Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the tag “Work”

Poor Biff’s Almanac — The Alarm Clock Giveth and the Alarm Clock Taketh Away

Poor Biff's Almanac Graphic (Colored) #1 with Alarm Clock

It was another quiet day in Biffville (population:  me).

That is not to say it wasn’t busy.  It was.  It was VERY busy.  But it was the kind of busy that just makes time pass by and doesn’t really leave anything behind (like, say, a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment).  It was the kind of busy that suddenly, right after you wake up, makes it late evening.  This can leave one feeling a little disoriented.  One minute you’re slapping the snooze alarm and struggling to sit upright in bed, and the next you’re making sure the alarm is set as you turn out the light and crawl back into bed.

I think we can all see the problem here.  It is alarm clocks.

If our lives weren’t regulated by these obnoxious little so-and-so’s, life would be much sweeter.  A little more chaotic, perhaps, but a lot more pleasant.

For instance, I could get up at ten AM every morning the way my mind and my body would prefer.  That would be bliss for me!

However, I might find that there’s no coffee in the house, because the thousands of people it takes to get coffee from the coffee plantations of Peru and into a little red bag on my kitchen counter ALSO slept in and just couldn’t be bothered to carry out the mundane, tedious, monotonous tasks required to successfully carry out this miracle of the modern world.

But that wouldn’t matter, because there would be no electricity to power my coffee pot because the thousands upon thousands of people that it takes to get oil out from underneath the Gulf of Mexico, refined, and to the power plant that generates my electricity to power my coffee pot would have ALSO slept in and so that entire, beautiful, perfect chain of events that turns Gulf-of-Mexico sludge into coffee would have come unraveled and fallen apart.

Long story short:  No coffee for Biff.

So, buzz on, Ye Noble Alarm Clock!  Wake us from our peaceful slumbers and send us out into the world to do things we don’t want to do so that we can enjoy the fruits of the labors of others who also got up and did things they did not want to do.

All of humanity is being driven by our mutual dissatisfaction of what we do, and our mutual desire to have others continue to do what they don’t want to do.

It is a house of cards.  But for Gosh Sakes!  Please, nobody stop doing what you’re doing!



A Lesson In Time


Today I found myself visiting a building that I used to work in about ten years ago.  That’s not unusual.  It happens every few months or so.  The building is largely unchanged from when I used to work in it long ago.

At one point I was walking down a hallway I have never had much reason to walk down, then or now.  I passed a conference room and for some bizarre reason my brain decided to have a memory of a meeting I attended there about ten years ago.  It was a departmental meeting and I can quite vividly see in my mind a photograph of that assemblage that day.

Thanks, Brain!  I can’t remember what I had for lunch today, but by some quirk in the way my brain works, I can access a still image of a meeting I attended ten years ago.

I began to muse on what would happen if I could somehow teleport back to that meeting and tell the people in that room a few things.  I pictured myself standing up at the front of the conference room table and saying things like:

  1.  None of you in this room will ever work on a project together again.  You will all drift off to other departments and other programs and other projects, and this unique collection of people will never, ever work together again.
  2. This room, its wall color and carpet and decor, will look exactly like it does now ten years from now.
  3. This project you are all working on at this moment, the one that is keeping you up at night, demanding long hours of you, stressing you out, making you wish you were working on anything but this … this project that seems so important, that seems as if it will make or break careers and the financial health of the company … will largely be forgotten in ten years.  Virtually no one in the company will know what you did here or even care.
  4. A handful of you will be retiring within a few years and the company will move on without you.  You will be forgotten by all but a few people.
  5. At least one of you will not be alive in ten years.
  6. The skills you possess today, the ones that are in high demand and that caused this program to woo you aggressively to get you here, will be hopelessly obsolete in ten years.

And then I will pause and say …

But this is an awesome team.  You will do amazing things.  This moment … this assemblage … is unique in the whole of the universe and of history.  This moment, we are here … together … working for a common goal.  Enjoy this moment, for it cannot be judged from the future.  It’s value lies here, in this moment, with these people, within these walls.   Time will devalue this moment.  The future will depreciate this moment and diminish it.  So enjoy it now.  Do not wait to enjoy it later, for it will have no meaning then.

And then I will return to the future, as I did today, and hope that the lessons I learned during my visit to the past will stay with me here in the present.



Solving For X


I went through most of today feeling sort of gobsmacked, much like the fish that float to the surface of a lake when an efficiency-minded fisherman decides to fish with dynamite.

What caused this smacking of the gob, you ask?

Well, it was caused by the fact that I didn’t have to go to work for four whole days due to the July 4th holiday weekend and today was my first day back at work.  Like most people, I loved every minute of being off.  However, there is a dark side to being off from work.  And that is:  you have to go back to work at some point.  And the longer you are off, the more of a shock to the system it is when you have to go back.

I have always heard people say things like, “Man, I loved being on vacation, but after X days I was ready to come back to work.”   The variable X ranged anywhere from one week to four weeks or more.  I have been unsuccessful at figuring out what that X is in my own life.  In the course of my long career, I have been off anywhere from one or two days at a time to nearly three weeks on a row.  In none of those instances did I ever say I was ready to go back to work.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  The longer I am away from work, the less ready I am to go back.

I’m pretty darn sure I was supposed to have been born into the “idle rich” class.  I would love to spend my days practicing falconry, assessing polo horses, taking up yachting, playing chess with living chess boards, having tea on the east lawn, and losing large sums of money in Monte Carlo and laughing it off as being just part of the game.

What I’m NOT suited for is being awakened harshly every morning at 6 am by an obnoxious alarm clock so I can shuffle off to create ephemera for amorphous clouds of management in order to satisfy vague objectives.  When I get home at the end of the day and am asked “How was work?“, my usual answer is, “I’m not sure.“, though sometimes I will answer, “There’s no way to tell.”  To-do lists were created, tasks completed, and then dutifully checked off of the list.  But if someone were to storm into my office and say, “Biff!  Show me what you’ve been doing all day!“, I would have to gesture vaguely towards our company’s server farm and say, “I rearranged the alignment of millions of microscopic bits of magnetic particles.”  More than likely, that person would say, “Good job!  Keep up the good work!” and then would de-materialize in front of my eyes.

This easily explains why I’ve never been able to find the quantity of days in a row I’d have to be off from work before I’d say, “Man, I’ve really enjoyed being off from work for 75 years, but I think I’m ready to get back to work now.


Poor Biff’s Almanac — Thursday Night Edition


Work was kind of a grind this week.  Lots of tedium.  Lots of spreadsheets.  Lots of sitting in meetings.  Lots of generating PowerPoint slides.  Lots of wondering if all of human history has been leading up to this.

I remember watching a movie a long time ago.  Sorry … I can’t remember the name of it; I was only a child.  The only thing I remember is a scene with a mule tied to a horizontal pole that was attached at the other end to a sugar cane press.  The mule walked around and around in a circle, the pole turning the sugar cane press as he walked.  I remember noticing that he had worn away the grass on the ground and was walking in a deep rut.

The mule had blinders on, which I thought was gratuitous.

I’m not sure what made me think of that scene 40 years later.  Just one of those weird things that pops into our minds sometimes, I guess.

Less is . . . Less

Man and Machine

I had an epiphany today.

My epiphany is that all of human history has been driving towards writing humans out of the human equation.

This came to me today at a meeting at work while we were discussing ways to do things better and more efficiently.  What does that mean if not “How can we change what we do in order to do less of what we do?

From there I realized that I have spent the past 6 or 7 years in my current job trying to make my department run more efficiently, to do be able to do more work with less effort and fewer resources.  Things need to be done as quickly as possible with as little human intervention as possible.  I suppose, in an ideal process, the process would run quite on its own and humans would merely observe to make sure nothing went wrong.  Even more ideally, the process would be infallible and no humans at all would be required.

As I reflected back further back in my career as an engineer, I suddenly realized that the vast majority of the decisions I’ve had to make at my various jobs have not been technical decisions.  They have been efficiency decisions.  How can we make this circuit cheaper?  By making it simpler.  Why do we want it to be simpler?  So it will be easier to build, easier to test, easier to set up, easier for the customer to use.  What does that boil down to?  Fewer people.  Fewer people required to build it, test it, set it up, and operate it.

Then I reflected back even before I was old enough to have a career.  Back through history and time.  Every new innovation required lots and lots of people to bring about, to operate, and to maintain.  But then the pressure appears almost instantly to make it simpler.   Cars used to take hundreds of people to build.  Now they can probably be built with a few dozen people and some robots.  It used to take millions of farmers and millions of acres to feed the human population.  Now it takes a few hundred thousand farmers.  Soon it will require even less.

As the humans who create these products and processes, we must ask, why are we trying to write ourselves out of the equations it takes to build them?  Or even use them?  What is our ultimate goal?  What are we going to do with all of our free time if we become so efficient at everything that we are no longer required to do any of the things we strove to make so efficient?

Will we have a sense of accomplishment if we accomplish our goal of arriving at the point where there is nothing left to accomplish?

How will we feel if we create a world that can continue on its own without us?

Will that be heaven?  Or hell?


By Any Other Name


Humorous Short Fiction by Biff

I pushed the button on the intercom on my desk and summoned Rose, my secretary, into my office.  She stepped in and promptly set off the smoke alarm.  I stood on my chair to reach it and, after pounding on it with the stapler for a few moments, I finally managed to quiet the beast by removing its battery.  Once that matter was dispensed with, I gestured for her to sit down.

“Rose,” I began, sitting behind my desk.  “Let me start off by saying how happy I am with the work you’ve been doing.”

“I’m fired, aren’t I?” she said, her voice distraught.

“What?” I asked, flustered.  I hate it when people break my chain of thought.  I had been going through this conversation in my mind for two days and not once in those two days did she utter anything of the kind.  Now she has thrown off my rhythm.

“You’re giving me the sack, aren’t you?” she said, sounding for a moment as if she might cry.

“Of course not,” I said, shocked.  “Why would you think such a thing?”

“You always start your sacking speeches with ‘Let me start off by saying how happy I am with the work you’ve been doing’.”

“Do I?”

She nodded self-assuredly.

I leaned forward and jotted on my Day-Timer, change sacking-speech opening.  I then leaned back and steepled my fingers and considered her somewhat paternally.

“I assure you, Rose, you are not being sacked.  I really am happy with the work you’ve been doing.”  I cleared my throat nervously as I approached the delicate subject I had called her in to discuss.

She looked at me suspiciously, but did not say anything.

“No,” I continued, this is a much more delicate matter.

“Delicate?” she asked, her voice even more suspicious.  She pulled her sweater closer around her throat as if she thought I were about to lunge at her and shower her with unwanted affection in direct violation of our Employee Handbook, specifically Section 7, Paragraph 7.2.1, bullet 2.

“It’s about your perfume,” I said, deciding just to jump into the matter feet first.

She softened a bit and seemed flattered.  “Oh, you noticed?”, she said, seeming to momentarily forget all about Paragraph 7.2.1, bullet 2.

“Yes, I did.  As did the smoke detector a few minutes ago.  I’m afraid, Rose, that there have been complaints about the copiousness of your applications of it.”  I slid my finger under the collar of my shirt and tried to loosen it a bit.

“I don’t wear that much,” she said defensively.

“The office pool has the over/under amount at 1.1 gallons per day,” I said, dabbing at the tears that were now forming in the corners of my eyes.

Rose gasped, obviously shocked and hurt that such a thing could happen.

“I was as shocked as you are, of course,” I said sympathetically.  “And so naturally took the under.”

“Well, Allan in shipping wears too much Old Spice aftershave,” she said haughtily.

“Yes, I know.  I was going to have a word with him about it yesterday, but unfortunately, he got too close to someone who was smoking a cigarette and burst into flames.  He had to be rushed to the hospital.”

“Is he okay?” she asked, horrified.

“Oh, yes, he’s fine,” I said, edging towards the window.  “Apparently, it was one of those low-heat chemical fires and did no more damage than a bad sunburn.”

I gave a tug at the window.  It didn’t budge.  Damn these modern office buildings!

“Well,” she continued, re-adopting her haughty tone, “I don’t see how anyone could possibly say I wear too much perfume.  I can’t even smell it.”

I tugged a bit more determinedly at the window.  The room was beginning to warp and shimmer.

“I’m sure you can’t,” I said, my throat a bit dry and hoarse.  “One’s olfactory senses tend to become immune to strong smells over time.”  I tugged again with a little more urgency.

“Besides,” she continued, “This is a very subtle fragrance.”

“No doubt you’re right,” I said, “I’m sure it is, in the proper measure.  I say . . . do you see fireflies in here, Rose?”

“Fireflies?  Of course not.  What are you talking about?”

I was seeing small flashes of light in front of me where ever I looked.  I knew what my course of action must be.

“Please stand back a little, please,” I said to her.

“Why?  What are you going to do?”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to throw my chair through the window.”

“What on earth for?” she asked, horrified.

I clutched at the arm and back of the chair, but could not lift it.  Too weak.

“Must . . . . . get . . . . .  air,” I said.  The fireflies had become fire-pelicans and circled around me lazily.


*          *          *


When I opened my eyes, I noticed a paramedic was staring down at me.

“He’s coming to,” said the paramedic into a small microphone on the shoulder of her uniform.

I took a deep breath.  Ahhh . . . fresh air.  Well, fresh for the back of an ambulance, I suppose.  It reeked of rubbing alcohol and disinfectant and diesel, but it was not so bad after being buried alive under an avalanche of Eau de Malodour or whatever the heck that stuff was.  I tried to sit up.

The paramedic kept me down with a hand on my chest.  “Ah, ah,” she warned.  “It’s best for you to remain lying down for a bit.”

“What happened?” I asked, as if I didn’t know.

“You were the victim of  an attack using an air-borne chemical agent of some sort.   Or perhaps you have been sniffing glue?”

“Absolutely not!” I said vehemently.



“White-board markers?”

“Of course not!”

“Well,” she said as if disappointed that I would not cooperate.  “The haz-mat team is in your office now conducting tests on the air quality.  We’ll soon get to the bottom of this.”

“I can save them the trouble,” I said, brushing aside her hand and sitting up.

“Until you admit that you have a problem,” she said in feigned concern that came across as mere condescension, “We can’t help you.”

“The only thing the haz-mat team will find in my office is the scent of my secretary’s perfume.”

The paramedic raised her eyebrows as if to say “hullo hullo hullo.”

“She wears the stuff by the bucket, you see.  I was overcome by the fumes.”

The paramedic seemed disappointed.  “That’s it?”

“And nothing but,” I said.

“The whole –?”

“So help me, God,” I said.

She heaved a heavy sigh, closed the plastic case of her paramedic kit, and snapped the clasps.  She stood up to go.

“Well, then,” she said, sounding disappointed.  “There’s nothing for me to do here.”

“I appreciate your efforts nonetheless,” I said, trying to sound appreciative in spite of her accusations earlier.

She shrugged.  “Well, no crime was committed.  You came out smelling like a rose.”



©2017 by


Poor Biff’s Almanac — Friday 2/17/2017


I discovered today that somehow I have become stupid.

This all came about because I decided to teach myself how to write Visual Basic scripts for Excel.  Now, I have written software for a living most of my career.  I have written code in assembly code for dozens of different microprocessors (all of which had their own unique and non-standard mnemonics).  I have written C code for both embedded systems, PCs, and mainframes.  I’ve written in Fortran (anyone remember THAT?)  I’ve designed CPLDs using Verilog.  I’ve even written code in BASIC (albeit a hundred years ago on a TRS-80.  (Oops!  Did I just carbon date myself?)

But today when I started poking and prodding around under the hood of Excel and attempting to write some pretty simple VBA scripts, I quickly found out that the past five or six years of being a manager has made me stupid.  Oh, I eventually got my simple scripts to work, but it was way more of a struggle than it should have been.  Frankly, I was embarrassed.  I’m glad some young whippersnapper programmer wasn’t looking over my shoulder.  He would have said something like, “You can’t use that variable there, Gramps!  It’s out of context!”

At that point I would have had to wave my cane at him threateningly and yell, “You kids get out of my pivot table!”


Poor Biff’s Almanac — Thursday Edition


As the title above implies, today was Thursday.  Like most Thursdays, I spent the bulk of it at work doing, um, work-y things.  Apparently, the company I work for is willing to pay people to do what I do and I don’t feel like it is my place to take them aside and ask them confidentially, “Did you really mean to pay me for this?”

I kid, of course.  I do excellent work that provides lots and lots of value to the company.  If you don’t believe me, just read the self assessment I wrote as part of my annual performance review.

That is actually a thing in some companies:  self-assessments.  I’m not sure what they expect people to write on those.  Are they expecting a frank and honest assessment? It got me to thinking about it and I came up with the following (not during working hours, of course).

What the Company Is Expecting

I feel like I really let the my corporate family down this year.  Though I put in plenty of extra hours, worked weekends, and even during the birth of my first child (whom I believe my ex-wife named Mary), I just feel like there is more I could have done.  Though our corporate profits were merely obscene, and did not hit the corporate goal of ‘outrageous’ that had been set for us by the executive leadership team, I feel that, if only I could have given up those two hours of sleep I got every other day, then I could have met my stretch goals.  Frankly, I don’t deserve to work here and when I commit seppuku later in my office (on my own time, of course), I will try to make sure that none of the resulting mess will inadvertently drip into the recycling bin, thus causing  all of the papers in there be rejected by the recycling facility.

What the Employee Actually Writes

This year Biff was awesomeness on steroids!   Though not real steroids.  Just metaphorical steroids because, as all of the mandatory training modules I have taken this year have so rightly pointed out, steroids are bad.  I single-handedly led our division onwards and upwards to a profitability level that could only be described as “borderline felonious”.    I got my name on eight patent applications.  Some of my jealous and less-motivated colleagues have questioned how someone in my junior position could get their name on eight patent applications, but these are the same slackers who have questioned the propriety of my relationship with Debbie in the Patent Submission Office.  While my indolent co-workers (named in Attachment A to this self assessment) were participating in an illegal gambling operation in the packing department, I invented MS Word.  Then I magnanimously allowed Microsoft to take all the credit for it because I know our software products division is already falling behind on many of their projects and could not have handled the extra workload.  I think they need a good dose of the Enlightened Leadership of our Executive Leadership Team.  I know it sure turned my life around!  I used to be a hobo, when when our wonderful and generous CEO, Thadeous T. Bonepicker graciously deigned to hire me, I became an entirely different person.  A person who, I might add, while working with orphans and stray animals on my own time, managed to formulate a strategy to improve our market capitalization, which I will be more than happy to share with our Executive Leadership Team if I am allowed to work here for another year.


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