And the Elite shall inherit the Earth

One of the reasons I hated George Bush so passionately is that every single time he opened up his mouth I wanted to cringe in shame and embarassment for the man.  On the flip side, I don’t always agree with everything that President Obama says but at least when he speaks I get the feeling that he a) thought about the issue a little bit and b) took some time to figure out how best to explain his viewpoint.

A recent analysis of Obama’s speech patterns show he generally gives speeches rated to be at the 12 grade reading level, although apparently he has taken this criticism to heart and dumbed his latest speech down to 9th grade reading level. By contrast, McCain’s acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican convention was rated at a third grade reading level.  Apparently, this is viewed as being populist and understandable by a large majority of the population, whereas speaking intelligently and making use of some of the 171,476 words currently in circulation in the English language is deemed “elitist” and by extension “incomprehensible.”

Normally I consider myself a pretty good communicator, especially in writing, and I often take pride in my carefully crafted emails to my colleagues and to the users of the helpdesk.  But recently I’ve begun to doubt my communication skills, because I, like our elitist president, tend to unconciously use those big college level words in favor of more simple words.  For example, in an effort to stop people from forwarding chain hoax emails, I sent this to everyone in the company:

Anything that exhorts you to send it to all of your friends is almost certainly a hoax.  If you are unclear as to the veracity of a particular email, please feel free to forward it to the Help Desk.

It wasn’t until much later, dealing with another problem caused by a user who either couldn’t read or hadn’t taken the time to read the instructions provided to her, that I looked over this email and realized that most of my intended audience probably had no idea what “veracity” or “exhort” even meant. 

And they weren’t likely to look it up, either.

And they could probably only comprehend emails written at a third grade level.

And they are proud of this fact.

I have tried, as much as my entire soul rebels against it, to incorporate this into my daily interactions with people and to simplify any messages I might have that could be remotely confusing.  However so far I have failed in this quest.  Witness this exchange from a user who had requested verification that a file had been sent:

Peggy, is the customer missing a file or are you just confirming that it was processed?  If the latter it appears that it was processed.”

To which Peggy’s reply was:

Ok, all set.”

In retrospect, my mistake was most probably using “if the latter.”  Peggy was probably confused about why I was talking about ladders for her missing file and may have decided this was some kind of “IT lingo” and therefore disregarded the entire sentence from her brain altogether.

Two days later we get a critical request from Peggy’s supervisor because it turns out that the customer was indeed missing the file.  Being annoyed I forwarded the above response to Peggy’s supervisor, hoping, for some reason, to alert her supervisor to a potential performance issue, which turned out to be a foolish hope because Peggy’s supervisor is the aforementioned Jessie.

Jessie’s response was that I should have interpreted Peggy’s “all set” to mean that a file was indeed missing, and that in the future if an answer to a question was incorrect or missing information that I should carbon copy her on it so that she could chime in, in effect telling me that although Peggy and I both appear to be speaking English we are actually conversing in two separate languages and that the whole thing would have been solved if I could only read minds or somehow magically discern right from wrong by mere force of will.

I used to stand in disbelief that people like this were really fundamentally unable to comprehend not only what I was saying but the basic tenets behind it.  Now I’ve lowered my expectations and am merely amazed that these people are able to get up and dress themselves in the morning.

Meanwhile, I am dutifully trying to learn American English.  Because whatever I’m speaking, it’s not the native tongue.

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Country Living

Lionel just reconnected with an old friend from college.  They all went to Carnegie-Mellen for acting and almost none are acting now, but they hold in common diverse career paths and a sense of wonderment that they’ve ended up where they did.  She turned out as a psychotherapist living in the heart of teeming New York City, and Lionel was explaining his whole life in a nutshell, ending with his present iteration as a startup farmer.

“It sounds idyllic,” she said.

Wood still remains our major obstacle to progress, but we’re almost done.  I took the day off on Wednesday to help finally put a lid on the firewood project so that we could finally get started on the last project–maple.  The weather report had promised a 20% chance of rain.  The morning, though, had turned out breezy and sunny, so we were optimistic.

The morning I spent stacking the wood already down in the basement to clear it out of the way for the next load.  Lunch time came about all too quickly and I scrambled us a bunch of eggs since there was nothing else left in the house.  As we were eating the wind blew in the Twenty Percent Chance of Rain and the skies opened up.

“Great…” we said, almost in unison.

We stared despondently at the rain, psyching ourselves up for a cold, wet existence and slippery, wet wood and the possibility of mud stopping the tractor from getting to its destination, and then Lionel went out into the storm to retrieve the raincoats (which were, for some reason, in the car).  He then came back to inform me that we had a flat tire on the CRV.

“Idyllic,” I said, “My ass.”

We divided forces, he taking the tire, I taking the splitting, each cursing that life and reality stuff that keeps getting in the way of our paper-perfect plans for a day.

In the end, we did get a load of wood into the basement, and the tire fixed too, so that the next day Lionel went out and retrieved the arch for our new evaporator and then promptly had to unhitch the wagon with the evaporator in it so that he could drive the children in to my place of employment due to a monstrous production problem.  But that’s another story.

If country living were idyllic, everyone would be living here.  And then it wouldn’t be the country.  It would be New York City.  And someone, somewhere, would be cursing NOAA for their scant weather predicting abilities, their tractor for not going up the hill, their car for having a flat, and themselves for getting themselves into this in the first place.

Chaos Theory

To the casual observer it may appear that we here at LLARCS live unorganized, chaotic lives.  You’d be forgiven for believing that; right now the barn is full of items we use for the garden and spills out into the driveway and leaves no room for what it is supposed to hold, mainly our cars and the motorcycle.  We have a boat in the lawn which has remained upright and full of water for most of the year.  Our flower gardens are a mess.  The inside of our house is not any better, with books, clothes and dishes in various stages of cleanliness scattered about.  Add a three year old and a mobile 6 month old into the mix and, well, yes, it’s pretty chaotic.

Part of it is that neither Lionel nor I have ever been all that concerned with the outward appearance of things, so although we instinctively like an orderly house we aren’t about to beat ourselves up or literally lose sleep over it (no 2am vacuuming sessions for us).  Mostly, though, it’s that our minds are on the next project ahead of us and not on the immediately obvious. 

We haven’t built a farm from scratch by being disorganized about it, is my point.  The very fact that we’ve managed this feat despite merely being human is a miracle, never mind that there are no clean dishes and I have no idea where my hairbrush is.

So, casual observer, keep your opinion to yourself.  I’m glad you live a boring life with time enough in the day to vacuum the non-existent dust.  If you get all your chores done, come pick blueberries with us in July.  We’ll be out there.  We’re waiting for you.

Dentistry at Work

When I was hired lo, those 5 years ago, my very first task was to create a help desk process.  Before I came along, people would ignore the on-call schedule entirely and simply contact their favorite IT person for help.  They certainly got helped quicker this way but they were only creating more problems for themselves in the long run, because no one in IT had any time to concentrate.  Add to that a culture of hand-holding, and we had ourselves a minor chaotic disaster.

So I came along, mustered the troops, forced them into a line and created a single point of contact help desk process out of sheer will-power and not much else.  I know it was due only to my will-power because whenever my will-power gets distracted or wanes the slightest bit, the whole process slides back down into chaos, like so:

Email:

To: Tom, Linda
cc: Jessie

Subject: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

Help Desk,

Please load these policies asap effective today.  Please let me know when it is done.

Jessie

To explain our help desk process a little bit:  there are several ways to create a ticket.  One is to log into the web portal and actually create the ticket yourself.  This is my preferred method, because I have a lot less to do when they choose to do this and also we have a quite extensive knowledgebase they can search–not that anyone ever uses it.  The second method is to email the Help Desk, which has a very obvious email address, namely: helpdesk@company.com.  When one does send an email, one gets a confirmation email back noting the work order number. Note that in this case, Jessie has failed to use the help desk email.  She sends this email on Thursday morning.  Her job apparently done, Jessie goes about her business for two days and a weekend until Monday night, when she realizes that her help desk request hasn’t been done yet.  So she sends this:

To: Help Desk, Tom, Linda
cc: Jessie

Subject: Re: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

Help Desk,

Please let me know the status of this.  It needs to be dealt with ASAP. 

Jessie
________________________________
To: Tom, Linda
cc: Jessie

Subject: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

Help Desk,

Please load these policies asap effective today.  Please let me know when it is done.

Jessie

Jessie has found her original email, hit “reply all” and added the help desk email address but fails to acknowledge to the actual help desk personnel that she didn’t actually send this to the help desk the first time.  Add to that our help desk system doesn’t process anything with “re:” in the subject, because people can’t abide by the rule “Don’t reply to this email” and have a tendency to create multiple work orders.  They get forwarded to me instead.  But I’m out on Mondays due to the furlough, so I don’t get the message until Tuesday morning, whereupon I send this:

To: Jessie
cc: Tom, Linda

Subject: Re: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

Jessie,
It appears you never sent this to the help desk.  Did you ever get a confirmation? Please send it to the help desk without the “re:” so that it can be processed.

_____________________________________
To: Jessie
cc: Tom, Linda

Subject: Re: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

Help Desk,

Please let me know the status of this.  It needs to be dealt with ASAP. 

Jessie
________________________________
To: Tom, Linda
cc: Jessie

Subject: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

Help Desk,

Please load these policies asap effective today.  Please let me know when it is done.

Jessie

Jessie knows this.  She’s a manager, and we’ve had this conversation many times about the help desk process, usually about people under her.  But she also knows that in the past, IT has just gone on and created the damn help desk ticket for her, so she tries again:

To: Aileen, Tom, Linda
cc: Jessie
Subject: Re: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

I noticed that, that is why I sent it up to you.  No, I never got a confirmation.  Should I send it again without the re: ?

_______________________________________________
Jessie,
It appears you never sent this to the help desk.  Did you ever get a confirmation? Please send it to the help desk without the “re:” so that it can be processed.

_____________________________________
Subject: Re: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

Help Desk,

Please let me know the status of this.  It needs to be dealt with ASAP. 

Jessie
________________________________
To: Tom, Linda
cc: Jessie

Subject: High Priority policies need to be loaded.

Help Desk,

Please load these policies asap effective today.  Please let me know when it is done.

Jessie

What I want to do now is go down and strangle her, so I open up a blank email and write:

No, Jessie, what I’d like to do is continue to have a conversation about an email confirmation that you never got from an email you never sent.  Can we do that instead?

But I can’t do that, because it is unprofessional.

So instead I write back:

Jessie, if you want it to go to the help desk and be assigned, that would probably be a good idea.

Okay, open wide… I’lll just take these pliers and…. my!  What strong teeth you have!  They sure don’t pull out easy!!

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