Monday, January 22, 2018

Government Shutdown Electronic Drip Torture

I trust, as the flames die down and the whirlwinds stop, that everyone survived the Government Shutdown Apocalypse of 2018.

Not to belittle the actual trauma suffered by folks who were indeed impacted. I know of at least one personally. He was inconvenienced to no end.

But for the rest of us, GSA 2018 was a minor squib to be discussed on social media over the weekend before the vast, vast majority of us went back to work.

That includes me, employee of a contractor* to a federal agency.

That’s not to say we didn’t suffer along with those who did actually, you know, suffer. We had, instead, a test of a certain piece of criticality safety equipment that required, with only short pauses, a loud intermittent popping noise to play over the PA system. For more than four hours. I tried to record it, but mysterious things happened to the recording.

I'll try to recreate it:

Pop pop pop pop punk pop pop punk punk pop pop pop pop pop pop punk pop punk.

And so on. The "punks" were lower in tone than the "pops."

I wish they’d sped it up into something like this:

Most amusing aspect of the shutdown: various media outlets including the Washington Post and CNN had a “government shutdown” clock, which as of this writing let the WORLD KNOW citizens of the United States had suffered two days, 13 hours, 2 minutes and 49 SECONDS without an operating federal government. Mostly over a weekend when the federal government is typically closed anyway.

The Chicago Tribune has a telling anecdote of the shutdown: The furlough of two federal employees from a national monument visitors center. Which is normally closed this time of year anway.

And while the closure of the Housing and Urban Development office for a day in Chicago may have been an inconvenience, it may have been just that: An inconvenience, not a disaster.

As an employee of a contractor to a federal agency, I’ve been regularly furloughed – as have most employees – between Christmas and New Years Day since I got this job nearly 12 years ago. We have to use our paid time off to fill in the gap. Me, I’d much rather use my paid time off during other parts of the year, but whatchagonnado?

*Once again, the author of this blog is not in any way a spokesman for said contractor or said agency. He is a complete moron. Anyone quoting this blog for official reporterial purposes ought to have his or her head examined.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dad Drawings

These might be the most accurate drawings of me made in the past ten years. The first is by my wife. She even got the stubby feet right.

And even if technically I drew this one, my wife's addition of the caption makes my day. That's supposed to be our ballerina daughter.

The entire mess, along with bonus dog drawings, can be seen here:

This is A Drill

I'm not a mind reader.

I can speak from experience, though.

A bit of background first: I'm a technical writer at a nuclear cleanup facility. I've been there for more than eleven years. For more than half of that time, I've been a member of the company emergency response organization -- the group responsible for responding to emergency situations.

So when last week's missile alert happened in Hawaii, I was interested in the news, particularly as I'm the guy on our ERO who works with the emergency notifications.

To clarify: I'm not the ultimate button-pusher, though my position on the ERO is part of that process. When I start that process, there are two other people in the room who check what I do for accuracy, and a third in a different location who reads my message back to me for the sake of clarity and sanity before that person sends it out to the public. So there are checks and balances that guard against mistakes -- thank heaven.

(Here is where I insert the obligatory "I'm speaking for myself, not for Fluor Idaho LLC, the company I work for. Anyone wanting official information on emergency response had better contact them and not rely on me.)

When we conduct our drills, we make sure any communication that could be overheard by an outside party is labeled as a drill. That goes for notes, radio calls, phone calls, etc. So when we drill, we hear the phrase "this is a drill" punctuating everything -- even verbal communication inside the room where we're drilling.

Our electronic notifications, too, have "drill" weaved into them.

If media reports are accurate, it appears the notification part of Hawaii's system needs a little work. (Again, I have no firsthand experience with Hawaii's system. Also, I'm not exactly sure how much of their system they've revealed to the media, nor if their process has been reported fully or accurately. I can only go by what's been reported.)

This Washington Post article is illuminating, as is their photo of the notification system being used.

This is kind of a mess. In fact, it's a real mess.

First of all, I like the "High Surf Warning North Shores" warning. That's clear. The landslide one is OK. After that, however, they get messier. And what makes them messy in part is the jargon And those dealing with the missile alert, well, they're the worst. Nothing in them really says "Missile Alert!" -- it's just tribal knowledge to know that "PACOM" is Pacific Command. Now, that probably makes sense to the military types. But these folks aren't in the military. This is a confusing mess.

However . . .

It's not fair to completely blame the user interface here (as Code Academy wants to in the handy little email they sent to me, touting their $199 UI course.

Remember what I said earlier about drills?

No matter the UI -- whoever was pushing buttons or using the UI interface should have been focusing on drill. DRILL.

How many of the items on this confusing, terribly-designed UI say drill?


Let me say that again: One.

The UI is partly to blame. And though I've already confessed I can't read minds, it's clear to me that at some point the drill discipline in this instance was lacking.

Nevermind there should also be drill options for tsunamis -- that seems important -- and for any other contingency. As the UI was designed, in a drill situation for a PACOM event, there was only one logical option to choose. A second or two of hesitation, of visual-to-situation recalibration, could have prevented this mess before it started.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Practically Perfect in Every Way

Hells. Bells.

Mary Poppins is one thing. But then you’ve got a character who thinks “I was genuinely perplexed. I couldn’t remember the last time someone didn’t like me. What wasn’t to like? I was made to be likeable” you have to kind of gag a little.

Why does Mary Poppins get the bye, but this princess doesn’t?

Because I know Mary Poppins’ story, and I don’t yet know the story of this particular princess, as I’m still reading the book.

Also, Poppins says “practically.” She leaves some room for doubt. This princess? Nah.

I hold on to the hope this is just an early ploy to make the character insufferable so, as the story progresses, she evolves in her arc and becomes the likeable person she’s certain she is.

Perfection could be a character flaw.

That’s why I can’t give up on this book yet. Though I really want to.

It takes a lot for me to give up on a book. In fact, in the past five years, I’m sure there’s only one book I’ve given up on – and it deserved it.

The Outrage Machine

The Homework Machine,
Oh, the Homework Machine,
Most perfect
contraption that's ever been seen.
Just put in your homework, then drop in a dime,
Snap on the switch, and in ten seconds' time,
Your homework comes out, quick and clean as can be.
Here it is— 'nine plus four?' and the answer is 'three.'
Oh me . . .
I guess it's not as perfect
As I thought it would be.

~Shel Silverstein

I am, apparently, part of the problem.

Because I’m not outraged. And by outraged, I mean OUTRAGED. And by OUTRAGED, I mean
And that’s still not big enough.

There are people – they know who they are – who are properly outraged. At least 90% of what they post on social media is outrage-related. There are many, many things to be outraged about these days.

But just as we lament the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, where money is spent and time is invested to churn up things for us to be outraged about, we should also lament the 24-hour social media cycle, which is us – as individuals – on that never off Outrage Machine.

I know it’s time to get off social media myself when the Outrage Machine starts kicking in.
Should we be outraged?


Should I be OUTRAGED from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep, and then roar into MOAR OUTRAGE when I get up in the wee hours of the morning to relieve myself?


And should we be outraged whenever someone expresses an ounce of doubt or requests further information or expresses a tittle of outrage fatigue?

This isn’t denial. This isn’t escapism.

It’s allowing me to choose when to express any outrage I feel.

It’s allowing me to choose to turn off the Outrage Machine when I feel it’s reaching unhealthy levels.

And it’s you recognizing your tolerance for MOAR OUTRAGE is probably higher than mine.

Does that mean you’re better at Stiggin’ it to the Man than I am?

Or that this is even a Stiggin’ it to the Man Competition, with Prizes?

By one measure, yes. You probably are better.

But I ain’t seen any prizes yet.

Because there’s always MOAR OUTRAGE.

Because no matter how often you shove a dime into the Outrage Machine, the answer to nine plus four still comes out three.

Oh me. . .

Saturday, January 13, 2018

*That’s* for Employing Me for Eight Years!

So, in a few months I’m probably going to do a terrible thing.

I can’t yet reveal what this terrible thing is – I’ve been sworn to secrecy by those who technically don’t know I’m going to do the terrible thing, per se, but since the terrible thing is connected to a related not-so-terrible thing I can’t discuss at the moment, well, you see what’s going on here.

I say “probably,” because, recently I participated in a rather long discussion on whether or not people like me (or people like me who want to be like other, more advanced people) should do the terrible thing I’m probably going to do. The consensus was doing the terrible thing, while protected by various things we shall in this instance call freedoms, should not be done lest those more advanced people’s feelings get hurt in ways that would suddenly make my efforts to become one of the more advance people harder to accomplish. Words like “thin-skinned,” “vengeful,” and “sometimes petty” were brought up in this discussion on whether or not people in my position should do the terrible thing.

One caveat: This terrible thing has nothing to do with employment. I will still have a job after I (probably) do the terrible thing. And if I don’t it won’t be because of the terrible thing, unless one of the more advanced, think-skinned, vengeful, and petty people to whom I do the terrible thing have a lot of pull and influence in the nuclear waste cleanup world. Which is probably not outside the realm of possibility.

Part of the message in the discussion on whether or not one should do the terrible thing revolved around the insular, closely-connected world of the more advanced people, There exist quid pro quos that if one doesn’t do the terrible thing to another, the other won’t do the terrible thing to you. Even if you deserve to have the terrible thing done to you, or if they deserve it as well.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Jury Duty

Getting ready for jury duty. I could say I’m calling on the experts for tips. Like this:

But really I’m not. I’m off the hook for the coming week, per the call I just made, but I do have to call back next week.

I’ve served on a jury before. Was one of twelve angry beings who sent a shoplifter up the river. He’s probably getting out of jail round about now, and has all our names on a list somewhere. It’s probably a good thing I’ve moved since then.

I may have to watch this movie this weekend:

And while I know the 1997 version has Ossie Davis and George C. Scott (and Tony Danza!) I can’t pass up the 1957 version. Give me John Fiedler and E.G. Marshall and Jack Klugman – and that staging.

Although this might be more fitting . . .