Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Human resources

Meet the new HR department, same as the old HR department.

That promotion that was coming my way? They don't know anything about that. Those improved terms that came with said promotion? News to them. This month's housing allowance? "Lost."

Human resources, where the people are neither human nor resourceful.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pre-spring cleaning

Making New Year's resolutions always struck me as a bit silly. After all, why should the end of one year and the start of another be the time to examine one's life and plot out a course to change it for the better? Coming off anywhere from two to six weeks (depending on one's capacity for celebrating) of gatherings, gift-givings and gorging with friends and/or family, I imagine most people would look forward to January for a bit of quiet time.

For me, the holidays have come to mean progressively less and less. Working on holidays is just one of the ugly truths about being in newspapers (gotta have the next day's edition ready to deliver the next morning) and, with my family on the other side of the Pacific and co-workers who don't generally socialize outside of the office, such days usually pass like any other, save for maybe a nice dinner. The fact that it's always hot and humid here and the only question is how much rain we get probably doesn't help.

As such, I'm using the impending end of January as an opportunity to make a few changes around here -- and by "around here," I mean in my life. These changes are intended to help achieve three primary goals:
1) Get in better physical condition. I'm fat, balding and homely. While addressing the latter two would be expensive and not covered by my health insurance, I can certainly do something about the former.
2) Save some money. I actually do have some money saved up -- no mean feat for someone in this business. However, and perhaps a bit paradoxically, I consider the bump in pay accompanying my "promotion" as an ideal time to start cutting back on my spending. The reason why leads me nicely into....
3) Prepare for post-newspaper life. Specifically, I need to rediscover how to think, learn and spend like a college student. I'm out of practice in all three, the occasional online course notwithstanding, so I want to use this coming year for a gradual transition in that direction.

To make all that happen, I need an actionable plan -- that is, things I can actually do to help me progress toward those goals. Goals like "get in shape" and "save money" are just too vague. It took a good 20 or 30 minutes, but I think I have a plan that should get me going toward where I want to be. As well as everyday tasks, I also made a one-off to-do list.

One-off list
  • Find a cheaper apartment. This is important as the lease on my current apartment is up on February 5 or so. I'm paying $1,000 a month for a location that is no longer as convenient as it once was, so it's high time for a change. My preliminary research shows I can get a nice one- or two-bedroom place for about half that as long as it's outside the Golden Triangle (not to be confused with the Golden Corral).
  • Fix the leak in the living room AC unit. Because I'm tired of studying in the bedroom.
  • Transfer money to my bank account in Nebraska. It slipped my mind that since I'm going to be here longer than I initially thought, I need to send over some money to keep up payments on my life insurance policy and anything else that's being automatically deducted.
  • Mop the tile floors. They could use a bit of attention, especially if I'm moving out soon.
  • Get a haircut. I've clearly failed to get a real job, but I should still try to look the part.
  • Pull the trigger on my Japan trip. Yes, I was in New Zealand just last month, but like that trip, this one is as much business as pleasure. I need to see Temple University's Tokyo campus in person before deciding whether I want to go to school there, and while I'm in the neighborhood I can also visit a few acquaintances, see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and catch a sporting event or two. Even better, it looks like a couple airlines can get me there for $700 or so round-trip.
  • Invest in the learning process. My study of Japanese has always been fairly free-form. If I'm going to be serious about it and actually have a good platform from which to base my studies when I go back to school, though, I need to do more than just rely on a few books, podcasts and other free sites. I've picked out a couple sites -- TextFugu and iKnow -- where I'll have to pay a bit to get full access, but perhaps being invested financially will help keep me diligent in my studies.
These tasks are ones I expect to do more regularly and, through their execution, effect a change in my lifestyle. Since there are only so many hours in a day, I need to make lasting changes rather than do things piecemeal, as I have previously.
  • Study Japanese at least one hour each night. The plan is to begin with hiragana and katakana before adding vocabulary and working my way up to kanji. As a carrot, I'm also going to target taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December, although since one apparently needs 250 hours of study to pass the beginning level, I may already be too far behind the curve.
  • Ride the stationary bike at least three times per week for at least 20 minutes. Being the fat slob that I am, I can't afford to go overboard without risking burnout. Ideally I'll ride five days a week, and I can work my way up to 30 minutes at a stretch. From what I've read, intervals are the way to go to maximize spent calories and burned fat.
  • Bring dinner to work at least twice a week. This will help me both eat better and save money. The location of our rather inconvenient new Globe Towers means we order in more often than not, with some places more popular than others. Even if it's something simple like sandwiches and carrots or peanuts for snacking, it should save 100,000 to 150,000 rupiah per week.
  • Blog at least once a week. Because I know you folks can't get enough of me ... or, more likely, because I just need a consistent outlet to write. The Asean Basketball League is going again, so I might get a few bylines from that, but mostly it's going to be desk work for the next year.
Some changes need to happen if I'm going to do all that, keep my job and sleep occasionally. What little TV I watch will have to be cut -- though watching NHK could be valuable -- and my new favorite hobby of listening to podcasts will have to be cut way back. If I have to get a little obsessive to do this the right way, I'm prepared to do that.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Imagine this, Cee-Lo

Isolated incidents. Cherry-picking. Bad apples. Why would any right-thinking person have a problem with religion?

Oh, I don't know. This might have something to do with it.

(HT Lousy Canuck)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pod people

The best things in life are free, as the song says, which is good news for those who hesitate to part with their hard-earned income. One of the aforementioned things I've really got into in recent years is podcasts. They're affordable, portable and cover a range of subjects as vast as the Internets themselves.

I bring up the subject of cost for a reason. As anyone involved with newspapers will tell you, the Internet is notoriously difficult to monetize. Giving away content for free is somewhat shaky as a business model, and the listener is under no obligation to financially support the producer. Why would anyone do a podcast if they're not going to get paid? There are the obvious answers, of course, such as building one's brand, garnering attention or just liking to hear one's self talk. They might just find it fun.

It also bears mentioning, though, that this new form of media can be more than just a vanity project. There are people out there who have taken the act of yodeling into a microphone for free and turned it into something that strangers around the world can enjoy and possibly be willing to pay to access. The purpose of this post is not to tell you how to do that -- I haven't the foggiest. Rather, I'd like to introduce some of the podcasts I enjoy and either have or am willing to support with my own money.

Those loving, compassionate Christians

I'm going to make some people angry with this post. To that, I can only say: Good. You should be angry after reading this, though the target of said anger will say more about you than it does me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I am an atheist. Anyone reading my tweets will have figured that out long ago. I have no particular animus toward religion -- it's just that I don't see any compelling evidence for the existence of a god and, as such, there's no reason to pretend to pledge life-long fealty and obedience to some invisible, paternalistic sky wizard. I still get along with most believers, including my family and co-workers, but every so often an incident crops up that makes me wonder how much believers really practice what they preach. To be sure, we have plenty of examples here in Indonesia, but the one currently on my mind happened in the good ol' US of A, land of milk, honey and freedom.

Jessica Ahlquist is a teenager in Rhode Island who was involved in getting a prayer banner removed from her public high school. That in itself is remarkable -- she showed more guts and self-confidence, not to mention knowledge of the Constitution, at age 16 than the vast majority of high school students past, present or future. She argued, quite correctly, that a public school has no business promoting religion, even if the majority subscribes to said religion. As their way of thanking her for the timely refresher on the separation of church and state, Christians near and far have been spreading their special brand of love Jessica's way.

This is turning the other cheek? This is loving thy neighbor? This is doing unto others as you would have them do unto you? Read these reactions to Jessica asking to have the same rights as every other US citizen and tell me that's What Jesus Would Do. I note from the Facebook avatars that these individuals are not all teenagers, whose stupidity can be excused by the fact that they're, well, teenagers. Many of them are adults -- grown individuals who are allegedly at least partially educated. Oh, and don't forget this person, who clearly wins at life.

Thankfully, the many threats against Jessica and her family have proven hollow (idle threats on the Internet? The hell you say!) and she's suffered the slings and arrows with grace and good humor. She's even flung a few projectiles back in the opposite direction:

Many people have told me that they are opposed to the Prayer’s removal because they’re of the Christian faith.  Well that argument has no standing for a million reasons, but here is my favorite:
(Matthew 6:5-8)
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Even Jesus says not to shove your religion down the throats of others.  And yes, that’s exactly what this is.  It doesn’t matter that we aren’t forced to recite it.  It’s still there, entitled “SCHOOL PRAYER”, and plainly displayed in a public school.  You’re wrong legally, and according to your own scripture.  So please, FOLLOW YOUR OWN RULES.
That's so well-struck, I'll even forgive her putting two spaces after the periods. [removes copy editor hat]

What's that you say? Those people saying those vile, hateful things aren't REAL Christians? Sorry -- that argument doesn't work for Scotsmen, and it doesn't work for you, either. Besides, it's not the people on the receiving end of the threats to whom you should be directing your protestations. It's those compassionate, caring Jesus lovers who are making you look bad:

Between this and the enlightened response to #GodIsNotGreat trending on Twitter (41:30 mark of the podcast), I'll have no end of material the next time some Culture Warrior tells me I should pity the poor, put-upon Christians of America.