IMHO Rants '03

Last year's rants? Click here.

There goes the fear: In Defense of Denver (semi-private anti-Tartley rant) --  Sept '03

About 6 months ago, when Tartley was finally booted out of the country, he texted everyone he knew in Denver with "London best ever place. Cant believe stayed so long in Denver." Today I received an email from the same codger regarding my own departure: "Sigh. It's all the end of an era, and no mistake. As if it didn't end three years ago - but all of us apart from Nick were too dozy to realise it." The implication here was that aside from a period of amusing late 90s hedonistic materialistic draw, Denver is not worth living in. 

So, trying (not entirely successfully) to ignore the obnoxious lack of diplomacy involved, does Hartley have a point? Has anyone in the suitably named 80s zipcode been wasting their lives? Should we all up sticks & bugger off to Brixton?

Back in Melbourne I remember a bloke called Jim Ewing who was from Palm Beach, FL. He said that he had lived in Denver for 10 years but left because it was a cow town & he hated the winters. 

Certainly Denver is no bustling metropolis. The city seems to be organised in a quasi-apartheid style fashion, segregated according to the yuppies (Wash Park, Cheeseman Park), the yuppies-turned-puppy raisers (Highlands Ranch, the dreadful Parker), Latinos (Highlands) and the have-nots (Five Points). Downtown feels not just small, but also two dimensional in comparison with Chicago (let alone SF/NY). And what's with most women here having no ambitions beyond finding a man, and an 80s Dynasty/Dallas haircut (large & blonde)? And the blokes? The sale of trucks alone gives an indication to how redneck they can be.

No ocean means no surfing, and no cutesy Sausalito-style fishing villages.

As something of a staging post for the middle of the country, and a magnet for ski lovers in search of a couple of seasons, Denver is about as transitive a place as exists. You can be friends with people, be they foreign H1B visa holders or not, who are going to leave. In droves. Perhaps 25% of the people I have hung out with have left in the last 6 years.

Having accepted not-very-cosmopolitan as a write-off in the debate, and Ignoring the facets of America which are good/bad in comparison with the UK/OZ, let's consider some of the boons of living in Denver versus Sydney/LA/SF/NY/London.

Physical Environment I: Weather. Living in London one gets the distinct impression, Blur-GreatEscape style, that "Everyone's trying to get into the blue." LA-aside, none of the aforementioned tier-one cities can compete. And if you don't like snow, particularly a day when it's so thick that all sound is muffled & the trees creek in agony then you have not lived. Absence of rain, humidity (Sydney) and NY-style cold/London wind, as well as a real summer (SF) means that playing any sort of sport outside is a nigh uncancellable pursuit. 

Physical Environment II: Physical Geography. Ever picked your nose in London/NY/LA and examined the contents? Nasal mucus should be green, not soot-black. Ski/hike mountains? Too far (London, LA, Sydney), too crowded (SF). Vistas & skies that go on forever?

Business Environment: OK, this has been personal -- the mixture of doss, ambition, friends & money that was Convergent Group. Do not tell me that Linkspoint, Lambeth Council or Sema hold a candle to Cvg. And let's not forget about Resevoir Dogs-style lunches with yer mates. 

Brit bands playing small venues: A small but sizable bonus that leaves you with Radiohead at Redrocks, Blur at the Ogden, Primal Scream at the Bluebird & Oasis at the Paramount.

Cost of life. Yes yes yes, very lame as a reason to choose to live anywhere. Until you see Nick drowning in debt for a Manhattan 'mansion' of a thousand square feet, JB living in a dingy flat broken into. Bob's subterranean flat cost more than Steph's park palace. Don't get me started on the cost of my $250 Canon camera in London (it's 400 GB pounds).

Safety: It may be extremely patchy, but ironically in the land of guns I have not locked my car for 6 years. Neither Pearl St nor Gaylord were in any sense secure.

Friends: As far as I can see, Denver is as good a place as my peers have managed to find with regard to meeting new people and nourishing friendships (even if they do all bugger off, there is the benefit of having a place to stay in Chicago/Boston/NY/SF etc). JB, you would have left 3 years ago, would you? Before meeting the empowered women crew (Steph et al) and the acting posse (Lindsay's mob)? Interesting. Is that real air you're breathing?

Let's get personal for a while, JB. You left 'cos you were kicked out. Your job had run its course. Your visa had expired. Your cash sitch had hit debt collection agency stage. You even tried to move to Atlanta. Atlanta for feck's sake. Land of lard & steamy weather. Making the most of London is a good thing -- I plan on doing it myself very shortly -- but rejecting your past is something for you & your psychiatrist to explore. Or me down the pub (in about 2 weeks). 

Glancing up, it appears as though you should live everywhere & love it. For my part, the ranting (from both you + me) can all be summed up by the Doves track (which you should listen to while re-reading this), There goes the fear 

"You turn around/And life's passed you by/You look to ones you love, to justify."

London, land of global culture, global warming and overly warm drinks. I want in. --  Aug '03

Grovelling to my manager, some nine months ago, about moving to London yielded the usual SLB result: company 1, employee 0 (og, 90 mins). Not only did I have to have to fill in all sorts of mind-numbing forms (well, OK, one, but it required about 30 screens), but I also had to change the photo attached to my form from its then comical representation. This turned out to be 'impossible' unless I had lost an ear, nose, or eye(s) in the intervening period. So my company photo remains the version taken one redbull-fueled hot night in 2001.

In spite of this handicap, the London office -- probably motivated by a desire to go to Colorado in winter -- made some inquiries to use the Denver office for a GIS bid, so off to the UK it was. Surely the London office would be in Slough, Woking or Staines? Surely it would be pissing with rain on a daily basis? Surely it would entail staying in a dingy B&B by the M25? Surely it would be a commute via tube/bus via McDonalds?

But lo, the location was as golden as could be. Just the other side of Marylebone "Madonna's fave" High St from Al & Jane's, very much zone one, walkable to anywhere in central London, and only a stone's throw from the office itself (at the top of Tottenham Court Rd). Walking to work is worth about 28 smiles per day, as well as a third of your salary. Simple as that. No hauling it down the tube in 40C of sweaty, sweltering heat. No dealing with the tube breaking down in between stations, and the ensuing claustrophobia / doubts about humanity resulting from the lack of communication between the 40 people crammed into each carriage.

Anyhoo, the hotel was the ugliest building in London -- the Regent's Park Holiday Inn. Evoking the Monty Python Architect sketch, the designer must have been involved in a bet to produce the drabbest building / most likely to produce suicidal thoughts in the area. He/she -- if indeed they were human -- just about succeeded. The interior, although it couldn't entirely belie the Swedish prison feel of the exterior, had been given a major makeover in the style, I am told, of "happening hotel". Clean, shorn metal and pure pine, it transformed the experience. The quiet, ruthlessly efficient air conditioning made it an oasis in a sea of urban muggy deep heat. Gazing out the window also reminded me of some French geezer who used to decry the (then new) Eiffel Tower. When he was spotted eating in the restaurant inside the tower itself, people asked "why, if you hate this tower, are you eating in here?" "Parce que, you crazy fou, it is ze only place where ah cannot see ze monstrosity." You get the picture. If you're an adjacent building. Muhahahahaha!

The weather, ah that gorgeous London weather. Less stifling than Paris/NYC, warmer than California, less German than Berlin, what could be better? Better that is, for that quintessential Britsummer pasttime, outdoor boozing. People spilling out onto the streets, sculling a mixture of bitter (nasty), wife beater (Stella, nice but too warm) and wine spritzer things (oy! no!). Yep, except for a few American-style bars, it's not even possible to order a Martini/Mandarin-Seven. And even it's possible it turns about to be a regulatory miniscule quantity of booze combined with an even warmer mixer. And no/little ice. Yikes. So wife beater (WB) it was, then. The problem being that after 4 or 5 WBs not only can you not beat the wife, you can't spank the monkey either. So I say "stuff changing the arcane drinking laws, start with the pre-20th century beverage temperature and work onto non-beer drinks first".

Next whinge; "you should cut down on your porklife, mate, get some exercise!" Nice sentiment, Phil, but how is one to acheive that in central London. Sure, being next to Regent's Park was a jogger's blessing. But semi-fitness freak can not survive by jogging alone. Where were the tennis courts, where the swimming pools? The tube was as close to bikram yoga as I could find. A brisk walk through Hampstead Heath proved to be the nearest a Londoner could get to nature. No, a Londoner's real exercise comes through walking large swathes of the city in order to avoid the misery of the dreaded Tube. One suspects a rickshaw would prove more popular, cheaper and reliable than that ageing monolith.

Other spectacular factors people rarely give thought to are the food & the telly. Long a joke amongst inhabitants of large English-speaking countries bordering the Pacific (who eat puffy bread & homogenised/sanitised food bland enough to defy description), English food has a somewhat deserved reputation for being stodgy, dull and artery-choking; boiled & sauceless at one end, fried & drowning in grease at the other. That may hold true, curries aside, for the majority of the country. For London, however, it just ain't true. According to Michael Caine, as he was threatened crossing into Piedmont in the Italian job, "there are a quar'er of a milyon Italians in the country" (oh the Etypes that were wasted in that scene). Anyway, they've covered every streetcorner north of the Thames (with a special nod to Sergio's on Great Titchfield Rd). Add to that a generous smattering of gen-ew-yne French restarants and a variety of cuisines wider than Tom Cruise's smile, and you've got a bleeding good place to snarf food. As for the telly, it actually amuses & engages me there. Perhaps there's cultural bias in there but the sentiment seemed to be ratified by consenting Americans. Instead of being served telly by pompous, humourless, coke-head gits you are served telly by pompous, coke-head gits with a gritty sense of humour. 

Conclusion from this limited set of random rants, is that a move back is well overdue. Cue March. More on that later (further up the page).


Last edited: 25-Sep-2003

Back To Penn Central

Time to get a Career?, Feb 03
Feeling like Bridget Jones -- desperate -- in one's early 30s seems to be a increasing phenomenon if you are sans enfants. Except the rising tide pour moi is not over affairs of heart but those of the working world, more precisely the 'c' word. In the words of my papa, is it time to join the 'real' world? (Apologies for the hideous sex&thecity style but it's late)

The excesses of the tech boom have been well described, both at the time by those fortunate enough to be in it, as well as schadenfreude expressed subsequently by those jealous at the time. Personally I was neither, being foolishly loyal to a company that rewarded me more than adequately but never excessively. Our company IPOd, had a minor stock payout, thought about getting a pool table/foosball table, nearly went bust, got bought out by a large grey corporation. Not an unfamiliar scene to many.

2001 hit and since then the long slide has swept many a friend into unemployment, albeit often via the sweet road of redundancy. Ensuing unemployment has claimed many a friend (see previous entry, some of these people are now classified by economists as 'long-term unemployed) and even more acquaintances. Underemployment, of the sort where project managers answer 'phones and PR agents turn to knitting for a living, is another under-reported occurrence. My own underemployment has thus far included 9 months of being 'on the bench', a thankless task involving coming to work every day, looking busy, feeling drained and at the whim of any boss (see last summer's entry for 'moving the library').

Somewhere between being on the cusp of joining a startup in Florida and narrowly escaping the dole last autumn some kind of disillusionment set in with my choice of software development as a career. Things I'm trying to figure out are

- Is one career enough? The idea of one career for life is surely going the way of the thought of one job for life. Should one evolve the Marxist idea of 'hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon and criticising in the evening' into 'IT in one's 20s, law in one's 30s and teaching in one's 40s'?

- Is a 'career' important? Something of a hippy question prompted by reading the patchy but unforgettable "In pursuit of loneliness". But worth considering.

- Is career disillusionment a kneejerk reaction to the downturn in the IT business? I have noticed that the people who are quitting IT weren't really that 'into it' in the first place.

- What am I looking for in a job? Related to the previous, it's probably a good idea for anyone to ask themselves this question, even if only to reassure themselves that they're doing the right thing

- What other careers are there out there? I fell into IT in a random moment of seeing a free conversion course for arts graduates with time in Italy.

More questions to fall out in the fullness of time (not feeling like Jerry Maguire right now). 'til then admire/be envious of a friend below, who has made some choices and is following the dream...


Amusing Email from a friend changing career


Headline: "<mate'snamehere> REDUCES FORMER EMPLOYER BY 100%"

News for you: I just notified my employer that their services were no longer needed in my life.  I made sure they knew it wasn't personal, and that they had been a sterling employer, but their position had been removed and they too had to go. 

I have opted to join a small investment bank called <xxx> as an "Equity Research Analyst."  I am at the bottom of the pile right now, and as I am fond of saying- after 9.5 years of busting my arse, I have finally reached the rock bottom.  I think I am one step above the receptionist. 

I am poor but thrilled.  I think this is something I will be extremely good at, and that makes me happy.  I get to build elaborate theories about the market and the future performance of certain companies.  I may start using phrases like "P to E ratio", "trading in-line", "reduced expectations" and my favorite: "the ringgit."  In other words, I get paid to be an insufferable smarty-pants about the market.  Yay!