Neutrality…

​With our political and media celebrities having trouble keeping their dicks in their pants, the possible end of Net Neutrality is something that’s not getting as much coverage as it probably should.

There’s a big part of me that generally favors deregulation. Having worked under and been responsible for writing government regulations, I can attest that they often have a certain stifling effect on whatever they touch. I also recognize that “the internet” isn’t some ubiquitous “thing” that sprung into existence in nature. It’s a network that exists because companies went out and designed, built, installed, and maintain the infrastructure that has come to deliver us the connectivity we know and love. The “net” in net neutrality, then, is underpinned by a whole lot of businesses that spent a whole lot of money based on the assumption that they’d make massive amounts of profit by doing it. You didn’t think they developed the net out of the kindness of their hearts so we could exchange funny animal memes did you?

​On the other hand, I’ve learned to despises Comcast with the burning fire of a thousand suns don’t want to give them any more control over the internet or give them and the other cable/intent providers the chance to bleed me for even more money every month than they’re already getting. It’s a painfully interesting case of self interest versus governing philosophy.

​Google, Apple, and the rest of Big Tech are arrayed against Comcast and the companies who own the “pipes” the internet flows through. It’s not like they aren’t profiteering off our data left and right themselves, though.​ Unlike the cable companies who take their cut month by both, the tech giants skim theirs in the more subtle way of data mining and selling the personal information that we’ve all chosen to give them. Most of us choose not to notice that bit.

My bottom line is that the internet is going to be controlled by someone – some big business pursuing their own self interest in collaboration with big government who wants to keep an eye on all of us.​ Whether it’s the cable companies and monthly fees or its big tech mining our personal information, probably doesn’t make much difference in the end.​

So which side do I fall down on? I don’t know yet. It feels a lot like picking the lesser of So What or Who Cares when it’s really just picking which set of companies will run the show for the foreseeable future.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The “Help Desk.” I converted to Windows 10 a week ago. I immediately filed a “trouble ticket” with the great big national help desk in the sky to address issues that were obvious immediately – I can’t use two monitors, file encryption prevents me from editing and saving documents, and using my computer to project a briefing onto a screen is problematic at best. Fortunately I’m not an information sector employee who uses his computer to generate and manipulate information into a coherent format to be used by others in decision making. Thank sweet merciful Jesus that the ticket has been “assigned to a local technician.” Now if after only a week someone could actually work on fixing the damned infernal machine and make it work properly we’d be all set.

2. News cycle. We have a TV in our office that runs all day every day on one of the major news networks. Being situationally aware is all well and good, but except for a rare moment of actual breaking news, what you find very quickly is the news at 9AM sounds a lot like news at 11 AM which sound a lot like the news at 2PM… and round and round we go. I’m all for some kind of background noise, but by the time I get out of that room I don’t care how compelling a news day it has been, I’ve utterly and completely stopped caring about what’s going on in the world. It seems to me a sane person can only hear the same thing repeated three or four hundred times before it starts doing bad things to their head.

3. Paying by credit card. Every website on the planet wants you to “save your credit card on file so they can auto renew your service next year.” That makes perfect sense for services that I use on a recurring basis. It’s a good theory. In a world where credit card providers have their networks being breached on a quarterly basis, though, in some cases I have three new card numbers assigned long before the yearly subscription runs out and it’s time to auto-renew. So really what I need all these companies to do is to stop giving me the option of saving my account / automatically renewing my subscriptions because we both know I’m still going to have to come back and enter all that shit on your page again since it’s all changed anyway.

Slide monkey…

Being the designated slide monkey, there are an outsized number of meetings I sit in for no other reason than they need someone well trained and fully capable of hitting the forward arrow and advancing to the next slide. I’m mostly resigned to that being my fate for the foreseeable future. Whatever. As long as the checks don’t start bouncing, what the hell do I care about how my time is allocated, right?

Human Chess.jpg

It’s a rare day when something in a meeting catches me off guard. This last couple of weeks, though, has been a string of exactly that – surprise piled on surprise. Today I had the distinction of being designed “the human forward arrow.” This distinction comes along with the mission of flipping the three foot by five foot printed foam core posters that we’ll be using this week to replace the information that every other office on the planet would present using some kind of electronic presentation tool.

I’m fairly sure that this isn’t what anyone meant when they said we should think about briefing information without using PowerPoint. Taking what would be projected on three 60-inch monitors and printing it on one 60-inch poster doesn’t quite feel like fully embracing the call to do things differently.

Then again, what do I know. I’m just this meeting’s equivalent of a pawn on a human chess board.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Garbage equipment. To be fair, the equipment might not be complete garbage when it’s new in the box, but as soon as we open ‘er up and layer on security software and forbid users to have even basic administrative abilities on the machine, we’ve got equipment that behaves as if it’s old and slow and generally garbage. I know I don’t need the most current performance model for what I do, but it would be awfully convenient to have a computer that didn’t require a thirty minute start, restart, restart cycle at least once a week. The alternative is to stop asking for finished products or any information at all for at least the first half hour of any given weekday.

2. Random sickness. I labor under no delusions of being what anyone might describe as a “healthy person.” I’m fat. My blood pressure is high. I enjoy red meat and liquor. Knowing all that, there are some sicknesses that quite frankly come with the territory. It’s the ones that sneak in from nowhere, pummel your ass for 12-48 hours and then disappear that really piss me off. Setting in before a guy has time to plan for them and then disappearing before they can justify taking a sick day feels like being cheated somehow.

3. Common sense. I’m not convinced that the person who originated the phrase “common sense” ever spent any time actually interacting with the average human being. If they had, they’d have known that there is absolutely nothing common about people following even the most basic patterns of logic or decency. I’d be willing to go so far as to say that in general, people aren’t capable of either identifying or following their own self interest let alone applying some basic rules for living in civil society. Implying otherwise is something between farce and an outright lie perpetrated n the English language.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Forgetting Tuesday. So as it turns out, when I have more than two days off I lose all sense of time and do things like completely forget to write a blog post in the middle of the week. Since the chances of finding too many four-day weekends in the course of a year is slim to none, I’m not worried that this will become a regular occurrence… but really any deviation from the normal schedule is enough to make me just a little bit twitchy, especially when it’s something as built into the daily schedule as writing. Maybe we are all entitled to an occasional misfire, but I like to think my inner sense of consistency is stronger than that. Apparently it is not.

2. Luddites. I work from home one day a week. To make that possible I rely on a lot of decades-old technology such as email and the telephone to stay connected to the home office. When I discover that my normal day for working at home is going to be shanghaied because I’m “needed” at the office, that usually translates into having to have someone available to flip the slides. That’s fine. Whatever. But when you’re going to want to do things like that could you please not let me find out that the person we’re staging this meeting for will be talking to us from his car on the way to some other meeting while I drag myself in to the office to huddle around a single land line like a congress of latter-day Luddites. If only there were a fancy device that let people hear voice communication from more than once location simultaneously instead of trying to pretend we exist in a universe where the best solution is two tin cans and a bit of string.

3. The oblivious. There are any number of awkward things that can happen in the modern office. Of them, the one that annoys me the most is probably the people who have no natural sense of when a conversation has hit it’s logical conclusion. They just continue to stand there looking at you as if you’re supposed to stop the world and entertain them for whatever duration their attention span can muster. Look, even when I’m not pressed for time, I don’t want to spend any significant part of the day in idle chatter. I’m just not that social. If you’re that desperate for social interaction, hit me up on instant messenger like a normal human being. I can work with that. But please, for the love of all the gods, don’t just stand there with your arms draped over my cube wall hoping that I’m suddenly going to get chatty. And yet I’d be the asshole if I just looked directly at someone and told them to go the fuck away.

Today in history…

I had planned for today to be one of those most rare of occurrences where I make two blog posts on the same day. First and foremost, it’s Thursday and regardless of what else Thursday might be it’s a time for What Annoys Jeff this Week. If you came here tonight hoping for your daily does of what three things annoyed the hell out of me this week, sadly you can’t read them because WordPress completely overwrote that post a few minutes ago.

However, all is not lost because in addition to the weekly spectacular that is WAJTW, this particular Thursday is also important for many other reasons.

First and foremost on June 1, 1495 Scotch whisky appears in the Exchequer (tax) rolls of Scotland for the very first time. If that doesn’t make it a red letter date worthy of celebration, I don’t know what does, really.

On June 1, 2011 I made the 879 mile drive from Memphis to Maryland for the last and final time. That was a big deal.

On June 1, 2015 I discovered that the basement of the new house I’d so eagerly purchased leaked like submarine with a screen door in anything harder than a drizzle – triggering ten thousand dollars in unplanned back yard renovation work to correct and landing my plan for fancy new master bathroom on the indefinite hold pile.

More important than any of those past events, perhaps, is that June 1, 2017 marks exactly 18 years until I’m eligible to retire and begin my life as a proper hermit on some far off mountaintop hideaway.

Oh, yeah, and as many of you have sussed out through various means, it’s also my birthday, so I guess there’s that. I appreciate all the kind words and texts and emails and calls. You guys are just the best.

The dark art of staff work…

For going on fifteen years now, I’ve heard how PowerPoint is making us stupid and is at least a contributing factor in people not being developing actual communication skills. In fact, there was quite a kerfuffle back in 2010 about a brave lieutenant colonel who was booted out of Afghanistan for daring to admit he spent his days in “endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information.”

That’s the kind of snark we appreciate here at jeffreytharp.com, but it is not the kind of truth-laden sarcasm that is much appreciated by most at echelons higher than reality. There are a few exceptions though, officers like H. R. McMaster (now National Security Advisor) and James Mattis (now Secretary of Defense) are both well-known critics of PowerPoint. Mattis, has gone so far as noting that “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” McMasters, more diplomatically, notes that “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control… Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

Although these two leading lights are notable exceptions to an establishment that has drawn PowerPoint into an ever closer embrace, they are the exceptions (even now almost a decade later). The sad fact of the matter is that when it comes to staff work on an average day, he who controls the PowerPoint controls the meeting – the flow of information, what gets presented and what doesn’t make the cut, how far (if at all) in advance someone will get an early version of whatever information is hiding in plain sight on those slides.

Information, you see, no matter how badly displayed on a conference room wall, really is the coin of the realm. It’s precious and is so very often guarded jealousy by those who have it against those who want it.

As a staffer in the belly of the beast it’s my job to make those slides say whatever the boss thinks they need to say. It’s not so much about the truth as crafting the message in such a way that nothing comes as a surprise, the rough edges are rubbed smooth, and the viewer is carefully guided away from information someone doesn’t necessarily want them to have or questions they’d really prefer the person being briefed not ask. I find it’s generally helpful if you suspend disbelief and go along with the program. Making waves won’t necessarily get you in trouble, but it will make your life just that little bit harder than it would have been otherwise.

There’s a bit of a dark art to doing staff work – and the better you do it, the darker that art becomes and blossoms well beyond your individual ability to make a PowerPoint briefing dazzle. In fact, the dark art of staff work feels like something that might just be worth talking about in a companion volume to Nobody Told Me… if I can just sit down and muster up the internal fortitude to actually do the writing.