December 2004 Archives

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'nuff said.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Well, this is pretty much it for my time in London now. I walked over the Hungerford footbridge for the last time yesterday, with views of the City and St Paul's on one side and the Houses Of Westminster on the other, letting the faint scent of nostalgia wash over me. I'll see it all again in the future - I seem inevitably bound to return to places I've visited before - but it's a subtly different experience as a visitor than as a resident.

I've few more things to pack, and a spot of cleaning to do before I go, but I'm expecting an early release from work tomorrow, so I plan to finish things off in the afternoon. Then it's just a short hop to Heathrow (made longer by an impending tube strike *sigh*) and then home.

I've been here over seven years. It sounds like a horrendously long time put like that. I didn't plan on staying, but then I didn't really plan anything much - I just let things happen and see where fate let me. It probably led me to stay a couple of years too long, but I shan't complain too much. It's largely work that's kept me here this long - not a bad reason, since I'm pleased with what I've learned, accomplished and proved to myself in that time, although I wish I had better. I never quite managed to escape the feeling that my time here was temporary at best, perhaps explaining why I only carved out a small niche for myself. Or perhaps that's simply an excuse.

Still, it doesn't matter much now. I've got other things to worry about and look forward to. I'm not sure whether the slightly disconcerting butterflies in my stomach are a combination of jetlag and lack of sleep, or simply sheer excitement. Certainly it feels a lot like those Christmas Eve's of old, where the nights stretched further into eternity the close Christmas day came. Tomorrow has been a long time coming for me.

I hope it's worth the wait.

I'm out of time again tonight (I know, I know). Let's just pretend that I've written here a fascinating discourse, filled with insight, wit and humour that warmed the very cockles of your soul to read. It may seem a touch dishonest on both our parts, and I'm certain it ill-behooves me to ask your complicity in this matter, but who can say, given time I may well be able to turn out such a treatise, eventually turning falsehood to fact.

But that's likely a while off yet. So let's pretend for the moment.

'Kay?

So much to say...

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...so little time. The office Christmas party kept me out later than I'd intended tonight. Much fun was had by all, particularly on the dodgems - several people commented that I was somewhat more competitive than they'd expected. "Psychotic," said another. What can I say, I like dodgems. Aside from that, I'm functioning on far less sleep than is probably good for me - 5 hours out of 58 - so I'm going to bow out early again tonight. I still want to wax on about my holiday, but it seems that's going to be pushed into the distant future. I'm busy for the next few nights, and then it's Christmas, at which point I enter strange uncharted territory. I may seem to drop off the edge of the world at that point, but I promise I shan't be gone completely - I'll still be clinging on to edge of the world by my fingernails, so if you look for me, you should find me.

Last Saturday morning I bought a kitchen in London. In the evening I dined in San Francisco. The following week was spent hurtling down the silvery slopes of Tahoe in the company of several of my favourite people in the whole world (not all of them, mind you).

I've had my ups and downs over the last year, but on the whole it's a good life. Remind me of that in future if I seem to forget it.

Gone skiing

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Meet me back here on the 21st. I'll bring the stories, you bring the cookies and milk. And I mean lots of milk. In the mean time I hope your run up to the holidays proves less stressful than mine has been so far. I was tempted to append "and more enjoyable" to that last sentence, but thinking about it I've actually enjoyed myself a fair bit recently. I may sound at my wits end when I describe all that I've been up to, but the truth is I rather like flitting around between a dozen different things at once. I may not be able to keep with them all, but I find the attempt deeply satisfying, especially since I'm well aware the the ultimate consequences simply aren't that serious in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway, I've got to go clean my flat now. I promised the estate agent I'd leave this place in a fit state for viewing whilst I'm away and I left myself a nice little window tomorrow morning which would have been an ideal time for some domestic cleansing, but alas events beyond my control have caused it to vanish in puff in smoke. Nothing like a good cleaning session after midnight to make you long for a holiday.

Have fun...

Wrapping things up

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After talking about wrapping things up figuratively yesterday, I find myself wrapping things up rather more literally tonight. There are presents to parcel up, cards to write, and suitcases to pack. Fortunately I have plenty of time left to do it all - it's only just gone midnight after all...

Liar!

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I'm still wrapping things up down here. Paying off a few last bills, cancelling services I no longer need. Putting the chairs on the tables before turning out the lights for the last time. Today I gave my gym notification that I'd be leaving. I thought it was going to be a straightforward process, but as I soon as I made the request, the manageress appeared, as if by magic, to quiz me on my rational for leaving. I was slightly taken aback by this, and although she wasn't impolite about it, she was clearly keen to change my mind. I naturally rail against such attempts - I'm generally a stubborn sort and once my mind is made up I dislike it when others get in the way of my plans. Perhaps for this reason the thought popped into my head that I didn't have to tell her the truth. In fact I could anything at all. I know that seems rather mischievous of me, but my rational is far more altruistic that you might believe. There have been a series of niggles at the gym, minor irritations really, like an near complete absence of coat-hangers in the lockers, equipment taking too long to be repaired, a broken that mirror on which a sign was taped saying it would be fixed soon, despite having been there for almost six months. Nothing serious, but to me indicative of the fact that someone somewhere isn't paying as close attention as they should be. So rather than give my true reasons for going, I decided to cite these points, in the hope that it might encourage the management to pay closer attention for the sake of the remaining members. The manageress seemed quite distraught by this, something I hadn't expected. She admitted she was aware of these problems and was doing her utmost to rectify them, and that if I stuck around I'm soon see an improvement. Naturally I felt quite wretched about this. She did seem genuinely upset, and all for the sake of what I thought was an innocent white lie. It may all have been a ploy or her part to persuade me to change my mind, but if so I didn't feel any better.

I'd like to consider myself an honest sort, but the truth is that I'm as guilty of telling white lies and lies of omission as most anyone. Such things don't normally bother me... but my actions in this case did. Perhaps it was the blatant nature of my lie, I'm not sure. I think I'll try to stick a little more closely to the straight and narrow in future. Guilty consciences don't become me it seems.

My manager didn't have a very good day at work today. A slew of irritations piled up around him, and eventually around me. Normally he's quite good at protecting me from these day to day inanities, but today they seemed to get to him. And consequently to me. Every few minutes it would seem that a new problem would crop up and and he'd come around to ask something else of me. And each time his mood was darker and his face grimmer, though none of directed towards me directly. And each time he'd ask a little bit more of me.

Time wore on, and as the work day crept to a close things settled down a bit - though still he kept a calling. Eventually I stopped him in his tracks and told him this story. Then I went home the next time his back was turned.

Mr Pointy

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I had an odd sort of day at work - in a meeting earlier today I rather snarkily made a pointed comment to our managing director (or his boss - above a certain level in the corporate hierarchy everyone looks the same to me) about his general lack of presence and the near total absence of information provided to us about how the business is performing. I think I rather startled him, since until that point I'd been sitting quietly behind him saying little, and it seemed to derail him somewhat. Admittedly at the time he'd been preaching on what we could do to improve communication throughout the business. My point, made in a roundabout - though still pointed - fashion was he should be leading by example, which he doesn't. I can't criticise him too much, since much of what he does he's rather good at, but he's not a (forgive me the phrase) a people person. He doesn't like to talk to us directly unless it's absolutely necessary, and even his indirect communiques, courtesy of the company newsletter, betray an amazing lack of empathy towards those in his employ. He's made promises to use before to do a better job of keeping us up to date with what's happening, but the momentum typically peters out in days and things are soon the same as they ever were. Hence I felt justified picking him up on this. In a meeting. With lots of other people around.

The few seconds of uncomfortable silence that followed did give me brief pause to wonder if this was perhaps a career ending decision, but I live to fight another day.

Still, the incident made me wonder when I became this person. It's not the me I remember from times past. Not too dissimilar, but there are definite differences - slightly harder and sharper edges perhaps. Or perhaps not - I don't have a particularly objective point of view after all. That said, if I should ever happen to veer too far from whatever norms I cling to, do let me know. I should hate to change so without realising it...

Clever Trevor

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From the people who brought you the insanely addictive badgers, badgers, comes the equally surreal, yet utterly delightful Magical Trevor.

Enter and be damned

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I stood in front of the doorway, watching the damned pour in, despair and agony etched across their wretched faces. I had no pity for them. They had brought this horror upon themselves, and I for my sins was about to join them. Tennyson came to mind: "Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred."

I threw myself in their midst and was instantly caught up in the swirling vortex. Bright lights and strange colours whirled around me as I was swept along, trying my best to resist the siren calls of the figures reaching out to entrap the unwary.

A small child nearby looked upon the seething mass of people before her and terror crept slowly across her features. She pulled her mother close and whispered something in her ear. I could not hear what. Her mother stood up and replied with forced cheer "don't be silly. It's not a scary place. It's a toy shop." Neither child nor mother nor myself were convinced by this argument.

Hamleys on a Saturday in December is one of the scariest places you're ever likely to encounter. Other shops have opulent window displays, luxuriously tempting, sensuously inviting. By contrast, one of Hamley's windows contains a vision of hell itself, as though to serve as a warning to the incautious. A colourless diorama contains two figures, their faces featureless and as distorted as the forced perspective of the scene. A mother stands by a sink in the background washing dishes, and looks back upon her child in the foreground as she opens a Christmas present. Both figures are animated, the mothers hand endlessly washing the same dish over and over, the child condemned to open the same grey present for all eternity. It's a vision of Christmas wrought from the nightmares of David Lynch.

I survived. Others didn't. Oh, they made it out of the shop in the end, but from the expressions on their faces, I wouldn't call it survival...

All for none

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In a depressing coincidence, the developer I talked about yesterday was fired today. I thought at the very least he'd be allowed to work 'til the end of his three month probation, but instead he was escorted from the building shortly after he was told.

Before he left he sat at his desk for a short while, picking mournfully through his personal effects. None of the other developers spoke to him, nor reached out to him in any way, as though his misfortune might be contagious. I realised then how isolated he'd been, something I'd known at some level but failed to fully appreciate until too late, and how little I'd done to help him. I tried to say something, but all I could manage was "I'm sorry." It sounds hollow now, it sounded even more so then. In response he smiled the wan uncomprehending smile I'd seen so many times before, nodded, and left, pathos trailing in his wake. It was a sad yet appropriate exit.

Afterwards we went to lunch together and nobody talked about him. His failure was our failure after all, and we huddled together trading banalities to cover our embarrassment and guilt.

Power and responsibility

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Last week my manager asked my opinion of a new developer who started about six weeks ago. The trouble is... he's not very good. The primary problem is one of communication rather than ability (though he's not exactly shining when it comes to ability either) - his English is quite frankly atrocious and he's obviously struggling to understand what's being asked for him. It doesn't help matters that he has an awful habit of smiling and nodding and saying "yes" even when he doesn't understand what you're talking about. Of course, he also displays exactly the same behaviour when he does understand what you've said which makes it rather difficult to hold any sort of discussion with him. There have been several incidents when we've talked about something, and I thought he understood what I wanted, only to later discover that he didn't and rather than seek clarification he'd ploughed on with something that was obviously wrong instead. It's frustrating for me, and I'm sure it's also frustrating for him, though it's rather hard to say behind the smiling and nodding and yesses.

At first I thought it was just my accent that was causing trouble, but I've since witnessed similar behaviour when he's been conversing with other members of the team too, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better as the weeks roll by. My manager is growing increasingly concerned with his performance thus far, and I share his concerns. He's within his probation period right now, and there's a very real chance he won't be kept on after that time is up. My recommendation is that we should let him go. It feels like a terribly harsh judgment to make of someone whose circumstances I know little about, but from an objective standpoint it's the right move for the company. That doesn't make me feel any happier about it, though. I've never been comfortable with authority, but it's recently been pointed out to me that I wield an increasing amount of it. That this should be my first act after that realisation disturbs me greatly.

Do no harm. That's probably the only rule in this life I try seriously to live by. I'm not about to debate the merits and flaws of such a maxim but I will quietly ponder it's compatability with my present station...

In another's words

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If you'll allow me a brief diversion from my usual self indulgence, the following came from Michelle (the blogless). Though the information is out there already, it bears repeating - complacency is nobody's friend.


Today is World AIDS Day and you probably don't think I have to remind you that HIV and AIDS are still an epidemic around the world and in the US. And most of us out there believe that we, as smart, savvy people, have a better understanding about HIV and AIDS and preventing the spread of the disease, but you would be surprised. I once overheard two college girls talking about sleeping with some guy and not using protection. One of the girls said, "But that's okay, because he's not dirty." I am still puzzled by what "dirty" means and I am still outraged that those girls think that unprotected sex is ok as long as it is with someone in your own social class/circle.

So let's stop the stupidity. Let your voice be heard far and wide. You may think they know, but they don't know. So, explain to people HIV/AIDS, the pros of protected sex, and how HIV/AIDS is killing millions of people worldwide.

So to refresh your memory:

Worldwide:

HIV is one of the biggest social, economic and health challenges in the world. It is a global emergency claiming over 8,000 lives every day. In fact 5 people die of AIDS every minute.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This is the virus known to cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). If someone is HIV-positive, it means they have been infected with the virus.

A person infected with HIV does not have AIDS until the virus seriously damages their immune system, making them vulnerable to a range of infections, some of which can lead to death.

HIV is transmitted through body fluids in particular blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk, in fact there are only four ways you can become HIV positive.

In 2003, almost 5 million people acquired HIV, which means there are now almost 38 million people living with HIV and AIDS. Despite best efforts from governments, non-profit organizations and healthcare practitioners around the world, HIV and AIDS is still having huge global impact.

[Above from http://www.worldaidsday.org/about.asp]
[For more comprehensive info about HIV and AIDS, go to: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/hivinf.htm]

In America:

An estimated 886,575 AIDS cases have been diagnosed in the United States since the beginning of the epidemic through 2002.

An estimated 312,133 cases of HIV have been diagnosed through 2002. An estimated 26,464 new HIV cases were diagnosed in 2002.

Sixty-nine percent of the total estimated AIDS deaths have occurred in people ages 25-44.

Persons ages 13-24 account for 11 percent of new HIV cases diagnosed in 2002. Of these persons females accounted for 41 percent of the cases.

As many as 950,000 Americans may be infected with HIV, one-quarter of whom are unaware of their infection. (1)

[Above from http://www.omhrc.gov/hivaidsobservances/hivaidsinfo.html#fact; (1) is from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/hivinf.htm]

Safer Sex:

The best way to stop HIV being passed on is to use condoms during vaginal or anal sex, if there is any possibility that either partner could have the virus. It can take only a single episode of unprotected sex (i.e. not using a condom) with an infected partner for HIV to be passed on. Condoms are the only form of contraception that will protect you from HIV.

However, HIV is not always passed on the first time, so it's never too late to start practicing safer sex.

[Above from http://www.worldaidsday.org/safe.asp]

Prevention:

Because no vaccine for HIV is available, the only way to prevent infection by the virus is to avoid behaviors that put a person at risk of infection, such as sharing needles and having unprotected sex.

Many people infected with HIV have no symptoms. Therefore, there is no way of knowing with certainty whether a sexual partner is infected unless he or she has repeatedly tested negative for the virus and has not engaged in any risky behavior.

People should either abstain from having sex or use male latex condoms or female polyurethane condoms, which may offer partial protection, during oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Only water-based lubricants should be used with male latex condoms.

Although some laboratory evidence shows that spermicides can kill HIV, researchers have not found that these products can prevent a person from getting HIV.

The risk of HIV transmission from a pregnant woman to her baby is significantly reduced if she takes AZT during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and if her baby takes it for the first six weeks of life.

[Above from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/hivinf.htm]