What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. There are a few topics where I could probably claim expert level knowledge. There are far more in which I am reasonably conversant. There are many in which I can fake competence if conversations don’t last too long. The secret to successfully using my big ol’ brain box is to turn me loose on something in one of those first two broadly defined areas. Setting me loose in the third and expecting expert level performance is just going to result in you being disappointed and me being even more annoyed… especially when there are any number of individuals within spitting distance whose baseline knowledge on the subject exceed my own in every possible way.

2. It’s good to see so many people caught up in the history of #DDay75… but my inner history geek wishes some of them would pay attention to history a little more closely when it’s not the anniversary of monumental events. They’d be amazed at what it could teach them… and maybe they’d even gain a little insight about why nine times out of ten I’m mostly sitting around muttering that “they’re really going to try that again.” In my heart of hearts I really do think if given half an education in history people would be stunned by how little new there is under the sun.

3. OK, so here’s the thing… When I lay out a process for you that’s guaranteed to work correctly 100% of the time and you opt to not follow that process and create your own circuitous route from Point A to Point B, don’t then call me whining because it didn’t work. What happened there isn’t a process problem. It was a pure failure to follow fucking directions problem and that puts it squarely in your lane rather than mine. Good luck with it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Breaking my word. I swore a strong oath many years ago when paywalls erupted across internet news sites. It would be a cold day in Hell before I started paying for something that was available for free. I could get along just fine with Drudge and Google News and the devil could have the rest. Of course it helped that the Washington Post, political rag though it may be, remained free to those punching in from a government IP address. After years of getting by, though, I’m going to admit here before God, the internet, and everyone that I’ve gone back on my word and conceded that based on my evolving news consumption habits a subscription was inevitable and probably past due. So, now that I’m an oathbreaker anyway, at least I’m free to enjoy the full Sunday edition of The Times of London without running into their ridiculous 2 article a week limit.  In retrospect £5.00 a month doesn’t feel completely usurious even if does still feel just a little bit wrong. And so my transition to a curmudgeonly old Englishman continues apace.

2. Logistics. It turns out one of the big logistics companies (I’m looking at you here UPS) is currently having a challenging time differentiating between 03 and 13 and delivering what seems to be half of what my neighbor is ordering for Christmas to my front door. I’m friendly enough with my neighbors that I make sure theirs ends up in the right place, but it feels like something the average person really shouldn’t need to do if they’re paying for shipping to their home versus paying to have something shipped vaguely into their neighborhood. The internet is full of apologists urging everyone to remember that this is a very busy time of year for shippers and that “hey, mistakes happen.” I’m sure they do, but the same one should rarely happen more than once.  Of course I’m a simple old subject matter expert in distribution logistics, supply, and transportation so what the hell could I possibly know on the subject anyway.

3. Things are worse now. The talking heads of the media and the man on the street both seem equally willing to jump into a discussion that “<insert any topic here> is worse now that its ever been before.” It may be true of an individual issue or two, but overall I just find that the sentiment shows an overall lack of academic rigor and a woeful knowledge of basic history. The Civil War, the Spanish Flu of 1918, pretty much the entire decade of the 1970s, an global total war from 1939-1945, and Members of Congress physically fighting each other on the House floor are all things that happened in the not particularly distant past. Today, what “things are worse now,” mostly seems to focus on the fact that someone may have said something mean to somebody else. In the great sweep of human history asserting now that we’re living now in the worst of all possible times makes you sound like an idiot. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Meticulous devotion to the speed limit. OK, we get it. You’re an upright citizen, an honest taxpayer, and love your mother and apple pie. Those are all fine and good qualities to have, but it would be just terrific if you could move 20 feet to your right and have them somewhere other than puttering along in the passing lane. I know I’m a scofflaw and dangerous hoodlum, but Lord God Almighty just move your ass and let the rest of us get on with our day.

2. The definition of common knowledge. Any internet site that offers “12 things you didn’t know about X” is almost certain to involve more clicks than reading their article is worth. I usually avoid them to the maximum extent possible. Occasionally, though, some click bait is too tempting to resist. That usually involves the ones promising to teach me something new. Unfortunately, I read, I pay attention to details, and in general I’m aware of my surroundings. I also have a genuinely curious mind that thrives on the acquisition of new knowledge… So if you could go beyond general knowledge when creating your links to “things you don’t know about” that would be great

3. The incredible shrinking TP. I’m quite sure I didn’t suddenly start using more Charmin. I played along when they made the rolls narrower. Now it seems they’re putting less on each roll. The price, of course, is the same as it ever was. Maybe it would be ok to just plus up the price a few cents to keep up with inflation and stop fucking with it. Honest to god, I’m going to have to start researching where to get what use to be standard sized rolls of toilet paper. Then I’ll rent a warehouse and stockpile the damned stuff

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The value of time, or lack thereof. I’m a largely self-directed kind of guy. Give me a task and the day you want it completed and it’ll be on your desk, usually with a few minutes to spare. I prefer operating free from micromanagement. It’s usually when I do my best work. Sometimes, though, additional guidance is necessary, or perhaps one of my five bosses has asked for an update. I’m good with that. They need to know (or at least should know) what’s going on… but what chaps my ass to no end is when they schedule the meeting and then don’t bother showing up for their own update. Things happen, I know, but when you’ve done it six consecutive times, it shows a monumental disregard for anyone who isn’t you. Sooner or later a guy just might start taking that kind of insult a little personally. Thank God we don’t worry about little things like morale.

2. Buying essentials. Shopping for new tires is sucks. It’s a necessary evil, of course, but that doesn’t in any way make it as fun and exciting as say looking for a new puppy. I’ve got a laundry list of widgets I want to add to the Jeep for summer driving enjoyment, but instead of ordering a fancy new head unit or LED headlights I’m spending the week price checking local tire shops and looking at product reviews so I can buy four tires and a new battery for Big Red. Making responsible adult decisions is lame.

3. Any internet site that offers “127 things you didn’t know about Some Random Topic.” Of course I know 99.98% of these sites are pure click bait, but every once in a while one looks interesting enough to make the slog through the land of Click For Next Page feel worth it. The real problem is I read a lot of books, watch a lot of documentaries, pay attention to details, and have a genuinely curious mind. So if you could divide your click bait into separate “general knowledge” and “advanced” categories I’d find it extremely helpful. It would save me a great deal of time muttering “who the hell doesn’t know that?”

A finite resource…

It’s long been my opinion that three-day weekends are the best time to tack on extra vacation days. On a normal weekend, by the time the cooking, cleaning, and general upkeep is finished, it’s practically Monday. Extending that already long weekend into a 4th day, though, means time to get after some of the projects that never get to the top of the list during a normal weekend. This weekend, by example, was the first swing at bringing order to a basement that for the last 20 or so months has been not much more than a dumping ground for extraneous “stuff.” Now that it’s less prone to taking on water, the extra day gave me a chance to at least start turning the place into something useful. It’s going to take a few more days like that and a lot more shelving, but it’s started and that’s why I like the extra long weekend – they let me end a week feeling like something got accomplished.

Because every silver cloud has a lead lining, though, I couldn’t manage to escape the jackassery that is the American office. If I were a smarter man I wouldn’t have bothered checking the voicemail when I saw the number that left it. The boss calling two hours into your day off is never to tell you that there’s been a payroll problem and they’re crediting you with $50,000 in back pay. Still, curiosity got the best of me. Curiosity will, in all likelihood, eventually be a contributing if not a causal factor in my death.

Instead of an unexpected windfall the boss was letting me know that the uberboss called a “surprise” meeting Thursday morning, but that they couldn’t make any progress because I was the keeper of the particular nugget of institutional knowledge that they happened to need. Instead of pressing on with stiff upper lips, they decided they’d reconvene when I was back in the office on Monday. Except they won’t technically be reconvening when I’m “in” the office since the gods of Olympus decided to schedule the meeting after the end of my scheduled day.

It’s a small thing. A bare hiccup, really. The intrusion into what up until that point had been a blissfully quiet and content day off, however, was enough to twist my usual smirk into a decided sneer. My boss, knowing well my love of schedule and my grave distaste for hanging around after the close of business, did his best to spin the news – wondering if I could just come in late to offset the time at the end of the day. Wonderful, my reward for being the keeper of this particular bit of knowledge is that I get to jack up my day by coming in when traffic is at its worst, there’s no parking, and not going home until well after the sun has set. Excellent. Thanks for this outstanding opportunity to excel.

In and of itself, it’s nothing. What it represents, though, is much more significant and far more troubling. It’s an endemic situation where we continue to try cramming ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag. At least one other person should be as informed about my projects as I am, but we don’t have the manpower to provide that depth of coverage. There should never be a point at which someone at my decidedly junior level is able to foul up the works by simply taking a vacation day… and for the love of God, when you’ve put yourself in that position don’t expect that couple of good people you’ve got left to continually jump through their own ass to bail you out. Eventually the answer is going to be no.

Goodwill and desire to be a team player are a finite resource, especially when no one is doing a damned thing to refill the well.

Send me the electrons…

I’m always happy to consult with a colleague whenever they have an issue or need to talk through a new idea. Really, I think of myself more as a facilitator than as a “do-er.” That is to say I specialize in getting the person needing the answer and the person who has the answer together so they work together to find the mutually acceptable solution. In practice, that means I need to know where content lives more than I need to know actual content. Knowing how and who to ask for things is every bit as important as being able to do the actual work involved. The two live in symbiosis – knowledge and action.

The real problem starts when you run into someone who neither has the knowledge or the ability to take action. Take the example of Mr. X for instance. At least twice a day Mr. X comes to my little section of cubicle hell and asks me to proofread and email he wants to send – usually a message asking for something or verifying some type of information. These emails are all well and good – I mean the rapid transmission of information is one of the reasons email is a great form of communication – but it’s not really an “email” when the “draft” you send me to look at is scratched out on the back of an old memo.

Seriously. I don’t know how exactly many times I can tell someone to just “send me the electrons” before it sinks in that I’m not going to spend time making “pen and ink” changes. Of course the need for these changes could be eliminated if we could all just take responsibility for knowing our own jobs and being able to formulate a simple request for information from someone working in a different office. As it turns out, that’s more than I can reasonably expect.

Editorial Note: This is part of a continuing series of previously unattributed posts appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Well trained…

As a matter of policy, we want a well trained and highly educated workforce to carry out the agency’s business. One of the great military-as-management-philosophy aphorisms is that an organization should “train as it fights.” That is to say, it should build its training program based on situations and circumstances it will encounter in the real world. Of course that’s not the standard we train against.

Our training is driven by a “points” system. Each of several hundred real world and online courses are valued as a specific number of training points. Once you reach the prescribed number of points for the year, you are, by definition, “well trained.” This is great if your objective is to be well trained in as short a time as possible; not so much if you actually want to learn something. Then again, learning something isn’t actually part of the training requirement so if it happens, that’s mostly just a bonus.

On a recent morning I had a few hours of unplanned free time, I racked up more than half of my required yearly points after about three hours of clicking through various PowerPoint slides and Flash presentations… while also having discussions with other staffers, answering the phone, sending email, and monitoring breaking news on Charlie Sheen. I don’t think that was necessarily the kind of quality learning the training office hoped to achieve, but that’s what happens when you base the requirement on earning a fixed number of points rather than on actual knowledge gained or skills needed to stay current in your career field. This is doubly true when you write off professional pride as a motivating factor.

Fortunately, I’m now officially “well trained” for 2011… so I can put this sad, sad experience out of my mind for another 11 months.

Editorial Note: This is part of a continuing series of previously unattributed posts appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.