Friday, December 26, 2014

Stupid rules of the workplace: Dressing for a job interview

One of the most pointless causes of stress in the workplace is "what to wear to a job interview."  You know you're going to be judged based on what you wear, yet you're forbidden access to the simplest and most accurate method of determining what the correct thing to wear is.

Once upon a time, or so I've been told, it was simple:  A job applicant going for an interview was to wear a suit and tie.  (I'm going to restrict my discussion here to male clothing options, to keep the phrasing from getting ponderous, but rest assured that everything I say here applies to women, with the multiplying factor of sexualization of women's clothing, which I'm not even going to begin to address here.)

Anyway, suit and tie.  Because that's what you'd be wearing once you got the job.  Then organizations started changing their dress codes.  Some clung to the old suit and tie.  Some loosened up as far as khakis and a nice shirt, but jeans were still off the table.  Others adopted an "anything goes" approach.  Sartorial choices for job interviews were thrown into turmoil.  And how did the job-hunting gurus adapt to this turmoil?  By offering conflicting advice.  Some said to stick with the suit and tie.  Others said to look at what people in the office you'd be interviewing at are wearing, then match that.  Still others said to look at what the people in the office are wearing, then dress one step more formal that that.

Of course, none of the gurus stated the actual proper thing to wear, because it would only serve to point out the method of information-gathering that job-hunters are pointlessly forbidden access to (that I mentioned in the first paragraph).  The proper thing to wear to a job interview is, of course, whatever the person interviewing you wants you to wear.  And the forbidden information-gathering technique?  Asking them.

Seriously.  Imagine how much simpler it would make all of our lives.
HIRING MANAGER:  So, our interview's for Tuesday at 9.  Do you have any further questions before then?
APPLICANT:  Yes.  How would you like me to dress?
HIRING MANAGER:  Well, we typically dress business casual here, but I'd like to see you in a suit and tie.

Just like that.  Under a minute, pointless source of workplace stress eliminated.  I'd love to see this become the norm.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Of roads and redistribution

The major political issue in my town right now is streets.  Specifically, the city council wants to get the town off the treadmill of continual street resurfacing by investing in higher quality streets that will last a generation or more.  Naturally, this will require spending money, and consequently the local conservatives are losing their minds.

One of them wrote a letter to the editor of the local community weekly.  "What if I sell my house after 10 years, when we've just paid to put down 30-year streets?  What if I sell my house after 5 years, before they even put the new streets in front of it?  I'll have paid for something that I didn't benefit from!"

I just wanted to grab this guy by the lapels and get all Samuel L. Jackson on him:  "WAS THERE A STREET IN FRONT OF YOUR HOUSE WHEN YOU BOUGHT IT, MOTHERF**KER?"  Yes, there was.  The previous owner paid for that street, and they didn't take it with them when they left.  That's what it means to be an adult in a civilized society.  You benefit from things that other people paid for and, at the same time, you pay for things that other people benefit from.  Over time, it pretty much balances out, even if the way it does so isn't obvious at first glance.  For example, even if you don't have kids, you still benefit from paying for schools because it decreases the average ignorance of the people around you.  (Which I think we all agree is a Good Thing.)

With apologies to the people of New Hampshire, I sometimes wish the Free State Project would succeed, so that the rest of us wouldn't have to deal with these "rugged individualists," we could just send them to Coventry if they haven't gone already.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

You don't like it? Are you sure?

For a long time, I thought I didn't like Neil Young.  Not Neil Young's music, mind you - Neil Young himself.

To find out how this happened, we have to make a mental trip to the early 1980s in southern Mississippi, back to my tweenage years.  It was a time and place where it was possible to not know things in a way that just isn't possible today.  There was no Wikipedia - no internet at all for that matter - and so it was possible to not know something and then to continue not to know it because the answers weren't available in the data accessible to you.  This aspect of the informational environment I grew up became relevant when my dad let me have an old stereo that he wasn't using anymore, along with a bunch of 8-track tapes that he didn't listen to anymore.  This was my introduction to Paul Simon, Black Sabbath, Jimmy Buffet, Steppenwolf, and a lot of other music from the late 60s and early 70s.

Which is how we get to Neil Young.  My music collection now included tapes from Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  What I didn't have was context.  I didn't know who Neil Young was.  I didn't know about his history of being in Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills, nor about his friendship with Stills that predated Buffalo Springfield.  Instead, I had an information vacuum.  This was simply unacceptable.  So I created a story to fill that vacuum.  In my version of things, Crosby, Stills, and Nash had been a successful band, doing perfectly fine on their own, when Neil Young came out of nowhere and somehow (I was rather vague on this point) jumped on their coattails and became part of the band.  And I hated him for it.

My story was consistent with the (very limited) information I had, but it was obviously far from the truth.  Once I had the actual information, my opinion of Neil Young drastically changed - I'm currently reading his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, and loving it.  But all too often it seems that people don't revise - they make their mental stories based on the facts they have available, then defend the story even in the face of contradictory facts.  Remember, folks, your mental stories about the world are just models, and in cases where the model is in conflict with reality, it's the model that's got to change.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014, part 4

This is the final installment of my blogging through the July/August 2014 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, guest-edited by C.C. Finlay.  The earlier parts are here, here, and here.

I enjoyed "The Aerophone" by Dinesh Rao, but not as much as I would have liked to have.  I love the mixture of different wordls:  An Indian scholar, working in Mexico, interacting with indigenous Mexicans, coming in contact with a world beyond ours entirely.  But the architecture of the story just didn't work for me.  It felt like the beginning of a novel that had just been truncated and an attempt made to pass off as a novelet.  In a way a hope that's what it is:  All things that I think make it a flawed novelet would make it an excellent chapter 1 of a full-length novel.

I was eventually able to forgive Ian Tregillis for not actually including diagrams in "Testimony of Samuel Frobisher Regarding Events Upon His Majesty's Ship Confidence, 14-22 June 1818, With Diagrams" because it's just such an excellent blend of the weird and the nautical (two of my favorite genres).  But, considering that the diagrams are mentioned both in the title and the story itself, I'd really love to see a chapbook edition of this that actually included diagrams.

I'm still not entirely sure what to make of "Five Tales of the Aqueduct" by Spencer Ellsworth.  It's a cluster of smaller stories that go together to make a larger whole, but I'm afraid I'm still not at all clear on exactly how they fit together.  Still, the quality of the individual pieces is such that I don't begrudge it a second reading to try to figure it out.

This issues movie column, "Girl Power in Dystopia" by Kathi Maio, examines the Twilight movies, the Hunger Games movies, Divergent, and other recent cinematic examples of YA heroine's tales - a very nice synthesis of a topic that's certainly worth a bit of thought.

I was looking forward to "Belly" by Haddayr Copley-Woods, as I've been friends with the author for years and she knew I was reading this issue and refusing to skip ahead to her story.  For starters, be sure to heed the warning in the biographical blurb at the beginning of this story:  Do not read this story while you're eating.  That being said, I don't want to give the wrong impression of this story - the disgusting elements aren't added for "mere" shock value.  This is a viscerally powerful story (pun intended) and one that I won't be forgetting anytime soon.  I challenge anyone to read this story and not have their feelings about fairy tale witches changed.

"The Only Known Law" by William Alexander reminds of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.  Leaving your home planet is definitely going to change a species, and Alexander here shows one possible outcome of that change.

Based on the title, I never expected Alaya Dawn Johnson's "A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai'i" to be a vampire story.  But don't let that description mislead you and if you're the sort of person who doesn't like vampires, don't let that that keep you away from this story:  This is not like any other vampire story I've ever read.  For that matter, Johnson's vampires are like no other vampires I've ever encountered - she manages to capture the psychological distance between humans and vampires in a way that I've never experienced before (and in a way that, paradoxically, also highlights their psychological closeness).  Highly recommended.

So to sum up:  Would I recommend July/August 2014 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction?  Definitely.  Would I recommend Fantasy & Science Fiction in general?  Probably.  Keep in mind that this is the first issue of F&SF that I've read in over a decade, and that Finlay is a guest editor here.  Still, he wouldn't have been invited to guest edit without the approval of the regular editor, so I'm inclined to look positively on the regular editor so long as they don't give me a reason not to.  That being said, in the event that the F&SF ever needs a new editor, they could certainly do worse than offer the job to Finlay.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014, part 3

I've been blogging my way through the July/August 2014 issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction, guest edited by C.C. Finlay.  You can read parts 1 and 2 of this series here and here.

I didn't expect to enjoy Chris Moriarty's "Books" column this time around.  My first reaction was "Another tribute to Iain (M.) Banks?"  But I suppose it's a tribute both to Banks and Moriarty that I did enjoy it.  I daresay people will be writing about Banks for quite some time to come.

Next up was "The Traveling Salesman Solution" by David Erik Nelson.  This story impressed the hell out of me, not only for the strength of the ideas in the story because also for the protagonist.  The protagonist of "The Traveling Salesman Solution" (whose name I don't remember at the moment and can't find on flipping through the story just now) is in a wheelchair, but the story isn't about him being in a wheelchair.  There are details of the story that play out a certain way because he's in a wheelchair, but that isn't the focus of the story.  Very well done.

Cat Hellisen's "The Girls Who Go Below" is a fairy tale retelling, but so much more than that.  I didn't even recognize it as a fairy tale retelling - despite being very familiar with and fond of the fairy tale in question - until very near the end of the story.  And no, I won't tell you what story it is:  You'll have to read it and find out for yourself.

And this installment comes to a close with "The Day of the Nuptial Flight"by Sarina Dorie.  This one was just amazing - a classic science fiction story like they supposedly don't write anymore, told from the point of view of an alien.  When humans come to a new planet, maybe terraforming isn't the way to go.  Maybe there's another option.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Make your own kind of music, rap your own kind of rap

In the wake of the recent Forbes article on Iggy Azalea, there's been a lot of discussion about Iggy Azalea's "right" to be a rapper and the (to some people disproportionate) amount of attention she's been given by the media.  A lot of discussion.  (I'm not even going to try to sum it up for you - it's huge.)  But the point that kept popping up in my mind is that despite the fact that I have major philosophical issues with Iggy's appropriation of African-American culture, I keep going back and relistening to "Fancy."  The song is catchy.  But my mind keeps being tripped up by the fact that I know Iggy doesn't really talk that way.  But even more troubling is the fact that the experiences she's rapping about don't seem to be hers either.  Why would I want to hear Iggy rap about faux urban American experiences when I can hear so many other equally talented rappers rap about their genuine urban American experiences?  (AKA the Vanilla Ice problem.)

I think this is one of the factors behind the success of Lorde's "Royals" - the experiences related are genuinely hers, but presented in a way that's universal enough that almost anyone can relate.  And even though Lorde has an accent when she speaks that's not present when she sings, it's not really noticeable (and certainly not objectionable) because (A) she's singing in a neutral accent rather than trying to adopt a particular accent and (B) the experiences she's relating are still hers - she's not putting on a persona.

This was all thrown into sharp relief for me yesterday when I head "Fighting Fish," a new (to me) song by Dessa, one of my favorite rappers.  Listen to the song, and watch the video, and you'll see that Dessa presents a totally different way of being a white* female rapper.  She raps in her own voice, not only in the sense of her own accent, but also in the sense of speaking from her own experiences.  She has a degree in philosophy, and rather than hide that fact, she goes out and writes a rap where the chorus is centered around Zeno's Paradox of the Arrow.  But not, as my daughter expected when I first told her about it, in a geeky, Weird Al kind of way, but in a deliberate, conscious way, that recognizes this as part of her experience and then goes from there.

And I wonder what kind of music Iggy Azalea would produce if she adopted this sort of honest musical philosophy, where the performer is the person.  I'd certainly like to hear it.

*  Dessa is actually half Puerto Rican, but she recognizes that she's fair-skinned and appears white and has privilege because of that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

If voting on the floor of the House could change anything, they'd make it illegal

One of the local candidates for my state legislature has as his platform a pledge to poll his constituents before any major vote and vote the way they instruct him to.

Go back and read that first sentence again.  I'd like to call your attention to my very deliberate choice of "as his platform," and not "as part of his platform."  I've talked to this candidate, I've been to his website, I've been to his Facebook group, and the entirety of his platform is his pledge to poll his constituents and vote the way they instruct him to.

I was ranting about this ("What kind of fools does he take us for? . . . But so many people will fall for this! . . . etc."), when my daughter asked "What's so wrong with that?"  After discussing the matter with her, I thought I'd share my thoughts with all of you, in case a candidate in your area tries to pull this kind of thing on you.

What's wrong with having a representative (let's call him "Bob") whose only function is to vote however his constituents direct him to?  Well, f you look at the process of how a bill becomes a law, you can see that there are a lot of steps that a bill has to go through before you get to the main floor vote and Bob polls his constituents.  First the bill has to be written - which nowadays often comes in the form of special interest groups presenting representatives with prewritten legislation.  Then it has to go to committee - during which process it's usually extensively rewritten and amended.  Then it comes out for debate on the floor - during which process it's usually extensively rewritten and amended.  Then is goes for a final vote - if and only if the party with a majority wants the bill to pass and thinks that they have enough vote to do so.  So you see that even if Bob's constituents instruct him to vote against what his party wants on the final vote, he's still had plenty of opportunities to shape the legislation the way his party wants.

"But," I hear you say, "his party still needs his vote on the final floor vote to pass the bill."  Not necessarily.  They'd like to have his vote, I'm sure.  But since he's running against a long-time incumbent from the other party, it's not like they'd be losing anything if his constituents instruct him to vote against his party, and in the meantime, he's had plenty of opportunities to do damage work for his party in the legislature.  They're willing to sacrifice this one floor vote which they weren't getting anyway to unseat an incumbent and get one of their own in to work behind the scenes, and are probably counting on voter apathy and the power of incumbency to hold onto the seat and eventually let Bob start voting however he pleases (or, more to the point, however the party leadership pleases).

Also, go back and read the first sentence of this post again.  Look particularly for the word between "any" and "vote."  Guess who gets to decide if a vote is "major" enough for the constituents to be polled.  If you guessed "Bob," give yourself a gold star.  Any sucker want to take the bet that as the term goes on, the number of "major" votes goes way down?  No, I didn't think so.

So that's why I won't be voting for Bob, and why I hope that if there's a Bob running in your district, you'll vote against them.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014, part 2

I've read some more of this issue, so here are some further impressions: (part 1 of this series is located here.)

When I started Paul M. Berger's "Subduction," my initial reaction was "Great, another protagonist with amnesia."  But the amnesia turned out to be an integral part of the story, not just authorial laziness, and the mystery is such a big part of the story that I really can't say any more about it without giving something away.  Just go read the story - trust me on this one.

Next up was Annalee Flower Horne's "Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned From the Trade Summit Incident."  I enjoyed this one while I was reading it - the light, comedic style that Horne used for this story perfectly suited it - but afterward I kept thinking about it and becoming more and more dissatisfied with it.  The story begins with a cadet on a spaceship being wrongly accused of a practical joke that released stink bombs into the ship's ventilation system.  In an effort to clear her name, she discovers bigger, darker things afoot.  And that's where everything fell apart for me.  The villains weren't over-the-top evil and incompetent in a humorous way (think Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb), which would have been great for this story.  They were just evil in a bland, corporate way, as well as being incompetent.  I started out really liking this story, but at some point it zigged where it should have zagged.

At one point in this issue's installment of Charles De Lint's "Books to Look For" column, he makes a point about how so much of the urban fantasy being published now is just kind of more of the same.  Case in point:  This issue he reviewed four novels that fall in or near the label of "urban fantasy," but after setting the magazine aside for two days I had to reread the reviews to see which was which.  I mean, they all sounded like perfectly charming books but none of them really jumped out at me in a way that made me want to read them right away.  He also reviewed a new "writers on writing" type book which, while not really my cup of tea, he seemed to really like.

Still to come:  Four more novelets (I still don't think I like that spelling), 5 short stories, the other book review column, and the movie review column.  Looking over the table of contents for the rest of the issue, I must confess I'm kind of skeptical about Ian Tregillis's contribution:  When the title of your story promises "With Diagrams" but there are no diagrams, you've just made your work that much harder.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014, part 1

It's been years since I read any of the SF digests regularly - occasionally I'd pick up an odd issue here and there, but I hadn't really read them regularly since the late 1980s. So when C.C. Finlay, the guest editor for the July/August 2014 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction came on Twitter saying he had 8 copies of the issue to send to people who were willing to blog about them, preferably people who generally didn't read the digests, I figured I'd give it a shot. I was thrilled to be chosen, and about a week later I was pulling the issue out of my P.O. box. First impressions: The first thing I noticed when pulling the magazine out of the envelope was that it was huge. I've bought novels smaller than this! (Back in the days before page inflation.) The second thing I noticed, as I happened to be pulling it out of the envelope upside down, was that someone other than the Science Fiction Book Club had purchased the ad on the back cover! Back when I was reading the digests regularly, SFBC pretty much had a lock on the back cover and inside back cover of any SF magazines, so this was a huge shock for me. Finally, I turned it over and looked at the front. The front cover art (by Mauricio Manzieri) is pretty awesome. It's got kind of a retro feel - not a steampunk sort of retro, but a 1970s-80s sort of retro. If I had seen this artwork on a book at any point in my life, I would have immediately known the book was SF, and I probably would have bought it. Late last night, I started to actually read it. Normally, I'm someone who reads magazines strictly in order, from front to back. I generally even skip the table of contents, so that I'm surprised by whatever comes up next. But when I was flipping through the issue, my eye was caught by "End of the World Community College" by Sandra McDonald and I started reading that, out of order. After about a page, I was so caught up by the humor it that I convinced my wife to let me read it aloud to her. While I continued to find the story amusing, she found it depressing and sad. So apparently I've got a much darker sense of humor than her - either that or story's not funny at all and I'm just a horrible person. At any rate, I still recommend the story. After that, I checked out the classifieds (there's usually something interesting in there; this issue it's an Easter egg for "End of the World Community College") and Paul Di Filippo's "Curiosities" column. This morning I got up, made a pot of coffee, and started in to read the rest of the magazine. The first story in this issue was "Palm Strike's Last Case" by Charlie Jane Anders. I admit I was kind of hesitant about starting this one. Not because of anything in particular about the story, but because I'm used to starting a magazine with an editor's column, or at least a short story. To start out with a novelette (or "novelet" as this issue's of contents spells it) seems to be demanding I pay a bit much attention to one particularly story right from the start. But I dove in, and I don't regret it. The story moves so quickly that I didn't really notice its length. I don't want to say too much about the story itself, as there's a large mystery component to it, but I think I can say without giving too much away that fans of SF or superheroes will love this one. And that's all I've read so far. More posts to come once I've read more. DISCLOSURE: I was given a copy of this issue by C.C. Finlay, the guest editor, in exchange for agreeing to blog about it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Earth to Cadillac: You're out of touch!

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one annoyed by the new Cadillac commercial. First, they make fun of the idea that we might prefer quality of life over quantity of stuff - not a good start toward winning my heart.

Then, they reference the moon landing as an example of American accomplishment. Earth to Cadillac: I am 40 years old. We haven't been to the moon in my lifetime, and we don't have the technology to go back now. Try to find a more relevant example.

And, of course, the whole thing is slathered with a thick coating of "buy our car because it's built in America." Earth to Cadillac, part 2: BMW builds cars in America. Mercedes. Nissan. Hyundai. Toyota. Subaru. Do I really need to go on?

Of course, I'm not their target market. Their target market is people who buy cars that cost almost as much as my house. And maybe this commercial is killing it with their target market - but I sincerely hope not.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I have a dream . . . of garlic bread?

I received an email this morning from a local pizzeria offering a free medium garlic bread with any order today in recognition of Martin Luther King Day.  While I'm quite sure the intent here is "to sell more pizzas," I can't help wondering if there might be more to it.  Did Dr. King have any Italian ancestry that I've been previously unaware of?  Was there any Italian-American involvement in the civil rights movement?  Did Dr. King even like Italian food?