Simply Balls.

[I wrote this short story ten years ago – eek! – following a software upgrade]

“All foreign balls are checked by default,” my supervisor told me, “so will go through Checker.”

“Right,” I said. “So we’re not using Editor anymore – ever – at all?” Editor was the old software.

“We can still look at orders on Editor, but we can’t do anything with them. We’re still checking the addresses on white box deliveries, but you won’t have to worry about them because they’ll be going through Tweaker.” Tweaker, another piece of software – not a person.

“Unless,” I said helpfully, “they need their balls checked?”

“If they need their balls checked, they’ll go through Checker, and you’ll tidy up their addresses in Checker.”

“So how will we know if they need their addresses tidied?”

“We’ll get the CLOs” – customer liaison officers – “to put something in the notes in Admin.” Admin, another piece of software.

“We don’t check the foreign balls,” I said; “or we never have done. So do we just ignore them when they show up in Checker?”

“Yes, we do. The overseas department check the foreign balls. You just carry on checking the balls you used to check in Editor.”

This conversation took place after the roll-out of an essential software upgrade. No-one had considered the impact on us, there being bigger fish to frazzle. Fortunately for me, I had a few days holiday coming up. No doubt everything would be sorted out by the time I returned.

A week later, I had the following conversation with my Balls Checking colleague.

“We’ve now got a list of clients who want their balls checking,” my colleague said, “and we’ve also got a list of clients who just need their addresses tweaked. Unfortunately, we’re seeing clients who should just be going through Tweaker coming into Checker. There are also some other clients in Checker we can’t account for.”

I said, “Does it matter if stuff that should only be going through Tweaker comes through to Checker, so long as they have their addresses tidied, and are subsequently sent out? It’s surely far worse the other way around. If they go through Tweaker when they should be coming through Checker, that means we’re not checking their balls. Would I be right in thinking that something that appears on one list shouldn’t appear on the other? That is, if something appears on the Tweaker list, it shouldn’t appear on the Checker list.”

“Well, no,” my colleague pointed out. “If it has to be checked and tweaked, it’s going to be on both lists.”

“I don’t see the point of that,” I said. “If it’s on the Checker list, it means it’s ours, whether or not it needs to be tweaked. The Tweaker list is for the tweakers, so that they know what to tweak and send out. If an order is on the Tweaker list and needs to be checked, the tweaker’s just going to assume it’s on their list because it needs its address tidied prior to being sent out. Why would they think or assume that it needed to be checked?”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said my colleague. “There’s a list of orders that need to be checked, and a list of orders that need to be tweaked. What we’ve been trying to do is establish what should and shouldn’t be coming through Checker.”

“So what about the list that’s produced for the tweakers?”

“That’s a different list. It’s got nothing to do with these lists.”

I discussed the matter further with my supervisor that afternoon.

“Do the CLOs actually know what they’re doing?” I asked.

“In what way?”

“I thought we’d established that orders they wanted to go through Checker got a full tick in Admin, and white box orders got a half tick to send them through Tweaker.”

“We had. Or we thought we had. Unfortunately, we’ve also got some other stuff coming through, which we can’t account for,” he said. “It may just be a rumour, but I think the fluffy pink balls automatically go through Checker.”

I said, “Please tell me you’re just being idly funsome with me.”

“No, I’m absolutely serious. We’ve had trouble with the fluffy pinks, so any order with a fluffy pink will show up in Checker. We think.”

“Are you telling me that I can’t believe what I’m being told in Admin?” I asked. “I can’t assume that an order that isn’t ticked shouldn’t be coming through to Checker.”

“I’m afraid not,” my supervisor said sympathetically. “Not if there’s a fluffy pink in the box.”

The following took place the following day.

“Do you recognise any of these clients?” My colleague had approached, holding a list and a pen.

I looked at the list attentively. “Yes,” I said at length, which was true. “Those have to be tweaked and checked, and the Palmer order, which is extremely fussy, is done by Ian. Not only do they want the right colour combination of balls; they also want them in the right order. They claim it makes them easier to check their end.”

“Right,” said my colleague. “So these orders have always been checked.”

“Well, not always, but probably as long as they’ve been tweaked. They’ve been checked for a while anyway.”

“I didn’t know that,” my colleague said.

“No? Well, historically, there’s always been a line of demarcation between tweakers and checkers, so that if a brown box order went on check – that is, one that wasn’t tweaked – then it was done by us; but, if it had to be tweaked in some way, then it was done by tweakers. But there are far too many tweak orders now for specialist tweakers, so basically they have to be done dumb. If they need anything more than tweaking – i.e., checking – then we have to do them.”

“Right,” he said. “Well, I’ll add them to the list.”

“Excellent,” I said. “Hopefully, we’ll soon have something definitive to work from.”

An hour later.

“I’ve just found another order coming through Checker I’ve never seen before,” my colleague informed me. “I checked it in Admin, and it’s got a full tick.”

“Who’s the CLO?” I asked.

“Jemima someone-or-other,” he said.

“I think she’s new,” I said. “Might be struggling with the software.”

“So she might not know what she’s doing?” he asked. “Wouldn’t she have got some help from someone?”

“She sits next to Penny, so not much, no. The purblind leading the blind. Is there anything about the order that suggests it needs checking as well as tweaking?”

“Well, no. All the balls are the same colour, and they take the same amount every time.”

“So it probably just needs tweaking.” I smiled. “Unless we’ve employed a colour-blind packer.”

“I’ve emailed her,” he said. “I cc-ed you in.”

I checked my email. He had, indeed. “Have you had a reply?” There was no guarantee I’d be included in on the reply.

“No, she’s off until tomorrow,” said he.

“Oh, well,” said I.

Tomorrow came… all too quickly.

“I’ve just received a reply from Jemima,” my colleague said just before lunch. “Apparently, this order’s an exception. The balls are bigger than standard for their type, and all the same colour: therefore, they go through Checker.”

“How’s that an exception?” I asked. “There must be quite a few orders with balls of the same type.”

And the same colour,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “So you’re telling me that we don’t have any other orders of the same type and colour?”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” – my colleague sounded pained – “but you don’t seem to be taking any of this in. The order constitutes a consignment of balls bigger than standard for their type, and all of the same colour. So, yes, it’s an exception.”

“Right,” I said. “So we don’t have any other orders of bigger than standard balls of their type, and all of the same colour? Or did you mean they had to be of that particular type and/or colour?”

My colleague regarded me balefully. He said, “Okay. These are orange balls of type B – though bigger than standard for type – and the consignment has no other balls of either type or colour. This order comes through Checker. If we have a consignment of green balls of type G – though bigger than standard for type – then they too would go through Checker.”

“Hmm. Such consignments probably are quite rare,” I agreed. “Do we know why they come through Checker.”

“No,” my colleague said; “and I don’t really care. There’s not going to be enough of them to worry about. Probably just this one. Anyway, I’ve added it to the list.”

Three hours later, and Checker hardly seemed to be working at all. I approached my supervisor.

“Would I be right in thinking that something has gone slightly askew?” I asked.

My supervisor considered his reply. “I’m not going to be all Soviet and Kremlin with you, John,” he said at length: “the rocket exploded on the launch-pad.”

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