When we could shout across the room

Opposing Views

Image by Jaimito Cartero via Flickr

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about management.  I take refuge in thinking about it theoretically, as an academic problem to be solved, and wouldn’t it be nice if all the people involved would just behave. I am fully aware that theoretically is not how this works, but I use the word “refuge” in good conscience.  I’m in a position of learning as I go, and trying things out until I find a style that works for both me and the people I manage. Yes, this method does drive everyone a little crazy – I’m not exactly set in my ways, in a practical sense.

Five years ago next week, I started working at my current company.  We all fit into one big room plus three descent offices, with all our inventory and break room amenities, and I’ve been feeling nostalgia for the days when I could hold everything that needed to be done in my realm of influence in my brain.

Today I attended a workshop designed (and designed well) to teach me how to manage people, with all the infrastructure that entails (feedback, planning ahead, clear expectations, consistency), and had an abrupt realization that that infrastructure is necessary because we’re not all living out of each others’ pockets anymore. I’d had the realization before, but something about having to write emails to myself in order to make sure I remembered what I’ve said to whom on a regular basis drove it home.  Because I will have to write those emails, or I’m going to end up pulling the ground out from under someone’s project without meaning to, simply because I don’t remember what priority it had relative to the rest of the department last week before that import issue cropped up – and I hate it when people do that to me.

I miss the small business environment, where I could be elbow deep in everything without pissing anyone off or breaking anything. Now I get to look at all the pretty spinning wheels of commerce, but I’m only allowed to touch and muck with the ones in my assigned section (and you’d better believe I muck with them). And I could do so much more damage by touching the wrong thing at the wrong time than I could before, simply because we move like a Destroyer now, rather than a speedboat.

A lot of this is just me whining.  What I really want is a data port, because if I haven’t figured out how to learn things fast enough to keep up by now, I never will.


Philanthropy. From WordNet at Princton: “S: (n) philanthropy, philanthropic gift (voluntary promotion of human welfare)”

I just spent two days ruminating about stuff. And by “stuff” I mean the things I tend to buy to make myself feel better. Books and jewelry often fall into this category, as I pick the things that I think will match or signal that I am the person I wish to be. It doesn’t really work that way, but there isn’t a reading buff in the world that hasn’t been seduced by the possibilities of symbolism.

So, this last two days, I took a portion of the discretionary part of my latest paycheck that usually goes to new books or impulse purchases, and I reacted impulsively to calls for donations online. In so doing, I realized that I’ve been pretty quiet, as far as online support for good causes goes. This is me not being particularly quiet anymore.

DonorsChoose.org - Give to a classroom! - Go

I was introduced to DonorsChoose.org in that great way that online communication works. Someone who I read online frequently posted a link to someone else, who I read less frequently, linking to a classroom project that resonated particularly with the online subculture I hang around in (albeit quietly). A classroom in LA wanted individual copies  of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which I had read not-too-long-ago, and had the book rock my world. So I donated to the classroom project, flush with the enthusiasm of a reader who wanted to share her new favorite book with the ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD (seriously, you should read Parable of the Sower).

And then, not too long later, someone else that I read online donated her birthday to DonorsChoose – making a giving page, with projects in her area, and thus introducing me to the concept.

I learned how to use my account, created a Giving Page with projects in my State, set up a monthly donation, and haven’t regretted it since. I  had to renew my monthly giving today, which lead to me re-doing the giving page, adding it to my sidebar here on this blog, and in general being more actively aware of what I was involved in than I had been previously.

DonorsChoose is a transparent organization, posting their Financial Reports where anyone on the internet can find them. They recently celebrated their 10th Anniversary as an organization:

They are a Charity Navigator 4 star charity, with 92% of their income going to their programs.

And they are a prime example of large-scale crowdfunding, something the Salvation Army has been doing for a while, but which became easier with the advent of a large, engaged online population.
DonorsChoose.org - Give to public schools!

Achievements and my psychology.

The husband and I play a lot of video games. A feature introduced to us with our XBox are achievements for meeting certain criteria within the games. My current obsession is Dragon Age: Origins, which comes on my gaming system with a set of achievements. Achievements are earned by fulfilling a set of conditions during game-play. They are pretty obviously designed to get someone to spend more hours playing the game than they already would have, by appealing to the collector-soul present in the populace. They also get completists to pay up for  extra content that they might not have gone for, if it weren’t for the empty slots that will show up on their list of achievements.

What’s all this leading up to? My status as a habitual blood-donar, actually.

Approximately every eight weeks, since the space of time between when I graduated high school and when I started college, my Dad and I meet for breakfast at Dot’s Diner and then go give up a pint each to Bonfils Blood Center. Bonfils gives out neat gold-colored pins for every gallon that you donate. Totally separate from the feeling of civic pride, of being useful to society, of knowing that the line between recovery and not may be my pint of O+, is the nice little adrenaline rush, the sense of collecting, when I get one of those pins.

According to calculations, I should be getting another one – 8 gallons – next time I give.

And knowing that, I realized that what I’m feeling is exactly the same as when I know that I’m about to complete the game-play conditions for another achievement – one of the ones I’ve had to work for. It’s a strange thing to realize that my brain is rewarding me for both experiences in the same way. That rush of having done something.

The psychology is self-feeding, at least for me.  Proving that I’m not the do-gooding, altruistic person that does things like give blood just for the betterment of her neighbors. No, I get that nice little adrenaline rush too, encouraging me to come back, to level up, just eight more pints and I get another pin.

And you know what? I’m not going to fight it – because the behavior does better my neighbors, even if that’s not the totality of the reason why I do it.

Confronting the Complexity

Hunting trophies in Úsov Château, the Czech Re...

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I am, by nature, given to the melodramatic and portentous proclamations. Not for the sense of importance (though that is a bonus), but for the idea that even the small things, if discussed in epic terms, grow to fit the language.

These days, I’ve found myself describing every project in the words of great diplomatic acts or in the language of warfare. Some of this is for sure influenced by the fact that my current reading is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Jack Weatherford reads as a bit of a fanboy, and I’m currently resisting the urge to go hunting through the bibliography, which would disrupt my actually reading the book. Even so, Weatherford’s book, along with The Checklist Manifesto, have influenced how I’m thinking about logistics vs. communication right now. Logistics is all about communication, which I think I had noticed before, but a targeted sort of communication: the kind that allows the people involved to know each other before they have to entirely depend on each others’ expertise. This is in addition to putting together a team that consists of expertise.

I’ve also been thinking in terms of putting time into my work with AAUW and my work at Work. I get to be creative as well as technical wit the website editor duties for the Branch (you all have gone to see the site right?), while I am getting deeper into analytical work, as I transition from my former position to my new one. The worries are that I am not creative enough to do publicity and a web-presence justice, or that I am not sufficiently laying the foundation for the new job, while shortchanging the transition period for both myself and my successor in the previous one. Between that, and the political calendar (AAUW has a public policy branch, which does a good job of getting the word out) there is no shortage of new things to learn, put together, and connect. I just have to sort signal from noise (a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately, in the context of my job), and to decide where I stand on the various moral continuums. No sweat, right?

Yet, at this time I feel the full weight of a beginning of the story, which is my favorite place to be. As I learned from one of my new team today: you have to earn what you ask for. And currently? I’m asking for a lot.

The Thousand Things

cross-posted with LiveJournal
1. I took a walk tonight, and even knowing that smoke had been pouring out of the mountains since mid-morning, the sky made me gawk in broken, painful amazement.

The smoke was a bruise, streaking across the west/north-west horizon, and as the sun set, I swear I could see bits of flame here and there on the mountain-side. I pray I was wrong, and the 3,000 acres burned as of this afternoon haven’t grown to more than that.

I’ve called my parents twice tonight, making sure they’re ok, even though they’re miles away from the directly effected area, and only ten miles closer to it than I am. I prayed for a quick resolution and end to the blaze, and I pray for those unable to go home tonight (or ever, if news speculation of burned houses is true).

There are three evacuation sites, one in a building I was a student at, nearly two decades ago now. The Red Cross is providing, as they usually do.

2. On Saturday, I crossed the 1,000 cumulative miles mark in the Eowyn Challenge. I’m on my way from Lothlorien to the Rauros Falls, at which point I will have to decide who I am on this particular adventure.

3. Deciding who I am is a bit more than a joke, at this particular point in time. I am changing my position and duties at work – not entirely by choice, though I know the choice is the right one. Part of that is helping to find someone to do what I can’t, and I’m finding it difficult to keep my blasted pride out of the equation. And I mean it, when I say “blasted” – my pride is as blasted lands: barren, cracked, and completely useless to anyone but sadists who leave prisoners out to starve.

4. I possibly need to read less dystopian literature until the changes at work are more settled. Though Hunger Games was quite the engrossing, heart-wrenching read. Follow it up with Imaro and the atmosphere of alienation, protagonist-against-the-world is nigh overwhelming.

5. I hadn’t really thought about it before this weekend, but Imaro might well be the first book in the Sword and Sorcery sub-genre of fantasy that I’ve actually read, though the Conan and Red Sonja movies were well known to me at a relatively early age. I could have done a great deal worse, though I’m not sure I could have found better. There was just enough there for me to get a foothold, and quite a bit that was completely different from other things that I’ve read. It makes me want the other three books.

6. In a fit of anxiety, I washed All The Dishes. Spouse is quite pleased, as xir’s usually the one who breaks first, and takes care of them.

Edited 9/7/2010: fixed spelling errors – oops.