I think this
craziness was part of a duality. We were part of the public service and
our mandate was to to serve the public but we were also working for politicians
who had their own agenda. An example of this might be success stories.
We were at certain times, often close to an election or some other key political
moment, required to scurry about and find out what good we had done. The
guys had to find some business which we had helped to succeed. This was
easier said than done. The officers went out and attempted to make silk
purses out of any number of sows ears until they came up with the
requisite number of success stories. These were served up to the politicians
was the Ministerial. Ministerials were letters that were presumed
to be from the Minister in charge of whatever it happened to be. We were
part of the process. Suppose a letter had been written to a Member of Parliament
or even to the Prime Minister. This letter requiring a reply would be rapidly
bumped downstairs until it reached the Minister who held the relevant portfolio.
The Ministers office would promptly bump in downstairs again until
it reached the desk of the Officer who was in charge of that particular
thing in the Province. The Officer, whose territory included steam saunas
in your shower, or some such, would draft a reply. This reply would bump
its way back up through the system to the Executive Director or, more particularly,
to his secretary. The wording was then corrected and all made good and proper.
The Ministerial then went back to the Officer for approval and back and
forth until approved locally, then it was sent to the Minister in Ottawa.
He would, after perhaps some more corrections and back and forth, accept
the letter. By this time the letter, after the successive launderings, said
nothing in particular in a very bland and pleasant way. We understand
etc. etc. No-one could possibly pin any blame
on such a Teflon-coated letter.
When I first
joined the Department there were hierarchical rankings of secretaries and
a hierarchical ranking of officers and all that. Certain secretaries worked
with Directors and then there was the head secretary who was rug-ranked
with the Executive Director. These secretaries ran their little kingdoms
and were a royalty. They spoke for the throne, as it were, and everyone
gave them due respect. When computers first came to the Department they
were primitive from our more modern point of view, IBM 386s. These computers
were all stored in what had been the smoking room. There was a glass panel
in the door of this room. Walking in the corridor we would go by and peek
in to see all the computers and monitors stacked up. These computers would
be ours when we had the required support staff which management was still
in the process of hiring.
Being a computer
hobbyist and something of an activist I formed a little computer user group
at work. Such activities were allowed in our lunch hours and in social time.
Using this computer usergroup as a base, I started a petition process to
Free the Computers!. It was driving me nuts seeing those fine
IBM 386 machines all locked up. Pressure was thus brought to bear and, through
group action, those computers were foisted upon the local populace before
the support staff arrived.
The lady who
had been responsible previously for computer stuff in the Department had
risen to the level of her incompetence. They brought in a real computer
guy and his assistant. The new Information Technology staff promptly set
up a network and, bingo, we were online and had a real LAN (Local Area Network).
The incompetent lady disappeared, no doubt to surface elsewhere in government.
usergroup had regular meetings and all that. Some users were very keen but
others, like the poor secretary of the Executive Director, were ordered
to attend these meetings and were bored to tears. She was under instruction
to attend and keep tabs on what was happening with this popular movement.
woman was brought in to train us. She was a very good communicator and very
bright. We needed to learn word processing plus a little bit about spreadsheets
and presentation software. She specialized in word processing and a powerful
program called Word Perfect. We became competent in its use over time but
we never approached her expertise.
thing started to happen. There used to be a sort of boiler room where the
typists would sit and type from handwritten manuscripts submitted by the
Officers, who didnt have to type a darned thing. In the fullness of
time, they put computers on the Officers desks. The secretaries at
their rug-ranked desks and the Officers in their office cubicles did not
know that this was part of a plot to get rid of support staff and let the
Officers do their own typing. My goodness, there was such a fuss and bother.
Still, it happened. Over time all the Officers started to type. The exalted
secretaries just drifted off and we were left with a sort of routine female
administrative staff who pretty much ran the day-to-day activities of their
section along with some routine typing and answering phones and what have
you. Soon the typing pool was gone and the Officers were typing their own
reports, with some hands-on by secretarial staff for the finer points of
to type. He was a bit of a peasant with fingers like sausages. Jim was smart
and shrewd and wouldnt type, so he got his typing done for him just
to shut him up. It was strange to see that wave of change pass through the
department with Jim as the lone holdout.
sometimes turn into jobs. An entertainment group I was close to needed a
web site, so I taught myself HTML. I was working in raw HTML code then looking
at the result in a Browser, then back to the code, fix a bit, look at it
again, back and forth, back and forth. Eventually, through this process,
I created a website for them; a monumental achievement at that time although
not snazzy by todays standards.
that I knew how to put up a website. Continuing in this vein, I got better
tools and I put up my own website of useful links. I picked up a couple
more clients, such as a fellow who wrote networked billing software in Basic
code who wasnt into designing. I did a site for a stained glass designer
and several more entertainers, an online African Violet newsletter, and
so on, It came to pass that another government department in our building
needed a webmaster. This was (magic word) an INTERNAL competition. People
working currently for the department could compete for this position but
there was nobody in my shop who knew how to put up a website except ME.
I competed for the position and won. Someone else was trying for it but
they turned out to be an incompetent wannabe. That is to say theyd
take the job if the department paid for their time off to train for it.
I got the
job and I went in and put up a real government website. I gathered Links
and got official approval for parts of it and gradually it came together.
It was a whole lot of work because there was an existing website with many
flaws. The first thing I had to do was root out these flaws. There was a
lot of spaghetti code (messy, poorly structured code), and files that were
too big, files that were unnecessary and so forth. I pared it down to what
we actually needed. When that was finished was I actually done? Oh no. I
was was only half done. Canada is a bilingual country.
I had only
schoolbook French. To get the web site translated we sent it to the Translation
Bureau. After a page was translated a wonderful chap on my floor who was
French Canadian, looked at the page to see if it made any sense at all in
French. The Bureau did literal translations of the English text with sometimes
I went through
it all, word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence with the Translation
Bureau. There were many pages, and Links and inserts. Bit by bit, over time,
we translated that web site into French, and it was good French, thanks
to the helpful chap overviewed it. A source of amazement to all was that
we were, now, in compliance. We had a site in both English and French. This
was a major triumph.
downhill from there on. Having decided that the geeks could not run the
farm, management began to have more and more input into the web process.
The web site became not just a by-blow but a primary method of communication.
We had programmers now in our department and in Ottawa. A scripting language
called Cold Fusion came along, which I didnt much care for but I learned
it after a fashion. We had to code the pages so they could use Cold Fusion
scripts and it wasnt much fun any more. I was getting ready to retire
because Im not a young person. I was looking forward to the day when
I could kiss them all good-bye.
talk a little more about the department. I was a wild card. Human Resources
tried to clone me but that didnt work. There werent very many
people who wanted to work, not just for their little silo, but for the whole
department. My way was to work for all. I was and am a philosophical Anarchist
and believe that power belonged to the people and we should do things that
would benefit everybody. From each according to his ability, to each
according to his needs. This Anarchist philosophy, learned at the
Libertarian League in New York City, was something I didnt bring up
in casual conversation while working for Ma Guv.
used to call what I was doing burrowing from within. I was working
for the government. I gave them hard work and loyalty, while working for
the whole office. I ran a book table for United Way. Paperback books were
easy to read on the subway or the Go train. People donated them and I would
sell them for fifty cents each, never more. Folks tried to get me to raise
the price but I wouldnt do it. I was always able to make a nice $300.00
yearly donation to United Way from the book table and the whole department
here in Toronto was kept supplied with reading matter.
I also ran
a coffee service which was very popular and also cheap. Folks didnt
have to go outside the department to get coffee for their boardroom meetings.
When I moved up to being a webmaster I had to let all that go. Last time
I visited my book table was still running. just outside the door to Human
my take on working for Ma Guv. Its is a rambling tale I needed to
get off my chest, so here it be!