Contract-to-Fire

workI recently started a new position; my first-ever contract job.  At the beginning, I was enthusiastic about coming in and doing a good job.  I noticed a few deficiencies off the bat and made some recommendations for improvements in a group e-mail to everyone in the department.  My intention was to avoid some of the large issues that had plagued previous workplaces and improve our processes, because to be frank, there were none.

My recommendations were shrugged off with a big fat ‘MEH’ by everyone.  I don’t know if it was due to my relative inexperience at the workplace, or the arrogance of leadership, but for whatever the reason, the end result was that nothing happened, and the glaring issues remained.

I was miffed (but not completely surprised) by the lack of response.  I imagined that the thought process went something along the lines of:  “Why should we listen to this new guy?  He doesn’t know how we do things here.

My first thought was that I needed to change my approach and need address my manager directly instead of broadcasting to the group in the hope that we could come to a consensus.  My second thought became a lot more compelling the more it bounced around in my head:

“Why should I care?”

I should begin by mentioning that the position I was hired into has a nearly zero chance of becoming permanent.  Folks come here, they work for a year or two, and then they’re gone.  Because of that, I have nearly zero investment in this company.  Indeed, one of the issues that I wanted to address was knowledge management; if you’re going to have a revolving door of people coming in and out of a department, you might want to have a good documentation process in place so that not all of a person’s expertise walks out the door when their time inevitably comes.

Ultimately, I let it go.  I had said my peace, and if the Powers That Be decided to ignore it, then why should I make a fuss?  Obviously they know what they’re doing.  There’s also no sense in wasting my time with people that have no intention of listening to me.

The unfortunate truth is that a contract worker will never be completely engaged in the future of the company they work at, especially if they have no visible road to bigger and better things.

I’ve since kept my mouth shut about any new issues that I’ve noticed and given up any hope of things improving.  It doesn’t make any sense to fight the current, instead I’ll just keep surfing the wave of incompetence until my contract is up.

Besides, why should I be fully invested in the company’s problems when the company isn’t fully invested in me?

 

The Difference…

workOver the last week, my Honda CR-V (aka The Excelsior) had been starting up just a little more sluggishly with each trip.  Eventually, it got to the point where it just barely started, but as is human nature, I figured that it would last just long enough to get to get the battery looked at.

Of course, I waited one trip too many and eventually it didn’t start at all one night.  Click-click-click-click-click was all I heard.

After getting a jump-start from a neighbor (always have cables in your vehicle, folks) I went to the auto parts store where I had replaced the original battery a few years prior.  I had a strong suspicion that the battery was dead, but when the gentleman asked if I would like to have it tested, it placed just enough doubt in my mind to make me think that might not be the case.  I didn’t want it to be something else, because as far as car repairs go, replacing a battery is on the fairly inexpensive scale, and it can be done by one’s self, assuming the vehicle can be taken to a good battery or vice-versa.

The gentleman grabbed a tester and followed me out to my noble (if not currently unreliable) steed.  I popped the hood and proceeded to let the gentleman do his job.  He attached the clips to the battery terminals and proceeded to push some buttons on the device.  After a few moments he told me the battery was good and asked if I wanted him to test other ‘start the car’ parts.  I said yes, and he asked me to start the vehicle.  I made a crack about ‘I hope it starts,’ but much to my surprise, it started with no hesitation.  A few moments and button presses later, the man told me that the alternator and starter were probably okay, too.  I thanked him for his time and went on my merry (if slightly worried) way to the grocery store, where the car started again without issue.  What the heck was wrong with my car?

As folks are oft to do these days, I went onto social media to share my ambivalence over the situation.  Friends offered advice and their own tales of automotive experiences, both good and bad.  One friend mentioned that a similar problem had been caused by loose terminal connectors.  This idea sounded intriguing to me, as I had recalled my interior lights flashing during the process of having it jumped, and so I resolved to investigate them come the morning.  I didn’t park the Excelsior in the garage because I had a feeling I was going to need another jump-start.

The next morning, I hopped into my trusty steed to go have some breakfast and was greeted by the clicking noise again.  No big deal, it’s the terminals, right?  Wrong.  Nothing was loose and there was no corrosion to be found.  It has to be the battery, I thought, but what the guy last night told me it was good.  I frumped for a while as I searched for nearby mechanics and groused over the pile of money I anticipated I was going to have to spend.

Finally, I decided to get a second opinion.

I got a jump-start from a different neighbor, and observed that both times we had to let my vehicle sit for a while and charge up.  The thought of it has to be the battery kept bouncing in my head as I drove to a different auto parts store.  I walked inside and asked to have my battery checked.  This time around, the tech got a frumpy look on her face when she saw my terminals.  The connectors to the Excelsior’s battery have these plastic covers that were getting in the way of the clips, meaning she could only reliably attach the clips to the screws that kept the connectors attached.  “I don’t like taking a reading from the screws, the reading is sometimes wrong,” She said.  The tech did her best to adjust the tester clip, but was not completely satisfied with the result: “I’m not getting a good reading, can you take the battery out?” She asked.

I said sure, and proceeded to do so, with the tools I keep inside the vehicle.  I also had to borrow a pair of pliers, but eventually dislodged the battery and took it inside the store.  The tech did her thing, and sure enough, the battery was bad.  Fortunately, I had purchased the ‘three-year replacement’ battery the last time and I received a new one free of charge.  I installed it myself, which was only fair since I had taken the old one out, and now my trusty steed is trusty once again.

I figured that it would be a good idea to let the tech know about my experience the night before.  We both agreed that the other guy just didn’t know about the screws providing unreliable readings.

And thus we have the difference between somebody who only knows how to follow instructions, and somebody that actually knows what they are doing because they have learned how things really work.

Whether they are fixing cars or computers, a good tech will have more in-depth knowledge about the things that they repair than someone who is only taught how to fix things or is working off a script.  When the ‘usual steps’ don’t work, a good tech can think things though and improvise to find a solution.  A bad tech only knows how to follow instructions, and when those instructions don’t do the job, they’re stuck, and so are you.

37 Things I Noticed After Having a Fender-Bender

My trusty CR-V (the “Excelsior,” because I name my cars after spaceships) recently got dinged in the back.  The damage isn’t too terrible but it’s in a lousy spot.  Thus, I had to deal with my insurance company (Progressive) and rent a car.  Along the way, I noticed a few things:

  1. ding

    #5. *Angry Bear Noises*

    The lady that hit me seemed to be pretty impatient while I got Progressive on the phone.  MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T CAUSE AN ACCIDENT IF YOU’RE IN A HURRY, LADY.

  2. I didn’t even think about calling the police. This was a low speed accident and not worth their time.
  3. She eventually gave me her info and drove off in a huff because “I have kids in the car.”  I don’t know about y’all but I tend to drive extra-careful whenever I have passengers…just saying.
  4. Insurance company Ding #1: To be fair, I was getting impatient with Progressive too.  Pick up the phone, guys!
  5. It wasn’t a bad dent, but in just the right spot for water to get into the hatch.
  6. I’ll get a call back in 24 hours. Cool.
  7. Ding #2: The claims rep was supposed to call me ‘within 24 hours.’  2 days later and still no call.
  8. I posted an angry tweet about that lack of communication and got a response within a few hours. Modern times and all that.
  9. Lady’s insurance is taking full responsibility (as well they should) Woo-hoo!
  10. Stuffed a plastic bag into the hole to keep water out. Lucky it hasn’t been raining lately.
  11. I was initially going to pick a shop to take it, but decided to punt and the insurance guys handle it. I have other things to worry about.
  12. Ding #3: The last time this happened, I got to pick a rental.  This go-round they threw me into a Toyota Corolla. :/
  13. I got everything I needed from the CR-V…except for the garage door opener. >.<
  14. The heck with giving me both car keys on a key ring that I can’t remove them from?
  15. It’s a little bit of an adjustment going from a small SUV to a car, but I’m (mostly) handling it. Lucky for me I don’t have any long trips coming up.
  16. When did car air conditioners get so complicated?
  17. tennycar

    15. Me in the rental

    This is a newer vehicle, yet the backup camera looks terrible compared to my 2012 CR-V.

  18. Having an in-car touch screen does not work very well. At the risk of getting technical: The user interface is poop.
  19. Ding #4: The repair guy was supposed to call me ‘tomorrow’  Didn’t happen.
  20. Yeah, it’s probably time to start looking for a new insurance company.
  21. Thing I miss most about my CR-V? Legroom.
  22. I’ve given up on getting any calls from my insurance company at this point, just going to check their website every so often.
  23. If you are going to tell somebody you are going to call them and you don’t, that is rude and unprofessional.
  24. Unless you’re a recruiter, then it’s par for the course. (obligatory job-related item)
  25. Auto headlights should NEVER turn on the high beams…just sayin’
  26. Had a funny moment when it rained and I tried to turn on the rear wiper that wasn’t there.
  27. Also, the ‘beep’ it makes when I turn on the alarm can barely be heard.
  28. The day before the repair is due to be completed, the app says “2 days left until repaired.” Huh?
  29. (Finally) Got a call that afternoon saying it will be ready when scheduled, woo-hoo!
  30. 4pm and the app now says ‘Repairs complete.’ Maybe I’ll get lucky and get my ride back a day early?’
  31. Ding #5: Of course they call me 15 minutes before they close (and I’m already at home from work) to schedule the pickup the next day, grr.
  32. Since the lady’s insurance is taking full responsibility, this little adventure isn’t going to cost me any money, just a little time and aggravation.
  33. I also got a blog post out of the deal, too 😀

    newcar

    35. Looking good!

  34. Ding #6: Scheduled the appointment for 1230, get there at 1231 and I have to wait 😛
  35. Holy cats, the Excelsior looks good when it’s cleaned up.
  36. Feels good to be in my own vehicle again. I had to re-learn some habits, like having cruise control settings on my steering wheel instead of on a stick thingie.
  37. Time to shop for new car insurance!

Adventures in Self-Publishing : Cover Stories

rotscover

It’ll do

I am not a visual person by any stretch of the imagination.

When I was in college studying computer science back in the 90’s, people would occasionally ask me if I could make websites for them.  The conversation would go something like this:

Person: “Can you make a website for me?”
Me: “Yeah, I can code one, but it’s going to look like a computer guy made it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s going to look terrible.”
So yeah, I didn’t make any websites.

Given that I’m self-aware of my lack of design sense, I don’t know what possessed me to make my own book covers when I started self-publishing short story collections.  It comes even more perplexing considering that I knew artists that could do quality artwork.  Ego may have had something to do with it; the notion of doing everything on my own.  Maybe I didn’t want to pay for art at the time.  Whatever the reason, I figured some text on a solid color background would be good enough.  I did three covers like that, and it honestly only worked for The Rules of Tech Support.

cf1cover

A picture! Yay!

I like to think I made the most of my limited skills with my Nine to Five Lives ‘clock face,’ but that may have been too clever for its own good considering its low sales (it’s free now!).

At that point I figured it was time to get some actual artwork done.  My friend Damon Cone provided some artwork for Con Fluff 1, which I used to make a faux ‘con badge.’  I thought about making similar ones as promotional items for the book.  That never happened, but it remains an interesting idea for future use.  The character on the cover is me, which seems a little conceited, but at the same time, why the heck not?

cf2cover

SO PRETTY

I commissioned an artist friend who goes by Padunk for Con Fluff 2 and she knocked it out of the park.  She was also kind enough to put the title text on the artwork, which made it look really nice.  Future volumes have also featured artwork, and with the exception of The Rules of Tech Support, most of my collections featuring my early awful covers have been put off-sale, though you can still see them here.

While I have been happy with all of the artwork (Faeries, Fantasies, and Furries is another favorite) there are a few that need a do-over:  As the first book in the series, I don’t want to pull Seven Super-Short Sci-Fi Stories, but it does need a facelift.  Funny Animals, Funny People kind-of works, but I have a better concept in mind I’d like to see for it.  I took the easy way out with Fuzzy Words by plastering a picture into the middle of a (wait for it) solid colored background.

I’ve since commissioned new cover art for the printed version of Fuzzy Words from an artist named TinyBunner.  After spending the day arguing with CreateSpace I think everything is ready to go for printed copies.  I’m very excited at the prospect of having an actual printed book, but that’s a post for another day.

35 Things I Noticed After Upgrading to iOS 11 and an iPhone SE

iOS 11 just happened to drop on the same day I bought a new 32 GB iPhone SE in order to replace my 16 GB iPhone 6 and switch over to a prepaid plan. The 6 was running low on storage space and the SE was on sale, so why the heck not upgrade my OS and my phone on the same day!

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#19-YUUUGE!

  1. First things first: Upgrade my iPhone 6 to iOS 11. Maybe I can use that as a selling point after I move to the SE.
  2. I can’t help but cackle at glee at how many problems iOS 11 is likely causing for customers at my old job. Jerks.
  3. Yes, I am saying my former customers and my former employer are jerks.
  4. Free space on 16GB iPhone 6 before upgrade: 900 MB. Free space after: 4.9 GB. WTF?
  5. When I hit the Wireless or Bluetooth buttons in the Control Center I expect them TO TURN OFF, not just disconnect. No bueno. iOS!
  6. Is a Location on/off button in the Control Center too much to ask for?  Android has had one in their Notification Area for years. Don’t you want to be cool like Android, iOS?
  7. On a related note, the fact that Apple constantly wants to know where you are is mildly creepy.
  8. Why would I want to turn off the cellular part by itself? Isn’t that what Airplane Mode is for?
  9. The “Do Not Disturb While Driving” thing is pretty cool.
  10. The Pebble smartwatch app is still standing; it’ll be a sad day when it or my watch stops working. Stupid FitBit.
  11. From the ‘what took Apple so long’ department: Files. Yeah.
  12. Only four app updates to install…so far!
  13. All in all, iOS 11 is pretty nice, with a few annoyances I can live with. On to the new phone!
  14. Why not Android? Let’s see: For $200 I can get a questionable phone with a lousy camera and maybe one OS update or a really good phone with an awesome camera that will get updates for a few years.
  15. Despite the smaller screen, I consider the SE an upgrade. Better CPU, twice the storage, and a better camera.
  16. Yeah, yeah. I shouldn’t have bought the 16GB model two years ago, but here we are.
  17. The SE is small enough to fit in my pocket and not be constantly clipped to my belt looking like it’s there for something important.
  18. I’m sort-of trying to not be tied to my phone so much.  I don’t know how successful I’ll be, but I’m trying!
  19. Funny how my old phone is nearly as big as the box my new one came in.
  20. Shopping for a case was a little annoying because the iPhone SE section at Ye Olde Electronics Store was cleaned out. It must have been one heck of a sale, or maybe the SE has become the ‘poor man’s iPhone.’
  21. Found an OtterBox case on the cheap at Wally Martinez (Wal-Mart) so maybe there’s something to that.
  22. Yay, another set of EarPods and Apple stickers I’ll never use.
  23. I can never put screen protectors on right.

    21559118_10212527897727487_9185315891786187206_n

    Out with the old, in with the small!

  24. The gal at the activation line has an interesting accent. I wonder if she’s in the Philippines…FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON.
  25. Accidentally hung up on her once during the activation process. Oops.
  26. Apparently the dweebie at the Best Buy warehouse didn’t scan my new phone so it wasn’t technically ‘purchased.’ That led to WHY IS IT NOT WORKING ANYMORE ten minutes after activating it, which led to another phone call to Whereveritis-istan.
  27. Realization: I’m going to have to be super-careful to not drop this thing in the toilet.
  28. It took me a half day before I realized I hadn’t set up my ringtone.
  29. Apple productivity apps are useless to me without OneDrive support.  Buh-bye.
  30. Garage Band, iMovie and TV apps on a 4-inch screen? Um, no.  Gone.
  31. Free space: 22 GB  That’s more like it!
  32. What the hell is up with not letting me use my phone as a hotspot, cellular prepaid people? Crazy idea: If people use up all their data tethering, THEY HAVE TO BUY MORE DATA WHICH MEANS YOU MAKE MORE MONEY.  Idiots.
  33. Tethering seems to work just fine via USB, so neener-neener, prepaid cell phone weenies!
  34. Going to take a little adjusting to having a smaller phone, but I think the SE is going to work. Hopefully my new provider works out, too!
  35. I’m just waiting for that one friend (you know who you are) to see my new SE and say “OH MY GOD, IT’S A BABY PHONE!”

In Defense of Gordon Ramsay

1I had a ‘conversation’ the other day with The Boss about how I address people at work.  I am a blunt, no-nonsense person there and I do not suffer fools gladly (think Zootopia’s Chief Bogo).  I had made a simple request to some new folks we had hired.  Two hours later, I had not received any replies from them.

I walked over and made my request in person, only to be met with a blank stare in response.  Not exactly the best way to endear yourself to leadership.  I then got a little short with folks, which ultimately led to the ‘conversation.’

On to Ramsay, then.  I’ve had the pleasure of watching a few of his shows on the breakroom television at work.  Like many of you, I wonder why he famously gets so angry at the people on his shows.  I did a bit of soul-searching during lunch and realized something:  I got upset for the same reason he does.

Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but like Ramsay, I have high expectations for people.  I like to think that the people that The Boss hires are good techs.  Given my recent experience, I’m reconsidering that, but that’s a conversation for another time.  Now, I am realistic: I don’t expect people to be kicking tail and taking names off the bat, but I should at least get competence.  Most of the folks on Ramsay’s shows (and on my team) should be professionals, and when they don’t work or do things the way professionals do, it is very aggravating, hence Ramsay’s wrath.

Mediocrity has become the accepted norm at my workplace.  While leadership seems to be okay with this, I have not lowered my standards or adjusted my thinking along those lines.  God help me, but I want to work with people that are great at their jobs.  If they aren’t there yet, I would like to help them get there, but if I can’t trust people to perform a simple task, I don’t know that I can trust them to do more complicated things.  Because of this, work is incredibly frustrating for me.

While I can’t explode in anger like Gordon Ramsey does, the next time I see him on the breakroom TV, I will certainly relate.

A Few Good Apps

mewindowsI installed Windows 10 on to my laptop a few weeks ago. I have been considering upgrading my main machine to 10 for a while, so dropping it onto the lappy seemed like a good way to take it for a test drive.

I had upgraded my ASUS Windows 8 tablet to 10 shortly after the free offer appeared. It started out great, but the lack of good apps (which I have complained about) turned it into a mini-laptop. Having a mini-laptop is cool, but I wanted to use my tablet as, well, a tablet, so the ASUS has collected dust in favor of my more app-centric iPad mini.

Back to the laptop: While waiting for app updates to download in the Store, I poked around and found the page for the Facebook app. I had used it previously and it actually wasn’t too bad until Microsoft stopped updating it.  I think somewhere down the way MS and FB had a fight, but that’s neither here nor there. As new features kept getting added to Facebook, the Windows app was stuck in time. Thinking back, its obsolescence and overall lack of apps was likely one of the things that drove me away from Windows Phone.  Old news, I know.

A sentence on the page intrigued me, though: “New for Windows 10!” Why not? I download the app and prepared to be underwhelmed. As a test, I hovered over one of the ‘Like’ links to see if the additional options would appear. Much to my surprise, they did! I did some more clicking around and was delighted to see that the app had all the features that had been missing from the previous version. It isn’t perfect, but it is much more usable than it was before.

Encouraged by that success, I decided to re-download some other apps. I was surprised to find that they too had been updated, with improved results. I then turned on ‘Tablet Mode’ (which fullscreens all programs and apps) and was astounded that I could now use my Windows 10 tablet AS A TABLET.  What a country!

All it took was a few good apps. Given my iPhone 6’s lackluster performance in buildings as of late, I might be willing to give Windows Phone another shot if Microsoft can get its apps together.

Maybe.