“These Are Not the Emotions You’re Looking For…”

Depression

Okay, so got a cheeky Star Wars reference into yet another post about my depersonalization and depression; score one for me.

Seriously, though, yesterday was a very difficult day for me.  It honestly didn’t start out that way.  I woke up early as I had an appointment with the sleep specialist to check on how my CPAP machine was going.  It went very well, and it made me very happy, which made my mood quite bright and cheerful.

On to our second chore while we were out: work.  I needed to swap over the back-up drives (which I’d forgotten to do last Friday) and also some work on allocating student loans to the appropriate Public Trust accounts.  The second part really didn’t need to be done yesterday, but because I was at work, I thought it would be easier to get everything done in one fell swoop, so I could spend the time during this school holidays actually relaxing without much work at all instead of working every day, a little here, a lot there, and forgoing the whole reason of having a break like I normally do.  One of the things I am learning in counselling is I need to step-back and have some “me” time a lot more often than I have been over the past 20 years or so.

Read These Are Not the Emotions You Are Looking For

Don’t Worry; The Taxpayer Has Deep Pockets!

This week, with the second anniversary of the devastating 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake approaching, I’ll be blogging about several issues relevant to our situation here in Christchurch and natural disasters in general.

I have never been the biggest fan of bureaucracy.  Personally, I feel the definition of a bureaucrat is a person with far too few skills and little common sense who is paid way too much to sit behind a desk all day and try to be as obstructive and obtuse as he or she possibly can be.  (This does not define 100% of all public servants but a good chunk of them.)

The Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes have pretty much shattered any last little vestige of faith in bureaucracy and Government agencies in general that may have been cowering in some little dark corner of my mind.  Okay.  I admit that I do understand sometimes why it is in place: to protect us against those who would otherwise try to take advantage of Joe Public.  My understanding extends to bureaucracy attempting to stomp out dodgy traders and people, and setting up hurdles to stop people out from getting a quick buck from hurting people like your little old sweet Nana.  But sometimes the bureaucrats go a little (or maybe a lot) power crazy and stomp on the good people too.  They frustrate good people who have the best intentions or can even bring inspiration, wealth, knowledge and creativity to the community and, overall, hurt the economy and public rather than protect them at the expense of stopping the small minority of bad guys.

Read Don’t Worry; The Taxpayer has Deep Pockets

Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47): The Sequel

The Tertiary Education Commission
The Tertiary Education Commission – one of the most inept government agencies in New Zealand history

I have some follow-up information to add to my blog a few days ago “Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47)“.

As you may recall, I received an email from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) late on 23 November 2012 with regards to a data cleansing exercise they were doing on their data warehouse.  They were going through their records to find out which components they felt were not science-based, and they were seeking input from Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs).  The Excel spreadsheet they sent me had 2 components we offer out of 34 science-based components.  I asked them why there were only 2 components on the spreadsheet and not all of them.

To my surprise, I received a reply back within a week (turnaround time is obviously improving…), but it has not improved my opinion of TEC in the slightest.

TEC responded that they were only putting components that might not be science-based (or they believed were not science-based) in the spreadsheet, which is why there were only 2 listed.

Their official response was:

We have 34 science classifications listed on our site. The two classifications we sent you were identified an anomaly,  as the name of the course did not appear to relate to science. The data cleanse is to ensure all the Science classifications are correct.

What we want to know is do they fall under the science classification and if  they don’t then what classification do they fall under.

The problem with this scenario is this:  Both of the components are the same (but for different intakes) and they are both entitled, “Anatomy and Physiology for Manicurists”.  It seems pretty straight forward.  This component will teach manicurists and nail technicians the anatomy and physiology they need to know.

The same spreadsheet has another workbook on it called “Science Classifications”.  It basically lists all the subject areas TEC considers science-based.  And, you probably guessed it, number 2 on the list is… “Anatomy”!

What is frustrating me is this is a total waste of taxpayer money, TEC’s time, and my time.

All I could think to write back was…

I’m not sure how they can be “anomalies” considering their title starts with “Anatomy…” and, according to the list of science-based courses listed on the “Science Classifications” tab, the second field down is “Anatomy”…

Has anyone really thought any of this through?

Obviously not?

Your tax dollars hard at work, people.

Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47)

Bureaucracy.  It’s almost as horrible a word as that vile phrase, red tape.  Actually, I’m not sure which one is worse.  Perhaps they’re twins.  Inefficient twins.  Inefficient twins who aren’t exactly that bright, make tons of errors themselves, but love to point out the minor and very occasional error you make yourself.

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) (see “Just Give Me the Bloody Address!” for exhibit A).  As a matter of fact, I don’t know if you would find many fans of theirs; TEC tends to be a fairly strange child of three merged (failing and inefficient) government entities, and it acts as if the DNA wasn’t quite ever right.  One of our suppliers whose product helps us produce our thrice yearly data report to TEC is constantly doing battle with an organisation which can be described as dysfunctional at best.

(I do have to interject here and give credit where credit is due.  There is a senior manager at TEC by the name of Stephen who has been extremely helpful to us this year.  I am sure there are others there who are just as helpful, but, as an organisation itself, it is extremely dysfunctional.)

I could go on and on about the various problems I have had with TEC, but I will highlight a few cases we have faced this year.

Ben Linus Has Transported NaSA to Auckland (And Not Told Us)
We received a report from TEC to say that our provider was located in Auckland.  I wrote them back to tell them we are, and always have been, in Christchurch.  They had the gall to tell me that I must’ve changed it.

Newsflash number 1:  I can’t change that information on their database.  When I sign in, it’s a non-editable area.

Newsflash number 2: The non-editable area clearly says Christchurch.

Newsflash number 3: Given the history of my previous interaction with their computer system (which interfaces with the Ministry of Education and New Zealand Qualifications Authority), and with the Ministry of Education consistently and constantly praising me on how “clean” and accurate my data submissions are, I extremely highly doubt I’d list the school in the wrong region on the wrong island even if I could edit the information in the first place.

Mind Meld with TEC like Spock with a Horta to Get an Answer
Late last year, I made a mistake with the aforementioned thrice-a-year return.  (No, the world didn’t end.  It almost did, but it didn’t.  Obviously.) After a year of quakes and rebuilding the school and all the drama and stress everyone had been under, I think I’m allowed to make a mistake.  It was a simple one; I forgot to mark a small group of students who resat their final examinations and passed as “successfully completed” instead of “unsuccessfully completed” in the database.  I fixed the error.  I admit I made a boo-boo.

Somehow, this all didn’t quite make it into the annual completion reports that TEC judges our funding eligibility for the following year on.  We were above the threshold for funding anyway, but TEC informed us our data should be as accurate as possible (fair enough) and the final data extraction would happen in a month or so.  I wrote to them with the simple questions: “Do you have to reset something on the return database for me to make a new return? Can I upload a new return to be processed?”  A fairly simple question.

It took weeks to get an answer from TEC, and it basically read: “We don’t know.  Ask Ministry of Education.”

I wrote to Ministry of Education.  They wrote back that (sorry), it was a TEC matter.  They could confirm that no reset was needed, although TEC should have known that.

Back to TEC: “Can I resubmit this data?”  The answer should be a simple “Yes” or “No”.

A few more weeks go by.  The deadline approaches.  I keep trying to get an answer.

15 minutes before the cut-off time on the date a change needed to be in by, I get a response: “Yes, you can resubmit the data… as long as you do it within the next 15 minutes.”

I was at a medical appointment I had been waiting for 6 weeks for when the email came crawling in.  By the time I got the email, it was 20 minutes too late and I was at home.

Taking 4+ weeks to answer a simple yes or no question?  Not acceptable.

Yeah but No but Yeah but No but Yeah like Vicki Pollard
Last Friday, after I had left work, and email rolled in from TEC.  I read it this morning.  Basically, they’re doing a data cleanse of their data warehouse.  They wanted to know which of our components were science-based; an Excel spreadsheet, pulled from their records, was attached.  TEC marked whether or not they thought the component was science-based, with a second spreadsheet listing subjects that were science-based (in their opinion).

I open the spreadsheet to find only 2 science components listed.  After logging in to the TEC site I mentioned before (with the unchangeable city / region in it), I look up science-based components we should have: 34.

The 2 they have bothered to include on the spreadsheet have titles starting with “Anatomy and Physiology…”, but TEC have marked that they do not believe these are science-based components.  Flip to the second spreadsheet with examples of what science-based components are, and, probably the third entry down is — you guessed it — Anatomy.

Despite pretty much all tertiary educational organisations being smack-dab in final examination season, the due date to check all this information is… Wednesday.  We’re given a whole 3 days to check over what could be screeds of information for some TEOs because, hey, we’ve got nothing better to do like, oh, examine students or get them their final results, or maybe even give them their diplomas.  Why bother making sure the customers’ needs are met in a timely manner when we have endless bureaucratic returns to fill out instead?

I wrote to them today to point out the missing information, the mismatched information, and the disgustingly short-notice deadline.  According to the server, they read the message; whether or not I get a reply before the year has finished might be another story altogether.

The Pause

I hate this!

The pause being between flat-out at work and waiting to leave on a holiday drive me mad.

I’m waiting on two or three things from industry people or TEC so I can finish the last bits of two projects before I go away: an NZQA Course Approval and TEC templates. And I hate waiting. I want it done and over now!

It reminds me of when I finally finished re-doing my degree at Massey here in New Zealand. There was that lull, that break, where my learning and final exams were over, where two-and-a-half years’ worth of study were finished, leaving a great void. I felt lost, wandering, unable to focus on other, more relaxing tasks because I felt I still had homework to do.

So, that’s how I feel now: unable to unwind, unable to relax, stuck in the pause between work and holiday.

Here’s hoping people start getting me some data so the pause goes bye-bye!

Just Give Me the Bloody Address!!!

I can’t believe it.

I still haven’t got the address from them!

As part of our annual reporting requirements at work, we (as are all Private Training Establishments in New Zealand) need to submit our Financial Viability documents. This mainly is our financial books for the year and a template so the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) can make sure we are still a viable business to fund.

Simply put, TEC doles out government subsidies for tertiary education in New Zealand.

TEC has undergone yet another restructure — we’re now talking hundreds of millions of dollars wasted in restructuring over the period of what, 5 years? — and part of that restructure was moving all administrative matters to one office in the Auckland region. We used to send our administrative matters to their Christchurch office, but now, it’s Auckland. We did receive the postal address (where you can mail things to them) for the new centre but never a physical address (where we can courier things to them).

Our Financial Viability documents were due on 30 June 2007. After mucking around with our accountant, our auditor and the figures, we finally got something worth sending in (we think). Our mail service, unfortunately, lets us down when we most need it, so I send all very important documents (like this one) via courier.

But looking through the information, I found we had no physical address for the new TEC administrative centre.

So I picked up the phone on 26 June 2007 and called the new help hotline.

After no answer the first two times, I finally got a hold of a woman at TEC. No, “TEC Help Desk, how can I assist you?” or any pleasantry like that. Just “TEC, so-and-so speaking.”

I said the normal pleasantries — “Hi, this is Scott from the National School of Aesthetics calling. How are you today? That’s good.” — and then explained the situation. “We have our financial viability documentation we need to send to your office, and I want to send it by courier to make sure it gets there on time. I can’t seem to find your physical address there. Can you please give your physical address to me?”

I got, in a very thick accent that I could barely understand: “PO Box XX-XXX, South Auckland Mail Centre, Manukau City.”

Me: “That’s the mailing address I have but I need to courier something to you.”

Her: “Use that address.”

Me: “But couriers can’t deliver a parcel to a post office box.”

Her: “Can’t they?”

Me: “No. That’s why I need your physical address.”

Her (accusatory): “Who is this again?”

Me: “Scott Fack, Director of Operations from the National School of Aesthetics in Christchurch.”

Her: “Where?”

Me (speaking slowly): “National School of Aesthetics.”

No response.

Me: “Do you need our provider code? It’s XXXX.”

Her: “Oh. Ok. Our physical address is…”

I had her say the information about three times and, after her getting shitty with me, I though it would be best just to let sleeping dogs lie. It’s great when people know where they work and are familiar with their area, but I don’t work there. As I said to her, “I’m from Christchurch. I’m not familiar with Manukau City or Auckland.”

So, thinking I’d better leave this conversation before I do my nut or say, “Can I have someone who speaks bloody English?” (which, thank God, I’ve never said in my life), I thanked her and hung up the phone.

Aside from making me feel like I was going to blow up their building or something by asking where it was, she wasn’t very much help.

I looked on the TEC Web site. Nothing. No information on what the physical address was.

As a last resort, I thought I would try emailing them to make sure I had the right address because, to be honest, to me it was looking a bit dodgy.

So, on 26 June 2007, I emailed them. I specifically asked them for their physical address, i.e. where their building is standing. I explained the entire situation again. (This all took place within about an hour on the same day.)

After not getting a response, I thought I’d match it up with TEC regional office addresses on their Web site. Finally, I found an answer. I had spelled the building name, and the two street names wrong. Close, but a courier wouldn’t have found them I am sure.

I happily addressed the courier package and sent it on its way.

As a slight experiment, though, I thought I would see how long it would take TEC to respond. They are notoriously slow at responding at the best of times. When we were trying to get some courses re-approved for funding, it took them two months (yes, two months people) for them to switch it from “No” to “Yes”. It took me two months for them to do that.

I finally got a response today (5 July 2007). According to MSGTAG (a great programme, by the way, if you want to see when someone has opened up the email you sent them), it took TEC 8 days, 1 hour, 32 minutes and 11 seconds to open up that simple request.

4 minutes later, I got a response.

“Sorry I’m so late in responding. Our address is…”

Wait for it…

“PO Box XX-XXX, South Auckland Mail Centre, Manukau City.”

So my question is: Is it any wonder I have so many doubts about TEC’s ability to manage and adequately make rational and informed decisions on funding tertiary providers hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars when they can’t even tell me the bloody address to send a courier parcel to?