9.28.2013

Kicking Some Arse

I wrote up my to do list for this week in anticipation of my European bike trip in a little over a week. I have to call the bank and make sure they don't red flag my credit and debit card when they see a frenetic series of purchases in Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria. I have to buy a duffel bag and pack it. I have to make sure I have all the items for my carry on bag. I am even going to prepare a "dummy wallet" in case of pickpockets. Basically it will be a wallet filled with monopoly money and a note with a smiley face and a few words to say that it is not very nice to pick someone's pocket. I will carry it where I would normally carry my real wallet and then put my important stuff in a more concealed place. I will appear to be a naive and careless American.

My hypothetically work induced anxiety issues seem to have subsided, probably because I have taken some proactive steps to take control of my work situation. There is nothing actually wrong with my work. I am good at it and they pay me a lot. It just isn't going anywhere. There is no room for creativity and the reorganization put me and my team under an irrational management structure that doesn't allow for any innovations, professional development, or upward mobility. I should be content to just zone out and do my work, but it's unsatisfying to my soul. Indeed, it's even a bit soul crushing, because of the people I have to work with, not the work itself. So I think what I was really feeling was a sense of hopelessness that things will just never get better where I am at. And that's probably true, but I don't need to stand for it. "This aggression will not stand, man." So I am feeling pretty good about my next steps, though I won't disclose what they are right now. I might jinx it.

Last night I met some friends, new and old, at the Essen Haus in Madison. We did not collectively drink a boot of beer, but we did play some shuffleboard. One of my new coworkers volunteered with "Engineers Without Borders" in Africa. Even though he got malaria while he was there (mild case), it sounded fabulous. I want there to be a "Technical Writers Without Borders" or a "Rock-n-Roll Musicians Without Borders" so I can go apply my skill set all over the world for needy people. But I don't think those skills are all that needed in developing places. The music might bring some enjoyment, but it's not going to dig a well or immunize kids. Well, maybe if we rocked loud enough, it could dig a well. But I don't think it would be a very good well and that much rocking might cause a lot of collateral damage. It does kind of put things in perspective though, that the things I do in life are fairly inconsequential and useless, relatively speaking. In an absolute sense, I know that my technical writing skill is indirectly bettering radiation oncology treatments for people with cancer. But it is kind of a stretch. Without the high quality operations manuals I help produce, the machines would not be made as well and thus they would not treat people as well. Yeah, that is really a hard sell. The fact is, the technicians know full well how to make the machines. The documents are only needed for regulatory and quality control reasons, when the government comes in and audits our procedures. We have to document that we are doing what we say we are doing. There is value in that. Procedures change a little bit over time, when the techs find slightly better ways to do things or better hardware and software. So we need to keep things up to date, otherwise they will change a lot over time. If a new technician comes in, they will use the documents I helped create to train on making the machines, and so they had better be right.

Tonight I am going to learn a few songs for band practice tomorrow night. I will also work on some piano, and if there is time, I may work on my book. I had an idea for a chapter on fitness called "Body by Joe." The premise is that I am not a great athlete. I am not going for a washboard stomach or thick and meaty biceps and pectorals.I am never going to run a marathon or swim across the English Channel. I am not even going to try to win any 5k fun runs for that matter. I think a lot of people are like me. I think a lot of fitness trainers are trying to sculpt Aphrodites and Adonises, or at least they market themselves that way. So people who aren't looking for that end up not having any good fitness guidance at all. Then it becomes an all or nothing kind of game. What I am saying it that something is better than nothing. A little bit of exercise goes a long way. You don't have to kill yourself, just set small goals and aspirations and make them achievable. I just want to be healthy and in decent physical shape. I am an average Joe. I will probably never totally lose my beer gut and I enjoy food, so dieting is impossible. As a result of a hearty diet, the only way I can stay moderately in shape is by doing some exercise. I aim for five workouts a week of 30 minutes or more. This tends to be biking or running, but it can sometimes just be walking. Almost anyone can walk. People also have busy lives, as do I. Exercising is harder to do when you have other commitments or you are worn out from a long day. So I recommend working out in the morning, or at least by lunchtime. Otherwise, it just gets progressively harder to do as the day goes on, if you work a 9 to 5 job (the target audience of my book is white collar corporate cube drones). Instead of driving someplace, walk all or part way. I commute part way to work by bike which not only takes care of the workout DURING rush hour but also avoids the stress of rush hour traffic (although bike and pedestrian traffic can be trying at times, especially on a university campus). Winter makes exercising outdoors more difficult, if you aren't much of a skier or snow shoe hiker. So, I usually don't work out much in winter. I get a little winter fat, and the following spring I start exercising again and burn it away. Humans actually evolved this way, storing fat for winter and burning it off through hunting and gathering in warmer weather. Nothing wrong with that. That is what Body by Joe is all about.

Unsure

I am at my CSA farm and it is a beautiful day for a potluck fiesta, which is what they are having. I am going to play a few solo semi-acoustic numbers as my contribution of "soul food." I have not performed in this capacity for a long time so I did a crash practice this morning. My voice is a little weak because I have not been doing much singing in bands lately. But I only have to play an hour or so. I am going to start soon.

9.26.2013

At the Doctor

I don't need to share my health details with anyone, but I am concerned that my job is causing me undue anxiety and unhealthy negative stress. I am proactively addressing it to "take control" of my health. After this doctor appointment, I am going to go get coffee with a buddy and F the MAN if HE does not like it. I have to avoid THE MAN to protect my health and well being, since he is the cause of my angst. It is self defense. Given a choice between fight or flight, I choose flight. THE MAN would suffer greatly if I chose fight. So HE should fully support this.

9.25.2013

Debbie Downers

I don't have much time for Debbie Downers and Negative Nellies. I usually try to dispatch with them as quickly as possible when I encounter them. They drain me of energy. They probably drain you of energy too. Unless you are one. Then you actually gain energy by sucking out everyone else's energy. I guess this is why some people are called energy vampires. Anyway, I am a vampire slayer when it comes to that. Actually I am probably just more of a vampire avoider. It's hard to slay an energy vampire. We are talking about metaphorical slaying, of course, as in changing their negative attitude to a positive one, or at least a neutral one. That's probably never going to happen unless whatever is making them negative goes away. I wonder if negative people think positive people are negative. Maybe it is just a reverse polarity kind of thing.

Today at work a coworker sent me a negative and largely incomprehensible e-mail about why his life and job sucks. I had no idea why he was sending that to me. I avoid that guy like the plague and dread when I have to work with him. Maybe he was testing the waters to see if I would bite.

I wrote him back an e-mail and just asked him if he intended the e-mail for someone else because it did not seem to be relevant to me. He replied that it had been meant for me and the two or three other people on the e-mail. I just wrote back "OK" and gave him no further satisfaction. I think my first response should have made it pretty clear that I do not find his negative ramblings in any way pertinent to me, so much so that I have to ask him if they were in fact meant for me. I hope he gets the clue, but he is kind of socially awkward, so maybe it will take a couple of metaphorical wooden stakes to his negative heart before he quits it.

One of my buddy's from Milwaukee is looking for jobs in Madison, so I referred him to my employer who is looking to fill my old boss's now vacant position. My buddy would make a great boss. And him getting the job would also advance the likelihood of the greatest and best band in Madison reuniting. That would be the original GUPPY EFFECT, with Wes (aforementioned buddy) and MG.

Stiff

On Monday, I biked at lunchtime for over an hour. Then Monday night I did a 4 mile group social run. It was a brutal day of aerobic workouts and I am feeling it today. I feel good, but stiff. A massage would be very helpful.

9.24.2013

Amateurs

I am an amateur musician. That doesn't mean I am inexperienced or that I suck. I am using the correct definition of amateur here, which means I essentially do music for the fun of it, underwritten by an alternate source of secure income. It is sort of the opposite of a professional musician, whose livelihood depends on success in musical endeavors.

Not beholden to musical benefactors, I have a lot more freedom and flexibility to pursue my art on my terms. Professional musicians are much more at the whimsy of others because to make money, they must fulfill client needs, not their own needs. They can still pursue their own art, but that is not often where the rent money comes from. Even if a musician is lucky enough to be commissioned for some music (recording or licensing deals) they often do this contractually, with terms that very much favor the client, and may even result in the musician being unable to pursue their own art (many contracts are for a period of time during which anything the musician creates is stipulated to be a work for hire of the client).

So while being a professional musician is often glamorized as a way to escape the grind of a real job working for THE MAN, it is often no kind of freedom at all, with long hours and low pay. Still, if music is a labor of love, it can still have a lot of value for the musician.

Being underwritten by THE MAN, as I am, offers me a lot more artistic freedom in music, but the sacrifice is a lot of creative time sacrificed to THE MAN.

Even though I am an amateur musician, I seem to have a greater passion for it than a lot of the professional musicians I know. Maybe because, for them, it is their grueling day (and night) job, they seem less invested in it. Maybe they have lost the passion. For example, when I have band practice or shows with pro musicians, I practice really hard and show up fully prepared and excited to play, but they often seem to be a little lax on preparation and practice. They wing it, similar to the way I wing work at my day job for THE MAN, since I don't care about that.

Or maybe they are just on drugs.

Old Sauk Hill

I bike commuted today.

I rode my mountain bike, because my commuter cruiser is in the shop getting a tuneup and new clipless pedals. That meant I had to wear a backpack for my work clothes, instead of using a saddle bag, as on my cruiser. That puts a strain on my back and shoulders, but it's temporary.

I normally bypass the Old Sauk Road hill from hell, but today I decided to take it. The hill is the price paid for a slightly shorter route to work. I am in no hurry to get to work, and today was no exception. But I am going to bike ride in Europe in a couple of weeks and there are bound to be a few hills I need to bike up. My longer bike commute has a few rolling hills but nothing like the Old Sauk hill.

I must be in great shape though, because the ride up the Old Sauk hill, while strenuous, was not all that difficult, compared to the last time I rode up it. I wasn’t trying to break any records. I took it nice and slow, dropping to granny gears as needed. My mountain bike was just tuned up last week, so it was riding great, but the rear derailleur indexing was off when I got it back from the shop. This had been causing the chain to skip under pressure, such as climbing up hills. However, I had adjusted the indexing myself using the adjuster next to the grip shift on the handlebars, and I must have done something right, because the chain did not slip at all on the Old Sauk hill.

I got to work plenty early to have a relaxing shower before the soul sucking meeting with our incoherent interim manager. I was constitutionally well fortified for the meeting, where this manager basically told us we were no better than administrative assistants, notwithstanding our training and education as technical writers. After I am back from Europe, the job search will ramp up considerably.

9.23.2013

Road Rage

I had an interesting encounter with a SUV driving douche when I went on a coffee break this afternoon. I came upon a red light, so I slowed to stop. In my rear view mirror was a tail gaiting SUV. I hate tail gaiters, but whatever. I was planning to make a right turn on red, which was legal, but I had not even fully stopped at the light when SUV douche started laying on his horn. Was there an emergency? I had no idea why he was beeping, but it served the purpose of making me come to a complete stop to see what he was going on about. It turned out he just wanted me to make my right turn on red more expediently so he could get about his business, an outcome he basically kyboshed with his incessant beeping.

I decided to ignore his further beeping and teach him the lesson of patience. He did not want to learn this lesson and swerved out around me on my left to make the right turn in front of me, before flooring it and speeding off (his poor transmission!). Luckily there were no cars in that lane on my left.

I actually endorsed his behavior, because he clearly needed to get somewhere fast, and I am far too mellow and laid back of a guy to be of much help in such situations. But such a stressed out douche! Maybe he had a family emergency, but beeping at me was not a constructive form of communication.

Made me a little sad. But I guess the world has to have pathetic people to balance out the awesome people. Oh well.

A Biking Lunch

I went for an extended bike ride at lunch today. Afterwards, I went to the Roman Candle pizzeria for a burly spinach salad. The weather was superb for biking. The Map My Ride app on my phone failed to record my ride. But it happened. I plan to go on a group run tonight if I can swing it, maybe meet some active outdoorsy types. Gonna mountain bike with a buddy next weekend if all goes well. Should be in good shape for my Europe bike trip in 2 weeks.

9.22.2013

Effectiveness and Purpose

Tonight I have band practice with B4 the Storm, a generic but fun pop cover operation fronted by my buddy, Phil.

We record band practice so we can listen back to the takes later and hear our biffs. I think over time this will be beneficial, provided we listen to them and fix the mistakes.

So many bands I know keep making the same biffs over and over again at each band practice and at subsequent gigs because the musicians don't take any useful information home from practice and incorporate it into their song learning homework. Some of that is also just laziness. Like I said, if you don't actually practice at home, you won't get better either. But having the evidence of your mistakes leaves no excuse not to tighten up your backstrokin'.

After band practice, Phil and I went to the Lake Ripley Pub near my house and talked for a bit. I was explaining to him about my upcoming book on work life balance and how to be more productive and efficient at work. It seems like common sense, but the best way is to simply not do any work that does not achieve the purpose and goal. You have to know the purpose and goal, and what it's scope is. Then just avoid any non-essential work that does not help achieve the goal. Some would call this busy work.

When I record band practice, the scope of the purpose is simply to be able to hear what we played and fix our mistakes. That's all. The goal is to get better as a band, but it is not to make better band practice recordings. We know those will be biffy and we are not trying to record an album or even a demo with these takes.

I set up four microphones around the band practice room, not even worrying about placement so much as the signal level going from them into the recording software (so they don't clip). The fidelity is not great, but it's good enough.

When I mix down the recordings to mp3, for ease of sharing with the band, I do it quick and dirty. I place my markers to roughly bookend the start and finish of the song recording and I mix it down. It's got some basic on board mastering applied, but I don't even listen to the mixes in real time as they are being burned to mp3. I check the box in Logic that says "Offline" because that rips the song much faster than real time - as fast as the hard drive can spin given any other CPU demands on my laptop.

I can mix an entire band practice this way in about 30 to 45 minutes, if that. Effectiveness is 100% because the purpose is fully obtained, a good enough crude room recording of the songs that can be listened to in order to hear biffs and improve homework practice. It's also maximally efficient, because I am not doing anything unnecessary to get the recordings and mixes.

Effectiveness and efficiency at your job is a very similar thing. You will save a lot of time and energy and soul sucking if you can focus on the tasks that achieve the purpose and avoid the non-essential busy work. This means you have to understand the purpose of projects and know what fits within the scope and what doesn't. If you are clueless, you will end up doing a lot of busy work for no good reason. This wastes your time and the company's money.

But when you get good at efficiency and effectiveness, you will free up your time and your mind for more creative and fun endeavors outside of work. So, avoid work meetings when they have no impact on the purpose and scope of your work. Avoid doing useless busy work and especially avoid doing other people's useless busy work. The way to determine if work is useless is to ask, "If this does not get done, is anything at all bad going to happen?" If the answer is, "No," then it's busy work and don't do it. Go to the pub instead.


Whimsy McWhimserson

On a whimsy, I decided to come to Oshkosh tonight for a punkstravaganza at the Reptile Palace. I am glad I did. It was also putatively to celebrate my buddy Todd landing a new job. Congrats to Todd and Hail Satan (for punk rock).

9.21.2013

Producing a Thing and the Meme of Insignificance

Writing a post is very cathartic for me. It allows me to create and produce a thing, which gives me a sense of satisfaction, even if the thing produced is trivial and mediocre, as this post most assuredly is. It's easy to create a blog post. But just because it is not very challenging does not mean it is not satisfying and important to my long term well being. The alternative is not doing one - not creating and producing it. That's failure, albeit small. Many small failures = one big failure. So I post almost every day. It's easy for you to read my posts, but you usually don't, because it is too easy. More on this in a minute.

Most of life is really just a series of small and seemingly insignificant challenges, punctuated here and there by more significant challenges. We often don't do the very easy minor things in life because they seem so insignificant and unimportant, compared with other challenges we have to overcome. Over time, though, the little things add up and this can be detrimental. For example, it may seem like the few dishes you need to wash can be ignored for one night. But do this on many nights in a row and you will have a large amount of dishwashing pain to deal with.

There is a mentality that if something is easy, it is unimportant, and if it is hard, it must be more important. So we wait until the pile of dishes is high before we engage it in battle. Had we just picked off the easy handful of minor dishes right away, the pile would not have grown into such a formidably daunting monster.

Because I have been diligent about trying to do a short and easy blog post every day for something like three years now, I feel like I have developed as a writer over time. I make myself do it (not hard, because I love writing) and I feel like I am faster and more efficient at writing and conveying the ideas I want in a clearer and better way. Posts like this one are simply streams of consciousness and probably not particularly cohesive or useful to my readers (any given post seems trivial, but if you read regularly, perhaps there is a benefit...?), but that is not the point of them. The point of them is the mechanics of the act, the honing of the skill, the freeing of the mind. It's exercise.

This writing I do here, it is not unlike the daily exercise one does for physical health. If you want to stay physically fit, a little exercise every day is a good constitutional to protect against maladies and deterioration of your body over time. Taken alone, any given bike ride or power walk or 5k run appears trivial and serves no significant purpose in the short term, except to make you sweaty and in some pain, and to add some dirty gym clothes to the hamper, that will someday grow into a formidably daunting pile of laundry that needs to be taken care of. (Note: This is not the best example, because there are some very significant and immediate benefits of moderate physical exercise: endorphins, a sense of accomplishment, more energy and focus. However, most of these benefits are short term and to get them regularly, you have to exercise regularly.)

When you do a little bit of daily exercise, you aren't winning any competitions or achieving any major goals. But collectively, doing all those little trivial fitness activities adds up to a very important thing, your good health for the long term (weight loss, less chronic disease, slower aging, greater self esteem). That's the ultimate goal, but it requires achieving many small and seemingly insignificant goals, just by getting out there every day and doing it. If you have a goal to exercise daily and then fail to do so, this is demoralizing. It's a series of tiny failures. So people get around this by either not having such a goal, or getting out there and achieving it. Otherwise, the little failures add up and you become depressed and hopeless over time that you are a loser. I could be persuaded to believe that a lot of mental illness is the additive effects of a lot of small stresses (anxiety) and failures (depression), if scientists showed this. But science is very bad at examining the small and trivial factors that contribute to the larger pattern. Science tends to study study things on the short term and the small insignificant factors get lost in the noise. So it is possible my hypothesis holds some water, it just hasn't been shown by science. Unexplained is not the same as unexplainable, but I digress...

Many people do not get a little daily exercise. They tell themselves they want to and they should, but they never "launch." They don't see the significance of the small actions contributing to the larger overall goal. Because it seems insignificant, it is perceived as not worth doing, compared with more important activities that give instant gratification, like eating food or watching TV. So people never engage and do it and thus don't produce the desired long term result, fitness over time. Exercise is additive over a long period of time. You have to do it regularly to improve, like writing or piano practice (discussed below).

I think this has to do with a cultural meme in American society, that if it is not difficult or does not produce significant immediate results, then it's not really worth the effort, especially when there are more pressing dragons to fight.

When I lived in Chicago, I never visited the city's landmarks and museums and attractions. Because I lived so close to them, I always thought, "Hey, I live so close to them, I can go any time, no problem." Then I never actually went, because I always used this logic. It was so easy to do these activities that I never attributed any "worth" do doing them. I associated the ease of doing it with unimportance and triviality, mentally. That was wrongward thinking. I should have been going out to the aquarium and museums and attractions all the time as much as I could, exploring ethnic foods and the variety of neighborhoods and cultures. Two years I lived there, and though I gained a good ability to get around the city, I know very little about it. Shame on me.

Last night, one of my bands played a show in Milwaukee. Two of my friends who live in Milwaukee knew about it but didn't come. I am sure they had important reasons. I am sure those reasons were given greater magnitude than the entertainment value of my show. Other than enjoyment, my show wasn't going to wash any dishes or do any laundry or pay the babysitter. I am sure those other reasons for not coming involved a higher perceived "difficulty level" than my show did, with a higher immediate return on investment, which was associated erroneously with importance. I am sure the rationale was that it would be so easy to go see my band, that it was almost too easy, and thus not significant by comparison with other things, perceived as harder. So the effort was not made to get in the car and come to the show, and the performance was missed and there is no way for those two friends to ever redeem that loss (it was a good show). Sure, my band might play in Milwaukee again, but it will be a different performance, and probably just as likely to be missed by these friends based on the meme of insignificance.

When something is viewed as too easy, people just sometimes don't do it, thinking they should focus their efforts on more difficult things, as if the difficulty level is correlated with importance. That's just not a correct correlation. For example, my job is easy, but it's also super important to the company and my corporate clients. Not everyone can do my job, easy as it is for me. In fact, my job is very difficult for lots of people who don't have the talent and/or education to do it (technical writing), which is mainly why I have a job. Because it is easy for me, I am able to produce for the people who can't do it themselves.

(Side Note: This sometimes creates cognitive dissonance for me. There are a lot of unbelievably poor writers and communicators in corporate America, which I attribute to a poor educational system in America in general. Even though I want America to have a good educational system that teaches people how to write and communicate well, this would be damaging to my job security. I would not be as needed. It's a similar cognitive dissonance that I have with my stock in McDonald's, the fast food chain. I know that junk food is bad for people, but McDonald's is never going to go away and lots of people eat it, which makes the company profitable and my stock go up. McDonald's will always do well, in good times or bad (I also have beer company stock for the same reason). So even though I don't eat at McDonald's unless it is an extreme emergency, I want everyone else to eat at McDonald's. In my retirement fund, I also have a lot of investments in the future health care infrastructure, hospitals and old folks homes and the like. This is a wise investment now that the Baby Boomers are hitting old age. People who don't (or didn't) exercise and eat (or ate) McDonald's food are going to be funneling lots of cash into this infrastructure down the road because of the health consequences of those poor lifestyle behavioral choices, and someday I am going to retire and live on money earned directly from the poor health choices of the current (and future) customers of the health care industry - seemingly insignificant choices at the time...but repeated over many years to create a giant treasure chest for people with investments like mine. This creates a moral dilemma for me, but obviously not one that I am attributing to much importance to. I am just being a realist and making investment choices based on facts. I do admit that this is sociopathic in some ways, along the lines of when my company fires a bunch of hard working people with the rationale, "It's all about the bottom line." I often deride the douchebags in corporate management for this, but I am kind of doing the same thing when I profit from the bad behaviors of other people.)

The thing of it is, I have a passion for writing and a talent for it, I suppose. Talent without passion is useless. When you want to do something strongly enough, you will practice and get better. Writing is that for me. I am unsatisfied if I do not sit down and write a post every day. I should write something more significant and important, but this is OK, as far as the mechanics of writing (the craft). I want to say piano is a passion for me too, but piano is frustrating because although I have the passion, I do not have the talent. As such, I really need to commit to a lot of hard practice to get better. Any given practice session seems insignificant as far as getting better, but over time I know that I have gotten gradually better and will continue to do so. I need to make a stronger commitment to do the seemingly trivial short practice sessions. They will pay off over time.

I am going to practice piano tonight and tomorrow. I have a lesson Monday. A lot of piano practice is just getting over the hump of motivating to sit down at the piano and do it. The deterrent is that when I do sit down at the piano and do it, I realize how much talent I lack, and it is a bit discouraging. That puts me off doing it the next time I have some available free time. But I am also optimistic that with lots of practice, I will get better and maybe even develop some talent and feel satisfied after a practice session. I believe one can develop talent. You may be born with talent, but that is not the only way to get talent. If you have enough passion to pursue something, talent may come with time.

But first, I am going for a run now.

9.19.2013

A "Good" Point

One of my friends made a good point today. She said there are good things and bad things about every job. Actually, she didn't say it so much as link me to an Oatmeal cartoon that said it. I think I agree with that.

I do bitch about my job a lot, but honestly the job itself is not so bad. It's actually ridiculously easy (because I am good at what I do) and they pay me a ridiculous amount of money to do it (because management would be lost at sea without me and my team).

That's positive. That's a good thing. I am very happy about that.

The main negative is the people. Many of the people, maybe even a majority of them, are decent, intelligent, and competent. My team is driven and excellent and easy to work with. Some of our internal clients are nice to work with and follow the rules and do the right things to get the job done and make everyone's life easier. These "good" clients comprise about 20% of the customer base.

Then there are the buffoons and incompetents, who make up the remaining 80% of the people we have to work with. These people cause 80% of our aggravation and usurp 80% of our available resources, and yield only about 20% of our total output (80/20 rule) because they slow things down so much.

This is highly unfair to our "good" clients, who only get 20% of our available time and effort, due to the "bad" clients. Granted, we produce 80% of our output for these "good"customers. But they are being shortchanged by the "bad" customers.

In business, it is well known that 20% of customers (big spenders) result in 80% of sales. The remaining 80% of customers yield only 20% sales and cause 80% of the problems.

In sales, therefore, it is good practice to eliminate bad and troublesome customers who are either always dissatisfied or refuse to follow the rules and pay their bills. Following the 80/20 rule, this is about 80% of the customer base that it is just not worth it to work with. The other 20% of customers range from OK to excellent to work with, and they yield most of the profitable sales. Everyone wins when you work with "good" customers. Everyone loses when you work with "bad" customers.

I want to follow the same strategy at work that retail businesses follow. I want to disenfranchise the 80% of "bad" customers and only work with the good customers. But when you are employed by a company, you don't have that luxury. You have to take all customers no matter how "bad" they are, and no one is policing the incompetence and aggravation caused by these people, who are draining the company of money, pure overhead.

So that is the main negative of my job, the people, and specifically the "bad" people. I know who they are, and it is actually probably closer to 60% of the total pool of engineers we have to work with. So to the extent that the expectation is 80% "bad" clients and the reality is only 60%, I should be happy, based on the following formula:

HAPPINESS = REALITY - EXPECTATION

If expectation surpasses reality, happiness becomes a negative number. If reality is better than expectation, happiness value is positive. When working with "good" customers, happiness is positive. They go above the call of duty to expedite things and remove obstacles. It's a joy to work with them.

On the other hand, those 60% of our "bad" customers still cause 80% of our grief and that makes it harder to service our "good" clients, who are actually more deserving of our time and effort. The "good" clients still only get 20% of our time and effort, even though we still produce 80% of our output for them. But we could give them 100% if we did not have to deal with the "bad" customers. The "bad" customers hold things up and slow things down and that's why we only end up putting out about 20% of output for them. If they are not willfully creating obstacles and grief, they are at the very least doing NOTHING to alleviate it and then complaining, which further sucks our will to live.

So I am working on ways to disenfranchise the "bad" customers. Mostly, this is just pushing back when they try to skirt the rules or be lazy or become abusive or simply whine, complain, and cause drama. Sometimes it is just avoidance until they are done having a tantrum and get back to work.

My goodness, if some of these people spent as much time working (20%) as they did complaining (80%), they might even become "good" clients. Until then, they must surely fugoff.


When "bad" customers throw up random obstacles, I don't get worked up anymore. I point out the obstacle(s) and let them know quite plainly that they will see results when the obstacles are removed. I have no ability to remove the obstacles and it is "not my department," as a woman I used to work with many years ago used to say (I still use that saying to this day). 

I know my job description, I know how to do my job amazingly well, and I know what I am responsible for and what I am not. If obstacles prevent me from doing my job, it is up to management to remove the obstacles. However, management is a lot closer to 80% buffoons and douchebags. They should be able to pick out the "bad" customers and either re-train them or get rid of them, but they seldom do.

So I could get worked up about the "bad" apples at work. Or, I can use them as a resource and benefit from them. When the ball is in the court of a "bad" customer, it results in lots of delays and problems. But they are not my delays and problems. I am basically freed up when the ball is in a "bad" customers court. I can go have a bite, come back, and they still might be flailing about in self induced misery.

I need to learn to embrace "bad" coworkers as a benefit. They create free time for me. I think I get frustrated because I want to do my work and get it out the door as efficiently and quickly as possible. The "bad" clients obstruct me from doing this. But why should I care? I don't own the product. I am just a service provider. If I am blocked from providing my service, I am going to go do something fun.

I should be careful what I wish for. If the "bad" customers were all summarily fired tomorrow, I would become a lot busier, because I'd only be working with "good" customers who can turn things around as fast as I do. This is much better, what I have now.

Plus I love my team and my inner circle of smart, competent work peeps. See, my job is really not all that bad. I am going to ride it and milk it and not worry too much about the suckwads.

9.17.2013

Europe: A Preamble

I suppose it is about time to start preambling my upcoming two week bike tour of northeastern Europe, which I will be travel blogging to the extent that wifi is available to me over there. I am going with an organized bike tour to Czech Republic, Bavaria, and Austria. I have my passport, my flights and lodging (courtesy of the tour sponsor, Vermont Bike Tours), travel info, and an electric outlet current adapter for the all important charging of my smart phone, which will be my primary camera.

Stay tuned for more pre trip deets. I am also bringing a hard paper journal and some pens on my trip, as backup for those times when civilization and its corresponding amenities, like electricity are scarce.

Sometimes it Sucks to be This Awesome

It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I have completely demolished ALL my work for today. All of it, even some banal administrative tasks for the lazy engineers that are outside the scope of my job description.

I am just that efficient and productive. I can’t really justify sitting at my desk with nothing to do, so I think I am going to meet my WELLNESS QUOTA by getting some exercise (biking home) shortly. I am writing this post to fill time, but I literally have no work to do. I explored every option. All the balls are in someone else’s court and I know full well they won’t be volleyed back my way before the end of the work day. So I think I get to reward myself for kicking ass by “giving myself a raise.”

I can make a business case for this. If my awesomeness is not good enough for management, they can digest this. I am supposedly a member of the company’s WELLNESS COMMITTEE, a group of rather physically active and healthy employees who supposedly gather and discuss ways to make the workforce healthier and cut costs. So far, this committee has met zero times and I have received no invitations to discuss anything at all. But that doesn’t mean I can’t research WELLNESS for when the time comes.

BIKE COMMUTING is a perfect and “multitasking” way for employees to get fit during their commute time. There are a lot of reasons not to bike commute, and I have heard them all: dangerous roads, need a car for errands, day care, etc., laziness. But there are a lot of reasons to bike commute. The obvious one is exercise, which is healthy and protects against chronic diseases. Another is avoiding stress. It’s hard for me to back this one up, given the craziness of the bike trails these days, congested with oblivious pedestrians and entitled bikers. But the bike trails even on the worst days beat driving in a car fighting traffic and rage. Bike commuting also kills two birds with one stone. You have to get to work, and if you do it by bike, you don’t need to go to the gym to get your exercise. That could be money saved on expensive gym memberships. But it is definitely time saved, since it absorbs the time it would normally take you to commute. It’s a longer commute, but it’s a functional commute because you are getting your workout in at the same time.

Taking the bus is also a form of stress relief and thus a WELLNESS activity. You can read a book while someone else deals with the driving headaches.

Well, I can’t say much more about this. I have made my point and now it is time to go and do my WELLNESS RESEARCH.

Plus, my coworkers in nearby cubes are whining and complaining about who knows what! I have a civil right to avoid that sort of negativity in the workplace. See ya.

Conformity: Your Ticket to the Execution of Your Soul

It is during meetings at my corporate workplace that I most vividly see how conformity kills creativity. Everyone talks the same biz speak, dresses in the same neutral biz clothing, and never speaks out of turn. I wear shorts and sandals to work in warmer weather, even though our office space is kept well refrigerated by the HVAC system. I seldom talk in meetings and when I do, it is usually very much out of turn. Usually it is to creatively and inconspicuously point out the tomfoolery of management. I have a knack for illustrating the weak links in management's chain by asking questions that lead them down the path to the edge of the cliff that overlooks the vast gaping crevasse filled with the slithering weaknesses in their vision and action plan. They usually just turn away from this and flee, refusing to recognize the significant roadblock, or they respond with something like, "We will just circumvent the crevasse, and if we can't, we will build that bridge when we come to it." There is nothing inherently wrong with the latter option, provided not too many people fall into the crevasse before a solution is found. But the former plan, the willful suspension of disbelief, is far more common. The crevasse is either imaginary, avoidable, or will be passable when the time comes. Sadly, this is not usually the case and many a plan has been kiboshed because of an unforseen crevasse.

The Right Way to Avoid Soul Death in Corporate America

I fight daily againt the soul crushing culture of corporate America. I don't resist doing my job and I do it well, sometimes too well. But I have no patience for corporate BS, especially when it impacts my ability to get my work done expediently and with high quality. One thing that infuriates me is when other people try to pawn off their administrative tasks on me because they are too lazy. They quickly learn I am no pushover and doing so quickly leads to a world of pain for them far in excess of what they would have experienced had they simply done their jobs in the first place.

A Back of the Room Kind of Guy

I am at a company wide meeting that upper management said was "very important." Previous such very important meetings have proved anything but important. They mostly consisted of middle management verbally stroking itself and criticizing the workforce for the poor performance of the company.

But I am here because it is an easy way to kill an hour or so at work. I can surf the Face and hone my trade of writing.

I am reading a book now called "The Element," about finding your passion and doing it. My passion is not my day job. The day job is just underwriting and my true passion takes priority over the day job whenever feasible, because when I die I don't want to have to admit that I did not make a valiant effort to follow my dreams and passions. I may not achieve my dreams, but it won't be for lack of trying. That is why I don't allow THE MAN to stifle my artistic pursuits without good reason and I push back hard when HE does.

I am a writer by training and it is my passion, along with performing music. I identify as a writer and also as a rocker. I do not identify as a corporate cube drone, and in fact I transcend my corporate cube drone day job in two ways. One is not taking it too seriously, because corporate America is a joke and the culture devoid of humanity. The second is related to the first, in that I mock corporate America by qualitatively observing it and writing about it. Corporate culture in America could not be duller and more soul sucking than it is. Even the exceptions, the corporate cultures that try to keep things human and awake, are conformist in their own way (you are considered odd if you do not embrace the alternative culture). It has something to do with appealing to the lowest common denominator in the corporate workforce, the most bland, banal, and milquetoast individuals who make up the majority of the pool of people qualified to work in corporate America and who are completely dispensible and replaceable because there are hundreds of drone clones ready to swoop in and replace them at their mediocre jobs. It has to be this way, because indispensible workers are a liability to companies. Creative and uniquely talented individuals are undesirable from THE MAN's perspective, because when (not if) they leave for a new and better job, the company will have a hard time replacing them. But uncreative mediocre automatons are totally dispensible and that is why corporate America is filled with soulless and mediocre individuals who have lost the will to think outside the box or be creative and try innovative things.

Automatons do not take risks. They take orders. And that is all corporate America cares about.

What are your thoughts?

Anyway, I am working on a book that is my qualitative study of corporate America. It is tentatively titled, "My Life Among the Cube Drones: How I Survived and Thrived in Corporate America."

I am still in the meeting and it is just as stereotypically boring and bland as corporate America likes it. Right now a woman is talking and popping off generic catch phrases that she suggests will guide the worklife of these rapt employees. What she fails to realize is that catch phrases mean nothing to these people. They have been inundated with catch phrases for years and not once did a catch phrase help them do their jobs better or get them an increase in wages. There is no incentive to go above and beyond in corporate America, certainly not bland catch phrases.

I am glad I am sitting in the back of the room. Here I can goof off and keep my soul safe from the creeping death exuding from the video screen in the front of this room. I think there is a high correlation between soul death and sitting closer to the front of the room. Looking at these people, I think my assessment is right. The most corporate brown nosers are up front.

So this book I am reading is encouraging me to focus more on my passions. Schools tend to crush the souls of intelligent, creative, and non-conformist people. Corporate America seems to be largely a continuation of the soul crushing that begins in school. The standardization of education seems designed to create a larger pool of similarly trained, conformist, dispensible people for the corporate mediocrity mill. The creative and genius people are filtered out via standardized testing and labeled "ADHD" or "dyslexic" or "depressed," then often given drugs to chemically bring them back in line with the average students. Addicted to these drugs for life, many of these now brain dead students do just fine in corporate America. But when the drugs occasionally wear off, bad things can happen, like people going on shooting sprees in schools and at workplaces.

Think about it.

9.16.2013

Take the Long Way Home...

...especially if it is only 2 miles longer than the short way home and has fewer annoying pedestrians and bikers.

When I bike commuted home tonight, I took the slightly longer and more southerly route that takes me along the SW Commuter bike trail in Madison WI.

It only adds about 10 minutes and 2 miles to my time and distance, respectively. Plus, it is less congested compared with the two short options that go through the UW Campus.

Although I did encounter a large contingent of cross country runners from Madison West High School, they practiced good manners and stayed to one side of the trail, vocalizing what they were doing and paying attention. The SW Commuter trail also has long stretches of bike path where I can get some good speed going before I have to slow down to cross a road or deal with people acting badly on the path (not staying out of the way).

So I cranked pretty good and covered the almost 13 miles in about an hour. I got 24 miles in for the day and I plan to bike tomorrow as well.

Off to bed.

Slolum Course, Europe Trip, and Country Music

I am going to bike around Europe for two weeks in mid-October. I am doing a lot of bike riding to train for it, mostly bike commuting 20 to 30 some odd miles, round trip, to and from work. Today was a little brisk. I wore my long sleeved synthetic bike jersey and I was still a little cold. I think it was 50 degrees F. But it was sunny and the long sleeved bike jersey is black, so after I got going, I stayed fairly warm. I didn’t sweat much though.

It was a decent ride in, but my gosh, riding through the UW Madison campus is a real pain in the arse now that school is back on. Car, pedestrian, and bike traffic is increased 10 fold and people are often oblivious or inconsiderate morons. I treat it as a challenge, like a video game slolum course where the obstacles are swerving bikes and blind automobile drivers and pedestrians taking up all lanes of the bike path (these are usually dispatched with a sharp, “On your left!” which startles them and they scatter every which way…often the wrong way, since people seem to be unable to tell left from right when panicked).

I am sure I will do fine on the Europe trip, since I have been biking and running a lot all summer. I have lost a little bit of weight. The scientists were mostly right, exercising does burn calories and fat. I have not changed my diet much. That is to say, I still eat pretty healthy. This morning I had four eggs for protein and an eighth of a watermelon for healthy carbs. The eggs were fried in olive oil at low heat, to prevent oxidation of the oil. For lunch today, I will most likely have a salmon wrap from Salad Creations, a nearby eatery. It’s packed with spinach and salmon, as well as some other vegetables. They use a vinaigrette dressing on it, which I think is lighter and probably lower in calories than other dressings, but I am not sure. I may ask them to switch up the dressing and do like a Greek dressing today, which has oil and vinegar, herbs and spices, and some crumbled feta cheese. Or I might just do oil and vinegar and have them add some black pepper to it.

This past weekend was pretty good. I went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Time Theater in Oshkosh WI. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it up to Oshkosh this weekend, because I had a lot of country music practice to do. DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS is (are?) playing a Gram Parsons Tribute show at the Up and Under Pub in Milwaukee WI this coming Friday September 20th and we have a rehearsal on Wednesday September 18th to cover the 10 or so brand new Gram Parsons related tunes we are doing for this show. They aren’t terrifically hard songs, but I like to have songs down second nature for shows, so I put in the song learning time and effort in advance. I might even try doing some limited backing vox, but not too much, because I didn’t really learn any of the words and I don’t know what the other members of the band plan to do as far as backups. I expect they plan to do very little, from past experience. But we shall see.

The boss is back this week and that’s a bit of a bummer because he is so annoying. But the workload seems pretty straightforward, so there ought not to be much trouble at work. I plan to bike in Tuesday and Thursday, in addition to today. On Wednesday I will probably power walk to lunch and I might go for a morning run at the nature trail near my house on Friday. Since Friday night is the DWTD show in Milwaukee, I can’t bike commute that day and still have time to get to Milwaukee on time. That reminds me, I need to scope out the carpooling options for this gig.

Ciao.

Strong Sauce vs. Weak Sauce

I must play with musicians in bands who are a lot better than me. My evidence for this is that when I have an upcoming band practice, I want to be fully prepared for it, so I practice a lot ahead of time to be ready. After all, no one wants to be the weak link in the rocking chain.

But my fellow musicians often show up not having done any practice in advance. So I can only assume from this that they are far superior to me musically, because they can apparently just "wing" the songs, whereas I have to practice a lot ahead of time.

Oddly, the only piece of evidence working against my hypothesis seems to be that these musicians seem unprepared when we practice and sound pretty weak on their portion of the music. They will say things like, "Don't worry. I will have it down by show time," or, "No worries. It will all come together when we play it live." Since these musicians are far superior to me, I trust their judgment. But it's a bit hair raising because live shows are stressful and take more concentration than practicing in a basement with few distractions. I like to go into shows feeling like I have all the songs down second nature so I can devote brain power to other considerations, like how best to present the show live, at least from the bass and vocals department. I want to own it.

It seems like my fellow musicians overlook the other distracting variables and it is often all they can do to focus on their musicianship and play the right notes at shows, so they stand like statues, eyes transfixed on their instruments and not able to give the audience a good theatrical presentation. So whereas I may not excel musically like my fellow musicians, because I need to practice a lot in advance, I am probably a superior entertainer.

I am being a bit facetious of course. I wish my fellow musicians would do their homework in advance. It makes both practices and shows much tighter. Songs don't learn themselves, but they can almost play themselves if you learn them so well at home that they are second nature. That means you have brain power to focus on entertaining the audience and entertainment makes the difference between weak sauce and strong sauce when it comes to a band. Plus, practice makes you a better musician over time, and who does not want that. My fellow musicians must be as good as they can ever be because I don't see a lot of progress being made.

It is fine if musicians don't want to practice in advance. I won't be the weak link in the chain. But musicians who don't practice should not be making a lot of demands on the rest of the band. This is inconsiderate behavior. You have to earn your keep in a band. If you don't practice and are a weakest link, remain quiet and focus on keeping you musical shite together.

I don't make a lot of demands in bands even when I do practice. I am self contained, self sufficient and not the least bit needy. But when I hear biffage coming from my fellow musicians, I point it out and try to correct it. I can demand that because I took the time to learn the songs and eliminate biffs, so damned if I am going to let someone slop all over a song I took the time to learn and play right. They will comply. Or DIE!

9.11.2013

Hamster Wheel to Eternal Damnation (Rough Draft)

I took an hour long bike ride during lunch today and during it, I had the idea for this post. Wisely, I pulled over to the side of the bike path to e-mail it to myself, so I would not forget, even though that slightly hurt my pace on MAP MY RIDE.

I have been exploring the concept of FREE AGENCY as part of my book writing project (tentative title: My Life Among the Corporate Cube Drones: How to Survive, Thrive, and Even Transcend Corporate America). The idea of choice ties into the idea of stress (stress is correlated with lack of choice and also too much choice). So these are just concepts, to be distilled later when I put the final draft of the book together for Kindle.

In college, there were some classes that were mandatory prerequisites to graduate. You had to take them and pass them. Many students often took these classes grudgingly and did the bare minimum to get by with a passing grade, because they felt they knew more than the academic administrators who designed the curriculum to maximize the education of students. Had these students spent as much time applying themselves to the course material as they did complaining about the poor judgment of the university administration, they probably would have aced these classes. Most of them were, by design, very basic conceptual courses.

But some people are psychologically hard wired to resist coercion. They push back on the perception of not having a choice, sometimes to their own detriment. These students bitched and moaned because not to do so would have been to admit defeat and acceptance of one's mandated lot in life.

Other students accept the lack of choice gleefully. They like that someone else has done the hard work of choosing the best courses to produce a well rounded adult, ready to enter the work force.

In corporate America, you see both personality types as well. Some people need hand holding and others prefer freedom and autonomy. I think the proportion of each kind of person is dependent on the circumstances and the environment. College kids are full of hope and idealism and naivete, for the most part. Their souls are alive and vibrant. They feel entitled. They resist compulsion and like having choices. It must be a thankless job to teach a mandatory prerequisite course at a college or university.

On the other hand, some courses in college are "electives." These are courses you have a choice to take, which count toward your total credits to graduate. There are usually tons of electives, such that most students' intellectual or artistic passions can be pursued. Electives represent CHOICE vs. the choice-less mandates of required classes. When you sign up for an elective class, you make a choice and by doing so, you take ownership for your own behavior and the resulting consequences. You have no one to blame but yourself if you don't like the class or don't do well in it. The hands of the college administrators are clean in the case of electives. You can whine and complain that the course it too hard and you can even choose to give up and fail the course. But when you choose to take an elective class, you own it.

You can fail or you can put in the time and effort to succeed and even excel at the class. In a mandatory prerequisite class, you can deny ownership and blame external factors if you don't apply yourself and thereby fail. But you cannot escape ownership in a class you willfully elected to take. Most students in elective classes are there because they want to be, and they expect to get something out of it to become more self actualized human beings. No one said these classes would be easy, but you made a choice and therefore you take full responsibility for the outcome.

Corporate America is much the same.

When young people join corporate America fresh out of college, they are full of piss and vinegar, optimistic at having completed one of life's rites of passage (college) and excited to move into the productive money making years of life. They are optimistic and idealistic and ready to change the world, as they were told they would have the option to do during their college years and probably during their college graduation, as well.

But corporate America is not college. It is a conservative environment, homogenous and designed to make money for stakeholders. There are things that work and things that don't and no one wants to take risks that put their jobs or reputations on the line. Management tries to maintain a status quo and this depends on obedient, complacent employees. So over time, corporate workers become obedient and complacent, going to work day after day no longer to change the world and make a difference, but just to make money, pay bills, and raise families.

The joy or pleasure they may have once hoped they would get from a job slowly shrinks to a nostalgic throb somewhere in the lower abdomen, in a state of torpor. They work only to live and survive, like a heroin addict, where the drug is money and promotion and the elusive prize of one day winning the Rat Race.

But the Rat Race becomes more of a hamster wheel to eternal damnation.

Have you or anyone you know won the rat race yet?

What does winning the Rat Race look like?

Isn't there always bigger, better, faster, more?

A soon as you think you are getting close to achieving the American Dream, the goal post moves again, and you keep running to keep up.

There is always a new necessity, a new toy or technology, a new desire to be fulfilled with material wealth.

It seems to me, the only way to win the Rat Race is to stop running it, to say, "I am not playing anymore," and get off the hamster wheel.

Being in the Rat Race is the surest way to lose it. Is retirement the goal? When you are old, will you look back and say, "I should have spent more time in the office?" Or will you say, "I should have spent more time with my family and pursuing my passions and dreams?"

Get off the hamster wheel. You don't have to have more to be happy. Be happy with enough and say enough is enough.

That'll do.

Joe

Bison and Biking

The bison steak I ate for breakfast today was pretty tender, but it tasted a bit gamey. I guess this is a good sign that it was raised on natural vegetation and not corn fed. The reason beef tastes so “sweet” is because of the high amounts of grain fed to commercial cattle. 100% grass fed cattle tends to taste a bit gamier. But this bison was especially gamey for some reason. Not bad, just different.

I played jazz last night, and as a result I did not aerobically exercise this AM. This is often the case on Wednesdays, because the lateness of jazz night encourages me to favor more sleep over more exercise. However, I brought my bike to work and I am going to ride with a co-worker for about 45 minutes to an hour at lunch. He is a new guy at work and as a nube he still sticks to a pretty conventional work schedule, not exceeding the generally excepted 45 minute lunch break between noon and 1 PM. I’ll accommodate him today, in the interests of getting my aerobics in. So in about 15 minutes, I am going to go put my bike clothes on and be ready to ride at noon. Since I have my cruiser today (mountain bike in the shop, getting a tune up), I believe we are going to stick to pavement. My vote would be to explore the trails in Pheasant Branch Park near Middleton, where we work.

For several reasons, my plan to go to Oshkosh this weekend has been compromised. Some of the reasons, I cannot discuss due to confidentiality with friends, but other reasons are more pragmatic and obvious. In just over a week, on Friday September 20, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, the country band I play bass with, has a show in Milwaukee. It is a Gram Parsons tribute show and I have a whole pantload of new songs to learn for this event. That means some serious time in the woodshed and the only time I can do it is this weekend. Music trumps just about everything else in my life, but at least it is a healthy addiction. If I wasn’t going to Oshkosh so I could sit home and inject heroin, that would be bad. But this I think will be good because it not only benefits me, but the world in general, via the presentation of a quality music performance at the Up and Under Pub in Milwaukee next Friday. It starts at 8 PM, if you are in town. As a result of some other circumstances, my lodging options in Oshkosh have dried up, and that’s consternating.

I have to go on a bike ride now. See ya.

Joe

9.10.2013

Heat

The only thing I have going for me with global warming is an extreme love of heat.

When civilization crumbles due to global climate change, I am very likely to die from a lot of possible causes. These could include lack of food and water, violence, and maybe even extreme cold, which I am not very tolerant of.

But when it comes to heat, you can fugoff. I love heat. As long as I am hydrated and nourished, I can survive extreme heat for long periods of time.

On RAGBRAI 2012, I rode my bike over 110 miles in 110 degree temperatures. I was out on the open road for hours, baking and sweating balls.

I grant you that during the hottest part of that day, I sat in the shade in a park and drank lemon flavored beer (as well as lots of water to avoid dehydration).

But I survived and thrived. If the main challenge of surviving global warming is heat, which it won’t be, but if it is, I will be a rock star.

Yesterday and today I bike commuted to work. It was in the 90s yesterday afternoon when I rode back to my car from work. I just took it easy and plodded along. Today, it was my understanding that temperatures would be milder, in the 70s. But weather.com was wrong. It was in the 90s again. I don’t know when this heat is going to break, but I love it.

Also, I can ride my bike for really long distances. So when fossils fuels dry up and people can’t drive cars anymore, I will be tooling around from place to place on my bike(s) while most people gasp for breath at the slightest bit of physical exertion.

In October, I am going on a two week bike tour of Europe with my mom and pops. So I fully plan to ride my bike a lot this month (September) to train for it. I am guessing it will not be very warm in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria in mid-October, so I need to bring some warm clothes. But it should not be horribly cold either. The main thing is to keep moving.

9.09.2013

Two Types of People: Awesome and Not So Awesome

There are two kinds of people in the corporate workplace - awesome people and not so awesome people. Here is a simple litmus test to determine which kind of person you are dealing with, at least among coworkers.

When the boss is away from the office for a week, does the person thrive, producing more and better work or does the person lose motivation and check out? The latter person is the not so awesome person.

Bosses tend to hinder the efficiency and effectiveness of awesome people because they are always hovering and hassling people to make sure they are working. This slows the awesome person down, but the not so awesome person needs that kind of handholding and babysitting to produce. So when the boss is gone, awesome people become rock stars and not so awesome people become the weak sauce that necessitates having meddling middle managers in the first place.

9.08.2013

Underwriting

I got a letter from a friend today. It was a typed, paper letter sent by snail mail. My friend and I have been corresponding this way for some time. I am not sure why we started doing it, but I think we wanted to remain true to the pure letter writing tradition of old, rather than succumb to the cosmetic triviality of e-mail and social media.

In any case, my friend said in his letter that he thought my concept of UNDERWRITING was genius. This is an idea I have developed that basically says to think of your day job as financial underwriting for your life, and more specifically your creative endeavors that define who you really are as a person. You are not defined by being a corporate cube drone slaving long hours for THE MAN. You are defined by the type of person you are and what you do with your life. THE MAN just supplies some underwriting in exchange for a service you provide. But your job probably does not define your life. You are not a corporate cube drone, but a human being. You probably don't even behave as your normal human being self at work most of the time. Because if you did, you would probably tell your boss and a lot of your coworkers to kiss your ass most of the time, and deservedly so, the way they behave. So when you are not at work, be who you really are and don't feel at all bad using THE MAN's underwriting to fund your life. HE can't touch that. Definitely don't take your work home with you and don't give THE MAN any more of your time than he is fairly paying you for. Party hard and on THE MAN's dime. If you do have creative and artistic goals, use the underwriting for that.

My Timing

I am in the parking lot of Sammy's Place supper club in Fort Atkinson WI, waiting to meet a buddy for a late lunch. My timing was poor because I invited my buddy to lunch as I was leaving Whitewater WI after dropping off my bike at BicycleWise for a tuneup. That gave him only a 15 minute time window to both respond to my invite and get there. That is why I am sitting in my car in the parking lot of Sammy's Place writing a blog post while I wait for my buddy to get here. This supper club is on the east side of Fort Atkinson, closer to Whitewater and was the first place I thought of.

9.07.2013

Lots of Power Naps Lately

I have been taking many power naps lately. I like them, but they usually make me stay up later than I want to at night. I took one on Friday, after I got home from work. My team has an interim manager now, since my boss left for a new job. The interim guy has a way of just sucking the life force right out of people and he's kind of a simpleton too, with no understanding of how my team has been doing things for months for maximum rock star efficiency. In any case, I don't really care at all, but I do find that after any amount of time around the guy, I need to decompress and restore my soul. I kind of wish this guy would go find a new job, since everyone is leaving the company in droves now. So power napping is a quick and easy restorative.

But today, which is Saturday, September 7, 2013, I took one too. I went for a 20 mile bike ride this morning and also did a lengthy prairie walk with my friend Sherry, followed by a lunch at the Cambridge bakery. I think all the exercise and food collaborated to make me drowsy. So after lunch, I practiced a bit of piano and then conked out on my bed for a couple of hours.

My bed right now is an air mattress because my folks are here and I let them stay in my real bed because it is more comfortable. That is now the only real bed in my house because I sold my king bed to a guy a while ago, when I was going to move to Iowa for a new job. I am still hoping to land a new job at some point, but it may be local and I won't have to sell my house and move. Still, king beds are big and cumbersome and I am quite fine with not having it anymore.

This blog post went nowhere.

Nature

In the past month, I have discovered two cool things about Cambridge WI that I should have known, but didn't.

One I just discovered this morning. There is a massive nature area just east of my house on Highway A. I am not sure why I have not seen this before, because I have ridden my bike past it many times, and that is exactly what I was doing this morning when I saw it, really saw it, for the first time.

The nature area has a big sign that says "Visitors Welcome." However, it is right next to a gun shooting range that has several signs that say "Members Only," "Private Property," "Trespassers Prosecuted," and "F#k You." OK, I made that last one up, but that is what those negative signs are all saying in one way or another.

The shooting range shares a parking lot with the nature area and so I guess the cognitive dissonance between the welcoming nature area sign and the angry and anti-social gun shooting range signs caused me to cancel both of them out, mentally.

But today, on my bike, I stopped in the parking lot to check it out. The nature area is actually north of the gun play area and has a lengthy mowed path. Later in the morning, I went back with my friend Sherry and we walked a bit of it. By the time we turned back, there was no sign of the path ending, so I think it goes for a ways.

Tomorrow morning, I am going to bike over to it in my running clothes and run the path, to see how long it is. It would be nice to do my runs there, free of the cars I encounter when I do my runs on the roads near my house. I just hope the gun maniacs keep to their antisocial enclave and do not endanger me while running. Because if they do, my fury will be unstoppable. I will beat on them like no one has ever been beat on before.

I don't have anything against guns, just people who use them irresponsibly or dangerously.

The second nature area, I discovered a couple weeks back when my friend Lisa was visiting. It's a series of single track mountain biking trails in CamRock Park on the south side of downtown Cambridge. I knew these trails were theoretically there, but I had not previously been able to find them. Lisa and I took a walk down a rails to trails footpath and that's when I saw the single track paths branching off into the woods at various points, marked by signs that gave the length and technical difficulty level of each trail.

I am going to explore those again soon too.

9.06.2013

11 Minutes

Today is Friday, September 6, 2013. But only for 2 more minutes, as I type this sentence. I had a good day today, a grueling marathon of spending the morning with my pops at a trombone factory in Elkhorn WI, then a string of coffee breaks in the afternoon interspersed with about 11 minutes of highly productive and efficient work at the office. I swear I am going to work myself right out of a job one of these days. But in reality, the opposite is true. No one but me can do what I do as quickly and efficiently as I do it. I have learned how to be a machine at work and have eliminated most of the busy work and inefficiency. That makes me indispensible and irreplaceable. My internal clients are utterly pleased and amazed by my performance, often literally referring to me as a machine. The only interference with my output seems to be meddling middle managers who try to assign busy work to me and my team that benefits no one, but for the most part, we are able to ignore that, recognizing that busy work benefits no one, and thus when it is completely ignored, no one is hurt or impacted. In fact, they are helped, because we have more time and brain power to focus on real and meaningful work, which I had only 11 minutes of today. And I crushed it. The balls are all in someone else's court and due to their busy work, I won't be seeing those balls again until next week.

Due to my strenuous output today (I also went for a 3.5 mile run in the morning), I needed to rest my body and mind when I got home from work. I only intended to rest on my bed and think a while, but as is so often the case, this deteriorated into a 2 hour power nap. That is why I am up past midnight.

Tomorrow, I may accompany my folks to Fighting Bob Fest in Madison, for a chunk of the afternoon. But before that, I have a busy morning. My cleaning lady is coming and so is my friend Sherry, the latter about 10 AM to collect some items she and Todd left at the cottage up north after Bike With (or Without) Melinda, on accident.

I might bike up to Lake Mills in the morning to hit the ATM there, so I can pay the cleaning lady. Some people are amazed that I have a cleaning lady, but it is so worth it and here is the economic rationale. First off, I like to support my local economy. I also pay a guy to mow my lawn in summer and shovel my driveway in winter. I consider it money well spent because I don't have to do those things.

My time is worth $30/hr, approximately, if my employer is to be believed. It is actually closer to $60/hr direct, but employment has some perks like health benefits and retirement funding handled by someone else. I would have to pay those things out of pocket, if self employed and paid directly by clients, hence the higher wage in the direct payment scenario without bennies.

Now, I pay my cleaning lady $20/hr and while she is working, I can be doing other useful things. In essence, I am making a net $10/hr by hiring her because I am free to do what I want on my time, while she works. Of course I don't actually make money while pursuing my own recreational and creative activities, but I do gain value in that time, which is priceless. Value is actually better than money. If I had to clean my own house, I would do it less well than my cleaning lady and I would lose value from being distracted from my recreation and creative arts.

That probably isn't going to make much sense to most people, but that is because people either lack value in their lives or they don't see the value added by outsourcing. Money has no value unless it is applied to producing something useful. I use it to pay my cleaning lady so I can get a clean house while still producing creative outputs and earning $10/hr in effect for doing so.

Never Underestimate the Value of Comfy Feet

The first time I wore slippers to work, it may have been an accident. I have pretty sweet hardwood floors at home and I often wear slippers around the house, especially in the morning. They are easy on/easy off and quite comfortable - so comfortable, in fact, that I often forget I have them on. So one day, I simply forgot to put real shoes on when I left for work and didn't realize it until I was already at the office.

My slippers at the time were a pair of fleece lined dark green camouflaged ones, with durable rubber soles. No one seemed to notice or care that I was wearing them, except for the imbecile of a boss I had then. His only response was to make fun of me for wearing them, but he didn't reprimand me for it or tell me I could not wear them.

This was in the late winter in Wisconsin, and the fleece lined, rubber soled slippers kept my feet warm and comfortable all day at work. My business casual work shoes were about as comfortable as shoes can be, but there was no comparison with slippers. I was hooked.

I eventually hooked up a pair of slippers that very closely resembled loafers. They were almost indistinguishable from regular shoes to the outside observer, unless they looked closely and saw the white wooly fleece lining peeping out. I have been wearing slippers to work instead of shoes ever since, and I don't think I could ever go back to regular shoes. The only exception to this is when I go to job interviews. Then I suffer real shoes so that I will appear professional under even the closest scrutiny of my fashion by potential employers.

In the summer time, I have taken to wearing sandals, when my employment situation allows it, usually in conjunction with a nice comfortable pair of shorts.

Foot comfort is under appreciated at work, but you are on your feet a lot at work. Even if you are sitting at a desk, you are still on your feet a little bit. Your feet are resting on the floor. They might not be bearing your full weight, but they are still supporting you. Shoes are constrictive, while slippers are liberating.

You have enough to think about at work that you should not have to suffer any additional discomfort by way of wrong footwear. If you are aware of your unhappy feet at work, it's a distraction from your actual job. Brain power is finite, and any brain power redirected away from your work and toward something like foot discomfort is hurting your ability to get your work done and get down to the pub sooner.

Your employer should fully endorse your wearing of slippers at work, if it makes you a happier, more comfortable, and more productive worker. If they do not endorse it, this only serves to illustrate their disrespect of workers and you should seek new employment opportunities immediately.

9.05.2013

Angst Immunity

There is so much angst and drama at work right now. None of it involves me and I am staying far away from it. I need only two things at work. The first is stuff to work on and the second is the time and resources to work on it.

Drama and angst subtract from my time. My time costs $30 per hour and I am not going to spend that on useless pursuits unless they want to pay me for the lost time. Actually, they do pay me for the lost time because I am salaried. But I would rather be doing useful work than dealing with drama and angst.

Still, drama and angst at work can be highly entertaining when it does not involve me. It is a fun diversion to observe from the outside. At 3:30 PM today, I get to attend a highly entertaining dramatic stage play at work, in the form of a meeting between many melodramatic actors. I can't wait, even though the meeting does constitute lost time from actual work. But wasteful meetings are totally compable against "giving myself a raise." I can't regain that lost time in any other way. So I can leave work as soon as the meeting is over. Yea!

9.04.2013

European Vacation

For two weeks in October, I will be biking in Europe with my family and I cannot wait to get away from it all, especially my disintegrating work place. In the past month, I have lost a great team member and a good boss because of the failures of management. There are hardly any good people left. The hiatus from this workplace is much needed.

9.01.2013

Morning Prep for Bike With Melinda

It is the last day of summer, recreationally speaking, Sunday September 1, 2013. It is also the day of Bike With (or Without) Melinda, my annual bike ride event that I have been hosting in northern Wisconsin every Labor Day weekend since about 1999. One can argue that Labor Day Monday is the last day of recreational summer, if you are lucky enough to have it off as a holiday. But I make the case that Monday is reserved for fighting traffic on the FIB laden highways as you return home from weekend fun. Needless to say, when we return home tomorrow, we will be taking backroads to avoid the chaos of the Interstate(s).

But today we will be doing a different and much funner kind of travel, riding our bikes on back country roads with music pumping (bike boom box) and libations flowing at the many rest stops on our route between my family's cabin in Shell Lake WI and the town of Stone Lake WI.

Right now we are eating a light breakfast before locking and loading to ride. About eight miles into the route, there is a greasy spoon diner where we will get more substantial fare. About four miles into the route, we will hit the first rest stop, Rummel's, which is a guy's garage converted into a bar. There we will get some carb infusion too.

Stay tuned here or on Facebook for pictures and highlights. You made a mistake in not coming on BW(owo)M this year, but you can still live vicariously through Jerome, Todd, Sherry, and me. See ya.

Joe