Live! At the Whiney-A-Go-Go!

July 20, 2006

Finding Screws

Filed under: life — letslucky @ 8:24 am

It’s kinda hard to describe what I do for a living. I’m a freelance writer, and I go into companies, usually software startups, to get their documentation in order so that they can turn a project into a sellable product. But once I’m settled into a client’s office, there are a bazillion other things that I do. Lessee, in the past few weeks I:

  • Figured out how the phones worked and wrote a cheat sheet on it.
  • Made sure that some Very Important Guests had the coffee and comforts needed during their visit, which meant things like ordering lunches, serving snacks, and printing maps from our office to wherever they needed to go.
  • Gave a presentation to my co-workers on a wacky thing I know how to do in Excel.
  • Found an obscure bit of scientific gear that might help demo our product.
  • Learned everything possible about automated utility metering systems, wrote a proposal about it, then promptly forgot it all.
  • Broke down then reassembled a complicated setup of servers and devices, mostly because I wanted to scavenge the long network cables for something and this setup would do OK with short cables.
  • Oh, yeah, wrote a bunch of documentation.

Basically, no matter what I was hired to do, I turn every job into the same one, which a friend describes as “being competent.” I used to think that calling someone competent was an insult. Then I spent a few years in the work world.

Anyway, this client is an appliance company, which means that there are hardware aspects to the product as well as software. And hardware means physical objects, so in addition to organizing all the knowledge stuff like I always do, I’m organizing the physical stuff as well. So I sort and label and contain and toss out entire rooms full of unsorted jumbled stuff. The objects range from nine foot tall towers to bits of electrical components that are only millimeters long. It’s a lot of sorting.

The office tends to plummet toward entropy as I desperately try to slow its degeneration. So while I’m in the back area untangling miles of network cables, the front area is becoming piled with boxes and tools and debris. It’s a messy, active, creative place.

But it looks… well… it looks lived-in.

Which was a problem when we were getting ready for the Very Important Guests mentioned previously. We wanted to present ourselves in the best way possible to this rather conservative, much larger company, so I set about cleaning up the public areas of the office. For two days I broke down boxes and put away tools and tidied up dangling cables. I was almost done, but somehow every time I walked away from the demo area, when I returned there was a little pile of screws somewhere, from someone working on assembling or disassembling something.

It’s a huge priority for me that I don’t make someone’s job harder, so I’m very careful that whenever I have to clean up something like little piles of screws, I keep them together and keep track of where they came from so that I can retrieve them quickly if it turns out that they were in active use.

But every time I came back to the demo area, there was another pile, and another, and another, appearing everywhere like droppings at a dog park. I swear someone was trying to play let’s-taunt-OCD-girl.

Anyway, they all got cleaned up, Very Important Guests were suitably impressed and departed happy, and work continued on shipping some products to one of our customers. But when I arrived on the morning that we would ship, one of my co-workers asked where I put a pile of screws that was next to his project. I brought the bin that held all the stuff from that project… but the screws weren’t in it. The clock is ticking, the shippers will pick up the product at any moment, and there are no screws to hold the product together. We looked in all the project areas: no screws. We looked in all the drawers and nooks around the area: no screws. We looked behind the boxes that I’d cunningly arranged as a shield for some messy stuff: no screws. We looked in all the other project boxes I’d made: lots of screws but none of the kind needed. We looked in the hardware box where I keep all the screws not in use: no screws of the right kind. Finally I had to give up and say that I don’t know where they are. And do you know what my co-worker said? “I guess you’re human after all.”

Human.

He called me human.

I staggered under this blow, and determined to completely reinvent my organizing system because it had failed me, even tho I had no idea where it went wrong. But even if it meant taking a digital photo and caliper specs and assigning a catalog number to track every screw we had, I was going to fix it. As God is my witness I’ll never say “I don’t know where that is” again.

A bit of time went by. I’m not sure how much because I was feverishly researching data management applications, storage systems that could accommodate single screws, and classification systems for small hardware. My co-worked walked up with a sheepish look and a handful of screws. He had hidden them in his desk drawer because he was afraid that I would lose them.

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