Sunday, 25 September 2016

…Just a little insight won’t make things right

When in 2014 I resolved to leave the Employer, the main motive behind it was the decision was my strong conviction the Employer was going nowhere. The Employer was winding down, losing clients, laying off people, giving sparse opportunities to develop. The transfer to the New Factory was a breakthrough in many respects and despite some downsides, I am still of the opinion taking up the current job was the right move made in the right moment. Compared to standards of rewarding staff by the Employer, the New Factory still comes out absolutely superior, yet some cracks have begun to appear on the immaculate picture…

July 2015
Before I receive Level III results, I kindly ask the New Factory whether the employer would pay my annual membership fees on my behalf or refund them (the cost is USD 350 per year). An HR chick replies to my e-mail briefly: The Charter is not essential to perform your job. The content of the response is a fact. Two other facts are that I had decided to earn the Charter off my own bat and for myself and that the New Factory was under no obligation to cover the annual dues. Yet had the response been formulated differently, e.g. As a matter of principle the New Factory does not participate in costs of maintaining certifications by its employees. Nevertheless we recognise and appreciate your effort to earn the Charter, I would not have remembered it as the most painful slap in the face since joining the New Factory.

December 2015
Chicks from the HR Department organise a meeting to present a new personnel development and remuneration model. The very attempt to foster development of most talented staff is commendable, but opaqueness of the concept makes it fishy. Time has proved the fishiness true – the model is like Loch Ness Monster – everyone has heard of it, no one has seen it!

July 2016
A fellow junior analyst from another team all of a sudden invites me for a lunch. Unsurprisingly, not disinterestedly. He wants to take my advice whether to take up a job with the New Factory’s state-controlled competitor. The junior is of my age, has worked at the New Factory for five years and though his competencies have not been inferior, his chances for promotion to analyst position have been close to zero. Besides, as part of skurwienie, he has been harassed by his boss. Folks around have never seen him as happy as during his notice period; as happy as a man who breaks away from a torment.

Last Thursday he brought his farewell cake. I wished him well, though I would not follow his path. A state-controlled company is not a workplace I would fancy.

After two years with the New Factory I have made a name for myself. Judging by how my workmates and bosses treat me I infer my name is a recognisable brand in the organisation. I am flying high, my tide is rising. Time to reach out for benefits. If I am offering a lot to the New Factory, I can expect something in return. I submit application for two positions, one in another big city in Poland where the New Factory also has part of its head office, one in another European capital where the parent company of the New Factory is seated. Relocation plans (don’t know whether for a few months, a few years or forever) put my flat purchase plans on hold…

August 2016
In the middle of the holiday season some top dogs decide to pursue a new split of customers between business segments with almost immediate effect. The reshuffle involves also various transfers of account managers. The embittered account managers whose long-lasting relationships with clients will be shattered communicated the ill tidings to customers. Many of them threaten to quit, yet the protest does not convince top executives to abandon their plan.

I cannot believe this is happening. Such ridiculous moves could have been done by the Employer, but the New Factory for years has truly fostered its relationships with clients.

Early September 2016
My plans of relocating within the organisations all go down the drain. Besides, my boss shows my the e-mail in which a director from the HR Department remonstrates him over allowing me to submit those applications. He adds had he been an obedient corpo-swine I would have got it in the neck too. Oddly enough then I did not construe the course of events so far as a serious warning sign.

21 September 2016
The HR Department and Senior Managers organise a workshop with selected employees on career paths (I do not attend it, but it soon becomes a hot topic across the office). The workshop turns into veritable cut and thrust during which managers openly tell their employees they do not deserve to get anything more from the organisation and they should forget about prospects of promotions or pay rises. At the end a guy from the HR Department speaks it out: if you want to develop, look for opportunities outside the New Factory.

My comment: if a host shows you the door, for the sake of your well-being leave his place. Of course, changing a job wisely is a matter of careful lookout and take several months.

Currently I am not going to make any abrupt moves. This year has been good in terms of meeting targets, therefore I must not miss my bonus for 2016 I will be eligible for in late 1Q2017. Once the money is transferred to my bank account. Before this happens, around Christmas 2016, after my annual assessment is approved, I am going to talk to my boss what my chances of being promoted to senior analyst and getting a pay rise are and justify him why I believe I deserve it (I have been compiling a list of arguments for a few weeks now). Implications of that conversation will set the path I will take in 2017.

Sometimes during job interview recruiters ask candidates where they see themselves in five years (what their job description would be, what position they would hold, what competencies they would improve, etc.). I feel this question is totally irrelevant to me. I believe no matter what I do, how hard and diligently I work, how few mistakes I make, how much I stand out among peers, in five years I am doomed to hold the same position and earn the same salary. Unless I find a job with another company…

I am emotional now, I realise. I need to cool down and think things over. I had to spew out the most bitter emotions that have accumulated inside me recently. In the coming weeks I will soldier on, as in the short-term changing nothing will only benefit me. In the long-term the best choice is to take the path that will least harm me (at best).

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The handicapped generation

Ran across the link to this kind of outdated article on my friend’s wall on facebook. Read it twice and I am of the opinion this piece should be an obligatory read for most today’s parents who bring up their offspring to become… Why do they call the future adults zombie creatures?

It is not a secret that gap between people born in 1970s and 1980s is far bigger than the gap between the latter and born in 1990s. I can say nothing about differences between people born in 1990s and those born in 2000s since I lack sample to make such comparison. This abyss between people of nearly the same age is not just the effect of growing up in different economic and technological environment, but is an element of a deeper social change. In big cities childhood in late PRL or in years of nascent capitalism differed much from today’s pattern of childhood, moreover communication was not facilitated by the Internet and mobile devices; yet these differences make up just the tip of the iceberg.

How sensitive children are is a clear consequence of how parents raise them. An average child is told on every step dangers loom all around. Imagine you are told not to stroke an animal since it may bite you or bacteria from its fur may jump into you… Imagine you are instructed to wear a helmet protecting your limbs, otherwise learning to ride a two-wheel bike you will get bruised… Imagine you are prevented from taking a mountain-hiking trip or a canoe trip, because for a few days you would live without electricity, sleep in a tent and wash yourself in cold water…

Parents’ attempts to assure comfort to their children and to save them from harm at any price at the end of the day do more harm than good. Childhood by definition ought to be the most carefree period in life. But childhood and youth are the period of learning and experiencing, also learning from one’s own mistakes which usually do not kill a child, but make them stronger and wiser. If children are to manage on their own in their early adulthood they need to be taught to take decisions and responsibility for them.

Today’s parents who do everything for and instead of their children not only fail to teach them taking decisions and responsibility, but also deprive their offspring of the carefree element of their early years. There is a built-in pressure to meet parents’ expectations instead of enjoying childhood the way a child wants. Yet a contemporary child would not want to enjoy it the way I did it over twenty years ago, since patterns of pastime activities have changed. Go to any housing estate and look out for children aged less than 10 running around or riding bikes nearly without parents’ care. Such was the reality in mid-1990s!

While today, parents want to spare their children as much strain as possible and bring them up to become frail adults, shying away from hardships or becoming so-called kidults. Pains, suffering, defeats, eating humble pie, etc. are the elements of brutal life. Children should rather be supported in coping with them, rather than shielded from them…

The article dwells on the appalling fitness of Polish children. I stick to my theory that today’s children’s life expectancy will be lower than today’s middle-aged people’s. The first and foremost reason is that children move too little, spending too much time staring at smartphone. The second cause is less straightforward, namely physical activity is, I argue, over-coordinated, not spontaneous. Parents sign up their offspring for horse-riding classes, swimming lessons, tennis lessons, etc. which in essence is commendable, yet takes away the element of spontaneity… I wonder how many parents signing their children up for various classes ask if their offspring really want to attend them and how many do it because of the peer pressure or to fulfil their own ambitions.

On top of this an average child of well-off educated parents gets what they want without even asking. Such behaviours among parents have been witnessed more than ten years ago, hence we already see young adults claiming they deserve to get something, but offering nothing or little in return. If children think they are exceptional and the world should treat them as a hub of the universe, the fault lies with their parents…

The advent of social media and the culture of sharing one’s life with others via them has changed motives which drive people’s activities. Author of the article incites his audience to ask a question whether youngsters do things for themselves of to impress other people. The quintessence of leading a happy life is doing things for one’s own pleasure. I see nothing wrong in sharing with other people things done for one’s own pleasure (and do it occasionally, may facebook fellows know I’m having fun), yet if impressing others becomes a primary motivation for choosing what to do in free time, a person falling victim to such way of thinking will sooner or later get hurt.

Such reasoning leads to dangerous conclusion, namely the measure of how much a youngster is worth is how much appreciation they receive. Number of likes under a person’s post on facebook becomes a benchmark of who’s more trendy, cool or… valuable…

The author also points up helplessness of youngsters in simple situations. Sewing in a ripped button, mending a leaking tap, changing a light bulb for many young people, not taught to cope with such tasks at home, have become insurmountable problems. This is horrifying, yet I have witnessed situations when youngsters were helpless staring at an overloaded rubbish bin, not coming up with a solution that emptying it (throwing away rubbish) would help…

This is also a matter of widespread consumerism. In the economy propelled by disposable items which once wear out or break down are replaced by brand-new ones. Though socialist economy was bound to collapse and had built-in depravity, it taught people resourcefulness. If you could not come by brand-new stuff, you had to seek ways to repair the old one, plus oddly enough, what was manufactured, though technically obsolete was much more durable. In today’s capitalism once a customer buys a new item, its vendor already plans how to attract the customer again (planned obsolescence is one of the tools). In the economy of shortage, with supply falling short of demand, a vendor was bending down backwards to keep the customer away from it for many years, so that insufficient supply of goods was less visible.

There is no use in protecting children from life’s hardships. The later they face up to them, the more painful the head-on collision with brutality will be.

Criticise children wisely, get them accustomed to criticism. Balance stick and carrot in upbringing. Praise when due, but teach to draw conclusions from judgmental remarks instead of taking umbrage with the world.

As the author points out towards the end of his essay (quite long, I once read for an average Pole a text longer than four A4 pages is too long to absorb, while the one on which I base my today’s post is six A4 pages long), not learning to overcome problems leads to mental diseases in early adulthood. Statistics quoted by the author of the percentage of students prone to depression, neurosis and other mental problems is horrifying. If those number are true, they illustrate the price paid for flying away from the golden cage of carefree childhood…

BTW, what’s the English for pierdoła? None of the translations found on the spot online renders properly the context in which the word was used in the title of the article…

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The new bike - review

Bought the new bicycle in late May, prompted by the unforeseen theft of the previous rickety one. Three months (and approximately 300 kilometres, since I failed to equip the bike in with an odometer) on, it looks I am poised to review my single-track motor-less vehicle.

The first impression is similar to changing an over ten-year-old car for a brand-new, though not upscale, car. I was genuinely impressed with smoothness and lightness of the new bicycle. The bike underwent a showroom-exit maintenance, so nearly all stuff was properly regulated and the vehicle was prepared for the first ride. It soon turned out some screws were too loose, yet I tighten them up and it runs beyond reproach. Gears are changed smoothly, without a single grind and sufficiently precisely (what else can I expect from a bike which set me back less than PLN 1,000).

Fixtures do their job well. I rode through muddy puddles and mudguards protected my clothes from being grimed. I did not test the LED lamps, yet they look out neatly and should ensure visibility if I happen to use the bike after dusk. What I have not purchased so far and catch up with are a decent bicycle lock (I used the bike for recreational rides, I yet I intend to use it to move between places and then the lock will become indispensable) and a pump (I have used compressors on petrol stations instead and consider sticking to that method of pumping up tyres).

The only drawback of the bike is its saddle. When choosing it I noticed immediately it was hard and uncomfortable, so I added to my shopping car a gel pad which turned out to help little. Firstly, the pad has been flattened by my backside, secondly it served just as a quick fix and the hapless saddle will be due for replacement later this year or next spring.

The biggest pity is that I could not take really long trips on account of problems with spine whose onset coincided with swapping bikes. My longest trip so far was mere 30 kilometres, I was yearning to cycle longer distances, yet my body held me back. I will keep on exercising during winter and next spring I hope I am fit enough to enjoy cycling more.

Plus I have made a resolution to have the new bike regularly (at least once a year) maintained by a professional. My first maintenance, within six months from the purchase will be free of charge, yet each next one should cost less than PLN 100, a tiny expense if it is to extend durability of the bike and ensure safe and pleasant cycling.

Today I cycled for the third time this summer to Zalesie Górne. Not a long ride, yet 20 kilometres was an optimum distance given air temperature before noon. Today for the third day in a row, maximum temperature reached more than +29C. Tomorrow is forecast to be also that hot, so I have taken a day off to lap up last moments of the warmth.

The weather these days is typically summer-like. Length of the day reminds the equinox is near, around half past seven in the evening darkness sets in. Besides, nights bring relief from the heat, while mornings bring mists lingering above fields. Autumn is not felt in the air, it will take a while before the scent of changing season comes over. In 2015 the first whiff of autumn (defined as cool enough to wear a coat) was felt on 7 September, but in 2014 we had to wait for it until 24 September. Hope this year’s September stays merciful.

For those thinking such spell of summer in mid-September is an anomaly, a dose of weather statistics (and an opportunity for me to indulge in what I am fond of).
  • The warmest September in Warsaw since records began was in 1919 (monthly average of +16.3C), ahead of September 1967 (mean temperature +16.2C), well ahead of September 2006 (monthly average of +16.0, though for no apparent reasons this one is frequently cited as the warmest ever), not mention Septembers in 1951 and 2005 (mean temperatures of +15.9C) and September 1999 (monthly average of +15.8C).
  • On 17 September 2015 temperature topped at +29.9C, however this was one-day peak, with day-before and day-after highs a few degrees lower.
  • Between 12 and 14 September 2014 day-time highs were above +26C, while night-time lows were not below +14C (spent this time away from Warsaw on a two-night off-site and remember, yes I do remember, how warm (no ambiguity) those nights were)
  • September 2013 was one of two coolest over the recent decade and exactly three years ago day-time highs barely hit double digits.
  • On 11 September 2012 temperature topped at +30.4C, like in 2015 this was a one-day spell.
The past measurements clearly prove the second decade of September is the latest period when temperature near +30C stands a chance to be recorded in Warsaw, yet such prolonged September heat wave is unprecedented based on the data I have access to (ogimet page, whose archives have recently been depleted to my displeasure), so September 2016 stands a serious chance to go down as the warmest in history in Warsaw.

According to the forecasts, heat wave should begin to wane from Tuesday and by the next weekend maximum temperatures are likely to descend to still enjoyable range of +20C to +25C, with no rain bringing relief to thirsty ground within the coming week. By 25 September late summer is predicted to stay in Warsaw! Make the most of the perfect weather until it gives way to gloomy autumn.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Accidents will happen

I have held the driving licence for 10 years, I have used a car on a daily basis for five years on; the two last years were the period of more intense business travels, taken also by car, my own old Megane or company cars, meaning over the last two years I covered around 35,000 kilometres behind the wheel; on top of another 35,000 kilometres driven over previous eight years.

Driving instructors argue a typical driver has an accident during their first equator’s length (roughly 40,000 kilometres) of driving. Over that time I had one minor traffic collision, oddly enough not impacting my insurance track record, besides since October 2012 my track record behind the wheel has been impeccable, except for scratching right-rear wing in five weeks ago. I rubbed against a lamp post while parking parallel.

I varnished the eye-popping aftermaths of my haste and inattention, yet the scrape slightly dented my self-confidence, which after all should do more harm than good. Lesson learnt – I should be more cautious. Nevertheless, I did not change my mind and did not find driving on Polish roads dangerous, until last seven days, when I nearly had three serious accidents, none I would have been guilty of, yet they could have ended up with serious injuries.

Last Sunday on ul. Słowackiego (Warszawa Żoliborz), I changed lanes from right to middle and noticed an iffy driver in Honda City on left lane. I somehow foresaw he was an unpredictable motorist and braced for his manoeuvre of changing lanes from left to middle nearly ending in hitting the side of my car. Having cars on both sides, but no vehicle behind me, I pushed the brake to the floor and avoided the collision. Fortunately my passengers kept a cool head and did not scream (I still remember the attack of panic of my three female colleagues in November 2015, when somewhere between Płońsk and Sierpc our car was hit by an ice slab flying off the roof of a truck ahead of us (no damage to the vehicle to my surprise)).

On Wednesday as I drove up ul. Puławska, I nearly fell victim to kinked lanes and foolish driver on the intersection with Baletowa. He followed the swinging lanes before the intersection but behind it he drove straight ahead, cutting in on me, moving properly up the right lane. I swerved into the lane for buses marked out before intersection with ul. Pelikanów, thus avoiding bumping into meathead-driven Mazda 6.

The most scary narrow escape struck me the next day. I was on the slip road from Dolinka Służewiecka (westbound lanes) into ul. Puławska (southbound lanes). I spotted a ZTM bus running at the lane west of the viaduct carrying the traffic from ul. Puławska into Dolinka Służewiecka, but glimpsing to the left I failed to notice its driver was speeding (70 kmph) while I did at around 45 kmph. Where the slip road and the right-most lane of ul. Puławska met, he immediately began changing lanes into mine, not minding I was there and. to make it worse, not minding there was a cyclist (cyclists should be prohibited from riding such roads and she should have safety cycled down the pavement on the other side of ul. Puławska!) on the same (mine) lane. The presence of the cyclist (still wonder whether she realised what was going on, since she seemed to be totally unaware how dangerous the situation was) left me fewer room to move rightwards, while an idiot in BMW just behind my rear bumper left little room for abrupt braking. I slowed down gently, trying to keep minimum 20 centimetres from the bus side and the cyclist and managed. Only with hindsight I realised what near miss it was.

It occurred to me it would have been safer to travel by bus. The next day while driving towards Park and Ride Metro Ursynów I drove 75 kmph and kept a steady distance from a 331 bus. Indeed, both bus driver and I were speeding, however the difference in magnitude of our sins that I would stop my car (including time to reaction and stopping distance) within 50 metres and fastened belts would protect me, while the bus driver would probably stop after more than 100 metres and many passengers would be injured. In retrospect, I regret not having reported that incident to ZTM.

Speed and alcohol rank among the most frequent accident causes in Poland, yet the list should be supplemented with other sins of drivers, seldom mentioned…

Firstly, not looking around. Wing mirrors and rear view mirror help the driver control situation around them. If you know what is going on around, you immediately know whether you can swerve (this facilitates controlling the blind spot as well) or suddenly brake. Looking around involves also watching out for vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians or animals that might trespass onto the road.

Secondly, not foreseeing. As one gains experience behind the wheel, more situations become predictable and consequently, accidents avoided.

Thirdly, pushing one’s luck. Sounds ridiculously, but several drivers count they will make it (finish overtaking by forcing other drivers to brake or swerve, violating the right of way by assessing another driver will skim on their brakes to avoid a collision etc.). Even in 99% instances it works, the remaining 1% results in increased number or casualties and fatalities on Polish roads.

Fourthly, not keeping proper distance. The reasons why rear-endings are so common are not just speed or lapses of concentration. The dire effects of the above would not lead to so many incidences of bumping into rear of a car ahead, had the proper distance been kept.

Fifthly, tiredness. Fatigued, drowsy drivers can display similar reactions as intoxicated drivers. I should also tack on over-using mobile phones when behind the wheel as fumbling with them also worsen drivers’ concentration.

Sixthly, technical condition of vehicles on Polish roads. I do not want to gripe about the average age of vehicles on Polish roads, declining, yet still above eleven years. I have a 13-year-old car and I take care of it to ensure travelling by it is safe. Poles drive what they afford to but the owner or user is always to blame. Nearly brand-new (aged less than 3Y) vehicles from corporate fleets, if they are not looked after properly (believe me or not, 3Y post-lease cars are frequently rickety bangers), are in far worse technical condition that my car.

And #7, cyclists and pedestrians ignorant of perils in traffic or even traffic rules. Starry-eyed traffic participants not realising if they have right of way, for the sake of their own safety they should not exercise it at all cost and that fault of a car driver is not an excuse. What I hold most against cyclists is: (1) riding on fast-traffic roads (speed limits at or above 70 kmph), (2) choosing to take a road, where there is a decent cycling path running parallel to the road, (3) not sticking to the right thus hindering overtaking. What I hold most against pedestrians is that they (1) can stand (or hang around) next to a pedestrian crossing with no intention to cross a street, (2) cross streets where they are not allowed to without even looking whether a vehicle is going to smash them into pulp.

I have mulled over installing a dashboard camera in my next car, not for the purpose Russians put them up (to prove they are not guilty of an accident) but to keep record of on-going horror on the Polish roads. So far, I keep up with Polskie Drogi channel on YouTube and hold it dear. Watching the compilations of accidents helps me learn from others’ mistakes, adds to my experience and enhances my predictive skills. The scenes by Polskie Drogi often prove many accidents could have been averted, had somebody thought beforehand or foreseen other traffic participants’ crass stupidity.

Dangers on the road must not be shrugged off, yet this is the risk one should manage. Driving cautiously does not guarantee you will return safe and sound from every journey, yet minimises the chances of having an accident.