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.

Trained to within an inch of my life…

I’ve ranted and railed at length about the seemingly endless trail of mandatory training “experiences” my employer requires each and every year. Some of those trainings are online modules that literally have not changed since I started way back in 2003. I’m looking at you here Constitution Day Training. Having studied history and political science, there are very few documents written in the English language that I prize more highly than the Constitution. Clicking through a few pages of how a bill becomes a law or which powers reside in the Executive and which in the Legislative just doesn’t fill me with an augmented sense of awe and wonder. The fact that so much of this training is stale, though, misses the broader point.

Regardless of how stale or dated the training, it’s mandatory. Beyond it being mandatory, eventually I know I’m going to catch hell if all those little boxes are not check off next to my name before the clock runs out on the end of September. What everything finally translates to is I’m going to suck it up and wade through hours of pointless training not because it’s teaching me something new, but because I want to keep myself out of trouble. I’m sure that’s some kind of pedagogical construct, but it’s not one I learned about a hundred years ago when I was learning to be a teacher and design instruction. Again, however, even that misses the big point here.

The really important thing I have to say about the mind numbing volume of mandatory training is that unlike previous years where I come sliding in sideways and waving one last certificate on September 30th, I’m finished early. Very early. I’m fairly sure that the first time in my career that’s ever happened. It feels vaguely unnatural. Fortunately I know that feeling can’t possibly last long before someone slams a new “must do” training requirement into the system so we can piss away more time on activities that mostly teach you how to sleep with your eyes open.

Training my life away…

I’m not a procrastinator by nature. I tend to want to jump in and get shit done just as soon as possible. The grand exception to this rule is the laundry list of online annual mandatory training opportunities that Uncle has decided are important. Many of them don’t change from year to year. The old ones never drop off and new ones are always being added by some good idea fairy lurking in the depths of the five sided lunatic asylum on the banks of the Potomac.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve put off doing this online training hell right up until the last possible minute. Usually that means sequestering myself for a few days before the end of the year to click through everything just before the end of the fiscal year and clear my name off the training officer’s naughty list.

I’m trying to turn over a new leaf and using part of my telework days to plow through these interminable classes two at a time. I don’t have a rhyme or reason for which ones I take other than working the list from top to bottom… but today turned out to be “drug and alcohol awareness day” at the online training farm.

After two hours of checking this particular box, I’m left to wonder how these dumbass training requirements don’t send us all down the path of reckless drug and alcohol use.

Checking boxes…

I got my annual reminder today that I had successfully completed almost none of my mandatory online training for 2016. Training is important, or so we’ve been told. It’s so important that in at least one instance I successfully completed the exact same training module once a year from 2007-2016. Yay Constitution Day Training!

I spent two years earning a teaching degree and another two and a half years actually doing it. I’m a voracious reader and self-educate on any number of topics. You don’t need to convince me of the importance of training or education. With that being said, if you want me to think of it as a priority, perhaps you might consider changing up your program of instruction once or twice in a decade. No matter how fine a narrative I consider a book like Team of Rivals, it ceases to become informative if I read it every year and can predict with near 100% accuracy what’s going to appear on the next page.

On the other hand, if the intent is to simply make sure that one of the multitude of annual training requirement boxes is checked off before time expires, well the powers that be are doing a fine job of course development and instruction. When I know that’s the goal, I can box check with the best of them.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Selling online. There are a few pieces of lawn equipment and other odds and ends I don’t have use of anymore. For ease of listing and in hopes of not dealing with too many crackpots, I opted to post them on the local neighborhood website instead of Craigslist. In retrospect I would have been far better off just loading everything in the truck and hauling it over to the dump. I know I’ve spent at least $150 worth of time answering questions about a $25 item. Lesson learned. From here on out I’ll just throw stuff away. It’s not worth the aggravation for so little return on investment.

2. Walking and talking. If you’re on your phone and wander into the street without paying the least bit of attention I should be within my rights to hit you with the truck. I’m not talking about flattening anyone, but it feels like giving these dipshits a glancing blow with the side mirror should be accepted if not encouraged.

3. Connectivity. Having access to email and the Internet are pretty much my only real job enablers. I’m sure I could do at least some of the work without those tools, but everything would take days longer than it should. Some of it I can get done by phone but the “must have a signature” stuff not so much. If you’re a knowledge worker access to a function network isn’t a convenience or a perk, it’s a necessity. If you the employer can’t provide that then you’d best not look at me cross eyed when I start telling you there are things I can’t do. Like it or not, without connectivity there’s no path between Point A and Point B that doesn’t involve hand written letters and a book of stamps.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The value of time. In the final episode of the HBO series The Tudors, an aging King Henry advised his closest friend that time was the most tragic of all losses, because it “is the most irrecuperable for it can never be redeemed.” So it is… and it would serve as a solid reminder for the great and the good to be mindful to start – and stop – their proceedings in a timely manner. While they may be lord high shits in their own collective minds, you can stake your last greenback dollar that I don’t value their time any more highly than I value my own.

2. Automatic Tire Pressure Sensors. I started driving back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the only way to know the pressure of the air in your tires was to check it manually – which I mostly did consistently each month unless one appeared to be low or otherwise in need of attention. Flash forward to 2014 and I’ve got a handy little sensor in each tire now that blinks a bothersome orange warning light whenever one of the tires has fallen out of standard. To put more of a fine point on it, this event only seems to happen precisely at 6:32AM, in the dark, when it’s 6 degrees with the wind chill making it feel -10. I’m sure that three extra pounds of air I put in the tires this morning was important, but I’m just now starting to feel my fingers again. All things considered, the damned sensors are more trouble than they’re worth.

3. Online Ordering. For the second time in as many weeks I’ve called to check on orders with two separate companies only to find that “oh, there was a problem processing the payment.” That’s not a huge deal, of course, but it would have been useful if they had at least made an effort to contact me and let me know the thing I was expecting to show up wasn’t on the move to its destination. No email. No phone call. Not a word until I went sniffing around wondering why shipping a package out suddenly took almost a week. A little basic customer service is all I expect. Just a touch. The tiniest show of interest would be appreciated… but that’s clearly a bridge too far.

I got mine the hard way…

So I was sitting in a meeting a few days ago (because that seems to be my professional raison d’être). I won’t go into the specifics of the discussion, but the general topic was the virtue of in person training versus “virtual” training delivered online. As I was only tangentially involved in the discussion, I quickly found myself engrossed in whatever notes I had previously scribbled onto my yellow legal pad.

What pulled my attention back into the conversation was a crack out of nowhere about not really thinking of academic excellence from people who get online degrees. Now what you should do when someone five steps above you on the org chart says something that ruffles your sensibilities is sit quietly and do absolutely nothing, lest in responding you incur their wrath. Sadly, as many of you know, sitting quietly and keeping my mouth shut is something I tend to struggle with on an almost daily basis.

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t go to Harvard, or Columbia, or the Wharton School of Business. I took my classes one at a time in the evenings and on weekends, while working full time, and traveling 2-3 weeks each month because that’s what Uncle said he needed me to do… so if you want to talk to me about academic excellence, I’ll be happy to go a few rounds with you on the virtue of an online education. Now I can be as elitist as anyone else, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m the one who got mine the hard way and if that doesn’t satisfy your century old notion about what constitutes “real” education, well that’s ok because I’ll be around long after your Paleolithic point of view is consigned to the pages of history.

I could have said more on the issue. That part of me that likes a good fight desperately wanted to go a dozen rounds, but I had to satisfy myself with looking an individual in the eye and telling them that as the holder of one of these online degrees, I didn’t feel educationally slighted in the least. I scored my point, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying. I didn’t want an apology or even a “present company excluded.” I simply wanted to provide a gentle reminder than no matter how high and mighty, it’s always best to know your audience before firing off at the mouth and losing credibility in the eyes of those who you would lead.