Low Stakes, High Intrigue

A funny thing happened as I went to make a turkey.

Okay, some context is in order here. On Monday the manager of my manager was given a bag of craft supplies that his teams were to transform into a turkey. Because of reasons. Well, he was working in a different office that day, so by “was given a bag of craft supplies” I really mean that somebody left it on his desk. Today (Wednesday) he dropped the bag on my desk and asked me to tell the teams that we needed to make a turkey out of it. This is why I refer to him as a trap-door spider, because you never know when he’s going pop up in your cube and hand you some crafting materials.

I dutifully took the stuff to our morning meeting and mumbled something barely coherent about turkeys. Afterwards, I dropped it off in an empty cubicle. It might have all ended there, but a co-worker found where I hid the fixings. The next I knew I’d crammed myself into the cube to stare at the assortment of goodies. There were expected things such as construction paper, popsicle sticks, and pipe cleaners — federal law mandates the use of pipe cleaners in every seasonal craft project, due to the political sway of the hobbiest lobbies. There were also plastic cups, a styrofoam ball, assorted small feathers, and an enormous blue feather that was sprinkled in glitter. We marveled at this collection of oddities and then went back to our respective desks to, y’know, do our jobs.

Shortly thereafter, a woman from another department wandered over to see our progress. That’s what she said, but the way she was talking about popsicle sticks made me suspicious. Being arguably responsible for our turkey supplies, I walked over to keep an eye on our inventory. The larger, paranoid part of my brain expected to see her filching a stick or two, but the tiny piece of my brain-meat responsible for lucidity reasoned that an adult would have little urge to pilfer cheap craft material.

Here’s where things got weird, because it turned out that she in the midst of an Ocean’s Eleven level heist of utterly insignificant goods.

I found her eyeing the supplies, holding an enormous blue feather that was covered in glitter. That sane portion of my brain tried to dismiss this as her being someone who just has to touch everything, which the rest of me wasn’t buying because of the enormous purple feather that now lay on the desk. She immediately tried to distract me by asking about our turkey plans. I ignored her question and asked my own.

“Did you just swap giant feathers with us?”

“No!” she scolded, looking offended. “Why would you even think that?”

“Because the one you’re holding is blue, which is the color of our feather. Also it has a bent tip, like ours does.”

She responded by stuffing the feather up the back of her sweater and asking a lot of questions about how we were planning to build the turkey.

Now, at this point my paranoia had been proven more reliable than my sanity, so I could only assume that in addition to stealing our feather she wanted to steal our turkey-making IP. I got really cagey about everything.

“What are you going to use the ball for?”

“Making a turkey,” I said absently, watching her hands to ensure nothing else disappeared into her clothing.

Eventually she left, and two co-workers came to make the turkey while I kept watch. Occasionally I saw her, watching me from across the room, waiting for me to let my guard down. Not today, feather-thief. I’m hip to your jive.


I Didn’t Realize How Appropriate the Screw Analogy Was When I Started Writing

The other day, while I was stopped in traffic, a screw landed on my right leg. It was so unexpected that for a few my brain skipped over the event, and I stared in incomprehension. Yet the screw remained, resting against a fold in my jeans.

I picked it up and gazed dumbly at the roof of the car. “Where had this come from?” I wondered, and “Was it important?”

As the cars before me started to move again, I realized that the screw had belonged to the clip which held my visor flat against the roof in its “home” position. It wasn’t strictly necessary, and my car probably wasn’t about to collapse into so many pieces.

The point of this story — aside from illustrating my typical level of panic — is that recently life has been a lot like that moment the screw dropped. Things have changed, more or less unexpectedly, and I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s going to be okay.

Last October Wendi got the news that her position was being terminated at the end of 2014. We’d already pretty much planned on her quitting sometime this year to focus on art, so this was more of a rude acceleration of her exit than a financial disaster. At the same time, though, came word that my own position, and those of my teammates, might conclude when our project wrapped up — an event scheduled (somewhat optimistically) for the end of June. We were to find out in
February if anyone would get to stay.

It’s February, and while I’ll save the answer for when I know more about specifics, I will say that I’ve been bringing things from my cube home since December.

So the end of 2014 consisted largely of playing Borderlands 2 and watching the Murder Channel, because I’d gone numb from stress. My posts here dwindled until they finally stopped. I didn’t want to discuss what was going on, and I couldn’t find the energy to think about anything else. The queue of “Furry Widdle Bunny” strips drained week by week, until I was forced into action in January, getting each week’s done just in time for Wednesday. A few times I remembered to post an entry for the Web of the Big Damn Spider, but mostly that blog went quiet.

I’m getting back on top of things now. Seeing Wendi adjust to her new circumstances helped a great deal, as did the effort of putting out the weekly just-in-time installments of FWB. The biggest aid, of course, was coming to terms with the fact that my job security was gone. Whatever management decided, the reality was that during my seven years with the company it had transformed from a job-safe environment to one that fully embraced the phrase “at will employment”. Whether my job ended or not, it was no longer the company I’d joined.

The screw in my lap is significant, I think, but it should be all right if I don’t care to put it back in place.

In the Event of a Real Fire I Would Probably Die

I was in the rest room at work, resting, when I noticed a persistent beeping coming from the hallway. After wrapping up my business, I sauntered out to find the office admins, in coats, conferring on who would do the final sweep for stragglers.

Putting two and two together, and getting the square root of 16, I realized that this weird, repetitive noise was meant to be a fire alarm. I swear it sounded different last time we had a drill. I remembered it as being a deafening klaxon, but this was merely an irritating blatting sound. To my ears it seemed like a video game telling you to please stop trying to do something.

As I limped back to my desk to get my coat–

Okay, back up. This morning I tried to hurry in to the office, for whatever fleeting purpose, I managed to outrage my foot and ankle in such a way that it’s hurt for almost 10 hours now. I should probably take some anti-inflammatories or something. This was the same foot and ankle that precipitated my surgery, so at least the resulting limp felt like coming home.

I wasn’t going to count on the building fire keeping me warm all the way over at our emergency gathering spot across the street, so I limped over to my desk to get my coat. As I did this, the senior admin asked if my friend Tim had found me. Tim, and his entire department, had been removed from the org chart last fall, so it seemed odd for her to ask this during a fire. I said he hadn’t, wondering exactly what had transpired while I’d been facilitating.

Freshly en-coated, I hobbled down two flights of stairs and joined the seething mass of non-productivity. It took a surprisingly long time for a fire truck to make the 2-block journey to the office, long enough that I was told that Tim was elsewhere in the throng. I found him and learned that he’d had extra time after lunch so had dropped by to say hi.

We said hi.

Moments later, the admins announced that we could return to work. I briefly considered getting a brownie sundae from the diner across from the office, but I was just too lazy. So I said goodbye to Tim and got in one for the elevators. All in all it went better than the fire at the bookstore had, but that’s another story.


The alarm was determined to be due to construction on the 7th floor. Somehow.

Tim presumably finished his lunch break and returned to work.

Wendi made me a sundae after dinner.

Stick a Note On It, That’ll Fix the Problem

There’s a door in the office that the building managers would like to remain closed. Lest there be any doubt, there is a sticky note in place to keep us on task.


All the sticky notes in the world won’t make up for the following facts.

  • There is a closer mounted on the door that moves with excruciating slowness and resists attempts to push it shut.
  • No one is going to wait for that.
  • Once the closer gets the door to the jamb, it sticks because the door is just a tiny bit too wide.

I pass by the door several times a day, and I dutifully pull it shut. I hope in my small way I can make it feel a little more secure.

A Commanding Problem

Last night I was working from home, overseeing one end of a data migration. I run a screen share application on my laptop to operate my work computer, and it works out fairly well despite the occasional delay in screen refreshing.

That is, it worked well enough until everything went higgledy-piggledy after the export and I had to react quickly.

As I typed commands into my bash shell, the Mac search pop-up kept intruding. After much cursing and forceful typing, I worked out that my work computer was under the belief that whenever I hit the space bar I was also pressing the command key — a combo that triggers the global search box.

Reckoning that there was something goofy about the shared screen session, I disconnected and started up a new session.

Still with the searching.

More cursing and smashing of keys.

I discovered that hitting the space bar twice in rapid succession managed to trick the computer into producing a single space before popping up the infernal search. Progress, of a sort.

I fired off a few commands, typing space-space-esc (the escape dismissed the pop-up) between words. Then I waited anxiously for word that things were back under control. Eventually that came, and I disconnected from my computer and went to bed.

This morning I came in to work and saw that my screen was still active. It should have gone into sleep mode shortly after I had disconnected. I approached and saw that my chair had been pushed in, and one arm was resting on… the command key!

The cleaning staff had pushed my chair out of the way to get to my trash can. A high-tech problem caused by a low-tech solution.

Tonight, before I left, I set my trash can out in the open. Just in case.

Welcome to the Rest of Your Work Life

Last week a dozen people at my office lost their jobs because business changes had made their positions unnecessary. Among those cut loose were most of the folks I hung out with at work events as well as one of my closest friends.

I thought I’d write about my own experiences with sudden re-introduction to the job market, but I realized that this might be an example of making the pain of others all about me. I’ll save that for another day.

Instead, in an effort to be useful, here are some suggestions for dealing with life sans work.

  1. It’s not you. Obviously it’s happening to you, but a layoff is not a judgement on you or your performance. This isn’t important merely for your morale; it’s vital for interviews. Why did you leave your last position? The business dissolved it. Sticking to this neutral truth indicates not only that you weren’t at fault but that you possess the maturity to speak about it objectively.
  2. Stop and smell the Pop-Tarts. It’s important to take the job search seriously. Set aside time to devote to locating opportunities and adjusting your cover letters to suit them. But it’s vital to attend to your spirits. You’re under stress, so you need to cool off. Do something you enjoy every day, whether that’s reading, playing games, or hanging out. Don’t be afraid to have fun; you’re still allowed!
  3. Keep a schedule. If you’ve been using an alarm clock, keep setting it. You still have work to do! Exercise? Keep it up. Maintain as much routine as you can. It’ll help lessen the disruption of your (hopefully) temporary new situation.
  4. Get a kitten. I’m pretty clearly running out of advice, but I have a spare kitten yet. I’m just saying. He’s cute, and sometimes he poops in the litter box.

I hope everyone finds a new position quickly. They’re all talented folk, so I’m sure they’ll be fine.

I Went to Camp Optimist But It Didn’t Take

I was recently lauded for my optimism, and I am wondering if I’ve fallen into the Bizarro universe.

Of course, I know I haven’t. Bizarro congress would be functional. The bank would pay me every month to keep living in my house. Sewage would come from the taps and we’d drink out of toilets.

Okay, now I’ve grossed myself out.

But really, optimistic? Me?!

Call me a cynic or a pessimist, and I’d see your point. What I really am is anxious and a bit paranoid. I can’t help but leap straight to the most likely disastrous outcomes, and if I weren’t on pills for it I’d lie awake all night obsessing on them. If I could breath I might even get a good night’s sleep one day.

(Note to self: schedule that sleep study. For real this time!)

What I’ve usually come across as, in polite terms, is an angry Chicken Little — or a raving Cassandra, if you prefer mythological references. Everyone would be trucking along — maybe grumbling but doing their work — and there I’d be screaming about impending doom. It’s a tendency that’s won me plenty of invitations to discuss my charms with management.

So, yeah. Now that I have something of a leadership position I’ve been trying hard to keep my natural state of panic from leaking out all over the team. I smile, and I work in calm phrases like “if I have one concern” and “I do wonder”, and all the while my stomach clenches into knots.

Optimistic? Nope. Just internalizing the dread, thanks.

Magical, Farting Elves

Network diagnostics are not a strong point of mine, so when things get screwy at work I’m pretty helpless.

Today, for about a half an hour, the network completely forgot I existed. I lost access to servers, code repositories, email, and a number of internal apps. Some of my co-workers suggested that I should check that my passkey still worked, but others pointed out that I might just leave if it didn’t.

To stay sane (and because IM still worked) I chatted with a co-worker while struggling to get my access restored.

Me: You know how you had network problems the other day?
C-W: Yeah?
Me: Now I can’t log into anything.
C-W: oy.
Me: My computer locked me out, and I could only get back in by restarting it.
Me: But anything that requires a password is hosed.
C-W: Freak week.

13 minutes later…

Me: It’s exactly as though my password expired, only it shouldn’t have.
Me: I didn’t get 1000 reminders. 😉
C-W: Weird.
Me: Aaaand now it works again.
C-W: Lucky you!
Me: Someone must have fed the elves.
C-W: Or farted.

Yup. Farting elves are the cause of so many of our problems. If only there were a way to treat their tiny little flatulance.

May I Freshen Your Documentation?

There’s a post-it on a cupboard at work that explains how to make coffee. I wrote earlier about how these instructions were modified to convert the measurements to decimal.

The coffee maker was recently replaced with a Keurig pod brewer. The only thing to measure now is the size of the coffee cup. No more scooping; just pop in your pod in push the button.

So we can toss the instructions now, right?

Wrong! As developers it is our responsibility to update documentation!

I see the Keurig. Now what?

I see the Keurig. Now what?

All of the previous text has been commented (crossed) out, and “see Keurig” has been added to the document. Good job, developers! Keep documentation relevant!