A few days before my birthday, I was talking to my friend Craig and he asked if I was planning anything. When I told him it would be nice to do something low key with a few friends but that I had not yet dealt with it, he kindly offered and I accepted (the best birthday gift for me is not to have to plan anything for my birthday, so this was perfect). At first, I was a little sad about the fact that several of my close friends are out of town, and for some reason I was under the impression that many who were here would not be able to attend. I sent Craig a list of emails of people to invite, and to my surprise almost everyone showed up. The weather was perfect, and we dined outside on the patio of one of my favorite restaurants. It was funny, I realized that most of this group did not know each other. I am not someone who generally keeps my friends in separate compartments, but when I think about it, I guess New York is a lot about going out in smaller groups and seeing people individually for more focused, quality time. That said, everyone seemed to get along really well, and we were quite the diverse group with five separate nationalities in attendance (American, French, Irish, Mexican, and Serbian). I had a fantastic time, the evening and company were perfect — a surprising and wonderful birthday.
For some reason, this one really snuck up on me. I of course have known my birthday was coming up for some time. But the number 45 only really struck me a couple of days ago. And it hit me hard enough that I began asking myself if it was really true. Really? 45? Aren’t I only 44? No…1967, that would make this…wow. What is it about our propensity to mark things in 10 year increments, and then find milestones in half of those? Let’s face it, 50 will be a biggie, but 45 puts me on the downside of this decade doesn’t it, and somehow calls for a little greater reflection than the mere 4,3,2 and 1 years that preceded it. It has more weight, more heft, and makes me a little more reflective about where I am at this moment in my life. In some ways, things have never been more stable and certain. I have a wonderful place to live, family and friends, plenty of work to keep me busy. The terms of my life are largely the ones I set. I am smart enough to know that there is no such thing as true security, and to be comfortable in my freelance life, knowing that sometimes there will be an abundance, and sometimes a lack. And not just with work, everything changes — it is the one constant in life, and we are all a part of it.
45 makes me think a lot about the ages of the worlds we occupy, and what that says about our culture. Americans (perhaps more than any other group) are a youth-obsessed nation, in complete denial about death, always attracted to the shiny and new. Even this past weekend’s gay pride made me reflect on that in a number of ways. I have been out long enough, and have participated in enough party weekends to have been a little nonplussed over it. And the idea of going to some all night dance party, which once held such a great appeal to me, now seemed like a lot of effort for not much benefit. But even so, there was a pull, something tugging at me. And that tugging was a wistfulness for something lost in the transition from younger to older. This is where I am right now, and I want to honor it, be honest about it. Every moment in our lives is a new one, a new place, a world in itself. In very real ways we live a new life in every moment, but there is no guidebook, and nor should there be. So who really knows how one should be at any age? When you think about it, it is really strange how we alone among the animals experience time in the way we do, have memories of the past, experience of the present, and project ourselves into the future. But all the experiences I have had have pointed me over and over again to the most striking beauty of the present moment. And in this moment, I see the sun rising (because I am always an early riser), and feel a nice breeze coming in through the window. New York is waking up, I can hear it starting to shake with the movement of people and construction and the flow of traffic. My coffee is in hand, I am standing at my desk writing this, I am thinking about taking a walk, I am alive, and well, and here.
Perhaps it is in anticipation of my impending birthday tomorrow, but I got itchy fingers looking at my closet earlier today. To my eyes, it was cluttered with unused junk. Usually around once a year I go through and get rid of stuff that I haven’t used in a year, but for some reason this closet in my room seems to have accumulated more crap over a longer period, and it was suddenly sticking in my craw. I threw away that massive TV box that I for some reason have kept for two years (for some vague fear of having to move, or what, I can not honestly say). I threw away some old bills and statements. I got rid of various slings and wrappings and devices used to help me get through my shoulder surgery of late 2010. I got rid of a few coats, a bunch of t-shirts, some ugly worn winter wear, an old set of sheets and 2 pairs of shoes, all stuffed into an old laundry duffel that I will deliver tomorrow to some charity. I always feel more whole the less I have. Tomorrow I plan to take the whole day off from work (please, no “emergencies” from any of my clients tomorrow) and think about the process of aging and stuff.
I have long been looking for an easy way to auto post to facebook from my blog instead of the manual process I go through currently. I have tried various plugins, but they all fell short for a variety of reasons. Either they were tied to some other company’s system (and advertising), or they didn’t post correctly, or they were such a hassle to “automate” that going the manual route didn’t seem so bad. So when I heard that Facebook themselves had just released a “comprehensive” WordPress plugin, I was excited to try it out. It is not for the faint of heart, I can tell you that. I am a very technical person, and the hoops one needs to navigate for this solution make it extremely unlikely to be used by the casual blogger, which is a shame. This SHOULD be something easy to setup, but as designed, it is a nightmare. It requires one to:
1. Sign up as a developer at facebook (which I had already done a while ago, so)
2. Create an “app” for this purpose (which I had already done once before, so I figured why not extend that a little)
3. Fill out a plethora of ill-labeled and meaningless forms, and if that wasn’t enough of an insult,
4. Go through a series of byzantine steps to add “actions” to your “open graph”, and then submit those actions for approval, with no damn feedback from facebook about how long the process should take, etc.
Suffice it to say that by step 4 I wanted to strangle the assholes at facebook for trying to pass off this plugin as anything approaching user-friendliness. But I was too far down the rabbit hole at the end of step three, pulling my hair out wondering why oh why it would not publish to my timeline, so I pressed on like a wounded war soldier, hoping for allied light in the distance.
Facebook just informed me via email that my “actions” have been approved, so here goes…will this publish to my timeline as hoped…?
Some years, I just don’t really put a lot of energy into gay pride. I am of course aware of it all around me, but the previous brouhaha seems missing somehow. It is not that I am any less passionate about my equal rights and fighting for them. It is just that after 20 or so years of being out and experiencing numerous pride parades, celebrations, dance parties, and events over the years it falls a little flat. Still, I went to a sweet pre-pride cocktail party last night and met some nice people, some of whom invited me to a large brunch with a bunch of strangers, so I will probably attend that today. I love the opportunity for random encounters with new people. I guess depending on the number of brunch cocktails, we will see about approaching the throngs of the proud…
One of the things I always missed about the Midwest and East Coast regions when I lived all those years in California was the presence of intense thunderstorms in the summertime. To see really raging storms with wind and intense, jagged lightning bolts striking the ground, and then the crash of thunder — these were things we never really experienced in San Francisco or LA. I got a small taste of that yesterday on my way to meet a friend for coffee. The wind started to pick up and the humidity and temp changed pretty rapidly with the fast approaching storm. I couldn’t help but smile at the memories of past storms and the refreshing embrace of the climate around me. The lightening was intense and close by, and the loud thunder followed soon after. I know some people are frightened by it, but to me it seemed more like an old friend showing off than something menacing. I made it to the cafe just before the worst of the downpour, and I loved watching all the people take shelter inside and wait out the rain, there was something really communal about it.
As I have gotten better at what I do, I have gotten faster as well. The same type of complex website that took me 40 hours to accomplish 3 years ago, I can now do in 20 or less. I have only raised my rates about 25% in that time, so people actually are getting websites for a lot less money from me these days. And yet, people balk at an hourly wage that they consider to be too high. I am considering starting to quote project fees (which I hate to do) instead of hourly estimates, because then people can imagine hundreds of hours going into their project, whether it is true or not. This is the problem of bean counting, and I have been fighting against it my whole life. The quality of a project is almost completely divorced from the amount of time one puts into it, but people are loathe to understand that, mostly because they don’t have the intellectual tools at their disposal to evaluate quality. Hours are a fixed value that they can measure. In their head, more hours = more work = better product. People love the illusion of quantifiable results. But they are just that alas, an illusion. The crappiest designer in the world can spend 500 hours on something that won’t look as good as the best will produce in 5 hours. If the cost of the crappiest designer is $10 per hour and the cost of the best is $100, you just saved $4500 by hiring the best.
One of the clients I do a lot of work for has programmers in India doing much of the coding work on their web application. My client is in LA, and I am in New York, and let’s just say managing three time zones is a bit of a hassle. Usually, when I am going to bed, the programmer is just coming in, and we have little over lap, so I often stay up too late trying to communicate with them, or asking them to come in early or stay late to no avail. The more we have worked with this programmer, the more I am certain that whatever theoretical savings there are to be gained in a lower hourly wage are way more than eaten up with inefficiencies, missed communications, or just plain unresponsiveness. Although my client supposedly has this programmer “full time”, we are usually lucky to get an hour a day of actual work out of this guy. I don’t blame him entirely, because it seems quite likely that his bosses (both in India and representative selling his work in LA) have actually sold him (and many like him) at “full time” many times over to many clients. And they go out of their way to obfuscate the work or time necessary to do things, preying on the ignorance of their clients and the distance. Here are a few of the issues:
1. Time difference – as noted above, it is hard to have productive overlap with the programmer there, and we lose a lot of time waiting a whole day for a response to a problem or question.
2. Non accountability – Although I have demanded many procedures that will help us account for time, they are crazy reluctant to agree to any of them (such as source code control on our servers) and when they do agree, they drag their feet or simply ignore it until we ask again. And again. And again.
3. Low skill level – Our programmer is both low skilled and extremely slow. It is hard to know which is his worse characteristic. And some of his slowness could just be that his taskmasters are assigning him many other projects at the same time, despite his “dedicated” status.
4. Deliberate obfuscation – In order to maintain their illusions, they often quote ridiculously long development times for things, delay communications, and simply ignore requests they don’t want to deal with.
In short, my experience with outsourcing, while limited, sucks very badly. I am just glad it isn’t my money on the table, I wouldn’t put up with this for as long as my client has. That said, they are not technical, so I can imagine it has been easier to pull the wool over their eyes. And it is probably the same story across the country with well meaning (or not) managers that think they are saving money, when often they are getting screwed. I think I have finally convinced my client they need to find someone new, and I will begin looking for a new programmer for them in the coming weeks. One who is accountable and skilled, who may cost more money per hour, but will be far more productive.