What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Training. A month or two ago I made a concerted effort to knock out all the mandatory online training I was supposed to get done this year. Generally, figuring out how to sign on to the system is far more difficult and time consuming than the actual training, but fine. Every week, though, some new ridiculous “important mandatory training requirement” gets added. Look, I’m a bureaucrat, I’ll waste an hour or two doing whatever the bosses decide is important, but could we at least pile all up so I can blast through it in a day or two instead of inflicting slow death by a thousand cuts?

2. “First Amendment” violations. I feel like I have to say this once every three months, but Facebook literally can’t infringe upon your First Amendment right to free speech. Facebook is a publicly traded company, not a branch of government. They’re free to do whatever they want on their platform – including flagging and deleting anything that doesn’t conform to the broadest possible interpretation of their established terms of service. No company is no more required to let you use their intellectual property as a soapbox than I am to let you stand on my front porch spouting nonsense. If you don’t like the terms under which Facebook lets you use their platform, the answer is to stop using it and find an alternative… because ranting and raving about Facebook violating your rights makes you sound like a moron.

3. Election 2020. We’re exactly two months away from the 2020 general election. I was occasionally checking in prior to the conventions, but with the ongoing tantrum throwing by candidates and surrogates, go ahead and color me uninterested. I haven’t missed voting in an election since I first registered in 1996 – and I have no intention of missing this one – but there’s absolutely nothing currently being bandied about across traditional, social, or alternative media that I find helpful in any way. Honestly, I can’t believe we’re paying good money for this abject fuckery.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. If you’re going to push out a metric shit-ton of new mandatory training and tell everyone in the universe they have to take it sometime in the next ten days, it seems to be that the first step might be to make sure the end users are in some way functional before it lands on hundreds of thousands of desks as a short notice must-do task. Maybe it’s just me, but proclaiming something must be done and then making it physically impossible to do feels like a pretty shit way of doing business… Not that I’m in any way surprised.

2. I’m trying to schedule someone to come out and give me a quote for three new window binds that approximately match what’s currently in the house. So far, one can’t be bothered to call back, the next wants me to dismount one of the existing blinds and bring it in so they can look at it, and the third really thinks I should consider getting new window coverings for the entire house. You wouldn’t think it would be this hard to get people to show up and take my money, but yet here we are.

3. Despite the story the media is intent on weaving, you really can decline to support a candidate for office because you have fundamental disagreements with their stated policy positions. To see the prevailing message of the day though, if you don’t support Joe and Kamala, it’s obviously because you’re racist. Feel free to bugger directly off with that fuckery. 

Going online…

I had a pretty normal undergraduate experience – 4 years, a couple of summer or winter classes, and done. I managed to earn a full academic scholarship at least for tuition, so fortunately I didn’t have to pay the freight for that education. I won’t say I loved every minute of it, but I look back very fondly on those four years.

In the early stages of my federal career I was on the road more weeks than not and opted for an online MBA. I don’t know what the fees for such a thing are now, but back then I was paying $1,850 per six week class, for a total of $24,050 by the time I earned my degree. My impression of online education, based on that MBA experience, is that you could get as much or as little out of it as you were willing to put into it. It wasn’t hard to slip through doing the minimum, but to really learn the subject you needed to put in extra hours beyond the homework and discussion boards. I didn’t love it, but I ended up learning a lot and it served its purpose for a guy whose schedule wouldn’t have otherwise supported getting a degree. 

I’m seeing articles indicating that brick and mortar schools largely plan on charging full tuition for their slate of online classes for the fall semester. I fully realize that these schools have sunk costs that they need to keep paying regardless of how instruction is delivered, but at the same time I can’t fathom by what logic an entering freshman would pay full price for severely reduced services. Better I’d think to take your intro level classes from the local community college, save your money, and transfer them on when your school of choice opens back up for learning in the flesh. Under the circumstances, I’d even argue a gap year could be a better investment of time and resources.

Pretending that you’re completely justified in charging full price for the undergrad college experience while providing significantly reduced service feels distinctly like perpetrating a fraud… although if you have a large enough group of people willing to unquestioningly pay the bill, I suppose you can take every cent they’ll willingly hand over. 

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.