Tag Archives: work

My New Job (as explained by Alex)

We took Mom to Edinburgh Airport this morning. Martin dropped us all off, and Alex, Fiona and I then accompanied her to the security gate (via the exceedlingly long and slow British Airways check-in queue). Then the kids and I took a taxi back to Goose, where I left Alex behind and walked Fi home.

In the taxi, there were a couple of adverts for the manufacturer, Manganese Bronze. One of them showed a classic black cab in a shopping centre, which particularly interested Alex.

First, he explained that “naughty people” drive taxis in shopping centres, and “good people” don’t. When he was a little older, he continued, his new job* would be to tell them “NO” (said with The Admonitory Index Finger, heretofore to be referred to as the AIF, extended), and that I would stay at home.

Then he mentioned that there were sharks in shopping centres, which also needed application of the AIF and a good telling-off, and told me his new job would involve this as well. I pointed out that that was two jobs, and how would he find the time to do them both?

His solution was that I would do both jobs, presumably because as a Mom I have so much time on my hands. So I am now the Official Teller-Off of Sharks and Bad People Who Drive Taxis in Shopping Centres. Armed with my AIF, which I only have by marriage, I go from shopping centre to shopping centre, saying “NO” to large toothy fish and cabs.

The taxi driver was it stitches.

* Martin’s new job, according to Alex, is to fix robots. While being dropped off this morning at the airport, Alex was instructing his dad to fix two small robots first, in the secret area, before starting on the big robot. All this will come as a trememdous surprise to Intelligent Finance, which took Martin on as a contractor to help develop computer systems.

Offshoring Redux, or, what does a sporran have to do with software?

The IT industry has been gripped by anxiety over the last few months over the growing trend towards “offshoring”. More and more companies are moving their software development to countries like India and China, where a highly educated workforce is willing to code for a fraction of the costs of North Americans and Europeans. This is a Bad Thing according to pundits, but, I suspect, an inevitable one. UK call centres and directory enquiries are already frequently staffed from the Indian subcontinent (with operators given “cultural training” so they can chat about the latest happenings on Eastenders.)

I also suspect that my own specialty, software testing, is going to see a renaissance in the US, Canada, and Europe. At present, software testing seems to be moving offshore along with the development. But I reckon a given company will try an average of one offshore implementation without onshore testing before we testers become very, very popular. Even “onshore” offsite developments need acceptance testing. How much more will projects developed across time zones, continents, and language barriers?

But some industries are supposed to be offshoring-proof. Right? Right? Wrong. sporran makers are under threat from offshoring.

Is nothing sacred?

On Craftsmanship

I went through a pretty bad patch at work last month. I was feeling annoyed at the people I work with, stressed out by a developing problem that I couldn’t seem to solve, and frustrated with myself for getting into the situation at all. I was even having work stress dreams (coming into the office naked from the waist up, that sort of thing).

A lot of this was based on fear. I am performing a role pioneered by someone with vastly more experience and knowledge than I have. Even after a year, I am still scrambling to catch up, learning on the fly. But I feel like by now I should know everything I need to do my job. This made it hard to ask questions, and consequently made me defensive and unadventurous. I found myself backing away from challenges because I was afraid they’d turn into cans of worms, that people would ask me things I couldn’t answer. Easier to say no than to find a way to say yes.

But I was rereading A Degree of Mastery, one of my bookbinding books. The author, Annie Tremmel Wilcox, writes about the time that she was an apprentice bookbinder. She spends a lot of time thinking about the idea of craftsmanship, particularly as embodied by the master bookbinder she is studying with. And, reading that, I understood my real problem. The lack of knowledge, the feeling of looming intimidation, was only a symptom.

I had stopped approaching my job as a craftsman. I was no longer taking pride in the innate quality of the work I was doing, but had got tied up in the politics of it all. It’s easy to do in my role, where there is a lot of political give and take.

To a politician, the quality of your work is one of many negotiable items. You take shortcuts to do favours, until taking the time to do something right is seen as an imposition. A craftsman abhors this approach, and would rather do something less fancy but do it right than do more in some half-assed way.

As a craftsman, with the priority on the quality of my work, I find the barriers to asking for help have diminished. If the quality of my work is my primary concern, then the desire to save face by not appearing ignorant cannot be. That’s the primary concern of a polician.

Going into work is a lot easier now. I even keep a bone folder on my keyboard (above the F keys). It’s sort of a personal emblem of craftsmanship.

                              – o0o –

Grammar notes: Although I am a woman, I use the terms “craftsman” and “craftsmanship”. My alternatives appear to be “crafter” / “craftership” and “craftswoman” / “craftswomanship”. Now, “crafter” sounds like “crofter” to me, and I have nothing whatever to do with sheep. And while “craftswoman” is fine, “craftswomanship” is just too awkward. (Don’t even get me started on “craftspersonship”…) Besides, I am confident enough in my femininity to be able to use a masculine term about myself.

I’m Rich

Rich, I tell you!

No, no, I didn’t win the lottery.

Last night (Sunday, December 29) was the annual Almost New Year’s party of one of our dearest friends from our university days. And after living so long in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I find I have moved the date of my annual stock-taking, the day that I count my blessings and review the past year. Now I do it at Paul’s party. This has the added advantage of moving the stocktake after the solstice, when the balance of the year has shifted toward the light, when I know [Seasonal Affective Disorder|my mood] will get better now before it gets worse again.

Here’s this year’s tally:

· We are all healthy, sound in body and mind.
Oh, yes, we all three of us get ill from time to time. I have a cold as I type, Alex has been coughing nights, and Martin isn’t doing too hot either. But these are passing things.
· We have a nice house
It’s pleasant, on a good street, with good neighbours. The mortgage is affordable, and will remain affordable even if interest rates go up.
· We have secure, well-paid jobs in these times of redundancy.
I hope I’m not tempting fate by saying this. But we’ve both survived one round of redundancies in our workplaces. We’re even paid enough to be able to work part-time and still have enough money for our needs and our desires. We are, to use the phrase of one of my former colleagues, hardcover book rich.
· We have time
Working part-time means we each spend entire days with Alex. I get two days a week with him, Martin one.
We even have time to spend on our hobbies. Martin does web-type stuff and plays the drums, and I bind books.
· We have love
Martin and I are heading for our tenth anniversary. The years have not always been easy – no long-term relationship is universally smooth. But even in the worst times, we have never stopped loving each other.
Now we have Alex, not yet two, and we love him more than we can express. He loves us too, though he does not yet understand the concept.
We have loving families – brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a whole network of relatives. We may disagree from time to time, but that never gets in the way of the love that ties us together by marriage and blood.
And we have dear, dear friends, some we see often and some we see less than once a year. (A fair number of them came to Paul’s party.) I have friends I have never met in the flesh, but still am enriched by (and ones that, I hope, I enrich).

And so many things that we have, that so much of the world lacks, don’t even make it on the list. Our water is safe to drink, we have plentiful food (more than plentiful – I need to lose weight). Our home is safe from confiscation and our health from epidemic disease. We have a voice in our governance, and the right to say what we please in public. Realistically, we fear no violence in our daily lives. We even have access to cheap public transport and good quality health care.

What can I say? We are rich.

Do we LOOK like Batman and Robin?

Lindsay (one of my colleagues) and I went off to do some cache maintenance at lunchtime. We wanted to find out who had logged The Other Leith Walk, put a travel bug in it then come back within our lunch hour. A chance to have a nice walk, a pleasant chat, nothing much.

On our way, we passed a little girl sitting on a bench with her mother kneeling in front of her. I only noticed them because the mother was being very affectionate, stroking the girl’s hair. Their bikes were beside them.

So we get there, but there are pedestrians. We’re standing by the tree, looking up at it & trying to figure out what species it is to kill the time, when a lady stops. “Excuse me,” she says, “but is there something going on up in that tree?” She’s peering into the branches. “Some kind of rare bird nest or something? I’m sure I saw people here yesterday too, and one of them had a camera. Or maybe it was further along.”

Uh, oh, I thought. One set of cachers, who found it yesterday, had a camera. Were they indiscreet? Does she suspect?

We said that we were just trying to figure out what kind of tree it was, and that we didn’t know anything about any rare birds round there. She seemed convinced that it was just coincidence, and went on. Then I inspected the cache, found out that Silver Fox and crustyloafer found it, and left the travel bug in. Reading the log, seeing how enthusiastic the other cachers (crustyloafer and his brother), I was encouraged. Maybe we’ll get another active cacher in Edinburgh.

I’m not really that worried that the cache will be plundered. It is very well hidden, actually, despite how close it is to the path. Still, I think I shall do another visit fairly soon just to be sure.

Then we were walking back when we come across an elderly gentleman trying to hold two bikes (an adult’s and a child’s) upright while leaning on his cane, looking anxiously up and down the path. He was just past the spot where we’d seen the mother and daughter, and he stopped us and asked for help. Apparently, the daughter had fallen quite badly off her bike, and the mother had called an ambulance. He had been passing by, and had offered to take their bikes to his house for safekeeping, but his offer had been more chivalrous than practical. He would have struggled to get one home, let alone the two.

So we walked the bikes back to his house nearby, and carried them up the stairs and into the common hallway where they would be safe. We all nodded smugly at each other, conscious of how good of citizens we were, and Lindsay and I rushed off, coming toward being late back to our desks.

But there must have been something about us – some indefineable Batman-and-Robinishness. We were walking up the hill past Canonmills, debating where to get food, when a Spanish woman stopped us because she couldn’t get her key to turn in her front lock. Neither could we, though we both tried (I think she was at the wrong house).

Good things come in threes, they say. We managed to avoid that. We were just about back to work when a confused-looking Japanese woman tried to cach our eyes. But then another woman passed her, and got ensnared instead. We passed them as the local was explaining that there wasn’t a Texaco anywhere nearby, but that Tesco’s was right over there…

After all that, we were only 5 minutes late back.

Signs and Secrets

Originally entered as a daylog on everything2 for July 8, 2002

Spent lunchtime today double checking the GPS co-ordinates for my second geocache. I am mildly hooked on caching (insofar as I can be in this city, avec toddler & sans car). Cachers tend to be drivers, and even those caches in a town are almost completely devoid of public transport information. So my caching activities are pretty much restricted to Edinburgh, which has three caches in town (by next week, there will be four). I’ve visited one, and will be looking for another on the 11th.

I constructed the third one myself over the last four months. I’m actually quite proud of it. It maps out a six-stage walk through Edinburgh’s Old Town in the footsteps of Burke and Hare. As the searchers go from place to place, they have to look for numbers carven on gravestones, into buildings, and on plaques. The numbers then assemble to make up the GPS co-ordinates for a final location where there’s a grim historical relic. The cache has an E2 connection as well. One fellow noder, nine9, helped me pick some of the locations, and two others (fuzzy_and_blue and Jongleur helped Mom test it. Only one other person has hunted it thus far (Silver Fox, Edinburgh’s only other geocacher), but I’m hoping people will come up for the Edinburgh Festival and spend an afternoon on it.

This second cache is less public — it’s on a footpath that is not at all obvious from the streets nearby. I think non-locals will have trouble finding their way onto the path. Martin and I didn’t realise it was there when we first moved to a flat three blocks from it. Once we found it, I used to walk home from work that way in the summers. It was a secret place, hidden from the main flow of Edinburgh traffic, and I was sorry to abandon it when we moved again. It’s also the gateway to other secret places, such as Warriston Cemetery, with its population of, erm, romantically inclined men.

While I was out scouting for the cache location, I saw my first warchalking mark. Martin told me where it was. I’d walked right by it on July 6, and would have done again if I didn’t know what it meant.

It all makes me wonder what other things are stashed along the path, in holes in the walls and under rocks. What else is hidden around Edinburgh? What of all the graffiti and scribbling on walls is more than it seems? It’s the fascination of spying, of tradecraft but there’s something deeper.

I partake, to some extent, of those family characteristics that get diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome when they occur in full measure. Some of that is an inability to read the signs, to find the secrets of other people. After all the trouble I have with social interactions, I’ve come to like secrets I can unravel. I wish I could find the GPS location of a hidden agenda, or a glossary of the markings that advertise the truth.

June and lovin’ it

I’m aware that I don’t blog enough. Martin’s always got something new up, and my last log is from March. Sheesh.

The thing is, when it’s winter, I’m struggling to cope with the ordinary demands of life. Commenting on the way things are going, or even standing back far enough to observe how they’re doing, is low on the list. I’m just too tired.

Then summer comes, and I’m doing all the things I couldn’t do during the dark time. And somehow, I get so absorbed in all the things that are going on that once again I can’t step back and describe them. I seem to be too busy.

Now is a good example. My mother’s over for a fortnight, getting her Alex time in. As with my Dad’s visit in January, Martin and I aren’t taking any time off. But we’ve taken Alex out of his nursery for the time she’s over. So I’m being a working Mom, a daughter, and a hostess all at once.

Plus I’m binding her a blank book as a birthday present. We’ve already been to the tannery to pick out the leather for the covers, and I’m most of the way through the bind.

But even when we don’t have visitors, we’re pretty busy. Not that I’m complaining – I only “work” (for pay) 3 days a week. Martin works 4. We both get to spend a lot of time and energy on Alex. On the one hand, it can be hard work – he’s well into toddlerhood, walking all over the place, demanding things to play with, and throwing the odd (brief, mercifully) tantrum when he is denied. On the other hand, time with Alex is tremendously rewarding, whether he’s sitting at his little table typing on a spare keyboard (just like Mom!), or sorting pebbles in the front garden. And he socialises well, riding in the backpack as I go around town or do lunch with family and friends. He’s even helped me with a geocache I’ll be posting soon. There’s a lot of hard work in there, but when he turns to me and gives me a huge kiss, I can’t seem to mind.

The days I spend at work are rewarding as well. I’m in a department I like, working with people I enjoy dealing with, on a steep learning curve. I can even wear black – unlike my previous department, where I felt too gothic, I’m rarely the only one all in black now. There are stressful times, but all in all, I find the work days flying by.

My current hobby – bookbinding – takes up a good deal of time as well. I’m entirely self-taught so far, and after six months I’m finally producing things that I’m willing to give away without apology. They’re still not perfect, but I no longer feel my recipients are being charitable by taking the books I bind. I bind for the pleasure of making things, of creating something beautiful. Being able to give them away is a bonus, and keeps me from drowning in blank and rebound books.

And somewhere in there, in hugs at the sink and long chats after the lights are out at night, I still have time to be amazed at the man I married. We spend a lot more time as comrades in nappies rather than smitten lovers now, but watching the way he delights in Alex is just another way of falling in love with him.

So this is a busy time, but every aspect of it holds some reward. And I have to get my joy in quick, like a grasshopper, before the winter pares me back to the bare minimum.

All change

It’s the beginning of March, and life looks so different than it did in December.

Not the politics. Don’t even get me started on politics. No, it’s the rest of life that has changed.

First of all, it’s getting lighter. The weather may still be wintry, but the days are longer. The difference in my energy levels is dramatic; it’s like the difference in a coffee addict between waking and finishing the first cup. My brain no longer feels wrapped in cotton wool, and I can think again. The payoff is all around me, in my relationships with Martin and Alex, in the way I run the house, in my work.

Work. There’s another area of change. I’ve been back at work since the new year, but I haven’t truly settled in. I’m doing a three-month stint in my old department. After Easter, I’ll be changing divisions within the Bank, moving to a team I worked with during Y2K. It promises to be a challenging time, with a steep learning curve. I should be intimidated, but every time I think about the work, and the people, I smile. I feel like a runner at the starting gate.

Going back to work has changed the shape of my life enormously. I’m only working three days a week, Monday – Wednesday. But those days are really tightly scheduled. My focus has to be on getting everything done that needs doing, getting enough light to stay sane, then going to bed early enough to get the sleep I need. It’s like being a hamster on a wheel. How do full-time working mothers do it?

Still, the working time has its rewards. Martin has Wednesdays off, so Alex is in day care for the first two days each week. He is has settled in well, but he does miss us while we’re away. So every day he’s at nursery, I pick him up (Martin does the dropoffs, I do the pickups) and take him home, and all he wants to do for the first half hour is cuddle me, flirt with me, and play with my earrings. It’s an enormously rewarding time, like having a whole day’s attention in a short spell.

One of the real pleasures of the last two months has been the learning curve with my bookbinding. Martin got me a couple of books on the topic for Christmas (at my request), and since then, I’ve been binding non-stop. (See the previous entry for a list of what I’ve done) In addition to the books themselves, I’ve made a lot of the hardware I need, including two different types of book press.

I can hardly wait to see what spring will bring.