Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Things we don't do with a telephone or television anymore

With the advance of technology, there are some things we no longer do with our telephones or televisions, although we still use the words. For example:

"Pick up the phone" - It used to be that you answered a telephone call by picking up the handset while the phone was ringing. Or you initiated a phone call by lifting the phone off its hook or out of the cradle. Now you have to press a button to answer the phone or dial a number.

"Hang up the phone" - Most phones today, even cellphones, have a "hang up" button. But you no longer terminate the call and disconnect the line by hanging the handset on the hook on the wall.

"Dial a number" - Numeric touchpads have been de rigueur for over 40 years. I can't recall the last time I saw a dial telephone that still worked. Children and many young adults today don't even know how to use a dial phone.

"The phone is ringing" - Telephones today beep, chirp, warble, and blink. They can also sing you your favorite song or make burping or screaming noises to alert you to a call. But if you want a true ringing telephone, you'll have to download an, um, "ringtone" that sounds like a ringing telephone.

"Turn the TV on/off/up/down" - It used to be that every television had a rotary knob, labeled "ON/VOL" or "OFF/VOL". This knob was a combination on/off switch and volume control, and you had to turn the knob to perform any of the named actions. Other electronic gadgets also had rotary on/off switches, and so "turn me on" became a part of the vernacular. Today, rotary switches are a retro fashion, and they often don't have the same mechanical contacts behind them as the old ones.

"Tune in a channel" - The channel selector used to be a rotary dial with stops at channels 2 through 13. Don't ask about the 1. You wouldn't understand. But even if you turned the dial to, say, 5, channel 5 wouldn't come in clearly until you turned the fine-tuning dial to "tune in" the station. "Automatic fine tuning" was a fancy feature on new TVs in the 1970s, but it still didn't work perfectly. Today, you punch a channel number on the remote, and the TV's electronics take care of the fine-tuning for you. In fact, with digital TV, fine-tuning is a thing of the past.

What I said about TVs also applies to radios.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Feeling sorry for myself: what might have been

A recent tickle from a former colleague on LinkedIn dredged up something from my distant past and sent me on a short tailspin into the Land of What Might Have Been. I'm going to feel sorry for myself, then go to bed and sleep it off. In the morning I'll go to my new job, where I am happy and content and working hard.

This former colleague "endorsed" me for a skill on LinkedIn. She hasn't seen me for about 15 years, so the endorsement doesn't mean much. So I ignored it. Then I fell into my tailspin.

In the late 1990s, I was an extremely competent engineer in my department at Hewlett-Packard. In fact, one year I was the top-rated engineer out of a peer group of about 80 engineers. I was sought after for my technical expertise, my problem-solving skills, and my communication skills. Engineers and non-engineers from other departments came to consult with me.

Our department had three engineering groups. One of the engineering group managers got a promotion, leaving his position vacant. My manager suggested I apply for the position. So did his manager.

I hadn't even considered such a move. I was happy being an engineer. But people had told me over the years that I would make a good manager, and many people had even said, "I would work for you if you were a manager." So I did some research, mainly sounding it out with other engineers and managers, even on the production/operations side, all people whose opinion I valued and trusted. I got unequivocal encouragement from all of them, including votes of confidence from all of the managers, and more "I would work for you" responses from my peers.

The managers' opinions were important to me, because some of them would be on the interview team.

So I applied for the job. I prepped for the interviews. And I did a great job in the interviews. And they gave the job to someone else - one of my fellow engineers was promoted.

Well, she turned out not to be a very good manager. In fact, seeing some of what she did as a manager, I wondered how she had ever gotten the job. I ended up sitting in meetings and on committees with her as the years went by, and - really, this is not  sour grapes - she just wasn't very good at management or leadership.

Then HP and Agilent split. We endured wave after wave of layoffs. I never saw any managers get laid off, or any executives. You would think that the Powers That Be would do the math and figure out that they could save more money by firing one incompetent executive than by laying off ten innocent production workers. Or five hard-working engineers. F#$&ing idiots.

Here's the sorry-for-myself "What Might Have Been" part:

Ten years after leaving Agilent, I am still an engineer, but I am making $10,000 a year less than I was back then, and after ten years of struggle, my personal and family financial situation is precarious.

If I had gotten that promotion, I would now be high up in the management ranks at HP or Agilent. I would be a highly respected manager and leader. I would be making $150,000 a year - or more. We would still be living in that big brick house. And my wife would still have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom, with all the benefits that go with that. My daughters would not have had to scrimp on their weddings. My musical daughter could have gone to Ithaca College instead of the University of Northern Colorado. We would be living free of debt or other financial worries. And we could be using our time and our wealth to help our children and other people, something we have always wanted to do. Instead, we struggle.

That other engineer that got the job? She has changed employers. At least twice. She has changed careers. She has changed husbands. She has changed her last name. She has even changed her first name. And  she has changed her appearance so drastically that I don't even recognize her photo on LinkedIn. And she has parlayed that promotion into a Chief Technology Officer position in another state. I don't really know her anymore.