Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Sunday, 15 September 2002

I got back to the US late Friday night. Things went pretty smoothly--no missed connections, no problems at immigration, customs, or security. I was pretty tired, though, as it was 4:00 AM London time when I got to the airport. But that was okay.

[Photo of trail at Allerton Park]

We had a good day Saturday. No serious jet lag, though I did take a two-hour nap in the afternoon. We went to the Farmer's Market and to Strawberry Fields (a small grocery store with organic and health foods). Then we went to Allerton Park.

The park's bridge over the Sangamon River is closed. It's been closed for so long now that I'm starting to think that it's not just closed for repairs; it may just be closed. Maybe they're not even planning on repairing it. That'd be sad. It's a handsome bridge.

It's possible to get to the north side of the river by coming in from the other side, but having come the way we did, we were sort of stuck on the south side. But that was okay; we had the woods and the prairie. We hiked the long loop trail, about six miles. It was late morning and we found ourselves getting tired and hungry before getting back to the car.

We saw a raccoon, several kinds of butterflies, a red-headed woodpecker, a snake, two kinds of frog, and mosquitoes beyond counting. (Illinois, I heard on the news Saturday morning, has just moved into first place in both cases of and deaths from West Nile Virus, so I suppose we should have been more careful.)

[Photo of snake on trail at Allerton Park]

I took a picture of the snake and sent it to Steven, hoping that he can identify it. I haven't heard back yet.

For lunch we went to the Brown Bag, a restaurant we used to eat at quite often, when we went to Allerton more often. They do good pie, but they never do apple pie (just apple strudel), so I generally don't eat their pie. Jackie likes 'em though, especially their strawberry rhubarb. Today they had raspberry rhubarb, but the last slice got taken just before we got to the front of the line, so we'll have to go back pretty soon. I had a chocolate cookie, myself.

The trip to England was interesting.

The work part of it was actually pretty frustrating. We ran into problems that had nothing to do with the bit we were there to test. But we couldn't just say, "Well, call us when these bits start working" and then go clubbing in London. We had to hang around and see if things started working. We finally got some testing of our stuff done on Friday morning, just before heading home.

In fact, we never did get to London. We had to make do with Reading, which is not the most happening of places.

We did get some good food. Besides the Nepalese restaurant, we went to a very good Indian restaurant, a couple of pubs, and a good Italian restaurant. We drank some very good beer. (Thinking of good beer, I paused here to go get one, an autumn ale from some brewery in Colorado. It's okay.)

We had a big lunch and weren't hungry yet after work on Wednesday, so we walked around for a while before going to eat. One place we went was a park that we'd seen on Sunday, which had a huge statue of a lion. I wanted to see what it was, so we strolled that way. It turned out be a memorial to the people who died in the nineteenth century British campaign in Afghanistan. An odd thing to see on September 11th.

I was interested to find that the economy was booming in and around Reading. There were cranes and construction everywhere; new apartments were going up; every other shop had "staff required" signs in the windows. The International Herald Tribune had an article about how the European economy was starting to sag again after a couple of good quarters earlier, but there was no sign of sagging in Reading.

I bought some books. (I had run out of things to read on the way home from Singapore, and wanted to be sure that wouldn't happen again.) The most interesting book, though, was one my colleague bought. It's Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. What a cool book! It's a young adult book, and doesn't seem to be out in the US yet. [Update: it's now available: Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles).] It's basically an adventure story, but it's a weirdly sf story set in a strange world where cities move. It begins:

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried out bed of the old North Sea.

Good stuff. Get a copy when you get a chance.

Next week I'll be back at work reporting on last week's testing and finishing up various things that didn't get done because I was so busy on the task I finished just before I left. The following week, I'm hoping to take some vacation time.

I'm working on a plan for my vacation. I've felt like I've wasted much of this past summer, working very hard at my job (without enough success to show for it), while writing too little, exercising too little, and reading too little. I'm afraid if I don't have a plan I'll end up wasting most of my vacation, too.

I want to get started exercising regularly this next week, and then continue that during my week of vacation. I want to finish the re-write I was in the middle of before I went on my trip, and then write something completely new during my vacation. I want to start getting caught up on my reading. I want to set some goals and meet them.

I don't want to create a rigid plan with no room to do something special if the opportunity arises. I just don't want to spend the whole week meaning to get around to one thing or another but never quite doing so.

My employer announced some changes in various benefits policies while I was gone. I haven't seen the details yet, but I know enough to complain about them already.

Whenever they announce benefits changes they carefully explain that they "benchmark" their benefits versus those of other companies that employ a similar workforce. Then they change things so as to be "competitive"--in other words, about as good as what the other companies offer. On the one hand, this makes good sense--it's silly to lose potential employees simply because the benefits package isn't competitive with what other employers are paying. On the other hand, it just rubs me wrong that they keep talking about how they want a "best-in-class" workforce while being quite candid that they're setting their benefits package to be "competitive." I'm sure they'd sneer at anyone who suggested that they should have a best-in-class benefits package while expecting a merely competitive workforce. I sneer at them when they suggest the reverse.

One of the changes reportedly involves doing away with sick time. Instead they're giving us an extra five days of vacation time, and then requiring that we use vacation days whenever we're out due to illness. This is an insane policy.

It's actually become rather common, lots of other companies are doing it. But it's a stupid policy, harmful to productivity and the health of the workers.

I've certainly missed less than five days of work due to illness per year on average, so I'll probably come out ahead. On the other hand, one year I missed more than five days due to just one illness (I had a throat infection that turned into an ear infection and the first antibiotic I took didn't work) and may have missed another couple days sometime that year with a cold or flu.

I can predict right now what will happen. Employees will stop calling in sick, because they will want to save their sick days for their vacation. Instead, they'll come into the office sick.

Of course they won't get much done. All they'll really accomplish is prolonging their illness and spreading it to their co-workers.

Most of the really sick ones will stay home, but they'll be bitter over losing their vacation time to do so. A few really sick ones may not, choosing to risk their health rather than ruin a planned vacation.

So, the upshot will be more sick people in the office, more people sicker for longer, more people catching illnesses from their co-workers and getting sick themselves, a raft of the sickest employees feeling cheated by their employer, and a few of them seriously endangering their health. And the huge payoff for all that? Less productivity--because sick people don't get much done, even if they do come into the office.

Woo hoo for us. Best-in-class for damn sure.


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