Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cultivating the Nesting Instinct

The Mrs. and I have been cultivating our nesting instinct, which makes me incredibly happy.

You see, the house we live in was really my ex-wife's dream house. When the ex and I moved in, the ex had a lot of plans for the place, but she never really finished any of them. When we split up, I got the house and its numerous unfinished projects. I spent the first year after our split-up doing virtually nothing on the house. Partially because I was getting used to my new situation, and partially because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with the place. Over time, I started formulating my own vision for the house, and began implementing changes accordingly. A little paint here, a few decorations there, but nothing major.

Then I met the woman who would become my wife, and we moved in together. Again I was faced with a dilemma. Though a mental image for the house was forming in my mind, I put these ideas on hold. Once we decided to move in together (and subsequently get married) it ceased being "my place," and became "our place." Part of the irony of this is the fact that "our dreams" entailed mopping up some of the shit that my ex-wife had started and not finished. I'm going to use this picture as an example.

When we moved in to the house, the area that's now covered in cedar bark and a few plants was originally covered with red lava rock and some perennial plants. The ex hated the lava rock, so she formulated a plan, ripped the lava rock out, and it remained that way for the next several years. During this time, the area became overgrown with grass and weeds and generally looked like shit. I always thought of it as an eyesore, but never tackled it because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it.

My vision finally began to develop this spring, thanks in large part to my wife's ideas and input. We decided that it would keep its basic original shape and aspect, but reconstructed in our image. I started by keeping the only two original plants to survive, and re-bordering the rest with short picket fencing, then covering the remainder in cedar chips. Once that was done, we waited for a bit, allowed a loose idea to form, and then headed to Menard's for the rest of the plants.

I won't bore you with the minute details, but we shopped, found stuff we both liked, brought it home, and spent a couple of hours bonding with mother earth as we cultivated our nesting instinct. The result, as seen in this picture, is the immediate result of a vision that we shared. It's something that provided us immediate gratification, and will undoubtedly grow and evolve as we do.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Tone it Down

Experience and anecdotal evidence has given me the impression that IT departments have a generally bad rap in just about any given company. They're widely perceived as controlling, condescending, uncooperative and uncommunicative. My last job was a prime example, and my current job suffers from this to some extent. I have long realized that simple, frequent and effective communication goes a long way toward eliminating, or at least mitigating, the negative perception that many IT departments have... and being someone who excels at communication (especially written communication) I'm usually the gut guy who sends these memos out. If I don't send them out, I draft them and have the boss send it out. I'm sort of a written variation of Cyrano De Bergurac.

As it turns out, my predecessor at my new job was downright draconian as an IT guy... the epitome of the arrogant, egotistical, controlling IT geek. My cohort and I have been discussing how to loosen things up a bit... less frequent password changes, fewer passwords remembered, and other little things that individually don't make a lot of difference, but collectively show our end users that we plan to give them a little bit of freedom, and treat them like adults. We're still not 100% sure what we're going to change, because the previous idiot created a labyrinth of security policies, firewall rules and spam filters, and failed to do any documentation. We can quickly and easily do a few little changes here and there, but if we get too reckless, we could create some major unintended headaches.

Like I said though, re-aligning ourselves with the company isn't just a matter of doing these changes, it's also a matter of communicating these changes, and carrying a continuous dialogue with our end users. After easing up the password policy, I decided to communicate the changes, and to let them know about our upcoming Exchange implementation (we're currently using a crappy POP3 mail system).

I typed up the memo, edited it for clarity and content, and fired it off to my supervisor, so she could review it and subsequently send it out to the company. Knowing my above-average ability to construct virtually anything of the written variety, I was sure that I'd blow her away with my vocabularical prowess. (Hey, if Bush can say "I'm the decider," I can say "vocabularical!") I was halfway right. She read what I wrote, called me, and said "I love what you wrote, but..." "...people in this company aren't used to reading stuff like this."

"Ummm, what do you mean?" After thinking about it a bit, I made a couple of realizations... the majority of the folks in my new company are either foreign-born, or factory workers. I ventured a guess. "Did I use too many big words?"


"Oh." I told her that I could tone it down in the future, and recommended that she edit what I'd written and send it out, in order to give me an idea of how to construct the next email. My last job required me to write everything out, being incredibly detailed AND political. This one apparently will allow me to write by the seat of my pants. In other words, I can tone it down a bit.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Driving Miss…

I took my older out for her on-the-road driving lesson this weekend. She’s already been behind the wheel in parking lots and has proven herself competent behind the wheel, so I took her out to the gravel roads for her first live experience.

For starters, I am proud to report that there was no damage to anyone or anything. No dents, scratches, physical injuries or anything. She stayed on the road, kept her cool and impressed me greatly. For the most part, it was like a Sunday cruise with anyone else, except that it was my little girl, and I was teaching her to drive. There were only two events that were even slightly out of the ordinary.

First, we went down one of those ‘B’ grade roads. This means no pavement, no gravel, and essentially no maintenance… nothing but dirt, and it had been raining for days straight. Fortunately, we were driving a four-wheel-drive. As soon as we started down the road, we started to fishtail, and I put the truck into 4WD. We gained traction, but still fishtailed all over the road. I’ve got to hand it to the kid though, she kept things slow, held her cool, and handled the road like a pro.

The second incident was really my fault. We came to a “T” intersection, and she asked me which way to go… I said ‘left,’ looked to the right, saw the road curve, and changed my mind. She didn’t know what to do, so she just let go of the wheel. I grabbed it, hauled us around the corner, fishtailed once, and counter-steered as we slowed to idle speed. My heart jumped a bit, and when I saw the kid, I realized that hers did too. I thought about saying “Okay, that’s enough for today,” but didn’t want her to end the day with a negative experience… so we kept going for another hour or so.

My kid’s growing up quickly… I remember teaching her to ride a bike as if it were yesterday.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

An Entry from the "Glad I'm Outta There" Department

I got a call from my old job yesterday. Apparently one of the mail servers crashed, never to return. My old co-workers hastily fixed the issue by manually re-creating the mailboxes on a different server in a different location, but it looks like the mail in these folks' mailboxes when the crash occurred may never be recovered. Fortunately for everyone concerned, this is a relatively small amount of data, but their contacts are probably gone too. I'm bummed to hear that my old co-workers had to deal with this, but I'm sure glad that I wasn't around to have to pick up the pieces. I'd love to tell my old management "I told you so," but I'll refrain. The ones that would have listened already get it, and the ones that wouldn't have listened wouldn't listen now, so I'd just be wasting my breath.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Out With the Old, In With the New

I've officially started my new job. My last day at the old one was Tuesday, and my first day at the new one was Wednesday, which should thoroughly explain my lack of posting this week. I was working diligently to wrap up any loose ends at the old job, and I'd like to prove myself at the new digs before I start blogging at work (where I usually do my most prolific work).

I was asked to have a few drinks with my former co-workers on Tuesday night, and ended up too drunk. I wasn't hung over Wednesday, but I certainly wasn't at the top of my game either. To make matters a little more difficult, I had to take these mandatory safety classes... the company I went to is a manufacturing company and subject to OSHA and other silly bits and pieces of over-regulation. I must say, that training is one of the greatest sleep aids I've experienced in a long, long time.

After that, I was put straight to work, by being asked to work on a software application that I know nothing about. Fortunately, nobody else does either, so if I fail, I look "average," and if I succeed, I look like a hero. I think I'll end up looking average. I've also had a lot of discussions with my new boss about where we are -- both as a department, and as a company -- and where we want to be. I've made several recommendations, clarifying every step along the way that I'm not there to turn things upside-down, but to work with everyone to help bring their visions to fruition.

There is the usual amount of political jockeying going on, and I found out about that... I won't write anything yet, because everything I've heard is just that... something I've heard. I will reserve my opinions until I see things firsthand.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Random Musings

I've got a few different things to talk about, but I don't feel like taking a whole blog entry for any of them; and I know that if I don't write about them soon, I'll lose them forever. So, instead of doing a long, drawn-out ramble about each of them (or letting them go up in a puff of thought), I'm going to do a verbal collage. Here are today's musings, in no particular order.

During my recent family vacation to sunny California, I experienced a bad bout of flatulence during the final plane ride. I didn't really feel like walking to the bathroom every two minutes, and the flight was too long to bottle it up. So I did what came naturally, and let them slip every now and then. Fortunately, they were silent, so nobody could pin anything on me. Unfortunately, they were pretty ripe, so I had to sit in my own noxious cloud. Early on, my older daughter leaned over and asked me "Dad, did you fart?!?" I blamed it on the old guy in front of me. Several days later, she was telling the story, and I burst out laughing... I mean tears-down-the-face laughing, and I finally confessed that it was me. Since then, this is one of her favorite stories. She even told it at school. (Great!! Now I'm going to be known as the farting dad!)

I've already written today's entry once. Unfortunately, work got in the way, and I accidentally closed the browser before saving the entry as a draft. So I'm doing this all over again. This probably means that some of my original musings will be lost in that aforementioned puff of thought, and other reflections will float down in their respective places. The worst part is that I was just about done. It's not like I had only written one or two of my unstructured thoughts down, I was almost ready to hit "publish post."

My ex-wife is a deadbeat. We were divorced in the summer of 2004. She was supposed to refinance her car and get my name off of the loan, but she never did. Consequently, her failure to be fiscally responsible is negatively impacting my good credit, and cramping my finances. (This shouldn't come as a surprise, she's been trashing my credit since we were married.) I tried to take her to court to force her to refinance, but the judge wouldn't do it. This means I've got two options... occasionally make her car payments -- despite the fact that we're divorced -- so it doesn't show up on my credit report, or allow her deadbeat ass to continue dragging down my good name. I'm making the payments. I may take her back to court when it's all said and done, to force her to pay me back... but then again, it may not be worth it.

I really hope that today's immigration protest thing backfires.

I'm starting to get tired of the rain. I don't mind rain in and of itself, but I didn't get a chance to mow my lawn before the rain started. By the time I get a chance to mow, I will be trying to trim a small prairie.

I like having the windows open in the spring -- especially in my bedroom. I like being lulled to sleep by the crickets chirping, and being gently brought back to consciousness by the birds singing.

I love the sound of rain on the roof when I go to sleep, and I enjoy the scent of the rain floating through my room... unless the grass is too long. Then I obsess about how difficult it will be when I finally mow.

I really, really love my family.

I've been thinking about doing a podcast, like Paulius did the other day. But then again, I'm not too keen about the work I'd need to do in order to accomplish this, and I'm not sure I could come up with enough material to make it all worthwhile. By the way Paulius, you did a great job.

Just a few short weeks until I take my boys' trip. For almost fifteen years, three friends from high school and I have been taking these boys' trips. Sometimes more people go, but it's always been the "core four" of us. We started out doing self-contained downriver canoe trips. About five years ago, we switched to whitewater kayaking. We're thinking about going back to canoeing, because the others are too old, fat, lazy or scared to keep doing whitewater.

Anyone who's blaming the government for high gas prices, and expecting them to come up with an instant solution, is barking up the wrong tree. Oil is a global commodity, subject to the laws of supply and demand. Global demand is skyrocketing, and the supply is not increasing in proportion to the demand. Sorry folks, these prices are here to stay, until we can find a viable, long-term alternative to oil. My gut says we're about at the point where biofuels and so forth are an economically viable alternative.

I'm looking forward to my new job. This is partially because of the excitement that naturally comes with a new undertaking, and partially because I'm really tired of the stupid shit at my old job.

Another reason to find an alternative to oil is so we can reduce the economic clout of an inherently unstable part of the world. Let's face it, OPEC has us by the balls until we find an alternate method of fueling our economy.

I think I'm going to buy a motorcycle to help do my part to conserve fuel. Besides, it'll be cool!

I remembered to save my drafts during this second attempt at today's entry, so I didn't lose anything. This is fortunate, because I was interrupted several times during this writing.

My younger daughter is home today with a sore tummy. I think she ate too much spicy food last night. She's feeling better now and seems to expect me to entertain her. I don't particularly like days like this. She thinks she's sick enough to stay home from school, but around noon she feels better. She then thinks I'm supposed to keep her occupied, which distracts me from work. In this case, "work" means working on today's blog entry. Does that make me hypocritical?

Okay, my brain is empty... time to hit "publish post."