From Point A to Point B…

With the new job, I’ve made a concerted effort to keep work things off the blog. In retrospect, if you’re going to blog under your own name on a website that literally is your name, some degree of professional circumspection is probably for the best. I can’t resist the temptation, though, to occasionally call a spade a spade.

One of the perks of the job is that everything is shiny and new, from the desks to the light fixtures. The place practically has new car smell. What I don’t quite understand is why, when they were plowing under acres of virgin land to construct a brand spanking new campus, the decided to locate the training building, which it feels like we use at least once a week, as far away from everything as technically possible based on the site plan. I’ve provided a handy graphical reference for your convenience.

Look, I wouldn’t be making an issue out of this if A) The building in question had adequate parking anywhere in proximity to it and B) There wasn’t a perfectly useable auditorium for this kind of thing not more than 150 yards from the buildings where 90% of us actually work. I’m thinking that someone didn’t run this little slice of idea all the way through the deliberate planning process when they decided to throw that one building down way out in the wilderness. Not a sermon, just a thought.

Work in progress…

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was working on a real live book. Yes, I’m still working on it. So far I’ve managed to keep in from slipping onto the vast list of projects I’ve started and have every intention of getting back to some day. In case anyone is interested, here are the vital statistics to date: 21 pages (in MS Word format), 82 paragraphs, 11,690 words, and 53,999 non-space characters. Don’t think that’s a lot? Open a blank single spaced Word document and start writing about on any topic on which you consider yourself an authority. Then give me a call when you’ve reached your 21st page of block text… but no cheating. Make sure that’s with standard one inch margins and 12 pitch font. I won’t even make you account for the side notes, comments, or any of the extraneous reference information you end up putting together in the process. After a couple of months living with this work in progress, I’m starting to understand why Hemingway drank.

So far, I’m finding that what works best for me is to just sit down and throw up as many words on the page as possible. Even then, if I can manage a couple of hundred words a day, I’m doing pretty well. I’m trying to write blog posts, comments, and other stuff too, so I’m hoping that it’s more about quality than quantity. If I can keep up this breakneck pace, I should be finished the first rough cut in another 233 days. Sigh. That means editing in the spring and then fine tuning and polishing the final draft in the summer. It all seems perfectly plausible as long as I don’t stop to think about it for too long. Mostly, though, the plan is to just keep writing until I run out of things to say and then decide what needs to come out or what needs beefed up. It’s not elegant, but it’s at least some kind of logic.

I started writing as a catharsis. It was a means of ejecting the poisoned thoughts that I could never openly blog about onto the page and not be particularly worried about how I said it or who I said it about. It’s evolved into a slightly better rounded discussion of my observation of good and bad leadership, the philosophy of management, and the experiences I’ve had with them during a particularly problematic point in my career. Since it’s proven to be largely impossible to untangle the events from the people involved I’ve mostly stopped trying. If it ever sees the light of day, I suppose I’ll just have to accept that some people are going to be pissed off. It doesn’t don’t know if any way to write other than based on my memories of the events as they happened. Lord knows I’ve got a mountain of supporting documentation for most of it… and even what isn’t well documented can be confirmed by eye witness accounts.

The real question, I suppose, is whether I’ll have the guts to actually let anyone see it once it has gotten something in the proximity of finished, which I’m thinking should be some time 60-70,000 words from now. On a personal level, seeing something like this go to print would be a validation of time spent and misspent. If I put on my rational professional hat, well, there’s a difference between burning your bridges and setting fire to the whole damned city. As usual, the parts that will tend to cause trouble are also the most interesting. Maybe I should change the names, call it fiction, and really let the dogs out to run. This is probably one of those times when I should wish I didn’t have a mile-wide malcontent streak.

Where credit is due…

I was all set to come back to the house tonight and write a scathing rant about Comcast. Give their track record, I didn’t think they’d have a prayer of restoring service today. Happily, I would have been dead wrong in that assessment. So now I’ve got to give credit where it’s due. Less than 36 hours after the lines came down, I’m back up and running with TV and internet. No fuss, no resetting boxes, just walked in turned things on and the signal was there. Nice job, Comcast. You done good this time around and I appreciate that.

Maybe tomorrow we’ll get lucky and I’ll have something to rant about.

Telling tales about the end of the world…

I was really warmed up to take the worst that Mother Nature could dish out… and as usual, Mother Nature turns out to mostly be a pansy. Her worst, at the moment, would appear to be denying me access to cable television and high speed Internet. Both of these are annoyances to be sure, but not quite the mayhem and chaos we had been promised earlier in the week.

I know there are flooded basements, trees downed, and homes lost out there, but for most of us in the all-Irene-all-the-time news cycle, all this experience has really served to do is reinforce the already strong notion that weather is almost always over-hyped and under performing. That’s a pity, because the time in the future when calls of imminent destruction go out and it’s not just a drill, most of us are going to shrug, go on about our business, and think we’ve seen it all before.

There’s got to be a better way to handle these things than the media going crazy and making every story a tale of the end of the world…

Here for the party…

Back when I was in college and dinosaurs roamed the earth, pretty much any weather event was an excuse for a party. Impending snow days, heat waves, severe thunder storms, meteor showers, summer, nosecone footage from bombing runs against Iraqi anti-aircraft radar sites, whatever. You name it and there’s a fair chance that it was a perfectly acceptable reason. Here we are now with Hurricane Irene, harbinger of doom, scourge of the Mid-Atlantic, destroyer of New England practically on our doorstep and I haven’t seen one single article, Facebook posting, or Tweet announcing a hurricane party anywhere. Not even a mention so far. I think that’s sad.

What happened to you, Maryland? You use to be cool. I’ll bet before long you’re going to tell everyone to hunker down with a hand-cranked weather radio, a couple of gallon jugs of water, and some canned goods. I’m disappointed. I expected more defiance from a state of waterman, coal miners, and faceless government bureaucrats. Surely someone besides me will realize this could be the social event of the year. I’d offer to host, but only have the one bathroom, ya know?

Yes, I’m new here…

Look lady, I get it. I’m new and that’s probably as much of a pain in the ass for you as it is for me. Sorry that I haven’t been here for 38 1/2 years, but there are things that you know that I need to know. I’m going to occasionally ask you a question about who to talk to or what something does. What I’m going to need you to do is not answer every question by rolling your eyes and making a giant production out of bringing me up to speed.

You see, some day, you are going to drop dead and someone, most likely me, is going to have to figure out what you have been up to and it’s going to be easier to do that if you’re just up front with me from the outset. Otherwise, once you’re gone I’ll have to go through your files, not find what I’m looking for, and then make my bones by telling everyone how jacked up all your stuff is. So, you see, cooperating with me now really saves us both a lot of trouble.

Oh, and one more thing… There’s a pretty good chance that I’m not going to do things the exact same way you do them. Different is ok as long as we get to the same answer. Despite your best efforts to convince me that things only work when your desk is piled high with paper copies of everything you’re working on or have worked on in the past six months, I’m ok keeping my desk clear and my files electronic. I promise when I need a hardcopy of something I’ll be able to find a printer all by myself.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Select “Panic” in 5…4…3…2…

So you guys may have seen that the media are making a big stink about the impending hurricane of doom that will be sure to devastate the East Coast over the weekend. Judging from the current models and from watching these things semi-professionally for the better part of the last ten years, I’m more inclined to think that eastern Maryland will end up getting a little soggy on Sunday and maybe have a few branches blown around if things “get bad.” That said, there’s always the off chance that this thing doglegs left and shoves a wall of water directly up the Chesapeake. That would fall directly in the category of Situation Other than Good. With the track edging east with every model run, that unhappy outcome seems less and less likely.

What seems more likely at this point is that the regional weather personalities and newscasters are going to whip the local indigenous population into frenzy by close of business Friday regardless of what the reality looks like. What this means is that every idiot with a pickup truck, a car, or a moped is going to come out of the woodwork and descend on Walmart, Costco, and every grocery store within driving distance and buy six gallons of milk, two dozen eggs, five loaves of Wonder bread, and a metric ton of toilet paper. I ordinarily don’t begrudge anyone their pre-apocalyptic stockpile, except in this case their panic is going to conflict with my normal grocery shopping schedule.

In the event that this was an actual emergency, I’d be the first to institute the no harm, no foul rule, but in the case of purely fictitious disaster, I’m less inclined to give stupid people the benefit of the doubt. My inclination at the moment is to go ahead and make due this weekend by drawing down my own fairly impressive stockpile. Sadly, like Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, I just don’t know if I can stay away from the spectacle of so many asshats gathered in so few places. I know I shouldn’t, but I might not be able to keep myself from going to watch the spectacle first hand.

Not cool…

One of the last things I did before leaving Memphis was add an earthquake rider to my insurance policy. Memphis is prone to periodic rumbles after all and only being on the hook for 10% of replacement cost seemed like a good idea at the time. In Memphis, the next “big one” on the New Madrid fault system is one of those things you pretty much just accept as a possibility but don’t spend much time thinking about. Moving back east, the idea of an earthquake was even further from my mind. I know they happen here too, but only small ones that stay well below the threshold that most of us are able to feel.

Look, I know that everyone is playing this down, but the earth friggin’ moved and not in that nice calming way that it does all the time. The firmament became something less than firm. I’m not ok with that. It’s like rocky road ice cream suddenly tasting like liver and onions and everyone just deciding that it was no big deal. Not cool at all.

I remember feeling the chair move under me and then standing up at my desk watching the lights sway above me. I remember the overwhelming feeling that my equilibrium was just a touch off as the world lurched. I’m not embarrassed to admit that was the point where I bolted for the door. I think you’d all be surprised at the speed with which this fat man can move when he has the proper motivation. It’s for the best that there were no women or children between me and the outside, because I learned this afternoon that when faced with imminent peril, I have no intention of slowing down until there was blue sky and not five floors of concrete above my head. Realistically was anyone expecting me to be the selfless hero directing others to safety? In this case, I think the infantry motto, “follow me,” is the more appropriate course of action… even if I did pause long enough at my desk to pick up my iPad, phone, and building ID card. Just because I’m running for my life doesn’t mean I’m willing to drop off the grid or be stuck in an endless line of people with no ID cards in the morning.

Things I like (today)…

1. My doctor’s office. They send prescriptions directly to the pharmacy so all I have to do is get in line and pay. Less waiting makes me happy.

2. Fisherman’s Friend. Best throat lozenge ever. It tastes like a cross between licorice, a menthol cigarette, and poop, but works better than anything I’ve ever tried at soothing a scratchy throat.

3. Health insurance. $20 co-pay for the visit and $20 co-pay for giant antibiotic pills. Plus $2 in gas. Starting to feel less like a warm steaming pile cost $42 out of pocket.

4. WaWa. Your $6 salad is big enough that I actually feel like I ate something at lunch time. Plus you give me a hardboiled egg. That’s a classy touch for a gas station.

5. Meeting a suspense with time to spare and without being badgered to make a million minor changes at the last minute. That’s called productivity right there. Get some.

Networking… or not…

The network is my single point of failure. When it goes down, basically I become an astronomically well paid paperweight. Sure, there is a way to do everything I do manually, but because I wasn’t raised in the horse and buggy era, I don’t know what that way is because it was never covered in training and I’m certainly not old enough to have ever had to do it that way myself. And since everyone around me is in the same boat when it happens, after the initial bout of consternation and annoyance, the whole place takes on a bit of a snow day atmosphere. Which is great… for a while.

As fun as officially sanctioned down time is, it does highlight an issue that I don’t think any of us have spent enough time thinking about: What, exactly, is an army of technology workers supposed to do in the event of something more than a temporary outage? If we can’t email, can’t access the cloud, and can’t call out over VOIP, we’re pretty much just a bunch of people hanging out. What if it lasts for a day? Or a week? What if a network outage became the new normal?

Ninety nine percent up time sounds great until you realize that means you’ll be down for at least 3 and a half days every year. That’s annoying if you’re a dedicated gamer. It’s potentially catastrophic if you’re managing the world’s financial markets, running a war, or trying to manage the nation’s air traffic. Our reliance on computers and networks isn’t going to decrease in the future, so if we’re going to be so dependent on the network, redundancy and failover should be the standard. If the powers that be can’t manage that, they should at least spring for a cell booster for the building so we can play Angry Birds while we’re just sitting around.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.