Crud…

Today was supposed to be my first day back at the office after Christmas vacation. The crud I’ve been, unknowingly, fighting since Wednesday said otherwise. I really thought I just had a sore throat from kicking up dust when I started clearing out my closet to prep for the eventual renovation. Obviously, it wasn’t just the dust, but that wasn’t painfully obvious until late in the day on Friday.

The good news is that if the rapid test is to be believed, I haven’t been snookered by the Great Plague, but some other upper respiratory bug that’s set up shop in my head. At least I think that’s good news. It’s kind of hard to tell at this point.

I was feeling good enough this afternoon to prop myself almost upright and type this out with my thumbs. That’s quite an improvement from the last couple of days when dragging myself off the couch to let the dog out was a downright Herculean feat of strength. My voice is less gravely and every once in a while, I’ve found I’m able to breath through both nostrils simultaneously. Progress.

With a “not Covid” test result I probably could have hauled my carcass to the office today and been a slightly warmer than usual body in the room. If life in a plague era has taught us nothing else, though, I feel like “keep your germs to yourself” should be an important lesson. I’ve got a mountain of sick leave and won’t feel a moment’s guilt at using it.

Maybe I’ll try to dip my toes back into the exciting world of work tomorrow with telework Tuesday. Or maybe I won’t. I think a lot of it is going to depend on how long I can stare at a computer screen without my eyes crossing or my incredible 15-minute attention span completely losing the thread of whatever I’m supposed to be doing. 

Anyway, today was better than yesterday, so I guess that’s something. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Systems of systems. Outlook was down most of the day on Wednesday. That was after three days of fighting another “file sharing” system. It’s possible that this week will enter my personal record books as the one in which I spent the most effort to accomplish the least. I’m sure there are good and fine reasons why all out tech seems to be tits up more often than it’s not, but it continues to be one of the top two or three most reliably annoying elements of the job. It’s just one of the many reasons I’m dedicated to being able to walk out the door in thirteen years, five months, and a hand full of days.

2. The week before Christmas. It’s the week before Christmas, or close enough for all practical proposes. It’s certainly less than eight working hours before my long Christmas holiday commences. It’s also been just about the busiest week of work I can remember since the beginning of the Great Plague. Easily 50% of the week’s dumpster fires are entirely self-inflicted because someone just got around to looking at something that should have been handled last week, or because our electronic communication system suck, or for untold other reasons. I shouldn’t say this with so many bosses, former bosses, and other trusted professionals following along, but with seven hours left in my work year, every single one of my fucks has already been allocated. Anyone coming at me between now and 4:00 Friday afternoon expecting much more than a blank stare is going to be sorely disappointed.

3. Prednisone. Thanks to the as-yet unidentified reason my arm had been broken out in a rash for about three weeks, I had a 4-day course of prednisone this week. The (mostly) good news is that the arm has sort of cleared up – it at least looks a lot better than it did a week ago and I’m not longer tempted to satisfy the itch by scratching it with a circular saw. What the four days of prednisone also gave me was an insatiable craving for salt, rampaging blood glucose levels, an even shorter temper than usual, and I’m pretty sure at least one panic attack. I have no idea how people stay on that stuff for weeks or months on end. Next time I’ll just scratch myself bloody and it will still be a less awful experience. 

More of the same…

It’s the 3rd working day of certain applications not being worth a damn. That’s five days if you count the intervening weekend.

Today, the app in questions has been up, down, partially up, partially down, throwing off errors when it is up and generally being an absolute nightmare to use. 

Despite all that, I just about managed to catch up on processing through two solid work days of backlog… even with the sonofawhore fighting me every step of the way. Thank the gods that the computer has made everything so much easier for information workers.

I’m trying very hard to remember the things that I have absolutely no control over… but I also will not be checking my blood pressure this evening. Who’d have guessed being a bit player in the most technologically advanced fighting force in the broad sweep of human history would be so rage educing? 

A $15 Rolex…

There’s one web-based application that is an indispensable part of the job I was nominally doing today. The trouble is, that app went out of service at about noon yesterday and didn’t come back online until an hour before I punched out for the day today. I’m reasonably good, but cramming 12 hours of work into the last hour of a Friday afternoon isn’t going to happen.

As a tiny cog in our wealthy uncle’s great green machine, I’m no stranger to sitting around with my thumb up my ass. Life in the bureaucracy guarantees you’ll spend a not insignificant amount of time in that position.

I have to wonder, though, if we’re really as dependent on networks, and systems, and processes that are apt to create single points of failure repeatedly, why haven’t we come up with a way for these systems to be redundant or develop some method of continuing to get the job done when the computers don’t work. As it sits now, all it means is a 24 hour backlog waiting for someone (read: me) to clear it out on Monday. That’s assuming the great network administrators in the sky really finished whatever voodoo ceremony was necessary to fix things permanently. That doesn’t even begin to account for the inevitable bitching and complaining from echelons higher than reality wondering why everything is taking so long, suspenses were missed, and we’ve given the distinct impression of not having done a damned thing for almost two full days.

Thank God my terminal doesn’t launch the nukes or make sure a reactor gets shut down safely, because from where I’m sitting the whole creaking edifice feels about as reliable as a $15 Rolex.

Party in a plague year…

Glancing through my Outlook calendar this morning, I noticed an appointment labeled “Holiday Gathering.” Based on past precedent that could mean anything from a non-denominational holiday afternoon of food and drink at a local watering hole, or more often a soulless pot luck served around a conference room table.  

In the (plague) year of our lord 2021 both options have at least one thing in common: The distinguished representative from Cecil County votes no.

In the last 21 months I’ve sat down in a restaurant exactly one time. It was in the middle of the afternoon with one other person at the table and maybe 10 people in the entire building. The idea of gaggling up elbow to asshole with 20 or 30 people to spread both holiday cheer and pathogen, feels like something I can avoid with absolutely no regrets. 

Plus, it looks like it happens to fall on a day I’m already scheduled to work from home, so there’s one more reason it doesn’t have any significant appeal. I’m sure if there’s something pressing, someone can dial me in on Teams.

I’ve never been on Team Office Holiday Party, but a party in a plague year feels even less enticing and like it’s missing a bit of the big picture. 

Cubicles aren’t the problem…

Even back in spring 2020, in the early days when the Great Plague raged unchecked, some of us were still coming to the office. Often it wasn’t many – and certainly some came more than others, but on the average day there may have been five or six people spread out in a room built out to hold around thirty. For good, bad, or otherwise, those who make decisions were determined that the place was going to have at least the loose appearance of conducting business as usual. They were determined to keep the lights on.

I only mention it, because I had a bit of a unique career experience today. For most of this day before Thanksgiving, I was the last man standing… or maybe the only one without the foresight to drop a leave request for today and Friday. In any case, I spent most of the day with the place entirely to myself. The only time I’ve had an even similar experience was a million years ago when I was a fresh, young GS-7 working in DC who wasn’t banking enough vacation time to be extravagant about taking the Friday after Thanksgiving. Even then, there were a few other people knocking around the far reaches of the GAO Building’s 3rd floor, so I wasn’t completely on my own there.

Today was a real Time Enough at Last moment, which is to say it was kind of ideal. As it turns out, just being stuck in a room full of cubicles and awful fluorescents for the day isn’t necessarily the problem with the modern office. It wasn’t quite as good as a day working from home, but without all the people, I mean it didn’t particularly suck.

It looks like I’ve learned my one new thing for today, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Time, distance, and the laws of men…

It’s that special time of year again when the gods on Olympus like to pretend that they are not in any way constrained by time, distance, or the laws of men. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving and those high and mighty gods have, right on schedule, realized that the minions on whom they depend to work their will will increasingly be unavailable thanks to end of the year leave taking.

Now what someone with a modicum of common sense might do, is prioritize whatever effort or efforts are legitimately “most important” and concentrate on getting those through the gate first. What we’ll actually be doing, of course, is piling on increasing levels of stuff to do and then watching as “leaders” gnash their teeth and rend their garments because it’s not getting done.

The pool of available people to keep up with whatever wild-ass new ideas the bosses dream up will get a little smaller every day between now and the end of the year. It would be comical if it weren’t absolutely predictable. I’ve watched this spectacle first hand since 2003 and can only assume this great green machine has been up to the same kind of pre-holiday fuckery since Washington was a Lieutenant.

Look, I really am sorry… but if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to jump through his own ass, moan, and wail, because your failure to plan has become an “emergency,” I’m just not your huckleberry. Never have been. Never will be. You have my word on it.

On making a difference (or not)…

The number of people who call my phone thinking they can steamroll me with some variation of the phrase, “My boss said…” would honestly blow your mind. I’m sure whatever their boss said carries some relative weight… with them. Since their boss is almost never anywhere on the list of people who sign my yearly performance evaluation, what we generally have is them passing along information that could, in a certain light, be considered interesting to me, but that is also almost entirely irrelevant.

I promise, I’m not out here making shit up as I go along. If I’ve done something, it’s because someone who does figure into my rating chain has either told me to do it or will support my interpretation of whatever led me to take a specific action.

After nearly twenty years at this, I don’t get impressed or intimidated by titles or shrill voices. But feel free to call and raise your complaint. I may even smile and nod sympathetically right before I proceed with doing whatever I was about before you called.

Follow my advice. Don’t. Either way, it honestly makes absolutely no difference to me. But good luck when someone higher up the pecking order asks your boss why it didn’t get done.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Friday afternoon. Once upon a time, I actually enjoyed Fridays. They were a day full of promise. Now, of course, Fridays are just the day the Good Idea Fairy makes its rounds or people remember shit they should have done earlier in the week and try to jam it through so they can claim it got wrapped up before close of business. I can only urge you not to be that guy. Don’t wait until Friday afternoon. I promise you, deep down in places professionals aren’t supposed to talk about, no one give a shit at 3:30 on Friday how good an idea you’re having or whether something gets done or not. Maybe there’s an exception for immediate threats to life and safety, but otherwise all anyone on the line cares about on Friday is getting the hell away from cubicle hell for a few days. I know the uberbosses, enthroned high on Olympus, have forgotten their days lower down on the org chart and truly believe that everyone wants to (or at least should) give 300% 24 hours a day, but the heights of Olympus aren’t a reflection of any kind of universal reality. Sometimes those memos are just going to linger over the weekend… and I’m perfectly fine with that.

2. Paper cups. I know it’s saving the world or whatever, but I miss Chick-fil-a’s Styrofoam cups. In its new, socially responsible paper cups, the lemonade gets watered down on the ride between drive-thru and office. It’s just disappointing.

3. Heating and cooling season. So here we are well into autumn. It’s a special time of year where I fire up the furnace each morning to knock the chill off the house and then a few hours later when passive solar heating has sent the indoor temperature well into the 70s, switch the air conditioner back on to get the place back down to a reasonable sleeping temperature. At least in this part of the world this mixed season doesn’t usually last long. While it’s here though, I spend an unreasonable amount of time pondering the time, effort, and cash it takes to maintain a steady 68 degrees. 

The best ten weeks…

Here we are in mid-October, I’m comfortable saying I’ve mostly adjusted to the diminishing daylight and have started into one of my favorite times of year. Sure, it’s about to be the “holiday season” or whatever, but that’s not really it. Not directly, anyway.

I’ve long made a habit of mostly hoarding vacation time through the first 2/3 of the year. With the arrival of October, though, it’s time to start letting those days spool out. For me, that means the next two and a half months look something like this:

Three-day weekend… Work for two weeks… Five day weekend… Work for a week… Four day weekend… Work for three weeks… and finally the last, glorious Fifteen day weekend capping off the year.

The annual burning off of vacation time is a real thing of beauty. This annual rite of autumn is made easier in my case by not having to burn time during the rest of the year to tend to sick offspring or in accommodating spousal wishes. I sprinkle days through the rest of the year to get a quick breather when necessary, but it’s here in the fall where I really get my head right.

In a few months the new year starts and with it a new round of hoarding time off begins… with the promise of another fall filled with days not spent dwelling under fluorescent lighting. For now, though, I’ll happily celebrate the best ten weeks of the year,