Showing posts from 2003

Did you get enough to eat on Thanksgiving?

Some people didn't. If you're looking for a good cause this season, or at least have some tax-deductible charity money burning a hole in your pocket, I recommend The Boston Rescue Mission ( They give people a place to stay while they help them get back on their feet. It's more than just a shelter from the cold, though I'm sure its residents appreciate that, as well. If you don't want to give here, that's fine, just give your money and/or time somewhere.

The blessings you receive will turn sour if you keep them to yourself, just as a river that stops flowing grows putrid.

Write as clearly as you think (I'll take what I can get).

I have found my new Style Bible.

Mother, brother, sisters, and me

(Cross-posted to Applied Laziness. Look there for more.)

Every company is, in essence, an extended family. We have the parental figures, the sibling rivalries, and the uncle no one likes to talk about. We also have all of the emotional connections that people used to form only with family and neighbors. Some companies embrace this fact, creating an “Us against the world” mentality, or welcoming their new employees into “the Globalcorp family.” Other companies try to “keep things on a professional level,” maintaining that employment is nothing more than a fiscal contract to provide labor in return for wages, and it’s never personal.

The fact is, it’s impossible for work to not be personal. People are emotional creatures, instinctively seeking connections with everyone we meet. It is impossible to spend 8 (or more) hours per day with a group of people and not form a bond with them, which is why it is ludicrous to me to see managers and human resource professionals try to deny this…
The other day, I heard this quote from the new VP of Product Development at a software company:

"I fully expect that 75% of the engineers working here today will leave, because this place isn't a country club anymore."

And this man is in charge of software development!

Now, I will grant you that the company where he now works once had a reputation for having achieved the pinnacle of "work hard, play hard" existence, with flexible hours, foosball tables, and an emphasis on having fun at work. During the gloriously excessive dot-com boom, this company prided itself on throwing the best parties around (“Not the most expensive, just the best”).

The thing is, though, all those flexible hours usually added up to far more than 40 per week, and this company’s engineers built the most innovative software products in their space. They also managed to fend off bigger and richer rivals and stay six months to a year ahead of fierce competition for more than five years. …
Thought for the Day:

"Common wisdom" is occasionally the former, rarely the latter, and often neither.
The great (s)capade

For the past two days, a debate has raged over the electronic frontier of my workplace. It has to do with three little characters, but boy, are they important.

We’re performing the final tests on a new software feature, and our new feature changes the layout of some screens for those people who are lucky enough to see it. We have been testing this feature for 6 weeks now, and somehow we missed something that our client team picked up on immediately.

When this feature appears, it causes the text next to it to wrap. For one client in particular, that makes things look a little odd. For you see, modern English is not flexible enough for our needs, so we saw fit to extend it in our application. The extension looked something like this: "Please review your number and the other number(s) below." (not actual text, but you get the idea). We just wanted to make sure that, in case there was more than one number below, we were covered. Of course, when you ac…
Making a hard ride harder

Today, I tried something that I read about in Bicycling magazine. They call it "Bonk Training." I call it making a hard ride harder. For the non-athletes out there, the name comes from "bonking," the sound you make when you "hit the wall," or reach the end of your energy on a ride. I don't know if Powerbar invented the phrase "bonking," but they did a very amusing series of ads a year or two ago featuring the slogan, "Don't bonk." That's where I first heard it, though I've been familiar with The Wall for years.

The Wall is that place where, suddenly, you can't go any more. Your legs suddenly double in weight, you slow down, and your body basically says, "Stop! I've had enough!" Physiologically, it's the point where your body's demands for glycogen have completely outpaced both its glycogen stores and its ability to manufacture more. You're out of gas.

Bonk …

At last, something to help me in my ongoing battle to understand what the heck the people around me are saying! I'm almost afraid to apply it to my last two companies' sales and marketing literature, for fear my computer will overheat. Now, how can I secretly install this on everyone's computers?
Why tyranny doesn't scare me - Source: Tenet admits never seeing final draft of Bush speech - Jul. 17, 2003

Here is a great example of why everyone who says President Bush will drive America into an untenable global position is wrong. No individual will ever gain enough power to force this country to go where it doesn't want to go, because his peers will never let him. The moment that anyone gains a disproportionate amount of power in American politics, his political cronies immediately beat him back down. It's called "checks and balances," and it makes our political system both the ugliest and the most fair and effective form of government in the world.

No other country -- with the possible exception of Great Britain -- is so adept at airing its dirty laundry to the rest of the world, and while I am often disgusted by the tactics our politicians use, I now realize that they are an unpleasant necessity to preserve the balance of power. I also believe th…
Oh, were you still using that?

I had a true Dilbert moment at work yesterday. One of the guys I work with went to get a cup of coffee and read some papers, and when he came back he found a guy trying to make off with his computer. Seems my friend had put in a request for a new computer, since his current doorstop -- er, "desktop" -- wasn't nearly powerful enough to handle the corporate-mandated Windows XP upgrade. The purchase request had been delayed, I'm assuming because that would require spending money, but the maintenance order to remove his old machine was approved. Had he come back ten minutes later, he would have been reduced to sending emails by writing them on a piece of paper, folding them into airplanes, and throwing them at people.

The funniest part of this, to me, is that he wasn't even surprised by this. He just shrugged and said, "You'd be amazed how often this happens."

Believe me, I'm amazed that we're even in business.
My Climb to the Clouds: Stubbornness, Pain, and Gatorade

I did the Charles River Wheelmen's Climb to the Clouds yesterday, and I never want to look at my bike again. I rode 105 miles in 8 1/2 hours, with a climb to the summit of Mt. Wachussett (elevation 2000') in the middle. Turns out that this is, if not the hardest, then the second hardest ride in New England, and I chose that for my first (and possibly last) century. I will attempt to recreate the feeling for you.

Arrival (7:45 AM) - I expected that there would be a good group of people, but I pictured maybe 50 riders getting together and taking off around 8:00. So I was completely unprepared for the sight of a parking lot full of cars, with over 250 riders getting their bikes ready, hobbling around in their bike shoes eating bananas, or riding in circles around the lot to warm up. And since bikers have the fashion sense of color-blind punk rockers, it looked like a flock of large tropical birds had landed. I was at o…
What do you think? Well, you're wrong!!!

I don't usually write or talk about politics or world events, because I have found that, in any given group of people, more than half will disagree with whatever I have to say. But I saw a couple of things online today that inspired me to write a little bit.

First, there was this, courtesy of LT Smash. Then there was the response from this twerp.

The first story gave me hope for the people of Iraq and for this world, because I saw good people facing daunting odds to bring about a better life for themselves and their communities. I also caught a glimpse of that human spirit that everyone's always talking about, that spark of the divine that knows what is right and strives to do it, even when it's hard. It was encouraging to me to see people naturally seeking an orderly form of government, without being told how to do it and without immediately seeking to use power for their own personal gain. The fact that they did this in t…
Thoughts From the Road

This morning was my first sunny morning bike commute, and it made a difference. From my average speed (16.2 mph) to my general attitude to my water intake, everything was up from last week's gray trudge. I was soaked again when I got to the office, but at least it was my own sweat and not rain and road goo.

It's still not the most exciting ride, though, so I have to find ways to keep myself entertained and stop the first three lines of "Unwell" from endlessly repeating in my head. Today's game was "What was that before it was roadkill?" the game where you try to identify the original owner of the various chunks of fur and goop on the side of the road. Hey, I figure that I have to look at them to dodge them anyway. I might as well make it fun. Here's an excerpt from today's game:

Squirrel.... Squirrel.... Opossum?... Frog. Hey, little guy, what were you doing so far from water? Besides getting squished, I mean....…
"Why ask why?" I'm glad you asked. I'll tell you.
I read a blog by a former coworker of mine, and it started me thinking about the different faces we put up to the world. This guy's a decent guy at work who clearly likes to have fun in the office, but he can also be a real -- how to put this nicely? -- hardass. He scared the heck out of almost everyone when he first started at our company, and has a reputation -- self-proclaimed, I might add -- for cleaning house as the first order of business in every new job. But when you read his blog you see a tender-hearted dad who's concerned about how nervous his girl will be at the recital and who has picnics after church. Is this the same guy?

Men are famous for compartmentalizing their lives. Work goes here, home over there, and ne'er the twain shall meet. I have been accused of forgetting that I have a family when I am at the office, so I know whereof I speak. But why do we do that? I can understand trying to put on a good face to the world, but the faces that we put on…
Did another ride the other day. It's hard to get up at 6:00 knowing you have a 90-minute ride before spending the day at work, but it's not so bad once you're on the road for a while, especially when the sun is (finally) shining. The afternoon ride was glorious, though, and far better than sitting in the Mass Pike for 45 minutes.

I have more proof on the "Massachussets tilts" theory, too:

My average speed going east in the afternoon: 18.8 mph
My average speed going west the next morning: 15.2 mph

And no, I don't believe that this can solely be attributed to the fact that I hate mornings, though it certainly feeds that sentiment.

My century comes up in four weeks, so I have to amp up the mileage, morning blues or not.
Pennsylvania Gazette: Alumni Voices (The Deluxe Edition)

Today I posted a memory of my time at the University of Pennsylvania. I'll put it here, too, for posterity's sake:

My memories of my time at Penn are a collection of sensations: the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells (oh, the smells!) of Penn:

My first sight of Hill House when the taxi dropped me and my huge boxes off in front. It took me five minutes to figure out where the front entrance was.

The sound of someone saying who-knew-what in Irvine Auditorium. The acoustics in that place were so bad, you could be 20 feet from someone and not be able to understand them, never mind catching a word of Dennis Miller's rants from the top of the balcony.

The taste of my first Sophie's cheesesteak. I don't care what anyone else says, that truck served the best steaks in town and, therefore, the world.

The slightly sweaty smell of Franklin Field on a hot spring day, the rough feel of the twine on the javelin grip in …
Thought for the day

If everyone in a meeting agrees on a decision, half of them aren't paying attention.
No Regrets

My recent grumpy posts may leave you, gentle reader, with the impression that I regret leaving my old job, or feel I may have made a mistake. While I must admit that I do miss certain aspects of my old company, and I certainly miss my friends there, I have no regrets. In terms of my career, this was the right move to make. I have a much greater ability to make a positive impact now than I did before, both within the small consulting startup that pays my salary and for the clients we serve. I expect that we will someday set the standard for how to get things done, and I want to be in the forefront of that effort. Working at a "grown-up" organization is part of the price of this new reach, as well as part of the learning process. Until I see what it is like to work for a company, I can't effectively suggest improvements in that environment.

This has always been my biggest complaint about consultants: they zoom in, hold a few interviews, then drop a binder…
They paved Paradise and put up a "No Parking" sign

To quote Joni Mitchell (or the Black Crowes now, I suppose): "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone." I can't believe that I ever complained about restrictive policies or things that kept me from getting my job done when I worked at a small company. That was paradise, from a freedom to do my job point of view, compared to large company life. I already mentioned the total lockdown of my desktop, the filtering of "dangerous" Internet sites ( Watch out!), and the strictly enforced conformity. But did I mention that, unless the computer was ordered by IT, built by the IT-approved vendor, and installed by an IT tech, it's not allowed on the network at all? This in a company where -- by my scientific technique of walking around and looking at the color of everyone's badges -- an estimated 20% of staff are contractors.

My consulting company issued me a laptop,…
N.Y. Post: Writer plagiarized from National Enquirer - May. 21, 2003

I think the Post really should have caught this. I mean, Madonna hasn't been seen canoodling with a two-headed cow since her 'Material Girl" phase.
The Long Ride Home

Last night and this morning, I made my first bicycle commute between Marlborough and home, a 48-mile round trip. That means that in the past 15 hours I commuted further than I did in most weeks when I worked in Cambridge. I don't think I'll be doing this every day, but once a week isn't so bad. I drove the bike out here yesterday morning, along with a change of clothes and anything else I might need today, then rode home last night and back out this morning. Thank goodness for the fitness center and its towel service, so all I had to do was drag my sweaty carcass into the locker room and shower, without having to pack all the toiletries in and out on my bike.

For the record, I thought of doing this to make my long commute manageable before Bicycling magazine suggested it. And while I realize that Bike to Work Week was last week, I opted for Bike to Work in the Sun Week, instead. I am a fair-weather activist, at best.

I learned a few things on my lon…
Now I know why the caged bird sings...'s to keep from going mad! The environment at my new job is so enervating that, regardless of how much sleep I had the night before, I am ready to pass out on my keyboard by 2:30 every afternoon. The quiet hum of the fluorescent lights, the bland beige of my cube walls, and the utter lack of any kind of conversation anywhere in this vast, cavernous maze all conspire to sap my will to live! Can hazardous levels of blandness qualify as a hostile work environment?

My old job may have had underwater stock options, constantly shifting direction, and a sense that all that was good about the company was steadily being replaced by what was expedient, but at least it had human contact! At least there, on the rare occasions that I was bored, I could launch a Nerf dart at someone to get their attention. Here, I'd have to get a Nerf mortar to get it over the walls, and I'd have to attach a homing beacon so I could find it in the maze.

I've got a new blog (yeah, like I was doing such a bang-up job keeping this one going). It's about work, in general, and my theories on how to do it better. Separating it from this blog kept this space free for continued random (but deep) thinking.

Check it out, if you want. Or don't, if you want to keep spinning your wheels. It's up to you.
Busy few weeks. New job, new environment. I'm a consultant now, which means that not only do I get to experience all the different ways that companies try to fix things, now I get to tell them how they should do it! The side effect of this is that now I get to see the inside of some much bigger companies than I have worked with in the past. I've always preferred the more dynamic environment of the small or startup company. Now, I'm part of a startup, but I report every day to a Fortune 500. Strange mix.

Now, I expected life to be a little bit different in a larger company, and obviously understood that the Dilbert factor was going to go way up, but I was still unprepared for the sheer level of bureaucracy that I encountered when I walked in the door. I continue to be amazed by the number of people who receive a paycheck for essentially making other people follow instructions. I'm also shocked by the amount of freedom that people are comfortable giving up in ord…
I start a new job in two weeks. Last Friday, I told my team that I was leaving, and there was a stunned silence for a couple of minutes. While it made me sad, that also made me proud, because they didn't want me to leave. It seems better than variations on, "Well, duh! I mean, when was the last time you did anything other than surf the net, anyway?"

I also realized that this was the first time anyone had voluntarily left in a very long time. I think people had forgotten you were allowed to do that.

This got me thinking about the various reactions you could get from people when you announce that you're leaving a job:

The Boss:

Good: "This will be a great loss to the company. Is there anything I could do to convince you to stay?"
Bad: "All right! I met my quarterly goals 2 months early!"

Your peers:

Good: "I'm sorry for us, but glad for you. Good luck!"
Bad: "Can I have your chair?"

Your direct reports:

Good: "I d…
Thought for the day:

"Revenge is not a rifle. It's a shotgun. You just want to get the person who hurt you, but you end up hurting everyone around them, sometimes for generations."

-- Pastor Steve Schell, Northwest Church, Federal Way, WA.

What if you were given three "do-overs," chances to go back to any point in your life and start over again from there. What would yours be? Would you kiss the girl, take the risk, do the work? Every life has turning points, where a decision opens one door and closes another, where we look back and say, "If I had just...." Do you have doors that you wish you had opened, or ones you wish you had left closed? If you had three do-overs, would you have had the patience to save them, or would you have used all three of them trying to get that one girl into bed your junior year in high school?

What would your do-overs be? Tell me.

To be honest, I don't know what I would do over. I'm pretty happy with where I've ended up so far, the individual annoying details of any given day notwithstanding. I wonder if, were I to go back and do something over, I'd wish I had stayed with the original plan, after all.
Painfully funny link of the day:

Frank Lingua and Buzzwords

It's funny because I hear language like this every day. It's painful, well, because I hear language like this every day. Why do we feel compelled to constantly make up new ways to say the same thing, only less clearly? I suspect that it's because the concepts we deal with daily, especially in the high-tech world, are so abstract that we have to resort to metaphors to try to make ourselves understood. This process has gone completely out of control, however, to the point where I don't even understand what my coworkers are saying anymore, and it takes them forever to say whatever it is.

So, as part of my one-man effort to rescue professional communication, I hereby swear to cull the following phrases from my daily conversation:
"Hone in on...."
"Flush out the details." I will, however, be glad to flesh them out, since that sounds so much more positive.
"Get our arms around it," or…
Living and working in Boston/Cambridge is kind of like being in college forever, except the money flows in the opposite direction. You still interact with all the same personality types:

The software engineer who's really a musician/author/stand-up comic, and is just hanging in with this programming thing until the other career takes off.
The guy who everyone assumes must be a genius, because why else would he show up to work dressed like Robin Hood/the Borg/Batman?
The brooding, perpetually upset libertarian/vegetarian/human secularist who will protest anything as long as the majority of America agrees with it, and who demands her/his right to free speech as long as it agrees with his/her views.
The throwback who still thinks the 60's and early 70's were the greatest time in history, mainly because back then he wasn't the only one still smoking pot.

You get to have all the same conversations, too, only now it's by email, generally in front of a large virtual audience…
Things I have learned about myself in recent weeks:

While I like the idea of starting to write again, I don't necessarily sit down to do it, especially if I get a new game to play.
Icewind Dale, while lacking the depth of the Baldur's Gate series, can be just as addicting.
Given the opportunity, I will go for a week or more at a time on fewer than six hours of sleep a night, to guarantee that I get some time to myself.

Trying this blogging thing again, and hoping that this time I keep it up...
Watch this spot. I guarantee it will be worth it.

OK, I can't really guarantee it. I mean, how do I know how you measure worth? For all I know, you might not consider anything worthwhile unless it includes a killer recipe for apple strudel, which I don't have. But, to be honest, this isn't really for you, it's for me. I want to have somewhere to write, just to capture random thoughts and snippets of ideas and to practice writing for an audience. This may never be seen by anyone else, but at least I can pretend to have an audience. Even that's a start.

And that's what this was: a start. So watch this space, and there will be more. And I'll see if I can get you that strudel recipe.