April 04, 2001
Training

We all train each other on how to behave. Every day.

Habits form at the outset of any relationship, and they tend to reinforce each other and evolve each other over time.

Take the customer/vendor relationship. Customers say they want good service, but when it comes to putting their money on the table, they often grant their patronage to stores with bad service because, well, it's cheaper. So, the cheaper-but-you-get-bad-service behavior is rewarded, and it gets reinforced.

When you visit sites on the web, they sometimes send instructions to your browser to open up a new window with some advertisement or another. This is very irritating. One major online retailer has also discovered that when *they* pop up a window promoting a special sale, more people end up buying.

The result is that now this online retailer pretty much *always* puts up that annoying pop-up. It won't be long before the other major online retailers do the same. We, the customers, are rewarding them for their bad behavior.

Now, I should also point out that the major online retailers track where you come into the site and at what point you leave. They do this to find out what's working and what isn't.

If, like me, you are annoyed by unsolicited advertisement windows popping open on your browser whenever you visit an online retailer, my advice for you is to simply close all of your windows related to that store and wait a few minutes before reentering. If enough people do this, then the stores will stop this behavior. I know this for a fact: I (so far, at least) still work for one.

Posted by at 02:40 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 April 16, 2001
Catching up

Sorry for the long silence. It's been a busy couple weeks. So, without further adoodoo, here's the news from Lake Woebegon:

* My employer has just had another reorg. "What?" I hear you ask. "Did't they just have layoffs a couple months ago?" Yes. And, now, they're reorging us again. I'm bummed, because my position has been changed from a manager of a team to a manager of projects... I have the same responsibilities, but I no longer officially have any resources. Grrrr.

* No definitive word yet from Clarion West. This is the six-week summer intensive writing program that I very much wish to attend this year. 'Tis better to wait in silence than be rejected outright, I reckon, but not so good as to have already been accepted. I'll know more in a week or so.

* No word yet from Odyssey, either (this is also a six-week intensive writing program), but their deadline was April 15th, and they probably won't send out invitations/declinations until the last week of April.

* Saw the movie "Memento" this weekend. I recommend it. A very interesting story-telling style: it begins with the end of the story and works backwards, using a highly unreliable narrator to relate the events. Most excellent.

* Saw the movie "Traffic" this weekend, as well. Michael Douglas won't take a movie unless he gets to give a speech at the end. That said, this is a pretty good movie, anyway. Not great; but, pretty good.

* I have written very little for The Do Over in the past few weeks. Just yer plain ol' dry spell.

* Started reading Stephen King's Dreamcatcher recently. As much as I tend to like his books, the writing in this one is pretty bad. The story is compelling, but the writing is awful. Now, the question is: have I simply become more critical, or is this book truly not up to the standards of some of his earlier works? Or, both? Neither? Hmmmmm.

* Oh, and remember "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"? It's happening at work. I swear, some of the folks here are now completely different people. It's very scary. They have this vacant look in their eyes when they say (regarding the reorg or whatever other brain-dead project is going on), "I really think this is the right thing for us to be doing." Verbatim, I've heard this repeated by no fewer than four people. Vacant stare, "I really think this is the right thinig for us to be doing." I'm scared.

If you visit the offices of my employer, don't drink the Kool-Aid.

Posted by at 07:54 PM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits II | Comments (0)
 April 19, 2001
Memento Spoilers and My Employer

Hmmm. Had an epiphany about my employer today regarding the direction things are heading within my department. It's a three part epiphany, which I will summarize forthwith:

1) My group is stratifying along functional lines rather than business sector lines. At first blush, this is obviously less efficient for each product line when it comes to attending to their specific business needs, but it has the potential of being *more* efficient from a company-wide perspective. Why? Because, if all Web Devs or Program Managers or Catalog Specialists are interchangeable, then you can shrink or grow headcount as needed.

So far, this is hardly interesting. Having a re-org in order to accommodate layoffs or massive expansion is to be expected. However, I'm coming to see -- with each new 'process' and 'workflow' -- that we are adopting the McDonald's model of reproducibility. (Sorry for all of the potential spelling errors in here, by the way. It's late, and I won't be running this through a spell checker tonight.)

Once you have functional uniformity, and each functional unit interacts within a clearly established framework, then you invite the opportunity to franchise off sets and subsets of your operations. As goes Amazon, so goes the Borders.com/Amazon.com deal, and so goes Amazon.co.uk, and so on. Work will not get done terribly quickly on a store by store basis and store-specific innovation will become practically unheard of, but company-wide initiatives and innovations will be more easily and effectively propagated.

Thus, big-picture-wise, this should be a good thing.

2) That said, the current employees come to the realization that they are, nonetheless, "training their replacements". This was the big outcry from the latest round of layoffs at my employer: the Customer Service team was sent out to build a new team working on the other coast of the country, only to return to Seattle and be handed pink slips. This was a rather surprising reward for being so loyal to their company.

Alas, alack, from an objective position, one can recognize that this is simply a business decision that will necessarily have growing pains. C'est la vie, and don't let the door hit you on the way out. Truly, there's no need to take it personally... the company owes the employee wages in return for the laborers efforts, and no more. Loyalty -- by the company toward the employee or visa versa -- is neither required, rewarded, nor appropriate.

So, knowing this, I and my fellow employees can choose to accept the reality for what it is and stay until our run is through, or we can mosey along now while the moseying is good.

But.

3) Then there's the movie "Memento". In this movie, the story begins with the last scene and then works it's way backwards. The story is told from the point of view of what writers lovingly refer to as "the Unreliable Narrator." This Unreliable Narrator suffers from a kind of brain damage that won't allow him to make new memories ever since he took a rather nasty blow to the head. The only way for him to follow a line of continuity toward his stated purpose (which, as revealed in the very first scene, is to kill the man who raped and murdered his wife) is to leave himself notes, polaroid pictures, and other clues/reminders about what he has discovered and what he needs to do next.

From a story-telling standpoint, the technique is terribly fun to watch. But, from a story standpoint, you quickly learn an inherent problem: he who has no immediate history is apt to magnify the foibles of his immediate past.

My employer has this kind of condition. My employer, like the Unreliable Narrator of Memento, apparently is unable to make new memories. And so, it keeps covering the same ground, not realizing that it has tried certain approaches before that have led it astray from its stated goals.

Centralization along functional lines may aid in replication (the franchise formula), but it will never aid in increased efficiency among business units. Amazon.com's stated goal is *profitability*, and it's stated intention is to do this with the existing business (and not by selling itself off as a franchise). To attain profitability, the company must enable its most profitable (and/or best-margin) stores to immediately react to changes in the marketplace. Thus, a decentralized model is the most likely candidate. Layoffs, which are easier in a centralized world, are not a ticket to profitability. Ever.

My employer has vacillated back and forth between the centralized and decentralized model several times. Is the problem one of ever-changing goals? I'm not so sure. More likely, I think it's a case of having no short-term memory. It conducts experiments and then forgets the results.

This is too bad, because if this is, indeed, the case, then we are looking at an Unreliable Narrator which will ultimately lead itself, inadvertantly, far away from its desperately sought-after goals. It's always a shame to see any person or organization with so much potential end up totally burning itself (himself/herself) up. It's even more of a shame to be a party to the situation. I'm a passenger in a car that is running a red light, and I don't know how to affect the driver or the vehicle and thereby avert the imminent wreck.

Posted by at 04:11 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Essays , Tidbits II | Comments (0)
 April 24, 2001
Pop Culture Update

Have rented a few movies because I've been going through withdrawal and I've been in need of a science fiction fix. Here's what we have for today:

Dune (The SciFi Channel version): Much better than the 1980's version. Of course, that's like saying it's better than having your fingernails pulled out with a rusty pair of channel-lock pliers. The special effects were okay, the acting was okay, and the story/script worked very well against the Frank Herbert novel. I learn from this rendition that villians should not speak in rhyming verse when nobody else does. They don't come off as terribly threatening. That said, this is not high art. It's the videobooks version of the novel. If you want an epic, go for Star Wars instead.

Red Planet (the Val Kilmer version): Whew! Stinko! This one made Mission to Mars look good... and, that actually *is* saying something. Whereas Mission to Mars was a collection of wonderful scenes that added up to a whole that was less than the sum of its parts, Red Planet is a collection of completely unremarkable scenes that also add up to a whole less than the sum of its parts. Too bad.

Bounce: Not science fiction, but I've been intrigued by the premise. When Chicago's O'Hare airport is snowed in and the last flight of the night is about to take-off before they shut it all down, one fellow gives away his ticket on that flight to another fellow who is trying desparately to get home. Then, the plane goes down, leaving our good samaritan (as well as several other people) with a whole lot of guilt over who lived and who died. One year later, the survivor meets up with the widow of the man to whom he had given his ticket. A most excellent premise. In execution, the movie was... okay. The script is simplistic in handling the concept of corporate guilt, and the alcoholism of the surviving fellow is just a little bit pat. But, the acting is good, and the ending works. This movie turned out to be a decent, light-hearted romance... but, I still like the premise a lot.

You Are Here: This movie was very, very, very bad. It was awful. I stopped after getting 15 minutes into it. I like independent films, but not films that are independent of plot, acting, decent sound editing, or story.

So there. I was going to tell you about my wacky life these days; the fact that things are mellowing out at work, that I'm finally back to making progress on the novel after a few dry weeks, and so on. Maybe later. I've got some novel writing to do now. Later, potater.

Posted by at 02:15 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music | Comments (0)
 April 27, 2001
Acceptance: More Than One Meaning

Had two interesting shocks today. The first shock was when I visited the intranet at my place of work to look at what we lovingly refer to as "the phone tool." This is where we go to quickly find the phone numbers, supervisors & direct reports, and digital images of our co-workers. For various reasons, I had to look up a few folks, and ended up linking to my own entry in this tool. There, where there had once been a list of eight members under "Team:" was a big empty space. Truly, my team is gone. There's not even an electronic echo to mark where once my team had resided. It was as final as a tombstone.

I was dejected. Still am, actually. Thoroughly bummed. The members of my former team are amazingly talented and fun to work with. We still have jobs that resemble our previous jobs, but now we all have new masters. "Same bus, different driver." But, the ride is not the same. I understand more fully now than ever before just how permanent this break really is.

After getting home, I received a completely different kind of shock: I have been accepted into the Odyssey Writers Workshop. Woo-hoo!

This is amazingly wonderful news, especially given that I received a *letter* about it and, therefore, assumed that it was actually a rejection. Why did I assume that a letter meant rejection? Because Clarion West *called* with the news that I had been accepted into their program as well, before sending out any letter.

Woo-hoo!

Yes, it's true that I heard from Clarion West a few days ago and didn't mention it here. I was waiting to hear from Odyssey before saying anything. Now, of course, I face a very difficult situation: I need to decline one program's offer to attend. Both workshops look amazing, especially this year (the instructor line-ups at Clarion West and Odyssey both feature people I very much wish to study with), but the programs overlap and I can't take both at the same time.

If you're wondering why I applied to two programs that overlap, well... let's just say that both looked great, and I wasn't so sure I'd get into either of them, let alone both.

So, I'll be facing that particular music tomorrow. In the meantime, though, I'm happy to know for certain that I'll be spending six weeks this summer focusing on improving my writing. As you can no doubt tell if you've been reading this journal for more than a couple of entries, I can certainly use some improvement.

Later, potater.

Posted by at 03:40 AM in the following Department(s): Clarion West Journal , Tidbits II | Comments (0)

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The author. January, 2010.
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