Frequently Asked Questions About My Fire Sign


Back when I worked for Academic Information Technologies Information Technology Services at Iowa State University I had to do a yearly employee evaluation. You’re familiar with them. One year, I made my boss put down as one of my goals “Not to set anything on fire”. (Or my boss suggested it and I agreed — neither of us can fully remember at this point). During winter break, on a particularly slow day, I realized that I had this as one of my goals for the year, but I lacked any metrics to see how well I had accomplished this particular goal. So I printed up a sign, walked over to one of the campus print shops, and had it laminated, so I could update it every day with a whiteboard marker.

Thomas has gone ______ days without setting something on fire

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the sign measure?

The sign measures the number of days I’ve gone at work without snapping and setting something on fire.

Do you count weekends?

No, it only covers work days — if I’m off work, I don’t count those days. If I happen to work a Saturday, though, that counts. I was at work, that was a day.

What if your boss tells you to set something on fire?

The sign isn’t reset in that case, since it was part of my assigned duties. The sign only measures how long I’ve gone without setting something on fire because I’ve snapped.

What if you snap and set something on fire at home?

The sign only measures my performance at work. Any fires I may or may not set in my own time are my own business.

How is this affected by you now working from home?

The sign only measures my performance while I am doing my job. If I am in the middle of doing something during the course of my duties, no matter where I am at, and I cause a fire to be set, that counts. Otherwise, it doesn’t.

X should be measured differently”

You’re entirely within your rights to track whatever metrics you want with whatever criteria you set. They will not be reflected in my metrics, however.

Have you ever reset the sign?

Sadly, yes.

Back when I worked at Information Technologies and Computing Services Information and Technology Services at the University of Michigan on one Sunday whilst on-call and fixing two broken IBM tape libraries, I set the tape cartridge inventory speed up to 100% and let the magic smoke out of one of the libraries. While it was an accident, and I didn’t do anything special to set the speed up to 100%, I had been advised to leave the speed at 40% or so. Since I took deliberate action that resulted in a fire that shouldn’t have resulted in a fire, on 30 January 2009 I reset the sign from 466 to 0.