I’m a whore…

I’ve never been the kind of guy who goes out of his way to find more work to do. As far as I’m concerned, that falls under the banner of working smarter rather than harder. I don’t try to duck work that needs doing, it’s just that experience tells me that if there’s work to do it’ll find me sooner or later. 

There’s another school of thought, of course. That school seems to be filled with people out there turning over every rock looking for things to do. They, as the kids might say, have no chill. They’ll find stuff to keep themselves (and you) busy whether it’s something that actually needs doing or not. The objective here, it seems, is to just be doing something.

If you’re looking for that kind of attitude, I’m not going to be your huckleberry. I’m a big fan of “meets standard,” or “technically acceptable,” or just good old-fashioned recycling of ideas from a three months ago that COVID put a pin in before they got off the ground. I’m not apt to recommend going out to find new work when the work we’ve already done is good enough. 

Look, I’m a whore. I’m renting my brain out by the hour, so whatever the John in this tale wants, I’m going to give them. It just always seems to me that there are better ways to get after things than covering the same ground twenty or thirty times. It’s fine though. I’ll do it… but they’d better not try to kiss me on the mouth.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Coffee, black. I had blood work done this week and received instructions not to eat or drink anything prior to the appointment. Black coffee was excepted. I appreciate that I was allowed to get caffeinated and avoid the inevitable withdrawal headache, but honestly, even good black coffee is bad. I’m sorry, it just is. I mean I don’t want 10 times more cream in my go juice than coffee or anything, but I like it to come to a nice deep tan before pouring it down my gullet. I know there will be a chorus of “real coffee lovers drink it black,” well, you’re welcome to your bitter bean water, but I’m going to insist on something more civilized.

2. Hand wringing about corporate profits. “But companies are posting record profits,” they whine. Yes, they are…. and those companies are going to do things like invest in their infrastructure, identify growth opportunities, and return a big slice of that profit to their shareholders through increased value or directly by issuing dividends. If you follow the average news report you could be forgiven for thinking “shareholder” is just another word for the evil 1%. In reality, of course, shareholders reflect every single American who has a 401k, or an IRA, or a Health Savings Account, a 529 plan, or yes, even one of those old school union-backed pension plans. Big corporate profits are a good news story for the 55%+ of the population who have invested for their future. Sorry, but in a free market I’ll just never see businesses making a profit as anything but a good news story.

3. Anti-streaming. Look, if you’re going to have people schlep to the office and spend eight hours there doing work that they could be doing from the comfort and convenience of their own homes, the least you can do is unblock some music streaming options so we can make an honest effort at ignoring those inane conversations going on around us. Unless, of course, sitting around listening in on six conversations at once is the “organizational culture” it’s so important to preserve. I mean I know there are people who really dig being in the office, but I can’t for a moment imagine why. There’s not a single thing there that works better than its counterpart in my home office… myself included.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Wet ink. Why, in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-one, do businesses still require wet ink on basic transactional paperwork. All I want to do is to make a pretty simple deposit into my retirement account. Maybe. If it were a withdrawal, I could see it. Maybe. Although I’m perfectly happy to let anyone in the world put funds in my IRA if the spirit moves them. In the time of instant transactions, waiting around for a few days until the mail arrives, waiting a few days until the return post reaches them, and then the action taking place. It really just feels like there has to be a better way.

2. Plastics. This week I got to enjoy the mandatory de-plasticizing of a new coffee maker pot. The entire house reeks of vinegar after brewing half a dozen pots of it in hopes that I’ll eventually be able to have coffee that doesn’t taste of plastic. At this point I’m not sure coffee tinged with plastic is actually worse than the hot vinegar stench permeating every inch of the house. 

3. One o’clock. For the last few weeks, I’ve struggled to get past 1 o’clock in the afternoon without my head slamming into my desk. I’ve always gotten a little groggy in the mid-afternoon, but this is something altogether different. It’s the kind of sleepy that demands I either get on my feet or go immediately to sleep. It’s not ideal if you’re making even the barest effort to be a responsible and responsive employee. This had better just be a passing thing, because otherwise I might need to talk to the boss about expanding my cube to allow room for a cot.

Pondering on an Egg McMuffin…

Most mornings when I’m due in the office, I stop by McDonalds for an egg sandwich. I know, I know. Health implications aside, I’ve made a decision that I’d rather read a chapter or two before schlepping down Route 40 than spend that limited time making breakfast.

This morning I found the drive through inexplicably vacant. Pulling in to order, I wasn’t greeted with “May I help you,” but rather “Just so you know we can only do exact cash right now.” I’m assuming it meant I’d need exact change because their electronic payment systems (credit card, Apple Pay, etc.) were down. Networked payment systems go down, I totally get that, but as a matter of principle I wasn’t going to just round up the cost to the nearest dollar or worse, since the only paper money I had in my wallet was a $20 bill. Their prices are near piratical levels already and I can’t remember the last time they didn’t have a “We have no change” sign in the window.

I pulled away without my Egg McMuffin secure in the thought that there’s a Burger King not quite on my route, but close enough to not make a difference in the morning’s timing. Burger King, however, was closed this morning during what should have been about the peak of their breakfast rush. Lights off, drive through barricaded, and not a car to be seen in the parking lot. Looks like I wasn’t going to be getting a bacon, egg, and cheese Croissanwich, either.

After two strikes, the clock had run out on me, which meant heading directly to the office sans breakfast. It’s hardly the worst thing in the world, but it feels like part of the wider trend where everyone seems to be throwing up their hands, giving a shrug, and muttering “Eh, COVID.”

A year ago, I was pretty tolerant of stutter stepping and odd moments that went with figuring out how to live in a plague year. Here we are nearly two years in, though, and I’m not in any way convinced we’ve collectively learned anything. I mean how is there still a change shortage? How have nationally branded businesses not figured out how to, you know, do business… or at least keep the doors open during business hours?

The more gentle-minded among you will be tempted to tell me that everyone is “trying their best during this difficult time” or some other platitude. Based on my observation, I’m not in any way convinced that’s true… and even if it was, it just seems to me that after eighteen months of practice, everyone’s best should be a little better than it is currently.

Pro-plague protestors…

This past Saturday afternoon employees of our regional medical center marched for their “right” to remain unvaccinated.

Their Facebook posts seemed to gin up all the usual things you’d expect. Arguments like “it’s not a vaccine,” or “the FDA hasn’t approved it,” or “I won’t be a lab rat,” or “government tracking,” or “my body, my choice,” or, more creatively, an oddly undefined “right to choose” abounded. 

The thing here is, Christiana Hospital is a private entity. They have all the right in the world to establish their own conditions of employment. Employees, like the assembled jackasses who have decided the COVID-19 vaccination is a globalist plot to sap and impurify their precious bodily fluids, are free to either meet those conditions or go off to seek employment somewhere willing to tolerate their bat shit crazy ideas. 

The only thing anyone is being forced to do here is make a decision – and then live with the consequences. As it turns out, people really hate it when they’re faced with consequences. 

I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to call these people “anti-vaxers.” What they really are is pro-plague. In word and deed, they’re actively advocating medically irresponsible and dangerous theories. Frankly, the hospital system should be glad they’ve so helpfully self-identified. They’re exactly the kind of people that shouldn’t be involved in providing health services to the public. 

If these pro-plague healthcare workers had the courage of their convictions, they would immediately resign in protest – refusing to participate in a system they believe is doing direct harm to patients or is otherwise engaged in unlawful practices. As it is, I can only assume what they really are is attention whores who want to stomp around shouting “look at me, look at me.”

Believe me, I’ve looked at you. I’ve taken your weight and measure and found you wanting in almost every possible way.

Thanks for the tips…

Last week, much like this week, has been a bit of a broiler in the mid-Atlantic. As a result, my local electric utility sent out a bulk email with some “helpful” tips for dealing with the heat.

Tip #1: On hot days, use your grill to cook so you’re not adding heat to your house. Yeah, that’s a pass. It’s 95 degrees outside with 80% humidity and you want me to stand over and open flame flipping chicken or burgers instead of standing in the 70 degree kitchen where I can control the temperature to within a degree or two with a flick of my thumb.

Tip #2: Do laundry and run the dishwasher at night. Fun fact, night is when I sleep. I’m not staying up until the small hours to do laundry to save a fractional percentage cost of doing it during normal hours. Doing these chores during the non-peak hours you’ve designated doesn’t actually use less electricity, it just makes using the electricity I need to complete these tasks more inconvenient.

Tip #3: Close your blinds to reduce passive solar heating. Here’s the thing… I’m awake during the day, I like being able to see outside while I’m awake. I know I’m just weird like that. These big ass windows and the view they offer are part of the reason I bought the house in the first place. Otherwise I’d just stay up all night with no view doing laundry in the small hours of the morning like you so helpfully suggested.

All I see when a utility offers “helpful” tips such as these is a company that has opted to develop a network that they’re worried might not be up to meeting peak demand. With so much of my monthly bill being service fees rather than the actual cost of the electricity itself, I have very little sympathy in their desire to offload their problems onto the consumer rather than admitting they failed to design or maintain a sufficiently robust system to meet actual requirements.

Business versus vanity project…

Over the last few days, I’ve watched a handful of news segments and read several stories all striving to make a common point – that businesses from local mom and pop restaurants to heavy industry are having difficulty filling vacant positions.

Some of these stories cite the “Amazon Effect,” that has entry level new hires streaming to fill openings in warehousing and distribution. Others lay the blame with too much free money passed out in the form of federal stimulus payments and increased unemployment.

It seems to me that the most straightforward way to resolve this particular imbalance between the demand for these workers and their limited supply is to increase wages to the point where there are enough people to fill vacancies. 

Admittedly, I’m not a fancy big city economist, but raising wages feels like a fairly basic, tried and true way to attract people into a particular job or even into an entire segment of the workforce.  Yes, it means in some cases the products and services being offered by those businesses will cost more, but if your business can’t generate the revenue necessary to hire people to do the work, you have more of a vanity project than a business anyway.

The old fashioned way…

The blatant truth about today is that even though I was sitting here in the sunroom / home office banging out emails, I lost all sense that it was a weekday and that I’d need to have something ready to post at 6:00 tonight. After spending most of the last two weeks in the actual office, I suppose I forgot just how much being here felt like a much less onerous version of work. Not needing to attempt to concentrate over the sound of half a dozen other conversations probably doubles my productivity… not to mention ability to concentrate on whatever details are actually in front of me.

Unfortunately, those are precisely the sort of factors that are difficult to measure when it comes time to compare the costs and benefits of working from home versus being in an actual office somewhere. 

That observation makes for a bit of a bland post. It’s not exactly a eureka moment, but after spending more bulk time in the office than I have in a year, it was certainly a bit of reinforcement of just how good it can be.

The exact details of what the future of work will look like in my little corner of Uncle’s big green machine remain a little vague. It’s hard to imagine a world where everyone piles back into big concrete and steel boxes as if nothing ever happened. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine a world where the gods on Olympus willingly go on only seeing people a few times a month. Some places will undoubtedly swing further on one direction versus the other. 

I suppose once that all shakes out, I’ll start needing to make some decisions about what I think the future of work needs to look like. Fourteen more years of going back to doing this “the old fashioned way” increasingly doesn’t feel sustainable.  

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Repetitive question syndrome. In my particular area of effort, questions are unavoidable. That’s fine. Nothing I’m tinkering with is overly complex, so the answers generally come easy. The real kick in the junk is when the same question comes from three people who all work in the same office. Maybe sort some shit out among yourselves before blasting away on the email… because, honestly, anyone after the first person from your organization is going to get a verbatim copy/paste response, regardless of what subtle differences they inject into the question. I don’t mind doing the work, but I absolutely mind doing it three times with vaguely different shading.

2. Entitlement. I know this is going to be a hard pill to swallow, but no one owes you anything just because you happen to exist. The level of entitlement I see, particularly on Twitter, is almost breathtaking. I have no idea where people find the nerve to think they’re somehow entitled to the exact job (or societal permission to not work) they want, in the city where they want to live, in a home they shouldn’t have to pay for, with food and healthcare all provided on demand at someone else’s expense. Being a guy who left home at 22, schlepped all over the country to work where the opportunities presented themselves, and made shit tons of sacrifices to build the life I wanted to live, I truly don’t know from where they get the nerve. 

3. Junk email. The longer the Great Plague rages, the more junk email I get from any company with which I’ve ever even thought about doing business. Look, I know everyone is jumping through their ass trying to stay in business, but I don’t need 10 emails a week from the company I bought a watch from five years ago. It’s not going to make me want to buy another watch or really any widget I’m not already thinking about buying. I like the companies I use on a regular basis, but honest to God being regularly spammed makes me want to look at other options… which sadly would just lead to even more pointless email which would fill me with even more hostility. There are about 50 businesses that are one or two more emails way from earning a “send directly to trash” rule. 

Thoughts on the death of a pipeline…

I was raised in coal country. My childhood memories are punctuated with the sound of a CSX locomotive and open coal cars rumbling through the center of town. I don’t have to tax my memory to recall its whistle screaming as the engine pulled its load across the level crossing at Union Street. Those trains were as much a part of town as any of the buildings that stood overlooking the tracks. Still, they haven’t run coal south through Midland in a long time. Then again, a lot of those old buildings are gone now, too. 

My home town’s entire reason for being was to support the men who went down the mines in the 19th and 20th centuries. I grew up riding bikes in the shadow of draglines and immense tailings piles carted out of the deep mines a hundred years before I was born. Even those “coal banks,” pressed hard against the backs of the town’s two churches, are long gone following a spate of reclamation and restoration efforts made a decade or two ago. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that, for good or bad, we’re living in the closing era of the coal industry. Government – and the people – are going to demand “clean” energy options going forward.

You can rage against it all you want.  There’s no silk weaving mill in Coney anymore because it didn’t make economic sense in 1957. There’s no Kelly-Springfield plant in Cumberland because it didn’t make economic sense in 1987. There’s no Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore because it didn’t make economic sense in 2012. Maybe you see where I’m going with this line of thought.

Sure, hang on grimly to your plant or pipeline. Get out of it whatever you can in the time it has left. The oil is still going to flow – by rail or truck or one of the hundred other pipelines crisscrossing the continent. A few mines may hang on for decades yet, but the battle is over. Coal from western Maryland will never again fuel the ships of the Great White Fleet. Oil, over the next few decades, is going to be phased out. The future is ugly ass wind turbines marring every mountaintop and offshore vista and acres of solar panels where there use to be open fields.

The economy has always been built on creative destruction. It sucks when you’re on the “destruction” side of the equation. Ask the men who built wagons what happened after Henry made the car affordable to the masses. I take no pleasure in acknowledging this, because the end of this type of industry is going to have real and lasting negative impacts on my old home town and the people I know there. Pretending it’s not going to happen, or that we can somehow reverse the inexorable march towards the future isn’t going to help them, though. 

Times change. Technology evolves. King Canute couldn’t order the tide to go out and we’ll fare no better trying to resuscitate dead and dying industries and ordering the future to be an exacting continuation of the past. 

That’ll be an unpopular opinion where I’m from, but as a lifelong holder of unpopular or controversial opinions, I’m ok with that.