adrian_turtle: (Default)
I know many of you do independent freelance work of one kind or another, and I'm curious about how you get paid for it. (Not, "how do you decide what is a fair price for your services?" or "how do you sell a service when similar-looking services are often given away?" though those are also interesting questions.) I mean, how do you get a client to actually PAY you, once you have provided the service?

I've had a couple of frustrating experiences. After an hour's work, the high school student knows a little more math than before, and says, "Oh, my dad was going to pay you, but he's not home yet. Can we pay you next week?" It's not a situation where I can say "no" very readily. The worst of it is when the kid stood me up the following week--empty house at the scheduled time, and no response to phone or email.

A more frustrating example involved more work. There's a grad student who hired me to teach him the statistics he needed to analyze his thesis research, and edit his rough draft. I did a big chunk of editing and met with him for a few hours...and he paid me about half what he had agreed he owed me for the editing. We set up another meeting, at which point he said he would pay me the rest (and I would teach him more about statistics), but he didn't show up. At this point, I'm sending him email and hoping he mails me a check. Considering past experience, it seems unlikely.
adrian_turtle: (Default)
Last year, I was talking to a QC specialist about the two products she works with. I understood they were made from somewhat different raw materials, but I wanted to know if they ended up with similar physical properties, if that was something she could talk about.
Is one much harder than the other?
Oh, no. The new material is just as easy to measure as the old one.
Er...that's good. I mean, is the material itself more rigid? *tap the table, in what was meant to be an example of rigidity but obviously was not seen that way*
All the specifications are rigid! These are medical devices!
I changed the subject. This was not a useful conversation to have during a job interview, especially when I had hoped to present myself as having good communication skills. The original question had been more or less idle curiosity. The misunderstanding is fascinating, but not in a way that feels safe to explore then and there.

I had a different kind of conversation with another QC specialist. She was telling me about investigating customer complaints, and feeding that information back into process improvement for manufacturing or supply or whatever. Every company with a Quality Department is trying to do something similar. I wanted to know what their starting point was like--were they investigating unusual or minor problems to fine-tune a process that was mostly pretty well in control? Or were the problems on a larger scale, coming out of a process that was not usually pretty close to being in control? I thought she might not want to tell me what the situation was, but most people who don't want to talk about how close their system is to being under control say things like, "it's not perfect, but we're working on it."

She answered by telling me about how her process had become so much better controlled since she started working there. The system for organizing customer complaint reports is very efficient now. When a customer calls with a problem these days, it's not a mad scramble. They can figure out right away what kind of problem it is and start responding appropriately. I had been trying to ask about how well the manufacturing process was controlled. (I hadn't wanted to say "manufacturing process," because I wanted to include supply, testing, and shipping.) I thought it was obvious that we were talking about a process whose end result is the product that a customer will delight in or complain about. That was what I thought of as being important, when I asked about process control. I think well of the complaint investigator, who seemed smart and competent and happy to talk with me...but it sounded like she was speaking from her specialty. So when I asked about process control, she told me about HER process, the one she spends so much time thinking about, the process of responding to customer complaints. (And it's great that it's efficient.)

Last week, Janet Napolitano said "once the incident occurred, the system worked," and the country reacted with horrified laughter. Even people who didn't think the underwear bomber had found a major flaw in the security system thought it was a pretty appalling time to brag about how effective the security system was. I'm not sure if it makes it more or less appalling to realize that Napolitano wasn't talking about the security system. She wasn't thinking about the overall process of preventing attacks on the US transportation system. She was thinking about the process she was in the middle of (probably one her team rehearses frequently) of responding to different kinds of perceived threats.
adrian_turtle: (Default)
Dry socks.
Nobody will care what color, this is academia.
It's 35 degrees, they do need to be dry.
If you want to call yourself an engineering consultant, they probably ought to be the same color as each other, even for academia.
adrian_turtle: (Default)
I didn't post about this when I thought I might do contract work for this staffing agency, but the company turned me down. The hourly rate they offered was just under half what I earned last year. From the job description I read at first, it looked like a much less complicated job...but at the interview, it turned out that they also needed more sophisticated problems solved. (It would make the work more interesting, and better suited to my education and experience. Really, making the job more like what I did last summer, at half the pay. I don't feel like I'm in a good position to bargain.) The recruiter at the staffing agency wanted to meet me in person, before my interview with the hiring manager. Obligingly, I drove out to the staffing agency's office to shake hands and fill out forms.

I authorized tax withholding (from any pay they might give me in the future), promised to abide by HIPPA regulations (if I worked in a job where I saw private medical information, though I had not applied for such a job), and demonstrated my legal right to work in the US (prospective employers are not supposed to ask about age, but they can ask for legal ID that happens to show one's date of birth.) I also signed authorizations for drug tests and background checks. This background check didn't mention investigating medical records, neighbors, relatives, or "mode of living," but it also didn't offer any way for one to track down the background report on oneself.

The recruiter at the staffing agency looked through the stack of papers I had signed, and realized she had forgotten the one about unions. It was clear that she found the subject distressing. I managed to keep my questions to the level of "What's that about unions?" rather than "Did unions kill your puppy or something?" She was outraged that union organizers would dare to approach contract workers. She felt personally threatened that one had approached her, actually come into HER office and presumed to hand her union literature. "And because the government protects unions so much, I'm not even allowed to throw the garbage out, once I've touched it. It's horrible." I nodded sympathetically and made vague "uh-huh" noises. I was surprised to see somebody who *looked* working-class, being so strongly opposed to labor organizing.

Our policy is to deal with every employee honestly and fairly. To respect and recognize them as individuals; to provide good working conditions with competitive wages and benefits. In our opinion, unionization or any third party intervention would interfere with the individual treatment, respect, and recognition we value. It is our sincere belief that a third party would only hinder our mutual goals and objectives, as well as subjecting our employees to the payment of union dues. For these reasons, we think remaining union free is the best way to conduct our business.

If you are ever approached concerning unionization or card signing, we would suggest you seek advice and information from your Branch Manager. Or you may address any questions you may have on this subject to [agency] Human Resources at [phone]. Find out all the facts before making a decision.

I had to sign a statement that I had read it and understood it. The facing page explained how the staffing agency took pride in their values, and the companies they worked with shared those values. I didn't want to discuss the matter with the vehemently anti-union recruiter, so I didn't ask, but I did wonder. Does that mean the company I wanted to work for shares the staffing agency's sincere belief that:
any third party intervention would interfere with the individual treatment, respect, and recognition we value?
Is that only unions? Or do they likewise resent OHSA interfering with how they treat their employees? The EEOC interfering with how they treat employees and prospective employees? The FDA interfering with how they interact with customers? *tsk* So many third parties are getting in the way of individual treatment these days.
adrian_turtle: (Default)
Back when I was working in a manufacturing environment, and there was a radio playing in the background, I remember being surprised by the prevailing narrative I was hearing over the radio (in country music, in talky ads.) It's been too long for me to remember exact wording; I just remember being surprised by the overall sense of union=menace. (Sometimes as financial corruption, sometimes as evil union organizers stalking people--decent folks have to watch out or they'll get you, sometimes just as thoughtful creative people have to be careful not to get stuck in a hopeless/meaningless/stupid union job.) Last month, I ran into some remarkable anti-union hostility, and what looked like real fear, from a woman who was on the poor side of working class, doing a job where she was exploited by her employer.

I don't think that hostility and fear comes from logical argument so much as it comes from stories. Those heartwarming songs about sticking with the union seem to be from my grandparents' time. Some of us still sing them, but they're relics. I can't think of many pro-union popular songs or stories created in my lifetime.
Click-Clack, Moo! Cows that Type, is the strongest example that came to mind.
I think the 1631 series is pro-union, though I didn't find it readable.
I don't think Bruce Springsteen lyrics really count. "For my 19th birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat," is part of an image about giving up on dreams rather than achieving them. He's just sympathetic about feeling trapped.
There's a little pro-union sympathy off to the side in Orbital Resonance.
Are there lots of others I'm missing?
adrian_turtle: (Dracomir)
and move like lightning. I zoomed down to NYC Friday morning, to go to Redbird's family seder Friday afternoon. (It is their family custom that "the first night of Passover" lasts until the second night begins, allowing a 24 hour interval in which to schedule each seder. As one of the aunts lives in a distant suburb and does not drive at night, the family seders are early by the clock and late by the calender, relative to other NY seders. But they're a lot of fun.) As I discovered at last year's seder, I really like Vicki's aunts. And her quiet uncle. And her loud cousin. I met more cousins this year, and liked them, too.

I wasn't surprised that Redbird's family welcomed me. Let all who are hungry come and eat, and all that. Beyond that, they love Redbird and know I'm important to her (even though they might not be entirely clear on the details.) They are sufficiently kind and welcoming as to welcome her loud cousin's implausible partner, a man so rude and obnoxious as to make Vicki and I wonder why she puts up with him. But I was surprised that her family was impressed with my singing. I used to be enthusiastic about singing, and think of my voice as sort of medium-good, but not anything special. But in the mid-1990s, I gradually came to realize that my singing was not nearly as good as I thought, and social groups where people sang were welcoming me despite my voice. (And my ear is good enough that I'm very aware that voice is not nearly as good now as it was in the mid-1990s.) So it feels oddly pleasant to have a welcoming group become even more welcoming when they hear me sing.

After a pleasant day with [ profile] redbird, [ profile] cattitude, [ profile] alanro visiting from afar, and [ profile] roadnotes, whom we visited from anear, I zoomed home this morning. My clever plan was to arrive in Boston at 3:30, at my apartment at 4:30, and head out to do census work at 5 (after putting some electricity into my phone and some warmer clothes on me.) I finished one assignment before leaving, and my boss was going to "send a new one to your handheld computer on Saturday, so you can start it when you get back" (ie, without bothering him on Easter Sunday.) Knowing only that the assigned area would be in Arlington, it seemed reasonable that I could get there without driving in half an hour and work a couple of hours before dark. Hah. That presumes a functional handheld computer. I fussed with the stupid thing until 5, then called the help desk. At 5:45, I was able to discover that my boss had not sent a new assignment. Not that I would want to ask him for it now,* as it would be awfully close to sunset by the time I could get out there. The job involves vast quantities of walking around, climbing stairs, and being polite to strangers. I'm good at all that. It's still turning out to be a tremendous physical strain for my hands and arms to cope with the little computer (which I resent more than its inherent flaws may deserve.) I resent my body for not being capable of the long intervals of work that fit conveniently in my schedule. So of course I resent anything that interferes with working in the moderately short intervals that seem like a reasonable compromise between spending all my time on travel and wearing myself out with pain.

*ETA: I started this post at 4:47, as the timestamp indicates, planning to just write about travel and the seder. But "now" refers to when I finished writing it, after 6.
adrian_turtle: (Default)
On Friday, I had the best job loss experience of my career. It followed 3 months of my boss and colleagues being nice to me. (Sometimes they showed disturbingly bad judgment, but they were consistently nice to me.) The company's finances depend on selling stuff to big US auto manufacturers. So this is a hard time for them, generally. My boss, and everybody I talked to, said they were sorry to lose me, and wanted to have me back sometime. It was a nice thing to say, and I was not too depressed to believe them.

Some of the people I talked to revealed an interesting class bias. It was bad enough that the company was laying off all those temps in manufacturing. (But that was somehow ok. These things happen.) "But you're different! You're an engineer. It's not right for the company to get rid of somebody like you, all of a sudden like that." I know it was kindly meant, and it was encouraging as such, but it was still a little uncomfortable.

So I am starting a new job search, yet again. It's always scary, but at least this time I am not starting in a state of crushing depression and the belief that I can't do anything right.


Mar. 25th, 2008 06:57 pm
adrian_turtle: (Default)
A recruiter called me this morning to say the company was hiring somebody else for the temporary technician job (that would be a long commute for me.) It wasn't clear if my commitment to stay for a 6-month contract was not convincing, or of they wanted somebody who wasn't so overqualified, that might be willing to stay with that level of job, indefinitely. Another factor was that they could get the other candidate for less money. That doesn't seem quite right, as my only discussion of salary was with the recruiter (who works for an independent contract agency, not the hiring company.)
Recruiter: What hourly rate do you want?
Adrian: I can be pretty flexible. Do you know how much they're offering?
Recruiter: [number]
Adrian: Wow. Are you sure?
Recruiter: Lemme check. Just a minute. [pause] Yeah. [same number] Is that ok?
Adrian: Yeah, I can work with that.

So, I could work with it, but it turns out they couldn't. Something about the process makes me feel cheated, but the end result with me not having to do the long commute for 6 months may be some kind of win.

health insurance difficulties )

I thought I'd grab my tax return, my driving license, and my passport*, and catch the next bus. I finished my taxes a few days ago, and all the documents were right where I remembered putting them. The problem was that I couldn't find my passport. Or my social security card, for that matter. They're probably together. I brought them both to work, to show HR in the middle of December. I don't remember where I put them after that. I've been turning the apartment upside down in search of them. This is really scary. I thought I only needed to find somebody to offer me a job, and to find the money to pay for health insurance. What could I do with either one without proof of citizenship**?

*My passport expired in November, but I haven't renewed it. I didn't want to send the old one off to the State Department and be without it for 2 months when I might need the proof of citizenship to start a new job.

**Proof of legal residency would probably be ok, if I were a citizen of someplace else. But as I AM a US citizen, not just a US taxpayer, I need to prove it.


Dec. 30th, 2007 01:08 pm
adrian_turtle: (Default)
(LJ asks about adult content these days, but they don't have a setting for juice boxes and chocolate milk.)

I'm having a little trouble packing lunches for work. With a 30 minute lunch break, nobody goes out for lunch. I am always terribly cold in this workplace, and hot food in the middle of the day seems to help a little. There is a lunchroom, with a sink, microwave ovens, coffee makers, tables and chairs, a tv. I started out just putting some tangerines and a little rubbermaid container of beans and rice in my backpack. Then I realized I needed to carry eating utensils, as well as food. Having a fork and an apple both tossing around loose in my backpack can be hard on the fruit. And I found it awkward to take my flatware, food, and cup out of my pack and carry them across the plant to the lunchroom (yet taking my whole pack to lunch is completely inappropriate.)

I tried the insulated lunchbox I bought a few years ago for another purpose. It will hold one medium rubbermaid container and one small one (or a fair-sized apple), along with a juice box and flatware. I don't like how much room it takes in my backpack, or how hard it is to pack around it. (It's strange that I have so much trouble working around it, because most of what I'm carrying is small notebooks, small electronic gadgets, and personal insulation. Nothing big and rigid.) I've seen cleverly designed bento boxes, but they seem cleverly designed for carrying cold lunches, and it's important to me to have something hot. More important, they seem cleverly designed for presenting lots of little bits and pieces of things, which would seem to involve more preparation than I can handle. When I have a big apple, I'd rather just take bites of it than fuss with making slices fit in the fruit cup, and worry about what to do with the other 2/3 of the apple. But I would like a way to keep the flatware from cutting up the apple before lunchtime.

Do any of you have suggestions? Either for what to take for lunch, or how to pack it? I want something I can reheat in the microwave and eat quickly. I want it to be reasonably healthy, with some vegetables, and substantial enough to be my main meal. (I often come home too tired to bother with dinner.) I don't eat anything with pork, shellfish, or dairy products. Eggs are fine. I'm dubious about bringing fish or cooked cruciferous vegetables in close quarters, partly because the smell might be impolite to my colleagues, and partly because I might not want to deal with the smell when I have a migraine flare. And of course it needs to be packed compactly, and enough to eat to get me through the afternoon and early evening. Shepherd's pie sort of works. Though with the amount I can bring in the medium rubbermaid container that fits in my lunchbox, and either an apple or some celery, I'm awfully hungry in the late afternoon.

Silk makes things like juiceboxes, only with chocolate soymilk. I would think of them as an expensive snack...but they're a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks for hot chocolate, both in terms of money and time. I started putting one in my lunchbox with the intent of drinking it at lunchtime, but I found I don't want a cold drink at lunch. I end up drinking it on my way home (or on my way to an evening appointment), after I've been in the car for 10-15 minutes and I'm starting to feel thoroughly warm.
adrian_turtle: (Dracomir)
Before I started working, I was worried about the commute. The distance is scary. Being so unfamiliar with the area (geographically, and in terms of not knowing anybody locally to ask for help) is scary. Long hours are scary. Unspecified long hours where I am susceptible to being pressured because I am trying so hard to prove myself in a new job, new career, new industry I desperately want...that's scary too. Having an ice storm just before my first day nearly took the whole thing over the top from anxiety into a sort of parody of horror-movies.

ice, day 1, late to work )

work itself )

ice, day 2, getting a ride )

a little context )

This afternoon, I did not remember the old correspondence in such detail. I simply told my boss that I did have transportation, even when the weather was bad enough that I did not feel safe driving. The commuter rail station is only 2 miles away, and that's an easy walk for me. The only difficulty is getting to work after 8am, but it looks like quite a few people seem to come in at 8:30 or 9. He said rather grudgingly that it might be ok if I came in a few minutes late occasionally, when the weather was very bad. (I decided the hole was deep enough and I ought to stop digging. I thanked him, and said I didn't expect it would be an issue again until after Christmas, anyhow.) The next 2 days are going to be horrible, with a mix of snow and rain. I need to drive through it, though. Because I have places to be in the late afternoon/early evening on this side of town. Not just because I've just discovered my boss considers "driving to work" a kind of job requirement, and it's uncomfortable to negotiate for "driving to work except in severe weather," when I really don't want to do it at all.
adrian_turtle: (Dracomir)
I started work at my new job yesterday. I think it's mostly been going well, though I haven't really been doing much in the way of useful work yet. I'm working in such a regulated environment that I need to start by reading huge stacks of official company policies and signing official logs to document that I've had the initial training on the subject. I'm filling up my little notebook, trying to keep track of everything. (Writing from the front, I have notes about how to distinguish between Standard Operating Procedures, called SOPs, and Manufacturing Operating Procedures, called OPs. Writing from the back, I have notes about how silly it is that the [Manufacturing] OPs are more standardized than the SOPs, wondering why their identity as manufacturing goes without saying. Also a reminder to bring in my heatproof mug with the filter basket and cover, along with my electric kettle and some gingerbread tea, as the place has no access to boiling water.)

Last week, I talked to a new physical therapist about my shoulder. He wasn't a bit scary. (That's kind of weird, in retrospect, considering past experience and that he did end up hurting me a little. But he was really courteous, and I believe he did not hurt me more than necessary. Maybe I was just maxed out on fear at the time.) He told me I was using trapezius way too much, using it for motions usually controlled by other muscles in the shoulder and arm. Both of them, really. But on the left, I had done it so much that the muscle was in spasm. He recommended heat, and told me how to hold the arm that was supposed to make the trapezius unspasm. When I just sat still on the couch and did it, I didn't feel like I was accomplishing anything. Then I did the position thing at work, continuing to write with my right hand. Wow. After about 2 minutes, I could feel tension in my left shoulder decrease about 10%, while the pain in my right hand increased suddenly, dramatically, and much more than 10%. It's almost like the anti-ergonomic configuration of my left shoulder makes it more comfortable for me to write with the limitations of my right hand. My mother limped for 40 years because an old knee injury prevented her from straightening her right knee all the way (and she wouldn't wear orthopedic shoes with a lift, of course.) The limp threw her gait out of alignment, which damaged her left hip. Right knee to left him is not much closer than right hand to left shoulder, but it seems to make more sense. I don't know. I'm to see the PT again Thursday.
adrian_turtle: (Default)
I have been keeping lab notebooks for 20 years. I figure the overlaps (where I was keeping more than one notebook at a time) make up for the interruptions. Sometimes I did it for a class or an employer, and was constrained by their format requirements. I've never kept a perfect notebook, though some years have been a lot further from perfect than others. It's remarkable - so many people keep lab notebooks, and have been doing it for so long, I would expect us to have evolved some kind of optimal way of doing this. And we have evolved a reasonably *consistent* way of doing it, but it's really a pain in the ass.

I just started using a different blank notebook for my lab notebook. Lab notebooks have a particular look and feel -- if you use them, you know what it is. The pages are mostly graph paper, with detailed indexing information at the top of every page. (Not just a project name, but titles and subtitles.) There are reference numbers every 5 lines so you can cite part of a page. At the bottom of the page, there's a space to sign and date, and another space for a witness to sign and date. And a preprinted reminder that the whole thing is proprietary information. (This wonderful notebook is not suitable for private or academic use, more's the pity.) The center margin is wider than usual, and it opens quite flat so it's easy to write on even the early pages. Even if a person only has one hand available. The cover extends a bit further than usual, and is very rigid -- it supports the book well enough to write on it.

But those are matters of construction, and probably more related to paper being cheap (or lab notebooks being expensive) than to any particular insight about how lab notebooks are used. What inspired me to post was the Table of Contents. Every blank lab notebook I've ever used has a table of contents. Sometimes the notebook comes with "Table of Contents" preprinted on some blank pages at the front, to remind the user to make one as he or she goes. Sometimes I write "Table of Contents" on the first page to remind myself. And put [experiment 1] pages 3-8 on one line. Then maybe a few months later I'll come back and put [other experiment 2] pages 9-20 on another line. And I'll fret about whether the discussion on 21-24 really properly counts as a separate experiment, and give the thing up as a bad business. Grepping dead goats is hard.

The Table of Contents for my wonderful new lab notebook shows a page number, and a big blank space for the subject, and a smaller blank space for the date, for every page in the notebook. Every page gets a subject heading as I fill it in. I've skimmed page headings of notebooks (and you know lab notebooks are not little flippable pages like mass-market paperbacks) looking for something in my old work, or the old work of someone else. This kind of table of contents is MUCH better for that kind of searching. It may even be better than thematic chapter/project titles. 20 years of my own lab notebooks. Hundreds of other people's notebooks. Yet this idea, which could have been invented 200 years ago, comes as a revelation to me.

to don't

Dec. 9th, 2005 07:32 pm
adrian_turtle: (Default)
1) Don't try to drive on icy roads. If you can't get there by T, and you can't get a ride, do you really need to be there before this mess melts?

2) Don't set a car on fire.

3) Don't try to do 3 days worth of work in the 2 days before you are going to take a day off, especially if you are taking the day off because you're exhausted and stressed out.

4) Don't be completely irresponsible about walking away from a crisis that is costing the company you work for (or one of their customers) lots of money, just because you want to take a day off. Not even if 2/3 of the company is leaving work early because of snow.

5) Don't take parts of shared equipment out of the engineering shop. Don't even hide them. The main machines stay in place, being large and heavy. The critical measurement devices are usually more-or-less in place, either on the machine or a nearby shelf or table. But when the fiddly little specialized gadget that holds the measurement device on the main machine goes missing, and a person is trying to take a measurement before rushing off because someone said, "I can give you a ride home if you're leaving in 10 minutes," it does not add to the general spirit of joyful cooperation.

6) Don't install windows like the ones in this apartment building. Not only do they make it impossible to install a window air-conditioner, but they tend to slide open slightly in strong winds.

at will

Sep. 26th, 2005 07:35 pm
adrian_turtle: (Default)
I work for a young company, though no longer a startup. (We're a big preschool company now!) Hardly anybody plays with the foosball table in the lunchroom anymore. There are more than 100 of us. We've had the grand tidiness protocol for months, so we can impress investors and major customers who come to visit. People who aren't in sales are starting to wear clicky shoes and make a certain effort to look respectable.

And they've been firing people. It's awful. (Copyeditors? Is that we/they shift as inevitable as it seems?) Firing an accountant who was trying to embezzle, or an engineer who was always skipping work to go fishing, is about the scale of their previous firings...easy decisions. There were even some situations where summer interns and temp workers who very much wanted to be hired full time were dismissed at the end of the term and someone else was hired instead. But that's different. Now it looks like they're firing competent people who just aren't quite good enough. Or people who are very good, but might have been working on the wrong projects. Even under ideal circumstances, I tend to be insecure. This is not good for me.

News is spreading in nerve-wracking ways. One person was in the middle of a project, distributed a preliminary report last Monday, and people with questions about her ongoing project Tuesday morning were just informed she was no longer working for the company. This caused some distress through the department. I don't have anyone reporting to me directly, so it's not my decision (thank goodness.) I'm just second-guessing my boss and the managers of other departments. Thinking from the perspective of the person being fired, I can understand wanting to have it over with and keep it quiet. Though someone who was not depressive and easily intimidated might prefer more publicity or space for grievances. From the perspective of colleagues still here, it really sucks not to know what's going on.


adrian_turtle: (Default)

March 2016



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