Something There Is That Doesn’t

Yesterday, in the dark wee hours of the morning, I woke to what I swore was the sound of glass breaking.  The wind had picked up followed by torrential rain, as promised by that day’s weather forecast, and our old house shuddered and whined as the newest wild weather system crashed into it.  I went back into an uneasy sleep.

I wake up early these days, 4am.  Bundle I has a half-day in the public school kindergarten, and Bundle II’s pre-school days end at 2pm.   My progressive, “we’re all about life-work-family balance” employer doesn’t have a work-from-home policy, and is apparently large enough that it needs a policy in order to accommodate a lone individual with a 70-mile round trip commute, two young children in school and a job that is, let’s face it, 99% about remotely managing servers.  Lionel now works three days a week; someone has to get the kids to school, and someone has to get them back out again.  So; he goes to work at 10am and finishes up his day at 6pm, and I go to work at 5am and finish my day at 2pm, where upon I scramble around to pick up the kids from their respective places (Bundle II at her pre-school, which has a robust aftercare program, and Bundle I at the at-home child care provider, since her publicly funded school does not).  If I’m lucky, I might be in bed–and asleep– by 10:30pm.  Suffice to say I’m not getting the long end of the stick at the moment.

Yesterday upon waking up, the wind and rain lashing the house,  I uneasily ventured outside to retrieve items from the car which inevitably get left behind from the previous day, and was greeted by a moist, warm, evil blast of air.  I checked the thermometer.  57 degrees F.  The tiny bit of snow pack we’ve managed to accumulate this winter was rapidly disappearing.  I shivered despite the warmth, grabbed my items and ran back inside.  Finally I was ready to venture back out, and slowly made my tedious way through the rain and gale force winds to my job.

As I finished up my day in the afternoon, the wind was still blowing, but the temperature had dropped down to 38 degrees and was forecast to go back down into the 20s by sunset.  I complained about the crazy commute in and the weather in general to a colleague and their comment was “Yeah, well, if you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”

Yeah.  Okay.  Trite Twain platitudes aside, the weather pattern was actually breaking temperature extreme records all over the place, and was a direct result of a misplaced jet stream and stratospheric warming, causing tornadoes further south and forcing flood and gale warnings up and down the eastern seaboard.  And furthermore, just the week before we had seen temperature records falling on the other extreme, dipping well below zero.  Eventually, gentle reader, if it looks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.  And the carbon that I was spewing into that warm, unseasonable, extremely high force wind at 4:30am on my mostly unneccessary-but-for-policy commute wasn’t helping the situation at all.

When I was in my 20’s and reasonably endowed with a strong education, I believed the solution to problems was pretty much black-and-white.  Don’t enjoy your commute in the morning?  Move closer to your job.  Or get a job closer to home.  Or, don’t work.  Case closed.  But with the passage of time, a few small children and a whole lot of brain cells dying every minute of my day, the situation has gotten a lot more complex from a whole bunch of different angles.  The need to be employed in order to obtain adequate healthcare.  The reality of needing to pay out for electricity and phone services and taxes and food.  The fact that the town I live in has no industry and furthermore has no interest in having any industry.  My children’s future educational needs.   The ties that bind us to the land we live on.  Each angle has its own, sometimes even relatively simple, solution, certainly.  But the solutions we  arrive at might not add up to a coherent whole.

When I got back home yesterday after navigating around downed branches and trees and rapidly freezing puddles, I pulled back into my own driveway with some relief  to see that the only visible damage was one chicken coop which had blown over.  Even though I had woken to the sound of shattering glass, we could find no evidence of it.   The wind continued to howl outside, the audible, tangible roar of a climate officially gone awry, a human populace officially failing to navigate its way out of the hole it dug.  It blew long into the night and finally departed in the wee hours.  The shattered glass sound?  Maybe it was just the sound of clashing possibilities.

Advertisements

Sitting on my hands. Twiddling my thumbs.

I’ve had a fairly busy week at work.  I’m gamely trying to upgrade the operating system of our student information system even though my Unix skills are rusty and those, at that, were utilized more during my programming days, not my systems administrator days.  Add to that, IBM isn’t the big behemoth it is for nothing–you try finding your machine model online in order to find firmware updates.  In between times there were Help Desk requests from professors and other staff members, some off hours alerts when a few services went down, and a phishing attempt.  Just another day in the life of an Information Technologist.  Today, however, I sat on my hands.

Earlier in the week, a disgruntled adjunct went postal and splattered her vitriol all over the web and also in print, sending out Letters to the Editor in all directions and, while she was at it, starting up a blog in case she gathered a following.  Her rant to the school newspaper was printed in full, and, if you feel like reading verbal vomit, is here.

Aside from being an uncoordinated rant  spattered with definitive statements that don’t appear to have been researched at all (not at all the caliber of essayship I personally would expect from a professor), the point she is trying to make –I think– is that when a college is forced to make budget cuts, they should try to do it in such a way as to maintain the educational integrity of the school since–after all– that’s what the college’s mandate is.   She makes a point of targeting the “administration,” which, in all fairness, are in fact the decision makers of any institution.  But unfortunately, she then chose to post, apparently at random, the names and salaries of about 50 staff members, some of whom are far from the upper echelons of power, such as a boiler technician, an athletic trainer, a plumber, a phone technician and three colleagues of mine.  That she didn’t name me may only be an accident of fate since I didn’t join the college until last year, but the implication was that she didn’t actually just mean the “administration”, she meant all non-faculty staff members.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of her letter since she is so clearly spitting and not thinking.  I’m not going to further trash her character either–she appears to be doing that well enough on her own.  I’m not even going to point out that as someone who clearly ended her own academic pursuits short of the required credentials of a full tenure-track professor and who, presumably, has the brains to read the fine print on what being an adjunct actually entails, her particular current situation is really no surprise. (Okay, I just did point it out.  But I won’t elaborate.  Do your own research, gentle reader).   I’m going to tell you why I was sitting on my hands.

Somewhere along the week came an email from the Chancellor somewhat innocuously thanking all of us for input at a recent forum.  It came through the GAL (Global Address List) which, by College policy, is an email distribution list technically open to everyone in the college but is really only supposed to be posted to with permission by one of the higher-ups (the aforementioned “administration”).  There are plenty of other forums for people to engage in active discussions with each other so this is not actually an attempt to silence the masses.  Its really more of an attempt to protect the work flow of a bunch of overworked staff members who, as humans, can get easily distracted by something shiny.  Oooh!  New email!!  For me in particular, I’m kind of forced into watching my email fairly regularly to catch server alerts and help desk requests, especially as I’m oncall this week.  So when the next email came in, from someone who Replied All, I read it almost immediately.  It was a faculty member, inviting everyone to read the “courageous and informative” piece by the aforementioned adjunct which had appeared in the college newspaper.

Then another came in, comparing the faculty to slaves.

Then another came in, elaborating on the slave part.

Someone else chimed in and disputed the slave part.

Someone tried gently to stop the whole parade by asking them to quit emailing the GAL.

The adjunct union president sent a formal request through the GAL disavowing involvement in the original letter and informing his colleagues of the proper venues.

More professors chimed in, claiming that the GAL was actually the best place to engage in this kind of thing and if anyone didn’t want to read it they could delete it–effectively borrowing the Bulk Email Industry’s defense in the name of “dialogue”.  They decided on their own that if they changed the subject line that would somehow solve the whole problem and then continued with their diatribes against the rest of us with impunity.

Meanwhile, I sat on my hands.

I sat on my hands because, in the pure technical sense, I had the power to stop it. I could restrict send access to the GAL.  I could disable individual offenders’ accounts.  I could filter the particular email string so that it ended up in the Junk Folder where it belonged.  I could shut down the mail service altogether.

In previous incarnations I would have had not just the technical power to stop the inappropriate use of email but also the administrative power to stop it, and it wouldn’t have even gotten as far as this continuing tirade has.  But I am in no way part of the “administration” here, so I, like all the rest of my colleagues, are just sitting back and watching with painful amusement as the professor half of the college Occupies the GAL.  Instead, we’re engaging in little bitter one-off jokes based on quotes from the original infamous Letter to the Editor and subsequent professorial rants to pass the time.

“Well, I would do that but I’m busy writing a report about a report!  Come back later!  Oh wait!  I have a useless meeting in 5 minutes!”

“Cool!  Turns out that I’m part of the 1 percent!  That means I make more than an adjunct!  Awesome!  I’m gonna buy a yacht!”

“Yeah, you think you have problems?  At least you’re not a slave…..although they don’t feed us.  I’m hungry.”

Just a day in the life of a non-faculty useless administrator working for no particular reason other than to steal money from disgruntled, crazy adjuncts at a public institution.  You know, ho hum.  My hands are getting numb.  Can I go home now?

Nor’Easter in the Nor’East

To read our local news, you’d think it never snows here, or that the entire storm took us by surprise (“Transportation Workers Prepare for Storm“), although given that New York City apparently forgot all about these occasional but common snow dollops in the last snow storm, maybe we need to reassure our out of state refugees that indeed, we are ready for snow, and in actual fact our transportation workers are salivating right now because they can make an entire year’s wage in overtime with storms like these. 

Last year around this time I’d been eyeing the radar of a large storm which was going to hit us the next day and was making careful arrangements to my schedule to work from home, when my boss called me into her office and berated me for “anticipating the storm.”  Never having been reprimanded for being proactive before, I was shocked.  We beat the bush for a little while until it was finally revealed that her issue was not that I had anticipated the storm, been proactive, and decided I was probably going to work from home the next day, but that I had communicated my intention to some of my colleagues whom she could not trust to work from home, and she worried that they would try to do the same.  Basically, her personnel issue wsa the reason that I should not communicate future plans to my colleagues.  Looking back on it, this was the beginning of the end for me.

In contrast, I spent a good deal of time yesterday agonizing over today’s storm, because it was supposed to be my first day at work, with all the first impressions and uncertainties and false starts that implies, and I didn’t know  how to approach the fact that I would either be late or not show up at all, when the president of the college solved the problem for me and closed the college.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen.  On inclement weather days, it is no longer my responsibility to weigh risking life and limb over the possibility that my electricity might go out.  I now work for a place that closes in the event of a snow storm!  The day before it happens!  My old boss would faint.

Moving on

I learned a valuable lesson working at YBP, and that is that cynicism and sarcasm have absolutely no place in the day job.  And when you become cynical and sarcastic about the every day things which you do or about the way the management is running (or not running) the company, you have to do something about it.  Add to that an ongoing furlough which appears to have no end and, well, there’s not much point sitting on a sinking ship, is there?  Unless you can’t swim.  I can swim.

So I gave my notice last Monday.  I will be moving on to Keene State College, as a systems administrator, and while I hadn’t entirely checked out at my current place of employment, my stress level was certainly rising, as it does whenever I’m forced to spin my wheels.  I am expecting the stress to be much lower, the pace to be slower, the projects to be more enjoyable and the people to be more intelligent.  Probably a lot to ask of a job, I know… but it’ll be awhile before I can see through the curtain and anyway, its a college. 

If nothing else, the benefits are excellent.

So I sit here at the moment contemplating my last week at my current job and wondering what I am going to tell my employer about today because a raging blizzard is waging war with the outside of my house and I normally would just work from home on a day like this.  But my boss specifically requested I spend my remaining days in the office and also, Lionel threw his back out.  Which doesn’t sound like it is the end of the world except for the fact that our energetic, fearless 8 month old is incredibly mobile and we just recently had Christmas here.  Christmas isn’t baby friendly, at least not mobile-8-month-old friendly; paper, pins, bits of plastic and tape, bows, and toys made for 3+ year olds are still scattered about.  And her eyesight is better than ours.

To make a long story short, I’m snowed in with two children and an invalid during the last week of my two week notice.

Par for the course here at LLARCS.

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.

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!!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑