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Category Archives: Ire

A Day in the Life of…

Distilled down to its barest essences, the role of the agency I’ve been describing is fulfilled primarily by its specialists.  These individuals must interview applicants, document their information, and request the necessary data to properly dispose of their cases in a timely and accurate fashion. This is far more difficult than it may seem, but is not nearly as difficult as can be interpreted.  I can offer two analyses of the two leadership groups under which I served as an employee: the first of which could do no right, and the other with the right mentality in place.

Typical Day:

The average day is simple enough, and can vary depending on your job assignment.  Ultimately, you have 8 appointments a day, convening with an applicant every 45 minutes starting at 8:15am an ending at 3:15pm (on average).  There is a certain rhythm with this job and this schedule. A comfort that is built up by the rigid structure that allows for a focused assault on your day as it were.  Because applications are due on the 30th day after the day of application (e.g: an application on 7/1 must be completed by 7/31), it is fairly obvious when you receive your work list for the day of which cases you need to ma (nage by close of business.  One cannot start before 8am and stay after 4:30pm (due to the demands of the job in large offices, it sometimes feels like the 8 hours is not enough to complete all your necessary work – this is not a possibility as some years ago, the State lost a lawsuit against workers that had been doing this).

Best practices means you get the list from your supervisor by 8:00am (they typically arrive between 7:15am-7:30am and stay until 5:30pm-6:00pm – they can do this, as management are not held to the same laws).  First thing’s first, you check your email inbox, your work mailbox, and snag your applications.  If you’re lucky, you can get the daily report on your work list back to your supervisor before your first interview and deny any applications whose applicants failed to comply with the interview process.  Policy states that the interview is a mandated part of the process. Then, you get your first applicant interview of the day screened, meaning you check all available data to which the agency has access (note: THIS DOES NOT MEAN CREDIT CHECKS; THERE ARE NO CREDIT CHECKS NEEDED).  During this screening, you should take the time to examine the previous case actions within the past year by reading the documentation from that time.  If you’re lucky (again), the interview takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes, given you 15 minutes to wrap up your notes and additional time to move on to the next application to repeat the process.  This occurs 8 times a day when interviewing.

During these downtimes, you can check to see if work due that day has had information returned by the applicant to complete their cases and make determinations timely. As bad as this sounds, at some points, you may be rooting for no shows to get cases done or to return telephone calls as you can.   By the time 3:15pm rolls around, hopefully you’re set up and ready to process anything else that must absolutely be done that day and then completing applications that are due on forward dates (this is hard to do especially for certain roles that have similar due days or if you’ve got a lot of applications due on the same day).  If you get the time and have the inclination, read policy.  Reading policy is always key to understanding your role with the agency.

Under previous leadership, I have seen this day turn into interviews until 4:15pm at 30 minute intervals (which is near impossible to do). I have seen “walk-in” reschedule days where applicant were invited to come and wait in the lobby (sheer and utter foolishness) to be seen in the order in which they arrived.  I have had to take my normal 8 appointments and then take 5 more on top of that due to poor scheduling or errors on behalf of the agency (we -have- to correct these because it is the responsibility of the agency to do things right).

Complications:

No matter how hard you work or how well you work, you will always have complications.  An applicant will be not be as forthcoming in an interview and you’ll have to work doubly hard to get the correct information, a very difficult case will present itself when you’re there, a phone call will come in and you will have to respond, &c. There are a million different ways to get sidetracked that are out of your control.  The point is to never be sidetracked by anything you can control (cell phone use, talking, &c) unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is precisely why I listened to so much music at work when I was a specialist, and then this diminished when I became a supervisor so that I could have an open door at all times.

Under previous leadership, specifically my rodeo clown of a supervisor who had never been trained on policy or worked with applicants for benefits, I was given the additional burden of completing supervisory responsibilities.  While this was difficult to complete in addition to my normal responsibilities, it did prepare me for the future.

Typical Week:

String four of these days together and include a day upon which you are given no interviews to work cases down and that is your work week as a benefit specialist.  It can be overwhelming at time as you deal with the typical ebb and flow.  To put the numbers into context, as a specialist, you will begin receiving 32 applicants a week for a total of 128 a month.  These numbers stack up quickly.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Accountability, Anthropology, Introduction, Ire

 

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Fukushima

It’s been over two years since Japan was hit by a major earthquake and tsunami that destroyed many lives.  TEPCO, a major energy company, found themselves at the center of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.  A report finds that a storage tank from the clean up is at the center of another problem.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2013 in Geek, Grief, Ire, Nature

 

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Recognizing the difference

For some reason, this has been bothering me again.  But at where I currently work, people have been tossing pentagram around where they should be using pentacle.  They have very opposite semiotic qualities.Inverted_pentacle

The above image is a pentacle and a pentagram.  In occult sorcery this is traditionally linked with evil; it’s linked with Satanism, and negative emotions.

Heptameron_Pentacle

 

This is a form of pentacle (more similar to the Star of David and Israel), but it stated to be a a positive image, encouraging positive energy.  In traditional European societies, it has been linked to feminine fertility imagery and ritual.

Both images are from wikipedia and are used here under CreativeCommons.

 

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Hoarding…

Gawker has the full story on this, but suffice to say, this is a bit much:

“The skeletonized remains of a woman missing for nearly 30 years were found behind a false wall in the basement of the woman’s former husband, who neighbors described as an intense hoarder.”

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2013 in Anthropology, Idle Words., Ire

 

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Weekly Writing Review: In which I spent the weekend ill…

You know, the point of working is getting to the weekend with enough money to a.) eat, b.) enjoy your time and become involved in a hobby or interest, and c.) involve your family in all the above.  This is impossible when your nose becomes packed with cement and you arrive home, passing out in bed not ten minutes after walking in the door and sleeping for an hour.  Then, still attempting to go do the things you want before returning home and passing out again for two more hours, which then borks your sleeping schedule up, making you fall asleep at some ungodly time in the morning before waking up at your usual time for work.  All the while, you still feel fucking terrible.  Being sick prevents you from doing none of the above, which is what the reward of work should be, but makes it where everything in life fucking sucks just enough that you do not want to get shit done.  I believe I knew I was coming down with something Thursday night, which is why I probably did not feel like writing in the morass of the other responsibilities that I had.

Oh well…

On the bright side, I did finally figure out how to integrate casting style into Cultura’s magic system and begin developing it so that player choice defines EXACTLY how your character uses their style and what it MEANS for the caster in question.  That’s pretty fucking sweet if you ask me.

As always, thanks for reading.  Have a great week!

 

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Apocalyptic of the Day: Competitiveness Taken to its Vicarious End and the Inklings of Hope.

From Deadspin.

And, just to not show that everyone’s fucked in the head (more on the commentariat of cbssports in a moment).  Here’s a story about a professional football player that may be willing to break a wall nearly as thick as the MLB wall regarding African Americans.  I hope that the unnamed individual does overcome his very real concern and come out.

To the commenters of this website, I hope full well that you are nothing but trolls attempting to write something so vile, but I’m not so certain that this is the case.  At either case, here’s the article: CBSSports.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Accountability, Inspiration, Ire

 

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Nocturnal Rumination: Stagnation

Stagnation, whether perceived or actual, is a common concern in any game.  Hell, it’s a common concern in anything really; and, what’s worse is it seems to be a shared concern among members of the community right now.  Bloggers, game designers, and websites that report news about tabletop and video games seem to be enraptured by a general ennui about the roleplaying genre.  Just off the top of my head, in the previous month or so of articles, I have read a diatribe about what constitutes an RPG; a discussion about Square Enix’s demise; Syncaine, Doone, Raph Koster, and other bloggers discussing the post mortem of World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Star Wars Galaxy, Lord of the Rings, et al; and, all the while, various forums and community discussions question whether D&D 4e killed the brand or is the greatest game since pong.

I realize that I wrote last weekend that I would be writing about physical combat this week; however, as stagnation is such a buzz word at the moment, I feel its better to discuss what it really is, how it works, and possible means of avoidance.

Definition:

Starting off the most shallow and pedantic means of defining this term, stagnation is the noun form of the word stagnate that means, per dictionary.com meaning 3, “to stop developing, growing, progressing, or advancing.”  Yet, tabletop games sales numbers increased in the 4th Quarter of the 2010 year (source: ICv2.com); however, the market is becoming increasingly level among competing games it seems.  The days of one brand ruling the market (as in video games it seems) are past.  This seems especially true from members of the audience that want something new, and seem to be home-brewing content instead of making massive buys of it.  As Thistle Games writes in their discussing of sales, it seems like “lower costs means more accessibility” (source: thistlegames.com, blogpost 4/1/11).

The actual engagement with the gaming world seems to be decreasing to a “what next insane feat can my character perform” mentality.  This seems common in the CCG scene wherein the 90s, people screamed out in ever raging nerd glory: “MY BLUE DECK HAS LEVIATHAN;” tabletop games of the mid 2000s: “oh, yeah, well my half-black dragon mage/fighter is now a dragon shaman, and a Strifeleader of Cyric;” to finally the video game market: “I’ve got all purps for my Resto, Feral, and Boomkin set!”  In other words, the phenomenon is not so much in the creativity of the story or the performance of the character in the world, but is specifically intrinsic with badassery, for lack of a better term.  It’s a complete divergence from the reasons why the RPG genre was so damn cool, which was the fact you were participating in the telling of story and the actions therein changed the outcome.

The above paragraph describes the path to formulaic approaches.  If you want a Magic: the Gathering deck, you go to a website, read the concept and approach, go buy the cards, and make it.  The player of that deck did not engage the game; the person who conceived the idea did.  Same goes for World of Warcraft, RIFT, Lord of the Rings, Dragon Age 2, et al., find a build for a character, craft it to specifications (the maths are done for you), and hit the buttons right.  Again, the developer of the build and the person that created it are the ones that engaged the game, not the person that used it.  In no means is this to demean a person for playing the game like this, but recognizing it for what it is provides insight into the major problem: the mainstream market is stagnate (I know, who gives a damn about the mainstream right? FREE PUBLISHERS FTW!  This is a problem, too.  It’s just an avoidance recognition to games that just seem old now).

I fully realize that people enjoy these games as hobbies or ways to avoid thought or relax from their normal obligations in life. Subpar mechanics with tired approaches that have been done until the end of the world reign supreme and this creates stagnation.  The world and the system do not matter as much as what you can do. In the long run, this is a dangerous approach because when the player grows weary of investing dollars, that person is lost as a member of the community.

Why Does It Get Old?

Tabletops, MMOs, computers, and game consoles all have something in common that is not recognized often enough: they are an investment in the designer’s company.  By paying $X, there is an expectation of return from the design’s contents.  This is similar to the stock market, individual puts an amount of money in a company to start it out, and expects a return on this money from the company’s product(s).  In the case of some companies (see the MySpace drama going on right now as an example), there becomes new ideas or innovations that entirely obliterate the old model.  Facebook offers better content in an easier to use interface without as much crap on it.  EVERYONE uses it because of the simplicity of its design and it starts growing and growing and growing to the point where everyone (or nearly everyone) has at least an entry on it.  In the background, MySpace (the beginning of the social media world) begins dwindling.  Its returns falter, investors pull out, money dries up, layoffs happen, and soon the company will disappear.

That’s exactly how an RPG seems to work under the current model.  Player buys the starting books, materials, or game box as the entry fee to the startup.  World of Warcraft’s a wonderfully simple example here, because of the systems it combines and the leveling pace; it even has two investment points!  Its initial investment is the leveling content from adventuring through the game world, to PvP startup, to crafting.  At this point, the player’s character is 1s all around.  In terms of investment ($70ish dollars plus $15/mo), this seems like a high amount of content and the returns are high: multiple levels a day, higher masteries of crafting, new gear and abilities.  This investment point ends at the game’s level cap and forces the player to invest in another part of the game, either PvE or PvP endgame.  These are riskier investments, but in both cases the startup is not based on monetary value of the initial product.  Instead this startup value is based off personal desire and time.

The ultimate side effect of this is that, if the content is too hard, the player does not get enough a return on their investment of desire and time.  If its too easy, content is gobbled up and the return is eaten through.  Either way, this puts the impetus on the game designer to continually create product, and like investment returns the development of product can see greatly diminishing returns over the life of a game because of an invariable amount of creative drain (people find new jobs, others burnout, still others leave the project for another).

Members of the community seem to call this point, in other players at least, the burnout stage.  This is a pointed, if imprecise, critique of the player.  It’s far more common that the individual has reached the point where their investment is not returning the amount they desire or perceive that it should.

It is more than moderately ironic is that the response seems to be offering more of the same with shinier or updated packaging.  Great examples of this are RIFT, Cataclysm expansion, Pathfinder, most d20 spinoffs, most Magic: the Gathering expansions, and even White Wolf’s World of Darkness change.  The advertisement for these should, for clarity’s sake, at least include the following: “[Insert New Product Name Here] is now 25% different than the edition or game before it!  Buy more now!”  Then, the investment cycle for that game starts again.  It is no wonder at this point that stagnation occurs in RPGs because of the collective laziness of designers to consider greater points of interactivity or investment in their product.  Whether this is a result of the increasing marketization of the gaming hobby or the result of a lack of inspiration I am uncertain.

In either case, one should be honest with themselves, and introspective enough to discern the points at which are going to become stagnant and implement a plan to fix them.

Digging a New Drainage Ditch, or Letting New Water In

One of the most common ways to stave off stagnation seems to be hiring a new creative director or changing the design team of a product.  Obviously employee attrition will occur, but the common path is not always the best, but it is sometimes the most cost effective.  It is far harder to challenge a successful design team to consider their product’s flaws and points at which stagnation may occur, because people are willing to say, “Good job,” and begin thinking about the next product.  It should be easily recognizable that the oldest content will be the most maligned content, because eventually people will be tired of it.

Designers should be unafraid of changing this content or the mechanics associated with it, considering the stories, lore, and system itself.  A great example was Forgotten Realms’ Dalelands.  I could probably write another post, longer than this, about the flavor and strengths of AD&D Second Edition’s Realms products and how Greenwood, Boyd, and other developers kept the product feeling fresh. The Dales were as varied as the Realms themselves, and events could spark a million different stories: 1.) the Zhents in Daggerdale; 2.) Elminster and Storm Silverhand in Shadowdale; 3.) the merchant houses of Sembia in Tasseldale. Of course this list could continue, but your character would be faced with developing opinions on these places and people.  They could hear of Drizz’t Do’Urden, the good Drow of the North (about whom my thief said: “Good, I hope he changes’em all; more money in the undermarkets for us, mates.”)

What truly hurt the Realms in this edition was the AD&D system, because of how powerful a character could become.  Eventually, they could only challenge Elminster, or visit the planes, turning their eyes from the intrinsic beauty of the Realms.  This is a flaw that must be avoided, people said at the time.  In the years since, however, I have not yet seen a game to do so: D&D 3/3.5 edition had the same problems, World of Warcraft is going through those right now, and so forth.  It’s an ignoble end, and one that could have been solved if someone might have asked: “how do we test players,” instead of “what other cool shit can our players do?”

In the end, stagnation is going to occur.  The more emphasis a game places on its designers to continually develop new and better things only increases the speed at which it occurs.  RIFT and Warhammer Online are the best two examples of this, as World of Warcraft, which probably could have suffered the same effect, was the beneficiary of the world’s biggest nerd bloom (think algal blooms here): great, polished game plus great, forward thinking developers plus popular culture nerdgasm plus luck.  Designers may never see the sort of tide again for a product.

Avoiding stagnation is not easy, and requires critical thought; however, this facet cannot only save companies, RPG products, and the like, it can also save your game.  It requires the evaluation of a product continually, listening to all forms of feedback about that product, being unafraid of making a change and sticking to it, offering accessibility to new content that involves both new and old ideas, and emphasizing the player’s interactivity with the game.  It has been said that the artist is most critical of his creation, the same should be true here.  By showing that you, as someone that wants to sell product or develop worlds, care, you demonstrate to the player that their investment’s return will be good.  If you fail on that, you may find yourself similar to MySpace.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2013 in Accountability, Anthropology, Game, Geek, Ire, Philosophy, Rants

 

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