Friday, June 25, 2010

So I read about Dave Weigel (DC reporter, libertarian but apparently moderate, reliable critic of nutty right-wingers) getting private correspondences leaked to the media and being forced to resign after that, my first thought was, "What does that say about me?" (All the previous post's disclaimers about self-centeredness still stand, of course.)

About Weigel himself, it sucks. Here's the general story, and other places say he's already resigned. By the way, in most places with posts about this - Politico, for example - nine out of 10 critics seem to accuse him of being some extreme liberal, which is moronic if not dishonest and very probably both. Just getting that out of the way. I agree with John Cole about it all, and Andrew Sullivan has made some interesting points I'll be getting to in a minute.

So, back to me. Yesterday some time, I was looking at the Facebook page of a woman I dated for a little while. I saw a link to her apparently new personal Web site aimed at drumming up business as a freelance journalism/Web designer, and I saw Weigel on her list of friends. I clicked through and read what I could see of his profile that was publically available and wondered about things for a bit. Is he a horrible person (he is, after all, a libertarian, and a good enough friend of Megan McArdle to go to her wedding, and McArdle is a horrible person), or am I a horrible person for being so judgmental and draconian, or what? Meh, 10 minutes of musing introspection, big deal. But the recent mention of and thought about him made me pay attention to today's news about him when I otherwise might have skipped it entirely.

First, early today I got nagged by my supervisors about missing some details in a recent project I really should have caught. I'd say "I got chewed out", but they weren't aggressive enough to merit that description and I'm too deferential to give someone an easy opening for that. (Deferential? Nebbish? Laid-back?) A pretty big instance of not being details-oriented enough.

And then there's Weigel, doing good and arguably influential work on political topics. And then there's Michael Hastings, an awesome reporter about whom I happened to learn a little more today. And there's even that girl I dated, who judging by that Web site has done even more impressive stuff than I knew about.

And then there's me, who gets reprimanded for not paying enough attention to a pretty simple project and still spends most of the rest of the day coming up with Magic: the Gathering deck ideas and writing this. Makes me wonder yet again if I should be doing more with myself.

And it's sad or maybe just funny how quickly I get into "the enemy of my enemy" mode; just yesterday I was wondering if I should be ashamed of being one degree of separation from Weigel (I've also met him at a party once, FBOFW), but today he gets forced out of his job for being critical of right-wingers, so I call people who denigrate him dishonest morons (well, they are, but that's not the point).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My sister has finished college and has been looking for work for the past few months now and has been a bit worried/depressed/despondent about it. Bad economy in general, our home state of Vermont is particularly thin on young people, where my parents live now is way too rural for her to have any fun, etc. For the past couple months I've been feeling vaguely sorry for her, but not enough to actually suggest that she do as I did and move to a city. Mainly because I fear (irrationally, now that I think of it, but anyways) that saying so could be read as an invitation to move in with me. Yeah, selfish of me.

But today she called me and she was practically hysterical. Crying because the dog wasn't acting normally (the dog, a rescued abandoned dog, is always a bit "neurotic", but is not the highest maintenance pet my family has had. He's not even in the top three) and she hadn't been able to get in touch with our parents, who are on vacation. She had left at least one and probably several messages and hadn't heard back from them for hours, she said. That's right, hours. Wow, horrifying. And apparently she insisted on getting a gun before they left to go on vacation, just for home defense. To be clear, this is the house she and I grew up in, two miles from the nearest paved road. As far as I know the last uninvited intrusion of any kind was a drunk asshole college student renting a house nearby, and that was before my sister was born. Other than bees and wasps (she's allergic) and the decrepit old farmbuildings our parents haven't taken down yet, I honestly can't imagine anything dangerous this time of year within sight of the house. Trees, I guess, if she climbs one and falls down... or some rusty wire... but she apparently bought a shotgun in case some random nut starts playing "The Most Dangerous Game" or a burglar just happens to hit our house.


So now I feel even more obligated to encourage/help her move down here because I think she might literally be going crazy in rural Vermont while at the same time more leery of it because if she goes crazy anyway I do not want to be the one dealing with it.

Although now that I write this down, worrying about her moving in near or with me and us getting on each other's nerves is absurd (and, of course, like I said, selfish). Even if she thinks the way I assume she thinks, she wouldn't move to DC, she'd move to Boston. (Where she went to college, and we also have an aunt there.)
In addition to yesterday's griping, I also have been thinking about a list of little things people could do to make my job easier. Well, now that I phrase it like that it sounds pointless. Of course everyone should do things to make my job easier, right? But still, a lot of this is pretty simple stuff which seems straightforward and yet nobody does them. The two examples that came up yesterday: Given that people use the Microsoft Word "insert comment" button all the time in my office, it seems to me like people should add further comments of their own by using that, and yet yesterday I got one document with a comment inserted into someone else's comment and another document with a comment inserted directly into the text. In either case it's easy to miss, and the second way if it's missed then it would even wind up in the finished product, which would be very stupid. So why don't people do it? I can't think of any reason other than thoughtlessness. (At my last job, comments from editors were made in the text of documents. However, again, there's already a practice here of using comment bubbles, so why some people don't insert comments in bubbles, and some people only do it sometimes, is the mystery.)

And the other example from yesterday: we all have access to the same file server. If everyone worked in the same master document then version control (that is, which version of the document is the latest and incorporates all the edits made by various people) would be no problem at all; people could see what changes earlier people made and make their own next to or on top of them or make comments disagreeing. The only problem is that two people couldn't work in it at the same time, but that seems like a small problem and relatively easily circumvented. So why does almost everyone insist on e-mailing drafts of documents back and forth as e-mail attachments? This way, someone (that is, me) has to go through and combine the two documents. If I'm lucky, they were working on two different parts, so I can just copy-paste one into another. If I'm unlucky, more likely, they have made edits close to or overlapping with each other, so I have to go through and review the changes line by line and hope they were just stepping on each other's toes but not actually disagreeing. Again, I have no idea why people insist on doing this by e-mail. It's possible that they really are so busy they couldn't get their job done around someone else occasionally working in the file, but it seems far more likely to me that they just can't be bothered.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ugh. Work annoying. After one tech editor (that is, me and people doing jobs similar to mine, just assigned to different projects) is finished with a document that's at all consequential, the policy is to give it to another for a peer review. Seems simple, right? I did that with a recent project, and it hasn't turned out well. Not disastrous - I've certainly had worse - but low-key annoyance and embarrassment.

I didn't spend too much time on it. It's a relatively small and noncontroversial project, and it's an annual thing so most of the language was copied verbatim from previous projects. The designated peer reviewer happened to be a pretty laid-back guy, and he didn't find much in it that needed changing, so I was relieved. But then I was told that he had also passed it on to our supervisors, who found a lot more.

In addition to minor, trivial oversights that should be avoided of course but I can't really feel too bad about, I made two mistakes. First, I didn't compare it to a template of that exact type of document. I did compare it to a similar document to check basic formatting issues and I did catch some basic stuff that way, but there were several more things that I would have found if I had bothered to get out the right template. Oh well.

And I don't remember exactly what the second mistake was (I've been procrastinating on finishing this, of course), but if I had to guess, it had to do with one section I did correct mistakes in but shouldn't have, because a different person has final say over it than over the rest of the document. So now I've got an e-mail out there where I'm saying "no, sorry, it looks like you're still wrong about this" for the second time. Let's hope that's all the second problem was, because if there was more to it than that then tomorrow will not be fun.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I learned something new Wednesday night: Elena Kagan is really short.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The rest of the weekend: fun, there's just less to say about it. T. and I went to the zoo on Saturday, which was cool just because I've never been to the Washington zoo. We also watched some TV and ran errands and ate out and just generally hung out Friday and Saturday. I was feeling a little bit guilty because we had had plans to get together Thursday night but I cancelled at the last minute, but you know, we have been seeing quite a bit of each other lately.

Sunday afternoon was, like I said, Magic: the Gathering at Dave's place with him and Paul. I played a game or two with my Ally deck, just enough to ensure that yeah it's probably tournament-competitive or close enough to not be embarrassing if I can finally get around to going to one, and the rest of the time was spent playing multiplayer games. Those are fun (obviously, or I wouldn't still be playing) but they get weird. In probably at least half the games, I got eliminated first and Paul won after being almost ignored by both of us until the end. Very few cards in the game are so good that they make up for being ganged up on, so after one of us (usually me, like I said, but it varied) played a big threat the other two would be forced to gang up on that one. And so it goes, with the person who had been doing worst winning in a couple turns after the others had battered away at each other.

In addition to my Ally deck, I also played a couple games with my Elf deck, which is turning into a masterpiece of creative, artistic, fun deckbuilding, and with a new deck I just made between getting home and going to Dave's place. (That might have contributed to how the games went; the new deck, even more than the other decks the guys were playing with, is based on using harmless weenie creatures to get out massive ones. An Eldrazi deck, basically, but with other big creatures as well. This means that the other guys have (a) plenty of warning when something is coming and (b) one big target to focus on.)

So, it was fun. I stayed out a bit later than I wanted to, and was up even later than that watching TV on my computer after I got home, but hey, I don't have any big plans for tonight.
Last night I witnessed such a concise, compact character study that if I was still in college and submitted this blog post to a Creative Writing class, I would automatically get an A for it. I mean, this blog post wouldn't actually get a good grade just because I'm not going to waste time parsing word choices and trying to show rather than tell every little thing, but I thought it was a great "truth is stranger than fiction" moment. Just strike "stranger" and replace it with "more dramatic".

I was playing Magic with Paul and Dave yesterday afternoon. One of them mentioned a neighbor of Dave's who plays the game, so they invited him over. I forget the neighbor's name - Tom, maybe - but Paul and Dave tried to give him a nickname and make it stick: "Squirrel Boy", for his obsession with a certain Magic deck he had played on a previous visit. He had been spending time with his girlfriend and a roommate of his (or a friend of his girlfriend, I wasn't too clear on that), so while he was here they hung out and played with Dave's X-Box (or whatever). All three of them in college or I guess maybe grad school. Squirrel Boy looks like a typical surfer and acts the part (well, as far as I can tell on a quiet day indoors with no recreational drugs nearby), and both the girlfriend and the roommate were hot blonde women. The girlfiend also had huge breasts.

Apparently both the ladies were a bit frustrated to be dragged over there while Squirrel Boy played Magic. After a few minutes (we completed one four-way game and a second had just started, I think) she came over and whispered in his ear. I asked if he needed to go and they both left precipitously, grinning. Or course, the roommate was annoyed at the very least at being sexiled. Partly because she had left something or other she would want in their apartment. Especially because, she said, the girlfriend was a bit of an exhibitionist, and wouldn't mind being walked in on inadvertently.

Fine, this problem is a bit funny for the roommate to have. I made wise-ass remarks about how rough it must be to be dating a big-titted blonde exhibitionist. Squirrel Boy came back for a bit and after the roommate had got whatever she needed from the other apartment she rejoined us in Dave's for a little while. Later, though, the roommate mentioned that the girlfriend's phone was ringing and it turned out to be the girlfriend's mother and Dave mentioned to us that she is practically abusive to her daughter.

To me, this put everything about her in a whole new light. Her appearance (blonde bombshell), her taste in boyfriends (it looked to me like could do much better than him), her way of acting (she couldn't kill a little time on her own? If she and Tom had plans then he was being a jerk for skipping them, but that's not the impression I got), her exhibitionism (I find the idea hot myself, forgive me if I'm oversharing, but the roommate made it sound like the girlfriend takes it too far) - every single thing I knew about her. It's because her mother if not both parents treats her like shit, so she seeks approval anywhere she can get it and/or tries to get back at her mother by living down to her expectations.

Although maybe it says more about me that I find this remarkable. Maybe a similar narrative could be found or fabricated about almost everyone and this one jumped out at me because I got to see all the elements of it in one eight-hour period. (As always, and maybe I should just put this in the banner at the top of the page, I know I'm condescending; sorry about that. Also, of course, maybe I'm completely wrong about this woman.)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Argh. I wonder how long it will take for computer illiteracy to become something that people feel the need to better themselves on, or at least shamefully hide.

I'm not talking about knowing some computer language or an in-joke of some online subculture. I'm talking about hyperlinks in e-mails. And not some esoteric or barebones e-mail program either; in this office, everyone has Microsoft Outlook. And to specify the problem yet further, the addresses in the links were not misspelled, they were badly formatted in an obvious way, and yet both the e-mail sender and someone who had been CCed with me didn't know how to fix the problem on their own.

The paths to files on the office network were typed directly into the e-mail, without the formatting that would turn them into links (that formatting requires just two more characters per link). Outlook automatically turned the first part of them into links but stopped at a space (because a URL to a Web page wouldn't have a space in it, but, again, this is a path to a file on the internal network), so the links are broken. You could still read the path as instructions and follow them to the folder, or copy-paste the part before the file name into a Windows folder and get to the folder that way and click on the file in the folder, or copy-paste the broken link into a new e-mail (or hit the Reply button, or Forward, or...) and put the formatting around them to make them into links that way.

However, the original sender of the e-mail didn't do that. She sent out an e-mail yesterday with four broken links but added a note after the last one saying that it was broken (but, apparently, never realized that the other three were too) so people could just go to the folder and look for that file name. Thoughtlessly overlooking the problem wouldn't bug me; hey, it happens. But I'm dumbfounded that someone who has used this program in this system for years wouldn't know how to fix this problem if she found it. And this afternoon, another recipient of the e-mail asked me where to find those files because of precisely the problem I'm talking about: the way the links weren't working. So I sent her a link to the folder, this time formatted correctly. Apparently she didn't know the fix for broken links either, and didn't read the note in the previous e-mail explaining how to get around it. Sad.

This is more a pet peeve than any real protest; I know I have my flaws too. And I guess it might be a bit sexist and/or ageist of me, since a while back I printed out two copies of this xkcd comic, tacked one to my wall and gave the other to a co-worker (a woman of roughly the same age as the two I was just talking about) who was always bugging me about computer problems that 90 percent of the time were really trivial and easy. I felt guilty about being rude at the time, but she hasn't bothered me since then.