Chicken Little

Chicken Little was one of my most despised types of co-worker: the type that figures they can take a job that depends on constant computer use, claim they’re “not good at that stuff” and get paid to sip coffee all day.  Because why should you learn anything new just to cash a paycheck, am I right?

Anyway, she got her name because everything was a crisis.  She didn’t recognize her new homepage?  A crisis.  Didn’t know how to use a Word template?  Total meltdown.  I cannot count the number of times she stood in my doorway, halfway between screaming and tears, saying “I just don’t know what to DO!”

Gee, maybe if you consistently don’t know what to do at work, that’s a sign you should maybe do something else?  Far away from me?

So, there were two printers in our part of the office.  The main, industrial printer, which everyone shared, and a small laser printer which was connected to Chicken Little’s PC.  This printer existed so that she could print confidential stuff without having to let it sit in a public printer, and allowed her to print onto specialty papers without fussing with the large paper trays.  It was not, however, SOLELY her printer, and a few people such as myself mapped to it as a backup.

Chicken Little, however, always had it in her head that this printer was hers and hers alone, and would print off batches of address labels, leaving the rest still in the tray.  This would mean if I printed a report, I’d walk to her desk (knowing full well she wasn’t there and therefore not using her printer) and find it had been printed on address labels.  This would not happen once or twice, but in fact became a pattern.  And when she would discover the wasted labels, she would act surprised.

It got to the point where I would hear her talking with her co-workers at the other end of the building, decide to use her printer, and as soon as she heard the paper churn through, she’d be literally RUNNING down the hall (dress and heels, no less) screaming “NO NO NO WAAAAIIITTTT!!!!”  as if she expected the printer to listen to her.  Who knows, maybe she did?  And without even getting up, I knew I needed to (again) go change the paper back because she’d left the good stuff in the paper tray.

It was maybe six months before it was decided that Chicken Little needed to find another henhouse.

Lied on Their Resume

One of my biggest pet peeves:  People who take jobs like “administrative assistant” or “teacher”, jobs which in the 21st century are incredibly computer-centric, and don’t know even basic PC functionality.  Of course, they’ll have said during their interview that they’re experts, but when you sit them in the chair, they don’t know the difference between and URL and an e-mail address, or between Word and Excel.

So then what?  Do you fire them for not being able to do the job they said they could do?  Fuck no, it becomes my problem.  I have to train them to do what they should have known to start with… and really, should be able to do for 99% of the jobs in this day and age.

One of my favorite problem children comes and asks me for help.  Apparently, she has two spreadsheets full of customer information, both in different formats.  She’s tasked with combining them into one, then sorting them six different ways based on the needs of who is asking for the report.

First I have to explain how to make new entries into the spreadsheet.  Then I have to explain the difference between storing a date as text like “January 3” compared to actually having a date format like “1/3”.  Then I have to explain how to use a Yes/No box.  Then I have to describe for her the process of copying and pasting the two spreadsheets together.

As for sorting them?  Well, I know you can sort a spreadsheet, but when you’re looking at doing it as many ways as she wanted, I felt compelled to tell her that a spreadsheet was far from ideal for the task.  So, I had to work with her on converting the Excel data into an Access Database (it was a relatively small amount of Data, no need to reach for anything more sophisticated).  All this over someone whose job requirement is to know MS Office in and out.

Finally, I get her to the point where the Database mirrors the Excel sheet in format, so all she has to do is enter in the new data she has behind the existing data.  I show her how, now that she’s done this, she can sort any which way she wants all day long.  She smiles and seems genuinely happy.  Then she asks “So, now how do I get it back to the way it was?”

WTF??  YOU DON’T!!!  WE JUST SPENT AN HOUR AND A HALF TEACHING YOU HOW TO ORGANIZE THIS SHIT!  WHY THE FUCK DO YOU WANT TO REVERT IT BACK TO A SPREADSHEET FULL OF RANDOM DATA?

Lightweight

The lightweight makes a game out of trying to trip up techs, salespeople, and any other peons who make their living trying to keep them happy.  This can get them reasonable satisfaction when they’re trying to return a sweater or shake down a crooked mechanic, but it falls flat when they try it on someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Case in point:  Remember back when Intel started branding its Pentium-M chipset as “Centrino”, and kicked off what eventually became the ‘light and thin’ trend for laptops?  Prior to that, a “portable” computer had a realistic range of about two hours from an electrical outlet, if you were lucky.

So, the lightweight asks me “So what’s this ‘Centrino’ thing?”, implying that I have no idea, even though I’m paid to answer questions exactly like that all day, every day.

“”Centrino’ is a standard that uses a mobile processor to achieve lighter weight and better battery life.”  Please note that it made sense to omit unnecessary details when answering questions like this.  This is not the answer I would have given a fellow tech.

“WHAT?  Gimme a break!  What’s the processor got to do with the battery life?”  He must have been restraining himself from adding “Gotcha!”

I subtly slow down my speech, until I’m talking at a pace usually reserved for talking to Big Bird.  “A lower-voltage processor uses less electricity.”

“Oh.”

“Using less electricity, will use less battery power.”

“That makes sense, I guess…”

“Using less battery power, will generate less heat.”

“Yeah…”

“Generating less heat will require less fan power.”

“Okay…”

“Using less fan power also consumes less electricity.”

“Right…”

“And using less electricity will ultimately make the battery last longer.”

“Please… stop…”

Sophia, Just Be Glad I Didn’t Puke On You (long)

Every morning, I have the same argument with myself: am I going to get out of bed and do the responsible thing, go to work, and earn my paycheck, or will I do what I WANT to do and call in sick so I can get some more sleep?  And every morning, there is a period of about three seconds where the latter has a very strong chance of winning out.  And yet, somehow, nearly every morning the responsible side wins out, and by the time I get out of bed and start putting in my contacts, I resolve myself into saying “Okay, we’re going to do this one more day.”

You’d think that would be a good thing.  Sometimes, however, the “Fuck ’em All” half needs to be respected, for tragedy can strike when he is not.  This is one of those times when I should have listened to “Mr. Fuck ’em All”.

I roll into the office at 8 AM sharp, with nothing particularly unusual to note that morning.  As I’d planned the previous day, I was going to do a job in the next city over (2 hour drive) and so I load my tools into the company car and head off.  With 2 hours in the saddle each way, and needing to have the car back at 5PM sharp, I’m looking at five productive hours once I arrive, so every minute is going to be precious if I’m going to get this done.  This is a run I make all the time, with the same schedule, and I have it down to a science… my next step is to grab a McDonald’s drive-thru breakfast, which will give me enough protein and calories to get through the day (working through lunch) so that I don’t get hungry.

I pass the midway point on the turnpike and suddenly start feeling a bit chilled.  Then sweaty.  Then achy.  And suddenly, I really want my bed.  At best, I think, maybe my allergies are messing with me, but I strongly suspect I have a flu setting in.  This is when I really, really wish I’d just called in and stayed home, but who was to know this would end up being the day I actually needed to take it easy?  I could have turned around and headed home there, but at this point, I was already much closer to the destination than I was to my house, and as the minutes went on, I wanted to stop, get out of the car, and rest… and if work was the closer destination, that’s where I was going to go.

I get to the jobsite, lean my seat back, stretch, take some deep breaths, and close my eyes.  I feel a second wave of energy hit me.  I can do this.  I have five hours here, if I cut my workload down to the barest essentials, I can knock it out in three and head home.  The only thing I absolutely, positively, had to do that day to appease the PHBs was to run an ethernet line from the router to the kitchen.  The two are about fifty feet from each other.  I can do this, I think to myself.

Now, the absolute distance between the two might have only been fifty feet, but within that fifty feet, there were three walls.  Two of which were plaster, one was concrete.  My plan was to go over the first two and around the third.  Still shouldn’t be a big deal.  And I can do it in three hours as long as that’s literally all I have to do today.  I get out my wire-fishing equipment and start feeding the line up into the ceiling.

Let it be known that I truly despise white acoustic ceiling tile.  I’ve come to hate how it never sits right and turns to dust whenever you press it too hard.  Dust that gets in your hair, your eyes, your ears, and your lungs.  I hate this shit when I DON’T have the flu, that day I hated it more.  And oh yes, by now it was most definitely no allergy attack, I for sure had the flu, and I was two hours from home with a car full of company equipment and a project that the PHBs wanted done three weeks ago.  I continue to ceiling-fish the cable across the ceiling, through dust, pipes, insulation, and generally shoddy craftsmanship.  The offices I was working in were unoccupied, so I just trucked through and smashed tiles as needed.

We finally get to the kitchen, home of the aforementioned concrete wall.  Now things get challenging.  Thanks to the rows of industrial refrigerators and stoves, I can neither climb the ladder to where I need to be, nor can I reach the cable without being an acrobat.  Even in my best condition, I would have been risking breaking my neck.  And by now, every time I climb that ladder, I’m aching.  My solution was to climb on top of the refrigerators (which I’m sure would have pissed off some inspector), lay on my back like I was painting the Sistine chapel, and coax the wire along that way.  Which I did, though it seems no one has dusted up there in years, and the dust, mixed with chunks of tile and fiberglass, are starting to stick to the sweat pouring out of me.

But I do it.  I get the wire run to the PC, terminate the cable, plug it in, and I get an IP address.  I’m done.  That’s literally all I came to do, it took forever and my body is screaming at me, but I did it.  I collapse in the chair, take some deep breaths and try to recompose myself before I can grab my tools and head home.

Just then, one of the serfs rushes in and looks at me sternly.  “Sophia wants to see you.”  I’m informed, as if I’d just been summoned to testify before Congress.  The serf rushes off, panicked.

Now, at this point, it’s worth asking exactly who Sophia was.  Sophia was not a PHB.  She was not, actually, a person of any particular significance on the company org chart.  She had a low-level office job and was, quite honestly, one of my problem children.  When I was told that she wanted to see me, I’d assumed she had caught another virus from listening to sketchy internet radio, or loaded another junkware program that was slowing everything down.  I was most certainly NOT going to do any work on her PC today.  The most she could hope for, if it was super urgent, was for me to put her first on my list when I came back next week.  And that was only if it didn’t immediately appear the issue was her fault, which it almost assuredly was.

I start to gather up my tools and pack my bag.  I put the ladder away.  Someone stops me in the hall.  “DID YOU TALK TO SOPHIA?  SHE’S LOOKING FOR YOU!”  I tell them I’ll see her on my way out.  I truly have no idea why everyone is acting like the world will end if I don’t check out this broad’s spyware-ju-jour.

With my bag in hand, I stick my head into Sophia’s office, one of the rooms I’d run the cable through earlier.  She’s standing right were I was working, tapping her foot.  Without so much as a “Hello”, she taps her foot and says “Look at this floor!”.

Are. You. Fucking. KIDDING. ME???  That’s why you called me in here?  THAT’S what has you on some kind of power trip?  Yes, my work had put a fair amount of dust and debris on the floor but the building has a full-time janitorial staff, who clean up far worse messes than that on an hourly basis.

I don’t respond, mostly because by now, I’m stuggling to not pass out, much less make the next words out of my mouth professional.  “LOOK AT THIS FLOOR!” She repeats.  And at this point, I get truly disgusted.  Now, had she asked me nicely if I would clean it up, I would have, even if I felt like death, because courtesy goes a long way with me.  But to yell at me like I’m a toddler, when she has no actual authority over ANYONE, much less me, pisses me the fuck off.  I promptly decide that it’s time I brought out “Fuck ’em All” guy, and told him this bitch was target #1.  But the trick is, due to office politics, I have to do it in such a way that doesn’t allow her to re-tell the story in a light that paints her as the victim.  Because, let’s just say, she’s nothing if not an professional victim.

“See this mess?”

“Yeah, can you believe it?  Boy, I’ll tell you, I absolutely hate these ceiling tiles.”

“There’s dust all over!”

“I know, right?  Let me tell you, this dust is the bane of my existence!  I can’t tell you how many days I go home and have dust caked into my hair and clothing.  Some days I literally walk from the front door into the shower.”

“It’s everywhere!” She’s starting to deflate, frustrated at my refusal to clean up the mess, nor to escalate the argument so she can call for backup.

“You’re telling me!  Why, if I had my way, there’d be a special place in You-Know-Where for whoever invented that stuff.”  I’m making it clear I’m not budging an inch to clean it up.  I’m not even giving her the satisfaction of dropping so much as an H-Bomb to levvy in a complaint about me, either.  My words are friendly and cheerful, my tone is communicating a clear Fuck You.

It dawns on Sophia that the “pissed off lady” routine isn’t phasing me, and that I had bigger problems than a few handfuls of dust on her carpet.  “So… I should probably get Ross in here to vacuum it up?”

“That would be a really good idea.”  I say, ducking out the door.  You know, since Ross makes twice my salary pushing a goddamn vacuum, I don’t mind leaving him to do his work.

And from that day forward, “Fuck em All” guy was given his due respect, because he could have kept me out of that scenario.  I listened to him for the next two days and through the weekend.