Economies of Scale

passports
Alexandria City Public Library Central Branch, June 12, 2016. Line for Passport Acceptance services. Taken from the “three-hour wait to see Passport Agent” position in line, about 20 minutes before opening. Posted hours for Passport Acceptance on Sundays are 1-3 PM.

Mouse is going to summer camp in Canada during the first week of July. Since she has never traveled overseas before, she does not have a passport. As a minor child, she has to appear in person at a Passport Agency or a Passport Acceptance Facility along with one or both parents to be issued a passport. Alexandria City schools being in session until the end of next week (a week before her camp starts), I wanted to take her to one of the Passport Acceptance Facilities in our area to apply outside of school hours. These are post offices and libraries which see applicants in person, collect the necessary forms and fees, and forward them to the State Department for adjudication and issuance of passports.

Not complaining! I have nothing but love for passports, libraries, post offices, or the good people who sign my pay checks. Everyone is doing the best they can to meet increased demand for passports with limited resources. Everyone I have encountered so far in the effort to get my child a passport has been polite and given me accurate information. Unfortunately, it’s been hard to do so far. It’s summer, so more people are trying to travel abroad, and I didn’t plan ahead. I’ve gone to the library three times for Passport Acceptance hours; twice we came midway through the posted hours and were told the all the times for passport service that day were already full; Sunday we got there 20 minutes before opening and, after waiting in the line pictured above, learned that we could be seen three hours later if we stayed in line. When I called one of the local post offices that make appointments for passport services, I was offered an appointment in the third week of July. The others operated in a walk-in basis similar to the library. If I call the National Passport Information Center on Friday, I’ll be allowed to make an appointment at the Washington Passport Agency; that’s contingent on showing proof that our travel is scheduled to occur within the next two weeks (or four weeks if you also have to get a foreign visa).

Not complaining! But it occurred to me that maybe Social Security field offices should become Passport Acceptance Facilities. They’re set up to offer a mix of walk-in and scheduled appointments, much like Passport Agencies and U.S. consular sections overseas, and they have waiting areas and ticketing systems. Plus they are already set up to handle people’s original documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, and so on). Just a thought. Maybe this can be my capstone project for an Executive Potential Program, should I ever rally to apply for one. I’ll put that on my to-do list, right after getting our passports.

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Games People Play

I attended a Virtual Human Resources Training Conference last week that was offered by the Office of Personnel Management. I don’t currently work as an HR specialist, but I am trying to stay as looped in as possible so that I can eventually find my way back into the HR fold. This was a good investment of $95 In Ur Takses in so far as it provided me with at least two nuggets of information that I can use/share with colleagues – even non-HR ones – and one or two ideas I might be able to use later. The format was novel, at least for me as someone who rarely participates in web chats, and the networking was more robust than I expected for a virtual event. Thank you, OPM.

The last session I “attended” was one on gamification, featuring a case study from FEMA. I don’t know from Game Theory, but I have watched my kids play a lot of Fallout 3 and Assassin’s Creed, and I once played a couple of hours of Cards Against Humanity. I have also taken a lot of online training for my contracting warrant (two more in-person classes to go and I’ll finally be eligible!) and things HR. Friends, online training for office work can be deadly dull. Given the potential for procurement and HR matters to go horribly, horribly wrong, it seems like some game-based training for these disciplines could be reasonably entertaining as well as memorable and effective.

“Bureaucracies create games – they are just games that are in no sense fun.” (Andre Spicer paraphase of David Graeber)

If any attempt to dismantle bureaucracy creates more bureaucracy (Graeber again), and if big fixes create bigger unintended consequences and more fragility (as I understand my other brain hero Nicholas Nassim Taleb to be saying), then maybe the simple introduction of more play into the seriousness of bureaucratic games is the best chance we bureaucrats have of disrupting the system in a positive sense (making the rules of the game more transparent, helping our taxpaying customers “win”) short of simply throwing down our rule books and going off into the woods to live deliberately or whatever.

White Tennis Shoes

One of two things attributed to Ayn Rand that I don’t hate is her lecture on procrastination. (The other is Anthem.) The white tennis shoes in question belong to the former. Rand cleaned her white tennis shoes as an act of writerly procrastination; moi, I try to clean out the music on my iPod so that I can have non-distracting* music playing while I write, specifically while I write for the paying gig. Then I blog about not writing. An hour has passed** and no words have been added to the document, which I need to send out by lunchtime or so. Good job, self. Good job.

* Distracting music is apparently all music with words. Could someone please invent a tagging system in iTunes that allows me to sort songs into “distracting,” “non-distracting,” and “only suitable for staring wistfully into space”? The iTunes radio algorithm seems to work for this sort of, but that’s only helpful when I have wi-fi.

** A small part of that hour went into making oatmeal for Mouse, who woke me with a hug and “Oh, you’re so warm and you smell good!” I make no apologies for being distracted by flattery. Screwing with my iTunes library, on the other hand, is a sure path to Hell.

Common Things, Rare To Me

Dallas is full of these birds in certain areas. They are called Grackles. They fascinate me.

I couldn’t wind down to sleep last night when I finally went to bed at 2:30 AM. I was not partying hearty so I will count it as a rare instance of insomnia. It was followed by fitful sleep and strange dreams of librarians in camouflage attempting to rebuild literary society in a post-apocalyptic water world that was part swampy reading room, part a warren of Bronx apartments, and part an imaginary “edge of the world” locale that appeared to be an ancient system of locks for sea navigation. Twisty Faster was the keeper of the swampy reading room and she let me sit with her and a bunch of kittens even though she vaguely disapproved of my ecological mores.

This morning is not being kind to me. Has anyone invented an adrenalin version of the Epi-Pen or caffeinated shower mist? If not, can someone please get on that immediately?

Shotguns and Story Time

I read a really good book today and shot a shotgun 24 times. It was a good day.

(Oh, wait! Talking of books reminds me that Already Read Books in Alexandria is in danger of losing its lease. This would be awful news. I mean, it’s a well-stocked used bookstore with cats. And quirky owners. In a weird little house off of Duke Street. If you like weird, books, and cats, support this store now before it’s too late!)

Tweenbot and I went to the Bull Run Shooting Center this afternoon to learn how to shoot shotguns and check out the facility. We got shooting lessons for $35 each and then took another crack at shooting targets for an additional $22 (the gun rental was included in our training). The main takeaway for me from this experience was that, 29 years after getting smacked between the eyes by a softball I was trying to catch from a pitching machine, I still have the same depth perception and hand-eye coordination I did as a 14 year-old. I fired 24 shots and hit my target (a clay disc launched from a pitching machine) all of one time. Tweenbot, by contrast, appears to have inherited accurate aim from Pa Protosaur (aka my father) and/or Dino Spouse. He was hitting at the same rate as experienced shooters.

The other cool thing I did today was read During The Reign Of The Queen Of Persia, which proved to be unexpectedly awesome. I have been passing it up on the New Fiction shelves at Alexandria City Library for several weeks now but finally decided to give it a try on the strength of its imprint. New York Review Books Classics, how you satisfy my snobbish heart!