Archive for the ‘rant’ Category

Magic and Wishes are Really Hard Work   Leave a comment

Road rideI’ve written about my weight loss, and how that lead to being able to race cyclocross. Truth is, I’m still riding better than ever, and have started road racing–I’m sure I’ll do a post about that at a later date. I’m not impressive, but I’m sticking with the field. I still feel that being credible at this is a dream come true for me. Being able to stick with fast groups on training rides, or a pack at a road race, or any of the other things feels like, in a modest way, a measure of success.

I haven’t really trusted it.

There is always this thought in the back of my head that, at any moment, this could be taken away from me. Not in the sense that an injury could get me off the bike. More that I got to this place by rubbing a lamp or having a spell cast upon me. I could wake up tomorrow in my old, heavier body, averaging 3-4 MPH slower.

It has made me grateful to my wife, who inspired me to do this and continues to support me in more ways than I can count. It also has me pushing myself harder to squeeze out every little bit of this new-found strength, wanting to enjoy every moment before the spell is broken.

But, coming back from a great ride the other night, I had this revelation: this is not a spell. It’s not a wish from a genie. I worked at this. All the riding I do is a step in achieving this. Logging what I eat and keeping within a calorie budget is a step. Waking up at 5:15 in the winter to suffer before work is a step. There are things beyond my control, but I was making sure I was taking responsibility for the ones that are completely on me.

I suppose this seems more like magic than work because, individually, no one instance of any one thing is not that much work. Picking a small sandwich and baked chips over something with twice (or more) the calories is not that hard, one lunch at a time. Spending an hour on a stationary bike is not that hard, one day at a time. Both are as easily forgotten as the high-calorie lunch or sitting on the couch hours later. Only when I look back at my logs do I see just the effort I put in.

Chris Hadfield once wrote:

“Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”

Hadfield was speaking of becoming an astronaut, but I think it can even apply to more modest pursuits. Many of us may be in a position where we can’t orient our entire lives to something. We have jobs and families and other things that have to take priority. However, we can look at the things we can control, and try.

In a way, I did that starting almost two years ago. I looked at every meal, and every act. As momentum built and I entered my first cyclocross race, I continued making choices. Today, there are times I consciously think I want to race bicycles more than I want the leftover pizza in the break room or I want to race bicycles more than I want that cookie. To be fair, there are times I ride my bike because I want to indulge, but that’s part of the same decision-making process.

Put another way: hard work is magic. While there may be factors that are limiting, by and large, I can continue this or not at my choosing. I can continue to count calories and ride hard, and stay focused on what I want. If I choose to let go a bit to make room for something else, that will be of my choosing. If there are external factors like work that put pressure on me, I can figure out how to adapt. I may not always be able to keep with a pack at 24 MPH, but, if I want to try to get there, I know that it will be my own doing.

Posted 2015-04-25 by Mr. Guilt in Cycling, rant

Connecting Digital Items to Analog Notes   Leave a comment

There is a growing community of folks who prefer, to varying degrees, analog tools, such as pens, paper, and pencils. Lots of people are sharing ideas, be it Sketchnoting, Bullet Journals, and blogs such as The Cramped or, appropriately enough Write Analog. I have several hypothesis as to why. It may legitimately be a way some folks can think and focus. I know I have those tendencies. As with distraction free text editors, for some people, obsessing over tools is a good way to feel like you are getting something done while avoiding the task at hand. Finally, some folks simply enjoy old-school office supplies, and, in a world which is increasingly paperless, want to find a way to use these tools in their day-to-day work, rather than simply admire them.

However, much of my life these days tends to exist in the digital realm. I know my Outlook inbox has a lot of mail in it, in part because it has an attachment or link to a SharePoint that I need to access. I keep both my professional and personal calendar online, and occasionally make a pass at getting the whole household on one system. Much of the information I generate tends to wind up stored as ones and zeros.

This spills over into my journals and notepads. My handwritten activities often bounce between things that come from my head (which is put on paper) and things online that relate to it. For instance, something I read in a blog post will spawn an entry in a journal. Or, I might take a digital photo of a whiteboard that I want to associate with the notes (but, at the same time, share with my team). Creating these connections is the challenge of analog tools in a world that want to be paperless.

Most of these sorts of things are either conventional web posts, or stored “in the Cloud,” using SharePoint, Evernote, or other cloud storage options such as Copy or OneDrive. What all these things have in common is the ability to point to something with a uniform resource locator, or URL. You may know this as a “web address.” This blog, for instance, is https://mrguilt.wordpress.com. That one is fairly simple, and could be written down in a notebook fairly easily. But, when you start to get to specific items, it gets long. The URL for my post about the Riverbanks Zoo is https://mrguilt.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/riverbanks-zoo-and-garden-in-columbia-south-carolina/. While relatively long, it is clear what it points to.

However, you have to write down the URL exactly for it to work, and then type it into the address bar of your browser exactly for it to work. URLs can be tricky this way. Evernote is a good place to stash a picture of a whiteboard. However, a share URL from there is quite cryptic: http://www.evernote.com/l/AAFdTwhp225H97wlIADxiTP3CJWPZiBVCfY/–and one wrong character (even the wrong case) can throw it off. Microsoft SharePoint is commonly used to store and share files in the corporate world. However, its URLs are even longer and more challenging: https://services.bigcorp.com/sites/Portal/Office/Division/Shared%20Documents/Data%20Center%20Space%20--%20Cincinnati,%20Ohio/A%20Subdirectory%20Power/Really%20Important%20Spreadsheet%202015.xls. There is no way this can make its way reliably into the analog word, much less the return trip.

ME Journal PageThere are a few products out there that try to bridge this gap. One example is the Quo Vadis Multimedia Enhanced journal. I won one over the summer, and played with the system a bit. The basic journal is nice. Mine is just shy of US letter size, and filled with Clairefontaine paper–the same used in my beloved Rhodia pads. This means it is great paper, and the very definition of “fountain pen friendly.” As a notebook, there is nothing to complain about.

What makes it unique is that, on each page, a QR code is printed. With a SmartPhone app, you can scan the code, and attach and view digital objects to the page. The objects can include video, audio, pictures, files, or links. The app is a bit quirky, with an awkward interface, and periods where I have to reset my password. It does an OK job capturing and storing items. Unfortunately, a code I scanned a few months ago doesn’t show up in my “library” (though scanning the code gets me to to item–strange). Also, it is somewhat of a dead end. I can’t share things out of it, and it doesn’t link to more common tools. I could muddle through with it, if the overall system held value.

There are other flaws as well. There is only one QR Code per page. On some pages, there may not be anything to link to, which, at worst, makes the QR Code meaningless. On other pages, I might want to make multiple links. Further, I’m tied into using that notebook, or ones like it. I couldn’t use other notebooks, nor can I tie it to other documents, such as a map or brochure. The pre-printed code doesn’t offer the flexibility you might need or desire for an analog/digital system.

StickyBitsThere was a service called StickyBits that was a similar implementation of this idea, but enhanced the flexibility of the system. Rather than having the QR Codes pre-printed into a journal, you could either print or purchase stickers with the QR Code on them. When you needed to make a connection, you could put the sticker in your notebook, scan it with their app, and then create what you needed. At the time it was released, I didn’t really think through the utility: I played with it for a day or two, then let it fade. Unfortunately, it has since joined other Web 2.0 start-ups in, well, closing shop.

I actually started to consider building StickyBits on my own, doing some coding in Perl and HTML. It seemed like a major undertaking, and it’d be something just for myself–after all, one start-up already failed with this concept. It is a bit of a niche intersection of folks who use analog tools and digital tools and want to somehow create interoperability. Simply put, I had better things to do with my time.


Short URL Mark-UpThen, I read an article, “Connecting Your Paper Notebooks to the Digital Age,” which made me realize that I was out-thinking this. Rather than being dependent on the QR Code, it leverages a URL shortener, such as Bitly. By assuming that there is the same domain and server name (the http://bit.ly part), the shortened URL is written down with some demarcation (he uses greater than/less than symbols). The article suggests also underlining upper case letters for clarity.

Using this scheme, I would write “<1HGmax9>” in my notebook, and it would point me to the article that inspired this. The author suggests Bitly, as you can forward your own domain to it, but it doesn’t sound like a hard requirement, so long as you can use the same URL shortener. Multiple URL shorteners could be used with a different demarcation symbol–brackets could be used, for instance, for my company’s in-house shortener.

This scheme has several advantages. First, there is no need for a sticker or something printed on the page. You simply write it on the fly wherever it is relevant. This also means you are not tied to a specific notebook-or even a notebook. A Post-It, margin of a magazine, or any other relevant place can be used. The short URL frees you from having to use a specific application or a device with a camera. This is quite a flexible solution.

One other advantage is from other features of the URL shortener. Most URL shorteners can allow customization of the short URL. A meaningful title, such as “DataCenterMap” could be used. In addition to making it easier to write down, it makes it easier in other contexts. I have even been taking greater advantage of this in my emails that I don’t expect to wind up on paper, as I think it makes it more obvious what a given URL is for.

My quest to link my beloved pen and paper to the omnipresence of digital media has taken me from specialized tools to a very simply DIY approach. In doing so, I’ve come to the conclusion that this will be a niche interest, and each individual will probably find an approach that best suits them. I am doubtful that specialized products, such as the ME Journal, will find much success. But I have found that there are ways to achieve the end which offer the flexibility I desire in the analog world, and can extend their utility in the digital one as well.

Fifty-Five and a Half Pounds   3 comments

For pretty much my entire adult life, I’ve been overweight, or even obese. I really don’t know what I weighed when I graduated high school, but, certainly by the end of college, my Body Mass Index (BMI) was over 25, likely over 30. I can find pictures from the late Nineties when it’s pretty obvious. Yet, my wife still married me when I looked like this (from 1998):
ICB--99

A family member had a double-bypass in 2001, which was the year after I started bike commuting. This got me thinking a bit more about what I ate. I stepped up my cycling, something I did half-hardheartedly since college. While I was 194 pounds for a couple months in 2004, pretty much, since then, I danced around 208 pounds, varying a bit depending on season, my attitude, stress, etc. This put my BMI just a hair under 30, the line between “overweight” and “obese.”
Goofy Charles

I had the best of intentions of dealing with it. I was very unhappy at work, so I allowed myself to stress eat. I knew what I should and shouldn’t eat, and how much. I just didn’t want to deal with it. Some level of depression and unjustified guilt kept me from riding as much as I probably would have liked. I kept telling myself: get a new job, then we’ll work on the weight.
ICB Avatar (Duster) 2

There was part of me that was honest with myself. It’s easy to imagine that, if I were to get a new job, giving myself a pass “for a few months while I settle in.” Or some other excuse. Without admitting it, I had resigned myself to being 208 pounds, give or take, for the rest of my life. Change, after all, is hard.

Last spring, my wife started to leverage a few tools to try to lose weight. And, it worked very well for her. Work got a bit better, and I started to realize that I could not put my life on hold for a job hunt. A year ago today (September 26, 2013), I started to use her system, tweaked a bit for my preferences. It was right at the start of the “Renew the Zoo” campaign.
#RENEWtheZOO Yard Sign #3

The tools centered, for me, around My Fitness Pal, where I logged everything I ate, and any exercise I did. I already captured a lot of information from cycling, so that went in there. A FitBit captured “incidental movement”–walking to and from the bus, at the grocery store, etc. As Fall turned to Winter, I got to the gym more regularly, doing videos from The Sufferfest. Pants became loser, then replaced. I started setting personal bests on the bike in February, a time when historically I lost strength.
Charles Standing with Beso

In April, my BMI went under 25, moving from “overweight” to “normal” for the first time since…well, I couldn’t really tell you. I continued with the process, carefully weighing and tracking what I eat and exercising. What surprised me was that, while not “easy,” how quickly I adapted to cutting out a lot of the crap I was consuming. I still enjoy things, just that I’m more selective. I’m better about choices being “or,” not “and.”

A good contrast is below. On the left, a photo taken of me at the end of July, 2013. On the right, wearing the same shirt, is me in mid-July 2014.
Same shirt, about a year apart. Thanks, @myfitnesspal, @fitbit, and @thesufferfest. #iwkmattkyt

As of last Saturday, I lost a total of fifty-five and a half pounds. I still have a bit more I want to lose, mostly so I’m more cleanly in the size pants I currently am wearing. However, I feel a lot better, both physically and mentally. I’ll continue to these tools, or ones like it, as I work to maintain my weight. This does not strike me as a problem. As we say in the Information Technology business, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This is simply a way I can manage my body better, giving me control. I hope to continue to make healthier choices, stress-biking rather than stress-eating.

It’s been amazing to see the change. The snowball effect of losing weight, eating better, and exercising more consistently has made me feel better. Even my daughter says I’m happier now. When I look at the results–pictures, bike logs, or scales–I can easily see why. It’s my hope I’m able to keep this moving forward, and sustain this.
Second CXTT

Posted 2014-09-26 by Mr. Guilt in Interesting, Random Tale, rant

Advice: Back Up Your Web Recipes   1 comment

Three years ago this month, there was a major outage at work. We had teams working more or less around the clock trying to first catch the issue as it was happening, then resolving it. It was not something in my area of responsibility, but my boss at the time wanted a member of his executive team on the call overnight. I drew two back-to-back near-overnight shifts.

The morning after the second shift, my last day before taking some PTO, I checked in with my boss as soon as I got into the office. He was British, and just returned from a trip to the UK. He offered me a piece of shortbread he brought back, which I gladly accepted–I was starving! I gave him my briefing, as well as some transition items for my PTO. He offered me another piece. “I was planning on it,” I said, as I took the cookie.

For that odd reason, I always tie the winter holidays to shortbread. The next year, a food blog I follow followed, “I Really Like Food,” published a recipe for chocolate chip shortbread. It entered the Christmas goody rotation, along with pralines and other goodies. We’ve started to make a variety of treats to give to teachers, our offices, and family. I started that process this weekend. since they don’t have nuts, I wanted to make sure to make the shortbread.

I had forgotten that “I Really Like Food” is no more.

New Shortbread CookiesThis happened with the peppered queen, but, between having it in my head and Google cache, I could recreate my version of it. All I had was blog post where I listed the ingredients. Google cache was no help, and it wasn’t in the Wayback Machine. I looked at recipes for shortbread until I found one that had the same list of ingredients. they seem to be as good, though there may be too many chocolate chips in them. Yes, there is such a thing.

I texted my wife about the situation. She texted back to make sure I had captured the Word War Two Oatmeal Molasses Cookies, which are our new favorite. I had just finished typing it in the format I like.

“Print it out & put it in your

binder, just in case your hard drive dies.” She takes cookies very seriously.

That’s the key lesson. The internet is a great source of all sorts of information, and it’s a great place to store you material. On two occassions, I’ve blogged about the risks of storing things in the cloud. I suppose a related risk and lesson, is to assume may be true of any information in the cloud. If it’s something that’s important to you–be it a recipe, a manual to a device, or something else, grabbing a local copy is wise. You may not be able to get it back.

Posted 2013-12-16 by Mr. Guilt in computers, food, Internet, IT Opinion, rant

The Day After   1 comment

There were two generations of kids who grew up in the Cold War. The first generation was the Baby Boomers, who were taught to duck and cover. Their parents built fallout shelters, and tried to figure out how to surive a nuclear war. I’m a member of the second generation, the children of the Boomers. We were a bit more fatalistic: if there was a nuclear war, we would likely not survive. I remember very animated discussions where classmates debated the dark question that lurked in every Gen-X mind: if there were a nuclear strike, was it better to run for the hills (and try to eek out an existence), or towards the blast, for a quick death?

Looking back, 1983 was perhaps the scariest year of the Cold War. Reagan took office in 1981, and started a weapons build up, ratcheting up the tension between the United States and its rival, the Soviet Union. In September of 1983, Korean Air Lines 007 was shot down, mistaken for a US spy plane. Later that month, a Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet air defence commander, came close to responding to an erroneous RADAR reading with a nuclear attack. The Soviets were convinced that the Able Archer 83 exercise was a prelude to a first strike, and made preparations for a response. That the Soviet Union would fall by the end of the decade seemed laughable.

I was twelve in 1983, when the movie “The Day After” was aired. It was billed as a relatively realistic telling of a nuclear attack on a college town in Kansas (a card at the end aparently noted the effects of the attack were downplayed for the sake of the story). It aired thirty years ago today, and, at the time, was quite the sensation. Toll-free numbers were set up for people who had concerns after the broadcast, and a panel discussion followed. President Reagan was even affected by it, changing his thinking on nuclear war. It’d be a stretch to say that this movie alone ended the Cold War, but it definitely help cool the fires that were burning.

I actually didn’t get to see it. My parents didn’t allow me, fearing it would give me nightmares. In the short term, they were probably right–it would have had a lot of immediate worry and sleepless nights. However, it also prompted me to read anything I could get my hands on about nuclear war and its effects. I’m not sure if it was comforting or troubling. Gradually, the obession faded, along with the threat.

I’m actually rather surprised that the thirtieth anniversary is not being marked in any way. I haven’t seen any articles on the web, much less an anniversary airing with a special explaining context. It just seems like other relics of the Cold War, everyone is content just to put it behind us.

I still haven’t seen the movie, aside from a few clips here and there. It pops up from time to time on SyFy, almost as a B-movie. Part of me still carries the worry of nightmares and panic. However, as it has moved from warning to a cautionary tale of what might have happened, I’m glad to let it be something so absurd as to seem like a waste of time.

Posted 2013-11-20 by Mr. Guilt in Gen Xer, Interesting, rant

Missing a Desk   Leave a comment

It’s been ten months since we officially went full-on hoteling at my office, and six since remodelling pretty much enforced it. As an upside, the company is a lot more tolerant of working from home. While I don’t do it everyday–work demands actually have made this infrequent–it is a nice perk to have.

The biggest impact has been the stuff I need to get through my day. Some creature comforts were lost a long time ago–we’re really not supposed to hang things on the walls of the cubes. So, any pictures I want to have to exist on my phone or in the cloud. It also meant I couldn’t have a calendar up. Aside from having a really awesome one this year, I use a calendar an awful lot when scheduling things with different groups. Sure, I can go to Outlook and find one, but it’s not as easy as just to glance behind me.

The really hard thing is office supplies and water bottles. By the letter of the law, we’re not supposed to keep anything at our desks. So, this means that every day, anything I need at the office is either has to be lugged to and from home with me, or I have to walk around the office to find what I need. The office-provided supplies are somewhat annoying. If I need Post-Its, paper clips, or a stapler, I have to go to one of the copier/printer areas where such supplies are kept. While I sincerely appreciate the exercise, it does break my rhythm a bit to have to make a special trip just to, say, grab a pair of scissors.

The stuff I take too and from the office has, in particular, been the most difficult. Some of it, I admit, is just me being fussy–I like a certain type of pad, or some of the other office supplies cum toys that I like to have. During the months I commute by bicycle, I’ve pared that down to a minimum. Other things are in support of the bike commuting, such as leaving my work shoes at the office. Either way, I’m traveling with a lot more than I used to, and have had to adapt.

Some things just seem silly, like having to take a mouse pad back and forth.

Ultimately, these things are creature comforts. I like to have a water bottle at my desk, which I fill several times through the day. That has to be taken back and forth. Is it that big a deal? Perhaps not. However, during the week, about a third of my life is at the office. Having designated space I see as a benefit–I don’t have to reset from a blank slate each day. Some of these things, such as the Post-Its, clearly impact productivity. Other things, like my water bottle, make this a more pleasant place to be. Surely that has it’s benefits as well?

Posted 2013-10-26 by Mr. Guilt in rant, work

Virtual Cat Name for Mac OS X 10.9   Leave a comment

As I previously mentioned, Apple decided to change their standard, and not use a cat name for the latest version of their desktop operating system, OS X.

In my opinion, OS X is the best desktop version of UNIX. It can use standard tools at a prompt when you want to geek out, but has good tools, such as a native version of Microsoft Office. Using cat names for this was a great way to show the power of the OS, while also creating awareness around our endangered felines.

10.9 was released yesterday (October 22), and I think we can do something about this. I’m calling for OS X using cat fans to help select the “Virtual Cat Name.” I’ll leave voting open until Wednesday, October 30. On November 4, I’ll reveal the winner, and, we’ll all start referring to “10.9 felid” as opposed to…whatever that place in California is. I’ll even make a wallpaper.

Please vote below, and tell your friends!

This Was Going to be an Awesome Blog Post   Leave a comment

#dailyArsenal 1949 @ParkerPens 51 #fountainpen, @MonteVerdePens One Touch #ballpoint/#stylusThis was going to be an awesome blog post.

It really was.

I had the initial idea while at the office. That’s not entirely true–the thought had been tumbling in my head for a couple weeks now, just below the surface. I would get a peek at it while drifting off to sleep. Once in a while, it would bubble to the surface of my thoughts while in the shower. I even saw it on a bike ride once. However, it was today that all thoughts different threads wove together into a cohesive idea.

Before I realized it, a rough outline formed. I figured ten minutes with a text editor, a quick spell check, and it would be ready to go. I’d sit on it for a few hours then reread it–something I like to do with any major missive–but, by that point, it would be more an at of polishing.

It was going to be really good, too.

I think that it would easily join the ranks of my most viewed posts. It may have been picked up on Buzzfeed, or some simiar site. Thousands of people would come to my blog. They’d read other posts. I could become a professional blogger, just due to this one idea.

I was slow in getting out the notebook I have just for capturing such ideas. I was trying to pick through a few emails, and didn’t want to break that rhythm. But the idea was still there. Then, I got an instant message from someone–there was some paperwork I swore I complete, but the ticketting system was showing otherwise. I typed three different responses in the chat window, each decreasingly offensive, until I reached a civil tone, and clicked send. I went into the system, updated the ticket, and he confirmed that that task was now closed.

I was at work, where I’m not a professional blogger. Dealing with the ticket was a higher priority for me at that moment.

But now, that idea is once again gone. I have clue where it went. I can’t even tell you what it was. I spent a few minutes looking at the various sources on my desk: my email, IM windows, to-do list, and twitter feed. But nothing was jarring my memory.

I hope one day to see this idea again–it really was a great one. I’ll write it in the notebook I have for just such a purpose. Then, when I have a bit of time, I’ll form the idea into a blog post, and put it here.

You’ll be very impressed. I promise you: it really was goinig to be an awesome blog post.

Posted 2013-10-22 by Mr. Guilt in Random Tale, rant

Harder to Love Instagram   2 comments

Instagram ShareInstagram seems to be getting harder and harder to love.

Back in December, it looked like I was going to stop using Instagram. The issue was over a licence whose language could be interpreted as claiming rights to the photos I took. I had written a script to get the HTML code to embed pictures from instagram into my blog. Over the course of several hours, I rehosted them on Flickr (who supports the Creative Commons licence)), and pointed blog posts to those images. My plan was to stop using it all-together. However, Instagram backed off that langauge, and I kept using that particular tool.

Still, I kept the photos I used for this blog either on WordPress or Flickr, just in case. Instagram is owned by Facebook. Even though I have an account on the latter, I don’t fully trust it,and am prepared to jettison it at a moment’s notice. The primary place I used Instagram photos on the blog was in my monthly hodge podge. Most people who follow this blog may follow me on social media. However, putting photos in the hodge podge allowed for more context to be put around them. Also, my blog is as much about my remembering things as it is about sharing. What makes it here are things I don’t want to risk getting lost in more ephemeral places. Typically, I’d go back at the end of the day, click the “share” button on one of my pictures that was already posted, and add it to Flickr. Piece of cake.

With the latest update, however, this workflow seems to have been impacted. While I can share to Flickr at the initial posting of a photo, the button is not present when I go back to a photo already uploaded. A look at a few forums on the web confirms that I am not the only person to have encountered this behavior.

My first thought was to dust off the script. However, my first pass at trying to use it shows they changed the HTML code, so that it can’t be used. Instagram released an embed feature, but, unlike Flickr, it puts an ugly frame around the picture (and doesn’t really offer controls around the size of the image, etc.). The pictures are saved to the camera roll on my phone, so I can manually upload it to Flickr as a work-around, but it’s not as simple.

My hope is that this reflects a bug in the software rather than a change in policy, and it will be remediated in the next release of the app. However, as Instagram becomes more and more annoying, it makes me want to pick a different tool for my spontaneous photo sharing.

UPDATE: This very afternoon, an update was released, which resolved this issue. So, just a bug. Huzzah!

Business Phrases I Hate   1 comment

In spite of how I would prefer to imagine myself, professionally, I am a corporate guy. I try to have a perspective (it’s just a job), but ultimately, I work in “business,” and sit in on meetings with other corporate types.

Like any culture, corporate America has its own language–a series of phrases, axioms, and allusions that are understood. Some are unique to a given company or industry, others are more broadly understood. I confess that I have been known to engage in some corporate speak, but there are a few phrases that should be expunged from our vocabulary.

  • Open the Kimono This is a term generally meant to suggest full disclosure or access. If two companies are partnering, one may “open their kimono” to show their processes, financials, etc.

    While both men and women wear kimonos in Japan, there is something sexist and creepy to my ear about the phrase–revealing one’s naked body. Not sure this is appropriate for business contexts.

  • Drink the Kool-Aid In a business setting, I typically hear this to suggest how much one has bought into a set of ideas, corporate culture, etc. If someone is a proponent off a certain idea, or a real “company man,” they are said to have “drunk the Kool-Aid.” Trying to get skeptical individuals to support an idea is to “get them to drink the Kool-Aid.”

    The speaker, however, may not realize he’s proposing killing someone. This is an allusion to the Jonestown Massacre. Short description: in 1978, at the direction of cult leaders, 918 people died in a mass suicide: Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. In short, the analogy is that someone should have cult-like devotion to whatever the speaker is referring to, to the point of being willing to kill themselves. I don’t think there is anything in business that should merit that.

  • Pretend Time Off This is a play on “Paid Time Off” or “PTO.” PTO is what a lot of corporations do: instead of having so many days of paid vacation and so many sick days, you get a bank of PTO, which covers both–it’s the employee’s responsibility to manage. The advantage is that, if you don’t get sick, there is no shame in just using the time off. The joke, typically given by a senior executive, is that, while he was ostensibly taking a vacation, he was working.

    I have several problems with this. First, it is a less-than-healthy work/life balance. Ignoring what it is doing to the individual, it creates a culture where trying to have work/life balance is frowned upon. Further, I believe that any time spent working needs to be logged, charged, etc., even if the individual does not get paid overtime. This allows companies to understand how much it truly costs to deliver their service or product, and can scale their resources properly. The notion of Pretend Time Off is, in my mind, a sign of a dysfunctional company.

  • Night Job It may generally allude to duties outside of your core responsibilities. If it’s a spot situation (a couple of weeks) or accounted for in resource planning (either ensuring there is adequate coverage to allow the “day job” to be done, having a “night job” take place in a lull, or accepting that some activities just won’t get done), it’s understandable.

    However, I’ve frequently heard people use the term “Night Job” to refer to an ongoing assignment that, because of one’s core responsibilities, require significant off-hour work to get it done. This is anything but work/life balance. Further, if there is no charging for the time, the true cost of a service not being captured.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to either find better phrases to convey the same idea, or, better still, decide if it is an idea that should be conveyed. Corporations are made up of people. The language we use is a key indicator of how we treat them.

Posted 2013-06-24 by Mr. Guilt in rant, Twenty-First Century Life, work

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