Friday, July 26, 2002
Been caught slacking
Yet another of those frequent periods when I just can't be arsed updating Lexifab. Probably some sort of avoision (it's a word, look it up) therapy after the depressing emotional dump I took last week.
I'm over the work hump, more or less. I'm back to finding things enough of a challenge to at least keep me more or less interested. I still haven't heard anything about the promotion round, though, and now I guess I probably won't before I leave today. That kind of pisses me off.
Sleep is for tortoises
I can only assume that the bout of insomnia that I went through from Saturday through to Wednesday was caused by stressing out about work. Interestingly, I though I'd just about gotten over it by the weekend, but it looks like the tension just sort of went underground and hid out in my subconscious. While I didn't particularly think about work, I had four nights in a row of my brain just refusing to shut the hell up and go to sleep. Tried all the usual tricks, nothing seemed to take. I read an entire book on Tuesday night between 1 and 3 in the morning, waiting for boredom to kick in and knock me out. In spite of the choosing the perfect book for the job (an incredibly trite and inconsequential Doctor Who novel written by the former line editor, who ought to have known better. Here's a not-quite-harsh-enough review), it didn't take. I got to the end, locked at the alarm clock, sighed, and got up and watched the rest of an equally somnambulatory episode of Enterprise. For some reason that didn't help either. God, I thought, if anything should be able to knock me out, surely it's this shit.
Next day I stayed at home and tried to tough it out by alternating between Diablo II and reading stuff I'd read before and didn't much enjoy then either. I suspect that both of them had less to do with my ultimate success than my decision not to touch a drop of coffee, sugar or alcohol. I forgot to drink warm milk, but it turned out not to matter.
Ski time is NOW!
So here we are at last, two days away from the start of a week's skiing, and two hours away from meeting Evan and Andrew at the airport and train station respectively. Nola's already here somewhere, hopefully being entertained by Jimbo. We're all meeting for drinks at the Wig and Pen this afternoon. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this.
I think I have a cold coming on.
By the way - Linda?
Feeling for you. Tough it out. Don't give an inch. The ability to feel unapologetic contempt is what separates us from the animals and the breatharians.
Thursday, July 18, 2002
One step short of insanity today
I'm going through one of my periodic bouts of loathing the Public Service and my place in it. As usual, it's a combination of boredom - because I either have nothing to do or what I do have is too onerous to be stimulating - and disenchantment - because the place where I am working frustrates me with its regressive staffing policies. The briefing I got this morning on how to be an obedient little member of an interview panel did nothing to dissuade me from my long held view that everyone in our human resources area should be shot and dumped in a lime pit. But why even bother going into the details...?
What I find myself increasingly curious about is whether I would actually find any other job different. If I could get this mythical perfect job - good pay and conditions, with just the right blend of laid-back idea-shopping creativity and hardcore grind-away-until-your-eyes-fall-out process work, to suit my seemingly tidal swings between inspiration and perspiration - would I actually be any happier at work?
Or would I continue to be just too intellectually lazy and ennui-prone to maintain the momentum? It's a valid question: I have a serious history of starting strong and burning out, pushing too hard at the start of a project and losing interest after it becomes familiar and before it becomes routine. Offhand, I can't think of too many industries where this sort of boom-and-bust effort cycle would be a virtue.
Another pattern I noticed I've fallen back into is the whole "living for the holidays" thing. Witness the Ski Clock (which currently asserts a mere 10 day wait until skiing starts). I'm looking forward to having a week away from work so much that virtually everything between now and then disappears into a sort of haze of irrelevancy. And after I get back, it'll only be six weeks or so until the two-month honeymoon holiday. And after that, it'll only be about four weeks until Christmas. You get the idea.
I've half convinced myself I need a new job to break me out of the cycle. After the honeymoon, you can start looking for something else, goes the argument, and because the argument contains the key concepts of holiday and later, I can put off the decision (which implies effort) and devote myself fully to the moping about it. Which makes me feel sick, which makes me feel even less like doing anything productive.
And now I think I'm going to get a cup of coffee, because all this cathartic venting is threatening to perk up my lousy mood. I'm going to need a big caffeine-and-sugar hit to get my moody bastard groove back.
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
What's been doing?
Helped Kath and Hector move into Dalton Heights on the weekend. It went incredibly smoothly. I don't say that lightly, having been involved in more than a few full household moves in the past few years. It was helped by the fact that they had nearly everything in boxes, just enough and not too many people helping, and a truck. And only one box flew out of the ute undetected and scattered its contents down the road, which is better than a lot of moves manage. And we had lunch at the most incongruously swanky cafe I've ever seen. It was attached a pleasant-looking country bed and breakfast place, so you'd expect it to serve devonshire teas and maybe a locally produced meat pie. Instead it's cappucinos, fruit-and-vegetable-juice mixes, and toasted foccacias with salmon-and-capers or angus-beef-with-mustard-and-cucumber. And it looks like a inner suburbs wine bar. And I would have thought that it's at least forty kilometers from the nearest yuppie.
Good coffee though.
What's the Ski Clock say, Dave?
Why, the Ski Clock says it's 11 days until we are shushing down the powdery Perisher mountainside. And just look at the state of those runs!
No sign of the results from the interview round yet. But we did just hear that, against all commonsense and logic, our section director has been told that he will be moved in the next round of appointments, because he's been in one place too long. Never mind that he is the acknowledged agency expert on aid issues in the Philippines, or that he has just two years until he retires and isn't particularly seeking new opportunities, or that we are the five-year development program he's working on is the culmination of 20 years work, or that we just had three out of seven members of the section accept overseas postings, or that we're in the middle of developing a new strategic direction that amongst other things is intended to address the high rate of staff mobility in AusAID. No, never mind all that, because AusAID has a dedicated policy of rotating its staff so that none of them are in any danger of becoming comfortable with their jobs or developing technical expertise.
Tell you what, I'd better get promoted this time around or they can go screw themselves when I get back from my honeymoon. I'm not all that sure I want to work for a place that puts so much effort into undermining its staff. The increasingly feeble hope that AusAID might pay me more to put up with its blatant corporate stupidity is more or less the only thing keeping me here now. Well, that and the unusual happenstance that I am becoming interested in the work I am doing - and the way things are going at the moment, that could all change in the blink of an eye.
Friday, July 12, 2002
Spent the last two days in bed fighting off what might have been the flu (sore joints and muscles, headache) or else Chronic Pissweakness Syndrome brought on by a Man of the Match-winning indoor cricket game. Normally I wouldn't bother parading my hero status about, but that was before when I didn't have one. Now I am proud and mighty and a WINNORR! Fear my indoor cricket skillz!
Anyway, I slept most of Wednesday, but I got up and about and did some useful stuff on Thursday, including an update to my chunk of the Sunday D&D website. Go and look at the pretty pictures, and don't be the one to make the mistake of asking when I'm doing an overhaul of Lexifab.
Not content with torturing me by making me wait to find out if I've been promoted (it could happen this afternoon or it could happen in a week or two), Staffing today roped me into being on an interview panel for some personal assistant job. This means an hilarious amount of extra work to do on top of the work I have now, most of it probably falling around about the time I want to go skiing. Which means that in order to make sure I can take the time off, I'm going to be doing an uncomfortable amount of tapdancing (not the literal kind) between now and then. Bah!
Ski Clock now reading: 16 days to Ski Time
Monday, July 08, 2002
One year older = how much wiser?
Jimbo turned 28 on Saturday, which oddly made me feel older than when I turned 32 the week before. He spent the day in thoughtful reflection, meditating on his past and looking towards the future - by which I mean, drinking a lot of beer and having lots of people troop in and out of the house and drink a lot of beer with him.
We got there late, after spending the day out at Dalton (a small hamlet somewhere up north) where Kath and Hector are about to move into the ex-Masonic hall they bought. It's a bit of a fixer-upper, but it definitely has potential and will probably be quite a cosy little place when they've put some work into knocking it into shape. It has a very effective log fire, which is pretty cool, and very large yard, probably big enough to run an awful lot of chickens or even a couple of goats. And it could do with some vegetation, too.
We spent the day painting the two bedrooms and the main room a variety of bright colours, which worked wonders for turning the place from a dreary, ramshackle mausoleum into an actual home somebody would want to live in. The kitchen will have to go, though. Actually it didn't take too long, since there were a few volunteers there helping out (some less effectively than others - the quality control on the painting was kinda low). It was quite satisfying to get a decent job done in a pretty short space of time, the main reason that it was so easy being that they decided not to bother with the time-consuming fiddly bits like door and window frames. Those come later. Hopefully in summer. If I never have to clean paintbrushes in an outside tap in the middle of winter in a stiff breeze up in the mountains again, that'd be nice...
The Ski Clock reads 20 days until we hit the slopes at Perisher!
The Philippines Report: Part Two - Corner of Convent and Hollywood
The Philippines is routinely characterised as having had "three hundred years of the convent and fifty years of Hollywood". This is both witty and true. For a start, everyone there is a devout Catholic. So entirely prevalent is the church in Filipino culture that most people seem to have a hard time overcoming their natural assumption that you, too, do the Sunday Midnight Mass thing. The conversation on the way to the Manila airport about the San Juan festival - where people in the streets throw buckets of water on pedestrians in celebration of John the Baptist (and they do, we watched it happen from the safety of our thankfully hermetically-sealed 4WD) - which led to a discussion about who were their favourite saints was deeply surreal to me. Fortunely I had a passing acquaintance with Saint Jude (patron saint of hopeless causes) to fall back on, but I doubt I was fooling anyone. I did my level best to steer conversations clear of the subject of my pre-marital sleeping arrangement, needless to say.
But it's the "Hollywood" part of the equation that is really unsettling. Filipinos are obsessed with American culture, or rather, with making Filipino culture as much like American culture as they can. This process somewhat skews the translation. Every other news article details the latest antics of their vast stable of home-grown movie, TV, rock and (the horror!) cabaret stars. This, remember, is a country that recently elected an action movie star to the Presidency (only to discover to everyone's great surprise that he was as corrupt as everyone else in office). And the whole entertainment and advertising industries there have a weird vibe to them, part creepy nostalgia for the era of the swingin' lounge singers like Sinatra and Bennett, part severe authoritarian "family values" Catholicism, and part overt, explicit sexuality. Putting all three together you get a nun in a push-up habit and garters belting out "Hey Big Spender" in a karaoke bar. Which is not too far from the mark.
Friday, July 05, 2002
Okay, so I've been back from the Philippines for a week, but I'm only just getting around to updating Lexifab? Sue me, I've been busy.
Also I've been kind of putting off writing anything because I feel obliged to put down my impressions of the trip. The thing is, though, my overwhelming impression was one of a country so weird and dysfunctional and not quite right that I'm still trying to sort through what I really think about the place. So I think what I will do is lay it out, bit by bit, in instalments, over the next few weeks and months, until I have it out of my system. By which time I may well have had to go back again.
The Philippines Report: Part One - Tales from the Stinky City
Manila smells. There's no way to put it delicately - this city stinks bad, and for the usual big-city reason: traffic. Ten million people live in Metropolitan Manila, so there are about a billionty-zillion smoking, coughing, backfiring vehicles on Manila's extremely choked roads, shuttling them from place to place at around two kilometers an hour slower than walking pace.
The road rules are deceptively simple: if there's a space - any space, it doesn't actually matter how big it is - and you can get into it, you are required to do so. You will generally see five to six vehicles abreast in what would otherwise be a three-lane road. Traffic lanes are an amusing fiction little understood in the Philippines. Accidents are avoided by sounding the horn to indicate your presence: hence, though the traffic is constantly accompanied by an orchestra of horn-tooting, none of the blaring is done in anger. It's not worth it, nobody is listening, they're just taking the spot in front of you. Pedestrians, who swarm across the flow of traffic whenever it looks like it's not moving - which is often - are fair game. Apart from people just trying to cross the street, there are also street vendors, hawking every kind of ware from newspapers and cigarettes to fold-up stools and hand puppets. I don't know about you, but I've never been out motoring and suddenly thought to myself "I could really go for a Coke and a hand puppet right about now". And if you have, I don't want to hear about it.
Did I mention how ssslllooowww the traffic is in Manila? It's standard at the Embassy to allow an hour's travel time to get anywhere in the city. Often that's far too conservative. A rule of thumb for travelling in the Philippines is: don't be in a hurry, don't get stressed. You're going to be late. Live with it. To digress, the same goes double if you have to fly anywhere - according to Fiona, Philippines Air Lines (PAL) has been translated as "Plane Always Late" for at least twenty years, and nothing looks like changing any time soon. Of the two internal flights I took on that trip, one was eighty minutes late and the other was cancelled, which bumped us to the next flight, which in turn was ninety minutes late.
Most of the cars are taxis. If you own a private vehicle in Manila, chances are it's a 4WD (or an SUV, if that's what they're called in the States). But forget them, the vehicle that really stands out in the Philippines is the jeepney, kind of like a long covered ute for carrying passengers. There are thousands of the things, invariably choked to the gunnels with passengers who seem to get on and off them at random (something to do with that whole "slower than walking" thing? Maybe when they want to rest their feet, they just jump on a jeepney for a few minutes?) There's also an assortment of buses (the AusAID drivers cheerfully informed me that these are responsible for most of the accidents, because they are the biggest things on the roads and don't have to conform to the unwritten right-of-way rules), motorbikes, and motorised and non-motorised trikes (which also act as passenger vehicles, for the more daring traveller). The motortrikes are by far the worst contributors to the massive pollution problem - apparently the engines are cheaply reconditioned secondhand crap from Korea and Japan that have been dumped on the somewhat undiscriminating Philippines market. They then spend either their entire time idling in slow traffic or darting between the gaps carrying two-three times the weight they were built for. Little wonder they pump out disgusting black crap in great volumes. Or that it smells so bad.
So I had another interview for a promotion yesterday. It went okay, I guess, but I've become a notoriously bad judge of these things - the last one, in which I was ranked "Must Try Harder", I was quietly confident about. This time around, I have an overwhelming ambivalence about. If I get up, it will mean more money, but there's faint outside chance that it will mean I have to move out of the Philippines Section. That's not likely, because three of my colleagues are about to leave the Section on overseas postings and my leaving would just compound the damage to work continuity, but anything is possible at AusAID. They specialise in shooting themselves in the human resources foot.
Anyway, the interview went okay, in spite of what I suspect was a complete failure to project self-assured confidence on my part. As usual, I know that I know how to do the job at the level I'm trying to get - I'm doing it now - but I don't know if I can convince an interview panel of that. Oh well, at least my CV looks a little stronger this time around. I should have an answer pretty soon. The rest of the interviews were done a fortnight ago. They were just waiting for me to get back from overseas.
Since in all likelihood a successful promotion would mean more money and no additional responsibilities, I hope I get it. I mean, that's practically the Australian dream, isn't it?