workworkwork's Diaryland Diary


Mr. Coffee: the office is deserted. And someone I hate was caught in a lie! Mmm.

This is the week between Christmas and New Year's, and the office is oh so empty. I love it! I've worn the same pair of jeans to the office every single day this week, and I don't intend to break my winning streak tomorrow, Friday.

But even though the office is quiet, all the execs gone skiing or whatever, I still have a ton of work to do. But I can barely get myself to do any of it! Instead I shop online and check my million email accounts. I just do not want to work.

Before the holidays, there was a big company meeting (where we got presented with: blah blah blah). Afterwards my department went to the local P.F. Chang's (chinese food for white people) for "bonding drinks." That was when I found out (after the office mouse had three mai tais) that the product manager we all hate is interviewing at other companies! YAY! Because this other coworker is friends with, and ex-coworkers with, the woman interviewing him. But he lied about what he had been responsible for at our company, and the woman interviewing him had an exboyfriend who also worked at our company and DID do whatever it was that asshole product manager was taking credit for. So he is "not being considered." HAH! The Silicon Valley is very, very small. Take note liars!

(But it would really improve my quality of life if some other company would hire him...)

8:35 p.m. - 2005-12-29


Ms. Led: Spinning CEOs and Other ASKholes

So I am between jobs at the moment, and it is AWESOME. Especially because it's in direct contrast to my last terrible job, where I spent every single lunch hour walking around the neighborhood with my pedometer like a crazy person (pedometer-walking being the very last stage before metal-detecting at the beach) because it was the only way I could think of to avoid having to eat lunch with any of the other bitter and/or bipolar people at that company.

The job, like all terrible jobs, was fantastically rife with fantastically horrible moments, like the time someone asked the head of marketing some retarded question in one of the heinous weekly company-wide meetings, and he said to the person, "Good ask!" Not "Good question"..."Good ASK." Really? Are you in so much of a hurry that you don't have the time for the two syllables of "ques-tion"? Really.

So my second week on the job, we got a new CEO, and he was of course a nightmare. He immediately started sending out company-wide emails, total scrollers, about how he is an amateur DJ and also wrestler, and how if we're all very good, maybe he'd spin for us. Spin, like records. Me [inside, always inside]: "Promise me you will never, ever make me listen to you spin, and maybe I will strive to increase pageviews. In fact, you know what? Here's ten dollars of my own money, which I give you along with my request that you please, please, please don't bring your turntables into the office and then make us stand there...clapping? swaying? DANCING?"

My first meeting with him was one of those awful redesign jam sessions where people with no design experience (i.e., the CEO) start in with their "ideas." (Also, what the hell was I, a non-designer, doing in that meeting? I don't know.) Of course he immediately starts in with how the logo should look more like Google's, all "accessible" like that, with all the kindergarten colors? But maybe with a drop-shadow? But then, could it also be sort of like Apple's logo? More "rugged" like that? Me: "You mean...brushed steel?" Him: "Yeah! Like...metal." Me: "Oh yeah. Boys love the brushed steel!" Him: [FROWNIE.] So yeah, unemployment! Awesome.

5:08 p.m. - 2005-12-05


Mister Wizard: & etc.

A short while ago, I sat through a ninety minute meeting about ampersands. That's right, ampersands. A.k.a. "&". Perhaps you have never been in a ninety minute meeting about an ASCII character. This is not only because you are very, very lucky, but because you have never worked as a programmer in a tech company.

At first, when you are in a meeting about ampersands, you don't actually know that this is what the meeting is going to be about. I mean, who would call a meeting for that? Only crazy people. So, instead, the ampersand meeting is initially masked as a "character encoding strategy" meeting. Or, buzz word of the moment, an "IL8N" ("internationalization") meeting. Maybe it's just a generic meeting, a "platform" meeting. Whatever. You go because, well, actually, you aren't sure, it's only that going to meetings is pretty much what you do when you work for a large tech company.

The meeting's topic all unbeknownst to you, you swirl the dregs of your company-provided coffee, trying to muster some interest as the session gets of the ground. The beginning of any meeting is always deceptive because, like a date, you really can't tell which way it's going to go. Will there be a topic of import discussed? Will decisions be made which effect you? Are you going to glean some unexpected insight into corporate politics? Will you be stuck in the room for an hour and a half arguing, vehemently, about a single goddamn character? Who the hell knows.

The real killer about the ampersand meeting was that it does in fact matter. I honestly don't know if it's more annoying to get dragged into a meeting that has no point or a meeting that has an almost metaphysically absurd point. In the former scenario, you can adopt an attitude of graceful acceptance about your fate to lead a life lucky enough to be (really) well-paid to sit around doing nothing. In the latter scenario you are called to question the relative meaningfulness of your life and why it has been reduced to caring so much about radically trivial minutiae.

The ampersand, minute though it is, has some fairly serious usability issues, as we like to say, and not a few philosophical ones as well. Without boring you all to tears, the basic gist of the problem is that the ampersand is the almost universal escape character in programing languages. What that means is that when a computer is going about it's business, assembling text to ship off to the nearest terminal screen near you, it stops for a moment whenever it sees an ampersand and has to make a decision. Sometimes the ampersand is going to trigger the output of a special character, like the copyright symbol, other times it's going to be just a processing command that only the computer language understands. But what, you are asking yourself, I know you are, do you do if you want just the ampersand? The answer, like just way too much of life in the tech industry, is a tad recursive: you use the ampersand itself to make an ampersand! So, instead of typing just "&" you have to type "& amp;" . (I am boring you, I know.) This is what's called, kind of, "escaping" the ampersand.

Anyway, to make a long story short, if you have to run some ampersands through too many languages, you have to escape them way too many times. And then it's just tedious for everyone. And non-intuitive. (As if it wasn't already.)

Why should I have to double escape? What about industry standards? Programming conventions? Valid code? Extended character sets? UTF8 native support? Ohmygod, stand back and let me at that white board so I draw you a diagram!

It's as if the world is going to end if you require double escaping. Or the entire company is going to collapse if you don't. And, wow, who knew how much everyone actually cared about this.

In a meeting like this, what happens is that the topic does vaguely effect your life (after all, those unescaped ampersands really do bring computer programs crashing down) so you can't help but get sucked in. I think of this as the Random Opinion Syndrome. Some meetings just by the very insanity of their topics, render everyone opinionated. And people realy do grab for those dry erase markers and gesticulate wildly. And everyone is magically capable of thinking up the one single instance where the proposed solution won't work.

And then the coffee runs out or the next team starts pounding on the conference room door and everyone walks out as if the whole topic doesn't matter which--let's be realistic here--it certainly doesn't on a global scale. Later, usually well after 10 p.m., someone sends an email around outlining the new policy which, magically once again, al those crazed dry-erase-pen wielders accept placidly. And just like that, my friends, are millions made.



Mr. Coffee: MBAs, elves

Man! Work is not that great today!

First: I phone interviewed a guy for the same position I have. He lives in LA and is way overqualified for this position; he has an MBA, and has run entire divisions at Google. I tried to tell my boss when I first got this resume, hey, um, this guy has an MBA? Why would he want this job? (I mean, I am seriously considering getting an MBA right now precisely because I feel like I've outgrown MY job, and want some proof in the form of a degree.) But she wanted me to phone interview him anyways. So I did, and one of my first questions was, so why are you interested in this job, with an MBA wouldn't you rather be working on the business side of this company? Which totally threw him off, and he took great pains to explain that the open position he was applying for was REALLY what he wanted. But dude, come on. You're just hoping my company pays for you to relocate from LA back to the Bay Area and then you can get on with some good jobhunting. I see through you! But, infuriatingly, my boss does not. When I spoke to her about him, after I interviewed, she kept pointing out things in his resume that fit our job description. And I kept saying, sure, he'd be doing that...but not the part right above that on his resume where he managed a team of 8 people and defined all the product requirements and did the financial planning...

Second: My company is a retail company, and all of us in the "headquarters" office have to volunteer to do customer service during Q4. It's called "elfing." (I feel like I should spell that backwards in case someone at my company googles "elfing" and figures out who I am? So then I just googled elfing myself, and discovered a journal dedicated to "further the scholarly study of the languages invented by J.R.R. Tolkien; is not specifically limited to Elvish languages; users are encouraged to discuss of Mannish, Dwarvish and all other languages invented by Tolkien" so now I feel much better about my anonyminity.) Anyways, the season of elfing is upon me and frankly if I wanted to interact with the general public this much I would have stayed a pizza waitress.

6:19 p.m. - 2005-11-28


Mr. Coffee: bridal showers and backstabbing

I've always disliked how at work you are supposed to do "friendly" things with your co-workers. Like, yesterday I went to a "bridal shower" type lunch for a girl who works in my department. She and I are not friends, I know nothing of her fiancee, and yet I had to chip in to buy her lunch niceties demand it? Anyways, it was very awkward because the new director of our department was invited, even though there are at least two people in my department who are trying to get her fired! In fact, one of the people trying to get her fired gleefully reported that this director was in a conference room with the HR person as he left! But then we still saved a seat for her at the bridal shower. It's all so nuts!

7:12 a.m. - 2005-11-22


Mr. Gemini Del Toro. Let me introduce myself.

I'm afraid that my tales of work will lull you to sleep. But there is a reason why I don't know HTML or anything about the World Wide Web, and I doubt any start-up would ever hire me. It is because I disappeared into a strange world where time stands still and technology is never updated. It is a world called The Humanities in Higher Education. (AKA: I am a good editor and writer and I need money. You could hire me!)

However, speaking of technology updates, I recently got a memo stating that they are going to install devices in the arms of the chairs in the larger lecture halls at the college where I teach so students can register their responses to lecture spontaneously. Perhaps we can make of this a Milgram experiment, and attach the student responses to electric shocks administered to the teacher.

In other news, all my good-faith efforts to figure out the rules of the new institution that employs me have failed. First there was the registrar snafu [details suppressed]. And now, today, when my students asked why their final paper was due on a certain day, I told them it was a rule of the college that classes that don't hold final exams have to collect final papers on the last day of class. That is what I was told. Then today, a mere hour after I had made the speech about rules, a general memo was sent to all faculty reminding us of what the rules are about finals, and its first item declared: "Classes that have papers in lieu of final exams must give students until the end of the exam period to complete their papers." (This translates to "a week later than what I told my students.")

And finally: As you well know, if you know me, I try very hard to maintain an air of decorum in my relationships with students. No one has to tell me what constitutes sexual harrassment. I am not going anywhere near it. However, today I almost sent this email message to a male student of mine (who had written to inform me that he was sending me an envelope containing forms so I could write recommendation letters for him): "I will be sure to keep an eye out for your package."

12:54 a.m. - 2005-11-22


Mr. Coffee: looking at startups

I worked on my resume last night. I want to change my job title; the job I have now is kind of a dead end. Instead of managing projects, I'd rather DEFINE the projects (and someone else can manage them). Someone I know gave my name to this startup in Palo Alto; I'm not sure about what they are doing, but I'm interviewing there on Wednesday.

It's funny how there are all these startups again--it's like 2000 all over again! Google is making people optimistic I think; they had no revenue model really, and launched when there were already lots of search engines, and they not only survived the dot com bust but their stock goes up and up every day.

I called an old friend of mine who is very silicon-valley savvy and asked him what he thought of this startup that I'm talking to on Wednesday; he told me that the woman who runs it is annoying (although, this guy is very easily annoyed) and showed me another startup, which is social networking for high school and college students. I sent him my resume and asked him to send it along to that company. I love social networking sites--right now I'm addicted to Flickr, and for months and months I was addicted to Friendster.

Being on the possible verge of a job change is not motivating me to do the work here at the job I already have. It's 10:30am and I have done zero work!

10:22 a.m. - 2005-11-21



From Mr. Coffee: Wow have I been feeling like bitching about work lately. My company has an insane HR person, all the product managers are jokes, and everyone in my company is a whiner. I can't wait to vent to you all! Welcome!

7:37 a.m. - 2005-11-21


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