How to Send a Nastygram?

I had an issue last year with a coworker acting a bit below his status — less professional than his position should require. I may be a bit sensitive to this simply because this sort of thing is critically bad in the military and every management and leadership book I’ve read. Sometimes I wonder if that’s a benefit or a curse.

Due to being geographically separated and always on-the-move, it was logistically impossible to meet up and discuss. I’m not one to let an issue sit and fester, nor am I one to discuss with everyone around to get them to fix my problems (like some Passive-Aggressive) — I’d rather address things head-on. This is the best I came up with trying not to be overly harsh, yet setting him back on his heels that this sort of thing never ends well. Let’s call him “Ron”:

Hi Ron;

You’re chastising me in a broadcast email, this tends to cast a poor impression that is difficult to repair. Some professionals chastise in private, especially when they have unchecked suspicions. You may not realize that it also makes you appear difficult to work with.

You don’t know that I told the customer about interval-vs-total, but you’re assuming I didn’t. It might be better to confirm assumptions.

You haven’t given me anything concrete that I can take back to the customer, there’s a lot of “doesn’t look” and “looks to me” which we’ve tried to depend on before without success.

Chastising me publicly on poor assumptions while giving me no benefit tends to sour working relationships, something those in leadership roles tend to have to learn through the bridges burned. I hope you can reconsider this habit.

In the end, we have to work together: that’s why I’m sending this to you in a private email to see if we can avoid tainting this relationship.

How would you write this?


August Travel: BVI, USVI, Panama, Other?

Thinking on where to go for August — although very soon after July in Vegas, it coincides with some other peoples’ available vacation times.

I only have 9 Comp Days right now, I would probably travel on comp. I’d be wanting to hook up with HO, TS, and AK, but if there was agreeable visa status for Chinese, WD could also join — you all know who you are — so that’s why I intend to grow this post over a few days of research. This is simply an easy way to track down my notes if someone else is interested.

loc interest Visa issues?
BVI HO, TS US: might be UK Visa
CN: easier with UK past?
US fly-thru?
Panama AK CN/US same: $5 Visa-on-Arrival
see also: CN US
no serious crime issue
CN: LAX fly-thru needs C-1 Visa
via DS-160 and app fee
CN: As difficult as US?
US fly thru as well?

How To Detect The Worst Shipper

April 26 my home was packed up in London.

The shipper had so many errors in the destination address, only the country and zipcode has any resemblance to accuracy.

In the following weeks, the company has told me:

  1. What? Your stuff hasn’t arrived yet? Oh it should only be a few more days then
  2. Your stuff is on a ship, but we don’t know which one, there’s no tracking number you can use
  3. Your stuff hasn’t shipped, it’s in our warehouse

Looks like the last one is most accurate; they asked me today (5 weeks later) for pages and pages of customs information — maybe they just realized today that New York, NY, 10035 is in a different country (the only possible error would be the word “York” in the name, ignoring all other parts of the address).

They’re also looking for a Notary Public; yeah, those are free. The chickenshit nature of after-the-fact hunting down some stranger to sign a paper for money seems both a late-term pain-in-the-ass and honouring the age-old tradition of strangers saying/writing/stamping anything for money as the basis for a fair, open, accountable administrative system.

Today they asked me the value of all contents of my home — from memory, since I haven’t even seen a manifest, much less have the time to value and depreciate each item.

Since they screwed up the actual sending of the contents, and late-realization of customs forms, I’m worried they’ll choose the Titanic as a ship to blindly toss it at with free abandon.


Model Mayhem in My Crib

I guess for some (you know who you are) it’s a common thing to have a young slim girl having her photo taken in your living room, but this was the first in my world. Apparently there were issues, but hey, it was a day of seeing some skilled people getting shit done.

For as much as I joke that “work fascinates me, I can watch it for hours”, it’s cool to see people doing what they like and being productive at the same time. Oh, and the hot chick in my pad is kinda cool too — the ones behind the camera as much as the one in front. The entire experience was fairly cool for me, and now that I have improved from “knows nothing” to “knows slightly more than nothing” I can be of more assistance during the gig.

Let’s see how the next one goes!


Familiar Surroundings

I start every day as though I’m waking up somewhere new; this is more difficult given the amount of travel I do, where most days tend to be in a hotel room, and I start by guessing what city I’m in.

Memory is triggered by familiar things — there’s a reason I take photos of so many things on vacation. As well, discussing shared experiences tends to reinforce things. I regret the things I’ve forgotten, but luckily I may never discover what I’ve lost.

The staff at restaurants and hotels in this city recognize me — just yesterday, a woman named Janet recognized me from her other job at a hotel. The sandwich shop girl knew I prefer #5 without tomato. I don’t necessarily know who they are.

The feeling that I’ve forgotten something is both frightening and common. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. The unfamiliar surroundings make it more difficult in a world where “we want to go where everybody knows our name”. When I’m with someone, that person an his/her thoughts are the familiar surroundings to trigger other memories.

The hardest part of travel for work is that I start every day with that reboot, alone, unfamiliar surroundings, and the feeling I’m missing more than my comfy chair and favourite cat.


Volcanically Grounded: 10 Whole Days in the Same City

So there’s this erupting volcano that everyone knows about. (pop quiz: did you know it’s been erupting for a month or more?)

The strange thing is that it has forced me to stay in the same city for 10 days. The coffee girl recognizes me, the security at the Datacenter I’m working at knows my face, the other security guy jokes about our hotel rooms “at his hotel”, and whether we need more towels. (Actually, this security dude refused me entry to the datacenter one night, but he was doing his job; he’s a super-funny guy)

As mentioned in FB, I have received free dinner, free beer, free laundry/drycleaning. I have feasted much upon defenseless stromboli.

Despite the perks, I’m getting itchy feet. It’s time to move on.

I’m starting to talk a little like North Carolinians. ..North Carolinans. ..North Carolina pod-people.

C’mon, Volcano, quit it. How’s a guy to get his airmiles?


For-Profit USA Healthcare, HIPAA, and Too Many Details

So I’m changing back to the US, five months behind schedule.

When I left the US, I had to change to a healthcare provider that handles overseas/international coverage — why? Because the for-profit healthcare non-provider I had doesn’t cover international. I guess we don’t get hurt when we’re not in the US.

So I changed, triggering a “changed healthcare” and “stopped healthcare” event, which causes me to receive piles of mailbox spam: options for “continuing healthcare after stopping your healthcare”, “why did you leave us?” pamphlets, and “you’re uninsured, did you want us to take your insurance payments instead?”. My paper-based mailbox didn’t feel so popular until that moment in its poor life.

There I was, in the UK, life was fine. I needed some exploratory surgery, fine and dandy. The non-provider I had for international coverage did a remarkable job throwing time, delays, signatures, late requests for additional information, HIPAA information privacy, and a last-minute interrogation of my past medical history for 10 years to avoid paying. Of course, knowing I’m not in the country, they chose the slowest physical method of interaction — US Postal Service mail — knowing full well that being outside the country means I cannot check my mailbox. In my case, I have an option that is merely slower and expensive rather than prohibitive.

Nothing breeds trust, friendship, and good feelings like discovering a “terminate your case if not responded within 30 days” tucked into a mailbox you won’t see for 8 months. Thanks. You do your shareholders proud.

They still haven’t paid.

Now the change back is happening. I have to beg for coverage in another non-provider. “please, will you take money to avoid paying coverage?”

What’s my overage, in detail, and dollar amounts? Do I have dental? Since what date? How much? Deductible? Is it Group or Individual? Date coverage began? Ended (hint: It Hasn’t Ended). All of this information is only intended to find reasons to avoid paying — because that reduces liabilities, hence boosting overall profit.

Modern countries have healthcare. Modern countries don’t have these loopholes to attempt to avoid coverage. Some modern countries still use paper-based letters to communicate, but some have discovered this thing called “email” and “internet”. HIPAA/privacy? SSL.

The US landscape of lawsuits makes any company afraid to innovate.

Avoiding risk requires multiple people to confirm any sort of drug — so everything in the US is a prescription. That makes the $8 drug in UK (after VAT and conversion) cost $55 in US and take two weeks to schedule the consultation. This is all expensive.

I can see why US for-profit healthcare non-providers do their best to avoid providing healthcare: it’s a business. They may imply that are family-oriented, caring, moralistic, but they’re a business. Businesses are measured by stock, profit, loss.

Why is this ever-present, everyone-knows-about-it issue on my mind? I’m annoyed at having to research for hours for a four-page document that, inevitably, will be used against me in the attempt to avoid providing healthcare. If it’s to their benefit, they should pay me for collecting it. …but that’s like jury duty: a huge suck on daily efficiency that no one repays, and we cannot see why more efficient countries are booming during our liability-laden risk-averse, war-weary (thanks, Bush and Bush), cover-your-ass recession.


Big Words Don’t Make You Seem Smart

I’m very sorry sir but that particular extension is down at the moment, do you mind if I place you on hold while I locate a representative who can provide further assistance to you today?

This is what the heavily accented woman tried to say. I don’t think many of the words are typical to her dialect except in these exact phrases. What came out was a beautiful Tennessee twang with a mouthful of bubblegum but nothing as clear as the following:

that agent is not there, I’ll find another. Would you wait a moment?

I find the same thing at airports:

Good afternoon, American Airlines would like your attention in the concourse for important information about American Airlines Flight number 471 with service today from London Heathrow to San Francisco California. We’d like to continue boarding by rows, and ask anyone holding a boarding pass and seated in rows 40 and higher to approach the gate agent…

This long phrase is rattled off without thinking by gate agents; looking around, you see other agents from other airlines patiently waiting for this lengthy announcement to finish before inhaling deeply and dishing out their own Shakespearean soliloquy.

Seriously, it’s bad enough with accents in your own language (and some english is barely that) but worse if you’re a foreigner trying hard to hear the details you need to board the plane.

American 471 San Francisco at gate 57 boarding rows 40 and higher

All six people in the entire airport who may be offended by this coarse, direct speech can fly another 50 flights before rendering an opinion. Seriously.

Consider how people who have learned only a little english speak: “I want eat dinner” or “this taxi go Eiffel tower, yes?” See how there are no silly fluffy filler words, yet the meaning is understood? See how there’s no extra words to confuse things? See how it’s so brief, it’s basically punctuation and key words.

Key words.

When they’re most of the content, they stand out even more.

That’s like more signal/meaning within the noise of blah blah blah announcements.

On a similar note, I met an elderly couple who had never flown. I had to help them with seatbelts: I sat beside them, heard the same ridiculously complex announcement, their grasp of the english language left them unsure of what to do. They probably would have preferred a more direct speech within the airport as well.

Be direct, be clear, be brief. Get the point across, and use words you’ve used before. Talk slowly when addressing the very elderly and the addle-brained — the rest of us are aging as you Soliloquize the blah blah parts. You done yet?


Languages Greater-Than

In a strange side-effect of my travel, I pick up a bit of the languages where I stay for any amount of time.

My Chinese (not Cantonese, but Mandarin, from the other 22 provinces of China) is sufficient skill to bark at a taxi driver, but not so good.

Funny, it’s better than the chinese guy I just spoke to at the delivery joint — even using the Chinese name for things was not understood. Granted, my Chinese might be *that* bad… but “Is that Kung-Pow Chicken, is it Guangdong or Beijing Style?” and “well, is it Cantonese, or is it like real Gong-bao Ji-ding? (宫宝鸡丁)” seem difficult to butcher. The poor guy didn’t make sense of the terms.

It would be ironic to brag about such little skill — I’m not posting this to brag about my non-skill at a language, just the oddity that it exceeds the skill of a Chinese-sounding guy (who sounds a bit like a Golden Boy).

I guess it’s true: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king — when everyone sucks, a slightly less suckage is still “better”…


Rapid-Deployment Squadron: Rapid Command and Coordination?

My old unit in the Canadian Forces was “Rapid Deployment Squadron”; our role was to quickly establish command infrastructure upon air-drop in near-tactical areas with minimal notice.

Reading some of the reports from Haiti, it seems this would have been a perfect deployment.

Despite issues of sovereignty, the biggest problem in severely disaster-stricken areas is that their existing, recognizable command and coordination has just been destroyed. They may or may not have backup facilities available. The inpouring of aid to Haiti was an example of overwhelming the non-existent coordination with aid that could not be leveraged. The worst example is that of medical professionals who were pushed back from arriving, arrived to non-existent facilities, had their backup (supplies and staff) delayed and hijacked, and eventually had to abandon the hospital and the people of Haiti because they were no longer able to work.

Consider that: professionals willing to use their hard-earned skill to support the people of another country, and left in a position of doing more harm to themselves and others, fleeing because of the competition building for their limited ongoing benefit.

Like any military force in hostile or contested grounds, a compassionate force needs support: reinforcements, supplies, logistics. A disaster is no time for politics, although clearly respecting the existing government is a critical enabling factor. Once it’s clear there is no threat to sovereignty, command-and-control, with protection of supplies and personnel, need to come in with rapid attention to establishing a protected supply chain and blossoming medical support as quickly as can be safely organized.

There should be no assumption as to existing conditions: a ground-guide can quickly appraise whether replacement shelters, power, water, communications need to be laid in. At least one airstrip and a dockside should be coordinated by the augmentation force, until such time as the region which is victim to a massive global disaster, can clearly resume control.

Note: “resume control”; such an aid-to-civil-authority should be done with the acceptance of the government in power; that said, greenzones should be established just as in hostile territory. Desperate people, acting in predictably extreme means, can sabotage an entire relief effort in an attempt to help their kin. It’s understandable, but should be postured against.

My old unit could have landed in Haiti, resumed comms, enabled a channel for a platoon to create a green-zone, and allowed medical flights to create a medical-relief zone, even if on the very edge of the airstrip.

Instead, transports of medical gear are hijacked, flights canceled, professionals turned back, and the populace suffers.

For shame.