Blog Soup 11/19/2012

Happy Thanksgiving, in case you don’t hear from me again this week. I wish you all mountains of sweet potatoes. With marshmallows. And no nuts. Here is today’s Blog Soup (r).

  • My Baylor Bears have had a disappointing season. When you combine one of the best offenses in college football with one of the worst defenses, you get a mediocre, .500-level team. So this weekend’s matchup between Baylor and BCS #1 Kansas State should have been a walkover for the Wildcats. Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Bears. Our offense took care of business as usual, and our much-maligned defense finally showed up. Final score: 52-24 Baylor, the first time we have ever beaten a #1-ranked team. SIC ‘EM!
  • I’m disappointed by the huge amount of media attention that the General Petraeus affair is getting. Yes, he made a mistake and owned up to it. Yes, affairs are bad news for all concerned. However, don’t we have more important issues to discuss than a guy who was cheating on his wife, even if that man happens to be in a high-level position? It’s like every newspaper in the country has turned into National Enquirer. The French are laughing at us.
  • Also on the Petraeus scandal…although I like to think that I am a strong person with high morals who can resist temptation, I’m only human. As such, I’m very glad that I am fortunate enough to live in the same home with my wife and kids instead of being stationed on the other side of the world for months at at time in a hostile environment. My freedom to do so results largely from the members of our military who volunteered to serve. I can only imagine how difficult a long deployment must be on our military personnel, especially those with spouses and children. A long absence certainly doesn’t excuse cheating, but in my mind it makes cheating easier to understand.
  • It was interesting to see a company (Hostess) cease operations due to a worker strike. Yes, I’ve laughed at the Twinkie memes circulating on Facebook, but the death of Hostess means thousands of people lost their jobs. Apparently the bakers found the struggling company’s contract proposal so unpleasant that the job just wasn’t worth it anymore. If your employer was trying to force pay, benefit, and work rule concessions on you, at what point would you choose to walk out? Would it make a difference if walking out meant burning down the entire company?
  • I can’t remember the last time I ate a Twinkie. I like Zingers, though. My coworkers run an honor-system concession stand in our office called the Recession Concession that sells various snacks and soft drinks. The day Hostess shut down, there was a run on Zingers, and I didn’t get to pick up a final package of them. I’ll bet I could find some on eBay. UPDATE: Recession Concession now has a limited supply of Zingers. Due to the shortage, the price has climbed from $0.75 to $8.00. I call shenanigans.
  • The U.S. government might stand with Israel, but I do not. Most Americans, particularly American Christians, seems to blindly support Israel because they view it as God’s chosen people. I disagree. The Jews might be God’s chosen people according to the Bible, but the modern nation of Israel was created by Western powers after World War II by, in many cases, displacing a people-group that had been on the land for generations. Yes, that is greatly oversimplified, but that’s basically how it went. The displaced people were robbed of their land by the West because they weren’t strong enough to resist. After the initial allocation, Israel gradually seized more of the Palestinians’ land, as shown here. As a result, the two sides have been fighting ever since. Both the Israeli government and the Palestinians have performed terrible acts that could be defined as terrorism. Both sides have rivers of blood on their hands. Yet our government props up one side with billions of dollars, military equipment, and other aid because we think we need an ally in the region. That support is one reason that many Muslim extremists hate our nation. As for the modern nation of Israel’s being God’s chosen people, also note that the nation today is not exclusively Jewish, partly because some of the displaced Arabs decided to stick around. It’s a melting pot, like most countries in a sense. I hurt for the millions of people caught in the crossfire on both sides, especially those who have been injured or have lost loved ones in this senseless, decades-old conflict. I wish our nation were energy independent so we didn’t feel the need to be involved in the Middle East. And I wish our government could understand a simple truth: we cannot fix the Middle East. Want to end anti-U.S. terrorism? Withdrawing all troops and foreign aid from all Middle Eastern countries would go a really long way toward that goal.
  • If the people (not the word I originally used, but I’m trying to be nice) who are petitioning for Texas to secede somehow win, which is impossible without a civil war, Jenny and I would be tempted to move. Likely destinations include Missouri, Washington, or Oregon. The biggest problems would be leaving our friends and family and giving up my awesome job. As tempting as Seattle or Portland might be to me, I hope this doesn’t happen.
  • I downloaded the latest album by British indie-rock band Florence and the Machine called Ceremonials. It is fantastic. You should buy it.
  • On a related note, do people still buy CDs anymore? I don’t buy much music, to be fair, but I really cannot remember the last time I bought an actual CD rather than simply downloading it. It might have been a few years ago when I picked up something on clearance at the Virgin Megastore (remember that place?) at Grapevine Mills.

Blog Stew 9/27/2012

Hmm…Blog Stew…I think I’ll make that a new category for my random thought posts. Sounds tasty! Blog stew is great for those days when I don’t have the idea, time, or motivation to write a long, thoughtful post on a specific topic. Those do take a lot of work, and no matter the topic, it’s sure to only interest some of you. It’s much easier to throw a bunch of different things together in the old Crock Pot and let it simmer. I hope you will find a few interesting morsels.

  • Don’t get too excited yet since we haven’t played any big-time schools, but so far the nation’s top college quarterback in total offense per game attends a little school in Waco, Texas. Sic ’em, Nick Florence!
  • Today will be my final long run (13.1 miles) before the 25k in Tyler on October 13. This will only be the second time in my life I’ve ever attempted this distance, the other being the Cowtown half marathon back in February. But my legs feel great, and I’m excited to get out there this afternoon. Next week I’ll taper, or cut back on mileage to rest up for the race.
  • You Obama-haters can rejoice…briefly. I’m strongly leaning toward going Green with Dr. Jill Stein. I like many things about Obama and will be happy if he wins in November, but he’s also done some things I don’t like and broken some important promises (not closing Guantanamo Bay, not punishing the business execs who nearly destroyed our economy, keeping troops in Afghanistan when victory is impossible, etc.). I don’t agree with Stein on everything, but she and the Green Party seem to have the platform that the Democrats don’t have the guts to pursue, largely because the Greens don’t have corporate sponsors. Unfortunately, that also means they have very little chance of winning anything, much less the Presidency. Romney will carry Texas regardless of how I vote, and Obama will probably get reelected regardless of how I vote, so maybe I’ll just use my ballot to dream big.
  • The pilot-management standoff at American is interesting but sad to watch. I read a comment from one AA pilot that the slowdown isn’t exactly an organized, concerted effort to destroy the operation. It’s more a matter of being extra careful to protect their jobs. Until the judge tossed out their contract a couple of weeks ago, that contract backed them up in the event of an small deviation from the hundreds of company procedures they have to follow when flying the plane. The company can now fire them at will for any mistake they make. I’d be a little more careful, too. Is the pilot’s statement true? I’m not sure, but it made some sense to me. However, with so much anger over there, I’m sure that some of them don’t mind making their employer look bad. I hope both sides can work out a deal soon. And I’m still very grateful to work where I work.
  • You know my son Brenden doesn’t feel well when you have to drag him out of bed in the morning. He is definitely a morning person.
  • Jenny has been accepted at UTA and will start classes there in January. She did awesome on her nursing school entrance test as expected. The only question now is when she’ll be able to take her remaining UTA-specific nursing prerequisites. She meets with a nursing advisor next week who should be able to help.
  • I know it was unnecessary and expensive and irresponsible and all that, but my iPad is awesome. I use it more than my phone or laptop. Blogging on it is a bit more difficult compared to a laptop or desktop since it doesn’t have a separate keyboard or mouse, but it’s easier to carry around than the laptop and has a 4G Internet connection.

Thank you, come again.

Going to the Lodge

After hearing good reviews from other parents, Jenny and I took the boys to Great Wolf Lodge Tuesday night. Great Wolf is a family-oriented resort in Grapevine that features a large indoor water park along with other water activities and entertainment for the kids.

Pictures from Great Wolf Lodge

Overall, it was a pretty good experience. Most importantly, the boys had an absolute blast! We spent a couple of hours in the indoor water park on Tuesday afternoon and a couple more Wednesday morning before we left. It was definitely the highlight of the trip. Brenden was barely tall enough to ride some of the larger slides with a parent, so Jenny and I took turns watching each boy to allow both of us to ride with him and to play with Jonathan in the toddler area. The park offers a variety of slides, pools, and activities for all ages, and I loved not having to worry about the sun while we played. Plus the larger slides were fun for us, comparable to ones you’d find at Hurricane Harbor or Hawaiian Falls.

This was the boys’ first stay in a hotel. As expected, this new experience proved to be a bit of a challenge for us, although they really enjoyed it. First, we had to convince them to be quiet in the room and especially in the hallway to avoid disturbing the other guests. Good manners are easy to forget in the excitement of a new adventure. Next, we had to get them to sleep in a hotel room when they normally sleep alone in their own rooms. Our original plan of putting them in the same bed lasted about five minutes, during which a very tired but overstimulated Jonathan talked Brenden’s ear off and wouldn’t stop messing with him. So I switched places with Brenden and pretended to sleep while Jonathan patted my shoulder and kept saying, “Wake up, Daddy, wake up!” I finally dozed off and promptly proceeded to wake Jonathan up with my snoring, which Jenny fixed quickly by waking me up. Throughout the rest of the night, Brenden woke Jenny up every few hours to tell her something (for example, “Did you hear that, Mommy? That was me tooting!”), while Jonathan woke me up periodically by tossing and turning and poking me in the butt with his feet. It was not a restful night, but the boys got a decent amount of sleep.

Here are my impressions of Great Wolf:

Good

  • Indoor Water Park – As I said above, the indoor water park was lots of fun, clean, and included activities for all ages. Guests can use it from 1:00pm on the day of checkin and the entire day of checkout, which is a very nice perk.
  • Staff – The resort caters to families with kids, so the staff are generally very nice and helpful and know how to work with kids. Our server at dinner brought the boys free wolf ear headbands and patiently waited while Brenden talked to her and tried to decide which color headband he wanted. The lifeguards paid attention and seemed to care about their responsibilities.
  • Wristbands – Instead of a room key you must guard while swimming, each guest gets an electronic wristband that serves as a room key, allows you to charge purchases to your room, and provides access to the water park.

OK

  • Room – We got an entry-level room that Great Wolf calls a family suite. It had two comfortable queen beds, sofa, fridge, microwave, coffee maker, and a nice view of the Gaylord Texan and parts of Grapevine. It was a nice room, but not as upscale as the price would suggest (see below).
  • Entertainment – In addition to all the pools, Great Wolf also offers an arcade, an interactive fantasy game call MagiQuest, a girl-themed spa for children, costumed characters, and story time at 8:00 and 9:00pm. The boys liked story time pretty well, although the little animatronic show before the actual story time could be improved.

Disappointing

  • Prices – Everything at Great Wolf is expensive and seems overpriced to me. Everything. I got a small discount for being an airline employee, but even the basic room is really expensive ($200+/night), and any of the special rooms with bunk beds or separate bedrooms can run $250-500/night. Yes, it’s a nice room, but I can get a nicer room at a nearby hotel for significantly less. Management seems to think the water park justifies a huge premium. They add a resort fee to cover in-room coffee, wireless internet, etc. even though the wifi service was intermittent in our room. Food is very expensive for what you get as well. The MagiQuest game, while it looks fun, runs $30 or more per person.
  • Food – We ate two meals plus a separate dessert at the resort, and overall we felt the food was decent but overpriced. My Philly cheesesteak had maybe 2-3 ounces of actual steak. Jonathan’s mac and cheese was great, but kid’s meals at the grill were $8.00. I don’t want to pay $8.00 for a meal that my kid might or might not actually eat. My cupcake, while pretty, was topped with a huge glob of the sickly sweet icing they use for Baskin-Robbins clown cones, a bit too much even for me. The breakfast buffet offered a pretty good selection but was poorly organized and charged separately for juice and soda, which seemed pretty cheap given the high price of the buffet. We decided to eat off-site for lunch.

Did we enjoy our stay? Yes. The boys really enjoyed the visit, which was the goal. Will we go back? Maybe. Most likely, we’ll go back next just for the MagiQuest game rather than an overnight stay. A hotel guest wristband is only required for the water park, not for general access to the hotel during the day. We didn’t try MagiQuest this time because the boys were too young, but Jenny and I think it sounds fun. Maybe we’ll try it as a family in a few years.

Bottom line, if you have kids who would enjoy a nice indoor waterpark and don’t mind dropping lots of cash on an adventure for them, Great Wolf might be a good choice for you. If you’re looking for a good value on a really nice room for a relaxing, romantic getaway, go across the street to Gaylord Texan or Embassy Suites.

Southwest-AirTran Dispatcher Seniority Update

Last week an arbitrator issued his ruling on the Southwest-AirTran dispatcher seniority list integration (SLI) case. He sided with our union and awarded us four extra years of seniority when we merge our seniority lists. This decision has implications for most dispatchers at each company, some good and some bad. For those who are interested, here are some details.

Background

The SWA dispatcher seniority list, counting all specialty positions and managers, has about 200 people, compared to about 45 for AirTran. Ideally, the two unions would negotiate an SLI agreement instead of going to arbitration. The SWA and AirTran pilots already did so successfully. If I understand correctly (I wasn’t involved), since both unions are under the Transportation Workers Union (TWU) umbrella, the AirTran union thought the only acceptable way to integrate the seniority lists per TWU bylaws was by date-of-hire into the dispatch office. In other words, if you were hired at AirTran before I was hired at Southwest, you’re senior to me. Our union countered that the AirTran dispatchers would be getting a much better contract (higher pay, better benefits, etc.) and more opportunity at a larger company, and the SWA folks should get something from the merger as well. Otherwise, it would be a huge windfall for AirTran with zero direct benefit to SWA. We tried to negotiate, but the AirTran union immediately filed for binding arbitration, thinking they had a strong case based on TWU documentation. Thus the decision fell to the arbitrator. At the hearing in February, AirTran proposed date-of-hire, and SWA proposed adding four years to all SWA dispatchers’ seniority. He decided the latter was the fairer outcome.

Impact for Me

Compared to using date-of-hire, the arbitrator’s decision bumped me above six AirTran dispatchers. Now twelve of them will come in above me instead of eighteen. That’s certainly nice, but on a combined list of 200 working dispatchers, those six spots won’t make a huge difference to me right now. However, the overall impact of merging with AirTran does make a significant difference as the majority of AirTran dispatchers will come in below me on the list.

Right now, I’m at the 65th percentile among SWA dispatchers. When we bid for our schedules each summer, I can have any start time except the morning shifts, which go to the top half of the list. If all the AirTran dispatchers make the move (more on that later), and no one retires from Southwest before the merger is complete, I’ll be in the 56th percentile. So overall the merger bumps me up by about ten percent. This will make it a bit easier to get overtime and give me slightly better pick of vacation days, but for now that’s about it.

Impact for Coworkers

The integration plan will have a much bigger impact on my coworkers, especially the junior people and my new friends at AirTran. As you’ve surely figured out already, the four-year boost for our side is a huge help to the junior SWA dispatchers. Except for the group we hired last summer, all of them move up by 10-15 percent. Perhaps most significantly, about 17 of them move off reserve status, which means they can finally have a consistent, predictable schedule with a set rotation of days on and days off and a fixed start time. Reserves don’t know their schedules until about three months out and might work a combination of days, afternoons, and midnights with days off scattered throughout the month. Their schedules get especially messy and busy during the summer and around holidays. It’s a good day when you finally climb high enough in the list to get off reserve.

Unfortunately, what’s good for the SWA people is bad for the AirTran people. The majority of the AirTran dispatchers will be on reserve status. Some were off reserve status at AirTran but will get stuck with it again once they come over to Dallas. Also, because they’ll be less senior overall, they’re more likely to get afternoons and/or midnights, which might be very difficult if they’ve been on day shift at AirTran and have a family situation that requires day shift to work well. Since they’re already being forced to uproot their lives in Orlando and move halfway across the country, the seniority snub is extra salt in the wound. A few had decided to leave AirTran before the SLI decision for various reasons. It’s possible that others might decide not to make the move. I feel badly for them. They didn’t ask for their company to be bought. Now they must choose between moving to Dallas with a loss of seniority or starting over somewhere else.

Let me be very clear that I am excited about the merger for a variety of reasons. In addition to the benefits to Southwest as a company (Atlanta, international ops, more airplanes, etc.), every AirTran dispatcher I’ve encountered has been a pleasure – bright, hardworking, personable, and great to work with. If all of their dispatchers are like the ones I’ve met, they will be a tremendous asset to our company, and I look forward to meeting more of them toward the end of this year or sometime next year when they start to come over.

Cog in a Machine

Walking around Headquarters early in the morning always reminds me of my two different lives at my company: I.T. and Dispatch. I leave my current office, in which I am a largely nameless worker bee, and briefly visit my previous world, a vaguely familiar place in which each worker has a specific niche and responsibilities that only he or she can fulfill.

These two different lives reflect two different kinds of jobs that we can generalize to most of the workforce. Since I’m not feeling creative enough to dream up snazzy names, let’s call them person-oriented jobs and role-oriented jobs.

Person-Oriented Jobs

These jobs depend on the specific skills, personality traits, contacts, and experience of the individual who holds the position. The worker has a niche, turf to control and defend, and is producing work that few if any other workers are doing at that company. Managers generally fit into this category. Perks might include one’s own office or desk, phone number, business cards, reputation, and appointments plus a sense of ownership and achievement regarding one’s projects. The work schedule is often normal business hours, but not necessarily. When the worker is out of the office, the work either doesn’t get done or only gets done by special arrangement with a coworker. Drawbacks include meetings. Coworkers, clients, and customers have a relationship with the worker.

I know some of these people. My dad is a CPA who owns and runs a small accounting firm. My friend Donny runs a company that sells parts to soup up your car. My friend Chris is a financial analyst. His wife Demona is a science teacher. In my previous life in I.T., I was a technical writer and business analyst.

Role-Specific Jobs

Role-specific jobs generally involve shift work, the kind of jobs where some warm body needs to do something for some amount of time. The worker’s individual identity and personal characteristics are not the keys to success. Instead, the worker’s value lies simply in fulfilling a role for a given time. Despite minor differences in ability, technique, or style, workers are largely interchangeable within each group. If one worker can’t come to work, someone else steps in and gets the job done. The work schedule can be quite variable and include nights, holidays, and weekends. The worker generally lacks a dedicated phone line or cubicle/desk/office. Relationships with clients/customers are generally superficial and very short-lived with limited interaction. Perks include the ability to trade shifts with coworkers, leave one’s work at work instead of dragging it home every day, and maintain some level of anonymity among the company’s customers.

I know several of these people as well. My friends James and Alexis are police officers. My sister Lisa is a nurse. My friends Jeremy and Lacy are firefighters. I am a flight dispatcher.

Which is Better?

Neither type of job is better than the other, but for many, one is a better fit for their personality, personal life, career goals, or abilities. For me, a role-oriented position is a better fit. During my time in I.T., I discovered that I dislike meetings, prefer not to work on huge projects that follow me home at night, feel a bit guilty if I’m away from the office for too long, and prefer not to be the only person capable of making a particular decision or fixing a given problem. As a dispatcher, all I have to do is show up and do my work until it’s time to leave. Although sometimes I wonder about specific flights after I leave, generally I go home and relax at the end of the shift. Whether the shift was good or bad, once it’s over, that body of work isn’t my problem anymore, and then next day I’ll have a whole new set of work to do. Each day gives me a sense of accomplishment and closure. I’m not on call. Nobody bothers me with fires to put out when I’m not on duty. If I call in sick or trade off a shift or use a vacation day, someone else does that work instead. They might do it better or worse than I would have, but it doesn’t matter either way because it’s not my problem. I look around in my office and see at least 12 other people doing exactly the same thing I’m doing, and any one of them could step into my role with minimal effort.

I also love the anonymity. I’ve probably developed some sort of reputation among the pilot group, but our interactions are nearly always professional rather than personal. On a phone or radio call, the captain generally calls me “Dispatch”, and I generally call him or her “Captain”. It works out great since I’m terrible with names. Plus, unless I happen to know the captain, I don’t really care who he/she is. I care that the voice on the other end belongs to the Captain, with whom I share joint decision making responsibility for the flight.

Some people want to be an artisan, a puppetmaster, a unique contributor to the business world. Bravo, says I. We need plenty of people like that. But I’ve discovered that it’s great to be a cog in someone else’s machine. I get plugged in for eight hours, do my thing to the best of my ability, and then get swapped out with someone else until next time.

Which type of job do you prefer? Which type do you have right now? If they don’t match, why not?

Random Observations from This Weekend

For Jenny’s birthday weekend, we stayed at a hotel in Addison, enjoyed some great food, slept a lot, and enjoyed getting to talk for long periods. Here are a few observations/factoids/highlights/whatevers:

  1. Tokyo One makes really, really good sushi. It’s a sushi buffet in Addison. Although a bit expensive for dinner, the service is good and the quality and variety of the buffet are outstanding. On their website, you can print a coupon for 10 percent off and a free piece of birthday cake if you eat there within a week of your birthday.
  2. At Tokyo One, I tried several new and weird items: blue marlin (very tender and mild in flavor, although I’m not sure whether it’s a very sustainable food source), jellyfish (looks like grilled onions, tastes like generic seafood when doused in soy sauce like this was), lychee (a strange, brown, tropical fruit with hairlike projections on the outside and sweet white meat inside), and luo han guo or monkfruit (a light brown tropical fruit with sweet white meat inside much like lychee). I seem to have outgrown the picky phase from my younger years in which I would only eat toast and french fries.
  3. Marriott beds are very, very comfortable, almost Tempur-Pedic comfy. Overall, we were very impressed with the Marriott and would stay there again.
  4. I still think it’s cheap and lame to charge hotel guests to park at your hotel. I understand charging non-guests, especially in an urban environment with lots of business people and limited parking spaces, but a parking spot should be included in the price of my room. Both the Marriott and the Anatole charge for parking. The Omni Mandalay in Irving, however, does not.
  5. I continue to be amazed that guys in the men’s locker room at King Spa feel the need to cover their bits with a towel when they walk around, as if their bits are somehow different or special compared to ours. One guy used his hand. Really, dude? That’s what toddlers do when they have to pee.
  6. I saw a guy with a black tramp stamp. Is that weird, or is it just me?
  7. Male…um…grooming habits vary widely from man to man.
  8. I performed a simple heart rate experiment in the spa area. The main hot tubs were 106-108 degrees. The steam room was about 118, the dry sauna maybe 170. While my resting heart rate stays around 60, it rose to maybe 100 or more in those hot areas as my body tried to cool off. Then, after a few minutes in the 65-degree cold plunge, it dropped to around 50 as my body tried to preserve its heat.
  9. We had breakfast Sunday morning at Einstein Brothers, one of our favorite breakfast places. A man and his sevenish-year-old son were in line ahead of us. First, the dad yelled at him not to touch anything. Next, he criticized him in front of the cashier for putting his pants on backwards, something about being “incapable of seeing the tag in the back”. Finally, they sat down and ate breakfast together. I chose to sit on the other side of the room so I didn’t hear any more, snap, and go off on the guy. I’m not sure they said a word to each other as they ate. As a father myself, I certainly understand getting frustrated and impatient with one’s children and being less kind at times than one should, but tearing a kid down constantly doesn’t do either of you a bit of good.
  10. We walked into 300, an upscale bowling alley (ever heard of that?) in Addison. The furnishings are plush, the menu offers a much broader variety of food and drinks than a typical bowling alley, and giant screens above the pins were showing a Beyonce video and the Final Four game. We would’ve stayed for dinner and a couple of games, but it was really loud and ruined our Zen from King Spa. Maybe some other time. It would be fun with a group of friends.
  11. BJ’s Brewhouse makes a tasty berry cider, great crispy fries, and a really good club sandwich.