Hello again, gentle noder. You may remember me from a few daylogs I wrote a couple of weeks ago. I have been watching the reaction to them unfold in waves across the nodegel, and thinking a lot about what has been said and done in response. Last night I dreamt about it all and processed it in a way that only the subconscious mind can do, and lucky for me I was lucid enough to remember the conclusions that I drew from the dream. And wouldn't you know it? I feel compelled to try and articulate them, which is what I've written below.

This daylog is about Everything2 and time.

In her daylog from April 3, 2007, my beloved graceness wrote out some words to try and express the frustration that I believe she and I share with a lot of the people who have participated in building this database and the community that grew out of it many years ago. They were her own words, and one line in particular — The trouble I'm seeing is - there is no room for a "beginning" stage here. It is almost expected that your first write-up be stellar, or so help you God and Sunny Jesus. — so inspired our dear Wiccanpiper that he made it the principal subject of his editor log for this month.

In his epistle, directed not only to Gracie but to everyone who has tried in some way to express this concept and convey the nature of its "ugly head", he states very emphatically: YOUR FIRST WRITEUP DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE BEST YOU'LL EVER PRODUCE. He then explains very politely that, in fact, well, the administration would very much like it if you would simply try to make your first submission here "your best effort and the first of many", and that their sacred duty is to help you try harder to polish up your writeup so that it shines in the eyes of the noders who have earned their suffrage. If only everyone would simply "dig in" and "get down to the pleasant work required"... well, you can read the rest yourself.

I do not mean to pick on Wiccanpiper (he knows I think he's the bee's knees), but he was punctual enough in his response to provide me with a very timely and convenient example of the sort of reaction I have been seeing from a few folks who, unfortunately, are missing the point. Over the past day I have seen this mindset (I hesitate to call it a simple attitude) manifest itself in what I would qualify as passive-aggressive submissions to mauler's very well-intentioned quest. Taking the piss at your mates is all fine and well, but this is something darker coming from the heart, and I feel it may be symptomatic of the resentment felt by those who take umbrage with my stated positions - however well or poorly I have made them. I know for certain that at least one individual feels personally insulted by what I have written about E2, even though that person never crossed my mind even once when I was writing any of it.

Nevertheless, E2's official response has been a very rational, reasonable, even-tempered one that I very much respect and deeply appreciate. What some of my colleagues have failed to understand about the true nature (as I see it) of "the problem" is something that I myself have been slow at coming to terms with, and consequently have failed to express in any adequate way. Much of the discussion that has taken place in the past few weeks has helped in tuning my focus, and in my dream last night, everything became clear. The issue we are dealing with here is not so much a "quality vs. crap" argument (framed at times in a very tongue-in-cheek way as an "accountants vs. pirates" thing), nor is it entirely a "Brave New E2 vs. the dinosaurs" turf war. I agree with donfreenut when he describes E2's past as being about the pursuit of a certain aesthetic that has fallen out of fashion, as well as most everything that Walter and others have added to the debate. But really, no matter which "side" of the issue you feel that you tend to favor, I think most of our failures to grapple with the elephant in the room is that we grab on to some piece of it and miss what that piece has in common with everything else. When you peel away all the esoteric superficial aspects of the problem, it all comes down to life's most precious commodity: time.

Every year is getting shorter
Never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught
or half a page of scribbled rhymes

Hanging on in quiet desperation
is the English way
The time has gone, the song is over
Thought I'd something more to say

— From Time by Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon, 1973)

A few months ago I ran across a daylog by Auduster that had been written almost two years ago - posted one month to the day after my infamous editor log, in fact. I bookmarked it because it struck a chord in my mind that was harmonic of many different notes I had heard in many different places and from many different voices over the last four or so years. I wish I had given myself more time to study its resonance and reflect upon my earlier and more impassioned writings on the situation rather than subjecting myself to the posting deadline imposed by my sixth anniversary, but hindsight is 20-20. In his analysis of the malaise on April 15, 2005, he writes:

The requirement for volume posting means that E2 requires a massive time contribution from users in order to progress. With the increasing bias towards length and quality, this meant that E2 users were judged on their time contribution. This mechanism selects for users with disproportionate amounts of free time: the young, students and similar. By leaving anyone with less than 25 writeups without the franchise, (which grew to mean a minimum of 25 hours contribution) active human beings less committed to the project had no influence on the direction of the {site}. E2 therefore came to increasingly represent the interests of those who could manage the necessary time contribution.

People, this is straight-up wisdom. Read through the quote again and digest it. I believe, finally, that this is what the whole thing is really about. While Auduster recently added "I completely stand by the main thrust of the argument, but dear god I wish I'd written it in a different way", I have to commend him for succeeding admirably at getting across the point. Well done, sir.

When I joined E2, I was fascinated by what I found here. Littered amid the considerable piles of textual garbage were literary jewels. Pearls of wisdom. Koans. Precious little emo gems and clever jokes, and everything was sewn together with a lighthearted, playful subtext that lately seems to be the thing that we who remember it are having such a hard time putting into words. I think more than anything, this curiosity is what has distracted me until now from seeing the bigger picture. When I started, I was enticed by the volume of short writeups. A few paragraphs was not only enough, it was the expectation. It was "the bar" before the bar had really been defined. I thought "Oh hell, this looks EASY! I can do better than this without even trying that hard." Short writeups imply a short time contribution. I could see what I was getting myself into - or so I thought.

As I progressed, I invested an ever-increasing time contribution in Everything2. I stopped watching television completely. My social life, what there was of it, disappeared into my web browser. Every spare minute of my day eventually went into reading reading reading E2, talking in the chatterbox or working on my next writeup. Within three months my entire life became focused on my identity as a noder and after a while, a Content Editor. Is this starting to sound familiar to you? Take a look at yourself. If you are successful on E2 today, you are giving a massive time contribution to this web site. Every noder that is well-known from E2's history has made a significant time contribution here. There isn't any other way to do it.

But the one thing that has changed dramatically since "Raising the bar" became the useless dogma that bit the hand of our karma is the amount of time investment required to participate in the game of E2 at the very beginning. This is what graceness is really talking about in her daylog, and it's what so many folks who see today's E2 as a new "golden age" are missing. It's not that there aren't still a lot of people who want to play the game here. It's not that the game has necessarily become "too hard". It's just that there isn't enough time. Not enough time to make a "casual investment" worthwhile. (Without committing to a casual investment, J. Random Newbie isn't going to get hooked on the reward system.) Not enough time to play on E2 and have a life outside of your computer. Not enough available Interweb time between all the other outlets available today that are seeking writers of "mediocre, emotional, teenage content" (to use Auduster's words) that could be crafted into the shining literary athletes that E2 seeks to come running and jump that bar.

A couple of years ago, when I had finally burned out on E2 and needed to find a way to rebuild my life from within, I started seeing a psychotherapist. She was very good, and one of the things that she taught me that would help me grow as a stable, healthy human being was to break my old habits of spending all my spare time in front of the computer, living on the Internet. I needed to get out in the world and establish relationships outside of IRC and the web community I'd immersed myself in completely for four years. Going to nodermeets apparently didn't count. I needed to invest more time in seeking out and participating in social activities, so that's what I did. This has been working well for me, and while breaking my old Internet habits is still an ongoing struggle, the way I budget my time is much more balanced.

I don't have the kind of time to spend on E2 anymore that I used to have. Neither do most of the noders who we all miss so much. They have way too many other demands on their time to make a "career" out of E2. For many of them, Everything2 was just a game, and the time they spent here was spent playing in the nodegel. No disrespect meant to Wiccanpiper, but his statement that "E2 is and always has been about good writing" is a perspective of everything from 2002 and later. While doing "the pleasant work required" to succeed and advance in levels remains of great appeal to some, it is a far different scope of work than E2 required of its userbase in the beginning. "Raising the bar" isn't just about quality - it's about time. If you can't or won't invest the time, you can't play the game. I spent nearly seven straight hours at work just writing this friggin' daylog, and I really can't afford to do that anymore no matter how much I might want to, you know? It really is just that simple.

So it comes down to this: The barrier of participation is too high in terms of time. This is ultimately why we have fewer new users who submit content, and why existing users submit less content. It's why the vast majority of elder established users who still come around to check their messages submit no content. In spite of whatever other reasons you might want to pull out of the hat, which might be just as valid on many levels, at the very core of everything I feel like this is the biggest problem that E2 continues to face. Auduster was smart enough to see that two years ago. I wish I was.

I'd write more, but I'm afraid I'm out of time. Thanks for spending yours on mine.

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."


With global warming looming ominous I revel in the snow gently drifting through the wind. My mind pregnant with logic. The lingering effects of an energy drink still coursing through the vast tracks of my circulatory system. I first take the counterproductive yet predictable approach of thinking my brain to a stop. Still the wheels spin into the earth, digging deeper and getting progressively nowhere. Still, the passing thought of the earth channels my energies deep into its core. Still is what I become. In my mind's eye my legs are tree trunks cycling lifeblood between me and the soil. Wind ruffles my hair, now a sweeping network of leaves that claw at the sky in gentle desperation. A falcon's cry pierces through the gale. I am almost totally given over to her, who is as always the very definition of maternal. Now is a happy place.

...

But who wants to hear that shit? Inquiring minds want the sexy now. They want the now where I'm scoring crack downtown. Nowhere else to smoke it, I pass rocks out to the local crackheads so that they'll watch for the police as I load up a glass pipe stuffed with brillo. Also, it keeps them from joining together and jumping my ass. They're happy - I get to keep my money and not get the shit kicked out of me. It only placates them for a time. As I leave one of them gets me in a choke-hold from behind while the others hold my arms and rifle through my pockets. Good thing I smoked most of the shit, but still they are rewarded with a paltry couple of dollars. "Fuck you!" I creatively scream after them as they run; one has the decency to toss my pillaged wallet over his shoulder. Einstein once define insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Apparently I am insane; I will be back here tomorrow. Now is always a happy place.

...

The flakes are a flurry of pink and white leaving cascades of perfume in their wake. It is delicious. The warmth of spring is still delicate, a companion to the sensation that each petal creates as it collides with my cheek. The blossoms drop to the ground and herald my homecoming. Spring snow. Now is a happy place.

(an addendum and update to my previous list, and is possibly incomplete. please forgive me for that, and realize how long this took, and it was 130 am my time when i posted it. /msg me with your outrage at not making the list, and i'll do something about it.) edit - since writing this, i've managed to add a few more people to this, thank you to all who pointed me in the right directions!

Some of these people have moved on, but their contributions should still be recognized. some people aren't on the list that were before - no sense in linking to an empty homenode, no sign or signal or voice. some people i've linked before, and have changed the write-up linked to their name. Let me tell you, it was hard to choose among all the stellar examples of writeups by these people, and it took me a great deal of time to put this together. I highly recommend spending your time reading more of their writeups if at all possible.

TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR reasons (and counting!) why this place is (STILL!) worth my time:

00100

achan ac_hyper Ahab ailie Akasha allseeingeye Alpheus(that's my leg on his homenode. I'll tell you the story sometime.) amnesiac Andrew Aguecheek aneurin Angela anthropod Apatrix Apollyon archy ascorbic Ashley Pomeroy atesh automaus avalyn

bewilderbeast bexxta Billy bindlenix birdonmyshoulder* Bitca Bitriot bol booyaa borgette borgo Byzantine

cahla call calliope ccunning Chras4 Chris-O Cinderella Cool Man Eddie clampe claypenny codic Cow of Doom creases Crux czeano

dann Danneeness dannye deeeahblita deep thought DejaMorgana Demeter Devon Dimview Dis discofever donfreenut doyle dpride dustfromamoth

EDB edebroux enth e-lainey eliane etoile etouffee Ereneta Evil Catullus

factgirl flamingweasel Frankie flyingfish

gahachino Girlface gleeme Glowing Fish golFUR Gorgonzola GrouchyOldMan grundoon gunpoint gwenllian

Halspal hamster bong Hatshepsut haze Heisenberg Helmut hemos henry flower Hermetic hramyaegr hunt05

iceowl icicle ideath Igloowhite impishlaugh Indra363 Infinite Burn instantkarma IWhoSawTheFace izubachi

Jack Jane JayBonci Jennifer jessicapierce jethro bodine Jet-Poop Jinmyo Joyquality juliet Junkill junkpile Jurph just1wheat

karma debt Kensey kerawall KillerPenguin Kit Lo Klaproth kmcardle knifegirl kohlcass kthejoker

laconic LadySun LaggedyAnne lailoken legbagede Le petit mort liha liontamer Lometa longwinter Lord Brawl Lost and Found Lucy-S

Magnas mauler Mer minisecret Mitchevious Mitzi mkb ModernAngel moloch36 momomom mordel moxie Mr. Hotel m_turner

nate NinjaPenguin Noether Noung No Springs N-Wing

oakling oenone Oolong ophie Orange Julius Orpheum O-Swirl Ouroboros

Palpz panamaus paraclete pelsmith perdedor per ou piq princess loulou prole Pseudo_Intellectual psydereal pukesick

qousqous Quizro QXZ

RACECAR radlab0 RalphyK Rancid_Pickle randir Reasonless rischi riverrun Roninspoon rootbeer277 rummage ryano

Scribe Scriblerus Segnbora-t sensei shaogo SharQ sid simonc Simulacron3 siouxsie Skoob SophiesCat sparkleface spiregrain stand/alone/bitch swankivy

tandex Templeton The Custodian TheDeadGuy The Debutante the gilded frame theonomist Timeshredder ToasterLeavings Tom Rook Transitional Man Two Sheds

Uberfetus Unstrung

Walter wamckee Webster1913 wertperch wharfinger Wiccanpiper WickerNipple will witchiepoo wuukiee

xdjio XWiz

yam yclept yossarian

Any questions?

After returning from a three month hiatus, I find E2 has changed a good bit. Some of the new stuff seems contradictory, but what do I know. I've only been noding for five months. And lurking for three and a half years before that.

So you nerfed the XP bonus for using all your votes in a day? That's kinda weird. Why? Were people abusing this power somehow? How many users actually got this bonus anyway? For anyone that is employed or attending college, how many votes can you spend a day? 20? 30? 45? 60? I would be bored to tears just clicking 45 or 60 Vote buttons a day, even for a dump. C'mon, the XP bonus is there for the little guys. Those precious level 2'ers or 3'ers that come from a bright land full of rainbows and puppy dog tails. Hell, I remember being happy when the powers that be gave me votes for helping with a quest. I could finally show the smallest appreciation for the writeups I admired for years. The vote dump is a hook to give the little guys something else to do between writeups, check out some of the nodespace. They learn through observation. The XP bonus helps them get through the doors to bigger and better things. I thought XP was an imaginary number from an anonymous stranger; who cares if you get it from using all your votes?

Oh, look here, we get a lot more XP from chings and even posting the writeup. That kinda balances things out, I imagine. Except it doesn't. Not by a long shot. The newbies don't get a pat on the head for voting anymore. Sure, they still vote on some things but it's not the same. Users still want to read material that is interesting to them, but the XP bonus encouraged you to read things that were not always on your favorite topic. Sometimes this leads to wondrous curiosity.

But votes aren't just proof you read something! They were feedback! They told us how we were doing. You can't win someone's attention with just a headline in the New Writeups. Encouraging people to read the nodes, and vote, spread the love. Where has the love gone?

Get some people to compile a new nodegel visualization and look at the past week or two. How many fewer votes are they getting? Until I start seeing a few of these crop up, I can only talk about me, so here I go. Since my return, and the E2 changes, I have posted eight writeups, excluding what you're now reading. Thanks to the Honor Roll, when I left I needed 38 more writeups to get to level 4 and the power of chings. Eight writeups later, I need 39 more writeups to get to level 4. The sharp decline of voting is killing the Honor Roll system. Before you ask, my upvote-downvote ratio is the same as before, I just have half as many votes as I used to.

Now that road from level 2 to level 5, 6 or more got a lot longer. You've taken away the shiny gold star of participation and made advancement through the ranks that much more tedious. Do the gods forget the toil of the little people? Have their servants forgotten that they are not the only ones who encourage growth?

And why have we added insult to injury? The E2 Gift Shop is a great idea, if XP grew on trees. You destroy the simplest way of getting XP, then introduce a way to piss away XP like it's going out of style. A hundred XP for a C!? I have to sacrifice 20 writeups or 10 hard earned C!s to reward someone else? Not to mention the fact that you must be level 3 to buy a C! which is only a rung down the ladder from level 4 and free C!s in the first place.

Same goes for the Wheel of Surprise. Now I can blow the XP earned from a C! to . . . break even? What?

The icing on the cake is PiracyQuest 2007. A quest where your writeups will not be deleted, great. The floodgates have opened. Spending 7 C!s to reward someone who submitted a blank writeup? It wasn't that funny; just give it a C!. Then give the remaining C!s to the underlings. PiracyQuest was equivalent to whipping the horses furiously and then letting go of the reins.

You guys may not notice, but there are many more people active on E2 now than three months ago. Great, I'm happy for the community. I hope the newbies learn some stuff and stay around. I hope the elders enjoy the new generation. But don't cripple our user process in the name of. . . whatever the hell you call this.


Part of PiracyQuest 2007, nyah!

Look ma, no brains!




First of all, I'm impressed by the various responses from the gods. I appreciate your addressing my concerns. While I know E2 is not a BBS, I'd like to continue this discussion publicly between myself and the gods.

I am being slightly misunderstood as to what my complaints are about. I do not particularly care that the my personal XP bonus was removed for spending votes. I felt like the loss of the XP bonus was a loss of the incentive for people to vote. Voting is feedback! Trying to spend 20 votes a day forces you to seek out new material (if you skip logs and only vote when you feel something strongly deserves to be kicked up, or down, a notch). Even if it isn't a personal interest to you, a well written node is worth and upvote. We aren't blindly voting based on subject matter, remember?

As for the rate of XP kickback, or whatever you call it when you get +1 XP for voting, I searched for that material on E2 before posting my writeup. never found it, thanks for the numbers. But that still doesn't solve the problem of higher level users gaining truckloads of XP. I don't know the E2 code, but why not cap or cutoff the XP reward for dumping all your votes, based on level? Doesn't seem like that'd be a terrible effort and it would take away the greedy incentive of vote dumping while still encouraging other people to seek out material for voting. Consider "other people" to be those of lower levels who still benefit from the bonus of using all your votes. What if you cap the XP at 20? How many people are going to dump 100 or more votes a day for only 20 XP? It's an imaginary number, who cares? What's important is that the votes are feedback to the authors.

And a strong part of that feedback is the HONOR ROLL! That is why I said the road to higher levels has gotten longer. Good writeups are rewarded with upvotes and C!s. Writeups with great reputations help you move through the ranks via the Honor Roll. While you do need a certain amount of XP to advance through the ranks, it's harder to crank out nodes than gain XP (even now, with no vote dump bonus). Getting XP is not the problem; we want people to continue voting to help improve our users and reward our users. The voting bonus helps facilitate that feedback and reward system. My votes helped other people advance (a la Honor Roll) and improve their writeups(as a feedback tool). This is my biggest issue with the removal of the vote dump bonus.

Of course now I've gotten a lot more data on the issue, but I still want to ask the community at large, serfs and rulers, how this is working out. Can I get the vote numbers on the last six months of 2006? Will some people out there /msg me with their updated nodegel visualizations?

Update: I would actually like anyone with access to send me as many of the statistics as possible since mid 2006. I would really like to see the daily number of new writeups, daily votes, daily cools, daily users online. If there is anyway to pull up the E2 Stats from different days, please let me know. Check my homenode for additional contact info if you can contribute any of this information.

I know Mikebert sometimes posts things because he likes to be controversial, but I thought I would respond to the points he raised in his daylog, as these are legitimate concerns that other users may have, and so far there has not really been much explanation of the reasoning behind some of these changes, except perhaps in the catbox, which not all users pay attention to.

Eliminating the Vote-Dumping Bonus

I agree with Mikebert that low-level users such as himself probably almost never abused it. The problem was more with the high level users. As Mikebert himself points out, how are you possibly going to read 105 or 125 writeups in one day? And yet we know for a fact that many, many high level users were using all their votes just to get the bonus, and this inevitably meant that they were voting on things without actually reading them. We wanted to eliminate the incentive to blindly vote on writeups without reading them, in order to strengthen the feedback system and make it actual feedback. It is also important to note that in combination with the elimination of the vote-dumping bonus, we also increased the chance of getting XP from voting from 18% to 33%. Mikebert's personal experience may vary, but so far we have not seen much drop off in votes being cast, if any.

Time required to advance to higher levels

It is simply not true that "the road from level 2 to level 5, 6 or more got a lot longer." If you take a look at the actual numbers, the road just got a lot shorter, if anything! With the XP award for submitting a writeup increased from 1 XP to 5 XP, you can pretty much get to level 5 just on the XP from the writeups alone! This is before we even take into account XP from voting, positive rep, C!s, etc. For example, getting to level 5 currently requires 200 writeups and 1000 XP. If you could somehow just post the 200 writeups without getting any votes or C!s and never voting yourself, you would still get to level 5 automatically upon submission of the 200th writeup. And what is even more, so far we haven't upped the XP loss for having a writeup deleted from 1 XP, so even your failures will get rewarded with 4 XP!

The E2 Gift Shop and the Wheel of Surprise

The Gift Shop and the Wheel were primarily intended for higher level users who have tons of XP to spare. As described above, by the time a user gets to levels 3, 4, and 5, they are going to start having more XP than they know what to do with, so we wanted to give them something fun to do with it. We don't really intend newbies to be blowing all their hard-won XP on these just yet, which is precisely why you can't buy C!s until level 3.

Piracy Quest

As for the Piracy Quest, in a few weeks all of the crap will be gone and only the gems will remain. I think most people would agree that getting those gems is certainly worth putting up with a bit of crap for a few weeks.

For Mikebert

Here are the # of votes for every day in 2007.

1	691
2	1831
3	2289
4	2450
5	2559
6	3001
7	3303
8	3034
9	2609
10	2328
11	2469
12	2706
13	2569
14	2412
15	2231
16	1486
17	1762
18	2463
19	2276
20	2125
21	2242
22	2270
23	2122
24	2068
25	1825
26	1908
27	2798
28	2707
29	2013
30	2056
31	2244
1	900
2	1681
3	1801
4	2572
5	2549
6	1859
7	1892
8	2250
9	2399
10	2246
11	2367
12	3106
13	3653
14	3270
15	2815
16	2595
17	2796
18	2982
19	2702
20	2813
21	3131
22	3002
23	2992
24	3082
25	3543
26	3851
27	3162
28	3039
1	2651
2	4811
3	4075
4	4213
5	4627
6	4584
7	3959
8	3642
9	3777
10	3324
11	3372
12	4026
13	4001
14	3424
15	3475
16	4069
17	4657
18	4629
19	4512
20	4826
21	5182
22	5084
23	4351
24	3996
25	3804
26	3589
27	3679
28	3724
29	3772
30	3567
31	3057
1	1944
2	4221
3	4624
4	4617
5	3827

First, the basic math: the server officially was up and running at MSU on the 9th. Average daily number of votes before the switch: 2219 Average number since: 3651.

Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe I removed the vote dump bonus on March 20th. We didn't post it as a News item until the 23rd (though we did have it in the room topic.) Average # of votes from March 1st to the 22nd: 4132. Average # of votes from the 23rd to today: 3769. And if you remove April 1 (an outlier - most people who visit the site that day don't vote or post writeups), that average goes up to 3908. Less than a 5% decline. At best.

Sorry, very few people are no longer voting because of the no vote bonus. Many more people are voting because the site is so much faster.

Note to Level 3 users: if you cannot figure out how to spend 20 votes on this site in one day, you are not doing it right.

Note to Level 2 users: if you cannot figure out how to spend 10 votes on this site in one day, why did you become Level 2 in the first place? It's not like you have time for this site as it is.

Hey, mister driver man, don't be slow,
'Cause I've got somewhere I gotta go.
Hey, mister driver man, drive that thing fast;
My precious time keeps slipping past.

Violent Femmes, "Waiting for a bus"

I had an epiphany this morning on my way to work. I live downtown and work in the burbs, so at least my inside-out commute is less crowded than if it were the other way around. But sometimes it's frustrating. This morning (not for the first time) we stopped and sat outside a Tim's for a while while the driver went in and got himself a coffee. While we were all waiting for him to return to his seat, I had time to reflect, and I think I understand now what a whoopee cushion is for.

Let's call the mayor, let's complain:
Looks like the city's done it to us again.

ibid.

Then I got to work and spotted seven white-tailed deer grazing on the soccer field in the light dusting of early-April snow, and my resentment melted away.

Hi folks. To recycle an increasingly-tired node opening: some of you know I am currently training as an air traffic controller. I have already expounded on the trials of getting started, but until recently have said little on what has occurred since then.

Those few of you subjected to regular contact with me may have a vague inkling that I have had some problems; how vague I don't know, since I honestly can't remember who I've mentioned it to and in how much detail. As much as I love my job (seriously), I expect it doesn't float many people's boats. I try to avoid talking about it to 'normal' people unless I'm asked, soon after which the asker usually regrets that status. I watch with dismay their eyes glaze over within about a minute of the "so, what do you do?" question as I try to describe it and elucidate its draws for me.

The people who do not have this reaction are, funnily enough, a subset of people I love.

I realise my noding the subject doesn't quite tally with the above paragraphs, but it does with my general mission drive of demystification. Phew. Total existence negation subverted.

So, problems then.

ATC training with NATS Ltd begins with a 12-week 'Basic' course, at their college next to Bournemouth International Airport (it's the first building on the left when you go down the approach road to the terminal). The course begins with about five weeks of theory on such spiffing subjects as aviation law, meteorology, aircraft characteristics and recognition, navigation and a raft of smaller subjects. There are paper exams throughout, and virtually everything that is taught before they occur is examinable. More than that, a large chunk will go on to form a part of daily working life so it isn't a case of cramming to pass the exam then forgetting about it.

That isn't really a problem. Learn how to study and you're sorted. If I'd studied like that at University I'd have walked out with a First and still had time to blow my student loan on creative drinking two or three times a week. Here, I went to college, did the lessons, came home at five, studied until about nine or ten at night (with dinner in there somewhere), went to bed and repeated the same the following day. At least one day of the weekend was largely given over to studying, the other to watching DVDs or playing EVE Online.

In week six, practicals start. You start doing simulated ATC work. You work through several phases of exercises as the traffic levels, number of tasks and operating principles you have to work with stack up. An instructor sits with you for each 'run' and gives advice or comments on your controlling, writing up a report at the end with specific things you did well or need to improve for next time.

The 'formative' (practice) phase consists of some fifteen hours of simulated controlling. None of these exercises are assessed (though if you're consistently good or bad, people notice - students and instructors alike); they are simply there to develop some basic controlling skills and smooth out the uncertainties of this early stage of training. Some questions, if asked, seldom lead to anything bar further confusion but thankfully these are few and of debatable import.

Theory continues to be shovelled on while this is going on, albeit at a reduced rate to make room for sims.

At some point after the practicals start, all the paper exams happen. This was fine. I passed all of them first time (pass mark 70%) with respectable marks. I was somewhat chagrined to get 100% for the aircraft characteristics and recognition mock exam but 'only' 96.7% for the real one, but that's neither here nor there.

I remember feeling fine about things at this stage, the first time through. I will likely go into this further in a 'lesson writeup but the reports from the last of my formative exercises support this feeling fairly well. I was expecting to pass. I didn't think it would be with flying colours, but I thought it would be... okay.

This isn't to say those first three months went without a hitch; I was isolated geographically and financially from my colleagues, several of whom I'd become good friends with. This was unfortunate because when you're working so hard in such close proximity with people it's impossible to avoid getting close to at least some of them, and virtually everyone develops a set of close friends at work as the course progresses.

These are more than just 'work friends'.

Work is the main feature of your life at this point and for the most part, people that are ensconced in it with you are best able to understand how it makes you feel, and give meaningful support and encouragement. Unwinding with these people is important, but the opportunities I permitted myself to do so were rare.

I also had a problem with asking for help, though never thought I did. I didn't try hard enough to seek solutions to problems I was having with controlling, hoping and assuming they would iron out with practice. The course being as short as it is, it was unrealistic to think I had that kind of time.

*

Once the formatives are over, the 'summatives' follow in short order. They are five simulator exercises that you run to demonstrate understanding of the rules you are expected to follow, the flexibility needed to adapt to changing traffic situations, the ability to plan ahead and to execute those plans in a manner consistent with prescribed procedures. That means you say all the words right and don't break any rules. Your performance in these five exercises is used to assess you. Multiple exercises are used to get a reasonable average of your ability, rather than risk catching you on a good or bad day with a single exercise.

The only difference between these and the previous formative exercises is the 'exam conditions'. The traffic is no busier, there are no new procedures, but the instructor sitting with you is silent. They sit watching with an ominously pink report form and write comments as they watch you run the exercise. You sit at the simulator, run the exercise and try not to die.

Afterwards the instructor gives you a debriefing, similar to that which follows a formative exercise, only it is less of a discussion. The instructor may ask you about things you did during the exercise, perhaps to establish whether you understand related rules and procedures, or point out things you did wrong or (gasp) compliment things you did.

Once the debriefing is over you receive the completed summative report form. This contains the instructor's comments on how successfully you achieved twelve objectives (things like separation, communications technique, flight data presentation, vectoring and... well, about eight others). For each, on top of the instructor's comments you get one of four marks for each objective - 'fully achieved', 'mostly achieved', 'partly achieved' or 'not achieved'.

Fullys and mostlys good, partlys and nots bad.

My summatives did not go well. The first exercise garnered me a 'not' for creating about as dangerous a situation as two aircraft can get into without actually having an airmiss (flying directly at each other, just barely getting 1,000ft of vertical separation before losing five miles horizontal separation). That exercise probably torpedoed my confidence for the rest, as I went on to rack up 16 partlys and my first ever airmiss on the last exercise, which had gone splendidly up to that point (I didn't even notice the error happen).

I did say I'm out to inspire confidence.

I thought a pass was possible after this, but in honesty I thought it could go either way. The encouragement I received along the way from one person in particular has not been forgotten and I'm very grateful for it. You know who you are, or I hope you do. I'll make sure you do.

Results day, late September 2006, all of the course (50 or so) were gathered waiting for result envelopes to be handed out. We had been waiting for several hours so the initial, thickly pensive atmosphere had given way to bored fidgeting, larking about and, er, chess. Once the course manager finally arrived, silence descended again like an anvil. As the envelopes were passed around and opened, this did not change. There were gasps, sighs and murmurings.

Twenty-six people had failed, and I was one of them. I was floored by this, but initially not able to comprehend very much at all. The people who had passed were taken into another room for a conversation with the course manager, and I was later told by several of them (who may have been trying to make me feel better) that no-one was smiling in that meeting. All of them had one or more friends amongst our number. A 50% failure rate is... unusual.

*

I'm not going to go ad nauseum through the process that followed; suffice it to say I had to do a panel interview with some managers to convince them permitting me another attempt at the Basic course was worth it. That I had learned from my mistakes and had a strategy for overcoming them. I succeeded in said convincing. After about three months of waiting (during which I worked at the London Area Control Centre at Swanwick, Hampshire, which I heartily recommend you visit if given the opportunity) I restarted training in January this year.

The theory was a fairly pleasant experience this time through. We (there were several of us resitting) were frequently booted out of lessons by instructors who recognised us and excused us from attending. Unlike before I did not spend my weeknights studying; instead I caught up on reading, interweb mooching, flight simming and even the (gasp) occasional node. I passed all but one of the exams with a higher mark than previously, with a total revision for all subjects of about six hours.

Once the practical work started it initially came much more naturally and easily, but problems soon arose. About halfway through the formative phase quite a severe round of depression and tension hit me seemingly from nowhere (though I have had depression, on and off, for around ten years now). The isolation was (and is) still present but was bearing much harder for unknown reasons, otherwise manifesting itself in severe and repetitive mistakes, inability to concentrate properly while controlling or to relax outside of work. A lot of my formative forms had paraphrasings of 'you can do much better than this,' and I was generally feeling extremely low but unable to tell anyone.

Coupled with financial problems and other personal stuff it felt like an unrecoverable situation. A couple of nights saw me sobbing into either my pillow or the phone. The phrase "there's a difference between 'difficult' and 'debilitating'" sticks in my memory from one conversation with my parents. I didn't feel like I was capable of doing the job and didn't know who was 'with' me on my efforts. All of my family are very reserved and poor communicators (me included) so I still have only the vaguest idea what the view is of this venture of mine.

After speaking to my manager about all of this I considered suspending my training on health grounds. I went to my GP, who rather disappointingly offered me antidepressants after talking to me for all of five minutes. I didn't take them, or the beta blockers I came away with a prescription for. But, for reasons passing understanding, I gradually started to feel better and over the following weeks returned to a decent level of controlling aptitude.

Take-two of the summatives began on the 23rd and by this time I was feeling confident again. The difference was this time it was informed by extra experience and hindsight of my previous attempt, so it felt like justified confidence. However, I did feel like simplifying things a little: I dumped my laptop in my locker at work, bought an armful of books and started reading. It seemed to be beneficial one way or another, and I will be doing this more often.

Although I still, predictably and fairly reasonably, had some anxiety before each summative exercise, things concluded rather well overall. To recap: on attempt number one I totalled 16 partlys over all summatives. This time I got two, one each in two exercises, neither with safety implications and neither particularly serious, and not for the same thing. On attempt number one I only had one 'clean' run (in which all marks are fullys or mostlys) out of six; this time I had four and moreover, my two highest-graded exercises were my last two. The result for my very last exercise was eleven fullys and one mostly. Assessors like it if you show an upward trend, and it's great to finish on a high like that whatever the overall result is.

*

At the end of the interview which determined I would be allowed to retake this training, I was told it was not just a pass that was expected of me, but a good one.

Well, I got it. Today was results day. Again.

I passed.

I am out shortly to get off my face but before that, a little perspective: I am now approximately one-sixth of the way to becoming an air traffic controller. In a few days I start training for an Area Control Surveillance Rating, which will take a further six months, then I will be posted to an ATC unit and begin a further 12-18 months of on-the-job training, which I must complete satisfactorily before I can work alone. There are roughly a hojillion kabillion chances for me to fail between here and there.

But I'm not worrying about that tonight.

After nine months I've finally completed a course of training that should have been over after 12 weeks and am ready to start some 'real' work. This was the first year of Uni (which, funnily enough, I also sat twice): a hurdle to clear for admittance to the second year.

Once again I want to show my gratitude to those of you who have spoken words of kindness and encouragement over the last few months. I needed it and you gave it. I'm humbled. Thank you.

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