Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the tag “Work”

Poor Biff’s Almanac — Thursday Night Edition

writer

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

secretary

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.

“Highlighers?”

“No!”

“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 biffsockpow.wordpress.com

 

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

software-engineer-clipart

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

poor-biff

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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