Monday, December 9, 2019

Wrestling with words

Normally blog posts flow pretty quickly. The big 5 part extravaganza didn't actually take all that long to write. (But how long to edit out the expletives and slanderous examples, I hear the peanut gallery asking. Never mind.)

But this morning I've been thinking for two whole cups of coffee and nothing has come to mind. So I thought I'd share some progress on my other writing project, the Dwen's World stories. For those of you new to this (My long time readers might want to skip to the next para, unless you want to be reminded.) I started writing some of the hallucinations I had while working shift work. The plant is an interesting place, and I found science fiction and techno-thriller ways of making it even more interesting and dangerous. The first story, The Bone in the Digester, started off unable to decide if it was a love story, a techno-thriller, or a murder mystery. This grew over the decades, from computer to computer, text format to text format, once nearly getting lost in technological obsolescence, into several related stories spread over several decades. I like the intellectual struggle of seeing the story and characters in my head, and trying to translate that into the word by word experience that readers have. My characters are a fun crowd, usually willing to tell me about their lives, or try out various parts to see what goes with what. I can see them, hear their voices, and know how they'll react to most situations. I was once having lunch with a buddy and saw one of my characters coming out of the patio. That was a bit surreal and I nearly said hello.

There's a piece of software called Aeon Timeline that helps track people and events on a timeline, right down to the second if necessary, even using invented date systems if you want. This helps keep things in the right order, so that characters don't talk about something that hasn't happened yet. Sometimes birthdays are important. Being able to drive, or rent a car, or have kids in high school, or the amount of work experience you have are all related to how old a person is. The software lets you track birth and death dates, and calculates the ages of all the people involved in an event.

It looks like this.

You can see events across the top, in two groups. People are at the lower left, and the intersecting timelines are across the bottom. You can rearrange them as much as you want. I've got them grouped into background events, and a story arc. If you had several stories in several geographic areas that come together, you could group them separately for ease of working, or together to make sure everything lines up right. You can expand or contract the time scale, and things shift around on screen.

If you squint or embiggen, you'll see that I've got some events with a tentative date, like "Reception at Davenports, WHEN?" This is a case where I know the sequence of events, but not exactly when they take place, or how much time is between them. The timeline lets me move things around, and then smooth the text as required. I'm trying to work it so that each event on the timeline is a chunk of text, or affects the text.

It's the simple things, like knowing it's a summer day, and therefore your characters are not wearing parka and snow pants, or they are because it's February and they're going snowshoeing. Or not having them remind each other of events that took place a couple days ago. Or as I mentioned, having your characters talk about something that hasn't happened yet, or someone that isn't born yet. Or cell phones. When I started writing all this, they didn't exist. Starting about 2010 I need to have my characters becoming aware of cell phones. If I don't get it finalized soon, I'll have to start dealing with autonomous cars. Getting these things wrong indicate sloppy writing and take the reader out of the flow of the moment.

So I've been trying to nail down event dates and fixing the text. It gets complicated. There is one old chunk of text, the first hockey game. There are many events surrounding this, and I was trying to do too much at once, and some of it didn't work. So I tweaked the story line so that various things happened in their own chunk of text, and now I'm left with the dangling remnants, wondering if I even need the hockey any more, and when exactly Zoe gets pregnant. Which would then drive me back to those chunks of text for further revision.

There are things that happened to one character during the time span I'm looking at now, that are not part of that story. They come out quite a bit later in a different story. But I still have to write the character now, so when the reader sees the story coming out later, they go, now I get it, and not, WTF how is that possible?

It's lots of fun, with the timeline on the big computer screen, and the laptop on the desk near it, to say nothing of a mug of coffee or mint tea. Sometimes I'm looking at the laptop and trying to move the cursor by using the trackpad. Plus, where the laptop sits is where Curtis likes to sit when he's 'assisting' me. The difficulties us writers face.

You still get a Deadwood of the Day

In the serendipity department, here's another photo with the same file number, the lovely and triumphant Michelle!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

OK, this book scared the crap out of me

And it should frighten you too. Not just a big scare on one topic, but big scares on many topics.

How much do you sleep? You're probably wrong unless you use one of those sleep apps to track it, and even then I'm not sure how accurate or useful they are. But just like drunks underestimate how impaired they are, sleep deprived people under estimate how sleep deprived they are, and how badly  it has impacted them. No, you are almost certainly not one of those people that doesn't need to sleep much.

One example, just to start. We all know, or should know, that driving while under the influence of alcohol is a criminally stupid idea. Studies have shown that people awake for 19 hours are as cognitively impaired as those who were at .08% blood alcohol volume, ie, legally impaired.

In some ways, driving when really short on sleep is worse than being alcoholically impaired. Why? Because when driving drunk, you react slowly. You are late in braking, late in evasive maneuvers, slow in understanding the situation in front of you, but at least your eyes are open.

When you are short of sleep, you will have micro sleeps of a few seconds at a time, when you do not react at all. You can't do anything about this. Your eyes are closed. How bad is that? At 50 KM/Hr, in 2 seconds you will travel 28 m. If an average car is 4.5 m long (15 feet), then you are travelling 6 car lengths in 2 seconds. Assume all is well as your tired brain starts a micro sleep. Lots can happen in 2 seconds. Someone changes lanes, or signals a left turn, or hits their brakes, or the road curves, or you tug the steering wheel slightly, or a hundred other things. You wake up and are transfixed with horror at the changes. Your brain reacts and thinks more slowly when tired, and especially when just waking up. You have to decide what to do, and then send the signals to your hands and feet, and you're likely to over-compensate. The whole thing becomes a physics demonstration that is likely to end badly for all involved. It does, many times every day. It's much worse at highway speeds, which explains the Deerfoot Trail some days.

In many ways we are at the mercy of the drivers around us. We depend on them to signal their intentions, follow the rules of the road, and react rationally to common roadway events. People that can't do this are a menace to us all.

But people short on sleep are a menace to themselves in many ways. The book goes into this in readable, but exquisite detail. Going short of sleep every once in a while is bad enough, but consistently doing so is measurably, demonstrably bad for your health. Most people in North America are running short on sleep, to the detriment of driving, working, and learning behaviours, as well has having a dramatic impact on your overall short and long term health.

Where to start? Sleep is crucial to learning. Study after study have demonstrated that a lack of REM sleep impairs memory and reduces learning. I know this from my own experiences. So what do we do to kids? We make them go to school early in the day. This cuts off REM sleep, which tends to happen more in the later part of a night's sleep. If school started later in the morning the kids would be more awake.

I'm amazed anyone becomes a doctor, what with the residency work requirements. It turns out the doctor who invented this regimen was a cocaine addict. At the end of a 24 hour work shift you are essentially functioning as if you've just had 2 stiff drinks. Is that really how you want your doctor to be working? It goes down hill quickly, then the poor sod has to drive home.

Going short of sleep quickly compromises your immune system. Cancer metastasizes 200% more quickly in mice running short of sleep, compared to well rested mice. Being short of sleep can actually cause cancer by diminishing one form of macrophages that fight cancer, and boosts levels of another form of macrophage that promotes cancer growth. The world health organization has officially classified nighttime shift work as a "probable carcinogen."

People who are sleep deprived are more likely to get the flu. Even more frightening, if you get the flu shot when tired (the study compared one group restricted to4 hours a night for 6 nights, to another that got 7 hours a night) you are half as likely to generate an immunization response. Half! There you are, all proud of yourself for getting the shot, and you are still likely to get the flu and pass it on to other people. The same is true for other vaccines.

Recent deplorable political developments, (Trump, Kenney) seem to prey on people's emotions, rather than present facts. One of the impacts of being short of sleep is that the part of your brain that regulates emotions shuts down. People short of sleep tend to over-react emotionally, and show violent mood swings. They 'just snap.' With good sleep, our prefrontal cortex is in charge, inhibiting emotional responses. Maybe we should be requiring people to get several good night's sleep before being allowed to vote.

Now think about cops. They work all kinds of weird hours, have the stress of dealing with all sorts of shit most of us can barely imagine let alone cope with, and they try not to think about how any random interaction with the public could go bad. They carry lethal weapons and are trained to use them. They are the last people we want thinking emotionally, or over-reacting to a situation. Yet the more sleep impaired they are, the more likely it is to happen.

The mental health people have long been aware that everyone with a mental health problem, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, have abnormal sleep patterns. The theory was that the disorder caused the sleep problem. Studies have shown that depriving people of sleep can induce behaviours very like those disorders, so they are coming to realize it's a two way street.

Just as tinnitus tells the brain there is sound where in fact there is none, a lack of sleep can drive a person into what should be a temporary problem, but then it feeds on itself, producing a negative spiral that can end up in drug addiction, homelessness, and other issues.

Sleep missed is like water down the drain. We can't 'make it up.' Get crappy sleep after a learning experience, and better sleep later doesn't revive that learning. It's gone.

Sleeping pills are the worst! They do not give you normal sleep. They sedate you, which is something else entirely. Then you get into a series of drugged states fighting in your brain. You take drugs to try to make you sleep, but then have to get up and function the next morning so you drink lots of coffee, which keeps you awake the next night, and so on. Meanwhile, you're never quite awake, and never quite asleep. To say this isn't good for you is an understatement.

My own experience with shift work illustrated the problems. I had some scares driving, and probably more than I remember. I had no appetite. I wasn't forming memories. My sleep sucked, when I could sleep at all. After only 5 or so years of shift work, I was a wreck. Linda was worried about getting that call from the police. It took me 6 months after getting off shift work to mostly settle into a regular pattern of feeling tired at night, and hungry at something approaching meal times during the day. Even now, nearly 30 years later, I still have trouble sleeping more than 6 hours at once, and often it isn't restful sleep. I make a point of taking afternoon naps when I can.

As you can tell, I got the book out of the library, but would probably buy it to refer to it again. It's interesting, informative, scary, and excellent reading. So put a hold on it or buy it, and in the meantime get more sleep!

How do you get more sleep? I knew most of these, but here's his list:

  • A regular schedule
  • Exercise earlier in the day rather than later
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine
  • Avoid alcohol just before bed
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late in the evening. (Oh boy, I found out this one the hard way!)
  • Investigate your prescribed medications for sleep disruptive side effects.
  • Don't nap after 3pm
  • Relax before bed
  • Take a hot bath before bed (It sounds counter intuitive, but he explains why it works.)
  • Dark, cool, gadget free bedroom
  • Get the right sunlight exposure during the day.
  • Don't lie awake in bed if you can't sleep.

Deadwood of the Day

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Reflections on a so-called career, part 5

Continued from Part 4

(Not the most graceful transition between parts. I was discussing not having the taint of desperation in job negotiations.)

How do you get there? I've talked about that, but the main thing is to spend less than you earn. Depending on where you are in life, it might be much less. Make the adjustments to do that, whatever they are. Maybe that means sharing rented accommodation with roomies. Living in your parent's basement. Taking public transit. Doing without that fancy new phone. Pay cash or do without. Whatever.  Financial security is the bedrock of work security.

For example, money spent on a faux-coffee drink at Starbucks is gone forever, quite literally peed down the drain. The only exception is if it's part of your networking budget, and then for crying out loud drink real coffee. Drinking some artsy fartsy faux-coffee drink in a networking meeting spells wanker. Unless that's the industry you're trying to break into.

 Money invested carefully will double every 7.5 years or so. A career gets you 4 or 5 doublings depending on returns, so the earlier you start, the better, and better yet if it's in a TFSA (for Canadians only). So that $10 coffee and snack today, could be about $300 by retirement. No biggie, you say, I'd rather have the coffee. Now think about that coffee and snack every day during the first year of work, about 250 days. So that's $2500 in the first year, growing to about $80K by retirement. So, coffee and a snack today, or steps toward economic security? Hmmmm.

And related to money, do not buy a house! In the past that was one of the best things you could do. Prices went up, value went up. Selling was not difficult. They were inexpensive compared to annual income or rent.

You need to buy shelter, no doubt of that. But there are several ways of getting it, consider your alternatives, do the math. Houses are stupidly expensive now. (Damn boomers!) They have become difficult to sell. That's fine if you know you want to live in the same place for a decade or more, but what if you're young? You don't know where you want to live, or where your company will ask you to move to.

I've told lots of young engineers fresh out of engineer school and starting their first real job to go anywhere they send you. Go to the boonies. (Maybe not Fox Creek, you might want to think about that one.) Go overseas. Get the experience. Accumulate the 'no shit, there I was' stories. Live in a dump before you have a family to take care of. Live cheap and save your money. Maybe you'll meet a nice partner along the way. Maybe you'll discover you like living somewhere the air doesn't hurt your face. If you rent it's easy to move on short notice.

Cars are another trap. A car is typically eight to ten thousand dollars a year, all up. In much of Canada you probably need one. Do the research and get the right one. Rent a bigger one for the rare times you need it, and it's cheaper to pay delivery charges for big stuff. You may not need a car at all, depending on where you live in relation to work and groceries. If you think about a budget of 8 to 10K a year for public transit, cabs, or car rentals rather than a second car, you're likely to come out ahead. Only an idiot would think a car gives you status, and BMW drivers are the worst.

My usual advice is to keep your head down, do your work, stay out of office politics, and forget about work when you go home at the end of the day. Some jobs are a bit more demanding. If you want to be a movie star, or a politician, or a writer, or a pro athlete, or a rock star, you need to work a little harder. A lot harder. You need every little edge, all the time. You'll almost certainly have to lie to people and then keep track of the lies. They will catch up to you. Growing a thick skin is a good idea in any job, and these will need the thickest of all, and that's before you deal with the success paparazzi. Good luck.

Money is a medium of exchange, and we all have to have a certain amount of it. But our society is devoted to finding stupid things for you to spend money on. This keeps you poor, and at the mercy of rich people. Society tells you to buy the big house, the fancy car, the expensive vacations, all the toys and trinkets made by slave labour in China. Trust me on this, all that crap is meaningless and will not make you happy. All the money in the world will not make you happy, if you are not a happy person.

Figure out what makes you happy. Do more of that, the sooner the better. Hint, it's probably not work. Figure out who you are happy to hang around with, and make it rewarding for them to be around you. Drop toxic people out of your life. Drop toxic job situations out of your life.

Figure out how much money you actually need, and it's probably less than you think. Keep in mind the rich people that run the banks and stores want to keep you poor and paying interest. They'll settle for you thinking you need lots of money because they want to keep you working and putting more money into their investments that pay a crap return and have high management expense ratios. They do not want you wealthy enough to pick your independent financial advisor, or smart enough to build your own investment strategy of exchange traded funds.

Figure out what you will and will not do for various money amounts. Build the foundation so you can stick to your principles and say no when required.

You've heard this before. Nobody on their death bed says they wished they'd spent more time at work.  They wished they had spent more time with the people they loved, or doing the things they enjoyed doing. That's better than work any day.

This is the look you need to be giving your work colleagues all the time. Open. Knowing. Firm. Somewhat dubious.

The End

I just finished a book on sleep that scared the crap out of me. I'll try to get it up next, since in many ways it ties into work. I'll link back to it here.

Deadwood of the Day

Friday, December 6, 2019

Reflections on a so-called career, part 4

Continued from Part 3

What office you have, or the view from it isn't important. Your office chair is. Your ass is in it for a long time. Get a good one, claim ergonomic issues if you can. Set it up as best you can. Get one of those standing desks if they let you, and stand periodically. If you move offices, make double sure your chair is moved with you. If possible, move it into the office of a buddy that isn't moving, and get it the day after.

You won't get much choice about monitors, but ask. For my work I wanted lots of screen space. Two monitors was the minimum, and for years I had three. One for the SQL tool, one for xl, and one for the database front end. It's an effort every time you switch what you're thinking about. The harder it is to switch, the more effort and the more likely you'll screw something up. Trying to find the xl screen you want can kill your thought processes.

Try to minimize interruptions when you are deep into it. My colleagues soon learned that if I was scribbling little squares and arrows on a whiteboard, the only acceptable reason for bothering me was that the building was on fire. When your brain is full of some task, holding all sorts of stuff in particular relationships, an interruption is fatal. A 30 second question can cost you 30 minutes to put it all back again. Work out a 'don't bug me' system with your colleagues, and respect theirs.

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Many of my jobs didn't exist when I was a kid. It is completely reasonable to assume that the same is still true today, that what people will do for pay in the future isn't a thing now. Unless you're passionate about a thing, go for a general education, and learn how to learn. Pick up some specific salable skills that you can explain to a recruiter in an elevator pitch, or slightly longer, and learn how to do that. My work was often the complex intersection between technical data integrity analysis, project planning, software training, and process mapping, and that's difficult to explain to someone who doesn't actually do that work.

Learn to type with all your fingers, the faster the better. I've often said that the most valuable thing I learned in school was how to type, and I've always been grateful my mom talked me into it. Even if her reasoning that caught my attention was 'you'll meet lots of girls', but she knew that computers were a coming thing. It hurts my soul how some people type. The faster you can type, the faster you'll dispose of emails and reports.

Learn how to think logically and remove emotion from the issue. (hint, it's really hard.) Learn how to figure out what order things need to happen in.  Focus on what's important for you and the organization, which might be subtly different things. What your boss thinks is important might be something else entirely, and needs careful management. There's been several times I was kept, and my boss let go, which is a weird thing.

It used to be that you had little control over your pay. It's probably true if you are in a union shop. But negotiations about pay are critically important to your working life. This does not always mean getting the top dollar. Several times I've traded money for time. Once to get an extra week of vacation earlier than technically allowed, and once to get off shift work.

There is a continuum of pay for the work you can do for an organization. At the top is the very most they would pay assuming they need your specific and particular skills in a really tight job market and you're buddies with the management, and blah blah blah. Then there is the least they would pay, which is probably lower than you would like to think about. You never want to be that top end guy, unless there are pretty specific circumstances, and you have an exit strategy. Why? Because if things change, and they will, you are at the top of the let go list, especially if you pushed really hard in negotiations. Consider the company might beat you to your exit strategy.

You want to be in the ball park for your skills. If you have a good relationship with your recruiter, they are usually willing to help you find that ball park. After all, the more you get paid, they more they get. Most of the time I was willing to be easy about the starting rate, with the idea we would re-evaluate in a reasonable period. Several times I got paid more than my top asking rate, because they wanted me and my skills. When you're talking money, it's gold to be able to point to specific things you've done, how your contributions add value. That's better than talk any day. The usual rule is that the first one to mention a specific figure comes out on the short end. It's a bit of a dance, and the better you learn to do it, the better off you'll be.

If you've read some of my other essays about money, you'll know I talk about saving and investing money. Many people have a nose for how desperate you are in any set of negotiations, and especially so for job related negotiations. When you are the desperate one, it's hard to come out even, let alone on top.

Now I'll tell you a real secret. The best way to avoid being the desperate one is not your education, not your specific work skills, not your position, not that you're blowing the boss, not how long you've been there.

It's nothing to do with work at all. It's how much money you have. How long can you do without a paycheque? If that answer is a couple weeks or a month, you have a big problem. You need your employer, they know it, and they like it that way. They hint that layoffs are coming and they want you to work extra, you don't have a choice. If you're out of work, and the potential employer offers you less than what you'd like, you might not have much choice. I've been there, it's no fun at all. Fixing that is one of your first priorities  in your work life.

Now imagine you hear those winds shifting at work, but you have a year's income stashed away. You know you'll be ok regardless, so you don't listen to reorg rumours. You are on top of your networking and have reached out to a buddy's buddy for a chat about their staffing needs. If it looks good you can go in strong, knowing you don't need their specific offer. You will be relaxed. You sleep at night knowing you have choices. You will not have the taint of desperation. That adds to your desirability.

Continued in Part 5.

This was never the view from my office. But it would have been a quiet working place, if a little dark normally.

Deadwood of the Day

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Reflections on a so-called career, part 3

Continued from Part 2

Meetings are the bane of working life. I hate them. Almost all are a waste of time. It will start late because someone isn't there, or they need to figure out the technology for a call in. No matter how long it's scheduled for, it will take all that time and accomplish nothing. Some idiot will monopolize the conversation setting the stage, telling the participants what they already know.

Ask for an agenda and decline, if possible. Say that you don't think you can contribute, or that you're hard at it on something that is important to your boss and ask if you can email in your contribution. It will take far less time to read the notes than to suffer through the babble. The only exception is if the person running the meeting is really good at it, and can keep the meeting on topic and end on time.

Make a game of saying the absolute minimum number of words yourself. In this sort of rigged game, you win if you can say nothing. Stay head down, make it look like you are taking notes, but work on something important, like one of your actual deliverables. Leave when the meeting time is over. Just get up and leave, even if some fool is still babbling about one last thing. Don't be that babbling person. Everyone hates them.

One way to avoid meetings is to figure out when you do your best work, and book that time as busy. People wanting to schedule a meeting will typically be looking for the mutually common free space. Don't be greedy about it; you won't get away with booking all morning every morning as busy. If they try to schedule a meeting during your time, make them beg for it, make them owe you the favour. Unless they are a big enough boss that the answer is, yes sir three bags full.

Email is another bane of working life. It will eat yours if you let it. I once had a boss who had more than 5000 unread emails in his inbox. With him, we learned how many characters were displayed on his mobile screen summary, and never wrote anything longer than that because we knew he wouldn't scroll. I don't remember the number, but it was about the length of a tweet.

I typically used my inbox as the 'action needed' file. It usually had fewer than a dozen read emails in it, much to the astonishment of my colleagues. How? Be ruthless and aggressive about managing it. Either you manage it, or it will own you.

When I got in in the morning, I'd check email. Since I was on top of it there wasn't usually much. I would read, oldest to newest, looking for something that would bump whatever work I had planned that day. (You DO plan what you are going to work on, right?) I'd ask myself for each, "does this drive me to do something and do they have the stroke to ask me to do it?" If not, I'd move it to a file. I didn't care how much file space it took on the server, that wasn't my problem. I'd do a quick assessment of what was required to clear that item out of my inbox, and compare that to whatever I had planned.

I'd either decide to do one, some, or all of the inbox items, or carry on with planned work. Any new emails during this time would be ignored. I'd do what it took to clear the emails, maybe it's writing a SQL query and sending someone a spreadsheet, or reading meeting notes and responding that I had done so, or if it was a big task, responding with a proposed delivery date. I'd check my calendar for meetings (gah!) and write time, place, topic in my notebook. Then I'd turn off the email.

Yes, I know that sounds like heresy. I'd turn it off and focus on something I wanted to get done. If possible I'd go to 10 or 11 o'clock and turn on email again to repeat the above process. Check again midafternoon. I had a planned time to leave the office, and I made it pretty clear that unless there was a big problem, I was leaving. So the last email check was simply a look to see if there was something that was hair on fire urgent from someone important. A simple request, even what looked like a easy 5 minute thing was deferred till the next day. It's those kind of things that go all pear-shaped when you're trying to do it under time pressure. Constantly checking your email every time it chimes kills your productivity. If they want something now, make them come to you and knock on your office door. Most are too lazy, and will send the email. Deal with it on your terms.

I never deleted an email. All my sent ones were automatically filed. I'd learn how to find things using search, and in fact often wrote emails with the idea I'd have to search for them later. Keywords are your friend. If someone sent a request asking for something I'd sent them, I'd be a jerk and resend the original email. Yes, I know it's a hostile act implying illiteracy or incompetence. Do it anyway.

One boss came and asked me to explain a complex spreadsheet. (Complex even by my standards, such that it took longer to write the explanatory email than to generate the data on many tabs.) I opened the email on one screen, opened the spreadsheet on another, and proceeded to read the email to him, pointing at tabs and data on the xl. He clearly got the message I didn't think much of his literacy skills, especially when the answer to his first question was the next sentence.

He was a bit of a special case. He liked to rearrange people's spreadsheets and come back to ask about problems. Sort of like a guy adding up numbers and jumping on a trivial rounding thing as an example of a big problem. I told him I wasn't interested in his data manipulation that might have corrupted it. I took him into a SQL table that was my original xl, and then showed him the actual SQL, and said I'd explain that to him clause by clause so he would understand my data. He left, and never played with one of my spreadsheets again.

Continued in Part 4.
Would you believe I just asked Curtis to attend a meeting?

Driftwood of the Day

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Reflections on a so-called career, part 2

Continued from Part 1

You need to know if you are in an organization that values your time, or your results. For much of my work, they didn't care when I got in, how long I took for lunch, or when I left. They assumed I was a grownup and could manage my time to deliver my results. I got paid by the hour, and there was typically a maximum number of hours I could bill per month, but I could bill less if I wanted. They wanted my spreadsheets that told them things they needed to know, (even if they sometimes didn't want to know), and that typically nobody else in the organization could tell them. They didn't care how long it took, or what I had to do to produce them.

However, some places care about your time. They want you sitting at your desk by a certain time. You are allowed a certain number of minutes at certain times for break, and you can leave at a certain time. If you are stuck in such a world, do what it takes to obey. Punch that time clock. Learn to do your work in that time or less, and use the rest of the time to figure out how to get the fuck out of there. Unless you like that world, of course.

Related to time, I'm baffled by people that are reliably late. I simply don't get it. Sure, every now and then shit happens, and when it does, everybody is late. I'm talking about normally. One of the reasons I liked doing workouts alone is that I could get going when I wanted. The bigger the group, the more likely it is that one person will show up at the planned leaving time, figuring they are on time, but they need to pump up their bike tires, fix their snack, find their goggles, pee, change their pants, whatever. It's annoying and inconsiderate. Even at work, going for lunch in a group was often a gong show.

Which, as an aside, is why I don't believe most conspiracy theories. Any project manager can bring you to slit your wrists despair with stories of how hard it is to get a group of people to do some simple tasks to a particular standard by some deadline and what can go wrong along the way. Which is why project manager is one of the worst jobs in the world. Beware jobs with other titles that translate to project manager. I digress.

What I said earlier about being grownup and managing your time, you should know how long it takes to get out of the house. Whatever you need to do between getting out of bed, and getting out of the house, you should know how long it takes, and how fast you can do it when you're running late. It usually starts the night before. I like to make sure my swim bag is packed if I'm going to swim. Lunch is in a container in the fridge. I don't need to get gas on the way to work or wherever I'm going. Know what you're going to wear and have it ready to put on. Make some reasonable allowance for traffic, or public transit problems, and leave to get there on time. Never, ever, be late for a job interview. Infinitely better to sit in the lobby coffee shop for an hour reviewing your interview research, than be one minute late.

As an aside, and this is coming from a childless adult, I know nothing of getting some place on time with a child involved. My go-to solution around problems with children involves duct tape. You probably want to find other solutions.

Do not hit the snooze button on your alarm clock. Get one without it if you can. Once you know how long it takes to get out of the house, set your clock for that time. Get to bed at a reasonable time and get up when the clock goes off. Let me say that more slowly. Set the clock for the amount of time you need. Get. Up. When. It. Goes. Off. I don't understand how this is difficult. Just do it.

There are lots of rules about how to get ahead in the world, but one of the reliable ways to put yourself ahead of most other people is show up on time, ready to get on with it. Learn how to do that. Do it day in, day out. Do the planning, do the preparation, then get on with it.

Continued in Part 3.

This has nothing to do with the blog, unless you want to get into a complicated metaphor about the road leading to your goal, but you can't see all of it, and maybe there are trolls waiting around the hill.

Deadwood of the Day

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Reflections on a so-called career, part 1

This got long. Get a coffee, or wine, or your favourite tipple. There is a bit of rantiness, and definitely some political incorrectness. In fact it got so long that I broke it up into shorter chunks.  This is part 1 of what is currently a 5 part series. They might be posted over consecutive days, or they might not. They will be linked together as each new part gets published.

Here we go!

It occurred to me that after spending about 40 years thinking about work, looking for it when I didn't have it, sometimes bored with it when I did, and now not caring much about it, I'm in a position to look back on the whole experience and babble. Maybe this is senility setting in, but maybe I'll save some kid a horrific career experience. Maybe I'll cure some delusional mid-career worker bee.

I was never fussed about a job title, and you shouldn't be either. The title means nothing. At one company, there were more people with "vice president" in their title than any other single title. Mostly now, titles are a conglomeration of words that mean nothing to those outside the trade, and sometimes even those within it. If some employer offers you a fancy title, or more money, take the money every time.

Titles used to imply status, but that can change. It used to be that airline pilot was a glamorous title. My dad was one during that time, and I suspect my mom might have some comments on that. My brother recently retired from the same profession, and I'm pretty sure it was him that said he was really a bus driver with a bigger rule book, with more things that could go wrong, and potentially catastrophic consequences if they did. Keep in mind that your job title might not mean what you think it means.

I've said this before, but there are only two ways to leave a job. On your terms, your timing, your reasons. Or your employers terms, their timing, and no reason, which I guarantee will suck. The first choice is better, every time. If you go in every day expecting to be told to leave, and all you have to do is put on your jacket, get your lunch from the fridge (they usually do these things in the morning), and maybe a photo of your spouse or kids off your desk, you have the right frame of mind.

The company does not care about you or your family. You are a cog producing work they want, and they can decide any time they don't want that work done, or don't want you doing it if they can find someone cheaper. Being nice to you is buying social license to abuse you in other ways, like paying you less. Keep your eye on the ball of self-interest.

If you must have a job at all, the best time to look for one is when you already have one. I wasn't good at it, but you should always be expanding your network and staying in touch. There's a reason all those "making of" extras on movie disks have the stars gushing about how good it was to work with a particular team. They know they might need to work with them again, or need them to connect up with someone else.

Take your buddies to coffee on a regular basis. Chat about what's going on in their lives, trade your industry gossip, who's working where, who is looking for work, who is looking for people. Then that day when you need the gossip, when you sense the winds are shifting at your current job, it's not asking for a favour or imposing on a buddy. It's more of the same. It ought to go without saying that if you can connect up someone else, do it.

My last couple jobs, I supplied the resume after they made the decision to hire me. That's not the typical experience. The job hiring process sucks for all involved. You put your resume in, and it joins potentially hundreds of other resumes in some poor sod's inbox. Trust me, they do not read every resume, poring over the details. They skim, looking for a reason to reject and move on to the next resume. The first words they see had better relate to what they are looking for, which unfortunately might not be what was in the ad. They'll likely take the first half dozen that meet their criteria and go to the next step. Yours might not even be seen, and you likely aren't going to get told anything about it. One job lead via a personal contact is better than a 1000 random job ad applications, even if you are qualified.

Job reviews are a waste of time. Filler work to keep the HR trolls happy. If you're doing something wrong, you want to get told right away. So be really clear with your boss about your deliverables. What, exactly, are you expected to produce, and by when? Then deliver on time at the very latest, and preferably a bit early. Build a relationship with your boss to get feedback about your work in real time so a quick "Hey, did that spreadsheet make them happy, or do they need more data? Happy to tweak it." in the hallway on the way to a meeting is normal. Finding out there is a minor problem is gold in the keep your job department. Whatever the problem is, you can fix it. Finding out a year later when they're spitting you onto the sidewalk like used chewing gum is much too late. Most of the time, the nice things they say about your work is meaningless. Look at what they pay you, how big of a raise you got, or the bonus. That tells you everything you need to know about what they think of you.

To be continued in Part 2.

This photo has nothing to do with the blog, it's just there because I've looked at it every day for the last little while as I'm pulling up the Deadwood photo of the day. Now it will drop out of that smart folder.

Deadwood of the Day

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