoy’s big ticket number – ca 100 pages
    Sitting on a Ryanair flight – 10 mins

    • Brit
      June 29, 2015 at 18:42

      I admire your fortitude in giving Jeremy Vine the full two seconds, Malty.

  4. June 29, 2015 at 10:55

    I don’t know why, but watching crowds of people enjoying themselves brings out the misanthropist in me and the idea of camping at a festival is my idea of hell. Like Greta Garbo, I’d rather be alone. I was going to book a ticket for an all-Sibelius Prom in August, then realised that I’d probably enjoy it even more at home, live on BBC4, with a glass of something.

    The index is a good idea – you’re clearly a more patient man than me. I get jittery if a guest stays beyond lunchtime the following day.

    • Brit
      June 29, 2015 at 18:35

      I like the idea that an all-Sibelius concert is likely to be too crowded for you.

      • June 29, 2015 at 21:31

        I’m told that it’s sold out! There is hope for the world after all.

  5. dave@plasticsquirrel.co.uk'
    June 29, 2015 at 11:42

    Having almost played Goldcoast Oceanfest a few years ago (daytime bands cancelled due to weather, would have been nice to have been told before i drove an hour and a half to get there with a hangover) I can confirm that it is full of middle-aged people and teenagers because that is who it is aimed at. Twenty Somethings go to boomtown, because it is filled with ketamine-fuelled fun and madness.

    I realised halfway through last years festival season that I need to stop now, and so am having a year off (mostly due to having left the band that did them so much). When I get back on it next year, i shall stick to the no camping, one day of it only rule I made up. It is good.

    Btw, all techies google error codes, it more people did that, I would be out of a job.

    • Brit
      June 29, 2015 at 18:43

      A fallow year – very sensible.

  6. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    Mahlerman
    June 29, 2015 at 12:25

    Having seen the Beach Boys at Fillmore West back in the early 70’s it cured me overnight of any residual yearnings I might have harboured about standing in a damp field watching Florence shout. Rock and Roll seemed to die many years ago, at least on this side of the pond and, frankly, I’m quite happy with my memories – of TV sets the size of refrigerators with screens the size of saucers, theatres selling fresh fruit in the lobby, and pubs where your shoes stuck to the carpet. Where did we do right?

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      malty
      June 29, 2015 at 13:48

      Fortitude, magnitude and blind panic, Mahlerman and the thought that anything, anything, was better than Ruby effing Murray.

      Went to a Dusty Springfield concert once, took me weeks to come down from the clouds.

      It wasn’t in a field, who the hell, in Britain, wants to stand in the middle of a urine soaked quagmire in the pouring rain.

      Twitter accounters, I’l be bound.

  7. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    Peter
    June 29, 2015 at 13:17

    I’m surprised at your age you can give a whole 0.2 days to fireworks. For me, after two “ooohs” and one “aaah”, I start to fantasize about mowing the lawn.

    • Brit
      June 29, 2015 at 18:36

      Yes I’m probably missing a zero or two in there, really. 0.002 days.

  8. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    George
    June 30, 2015 at 00:23

    On my desk at work is a telephone list for the IT Department that must be a bit over ten years old. It has thirty-two names on it; the current staff directory lists nineteen. The largest part of the attrition was in computer operators, persons brought in during the mainframe days to hang tapes, manage line printers, and run jobs. (The switch from the old one-inch tapes to high-capacity cassettes eliminated the third shift at one place where I worked.) Then four positions made the nucleus of another department dealing with the web and social media. A couple of positions became superfluous when we started to get some heavily used files in one standard format rather than dozens. The help desk and network positions have stayed steady. We do support some organizations that have moved their mail to Google, but they remain with us for other services, and maintenance of forty or fifty mailboxes more or less is not that noticeable.

    Yes, I know that we in IT have the reputation for saying that things can’t be done, or insisting that they be done our way. There are sometimes excellent reasons for our recalcitrance. The good reasons reduce to this: software and systems are very hard to get right. Done properly, they appear simple to the users. But that is the reverse side of Byron’s “easy writing makes damned hard reading.” That simple change the business side wants might in fact be simple, or it might take IT four weeks to make it in a way that doesn’t break other things for six weeks.

    For a bit of light reading on the matter, I recommend Ron Jeffries’s essay at http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhyIsPayrollHard . I will add that I have never worked on anything at all as complicated as C2.

    As for the cloud, it has much to offer. It also has much to charge. I thought that nobody who had looked at an Oracle price list could ever be shocked by technology prices, but Microsoft Azure’s pricing did at least impress me.

  9. davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
    David
    July 1, 2015 at 15:54

    I was just describing the IT Crowd to my sister last night, and mentioned that it turns out that their only job is to ask the user if they\’ve turned the computer off and turned it on again, broken every once in a while by having to go upstairs and actually plug the computer in.

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