Speaking of Meetings

What do you get at a company that has no Marketing, Business Development, or Human Resources people?

No meetings.

The long-running tech-industry war between engineers and marketers has been ended at craigslist by the simple expedient of having no marketers. Only programmers, customer service reps, and accounting staff work at craigslist. There is no business development, no human resources, no sales. As a result, there are no meetings. The staff communicates by email and IM. This is a nice environment for employees of a certain temperament. “Not that we’re a Shangri-La or anything,” Buckmaster says, “but no technical people have ever left the company of their own accord.”

This is from an article in Wired entitled, Why Craigslist Is Such a Mess. If this appeals to you, don’t get your hopes up. They get more traffic than eBay and Amazon, but they only employ 30 people.

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Reading Goodbye To All That

In Goodbye To All That, Robert Graves describes very frankly both amorous male relationships in the English boarding schools he attended, the education he received, the torments he suffered in its peculiar (to me) social setting and the realities of trench warfare during World War One. The book was published in 1929.

It’s hard not to want to compare it to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Set next to Goodbye, Arms reads like a fantasy. Of course it’s about a fantasy that is eventually crushed; the way the War crushed the Old Ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

Goodbye reads like, well, an unflinching look into a particular kind of childhood education and how it could not possibly prepare someone for “serving God and Country” in fighting that war. Not that anyone could ever really be properly (is it even “proper?”) prepared for the realities of war. There are plenty of well-trained young men and women who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan physically and internally damaged from their experiences.

Through the first part of the book there is a lot of Graves describing an individual he had known and then saying “and he was killed in the war.” If it sounds overly dark, it is not. Graves has an excellent style of wry understatement that captures the absurdity of bureaucracy and Britain’s class system.

On arrival at the Depot, we Special Reserve officers were reminded of our great good fortune: if the War lasted, we should have the privilege of serving with one or the other of the Line battalions. In peacetime, a candidate for a commission had not only to distinguish himself in the passing out examination at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and be strongly recommended by two officers of the Regiment, but to possess a guaranteed independent income that would enable him to play polo and hunt and keep up the social reputation of the Regiment. These requirements were waived in our case; but we were to understand that we did not belong to the ‘Regiment’ in the special sense. Permission to serve with it in time of war should satisfy our highest military aspirations.

So unfortunate that those without “independent income” were allowed to sully the social rep of the regiment, a necessary evil to fighting the war. By the end of the war, the polo “requirement” had been done away with out of practicality, along with the horse-riding lessons officers had to take. Goodbye to that.

The War killed large numbers of the upper classes (officers). Graves describes one battalion suffering over 700 casualties and another over 500. That’s just from one day in the war. Yet another failed attempt to leap out of their trenches to capture a German-controlled trench. Trench warfare was ugly, brutal, and stagnant.

Graves also shows the dislocation he and other soldiers (like his friend Siegfried Sassoon) felt when on leave back home. They could not adequately describe the monumental differences between the war they were experiencing in the trenches and the war as reported and cheered for with Patriotic fervor on the home front.

When the War finally came to an end, Graves married and he and his wife had a child. He had difficulty adjusting to civilian life. This was in the days before “debriefing” or “PTSD.”

But not only did I have no experience of independent civilian life, having gone straight from [boarding] school into the Army: I was still mentally and nervously organized for War. Shells used to come bursting on my bed at midnight, even though Nancy shared it with me; strangers in daytime would assume the faces of friends who had been killed. When strong enough to climb the hill behind Harlech and revisit my favourite country, I could not help seeing it as a prospective battlefield. I would find myself working out tactical problems, planing how best to hold the Upper Artro valley against an attack from the sea, or where to place a Lewis gun if I were trying to rush Dolwreiddiog Farm from the brow of the hill, and what would be the best cover for my rifle-grenade section. I still had the Army habit of commandeering anything of uncertain ownership that I found lying about; also a difficulty in telling the truth—it was always easier for me now, when charge with any fault, to lie my way out in Army style, I applied the technique of taking over billets or trenches to a review of my present situation. food, water supply, possible dangers, communication, sanitation, protection against the weather, fuel and light—I ticked off each item as satisfactory.

It brought to mind a friend of mine who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He can no longer enjoy fireworks. Which tends to mute the fun of the 4th of July for him.

Picking up Goodbye To All That on a whim at a used bookstore was a very good thing. It’s an example of why browsing through used book stores is always rewarding to me.

Now I Know Why I’ve Always Hated Meetings

I hate meetings. I hated them even more when I was working full-time as a technical writer. Now I know why. [Hat Tip: The Daily Dish]

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

[Emphasis mine.] Yep, that about sums it up. A mid-morning or mid-afternoon meeting always killed that part of the day for me. Though I did come to appreciate good project managers and others who knew how to run a meeting well (keeping it tightly focused on tasks at hand and making decisions), I still retained a lot of dread for meetings.

Of course, becoming a stay-at-home parent has changed how I organize my time. While working on my novel, I’ve surprised myself at how well I’ve trained myself to pick up the most recent train of thought after having lost it due to some child-related task…If I can get the damned thing published, it’ll be proof that I’m not kidding myself about how my work habits have changed out of necessity. 😉

My Sisyphean Task

My quest to get to the bottom of my To Be Read (TBR) pile of books never ends. I always manage to find ways to heighten the pile.

I had successfully not bought any books for a few months when an email entered my Inbox from Barnes and Noble. They were offering the complete set of Harry Potter books (paperback) in a boxed set for around $60. (Now it appears to be a little cheaper than that.) Since I hadn’t yet read any of them, I bought the set. This added seven books to my intimidatingly high stack.

Right now, I have just finished the third Harry Potter book, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Like the first two, I enjoyed number three. Rowling has created an intriguing, attractive, and seemingly limitless world for her characters. They are a lot of fun to read. And yes, the books are better than the movies. Mostly because they can cover more ground than can be covered in a two-and-a-half hour movie. That’s not a knock on the movies, which I think are pretty good in their own right. The movies seem to rush by when I watch them. For someone who has seen the first six movies, reading the books is like being brought along the same path again but with plenty of time to cover important details, fill in a lot of the background of the characters and their roles in Rowling’s grand scheme, and go down some side paths not even mentioned in the movies. It’s a richer experience.

I will say this though: Harry Potter is far too well-adjusted for having spent 10 of his 11 years living in a cupboard under a staircase with his shit-family the Dursley’s and all the abuse he is supposed to have suffered at their hands. Also, why in the hell has no one reported the Dursley’s to Social Services or Local Authorities for the way they treat their nephew? 😉

Anyway, back to my TBR pile.

Currently, I am reading Goodbye To All That by Robert Graves. He wrote the book I, Claudius which was made into a well-regarded mini-series. (For Star Trek: Next Generation fans, a young Patrick Stewart is in it.) I haven’t seen the series or read the book. I picked up Goodbye To All That in a used bookstore. Used bookstores are like crack to me. Whenever I step inside a used bookstore, I always find a deal. Which is how I came to acquire Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. A used bookstore had all four paperback books in a boxed set for $28 in very good condition, far less than I found online. So I went back to the store the next day and bought it.

I’m not sure when I’ll get to Durrell’s magnum opus. After the Graves, I’m going back to the Harry Potter series, with number four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Counting the remaining four in the series plus the rest of my TBR books, that leaves me with 33…Time for another moratorium on book purchases…