What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The disconnect. No, I’m not in any way annoyed by being disconnected from people. I love that shit. It’s the disconnect from the schedule that’s throwing me off. Here we sit. I know it’s Thursday because the calendar says so but it doesn’t feel like Thursday. It doesn’t feel like Monday. I’m not sure if it feels like any day at all, or whether it’s all the days and none of them simultaneously. The days have become utterly interchangeable and that’s unsettling.

2. Extra dirt. I wasn’t prepared for the extra dirt involved with being home 7 days a week. I mean it makes sense. I’ve let the dogs in and out 37 million more times than usual this week. A certain wild, young rescue dog has already churned the yard like we’re Iowa farmers preparing to plant the back fourty. The week’s rain has turned his work into a quagmire… and they’ve both been trying to drag it all directly into the house on their paws.  That more time home equals more cleaning should be surprising, but after working for the last twenty years it’s just not something I ever considered. 

3. Outlook web access.  On a normal telework day, I log in through a VPN connection and my laptop behaves just as it normally would in the office. With the crush of new people working from home this week, VPN is running near capacity. The alternative is old fashioned web mail, which works well enough for sending basic email. The catch is, it doesn’t pop up meeting reminders the way Outlook does before a schedule meeting… and that leads to a flurry of emails asking “wherrrrrrrre are youuu?!” I mean what am I supposed to do, look at the calendar and memorize the day’s schedule like some kind of ignorant savage?

Almost, but not quite halfway…

My “official” calendar in Outlook is often what could generously be called a hot mess. ​It’s filled with blocks of times for actual meetings I expect to attend, meetings that I just need to know are happening, generic reminders of when certain things are due, the full range of vacation days and doctor appointments, and often as much other information as I can cram on to them to make the days at least look productive.

As I was projecting out the schedule on some longer range projects that had known timelines stretching through next spring, when I ran across a chit I had put down long enough ago that I don’t remember doing it. Sitting there on the calendar not too deeply into 2019 was a simple block that read “Career Halfway Point” marking the temporal spot mid-way between January 13, 2003 and May 31, 2035.

I’m honestly not sure if finding this particular Easter egg has left me feeling better or worse. Better that the halfway point is a relatively close-in target now, yes. Worse, because It means there’s still slightly more asshattery ahead than there is behind.

I won’t say that time precisely flies, but it does seem to move with haste. At least that’s how it feels when considering time in long stretches – some of the individual days and weeks can feel like they’re dragging on for years all on their own. There’s a big part of me that feels unqualified glee at the idea of being over the hump. My inner pessimist in me, of course, also can’t help but note that the closer to the end we are the closer to The End we are. It’s not quite a Pyrrhic victory, but it shares a zip code.

The Land of Tomorrow…

So Wednesday has now come and mostly gone. I could say that something significant happened – that there was some high or low point that distinguished the day. I could say that, but I won’t. That’s mostly because when you stack today up against every other it was probably within spitting distance of perfectly average.

I should probably be celebrating that it wasn’t a crisis every 37 minutes, but the best I can manage is a solid “meh.” Believe me when I tell you that there is no one happier that the wheels didn’t happen to come flying off today than I am. I’m also realist enough to know that just because today was perfectly average and my lunch was not eaten by some unplanned and intensely problematical event, there’s no reason to believe that tomorrow will be more of the same.

Living day to day in a place that manages by whatever happens to be the crisis of the hour, seems to breed a cynicism that’s deep and probably fundamentally unhealthy. It leads the average days to feel like bad ones and the good ones – those days when you walk away feeling like you’ve accomplished something in spite of the system become almost mystically non-existent. They’re spread so far apart that they couldn’t possibly be real, but rather just a figment of our collective imagination.

It was a perfectly average day and should probably be glad of that… but in the back of my mind I’m stuck wondering what fresh hell is gaining strength unseen somewhere in the Land of Tomorrow.

Destined for disappointment…

Three hours. That’s the time I spent after lunch this afternoon flailing around wildly trying to figure out why my “corporate” email isn’t working. Through the good graces of an unofficial help desk POC, we seem to have narrowed it down to a problem physically contained on my computer rather than with the servers or the network. I’m not entirely sure that makes me feel better, especially since the first order of business tomorrow will be rehashing the story with the official help desk in the vain hope of getting resolution.

I always have such high hopes for technology – like it will work as it’s supposed to with a minimum of trouble. Like the high hopes I occasionally have for people, that dream seems destined for disappointment. Except I know that’s not entirely true. We bog down our computers with so much security bloatware that I’m amazed they can do anything at all. Intellectually I understand that’s a necessary evil of the age, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my work tech to perform with any less rapidity than my gmail account and home computer.

Sadly, unlike a certain major party presidential candidate, I’ve opted not to run my office through my home computer. The price I’ve had to pay in effectiveness and efficiency is at least marginally compensated by not ending up in federal prison. The high and the mighty don’t usually end up in as guests of the government at Danbury, but you can best believe I sure as hell would.

Third time’s the charm…

So far today I’ve sat down with every intention of blogging three times now. The first two obviously didn’t take. Hopefully the third time’s the charm. I’m not expecting much… and maybe that is, or at least should be the them for the post. Or the week. Or possibly even the month. In reality it’s probably been the theme for a lot longer than that.

The only times in my life I’ve ever really been let down where when I let expectations get the better of me. The best things have always come when I didn’t expect much at all, or more specifically when I was expecting the worst possible outcome. Surely that informs my approach to getting through the day. If you walk in expecting everything to be on its way to hell in a hand basket, often enough it is in fact heading that direction. Other times, though, it’s not and those moments come as a pleasant surprise.

If I can attribute my own warped sense of pessimism to anything, knowing where expectations most often lead is probably somewhere near the root cause. If only from the point of view of keeping my blood pressure more or less in check, the occasional pleasant surprise feels like a better idea than daily consistent disappointments. I seriously don’t know how anyone walks into a day full of optimism knowing that the its ration of shit is never more than a few minutes from hitting the fan. It seems like you’d be setting yourself up for a whole lot of unnecessary disappointment.

Meetings…

It’s not an official duty day without attending at least one meeting. It is, therefore, imperative that we have an effective and efficient means of coordinating who should attend and when they should arrive. If only there was a widely available and heavily used computer program that would make that possible. Oh, yeah… Outlook does that. In theory. What setting up meetings in outlook really does for us, though, is generate mass confusion surrounding any meeting that we might ever attempt to schedule. In fairness, I suppose it’s not so much an Outlook error as it is operator incompetence.

Scheduling a major meeting at our “organization” (i.e. any aggregation of more than four people) involves a process that looks something like this:

Step 1: Set up a meeting request in Outlook

Step 2: Change the time and/or date of this meeting at least three times

Step 3: Receive one or more cancelation notices

Step 4: Get three follow-up meeting requests either the same or slightly
different than the first

Step 5: Receive a reminder email from the meeting organizer two days before the meeting

Step 6: Receive a reminder phone call from the meeting organizer one dat before the meeting

Step 7: 15 minutes before the meeting receive 1-3 automatic reminders from Outlook depending on how many of the original meeting requests the organizer remembered to cancel.

Step 8: Arrive at the appointed conference room to find it empty and the lights off

Step 9: Consider the misguided series of steps that led you to your current career.

If you’re lucky, the no one else will figure out when or where the meeting is actually supposed to take place either and you’ll at least have a nice quiet conference room to hide in for a while. Quiet weeping is optional at your discretion.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Outlook…

I’ve been operating on the apparently misguided assumption that Microsoft Outlook was the standard issue email client for federal offices everywhere since the dawn of time… or at least the last 15 years, whichever came first. At least that was my assumption until I overheard this conversation this morning…

Supervisor: Your inbox filled up over the weekend. Make sure you clean it out and move large files to your archive folders so they’re not taking up space on the email server.

Employee: It’s not my fault my inbox fills up. If people didn’t wait till the last minute to send stuff in, there wouldn’t be a problem.

Supervisor: But if you move those big files out of your inbox *pointing at the screen* we can solve the problem.

Employee: But I need those files.

Supervisor: I know, but they’ll be saved in your personal files so you can still get to them.

Employee: Well, I asked to go to that Outlook class but didn’t get in. This isn’t like the old Outlook so I need training and it’s hard to get into those classes. They’re always full. I don’t know why people can’t just spread out when they send stuff in…

Sigh.

Is Outlook really so hard to use that 60 people a month are signed up for training on how to schedule meetings and set up personal folders? I’ve been using Outlook since I got my first “real” job in the summer of 2000… Not like this is exactly a new piece of software we’re dealing with here. Sure, it’s been updated a touch now and then, but it’s still the same old Outlook that it has always been.

I guess the real question in my mind isn’t so much why that many people are signed up for training as it is how someone gets to be a 40-something year old career bureaucrat without knowing how to use email?

 

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.