Thursday, August 29, 2013

10 Strategies to Survive the Most Tedious and Soul-Crushing Corporate Meetings and District Trainings

The situation is tragically familiar. You are mandated by some unseen force be spend hours (or days) in a strange room. There is a presenter, a PowerPoint projector, and an audience of colleagues, known or unknown. The information being presented is (choose any three): redundant, unnecessary, irrelevant, incorrect, outdated, humorless, disorganized, depressing, stressful, useless, contradictory, confounding, insulting, or...just tedious and soul-crushing. You may or may not have been given a binder that burns your brain like the eye of Mordor whenever you open it.

But this is part of your job. You are being paid. You cannot project any attitude of negativity or defiance. You cannot use your phone or laptop. Doodling is too philologically revealing. Forget about crosswords, word searches, and Sudoku. You must create the illusion of attentiveness and engagement. You must keep yourself busy, somehow. If you start watching the clock you will die. You wonder how you ended up in this Orwellian nightmare.

But all is not lost. Here are ten strategies guaranteed to help you survive.

1. Lie about everything

If you know the other people in the room you have to be careful here. Choose something specific and unknowable, like vacation plans. If asked, this summer you will be traveling to the Gobi desert to study goat birthing with your step-mother. If it's an anonymous situation, well then begin by mentioning you were born in a country where everyone has a different skin color than your own. If you're black, then you were born in Denmark. If you're Latino, then you're Cambodian. If you're white, you're from Batswana. Also remember, you are a pescatarian amateur triple-jumper, you raise alpacas, and your father was at Iwo Jima. Oh, and this is your second career. You used to race chariots in Ely, Nevada.

2. Interrupt people to asked them to speak louder or repeat themselves

This can be incredibly annoying and sadistic if done properly. It's best to break in just as the person is about to make his or her point. While you may come across as rude, it's all done in the interest of clarification. Because you really care about what is being said. Because you are focused and attentive.

3. Aggressively dissect your presenter

Develop a case study of this individual like you are profiling a serial killer. Psychoanalyze every facet of his or her appearance, wardrobe, mannerisms, mood, tone, fitness-level, handedness, eye-blink frequency, make-up, hairstyle, and proportionality. Ask yourself, does her husband hate her? Are her nostrils even the right size for her face? Does he use Rogaine? Does he drink too much? Has he ever kicked a dog?

4. Play the Virginity Loss game

Go around the room and study your colleagues. Imagine in your mind the scenario in which each person lost his or her virginity. The overweight woman in the back, with the six grandkids, well that was on a stack of rice sacks in the storage room of a taqueria in Guatemala City. The young guy across the table? Well, that was with his mom's best friend, when he was 14, after a swim meet in her minivan outside a Round Table Pizza. The cute woman at the end of the table? Well, it's kind of sad. It was with her boyfriend in college, but someone pulled the fire alarm right when they got started and she's never known if it "counted". And if it didn't count, then it was with her boyfriend's roommate, the next night, at the Fluff 'N Fold.

5. Break time is NOT EVER the time to take a break

Always get up to use the bathroom during the presentation. Actual break time is for checking email or calling your wife. The need to heat up your coffee or use the bathroom is sacred. These will be the most interesting moments of your day. Do not squander them! Similarly, do not EVER eat your lunch during the lunch break. Pick up your lunch, take care of personal business, and then eat your lunch during the after-lunch presentation session.

6. Quietly ask the person sitting next to you if they smell smoke

Then wait five or ten minutes and ask the person on the other side of you. Make occasional sniffling noises and look around conspicuously. Then get up and look in the trash can.

7. Actively obsess about the room temperature and air quality

If the room is too hot, ask if they can turn the air down. If it's too cold, ask why the heater is on. If the door is closed, ask if anyone minds if you open it, and vice verse. You will irritate everyone, which will generate protests. These protests will derail the presentation, which will lead to an extended digression about focus and timing. Be sure you are the first one to remind the presenter what he or she was talking about before the interruptions. Once the presentation has continued, fan yourself with papers, adjust the layers of your clothing, or just rub your arms aggressively like you're lost in the Alaskan wilderness with no hope of building a fire.

8. Figure out the real reason you are there

Most likely you will have to make a lot of this up. But that's okay. You're just killing time, remember? So ask yourself, what is the true corporate money-grubbing or lawsuit-avoiding motivation for this meeting or training? Who's paying you to be there? Who does your presenter represent? What consulting firm stands to cash in from the upcoming change in policy or shift in tactics and strategy? How does it all fit into your personal political assumptions about corruption, conspiracy, and "the man"?

9. Spill something

Hot coffee is best, because there's an element of danger, which will cause everyone in the room to react quickly and instinctively. But then you're out of coffee. Use your judgment. Water works great as well. This is especially true if you are sharing a large table with everyone, ideally a glass table with lots of plugs and power strips and technology. You can really maximize the damage and time of distraction (TOD) if there are propriety sample materials in front of you, such as proposal drafts, final proof texts, or graphic art samples. Best of all, you can justify an additional trip out of the room to either clean yourself up, or fetch supplies to clean the soiled desk or table.

10. Create a rescue hierarchy

This is really a variation on the Virginity Loss game. Imagine there has been a gas leak. You have been away at the bathroom to get napkins to clean up your coffee spill. When you return, you discover everyone in the room has passed out. Then a voice comes over the intercom informing you that the building will self-destruct in two minutes. You have time to save two, maybe three people. So who do you save? Really think this through. Do some soul searching. What are your core values? Do you save the hot chick or the rich guy? The mother of four, or the guy with the ski cabin in Telluride? Maybe you save nobody.

And that's it. You're done! Congratulations! You have successfully survived your tedious and soul-crushing corporate meeting or district training!  You're welcome.



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Smoke Monkey International

Smoke Monkey International


Ted has made some poor decisions in life. And now he’s gone and done something terrible. Something truly shameful. And it’s time for him to leave. But a new life and a new town only bring new absurdities. Like Cammie, the suspiciously beautiful Mormon prep cook. And Salton Steve, the  beanpole crackpot ex-con. And why can’t Ted seem to stop killing old ladies accidentally?

And then there’s Marona Dilenta, who’s also made her share of mistakes. And as a mother, she ought to know better.  So when attempts to catch her cheating husband backfire, a mortified Marona packs her bags and slinks away. And now she’s somewhere in Central America, sitting atop an ancient ruin. It’s the middle of the night, and Professor Eugene Lattistrom may or may not have just shit his pants.

But it’s all under control. Oliver Easton’s got a plan. And Earl Bish has a better plan. And Smoke Monkey International will make everything alright.
It's just going to take a little faith.

10 Bogus Statistics We Should All Ignore

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Mark Twain

Numbers are thrown at us all the time. You hear some things so often you just accept them as the truth. It's easier that way. It's easier, for example, to just accept that there are 7 billion people on earth. What are you going to do, count them? Are you going to go back and verify that Babe Ruth actually hit 714 home runs? Probably not. Because you are an irresponsible citizen. But I've got you covered. I took some time and reran the numbers, and it turns out the old numbers don't add up. So relax, unburden yourself from the crushing weight of a false reality. Let the truth shine through. Here are ten of the most egregiously bogus statistics you probably believe without question:

1. 1 out of every 10 people is gay

This is preposterous. Everyone is gay. 10 out of 10. Gayness is a state of mind, and we've all been there. You can't be sort of gay any more than you can be sort of dead. I like Fashion Police. Does that make me actually, officially gay? Hell yes it does! You can't watch Bravo and not be gay. And Top Chef counts. And everyone is straight, too, because everyone watches the Olympics. See, you don't have to pick a side. You can't pick a side. Sides don't even exist. Now if you said 1 out of every 10 guys likes receiving anal sex, well then the numbers are wrong there too. I did some random polling (okay, poor word choice) in the Target parking lot, and it turns out nobody likes it. Zero out of 10. So it's either 100% or 0%. But it's not 10%.

2. 70.8% of the earth's surface is water.

Bullshit. This is a clever obfuscation manufactured by the powerful drought-lobby. There real number is closer to 98%. I flew to Hawaii from San Francisco once and there is a TON of water down there. Okay? Congress, the President, they're all in on it. It's about money. Money and politics. As long as humans keep believing our planet is only 70% water, we'll keep buying those low-flow multi-flush toilets. And who do you think owns the patent on those bad boys? You guessed it, Barack Hussein Obama.

3. 70% of the human body is water

Lies. If this was true you would shrink when you peed. And by the way, I NEVER drink water, okay? And somehow I'm still 100% me. I live on light beer and coffee. I don't think I've had a single glass of water all week. It's like saying my body is 40% steak, even though I'm vegetarian. It's all tied together. If we think the surface of the world is only 70% water and we think our bodies are 70% water, we're all going to feel safer at the beach, which results in more swimming accidents, WHICH puts more money in the hands guessed it...the powerful lifeguard lobby.

4. 51% of the world's population is women.

Please. I've watched hours of travel and food shows. Plus CNN. The entire Middle East is men. They don't even have any women there, and that's like 25% of the world's non-water surface. And it's not just the Middle East. We all know the Chinese have been aborting girls for decades. It's all a ploy by the Yogurt manufactures to gain shelf space in supermarkets. Go to France sometime if you don't believe me. They have entire supermarkets that sell nothing but yogurt. Don't let it happen here! Don't believe the hype!

5. It's statistically safer to fly than it is to drive.

There's a reason this doesn't ever sit right when you hear it. It's not true. Flying is far more dangerous. This is a lie made up by friends and family to soothe children and hysterical women. Flying is far more dangerous because unless you have a plane parked at your house, or your house is a plane, you need to drive to the airport and then fly to your destination. If you just drove without flying, you would eliminate this second dangerous variable. Also, they never include SARS or the Pigflu in their numbers. They don't mention that the x-ray machine will cause organ damage, and that the stress of paying extra for your airport Starbucks will lead to heart disease and hypertension.

6. You eat 8 spiders every night.

Ridiculous. When you hear this, you're most likely thinking about 8 large hairy tarantulas climbing down your throat every night, committing ritual suicide. That's what they want you to think. In reality , this statistic is referring to is the microscopic arachnids that live everywhere on our bodies. They're technically dust motes. And you probably eat millions of them. You'd probably die if you didn't eat millions of them. And when you think about it, eating 8 spiders a night doesn't sound much worse eating the fleshy wing skin of 12 dead chickens every time you watch a football game.

7. There are as many stars in the sky as there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world.

First of all, what are the odds those two numbers would even be the same? Plus, most of the stars you see aren't even there anymore. And there are a bunch of stars out there whose light hasn't reached us yet. Also, we're turning sand to glass at a crazy rate these days. And what about tides changing the size of the world's beaches every second of every day? You're talking about a set of factors in a state of permanent flux. It's like saying you pass a guy in a green shirt every three minutes. Well, what if his green shirt was dirty that day? Huh?

8. Latex condoms are 98% effective in preventing unintended pregnancy. 

Impossible. This statistic would suggest that 1 out of every 50 instances of intercourse with a condom results in a pregnancy. That means if condom using couples have sex one a week, they would get pregnant annually. That's like 25 babies, at least, per couple. AT LEAST. Clearly, people are not having babies at that rate. So obviously people are not using condoms (in this country), which would suggest they are 0% effective in preventing pregnancy according to the same logic that suggests...

9. Abstinence is a 100% effective form of birth control. 

Wrong! That's like saying you can't win gambling if you don't go gambling. Where does the truth lie?  Every day throughout the world, people are having babies and explaining it away with abstinence: "Wasn't me! Some bird brought that thing here!" So, what, you didn't have sex, but you have a baby? Bingo. Enough with the lies and politically motivated distractions. Can we stop confusing our high school children and just tell them the truth: abortion is the only 100% effective method of birth control.

10. High School graduates make 84% less than college graduates.

Hello? Have you ever heard of the NBA? I went to college for 7 years. I have two degrees and a shiny certificate. I only make about 80% of Lebron James' annual salary AND HE DIDN'T EVEN GO TO COLLEGE. Jesus, what kind of message are we sending our kids? That the NBA isn't a viable option? Great, so what, kids grow up to reject lucrative sports contracts in the hope that if they finish college they can tack on another 84%? Maybe you're okay with preaching the gospel of greed in our public schools, but I AM NOT!

So there you have it. Feel better? Doesn't the light of truth just brighten up your day?

The Sci-Fi Bike Commute: Part IV

"When I bought my bike last August and committed myself to riding to work, I added the following spontaneous and bizarre stipulation: I would listen exclusively to science fiction audiobooks."

Phase 11: Of Ducklings and Pelican Shit

The Book: A great combination of sci-fi elements, classic literary themes, and Three's Company shenanigans. I love Miles' accidental competence and how the narrative seems to develop as a series of digressions. Bujold has quickly climbed up my list of favorite writers (based on this and more recently read non-Vorkosigan titles). She writes smooth and direct prose, great dialogue that always advances the plot, and revealing inner monologues that perfectly outline moral dilemmas and internal conflicts. And you can't talk about Miles Vorkosigan these days without mentioning Tyrion Lannister. I'm a huge fan of Martin's series, but this appropriation of character is highway robbery. Certainly both characters are archetypal and Shakespearean, but the parallels run too deep - the sense of humor, the physical deformities, and, of course, the acquisition of your own mercenary army to be hand delivered to your perpetually disappointed father.

The Ride: Ducklings and pelican shit. The extremes of nature, as far as what I've found on my ride. Seeing a mother and father duck, or goose, or whatever, swimming along with the little babies in a neat row between them, always seems a too perfect and fragile thing for this world. It's the kind of scene that arrests all other activity. Like even the wind stops blowing to watch these precious little families pass by. I watch it with a force-ten sense of dread because deep in my meconium heart I'm certain every one of those little ducklings will grow up a huge art school-attending disappointment. And then there's pelican shit, on the other end of the spectrum, very large puddles of it. Half-digested fish. Blood. White goop. I've never been the victim of a direct hit, as evidenced by the existence of this blog. Should that day ever come, I will pedal my bike into the crashing surf and never reemerge.

The Confluence: Of all the Big Themes found in this book, I was most interested in the way the journey kept getting in the way of the destination. It's not much of a stretch to see my own sci-fi bike commute as developing in a similar way. Initially conceived as a means to get from home to work and back again, while saving on gas and getting some exercise, the daily experience has replaced "My Job" as the most direct link I have to the outside world. I see nature and humanity, the sky and space, tides moons and very fat wet people. I see familiar faces, some who wave, and some who look at me, every single day, like I am a raving lunatic. I see the planes take off and land, the little faces behind the windows, journeying in and out of control. It's so much more than mere transportation, this bike ride. And the audiobooks, the narrative soundtracks, filter it all through some crazy impossible world of tomorrow.

Phase 12:  Dogs Who Carry Their Own Leashes

The Book: First of all, why would anyone write a book without the Shrike in it? Sometimes subtlety and nuance in writing is overrated. Why not just create the scariest fucking creature you can think of and put him on the cover of your book? Make him all powerful, all seeing, all knowing. Make him cruel. Make him a god. Make him want nothing less than the sacrifice of your only child. Why not? I was initially hesitant when the structure of the novel became clear - pilgrims each telling their own story. I generally don't like books with narrative gimmickry. But in finding each story as fascinating as the one that came before it, I started to appreciate how the storytelling structure allowed for some complex world-building. So much of what happens in this story seems absurd, even by sci-fi standards, that you have to admire Simmons for seeing it all through. I mean, a top secret project to recreate cybrid human personalities based on 19th century poets? It does seem a tad self-indulgent, but okay. And, of course, it all works perfectly. The literary and artistic foundations of the story allow for metaphysical romping and the ultimate inclusion of some great poetry.

The Ride: The most interesting thing I've seen on my bike commute so far has to be this young family I pass almost every morning. There are seven of them, mom and dad, and five children all under the age of twelve. They each ride a bike that pulls a long, wheeled sled. Sometimes the sleds are piled high with collected cans and bottles. Sometimes they are piled with surfboards. All the little girls are dressed in adorable pink. The boys in blue. The family rides in silence and the children offer perfect obedience. I don't know anything about them, but I've thought about this family plenty. Is it possible they are completely off The Grid? A family of seven? Is it possible the cans they collect are enough to pay the rent on an RV parked someplace nearby? Is that all they do, ride around and surf and collect cans? There's probably some intense home schooling going on as well. I want that to be the whole story. I'm rooting so hard for this family. You just don't see parents blazing their own trail like this anymore.

The Confluence: You remember the foul-smelling sewage treatment plant I mentioned back in Part 1 of the Sci-Fi Bike Commute, the one whose stench I blamed on people staying in the campground? Well, it's called the HYPERION Treatment Plant! Wow. How do you name a sewage treatment plant after a mythological Titan? What's the connection? It certainly smells like the toilet of the gods, but I doubt that was mentioned at the pitch meeting.

Phase 13: Wipeout!

The Book: I've been surprised throughout this sci-fi bike commute project to see what a large role religion plays in almost every story I've "read". I would have expected these techno-futures to have dismissed spirituality as an archaic vestige of a primitive humanity. And while religious characters are often presented as single-minded fringe kooks standing in the way of real progress, their presence is acknowledgment of the idea that humans will always seek God, even in a universe with skip drives, farcasters, and DR devices. In this excellent sequel, Simmons takes the future of religion and spirituality and puts it on center stage and smushes it right in your face and rubs it all around. He doesn't simply borrow ideas from our current religious model (martyrdom, extremism, poly vs. mono-theism), he imagines a wild (and deeply confounding) new theology. He digs deep, surrounds himself with some seriously absurd and ambitious notions, and does not let go. It's a bit of a bait-and-switch from the first novel, which is a much more straight-forward sci-fi tale.  In this story, plausibility takes a back seat to speculation about what God looks like on a universal scale. I love it.

The Ride: Dread is the fear of the inevitable. It's been there since I bought this new bike. There is simply no way you can ride 100 or so miles a week and not eventually have a big wipeout. So I knew it was coming. But when? How hard? What pain and where? Naturally, it did not come when I expected it would - traversing a pile of sand with too much speed, or getting clipped by a garbage truck. Which is not to say the story is surprising...I stopped at a friend's house during my return trip home, drank just three little shots of Jamison, sampled a few strong Belgian ales, and ate a handful of peanuts for dinner. Then I switched on my headlamp and started pedaling...presumably. Cut to me on the floor of my bathroom doing the double-step concussion/booze puke thing. Fade out. Cut to me waking up with shooting pains in my ribs and thanking God I didn't...lose my phone! Shame and dread is the ham sandwich of the underworld.

The Confluence: Like Hyperion, I fell. Can I leave it at that?

Comments appreciated!

Click here for Part V of The Sci-Fi Bike Commute...I break my own rules! The Sci-Fi Bike Commute becomes the Gothic Fantasy-of-Manners Bike Commute for an all-Gormenghast edition!