Tempe bike enthusiasts: just stick to your URL, please

When I’m in a hurry, I usually tell people who aren’t familiar with the Phoenix area that I live in Phoenix because it’s just easier and faster than explaining that I live in the Phoenix metropolitan area but good GOD NO I do not live in Phoenix, UGH!

Phoenix serves as adequate shorthand for a ton of satellite cities that all merge together in one giant sprawlopolis. But if I have time and/or am not lazy, I’ll actually take the time to explain that I live just outside Phoenix in Tempe. It’s an important distinction.

Phoenix is enormous. It’s more than 500 square miles big. Its growth has been made possible through nearly unchecked annexation of land since World War II and 20th century car-centered geography. Low-density housing developments seep farther and farther out from any urban center, leaving gaping holes in between – with all the residual effects. Basically, it might be the world’s least sustainable city.

Tempe, on the other hand, is much more compact. It is constrained on all sides by other cities, and so it leaned towards infill development and higher population density rather than sprawl. Something about it just feels more like a community than a giant city. It also just feels much more sustainably-minded than Phoenix. We have a solar water treatment plant, one of the city’s golf courses is about to become a farm, and one of the big reasons we love living here instead of our giant sprawling neighbor is you can walk or bike just about anywhere you need to go yearround most of the whenever it is below 100 (so maybe 3 months a year). Now it’s not just us that recognize the 165+ miles of bikeways- we just got named the 17th most bike friendly city in the US. We have this whole awesome bicycling community group here who’s

Oh Jesus their acronym is TBAG.

I will now shut up about how hip my city is.

The Problem(s) with Craigslist

I have mixed increasingly negative feelings about craigslist. Like all websites, its utility has faced a diminishing law of returns – its usefulness declines the more people use exploit it.

I used to think that what would help was if there were some kind of buyer/seller pricing app or plug-in, a tool that would mine craigslist listings for any item and recommend a fair selling price based on the pricing data and how long the listing lived on the site. A Kelley Blue Book-style tool for craigslist, if you will, like the ebay seller tools. But then I realized that all that would tell you is what the seller asked for. Not what the item actually sold for, if it even ever sold.

Craigslist suffers from the same problems as Yelp: the lack of any oversight means that there are no standards to ensure any consistency or quality. On Yelp, there’s no rhyme or reason to what 1, 3, or 5 stars means. What constitutes 4 star service to me might be 3 star to someone else. And what I think is 1 star food might get rated as 5 star by some reviewer suffering from ageusia.

The other problem they both have in common? There’s no floodgate to control the number of identities or postings one can make. Are these sites assuming we’re dumb enough to believe the number of users is representative of the real number of unique users? Twitter, anyone? Just because there’s “Bill,” “Wee Billy Winky” and “Will-e,” all of whom go gaga for the food doesn’t mean that some fanboy hasn’t logged in under 3 different identities. And that’s not even counting all the self-promo ‘reviews’ planted by corporate hacks, owners, bots, and paid reviewers. Likewise, some craigslist yahoo might think their ugly-ass orange chair is worth $500 when I wouldn’t pay $5 for it. Or, just because someone lists their chair for $500 and it sells doesn’t mean it sold for $500. Hopefully the buyer negotiated to trade it for their mean cat.

And all of that is setting aside all the many, many other problems. You have the flaky buyers/sellers. You know, the sellers who, when you text to let them know you’re at the apartment complex gate, text you back to say “oh, sorry. Just sold it to someone else” even though they knew you were on your way 10 minutes ago. And the buyers? Don’t get me started. Texting at all hours, berating you in ALL CAPS EMAILS for not having responded to their other grammar-poor email from 10 minutes ago, never showing up for the agreed-upon exchange. You have the sellers that abuse the listings, listing their item multiple times every single day, making sifting through the listings about as effective as flushing the display toilets at Home Depot. And let’s not forget the whole recent spate of craigslist-based crimes that make the buyer/seller exchange just downright scary. Even if you could eliminate the criminal element, the site is just useless these days.

Related: where am I going to offload my old loveseat now?

Unfiltered Thoughts: Websites that Should Exist

Sites that follow up on flash-in-the-pan news stories that caught my our collective attention but about which I have heard nothing since. Remember the kid from UCLA who joined the Libyan revolution? Well what the hell happened to him? Did his parents beat him senseless? Is he back to life “as usual” in LA as a student?

A website where you can post the subtext behind all-too-polite resignation letters. Like the chick here who was demoted a couple months ago who resigned abruptly with: “I just wanted to send a note to you that I wish each and every one of you Much Success and Happiness  personally and professionally and certainly Much Success  to the organization overall, best wishes!” C’mon. Really?

Caveat: These might already exist. I just don’t have time / energy to investigate whether they do.

All This Thinking is Counter-Productive

Yesterday’s work day was simultaneously one of the best and worst work days ever. Our network was completely down (and remains largely down today), giving me a very limited subset of tasks I could work on. Simple tasks that I blew through in just a few minutes. So I basically goofed off on the web all day.

I feel guilty about that in the sense that I know I’m not getting paid to just goof off. But I also feel guilty about it in some other, more profound way. That I don’t give a sh*t that that’s how I spent my day.

After months of un- and under-employment in 2010 and 2011, I finally landed this job. And I was, and continue to be, grateful for that. Even more grateful for the fact that I was more than 6 months pregnant when I started here. And that my workplace is so accommodating and understanding of the new rhythm of my life. Like needing some time to adjust to the schedule of getting to work with pants on. I have a lot to be thankful for: I have an amazing boss. I make a decent living. I have benefits. But I don’t love my job. I don’t love the line of work I’m in. It just doesn’t excite me or inspire me. If it’s too much to ask to do work that you’re really designed to do, that you are enthusiastic about, that provides the work environment and work style you desire, and at which you are driven to excel, then honestly? I’d rather just be home with my baby.

Having nothing to do but idle time to pass away in my cubicle yesterday was not a good thing because it sent me down a path of re-examining my career and life path yet again. I sat there in my cubicle thinking. And while thinking may be dangerous, it’s all I could do. Well, I mean, besides watch youtube videos of dogs.  Or babies. Or dogs and babies.

The result of all that thinking was a deafening cry inside my head: I want to be productive. I want to work hard. But I want to work for myself. If nothing else, if I worked for myself, woke up one morning, and the network was completely down? I wouldn’t sit there and stare at a blank screen all day like an automaton. I’d go out and live life. Read, nap, go for a hike, take a scenic drive. The possibilities are endless. Bonus: a little break would have reinvigorated me for when it was time to work again.

Coincidentally, I happened to read a blog post last night by someone who talked about losing his job suddenly and needing new work ASAP, who wrote “All I need is to be working with smart passionate people, flexible hours and the ability to work from anywhere. A cubicle is my death. I’ll take it if it’s all I can find, but I’d prefer to work from home and fly anywhere for meetings/face to face time.” Well said, my friend. I work in a cubicle, though that, in and of itself is not the problem. The last museum I worked for, I worked in a cubicle and worked with some of the most talented, funny, amazing coworkers friends ever. If we could have run away to found our own creative firm offering our services as a web designer, writer, graphics/visual artist, and editor, I totally would have. Except that we would have needed insta-clients, and lots of them, because all of us have piles of bills to pay.

Some of it has to do with the stupidity of playing working by the rules. Whether it’s that I have to show up & sit here in a cube for 8 hours even though none of us can get to a single work file, or that I can’t install Flash because I don’t have Admin user privileges even though I produce Flash videos for my job, or that I can’t listen to music on my computer even though I work at a music museum, whatever the workplace is, it has inane, inexplicably dumb rules. I want to live life by my own terms and work by my own rules. Work when I’m ready to work, rather than staring at a blank screen trying to get motivated because I haven’t yet had my coffee and had to be at work at 8:30 even though I’ve been up with a baby since 3:30. Or that I didn’t get to bed with the baby til 3:30. Cuz everyone knows, if you work from 11-7, your quality of work is just total sh*t compared to the quality of work you produce on no sleep between 8:30-4:30! Write about topics that I’m interested in, rather than digesting & regurgitating the most boring information to a general audience. And produce deliverables that match my expectations of high quality rather than pass off “meh, it’s ok, but at least it’s on time” stuff because of someone else’s constraints.

That could be the biggest thing. There’s nothing more frustrating at work than having to compromise, or even abandon your vision. That’s been one of my frustrations with everywhere that I have worked since grad school: not being in control over the quality of the work products I deliver. In grad school, I was in total control over the quality of my research sources, the level of my analysis, and the craftsmanship of my writing. But working for someone else is a whole different story. It’s awful to have a product “represent” you that you don’t feel is the type or quality of work you do best. Because I have worked only for nonprofits, I’m always on a shoestring budget, but I don’t always know the external constraints. Like when your boss tells you you’ve got a $25,000 budget for an exhibit, and you spend $4,000 only to be hauled into her office and told that you’ve “gone over budget.” How? Because she was working on the assumption that $22,000 of that “budget” was for your own salary. (And you were working on the assumption that budget = money one can spend. Because that’s what the word means). Or how you get “voluntold” at work to produce a professional instructional video in 3 months but you get told by the videographers that they can’t work you into their schedule in that time frame, so the best they can do is hand off some B-roll footage and let you work your own magic. When you’re in control of your own product, you know what’s within your abilities and limits and don’t overextend that by taking on projects and agreeing to ideas that compromise your vision. And you’re clear on the rules of engagement.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I finally deserve to find work that works for me. Until this job, I spent my work life trying to make a career out of museum work, and it’s just not there to be made. Museum work is tireless, thankless, and undervalued. It demands a lot of your time, your efforts, your patience, and your resources, but does not deliver equivalent opportunities for personal and professional growth, upward mobility, and, most importantly, work-life balance. Sure, you can rise through the ranks. Either incrementally and over a long period of time, working your way up in a large institution where you must summon the patience to spend years doing menial work that inexplicably demands a Master’s degree waiting for a vacancy for which you have been groomed over time to materialize. Or you may rise through the ranks at a tiny institution well before you are equipped with the skils, abilities, leadership, and network to tackle the frequently insurmountable problems of a small and increasingly irrelevant institution. I gave both a shot, and neither path worked out for me.

Then, when I was laid off by the last museum, I spent my time scrambling, trying to find any job that fit my existing skill set, hoping things would work out for the best. And the side effects aren’t shabby: a steady job that uses the skills that I learned used in museums – research, writing, editing, teaching, and a little design  – a decent paycheck with benefits, and the best boss I’ve had since 2006.

But I want more. I don’t want to try to squeeze myself into a new career that doesn’t fit me exactly right. All that thinking time yesterday reaffirmed that I’ve got to figure out how to make my next work move be to work for myself.

Productivity at Work

Today, all of us at work are offline because our login/password files have been hacked. So until they assess the damage & repair whatever it is that needs to be repaired, we are offline. Which means the only things I have access to are my desktop and the interwebz.

If it weren’t for the interwebz, I would have stabbed my eyes out by now. Back to streaming Netflix on my phone, I guess. Nah, that would be wrong. I’ll play Angry Birds instead.

This is going to be a loooong day. Not a bad day, just a loooong one.

Time for a Nap

I came across this Statler & Waldorf video today, and it incorporates everything that is good in life: Muppets, the web, and napping. A friend of mine says, “I have NO idea how I spent my time at work before the Internet. Seriously! I have NO clue!” So what would we do without the internet? I wholeheartedly support Statler & Waldorf’s excellent suggestion.

Dear Lord, Please Kill Facebook

I’m so over Facebook. It’s so clearly a space for self-promotion and exposing yourself to being marketed to by the businesses you “like” that it’s lost any and all appeal. (Well, really, it lost all appeal to me a long time ago when my dad joined.) So I just don’t post on there very frequently, and when I do, I try to keep it general – I’m not there to share much in the way of my personal life. Especially my personal life involving My Better Half, as he chooses not to have a presence on Facebook and the like, so I do my best to keep him out of it. So when I got pregnant last fall, since I didn’t use Facebook much anyway, I thought it would be weird to say “Hey! I’m having a baby!” and never really figured out any appropriate way to share the news there “publicly” with my “friends.” Nevertheless, once my girl was born, it was natural to post photos of her so that everyone can see what a cute-ass baby we had made. I kept getting responses like “OMG! I didn’t know you were pregnant!” I’m not sure exactly how/when I should have made that announcement, given my “meh” feelings about Facebook.

Who’s Your Googleganger?

So when I bought my domain many moons ago, I didn’t expect it to be anything professional. I simply was looking for a creative outlet for self-expression, so I didn’t think anything of having the word “ass” (or “monkey,” for that matter) in a domain. Even if I wanted to use this site as a professional showcase of my wise-ass mind talents, I wouldn’t worry about the domain name because a) I’d only be considering writing work that lets me be who I am anyway, and b) I’d really only be considering comedic writing gigs anyway.

But even if I were interested in having a “professional” domain, my googleganger has been sitting on our name as her domain for eons, so I wouldn’t know what I would choose anyway. Go check out your googleganger – it’s a fun little exercise.