What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Crud. Whatever standard issue crud I was run down by over the weekend continues to hang on grimly. I’m feeling mostly fine, but I’ve woken up every morning this week with a raw throat and very little voice. It’s not enough to really change anything I need or want to do, but it’s damned annoying. With as many shots as I’ve subjected myself to over the last three years, I feel like having one of them be the cure for the common cold really isn’t that big an ask.

2. Rumors. Having been moved away from my home town for going on 23 years, sometimes I forget how things work there. One thing that hasn’t changed is the rumor mill. Industries rise and fall, people come and go, but rumors fly as swiftly as they ever did. Here’s the thing… if you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right from a friend of a friend of a friend, maybe just pick up the phone or tap that message button and ask someone who would know. That way they can confirm, deny, or tell you to mind your own damned business. Though, I suppose that has significantly less entertainment value.

3. Still waiting. Here we are 7 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published seven weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

A low-grade crud…

I went from March 2020 to December 2021 without so much as a cough. I can trace my Christmas crud last year directly to the one time I strayed out from normal habits of avoiding people. Believe me when I tell you I was good at avoiding people before COVID. After COVID, I’ve become exceptional… of course that assumes a situation where I exert some level of control over most of the variables. 

I’m in no way surprised that six weeks after “return to the office” I already find myself dealing with a low-grade crud. You wouldn’t be surprised either if you heard the general amount of background hacking, sniffling, and general complaints that “it’s probably just a cold,” floating around the cube farm on any given day.

The good news is that as long as the handy little at home tests can be trusted, it’s probably a run of the mill cold and not the Great Plague. The bad news, of course, is the only reason I’ve got a head full of anything just now is because my corner of the great green machine continues to obstinately cling to the idea that work is a place rather than an activity despite two years of evidence to the contrary.

If you’re wondering when I’ll stop being salty about this world where asses in seats continues to be a more important metric than production, well, I won’t… and I don’t even need this periodic upper respiratory reminder to keep it in the forefront of my mind.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Still waiting. Here we are 6 weeks past the “end of max telework” world and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published six weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

2. Just a cold. I can’t tell you how many times this week I’ve heard, “oh, I know I look awful but it’s just a cold.” You’d think that over the last three years one thing we might have collectively learned is bringing your germs to an enclosed working environment maybe isn’t a great idea. But no. People are absolutely re-goddamned-diculous and operate under the illusion that this 200+ year old institution can’t possibly operate without them. It can. It has. And it will. Take your sick ass home and work from there if you think you’re that important. Jesus wept.

3. November surprise. In a surprise to no one but hard-core Republican partisans, it turns out that if you single mindedly pursue a laundry list of policies the majority of the electorate disagrees with, nominate a wide slate of candidates who redefine the phrase “sleazy politician,” and hew in lock step with a twice impeached former president who attempted to raise a rebellion against his own government, then come election day you might have a bad time of it. In a mid-term being held amidst historic inflation and economic angst, the party out of power should have walked away with big wins across the board. Republicans should have had a banner night. It turns out that policy still matters. Candidates still matter. Messaging is important. Even if the Republicans squeak out a majority in the House or Senate, this election should be a wakeup call. It probably won’t be. The true believers will double down and get even more loud and obnoxious. 

Lessons from Texas…

There are lots of lessons about the debacle of the Texas electric grid.

The biggest, for me at least, is the confirmation that energy independence isn’t just about making the fuel we consume right here in the good ol’ U S of A, but also in having a bare minimum ability to produce some power or heat separate and apart from whatever grid happens to service your region.

For the average homeowner or renter, even a tiny, portable generator could power a modest electric heater – enough to keep a room warm and a lamp on as a shelter of last resort. For an apartment dweller the calculus is a bit different. Even so, there are indoor use options powered by propane or denatured alcohol that would provide welcome heating in a survival situation. The catch to all of those alternatives, though, if you need to have thought them through a bit before the “oh shit” moment arrives.

I’ll be the first to tell you that even the best generators aren’t foolproof. They need regular service and rely on a steady supply of your fuel of choice. Here at Fortress Jeff, that fuel source is a 500 gallon propane tank buried in the backyard. At best, on the day it’s filled, that tank will contain 400 gallons of propane – or a little more than six days of 24/7 run time for the average sized generator. Since most days that tank is sitting somewhere between full and “empty,” I work from the assumption that I can keep things fully up and running for half that time and maybe even less since the water heater and furnace both draw from the same tank. If it looks like a long duration outage, off and on cycling will buy me a few more days of keeping the place at least habitable.

Beyond that point, we’re at the mercy of the delivery service and the expectation that both the generator and HVAC systems keep working as advertised. That is to say, it’s not a zero risk plan that I put together. There are certainly scenarios where a deep snow or ice, and downed trees could prevent delivery or repair should an event drag into multiple days or some component fail. I assess the relative risk of that happening as being fairly low based on the historical record for the geographic area I currently occupy.

Even feeling fairly secure in my ability to operate independently from the grid for days if necessary, when the time comes to replace the current 21 years old tank, I’m planning to upgrade to a 1000 gallon model. When it comes to fuel on hand, I firmly believe the old logistician’s motto that “more is better.” On days I’m feeling particularly aggressive about my own personal energy independence, the thought of adding a wood stove also sounds awfully appealing. Without a fireplace of any kind in the house, it’s more of an undertaking than I’d really like to get involved with just now, but it’s on the radar for sure.

As for Texas, well, it’s just one more reminder than when shit really gets dicey, you’d better have a plan to get yourself through the worst of it, because the cavalry isn’t always going to ride over the hill and rescue you in the nick of time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Listening to US news outlets talk about UK elections. This past Monday Boris Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party. He was not, as every cable news program I watched was want to tell me, elected the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Now in every likelihood as the newly installed leader of the majority, he will become the next PM, but that won’t happen until he’s formally invited by Her Majesty to form a government in the Queen’s name. Pedantic? Yes. A technicality? Yes. But details matter when your stated aim is to inform the public about the news of the day… or at least they should.

2. The common cold. It’s the 13th day of dealing with the immediate or after effects of having my latest round of summer crud. I’m fortunate that whatever bug it is usually only catches up with me every couple of years. Even so, I’m left to wonder how the hell, fifty years after we landed men on the moon, we don’t have a better curative for the common cold than rest and drink plenty of water. If I’m paying $15 for ten days worth of decongestants and $9 for cough syrup, it feels like someone could reasonably charge five times as much for a product that actually made you feel better… although at this point, I’d cheerfully pay ten times as much.

3. Hydration. This bit is really a corollary to this week’s second annoyance, but one that feels like it deserves it’s own space. Since “drink plenty of fluids” is part of the generically accepted treatment for the common cold, I’ve been doing my best to follow that guidance. I’ve been drinking easily two or three times my usual daily amount of water (and substituting with something like Gatorade when one more glass of water sounds like the most disgusting and repulsive idea ever). The problem is that drinking plenty of fluids is only the input. For every extra ounce of liquid taken onboard, there is a corresponding increase in the amount of “output” once the body has processed it… which creates a need to get up two or three times through the night to take a damned leak. My position is that the guidance to drink lots of fluids directly contravenes the commonly accompanying requirement to get plenty of rest. Doing the former guarantees that I will not be able to do the latter.

Stoned…

One of the great perks of hoarding sick leave early in my career is now having a giant stack of it available to use when I’m not feeling up to snuff. Today is one of those days – when the better part of valor was parking myself on the couch and flooding the system with medication instead of dragging myself to the office as if I thought I still had anything to prove to anyone.

Instead, after breakfast, and a few odds and ends, I sat here muttering at the dogs, facing a few hours where I’m nearly stoned into inaction. I’m not sure I could operate heavy equipment even if I wanted to. They may be on to something with that warning.

What they’re not on to, apparently, is the definition of the phrase “non-drowsy.” Hey, I like being as blitzed as the next guy, really, but damned if it wouldn’t be nice to have a option that could dry out my sinuses without sending me face down on the kitchen table. Yeah. That would be great.

Winter of our discontent…

It was 10 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning. It’s winter, so that’s not unheard of here along the shores of the Chesapeake. I do have to wonder at the first settlers who arrived here and endured their first long winter. What compelled them to stay here rather than picking up stakes and opting for somewhere south of Norfolk. I can only speculate that they were stranded and without means to build a boat of their own to get the hell away to somewhere more temperate.

The poor bastards that lived here in log houses with mud insulation and wood heat and managed not to freeze to death were surely hearty souls. Far more hearty that I feel during the current unpleasantness. I don’t mean to imply that I heat the place excessively. I’m generally comfortable around 68 degrees. I try to get by at 67 as at least a passing nod towards saving fuel. Even at that my fancy new ultra high efficiency propane furnace was running flat out more often than it wasn’t.

I’m fortunate in that the house is well constructed and reasonably well insulated. Even at that, it’s teaching me a few details I’ll remember when I build the final version of Fortress Jeff. I’ll have more south facing windows with interior shutters to close at night. I’ll cut back the tree line far enough to get unobstructed sunlight. There will be in-floor heat for the bathroom. It’s going to be way more insulated than code requires. And there’s going to be zoned heating. I find myself here pumping hot air into parts of the house I only walk into a couple times a year.

Finally, I’m missing the one thing on my wishlist that I traded away because the current house ticked so many of my other “must have” items – a wood stove or fireplace. Let’s face it, if I can prop my feet up on a hearth with a good book and some coffee most of my basic requirements are already being met. Unfortunately, with every passing winter I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of the cold. The amount of time I’ve already spent devising ways to push the natural environment away by a few degrees just doesn’t bode well for what I’ll be spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about in the future.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The cold. Whatever tolerance I built up for it during my formative years in the shadow if Savage Mountain has been worn away by too much of my adulthood spent in the south and along the flatter lands of eastern Maryland. This shows itself in my current situation of sitting inside with the furnace running flat out, wearing two shirts, a sweater, and wool socks, and wondering where one goes to order a nice set of long johns. I use to think the North Woods of Maine might make a nice place to end up… I’m afraid I’m going to have to reconsider this position.

2. Why aren’t we talking about “Topic X more?” I read an article online a few days ago complaining that we were no longer laser focused on whatever happened to be the Issue of the Month a couple of months ago. I’m sure all the previous Most Important Things are still important. Personally it’s that I have limited RAM to allocate to the whole universe if things there are to give a damn about. It’s allocated to work stuff, stuff to keep the house up and running, getting from here to retirement, a few things I’m passionate about, and then one or two crises of the moment. That’s it. The world has always been full of problems that need solving. 100 years ago we only saw the ones we happened to walk past. I really don’t think the world is any more in the shitter than it was back then. The only thing different is now we can find out just how jacked up things are in every corner of the world instead of only our little part of it.

3. Shipping Address. There’s an agency in the federal government that I order products from every year. The products are billed automatically and shipped out as soon as they are released. Easy peasy. Except no. This year, the first of these was scheduled to ship out to an address where I haven’t lived in three years. I have no idea. Fortunately I caught it before processing was complete. They couldn’t manage to change the address of an order “in progress” but at least I got it cancelled before it arrived safely to whoever is living at my old address. As turns out, their ordering system was picking up the old address because you have to change the shipping address in at least two places on their website. Instead of just clicking the button that says “change address” under your profile, you also have to go in and change your address under each individual product. I ended up entering the address in three separate locations in addition to the correct address that was already built into my online profile. That seems incredibly counterintuitive, but then again it’s a federal website so perhaps it’s not at all surprising… although that doesn’t explain how the shipping world out ok last year. Sometimes it’s best not to ask.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Fuzzy thinking. I whore my brain out an hour at a a time. Clear thinking and the ability to assimilate large amounts of information into a coherent structure are sort of the baseline level expectation. I think one of the biggest reasons I’ll never be a “drug person” is how much harder it is to take on and process information even when just under the influence of fairly innocuous over the counter medications. Being stoned is fun an all, but I’ll be happy to trade it away for not having to will every single synapse to fire individually in order to get through a complete thought.

2. Taking ten minutes to tell a two minute story. If you have something to say, or if you think you have something to say, go ahead and get to the damned point. It’s bad enough that you’re calling me on the telephone, but when you don’t keep it to an absolute minimum amount of time required I’ve already tuned you out around the two minute mark.

3. A Day Without Immigrants. I don’t know anyone who is downplaying the roll immigrants had and continue to have on this country. I don’t know anyone who is arguing in favor of slamming shut the doors to American citizenship forever. What I do know, though, is the Day Without Immigrants protest refuses to make a differentiation between legal immigration and those who have arrived and/or stay in this country illegally. You can flail your arms and shout until you’re purple in the face and you will simply never convince me that I have a moral responsibility to provide for the care and feeding of those here outside the law beyond what is necessary to adjudicate their case and return them forthwith to their country of origin (or next convenient parallel dimension). So you can close all the big city restaurants you want for as long as you want, but I’m going to continue to insist that 1) legal immigration is a net positive overall and 2) illegal immigration should be stopped.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The Obvious. Headlines screaming “America in Deep Freeze,” or “Arctic Blast Cripples East Coast,” or “The Big Chill,” seem a bit superfluous at the moment. It’s mid-December here in the northern hemisphere. We’re right up against the winter solstice. For those who need it spelled out, that means for the next three months or so, cold is perfectly normal and should, generally, be expected. If for some reason the arrival of winter and cold weather have caught you off guard and unprepared, well, you’re an idiot. The fact that so many people are idiots, however, still does not make “it’s cold in the winter” a breaking news story.

2. Election Meddling. It’s cute that we’ve collectively decided that foreign powers meddling in a US election has raised the collective hackles of the press. Anyone familiar with their history over the last 200 years will tell you that we meddle every bit as much as the Russians. Ask the Iranians who ousted the Shah. Ask the Vietnamese about the Diem brothers. Ask any number of Latin American countries about our “helpful” deployment of Marines to ensure their elections turned out the way we wanted them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as angry about Russian interference as anyone, but for us to pretend we don’t do the exact same thing everywhere else on the planet is the height of hypocrisy.

3. Competing priorities. Given the lack of guidance I currently operate under, I’m put in a position where I have to make decisions about what problems get my attention and which ones don’t. I imagine I get it right more often than not (but that’s a complete guess since feedback is also something we don’t do). So when you stop me in the hall at the end of the day and wonder why I wasn’t in some meeting I was “supposed” to be in, there’s fair chance that time got allocated to one of the competing priorities that appeared to be more pressing. I’d be more than happy to work the issues in any order leadership sees fit if they’d just bother to tell me the flavor of the day. If they are going to leave me to my own devices, I’d mostly appreciate not getting blind sided in those rare moments when they choose to care.