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.

Hard and fast rules…

I came across this post as a stray draft a few days ago. I have no idea if I published it before or if it’s something I wrote that has been sitting in electronic purgatory for months or years. If I have posted it previously, it’s something that bears repeating. If I haven’t, it’s a post that’s deserves its moment in the sun.

In any case, here I present the following few hard and fast rules to live by that I’ve learned while serving as a cog in the vast recesses of the bureaucracy:

1. You can do it all.

2. You can’t do it all at the same time.

3. Timelines are meaningless and largely serve just to take up additional space in a PowerPoint slide deck.

4. Planning is, at best, a work of educated fiction.

5. At that moment when things seem to be working well, the wheels are about to fall off, the engine to catch fire, and the transmission explode, so don’t get cocky, kid.

6. There’s no such thing as “idiot-proof.” The world strives to always produce bigger and better idiots.

7. There’s no good work you can do that a general officer can’t undo with an offhand remark.

8. People rarely get the justice they deserve.

9. All projects can be a combination of fast, cheap, and good… but you can only have two at any given time, so choose wisely.

10. When all else fails, when you think the situation can’t possibly go any further downhill, when not even the third reorganization in eighteen months gets the results you hoped for, look out, because things can always, always get worse.

Strange new world…

This presidential election can’t seem to help itself from turning into a shitshow on the global stage. As if to add an exclamation point to the idea that neither of our two major parties has their act together, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee is being forced to resign due to emails pillaged from a not-nearly-secure-enough server and published online. If I were the candidate of that party, knowing that my own emails are susceptible to the same treatment, my pucker factor would be ratcheting up pretty significantly right now.

I can’t be alone in seeing the grand irony of leaked email being the thing that so bedevils the Democratic Party, can I? Like others, I assumed emails would be the undoing of the candidate instead of the party boss. That may or may not still be true, of course, especially now with rumors rampant that a foreign power was involved in making these specific emails public in an effort to influence an American election.

Each day the world becomes a less certain place. The old rules continue to hold less of a grip. All I know for sure is that it’s a long way to November. I won’t even try to guess what real and fictitious information may come to light between now and then. It’s a strange new world.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The confidence of youth. I’m not saying that I don’t still have a ragingly high level of confidence in my own abilities, but that confidence has been tempered with the experience of so many things that should be simple to do becoming a giant triple-stacked shit sandwich right in my hands. Occasionally it’s because of something I either did or failed to do, but more often it’s because of outside influences over which I have little or no control. Occasionally now I see a young project leader, eyes bright with possibilities, charge through a meeting as if nothing could possibly go wrong. I chuckle to myself, but I also feel a little bit sorry for him because I already know what the next act looks like. Experience is a harsh teacher and while those occasional flops have made me better over time, every now and then I miss the swaggering confidence of youth and a time when I was slightly less cynical about everything.

2. Things beyond my control. Believe it or not, I don’t think of myself as being much of a control freak. Most of life is pure reaction to those things we don’t foresee or exert any control over. While willing to accept that I can’t possibly control for and plan against every conceivable circumstance, I do like to imagine that I can bring some semblance of order to my little section of a chaotic world. I’m also enough of a realist to know that order begins to break down just as soon as it’s established and keeping a veneer of control in life takes all manner of effort on a pretty consistent basis. Knowing that there are a multitude of things beyond my control and being willing to accept those things just now is feeling like more of a tall order than usual. Maybe I need to sign up for some kind of master class in Zen and the fine art of acceptance.

3. Not being surprised. I’m a bit befuddled that anyone is somehow surprised that there’s a set of rules for the wealthy and powerful and another for the rest of us. It hardly seems like news that a long time politician “somehow” managed to get away with actions that would cause the average employee to lose their job, be barred from future employment, and possibly go to prison. While I’m certainly as outraged as anyone at the lies, deceit, and in my opinion outright criminal behavior foisted upon the public by a high profile politician, I can’t for a moment say that I’m surprised that the official consequence of those behaviors is absolutely nothing. If this is the kind of thing that surprises you, there’s a fair chance you’re just not paying close enough attention to the world.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Everything being bad for you. Sunscreen is bad for you. Sun burns are bad for you. GMO crops feed the world, but they’ll make your kid grow a tail. Egg whites are ok. Egg yellows steal your soul or some such foolishness. As much as I appreciate living in an age of seemingly limitless information, I need to break down one cold, simple truth: We’re all going to die. Some will die young. Some will die old. It’s been that way forever and there’s no current way around it. Everything is bad for you. Everything in the world is trying to make you sick and speed you to your grave… As much as I appreciate people who honestly want to live a healthy lifestyle I just don’t have the mental energy to worry about whether the tomatoes at the Amish market was raised without pesticides or antibiotics in a free range, organic environment. Maybe it should concern me more, but it really, really doesn’t.

2. Delmarva Power. Yes I know I can save money on “peak savings” days by turning off my air conditioner between the hours of 2PM and 8PM when demand is highest. No, I’m not going to do that, though. Your job is to produce and distribute power to satisfy demand – yes even on the hot days – so no I won’t be sweating my ass off in my own home on the next 97 degree day so you can avoid lighting off the last few boilers or skip buying energy from a 3rd party producer. I’ll keep doing my job so I can pay the bills, you go ahead and do yours so we don’t unexpectedly plunge back into the 1870s.

3. Manual signature required. We’re in the year AD 2015. It defies imagination that there is still a situation where I would have to print something out, sign it with a pen, scan it, and then send it back to someone in order for something to be “official.” It’s even more fanciful when we decide to send the same document around for electronic signature “so we have both on file.” Two exact copies of the same document. One signed by pen and then sent back electronically, the other signed by ID card and then sent back electronically… both then printed out and stuffed into a manila folder to be deposited in a file drawer and then not to see the light of day for potentially a decade or more. The fact that this is still how we do things is, sadly, not at all a cause for surprise.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Drivers who think they can, but really can’t. Look, I like speed. I have the tickets and warnings to prove it. Generally I feel as safe with my own driving at 85 as I do at 25. Sadly, I can’t say I have the same level of confidence in everyone else on the road… especially the wannabe rice racer who cut the turn just a little to wide this morning and earned himself some first hand experience in how understeering is every bit as bad as oversteering . He should probably be allowed to get some kind of refund from his driving instructor. On the other hand, I have now personally seen the look of abject horror someone in a Honda Civic gets on their face when they find themselves unexpectedly traveling in the wrong lane with a Tundra bearing down on them. Hopefully he didn’t spend too long in the ditch, because that’s where he was headed when I rounded the next turn and rolled on with my morning commute.

2. Breaking my own rules. I think we all know that I hate speakerphones in an open-bay office setting. It really serves no purpose other than ratcheting up the noise level in a room that already has the acoustics of a train station. I was forced into a position of breaking my own rules today by participating in part of a call using a speakerphone in a “wide open” room. I was mortified, but it happened so fast that I couldn’t stop it. I have no other excuses. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

3. Too much of a bad thing. I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I don’t think I’ve ever attended a meeting that I didn’t want to escape from within five minutes of it starting. Sadly, my opinion doesn’t seem to carry much weight when such decisions are made. Which is how you end up with so many meetings scheduled between now and the end of the month that the “September Meeting to Discuss Issue X” has to be moved into October. You might think that means the “October Meeting to Discuss Issue X” would get cancelled. You would be wrong, because what it really means is that we should just go ahead and have two “Meetings to Discuss Issue X” in October. So as soon as the ten pre-meeting meetings for the October “September Meeting” are finished, we get to immediately start on pre-meetings for the October “October Meeting.” Clearly common sense, logic, and reason have no place here.

Priorities…

I’m a simple man. All I need for a day’s work is an Internet connection and a bottomless supply of coffee. Take one of those things away and the day is suspect at best. Take away both and there’s really not much of a reason to get out of bed. Hey, I’m perfectly happy to sit in class all day, but scheduling the class in a room where the No Food or Drink Police monitor the place like a stalag, borders somewhere between foolish and evil. If you expect people to actually stay awake and at least attempt to focus, a coffee friendly zone is pretty much a necessity. As it is, I’ll probably just spend the rest of the week in an un-caffeinated haze. Please disregard my nodding head and puddle of drool on the floor.