Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the tag “Workplace humor”

2018 Day Two: I Remember Where I Work

Today was my first day back at work since December 14, which is a whopping 18 days off.  I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that I have not thought of work a single time since December 14 (except for being glad that I wasn’t there).

So, when I hopped in the car this morning and started driving, it is a miracle that I headed off in the correct direction.  I could just as easily struck out in the wrong direction and ended up at a Starbucks or a Barnes & Noble or in Fort Worth while staring out the windshield in bewilderment while saying, “Hmmm … this doesn’t seem right.  This is an open field.”

I won’t take any credit for having the mental faculties to get to work this morning.  It was purely muscle memory.  That happens when you drive to the same place every work day for 8 years.  Therefore, my brain had nothing to do with it.  My brain was, in fact, trying to thwart the enterprise by telling me stridently that this endeavor was hopeless and that we should just go back home and go to bed.  But I reminded my brain that this was the price for spending too much on Christmas.  I then set about to ignore my brain.

I managed to make it through the revolving door in only one revolution and without losing my briefcase or a glove or my sanity.  I wandered through the hallways in a daze.

giphy-downsized.gif

It was like deja vu.  It sort of seemed familiar … and yet totally alien, too.

I stepped into my office and was about to set my briefcase down but then, just to make sure, I took a few steps backwards out into the hallway.  Yep, that was my name on the door.  Just making sure.  It never hurts to be careful.

I fired up the ol’ computer.  I stared blankly at the login screen.  It seemed to be wanting some sort of password.  Hmmm.  What could it be?  This serves The Company right for making us change our passwords every 45 days (while making sure it contains at least 12 characters, a mix of alphanumeric and special characters, a mix of upper and lowercase letters, nothing even vaguely similar to something we’ve used in the past, and no words found in the dictionary).  Hell, it’s a miracle I remember it from day to day, let alone after an 18 day sabbatical!

I finally managed to get logged in.  My email inbox was packed with emails sent by people before the holiday break who wanted everyone in the company to think they were busy the week before Christmas.  Who ARE these people?  Should I recognize these names?   There’s only one way to resolve this.

<Select All>

<Delete>

There.  Problem solved.

Now, what was I doing before the holidays?  I seem to recall some sort of spreadsheet.  Or maybe it was a PowerPoint.  I’m pretty sure there were numbers in it.  And a graph of some sort.

Maybe I’ll just hide in my office and hope everyone else is in the same boat as me.

[Note to self:  Next Christmas, leave notes for myself before Christmas to remind me after Christmas what I was working on.]

 

 

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Poor Biff’s Almanac — What Day Is This?

Poor Biff's Almanac Graphic (Colored) #1

Hello, Everyone!

I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.  I have been off from work for about two weeks and as I explained in a post back in July, I have lost all sense of time and timeliness.  I don’t know what day of the week it is, what the date is, how many days are left before I’m supposed to go back to work.  Heck, I hardly even remember what year it is!  Christmas has compounded that issue somewhat.

Though I am enjoying the heck out of being off from work, there is a slight price to be paid.  The first price to be paid is the nagging question, “Why can’t my entire life be like this?”  I know there are very obvious answers to that, not the least of which is, “Because.

Still, it is frustrating.

The second price to be paid is a constant feeling of disorientation and discombobulation.  The past few weeks have been filled with questions such as the following.

  1. Why is this TV show coming on on Tuesday night?  Oh .. wait … it’s Friday.
    .
  2. Wow!  Chic-Fil-A is open on Sunday!  Oh … wait … it’s Tuesday.
    .
  3. This milk is still good.  It doesn’t expire until the 22nd.   *spewing*  Ugh!   This is the 29th!
    .
  4. I don’t have to set the trash out by the curb for another 4 days.  OMG!  They’re here!
    .
  5. This 75% off coupon doesn’t expire until the 27th.  Oh … wait … that was 2 days ago.

And a dozen other things like that.

In addition to those things, I am starting to feel a growing sense of uneasiness about going back to work.  The following worries are starting to haunt my every waking moment.

  1.  Will I remember all of my passwords on my first day back?  I can’t seem to remember them at the moment.
    .
  2. What was I working on before I left for the holidays?
    .
  3. What if I accidentally miscalculated the number of vacation days I had left in 2017 and I actually owe the company money now?
    .
  4. What were the names of the people I work with again?
    .
  5. Did I have any meetings scheduled for my first day back?  If so, what were they about?

My only hope is that all of my coworkers will be going through the exact same thing I will be.

Putting the Monday in Mundane

Plumbing-Meeting RM v1

You can’t say “mundane” without saying “Monday” first, unless you’re just being a smart-Alec and deliberately mispronouncing it.

The two words are so similar sounding that I wonder if they didn’t start out as the same word but then diverged over time .  I could Google it, but I’m overcome with mundanity.  Which is just a fancy way of saying I’m lazy.

Before I go any further, here is the link to tonight’s background music.  It is David Sanborn’s The Dream.  I love me some David Sanborn while I write.  It helps chase away the mundaneness.

As the title of this blog implies, today was Monday, and it was also mundane.  You might say, “I had a bad case of the mundanes.”   (Sorry, that was an obscure “Office Space” reference.)

Where was I?

Today was a day full of PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets.  I started out my career with a degree in engineering and spent decades designing some marvelous, highly technical, and extremely complex products, but somehow I’ve managed to find myself in a job where I only refer obliquely to engineering in PowerPoints and spreadsheets and hallway conversations.  It is the equivalent of a plumber being called out to a house where there is geyser in the upstairs bathroom due to a burst pipe.  But, instead of doing any actual plumbing, he presents to the homeowners a slide deck proposing a statement of work and presenting a preliminary plan of execution.  There is a slide outlining a list of potential risks to cost and schedule, as well as any cost avoidance opportunities that may be realized.  There is a slide mapping needed skills to available staff.  A high-level, time-phased budget is presented with material milestones.  There are several slides covering  any applicable building and plumbing codes, as well as an environmental impact assessment.    There are slides covering legal and contract considerations.  There is a mandatory safety slide.  Then there are some boilerplate slides on ethics, diversity, and team-building.  Finally, the plumber stands up and tells the homeowners they have 30 days to review the provided materials and to make formal comments through the plumber’s change management software and to accept the terms and conditions, whereupon formal negotiations on cost and schedule can begin.

I don’t understand how all of this managed to happen to a once-enjoyable career.

But I do now understand why modern office buildings don’t have windows that open.

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To the Eclipse …

Eclipse

Okay, not really.

But I’m not one to waste a good title, especially one that just pops into my head for no reason while I’m driving home.  It was like manna from Heaven, or a tax refund.

Now comes the hard part.  I have to hang some sort of blog post on that puppy.

Okay … the eclipse.   Let’s jump on board this hype train and see where it takes us, shall we?

I was in an interminable meeting as the time for the eclipse drew close.  I was just about to see if I could commit seppuku with a white board marker when someone in the room suggested we end the meeting and go outside and look up at the sun.   That room cleared out quicker than the bridge of the S.S. Valdez during happy hour.  I found myself alone in the conference room still trying how to figure out how to get the cap off of the white board marker.  I quickly surmised that ritual seppuku with a blue white board marker (completely dry now for at least 6 months but left in the conference room as a sort of homage to the deceased marker) would no longer be necessary.

I was going to go back to my office and sink my teeth into a particular zesty pivot table I’d been working on, but instead I found myself caught up in a stream of people making their way towards the elevator and onwards to the parking lot.  If only we could exit the building this efficiently during a fire drill!

Once in the parking lot, I found myself with a group of coworkers discussing the protocol for staring at an eclipse.  No one got the special eclipse glasses.  No one brought paper to make a pinhole in.  No one even had sunglasses.  Everyone looked at me as if seeking guidance.  I’m not sure if that was because I am purportedly an engineer, or if it was because I was the eldest.  Sometimes being the eldest sucks.   No, I take that back.  Being the eldest ALWAYS sucks.

I tried to think back to everything I’d been hearing on the TV for the past month.  The problem is, I always zone out when the TV is on.  It is a protection mechanism.  It is either zone out or throw a vase through the television.  And have you priced televisions lately?  Or vases, for that matter.

“I remember them saying something about staring up at the sun,” I said to the group of 20-somethings who were staring at me agog.  I felt like I should be sitting on a mountaintop and holding a wooden staff.

“So we should stare up at the sun?” said the hipster from the purchasing department.

I stared at him a moment, trying to recall exactly what I’d heard … or rather, NOT heard on TV.  “Ummm …. mayybbbeeeee,” I said uncertainly.    “Let’s try that, shall we?”

[Two seconds later … ]

“Okay, okay,” I said as we all rubbed our eyes and made large, slow blinks at the ground.  “Probably not the best idea.  And, in retrospect, I do remember a Dick and Jane story when I was in the 2nd grade in which Dick warned Sally against staring up at the sun, even though it was smiling and winking at the time.”

They stared at me blankly (a few with still-watering eyes).

“Who are Dick and Jane?” asked Kim from Contracts.

I stared at her, a little non-plussed (my eyes also watering a little).  “Who … are Dick and Jane?” I asked incredulously.

“Are they that couple in sales?” asked Kip, from Business Development.

“Ohh,” ooohed Jane from Legal.   “I like them.  They are such a cute couple.”

“Um, no,” I said, feeling that the situation was getting a little out of hand.  I can understand why those chaps on the tops of mountains always look like they’re a thousand years old.  “They’re not the couple in Sales.”

“I’m pretty sure they are,” Kip said through his Captain Obvious beard, a Starbucks swilling hipster if ever there was one.  “I was just talking to them this morning in the break room.  We were faux fighting over the last kale bar.”

“Of course you were,” I said.

“People,” said Nancy from Supplier Management, raising both her hands in a placating manner.  “I feel we are getting off topic.  Biff was telling us that Dick from Sales recommends not staring at the sun.”

“No,” I said.  “That’s not what I was saying.”

“So we SHOULD stare at the sun?”

I sighed and addressed the restive crowd.   “Did staring at the sun a few minutes ago teach us nothing?   What would all of our rigourously proscribed corporate on-line training modules teach us in a moment like this?”

There was some murmuring as they pondered my question.

“That we should attempt to quantify the risk and develop a mitigation plan?” came a voice from the back.

“That we should form a committee of diverse voices and map skills to needs?”

“That we should perform a gap analysis of resources?”

“That we should apply six sigma concepts to the problem, perhaps in the form of a fishbone diagram?”

“Ooh … ooh!” came an excited voice.  “We should create a scatter diagram and determine a confidence interval!”

I snapped my fingers and stared excitedly at the scatter diagram suggester.  “Yes!  Precisely!  A scatter diagram!”

“We’ll need a whiteboard,” said Tammy from Tax Accounting.

“No,” I said. “We just need to look down.”

“Look down?” asked the murmering crowd.

“Yes!”   I pointed to the ground underneath the tree we were standing beneath.  There, at our feet, were thousands of shimmering, blinking dapples of light as they filtered through the leaves of the tree.  Each one of them was a miniature half-moon shaped image of the eclipse.

We stared at the ground for a bit and then shuffled back into the building.

Eclipses were not all they were cracked up to be.

 

 

Solving For X

Red-X-Icon

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 — Stimulating Simulations … or Simulating Stimulation

simulation-737006

It was a quiet day if Biffville.  I spent most of the day with my head buried in a spreadsheet that was so complicated that I began to doubt my sanity.  After all, no sane person would attempt to simulate real life within the pivoting matrices of a recalcitrant spreadsheet.  That’s what Visio is for.  With Excel you can, at best, create some crude 2-D simulations of rudimentary real-world processes.

Later in the day, I began to question my own existence.  I have read that the universe as we know it is just some grand simulation that a race of super beings is running for purposes we cannot fathom (my guess is a government grant).  If that is true, then why am I creating simulations within an Excel spreadsheet that approximate portions of real life … or what we think of as life?  Are there little people running around in my spreadsheets who believe they are thinking, living beings, but who are, in reality, merely references to other tabs and other cells (and probably the wrong ones, at that)?

It was too much for my feeble brain to churn on so I was glad when 5:00 rolled around and I was able to flee the scene of so much simulation.

Or did I flee the scene?  Perhaps I’m still there and the grander simulation is able to have me in both places at once: at my desk at work and also at my desk here at home.  Is the code of my life re-entrant?  Or is my stack about to overflow?

Perhaps my employer misunderstood me at my job interview many, many years ago when I mentioned that I wanted a job where I was constantly stimulated.  Perhaps they heard “simulated”, for I am pretty sure the past several years have just been a poorly constructed simulation.

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac – Friday Finally

writer

Friday is finally here, and not a moment too soon.  I don’t know how much longer I could have gone on with the workweek that just ended.

You might have noticed that I have not posted in awhile, though I flatter myself to even think that.  Well, the reason for my absence has been a perfect storm of events.  Each of the events, if isolated and looked at in a vacuum, are singularly uninteresting.  However, taken as a whole, and observed as the swirling variegation of events that they were, they remain just as uninteresting and probably a little more so.  It is the same sort of uninteresting you experience when someone relates to you a long, drawn-out, incoherent dream they had.

So I’ll just sum up the whole tiresome mess in as few words as possible.

A.  I have been putting in a lot of hours at work.  In fact, I had my 40 hours for this week in by Thursday morning.

B. My spending so much time at work has taken up all the time that I might have spent doing something more interesting.

C.  Even in my free time, I don’t do anything that is interesting, so scratch item #B above off of the list.

I think that is about it:  lack of free time and lack of anything interesting in my life to write about.  I probably could have just written it that way up front and saved us all a lot of time.  But it’s too late now.  The damage is done.  You cannot unread what you just read and I certainly cannot un-write it (though I suppose I could just delete it all, but I have too much invested in it at the moment to let it go).

And to top it all off, I think I am catching a cold.  I began getting a sore throat yesterday afternoon at work.  It was significantly worse this morning when I woke up, but a good dose of Tylenol, a hot shower, a cup of hot coffee, and gargling with Listerine downgraded my condition from “extremely miserable”  to “merely miserable”.  The sore throat has just become scratchy and raw.  The lack of energy and general malaise persists, but I am hoping a full weekend of intense lethargy and idleness will cure that.

Though I’m not sure if my body will ever forgive me for gargling with Listerine.

Poor Biff’s Almanac — Thursday Evening Edition

writer

It has been an arduous journey, but I have managed to stagger from Monday morning to Thursday evening.  I still have the Friday workday to get through, of course, but the weekend is so close that I can practically smell it.  It smells sort of like funnel cake at an outdoor carnival.  It is the aroma that helps you realize you’re having a good time.  Or about to.

One of the things that has made the week so toilsome is a “special project” I was assigned at work a few weeks ago.  Whenever anyone approaches you with anything labeled as a “special project” you should run, not walk, to the nearest exit.  Leave your personal belongings behind, forget about your dignity, and gallop towards the door like the Roadrunner avoiding Wile E. Coyote.

Another phrase that should make your ears prick upwards as your internal alarms go off is the dreaded:  An opportunity to excel.   If you hear this phrase come out of anyone’s mouth that is above you in the org chart, you should spring upwards like a bunny who just saw an eagle’s shadow and bolt violently (remembering to run in a serpentine fashion).  Run!  Run like the wind!  Run until your little bunny heart explodes (figuratively) from the exertion of exercising your choice of flight.  (Fight is rarely an option in corporate America unless you enjoy being unemployed.)

“Opportunity to excel” is really just management euphemism for one of the following:

  • Career-ending debacle
  • Reputation-shattering fiasco
  • Soul-sucking disaster
  • Confidence-crushing catastrophe

The worst part about being saddled with a “special project” is that it is like the tar baby from Southern folklore.  Once you have gotten your hands on it, you can never rid yourself of it.  It will follow you for the rest of your career.  You will become known as “the guy who worked on that special project that time“.  Your fingerprints will be all over it.  Your name will be on all of the drawings and documents.

What’s worse, you will become known as the expert in that thing.  Which means every time another “special” project arises, you will be the go-to guy.

 

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.

The Ascent of Biff

man climbing ladder

Today was a good day.

But then again, most Fridays are.  Almost by definition.

However, a good day is not the same as an exciting day.  There is not much excitement to be had while sitting in an office working on month-end financial reports, updating schedules, reviewing staffing, and knocking out a few mandatory on-line training modules that were due.

I console myself by telling myself that a million years of evolution led to my being able to sit in a climate-controlled box while manipulating ephemeral concepts and abstractions on non-permanent media to be stored in equally abstract locations as a safeguard against the eventuality that someone somewhere someday may want to audit these things.

We all know that that’s not going to happen, but it’s important that we all buy into the fantasy or else it unravels and falls apart before our eyes.   Our very society is built upon the vague fear that we may be audited someday and asked to prove that all those hours we spent in our climate controlled boxes were, in fact, value added.  We all know they weren’t, but that too is part of the ruse that we all buy into.

In other news, I successfully passed my online training module on Ladder Safety by successfully answering 8 of the 10 questions correctly on the assessment following the 30 minute training video.  Never mind that no part of my job requires that my feet leave the ground.  However, I am now certified to climb ladders of up to 12 feet (excluding articulated ladders) provided:

  1. I have the correct PPE (Personal Protection Equipment)
  2. I have a properly certified “ladder buddy” to spot me while I am more than 1 foot above the floor
  3. The ladder conforms to UL/ALI/ANSI/CSA standards and has the proper markings
  4. There are no non-ladder-certified people within a ten foot radius of said ladder at the time of my ascent
  5. The area in which the ladder is in use is properly cordoned off from incidental foot traffic.

This is definitly NOT what I had in mind when I used to dream of climbing the corporate ladder someday.

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac: Thursday Evening

writer

When last you heard from this intrepid reporter, I had only managed to make it a mere 60 percent through the workweek.  However, since my last report, my shrewd investments have paid off and I now find myself a full 80% through the workweek (a little less if you take into consideration the eroding effects of capital gains taxes).  This means that nothing stands between me and being 100% done with this workweek except for Friday, and I shall make short work of that soon enough.

So did anything interesting happen to Biff today?  No, not really.  I have wrung every last post possible out of my workaday world.  There is only so much spreadsheet humor and PowerPoint humor to be had, no matter what price one is willing to pay.  From what I have been able to ascertain, no one is willing to pay a single farthing for any humor at all related to MS Office products.  Even the cease-and-desist letter I received from Team Microsoft, Re: MS Office Products Humor, was itself humorless.

It was not a good day for office humor.

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac — Today’s Rejected Blog Post Ideas

Poor Biif Featured

Okay … here we go.  Dinner’s out of the way.  The pajamas are on … which is perfectly acceptable because I have to wear business casual all day long (don’t judge me!).  A hot cup of coffee sits beside the computer.  Basia is playing through my headphones (which is what happens when you put your iPod on shuffle).  The mental list of all the things I should be doing have been pushed to the back of my brain where they won’t pose a danger to anyone (especially me).  Now comes the search for something to write about.

I went back through the game tape of the day looking for anything at all that’s worthy of being written about.  Here’s the list of what I came up with after thinking about it for a few minutes.

  1.  That guy who cut me off in traffic on the way to work.
  2. The person I accidentally cut off on the way to work because they were driving in my blind spot.  Leviathan (my truck) is very unforgiving of people who hover in my blind spots (of which there are many).
  3. How the weather is very similar to what it was yesterday.  And the day before that.  And the day before that.  (Repeat that about 20 more times in your head; my fingers are tired.)
  4. An essay on whether or not I should be concerned about how, every time an organizational announcement comes down via blast email from on high (i.e. from Corporate … and you can’t see me, but I’m genuflecting towards our corporate headquarters), I don’t recognize the names of any of the people they mention.  Or their titles.  Or their organizations.  Or anything, really.  Am I that far down on the org chart?  Who are these people?  Am I somehow inadvertently working for a different company than the one I think I am?
  5. Another essay (or perhaps a haiku) about how, when I went to the vending machine for a snack, I saw a Zagnut candy bar hanging precariously from the dispensing screw.  Obviously someone had been deprived of their much-needed Zagnut.  So I was faced with a moral dilemma.  If I put in my money and pushed C7, I would get two Zagnuts for the price of one.  But would that be ethical?  Perhaps the victim of the Zagnut vending mishap had run back their their desk for some more change.   I would be depriving them of the opportunity to retrieve what they had already paid for.  But what if I walked away with a different snack, but someone else came along and did what I was thinking about doing?  Then two out of three people would have been screwed out of double snacks.  I finally decided on Peanut M&Ms.  I can’t stand coconut and so I don’t even like Zagnut bars.  But it’s hard to turn down a two-fer deal.
  6. My musings about whether or not, if someone were to quietly die during a typical meeting, if anyone would notice.  And if someone DID notice … would they envy the dead person?  They’d be like, “Wow, Bob doesn’t have to have his financial reports in by COB Friday.  Lucky!”   (For those of you who don’t speak Corporate Acronym fluently, COB = Close of Business)
  7. My contemplations while sitting at a red light on the way home about whether cities deliberately mis-time their traffic lights to maximize fuel consumption so as to increase revenues from gasoline taxes.  (Biff can be very cynical while sitting in traffic.)
  8. And now I’m wondering if Basia understood English enough to know  what the songs were about that she was singing.  I love her voice and her accent but I always wonder what people think about when they’re singing songs in a different language.  I mean, their managers could have them sing a song that’s wildly inappropriate and the singer would never know.  It doesn’t matter.  Basia is awesome.  Even if she didn’t  understand a word of the songs she sings, she still sings them as if she does.

Well, now you can see why it is so hard for me to write blogs that attract readers.

 

 

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

 

How to Leave Work on Friday Afternoon

man-running-with-briefcase

I love that moment on Fridays when I have worked my last minute of the week and I pack up my briefcase and prepare to start the weekend.

The whole time I feel like I am in one of those spy movies where the agent (or double agent, as the case may be) has to walk coolly through a crowded space that is populated entirely by people who would shoot him on sight if they knew he was an agent.  I just walk quickly, but not too quickly.  Avoiding eye contact.  Trying not to attract attention to myself.  Coaching myself silently in my head as I walk.

“Just keep walking,” I coach.  “You’re doing good.  Almost to the elevator.  Slowly.  Easy does it.  You’re doing good.  Just look casual waiting for the elevator.”

I hear footsteps and my blood pressure shoots up a dozen points.  Would it be someone wanting just one more thing done before the weekend?  Whew!  It’s just someone going to get copies.

I get on the elevator.  I can hear my heart beating in  my ears.  I feel like everyone is aware that I am leaving.

I get off the elevator and walk down the corridor.  Almost there. I can see the front door 30 yards ahead, just past security.  The light of the sun illuminates it like the portal to heaven.

“Go towards the light,” I coach myself.  “Keep a steady pace.  Don’t walk too quickly.  Just keep walking towards the light.  One foot in front of the other.  Almost there.”

And then …. boom!

Suddenly I am outside!  Sunlight warms my face.  A slight breeze tousles my hair.  I am suddenly free from the possibility that someone will stop me and need a report written before I leave or some data massaged.

I practically break into a sprint from the front door to my truck.  I throw my briefcase haphazardly onto the passenger seat, crank up the truck, and practically burn rubber out of the parking lot, driving over a median in my eagerness to make my getaway.

.

I’m free!  I’m free!

.

Until I hear my cell phone ring . . .

Jack Be Nimble

agility-meeting-rm-v1

I strode purposefully into the conference room where my staff was already assembled.  About half of them were looking at their phones and busily swiping left to right or up and down, depending on whether they were looking for a date or catching up on what their friends were doing.  The other half were talking quietly among themselves and laughing a little, no doubt talking about what they did last weekend or are planning to do next weekend.

“Okay, people,” I said as I closed the door to the conference room.  “Let’s get busy.  The customer will be here tomorrow afternoon and we need to get this presentation polished up ASAP.”  I sat and hooked up my laptop to the overhead projector.  “I don’t need to tell you how important this presentation is.  We have been selling them for three months on how we are nimble and agile and can meet their specification quickly.   Now –”

“Um, Jack?” said Dave, raising his hand slightly as if we were still in high school.

“Yes, Dave?”

“I noticed the company logo …”

“Yes?” I said.

“I noticed that it’s the wrong color blue.”

“Wrong color blue?”

“Yes, sir.  The logo is supposed to be Pantone 2132 XGC, the logo in your presentation is Pantone 2387 XGC.”

“Um … yes.  Thank you.  I’ll make a note to have it updated.”

“It’s in the header on every page.”

“Noted,” I said, making a note on my legal pad.  Then I straightened back up,  “And so, we’ll just move on past the title page …”

“Jack?” came Mary’s voice.

“Yes, Mary?” I asked.

“The title font is Cambria and it should be Century.”

“Um … yes … okay.  Thank you,” I said, making a note in my legal pad.

“And the body font throughout should be Times New Roman,” said Tim.

I glanced up over my glasses at him.  “Very good.”  I made another note.

“The title page needs to have our company’s security and privacy markings,” said Ellen.

“Yes.  Fine,” I said, trying to hide my mounting frustration.  “But I think it’s important that we move on to the actual content of the presentation.”

Having silenced them temporarily, I moved off of the title slide and to the first slide.

“Now on this slide,” I said, “I want to grab their attention.  I want to get across to them why we are uniquely positioned to quickly …”

“Um, Jack?”  It was Dave again.

“Yes, Dave?”

“Your bullet list contains diamonds.”

“Yes?  Is there something wrong with diamonds?”

“Diamonds are not on the company’s approved list of bullets.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yes sir.  I would suggest either dots, circles, squares, open squares, or pips.”

“Pips?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well.  I’ve made a note to have that corrected.  Now, on this first bullet, I’m going to state how we can meet their schedule because of our agility …”

“Jack?”

“Yes … Mary …”  I said, finding it difficult to mask my growing frustration.

“The hanging indent on your first line should be a half inch …”

“Listen,” I said to the room at large.  “We are never going to get through this if we just focus on formatting issues.”

There was a moment of silence and I was about move on when I heard a small voice say, “Nimble is misspelled in the second bullet.”

                                                              *

Seven hours later the door of the conference room opened and we all filed out, totally exhausted and dejected.  We had finally gotten through the three-page slide presentation and had cleaned up all the formatting, font, and color issues.  I would just have to review the content at home that evening so that I could make sure it was okay before the customer presentation tomorrow.

I’d call a quick 8 am meeting tomorrow morning with the engineering staff so they could review it.  That should work out okay.

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.

 

How Not to Excel at Your Job

excel-errors-1

You may remember from my last exciting post that our intrepid protagonist was waxing philosophic (i.e. babbling) about it being Wednesday.  Well, that was then; this is now.  Wednesday is so yesterday.  Thursday is trending.  Thursday is the new Wednesday.  And, using the tortured metaphor from yesterday’s post, we are now past the Continental Divide and we are trudging through Oregon (i.e. Thursday), even though we haven’t quite reached the Willamette Valley (i.e. Friday) yet.  But you can see it from here if you squint really hard and make binoculars of your fists.

But not to worry.  I am not going to continue to torture yesterday’s poor Oregon Trail metaphor.  It has suffered enough.  As have you, Dear Reader.  So, let’s move on, shall we?  The less said about it the better.

It occurred to me today as I sat in my taupe colored box at work struggling with uncooperative PowerPoint bullets … (“If I wanted pips, I would have chosen pips!  I would like a simple round bullet, please!”) … it occurred to me that there is nothing worse than inheriting someone else’s work.  I mean, we are all guilty of creating things we are less than proud of,  such as incomprehensibly complex spreadsheets that only we can understand (and that even we struggle with sometimes).  We create these Frankenspreadsheets ostensibly to make some part of our job easier, but in the end they end up taking on a life of their own and creating more work for us, because, in addition to our regular jobs, we now have to maintain and update this mind boggling Rube Goldberg contraption of a spreadsheet.  We get to the point where we are afraid to touch anything inside it because the cells and formulas are so complexly interwoven and interlinked that the slightest change will result in  an eye full of cells displaying the dreaded #VALUE! admonishment.

But there is something worse.  Much worse.

And that is …… inheriting someone else’s monstrosity of a spreadsheet because they did something selfish and inconsiderate like retiring or taking a better job. Worse still is having everyone in the company begin to refer to it as “your” spreadsheet.  No matter how many times I declare loudly and definitively that this is NOT my spreadsheet, that I would never create such a convoluted labyrinthine piece of garbage (not that I’m not capable of it), people still keep referring to it is Biff’s spreadsheet.  And, eventually, just like the tar baby in Southern folklore, you find yourself helplessly attached to this torturous piece of inscrutable codswallop.

So every time the Boss sticks his head into my taupe colored sensory deprivation chamber and says, “Hey, how soon can you have this month’s numbers cranked into your spreadsheet?” I am tempted to rear up on my hind legs defiantly and shout, “I am not an animal!”  But what comes out of my mouth instead is something more along the lines of, “As soon as I figure out this circular reference.”

 

That is the kind of biting retort that people say when they have mortgages and dependents and a looming retirement.   The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that someday this monstrosity of a spreadsheet will get passed on to its next victim.  I think that makes me merely a carrier for this virus-like spreadsheet.

And that’s not nothing.

 

 

Blogging Along the Oregon Trail

 

oregon-trail-1a

Today is Wednesday (stated merely for the benefit of those who keep track of such things). I rarely do.

Wednesday’s only claim to fame is that it marks the halfway point between weekends.  We always feel a fleeting sense of accomplishment when we reach midday Wednesday.  It’s very similar to what pioneers in the 1800s who were struggling along the Oregon Trail must have felt when they finally got to the South Pass in Wyoming at the Continental Divide.  Sure, they were happy to have gotten this far without getting cholera or scurvy … but then they would realize that they still had a lot of Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon to get through.  There would still be plenty of opportunities to get cholera, dysentery, hypothermia, or shot (which the travel brochures had lumped under the bullet point of “…excitement and adventure for the entire family!”).

Not that I’m comparing the tribulations of the modern workweek to the hardships faced along the Oregon Trail.  After all, how does one compare paper cuts, PowerPoint poisoning, low toner in the copy machine, and bad tasting coffee in the break room to the threat of constant death along the Oregon Trail?  One doesn’t.  Not without risking a loss of credibility.

I’ll be the first to admit that I would not have lasted a mile on the Oregon Trail back then.  There is a high likelihood that my fellow travelers would have voted to chuck me over the side of the covered wagon just a few miles into Kansas.  What good is an ersatz comedian to a wagon train of emigrants making their way across the rough and dangerous terrain of a wild, untamed country?  My fellow travelers would have had a clandestine meeting one night and the trail boss (played by George Kennedy) would have said, “Look … we either gotta get rid of the mime or the comedian or the interpretive dancer.”  The  Festus-type character (played by Ken Curtis) would shout out in a stage whisper, “The other day I saw him writing words on a birch log … though he called it a blog!

Well, that would settle it.  The vote would be unanimous and at some point along the trail, when I least expected it, I would be heaved bodily over the side of the wagon, narrowly missing the wagon wheels as they slowly churned their way westwards.  After that I would have to rely on my wits to survive (i.e. the credits would begin rolling as I wondered off in search of a pastrami sandwich).

I exaggerate, of course.  But only a little.

Happy Wednesday!

Friday Eve

long-meeting-rm-v1

Today is Thursday … or Friday Eve, as it is known in the Biff household (but only by me).

I often will refer to Thursday as Friday Eve at work, only to get blank stares from my coworkers; or perhaps contemplative frowns, as if they are considering throwing me down the stairs.  Fortunately, the stairs are at the far end of the building and so part of their contemplation is the mental calculus involved in determining the bother of getting me all the way down the hallway and to the stairwell and then having to make it look like an accident on top of all that.  I can almost see them think, “Nah.  Too much work” to themselves as they return their attentions to the presentation on the overhead projector screen which is displaying, ironically, a safety slide on stairwell safety.   (“Always use the handrails when tossing co-workers down the stairs!“)

It has been a long week in Biff-land, the most notable feature of which was a week of all-day meetings with querulous customers, imperious upper managers, and disinterested, detached, and disengaged co-workers (of which I, apparently, was one).  There were two dozen of us crammed into a conference room; with two relatively equal teams (us versus the customers).  Our side was skins.

We were served coffee that came in boxes (so you know it was good!), packages of donuts (covered with either chocolate or powdered sugar, depending on which would go best with whatever corporate attire one was wearing), and bottles of water that were so generic that the only thing on the label was the word “water” (misspelled, of course), a bar code, and a microscopic list of ingredients that was disturbingly long (with water being only the third ingredient on the list).  We spare no expenses for our customers!

So I have had to endure a week of:

  • PowerPoint presentations concerning topics I am only marginally interested in,
  • Spreadsheets so poorly composed and so incomprehensibly complex that I felt at times that they were really Magic Eye drawings that would reveal a 3-D image if only I stared at them long enough (though the only images I could get to appear may have actually been self-induced hallucinations caused by staring intently at the overhead screen with my eyes crossed for too long), and
  • Long discussions that were so inane, so riddled with acronyms, and so bloated with overwrought and meaningless corporate-ese expressions, that I kept looking to see if the meeting was being filmed as part of a show about practical jokes.

But, sadly, the entire experience was real and all of my attempts to wake myself up or to return to my own dimension just resulted in me ending up in the same meeting, but with blue marks on my arms and legs from pinching  myself.  “Well, I’ll be darned,” I thought incredulously to myself after awhile, “This is actually my life.

So I, for one, am quite happy that today is Friday Eve.  Tomorrow will seem almost normal by comparison.  And the bruises should be healed up by then.

 

 

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