There’s one in every crowd

Sometimes I’m not very good in social situations.  I have a tendency to fill silences, which is a really bad impulse for a writer.  Silence is, after all, a useful tool.

One great thing about curling is it has socializing built in.  At broomstacking after a match you at least have the game to talk about.  It’s the same principle that applies to dates: always go to a movie and dinner that way at dinner you’ll at least have the movie as a topic of conversation.

At my curling club there’s this guy I’ll call T.  No matter what new thing you’ve discovered or what experience you’ve had, T. has already discovered that thing or had an experience that transcends yours.  Go skiing in Aspen over Christmas, T. has been dropped from a helicopter on to Mt. Everest and skied all the way down.  Whale watching trip in Hawaii?  T. got to actually touch a humpback whale while scuba diving in Tahiti.

One of the interesting things about leaving my job the way I did last spring is I’ve started to pay more attention to what’s around me, and one of the things I’ve realized is, there is a T. in every office.

At my last job it was my boss.  No matter what new thing I discovered, oh, he’d heard of it before and wow was it nothing special. In my new work situation, it is one of my team mates.

TGF and I have a friend whose brother-in-law is part owner of a minor league baseball team.  The brother-in-law took our friend to the winter baseball owners meeting. The surprise gift from this for TGF: an official 2016 World Series baseball.

This year for the winter vacation TGF and I are going to Mesa for some Cubs spring training games, and maybe for some autographs on that 2016 baseball.

In discussing my vacation request on our team check-in call last week I explained all this and my boss, also a Cubs fan, expressed her excitement for me and TGF about this trip.

And then the resident T. jumped in.  She’s going on vacation to Florida in February. When asked what she was going we were rewarded with a 5 minute story about where her parents live in The Villages.

If you haven’t heard of it, The Villages is a highly planned community in Central Florida.  Hyper conservative, reportedly totally promiscuous, and, apparently, semi-fascist about access to their property according to my co-worker. Yes, it’s going to be horrible to visit her parents but, duty calls, and she’s going to go anyway.

Never content to let someone else be in the spotlight, the T.’s of the world will always find a way to upstage you.

 

 

 

 

My imperfection does not excuse your imperfection

It is more than marginally ironic that SmallAgency’s relationship with Floundering Non-Profit would be the tipping point to the end of my working at SmallAgency, a tipping point that also included an indicator to what the last straw would be: lack of accountability.

A couple of weeks ago in a project meeting ManBoss, whose pedagogical method is the equivalent of the classic ugly American in Europe (just keep saying the same thing louder hoping whomever you’re talking to will get it), was attempting to explain a concept to me I was only partially familiar with. Being stressed out, I wasn’t asking the right questions. Instead of saying “But wait, it sounds like you’re saying [X] which I know is wrong based on what I do understand about this concept. I can’t be hearing you right.” I kept trying to reconcile the patently wrong information he was giving me with what I knew and asking poorly formed questions. His reaction to this: to lose his temper and scream at me in front of another developer and the project manager on the job, storm out of the room muttering insults under his breath, and then slam the office door on the way out to get lunch about 60 seconds later.

Since I was off the next day, we weren’t able to address in incident immediately, which in retrospect was probably a good thing since his behavior was just the latest in what could most charitably be called “a developing pattern of inappropriately confrontational relationships with staff,” which is management speak for he’s been a condescending, sulky, moody prick for the last six months and I’m not the only one he’s been behaving badly toward. His behavior toward me was just the most extreme incident.

My next day back I asked for a meeting with him and WomanBoss to “discuss what happened in the project meeting” earlier in the week. I’m a little bit proud of myself. I had recently watched this lovely short video from Brené Brown on blame. Dr. Brown often uses herself as an example in her talks, which is something I find very motivating. But the gist of the blame talk is blaming someone else for your choices and actions and refusing to take accountability for your behavior is toxic. It’s infantile and it needs to stop.

In my meeting with ManBoss and WomanBoss I told them I’d been thinking about the incident earlier in the week, that I realized I wasn’t asking the questions I needed to ask in the right way, that instead of contextualizing and airing what I knew and how I was trying to integrate that with what ManBoss has been saying I had been doing all my processing internally leading to poor, confusing questions, and I understood how that was frustrating. I literally said “I take accountability for asking poor questions and I take accountability going forward for asking better, clearer questions in the future.”

Based on a “you get more flies with honey than with vinegar” conversation I’d had earlier in the morning with the Project Manager, who is very Southern and was present when ManBoss completely lost his shit in the meeting, instead of going in hard I asked ManBoss if we could agree that his behavior was inappropriate? His response: attack.

  • My behavior was inappropriate.
  • I “get angry” when people try to help me.
  • It takes me “forever to understand anything.”
  • He’s “just not seeing any improvement in my work.”

By this time we’d both increased our volume a bit and WomanBoss interjects with “I think we’re getting a little angry here.” Given that I wasn’t in the slightest bit angry, I told her I wasn’t angry at all. But yes, she did that silencing thing that often happens to women: if we speak at anything more than a conversational volume level we must be “angry.”

I tried to counter: yes, my work for Floundering Non-Profit wasn’t the best, but I didn’t want to open that can of worms, and I suggested that if he compared that project to the one I was actively on he’d see a big improvement. Nope, more attack.

  • My work on the current project was full of mistakes.
  • He’s constantly having to correct my work.

I allowed as how I hadn’t heard from the PM about any bugs, and I’d had an extensive conversation with her that morning, and if he was always having to correct my work and not telling me about it he wasn’t giving me the opportunity to improve. His response: he just doesn’t have time for that.

This is when I snapped. I got angry, and when I’m really angry I get quiet. I looked him straight in the eye and told him “nothing, no level of frustration, no opinion about the quality of my work or my skills, no amount of salary paid to me, nothing” gave him the right to speak to me the way he spoke to me the other day.

Sometimes, not often, you get to surprise people, and sometimes you get to see it. ManBoss literally did a double take, as if he expected me to just roll over, to not stand up for myself, and just give in.

At this point WomanBoss says we need to table (in the defer sense) the conversation for later while they come up with a work plan. I spent all day that and all day the next day, Friday, alone in the back of the office with ManBoss. It took me three xanax and half a dozen Tums to get through my workday. Sunday afternoon I resigned by email.

Given that ManBoss’ response to me asking him to take accountability for his behavior was a classic abuser response – “If you didn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t have to hit you.” – I think I would have been justified just emailing my resignation and never going back in to the office. Given his response, is it any wonder I didn’t want to be alone with him? Given that for the past six months he’s been snappish, pouty, condescending, and generally cranky not just with me but with the PMs and the other two devs, how am I supposed to predict how he will respond to the simplest question? As TGF points out, he’s a big guy and I had no guarantee that the next time I asked him something he wouldn’t get physically violent.

Monday during the project hand-off ManBoss still took no responsibility for his actions, and I got yet another of those rare opportunities to surprise someone: when I told them I was prepared to offer them three weeks’ notice WomanBoss was visibly shocked, as if I would be unprofessional enough to just walk out that day.

They elected to have my last day be the end of the month, which was the end of the current pay period. So I have been officially unemployed for nine days.

But it hasn’t been all bad. One of the things I’ve discovered is how big and supportive my network of friends and professional contacts is. I am extremely lucky. I’ve already had one job interview. And I will come out of this better off. I’m already better off; I’ve started sleeping through the night more often than not, something I haven’t done in almost six months.

So it’s 6ft tall, blonde, and Swedish with a D-cup

I am enough of an adult that I can take criticism and judge for myself whether it is justified and constructive or it’s motivated by something else and, intentionally or not, serves only to attempt to do damage. Sometimes it takes me a while because I tend to take any kind of critique very personally, but not in the usual way of believing that I can do no wrong. No, I tend to believe that whatever critique I’m getting is justified as I flail about wondering if I’ve missed a deficiency somewhere. And, of course, I have just enough of the human tendancy to deny criticism that I then have to fight off those thoughts before I can look objectively at whether or not I need to make changes. This is why it took me a few days to process the abortion of an annual review I received two weeks ago.

After serious consideration, and looking around at some job listings, I realized that ManBoss was right: I have become complacent in my professional development. I’ve let my skills lapse relying on the fact that my job is basically the same thing over and over again supported by people who have skills in areas where I am deficient. To fix this I looked around at various free and paid training programs. Teaching methods have changed quite a bit since the last time I learned Javascript.

Now instead of pages of reading followed by an exercise at the end of the chapter there are two basic instructional methods: watch a short video then do an exercise or “learn by doing” with bite-sized lessons that accrete to a section ending exercise.

The watching a video method has not proven successful for me (so many unwatched courses bought on sale) so I chose the learn-by-doing route. The price point is roughly the same, about $20/month USD, for pro/premium plans across all providers who take this approach. I picked one and signed up.

I as a pro customer they created custom path that will take me from vanilla Javascript to jQuery to Angular JS. Another path at this provider is a PHP to Python to Ruby progression. They also have a course in using Git which looks interesting. And it seems to be working for me. I’m remembering more and am able to apply it better. I’m also able to squeeze in a little bit of studying every day because each lesson takes less than 15 minutes.

In considering the other critique, the one about my pace, I decided to do a little experiment based on a comment from ManBoss during my review. He acknowledged that my computer is a POS and that it was ridiculous for me to be waiting a minute or more for it to load a page served by localhost.

At this point I would like to rage for a minute: Of course it’s a POS. A Mac devoted guy bought the cheapest Windows laptop he could get away with four years ago. When I was handed this machine new it had 4gb of memory out of a possible eight…four years ago. Everyone in the office, including WomanBoss, who has a perfectly good Mac Mini sitting on her desk, has gotten a new laptop in the past 18 months. Everyone except me. Me, I did some research last summer and found a company that sells compatible after-market memory and got ManBoss to agree to spend under $70 to double the amount of memory available to my machine, which helped a lot, but isn’t the same as a new computer.

To figure out how much of my pace problem is me plodding, and I’m willing to admit that I am probably slower than the average agency would like, and how much of it is a technology issue, I decided to use the tool I’ve been tracking my daily time with to figure out how much of my day I spend working and how much I spend just staring at my computer waiting for it to do simple, routine tasks like clear cache, load pages from local host, compile SASS into CSS files, and load external, work-related sites. I’ve been doing this for nearly two weeks and on average I’m spending a fifth of my tracked time per day just waiting for my computer. One day in the past week I tracked just under 6 hours and spent 54 minutes of that just waiting for my machine. That’s nearly an hour of lost productivity.

I’ve had a very frank conversation with our other PM (not the one who ignored the circus of a project for Floundering NonProfit) about what’s going on and she’s helped provide some balance and perspective confirming that yes, a lot of the underlying management problems I see are really there. Wednesday I had her review a note to my bosses to follow up on my review and let them know what steps I was taking to remedy the things they brought to my attention. She thought it seemed reasonable. I thought it seemed reasonable. Here’s what it said:

Hi ManBoss; Hi WomanBoss,

I want to let you know what steps I am taking to correct the skills and speed deficiencies you brought to my attention during my review.

For the skills piece, per ManBoss’ request I’ve started with Javascript. I’m currently following TrainingCompany’s Javascript path which starts with vanilla js, goes to jQuery, then on to AngularJs. I think their approach – bite sized lessons with small tasks that accrete to a larger task at the end of each section – is working well for me. I’ve also set myself an overall course task of improving on the first unit’s project – rock, paper, scissors against the computer – and being able to apply other things I learn to that program. Once I’m done with this path there is a PHP, Python, Ruby path which I intend on pursuing. They also have a Git course that looks interesting.

With respect to increasing speed, I am applying ManBoss’ suggestions for being less exacting with comps to CurrentHosedProject and it seems to have improved my pace dramatically. Too, I am trying to keep better track of my actual work time vs. time spent waiting on my machine to do routine tasks. If you’ll look in Admin > Dev/Ops you’ll find that time spent waiting for those routine tasks is not trivial. I would like us to come up with a plan to address this – whether that is a new Windows machine or transitioning me to Mac (and giving me the time to learn that new system) – as there is no chance I’m winning the Indy 500 driving a Yugo. 🙂

One thing that would be helpful for me moving forward is if we could more expressly define what is expected of me in my role and position here at SmallAgency – am I to be a front-end dev with some back end skills? a full stack developer (and if so, which stack? with a specific CMS specialty (e.g WordPress or Drupal)) a primarily front-end dev with project management and content strategy experience? This will help me concentrate my time on improving in the areas that are most beneficial and contribute most to the team as a whole.

I also think it would be helpful for SmallAgency in general if we could better define what it means to be a back-end dev and a front-end dev on a project. I say this not so that people can work only to expectations but more so that people can concentrate on primary expectations more effectively and then use additional time to help out where needed.

I look forward to your response. If you would like to discuss this further in person I’m happy to do that as well.

Thank you,
myRealName

Seems fairly resonable: you gave me critique, here’s how I’m correcting it, here are some data I’ve discovered, and here are some requests of you based on those data and some about setting expectations that will help me do a better job for you.  Also this helps me know what your expectations are.  If you’re looking for me to be a 6 ft tall blonde with a D-cup who speaks Swedish then our continuing relationship is a waste of time for both of us: I can never be that and you will always be disappointed.

I admit that this line – (and if so, which stack? with a specific CMS specialty (e.g WordPress or Drupal)) – is missing a question mark inside those parentheses [(and if so, which stack? with a specific CMS specialty (e.g WordPress or Drupal)?)] so it could be read ambiguously but I would say that it’s not the most important thing in the message.

A day later I get this back from WomanBoss (punctuation or lack thereof as sent):

Hi myRealName
Thanks for following up and updating us. We appreciate that. We’re researching a new PC for you and will try hard to slot that in the budget.

Regarding CMSs as you know our primary work is Drupal and WordPress and our developers work in both. We’ll need you to continue to work within both at SmallAgency.

ManBoss will follow up on your other questions.

I had to read it twice and walk away from my computer before I could fully digest this reply. Picking it apart several things stand out:

  • The aforementioned missing question mark and the response to that: Any time you use the phrase “as you know” you’re being condescending. There’s absolutely no call for that.
  • The new computer issue: They’re going to “try hard to slot that into the budget” could mean one of two things:
    1. They’re planning on firing me after the current project wraps up so why bother to get me new equipment?
    2. They’re terminally stupid about how they manage their resources and expectations.

    At this point either of these is just as likely.

  • Following up on my other questions: ManBoss won’t follow up on my other questions. Setting those kinds of expectations would actually require ManBoss to make a decision and not be “improvisational.” It would also set clear boundaries and require both of them to maintain those boundaries. That means they can’t move the goal posts at a whim.

Speaking of moving the goal posts, Alternet ran an interesting article on bosses this week. Seven eighths of it applied, in varying degrees, to where I work.

The coffee should have been my first clue.

I’ve long suspected that my happiness life expectancy at a job is somewhere around four years, and after that point the little things that aren’t right with an employer, or the management style, or the benefits, or the office politics become impossible to ignore. I was hoping this wasn’t the case at SmallAgency.

I was mistaken.

The annual review I had last week crystalized some things I’ve been feeling for a while now, chief among them that I just do not fit in where I work. Much of the criticism I got was totally valid – I do need to up my skill level in certain areas; I have not been moving forward developmentally in my field; and yes, I am probably slower than I should be – but some of it was, to put it mildly, complete and utter horse shit.

We are wrapping up a shit show of a project which is, ironically enough, my second stab at helping Floundering Non-Profit launch a new website. This project is now two weeks overdue. During my review last Thursday I was told that my “slowness is becoming a problem with project timelines.” I responded by saying I know that shit show project was, in fact, a mess and that I bear some of the responsibility for that but besides this particular project were there any other examples of my pace being a problem with a project coming in on time?

Nope. There were no other examples. There was also no recognition from my boss that anyone besides me – like say the project manager who only gave about 60% attention to the project, or my boss himself who completely ignored the project on the grounds that I was the lead developer while simultaneously refusing to let me set any kind of development direction only to deliver everything to me to do my part at the last minute – bears any responsibility for the state of this project. We discussed it further and I mentioned a second time that I realized I was partly responsible for the way the project has been going…and again nothing. No recognition whatsoever.

Smell the bullshit yet?

When I asked how I could speed up we discussed some strategies for dealing with design files with my boss telling me that he never uses all of the shades of gray, and there are often dozens, that our designer puts into a design because there are just too many. Which got me to thinking: if the files our designer produces are too detailed to use all the details why not tell him that, make the color palettes simpler and save our clients some design money while simultaneously giving people who have to work with these files a more clear directive on what to do with them? And how have my bosses not thought of this 10+ years into running their own firm? These are smart people. Surely this can’t be an idea I’m just having now?

How about now? Smell the bullshit?

Or maybe this bullshit should have been my first clue. The replacement rolls are less than four feet away. You have to pass them as you leave the bathroom.

Or maybe this bullshit should have been my first clue. The replacement rolls are less than four feet away. You have to pass them as you leave the bathroom.

The thing is, the bullshit has indicators. For almost four years I’ve been doing office-manager type duties – keeping track of whether or not we have paper products, making sure the water gets delivered in the right quantities, making the coffee every morning (even though I don’t drink coffee) and keeping track of beans and making sure the coffeemaker actually gets maintained – in addition to my actual job, and how we deal with coffee should have been my first clue.

These people like expensive coffee beans. We’re talking $75 for a five pound bag, and we have a gorgeous, burr grinder coffeemaker, that will make as few as two cups of coffee, in which to make it. Routinely my office makes a second pot, 12 cups, of coffee during the day, and just as routinely I throw out 6 to 8 cups of coffee the next morning to make a new batch. Why? Because they won’t drink anything other that freshly brewed coffee.

Now, since I’m not a coffee drinker I can’t really criticize the choice to not drink day-old coffee. What I can criticize is the ridiculous waste of one person brewing an entire pot then drinking less than a quarter of it.

And it’s this ridiculous waste that is really the indicator of the underlying problems.

Yes, it is time to formulate an exit strategy, and while I do, just nod and smile and remember the rules I have forgotten:

  1. I go there for money; it is an exchange of skills and time for salary.
  2. We are not friends. This is business.

Oh, and one more thing: Working remotely is a trap.

It’s never the heat

It's only quiet if your hearing is already near zero capacity.

It’s only quiet if your hearing is already near zero capacity.

I had a little spat with a co-worker last week. It was 68degF with 60% humidity, which is low for where I live, and he had the air conditioning on. Mind you, the industrial A/C, the big unit that sits outside the building and makes little to no noise in our office when it’s on hasn’t been functioning for a week. Our landlord’s solution to this while he prices out the cheapest possible replacement, which won’t actually be adequate for our space because he will choose by price rather than capacity, was to provide a LG portable A/C unit which is advertised as being “So Quiet, You’ll Barely Notice It.”

This unit is loud as all living hell, and right in that frequency range that has for my entire life been supremely irritating.

My response to seeing the A/C on after I returned from an errand was to remark in a fairly sarcastic tone “It’s 73 degrees in here and we have the A/C on? Really?” His response to my comment was to tell me I was being passive-aggressive and that maybe I shouldn’t assume malice when I don’t know all the facts and sometimes the way someone acts could just be forgetfulness. And while I accepted this and apologized, after due consideration I’m not entirely sure he was right.

I am a firm believer in Hanlon’s Razor which is briefly defined as “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.” I’m also a firm believer in the corollary principle to Hanlon’s razor: “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” Rational Wiki more completely defines Hanlon’s Razor thusly:

  • Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.
  • Never assume stupidity when ignorance will suffice.
  • Never assume ignorance when forgivable error will suffice
  • Never assume error when information you hadn’t adequately accounted for will suffice.

I have a couple of little problems with the complete Hanlon’s Razor, one of them being the implication that people are by definition good natured. Rational Wiki cite’s Wikipedia’s doctrine of “Assume good faith,” which means assuming that most people are trying to help Wikipedia and unless there is specific evidence of malice in the editing of a Wikipedia entry other editors are to assume something erroneous inserted by another editor is an innocent mistake that can be sorted out in a civil, polite manner. [Read more…]

I gave at the office

At SmallAgency we specialize in working with progressive non-profits. Since I’ve spent the bulk of my professional web communications career working for various progressive non-profit organizations it’s a pretty good fit in terms of knowing the problems an organization might have getting its message across to potential audiences and in combating internal obstacles in the ways they communicate with supporters. That decade’s worth of experience also puts me in a unique position to understand when and why an organization makes a mistake.

We use a mostly waterfall-based approach to project management at SmallAgency. This means that we generally organize a project into six (mostly) discrete phases:

  1. Discovery
  2. Functional Requirements
  3. Sitemap
  4. Wireframes
  5. Design
  6. Development

Right now we’re in the sitemap stage with an organization that does really good work in the sex education and reproductive rights issue space. Mostly they work with college students with some lobbying of state legislatures and Congress on specific bills, and they suffer from the same basic problem every progressive non-profit I’ve worked for also suffers.

When I did their original sitemap two of the major sections looked like this:

  • About Us
    • Mission & Values
    • History
    • Staff & Board
    • Alumni
    • Be an Intern
    • Work at [Organization Name]
  • Get Involved
    • Take Action
    • Find a Chapter
    • Events & Trainings
    • Donate
    • Email Subscribe

When they were done with the sitemap these two sections looked like this:

  • About Us
    • Mission & Values
    • History
    • Staff & Board
    • Alumni
  • Get Involved
    • Take Action
    • Find a Chapter
    • Events & Trainings
    • Donate
    • Email Subscribe
    • Be an Intern
    • Work at [Organization Name]

This illustrates exactly what’s wrong with virtually every progressive non-profit in the U.S.: working for the organization is not a valid way for a supporter to “get involved.”

Viewing employment as a charitable contribution proponents of this theory of staff recruitment will tell you creates a committed staff dedicated to “the cause.” The reality is while it will recruit people who are interested in the organization’s mission over the long term it only leads to massive employee burnout and to staff who have been with the organization for so long they refuse to change anything even if the way they are doing something is manifestly no longer the best course of action. After all, if given a choice of working to pay their bills or not needing to work and still being able to pay the bills only the most fanatical would choose to spend 40 hours a week working on a cause.

I have no idea if conservative organizations try to pull the same bull shit on their employees or if they are smart enough to pay market prices to attract top talent. I suspect most of them pursue the same misguided strategy in recruiting for the same ridiculous reasons.

Until non-profits treat their staff as professionals worthy of respect in their fields they will continue to be less effective than the could be, which is a crying shame given the importance of some of the issues on which they work.

One year and no longer counting

March 13, 2012 is my one-year anniversary at Loathesome job. I called in sick.

More accurately, I called in vastly underslept which was not true but given the number of times in the past year I’ve gone to work vastly underslept and functioned I think I’m entitled, particularly on a day when the expected high temperature is around 75degF.

I’m also entitled because this is my second to last week at Loathesome Job and I’m burning sick leave for which I will not otherwise be paid. Yes, I gave notice, and yes, I’ve found another job to go to. [Read more…]

Ten rules for dealing with crazy

  1. If you don’t have to deal with a crazy person, don’t.
  2. You can’t outsmart crazy. You also can’t fix crazy. (You could outcrazy it, but that makes you crazy too.)
  3. When you get in a contest of wills with a crazy person, you’ve already lost.
  4. The crazy person doesn’t have as much to lose as you.
  5. Your desired outcome is to get away from the crazy person.
  6. You have no idea what the crazy person’s desired outcome is.
  7. The crazy person sees anything you have done as justification for what she’s about to do.
  8. Anything nice you do for the crazy person, she will use as ammunition later.
  9. The crazy person sees any outcome as vindication.
  10. When you start caring what the crazy person thinks, you’re joining her in her craziness.

Structure vs. Rules

As part of my wrap-up at Floundering Non-Profit I had an exit interview with TemporaryBigBoss during which the fact that I had problems with Floundering Non-Profit’s lack of structure. TemporaryBigBoss laughed when he heard that I was going to the Federal government remarking that I would have plenty of structure as a Fed. I agreed with him at the time but it’s turning out that we were both wrong.

Structure is systemic. It is dependable processes that make sense allowing people to put their actions to certain events on automatic. They don’t have to think because they know if A then B. Structure has responsibility and accountability built in to it.

It is not filling out a form simply because it’s time to fill out a form. It’s not requiring your employees to account for every minute of their work days when they’re working from “an alternate location.” It’s also not telling your employees one thing, like that there is no overtime unless it’s pre-authorized, but then issuing them blackberries and expecting them to be constantly available. These are rules for the sake of rules, and the Fed has plenty of rules and not all of them make sense.

Starting in December the Department for which I work is requiring that every employee use a special badge with a chip in it to log into her computer. Digital certificates do provide more security than an id + password system particularly because it requires that users remember only an eight digit number which they theoretically picked specifically because it is memorable. So, no more forgetting your badge in your other pants and getting a temporary stick-on badge for the day from security.

And that’s fine. It is a government building and it’s the government’s computer equipment and systems which gives the government the right to control how its employees access those resources. It’s their right to set the rules for accessing their systems and facilities. What’s not taken into account with this new rule, what doesn’t consider the structure of the Department’s day to day business is the fact that if you are a new employee it takes 4-6 weeks after all your paperwork is in to get a badge with a chip in it.

Four to six weeks during which you will be unable to login to your computer, access your email, or get into any of the network systems you might need to do your job.

Rules are not structure.

Rockwell had no idea

You are being watched. You might think you aren’t but you are.

I’m not talking about security cameras of which there are an astounding number: Slate.com reported in 2010 on a five year-old study done by the New York Civil Liberties Union which counted 4,176 in Manhattan below 14th street. That’s 4,176 concentrated in one-sixth of the island. The same Slate.com article reported “The initiative [in NYC] is based on London’s Ring of Steel, which launched in the 1990s in response to IRA bombings. Britons may be the most videotaped people on earth. London has some 500,000 security cameras, while Great Britain as a whole has about 4 million.”

Think about that for a minute: that’s 4 million cameras in an area smaller than the state of Oregon. Security cameras aren’t just the province of big cities any more. Speed cameras, toll booth cameras, even cameras at the fast food drive through can all be used to observe your movements. But this isn’t what I mean when I say “you’re being watched.” I mean something even more insidious. I’m talking about your filter bubble.

Wikipedia defines the filter bubble as “…a concept developed by Internet activist Eli Pariser in his book by the same name to describe a phenomenon in which websites use algorithms to selectively guess what information a user would like to see based on information about the user like location, past click behavior and search history. As a result websites tend to show only information which agrees with the user’s past viewpoint.”

Pariser’s book and website provide more insight into not only how Google and other entities track your behavior online but how the smallest interaction with an add, link, or seemingly unrelated site can accrete to form what may or may not be an accurate picture of who you are and how that picture will influence in the future what messages you see.

Contemplate an Internet where ads pop up on unrelated sites simply because you visited a merchant’s website at some point in time.

Or how about a world in which search isn’t neutral but tailored specifically to what the algorithm thinks you want to see.

Imagine a political campaign where the messages are so micro targeted that you never actually get a full picture of the candidate’s positions, only message tailored to your interests designed to sell the candidate to you.

I didn’t notice the filter bubble in effect until after I read Pariser’s book but once I started looking for it I could see it everywhere: when I search for political topics or news stories Google serves me results from particular sources slanted toward what I normally read online and quite often those results are neither the freshest or most complete; when I visit a merchant’s website invariably that merchant’s advertising shows up on other sites powered by Google ads; and then there is the fact that Google reads my gmail.

Over the weekend I emailed a friend/former coworker to follow up on a remark she made to me while we were socializing at dinner on Friday. She highly encouraged me not to just quit my demeaning, frustrating job at which I have been totally marginalized and specifically told that I am not allowed to use anything but the barest range of my skill set. No, she said, make sure you have some place to go to before you leave.

Since there was beer involved, and since I am completely exhausted pretty much all the time now, I wasn’t thinking as quickly as I should so Saturday morning this is part of what I wrote to her:

My point about “just away,” which I was not expressing well thanks to the uberpils, is that if I were in a romantic relationship where I was being gaslighted (I don’t remember things correctly), jerked around (No, I can’t have a clear definition of my role.), marginalized (So, my work assignments are things that no one gives a cr*p about and that offer no value to the American public thereby negating the whole idea of “public service.”), patronized (I’m supposed to take career and technical direction from people that don’t understand the fundamental principles of web communications? Seriously?), and just generally aggravated (I wasn’t kidding: I’ve woken up angry and thinking about work every. single. morning. for the past month. This sh*t is getting old.) on this scale no one would be saying to me “Don’t leave until you’ve found someone else to be with.”

Right after I sent that message gmail served up this advertisement:

Now tell me, how long do you think it’s going to be before I start seeing ads for relationship counselors all over the Internet? I suspect I’ll start seeing them sometime within the week.

If you’re interested in searching where you aren’t tracked try duckduckgo.com or learn visually about how your filter bubble works.

Blog title gleefully swiped from Rockwell’s 1984 single “Somebody’s Watching Me