Wednesday, June 25, 2003

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.... Raccoon.... Jogger. Hmm, maybe I should report that to someone....

Who says you can't have fun while you exercise?

Read on the Road

You have a lot more time on a bike to read the signs on the side of the road than you do in a car, as well as a lot more time to ponder their meaning. Here's a few things I read today:

On a reader board:


My thought: I didn't realize things were that tough for the propane industry. Regardless, is it a good idea to give propane away as a meal freebie? What's next: Happy Meals with a working miniature gas grill for the toy?

Another sign:

Hot Loc's
picture of scissors

I had a little trouble telling what the owner of this establishment was trying to communicate. I can only assume from the inclusion of the scissors on the sign that this Loc fellow is a very attractive Vietnamese hairdresser.

On the side of a HMV in big blue letters:

"Still In Business"

Two thoughts:
  1. You know cars are getting too big when people start naming them like boats.

  2. Maybe that's his office, and he's just trying to let his customers knwo that he's still working. There's certainly enough room in there to host a small meeting.

The Climb to the Clouds is in 2 1/2 weeks, so I need to keep hitting it hard for another week or so.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

"Why ask why?" I'm glad you asked. I'll tell you.

Friday, June 20, 2003

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 at work are often far worse than the ones we wear at home. What good does that do?

Let me point out that, while men are accused of it more often, I see women doing the same thing. I'm not sure they separate the emotions as neatly as we do, but they certainly have different faces for different situations, and often save the toughest one for the office. So if you're female, don't just laugh and say, "Oh those boys, with their hunter instincts! They're so ridiculous!" Look at your reflection in the monitor, sister, and ask yourself who's looking back at you right now.

I have always been a great advocate for leaving your baggage at the door, whether at work or at home, but I also believe that we all have to be internally consistent if we are to ever be happy. You should forget about work problems when you're at home, and vice versa, so that you can focus on what's in front of you at the time. Those emotions can be separated, but the person having them should remain the same wherever he or she is. Your role may change -- brave leader at work, helpful spouse at home -- but you should still recognize the person in each role to be the same.

Too many people use either their work or home environment as an excuse to do things they wouldn't otherwise do, or at least in ways they wouldn't do them if their family/coworkers/pastor could see them. That's bad, and it always catches up to you. If you're putting on a mask at work or at the office, I urge you to take it off. If you're ashamed of the person behind the mask, then start working to improve that person rather than hiding. We'll all be glad you did.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

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 my hand, and the thrumming "thwing!" of a good release. What better way to spend a spring afternoon?

The smell of Icy-Hot and the feel of rugburns on my knees after every intramural football game.

The sight of the magical transformation of the Harold Prince Theatre from a big box with seats to some other place, whether New York, Berlin, or the imaginary mindscape of Pink Floyd's The Wall. The smell of makeup and spirit gum in the dressing rooms, and the sound of the women changing on the other side of the dressing room we all shared, where we weren't supposed to be looking.

The smell of desperation and competition in Steinberg-Dietrich during Dead Week, the crackling sound of my Finance text book opening for the first time, the faint whiff of ozone on a new bulk pack, and the frighteningly blank blue WordPerfect screen in the Wharton computer lab.

The taste of a chocolate chip muffin eaten on Locust Walk between classes, accompanied by the sound of students shilling tickets for their shows.

The sound of panhandlers calling out for change, especially the guy who sat on the bench at 40th and Locust every day: "You got a quarter? Howwwwyadoin'?"

The sour-sweet funnel cake/beer/pot/vomit smell of the Quad during Spring Fling. My freshmen year, I kept asking, "Is someone burning rubber?" until someone explained to me what that smell was.

Gingko berries.

The "eau du Philly" aroma that rose from the steam grates on the street, or the so-thick-you-could-taste-it reek of the subways in summer.

The sweet burn of the freshly washed trays that I stacked and ran back to the front of the Hill House dining hall for three years. Hey, it paid better than sitting in the library sorting books.

The sight of a wall of toast cascading down from the upper decks of Franklin Field or a sheet of streamers from the top of the Palestra. No other school that I have ever seen had such unique and fun athletic traditions as Penn, nor such a well-endowed band.

The slightly moldy smell of the ironically named House Of Happiness, the house on 41st Street that I shared with seven other unique personalities for two years. We were far more real than "The Real World" ever dreamed of being, and we had a lot of fun when we didn't want to kill each other.

The sound of my wife-to-be signing a love song in Houston Hall Auditorium in the world premiere of BEYOND CONTROL. Directing that show was the first and most important step in the rest of my life, because that is where I met her.

Friday, June 06, 2003

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 of standard "customized" recommendations on some VP or CEO's desk and stand their with their hands out, waiting for a huge check. After they collect it, they leave the poor souls to figure out how to make those recommendations work. They never make a lasting impact, and they rarely stick around to see if their "improvements" stuck. Given the inertia of organizational culture, I would argue that they rarely work. In fact, I would argue that most consulting is built upon the fact that that model doesn't work, so they have to come back with a bigger team to do it again. That, to my mind, is cheating, and I want to find a way to actually help people accomplish something at their jobs again. We're all here for a third or more of every day; we should have something to show for it.

Oops, sorry: got sidetracked there for a moment. Back on the subject of regrets. Whenever I remember all the great things about my old job, I also remember that many of those memories are several years old. The company that I left was not the company that I joined, and it didn't fit me anymore. Like the wedding tux that seems to have shrunk in the intervening years, my old job both pinched and chafed. It still looks good from a distance, but I remember the discomfort. It was time to get a new suit. Who knows, though? Maybe someday the tux can be altered and I'll find that it fits again. Until then, I'll keep working to make this new one fit.

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, for which I will be eternally grateful. It's brand new, really shiny, and three times faster than the antique sitting under my desk at work. After three years of exclusively using a laptop, my level of efficiency is pretty tightly tied to the mobility of my computer. I use it to take notes in meetings (of which there are many here), I break up the monotony of my environment by moving around when I work, and I can work at home. I would say that it is the single most effective productivity tool in my work life.

The thing is, security policy prevents me from getting network access of any kind with my laptop at the office. This places my wonderful productivity tool on an electronic island, so that the only way I can use it to communicate with my fellow worker bees is to take it home and send email from there. It's a 45-minute drive home, so that kind of negates the benefit, you know? It's hard to sit in a meeting taking notes, impressing everyone with my technological savvy, then say, "OK, I'll get those to you by 9:00 tonight!" It's kind of like sending email by telegraph.

Which brings me back to Joni Mitchell. In my old office, people complained bitterly (and are still complaining) about replacing open-source email and calendaring tools with Microsoft Exchange, about being "forced" to use Outlook if they wanted to schedule a meeting easily on the new system. They argued that their productivity would drop by 5% or more if it took them a second longer to read each email. But they still have the freedom to choose to use any email client they want, if they are willing to figure out how to make it work with Exchange. They'll even get help from their IT guys if they need it, even though their email client isn't officially supported. They're still walking around with their laptops on a wireless network that extends to the patio out back and the courtyard in the middle of the building, assuming it's ever sunny enough to use them.

When I worked in my small company, I agreed that everyone should have the freedom to choose the tools that worked best for them, as long as they adhered to some sort of standard that the IT group could support. I still do. But to anyone who complains that they can't get their job done because Opera 1.0 doesn't work with the company intranet, I say, take a look around. I'm looking at what used to be Paradise, and now it's a big blacktop covered with "No Parking," "Tow Zone," and "Visitor Parking Only" signs, and I'm still trying to figure out what they did with my car.