Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013

Just like last year, I got dressed up for Halloween.  Actually, I got dressed up several times this year because there were more parties to attend than last year.  Of course, there was the traditional visit to Bisbee, AZ.  And my Boy Scouts will of course be having a costume party.  Unfortunately, the rest of the guild couldn't make it to Bisbee due to not having the money (thanks for the shutdown, Congress) but we'll be getting together to cash the rain check on All Saint's Day.
You can see the difference from last year's article; I chose a different science fiction franchise to base my costume on this year.  My girlfriend and I chose to be Leela and Fry, respectively, for this year.  We could switch it around for next year.  The big benefit is that this year's costume was much easier to assemble.  It's just orange hair spray, a red jacket, white shirt, denim jeans, and a pair of Chucks.  You can get it all on a single Amazon (no affiliate link here, sorry for the lack of spam) order.  Wow, this is going to be a short article.
Leela and Fry

The Hair

My girlfriend used a more permanent purple dye for her hair but I chose a temporary orange hair spray.  It washes right out with shampoo.  Before the orange went on, I styled my hair to stand up in the front with generic extra-hold gel.  
One tip, really do follow the directions regarding how far away to hold the spray can.  Too close and the spray doesn't turn into aerosol right.  It'll go straight through your hair and drip down the side of your head.  Six to eight inches away got the best coverage.  

The Clothes

White T-shirt, blue jeans, black Converse All-Stars and whatever red jacket isn't sold out.  I had seen an article that recommended a particular jacket but it was sold out in red in my size so I chose a different one.  
My girlfriend is in a white tank top and black yoga pants with big clonky boots.  Leela's eye is a mask bought online.  It's mesh like a window screen so she can see out of it and even covers the front of my girlfriend's glasses.  Nibbler was bought online as well.  We made Leela's gauntlet out of a foam sleeping pad and spray paint, with Velcro closure.  
The tattoos aren't canon. 

We had a great time this year and a lot of people recognized who we were supposed to be.  Which really is the mark of a well-made costume.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Critical Performance

I am highly critical of my supervisors, as supervisors often deserve.  In fact I think every supervisor should have a critical workforce.  They need underlings who demand communication and who turn down the short end of the stick.
It should be noted that I don't think anyone deserves or should be forced to work with a contrarian workforce.  Then you're just a Republican in a Democrat Congress.  
I've had a conversation with my supervisor recently.  And I found out that the communication problems I noted earlier start above his pay grade.  While that was a pleasant enough flight, no one has plans on how to get the words from that speech down to actions on the ground. 
As government employees, we are evaluated annually.   There are four major performance objectives; things like mission execution and organizational support.  What the heck is anybody supposed to put down for either of those?! Even my supervisor agrees that "mission execution" is pronounced "more of the same".  I've been on several projects which were dropped from the mission and there's no communication about how any of us are going to be added back in. 
But at least I can rest assured that we're still not trained for whatever tasks come out of that speech.  Training that isn't free isn't available.  Traveling for training is even less likely to happen.  It doesn't literally require an act of Congress, only a commanding general's signature.  But training is one of the four major performance objectives on our upcoming annual rating.  Which means, the top rated workers will describe their web surfing engagement of online self-study resources in the most pointy-haired words. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Supervisors Work for the Marketing Department

I have this impression at the office that training is not allowed.  The entire government is operating without a budget, bouncing from one continuing resolution to the next fighting for every penny.  The Army is ordered to cut back from its war-time budget and workforce numbers and many expenses, including the organization's training budget, have been cut.  That's the message from the top of the command.  But then there is this contradictory message from my supervisors that "mission essential training" is still in the budget.  
And I say to that, "Well, which is it?"  
Either there is training or there isn't.  Was the training budget used up with frivolous fluff in the past and now all training requests are heavily audited?  Or is there really not any training budget but maybe they can move some money from another line item to fill in a skill gap?  Neither situation does anything for me.  I mean, how do you train for a job you're already overqualified for?  
And it's not limited to any one industry but I see it most clearly where I'm standing.  It isn't even really about the training.  The problem, one of many I have right now, is that the leaders in the organization aren't communicating.  When anyone in the workforce has the impression that there are conflicting messages from the various levels in the organization, then someone has failed to communicate.  Anybody in marketing will tell you that no matter how many times you think you said something, if your audience didn't hear your message, the communications problem is on your end.  
Over the past several months, from the furloughs this summer to the latest government shutdown, the workforce has been brought together to hear numerous presentations about where the command is going from here.  We are told all about the budget reduction plans, workforce realignment, new missions as we transform to support various definitions of "internet-capable", etc.  These town hall meetings have one thing in common.  They are all 30,000-foot high level fly-over death by PowerPoint.  
All these grand schemes never get communicated down to my level as a, "Here's what you need to do to support the command going forward."  I've been on several projects that didn't make it into the Army's vision of a networked military, so someone saying, "Here's the project you should work for and we're actually keeping this one."  Or even, "We're not keeping this project but you've helped shut three down so do that here."  Or better yet, "We have the need for this set of skills going forward and here's how you apply for the training to support that."  So it really is all about the training.  

That Town Hall Might As Well Have Been An Airline Cabin

The US Army has a big problem communicating its goals from top to bottom.  I've just sat through a town hall meeting where the commanding general of Army Cyber Command, LTG Cardon, talked about his plans for his command and where the organization I work for, Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM), fits in.
I don't have a problem with the lack of detail in this high level overview.  The man only talked for twenty minutes.  My gripe, really just one of many right now, is that the detail never resolves to any usable course of action at my level.  I will never find out what the general's vision will do for my task list.  I won't receive any direction from my supervisors on what training, not that there's a training budget, to request to keep my skills relevant to the command in the future.
Now, somebody knows what skill set they're looking for because the general said the organization's mission and workforce will be expanding.  So presumably there will be job announcements listing what skills they want to hire and discussions with colleges on what skills to build at school.  But I will not see anything about where I, stuck at the level cap in an IT job, should go to be able to contribute to the Army's mission.
[Edited to correct name and rank of Commanding General, ARCYBER.]

Letter to the Boss

I'm in trouble at work for absenteeism and my division chief has given me an opportunity to respond.  This is the letter I wrote.  

Bottom line up front, I might not want to defend this. I'm not sure it's worth it. Fighting to keep this job would just mean more of this.
This job is harmful to my health as evidenced by the increasing need for sick leave, high absenteeism, and recurring need for mental health services. This viewpoint comes from a perceived lack of opportunity to advance my career and a lack of parity with contemporaries outside of government jobs. There is no opportunity to advance from my level; all announced positions require a higher applicant grade than I have. Because of the lack of advancement opportunities within this job, compounded by the lack of training, I am not competitive in the modern workforce and am at a severe disadvantage being so far behind my contemporaries in the job market. Despite this deficit, my current task is far below my capabilities, which only makes the disparity more pronounced.
My task does not appear to be of interest to my employers. It is not on their list of major network services. For that matter, several of my previous projects failed to be incorporated into the Army's network which only shows declining relevance. This task is so marginal that I am the only person in the organization with this responsibility and yet it is a critical function when I am absent as apparently all support capability in the organization grinds to a halt. It is still a low-level administrative function where my skill set is wasted.
There is apparently, according to statements from my supervisor, higher-level work available. Work which is advertised as mentally stimulating and enables me to use my knowledge in an engaging and rewarding task. I am denied the opportunity to advance in this way; the reason given is that I do not perform at a higher level now. I counter that my low-level task does not require or offer the high level performance I am capable of. And that brings up a recurring concern of mine; that my leaders are unable to tell the difference between an employee incapable of higher level performance and one who doesn't offer it because it isn't required on a current task. It is clear I have been mistaken for the former.
In closing, I am tasked with work well below my capability and with training and advancement denied by policy.

It sounds like a resignation letter but it's a big relief.