Sunday, August 27, 2017

Heart Breaking


In our last heart condition update, I said that the pediatric cardiologist for our middle child, now 11 and still occasionally known as the Smaller Animal despite the arrival of his little sister,1 had told us it was time to start talking to cardiac surgeons.  And we have done that.  We interviewed the top cardiac catheterization guy in our area (and possibly the entire country), who told us that the state of cardiac catheterization today wasn’t sufficient to help us now,2 and we attempted to interview one of the top cardiac surgeons in our area who works on both adults and children, who didn’t tell us much because the scheduling was handled so poorly that we barely had 5 minutes to speak to him, and we interviewed the top expert on the Ross procedure in our area (and possibly the country—he famously performed this operation on Arnold Schwarzenegger, in fact), who told us that our Smaller Animal will be having surgery on November 6th of this year.

He told us a lot of other stuff too.  He said that the surgery would take around 4 hours and that the Smaller Animal would probably only spend a single night in the ICU.  He would spend another 3 – 4 nights in the hospital and hopefully be home by the weekend.  He said there would be minimal restrictions on our son’s behavior after that point: stairs would be fine, just no fighting with his siblings.3  The doctor assured us that his sternum would heal quickly ... you know, after they split it open to expose his heart.  He told us that the chance of serious complication from the surgery was around 1%, and the chance of brain damage from being on the cardiopulmonary bypass pump (a.k.a. the “heart-lung machine”) was less than that.  He didn’t mention the chance of getting HIV from the blood transfusion, or developing hemolytic transfusion reaction—that’s when your body rejects the alien blood—but we were thoughtfully provided with a nice scary contract to sign outlining all those latter possibilities.  Oh, and let’s not forget the chance of contracting hepatitis, which, quite frankly, is not sounding so bad in all that company.

There was more discussion, of course.  We talked about cadaveric valve vs pig valve vs mechanical valve (cadaveric is the right answer, apparently: pig valves don’t come with sufficient conduit, making them harder to attach, and mechanical valves are out because no one wants to put an 11-year-old on blood thinners for the rest of his life), and we talked about eventual re-replacement of the pulmonary valve replacement, because it can’t last forever (hopefully that’s when the catheterization guy comes into it, to avoid any future surgeries), and we probably talked about more stuff that I can’t really remember right now.  Because, you know, they’re going to cut open my boy.  They’re going slice open his skin, and break his breastbone, and suck out all his blood into a machine, and then cut open his heart and root around in there, swapping bits and pieces and eventually sticking in a stray bit from a dead person.  As I said last time, I often try to focus on the medical minutiæ, the mechanics of it, the technical terms, which I mostly understand and am comfortable with.  But, in the end, that’s what it really comes down to—they’re going to disassemble my child, and there’s a very good chance that they’ll be able to put him back together again, but there are no guarantees.  And I tell myself there are no guarantees in life for anything ... that he might be struck by a drunk driver while walking to 7-11 to get slurpees with his siblings, or he might get sucked out by a wave when at the beach one day, or he might contract a random virus that his body just can’t fight off, especially given that he’s starting from a cardiac deficit.  But none of that makes this any less terrifying, as it turns out.

I find myself getting caught unawares by it at odd times.  I was very successful at saying “I refuse to worry about this until we know for sure it’s going to happen,” and I don’t regret doing that at all.  But now it’s time to worry about it.  And of course worrying is useless: it doesn’t do any good and it ratchets up the stress level, which is actively doing harm.  But I used up all my ability to postpone the worry, and now it just sneaks up on me and pounces, apropos of nothing.  I’ll be thinking about something else entirely—financial stuff, or work stuff, or dealing with pets, or everyday chores—and I suddenly gasp, and I can’t breathe.  Just for a second, mind you.  Just for a second, my chest is tight, and I have that sense of unbounded panic, that “oh fuck” feeling that you get when you car starts to drift off the road or your boss sits you down and begins the “we have to let you go” talk or some family member starts telling you that one of your grandparents has died or the vet comes back to the waiting room and says there’s nothing to be done.  Then it’s gone, as quickly as it came, and I can breathe again, and it’s fine, I can deal with this, I just have to focus on one day at a time and one foot in front of the other and taking it as it comes, but that sneaky little fuck is still off in the shadows and it’s snickering at me softly, because it knows it’s just going to wait until I’ve forgotten all about it and then it will pounce again ...

I had to call my mother, of course, to tell her what the doctor said.4  I called her from the car on the way home.  This is my mother the nurse, so I had to regurgitate all the medical details for her.  When I got to the part about the 1% chance of serious complications or whatever it was, I said something along the lines of “so that’s pretty good, I guess.”  From the back seat, the Smaller Animal corrected me.

“That’s amazing!” he pointed out.  “That means only one chance in a hundred.”

That’s what he got out the whole conversation.  It’s often hard to tell what he’s thinking; he has a very “still waters run deep” personality.  We’ve never tried to “shield” him from information about his condition, never tried to send him out of the room when it came time to discuss what the doctors want to do to him.  After all, he has more right to know what’s going on than anyone else—it’s his body.  We’ll need to talk more, obviously (and the CHLA5 team has “child life specialists” that will help us find the right words to use), but so far I’m hopeful that he’s actually dealing with it well and not just suppressing it.  I could be wrong.  You never know what’s going on in the mind of another person, even one that you know as well as your own child.  But the way he jumped in and corrected me—not merely “good,” but “amazing”—gives me some hope.

And I guess it is amazing.  Only one chance in a hundred that literally ripping someone’s heart open and rearranging its insides goes horribly wrong ... think of what that chance would have been a hundred years ago.  Or even fifty.  It’s pretty miraculous, if you think about it.  In terms of raw numbers.  But, see, here’s the thing: my boy is not a number.  He’s ... my boy.  I’d really prefer the odds to be closer to one chance in a thousand, and even then I’d wish for better odds if I could get ’em.

But I can’t get ’em.  These are the best odds I’m gonna get.  And, really, we’re damned lucky to be getting one of the top guys in the country to operate on my son.  I’m nobody, you know.  And yet my kid is getting the same doctor that Arnold Schwarzenegger got.  Can’t really complain about that.

And I’m not complaining.  I’m just ... nervous.  And I suppose I will continue to be for about 10 more weeks.  And then ... then we’ll see.



__________

1 Which is over 5 years ago, by this point.

2 Although he will very likely be the fellow who does any follow-up valve replacement after the inital Ross procedure.  See the last update for what a Ross procedure is, or just ask Wikipedia.

3 To which our replies were “yeah, right.”  The nurse practitioner assured us they could still argue.

4 The Mother is lucky; she just sent out a family-wide text and notified everyone on her side in one fell swoop.  My family is, shall we say, technologically challenged.  So I had to actually speak to my mother in person.

5 That’s Children’s Hopsital of Los Angeles.









Sunday, August 20, 2017

If I Were Talking with Chris Hardwick


I used to hate “talk shows” when I was younger.  I still do hate most of them.  But more and more I find that I enjoy watching certain people ask questions of people that I know the work of (be that musical, cinematic, or what-have-you).  I have some vague thoughts on why that is, which will perhaps become its own blog post one day.  Today, though, I wanted to chat briefly about one such certain person, mainly to use that as a springboard for a whole ‘nother topic.

This certain person is Chris Hardwick.  So far I’ve watched every episode of his new show, titled simply Talking with Chris Hardwick.  I didn’t actually expect to enjoy it, but I figured, I loved @midnight, and I enjoyed Talking Dead (and the far more occasional Talking Preacher), so why not give it a try?  And I’ve actually liked it quite a lot.

This has a huge amount to do with the fact that it’s Chris Hardwick asking questions.  I enjoyed Jon Stewart interviewing people, and I continue to enjoy Stephen Colbert doing the same.  Once upon a time I was really into Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton, and I’ve even listened to quite a few episodes of Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  What all these people have in common is the ability to ask interesting questions, the sort of questions that you wish you’d asked.  Often the sort of questions that you didn’t even know you wanted to know the answer to before it was spoken aloud, but now that it has been you’re really desperate to hear the response.  And they’re all interesting people themselves, people who can interject their own stories without taking over the conversation, which is a tricky thing to manage.  An interviewer who talks about themself too much instead of letting the guest talk is annoying, but an interviewer who just asks question after question without throwing in their own 2¢ every now and again is boring.  It’s a delicate balance, and these are the folks who get it right, at least for me.

One thing that Hardwick does that reminds me (fondly) of Lipton is that he ends each interview with the same format.  In Lipton’s case, it was the long-form Proust Questionnaire.  Hardwick takes a simpler approach, and just asks a single question: what’s one piece of advice that has always inspired or helped you, that you might want to pass on to other people?  He rearranges the wording every show, but that’s the gist of the question, and I think it’s a good one.  His guests have had some interesting answers.

And, to once again quote Bill Cosby,1 I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

Sometimes when I watch or listen to one of these shows, I imagine how I might answer the interviewer’s questions.  I’ve come up with answers to Lipton’s whole list, at various times.2  So, the other day, after watching eleven episodes of Talking, I started to wonder what my answer to this question would be.

Of course, I couldn’t have a simple one-line answer.  Like everything I write, or say, or think, the full answer is more complex.  But, if I had to boil it down to a one-liner, it would be this:

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.


Now, this is generally attributed to Confucius, but that’s mainly because all quotes in the history of man were either spoken by Confucius, Voltaire, or Mark Twain, and which one your quote was spoken by only depends on how old you’d like to pretend it is.3  But it doesn’t really matter who said it; it’s a pretty little nugget of wisdom regardless.

It reminds me of something I read on Bruce Campbell’s website.  Now, if you visit his site today,4 it’s all slick and commercial and bleaugh.  But once upon a time it was all dorky and stripped down and black and white and blue, mostly consisting of big walls of text and looking like he slapped it together himself.  (Which I suspect he did.  For the record, Mr. Campbell, I liked it better before.)  But it had some cool shit on it.  Like this quote, which I immediately stole for my quote file:

I just love acting.  I can never understand why more people don’t make their hobby into a career.  Sure, it’s unpredictable, but no job is 100% secure these days anyway.

    — Bruce Campbell


Ain’t that the truth.  And it perfecty dovetails with my personal experience: I ran my own company for years, and it was not always fun, and it was never easy, but I loved it.  I loved what I did, and I loved all the people I did it with,5 and I loved being able to set my own schedule, and I loved being able to say “no” to work if it offended my sensibilities, or if the customer skeeved me out, or whatever.  I loved being the conduit for other people coming to work every day and loving it.  I loved being in charge when I wanted to be and making other people be in charge when I didn’t.  And, even after I stopped running my own company and went to work for someone else, I still loved it.  I’ve had pretty decent luck picking great companies who respected me and trusted me and gave me freedom,6 and I tell computers what to do for a living, which I find to be creative and satisfying.  I love my job, and I think I’ve had success and happiness because of it.

But it also occurred to me to contrast the Bruce Campbell quote with another quote from another screen star—in this case, Mike Rowe, famously of Dirty Jobs.  And here’s what he had to say on this topic:

The idea that there’s a perfect job is really comforting ... but dangerous, in the same way that there’s a perfect soulmate. The guys I met on Dirty Jobs, and the women, by and large, were living proof that the first thing to do is to look around and see where everybody else is headed, and then go in the other direction. The second thing to do is embrace the thing that scares you, frightens you, or otherwise makes you blanch. The third thing to do is to become really really good at that thing. And then the final thing, the thing that makes really happy people happy, is to figure out a way to love it.

    — Mike Rowe, Ask Me Another, 5/20/2016


Now, I have to tell you that, at first, I hated this quote.  It seems to be saying the exact opposite of what the Bruce Campbell quote was saying.  Instead of “follow your passion and turn that into your career,” it says “find a career that nobody else wants and then learn to love it.”  That didn’t feel right to me ... at first.  But then I realized: it really is the same thing.  Either way you get there, you arrive at loving what you do.  In the end, does it really matter which route you took?

So I think this is the heart of the advice: love what you do.  Whether that means to take what you love and do it for a living, or whether it means to throw yourself into what you do so hard and so thoroughly that you come to love it, the point is that, when you love going to work every day, you’re a happier person.  When you dread it, it’s hard to be happy with everything else you have in life.  If your work makes you miserable, you’re going to be miserable, and also you’re going to make everyone around you miserable.  That’s no way to live.

But when you love what you do, every day is like a gift.  Oh, sure: you don’t always love every dayyou don’t always love every gift you get either.  There will be bad days among the good, sure.  Days when you come home and you’re just tired, and you don’t want to think about anything.  But those are the exceptions.  Most days, you get to work and you see a bunch of people that you like (or at least ones that you don’t mind tolerating for the bulk of your day), and you sit down at your desk (or whatever workstation your job demands), and you do something fun.  And even when it’s frustrating, or it pisses you off, or it makes your brain hurt, it’s still fun anyway.  And one day you wake up and realize it’s been years, and that you’re still happy, and then you think about what it might have been like if you’d just done a job all those years for nothing but a paycheck, and you’re glad you didn’t have to find that out.

So, Chris Hardwick: that’s my piece of advice, the thing that inspires me, that I think would be useful for other people.  Love what you do.  It’s always worked for me.



__________

1 Who has become a much more controversial figure since the last time I used this quote.  To the point where some may say I should not continue to use it.  Obviously I’ve decided to do so anyway.  Not because I’m a Cosby apologist—on the contrary, I’m quite disgusted by the whole situation—but rather because I don’t believe that the bad that people do erases the good.

2 For the record: I’ve decided my favorite curse word is “fucksticks.”  But it’s a tough choice.

3 For an excellent breakdown of the possible origin and certain popularization of this quote, the excellent site Quote Investigator will hook you right up.

4 No, I won’t link you to it, as I didn’t the last time I mentioned his website in a footnote: see my open letter to Wil Wheaton.

5 I mean, of course I did: I hired ’em all.

6 Which you may recall is, according to me, the 3 things that employees want.









Sunday, August 13, 2017

Multiclassing, Part 1: History of the Multiclasses (2nd edition)


I think it’s about high time I address a topic which is near and dear to my gaming heart: multiclassing.  There are many different angles to approach this topic from, and, as always, I choose all of them.  But we have to start somewehere, and I think it makes the most sense to start with the history of multiclassing in D&D.1

The early editions of D&D were fairly adamant about every player having exactly one class.  Because fighters always fight, and magic users always use magic, and nobody ever does both, in any fantasy story ever.  Yeah, early D&D players didn’t buy that either.  So the concept of having more than one class—multiclassing—was born.

We could start with 1st edition, but from what the Internet tells me, it’s not significantly different from 2nd ed; I personally have very limited experience with 1st edition—I’m sure nearly everything I did was wrong, and I certainly never got as far as trying any multiclassing anyway.  So let’s just jump directly into 2nd edition.

2e proper actually had 2 forms of multiclassing: one was actually called “multiclassing,” while the other was called “dual-classing.”  From the names, you might imagine that dual-classing was when you chose 2 classes, and multiclassing was when you chose more than 2; not so: multiclassing most commonly involved 2 classes (though it could involve more, in rare cases), and dual-classing involved as many damn classes as you liked (although admittedly it was more often 2 than any other number).  So what was the difference?  Well, we could talk about the distinction that one was only for humans and the other was only for non-humans, but I don’t think that’s particularly productive.  Now, I don’t want to get into whether or not limiting things to humans or non-humans is a good idea or not—we’ll talk about whether and to what extent applying limits on multiclassing is a good idea in a future installment.  For now, I’m interested in the mechanics of how muliticlassing worked when it was allowed and not so much why and when it wasn’t.

So the more interesting distinction is that multiclassing was something you picked at the beginning of your career.  If you wanted to be a fighter/thief, for instance, you chose to be a fighter/thief at level 1, and you were a fighter/thief forever.  Which, if you think about it, is a strangely inflexible way of providing more flexibility than you could get with a single-classed character.  Dual-classing was a bit better, but also somewhat inflexible.  You could change your mind about your class after level 1, but you did so by abandoning your original class entirely and choosing a new class.  So still not really ideal.

The nice thing about multiclassing was that the way experience progressions worked made it so multiclassed characters were never too far behind their single-classed brethren.  So a figher/thief had to divide all their experience in half, true—with half going to advance their fighter class and the other half going to the thief class—while a fighter got to put all their experience into the one class.  So the fighter gets to level 2 first, well before the fighter/thief gets to 1/2, much less 2/2.2  But the fighter/thief would get to 2/2 just before the fighter hit 3, because of the exponential increase of XP required per level.3  So the multiclassed character with 2 classes was only ever a level behind his single-classed compatriots.  If you were crazy enough to try a triple multiclassed character (such as fighter/mage/thief), then you might end up 2 levels behind part of the time.  But still, that wasn’t so bad.

Dual-classed was way more complicated.  Once you switched from one class to another, you kept all your old hit points, but you weren’t allowed to use any of the other class features, either at all (early versions), or you could use a feature, but then you lost all your experience points for that session (later versions).  This went on until your new class level exceeded your old class level, at which point you could start using the features of both classes.  But of course remember that those first few levels require much fewer XP to level up.  So, to take another example, let’s say you started out as a fighter and got to level 4, at which point you decided you were going to switch over to being a thief.  To get to level 5 of fighter, you’d need 8,000 more XP (on top of the 8,000 you already had).  But those 8,000 XP are also enough to get you 4+ levels of thief, so while the rest of your party is hitting 5th level, you, once again, are 4/4, only 1 level behind everyone else.  And, once you get just 2,000 XP ahead of everyone else, you hit 4/5 and now you can do all the fighter things and all the thief things, and then you’re really set.

So the good is that you can multiclass, and that your multiclass character stays fairly viable throughout all of its career (if multiclassing) or most of its career (if dual-classing).  In fact, as far as effectiveness goes, multiclassing is pretty solid, regardless of what combo you use.  Dual-classing is more limited, in that not only are certain combinations sub-par, but it depends on what order you do them in.  Starting out as a fighter and switching to mage, for instance, is a pretty workable plan.  But starting out as a mage and switching to fighter is just terrible.  Plus, since you can never go back and gain levels in the original class, you have to be very precise in the level you achieve before you switch over.  Adding a third (or more) class just complicates things, no matter which method you’re using.  And therein lies the bad: multiclassing is hard.  It’s complicated, and difficult to predict whether it’ll work out, and may involve temporary stretches of suckiness.  But at least it’s possible.

Now, this history is primarily intended to be a history of the mechanics of multiclassing, but I want to diverge just a bit to talk about my personal history with multiclassing.  See, I was never too much into the 4 base classes: fighter, mage, cleric, thief.4  My earliest D&D PCs were druids and bards.5  So, in a sense, I was reaching for multiclassing even while I was single-classing.  And then Skills & Powers came out, which opened up your class options considerably.  For a while I became obsessed with creating the perfect blend of wizard and rogue;6  S&P gave me the opportunity to try it both as a wizard with some rogue skills and as a rogue with some wizard features.  It never quite jelled either way, but it was an interesting experiment.

S&P took nearly every possible class feature and assigned a point value to it.  It didn’t really turn D&D into a classless system ... but it could come close, if you were willing to house rule a little.  You could pick and choose your features from a smorgasbord of class choices, so you could effectively “multiclass” by just allowing one class to pick a few options off another class’s menu.7  The biggest problem with this was that the points you got for different classes weren’t particularly balanced against each other.  For instance, fighters got 15 points, while mages got 40.  Now, you could make an argument that fighters got a lot of non-class-feature bonuses—combat stats, saves, weapons and armor, hit points, etc.  However, that breaks down when you then throw thieves into the mix, because thieves received a whopping 80 points, even though they had better combat stats, weapon selection, and HP than mages for sure.8  The truth was that thieves just had an insane number of skills they needed to spend points on, and all features were a multiple of 5 points, and, if the designers had just assigned 5 points to all skills, then they wouldn’t have any way to make the statement that certain skills (e.g. pick pockets) were just plain better than other skills (e.g. detect noise).  So thieves needed a whole lot of points just to recreate the PHB class, while mages just needed 5 points per school they had access to, which, in the PHB was all eight of them, therefore 40 points.  You could somewhat work around this (as I gleefully did) by taking “disadvantages,” which traded (typically) roleplaying downsides for (nearly always) mechanical upsides.  This led to two of my favorite all-time D&D characters—Shan, the spell-dabbling thief who could only speak in a barely audible whisper, and a Vistani mage whose demon-blooded ancestry had left her with blue skin, red eyes, and an actual pointy tail,9 and therefore became really good at being stealthy—but obviously it had the potential for terrible abuse.

Directly after a few aborted attempts at campaigns using the Player’s Option books,10 which many folks called (in retrospect, at least) 2.5e, we strayed from D&D for a while.  I invented my own, completely classless system, using the character points from S&P as a jumping-off point, and both I and another member of our group ran campaigns using those rules.11  We had just about come to the conclusion that, while having a classless system sounded good on paper, in practice it left you with a paralyzing amount of choice and no structure to help you resolve it, when along came 3rd edition.

Next time, we’ll look at how 3e revolutionized the concept of multiclassing ... for better, and for worse.



__________

1 Note: For this installment, I was obviously inspired by Brandes Stoddard’s excellent History of the Classes series, which you should absolutely read.

2 Remember that each class leveled up at different rates.  Thieves leveled up the fastest.

3 Specifically, a 2e fighter needs 2,000 XP for 2nd level, and a 2e thief needs 1,250.  So a fighter/thief hits 2/2 at 3,250, whereas fighter 3 takes 4,000.

4 Yes, yes, I know: “magic-user.”  I refuse.

5 Not the original bard, where you had to dual-class for aeons before you eventually got to be cool.  Rather the bard based on the Dragon Magazine article “A different bard, not quite so hard.”

6 No, not a bard!  This would be a totally different thing, which I have a tendency to refer to as a “nightblade.”  Since 2e, I’ve tried to create the nightblade as a 3e class and a Pathfinder class, and I’m thinking about trying it out as a 5e subclass, probably a rogue archetype, but possibly as a warlock ... something.  Warlocks are somewhat frustrating to design for, as they have a huge amount of fun design space to play in, but patrons are somewhat thematically limited and pact boons are extremely mechanically limited.  But I’m pretty sure I could get something to work in that space.

7 Again, I must stress that this was a house rule.  I don’t wish to accuse the writers of S&P of any more insanity than they actually perpetrated, which was already quite a bit.

8 You could debate saves.  Saves in 2e were super-funky, so they were nearly always debatable.

9 She was sort of an extreme version of a tiefling well before we had tieflings as a racial option.

10 In addition to Skills & Powers, there was Combat & Tactics and Spells & Magic, and we used ’em all.  We were starved for character-building options back in those days.

11 Obviously he tweaked some of my rules for his own purposes.  But I expected no less.









Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Brief History of Mistakes


The other day, my boss Steve1 asked me about a ticket I had written a long time ago.  Was the problem I had reported still a problem, he wondered?  Well, yes, technically speaking, it was still a problem, I responded, but not a very big problem.  After all these years, we’ve mostly worked around the minor pains-in-the-ass it causes.  And while it could cause a bigger problem, and in fact had just done so no more than two weeks ago, the truth is, as I said to him, somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

That blip was the first one in forever, and, try as I might, I couldn’t get Arya2 to be worried about missing an entire day in his reports.


Now, some hours after I sent this, as I am wont to do, I started wondering about my own choice of words there.  I made it sound like I had actually put some effort into trying to convince Arya that the problem was significant, even though the most likely person to be impacted by it was him, and he was obviously not worried about it.  Not to mention that, if he did decide to do something about it, the something he would do is make a ticket for me to fix it.  So whatever effort I was putting into this argument was only going to end up making work for myself if I “won.”  And yet, it sounds like I put some effort into this argument because ... I actually did.  So, now I wondered: why?

And thus we begin what I suppose is now part 4 of my ad hoc series, “Why I’m a Pain in the Ass at Work.”  Last time I briefly reviewed the first two installments, then went on to recast my being a stubborn ass in as positive a light as I could manage, which mainly consisted of pointing out that I’m trying to keep from making—and/or trying to help someone else avoid making—some mistake that I’ve already made once and don’t have any desire to repeat.  And, unlike last installment, I’m not going to say today that I think there’s more to it than that.  On the contrary, I think I might have nailed it down pretty thoroughly at this point.

What I was pondering that led to today’s post, instead, was why sometimes (as in all 3 of the incidents that spawned the previous posts) I seem like I can’t let it go, and will go overboard in my objections, whereas sometimes (such as with this particular incident) I put up a token resistance, but then I cave pretty easily.  I mean, either way, it’s a mistake that I’ve seen happen before, right?  Either way, to let it happen again is going to be frustrating ... right?

Well, after much pondering and soul-searching, I’ve come up with an answer.  I wish I could tell you that I thought that, when people have this reaction, they base the intensity of their argument on their assessment of how much damage the mistake could cause, or perhaps on the likelihood of that mistake actually happening (is it nearly guaranteed, or a longshot that anything will ever go wrong?).  I do wish that were the case.  But I don’t believe it is.  I believe that rather it depends on whether you were the one who had to clean up the mess or not.

See, I’m not the only person who has these types of reactions.  Oh, sure: I’m probably the biggest pain-in-the-ass at my current job, I won’t try to deny that.3  But I am, occasionally, believe it or not, on the other side of this debate.  I am, occasionally, the one who’s saying, “yeah, okay, maybe that could happen, but that doesn’t sound so bad.”  Where this most often comes up, for instance, is with two of my co-workers who are very focussed on security.4  They’re always trying to convince me that we should implement this or that piece of authentication that I’ve no doubt will leave us safer, but which will probably be a big hairy annoyance to me in the meantime.  And, sure, I nearly always lose these debates,5 and nowadays my ssh key has a more-than-40-character passphrase, and my hard drive is encrypted, and I’m about to start undergoing the horror that is Multi-Factor Authentication.  But, still, whenever the topic comes up, I’m nearly always the one going, “I hear you about what could happen, but I’m finding it hard to get too worried about that.”  And it’s certainly not because I’ve never seen inferior security measures fail.  And I’m pretty sure it’s not because doing it the “right” way is going to make more work for me: I’ve argued to the death for making more work for myself on many an occasion.  Nope, I’m pretty sure that it’s because, whenever I have seen such things, it was never my job to clean up the inevitable mess.

Contrariwise, when it’s a question of making a sub-par design decision, I get very invested in making sure we don’t go down a road that is going to cause us heartache one day, because in that case “us” inevitably means “me.”  And, even if it doesn’t mean me in the future, it certainly has in the past.  I’ve seen the crap that can fall out of one bad choice, and I’ve had to go in there years later and try to figure out how to undo it.  And those are painful memories.  And, as far as I’m concerned, these are things that will happen, eventually.6  So it’s not a question of “if” but rather “when.”  I distinctly remember one such discussion, which happened to also include my boss.  He seemed genuinely puzzled at my passion for whatever particular design principle was at stake.  Intellectually, I believe he knew that what I was predicting could happen—maybe even he knew it was likely to happen.  It just didn’t seem that big a deal to him if it did, and I bet that’s because he just never drew that short straw of having to wade into the cesspool and shovel out the shit.  And, in the end, I let that particular point go because I was pretty sure that, whenever the shit hit the fan, the fan was most likely going to be pointing at someone else anyway.7

And, in the situation that spurred this post, I also knew that it was probably pretty unlikely that I personally would be responsible for the clean-up.  This was really only going to go wrong if the particular day that was missing from reporting—and, really: not even missing from all of reporting, just missing from one subset of reports—happened to contain a significant number of results from one customer, or maybe a set of customers, and therefore the lack of those results would significantly alter an aggregated view (likely a monthly one) in a way that was big enough to make a (business) difference, but small enough not to be glaringly obvious that data was missing, and if the report went through enough hands that the numbers were used to make some wrong decision, or sent the business off on a wild-goose chase involving many employees and lots of wasted time, but not so many hands that someone along the line didn’t remember that, hey, didn’t someone say there was a whole day missing somewhere?  And damn, that’s a lot of “if"s.  And, if anyone comes to me about it, I get to point out that I already told everyone I could imagine to watch out for this, and the worst that can happen is that someone makes a ticket for me to fix it, which is honestly what I was sort of pushing for in the first place.  So, you know: no skin off my nose.

So, yeah, I did try a little bit to convince Arya that he should be worried about a missing day in his reports, because if the worst case happened, I would feel bad for him (’cause he’s a genuinely good guy, and I love working with him, and I hate to see him stressed), but, no, I didn’t try that hard, ’cause, in the end, Arya gets to make his own decisions (and his own mistakes), and I can’t make ’em for him.  But maybe also because—just maybe—not only am I pretty sure that I won’t have to clean up the mess in this situation, but I’ve never had to clean up the mess in any past, similar situation.  And I’ve seen some.  Ignoring reporting data glitches will nearly always come back to bite you in the ass, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ones.  But it’s never been something I’ve personally had deal with.  Never have I personally been the one who had roll up their sleeves, muttering non-stop profanities under their breath, throwing all their current plans and schedule out the window, and start doing shit-work to clean up all that fertilizer that just passed through the oscillating air distribution device.

And I’m trying to figure out if that makes me a bad person.

I hope not.  I hope that I’m just a person who, like pretty much all people, is subject to confirmation bias (or maybe some other kind of bias; Wikipedia cautiously suggests correspondence bias), and that sometimes I’m on the receiving end, and sometimes I’m on the other end.  Maybe understanding that will help me handle these situations a little intelligently, and hopefully a little more diplomatically.

Or maybe I’m just fooling myself again.  But either way I found it an interesting meditation.



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1 Okay, Steve is technically my boss’s boss.  But I don’t usually think of him that way.

2 Arya is the head of the business analyst department, and the person on the business side that I work most closely with.

3 Yep, and probably the biggest pain at my last several jobs.  I can own that too.

4 One of whom is my actual boss, and the other of whom is our sysadmin.

5 Did I mention that one of the other parties was my boss?

6 Well, unless the code doesn’t last that long.  But I don’t accept that as a useful counterargument; that’s pretty much like saying “it’s okay if we build a completely flimsy house, because there’s a decent chance we’ll tear it down before it gets the chance to fall over.”  Which is cold comfort if you’re the one who has to live in the house in the meantime.

7 Interesting side note: the co-worker who was most likely to have said fan pointing at him has since left the company.  So now I suppose I’m back in the running for most-likeliy-to-be-spattered.  Lovely.