Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seat Open, Table One

MIGHT AS WELL TAKE A moment, while my wash is sudsing itself to cleanliness, and I'm taking my weekly dose of political discourse via Face the Nation, to update the masses on how things progress in life.

I had the pleasure this week of returning to the weekly poker game. I'd been absent since late November, due to time pressure from planning the holiday party and staying late at work to get the magazine out — if not on time, then less late. At the turn of the year, I made the decision not to stay after regular working hours unless it directly served me. For example, I enjoy updating the website and writing, both of which are best accomplished without interruption; I've done both either before or after regular hours. But, I take that time back by snipping it from another day or tacking it onto a lunch hour.

My former supervisor was redlining herself for months by working 1 or 2 hours after hours, affecting her health in the process. That's not for me. As passionate as I may be about something in my life, be it labor or leisure, nothing is ever going to be worth my physical or mental health. I've seen both sacrificed for jobs. That won't be me.

Having made this resolution, I took advantage of not being directly supervised to say yes to the weekly card game for the first time in almost 2 months. I simply couldn't have fit it in before the end of the year, and had trouble justifying the time after making the committment not to stay late. And there was a question of balance. I didn't want to stagger in Friday mornings looking less than ready to contribute. It wasn't necessary for me to distort the all-important weekend by staying all night at the game Thursday. It's part of trying to achieve balance across all areas of my life so I don't have to do catch-up work to address someplace I've been less attentive. With exercise, nutrition, cleaning my apartment, writing, and leisure, everything should have its place.

To that end, I've been thinking about my trips to Atlantic City. Not my group gambling binges of late, but rather my solo poker trips. With other folks in the car, you can at least keep up a conversation and keep the driver from drowsing off. Pulling driving duty alone twice in 24 hours is rough; that last hour during the drive home can get dangerous. Now, Harrah's has been sending me room-rate offers since November, some of which are quite attractive, especially when contrasted to the cost of an accident while falling asleep at the wheel.

It's not necessary to stay until the bitter end at poker night and arrive home at 3:30 a.m. on a weekday. It's something different to jam all night at the felt on a Friday or Saturday, when I can sleep in the next day, and my gym trip isn't scheduled until the afternoon. If I'm up late on Thursday, however, it takes me through Sunday to make up that sleep deficit. When I was out of work, it was easier to plan that sort of thing out and get my job-hunting done during the first four days of the week, then grab a nice 8-hour chunk of poker for myself and cruise home under tweeting birds. With the current workout schedule, it's better to make an earlier night of things so I can still make it to the gym on Friday.

Still, new habits take a while to establish themselves, and this one is no different. I thought I might ease back into things last Thursday with a 2- or 3-hour spin 'round the tables. Betting was more aggressive than I remembered it during the early hours of the game, so I strapped in tight and waited for a good hand.

Well, the hands did come, but not until 1:00 a.m. Unlike most of the players, I hadn't had to rebuy through that point. I was feeling quite comfortable and having a load of fun. More surprising, I felt more awake later into the evening than I usually do at the game. Could be due to better sleeping habits and regular exercise. All the more noteworthy from my having avoided caffeine that night.

Between taking down two all-in bets with the nuts and catching a miracle river card on a third contest, I finished comfortably into the black, even if my sleep meter was finally verging into the red at the 3:00 hour. Perhaps not the wisest move, seeing as I was backing out of a mild cold I'd picked up on Wednesday. And I faced a full slate of work the next day, which began in less than 4 hours from my return home. But I tell ya, I was feeling strong through Friday, and I even tacked 30 minutes of work onto the end of the day to compensate for a late arrival Wednesday due to said cold.

So next time I will play through about 10:30 or 11:00 or so, and with any luck still make a full day of it, from gym to commute home, that following Friday. I did miss my few hours at the game each week, and I think a break actually made my play better.

Of course, balance is relative. One of the players, having had a monster week after big wins that night and on Monday, made good on his seeming jest that he would book a flight to Los Angeles to play in the Saturday no-limit hold'em tournament at the Commerce card room. Just up and zapped out to the Coast. As much as I am clawing at the walls to get back out to Las Vegas, even I'm not quite that crazy.

I mean, I'd at least water my plants first.

Monday, January 21, 2008

And Then There Were Two

LAST WEDNESDAY WAS MY IMMEDIATE supervisor's last day. The day before, we celebrated her nearly three-decade career at the company with a breakfast. I'd sent around a note the previous Friday to solicit interest in both this and the Wednesday lunch, and I got a legion of responses to both. Breakfast on Tuesday was fun and relaxed, and lunch on Wednesday was fun and loud, but both were tinged with sadness and, on my part and that of my remaining co-editor, a touch of anxiety.

I've only been there for seven months. I know more than when I started about their house style, the audience, what little layout I need to do, and working on the Web site. But there is a whole aspect of continuing education to our publication, and I never had the chance to learn the full production cycle for that process before my boss left. The people who do know about it are the managing editor, whose day is divided among three publications, and who is based a few states away; and a person whose labor we're sharing with another magazine. The other editor has crafted articles of this type before, but had nothing to do with soliciting, generating, or verifying the question we have an out-of-house education group write and deliver for each article.

This will be an education, to say the least.

And now comes word that they want to divide our office. The layoff a month ago added to a fairly noticeable number of empty desks and offices. Our bosses, a private equity firm not used to seeing value lie idle, has decided that we can sublet half of the floor space, which would have us shuffling into the other half. If I didn't know my neighbors before this, I'll know 'em now.

With a recession either in the cards or having begun a short while ago, defaults on real estate and consumer credit spiking, and a tsunami of stock-market losses crossing the Atlantic even as I type this, I have to wonder if our owners will survey their holdings and turn their thoughts to pruning underperformers. My magazine is running artificially slowly because of the double-desk deficit in staff. If they've laid off once, they may do so again.

Would there be virtue in cutting loose and beating them to the punch? Would there be greater virtue in learning what it might take to be a freelancer? I don't know. So far I haven't panicked at work. I had a long talk with the remaining editor, and we are of one mind on the unpaid overtime issue. Our two former coworkers burned themselves out on the place by staying late, working on weekends, bringing work home, or even driving down to the Mid-Atlantic region to meet the managing editor on her own turf and hash various things out for the next several issues (and to inject a bit of spine into her, which sadly didn't work, and was possibly the last straw for our clinical editor).

I'm merely ticking items off my list, asking questions when they come up, sending things down to the art department for typesetting, and trafficking things as best I can with a big chart. The higher-ups know this issue will be late. What worries me, though, is if — after we all get past this one and endure into the next one somehow — they assess our department, decide we can do well enough with just two people under our managing editor, and decided not to leave open the two desks for the folks to replace our recently departed coworkers . . . in effect, making their absence from the process permanent.

I believe at that point we'd see me playing a spot of Massive Raise Chicken.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wargame Swarm Conjures Boardgaming Past

SOMETIMES, BEING A WARGAME FREAK pays off. The recent approach of five small Iranian vessels on a trio of American warships back on January 6 evoked a subsequent Times story about how a similar scenario had been tested in U.S. Navy wargames, with far more devastating results . . . and which reminded me of my boardgaming past.

In preparation for a Middle East conflict, the Navy ran a simulation in 2002 between a group of American warships (Blue) and the naval and ballistic forces of an opposing Gulf power (Red). Red Team's skipper, retired Marine General Paul Van Riper, deployed a notably unconventional strategy:
In the simulation, General Van Riper sent wave after wave of relatively inexpensive speedboats to charge at the costlier, more advanced fleet approaching the Persian Gulf. His force of small boats attacked with machine guns and rockets, reinforced with missiles launched from land and air. Some of the small boats were loaded with explosives to detonate alongside American warships in suicide attacks.
The result?
[T]he Blue Team . . . lost 16 major warships — an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious vessels — when they were sunk to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in an attack that included swarming tactics by enemy speedboats.
The mighty Felix tells me that this scenario is written up in greater detail in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, which has been on my reading list for some time. But the idea of multiple small Davids swarming a single Goliath resonates with a certain vintage of wargame geek.

Ogre was the first wargame Steve Jackson released at his new, eponymous company after he left Metagaming too many years ago. One player takes the side of an Ogre, a massive, soulless cybertank, sporting meters-thick armor and multiple weapons systems, rolling relentlessly across a nuke-scarred landscape toward a lonely command post. The other player must guard this post with an assortment of far smaller conventional and hovering tanks, missile units, and howitzers. Their numbers and mobility are a surprisingly close match for the Ogre, as they dart in and out of the cybertank's weapon range to knock out treads and guns and turn the Ogre into an immobile, disarmed hulk. With the right combination of units and a little luck from the gods of chance, the defender might just stand a chance of halting the beast.

It's too bad Blue Team didn't have at least one gamer geek of my generation in the room, else they might have had a chance against the Red hordes. We would've spotted that swarm shit a nautical mile away. I know people who would've met that threat with some sort of equally improvised counter-force and turned Red into fish food. Sadly, our kind is not welcome in the Pentagon. Their loss.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Approaching Ludicrous Speed

WHILE EMAILING THE FORMER CLINICAL editor at my shop — who still hasn't been replaced, nor do the auspices whisper of such an event being imminent — I commented that my to-do list ahead of my boss's departure is as thick as a Tolstoy novel and just as tragic. I actually had to attach three Post-Its to the bottom and a fourth hanging off the side to accommodate more items. The damn thing only needs a couple of wax seals to resemble a medieval charter.

I also have a whole separate list on which I've been toting up items, functions, and duties my boss performs, for which I need instructions prior to her departure. It, too, is quickly darkening with reminders and notes.

Our rump staff has a meeting with the managing editor tomorrow at 9 sharp to detail the next steps. By this time next week, there will only be two of us in our New Jersey office, doing the work that six used to do (an ed ass't was laid off a year ago, and the editor who specialized in Web work moved to another department before my arrival; I now do her work). Most of the shrinkage is directly attributable to a couple of bad decisions and the resultant culture and leadership clash.

I like the work I'm doing, but I have no idea how I'll sustain that sort of quality or output during this pinch. The idea of wedging further skill acquisition into this sort of schedule is laughable, which removes another one of the attractions I had for this place.

It was the next job after the salt mine. It wasn't necessarily going to be my last job. It's just a shame that things had to turn south so quickly. But my first duty is to myself. And I am not going to knock my brains out fixing a problem I didn't cause by staying late or working weekends. No amount of money is worth that, though I've been tempted to ask for a raise just while they're over the barrel. If I'm just going to use the money on antianxiety drugs, what's the point of asking for more cash before my next review?

Hell, will I even be there by my next review? I can only imagine my remaining fellow editor is looking too. She has a huge commute on top of dealing with the absurd management style and the sudden decline of interest in taking the time to do good, well-researched work. Do I want to hang around while they figure out how to reconstruct the department, which might involve me training someone? I haven't been there long enough to train someone, and anyway, I hate being a supervisor.

Ah, they might just kill the publication anyway. This too would be a shame, though it's just what I've come to expect from the nut-cutters who scry corporate balance sheets, Scrooge-like, by guttering gaslight atop their miser's stools. The publication has a long history and considerable goodwill. But we are in a recession. Might be cheaper to kill it and lay the remaining staff off. The actual mechanism of being laid off I can handle. Job hunting in this environment, however, might prove a challenge.

With that in mind, I will work hard during my stay at the current place, keep my eyes open and my interests squarely on my ass, try to get as much training and as many bylines as I can, and review my job-hunt books from the career counseling I received last year. Oh, and (as per preexisting plan) get my resume updated. Resignation or layoff, I want to be ready, as I honestly can't see many other ways out of this.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Early, Possibly Slightly Premature Hope

AMID THE MORASS OF NUMBERS being disseminated by campaigns and news wonks over the Iowa results, take a look at this less obvious one:

Total voter turnout: Approximately 356,000

Percentage of total vote:

24.5% Obama
20.5% Edwards
19.8% Clinton
11.4% Huckabee

That's about 5.6 times more Democratic votes than the underdog, underbudgeted Republican winner . . . not the deep-pocketed, many-mouthed plastic man from the Massachusetts statehouse.

Dare to dream!

A Noun, a Verb, and 9/11

NOSFERATU-LOOKING PHILANDERER RUDY GIULIANI is once again proving Senator Joe Biden's statement above — which describes every sentence out of Rudy's mouth — to be spot-on. Even in waving off his sixth-place finish in Iowa — falling behind even Freikorpsführer Ron Paul — he had to conjure up his sole reason for persisting on the American stage.

Originally, Rudy The G wasn't going to campaign in New Hampshire, trusting instead to make a strong showing in Florida. As Iowa's caucuses loomed, however, he apparently found it necessary to buttress his "Florida Firewall" with some face time in Live Free or Die country. So it was natural that folks might believe he would now have more interest in Iowa's doings as well.

When asked what his reaction was, from afar, to his result in Iowa, and his slippage in New Hampshire, Giuliani said, "None of this worries me. . . . September 11th, there were times I was worried. . . ."

Is this what this whore has fallen to? Even in defeat, he has to rip this scab off again? This from the man who seemingly wants to accelerate our slide to the 1984 scenario, in which we are permanently at war with, well, everyone. As we learned from that novel, repetition of slogans eventually anesthetizes a population. So we really shouldn't be surprised to see him follow the script of some of his jackbooted predecessors.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Water Rising Above My Ankles

IF YOU EXAMINE THESE TWO posts, you'll not only get a sense of how hectic one of the higher-ups makes my place, but you'll also learn that one of my workmates, a clinical editor on the magazine, left recently, primarily because of butting heads with said higher-up.

Well, this afternoon, I got a tap on the shoulder from my boss. She gave notice this morning, and was letting folks know she was heading to the same company that the clinical editor had joined, the date of departure being scheduled for mid-month.

This will make things . . . interesting at work. Hiring a replacement for the clinical editor was already a daunting prospect. Picking up a new supervising editor at the same time, with a manager who's not even based in the office . . . ?

Before the clinical ed. headed out last month, she said to me I had nothing to worry about, because folks loved me at the current company, and now that I'd found a job in the industry, I was "in." I hadn't been counting on finding just what benefits being "in" might bring so soon. But that might lie ahead.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Plotting Fiscal Year 2008

THE EXCITEMENT IN MY LIFE continues at a rip-roaring pace with my creating, for the first time, a budget for the year. I've kept track of my spending for about a year and half, just to detect any leaks in my spending, but I want to anticipate my financial ups and downs a little more closely this year. I was lucky enough to know, last year at this time, that I would be laid off, but the next one might not offer so much warning.

I already know how much I plan to devote both to my IRA and 401(k) this year (max on both), so those expenses were already controlled while setting up the grid. I made a list during my time off of all the recurrent expenses I could fathom, adjusting some of them (like the vampires at my local utility) upwards. I have a fair guess on how much more rent I'll pay this year. Others I just left alone and figured my overestimates in some areas would cover for them. If I really wanted to be sharp, I'd refer back to this chart each time I paid a bill and decrement from my estimate the outgoing amount, just to see how wrong I was, in whichever direction, this time next year.

My financial way of being also anticipates an automatic withdrawal from my checking account into a money market fund, painlessly occurring every month, which queues up next year's IRA funds without my having to scramble to scratch them up. Although that money isn't truly "spent," I'm including it to reflect the true flow of cash through my checking account, as that money, once it gets into the money market, I consider untouchable except for emergencies.

I consider myself to have been exceptionally lucky with last year's layoff. My new job started just as the severance money ceased to arrive. I wasn't asked by New York State as to how my job hunt was going, so I didn't have to fear for the disruption of my unemployment money. Everything I didn't use from those two sources, I stashed in CDs. Should I have to find another job for whatever reason this year — and especially if I have to pay COBRA — I've got a cushion built up. (The severance given to those laid off a month ago was less generous than what I got at the salt mine, so hoarding as many nuts as possible is the key.)

I'm going to try and pay cash for as much as I can this year. I withdraw a set allowance each week. I'm bumping this to every two weeks but twice the amount, and using that, versus plastic, to pay for daily and weekly needs. (Gasoline, which is a less escapable evil than some of the impulse items I fight to avoid purchasing, I put on a rewards card. Short of stealing shit from Exxon, it's the only way I'm getting a kickback from those petro-bastards.) For a long time, I've been adding to an emergency fund with allowance leftovers and found money, so I have a system for saving anything that remains at the end of an allowance period. It will be interesting to see how being entirely open with my purchasing habits, rather than putting any of them on plastic and worrying about them later (uncommon for me, but still a temptation), is reflected in the amount of allowance that remains at the end of each fortnight.

Once I'm fairly certain I've got an accurate estimate of my yearly expenditures, I'll begin tracking how I eat into those budget items. No issuing supplemental funding bills for me, unlike the whores in Washington. The next step, coming in the very near future, is to decide the division of my IRA money across investment options, and whether I want to roll my old company 401(k) into a new IRA to give me total control over its allotment. All of this will require documentation in Excel so I can track things. After that — and not entirely unrelated — it's off to the resume to update it with the past 6 months of skills and achievements. You never know when it might be needed.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sidestepping the Ravages of Dementia

OH, AND JUST IN CASE you think I don't have myself figured out: With the knowledge that a utility bill will arrive within the week, I have written "1/ /08" on the next check in my book. I'm not writing a second one for the rent, though. My eyes aren't too old to perceive the monomolecular dividing line between life-hacking and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

. . . And We're Back With Another Year!

BOTH OF THESE TOPICS DESERVE more than just a note, but . . . I have no way to finish that sentence. Anyway, it's been a sweet post-Christmas week for me. Once I finally disentangled myself from the expanding blob of disorganization spreading from my boss's desk last Thursday, I found myself at the beginning of a peaceful 5-day weekend. Within three of those days, though, I had the pleasure of being a guest at Felix and Julia's wedding, and at Ratatosk and Amy's place for New Year's Eve. Though I only have a 3-day week coming up tomorrow, it'll be impossible to top the festivity and hospitality of the past several days. There's no way this weekend can compare. It'll just have to settle for being 2 days off.