Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Working-too-much Saga

To help with my GenCon Writer's Seminar planning, I made a list of the twelve seminars I most wanted to attend. Then I realized that I would miss nine of the twelve because I'm working. I also realized that I'm only available for two of the seminars with the guest of honor, Pat Rothfuss. I'm more than a bit grouchy about this.

For one thing, the Artsgarden is supposed to be shut down for the first two weeks of August -- no performances, no events. This conveniently (and, believe it or not, completely coincidentally) means I've usually got a flexible schedule for GenCon. But this year we've got eight shows in those two weeks, and we've got one every day of GenCon. So no shut-down time, and no free days for GenCon.

This is compounded by the fact that, right after my part-time tech guy quit in March, we got our budget cut. The easiest way to trim is to leave open positions vacant, so his job was eliminated. We also lost a part-time person at the info desk whose position was then eliminated, so I'm covering a lot of that time, too. I'm on salary, so I don't get paid extra for the extra 10 or 20 hours I work in a week. I also don't get days off; if there's a performance or event, I need to be there for it. There's no one else to cover. So I'm expected to be at the Artsgarden for all of the 400-ish performances and events we do in a year. There's just no way for me to have a fair schedule with that work load. Working seven days a week some weeks, even if one or two of them are short days, is just too much.

Honestly, I'd be better with the schedule if I were actually compensated for the extra work I do. I'm on salary, so the concept of overtime pay doesn't apply to me. I'm not sure from which philosophical framework I should approach this. If I work 60 hours in a week, I could view it as working for 2/3 of my standard rate, which drops my hourly rate down to just a few dollars more than minimum wage. Or, I could view it as working 40 hours for my standard wage, then volunteering for the next 20 hours. This option somehow feels better to me; I'd rather think of myself as volunteering than working for cheap.

A restaurant manager recently told me about their overtime pay: they get half time for overtime. If you're on straight time and you work 60 hours, you get paid for 60. If you get time and a half for hours over 40, 60 hours of work will earn you 70 hours of pay. They get half time for hours over 40, so if they work 60 hours, they get paid for 50. They're getting paid for less than the time they work, but for me even this would be a huge improvement.

The other hammer-blow with my schedule is that it cuts seriously into my writing time. When I have to work an extra 15 hours in a week, that time doesn't (ideally) come from my sleeping/showering/eating time, or my mandatory home/yard-maintenance time, or my spouse time -- it comes from that elusive, tiny chunk of "free time" I get in a week. This is the time pool from which my writing time and my reading time comes. And chopping 15 hours out of the Free Time pie leaves me with an impractically small amount of writing time. I've read an average of only two books a month since my schedule exploded, which is contributing to my surliness. And about half the time, I don't even get to write my daily 30-minute writing exercise, which is the absolute bare minimum for anyone who wants to write. And, even on some days when I've got a little time, it's not unusual for me to be too mentally or physically wiped out to use it; I just want to take a nap.

It's been over four months now, and my schedule is really starting to wear me down. I'd love to go back to my previously-mandated 40-hours-per-week limit. I sometimes worked more (occasionally, much much more -- my record was over 100 hours in a week, for which I was paid for 40), but it was comforting to know that my norm was a standard 40-hour work week. Now, my norm is whatever the schedule demands, which is a bare minimum of five days a week, more typically six or seven, with at least one day over 12 hours. If we were living in a different economy, I'd be job-hunting; I'd even take something that paid less, if it meant a less punishing schedule.

And, it occurs to me that I'm already working for less. By working 50 hours for 40 hours of pay, I'm essentially working for 80% of my normal rate. If I work 60 hours in a week, I'm down to 2/3 of my usual rate. If I could find a job that actually paid overtime, I could take a job that paid significantly less than my theoretical hourly rate now, work the same number of hours I do now, and come out ahead....

Okay, done venting and whining now. Back to the grindstone.

Gen Con Writing Seminars, in Google Calendar Form

I'm very psyched to be attending GenCon this year. Before last year, I only went for one day; I wandered the show floor and people-watched and hung out with friends and generally had a good time. Last year, I attended all four days, mostly so I could go to the writing seminars and workshops. They were good for me (and hopefully my writing) in a number of ways, and I'm looking forward to going again this year. I made a Google Calendar with all of the writing seminars and workshops; I pasted it in below. Most of the time, there are two different seminars or workshops at the same time, so I'll need to decide which of the two I'd rather attend. Some of them are tough choices....

Here's the link to the calendar,

Here's the actual calendar:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The bane of sociologists

I wonder if sociologists are irritated that the word meme is rapidly losing all academic meaning, and instead means stupid internet-transmitted quiz. The study of memes was serious business for a while; now, it primarily means "What variety of potato are you?" or "Which famous bridge are you?". If I were an academic sociologist, I know this would get under my skin, just a wee bit.

A yam, and the Brooklyn Bridge, by the way.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rope Access: the safety factor

In my wild rock-climbing youth, I did what we called "speed rappelling". We'd put on a harness and pre-rig a descender, then run up to an edge, attach the rope to something as quickly as possible, and race to the bottom. A typical time frame would be five or ten minutes to check rope, harness up, rig the descender, and double-check; twenty seconds to tie on, drop rope, and clear the edge, or five seconds to clip on (depending on where we were); and about eight seconds for a hundred-foot drop. The goal was to tie on and get down, fast. The pre-rigging could take as much time as needed, but once you ran for the edge, it was all about speed.

Rope-access work is in extreme contrast to that. From the time I decide to head up, I've got over half an hour to collect and inspect gear and bag it for transport. Then, twenty minutes to harness up and get me and my gear to the top. Then, depending on where I need to work, I'll spend somewhere between twenty minutes and an hour doing the top-rigging to set and check my safety line, working line, and positioning line. The actual repair takes five or ten minutes at most. If I need to do another repair that's not near the first one, I'll probably need to redo the top rigging to reach a different area. When I'm done for the day, it's another half hour to strike my top rigging and get down, and another twenty minutes to check gear and put everything away.

The time difference here is the safety factor. Speed rappelling is fairly safe, really; you double-check your rigging before you start, and you make sure you have a solid anchor point before you start. The only danger moment comes from potentially screwing up your anchor rigging; there's a chance that, in a hurry, you could screw up you knotwork or anchor in a sloppy, unstable way, with dire consequences. Rope access work, on the other hand, is 100% safe. Everything is checked and double checked, and everything is redundant. You don't do anything risky, ever. Your gear is fail-proof, and your skill set is absolute. You're slow, and careful, and methodical, and there are no surprises. Nothing under your control will go wrong, and almost everything is under your control. I could take about a third of the time, and use about a third of the gear, and still be 99% safe. But that extra 1% is important. It's what separates daredevil kids from professionals.

Case in point: a few weeks ago I went up to patch a leak. It was overcast, but not expected to rain. But the weather changed its mind in the two hours it took me to get ready, get up, and get working. I noticed it was suddenly dark and looking like rain, so I hit top and started striking my gear. I had just finished packing the last of it when the rain started, and hard. This had danger potential; I was on top of a big glass-and-steel domed structure -- nearly frictionless when wet -- and I had already struck my safety line. If I were at the rock-climbing level of safety paranoia, this would be that 1% hazard zone. But, I'm at the rope-access level of safety paranoia. So I have ladder hooks. At the rock-climbing level of paranoia, I would just climb a ladder. At the rope-access level of paranoia, I use safety gear to climb and descend a ladder, and to get to the ladder from the top anchors. At no point was I ever unsecured. So even if I lost my footing on the wet glass dome or the steel ladder, I still wouldn't have taken a real fall. And even if I lost my footing, all my gear is attached to me; none of it is going to fall and land in the street. I made it down without incident, and never had to put my gear to the test. But incidents like this are the reason for all that extra weight and time and gear. Otherwise, that 1% will eventually catch up with you....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cabaret: Nina Simone tribute

This weekend, the Cabaret at the Connoisseur Room features Pauline Jean, in town from New York to perform her Nina Simone tribute show. I'm psyched about the performance; not only was I impressed with the Pauline Jean clips I caught on YouTube, I can't say enough about the reinvented Cabaret. It's everything a cabaret should be: the atmosphere is perfect, the bar is everything you need, the menu is light and snacky. It's an intimate space, with no bad seats in the entire house. They do real cabaret-style shows, which is nothing like the ACT I worked for fifteen years ago. And, it's well managed, which is also a radical departure; in the Claude days, I often got the feeling I should be wearing a wire when I talked to the people in charge....

But that's a long set of sordid stories, none of which apply to the new Cabaret. I'm happy to be moonlighting for them, and I'm impressed with their professionalism, their style, and the extremely high quality of their performances. So if you're free and feeling like a good show, check it out this weekend!

Rope Access: the tool comparison

In the name of comedy, two pictures. First, this is the collection of tools I need to repair the leaks in the Artsgarden dome:

Tools for the repair work by you.

And, this is the collection of tools I need to get to where I need to do the repairs:

Tools for getting to the repairs by you.

None of this is optional; I'll use every piece of this before I'm done. The total weight is close to fifty pounds, not counting the tools in the first picture. And, this isn't a complete picture. I'm missing my suction cups, the kind glass installers use. And, for some places on the dome, I'll need an extra rope. The orange one is the safety line, the red dynamic line is my working line, and I'll need an extra positioning line for about a quarter of the repairs. That is, the orange one will (theoretically) never hold any weight. The red one holds me up, and the third rope will pull me sideways into position.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Because crack is still illegal

The law is keeping me from picking up an addiction to crack or heroin. But the police are strangely silent on the subject of flash-based in-browser games, even though they're possibly more addictive than hard drugs. You can only shoot so much smack in a day, but you can easily sink 24 consecutive hours into a game.

So, in the interest of doing y'all a huge, huge disservice, here are links to a few highly addictive games. First, Learn to Fly, a game in which you get a penguin airborne. My deep advice: those little dots for air resistance and ramp height are skills you can buy, not score markers. Second,Crush the Castle, in which you use a trebuchet to demolish medieval structures. Much fun, and fun to re-play earlier castles once you acquire heavy armaments. These two games are nice and simple; you can replay them, but you can also finish either one in an hour or so. The third game,Gemcraft, is much, much more addictive, and also takes a lot longer to play. It's possible to sink days into it, I suspect, though I put it down before I got too hooked. For a writer, one of the real perks of a netbook might be that the in-browser game window for all these is too large to fit the screen of my wife's HP Mini, and you've therefore got one less possible distraction. I don't have any games installed on my old writing laptop, both because it's too old and underpowered, and because I know that the games are distracting, but it'll run any in-browser game without a problem....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Writer's Block

I've been having a bit of trouble with the novel for the past few weeks. No, scratch that -- I've been having an enormous, crushing amount of trouble. I've hit a point where I know what just happened, I know what happens in two more chapters, but I have no idea how to get from here to there. I've written the next chapter six or seven times, six or seven different ways, but none of them work. I'm still hammering on that, but in the meantime, I just decided to skip ahead a few chapters and keep writing from where I can grasp the story again.

It's odd, but when I can't write, I also don't blog. Whenever I try, I feel like I should be doing Actual Writing instead, so I skip the blogging to continue my not-writing. But I'm back at the writing, and also back at the blogging.

It occurs to me, the lack of blogging was the first sign that I was seriously stuck on the novel. By the time I realized the Doom Of Writers had settled into my head, I had already gone blogging-free for three or four days. This might make a good mental barometer for me.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A short vacation!

Laura and I have an entire weekend off together! Woo hoo! So, in celebration,we've decided to spend the weekend doing absolutely nothing! Woo hoo!

Okay, not absolutely nothing. We're cooking yummy meals, and we're cleaning the house a bit, and we're reading, and we're napping. But other than that, no real plans of any kind. We've each finished a book, and I've made breakfast both days, and she's made dinner. It rained all day yesterday, but the weather didn't stop our neighbors from the usual Independence Day displays with big airburst fireworks and the traditional celebratory small-arms fire. Our neighbors just down the street put on an impressive fireworks show, with a few hours of mortar-launched fireworks. Maybe the highlight of the show was when a police car came roaring down the street; he was going too fast to see the mortar launcher (basically, a 16" piece of iron pipe welded to a steel base, with a cinder block as ballast) in the middle of the street, or at least to avoid it. It sounded like it did some damage to his undercarriage. He stopped and got out of the car (Laura: "oops! Now we get to see some real fireworks!"), checked for damage, then took off again. We complain often about the police not actually enforcing the law in our neighborhood, but I'm glad they're ignoring the fireworks laws. That is, I'd be irritated if they don't send a car for gunshots or wild dogs, but stopped people from holding private fireworks displays....

Gotta mention, we spent last night on the porch in fleece jackets. In early July. Weird.