Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Silence is golden

Sandra may have cut back on her normally prodigious blog-posting in order to concentrate on her writing, but my absence from the intarwub is somewhat more prosaic. This last week or so I have mostly been moonlighting as an Environmental Consultant (and those capital letters are very important - makes it sound official and all).

Work of the paying kind has been thin on the ground these last couple of months. It always happens at tax-year end; my normal employer tends to have run out of money by early March and won't start up any new contracts until May at the earliest. Fortunately my little brother runs an Environmental Consultancy, based in North East Fife, and throws me the occasional employment bone. This week's great game has been Carbon Footprints.

Irregularity and unpredictability of income notwithstanding, I quite like the self-employed Jack of All Trades life. It gives me time to write, and I'm never stuck in the rut of doing the same thing over and over again. Carbon Footprints are a good case in point. Most people with the ability to string two thoughts together know what they are, but the complexity of their calculation can boggle even the most logical of minds. My mission, should I wish to accept it, has been to calculate the carbon dioxide produced per kilo of lamb meat as it makes the journey from farm to supermarket shelf.

It's a long time since last I read a scientific paper, so wading my way through dozens is one good reason why I've not had the energy to post here for a week. Yesterday, armed with what I considered to be a reasonable amount of newly-acquired knowledge, I went to what I thought was going to be a short meeting with the client to discuss the scope and time-scale of the project. From there I would be able to return home and beaver away at arcane calculations on my own, with plenty of reference to the papers and other resources I had already found. How wrong I was.

What the client wanted - and I long ago learned that what the client wants, the client gets* - was the calculations done there and then so that he could put them all into a presentation that he was due to give the next day - i.e. today. Cue much internalised panic, followed by various phone calls to my brother, which, made in the presence of the client, I was unable to use to tell him exactly what I thought of his having dumped me in this rather alarming position.

Still, I wouldn't be a writer of fantasy fiction if I couldn't make shit up as I go along. Improvisation has always been my strong point, and by the end of the day I had some figures only partially plucked out of thin air. The client seemed happy with them, anyway, and now I've got the breathing space to go and do the job properly. But what I'd mentally prepared for being an hour long meeting turned into a thirteen hour day.

I hate it when that happens.

* well, not exactly. The true skill of the consultant is in persuading the client that what you are giving him is what he wants. In this case the client rather had the upper hand, and I was in no position to finesse the project requirements to my liking.

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Blogger Vincent said...

While I've had experience of unrealistic customer expectations (and what customer worth his salt would have realistic expectations?), expecting a project to be delivered during the kick-off meeting is extreme by any standards.

April 25, 2007 11:57 am  
Blogger Trace said...

Ah yes. Hoop jumping for clients. So much fun it should be illegal. And there's always yet a higher hoop :)

April 25, 2007 1:30 pm  

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