What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Logging in. When I boot up my work computer in the morning, I have to log in using my access card and PIN. When I log into Outlook, I use my access card and PIN. One Drive? Access card and PIN. Teams. One more time, log in with access card and PIN. Just to start the day I have to log in using the same credentials four to five times depending what opens on startup. I’m sure there’s some important network security reason this is necessary, but it feels dumb and is 100% a daily irritant. 

2. Upgraded masks. For the last two years, I’ve survived plague free by 1) being vaccinated and boosted, 2) generally avoiding people as much as practical and 3) wearing a standard cloth face covering whenever I had to go into a questionable indoor environment. It hasn’t felt like all that big an ask. With the latest variant, word has gone out that it’s advised to switch over to more robust masks – primarily N95 or KN95 style respirators. That’s well and good, but I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money so far on various upgraded masks and a host of add on extenders, inserts, and other bits to get a better fit. So far, no combination of any of them has given me a mask that doesn’t immediately blow hot air around my nose and cheeks and turning my glasses into a solid wall of fog sitting on the end of my nose. Not falling victim to the Great Plague is important, but if I can’t be both maximally protected and fog-free, I’m going to have to err on the side of being able to see what the hell I’m doing when I need to leave the house.

3. Maryland’s Republican governor has proposed eliminating taxes on retirees as a means to discourage people from spending their working lives here and then immediately decamping for jurisdictions that don’t tax retirement income. For those who will face a potential tax bill from Maryland when they retire, it has to be a consideration. For instance, if you have the longevity to enjoy a 20-year retirement and the state reaches into your pocket to the tune of $4,000 a year, that’s upwards of $80,000 you’re leaving on the table for the convenience of not moving to a more tax friendly state. That’s not the kind of win the Democratic controlled general assembly will want to hand a popular Republican governor. Given Maryland’s historic love of raising taxes on its residents, it’s not the kind of thing they’d want to do if there the governor was a Democrat, either. I’m an unabashed lover of my native state, and I’d love to be able to make a plan to stay here along the shores of the Chesapeake forever, but unless our fearless leaders end up endorsing a plan like this, finances are all too likely to dictate otherwise when the time comes.  

Crud…

Today was supposed to be my first day back at the office after Christmas vacation. The crud I’ve been, unknowingly, fighting since Wednesday said otherwise. I really thought I just had a sore throat from kicking up dust when I started clearing out my closet to prep for the eventual renovation. Obviously, it wasn’t just the dust, but that wasn’t painfully obvious until late in the day on Friday.

The good news is that if the rapid test is to be believed, I haven’t been snookered by the Great Plague, but some other upper respiratory bug that’s set up shop in my head. At least I think that’s good news. It’s kind of hard to tell at this point.

I was feeling good enough this afternoon to prop myself almost upright and type this out with my thumbs. That’s quite an improvement from the last couple of days when dragging myself off the couch to let the dog out was a downright Herculean feat of strength. My voice is less gravely and every once in a while, I’ve found I’m able to breath through both nostrils simultaneously. Progress.

With a “not Covid” test result I probably could have hauled my carcass to the office today and been a slightly warmer than usual body in the room. If life in a plague era has taught us nothing else, though, I feel like “keep your germs to yourself” should be an important lesson. I’ve got a mountain of sick leave and won’t feel a moment’s guilt at using it.

Maybe I’ll try to dip my toes back into the exciting world of work tomorrow with telework Tuesday. Or maybe I won’t. I think a lot of it is going to depend on how long I can stare at a computer screen without my eyes crossing or my incredible 15-minute attention span completely losing the thread of whatever I’m supposed to be doing. 

Anyway, today was better than yesterday, so I guess that’s something. 

Running out the clock…

With three days left in this grand 16 day weekend, I guess you could say the only thing I have left to do is run out the clock.

With a bit of a sore throat and a touch of post nasal drip, but no other signs or symptoms of crud, COVID, or anything else catching, I’ve laid in groceries and have no further plans besides three days of proper hermiting before work raises its ugly head and demands my time again. It’s celebrating this long stretch of days off by doing that which I most enjoy.

These last two weeks seem to be ending with more a whimper than a bang, but I’m not exactly complaining. Being holed up with the animals, rooms full of good books, food to cook, and vast quantities of tea and gin hardly sounds like a disaster. Who knows, I might even get crazy and watch something on Netflix or Hulu instead of just using the television as background noise.

All while in the back of my head rumbles the warning that Monday is coming. I don’t think any amount of time off will ever change how I feel about that.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Systems of systems. Outlook was down most of the day on Wednesday. That was after three days of fighting another “file sharing” system. It’s possible that this week will enter my personal record books as the one in which I spent the most effort to accomplish the least. I’m sure there are good and fine reasons why all out tech seems to be tits up more often than it’s not, but it continues to be one of the top two or three most reliably annoying elements of the job. It’s just one of the many reasons I’m dedicated to being able to walk out the door in thirteen years, five months, and a hand full of days.

2. The week before Christmas. It’s the week before Christmas, or close enough for all practical proposes. It’s certainly less than eight working hours before my long Christmas holiday commences. It’s also been just about the busiest week of work I can remember since the beginning of the Great Plague. Easily 50% of the week’s dumpster fires are entirely self-inflicted because someone just got around to looking at something that should have been handled last week, or because our electronic communication system suck, or for untold other reasons. I shouldn’t say this with so many bosses, former bosses, and other trusted professionals following along, but with seven hours left in my work year, every single one of my fucks has already been allocated. Anyone coming at me between now and 4:00 Friday afternoon expecting much more than a blank stare is going to be sorely disappointed.

3. Prednisone. Thanks to the as-yet unidentified reason my arm had been broken out in a rash for about three weeks, I had a 4-day course of prednisone this week. The (mostly) good news is that the arm has sort of cleared up – it at least looks a lot better than it did a week ago and I’m not longer tempted to satisfy the itch by scratching it with a circular saw. What the four days of prednisone also gave me was an insatiable craving for salt, rampaging blood glucose levels, an even shorter temper than usual, and I’m pretty sure at least one panic attack. I have no idea how people stay on that stuff for weeks or months on end. Next time I’ll just scratch myself bloody and it will still be a less awful experience. 

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.

Cubicles aren’t the problem…

Even back in spring 2020, in the early days when the Great Plague raged unchecked, some of us were still coming to the office. Often it wasn’t many – and certainly some came more than others, but on the average day there may have been five or six people spread out in a room built out to hold around thirty. For good, bad, or otherwise, those who make decisions were determined that the place was going to have at least the loose appearance of conducting business as usual. They were determined to keep the lights on.

I only mention it, because I had a bit of a unique career experience today. For most of this day before Thanksgiving, I was the last man standing… or maybe the only one without the foresight to drop a leave request for today and Friday. In any case, I spent most of the day with the place entirely to myself. The only time I’ve had an even similar experience was a million years ago when I was a fresh, young GS-7 working in DC who wasn’t banking enough vacation time to be extravagant about taking the Friday after Thanksgiving. Even then, there were a few other people knocking around the far reaches of the GAO Building’s 3rd floor, so I wasn’t completely on my own there.

Today was a real Time Enough at Last moment, which is to say it was kind of ideal. As it turns out, just being stuck in a room full of cubicles and awful fluorescents for the day isn’t necessarily the problem with the modern office. It wasn’t quite as good as a day working from home, but without all the people, I mean it didn’t particularly suck.

It looks like I’ve learned my one new thing for today, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Time, distance, and the laws of men…

It’s that special time of year again when the gods on Olympus like to pretend that they are not in any way constrained by time, distance, or the laws of men. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving and those high and mighty gods have, right on schedule, realized that the minions on whom they depend to work their will will increasingly be unavailable thanks to end of the year leave taking.

Now what someone with a modicum of common sense might do, is prioritize whatever effort or efforts are legitimately “most important” and concentrate on getting those through the gate first. What we’ll actually be doing, of course, is piling on increasing levels of stuff to do and then watching as “leaders” gnash their teeth and rend their garments because it’s not getting done.

The pool of available people to keep up with whatever wild-ass new ideas the bosses dream up will get a little smaller every day between now and the end of the year. It would be comical if it weren’t absolutely predictable. I’ve watched this spectacle first hand since 2003 and can only assume this great green machine has been up to the same kind of pre-holiday fuckery since Washington was a Lieutenant.

Look, I really am sorry… but if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to jump through his own ass, moan, and wail, because your failure to plan has become an “emergency,” I’m just not your huckleberry. Never have been. Never will be. You have my word on it.

On making a difference (or not)…

The number of people who call my phone thinking they can steamroll me with some variation of the phrase, “My boss said…” would honestly blow your mind. I’m sure whatever their boss said carries some relative weight… with them. Since their boss is almost never anywhere on the list of people who sign my yearly performance evaluation, what we generally have is them passing along information that could, in a certain light, be considered interesting to me, but that is also almost entirely irrelevant.

I promise, I’m not out here making shit up as I go along. If I’ve done something, it’s because someone who does figure into my rating chain has either told me to do it or will support my interpretation of whatever led me to take a specific action.

After nearly twenty years at this, I don’t get impressed or intimidated by titles or shrill voices. But feel free to call and raise your complaint. I may even smile and nod sympathetically right before I proceed with doing whatever I was about before you called.

Follow my advice. Don’t. Either way, it honestly makes absolutely no difference to me. But good luck when someone higher up the pecking order asks your boss why it didn’t get done.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Parity. Part of my job this week was calling around and talking to people from other organizations who are saddled with their own version of my favorite dog and pony show. It’s no surprise that everyone I spoke to runs theirs a little differently. I didn’t uncover anything unexpected or particularly helpful, but I did discover that everywhere else, the person these other offices put in charge of their annual spectacular is at least graded out as a deputy director. Put another way they are all, a minimum of one good pay grade or two notches on the org chart higher than me. Yeah, that was a feel-good moment right there.

2. Inflation alarm. The federal government poured vast amounts of money into the economy over the last eighteen months in the form of direct payments via enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus payments and the Paycheck Protection Program. People, as they tend to do when they have money in their pockets, went on a buying binge. Stocks, houses, and consumer goods were all in the crosshairs of people with cash to spend. We spent so hard we overwhelmed the supply side’s ability to keep up with demand. And now, the headlines are screaming that we’re supposed to be shocked that inflation has taken hold and the price of good and services is increasing. Beyond the few classes I had to take as part of a social science major, I’m not a student of economics… even so, the results of increasing demand, limited supply, and boatloads of money in circulation is almost entirely predictable, no?

3. The waiting. Here I sit. About seven hours after getting the COVID-19 booster jammed into my arm. I feel fine, with barely even a sore arm to show for my trouble. What I do have, though, is the uncomfortable period of waiting. My first COVID shot was a non event. After getting my second Moderna shot way back in March, I had a bit of an aching arm, but went to bed and woke up the next morning feeling fine. Exactly twenty-four hours after the jab, though, I got to experience the unpleasant hit-by-a-bus feeling advertised as a potential side effect – chills, aches, lethargy – pretty much the full list with the merciful exception of nausea. That one skipped me, somehow. In any case, I’m sitting here, waiting to see what things look like around lunchtime tomorrow. Prevention is worth a pound of cure and all that, but I’m trying to mentally prepare for another lost day.