All The Live Long Day

userpic=keyboardA number of articles recently have gotten me thinking about employment and jobs. First, the LA Times has been running a series on the changing workplace. The first part of the series looked at how the relationship has changed between employee and employer. In the past, employers wanted employees to be happy — they wanted long-term employees that were part of the family. They sponsored picnics and special events. I remember those days. Nowadays, except in certain tech industries where it is hard to get the right employees, this employer-love is a thing of the past. The goal is to get the greatest productivity out of the worker. This was explored in the second part of the series, which talked about how employers are tracking employees every move: monitoring what they do on the computer, where they go on breaks, how long and frequent those breaks are. It makes me very glad I’m not in those industries. [Of course, I do get the joy of dealing with sequester related impacts, which is why I decided today would be a great day to take as a vacation day — my office moves tomorrow, and my mother-in-law moved yesterday]

But, of course, for those with good employers, too much can be bad also. For example, Google gives significant employee perqs, such as gourmet lunches. Alas, the IRS is now thinking about taxing those lunches as a benefit, because the lunches are provided on Google’s nickle (pre-tax), not after-tax employee dollars.

Another interesting article looked at what happened to all the secretaries. When I was at SDC in the 1980s, I truly understood the value of a good secretary. Today, many of the tasks have been moved onto the employees, which doesn’t really save money in the long run. I know that although I enjoy arranging my travel and coordinating administrative stuff, it isn’t what they pay me for and it would be better in the long run to have office staff to do it.

[ETA: Dimensionm on LJ also highlighted this article about workers in Texas. Construction is booming, but the workers are paying the price. Working conditions are dangerous, and workers are subject to abuses such as not being paid for all hours worked, not being paid overtime, and/or not being paid at all. Employers also often classify workers as contractors to avoid taxes.]

[ETA: I’ll note that abuses of workers is the real reason that unions were started. No, it wasn’t to provide plush jobs for union leaders or to lobby politicians or to create arcane working rules. Unions were originally created to use the power of labor and the ability to stop or slow down work to achieve workplace reforms that made life better and safer for the worker. In these days of anti-union rhetoric, we often forget the good that unions did related to working conditions. Have both weekend days off? Thank the unions. Get sick days and vacation. Thank the unions. Have a 40 hour week? Thank the unions.]

Lastly, there’s the issue of lawyers. Tom Paxton once sang about having too many lawyers. It’s happened. Even at the best law schools, newly minted lawyers are having trouble finding jobs. Some lawyers are even suing their schools for promising jobs that aren’t there.

What’s the point of all this? Simple. Don’t go into a job for the money or the perqs. Work at a job because you enjoy that type of work. That’s where your joy should come from.

Music: Sweet Sixteen (Reba McEntire): “You Must Really Love Me”


Furious News Chum: Hostages, Logos, and Sex

userpic=observationsAlas, I seemed to have come back from ACSAC with a cold; that combined with a lot of backed up stuff has delayed any posts. Still, I do have a few stories about people getting furious about things that I want to share:

  • A Hostage Situation. When I returned to the ranch here at Circle A, I eventually needed to visit the men’s restroom. Upon entry, I was presented with a wall detailing an odd hostage situation. Evidently, someone had left their reusable Starbucks mug on a shelf. They forgot about it, and came back and posted a note requesting its return. This was followed by a number of pictures showing the cup in various places (the top of A1′ with a gnome, at the top of a Christmas tree, with Santa). There was also a ransom note, done in the normal cut out letter font, indicating that the cup was still alive (and including a picture of the cup and today’s newspaper to prove it was alive). The note requested that 2 STE (staff-time equivalents) of charge number be deposited in a particular job order (9990-00) if the cup was to be returned alive. There was also a handwritten note from the cup indicating they were threatening to recycle it. I think some people have slipped over the edge. [ETA: The wall has grown with a note from a concerned party indicating that the cup is required to administer an critical chemical solution to its owner vital to the owner’s technological output, a photoshop of the cup on the side of a milk carton, and a disposable Starbuck cup with a Post-It stating “Found in Stall #26”. I’d take a picture, but we can’t use cameras at work.]
  • A Logo Situation. The University of California has redesigned their logo, and everyone is up in arms about it. Most people think it is undignified, and looks like a loading symbol. It has gotten so bad that memes have developed with people doing strange things with the logo. I agree with the Lt. Gov. — the new logo should be ditched. A simplified version of the current logo could easily be designed for webpages; not the radical silly redesign they have done.
  • A Sexual Situation. There’s another furor about UC — this time about sex. Specifically, a columnist for the Daily Cal took advantage of the lack of people on campus the day before Thanksgiving to explore where she and her partner could, umm, conduct human relation experiments. Naturally, the prudish folks protested to the Daily Cal in the comments, and the story was picked up by the newservices. Insert predictable response about those crazy students at radical Berkeley.

The Hanging Axe is No Longer Hanging

Those of you who know me know that I’ve been stressing about the Ranch of late (the Ranch is my employer, who I tend not to name in blog posts). The source of this stress was an upcoming reduction in force that was announced three weeks ago.

The axe fell today.

It missed me. It did, however, hit a number of my esteemed colleagues, and I feel so, so, sorry for them. These are folks who I”ve worked with for years upon years, who I respect highly, and who are so very talented. These are people that influenced my life for the better, and I thank them for all they have done for me. I wish them well upon their journey, and I hope they know they can call upon me for good words and good cheer. One of these many people was our vanpool operator; as a result, I have inherited a vanpool. If you know of anyone looking for a vanpool seat from the Northern San Fernando Valley to El Segundo every weekday morning, please have them get in touch with me.

This was an extremely odd RIF. Because of the way it was handled, everyone felt that they might be the target. We were all scared, and I’m sure that will affect us for a while: both those who were RIFfed and those who survived. I”m sure this is normal. As for how the RIF was handled, I’m still pulling my thoughts together, and I’m not sure they belong in a public forum. Perhaps I’ll post them publically with a greater time distance from the event.

My virtual hat is off in honor of my colleagues who weren’t so lucky today. May you find a new job swiftly, or may you have a wonderful retirement. Do keep in touch.

Music: Aspects Of Love (1989 London Cast): In A Train Compartment (inc. ‘Seeing Is Believing’)



Reflections on the Ranch

Reflection the First. I’ve written in the past about the pending demolition of our former headquarters building, now that our new headquarters has completed construction. Well, starting January 1st, the active demolition started: the fences have gone up, and they are prepping the building to come down.

I’m finding it quite interesting to watch the demolition process (and it is oddly relaxing to walk outside to stretch my legs and watch for a minute or two). The first phases were pretty dull: you could see the plastic go up as they did the asbestos removal, see shadowy figures inside the building, presumably removing all the interior partitions and such. This last week or two, however, it has gotten much more interesting. First, they are putting up a sound wall to protect the main campus. This consists of a two-story high scaffolding from which they are hanging heavy plastic coated quilt-like objects from each side (thus creating a blanket-air-blanket sandwich). This isn’t fully assembled, so I can still see the other demolition (it should be up before the main building comes down).

The most interesting part, however, is the further prep for demolition. This week, they started reducing each floor to the bare concrete. This involved breaking the office windows (yes, they broke them, presumably because they wouldn’t remove easy) and removing all the exterior window supports. They did about a floor each day, starting with the windows (lots of glass breaking), and then with the walls (lots of banging to break out the metal side supports). By the time they were done, the only “rooms” that were left were the elevator lobbies and the restrooms (which appear to have concrete support walls). Surprisingly, the restrooms still work — or at least the sinks do, because I’ve seen workers washing their hands! But one could see straight through the floors, and see the honeycomb pattern on the bottom of each flooring slab. They’ve also removed most of the exterior shade panels (except for the ones from the roof): these were lifted up and out whole. At this point, the only floor with the glass still in is the 1st floor, but that might be gone by Tuesday.

As I look at the building reduced to its concrete members, I wonder how much work it would take at this point to retrofit, and why (perhaps) it was not earthquake safe. Our two story buildings are, and they appear to have the same construction. My guess is that it is the height (6 floors) that is a major factor, creating much more swaying, supported only by relatively narrow concrete pillars and the endcaps. If those weren’t steel-reinforced adequately (this is 1963 construction standards), they could be problematic for a 6-floor building, but might be acceptable for a 2-floor building. There is also the possibility that the floors might not be as strongly tied to the pillars, or they would have had to reinforce each floor. I still wonder if, with the building stripped like this, they could retrofit it. I guess not, even if they were to jacket the support pillars and attempt to tie things better.

I’m not sure how they are going to bring the structure down. I don’t think an implosion is likely, due to the risk of ancillary damage. It will either be cutting it apart and removing each piece with a crane, or using a wrecking ball. Are there 6-story wrecking ball cranes?

Watching this has left an impression on me. I now look at our modern buildings, and try to imagine the time when they will be torn down. How will our large steel skyscrapers come down. They can’t easily remove the glass skins safely. In 200 or 300 years, will our downtowns look the same? Our housing tracks? Will they be full of forlorn buildings, seemingly sad as they become devoid of their occupants? Will they look as tired as the stacks of dead streetcars did 50 years ago? It’s odd to look at a building, and think about it devoid of its skin, reduced to floors and support members.

Reflection the Second. Turning to something much happier. Last night, I was reading the Magnet Newsletter for my daughter’s high school. In it, I read that students from the school will be participating in two national Engineering Contests: the Test of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) Contest and the Herndon Science Seminar. The latter item caught my eye because it is sponsored by the ranch. Now, I’ve seen the projects set up in the campus mall before, but I’ve never gone down and looked. This year I think I will, because I might run into someone from Van Nuys. It looks like Van Nuys is the only Valley high school participating in the contest.


Remembrances of Buildings Past… and soon to be Past

Every morning as I’ve walked into work I’ve noticed changes in the lobby. First the chairs were gone. Then the corporate logo. Now they are packing the trophy case. The mural in front of the elevators was dark. Soon, there won’t be much left — all the people will be gone, and all the stuff will be gone, and soon the building itself will be gone. The building that was my home for nearly 20 years.

Perhaps I should explain. The ranch where I work has a number of buildings. The first of these, designated A1, was built in the early 1960s. It is a six-story, all concrete building that served as the corporate headquarters building until early this year, when a new building, A9, was built. A9 was built because A1 was not earthquake safe, and it was more cost effective to build a new building than rehab the old one. So when A9 opened, all of the administrative folks moved over to A9 and cubicle city, except for a select few who got offices. However, the technical folks stayed in A1 while new space was refurbished in other buildings (notably A2 and A3). Slowly, folks filtered out of A1. We moved to A3 in September, and I think the last folks in A1 (save, perhaps, for some folks in the basement) are the folks on the west side of the 2nd floor, who have plastered the floor with “We’re still here” signs, and perhaps some folks in the basement. As the building has closed down, restrooms on unoccupied floors have been padlocked, offices have been sealed, bulletin boards have been taken down (I know this because our lab was still on the fifth floor until this week, which had this treatment). Now they are closing down the lobby of the building. This means that soon the building itself will be gone, a dead building standing, awaiting its eventual destruction. Part of the history of Space and the South Bay will be history.

This has gotten me thinking back to my previous employer, and another headquarters building that was destroyed. This headquarters building was at 2500 Colorado in Santa Monica, next to a building at 2400 Colorado, and housed System Development Corporation. The 2500 building was built in the late 1950s when SDC was spun off of RAND. Later additions included the Q7 and Q7A buildings that housed some of the first computers, the 2400 building, the “Building 5” on Olympic. By 1985, when I joined SDC, 2500 was in its last days. SDC had mostly moved to Camarillo, CA, and those folks left in Santa Monica were moving across the street to Colorado Place. Still, I had a number of months in 2500 and Q7/Q7A (2400 had been shut down by then, except for the fitness center). Again, there were all the signs of the former headquarters building: the paneled conference room, the fancy front entry, the cafeteria, the auditorium. But Santa Monica needed its water park, and so 2500 came down, together with Q7A. After a couple of years in Colorado Place, however, we moved back into 2400. I remember that building was old, and there were two whole floors that were empty and simply held old furniture. Later, that building too was shut down and added to the water park, and SDC in Santa Monica (hell, SDC in California) was no more. Of course, by that time it was no longer SDC, but the System Development Group of UNiSYS. I still run into SDC people in my business, and I think folks remember the old company quite fondly. I pay tribute to her in a userpic, which if you look closely has the flying diaper logo.

When I think of SDC, I don’t think of Colorado Place. I still think of the old buildings: of 2500, Q7, 2400. I’m sure I’ll have similar remembrances of the quirks of A1, once that building is long gone.


New Digs

Well, my office in A3 is now unpacked (actually, I finished shortly after lunch). A lot of folks are complementing me on the new arrangement. All I need to finish it off is the updated California Highway maps (2008) I ordered, to replace my 2003 maps.