The changing workscape: War on meetings & so-called solutions

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…a committee decides, which committee decides, which committee decides, which committee decides…

Well I’m getting paper cuts, my eyes are bloodshot, from watching the tape turn red…

The Pentagon has too much paperwork to start a real war, I wish they’d just send me instead…

Ed Haynes – “I Want to Kill Everybody”

Long gone are the days when idle, if extreme, hyperbolic statements like “I Want to Kill Everybody” go unnoticed. Ed Haynes’s tongue-in-cheek protest song from the late 80s brings me back to a time when this kind of exaggeration – a modest proposal – could be said or sung and accepted in the joking, if frustrated, tone in which it was intended*. No one would call HR and think you were plotting to go postal tomorrow. (And Ed, your theme is as timely as ever. Strangely, there is very little to be found about Ed Haynes online – not even a Wikipedia page. I even have an ex-boyfriend or two with Wiki pages; how can Ed Haynes have almost no online presence, apart from a few CD reviews and listings for live shows he played in Portland, Oregon?)

I thought of good old Ed Haynes’s song, the anthem of my junior high school years, today as I sat in a meeting in which we were introduced to a new timekeeping system. The system exists ostensibly to keep track of projects to find out how much time is really being spent on them in order to better allocate existing resources (or to know where to supplement with additional resources). The presenter expressed the time-saving wizardry made possible with this new tool, which we are to use in addition to the hundreds of other tools piled on other tools where we are supposed to “report” things in the name of increased efficiency. Of course if we are spending half our time filling in reports in various systems, I think our resource problem is that we are spending half our time filling in reports.

Old Ed and his committees deciding on committees deciding, which – fair enough – springs to mind more often than it should in the current workplace, came to mind when the presenter showed a slide that housed several boxes with text in them, explaining how the decision had been made to run with this new system over a year ago… and many workshops, workgroups, task forces and other importantly-named committees met to analyze and discuss and brainstorm. See a problem here?

The company knew (or believed with no sense of irony) that it was underresourced. So, they took a large chunk of said resources and occupied their time with committees and workshops and task forces for months… all to come to the brilliant conclusion that they needed to measure how much time was being used on different projects in order to assign resources better. But what if – just what if – we cut out the years of analysis and internal focus groups and just accepted upfront that we need to implement a system and measure people’s time? Why take a year or more to decide that and then start a whole new process to choose a system for implementation?

The kicker is that most of the groups that work on a project basis today already have some form of time reporting that supposedly addresses these exact kinds of needs. Perhaps this new miraculous tool (and this company falls prey to the snake oil salesman every time – some system or another is a panacea for all our disorganized ills) will give us all the answers! Yes, it might be streamlined compared to the other solutions being used today. But what if they use this tool to collect data but then don’t actually use or interpret the data?

Oh, Ed, please cut the red tape and go directly to war… on meetings and more meetings about potentially useless, time wasting supposed time savers and redundant “solutions” that just create more work for everyone involved.

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*Back in the old days, you could actually say things that would be considered violent threats now. When I was an adolescent and working in the school office, I was walking in the hallway one day, and a kid who had been kicked out of another classroom for misbehaving said something suitably rude: “What would you give me if I let you give me a blow job?” I kept walking, but said, “A serious gunshot wound.” He sulked but nothing happened. Now, of course, I would be expelled from school for making violent threats – even though it was clearly a joke and clearly the kind of sarcastic reply called for in that situation. I don’t necessarily long for the “good old days” but somehow think that the more prohibitive we are with verbal expression, the more bottled up people’s frustrations will be.

On the cooking wagon with no kitchen to cook in: Afghan pumpkin & beef with yogurt sauce

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My thoroughly kitchen-experimental side has stirred and it pokes at me again and again, not fully understanding that I live my life during the week in hotels, sans cuisine (quelle horreur!). I spent two solid days dreaming of making a rich, aromatic chicken pho, and now suddenly, the urge to make an Afghan dish (bourani kadoo), comprised of roasted pumpkin, beef and a yogurt-mint sauce, has completely overtaken me. Why – who knows? I saw the word “Bagram” in connection with an air base in Afghanistan, which made me think about the Afghan restaurant I had passed by so many times in Vancouver, Canada (need I even say that Vancouver is one of the best cities in the entire world – hands down? Most definitely for food but also just because it is fabulous) but never went to.

And what do I know about Afghanistan or Afghan cuisine really? Absolument rien! For me it’s a strangely beautiful and mysterious place with an equally enigmatic history. Some part of me loves it and wishes I knew more. It is all obscured by warfare and the Taliban, but I don’t let those things blind me.

I love pumpkin, though, and I will look for any reason at all to use it somewhere, somehow in my baking and even in my cooking.

The trouble, apart from lacking the facilities to cook on weeknights, is that I don’t really prepare meals for myself and cannot imagine going to all this trouble just for me. House husband/housewife candidates, apply within. (I will probably make this or some semblance of it this weekend in any case.)

Bourani kadoo
Pumpkin/squash
Two three-pound sugar pie pumpkins or the equivalent using butternut squash
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 to 3 cups sugar (less if you want a less sweet taste)

Preheat oven to 300ºF/150C. Cut pumpkins in half and scrape out the insides (seeds + stringy bits). Cut each half into 3-4 inch pieces. Remove the rind. Place the pumpkin slices hollow side up in a baking dish and cover with the oil. Pour the sugar on top. Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 3 hours (until the pumpkin has caramelized into a deep, orange color).

Begin to prepare the yogurt and meat sauces while the pumpkin bakes.

Yogurt sauce
2 cups plain yogurt
2 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried mint
Salt to taste (1/4 to ½ teaspoon)

For the yogurt sauce, combine all the ingredients and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Beef sauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 kilogram ground beef
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/3 cup water

Sauté onions in oil over medium high heat in a heavy bottomed skillet until golden brown (about 20 minutes). Add ground beef and break up the pieces until the meat is no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Add remaining ingredients (except tomato paste and water). Blend in tomato paste. Add water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce, and simmer for 15 minutes.

To serve, place the pumpkin on a serving dish or on the individual serving plate, on the bottom of the “pile” you’re building. Add yogurt sauce and then top with meat sauce.

Erudite Google Doodles

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In high school I was one of those nerds who enthusiastically volunteered to take part in stuff like Academic Decathlon and Knowledge Bowl. One year we had to study Dian Fossey and her work with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. My friends and I actually found a plastic toy gorilla on the ground in one of the schools where one of our competitions took place, and we named him “Digit” after one of the gorillas in Fossey’s group at Karisoke Research Center and who figured prominently in the film, Gorillas in the Mist. We took that toy gorilla everywhere (from places near, such as all over the state for our competitions, to places far, such as Japan and Germany) until one of those in our group irresponsibly lost him. I somehow hope he is still traveling and having adventures as we had always hoped for him, wherever he is. (Assigning human traits and adventures to inanimate objects is nothing new to me.)

Google Doodle for Dian Fossey

Google Doodle for Dian Fossey

I was thrilled when I opened Google today and say this creative, evocative Google Doodle on the screen, celebrating Dian Fossey’s 82nd birthday. (She was murdered in 1985.) Lately the Doodles have been fabulous – with one recently marking the 123rd birthday of Zora Neale Hurston, the difficult writer who was a star of the Harlem Renaissance movement and whose work, particularly the seminal Their Eyes Were Watching God, is a staple of American high school and college reading lists.

The same can be said for the recent Google Doodle of French writer Simone de Beauvoir. Much cooler than my words can convey.

I don’t know if these semi-obscure Google Doodles raise awareness or not – but I love that they exist and maybe make a few people dig into things they would not otherwise have been exposed to.