The Perils of Competence

Day four of the power outage, with the added angry-making twist that the people across the street from us have their power back. Staring across the road at their warm, shiny lights, I could feel the beginning of the sort of rage that fuels torch-and-pitchfork mobs storming medieval castles. Only, you know, there was just me, so I retreated back to the hotel room for another uncomfortable night.

I spent most of the day in my office on campus, which, mirabile dictu never lost power. This is a first-- normally, the power in our building goes out at the faintest hint of a power line falling anywhere between Albany and Buffalo. Anyway, I had lights, heat, and Internet access, praise the Lord.

Of course, I didn't post anything to the blog, because I had actual work to do. A month or two back, I got sent a (metaphorical) stack of NSF grant proposals to review and report on. I had intended to do this in a more leisurely manner at the end of last week, but the power outage blew that out of the water, so I spent a tedious day typing my comments into the little boxes on FastLane.

When I was telling Kate ablout my day, she said "Well, I bet they appreciate you getting the reports in on time. I bet a lot of people send them in late."

And I realized, not for the first time, that thats my whole problem. I make the effort to send these things in on time, which brands me as competent and reliable, so they send me more of the damn things in the next round of applications.

What I really ought to do is to wait until a week past the deadline, and send in sloppy, incoherent, obscenity-laden reports. Then they'd never ask me to do this again.

Of course, they'd probably never give me any money again, either. And I'd sort of like to keep that option open, which means I'm kind of obligated to send them real reports. And keep getting more proposals to review.

Oh, well.

(Though I might uncork an obscenity-laden rant at whatever stage manner in the security theater decided that each proposal for a given referee needs not only its own seven-digit proposal number, but also a unique six-digit PIN. One PIN per referee would make sense, but no, they send one PIN per referee per proposal. Which I learned the hard way two years ago, the first time I did this, when I tried to submit reports using the proposal number from the printed pages, and one PIN that I had copied out of one of the emails...)


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It's a bit late for tonight, but you might want to take advantage of your temporary proximity to Oliver's Beverage Center, the place with the biggest and best selection of good beer and ale in the Capital District.

Just head down Washington Ave. toward downtown Albany. After you've passed the State Office Campus and are getting into a residential/light commercial area, Colvin Ave is the second traffic light. Go left on Colvin, and Oliver's is on the right side about a couple hundred feet before you get to Central Ave.

I do hope that you, Kate, and SteelyKid can get back to your own *warm* home soon. Up here in Halfmoon, our power was out for about 36 hours, but we''re in NYSEG territory.

I, too, fall into the dangerous habit of prompt, competent reviewing. One way out of the cycle is to continuously submit proposals. Then you can't review in all those programs because you have a conflict of interest. Journal refereeing doesn't work that way, though....

It's handicapping; the Peter principle from the other end. Add work to the competent to slow them down.


My mom never lost power, though the cable and (digital) phone were out for a while. Please don't storm her palace.

There's a saying in Britain, I don't know if it crops up in America too: "If you want to get something done, give it to somebody who's busy."

The problems with the Fastlane PINs are what you get when public administration/public policy types design IT systems which they really know nothing about.

As ever, the reward for a job well done is another job.

By David Owen-Cruise (not verified) on 16 Dec 2008 #permalink