What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sticks and stones. I might be part of the last generation that grew up learning that sticks and stones would break our bones, but names would never hurt us. We’re also perhaps the last generation that will get to use the work “thug” to refer to a violent criminal. It’s not a surprise. When we live in a world where everyone wants to get through life without their sensibilities or little feelings being hurt, there’s not much hope. Personally, I refuse to be afraid of or intimidated by mere words… not even the one’s Carlin couldn’t say on television. I can’t help but think we’d all be better off if we’d collectively grow a thicker skin and spend a little last time being “offended” by every little thing that doesn’t fit in nicely with our own worldview.

2. Reorganization. I’ve been with my employer now for a little more than 12 years. In that time I’ve lived through six major reorganizations. Those are just the ones that impacted me directly. I’ve probably seen at least twice or three times that number happen. Of course there’s nothing wrong with changing things up to make yourself more efficient and effective. That’s good business. It’s just that when you do it on average every other year there’s no way in hell you’re making those decisions based on consistently assembled data… and when the next guy finds something he doesn’t like, we’ll just go ahead and shuffle the chairs again and see how everything shakes out. I’d never claim to have the right answers, but I do know that throwing darts and hoping for the best is rarely a management best practice.

3. Accusations. If your default answer to a different viewpoint on why things got batshit crazy in Baltimore is “you’re a racist,” it may be time to realize that other viewpoints may be legitimate – even if you don’t happen to personally agree with it. If that’s the only argument you can bring to the table, we’re well past the point of having a reasonable discussion. When that’s your answer to an honest, probing question, it’s safe to consider our conversation at an end. You don’t have anything to tell me that I need to hear.

What good looks like…

I walked into the middle of an ongoing conversation today. That’s not unusual in a place where you find yourself wandering in and out of rooms all the time. What was unusual, however, was the topic – the riot in Baltimore, the use of the word thug, gun control, and general shitstorm state of society. It’s unusual because in my career I can count on less than five fingers the number of times a real discussion of politics has come up at the office. Most work conversations are an exercise in staying away from anything that might prove to be too sensitive – they tend towards talks about weekend plans, home improvement projects, what what’s for lunch. In other words the default setting is to avoid bringing up topics that anyone might in some way find offensive or objectionable.

What struck me this afternoon more than anything else, though, was how wildly divergent the politics and opinions of this small group of people I work with every day really was… and how quickly the tone escalated as the opposing viewpoints dug in to their respective corners. Every person in the room was reasonably well educated with a respectable amount of life experience behind them, but a “right” answer was nowhere in sight – and one that we could all agree on wasn’t on the continent, let alone in the same building.

I wonder, now that we’ve come to our collective senses and gone back to “safe” topics, if there is any real resolution to the issues that beset us. As long as we all remain intransigent, the answer to that is probably no. Compromise doesn’t feel like a satisfying solution – half a loaf (at best) – but with five smart people, having five different and equally strong opinions, I’m starkly aware that I have no idea what a good answer looks like.

Fence me in…

Note: Yes I’m still keeping an eye on Baltimore. Yes I have plenty more to say. No I’m not going to throw it all out at once. No it won’t be an epic rant. Unlike a common street criminal, when I make my opinion known I want it to be well reasoned, articulate, and not hidden behind a mask. In that light, I now restore you to your regularly scheduled Tuesday post.

Roy Rogers sang an old cowboy song that twangingly implores listeners “don’t fence me in.” Not being a range rider, I have no such compunction about the value of good fences. After a call this morning from the contractor, in fact I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of the supplies and manpower to get my fence off the drawing board and into the ground.

Given the terrain changes, visible rock outcroppings, standing trees, and undergrowth they’re going to have to deal with to get the job done, I’m paying through the nose for the privilege of sectioning off a little slice of my portion of the American Dream. I don’t begrudge them a penny of the price, though. They’re going to have some real work to do and fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your perspective) “low bidder” materials aren’t exactly my style.

The fence is the only real construction project I’m planning to take on this year. The master bath renovation, patio pavers, and kitchen tweaking are all on the board, but (mostly) not on any kind of rushed timeline – or really on a timeline at all. They happen when I get around to and funds are available to dedicate to them. The fence, by contrast, is a quality of life issue. Being able to turn the dogs loose at 10PM when it’s pouring rain and staying high and dry on the porch is about as good as it gets. I’ve obviously reached the point in my life where I have mostly small, reasonable dreams.

Based on this morning’s conversation work is on schedule to start next week. Now I just need to live through the load of construction equipment, wire mesh, posts, and rails that will be occupying the driveway over the weekend and things should be all set. All in it’s a small price to pay for what I’ll get in return.

Baltimore burning…

Having lived in Memphis, I though I’d seen some of the worst behavior I could expect out of a city. But no, Baltimore has gone and set the bar far, far higher (lower?) than anything I experienced on the banks of the Big Muddy.

Senior city leaders appear to be absent. The Baltimore Police Department has clearly been instructed to be non-confrontational and do as little as possible to protect life and property – I’m assuming the powers that be have some misguided notion that the rioters will just wear themselves down, everyone will go home, and tomorrow will be sunshine and puppy dogs. The fact that those officers are resisting the urge to bang heads while bricks and bottles fly at their heads is a huge statement about their professionalism. Under the same circumstances I wouldn’t be so disciplined.

After four hours of mob rule, the governor did finally declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard, but that’s not an “instant on” solution. It’s too little, too late and now night is falling.

I love Maryland. I sacrificed to get back to my home state to build a life with my feet firmly planted on my native soil. Tonight though, I am embarrassed that the Old Line is being seen around the world as a state that let its major city burn. I’m embarrassed at the behavior of my fellow citizens. I’m embarrassed by our elected leaders who wanted to “give the protestors room” to destroy things. And I’m embarrassed that we don’t have the fortitude or political will to put down these rioters using every tool in our arsenal. If they’re not going to respect the rule of law, at least let the bastards fear the consequences of that disrespect.


baltimore-peaceful-protestingThis isn’t generally a self-help kind of blog, but I thought it might be a good idea to pass along some ideas to the “people” of Baltimore who decided destroying cars, breaking windows, setting trash cans on fire, and throwing rocks at the police was a good way to communicate their message to the rest of the world. First off, nothing derails your credibility as a “peaceful protest” faster than going on a violent and destructive rampage. It’s generally considered bad form and all but guarantees that people who might otherwise be sympathetic will end up taking a dim view of whatever it is that you’re about.

Second, everyone from Baltimore’s mayor to the local newscasters took great pains to tell us all that “95%” of the protestors were peaceful. That might be true and if it is, why didn’t that 95% overwhelm the 5% who were violent with sheer weight of numbers? A little self policing within the group would go a long way towards preventing the actual police from stepping in and handling things the Western District Way. Unless, of course, what you really want from all of this is for the police to start banging heads in order to justify more criminal behavior.

Admittedly, I’m not a march or shout kind of protestor. I tend to register my displeasure with people and situations at the ballot box or cash register. It simply has never occurred to me that going to downtown Elkton and smashing the windows out of someone’s car would be a more effective means of getting my point across. Maybe I’ll give that a try next time. All I’d need to do is find 19 other people to stand by and be peaceful and that would make my shitty behavior A-OK on the eyes of the mayor and media, no?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Meeting prep. It’s bad enough when someone wants me to sit in a meeting on a topic way outside my general area of expertise. If they could at least do a little prep work first, though, that would be terrific. Maybe get me the slides an hour or two in advance so I can speak on the topic like I have some semblance of a clue what’s going on. It doesn’t feel like that’s too much to ask before someone shows up asking a lot of questions about material I haven’t ever seen before. But if past experience is any kind of guide, it’s at least as hopeless as asking one of the dogs for the winning Powerball numbers.

2. Bridging the gap. I have to pass through one of those sleepy one stop light kind of towns on my way to and from work every day. The main route is bottlenecked by a bridge that has been in urgent need of repair for at least the last five years. Now that the state has finally gotten around to doing something with it, we’re met by the usual bane of construction everywhere. Before work started, the bridge was going to be open for the duration of the project. Shortly thereafter it was declared “worse than we thought” and promptly taken out of service – expected restoration time 4 weeks. Tomorrow is the end of the 4th week and the latest word is “wait two more weeks”. Then, maybe, we’ll be able to press one lane back into service for gods know how long. The detours, the improvised 4-way stops, the drivers who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground; those things would all be OK if in two weeks we had a good working bridge. Of course what we’re going to have instead is the end of the “preparation” for construction phase of the project and a bridge that will be open or closed on a completely unpredictable schedule for the foreseeable future. I get the distinct impression that I could be stuck in detours for the rest of my natural life.

3. Unknown callers. I’ve been receiving a call from an “unknown” number once or twice a night for the last three or four days. Is there someone out there who sees a number is unknown and answers anyway? I don’t. Hell, I don’t even bother to answer calls when a number comes up that isn’t associated with someone in my address book. Usually those are a one-time occurrence. No message. No repeat calls. Wrong number. It happens. But the unknowns, yeah, they just keep on calling. I’m sure they just want to sell me something so they could save themselves a whole lot of time by just leaving a message and then knocking it off. Messages I’ll at least listen to eventually. Spamming my phone with missed and rejected calls, though, that’s not going to get you anywhere. Sadly, I’m sure they only do it because some reasonably significant percentage of people they dial take the call and give these asshats the time of day. That makes those people just as guilty as the tools who are instigating the calls in the first place.

Doesn’t play well with others…

After spending more hours than I want to admit trying to get a little electronic gizmo that will remain nameless hooked up wirelessly, I’m finally calling it quits. Wired direct to the router, all is well and it works like a champ. Unplugged it just sits there blinking out a steady reminder of its failure to play nicely with my home network.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much of the last ten years entrenching myself in Apple’s near-seamlessly integrated garden, but my tolerance for tech that has to be tinkered with is probably at an all-time low. It’s trite, but I want my gear to come out of the box and just work. Some might call that an unreasonable expectation, but those people are, for lack of a better word, simply wrong. There are any number of companies out there proving that tech doesn’t need to be complicated for the end user. Unfortunately there are even more in business that don’t seem to have much of any regard for providing an elegant solution to whatever problem their device is supposed to solve.

I was looking for a piece that would integrate into what I’ve got already with a minimum of fuss or trouble. What I found is a bit of kit that probably works ok if you’re willing to change or make compromises on the set up you have already. I’m not. That means instead of integration, I’ll be stuck with a standalone solution. In the end I’d rather have to manage two sets of controls and two apps than compromise on functionality.

Take that for what it’s worth.

What I don’t do…

In my wild and reckless youth I had something of a lead foot. Sometimes I still do. That foot has given me ample opportunity to interact with local, state, and federal police officers in various parts of the country. In all of those parts I had the decided advantage of knowing that I was being pulled over by the police and that the person walking up next to my vehicle to ask for my license and registration was a cop. The cop by contrast didn’t have a clue who I was or how I was going to behave under the circumstances.

Because I never wanted to do anything that might surprise the person standing a few feet away from me with a gun on their hip, I follow the same basic procedure every time I get pulled over:

1) Pull over as soon as it’s safe and practical. Put the car in park. Roll down the window. Turn off the engine.

2) Place both hands back on the steering wheel. Don’t reach for anything. Not my wallet. Not my registration. Not whatever it was I dropped on the floor when the blue lights surprised me.

3. Wait for the officer to tell me what to do. That one is hard for some people. They’re impatient like that.

4. Narrate what I’m about to do (i.e. I’m going to reach behind me with my left hand to get my wallet from my back pocket).

5. When I’m finished with all that, my hands go right back to the steering wheel and I wait for further instruction. The goal is no surprises.

Seventy-five percent of the time, I drive away with a warning. Even when I get more than a warning, that’s not the time to get loud and hostile. The cop caught me doing something stupid. Not his fault. See, when I do something stupid it’s my fault because that was a decision I made. Being responsible for your own actions isn’t something that only applies when the outcome breaks in your favor. You’re responsible for your own actions, both good and ill. Own them all.

Although I won’t give consent to search my vehicle for any reason, what I never do when faced with the long arm of the law, is resist. If he wants to pull me out of the car, that’s fine. If he wants to sit me on the curb, that’s fine. If he wants to lock me up, that’s fine too. Even if I’m in the right and I know it, that’s not the time to try making my point. In that moment, on the side of the road, even if he’s picking the fight, I know I’m going to lose if it gets beyond the conversation stage. That means it’s my job not to let it go beyond that point, even if it means temporarily swallowing a little bit of pride. I try very hard to avoid putting myself into that kind of no-win situation.

When all is said and done, if I don’t feel I’ve been given my due, I have a whole host of administrative and legal options available with which to seek redress for my grievances. I am more than happy to avail myself of those options as needed and as dictated by the circumstances. Escalating the situation to the point where there’s even a temptation for the officer to draw down on you is just plain stupid when there’s a whole universe of alternatives.

Some people might say that’s not very compassionate. Personally, I find compassion a little hard to come by when so many damages are self-inflicted for want of a little common sense and personal responsibility.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

Wet spot(s)…

I’ve been waiting on a good hard rain to get a look at how water flows around certain parts of the yard. That rain was delivered early this morning, so I missed the live show, but it left plenty of evidence for me to ponder when I got home after work. The bit of diversion I did in front seems to have done the trick. It’s not a permanent solution, but it bought time. My little back yard diversion worked as planned, but also revealed that water wasn’t just sloshing against the foundation and door sill from an ill-placed downspout. The sidewalk slab in that spot has subsided enough to channel some amount of water flowing off the hill and through my back yard. Even with how hard it rained last night it didn’t appear to be what anyone might call a flood, but there was enough residual water on the garage floor nine hours later to make it obvious that it was something more than a drip… and explains why that door and sill were rotted to the point of needing to be replaced before closing. Correcting the drainage situation in that part of the yard has definitely jumped up a few spots on my list of major projects to undertake.

I knew coming in that this was a “wet” lot and a damp area in general. From walking around I’d be willing to bet there’s more than one underground spring within a quarter mile of the house – probably far closer. The basement block is nicely coated with Drylok, which seems to have done a respectable job so far. The corners I was most worried about appeared to be dry this evening, although there was one unexpected spot on the basement slab where hydraulic pressure looked like it was doing its thing.

None of it is cause to make me want to dig out the back yard tomorrow, but nobody likes being in the wet spot so it’s something I’ll have to make right at some point sooner rather than later.

Thirty years…

This was the first weekend that felt almost settled in quite some time. There were a few household chores – running improvised drainage away from several downspouts, cutting the grass for the first time, tinkering around with a few other small-ish fixes, cleaning, laundry. The rhythm of the routine is starting to imprint itself on the new place. That would bother some people. I find it remarkably comforting. The weekend felt like a big step towards the place feeling more like mine and a little less like someone else’s. There’s still more distance to go on that score, but it’s progress.

I’m learning where the dog’s favored spots are and which parts of the floor creak no matter how softly you cross them. Like people, I’ve learned that no two houses sound exactly alike. Maggie and Winston have done a better job figuring out the house’s sounds than I have. Their random barks at things going bump is down to only once or twice a day. Me, on the other hand, my head is still on a swivel at anything that doesn’t sound familiar.

I’m trying to remember that I’ll be paying for this place for the next 30 years so there isn’t really any rush to knock all the things off my list at once. Maybe that means I’m growing as a human being. More likely it means I’m painfully aware of the all too obnoxious combination of limited time and limited finances. I’ll just let you be the judge of which scenario sounds most likely.