How temporary is your temporary solution?

English: A roll of silver, Scotch brand duct tape.

English: A roll of silver, Scotch brand duct tape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To say that ending up with wet feet was a surprise is a bit of an understatement. On the first day in our new place, I did the washing up. When I emptied the bowl down the plughole, I expected the water to disappear, not to suddenly reappear at ankle level. A quick check under the sink revealed the issue. The previous owners had a dishwasher (which they took with them). The drainage from the dishwasher connected to the down pipe.

Now it wasn’t there, a gaping hole stood where the join was. To remedy the situation, we either needed a dishwasher, the right sort of plumbing doohickey to cap the pipe or a plastic bag and a hairband. Guess which of the three we had? The temporary repair did a sterling job of keeping my feet dry and was still there 4 years later when we finally bought a dishwasher.

When I joined BP, there was a carbuncle on the side of the office at ground level. It was one of those temporary portacabin type affairs. I asked someone how long it had been there. 10 years! A whole decade. My school had 2 temporary classrooms when I left 27 years ago. They have 4 now. IBM moved into Hursley in 1958 as a temporary measure. They are still there today.

A temporary solution or workaround can be a Godsend. When you’re about to go live with a big system and horror of horrors, you find a problem. You don’t want to accept the risk of taking a new release where new problems might be lurking. But temporary solutions have a nasty habit of becoming permanent. When you come up with a temporary solution, it’s important to understand the inherent drawbacks of not doing it properly. It’s also good to think about when (or if) it might be replaced. If the permanent solution is not under construction or at least in the planning stages right now, the chances are that workaround could last for a very long time.

If that’s the case, it might well be worth putting in a little extra effort to do a good job. Maybe go the whole hog and fix it properly.

Sometimes permanence is a good thing. The Eiffel Tower was originally built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle but caused such a stir they decided to keep it. Sometimes it’s not. Never believe a politician when they tell you a tax is temporary. As Craig Bruce once said; Temporary solutions often become permanent problems.

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Technical Isolation

Hursley House - geograph.org.uk - 967947

Hursley House – geograph.org.uk – 967947 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you ever get a chance to visit IBM‘s Hursley Park campus, it’s well worth going. It’s a lovely mansion-house in beautiful surroundings just outside Winchester. There has been a lodge at Hursley since 1413 and the current house dates from 1724. The Heathcote family donated the house together with £5m (a figure equivalent to £116m today) to provide a hospital for US military personnel in WW1. In WW2, the house was used by Vickers to develop the Spitfire. IBM moved in during 1958 as a temporary measure and they are still there today.

The System 360 and the Winchester hard drive were developed there and IBM were granted the Queen’s award for industry for storage & CICS. Today it houses 2800 IBM employees – roughly half of which are software developers making it the biggest software lab in Europe. Altogether IBM has 59,000 employees of which roughly half are based in the USA. They are heavily into the R part of R&D with research going on into particle physics and nanotechnology among other things.

On the Hursley campus, they have an isolation lab which is a completely shielded building used to test the electromagnetic emissions of devices to ensure compliance with the plethora of regulations governing such things. They really needn’t have bothered. There is a perfectly good isolation zone on the South Coast of the UK just outside Highcliffe.

A popular retirement spot, it’s a tiny village which must be the only place in the UK where the funeral parlours outnumber the charity shops. Nothing on any wavelength passes into or out of the place which renders mobile phones completely useless. A couple of times a year, myself and some friends spend a long weekend there and bearing in mind my attachment to social networks and blogging, I find myself isolated for the whole time.

Initially, I find the experience anxious. I can’t check twitter, Facebook, yammer, wordpress or linked in. I can’t phone anyone (unless I search for some change and use the call box). I can’t look anything up on Google or check the news or how the FTSE is doing. I can’t even download the Times.

After a while though, the anxiety ceases and I feel liberated. I get used to being away from email and social networks. I even start to like the idea that I am completely out of contact with anyone. Maybe we should go there more often! Of course, on return, the first thing I find myself doing is checking my email, blog, social networks etc. but it was nice while it lasted.