atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#1134: Dang, it's about freaking time already.

Just heard on the news that American Airlines is going to start offering Internet access on some flights.

I was writing the service manual for Rockwell-Collins' wireless access point for commercial aircraft in freaking 2000, for crying out loud. Eight years later they finally get around to implementing it? WTF.

...I would bet that, by now, the component that I wrote the manual for is obsolete, anyway, because of how the technology has improved since then. I'm probably still obligated not to describe how the thing was built, but screw that noise, because it's been eight freaking years. If they want to sue me, let 'em. You can't get blood out of a turnip.*

They essentially hooked two commercially-available CardBus adaptors into a chassis which powered them and provided an interface to hook to the satellite antennas elsewhere in the aircraft. I don't know how many channels it supported--it's been eight years since I worked on that project and I didn't keep any of the documentation--but it had a provision to share two antennas across the two CardBus cards. A standard connector would interface the unit to its antennas and other devices on the airplane, such as the gateway that actually provided the uplink to the satellite. This was 2000; it would have been "Wireless B", which has already been superseded twice. (First by "Wireless G", and then by "Wireless N".)

To be fair, though, all they really have to do to upgrade the capabilities of the unit are to change the CardBus cards. So going from B to G to N would only require updating the parts lists in the manual, since the CardBus cards were bought from a vendor and replaced, if faulty, as a unit. (And the bad ones get thrown away, because they can't be repaired anyway.) It was really a nice piece of work; explaining how the power supply worked gave me fits, though.

*Eh? "Tell prospective employers that I broke the confidentiality agreement"? What is that going to do, keep me from getting a job at the Kohl's they're opening in Crete? "Well, Ms. Kohl's HR person, we won't re-hire Mr. Hering because he discussed, in his blog, an eight-year-old project for a product that's so obsolete we can't profitably market it." Yeah, sure. My point: nobody cares. My career as a technical writer is so far gone it might as well have happened to someone else. I'm a retail grunt now, God damn it.

* * *

One of the things that convinced me I worked in the Dilbert universe was the QC process.

Here's how a sample document would go. My team would get the assignment and we'd plug away at it for however long. Eventually it would be complete and it'd go to the QC guy.

The QC guy would come back with the manuscript festooned with Post-It tags. "This isn't in Simplified English," he'd tell me. "All manuals have to be written in Simplified English."

There was one minor problem with this: no one had been trained in Simplified English except for the QC guys. Training all the writers in SE would have cost too much, you see, and the QC guys could just instruct the writers on what was okay and what wasn't, right? Writers are perfectly capable of learning by osmosis, aren't they? The whole thing stank of Dilbert's Pointy-haired Boss.

And there were no lists of approved words, either, so when anyone wrote anything he basically had to grope around for some approximation of "Simplified English". In my case, it did not lead to my best efforts, let me tell you, but I did what I could.

I think the best summation of this was when someone reduced it to its absolute bare minimum: "The signal enters the amplifier on pins A1 and A2. The signal is changed. The signal exits the amplifier on pins X1 and X2."

You sure as hell can't write a decent description of the inner workings of a GPS receiver when you're limited to words that some guy from Outer Mongolia is likely to know.

Further exacerbating the problem was that I was expected to take engineer-speak and translate it into spoon-fed pablum without understanding the circuit myself. The editor/composer on our team repeatedly got angry at me for "wasting" time figuring out how the thing worked so that I could describe it accurately; I apparently was supposed to call up the engineer, waste his time, and then just write down whatever he said. (Oh, but simplified, of course, so that How Long Kow Dong in Taiwan could understand it.)

To this day, I still get frustrated when I think about how shitty that job got in 2001. Before 2001 it was a good job; before 2000 it was a fantastic job. But the shift in emphasis--making documentation a profit center--ended up systematically removing every little bit of enjoyment I got from that job and turned it into a soul-crushing nightmare.

It need not have been that way; unfortunately, the person who my bosses reported to was known in some circles as "the little dictator"--he was a douchebag, missing only the pointy hair to be Dilbert's boss. And to make matters worse, when he hired underlings, he hired the same kind of people as him, of course.

If any of several other people had taken that job instead of him, it would have been a lot different--better--there than it was. It was no accident that a lot of the old timers who could retire decided to get out; they knew what was happening and wanted no part of it.

One guy, who I had worked with on an extensive rewrite of a maintenance manual for an Electronic Flight Display, when he decided to retire there was a party at the microbrewery across the road from the plant. The division boss showed up there, but didn't come over to the table; a waiter came over to the table, then, and informed the guy that "that gentleman over there" wanted to pay for the party...and the retiree flat-out refused the offer.

I wish I had taken the hint that offered; I really do. It would really have been nice if I had been experienced enough to realize what that meant. But what, exactly, I could do with the knowledge--when I had a bare two years of experience as a writer--escapes me.

The "little dictator" was often quoted as saying, "we have to get rid of the graybeards"--meaning anyone who had enough experience to be able to do things, who knew the products and the engineering and the writing well enough to do it while sleeping--and even at the time I thought that was disastrous.

Wage increases were based on how much extra effort you put forth. The division boss as much as said that 120% was the starting point. 100% wasn't enough. Your salary wouldn't even keep pace with inflation unless you put forth 150% or more.

...and after 9/11, after people had been working to this standard for a year, it was announced that all "merit increases" were canceled that year. So: work your ass off, and maybe you will get enough of a raise next year to keep pace with inflation. If there isn't some kind of emergency or something that requires that we cut payroll and lay people off.

I have always thought of wage increases as the result of experience: after you've done a job for a year, you've got more experience, you know more, you're that much more valuable as a worker--but that's not the workings of the minds of people whose bonuses are based on stock prices. If I can cut my payroll another 10%, I can make an extra $30,000! So screw those little people; they can find other jobs making hamburgers or changing adult diapers or stocking shelves. I'll cut payroll by 10% and be a hero!

So the little dictator got his bonus that year (everyone got bonuses but no raises) and a bunch of people were on the street at a time when the tech sector was in the toilet. Heck, I even got a bonus--I was on the payroll, drawing my severance benefits, just long enough--and it paid my rent for January 2002. But I searched for a job, fruitlessly, for over a year--October of 2001 until January 2003--and after May of 2002 I was looking for anything, not just tech work.

I couldn't even get a job mixing paint.

...until October, when I got a job at Target, stocking shelves, as seasonal help. As jobs go it wasn't bad, but it consistently interfered with my CNA classes, so I ended up quitting that job.

Big mistake. If I knew then what I know now, I would have ditched the CNA classes and stuck to Target like glue--because I, after all was said and done, ended up working at Target anyway.

*sigh*

* * *

By the way, this should fulfill this entire fiscal quarter's "O Gawd it SUX 2 B me" quotient, which is required of all LiveJournal users. No, seriously, it's in the Terms of Service, somewhere beneath the bit about what happens to people who use the service for terror-related activities without prior written permission.

Hopefully I won't need to do that again for a while. But if I do, you can always just skip it. That's what I'd do.
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