planet

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.
planet

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.
planet

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.
planet

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
planet

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.
planet

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.
planet

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!
planet

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!)
planet

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.
planet

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.