Friday, August 29, 2008

I Refuse to Believe that Summer is Ending

What is it about long weekends that gets everyone so excited? I mean, it's just one extra day off. But it feels like so much more than that, doesn't it? Probably because it is... typically people are able to bust out of the office early on Friday, too (or on Thursday, if Friday is the holiday). I used to laugh at the email that would inevitably come through from The Man whenever a long weekend was approaching. This email would tell everyone that they could leave at 2 PM on the last business day before the holiday, like that was a big "surprise" and no one was already planning on doing that anyway. If that email didn't come through, there would be a mutiny!

And while I don't have "days off" anymore per se, my husband still does, and so I'm busy preparing for the holiday weekend that we'll be spending with my extended family. I always get a little sad when Labor Day hits, because it is usually thought to represent the end of summer (in addition to its true meaning: a tribute to the American worker). I just checked the extended weather forecast, and was horrified to see that the warm weather might be coming to an end within two weeks. My blood turned cold when I saw "High of 68 degrees" for September 12th. WHAT!?!? First I learn that Mulder is in rehab (shout-out to reader MS) and now Mother Nature is trying to force me to pull out my fall wardrobe before I'm ready? Ugh. I better enjoy the sun this weekend, then.

To those of you in the U.S., have a wonderful holiday weekend... and to everyone else, I will be back on Tuesday with some big news!

- e

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where's the Buzz?

For the first time in a long time, one of the previews I saw before a movie made everyone in the theater laugh. I heard friends whispering to each other, "That's gonna be good," once it ended. Because I'm into this kind of stuff, I usually have seen all of the buzzed-about trailers online before they hit the big screen, so I was surprised that I had never heard of this one. It's called Role Models, and I think it's going to be awesome.

Judge for yourself:

I'm not usually a Seann William Scott fan, but I do like Paul Rudd and, of course, McLovin! How did they get that kid to look way younger than he did in Superbad? That's movie magic for ya, folks.

Anyway, I did a little research, and right now it looks like it's coming out on November 7 and isn't against another major release, so maybe it will do well. So I've got that on November 7, Quantum of Solace the next week, Twilight the next week, and then I'll stuff myself with turkey and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving the next week. This fall is shaping up quite nicely!

- e

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Like a Rolling Stone

It seems that a person can either be a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan, doesn't it? Rarely do you come across someone who claims to be equally as crazy for both bands. I guess the Stones do have more of a bluesy sound whereas The Beatles were at first more pop and then more rock/alternative, so I guess it makes sense that they would attract different audiences.

Anyway, as you all know, I'm a Beatles girl. But I do like a few of the most well-known Rolling Stones songs, especially "Under My Thumb," "Anybody Seen My Baby?" and "Sympathy for the Devil." And when I was in fifth grade, I liked that ridiculous "Dancin' in the Street" video that Mick Jagger made with David Bowie (I just died laughing watching it again). And you have to give respect to the fact that Keith Richards played Captain Jack Sparrow's pirate dad. On top of all of that, I found the concept of Martin Scorsese trying to film a Stones performance interesting. So I rented Shine a Light, and guess what? I liked it.

If you are a hard-core Stones fan, you've probably already seen this movie... but if you haven't, you need to go rent it right now. While I was a little disappointed that they didn't show more of the behind-the-scenes preparation that went into pulling off the film, a true fan of the band would better appreciate the fact that the movie is pretty much just a recorded concert (albeit beautifully shot, no disrespect to Marty). Some vintage footage of the guys is thrown in here and there, and a few funny moments with Scorsese are covered in the beginning, but other than that, the film is mostly comprised of hit after hit on stage. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Since I was unfamiliar with a lot of the songs that were showcased, I was surprised at how much I still enjoyed Shine A Light. I think it's because it was just fascinating to watch these guys who are all in their mid-50s perform with such intensity. Mick Jagger, for one, is just a maniac. I couldn't bust out moves like he can even when I was 12!

So I would guess that if you're like me and enjoy the Rolling Stones' music enough to listen to it for a little over an hour and a half, you will find Shine a Light quite captivating. I would also highly recommend the "featurette" on the DVD, which has more of the backstage and archived footage that I liked best from the full-length film.

Here's the trailer in case you are wavering... notice the skull and crossbones on Keith's coat at the 1 minute 37 second mark! Once a pirate, always a pirate.

- e

Monday, August 25, 2008

Got Any Change?

Somewhere between six and seven years ago, I found out about Coinstar machines. Have you ever seen these things? If you live in the United States, Canada, the UK or Ireland, you should really search one out, because they rock!

Basically they are free-standing kiosks--usually in grocery or drug stores--that you pour all of your spare change into and then either receive a voucher for the money, or a gift card from a certain vendor. When I first tried one out, I was living in Boston, and the only option was to get a voucher for cash. You would get a print-out of how much money you had poured in, take it up to the check-out counter, and they would give you your designated amount.

If you just get cash from all of your inputted coins, Coinstar takes out 8 - 10% for their fee, depending on where you live. My dad said, "Why wouldn't you just roll your coins and trade them in for dollars at the bank and forgo the fee?" The answer is: 1) I don't have time to roll coins, nor do I have the little wrappers you need to do so, 2) I bank at an Internet-based bank that has no physical branch nearby, 3) If I did roll coins and took them to another bank or check-cashing type of place, they would also charge a fee, and 4) the Coinstar kiosk is right around the corner from my place.

My husband and I had been tossing spare change into a big plastic bag ever since our last Coinstar visit all those years ago. I finally took it to our local kiosk and was totally excited to see the option of getting gift cards for your change instead of only cash. Because with the gift cards, they do NOT subtract any fee! Why wouldn't you select this option?

I ended up getting a $10-ish (it's hard to pour in even amounts) card for Starbucks, a $138 voucher for iTunes, and a $93 voucher for These are all places that I shop at anyway, so it made complete sense to get their gift cards rather than lose 9% of my money solely to get bills in my hand then and there.

On top of the convenient location of the machine and the fact that, in a weird way, it feels like you're getting "free money" (even though the coins are yours and were worth every bit as much sitting up in the cabinet above the fridge in the big plastic bag), the experience of pouring the money in is totally fun. At least I think it is. You dump all of your change into this little bin, and then lift it up so that the coins start falling through a small slot that leads to the coin-counter. The kiosk makes the same sound that the jackpots in Vegas make, which I am positive that humans must be hard-wired to love. Every once in a while, the machine will spit out a foreign coin, or, in my case, one of my husband's guitar picks that was mixed in with the legit coins (?!?!). And then you wait for the grand total. When it's hundreds of dollars, it's quite a thrill!

I know, I know, it doesn't take much to amuse me.

But if you have a ton of change sitting around, you should seriously see if they have a Coinstar near you. I would think that it would be a fun experience for kids, too, who were perhaps saving up in a piggy bank or something. Or maybe you should encourage your kids (and yourself) to keep on saving a penny here and a penny there and wait for a long time to tally them up. Because then you could be like this dude, who cashed in $1.3 MILLION DOLLARS in pennies he had saved up over 38 years?!?! That's right, it was all freakin' pennies! It took the machine seven hours to count it all.

Edited The Original Post To Add: Oops. A thank-you to Anonymous, who clued me in that I didn't read the article carefully enough. The man in the picture had 1.3 million CENTS total, which is $13,000.

But... he's still my hero. That's it, I'm not cashing in again until I'm 71.

- e

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Things I Miss About Working for The Man

(Sorry that this post, which I wrote most of on Thursday, wasn't up until today. I will still write my originally planned post for today, too, so check back again tonight or tomorrow!)

Now that I have not-so-fondly recalled some of my most hated buzzwords/phrases and the things I haven't missed from my career in Corporate America, it is now time to admit what aspects of working for The Man I actually appreciate even more now that I've been without them for a year.

The Top Ten Things I Miss About Working for The Man

10. A Routine / Organization

Less than one week after I left my last job, I knew that I desperately needed a routine, if only for my dog's sake. Fortunately, he has gotten used to me being around and has pretty much resumed his old habit of sleeping all day in his (open) crate, except for when it's time to take our midday walk.

But I still haven't nailed down a "normal" schedule for myself. Yes, sometimes bizarre things happen that I could've never planned for that tie up hours on end. But that happens in an office environment, too (ahh! I forgot "putting out fires" on the annoying phrases list...), and doesn't negate the need for an attempt at a schedule.

Because I love organization, I took great comfort in, say, the weekly Business Development meeting, or the every-other-Thursday Project X call, or the fact that my boss would be expecting to review a certain report on a specific day. Now, I don't have any recurring appointments (except for the dog-walk), and in the past year I've only had self-imposed deadlines for things I've been working on. And we all know how self-imposed deadlines go. I can't fire myself, give myself a raise, or reward myself with a bonus like a real boss could.

And so, I continue to try and learn exactly how I work best. One thing I have noticed is that when I have a lot of writing projects coming in, I am actually more productive in the other areas of my life, too. All of a sudden the laundry is done and the counter is cleaned and the bills are mailed and even a few magazines might get read, even though I am technically "busier." My guidance counselor in high school, all those years ago, had me figured out: "Erika thrives on stress." Ms. Hamilton, wherever you are, you were a genius.

9. Mentors

When you work for an organization that has a good number of employees, there are usually a lot of people who've been at the company or in the work force for decades and find great pleasure in taking a younger colleague under their wing. I've been lucky enough to meet many wonderful mentors throughout the years who were honest with me about my strengths and shortcomings, and who helped me navigate the sometimes treacherous world of office politics. I keep in touch with almost all of them to this day, and while I feel like they don't quite understand what I'm doing right now--only because they were such big cheerleaders for me in Corporate America--they've still been supportive and give me confidence that I can succeed in whatever I put my mind to.

When you work for yourself by yourself, umm.... there's no one else around. If you want a mentor, you're going to have to put in a lot of effort to seek such a person out. And if you don't have something like, say, an employer in common, then it could be kind of weird or awkward to get to the point of asking them for advice. I've been doing my best to contact (notice how I didn't say "reach out to") other writers in the Chicagoland area, and have been pleasantly surprised at how helpful and encouraging everyone has been. I just need to keep those relationships going, because I'm not going to see these people in the hall, like I would if we both worked in the same building.

8. Large-scale Accomplishments

Some of the projects I was involved with during my days in the financial industry helped move tens of thousands of customers from one banking platform to another. Or made the experience accountants across the country had with a heavily-used web site significantly better. Or helped businesses large and small hedge against dramatic financial losses. Or saved millions in cash. Or successfully kept trillions of dollars pumping through the markets.

If I introduce a new theory about Lost when it returns to the airwaves early next year, does that really measure up to what I was doing before? I know the answer is an astounding "YES!!!!" from many of you out there, and for that, I love you. But you get my point. It is very cool to be a part of something that's so much bigger than yourself. Something that's truly doing some good in the world. And I know a lot of you work for places that achieve much more incredible feats than the ones I described. You should be proud of that, because it's hard to make a significant impact when you are working for yourself.

A "sister benefit" to this one, if you will, is...

7. Company Pride

So there are the things you may be working on that help others and therefore give you something to feel good about at your job. But then there's also a higher level of pride that comes from feeling that your company, overall, is just pretty damn cool. You don't have to be at some whiz-bang place like Google to experience this. In fact, I think I had more respect for the larger banks and financial institutions I worked for than I did for some of the smaller web development boutiques I spent the mid-90s with.

For me, my level of company pride usually depended on the quality of executive management at my firm. If I thought they were on the up-and-up, if I thought they were taking the company in the right direction, if I thought they were intelligent, and if I thought they seemed like cool people to hang out with, should I ever get the chance, then that counted for something. I would like to read articles in The Wall Street Journal where my CEO was interviewed and had a brilliant remark. I would silently applaud him if he delivered a rousing speech to the troops. I would be so impressed when he would donate huge chunks of money and volunteer time when the nation suffered through disasters.

If your firm has a strong leader or set of leaders, then you've experienced first-hand how powerfully certain visionaries can influence the morale and culture of rest of the company. If you work at a really large place, it may be a completely separate division that achieves some breakthrough in technology or health care that puts that lump of pride in your throat. Wherever you get it from, it's a nice feeling to have. And so I miss having that "Go Team!" spirit to rally around from time to time.

6. Traveling

As you all should know by now, I like to take vacations. But I also enjoyed traveling for work, too. In fact, I would not have made it to a lot of the countries--and even one continent (Australia)-- I've visited if it hadn't been for a work assignment. When I was younger and in positions where I was constantly on the road it did get a little old, but going somewhere once a month was just fine with me. And hey, visiting cities like Paris, London or New York City on an expense account is really the best way to do it, don't you agree?

5. Learning New Things

Oh sure, I learn new things as a writer (remember my shock at the Self-Employment Tax from Wednesday's post?), but it doesn't quite compare to what you learn when you have a job with a boss, co-workers, a mentor and maybe even employees reporting to you. You learn all sorts of things about human nature, you learn new things about your business and industry, you learn about your competitors and customers, you learn about other people's careers and backgrounds, you really do learn something new--even if it's just a small bit of information--every day. It's like school without a degree. And until I find the time to learn Spanish and to play the piano like I was also lamenting about Wednesday, I'm stuck with only learning how to better manage my day!

4. Getting Paid on a Regular Basis

When you work for The Man, you know when that paycheck is going to be deposited. Unless you are in danger of getting laid off or fired, you don't worry about when the next one is going to arrive. There's a schedule and they stick to it. You know how much your check is going to be, and you can plan your finances around that.

In the world of self-employment, that all goes out the window. I'll leave it at that.

3. Benefits

"Benefits" come along with a paycheck. I was always on my husband's health insurance plan, but other people who decide to go into business for themselves usually need to start ponying up hundreds of dollars a month to ensure their medical expenses will be covered. There are also stock-purchase programs and retirement plans and all of those sorts of perks that are wonderful, too.

But on top of those things, I also miss the other benefits, like "free cholesterol screenings" and "becoming a better presenter" seminars and the ice cream party our building would throw once a year and discounts we would get on phone plans or laptops. Every once in a while, someone would order pizza for the entire floor. Or it would be someone's birthday and we'd all get cake. Or we'd all get new company t-shirts or notepads. These seem like little things, but you will never get any of them when you work alone from your kitchen.

2. A Team-Based Culture

What I'm talking about here is different from the "company pride" I was discussing earlier. There were companies I worked for where I felt like I was doing something cool and I was proud to say that I worked for the company overall, but on a day-to-day basis, I did not feel like I was part of a team. I didn't get the sense that we were "all in it together." Many people were out for themselves, and there was a general sense of paranoia from anyone who was actually responsible for something--they knew they would be the scapegoat if something went wrong with their project.

At other companies, that sort of culture didn't exist. Sure, there were little battles for power here and there, or a few people who didn't get along and always seemed to be undermining each other, but by and large, personal agendas were put aside for the sake of the larger team and firm. When you go from a culture where there's a lot of back-stabbing and reluctance to take charge to one where everyone truly works well together, it's quite a shock. And it's also awesome.

When I was in business school, we had all sorts of famous CEOs come speak. One of the most recurring themes across their talks was the importance of a strong, team-based culture. "You are all sitting there, worried about your Finance and Accounting classes," one of them said. "But what you really need to pay attention to is the class you're all blowing off as fluff, Organizational Behavior. How employees work together will absolutely make or break yor company." They were right.

1. The Good People

I ranted about The Evil People on Tuesday, but as I also mentioned then, 99.99% of the people I've worked with have been incredible. Fun, smart, sarcastic in a good way, and cool. We would protect each other from and vent to each other about The Evil People. We would go out to lunch, go out to drinks after work, pass along gossip, give each other advice, celebrate births, engagements, marriages and birthdays, and support each other through tough times. Because that is what friends do. And yes, when you work with great people, your co-workers often become your friends.

Since I miss seeing or talking to these people every day, I do my best to keep tabs on them and meet up with them as often as possible. So I've lost them as co-workers, but I've kept them as friends.

My biggest advice to anyone working for The Man is this: if you don't like the vast majority of the people you work with on a daily basis, start looking for a new job. Life is too short and you spend way too much time at work to let your co-workers make you miserable. To this point, I once worked as an Internet consultant for Company A. I didn't really click with anyone there and hated it. I had pretty much the exact same job a few years later at Company B. Even though I was traveling constantly and totally stressed out and working until two in the morning every night, I loved everyone there, and I therefore loved my job. It was the exact same position as the one I held at Company A, but the people made all the difference.

I know I have more than a few readers out there who are in college and will one day be interviewing for their first "real" job. I hope that this post has given you some insight on what to look for in a place of employment. Your happiness at work will be greatly affected by the people you interact with every day. If you really hit it off with your interviewers, that's a good sign! If they seem arrogant or condescending or rude... run as far away from that company as you can. They don't deserve you!

- e

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Problems with Working at Home

Today is the last day this week that I will groan on and on about something. The topic du jour is...

The Top Ten Problems With Working For Myself At Home

10. The Mess

My condo is a freakin' pigsty. That is because my "office" takes up half of my kitchen area. As you can see (click to enlarge the horror), I have about half of my dining table commandeered, and behind the table is my filing-cabinet-on-wheels (one of several filing cabinets I have around the house). Because of my lack of time, which I'll get to later, things keep piling up around my laptop.

Usually it takes the imminent arrival of visitors to force me to do a whirlwind cleaning job... and then the mess slowly creeps back up on me.

My husband and I had initially planned for our guest room to double as my office. But I quickly learned that, especially because of my weirdly sensitive eyes (see yesterday's post), I need natural light, and our guest room doesn't have much of that. Plus, it gets really cold in there in the winter. AND, perhaps most importantly, our dog isn't allowed downstairs. So not only would I not be able to see, I wouldn't even get the benefit of hanging with my dog throughout the majority of the day.

Hence, Plan B: the kitchen table. We're not planning to move for several years, but when we do, you can bet that--if I'm able to keep this writing career going--getting my own room for a home office will be a non-negotiable.

9. One is the Loneliest Number

Except for the few people who know me really well, I would guess that most of my acquaintances think that I am an extrovert--I am always running around doing something, it seems. But if given the choice, I prefer to be alone, with one other person, or with a very small group of good friends, instead of, say, at a big party or get-together or event. When I've taken those Myers-Briggs tests and whatnot, I'm right on the border between introvert and extrovert. So, I didn't think that being by myself for the vast majority of the day would be a problem.

And thankfully, it really hasn't. But everyone has their bad days, and sometimes I realize that I do need another human to commiserate with (unfortunately my dog never responds to anything I say). There's a special kind of loneliness that comes with working for yourself by yourself, and it stems from the fact that absolutely no one else is truly worried about the things you worry about, or gets excited at the same level about the little things you may be proud of. 99% of the time this doesn't get to me, but when it does (which is usually on a depressing, cold, wintry day), I bust out the ice cream and have a pity party for myself. Those are the times when I miss the "water cooler talk" that a company offers.

8. No Nice Clothes

Yes, yesterday I was rejoicing in the fact that I no longer need to don suits and high heels on a daily basis. Most days, no one sees me besides my dog and my husband, so it's fine to be in cargo shorts, flip-flops and a cookie monster t-shirt. But every once in a while we will have dinner plans with friends, or an event to attend, or I will have to go somewhere that requires a step up in the dress code. And that's when I realize that I pretty much no longer have any of those types of outfits. And it's hard to justify spending money on nicer clothes, since I know I'll hardly ever wear them. Therefore, I keep on the lookout for sales during the change of seasons so that I am not stuck wondering if my "Pirates Arrrr Cool" t-shirt is too casual for a white tablecloth restaurant.

7. The "To Do" List Remains

A year ago, I had such high hopes for what I was going to get done around the condo now that I would have so much "free" time. Those thousands of pictures we have in piles in our guest room closet? Those would be in albums with witty labels in no time. Our crappy fireplace? I would get a contractor over here to update it before a month had passed. That ceiling fan that seems to be hanging by a thread? That would get replaced with a sleek new model. The bookcase would be cleaned out and old books would be given to charity or sold on eBay. The closets would get and stay organized. I would finally learn Spanish. And to play the piano! I would surely be in the best shape of my life after spending a few hours at the gym every day.

Uh, yeah.

Not ONE of these things has happened.

And what bothers me is not so much that I haven't gotten these tasks accomplished, but rather that I truly, honestly thought I was going to. So I have a heavy feeling of guilt when it comes to not even being able to begin, much less complete, so many of the projects I had been looking forward to when I started freelancing.

6. The Need for "Something to Show for Myself"

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of the past year is the fact that I AM working on something, but it's something that I don't want to jinx, and so therefore I'm not telling many people about it. Which then makes it look like I am doing nothing. Therefore, it's been very hard for me, Miss Type A, when someone asks, "So, what do you do?"

e: "I'm trying to start a writing career."
Them: "Oh, who do you write for?"
e: "Well, I'm working on some things... but I'm not a journalist or in magazines or anything."
Them: "Do you have anything online?"
e: "Do you happen to watch Lost?"
Them: "No."
e: "Oh."

Yeah, I know, it's silly, but it was MUCH easier when I could just say, "I work for Company X, aka 'The Man.'" That was something everyone could relate to, they'd heard of the company, I was "legit." Instead, anyone new I meet really does think I'm lounging at home all day, eating bon-bons. I'm sure of it. And unfortunately, I do care what other people think about me in this respect.

5. The Whole Money Thing

There is no way I'm going to make as much money freelancing as I did in Corporate America. I'll add in "any time soon" just to attempt to sound optimistic. Obviously, if I cared about making money that much, I wouldn't have left my well-paying job. But since Donald Trump was my childhood hero and Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book and "the money speech" in said book is my favorite passage and since I did go to business school for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees... well, there is always going to be a part of me that feels that the amount of money I pull in has some bearing on my overall worth as a human being. I KNOW this is not right... I KNOW that some of the lowest-paid people on this planet are also some of the most respected, most needed, and most important people alive... but I'm not quite at that point of infamy just yet, am I?

On top of that, while my husband encouraged me to do this and has never as much as breathed a word about my lack of contribution to the ol' piggy bank, I feel very, very guilty that I'm not pulling my weight.

Which leads to...

4. The Freak-Outs

"Oh sweet Lord baby Jesus, what have I done?!?!"

I have had that thought countless times since August 2007.

"Why did I get my MBA if I'm just going to be a freelance writer?"

"Why didn't I just stick it out a little longer?"

"What about all that student loan debt?"

"What was I thinking?!?!?"

Those are a few others I've had.

It's just natural to question your sanity when you make a big life change, so I try to shake off the self-doubt and the fear of failure as soon as I see them rearing their ugly heads. But they exist, and if anyone who has tried to start their own company or do their own thing for a living tells you otherwise, they are lying.

3. The Self-Employment Tax

So while I can't give you the details just yet (but I will soon), I actually have made some money since I started freelancing. And then I got smacked in the face by the Tax Man. Do you know about the self-employment tax? As my accountant said, "The IRS can't really explain why they penalize you for working for yourself... they've just always done it, and they want the money that they would've gotten from your employer."

To put it simply, The Man kicks in for part of your taxes. But when you work for yourself, not only do you have to pay the percentage that normally would've been taken out of your paycheck, you pay part of what The Man would've contributed, too. You're treated as both the employer AND the employee.


2. No Boundaries

When you work for yourself, especially when you also work from home, you never stop thinking about what you have to do for your business. Never. Ever. In my case, there's my laptop, always staring back at me right in the middle of the kitchen, reminding me of everything that's waiting on my To Do list. Sure, I could shut down my Mac and store it away at times, but then I wouldn't hear the "bllllrriinnnng!" sound when a new email comes through. And I admit it, I'm addicted to that sound.

At night is when it's the worst. I was an insomniac before all of this, so you can imagine what it's like now. For a while there I slept like a baby, right after I left my last job. But lately, perhaps because I'm so conscious of the fact that a full year has passed, I just stew and stew and stew each night about what I failed to get done that day and how I HAVE to do it the next day, but what if I don't? What if the things I have lined up fall through? What if I have to GO BACK TO THE MAN?!?!

1. Never Enough Time

Many of my "issues" I've listed out spring from the lack of time I have. I really don't know where the time goes, it's scary. I thought I would get so much more done now that I don't have to "get ready" in the morning or commute downtown. Instead, more "stuff to do" has filled in and overflowed those pockets of time. I am more behind on personal communications than I ever have been. I've been writing back to emails from friends five months late. And since I hate when people don't respond to me right away, I am highly annoyed at myself for being so out of touch.

Some may ask, "Well then why do you write a post on this site every day?" or "Why do you watch The Hills, then?" It is because I can only sit in front of my laptop for so long, and then I can't take it anymore. I'm already wearing nerdy sweatbands on my wrists to ward off blisters, I already have a bad back as it is, I already have circulatory problems in my legs (seriously, it IS like I'm 95 years old!), I just can't force myself to be typing away 24 hours a day. I make myself post on this site once a day as an exercise to keep myself writing. And TV shows and movies? Well, those are means of escapism. Everyone needs that.

I've realized, much too late, that to be more efficient, I have to write out a schedule for myself each day. Every once in a while I will do this, and it works like a charm. I literally time out EVERYTHING I have to do. "8 - 8:30 PM = Call Grandma." "12 - 12:30 = Walk Dog." It seems ridiculous, but my brain must be wired in such a way that I only respond to that kind of organization. Now I just need to do it on a daily basis. But as you may recall from my "Where Does the Time Go?" post, on many days, unforeseen events throw off even the strictest of plans. And so, my battle against the clock rages on.

Yikes... This post was kind of a downer, huh? I feel like I just was at a therapy session or something. Well, I'm going to more than make up for it tomorrow and Friday. Those of you working for The Man will be reminded of the benefits that come along with that situation in my next post. And Friday's installment, the finale of "e's Year of Freedom Celebration Week," will be so obnoxious that you will probably want to read today's depressing post all over again just to keep from hating me...

- e

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things I Don't Miss About Working for The Man

Yesterday was all about the strange sayings that bothered me when I was in Corporate America. Today I have a much less narrow topic... I'm going to vent about what bothered me most about working in an office environment overall. While some of these gripes are probably pretty specific to me and my strange quirks, I'm sure there will still be at least one complaint on my list that everyone can relate to.

Ten Things I Don't Miss About Working for The Man

10. Performance Reviews

Before all of my HR peeps get up in arms, let me state that I do understand the importance of feedback and setting aside time to dedicate to reviews to ensure that everyone knows where they stand with their managers. But it was just the process of pulling together these reviews for employees, and then receiving my own, that I found very arduous. I think it may have to do with the fact that usually you have to put down a specific number of "strengths" and "areas for improvement." That felt kind of forced. I would've rather thought it through and then written up more of a free-flowing document. That, however, wouldn't allow for much standardization across reviews, so I understand why there has to be a template that everyone needs to follow.

Additionally, I always tried to get others' opinions of my employees and then would put specific quotes in the review (usually only for the positive comments). I felt that doing so added validity to the points I was making and let people know that they were appreciated. But that was hardly ever done for me or a lot of my co-workers, so it just added to the sinking feeling that not everyone was taking the review process as seriously as they should, and despite the standardized form, your review was going to reflect not only the mood your boss was in the day he wrote it, but also the amount of time he had to spend on it.

Some companies do much better with this sort of thing, with not only "360-degree reviews" but group sessions where management talks together about each employee so that there can't be a strong bias from any one person.

Despite the fact that I took the process to heart and spent a lot of time on reviews for my employees, and despite the fact that--believe it or not--I always received good reviews, I still couldn't help but let out a groan whenever those emails from HR came out reminding everyone that it was "review time."

9. Unnecessary Meetings (and/or meetings where no one was in control/there was no agenda)

There are definitely people out there in the world whose mantra is, "When in doubt, call a meeting." Other variations are, "If you don't want to do the work yourself, call a meeting so that you can get someone else to do it" and "If you want to make it look like you're busy, call a meeting and/or ask to be invited to other meetings that you have no business being in."

The worst are meetings that are held frequently but solely exist to "review status." Guess what, if I didn't need to keep being in meetings to review the status of my projects, I would actually be able to change the status of my projects and get something done!

It's also bad when everyone gets to a meeting and then just kind of stares at each other. If there's no agenda, you should refuse to attend. And if no one is leading the meeting, you should jump in and say, "So what is the point of this call?" That, of course, might make others who are less busy than you very resentful, because being in a meeting makes it appear that they are earning their paycheck, even though they may just be rehashing their recent vacation to everyone else in the room or on the phone.

Luckily, in the age of technology, if the meeting is really worthless and it's being held over the phone, you can usually put yourself on mute and multitask by responding to emails or whatnot. But that doesn't change the sad fact that the meeting shouldn't have been held in the first place.

8. Bad Lighting

What can I say? I have extremely sensitive eyes. I wear sunglasses until it's pitch black outside. I've been accused of being a vampire. And therefore I really, really, really could not stand the awful overhead fluorescent lighting in most office buildings. Especially when one bulb would go on the fritz and start blinking erratically. That crap gave me migraine headaches. That's why I'm sitting here right now with no lights on and just my front shade down in order to work by the natural light. All of you who have desks near windows should be very thankful!

7. Needing a Business Wardrobe (which includes shoes)

While I no longer pull in a salary like I did when working for The Man, I think the money I'm now not paying at the dry cleaners has partially made up for it. Over the years, I spent thousands of dollars on suits, dress shirts, skirts, jewelry and shoes for work, just like most everyone else in a corporate setting does. I am one of those people who wishes I could wear cargo pants, a t-shirt and gym shoes for the rest of my life, so getting ready for work every morning was truly a painful experience for me. And I mean that literally when it comes to shoes. I've broken all sorts of bones over the course of my existence so far, including a vertebrae back in 1988, so wearing heels just kills me. I can do it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

That was one good thing about the Internet Boom Times, you must admit... totally casual work environments. I'm trying to relive those days now in my kitchen -- er... "my home office."

6. Uncomfortable Chairs

While we're on the subject of uncomfortableness (yeah, I don't think that's a word, either), let me mention my hatred of those awful hard chairs that find their way into conference rooms, or the "ergonomic chairs" that your company buys to make you think they care about you, but since the rest of your set-up isn't correct, the chair doesn't actually help matters. Or it may be a cheaper knock-off of the high-end chairs and they're just hoping you don't notice.

That's one thing I splurged on for myself here at home, and one day I'll do a post on everything I learned about ergonomics. But in the meantime, I'll just whine about all of the bad chairs I had in jobs past. It got so bad at one of my companies that when someone quit, if they had a good chair at their cubicle or in their office, a remaining employee would swipe it as soon as the coast was clear. I actually wheeled one of my chairs across the city of Chicago when moving buildings once, because I had finally found a semi-decent chair and was scared to lose it. If your body is prematurely old and achy like mine is, don't underestimate the importance of a good chair!

5. Déjà Vu

There were some meetings where I would be able to guess--or rather, know--everything that everyone in the room was going to say before they said it. Person A would bring up Project X and how everything is running behind. Person B would get all defensive and blame the delays on Person C. Person C would say that Group B in another division was holding up progress. Everyone would shake their heads about that damn, good-for-nothing Group B who always screws things up for everyone. Person C would silently sigh in relief that he was able to deflect criticism. Person D would try to lighten the mood with a joke. Person A would then try to get things back on track and bark out "to do's." Persons E and F would just be checking their blackberries and nodding their heads every once in a while to make it look like they were paying attention. Etc., etc.

This kind of repetition got really old really quickly. And it led to...

4. Nothing Getting Accomplished

Now, of course, things did get done, and continue to get done, at every place I've ever worked, or else the companies would go under. So I am just being facetious with the heading for #4... though my point is that so often it seemed like nothing was getting accomplished. Meeting after meeting, call after call, document review after document review, quarter after quarter, year after year, many of the same projects lingered. The bigger the company, the slower the progress... or at least that's been my experience.

3. Ridiculous Administrative Issues

Remember how I said I couldn't deal with the crazy lighting in most offices? Well, once I tried to remedy the situation by keeping all of the fluorescent lights in my office off and ordering a standing halogen lamp with a dimmer knob instead. You know, the kind you probably had in your dorm room back in the day. I was allowed to order this lamp and my company had no issue with paying for it... but it took four MONTHS to get this damn thing?!?! And this was at a relatively small company?!?! First they ordered the wrong lamp. Then the lamp order was correct, but somehow got "lost." Then it was delivered to the wrong building. And on and on.

Other examples of things I'm lumping into this category are when a printer or copy machine breaks. There were like two people who knew how to fix these monsters, and one was always on vacation and the other could never be found for hours. There was no way I would ever try to fix any of these machines myself, because they could totally chop off your hand if you messed around in the wrong area.

Heaven help you if your computer, laptop or blackberry broke, because you were going to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle for quite a while. That seemed fun at first ("Yay! I can read the newspaper! I can clean my desk! I can do all the things I never have time for!"), but when you realized that no one was going to allow any delays in the things you were responsible for in spite of your lack of equipment, you started sweating every minute the repairs took.

Here's one thing I learned after so many of these snafus: make friends with all of the people who order things and fix things. Seriously, send them a thank-you note or bring them in some chocolates or something like that, because it will go a long way and you will be their priority the next time you have to call them.

2. Lack of Control

Ask any of my friends or family members--I am a very controlling person. I totally admit it. I don't like to depend on others for very much, and when I have to, I have a very hard time with it if I feel those people don't live up to my, uh, standards. So if I was leading a project but had to rely on ten people across three other groups in two different divisions, panic would set in the minute I sensed all was not going according to my plan. I can deal with this sort of thing in a lot of other situations (or, I should say, I've gotten better at dealing with it--still a long way to go), but when my reputation is on the line, which feeds into my #($)(*@##$ performance review, which ultimately would determine my salary and bonus, then you can be sure that there were many sleepless nights where I would be staring at the ceiling in bed, trying to come up with Plans B, C, D, E and F if Larry, Moe and Curly didn't come through for me.

1) Evil People

It's really strange... the vast majority of people I've worked with since I started having "real" jobs in college have been awesome. As in, 99.99% of the people I've met through work have been great. I keep in touch with a ton of them for this very reason. And I'll cover more on this topic in the "Things I Miss" post coming up on Thursday. But for now, my focus is the evil people. The people who are just miserable, who have bad auras, who put negative energy out into the world, who aren't happy and who therefore can't stand if anyone else is happy. They don't want anyone else to succeed, but they also don't mind if you work really hard so that they can take credit for your accomplishments.

These are the people who, by and large, drove me to leave The Man. On top of being controlling, I'm a fairly sensitive person, and those two things aren't always the best combination. I would take it pretty personally when I encountered any Evil People.

But there is a silver lining. All of the people I considered Evil eventually left or were fired (I know this because I keep in touch with all the Good People). Even The Man wants to spit out the bad seeds, it seems. So my advice to you if you're dealing with a not-so-pleasant co-worker is to be patient. Chances are that The Powers That Be are taking note of the Evil One's actions, too. Things might not be working as quickly as you'd like them to, but I would bet that one day in the near future, that person will have moved on and you'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

So there you have it... those are the things I don't miss. But working for myself at home is no party, either, so that's what I'll talk about tomorrow. And lest you worry that I've grown overly bitter by reminiscing on all this stuff I didn't like, know that Thursday and Friday I will cover what was great about working for The Man and what I currently enjoy about working for myself.

Until then... don't you have a meeting to attend?

- e

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ten Words/Phrases I Haven't Missed in the Past Year

This weekend marked a huge milestone for me... it's now been a full year that I've been free of The Man. If you weren't reading this site back in August 2007, you can check out my triumphant post about kicking Corporate America to the curb here.

I've been reflecting a lot upon what I do and don't miss about going into an office every day, so all of my posts this week are going to revolve around that theme. Let's start with...

The Top Ten Words and Phrases I Haven't Missed

(If you've never heard any of the following around your office, consider yourself lucky and be thankful that you are obviously not surrounded by mega-nerds!)

10) Ping

Used in a sentence: "I'll ping you later about this," or "Did you get my ping?" or "Did he ping you about the meeting time getting changed?"

Some companies I worked for had internal instant messaging systems, which were used (and abused) to a ridiculous extent. If you were on the phone with someone, or in an in-person meeting with them, they may end the call/meeting with: "OK, I'll ping you later about this to follow up." That meant that they would send you an instant message soon and bug the crap out of you until you gave them an answer or whatever it was that they needed from you. I quickly learned how to make myself appear to be "away from my desk" to all of my not-favorite people.

But the reason I don't like this word is because it's just an annoying word overall. Say it: "Ping." It's just weird-sounding. Plus, having a lot of experience with old-school IT stuff, "ping" always reminds me of when the tech guys were "pinging" networks (a type of test). The word "ping" also sounded too much like "Pong," the awesome video game which I obviously could not be playing if I was at work. Basically, I just never liked the sound of this word and I'm glad my life is rid of it.

9) "It is what it is."

Used in a sentence: "Unfortunately, it is what it is."

This sentence is useless. But I heard it all the time, at every company I worked for... and I still hear it today, just in normal conversation with friends. I'm guilty of uttering it, too. I guess it's just what people say when a situation kind of sucks but there's no changing it. But it sounds so silly. "It is what it is." Oh, really? You are SO DEEP!!!!

8) "At the end of the day..."

Used in a sentence: "At the end of the day, we have to get the web site working again or we're all going to get fired."

Chalk up some "obvious" points for yourself if you use this phrase. Usually people would say something like, "But at the end of the day, we still need to make a decision." Or, "At the end of the day, this ridiculous document still has to be created, so who's going to do it? Not it." It's another way of saying "The bottom line is..." (which I admit to using way too much). The bottom line is that at the end of the day, people need to stop saying both of these phrases because they are old and tired.

7) "Fire off an email" or "Shoot off an email"

Used in a sentence: "I'll fire off an email to the consultants and ask where in the hell their deliverable is."

These phrases are used by businesspeople who secretly want to be cowboys or cops. That's the only reason I can come up with for why they wouldn't just say "I'm going to SEND an email." I can just picture these people typing a message furiously and then hitting the "send" button with a flourish, as if they had just whipped out their gun for a duel at high noon. "I shot off that email REAL good!"

6) Bandwidth

Used in a sentence: "Please don't add me to that project team, I don't have the bandwidth."

Note to all people that use this word: you are a human, not a web site hosting service. "Bandwidth" is an extremely obnoxious word for "time." Say that you don't have enough time in the day to be added on to another project team. Say that you will spontaneously combust if anyone gives you any more work. Yell that they don't pay you enough to put up with any more crap. But please, please, PLEASE don't say that you don't have any more bandwidth.

5) "Move forward"

Used in a sentence: "I know that Sue thinks our logo should be green and John thinks it should be blue, but we have to move forward with a decision."

I can't put my finger on why I don't like this saying. Maybe it's just overused. Or that it reminds me of something a psychologist would say: "I understand that you encountered a scary clown as a child, but if you don't face your fear of clowns now that you're 45, you're never going to be able to move forward (OR go to the circus or any Halloween parties)."

4) "Deck" and/or "Deliverable"

Used in a sentence: "Did you get the latest version of the deck that Larry just sent out? It's still not right, we're going to be up all night working on this thing."

I've either been a consultant or been surrounded by other ex-consultants my entire career, and I therefore cringe every time I hear the word "deck" ("deliverable" is just as bad, but I haven't been hearing that one for as long. It just sounds so... generic). A deck is simply a PowerPoint presentation. I guess the nickname came from when the presentation was printed out, it looked like a huge deck of 8.5'' by 11'' playing cards or something, I don't really get it. Either way, I wish people would just say "presentation" or "PowerPoint" instead. The good news is that the only time I've launched PowerPoint in the past year was when I hit its icon by accident when I meant to be opening Word. No more decks for me!

3) "Circle back"

Used in a sentence: "I'll give you a few days to start the deck and then I'll circle back and see how it's coming."

This is another phrase that reminds me of cowboys... like "circling the wagons" (although the meaning is not the same, it's just the use of the word 'circle'). Instead of "circle back," people should just say "I'll check in" or "I'll call" or "I'll email," because that's what they're actually going to do.

2) Offline

Used in a sentence: "Can we take this conversation offline?"

My blood starts boiling just thinking about this stupid word, even though I basically haven't heard it at all (thank God) in 12 months. Once again, we are humans, not machines or web sites. We are not ever physically "online." But people must consider being on a conference call the same thing as "being online," because whenever they want to take something "offline," it means that they don't want everyone else to hear about it, or that it's not on-topic. My preference would be, "Can you and I talk about this later? Because no one else on this call cares."

1) "Reach out"

Used in a sentence: "Can you reach out to Paul and ask about the rate we're charging this client? Because whatever it is, it's not enough."

This one takes the number one spot because I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE THIS PHRASE. It just sounds so touchy-feely to me. Say what you mean, people! Say "call" or "email" or "get a hold of one way or the other"... don't say "reach out."

Perhaps it's my near-Detroit upbringing, but every time I hear someone say "reach out," I immediately hear The Four Tops in my head. They plead, "Reeeeach ouuuuttttt.... reaaaaccch oouuuuuuuuut, for me!!!!! I'llllll be theeeeeeereee...." etc., etc.

OK, I've got two other posts of ranting coming up (I'm going to end the week on a positive note though, fear not), so that's enough for now. Just be conscious of how often you say any of these phrases, and know that if you do, you're bound to be annoying the hell out of someone (which might be OK, if you're doing it on purpose to bother someone who is annoying you).

Any others I forgot?

- e

Friday, August 15, 2008

No HP6 in 2008, But We'll Always Have 'The Hills'...

Like a stake through my heart... yesterday I learned that Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince's premiere date has been pushed back until June 2009... and then this afternoon Entertainment Weekly's Fall Movie Preview issue was delivered with none other than Harry on the cover. I guess I wasn't the only one looking forward to November 21st.

It's not fair! Sniff.

The good news is that we will have Harry Potter movies to see in 2009, 2010 and 2011, as they are splitting The Deathly Hallows into two movies. I don't know how I feel about that... if you recall, I wasn't exactly wild about the final book in the HP series. The vast majority of it seemed so slow to me... and now they're going to drag it out across two movies?!?! Shouldn't they have taken out all of the boring stuff and had one rockin' action-packed send-off? Oh, but wait... then Warner Brothers wouldn't have made as much money. Silly me.

At least we have some TV premieres coming up this fall to fill the void. Here's what I plan on tuning in for (so far):

Gossip Girl: September 1

90210: September 2 (I probably won't keep watching this, but I MUST see Brenda and Kelly in the premiere!)

The Office: September 25

Dirty Sexy Money: October 1

Yes, there will be others, but those are the ones I've seen promos for lately, so they're at the top of my mind.

As is The Hills, which is returning to the airwaves this coming Monday, August 18th. I don't know why I'm going to watch it, because I'm sure that the best parts of the entire season have already been covered in this trailer:

It's the show I love to hate, and I've realized that resistance is futile. I will watch this show until the girls shoot one last confused, fleeting glance at each other. Or until it's clear that Justin Bobby will never be on again.

- e

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ancient Chinese Secret? Gender Prediction.

My post today is inspired by my friend DY, who gave birth to a baby girl yesterday evening (congrats!). While I was convinced that she was going to have another son, I should have known better, because the Ancient Chinese Lunar Calendar Gender Predictor indicated it would be a girl (just as it knew that her first child would be a boy).

This thing has NOT BEEN WRONG for any of my friends. It is insane!?! Even one of my friends who was told by her doctor--after more than one ultrasound--that she was having a girl, had a boy... just like the Chinese method predicted.

I am becoming obsessed with this little tool because I have yet to find someone it hasn't been accurate for. A lot of people apparently check this graph online and say that it has been wrong for them. But I have learned that since that chart does not tell women how to figure out their LUNAR age, that it's about as useful as flipping a coin.

So... I'm curious, for any of you moms out there (or dads who happen to know all of the needed statistics... was this gender prediction tool right for you? You HAVE to know your date of conception, though... and for those of you who are trying to put in a friend's info... the conception month isn't always simply 9 months before the baby was born.

Let me know if it was right for you/others you know (remember, only use the link above, not the chart) so that I can continue my not-so-scientific experiment. And yes, of course ALL babies, no matter the gender, are wonderful, and I'm not by any means advocating that people should try for one sex or the other, but I am really spooked by how right-on this prediction method has been for everyone I know.

And by the way, the story behind this whole thing is that supposedly, thousands of years ago, there was a Chinese scientist who created a gender prediction chart based on the Chinese lunar calendar. It was found in a royal tomb about 700 years ago... and now has made its way to the Internet. If I had talked to four people and only half of them said it worked for them, I would've dropped my curiosity. But I've talked to a lot more people than that and it continues to prove itself to be accurate.

If that scientist were alive today, he'd be rich!

- e

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kayaking in Antarctica

The good news is that I have some very exciting vacations in WARM places coming up this fall... the bad news is that it's been eight months since I got back from Antarctica and I still haven't finished writing up that trip! So, I better get going. Today's post takes us back to November 25th, 2007, probably the most beautiful day of the entire voyage. And on this day, we were lucky enough to find a serene, picturesque harbor in which to kayak.

Normally, I hate kayaking. I'm way too paranoid that I'll tip over, and I am absolutely awful at paddling (or whatever the technical term is for: "trying to use the oars"). My husband and I discovered that kayaking was not my strength while stuck in the middle of rough waters near Thailand seven years ago--but that is another story for another time. Let's just say that he and I now have a silent understanding that I pretty much just sit there while he does all the work to propel us around.

But since the water in Antarctica will kill you in about 15 minutes, should you accidentally fall in, I was very, very wary about taking part in this little excursion. Everyone else was doing it, though... so I caved.

How they got us all into the kayaks was very cool. We would take the Zodiacs from the ship just like we always did for a landing, except this time we went to a slightly-underwater platform they had set up off the shore of Danco Island. There are two empty Zodiacs on either side of this platform. From the Zodiac full of passengers from the ship, two people climb over into one of the empty Zodiacs (a staging area, so to speak) and then slide their behinds across the top of the empty Zodiac into an inflatable kayak that's resting on the platform, and then they're off.

Here's the platform (as always, you can click on the pictures to enlarge them):

Here's me chilliln' up in front (it was actually really hot out that day so all of my winter gear soon came off):

And here are a few scenic shots... one of another couple kayaking and one of the guide marking the boundary of where we were allowed to explore. Sometimes these guys would have a huge thermos of hot chocolate with them so you could pull up alongside and get a drink. Pure genius.

The shore of Danco Island was covered with penguins, and they were all doing this "March of the Penguins" sort of thing. In the picture below, you can see the reddish lines in the snow on the mountain... they call those "penguin highways" (the reddish-brown is from their, uh... well, you know). They pave the way for each other to get to the beach area, and then they just hightailed it back and forth along the water's edge, it was hilarious.

Here's a very, very short video we took of the penguins so that you can see what it looks (and sounds) like when they are all waddling in unison.

Some penguins would eventually find their way down to the water and then would show off... swimming under the kayaks and jumping up in the air around us. I REALLY wanted one to jump OVER us in the kayak, but I didn't have enough time to train them for that trick.

It had been a sunny, gorgeous day, and to just take in the beautiful scenery from that perspective was nothing short of breathtaking. This was my favorite experience of the trip.

- e

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

'The Prestige' Made Me ANGRY

When a movie stars Christian Bale and Michael Caine and is directed by Christopher Nolan... it's only natural to assume it's going to be pretty good. Especially after having seen The Dark Knight just a few weeks ago. My issue with The Prestige, which I watched Saturday night, is that it is a good movie... and could've been a GREAT movie... except that the end was so utterly ridiculous that I was still seething about it the next day.

My anger led me to do some Internet searches on the film to ensure I was understanding everything correctly, and that's when I discovered that the movie was actually based on a novel. So now I forgive Nolan just a little bit, because at least he wasn't the one who dreamed up the unbelievable "plot twist."

It's hard to write about this film without giving anything away, which you all know I am loath to do (totally, totally random side-note: I just found out that "loath" used as I did above is not spelled "loathe"... learn something new every day!). But I can safely say that The Prestige is about two magicians who are totally obsessed, and I do mean obsessed, with besting each other's tricks. As time goes on, they raise the stakes higher and higher... and that's when things finally end in silliness. But the ride is a good one, and perhaps if you don't get riled up as easily as I'll do, you'll like the whole thing overall. My husband, his brother and a friend of theirs, all much saner people than I am, thought the movie was good.

Perhaps I had too high of hopes for The Prestige because of its stellar cast (though it was a bit confusing... I kept referring to Michael Caine as "Alfred" and expecting Bale to hop into the Batsuit at any moment), or because I loved what I initially thought was a comparable film, The Illusionist. What's strange is that even though both The Prestige and The Illusionist appear to be about magicians back in the day... The Prestige is the movie that's pulling one over on its audience. For those of you who have seen the movie, I will detail my issues with the film in the comments section as they give away all of the major plot points.

For those of you who haven't seen The Prestige... if you are OK with a bit of "are you KIDDING me?"-ness in your movies and won't lose sleep over it like I did, then I guess I would still recommend the film. Its cast is excellent, the acting and setting and 85% of the story is great... it's just the last parts that left me feeling like I had been tricked, and not in a good way. But if you had to choose between The Prestige and The Illusionist... I'd go with The Illusionist.

- e