Ever have one of those days where you walk out of the office with your brains scrambled for no apparent reason? Yeah. Today was one of those days. Nothing bad happened, there were no rush jobs dropped on my head at the last minute, and I even got a months-long project wrapped up and off my desk for good. Still, I feel like my brain was wiped to a froth and then delicately poured back into my head. I have absolutely nothing witty or sarcastic to add to this statement of fact. Instead, I’m going to turn on the television and find something equally mindless to run in the background of the evening.
For three hours this morning, I waged my own personal holy jihad against our email servers while trying to force through an message with half a dozen small Word documents attached. I tried every trick, tip, and bit of sneakiness I’ve acquired from years of working with less than current technology that we use to do the people’s business, but alas, failed miserably in my efforts to transmit six pages of text to a guy who sits thirty feet away. It seems my efforts were not going unnoticed by my esteemed colleague, who has me in the age department by the better part of three decades. After watching my valiant fight to make the tech work, he smiled sheepishly and said “You know, you could just print it out and give it to me.” I’m pretty sure he was trying not to laugh maniacally when he said it.
I don’t know that I’ve ever been thunderstruck before, but for a few seconds I truly stood slack jawed in the middle of the room. The idea of just printing the documents had legitimately never even occurred to me. I really have no idea when I stopped thinking of printed paper as a legitimate option for the transfer of information from Point A to Point B, but there was its moment of fulfillment; the first real and undeniable sign that I had transitioned completely into the digital age. Left to my own devices, I could have gone on that way for hours before managing to find a way to get the electrons to play nicely together. In this one extraordinarily rare example, I’ll concede that old school won a tactical victory against the forces of new and shiny. I don’t, however, recommend that it get use to such easy wins.
I don’t expect alot from my tech, but when I do tend to expect is that it runs quickly when I hit the on switch. Up until a few weeks ago, my laptop delivered as much zip and performance as it did the day I took it out of the box. Now it’s gotten so laggy that I can barely stand to use it. I’ve tinkered around with some of the settings, cleaned things up as best I can without making a major effort, and have pretty much been met with more chop and even less vim and vigor. I’ve got plenty of hard drive space left, sufficient RAM, and a machine that’s acting like it’s severely underpowered. Spending your off hours trying to diagnose a sick laptop isn’t the way you want to spend your time when you’re pretending to moonlight as a real life struggling writer. I need my laptop that just works, to just work and not give me a crap ton of problems right now. I’m going to try to nurse it through the next few days and the dedicate as much time as necessary this weekend to put right. Failing this weekend’s heroic efforts to make a repair, it might be time to bite the bullet and spend some of that tax refund on something shiny and new with some plussed up processing power.
With the impending launch of the 3rd gen iPad, it might be time to consider going back to an overpowered desktop for home using the iPad for all my mobile needs. Sure, it’s another one of those fancy first world problems, but it’s the one that’s in my face giving me fits right now, and that’s the one that always gets tackled first.
Once every few months I catch a wild hare and start obsessively backing up everything on my work computer. At last count, I’m working on saving 2GB of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents for posterity. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood if 1500 individual files generated over the last eight months. By most standards it’s not a particularly obscene amount of storage or an abnormally large number of files. As I’m sitting here watching the “% complete” bar click higher, I’m struck with the fact that although I’m relentlessly backing this stuff up, keeping a copy for myself, and sending a copy into deep storage, I’m probably the only person on the planet who will ever actually see any of this stuff again. In a post-atomic or -biological apocalypse world, it seems unlikely that any of the survivors are going to be particularly interested in whatever brilliant PowerPoint slides I’ve managed to come up with.
All of that begs the question, what the hell are we really doing here? I think we all have some conception that we’re “adding value” somehow by performing whatever task has been set for us. We like to think that what we’re doing is good and important work; that someone, somewhere will be better off because we sat behind our monitors and smashed our fingers repeatedly against the keyboard. Since I don’t have a little laminated card telling me where to go and what to do when the warheads start landing, I think it’s safe to assume that whatever I’m doing isn’t all that critical to the preservation of civilization as we know it. Apparently I’m not a national treasure. That realization stings a little.
Look, I’m not saying I want to give up the pay and bennies and head off into the woods to start a commune or anything. I don’t think the situation is all that hopeless. Still, it’s a smack in the head about priorities and deciding what’s important and what doesn’t mean a damned thing. In the course of a career and a life, I’ve made some good decisions and some bad ones. If this serves as nothing more than a gentle smack in the back of the head reminding me to make better decisions in the future, well, then the day has been more productive than most.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
I’m not a particularly pious man. I don’t think I can remember the last time I was in a church that didn’t involve a wedding or a funeral. I don’t think that makes me a bad person and I still think of myself, nominally, as a Christian. At least that’s how I was raised. Even if I were a hard core, mainstream Christian I can’t imagine a scenario where someone burning a Bible would result in me and my closest friends taking to the street and demanding execution for the guys who lit the flame. As a matter of principle, I’m opposed to book burning in whatever form it takes. Destroying knowledge is never good for the upward swing of humanity. Still, I think it’s time for our Afghan friends to take a deep breath and think for a minute before they decided this is an issue worth dying and killing for. I’m not a theologian or anything, but I’m pretty sure that God or Allah, or whoever you’re busy praying to doesn’t actually live between the covers of the Bible or Koran. At the end of the day it’s just a book – a collection of highly processed pieces of dead trees. You can no more destroy a system of beliefs contained in a copy of one of these books than you can destroy Kellogs by setting fire to the box of Corn Flakes I have sitting on top of my refrigerator.
Was it a mistake? Maybe. Was it stupid? Absolutely. Is it worth killing over? Yeah, not to much. I guess I just don’t have the mindset to be an extremist. Some things are worth fighting and dying for… To my way of thinking, though, anything I can buy from Amazon and have shipped to my house overnight doesn’t qualify for that level of importance.
1. Faxing. It’s the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Twelve. There is absolutely no reason why anyone should need to do business via fax. Better yet was the suggestion that if I couldn’t find a fax machine, I could just come in and sign the paperwork in person any time between 8AM and 4PM. Seriously? Did I suddenly wake up in 1989? Maybe you should just scan it into a pdf and email it to me like a normal person so I don’t have to scour the building looking for fax machine to blow the dust off.
2. Banker’s Hours. Look, if you’re in the service industry working from 8AM and 4PM and then only on weekdays might not be your best-ever idea… Especially if you want other working people (you know the ones with jobs and disposable income) to actually be able to use your service. You might be the best in the business, but I’m not leaving work early just to talk to you. Instead, I’ll go with your next best competitor who has office hours on Saturday or who can be available in the evening after working stiffs wrap up for the day.
3. Rental Car Agencies. Have you ever tried renting a car on short notice on a Saturday? Here’s a bit of advice from your kindly Uncle Jeff: Don’t bother. They’re not going to have anything available. Then they’re going to refer you to one of their sister offices a few miles away. That office won’t have any cars either. By the time they refer you to the fourth office that’s 37 miles away, you’ll have lost interest. So yeah, if you’re going to need a rental car in a hurry, make sure you identify that requirement at least two days in advance of knowing that you’ll need it. Schmucks.
In the mayhem and chaos that has been the month of February, I have to confess that I completely missed a major milestone for jeffreytharp.com. You see, February 13th was the two year anniversary of landing here on WordPress and making the leap into hosting and managing my own domain. I don’t mean to make that sound more complicated than it really was. Basically all that means is I registered the site, pointed it towards WordPress, and then set up a few widgets. Oh, and then paid for the privilege of not advertising someone else’s service as part of my web address. Everything costs, even here on the internet.
What I’m trying to say here is that two years ago, I got serious about writing for the first time. I’ve always had the bug, but this is where I found my voice and turned something I’d largely been doing for myself into something that would be seen by an audience. That’s a huge step, even when the audience is mostly made up of family, friends, and a few random people that discover you by accident. Writing here has led into other opportunities to contribute and work with other writers and to take on other “spare time” projects that I wouldn’t otherwise have attempted.
Writing is a deeply introspective act. It’s a force for refining and clarifying where you stand and who you are. It’s also a tremendously time consuming pain in the ass. I’m glad I’ve never stopped to calculate the amount of time it takes to churn out four or five new posts a month, let alone what it’s taken to throw in on those other projects. I can see now why it’s only the one in a million who ever make any money doing this. I have a new appreciation for even the worst of the hack writers who have managed to scrape out a living based on the written word.
I’ll resist the temptation to go into the usual list of statistics and just say that it’s been a good two years. Site visits are up, comments are up, and pretty much any meaningful metric is up from this point a year ago. Writing in a lot of ways is its own reward, but knowing there are people out there interested in what you have to say is decidedly a feather in my cap. Thanks for sticking with me. Let’s see how things look a year from now.