So it's been quite a while since I've posted here. So, what's going on with me?

Well, when I went back to college, I debated between doing environmental engineering or aerospace engineering. This is probably due to reading stuff like Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot as a wee nerdlet. But if the goal is to try and create a civilization worth the name, which means one that can survive and also get our asses into space, those are the two key issues, keeping our civilization running in a sustainable way here, and get into space in a real way.

So, with that in mind, I figured that there was more work to do fixing up our cities and world and it's more urgent. So, because of this, I figured it'd be easier to find a job that way. It wasn't entirely idealistic, yeah.

Then I went and graduated while all the engineering companies it turned out had gotten all invested in building cookie cutter subdivisions. Which meant they were laying people off, and all the few jobs there were were competing with people who already had experience. And ended up working retail again. Whoops.

And then my friend said the company he was working at was hiring. And so somehow I stumbled backwards into working at a company making rockets and cargo ships for the space station. Can't really fight that.

So hey there folks.
Well, since our dear leaders have decided that interest rates (that are exceeding low), and "crowding out", and Very Serious Invisible Bond Traders, which all allegedly come from federal deficits, as opposed to say, the unemployment rate that's up around 9%, it's very hard to find a job. So that's led to thinking about ideas on what kind of job I can make. Now, while I'd much prefer a job saving the world, and doing the stuff I spent years going back to school for, that's not worked so far.

Well, what about starting an engineering company? Well, there's issues there with getting a license, which requires working with already licensed engineers for a length of time, plus getting contacts for jobs, and starting something without a reputation or experience. So for the moment, that's not really looking practical.

Computers? Well, I know them, but I'm not a hardware guy, and I haven't kept up at all with programming languages, network stuff, or anything like that. So I could learn it, but I don't have any of the credentials or experience there.

Working for somebody else in retail sucks, especially in a crappy economy, which is where I'm currently stuck.

So, what kind of retail could I do? Well, the most obvious is a nerd shop, probably comics and games. I worked at a game store for five years, I've been friends with people who ran comic shops, I know both those markets pretty well anyway. And it'd give the possibility of creating a place for people to come and meet and have fun and interact, and that'd be good.

Comic/Game shops are hard, though. They're operating in a relatively small market, comics are non-returnable for little guys, and costs four bucks and up each. That aside, there's also a lot of stereotypes about comic and game shops, like they're essentially some dude's basement. And there really are ones like that. Or just look at The Ferrett's column about his FLGS. There is a comic shop chain here in Savannah, but as their webpage shows, they have a bit of hoarder in them too. Plus there's nothing else to that site besides that page. But the pictures, with the T-Shirts hanging from the ceiling and the confusion, that's not so appealing. The hobby shop I worked in had some of that too. We kept it mostly clean, but it was piled with stuff, especially trains, almost to the ceiling on a lot of shelves. So, obviously, I wouldn't want to do something like that. Running somewhere clean, safe, and welcoming to everybody would be the goal. There's no point in turning away customers by having the store look bad.

The problem there, even in a city like Savannah, with SCAD having its art college with a sequential art series, the market for comics isn't always that big. and the comics don't always help with that. And that's a little scary when looking at opening a shop. Comic stores are always shoestring businesses, which is part of the reason so many end up messy. There's lots of other things out there, and there's lots of TPBs and the like that provide more value for the money, but I'm not sure how easy it would be to try and change all of that. Or if I'd make any money doing it, and not just end up owing even more money when it failed.
So, I've been trying to tweak my resume, and reading online to find hints, and I've come to this conclusion. Nobody knows a damn thing about resumes, except to keep it short, because HR people have short attention spans and hundreds to look at. Other than that, some say yes to objectives, others say goals, some say neither, some say chronological order of jobs, others say relevance, some say paragraphs for what you did, others say sentences, others say fewer words the better.

Sheesh, it makes it harder to figure out what to put for things than if I'd just written something.
Those stupid online personality tests on employment pages feel like the "Which DBZ character are you?!?!?!?!" quizzes. And they're probably less accurate, since everybody knows the "right" answers are the "bootlicking choirboy" answers. Employers aren't looking for initiative, creativity, or anything else, they're looking for obedient warm bodies that won't question anything and will put the work above anything else in their lives, at all. Which is fucking retarded, and one of the problems with corporate America, but you all knew that.
Last month at work, we started putting up a display of Christmas bargain books. In September. SEPTEMBER. Now there's not only that, but also a table of Christmas cards, and a table of random holiday books. In the first week of October.

I detect the not-so-faint wiff of desperation animating it all. "Consumer spending" has been soft this year, for a simple reason. People don't have money. All the rest of the money people have been spending was coming from their savings, and the mortgages on their houses. And now suddenly the whole pyramid scheme animating the mortgage market has fallen apart, and people don't have thousands of dollars to spare. So people haven't been spending, and the corporate retailers are panicking, because they don't know what to do, how are they going to squeeze out their next quarter of record profits?

So they've played their ace card. Christmas cheer and spending! Now now now! Come and spend! You have to! Otherwise, you're failing your family and kids and everyone you know! It's that time of year, even though it's October!

And then I saw a report on the local news yesterday, about how Wal-Mart had dropped prices on lots of toys to try and kick into holiday mode. And other stores have been following suit. The customers they interviewed didn't care, because it was 90 frickin degrees out yesterday, who wants to go Christmas shopping in the heat? Also, it's the beginning of October.

And they had a professor from one of the colleges around here, I missed his name or expertise, but he was crediting it to desperation too. Obviously I agree with him.

But I probably disagree with him in the fact I hope it fails. I hope it fails because then maybe they'll stop shoving Christmas forward until the "Holiday Season" literally begins in July. And I don't think it'd be bad for the whole edifice of corporate consumer retail bullshit to be shaken up. It's a fragile construct, based on marketing and advertising and other lies, which results in people working jobs selling plastic shit to each other so we can afford to go buy plastic shit from other stores. It's completely fucked up our culture, and it can't last. I hope it doesn't, but I hope it doesn't bring us all crashing down with it.
Well, my new job as a part-time gym attendant at the community center right by my house has potential not to suck. Basically, they're paying me to sit at this desk, and do a few things around the gym, and take money and register people if they show up. It's pretty quiet. And it's within biking range of my house. And the pay's decent, and I have net access, like now. Too bad it's on inconvenient days, but I can't complain that much.

Now if I could just get a different job to replace my very crappy retail job, which is the main reason the days this job is are so awkward.
It's amazing how much really really really easy stuff gets neglected just because people don't do it. Like people who throw paper towels on the floor when the trash can is less than three steps away. Or people who work retail and can't bother to do the most basic freaking parts of their jobs. I work retail. I know it sucks. It really does. Most of retail work is utterly and completely pointless in the grand scheme of things, you're trying to sell people stuff they don't need, to make money for the company, and the money doesn't go to you hardly at all.

Man, put that way, I wonder why I even bother to do any work. Retail is thankless and mind-numbing and repetitive and lots of other things, but it's about a hundred times better than the kind of work most of humanity had to do to get by for most of history. So it irritates me when somebody doesn't bother to do something that takes all of like two minutes and is really easy. Especially when I have to do that thing, on top of all the other things I'm already doing.

Now to seemingly switch tangents.

One of the most marvelous creations of the Enlightenment is bureaucracy. The vast and rules-bound strata that, run properly, ensure that everybody has to fill out the same annoying forms to get things done. Lord or pauper, you still need to fill out these forms. The entire idea of a professional, neutral, staff of administrators and others is STAGGERING when you compare it to the way everything had been run before, which was based on nepotism and political infighting. Not that either of those are absent in a professional bureaucracy, but they're greatly reduced when run well.

Many of the greatest problems of bureaucracy come from the fact it's run by people, the same kind of people who are too lazy to put their paper towels in the trash or to clean up the section they're assigned to in the store. But in general, when people are hired to do a job, they do it, at least to some extent. Otherwise they get fired.

So when I get annoyed by people who don't manage to do the very easy tasks of their jobs that nothing much really depends on, imagine what I think when I see a headline like this: Most Katrina Aid From Overseas Went Unclaimed.

This isn't a matter of simple incompetence. This is, at best, STAGGERING incompetence. This wasn't just money they turned down. They turned down offers of search and rescue teams. Medical care, housing, all sorts of things. Yeah, there's lots of offers of aid that couldn't really help, like Greece's offer of cruise ships for hospitals that wouldn't get there for months. And y'know, this is the US, we're the richest damn country in the world, we should have had the resources to do this all. And we did. But due to the same staggering incompetence (being generous), a major US city was effectively destroyed and people were stranded without rescue or supplies for days.

But there's a very simple reason why this happened. Most of the people who were chosen to be in charge of emergency response, along with man of the other bureaucracies and other professional civil service agencies of the government, weren't picked for their competence. They were picked for personal loyalty, or for favors. And they weren't just given bullshit posts they couldn't screw up, like ambassador to San Marino. They were put in positions where people's lives were at stake. And guess what. They fucked it up.

The people in charge of our government don't believe in the idea of neutral and professional civil servants. That's why they try to turn "bureaucracy" into a dirty word. That's why they don't care if the people they appoint are even slightly competent for the post they're given. They are, at heart, aristocrats, as petty and venal as any seventeenth century lord. They don't want professionals giving unbiased opinions or evaluations, because those might disagree with what they want. And because it's something beyond their control. So they try to destroy it, first by saying it's useless, and then by trying to prove it's useless once they get power, by not even pretending to care how well things are done.

"Government can't do anything right! Elect us, and we'll prove it!"
I should be working on Physics, or finding everything for my tax return, but instead, I'm blogging.

So I'm looking for a job, because my current job frankly sucks. It's boring, the pay isn't very good, and there's little worthwhile about it. But while doing so today, I realized something. I couldn't see doing any of the jobs listed there as a Career. Some could be interesting for a while, but not forever. There's few jobs I can see doing forever, they'd get boring. Unless it's a job that involves doing new things on a regular basis, or doing lots of different things, like space explorer or adventurer or something. Or some kind of scientist/rock star, like Buckaroo Banzai or Pardis Sabeti. (Seriously. She's a genetic researcher, and has a band and was interviewed in the latest issue of Seed.)

The real challenge there is how to figure out how to go from underemployed retailferret to scientist/rock star/space adventurer. I don't quite think that classified ad looking for a cow-tipper's gonna do it, but you never know.

I bet a cool hat would help.

Wow

Feb. 15th, 2007 01:28 am
Today, at work some lady mistook one of the fire exit doors for the door to the bathroom. Despite the sign saying "Fire door" and the bar that says "alarm will go off if pressed" and so on. Just wow.
It's kinda sad. Even though I know perfectly well one of the biggest flaws with any kind of hierarchy (such as say, the structure of a business) is that people tell the people above them what they want to hear, not what they really think, I still didn't ask our district manager all the things I wanted to. Partly it's the above mentioned thing, (though the threat to my job really isn't great, and it's not that great a job anyway), and partly it's being pretty much certain in advance what the answer would be. I mean, if I suggest to the DM that "Y'know, if we have to constantly run the store with the bare skeleton crew to have any chance of making the sales per hour goals, then maybe the problem's not us, maybe the problem's the goals," I don't think she'll suddenly have a revelation and agree with me and everything will be happy. Her raise and bonus, after all, depend on making sure the numbers we get are higher than our numbers last year, because the people above her's raises and stock options and bonuses depend on the numbers being higher each quarter. Which means the concerns of the working underclass (that's me and everybody who's not a manager) don't really matter, because her incentives that make her better off are set at odds with the incentives that would make most of the workers (and probably many of the customers) better off. And it's the same all the way up.

Yes, it's true there's plenty of times people could end up standing around "wasting the store's money", but there's also plenty of times when running the store on the bare minimum number of people means there's nobody at the customer desk, or there's nobody to cover when somebody calls out, or there's no time to get cleanup and all the other things done because of the number of people available.

There's a lot of factors to get considered in the scheduling and stuff, but the way the incentives are set up for the people making the schedule, it's almost always going to come down on the side of trying to meet ridiculous arbitrary goals rather than the side of making sure there's enough people to take care of the customers and clean up the store and close down quickly and all the rest.

And of course, the easiest solution to this problem, from my point of view? Quit and find a new job, therefore making this foolishness not really matter to me.
At work, they've started up a new things where the CEO basically has a blog on the company intranet, and people can post comments which he may or may not reply to.

I'm wondering how long until somebody gets fired for something they post there. But that's not what struck me the most. What strikes me the most is how some of the replies sound like they're written by a regular human being, and then some of the replies are blatantly crazy corporate speak. Like when someone asked about putting solar panels on the roofs, for the tax breaks in California, the answer was that the buildings are owned by the malls or whatever (true) and that when something like that was cost-effective, Wal-Mart would lead the way. THAT was what made me laugh my ass off. Yeah. Wal-Mart leading the way. Uh huh. Sure. Right. And if the malls or wherever are going to do it, they're going to need pushes from the companies renting the space to make them want to do it. Most malls shift the costs for heating and electricity etc onto the renters, so they really don't give a crap how much it costs. These are simple basic facts of economics. But the environment of corporate culture has its expectations, and certain things aren't possible in there.
There's a problem with working at a bookstore. It means, every so often, you have to sell somebody something that you know is bad, lame, and utterly irredeemable. Sometimes I can tell people this, other times, I can't really because I know they won't care. So I sell them their horrible book of lies and poor writing, and feel a dirty because I helped support people churning out more of this trash.

The case in point, this time, was Left Behind, the horribly written series of books and movies that are basically the apocalyptic fringes of the Religious Right gloating over how everybody's going to die in the end of the world except them. Thew books are based around their weirdly "literal" interpretation of Revelations, which involves a lot of reading into things that aren't literally never mentioned in the entire Bible, the whole "Rapture" idea first among them. If you want more explanation of the problems with these books, clink the link above, which leads to Slacktivist's page by page dissection of the first book. But the ultimate scary thing about these books? They're written by and for people who think the end of the world will be a good thing, and look forward to it, and try and hurry that day through politics and begging their idea of God. That's the kind of things the bad guys in D&D or Buffy or something do.

And this came up, because yesterday a lady came in, and bought all three of the Left Behind movies, plus most of the series. For her children. I'm sorry, kids. I'm really really sorry. Not just for the years of therapy they'll have to go through if they escape the millenialist cult, but also because they'll have to sit through the books. And the thing is, there's nothing I could have done. Refuse to sell them to her? They'd send another person to run the register. And if that failed, the lady'd just go over to Borders or the religious bookstore or somewhere else and still inflict them on the kids. I could have tried to convince her, but that was hardly the place, and I'm 95% sure nothing I would have said would have made a difference to her, anyway.

But I still feel dirty inside.
I work at B&N, as I've mentioned before. And there are four sections of the store that make me feel the most cynical. Three of them are for largely the same reason, the fourth is the politics section, since a lot of screeds get shelved there that really should go in fiction, what with how much relations they have to reality.

The three other sections are large chunks of the self-help, New Age, and "Religious Inspiration" sections. And all for pretty much the same reason. Much like the South Park joke about Christian Rock: take regular rock songs, and change the words so they're about Jesus instead of some dude/chick, a lot of the religious/new age inspiration books are just self-help books with bits about Jesus/the Green Man/Universal Life Force/Whatever added. But that's not what really annoys me. What annoys me is a vast selection of these books are, in a word, bullshit. Bullshit in the technical sense used in the "On Bullshit" essay, wherein the authors simply don't care if what they say is true or false, as long as they (literally, in this case) get you to buy whatever they're saying. If you look, you can find two books arguing for EXACTLY OPPOSITE THINGS and saying you'll lose weight/get laid/get happy/find god/get rich/whatever. They don't care if it actually works or makes any sense, they're just in it for the money.

The really ironic thing about it. though? People are weird And because people are all weird and different, sometimes totally opposite things can work for them, so even the most outlandish balderdash actually will work for some small number of people. Enough to make a page full of half a dozen quotes anyway. But most of the people will just end up wasting $10-20. And even if the people are totally sincere and it really did work for them, chances are it won't work for other people. So which is worse, the ones selling people useless advice because they're scammers, or the ones selling useless advice they believe in?

There's a bunch of "business" books of the same type too, like most of the "management handbooks." And for some reason, most of the books about talking to people or making connections or so on are in business. If they really worked, they'd be good for a lot more than business. And honestly, if they really worked, those techniques should be taught to everybody, in school. Good communication would solve a lot of problems.
Man, I'm tired of having to work evenings. Even if it does mean I get to sleep in later in the morning.

A Paradox

May. 24th, 2006 11:38 pm
I don't get paid enough where I work, yet I am fairly certain that the actual benefit to society from me doing my job is considerably less than I am paid.

Riddle me that, Batman.
I had a realization a while back, that explain a couple things about military culture to me. Mostly, in this case, the constant emphasis on little bullshit like shining shoes and straightening uniforms and all that stuff. I realized it because I've had to ride herd on a bunch of untrained people at work, and there's lots of little things that need to get done there, too. Things I don't actually care about all that much, and aren't that important, really, but do need to get done. And then there's things that really need to get done. And I have to be picky about the little unimportant things, because if I don't, they don't know which are important or unimportant yet, that takes experience, so if I'm not, they don't do the important ones, either. So the military's picky about the little unimportant bullshit so you don't forget the important little things when it matters.

Well, that and it's a method for them to enforce their power over you and make you trained to respond to the orders of officers, no matter how retarded they are, but that's not the only reason.
And I don't even get to use it that much, because I hardly ever buy new CDs.

Okay, you all know how hard new CDs are to open, right? Well, there's a simple way to get them open. Once you get the outside plastic off, instead of fighting with that stupid sticker on the top, just pop the bottom hinge of the CD out. Then you can just unfold the front from the back and peel the sticker on the top off from the inside. It's a lot easier and quicker. And every time I show a customer how to do it, they seem impressed with how easy it is. As for the plastic wrapper, you can just get a knife, or just drag one of the edges down the corner of a table quickly, that'll usually get it started enough you can get it open.
With the holiday season bearing down on us like the proverbial train at the end of the tunnel, I figured I'd get a couple of rants out of the way early.

One of them is for the absolutely lame book drive they're running at work. Now, I love books, as you all surely know. And I'm all for getting books for kids. It's just the way it's run that torques me off. Here's how it works. There's a random cardboard stand, plus bookmarks with a kid's name and the kinds of books they like written on it. They're all kids at one of the local school districts. So the way this alleged charity works is a customer comes in, picks up one of the bookmarks, and buys the book, then gives it to the clerk, who puts it in a box with the others that all get donated to the schools at some specific date.

Okay, I'll let you think about that and see if you see the glaring problem with that idea. Don't worry, I'll wait.



All done? Well, for those of you who didn't guess, that's not charity. Oh, sure, on the part of the person buying the book it is, but for Barnes and Noble, it's just marketing. It's a way to get people to buy more books. There's no discounts or anything on the book drive books. Somebody comes in and buys a book at full price, then it gets given to the kid. What the hell? The company is using people's charitable urges this time of year to profit. That's lame. And pissant. And evil. Maybe not very high up on the scale of evils, but it's still evil. And to make it worse, it's inefficient. What the person paid for the book could probably buy two books, if the company were actually interested in helping kids and not just in making money. But instead, it's just a way to market more books to customers. And I find that sad, disturbing, and faintly disgusting.

And the same point applies to other things, too. Even the venerable Toys for Tots, or part of Child's Play. Or even food drives.

Now, I don't know the full details, maybe things like this where somebody donates a thing rather than just money get more response. Maybe it's a compromise because the only way to get companies to support charities in this climate is to say "And you can make money off it, too." Maybe there's a reason for it. But it just stinks of lame greed to me. And I didn't even mention the charities signed up for gift-wrapping who don't get anything other than what people donate. Nice work if you can get it, suckering other people into making money for you.

Technorati Tags: Books, Economics, Rants, Work, Everyday Evil
It's probably a good thing I could manage to resist my impulse to reply "Corporate bullshit" when the new store manager asked everybody what the company's "We Listen" policy is at the meeting tonight.
Apparently, there is a movie version of Rent out. IMDB agrees.

However, I knew this only because the soundtracks is on sale at work. And was supposed to be in-store play this month, but apparently the big-shots decided it was too racy or something for playing in the stores. Or maybe people complained. I don't know. Makes me wonder if they even bother having anybody listen to it first, though. However, we played it once before we found this tidbit of information out. And from listening to it that time, I have to say that Rent sounds like fanfic about a romanticized view of the life of poor artists and singers and such in New York. And, apparently, almost everybody has AIDS. Which isn't to say it's bad or anything, I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like the kind of wanktastic "literary" novels that critics love.

Or maybe I'm just bitter since when I was young and poor and a wannabe writer, my life wasn't romantic or anything. Could be either.

Technorati Tags: Mindscribbles, Movies, Me, Music, Work

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