Style versus substance…

I’ll probably live to regret this, but WordPress asked me today if I wanted to switch over to a “new and improved” editor. I’m firmly in the camp of if something is advertised as new or improved it’s practically guaranteed to be worse than whatever it’s replacing. 

I’m going to try keeping an open mind about this thing – although it’s currently very tempting to dismiss it since I can’t figure out how the hell do do things that took two clicks using the old editor. It’s probably just a learning curve kind of thing, but writing is hard enough without needing to spend a lot of time and effort figuring out how to make things look right too. 

That’s probably a lot much to ask from the internet, of course… especially considering the layout this blog hasn’t changed in any meaningful way since the day I first set it up. I’m a guy who’s usually more concerned with content over looks in all things and if my own layout happens to be a little long in the tooth, I suppose that’s a little telling. 

It’s probably a good thing that I’m trying to get this sorted during Thanksgiving week. It’ll give me at least four or five days to figure out what the hell is going on before anyone starts paying attention again.

Your lack of sleep is showing…

I haven’t been sleeping worth a damn for the last week or so. It’s not a problem falling asleep. That happens fast enough, occasionally before I even have time to reach over and flick off the lamp. It’s more a problem of staying asleep once I get there. I’m naming the direct cause(s) as a free-roaming cat, a dog that fights for every inch of bed space and another whose snores seem to be able to shake the very ground, a trip to the bathroom occasionally, and my poor sleep addled brain trying to tune it all out. It hasn’t been a winning combination for a couple of nights now.

It’s starting to bleed through into things like a marvelously reduced attention span, incredibly hostile mood (yeah, more so than usual), grumbling at dogs who are doing dog stuff, and even, I suspect, the complete shit that passes for blog posts that I’ve been planting here. Sorry about that. I don’t know that coming clean about it makes those bad posts any better, but it’s at least honest.

There are things I could do that would probably improve my quality of sleep – banish the animals and the electronics from the bedroom, cut way back on liquid consumption after dinner, and generally try to decrease aggravation from 8PM onward. None of those things feel particularly likely to happen, though, so maybe we should all just get use to expecting me to be more surly and less coherent from here on out.

Just different…

I’m old enough to have caught the tail end of what could be called “local retail.” When I was a kid even our small town of a few hundred had what in generations past would have been called a dry good store. My home town wasn’t big enough to justify its own hardware store, but the next town of any size in either direction along the George’s Creek valley had one – Pritchard’s in Frostburg anchored the central stretch of Main Street, Ternent’s in Coney sat (where it still does business) at the center of town on Jackson Street. Ames provided a primitive “big box” style of retail while G.C. Murphy represented the last bastion of traditional American department stores. Murphy’s, though, was “in town” and usually involved a special trip. You didn’t end up there to pick something up on a whim.

There was a proper 1980’s mall, of course, decorated in shades of beige with it’s glass dome and sunken fountain centerpiece. It was anchored by JC Penny, The Bon Ton / Eyerly’s, K-mart, and Sears.

I’m taking this stroll down memory lane because of all these stores – many of them one-time giants of American retail, only a handful remain. Ternent’s lives still, I suspect as much due to the loyalty of the surrounding community (and inconvenience of making the 30 minute one-way drive to the next closest hardware store) as anything else. JC Penny creaks along providing the area with “something that isn’t Walmart. Now Sears has filed for bankruptcy protection. Its lone store back home isn’t on the closure list this time, but I don’t think anyone really expects it will last forever or even that it will last long. It’s only a matter of time before Sears too becomes part of consumer history.

Protected here by my walls of books and largely tucked away from people to the extent I can manage, it’s easy to dismiss just how much the world has changed in the last 30 or 40 years. A guy I use to work for was fond of saying that on average “it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.” It’s a nice sound bite and maybe it’s even true. But I can tell you without a moment’s shame that the older I get the less interest I have in “different” overall. Slowly, the words “different” and “worse” feel like they’re becoming synonymous.

I know intellectually that bankruptcy delivers creative destruction to the marketplace, but I’d consider it an awfully big favor if we could somehow avoid sweeping away all vestiges of the world that was.

Across eight versions and two weeks…

I’ll let you in on a secret: 95% of what I do on a daily basis isn’t particularly difficult, challenging, or hard to do. Mostly it involves reading for understanding and synthasizing separate ideas into a coherent thread so that someone slightly further up the food chain can use and/or ignore at his or her convenience. Just about everything else is really a supporting requirement.

In a world that operates on basic logic, it should all be mind numbingly easy to do. Of course no one has ever accused Uncle of running his universe based on any kind of rational system. As often as not it’s living in a state of just barely organized chaos in which that slim thread of organization is threatening to split apart without warning at any time.

Nothing I do should be particularly hard to do. And yet somehow it is. Today for instances I revised a bit of written work so that version eight bears a striking resemblance to version one – that I put together more than two weeks and six versions ago.

Now if I were doing something like drafting whole sections of the State of the Union Address I could almost understand the fine tuning of happy to glad. In this instance, you’ll just have to imagine that what I’m working on is more than several rungs lower on the scale of importance than that. Many, many, many rungs lower.

This shouldn’t be so goddamned hard to do. And yet you’ll have to excuse me because I’m off to punch up version nine with a few more “recommended changes.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Overestimation. As much as I appreciate your belief that a good word from me is a powerful totem for overcoming organizational obstacles, I regretfully must inform you that you have profoundly overestimated my ability to command change in a chaotic world. I appreciate your vote of confidence, but if my serving as the voice of reason is your last best hope, I think it’s best for all of us if you plan now on crushing disappointment. Rest assured that my pleas fall on the same deaf ears as yours.

2. New (old) routine. It took me exactly three days to fall into a new routine of doing whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. Landing back in the office after almost a week of that kind of decadent behavior has proven to be a hard pill to swallow. Sure, it’s just the old routine back again, but after a brief hint of freedom I can’t help but resent the confining structure just a little bit more than usual. Fortunately it will only take a few weeks of grinding monotony to reset my expectations based on this new (old) routine.

3. Pollen. The weather these last two days has been ideal for top down driving. The airborne pollen that hits you like a physical wall, however, makes it prohibitively agonizing to avail myself of the opportunity. Sure, some people who are more strongly constituted or may just be willing to endure scratchy, bloodshot eyes and the inability to breath through their nose, are out there soaking up the sun. Me? Not so much. Real summer will be here soon-ish. Then I can really enjoy the ride. Sadly, though, I want to be topless now.

36 hours late…

Yesterday I was nervous because the day didn’t go off the rails as I assumed it would. I could easily have saved the worry, because the day I expected yesterday arrived today, only 36 hours late.

There’s a truism in planning that says basically no one of any consequence pays attention more than 30 days before something is supposed to happen. Corollary to that truism is that by the time the gap closes to about two weeks, everyone suddenly cares and feels the need to be involved, but it’s also too late to change much of anything that’s not a trivial detail. Therefore you will spend an inordinate amount of time making changes that fundamentally don’t matter. If you spend too much time dwelling on it, I assure you you’ll go quite mad.

My only enemy now is the clock itself. Every hour that ticks past means more focus and more people wanting to put their thumbprint on something by making some random innocuous change. It’s the way of things. While the storm gathers, the winds rise, and the great and the good have their say, my only defense is in watching the hands of that clock slowly spool down to H-hour… because the moment it’s come and passed, everyone will be off and churning on the Next Big Thing and bloody well leave me in peace for a few days.

Three days of new heat…

After the better part of three days living with a new heat machine in the basement, it feels like I should say a few words. This is one of those rare occasions when an experiences actually exceeds expectations and therefore deserves special notice.

Being the creature of habit that I am and how much time I spend at home avoiding other people, I’m particularly well attuned to the sounds and rhythms of the house. I’ve gotten to know it’s noises and quirks. The new furnace has thrown a bit of a twist into what I’ve come to expect.

First and maybe foremost, the two stage blower appears to have fixed one of my biggest gripes about forced air heat. With the old furnace, the fan kicked on full bore before the air warmed and forced the cold air in the ducts out into the conditioned space with a noticeable “puff.” the cold air blown right up your back if you happened to be sitting near a register was an annoyance. With the two stage, the blower starts off slowly and displaces the cold duct air at an even, effectively unnoticeable pace before ramping up the speed. it’s a nice touch. I noticed and am appreciative of it.

This particular model also makes considerably less noise in operation – so much less noise that my normal television volume levels are noticeably more loud. (See, I told you I notice things). People seem to think I’m resistant to change, but the reality is that I generally welcome changes that make life more comfortable and peaceful. Why someone wouldn’t actively resist things that made their lives less pleasant or more of a pain in the ass eludes me completely, though that’s probably the topic for another night.

So, with the exception of the un-budgeted procurement costs, I am well pleased with the new bit of household mechanical equipment that we laid on here. It’s allegedly 6% more efficient than the unit it’s replacing so I’ll be curious to see how that works out now that we’ve replaced the two largest consumers of propane fuel in the house. Even if there’s no net savings, the improvements to comfort and safety are probably a win overall.