Sunday, August 31, 2008

Made It!

I made it to my 60 miles the week before last, and this week I made it to 50 miles, which was my goal. Unfortunately this weekend I have been a huge slacker, but I think I had that coming--I'll pick up a few miles tonight and work on making it back up to 50 over the course of the week. (Our competition weeks have been running Friday to Friday.) It's just really hard to do the miles on the weekend because a) I don't have my friend to go to the park with, b) I don't walk to and from work, which gets me about 4 miles right there, and c) I really, really enjoy sitting on my ass on the sofa with a good book or a movie, especially over a 3-day weekend.

But I have now lost count of the number of days that the scale has consistently said I am not overweight according to my body mass index, which is very exciting. I'm not real obsessed with the weight side of things (I can't afford to get obsessed, because I did that once and it sucked). I'd just like to get moving enough to maintain my weight and make sure my pants fit, and to find a form of activity that's sustainable for me.

I like the walking, and it saves me a fair amount of cash ($2 each way on the subway, which is a minimum of $20 a week assuming I don't go anywhere other than to and from work). Of course, I'm not counting the new absurdly expensive shoes that I bought myself as a reward for walking 400 miles. I was saving them for a 500 mile reward (since some people recommend that you change your shoes after 500 miles) but my foot pain was feeling very arch-support related, and has gone completely since I started wearing the new shoes. I can safely say, however, that the number of times I haven't taken the subway during this competition has more than paid for my new shoes, so that's fair.

I also feel pretty fit--I can walk all over Manhattan with my suitcase packed for a weekend. It's not pleasant and I feel sweaty, but I don't feel like I might die. I can run up the steps in the subway (on the days when it is pouring rain and I'm not prepared). I'm pretty sure I can keep up with most of the normal people in the city. And here's a major one--hills do not seem to bother me more than they bother other people. For years every time I had to climb a flight of stairs or a hill, I secretly thought that I was going to die of a massive heart attack. Now I feel the same discomfort as a normal person, which is a very nice feeling.

Maybe in a few more weeks I'll be bold enough to make the appointment with the cardiologist that I've been putting off for well over a year now....

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I Do Not Know How Shifter Does It

I know that most runners top this number every week, but I'm shooting for walking 60 miles this week, and my feet are killing me. Perhaps I should explain.

At work, we've had this walking competition going on for a couple of months now. Everyone got a pedometer (which many of us promptly lost and had to replace) and we all count how many miles we've walked each week. There are prizes for the team with the highest total and I think for the most improved individual walker, etc. My team is pretty good, but there is no chance that we will win, because none of us are accountants.

I don't know whether you've worked with accountants. They seem perfectly normal, but the second you mention a competition of any kind, they're consumed with the desire to win. Maybe it's because accounting draws in people who are ever so slightly OCD. Maybe it's because winning is just an extension of their natural desire to quantify things. I honestly just get the hell out of their way when there's a contest, because they get quite cutthroat.

Still, I joined the competition with the certainty that although I would not win or even place, I would enjoy it. I did a walking tour earlier this year for my vacation, and it was fantastic. Besides, I need the exercise. I had been logging 25 to 35 miles a week, which I thought was pretty awesome. Then I had a couple of pedometer accidents--I left the first one on a plane (it fell off and I didn't notice until the plane was on its way somewhere else) and the second one was a slacker (as I see it, if I can take the steps, it had better count them). On the advice of a coworker, I started looking at Omron pedometers, and now I have a new favorite gadget.

This pedometer has software that gives you feedback on your performance--how many minutes of aerobic activity you've logged, how many calories you've burned, as well as the obvious numbers of miles and steps. It rates your performance against goals you set, a lot like the habit tracker on Everyday Systems or Joe's Goals. The best thing is that it just hooks to your computer with a mini USB, so you don't have to do much to get the feedback, and then it presents you with color coded ratings. I'm a sucker for a frowny face/smiley face system.

I set my goal as 7 miles a day, because this is just a little more than I walk on a good day, and why shouldn't they all be good days? Then I went on a five mile walk on Saturday, followed by a trip to the zoo, for a total of 12.5 miles. Yesterday I figured out that with barely any effort (I just have to do 8 miles either today or tomorrow, and meet my 7 mile goal the rest of the time) I could get to 60 miles this week. I'm really excited about the idea, but my blisters, toenails, and arches disagree vehemently. I realize that runners may have better shoes than I do, but other than that, how on earth do they get past these issues enough to keep running? I know many runners have nasty feet, but there must be some trick to getting past the pain.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mmmmm, Shiny Apple

In a footnote that will surely not matter to most people, but that pisses me off to no end, the Apple backdated options case settled today, with the general counsel who allegedly falsified documents to defraud shareholders paying $2.2M--the $1.6M she made from her share of the backdated options ("Give it back....give!") and a flimsy $200,000 slap on the wrist.

Personally, I think it ought to be Jobs paying money--he's the CEO, and he signed the papers. The whole point of SOX and all that strident fuss over Enron is that the CEO should bear some actual responsibility to go with all the loot he (or she) gets when things go right. Instead, they offered up a scapegoat in the form of this arguably sleazy lawyer, who says she's now going to spend the rest of her life "addressing the greater challenges of social justice and economic disparity" (good thinking--that means you're a good person). I'm honestly not even prepared to condemn her--if she were an Enron villain, they wouldn't have given her such a sweet deal, and in her parting speech she's far from ashamed, which either makes her brazen, stupid, or innocent. Why quibble?

And the fact that the entire company hasn't come tumbling down like a house of cards probably means that this options thing isn't indicative of genuinely widespread and deliberate malfeasance at Apple. But I'll say it again, the fact that Jobs won't even man up for a serious discussion about anything except for how awesome he is doesn't say a lot for the respect he has for the people who pay his bills.

Apple shareholders deserve a lot better than this, but honestly, they probably don't care. And truly, America doesn't care. We just want his damn iPhone so bad that we're willing to allow him to take our money to Vegas, if that's what he wants. I heard an interview on the radio a few weeks ago that said that although right after Enron, everyone was all het up about how companies shouldn't be allowed to give employees a pension built entirely on company stock, no legislation has been passed and the practice continues. Apparently we can't be bothered to see anything through if it's not front page news.

We deserve companies that care about the shareholder. (Yes, Virginia, they do exist. I worked for one--I'm not saying executives wept bitter tears for the shareholder when their stock went down, but return on shareholder investment was a priority that every finance employee was aware of, something not true at every publicly-traded company.) We deserve companies that strive for open, honest, and transparent accounting that doesn't require a team of spelunkers and a ball of string to understand. We deserve companies that make money in spite of being decent, honest, and hardworking. But all we got was this iPhone.

Mmmmmm, shiny.

Bad Relationships

Okay, I admit, I've been going to bed at nine or ten this week in an effort to keep up with my neighbor and her dog, who go walking in the park every morning at 5:30 (good relationship). There was a time when the lure of a new episode of Project Runway would have kept me awake until 11 at least, but that time was at least two seasons ago. This season has been a crashing bore, and just as I was coming to terms with the fact that I might have to dump PR, the coming attractions for next week sucked me back in, just like that man you almost dumped saying he's sorry and buying you flowers.

Because there, in glorious viking gear, metal tits and all, was Chris from last season announcing that next week's challenge is to outfit your very own drag queen.

Hey, sometimes even a bad relationship has one more good left night in it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Where the Bear Stearns Trouble Really Started

My company shares a building with Bear Stearns. Mostly, that's been super (they have a swell cafeteria). Lately it's been sort of sad, as you ride up in the elevator with people who are asking each other, "Have you found anything? Do they have anything else?" And I felt bad for them, because they seemed like nice people.

Then, last Thursday, inexplicably, they all started behaving like total morons. Our company is at the top of the elevator shaft (there's a second bank of elevators that goes to the top of the building). Logically, you would expect any elevator that comes to our floor to contain either exiting passengers or the occasional person who missed his floor due to blackberry abuse.

Last Thursday, every single elevator that came to our floor was full of Bear Stearns employees. They were all riding the elevator up in an attempt to exit the building. We waited through four elevators and then I finally took the stairs--I should know where they are anyway, in case of an emergency.

And as I walked home thinking about what rude people they were, I realized--they're not rude. They just don't know up from down.

Friday, August 01, 2008

1975 IBM Slides

I had a favorite English professor once who got upset with people who wanted to boil a poem (or whatever we were reading) down to a message. He would insist that the medium was important, and that it was part of what excites us about literature. "If he'd wanted to write a message he would have written a message. He wrote a novel. If you want a message, that's like asking why the ballet dancer doesn't just walk across the stage--she'd get there a lot faster."

You would think that in business communication, you'd pretty much want to walk across the stage. In certain cases, you'd want to walk in a way that made people want to follow you, or make people remember that you walked, but ultimately, the medium shouldn't be the message--it should be effective, efficient, and virtually invisible.

Unfortunately, every tool we're given for business communication is a double-edged sword (on account of the humans, no doubt--pesky bastards). We get so many e-mails every day that Merlin Mann can inspire people with Inbox Zero. We get spreadsheets of breathtaking scope that are linked in so many places that it takes an Excel guru just to figure out whether the spreadsheet speaks the truth. (Spreadsheets lie more often than you might think--and not always because the person who created them wants them to.) And above all, we get information of every size, shape, and import wedged into the all-powerful Power Point presentation.

Although I use Power Point every day and see it as tremendously useful, I do think it can be a crutch that encourages terrible, terrible habits (I love to be read to, but I can read your slide--honest). I also think that most office culture cripples people who want to cultivate good Power Point habits. I'm regularly forced by management to revise my Power Points because they have to be useful to people who won't see my presentation.

I would argue that what you want in that case is maybe a word document or a website with some illustrations--something that would be updated at crucial moments rather than being passed down like a sacred artifact that eventually loses its context, integrity, and relevance, but no. The general rule of presentations in the workplace is that the speaker should be completely irrelevant, so that the presentation may be preserved for posterity and used to train, lead, or inform people after you've been laid off. It can then also be read by managers who won't bother to show up for the presentation they've asked you to give. I'd like to see a culture in which people who respect you show up for your presentation and people who don't just don't get the information, but unfortunately, Ms. Dobbs doesn't run American business (more's the pity).

So this week, while I was slaving away at such a presentation that would undoubtedly be stolen, printed, hidden in someone's cube, and unearthed years later when our entire enterprise landscape will (God willing) have changed so much that it won't be accurate or relevant--at which point someone will attempt to apply it to their daily job--I came across this wacky time capsule. The truly striking thing is that every slide is not covered with thousands of words in microscopic font. And yet, I'm not sure I'd relish a workplace where this is the sort of thing I was expected to create. I guess it proves that it's not the tools--it's us.

Courtesy of Big Contrarian, whose blog I discovered thanks to Merlin Mann.