Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Office Space was a documentary.

Earlier today I got a phone call from the lawyer on a certain project team, asking me to identify where we used a certain phrase in a recent document. We had hoped that this thing would be published before a certain date, but it looks like it won't, so we now need to make sure that we didn't promise that it would be.

When he spoke to me, I was starting to dread going through the whole chain of previous versions of the document to find when and how and if we had phrased this part. Am I looking for how the public would read the implementation period, or how the teams' immediate superiors would think of it, or what the regulatory body beyond them would think? Am I looking for the phrase in the preamble of the document that establishes our authority for this, in the regulatory text that actually makes the new regulation, or what? In the text of the Word document, in comments, or both? We have been careful about tracking changes to cover everyones' asses, so there are literally 26 versions of the document (and probably more, filed in the wrong folder somewhere). I had until Friday; that seemed to be enough time, but it would take a fair amount of work to check all that.

But a few minutes after the phone call, I got an e-mail with a document attached. He just wants me to search the latest version; no need to worry about comments or previous versions of the document. And it turned out to be an easy task: the phrase "at least" does not appear there at all in relation to years, or any other lengths of time. His concern was apparently addressed during the editing process.

I was tempted to take until Friday to get around to it and claim I was reviewing all 26 documents and blame it on my misunderstanding of our phone conversation. Don't worry, I'm not enough of a Wally to actually do that; I already sent the e-mail quoting the relevant bits of the document. Still, two and a half hours elapsed between getting his e-mail and sending mine. It took me 10 or 20 minutes to search for the relevant phrases and anything else I could think of, write an e-mail, and copy-paste a few paragraphs into it. The rest of the intervening time was spent writing this, reading webcomics, triple-checking the document past the point of necessity just to cover my own ass, reading or thinking about other projects, and other non-essential stuff.

OK, so I'm not great about getting down to business diligently. We know this already. But here's something I don't get: what's the lawyer's excuse? Knowing exactly what he wanted from the start, he could have done this in the time it took him to give me the assignment. Open the document, hit Ctrl+F, search for "at least a year", add a few other related phrases to be safe, and call it a day. After that, if he wanted to be sure, he could have sent out an e-mail explaining the issue to me or other people and asking them to double-check. (The assignment e-mail was CCed to two other people on the team, as was my reply.) Half an hour at most for me if I was being responsible, 15 minutes for him. Given that he gave me more than three days to do it, I should be able to do it no matter how busy I am, so I have to assume he didn't know how long it would take. The guy apparently does not know how to use Microsoft Word. Again, to be clear, we are not talking about esoteric computer skills here, we are talking about the Find function. There are three different ways to do it in Word. It might seem "above and beyond" to search for related things and similar things as well in addition to what you actually want, but anyone who has done a Web search should know that you sometimes have to rephrase it, right? Right?

For which desk job is all of this not part of the basic skill set?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dilemma of the day: correct someone who is being stupid, or let them continue?

Someone on Facebook posted something warning people about this urban legend in earnest. If he were a real friend, I think I'd correct him, totally politely of course. An aunt had a habit of sending out e-mail forwards, as did someone I knew through my previous job. In both cases I sent them a link to Snopes saying what the "official" word on that was, whether ambiguous or not. In both cases I'm pretty sure I was civil about it, or at the very least I'm definitely sure that they accepted my e-mail with good grace and didn't send me anything else like that. However, that's an aunt and a kind of aunt-like figure. This guy, in my experience, ranges from well-meaning but annoying to just annoying. So I'd take more pleasure in correcting him, but on the other hand I don't want to remind him that I'm still alive. I don't need awkward questions about where I'm living or anything.

As it is, I'm torn on whether or not to comment on Facebook about it. However, I'd be almost certain to ignore this if not for the fact that two days ago I heard something similar and did nothing. In line at the Post Office Saturday I heard some moron telling a young kid he was with about how it's a sign of how government sucks. That's illogical at best (what, specifically, are they doing wrong? Would FedEx get through that many customers any quicker? It's stupid to use a sample size of one office on one morning; how long is the average wait overall?) and leads to politics like Tea Partiers and the Bush years. I didn't say anything because I was just picking up a form from a stack and was about to leave, why make a scene in public, a retort that wasn't sufficiently to the point would just make myself look stupid, etc. And, of course, the long wait was annoying.

So because I regret not saying anything about wingnut stupidity, I'm now more inclined to way something about stupidity of a less politicized variety.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I had a meeting yesterday which really made me wish oratory was not a lost art. Everyone who was anyone used to be deliberately taught how to speak at length in public, and while teaching methods have changed for the better since those good ole days, that subject could do with being rediscovered. People get to middle and upper management because they know the right people and have the right degrees*, and then once they're managers unless they have uncommon skill** they get put in front of a few dozen people to give a presentation and stammer and ramble and mix metaphors and demonstrate no awareness of their audience and never look up from their notes.

This happened yesterday. There's a more or less quarterly meeting of the department, and I bring a notepad to almost any meeting even if I know it won't be needed just in case. This time, as in several others, I wound up critiquing the presentation. And it was awful. The main speaker was a Mr. S. In addition to every single one of the problems mentioned in the previous paragraph, Mr. S presented half a dozen or so awards, including one for overall achievement and service. One accomplishment cited was the recipient's attempt to implement a new file management "system... may it rest in peace". What that means is that the file management system never got off the ground. Mr. S was congratulating the subject for a failure. I'd recommend not mentioning it at all, and if that can't be avoided, I'd certainly find a better way than "may it rest in peace". Also, when Mr. S gave out awards, the recipients were standing in front of the PowerPoint projector, and I'm pretty sure they were getting blinded. That's not necessarily his fault as a speaker, but it's someone's fault as a more basic failure to consider how people will perceive things.

In fairness to Mr. S, public speaking is a learned skill. In criticism of him again, there's a point where incompetence becomes negligence*** becomes malice. How much can someone fail to think about an audience's reactions to things before it's clear that they don't think about other people at all?****

Well, to be clear, and so as not to insult my boss's boss's boss, Mr. S certainly isn't that bad. I'm sure he's a nice person and I know I've seen worse presentations than that; I've taken notes on them here, even, given by different speakers. All I'm saying is, it made me wonder.

* Or, more optimistically, because they know the field from the inside by working their way up the ladder. But realistically...

** Speech classes do exist, they just aren't generally required. And it's possible to learn this stuff on the fly, with experience. And some people are probably naturally gifted at it. I think I'm a better public speaker than average, due to a little more experience doing it than most people and a lot more time spent in audiences than most people, but I'm not all that great at it.

*** And the legal system recognizes it, going this far at least.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

If I could control my attention to detail, I'd be indispensable in any job.

Yesterday, I got back another writer's review of something I had previously edited. There were a lot of editing marks on it. As for most of it, I could pretty easily think that it's all fair enough, this was never supposed to be the final version, I made mistakes just like everyone else does, et cetera. In two instances, though, the mistakes were so blatant, such basic violations of proper style, that I was embarrassed. I've been in this job for more than two years, I've been writing since college, I really should catch it when an ampersand is used instead of the word "and" in a formal document, and pay attention to whether an abbreviation has periods between letters or not. (If some are correct and others aren't, of course, and they're all side by side within a couple pages, and so on.) I'm not worried about job security because of this one document, of course, but I've been keeping my nose clean a bit more than usual since yesterday morning.

And then, 10 minutes ago as I was leaving a meeting, I was in the elevator with the manager of a project I'm on and three other people. One of the other passengers was carrying a book with "X Publishing" written on the cover in a weird font, and she was holding the book so that the text was more upside down than not. "X" was my project manager's last name. I noticed this and pointed it to him during a four-floor elevator trip. I'm pretty sure that's unusual, but it happens to me all the time. Too bad I didn't have that attention to detail about ampersands and punctuating abbreviations on the document last week...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Wow. As I mention all the time, I'm a pretty cynical person. Basically, I tend to believe the worst of people, especially collectively rather than individually and in commerce rather than non-economic efforts. So I would assume it's unlikely that news of brazen deceit would surprise me.

Silly me.
Unicredit America Inc. agreed Tuesday to stop sending letters to consumers threatening them with arrest if they failed to respond. Erie County Judge Michael Dunlavey also ordered the mock courtroom torn down within 30 days.

The state attorney general's office says Unicredit used people appearing to be sheriff's deputies to deliver hearing notices to consumers and used fake court proceedings to get money from them. Authorities say a person dressed in black would preside from behind a raised bench at the front of the room.

The state has also filed a civil suit against Unicredit alleging unfair trade practices. That suit seeks civil penalties for hundreds of affected consumers.

So to summarize, a company was impersonating law enforcement officials for debt collection. No, not just law enforcement officials, the law enforcement process. Fake sheriffs, fake courtrooms, the whole bit. Not for some kind of "Punked" reality TV show or something, but because honest means of squeezing money from people don't have sufficient return on investment. (Or maybe because they were crazy enough to believe that this flamboyant way of doing it would get good press. Or maybe for some other reason, but it's hard to imagine any reason that's OK.) Now that they've been found out, they're getting a slap on the wrist for it. Wow.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

How many black Republicans were just elected? (At least one that I know of.) Of the Congressional districts that switched from (D) to (R), how many of them are in the former Confederacy? Of the majority-black districts in the former Confederacy, how many switched districts yesterday? Democrats did bad overall yesterday, but did they do better or worse in the South than in the rest of the country?

When I happened to look at a map of Virginia's election results, I saw two big, relatively rural districts switch from (D) to (R), and I thought, "Huh, I thought all those had switched by 1994." Well, I know not all had, but you know what I mean - the Southern Strategy, explicitly and deliberately used by Republicans since Nixon's day, was a long process of using coded and not-so-coded racist appeals to win elections, and it's had mixed results but overall resulted in near-total Republican dominance in the South. Yesterday, that dominance got a little more total.

Crunching all the numbers - how many Democratic representatives are left in the south, did black Democrats do worse than white Democrats, how Democrats did in the south compared to overall - is beyond me. I could be completely wrong about it; it's no surprise that rural districts in Virginia went Republican because rural districts in other states do that pretty often as well. Like I said, I just noticed it and wondered. I'll try to watch FiveThirtyEight and see if anything about this is posted, and if anyone sees a post about this kind of thing elsewhere, feel free to leave a link in comments here.
I was looking through my archives recently and found this.
It's a bit ironic that book publishers, of all things, are getting into the intellectual property protection controversy. Audio/video media, software, merchandising, reference material - all of them really might have something to lose if it's safe and easy to get their product off the Internet. But books? I can't imagine myself reading an e-book, at least not with today's technology. For me at least, and I don't think I'm too very unusual in this, neither a desktop nor a laptop could possibly compare to a book you can carry around with you wherever, fit into some pockets, and not worry about because a paperback is only like $5-$10 and can take a fair amount of getting thrown around. (One's immobile, the other's fragile, and they both are less comfortable to read.)

It seems funny considering how much I use my e-book reader these days. Well, predictions are hard.
It figures. There are 12 House races which CNN has not called yet, and the one my girlfriend's job depends on is one of them. Being kept in suspense is annoying, but realistically this isn't all that big a deal. She has been saying since well before the election that she wants to find a new job, for personal reasons, and she has already been sending out resumes and networking, and the only difference if the election goes the wrong way is that the job hunt will be more urgent.

That's the only race that really mattered to me, really, and the employment thing is the only reason, since I don't have a very high opinion of the Congressman in question. Two months ago I moved from one safe district to another. I haven't followed local news all that closely in either district. I voted, almost party line with one exception and there was another measure on which I voted with the majority but probably for a different reason.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I think I saw the signs in the back of this particular picture personally, maybe the "use your inside voice" sign and definitely the back two, and maybe also a few others in that photo gallery. Buzzfeed also has a thread (I'm not linking to it partly because my office seems more serious than usual this week about non-work-related e-mail use and Buzzfeed seems more obviously not-work-related than most blogs, but mainly because my Internet connection sucks at the moment) with 100 pictures or something and I know I saw some of them myself. I took a few dozen pictures and I plan to download them from my phone later this week and when I do I'll put some of them up here and/or on Facebook. Yeah, I know later this week is much later than most people, but give me a break, I don't take many pictures at all and rarely upload them to anything, so this will be better than nothing.

As for my own voting plans, things are still a little up in the air (it's personal; it's a minor and probably a stupid thing to worry about but I'd still rather not put it in writing online), but I'm 90 percent sure of what I'm doing. I suppose I am too apathetic and pessimistic about this, and sure, things could definitely be worse. But still, when the optimistic case backed up by numbers is for Democrats to only lose 30 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate, things don't look good.

10 years ago and more, my political philosophy was that America had two parties, the Evil Party (R) and the Stupid Party (D). It seems like things just didn't matter that much in the late 1990s, when there was a budget surplus and the French vanilla* sex lives of incumbents was the big issue and the last two or three wars had been just wars (well, more or less) and cakewalks. Since then, obviously, a lot has changed in the world, and I've grown to dislike glib "a pox on both your houses" thought processes, and in the past couple elections Democrats seem to have been much smarter than before.

At the moment, though, I'm leaning more toward my previous stance. That Onion article I linked to a couple days ago was, as I said, basically straight news. And T. has complained frequently over the past month or more about her boss's reelection campaign being run abysmally. If even half of what she's saying is reliable (not that I doubt her, of course, but hearsay is hearsay), the people in charge of that campaign are either so incompetent that they're literally unqualified, or deliberately sabotaging it.

And finally, in a minor, irrelevant-except-that-it-confirms-my-narrative detail, Vermont's Democratic gubernatorial candidate also seems to have a stupid campaign: what does he look like? Wikipedia has no picture, and his own campaign's Web site doesn't have a picture of him on the front page either. Boneheaded, unforced error.

* "Vanilla": plain and likeable but boring.
* "French vanilla": with one or two minor, predictable deviations from otherwise being plain and boring.

Thus, sex with a spouse is vanilla and an otherwise unremarkable affair is French vanilla, whereas swingers' clubs or gay sex by a social conservative or an affair in which the other woman winds up dead are more spicy.

The "vanilla" and "French vanilla" terms are fairly common in Magic: the Gathering, to describe creatures with no abilities, or only abilities so simple and common that they have keywords, respectively, but at the last minute it occurred to me that the meaning of the terms might not be obvious in a non-gaming context.