Pioneers On the Wild Frontier

There is a very powerful paragraph in one of Heinlein’s juveniles, a note repeated again when he’s talking about American exceptionalism, and again when he talks of the need to go to space.  It is apparently a paraphrase of a well known quote, which I found attributed to Albert Schmidt, and also as anonymous, and also as being written in some museum, but as that page is no longer available, I can’t say where.  Also, apparently Maya Angelou (!) mentioned this quote.  Of all of the people who made this statement, it fits the spirit of Heinlein’s juveniles the best. “The cowards never started. The weak died on the way. Only the strong arrived. They were the pioneers.”

This in Heinlein’s juveniles is often related with going to space, but it occurs to me that it’s any new technology and any major change in society driven by technology (not the vapid ideas of politicians.)

Changes – major changes of any sort – are always scary to an established society.  History has shown time and again that people will endure near-unendurable conditions rather than revolt, but they WILL revolt against change.  Because we know we are surviving – sort of – right now, but will we after the changes.  And most of us want to be able to visualize what things will look like after the changes.

Which is why when tech starts changing too much too fast and hitting the social structures, people go nuts.  The French revolution was the fruit and manifestation of the industrial revolution.  So was our own revolution, think on.

And if you look at it right the fourteenth century and its unending barrel full of misery was not because things were getting worse, but because there had been some developments that had made life better.  Hence, war plague and famine, of course.

Now, think about it, the fourteenth century was the result of changes accumulating through the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth, but that was still too fast for us.

The twentieth century… there’s a reason that it was even more blood soaked than the fourteenth.

And now, it’s much faster and much worse.

The revolution we’ve facing, in a hundred different ways of doing things, from manufacturing to data processing (including that peculiar form that involves fiction writing) to a million other things, is so radical that it might be that long waited trans-humanistic thing, even if it doesn’t mean we’ll all live forever or look like the borg.

Just computers will affect the way we mate – both by bringing together unlikely mates (I managed it the old fashioned way.  By stealing time at the phone booth!) and by moving the nexus of work to the house (no, not yet, but like the ebook revolution it’s coming and it will be sudden when it comes) and thus favoring mates in the same profession, who can share work.  It will affect the way we live – I am one of those people who like people, and for me it probably means going very urban so I can, you know, live where I can go out to a coffee shop, or something.  But for other people it means living in the middle of nowhere, working in the big city and shopping wherever you want.

My guess is that no one alive today will see the end of this transformation.  It’s that huge and shattering and it feeds other transformations.

As for people who say “but it’s always changing.”  Sure it is, but it’s punctuated equilibrium.  For a while things seem to be stationary and then it accumulates and it comes crashing on society as a disruptive and sudden force.

Writing is going through it.  I’ve given my opinion a lot of other professional fields are headed for it.  I’ve also said, until you’re probably all tired of it, that this in conjunction with the current political insanity might meant the end of jobs as we know it.  In the future we’re all contractors, with both the risks and the benefits of it.

It’s not a lifestyle that suits everyone, but neither was 9 to 5 and yet mid 20th century it consumed almost everyone who needed to work, and influenced everyone else’s life.

So, in that spirit, and based on what I’ve seen in my own field, here is my take on what will happen and what you need to know.

1 – If your job entails prestige, be willing to make a choice between that and making money.  Right now a lot of writers are not just refusing to go indie, but screaming at everyone who does, and complaining it undermines the prestige.  A result of the “indie revolution” coming everywhere will almost certainly be an end to credentialism.  People will respect what you can do, not where you went to school.  Sometimes they’re related.  More often they’re not. Right now institutions, particularly large ones, rely on credentials to avoid complaints of discrimination.  But when hiring contractors for the job, the job will be more important. Fortunately for me, I was born without any social graces!  But you might have a bigger adaptation.

2- You must work.  This is the biggest barrier, and why managers still dislike sending people home to work.  They’re under the impression people just won’t.  This is silly, since if they don’t, they can be fired.  OTOH because we’ve equated work with time throughout the 20th century, they might be afraid you’re working very fast and goofing off the rest of the time.  Both the stupid laws penalizing employers over a certain number of employees and a certain number of hours, and tech will defeat that.  My kids are used to doing their homework and tests (even) by computer, and to doing group work via computer too.  When their generation rises to managers, they won’t have our prejudices.  And perhaps they’ll be better at working remotely.  My guess, though, is “no.”  Unless you set up a completely separate place in your house, keeping up work surrounded by home and family is difficult.  Almost everyone I know who works from home has issues with it.  It’s a skill, though.  Learn to cultivate it.

3- You must have time off.  Yes, yes, I know.  Sarah, take your own medicine.  But I’m in the time when to launch my career I MUST work hard – very hard – at many things for a few years.  Still, I’m considering taking Sundays off.  I must read SOMETIME.  The point is, if you’re of a certain type (my husband and I seem to be) working from home means working ALL the time.  You forget to quit.  You must control that because

4- Regardless of whether you like people or not, you need to have some people contact, now and then.  In person, not just over the computer.  Even if it’s just your family.  Also, make sure the family knows you don’t hate them, you’re just busy.  Make time for time with them, or you won’t have them.

5- This is important because, you should never, ever, ever count on indie/contractor being easy, or even easier than whatever you’ve been doing.  Yes, going contractor or indie gives you freedom to work the way you want to.  That means you places your bets, you takes your earnings – and sometimes you’ll goof.  (Everyone does.)  It’s important not to build up a beautiful image of the fleshpots of Egypt in your mind.  What I mean is, don’t, in retrospect make “jobs” and the way things are done now into a wonderful thing.  Remember it too had difficulties.  Also remember if you’re one of the ones breaking out in your field, or whatever, that you’re a pioneer.  You might not be on one of Saturn’s moons, but some things as unpredictable as ice storms will destroy your hard-earned stability.  Look at what happened with Rusch and Ella.  Sometimes you’ll be knocked to zero and have to start again.  This doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.  Just that the high-change state is unstable and the landscape changes ALL the time.

6 – Related to five.  Stay alert.  Keep up with what’s going on.  Ever since I came into writing, people have given me advice that’s out of date.  This is how I ended up writing short stories for years, because I thought that’s how one broke into novels.  This was no longer true when I tried it.  However, people could still give you advice a year or two old and it would work.  Now?  Ah!  I keep up with Rusch and the Passive Guy and a dozen other blogs, plus take recommendations from friends more plugged in than I am, and things still blindside me.  As in an alien planet, keep moving, keep ahead of the shifting landscape.  And evaluate each mutie on his own.  Some are friendly.  Some will eat you as fast as look at you.

7- There are no guarantees.  The future is being built under our eyes.  NO ONE CAN PROMISE what you try will work out.  So keep your fingers in as many pies as you can without killing yourself.  What moves might NOT be what you expect.  (For instance in publishing I’m doing large press, small press and indie.  Because I feel safer that way.)

8 – Help others on the way.  This is not necessary so much as it will help you in the long run.  Except for some right bastards (actually mostly left, but that’s neither here nor there) most people return good with good.  You don’t need to make the trade explicit.  You help a lot of people, some will be there for you when you’re down.  And all contractors have ups and downs.  Cast your bread upon the waters and spread your generosity widely.  And remember to pay it forward.  (This is already making relationships between writers much better than the old hierarchical model where publishers picked winners and losers.)

9- Have a hobby that can become your main profession if you need to.  Yep, if this writing gig goes south, I’m a recreational clothes ironer (totally a word.  Deal.) and a middling filet crochetter – for the win.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I’ll rant at people for a living.  Actually have two hobbies that can become your main profession.  And accumulate as many abilities as you can.  Yeah, okay, I learned seven languages because I thought it would improve my chances of employment.  Then I moved here.  Not the smartest move.  BUT some of them work.  I’d carefully cultivated a knowledge of science fiction for instance (otherwise called how I wasted my youth) and it came in handy.

10 – Don’t brow beat others.  Yes, you’ll be very afraid at times, but projecting your fear onto others and saying if you can’t do it no one can is contrary to the bread upon the waters thing.  It’s also contra productive.  The cowards never started – but lower than a coward is the one who tries to make other cowards.

On a related note, my post at Mad Genius Club today is on Fear.

Now go forth and instead of being scared of this innovative times of ours, be excited about them.  You’re a pioneer.  That means you get to shape the future landscape for your grandkids.

Like most pioneers, you’re being forced onto it by circumstances and by the status quote becoming untenable.  But it doesn’t mean you can’t take the opportunity to build something better.

Now go and do it.

UPDATE:  My PJM Column is up.

153 thoughts on “Pioneers On the Wild Frontier

  1. Misc comments

    1) Be alert – your country needs lerts!
    [no no be aloof, there are far too many lerts…]

    2) In re revolutions, this bit on Burke is interesting:

    3) A lot of jobs can literally be done from anywhere. Writing is a good example but it isn’t the only one. A decent internet connection means that someone in Flinders Island, Tasmania is just as connected to the global economy as someone a block from Centrsl Park, NY. In fact (speaking from experience) the biggest barrier is timezone negotiation because morons in NY have problems understanding that other people prefer not to stay up until 3am to talk and get very ittitated if the phone rings at that time of day.

    4) related to 3) it’s very easy these days to have a global virtual presence. I have UK and US phone numbers that reach me anywhere in the world where I have Internet access/cell phone coverage. Web servers and other bits of internet plumbing run 24 hours a day 365 days a year and it doesn’t matter if they are down the hall from you or half the world away.

    5) planned properly and booked far enough in advance airfares are pretty cheap. Moreover such is the weirdness of the market that it can be cheaper to fly half way around the world than 300 miles away.

    PS this comment written on a sleeper train in Western Japan.

    1. Web servers and other bits of internet plumbing run 24 hours a day 365 days a year and it doesn’t matter if they are down the hall from you or half the world away.

      Years ago Daddy took what he referred to as a thirty day wonder vacation covering India. Exhausting as it was, he did so because it was the one way that he could get a break away from work. They could reach him, but it was difficult enough that he could be confident they would only attempt it if it really was an emergency. Now that is not an option. 😉

      On the other hand, when The Daughter was in Japan in language school she had a cooking question. A couple of email exchanges later it was solved.

      1. “Now that is not an option.”

        This I don’t understand. Every single one of my gizmos can be turned off. I can completely disconnect from every person I know for as long as I want in a matter of moments. Tell work that you’re going on vacation and won’t be available. It’s a question of will, not ability.

        1. You don’t have to understand it. It has to do with the culture of the profession in which Daddy worked. There are positions where the law firm held that it is one thing to be out of reach because that is the way things are, it is another to deliberately put yourself out of reach when you might otherwise have been contacted. He had to be in a position where could contact him if it was an emergency.

          1. “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.”

            1. I suspect that Daddy often thought as much, and I would not have put it past him to have said it a few times. 😉

    2. “In fact (speaking from experience) the biggest barrier is timezone negotiation”

      A former co-worker once called Harlan Ellison “first thing in the morning”.

      She wasn’t his favorite person that day.

      1. When I had a NYC agent, he routinely called me at six thirty am. then apologized. Once, in a fit of gifted, he called me at four thirty am, having decided the time zone went the other way!

        1. For my current project, we decided that all the data processing would be done in UTC. Watching the mental gymnastics of programmers and testers when they’re trying to figure out what time they’re actually looking at is half the fun.

          1. One of the single most Useful features of Win7 is that you can have up to three time values on the taskbar. When I was working a USMC project at Pendleton, I had my main clock set on UTC (Zulu) because that’s what the servers were on, one set to local, and one set to my home timezone. Made things so much easier.

            1. I do the same thing on Linux and I expect there’s a similar widget for android though I haven’t looked.

          2. Any date stored in a computer should be UTC and IMO probably should use the Unix epoch time number. Conversion to human understandable date time should only be done at the point of display.

            1. As long as it’s a 64-bit epoch time number; the 32-bit epoch time numbers will wrap around in January 2038 (and can’t store dates before 1901 anyway), so if your software deals with forward planning more than 25 years into the future, or has to store dates from the 19th century or before, the Unix epoch time will run into problems if you’re not using 64 bits. 64 bits, however, gives a wrap around time of 292 billion years or so, which should be enough for anybody. 😉

              I prefer ISO 8601 representation for dates, myself; they’re human-readable, yet unambiguous. (No guessing whether you’re dealing with a mm/dd or dd/mm representation). Oh, and people who write years in two digit form — STILL — really get my goat. Seriously, why should the expiration date on my medicine bottle be written like 03/04/05? At least make ONE of those a four-digit number, for crying out loud! This isn’t quite as much of a problem as it used to be since we’re now in 2013, but for the past twelve years, interpreting expiration dates has been a REAL bit of guesswork — and it SHOULDN’T be.

              1. While working on a Data Warehouse project a few years ago, I could not figure out why the dates on my imported data were screwed up. After pulling out most of my remaining hair, I found that, with the dates in the data being formatted in UK date format, since the company we were getting data from was based there, (dd/mm/yyyy), the MS SQL Server Integration Services package was interpreting all the dates which could possibly be viably interpreted as mm/dd/yyyy as if they were in US format, and then, when the first two digits were higher than 12, it was automatically shifting to UK format, with no error messages.


                1. And that’s ANOTHER great advantage to ISO format: that virtually nobody uses the yyyy/dd/mm order, so if you start off your date with a 4-digit year, it’s completely unambiguous.

                  The final advantage is that it alphabetically sortable; when I make a bunch of folders titled “2012-01” through “2012-12” (I use hyphens rather than slashes because on Linux, slashes are folder separators), the OS “automatically” sorts them for me in chronological order. Folders labeled “Jan 12” through “Dec 12” would have April first, then August, then February: yuck. Yet I constantly see other people using that kind of a naming scheme for their folders. So many people just don’t think ahead.

                  1. Oh don’t get me wrong in its place the ISO format is great. I tend to use it myself in a bunch of places, and the sortability is a major plus. Though I tend to simply do the 8 digits 20130530 (although the / can be really useful if you want to have directories per day though 🙂 )…

                    ISO format, while good tends to struggle with events where the hour, minute or second are important. Yes I know 2013-05-30-12-00-33 is more human legible than 1369911739 but anything that is reasonaby continuous cares more about the delta than about the 24 hour period it concerns.

                    For ex if you want to have events in the last week (say) then searches on $now – 604800 is a LOT easier than the logic required to handle ISO dates – particuarly ones like 7 days from March 3rd or Jan 2nd…

                    (I expect you know this BTW…)

                2. Mickeysoft seems to have recurring issues with dates. Back when everyone was fixing things for Y2K, they released a patch for the Office suite that would pick a “pivot year” that would treat 2 digit year fields with a value <= say, 25, as 2001, 2025, etc. and anything larger as 1926, 1973, etc.

                  The problem was that each of the products in the suite (Word, Access, Excel, etc.) picked a different "pivot year" so that the same date would be treated as 1925 in one and 2025 in another. Much creative cursing and interesting computation results ensued.

                  1. One thing, though: I’m pretty sure you can specify the pivot year, although it would have been nice if they all defaulted to the same one.

            2. I once spent a good hour explaining that concept to the CIO of the US Census in 2008. Apparently NONE of his crew of underlings (including a bunch of our company’s consultants /facepalm ) had ever considered this for getting a common time of event across multiple timezones…..

      2. Well, of course. He would normally expect to be called, “Harlan”, or “Mr. Ellison”. (runs)

        1. From the stories I have heard, if you absolutely have to address him it is best if you do so with as much respect as possible. Do not call him Harlan unless he has instructed you to. Otherwise, address him as Mr. Ellison, or you will have cause to run.

          And, whatever else you do, do not send unwitting kids with black jelly beans for him autograph. Someone*, I gather, tried that. Once. 😉

          * Disclaimer — this is hearsay, I did not witness it and I cannot vouch for its veracity.

          1. I’ve heard all the horror stories, and I’m sure they’re true; but when I met him at Worldcon in 2000, he was perfectly polite. Better ‘n lots of people, in fact. I don’t think I called him by his first name, though, and why would one?

            He did seem like the kind of person who gets overtired easily, and given his health problems that’s no surprise.

            1. In my defense, I was assuming that the person who called him “first thing in the morning” was someone who might be expected to call him by his first name, not some stranger, but who would not be expected to call him by such an odd name as, “first thing in the morning”.

            2. On Harlan Ellison, I think it’s partially a matter of him “not suffering fools lightly” (not that I always agree with his definition of fools) plus there are people who go out of their way to provoke him. I remember a story about Ellison being followed (at a con) by some idiot trying to pick a fight. The story goes that the idiot had gotten to an elevator with Ellison but when Ellison got out he grabbed the idiot by the throat and only let go when the elevator door was shutting. Oh, there was also a story about that con that claimed that Ellison threw somebody down an elevator shaft. So I don’t buy all the stories about Ellison. Of course, I can’t stand to read Ellison’s stories but IMO I’m sure that people do read his stories.

    3. More than just time zones, also shifts. I’m working a project right now with me (in the Midwest, but in Eastern time zone, working 8-5) a manager (in the Northeast, working what looks like noon to midnight) and the artist, in LA, and working night owl hours on this project and wee smalls to way late on his day job.

      Communications, even with the time-shifting abilities of email, are a bitch.

      And, of course, it’s a rush.


      1. A guy I knew was working as a contractor for this company. He was working 60-70 (or more) hours per week for these people. Then he got vacation time. However, the idiots couldn’t wait until he got back from vacation and managed to get ahold of him. From what he said, it could have waited until he got back. After spending spending a good deal of time on the phone “fixing” their problem, he informed them that he would be taking an extra vacation day. When he returned to work, he gave notice. What they didn’t know was that he had gotten an offer of another job. [Very Big Evil Grin]

        1. My mom was the training manager for about half the US for the company she worked for. This meant she was on the road about 15 days a month and running meetings and calls from her office at home for the rest of them. We were known for hiding her cell phone on the weekends. Vacation days for her meant she only worked a couple hours in the morning. Part of that was her being a workaholic but part was the demands of the company. She ended up being denied a promotion because of a miss placed credentialism, trained the guy who got the job and was then let go because she was too expensive for the position she had.

          She is now pursuing her dream of being a teacher by home schooling my daughter… who’s 2.

    4. . In fact (speaking from experience) the biggest barrier is timezone negotiation because morons in NY have problems understanding that other people prefer not to stay up until 3am to talk and get very ittitated if the phone rings at that time of day.

      Oh, gads, truth…

      Related: employers/supervisors with no sense of boundaries. My husband got a call at 6am. Several days into a two-week leave period. For something that wasn’t really part of his job, had already been finished, wasn’t needed until after he would get back and that the supervisor who called then proceeded to “fix” so that he had to start over when he got back…..

      1. I got in the habit early of claiming I didn’t have a phone at home. What started it was receiving a 3AM call from a client’s publicist calling from Japan with an emergency. That could not have been dealt with any sooner than next business day anyway. No sense of boundaries indeed.


      1. It’s not blue anymore. It’s the Sunrise Izumo and is cream coloured.

        Also it was late (very very late) so I’m having an extra day in Japan 😦 because I missed my flight as a result. This has never happened to me before I’m kind of shocked that it could happen. The JR people were astoundingly apologetic though…

        1. I’ve heard a story about a Japanese commuter train conductor who got on the intercom and personally apologized to all the passengers because the train was going to be 11 seconds late arriving at its final station. Not eleven minutes, eleven SECONDS. In your shoes, I’d also be shocked that the train could be so late as to make me miss my flight.

          Did the Japan Railway company’s apology go as far as paying for your hotel stay for the extra day?

          1. 11secs is a bit much. But I have heard them apologise for being 3 minutes late (and not only that they held various connecting trains by 1 minute or so to make sure no one missed their connection).

            The Narita Express used to announce that “This journey will take approximately 58 minutes” which I always found amusing.

            JR have more or less paid for the hotel by giving me a significant refund on the ticket. I think I’m in the hole for about 2000Y ($20) depending on how big an eveing meal I have tonight…

  2. It has already changed social relationships to the point of unrecognizabity. Cedar and I would not be . together if not for the changes. The friends I talk to the most I have never met, except on line.When something is bothering me and I need a wise and friendly ear I go to the diner, not to my real life associates and relatives. Some of the net denizens are closer to me than most of my family. And, if I ever plan a vacation it will probably start with : Who can we go visit/meet IRL and what is there to do in their area

    1. I wrote a paper last semester on how the new technology is changing the boundaries of ‘normal’, partly inspired by the Diner, the Barflies, and even this blog. When we can live our lives, working, social interacting, and shopping, without ever having to leave our homes, it could be labeled internet addiction as some psychologists are pushing for, or it could become the new normal. It certainly widens our world. I’d still be the awkward outsider if it weren’t for you all making me feel like I have a place to fit in, to open up and be able to communicate without worrying about what you will think of me.

      For ten years I ran a business from my home, while having three babies (one I had when I started) that grew into toddlers underfoot. I know how hard I can work from home. I’m still doing it, even though I hadn’t intended to keep on this long, but it is more viable for me to be an entrpreneur while attending school than it would be for me to go out and find a ‘real job’ with all the restrictions that would entail. And you are quite right. It is far too easy to work 24/7 when you work at home. So today is a designated day off, and I am going to take Sanford and go for a drive. 😉

      1. Its not so much day’s off as time off in a day. Another reason to cultivate hobbir, you can spend time ding them instead of working!

    2. I met my husband in college, but we did most of our courting via computer (way back in the CompuServe days).

  3. My corporate job evaporated in 2002 (the publisher I worked for decided that in house copy editors were unnecessary because they could outsource copy editor to their typesetter in India) and I decided to give freelancing a try. Now it’s 11 years later and I’ve been able to support myself that way, with some help from writing for Steve Jackson Games.

    The biggest single trap for me, actually, has been the temptation to take on more work than I have time to get done. Neither rushing nor working excessively long hours is good for quality, and quality is the big thing I have to sell. The trouble with self-employment is that the boss is always right there saying, “You know, you could be making money.” Fortunately, none of my problems with work management has done irreparable damage; and I like to think I’ve gotten better at knowing my own limits.

  4. 4. People contact is very useful. I found that a full day without any was enough to put me on edge. To be sure, saying hi to other walkers on my daily exercise seems to work. . .

    1. I am very isolated by my disease and lowered immune system. Still I stop at the office in my apartment complex to talk to the manager. It is the highlight of my day to actually talk face to face. BUT I would be going crazy (I have worked outside the home most of my life) if I didn’t have the internet. Plus I am an introvert and the internet has brought out my other qualities — 🙂

    2. See, I look forward to the days where I don’t have to look at another person’s face. It takes real work to get myself outside, especially if I don’t have any particular reason to do so. Before the job I would spend an entire week in my pajamas (not uncovering liberal lies, that would be productive).

  5. I must observe, however, that life is not technological change producing social change. The Germans did not go to war with the British because they had discovered a way to synthesize rubber and didn’t need to get it through the blockade; they discovered how to synthesize rubber after they went to war and were blockaded from other sources.

    Similarly, though many changes sprung from the waterwheel in medieval Europe, it was not just the waterwheel, because if so, it would have produced those changes in the Roman empire, which treated it as a curiosity. First society had to change so that people went OOOOO BOY!!! and pounced to see how many uses they could make of it.

    1. Actually it’s a mobius. BUT right now there seems to be a number of small changes that accumulate till they force a social change, which brings about more tech change, which….

      1. I think the word you’re looking for is “feedback loop”. There is both negative and positive (in the sense of “inhibiting” and “enhancing”, not as in moral judgements) feedback in a complex system, and the system you’re talking about is as complex as anything.

            1. If you’ve only gotten dialectic from Hegel you’ve only gotten the inferior version. Aristotle’s dialectic is a lot better. In Aristotle it’s part of a larger system that also includes rhetoric and demonstration, each with its own part to play. Come to think of it, it might be interesting to write a scene where Rhetoric, Dialectic, and Demonstration are all on stage talking. . . .

  6. One of the cautions Heinlein mentioned was the people who “only want a minute of your time. This won’t take long”.
    My children are grown and living on their own, so it’s a real pleasure to visit when they do drop by. And my wife works outside the home, so most days I have a huge allotment of time available for writing.
    But today I have to attend a meeting. Yesterday was treasurer work for a local church, tomorrow running errands that have developed a priority all their own.
    At this point, I’m looking at writing times either on Friday, or later at night when I’m mentally fatigued.
    And yes, I know it’s happening. It didn’t sneak up on me. But like dishes and laundry (I’m home so those are my jobs) some things just have to be done.
    And the phone rings with another interruption. Yes, as a matter of fact, I am on the No-Call list. Doesn’t apply to political – especially robocalls – and non-profits. Oh, and anyone you’ve contacted over anything over the last few years.
    And people trying to reach my kids through me. No, as a matter of fact – and policy – I WON’T give out their cell numbers. And no, they don’t live here.
    And I am succeeding in irritating myself, and now I MUST head for that meeting.

    1. Being on the DoNotCall doesn’t seem to matter. Either they call anyway (whoever they are working for doesn’t care if you abuse the call center staff, and they’ve paid off the regulators), or the latest innovation where they call and hang up without saying anything if you answer, because what they want to do is read the script into the answering machine.

      1. A credit card service calls frequently during the year, offering to help me with my card debt. I don’t even HAVE a credit card. And every time I actually reach a human, then hang up as soon as I mention Do Not Call.

        1. We have a credit card. We pay it off every month. We have it for reasons of convenience, particularly for the kids. We too get these annoying calls.

          1. I got rid of the landline, and I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize. If it’s important they’ll leave a message and I’ll call them back.

  7. “The weak ones died, and the bad ones died or were killed”
    Time Enough for Love
    I was convinced this had Louis Lamour’s fingerprints on it but I’ve been unable to find a quote.

    1. I saw it first as “The cowards never started, and the weak ones died on the way….” at the beginning of Marguerite Henry’s book Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West. (It’s historical fiction/biography about the history of mustangs, and about Wild Horse Annie and the whole mustang law thing. It’s a wee tiny bit biased, I see nowadays, but it really is a gorgeous book about the West, particularly with all the original illos. Anyway, the quote is quoted several several times.

      Actually, I think there was some kind of beginning of the California TV programming day poem that used this. Some kind of cowboy poem thing?

      1. Okay… looks like the oldest sources attribute it to Joaquin Miller at a banquet for surviving Forty-Niners. So it’s probably reported in a San Francisco newspaper somewhere as his bon mot: “The cowards never started and all the weak died on the road!” The earliest sources get a bit Darwinist about it, which is par for the turn of the 19th century.

        It was used as the tagline for an apparently-influential Western named The Covered Wagon, which may have popularized it. It was also used by Stephen Vincent Benet in his poem “Western Wagons,” which seems pretty much like a “laundry-list song” in its use of cliches to say something stronger. Good poem.

  8. We can look back and get some hints on how work from home will look and function: Farming and Piecework.

      1. Eh, conspicuous consumption lies in getting hand-made things instead of mass-produced ones. There will be some piecework.

      2. “Piecework won’t translate to highly skilled tech labor…”

        Dunno. There are technical equivalents of Hollywood’s “script fixers”. My current project brought a contractor in for three, four days to work us through design problems, for example. He had been there, done that, and was articulate enough to walk us through the issues.

        1. Yeah, what I meant is it’s not likely to be, “we’re hiring you and all your daughters” — though looking at the kids, their friends and programing… who knows?

          1. No, it’s surely going to be “we’re hiring you for the successful completion of a task or delivery of an acceptable product.” How that is accomplished should be transparent to the customer. Biggest roadblock to that is the managerial mindset that all employees are hourly even if carried as salaried. Talk with any salaried individual about their work and what’s the first thing that comes up? the number of hours they put in.
            Back when I did such things I was very fast and delivered the required results more quickly than anyone else with as good or better quality. Won me no favors either from management or fellow employees. Managers felt like I was goofing off while it just made the other workers look bad. Learned to pace my work with lots of embedded breaks so as not to draw attention. While that worked it drove me nuts, further incentive to get out from under that job entirely.

            1. “Biggest roadblock to that is the managerial mindset that all employees are hourly even if carried as salaried.”

              Yes. A phrase I hear DAILY is “we have to keep you guys busy!” No, you don’t — you have to keep us PRODUCTIVE. “Busy” is what you want from people who are providing nothing but labor. You want the people providing skills and experience to be productive — to be producing at their peak effectiveness. Sometimes that means “slacking off”.

              There’s a (probably apocryphal) story from Bell Labs about a high-ranking executive who visited the labs and went ballistic when he saw one of the researchers seated at his desk, leaning back in his chair, hands behind his head, feet on his desk, staring off into space. Why, he was just DAYDREAMING!!! Eventually one of the local managers took the VP aside and explained that the “daydreaming” fellow had made the company some many millions of dollars, and that his job was to THINK.

              (And the less competent manager-types REALLY don’t like people who work “too fast”.)

                1. I dunno. When my brother was still at IBM, he told me about one of their development labs. He said the guys there might not come in for a couple of weeks, but then they would stumble in, start working on something, and catch naps right there in the lab until it was done. And no one expected any different from them, because that’s the way they got things done.

                2. If they don’t want me thinking, then they’re wasting their money.

              1. Rob, that is not apocryphal. My first job, I actually witnessed that very scene in 1989, except it went like this:

                PointyHairedBoss to reclining employee: “What are you doing?”
                Employee: “Thinking.”
                PHB: “Well, can’t you do that at home?”

                I swear by Cthulhu’s left tentacles I am not making this up. /sigh

                1. The comment about “he’s thinking,” has been attributed to both Edison, and Ford (Henry). My though is this slogan. “Thinking: a valuable process, more people should try it.” ( BTW, I think I’ll see if Michael Z. Williamson will put it on shirts and sell it? 🙂 If he won’t, I’ll let it escape into the Public Domain.

                  1. Walter, I dunno about Public domain since Drake put it into the mouth of the main non-Slammer character in “At Any Price”.

                2. The one that always burned me was, “I don’t pay you to think,” when I was trying to figure out how to do something without screwing something else up.

                3. Rural legends, to borrow from Pratchett; urban legends that really do happen to your sister’s friend’s brother.

                  1. See my reply to Rob above. I’m telling you I witnessed it. In the flesh. Yes, Dilbert is an operations manual.

                    1. And now I can say “I know a guy on the internet who actually–”

                      Heck, I thought officers taking degrees in underwater basket weaving or pilots submitting the error “RADAR does not work in OFF” were humorous exaggerations…until I saw it.

                    2. I am serving on the board of an anime con. The owners all work in tech. A couple of the other board members do as well. They have conversations. Yes, people do have to be told to check to see if their equipment is on or plugged in. They do call to find out why it isn’t working during a power outage.

                      Maybe the latter arises from a misconception that if they can still phone their computer should work. I don’t know how other people think and it hurts to imagine it sometimes. This may be why I am so glad that the one story sprite that ever really bit me is now so politely hanging in the closet in skeletal form and refusing to come out.

                      (Such a good sprite! I see you are still there. Just checking. This arrangement suits us both, doesn’t it? Here, have a cookie. … No I am not insane, look to yourselves.)

                    3. The same company that provided the PHB example above had so many customers calling tech support asking where the “any” key was that we got small stickers that said “any key” and slapped them on the spacebar of every keyboard we sent out.

                    4. I’ve heard that some places, rather than asking people to confirm that their computers are plugged in (and get into an argument about it), simply ask them to unplug it. 😉

                      On Thu, May 30, 2013 at 9:38 AM, According To Hoyt wrote:

                      > ** > snelson134 commented: “The same company that provided the PHB example > above had so many customers calling tech support asking where the “any” key > was that we got small stickers that said “any key” and slapped them on the > spacebar of every keyboard we sent out.” >

                    5. That works unless they have it plugged into a power strip that is not plugged into the wall, or they unplug the power strip itself, but the computer was not plugged into it to begin with.

                    6. Good friend of mine was called up by his division officer– who went to college on a cheer leading scholarship– to the bridge, during a major meeting, because an important computer wasn’t working.

                      First thing he checked when his boss gave him a quiet run-down of the troubleshooting and didn’t mention it was making sure it was plugged in to the back of the computer. It wasn’t. She’d checked the outlet, but not the computer itself… someone had pulled it out and pulled that loose.

                      He pulled it out and opened it up to buy himself some time, had an idea, reseated half the cards and plugged it back in. It worked, of course, and he said something about how sometimes the connections just get loose…

                      His boss got major points for having such good techs.

                    7. True story. Had a rig submitted to ACRC Augsburg, Teams 8 and 5 Ludwigsburg. My turn in the rotation to receive incoming equipment and get the personnel in to get their finished equipment picked up. One radio repair team from an aviation unit sent in a piece of test equipment for repair and calibration. The unit had IFF, RFF and OFF positions on the main switch. The unit was turned in for repair with a Toe Tag saying “Will not work in OFF position” No it was not a joke.

                    8. To try to explain to folks who are going “I thought pilots were SMART”….

                      Usually, there’s a checklist that boils down to “test everything in every position; write it down if it doesn’t work.”

                      These things are dull enough to drop your eyes out, so people get into a groove where they use it as a kind of checklist– “A switch… click through every position. B switch, every position. C switch, every position.”

                      Then they get to a system where it’s acronym, acronym, WORD IN ALL CAPS, their brain farts and they write down something brain-trama inducing like “does not transmit in OFF position.”

                      Honestly, the “will not work in OFF” outcome is the best one– the example I saw, they just said it wasn’t working through the whole range, and the poor flightline techs spent a day trying to recreate the error.

            2. The one job I actually took on salary was awesome. I had a list and a box and the projects involved putting the stuff in the box at the places on the list. Some weeks I worked on my tan. Some weeks I would start at 4am and be dragging ass home at 8 that night. Totally worth it. Got hired on doing almost the same thing but paid hourly. Actual hours spent working: close to 50 most weeks. Hours I was allowed to bill for: 35. Hours my supervisor wanted me to put in so she could get her bonus: 30. Oh, unless I got about 10 hours that month. Then they begrudged paying me at all. I actually enjoyed it when I was being paid to complete the job how I saw fit.

            3. In short: Everyone will be Mercenaries — which is why the gaming companies (for one) are trying their level-best to instill the meme “Mercenaries are Evil; Great Houses are Good” in their games (the most-infamous being what _BattleTech_’s writers did with The Jihad — look at how mercs are treated…).

          2. There is piecework and what I call jobbing, in that you are making (sub-) components for a larger manufacturer. The Spanish arms manufacturers did this before the Spanish civil war. The big manufacturers would do the forgings for the frames, or not, and job out the other parts to small shops and do the final fitting and polishing and blueing, and of course do the military contracts and advertising.

            There are downsides to this manufacturing plan but, like Dell computers, it can be a successful method of manufacturing if not taken too far.

      3. My daughter and her best friend from HS have put together a little company doing exactly that; the friend is an artist (doing rather disturbing [to me]) pastels which do have a local following. My daughter does origami – folded paper art and jewelry. They are both hoping to build a business doing what they love – and one of their marketing strategies is that their stuff is indivudual, and hand-made – by them!

  9. I’ve been telecommuting on a contract basis for 14 years. It takes a while to show my clients and coworkers that it doesn’t matter whether I’m physically present or not. Nor do they have to wonder whether I’m working hard: they either get a valuable product or they don’t, and there’s no faking that. Face time isn’t an issue. Besides, even in an office, everyone quickly gets a feel for whose onsite billable hours are real and whose aren’t.

    Telecommuting started to become really practical when people got used to using laptops, universally available high speed internet connections, and then, later, smartphones. Suddenly co-workers were almost as “present” when they were on the road as when they were in the office. It’s a short step from “on the road” to “home telecommuting.”

    But it is scarier, being a contractor rather than a partner or employee. If the work temporarily dries up, you always wonder if you’ll ever work again. The trick is to learn how to live with the money spigot turned off; then when it turns on again, use it in the full knowledge that it can turn off again. That means always keeping an eye on savings, and never taking on long-term commitments that require the money spigot to stay on. When I’m working, we try to focus the spending on capital improvements, like water wells that will help us grow food later.

    1. But it is scarier, being a contractor rather than a partner or employee.

      I had one pimp get really annoyed with me when I indicated that, at least in our field, there was no such thing as a “permanent” job.

      You’re either a contractor, or you’re fooling yourself.

  10. Also, apparently Maya Angelou (!) mentioned this quote


    That’s some stinky bait.

    My guess is that no one alive today will see the end of this transformation. It’s that huge and shattering and it feeds other transformations.

    If we can keep the profit in health care it’s very likely that most people today will have the opportunity to see it.

    1. On the bait — well, I found site after site with how profound this was, and how did Maya come up with it? Did she suffer much in breaking in? (rolls eyes.)

      1. I’m sorry to be dense, but it is an entirely UN-Maya-Angelou-like thing to say. It is said by the survivors, not the victims … so where’s the juice for Maya? How can people believe she said this?

  11. “The cowards never started. The weak died on the way. Only the strong arrived. They were the pioneers.”
    I have long felt that this concept does a lot to explain the disconnect between Western European culture and that of we Americans. Similar comparisons hold between mother England and the other less independent colonies, Australia in particular given their initial infusion of English “undesirables”. And the flow continues as the restless troublemakers will tend to emigrate elsewhere even after the diaspora has essentially ended.
    Unfortunately, once life becomes easy, or relatively so, we humans tend to breed a whole new crop of weak and cowardly. Worst thing is they seem bound and determined to bring the rest of us down to their level. And yes I am thinking specifically of the lib/progs, OWS, and others of that ilk.

    1. Worst thing is they seem bound and determined to bring the rest of us down to their level.

      Because that justifies their remaining at that level.

      The best among us encourage aiming high and overcoming obstacles; the worst excuse failure to try and accepting less.

    2. Yes, but England and France, and much of Europe has become the TARGET for much of those pioneers, and that’s part of the problem. The Paki’s and Jamaicans and HongKongers in the UK, the North African’s in France, the Turks in Germany, all are the ones who got out while the getting was good.

      The “left behind” in those places are now having to deal with the “odds” as Sarah puts it, which they’ve always managed to export before. Odds in the UK went to the US or Australia… Odds in France went to Canada. Odds in Germany went — somewhere, Argentina? Anyway, now they have foreign odds to deal with, and they’ve very confused about what to do.

      We started off as a nation of odds. We keep getting more of them. New York City and California and a few other places have issues, but most of the country is pretty accomodating when the odds show up.

      1. A lot of German Odds came to the ‘States following the 1848 revolutions, and again in the 1880s when Bismarck tried to break the Catholic Church. Some also went to Australia and South America, or the German colonies in Africa.

        1. The 19th century Americans who claimed a true Nordic origin for the United States not only held that the Hundred-Year War had purged Germany of much of the Nordics, so that Anglo-Saxon England only preserved the type, but that many survivors of the breed had emigrated, coming to the States.

          The need to keep the German vote was one reason Lincoln was nominated. One of the other prospects had a Know-Nothing background.

          1. I had not heard/read that little bit of mucked-up history before. The Hundred Years War purged Germany of the Nordics? Whoh boy. That makes Turtledove and Flint look like award-winning historians. *sigh* Talk about a beautiful instance of “people will believe anything if they really, really want to.”

      2. Those aren’t pioneers. No, truly. t hey go there for the commodities, not to homestead. If the commodities vanished, so would they.

        I was talking of a frontier of the mind.

  12. One of the most intriguing, and saddest, history articles I’ve read is about a woman in Medicine Mound, Texas, in the early 1900s. She was one who could not make it, for several reasons including loneliness and social status (she was a physician or lawyer’s wife from Ft. Worth, IIRC), combined with (quite probably) an underlying mental problem. She started committing arson and graduated to poisoning people’s wells before ending up in a sanitorium in CA. In many ways it is a very sad story, but it is also a fascinating and rare glimpse at someone who didn’t make it.

  13. I hoped I could figure a way to say this more clearly, but have not.

    One of the things about this country that kept it independently minded for so long, was that a substantial portion were self-employed, or could see becoming self-employed. So, perhaps this new employment paradigm will have a silver lining?

    1. I don’t see it as specifically self-employment as much as it might be a hybrid of self-reliance and civil society. Everyone voluntarily does what they can to make their own lives better – improving the land, digging wells, planting fruit trees, farms, etc, and no one wanted to become a burden to the community – the self-reliance arm.
      But neighbors and friends kept tabs on each other, were interested in the others’ welfare, and when a family was hurting, needed help, etc., they got it – the civil society part.
      Nowadays, though, we’ve largely replaced that civil society with government and the mythical “somebody”. “Somebody” will take care of that. “Somebody” should do something. And then gov’t steps in to fill that role that used to be friends and neighbors.

      1. Yep, and by its inherent nature much less efficiently and in general more poorly than if done at a local level by people who know and care for you instead of bureaucrats just looking to check a box and fill a metric.
        On the other hand, if your intent is to scam the system it’s ever so much easier when dealing with an anonymous government agency rather than by those friends and neighbors who know you for what you really are.

      2. That’s one of the nice things about Japan. People DO look after their neighbors – generally speaking (or at least they do in the countryside, not so sure about big cities, but evidence from the Kobe and Sendai quakes is that the reflex is still there albeit in a somewhat weakened form). Of course the downside is you get nosy neighbors sometimes and it can be hard to say no to requests to do community work but it’s much more healthy that way round than expecting ‘them’ to fix the problem.

      3. I don’t see it as specifically self-employment as much as it might be a hybrid of self-reliance and civil society.

        Yes. Thank you.

        And with the civil society there was social pressure to be self-reliant. It is much easier to rally around a man whose barn burned because it was hit by lightening, than a man you know to be a drunken wastrel whose barn likely burned when he knocked over the lantern because he was incapacitated.

  14. “(I managed it the old fashioned way. By stealing time at the phone booth!)”
    Oh, that sounds like a very interesting story!

  15. The cowards never started – but lower than a coward is the one who tries to make other cowards.

    To quote the Kipling:

    Some die quietly.
    Some abound In loud self-pity.
    Others spread
    Bad morale through the cots around…
    This is a type that is better dead.

  16. Have a hobby that can support you… or rather, more than one.

    Well, if the software development gig goes TU, there’s gunsmithing… covert communications, fiction writing, non-fiction writing, signmaking, plumbing, network management, uh… can you have too many hobbies?

    1. Plumbing … now that is a saintly avocation. When your plumbing is not working, there is nothing more critical in your life … more important than electricity, even … may God bless plumbers everywhere.

      1. Was it a Heinlein quote somewhere that said something to the effect:
        “Civilization amounts to working plumbing, nothing more, nothing less!”

        1. Not only that, but I would argue that anyone who cannot respect a competent plumber–or mechanic, or any of the necessary blue-collar professions on which we rely–is a very low sort of person, morally speaking.
          Part of the appeal of Heinlein was that he seemed to realize this. His heroes actually work for a living.

        2. “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

          All I can find is it attributed to John W. Gardner. I *swear* I remember it as one of Long’s Notes.

      2. My Grandfather on Momma’s side was a doctor. He argued that one of the greatest health advances ever made is indoor plumbing.

        The third Christmas in a row that Daddy had to call a plumber for an emergency he noted, offhandedly, that the plumber really was far more essential to the world than a lawyer well trained in Constitutional Law and Contracts. But, I will note, that as he was a lawyer well trained, he could afford that plumber on Christmas Day.

        1. But if he’d been a handyman, he might have been able to fix it himself.
          I still have -vivid- memories of clogged plumbing a day before Thanksgiving one year. And after a very late night and much effort, the Turkey went in the oven on schedule.
          Funny – it was after that I started cooking and deboning the turkey a couple of days in advance ….

          1. I can’t do plumbing or electricity. everything is else is my dept. Dan does plumbing and electricity. To be honest I CAN do electricity (it’s just he does it, so why should I?) BUT I purely hate doing plumbing and am afraid of flooding the house. So he does that.

            1. My father used to be a jack-of-all-trades, who could work on just about anything, but sometimes working with him could be a little hazardous. After his sight started going, I was helping him with running some plumbing in his basement, when he let the torch slide over and burn all the hair off the back of my hand.

              Another time, he asked me to strip the wires in a light fixture in the basement, because I could reach it without a ladder. Knowing how much experience he had with this, I never even thought to make sure the power was off. After I threw the utility knife across the basement, he said, “I’m glad that was you and not me, because when that happens to me, I just stand there and shake for 10 or 15 minutes.” Dammit, father! (Side note: When I read the Belgariad, and read any of the exchanges between Polgara and Belgarath, I hear my sister and father in my head).

          2. “Remember: If the women don’t find you Handsome, they should at least find you Handy.” [Red Green]

          3. Daddy had numerous practical skills, having achieved Eagle Scout. I recall Daddy doing some plumbing when I was young, but his handyman skills tended toward the dry. He once build a set of set-in shelves under a staircase after a carpenter told him it could not be done. Still, whatever else, doing the plumbing while helping with last minuet preparations for an impending Christmas dinner for a dozen, with time to get dressed and go out to fetch the elderly family members who could no longer drive, apparently had never been covered in Scouting.

            (The original row house they lived in had been built in the late mid 1800s. It had been added on to over the decades and the plumbing and wiring had been added and retrofitted at various stages along the way. One reason they finally sold the place was the time had come to pull all the plumbing and wiring and ‘do it right for once.’ They decided they were too old for that.)

          1. Or there are the ones that have a woman’s picture on the back, cropped so that it looks like their cleavage…

  17. With that much change coming in the culture, in the tech, in the workplace, in the market, it becomes more important to find and grab hold of things that don’t change – to find some bedrock, a place to build upon. I find that in my religion, but that’s not for everyone – what else do people look to for a solid foundation?

  18. “… when tech starts changing too much too fast and hitting the social structures, people go nuts…”

    That’s one of the main driving forces behind environmentalism. Most environmentalists care little about the environment–they just want to eliminate modern technology. They latched onto (non-existent) anthropogenic global warming because it provided a reason (excuse) for blocking use of oil, gas, and coal in electricity generation, heating, and transportation. Accomplishing that will kill technology and let us live the simple life. Except these pseudoenvironmentalists would be among the first to perish in an Iron Age society.

    1. Except these pseudoenvironmentalists would be among the first to perish in an Iron Age society.

      You almost persuade me it would be worthwhile.

    2. And they are usually the ones most concerned about overpopulation, yet never volunteer to eradicate the issue themselves.
      OOOOoo! Nice pun, Doug!

      1. “But, you see: If we eliminate the Willing first, that will leave only the Unwilling, who will continue to make the same mistakes repeatedly until they destroy the planet — thus, logically, the Unwilling have to be eliminated first.”

        (Now aren’t you all glad I’m on *YOUR* side? >:) )

  19. In the future we’re all contractors, with both the risks and the benefits of it.

    Glenn Reynolds just linked to this article which bears that out. Glenn’s comment: “Wave of the future?” My response: “I certainly hope so.”

    1. I was talking to someone about a (possibly illegal) “permanent 1099” position with a hosting provider.

      He wanted to know what my rates would be, so sat down and worked it out.

      That’s really all you have to do is figure out how much you want to live, and how nice a benefit package you want to give yourself. Map the annual cost back into your hourly and f* them if they don’t want to pay it.

      1. Or,as my friend in Omaha puts it: “[PM]^2 — Piss, Moan, and Pay Me.”

        Can you guess why we get along? >:) )

      2. One more item to go into your figures – how many hours you can reasonably expect to work in a year. If you’re contracting, you have to figure in the lean times as well as the good.

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