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“hiatus” December 7, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition, Meta.
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hiatus
hi-AY-tus

The short definition of “hiatus” is “what this blog is going on”.

I like writing CorporateSpeak entries. Sometimes. The thing is, keeping up fresh content on a daily basis, along with everything else I do, and not really getting any increase in pageviews… it’s not doing it for me. I ran this blog with a new post every day for 15 months with very little change.

I’ll be honest: I started CorporateSpeak in the hope that whomever was reading blogs and turning them into books would want to do the same with this one. I mean, if that fancy fast food blog got a book deal after six posts, I certainly should’ve been able to do the same, right?

I also started it to have an outlet for my frustration with my job. But I’m not frustrated about my job anymore. After the reorg, I suddenly found myself with nothing to complain about, work-wise, except the fact that I kept getting stuck late at work on Fridays. (But when you work with ad agencies, that tends to happen a lot.)

Finally… CorporateSpeak takes time to maintain. I have to find topics that I’m interested in, write about them, and hope I’ve done a good enough job to get people to read the posts. I have a lot of stuff going on in my life besides the blog, and this takes up more time than I feel it is worth at this point.

So for now I’m putting this blog on hiatus. I may return in a few weeks, or I may return in a few months. Or I might come back on 1/3/10 with a weekly or bi-weekly format. Who knows?

Thank you for reading. I encourage you to migrate over to a blog that I’m actually trying to do something with, I Had To Tell SOMEONE, and send me your amusing, unintentionally-dirty, or just plain strange chats — Facebook, IM, Twitter, Gmail, Wave, whatever.

Until then… keep me in your RSS reader. You never know when I’ll pop up next.

“cloud computing” December 1, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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Dilbert.com

cloud computing
KLOWD kom-PYU-ting

If you want to get technical, cloud computing is a very cool way to keep all your stuff in internet-land, where you can access it from anywhere because you don’t own the media or servers upon which it’s stored. But if you want to get corporate, all you need to know is that corporations are likely to be very, very leery about implementing it despite how into it their tech folks are.

The problem with cloud computing, from a corporate perspective, is all about control. Most people have Google accounts, and already live somewhat in the cloud — if you have webmail, you’re doing cloud computing. Google is by far the king of the cloud, though Microsoft’s Office 10 is going to attempt to make some inroads into that market share. But whether it’s via Google, Microsoft, or even Yahoo (anyone remember Yahoo Briefcase?), the company doesn’t own the data. The data is held by the third party, who has their own set of terms and conditions as to the warranty of the data (T-Mobile Sidekick Fail, for example), the accessibility of the data (you can’t call Google and complain that Docs is down), and their right to read the data or be subpoenaed and hand the data over. And what happens if the third party suffers a hacking attack that ends with the data being taken by hostile parties? What’s the company’s recourse?

That’s why so many companies use VPNs instead of cloud computing — they let employees log into their work PCs using secure connections that they control. It’s way slower than the cloud, but it lets the corporations exercise their own security measures. And, I have to admit, as much as I love cloud computing (I do most of my first drafts on Docs), there’s a big difference between running a blog and running a multi-million-dollar corporation.

Of course, all companies have to do their due diligence and pretend to be interested in cloud computing, as illustrated by the above Dilbert strip. The tech guys always get excited about it, hoping they can link their tricked-out Google accounts to their work life. Just remember — if the company does go with the cloud, you’re going to have to make all your Google stuff available to them upon request. You know it’ll show up in the IT policy. I’d certainly put it there.

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“shortly” October 7, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition.
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shortly
SHORT lee

Yesterday I was working on some code and had a question for the person who requested it. So I sent her an e-mail. She e-mailed in return:

I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I’ll be there shortly to get more info.

On the surface, that seems like a positive response, right? She didn’t know what I meant, so instead of just guessing and making me do more work later, she’s going to discuss the question with me so neither of us have to do any more work than is strictly necessary.

CC-licensed photo by Lee Jordan.

CC-licensed photo by Lee Jordan.

My problem isn’t with her coming to see me. My problem is that she’s coming to see me shortly.

Define “shortly”, if you would. It could mean any number of things, including:

  • I’m going to get up from my desk and walk over to yours, which will take about one minute.
  • I’m going to finish what I’m doing, then get up from my desk and walk over to yours, which will take about five minutes.
  • I’ve got you in my task stack, which means I’ll get over there sometime fairly soon — maybe half an hour.
  • Just before lunch/before my check-out time.

In this case, it turned out to be the last one. Not so bad, since she e-mailed me back at 5:00 and she leaves at 6:00.

Except that I leave at 6:00 too.

Guess who got to stay late.

Now, there are times when you’re walking to see the person you said you’d see “shortly” and you get waylaid. That’s okay, but if it happens, say “I’m sorry, but Jim needed to check something with me and I got caught up.” Staying late isn’t so bad if it’s not intentional.

I personally recommend not using “shortly” in business communications. Say how many minutes you’ll be — or, at least, estimate. That way the other person can at least go to the bathroom without worrying about missing the impromptu confab.

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impactful October 5, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition, Seen Elsewhere.
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From Urban Dictionary:

A non-existent word coined by corporate advertising, marketing and business drones to make their work sound far more useful, exciting and beneficial to humanity than it really is.

Ever since I was a writing tutor in college I’ve been pushing people to avoid using words like this or phrases like “today’s society”. They mean absolutely nothing, and they make you sound stupid. Stop saying them.

“bubble up” September 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition.
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bubble up
BUB-uhl UP

Not this kind of bubbles. (cc-licensed photo by Mike Babcock)

Not this kind of bubbles. (cc-licensed photo by Mike Babcock)

This was a completely new one to me. I had no idea what it meant until I saw it on a meeting agenda. The item simply read “trouble tickets, bubble up”. Apparently this is a concept the operations department, where I was sitting in on a meeting, uses all the time, because its context was not explained to me in any way.

And, really, it’s kind of a quick, less-serious way to say “push it up the chain to the next level of authority”. In other words, escalate. If a client gives you trouble, let it bubble up to the next level. If a salesperson won’t listen when you lay out the rules, let it bubble up. “Escalate” sounds so serious — “I’ll have to escalate this to my superior”; “bubble up” sounds more like “hey, this is something I don’t think I should deal with because of my level of authority, so can you help me out?”

I imagine it’s something that, similar to “go from there”, is going to get really tiresome after a while. But right now, it still seems like a useful phrase that I can use in conversation.

Good to know.

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what to do when you get a no-motion September 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition, Economic Downturn.
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The short answer? Grin and bear it, and be happy you’re still employed.

From Urban Dictionary:

1. A promotion without a raise or bonus.

2. During the recession of 2009, employers have embarked on a new trend of giving promotions to employees (e.g. by adding more responsibility to their current position or new job title) but not giving the employee any monetary compensation for it (e.g. no raise, no bonus).

Looks like lots of people got no-motions and are still trying to figure out how to finish everything in one day. (CC-licensed photo by loumurphy)

Looks like lots of people got no-motions and are still trying to figure out how to finish everything in one day. (CC-licensed photo by loumurphy)

This began at CorporateSpeak in early 2009, after employees older than 55 with more than 20 years service were offered the option to take buyouts — one week of pay for every year employed, with insurance ending when the pay ended. Nine out of the ten eligible employees took the buyouts. They included:

Rena from accounting — she was in charge of all the money coming in and going out. Not an accountant or a comptroller; more like a glorified records clerk. But if you needed anything involving money, you went to Rena and she made sure things were done correctly. Andy and Leland both got no-motions to take over Rena’s duties.

Arthur from archives — in this economic climate, we really couldn’t afford someone whose sole job it was to keep track of the decades of archived print, video, photography, audio, and web stuff we’d done. Arthur knew that and took the buyout, which was too bad, because Arthur also coordinated talent appearances — ie, hiring people to pose in photographs or act on video — and that wasn’t part of his job description. It was just something he’d been doing for about ten years because it needed to be done. A combination of Raven, Rick, Marc, and Danny received various no-motions to take over Arthur’s tasks. Raven by far has it worst; she is the final word when it comes to the library, she works an odd shift, she still has to do mockups and photography (what she was hired to do), and when someone can’t find something in the library, she has to figure out where it went.

Dan the receptionist — after 30 years, it was determined that paying a full-time receptionist was no longer necessary. Dan took the buyout. Now Gina has received a no-motion; where Dan worked 8:30 to 5:30 — our regular business hours — Gina works 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Her computer was moved to the front desk, but if she needs to check her files, she has to get someone to cover the front desk so she can go up to her old cubicle and get what she needs. Needless to say her productivity has suffered. Oh, and as for 3:00 to 6:00, we’ve brought in a part-timer, because, you know, that’s a great idea.

But what could Andy, Leland, Raven, Rick, Marc, Danny, and Gina do? Say no? Of course not! Because they need their jobs. They have families to support and bills to pay. They have to eat.

Welcome to the new workplace, where people leave and are halfheartedly replaced by others who don’t have time to do their own jobs, let alone the jobs of others — and woe betide them if they claim overtime for doing what they were told to do.

The worst part of all of this is that it’s not going to change back. Once the economy rights itself and we go from bust to boom, we’re going to be much more careful as a business culture and we’re not going to hire anyone new — not a new archivist, not a new receptionist, not a new money specialist. The seven people above are going to keep doing what they’re doing, and the company as a whole is going to suffer. Just like your company is when it happens to the people around you.

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ctfd September 15, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Abbreviation, Definition.
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CTFD
Calm The Fuck Down

A little of this may help you CTFD. (CC-licensed photo by Ingorrr)

A little of this may help you CTFD. (CC-licensed photo by Ingorrr)

Yesterday morning I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when I got an e-mail sent to three VPs, two middle managers, me, and one of the other programmers. It was a semi-frantic missive from one of our marketing specialists wondering why a promotion we were doing wasn’t on our home page.

I had a few reasons that I did not enumerate to her.

  1. You asked me to do something like this about two weeks ago. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that making it appear as a postage-stamp icon would be fine. So I did that.
  2. I’m not responsible for the other promotional box you saw, the one that made you remember about the postage-stamp I already did for you. So I reminded you. Except now that’s not good enough, somehow.
  3. You never follow up on anything.
  4. We have a vanity URL to go to that promotion — and it’s your fault that it’s not in any of our advertising. We’ve only been using the same vanity URL for three years; no reason to start promoting it now, right?
  5. People don’t see graphical buttons on the internet. They treat them as ads and ignore them. You refuse to listen to me on this.

Instead of bringing all that up, I increased the size of the postage stamp a bit.

Right after I did that, the Two-Year-Old, naturally copied on this message because the marketing specialist mistakenly assumed she was involved in anything web-related that makes any sense at all, came storming out of her office and asked one of the other programmers to change the promotional priority on the site. Just went ahead and made a sweeping change without consulting anyone who might be involved in the other promotional offerings on our site — which may be making us more money — because you saw a problem you could quickly foist off on someone else.

You — and everyone else involved in this debacle, including me — need to CTFD.

According to a contributor to Rules of Thumb:

The urge to fix up a house you’ve just moved into is strongest during the first 30 days. To save money, wait for a month before you do any repairs.

It’s the same with making changes to any project: don’t immediately change stuff. Calm down (calm the fuck down, if you will), take a breath, think about what you want to do, and then ask politely. If your web developers and designers are lucky, the change will get so bogged down in committee that it’ll never be made. But overreacting never made anything better, and I think we’ll learn that as time passes.

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“catastrophe curve” July 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition, The Two-Year-Old.
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catastrophe curve
kuh-TASS-truh-fee KURV

I first came across the concept of a catastrophe curve in the Terry Pratchett novel Maskerade, in which Mr. Salzella, the music director of the Opera House, tells the house’s new owner, Mr. Bucket, how opera runs:

A catastrophe curve, Mr. Bucket, is what opera runs along. Opera happens because a large number of things amazingly fail to go wrong, Mr. Bucket.

Opera, like business, runs on a catastrophe curve. (Photo by Jonny Ross)

Opera, like business, runs on a catastrophe curve. (Photo by Jonny Ross)

Sounds an awful lot like an office environment to me. See, it seems to me that most businesses these days run on a catastrophe curve — or, worse, a recursive catastrophe curve, which means that a large number of things amazingly fail to go wrong, thereby producing one product, which is a part of a larger catastrophe curve, and so on, infinitely.

As I mentioned last week, I’m working on this new site for a new client. When I got to work yesterday, I had a micro-meeting with the Two-Year-Old — her idea, not mine — because I’d asked Hope, who is in charge (more or less) of this project on the client side, if I was still doing the project. There had been some e-mails shot back and forth about how one of our other designers might work on it. Anyway, the micro-meeting was a micro-dressing-down where she said “you said you wanted to do this project, and now you’re asking if James is going to design it? I can have him do it, but you wanted to…”

And so on.

After clearing that up, Hope and the Two-Year-Old showed me a few things related to the project and gave me a few items to write down. Then the Two-Year-Old said “we really need to get working on this.”

Duh.

There’s just one problem: I have no assets. No art, no color palette, no phone numbers, no addresses, no CMS data, no nothing. All I have is the design, as drawn on our meeting room smartboard, which I printed out so I would have a handy copy to refer to.

I sat in front of Dreamweaver for a moment, thinking about what I could do on this project, and I quickly determined that the answer is “not a whole lot”. Without the art, I can’t build out the web elements. Without the phone numbers and addresses I have no information. Without content from the client (which they’re working on now), I can’t populate the page. I also can’t build the Flash animations, the video players, the forms, and the advertisements. All I can do is put categories in the CMS.

That took me all of five minutes.

I can predict what’s going to happen: two days (if I’m lucky) before the deadline, everything is going to come together, and I’m going to have to shelve all my other projects to finish this one while somehow avoiding telling anyone that I’ve shelved all my other projects. Because, you know, nothing I’ve been working on for a while is nearly as important as the newest, coolest thing.

And that, my friends, is a catastrophe curve: when you finish the project on time, on (or under) budget, and you do so at almost the very last moment because just when you’re about to give up hope every single one of your assets arrives with precisely enough time to put them all in place.

I’m sure you’ve been in my position at least once in that regard.

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“exciting concept” June 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Definition, Economic Downturn, Meeting Minutes.
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exciting concept
ex-SY-ting CON-sept

Layoffs are everywhere. Companies are cutting budgets and cutting services. Employees are doing more with less, and for less money as it becomes clear pay cuts are going to be necessary to even approach the black. And yet you’re still being asked, time and time again, to do new things at work, to add new tasks that you know in your heart will be the business equivalent of vaporware.

And the worst kind of vaporware is something that starts out as an exciting concept.

Warning! Exciting concept creation zone!

Warning! Exciting concept creation zone!

Exciting concepts tend to begin in conference rooms at the corporate office, where several suited employees gather together and try to come up with something that will cost no money but somehow bring in revenue while also virally infecting the internet. These suited employees have been on the corporate payroll so long that they’ve forgotten actual non-suited employees have to somehow make these concepts come to life.

So they sit around, often for days at a time, until a great idea (likely suggested by a non-suited employee three or more months ago) suddenly strikes. They come up with dozens of ways it can go viral and be huge on Facebook or Twitter, and then they lay it all out and order it to occur.

And y’know what? Some of them aren’t half-bad ideas. The problem is that there’s never support for an exciting concept. There’s no extra money in the budget; there’s no extra people to work on it; there’s no possible way that the job can be done by current employees without being slammed shoddily together at the last minute, as so many things are. Then management puts a polish on it and goes back to corporate and says “hey, look how great we did with your exciting concept!”

That only leads to one thing: more exciting concepts coming right down on your head.

Exciting.

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“voluntold” May 4, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition, Economic Downturn.
Tags: , , , , ,
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voluntold
VOL-in-TOLD

How many tasks do you think this person was voluntold to do? (Photo by Mary Thompson)

How many tasks do you think this person was voluntold to do? (Photo by Mary Thompson)

One of the things the Two-Year-Old instituted when she got hired was that everyone in the entire building had to join one of about 20 strangely-named groups that would, in varying degrees, help the company. Supposedly. About two weeks before she laid out this master plan*, she sat down with Ivy — one of my co-workers — and decided who would be in charge of which group.

Then she voluntold the group leaders what they would be doing. And she voluntold us all that we had to join at least two — but the people she directly supervised had to join all of them**. I was voluntold to lead two groups, and I joined two others — I found things I liked and I joined the groups. Of course, because I’m in the web department, I pretty much had to show up to at least one meeting of every group, but that’s only because I was getting a feel for what I would have to do when these twenty groups failed.

And I think I know why they failed: because we were all voluntold.

By now you’ve probably figured out what voluntold means — to be ordered to volunteer for a group, project, or other task. But it’s the mindset behind voluntold that bothers me more than anything. It’s the mindset that says “my employees won’t do what they’re supposed to, so I have to make them” or “if I don’t force someone to do this, then no one will do it”.

Do you know why that’s the case?

Because you’ve killed morale so much that all anyone wants to do is log eight hours and get the hell out. You’ve cut salary; you’ve cut benefits; you’ve instituted furloughs and fired co-workers. You’ve given us more work than three people can do in a single day, and you’ve only given us six hours to do it in. Then you suck up our productive time with meetings, training sessions, and audits. Whyever would we want to stay late, or do extra work, or help you out? We can barely keep our heads above water!

Just keep making sure we get voluntold to do new things. We still won’t do them, but at least we’ll have a good excuse when our regular work isn’t done.

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* Which has since been completely abandoned. No one’s doing anything they’re supposed to be doing. Epic fail there, lady.

** None of them even bothered to try doing any of these special jobs. Par for the course around here when you’re voluntold to do something.