Human Coal and Talent

Seth Godin wants to market HR.
He’s not wrong, although he’s thinking of things as a marketer. He wants to change the corporate mindset. So do I, but for different reasons. His idea is as good as any, but mostly I just want the name “Human Resources” gone. I find it absolutely fucking offensive. I’m not a piece of coal, I’m not some oil that somebody dug up, I’m not even some fabulous talent that somebody discovered. I work where I do because I wanted to work here and put my name in to the HR department, then somebody else hired me.
The name Human Resources is wrong because they and (by extension) administration / upper management may really see us staff as interchangeable cogs in a wheel. If you want to retain people, that’s not the way to go about it. “If everybody’s interchangeable, why am I still here again?” At my place of employment, as at many, we have yearly performance reviews that send quite the opposite message. Some people get bigger raises than others based on what they’ve accomplished relative to everybody else.
If we’re not interchangeable cogs, why are we Resources?

Sun N1 Grid Engine: don’t edit batch files in Windows

I just discovered something important about N1GE6 that I don’t see covered in the docs: if you have a grad student that prefers editing files in Windows, don’t let him do so to his N1GE shell scripts.  GE will barf out with odd error messages.  Make him re-type the scripts into vi rather than spending 30 minutes debugging before doing the same thing, as I just did.

Maybe 6.1 is better, I don’t know.

That is all.

Academic assholes

Via a friend, an oldie but a goodie: assholes in academia.

I don’t really have much to add to this, beyond saying if you don’t know who the assholes in your work place are, chances are – it’s you.

Fortunately, I could name at least a few, so I think I’m mostly safe.

From one of the comments: “I suspect though, that he can bully when he needs to . . . ”  I’ve long had a theory that inside every professor, a little jerk lives, just waiting to hop out.  I think it’s virtually impossible to get to the point where tenure is offered without having at least pushed somebody aside a time or two.  I say this knowing that my mother is a tenured professor, and is one of the nicest women I know.  (And she agrees with me.)  Of course the prof referred to in that comment can bully when he needs to, or he wouldn’t be a department chair.  The line is knowing when you really need to bully, and when you should just shut your mouth.

Combating “but you’re too busy” syndrome

One thing I commonly hear from my clients is “I would have asked you this before, but you’re so busy.”

It’s true, I’m pretty busy.  If nobody were to ask me anything new at all, I likely have enough work to keep me busy for at least a full year (and I could probably even bill that time out as research support).  That doesn’t mean that clients should not be asking me to do things though – I would like to think that I do a pretty good job of prioritizing (at least my boss tells me so, and grandboss seems to agree), and if they never tell me there’s a problem – even a small one – I can’t very well fix it.

I’m not sure what the best solution to this is, beyond telling them “no, it’s ok, even if it seems small, ask anyway” – particularly since those who say “but you look too busy” the most are the ones who ask for the least, which means their problems never get fixed.

But it’s a problem and I need to figure out a solution.


I thought I had previously written about how I have adopted what Merlin Mann calls ‘Inbox Zero’, but I can’t see any mention of it.  I will just say that I’ve been successful at reducing my work inbox (personal mail is something else, I have two accounts) to 0 each and every time I check it for over a month now, while my 00ToReply folder has never gone above 24.  (Many of those items I should probably just reply to or accept that I never will; they involve work things for which I am not strictly paid to think about.  Replies to meta-questions posed by my grandboss, for instance, regarding mission statements.)

Having said all that, my next project in my quest for self-improvement and efficiency is to be a model – a paragon, a champion, perhaps the epitome – of succinctness.  That is to say, now that I’ve made good inroads on how I handle email coming in (and how I generate outgoing), I will try to reduce the effect I have on others.  To that end, I want to write less, and have what I write mean more.

A Livejournal friend of mine is doing a series of posts that are no more than 100 words.  (It could be that they are each precisely 100 words, I haven’t checked.)  I’m taking a seminar class in cognitive science where one of our assignments is to produce about 100 words on our readings for that week.  I am taking the relative  as a challenge to produce precisely 100 words for each of these assignments.  I admire the clarity and brevity of posts by people like Seth Godin – he manages to pack a lot of information and ideas into relatively few words, his posts are usually well under 100.

Obviously this post is a failure at brevity, but I will endeavour to improve.  One potential issue is that one thing I’ve always prided myself on is the clearness of my writing.  More than a few people have told me that they find my documentation easy to understand, for instance, although it is usually no less wordy than this post (or most of my emails) are.  I need to somehow balance economy of words with maximising nuance, without killing myself.  (It took me an hour or so to do my readings this weekend, ten minutes earlier to decide what my writing was going to be about, and almost half an hour reducing my text to 100 words.  That’s not really tenable.)