I had no interest in the Ashley Madison scandal until I just read that 840 email addresses were from the microsoft.com domain.
Man, this is a big database.
I had no interest in the Ashley Madison scandal until I just read that 840 email addresses were from the microsoft.com domain.
Man, this is a big database.
I was watching my dogs crap and talking with some hair-gelled guy whose name I've heard several times but cannot remember. He's about 28, a nice enough guy. He introduced me to his girlfriend, about the same age. She too shall remain nameless. She's the Senior Artistic Director Poobah Supremeus Grand Wizard at some local software company. Or some such conspicuously glittering job title. Millennial designers are all about minimalism right up until they're inventing imperious titles for themselves.
She and I talked shop for a while, and I told a story about how I collaborated with other groups at Microsoft to devise a set of user interface design guidelines. I wasn't 10 seconds into talking about translators' needs when she turned away and emitted the most horrific shriek.
You know the child at the grocery checkout whose mother denies him every bit of candy he can grab, who then explodes in exasperated, feral rage at not getting every single thing his heart desires? It was exactly that sound. It was that primal, that childish. I had blundered into a raw wound: it's a grotesque injustice that her designs should be accountable to anyone. She knows good design. As evidence, just ask her if her designs are good.
I don't know how much time she's spent in a usability lab, watching people struggle to change their credit card numbers, but I'm guessing it's several hundred hours short of my several hundred hours. Yet this fetus not only considers herself qualified to argue, she somehow considers others unqualified to argue back.
And this, dear reader, is why you cannot perform basic tasks lately. It's not you. It's the pouting chick with fewer hours spent in the lab than spent scraping hair gel from under her fingernails. Good design means "low-contrast, flat appearance that's so much like everything else cloned by the cool kids at the coffee shop, all your open windows blur together."
Me, I long for the days when good design meant "you don't have to fucking google how to use it."
The Atlantic proclaimed a couple months back that the whole "men with money/beautiful women" trope is a myth. I snorted then. I snort louder now.
Back when "I work at Microsoft" meant what "I work at Google" does now, I hired a guy into Microsoft. He was a decent, bright, average-looking guy. And so I initiated The Talk. I imparted some hard-learned wisdom.
"You will soon find yourself attracting really beautiful women," I said. He laughed and scoffed. Surely, I was mistaken. "No, I'm being totally serious. The heavens will rain hotties upon you, and they will make you feel like the manliest man in the history of men. Here's a good rule of thumb: if she wouldn't have dated you in high school, keep your PIN to yourself now."
"Okay, sure," he said, right before he torqued himself himself into love with an imbecilic, perpetually bespandexed trollop 15 years his junior.
All these years later in my Pittsburgh loft, I live with the people he and I were then. They're young tech guys. It's not a coincidence that I live here; I want to network with them. They have jobs exactly where I would like to work someday. But this place is expensive. Really expensive. My furnished 1 bedroom flat costs 184% of the mortgage on my waterfront house in Metamuville. I'm not delighted by that, but that's the cost of networking.
More to the point, by definition, everyone here has money.
People with office jobs leave during the day, of course, leaving behind their partners. It is decidedly not an aesthetic cross-section of humanity. It's a modeling academy. I've never seen anything like it. Even college campuses have their share of not-ridiculously-smoking women. But not here. They're insanely hot.
I wonder what it could be, Atlantic? The water?
11% of the search hits on this site come from Bing. Of those, 94% originated within 20 miles of Microsoft's corporate campus.
They know something you don't, you know. You just don't understand.
When the job offer came from Microsoft, I was already a two-year contract writer there. The offer came from Ernest, with whom I had previously worked. I huddled in my office with Katrina. "It's a good offer," I told her. "But I neither like nor trust Ernest." Despite my misgivings, I took the job. Unbeknownst to me, John's First Law was born that day.
Never willingly associate with people of poor character.
I got what I deserved two years later, when he wrecked my team tried to wreck my career. I have carefully hand-picked every boss I've had in the years since. I suppose I could write about his meandering trail of slime, but really, in corporate America he's pretty unremarkable. Grandiose, petulant, lying. Worried about everything—except the customer or making the stock go up. You know him.
What is worth sharing, though, is that Ernest was what every woman and minority fears white male managers secretly are. For a time I "enjoyed" the status of being his good ol' boy; thus I similarly got to "enjoy" his racist, sexist, and (most especially) crude remarks.
He would lasciviously comment on the breasts of the woman he did not know I was dating. Yep. That was a laugh riot. When I would go on vacation, I would return to find that he'd hired some utterly talentless, unqualified young cupcakes and assigned them to my team. He encouraged me to play "hide the puppy" with Rochelle and graphically imagined her mouth...ugh. I can't finish that sentence. Lita, he wanted for himself, bent over his piano. She was dating my buddy at the time, but that wasn't even a speed-bump to Ernest's sleaze.
"Ugh. This is not cool," I snapped, walking out of his office.
He flashed his sleazy, snaggletoothed grin and doubtless planning to break up my team. Because as he would tell his boss, I'm not management material.
Reading an article about the tepid demand for Windows 8 in general and SurfaceBM tablets in particular, I somehow, against all reason, moved on to the comment area. Why do we do this to ourselves? No happiness is ever found there, yet we cannot resist the comments.
There was a vigorous defense of Windows 8 by someone I know happened to work on the product, a defense that amounted to "Here's why you don't understand how great this product is." A few comments after that was an anonymous attack on a critic: "Did you ever consider that you're not the target audience for Windows 8?" they sniffed.
I would bet my last cent that the second person, too, is a Microsoft employee. They teach that particular evasion at New Employee Orientation nowadays.
It was exhausting.
When I started at Microsoft in the early 90s, they were evil and unexciting, sure, but they were ruthlessly efficient. Somewhere down the line, they lost their way.
For me, it all changed in 1999, when we were forced to permanently hire all temp workers—regardless of their intellect, performance, or qualifications—or lose those positions entirely. As the years went by and the children of Workforce Planning (as the initiative was called) rose into management, the company slowly mutated into something gimpy.
(As will be evidenced by all the mail I'll soon get from a microsoft.com address, telling me that I just don't understand. Folks, kindly open the stock's performance chart and save me the trouble of sending it.)
For me, the crowning achievement was in 2007, when the iPhone shocked the world. Old Microsoft would have spun on a dime and released their free knockoff inside of nine months. New Microsoft, however, instead put flyers in all of our mail slots. The flyers provided bulleted arguments we could use in public to deflate iPhone owners' enthusiasm. As if that weren't sad enough, first among the arguments was "the iPhone doesn't have a QWERTY keyboard."
Except that it does.
I think maybe they meant it doesn't have physical buttons.
Three absurdly long years later, after I'd bailed in disgust but before Microsoft had resorted to paying independent app developers to create apps for their platform, Microsoft finally released a multitouch phone and App Store. Employees danced at a mock-funeral for the iPhone, complete with hearse. Behold, the descendents of Workforce Planning.
Meanwhile, it's 20 months later. I'm Old Microsoft, so I'm less interested in circle-jerking than in the actual data. And here it is: since Windows 7 Phone came out, Microsoft has actually managed to lose market share. They now rank below something called "Bada".
But I'm sure I just don't understand.
I was at a barbecue hosted by a Microsoft executive and swarming with past and current employees. I was on my fourth Diet Coke, and with my inhibitions thusly lowered, I was holding forth about what's wrong with Redmond these days. I actually got to use the phrase "in my day."
I found the guy in charge of Microsoft's web server product, which I've used for years but which, in its latest incarnation, I'd suddenly found baffling and unusable. I asked what I always ask: for the love of god, why?
I shouldn't have bothered. He nodded condescendingly and gave me the answer I always get from modern Microsoft types, about any criticism, on any product: "You're not the target audience, John."
"I'm not the target audience. For the web server I've always used. As a web server. Which came with the OS on the computer sold to my business as a web server."
So see? You don't really hate, oh, let's say Office. You're just not its target audience. So if you think about it, your difficulties are your fault. Redmond awaits your apology.
Metrics estimate that there are now 130,000 activated Windows 7 phones in the world.
Microsoft gave a phone to each of its 90,000 employees.
More anecdotally, the only non-employees I know with one of these phones are Microsoft wives.
Today's poll: does anyone out there who isn't on MS health insurance have one of these phones (or know of anyone who does)?
I ask not just to be mean—although there is that—but because Softies' collective, excited discovery of multitouch smartphones four years after the fact neatly illustrates my lack of confidence in Microsoft. Their not-invented-here tech myopia doth appall.
"You work on a fucking cruise ship."
- John, yesterday
"Right, except that there's no tipping. And they pay me."
- John's buddy
I spent yesterday afternoon visiting Google's campus. Yes, I got to play with the new gPhone. More on that later.
Perhaps half of the square footage was devoted to offices. The rest was for pampering the employees. I knew I was in an alternate universe when I pulled in to a parking space and was greeted with a sign telling me the space was reserved for expectant mothers only.
Once inside the lobby, I saw the famous monitor that displays searches being run at that very moment. I doubt its authenticity, as the words "Miley" and "Twilight" never once appeared. I signed in with the receptionist, and through the looking glass I jumped.
My first stop was the cafeteria, which looks much like a food court at Microsoft, only with real food prepared by salaried chefs instead of real styrofoam mass-prepared by migrant workers. I bypassed the piles of absurdly fresh fruit, the cajun and Asian dishes, the panini bar, several kinds of salads, etc. and went straight for curried okra, pizza, a chocolate malt, and German chocolate cake. All I could eat, all free. People bring their friends and families in for meals.
If you're still hungry, on your way back to the office, you can stop by one of the many snack stations, with their unlimited supplies of brand-name cookies, crackers, candy, nuts, and breakfast cereals. Thirsty? Get a fruit smoothie from the smoothie girl. No tipping, now. She's on salary. Putting on weight? Hit the gym. There's a free personal trainer there waiting to help you plug your laptop into the treadmill's USB port. She's on salary too. If you're sore afterward, you can walk across the hall to the masseuses, or if you're shy like me, you can plop into one of the many massage chairs scattered around the hallways. I called mine "the tickler." "Yeah," my buddy said, "It does things that really shouldn't happen to you at work."
Agreed. But being able to drop off my laundry when I come into work and having it delivered to my office, cleaned and folded, before I leave? Sweet. Employees are similarly encouraged to bring their dogs in to work. No time to take Dex outside for a walk? No problem. Google provides dog-walkers. And of course, there were Wiis and pool and ping-pong tables everywhere.
For all that, the thing that pushed me over the edge was mundane. When my buddy sets up a meeting, this is how it works. The local people gather in a meeting room with gigantic flat-screens on the walls. Like people in Mountain View and Budapest, they key in my buddy's phone number. Two seconds later, everyone is talking via video conference. There's no 20 minutes of troubleshooting laptops ("Try Function-F5!")or Live Meeting ("Where did you install it from?"), no instruction cards, no calls to Help Desk, no crawling around for 90s-era cables, no 60s-era speakerphone to yell into, no pile of remotes to sift through. It just works, every time. I nearly wept.
Okay, on to the gPhone. It's no revolutionary device, but it will nudge the smart phone industry forward in important ways. Yes, it has a higher resolution than the iPhone, and it can run multiple apps at once. That has a cost, of course. I have no idea what its battery life is like, but I'm imagining really, really atrocious.
The touch-screen is gorgeous, and there's a little trackball if for some reason you'd prefer to navigate by using technology from 1983. It has my #1 want of the iPhone: the ability to organize apps into folders. And of course, it's carrier-independent, so you can switch phone companies and keep your phone. The obvious cost of this: without a carrier underwriting its cost to consumers, the phone won't be cheap.
Mostly, though, the gPhone is astonishingly fast. The apps just slam open. Its browser opened this web page instantaneously. As in I didn't even get a chance to move my hand out of the way, and the page was already rendered. The Chrome browser on that phone is simply the fastest browser I've ever seen, on any sort of hardware. And that's huge. Nicely done, Google.
Astonishingly, Stank trolls largely saw the "What do you do for a living?" survey as a means for mocking. That's so unlike you people, really. I've attempted to classify the responses.
Anti-Microsoft (I think)
"I work at a sewage treatment plant, 'cause all I do is process their crap."
"I shovel bullshit."
"I am a truth launderer"
"I translate dork into human."
"I overbill professionally."
"I am a grammatical mercenary on a long term contract with a large corporate client that prefers anonymity when it comes to our business arrangements." (I think that covers technical writer for hire, for an evil organization that probably dislikes claiming you as an employee almost as much as you dislike claiming them as an employer!)
"I am an ethically challenged Microsoft-mooch." (Allie)
The obscure and even more boring than the truth
"I am a Forensic Epistemologist."
"I am a Didactical Pathologist."
The outright lie
"I don't write software documentation, that's for sure."
"I write software documentation...for space."
The fuck you
"I'm a technical writer. Got a problem with that, bitch?"
"I own my own company doing technical writing for MS. *haha* Yeah, it sounds boring, but it allows me to work from my hot tub and watch whales, so THAT'S okay." (Mister, you don't generally go to meetings. I would do technical writing for the Southern Baptist Convention if it meant I didn't have to go to meetings. Fuck'em and feed'em fish heads if they don't recognize the sheer brilliance of your arrangement.)
Back before poker rooms were utterly ruined by the advent of TV poker, I would go to Vegas and play for days. I learned not to say I worked at Microsoft, 'cause then someone would want to vent about Microsoft or, worse, ask me technical questions about some product. One day, Seattle's other big employer popped into my mind.
"Boeing," I replied, in front of someone who turned out to be a incessantly shop-talking aeronautical engineer at Boeing. As I squirmed, I witnessed a miracle: something was actually more boring than what I did for a living.
What I do, exactly, is write software documentation. Those Windows 98 and Windows 2000 books that you used as coasters? Those were mine. (And Dorkass's. The parts that were spelled correctly were mine.) It's not a thrilling living, to be sure, but my god, is it ever a conversation killer. I live in dread of someone asking me what I do.
"What do you do for a living?" said the gorgeous woman at the dog park a few months ago. I told her. "Well, that sounds....interesting!" she said, bursting into laughter on the last word.
I told the dog-park story to Sarah's friend last month, and I could see boredom sucking the vitamins out of her bloodstream. "Yeah, that...doesn't...sound...interesting...at all."
Which brings us to today's survey. What, exactly, do I tell people? Especially gorgeous women at the dog park? Nowadays I own my own vending company that performs these services for Microsoft, but the alternate answers of "I'm self-employed" or "I'm a freelance writer" sound to me like, respectively, "I'm unemployed" and "I live with my mother."
I leave it to you.
Two years ago, I took my brightest student ever out for beers. I was about to offer her an editing gig for Microsoft. First, though, I would follow my custom and pump her full of Bud Truth Serum. It didn't take her long to lament that she'd had to withdraw her applications to grad school. She was flat broke.
"You haven't withdrawn them yet, have you?" I replied, aghast.
And thus did my mentoring of Darcy commence as these things should: in a sleazy bar.
I adored Darcy. She was exactly why I still dabble in teaching. A great person, warm, brilliant, full of light and promise. To help her go to grad school would doubtless be one of my greatest accomplishments in life. I was excited. And then a friend had to go and mention a nightmarish and all-too-likely scenario.
"So how will you feel if she ends up staying with Microsoft, doesn't go to grad school, marries a soulless Microsoft loser, and bit by bit you see all those great qualities sucked out of her like they are the rest of us? If you become the agent of Darcy's destruction?"
"Okay, so here's the deal," I barked at Darcy later that day. "After a year, you're fired. And if you date a co-worker, you're fired."
"You can't do that!"
Even though she ended up working for two years, I was hyper-protective of her. She never met management. She never went to a meeting on campus. She never met a co-worker who wasn't a middle-aged woman. My proudest moment came when Darcy met a guy in a bar and he asked her out. Seeing his Microsoft badge, she turned him down flat. "My mentor would kill me."
"I don't believe Darcy really exists," a handsome young writer told me just last week.
"Fuck off," I replied. I almost have this cow in the barn. I'm not spooking it now.
Today is Darcy's last day in her job, and in a month she'll be in the grad school of her choice, where presumably her soul will be fed, not depleted. We went out to dinner last week, reflecting both backward and forward.
"One of the things I've learned in the last two years, and I hope this doesn't offend you," she began hesitatingly, "is that I don't want to work with Microsoft."
I have never loved another human being more than I loved Darcy in that moment. I gave her a hug.
"I have nothing more to teach you."
When I teach college writing, we spend a day discussing professional email. You'd think modern students would already be able to send a professional-sounding email, and you'd be right. What we concentrate on is email gaffes.
"For the love of God, little-R! Little-R!" I plead, thinking of no one more than myself in a year, when they're my spamming co-workers.
I also tell the following story.
My boss Maggie was emailing her friend, who like us worked at Microsoft. Maggie ripped our boss, calling her a "mouth-breathing, puseous twat-tard" among other things, as if other things are necessary. And then Maggie's email proceeded with the normal business of friendship, discussing dinner, shoes, and motherhood. She recommended that the friend check out the "new mom" e-mail group at Microsoft. "Its alias is..."
She typed the alias in the CC line, just to verify that she had the right one.
No, she didn't delete the group's alias from the CC line. That mail went out to thousands of women, including the twat-tard. Humiliated and apologetic, Maggie became both legend and corporate cautionary tale overnight.
Astoundingly, Maggie was not fired.
Less astoundingly, her husband was a senior VP.
My team at Microsoft has moved to a new building on a new campus. I'll skip the architectural review and get straight to what most annoys me. It's a "green" building.
Green, I discovered yesterday, means that the kitchens are stocked with compostable paper cups. Imagine, if you will, what happens to a compostable paper cup when it's left half-filled on a desk for a week. Ironically, that compostable paper cup required that I throw out about three reams of paper.
And then there are the low-flow, we-flush-for-you, planet saving toilets. Someday I hope to see one that isn't already packed with well-marinated feces. The toilets' flush success rate is simply not up to Western standards, and there's no way to manually compensate.
It's a worthless idea, ineptly executed and imposed on people who never asked for it, and now we're all standing in untold volumes of shit. Why, it's almost like we made these toilets ourselves.
Longtime Stank troll (and, lamentably, recent co-worker) Chris says:
You forgot to mention the compostable "plastic" spoons that melt when exposed to hot fluids like coffee or tea
"Don't say that you were reading Entertainment Weekly," Blondage advised. "You'll get ridiculed."
So anyway, I'm in the hot tub—sipping a '77 tawny, wearing a top hat and reading the New Yorker—when I come across a cartoon. It's about the guilt we feel about not reading enough. It's mildly amusing...until I come across this panel:
To summarize: out of all of printed history—out of the entire spectrum of possible books the artist could have selected as representatives of hellish reading—she chose L'Amour, low-carb cookbooks, and something I wrote.
It had to happen eventually, I suppose. I met one of you. Rather, I had one of you barge into my life and stick your outstretched hand into my face. The following guest post is written by longtime Stank troll Chris, who is now my—sigh—co-worker. The unedited version was even longer. You're welcome.
I've heard John's name a number of times, but I've never had a formal introduction. John's "mentee," Elizabeth, was responsible for pointing me at checkraise, and over the last few years it has held a position of high esteem next to many other, and equally worthy, curmudgeons on my RSS feed.
After my recent transfer, his name began popping up more often. This time it wasn't coming from Elizabeth; the writers on THIS team knew him too. And when they said his name it mostly wasn't preceded by "That fuckingâ€¦" or followed by "...the miserable bastard." They liked him. I'd transferred right into a lair of followers, sycophants, and former co-workers (including my manager, who John described to me as "the most exhausting person I've ever met."). My fate was sealed. I knew then that I'd get my introduction in short order. Or would I? After a few weeks of never seeing the guy, I had to ask of his whereabouts. "He only comes in once every few weeks," I was told.
Yesterday he showed up. I was told he was "in a meeting" but it's probably okay to drop in and say hello.
Folks, I've read this blog for some time now and I knew that barging in would likely be a bizarre situation. Aside from a few emails, this guy doesn't know me from Adam. I'm neither fan-boy nor sycophant, but I had to introduce myself if only to combat the preconceived notion that nobody in Seattle is pleasant or can carry on a conversation with a total stranger. His congenial nature is well known. I was sure he'd appreciate the gesture.
I found him in his boss's office. I was to leave soon so it was now or never. With a knock on the door, I was let in.
Me (extending handshake): "Pardon the intrusion but I thought I'd introduce myself while you're here - otherwise you'd think I'm a complete bastard."
John (accepting said handshake): "Okay."
Boss (looking disturbed and confused): "You know this guy?"
Me (as usual, I begin to over-explain myself): "Yeah we know each other through a circuitous combination of friends and acquaintances."
(John shoves the door into me. )
John: "Okay, now, FUCK OFF!"
In under two minutes, I'd managed to coax a FUCK OFF out of John and it took nearly no effort on my part. The look on his boss's face as the door closed? PRICELESS. It's exactly what the U.S. Military was hoping for when the phrase "Shock and Awe" was coined.
So now we've met. Elizabeth's world is likely crumbling down around her. I was only disappointed in that I didn't have enough time to show him pictures of my children.
In response to Wednesday's post, esteemed Stank troll Dinah asks the obvious question: okay then, why do you teach?
"For the money and prestige," I thought.
"For the sex," chimes another reader, a female high school teacher who declines to be identified. Coward.
It started at Ohio State, where the English department chair threw me in front of a class as part of her research. I was a talented student and writer, at the height of youthful insolence—I fully expected to succeed. I failed spectacularly. And within a quarter, the experiment was over, and I was left with the horrible taste of failure in my mouth. This was nothing new—I'd taken Calculus—but I did not expect to fail at imparting to others what I myself did best.
When I was shopping myself to grad schools, my first criterion was my own curriculum, and my second, the opportunity to teach composition. I very much looked at grad school as a bookend to my years at Ohio State. Grad school would teach me what Ohio State failed to, and it would provide me a chance to redress my greatest failure.
In the months leading up to that class, I studied and studied hard. I'd taken preparation lightly before, relying, as I always had, on my ability to adjust on the fly. No longer. That had failed me utterly. This time, I would prepare hard and slay the beast. And so I entered my second classroom, and I failed again.
Third classroom, third failure.
Around the fourth classroom, I started coming into my own. Two things happened: I developed my own, more improvisational style and lesson plan; and I started to enjoy myself. It seems obvious, but only in retrospect did I realize that if you're not having any fun, your students ain't exactly dancin' a jig, either. My own intellectual development surged; there's nothing like having to teach a subject matter to compel you to learn it forwards and back, and fast. Spending every minute of every day putting myself in other people's heads, I built up my critical-thinking muscles. As I started becoming more effective, the kids grew more engaged, and I started getting hooked on pride in their accomplishments. It's an addiction roughly like crack, only more expensive.
By the time I left grad school, I wouldn't say I was the best teacher in the world, but I'd come a long way, and my students tested better than anyone else's, so I had that as a metric on which I could forever hang my teacher hat. When I graduated and had a job in hand, the university asked me to apply for a teaching job in which I would have been brutalized (six classes/day with four different preps, and after five years you're fired no matter what) for about a third of what I would make as a lowly copyeditor in Seattle. I declined.
And then the whole Fucking Amy thing happened. And then I ended up at Microsoft, indexing SQL Server documentation. Twin pillars of happiness, they. I couldn't believe how little what I did mattered. I clearly remember sitting at my desk, numb. Bored. Hollowed out. Soulless. Unchallenged. Not doing or learning anything of value. Not growing. Hating myself for not taking that horrible teaching job. The initial realization that what you do all day just doesn't matter, at all, to yourself or anyone, is the hardest. And on the heels of teaching it was quite the fall indeed.
Moral: you start your career as a drone and move on to teaching, not vice versa.
But for the first time in my life, I wasn't poor. Unwilling to take a vow of poverty, I thought for a while about getting my doctorate, but that hardly seemed like a cure for poverty. I decided I could fuel my soul by teaching just one class a year, as adjunct faculty, and I started making contacts at my first choice of universities.
And here we are, several years later, plan in fruition. I catch at least two plagiarizers a quarter, I have students stealing my out-of-print textbooks, and the privilege only costs me $10,756/quarter in lost income and expenses.
Still better than Microsoft.
Jen has ruined my life.
We met online some seven years ago, when she was a lowly undergraduate. She began to watch my dog, Ed, when I was out of town, although we took care never to actually meet. Whereas giving someone I'd never met the keys to my house seemed natural enough, and finding her long brown hairs in my bed didn't bother me, meeting her seemed freakishly weird. We agreed that when she got married, she'd set up a webcam feed for me. I think she was kidding, but I wasn't.
Somewhere along the way Jen morphed from a chemistry major to holding the same Master's I do, in technical communication. Inevitably, she landed at Microsoft. More inevitably, she started working with people I know.
"Jen is housesitter Jen?" Dorkass exclaimed. "I thought she was, like, 20."
Sigh. So did I. Damned kids these days keep getting older. It flummoxes me, I tells ya.
Knowing that my virtual kid sister is roaming Microsoft's campus has positively ruined girl-watching for me. How am I supposed to objectify a woman who might, upon closer examination, be Jen? It's not like I could identify her from 20 yards. Mathematically, this mistake is inevitable. I well remember accidentally staring at my sister-in-law's posterior at Northland Mall one day. A repeat horror is something my heterosexuality might not be able to withstand.
"You can safely leer at tall blonds," Jen suggests. Great advice. In Scandinavia. In Seattle, not so much.
"Okay," she sighed, which I don't know for sure but I heard nonetheless, "You can have ponytails. When I wear my hair up, it'll be pigtails."
Wow. Now this is friendship! My only fear is that word of this will get out and women across Microsoft will set their scrunchies aflame.
By the time Carrie arrived at Microsoft, I'd been there about a year. Which is to say, I was already broken, disillusioned—my standards in a breakneck freefall. She was all the things I do not trust: cheerful, earnest, hard working, pretty, Canadian. She looked like a sorority girl, and at first I looked right past her. A mistake.
Her body might have spent hours in interminable meetings about MPEG compression, but her mind was on more elegant things. For one, the girl loved writing. Everything about it, really. And in this, we bonded. Long after we'd both left that team, we kept in touch. Usually it was to share an article or some buffoonish instance of illiteracy perpetrated by a peer—"My hand to God, today a PM used the noun bucketization"—but sometimes there were impassioned dialogues about our mutual longing for travel, for more meaning and beauty in our lives. For more, period. A year farther on the burnout train, I was well ahead of her. She listened with interest as I prepared my exit, as I researched doctoral programs and small towns and African safaris.
And then one day, I got goodbye mail. Carrie was leaving, intent on a bigger life. The burnout train has a passing lane.
"All our conversations got me thinking," she wrote. "I have to get out of here and live a little."
Time passed. I settled on a small town, Metamuville, and re-entered the world of teaching I had loved and missed. But I also cheated—I stayed within range of Microsoft, unwilling to spit out its golden teat. After about a year without contact, I googled Carrie.
She was in the very same graduate program I had chickened out of joining. Bitch!
I gagged out congratulations, even though it felt like my dream had been usurped. She did so unknowingly, of course—it was just a big coincidence. And even though I forsook twelve dreams so that I could live the one, seeing my doppelganger there, walking that path not taken, made me feel all the more soulless. And it would get worse.
She showed me the articles she'd written from Nepal, the photos she'd taken from Kilimanjaro. Fume, fume. "So enough about me. What are you up to?" she asked sweetly, clearly not knowing I was trying to reach into the monitor and strangle her.
And then she married a doctor and returned to Canada, and another year passed until I googled her again this weekend. I found more of her writings, from as recently as last month. When she was trekking Mount motherfucking Everest.
Can the space program be that far behind, really?
Today I was scheduled for one meeting, a silly meet-and-greet with nary an agenda item. I stayed home and conference-called in. As I used one hand to listen to everyone blather awkwardly about the weather, I used the other to water the trees I planted yesterday. The person who called the meeting explained his purpose in assembling everyone. "Well, I just wanted to touch base and say hello," he said. "I'm sorry I don't have more. Do you have anything, John?"
"I'm just glad to be here," I said, not joking. Everyone laughed.
They talked about which neighborhoods in Seattle are cool. I daydreamed about a world without phones. Right when I was absent-mindedly using my grandmother's back-scratcher on my left butt cheek, Jason asked what I was doing at that very moment. I paused mid-scratch. Do I tell?
"He's probably fishing," he said.
"Something like that."
I knew, of course, that vending from home would add hours to my day. I have to say, though, that I'm blown away by the cumulative effect of this work style. Free of interruptions and the overhead of meetings, 1:1s, reviews, brown-bags and other corporate atrocities, I can get a full workday done in about 4 hours. No commute? Plus 2 hours. That's about 30 waking hours per week that I did not used to have. I get everything done nowadays. Even when I have to work overtime, the entire day doesn't vaporize on me. Yesterday was typical. I worked ten hours, with four hours of gardening in the middle, and I was still done by 6:30.
Dear god, please oh please oh please don't let the gravy train ever stop, amen.
In a compelling demonstration of Microsoft's hipness (and hard-won Freedom to Innovate), last night Bill Gates enlisted the aid of Justin Timberlake, the hottest musical star of 1999, to announce the company's plan to clone iTunes, Apple's 2002 music download service.
Several women have already stopped reading. Several weary women.
I've referred to my "Validation Theory" many times on this page, but I've never spelled it out. Simply put, I believe that the primary social force in the world is the human need for validation. In the bulk of human interactions, we are either seeking or granting endorsements. Simple, no? This theory scales like a motherfucker. Once you start filtering human behavior for validation, you see nothing else.
And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony here. I'm waxing about my belief system on my web site. Self-indulgent and validation-seeking behavior if ever there were one. See how well it scales?
So say I'm right. So what? It's a harmless enough social force. Sadly, it is not, for the Validation Theory has a very ugly corollary: most people view validation as zero-sum. If I'm to feel good about myself, you cannot—unless you make the same choices I do. But if you don't, any happiness you feel invalidates my own and must be denigrated.
My favorite example of zero-sum-validation thinking will forever be the Christian bumper sticker
Know Jesus, know peace
No Jesus, no peace
If you want to drive a fundy positively insane, show them how happy you are without their religion. That so invalidates everything they believe, everything in which they've invested their self-image, they cannot even consider the possibility. Nope, you're Satan's intermediary.
All the new moms in my life have experienced a zero-sum crossfire lately. If they continue to work, stay-at-home moms revile them as bad parents. If they stay at home, their professional colleagues snort disdainfully about "breeders." The invective is harsh, unrelenting, and unsolicited, and it invariably comes from women whose own choices are being—cue the organ music—invalidated.
Let's view recent posts through the validation filter.
And on and on. The need for validation is why people dress up and wear make-up. It's why they buy expensive things. It's why people pair up. It's why lousy relationships persist well past the establishment of lousiness. It's why people have kids. It's why they pray instead of taking kids to doctors. It's why your family goes batshit if you don't come by and stare at the TV with them often enough. It's why managers create direct reports aliases (e.g., "Jim Jones' Direct Reports") that are of no conceivable use to anyone but them but that inconvenience many. It's why we insulate ourselves with people who affirm our belief systems. It's why seemingly good people can rationalize doing horrible things. It's why we want our friends—strangers, even—to couple/parent/buy something/change cities/etc. like we did, and it's why we feel curiously rejected when they don't. It's why we feel self-conscious about dining or going to movies alone. It's why people with no education disdain its necessity, and it's why I so value it. It's why people find a way to diminish your new house/car/S.O. It's why the top-10 non-fiction list is half books about how smart you are, half books about how stupid "they" are. It's why readers send me email arguing "I don't seek validation from other people." It's why people kill those who don't share their beliefs. It's why they want to introduce matters of faith into the science classroom. It's why I go weak-kneed every time I hear "Lover Lay Down" and remember that the sexiest woman I've ever known actually thought of me when she heard that song. It's why my brother and sister-in-law would rather lose me altogether than admit that the John mythology they've concocted is untrue. It. Is. Everywhere.
What, if anything, is to be learned from this? Like any point of view, it's subjective. It's a theory that happens to fit the facts. A helluva lot of facts. What began as a desperate attempt to explain one person's behavior became a plausible explanation for most of mankind's behavior. Does this make it right? Is it the only possible explanation for a given behavior? Of course not. But I've yet to come across an alternative explanation that scales so, so well across all of human behavior.
Although I found the theory life-changing, I didn't exactly find it life-affirming. Understanding validation, both your need for it and others', is not an A-ticket to bliss. The benefits are more subtle than that. I look at it more as something to keep an eye on within myself. When someone upsets me, I question why, filter for my validation needs, and very often am able to let it go. This is a good thing. I take great pains not to feel invalidated by others' beliefs or choices, and that eliminates much of life's unnecessary misery. And of course, the rhetorician in me benefits from appealing to others' validation needs. At this point, Allie and I are pretty overt about it.
Me: I need some unconditional validation.
Allie (bored): You're so smart.
So there you have it, my world view, honed by years of wondering why so-and-so is acting that way. And if you don't agree with my Validation Theory, well, you're just stupid.
Elan and I met on Valentine's Day. Intoxicated by whimsy y mas tequila, we had some woman marry us in a bar that night. When we subsequently went to Vegas a few months later, it seemed only natural that we mock-renew our mock-vows in the nation's most mock-romantic mock-city. "I want to try a sociological experiment," I said. And thus did I email Dorkass the following two photos, my only comment being "Hey mom, look what we just did."
Bedlam ensued. My experiment worked beyond my wildest dreams. Dorkass was, by all accounts, hysterical. She went so far as to contact the chapel, which I'd instructed to say that yes, we were really married. Dorkass being the Western world's leading disseminator of information, it wasn't long before Elan and I were crushed in email and phone calls from across the country. People panicked. People congratulated us. Jilted men worldwide knocked the earth off its axis a bit by simulatenously screaming "Him?!" Someone ran an announcement in the Microsoft newsletter. My co-workers voted on baby names and filled my office with 300 pounds of rice. In retrospect, our only regret was that we didn't register for gifts.
Once again, the evolution of communications:
The origin of "WTFF" is only vaguely more interesting. When I was a manager, I'd read behind the writers' work regularly. Some writers were impeccably clean on the very first draft. I call them "my favorites." Some sucked bilgewater (as the editor, Annette, put it), no matter how many drafts they got. I call them "Roxanne." And one turned in excellent final drafts but really—insanely—weak initial drafts. She answers to "Dorkass." If the words stuck to the page, she figured, she'd done her job and met her deadline. She'll fix it later. Off to the mall! She specialized in the glittering generality. "Windows can be faster than nearly each and every one of the other alternatives," she'd type just to fill up space so she could get to the Bon Home sale. "Almost every last one of them."
One day, when I was working a weekend in order to read the draft she'd handed off before going to Banff, I came across the following. This is verbatim. "The new, comprehensive migration tools provided with Windows help you migrate items comprehensively."
My note was succinct: "WHAT THE FUCK? I MEAN, WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?"
On Monday Annette sniffed, "I guess I've been doing it wrong all these years, giving actual feedback when all I had to do is swear like a 10 year old." She then proceeded to butcher the phrase in her memory, and now half the world thinks I say "what the fuckity fuck."