Digital Ischemia

22/07/2018

Eradicating It

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
There’s a reason this phrase is often parodied. Best by Snoopy. But that’s not exactly my issue.

What is ‘it’? A non-gender-specific pronoun. We should use ‘it’ when there is preceding context identifying a subject. Otherwise the reader or listener will be stranded on a sandbank, caught up in wondering to what we refer. The subsequent narrative won’t make sense.

Ah, but, you say, ‘it’ has become a grammatical placeholder for the subject, so we can reorder the words, or simply form a sentence. It’s raining. What is ‘it’? A cloud? The sky? The weather? A grammatically correct construction for an intransitive verb. ‘It’ doesn’t do rain to anything, ‘it’ just rains. ‘It’ is semantically redundant. ‘It’ is not even context. ‘It’ is a waste of characters. Since we’re evolving language anyway, particularly in speech, let’s just say ‘raining’. Or ‘rain’.

The night was dark and stormy. Is that any less poetic? Less gripping? Is the word order critical? Sequence of images? But now I take issue with ‘dark’: dark night is a pleonasm, like small dwarf or toxic poison. Like beginning a letter “I am writing to you…” I may be overthinking ‘it’. Did the writer mean moonless? That would be atmospheric.

The night was stormy. Admittedly that has less impact. But we could add any of a plethora of other adjectives instead of dark to set the scene. Not even fancy ones, just a simple, menacing term. But I’ve wandered away from my trivial tirade.

English is brilliant, eh? Six words at least that mean the same in any instance – oh, aye: synonyms. Six ways to say anything.
It was a dark and stormy night.
The night was a dark and stormy one.
The night was dark and stormy.
The night was moonless and stormy.
That night was moonless and stormy.
The moonless night was stormy.

There must be a label for these different sentence forms. But why start learning grammar now?

More motivating is what to call my crusade; what motto for my revolution. Rule one of attitudinal change is be for something, not against. Be pro-peace, not anti-war. Give your energy to that which you wish to see, not to the state you oppose, otherwise you perpetuate ‘it’.

I do not discuss any current political leaders who are anathema to me; I do not protest their visits. I suspect they enjoy any sort of attention, in the worst tradition of narcissistic PR. I say give the airtime to events we want to encourage. I use my small fizzle of power to support that which I endorse. I buy products from countries with progressive politics.

So I’m not anti-it, I’m pro-specific-subjects. Aye, that’s gonna look great on my banner.

15/07/2018

The Tool

Mr Workshop is a new arrival in our quiet, menacing cul-de-sac. He is already an established irritant. He introduced himself by spattering Aunty Spamela’s precious camelias with tiny black beads of undisclosed constituents. They died horribly.

Uncle Merv took a dislike to Mr Power-Tool’s garage activities the first spring. The unpredictable, intermittent noise vibrations caused Merv’s ants to lose all sense of purpose and direction. He empathised fiercely. Their erstwhile orderly conurbation in the shed’s eaves suddenly abandoned strategy for spiralling collisions. And the spiders behaved like they were on caffeine. Their webs were disgraceful. They all became rather hungry. Not evolutionarily successful.

Mr Motorhome ground his engine like a tarmac planer. He parked up at the boundary fence like a grey new build, blotting out the sun. Aunty Spamela, marinating on a layer of aluminium foil like a misshapen offcut of meat-style but utterly bland mycoprotein, cast a warning eye like a mushroom cloud.

Mr Water-Jet proceeded to rattle along the gravel obliviously and commence the water blast and jet pump sonata around the lower regions of the behemoth. After a the first movement, a blissful interval was smothered with a swarm of cigarette smoke. Aunty Spam stood up, foil sticking to her wobbles, and glared at the fence. She seemed to be mouthing something trenchant such as “for goodness’ sake.” Lost to the screech of Mr Mini-Scaffold-for-reaching-the-roof lining up for movement two.

Uncle Merv and I were foutering at the shed’s sarking, trying to attach some memory foam. Merv wasn’t clear on details, but the plan seemed less about aiding memoir and more about muffling ants. I think he was desperate to shield the community from the intolerable noise. Chronic noise stress was epidemic. Merv was already suffering acute seethe. The ants really just needed the vibration of their bodies and whole world to stop.

As I sutured foam and felt together with an unsettling pride, Spamela resettled on her oven tray. Mr Mini-Scaffold screeched around to the Other Side. The water-jet rebound combined with a fascinating mini-cyclone effect from the warm southerly breeze. I watched the symphonic dance of droplets as they embraced the hawthorn and the crazywebs and Spam with a fine mist of soap and dirt. Not welcome.

Next day, Merv and I smirked at the dazzlingly white motorhome. This could only mean imminent departure. Mr Engine-smooth-as-a-tractor revved up and lurched out of his driveway. I was poised, despite the subterranean shudders. Merv nodded to his camoflaged system of old wing mirrors which relayed a nauseatingly distorted image of the offending garage: its side door was wide open. I deflated. Mr Wank-Wagon must’ve just gone for fuel. We waited in a state of jangling tension for a good six hours before the idea occurred that fate might have granted us a boon.

Mr Unfortunately-left-the-garage-side-door-open thundered back into the neighbourhood the following weekend. We had mixed feelings. The absence wasn’t long enough but we were excited for our ingenious denouement.

The potion had worked a treat, although the myriad poisonous vapours in that den had given me pernicious head-swim. I reckon Merv added some of Aunty Spam’s age-defying skin tightener. I’ve never felt so constricted. I think his dose had a waft of eau de pheromone too. Ms Ant-Colony was unable to resist a holiday expedition. With some recent needlepoint practice, Ms House-Spider wove an elastic silk mesh curiously like chicken wire.

One silk thread precisely at tensile limit. One week-of-withdrawal addict’s grasp. One beautifully choreographed cascade of twang, tilt, twirl and trigger. One soft suffocation by non-organically cultivated fungal mycelia. Mr Restless cocooned, clamped and coffined in his own toxic veneered fibreboard.

We left him to chrysalis for a bit.

Me and Merv: the spider and the ant. Petty invertebrate superheroes.

[ Truthache series starts with Entry. ]

08/07/2018

Chronic Creepiness and Complicity

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:00

“I didn’t think you’d remember little old me!”
This is how I imagine that affected vulnerable voice, out of that great dough-ball head, atop the massive balloon that just didn’t work as effeminate, let alone endearing.

This is not my #metoo moment. I wouldn’t elevate chronic creepiness to that level of trauma. But how do I make sense of socially inept people misreading one another, or simply drawing a blank in their repertoire of professional behaviour? Remember? How could I forget all those insinuations, false assumptions, unreciprocated intimacies?

How could I forget you saying ‘I just changed your password because I knew you wouldn’t mind’ and because you could, with your super-user privileges. I lay on my sickbed, mind whirling through personal files I had legitimately kept on there, alongside work files. Financial details, personal photos, things I should never have had to consider passwording individually as they were in my allocated private space. You could have looked at any of them. You could have copied the whole lot to some offline drive for your later investigation. I felt sick. I didn’t think you were malicious, just somehow you kept acting like we were close. We weren’t. No one thought so. I wasn’t giving mixed messages. Other colleagues volunteered that they found you weird. You were like a naïve stalker: constantly pushing boundaries under the misapprehension that I shared your ‘more than colleagues’ feeling.

I was happier in those old times, fifteen years ago, when the boss saying “I’m not here to make friends” was a sign of good management. Now the vogue is to appear to be super friendly with every colleague. Otherwise they won’t be motivated to do anything for you. Even if that’s their job. What price professionalism?

I let you visit my house four times, because it seemed that I ought too – I felt some bizarre workplace pressure to ‘bond’ with team-mates, especially ones based in other offices at the other end of the country. The first time I thought you might genuinely be interesting, someone I could get along with outside the workplace. At the door you greeted me with a kiss on the lips and a packet of melted chocolate as my partner sat in the living room. Neither was pleasant. I was stunned. You said you’d left it in the car not imagining the sun would be so warm. You’d already cut the corner and begun drinking it. I declined by making a joke of it. Did you think we were going to share it? I put it down to social clumsiness.

When I visited your office you invited me to your house for tea with your family. Again, not my choice as I like to recharge in the evening, especially after a long journey away from home. But it seemed antisocial to decline. It was awkward. Your family was friendly but slightly baffled why I was there; your wife seemed tired. You were peculiar, pouring me special local brews then pulling them out of my hand when I seemed to get too open about work. Insisting I see your personal library closet which you had created by partitioning one of your children’s already small rooms. Insisting I saw the full extent of your garden and the various engineering projects therein. I returned to my hotel feeling utterly unenriched. I didn’t repeat the experience.

After my partner and I had moved to a larger house, you appeared to have trouble getting overnight accommodation to attend a meeting at my office. I again felt workplace pressure to plug the gap. I had a spare room now. My boyfriend had no problem with you; he knew you slightly and was so wrapped up in his own workplace troubles he barely engaged. After tea, I tried to be sociable before washing and sleeping. As I sat on the sofa, trying to find an interesting conversation topic, you took the opportunity to kneel in the floor beside me and read poetry to me. You needed the brighter lamp, you said. I didn’t want a bright light on; I didn’t want poetry or your enthusings. I don’t read poetry, much less appreciate it. You seemed to expect me to relish your science fantasy word world. I just wanted to escape but already I felt too uncomfortable to leave you roaming my personal space unattended.

When one of your parents died, you took your family to the other end of the country for the funeral and the sad business of tidying up a person’s effects. The journey was long so a third time I felt some workplace pressure to oil the wheels between colleagues. I offered you a pitstop on your route home as you were travelling at the weekend. I made some snacks and hung about. Your family all trooped in, tired and awkward, some of whom I’d met once at your house. They weren’t hungry; they’d been eating crap from every service station. They didn’t want a seat; they’d been sitting tightly packed for hours. They didn’t want to speak to someone they had no connection with right after a funeral. I wasn’t surprised my lame jokey attitude fell flat. I didn’t know how else to behave.

In the midst of this awkwardness, you suddenly, clandestinely, asked if you could speak to me in private. I reeled in the wave of creepiness all over again. I had thought I was safe from that inappropriacy in the vicinity if your family. You clutched my upper arm, brought your face too close and whispered that you had noticed an absence of shoes in the porch – my partner’s were gone. I suppose you were trying to be tactful by not raising a painful subject in public. I fumbled that we had separated and I had imagined you had learned by some workplace osmosis. My subtle implication being: I didn’t want to specifically tell you for fear you would think it a personal intimation and my ‘availability’ applied to you somehow. Nor were you one of my trusted confidantes.

When I was off sick for a few weeks, you took it upon yourself to be my official team visitor, to bring me a thoughtful card from everyone else, a couple of genuine queries, and an extra long cable so I could use my laptop in bed. I found out later this wasn’t sanctioned by our manager; she wasn’t even aware. My housemate was puzzled by your behaviour: the way you just entered my bedroom, plonked everything on the bed, slumped on the carpet alongside me, and waffled on about the office and your home life. I was so fatigued I couldn’t even work out if my discomfort was reasonable, let alone form a coherent sentence to eject you. Your wittering seemed merely harmless, thoughtless, self-absorbed, right up until you suddenly noticed I wasn’t wearing my glasses. “I never noticed how big your eyes are,” you mused. My whole body clenched with energy I could ill afford.

After the chat waned, you began setting up the laptop for me, seemingly generously. I wasn’t interested; I didn’t want to use it at that moment; I didn’t need help in any case. You then casually notified me that I’d need to change my password. My exhausted, over-blathered-at, hypoglycaemic brain registered anxiety at this development but couldn’t simultaneously process implications. I just weakly acknowledged. You knelt expectantly beside my bed, as if for a pat on the head, but probably for reinforcement of your trusted status. I stared into space, willing you to go.

My housemate became agitated after an hour and a half; I hadn’t had any breakfast and the doctor was due. That thoughtful concern gave me a welcome chance to twist your overstay into overkindness and engineer your leaving. Yet you stood in the hall rambling on in your over-intimate fashion for another twenty minutes.

Over the following days, my panicked mind raced through what you had given yourself access to, for the spurious reason of copying over a work file you wanted access to. I pushed myself to log in before I felt up to it, just to see for myself if there was anything to see in my personal drive, any spoor of your presence. I checked last modified dates but didn’t see any since I’d been absent. If only there had been a last accessed date field. But even that wouldn’t be conclusive as, as I’ve said, you could’ve simply copied out the files.

During that convalescence I spent much time and energy contemplating whether to make a formal complaint about your abuse of privilege. I fought against upsetting the ‘team dynamic’, against giving more issues to our overburdened manager, against damaging your career disproportionately, against over-formalising an issue that had probably arisen from my own social ineptitude. I should have been more blunt with you. I didn’t have the energy for difficult conversations.

With increasing hindsight I recognise your social awkwardness, but yours seems paired with under-sensitivity to others’ reactions. My version has over-sensitivity; I blame myself and try to change my algorithm every time, when often it’s just someone having a bad day.

I resisted further hints about accommodation and visits, and kept emails and text messages strictly professional. I became frighteningly twisted in my wording, learning avidly from the business speak fashion of each month: I didn’t want to ‘mask your genuine need for business accommodation’ by putting you up.

The workplace got more stressful, a new manager exerted more pressure on all of us, my illness recurred. I felt my position too precarious to make any more waves. After an extended absence I had to resign my job and trust my colleagues to sort out my desk cabinet. I told my favourite desk buddy what was my personal stuff and what was for the company to retain. Unfortunately, inevitably, you involved yourself and several important items went astray. Some were delayed in reaching me by a few weeks, some disappeared altogether, some were delivered out of the blue three years later.

In the middle of a summer heatwave I found at the porch a company bag containing some of the missing items from my desk and some random financial documents which should never have left the office. Apparently you had also left the organisation and in the sorting out these had turned up. When I enquired of ex-colleagues, tact and unconcern covered any embarrassment and left the circumstances uncomfortably unexplained. The wave of anxiety rose again.

There were plenty of other little abuses of the working relationship, exacerbated by my failure to establish boundaries. I understand the desire to know more about someone, and the easy temptation to abuse professional privileges to gain that information, or just the frightening ease of internet research, in order to seem insightful and attractive. The boundary is no doubt different for different people. And we’re all inconsistent. And complicity creeps up on you.

I hope you don’t remember me.

01/07/2018

Egg Timer

Two colleagues share ‘corporate intelligence’ about some less than intelligent IT events

JIM: That’s the egg timer woman.
KEN: The one that crashed the whole IT system?
JIM: Aye——no.
KEN: What do you mean?
JIM: What she actually did, well, I’ll need to start at the beginning. First thing she did was get the helpdesk lassie fired.
KEN: I never heard about that.
JIM: No, well, basically the helpdesk lassie was taking the pish. She was constantly complaining about her workload and how she couldn’t get anything done for this constant stream of emails.
KEN: Wasn’t that her job?
JIM: Aye, but nobody really looked closely to see what she was actually doing. Ken what Usman’s like: doesnae like to get too close to the keys. Obviously she was meant to be answering folk’s queries about, I don’t know, how do you copy and paste, where’s my file I was working on yesterday, type thing. Pissy stuff. Anyway, she takes a sickie for all the ‘stress’, and this woman, who’s some sort of auditor I think, says to Usman, since he’s like the helpdesk manager, she’ll take the opportunity to review it.
KEN: Right, got landed with the job.
JIM: No’ exactly. Apparently, in the course of one day, she deletes 2400 emails that’ve been sat in the inbox for more than six months – this is no’ the techy stuff, mind, just the stuff where the problem’s between the keyboard and the seat.
KEN: Very good.
JIM: Same time she’s running reports on the lassie’s online activity, ken: all what she’s been daein’ on her computer the whole time.
KEN: How do you do that?
JIM: The IT folk can see that easy.
KEN: Shit. I didn’t know that.
JIM: Dinnae be daft: they’re no constantly peering at your computer, watching you spending your lunch hour looking up motors and transfers and pish. They’ve work to do. Just if a manager is concerned about someone’s productivity, like, they have a look. So, it turns out the lassie’s spending two and three hours a day playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds or suchlike, and also a fair bit of time on the phone to private numbers, ken. Basically blethering.
KEN: So that’s the end of her.
JIM: Aye, and the auditor totally overhauls the protocols. First thing folk notice is they start getting email replies fae the helpdesk dead quick. And most of them just say RTHF.
KEN: What?
JIM: “Read the help file. It’s much quicker.” Actually I’ve one on my phone here that Sandra forwarded: goes on “unless you just want to put off a task you don’t fancy. In that case copy this code into the command window – you can change the 27 to however many minutes you want – and you’ll get some peace.”
KEN: What’s the command window?
JIM: Doesnae matter; there’s instructions. Basically pulls an animated gif off the shared drive and runs it over a black screen for as long as you’ve set.
KEN: So nothing’s crashed?
JIM: No, just looks like it’s hung.
KEN: Egg timer! Cunning.
JIM: Dinnae get any ideas! You ken what happens.
KEN: Oh, yeh.
JIM: Aye. Nobody should take that gimmick seriously, right? No’ gettin’ away wi’ that in the workplace. No. Within three days five folk in Strategy have the thing running hours so they can take a long lunch. No’ one of them thought to wonder if anyone else was doing it. They just trot aff.
KEN: Does no-one notice?
JIM: That’s the point. Takes the Strategy Director two mere days to get suspicious why all her staff are no’ working and it’s all getting blamed on the IT. She calls Usman; he says there’s nae problems. She hauls him up to the office, shows him the egg timers; he hits F5, screen back to normal, emails, everything sat there, no problem. Well, except they’ve broken the security, haven’t they, by no’ locking their computers when they’re away. Strike one.
KEN: So the twits come back from lunch and see they’re rumbled?
JIM: Aye. They blame it on the helpdesk.
KEN: All this over five folk in Strategy?
JIM: No, see everyone was at it.
KEN: Seriously? Are they all stupid?
JIM: Seemingly. Everyone of them thought they were special. So, Auditor woman gets summoned. Now, seemingly, according to Sandra again, ’cause she was in the Strategy meeting, Auditor woman comes right in wi’ this attitude, like she’s no’ taking any shit. Director’s hackles are up right away. Usman’s just sort of watching fae the corner, see what happens wi’ two alpha females. The director’s had Sandra put the bloody email up on the wall so they can point at it. She launches into demanding explanations. Auditor woman just laughs and says “how’s this my problem?” She draws a circle round the bit about ‘putting off a task you don’t fancy’ and says “this is the problem; this is _your_ problem. Depending on your management style, you either have a motivation problem or a discipline problem. Sort it.”
KEN: Strike two?
JIM: Aye.
KEN: What’s strike three?
JIM: What’re we daein’ here?
KEN: I don’t know; waiting for some announcement?
JIM: Aye, announcing we’re all taking some assessments.
KEN: For what?
JIM: How are we employing folk wi’ nae IT savvy? Folk that are asking these daft questions in the first place. Like she says, either they’re incompetent or they’re taking the piss. How are the managers no’ managing?
KEN: Right.
JIM: What’re you daein’?
KEN: Typing an email. Helpdesk.
JIM: Are you tryin’ tae get struck aff?!
KEN: I want to speak to this woman.
JIM: What’re you typin’?
KEN: “My egg timer’s broken.”

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