williamallenpepper

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Archive for the month “August, 2012”

THE BLOG GUIDE TO (HOME) WORKPLACE SAFETY

Recently, at our day job, a police officer gave a lecture on workplace safety. It was informative. Appreciated. Useful. But, I think, a little misplaced. Who is more likely to (a) accidentally injure themselves or (b) snap and try to take out the schnauzer next door than a lonely writer/pyramid scheme deviser who is shut up alone in the spare bedroom all day?

So, this is for you all, reading this at your home computer, washer and wailing children droning in the background. Just a few suggestions to keep you all safe in your home offices. No need to thank me.

  • The Dangly Detector: Many workplaces have metal detectors to keep people from bringing in things they shouldn’t, like weapons and metal pans of cauliflower for the office snack day (I hate cauliflower. Also, who the hell brings vegetables to office snack day?!?!?!?!)

There’s not much worry about you bringing something like this into your own home. But you do still need a detector at your front door. Consider: when you work at home, you’re not bound by any employer’s dress code. You wear what you want to wear. Or as little as you want. Alfresco computing and collating is totally fine under the home employee manual. BUT…occasionally you do have to leave the house for a meeting or to pick up pipe cleaners for your home “presidential likenesses” business. And for that, you need to slap on some skivvies and coral whatever you had been allowing to run free. The Dangly Detector will alert you if you try to leave the house with unintended exposed anatomy.

  • The Boredom Suspension System: You know how it is, you’re alone in the house. No noise save for the occasional mew of the family house cat, allowing you a brief work respite to play crinkly ball with the feline. But then it’s back to work. It’s quiet, not very exciting. The words on the page blur before your eyes as they flutter, ushering you into unconsciousness. The head nods…

Well, sleep on the job no more! With our Boredom Suspension Process (Patent pending – don’t even think of stealing it. Look what happened to Samsung), you’ll have a serious of levers and pullies at your back – and neck and head and groin – to keep your head up. To awaken you, a series of precision-tuned lasers are directed into your eyeballs – or will be once we get the okay from the government. That shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Toast! The extra exclamation point is for how important this one is. What is the single biggest productivity killer for the American worker? Other than Twitter? That’s right: snack cravings. You’re sitting there, maybe you’re hungry, maybe you’re not. The spreadsheet spread out before you is way less interesting than the baklava in the fridge. Well, not all of us home workers have baklava on hand all the time – or a fridge – so we need another approach. We humbly suggest: a toaster, locked and loaded with your favorite bread substance. Cheap and tasty, just like the smell of a job well done. Or something.

Feel free to substitute microwavable egg cups if you wish. That is, if you don’t mind UNDERMINING THE ENTIRE ECONOMY SENDING US ALL INTO A FINANCIAL HELL PIT WHERE FOOD IS LITERALLY RIPPED FROM OUR CHILDREN’S MOUTHS! But you know, do what you want.

  • A Big Dog. A big dog serves many purposes for the home-based worker. It’s a companion to combat loneliness. It’s a sounding board for the account pitch you just wrote up. It gives you poop-related breaks throughout the day. It barfs on your keyboard. And a loyal dog has absolutely no qualms about taking out that jerk at the door bearing political literature if you’ll just give the command already.

Seriously. Get a dog.

President Obama, I just saved the US from another recession by jacking American productivity. By election day, the roads will be paved with gold and every single Kardashian will be off TV. You’ve got this one sewn up. The campaign is over. Just go ahead and send your leftover campaign funds to me. Thanks.

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THE BLOG GETS ALL SERIOUS

This week on the blog, we’re foregoing our usual silliness to talk seriously for a minute, an experiment in dubious intellectualism.

In this election cycle, and really even the rest of the time when the world makes somewhat more sense, I am annoyed (was going to say “shocked”, but I’d be lying) at how personally offended some people get at certain public laws. Even people who barely know how laws are made or who their elected representatives are, can become convinced a law was only passed to screw them over.

For example: smoking bans and gun laws. Whatever you believe about how these things should be regulated, can’t we agree these laws aren’t really about you, but rather are about protecting the people around you? We can have an intelligent discussion about the way to reach that goal if you get off this notion that it’s a personal assault in you.

SMOKING BANS: the point of regulating where you can smoke is not to tell you that you can’t smoke (though, seriously, you really should. You know that.). The point is to protect everyone else – co-workers, waitresses, kids, and everyone else – from having to breathe in your harmful smoke. Smoking is unique among vices because just the act of doing it affects everyone around you involuntarily. If we’re sitting in the same room and you choose to drink a beer or consume a greasy, unhealthy, bacon cheeseburger (yum, by the way) , it doesn’t affect me. But if you’re smoking, guess what? So am I. I’m breathing in the same cancer-causing chemicals you are, whether I choose to or not. That’s not fair to me. Do it if you must. Just take it somewhere else, please.

GUN LAWS: I worry about my kids being the victims of criminals. I worry more, however, about them being the accidental victim of a person who has a gun lawfully. I don’t care who the gun owner is. Guns are dangerous. Whether or not gun ownership is a Second Amendment right is a separate issue. If you have a gun, you should be willing to do whatever it takes to keep it safe. Even if you’re not worried about accidentally shooting yourself (though you should be. Seems to happen a lot.), you should be concerned about accidentally shooting someone else, or losing that gun to someone who will use it on purpose. Gun locks, background checks, safety courses, gun cabinets and restrictions on the type of guns Joe Schmoe can have out in public, or whether he can have a gun at all, are not about telling you you can’t have a gun. Have a gun if you want. Just keep my kid safe.

My contention that certain types of public safety laws aren’t about you, they’re about everyone else around you, also applies, to a lesser extent, to things like helmet laws and seatbelt laws. Man, do people hate these. And, on the surface, you can make a pretty good case that these laws do target you, motorcycle rider or car driver, personally. If you’re not wearing a helmet or a seatbelt, it doesn’t affect me. Right? Right.

Except, it kinda does.

Let’s say we’re in an accident. I’m in my car. You’re on your motorcycle or in your own car. If one of us is at fault, we’re at fault and need to take responsibility for that, whether or not helmets and seatbelts are in play. Or maybe it is a true accident – equal fault – maybe a rainy day or we’re both trying to get out of the way of some other accident or something and unavoidably get in our own collision. Regardless, if you’re not wearing a helmet or a seatbelt, you’re probably going to get hurt worse than you would otherwise. I think the science would back that up.

“Well, that’s my choice. I can gamble if I want,” you say. Fair enough. Except…

You getting hurt worse does affect me because I have to pay out more for your injuries.(Plus, honestly, whether I’m at fault or not, I’m going to feel bad if you get seriously hurt.) It affects your family because they have to pay out more and, also, because maybe now you’re dead from not wearing a helmet or a seatbelt and they miss you. Greater injuries means higher cost to your insurance company and mine. And then, everyone else who has policies with our insurance companies sees their rates get jacked because, insurance companies being how they are, aren’t just going to raise our rates, they’re going to raise everyone’s probably.

And what if one or both us doesn’t have insurance? The hospital will still treat our injuries, but who pays for it? Taxpayers, that’s who. Suddenly, a personal choice not to wear a helmet or a seatbelt has become an entire society’s problem.

George Costanza from “Seinfeld” once said, “You know, we’re living in a society!” Red Green from “The Red Green Show” often says, “I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.” It would be nice if we could realize that not everything is about just us. Sometimes it’s about doing what’s best for everyone. Give this some thought. I promise to make with the funny next time.

BOOK REVIEW: BAIT DOG BY CHUCK WENDIG

My legion of regular readers will recall that I recently reviewed Chuck Wendig’s DINOCALYPSE NOW, a 1930’s style pulp novel featuring psychic dinosaurs, warrior gorillas, and heroes in jet packs. The eesence of the review was that book is pure FUN.

This week, I’m reviewing Wendig’s newest book, BAIT DOG.

This book is not fun.

It’s actually pretty unpleasant in places.

Let me clarify. The subject matter is unpleasant. Not the writing. The writing is excellent. The book is filled with crunchy nuggets like this one, describing a woman in despair “sitting there and hatching little pity eggs like the saddest bird on the block.”

BAIT DOG is a follow-up to Wendig’s novella  Shotgun Gravy which introduced us to a very emotionally scarred teenaged girl, Atlanta Burns, who has yet to deal with the emotions of having killed her mother’s boyfriend for doing unspeakable things to her. In that book, Atlanta took on bullies, gay bashers, and neo-nazis, all to protect her friends and to do right. Both “friends” and “doing right” are hard concepts for Atlanta, but there she is. You probably should read that one first because it’s good and it does help set the stage for this one. Thoughtful Wendig actually bundles the Shotgun Gravy e-book with BAIT DOG, so you’ve got no excuse.

In BAIT DOG, things have only gotten worse. One of Atlanta’s few friends is dead, a suicide that Atlanta knows could not have been a suicide. She has an idea what happened, but she can’t deal with it. Instead, she is called on to help someone whose dog has been lost to the world of dog fighting. The idea is so repulsive that Atlanta can’t bear to think of it, but she also can’t stop herself from doing everything she can – and then some – to stop it. Armed only with a squirrel gun, a baton and her wits, Atlanta goes to war, finding shelter from her grief in more familiar feelings of rage. She again runs afoul of the powerful, and shady, men in town, but stands her ground – even as her mom’s money woes threaten to take that ground away.

The Neo-nazis, racists, hate crimes and murder rampant in Shotgun Gravy are back. Now Wendig has piled on the stomach-churning “sport” of dog-fighting, hence the title (A “bait dog” is a dog, or anything really, as the book graphically depicts, used to entice the fighting dogs to, well, fight.)

Told you this book wasn’t Dinocalypse Now. Not by a long shot.

As Atlanta battles old enemies and new foes, her own age and older, the action is sometimes uncomfortable to read, many of the characters despicable. It’s a testament to Wendig’s skill that you want to push through the revulsion – and the occasional lump in the throat – to see what happens next.  Thing about that is, you think you know what is going to happen, but you don’t quite know.  Wendig sticks the knife in (sometimes literally), twists it a little, lets you up, then drives it in again.

I liked Shotgun Gravy. I love Bait Dog. So will you…But I’m a little scared to find out what the hell Wendig is going to put Atlanta through in book #3.

BOOKSTORES: SPENDING TIME WITH AN AILING FRIEND

I had occasion recently to spend a long time wandering my local big name bookstore. This is normally something I really like to do and this time was no different. Still…something was off.

It was a busy Friday afternoon. Lots of people coming in: seniors, college kids, teens, children and their parents. They were everywhere: fiction, non fiction, science fiction, kid’s books, videos. All departments were hopping. One teenager spent FOREVER in the graphic novel section. Yay! A book and mortar bookstore thrives!

But here’s the thing…

No one was buying.

Well, a few people did.

Not many though.

And nobody even looked at the guy manning the e-book reader counter.

There were a couple other, bored-looking employees at the registers. One of them, desperate for something to do, kept shuffling over to straighten books.

At the help desk, a Scottish-sounding gentleman was asking about books on, appropriately enough, Scottish law. The man was there a really long time, looking more and more defeated and the employees on the phone and computer were becoming more and more exasperated. If that guy gave up and left and got on the Internet, he’d probably find what he wanted in no time. And the store would lose a sale. But that’s exactly what was going to happen.

It struck me there had to be a better way. How cool would it be if instead of just the hourly employee who happens to work in the store because she likes books, the store had a real-life librarian on staff? I mean a professional researcher with access to phones and computers and knowledge who could then give the customer a list of potential titles. The service would be free. If the title was available for sale by this retailer, great. If not, well, a little free advice makes goodwill that could become a sale later.

But they didn’t do that. I actually don’t know what happened with the Scottish guy, but I suspect he bought elsewhere. And the employees shrugged. Oh well.

Except not, “oh well.” “Oh, well,” makes stores go out of business. Bookstores these days are nothing more than a warehouse for books; big rooms with shelving and overpriced coffee. Problem is, lots of customers can make pretty good coffee at home for less and you can’t find cheaper shelving than on the Internet. Bookstores have a problem and, as far as I can tell, they aren’t doing much to fix it.

The customer who has a specific need, like my Scottish friend (Sorry, I just really like the accent. Also, it makes me think of David Tennant, which makes me think of “Doctor Who”, and I get all happy.) is one problem. As for the more casual browser, like me that Friday afternoon, the tactile book experience is a point in favor of brick and mortar, but there were many times that day when I was looking at a book and suddenly missing being able to get “extra features” like I could on the Internet – reviews, author interviews, whatever – right there and then before I buy. Some bookstores (not this one!) have terminals so customers can search book inventory. Why not set up touch pads around the store to give us access to that other stuff? A lot of bookstore websites already have those things on there. Just give us a way to see it in your physical store too. That would make me more inclined to buy now rather than hold off to order later from someone else.

Despite the chatter of (non-buying) customers, the store felt really quiet. Wouldn’t it be great – or at least arouse curiosity – if there was a book reading going on in one corner by an author, a fan, young or old? Maybe some local actors could stage a scene in another corner. You can’t get that online. You COULD get it in stores.

But they don’t do that either.

And I’m starting to notice it more.

The store’s board game section seems to have expanded over time. It may sound like heresy, but I don’t know that this is necessarily a bad thing. Games are fun, challenging, a good way to interact with other actual humans. Why couldn’t  bookstore host a game night? Or events where new games are introduced? The Geek & Sundry site sponsors a web-based show called Tabletop hosted by actor Wil Wheaton. Each episode features a new board game with a brief explanation how to play it and then you can watch people do just that. Sounds boring (I was skeptical too), but turns out it’s a lot of fun to watch. Why couldn’t bookstores do something like that? Gets people in the store. That’s the goal, right?

You’re my friend, bookstore. I don’t like to see you suffer. Please take care of yourself. For all of us.

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