November 05, 2009
Many moons ago, I worked for a well known software company based in Redmond, WA where I was a software designer, creating feature specifications for their flagship office productivity suite.
At one point during my days at the aforementioned software company, I was responsible for coming up with a list of new "Wizards and Templates" that would enable users to easily create various kinds of documents. I recently stumbled upon my brainstorming list of wizards and templates that I'd generated, just to get the ball rolling.
Wouldn't it be cool if, when you started up your favorite office productivity suite, you had the ability to start creating the following with just a click of the mouse?
- Marriage Certificates
- Parking Tickets
- Moving Violation Tickets
- Search Warrants
- Jury Duty Notices
- Divorce Decrees
- Green Cards
- Drivers Licenses
- Liquor Licenses
- Police Credentials
- Ivy League Diplomas
- Dollar Bills
- Gun Dealer License
- Permit to Carry a Concealed Weapon
I seem to recall that, in the end, the patent application would have taken too long, so we settled for photo albums and the like, instead.
What wizards and templates do *you* think would be fun for your office productivity suite?
September 08, 2006
Confidentiality is not just a problem at the highest reaches of the government. It seems to me that once any modicum of fame is involved, the entire concept of confidentiality goes right out the window.
During the course of my professional career(s), I have held a few different positions at a few different companies. In most cases, when I left one position at one company to take another position at a different company, I entered into a "confidentiality agreement" with my former employer(s). The essentials of these agreements boil down to a simple arrangement: I won't tell anybody the nature of my departure from company X (nor divulge any company trade secrets) and, in exchange, the company will also not tell anybody the nature of my departure from the company (nor divulge any other personnel-related information about me).
This is Standard Operating Procedure for most organizations, especially larger ones, and it stands to reason: it protects the company as well as the individual from a number of possible problems down the line. It protects the individual because it establishes what is essentially company policy: the company will never say anything bad about you to potential future employers who choose to check your references. A potential future employer can confirm that you once worked for company X, but not what your salary was, or why you left, or whether anybody at company X had problems working with you. There's nothing left to interpretation. They can't say *anything* about you (other than to confirm that you once worked there), so there's nothing they can say that could possibly be misconstrued (or, for that matter, correctly construed) as a reason for the potential new employer to not take you on.
It also protects the company. You agree not to say anything derogatory about your former employer, or to otherwise give potential job applicants, stock analysts, or other industry professionals any reason to be concerned with how things are going at company X. More importantly, if there was any kind of a severance or other financial arrangement that was part of the deal, current employees should not hear from you what the terms of those arrangements were. For obvious reasons, your former employer wouldn't want everyone to know how much you were getting paid, if anything, as part of your separation arrangement.
As a former manager, I can assure you that there are often financial components involved in separation arrangements. And no, I won't give you specifics.
The heart of the matter is this: when employer and employee part ways, both agree not to bad-mouth the other. This is a contract. A binding, legal commitment. And yet, we read examples of confidentialities being betrayed seemingly every day.
I'll skip the obvious examples of how this happens in the higher levels of the government. The Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, et al, administrations seemed to be plagued with bigger leaks than the Titanic. One such leak killed the Nixon presidency, and another has caused some harm to the current administration.
However, the problem plagues the civilian ranks, as well. The best (most public) example I can think of in recent memory is the departure of corporate executive turned television star, Carolyn Kepcher. She's got good looks, brains, a book deal, a well-defined public persona, and she and her former employer parted ways. So what happens? A "person close to the situation" told the New York Post that she was fired because she wasn't taking her job with the Trump organization seriously.
Further, according to the Associate Press article linked above, this sentiment was "echoed for The Associated Press by a person close to the situation. The person insisted on anonymity because it was a personnel matter."
That's right! It's a personnel matter! That means they are not allowed to talk about it. There's confidentiality involved. These individuals are betraying a very real, very important confidence. The Trump organization could lose a lot of money if Ms. Kepcher were to choose to sue over this (assuming, of course, that the betrayal came from within their ranks rather than from hers.) Since confidentiality and integrity actually matter to me, I'd like to see the Trump organization either find the source of the leak and fire that person; or, if the leak can't be found, fire everyone in the department who *could* have been a source of the leak.
(I've often felt the same way about leaks from within Presidential administrations. How ironic -- and pathetic -- if one of those leaks should have actually be approved of by the President himself. I'm not just talking about the current administration, by the way, with regard to the Plame Game. The leak of the Stealth bomber project under Carter's administration comes to mind, among many, many others....)
I realize that this particular example may not elicit a great deal of sympathy. There is a general preconception that the rich and powerful play by different rules (read: dirty), and therefore when they break their promises to each other (even if it's a lowly minion who is casting the stones without the approval of his or her boss), the only people being harmed are, well, rich and powerful and therefore they can handle it.
Bullshit. Integrity matters, whether you're the boss or the employee, the elected or the appointed or the electorate, the wealthy or the aspiring.
In the voting district where I used to live, a candidate for State Representative had previously left the employ of a large, local company (where I, too, had formerly been employed) in order to run for office. Word got out that her performance at said employer was not quite up to par. This, from a source "close to the situation."
As a former News Director at a commercial radio station, I recognize that sources must occasionally be protected. But these cases, like so many that we read about on a regular basis, involve sources very clearly breaking the law and/or violating confidentiality in order to share information that is not only not theirs to share, but is also not in the public's interest to have that confidentiality breached. By news organizations coddling such sources, and corporations (or government organizations) not acting to cauterize such leaks, our society as a whole infers the message that confidentiality agreements will neither protect you nor are they binding upon you.
This is a shame because confidentiality, like any social convention, is part of the glue that helps hold our society together. We erode it at our own peril.
August 28, 2006
Hey, you. Got any computer skills beyond just surfing this most excellent blog? Any project management or software skills?
Or, do you have any mechanical abilities?
I can point you in the direction of some employment opportunities if yer interested. The computer / project management work wouldn't even require you to re-locate, no matter where in the US you happen to reside.
Drop me an e-mail at jobs at rousselle dot com.
February 02, 2006
As I may or may not have mentioned here previously, I was hired into my current job by a fellow named Alan. You can imagine the fun that ensues when two fellows who work together share sound-alike names.
For various reasons, we have come to the conclusion that we should take a shot at hiring a new guy to help augment the team. The new guy's name? Allen.
The current plan, as I understand it, is that Allen will work under my supervision. And I work under Alan's supervision. We are a hierarchy of Al--ns.
If Allen works out, I'll be searching for more Al--ns who are talented with computers. I'll keep you posted. I've been told that first names are not a protected class when it comes to preferential treatment.
Al--ns of the world, unite!
October 21, 2005
I know I don't usually use my personal online journal to talk about such things, but...
Are any of my faithful readers handy with writing VB or .NET applications? My employer might have use for your skills (probably on a freelance basis). Drop me a line at my e-mail address at the bottom of the page.
September 02, 2005
As part of my high-tech whirlwind database life, I occasionally travel to locales far and wide to teach accountants and IT professionals at law firms how to use a database language called SQL (structured query language). Sounds exciting, doesn't it? This is excitement personified.
When a law firm hosts one of these classes -- which is to say, when they provide the training facilities and allow others to attend -- they are accorded a couple of "free" seats in the class. Typically, the employees of the host law firm who attend the class run the risk of getting less out of the class than their counterparts who travel from nearby towns to attend.
Why? Because when a person attends training within their own firm's offices, he or she is often called away for a quick-emergency-meeting or to put out this-one-little-fire or something along those lines. Their training time is not respected by their colleagues because -- Hey! -- they are there at the office anyway, so what harm could it be to pull them out of the class for one teensie-weensie-moment.
Attendees who pay full fare and come in from another firm are not at their office mate's (or boss's) beck and call, and therefore can't be pulled aside to attend to a quick little problem.
For lack of a better term, I'll call this the "locals' lament". It's convenient geographically and economically, at least, for you to be the host but the distractions of being on your home turf keep pulling you away.
So it is for me and this year's North American Science Fiction Convention. My wife and I attempt every year to attend the annual World Science Fiction Convention (typically held during the days leading into the Labor Day weekend) because it features a strong track for professional writers in the field. When "WorldCon" is held outside of North America (this year's was held in Scotland), there is a smaller version held on our home continent, the aforementioned "NASFiC". This year's NASFiC is being held in our home town.
Should be convenient, no? Should make our lives easier, because we don't have so much to arrange in terms of travel and taking care of the kids and all that stuff, right?
Nope. Just as we missed the World Horror Convention when it was held here a couple of years ago, we find our attendance at this year's NASFiC very, very challenging. Difficulties and distractions at the office and at home have led me to miss all of the ceremonies, panels, and parties thus far. Yesterday, I left work in time to make dinner with some friends in town for the Con, but that's the most I've managed so far. Instead of our annual week-long participation, it looks like Paulette and I will be able to get two days this weekend at the most.
Next year's WorldCon will be held in LA. We look forward to having it away from home again (as usual), so that we can once more take full advantage of it.
June 23, 2004
"So, Allan, when you gonna tell us how you got your job?"
Shortly after I began my job with Data Fusion, I flew out to Maryland to meet the team in the Cockeysville office. Data Fusion maintains three formal offices: one in Maryland, another in New Mexico, and another in California. There are also a few other folks scattered throughout the country who work out of home offices or satellite offices. There are folks like that in Texas, Colorodo, and Ohio. Probably elsewhere, too.
But that's the thing about a company like this: you can have twenty-five employees, and several of them have never met several of the others, even after many years.
And yet, after being at DF for only a little while, I was flown out to Maryland to meet the gang there. Turns out, many of them had read my website, and noticed a teaser I'd put up about how "soon I'll tell you the story of how I landed my new job." From time to time, they prod me to put up the story.
So, here it is: I got my job at Data Fusion because I am a former Lunatic.
Well, okay, that's not how I got the job, but that is how I got the chance to get the job.
Toward the end of 2003, the founder of the Cornell Lunatic humor magazine got in touch with a few of us former editors because he wanted to assemble an alumni network. As the network started to come together, he thought it would make sense to put together a newsletter to send out to all of the alumni to help us become better connected and also to encourage financial support of the magazine.
The fellow who volunteered to assemble the newsletter asked if any of us had anything we'd like to contribute, and I got into a long discussion with him (and did a lot of research) on one of the former editors who had died a couple of years ago. I suggested that we put the article about his death in the "Where are they now?" section of the newsletter, with a photo of his headstone.
Yes, I know, that's sick. But if you knew the guy, you might think he'd have wanted it that way. RICHH had a very twisted sense of humor.
The fellow assembling the newsletter and I got to talking about employment situations, and he thought that maybe there would be a fit for me at his company. And that's how I got the audition. By being a former Lunatic.
But I got the job by passing the audition.
For pretty much every other job I've held, I've had a series of interviews with future co-workers and bosses and the like. In this case, after talking with my future employer on the phone -- and having never met in person, ever -- he decided to set up a test condition. He sent me a laptop, some installation disks for software I'd never used before, and e-mailed files to me. My task was to set up the software on the laptop (there were three versions of the software in question), and then "upgrade" the files from version 3 of the software to version 5. After doing that, my task was to see if there was any way to speed up the way the files worked.
There is something fascinating to me about this method of selecting a candidate for a job. It relies not upon how well you can bullshit your way through an interview, but rather upon how well you can actually do the job under test conditions. Working at Data Fusion often involves going into someone else's system, figuring out how they got it set up, and then solving the problem.
Funny thing about this audition, though. The e-mail files that he sent me became corrupted along the way. And the laptop stopped working after only about eight hours. It just went ka-put.
Now, keep in mind that at one time in my sordid past, I had also interviewed for (and was hired by, and later even conducted interviews for) a certain software company that is notorious for their interview process. Books have not only been written about this company's interview process, but they have actually reached the NY Times Bestseller list.
One of the things that is stressed in the interview process at this company (whose initials are MS) is the "get the job done at all costs" kind of thinking.
Example interview question: you're working on a [whatever] on your laptop while in an airplane en route to [wherever], and you absolutely must must must have [whatever] completed by the time you arrive. The batteries to your laptop have just run down completely, and you're only halfway done. What do you do?
The way this works in the interview is this: with every answer you, the interviewee, give, the interviewer gives some reason why that doesn't solve the problem. (example: "I pull out my power outlet and plug it into the port that is now standard on all airplanes." Response: "You discover that you left your cable in your office.") The interviewer wants you to see how creative and determined you are to get the job done.
Remember: I not only interviewed with that company, I worked there.
So here I am, auditioning for a new company, and I've been given a test environment to test my skills, but the test materials are failing on me. Oh, and also: I want the job. What do I do?
With the MS example firmly planted in my brain, I set about resolving everything I can by going beyond the bounds of the test. I have a PC laptop of my own, so I load the software onto that. In the meantime, I figure out that the laptop they sent me was under warranty, so I call the office administrator and get information on sending it back to the manufacturer to have it repaired under warranty.
After figuratively banging my head against the wall for several hours and unable to get the software to open the files I'd been sent, I open them up in a text editor and realize that they are corrupted. I reconstruct them as best I can, and then finally manage to have the software load them correctly.
After upgrading the files, I read through the online documentation on the software, perform a lot of trial and error, and finally get the job done. I turn it in on time, while the computer that I'd been sent is still being repaired by the manufacturer.
My future employer and I talk about what I did and how I went about completing the task. I told him how I cleverly figured out that the files had been corrupted, etc., etc. And finally asked the question that had been plaguing me throughout the process: were the problems with the files and the computer known? Were they, in fact, part of the test?
"No," my future employer said. "I have neither the time nor the inclination to make the test any harder than need be. But you'd be surprised how often that kind of thing crops up just in the day to day job."
Or words to that effect. And he was right, of course. I've been surprised at how often that kind of thing crops up in the day to day job. It happens all the time.
So there you have it. Because I was an editor of a college humor publication fifteen years ago, I ended up with a job performing database work for some of the biggest law firms in the country.
February 05, 2004
For the past year or so, I've been posting rather infrequently to this here website, which is funny (not funny ha-ha, but funny weird funny) because traffic to my site goes up every month. I guess the less I write, the more popular I become. Or something.
But whereas I had only the lame excuse of "gee, I'm busy" to keep me from posting here, I now have a more coherent reason for my relative silence. I've started work at a new employer.
When I was first getting to know him, a friend of mine named Allen claimed to be so bored one day that he read through my entire website. He found it odd and interesting that he had to read an awful lot before discovering any mention of my wife (let alone her name), and he was also curious as to whether I was still working for my previous employer (I was not) because my blog has generally only hinted at my employment situation, as well.
I wrote an essay a while back about the conflicting interests that surround freedom of speech. My contention was (and still is) that, while we enjoy the freedom to say what we will, we also are obliged to deal with any consequences that may result -- and that there are often consequences.
My primary concern in that essay was about the annoying (to me) error of referring to consequences as censorship, or even more strongly put, McCarthyism. The Dixie Chicks certainly have a right to say they don't like the current President of the United States. Radio stations in the Bible Belt, likewise, have a right to not play Dixie Chicks records. Both the Chicks and the radio stations are making a point about what they believe or what they are against. But the radio stations are not censoring the Chicks. They are, rather, selecting their own messages just as carefully as the Chicks did.
In a more recent example, Janet Jackson's choices regarding her freedom of expression (which, while not Constitutionally guaranteed, is considered by the Supreme Court to be Constitutionally implied) have led to her being uninvited to be a presenter at the Grammy Awards later this year. Is CBS censoring her? Or are they choosing, instead, to select performers with a public image that is more copacetic for their intended audience?
On the other hand, is the FCC censoring CBS and/or Miss Jackson by threatening and/or imposing fines for what happened during the Super Bowl half-time show this year? Arguably, yes, they are. Censorship is pressure brought to bear by the government regarding what one says or how one expresses it.
Now, then, what does this have to do with me having a wife or changing employers?
Quite a bit.
Paulette, my wife, has a life and a set of interests of her own. She tends to not be as public with her stories as I tend to be with mine. I believe she prefers I not say too much about her in such a public forum as my web site, for fear that I might say something that she'd be uncomfortable having broadcast.
I have a choice, of course. I can put everything out there for the world to view, or I can just shut up about anything that concerns Paulette. Or I can walk a tightrope somewhere in between. Alas, since we are married, and our lives are so interconnected, there are very few things that are a part of my life that aren't also a part of hers.
Is this a case of censorship? Hardly. But anything I say can and will be used against me.
It's reasonable for Paulette to want her privacy. It's reasonable for me to want to share my stories with the world. It's also reasonable for me to respect her privacy. So I do what I can to say what I want to say without pulling her out on display with me too much.
Our son, Alexander, is another matter. My preference is to say enough to tantalize those parties who are interested -- maybe even give a photo or two -- but not say so much as to have Child Protective Services pay us a visit for being bad parents.
Likewise, there has rarely been much for me to say, nor any benefit in saying it, about changes in my employment situation. Usually, all the interesting stuff happens during one's employment, not afterward. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)
Shortly, I'll be posting the story of how I came to get my current job -- it was most unusual, even by my standards -- but, for the time being, I'm simply too busy during the day actually *doing* my job to tell *stories* about it, and I'm generally too tired in the evening to even look at the computer.
I'm sure to post it soon, however. I don't want the server to break down under the strain of all the increased traffic I'll get if I *don't* post. :-)
November 04, 2003
Work is not supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be work. The German lady in this article may have a point.
November 02, 2001
Much has been going on these past two weeks. Much has required a great deal of effort and energy, but some has been making the ride a little more enjoyable that it might otherwise be.
I received a cube from the borg earlier this week, which is a happy thing.
At my former employer (actually, the employer before last), members of the collective were encouraged to innovate; to find new ways to delight the customer with an improved product experience. To this end, many of the collective devise features and/or techniques which may be so innovative as to be patentable. As a result, my former employer encouraged its employees to file for patents whenever a feature or technique was considered to be patent-application worthy.
By great good fortune (as well, I hope, as some amount of skill or talent), a couple of features I'd worked on for a software project there were considered as potentially patentable. Even as I was preparing to leave for another employment opportunity, I'd been informed that they wanted to pursue the patent application process for one of those features.
As a result, I did spend some time (even after my departure) helping out with the application process, and soon became documented as the genuine co-inventor (with a brilliant gentleman named Kevin Browne) of a patent pending. Yee-haw. Sounds impressive, and looks great on a resume.
But, there was always something missing. You see, employees of this company, my former employer, are often given a token in recognition of pursuing a patent application. Said token takes the form of a small cash grant and a stately Patent Award in the shape of a small-but-weighty marbled cube (with gold lettering to display the name of the recipient and the title of the patent application).
Having left the employ of this fine institution before the application process was complete, I had forfeited any chance of receiving the cash award (which, by the way, I would have been more than happy to receive), but there was some question as to whether I'd receive the cube. While I'd certainly never turn down the money, the cube was a little dearer to me. It's a kind of status symbol. It would be one of the few awards I've received that would actually have some merit for me, because it would serve as a reminder that my time with said former employer was not all spent in vain. I actually did *something* that made *some* difference.
Well over one year later, the question has been answered. I am now the proud recipient of my very own patent cube, which even thanks me on one of the sides for my innovative contribution to my former employer.
Yes, it's a little thing. There are so many bigger things that are currently proving to be a looming worry in my life. But, the little things do matter.
My little borg cube is now proudly displayed in my own little office (which, in turn, is *not* a cube), and I'm glad to have it. Isn't it amazing, what we choose to allow to make us happy?
October 09, 2001
I'm having some difficulty advancing the many projects I'm working on these days. The problem is, they all demand a lot of time and attention, and I don't seem to have that much time or, quite frankly, that much attention.
What projects? There's finishing the novel (still tentatively entitled The Do Over, but that's likely to change), polishing several short stories that I want to send out, completing work on a new 10-foot-wide bookcase I've started building in my den, preparing the house for an upcoming house party, fixing up my car (needs a tune up and some maintenance work)... oh, and finding a new income stream with which to pay the mortgage.
That last one is a particularly tricky one. I'd assumed that once I left my place of employ, this could potentially mean more time for writing. Instead, it has had the net effect of *reducing* the amount of time I have to write. I'm not sure how that happens.
I still manage to write one new scene for the novel per week, but work on short stories has ground to a halt -- with the exception of getting one story sent out as a submission -- and the novel is not really any closer to being ready to send out to agents now than it was a month ago. October was originally when I'd hoped to send it out.
All I need to do, I have been reminded, it set aside time in my schedule each day to write. Set aside one hour. Everybody has an hour in their day... right?
Somehow, it's not working out that way.
I was able to be very productive at Clarion West because I'd managed to put pretty much my entire life on hold for four of those six weeks. Now, I can't get away with that.
Or... can I?
What if I took every other month and just disappeared to write? Hmmmm.
What are *your* thoughts? Any suggestions?
June 15, 2001
Tomorrow is my last day at work before taking off for Clarion West. I'm not ready.
"Oh, sure," you say. "Not ready to leave work. Yeah right." That's not quite what I mean.
I haven't read through all of the stuff that came in the info pack for Clarion West. I haven't packed. I've just started making a list of things to bring, for crying out loud.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."
I haven't had a chance to read samples of writing by each of my instructors yet.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."
I'm sleep deprived.
Okay. Yes, I'm pressed for time as far as preparing for Clarion goes. But, that's only part of what's really bothering me. The fact is, I'm not ready to leave work yet... not just because I am leaving behind projects unfinished (I am), but because I just discovered today that I have made an error in how I've been working with one of my fellows at the office. I've been treating this person terribly, in fact.
This is a major failing. Projects can be set back on track. Relationships (working, personal, or otherwise) are harder.
I think the error I've made is recoverable. But, I'm crushed that I could make this kind of mistake and I won't be able to fix it until, at best, after I return. *This* is the kind of thing I hate to leave "undone".
I've been so rude, and I won't be able to do anything about it.
At the same time, one of my other co-workers very kindly gave me a "come back soon" gift that was, well, very touching. Appropriate. Actually, it's touching because it's so inappropriate. It's one of those stress things that you squeeze, in the shape of a cow. Only, when you squeeze it... well, let's just say I haven't seen something this crude since I accidentally watched part of an Adam Sandler movie. You squeeze it, and a big brown bubble forms....
Nevermind. It's disgusting. It's hilarious. And, very touching. And, the effort this person made to reach out to me came right on the heels of realizing what a heel I've been to this other person.
I have a lot of writing to do. A ton of reading to do. I still owe my Grandparents a big fat phone call (by way of thanks for something they mailed me a couple of weeks ago). I never talk to friends anymore. I'm terrible about replying to e-mail. I'm sleep deprived. I'm about to take a leave from my job when there are so many projects left dangling... and, well, that matter of how I've been treating that co-worker. My e-mail and web servers have become unstable again and I am juggling getting them onto new machines. I stand at the threshold of an intense six-week writing program.
This, it seems to me, is where things start to get interesting.
June 14, 2001
So, I have learned something recently. A little distinction that I think is both interesting and important. I've, uh, been doing research at work and have noticed something about what happens when you put good people into awkward situations for too long....
A person with what we typically identify as "a bad attitude" is not necessarily grumpy all the time. This person is not necessarily always negative. Quite the contrary, the Bad Attitude person can still identify and enjoy good times and funny things every bit as often -- even more frequently -- than he or she did before catching this contagious condition.
The difference between the Bad Attitude and the Normal Guy (or Normal Gal) is the suppression of the safety switch that would otherwise know when to cut the connection to one's vocal chords at a crucial moment.
In a relationship, this may be best expressed by the following example:
Relationship partner says, "Do these pants make me look fat?"
Normal Person replies, "Not at all."
Bad Attitude person, you might think, would reply, "Yes, they do." But, that is a misconception. The Bad Attitude person is not a negative person, and does not seek out to deliberately be mean. Bad Attitude person simply fails to filter out the last part of "the whole truth" part of his/her testimony.
So, in response to the question, "Do these pants make me look fat?" Bad Attitude person replies, "Not at all. It's your butt that makes you look fat."
Now, why does the Bad Attitude compel this kind of truth-saying? Why? And, what is the cure?
I had recently suffered a bout with this dreaded disease, and it seems to be coming under control. This is the first time I've contracted this condition without having to take radical measures (like quitting my job) to be free of it. What's with that? Am I maturing? Growing complacent? What?
I don't know, and I'm not sure if it's good. But, I certainly find it interesting.
June 09, 2001
I have only one week left at work -- and home -- before heading off to Clarion West 2001. This is my last free weekend for a while. As much as there is for me yet to do in preparation, I'm excited by the prospect of my upcoming adventure. Six weeks devoted to exercising the writing and story-telling poriton of my brain. Woo-hoo!
One of this year's instructors, Nalo Hopkinson, has just been nominated for a Hugo Award. The nomination is for her second novel. Not too shabby.
Awards are cool, and I'm all for recognition of doing good work. Perhaps, someday in my not-too-distant future, I might have the honor of standing alongside these wonderful writers at the winners podium... and that would be most excellent. The Hugo is particularly cool, because it's an award that is voted on by the fans.
I have to say, though, that there's another award that I'm much more interested in pursuing: the well-paying publishing contract. If the fans award my work with their hard earned cash, that's plenty award enough for me. I'm so easy-to-please.
Before I can pursue that, I have to finish the novel and get a few short stories under my belt. Writing is a very weird profession: you have to do all the work long before you find out if you'll ever get paid. Kinda risky. As a friend of mine has often pointed out, I seem to be a glutton for doing the most amount of work for the least amount of pay. C'est la vie.
Regardless, for six weeks I am going to be a dedicated writer. Should be quite an exciting time.
June 05, 2001
My grandfather did his best to instill a few basic principles in his children and grandchildren. One such precept was: if an appointment is worth making, it's worth keeping. From my grandfather, I developed a strong aversion to being late and a strong dislike for when others are late for me.
Particular friends of mine in college tried to break me of this ingrained attitude. I was too uptight, they'd point out. Blah, blah, blah. They were probably right, and I certainly did come to recognize that sometimes things just happen and it's no use to have a brain seizure over being a few minutes late for some pre-ordained meeting time. Nonetheless, the general principle has stayed with me. I tend to arrange my schedule to allow extra time to get someplace, just in case of bad traffic (or whatever).
Sometimes things just happen. But, in one case, things are getting ridiculous.
In my current position at work, I have a number of managers to whom I report. There's the Group Program Manager, who is responsible for coordinating the program managers for the "hardline" site development group. Because this position is actually vacant at present, the person acting in this capacity is our Director of Site Development. There's the General Manager of one of the stores for which I am responsible. And, since the General Manager position happens to be vacant for two of the other stores for which I am responsible, that role (those roles?) is (uh, are?) being handled by the stores' Vice President.
While I report to each of these folks, there is no real direct reporting relationship that they have to each other. Well, okay, the General Manager dude reports to the Vice President -- which could pose some interesting complications but hasn't yet -- but the Director (er, Group Program Manager) actually reports through a different branch to the Senior Vice President above my particular Vice President.
This is what the old-timers at my company used to call a "matrix" before they decentralized into store-based units; back before a movie of the same name hit the scene. When the decentralized units were dissolved and reorganized along functional lines again, the reconstituted structure was no longer referred to as a "matrix" (which, given the themes of the movie of that name, would be amazingly apropos), but rather have simply been dubbed "re-centralization".
Yes, centralization means I have three bosses. The Group Program Manager (er, Director) is my *official* supervisor. But, come on. When you are responsible to a vice president in addition, you'd better believe that the veep is also your boss... even if this veep is in a different branch from your Director.
Anyway, the Vice President in question made a very strong and favorable impression upon me the first time we met. He had just taken over our group when *his* boss left the company (and whose position also remains unfilled), and he had a directness that I found to be a breath of fresh air.
There's just one little problem.
For the life of me, I can not manage to be on time for any meeting between us. I somehow manage to make *most* of his team meetings on time, but anytime it's a small group or just the two of us, *something* always happens. It's frustrating. It's annoying. It's embarrassing.
And, it's starting to become almost funny. Funny, ha-ha. I mean, what else is there to do? I hate being late. I really want to do well by this guy. I make every effort to be on time. Early, even. Something always happens. Today, it finally reached the point of silliness.
We were prepping for a big presentation to the company's Star Chamber -- did I say Star Chamber? I mean the President's happy fun advisory council -- where projects are being evaluated before being sentenced to death. We had a pre-meeting meeting to go over our presentation so that our project could be shown in the best light before being condemned to die. I have a major role in this project, and I had an hour of no scheduled meetings before this pre-meeting meeting. I was all set to be there, be prepared, and wow everyone with how well I would be able to handle any technical question regarding the project.
Chalk this one up to my own dumb fault. While tracking down a particularly thorny question about how part of the project would be handled, I got lost in the details. I looked up from my screen at one point, and noticed that, well, I was ten minutes late for the pre-meeting.
I booked over to his office where my compatriots were just finishing up going over the presentation (it was a short one). And, then, I made a well-intentioned comment about how we should head over to the building where the master project meeting was being held so that we could be certain of being there "on time". Oh, the irony.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I want to do a good job. I want to do right by those I work with. And yet, lately I've been in a big muffing-it-all-up loop. In this one case -- timeliness and this particular Vice President -- I'm beginning to recognize that I'm doomed. I guess it's funny because it's true.
May 07, 2001
Wow. I've got lots to do. Naturally, there's the old work thang going on. There's working on the novel (I'll post an update shortly). We're wrapping up the third and final quarter (the third quarter makes a whole year? Yes.) of the Advanced Commercial Fiction writing class. This involves preparing our entries for an anthology and for the reading that will accompany its publication. There's getting ready for Clarion West, which includes a great deal of homework (I have about four books left to read in the six weeks remaining). Then there's beginning the search for a *new* job (you knew that was coming, didn't you?)... or at least the search for a new income stream. I need to do some marketing work for my parents' business, and I've been very delinquent thus far on that project. Cornell Class of '90 website stuff, likewise.
And so on, and so on. With all of these "DO ME NOW!" tasks on my Things To Do list, I've been even more negligent than usual on keeping in touch with people. Grace announced three months ago that she's earned her MA in Ed. I still haven't e-mailed or phoned to congratulate her. Monifa is changing her job situation. Radically. Have I gotten back to her about her resume? No. Have I returned her phone calls? No. Don't I still like her? Of course I do. I'm just lame.
Scneibs? Sorry, babe. It's me, not you. Dave and Melissa's new baby? We bought the gift, and still haven't sent it out. Dr. Judith Ricca! Spoke to her for the first time in fifteen years, and she sent me some info I'd asked for. Have I replied? No. :-(
My priorities are whacked and I know it. I'm not taking care of the wonderful people in my life. But, what do I do? What do I give up in order to spend the time on the people and things I really should?
Clearly, I'm going to have to give up my job.
May 06, 2001
Just a quick thought for the day.
I vaguely recall taking a psychology class my freshman year at college where we were told about how the average young male thinks about sex at least every fifteen minutes. (Or, was it every 15 seconds? Hmmm.) This was based upon one of those Johnson & Johnson or Kinsey reports. Something along those lines.
As the men get older, we were told, they don't think about sex quite so much (whereas, the lesson continued, women became more sexually interested as time went on), and I think I know why. As men get older, thoughts about how exiting sex can be are replaced by how pathetic their working lives really are, and how much better things would be if their bosses would just listen to them for a change.
I know several folks who love their jobs. These are very fortunate people. At the very least, they are not plagued by the nagging self-doubt that comes with realizing that one's life is being wasted on a meaningless endeavor. Better still, they have something more pleasant to think about every fifteen minutes.
April 27, 2001
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.
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.
April 19, 2001
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.
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.
April 16, 2001
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.
March 02, 2001
Seattle experienced its first (and, likely, *only*) major snow of the season a week ago. People dialed into work from home on their computers, sending out e-mails and cancelling meetings. "Can't make it, too much snow, blah, blah, blah."
I *did* make it into work, and had a jolly good time poking fun at my colleagues. "Why, back where I come from, we wouldn't even close the public pools for this measly few inches of snow!"
Now the California transplants are making similar jokes about Wednesday's big event. "You call *this* an earthquake?" :-)
I actually found the recent earthquake in Seattle rather exhilarating. It came without warning, gave us all a helluva good ride for about fifteen seconds or so, and then left us to our own devices. When is the last time a tornado, hurricane, blizzard, flood, or other nasty weather-related imposition dropped in for a visit and then left so quickly? While I'm not a big fan of natural disasters, I have to say the weather-related ones have a much nastier tendency to hang around. Mr. Earthquake said "boo" and then left. It was shocking, thrilling, scary, and adrenalizing.
By and large, I think the folks of Seattle and the surrounding areas handled it all rather well, and it's even cooler to realize that, with all of the potential for calamity (it was, to be fair, a big 'un), there were few serious injuries and no directly related deaths. The same cannot be said for the Mardi Gras festivities in Seattle the night before, which had similarly resulted in a lot of property damage (on a smaller scale, to be sure) but, sadly, also cost many folks some time in the hospital and even one fellow his life.
Since many of you have dropped a line to ask how things are going or how they went, here's my Seattle earthquake experience in brief: I was in a meeting on the 7th floor of one of the new downtown office buildings when it hit. By a freak coincidence, my group had recently been the beneficiaries of some emergency-related training, and the whole situation unfolded for me in a surreal state of "No problem. Everything's under control." I heard one of the big metal beams start to twist, and my first thought was that the construction that had been going on in our area was getting out of hand again. (They are building a new stadium across the street, and their work often shakes our building.) A pause, and then another squealing sound from the building, and I began to think those construction workers were trying to break into our room. A rather funny thought, since the construction work was going on across the street, but that's pretty much how things played out. Someone said, "Is this an earthquake?"
Yours Truly, in "everything's under control" mode, told everyone to get under the table and grab onto the legs. (That's to keep your cover from getting away from you, don't you know.) With four of us in the room, and with the quick thinking on my part and the quick acting on their part, this meant that there was really no room under the table for me. :)
So, the building shook and rocked like a cruise ship that had just hit hard seas (been there, done that) and after a particularly nasty lurch, I suddenly felt the adrenaline hit. Wow. Then, the building began to settle into more routine shaking and rocking before it finally calmed down.
I had "sea legs" for the next hour or so.
Lots of rooms sustained lots of damage (bookshelves and monitors tipping, falling, breaking, bursting, etc.), but in the end, it was mostly superficial. There were the occasional "safety czars" giving us conflicting directions ("Get out of the building now!!!" "No! Stay in the building! It's unsafe out there with the transit tunnels!" Etc., etc.).
Everyone went to their cell phones. None of them worked because the circuits were overloaded instantly. I went to my office (after walking all the way down the stairs, and then walking all the way back up, following the various instructions I'd been given) and used the land line. Got in touch with Paulette. She was okay. Then, I made plans for getting over the lake to check on our house.
QED. End of story. No structural damage to our house that we can see, and not much in the way of disarray with the contents. A few picture frames askew, but that was about it. In fact, the class at the University was still on for that evening. Far out.
The corporate headquarters for my employer is closed for a couple of days while they repair *flood* damage caused by bursting sprinkler systems. My own building escaped that fate, so it was back to work and back to business as usual today. Just like that.
The quake did a lot of damage. Our building, like many others downtown, is still structurally sound, but it will nonetheless require a lot of repairs. Any good conspiracy theorist will tell you that this was all a plot arranged by the unions to make sure that there will be good jobs for construction workers even in the midst of the dot com bust that is leading to a decrease in demand for new buildings and houses. Thus, the local economy will continue to do well, taking money out of the insurance pools that it has been funding all these many years, and life will go on.
Unlike many of my peers here, I did not find this event to be life-changing. It was interesting; an experience worth having, certainly, and I highly recommend it as long as you can arrange to live through it unscathed, as most of us did on this particular occasion. It's pretty wild when terra firma becomes terra jello. Nonetheless it was, after all is said and done, just another interesting day in the already topsy-turvey world in which we live.
February 19, 2001
Maybe, as posited by the ubergovernment in George Orwell's 1984, changing how people speak really does change how they think and, in turn, changes the reality in which we live.
For example, we see doublespeak like this in the financial papers:
"According to First Call/Thomson Financial's research analyst Ken Perkins, of the 137 retailers monitored by First Call the sector overall is expected to show negative growth of about 5.4 percent year-over-year, which is down slightly from the 6.5 percent recorded in the third quarter."
Retail sales are expected to show negative growth? Negative growth? Hello? There used to be a term in economics that described "negative growth": recession.
Can you say "recession" boys and girls? I thought so.
While my employer has been right-sizing to optimize for our negative growth scenario -- which is double-plus ungood, if you happen to be on the unright side of the right-sizing -- I've become increasingly sensitive (a good, healthy American word if ever there was one) to the manipulations of meaning being broadcast by our decision makers.
I would say that my employers are, in fact, lying to my face, but I'm being constantly reminded by my peers that this is an unright way to look at it. They are not lying to us. They are not even telling us "untruths". They are simply assuaging the negative growth in our expecations with non-truths because that is completely appropriate in an environment such as this.
Language, in theory, is a tool for communicating meaning. Lately, however, it is increasingly being used as a tool for obfuscating meaning. From the former President ("That depends upon what your definition of 'is' is," and, more recently, "[sure she gave me lots of money, and sure I pardoned her husband, but] there was absolutely no quid pro quo."*) to the captains of industry to tell us "We all need to be in this for the long term" while they take $26 million out of the company as the stock price continues to plummet.
My favorite nontruth was recently uttered by a Vice President (my employer now has an organization that goes three Vice Presidents deep. Three! There are three VPs between me and the President of the company. How can we possibly need that many VPs?) when a fellow employee asked point blank "Are there plans for any more layoffs this year," and the VP said with a straight face, "No, there are no plans for any more layoffs this year."
Meanwhile, I'm being told to figure out how to manage my team with at least one fewer person on my staff by this summer. (BTW, in corporatespeak, people are not people. They are "headcount". In national security terms, layoff casualties are "collateral damage." Thus, I am not actually losing people... I'm decreasing headcount.)
My staff now has a better bead on the truth here than I do, because the rumors they hear are often more accurate than the official line I'm told by those higher up the food chain than I am. I think this is partly because the folks on the front lines don't bullshit each other the way upper management bullshits their staff.
Did I say bullshit? I meant to say "lie through their teeth."
Telling the truth doesn't make reality any more palatable, but it *does* make it more likely that you'll be able to negotiate reality's treacherous waters successfully. But, neither our news media nor our captains of industry seem to think we can handle the truth.
*note: the second quote above [with my paraphraseology in brackets] is attributed to Clinton by ABCNews' account of the incident in this online article. ABCNews claims to quote the former President's statement in an Op-Ed piece which appeared in the New York Times, but I have not seen the original article.
January 31, 2001
Many of you have noticed the news about layoffs at my current employer and have asked if I'm still gainfully employed there. I am, indeed, still gainfully employed and was spared the axe, myself. Alas, I also had to lose two people from my team, and that is not happy-making.
One of my former employers seemed to go through layoffs on a regular basis. It was not one of the happiest places I've worked. And, yet, there were other folks there (one in particular) who actually thrived with this employer.
We all have different styles, and different things inspire us. I, for one, am not inspired by the management style that involves periodic layoffs. Frequent layoffs (even if we're talking about once a year, which seems to be the pattern with my current employer, thus far) imply consistently bad decision making and/or setting a low bar when hiring candidates. I am not inspired by the idea of either working with fools or working for fools, so it doesn't really matter to me which is the case in this particular instance.
In my not so humble opinion, however, given the quality of the people who ended up being let go... I'm not inclined to think that the problem has been a low bar for hiring.
Anyway, suffice it to say that while I remain employed, I'm finding myself in the inevitable unhappy mode that follows layoffs. Nonetheless, I'm working on figuring out how to ensure that *I* don't make the kinds of boneheaded decisions that would result in a further cutback on my staff.
January 25, 2001
Some people get the flu. I get headaches.
I know I'm actually a lucky guy, insofar as my headaches tend to miss the "migraine" category. Which is to say, if your definition of migraine is "head hurts so bad, you literally throw up and can't move for days because moving would make your head explode", I don't get migranes because I don't get the nausea bit.
When I was younger (so much younger than today), I used to get these killer headaches every couple months or so. Sometimes more frequently than that. They clamp on for days at a time, sometimes going longer than a week. Lately, it's been much less frequent, but the duration has been every bit as long.
So, for the first time in maybe half a year or so, a major mother of a headache has wrapped my brain in a vice. Sudden changes in light and turning my head from side to side makes the lower part of my face want to run away from the timebomb in my cranial cavity. Moving my eyes too quickly has the same effect. Sleep is hard to come by and, well, I'm just not a big fan of pain as it is.
My current bout has gotten so bad that I've taken one of the only 'sick days' I've ever taken in my adult life. Taking a sick day doesn't make my headache any better; it simply allows me to be miserable in the discomfort of my own home. Alas, work had to call me for yet another "short fuse" item. "Short fuse" or "fire drill" is a common high tech euphamism for "we decided this morning that the deadline for this major project that we've never even warned you about is this afternoon, and if it isn't done, heads are going to roll. Probably yours."
I'm actually glad that my boss called me about this particular "short fuse" item. It was directly pertinant (pertinent? I'm not looking it up today. My eyes hurt.) to my team, and the most important thing I can do right now is to keep my team happy and productive. I had a once in a long while opportunity to make sure we do the right thing, and I'm grateful to have been given that opportunity, even though it meant I got to be miserable at work and miserable at home all at the same time.
So, why do I bring this up? Here's why. Boss guy: "So, Allan, how are you? What's keeping you down today?"
Me: "I have a headache."
Weh, weh, weh. I can count the number of sick days I've taken in my adult life on *one hand*. And, on this fine occasion, I'm not only miserable, but I sound even more pathetic than I am.
"I have a headache." For crying out loud. He pointed out -- correctly -- that I had a headache yesterday. (I know this is funny. I'll be sure to laugh about it as soon as it stops hurting to move my head.) I guess I needed a new excuse today. Like PMS.
Oh, one more thing. Raging headaches and sleep deprivation combine to make me a little more emotional than I usually tend to get. So, the scene I wrote this week for The Do Over is one wherein the hero breaks down. It was easier for me to get in touch with those sort of emotions, so I'm hoping the scene is therefore all the more empathetic. When life hands me lemons, by golly, I'm making lemonade.
January 18, 2001
So, back when I was self-employed or worked for small companies, I would often be confronted by economic choices. For example, if I or someone on my team wanted or needed a new piece of equipment -- let us say, hypothetically, a new monitor -- the decision to purchase would often boil down to the business.
For example, I might ask "How many more widgets must I/we sell to offset the cost of this monitor?" There's also the quintessential "What would it cost me if I *don't* purchase this item?" Even though the second question is more important, the first question always helped to put things into perspective that helped to create incentive. Usually, it would cause me or the member of my team to think in terms of "What can I do today that will help to drive up sales by X widgets?"
What if you work for a company that loses money on every sale? What if you work for a dot com? THEN what do you do? It's like being in a bizarro world. Selling more means... losing more. So, if you want to clear the cost of a piece of equipment, do you try to sell more? Or, do you try to sell less?
Are you better off encouraging your friends to shop with your employer when you know that every dollar they spend brings your employer closer to bankruptcy? I don't get it. I just don't get it.
I think I'm beginning to understand why my essays are getting dumber and dumber. It's because *I'M* getting dumber. Spending time in the land of dot coms is hurting my brain. Decision making here has absolutely no basis in reality. This must be what it's like to work for the government.
January 10, 2001
Just today, I had to wrap up writing a scene from The Do Over for tonight's writing class. In the scene, it's a pleasant family Christmas event, and I wanted to convey how everybody is happy and jolly and ignorant and at the same time indicate that that happiness and jolliness and ignorance are all about to be shattered.
Brian, the main character, has given his father a t-shirt. The t-shirt reads "If ignorance is bliss, this must be Eden."
We first see the t-shirt at the same time as Brian puts one of his own Christmas gifts on the record player: the Beatles album, "Help!"
("When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody's help in any way...")
Anyway, we'll find out at tonight's critique whether I successfully manage to do this foreshadowing thing effectively. In the meantime, though, I was very surprised to find that one of my teammates at work had left a coaster on my desk that they had picked up at a local restaurant. There's a quote on the coaster that reads: "If ignorance is bliss, why aren't there more happy people?"
I know that *she* was commenting on the happiness factor at work (...well, not "the" happiness factor; *my* happiness factor... or, possibly, my *ignorance* factor...), but I thought it was funny how it also so directly related to the scene I've been writing. Thus is the synchronicity I encounter in my life on a daily basis.
December 05, 2000
So, on the first Saturday of every month there's a little event at Victor's Coffee House in quaint downtown Redmond called RASP: the Redmond Assosiation of SPokenword. With spelling like that, you can understand why they favor the spoken word.
As a general rule, each month's proceedings feature a guest reader (always a poet of one kind or another), and then there's also an open mike before and afterward. However, three times a year, RASP hosts an "Island Style Slam", which is a special kind of poetry slam. Here's how it works:
Each participant puts in a couple bucks and receives three words in exchange. The participants then have twenty minutes to compose a poem using those three words. You may trade *sets* of words with others, but not individual words. The participants are called up in random order to read their work. Three judges score the performers on creative use of the words, composition of the poem, and delivery style. After everyone's done, the scores are tabulated and the top five get up to do it again. From these five, the top three winners are determined; the top three split the money.
Since I'm known for overdoing it, I decided this month to try for all nine words from the three different sets that were handed out, and I tried to compose a poem that used all nine words in two three-line stanzas. It was a fun experiment.
The nine words: mirror, lean, savage, wrinkle, machine, hallelujah, cusp, adjacent, and motor.
The poem was inspired by teenage angst (which tends to pervade poetry slams). I dedicated it to the teens in the audience, and told them that it represents something they have to look forward to.
Note: For the first time ever (okay, okay... out of two tries), I placed in the top five. Must have been the delivery. :)
...but, no, I did not walk home with the money.
As I lean into the mirror Another savage wrinkle Hallelujah, I'm a cog in the machine
At the cusp of understanding
Gotta keep that motor running
Adjecent to, but never reach my dream
November 30, 2000
Wanna see what I'm up to these days? Check out the Wireless Store at Amazon.com.
In other news, the novel is flailing. Flail, goes the novel. See the novel flail? Flail, novel, flail.
Oh, and there's one more thing I needed to mention. A bunch of us at work went out for dinner a couple nights ago, and one of the gang mentioned that he used to work as a chef at a restaurant. Turns out that if a steak is somehow not quite up to snuff, it gets thrown into a pile called "save for well done." The "save for well done" pile is the skankiest steak that they have that may still be fit to serve humans, because they figure (correctly) that less-than-choice meat will be less noticeable once it's charred, and very very noticeable if it's served less-so. People who really enjoy their steak tend to order it medium rare or so.
So, if you order your steak well done... you're getting skanky meat. Just thought you'd like to know.
November 06, 2000
They want me to wear a *%$# pager.
Meg and I went to high school together (along with about 300 other kids in our class, I think), and we used to lament to each other about how The System seemed geared toward Conformity. The System was designed to squash all creativity and individuality, turning out cookie cutter people who thought and acted in the same way.
We hated it.
Recently, I've been reading over old journals (a few of my characters in The Do Over are school-aged, and I'm trying to get their voices right), and it's stunning to realize just how seriously I (and, I asssume, we all) took everything. Jeez, kiddo! Lighten up!
Except, on a day like today, as I ponder issues with my job and with my quality of life, I wonder: were we really so far off the mark back then? I don't think the fear of becoming another cog in the wheel ever left, but we certainly don't articulate it much these days.
Hey, Meg. Did you ever find any answers? I could sure use them right now.
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