Tuesday, July 29, 2008

We feel ya, Pete.

Fig. 1"Corporate hostage" (his words, not mine) Pete S. sent in this illustration. He said he realized after reading the entry on graphs that some of his useful skills were wasting away because he was spending so much time in alt.bigfoot.research.

"I really started to feel good about myself," Pete said. "I was getting more and more excited about coming in to work every day. I think I even startled one lady because I said 'good afternoon!' to her on my way back from the bathroom. I was becoming somebody that you didn't mess with in the alt.bigfoot arena as a result of all my diligent study of all the information on the Internet concerning sasquatch. People in the newsgroup were starting to accept the things that I said because I said them. It was an incredible rush. I had never felt that way before in my life. And when I realized that my skills were essentially wasting away I was like, 'oh my god, I don't want to fail, I just don't want to work!'"

Well, Pete, you're on your way. It seems like you've got the English skills you need, and a respectable start to an illustrious career as a creator of funny illustrations. And hey, don't let it get you down if not everybody believes you at first about that Yeti business. Dr. Jane Goodall, whose credentials are hardly in doubt, said on NPR in 2002, "I'm sure that they exist!"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Be Cool: Visual Aids

As we have discussed several times before, one of the key aspects of being busy [sic] is attending meetings. Meetings which almost always include a presentation and those presentations don't just make themselves.

Most of the time these presentations are made in Microsoft Powerpoint, although you can do a respectable presentation on Google's document site but no matter how you create it, you're going to have to include some kind of graph, chart, or visual aid to keep your audience from going to sleep. To create that you're first you're going to need some data. You'll have no trouble with this if you've completed the assignment from the previous post. If you have not, you might find some of the ideas on graphjam a good starting point. Perhaps you need something a bit more serious? In that case, there's nobody like Edward R. Tufte to help you get the most out of your fifteen slides of fame.

Be aware that this might look and feel a lot like "work" and to some extent, that's the point. While editing a presentation you can be relaxing at your desk to some good tunes, passing the time, and remaining seated after all that walking from water fountain to water fountain. And the best part is even though you're having a good time doing it, to the casual passerby the stuff on your screen looks like work and it is a lot less obvious than sitting at your desk browsing the American Apparel website. My. God. And, of course, you're honing your PowerPoint and, perhaps, Excel skills in the off chance that one day you have the opportunity to do work that you actually enjoy and want to do.

Until then, keep your analytical skills as sharp as your wit. Remember: every presentation is a sales presentation. And you're a lot less likely to get the boot if you are liked and respected. There's no better easier path to being liked than by making people smile as they buy your bullshit.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sip Check

One of the key tenets of slack-hacking is no matter what you're actually doing, look busy.

In order to do that, let's examine some features of a busy person's external appearance: they appear to be collecting and distributing information. Some of the trappings of this activity include manila folders, walking quickly, and attending meetings, and trying not to seem lost in unfamiliar parts of the campus.

So it is easy to hack out an exercise where a slacker might pass for a busy, nay an extremely busy person. And all the while be checking out the -- um -- scenery in other parts of the corporate campus. And by scenery I mean water fountains (you thought I meant the chicks in accounting didn't you, pervy?).

See, in the United States the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) creates guidelines and laws that govern the working environment that employers create for their workforce. In this case we are particularly interested in the requirement that employers provide potable water for all employees.

What is needed here is an organized task of mapping and checking each water fountain (or, if you are from Massachusetts, bubbler) for flow, taste, and temperature. From this we will be able to assess where on campus we should go on particularly hot days or if we are interested in filling up our canteen with a relative quickness (ha!).

I have created a form for this purpose which I will not share with you here, because any hour you spend tinkering to create your own form in Microsoft Excel (or better, spreadsheets.google.com) will contribute to the image of busy-ness that is the ultimate goal of slack-hacking to begin with. Besides, you may have other characteristics to consider and compare in your evaluation, like cleanliness.

Once you have prepared your form you need only an important-looking folder before you are ready to go begin your survey. The man pictured at left is obviously from New England and takes this responsibility very seriously.

While you are performing the survey, bear the following things in mind:

1. When you are in an unfamiliar part of the building, it is okay to appear lost. In fact, this is an important part of the reverse-reverse-reverse psychology we are employing here. They think you're busy and looking for a meeting room. They think you're too nervous to ask for directions, so you stop at the drinking fountain for a sip.

2. The folder convinces them that you are on an important mission that is none of their business. If it were their business they would have been informed by their management. Because you are not their management, you don't have time to discuss it with them. Walk quickly, smile like you don't mean it.

3. Sometimes meeting room numbers are hard to read from a distance. Nice skirt.

4. Do not sample fountains in an obvious, shortest-path order. A random or large end-to-end pattern may work best. You might also carry a cellphone to keep you engaged between sites.

Depending on the size of your campus, this exercise might take less than a day or it may be parceled out to become a project that spans weeks. That is up to you. I'll also note how fortunate it is that these water fountains are usually located close to restrooms, because drinking all that water will eventually take its toll.