Thursday, October 27, 2005


Sometimes it frustrates me that I'm expected to stay polite, PC, and respectful in the face of people who are everything but these things. Why do they get to be rude, non-professional, and arrogant, and just keep chugging along in their lives?

I was once like that early on in my career. After a couple of weeks of missed review deadlines, with the final deadline hanging over my head, I walked into the client's office, plunked down my guide for review, and curtly informed him that he had a week to get comments back to me. Did I mention that my client was meeting with another potential client of his at the time?

A couple of hours later, my client (the Prez of the company) knocked at my door. He came in, closed the door behind him, sat down in front of me, and said:

"Hobbes, I know you're a young guy, just starting out in your career, so you're not going to know about these things. I like you, you're a talented writer, but you need to learn how to behave with your clients." And then proceeded to lecture me for about an hour.

He was polite, but firm. I could also see he was really pissed off and I knew I had made a serious error in judgement. However, my employers never heard anything about it, so it was just between me and him.

I'll never forget that day and what he taught me, although when faced with young professionals who treat me the way I treated him, I struggle with crossing that line everytime.

Thanks Don.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Suddenly squeemish

Note: squeemish people beware

It's weird how certain imagery will bother me in one instance and not in another. I usually enjoyed watching the various flavours of CSI and Law & Order, but last night I just could not bear to hear how these people died so horribly in their last moments.

It started with CSI: Miami (just Caruso's acting might make you squeemish enough) with a description of how a woman's ribcage was crushed, puncturing her lungs. I flinched and changed the channel quickly. A bit later, we started watching L&O: Criminal Intent (pre-D'Onofrio starring Chris Noth) and watched with horror an innocent man be bound, gagged, and chained on a tugboat. Then his kidnappers ripped off the gags and threw the chains off the boat, watching expressionlessly as they let the man scream until he disappeared beneath the water. I turned the TV off immediately and went to bed, calling it a night.

But I couldn't sleep. All I could see was the drowning man's terrified face as he watched the heavy chains disappear into the black depths with nary a splash. Over and over, I couldn't help but imagine his last moments as the water pressure squeezed the air from his lungs.

I'm terrified of death and personal suffering and the older I get, the worse it becomes. I've never been a fan of horror movies, but I find myself flinching at violence that I used to be able to shrug off.

Does this mean I'm struggling with my own mortality or the mortality of my loved ones?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Trolls Leave their Bridges

The Internet has the fantastic capacity to unite people. The vast expanses of land, sea, and air fall away only to be replaced by Internet Superhighways, allowing people to connect and build friendships and communities. It's an amazing feat of technology and simple human thirst for connection.

But with all that good, there will always be an element of badness, abuse, and just plain annoying. I am reminded of the early days of the Internet (before the graphical arrival of the World Wide Web) when email and usenet groups formed the first communities. My favourite hang-outs in those days were alt.folklore.ghost-stories and alt.shenanigans. These were the days before there was any Spam on the Internet, so these usenet groups were pretty junk-free. I go back to them occasionally, but they are so overloaded with Spam, it's not worth sorting through all the messages.

And with all those fantastic connections come the Trolls. These people are not interested in positive connections. What they want is to stir emotions, make people angry, and then absorb all the attention that comes with it. At first it was easy to spot these trolls: they wrote all in CAPS and their email addresses ended in

But as the mainstream audience becomes more net-savvy, the Trolls become trickier, sneakier, and harder to spot. They hide behind multiple email aliases, they lurk in elists waiting for the right moment to spout, they create elists of their own so they can say and spout at will and ad nauseum (sometimes their verbiage is only heard by their own mulitiple email aliases).

And somehow, we can't look away. We're facinated by the twisted, the insane, and the rambling. The wwweb is like a window into the mind of a serial psychopath, committing text-based atrocities right on our own screens. We shake our heads in wonder, shake our fists in rage, and reply with a great pounding of our keyboards, hoping that our own textual daggers can pierce through the wall of ignorance our targets have thrown up in all its HTML glory.

I can tell you that it's rarely very satisfying. True Trolls rarely admit they're wrong, no matter how passionately and logically you argue your point. And while these Trolls sleep happily under their bridges, a satisfied smirk on their lips at the chaos they've stirred, you're lying awake at night, formulating your response in harsh whispers, clutching at the sheets as if your mouse has crawled into bed with you.

I once had to muzzle a person on one of my elists because she was infuriating the other members with her trolling ("If you're irresponsible enough to get pregnant, then you don't deserve to keep your job!"). She tried to post to the list after I had gone to bed, and because she had been moderated, her post didn't go through. She tried resending it 12 times and then sent me 22 angry emails on why her post was getting through and who did I think I was to censor her.

After a frustrating day of angry emails back and forth (effectively feeding this Troll), I went to bed and didn't sleep a wink. I was afraid she was a nut, that she'd start calling me, that maybe she'd show up at my door, demanding her Internet rights.

I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to feeding these Trolls with the attention they so deeply crave, but they really aren't worth the effort. Let the psychologists figure these people out. We must refrain from falling victim to these Trolls who not only feed on our attention, but also our emotions. I know it's hard, but it's best to walk away and not look back.

When I figure out how to do that completely, I'll let you know.