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.

Partial victory…

As sometimes happens when you write in advance of publication, yesterday’s post went live shortly after “breaking news” that would have changed how I approached the narrative.

My little corner of the bureaucracy has, as I write this, a spanking new telework policy wending its way through the approval process. Late yesterday afternoon it was sitting with the union bosses for their final review. Sure, it’s a union that can’t negotiate salary or benefits or extra vacation days, but there they are – one more inexplicable wicket for policies to pass through on their way to final approval.

Pending this final review and eventual signature by one of our very own star spangled gods of Olympus, I understand the new policy will allow eligible employees to work from home 40 hours out of each 80 hour pay period. That’s not quite as good a deal as the three days per week that was initially rumored, but marginally better by than the current allowance of a flat two days per week – and much improvement over the one day a week that was often the “unofficial” standard.

Would I have liked to see a new policy that went further in really minimizing the days the average person needs to spend in the office? Sure. It’s possible the next guy who sits in the big chair will look upon telework as just normal “work” by another name rather than as something new and different that is frightening and needs to be constrained as much as possible. In this deeply traditional workplace, being able to work from home half the year is a pretty significant shift in how we do business under regular order versus in plague conditions.

Call it a partial victory…. if it ever actually gets signed, of course.

Thoughts on the death of a pipeline…

I was raised in coal country. My childhood memories are punctuated with the sound of a CSX locomotive and open coal cars rumbling through the center of town. I don’t have to tax my memory to recall its whistle screaming as the engine pulled its load across the level crossing at Union Street. Those trains were as much a part of town as any of the buildings that stood overlooking the tracks. Still, they haven’t run coal south through Midland in a long time. Then again, a lot of those old buildings are gone now, too. 

My home town’s entire reason for being was to support the men who went down the mines in the 19th and 20th centuries. I grew up riding bikes in the shadow of draglines and immense tailings piles carted out of the deep mines a hundred years before I was born. Even those “coal banks,” pressed hard against the backs of the town’s two churches, are long gone following a spate of reclamation and restoration efforts made a decade or two ago. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that, for good or bad, we’re living in the closing era of the coal industry. Government – and the people – are going to demand “clean” energy options going forward.

You can rage against it all you want.  There’s no silk weaving mill in Coney anymore because it didn’t make economic sense in 1957. There’s no Kelly-Springfield plant in Cumberland because it didn’t make economic sense in 1987. There’s no Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore because it didn’t make economic sense in 2012. Maybe you see where I’m going with this line of thought.

Sure, hang on grimly to your plant or pipeline. Get out of it whatever you can in the time it has left. The oil is still going to flow – by rail or truck or one of the hundred other pipelines crisscrossing the continent. A few mines may hang on for decades yet, but the battle is over. Coal from western Maryland will never again fuel the ships of the Great White Fleet. Oil, over the next few decades, is going to be phased out. The future is ugly ass wind turbines marring every mountaintop and offshore vista and acres of solar panels where there use to be open fields.

The economy has always been built on creative destruction. It sucks when you’re on the “destruction” side of the equation. Ask the men who built wagons what happened after Henry made the car affordable to the masses. I take no pleasure in acknowledging this, because the end of this type of industry is going to have real and lasting negative impacts on my old home town and the people I know there. Pretending it’s not going to happen, or that we can somehow reverse the inexorable march towards the future isn’t going to help them, though. 

Times change. Technology evolves. King Canute couldn’t order the tide to go out and we’ll fare no better trying to resuscitate dead and dying industries and ordering the future to be an exacting continuation of the past. 

That’ll be an unpopular opinion where I’m from, but as a lifelong holder of unpopular or controversial opinions, I’m ok with that. 

New phone day…

It’s new iPhone delivery day. I’m fairly sure I’ve owned every “flagship” version of Apple’s now-venerable iPhone. The annual swap out is just kind of part of the tempo of the year now. The days when I felt compelled to get up early and stand in the dark to get one of the first out of the gate are pretty much finished. The era where new phones come with incredible new “must have” features seems to be over.

Still, I’m always just a little bit excited to get a new bit of hardware in my hands. I emphasize the hardware aspect because this morning, as I have for the last five or six upgrades, I spent some time completing a full backup of my old phone… so I could drop it wholesale into the new device. 

If I’m honest, I these upgrades are mostly just a matter of picking up a little bit of speed between clicks and a slightly better camera. I’m using the newest version of apps I’ve been using for years. I don’t know what the cool new apps are – and I mostly don’t care. This mini-computer I’ll carry around in my pocket is almost completely a platform for text messages, keeping to do lists, and taking (fairly) decent pictures of the critters to post on the “big three” social media platforms. Apollo ran on a system far less powerful, but I sheepishly confess I probably don’t use one tenth of what the thing is capable of doing. 

It turns out I’ve turned into that guy… The one who wants the latest toy because it’s the latest toy rather than anything to do with what it’s capable of doing. It feels like after all these years there must be some whiz bang function that would change my life if I only knew it existed. Maybe I should read a review or something. I probably should, but I think we all know what’s really going to happen. I’m going to go right back to using this fancy new phone the way I’ve used all its predecessors for half a decade.

Monday being Monday…

I’ve made a lot of hay on this blog by posting about other people’s fuck ups. It only seems fair that I call myself out with the same level of snark. 

You see, today I was trying to do something that should have been very simple. All I needed to do was spit a few reports out of a database, pretty them up a bit in Excel, and then pass them on. Well, the database in question was throwing errors, the info I needed just wouldn’t download. Fine, I say to myself, if I can’t automatically run a report I’ll just go in and copy/paste the information manually.

That, friends, is where the morning came off the rails. As it turns out, what I did wasn’t so much copying and pasting information into a report as it was overwriting about fifty line items in the database itself with duplicate information. Whoops.

The IT shop says they can (probably) revert all of the fields I jacked up back to their previous versions. I’ve been going about the day just pretending that they’re right… because if they’re not, I have no idea how the hell to go back and manually re-create everything that was there before I took a scythe to the data. 

In conclusion, I’m an idiot and Mondays are stupid. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. RFID. Rolling our RFID at access points was supposed to make getting to work faster and easier while reducing the manpower required to make sure everyone showing up is actually supposed to be there. Over the last two weeks of the roll out period, seven of ten attempts to use the fancy new “no touch” pass system failed to function properly. It didn’t work and ended up being about two times slower than it would have been if I’d have used the regular access lanes. EZ Pass makes it work on the interstate at 70 miles an hour for anyone with a transponder from a dozen different states, but we can’t seem to figure it out in a limited deployment under controled circumstances at five miles per hour. To quote General Beringer in War Games, “After very careful consideration, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.”

2. Human feelings. Its been a year since I made the decision that any further treatment for Winston was really just me staving off the inevitable while making him suffer for my own benefit. I’m just now getting to a point where I can look at pictures or the occasional video of him without becoming a blubbering mess. Feel free to ignore me if my eyes still happen to get a bit misty from time to time. Sigh. Human emotions are dumb and I’d like to have mine removed, please.

3. Finding “no.” I am a professional bureaucrat. Over the better part of two decades I have learned many useful tips and tricks. One of them, most assuredly, is how to use process and procedure to slow progress on an ill advised adventure to a bare crawl. Believe me when I say that I know how to run out the clock with the best of them. Sometimes, though, a project is going to take wing no matter how ill advised or badly developed the concept. It’s such a high priority to someone that it’s going to happen. Once a special someone is committed on that course of action, what I need the master bureaucrats to do is fall their asses in line and manufacture ways to find yes instead of laying down every possible hurdle. I see what you’re doing. I know those tricks, So please, get the fuck out of here with that douchbaggery just this one time.

On having the talent, but lacking the tools…

I haven’t had access to one of our internal networks in over two months. I haven’t been able to print since Friday morning. For the last week, Outlook demands that I enter my pin three times before allowing me to send an email. My workload is spiraling upwards at an exponential rate while I’m being told that I can’t use the resources that have been successfully brought to bear on the exact same issues for the better part of the last decade. 

I am, however, being given as much “assistance” as I can drink from echelons higher than reality who have at long last decided to pay attention now, versus six months ago when their participation might have in some way proven useful. 

Management is always going to be management. There’s no hope to reform it.

But expecting basic office technology to do something that approximates working doesn’t feel like it should be a goddamned bridge too far. It is, of course. It’s a bridge way, way too far. 

It’s during these moments I can absolutely understand some people’s impulse to live life inside a bottle or pop every pill. If anyone needs me I’ll be over here trying not to have a stroke, a nervous breakdown, or possibly both simultaneously. 

Personal growth or something…

I’ve got two months left on my current iPhone Upgrade Program replacement cycle. I could buy my way out of those last two months for about $60 and sign up Friday morning for a spanking new iPhone 11 in hopes of getting it on launch day. It’s tempting… and there was a time it would have been an absolute no brainer. I’d have been one of the first 50 through the door on release day to make sure I got the one I wanted.

The days of me wanting anything badly enough to stand in line in the middle of the night, though, seem to be well over. I still like new and shiny, but I prefer to acquire it during normal business hours. I guess you could call that personal growth or something.

Of course it’s not so much growth that’s going to keep me from walking in to the local Apple Store sometime around the end of October and swapping out the 10 for the 11… and another year of renting the latest iPhone. Even if all they did was make the camera even better, it’s worth the price of admission as far as I’m concerned. Even if it’s not also worth the $60 premium to buy my way into the upgrade on release weekend.

A case against modernizing…

It’s Wednesday. There would usually be a well prepared post showing up here. The time I had allocated for that today was supposed to be immediately after my 12:30 appointment with the dentist. That would have been fine except for the part where what should have been about an hour or 75 minutes getting a crown replaced turned into a three hour and thirty minute marathon in the chair. All because the magic computer that’s supposed to scan your teeth and order up a perfectly sized crown refused to work. They couldn’t give me a temporary crown until the base for the permanent one was scanned, measured, and sent off to the manufacturer.

Twenty years ago they had a pretty efficient way of taking those measurements. They’d take a mold of the base of the tooth and then send the mold off to be processed. It might have taken a few days longer to process, but you could be in and out of the chair without killing half a damned day. All things considered, I’m not sure digitizing what use to be a straightforward and quick process has really gained us anything in this case.

As it is, I’m disgusted by the whole process. Rather than writing a whole diatribe, though, I think I’ll just stick my nose in a book and nurse this sore as hell lower jaw for a bit.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Squeakers. The level of noise in my house is probably more subdued than most. There aren’t kids screeching or multiple adults knocking around. The television or a webcast is usually running in the background just to provide some ambient sound. Maybe that’s why the sudden onset of every imaginable style of squeaky toy for dogs has left me slightly twitchy. Even with that said, I’m prepared to declare that dog toys with squeakers in them are absolutely tools of the devil, conceived in Hell itself and delivered by Amazon. If they can make whistles that only dogs can hear why can’t they rig toys to squeak in the same range? If feels like a wholly undeserved slice of the large and growing pet toy market.

2. Home Depot. Amazon has me trained, I suppose. I put in an order and two days later it ends up on my porch. Home Depot has a lot to learn from that model. I ordered something last Friday and it’s still sitting at the “order received.” A call to their customer service line gave me the stock answer that items usually ship in between 7 and 10 business days. I did, however, arrive home to find the item sitting on my front porch… even while a day later the tracking still says it’s just an “order received.” Hey, I’m happy to have it so I can get it installed over the weekend, but how the actual fuck is that an acceptable model of fulfillment in the internet age?

3. Lighting. I’ve gotten on board with some aspects of an automated home. I love my Nest thermostat. I love my security system – and it’s various environmental sensors that keep an eye out for smoke, carbon monoxide, and unexpected water in the basement. I’ve toe touched into the broader world of automated lighting – mostly using individual programmable switches and timers for various outlets and fixtures. It’s a system that works well enough given my somewhat fanatical adherence to routine. Still, there are some things I’d like to automate that are a little more involved and others I’d like to have a finer level of remote control over. This has led me down a deep and growing rabbit hole of home automation tools and systems… and into a growing awareness that doing what I want to do is going to be a not inexpensive effort. There’s more than a small part of me that wonders if the old mode of “flip switch, light turns on” isn’t really good enough. Of course then there’s the other, larger part that wants to exert detailed control over my environment that’s almost surely going to win the day. In this case, I suspect lighting is just the catalyst for a much larger and deep rooted annoyance.