The Phantom City

Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Category: Work (page 3 of 3)

How about “Start off nice?”

I’ve found it interesting how many people start off email exchanges in an insulting, aggressive tone, even though what they are looking for is a simple bit of customer service or an answer. I don’t speak to people I don’t know like that and expect them to respond, and I wouldn’t expect it if I sent a hateful email either. Guess it’s pretty common.

Link courtesy of The Editor’s Log, over at The (Greensboro) News & Record.

Personal Stuff Bad!

Well, guess I’m never working for the state.

Nando is no more

At least the name. I worked up the stairs from Nando Media for a few weeks during a stint with The News & Observer, and I used a content management system they had programmed in Perl. It’s too bad that the name is going away, given its evidence of the Raleigh newspaper’s pioneering role in online journalism, but I’m glad they aren’t getting rid of the company.

Acts of Gord

The tribulations of running a game store are recounted in nine Books by Keeper of the Retail Faith/Game Store Owner Gord. Highly entertaining acts of idiocy, unless you were experiencing them. 🙂

Sample story:

“What did you call my son on the phone today!”

“I labelled him a petty thief.”

“No one calls my son a thief!”

“Actually, I labelled him a petty thief. Would you prefer aspiring criminal, or the more accurately descriptive incompetent law breaker?”

“Watch what you say!”

“I’d rather watch my stuff when your son is around if you wouldn’t mind.”

HP’s Fiorina resigns

Carly Fiorina being asked to resign isn’t surprising, given the problems after the HP/Compaq merger, but this seems sudden, given all the company had been through in the last two years.

Oh well, time to update my resume. 😉

Link courtesy of Engadget

Firefox missing IE functions?

Interesting article in PC Magazine reviewing 15 Firefox extensions, but it leads off with this bizarre claim: “By itself, Firefox is a lean and fast browser, but it lacks some of the functions that we’ve come to take for granted from Microsoft Internet Explorer.”

Easy way to lead off an article, but as someone who uses Firefox at home and IE at work, the only functions that I’ve noticed are “missing” have to do with being hacked and the privacy function that doesn’t work correctly. Firefox comes standard with functions that were only added to IE in the Service Pack 2 update, such as a popup blocker.

The primary reason I use IE at work is because I work on our site all day, and the site has an ActiveX component to allow WYSIWYG editing on pages. Our audience uses IE, so it’s also always nice to know if I’ve accidentally broken anything in IE’s reality.

A few months ago I would have said that Firefox was a good browser for the technically oriented, but since it hit its 1.0 release, it has become a better, much-easier browser to use on 95% of the Web than even the latest IE. (The other 5% have some problems with their HTML that they’re going to have to fix, if Microsoft is going to start delaying work on their browser as they’ve said.) I’d recommend it to my mom, if she were online.

Keep those servers burning

Well, the same hosting company that watched our server get fried — to be fair, they also rebuilt it fast, considering — is now moving it to a more secure facility. I just keep imagining a forklift blade stuck through the server rack, somehow skewering only our production server. 🙂

Dumbing down, or just coming apart?

Amazing how much lightning running in on one server can kill your time and desire to blog. 😐 (Not this server…our production Web server at my work.)

Anyway, another interesting Spiked book review, for two reasons: What the author is trying to tell us, and what the article says about the publication.

First, as you can read in the article, the book being reviewed argues that the modern concept of inclusion is reducing the value in our institutions. To become accessible to the masses, they simply require less of us, which has the effect of removing our desire to aspire to the heights those institutions once exemplified.

While I don’t really disagree with the argument — I’ve spent a lot of time in exactly the kind of institutions that produced the kind of pragmatic education the author says is taking over — I would say that I believe pragmatism about expectations doesn’t necessarily have as much to do with high concepts of “inclusion” so much as it has to do with producing as economically efficient a public as possible.

Instead, I wonder if the lowered institutional expectations are a result of continuing cultural partitioning. At one point, if you lived in middle-class suburban consumer world, you might aspire to the role of intellectual, or artist, or successful entrepreneur. That’s still true today, but less so. You may just aspire to being a better middle-class suburban consumer. And why wouldn’t you? Do today’s intellectuals speak to the masses any more than today’s Hollywood stars, in any way except simple exposure? They both work in their own worlds, in their own circles, with their own expectations.

It’s not surprising that other academics review this book and discuss it, because it has been cast as academic. (What else would a book about intellectuals be?) If the author is lucky, it’ll get noticed by the book-buying public at Barnes & Noble, who will briefly propel it into the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. But in the end, what effect does that have? Some teens decide to cross over, that the academic world is where they belong, so they go to college, major in a soft science, go to graduate school, and reinforce the academic world by writing books and reviewing the books of other people they see at conferences three times a year.

We don’t expect the book to be promoted by Warren Beatty, we don’t expect Willie Nelson to write a song about anti-intellectualism in the United States, and we don’t expect our pastor to have copies sitting in the pews when we walk in. Those are not the worlds where we expect to see this book or its thesis, and we are comfortable with that separation.

And that’s the rub. Perhaps institutions have dumbed down their expectations for the sake of inclusion, but another part of our general dumbing down is our lack of concern about our separations. While we’ve always had those separations, the more freedom we get to cross those lines, the less we actually care about doing so. Culture as mall…you can pick and choose anything, but you’ll primarily go to the stores that have stuff you already know you like. (On the other hand, just try to tell us we can’t go in a store because of who we are. That brings back the caring fast, because that denial is no longer part of our expectations.) We aren’t aspiring to overcome obstacles and gain new worlds, because we simply think of them as being open.

Of course, the greatest danger in taking that freedom for granted, since institutions are so interested in giving it to us, is that we don’t react much if you start taking it away slowly with plausible-sounding reasons…particularly if you work around the less-travelled, less-cared-for edges first. Always a danger.

For the second reason, there is a brief history of the Spiked founders near the end of the article, and it turns out they were, and perhaps still are, Marxists. Wow, I had been reading the publication thinking it was primarily libertarian. I forgot how “conservative” a Marxist can be. 😉

On Communication with Vendors


I’ve never quite understood a particular behavior when I’m working with outside vendors: Silence. Particularly when a project is nearing deadline.

I want to hear the good news, the bad news, and the no news. I want to hear solid facts, informed commentary, wild guesses, and off-the-wall opinions (although it helps if those are labeled as such). I want to hear everything, even at the risk of being flooded by information, because I can’t walk over and stand in the vendor’s cube to find out what’s going on like I can with people in my building.

In other words, I want to be able to plan and adjust my plans, or even just worry with the vendor if they don’t know what’s happening themselves. I’m an empathetic guy. I’ll understand, even if it means missing a deadline, if I can know about it beforehand. I’ll bet lots of customers would understand.

I know that may not be the experience of your average vendor. Maybe their other customers get bored, bothered, or yell at them. Too bad there isn’t a box on your average RFP for “how much we want to hear.” 😐


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