Tag Archives: Lotus Notes

Loss of Data

It’s probably happened to all of us at one time or another: you’ve been working on a spreadsheet or some other document for several hours, and were so absorbed in your work that you didn’t make intermediate saves, and then the server or your computer went down (say by a power cut), and you lost a whole afternoon’s work.

This was more likely to happen in the early days of computing, where application software didn’t carry temporary back-ups, and if an unsaved document was gone, it was gone for good. One example that clearly stands out in my mind was when a load management at Allied Steel & Wire cut out the mains a quarter of an hour earlier than I had expected, and I lost a 1-2-3 spreadsheet that I had been working on all afternoon. My expletives must have echoed through the building, because a manager of a few offices down the corridor came to compliment me on my command of the English language.

The situation was even more fraught in Iscor, where many of our documents were stored and edited through a mainframe terminal. In the end you started to read the warning signs when your connection started to slow down – often a warning sign that the connection might cut out – and then it was a race against time to try and save whatever you had before you lost your work.

At least I’ve never been in the situation of Steve Carless, who lost all his EngDoc work that was stored on a common drive when we changed our system of using common drives at Welsh Labs. The worst I did was to accidentally delete all my emails on my Lotus Notes account, and you know what ? I never missed a single one of them !

All of this confirms the adage that data isn’t data until it’s backed up. That was proven when I accidentally deleted more than a year’s worth of blast furnace 4 production records, and they were restored within a few hours from the server back-ups held by Process Control.

Come to think of it, considering that I’ve been working with computers for several decades, I’ve had surprisingly few mishaps. Either I’ve been lucky, or I’ve been doing something right.


I Don’t Do Attachments

“I don’t do attachments”, those were reportedly the words of Ian Hobson when he was Operations manager in Ebbw Vale. Meaning that if you sent him an email, you had to state what you had to say in the main text of the email without reference to any attachments, because he would not even look at them. At the time I thought that was a rather odd thing to do, but over time I’ve come to understand his point of view (at least if not carried into extremes).

The reason why I’ve come to this understanding is Lotus Notes databases. During the British Steel and subsequent Corus days, our email system was IBM’s Lotus Notes, something that was only replaced by Microsoft’s Office365 during the Tata Steel years. The Lotus Notes also came with the option of creating “databases”, sometimes properly created and useful systems such as the Next Steps databases or Process Control’s Post-Product Support database. However, most of the time it was merely a vehicle for clunky text-based documents, and worst of all some databases consisted merely of a forest of attachments without a word of explanation of what was where.

That’s why, when I started the Strip UK Sharepoint wiki, I immediately disabled the facility for adding attachments. I wanted a wiki article to show on the first click the information most relevant to that article, explained in normal English and accessible without having to click on an attachment to access information that should have been in the main body of the article to start with.

Obviously, the time and effort spent in getting your thoughts together and putting them in writing is greater than in merely attaching a document, but in the end the usefulness of an article is enhanced immeasurably for any user who visits the site at a later stage.

I’m fairly sure there’s a general message in here, in that a little bit more effort in advance can make most systems more useful in the end. Or am I over-generalising ?