Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Week in Review 11/24/08: Pre-holiday Work Rush, Bolt, and Farrell’s

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The work week last week was pretty busy and stressful due to the rush to get various projects finished before the Thanksgiving holiday.  The team that I lead is most actively involved with projects during the early parts of the quality assurance process.  Since many teams really want their projects to complete over the first couple days of this week, the work piled on us quite a bit last week.  Our office is closed for Thanksgiving on Thursday and Friday, while the day before Thanksgiving is traditionally a 1/2 day with most staff wrapping up around 1pm or so.  That really only gives two full work days for this week.

Fortunately, the work load was such that I was really busy (and a bit stressed) while at the office last week, but it didn’t result in overly late schedules at the office or anything much in the way of weekend work.  I was typically pretty tired when I got home from work last week, but I still made it home in time to have dinner and help get my son off to bed each night.  I don’t really mind being very busy at work in cases like this where it doesn’t really interfere too much with my own time.

While I was a little concerned late last week that I would have to put in some time for work over the weekend, that turned out not to be the case allowing us to have quite a bit of time for family activities.  On Saturday afternoon, we took our son to see Bolt, Disney’s new animated feature which opened on Friday.  We have been pretty conservative when it comes to taking our son to the movies and this was only the third that he had seen in a theater (the two previous were Horton Hears a Who and a revival showing of The Muppet Movie).  So far, we have been very proud of his behavior at movies.  He did get a little fidgety around the hour mark, but we were able to settle him down very quickly.  He stayed very quiet throughout the movie, having taken very seriously our repeated reminders beforehand that a movie theater is a quiet place.  He seemed to enjoy the movie, although his attention did wander a little bit  The movie was targeted perhaps a bit older than we had expected.

I enjoyed the movie a lot, finding it to be fun, charming, and very funny.  The action sequences were surprisingly good for this kind of animated film as well.  I thought the voice cast was well selected and the character designs were appealing.  The film had some genuine heart as well, with the character of Mittens the cat being particularly effective in this regard.  On the downside, though, the film did have a pretty conventional look and style to it and the story line was almost entirely predictable.  My reaction was that this was a very good film, but not a particularly inventive one.  The end result was a fun movie, but one that is on a somewhat lower tier among Disney’s animated films.

Like The Emperor’s New Groove a few years ago, I think that Bolt is going to remain a film that I enjoy and admire, but where I also can’t help but wonder what might have been.  Both films evolved from projects that seemed much more ambitious than the final versions, but were halted when Disney management felt that they weren’t coming together in a commercially viable way.  In the case of Bolt, the film evolved from American Dog, which was to be director Chris Sanders’ follow up to Lilo and Stitch, which I believe to be Disney’s best, and most creative, animated feature since Beauty and the Beast.  Sanders was ultimately fired from the project and is now making films for Dreamworks.  As much as I enjoyed the final version of Bolt, I can’t help wonder if this fairly conventional film could have been something much more.

Shifting topics again (yes, these "week in review" posts can’t help being a bit rambling), yesterday’s main activity was a somewhat more intimate continuation of our celebration of our son Andy’s birthday.  For the big party last weekend on his actual birthday, we had to kind of go against his wishes in our choice of venue.  For his last two birthdays, we had taken him to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour for dinner/dessert with a few of our adult friends.  He remembered last year’s party and really wanted to go back there again this year.  That isn’t really the best venue for a party with a large group of pre-schoolers, so we ended up promising him that we would take him to Farrell’s the following week instead.

The Farrell’s chain is one that I remember well from my childhood.  They have a very boisterous, celebratory atmosphere, with sirens and a big drum used to regularly announce birthdays and other special occasions as well as to herald the delivery of such large and elaborate ice cream concoctions as "The Zoo" or the "Pig Trough".  The chain all but disappeared about 15-20 years ago, but a new set of owners are now trying to revive it.  One of the only three current locations is up in Santa Clarita, only about 20 miles from our house (the other two are in Hawaii).  The Santa Clarita location is inside of Mountasia Fun Center, an amusement facility featuring various video and carnival games as well as miniature golf, batting cages, go-karts, and other similar items. 

Yesterday afternoon, we drove up there around mid-afternoon and spent an hour and half or so playing some of the various games while waiting for a few friends to arrive.  They have a small merry-go-round (basically one of the miniature coin-operated type) which Andy especially enjoys and was, in fact, one of his main reasons for wanting to go back there.  He spent a lot of time playing that, while my wife and I took turns wandering around playing some of the various carnival and ticket-vending games.  Andy did take a bit of an interest in a couple of the other games this time, particularly enjoying a basketball game (it was cool that that they had a child-sized one in addition to the full-sized adult game) as well as a race-car video game.

After our friends arrived, we went into Farrell’s for dinner and ice cream.  My wife and I both had pizza slices for dinner, which were pretty greasy, but still not too bad.  I was particularly surprised by how generous they were with the toppings.  They, of course, have a good variety of ice cream sundaes available for dessert.  I selected one called the "Hot Caramel Nutty Nutty", which pretty much is what it sounds like: vanilla ice cream covered in hot caramel with lots of pecans and Spanish peanuts.  My wife had an Oreo sundae and Andy had the kid’s "clown sundae", which was a scoop of ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles and then a sugar cone placed on top such that it looks like a clown’s hat.

It was a fun evening that provided a chance to spend some time with a few good friends as well as to enjoy some family time.  It made for a good supplement to the bigger, more chaotic party of the week before.

Work/Life Balance and "Loving Your Work"

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Over the last few days, several of the technology-oriented blogs that I read have included some spirited debates about the work/life balance and whether or not loving your work essentially equates to a workaholic devotion to it.  This is an issue that I have spent a lot of time thinking about and working out for myself during my career and that has even contributed to something of a career change several years ago.

The online discussion was prompted by a recent blog post by Jason Calacanis, the founder of "human-edited" search engine Mahalo.com.  The post focused on various cost-savings tips for people running technology start-ups.  Most of the items in the post were pretty innocuous suggestions about things like office furniture and equipment, but there were a couple entries that could easily be interpreted as saying that a start-up should have no use for anyone that would in any way prioritize their personal life over their work life.

The most controversial item was the following:

“Fire people who are not workaholics…. come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. go work at the post office or stabucks if you want balance in your life. For realz.”

He later attempted to soften it a bit by changing "are not workaholics" to "don’t love their work" and then crossing out "it’s not a game" and "if you want balance in your life. For realz."  He also wrote a pretty lengthy follow-up post that did help to clarify his view a bit and also shared his own general approach to his work.  Particularly in that follow-up post, he seems to be basically suggesting that unless you let your work largely dominate your life, then you must be working only out of necessity rather than actually loving what you do.

Even though my experience with working at start-ups is limited to a short stint at a tiny game developer that ended up folding pretty dramatically about 4 months after I started,   I believe that Calacanis is almost certainly correct that a pretty intense career focus is probably necessary to survive during the very early years at most start-ups.  Where I take exception is his apparent view that pretty much total devotion to work is a requirement to be able to say that you "love" your work.  I don’t believe that having a life balance and actually loving what you do are mutually-exclusive.

(more…)