What I learned this week…

I didn’t learn a damned thing this week. Nothing insightful. Nothing even vaguely interesting, unless you’re curious about the people who scour the banks of the Thames for washed up objects from centuries past. I did learn a few interesting things there, but suspect that’s not what most others would drop in the “interesting” category. Otherwise, the week has just sort of slid past without anything particularly informative coming to light.

If I’m horribly honest, I don’t think I could have had worse timing to bring on the whole “What I learned this week” thing if I’d have tried. The very nature of new life features such as social distance, quarantine, stay-at-home tends to limit the new and interesting.

Ah, well. It’s Friday, so whatever. 

That’s it. That’s the post.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Embedded links. We have you a nice, prettied up agenda. We even tucked the event links into the text of the document so it wasn’t a three line line long ugly-assed URL. But that doesn’t stop several hundred of you from not reading for comprehension and emailing that you can’t find the URLs. I mean how the hell hard is it to either click the embedded link directly or to right click and copy the link to paste it in your browser? Given that two thirds of your contemporaries managed to get it done without our help, I’m forced to conclude that one third of the total are just total mouth breathing wastes of space.

2. Podcasts. I haven’t deleted any social media friends as a result of COVID-19, protests, riots, or political affiliation but in the last week I’ve dropped a shit ton of podcasts that have vered way the fuck off topic. Everyone’s entitled to their position and perfectly free to use their platform to do whatever they want, but if I show up expecting insights on contemporary television and find deep dives on politics and current events, I’m out. I’m headed to my podcast list to avoid the general fuckery on television, not to find more of it. Hard pass.

3. Steady working. So far during the Great Plague, I’ve been steady working. I’ve missed my scheduled vacation and now the couple of days I usually take off immediately following the massive organizational vanity exercise that I’m nominally charged with carrying off every year. Yes, I’ve been working from home… but it’s still very much working and having my head in that space continually. Physically being back “on campus” these last few days just feels like heaping insult atop injury and it’s got me moody as fuck. Plague or not I think I’m going to need to start burning some days off that sweet, sweet pile of vacation time sooner rather than later.

You ask, I answer…

It pains me to admit this, but a lot of what drives this blog is the need to talk about the people and situations I find myself dealing with at the office. With working from home mostly being the order of the day, I find myself with a significantly reduced level of angst and agitation. Unfortunately that also leaves me with far fewer topics than I usually have knocking around as things to talk about.

So this is where you come in. As we do from time to time, I’m throwing the doors open and inviting you to ask me anything. Is there something you’re dying to know? Is there a topic you think deserves my personal narrative treatment? Do you just want me to sweat out something I’d never even considered writing about? This is your shot.

I’m not going to get hung up on format or directions. Comment directly on this post, leave a comment on Facebook, tweet me, send an email or direct message. I’ll even keep your identity confidential if you’d like. I’m trying to keep this easy for you and interesting for me after all, an anonymity often makes for a more interesting question.

Fire away. The sooner you tell me what’s on your mind, the sooner I’ll be able to give you some kind of half-assed answer.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Surprise. In between reports on Epstein’s guards being arrested, the impeachment hearings, and the weekly report on a random husband who killed his family, there are a few reports this week of China finally cracking skulls in Hong Kong. What coverage it is getting is the standard breathless, hand wringing that we’ve come to expect in reporting on bad things that are happening internationally. Mostly I’m just over here thinking that China is just being China. Given its track record from the late 1980s to today, I have no idea why anyone would be surprised that a student protest would be brought to a sudden, violent halt. There’s a track record there. You don’t have to look a lot further than the formation of the Chinese Communist Party and the Cultural Revolution to see how dissent is handled sooner or later. History may not tell you exactly what will happen in the future, but it leaves plenty enough clues if you bother to look.

2. What I can’t say. I can tick off a list of at least five things off the top of my head that I’d desperately like to write about this week. Each and every one of them would be fertile ground for its own post… and all of them remain firmly embargoed indefinitely because there’s no good way to change the names to protect the guilty or obfuscate the origins of the tale. The “maybe someday” file got a bit thicker this week, that’s something, but not something that’s helping me out here and now.

3. Cashless tolls. It’s not the cashless tolls I hate, so much as I hate the other people driving through the cashless toll system. Removing the option for people to stop and fish through their pockets, purse, and ashtray for toll money, the State of Maryland opted to make the Hatem Bridge a E-Z-Pass or video toll only facility. It should have radically sped up the throughput at a particularly constricted stretch of Route 40. What no one took into account, though, is the people who can’t seem to grasp that the tolls are now taken (by overhead scanner and camera) at the west side of the bridge rather than on the east side where the toll booths are being slowly deconstructed. It’s been more than a month and these asshats are still stutter-stepping or doing the slow crawl through the place that’s distinguished by empty brackets where the scanners use to be and where there is currently no reason to slow down below the posted limit. No reason aside from people who wander through life without noticing a goddamned thing happening around them.

The short week…

Ok, it’s a short week. That’s at least one small detail working in its favor. I’m not over here trying to wish my life away or anything, but how fake would I have to be to pretend that I enjoyed these weekdays anywhere near as much as I do Saturdays and Sundays?

Telework Tuesday lets me ease back into the week without the commute and open bay cubicles adding insult to injury. That makes it hard to complain too much about the week so far. I’m sure Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday will more than make up for that, though. As always, my inner pessimist is ensuring that my expectations, even for a short week, don’t fly wildly out of hand.

As usual, coming off a long weekend there just isn’t all that much on my mind. Spending the majority of four days ignoring the news, buying up some books, cooking, reading, and spending quality time with the resident animals doesn’t lend itself to great storming posts. If you think I’m going to issue an apology for that then you’re stark raving, right out of your tree mad.

Maybe it’s time to branch out a little in order to head off these inevitable lull in material. Then again, I question how often anyone wants to read about just how many ear scratches were dispensed to the dogs or my opinions on the cathartic value of lawn mowing. Maybe we should just let short weeks be what they are, because soon enough something will agitate the hell out of me and we’ll be off to the races again.

Rejected topics for Monday…

I have long suspected that what ultimately drives this blog – what makes for the most interesting content – is largely the angst that annoyance that comes from one or two major sources. The first, of course, is anything at all that relates to traveling to, enduring the day at, or coming back from the office. That’s a shitshow that is near universal and provides an endless well for new posts – or maybe it’s just the same fifteen or twenty posts repeating over time. The other main driver, one that’s more general, comes from any time that I’m required from dealing with the general public. My thoughts about people as a group are well known by now… like the office, though, they are an bottomless source of things to comment on.

Spending four or five days mostly ensconced at home with books and animals significantly decreases the number of things I feel the need to bitch and complain about. Sure, I guess I could ry my hand at writing some happy, uplifting shit, but that doesn’t strike me as anything close to speaking with my authentic voice… and I suspect it would be far less entertaining for anyone who happened to read it. If people really liked good news stories, the cable news channels would be filled with them rather than with the regular mayhem and chaos that they know puts eyes on advertising.

So what’s the point here? I’m not sure I have one beyond wanting to share what, I jotted down today and promptly rejected as topics for today:

  1. Earthquakes. Why the hell do people live in California? It burns down regularly and the damned earth shakes. I don’t care how nice the weather is, that seems like a bad tradeoff.
  2. Women’s World Cup. Team USA is getting hectored for “too much celebrating.” Fuck all the way off with that noise.
  3. 4th of July “military parade.” So the left decried the “military trade” in DC on the 4th of July… that turned out to be something like 4 vehicles put on static display near the Lincoln Memorial. Somehow I think the republic will endure.
  4. Jeffrey Epstein. If I were a billionaire, I’m 100% sure I’d find something to do with my time and money that’s way less likely to send me to prison than sex trafficking of minors. Money can buy a lot of things, but even giant honking piles of cash can’t fix stupid.

Sigh. I hate to admit it, but it’s probably best that the holiday is over and it’s time to get back to work and people. I’ll be annoyed as hell, but the writing will be better, so there’s that.

Why I skipped Monday…

Writing, even something as trivial as the next blog post, for me – maybe for everyone – doesn’t come from a happy place. It doesn’t happen when I’m content and well rested. It comes from anger, frustration, annoyance and most of the feelings that make up the Dark Side of the Force. 

Four day weekends rarely evoke those feelings in me, though… except maybe once we’re within a twelve hour window of the long weekend being over. Then the angst finds all sorts of interesting ways to display itself. 

This weekend I threw more books on the stack, spent quality time with the critters, watched a couple of movies, made some drinks, had some food, spent time with what probably constitutes a full third of the total number of people I have any interest in being around for longer than 15 minutes, and generally relaxed… insofar as I ever really “relax.” It wasn’t the kind of weekend that engenders particularly interesting stories… and it certainly didn’t fill me with motivation to find anything to write about.

So I skipped Monday. It’s Tuesday now, though, and we’re back in the swing of it, so I’ll return – if not quite gladly – to the regular posting schedule.

Easing towards the end…

Chalk this up to one of those nights where my worst enemy is a blank screen and a flashing cursor. There are worse problems to have – ass cancer for instance – but I really do try rather hard to have something engaging, interesting, or otherwise worth reading here four days a week… even if sometimes the word count runs a little bit short.  There are a few days a year when getting across that bar is harder than others. 

I’m going to blame it on the onrushing calendar and the impending arrival of Christmas and the long sweep of days off that goes along with it. It wouldn’t be entirely true to say that I’ve engaged cruise control and switched my brain over into rest mode, but it would’t be entirely misleading either. The fact is, I’m doing my level best to make the next week and a half as absolutely low key and minimally demanding as possible. 

There are plenty of external factors I can’t control, but there are plenty that I can exert influence upon – like when someone asks if I’m going to scheduled a meeting about some random project coming up in April. The answer to that one is a hard no, spoken with conviction. Something, of course, could come along and convert that no to a yes, but it won’t be because I’m calling a meeting just because we haven’t had one in a while. 

I’m easing into the end of 2018. So bear with me if anything around here feels just a little less energetic than usual. 

Mother f%#@ing autoplay…

Whoever it was that came up with the idea of autoplaying a video as a website opens should rot in hell right next to the guy who invented the pop up ad. For most sites I’m fully understanding that generating income from ads is how you make your money. Running a website and keeping up content isn’t an inexpensive proposition. I spend $50 a year out of pocket to keep the lights on here in my little sector of the web. I could be ad driven and defray some of that cost, but I’m determined that it’s just not worth it. Ad free content is, in my opinion, better for the reader as well as for the writer.

Usually this is something that would wait for the weekly roundup of WAJTW, but it doesn’t feel right to pile it into a list with three other things when it is so patently obnoxious. I’ve steadfastly avoided downloading ad blocking software because I know that even on the internet everyone has bills to pay, but with the ever increasing intrusiveness of your ads, I’m only another few bad experiences away from giving up my scruples and loading up some software to kill off as many of these ads as possible.

Site owners need to find a better model. No matter how good your content is, if I have to deal with an advertisers video yelling at me with no apparent off switch or pop ups that take up two thirds of the screen space, I’m not interested enough in what you’re saying to wade through the mess to look at it. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but if advertisers designed spots that were somehow compelling instead of just being annoying maybe I’d actually click over and have a look. As it is, I’ll just close the screen and go find my content elsewhere.

For the love of our game…

If there’s anything more thankless than going in to the office and trying to get some work done on the day before Thanksgiving, it’s got to be posting a blog later that same night when it’s virtually guaranteed that absolutely no one is going to be paying attention. The only thing in my favor is that here on the east coast we got the first snow of the season, so many potential readers might just be sitting the night out at home. I’m not holding my breath on that, of course, which is why you’re reading this process piece instead of seeing anything remotely resembling meaty content.

After more years that I want to think about, I really do have a sense for how scheduling drives the number of posts. It’s a blessing and a curse since it means sometimes I’ll withhold some good writing until I know more than a few people will be paying attention. It also drives the fact that I almost never post on Friday and Saturday. Sadly the world has better things to do on those days than listen to another blow hard ranting on the internet. I’m not selling any advertising here, but still it’s nice to know that what you write has got a fighting chance of being seen… because no matter how much noise we make about writing for ourselves and not for an audience, we really, really want the audience.

So as you’re sitting there, toasty warm in front of your pre-Thanksgiving fire, sipping your nog (or whatever it is you’re supposed to sip at Thanksgiving), think of the poor harried bloggers out there smashing away at their keyboards and wanting nothing more than a few more people to drop by their site. Take a little time tonight and poke around WordPress or Blogger and there’s a good chance you’ll run across someone whose voice you need to hear. It’s a jungle out there, but there are some incredibly good writers too who are just churning it out for the love of our particular game.