Wednesday/ the robots are coming (for your job)

More and more robots are installed in factories (and by 2025 in homes, and offices and  – the coffee shop?), says the Wall Street Journal in an article on Wednesday.  Apparently the experts are still split over the question whether robots will eventually decimate or elevate the economy, since they have the potential to steal even the remaining jobs that humans are still better at.  Machines have stolen our jobs ever since the Industrial Revolution, of course.  (Already taken : bank tellers, travel agents, translators .. next up : neurosurgeons, taxi drivers, cooks, warehouse stockers?).  Well, we will have to wait and see.  A simple task such as folding laundry takes enormous computing power and dexterity, for example.

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Wednesday/ time to test

My project team is preparing to test the solution that we have created. Create-test-suites-5  It is the first of four test cycles ahead of us. We do not yet have a 100% completely built out solution, but we are ready to test the core components.   We will add the connections and additional functions in the later cycles.   We are using HP’s Quality Center software to create tests with test steps.  (A little ‘meta’ to use software to test software with, not? I remember one of the space shuttle launches were delayed because a test of the back-up software failed. Not that we are creating space-shuttle software!  We are merely tweaking the business software from SAP, parts of which are now well over 20 years old).

Tuesday/ time to transport

It’s time for us to get out of our Development transport2(DEV) system and into the Quality Assurance System (QAS) so that we can start testing the solution we are building.   The truck icon is still there, same as it had been since I started working in earnest in SAP in 1995.

The idea is to ‘package’ up a packet of configuration table entries, or program code, and import it into the Quality System.  No one is allowed to make changes directly in the Quality System.   That way, if something gets broken in there, the offending configuration change or code change can be reversed out.

Friday/ Salinas field trip

Today we met with a crew that took us out to the field to show us some of the gas distribution equipment, and the work done on them..  Our field trip gathered some valuable ‘use case’ information.   A lot of connected data have to come together in our system’s back-office to make it possible to do away with paper work orders and forms.     The world is moving to mobile devices and so are companies that use and collect information on the go.

One of our candidate devices – an Applie iPad Mini – was accidentally dropped onto a hard surface from about 4 ft up, which cracked the display screen.   The devices do not yet have the protective moulding around it which would help it survive the rough and tumble of getting used in the field.

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Work starts early out in the field : at 7 am. We are on the way to the gas company’s yard to meet with the crew that will take us out in the field..
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I did not get to see too much of Salinas – but here is a nice old railway bridge used to indicate the entrance to the ‘old town’.


Monday/ spread thin

I’m the butter on the toastButtered-Toast-620x411 in this picture this week : spread thin.  Two of my team’s compadres are out on vacation (so early in the year! man!) and I have to hold the fort.  ‘Can you spare a minute?’ asks everyone that stops by my desk.

Tuesday/ it’s a unicorn!

Tuesdayunicorn made for a loong day. Some of my team’s Functional Specifications were wayy overdue, and so I and two colleagues had to draw a line in the sand.   We sequestered ourselves into a conference room with no distractions, and no one allowed in – just so that we could wrap those up once and for all.    ‘Man! This one is a unicorn!*’, someone said, of the method that we had to deploy for calculating unit costs for work that had been completed.  ‘Unit’ can mean several things; and the calculation is not standard SAP functionality, so we had to understand how several custom programs work, and adapt our project’s solution to it.

*A very unusual creature to find in the woods .. and an unusual requirement that we have not run into, in previous SAP implementations in all our travels around the USA and the world.

Wednesday/ kill Notes

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We (all of us at my firm, but especially the IT support group) are trying hard to kill our internal e-mail and database application called Lotus Notes.  It is not easy to do.  We are stabbing at it with our steely knives* – but we just can’t seem to kill the beast.    The latest news in the internal company-wide project with the aim of moving us over to Google Mail and Google Calendars (yay!) is that we are going to have to use the two applications side-by-side for a few months with no integration between the two.   Hey, if that’s what it takes, I’m all for it.   (The little KillNotes program on my desktop removes Lotus Notes from my computer’s memory.  It sometimes hogs the memory and impacts the system’s performance if even after one has logged out of it).

*A reference to the classic Eagles song ‘Hotel California’.

Tuesday/ out of the office – but not out of touch

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I am out of the office this week – but my colleagues have many, many ways to get a hold of me.  We use e-mail, texting, phone calls, voicemail and WebEx conferencing (to share the presenter’s computer screen over the internet).  I used all of those on Tuesday, actually.  Still, nothing beats being there in person.  One has to see if the faces are smiling or frowning at you, and what the body languages are signalling.   And when someone gets up and starts drawing an impromptu diagram on the whiteboard, that is trouble for the remote attendee.

Tuesday/ are we done yet?

This is our last week on site for 2014 here at the project, and the Project Manager wants all – or he will settle for ‘most of’ – the specifications done – D.O.N.E. – by Friday. Are you done yet, with yours? he asked me today. Well .. define ‘done’, I hedged.   (Done could mean it’s complete but not reviewed, or it could have been reviewed but the review comments still need to be incorporated, or it could have been reviewed with comments already incorporated, and approved).  It’s always a challenge : is the specification complete enough and defined enough so that the developers can go ahead and code the conversion program, or the custom function that we want to create to extend the standard SAP functionality.

A ‘Task List’ is a set of work instructions that need to be done on a regular basis. Example : an annual inspection of the condition of a piece of equipment.  One of my specifications is to convert TasK List information from a legacy system into SAP.  The data fields have to be painstakingly mapped from the legacy system’s data structure, to the SAP data structure.

Sunday/ working weekend

I have that ‘I feel a little robbed’ feeling .. I actually worked all Saturday and all of today. Ironic then, that I ran across this full-page ad from SAP just today (SAP being the very system that makes me work so hard).  So, SAP : Run Simple?  Sounds nice, but is anything today simple anymore?

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Wednesday/ drag it through the garden

That’s what the hand-written description on the pizza box with the veggie pizza said. IMG_5898 sm It was the 7th and final game of the World Series* between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals but we paid it no mind : we had deadlines to meet and overdue design documents to complete.

‘Hang in there .. we’ll go home at a decent time and eat real food next week’, said the project manager.

*Baseball.  The San Francisco Giants won the final game in the series with 3 runs to 2.  There will be a parade in the city on Friday.

Tuesday/ ‘ .. and are you a wizard?’

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[From Wikipedia] Merlin advising King Arthur in Gustave Doré’s illustration.
We have a new team member that has joined us all the way from our SAP code development center in Shanghai, China.  His name is Merlin, and of course more than one of us welcomed him and inquired (teasingly) ‘.. and are you a wizard?’

The wizard named Merlin goes back a long, long way in storytelling – many centuries. [From Wikipedia] The figure known as Merlin is best known from Arthurian* legend.  The standard depiction of the character first appeared in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, written circa 1136.

*King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century.

Monday/ describe your look

This nattily-dressed fella’s name is Pierce Thompson and he is a brand strategist for Horizon Media in New York City.  He is featured in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s ‘What I Wear to Work’ page.   My plain old business-casual wardrobe cannot possibly measure up to his, but I can still admire what he wears.  (I cannot say my shoes are ‘clean on the foot’.  And is one allowed to say ‘My pant (no s) comes to the top of my shoe’?).

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Tuesday/ no ‘special attention’, please

We have major project milestones images (2)coming up very rapidly on our project.   Some teams are falling behind and are being subjected to daily ‘special attention reviews’ : a formal way to describe the daily reporting of the team’s progress against detailed activities.   Yikes. My team and I agreed that we don’t want that kind of attention !  Better to knuckle down and get it done – and avoid getting some ‘special attention’.

Wednesday/ too many #%@! fonts

10-9-2014 4-29-29 PMWe had to work hard this week to round up the hundred-some documents for our solution’s design.  These are done in formatted Microsoft Word documents with imbedded tables and several fonts, and then posted onto Microsoft SharePoint. (SharePoint enables users that collaborate on documents to access them via the intranet).

So what went wrong? Well, we found that documents checked out of SharePoint and checked back in again, lose their formatting.  So Big Bold Headings now disappeared into the body of the text on the pages, and indented sections are flush against the left margin.  It took a lot of time to fix – too much time, and in the end we chose substance over style.  We will fix the formatting later.  Grrr.

Thursday/ wait for the synch

Before and After
Here’a a before and after synch of the Alaska Airlines mobile app on my phone. The ‘after synch’ screen (on the right) shows that I have checked in, that the flight is on time, and that my seat has changed from the back of the bus to closer up front.

Systems and applications are going ‘mobile’ – even colossally large corporate enterprise system such as SAP.  Of course, only small parts of its ‘back-end’ functions and data are getting deployed to mobile devices.  The deployment is in the form of the little apps that appear on the mobile device (such as an iPhone or iPad).

In the case of SAP, part of the project that we are working on is to provide field technicians with a mobile device that shows their work orders for the day, along with the technical documentation that they need to perform the work. (It’s a mobile deployment of SAP Plant Maintenance  called ‘SAP Work Manager’).  Every day before the technician goes out to the field, they will ‘synch’ their mobile device with the back office.  The synch can also be done several times a day.   Nothing is instantaneous, though!  We still live in the real word.  There are real zeroes and ones that need to get transmitted in little wireless internet protocol packets, so that the data can be written as magnetic zeroes and ones in the memory of the device.  And out in the field the band-width may be limited – or there may be no connection at all.

Wednesday/ the SAP Plant Code

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Here is where Plant Codes are set up in the SAP configuration menu. It’s not a matter of jumping in and doing it in 5 minutes! It takes many weeks of discussion and collaboration with the business to settle on what needs to be set up for the ‘enterprise’ as SAP likes to call it.
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‘Complete Plant’ says this defunct neon sign at the dry cleaner by my house in Seattle. We’re actually headed back there with little local power plants (solar or otherwise) getting installed into new buildings.

We started configuring our new solution for our project on Wednesday.  Company Codes and Plant Codes are critical underpinnings of the whole SAP installation for a company, and one has to get these right to make the system work.   I can write a book about the SAP Plant Code and how it should be set up (but I will not do that here !).   The Plant Code is where lots of equipment are co-located – that the company uses to make stuff or to run its business.  How many to create, or where to draw the lines for separate Plant Codes is sometimes hotly debated !

Thursday/ the ‘jet pack’ to the rescue

We stayed very late at the office last night, and we were very happydownload to get out of there today .. but the work never really stops.  When I got at San Francisco airport after driving the rental car there this afternoon, there were 20 new e-mails on my smartphone.   One simply said ‘Send KDD* slides’, from our project manager.  Yikes. This must be urgent, I thought. *KDD stands for key design decisions, that our proposed solution will be built on.

The file is large and I could not send it with my phone.  I had no luck using the airport’s wireless network either.  (For my second attempt I was at the TSA security station.  The notebook computer screen was open, and the agent closed it before I could stop him, killing the connection).  Aargh.  Right, I only had 5 more minutes before I had to board my flight.  Time to pull out the heavy artillery : my Verizon ‘Mi-Fi’ JetPack. It creates a secure personal hot spot (wireless connection).   Let’s go, let’s go .. why so slow? send it !  wait for the confirmation .. yes! made it.

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San Francisco airport’s International Terminal at 5.15 pm tonight. I am about to drop my bag at the check-in counter.

‘Wednesday’ pants

CheckIMG_5462 sm out the waistband of the fancy pants I am wearing.  This is stitching on the inside of the pants, of course. (So is it OK to wear Wednesday pants on Monday?).  Stitching the day into the waistband is probably a marketing ploy to get me to buy seven pairs of pants – or at least five, one for each working day of the week.  I actually have four pairs of these pants already.  I like to wear the same types of pants every day to work.

Friday/ into the deep blue sea (of SAP)

The venerable SAP Easy Access screen .. once you see the blue ripples on the right, you know you’re in. It still does not mean you have access to all the vast sweeping modules and corners of the enormous system. For that you need an infamous security profile called SAP_ALL. (It is almost always a bad idea to give anyone this kind of access).

I have written about an SAP ‘sandbox’ system before, here .. it is usually a copy of a company’s SAP system with some sample data.

I finally gained access to our current project’s SAP sandbox on Friday, and it was great to look around in a real system and to see how our client company has deployed the functionality.

It’s been awhile that I got my hands dirty in an SAP project! That was not the case in Denver.