Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I fought the law

Ah human resources, what a fine profession you are. HR is all about taking an interest in people - this is an important point, to be addressed later. Originally, this interest was in a time and motion context; basically sickness and holiday records. It was little more than a mundane admin process. Like all admin processes; it was a cost to the business; there is very little benefit apart from making sure that people weren't off work too much and didn't take too much holiday. When times are lean, big bosses drive costs out of their business by reducing the amount of admin cost it has to saddle. This made HR people vulnerable to redundancy as well as generally unvalued (and therefore poorly paid).

In an attempt to protect these people-beancounters, the professional discipline of Human Resources was invented. HR people did more than holidays and sickness, they brought direct value to the business by hiring and firing (more admin) and providing training and development structures. Now, training has a very linear relationship between a need and how that need is satisfied - can't use Excel? do some Excel training - again, not hard to do if you put your mind to it. Development, on the other hand, is like spiritual enlightenment; no one knows what it is, how you achieve it, but you're afraid if you don't have it you're missing something. It's like trying to heard cats... cats made of jelly. Development is the emperors new clothes of HR; Did you know that Waitrose staff can actually get trips to the cinema and theatre paid for by the partnership because its viewed as a "developmental opportunity"? Development is such a rampant and conveniently amorphous beast, if you don't provide "developmental opportunities" you're a bad company. Why should we believe this? Because it's on every job advert... adverts that are written by HR people. And so HR's self fulfilling prophecy is complete; we're important, because we say we're important.

Every company is now expected to have an HR function to show what a progressive company they are. If you're a small company it's unlikely that you can afford a properly trained HR person or justify employing them full time. This means the role inevitably falls to someone who has an interest in people (i.e. the fundamental pretence of HR); what they earn, what their problems are and so on. In other words, this is a perfect role for the office gossip.

Being a gossip of any kind is all about power; having something that others haven't got. If you hold something others haven't got, that gives you one degree of power, if you're mandated to have some control over people then power increases exponentially. A mandate to write HR rules that dictate peoples lives is manna from heaven for an office gossip.

So why am I telling you all this? well, working for a small company and being the first person in its history to need paternity leave means I've get first hand experience of the small company HR person in action. Our HR person was detailed with writing a paternity leave policy. I'm the only person this policy applies to because I'm the only man in the company of a realistic child bearing age who isn't gay.

HR Woman comes in to tell me the policy is written and it basically says I get 2 weeks at £100 a week - what is known as the statutory minimum allowance. Like all statutory rates they're basically set to give some protection from unscrupulous employers to sweat shop workers whilst protecting small businessmen from being bankrupted with onerous payments. I'm not a sweat shop worker and my employer is not on the brink of bankruptcy, therefore our policy should reflect the attitude of the company towards its employees. However HR Woman is not enlightened to such thinking, she sees that the policy should reflect her ability to wield her power over others. The more onerous the policy, the more powerful she is. The joy of telling me I was about to lose nearly half my monthly salary on her whim was unconfined. I began my challenge, I questioned why the company has taken on board a punitive policy when a. it's a financially sound company, b. we readily spunk the said amount on a hopeless procession of consultants (including, it turns out, a consultant who suggested the policy to her in the first place) and c. that my salary was all budgeted for and effectively a sunk cost... and d. and e. and f. and so on.

In challenging her legitimacy in having and applying this power over me she began to recoil; she smiled broadly, suggested I talk to our MD, shrugged her shoulders and said... "there's nothing I can do... it's the law". I composed myself, gathered my thoughts and told her that was "fucking rubbish" and that did she really think that it was illegal for the company to pay over the statutory minimum. She shrugged. Then I realised that maybe she wasn't talking about the law of the land, but the law of the HR person; what she was actually saying was "Sorry, I have to ignore your personal situation and apply a rigid regressive policy just to make you unhappy... it's my job" her smile, however, reminded me that the company was at least supportive of my overall development. And for this, at least, I am grateful.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Pointless Ruffles activity number 4,507

I could be painting the nursery but I'm not, of course, I'm compiling my second annual top 50 albums. Compiled with no reference to last year's list, I'm impressed, at least with the consistency. Only 9 albums made the list last year that didn't make this year's list, highest ranked being 26th, Louder Than Bombs by Smiths. Congratulations to 2 Many DJ's for shooting in at number 10... although why it wasn't in the top 50 last year I couldn't tell you.

Still, no logic or reasons given, here's the list.

1. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - Public Enemy (1)
2. 101 - Depeche Mode (2)
3. Tricks of the Shade - The Goats (3)
4. Live at the Heavenly Social Vol 2 - Jon Carter (9)
5. 70 Minutes of Madness - Journeys by DJ - Coldcut (7)
6. The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (5)
7. (What's the Story) Morning Glory - Oasis (23)
8. Nevermind - Nirvana (20)
9. Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches - Happy Mondays (6)
10. As Heard on Radio Soulwax Vol.2 - 2 Many DJs (-)
11. Music for the Masses - Depeche Mode (-)
12. O.K Computer - Radiohead (10)
13. Orbital 2 - Orbital (4)
14. Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine (8)
15. Paul's Boutique - The Beastie Boys (28)
16. Songs of Faith and Devotion - Depeche Mode (48)
17. Technique - New Order (17)
18. The Chronic - Dr. Dre (16)
19. Abbey Road - The Beatles (24)
20. Licensed to Ill - The Beastie Boys (-)
21. Dummy - Portishead (21)
22. Black Sunday - Cypress Hill (30)
23. Copper Blue - Sugar (37)
24. Hunky Dory - David Bowie (11)
25. Parklife - Blur (42)
26. The Beatles [The White Album] - The Beatles (25)
27. Republic - New Order (15)
28. Hatful of Hollow - The Smiths (-)
29. Leftism - Leftfield (12)
30. The Bends - Radiohead (13)
31. Violator - Depeche Mode (19)
32. MTV Unplugged In New York - Nirvana (14)
33. Raising Hell - Run DMC (27)
34. Low Life - New Order (-)
35. White Room - KLF (38)
36. Blue Lines - Massive Attack (29)
37. Protection - Massive Attack (18)
38. 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of... - Arrested Development (-)
39. Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde - The Pharcyde (40)
40. The Queen Is Dead - The Smiths (22)
41. 3 Feet High and Rising - De La Soul (44)
42. A Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay (45)
43. Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld - The Orb (33)
44. Debut - Bjork (32)
45. Connected - Stereo MCs (50)
46. Screamadelica - Primal Scream (-)
47. The Prodigy Experience - The Prodigy (-)
48. Straight Outta Compton - N.W.A. (-)
49. Teaser and the Firecat - Cat Stevens (36)
50. Definitely Maybe - Oasis (-)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

United nations

German, Ivorian, Ivorian, Swiss, French, Belorussian, Brazilian, Spanish, Swedish, Spanish, French, French

The nationalities of Arsenal's starting eleven tonight; the first English club to beat Real Madrid in Madrid. Don't get me wrong, I have a soft spot for Arsenal, call me old fashioned, but just how English is this team? 

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Never mind the Brits, here's the Ruffs

The music scene is pretty good at the moment and this year's Brits was a demonstration of its general good health. Things are still a bit polite for me, though, I like to live vicariously through our naughty pop stars. Coldplay have mastered that MTV swagger (copyright: US MTV friendly 'alternative' bands); ramshakling onstage like a gang 'o' lads whilst ensuring the aesthetic of the camera's arena wide sweep isn't upset. James Blunt is such an endearingly bewildered buffoon you want to beat his legs with a bike chain and make him cry. And, if the world has to have a KT Tunstall, then this KT Tunstall is better than most. The Gorillaz were great because they're a multimedia project suited to multimedia performance. Unlike, say, the exceptional Kaisers, who play indie pop better suited to dark sweaty venues. I particularly enjoyed the (intentional?) irony of Paris Hilton announcing American Idiot as the best international song.

Anyway, in the spirit of all things celebratory; here's the Top 10 of Ruffles' 2005 purchases (Last year's winner: Felix Da Housecat).

1. If You Can't Join Em, Beat Em - DJ Format
2. A Bugged Out Mix - Erol Alkan
3. Silent Alarm - Bloc Party
4. Hot Fuss - Killers
5. Playing the Angel - Depeche Mode
6. Taste the Secret - Ugly Duckling
7. Fabriclive 19 - Freestylers
8. Brassbound - Ordinary Boys
9. Push The Button - Chemical Brothers
10. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem

And whilst I'm fiddling around with iTunes, some random facts from my iPod...

Shortest tune: Runaway Dreamer - Felix Da Housecat (0 minutes 0 seconds)
Longest tune: Timeless - Goldie (21 minutes 3 seconds)
First in alphabetical order - A Ballad to Forget - Soulwax
Last in alphabetical order - Zuton Fever - Zutons

I could, theoretically, makes a compilation CD (74 minutes) with 125 songs on it. The shortest compilation would have 5 songs.
It currently has 13.6 days of music on it, which is 4,704 tunes, which averages out as 4 minutes 9 seconds... there are 15 'average' songs, two of which are by 50 Cent. Hmm.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

36 different ways of sliding

The games of the 20th winter Olympiad; an opportunity to take an obsessive interest in sports you wouldn't normally glance at if they were played naked. In truth there are precious few winter activities that can be made into sports; ski-ing, skating, sledging, snowboarding. It's a wonder they haven't found a way of competing in snowballing or snuggling up with a big cup of cocoa. The Games are packed with derivations of these four principle activities with some differences invisible to the naked eye; downhill skiing is about skiing downhill, slalom is about skiing downhill with lots of twists and turns, giant slalom is about skiing downhill with less twists and turns than slalom but more than downhill skiing. They also have super giant slalom; which I'm sure is just a test to see if anyone's really paying attention.

Still, there's a lot to enjoy about the Games; not least their soporific quality. Most of the sports involve the competitors taking turns one by one dressed head to toe in a curious mix of Lycra cat suit and motorcycle protective wear. It's impossible to tell one competitor from another. What's more, they don't even wear anything like their national colours. Skiers from Austria are most likely to wear pink and yellow, figure dancers wear sequinned boob tubes. Add this anonymity to the indistinguishable differences between first and last - fractions of a second - it makes it fantastically undemanding to watch.

Secondly, British commentators rarely know what they're talking about, usually they rely on a 'British number 1' to provide expert analysis; even though they attained their status as the best UK speed skater through a rollerskating competition in a Tesco car park. For reasons I've yet to fully fathom I prefer Eurosport coverage to the BBC; perhaps because of their wide-eyed relentless 24/7 coverage. They seem so pleased to cover the event that they don't care whether anyone is watching the Nigerian cross country skier or Egyptian luge champion, they show it all in full regardless.

Last night we watched the final thrilling (probably) rounds of the Women's Freestyle Skiing. At first this simply looks like slalom in big trousers because the competitors wear cool urbanwear over regulation Lycra. Closer analysis reveals this is a sport that seems to involve skiing over knee-crunching bumps (moguls) until you hit a ramp and do a jump; this is followed by more moguls another 'air' and over the finish line. The winner is not the quickest; it's judged by a panel of anonymous judges (although for all I know it could be by a Scandinavian TV text poll). Originally invented for the cool snowboarding set, it's become detached from its roots because those who look coolest are the ones who are penalised for making it look really difficult and fast - those who are most tediously efficient win. Disappointingly, for the marketing men at least, It was won by the (comparatively) plain looking Canadian Jennifer Heil. Heil is a Matrina Navartilova to the Chris Evert Lloyd of Norwegian hotty Kari Traa who claimed silver. Traa spent most of the competition sparkling into the camera whilst her fellow competitors tried, and failed to beat her score. As the competition progressed the commentator's filling became more desperate. Finally he resorted to; "There she is, Kari Traa, with her classic Norwegian looks - blonde hair, blue eyes and a casual freestyle skiing technique"

Yup, you can tell a Norwegian a mile off by their casual freestyle skiing technique.

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