In a lot of ways my little part of Sam’s wide-ranging operation is one of the last true bastions of the command and control business model. High atop Olympus, decisions are made and the filter down through the organization like water through so many layers of sedimentary rock. Just like our notional water finding its way to the aquifer, along the way, the decision is filtered through each layer – it picks up things from one, the next strips something away, and by the time it drips down through the lower rock strata sometimes it’s barely recognizable as the thing that started the journey back on Olympus.
That’s a long way of saying that things don’t generally happen fast where I live. Slow and ponderous is the nature of the bureaucratic beast. That’s why it’s not surprising that it’s long been one of the great holdouts to working remotely. Anyone who can’t be seen at their desk, hoeing their row down on the cube farm, is suspect at best. That attitude is slowly changing among some of the first tier supervisors – usually though whose advance through the ranks started fairly recently.
Eventually though, if the anyone is paying attention and you’re more than a halfassed employee, they’ll start to realize that you really can get the work done despite your location far away from the hive. The down side of that is when it happens, the home office starts feeling less home and more office. On balance, though, wading through the daily mess in fuzzy slippers, in the company of your favorite members of the animal kingdom, and with a really stellar commute help offset that trouble reasonably well… in fact I’ll remain forever perplexed that the highly relaxed dress code and proximity to snoring dogs don’t make this the most sought after work arrangement known to man.
1. Ice. I hate dumb stupid ice and the asshole who didn’t salt his driveway because “why bother, it’ll melt in a few days anyway. Occasionally I am a real idiot. Conveniently I was summarily punished for it so I feel balance has been restored.
2. Not doing the maths. I don’t even want to guess how many times I’ve watched someone walk to the checkout only to be rung up and announce in what appears to be complete surprise that “I don’t have that much.” Maybe some quick maths before getting to the counter would have been helpful. On any given day I’m keeping a reasonably accurate running total on two different checking accounts, three savings accounts, two brokerage accounts, one e-trade account, two IRAs, a “401(k)” type account, the Dow and S&P 500, and the spot price of gold, silver, and bitcoin. I won’t always know what those numbers are to the cent, but you can bloody well believe I’ll know if I have enough funds available to cover a cart full of whatever it is I’m trying to buy before I get to the point of sale. It isn’t about wealth or poverty. It’s about awareness and knowing the condition of all the resources you can bring to bear on the day. Situational awareness in all its many forms is your friend, kids.
3. Mr. coffee. My venerable 11 year old Mr. Coffee seems to be on his last legs. It’s mostly failing to drip through the last cup of water and when it does, it brings a quarter cup of grounds through to the carafe with it. No amount of scrubbing or spring adjustment seems to make a difference. I’m suspect of change at the very best of times… and changing something as central to my life as the coffee maker feels likely to set all my nerves twitching.
This coming Saturday will mark an auspicious milestone for me – The 15th anniversary of signing on as one of Sam’s civilian employees. The truth is that number feels vaguely fictitious. It clearly isn’t possible that much time has passed since showing up to meet the bosses and a gaggle of other new employees at a Shoney’s restaurant just outside the gates of Fort Lee in Virginia. As much as those days in the old Blue Auditorium and nights of bar hopping between Petersburg and Richmond feel like a different lifetime, they also feel a bit like they happened last month.
Due to some of the vagaries of the dual age and years of service requirement of the federal retirement system, racking up half of 30 years doesn’t quite put me officially halfway through a career. I won’t hit that magic point until March of 2019. Having fifteen years down still feels good. Just knowing you’re close to the back half of the game give a bit of comfort that sitting in cubes working on PowerPoint won’t last literally forever… even on days when it feels that way.
So what have I learned over the last decade and a half? I’ve learned that some people are heroes and others are knaves. I’ve learned that management and leadership are rarely the same thing. I’ve learned that no matter how hard you roll your eyes they actually won’t fall out of your head. I’ve learned, perhaps most importantly, that given enough time and distance, even the worst of bad days isn’t as awful as it seemed in the moment. That’s the kind of folksy wisdom you need to remind yourself of as frequently as necessary.
So as for me, Saturday will mark 15 years down and about 17 ½ left to go. For anyone else out there following along in Uncle’s great civilian army, you know that magic 15 year mark also means one very important thing. It means that I’m adding another 52 hours of vacation time to the mix. If you think having an extra week plus a little of new found time off coming my way every year from here on out to the end doesn’t hit me right in my happy place, well, you might not know me at all.
When it comes to driving in snow, I’m not what one would usually call a Nervous Norvis. Couple that with capable 4-wheel drive and you can count on a few fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve wanted to go somewhere that it was prevented by the prevailing weather. Today, though, was one of those days.
This morning, the tail end cut out from under me before I even made it through the turn off the driveway and into the street. Add in sliding gracefully through the next two stop signs and it might not have been my worst day of driving but it easily ranks in the top ten. I’m told the main roads were fine, but living among a warren of back roads running across hill and dale, it’s fifteen minutes to the closest “main road” under the best conditions.
A decade ago, I’d have pressed on and damn the consequences. This morning, though, was more of a “screw this, I’m going back to the house.” After all it’s warm there and the coffee is fresh. There’s also damned little I can do at the office that I can’t do from the much nicer office I have at home. It seems that my tolerance for risking my neck – and the body work on my nice shiny Jeep – just for the joy of sitting eight hours in a cubicle is decreasing as the years go by.
Regardless of where I was sitting, the calls got made, the email went out, and this little cog in the great machine did his bit… but I got to do it it worn out jeans and fuzzy slippers. Is it wrong that a big part of me hopes things gent frozen over more often?
Google Chrome is a remarkably powerful web browser. When running on Mac OS it’s also an incredible power and memory hog. At least once a week it bloats so badly that it makes my desktop unusable. Starting today I’m going to take a trial run of living life without Chrome.
Since it’s Mac native, I’ve given Safari the honor of being the first test platform. Although today’s tests have been limited, it’s held up admirably – and more importantly hasn’t slowed the machine down to an infuriating place. As it turns out the threshold for victory in these real life tests isn’t going to be all that high. Anything that lets me get through a week without crashing the computer will likely get a pass as a better option than continuing on with Chrome.
There was a time I’d want to go out and try all the obscure browsers hoping to turn up something with wow factor to spare. These days, I’m mostly about simplicity in use rather than wow. I don’t care so much how the machine runs just so long as it does. I’m not going to spend a lot of time wanting to tinker around under the hood until it behaves “just so.”
I’d love to place all the blame squarely on Google here, but if I’m fair, I’m currently running a slightly more than 4 year old machine that was a touch under powered when it came out of the box. The ever increasing demand for raw processing power in a computer hasn’t been kind to my Mini. Truth is, switching browsers is probably the last ditch effort to coax a bit more life out of the machine before bringing a replacement online. If I were smart, I’d go ahead and make that purchase now instead of when something finally fails on me… but then needing to buy a computer right-the-hell-now after the old one has crapped out is pretty much one of my oldest continuously observed traditions.
Ditching Chrome won’t solve all that ails computing here, but it could well alleviate the most obnoxious symptom of aging equipment. For today, that would be more than good enough.
1. The cold. Whatever tolerance I built up for it during my formative years in the shadow if Savage Mountain has been worn away by too much of my adulthood spent in the south and along the flatter lands of eastern Maryland. This shows itself in my current situation of sitting inside with the furnace running flat out, wearing two shirts, a sweater, and wool socks, and wondering where one goes to order a nice set of long johns. I use to think the North Woods of Maine might make a nice place to end up… I’m afraid I’m going to have to reconsider this position.
2. Why aren’t we talking about “Topic X more?” I read an article online a few days ago complaining that we were no longer laser focused on whatever happened to be the Issue of the Month a couple of months ago. I’m sure all the previous Most Important Things are still important. Personally it’s that I have limited RAM to allocate to the whole universe if things there are to give a damn about. It’s allocated to work stuff, stuff to keep the house up and running, getting from here to retirement, a few things I’m passionate about, and then one or two crises of the moment. That’s it. The world has always been full of problems that need solving. 100 years ago we only saw the ones we happened to walk past. I really don’t think the world is any more in the shitter than it was back then. The only thing different is now we can find out just how jacked up things are in every corner of the world instead of only our little part of it.
3. Shipping Address. There’s an agency in the federal government that I order products from every year. The products are billed automatically and shipped out as soon as they are released. Easy peasy. Except no. This year, the first of these was scheduled to ship out to an address where I haven’t lived in three years. I have no idea. Fortunately I caught it before processing was complete. They couldn’t manage to change the address of an order “in progress” but at least I got it cancelled before it arrived safely to whoever is living at my old address. As turns out, their ordering system was picking up the old address because you have to change the shipping address in at least two places on their website. Instead of just clicking the button that says “change address” under your profile, you also have to go in and change your address under each individual product. I ended up entering the address in three separate locations in addition to the correct address that was already built into my online profile. That seems incredibly counterintuitive, but then again it’s a federal website so perhaps it’s not at all surprising… although that doesn’t explain how the shipping world out ok last year. Sometimes it’s best not to ask.
No matter how many times I do it, I always seem to forget that going back to the office after a long few days off is, quite simply, exhausting. There’s the usual flurry of emails – mercifully fewer because so many other people stayed home too. A few, though, were real humdingers – written, clearly, by someone who chooses to ignore the holiday and assume everyone spent every waking minute of their time off thinking about things back at the office. That’s fine for some people I suppose, but it goes entirely against my wiring.
It’s Wednesday at least. Having a week that starts halfway through does seem to help ease the transition back into the world of work. The impending arrival of snow in the local area tomorrow is having something of the opposite effect by filling my head with dreams of an extraneous day off. It’s a pipe dream, of course, given the forecast, but it’s a happy dream. I’ll try not to let it rock me back on my heels too badly in the morning when I wake up and all it is outside is dark and cold.
The good news, if you can call it that, is the first day back is over now and it can cause no more trauma. Like the journey of 1000 steps – or more aptly in my case the journey of 6,357 days – the key part is to take the first one and then keep grinding them out.