Worlds & Time

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Profits

Where do the profits of major corporations go?

Why on earth is there this insane need to continually post bigger and bigger profits every year. Shouldn't the point to average in the positive over multiple years?

Yes, adjusting for inflation is fine. Making sure that you actually post profits every year is fine (I wouldn't anticipate running a company at a loss is a smart move). But why larger profits this quarter than last quarter. Why is that so vital?

I just don't understand the corporate structure.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pablo's Gone

Not that I wasn't sort of expecting it. Uhg. I don't feel well though.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Slow Down

Uhg. The guy that I'm currently seeing has determined that we were rushing things, and has decided that we need to slow down.

This does not please me because it means that for the last three weeks or so, we haven't really seen each other. We also haven't had sex in three weeks.

I'm sitting here, thinking to myself, when does slow down mean completely stop?

I'm wondering if I'm in the process of being dumped, or if he's trying to get me to dump him. I don't really want to do either, but I'm worried that I'm not reading him correctly.

Tonight, he did come over for dinner, which was nice. Not nice enough though.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mistaken Identity

I was at the buffet in Souper Salad with Pablo today, and I saw a man with long salt and pepper hair. He seemed slightly familiar. Mind you, I didn't think that I knew him, but I felt as though I'd seen him before.

When we went and sat down in our booth, he was sitting a few booths down from me, and I noticed that he had a nifty little book rack that was holding a book up in front of him as he ate. I thought that was sort of odd, and yet cool at the same time. The woman with him was also just sitting and reading quietly.

Then I noticed that it was a fantasy book, with a vivid dragon or something on the cover, and I thought to myself, The only kind of person that would sit in Souper Salad with a fantasy book on a stand has to be a fantasy/science fiction writer himself. Just off the top of my head though, I could only think of a single fantasy writer that lived in Santa Fe, and he was an older guy with salt and pepper hair.

So when I went to get desert, I stopped and I asked him, "Excuse me, but are you George R. R. Martin?"

He looks up at me and he said, "No, but he's a friend of mine."

The woman at the table looks up from her book and said: "This is S. M. Stirling."


So, I mistook one famous fantasy writer for a famous science fiction writer. I thought that was highly ironic. Still very cool for me though. I first read something by S.M. Stirling as part of a collaboration he did with Anne McCaffrey called The City Who Fought which was absolutely magnificent. It's actually one of those stories that I think would make a brilliant movie and I wish I could write the screenplay for it.

Anyway, I asked him if he and Mr. Martin ever do any signings in Santa Fe, considering that they both live here. He said maybe in September.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Preserve Places Third

So . . . I'm at work right now, and I just opened up my email and found out that I placed third in the PARSEC Short Story competition.

I feel so cool at the moment.

There's a prize and everything.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Lex and Lia: Partial Survival

Lex shivered in the cold apartment.

The electricity seemed to died with Soraperion, and now that he was gone so was everything in the apartment. Even the heat and phone had ceased to work.

As tired as he was it had taken him an hour to get through the front door. Soraperion had never seemed to lock it, but apparently there had been some fairly heavy-duty magical seals on the door and more protecting the apartment. The ones that were still functioning would prevent people from finding Lex, but he didn't know how long they would last.

Everything magical connected to Soraperion was disintegrating. The more complex it was, the faster it dissolved. The car wasn't working any more, and the voice in his head was hanging on by a thread.

That was really odd. He'd thought it was Soraperion controlling him. The voice sounded like Soraperion. It had his knowledge, but it wasn't Soraperion. Soraperion didn't seem to be afraid of dying but the voice was terrified of slipping away.

Lex had been carrying around the shell pendant for two days, since the night that Soraperion raided the witches mansion. If he even thought about setting it down, the voice would freak out. There were deep marks on his palm now from the rough pattern on the outside.

We should get moving again, the voice said.

"Fuck that," Lex murmured.

You'll get your second wind and be fine.

"I'm already on my fourth or fifth wind. Can't I just go to sleep already?"

If you go to sleep, I might not be here when you wake up.

"'s fine with me."

You don't mean that.

Lex sat silently, thinking curse words at the voice.

You don't mean that either. I can see your underlying emotional patterns as well as your thoughts.

Lex groaned, and slowly pulled himself to his feet. His head was blurry and his muscles ached. He hadn't slept in more than forty hours now and he was feeling bad, despite all that the voice had tried to do for him.

Lights, the voice said.

Lex sketched the symbol, and murmured the word. Light filled the room, and spread across the bookshelf.

The shelves were perfectly visible. It was plain wood, and thicker than it needed to be. It was a normal piece of furniture except for the rows of still shadowy books that were untouched by Lex's weak light. The shadows not only prevented Lex from touching the books, they'd knocked him over onto his broken arm, giving him shooting pains for hours.

The voice was trying to get a book off the shelf. It seemed to think that as soon as it got the book everything would be okay. Lex could feel how desperate it was getting.

We're going to try Leomachand's Unbinding, the voice told him, and provided the symbols.

Lex began to carefully sketch with his left hand, but he wasn't nearly as dexterous as he was with his right.

Ach, the voice said suddenly, and the symbols suddenly tattered and faded away into nothingness. You let your hand drop and it skewed the horizontal line there. Let's try it again.

"You haven't explained how a book is going to help us here."

It will help, it said again for the sixth time. It didn't sound conceded or bitter, just worried.

He started sketching again, but screwed up again almost immediately. The voice said nothing, but Lex could feel how upset it was.

Do you want me to take over for a moment?

Lex paused. They'd had to do that to get into the apartment, eventually. The voice had surrendered control as soon as they were through the door too. It wanted to be helpful, because it needed Lex's help if it was going to last much longer.

"Let me try again."

He tried, but with only one symbol to go the entire thing flared and vanished.

Uh-oh, said the voice, and suddenly the darkness spread out from the books and into the room. It grew tentacles of mist like substance and started waving them around.

"Uh-oh?" Lex echoed, but the tentacles were reaching out for them.

Quick, you need to cast . . .

It was already too late to sketch something though, so Lex just reached out with his other abilities and grabbed all of the writhing tentacles and held them together in a bunch.

Oh, the voice said. That works too, I suppose.

After a few moments, the tentacles evaporated.

"What was that?" Lex asked.

Security, I suppose.

"Shouldn't you know?"

Why would I know?

"Aren't you Soraperion?"

Not really.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

I'm just a fragment of himself that he split off and left behind. I don't have most of his memories, just a bit regarding magic. I'm more you than him at this point anyway.

Lex shuddered. "You mean you're feeding on my soul, don't you."

I don't know. . . . Are you still going to help me?

"Yeah, why wouldn't I?"

It's just that I don't think that most people would be comfortable with something else feeding on their soul.

Lex shrugged. "I'm not using it."

Can we try again?

"Sure," Lex said, but he didn't raise his hands. "Do you know which book you need?"

The voice paused, and Lex could feel him considering the shelf. The black one on the third shelf, fourth from the left.

Lex couldn't see the color of the cover in the shadows of the magical bookshelf, but he could see which book the voice was indicating. He frowned.

"The spell keeps me from taking books off the shelf, right?"


Lex frowned, concentrated, and gestured. The book rocked back and forth and tipped slowly off the shelf, falling outside of the shadows. It was indeed a black book. To Lex, it looked like a big version of one of those Bibles that people leave in hotel rooms.

Well, the voice said with a surprised tone, I wish you'd mentioned that you could do that before.

"What do I need to do?" Lex asked as another wave of exhaustion crashed over him.

Open it
, the voice pleaded.

Lex took an unsteady step forward but the room swam. He got down and crawled over to the book, and flicked the cover open.

Can I speak? the voice asked.

Lex relaxed a little bit and let the voice come forward.

"Transference," his voice said, although he wasn't the one talking.

The books pages seemed to move of their own accord, flipping quickly through the pages until they'd reached the correct section.

The pages were full of complex runes and symbols. Lex thought he recognized some of them, but most of them were phenomenally complex. He felt something tug on his arm and realized that the voice was silently asking for his permission to take more control. Lex let him . . . it further in until it had the control it wanted.

His hand flickered up and began to sketch complicated magic runes that corresponded to some of the symbols in the books. They would glow for a moment, and then some of the shrank down and some of them expanded. It took Lex a moment before he realized where he'd seen something similar. The shell device had looked like that, with multiple layers of magics all working together.

He was so tired though, that he couldn't bring himself to be concerned about what the voice was doing, and he didn't want to distract it by asking.

The voice was working so quickly, not bothering to explain itself to Alex as it went. Alex tried to listen to the voices thoughts, but the voice seemed to be holding three or four things in its mind at once.

. . . where the source is isolated from the origin by a dimensional differential . . .

. . . paralinear translations are possible, although difficult, but require the influx of additional focii as well as a stable destination matrix . . .

. . . into a recursive collapse loop, which is avoidable through the addition of a superintendent actuality . . .

. . . structured to utilize the helicoid pattern, as well as the radial ties . . .

The forming shape looked like a flower, with petals of delicate blue glowing veins.

Alright, it's done, the voice told Lex. Just stick your hand in the middle of it.

"Should I say something?"

I'll do all of that for you.

Lex took his hand and placed it in the middle of the pattern. It fluttered like tissue paper in a faint breeze.

The voice took his mouth again and began to speak. Only a few words into it he felt a huge rush of power, just like the one when the spell had hit him the first time. Pain seared through ever inch of his body, running along his nerves into the tips of his fingers, his toes, and even down through his optic nerve into the edges of his eyes.

The voice was trying to tell him something, but he slipped again into a blissfully dark sleep.

He woke up slowly. There was light coming through the slats of one of the window blinds. There was a memory of pain, and the voice shouting something at him.

Lex sat up. "Hello?"

Hello yourself.

"You're still there," Lex said, relieved.


Lex paused, and then realized something was different.

"I can't hear your thoughts anymore."

Nor I yours, I'm happy to report. I thought that this might make it easier on the both of us, so I made it so that we weren't so closely tied together. I'm still here, and you can still talk to me, but we aren't quite as mixed together as we were.

"What was it that you did? I remember something about transfering something . . ."

I was Soraperion's spell, which meant that I started to unravel when he died. All I did was move myself so that I'm your spell now.

"Oh. OK. Does that change anything else?"

Not really.

Lex pulled himself up and looked around. He tried to look at the wards that surrounded the apartment, but he couldn't see anything there.

"I can't see magic like I could last night."

You can see it just fine. The wards have completely unraveled now, so there's nothing there to see. Oh, and I think it was two nights ago. You were exhausted.

Lex sketched a blue circle in the air, and it hung there gleaming in the faint sunlight. "Wait, if the wards are gone . . ."

We aren't protected anymore. If you have anything you want to take, get it and let's get out of here.

The voice only wanted Lex to take a couple of books. He took his dirty change of clothes, stuffed them into an old backpack that he'd found in the hall closet, and then they went out the door. He didn't look back at the apartment once on the way out.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Working in a Hotel

I got into hotels by default. Hotels hire people for summer positions and I was looking for a summer job. Soon, I found that all of my experience was in hotels, so now that I'm on my own and looking for work, I gravitate toward the places with which I have experience.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love the place where I currently work. If I could get into management here, I would probably stay here for years.

The problem is, almost all of the other people here are also in love with this place. And they should be. It pays decently (although, what place in town doesn't?) and people really know each other here. Because it's a well known and long term hotel, the people treat each other like family.

My problem is, there is almost no turnover whatsoever. This is a fantastic thing for the hotel because it means that they always have trained people for the positions, but for me it means that there probably won't be a managerial position open for years, and even if there is, they'll probably have a long term assistant manager ready to step up.

Aside from the place where I currently work (and one other example), I've come to realize that hotels aren't really an attractive option for employment.

First off, most of them don't pay well. Back at my old job, where I was the head of my department (not a manager, basically just a supervisor) I made about as much as the entry level at my current job.

Santa Fe has a city wide minimum wage that is the primary reason for this, but I also work at a fairly nice place. If they could get away with it though, they'd probably pay me about a dollar less an hour (about $8.50/hr).

Most hotel jobs are minimum wage, and they don't increase substantially over time unless you go into management. Most of the people that I know that have made hotel jobs long time commitments have had to work second jobs to make ends meet. It's hard to make hotels a full time career.

Why do they pay so low? Because there are so many hotels looking for so many workers. The skill sets aren't difficult to find. For the Front Desk and other areas that require interaction with a guest, you're looking for people that can speak English, count to one hundred, that can learn a computer or phone system, and lie convincingly. For the back end of the house (kitchen, housekeeping, maintenance) you need someone that can speak Spanish, a few words of English, lift at least twenty five pounds repeatedly, and follow simple commands.

In the two and a half years that I worked at my last job, I was one of the ten oldest workers in the front office. Turn over is usually extremely high at hotels. If you have an employee that's not quite right, for any reason, you can just get rid of them. New Mexico is an at will employment state, and so you don't have to provide a fired employee with a reason for firing them. That means that if you have an employee that complains too often, or makes too many suggestions, or is short with a guest, you can put them out the door without a hassle.

That person that you've fired will be able to find another job within a week, and you'll be able to find someone to replace them within a few days probably, considering that other hotels will be putting other employees out the door as well.

And with a fairly low unemployment, there are lots of people in the United States looking for jobs with low qualification bars, and hotels certainly qualify in that regard.

Just two things about the skills you need to work in a hotel: First, the technical skills are industry specific, and even then, there isn't a industry standard. If you transfer between different chains (or sometimes even individual hotels in the same chain) you'll still have to learn new software for managing the property, and most jobs in the hotel revolve around that system. Whenever you check into a hotel or check out and pay your bill, that is all a manipulation of the property management computer system, and so the jobs of your front desk employees will completely revolve around that system. That means that no matter who you hire, most people will need very specific training in the computer system that you're using. Ironically, this doesn't help them retain their position. They can't take those skills elsewhere because they'll still need to learn another system. Even in chains, the differences between properties are significant.

Second, it takes a special kind of person to work in a hotel. A very special person that can lie all the time. Unfortunately, that doesn't show up during an interview and it probably doesn't show up in the twenty minute psychological profiles that some hotel chains (Hyatt is the only one that springs to mind at the moment) are using now during the application process. Eventually the lying and the constant complaints from guests that you can't solve and the indifference of your managers gets to you. It's frustrating, and it doesn't get better.

I think that's the second time that I've mentioned the lies. Hotel workers lie to you. Selling a hotel room is like selling a car. You try to sell the room (which is going to sit there occupied or unoccupied anyway) for as much as you can get. The actual "cost" of a hotel room varies (especially per star/diamond level) but in the hotels that I've worked for I've learned the cost ranges between $35 (low 3 stars) and $65 (mid 4 stars). I'm sure the Loews Miami Beach Hotel was around $200/night. That cost includes things like:
  • The hotel's mortgage (and they have huge ones, trust me, probably between 40k and 200k a month, depending on the hotel).
  • The hotel's franchise fee (if they have one) (it was about $20,000/mo at the Marriott, if I recall correctly).
  • Salaries for front desk, bellmen, concierge, housekeeping, maintenance, accountants, restaurant & kitchen staff, reservations, sales, and management (maybe 100-150k a month for a hundred or so employees at a 4 star hotel).
  • Beds, mattresses, sheets, blankets, pillows, toilets, televisions, desks, lamps, chairs, and all of the other things you'll find in a standard hotel room, plus sofas for suites.
  • What it costs in materials to supply the room with miniature shampoos, chocolates, and other consumables (mini-bars!).
  • Computers, paper, printer toner, pens, uniforms for front desk, sales, housekeeping, maintenance and management.
  • Hammers, nails, wrenches, and light bulbs for maintenance.
  • Scrubbing brushes, soap, laundry detergent for housekeeping.
  • Et cetera.
Don't bother calling up a hotel and telling them that some hotel "insider" told you what the actual cost was and that you want a hotel room for that much. They'll laugh at you. Not even hotel employees get rooms that cheap.

See, hotels have vacancies, and even when one of these rooms is sitting empty, it still costs that much money per day (except in consumables, and that's the least expensive entry on that list). If a hotel operates at 95% occupancy (like the Loews did), that means that it is making mostly profit on anything it charges over that $200 per night it costs per room. If your hotel runs between 70 and 80% occupancy, then you suddenly have an additional 20-30% expense on the rooms you do sell.

If, like most hotels, you run barely on that 70% or lower for most of the year, each one of the rooms that you sell costs twice as much to you. If the room costs $40 per night, you need to sell it for at least $80 per night to make any money off of it. It doesn't make sense to sell them at a loss, even if you get lot of rooms sold by bulk, so you list a "rack rate" on it, which is your actual cost per room x3.5 That $40 per night room is now $140 per night. Then you offer discounts, like AARP or AAA or for a long stay (or those disgusting Entertainment discount coupons that offer 50%. Yes, they're worth it, and we hate them. Hotels accept them as cheap advertising, but they will do anything not to actually have to honor that rate because they probably lose money on them). These discounts will bring the price down about 10% per discount. That way, the hotel can offer you a room at about two times the cost per night, and it will still seem like a great deal because that's about a third off the list price.

But if you are paying attention, that means that the "quoted" room rate for a room that costs $40 is $140, and some people are going to pay that price. Some people are only going to have one discount, and some people will only have two. People are going to be paying different rates, and I haven't even touched on the occupancy part of the equation where the dragons of supply and demand live.

So, the chances are, when you walk up to a person at the front desk of a hotel (or call reservations, for that matter) and you ask them what the best price they have for a room is, they're going to quote you $110 for a $140 hotel room. This is probably still a lie, but it won't be an egregious lie. That's a reasonable rate. You might be able to get them down to $100 if you're convincing, but that isn't very likely, and once you hit the bottom bar that employee isn't going to budge any more. Take a hint, at a certain point, that front desk person can't just "knock 5 dollars off."

If you were wondering, hotel employees and their families are only allowed to take rooms on nights with less than 60% occupancy, they have to book about two weeks in advance, and they pay slightly above cost ($45-55 probably in our ongoing example of a $140 hotel room). The hotel would lose money on this kind of sale if they did it all of the time, but once in a while it's okay, especially if you aren't going to be sold out anyway.

(Note: I was going to launch into a detailed description of how price and occupancy correlate, but you know what? That's a subject by itself, so it will eventually get it's own post. Back on topic: Hotel employees lying.)

Hotel employees have to lie about other stuff too. What the state of the rooms or hotel is a another big one. What do you expect me to tell you, that our rooms haven't been redecorated since Regan was President or the hotel is in such disrepair that this one time the roof of the hotel collapsed? (I've worked at both of those hotels in the past, incidentally. Ask me about the Maxim photo shoot sometime.) Where their managers are is the third most common lie that I recall. Most complaints are going to be handled by lower level staff members, especially if you turn into a bastard about it.

As a guest that doesn't want to be lied too, don't ask about the history of the hotel. The most honest answer is "I don't know," but you'll rarely hear that. Interestingly, I've found that most people will believe anything you tell them about the hotel history as long as you don't include fairies and gnomes. I can tell people about the hanging, assassinations, prostitution, and secret tunnels in the hotel, and the only part of that that's true is the hanging.

Anyway, the lying gets to me after a while because it's very prevalent. I couldn't lie with a straight face before working in a hotel. Now I can. Doing it consistently wears on you, and you need to be able to do it cheerfully at any time.

They don't pay us well enough to lie convincingly for 8 hours a day, but then again, I don't think many chains have figured out how to test for the personalities required to be cheerful even though you know you'll be selling crap all of the time. Especially, but not limited to, the hourly employees because they don't get paid enough for that. I suspect the managers do.

Here's a tangential story about one of my General Managers lying:

I once had this General Manager (GM). When I was in training, he came in and talked with the new front desk people. He greeted us and then with a wistful look in his eye he told us that twenty some odd years ago he had started off working as a bellmen in a hotel, had worked his way up through the front desk, and was now general manager. Although one of the women in the room was about his age and starting a minimum wage position, the moral of the story was clear: one day, even we could eventually reach the rank of general manager. All we had to do was work our way up to it.

About a year passed, and one day I was listening to two maintenance workers talking. I made some quip about how the GM was out of touch with the workers, and one of the maintenance guys said: "I think he listens to us. Maybe that's just because he started off in maintenance though."

I stopped him, and backed him up. The GM had started in maintenance? The maintenance guy assured me that he had. The GM had come by one of the maintenance department meetings and told him a story about how he had started off as a painter, worked a few years in maintenance, and eventually gone into management.

This GM, incidentally, was so technologically inept that he couldn't figure out how to print reports from his computer, so he demanded that the daily reports be placed in his box every morning. Even if finding it on the computer was the first command he should have learned. Even though his computer login controlled the system, his password for more than a year was "Coach," just like the nickname that he insisted that we called him.

As you can imagine, I was intrigued by the conflicting stories, so I asked around.

It turned out, the restaurant staff had been told a story in which the GM had started off as a busser in a hotel restaurant, worked his way up and eventually became GM at our hotel.

None of the people in banquets (turn-over is highest in the banquet department) had heard the story first hand, but at least two of them were under the impression that he had started in the banquet department.

One day I was sitting in HR for some reason, talking about the manager training program, and I finally asked the HR director about the GM's background.

"Oh, he went to college, graduated with a business degree, and went right into hotel management."

Yeah, that sounded about right. You'll notice that the lie was a little bit helpful. It served to encourage and motivate the employees. Was it true though? Not a whit. I can't believe he got away with it. The other managers must have known about the prevarication on the part of the GM.

Now, in management at a hotel like where I work now, or in any four or good three star hotel, you'll probably make a comfortable living as a manager. Except you won't get overtime since you're a manager and they'll still expect you there for at least 60 hours a week, and that isn't including special events and mandatory morning and evening meetings. Don't expect a regular schedule either. This isn't a 9-5 M-F job for anyone except the accountants and the General Manager.

So, to sum up this point: hotel workers lie to you. That's their job. They will still honestly do their best to help you out, but something things are beyond their ability to fix. If we're sold out, we can't even shift your room around to fix these things, they're usually fixed by management by the time you arrive. Please don't get angry at them. It's their job. They don't have much of a choice in the matter.

Of course, those people that do usually get angry probably aren't go to read this, and I'm sure others are going to feel used and abused because you're being lied to. There's nothing that I can say to make you feel less angry except point out that people lie to us every single day about being AAA members, AARP age, military or government workers, or even that they "stay here all the time and I should get a better rate." Are you one of those people?

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