What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The algorithm. Every third ad Facebook has served me in the last couple of weeks is some variation of “Are you saving enough for retirement?” It’s a fine question and I’m almost laser focused on what I need to do to be able to walk out the door in 14 years and 18 days and never work again, but I promise you I’m not taking financial advice from the place I go to find dirty memes and posts about who got arrested in the area.

2. Timing. I’ve been plugging away for six years, putting a bit of money back here and there to correct the deficiencies in my master bathroom. Every time I got close to hitting my estimated budget number, some other critical project would come along and shave a few thousand dollars off that particular pile of cash. During the Great Plague, I managed to finally hit my number… and of course now the cost of building material has gone through the roof. I’ve gone ahead and put out the call for quotes to a couple of local builders, though. It seems my timing for this project is never going to be good… so the only thing left is to proceed. Doing otherwise feels like an open invitation to wake up one morning after another six years and realizing I’m still schlepping down the hall to take a shower.

3. Extortion. This week, one of the main oil pipelines servicing the east coast of the United States was held hostage. It’s owners reportedly paid $5 million to a vaguely described group of Russian or Eastern European cyber terrorists to regain control of their network. Here’s the thing… the Colonial Pipeline is, by definition, key infrastructure. We’ve seen the news reports of the chaos caused by this brief interruption. Setting aside that much of the panic was entirely self-inflicted by people rushing to fill every container they could find, our enemies have also seen the chaos a service disruption in one of our major pipelines can cause. Paying out millions of dollars was a business decision… but what I want to know is why we’re not now seeing reports of cruise missiles leveling the known and suspected safe harbors from which these and other cyber terrorists operate. If a country or non-state actor blew up a building or bridge, we’d come crashing down on their head like a mailed fist. I don’t make a relevant distinction between those who’d launch a kinetic attack and those who do their damage with keystrokes. 

Skipping just in time…

I was being trained up as a logistician just at the tail end of the transition from having mountains of spares, repairs, and stock items piled into warehouse to “just in time” delivery. In theory, JIT reduces operating costs and usually comes with a minimal risk of going “stock out” or not actually having what you need. It’s a system that works very well, right up until the moment where it stops working. Then there’s hell to pay while everyone scrambles. 

I’ve never been the guy who thought he needed a lifetime supply of rice and beans stashed away in the basement. Nothing in the pandemic has changed my mind on that. I think JIT is probably still a valid approach to just about everything we use on a regular basis. In all but truly exceptional circumstances, supply chains work exactly the way they’re designed. 

I’m not running out to buy a 50-gallon drum of rice or ordering the 1000-serving Costco bucket of mac and cheese. I am, however, making a list of those items I’ve needed to order that ended up being stock delayed in the face of extreme demand. History tells me that having received an extreme demand signal for these items, there are factories and plants around the country rushing to fill the gap. When all this is over, demand for most of these items will drop just as quickly as it surged – and there will be a lag as material continues to surge through the supply chain towards the consumer market. 

So, I’m making a list. Fortunately, most of what’s gone backordered or been delivery delayed are things that can sit for years without going bad. When these formerly hard to find items are swamping the marketplace and being sold off at a discount, that’ll be the time to step in and stack ‘em deep against future temporary supply disruptions… You know, assuming I survive the Great Plague.

Always on…

If your work involves a computer connected to the internet, you’ll know that there is something far more sinister that a normal network outage. When faced with a total disruption, you can at least try to make the best of it and do something that doesn’t require accessing the internet. What’s more insidious than a total failure of the network? It’s the dreaded “intermittent network connectivity issues” message that shows up during one of the windows when the internet is actually working.

As far as I can tell, the intermittent problem is far worse than a full blown outage. It means you’re going to sit at your desk and keep hitting refresh or resend indefinitely – locking you into a kind of electronic purgatory of endless spinning status icons and error messages interspersed with occasionally glimpses of the wonderfully connected word of the interwebs that exists just beyond your office firewall. For someone whose job is mostly based on gathering, analyzing, and moving large amounts of information from Point A to Point B, it’s the contemporary equivalent of Chinese water torture or death by a thousand cuts.

In any case, it’s intolerable. I’m beginning to lean towards always-on, high-speed internet streaming to your computer and phone being the civil rights crusade of the 21st century.