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Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Census Work Is Winding Down, And My Regular Work Is Revving Up!

My census hours have been somewhat steady over the past couple of weeks (about 10 hours each week). The inflow of EQ's from the field into our local office has slowed to a trickle as pretty much all the EQ's that were sent out have been returned. Many crew leader districts (CLD's) have been shut down entirely with the crew leaders and enumerators let go.

Even as the inflow of EQ's has slowed down, the inflow of enumerator binders has picked up quite a bit. These binders have to be reviewed and checked in by our office too. Then we have to pack them up in boxes in a particular order for some reason. The procedures at this point have become very murky to me for two reasons: the supervisors in the office don't seem to know what they are supposed to do themselves. They change their mind often and have us packing and unpacking these boxes of binders, seemingly at random. More importantly, given my work hours at the office, I am not there most of the time, so between two of my visits, the process has changed sufficiently that I can't keep track of what is going on. I have basically settled into a routine of going to the office, doing whatever they ask me to do without questioning the logic behind it, and getting out of there with my timesheet signed off!

The lack of automation support for any of this is astounding. Nobody in the office seems to know how to use basic spreadsheet software like Excel properly. Instead of using formulas, people just go in and start filling in values as they see fit. One fine day, someone teaches them how to sort data in Excel, and it is a revelation akin to the invention of the spreadsheet itself! Another day, it is not OK to change the order of data as entered, so sorting is no longer allowed. Big worksheets are printed out and compared line by line by a human instead of using matching, lookups, or finds in the spreadsheet itself.

When someone figures out that things like that are actually possible on a computer, they look at him/her as if that person had descended from heaven with knowledge that mere mortals can not aspire to! I am not joking: the person who showed the people in the office that things entered into a spreadsheet could be sorted, the office supervisor wrote up a letter of commendation to add to his personnel file! I live and breathe spreadsheets at my regular job, but here is this guy who could not enter a formula into a spreadsheet if his life depended on it being considered a computer genius at the local census office!! It is beyond insane!!!

Nobody knows exactly what is to be done, so everything is done in an ad hoc fashion. There is no software support, and no technology consultant to help with any of this. I can help during my shifts (if and when they ask me to help), but what I do solves the problem only for my shift. The people on the next shift have no idea how to implement or use my solution, and moreover, the process is probably entirely different for the next shift. so my solution is useless anyways! I was, in fact, told once that my solution messed up the process for the next few days (they could have called me, and I would have told them how to copy the spreadsheet over to a new one with no formulas, just values, so that my solution is removed and does not mess up the process, but I guess using a telephone is technology that is too advanced for them too!), so, nowadays, I avoid going out of my way to help.

In a way, I have disconnected myself from the process, and see the census work more of a way to fill out timesheets and get paid what I am due for putting in my shift times. I am not paid enough to think anyways (what computer consultant is going to help a complete newbie with setting up and programming a spreadsheet for $14 an hour?), so I find it a nice place to shut off my brain for a while and just go with the flow. My brain is being overtaxed at my regular job anyways, so why work it to the point of exhaustion at the census office when the pay is so poor? It was someone's job in Washington, D.C., to provide adequate software and support to these local census offices through all parts of the census process, and they obviously dropped the ball on it. I am not going to strain myself picking up a ball for $14 an hour that somebody who was paid $60 an hour dropped, and is not bothered enough to pick up.

In any case, this coming week could very well be my last week of work with the census bureau. I have already gone past the initial 8 weeks I was hired on for (this is my 9th week), so I am mentally prepared for this to come to a halt anytime now. It gave me something new to do, and enabled me to earn a little bit of pocket money. There were some times when it was inconvenient, but I think it was a decent gig overall.

But, talking of an overtaxed brain, my regular work has been quite taxing the past couple of weeks. My project, which I thought was settling into a nice groove, was upended and thrown into chaos when a different group in our information technology department got involved with it. Now they want to change the architecture of the project entirely. I have been running around setting up and attending these meetings, trying to understand what this means for the project and its timeline. Things have been very confusing and difficult to keep track of. My manager is getting worried about the status of the project, but it is not as if I am in control of it anymore than he is! I think things are going to get a lot more interesting before they finally settle down as higher and higher levels of management get involved in the project and pass judgment on how things should be done, and when they should be done by. Oh well, what is new . . .?

My blogging is pretty much back up to pre-census levels. It has been quite easy to stick to a schedule and produce posts given that I was not hard-pressed for free time in the past week. On Monday, I published a post on setting tab indexes in Access forms. On Wednesday, I continued my explanation of auxiliary fractions with a look at a second type of auxiliary fractions. On Thursday, I published a post on humorous quiz answers by students of various ages and grade levels. On Friday, I put together a post on USB keys based on popular characters. And today, I published a small post in honor of father's day.

Unfortunately, my blog was not visited by anybody from a new country this week. My country count still stands at 136 as of this writing. Maybe I will have better luck next week. Or maybe my blog has reached pretty much everyone who is interested in the material on it (perhaps I should start publishing photos of models on my blog to attract more visitors!).

The jigsaw puzzle my daughter got for her birthday has seen a little bit of progress in the last week, but not a huge amount. As you can see some of the corners have been added to, and the bottom has been easier to work with than the top. But it is still only about 20% complete. The problem is that my daughter does not want to work on it if I am not around to help her with it, and I can't spend much time helping her during the work-week. I am trying to motivate her to work on it by herself, so we will see how that goes when my next update next week comes out!

In my karate class, I told my sensei that I want to take my black belt test at the end of this month. He said he would have no problem administering the test at that time, so I have been practicing my katas everyday for the past couple of days. I am getting better at them, and hopefully, I will be good enough at them to earn a black belt before the month is over. If not, I will have to make another attempt later in the summer. I am hoping that will not be necessary, but as they say, you have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst!

It is now time for me to take care of preparing for the new week ahead. There are project plans to make (and destroy), blog posts to write and publish, books to read, movies to watch, and so on. This is going to have to be it for now!

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