All Good Things


This was my last year at my school.

It’s been the best part of 6 years since I started ranting about my job in a school I’d grown to dislike, and a few years afterwards I told that school where to stuff it and moved on to pastures new. Now the time for change is upon me again, as I recently accepted a more senior position at another institution. While it’s not quite the lofty hallowed halls of Senior Management, it’s senior enough (and pays enough) that it would no longer be appropriate to air my dirty laundry online.

If I’m really lucky, there may not even be any. But if there is, you won’t have to endure me pontificating about it.

If you get bored, there’s always the archives.

How you know the holidays have started

  1. You have to unlock a classroom the day after term finishes to turn off a projector that a teacher left on, despite a whole-school reminder email to make sure they were turned off.
  2. People start surreptitiously opening gates that are supposed to stay closed over the break, because they think there’s no-one around to notice.
  3. You respond to a burglar alarm going off because some hirers were told there was no alarm in the building they hired, so when they walked in and set off the alarm they just ignored it and hoped it would turn off on its own.
  4. You get a variety of ‘Suspicious login detected’ emails from Google Apps after students legitimately log in to their school email from Qatar and the UAE.
  5. Co-workers who are definitely not going to hand in their notice during the holidays to screw the school over mysteriously clear their desks, by complete coincidence, despite never clearing their desks for the holiday before.
  6. A massive Dell shipment arrives the day before you go away for 2 weeks, despite clear instructions to the reseller not to deliver until you got back.

Dear teachers: pupils are here to learn, not to run your errands

Let’s say that the printer in your classroom is out of ink. Do you:

  1. Use the specially-designed “quick request” system on the school Intranet to request a new one. Time taken: 30s.
  2. Because it’s super urgent (and you never pay attention when you’re shown the 3 mouse clicks it takes to use the request system), call the IT office directly to ask for a new cartridge. Time taken: 30s.
  3. Send 2 pupils out of your class to walk over to the IT office (without even checking if the office is staffed) to relay an incomplete request for a new cartridge, while you sit at your desk marking work from another class. Pupil time taken: 4-5 minutes (x2) minimum.

If you picked option 3, you are a turd bag. You have deliberately squandered pupil learning time simply because your 30s is apparently too important to deal with an issue that prevents your entire class from finishing their assignment. Instead, you’ve chosen to rob two unwitting pupils of around 15% of their lesson time. The problem you need fixing takes longer to fix, and those pupils are now at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the class.

How exactly can this be justified?


Thoughts on father figures

Over the weekend, this happened:

Short version of the story: a Daily Mail reporter allegedly posed as a jihadist to try and wheedle out some (largely imaginary) fellow extremists, in order to write yet another story implying that all Muslims are terrorists. Forum admins quickly cottoned on and exposed their IP as coming from the Daily Mail offices.

(Update: since this post was written, it has been well established that the individual named in the initial report has had nothing to do with the Daily Mail for years. The DM themselves also claim the message didn’t originate from their offices at all, though that part has not been independently verified.)

So what has this got to do with school IT, or father figures (as per the title)?

Read More…

The Mystery Fridge

The refrigerator in our Science prep room scares me.

First it was the fact that half the contents looked like they were specimens of some kind, cosying right up next to the milk the department used for coffee.

Then it was the email that went round from the Head of Science one day:

Dear All,

There is some mystery meat in the Science fridge. If it is not claimed by 2pm, it will be disposed of as a matter of Health and Safety.

Later it was the school nurse walking in to my office with a bottle of ether and some drugs she’d found in the aforementioned fridge, one of which was some penicillin that expired before I was born, and the other being a pack of doses of Gonadotropin from the same era.

I don’t go into the Science prep room any more.

What they say, and what they mean

They say: “I don’t think anyone really understands how this is going to work.”
They mean: “I don’t understand how this works.”

They say: “A boy in my class was looking at naked girls on one of the computers.”
They mean: “I typed ‘naked girls’ into Google and the filter caught it, so I need a cover story in case the technician looks into it.”

They say “If you can help me out with this, I will be eternally grateful.”
They mean: “I will be grateful for about ten minutes.”

They say: “I’m trying to crop this picture but it isn’t working.”
They mean: “I have absolutely no idea how to crop pictures that aren’t on my phone.”

They say: “I’m concerned about what other people think about this.”
They mean: “I don’t like this.”

They say: “None of my class are getting sound out of their headphones.”
They mean: “Two of my class are not getting sound, I haven’t checked the others.”

They say: “I think we might find the laptop keyboard a bit small.”
They mean: “I want a more expensive laptop with a bigger screen.”

Reasons that normal people install Google Chrome

A quick reference for every stuck-up web app developer who can’t be bothered to support even the latest version of Internet Explorer:

No. 1. Didn’t untick the box when installing Adobe Reader or some other crap that Google have paid to push installs.

No. 2. Home page of world’s most popular search engine tells them it will make their Internet faster:

"ooh, faster intarwebs!"

No. 3. It was installed for them by a techie relative who was screaming about IE only being good for downloading other browsers.

No. 28: They were accosted by the EEA Browser Choice update and Google was the only name they’d heard of.

No. 1564: They made an active choice to install Google Chrome to take advantage of its superior HTML5 support.

Got it? Good. Because the next time you tell me that the reason so many people are moving away from Internet Explorer is because of HTML5 support, I will print off your email 100 times, screw those 100 copies into a giant ball, drive to your office, and cram it into a very uncomfortable place.

This is why I don’t let users change their own printer cartridges

I was in a classroom today when the teacher told me that they hadn’t used their printer in years because it was broken.

At least, I think that’s what they said, because whenever someone tells me they haven’t used a printer in years, what I hear is “Despite my annual protestations, I don’t actually need my own personal printer, please take it away”.

Which I did.

However, when I went to remove the cartridges for recycling, I found out why it didn’t work.

As much as I hate changing printer cartridges, I put up with it because this is the inevitable alternative.

Google not loading first time in IE11 via a web proxy on Windows 8.1? Turn off SPDY support.

Update 14/03/14: According to Microsoft, this problem is fixed in the March 2014 Cumulative security update for Internet Explorer. However, I was able to immediately reproduce the problem even after the update was installed, so the below still applies as far as I’m concerned.

As my former boss Bond once said, “If you’re going to live on the cutting edge, you’ve got to expect some blood”. One of the many joys of being an early adopter is finding stupid bugs before everyone else, and so as I began wide-scale testing of Windows 8.1 at my school, we found this one.

In a nutshell, pretty much every time we tried to load in Internet Explorer 11, we got a “This page can’t be displayed” message, yet the site would inexplicably load fine just by clicking refresh. We saw the same with other Google sites such as Gmail and Google Drive – but most sites seemed immune. Both the desktop and Modern UI versions of IE were affected.

Like most schools, our web access goes via an HTTP proxy so that content not suitable for the 5 year-old cherubs can be filtered out. We use Smoothwall, which is one of the better filtering products out there, but so many applications are not designed with proxy support in mind that it does occasionally cause problems. It’s very rare for any mainstream browser to have a problem with proxies, but when I bypassed it, the problem immediately went away. What was more curious was that we were already running Internet Explorer 11 on our Windows 7 workstations too, and they didn’t have any problems.

Read More…

Doesn’t even need a plug on it any more…

It’s a common complaint in school IT support departments that they are treated as general dogs-bodies there to help with any electrical appliance at all. VCRs, kettles, microwaves, desk lamps… the saying goes that “if it has a plug on it, it must be IT”.

Today set a new low for that sentiment, when I was asked to supply new AA batteries for an electric pencil sharpener.