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the great flood

last summer we really got in the habit of letting the kids have "sister sleepover" in the basement every night, lazing around down there until who knows what time with their toys and movies.

this summer we don't have that basement.

same house! but in late may a bad week of rain took out Wichita. I have never seen so much water. Nobody has. everything flooded. the paths along the rivers were underwater, people showed videos of canoeing down their streets.

our basement had a solid 1-2 inches of water throughout. we bailed, we squeegeed, we rented a Rug Doctor for the carpeted kid room and were up until midnight sucking up all the water we could. I took a half day off work, we sent back to it with a borrowed shop vac and hit it again. we got things to an okay state. the carpet was just damp. we would survive.

two days later the rain started again and it all flooded again.

we couldn't figure out how the water kept getting to the carpet, where was it coming from, there were these weird spongy spots not even by a wall, how does that work? marc pulled up a part of carpet and we saw a half inch hold in the concrete floor spouting water 2" into the air - a constant fountain! is that what we're fighting? is it work the fight? ahhh!

we knew when we moved in that the basement carpet was... an interesting decision. who puts carpet in an old house basement? doesn't it get wet and mildewy? oh well, maybe someday we'll pull it out.

well that day marc got a damn box knife and said IT'S TIME and I agreed with him. we cut it all up into pieces and lugged it upstairs. paid a guy off craigslist $60 to haul it off for us. he was terrible, we had to load his trailer ourselves.

guess what was under the carpet?

asbestos tile. coming up in crumbles. we had it tested. marc spent an afternoon in a tyvek suit wearing a respirator trying to DIY remove it... it was a mess, he got nowhere, we were paranoid, every feeling we'd google and webmd said we were giving ourselves cancer.

so now we're waiting for professionals to schedule us in. I want it out.

I want it out because I don't just want to cover it up like the last people did. I want the floor to be even with the other basement room so we can squeegee it out if it floods again. I want a nice floor, like a cool epoxy.

we want our basement back!

but it will not happen yet. patience. just a summer with the kids not having their downstairs room, is what it's turned out to be.

I have a friend who bought an old school building. he said rather than owner, he wanted to be called the "custodian". What's a custodian? someone who takes something into their custody, to care for it, the school has had 100 years of care and he continues that story for the next 100 years.

that is my old house, I tell myself. take care. tell the next people - you have a good floor. it can be easily dried in case of a flood, that only happens every 10 years so you're basically in good shape. it's good shelter. it's been in our custody.

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june road trip

this past week was full of family adventures, I'm home sitting on my own couch finally and thrilled to be here! It was an awesome time though.

last saturday - drove six hours out to southeast missouri for our annual float trip around the merrimack river. we left too late. The week before I'd been drowning in a particular airplane and working too many hours, didn't get home until almost 8pm friday night. saturday morning we couldn't get hold of the family who was supposed to take our ferret for the week, and marc hadn't dropped the dog off at the kennel, so that all held our departure until "business hours" so to speak and we didn't arrive at camp until dinnertime. the kids missed afternoon swimming. it was a bummer.

sunday - forecast called for mega lightning/hailstorms so for the first time in the 20 years I've been going on this trip, they basically called off the rafting! We were told if we really wanted to go we could but a bus wouldn't be coming for our specific campsite because so few people wanted to go. We swam a little, but it really did rain hard all day, so we spent most of the time playing cards in the cabin. Then we did some scheduling and realized we could go rafting on monday and just depart afterwards.

monday - rafting! a beautiful, perfect day. got off the river by 2 because it was moving really fast this year, and drove to springfield mo. stayed the night with friends in springfield.

tuesday - saw the new springfield aquarium. friends helped us get in so we didn't have to buy the adult tickets that are $50 each (!) just the kids tickets - two kids were $36 after the AAA discount. it was huge, we were there for 2-3 hours and could have slowed down and taken four. I love jellyfish in tanks. drove to branson and stayed the night at the best western conference center.

wednesday - I give the branson best western a thumbs up, it was only $100 a night or something but had a great pool, free breakfast, shuttle to silver dollar city.

took the kids to silver dollar city. I've never been. they both went on their first roller coasters. Josie's first was the Time Traveler, a crazy idea where your cart spins around AS you speed across the track. she loved it but had to unglue her death grip hand to give marc a high five at the end. at 52" tall she could go on anything she wanted but was a little freaked out and chose to opt out of some scary stuff. olive was big enough to go on thundernation because she is 45" tall and you only have to be 42" to ride with a parent on that one. she freaked out and cried and took five minutes to calm down, and said she'd never go on a roller coaster again. then for days following she told everybody we met that she went on an awesome big roller coaster, transforming her story into braver versions every time. but we decided to support her playing it cool and not add any of our WE WERE THERE details.

they closed the big rides around 4pm due to lightning in the area. that sucked. we watched a juggler show, and later got to go on some little rides, but overall lost a ton of time. park closed at 7pm which is a real cock. we didn't get to go on the powderkeg or wildfire, when these kind of issues happen my cheap engineer brain starts doing the math on the $250 we spent on tickets and how much was lost due to weather.

I went on outlaw run with josie. it was fun but I don't love getting my brain shaken around in my head anymore and my neck gets sore.

wednesday night - stayed a second night at the hotel.

thursday - got up and hit the road. stopped at Big Brutus in mineral water, kansas. it is THE tourist attraction if you're ever in southeast kansas, people. one of the world's largest electrically-powered shovels, brought to the area in the late 60s for strip mining and left there forever for families to walk around in. tickets for the whole family: $26. arrived home.

friday - went to kansas city to spend the night with my parents so marc and I could see Jackie Kashian at the comedy club. she is one of my favorite podcast hosts and doesn't come to the midwest much so I refused to miss it!

saturday - back home. went to a birthday party. josie is spending the night. with her girl scout camp earlier this month and our travels, she's spent two nights at our house since father's day. that's a way to make the summer blow past.

schedule for this week is a lot of NOTHING and we're pretty excited.

stock market

Found out that my old scottrade account, now TD Ameritrade, was still open. I had $616.41 sitting in it.

I swore off stock trading when my shares of AMD plummeted and KIDBQ went bankrupt.

I thought about just getting the money back and putting it in my credit union where I can get 2% return on a CD, but figured hell... I put that money in the stock market, why not keep the gambling alive? I bought 3 shares of the NASDAQ index fund QQQ for 175.94 each. My goal is to forget about it for five years.

I would still warn any 25 year old that it is not a good idea to move a bunch of money into stock trading just to feel grown up.

I didn't do that bad. I put in $1500, had some winners and losers, at one point decided I hated it and asked for an $800 check back. So I should have $700 remaining. I do not - I officially lost $84 in this venture.

Unless you consider that if I'd put the $1500 in the 2% credit union CDs when I was 25, I'd have $2000 now.

eh what's money right? You can't take it with you.

things your supervisor should do

A mentor told me that when problems come up, sometimes the best thing I can do is NOT try to solve them. It's to engage the team. The best response is always the question: what can we do to solve this problem?

Which leads me to a short list I'm starting... things a good leader should vs. shouldn't do:

Your supervisor should:
1) Clear obstacles that keep you from improving your company and/or products
2) Plant the flag on the hill so everyone shares the same long term strategy that contributes to larger organizational goals
3) Contribute problem-solving ideas when you're stuck, just like everyone else on the team

Your supervisor should not:
1) Solve all your problems
2) Tell you what to do every day
3) Be the bottleneck that holds everyone up

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meeting irl pro tip

I have a life advice.

I had a lady from a local group who wanted to meet me at the makerspace I lead to check the place out. I was happy to meet her, I said sure I'm not doing anything Wednesday, how about 7? Awesome! We email confirmed and all was well.

Wednesday I get off work and head there but check my makerspace email really quick to see if anything had changed, and OMG, I had a dozen emails from her because SHE THOUGHT I MEANT 7AM! Where are you, I'm here, it's cold and dark outside, there's no one to let me in, I guess we have to reschedule, etc etc etc.

Okay, I have two life advices. First, never assume the AM/PM thing.

Second, if you are meeting someone in the real world, be sure to exchange all best forms of contacting you directly? We can email all day, but it's time to exchange cell phone numbers! Anything can happen - cancellation, flat tire, confusion over the time (obvs). Under the context of "if anything comes up", give out your cell phone. Or some other form of contact that you know can really get your attention.

We were actually not able to reschedule. I think she was very unhappy.

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Denver trip

My sister and I escaped our great state for Mother's Day this year. We'd talked about doing something fun together and that weekend just worked out, we joked that it was our mother's day gift to ourselves to leave our children behind! It was a good trip.

Drove from our perspective homes in Wichita/Topeka and met at the Salina airport, where we abandoned a car (free parking!) and combined resources to drive the rest of the way to Denver. Thanks, Salina!

Stayed downtown. Parking was hella expensive, $18 a day! and kind of questionable on processes (can I leave my car here all night or not?) but it worked out. I ended up paying the quoted prices. Cool.

We got tickets to see Wicked because it's my favorite musical ever, everything a musical should be, that's why Denver was our choice that weekend. But we could duplicate most of our other favorite activities at any city. Walking in parks, shopping and gallery districts. Eating pizza and sushi. Went to the art museum. Did not get to tour the denver mint, the tours booked up too early so that was a surprise, but it wasn't high enough on our priority list to REALLY try to go so we shrugged and didn't care too much about missing it.

I've heard that the drive across Kansas is awful but maybe I'm too much of a native here, I loved it. It was eight hours to talk with my sister and listen to podcasts while speeding past wind farms and stopping at tiny yelp-recommended diners in small but proud hipster towns. Hays actually seems really cool. Truck stops everywhere are so weird and great.

Bizarre road trip tradition: I've re-listened to the Last Podcast on the Left episodes about the Donner Party like three times now on long trips. It's funny every time, morbidly educational, and makes anything on your travels seem like absolutely no big deal at all.

We stayed three nights. Settle in night, musical night, and last night in town - I think it'd be fun to get comedy show tickets or something for the last night if we do that again, we kinda thought about little local theater but it was a monday night and there's not much going on. We had planned a lot of downtime to relax, read, sleep in, go hot tubbing and eat free huge breakfasts at our hotel, and that all got to happen! So overall, trip success.

a friendly note to myself about alcohol

dammit I am too old to drink, I guess. I hate feeling like crap the next day or making myself sick.

If I'm at a normal function where people are drinking, like out with coworkers or dinner with family, I can have one alcoholic beverage.

If I'm at an unusually fun event, like a big fun party with people hanging out chatting around campfires and I have a ride home, I can have two alcoholic beverages.

There is no reason to ever have three, okay! Three is no fun, and makes me lose track!

how to troubleshoot: discipline vs. knack

Troubleshooting is a beautiful art.

One professor in college said it "could not be taught", that you were either born with "the knack" or you weren't - there's a related dilbert cartoon. But once I started engineering I realized that there are definitely techniques that not only can be taught, but SHOULD and AREN'T, and if you think troubleshooting is something genetic you might be a STEM gatekeeper.

The other thing I've realized is that technical troubleshooting is closely related to the old fashioned Scientific Method we used to have on posters in our elementary school classroom. When did engineers decide we were "practical" and therefore not scientists? There are a few versions of the method, but most go along the lines of:

1) State the problem
2) Do your research
3) Hypothesize
4) Experiment
5) Analyze
6) Write down your results

In my engineering life, these translate really well to...

1) State the problem. Yes, that, you'd be surprised how often we don't get a good description of the problem, an airplane lands and the pilot gets off and says "this autopilot sucks". That is not a good problem statement. "We were flying along straight and level and suddenly the autopilot pitched us straight down at the ground, spun us into a barrel roll then disconnected and called us names" gives us something to work with.

2) Do your research. When I'm overwhelmed my favorite thing is just to start printing stuff out. Someone says there's an issue with a weird part I've never heard of? print the spec sheet. print the wire diagram and get out my colored pencils. History can be an extremely important part of research. When did this problem start happening? What changed? These are especially important when chasing down intermittent issues, the dreaded "could not duplicate" that keep us awake weeks after the event.

I have a silly step 2a during this phase and that's "stay hydrated". I realize this does not sound technical at all but really it only takes a second and the benefits of drinking water help with so many other things, you're dooming yourself if you can't channel the necessary mental energy into a task for some silly physical reason.

3) Hypothesize/experiment/analyze - these can go pretty quickly together in troubleshooting. Research gives you your hypothesis... you don't think about ways a system can work, you read the way the system SHALL work. Then you can experiment. My favorite metaphor is the joke artists make, that to carve an elephant you start with a big slab of marble and chip away everything that's not an elephant. In troubleshooting, you find little parts of the system that are working, and eventually get yourself to the bit that's not working.

Of course in engineering we do have some trusty go-to experiments:
3a) Make sure everything is plugged in
3b) Try turning it off and then back on again
3c) "Percussive maintenance"

4) WRITE YOUR SHIT DOWN OMG! Engineering schools and math classes try to get students to show their work but it's never enough. Write down the exact results! Not "the resistance was within tolerance" but EXACTLY what it was, in ohms, in a table, forever. Then I knew you checked it. A lot of troubleshooting is done in teams where we want to trust each other but we've all learned from experience to never trust anyone. "Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear," said a favorite specialist I work with.

I'd like to add another important last step... accept your paths. Never beat yourself up. If an issue took four days to solve, be happy it didn't take eight. Even if it's a tiny "obvious" silly thing, and it frequently is, and those are the ones where we feel the worst. At the end of the day the important thing is whether you learned something new, stuck to the problem and found the answer.

I am convinced now that a "technical person" is not someone with the right genes, just perseverance. We find a starting point even if we've already found 500 starting points that didn't work. Our job is to never run out of ideas. We don't freeze up. When things go badly we can try another approach, take a break, or ask for help. The best "troubleshooters" do not have a divine power to lay their hands on a machine and heal it. They know a LOT, so they don't have to spend as much time doing research to understand expected results we should get from expected inputs, and that's great. Maybe they've got a bank in their head of past issues, and that's great too. But we can all get there.

Be thoughtful. Ask questions.

(Stay hydrated!)

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josie's room

I don't remember when we re-arranged our house for the girls to have separate rooms but it was within the last year. Josie was sick of her little sister pestering her. I asked around a little, adults in the world who shared rooms with their siblings and how were your sweet bonding sister memories? But most people told me that sharing a room sucks. So off we went to move rooms. I gave up my sewing room so it could be a guest room and Josie moved out of Olive's room.

So now instead of the girls fighting over everything I just hear josie yelling OLIVE GET OUT OF MY ROOM. got that going for us.

well nah there's some harmony. and the other thing I have to say is I just love josie's room. it makes me happy just walking by it, all the cute little girl stuff. she tries to keep it relatively clean. there's a jewelry tree of hair bows. a book shelf full of colorful chapter books dominated by roald dahl and beverly cleary. her desk and colored pencils, a wall covered in her drawings, a unicorn box she colored herself, a box of carefully selected barbies, a million other little creations.

It made me think about when we first moved into the house that was the room we set up as a nursery. we filled it with glow in the dark stars and hung up space alien curtains, put up a little crib and had a rocking chair. I was worried about what motherhood would be like and trying not to get sucked into new baby gushiness, but no warm blooded human can walk by a sweet baby nursery and not feel a little warm smile come on.

then you have the baby, your life goes to hell, your world is spitrags and old milk and diaper blowouts and nine million products you'd never heard of. then the toddler trashes everything. the toys are everywhere. you love your sleeping child but their room always looks like something that an actual tornado would improve on. there is no sweet organized bookshelf.

nine years in, we are coming back around. it gets better, parents! josie cleans her own room when she has time. she puts her trash in the wastebasket. hangs up pictures on the wall with tape instead of using the tape to randomly cover an entire table surface because it's there. she drapes her cute hoodie on her purple chair and chooses 2-4 stuffed animals to set up on her bed. creates beautiful things. it's reminding me of my favorite things about my room when I was a kid, when everything was glowing and colorful and handmade, and it's so nice to walk by.

six years old

Little olive turns six this month. She's nuts. Sometimes when I'm having a hard day I remember well, at least I'm not a kindergarten teacher.

She loves to play games but can't play pictionary. She wants to play with us. One of us will read the card, then show it to her and whisper the word in case she isn't sure of it. Like, her word will be "fish". Then she'll start drawing grass, trees, houses, a whole picture, and the guessing person is stumped and the assistant reader is looking helpless. The timer runs out and we're like "Olive what the heck was your word?" She says "I forgot!" but is so proud of her picture we just shrug and move on to the next person.

I told Josie her school photos were nice this year, Olive piped up with "WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE MINE!"

She picked up the habit of saying "I'm good!" instead of no. I think this is from marc but she does it all the time. Olive, want to talk to grandma on the phone? Want to eat the rest of your lunch? Want to get dressed? "I'm good!"

Every evening she reads me a book, our favorites are Dr Seuss or Mo Willems. Then we "talk about our day" - she's a lot more of an external thinker than Josie. Sometimes she talks about school, recently they have caterpillars in the classroom turning into butterflies. They are named Flower, Shirley, and Bill.

She asks a lot of questions about how the world works. The other night we talked about my job, she asked how I found a job, do you go to work with your parents after you get done with school? I said no, I talked to lots of companies, places that build computers or power plants or phones. She amazed that I'd met people who make phones, those are real SCIENTISTS. She is fascinated by scientists. I showed her the new photo of the black hole, but have to keep explaining that we can't go to a black hole because we'd be squished. She just took that to mean she'd be a tiny version of herself, which sounded great, and started a whole new host of stories about what tiny Olive would accomplish.

She's awfully cute.
I've been getting audio books on cd from my public library, and that's why I picked this book - it was on the shelf. Not every book is good enough to be an audio book. My library only has a few shelves of audio books on CD, but hundreds of rows of real books. So I figure if it's made that shelf, it's pretty good, right? I've had mixed results with this philosophy but it really worked for this book, it's amazing and I am so glad I read it. I was worried it'd be religious, but really it's a deep dive into how our decision-making skills have evolved.

The author starts out talking about his research around "morally dumbfounding" situations... studies where they'd make up weird stories where there's no victim, but we think they're wrong anyway. Incest, necrophilia, cutting up an american flag to clean your bathroom... you're not hurting anybody right? But we all have an immediate NOPE kind of reaction, then we try to justify why it's wrong or why there could be a victim, but there really is not.

He goes on to put "morals" into six categories of things that are important to us:

1) Caring for each other
2) Liberty
3) Fairness
4) Loyalty
5) Respect for authority
6) Sanctity

Then he describes the rider/elephant metaphor I've read about in change management books to describe how our minds work. We are driven like an elephant that knows what he wants, goes forward, provides energy and direction. Our "elephants" have riders, who are logical, forward-thinking, ask questions and love to hear the details. Elephants can make bad decisions (I feel like eating this whole carton of ice cream). Riders can get too tied up in details to make a decision already.

Morality is ingrained in us. It's how we evolved. The humans that survived for tens of thousands of years were the best at turning resources into offspring. They worked together as groups. In many cases they were religious... religion is a very effective way to get people to sacrifice things for a group without asking a ton of questions. It can also blind us, make us racist or judgmental, to trust our gut too much... but that's what we have to decide as a society. How can we keep using our moral instincts that got us this far and keep us almost on the right track all the time, but change where change is needed? How can a citizens of a small town trust each other enough to leave their cars unlocked, but not make life miserable for the new family who moved in? How can we let a religious leader talk us all into feeding the homeless, but not into abusing our children?

One thing is for sure, if you're going to make any appeal to people, it has to be on a moral, emotional, gut feeling level. Major change doesn't happen with spreadsheets, as much as I love them, it happens with stories. Togetherness. People who are close to us. When we disagree on big issues like health care or climate change, we can't just throw facts at the other side, and we also have to find it in ourselves to understand the facts they're trying to throw at us. Our verbal abilities evolved so we could level-set with each other on morality. The bigger our world gets, the further apart we are and the harder it is to listen.

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inbox zero

Oh my gosh I get so much more email now that I'm in customer service.

I got a lot before... I never kept track of how many, but I'd count my sent items: I used to send about 20 emails a day. That was in engineering land, and I thought I emailed a lot, but most of my "work" was writing reports, talking to people, visiting the airplane I was working on that was within a mile of my desk, if not 100 feet.

Missing an email wasn't that big a deal. I mean it was, sort of, but the consequences were minimal... someone would be calling or visiting you.

Responding to an email or not wasn't always a life changing thing. Since we all knew what we were doing, working on the same big project, you could safely ignore your inbox for a bit until it was time to go looking for information you *needed*. You weren't going to be emailed some huge new assignment, if you were it was usually pre-addressed in a staff meeting... "all the reports are being assigned this week, look for the email". Heck, if you replied too fast to an email, people would think you weren't busy enough. What do you do all day, sit there and wait for a new email to show up? You need more assignments!

Customer service is a whole new ball game because my assignments really do come from the air at a rate of a zillion a day or something, and it got very complicated to keep up with. I used my normal system for a while... read emails as they come in, keep the important ones in my head. Then I learned that outlook has an "unread" filter and that got important. Then I started making folders for the big deal customers and active projects, combined with a status report I kept going that helped people (and me) know what I'd made into a folder. Even THAT didn't cut it.

So my latest thing I'm trying, and I think it's helping a ton... INBOX ZERO.

Leave nothing in your inbox. Decide what to do with everything, and if possible, do it immediately. Now as soon as I read an email it either gets...

1) archived. As in, this requires no response from me, but I'd like it around for reference just for 90 days or so.
2) deleted. Usually just the really simple stuff like someone saying "thanks!"
3) thrown in a project folder, with my status sheet updated correctly to keep me from forgetting about it.
4) and rarely, added to "follow up", which is really just a folder of pretty low priority stuff that can wait until Friday. I try to take some time to go visit it but it's also things that will not cause the world to blow up if I can't get to them this week.

It's rough. I was in training for a few days this week and got behind, so Friday when I left work I had something like 200 emails in my inbox. I sorted by subject line and attacked it all over the weekend. Now I'm at zero again, but it won't last long.

The thing I know though is that I won't miss email, and it's gotten me better at making a decision and replying quickly to requests.

how to not buy anything

the quest to avoid credit card debt continues. we paid it off in march with the help of tax refunds and extras, plus lack of spending. If we spend less than what we make, the balance goes down. now we have to see if we can keep it that way.

I've been reading some good posts about "buy nothing" initiatives, I've bought some things these past months but it's been a lot less, mostly by making little rules for myself:

1) Look for a used version first. I was so dead sick of airing up my tires at gas stations and had a $50 air compressor in my amazon cart, totally justified... then remembered to check facebook marketplace. $15 on the south side of town later and I had a used compressor that worked great!

2) No impulse online purchases. Something has to be in my cart for at least 24 hours before ordering.

3) I told Marc about everything I wanted to buy. I realize I am an empowered woman who earns my own way in the world, but when you realize you have to justify your purchase to another person, who's ALSO trying not to spend, who knows your financial goals, you spend differently! I really think an unmarried person could duplicate this with a good friend as an accountability partner.

4) Space out purchases. I only order from amazon once a month, and spend the rest of the month adding and removing stuff from my cart. If I go to Target or another retail store it's also a very slow, methodical process... think about it for a week, have my list, buy my thing, then don't go to a store again for two weeks.

5) Track every credit card purchase and stare at the balance every day. Have a goal.

6) update lj once a month with how you're doing :) this place has always been good for turning things over in my mind, keeping them in my head, holding myself accountable to you internet friends who have no real power over me but somehow, I care what you think! and you have good ideas. thanks, lj!
I've been slogging through "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations" by Thomas L. Friedman... I think I'm going to throw it to the side unfinished.

It's just going on and on about how great technology is because the world is changing so fast, we are instantly connected to each other, data transmission and storage has gone so much faster. Moore's law, github, open source, semi-conductors, intel, 3G, 4G, 8G whatever, and now we can add sensors to create the internet of things and track the exact time we should fertilize cows so nobody has to think anymore because machines will do all the work and the world is awesome!

I still think back a lot on this coffee maker we bought about a year ago. We splurged on a "nice" new coffee maker. About three weeks after we bought it I went to make coffee and couldn't... it wouldn't drip, it just went BEEP BEEP BEEP and a light went on that said it had to be cleaned. So I googled and followed instructions to clean it and inserted a new filter but nothing worked. It still said it had to be cleaned.

When you want coffee, and all you get is a machine going BEEP BEEP BEEP, you start thinking about murder.

So we returned it and bought the simplest coffee maker we could find, with just a single on off switch, and kept our camping french press out for backup.

If the world is so amazing, why is it sometimes so awful?

My liberal friends would say it's fucking capitalism, giving companies the incentive to push out disposable crap. I returned that coffee maker. It may very well have gone straight to the landfill. Those same liberal friends would say that the mark of good technology is free time, if the world was really progressing we'd all be down to 20 hour work weeks. We're not thinking about people enough.

My mechanic friends, who happen to be conservatives, would say it's idiots. Some idiots think we can use computers that nobody understands to enable any idiot to make coffee, but since the designers are idiots too, the coffee maker is shit. Good technology is only achievable when we listen to experts and users, run tests, and hear people out when they're frustrated. Embrace our human side and quit taking shortcuts! Oddly enough, they'd also say we're not thinking about people enough.

Maybe I should have been more persistent, talked to the company who made my coffee maker (I can't even remember it now) and ask them what they thought of the bad reviews. Or maybe I should never have bought it in the first place. I do know that moore's law and putting chips in everything and making the world "smart" has sometimes made it worse. Use your power for good, or for evil. Like all power.

Dog walking

Confession: I am a lazy person who didn't walk my dog for months because it was cold and I was grumpy.

But now it's time to get BOTH of us back in shape so I've been getting up every morning and hitting the streets. Judy is totally excited to greet me in the morning these days, tail wagging tappy happiness if you grab for a leash. We go about a mile, I'd like to jog most of it but here's the problem: she stops. Just stops dead in the middle of the street and refuses to go. I'm thinking she's right beside me and then feel a jerk and realize she's planted all four feet again and it is SO ANNOYING.

Possible reasons:
She's more likely to stop if I'm running, maybe I'm running too fast.

She's more likely to stop if we're starting down a street, and might start again if we change course. Maybe she's scared of dark streets or just hates certain streets.

Maybe she wants to smell something. I let her have some smelling time, but if it was up to her we would never make it home. I try to walk in the middle of the street instead of right by the edge so there aren't as many tempting things.

Maybe she's got some business to take care of. Not usually. With my dog 90% of the time she's sniffing just to sniff.

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annual reviews

There's all this news lately about big companies ditching their annual review systems because employees don't like being scored, it's demeaning.

We have an annual review system. We score people. Nobody likes it.

But I'm not sure how else to do it. Once a year, I am told what my raise budget is, I sit down and figure how how much everybody gets as a raise. I bet if I asked my employees, "Should you all just get the same percentage?" they would say no. Every year I have some people who really work their butts off, a crisis comes down to them and we depend on them and they save us. I want to give them a smidge more. Or maybe we get somebody transferring in from another department and I think that person doesn't make enough, so I want him to get more. Or maybe there's a new guy and he's awesome and I know we've been losing newer guys to other companies a lot lately (happens everywhere - it's easier for them to move) so I want to give him a little more so he knows he is valued, and a little more makes a big difference to him since he's new and not earning a ton.

Since I'm on a budget that means another guy has to get a little below average. The difference isn't even crazy, it's just not as much as somebody else. So what do I tell him? Here's your secret raise, we don't have annual reviews so I'm not going to tell you what you COULD do better to get more money next year, you're not allowed to talk salaries with your coworkers so you don't know it's low, we'll just let you coast until the economy turns down then we'll lay you off, isn't that nice of us?

Yes it's competitive. The world is competitive. We compete to have better products than anybody else - the fastest, safest, most reliable, better better better than the other guy. So for my employee to say "don't compare me to anyone, that's not nice!" well hell, sorry man. I can't help it.

Also, as an engineer I have worked for plenty of bosses who couldn't be bothered to help me improve. That annual review forced their hand. We had to talk about it, I had to ask questions. It was a drumbeat. Yeah maybe HR forced us into it, but I was happy.

So that's my debate. Whenever a raise happens, people want to know the thinking behind it. That happens once a year.

So I guess the next question is could I give out raises randomly thoughout the year whenever I thought of it? I still feel like I'd get to the end of the year, see what's left of my budget, see who didn't get as much, and do a "look at the whole year" thing. Sounds a lot like an annual review... except an annual review that I do in my own head without telling anybody about it. UGH.

What would be the perfect system? Really?

the newest

Dear world: If you have folders where you're storing files, either electronically or in real life, and sometimes there are new versions of those files, make an "archive" folder to keep the old files around.

Do NOT make a "new stuff" folder, or name a file "NEWEST".

It won't be the newest forever. It might not be the newest now! You never really know what's the newest.

You do know what the older or out of date items are. Once something is old, you know it's old, forever. Things that are old don't become new. You can safely label them old and not worry about your old label being out of date.

So label what's old because it's easy to label, then you'll be safe to assume that the items that are not old are new.

Labels that say "new" are not trustworthy. Don't use them.

experts

There's a deep and conflicting divide at my company on the topic of "versatility vs. expertise" that I am right in the middle of. Which side should we err towards? How do we strike balance? How do we respect each other?

I'm going to go ahead and say that in my career I've been a mover, but I frequently wish I was an expert. Here are the sides as I see them:

The experts:
- I've been doing this same job for 20 years
- I have memorized our product and every part number on it
- Your training manuals are already out of date, the only way to learn is through gradual experience
- I can give you answers really fast
- Hey new kid. Here's a manual to read, call me in six months and maybe you can start watching without getting in my way
- There's a new product? Have the guy who designed it answer the questions, not me

The movers:
- I've done a different job every six months
- Hey new kid, here's a crazy new thing we need designed, it's all yours sink or swim
- Can we write something down or develop a system so we don't have to memorize numbers?
- I need to ask for help all the freaking time
- I can get you an answer eventually using my network and resources
- Did we have this problem 15 years ago? Who knows, let's re-do the research and re-invent the wheel

True story: I joined a group with lots of experts once a few years ago. They'd hired an intern to draw things up in a new system. The intern knew the software, but the experienced people knew the products, so they'd print out the drawing, mark up what needed changed with red pen, and hand it to the intern. One day I got a call from the factory about an issue. I was new to the team, so I grabbed the intern to come with me to the floor. He'd been there for 18 months and said "This is cool, I've never gotten to visit the technicians!"

I was SHOCKED because I was raised differently. First, nobody ever marked up a drawing for me to correct. They'd keep it vague... "this terrain system needs two GPS sources" and let me figure out the details.

Second, I was told to practically live in the factory because that's where you learn. Never pass up an excuse to visit the floor. Any hint that a tech wants to talk with you, go, because they teach you things.

Third, I was upset that these experts didn't want to learn the new drawing system. My intern had to basically be their secretary, so he didn't have time to grow and learn and become a real engineer.

On the other hand I'm now in a different roll that's very customer facing and I'm getting asked questions about things I did not design and am trying to learn as fast as I can, and there are so many times I'm stumped. I am depending on my team members who've been in the same place for 20 years. Whenever a big crazy million dollar question or issue comes up, THEY'RE the ones who save our asses. And I worry that we can't grow our experts if all we have are movers.

We need versatility... somebody in the company has to have jumped around and worked on lots and lots of products, have lots of connections, and a toolbox that is wide instead of deep. But when crunch time comes up we need to trust the people who've focused and remember the evolution of specific products. We need to respect them. We also need to convince them to write something down every once in a while. We need to know when to urge them to learn a different thing or use their expertise on a new program, but also know when their old group needs them to stay because there's too many new guys in there making mistakes with no expert around to guide them.

There has to be a balance.

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Ah, the WBC. I've seen them in protests plenty of times when I was a gay rights activist and they had me just totally confused, then I started just shaking my head and adding them to the tally of statewide embarrassments that us Kansans wish would go away. A lot of us think they're a money-making scheme. They're lawyers, if you punch them they sue you, step 3 profit. And you really want to punch them.

There are plenty of former WBC members who've left the church, at least four of Fred Phelps' 13 children have left; Nathan Phelps is a well-known gay rights activist. Lauren Drain's book "Banished" was recommended to me and I was curious just HOW you get out of a nutball cult. Once I got into it I could not put it down. It's part material that you could do a comedy routine with because the church is so random in the things it hates... like Sweden, and haircuts, and every other church ever. They even started fights with other anti-gay churches. Religiously speaking they're calvinists, who believe God has chosen a few (very few) people who might get into heaven if they repent and spread his word, and his word is that he hates everyone else and they're going to hell. The purpose of the picketing isn't even to save people... they really just want everyone in America to know that God hates us and we're all going to hell. Just passing the information along, have a nice day.

Poor Lauren Drain was 14 years old when her father, who'd always been a bit confusing, controlling, over-confident and kind of weird, met the church doing documentary work and for some reason liked their ideas. I think he was attracted to the idea that they had all the answers. ALL OF THEM. Nobody questioned anything once Fred Phelps declared it. Lauren's father caught her talking to boys online and maybe having a boyfriend and was sure she was heading for a life of sin and hell, so after a trial period of strict rules and homeschool isolation, he moved the whole family to Topeka to join the Westboro Baptists.

Lauren wanted to fit in and get back in the good graces of her family so she studied the scriptures and joined the protests. She didn't want to go to hell. But no matter what she did it was never good enough, the church never really trusted her. She was the same age as some of the phelps grandkids, Megan Phelps' generation, but she had to dress a lot more modestly than them and ask fewer questions. Everything they did was loaded in hypocrisy and inconsistencies and it bugged Lauren. They were certain they knew exactly how and when the world would end, she'd find something in the bible contradictory, they'd say it was her lustful rebellious soul showing through again.

The reason the phelps grandkids existed was because the phelps children were allowed to marry outsiders who promised to join the church, but this was deemed unacceptable for the grandchildren's generation, they were told that marriage was unnecessary because the end of the world was just around the corner, and nobody outside was good enough for them. Lauren was well into her 20s, working as a nurse and corresponding with people who sent the church questions like she was supposed to do, and they decided she'd sent too many emails to a guy her age when they'd made it very clear she cannot ever get married or talk to boys, so they voted her out. She was extremely upset, begging to come back, had panic attacks thinking God was trying to kill her and send her to hell because the hottest part was for former church members. Other church members of the phelps family had kids out of wedlock, Lauren hadn't done anything but they were so suspicious and hateful that she had to go. Her family disowned her, took down all the photos and refused to speak to her, left her at a Topeka motel and said she'd made her choice. This was her father, mother, younger sister by a few years, and baby sister and brother who she'd helped raise.

That's when the story gets away from being a comedy and you realize it's just so sad. She had her teenage years stolen from her, and then her family. Then she lived for years thinking she was an awful whore (they called her that a lot) who was going to hell. Then she slowly, very slowly, started to realize they were very wrong about their biblical interpretations and she was going to be okay. She moved far away and survived. She apologized to the people she'd hurt by picketing, joined the NOH8 campaign, and wrote this book.

It reminds me a lot of what the no longer quivering blog calls spiritual abuse. Subjecting people to horrible situations and reminding them that God wants this so it can't be questioned. Women especially are told they don't deserve power in these fundamentalist churches, that they tempt men, that they must be silent, and after years of brainwashing they're so certain that leaving means eternal damnation that they can't leave. Some of them do leave and their stories come out, but we haven't figured out how to get the rest out, and whatever years and relationships are stolen from them can't ever be replaced.

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Many years ago I was certain that I was an introvert. I didn't have many friends, wasn't much into getting out and socializing, liked spending time alone. Being around my husband solidified the idea... Marc is definitely an extrovert. I've known him for almost 15 years now and he's never once said he needed "time to himself". if I take the kids to the park and he has the house to himself, he doesn't see that as any kind of treat.

But I work with engineers, and the bar is at a different place there. Compared to other engineers I am the butterfly cheerleader, running around talking to people all day, doing presentations, training, mentoring, and choosing a desk out in the open to work at because my manager-rank office is boring and makes me feel isolated. Teamwork gets us to the finish line, above all things, I'm always saying. I don't care if you can design the greatest airplane in your head, if you can't convince the FAA it's safe we'll never build it. So get yourself some people skills, collaborate and bring everyone along with you, always!

I read this book "Quiet" and it was an amazing look at the world and our personality types. The spectrum between introversion and extroversion has all kinds of people along it. The trait has a lot to do with how much stimulation a person needs. Every human on the planet is looking for a sweet spot where they're not bored, but not overwhelmed. The balance falls at different places for all of us. They've even tested babies, at four months the babies with strong negative reactions to stimulation grew into kids and adults who needed time away from the hectic social world to recharge.

It's only someone related to shyness, a fear-based trait. Barely related to our ability to switch "modes" based on what other people want... there are introverts who can put on a show, be amazing presenters, work a room, but you'll find them hiding in the bathroom exhausted when it's all said and done. I think I am like that. I change my communication a lot based on who I'm talking to. You talk fast, I talk fast. You're from the south, I can throw in a "y'all".

The differences are great but in recent years western culture has been under-appreciating the talents of introverts. Being an introvert, being comfortable working by yourself, is great if you want to be an expert on some topic. Musicians who practice alone can go right to the part they're personally struggling with to work on it, then re-join their symphony with their part down pat. But in our team-oriented, take-a-stance, speak up culture we miss that. If you took your kid to a busy summer bbq and she hid in a corner chair reading a book, you'd have people ask what's wrong with your kid, shouldn't she be running and yelling? In eastern cultures everybody would tell you she's the best kid ever, smart and hardworking. There are even parents in the US who seek to treat kids who are quiet and enjoy building models in their bedrooms for hours... but they're not broken. They're just introverts.

Our business schools tell us that great leaders take a stand, command the room, and speak up. Learning confidence is more important than learning to ask the right questions or take the time you need to make the right decision. We're told that negotiating is all about forcefully convincing someone you're right... even though in practice, silence and listening can go a very long way.

I've SAID to employees that there's no point in doing a critical analysis if you can't present to upper management on it. I've judged people who eat lunch alone. This book made me realize though that if I like giving presentations, I can do the report out on their analysis. Isn't that a better way to advocate for teamwork? And I need to treasure the introvert side of myself, still. When I was a kid I'd tunnel into my room for hours to work on my little projects, I still enjoy quiet hobbies and crafts, and this book reminded me how healthy those hours are.

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