Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Five-Thing Day

Six things, if you count going on break.

A friend of mine posted this video on her Facebook page yesterday:

Its message reminds me of the 1981 film Looker. This classic sci-fi thriller features beautiful models who have their features fine-tuned by a plastic surgeon in order to reach market-researched commercial-appeal perfection, after which the marketing firm digitally scans them, and can then project their 3-D digitized images onto studio sets, performing exactly as programmed, so that the actresses themselves become superfluous and can simply be bumped off. Haven't I always told you marketers were evil?

And way to not think outside the box, people. You have the technology to reproduce a living being in faultless holography, and program the reproduction to behave in any way you like, but the concept of photoshop is totally beyond you?

Engaging in lengthy, profound conversation about this movie with a coworker does not count as one of the five (or six) things I did today.

I did even less yesterday, but at least I provided lunch relief for our visitor center staff. This is a task I find a little intimidating, because while I like people on general principle, people who ask you questions - and expect you to know the answers, yet - those people frighten me.

"What's the coolest thing to do in Austin?" a guy asked me. A plethora of wonderful activities - exploring the Zilker Botanical Gardens and swimming in Barton Springs, two-stepping at the Broken Spoke, shopping for Halloween costumes at Electric Ladyland, cruising through downtown on the Dillo, checking out the view from Mount Bonnell, eating a spinach omelet at Magnolia, having your picture taken with Leslie, going on a coffeehouse crawl, sipping a Bellini on the patio at Romeo's, taking in an indie film at the Alamo, catching a set at Continental Club or Saxon Pub or, I don't know, anywhere in town, including the steps of City Hall on Friday afternoons - completely failed to come into my head. "Um," I said.

"Okay," he said good-naturedly (he seemed to think I was cute), "what's your favorite thing to do?"

I like to go to Robbie's, eat cheese and crackers, watch a couple Tivo'd episodes of "The Office," and drink cheap wine. But I suspected this was not what he had in mind. Besides, Robbie probably wouldn't let me invite him.

I ended up recommending either the Austin Overtures very comprehensive, informative 90-minute tour or the fun Austin Ducks amphibious tour - both of which I've done, and both of which are great - but when my visitor eventually left, I believe he was planning to do a self-guided tour of Memorial Stadium. I hope I'm not held responsible when the travelers I assist get arrested.

Today began auspiciously, because I saw a rainbow on my bike ride in to work. The weather is lovely and cool, after our long and wearying summer. I sent an email with some paperwork formalizing an agreement between a local government and my agency. I returned a phone call about a hotel contract. I sent another email with suggestions on the redesign for our tourism website. I provided a coworker with some GIS data. Four things.

Then I went walking at lunch, and saw someone in serious medical distress of some kind on the hike-and-bike trail just below the Four Seasons. Paramedics were at the scene, loading the victim onto a stretcher, so there was nothing to do but walk by quickly and not stare. But a bicyclist coming the other direction shouted "Good Lord!" as he passed me, so I assume it was pretty bad. I hope everyone was okay.

I got back to work and Robbie called, on his way downtown for a meeting, and actually running early. Could he stop by?

He could! So I brought him up to my office and introduced him to all my work peeps. Then we went on break with the remnants of the people we knew at our old job for about half an hour, in the Three-Martini Break Group spot, and it was wonderful.

Back at work I was actually called upon to do another thing before I could go home for the day, and had to write up and send out a set of guidelines for our upcoming fam tour of the Fort Worth area. Five things! Six, if you count break. Not bad for government work.

Tomorrow I'm doing lunch coverage at the visitor center again. With luck, I'll get a bit better at it, the more practice I get. Otherwise, Robbie better stock up on cheese.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

But What Price Victory?

Software approval WIN! I finally got ArcMap installed on my work computer!

ArcMap is great for many purposes related to travel and tourism. It’s rather a pity, then, that after a year and a half of making logical, convincing, nay, even impassioned arguments for approval to get it installed, I can’t remember much about how to use it, have no clue how to connect to the geodatabase(s) I need, and months ago suffered an epic friendship fail with the GIS analyst who was going to help me out.

In contrast, you get all the Novell products you could ever want* just by showing up to work – at least in theory. “You’ll have to call me when it’s ready,” my cube neighbor told someone over the phone yesterday, “my GroupWise is down. Again.

There was a pause. “That’s our email system,” she explained.

Early in my career at Sematech – which was federally funded at the time – we had something called cc:Mail. What a baffling name for an email client. “I’ll send you a cc:Mail,” people in the office would say blithely to outsiders, who no doubt wondered why the sender wouldn’t simply address it to them directly? Perhaps if you worked for the CIA, you had bcc:Mail.

Before that we had – and I can’t believe I’ve never killed off the brain cells that remember this, while the neurons that know how to use Arc have gone to the big happy cerebral cortex in the sky – an email program in VAX/VMS, displayed in white dots on a screen the shade of blue now reserved for letting you know you should’ve bought a Mac.

GroupWise may be an improvement over cc:Mail, but that’s only because it’s fifteen years newer. It seems to be the system of choice for government agencies. Which makes sense: it’s slightly outdated and sluggish, with a stodgy, joyless interface; it may also have something to do with the state mainframe, which is housed (unless someone in my old division accidentally vaporized it by hitting the F12 key) in San Angelo. What does a mainframe even look like? I picture a dark, massive, Nixon-era hulk with lots of switches and random blinking lights, crouched ominously on the grounds of San Angelo State University, rumbling low in its bowels, occasionally belching out bursts of steam. There might be punch cards involved. I bet it eats microwave popcorn, too.

About a hundred yards to the west-northwest of where I work now is my old building, chock full of people who remember punch cards, eat microwave popcorn, and have a rudimentary understanding of Arc, but – how shall I put this – whose collective work ethic might not always be said to include a strong predilection for service to others. My remaining GIS-using friends have scattered to the four corners of the globe.** ArcGIS is only used by one other person in our division, so our IT guy can’t really help me out; and my pushing so hard for Arc kind of trod on that other person’s territory, so I hesitate to approach him. I find myself therefore unsupported, not to mention insupportable.

But dammit! I got the software!

*Assuming you had taken such complete leave of your senses that you wanted any Novell products
**A globe doesn’t even HAVE corners. And they call themselves geographers!

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Day Late

Try to keelhaul me, willya?


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

They Won't Stop

New employee orientation doesn't typically cover the issue of whether you should bring wild animals to the workplace.

Now that I think about it, this might make a certain degree of sense - at least vis-a-vis some divisions of my current employer, where many of the staff might be classified as wild animals - if not for their qualities of ferocity, or survivalism, or adaptation to the world around them, then at least for their smell.

I still should probably have known better than to bring a turtle to work on Monday.

But it had to be done. There he was (or she!), barely larger than a quarter, tucked tightly into himself in the middle of a 20-foot-wide gravel swath of downtown hike-and-bike. To my left, a 10-foot drop led to the lake; to my right, meticulously mowed lawns spread out as far as the eye could see - or to Cesar Chavez, which is over the top of the slope, so it's pretty much the same thing. Clearly this was no place for a naive reptile. So I brought him back to my office.

Not having an aquarium, and feeling somewhat uncertain of my coworkers' reaction were I to co-opt the office coffeemaker carafe for this purpose, I put the little guy in a potted aloe on my desk. The aloe is the only plant in a large, wide pot, the sides of which rise more than four inches from the surface of the soil. It seemed like a safe enough place to put a baby turtle. I gave him some iceberg lettuce, sprinkled with fish flakes, and left for the day.

But yesterday morning? No turtle. I freaked. Within five minutes, everyone in my office knew that a turtle was running amok in cubicle-land, and it goes without saying that everyone knew who was responsible. We had a staff meeting yesterday from 8:30-11; and while not on the agenda, the issue of unrestrained reptiles took up a good chunk of the proceedings.

The funny thing is, after our staff meeting was over and I got back to my desk, the turtle was right there in the potted plant where I'd left him (or her). It turns out turtles burrow. Who knew?! Well, I told everyone of course, and I took the turtle home yesterday, and gave him to a turtle-aquarium-keeping friend today. No one is the worse for wear. Only my professional reputation is slightly besmirched, though not really in a bad way - only an odd, vaguely age-inappropriate one - as if I had a smiley "Good Job!" star affixed to my business card.

New employee orientation did not prepare me for this at all.

So it's fortuitous that I received an email today from a speaker mill with whom my boss and I have worked, in the past, to hire trainers for our big annual conference. Apparently "new employee orientation" is out. You know how brown is the new black, and 50 is the new 30, and chopped liver is the new caviar? Well, the latest and greatest thing in corporate new-employee training, my friends, is "onboarding."

Since you're not subversive pinko commie scum, I'm sure that term didn't immediately bring associations of "waterboarding" to mind, much less cause you to reflect that - though not at all inhumane when you consider the depths to which any organization's treatment of its subject creatures has been known to descend - new employee orientation cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered pleasant; and that while new employees from the dawn of time have been aware of this, new employers have been historically (not to mention indulgently) regarded as being innocently, if perhaps rather obliviously, unaware of this fact, which is somewhat endearing if not necessarily prone to engender respect; and that therefore it is insensitive at best, and sadistic at worst, for management organizations to adopt a term so immediately evocative of the most shameful violations of human rights in the civilized world during the last 50 years at least.

Subclauses get me excited sometimes. Corporate marketing people are complete morons, that's all I'm trying to say here.

Read for yourself:
Start your new employees off on the right track so they stay around for the long haul.

You invest tons of time and money recruiting and hiring the best. Why waste it all on ineffective orientation practices? Keep your new employees around for the long haul by giving them the best start possible — a personalized onboarding experience.

What's wrong with just letting your new employees - the best and brightest minds available, apparently - pick up the corporate culture and expectations from their supervisors and coworkers? Unless there's something wrong with the existing corporate culture. Do you have something to hide? More importantly, do you actually believe that what you present to new employees during training will override their own observations of the way things are done at your organization? Hah!
Onboarding is a new approach to employee orientation that goes beyond just settling your employees in. It engages, integrates, and gets your new hires productive quicker — directly improving retention rates and the overall success of your organization.

You know, there are lots of turtles around the hike-and-bike trail. There are also squirrels, grackles, mourning doves, the occasional snake, pigeons, and a naked cyclist.

Guess what I'm keeping in my potted aloe next?

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Non, je ne regrette rien

Your average normal human being has roughly seven different options when it comes to a choice:

I have to
I ought to
I want to
I could
I'd rather not
I shouldn't
I can't

(We'll leave aside, for the moment, such irrational permutations as "I can't but I'll try anyway" and "I really should but dammit I don't wanna," which render our otherwise peaceable lives such an engaging mess.)

When you work in government - as a faceless bureaucrat, I mean, not a politician - most politicians aren't really in government anyway, they're in politics, which is a wholly unrelated field* - things are much simpler, because there are only two options:

I have to
I can't

Or "everything not forbidden is compulsory," as Wart's ants tell us in "The Once and Future King." T.H. White didn't work in government, but he attended post-Victorian English colleges - probably much the same thing.

The rule simplifies matters, but it's kind of a shame when there's something you feel you ought to do and you'd like to and you could but you don't have to so you can't. Coulda, woulda, shoulda just don't enter into it. But I suppose an aspiring career bureaucrat can't complain.

*Watch a few episodes of "Yes, Minister" and you get the idea.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Nothing in Particular

This is the first post of September, posted from Robbie's new apartment. His dog is awfully cute.

By the way, if you pass me on the hike-and-bike trail, do not high-five me. I'll miss. We'll both be so embarrassed.

Happy September!

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