Monday, June 25, 2012

A visit to the Chocolate Factory

I realised halfway through this morning that I was feeling incredibly calm and relaxed. This may partly be because it's my first day in the office in a week, but I've usually got stressed fairly quickly when I get back to work.

Last night we went to bed early, in preparation for my wife's first day at her new job, so I'd had a full eight hours of sleep. I'd got up, done some stretching exercises before work and still managed to be in before eight thirty. I haven't drunk any coffee since last Monday. And I've taken my first steps to kicking my email addiction. Together, I think they've contributed a lot to me feeling better this morning than for a long time.

Last Friday, still out of my mind on antibiotics and fever, I managed to go through my inbox and delete almost every mail: from over three hundred to less than twenty. When I got in to work today, I had a list of things to do this morning and I took pains to avoid checking my inbox until they were all done. Then, I deleted every new email as fast as I could; if it's something I need to work on later, I've saved it as a task with a specific time and date, and deleted the email, rather than having an inbox clogged with hundreds of unread messages, read messages that I'd changed back to 'unread' because I haven't had time to deal with them yet, and all the other gumpf that accumulates.

It's nice having an empty inbox. It feels like you might be in control for a change.

Ironically, this avoidance of email gave me an opportunity to work on something I've been putting off for weeks: going through a collection of emails. But at least I can say I processed 50 emails to do with a specific problem we have, rather than I sat at my desk, listlessly clicking on my mouse in the hope of stimulation. I wonder how long my pristine inbox will last. (It's still not perfect; there must be about 17 geriatric emails still to eliminate.)

After all this, I had a meeting at Google on the other side of town. Google's office occupies several floors of Asia Square, a large building with Citibank's logo at the top. The Google offices are lovely, all Chocolate Factory bright colours and free food. However, to get to them you have to pass the cordon of the Asia Square receptionists.

Maybe it's because there's so many bankers passing through that they've contracted unpleasantness. The reception desk, where you're issued a pass, is seriously undermanned, so you are forced to wait. It's as though the building management are saying "we are more important than you. Stop and stare in awe at our soulless architecture while we make you stand there." Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

When you get processed by the receptionist, they scan your ID card into the system. A Singapore ID has a barcode on both sides, and you then put your card through a slot and in you go.

Except nobody tells you that you have to swipe your ID face down, not face up, which seems somehow unnatural, and only seems to be an excuse for the receptionist to tell you "you're doing it wrong", and swipe the card through for you, as if you're a simpering dimwit. Why they couldn't just tell you to swipe it face down is beyond me; surely that would make the process more efficient and be better for their blood pressure. It's almost like they want you to make them angry. I've been through this rigmarole before so I know what to do: they seemed quite disappointed, then latched onto my colleague and grumped at him instead.

Past the receptionists, to the automatic lifts that decide on the basis of your swipe - or rather, on the basis of the security guard swiping your ID card for you - which lift will take you to which floor. I'm all for labour saving devices, but how much labour is saved when you still need somebody to operate the labour-saving card swiper?

Arriving at Google is thus a welcome respite from the black and white misery below. Could that be on purpose? No, don't be evil... There is Google's sign-in terminal, with a touch screen that still doesn't recognise my fingertips, but after that was persuaded to spit out some sticky labels we got taken into the Chocolate Factory proper.

It's all very bright. There are huge Google logos everywhere, and free food. So much free food that we went past the canteen and down a floor, into a whole extra kitchen of snacks. I am still trying to be healthy so I got a carton of orange juice (better than the wall of 100 Plus at our own office) but the guy I was with tried to get a coffee.

Maybe it's an intelligence test. To get an espresso you have to hold a switch down, and once you let go, thinking this can't possibly be the only non-one touch button operated coffee machine in the office world, the coffee immediately stops pouring out and a blast of steam comes out of a random milk frothing pipe, and refuses to stop, gradually scalding the stack of cups next to the machine. I see myself as a pro-active team player who embraces innovative solutions, which means I stood there and laughed as the guy I was with broke Google's coffee machine.

Maybe it's post traumatic stress disorder from all the emails I went through at the weekend.

After this, our meeting went swimmingly. The table didn't begin to vibrate, a fog of poisonous gas didn't come out of the computer screens, and I was quite disappointed that neither one of us was dragged away kicking and screaming by some Oompa-Loompas.

If they come to our office, I can't promise that we'll reciprocate.


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