What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Logging in. When I boot up my work computer in the morning, I have to log in using my access card and PIN. When I log into Outlook, I use my access card and PIN. One Drive? Access card and PIN. Teams. One more time, log in with access card and PIN. Just to start the day I have to log in using the same credentials four to five times depending what opens on startup. I’m sure there’s some important network security reason this is necessary, but it feels dumb and is 100% a daily irritant. 

2. Upgraded masks. For the last two years, I’ve survived plague free by 1) being vaccinated and boosted, 2) generally avoiding people as much as practical and 3) wearing a standard cloth face covering whenever I had to go into a questionable indoor environment. It hasn’t felt like all that big an ask. With the latest variant, word has gone out that it’s advised to switch over to more robust masks – primarily N95 or KN95 style respirators. That’s well and good, but I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money so far on various upgraded masks and a host of add on extenders, inserts, and other bits to get a better fit. So far, no combination of any of them has given me a mask that doesn’t immediately blow hot air around my nose and cheeks and turning my glasses into a solid wall of fog sitting on the end of my nose. Not falling victim to the Great Plague is important, but if I can’t be both maximally protected and fog-free, I’m going to have to err on the side of being able to see what the hell I’m doing when I need to leave the house.

3. Maryland’s Republican governor has proposed eliminating taxes on retirees as a means to discourage people from spending their working lives here and then immediately decamping for jurisdictions that don’t tax retirement income. For those who will face a potential tax bill from Maryland when they retire, it has to be a consideration. For instance, if you have the longevity to enjoy a 20-year retirement and the state reaches into your pocket to the tune of $4,000 a year, that’s upwards of $80,000 you’re leaving on the table for the convenience of not moving to a more tax friendly state. That’s not the kind of win the Democratic controlled general assembly will want to hand a popular Republican governor. Given Maryland’s historic love of raising taxes on its residents, it’s not the kind of thing they’d want to do if there the governor was a Democrat, either. I’m an unabashed lover of my native state, and I’d love to be able to make a plan to stay here along the shores of the Chesapeake forever, but unless our fearless leaders end up endorsing a plan like this, finances are all too likely to dictate otherwise when the time comes.  

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Systems of systems. Outlook was down most of the day on Wednesday. That was after three days of fighting another “file sharing” system. It’s possible that this week will enter my personal record books as the one in which I spent the most effort to accomplish the least. I’m sure there are good and fine reasons why all out tech seems to be tits up more often than it’s not, but it continues to be one of the top two or three most reliably annoying elements of the job. It’s just one of the many reasons I’m dedicated to being able to walk out the door in thirteen years, five months, and a hand full of days.

2. The week before Christmas. It’s the week before Christmas, or close enough for all practical proposes. It’s certainly less than eight working hours before my long Christmas holiday commences. It’s also been just about the busiest week of work I can remember since the beginning of the Great Plague. Easily 50% of the week’s dumpster fires are entirely self-inflicted because someone just got around to looking at something that should have been handled last week, or because our electronic communication system suck, or for untold other reasons. I shouldn’t say this with so many bosses, former bosses, and other trusted professionals following along, but with seven hours left in my work year, every single one of my fucks has already been allocated. Anyone coming at me between now and 4:00 Friday afternoon expecting much more than a blank stare is going to be sorely disappointed.

3. Prednisone. Thanks to the as-yet unidentified reason my arm had been broken out in a rash for about three weeks, I had a 4-day course of prednisone this week. The (mostly) good news is that the arm has sort of cleared up – it at least looks a lot better than it did a week ago and I’m not longer tempted to satisfy the itch by scratching it with a circular saw. What the four days of prednisone also gave me was an insatiable craving for salt, rampaging blood glucose levels, an even shorter temper than usual, and I’m pretty sure at least one panic attack. I have no idea how people stay on that stuff for weeks or months on end. Next time I’ll just scratch myself bloody and it will still be a less awful experience. 

A $15 Rolex…

There’s one web-based application that is an indispensable part of the job I was nominally doing today. The trouble is, that app went out of service at about noon yesterday and didn’t come back online until an hour before I punched out for the day today. I’m reasonably good, but cramming 12 hours of work into the last hour of a Friday afternoon isn’t going to happen.

As a tiny cog in our wealthy uncle’s great green machine, I’m no stranger to sitting around with my thumb up my ass. Life in the bureaucracy guarantees you’ll spend a not insignificant amount of time in that position.

I have to wonder, though, if we’re really as dependent on networks, and systems, and processes that are apt to create single points of failure repeatedly, why haven’t we come up with a way for these systems to be redundant or develop some method of continuing to get the job done when the computers don’t work. As it sits now, all it means is a 24 hour backlog waiting for someone (read: me) to clear it out on Monday. That’s assuming the great network administrators in the sky really finished whatever voodoo ceremony was necessary to fix things permanently. That doesn’t even begin to account for the inevitable bitching and complaining from echelons higher than reality wondering why everything is taking so long, suspenses were missed, and we’ve given the distinct impression of not having done a damned thing for almost two full days.

Thank God my terminal doesn’t launch the nukes or make sure a reactor gets shut down safely, because from where I’m sitting the whole creaking edifice feels about as reliable as a $15 Rolex.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Enterprise Service Desk. I waited on hold for 24 minutes after my laptop flashed all sorts of warnings about the impending doom of expiring certificates, to be told, oh no, just call back about two weeks before it expires. I mean if that’s the standard, maybe sync up the automatic warning message to not start flashing red with 41 days to go. But hey, at least I can look forward to pissing away another half hour on hold in the very near future… when I’m entirely confident I’ll be told I should have requested the new certificates at least 30 days in advance.

2. USPS. I’ve largely abandoned the US Postal Service to the extent possible. Some of the places I order from still regularly use them, but for most anything originating here, I look for other options first. The delivery inconsistencies, delays, and downright failures from last winter still rankle. Now I see the USPS has a grand plan to improve itself… by intentionally slowing down deliveries and increasing prices. Yep. I’m sure that will bring people flocking in to their local post office.

3. Celebrity. The amount of time we collectively spend pondering the opinion of celebrities is kind of remarkable. I’m not entirely sure why anyone cares whether a man who’s very good at throwing a ball through a hoop thinks vaccines work. Don’t get me wrong here. I have plenty of favorite celebs. Some are funny, others insightful, and a few are just a pleasure to look at… but what I don’t generally look to them for is subject matter expertise in a field that demands decades of study and practice in which to gain proficiency. 

Cynical and jaded…

My laptop took 90 minutes to boot up this morning. Combined with the more than an hour it took to get access to our primary workspace, that put me about three hours into the workday before I could really even start “working.” That’s the point at which I realized that thanks to some very helpful new “improvements,” I didn’t have access to one of the email boxes I need to do my actual job.

The whole thing got mostly unfucked sometime after I’d have usually gone to lunch, so now you can add general hangeryness to the mix of what was stupid today. Add it atop all the things, unseen, piling up in the mailbox I’m supposed to be working out of today. They were all things piling up on me, because I’m the designated stuckee for the next week, so there’s no reprieve in knowing I can just pass the buck to the next sucker who comes along.

The very best part of today is that even though all my systems are now “working,” in order to send an reply from Mailbox #1, I first have to copy the body of the email and the intended recipients into a Word document, close Mailbox #1, open Mailbox #2, paste in the reply itself and the rest of the email thread, manually build the distribution list, hit send, close Mailbox #2, reopen Mailbox #1, and hope the reply shows up. All told, something that should be as easy as sending email could take 5-10 minutes per message depending on how slowly the software opens and the size of the distribution list. There’s a recurring report on Monday with upwards of 100 recipients. It may be the only thing I get done before lunch.

Normally I roll my eyes at coming to the office to do things I could just as easily do from home. Today, of course, I spent a large portion of the day not even able do those things. If you ever find yourself thinking I’m too cynical or jaded, I promise you, it’s all for cause.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Low bidder hard and software. About once a week my laptop does some kind of update that makes it functionally useless. Sometimes it takes fifteen minutes sometimes it takes three hours. There’s no way to tell in advance on which day it will happen or how long it will take. Each and every day I log in to my beloved low bidder piece of absolute trash laptop is like a game of low-stakes Russian roulette. I mean it begs the question of why these updates don’t run overnight, or during non-working hours when normal people are least likely to need to use their computer. Then again, the answer to that question would inevitably be stupid and unsatisfying so I won’t bother asking.

2. All the things. Somehow, all the things conspired to happen this week. Final approval of the new bathroom, diagnosing well problems, learning I needed a new washing machine, estimates coming in for a bit of driveway repair and maintenance, and wondering why the gutter people didn’t show up. There are many moving parts to keeping this household up and running and I suppose I let some of them slip a bit over the last few months – I’ll blame subconsciously trying to maximize the last bit of time I had with a sickly dog for that. Still. This week has been a lot.

3. Malaise. It’s the time of year. For most of my adult life I’ve found myself “enjoying” a minor funk as the days start getting shorter and fall comes on. It’s nowhere near debilitating and only lasts a couple of weeks before the keel evens out, but while I’m getting back to equilibrium, it’s a whole lot of demotivational… so I suppose if I seem a little more aggravated than usual, we’ll all know why.

New phone day…

It’s new iPhone delivery day. I’m fairly sure I’ve owned every “flagship” version of Apple’s now-venerable iPhone. The annual swap out is just kind of part of the tempo of the year now. The days when I felt compelled to get up early and stand in the dark to get one of the first out of the gate are pretty much finished. The era where new phones come with incredible new “must have” features seems to be over.

Still, I’m always just a little bit excited to get a new bit of hardware in my hands. I emphasize the hardware aspect because this morning, as I have for the last five or six upgrades, I spent some time completing a full backup of my old phone… so I could drop it wholesale into the new device. 

If I’m honest, I these upgrades are mostly just a matter of picking up a little bit of speed between clicks and a slightly better camera. I’m using the newest version of apps I’ve been using for years. I don’t know what the cool new apps are – and I mostly don’t care. This mini-computer I’ll carry around in my pocket is almost completely a platform for text messages, keeping to do lists, and taking (fairly) decent pictures of the critters to post on the “big three” social media platforms. Apollo ran on a system far less powerful, but I sheepishly confess I probably don’t use one tenth of what the thing is capable of doing. 

It turns out I’ve turned into that guy… The one who wants the latest toy because it’s the latest toy rather than anything to do with what it’s capable of doing. It feels like after all these years there must be some whiz bang function that would change my life if I only knew it existed. Maybe I should read a review or something. I probably should, but I think we all know what’s really going to happen. I’m going to go right back to using this fancy new phone the way I’ve used all its predecessors for half a decade.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Context. “Eisenhower wasn’t a great general because I’ve recently learned he was *very* anti-LGBT.” Uh. Well. He held supreme command in the 1940s. Context is king, people. Expecting a man born in 1890 to somehow embody the all the woke-ist 21st century sensibilities is, in a word, stupid. It’s like saying Charlamagne wasn’t a great commander because he refused to go vegan. 

2. Auto Save. I had a perfectly nice little post mostly written for Tuesday. I was wrapping up a final thought right before the power stuttered just enough to cause my computer to shut down. Historically the Mac auto-saves before it dies, but in this case everything just disappeared into the ether.  It’s the sort of thing generally prevented by the uninterruptible power supply… which also is apparently no longer working. So it’s a bit of a bad week for the home computer set up all around, really.

3. Numbers. Either I’m wrong or the spreadsheet is… and I’m pretty sure it’s not me. Or maybe it is. The real lesson here is that I should never be allowed to do work that involves large columns of numbers without close adult supervision. It very rarely ends well. Although I’ll make sure it at least ends “close,” so there’s that.

A problem of encryption…

For the last three months I haven’t been able to open some encrypted email. Day to day it’s not much of a problem, but once every two weeks or so part of my job really demands that I be able to see what’s lurking inside those emails. 

I started by putting in a help ticket with my employer’s vaunted Enterprise Service Desk. They fiddled with it for a week and finally decided it was something that needed handled locally, so I was referred over to their branch here in beautify northeastern Maryland. More days passed. Two hours on the phone with them later, they decided that the answer needed to be ever more local… and yet more days slipped away.

My local support worked at it for another two hours. More days trickled by with nothing happening. I raise the issue again. My boss raises the issue. Tech support and I play phone tag for a week. Then there was a holiday. And here we are three months later and I still can’t open the damned email and have to hope someone else who has access to that mailbox is around when I need to either read or send something encrypted. 

I raised the issue again today with our local support and ended up with people pointing in three different directions about who really needs to be working this issue.

Based on that feedback, the utter lack of progress made in three months, and my almost eighteen years of experience as a professional bureaucrat, I have now determined that I clearly don’t require access to these emails. If no one else is concerned with doing their job, I don’t suppose I need to be either. If Uncle wants me to have access, I suppose he’ll just have to miracle the right certificates onto my laptop because I’m well and truly done trying to get it done myself.

What I learned this week…

It’s week two of the crisis, but I’m still learning things. I’m leaning so many things that honestly it’s just easier to list them.

1. Bread, the book says, is the staff of life. In a crisis the breads I like most – sourdough and seeded rye – stays on the shelf longest. Even when most else is picked over, I can usually find one or the other in stock. So I’ve got that going for me in the apocalypse, which is nice.

2. Two monitors isn’t a luxury. I’ve spent the last two weeks working exclusively on a laptop. It’s find for basic word processing, but if you get into any heavy lifting in Excel or find yourself needing to edit the fine print in PowerPoint, there’s just no substitute for dual monitors. If I thought they’d get here before the Great Plague is scheduled to end, I’d order up a pair of cheap screens to retrofit the home office, even if it did temporarily crowd the much prettier Apple rig sitting on my desk.

3. Last and finally, I need to talk to myself more often while I’m working from home. After almost two weeks of having just a few phone conversations and occasionally talking to the animals, my throat feels like ground chuck now that I’ve spent the day chittering with people in the office and fielding the random phone calls. It’s probably also because of today’s distinct lack of afternoon tea and honey.