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1  noun  ˈbläg, -ȧg   plural -s
2  intransitive verb   -ed/-ing/-s
: to talk pretentiously and usually inaccurately : lie boastfully

No Show Friday 9 Feb 2024, and more about that

Because Phoole & the Gang has to be off the air Friday, 9 February 2024, the image contains an old-fashioned television test pattern, mottled in blue and purple hues, with the Phoole jester hat logo and the text "NO SHOW THIS WEEK" centered over it.

I can't do a Phoole & the Gang show tonight, I'm afraid! I'm sorry Phooligans.

I know Phoole & the Gang is billed as a WEEKLY web show, and it used to be, for ten whole years!

But, for reasons I explore in a lot of detail in my blague post from yesterday about The State of the Phooliverse 2024, I have to skip it again this week.

Get Your Phoole Fix

I do save all of my past shows, though, in case you need a Phoole & the Gang fix to get you through. A portal to all the ways to watch or listen to past Phoole & the Gang shows is at the Show Archives page.

I save two audio versions of each show - one that is the whole show, with all the music and with me talking (and with Tiffany talking, if she's there, or any guesticles, which are very very rare these plague-days), and another that is just the music and the 'drops' (the little recording snippets that identify the show).

If you are a fiend for audio quality, good! So am I! The best quality audio is in the video versions and in the archives, which are also the podcast files; the podcast version is the recordings. So if you subscribe to Phoole & the Gang as a podcast and listen that way, you're getting the goods.

Here is a speed-through preview of last week's show, Comfort/Food, # 469!

Art Harder: The Dayjob

This bit is LOOOOOOOONG. Thank you for reading it anyway.

I tell you in the State of the Phooliverse 2024 blague post that my dayjob monches a lot of my time and energy. I let you know I'm a public employee, and Tiffany is too, but I don't really tell you what we do.

Tiffany works for our city's Department of Employee Relations, which is the rough equivalent of a Human Resources division of a private company. Our city employs thousands of people. Tiffany's job is supposed to be in Qualifications - she's supposed to be one of the people who checks to make sure that new employees have everything in place so that they can be hired and trained to serve residents.

But we live on the planet Earth in the year 2024!

And we live in Wisconsin, which used to be a great state to serve as public employees, but which has been destroyed by greed.

So, like every public employee in our state, in addition to her actual job duties, she has dozens of extra things she has to do, because there are not enough employees in her section and division to do everything that needs to be done.

Temporarily, she's also the front-desk receptionist, which is three full-time jobs in itself, because candidates (often sick with COVID-style symptoms) stream in constantly for help with applications, and the phone rings off the hook perpetually, with half of the calls being from callers who really need to talk to a different division, but they sneakily think they can get preferential treatment by switchboard-bombing the whole city until they get through to a human. This doesn't work, and wastes city resources, but, okay, retirees who want free on-demand concierge services for getting old furniture hauled away, whatever you want to do, I guess.

Tiffany already lives with a slew of chronic health conditions that make the act of simply being alive very tiring. The stress of doing ten jobs at once is too much, and it really grinds her down.

It's not forever! Her department is making great strides at re-classifying all of the city's jobs, across every division, enabling divisions to be able to attract employees with compensation and benefits approaching parity with the private sector. This sounds dry to you, if you're not a public employee, but it's amazing, if you are, because many public employees here have endured wage freezes for a decade or even two decades, without their job duties being studied and compared to actual market data.

So Tiffany won't always have to do forty-eleven jobs at once, but she has to for right now, and that's really hard for her.

My dayjob is in the same organization, but an entirely different department and division. I manage our city's Unified Contact Center, which is the equivalent of what some cities in the United States call a 3-1-1 center - in some places, you can just dial the digits 3-1-1 on a phone to get the local city's service and information phone line.

I manage two shifts of agents, a day shift and a night shift. Each shift has its own supervisor and lead, too - I let the supervisor be the boss of each shift. I try to give them whatever support they need to do their job, and I get out of their way and let them do their job. We are a servant-leadership model, so, in turn, the supervisor and lead try to give their shift's agents whatever resources and support they need to do their jobs, and then get out of their way and let them do their job.

But, again, this is the planet Earth, in the year 2024. So it isn't as simple as highly-trained, empathetic, circumspect, knowledgeable call center agents answering calls from residents and other city employees and helping them with information and services, supported by a lead and a supervisor with higher-altitude perspective of total city operations and connections with service and info expediters.

To meet our call volume (between 1000-2000 calls per day, with the bulk of the volume happening during the first shift), we need 14 agents on our first shift and 7 on our second shift.

We have 9 on first shift and 6 on second, if everyone is on duty.

But, again, Earth, 2024.

Everyone is sick, all the time.

Because COVID is ignored, agents with minor children get infected over and over again, and about half live with the tragic sequelae of Long COVID. When they're not sick with COVID, they're enduring amplified acute symptoms of other airborne infections, because their immune systems have been torn up by COVID.

So on some days, we have 6 or 5 or four or even two agents on first shift trying to handle the work of 14 agents. The supervisor and lead do the best they can to share the load, but we are all maxxed out. There is no actual thing we can do to accomplish what we need to do.

Our department is in the process of working out if they can add positions to the city budget - two-thirds of my agents are temps, horribly underpaid, at wage rates below poverty, because the last time the city considered temp pay rates was in 2017, when the most current city-wide contract for temps was signed. The cost of living has skyrocketed since then, obviously. No temp candidates for us. The temps we already have are so loyal, staying on despite the job being nothing but abuse from angry callers and paying next to nothing, but their plight weighs on me every day, as I hammer away at bureaucratic inertia above me to at least try to get the temp services contracts amended to allow pay rates that approach survivability.

IVR (interactive voice response) is a thing, yes, and so are AI agents and chatbots. Yes. These are technologies that exist in the present day, and lots of cities leverage these tools to lessen call volume pressure on agents.

Some cities, though, are not ready for the present day. Some cities don't like change, even change that has already happened in the past. Some cities are cosplaying 1984, forever.

I like the idea of 1980s cosplay, generally! You know I'm into it. You know I like some waffle-knit bat-wing-raglan sleeve t-shirts with catchy slogans spray-painted onto them in day-glo neon puffy paint and some mirrored sunglasses and gigantic hairstyles and too many bracelets and necklaces.

But not when it comes to public service. All I want is an RFP (request for proposals), or even an RFI (request for information), to introduce my city to just even the idea of having IVR or AI handle the largest-volume, lightest-weight call types - callers who don't have web access asking what day their garbage or recycling will be collected, asking for overnight parking permission, asking for addresses or phone numbers for city offices, stuff no one should have to wait on hold for an hour to ask.

And as public sentiment and tone descend into barbarism over political and economic divides, it would be nice to have an AI to send asshole callers to. Let a language learning model endure the worst, most abusive callers, instead of traumatizing and re-traumatizing the really incredible human beings who answer the city's phones with horrible abuse over problems that couldn't be more superficial and insignificant.

So that's some of my job too.

A part of my job that consumes a ton of time and energy is coping with colleagues in my division (we are a section of the city's IT division) who are dudes, with deeply-internalized misogyny and powerful narcissism, who are the only people left who have some knowledge of how the city's old homegrown SQL apps work. The guru who built them retired, leaving zero documentation, of course. Of the two remaining Tweedle bros, Tweedledee knows part of how the apps work, and Tweedledum knows another part of how the apps work, but neither of them know everything about how the apps work, and there is a region of knowledge that is just not known by either of the Tweedles.

My team depends on these apps, of course, and an app for which I'm technically an Admin (but semantically merely a Super-User) integrates with and depends very heavily on these apps.

And the apps suck. They suck. They are hot garbage, held together metaphorically with old masking tape, unwound paperclips, used dental floss and hate.

Tweedledee's entire identity hinges on him having taught himself SQL in the womb, or highschool, or something, with no formal schooling. Interacting with him for one minute lets you know he feels parades should be held in his honor multiple times daily, so vast is his brain power. Just exhausting.

But I'm pretty smart myself, so I'm learning SQL now. Those apps aren't forever, and will be replaced and gone within the decade, but if learning SQL will help me hold them together until they're replaced, and then help them leave when we're done with them, then, hooray, I love school anyway.

In the meantime, I have to write a lot of procedures for mods and workarounds for people in my team and other city teams who need to do super-user stuff with the app I technically admin and the hateful SQL death-apps.

So I have accidentally become an expert technical writer, breaking down processes into the smallest possible steps, explaining every little thing as clearly and simply as possible. My DJ life also made me into a graphic designer, because of course it did, because DJing is 1% playing songs together for people and 99% relentless hustle and promotion. So my simple and clear technical writing is formatted dynamically, with powerful forethought into users' experience, illustrated with millions of annotated screenshots, and then made as accessible as I can make it, using the meager tools available to underfunded and overworked public initiatives.

I average three 40-page procedure guides a week.

It grinds me up like a pencil sharpener. And you know most staff don't even read them. But they have to be made. When techdudebros get away with zero documentation, it makes me want to riot, and to date I have never seen accountability for any of them. But it's public service.

Somebody has to do it.

I know those are famous burn-out last words in public service, but I say 'em anyway.

So all of this is part of the work I call my dayjob, even though it is my day-and-night-and-weekend-and-holiday-and-all-the-time job.

I was raised by a professional jazz musician who kept a family of four fed, housed and clothed off of nothing but music gigs through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s - so it's ingrained in me, no matter how false it is, that THE ART IS THE JOB, and if you can't live off the art, you suck as a human, and you need to art harder. If you fail to art hard enough, you have to get a dayjob, and that is failure.

I almost don't think of myself as a failure for surviving on non-music work. Almost. Baby steps.

But the reality is that I know very, very few artists in the United States who thrive solely by making art who weren't born into an art dynasty to begin with. Nepo babies, as they call them nowadays. Most of the US artists I know who don't have dayjobs had help. They had a family bankroll, or a trust fund, or an inheritance. They don't live by hustle alone. Or they have SECRET DAYJOBS, an unmentionable scourge. US society isn't structured to let artists happen.

I just wanted you to know! I wanted you to know why I cancel shows all the time. I have a lot going on. Tiffany does too. Fridays often find us barely able to keep it together at all. Even streamlining the process of doing a show still means I have to be a person for two hours in a row after a work week that is often 60 or 70 hours long. It's too much.

Thank you for sticking with the Gang anyway. Thank you.

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