What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Login.gov. The main platform for applying for work with the federal government, USAjobs.com, has introduced 2-factor authentication. In order to log into you account you now have to enter you user name and password and a six digit number provided to you via phone. That’s fine, except that in order to set up this new fancy ID with the 3rd party service, login.gov, you need the original phone number you used to set up your USAjobs account – which is a desk number I had more than 10 years ago. Without that one little bit of information you find you can’t log in to your old account, you can’t set up you new account, and there’s no way to fix A without fixing B witch requires you to fix A. It’s one of the most magnificent do loops I’ve seen the government foist on us in recent years. In discussion with the “help” desk it turns out I can’t even delete my old account and try again unless I can somehow transport back in time and answer a phone at a desk I haven’t sat at in over ten years.

2. Lawn Sprinklers. I have no philosophical issue with anyone piping water to their yard when weeks without rain threaten to bake it into oblivion. Sure, we’re all on wells and probably drawing from the same aquifer, but after three years of reliable water, I’ve got at least a small degree of comfort that we’re not going to run the damn thing dry. My problem comes when, after almost a week of nearly unremitting rain, when rainfall records are dropping like flies across the region, these same lawn sprinklers are running full tilt in the middle of a torrential downpour. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but in my mind that also makes it one of those that’s easy to correct. I’m tickled pink to come from the land of plenty. I’m thrilled that the rain has turned my own lawn from wilting embarrassment to lush green carpet again. Although it’s completely outside the scope of what I usually care about, I’d really appreciate it if the house down the street could just stop making it rain for these few days while nature is providing the service gratis. I’m sure there will be plenty of days in August when they can show off their new toy to the neighborhood.

3. HVAC. Heating and cooling systems can be complex even at the residential level. Scale that into a multi-floor office building with a warren of offices, conference rooms, and open space, and I don’t even want to speculate on what mathematics may be involved in trying to make the place comfortable. First, I don’t want to speculate on that because I hate doing the maths. Second, I won’t speculate because I honestly don’t care. I just want the system to work. I want it to spit out cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Beyond that it can do whatever it wants. All I know is that somehow we’ve managed to make the lobby with 40 foot ceilings nicely chilled even in the heat of the day, but haven’t found a way to get any of that cool refreshing air down the hall to the back of the building. The first safety officer who comes down here bitching about too many fans plugged in is going to get kicked in the junk.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The cold. Whatever tolerance I built up for it during my formative years in the shadow if Savage Mountain has been worn away by too much of my adulthood spent in the south and along the flatter lands of eastern Maryland. This shows itself in my current situation of sitting inside with the furnace running flat out, wearing two shirts, a sweater, and wool socks, and wondering where one goes to order a nice set of long johns. I use to think the North Woods of Maine might make a nice place to end up… I’m afraid I’m going to have to reconsider this position.

2. Why aren’t we talking about “Topic X more?” I read an article online a few days ago complaining that we were no longer laser focused on whatever happened to be the Issue of the Month a couple of months ago. I’m sure all the previous Most Important Things are still important. Personally it’s that I have limited RAM to allocate to the whole universe if things there are to give a damn about. It’s allocated to work stuff, stuff to keep the house up and running, getting from here to retirement, a few things I’m passionate about, and then one or two crises of the moment. That’s it. The world has always been full of problems that need solving. 100 years ago we only saw the ones we happened to walk past. I really don’t think the world is any more in the shitter than it was back then. The only thing different is now we can find out just how jacked up things are in every corner of the world instead of only our little part of it.

3. Shipping Address. There’s an agency in the federal government that I order products from every year. The products are billed automatically and shipped out as soon as they are released. Easy peasy. Except no. This year, the first of these was scheduled to ship out to an address where I haven’t lived in three years. I have no idea. Fortunately I caught it before processing was complete. They couldn’t manage to change the address of an order “in progress” but at least I got it cancelled before it arrived safely to whoever is living at my old address. As turns out, their ordering system was picking up the old address because you have to change the shipping address in at least two places on their website. Instead of just clicking the button that says “change address” under your profile, you also have to go in and change your address under each individual product. I ended up entering the address in three separate locations in addition to the correct address that was already built into my online profile. That seems incredibly counterintuitive, but then again it’s a federal website so perhaps it’s not at all surprising… although that doesn’t explain how the shipping world out ok last year. Sometimes it’s best not to ask.

Mother f%#@ing autoplay…

Whoever it was that came up with the idea of autoplaying a video as a website opens should rot in hell right next to the guy who invented the pop up ad. For most sites I’m fully understanding that generating income from ads is how you make your money. Running a website and keeping up content isn’t an inexpensive proposition. I spend $50 a year out of pocket to keep the lights on here in my little sector of the web. I could be ad driven and defray some of that cost, but I’m determined that it’s just not worth it. Ad free content is, in my opinion, better for the reader as well as for the writer.

Usually this is something that would wait for the weekly roundup of WAJTW, but it doesn’t feel right to pile it into a list with three other things when it is so patently obnoxious. I’ve steadfastly avoided downloading ad blocking software because I know that even on the internet everyone has bills to pay, but with the ever increasing intrusiveness of your ads, I’m only another few bad experiences away from giving up my scruples and loading up some software to kill off as many of these ads as possible.

Site owners need to find a better model. No matter how good your content is, if I have to deal with an advertisers video yelling at me with no apparent off switch or pop ups that take up two thirds of the screen space, I’m not interested enough in what you’re saying to wade through the mess to look at it. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but if advertisers designed spots that were somehow compelling instead of just being annoying maybe I’d actually click over and have a look. As it is, I’ll just close the screen and go find my content elsewhere.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Wasting my goddamned time. Sometimes things happen that are unavoidable. Life can’t always be expected to run like clockwork. I get it. That said, when standard procedure ends often as not in a week’s worth of work ending up in the trash bin, I’m not sure that’s really the best possible use of resources. Look, I get paid whether I split the atom or fling spit balls, but on average I’d rather spend my days doing have some semblance of value. I mean I’m going to keep taking your money either way, but it seems like everyone would be better off if there was something more to show for the time other than half finished powerpoint.

2. Websites with ads that automatically play music or video clips. Stop it. Just stop. I will immediately close the offending screen. You will never get my business because your marketing is obnoxious and distracting. Be subtle. Build a great product. I’ll happily buy your stuff then – maybe even pay a bit of a premium for a premium product. I don’t care how good a widget you make is, though, if you insist on assaulting my senses just to get me to look at it.

3. The Office of Personnel Management. I like to think if I were as ragingly incompetent at my job as whoever is responsible for network security at OPM is, I’d be on the street looking for a job right now. Seriously, though, losing 25 million (and at this rate probably more) individual social security numbers and other identifying information about employees, their friends, families, college roommates, childhood neighbors, and former employers is really an extraordinarily impressive accomplishment. I’m sure I appreciate the free “credit monitoring” and all, but if we could make some heads roll I’d at least feel a little better that someone, somewhere was being held accountable. I’d ask for the immediate initiation of hostilities of the nation or group responsible for the theft, but it already feels like that’s just a bridge too far for the asshats running the show in the District.

Aspirational additions…

While I was waiting for Retribution to work its way through the byzantine self-publishing apparatus of the big retailers, I took some time this weekend to make a few changes to jeffreytharp.com.

You may not notice anything at first – I haven’t changed the format or layout and just about everything is right where it was the last time you visited. Still, there are a few small changes, both visible and invisible that should make the site a little friendlier to use (and hopefully more efficient to maintain over the long haul).

The one change that’s most noticeable is that I’ve added two tabs to the header – one for Fiction and the other for Non-fiction. I like to think this little change is aspirational since those new options are replacing the single “buy the book” tab that use to live there. Adding these two simple collections of bits and bytes to the interwebs is my personal nod towards throwing my cap over the wall and making this whole writing things a permanent state of affairs for me. I’m a smart enough guy to be wracked with self-doubt most of the time, but this is one of those rare moments when something feels fairly right.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Bullying. If the media is to be believed, basically every form of social interaction is now considered bullying. Look, I get that we want to protect kids from all the mean, nasty things in the world, but the fact is sometimes the world is just a mean nasty place. There were plenty of bullies around 20 years ago when I was in school. I’m sure there were plenty 50 years ago, too. It’s not exactly like this is some new danger society has never faced before. Is bullying wrong? Of course it is. Should we be aware of it and try to reduce it? Of course. Once upon a time, if you stood up to a typical bully they went away. From the news coverage of those who choose to off themselves or shoot up the place in response to a bully’s taunts, I wonder if we’ve collectively raised a generation that simply doesn’t know how to actually stand up for themselves rather than immediately lurching to the extremes.

2. Healthcare.gov. I’m pretty sure if my boss gave me three years and $500 million and told me to build a website, he might have some actual expectations that at the end of three years I’d have at least a working prototype. Sure, it might need some of the rough edges smoothed out over time, but the damn thing would have at least the basic functionalities built in – like being able to register as a user. If at some point in the process, I realized things weren’t working out, I’d at least have the stones to fire off a red star cluster and call for assistance. Instead, we have a dysfunction website that no one is willing to be accountable for screwing up. Maybe I’m just doing the whole work thing wrong. It could be time to go see what jobs Health and Human Services has available. An employer with no actual expectations would have to be a pretty relaxing gig.

3. Buying off the rack. I’m not now, nor have I ever been a small guy. A side effect of this is my neck has to be correspondingly thick to support the giant gourd that sits atop it. While I’m not and will never be known as a clothes horse, I do from time to time, have to find something to wear that isn’t a polo/khaki combination. Let’s just say finding a collar that fits around my pillar of a neck with sleeves that don’t stop halfway up my forearms is something just shy of seeking the holy grail. Of course when you do find one of these mythical shirts, they’re never on the $19.99 sale rack, they’re always way in the back on the $75-full-price-thank-you-very-much section of the store… and that’s a real pisser for something I’m going to wear once and then relegate to the back of the closet because I hate wearing a tie.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Semantics. Listening to the news over the last few days, I’ve been surprised (shocked and appalled), to hear the talking heads from the party of fiscal responsibility saying that even if the debt ceiling is not raised, the US Government won’t technically be in “default” as long as it continues to pay the interest and principle on the existing national debt. And while it’s true that in that sense, the government won’t default on its sovereign debt, it would absolutely default on a host of other payments – to include veteran’s benefits, Social Security, salaries, and contracts for goods and services. I’m the first to admit that words and their meaning are important, but to say that the government will not be in a state of de facto default if the debt ceiling is not raised is a little like making a differentiation between dying of dysentery and dying of the dehydration caused by having dysentery. Either way you shit yourself to death, the rest is just semantics.

2. Obamacare. I’ve never pretended to be a fan of this first step in the headlong rush towards nationalized healthcare. While having access to affordable medical care is definitely a good thing, I’ve always been of the opinion having the federal government step into the fray adds nothing more than unnecessary layers of bureaucracy between a person and their doctor. Despite the best efforts of the right wing nutjobs, we’ve got it now, so c’est la vie. What really annoys me more than having this program foisted on the taxpayer is the fact that they had three years to design a website and couldn’t manage to do that correctly. If I were launching the capstone initiative of my administration, you can be damned sure I’d make sure it worked properly before it saw the light of day. The fact that the average guy with a “Websites for Dummies” book, a DSL line, and rented space on a server can set up and host their own website and my kindly old Uncle Sam can’t does not fill me with an abundance of confidence when it comes to letting him help me make decisions about my health. I’m screwing that one up just fine on my own, thank you very much.

3. Sports talk. I don’t know quite how to phrase this other than being blunt. If you come at me talking about last night’s baseball game or this weekend’s football lineup, you’re going to be met with a blank stare and a fairly blunt, “I don’t follow sports.” Then I’m going to disengage from the conversation. I’ve tried being a good trooper and faking my way through these conversations, feigning an interest, but I think I’m over that now. If you want to have a conversation about technology, science, history, current events, or occasionally the foibles of pop culture icons, I’m your huckleberry. You want to talk batting average and passing yards, you’ll need to look elsewhere. In this one, small segment of life, I’m just tired of pretending to care which group of millionaires are better than which other group of millionaires.