Saturday, March 24, 2012

Typing Wars

At the office I have several contractors that work in my division, with various backgrounds.  Dan is a younger guy who did 4 years in communications while in the Army, Anthony is a former Army medic who is now a Command Sergeant Major in the Reserves, Ross and Ken are retired Air Force Tech Sergeants.  There are a lot of personalities and points of view that make work interesting, especially when you throw in the 4 active duty NCOs that fill out the team.

Each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, and I couldn't help but notice that Anthony, a fired-up guy with great leadership skills who is always ready for go time (not surprising considering his position in the Reserves) is a painfully slow typer.  I've met plenty of people who hunt and peck, some with real proficiency that rivals traditional typing speed, at least when compared to slower typers.  Anthony was not one of those folks.  He really does look like he's hunting and pecking when he types.  Being the great boss that I am, I not only gave him heapings of grief over his typing (dude, did you drop some bread crumbs on your keyboard and now you're trying to find them or what?) but I also encouraged him to get some typing software and learn how to type for reals.

Anthony, being the great guy that he is, actually went out and bought "Mavis Beacon" typing software and has begun working through the lessons, and at home no less!  I wouldn't mind him doing them at work, considering it will more than pay off in productivity over the long haul.  Fortunately, before gaining this new proficiency he chose to try and defend his current abilities one day when I was ribbing him on how slowly he types.  He claimed that he could type 50 words per minute his way, while I put his speed at no more than 20 wpm.  This challenge led to Ross bringing up an online typing test to see who was really right.  Typing Wars 2012 was on!

By the time Anthony started taking his typing test a small group had gathered around the computer, watching with a baited tension comparable to what the crowd must have felt as Ralph Macchio lined up on the mat opposite that snotty blond haired kid in the first Karate Kid movie.  Unfortunately, Anthony got both legs swept by the typing text about astronauts.

Watching  for the longest 60 seconds as his gaze went from the screen to the keyboard, with fingers poised for several seconds, followed by a deliberate striking of a couple of keys, then head back up looking at the screen again, then back down to the keyboard, a hesitation while searching, then finding the right one, striking the key, then back to the screen again, repeated over and over, would have been painful to watch, had it not been so funny.  At the end of the test the computer gave his results: 18 wpm, with 7 errors.  I struggled to decide which to give him a harder time about - the fact that he types less than 20 wpm or that almost half of his words, even at that glacial speed, had errors in them.

Of course then the guys made me sit down and take my turn at the test, which was followed by everyone else trying to beat my score.  At the end of it all my results stood on top: 58 wpm with 2 errors.  A couple of guys got pretty close, but no one was able to top me, although an average secretary would blow my score out of the water.  I'll admit that it was kind of fun to win the ad hoc contest, although it was more fun to remind Anthony that since I type 5 times faster than him, once he learns to type he will be able to knock out a document in 12 minutes that would take him an hour to do today.  That will be like having an extra guy in the shop!  In all honesty though I would take 10 Anthonys, even without any typing skills, if they all had the same passion and professionalism as he has.  I'm really fortunate to have great guys like him working for me.  But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop poking fun at them - how would they know I care?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Office Humor

I think I'm losing my comical edge.  While I did have one of my Sergeants chuckling at some good-natured ribbing of one of our contractors yesterday, I typically get more laughter in a week from my sneezes than from my jokes.  The Captain whose cubicle is next to mine busts out laughing when I let loose with one of my ear piercing eruptions.  He just can't help himself.

Earlier in the week, I got a call out of the blue from a friend looking for some professional advice.  She prefaced the conversation with something to the effect of "Sorry to call you, but I need some help and you're my last resort".  I had no snappy retort to this gem of a statement.  Anything from "Wow, you really know how to compliment a guy" to "Man, you must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel if you're calling me" would have been called for at this point, but I didn't get any inspired witticisms until after hanging up.  I'm really slipping mentally.

It's not easy keeping a dry sense of humor in sharp focus.  If you try to be funny you are just lame, so the only time you can really be funny is in the spur of the moment.  This means you need both a fast mind and lowered inhibition.  Once you think the comment through it's too late - the perfect moment has passed.  But speaking without the filter on leads you to sometimes insert foot squarely into mouth.  That hindsight feeling of "yeah, probably not appropriate" or "that's definitely going to be taken the wrong way" is not a pleasant one.

My last boss liked to tell people "When I met Brad, I thought he was going to be a boring, quiet guy, but once I got to know him I found he is really funny".  I don't think I've ever made my current boss laugh.  Fortunately that's neither a job requirement nor on my to-do list, but I have to wonder if being funny is something else that deteriorates with age, like muscle tone and memory.  Maybe my grandparents were hilarious when they were in their 20s.  I guess only time will tell.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Week In My Life

This past week was a busy one for me.  In addition to my normal duties, I got to participate as a note taker for two days of a senior leadership conference, plus attend two awards ceremonies.  That means my normal 7:30 - 5:30 workday expanded to a 6:45 start time for a couple of days, and 10-11 o'clock end time for a couple of days.  Rather than tell you how tired this made me, I decided I would share some of my thoughts from this week.  Just as soon as I get done taking a nap...

Monday: Not much to tell about this day, except that as much as I hate wearing short sleeve blues, I hate wearing long sleeve blues with a tie even more.

Tuesday - Wednesday: Senior leader's conference.  As a note taker, this was a pretty easy, if slightly long, couple of work days.  I did help build some slides as well.  It's interesting to watch what is supposed to be a collaboration session devolve into a game of trying to guess what the person in charge really wants to hear.  Note to self - If I ever want my peeps to hold a brain storming session, I need to leave the room and have them brief me up on what they come up with after they are done.  The good news is my buddy who is stationed in Georgia was also a note taker, so we got to hang out for a couple of days.

Wed - Thursday: Two awards ceremonies.  On the good side, half of the enlisted guys who work for me were honored with awards this week.  One got an award from the Air Force Association, and the other won Senior NCO of the year for all of 24th Air Force.  That was a pretty big deal, and I was happy to be there to see it, although for some unfathomable reason half of us from the office were seated at tables across the room from the awardee and his family.  At least everyone in the unit got to sit together the second night.

The difference between the two awards ceremonies was stark.  The 24 AF ceremony included an awesome performance by a local high school JROTC drill team, as well as some music by the AF Band of the West.  If you've never seen a band try to rock out some tunes while wearing mess dress, consider yourself lucky.  The men's mess dress uniform, similar to a tuxedo  but blue and with medals, is pretty snazzy, although not what you typically associate with a lead guitarist or drummer.  The women are less lucky.  Their dress is full length but made of a material that is too thick and stiff to properly drape, so it ends up looking like a conical pyramid of polyester.  The lead singer reminded me of a bottle of Mrs. Buttersworth's syrup - trying so hard to be a person and a syrup bottle at the same time, but really only succeeding at pulling off one of them.  At least she had a good voice.

The highlight of the 24 AF awards ceremony, though, was the dancing that accompanied the Band of the West's performances.  Not that I did any dancing - I dance about as fluidly as Stephen Hawkins talks, but watching some of my less self conscious co-workers work the floor was worth the $40 price of admission.  One captain in particular, whose facial expressions and dance moves were somewhere between gleeful and robotic, entertained everyone present.  Even more impressive was his wife, who danced with him the whole time without any show of embarrassment.  That's what I call true love!

The highlight of the AFA awards ceremony, on the other hand, was when we were dismissed.  It ended almost an hour earlier than the event of the previous night, but felt 2 hours longer.  There was no entertainment, unless you count either the singing of the national anthem to kick it off, or listening to the MC try to make stuff up for the couple of people whose units hadn't sent him a copy of the award packages their people won with.  "I'm sorry, I don't have any information on what Ms. Rodriguez did, but I'm sure she did some outstanding things this year...probably won civilian of the quarter...obviously she wouldn't have won if she wasn't really doing great things for her unit!"

Friday: Actually got home before 7:00 today, and lunch with the guys at Jersey Mikes plus the upcoming weekend makes this the highlight of the week, although I'm bummed about the rain and the fact that there's undoubtedly more coming throughout the weekend.  This leads to the following snippet of conversation on the way back from lunch - Me: "Why does it rain every weekend?  All this rain every week is having a serious negative effect on my morale".  Capt Forostoski, without missing a beat: "All of this rain is really having a negative effect on our Morrell".  Thanks, Mike, for making me smile.  Having sunny days all week followed by cold and rain on the weekend still sucks, but I'm glad I like the people I work with.  It really helped make this long week much more endurable.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Evolution of Reading

One of the good things about not having internet at your home is that you get to use your computer in interesting surroundings.  Today I'm at the Castroville library, in the best area to use a laptop, due to it's desk by the windows and a convenient power strip.  This just so happens to be in the children's book section.

As I look around I'm struck by the fact that the best books really are made for kids.  The covers are way cooler.  They're short enough to read in one sitting.  The words are bigger and they have pictures inside.  Not that I'm asking for a picture on every page, but would it kill publishers to throw in a half-page drawing now and again?

I used to consume books voraciously, until I got into High School.  It was just so hard to find books that interested me.  You really can't tell by looking at the cover of most books for adults whether the book will be good or not.  And they are so long.  I enjoy John Grisham books but the guy has a way of shoehorning a 600 page story into a 1000 page book.  I feel like I'm travelling down a river, with moments of intensity followed by stretches of laborious rowing to get to the next interesting section.

There's something to be said for getting to the point.  I finished the last book in the Hunger Games Trilogy last night, and I think that is their best feature - not a lot of extra fluff; the stories move quickly along.  Sure, the main character is pretty flawed.  And apparently any book with a female lead that is written in the first person must have 2 guys vying for her love.  Is this every teenage girl's fantasy, or is it just that hard to write a story with only one love interest?  I don't know, but hey, at least the plot moves along at a fast clip. If only it had a nice illustration every 70 pages or so.  I guess you can't have it all.