As I Get Older...

I wrote a post a while back about a friend who worked at a huge company, and I detailed all the software goofiness which went on there. As you might have guessed, those weren’t really the experiences of a friend; they were mine. I was the one who worked there, and I only did so for about a month. They didn’t like me and I didn’t like them. My wife (who gets very defensive and protective when someone attacks me) was angry and surprised when they let me go. I sort of expected it, and was so happy that I celebrated.

To put this in perspective, for the last 16 years or so, I’ve worked for myself (along side my wife). But the economy and our business fortunes being what they were, I needed to take an outside job. And so I ended up at HugeCo for a month. Prior to working for myself, I had had a string of jobs working at small companies.

I’ve had occasion to think about that experience with HugeCo from time to time since then. But I’ve had a lot more occasion lately, since my wife has recently taken an outside job with a similar large company we’ll call MassiveCo. She comes home daily and tells me stories of what it’s like where she works. I smile and nod my head a lot.

HugeCo was a jarring experience for me, as I’m sure MassiveCo is for my wife. And I’ve wondered why I had such an extreme distaste for large companies and their corporate cultures.

I’ve always been an incisive thinker. Cutting through BS is something I do naturally. But my tolerance for it seems to have reached a complete nadir these days. And I’ve wondered why. Obviously, I had more hair in my youth, but I’m pretty sure that’s not it.

I was talking to my wife the other night, trying to pin it down. And it finally occurred to me that at my age, I just don’t have time for bullsh*t. As I said it, my wife nodded enthusiastically. That’s how I know I was right.

If you live long enough (and most of us do nowadays), you realize at some point that most of your life is behind you, and you’re closer to the end of it than the beginning. And at some point after having that realization, it gradually (or quickly) dawns on you that you just don’t have the time for BS. Things you might have spent idle hours on in your youth begin to look like wastes of time.

Maybe thats the origin of curmudgeonly old people. Maybe they just lose their tolerance for everyday BS.

Examples of bullsh*t:

In my teens, I remember working at a Dairy Queen for a time. When I first went to work there, people would order ice cream cones, and we’d just fill them until they looked “right”. But at some point, we got a new manager. One of the first things she did was to force us to weigh cones to ensure we didn’t waste any money on giving customers too much ice cream. I just thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I didn’t last too long at that Dairy Queen after that (I quit). I think if your margins are so slim that you think you have to weigh ice cream cones to make sure you don’t spend too much on ice cream, you should probably get out of the fast food business and try selling furniture or something.

I remember a few years back, my step-brother talking with me about doing some work on his website. He owned a company that serviced the oil and gas industry in some way, but I wasn’t sure what it actually did. When I asked him, he described it to me in this sort of corporate-ese way that left me in mystery. So I went to their website to find out. After scanning through it, I still wasn’t sure. Nearest I can figure, his company installs and maintains equipment and software to measure, meter and control the flow of oil and gas wherever such measurement, metering and flow control are needed. Of course, he could have said that, and I would have understood. But he didn’t. So when I got back to him about the work on his website, I told him the first thing I’d do was inject some actual English into it, for the benefit of those of us who aren’t accustomed to corporate jargon. (I never actually did any work on his website.)

A recruitment company recently called me about a PHP position which had opened up in my area. I went on the recruitment company’s website to read about the opportunity. Scanning down through the prerequisites for the job, I found the following: “Formal SDLC experience preferred”. Right there, I knew that job wasn’t for me. “SDLC” (software design life cycle) is a sort of hyper-formalized way of approaching the design of software systems. In practice, it’s fairly rigid and requires a lot of documentation and oversight. Ugh. You have to wonder who comes up with this crap. I’m guessing it’s people who’ve never written any actual code. That’s usually how these “systems” originate. Someone who’s never actually done the thing you’re trying to do, or doesn’t fully understand it gets elected (or elects himself) to figure out how to get it done. They come up with some byzantine methodology (complete with charts and graphs, of course), and everyone thinks they’re geniuses. Sadly, all this administrative work tacked on to a project just gets in the way of actual coding.

For many years, we used Verizon for our corporate phone service. Verizon is one of a few companies in the U.S. which resulted from the break up of Ma Bell in the 1980s. Those companies are known as “ILECs” (incumbent local exchange carriers). They own most of the telephone infrastructure in the United States, including the lines, switching equipment, etc. After the break-up, “CLECs” (competitive local exchange carriers) began to appear. They would lease lines and switchgear space from the ILECs and promote themselves as their own phone companies. In any case, a few years back we got tired of paying Verizon twice what we’d be charged by a CLEC. We were approached by a salesman for a CLEC, who claimed all kinds of wonderful things for his company. So we switched. The rates were good, the service was good. Up until the day we decided to move our office a couple of miles down the road. When I called the company about moving our lines, they said it would be six months before they could get to it. I was nonplussed. How could you possibly stay in business telling customers it would take six months to move customer phone lines if the company changed locations? After some investigation (and a long talk with some Verizon engineers) it came out that this CLEC company had none of its own local techs, no trucks and no facilities to make such a move. It turns out that, in order to accomplish a line move, they had to call Verizon and use their techs, which naturally would cost them money. I’m sure if IBM or Exxon had called them up, they would have spent the money to have Verizon move the lines. But with our little five-line company, it simply wasn’t worth it. So instead of telling the truth, they simply fed customers the line that it would take six months before a move would be possible. We went back to Verizon and higher bills, but more reliable service. By the way, that CLEC is no longer in business, as such. They were bought out by a much larger diversified company.

If you don’t run a business and accept credit cards, you may not know what a “merchant service” provider does. They accept and process your credit card charges for you. Usually this is done from some sort of card swipe machine with a little keypad on it. You’ve seen those. At one point, we were being serviced by a large and well-known merchant service company. As the months and years went by, their rates drifted higher and higher. So when we were approached by a different (much smaller) company with lower rates, we decided to try them out. The result was a disaster. For example, for a $100 purchase, our old company would credit us with the full $100 into our checking account the next day. At the end of the month, they would tally all the costs of accepting all those charges and processing them, and hit our checking account for the fees all at once. Because of the differences in types of credit and debit cards, you never knew exactly what they were going to hit you for at the end of the month, but you could estimate fairly closely. By contrast, this new company would subtract their fees directly from the purchase amount, and credit your account with the remainder. So a $100 customer purchase would end up as a credit to our checking account of, say, $97.43. This wasn’t too bad if you ran all your charges once a week and could track this stuff by date. But under any other circumstances, you were stuck trying to figure out which charge on your statement corresponded to the $100 price tag your customer had paid. Add to this the fact that this merchant service company had more extraneous fees and charges at the end of a month than Carter has pills. They amounted to far more than our old company had been charging us. We ended up breaking it off with them and negotiating with our old merchant service provider for better rates. But we damn near had to sue the smaller company to get them to let us go and stop charging us fees every month. We even put up a website “” (not the real domain name) to encourage others to describe their victimization at the hands of this company.

I get impatient with newspaper reporters who want to explain to me in lurid detail about how this or that is going to effect lowly Bill, the innocent man on the street. I tend to skip to the last paragraph of the story, so I can figure out the point the reporter is trying to make. Then I get aggravated that he’s even trying to make a point at all. Anybody ever heard of just reporting the news? And besides, I really don’t care about Bill. I don’t know him, and I’ve got my own problems to deal with.

I get cranky with politicians (both parties) who think I don’t remember what they said on the campaign trail. I’ve come to view nearly all of them as cheats and liars. (Of course the number of scandals per square inch of politicians doesn’t help.)

I resent Big Company marketers who think I won’t notice when they charge me just a much this week for a container of yogurt as last week, yet I can clearly see that last week those containers were filled with 8 oz of yogurt, and this week there’s 6 oz of yogurt in them.

I don’t know about other people. Maybe they don’t react or view things the same way I do. But as I’ve gotten older, my bullsh*t detector seems to have settled at 11 on a 10 point scale. My alarms go off when I’m mere blocks from a source of BS. My tolerance for human silliness and stupidity seems to have drained completely away.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have a sense of humor. My wife and I laugh at goofy stuff just as much as we always have (thank God for her). But when it comes to crap and BS, my sensitivity seems to have risen exponentially. And it seems to all come down to the idea that I’m too old to put up with BS. I just don’t have the time to waste on it that I did when I was in my twenties.

You might label me as curmudgeonly. I don’t really think so. I’m just tired of being lied to and jerked around.