Thursday 21 October 2010

Lis's handy guide to database managing

Or database management? Managing?

Hello everyone, my name is Dotty the Database Manager. I manage a database. I don't create any of the data content, other people do that (user group A, we'll call them). The data is created in language 1, and can be translated by users (with the appropriate profile, user group B for instance) into languages 2 through to 12.

The main data sets are created and translated accordingly to a timetable that is drawn up 6 months in advance, communicated widely, and updated regularly. This ensures all user groups can plan and manage their workload for this content.

When user group A creates content, I leave it up to each user to inform user group B that data is available for international adaptation. Group B needs to receive this information in a timely fashion, because the data must be ready for use in each country according to a strict seasonal calendar. Sometimes group A gives the wrong information about new data to group B. This causes confusion and can lead to errors. If I were in control of the information group A gives out this wouldn't happen.

Recently I had the IT team develop a great new module where user group A can create new content entirely autonomously. It's fantastic because they no longer need to work to a restrictive calendar. They can create content as and when the fancy takes them. Once content is created, they can edit at will, with no fiddly un-publish/un-link/re-link/re-publish operations as with the main data sets. Even better, if content is already translated, they can still edit and even delete without any restrictions (unlike the main data set, where you cannot modify any content that has been translated, you have to create a new record). Sounds fab, doesn't it?

There is no timetable for the creation of content in the new module. Users in group A don't communicate when they create content (to me, Dotty, or to user group B). The new module does not include any type of automated alert to inform me or other users when content is created/updated.

If users in group B want to adapt the content in the new module for use locally, they have to check, one by one, close to 300 folders to find out whether content is present. If they have a vision in a dream informing them that changes have been made to already-adapted content, they have to check, one by one, close to 300 folders...

Sounds fab, doesn't it? Oh, no, hang on, sounds shit. That's because it bloody well is, Dotty!

As you'll have guessed, Dotty is a fictional character. But she is largely based on somebody in my company who has had a module added to her database, but no has no control over what is created and updated, or when, in the module. So she has no way of communicating this information to users who need it. When I stamped my feet and pointed out that this was not good enough, she suggested a query that could scan the data sets and look up changes. We could run it every 2 weeks for example. OK great, I'll take it. 3 weeks of development time before we can have our query. Eh?

Lessons to learn:
1. Don't create features that allow users to create/edit data with no controls whatsoever
2. Manage your user groups so they inform you, database manager, or at least impacted user groups, of new or updated content
3. Take responsibility for your scope


Sunday 17 October 2010

My mother-in-law the basket case

I don't often blog about my mother-in-law. These days I don't often blog full stop.

But I think I'll blog today, specifically about my mother-in-law (the basket case). I am such a lucky girl, I actually have two mothers-in-law. One of them is my step mother-in-law. She is a very sweet woman for whom I have a lot of affection. She makes up for my other mother-in-law, who is a wicked old cow.

Hubby, poor, put-upon Hubby, has never had an easy relationship with his mother. When he was a child, if he didn't finish his scrummy lunch of veal cheek or pig's trotters, his mother would shut him in the kitchen cupboard where he would remain in the dark for up to two hours. When she let him out, he would be presented with the now-cold veal cheek to finish. These days, social services would be sniffing around for much less I feel.

Later in life she continued this kind and loving style of mothering. For example when we first moved to the north of France, our new landlord wanted a guarantor for the rent, because at the time I didn't have a job. Fair enough. She refused to sign the guarantor papers because 1/ she actually genuinely thought we'd default on the rent (which was, incidentally, more than manageable on just Hubby's income), 2/ she didn't want to be liable for that. So she would have rather seen her son (her only child) homeless. Nice!

The coup de grâce came late in 2007, just a few days before Christmas. We'd been visiting in November and had used her wifi connection to go online. As you'll know, if you have a wireless broadband router, this requires use of a WEP key (security number), which gives you access to the internet connection of the router. It doesn't give you access to anything else. Such as the email account of the line subscriber. I mean, it might do, but I certainly wouldn't have the first clue on how to go about getting that.

However, mother-in-law decided that we had "hacked" into her emails (like either of us is sufficiently interested in her boring life to want to read her emails! Just cos she'd *love* to be able to see ours). So she went to the Orange shop and asked them to change her email address. And she told the man in the Orange shop that we had used her wireless broadband connection. And this was, apparently, hacking! "And so I went and porté plainte" (she said this, word for word, to Hubby). Porter plainte means to make a complaint, but not just to anyone. You make a plainte to the police.

So here we have mother-in-law telling Hubby that she had reported him to the police for hacking her wifi and email account. I'll let you imagine for a moment just how you would feel if your dear mother were to say to you that she'd reported you to the police for computer hacking. In the scenario, I'd ask you also to imagine that you're going through a very rocky patch with your employer (any excuse to dismiss you and they'd jump on it), and that your whole career to this point has been in data networks (and, specifically, network security). Are you building up a scene of utter disbelief/shock/massive panic? You're getting somewhere near how Hubby was feeling.

Turns out of course that no report was ever filed, she had made it up. But just exactly what sort of a person thinks it's OK to say that sort of thing to their child? Or anyone, for that matter. Somebody who doesn't ever think about the effect their words and actions have on others. Or somebody very spiteful indeed.

Which ever one it is, Hubby was pretty hurt and pretty cross. Who can blame him. So he more or less cut her off. This, coming after a lifetime of snide remarks, cruel comments, unkind actions... it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Hubby decided he'd rather not have a mother than have one who had the potential to make him feel shitty every time he spoke to her.

So for the last 2 and a half years, he has had near zero contact with her. I'd say "c'mon, you only have one mum, even if she is a nasty piece of work." But he'd reply "I'm waiting for an apology." (Hubby can be quite stubborn!) Yerrrssss, I can understand that. But to get to the point of an apology, the "wronger" has to first be aware that they have wronged the "wrongee". Most people can grasp that concept, but in mother-in-law's skewed reality, she cannot possibly the be cause of any one single negative emotion Hubby has ever experienced in his life.

[Thanks for sticking with me, I'm getting there]

Anyway, after all this time she has finally found a way to lure him to her witch's lair. She sent an email saying she was having a big chuck out and what did he want to do with his college notes/old toys/blah blah. I could see he was swithering because there are some items in his mother's flat that he would quite like to get back. So he plucked up all his courage and headed off to the West (hahah, not really, she lives south of us, but it makes us laugh).

The big event was yesterday morning. She asked him why we never came to visit any more. He pointed out to her that the things she had said in December 2007 had been just a wee bit unkind and hurtful, and that he had been just a wee bit upset about it all. And, much to everyone's surprise, she actually said "oh, sorry". I mean!!!! Hubby suspects it was more a diplomatic, tactical "ok, sorry then, can we be friends again now" than a genuine "gosh, I didn't mean to be unkind, I *am* sorry". This was possibly borne out by the ensuing change in tack: "ok we're friends again now, when are you next coming to visit?" Hubby delicately (or not) pointed out that "if I have a choice between putting up with the cruel things you say to me [and consequently feeling shit], or not having any contact with you, well, the not having any contact is working for me." Ouch.

He is quite pleased, because he got his grandfather's hunting rifle (left to him in the grandfather's will). Mother-in-law did raise some concerns that I might get my hands on it and drive down to her dragon's den and shoot her. Ha! Hmm, let me mull that one over.... Nah. I don't give enough of a shit. I suspect she watches too much telly and thinks she lives in a naff American soap opera (lots of them on French daytime TV) where these kinds of things happen. I know I've got a temper, but hey.

Last night the gang and I had a shot a some champagne-fuelled psychoanalysis. We couldn't decide whether she is a schizophrenic with persecutory delusions, or a sociopath (is it sociopaths who can have "apparently" functional relationships but don't feel empathy?). But then we ordered pizza and watched a DVD because it was more fun.

(Have just asked the all-knowing and cast-iron reliable Wikipedia: looks like it's the pyscopaths who can form "apparently" normal relationships. Must be a pyscopath then.)

I wonder where things go from here. When I have my magnanimous hat on, I think "well, he's thrown her a rope." In saying he'd rather have no contact with her than listen to her nastiness, she can deduct that, if she wants to see more of him, she needs to bite her forked tongue. But maybe he's only given her enough rope to hang herself with. Which, when I have my self-serving hat on, I quite relish. After all, let us not forget the row that was had in our house just after we moved in. She insisted she wanted to be here for the move (to stick her beak in). Not the best idea, with hindsight. I was irritable and short-tempered, she was itching for a fight. She shouted at me (in my own home). I shouted back. Later in the evening I decided I was partly to blame and went to apologise and make the peace. She said "get out of my sight, I don't want to look at you or hear your voice and I certainly don't want to listen to your apology." Riiiiight. Her visit ended there.

I would say I'm justified in saying if she's all alone and her son won't have anything to do with her, it's nobody's fault but her own. I can fully see Hubby's point of view when he says that even if he did let her back into his life, he could never trust her not to revert to type and come out with something cruel and spiteful at the first opportunity. But the tiny little bit of me that is kind and forgiving still thinks he should give her a go. On strict probationary terms, of course.

So there it ends, my story/rant about my mother-in-law (the wicked old cow one). It's been quite cathartic to write it all down in fact. Even if I could easily write twice as much again about all the ups and downs! I haven't ever really blogged about this stuff before, because one never knows exactly who reads one's blog. But I don't care!