One of the tasks that more or less defines my job was impossible to do this week until around 10:00 this morning thanks to a bit of software that had been migrated to a new and improved flavor last week and then promptly shit the bed.
Look, I don’t personally care. If Uncle wants me to do the work, he’ll make sure the systems and software all function. I can sit around twiddling my thumbs with the best of them. I am, after all, a highly seasoned bureaucrat. It’s the sort of thing that comes with the territory.
The only catch is when systems are down for days on end, it tends to create a backlog and then when the boffins over in the IT office get sorted, the whole log falls directly on your head. That’s where we ended up on today – with at least three days of backlogged work in the queue plus whatever extra came in over the side before close of business.
To at least one person, every bit of it was something ranging between “important” and “urgent.” To me, of course, it’s all just something to blast through as quickly as possible while trying to get about 80% of it tucked into the right places. If I’m being perfectly honest, since I read every single item that passed through my hot little hands today, I can tell you none of it was actually important, let alone urgent. It was mostly the living embodiment of the kind of electronic ephemera the bureaucracy passes around to continue justifying its own existence. It’s the kind of morass you really want to take a bit at a time rather than in anything resembling large chunks.
It’ll get done – mostly because I don’t particularly want to deal with this particular hot mess again on Monday. It’ll get done, but I’ll piss and moan about it the entire time, because it’s just another wound we inflicted on ourselves for no discernable reason. If that doesn’t define government work, I don’t know what does.
I’ve made a lot of hay on this blog by posting about other people’s fuck ups. It only seems fair that I call myself out with the same level of snark.
You see, today I was trying to do something that should have been very simple. All I needed to do was spit a few reports out of a database, pretty them up a bit in Excel, and then pass them on. Well, the database in question was throwing errors, the info I needed just wouldn’t download. Fine, I say to myself, if I can’t automatically run a report I’ll just go in and copy/paste the information manually.
That, friends, is where the morning came off the rails. As it turns out, what I did wasn’t so much copying and pasting information into a report as it was overwriting about fifty line items in the database itself with duplicate information. Whoops.
The IT shop says they can (probably) revert all of the fields I jacked up back to their previous versions. I’ve been going about the day just pretending that they’re right… because if they’re not, I have no idea how the hell to go back and manually re-create everything that was there before I took a scythe to the data.
In conclusion, I’m an idiot and Mondays are stupid.
1. The First Amendment. It’s plain that the First Amendment doesn’t mean what the masses on the internet seem to think it means. The 1st protects you from the government interfering with your speech in all its many forms. It means the FBI won’t come kick down your door when someone gets butthurt about something you posted on Facebook. By contrast this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with what a business such as Facebook will let you post on their platform… that you joined voluntarily and pay nothing to use. If you’re going to crusade for your rights, perhaps it would be helpful to first know what those rights actually are… because the Constitution nowhere guarantees your right to force a 3rd party to use their property to amplify your voice.
2. The Office of Personnel Management. It’s been 41 days since the bill authorizing a pay raise for employees of my Big Bureaucratic Organization was signed into law. It apparently takes at least that long to calculate what 1.9% of 2018’s pay tables were and add those two numbers together. And don’t get me started on the fact that if the legislative and executive branches weren’t both being led by children, that raise would have started showing up my pay sometime in January. Yes it’s allegedly retroactive, which is nice and all… but that also means the tax man is going to take a massive cut out of whatever check three or four months of retroactive extra pay eventually slide into. If only there were some parts of government who’s main job was formulating and executing timely budgets for departments and agencies perhaps this wouldn’t be such a difficult exercise.
3. Extraneous logins. I have accounts on more than one system at work that exist purely so I can log on to those systems once a week in order to keep my account active. I never have any actual work associated with those accounts and yet once a week I log on just to avoid getting an angry warning that my account is about to be disabled from our IT office. Like the old coffee can full of extraneous bits and pieces you keep in the garage, I’m told to keep these accounts active “in case you need them some day.” That this is how we do business never fails to stupefy me if I dwell on it for too long.
On August 15th I entered what I thought would be a straight forward request with our computer help desk. Adobe Pro had started throwing errors and since the ability to read, edit, and sign pdf documents is more than than a once-a-day requirement in my job, I thought it might be nice to have that capability back.
I should have known it was not going to be an easy process when the confirmation email I got from the help desk had my name but described a problem someone on the other side of the country was trying to solve on their own machine. Actually, I should have known this process was going to be painful from the minute I discovered I was going to have to interact with the big help desk in the sky. Reducing the local service options and nationalizing IT help might have saved money but the user experience and wait times involved are appalling. At least I’m not paying for this service. Well, not paying for it directly, except for whatever of my tax dollars are being allocated for shitty IT support.
Over the last 13 days I’ve had three separate emails letting me know that Adobe was fixed and all is now well. All three of those emails have proven to be wrong, with the same inability to use Adobe continuing after each “fix.” This morning I was greeted with the 4th “we fixed it” email and discovered that not only does Adobe not work, but that the entire program has now disappeared from my computer. I suppose that’s one way to fix the problem. You can’t report a software error for software you don’t have. Of course I now have a two week and growing backlog of electronic paperwork that I need Adobe to process, so there’s that one small issue remaining.
I’m sure the men and women who work the Enterprise Service Desk are fine upstanding Americans who are doing great things for God and country. That, said, how it takes two weeks to fix an issue I could resolve on my home computer in less than 30 minutes simply leaves me with no option but to conclude that the “help” procedures for enterprise IT are broken entirely beyond repair.
Note: I should point out in fairness that just before I left for the day the issues was at long last resolved. At least tomorrow I know I can start clearing the backlog of Things Which Must be Digitally Signed. Sigh.
1. Garbage equipment. To be fair, the equipment might not be complete garbage when it’s new in the box, but as soon as we open ‘er up and layer on security software and forbid users to have even basic administrative abilities on the machine, we’ve got equipment that behaves as if it’s old and slow and generally garbage. I know I don’t need the most current performance model for what I do, but it would be awfully convenient to have a computer that didn’t require a thirty minute start, restart, restart cycle at least once a week. The alternative is to stop asking for finished products or any information at all for at least the first half hour of any given weekday.
2. Random sickness. I labor under no delusions of being what anyone might describe as a “healthy person.” I’m fat. My blood pressure is high. I enjoy red meat and liquor. Knowing all that, there are some sicknesses that quite frankly come with the territory. It’s the ones that sneak in from nowhere, pummel your ass for 12-48 hours and then disappear that really piss me off. Setting in before a guy has time to plan for them and then disappearing before they can justify taking a sick day feels like being cheated somehow.
3. Common sense. I’m not convinced that the person who originated the phrase “common sense” ever spent any time actually interacting with the average human being. If they had, they’d have known that there is absolutely nothing common about people following even the most basic patterns of logic or decency. I’d be willing to go so far as to say that in general, people aren’t capable of either identifying or following their own self interest let alone applying some basic rules for living in civil society. Implying otherwise is something between farce and an outright lie perpetrated n the English language.
1. Kids that drink hand sanitizer. What’s wrong with kids today? Back when I was coming up, we had the good sense to respect ourselves and steal miniatures of Seagram’s 7 and Canadian Club that our parents forgot were packed away in the back of the basement. In a pinch we’d even go so far as to make friends with someone older and let them hook us up. We were practitioners of creative acquisition, by God. It’s time someone steps in and teaches these youngsters that life is just too damned short to drink bad alcohol.
2. America’s puritanical streak. The Secret Service really stepped in it a few weeks back, make no mistake about it. I think they embarrassed themselves badly. Unlike the morality crusaders out there, though, I don’t think their embarrassment had anything to do with consorting with hookers. What happens between two consenting adults doesn’t mean a hill of beans to me. If you want to gig these guys over something, how about trying to flash their badge and use their position to get out of paying the bill? If two people want to trade money for sex, that’s between him, her, and the laws of that particular jurisdiction. I’ve never understood why I should care as long as its legitimately consensual. Sadly, America’s puritanical streak is once again showing itself to be alive and well at the mere thought that someone might have fornicated. If you want to get riled up, be mad because one of the agents was a cheap bastard, not because people had sex. It’s like we’ve got the national mentality of a room full of fifth graders.
3. Information Dominance. Every time I see that phrase written somewhere, I’m reminded of how many times a day my computer freezes, loses files, can’t connect to the printer, or thinks the internet doesn’t exist. Information dominance? Meh. I’d settle for desktop mediocrity.
One of the great old saws about the Army is that it trains as it fights. That is to say that in theory, the Army likes it’s training to approximate real world environments. That helps explain why we dump million of dollars into out of the way places like Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Ft. Irwin, California. They’re some of the last places in the country where large groups of men and equipment can careen across the wilderness unhampered by complaints by decent taxpaying citizens.
I’m not sure this training ethos holds true for Uncle’s vast army of civilian employees. I’ve spent the better part of today sitting in an auditorium with 200-odd colleagues watching as a contractor navigated around the interweb teaching us how to do file management, set permissions, and covering the importance of information sharing and security. The next two days promise more of the same. This probably doesn’t qualify as training as we fight. Then again, looking around at the blank stares and acres of trees sacrificed to make PowerPoint printouts, maybe it is.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date
I get to the office early most mornings. It’s usually a good chance to catch up before everyone else starts wandering in. One of the challenges is that pretty much no one with any passing relationship to authority is around in the event an employee is feeling lonely and wants to talk. So more often than not, I’m the lucky manager who gets the early morning conversations. This morning was one of those times.
Jeff: Good Morning *seeing “employee” walking over to my desk*
Employee: My computer works now, but none of my files are there. I think it’s broken. *looking at me plaintively*
Jeff: Ummm… Did you call IT?
Employee: Uh. No. I thought you’d know how to fix it. They got it working yesterday but now my files are gone.
Jeff: So you want me to fix something they broke yesterday?
Employee: *looking at me blankly*
Jeff: You’d better call IT since they know what they did to it yesterday.
Employee: They won’t be in for another 20 minutes.
Jeff: Patience is a virtue, I’m told.
I’m not the friggin’ laptop whisperer over here. Put in your help request and wait like everyone else does. My using illicit passwords to go in and tinker around with your settings is pretty much guaranteed to only cause more trouble. If not more trouble for you, then certainly more trouble for me… and that’s a no go at this station.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.