Monday, January 28, 2008

I want to work here

I'd like to know more about the people who run this company. Kudos to them for coming up with such great time off!

Man, this would have been a nice thing many years ago. Of course, with the way I handle very traumatic breakups, I'd need one week off. Then again, I think crying for a day or two would be fine but getting back to work would be better as it takes the mind off dwelling on negative and crazy thoughts.

The one thing I wonder is whether this reflects negatively in the eyes of the boss for taking such a day off? There are definitely some bosses who wouldn't be so sympathetic.

Japanese firm offers "heartache leave" for staff
Mon Jan 28, 2008 2:51pm GMT

TOKYO (Reuters) - Lovelorn staff at a Japanese marketing company can take paid time off after a bad break-up with a partner, with more "heartache leave" on offer as they get older.

Tokyo-based Hime & Company, which also gives staff paid time off to hit the shops during sales season, says heartache leave allows staff to cry themselves out and return to work refreshed. "Not everyone needs to take maternity leave but with heartbreak, everyone needs time off, just like when you get sick," CEO Miki Hiradate, whose company of six women markets cosmetics and other goods targeted for women, told Reuters by telephone.

Staff aged 24 years or younger can take one day off per year, while those between 25 and 29 can take two days off and those older can take three days off, the company said.

"Women in their 20s can find their next love quickly, but it's tougher for women in their 30s, and their break-ups tend to be more serious," Hiradate said.

Hime & Company staff can also take two mornings off twice a year as "sales shopping leave", so they can race to stores to hunt for bargains.

"Before, women could take half-days off to go to sales, but you'd have to hide your shopping bags in lockers by the train station," Hiradate said.

"But with paid leave, we don't have to feel guilty about bringing our shopping bags to work, and we can enjoy the best part about sales shopping -- talking about our purchases afterwards."

(Reporting by Chisa Fujioka)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

3 for 4

It's a weird time here at work. Some people are leaving next month, others have up to six months, some people have to decide whether to move, some have to decide whether this is all worth it. Because of all the changes, responsibilities are all over the place. The fact is the company is telling us dates but not providing any information with which to make a decision on how to proceed.

Most of us are doing what we need to do to wrap things up. We're loyal to each other in that we want to make sure we help as much as possible to make the transition smooth. At the same time, it's hard to focus with the lack of leadership. I know it's impossible to not go through something like this a few times in one's working career, but I certainly hope to avoid experiencing this confusion and frustration for some years to come.

My situation is like a black hole - information goes in but nothing comes out. I expected to be out of here in a couple months but was officially told that I was to leave in six months. While it's always nice to know you're valued and needed, it doesn't make sense when management failed to give me a heads up or even ask what I wanted. Frankly, I don't have the sense they had any plan for how to use my time. Who's running the show here?

Over the past week, I've been open to exploring what they had to offer me. While it would have been interesting to work on this project, the downsides were bigger than the upsides. I'd gain some new work experience for my resume and remain employed for half a year. On the other hand, I'd have to continue working in an unstable environment and have to pass up potential jobs if they wanted me to start in the next few months or give up a substantial severance for leaving early. The idea of not having income coming in is scary, but I decided that I'd rather collect my severance and have the freedom to apply for jobs that pop up. I've made a request to have my departure date moved up, but I don't know whether they'll be able to change it for me.

The first week of January, I submitted my resume for three positions. One, I had no expectations of hearing back since my qualification are a stretch. Within 36 hours, I received a call on the second resume - wow. I had a quick screening interview with HR after which he said he'd speak with the hiring manager about setting up a phone interview.

The process went surprisingly fast. I went in and interviewed with seven people the following week. While I prepared for the interviews, I set low expectations. After all, I haven't interviewed for a job in over five year; I'm rusty. While I felt it went pretty well, the hiring manager made a comment which leads me to believe that I'm not going to be there first choice. After some initial icebreaking conversation, she said, "I believe there are things that people can be taught and there are skills that people must possess. I have no doubt that you have the skills [to perform the analytical tasks of the job], but I want to make sure you've fully [thought through the demands of the job]."

I was a little caught off guard by her comment. I appreciated her straight forwardness but was at a loss for how to interpret her opinion. I did my best to respond (though now my friend points out I was too honest about my weakness) and demonstrate that I was ready to step up to the challenge. Basically, the company is going through a transition where her department is trying to establish a presence and leadership position and the person coming into the position needs to have strong interpersonal skills. I admit that I could be better, but I'd like to think that I've learned over the years how to build relationships.

Afterwards, I did all the appropriate follow up. I sent thank you e-mails to everyone. I also had a brief conversation with the hiring manager regarding a few questions that developed from talking with everyone. She was very gracious in talking to me, but I'm not sure I took full advantage of the opportunity to sell myself as the best candidate. At the end I asked what the timing was on a decision. She let me know that they are waiting to fly someone in for interviews and would notify me either way sometime in the next couple weeks. For someone who initially indicated they were in a rush to fill the position, she's taking her time which leads me to believe I'm not the best candidate. We shall see.

The following week, I was excited to hear from the third place where I had submitted a resume. Again, I did a phone screening with HR. I was one of three candidates from the masses of resumes they received. Now I am hoping to hear back that the hiring manager wants to speak with me. That same week, I put my resume out for another posting and immediately heard back the next afternoon. The recruiter told me more about the position and asked me a couple questions regarding my skills and interests.

The past week has been quiet. I fear that I'm not the top choice for any of the jobs where I've interview. (sniff) There was this frantic flow of calls and now it feels like I'm drifting in space. I do hope I get some good news next week about a new interview.

What is a positive for me is knowing that I've done something right with my resume. It's nice to know that I'm 75% on getting bites for job postings.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Among the Mac Faithful

I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance this year to attend the MacWorld Expo. Since I now own a Mac, I thought I should go and see what all the fuss is about. Maybe someday I'll find a way to attend the CES.

The Expo was split into two areas of the convention center. It's funny being at a convention center when I'm actually a consumer rather than an observer. For my job, I attend some rather specialized conventions and only have a distant interest or understanding of what's being sold at the booths.

Having some computer experience in my background, I can appreciate the idea of all the technical offerings but didn't bother stopping to look. What was fun for me was seeing how companies have created markets to capitalize on the desire to individualize and retain a chic feel to being an Apple fan.

I myself look at accessories from a more practical stand point. When I want to protect my iPod from scratching and dents, I look for a durable, scratch-resistant case. That falls along the lines of brands like Speck, iSkins, DLO, and other manufacturers of gadgets cases. There are also the boutique outfitters that cater to people who spend crazy money to show off, like the iPod cases studded with rhinestones.

What hadn't occurred to me is buying a sheath of art to protect my iPod (or iPhone). Gelaskins are these durable plastic sheets that are cut to specifically fit Apple electronics. The deal here is that they offer a variety of art covers. They can be funky anime drawings, geometric patterns, dark images, modern art, etc. It reminds me of the designs I see on kids' snowboards and skateboards. (Am I dating myself somehow?)

Did I also mention that I'm cheap? So these skins cost $15 for handhelds and $30 for a laptop. I know they'll last a couple years by which time you'll be tired of the design, but it still seems like a lot for a sheet of plastic. Who knows, maybe I'll give in next year.

All these little companies are trying to customize commodity products to make an extra buck. Another great idea I saw had these cute creatures - penguins, mini ipods, and other cute reptiles made from silicone. They stand about two inches tall and conceal usb memory stick from 1GB to 8G. So instead of paying a couple buck for a stick, you pay $20 for 1GB that happens to be disguised as a penguin key chain.

My brain was overstimulated with all the accessory booths, so I stopped for 30 minutes to hear a talk about the exciting new Office 2008. Okay, I admit it, I was really there hoping to win a prize from the free drawing. It was cool, but I'm never going to be doing any desktop publishing. Office 2004 is just fine for me.

One booth wins my award for most unique booth. The booth looked like a castle or fortress with a large mobile dangling overhead. When I cam across it, my thought was that it was a cross between the artwork of Monty Python and Escher. I overheard one person described the company as Australian maker of bags. The one thing I regret not buying was this bag because I think it would be great as a way to have my purse and camera case in one for traveling. I had no idea the discounts for some items are better than prices you can find at the store AND the tax is already included in the price!

The crowds inside the Apple area were immense as you might imagine. Everyone wanted to touch the new MacBook Air. Is it really as it looks in the ads? Yes, yes it is that cool. I couldn't believe how small it was. And yet, I felt like I had ample screen to surf the Internet. If I owned this, it would probably be attached to me day and night (which Tim would be absolutely annoyed about). If I were to use one of my larger shoulder purses, it would easily fit inside with space to spare. Now if I only had $2000 laying around... .

I'm not a devoted Mac fan but I can definitely see the draw of it all. It's like when you see other kids in school and want to be cool like them. I spent more than three hours wandering the convention floor. My bags weren't filled to the brim with goodies as I left the convention center. Still, I must admit, I lost a little cash buying a silicone keyboard cover and some gorillapods. If it wasn't for the iPods, the crowds attending the show would be very different. Because the iPod is so ubiquitous it definitely attracts a wider interest be it the tech geeks, surfer/boarder crowd, business professionals, and teens. It really opened my eyes to the small world of Mac that I currently expose myself to. I'm never going to need the hardcore Adobe Creative Suite or a music studio complete with Gibson guitar, but it's fun knowing I could have them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dirty Deeds

The news is finally here. We all anxiously watched our inboxes for any hints at when and who would be told about the layoffs. Usually they sneak the e-mails into our boxes after 6pm or before 7am. It's a horrible way to schedule people if you think about it. After all, what if you have a dentist appointment that morning and don't come in until 9am and discover that you missed you're "Mandatory Meeting" already?

They really lost the element of surprise this time. A little after 4pm, half the group received an invitation to a 10am meeting. There is one person who we know for sure is keeping their job, so knowing that they were invited to that meeting, verified the fates of the rest of us.

Really, nothing was a surprise. I took my laptop home for fun and checked it at 10pm to find that a "MANDATORY MEETING" has been added to my calendar for the morning. I wasn't sad or jubilant, just satisfied that we'd finally get some answers after so many months of rumor, speculation, and boredom.

Because there are so few people left, the handful of us went into a room with the president and HR director. He was very down-to-earth about the whole situation, no false sympathies, no formalities. He said what he had to say from a legal standpoint and offered his support as we make plans to leave. At some point that day, he even had to give himself a layoff notice.

There was one surprise. I had expected to receive the same date as everyone else. To my dismay, however, I was given an extension until July. If I had kids, maybe that would be fine. After all I could work for a couple hours each day and spend the rest of the time with my family. But I've been slacking off for six months now, I'm ready for a challenge. Sitting around to help close down the office is not my idea of a morale builder.

No one really escaped this time. The people who didn't get a layoff notice still have a big decision to make because those who remain must relocate to the East Coast. It's unlikely that more than half will choose this option. It's not just the geographic change, it's also the unknowns of the new corporate environment and who the new co-workers will be. Not knowing what will happen to the team dynamic is probably the worst unknown.

With the new year come many potential opportunities. Now, I need to negotiate myself out of here earlier. It's a delicate situation because I can't sign on a new job with out risking my severance package, but I can't pursue new jobs until I know I have a clear end date. I want some money, I think it's the least I deserve for staying around as long as I have.

I'm honored that they appreciate my ability's and want me. It's always nice to feel valued. That boosts my confidence that companies out there will want to hire me.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

But I was born HERE

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive? Maybe I'm taking this too seriously? Maybe I'm not upset enough for some?

I turned to David Letterman just as he introduced Lucy Liu as his guest for the show. She appeared dressed in a bright pink silk dress stylized with an extra flap of cloth that simulated a having a loose wrap cascading from her left shoulder. She wore black pumps that must have had 4+ inch heels. Her hair was tightly wrapped into a pony tail at the back crown of her head. I guessed that she had to have been wearing false eyelashes as what Chinese woman ever grows them that long.

Admittedly, I don't know that much about her. Although I think we all admire that there's Asian representation in the acting world, she's not THAT great. Amongst my Asian males friends, I have rarely met one very into her.

The conversation was light-hearted at first. They talked a little about her new show and Dave commented about her fancy dress. She joked that she dressed up just for him. Then he asked her how she spent her Xmas. Lucy replied that she'd spent the time with her brother in New York. She paused to find the right words to explain what they did for the holidays. The rest of her plain story was one that I very quickly related to. Like my family, we don't celebrate Xmas the way Americans do (though we're "American"). It's simply a time to catch up, eat, and relax or catch up on things we haven't had time to do. There's no extravagant parties, no piles of perfectly wrapped gifts under the tree, no eggnog, no house covered in Xmas decor. She simply said it was time for them to clean the house, clear the closet, and make donations to the Salvation Army. I think she stumped Dave a bit and finally added, "it's a Chinese tradition." Bingo!

Next, she mentioned how she enjoys riding pedicabs around the city. She added that it reminds her of being in a rickshaw. Okay... why did she need to mention that?

I felt kind of bad for the both of them as it didn't provide for very entertaining conversation. In my opinion, things only went downhill from there. He proceeded to ask her a series of questions that I found a annoying and typical of people. He focused on her ethnicity rather than her.

"How many languages do you know?"

"What's the most common language in China?"

"Is the Mandarin alphabet hard?"

"Do you use Mandarin a lot?"

"Are you excited about having the Olympics in Beijing?"

It was a little strange to watch as she answered his questions and even tried to explain bo-po-mo-fo to him and speak a little Mandarin for him where she basically said, "How are you? What is your name?" I felt like I was taking elementary Mandarin class. Of course, in fun, they translated it as, "You looked terrible in that beard."

They ended the slot by showing a clip of "Cashmere Mafia" which turned out to actually be some old 50s movie where a couple of young women with guns threaten a couple. It was cute.

I turned off the tv still bothered by the interview. I was confused. Why did he have to focus on her being Chinese? It's like when someone starts up small talk with me on a plane and ask if I was born here. It's frustrating. I don't see interviews where they ask these types questions of Antonio Banderas or Aishwarya Rai. Maybe I missed that. But they were born elsewhere; they didn't grown up in the states. It would make sense to ask some of those questions. But what if I turned it around on Dave (let's suppose he's Swedish and Irish) and said, "so what are the differences between Swedish and Norwegian?"

She joked about traveling in Europe for a couple months because of the writers' strike and learning more Italian or other languages. Why could he have used that cue to talk about traveling or what else she does in her free time? Lucy probably didn't help much by not having any fun stories to share. The interview was a bit boring to me.

How much do these shows typically prepare ahead of time for celebrity interviews? My co-worker's alternative theory is that perhaps her agent gave the show some guidance about topics to discuss. Perhaps she is trying to position herself as someone to host shows covering the Beijing Olympics? I find it hard to believe they would have scripted so much of the interview. But I could be wrong. Anyone know how these interviews work?

It made me uncomfortable to see this because it reminds me of a truth non-whites must live with - the fact that we will always be perceived (to some extent) like foreigners despite how long, how many generations we've lived here.

I'm still confused about whether to actually be mad. I'd like to believe that he meant well and was probably simply curious. It just seemed like a strange conversation to have on national talk show that's not exactly known for serious dialogue.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Checking out

This is a message to a co-worker who's sense of responsibility seems to have gone awry:

Dear Cheetah,

We're concerned about you as we haven't heard from you since the week before Xmas. You didn't inform anyone about your vacation plans. You don't do as you expect others to do for you. Could you please give us a call and just check in? We can only assume that we might see you on Monday.

I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt, but your attitude towards work is inappropriate and premature. We understand your boss is gone, he was ours too. You've always worked with this notion that you are solely employed to support him, and that's not true. Just because he's gone and you firmly believe that you will be laid off soon doesn't mean it's okay to disregard the rest of us and not appear at work.

For all we know, you may be in the hospital after some car accident over the holidays, but your attitude of late makes us believe otherwise. I know times are tough for you with your personal struggles, but it's not an excuse. Until you are officially notified that you will lose your job, you should be here with us.

Hen and I talked just the other day about our disappointment and frustration with you. Perhaps you don't have enough to keep you busy all day, but we do need your help from time to time. You keep talking about getting the opportunity to advance yourself. Why can't you see this is a chance to help out with people here and learn new skills?

Ignoring us, there is Scuba. He has taken over where your boss left. We've tried to point out to you that he could use your help despite what you think. Hen suggested to you that you offer your assistance to him and ask whether there are things you could do for him. You have done nothing; you never even talked to him.

Many of us believe that it's important to maintain a decent work ethic and good relationships regardless of the situation. You will run into all of us again and want to demonstrate that you are a reliable person and a team player. This morning, you have jeopardized that image. Scuba needed some help and you were not here. Once you get your pink slip, it is okay to shirk your duties a little - it's expected but not until then.

We're still here. We don't have a ton of things to do, but we're here if someone needs us. We're here because we have a responsibility to keep the wheels turning and be good citizens. You may think no one will care and that it doesn't matter what you do now that the boss is gone, but we notice. I wish you would understand. I know you can be a good person. I want you to succeed in life, but I worry that these lapses in judgment handicap your path to a happier life.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Grizzly Men

So stayed up late last night to watch the late night talk shows. I was curious to see their monologues.

First, I fought with my rabbit ears trying to get a clear signal for NBC. While my tv debated letting me watch, I turned to CBS to peek at Letterman. Wow, what a beard! Combined with the small, round glasses he could make for a decent, young Santa Claus. His Top 10 list was great.

Then, I dared keep myself awake until Conan appeared. Yipes, another beard! When you add the pompadourish, red hair, you get one freaky looking man. The best thing was that he stated he was growing this to prove he has testosterone and then compared himself to the young Kris Kringle from that classic stop-motion animation show. His opening was much more entertaining than Leno. Gosh, I can't wait until he is in the 11:30pm time slot.

So what is it with the grizzly man look? I guess it was entertaining, but how long is this going to continue. Could you find a better way to show solidarity with the writers? After all, how are women supposed to match that... by not shaving their legs?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A year of potential

Happy New Year!

This must be the most laid back and relaxing winter holiday break ever. I can't remember sleeping in so much and being at work so little. Climbing three flights of stairs today to get to my desk was a major reality check for my thighs.

Visiting went relatively well. Tim still think my mom doesn't like him even though I thought everyone did nicely in terms of conversing and spending time together. It was no surprise, however, when, as we drove towards the freeway in the early hours of after-xmas shopping, my mom asked, "so why do you like this Tim?"

"He's a good guy, mom, He's smart, thoughtful, and sweet." I said this knowing little good would come from my praise.

There was silence in the car. I was driving, so I could not turn my head to gaze upon my mom's face. I then turned it around on her, "what do you think of him?"

"I'm not going to say anything," she said firmly yet nonchalantly as possible.

Needless to say, the rest of the brief conversation amounted to vague references to Tim not being good enough and poor assumptions on her part about his family being inferior. Oh well.

Despite that, Tim and I had a great time. I drove him around my old neighborhood on Xmas day. We walked along a bluff to see the views and enjoyed some time at the beach people watching and listening to the waves. It's hard to complain when it's a breezy 68F.

And now, it's back to reality. I have a big report to finish by Friday, but I'm more preoccupied with preparing myself for a possible pink slip sometime in the next couple weeks. That being said, I polished off my last revision of my resume and sent it off for three jobs this morning. All three are a slight stretch beyond what I do now, but all would be great opportunities to learn something new.

Considering I haven't looked for a job in some years, I expect that my first interview will be a nightmare regardless of how much I prepare. Let's hope my first interview is at a job I realize isn't the best fit for me. I'm scared to think of going to an interview, but at the same time I'm excited at the idea of being challenged.