PROFESSIONALLY HOMELESS: Self-Employed Adventures at Home & Abroad

10 July 2010

Aaaaannnnnnd They’re Off!

Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Funny(?) Story, Parameters — biraistiyorum @ 11:13

My hotel here in Large Post-Soviet Country has an outdoor terrace cafe right by a metro stop and a funicular railway. I was relaxing there with a cold beer when a summer thunderstorm started pouring down rain.

Nuthin’ funnier than watching hussies in f*ck-me pumps try to run across a sloped cobblestone sidewalk while trying to smoke, the waiters and I were laughing our asses off. Props to the young women, though, not one wiped out…though that would’ve been hilarious.

20 June 2010

Cuz I’m a Wanderer, Yeah a Wanderer

Filed under: Pics, Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 14:37

My recent short visit to Another Balkan Country was interesting, yet another slightly different take on the whole post-communist experience. The architecture was far less interesting, although in the capital and another city you could see the same styles of buildings that I like and are found throughout Europe. The whole sidewalk restaurant/cafe scene was really great, though, I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect. I do hope to go back there at some point during the next year!

26 May 2010

De-Brief De-Layed

Filed under: Pics, Professional Stuff, Uncategorized — biraistiyorum @ 22:29

I have been inundated with comments from my large group of loyal readers that I never posted pix from Ignored Southern African Country. I had a good trip for professional reasons, and I enjoyed exploring the capital area…I do regret that I was unable to get out to more picturesque/fun regions of the country, but I now know how to do that should I visit again. OK on to the pix:

Zebra steak was probably my favorite – tender, juicy, awesome grill taste, perfect with a good beer!

I went on two short one-day safaris: saw rhinos, giraffes, springbok, gemsbok, etc. on the first; cheetahs, lions, and a leopard on the second

A beautiful sunset from the second safari

30 April 2010

Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!

Filed under: Language Fun, Parameters, Professional Stuff, Teaching — biraistiyorum @ 23:04

Academics have discovered PowerPoint en masse, apparently, which I take as another sign of the impending apocalypse. Oh, to be sure, PowerPoint was used by a small number of academics, but now it seems to have spread throughout and is being used by EVERYbody…years and years after it became cliche in the applied/real world.

So, it is inevitable that the same sins that have been committed before – too much text, unreadable tables, overuse of animation – are also to be seen among denizens of the academy. I recently saw a professor-created presentation that added unnecessary text to an outline, jammed in unreadable bar graphs, and even had a footnote.

My own style tends toward the spartan, itself not the best practice, but definitely the lesser of two evils.

Somewhere, Edward Tufte is crying…or perhaps:

(h/t Mark Goetz)

10 April 2010

And I’m Happy

Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Parameters, Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 05:35

Aaaahhh, a nice meal, great beer, and comfortable surroundings. There are times when you travel when you do enjoy yourself, despite being away from everyone you love. This is my second visit to Pretend Balkan Country, and tonight I went back to the brewery restaurant I found the first time. The restaurant has a world-class dark lager, which can only be found in their restaurant, and incredibly tasty garlic sausages. The waiters remembered me, so I got great service (I’m a big tipper).

I brought along to read during dinner one of my favorite books, Roger Eberts’ Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook, which I have read perhaps 30 times. It never ceases to make me laugh, and is a quick 180-page read. Sitting in that wonderful brick barrel-vaulted ceiling restaurant, a couple of passages resonated with me:

“Suddenly I was filled with an enormous happiness […that] focuses all the attention inward on the most momentous feeling of joy, on the sense that in this moment everything is in harmony. I sat very still. I was alone at a table in a square where no one I knew was likely to come, in a land where I did not speak the language, in a place where, for the moment, I could not be found. […] All the people around me carried on their lives […] and my presence there made not the slightest difference to them. I was invisible. I would leave no trace in this square, except for the few francs I would hand to the café owner […] Most of the time I am too busy to entertain such reflections. Indeed, I have filled my life so completely with commitments and deadlines that many days there is no time at all to think about the fact that I am living in it. But these still moments, usually in a foreign country…”

I have had such moments in the past, too, most often when cross-country skiing at night, but much more infrequently as my life has deepened and become more complex. So, when one comes along, I sit very still and make the most of it.

Other passages that make me laugh:

Film critic one-upsmanship – Both Ebert and Gene Siskel are reviewing a Korean film that dealt with family crisis and homosexuality. The husband has recently returned to the family to announce he is gay. “At this point in the screening, Gene slipped quickly down the aisle for a visit to the men’s room. While he was gone, the wife went into her bedroom, where, in a scene that brought gasps of disbelief from everyone in the theater, she undressed and had sex with her poodle. Then she dressed, dried her eyes, and went back in the living room, just in time for Siskel to return from the men’s room. ‘Did I miss anything?’ he asked. ‘Only the wife having sex with her dog,’ I said. ‘Very funny.’

Describing crowds for high-profile movie screenings – ‘The Americans and British at Cannes dutifully stand in line for everything, and the French habitually walk right past the line and in through the door. If you protest, you get the sort of blank look they reserve for lower orders. They seem to think that anyone stupid enough to stand in line deserves to be made to wait.’ One film critic explained to Ebert: ‘The reason we British have the word queue is that the French had no further need of it’

Big personalities – Billy ‘Silver Dollar’ Baxter, a large Texan who addressed all waiters as ‘Irving,’ gave out silver dollars for tips, and was loud and obnoxious enough to get service from French waiters.

Bad sketches by Ebert – My favorite is his multi-panel cartoon of the annoying French film critic using a flashlight to take notes during a screening.

Finally, a passage that echoes my own feelings about business travel:  “Waiting for my luggage at Heathrow, I found myself next to Peter Noble of Screen International. ‘Enjoy yourself? I asked him. ‘Dear boy, it’s always the same. One is happy to go, and happy to leave.’

5 April 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — biraistiyorum @ 20:47

A friend turned me on to this site:  Indexed

18 March 2010

I’m in Pain

Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Parameters — biraistiyorum @ 13:54

No, not the food poisoning that marked that last few days of my third week here in Ignored Southern African Country. I’m talking about missing the opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament. I usually take off from work the first two days of the opening round, so that I can sit around in sweats, drink beer, and eat cheetos, perhaps grill some dead animal flesh or andouille sausage.

Not this year, for excellent business reasons.

But…Ignored Southern African Country has really slow internet, so streaming video is not an option. Heck, it is so slow, and I pay by the minute with prepaid access cards, that the SI/ESPN/CBS/whatever sites take freakin’ forever to load up. The TV stations available to me aren’t much help either, although if you want to watch old/bad US movies dubbed into Afrikaans, you’re in luck.


5 March 2010

Every Trip Is An Odyssey

Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Home — biraistiyorum @ 16:41

I always bring to read a copy of The Odyssey – a book that many of us were forced to read in school, but actually appreciate later in life – which those of you familiar with the story might recognize as totally inappropriate for someone like me who travels too much to strange lands. I almost always leave the book behind, and buy a new copy for the next trip.

It is in these times when I’ve spent too much time by myself with my own strange thoughts, that I sometimes wonder if I will turn into Odysseus. One spends a lot of time alone, eating alone, taking taxis alone, having meetings without a colleague, going to bed at night without having spoken a word in hours…I may have interesting, once-in-a-lifetime adventures on these trips, but it is not not NOT glamourous in the sense of being away from home and loved ones. It was no different on my trip to Interesting Andean Country, Pretend Balkan Country, or now with Ignored Southern African Country, though not in Beautiful Post-Communist Capital City when my beautiful Penelopiea was with me.

In the weird hours, I sometimes imagine that my son/daughter will be like Telemachos, setting off on a coming-of-age trip with Mentor (Athena) to learn about their father, arriving in sandy Pylos Mentor says: “…grant that Telemachos and I may have a safe return, when we have done that for which we came hither with our swift black ship!” The lines in the book that always make my throat catch and eyes mist over are when Nestor says, “…I say, if you are really his son – IF! you amaze me, young man: when I hear you speak, I might be hearing him, you could not imagine a young man could speak so like him!”

Don’t worry about me, I’m keeping a close watch for the Cyclops, and the Sirens and Lotus-Eaters have absolutely no effect on me.

27 February 2010

The Mamas & The Papas

Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Parameters, Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 01:37

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go…I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again (OK, not true, I do have a return ticket!)…I’m off to Ignored Southern African Country tomorrow for awhile, should be an interesting professional experience for me.

I did buy a new piece of luggage for this trip, a really nice/big rolling garment bag-cum-suitcase from Samsonite. My trips tend to be 2-3 weeks, so carrying a reasonable amount of clothing is important. I’m really good at packing for efficiency and weight, the result of lessons learned in Boy Scouts and my previous business life. But, I’m TIRED of trying to do these trips out of my roll-on with a separate compartment for hanging clothes, it is just unnecessary since I have to check in bags anyway. So, I now have a much bigger bag, and that makes me feel happy and grown-up.

I also found a cheap GMS phone that I had bought in London a few years ago, so I’ll just get a sim card and then prepay for use in Ignored Southern African Country, which should make life easier, too.

I do have a pretty good flight plan, but it still involves about 17 hours on a plane…yuck, let’s hope my pharmaceutical assistance will let me sleep for 8 hours, which would only leave 9 hours to amuse myself.

12 February 2010

The Distance of the Past

Filed under: Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 09:58

A journalist, Paul Kaye, is bicycling the length of the Iron Curtain from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea. It has only been 20 years since the Communist regimes fell in Europe, and it is astounding to see how much has changed in such a short period of time.

Paul Kaye’s website and pictures:   Curtainrider (also a BBC story/album)

Every time I go to a capital city of one of these countries, I marvel at the change. I lived in Beautiful Post-Communist Capital City to do my dissertation research in the mid-90s, and I returned about a year after we left to do some follow-up work. As I was standing around one of the common meeting spots in town, I noticed that (young) people seemed to be dressed markedly better and that many people had cell phones. I assumed that these folks were part of the tourist throngs that seemed to inundate the city at all times of the year…until the JCrew catalog model standing near me answered his ringing cell phone in perfect/native local language, and I realized as I eavesdropped on conversations near me that the consumer culture had hit this place with full force.

9 February 2010

Word Rescue — Cantankerous

Filed under: Language Fun, Rescue Me — biraistiyorum @ 00:13

Rescue this word — CANTANKEROUS, as in to be difficult or irritating to deal with:

I’m cantankerous without my coffee in the morning.

Teabaggers are douchebags cantankerous when the government tries to get its hands on their Medicare.

The checkout clerks at the grocery store were understandably cantankerous during the pre-Snowpocalypse hoarding rush.

As always, try to use this word at least once in the coming week.

24 January 2010

Word Rescue (upcoming)

Filed under: Language Fun, Rescue Me — biraistiyorum @ 23:27

Thanks to various friends and hangers-on, here is a list of upcoming words to be rescued (in no particular order):

  • Dapper
  • Cantankerous
  • Garrulous
  • Hanker
  • Reckon

Keep your eyes peeled!

18 January 2010

I Should Do This More Often

Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Professional Stuff, Teaching — biraistiyorum @ 14:06

Every year around Martin Luther King, Jr Day, I pull out Selections from 199 Years of The Atlantic, which has his famous 1963 piece commonly-known as “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (sorry, Mom, I filched this from you guys in the 1980s). The power of his argument against admonitions of patience and condemnations of law-breaking blow me away every time I read it, and I reflect with sadness on the plight of Roma in Europe, Dalits and others in India, Copts in Egypt, and indigenous and other repressed minorities in countries around the world.

I find it personally and professionally inspiring…wish I’d assigned it for my course at Elite DC University, it would’ve been appropriate.

11 January 2010

Ruminations on 4-D

Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Home, Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 00:25

The fourth dimension is the passage of time, and is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.

Professionally, I am selling the use of my expertise for periods of time, and managing all of the (often conflicting) demands for my time can be quite difficult. The hardest part is when the demands are vague or flexible, such that they impinge on time I have set aside for my personal life, or raise fresh business scheduling conflicts that may be irresolvable. A slightly different aspect of professional time is the long periods of time that elapse between when major proposals are submitted and when a decision is made. I was a key expert on a proposal last February for some big big BIG business in Volatile South Asian Country– which we were rumored to have won, pending some diplomatic activities – , but we just found out this week that that particular part of the assistance portfolio had been cancelled completely. Greeeaaaat, I was a little concerned about political violence in the country, but it would have been three years of very interesting and lucrative work…projects come and go, though, and I have (and will have) enough work to keep busy. A more important aspect for independent consultants is the level of advance planning that must be done. This goes beyond the standard delays between work and payment, rather it is about guestimating when opportunities are going to pop up and how to position yourself to take full advantage of them.

Personally, I am beyond 40, so that’s not the joke here. I started up on Facebook last summer after much mental resistance, but I have been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it so far. My family moved from my hometown after I graduated from high school, and I never returned afterwards. My career changes and geographic wanderings really cut me off from any attempt to re-connect. Now, though, each week I find a new old friend, and our re-introduction conversations are couched in terms of decades: I haven’t seen him in 30 years, the rowing club I co-founded at Another Prairie University is now 25 years old, I’ve been married for 20 years, that sort of thing. People I didn’t like or didn’t like me 30 years ago, now I communicate with happily and enjoyably. Looking the other direction, some of my local friends have kids in college or heading off to college soon, and it isn’t that much longer until my own kids will be off, so I’m beginning to worry about paying for their educations.

This is an interesting point in my both my professional and personal lives, in that I’m trying to abstract away the passage of time as if it were a variable I can control, yet it is that exact passage that I cannot change and completely shapes my activities.

23 December 2009

Easy As Pie

Filed under: Professional Stuff, Teaching — biraistiyorum @ 14:20

Here’s a quick ‘n’ easy chart for understanding Afghanistan:  Counter-Insurgency Chart

2 December 2009

How to Explain Consulting on Monitoring & Evaluation

The XKCD comic below captures the dynamic of consulting quite well. Many consultants are the ‘Smart Engineer’ guy, but I think a consultant that wants to do the job right should combine lessons from all three guys: don’t game the client, don’t be pedantic about technical details, and be grounded in the reality of doing something.

XKCD cartoon

25 November 2009


Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Funny(?) Story, Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 11:28

I periodically check the traffic stats for this blog and for my business website, just to see what’s going on. Unlike stats for my website, which give me IP addresses and pages/documents viewed, the blog doesn’t provide IP addresses, just visitor counts, links used to reach the site, links used from the site, and search terms. The search terms that are used are often amusing, strange, and potentially disturbing…recent examples:

  • regional capital,coastal city near concrete hand
  • soviet self employees contacts 2009
  • self employed using my own laptop expense
  • funny story about a persnickety
  • elbow patches heathrow
  • non negotiables funny storry
  • medieval inter tainment
  • vodka, kahlua and cream
  • how to mix a kahlua and cream
  • planet 9 consultant

I’m intrigued by ‘funny story about a persnickety,’ I may have to use the googles on the inter-tube to see what they may have been all about. ‘Elbow patches Heathrow‘ absolutely cracks me up, I think that might defy rational explanation. People looking for a Kahlua & cream recipe got my story about flaming Russians. I’m not sure I want to know what ‘planet 9 consultant‘ was about, I wonder if that person’s other searches were ‘area 51’ and ‘fake moon landing.’

15 November 2009


Filed under: Pics, Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 16:53

I’m nearing the end of a business trip to So-So Capital City in Pretend Balkan Country, the first time I’ve been here. I wouldn’t mind coming back, but this wouldn’t be near the top of my list of places to visit on vacation.

So much of this is so familiar to me as a post-communist place: my language/Cyrillic skills have come in handy; the same sort of communist mentality legacy; nearly everyone smokes during nearly every minute of the day; the cuisine is tasty although the range is somewhat limited; no washclothes in hotels (seriously, bring your own for post-communist countries); and even the same styles of buildings from the late 1800s to early 1900s (Art Nouveau and Secessionist) that you can see throughout Europe from Paris to Sofia. The overlay of Ottoman Empire history is a neat twist on what I’ve seen before, though, but I’m undecided about the local-language version of the Eagles’ Hotel California that has been on heavy radio rotation.

What is new to me is the extent to which the political arrangements here are just pretend. Goodness gracious, I haven’t seen so much pretending since my daughter and her friends dressed up as Disney princesses. Ethnic differences may have been wallpapered over with the assistance of the West, but the differences have become more meaningful, if anything. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to wake up one day and hear on the news that fighting between ethnic groups had broken out, EU and NATO be damned…or to hear nothing because everyone’s OK with pretending…could go either way, really.

5 November 2009

Get Yours Now, Before They Run Out!

Filed under: Language Fun, Teaching — biraistiyorum @ 20:11

Generate your own academic sentences — it’s easy and fun for the whole family:

University of Chicago Writing Program

2 November 2009

A Blog Post is Born

Filed under: Uncategorized — biraistiyorum @ 22:41

Actual conversation with my middle-school-aged son tonight:

The Boy: What’s that you’re typing on Facebook, Dad? What? Whaddya mean I’m contrarian like you — I’m not contrarian!

Me: Okaaaa-hahahahahahaha!

The Boy: I’m not contrarian! I’m NOT contrarian! I’m not contrarian!

Me: Hahahahahahah snort hahahahahaha!

The Boy: I’m NOT contrarian! I’m not contrarian!

Me: Hahahahahaha, do you even get why I’m laughing so hard that I’m crying?

The Boy: I’m not contrarian! I’m not contrarian! I’m not contrarian!

Me: Hahahahahahaha omygod I might pee in my pants hahahahahaha gifted & talented huh? hahahahahaha!

[some of you might recall my Contrarian post]

30 October 2009

No Anchovies on My Half, Please

Filed under: Funny(?) Story, Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 11:41

Random observations from my trip to Interesting Andean Country:

  • One political party we spoke with for the project proudly showed off their central HQ, complete with party ideology icons, not to mention member-only classrooms, subsidized cafeteria, and medical examinations. On the way out the door, our contact reached over to a fundraising stand and gave us two cans of anchovies. Really.
  • The traffic in Coastal Capital City seemed pretty bad and scary at first — this is one of those countries without mass transit, so that half the country is employed driving the other half around in all manner of vehicles — but it wasn’t that bad, really. Yes, multiple lanes could be used to make either right or left turns and stop signs/lights were generally mere suggestions, but nobody drove that fast and in the span of three weeks I saw only one minor fender bender.
  • We went to one large regional city, and we were debating a second city. One of my project travel partners tried to convince me to go to a regional capital out in the middle of the jungle: her sales pitch was, “Ohmigod, they have the coolest gigantic bugs, and there are these ‘bird spiders’ the size of your face that crawl around inside houses and buildings.’ Honestly, how could we resist a pitch like that?! We went somewhere else, needless to say.
  • OK, someone explain to me why a domestic flight scheduled for precisely 405am (with the plane already at the departure airport) could take off 20 minutes late.
  • Pretty much all languages have segue/filler/transition words or phrases; English, for example, has long had ‘so,’ ‘OK,’ and the derided ‘like,’ the Slavics all seem to use some form of ‘that is,’ and poor German is left with ‘nnnnn’ as they try to structure complicated sentences. In Spanish, the word is ‘entonces,’ without which conversation would be impossible. We had one interview during which I amused myself by counting the number of times it was used, I lost track after 20 minutes with the count somewhere above three dozen.


21 October 2009

But I’m Not Che Guevara

Filed under: Uncategorized — biraistiyorum @ 22:34

I’ve been catching a small amount of tongue-in-cheek joking from friends about how it is that I’m able to post tourist-y pictures, seeing as how I’m on a business trip to Interesting Andean Country. The answer is that I practice Guerrilla Tourism.

I have a small $40 Vivitar point/shoot camera with me on this trip, which I keep in an outer pocket of my briefcase or sometimes an interior suit coat pocket; in the past, I carried disposable cameras. Whenever I’m walking to/from a meeting and come across something interesting, SNAP! take a picture. Sometimes I’ll have a couple hours on the day I arrive somewhere, so what I do is get a tourist map, scout out a reasonable path, and then off I go: cathedral (SNAP! check), medieval castle (SNAP! check), main square with beautiful fountain (SNAP! check), mountains/river/ocean/whatever natural beauty is nearby (SNAP! check). Voy-lah, travel pics!

12 October 2009

Paging Sir Real, Your Flight Is Boarding

Filed under: Consultant Psychology, Funny(?) Story, Professional Stuff — biraistiyorum @ 16:10

I’m on my way to Interesting Andean Country for a few weeks of business, and the connection through Atlanta-Hartsfield has been a mixture of the banal/expected and the strange/amusing.

Banal/expected: I deliberately scheduled a 4-hour connection, not 2-hour, because I know how this airport is. I was right, would’ve missed the one and only flight out of here today.

Strange/amusing #1: There’s a pianist playing in the food court of the intl concourse, and I think he’s a little off…first I noticed that he was playing Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ (this is ground control to Major Tom), and then it was Boomtown Rat’s ‘I Don’t Like Mondays.’ I should probably move along to my gate before it gets ugly.

Strange/amusing #2: The lady sitting next to me on the plane to Atlanta kept looking very intently at various people around the plane from her aisle-seat vantage…and would note on the back of an envelope their seat numbers under a heading of ‘People After Me,’ no joke, I wasn’t worried since my seat wasn’t listed.

6 October 2009

I’m Visualizing…a Geek!

Filed under: Professional Stuff, Teaching — biraistiyorum @ 15:04

Maps and visual presentation are like catnip for me, and anyone who’s had me as a teacher can attest to the mismatch between my desire to hand-draw maps and the quality of said maps.

Here are a few fun map/visualization tools and resources I’ve found in the last year:

And of course, for those of you who don’t know this site, there’s the Perry-Castañeda Map Library at the University of Texas.

Enjoy! Feel free to suggest other resources via comment.

1 October 2009

I Can See Your House From Here

Filed under: Consultant Economics, Consultant Psychology, Parameters, Teaching — biraistiyorum @ 17:31

I think I may be coming to the end of my college teaching career, and I’m remarkably neutral about this development. I enjoy teaching, and the last couple years of teaching a grad course at Elite DC University and an undergrad intern course for Prairie University have been loads o’ fun in different ways.

It was great to get back into teaching after a couple years of not teaching; the last time I taught full-time was at Prairie U, and I had two classes each with 300 of my favorite students…ugh, I often thought of such teaching as ‘info-tainment’ or ‘performance art,’ not teaching. Students who had taken my upper division seminars on foreign policy knew enough about me to discern my dislike for the large intro classes.

Lately, the consulting side of my portfolio of income-generating activities has really picked up, which means international travel for 2-3 weeks at a time. Weeks of travel impact both courses, but it is the Elite DC course that would make me turn down business, a bad trade financially and professionally. It is one thing to schedule the policy experts for my Prairie U interns and ask a program colleague to herd the student-interns around once a week for a couple weeks, it is something else entirely to cancel a few weeks of a grad course because it would be tremendously difficult to find a volunteer with enough expertise to handle the class meetings for that period of time.

In addition, part of the reason I was teaching was to keep my hand in academia, because I always thought that under the right circumstances I would take a university-based research/project management/teaching position. As the years go by, though, I’m less and less interested in anything besides research projects, but even then I want them to be my projects and I think I want to keep my external status. I should also mention that most academic positions would represent a step backwards in compensation, which is unacceptable to me at this stage of my life.

All of us have those points where we have to let go of something and head a different way. I feel like I’m at that point with college teaching.

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