What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. New and improved. Last week the powers that be implemented a new procedure that was aimed at speeding up the time it takes to get people through the front gate. As far as I can tell all it’s succeeded at doing is creating a cluster fuck of the traffic pattern and made the wait time even longer. Forty years of experience tells me that “new and improved” rarely is… and mostly exists because someone needed a big box checked off on their annual performance appraisal.

2. I’m not particularly chatty at the best of times. When I have Post It notes stacked up like cordwood and a ten page handwritten list of shit to do, I’m even less inclined to want to chat about, well, anything, really. Sorry if the blank look on my face while you’re talking to be about a radom sportsball team I have no interest in at the best of times seems rude, but I have a limited amount of bandwidth. I’d really like to use it to make sure as many of the bits of paper on my desk are on someone else’s desk before the close of business. Unless what you’re telling me is something that’s going to make my life easier, it’s best for both of us if you bugger directly off until I’ve dug out from under the clusterfuck of the day, week, or month.

3. Maryland E-Z Pass. Let’s forget for a moment that until recently tolls at roads and bridges in Maryland were sold to the public as something that would be dropped “as soon as the cost of construction was paid off.” E-Z Pass is one of the ways that many states, including Maryland, have offered up to make their ongoing extortion backed by the full authority and power of the government less obvious to the average citizen… and I only say less obvious because the other option is handing over a fistful of physical cash money every time you drive through a toll plaza. If the state is going to continue to extort money from its citizens for things that have been long paid for and depreciated, it feels like the least they could do is make sure the back office is keeping the books right and not generating a daily email threatening to cut off your account for having a low balance when a quick look at the customer facing website shows there is very clearly both money in the account and a valid credit card from which to siphon more money as needed.

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. 

Style versus substance…

I’ll probably live to regret this, but WordPress asked me today if I wanted to switch over to a “new and improved” editor. I’m firmly in the camp of if something is advertised as new or improved it’s practically guaranteed to be worse than whatever it’s replacing. 

I’m going to try keeping an open mind about this thing – although it’s currently very tempting to dismiss it since I can’t figure out how the hell do do things that took two clicks using the old editor. It’s probably just a learning curve kind of thing, but writing is hard enough without needing to spend a lot of time and effort figuring out how to make things look right too. 

That’s probably a lot much to ask from the internet, of course… especially considering the layout this blog hasn’t changed in any meaningful way since the day I first set it up. I’m a guy who’s usually more concerned with content over looks in all things and if my own layout happens to be a little long in the tooth, I suppose that’s a little telling. 

It’s probably a good thing that I’m trying to get this sorted during Thanksgiving week. It’ll give me at least four or five days to figure out what the hell is going on before anyone starts paying attention again.

Time keeps on slippin’…

I think I’m beginning now to understand why old people always seem vaguely angry. The world I knew, the one of my youth, the one I was infinitely comfortable with, isn’t the world. The leaders have all gone. The stars are going. Even the countries aren’t the same and the maps have been remade. It’s disconcerting to realize that nation-states and their seeming permeance are anything but.

Society is far more open and tolerant than it was “where I come from.” I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In most things social, I’m mostly happy enough to let peopled do their own thing so long as they aren’t troubling anyone else. Activities and lifestyles that weren’t even mentioned, or only mentioned in whispers in early 80s are not just tolerated now but celebrated. In half a human lifetime I already find myself looking agog at the way the world has changed.

I’m enough of a student of history to know that the change is inevitable. People and institutions adapt… and those who refuse to adapt are swallowed up by the vast sweep of time. As those dark scientists in economic say, “in the long run we’re all dead.”

If you stick around long enough maybe you get to see everything you knew as true eventually turn out to be something else entirely. That would probably be the real curse of eternal life. The time and place I’m from didn’t get it all right, but it wasn’t all wrong either. New and different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but neither does old and tested. There’s a balance to be struck, but if I’m any judge of human behavior we’ll inevitable swing the pendulum too far in both directions simultaneously.

Logic…

I like keeping my phone on a belt clip. It’s geeky and will never be a fashion-correct approach, but it’s convenient and that trumps either of those other considerations. I’m also finicky about the clip and case combination I use. It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I like things precisely the way I like them… and pretty much no other way. This past weekend, the clip caught on something and broke so I’ve been attempting to make due sans clip for the time being. That’s not going particularly well given the combination of pen knife, keys, and other random ephemera that ends up in my pockets.

Having dropped my phone more in the last four days than I’ve dropped any phone over the last four years, I’m forced to concede a change is in order. There’s a method to my madness, of course. Things here seldom happen without there being some underlying logic to them. Even if it’s logic that only makes sense between my own ears.

In a herculean fit of warped reasoning, it occurred to me that spending $30 on a clip to fit a phone I’m due to replace any time now is kind of like putting new tires on a car you’re about to trade in. In my mind, addled as it is by years of accounting for money in those special ways that only Uncle Sam can fathom, the more logical thing to do was to go ahead and buy a new phone and a new clip now instead of waiting another month or two. Let that percolate for a moment if you will. Somewhere in my head it sounded perfectly reasonable to spend $900 on a new phone and then $60 on a new case and clip than it did to spent $30 for a replacement clip to keep the old phone in operation a bit longer.

If anyone wants to know the exact date and time I realized I’ve spent too long working for the government it was Saturday, November 19th, 2016 around 2PM… When I decided spending $960 to save $30 somehow made sense. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed for the time being… though I still don’t have an acceptable or convenient way to keep my phone tethered to me at all times so the whole experience has been decidedly unsatisfying for all involved.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Panera. About once every three months lunch from Panera Bread sounds like a good idea. I’ll walk in, order something that sounds tasty, get it back to my desk, and then promptly be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It’s not their fault. If I would just show up and order soup and a bread bowl everything would turn out alright. This dissatisfaction is precisely what I get for walking in and trying something new when I already know there’s something on the menu that I like… but apparently I need periodic $10-12 reminders of why new things are bad.

2. Politics isn’t personal. Hard as it is to believe, I don’t hate people who have the audacity to disagree with my political positions. It’s never occurred to me to pick or maintain friendships based on whether anyone approves or disapproves of the right to bear arms, or to have an abortion, or on tax policy. Politics, in my mind at least, is mostly a “business” function. Although many of my beliefs are deeply held and intensely personal, I’m smart enough to know instinctively that with about 300 million other Americans all wandering around with their own moral compass and free will, there’s a chance that some of them might disagree with my positions. Some of them might even disagree intensely. That’s fine. Once upon a time that kind of disagreement was even considered healthy in a democracy… but that never stopped people from being able to share a drink or a meal together across the aisle. That sort of thing is probably out of fashion now, but fortunately that’s not something likely to dissuade me.

3. Game of Thrones. The idea that it’s going to be another twelve months before another Game of Thrones episode airs is just really sinking in. As much as I appreciate its far ranging filming locations and production values second to none, I despise the HBO programming model that delivers only ten new episodes per season. Although it’s apples and oranges, the first season of Star Trek booked a whopping 29 episodes. Sure, It’s a classic first world problem, but since I live in the first world that’s usually the kind I tend to encounter. It just feels a bit like perhaps there’s a happy medium that falls somewhere between the 11th and 29th episodes.

How it starts…

I’ve often wondered how it is that old people lose touch with technology – whether that’s the eternal flashing 12:00 of a generation of VCRs to or the firm instance that GPS will never take the place of a glovebox full of paper maps.

Once upon a time, I could build my own computer. Sure, I bought the components off the shelf and wasn’t making my own chips or anything, but I knew the specs I wanted, knew where to order them, and was able to slap the whole bit together into a functioning PC. I haven’t tried (or really even been tempted) to do that since the late 1990s. It stopped being a cost effective use of time. Easier to buy the whole rig off the shelf and go to work.

This afternoon I finally accepted that maybe it was time to update my iPhone playlists – that I probably haven’t substantively changed since the days when I had a Memphis address. First things first, it almost feels like with the bevy of streaming services available now, the whole idea of having a self-curated playlist may be a little old fashioned. It’s like having a bookshelf full of CDs or 45s. Its existence is a throwback to an earlier time. That’s when the first light of recognition came on – the way I like my media delivered is on the verge of being utterly overcome by the march of progress. I like having my “own” copy of my music – even if it’s just a digital representation. I made it from cassette tapes to CDs to mp3s and Winamp skins, to iTunes, but after four format changes, it seems I’m beginning to resist the onrushing future.

I wonder if this is how it starts to go off the rails for me. Am I going to wake up some morning in 2045 and wonder why I can’t make my 20 year old Mac Mini work. Are printers going to someday be as rare as 8-track players? Is this where tech abandons me to the future as I grow more and more entrenched with only the technologies that I fully understand?

I don’t want to be that guy who thinks of every device as a damned infernal contraption. There’s some way to head that off, right? Some magic bullet that will let us stay attuned to what the kids these days are up to?

I’m not ready to live in a world where the best device I ever bought is one I have already.

Improved remains to be seen…

Look on the shelves of any grocery store and you’ll see hundreds of boxes touting “new” formulas, updated ingredients, and improved performance. New can be a good thing. Creature of habit though I am, I would never let that stand in the way of any legitimate opportunity for progress.

Today was the first day with our new Uberboss. I’m willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Even if he didn’t mean any of them, they guy was saying most of the right words. He may have just been observing the tried and true forms of the business, but even if that’s the case it’s something I can work with as long as I know that’s the schtick.

The part of me that’s a raging pessimist, of course, realizes new is not always synonymous with “good.” There’s the obvious example of New Coke. Chemical weapons were once the “new” thing on the battlefield. Titanic was a new ship right up to the point where it sank like a stone to the bottom of the Atlantic. There are plenty of examples of times when “new” translated directly into mayhem, chaos, and disaster.

There feels like there should be a requisite reference to The Who here somewhere… but for the moment, any similarities or differences are too hard to spot. It’s certainly new and that certainly means different, but whether it’s improved remains to be seen.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Failure to follow directions. Don’t ignore the very clear directions I provide and then try to raise hell and cry the blues when everything goes to hell in a handbag. I will not hesitate to refer you back to the previously ignored instructions and remind you that I told you so.

2. Bright Ideas. No. You didn’t just have one. Almost no one has legitimate bright ideas. What you most likely had was a bad idea masquerading as a bright idea. The two are very much not synonymous. If what you’re thinking about hasn’t been done anywhere, by anyone before, there’s probably a reason for that. Just let it be.

3. “Helpful” salespeople. I know the sales people are just trying to be helpful (and boost their commission), but when I show up at a shop asking for something specific, I’m not really interested in something similar but more expensive. I’m actually interested in the thing I’m asking about. I know some people wander in not having a clue in the world what they’re looking for, but rest assured I am not one of those. Although I appreciate your pluck and determination, what I really need you to do is bugger off.

Yes, I’m new here…

Look lady, I get it. I’m new and that’s probably as much of a pain in the ass for you as it is for me. Sorry that I haven’t been here for 38 1/2 years, but there are things that you know that I need to know. I’m going to occasionally ask you a question about who to talk to or what something does. What I’m going to need you to do is not answer every question by rolling your eyes and making a giant production out of bringing me up to speed.

You see, some day, you are going to drop dead and someone, most likely me, is going to have to figure out what you have been up to and it’s going to be easier to do that if you’re just up front with me from the outset. Otherwise, once you’re gone I’ll have to go through your files, not find what I’m looking for, and then make my bones by telling everyone how jacked up all your stuff is. So, you see, cooperating with me now really saves us both a lot of trouble.

Oh, and one more thing… There’s a pretty good chance that I’m not going to do things the exact same way you do them. Different is ok as long as we get to the same answer. Despite your best efforts to convince me that things only work when your desk is piled high with paper copies of everything you’re working on or have worked on in the past six months, I’m ok keeping my desk clear and my files electronic. I promise when I need a hardcopy of something I’ll be able to find a printer all by myself.

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.