Half done…

Well, there’s day one in the books. No one set the stage on fire. No one fell down the steps. Lights didn’t fall on anyone. The tech (mostly) worked the way it’s supposed to.

Now that I’m mostly in spectator mode there are obviously things I’d change up a bit – items that made sense on paper but less so under the lights. If that’s the worst of Day 1 I can live with that.

There’s still another day to go. Tomorrow has more people and more moving parts. If something is going to cut loose, tomorrow is really when I’m expecting it to happen.

We’re half done with half to go. I’ll still sleep well tonight, but I’ll wake up tomorrow morning wondering what shit will find the fan.

Jeffrey Tharp and the Zombie Conference from Hell…

For the last six years I’ve found myself saddled with one project that I haven’t been able to shake. Reorganizations and realignments have come and gone and yet this project hangs on grimly, like Marley’s suffering in spectral chains for a life misspent. It’s the classic example of creating a massive boondoggle where having a simple website would be sufficient. Circus tents, cigar bars, catered lunches, live bands, and evening socials… for some reason, the Gods on Olympus have pegged me as they guy you want running your social extravaganzas. Yeah, the guy whose idea of a good time is getting home early and tucking in with a good book and avoiding people as much as possible. That’s exactly who you want to plan your biggest party of the year. 

You’ll never convince me that the universe doesn’t have a particularly fucked up sense of humor. 

It’s really only on my mind today because, in the era before the Great Plague, today would have been opening day for this particular event… and I’d have been two wake ups away from getting the shitshow over for another year.

Other, more reasonable organizations, have decided this isn’t the time to do big productions. They’re being cancelled left and right, being pushed into the fall or into 2021. We’ve gone with a different option of kicking the can down the road a scant five weeks and “reimagining” the whole thing as an online event. That’s fine. I’m sure there won’t be any problems at all with scrapping nine months of planning and collapsing three days of material into a single day using a webcast platform that none of us has ever used while coordinating with 30-40 key players via email and phone because we’re mostly home hiding out from the Great Plague. Seriously, I mean what could possibly go wrong with this plan that’s been too-quickly conceived, barely coordinated, and will be almost completely unrehearsed?

Even in the face of mayhem, chaos, plague, supply disruption, fear, anguish, loathing, and common goddamned sense, we will drive this project forward. For reasons that defy any mere human logic, it’s the unkillable zombie conference from hell and the absolute bane of my existence.

I’m sure it will be the best doggone conference ever. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Online training. Yes, I’m sure there are many wonderful online training tools and modules in use out there, but I haven’t personally come across them yet.  In fact, if I’d say the only thing the current crop of mandatory online training has taught me is how to click through repetitive nonsense as quickly as possible while focusing on doing other, less onerous things. At least most of the training hasn’t be changed up in over a decade, so I’ve learned to miss the “gotcha” questions that trigger remedial instruction which is a small mercy at least.

2. Supply runs and/or delivery. Leafy greens and gin are currently hovering near unacceptably low stock levels at Fortress Jeff. Fortunately, the resident tortoise has been accommodating about allowing me to supplement his usual spring mix with heartier greens like kale, so I’ve been able to forgo needing to add a second supply run for the last two weeks just for him. The gin situation isn’t dire… and I could move on to rum or tequila or whisky… but lately I’ve had a taste for gin and that means at some point I’ll have to hazard a trip into the great wasteland to restock. Even with the inherent exposure risks of schlepping out into the world, I still like it far more than having some total stranger deliver it to my front door.

3. Cotton masks. Look, if you want me to sport a fancy cotton “mask” (aka, a folded handkerchief) while going about tasks in public, you’re going to need to come up with a methodology that also prevents my glasses from fogging over while I’m doing it. I’ve attempted most of the recommended hacks with little result. So, you see, what I have to do is make a choice between the possible benefit of wearing a handkerchief as a medical device and the known cost of not being able to see a damned thing. I can only assume it’s better overall to be able to see and avoid walking directly into people than it is to be masked and not be able to tell the difference between a person and a mailbox.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sheetz. The quintessential gas station of my youth which has grown to be a regional juggernaut. For the last couple of years I was able to order ground coffee and k cups through their online sales arm. I went to plug in a reorder this week and find that their site has gone defunct. Twitter confirms that there are currently no options for ordering online. I’ll either have to start buying the stuff 20 pounds at a time when I’m west of Baltimore or just go ahead and give up on the idea of being able to brew the good stuff at home. Both options are… disappointing.

2. Bureaucracy and decision making. Very rarely some things benefit from the application of a little bit of bureaucracy. Most things don’t. Mostly all ratcheting up the bureaucracy does is make sure that decisions happen more slowly and result in shit tons of extra work for everyone involved. I’ve encountered a rare few leaders who can manage to slice through the bureaucracy and get things done… though it’s hard to remember the last time I saw one of those in person.

3. Jealousy. The state of Maryland is kicking off a great big batch of telework for eligible employees in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. Uncle Sam is opting for the more traditional, approach of telling employees to wash their hands and disinfect hard surfaces (supplies not included), and wanting as many people as possible sitting asshole to elbow breathing on each other in his vast cubicle farm. In this case it’s more jealousy than annoyance. Once the Feds collapse, I guess it’ll free up some job opportunities for our friends in state government, so it’s not all down side.

An uneasy peace…

After the better part of three weeks, Amazon and I have arrived at an uneasy peace. They’ve stopped repeatedly trying to get me to pay for an item that’s already been paid for (and one that’s already been returned) and I’ve grudgingly accepted that Amazon has become an almost indispensable purveyor of “stuff” for my household.

The fact that it took a last gasp, hail Mary email to Jeff Bezos to grab a human being’s attention and get them to override the automatically generated email loop from hell I was trapped in still doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence.

I spent a fair amount of the last three weeks looking at and ordering from other online retailers, so I know there are alternatives to Amazon. What those alternatives don’t provide en block, are free shipping and access to the same exhaustive product list that Amazon does, so I found myself replacing one company with perhaps half a dozen in order to cover the same retail territory.

With that experience, I will admit that when Amazon is working well, they’re a hard act to beat… but when they freeze you out, they freeze you all the way out. I was, despite becoming increasingly aware of the inconvenience, prepared to stay frozen out indefinitely, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that in the end.

Amazon is never going to be a company I love, but in the end they are a company I can do business with – at least when it comes to ordering things that can stand to be badly packaged and beat to hell and back in transit. As it turns out, achieving peace in our time doesn’t mean I’m going to stop calling them out for that at every possible opportunity. You could have probably guessed that.

Missing the mark…

Online marketing has a long and impressive history of trying to sell people things they don’t really need. With their add on items and overwhelming presence on social media, the “things” are hard to miss most of the time. Some people find targeted advertising intrusive, personally I’m a bit more ambivalent about it. That ambivalence comes largely because of how often Amazon and the other online retailers shoot their shot and get it laughingly wrong.

My all time favorite is still the real estate company in New York City that somehow ended up with me in their target demographic for “people who want to live in New York and have $2.5 million to spend on an apartment.” There’s literally no part of that estimation that they got right, though in their defense I’m sure the apartments they were hawking were very nice.

The add that’s giving me the most current belly laughs is brought to you by Amazon, who seems determined to sell me a “Ember Temperature Control Ceramic Mug, Black.” I like tech as much and in some cases more than the next guy, but I have never sat down with a steam cup of coffee and thought, “You know what I need? I need a battery powered, rechargeable ceramic mug that I can control from my phone.” The idea of needing such a thing has simply never occurred to me. I mean I can melt my face off well enough after an hour or two with coffee traveling in one of my $12 Yeti knock off mugs.

I’m all for the forward march of technology, but paying an extra $67.99 for the added “benefit” of the mug having a battery with a one hour run time feels, well, just a little bit like someone’s trying to solve a problem that no one really has.

The end is just the beginning…

One of the many perks of working from home is that it gives you a predictable block of time that’s uninterrupted by people wandering past your desk wanting to talk about their weekend or some project they’re working on. It’s the perfect time to accomplish one of two kinds of work. The first is the difficult to do items that require a lot of focus and limited interruptions. The second is the laundry list of mundane online annual training courses we’re required to click through… er… I mean “take” by echelons higher than reality. I spent some time today dutifully getting my clicks in. I was trying to actually get in the last of my clicks done for the year until I was rudely interrupted by one of Uncle’s vaunted websites that just wouldn’t open. That’s fine. I mean who really needs cyber awareness anyway. I think by now we’re all fully aware of the cyber.

The bigger problem I find is that in about 45 days the clock starts running again and all the previous year’s clicks are reset to zero. You might be tempted to think that you’d then be presented with new information or updated training requirements. You would, of course, be wrong. The preponderance of next year’s requirements will replicate this year’s classes with almost 100% fidelity. If you ever wonder why someone might be tempted to take this ration of training less than seriously, the fact that they’ve taken the same class every year for the better part of a decade could be a leading indicator.

The end really is just the beginning… and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to take the exact same class another 15 times.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

​1. Spoofed calls. In the last 7 days I’ve gotten twelve calls that caller ID indicates are originating in the greater Baltimore area. I’m sure there are still many people who answer every time their phone rings. That these spoofed calls even exist as a thing is proof enough of that. I mean scammers wouldn’t be doing it in the first place if there wasn’t money to be made. Of the 37 ways you can communicate using a modern cell phone, actual voice calls are my least favorite. If I barely use the thing to make or receive calls to people I actually know, I’m not sure what chance the average phone scammer has at getting me to pick up. All their doing at this point is basically finding a new and interesting way to interrupt me when I’m trying to use the phone for something else… and that’s really their unforgivable sin.

2. Packaging. Since last Thanksgiving or so, I’ve observed a continuing trend of my online orders regularly arriving damaged. Some of the damage can easily be attributed to being beaten to death by the delivery service – smashed boxes, items left where they can be rained on, etc. More often though, the outer boxes arrive in fine shape, while what they contain is scuffed, mangled, or mutilated well beyond what I’d consider “fair” for an item purchased in “new” condition. I’ve lost track of how many items I’ve returned to Amazon and other retailers at this point because they can’t be bothered (or most likely just don’t want to pay) to package items in an appropriate way to prevent damage in transit. Until they do, I’ll keep making them spend twice as much in returns and replacement of damaged items as they would if they’d have just packed the damned box the right way the first time around.

3. Weekday Protestors. I first observed this behavior when I worked in DC. Someone would get a bee in their bonnet and the next thing you know a couple of thousand people would show up on The Mall to protest in the middle of the week. I see it now all over TV. What I want to know is who are these people that have nothing better to do in the middle of the damned work week than finding a position in front of the television camera, stamping their feet, and throwing a hissy fit until they get their way? Seeking redress of grievances is well and good, but I’m curious about the people who have time to do it day after day and sometimes week after week when the rest of us poor working stiffs are busy, you know, actually working. I mean even on my days off, there’s errands to run, laundry to do, yard work to tend, and a list of projects a mile long that wouldn’t get done if I were out wandering the streets waving my homemade poster-board sign with its cheeky slogan. Feel free to do what you want and all, but I’ve got a household to run and actual shit to do.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shipping. If you’re selling a book as a “rare first edition” in “like new” shape, don’t be surprised if I call raising three kinds of hell when it arrives at my house with a shredded dust jacket and mangled pages. especially when the only shipping method you offer is “dumped in an unpadded plastic envelope, slap a shipping label on it, and hope for the best.” There are entirely too many options available to justify dealing with a company that clearly has no regard for their own product. 0/10. Would not recommend.

​2. ​Disagreement. There’s a trend that has always been built into the internet – stretching back into the dim mists of newgroups and chat rooms – that is constructed around the idea that if you don’t agree with every single point of my 12-point statement, you are a communist Nazi heathen enemy of humanity whose father smelt of elderberries and we can’t be friends. I suppose it’s fine if you feel that way, but I generally like my discussion and opinion to have a bit more nuance that’s more fitting in a world where virtually nothing is ever 100% one way or the other. Whether you agree with me or not, I’ll continue to state my opinions in what I hope are reasonable and constructive (and often sarcastic) ways. What I won’t do is feel any compulsion to defend my opinion from someone having a “come at me bro” moment. If I do engage in that discussion, I promise, it’s purely because of the entertainment value I’ll find in it.

3. The rules. In this place there are many rules. I did not write them. I am not making them up on the spot. The rules were here before I arrived and will be here long after I am gone. The fact that there is a rule (or rules) preventing you from doing that which you want to do is one of those facts that is interesting, but not particularly relevant. While I may share in your frustration, you’re really going to need to find someone with the authority to change the offending policy, regulation, or law before there’s a damned thing I can do about it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The cold. Whatever tolerance I built up for it during my formative years in the shadow if Savage Mountain has been worn away by too much of my adulthood spent in the south and along the flatter lands of eastern Maryland. This shows itself in my current situation of sitting inside with the furnace running flat out, wearing two shirts, a sweater, and wool socks, and wondering where one goes to order a nice set of long johns. I use to think the North Woods of Maine might make a nice place to end up… I’m afraid I’m going to have to reconsider this position.

2. Why aren’t we talking about “Topic X more?” I read an article online a few days ago complaining that we were no longer laser focused on whatever happened to be the Issue of the Month a couple of months ago. I’m sure all the previous Most Important Things are still important. Personally it’s that I have limited RAM to allocate to the whole universe if things there are to give a damn about. It’s allocated to work stuff, stuff to keep the house up and running, getting from here to retirement, a few things I’m passionate about, and then one or two crises of the moment. That’s it. The world has always been full of problems that need solving. 100 years ago we only saw the ones we happened to walk past. I really don’t think the world is any more in the shitter than it was back then. The only thing different is now we can find out just how jacked up things are in every corner of the world instead of only our little part of it.

3. Shipping Address. There’s an agency in the federal government that I order products from every year. The products are billed automatically and shipped out as soon as they are released. Easy peasy. Except no. This year, the first of these was scheduled to ship out to an address where I haven’t lived in three years. I have no idea. Fortunately I caught it before processing was complete. They couldn’t manage to change the address of an order “in progress” but at least I got it cancelled before it arrived safely to whoever is living at my old address. As turns out, their ordering system was picking up the old address because you have to change the shipping address in at least two places on their website. Instead of just clicking the button that says “change address” under your profile, you also have to go in and change your address under each individual product. I ended up entering the address in three separate locations in addition to the correct address that was already built into my online profile. That seems incredibly counterintuitive, but then again it’s a federal website so perhaps it’s not at all surprising… although that doesn’t explain how the shipping world out ok last year. Sometimes it’s best not to ask.