Having webcammed the dogs in the middle of the day a few times years ago, I know they mostly spend the day sleeping. Based on my observation in the evenings after work, they sleep most of the night away too. Does it say anything about me that I find myself feeling vaguely jealous of how my pups get to spend their day? Plenty of beds to pick from, never needing to stray outside the fenced compound aside from the occasional doctor’s visit and vacation, someone else to prepare all their meals, and really not much of a care in the world other than whatever critter has decided to make its home under the deck.
When I get up in the dark hours of the morning to get ready for work, they stay in bed, only getting up when it’s time for a trip outside and breakfast. After that they promptly go back to sleep. While I’m going blind on powerpoint or jabbing myself in the thigh with the sharp end of a pencil to keep myself awake in some interminable meeting, they’re looking for a different comfortable place to lay down for a while. When I get home, there’s a brief burst of energy that lasts maybe half an hour where they’re ecstatic to see me again (and get dinner). After that it’s back to scoping out whichever spot on the floor, or on my lap, looks most comfortable for a hard night’s lying about.
Yeah, I’m jealous of the dogs. Aside from eating the same meal every day for years on end and having to poop outside, they pretty much have the life I want… and the freeloaders are doing it on my dime. Jerks. Have you every had the feeling that opposable thumbs and higher order cognitive skills might just be overrated?
If there’s anything I’ve come to expect from myself it’s that no matter how late I go to bed, no matter how blown out my throat is, no matter there’s a dull thump somewhere in the middle of my head, if it’s Saturday morning my eyes are going to flip open sometime between 6:00-6:30. My brain is going to engage and it’s going to insist that I get the day started, no matter the level of protest the rest of me might throw in its path.
This internal alarm clock is one of the reasons I don’t tend to have late nights often. The other reason, of course, is late nights tend to demand social interaction with people… and I think we all know how I feel about people. The weekend looks like it’s going to be dark and rainy, so I’m about to pour on a few gallons of coffee and switch the day to autopilot. If I’m going to be awake, I might as well make the morning count.
1. Banker’s Hours. Let me start off by saying I general like my credit union, except for one little thing. When they upgraded their website a few weeks ago they required everyone to create about a dozen “challenge” question/answer combinations for security purposes. Fine. Good. Whatever. The problem, of course, is that I apparently don’t have a clue what the answer to at least one of those questions is. And that’s the one I got on Sunday morning when I logged in to pay the week’s bills. Instead of asking me an alternate question from the list, the site promptly locks me out and tells me to call customer support. Which is also fine. Except there is no customer support at 7AM Sunday morning (or any other time on Sunday for that matter). I appreciate network security, but it would be nice if it weren’t so secure that I can’t get into my own account. Like the universe, it’s my fondest hope that they will find a way to seek balance.
2. Scheduling. I get that schedules are hectic. The higher you get on the food chain, the more hectic they are. If I can offer any bit of unsolicited advice, it’s that out of respect for the host of people gathered together awaiting your presence rescheduling a meeting thrice before settling in a final-ish time is just bad form. If your schedule is so jam packed with very important things to do, maybe you could go ahead and delegate to an underling or just put it in a concisely worded memo. When you make it impossible for anyone else to schedule something because of inevitable changes, where you could have looked knowing and decisive, you look like a tool. Don’t look like a tool.
3. Going overboard. I set a lot of posts about car seats, the armada of safety gear that today’s kids are expected to wear out in public, and generally how fragile small humans apparently have become in the second decade of the new millennium. In that spirit, I’d urge all of us to remember that we grew up in a simpler time. For me, riding in the open bed of a pickup truck was a rite of summer. I clocked more time behind the wheel on the back roads at age 13 than most kids do today by the time they’re eligible for the draft. None of us wore bike helmets, knee pads, or “safety gear” thicker than denim. It wasn’t uncommon for us to run unsupervised through the woods using pointy sticks as guns and rocks as grenades. I broke my arm three times and still have the scrapes and scars of childhood to mark the memories. I survived. So did we all… and in a world that surrounded it’s children in far less bubble wrap.
The problem with having bought a house at the height of the real estate boom in 2007 while also being responsible enough to keep up with all the necessary payments is that you’re metric shit loads of cash underwater on the mortgage and no self-respecting bank wants to refinance a loan for a mortgagee who’s not teetering on the brink of foreclosure or bankruptcy. In other words, you have to be the proud owner of a “troubled asset” to qualify for many of the refinance options available. Alternately for a standard refinance through most conventional avenues, you’ve got to owe less than 80% of the value of the property. Without delving too deeply into my finances, I’ll go ahead and say I owe way, way more than 80% of the home’s current market value. Because I played by the rules of the game, didn’t skip payments, and avoided becoming a general deadbeat, my options had mostly winnowed down to one: Sit down, shut up, and take it like a man.
While sitting at home on a snowy weekday, I saw a commercial for Quicken’s brand of mortgages. I don’t remember what I was trying to avoid doing, but whatever it was made spending time on the phone with another bank that was probably going to tell me no seem like a good idea by comparison. Surprisingly, a couple of phone calls, a few emails, and a dozen uploaded documents later, I’d locked in a rate and was preliminary approval on a refinance that decreased the life of the loan and lowered by interest rate (and monthly payment) significantly.
The whole process went from first contact to closing in just a hair over 30 days. That’s not bad for something any number of the large national lenders told me simply couldn’t be done. I’m not getting a dime for shilling for Quicken Loans based in this post. I’m doing it because I had a first class experience with them and realize that some of you might just be in the same boat I was. If that’s you, it’s well worth your time to give them a call and see if they can work some financial black magic for you too.
When you go to the trouble of moving multiple thousands of people 150 miles down I-95 and spend a few billion dollars kitting them out with new buildings all around, one of the things I’d think you’d do is make sure to have more than two rooms available in which to hold a meeting. Now usually, I’d rail against the need for meetings at all, but given the nature of my employer, they’re simply a fact of life to be endured. Therefore, it doesn’t feel like a stretch expecting that there would at the very least be a room available somewhere (that doesn’t require a 15 minute drive, a cross-country hike, or requisitioning a boat) for those moments when you need to put more than five people in the same room. God forbid you need to do something crazy like connect to the internet or join a teleconference or video feed being piped in from another location. That’s all apparently several bridges too far.
Instead of being able to use one of two such rooms within steps of where I actually work, I got to spend the vast majority of the morning making desperate phone calls and begging other offices to free up space for us to use… out of the goodness of their hearts, rather than for actual compensation in any form. So here’s tonight’s helpful tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff: If you ever find yourself working for a big, bureaucratic organization and in the position of deciding how many fully-equipped meeting rooms you’re going to need, go ahead and take you initial estimate, multiple it by three, and then add at least two just as safety stock. That’ll get you close to the number of rooms you’re actually going to need… because God knows the fate of the free world depends largely on your ability to find an empty room on no notice for whatever wild-assed meeting someone wants to have on the spur of the moment.
And it’s only Tuesday. Sigh.
(c) The MCLA Beacon
After a childhood filled with downright crippling stomach troubles, I was officially diagnosed with lactose intolerance when I was in elementary school. With that knowledge, as long as I popped a couple of Lactaid tablets before eating anything my stomach was happy to tackle anything thrown at it. I had a little blue case filled with the things and self-medicated with wild abandon. Fortunately, this was the 1980s, so a kid carrying around an unmarked container of pills didn’t raise any eyebrows. All was right with the world.
As I got older, the effects of my intolerance decreased to the point where I could generally suck down a milkshake or a block of cheese without suffering any ill effects. These days, I can usually eat whatever I want and walk away just fine. I’ve miraculously been 99% cured. The problem was (and is) that being “mostly” cured means that every once in a while – that pesky 1% of the time – I’m suddenly not cured at all.
So without going too far into the gory details, I re-learned last night that from time to time, I still have a price to pay for enjoying dairy. It took into the small hours of the morning, but I’m finally feeling like balance has been restored… which means I’ll spend the rest of the day sitting quietly and trying to avoid doing anything that might tempt my system to go back out of whack. If I’m feeling exceptionally adventurous, lunch might even be a piece of dry toast or a couple of saltines. Yeah, I feel better already.
I’m a news junkie. Most weekends, you’ll find the television parked on FoxNews, CNN, or SkyNews running as background noise while I go about the day. While I’m not selling short the importance of knowing why a fully-loaded Boeing 777 inexplicably disappeared three weeks ago, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that at this point, we don’t need 24×7, wall-to-wall coverage of it as a news story. In fact, I’d go so far as to posit that “nothing new to report” is the antithesis of “news.”
Like any other television outlet, the news channels aren’t so much about their content as they are avenues to put consumer’s eyes on advertisements. Even after three weeks, apparently the missing airliner story brings in the viewers, so that’s what they’re staying with. As with most stories of this type, the fact that it’s still commanding the top over every cycle says more about us than it does about any of the news outlets. Still, I’m a little curious what else has been happening on the planet while we’ve all been busy looking at grainy satellite photos of a decidedly empty slice of the Indian Ocean.
It feels like a fair guess that there might be one or two other vaguely important things going on somewhere. I’m sure right now this story feels like the most important issue in the world for the friends and family of the people who are still missing, but for the rest of us, it’s starting to feel a lot like rubbernecking… and that’s just tacky.
1. Strike 3. With the USPS fighting for it’s life, one of the simple issues they could work on is get things from Point A to Point B when they say they will. The last three items I ordered online that were shipped through USPS all encountered inexplicable delays. Maybe I’m just finicky, but when I pay for second day arrival, I generally expect to get my items two days after I ordered them. It doesn’t feel like that’s an unreasonable expectation. I know it’s a trifle, but logging in to a website a day or two after the “guaranteed arrival date” and still wondering where the hell my package is is just infuriating and just one of the many reasons I don’t use USPS when I have an option. On time and to standard; that’s the way to build a happy customer based. What USPS is doing is pretty much just telling me that they’ve given up.
2. Mission: Impossible. When the assigned mission is to give a 3 minute presentation about what you’re working on, that’s what you should do. Actually, you should wrap it up in two minutes, thirty seconds to allow a moment for questions, but that’s not the point. What you shouldn’t do is ramble all over the damned world while everyone’s eyes glaze over in benign indifference. Remember, it’s called a “brief” for a reason.
3. Dropped calls. Cell phones drop calls. Since they’re magically connecting to far away towers without the benefit of wires, I’ve learned to accept that limitation. When using a land line to connect to another land line, there’s just no justification for dropping the call not once, not twice, not thrice, but four effing times in the span of 35 minutes. After attempt four failed to take hold for more than three minutes, I officially lost interest in whatever was being said. If it appeared to anyone that I had thrown my hands in the air like I just don’t care, well, there’s a good reason it looked like that.
Anyone who was following along last month might remember that I was giving fiction a bit of a go. Since I haven’t mentioned that little effort in a few weeks, it felt like it deserved an update. If you’re expecting some exciting or late breaking news, this is your fair warning to go find something else to read this evening. That’s because the update is that there really isn’t an update.
Since I set it aside, Unnamed Short Story #1, has been sitting quietly in a file (or in several files to be more accurate). Why? Because if you’ve ever tried finding a mistake in an email you’ve just written, magnify that problem by a few hundred percent and you’ll start to understand what I’m up against.
What’s sitting on the shelf is a first draft. Some sections are barely an outline held together with a bit of awkward dialog. Translation: Almost every word of it is going to have to be rewritten before I even sit down to do any real editorial work. That’s not a complaint. It’s just the process. I know the only way I can even hope to make any objective corrections is to put distance between me and the first draft… and when you’re writing, time is the only real measure of distance there is.
So, USS#1 is in a holding pattern. Honest to God, I’m still incredibly excited that it’s even gotten to that point. Take my word for it, there were plenty of days I didn’t think it would even make it that far. In the meantime, I’m working on a few side projects and giving my alter egos a workout – some of it professional and some of it decidedly not. It might not feel like it from the position of outside observer, but every time I sit down at the keyboard, regardless of what I’m working on, it feels like I’m giving my chops a workout. I don’t know if I’ll ever make any money from doing any of this, but honing whatever modest talents I have still feels like a worthwhile investment.
USS#1 will come off the bench soon enough, but I’d like to let it sit for another two weeks or so. It won’t quite be reading it completely fresh, but a full month away feels like a decent enough amount of time away. How long things take from that point, your guess is as good as mine.
Meetings are an enormous time suck from which there appears to be no hope of escape if you want to consider yourself a professional. I know I wrote a whole chapter about it in my Guide for New Employees, but it’s one of those truths that just needs to be said more often and by more people. I have to think that a No Meetings campaign would find far more traction than the ill-fated “Just Say No” to drugs effort. I mean after all, there’s a subset of people out there who actually want drugs (and want to sell them), but I simply can’t fathom a world where someone rises from their bed in the early hours of the morning and lusts heartily after their first meeting of the day… and then getting their mid-day meeting fix, maybe taking a teleconference during lunch, and whiling away the late afternoon hours with just one more team huddle. Surely that’s madness and we must bind ourselves together to help eliminate this scourge before it saps our productivity and destroys the next generation of budding professionals.