So far…

Out of the blue last night, an old friend sent me a message that resulted in a little walk down memory lane. We weren’t really a troublesome bunch. We mostly kept our noses clean, made the grades, and managed not to get into much (if any) trouble with local authority figures. That’s not saying we were angels, but our fun was mostly mild and between a mixture of luck and a few adults willing to look the other way occasionally, no harm ever befell us.

One of the memories whipped up last night was the music that soundtracked all the ripping and running we did along the crick. Most of it really belonged to the generation before us, but the one that stands out just now is Joe Walsh. Now, it’s probably fair that most people think of him as “one of those guys from The Eagles, but Joe has had a pretty storied career as a solo artist too. His albums were a regular feature coming from our car stereos back then.

One song we played damned near to death over the years was “Life’s Been Good.” It’s a catchy little tune released in 1978, making it more or less as old as I am. If the five of us guys who palled around back then had a theme song, that would probably have been the one. We were damn near inseparable. They were the brothers I picked for myself. Despite the time and distance and other life circumstances, I think of them as brothers still.

I got a little reflective last night. Between the time of the year and a little conversation about the old days, that’s probably to be expected. The fact is for as much as I relish bitching and complaining, like ol’ Joe, life’s been good to me (so far). I’d hate to give the impression that I don’t recognize and appreciate it every single day. I may not have gotten everything I ever wanted, but in so many ways it’s been a charmed life – with precious little I’d want to go back and do differently… and many, many things I’d pay real money to go back and do one more time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Unless they pay a particularly obsessive level of attention to detail, no one would notice that the link to this post includes the path “what-annoys-jeff-this-week-500/.”

That “500” bit deserves a bit of a call out. It means this is the 500th weekly installment of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Allowing for the occasional week where something else occupied this space on Thursday evening, that’s just about 10 years’ worth of annoyances electronically documented for posterity.

That’s a lot of being annoyed, though it’s 100% on brand. Believe me, no one knows that better than I do… but really, have you seen the world out there? How could anyone be expected to walk through it every day and not be filled with constant, low-level rage and general disaffection for their fellow man?

Maybe that’s what I find so annoying this week – that so many don’t seem to be disgusted or bothered by it in any way… as if profound mindlessness is the proper and inevitable deep background noise of the universe. The very idea of going through life with that kind of devil-may-care attitude and sunny disposition makes me want to bash skulls.

And that seems to guarantee a steady march to What Annoys Jeff this Week 1000 in due course. As long as I manage not to blow out a valve or succumb to a massive stroke in the meantime from the unescapable fuckery we’ll see in the next ten years.

On trumping festivity…

Last year was the first time in 42 years that I wasn’t in western Maryland for Christmas. It was different and decidedly subdued, but I didn’t particularly hate it. Now, here we are in December again and I’m starting to put together the plan for this year… even though it feels like we just did Christmas about seven weeks ago. 

Barring any significant Great Plague related issues, I’m more comfortable with the idea of making the trip this year… even if I’m not thrilled with the idea of driving into an area where every other Facebook post seems to mention friends, friends of friends, or family members who are militantly anti-vax or who are being throttled by the bug. 

Assuming I do go home for Christmas this year, it’s going to be another different experience. Excursions to the local watering holes, the casino, or restaurants are probably right out. I’ve avoided those things for the last eighteen months and making a Christmas exception probably doesn’t exactly pass the common sense test in the current environment. That alone opens up expanses of time I’m not use to having during these flying trips. Historically they’re a mad dash to see everyone I’ve promised to drop in on while I’m in the area. I don’t expect to make many of those promises this time around.

In all reality, what Christmas could mean this year is a change in where I’ll be tucked in with a dog and a few good books… and the need to potentially recruit a cat and tortoise sitter for a few days. It doesn’t feel particularly festive, but for the time being prudence continues to trump festivity.

Giving Tuesday…

There are approximately 47 billion organizations out there scrambling for your charitable giving dollars today. I present the following list of those I choose to support today, for Giving Tuesday, and throughout the year. As always, it’s a list that focuses on helping animals, because people are awful and it’s so often the animals, both wild and domestic, that pay the price for that. I’d ask that you consider them when putting together your giving plan for the year.

Delaware SPCA – The mission of the Delaware SPCA is to prevent cruelty to animals. We bring our mission to life through programs that provide shelter and adoption for unwanted and homeless pets, reduce pet overpopulation through affordable spay/neuter, and enable pet retention by providing low-cost veterinary services.

Cecil County Animal Services – CCAS serves as the County’s Animal Control Authority and provides quality care to animals in the community through the management of an open-admission shelter.  Additional programs and services provided through this Division include the Pet Pantry Program, Adoption and Foster Services, Behavioral Helpline, Pet Loss Support, Humane Education, Project Safe Haven, “Seniors for Seniors,” Pet Visitation Program, Volunteer Initiatives, and Pet Re-homing Intervention.

Ducks Unlimited – Ducks Unlimited is now the world’s largest and most effective private waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization. DU is able to multilaterally deliver its work through a series of partnerships with private individuals, landowners, agencies, scientific communities and other entities.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation – Serving as a watchdog, we fight for effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Our motto, “Save the Bay,” is a regional rallying cry for pollution reduction throughout the Chesapeake’s six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to more than 18 million people and 3,000 species of plants and animals.

World Wildlife Fund – WWF works to help local communities conserve the natural resources they depend upon; transform markets and policies toward sustainability; and protect and restore species and their habitats. Our efforts ensure that the value of nature is reflected in decision-making from a local to a global scale.

International Fund for Animal Welfare – The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. 

A 90% solution…

Since moving into this house, I’ve spent a decent amount of time pondering home automation, or more specifically how the home’s systems can work for me rather than me working for them. Some things are fairly straight forward – like heating and cooling. Even there, though, I’m using my fancy wifi-enabled, sensing thermostat as a simple programmable controller. It turns out the location of my thermostat in the main hallway didn’t get enough passing traffic for the thing to ever get a proper sense of when I’m home versus when I’m not. It also never really grasped my version of what constitutes a comfortable indoor temperature. It ended up being more useful to build my preferences directly into the program and then lock it in rather than hope the smart system would smarten up. My phone gives me a reminder on Sunday evenings to tweak the plan to account for planned schedule changes in the week ahead. The trend leaders would roll their eyes at this version of “automation,” but it works for me.

Lighting is the other bit of the puzzle that I’ve opted to keep dead easy basic. The new automated lighting systems can let you manage “scenes” throughout the house. It looks slick as hell on HGTV or YouTube. It’s also a thousand miles beyond what I need my lights to do. My favor of simplicity is driven by a single factor – I’m fanatically committed to my routine. That means most of my needs are met by old fashioned mechanical timers rather than connected fixtures. It doesn’t cover a few things like the task lighting in the kitchen or the overhead lights in the bathroom, but overall lights start turning on five or ten minutes before I get out of bed in the morning and then proceed, switching on and off room by room, as I go though the day. True automation, would gain me the ability to fine tune things a bit – and control light sources other than lamps – but I can’t see how that additional utility would be worth the cost of making the transition.

When it comes down to it, I don’t generally need fully connected, internet of things home automation. I’ve survived 43 years of my toaster not talking to my refrigerator and I don’t see much gain for enabling them to do so… and I’m old enough to be absolutely horrified at the thought of my front door lock being controlled from somewhere in the cloud. Maybe if I get the chance to build a last and final house, I’ll bring in more automation – things that make sense when built in from the ground up. For now, I’m leaning hard into my routine – and accepting the 90% solution priced out at $25 opposed to an “automation” solution that could easily have run to the thousands of dollars. I might never have a properly automated home, but I’ll have one that operates “just so,” and that feels like the real goal here.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Court TV (Continued). We’re in week two or three or five or whatever of wall to wall coverage of whichever “case of the century” happens to be taking place at any given time. I’m pretty sure it aggravated the hell out of me last week too, but it’s worth repeating since the local and national news outlets seem to have no problem repeating themselves at every opportunity. A simple “the jury is still out” would be sufficient, but I suppose that wouldn’t let the talking heads opine about why the jury is still out, what it means, who’s behind it, and why that makes everything a nail biter. I’d be thrilled if someone would just give us a news outlet that focused more on facts and a lot less on opinion. Good luck filling the 24 hour news cycle with facts, I guess.

2. The Thanksgiving rush. Thanksgiving isn’t one of those restful and restorative holidays. Filled with travel, overeating, and a crush of in person or online shopping, it always feels like there’s a certain urgency to the rhythm of the day. It kicks off a 4-day weekend that’ll feel like it went by in about 35 minutes. It’s still just about my favorite holiday, but I’m going to feel like I need a good long rest when it wraps up.

3. Roving bands of what I can only describe as looters have reportedly begun pillaging high end retail shops in San Francisco. The latest headline makers were their takedowns of such big names as Saks, Louis Vuitton, and Nordstrom. I’m only left to wonder if and when the powers that be in San Fran might decide that their policy of letting “petty” crime like shoplifting go unchallenged and unpunished turns out to have been a pretty bad idea and does nothing so much as encourage increasingly troublesome criminal behavior.

Cubicles aren’t the problem…

Even back in spring 2020, in the early days when the Great Plague raged unchecked, some of us were still coming to the office. Often it wasn’t many – and certainly some came more than others, but on the average day there may have been five or six people spread out in a room built out to hold around thirty. For good, bad, or otherwise, those who make decisions were determined that the place was going to have at least the loose appearance of conducting business as usual. They were determined to keep the lights on.

I only mention it, because I had a bit of a unique career experience today. For most of this day before Thanksgiving, I was the last man standing… or maybe the only one without the foresight to drop a leave request for today and Friday. In any case, I spent most of the day with the place entirely to myself. The only time I’ve had an even similar experience was a million years ago when I was a fresh, young GS-7 working in DC who wasn’t banking enough vacation time to be extravagant about taking the Friday after Thanksgiving. Even then, there were a few other people knocking around the far reaches of the GAO Building’s 3rd floor, so I wasn’t completely on my own there.

Today was a real Time Enough at Last moment, which is to say it was kind of ideal. As it turns out, just being stuck in a room full of cubicles and awful fluorescents for the day isn’t necessarily the problem with the modern office. It wasn’t quite as good as a day working from home, but without all the people, I mean it didn’t particularly suck.

It looks like I’ve learned my one new thing for today, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Of scouts and resellers…

I go to a respectable number of book sales each year. It’s not an every weekend thing, but six or seven times a year, one catches my attention sufficiently to make venturing off the homestead for it potentially worthwhile. The ones I like to dig into are usually put on “friends of the library” or other organizations who specifically take in book donations – they’re specialists rather than “used stuff” generalists. If I happen to be passing by an estate sale or yard sale, I might stop out of curiosity. I don’t generally seek those out even when someone advertises “lots of books.” It seems my definition of “lots” is wildly different than the average person’s. Nine times out of ten, what’s on offer is a box or two of kids’ books or beat to hell paperbacks.

There used to be a breed of person who frequented these sales called a book scout. They knew their business. They knew their points, editions, conditions, and values and could evaluate a book on sight. The best of them seemed to have a sixth sense about whether there was real value in a book – whether even the newest ultra-modern was a $2 reading copy or a $200 first edition.

Time seems to be replacing proper book scouts by roving bands of resellers. They ply their trade online, making their money in arbitrage – buying for $2 and selling for $3. Their business seems to be one of volume over quality. They’re hell with a barcode scanner and figuring out the spread on Amazon. They collectively seem to know price, but not value. 

These resellers are in there like vacuums sucking up all oxygen in the room – sitting on the floors, sprawled out, making obstacles (if not spectacles) of themselves, trying to scan every barcode in sight. It feels tawdry somehow. There’s not a bit of old-fashioned book scouting about any of it. They surely passed over the $200 book I walked out with for $10 last weekend because it simply didn’t have a barcode to scan. It must be more cost effective to sell 200 books on a $1 margin, but there’s no soul in it.  

I don’t think these guys are evil. They wouldn’t be doing what they do if there wasn’t a market for the $3 book. Increasingly, though, I wonder if my days at the sales are numbered. At some point the sheer aggravation of dealing with them won’t be weighed out by the utter joy of making a real score. There’s a big part of me that would rather just pay a dealer something close to retail than continue to trip over 101 resellers.

Time, distance, and the laws of men…

It’s that special time of year again when the gods on Olympus like to pretend that they are not in any way constrained by time, distance, or the laws of men. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving and those high and mighty gods have, right on schedule, realized that the minions on whom they depend to work their will will increasingly be unavailable thanks to end of the year leave taking.

Now what someone with a modicum of common sense might do, is prioritize whatever effort or efforts are legitimately “most important” and concentrate on getting those through the gate first. What we’ll actually be doing, of course, is piling on increasing levels of stuff to do and then watching as “leaders” gnash their teeth and rend their garments because it’s not getting done.

The pool of available people to keep up with whatever wild-ass new ideas the bosses dream up will get a little smaller every day between now and the end of the year. It would be comical if it weren’t absolutely predictable. I’ve watched this spectacle first hand since 2003 and can only assume this great green machine has been up to the same kind of pre-holiday fuckery since Washington was a Lieutenant.

Look, I really am sorry… but if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to jump through his own ass, moan, and wail, because your failure to plan has become an “emergency,” I’m just not your huckleberry. Never have been. Never will be. You have my word on it.

On making a difference (or not)…

The number of people who call my phone thinking they can steamroll me with some variation of the phrase, “My boss said…” would honestly blow your mind. I’m sure whatever their boss said carries some relative weight… with them. Since their boss is almost never anywhere on the list of people who sign my yearly performance evaluation, what we generally have is them passing along information that could, in a certain light, be considered interesting to me, but that is also almost entirely irrelevant.

I promise, I’m not out here making shit up as I go along. If I’ve done something, it’s because someone who does figure into my rating chain has either told me to do it or will support my interpretation of whatever led me to take a specific action.

After nearly twenty years at this, I don’t get impressed or intimidated by titles or shrill voices. But feel free to call and raise your complaint. I may even smile and nod sympathetically right before I proceed with doing whatever I was about before you called.

Follow my advice. Don’t. Either way, it honestly makes absolutely no difference to me. But good luck when someone higher up the pecking order asks your boss why it didn’t get done.