Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Well, crap on a stick.

Things are just not going well today. The server at work has crashed- permanently.

I find it somewhat ironic that a similar situation caused me to start this blog; 4 years ago:
The server at work blew up.


I was trying to get rid of the damn AdSense bar, and screwed up my template in the process. This place will look like ass for a little while, until I can find my old template code, and fix it.

If I can find my old template code.

If not, a remodel will be in the works!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Plan

After I quit writing on here in 2006, things actually got much better at Humongo. They were so much better, in fact, that I could actually see myself staying with the company for a good, long time.

Then we moved to Houston. I transferred to the Humongo office here. Things went into the crapper, quickly.

I'm not blaming Houston, because I really like it here. Even though this is the first time I have lived here, Houston gives me an "at home" feeling that I never got in Dallas.

The problem with the Houston Humongo office was, it had only been in existence for 2-3 months before I transferred in. There were absolutely no projects in the office. I can't stand the hectic workload I have now, but I can't stand having absolutely nothing to do, either.

I'm not a marketer- never have been, never will be. While the 3 senior guys were out chasing work, I sat, bored as hell, for 8 hours a day. On the surface, it sounds great; but let me tell you, it's awful. For a while, I took my sketchbook and markers in, and drew cartoons prolifically. However, the guilt over blatantly goofing off all day got to me- not that I had anything productive to do, but the guilt is a powerful force. I could think of nothing else but what I could be accomplishing if I weren't stuck at "work." I would wander around downtown at lunch, sometimes for 2 hours, alone. The other folks in the office, while really nice, all had at least 10 years on me. Not much to talk about after a while.

Also, I was the only one in the office who knew how to use I wasn't liking where that was heading. During my 2-year hiatus from blogging, I earned some hard-won experience as a Project Manager/ Architect. Trying to stomach moving back down the food chain to pure CAD Monkey was not possible.

So I left, to go to where I am now, with the shiny new prospect of working with my best friend from college (definitely not Dude). Sure, I'd be taking a pay cut, and losing tons of benefits, but it'll be okay, right? Because I won't be doing healthcare work anymore, and I won't have to deal with big-office politics, and I'll be working in a more laid-back environment, right?

Those last three things are true. However. Dude is an ass. That's all I'll say about him for this post, because it's too damn long already.

Although I'm going to try my damndest to stick it out for 2 years, at the very least I simply cannot go back to a large company without having some sort of friends in this town. I know that sounds stupid, but when I think back to the worst part about Humongo Houston, it was the crushing loneliness. Currently, I have 12 architectural co-workers (the Dudes don't count), and 9 of them are kick-ass people. Socializing with them is often the only thing that makes going into work bearable.

Because I have become so thoroughly involved in all aspects of projects, there is great potential for me to make excellent contacts- and not just in architecture. For reasons I won't go into here, there are possible art world contacts to be made.

My plan, as much as I ever have one, is thus:
  • I'm going to stick it out until I can make some friends outside of work, so that I have a damn support system in place when I make yet another difficult career move. The last three jumps have been made on my gut, not with my brains; and they were tough.
  • I'm going to force myself to gradually work less each week, with an ultimate goal of 40 hours.
  • I'm going to force myself to not feel guilty about it (this will take some work), and not let Dude's idea of an acceptable amount of hours dictate how I feel about this.
  • I'm not going to let Dude get under my skin anymore. This may be damn near impossible.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Dammit, Google.

Yesterday, I followed the "In Memoriam of Randy Pausch" link at the bottom of the Google start page, and watched the video of his "Final Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon (it's over an hour long, but it's totally worth it).

It is this kind of thing that makes me feel all kinds of crappy. This man had terminal cancer, and had accepted the fact that he was going to die. He was completely satisfied with how his life turned out. He made achieving all his childhood dreams sound so easy.

If I found out I had terminal cancer, I'd be pissed as hell. This is not the life I want to leave behind. I feel like I've been stuck in some sort of financial-physical-social stasis since 2004; and I've been powerless to get things moving again.

One of the things he said resonated deeply with me:

Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.

I've certainly been getting a lot of experience over the last few years. All of it has got to be worth something.

On the positive side, the video served as a pretty swift (if temporary, as always) kick in the ass. Ever since watching it, I've spent the entire weekend working on my art. I accomplished a lot. This weekend was good, and restful, and I'm ready to face tomorrow at work.

Which is good, since I'm thinking about trying to stay. I know, I know! I'm just a big ol' waffle. Running may not be the answer, for once.

I'll come back to this later. Too tired now.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sweet Sweet Karma


[deep breath]


Dude got a sticker put on his car window by building management, for parking in a Reserved spot one too many times.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ding Dong Doo

I want to leave a flaming bag of poo on my boss's doorstep.

I have been absolutely infuriated with him, non-stop, since Tuesday. Over the course of the last 9 1/2 months, I've come to realize that he is an asshole. It took a little longer to figure out, because it's hidden beneath a slippery layer of "he seems like an okay guy." However, when I think about what has been pissing me off so badly about my job, Dude is what I keep returning to as the cause.

Lemme 'splain.

Codes, regulating agencies, and city officials; while often annoying; are in place for a reason. They're not my favorite thing, but I work with them. Dude, on the other hand, sees them (and rules in general) as things to be thwarted and dodged whenever he doesn't like what they're dictating.

Minor example: The first two floors of the office parking garage only have parking spots marked "Visitor" and "Reserved." The building management has asked that we not park in spots designated with either of those labels; we are instead to park in the unmarked spots on the third level. No big, right? Unless you're Dude. He insists on parking in the Visitor spots on the second floor, even though the management has already caught him doing it once, and asked him not to.

Major example: I'm working on a renovation project that began as carpet/ wallcovering/ millwork only, but has now grown into the need to open up and replace the ceiling. Dude has insisted from Day One that we wouldn't need a building permit for this project. Before the ceiling became part of the scope, I could agree with him. However, the city's permitting requirements clearly state (which I printed out and highlighted for him) that any work involving the exposure of framing- like, oh, I don't know, replacing the entire ceiling- requires a permit. Despite this, he has continued to insist a permit isn't required.

His initial reason for not wanting to permit was time-related, as the Owner wanted to get this job moving as soon as possible (the majority of the delays have been because of Dude, ironically). Once we received the engineer's drawings on what would be required for the ceiling work, Dude started to come around to the concept that, yes, a permit was going to be required.

Cue the Owner getting pissed off. One of the permit requirements is an asbestos report. I have to ask the Owner for this. The Ower asks, "isn't this something we could have gotten started with months ago?" Yep. It sure is, if I had been allowed to start the permitting process properly (heh, alliteration).

Additionally, Texas accessibility rules state that if your project is over $50k, you have to submit for accessibility review. The bids came in at $300k, minimum. I told Dude that we would need to submit to the State, but again, he resisted. His stance was, "it's only carpet and paint." The rules don't say, "over $50k, but not if it's only carpet and paint." Guess what? When the contractor started to pull the permit...the city requires an accessibility review registration number! Surprise!

Except not really.

I was so pissed off that even the "I Told Him So" dance didn't relieve it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's a Generational Thing

I just got off the phone with my mother.

I absolutely cannot (and should not) talk to her about work. She comes from a completely different frame of reference on all-things-work. When I tell her that Dude is a pain in the ass, she tells me I need to change my attitude. When I say I'm thinking of looking for a new job, because I'm tired of working 50+ hours a week for crap pay (yes, I know I did it to myself); she says I need to stay put, because "bad times are coming." Never mind the fact that most firms in Houston are still hiring prodigiously. Never mind that the reason I got a damn college degree was so I could have choices about where I work- if not exactly about what I do.

I know where part of my frustration with her comes from. For the longest time, I blamed her for not "letting" me be an Art major when I entered college- she told me "I'd never be able to make a living that way." Truthfully, I should be angry at myself for not having the huevos to pursue what I wanted, and stop placing blame on her.

The more unhappy I am at work, the more I venture into The Land of Regret- even though I know I'm too damn old to start over. Taking a small pay cut was bad enough. Starting over at $38k- and with student loan debt- would be impossible.

I constantly think of ways I can manage to remain in the industry (see above, RE: too damn old to start over). I believe I have narrowed down the 3 things I want out of a job- though I don't know where to find said job, or if I'm fooling myself by thinking it exists:
  1. I want to work 40 hours a week, period.
  2. I don't want to wear a damn business suit, or even "business-y type" clothes every day.
  3. I want $62k, which, according to the salary report I purchased recently, is what I'm worth.

I know I can't realistically ask for "less stress," "less frustration," or "less jack-assy project schedules," so I'm not even going to bother.

So tell me, Houston Architecture World, does such a job exist?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Big vs. Little

Over the last nine years of my "illustrious career," I've bounced back and forth between working for small firms (fewer than 25 people), and working for large firms (300-1000 people). There are good and bad things to both, of course.

Here's the breakdown on how the current place (17 people) measures up:

Good: The dress code is very relaxed
(not that we actually even have a dress code). I am allowed to, and often do, wear this shirt.

Bad: I have gained so much weight as a result of stress eating, that I couldn't wear any of my suits if I wanted to.

Good: things that I couldn't do at my previous, large-firm job, that I can do now:
  • take 90-minute to 2-hour lunches, and nobody says a thing
  • drink beer at lunch
Bad: things I could do at my previous job that I can't do now:
  • work 40 hours a week maximum
  • take vacation without having to answer my phone for a work-related call

Good/Bad: I didn't have Project Manager duties at my last job. I do now.
Bad: I'm getting paid less than my last job, though I have a whole lot more responsibility.

Good: I can cuss like a motherfucker, out loud, and it's perfectly acceptable.
Bad: I often have good reason to need to (see next item).

Bad: Things I had at my previous, large-firm job, that I don't have now:
  • in-house ability to print larger than 11"x 17"
    (My first job while in school was at a firm of 7 people. They had a plotter.)
  • a copier and/or scanner that will handle larger than 8.5"x 11"
    (we have a multifunction fax/copy/scan/print thing that is 5 years old, and does 90% of our printing)
  • access to anybody else's calendars
    (We don't have an exchange server. Seriously.)
  • e-mail that will send files larger than 5MB
  • IT support
    (We have a guy, who is friends with Dude, comes from a wealthy family, and only does IT as a time-filler for when he's not playing golf.)
  • access to MEP/structural consultants who are worth a damn
  • a boss who allows me to look at the project contracts
    (I only care about looking at the contract to determine what our firm's project-related responsibilities are. Dude is concerned that the staff will see "the numbers," by which he means "what the partners are getting paid." I really don't give a damn about that.)
  • paid disability leave
  • a retirement plan
  • performance reviews
  • a clear-cut timeline of when I could possibly receive a pay raise
  • direct-fucking-deposit
    (The absence of this, of all possible benefits, pisses me off the most.)

That puts the tally at 4 Good, 6 Bad.

But wait, should the last item count as one thing, or twelve? Some days it counts more heavily than others. For example, it was definitely a 12 during the week we were moving offices.

This is what our office felt like during that week:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What I'm Doing Right Now

Sitting on my ass in a coffee shop...but, wait!

It's not what you think. I'm not really slacking.

Well, I am, but it's not my fault. I was forced into it, pathetically enough.

Our office is moving, and through a complete and fucked-up lack of planning on the principals' parts, we don't have an office space this week. In fact, we may not have an office space next week, either.

Our crap is packed up in boxes in a storage room, which is doubling as a sad little workspace for the three marketing people as they desperately try to issue an RFQ. Despite the fact that they have no e-mail access. Or phones.

Dude (my uber-clever pseudo for Principal #1) told everyone to basically take the week off. That would be great, except that I kind of can't. I currently have a project in construction, and it's of the sort (a renovation with an unrealistic schedule) that has anywhere from one to twenty Crises-a-Day. I often have to answer RFIs and turn around submittals the same damn day they're given to me, because it's for something the contractor is mobilized to begin the same day or day following.
This project was already several months behind
schedule when I got on it last October (natch). I tried, in futility, to
tell the Principals that this project was not going to be done by
the Owner's specified date of the following August. The Substantial
Completion date is now set at September 3rd. There's no way
in hell we're making September 3rd, either. But I'm not wasting my time
trying to tell anyone that, this time. I'm just keeping it to myself,
because they won't listen anyway.

In order to give the (%$@*^!&) contractor this quick turnaround, I really really really need access to AutoCAD, the project's files, my contacts, the intarweb, Adobe Pro, Excel, and a courier service. I thought I could manage most of what I needed to accomplish by piecing together a "mobile office" with a flash drive, my home computer, a 30-day trial download of AutoCAD, and driving things to the consultants my damn self. I'm sure you can see where this is going- I was grossly incorrect in my assumption.

I don't have a printer, ever since an incident, ironically, stemming from me trying to print something for work, killed it. No problem, I thought, I'll just print to pdf. Nope. I didn't have the pen table files, so if I tried to print from AutoCAD to pdf, it would be all the crazy colors of the layers.

I don't have Excel on my home computer, so I can't even open the RFIs from the contractor, because they're in Excel format.

I can't do anything design-related, because I'm not authorized to select even a paint color for the door frame to a toilet without Dude's approval. He's been "unavailable" because of the build-out of the new office space. He's been doing very important stuff- for example, he blew me off all day Monday because he was picking out carpet. Even though I've been trying to get him to sit the hell down and pick flooring for my project, which has lead time issues, for months. (Going back to the digression, this is part of why the damn thing was/is so behind schedule.)

My home internet connection is notoriously sketchy, and about the third time it went out yesterday, it resulted in me having a major meltdown of the FUCK IT ALL TO HELL variety. I decided I'm just not going to try so hard to work, when my employer can't even provide me a fucking workplace.

So I'm at the coffee shop, sponging off their free Wi-Fi. And I may go get a massage now. The project, the contractor, the consultants, and Dude can all just go fuck themselves. Tomorrow I'm on vacation until the 7th.

Except for when I'm picking up fabric sample FedEx's from my front doorstep in my PJs.