Thursday, May 22, 2003

N.Y. Post: Writer plagiarized from National Enquirer - May. 21, 2003

I think the Post really should have caught this. I mean, Madonna hasn't been seen canoodling with a two-headed cow since her 'Material Girl" phase.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The Long Ride Home

Last night and this morning, I made my first bicycle commute between Marlborough and home, a 48-mile round trip. That means that in the past 15 hours I commuted further than I did in most weeks when I worked in Cambridge. I don't think I'll be doing this every day, but once a week isn't so bad. I drove the bike out here yesterday morning, along with a change of clothes and anything else I might need today, then rode home last night and back out this morning. Thank goodness for the fitness center and its towel service, so all I had to do was drag my sweaty carcass into the locker room and shower, without having to pack all the toiletries in and out on my bike.

For the record, I thought of doing this to make my long commute manageable before Bicycling magazine suggested it. And while I realize that Bike to Work Week was last week, I opted for Bike to Work in the Sun Week, instead. I am a fair-weather activist, at best.

I learned a few things on my long ride there and back again, which will be presented, as always, in bulleted form:

  • 24 miles is a long way to go first thing in the morning.

  • While Route 20 may be the only east-west route from Marlborough into Boston, it is not the prettiest. It's like riding on the edge of a highway. Wait, it is a highway! That would explain some of the honking when I took the lane.

  • All of Eastern Massachusetts slopes down toward the ocean. This may not sound profound, and I know that all land masses tend statistically downward from the mountains to the ocean. Eastern Mass, however, has a perceptible tilt to it.

  • When you're hungry, you forget that a Clif Bar looks like a foil-wrapped turd and you start to think of it as the greatest treat you could put in your mouth. Not that this makes it any easier to choke down when you have no saliva left. (Hey, I didn't promise these would all be pretty.)

  • The Sudbury River stinks, especially when it has been left out in the sun all day. Ditto for large raccoons.

  • There is a lot more roadkill out there than you notice going by in a car.

  • Big trucks would rather crowd a bike than oncoming traffic. I guess I already knew this, but the lesson is driven home in a new way when the truck in question is going 50 mph (don't tell my wife that one).

  • A reverse commute is not as advantageous on a bike as in a car. At least when the traffic is heavier, it also moves more slowly. I suspect that many of the cars on my side of the road were so enjoying taunting their jammed brethren with their speed that they forgot to look ahead. That, or people are idiots no matter which direction they are driving.

I also got to see some interesting scenery. Until now, I had the impression that the further west you went, the nicer the towns were, by virtue of a sort of general suburban effect. Turns out I was wrong, and there is a fairly seedy section sandwiched between the historic burbs of Sudbury and Marlborough. According to the map it's part of Marlborough, but you wouldn't know it from riding through it. They even spell the name of the town differently: "Marlboro." I figured that either Philip Morris (pardon me: "Altria") got a sweet endorsement deal or else the folks on the lo-rent side of town couldn't afford the extra silent letters. Either way, I plan to stop in at "Psychic Readings by Cindy" on my next ride and ask her if she can sense a more scenic route that won't take me 10 miles out of my way.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Now I know why the caged bird sings...'s to keep from going mad! The environment at my new job is so enervating that, regardless of how much sleep I had the night before, I am ready to pass out on my keyboard by 2:30 every afternoon. The quiet hum of the fluorescent lights, the bland beige of my cube walls, and the utter lack of any kind of conversation anywhere in this vast, cavernous maze all conspire to sap my will to live! Can hazardous levels of blandness qualify as a hostile work environment?

My old job may have had underwater stock options, constantly shifting direction, and a sense that all that was good about the company was steadily being replaced by what was expedient, but at least it had human contact! At least there, on the rare occasions that I was bored, I could launch a Nerf dart at someone to get their attention. Here, I'd have to get a Nerf mortar to get it over the walls, and I'd have to attach a homing beacon so I could find it in the maze.

Speaking of mazes, I still get lost in this building every day. If I ever get cocky and stray from one of the two known routes to my desk, I usually have to go back downstairs, or possibly even outside, to get back to the front door or the cafeteria and start over again. The mind-boggling combination of hundreds of exactly identical cubicles in slightly different configurations leave my admittedly poor sense of direction screaming for mercy. I wander from room to room, looking for some landmark: a conference room that I've seen before, a printer with a familiar-looking printout on it, even some small desk toy left above wall level by some adventurous soul. I've taken to using the toys and the names on the cubes as my favorite landmarks ("Left at the foam snowman, then a right at Jocelyn Miramino and straight on till morning.").

I don't think it's this bad everywhere. I have been in other big companies and managed to walk around without getting so totally lost. This place is so bad, I expect to see graffiti on the walls from previous captives:

Theseus was here. I hate my Dad.
Watch out fer Injun Joe. He almost got me an Becky --T.S.
Keep smelling the cheese, then find new cheese. But don't use it for shampoo, or try to make shoes from it. I'm really sick of cheese.

I'm going to take a pack of Post-its with me on my next explore and leave them on the walls to mark each turn. As long as I get back before the cleaning crew comes through, I should be OK. But I'm bringing a Balance bar, just in case.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

I've got a new blog (yeah, like I was doing such a bang-up job keeping this one going). It's about work, in general, and my theories on how to do it better. Separating it from this blog kept this space free for continued random (but deep) thinking.

Check it out, if you want. Or don't, if you want to keep spinning your wheels. It's up to you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Busy few weeks. New job, new environment. I'm a consultant now, which means that not only do I get to experience all the different ways that companies try to fix things, now I get to tell them how they should do it! The side effect of this is that now I get to see the inside of some much bigger companies than I have worked with in the past. I've always preferred the more dynamic environment of the small or startup company. Now, I'm part of a startup, but I report every day to a Fortune 500. Strange mix.

Now, I expected life to be a little bit different in a larger company, and obviously understood that the Dilbert factor was going to go way up, but I was still unprepared for the sheer level of bureaucracy that I encountered when I walked in the door. I continue to be amazed by the number of people who receive a paycheck for essentially making other people follow instructions. I'm also shocked by the amount of freedom that people are comfortable giving up in order to have a job.

Things that annoy me about my new engagement:

  • I have no admin access on my computer, so I can't install anything without either: a) wading through a byzantine ticketing system to (hopefully) file a ticket with the right IT sub-department to give me access, or b) waiting on the phone for 30 minutes to get a live person and walk them through the installation on my computer. I just want to synch my Palm!!!

  • Restricted access to the Internet. The official explanation is "security," but really, where's the security risk in The Onion? I've run into the Red Screen of Rejection so many times just in the course of trying to find information, I'm surprised that an IT SWAT team hasn't descended upon my cubicle to confiscate my keyboard. Actually, I can't believe that Blogger isn't on their restricted list.

  • In the same vein, employees here are not allowed to access external email, again in the name of security. POP3 is just plain blocked, and every major Web mail site is restricted. I'm beginning to suspect that "security risk" is a synonym for "personal time." It took me almost an entire day to figure out a way around that one.

  • Meetings. Nothing happens without a minimum of two meetings, and generally a pre-meeting conference to plan for the meeting. As far as I can tell, email is only a way to send meeting invitations, pre-meeting documentation, and meeting minutes. I like to talk as much as the next guy, but occasionally I like to actually think on my own, too. It's so bad here that people will insist on scheduling a meeting to discuss something, then not show up. Apparently, just the act of scheduling was enough.

It's not all bad, though. There are a few perks here:
  • Fitness center on site, for under $20/month. That's a third of what I paid for the one near my house.

  • Cafeteria in the building, complete with a grill, pizza, deli, and nice salad bar. Friday is Buffalo Chicken day, and which everyone gets excited about.

  • Someone always leaves a full newspaper on the bathroom stall floor, so if I time it right I can read the sports and the comics during my "break."

  • Oh yeah, and it's temporary. Six to nine months from now, I'll be learning the idiosyncracies of a different company. That -- plus the significant pay raise -- is why I took this job.