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The Case of the Disappearing Start Menu

I was summoned urgently to one of the admin offices to deal with a mysterious problem – every time the user clicked on a menu, it would open, then immediately vanish again.

I walked in, and lo and behold, she could demonstrate the problem perfectly.

“Look, I can click on Start, and it pops up for a second, then disappears! I can’t do any work!”

Restraining myself from commenting on how giddy she must be at actually having an excuse to be in her normal state of ‘not doing any work’, I quickly ascertained the cause of the problem. Leaning over the bomb site that passes for a desk in these parts, I gingerly lifted the pile of class registers off of the top-left corner of the keyboard, releasing the Esc key that was being held down and cancelling out of every menu.

If only they were all that easy…

Overheard on the site radio

Our school has a large site, so the grounds staff use licensed walkie-talkies to keep in touch. The IT office has one of these radios so we can be kept in the loop, which is particularly important during the holidays. On occasion, the overheard conversations can be hilarious:

Facilities: “Guys, we’ve had a problem reported, there’s a blockage in the visitor’s toilets, could someone take a look?”

Caretaker: “Yeah, no problem, I’ll stick my head in next time I’m passing”.

Facilities: “I wouldn’t stick your head in, I’d use drain rods if I were you.”

Never an Idle moment

I got a call from the front office today.

“My computer screen’s suddenly gone black and says ‘Entering Power Saving’ mode!”

I pop down expecting to have to plug in a loose VGA cable. Only there isn’t one. Everything seems normal, but the screen is off.

I wiggle the mouse, and the screen comes back on.

“We’re you… using the computer at the time?” I ventured. Like an idiot, I had simply assumed the user’s surprise was down to it happening mid-flow.

“No, I was doing this paperwork…”

It turns out that in the 18 months since I configured Power Management to turn the screen off after 35 minutes, the user had never been sat at the desk long enough without using the computer for it to kick in.

Overengineered

As of today, I have officially added SharePoint as only the second of two Microsoft technologies I want nothing to do with (the other being System Center Configuration Manager), both chiefly on the ground of being far too complicated for their own good.

I have long held the belief that only a sadist would run an on-premises SharePoint server, due to my previous experience with it usually resulting in far more work troubleshooting problems than the actual server was worth to me. I’ve never even run anything more complicated than a single standalone server, and I’ve had to look up more SharePoint error messages than possibly every other Microsoft product I’ve worked with combined.

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Disguise

I hate seeing things like this:

When I see a blanking plate in the middle of a bunch of other faceplates, I don’t think “what a neat job they’ve done.” I think “what have those sons of Hades hidden behind that?”

I tend to ignore it unless I happen to be passing with a screwdriver. Then, one day, curiosity will get the better of me.

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Metric

The site maintenance team have been a man down all summer this year due to one of them suffering an unfortunate and painful medical complication a few weeks before term ended. This means that aside from the 15 minutes helping me unload the Dell delivery (15 minutes I was very grateful for), they’ve not been able to spare much time, given that schools do the vast majority of their building works during the summer (as well as the vast majority of their IT upgrades).

So, as the only member of the IT team, if computers need moving, it’s me that moves them. And a lot of computers need moving.

I multiplied up the weight of the kit I was moving around today, and realised that in the space of an afternoon, I have carried more than a metric tonne of computer equipment across the site. No wonder I’m sodding knackered.

Delay

Today, I went on an adventure into the deepest, darkest reaches of the cupboards. Cupboards I have formerly only glanced into since my arrival, or only ventured far enough in to rescue the most obvious treasure.

In a small cardboard box at the back of one cupboard, I found an upgrade for one of our oldest laser printers. It was a JetDirect card, which turns the printer into a network printer.

According to the shipping label, the school bought it in 2006.

It was still sealed in the box.

I am now the proud administrator of a nearly decrepit (but newly network-attached) HP Color LaserJet 4500.

Unions

I joined a new union over the weekend, after reading about yet another school IT technician suspended from work pending the outcome of an investigation into them that they are not even allowed to be told the details of.

What this usually means is an allegation by a child, and while genuine cases do exist, they are the exceptional minority. Most cases like this are down to the increasingly and disturbingly popular trend of using such allegations as a method for pupils to exact revenge on staff who have reprimanded them.

Unions tend to have a poor reputation in the press due to the more militant unions taking unpopular or unfounded strike action. The recent postal worker strikes in the UK had scant public support, and strikes by London Underground staff make the majority of London commuters decidedly furious.

For school workers, the real strength of union membership has nothing to do with strikes, or even pay negotiations, but in the legal protection and advice you are entitled to if either a student or the school itself tries to shaft you. My opinion is that every member of school staff should be in a union if only for that reason. Think of it as career insurance. Union membership costs less per month than your broadband rental, and you do not need to have a union rep at your school to obtain assistance.

Which Union?

  • State sector: UNISON (join) or GMB (join).

    In my last school, which was in the state sector, I was a member of UNISON. Also popular amongst school staff is the GMB. Find out which one is more popular with support staff in your school and join that one.

  • Private sector: ATL (join).

    Since my move to the private sector I did not know which union to join, since the above only deal with state schools. Acting on advice found on EduGeek, I discovered that the ATL cover support and administrative staff working in private schools. I am now a member.

You can join any of these unions online by using the links above. It will take you less than 10 minutes and could one day save your reputation and career. Do it now.

Paint

We have the painters in at the moment.

That would be fine, except for the fact that I didn’t think there was any decorating going on in the school for another few weeks. I already knew about a small building project which required some IT equipment to be relocated, but it turns out I didn’t know about the other two classrooms across the hall that are being painted. This means I did not remove the interactive whiteboards in advance of swarthy men with paintbrushes being allowed to run rampant.

I am now the proud owner of two SMARTBoards that are covered in paint splatters.

Incommunicado

On the phone on my new desk is a Post-It note with a telephone number written on it. The previous Network Manager told me that this is the incoming number for my office.

After giving it out to a few people, I discovered today the number has in fact been disconnected. What’s more, the school’s receptionists have no recollection of there ever being a direct line to my office.

I have absolutely no idea what to make of this.