What Annoys Jeff this Week?

It’s been an easy week. With Telework Monday and Vacation Day Friday, you might think there’s nothing to complain about. While there are surely fewer annoyances than during other weeks that doesn’t in any way mean there are none. What kind of rank amateur do you think you’re dealing with here?

In fairness, it’s an easy week so I’ll just give you two things:

1. Mid-day OS updates. There are few things better in the middle of the work day than getting a notice that “hey, we’re about to upgrade your operating system.” Great. Because what I need while I’m in the middle of desperately trying to put a cork in things so I can depart the premises and spend the long weekend blissfully ignoring work is for my computer to slow to an even worse crawl than usual and then reboot itself without warning periodically. Some days I long for the reliability of carbon paper.

2. In the great war between “I need to get the grass cut before the possible rain tomorrow” and the reality of it being 90-something degrees in the shade with murderous humidity, I’m opting to sit this one out after a day’s work. In the war between body and brain, I’m going to let the body win this one. Just this one time since I’ll undoubtedly regret that decision the minute the garage door rolls up tomorrow and I’m forced to look upon a scraggly front yard to my great embarrassment and shame.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Login.gov. The main platform for applying for work with the federal government, USAjobs.com, has introduced 2-factor authentication. In order to log into you account you now have to enter you user name and password and a six digit number provided to you via phone. That’s fine, except that in order to set up this new fancy ID with the 3rd party service, login.gov, you need the original phone number you used to set up your USAjobs account – which is a desk number I had more than 10 years ago. Without that one little bit of information you find you can’t log in to your old account, you can’t set up you new account, and there’s no way to fix A without fixing B witch requires you to fix A. It’s one of the most magnificent do loops I’ve seen the government foist on us in recent years. In discussion with the “help” desk it turns out I can’t even delete my old account and try again unless I can somehow transport back in time and answer a phone at a desk I haven’t sat at in over ten years.

2. Lawn Sprinklers. I have no philosophical issue with anyone piping water to their yard when weeks without rain threaten to bake it into oblivion. Sure, we’re all on wells and probably drawing from the same aquifer, but after three years of reliable water, I’ve got at least a small degree of comfort that we’re not going to run the damn thing dry. My problem comes when, after almost a week of nearly unremitting rain, when rainfall records are dropping like flies across the region, these same lawn sprinklers are running full tilt in the middle of a torrential downpour. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but in my mind that also makes it one of those that’s easy to correct. I’m tickled pink to come from the land of plenty. I’m thrilled that the rain has turned my own lawn from wilting embarrassment to lush green carpet again. Although it’s completely outside the scope of what I usually care about, I’d really appreciate it if the house down the street could just stop making it rain for these few days while nature is providing the service gratis. I’m sure there will be plenty of days in August when they can show off their new toy to the neighborhood.

3. HVAC. Heating and cooling systems can be complex even at the residential level. Scale that into a multi-floor office building with a warren of offices, conference rooms, and open space, and I don’t even want to speculate on what mathematics may be involved in trying to make the place comfortable. First, I don’t want to speculate on that because I hate doing the maths. Second, I won’t speculate because I honestly don’t care. I just want the system to work. I want it to spit out cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Beyond that it can do whatever it wants. All I know is that somehow we’ve managed to make the lobby with 40 foot ceilings nicely chilled even in the heat of the day, but haven’t found a way to get any of that cool refreshing air down the hall to the back of the building. The first safety officer who comes down here bitching about too many fans plugged in is going to get kicked in the junk.

Clawed back from nature…

This won’t mean much to you, but since I’ve been working on it almost since I bought the house it’s one of those things that means a hell of a lot to me. You see, I’ve been trying to claw back about 500 square feet of back yard the pervious owner let go to the woods. Although 400 square feet is hardly worth a mention in man’s great efforts at deforestation, I’m taking it as a great achievement and point of personal pride.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time clearing brush and then deciding which trees and saplings to take to make that corner feel like part of the yard without clear cutting it. Although the heavy lifting was finished early this spring there were a few stray stumps that deviled my ability to bring in the heavy lawn care equipment.

Yesterday morning’s temperate conditions proved beautiful weather to hammer down the stumps with a maul and an ax – and marked the first time I could get the riding mower into that section to keep things cut down to a more yard-like style. It’s still filled with weeds and some of the native mountain laurel looks like it could develop into promising pieces. Considering where it started, I’m well pleased with where we stand now. After beating nature into submission with both blunt and sharpened steel, yesterday was the first time a cut and trim started to fall inside the realm of regular weekly lawn care instead of being a “special project.” Give it another two years of carefully tended growth and it should be a fine little plot of land.

Because virtually none of what takes place outside of my fence line ever feels like it’s ever completed work, I feel good about this small win.

It staves off the madness…

Spend enough days in a row sitting through meetings where nothing is ever decided, writing emails that no one ever reads, and dreaming up good ideas that will never see the light of day and one might be forgiven for tending to adopt a healthy cynicism about their profession. In a bureaucracy where every cog has its own agenda and can through even the best laid plans off the rails, frankly I’m surprised when anything gets done at all. It’s practically a cause for celebration.

I suspect that’s why I spend so much of my “off” time doing things that can demonstrate a tangible result. Reading and writing are easy. Finish the book, draft a new chapter, and either way at the end point you have something to show for the effort. It’s measurable. I suspect it’s also why I throughly enjoy mowing the grass, running string trimmer, and cutting back another few feet of encroaching saplings. Adding two hours of physical work after eight hours of repeatedly banging your head against you desk probably isn’t everyone’s idea of good times… but it makes me unreasonably happy, even as it leads to increasing exhaustion.

In that one small way, I’ve carved a bit of order away from chaos. It’s not making the world safe for democracy, or curing polio, but it helps stave off the madness and that contribution shouldn’t be undervalued.

Thanks old dude…

I spent most of Saturday morning outside laying siege to the trees, bushes, and random foliage that kept smacking me in the face while I was cutting the grass. Sure, I could just duck, but that’s nowhere near as fulfilling as chopping off branches and making nature look you want it to look. While I was standing hip deep in the ditch obliterating a tree that had no business growing there in the first place, I heard a car pull up behind me and a door open. It’s my experience that random people stopping by for anything usually doesn’t end well and I expected a pitch about why I should come to their church or at the very least who I needed to make a donation to some cause or another.

What I ended up with was an introduction to the old dude and his wife who live diagonally across the street from me – nice people who just wanted to stop and say thanks for making the outside of the place not look like crap. Not surprisingly, he brought up the previous tenants who apparently were every bit as worthless as I imagined them to be. Not like that’s a surprise, but it’s always nice to have confirmation. Other than keeping things mowed at a reasonable length and laying down plenty of weed killer, I haven’t actually done much. I should probably be grateful to the last guy for setting the bar so low.

The old dude would be less impressed if he saw the inside of the place with its god awful drywall patches, cut-ins done but walls not painted, doorknobs missing latches, and general lack of even the most basic maintenance. I’m fixing the things I can with the tools and supplies I have on hand, but lord knows I’m not sinking a dime of my own money into this place. I just need to nurse it through the next year or two and then it will be someone else’s problem. There’s very little I can do to remedy a cheapskate landlord or lazy property management, so the least I can do while I’m here is try to prevent this place from being that house that drags down everyone else’s property values by having that nice abandoned look about it. But seriously, thanks for noticing.


I’ve hear it said that there’s nothing as powerful as the sense of smell to carry us back to a moment or a place we haven’t thought about in years. I had one of those moments a few minutes ago. In smelling the combination of fresh-cut grass and the exhaust of a not-quite tuned gas engine, I was hit with an overwhelming recollection of my grandfather and his Allis Chalmers B-10 lawn tractor. I don’t think my grandfather was ever happier then when he was tooling around the yard on that mid-60s vintage machine. With that smell hanging in the air, for just a second, I was a kid again and could see people and places I haven’t set eyes on in twenty years. It was really quite remarkable and, I’m not too proud to say, it choked me up there for a minute. Memory is a funny thing like that.

On my side of the fence…

It’s taken thrice weekly watering, half a dozen applications of fertilizer since early March, weekly trimmings from the lawn service, and going nearly bankrupt to pay for water bills, but my lawn is finally greener than the neighbors. That’s not to say it’s green, however. The 13 inch rain deficit in Memphis has helped assure that it probably won’t reach that milestone any time soon. But it is a better shade of dark yellow than the next guy, so I’m formally declaring victory.