Sunday, April 27, 2014

Techies go home.


For the last three weeks I have done janitorial work in a borg cube of a building down town.  The unnamed company is known, or rather I was informed once years ago, for its being a good place to work.  The word innovative may have been used. I see a cubicle farm, a pretty cubicle farm but cubes nonetheless.  In one wing a gym, in another a games room, with a pool table, table tennis and a few other toys.
It is possible to buy stuff from the vending machines with a quarter, like its somewhen in the 20th century.  The office screams of perks.

This hobbit is a bit cynical, and this hobbit distrusts the cult of long hours.  I see a workspace that is trying to be welcoming, and wonder if that is a ploy to keep the pawns in the office longer to get more work out of them.  The circus is on display, the toys, the gym, and countless little details, but I don't know if they are offered bread to go with it.  This hobbit hopes that the symbolic bread of good wages, benefits, and job security come with those perks.  Because, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that those perks are barely a drop in the ocean cost wise when compared to what it takes to fund a fair package.

As a person who has never worked in a large company, or any place with an apparent office culture I don't get the lingering about.  Quitting time matters to me, you get out, you don't linger.  Life happens off of the work site.  The blurred boundary this borg cube offers does not sit well with me.  Perhaps it is an IT thing, an export of the Silicon Valley culture, a world where the early leaders have been described by people with an intro psych textbook as being on the aspergers spectrum, but living the job is not for everyone.  Yet creating that friendly space seems to suggest steering people to that.

To the techies, I say, check if there is bread with the circus.  Don't give away your time because the office is cozy, go home, live your life, not every problem can be solved with long hours.  But these are the words of an under informed home body.  There has never been a job site that I wanted to linger at, and I have felt unclean going into the office on a weekend to get my phone.

Perhaps it is my resistance to joining the cult of long hours that has lead me to cleaning offices not unlike ones I recently worked in but I stand by the belief that the work is the means not the ends.  This is part of why I never felt at home in geology, the job as the life was the expectation.  Now I feel my sympathies are towards the working class.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Tune in or tune out


The question of why I hate the labour jobs less than I thought I would, and why I hated my office job far more than I ever expected has been running through my brain.  A tentative answer trickled through my brain yesterday as I was baking.

The problem is one of inputs.  Unless the subject in front of me is very engaging I will be quickly distracted. Office work, and the fine detailed but uninteresting work I did there did not hold my attention.  Failing to be enthralled lead to every distraction being more interesting that the job itself.  This is ignoring the fact that the job was also full of overly short micro tasks that I had not regimented into a manageable whole.

In the office setting I failed to tune out enough things to stay on track.  That is a normal failing of mine.  It is only a failing in the setting.  Yesterday I found myself working on three distinct breads at once, each with overlapping rising times and competing for the limited proofing and oven space in my house.  It was in juggling that small amount of regimented distraction that lead me to this.

Tuning out things is hard for me.  Tuning in on a few is easier.  And that is what I am getting out of the grunt work.  A distraction or a glance in the other direction reminds me of what I need to be doing next, or if I should be dodging out of the way of a speeding forklift.

So I enjoy a moderately busy environment, too busy and the poor input filters get overwhelmed and I flounder in overload based indecision.  So a job where being tuned in is a feature not a bug, and the task range is finite but not too fixed is something that at the moment makes me if not happy at least not miserable.  This frames better what I might want from a longer term job even if it does little to narrow down the scope.

Thursday, April 17, 2014



This is my second attempt at writing this.  The plan to write about the work sits in my head but I have cycled between busy and tired without finding the time to compose. The writing has also been hampered by the fact it always felt too soon. Now is a good time for one reason alone. I found time to think. It is near enough midnight as not to matter, I have not showered yet, and I am fighting The Lady Baroness for control of the keyboard, but it is a good time to write.  

Its funny, I would not disagree with the accusation that I am a socially awkward, seemingly intellectual person, certainly I try to dress the part of intellectual, yet this identity has had little to no bearing on the work I have ended up doing.  No, appearances aside, most of my work has been in hard places often with hard people.  I tried changing that up once, worming my way into an office job, turns out to be a miss match. 

A bit of an detour is needed here.  Working again has gotten me thinking about my previous job.  The one where I tried to punch MapInfo into submission.  I was not happy there, for many reasons.  Key among them, working in visual medium is not something I have practice or skill for.  But at an even more basic level it was hard because, as it turns out, keeping a tight focus while glued to a desk all day is far harder for me than I could have expected.  A couple other things that should I ever digest them more fully will warrant their own essays, also added to my non adaptation to office life. 

Offices have a culture of what feels like to of enforced politeness. It can be understood why this, but I don't fit in it.  My brain's output filter is a little on the coarse size, but that was less a problem than the input filter. Too much politeness becomes ambiguity.  Knowing what is not being said, is a skill that remains under developed.  

While potentially ambiguous interactions may leave me wondering if offence was caused, they come in second to my troubles with ambiguus work.  As said, I had one office job, working in a media I had limited experience, often unclear outcomes.  It was forever a guess for me if the project was ready.  Hours could be spent on one set of details at the expense others.  The cycle of missed details and resulting revision repeated too often for everyones tasted.  A cycled made worse by a tool that at times was as likely to eat my progress as to allow me to adjust things.  It was a couple years of practicing the ancient Dutch tradition of pushing water uphill. 

That cycle, those tools, and the real possibility that some people on the team were not really nice, made it a tiring period. Coming home with aching jaw and a head full of unresolved, but not particularly interesting problems was common. All this under the fear that gold would tank and I would again be made expendable.   All while telling myself and others I want this, and am enjoying this. 

It is in that light that I think about the jobs I am doing now.  None of the work I have been assigned I would want to do as a full time gig, but I can in retrospect say the same about all the jobs that were part of what I thought was my career.  The work, has fallen into two main clumps.  Warehouse, shipping and receiving and janitorial.  The cleaning job work is by far the toughest.  

The jobs are hard, but they have a wonder finality to them.  The day ends, the work is forgettable, my body may ache but my brain doesn't, most of the time.  Admittedly the evening shift 4 to 11pm is harsh, and the job even more so.  No single part of the job is all that hard, but to fit them all in the scope of the evening it is go go go.  Not since the Rabbit lake job have I had to maintain a fast pace as consistently.  

For a baltering thermalphoeb such as myself the working conditions are extra tough.  Trying to work in a coordinated manner in a overly warm office is trying.  But I do, by mid shift I am so heated through that it takes half my break to feel like I am no longer glowing from the endless movement.  Thats the thing endless movement.  Physical labour is nothing new to me, but on nearly every other job there are chances for breaks and pauses in activity, outside of a restaurant rush, I can't recall maintaining pacing like this. Yet there is camaraderie, the work does get done even if sometimes my new guy slack needs to be pulled in.  In the end it would seem that for now being a grunt makes me happier than wrestling MapInfo, or looking at rocks.  

The notion of getting a real job, and regaining stability still holds water, but the range of things I might yet do is not narrowed down yet. 



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Open Letter Cambie Road Richmond and its drivers.

Or how to avoid a shouty angry cyclist.
Repeatedly I have been called to a site about 5km down Cambie road in Richmond, just down the street from the IKEA that I am not shopping at is.  The job is tolerably mundane, but not the subject of todays opinion.  On paper the site can be reached by transit alone. Indeed on my second day there after a klutz induced flat I did just that.  However I live far enough away from reliable buses that a bike makes a logical part of my commute.

Rest assured this hobbit is not going to start bragging about his 20 mile commute uphill both ways in the snow.  No, I ride to Broadway station and take the train south to Aberdeen.  That places me on Cambie road and a nearly straight shot from my work site on nearly flat ground, not a bad condition for riding.  And yet I find I turn into a shouty cyclist.

Richmond, I know as a someone on a bike on a road I am potentially a new, scary, and oddly slow vehicle, but I am legally allowed to be there.  Richmond, you are generously paved and blessed with long lines of sight something that factors greatly into how I view your handling of my presence on your roads.  For context I live in East Vancouver, on Victoria drive, it is narrow with parking and hilly.  Cambie road is none of those things.

The length of Cambie Rd. I ride is four laned, the only hills are the over passes.  The lanes  are near as wide as some streets near my apartment.  The line of sight often nearly 1km or even nearer 2.  During the off peak hours I ride, if I am working early I am on the road at 6:30am, there can be many hundreds of meters between vehicles.  It is in this context I will ask you nicely please move fully into the other lane to pass me.

You have two generous lanes, of good clean pavement, in the morning, you have a great deal of lead time, you have no good excuse. And I mean all the way into the other lane.  Its not hard, mirror, signal, shoulder check, repeat, once done I will be nicely behind you.  If you do this I will polity just keep moving.

Now I don't want to have to use my outside voice on you so here are a few things to remember to avoid that.  The bike is wider than its one inch wide tires, act like it.  Slipping half way out of the lane is just sloppy and I will judge you, and harshly, you have two wide ones. Passing me without even leaving our shared lane makes me angry.  I will shout at you.  Also Signal.

Lastly don't act so surprised.  I have lights, often a reflective jacket, I am clearly in the lane.  Learn to watch for bikes, they are not going anywhere and watching for them rather than acting all shocked when one that has been in front of you for a mile is at last on your bumper will save you some property damage and a cyclists life.

So if you don't want angry shouty cyclists, signal, give plenty of room, and learn to see us.

Monday, April 7, 2014


My mother requested I write this.

After both a delay in starting the process and similar length delay in results I have started doing Temp work.  After a month on one agency's roster, I got called in on a warehouse gig on short notice, after a couple weeks of moderately steady work I have a few more thoughts on the subject.  It was suggested that I should write about how different this work is, from what I had done, the striking thing has been how different it is not.

Early Train to Richmond. 
As it turns out the office that started three years ago was the outlier.  Jobs in rough places with rough people have been more my style than not.  The majority of the gigs I have been assigned to have been in warehouses, a setting not unlike where I spent much of my time in geology.  Industrial spaces with concrete floors, corrugated steel shipping boxes and people who's most frequent word is FUCK.  As was the case when I worked geology I move awkward boxes from one pile to the other.   I do skip the part where I break open the box and take sciency measurements of the contents, a process I don't miss. Nor do I miss the weight and dimensions of standard NQ Core Box. The NQ sized core box is 5 feet long, 1 foot wide and can contain between 30 and 70 pounds of rock. As an added bonus they are made of plywood, and are often greasy and or wet.  So after a few years of shlepping those at any thing from -35 to +30 degrees a simple cardboard box is a near pleasure.

In the coarse of three weeks I have worked for, a clothing distribution warehouse, a garden centre, a restaurant supply warehouse, a large scale shipping centre, and the aquarium.  Four of the five followed the pattern of take boxes out of trucks stack on the correct pallet, repeat.  The aquarium gig was a job of making sure things were not sticky.  These jobs are united in their need for the people doing them to have the same basic qualities, bipedalism, arms, and semiliteracy.  Clearly I am bringing enough of those to the table because more than one place has asked for me back, even if I have only had repeat gigs at one place.  In doing these things I rediscovered the things I learned when I was not looking.

Years ago during another period of unemployment, in the gap years when I fell out of university I did a day job in a garage door facility.  It involved you guessed it moving things from one pile to another.  This was before I had worked in a kitchen, and years before I would work in the field, back then I had hardly worked before.  On that job it was hard for me to stay out of harms way, let alone be productive.  Now things are different, I am not 20 any more.

Its sneaky, you spend years working in out of the way places doing jobs that demand specialized knowledge and occasionally helicopters, and while you may be planing to learn about the rock of the area, the helicopter is ready to teach you a few things too.  I have forgotten too much about rocks but much of what I learned around helicopters, drills, and other big moving bits of metal has stuck with me.  The intangible skill of situational awareness, it was learned, when I doing other things.  Scraps of bush craft, the skill of pacing yourself, listening for the machines you want to avoid, these are the the things I learned when I was out.   So now I find myself in warehouses, a setting I have never worked in before and while I may not know how any one place works, I have a solid idea of what to watch for.

A few other notes. I never got the rhythm of office work.  The environment was new to me, I have still to learn what to watch for.  The current batch of labour jobs are delightful because they don't follow me home.  Between the jobs and the pool I am slowly getting back into shape.  I am enjoying the access to feed back that working with the agency is providing.  It is prompt and clear.  As an alternative to wondering and assuming the worst it is a grand improvement over several jobs I have held.

As it stands for a mix of reasons I would be unlikely to take, or apply for a full time work with any of the places I have contracted with.  The best reason I will give here is I hope to try more things out before settling. It is also worth noting that upon closer retrospection not every one I have worked with was particularly nice, and I could find a crew I mesh better with.  Lastly I am not yet of the habit of making the best use of my down time.

I really should be writing in the mornings.  There is a window between 7am and 10am when I am up, and the agency is unlikely to call me.  Currently this time has been wasted. It has taken two weeks to get this entry started and it feels incomplete.  But I have  been working, and with that gaining some new vision.  If nothing else I will need to bring in some new money, I am almost finished breaking the vertical blinds in the living room and want to get a budget drape for a replacement.

A sunny friday afternoon.