All the news unfit to print.


November 2013

Master Disaster: Shameless Plug

I’ve mentioned before that I’m selling my family’s books online (yes, the “hoarding” part of my chosen moniker isn’t entirely exaggeration), but now I’m really expanding into my Etsy shop and plan to start a self-managed photography business around January.

So here are the links:


Re(al)-tale: Psychology of Anticipation

From the interview, though training, and into today’s conversation I have noticed that the bosses really stress the idea that anyone could continue rising through the ranks at the company. You get fed stories about employees who started as holiday temps and quickly made it to management. Looking around the sales team, knowing how long some of the people have worked the same job, I know that it isn’t true for everyone (and it couldn’t be with as few management jobs as there are available).

In the interview the woman interviewing me stressed how far she had come with the company. During training the leader really encouraged us to do our best because look at her, she started in our shoes and now she’s management.

And today the same. I asked what my last day would be because I’d like to know when to start looking for jobs, when I can say my first day of availability is and when I can visit my father for an extended period of time.

Instead of an answer I got a great speech about doing a good job to stay on. Did I know that they kept on some of the holiday employees? Did I know that I had had nothing but good reviews so far? If I kept it up and worked on thus and thus things I MIGHT be asked to stay, and I didn’t need to be reminded of the many benefits of that! But it was really stressed that I DO MY BEST for the rest of my holiday season.

So my question is where in the manager’s training do they tell people to push this idea of potential pay-offs? There has to be a psychology behind it. Tell your temp employees from day one that they could make it to a “really good position” and they do a better job? I mean, it makes sense. Who wouldn’t want to do a better job if they had first hand accounts of it paying off?

But for me I question it all because the numbers don’t match up. At some of my other jobs my bosses only ever hinted once or twice in the years I worked there that I could move up, and only when they knew that the person directly above me may leave. They never tried to foster this sense of promotions that just did not exist. I mean, when you have a staff of 20 and you only have three positions above that you don’t expect to promote every one of those 20 people, do you?

Also, I still don’t know my last day. I think I’ll call the corporate offices to get a concrete date because I really don’t think I’ll get one from the staff.

Re(al)-tale: Last-minute scheduling

I just got a call from my supervisor about coming in earlier than my on-call shift. Instead of coming in at 3 p.m. I was asked to come in at 11 a.m.. It was 9:30 when they called and I was in the midst of cleaning for my guest.

I asked them if I would leave early if I started early. No, they said, I would have to work until 7:45 p.m. as usual.

I said no, I needed time to clean the house for my guest.

They said, in that case, I could come in at 11:45 a.m.

I said no. That really wasn’t enough time for me to do what I needed before my guest came.

This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten a call the day of to come in for a shift I was not scheduled for. Last Sunday I had no been scheduled at all (no on-calls) and I got a call around 10 a.m. asking if I could come in. When I asked what time I was told, “As soon as possible.” I told her I couldn’t because I already had plans and was kind of given the runaround like today (she asked when I would be done, if I could do it later, etc.).

It’s interesting to me because of the tone of the interactions, as if I’m the one in the wrong for not being able to make a last minute shift change. I’m pretty sure they said we had to have three-days notice before a shift, and lately, between the last-minute calls and late release of the schedule, I don’t think they’re following that guideline.


Book Review: Junkyard Planet

When it comes to environmental sustainability in America the three tenants taught in school are: reduce, reuse, recycle. The last of the three is the most visible and most used option because the culture we live in does not really move toward reducing or reusing. We are a single-use society that loves new things.

As someone who has worked in sustainability I appreciate Adam Minter’s “Junkyard Planet” for laying out the journey of scrap metal. In some ways you could say he plots an ethnography of an object. We follow metal from the yards of America to the sheds and scrappers of Asia and then back to the brokers who make the shipment deals and flit around in the world of metal supply and demand. There is also a fantastic briefing on recycling in America (or “grubbing”).

What is so vitally important, and what I think Minter does a good job of highlighting, is that there are high levels of materials that must be managed in some way. While some of the striping practices are not the most eco-friendly (or just plain safe) there is some solace in knowing that the items are not merely being piled in a landfill. (Some solace, not a lot.)

He circles in on the more important issue of consumption. Recycling is the last of the steps toward waste reduction, because in the end that recycling bin is still going to produce some waste. What is more crucial is changing buying habits. The author ends the book with the message that we should “demand” companies be responsible for making products that embrace the three “r”s, especially when it comes to repairability and reusability.

I think anyone who works in sustainability can always benefit from understanding the cycles around certain waste streams.

Re(al)-tale: Power and gender

Oh snap, I’m going there. These are merely my observations, along with some examples of incidents. The dialogue of such incidents may not be 100% accurate due to human error and lack of recording device (or right to use such device).

I have noticed a distinct difference in how the male supervisors handle employees when compared to the female supervisors.

The male supervisors are more likely to praise and educate.

Example: My second ever use of the registers I was with a male supervisor. He had walked me through one transaction and then stood beside me to watch me do another. When the customer left he said, “Great, you did everything perfectly, except what?”

I paused. “Oh shit! I forgot (insert promotion here)!”

“You did, but that’s ok. Remember it for next time. You did everything else perfectly.”

Compare this to my first ever use of the register with a female supervisor.

“Can you watch me do my first transaction?” I asked.

“Sure, I’ll be over here if you need me,” she says as she walks off to do “go-backs.”

The difference in the two interactions is key because the first time I try a new skill I am met with resistance to my request for assistance. I had admitted at the start of my shift that I was uncomfortable with the registers as I had never used them before and in my first attempt my concerns were essentially ignored. With my male supervisor I felt comfort knowing that he listened to my concerns and created a learning moment out of his observations, making my register training more thorough. (In saying “thorough” I mean he was close enough to observe if I was doing everything correctly on screen and off, rather than walking away entirely.)

Another difference is how the two handle visits from higher-ups. I’ve observed all four supervisors react to visits from superiors on multiple occasions and each time I have noticed the same responses. When on the floor during inspection the male supervisors tend to lean toward positive reinforcement with the sales team. The female supervisors participate in corrective interactions with the sales team when in front of their superiors.

Example: Visit One

I was on the floor helping a customer with a question about denim jackets. As I raised my arm to point out where the jackets were located the supervisors and their superior were just coming to my section and paying close attention to the interaction. Without waiting for me to finish my explanation to the customer my female supervisor interrupts and tells the customer that we don’t have the product she is looking for, but have something similar in a place opposite from where I was about to direct her.

I walked the customer over to where the female supervisor had pointed out the product would be located. I was fully aware that the information my supervisor had given was inaccurate, but being watched by her I followed through with her directions. The customer asked (again) if there were any other locations for denim jackets. I told took her to the place I originally pointed out, before being “corrected” by my female supervisor, and found multiple styles of the item she was looking for.

My male supervisor did not make any attempt to correct my behaviors, or any other sales staff that I observed. (I am indicating that I did not observe the entire interaction.)

Example: Visit Two

I am replacing items from the dressing room to their place on the floor. We are having another big visit from the superiors. A male and female supervisor are on the floor while the superior is there. My male supervisor stops me and asks me to (please) recover (i.e. tidy up) a messy table before returning to my assignment. He follows up by saying he wished I worked again the next day because I was so on top of things.

My female supervisor stops me while attempting to complete my shift-long assignment and tells me what I should be doing instead, despite her telling me to do that very assignment in the first place. Though my male supervisors have lavished positive comments upon the sales staff all shift I did not hear one positive comment from either female staffers. I only hear corrective comments, sometimes I feel they are unneeded.

This brings me to a concluding thought. I have heard in classroom discussion of studies and statistics that women in power often feel they must exert that power in ways men do not (and do not feel they have to). I have never before encountered such a distinct dichotomy. I love women in power, I think it rocks and I’ve been lucky enough to have two strong female bosses that I am still very close to.

My theory is that the female supervisors partake in corrective commentary because it is a sign of power, they have the status and education to determine when others are not doing an operation correctly and tell them to change behaviors. The male supervisors more often turn to positive comments before bringing up incorrect behaviors. They nestle the corrective comment between positive statements.

This is a topic I wish to elaborate on continuously throughout the holidays. I find it fascinating that between the four supervisors (two female, two male) there is a very predictable pattern of behaviors.

Re(al)-tale: Disclaimer

I’m essentially going to be posting ethnographic notes on my experience working in retail. In order to feel at ease with such an ethnographic experiment I should lay out what may become (or be perceived) as biases within the study:

  • This is my first retail job.
  • I am only doing it to pass my free time and save money for a camera kit.
  • As soon as I have said money for camera kit I will put in my two weeks notice.
  • I do not want to continue working in retail.
  • I have a low tolerance for bullshit.
  • I have issues with asshats of privilege who assume that retail/food service employees are somehow lesser beings.
  • My dad has always worked in food service.

I may add to this upon further self examination.

Book Review: Best American Magazine Writing 2013

Like any avid reader I am the first to admit that I don’t have time to read as many articles as I would like, which means that many of the best slip completely past. Lucky for us the “Best American Magazine Writing” series continues to gather the best of the best so that we can all take a moment at the end of the year to catch up on the mesmerizing stories we somehow missed.

The beauty of magazine writing is that it has so much more space for creativity than straight news. The editors of this edition have curated a fantastic variety of stories, from hard-hitting investigations to first-person trials, the book contains shining examples of “writing well” (as William Zinsser would put it).

This year’s anthology contains not only great works, but within those works so spectacular perspective on the news that was. It starts out with a powerful analysis, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, of Obama’s politics, race in America and how very far we have yet to go.

There were two pieces about the decline of old age that were approached in very different ways, yet left me meditative and touched. As someone who was raised by a grandmother and great-grandmother I was confronted with situations that I’ve already faced, and some that I hope never to encounter. Michael Wolff’s personal account of a declining mother touches on bigger issues within our own medical system while Stephen King entertains with a fictive, yet realistic, account of one afternoon that encapsulates a lifetime.

Stories bounce around American politics, troubling accounts of war, strange news stories and interesting figureheads. After reading the diverse stories I was glad the collection ended with Charles C Mann’s State of the Species. Somehow he flits around the history of homo sapiens, bacteria behavior and agriculture to highlight how humans being responsible for their own demise is actually, in the grand scheme of things, the natural progression of a successful species.


I recommend this for anyone who feels they don’t have nearly enough time to skim every publication they would like, teachers looking for examples of great writing and writers who need inspiration occasionally.

Book Review: Status Update – The Tech Scene Under the Microscope

Marwick’s ethnography of the tech scene in San Francisco is as addictive as the very media she is discussing. Her findings confront the ideas surrounding “authenticity” as defined by this population that puts value on number of followers, retweets, traffic, etc., while actively denying that those things really matter. There are many keen observations about micro-celebrities, anti-consumerist consumerism and, most importantly, the inequalities within the scene. The later chapters circle in on sexism within the scene, how it is maintained and has become a part of the institutions in tech.

The study takes place between 2006-2010 when Twitter was booming, which accounts for why there is such a focus on that particular sharing mechanism. I was particularly amused because I work around the corner from Twitter’s offices at Civic Center. I passed by the hordes of Twitter employees going to lunch, sporting their Twitter gear and probably discussing the very things Marwick noticed in her book (the latest technology, last night’s invite-only party, next week’s conference).

I thought her keen observations of the nuanced meanings of “authenticity” converged well with her early assessments about neoliberalism becoming an aspect of how we present ourselves online. The self-governance that we partake in can help us build the status that is so essential to what we now deem important in forming our identity. What’s so interesting is what is seen as “acceptable” behavior and what is not, and who tries to dictate and maintain these standards. For instance, those just starting out on Twitter will retweet other users with more followers in order to increase their own numbers, a practice that is frowned upon by those who already have a booming following.

Marwick’s strength is her holistic approach to presenting her findings (she gets that not everyone is going to know the insider lingo or history, so she explains it). Her overview of the history of Web 2.0 was a fantastic briefing and actually featured one of the professors I became close to at USC. The background information really helps build a reference point when she starts to flesh out the communities and individuals that take center stage in her research.

Really fascinating read for any anthropologists, journalists, tech fiends, or even just tech users. In fact, I would love to see this replace some of the older ethnographies in curriculum (the subject-matter would actually appeal to modern students anyway). I could see the Web 2.0 overview being really useful in web-based courses that just want a basic briefing. Though I would have loved to see more on racial inequalities, which she hints at, I understand that that was not the focus of her study. Hopefully she will continue her study one day and give us more fabulous observations and insights.

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