What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Being right. A few months ago I told someone I was afraid if X happened that Y would be the result. Now I’m not an expert in game theory, but I’ve got some small experience with strategic and operational planning. I also have a good sense of consequences and second and third order effects. The problem is being able to see a move or two ahead can be a real mixed bag and sometimes. Being right has a funny way of tasting so much like ashes in your mouth.

2. Group Hugs. About once a quarter the workforce is summoned together to participate in our version of a “town hall meeting.” It’s the preferred method here for leaders to give the impression that communication has happened. It’s fine, though it usually contains no more actual information than could comfortably be put in an email message. We all have our part to play in the show. This week’s iteration, though, included a new feature – the back half of the hall was roped off in order to drive all comers towards the front of the venue where we then spend the better part of two hours sitting elbow to eyeball with our colleagues with space feeling like it was allocated by the same people who decide how much space is need for your average coach seat on an airliner. It’s not so much like being treated as a valued employee as it is being made into a human sardine. Just add oil. Perhaps the reason people so often spread out across all 750 seats is we don’t *want* to sit in each other’s lap. Then again your way looks better for the photo op so at least we know where the priorities lay.

3. Charitable overreach. There are several charities I give to year in and year out. There are some I give to once and then never again. The fastest way to get dropped from my list is to bombard my email and old fashioned mail box with supplications for more money less than two weeks after I sent you a respectably sized check. If I sent you money, I believe in your cause and keep an eye on both you and it during the course of the year… but honest to God, if you keep bombarding me with mailers, you will be dead to me forever.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Rain. Not all rain is bad or evil. We need it and in some quantity recently. If it could hold off a bit on pouring it down during the mid-morning through late afternoon parts of the day, though, I would really appreciate it. As much as I still enjoy driving my big red Tundra, I’d really like to continue Jeeping topless during the only time of year when it’s really comfortable to do so. Yes, I know the drain plugs will take care of whatever standing water may be on the floorboards, but that’s an extreme measure I’d just rather not need to resort to unless it can’t be avoided.

2. Q&A. Live, unscripted question and answer periods with “the general public” should never be encouraged. For every reasonably well thought out question that’s asked, three more that are either completely off topic, so specific as to bore the other 300 people in the room to absolute tears, or utterly nonsensical and not formulated in any kind of structure known to the actual English language. In an open forum it’s just not worth the risk. The potential damage due to the extreme rolling of audience members’ eyes is a real and present threat.

3. Trusted professionals. Today, I’m left with a thought from John Wayne in his last role. He said, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” Now I may have missed the circus this morning, but let the word ring forth from this time and this place, that if any of you trusted professionals decides to to put your hands on me, you’d best have made up your mind that I’m the last thing you want to touch for a good long time because by all the gods, I will break every bone in your worthless hand.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Your iPad is not a video camera. Just because it has that capability doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to whip out your tablet computer and start swinging it around trying to catch the perfect shot. They make small hand held devices specifically for that purpose. In a pinch, catching a quick video clip with your phone is even a perfectly acceptable solution in most cases. The only things that really happen when you hoist your iPad over your head to catch that unmissable moment are: 1) You get bad quality video and audio recording of an event that’s allegedly important to you; 2) People behind you can’t see what’s going on; and 3 (and I can’t stress this one enough) You look like a total douchenozzle. It’s still a relatively free country and I can’t stop you from doing it, but you just shouldn’t want to.

2. I’m not a wizard. As I’ve stated previously and often, I can do it all, but I cannot do it all at once. I like to think that’s more a simple function of the linear nature of time rather than a personal failing on my part. You, of course, are free to disagree with that assessment. With that being said, one of the things you need to know is if you give me something to do, then tell me that I am required to go sit in a four hour long meeting, the thing you wanted me to get done will not be complete 30 minutes after the end of that meeting. I’m many things, but a wizard is not one of them. That’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s unfortunately true. I would love to be all things to all people, but so long as I continue to be given the opportunity to spend half the day in meetings that preclude doing any actual productive work, I’m afraid that’s just not going to be possible. The decisions about where I go or what I’m focused on are largely out of my own control, so sorry I’m not sorry.

3. Climbing over people in the middle of a ceremony is not acceptable. If you arrive late to a ceremony or event and things are already underway when you wander in, there really are only two acceptable courses of action: 1) Stand quietly in the back and wait for an intermission or other pause in the action to take your seat; 2) Find an open seat somewhere on the periphery and put your ass in it. What you shouldn’t do is show up two thirds the way through the event and climb over top of people who have been sitting respectfully like decent fucking human beings to get to a spot “your people” have been “saving” for you since twenty minutes before things started. What you really, really shouldn’t do is then climb back out over top of these same people after your special snowflake has been recognized and interrupt everyone within earshot for the second time in ten minutes. You my dear, inconsiderate woman, like your friend with the iPad, are a total douchenozzle.

The number two thousand…

The earliest post I’ve been able to track down showed up on June 1, 2006. There were some earlier efforts, I’m almost sure, but my own records only go back that far. If there are earlier posts out there somewhere, I’ve lost them to the electronic ether.

Nine years and 1,999 posts later we arrive at my 2,000th post. I’m not sure if that means I have too much to say, too much free time, or too much nascent desire for attention. A combination of the three is the most likely reason I’ve stuck with it this long. For whatever reasons, while other hobbies and interests have come and gone, the blog, in all its many forms has remained a consistent part of my life. At this point I’m not sure how I would self-identify without it.

It’s been tempting over the years to monetize the effort, to sell my services to other sites, or even to give it up completely, but obviously none of those ideas ever stuck. For these last 2,000 posts I’ve always been writing about whatever happened to be on my mind. It’s always been writing to sooth my own soul and to suit my own sensibilities.

Like it says up there in “About” at the top of the site:

Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: I’m not a regular guy. I don’t spend all weekend watching sports and I think domestic beer, for the most part, sucks. I’m never going to discuss how much I can bench press or how big my engine is. What I will do is comment on those issues that strike my interest on any given day including but not limited to travel, politics, technology and life’s unavoidable interaction with stupid people. Some posts will be mundane others will be rants of a more epic variety. I strive to keep it entertaining, but in the end I’m writing for my own benefit, not for an audience. If you’re waiting for a big finish, there isn’t one. This is what it is.

Maybe that’ll change at some point in the future, but I suspect you’ll hear much the same thing in 2024 when we’re talking about the 4,000th post.

I got mine the hard way…

So I was sitting in a meeting a few days ago (because that seems to be my professional raison d’être). I won’t go into the specifics of the discussion, but the general topic was the virtue of in person training versus “virtual” training delivered online. As I was only tangentially involved in the discussion, I quickly found myself engrossed in whatever notes I had previously scribbled onto my yellow legal pad.

What pulled my attention back into the conversation was a crack out of nowhere about not really thinking of academic excellence from people who get online degrees. Now what you should do when someone five steps above you on the org chart says something that ruffles your sensibilities is sit quietly and do absolutely nothing, lest in responding you incur their wrath. Sadly, as many of you know, sitting quietly and keeping my mouth shut is something I tend to struggle with on an almost daily basis.

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t go to Harvard, or Columbia, or the Wharton School of Business. I took my classes one at a time in the evenings and on weekends, while working full time, and traveling 2-3 weeks each month because that’s what Uncle said he needed me to do… so if you want to talk to me about academic excellence, I’ll be happy to go a few rounds with you on the virtue of an online education. Now I can be as elitist as anyone else, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m the one who got mine the hard way and if that doesn’t satisfy your century old notion about what constitutes “real” education, well that’s ok because I’ll be around long after your Paleolithic point of view is consigned to the pages of history.

I could have said more on the issue. That part of me that likes a good fight desperately wanted to go a dozen rounds, but I had to satisfy myself with looking an individual in the eye and telling them that as the holder of one of these online degrees, I didn’t feel educationally slighted in the least. I scored my point, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying. I didn’t want an apology or even a “present company excluded.” I simply wanted to provide a gentle reminder than no matter how high and mighty, it’s always best to know your audience before firing off at the mouth and losing credibility in the eyes of those who you would lead.

To blog or not to blog…

I was asked this morning for some insight into the mechanics of starting a blog. I wouldn’t say any of this is definitive, but if anyone out there is thinking about taking a stab at becoming an unpaid and overworked writer, here are some initial bits to ponder.

The first real decision you’re going to face is picking your platform. There are a million of them, but the two biggest are http://www.wordpress.com and http://www.blogger.com. I’ve used both and they both have their strengths and weaknesses. For pure ease of use, I’d recommend starting out with Blogger. It’s easy to use and doesn’t have too many bells and whistles to make things confusing at the start. If you decide you want to go at it in a big way, you can always export your work there to another platform. Usually the web address for a Blogger blog is something like http://www.myblog.blogspot.com. Again, if you really get into it and want to manage the minutia of your site, you can purchase your own domain later. For instance, my blog started out on MySpace (God forbid), migrated to Blogger, migrated to WordPress, and finally now lives at http://www.jeffreytharp.com. The important thing though, is the writing at first, so in my opinion it’s better to focus on that and let the tech people focus on doing all the behind the scenes stuff.

As far as anonymity goes, is anything really private on the internet? The easiest way to preserve some semblance of privacy, of course, is to set up an email account with Google under a pen name and then register your Blogger blog using that name and email address. There are still ways you can be found out, but it’s a nice basic level of discretion for most purposes. As you move into hosting your own domain name, there are more sophisticated methods of safeguarding your identity. You’ll find though, that the real issue with security to the average blogger is self policing what you write. Stay away from events that can be traced back to only a small number of people and if you must write about those, change enough of the details, names, etc. to make it a bit more general. The bottom line with security is that once it’s on the internet, there is always the possibility of someone finding out that it’s you regardless of how many layers of security you put in place, so write with that in mind.

Choosing a name can be a madding experience, if you think of something smart and witty, there’s a fair chance someone beat you to it. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. At the entry level, the chance of your two groups of readers ever intersecting is pretty slim. A good rule of thumb when it comes to branding is that easy is better – you want to pick something that people will remember. There are a laundry list of sites out there that have great advice about website and blog branding and the good news is that it’s something you can change over time if you find you aren’t thrilled with the name you started out with. Bounce ideas off people you trust to give you a sense of whether the names you like make sense to a broader audience.

I’m no authority on any of this and lord knows there are many, many blogs that are put together better than this one, but for the casual writer, this should help get you started. Reading a lot of other blogs, taking copious notes, and writing more than you ever thought you would are what will keep you fresh and open your eyes to new ideas.