Ironic Inverse Ratio

Years ago, before my employer started its regular “Great Places to Work” program, it maintained a less grandiose practice of occasionally but regularly asking employees for feedback on how it could improve.  At the time I figured this was pointless lip-service, but I dutifully responded with reasonable requests.  One of these requests was for free coffee.

I didn’t expect them to hire a barista, serving Arabica blends.  Of course, I didn’t expect them to seriously consider the request at all.  But after several years, respond they did, and by popular demand installed coffee machines.  And for a good solid month I enjoyed free coffee–nothing great, but a drinkable instant coffee blend.  Quick and effective.

This is how the work coffee comes in

Then, someone cut costs and changed the blend.  Now, I can drink some pretty awful coffee, but overnight, the coffee had turned into toxic waste.  And toxic waste is probably less bitter–you know, the glowing green kind?  Sadly, I returned to making my own.  But the years passed and the machines remained, so someone had to of been drinking it.  Upon this realization, I started more closely observing who was still getting cups of the sludge.  They all fell into a certain demographic: from Sales, tall, men, middle-aged.  I wondered why successful businessmen were less picky about the quality of their coffee.  Then, I considered my father-in-law.  He is a retired defense-contractor engineer.  He also drinks Folgers.

I wondered: is coffee quality preference inversely proportionate to income level?  To answer this question, I decided to waste time and put off auditing the emails I needed to send out.

To quantify this correlation, I needed figures.  I felt it was safe to assume that the cost of the coffee blend increases with its quality.  What I needed then, were some salary figures.  To graph the slope, I only needed two points.  The first point was easy: take the most expensive coffee I see regularly in grocery stores: $15 a bag; and the lowest income bracket, minimum wage: $15,080.  For the second point, I needed the cost of the cheapest instant coffee available (what I presumed was being used in the machines at work).  Courtesy of Amazon, I found it at $3.33 a bag.  Then, consulting the various online utilities designed to inform the masses that everyone’s underpaid, I found the average salary for an experienced Sales manager to be around $115,000.  Now I had two points.  It was time to calculate the equation.

First, I calculated the cost per ounce of each coffee.  Going off a 12-ounce bag, the expensive coffee was $1.25 and the cheap coffee was $0.28.  But, to make these number more manageable for a formula, I multiplied by 100 to use cents, creating nice whole numbers to work with: 125 and 28.

With standard algebra, we can calculate the slope with (Y2-Y1)/(X2-X1):

(28-125)/(115000-15080)=~-0.000970777, or if you want to follow significant figures, -0.00097.

Following Y=MX+B, we need B to be X0 (in this case, the baseline of minimum wage) to equal the $15 coffee mark.  But first we divide by 100 to bring the scale back down.  After doing so, B is simply calculated to be 140.  Final formula:


Peet'sSadly, I could not find an online calculator that provides coffee products by cost per ounce.  Searching for one only yielded a number of self-righteous articles criticizing how much coffee costs and how stupid people are for buying Keurigs or going to coffee shops.  But I did plug some numbers into the calculator, and my own coffee preference: Peet’s, ranks approximately by cost the type of coffee I should be buying.  So once again, the math doesn’t lie:

Aqua Vitae


Get Off My Lawn! (Part 4)

Work continues on the rain garden–a project whose purpose is ever-more apparent with the recent downpour.  With the ugly gravel pit juxtaposed to the greening lawn, and the last frost date looming, I completed some preliminary additions.

I’m assuming that the garden’s flood/drought cycle will make it perfect for succulents, and as they were already bursting at the seams of their peat pots, I indulged their eagerness and buried the pots in the stone.  Also, I relocated some volunteer tiger lilies, which were wedged against the house’s foundation, predicting that they were hardy candidates for repeated flood cycles.  Now, again I wait.

water garden


St. Augustine

Last week we visited St. Augustine.  From the perspective of humanity, Florida really sucks.  I hate the people.  I hate the culture.

However, focusing on the the biome itself (which is my preference), I did find it interesting.  The warmer climate reminded me of my own childhood,  and also served as a respite from the lingering Ohio winter.  So, phone in hand, I cataloged points of interest:

Palm trees! Obligatory photo of a flora novel to a Midwesterner
My daughter’s first view of the ocean–I wonder if this moment will form a permanent memory
Not sure how a small reptile can appear cute, but they do
spanish moss
I just really like Spanish moss
A young model in the making? Maybe I can get a contract with Target
I watched this lizard repeatedly attempt to eat this inchworm, but it was behind the screen. The battle moved behind the board, so I never saw the outcome
These dunes triggered childhood memories of White Sands National Park
A sandpiper had left tracks, creating this pleasant beach scene


Evil Morning Glories

When we moved out of the rental and bought a house, I compiled a list.  In anticipation of the chores to come, I knew I’d need a reminder as to why we left (and gave up free maintenance).  One of the entries on this list pertained to the garden.  A garden is a very personal project–it betrays much about its creator, being infinitely customizable.  And it is because of this customization that no two people can agree on a garden’s layout.

But it’s a comparatively minor issue to have marital bickering over a layout.  When the property is a rental, however, the owner, and by extension the management, gets final say.  And often, they exercise this executive power by giving a hired landscaping company carte blanche, without ever consulting the tenants.  My first experience with this involved the empty pot of dirt by the front door.  Our unit shared the walkway to the model (the unit that’s way nicer than anything they rent out), so it was maintained better than the collapsing structures which comprised the rest of the compound.  But for whatever reason, this pot sat unused.  I let it remain this way for the entire first year.

On year two, however, it was impossible to overlook the eyesore, and I invoked eminent domain.  Its location was on the south side of the building, upon concrete and brick–it was a hot and dry pot of dirt.  I concluded that this would make an excellent herb garden.  When early spring came the following year, I started seed in anticipation.  After last frost, I topped the pot off with a good potting soil (the pot’s contents had long since compacted to a crusty and barren dust), and planted my seedlings.

The landscapers promptly came through, ripped out my herbs, and planted petunias.  Enraged, I grabbed a bucket and retrieved from the pot the potting soil I had purchased, and re-used it in the back garden.  The petunias, not only uprooted but now exposed to the unrelenting sun, and going without water because apparently management didn’t assign garden watering duties to anyone, withered and died, leaving a fallow vessel of dirt once again for the remainder of the year.

A couple years later, I had a similar non-verbal disagreement with the landscapers when I planted morning glories along the back fence.  I constructed a zigzag trellis of fishing line so that the plants could make a pretty cover as they grew up the invisible wire.  Then, as the plants were nearing the top, the landscapers reached over the fence and ripped out the plants, along with the fishing line.  I stewed over this transgression for a long time thereafter.

For years I grew morning glories in a pot in the center of the patio–far away from the murderous hands of hired thugs.  Then one year, I noticed that I started getting volunteers.  I let them grow, and they turned out to be far more invasive than store-purchased seed.  Ultimately I concluded that they had cross-pollinated with bindweed, as they bore similar characteristics.  I dubbed these “Evil Morning Glories”, as their voracity rivaled kudzu.

morning glory
Ipomea Diaboli

Bitterly remembering the cruelty of prior years, when this batch of morning glories went to seed, I saved some.  But this would turn out to be unnecessary, as once upon the earth, these plants would prove to be ruthless.  The following year, they exploded upon the fence with unholy fervor.  And despite their physical removal and chemical applications (once again at the hands of the landscapers), they could not be eradicated.  This is my gift to the apartment complex–the ultimate landscaping nemesis, a reminder for all eternity!

flowerBut when you dance with the devil…okay that’s a little dramatic.  I took seed with me, and against better judgement, planted it at the house.  Come spring, the devil’s progeny will once again plague the land, yet evil always accompanies beauty.


Zero Sum

In my prior job, I was a web developer for the company’s internal website.  Specifically, this website’s purpose was to consolidate process and procedural information for the agents on the phone, presumably so that they could quickly research what to do for any given scenario, because remember: time is of the essence!

Now I’ve noticed something about big companies.  An individual job will gradually acquire additional responsibilities until it reaches critical mass.  Then, like a plant’s bulb, the job splits, creating a separate position, related to the parent position.  That’s when the transition is mild.  Sometimes it’s like a star going critical, then exploding into a supernova.

Then something interesting happens, where the plant analogy breaks down: these satellite positions as I’ll call them, remain vaguely defined for a time.  Work is dispersed among them, and they gradually form solidly defined purposes.  But then, a management change occurs.  The new manager, eager to stand out as the new vanguard to change, decides to promote efficiency.  Efficiency is the oft correlate to cost reduction (though I find that debatable), and therefore the new manager combines positions and their duties, eliminating needless processes and jobs along the way.  The remnants of the supernova, having floated in their nebulous form, gradually coalescing from gravity into new celestial bodies, now collapses back into a new star–a facsimile of the original.

This new star remains as such until it again reaches critical mass, but by then the manager who created it has benefited from the transition sufficiently as to receive promotion.  The manager’s replacement sees this star and, eager to stand out as the new vanguard to change, breaks it up into satellite positions.  Attentive readers might be having a “Wait a minute…” moment right now.

Life sure is an ant race

Yes, it’s cyclic.  I’ve experienced having my job redefined so many times that I now expect it as an inevitability.  As a result of this dynamic, my job only consisted of developing the Collections website.  Operations and Fraud had their own team of developers.  Whether or not this was more efficient is an argument left to history, and only a transitory state as defined by those in charge.

Yet, to me it seemed counter-intuitive to have no communication between the teams.  After all, we were doing the same thing, and using the same software.  It was only expected that each of us had differing levels of knowledge which, if combined, could benefit everyone, right?  Not waiting for any management sign-off, as is my way, I initiated dialogs with the other team members.  We began sharing knowledge, with limited success, but eventually my own manager saw the value and started some more formal cross-team discussions.

And all I was after was the sharing of knowledge and information, and to physically sit near each other.  My request for a desk near the Operations team was immediately denied.  Then, as the discussions began to involve higher levels of management, they died.  Some of the changes were minor, like upgrading to HTML5, or implementing RSS update feeds.  But ultimately, sensing stagnation and seeing opportunity elsewhere, I took a promotion and transferred to Marketing.

Two months later, one of the publishers from the Operations team ran into me as I was taking a walk outside.  She confirmed that all movement on the collective ideas had been paused indefinitely, much to her dismay.  Shortly thereafter, I received a group email from higher management confirming this.

Ultimately, I’m just as guilty, for I too benefited from this system.  In the process of pushing for change, I gained the experience and notoriety needed to achieve promotion, leaving my work, and any hope of meaningful lasting change, to atrophy, thus becoming part of the eternal cycle of zero sum innovation.

We are products of our time.  If the right conditions do not present themselves, any idea, good or bad, will fail to achieve fruition.  So it was with this story, but while we may not have seen our ideas implemented, technology forces change, and some version of them ultimately will be.  I’m curious how similar to our own goals they will turn out.