The Art of Craft

One of the reasons I got out of the architecture field after my undergraduate studies (other than the realization that I would never be the type of grade-A professional my perfectionism wanted me to be) was my experience as an intern at an architectural firm.  It was not a bad experience.  The work I did gave me a very true picture of the profession as a whole.  I enjoyed my co-workers and spent a good deal of time that summer with the other interns at my firm.  But it made me realize that the true joys of my schooling would be even fewer and further between once I got out into the ‘real world’.  Hampered by dealing with a variety of contractors and businessmen and even other architects wanting to do things their way, and hedged in by building codes and various zoning laws, I would never be able to reach over to a client and come up with a solution thi their problem that merely suited us both.  I would never be able to express the extreme edge of problem-solving that comes from a truly artful and delicate solution – something that works in addition to being beautiful, or is beautiful for the way it works so effectively.

Is this not true in every profession?  Are we not all weighted down by some nameless, faceless redundancy that seems to make all our effort for the greater good, or even the focused, honest use of our skills, in vain?  Doctors and nurses deal with the insurance industry, teachers deal with various administrations and school boards, and even librarians must deal with the furor of local politics.  The complexity and density of modern life requires that we have certain structures in order to interact with each other.  These bureaucracies are often handicaps when immediate action is needed, but I think we would ultimately fair little better without them.  If so, how can we do the best for our world?  Pushing forward, one mired step at a time?  Individually or in small groups bucking the various systems in place?  What is progress, and how do we move forward from here?  I would like to think I could do a little more than give money to a good cause.  I would like to think that by doing what I loved, by taking my skills and using them, by making the world a little more beautiful and therefore perhaps a bit better, that I am accomplishing something with lasting meaning.  But I don’t have the scope to understand my own actions on a daily basis, let alone the true worth of one human life.

This is the most awesome thing ever!

Truly, Google Earth now gets major props as a WONDER of the web.  Not only is this internet giant committed to helping those in need (Google’s philanthropic wing, with the goals of raising awareness around international issues like poverty and climate change, was started in 2004), it’s also using its technology and innovations to serve a variety of nonprofit functions, such as the new feature which tracks the movement of refugees.  It also allows for some in-close views of specific refugee sites as well as data about the camps and the work being done by various nonprofits there.  Not only does this new function allow for current publicity for tons of grassroots organizations that otherwise might go unnoticed in the public eye, it will also most likely become a way to identify and clearly see teh extent of trouble spots around the globe.

I’m all for fun and games and innovation, and Google does both of these things well.   I enjoyed their April Fool’s pranks this year with Virgle and the associated commentary on the way our world is going environmentally.  I love the innovations that seem to be constantly coming with Gmail and associated services – first Gchat, then offline chatting and continuously updating email conversations, and finally AIM on Gchat.  But when something comes along like this that not only innovates, but also specifically targets those most in need and gives the wider world clearer understanding of that need and how to help – that’s something truly touching.

Google, you rock.

Visalicious.

I like travel.  I especially like international travel.  Not because I’m running away from people in the US (what’s not to love here?) or because I’m in search of something better.  I just think it’s nice to get out once and awhile – way out.  Plus, now a good contingent of my friends are living in different countries, so seeing them means international travel.

The most major issue I have with travel (besides layovers and annoying travelers) is the whole visa thing.  Sure, I get customs, and regulation of imports and exports, and trade, and taxes and all.  It makes sense – we’ve got people and goods going back and forth between different governments with different standards and different fees, so there has to be some sort of regulating body between them.  But visas?  What’s the point?  To annoy me with paying fees, getting tangled in red tape, and publishing various personal details (such as my mother’s maiden name and my health conditions)?  Ok, maybe China and India need to employ as many people as possible through bureaucratic nonsense.  Still, they aren’t getting more money constant delays and annoying their potential visitors.  Please, just streamline the process and make us pay more.  I wouldn’t mind.  Really.

As an AA (Admin. Assist.), I have full responsibility to secure visas for a variety of countries for a variety of people.  It’s generally one of the more frustrating portions of my job (other than talking to people on the phone).  Part of this is due to the fact that my employers always apply later than they should.  Another part is that the visa service we’ve been using is somewhat uncommunicative.  If there’s a problem or they need more information, they generally don’t call – they just wait until we are annoyed with the delay in service and let us know about the problem when we call in frustration.  Given that I already don’t like talking to people on the phone, this does not put me in the best frame of mind.   Despite the fact that I’ve gotten into the habit of checking up with them every single day of the application process, I really don’t want to and don’t think I should have to.

Enter the new visa service I have been testing out, CIBT.  First off, most of their visa applications  can be done online, meaning I don’t have to use a typewriter or rely on my own slovenly illegible handwriting for applications.  Second, once they receive the application, I can check on its status online, without talking to a single person.  Third, they are genuinely helpful when you have questions.  This includes actually responding to phone messages or emails you might leave.  All I can say is ‘wow’.