What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Begging. Tonight’s the night when all you parents out there send your children mixed messages by encouraging them off to talk to strangers for candy. Fortunately the houses in my neighborhood are far enough apart that it’s not particularly lucrative bit of ground to cover, so there aren’t typically herds of children wandering around looking for a handout. It’s not so much that I mind the giving away of candy, but like the 4th of July, it’s one of those nights that threatens to send one or both of the dogs over the edge every time they hear the gate close or someone knocking on the door. Then again there’s the unmitigated glee when I open the door so parent and child are faced with a surly looking bald man with two barking dogs at his back… so at least there’s that.

2. Getting Close. Earlier this month it looked like jeffreytharp.com was well on its way to having its best month ever in terms of unique views. WordPress was regularly reporting daily views of 50 or 60 people. On October 3rd, the site posted its biggest single day. Since this past Sunday the number of views per day have plummeted for reasons I haven’t been able to identify just yet. At the rate they’re hitting now, I’ll be lucky to bring in 50 or 60 views this week. Alas, such are the vagaries of the internet. As October draws to a close, I’ll have to content myself with having the 2nd best month in the blog’s short history… and start worrying about how to keep November from ending up recorded as the 2nd worst.

3. Indecision. You can accuse me of a lot of things, but being indecisive is generally not one of them. Right, wrong, or otherwise, when confronted with possible courses of action I’ll pick one based on the best information I have available at the time and move out smartly. I’ll never claim to make the right decision all the time, but I’ll by God make one instead of just sitting around waiting for something to happen. Whether it’s where to have lunch or which program to throw over the side, I wish the populace at large would just stop pussyfooting around and figure out what they want to happen. Walking through life having other people’s bad decisions foist upon you is simply piss poor planning. As far as I’m concerned, any decision made on the spot is better than a great decision made ten minutes too late.

Revisiting Katrina…

The 50% of my job that doesn’t deal with PowerPoint is almost exclusively taken up by reading and writing. (We’re going to pretend for purposes of this discussion that good productive time isn’t serially wasted by the requirement to attend meetings.) This week I’ve been katrina_satellitereading up on some rather elderly documents that led me all the way back to late August 2005. To set the stage, it was hot and humid in Washington, DC and all hell was breaking loose along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana.

My memories from Katrina differ pretty significantly from what most people remember seeing on the news. I remember a federal response effort that practically pleaded and begged state and local leaders in Louisiana to ask for assistance and that staged people, equipment, and mountains of “stuff” as close to the Louisiana border as possible when it became obvious to everyone but those officials that Katrina was going to overwhelm their capacity to respond. The Louisiana governor and New Orleans mayor had a different perspective, of course. All I know is the information showing up hourly on my desk in stacks of reports didn’t jive with the story they were telling in front of the camera. The real truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

I’d be hard pressed to reveal myself to be a bigger geek than you already think I am, but for me it was fascinating combing through the files of a different organization with a wholly different mission and reading their take on what was going on in Louisiana that summer. Reading accounts that weren’t filled with statistics of water, ice, temporary roofing material, and body bags on hand or tons of debris removed gave me a little fresh appreciation for what we were trying to do that summer. I guess that’s not all that surprising. With a degree in history I’ve always had a penchant for looking to the past to make informed guesses about what the future may hold.

Katrina was what one might call a significant emotional event for many and I’m not trying to make light of that in any way. At the same time, for me, Katrina started 60 days of some of the best professional work I’ve ever done. It was equal parts rewarding and exhausting – often simultaneously. Eight years after the fact, I won’t deny that I’m finding myself looking back on it with a bit of fond nostalgia. I suppose that’s fairly easy to do when you rode out the storm and its aftermath hunkered down in DC with electricity, running water, and a Starbucks in the lobby.

Kevin Bacon or: The Everlasting Know-It-All…

I find myself in the incredibly awkward position of agreeing with the United Nations, Germany, France, and Brazil all at the same time. Just writing that sentence makes me feel vaguely dirty on the inside. Still, it seems to be a fact of life these days. It’s not that I mind our government spying on other countries. I actively encourage it. Mostly, I’m simply Seperationembarrassed at the ham handed way our country seems to be handling its clandestine affairs. At this point, I really think job should be to get themselves off the front page of every newspaper in the world expeditiously as possible.

While I’m more than happy to let the boys at Ft. Meade do some quiet spying across the ocean seas, I want to make it perfectly clear that I don’t think that my government has the right to listen in on my phone calls, or read my email, or track my location just because in some Kevin Bacon-esq way, my latest tweet could be six degrees separated from the local Elkton Al Qaeda cell. Frankly, I think I’d rather take my chances with the terrorists than with the Everlasting Know-It-All that our government seems bound and determined to become. An American citizen shouldn’t have to sacrifice essential liberty for the convenience of the government simply because it’s easy to point the big ear inwards and suck up every available byte of data. If the American government wants to spy on Americans, it should be hard. It should be damned hard. I won’t make any apologies for my lack of interest in making it easy for the NSA, or CIA, or any of the other three letter agencies out there.

When it comes right down to it, I’ll trade being a little less safe for being a little more free every single time. After all, it’s hard to be overly afraid of the terrorists when our own government is spending an outsized amount of time watching us, listening to us, kicking in the doors of those who dissent, and generally acting like a bunch of terrorists and thugs themselves.

Library paste…

I’m off my game today. Distracted, unfocused, and generally running well short of personal expectations is no way to spend a Monday. It’s no way to spend any day, really. My head has been all over the map for the last week and there’s not one single thing I’ve touched that’s the better for it. I felt like a Jack Russell with ADD at work today bouncing from one thing elmers_pasteto the next without every really getting a solid grip on any of it. Writing? Yeah, that’s been a joke. I’ve been lucky to string just enough sentences together every day to still consider myself a blogger, but barely. Making headway on any of the other concepts, comments, and works-in-progress that are sitting around at any given time is filed away under “too hard to do.”

I’ve had stretches like this before. They suck. It’s like watching the rest of the world running in fast forward while you’re swimming through library paste trying to keep up. I’ll hit the rack tonight thoroughly frazzled from the day’s mental exertions. If there’s any good to come from it, it’s that on days like this sleep comes fast and hard – and it’s not that sissy light, tossing, turning, dreaming sleep, but a deep, blank stretch of the stuff. I’ll be asleep tonight before my head hits the pillow. Some people pay good money for that kind of sleep, but I’ll get mine no prescription needed.

I’ll find my footing in a day or two. That’s how it always is with this stuff. At least I’m getting someone quality sleep out of the deal.

Having the world to yourself…

I think Sunday mornings are my favorite part of the week. Even now when the days are shorter and the sun isn’t quite up at 7AM, I like being awake and moving. That brief hour between 7 and 8 is one of the very few times in a typical week when it legitimately feels like you’ve got the world to yourself. There’s no traffic moving yet, no email rolling in, no tweets, or Facebook posts that need liking. There’s just me, the dogs, a fresh pot of coffee, and a blog. It’s a pity that all days can’t start off like that.

This Sunday, I’m offering up the last of the posts from July 2008 and the first post from August of that year. There’s a nice little rant on July 28th if you’re interested in finding out why I don’t mind the price of gas being a little high. July 27th is a quick note on why I think formal term limits for Congress are a bunch of bunk. The other three posts in the set are a little more spur of the moment thoughts that never quite got fully developed, but still make of decent enough reading. As if I’d say there was every a post you should just go ahead and skip over.

Updates from the archive are the first productive thing I try to get to on Sunday mornings. Once they’re live here on WordPress, I feel like I can get on with Sunday – so enjoy the posts this morning and remember to check back tomorrow to find out what happens on Monday that will inevitably deserve to be written down for posterity.

The Routine…

Hard experience, training, and too many years working a job that involved thinking about all the boogymen out to get us have left me with a decidedly pessimistic streak. That’s probably why long stretches of good things happening tend to make me edgy – or rather they make me edgy when I’m paying attention and not letting myself be hijacked into some kind of irrational exuberance. It doesn’t happen often these days, but from time to time I still let blind optimism drive the train. Historically, those are the moments when I get an abrupt reminder from the universe that it’s patently ridiculous to expect the future to be much more than an extension of the past.

It’s an angst filled lesson. Every. Single. Time.

I’m always a guy with a plan, even though like most plans, mine rarely survive first contact with the enemy. Fortunately, when The Plan slides off the rails, my system defaults back to The Routine – those things that happen week in, week out, day after day, that keep me focused, keep me busy, and keep me from dwelling too much on issues where I clearly don’t have any influence. So yeah, today is going to be about slipping comfortably, quietly back into The Routine, because pondering limitations of The Plan isn’t getting me anywhere.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Bullying. If the media is to be believed, basically every form of social interaction is now considered bullying. Look, I get that we want to protect kids from all the mean, nasty things in the world, but the fact is sometimes the world is just a mean nasty place. There were plenty of bullies around 20 years ago when I was in school. I’m sure there were plenty 50 years ago, too. It’s not exactly like this is some new danger society has never faced before. Is bullying wrong? Of course it is. Should we be aware of it and try to reduce it? Of course. Once upon a time, if you stood up to a typical bully they went away. From the news coverage of those who choose to off themselves or shoot up the place in response to a bully’s taunts, I wonder if we’ve collectively raised a generation that simply doesn’t know how to actually stand up for themselves rather than immediately lurching to the extremes.

2. Healthcare.gov. I’m pretty sure if my boss gave me three years and $500 million and told me to build a website, he might have some actual expectations that at the end of three years I’d have at least a working prototype. Sure, it might need some of the rough edges smoothed out over time, but the damn thing would have at least the basic functionalities built in – like being able to register as a user. If at some point in the process, I realized things weren’t working out, I’d at least have the stones to fire off a red star cluster and call for assistance. Instead, we have a dysfunction website that no one is willing to be accountable for screwing up. Maybe I’m just doing the whole work thing wrong. It could be time to go see what jobs Health and Human Services has available. An employer with no actual expectations would have to be a pretty relaxing gig.

3. Buying off the rack. I’m not now, nor have I ever been a small guy. A side effect of this is my neck has to be correspondingly thick to support the giant gourd that sits atop it. While I’m not and will never be known as a clothes horse, I do from time to time, have to find something to wear that isn’t a polo/khaki combination. Let’s just say finding a collar that fits around my pillar of a neck with sleeves that don’t stop halfway up my forearms is something just shy of seeking the holy grail. Of course when you do find one of these mythical shirts, they’re never on the $19.99 sale rack, they’re always way in the back on the $75-full-price-thank-you-very-much section of the store… and that’s a real pisser for something I’m going to wear once and then relegate to the back of the closet because I hate wearing a tie.


Walking out of the office yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice that six very classy eight foot by four foot, edge-lit LED, etched glass murals that had been installed while I built slides, scampered between meetings, and fought with our dysfunctional network. I immediately wondered how many man-hours of salary we gave up for that little beautification project. Then on second thought, I realized I don’t actually wonder about that. The answer would probably make my head explode.

Upgrade me…

I’ve given up on try talking myself out of having the latest, greatest iteration of Apple’s phones and tablets. That sooner rather than later I’ll end up with one of the two new iPads announced this afternoon is a foregone conclusion. Now it’s a simple question of which one I’ll bring home with me.

I’ve really come to like the size of the current Mini as opposed to the “full sized” original iPads. My only disappointment from my Mini is the non-retina display. It’s been sort of like going back to standard definition television after watching everything in HD. Sure, you can do it and it’s perfectly serviceable, but it’s well off the mark from being optimal. The new Mini resolves that issue and adds a whole lot of added horsepower to boot. Of course with the new full sized model being a slimmed down version of its former self, it’s a tossup which one is going to end up being my go-to tablet for the next year.

The only thing I know for sure is after last month’s fiasco of waking long before the crack of dawn and standing in line for four hours to be met with “sorry, sold out.” I won’t be lining up for this launch. I don’t mind standing in line when I know I’m going to have something to show for the trouble, but with Apple product launches I no longer have that old warm fuzzy that they’re going to fill their own supply chain first before making units available for other retailers. Whenever they can ship it to me from China is just going to have to be fast enough this time around.