Name Plates in the Cube Farm

I once worked in an office environment that was a vast array of cubicles, and every cubicle had a name plate to identify the cube’s inhabitant. There were two kinds of name plates available; one type was a free-standing A-frame of the type you see on executive desks that say “The Buck Stops Here” and the other type was a flat frame that clipped to the cubicle wall.

From my perspective, the free-standing ones were more useful. You could put it on top of your cubicle’s shelf unit, and anyone within 50 feet could see it and know where you were sitting. That’s very useful for helping new employees figure out who’s who and who’s where, and for locating someone in a part of the cube farm that you’re not familiar with.

The flat ones were less useful, as you could only really see them when you were within a few feet of the person’s cube. In other words, you had to begin your search with pretty tight parameters, such as “third floor, north wing, fifth row” which is a lot more complicated than just “third floor, north wing,” or “near where Bob sits,” or even “over there” if you’re already in the north wing.

Given that I’m in the business of helping people figure things out and do things, I much preferred the free-standing name plates that could be seen from afar. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some of my colleagues–in some cases people in the same line of work as me–preferred the flat ones. I thought about this for a while and eventually realized that name plates perform another function that I hadn’t considered before. They are territorial markers.

Not being one to lay much territorial claim to a cubicle, this had escaped me at first. After all, I didn’t put any personal photographs or art projects or any other significant “me” markers around. (Exception: I pinned a cartoon that I’ve been carrying around for 15 years on the wall, along with a slip of paper on which was written my verbal mantra, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”) Because really, I’m happy to show up every day and to do good work, but I don’t want to move in.

However, some of the cubicles around me were overflowing with photos, children’s doodles, plants, gizmos, knick-knacks, and other personal detritus. (There’s a good article on CNN about this phenomenon.) Whatever. It’s your cubicle dude, you can decorate it as you like. But the name plate is there to help people find you.

What really drove home that these were territorial markers was when I noticed some people had their name plates inside their cubicles, where only people in the cubicle could see them.

Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes people just don’t think things through. But I brought this up a few times with a few people–doing so casually so as not to raise defenses–and the response was always along the lines of “whatever, it’s how I like it,” as if the location of your name plate was purely a matter of personal preference, like the color of your socks. When I pressed them on the issue of people needing to find them they’d say something like “if people want to find me all they need to do is ask!” (Insert mental “GONG” sound here…)

I’ll let you ponder that. In the meantime, I’m deleting a lot of text that I had written–stuff along the lines of this being so territorial it’s like a declaration of war–because I try not to be judgemental. Let’s just say that if you don’t understand what the purpose of a cubicle name plate is, you probably don’t understand a lot of other things you need to know to do your job right, especially if you’re in the same line of work as me.

Here’s a picture in case you were reading too fast.

Update:

Due to overwhelming demand in the comments, here is the cartoon that I’ve been carrying around for 15 or so years. OK, maybe it’s eight years. Or nine. No, at least nine. Maybe 12… It’s my “justify your existence” mantra, and in a way it relates to the name plate issue:

(For more like this, check out Ted Goff’s website: www.tedgoff.com.)

Opus Card Problems

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Opus card. It has made using public transit in Montreal a lot easier, at least in terms of buying and using tickets and passes. The single, rechargable “chip” card makes a lot of sense, and I’ve had no real problems with it. Well, except for what I’m about to describe.

opus cardSome background: I live “off island,” on the South Shore of Montreal where the transit system (RTL) is separate from Montreal’s STM. Generally, this presents no problem; I pay a bit extra to get a monthly pass that I can use on both systems. (The standard STM monthly pass is $72.75, while my combined RTL/STM pass is $113).

Before the Opus system was installed, the pass was a paper card with a magnetic stripe. I’d get in line a few days before the end of each month and would buy a new pass for the upcoming month from a ticket agent. I had to buy these passes at the terminus in Longueuil, as they were not for sale at the regular STM outlets. Again, not a problem as I passed through the terminus twice a day, five days a week.

With the Opus card it’s even easier. I have one rechargeable card that I can recharge at a machine. Sadly, although Opus recharging machines exist in virtually every Metro station on the STM system, I could only recharge my combined RTL/STM pass at the terminus Longueuil. A bit of a setback, but no biggie since passing through the terminus was part of my commute.

Then, last June, I was thrust into a new situation. Due to an externally imposed (but ultimately welcome) “sabbatical,” I did not have a need to commute into Montreal five times a week. I knew I’d be going into town frequently, but I didn’t think it was worth buying a full monthly pass. I thought it might be better to buy my tickets a la carte.

That’s where it gets complicated.

It’s complicated because when you’re paying “per ride” on my commute, you’re not just dealing with two systems, you’re dealing with three. Or more precisely, two and a half. Or maybe two and a virtual. It’s like this:

  • RTL tickets are needed to ride the bus from my house to the Terminus Longueuil, where the STM Metro’s yellow line terminates (and all RTL busses terminate). Those tickets are $3.10 each, or six for $16.75.
  • STM tickets are needed to ride the Montreal Metro and bus system. Those tickets are $3.00 each, or six for $14.25 and 10 for $22.50.
  • Special STM tickets are needed if you are starting your STM ride in Longueuil. This is because some idiots feel that any Metro station that’s “off island” should charge more. (People taking the Metro from any of the three stations in Laval also pay extra.) These tickets cost $3.00 with no discount for bulk purchases. (Re-read that, and ask yourself if it makes any sense.)

It gets worse:

  • RTL tickets can only be purchased at Opus machines at the Terminus Longueuil, on the ground floor level.
  • Regular STM tickets can only be purchased at Opus machines in STM Metro stations, with the exception of the Longueuil station (and most likely the Laval stations).
  • Special Longueuil STM tickets can only be purchased at Opus machines at the Terminus Longueuil, on the Metro level (the level below where the Opus machines for the RTL are).

Did you catch that? I have to go to three different locations to buy all the tickets I need to get around on a per-ticket basis.

It gets even worse:

Once you’ve put the three different kinds of tickets on your Opus card, you have to keep track of how many of each you have left so you don’t end up stuck with the dreaded red light on the turnstile when you’re in a big hurry to get somewhere. This would be OK if the readers on the Opus machines gave a clear indication, but they don’t. They do not distinguish between the two different kinds of STM tickets!

Here’s a blurry picture of what my Opus card contained one day a couple of weeks ago. It shows how many tickets I have for each of the three variations. The one in the middle is obvious, as it says “RTL.” But can you tell which, between the top one and the bottom one, is the regular STM tickets (for use only on the island of Montreal) and which is the one I need to enter the system in Longueuil?

Opus Card Recharge screen

If I’m down to one or two of the top variety and have six or eight of the bottom variety, which one do I recharge? (Bearing in mind that each requires being at a different geographical location in order to recharge.)

The Solution(s)

The solutions are easy, at least in theory. The hard part is getting the human beings behind two or more disparate systems to work together for the benefit of the riding public. Believe me, that’s no easy task.

But if they were to find the desire to fix it, here’s how to do it:

Solution, Part 1

This is easy: reprogram the interface so it differentiates between regular STM tickets and “off-island” STM tickets. Look at the photo above; by checking my status before and after using an off-island ticket, I was able to deduce that the top item refers to those tickets. I have since written it in Sharpie on my Opus card, which is about the most inelegant solution ever. But if the screen said:

  • STM-off-island
  • RTL
  • STM

…then I’d know at a glance what tickets I have available. It’s a simple matter of labeling. Is that so hard?

Solution, Part 2

This bit is harder because it involves (a) getting networks to work together (somewhat difficult) and (b) getting people to commit to getting networks to work together (very difficult).

If the networks had better awareness of each other — and the labels were clearer — then I’d be able to go to any Opus recharging station anywhere on the system and load up with whatever tickets I need.

The most frustrating part is that the systems are aware of each other; at any Opus recharging station all three types of tickets are shown on the console. They just don’t let you purchase anything other than the ones that are allowed at that station.

That is as stupid and user-unfriendly as anything I’ve seen, and it is (at least in theory) easy to fix.

Getting Rid of the “Paste Options” Button

Microsoft has never been known to be particularly good at designing software, particularly from a usability point of view. Sure, they try, but every new “improved usability” trick they reveal ends up being a kludge that most people hate. I am constantly swearing at Microsoft Word and Outlook because of their stupid designs and incomprehensibly dumb choices for usability.

Today I’m focusing on that insane little “Paste Options” button you get whenever you paste some text into a Word document. You know the one:

stupid button

That thing shows up next to your pasted text, usually blocking your view of something on the next line. Its role is to help you decide if you want the pasted text to bring its formatting with it, or to adopt the formatting of the document you’re pasting it in to. You have to expand its menu and choose, or simply type something to make it go away.

Let me say this very clearly: I have been using Microsoft Word almost daily since about 1992. Never in that time have I ever wanted the pasted text to keep its formatting. Not once! I always want it to adopt the formatting of the document I’m pasting into (the “destination” document).

As such, this feature is not only unnecessary, it is useless and annoying. The right thing for Microsoft to have done is make “adopt the formatting of the destination document” the default behaviour. For those few people who want it another way they could have built in a special key combination or put “Paste the retarded way” in the Edit menu.

But no, we’re stuck with it. Or not! I’ll show you how you can get rid of that annoying button in both Word 2003 and Word 2007. If you have a different version of Word, these instructions should still point you more or less in the right direction.

How To Get Rid of Word’s “Paste Options” Button

Word 2003:

  1. Go to Tools > Options.
  2. In the Options dialog, go to the Edit tab.
  3. Uncheck the “Show Paste Options button” box.
  4. Click OK. That’s it! You’ll never see that icon again!

Options dialog

Word 2007:

  1. Click that retarded nameless ball in the upper left corner (the one that makes it difficult to write instructions for because it has no name or label on it — thanks Microsoft).
  2. On the retarded nameless ball menu, choose “Word Options” (at the bottom).
  3. Click “Advanced” in the left sidebar.
  4. Scroll down to the “Cut, copy, and paste” section.
  5. Uncheck the “Show Paste Options button” box.
  6. Bonus! In the four “Pasting…” options, select “Match Destination Formatting.” This makes Word behave the way a non-retarded software company would have designed it.
  7. Click OK. That’s it! You’ll never see that icon again!

Below are the same instructions in graphical form:

Finding the Word Options

Word Options

CBC Radio News in Decline

Let me begin this small rant by stating that I’ve been a hardcore fan of CBC Radio since before most of you were born. It’s not just the lack of advertising (which can make listening to commercial radio — especially in the morning — downright torturous) that makes me a fan. It’s the high standard of journalistic integrity that I’ve come to know and respect over the years.

Some of that has been in decline recently. Specifically, I’m talking about the quality of news reporting from the local (Montreal) station. Most of it remains quite good, but on a pretty regular basis I find myself shaking the radio and yelling “stop saying that!”

I should have taken notes, because there’s nothing worse than a rant lacking in specifics. I do, however, have one example; something I’ve been hearing on the local CBC Radio news all day today.

As you may know, the price of gas is going up tomorrow due to the imposition of a new tax. The revenue from the new tax will be directed toward public transit costs. That sounds like a great idea to me. The amount of the new tax is 1.5 cents per litre of gas.

It drives me crazy that the CBC Radio reports I’ve been hearing all day start thusly:

Drivers in the Montreal area will want to fill up their tanks before tomorrow…

Grrr! There are two reasons why this news story should not begin like that:

Editorializing. News reports should not tell people what they should do or should want to do. They can say that so-and-s0 says you should do something, but the news reader (and by extension, the writers, editors, and the entire corporation) should not be telling people what to do. That’s basic journalism 101. You could argue that they’re just trying to be “light” and “accessible” or whatever, but that’s what the crappy news departments of commercial radio stations do. It’s not what CBC Radio, with it’s high standards, is supposed to do.

It’s stupid! Do the math; the average small- to mid-size car has a 40 litre gas tank. The price of gas is going up by one-and-a-half cents per litre. Thus, your exercise in racing off to the pumps to beat the increase will save you about sixty cents. Sixty cents! And that’s only if your tank is empty. Even if you have a huge car with a big tank, you’re still only going to save a dollar or two.

Rushing to fill your tank before a 1.5 cent price increase is a dumb idea, and an even dumber way to lead a news story. Any decent news editor would snip that opening line right off the bat, for both of those reasons.

So that’s today’s rant. I wish this was an isolated event, but as I said, I’m hearing this kind of bad news reporting fairly often these days.

Where is the editor? This is the kind of thing that is supposed to separate “real” journalism from Joe Blogger and Jane Podcaster. Professionalism! How about we add another half-cent to the price of gas and funnel it into improving the news department at CBC Radio Montreal!