Monday, June 30, 2008

Vacation's over

Well, I’m back to work after slightly more than a week’s worth of vacation. Apparently, I picked the right week to be out – production was slow, but the coordination of other things was intense. Having the time out was wonderful. It was shared with almost all those that I consider to be real friends, and as always, it ended too soon. We gamed, and gamed, and talked, and gamed, and toured, and reviewed the first draft of Coralius’s book, and talked. These are the people that I actually miss when they aren’t here. One set is close by (Coralius and Aradia), and the other (Caliban and someone who doesn’t have a regular alias, whom I shall call “K”, until she gives me a decent option) lives some distance away. Even so, when any of us are together, it’s as if someone just left the room and came back; we pick up right where we left off. I’ve seen a conversation continue with months in between exchanges.

That brings up one of the stranger aspects of our relationship. As much as we miss each other, and love being a part of one another’s lives, we don’t actually talk much when we’re apart. Virtually all our interaction is face-to-face. I occasionally shoot an email or blog comment to Coralius, but it’s the dinners and game nights where we actually get into some depth. I rarely speak with Aradia outside of being with her, unless she’s calling to speak to my wife (note: alias shall henceforth be “Amberle”) and I get the phone, and that’s not usually deep conversation. As for the non-locals, we rarely even exchange emails. We don’t call, except when planning a trip, and even then, it’s often along the lines of “We’ll be there Friday.” I’ve spoken with Caliban about this before. He said that they find it odd, as well, but that it also happens with other people they know. What it seems to do is encourage us to get together as much as possible. Given gas prices, that’s getting harder. Ultimately, it won’t stop us, though.

There was a hint that the “distant” couple is considering a move down, should opportunity arise, and there was much rejoicing (at least in my head; while I’m not exactly a stoic, I don’t do a lot of jumping up and down, either). They’re both talented professionals, and shouldn’t have much of a problem, other than finding exactly what they want. Hell, I’d probably hire either of them before I’d hire myself. I’m likely to find myself networking for them (as if I had any real connections).

In any case, the time was too short. Being with these people is my idea of paradise. When it comes to people, I don’t need many. I have my wife and children; my father and brother. Then, there are these people, who are more family than any of my other blood kin. Aside from my grandparents, who have all passed away, none of my “real” extended family ever showed me a need to stay connected with them. There’s bickering, theft, dismissive attitudes, airs of superiority, and passive-aggressive behaviors that make the Cold War look nice and friendly. That’s blood. There’s a bond there, but I don’t have a lot of reason to pursue it. While that might have brought some shame in the past, especially because my parents worked so hard to document my family and their history, it doesn’t now. The history is important to me; the present, not so much. I have dozens of cousins, some old enough to be my grandparents or young enough to be my own children. I’ve pretty much left that clan behind. I’m friendly when I see them, but lacking that interaction doesn’t really harm me in any way.

I guess one way of looking at it is that the world has opened up new possibilities, but a lot of them haven’t taken the opportunities that are there. As can be said by many younger mountain people, I got out. I wasn’t even that far in to begin with, but I still left the old, clannish ways behind. So much of my family, as spread out as they are, still lived within that network of shared bonds. It held them back from ever discovering much outside the network. My personal network is smaller, but I think it’s better.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Book Reviews

Two posts in one day! Woo!

I've started several posts offline, because there are quite a few things that I'd like to write about, but once I get the opportunity, I lose the drive. Part of that is that, most of the time, the opportunity occurs when I'm just home from work, at which point my brain usually shuts off in response to the day. At least, until the rest of my family gets in, at which point the opportunity for concentrated effort, regardless of mental state, pretty much goes out the window.

So, what have I wanted to talk about? Well, I've finished several books since I last posted; There's a big post about Upton Sinclair's OIL! floating in the draft folder, so I'll skip that for now. I completed Charles Stross's Halting State on the recommendation of Coralius, and I have to say that I'm impressed. The book is one hell of a window on near-future technology, with a solid mystery plotline and some great twists. I'd call it a must for fans of tech, mystery, or espionage. I completed two by Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out and Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. The first is the more scholarly tome of the two, although it deals with little hard science. It's more of a collection of short works or speeches, including his minority report on the Challenger disater, the most technical item of the bunch. Mostly, it turns out to be a book on how to really think about things; not in a dogmatic way, but in a critical and detailed way. It shows some of what made him a legend as both a scientist and a character. The latter book is much more off the cuff, and focuses more on the character of Feynman, as it is really a sort of autobiography that skips over most of the "boring science stuff". Instead, it focuses on his early career as a youthful tinkerer, safecracking, meeting people, travels, playing drums, womanizing, learning to create art, testifying on behalf of a strip club operator, scoring a ballet, and everything else that made Feynman like the crazy uncle of modern science; he was never sure where he was going, but he'd be damned if it wasn't going to be fun when he got there. I highly recommend both books, but if you have to read only one Feynman work, make it Joking. If it doesn't convince you that there's something worth reading in his other work, then nothing will.

On top of these books, I finally finished last year's (maybe the year before, even?) birthday Present from Aradia and Coralius: Konstantin Nossov's Ancient And Medieval Siege Weapons. This is basically a scholarly text disguised as a coffee table book. Nossov is a master of his field, which is ancient warfare, weapons, and fortifications. He takes the reader from the earliest recorded fortifications and weapons used to breach them (unmortared walls of clay brick and long spears, respectively) through early cannon and firearms and sophisticated seige tactics for both aggressor and defender. The only things not included in this richly documented and lavishly illustrated book are the blueprints for each weapon, although there's more than enough detail to figure it out if you wished. Nossov's passion for history and his subject matter is clear, as is his attention to distinguishing fact from theory and even outright fabrication (as ancient historians writing 300 years after the fact are prone to doing). A great read for anyone interested in the subject matter.


Ah, the wonderful rollercoaster that is work. The ups and downs are coming in rapid succession now, and are bouncing me around quite sickeningly. Lets take some of them point for point:

1. I'm understaffed. I was told to submit justification for all my needed positions so that we could post and fill them rapidly.

1a. That was over a month ago.

1b. Some of my people that were out on medical leave have come back, and at least one person I was worried about having to fire is shaping up.

1c. One of my key people is out for two weeks for reasons I don't care to share here.

2. Vacation in a matter of weeks!

2a. Paperwork is mounting at an astonishing rate, and I need to get it done if I want to keep people out of my office while I'm gone.

2b. Customer audits over the next several weeks.

2c. Switching to the new planning system has rapidly exposed every single damned weakness in my raw materials area, which is throwing wrenches into every stage of production (which has moved beyond all reason, anyway). I have to fix it. Now. At least well enough to make it to July, when we'll be auditing the whole damned thing. If any of the capabilities were were promised actually existed, maybe the months of research and work that I put in on the data last year would have been worth something.

2d. They're not. Worth anything, that is.

2e. Did I mention that I'm the one that has to come up with how to fix all this crap?

3. The children refuse to sleep on a regular schedule. That has nothing in particular to do with work, but as an insomniac, I need whatever sleep I can get, and I'm frequently getting disturbed in the middle. This raises the overall stress level.

4. I recently got word that my company is likely to pick up some homeopathic products, which makes me so happy I could rip someone's throat out. Hell, that's the type of thing that could get me actively looking for another job. Even in all this economic murk, my company is still growing like mad, but they're doing it on legit pharma. I don't want my name anywhere on this mystical, pseudoscientific horseshit, and there's no good reason to take it on. Maybe I can do something to convince the higher-ups that associating our name with "magical" products will hurt our reputation with real pharma companies. Maybe our internal lab will protest when they realize they can't actually test this junk. I know our validation group will go insane. That might be the best thing. If we can't validate it, we won't make it.

5. That new planning system? It's changing the way we do testing. Now it coordinates three layers of entry and review before allowing release, with no duplication allowed.

5a. Did I mention that there are only two layers of people available to test and review in my area?

I feel like I'm doing a bad job. I'm hearing otherwise, but that doesn't seem to help when nothing changes for the better. I'm a glorified paper-pusher most of the time, rather than a problem-solver, which is what I am supposed to be doing. It depresses me that all the problems are either gigantic and need instant resolution, or miniscule and not a priority. I don't run into in-between things right now. All I have are extreme issues and fluff. I can't delegate, because I have no one to delegate to. Even the ones that might be capable are so backed up that anything else just won't get done, and the ones that aren't backed up don't have experience in the areas where I'm having the issues. I'm missing a layer of management above me that is actually supposed to be handling about a third of this crap, and the layer above that, while helpful, isn't someone I can drop the grunt work on. Give me a chance to analyze, and I'll fix your issues. Bounce me from artificially induced crisis to artificially induced crisis, and you'll get some decent spackling, but no solutions.

That's enough bitching for now. It was good to vent, though.