Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I wonder what it's like to have a plan for life? I know stuff happens you can't or never would plan on, but it seems like most happy and successful people have at least some kind of plan for where they want to go in life and how to get there. I don't, unless you define "plan" so broadly it becomes pointless, and I wonder if I'm missing out on something or I'm going to because of this.

Despite how that might sound, this is not me depressed. At worst, it's maudlin or maybe a little afraid of change. Life is good these days. I'm getting along with everyone, spring is here, work is boring and maybe a little worrying but that's the worst of it, things are going great with my girlfriend, and other than my taxes, the biggest problem I have faced for the past month might be trying to fit both World of Warcraft and Magic: the Gathering into my schedule.

But I'm getting ready to make some changes, and I'm wondering how that compares to where I'm "supposed" to be by now or when I was "supposed" to be making those changes, and realizing that I have no idea. (And to the extent that I do have an idea, it's close enough that the difference isn't worth worrying about. But the fact that I have to think about it is.)

Should I have one? My plan from around 2002 until mid-2008 was journalism or writing in general. Make a living by being creative with a desk job, meet lots of people, become a little famous, maybe slightly make the world a better place by exposing corruption or elucidating some thorny political problem or just entertaining people with my wit. I pursued it. After two years as a reporter, I decided that I had spent enough time for a while living in tiny towns, and would take the plunge and move to a city. I did. Since I moved to the city, though, that plan has stalled. In theory I could look for another job that stretches my creative muscles while still where I am, but it's just too easy not to. And you might notice how much was missing from it from the start. Salary? House? Kids? Wife? Hell, what kind of writing exactly? Who knows?

So I'm kind of drifting at the moment. When I had been out of college for a year or two I'd say to friends or a therapist something like, "I'm happy with my life as it is today, but if I'm still here in five years I really won't be happy at all." Well, I'm happy with my life as it is today, and I'm happy with where it seems to be going over the next few months, but I have no idea where it's going from there or where it "should" be going.

(Although I suppose now that I've written down the second paragraph of this, it demonstrates that maybe I'm getting by just fine without a plan...)

It's a little bit like this.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dilemma at work, although this time not at all work-related: this morning a right-winger circulated an e-mail about how Earth Day was a Communist plot or something like that because it's Lenin's birthday. The official explanation for this is that the first Earth day was a Wednesday, thus not in conflict with exams at any major colleges at the time it was founded or any major religious holidays, in the spring, when all kinds of nature-oriented holidays happen. It's the birthday of the Julius Morton, founder of Arbor Day, and one day after the birthday of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. It's also the day Congress voted to put "In God We Trust" on coins, and Robert Oppenheimer's birthday, and Bettie Page's.

And of course, the part about Lenin is far from the only misleading or illogical claim in the e-mail. I'm seriously considering sending everyone who got that a rebuttal to the most egregious offenses against reason. I've mostly written the e-mail and I went so far as to copy down all 57 e-mail addresses so I could send it from home.

So how paranoid should I be about this? Personal or political e-mails are contrary to the policy about e-mail use at work. The current version of my e-mail makes it clear that if the right-winger got away with it, then I should too. Should... Alternately, I'm considering sending it from a dummy e-mail account with a pseudonym. I could use my usual one, or the name "Publius" also has a good pedigree for this kind of thing. But if I do that, it seems a bit underhanded to make a big deal out of the original sender's violation of policy...

Pseudonymity is not anonymity. I've taken precautions to hide the fact that I wrote the e-mail at work, but I'm sure there's some way to figure it out if the IT people really try. Would they be asked to? Probably not, but no way to be sure. I don't know how high up on the totem pole the right-winger is in the office, but almost everyone is higher than me. A couple people in the office could probably figure out on their own that I was the sender, just from stuff I said.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kind of depressed today. The weather doesn't help - cloudy and apparently it rained during the day and it looked like it was constantly on the verge of rain while I was on my way home - and I've been short on sleep lately, blah blah blah, but part of the problem is work, of course.

The latest issue isn't a high-stress problem like the last one I talked about. It seems so minor and trivial that that is probably part of the problem itself. But the main issue is that doing this project correctly seems almost impossible. I need to compare the latest stats on something to what the stats were when it was last done a few years ago. I have the numbers from last time, but I have no idea what they are based on, because the "raw data" is very unhelpful. My best guesses for what they are based on yielded two different sums for the latest stats, one about 40 percent more than the total in the previous renewal and one about 25 percent less. As far as I know, there's no reason for variation that's anywhere near so large. (And the sum from last time is around 5,300, so the variations are like 1,000 in either direction, much greater than I think random noise could account for.)

So it seems to me that I have two options. I could work my ass off on this very minor assignment, and it's possible that no amount of work would be enough if the previous renewal's data was just plain flawed. Or that might just prove that one of my initial best guesses were right, which would be a relief but very frustrating. Alternately, I could do a half-assed job and just handwave away the huge difference in numbers and hope no one notices. And maybe they wouldn't. I don't know if anyone checks my work on this before it leaves the building, and I don't know how closely the office that we submit this to looks at it either. I'm leery of that, partly because recent comments from my supervisor make me think this will get more attention than it would have six months ago and partly, of course, because who wants to knowingly do a half-assed job? What would that say about me? And what does it say about my job that I can do a half-assed job on this and reasonably think no one would notice?

As I write this, a third option occurs to me. The incomplete, very unhelpful numbers from last time are actually less clear than from the time before that. And the numbers from the time before last are actually very close to one of my two best guesses, and the difference is in the direction one would "expect". So maybe I need to just throw out the stats from the last time this was done, pass the buck to whoever did it then, and use the time before that as my baseline.

Well, tomorrow I will put more time trying to figure out what the numbers from last time are based on, of course. But I'm glad the third option occurred to me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Other than the thing I posted about yesterday, though (to be scrupulously accurate, I posted that elsewhere yesterday, and copied it here about an hour ago), the weekend was good. On Friday, a birthday party for a co-worker of T.'s. On Saturday afternoon, we went to a movie instead of the gardens. Kick-Ass, which lived up to its name. That night we went to the birthday party of a friend of mine. Sunday I got up relatively early and went with Paul to play Magic at a Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease event for the afternoon.

I don't know, it's fun, but getting back into Magic seems daunting. Or rather, getting back into Standard Constructed play. After not playing from mid-2008 to the end of 2009, I started again here and there in January, but only draft and limited games except for with friends. Draft and limited are fun, and they require skill of course, but they don't seem like "real" Magic to me. You collect cards but you can't use them again, your deck doesn't have any consistency to it, junk rares are genuinely junk with absolutely no way to make a combo around them or whatever... But Constructed is halfway to being a career. It costs a fair amount of time and money to make a decent deck. I prefer Standard (only cards printed in the last two years or so are legal for play), and I've never dared try to make a competitive Extended or Legacy deck (cards are legal regardless of age, which includes some ridiculously valuable ones). Even Standard would require buying some cards or careful trading, and, presuming that everyone else has practiced with and thought hard about their decks, I'd have to do the same to avoid getting flattened.

The obvious answer is casual play. So maybe I don't need to worry about tournaments at all and just play with Paul and Dave and/or the guys from meetup groups.

Monday, April 19, 2010

On Saturday I was going to the White House garden with my girlfriend. They wouldn't let me in with my Leatherman pocket knife, so we turned around and left, which sucked. There was no place I could leave it at the security checkpoint. It was throw the pocketknife in the trash or leave. Sure, it's partly my fault, I should have read the ticket when we left the apartment - or just slipped the thing on T.'s bag, because I've taken that on planes before, though, in my carry-on luggage, with no problems. Also, they let me through the metal detector with my sunglasses case (metal) in my back pocket, which I had honestly forgotten about. Apparently, based on my experience with airport security, a pocket knife is only a security risk if the security guard personally sees you take it out of your pocket and put it on your bag. Other than that, though, meh, no problem, go right through.

Stupid security theather.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I've said it before: standardized tests are stupid. Or maybe "standardized" is the wrong word... multiple-choice test about subjective issues?

This one starts with the following intro to every question in the first part: "YOU NEED NOT HAVE PERSONALLY SEEN OR EXPERIENCED THE ACTIONS. During your last 30 workdays at your duty location what do you estimate the chance that the action below COULD have happened? ...". And the question is always to estimate the probability (select the radio button, with five choices, from "very high chance" to "almost no chance") of a certain scenario, such as: "A younger person was selected for a prestigious assignment over an older person who was equally, if not slightly better qualified" or "An older individual did not get the same career opportunities as did a younger individual", or variations for gender and race and stuff.

Which basically means... anything. Over a hundred people work in this building. There are less than half a dozen who I know well enough and of whom I think highly enough that I could swear to their integrity and fair-mindedness. Could such discrimination have happened in the past 30 days? Sure!

Or another question. The test is now asking about a range from total agreement to total disagreement with statements like "Becoming a part of this organization was definitely not in my best interests." Well, the unemployment rate is around 10 percent right now, according to Google, so damn few people would consider this job worse than nothing. And for all that I've been complaining about it recently, this job pays better than my last one and is generally lower-stress.

However, any division which had a 100 percent participation rate on this survey would get cupcakes, so it was worth the time. Assuming of course everyone else fills it out as well, in which case this will turn into a lesson on collective action problems...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My World of Warcraft account got hacked. I thought I was doing OK with computer security, but obviously not. Actually, just yesterday I installed an addon to make finding something for a certain quest a little easier, and the hacker was in my account around 8 or 9 this morning, so it's a safe bet that the spyware came from there. And I thought that nothing could be safer than getting a familiar, popular addon from a site everyone uses. Whoops!

Oh well. I'm told it can take a week to get all the stuff restored, and this morning I ordered an account authenticator (another product of Blizzard's which supposedly can completely protect against this... which I just never bothered with because I thought I was doing OK on my own. I suck) and the delivery time will probably be about a week. So it seems I'll be taking a vacation from WoW.

Other than that, good times. T.'s parents have been in town visiting and doing tourist-type stuff, and I've been hanging out with her and them a lot. It's a bit annoying hanging out with parents, but, meh, it's fun just going to new restaurants and seeing museums with them all too.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Time for more griping about work: today, as of 20 minutes ago as far as I know, we're finished with that big project. (Yes, this is about a week past the deadline. No one seems to mind, which makes me wonder why we all had to do rushed, slipshod jobs on previous steps in the first place.) I got an e-mail at 9:15 this morning: two people on the project sent me the results of their meeting with that final reviewer. If I just made those changes, we'd be ready. Around 10 or 10:30 a.m., someone else came in (the boss of another member of the team, I think; call him Mr. S.), told me to make one specific change, and said he'd be checking the rule to see if more of the same needed to be made.

Three hours later I was finished with everything else - it took about half an hour at most - but hadn't heard from Mr. S. During that time I had called both him and the team leader and got no answer. (I know I left a message on one of their voice mails and I think it was his but I wouldn't swear to that.) I also had gone to talk to someone else on the team and asked what was going on, but he didn't know. When I got an e-mail from the team leader at 2:45 asking for an update, I called Mr. S. He saw it was me calling, heard me say "hello", said "No, I don't have any more changes for you," and hung up. OK, fine, so why didn't he tell me any time earlier? Did he forget what he asked me to do?

So I send out an e-mail with all four relevant files. Not two minutes later, Mr. S. walks into my office and asks for another change which supposedly really, really needs to be made. It looks like a big difference in the meaning of a sentence about a historical incident, so I make the change. As I'm saving the changes in both versions and getting ready to send another e-mail (I figure if I do it quickly enough, no one will have had time to do anything major with the previous version), the lawyer comes in and tells me to disregard what Mr. S. just said. After a bit of comical dithering like "Undo the last thing you did... No, the thing before that," we figure out that the e-mail I sent out was fine. Apparently what Mr. S. had asked for was just plain factually wrong, according to the lawyer.

My bosses have been worried about this project and how it's going, but I'm really not worried because I know that all the actual problems are due to stuff like this. There's nothing I need to feel guilty about or blame myself for when three or four different people are working on different versions of the document at once, when I had less than two days to review the document, etc.

And while I was writing this, my supervisor came in and said that Mr. S. was the last person to offend, if anything came up, because he's the one person directly in charge of my office or something like that. So it (a) is depressing that such an idiot is in charge, and (b) is just a tiny bit worrying, because he seems like the unreasonable kind of person who would try to pass the buck back down to us if there are any problems, and (c) makes me feel less paranoid about the way I'm using abbreviations for the names of anyone even slightly work-related here.
Not Always Right is really funny stuff - horror stories about the assholes that people have to deal with at work, the stupid things customers do, especially when they are annoyed or embarrassed or whatever - but a lot of the stories here and there seem like they might be sad. All we usually get is dialogue with a little scene-setting, so a lot of the time it's clearly someone just being a jerk or something. But what about stuff like this one?
(I recently sold a pool to an elderly customer. Right after the installers leave, she calls the store.)
Customer: "Hi, may I speak with [me]?"
Me: "This is [me], how may I help you?"
Customer: "I just had my pool installed today."
Me: "Oh yes, how did everything go? Are you satisfied with the job?"
Customer: "Yes everything is perfect, but I was wondering what box the water came in? I think the delivery men may have forgotten it."

The customer isn't acting entitled or abusive to the salesperson. She wasn't forgetting about something about the product that should be obvious, like holding a TV remote backwards. It wasn't ignorance of cultural stuff either, like being offended that she can't spend American money in Canada. (Both of those are other stories on the site.) She was forgetting about the basic facts of life (water doesn't come in boxes, which would be both ridiculously heavy and unnecessary if you have a hose). The woman, specifically described as elderly, is probably senile or close to it.

There are more like that. Sometimes the person is described as old, sometimes not, but a lot of stories that look like a mental problem or at least mental lapse rather than just something funny or stupid or asshole-ish someone did. It's impossible to be sure, of course, since most of these are probably not direct quotes, but one person's side of the story from memory. Still, as fun as Not Always Right is, there can be a bit of mood whiplash reading stories as they go from "wow, what an insane asshole" to "hah hah, what an idiot" to "oh wow, I hope that parent doesn't normally have custody". Or just "I feel guilty laughing at people with aphasia."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It's been two years since I was a reporter, but it still tickles me to read about national news covering stories and/or people I wrote about myself. (Or in one case, someone I was friends with while I was a reporter, although the way I knew him had nothing to do with work.) Like this, for example. In a recent Express there was an article about it, even briefer than that, and I almost laughed out loud on the bus. This is in a tiny town with about 1,800 people and I think probably fewer than five retail businesses, but their revolutionary wildlife program is apparently national news. I had written about two previous attempts to get that project going, and I guess they finally made it. Awww... (I couldn't find a link to my article about previous attempts at the salamander project, because the Web site of the newspaper I used to work for doesn't have great online archives. You can find plenty of stuff if you Google my name plus that town, though.)

Monday, April 05, 2010

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, I guess. I spent this past weekend at home, with nothing going on at all, not seeing T. or doing anything outside the house except walking to a nearby restaurant for lunch... and I was bored out of my skull.

"Bored out of my skull" is a bit of an exaggeration - it wasn't all that bad, and it was partly because I was trying to get some productive stuff done like my taxes. But then again, "nothing going on at all" is an exaggeration too - Friday night I went to a Magic tournament with Dave. (Did really well, too. Won three rounds out of four, a round being two games plus a tiebreaking third if necessary, and I probably could have done even better if I hadn't panicked at a certain point in one game. More simply put, I won seven games and lost four, which is much better than usual for me.) All in all, regardless of what I said in the previous posts, it feels like one leisurely unstructured weekend will be plenty for a while.