Working for the Gubmint, pt 2

A person in my office took her scissors, from her office, out to her car, where she needed to cut something. Let’s say there was a zip tie holding her license plate on that she wanted to trim. She then comes back into the office, and tries to go through security. They see her scissors, and take them away, because scissors are not allowed in the office. Even if they came from the office. Because… safety? I don’t even know anymore.

Water bottles and shoes, fortunately, are still considered safe, despite what the TSA thinks.

 

Disclosure: This story was told to me 2nd hand, so I can’t confirm it. However, I can confirm that there is a “no scissors” sign at the security check.

Working for the Gubmint, pt 1

The following is an account of a day at work with the federal government.

From:  Project Lead (PL)
To:        Systems Person (SP), me
“SP, Kai needs to do X. Can you help him?”

From:   SP
To:         PL, me
“Sure! Kai, you need file F to do X. I assume you have F. Please forward F to internal IT (IIT).”

From:    Me
To:          SP, PL
“I don’t know what X is, or how to do it. I don’t have file F, and I don’t know where to get it.”

SP comes to my desk: “You need to forward F to IIT.”
Me: “I don’t have F” (again)
SP: “Ask external IT (XIT) for F.”

So I ask XIT for F. While waiting, I ask SP “What do I do with F?”
SP: “I told you. Forward it to IIT”
Me: “Why can’t XIT send F to IIT directly?”
SP: “… Do you want me to forward F to IIT, or do you want to do it?”

Eventually, I send F to IIT. IIT emails me to ask me for the password. I ask XIT for the password. XIT sends me the password, I open F and send it to IIT. IIT then asks me to confirm that F is the correct file. I ask XIT if F is the correct file. XIT says yes. I tell IIT that XIT says F is correct.

To summarize: a task that should have taken two, maybe 3 emails/phone calls, involving 2 people, blossomed into a craptangle involving more than 5 people (I left out a few steps and CCs) and more than 10 emails, essentially quadrupling (2x people, 2x communications) the amount of man hours spent on it. Fortunately, this was a situation where the final outcome wasn’t time sensitive. But you can imagine how this kind of crap could add up and seriously bog down a much more complex project, like, say, healthcare.gov. Throughout this experience, I felt sort of removed and amused. I was given absolutely no information at the beginning, so I didn’t feel responsible in any way, and I was kind of just waiting for someone to remind me to attach a cover sheet to my TPS reports.

Utah, pt 3: Grand Canyon

If you’re thinking to yourself, the Grand Canyon isn’t in Utah, congratulations: you’re a geography WHIZ. But the North Rim is relatively close (3 hrs from Bryce), especially considering there’s a whole lot of nothing between Kanab (a super cute town with good food options) and the actual park. So we’re sticking with that title. Also, this will be a relatively short blog post because I’m sweating profanely, and I’m ready to move onto the next topics for this blog, which will be the ridiculousness of working for the federal government, and the awfulness of biking in Baltimore. It’s gonna be great, I promise – daily doses of happy rainbow sunshine. But first, Grand Canyon.

It’s one of the few things in this world that delivers WAY MORE than the hype*. Seriously mind blowing, and pretty much indescribable. So I’m not going to try. Just go. If you want to compare North vs South rim – the North is less popular, harder to get to, slightly higher, probably has fewer tourist options (and only one trail), but has the most amazing visitor center I’ve ever seen. It’s this super comfy room with a fireplace, a bunch of couches, and YUUUGE windows looking right into the canyon. And there’s a large porch with even more chairs. And you can get relatively cheap beer/alcoholic drinks.

Being a total butthead and knowing I only had one day here, I opted to do the longest hike imaginable, down to the bottom of the canyon and back up. There were a bunch of notices saying “Don’t try to hike to the bottom and back up in the same day, or you will die unpleasantly”, but I assumed they were meant for children. I threw some PB&Js in my backpack, filled my water bottles, and headed down.

And down.

And down farther.

It was like climbing a 6000′ mountain, but in reverse. When I started, it was about 50 degrees. At the bottom of the canyon, it was around 95. And then I had to hike all the way back up.

It was a long day. I think I ended up splurging and getting the $2 shower that night, which I absolutely deserved.

And then I went home.

*So far, the list of things that deliver way more than the hype: Grand Canyon, oral sex, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Utah 2: Cedar Breaks, Bryce

On day 3, I took the advice of both a good friend and a friendly Park Ranger and made a small detour to Cedar Breaks, so named for the Aspen trees there. The settlers of Utah were not especially smart. Cedar Breaks is up at almost exactly 10,000 ft, so there was still snow up there in mid June. The place is spectacular, but there’s basically just one short hiking trail, and very few services. Still, I’d definitely recommend it, especially because it’s an easy trip from either Bryce or Zion, you get away from crowds, it’s always fun to see how your body responds to elevation, and it’s gorgeous.

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From there, I headed down to Bryce Canyon. I did a quick jog through the Fairyland trail, where it felt like I was playing in a drip castle build by giants from Mars.

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I “splurged” and camped at the park, in part because I don’t think there were any free options nearby. But then I came across the difficult decision of choosing between a $2 shower and a $1.50 beer. I couldn’t possibly get both, because that would have been frivolous. Yeah, this is the ridiculous crap I think about when it comes to spending money. It’s kind of a problem – I think the next time I travel, I’ll force myself to spend a certain amount each day, because otherwise I cheap out on EVERYTHING, and it’s much less enjoyable. But after a rugged 8 mile run, that beer tasted DAMN good. (Somehow, I didn’t have this problem with $ while on the bike trip – my thinking was basically, I need to eat, and that’s where I spent the vast majority of my money. I almost never had to pay for a place to stay, or anything else, so it was never really an issue. And it probably helped that I was coming off of a real job, whereas on this Utah trip, I’d been marginally employed for more than a year)

Bryce is famous for being one of the darkest places in the US, making it great for stargazing. They have star watching events often, but unfortunately, not on the night that I stayed there.

The next day, I did an early morning hike in Bryce – it wasn’t hugely different from the Fairyland hike, but it was still super pretty, and you end up walking through a really narrow crevice.20160613_082002.jpg

One more pretty pic before I head out to the Grand Canyon

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Utah: A different type of trip

My long, personal nightmare of seemingly endless vacation is almost over – I should be starting a new job with the Social Security Agency at the beginning of July. With that deadline to free time approaching, and the prospect of having income, I decided to go for a quick trip to Utah. I’d seen amazing pictures from some of those parks, and it seemed like a relatively easy trip to organize quickly (as opposed to a through-hike, which would probably require a shuttle and food and a map or whatever). My plan was to spend a couple days in Zion, Bryce, and then stop in at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. All these places are roughly a 2-hour drive from one another, so it was pretty easy to hit them all with a minimal amount of driving.

Being a cheap bastard, I snagged a flight with Spirit Air. I knew they had a terrible reputation, and I knew I would have to bring my own food and water, but they next best option was at least $100 more, so I figured I’d try it out. What I didn’t know was that they are one of the ONLY companies (along with Frontier) that charge for a carry-on bag. And they charge up to $100 if you don’t pay in advance. Instantly, I hated them, and I hadn’t even gotten on the plane yet. But apparently the gods were smiling on me that day – not only was I able to bring my tent stakes through security (I spent about an hour researching whether or not this is allowed, and all I could find was: “probably not”), but they also let me bring my enormous backpack on the plane, AND I got an aisle seat. And although I lost some of that karma when a REALLY HUGE guy sat “next” to me, I’d say that was probably worth the $100 that I saved. And I managed to get away with the giant bag on my flight back, too. So either the carry-on charge thing is just a scam, or I got really lucky.

My first stop was Zion, where I arrived at 8am on a Friday only to discover that all of their campgrounds were full. At 8am. On a Friday. This was my first introduction into the overly crowded and overpriced system of our National Parks. The next day, I would spend about 30 minutes waiting in line to get into the park, and then spend another 30 minutes in line waiting for the shuttle bus. But I don’t want to rant about that too much, because the place was stunningly beautiful. My pics are going to be super crappy, but basically every time I looked around, I saw something amazing.

Here’s the view from near the top of Angel’s Landing, a hike not recommended for those afraid of heights. You can see the road and the shuttle buses below:

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Here’s Echo Canyon, a completely different sort of view:

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Because the campground was full, I ended up driving about an hour out of the park to a reservoir, where there was sketchy (but FREE!) campsites. That night I learned that EVERYONE in Utah has an ATV/four wheeler, and they all go riding in the woods on Friday nights. I also learned that the temperature drops to 40 degrees at night, and that I lost my blanket somewhere between DC and Utah.

If you get a chance to go to Zion, definitely do it, but try to avoid the weekends. Inside the park, I recommend hiking Angel’s Landing and Echo Canyon. The Narrows is probably the most popular hike, but I thought it was kind of boring. It’s worth checking out, but I wouldn’t recommend spending a ton of time and money getting water shoes and walking poles and crap just for that one hike. And I bet the Emerald Pools hike is super cool after a bit of rain, but it was pretty dry when I was there.

 

Bike training to/from Baltimore/DC

The MARC train from DC to Baltimore now lets you bring your bikes onboard on weekends for free! The information on their website is a bit disorganized, so I thought I’d post a helpful summary.

First, you can only bring your bike on the train on weekends. Here’s the schedule – there are roughly 9 trains on Saturdays and 6 on Sundays. On the MARC website there are several places where it says that only designated trains will have a bike car, but that’s not true: ALL weekend trains have a bike car (at least on 6/2016 they do).

Buying a ticket is the same as usual – just grab one from the ATM like machines right outside the gate. It costs $8 one way from DC to Baltimore, and takes about 30 seconds to get the ticket. The train ride itself is almost exactly 1 hour.

Getting on the train is super easy – you just walk your bike down the platform until you find the bike car. It’ll probably be the last one, and the only non-double decker car. It looks like this:

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There’s room for about 15 bikes, and you can sit right next to your bike, so no need for a lock or anything. If you have a precious snowflake with disc brakes, I’d recommend bringing a bungie cord to secure your bike, because your bike is likely to lean on the rotor while in the rack. Also, take as much stuff off the bike as possible to minimize the weight on that there rotor. Jeb! here survived without any problems, so maybe I’m just being paranoid. Also, as you can see, giant tires (anything over 2.5″ or so) wouldn’t fit on this rack, but you could probably just lean your bike in the gaps between the racks.

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That’s basically it – you get off at Baltimore and carry your bike up a set of stairs because Baltimore is a third world country without escalators, and you’re on your way. No weird looks from the train people about trying to bring this egregiously oversized two-wheel contraption on a train, no boxes, no disassembly, no worries about anyone running off with my baby. It was a surprisingly easy and pleasant experience.

So get your ass to MARC and do some biking in a different city!

Adventures in job searching

I came across this job description today – does this mean anything to anyone?

“As a team member of the Client’s Product Data Reset program, this role will participate in developing a comprehensive view of the information and integration functional design for processes and systems that will support the needs of Client’s Product Planning and Development.”

To be fair, the description also included “Must have proven experience in: Strong ability to adapt to changing needs, adjusted process and ambiguity.” Maybe I just need to practice my ability to adjusted process?