Incongruous Expectations

As I write I am serenaded by the melodious whine of an air compressor, the pitchy buzz of a reciprocating saw, and the staccato ‘tac tac’ of a nail gun. My folks are having new windows put in, and I am left pondering the seemingly incongruous expectations we place on those who make their living performing manual labour; namely, the perfection that is expected from those to whom a pittance is paid.

My father, ever the attentive consumer, has been pointing out, and asking questions about, some of the imperfections he’s noticed as the windows are installed. Now he has every right to complain, and should; this work is costing him upwards of $30,000, and that’s no small sum. However, how much of that 30 grand do the installers, who in addition to labouring all day in the sun must now listen to said complaints, see? Expecting perfection for 30 G’s is a right, but to expect it from someone making a couple bucks over minimum? I don’t know. If you’re expecting to get what you pay for, than those expectations must be balanced between the value expected from $30,000, and the value assigned to the slightly-more-than-minimum-wage employee.

When programmers (or whoever was to blame), probably paid [let’s say] double the salary of a skilled labourer, manage a fiasco like the Diablo III launch, shouldn’t one expect double the error 37’s from the latter? I’m not suggesting that the salaries for these two jobs should be comparable. The former go through much more school and training, and deserve higher salaries. As someone who has designed and built interlock patios, I understand that jobs requiring manual labour are not the most difficult, and the wage paid for them reflects that. However, it takes time and practice to master anything (as evidenced by the numerous incredibly botched interlock jobs done by do-it-yourselfers one can see in almost any neighbourhood), and most labourers aren’t being paid to master, they’re being paid to get by (as evidenced by the numerous botched interlock jobs done by poorly run companies that I have had to repair). Expecting perfection from said workers can only be deemed excessive when their salaries constantly tell them they are incapable of it.

By no means should one not expect good work, a $5,000 patio should look like a $5,000 patio, just like a video game designed to played should be playable, but one should also keep in mind that perfection cannot (or at least should not) be expected of someone who is being paid for shit.

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Book Review: Timeline

TimelineTimeline by Michael Crichton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Timeline by Michael Crichton is hard to review. On one hand, like most of Crichton’s work, it is conceptually brilliant and tremendously well researched, while on the other hand the prose is choppy and the pacing inconsistent. As a teenager I loved the book, and counted it amongst the best I had ever read. Returning to it as a young adult I found it unenthralling and difficult to read.

Hence my conundrum; Timeline is a novel with obvious strengths and glaring weaknesses. What Crichton does well, he does as well as most any other author. His meticulous research into both quantum physics, and Medieval Europe, provide the novel with a foundation of bedrock. Science and history collide in an amalgamation of genres to create a science/historical-fiction hybrid which juxtapose the new technologies of a supposedly not-so-distant future with the relative barbarism of 14th century France. Making use of the multiverse to allow historians to (pseudo) time travel and get stuck in the past should make for an incredible story, and would, if not for Crichton’s inability to write.

It is greatly disappointing to see such a brilliant concept be mired in choppy writing. The author, or his editor, seem to be oblivious to the existence of punctuation other than the period. As a result, his narration is choppy and the dialogue stilted. This prevents the reader from establishing a rhythm, and the characters from coming fully to life. The pacing of the novel is also thrown off kilter by Crichton’s staccato writing, as it can move quite slowly during instances of great excitement, or speed up when the action has ceased.

The characterisation is decent, but not good enough to make up for the tepid writing. The protagonists were real and relatable, while the antagonists were easy to loathe, but had just enough humanity make them believable. However, none were able to jump off the page and truly come to life, as most were easily forgotten upon either their death, or the return of the book to the shelf. They do however provide great social commentary on the human condition, as the collision of past and present calls into question who is truly barbaric; modern man, or his medieval counterpart.

Crichton is an idea’s man, and the premise and setting of Timeline ensure that it is an enjoyable read, yet the ineffectual style of writing mires the book in mediocrity sometimes making reading it a chore. In all honesty, the low rating probably stems from the incredible potential of the plot, and the product not living up to the concept, but this is a book that can only be loved if you’re willing to ignore bad writing, as I could, when I was young(er).

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