When I first joined a virtual meeting this morning, I could hear everyone in the room, and everyone could hear me. Then something went kablooey and I couldn’t hear anything. “Hello?” called. “Can anybody hear me? Hello?” But got no response at all. Then I tried sending a message to the meeting organizer through chat. Still nothing. I even tried logging out of the meeting, then logging back in, but I still couldn’t hear a thing.
“What the hell’s wrong with this?” I grumbled as I checked all the settings to make sure I hadn’t accidentally switched something off. I continued to kvetch, “I can’t hear a goddamn thing,” and so on as I pulled down every option menu. “Piece of crap.”
Then the meeting organizer sent me a DM: “Dave. We can hear you.”
I stopped kvetching. “You can hear me?” I asked.
“Yes,” he DM’d, then added. “We’re trying to figure out what’s wrong.”
Pro tip: Always assume the mic is open and the camera is on.
One of the things I do for my day job (I don’t know why I call it that; I don’t do anything else for pay) is a routine audit of the daily reports of customers who have logged in to the Wisconsin DOT web site to order ID cards or driver’s licenses. I’m looking for “red flags” which might indicate that an impostor might have logged in using a victim’s personal information. Thousands of IDs and DLs are ordered every day, so reviewing them is a very laborious process.
To make it a bit easier on myself, I use a spread sheet to automate the process as much as possible. I know a few tricks, just filters and searches, really elementary stuff, which helps, but lately I’ve been reviewing a year’s worth of reports at a time to see if I can spot trends. My simple tricks don’t work well on a spread sheet with 250,000 lines because my laptop bogs down whenever I ask it to crunch that much data.
Last weekend I told my son Tim about the problems I was having because I knew he was very good at writing macros in MS Excel and I hoped he would be able to give me a few tips that were simple enough for even me to understand so I could attack this problem. “Let me think about it,” he said, went home, did a little research, called me to talk it over again so he was sure he understood what I wanted to do, and then a day or two later I got an email message from him with an Excel spread sheet attached. I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. When it comes to Excel, I know just enough to be a danger to myself.
I didn’t want to break it, so I just held on to it until he came over for supper yesterday. He showed me all the bells and whistles and even fine-tuned it a bit so it did just what I wanted it to do. And it did it very, very quickly. I knew our kid was smart but wow. It was like he revealed his superpower to me.
I was assigned to RAF Digby in 1999 and worked there for two years with a couple dozen British people and maybe eight or nine Americans. I can’t tell you what I did there for the Air Force but I can tell you I drank a lot of tea on the job. That’s not a cliched stereotype; the British really do drink a lot of tea. We had tea first thing when we arrived, took a mid-morning break to drink tea, had another break in the afternoon when we drank tea, and I think we usually shoehorned at least one or two more cups in while we were working. Someone would come around with a tray to ask if you wanted any; all you had to do was give them your cup and your order, and ten minutes later they’d be back with a steaming hot cuppa.
When we took a proper break it was usually to stand around chatting while we sipped our tea. One of the blokes I worked with, Sean, did not sip his tea. He’d stand there, happily chatting away with his cup in his hand for the entire fifteen-minute break until, in the last ten seconds or so when other people downed the last drops of tea and began to make their way back to their work stations, he would say something like, “Well, suppose we’d better get back to it,” and suddenly upend his entire cup of now-tepid tea down his throat. That’s just how he liked it.
Not the most exciting news in my life, but I finally set aside an hour to go through the pile of paperwork that built up on the shelves of my cubicle at work. The goal was not to clear it out entirely, the goal was only to make a dent in it.
I made such a satisfying dent in it that I set aside another hour in the afternoon to go through the rest, and it turned out that what remained was mostly old printed-out email messages and copies of power point presentations from more than five years ago. Practically all of it went in the trash. So satisfying.
Two days working from the office and I am BEAT! I can work from home for days and get all kinds of things done at my own pace, sleep well and feel rested enough to fight another day, but a day at the office leave me feel as though stepped in for Sisyphus: “Here, let me push that up the hill for a while so you can … hey, where are you going?”
I got on the elevator at work with a woman who took one look at me and asked, “Aren’t you B’s husband?” When I said yes, she said, “I thought so. I see you on her Facebook posts all the time.”
I wasn’t surprised that I ran into someone who knew me as B’s husband. That happens at the office all the time. I was surprised that she recognized me at all. I got on the elevator wearing a mask, which covered my face from my eyeballs to my chin.
When I told B this story, she said it wasn’t much of a mystery to her. In nearly all the photos she posts of me, I’m photobombing her dinner, crouched behind a plate of food or a glass of beer. Most people watching her FB posts only see me from the nose up.
The office I work in is laid out like a hallway. It’s not as awful as it sounds. One whole wall is windows. Our desks are all in a row in front of the windows. I have my desk set up so I can look out the window all day. After working in windowless buildings for twenty years, this is pretty nice.
My desk is at the far end of the office, at the end of the hallway. Frankie’s desk is next to mine, then Chia’s is next to Frankie’s, and finally Sarah’s is in the middle by the door. There are desks for four more people down the other end of the hallway/office.
Sarah and Frankie and I are all people who “think out loud,” so in our end of the office there’s a constant background murmur of people trying to keep track of what they’re currently doing, punctured by the occasional exclamation. “OKAY, DONE, NOW I have to mumble mumble mumble …”
Chia, our lead worker, sits right in the middle of all this. He works all day long without saying much at all. Very quiet. I’m not even sure he has an inner monologue.
When I have a question for him, I usually go to his cubicle and rap on his desk to get his attention because he wears headphones all day. And I have to sheepishly admit that I didn’t realize why until just now.
At work, we use a Microsoft Access database to keep track of the cases we investigate. It’s a simple database. It’s designed to give us a case number for each investigation, record the type of case, has a place for us to make notes. Very basic stuff.
In The Before Times, everybody would keep the database open on their desktop for convenience, but when we started working from home we discovered that Access doesn’t work well over the VPN we’re using. It’s very slow and when more than one person is in it, it gets very janky and sometimes makes records disappear, so we adopted a policy of only one person in the database at a time, and we would notify each other in a chat room when we were going in.
One of my coworkers has a set of fingers which almost always fumbles the phrase “going in” so it comes out “goin gin,” and whenever she does that, I feel it’s my obligation to find a gif of somebody hoisting a cocktail glass in salute, or mixing a cocktail, or drinking straight out of a gin bottle. Turns out there’s an infinite number of gifs out there on the subject of drinking liquor. I wonder why.
I didn’t have enough vacation time this year to take last Thursday and Friday off, which a lot of people did, so I was in the office, bleary-eyed and not especially bushy-tailed, before the sun came up on Thursday morning.
The office was silent as a graveyard. I debated with myself over whether or not to make coffee. I myself was going to drink tea that morning, and I figured that the few people who were in to work that morning would be Keurig-users. The people who drink from the pot seem to be mostly management types, and I figured they wouldn’t be around. But, what the heck, I brewed a pot anyway and made it strong, just in case there was anyone in the office who needed a kick in the pants that morning.
Lucky thing, because there was more than one. I went back to the kitchen at about nine-thirty to make myself another cuppa and saw the pot was almost empty. Must have been more than a few people who needed a jolt that morning. Brewed another strong pot that was almost gone before lunch time.
Same thing happened Friday morning. There must have been a lot more people working the in-between days than I thought, and apparently they didn’t get much sleep.