Friday, December 31, 2004

Nothing succeeds like excess.

A favorite Christmas pastime is driving around and looking at the lights that people put up on their houses. The Richmond variation on this is to seek out and view the tackiest light displays. The local newspaper has its own list of residences with tacky Christmas lights, and also lists limo and bus companies that will take you on a tour of the homes (so you don't have to look at a map at the same time you're marvelling at the lights). Some of these homes boast upwards of 50,000 lights.

There's even a slideshow of the tacky light displays (the Tacky Lights around town one). My favorites were # 11 and # 25.

There surely is enough light being blasted into the sky to direct three men from the East, although it's unclear what they'll find.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

At last: the explanation for why I'm still single.

It's because I don't use (or, at least, have not yet used) a hand puppet to meet single women.

Luckily, the author explains in detail how the scheme works. "First, you will need a hand puppet."

Equally luckily, he has another article giving advice once you're successful: First date with a topless dancer.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Gang aft agley.

Okay, maybe I won't go to Florida for Christmas, after all. An American Airlines plane went off the runway into the grass, blocking the two runways that carry 98 % of the traffic at the airport. So they closed the airport. Some 3 hours later, they hadn't been able to move the plane.

Thus, my flight to Charlotte was going to miss its connection to Miami. The airline gave me some options: I could fly to Charlotte and hope that I could find a standby flight to Miami. (This would be at my own risk, so they wouldn't put me in a hotel or anything if I didn't find anything.) Or they could confirm me on to a flight tomorrow, leaving Richmond at 6:00 a.m., connecting in Philadelphia, and arriving in Miami at 4 p.m. (So I could be there for one day, and then fly back to Virginia? Don't think so.) Or they could refund my fare.

I took the latter choice. Well, now I have that much more I can spend on presents. For myself.

Update: The plane went off the runway around 8:20 this morning. And from an evening report, "Finally by nightfall, a local towing company brought its 52-ton wrecker and pulled the plane out of the mud."

Management skills? We don’t need no steenking management skills.

I had long thought that one of my former employers was the most dysfunctional organization around. Certainly that employer provided lots of fodder when I was in business school – any time there was a “good” or “best practice” discussed, it took no effort whatsoever to think of how that company did the opposite. (And after the class on outsourcing, I had the Operations professor laughing uncontrollably with tales of what that company did.)

It turns out, though, that the BigLawFirm for whom I’m working as a contract attorney is even worse. No employee management skills at all, and precious few project management skills. They share information according to the “Growing Mushrooms” principle (keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em manure); they don’t have complete written instructions (why try to have 60 people following a consistent procedure?); they don’t like to train people (they’ll seat a new person next to someone who’s been around for a while, and tell the new person that it’s okay to ask questions); they announce changes to the established procedure by telling about a third of the people and suggesting that they might want to pass it on to the others. They don’t keep track of documents terribly well (the thousands of file boxes are labelled on the outside but fairly randomly placed onto shelves, and there’s no master list keeping track of the location of a particular box of documents or of what processing its documents have undergone), and they manage by deadlines (e.g., the mid-day Thursday announcement of “All of this has to be done by Friday” without regard to whether we have enough resources to get it done by Friday, and sharing for the first time that there’s a Friday deadline despite their having known about the deadline for two months).

The latest trick was to have a partner and associate explain – and with surprising clarity, for once – some new set of procedures to respond to a specific document request, procedures which differed from the “standard” process in a major way. They explained it sufficiently well that all 10 or 12 of the people who heard the explanation and followed it understood it the exact same way. About a week later, the associate returned to inform us that we all had misunderstood the instructions, that it clearly was our fault that we misunderstood, because it had been explained so clearly, and that she’d explain it all to us again, using smaller words in the hope that we might catch on this time. She then set forth an entirely new procedure, markedly different from the original instructions. She then left, leaving us to figure out how to reconcile the two sets of instructions. She came back the next day, to explain it all to us yet again, with exaggerated patience and the thinly veiled belief that we were, collectively, dumber than a box of hammers. And this explanation didn’t match either of the two earlier explanations.

Sigh. I so look forward to working for a real organization.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Going-away present.

Today was the last day for the woman who’s been supervising the project I’m working on. It would be incorrect to say she was in charge of the project, because that’s something no one is, but she probably knew more about the procedural aspects of the project than anyone. Anyway, she’s off to New York and a new job. (Leaving us to flounder, but that seems to be totally in keeping with BigLawFirm’s overall philosophy towards the project, so I won’t rant on it further here.)

Someone among the 30 or so of us contract attorneys took it upon herself to get a card and collect money for a gift certificate. So, over the last week, the rest of us signed the card and contributed to the certificate, which she went out and got last night.

What kind of gift certificate got purchased? An American Express gift card? Or a certificate for one of the local malls? Or something generic like a chain bookstore? Not at all. She got a gift certificate from Victoria's Secret.

Yes, a mixed group (half male, half female) of employees apparently decided to purchase erotic lingerie for the boss as a going-away gift, and to present it to her with all the ribald comments that you’d expect (e.g., “[Your boyfriend] will really like this!” and “Send us a photograph of what you purchase, with you wearing it!”). Well, okay: not all of us; just those who were doing the presentation.

Some of us truly were appalled; primarily those of us who have sat through classes and seminars on sexual harassment in the workplace, who recognize that a public presentation of crotchless panties to our boss could easily be construed as a hostile workplace environment, leaving us and the employer open to a fair amount of liability. Appalled from the moment we realized where the gift certificate was from. And further appalled that half of the group – all attorneys, mind you, and not all people who just graduated from lower-tier law schools who have never practiced law – saw absolutely nothing wrong with the gift certificate.

Luckily, she took the situation in stride, and seemed to appreciate the present, so it’s unlikely she’ll sue either us or the law firm for sexual harassment. And no one else seems to recognize that any of the rest of us could now complain of the hostile workplace environment, even if not directed at us.

At least it wasn't 14 inches of rain in 3 hours.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I surmise that weathermen aspire to the level of accuracy of broken clocks.

The forecast for Sunday evening: lows in the mid-20's, 30% chance of showers or snow showers. Actual Sunday evening weather: 11 degrees, 3 inches of snow accumulation, and 45 mph winds.

Ah, well. Without the position of weather forecaster, blonde bimbos would never get on-camera jobs at TV stations.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A bridge I won't be driving over. I mean, across.

The world's tallest bridge was opened in France Tuesday, near Millau; one that you can drive across. And you'd be a mere 891 feet above the river valley below. Man, there would be no way I'd drive across that. I could only hope that the toll operators would provide the occasional driver, the way the Chesapeake Bay Bridge does. The alternative would be for me to start across, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that it would likely break, and hope that I get to the other end before I pass out from failing to breathe.

Of course, living below the bridge wouldn't be a picnic either, with drivers "dropping" things out their windows and over the railings.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Tie one on for Christmas.

I wore a tie to work today. Okay, normally not such a big deal. But this was the first time that I’ve worn a tie to work in 4 ½ years. (The main company I worked for during that period was all business casual, all the time, and nothing I’ve worked at since leaving there required a tie. Working at home for the legal publisher doesn’t even require a shirt, or pants for that matter, but that’s a different story.) It was a Land’s End Christmas tie with a festive scene of a horse-drawn sleigh through the wintry countryside.

Today was our Christmas party, the party for all the people working on the project. You understand, this wasn’t the BigLawFirm’s Christmas party – this was the party “sponsored by” (i.e., paid for by) the temp agencies. Of course, when the partner was “inviting” us to it, he always put it in terms of “WE’re inviting you …”. But it so wasn’t the BigLawFirm party for its employees. This was the party for the field hands, not the one for the house servants and certainly not the one for Massa and his family. It was, however, in the BigLawFirm building, instead of over here in the warehouse, so I guess we were to be impressed that we were allowed into the big building with the clean floors and the employees who bathe regularly, even though we were trooped in like a Boardroom appearance on “The Apprentice.”

And you’ve got to appreciate the festive touch: (a) Attendance was mandatory, (b) you can’t bill for the hour the party was going on, even if you didn’t attend, and (c) to ensure those, they cleared the office at 12:00 and locked us out.

The food was okay: a couple of salads (one pasta, one greens), cold stir-fry main dishes (chicken and pork), sodas, and a lemon pound cake. Not exactly festive fare, but a better lunch than I’d have bought for myself. Some amount of yammering from the hierarchy (“We’re so happy you’re working for us, and we’re delighted with the amount of work you’re putting out. Well, not so happy that we’d allow you to wander amongst us at our real Christmas party, or even to give you either a present or a bonus, but real happy none the less”), but mostly they left us alone to schmooze with our co-workers.

Until they came out with the kicker: “We’ve got all these Christmas cards that we’re sending to people at The Client Compay, and we’d like for you all to sign them. They’re so impressed that the whole team signs the careds: Whenever we’re up there, we see that they still have these cards from last year posted for everyone to see. So please don’t leave without signing them all.” There were about 10 of them, mostly addressed to higher-ups at The Client Company, head of the legal department, and the like. And one for the U.S. Attorney heading up the Feds’ investigation of The Client Company. Very, very bizarre. A couple of folks signed with names other than their own, but no one had the courage to sign “Looking forward to having you here with me. (s) Martha Stewart.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

If you wear it, they will come.

Interesting story in the Post over the weekend, about cause-related bracelets, of which the bright yellow Lance Armstrong Foundation’s “Live Strong” bracelet was the first. The figures on the Live Strong bracelet are outstanding: they’ve sold over 27 million of them, raising around $22 million for the Foundation’s programs for children with cancer. (It turns out that Nike picked up the manufacturing and distribution costs for only the first five million bracelets; after that, 23% of the $1.00 price goes to cover those costs, and 77% goes to the Foundation.) And demand still outpaces supply, causing a secondary market to emerge on eBay.

Anything that successful will have its imitators, and they started showing up in the fall. The Seattle branch of the Susan G. Komen foundation was the first, selling pink bracelets to raise funds for its breast cancer programs; following closely behind were autism programs (light blue), support for Israel (dark blue), fighting medical malpractice (lime green), bone marrow (royal blue), and colorectal cancer (cornflower blue). And then came schools and sports teams with their own colors. And rip-off artists, like the rainbow colored bracelets sold at 7-Eleven that say “Show your support” – but the only thing supported appears to be 7-Eleven.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Return of the mummy.

King Tut is making a comeback tour, this time going to museums that will charge an admission fee. So I'm guessing it won't be going back to the Smithsonian, where I saw it on a winter day when it got up to 5 degrees (and the Potomac was frozen over sufficiently well that one could walk across it, not that I did), which had the benefit of keeping the waiting line short as no one wanted to wait outside the museum.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

At least there's a little justice in the world.

Famed crybaby John McEnroe's ill-fated talk show was canceled after four months of abysmal ratings, including the occasional 0.0 from Neilsen.

Good riddance.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Advertising madness.

It’s been a while since I’ve railed at TV commercials, so I guess I can have at it again. Today’s theme will be: cell phone providers.

One of the ads has been on the air for a couple of weeks, for n-Telos, a local phone and cell-phone company. Pretty generic ad: it starts off with an animated blue bird swooping and soaring around on a downtown street, past a building with a lot of columns, gliding around the clock on the corner of the building, down to a burgundy canopy over an entrance to the building, and up, up and away! into the blue sky, only to come back down in a meadow out in the country, surrounded by singing children. Stock footage, I’m sure, and not especially remarkable. Except: the downtown building that is swooped around is the building I work in, and I even go into the building through the door under the burgundy canopy. The clock on the corner of the building? Doesn’t work, and hasn’t for at least six months.

And the other thing I find fascinating about the ad is the choice of background music: “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane. Lifted straight off one of the Airplane’s albums, I believe, and apparently not done by a sound-alike studio group with rewritten words. Nice music, and I’m always happy to hear it, but a pretty inappropriate choice for the ad. When I think of Revolution Against The Man, I don’t think about cell phone providers, and vice versa. n-Telos is consistent though: they use the same music in their ad where the animated blue bird swoops around the inside of a shopping mall decorated for Christmas.

The other ad played heavily over the Thanksgiving weekend, and was (I think) for Verizon. Set at a big football game, it looks to be either just before the game or during the half-time entertainment, as the marching band is on the field, the cheerleaders are doing something appropriate, and the stands are filled with fans, dressed in team colors (and occasionally bare-chested and covered with paint, and thus presumably liquored-up). The stadium’s public address announcer comes on to tell about the great deal that Verizon has on camera phones – and that the sale ends on November 28th (Sunday). So everyone – fans, cheerleaders, band, and players – bolts from the field, heading off to get themselves camera phones before the fantastic sale ends.

Fine. No better or worse than most other cell phone ads, I’d say, and certainly better than the plethora of “Can you hear me now?” ads. So what earns it a place in this ranting? The time that I saw the ad: Sunday night. I saw it twice between 8 and 9 p.m. on the History Channel (a show about possible conspiracies surrounding the Lincoln assassination), and again around 9:40 p.m., during Desperate Housewives.

What in the world was the purpose of showing the ads that late on Sunday night? Surely the Verizon shops had closed by 6 in the evening, and even if they were 24-hour stores, who could they possibly expect to jump in their cars after 10 p.m. on Sunday night to go buy a new cell phone before midnight? Lunacy. Given that the ad was showing on two different networks at that hour, I won’t blame the advertising scheduler at the network for putting the ad on after the promotion was effectively over. Instead, I’d blame either the ad agency placing the ads or the manager at Verizon who approved the ad placement and the entire promotion, either (or both) of whom probably specified that the ad should run “throughout the Thanksgiving weekend” without realizing that Sunday ads would be wasted, so the commercial should have run only Thursday through Saturday. But I’d have also expected that it would part of their jobs to ensure that commercials pushing a promotion don’t air after the promotion has finished.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Winter's a-comin'.

At some point on the day after Thanksgiving, it struck me out of nowhere: it had been a long time since they’d come to refill my heating oil tank. A long time, and it was starting to get chilly, it being late November and all. I even went out to the tank, and peered into the fill hole. Couldn’t tell much, other than there was still enough oil to reflect my eye back at me, from way down there at the surface of the oil. I also remembered a year ago, when I did the same thing, and I was convinced that I was about out of oil, and had the oil company deliver that afternoon – and it turns out my tank was still two-thirds full, after all.

So I called the oil company. “Do you still have me on your automatic delivery plan?” Yes. “When is the next delivery schedule?” About a week and a half from now. “Really? Hmm. What do your records indicate was the last time you delivered oil to me?” Back in April. You know, it’s been such a mild autumn that we’ve had to delay our first delivery of the season by a couple of weeks.

Luckily, she then asked the correct next question: By our records, we have that you use oil only for heating. Is that correct, that you don’t use it to heat your water? “Uh, no. I use it to heat water that I use for both personal use and for heating the house.” Ah. In that case, we should put you on a more frequent delivery.

And true to her word, the oil truck showed up the next morning to fill my tank. Did a very thorough job of it, too, putting in slightly over 220 gallons. Especially impressive since I thought my tank held 210 gallons. “No, that’s a 270-gallon tank,” the delivery man said, “but you did have it mighty empty there.”

Things appearing where they’re not supposed to be.

And no, I’m not referring to those tattoos that show up after a particularly memorable lost weekend.

It was the shadows that appeared suddenly on my office window. Shadows being cast downward, onto the window from the outside. Shadows of arms and legs and tools. On my 17th-floor window. And then the banging and pounding started. On the outside of the window.

Today was the day the window washers came to town.

We’re not talking a high-class operation here, with fancy platforms being lowered from the roof by inch-thick metal cables. This was a couple of guys, each sitting on a little wooden seat, lowered from the roof by a three-quarter inch rope. They looked to be attached to the rope, which is good; their tools didn’t appear to be tethered to anything, however. And I would imagine that a four-foot wide squeegee on a ten-foot metal pole would make a pretty impressive projectile when dropped from the 17th floor, as would the squirt bottle with a half-gallon of soapy water in it. And it was both chilly and windy; a good combination when hanging around near the top of a 20-story building.

It was bad enough seeing them working on windows at the other side of the room. When they finally got to my window, on their next trip down the side of the building, I literally could not sit at my computer and work while there was a guy on the other side of my window, dangling by a rope, balancing on the ledge while spraying dirty soapy water on the window and squeegeeing it off.

Even in the best of situations, I can’t stand to look down out of my window (I can look at the ground, but only if it’s a half-mile away), and the knowledge that this guy could look down and see nothing below his feet but the sidewalk, and the sidewalk is a three-second freefall away, was enough to give me a little dizzy spell and make me walk away.

And I suppose we can add “window washer” to the list of Occupations I Don’t Care To Practice.