What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Random IT issues. I was issued a perfectly decent laptop a month or two ago. When I shut it down Friday evening and tucked it away for the weekend it was running just fine. For some reason, when I booted it up on Monday morning, I found it had turned into an underpowered and sclerotic piece of shit for no obvious reason. Opening files or programs took minutes. Some, like VPN never did work. I managed to limp along using webmail for a while, but eventually that too stopped working. After some begging and pleading to pull my helpdesk ticket forward in the queue and making an unplanned trip in to the office for our IT types to poke and prod at it a bit, the issue “seems to have resolved itself.” Look, I’m thrilled and happy to be able to function again, but I have no confidence at all that this has been a one-off incident and won’t now start happening at the most inconvenient possible moments.

2. Jorah. Before anyone gets up in arms, let me explain… I love my sweet, slightly neurotic boy, but the least little unanticipated sound sends him rushing the front window in a fit of barking rage. That’s fine enough, if not something to be outright encouraged most of the time. Where this tendency of his gets us into trouble is when the people across the street are in the middle of a major project to re-landscape their front yard. Then, it’s constant noise and movement that draws his loud and undivided attention. This, of course, does not bode well to how he’s going to respond when all the banging and foot traffic is coming from inside his own house. Yeah. That’s gonna be some good times.

3. Erdogan. Turkey’s president is threatening to torpedo the application of Sweden and Finland to join NATO. He’s accused them both as being “home to terrorists.” I’m not an expert on Turkish terror, but since it’s Erdogan doing the talking, I can only assume what we’re seeing is a good old-fashioned shakedown. Now that Turkey’s president has planted his flag, I’m expecting that way below the radar, someone from the State Department will swoop in with a big bag of cash or a novelty-sized check, and for reasons that aren’t discussed in front of the media, Turkey will quietly reverse its position. Failing that, there’s always the option of going with a stick – where the U.S. will have to threaten to withhold something that Erdogan wants in order to get his capitulation. Maybe it’ll be a combination of the two, but letting the tin pot dictator of Turkey dictate terms to the rest of NATO just feels like bad policy overall. 

An environmentalist…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the first of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

In my own way, I’m an environmentalist. I’m not the kind of wackadoodle hippy that ties himself to the high branches of a tree to stop logging or only eats soy because cows fart too much. Still, I believe one of the greatest dangers facing the world today is the almost eight billion of us extracting resources from the planet at an unprecedented rate.

I enjoy nature so much that one of the key points in picking the house I currently live in wasn’t just the structure, but its location adjacent to protected state owned and conservation easement land as well as that the neighborhood covenants and restrictions placing strict limits on the amount of the “natural woodland” on each lot that can be removed for development. I lived in one of those clear cut subdivisions with nothing by lawn and pavement as far as the eye could see once and never will again. 

None of the above is probably controversial, but here’s where I’m going to lose my Republican friends: In addition to generally enjoying the outdoors, I believe global climate change is an existential threat to civilization. 

Like any other large problem we’ve ever faced, the fact is, we can fix this. The catch is, of course, it means that many things have to change – not the least of which is transitioning away from using fossil fuels. Those systems were built up over two centuries and (to agitate my environmentalist friends) I don’t expect we can reasonably expect to simply turn them off over two years or even twenty. The sooner we start implementing real solutions to mitigate climate change the better off we’re going to be – if only because the longer we wait to take it seriously, the larger will be the cost and greater the drag on the economy.

Getting a grip on climate change isn’t just for the benefit of people. If it were, I’d probably shrug it away, because people are the cause I’m least inclined to get behind. I mean have you met people? We’re collectively awful. If I’m inappropriately honest, I’m far more troubled by the impact of our continued behavior on the whales and the fishes and the turtles and the apes and the polar bears and the big cats and the birds and the whole host of small mammals whose habitat we’re systematically destroying, cutting up, and constricting. I’ll take my chances with a mass die off of people, but the animals never did anything to us.

I’m not optimistic that there’s the political or social will to get our arms around the sheer volume of things that need fixing. The more likely course of events in my mind is that the climate will continue to shift and at least some of us will find ourselves living in a world that’s much more violent, far less productive, and considerably less populated by creatures great and small.

Breaking in the new equipment…

So, I got a fancy new laptop from work last week. Let me lead off by saying overall it’s a tremendous improvement from the five-year-old laptop I was previously saddled with using. That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t a few issues.

The first, which I discovered on my first full day of using the laptop away from its “docking station” on my desk at the office, is that there are only two USB ports. Those ports are arranged in such a way that it’s impossible to simultaneously plug in my removable Wi-Fi adapter and any other USB device. The adapter is slightly wider than a thumb drive… but sufficiently wide that it makes the second port unusable. Fine. A $13 USB hub ordered from Amazon later (plus $2.99 for same day delivery) and I can now use my air card and a mouse simultaneously. I won’t comment on the aesthetics of that whole set up other than saying it looks like absolute trash sitting on my desk at home. 

This morning, a piece of software I use all day every day fired up as expected and a few minutes later promptly disappeared. It’s as if it never existed on my machine at all. No trace of it anywhere. 

This necessitated a call to the obviously misnamed “Enterprise Help Desk.” The gentleman I eventually spoke to was nice enough, going so far as musing that it was strange because the last person he talked to was having the same issue with the same missing program. More people with the same problem might sound like it’s worse, but in fact being part of a big problem is much better, because something that impacts many users is far more likely to get attention than if you’re the odd man out in the wilderness somewhere. If it’s a group problem, it might actually get fixed. If it’s an individual problem there’s a pretty even shot that your ticket will just linger long enough for someone to mark it complete regardless of whether they’ve solved your problem or not.

Here I am, hoping that I really am part of the many rather than the few. In the meantime, I’ve been directed to the web version of the program that I need to use all day. Honestly, if there’s anything more problematic than not having the software you need, relying on its underpowered web version is it. As always, my standard disclaimer applies… if Uncle wants me to be able to do something, I’ll be given the resource to do it. Otherwise, I’ll cheerfully report that there’s nothing significant to report or that we just can’t get there from here.

On the up side, at the rate we upgrade our office technology, I could have as few as one more new computer to go before I call it a full career. So, I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

An awful lot of time…

Sitting in the office all day gives you time to think.

It gives you time to think about smelling other people’s meals, and listening to their phone conversations, and their wandering around from cube to cube looking for an ear to bend, and the hour wasted traveling to and then another hour wasted going from that monument to early 20th century management philosophy.

Yes, sir, sitting in the office gives you an awful lot of time to think.

I’m quite sure there are people out there who are dying to get back to the office full time. God knows there will be plenty of senior leaders who can’t wait to get back to preening in front of town hall meetings and capacity crowds conferences – and seeing their toiling minions stacked elbow to asshole across whole floors filled with cubicles.

More than anything, though, sitting in the office is full of time to think about how utterly ridiculous it is to sit in an office when every single touch point of your day involves email, phone calls, and shuffling electronic information from one place to another. If you’re heart doesn’t seeth with just a little bit of rage knowing it could all be accomplished from any place on the globe with a reliable internet connection and a cell phone, well, I’m not entirely sure you’re thinking about work as a product and not as some kind of half-assed social activity.

As long as those running the show put as much or more premium on the quasi-social elements like maintaining a “corporate culture” and the farcical notion that “real” communication can only happen face to face, no amount of real world evidence seems likely to move the needle away from 1950s ideas of what working looks like.

There’s still no formal guidance on what the new and improved “return to work” plan will look like here in the belly of the bureaucracy. I’m told they’re working on an updated plan at echelons higher than reality. If precedent is prologue, I’ll expect this new plan to cleave as close as humanly possible to exactly how things were done in the Before Times and ignore as much as possible the last two years happened at all.

The way we used to…

My Facebook feed has been flooded over the last week or two with “promoted” articles heralding the end of the Great Plague… notwithstanding the fact that the case rate remains 2/3 of what it was at the peak of the “second wave” in the fall of 2021. Admittedly, we’re well off the highs seen at the peak of the omicron variant, so that’s something. 

The articles I’ve seen have a few things in common. They all want everything to go “back to normal.” Like New York’s new mayor, they want to see office buildings filled to the rafters and busy hot dog carts on every corner. I get it. There’s intense pressure from politicians, landlords, and service sector business owners that have seen taxes and profits slashed over the last two years while information workers realized they can conduct business from anywhere.

Mayor Adams argues that by not working from the office, people are not going to the drycleaner, or restaurants, or spending money on other services. That feels like a bit of a specious argument. I’m still doing most of those things, but I’m doing them and spending that money in the community where I live rather than at places that are in geographic proximity to a random office building. It sounds a lot like the arguments of “back to work” proponents like Mayor Adams boil down to wanting to get back to treating office workers as cash cows versus presenting an argument for why it’s in any way beneficial for them to go back to spending 40 or more hours a week sitting in a cubicle. 

A million years ago when I was boss, I had team members all over the damned country. While I sat in west Tennessee, others sat in Texas, Illinois, and Virginia. For all practical purposes we were all “working remotely” from each other even if we happened to be working in an office building. The trick was, as long as the work got done, I didn’t care where they were physically sitting, or if they took a two-hour lunch, or if they knocked off early on a Friday afternoon. In my mind, it’s about the work, not about taking attendance like some kind of 19th century schoolmarm. 

When politicians, business leaders, and managers, tell me they want everything to be normal again, they’ve obviously got their own axe to grind. I suspect they’re missing the larger point, though. There’s a pretty large subset of high value employees who are no longer going to be satisfied schlepping into an office every day just because that’s what used to be normal… and management is going to run an unanticipated risk in trying to jam that recently squared peg back into a round hole. 

To put in another way, there’s no reason to expect “normal again” will mean we’ll do everything the way we used to. The sooner that sinks in, the better.

My after Christmas list…

I couple of nights ago I noticed my iPad wasn’t holding a charge quite as well as it used to. The cover is pretty tatty and the aluminum housing is scratched and scraped. Every now and then it even stumbles trying to render a website. 

I didn’t think much about it until it popped up a notification that I was due for a software update. Poking around in settings (since I was there anyway), it dawned on me – probably not for the first time – that I was updating an almost 9-year-old piece of equipment.

I suppose that realizing that my venerable iPad Air crossed the pacific in 2013 made me a bit more forgiving of some of its latest foibles. With a little effort, I’m sure I could keep it limping along another few years, but I think maybe it really is time for an upgrade.

Yet another thing to be added to my after Christmas list. That should give me enough time to properly convince myself it’s a need and not just a want.

More of the same…

It’s the 3rd working day of certain applications not being worth a damn. That’s five days if you count the intervening weekend.

Today, the app in questions has been up, down, partially up, partially down, throwing off errors when it is up and generally being an absolute nightmare to use. 

Despite all that, I just about managed to catch up on processing through two solid work days of backlog… even with the sonofawhore fighting me every step of the way. Thank the gods that the computer has made everything so much easier for information workers.

I’m trying very hard to remember the things that I have absolutely no control over… but I also will not be checking my blood pressure this evening. Who’d have guessed being a bit player in the most technologically advanced fighting force in the broad sweep of human history would be so rage educing? 

A $15 Rolex…

There’s one web-based application that is an indispensable part of the job I was nominally doing today. The trouble is, that app went out of service at about noon yesterday and didn’t come back online until an hour before I punched out for the day today. I’m reasonably good, but cramming 12 hours of work into the last hour of a Friday afternoon isn’t going to happen.

As a tiny cog in our wealthy uncle’s great green machine, I’m no stranger to sitting around with my thumb up my ass. Life in the bureaucracy guarantees you’ll spend a not insignificant amount of time in that position.

I have to wonder, though, if we’re really as dependent on networks, and systems, and processes that are apt to create single points of failure repeatedly, why haven’t we come up with a way for these systems to be redundant or develop some method of continuing to get the job done when the computers don’t work. As it sits now, all it means is a 24 hour backlog waiting for someone (read: me) to clear it out on Monday. That’s assuming the great network administrators in the sky really finished whatever voodoo ceremony was necessary to fix things permanently. That doesn’t even begin to account for the inevitable bitching and complaining from echelons higher than reality wondering why everything is taking so long, suspenses were missed, and we’ve given the distinct impression of not having done a damned thing for almost two full days.

Thank God my terminal doesn’t launch the nukes or make sure a reactor gets shut down safely, because from where I’m sitting the whole creaking edifice feels about as reliable as a $15 Rolex.

A 90% solution…

Since moving into this house, I’ve spent a decent amount of time pondering home automation, or more specifically how the home’s systems can work for me rather than me working for them. Some things are fairly straight forward – like heating and cooling. Even there, though, I’m using my fancy wifi-enabled, sensing thermostat as a simple programmable controller. It turns out the location of my thermostat in the main hallway didn’t get enough passing traffic for the thing to ever get a proper sense of when I’m home versus when I’m not. It also never really grasped my version of what constitutes a comfortable indoor temperature. It ended up being more useful to build my preferences directly into the program and then lock it in rather than hope the smart system would smarten up. My phone gives me a reminder on Sunday evenings to tweak the plan to account for planned schedule changes in the week ahead. The trend leaders would roll their eyes at this version of “automation,” but it works for me.

Lighting is the other bit of the puzzle that I’ve opted to keep dead easy basic. The new automated lighting systems can let you manage “scenes” throughout the house. It looks slick as hell on HGTV or YouTube. It’s also a thousand miles beyond what I need my lights to do. My favor of simplicity is driven by a single factor – I’m fanatically committed to my routine. That means most of my needs are met by old fashioned mechanical timers rather than connected fixtures. It doesn’t cover a few things like the task lighting in the kitchen or the overhead lights in the bathroom, but overall lights start turning on five or ten minutes before I get out of bed in the morning and then proceed, switching on and off room by room, as I go though the day. True automation, would gain me the ability to fine tune things a bit – and control light sources other than lamps – but I can’t see how that additional utility would be worth the cost of making the transition.

When it comes down to it, I don’t generally need fully connected, internet of things home automation. I’ve survived 43 years of my toaster not talking to my refrigerator and I don’t see much gain for enabling them to do so… and I’m old enough to be absolutely horrified at the thought of my front door lock being controlled from somewhere in the cloud. Maybe if I get the chance to build a last and final house, I’ll bring in more automation – things that make sense when built in from the ground up. For now, I’m leaning hard into my routine – and accepting the 90% solution priced out at $25 opposed to an “automation” solution that could easily have run to the thousands of dollars. I might never have a properly automated home, but I’ll have one that operates “just so,” and that feels like the real goal here.

Cynical and jaded…

My laptop took 90 minutes to boot up this morning. Combined with the more than an hour it took to get access to our primary workspace, that put me about three hours into the workday before I could really even start “working.” That’s the point at which I realized that thanks to some very helpful new “improvements,” I didn’t have access to one of the email boxes I need to do my actual job.

The whole thing got mostly unfucked sometime after I’d have usually gone to lunch, so now you can add general hangeryness to the mix of what was stupid today. Add it atop all the things, unseen, piling up in the mailbox I’m supposed to be working out of today. They were all things piling up on me, because I’m the designated stuckee for the next week, so there’s no reprieve in knowing I can just pass the buck to the next sucker who comes along.

The very best part of today is that even though all my systems are now “working,” in order to send an reply from Mailbox #1, I first have to copy the body of the email and the intended recipients into a Word document, close Mailbox #1, open Mailbox #2, paste in the reply itself and the rest of the email thread, manually build the distribution list, hit send, close Mailbox #2, reopen Mailbox #1, and hope the reply shows up. All told, something that should be as easy as sending email could take 5-10 minutes per message depending on how slowly the software opens and the size of the distribution list. There’s a recurring report on Monday with upwards of 100 recipients. It may be the only thing I get done before lunch.

Normally I roll my eyes at coming to the office to do things I could just as easily do from home. Today, of course, I spent a large portion of the day not even able do those things. If you ever find yourself thinking I’m too cynical or jaded, I promise you, it’s all for cause.