Month: February 2013

Learning As I Go

I see I’ve forgotten to do hotel reviews, updates, and other things I learned on my recent trip. Mea Culpa! I blame my economics class.

Patro/Matro-nymics as a Dating Tool

Probably the most fun thing I learned on this recent trip is that Icelanders have dating down to a science. I am not kidding.

In Iceland, the child traditionally takes the father’s first name plus the word ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ (dottir) as their surname. This came up recently about the girl named Blaer, and you can read all about that and link off all you want here, but it got me thinking: you could totally tell if a girl has Daddy Issues if she choses her mother’s name for her surname, and/or if a boy has Mommy Issues likewise. It’s like a window into their childhood and you don’t even have to “wink” at them on

Also, one of the best people I’ve got on my London job has the surname Thorisson. We did ask if his dad was named Thor, and it’s pretty close — the name means “worshipper of Thor”, and hey, who isn’t?

It is Possible to Over-Assume as to What Wi-Fi Means

This being my fourth trip to Rome (wow, that sounds really pretentious, trust me when I say as much as I love my Rome team and the fabulous food it’s not as glamorous as it sounds) I was told emphatically that I would not be staying at “that sad little hotel next door”. No, this time I got myself a fancy hotel in the old city, the Valadier, and it was very lovely. They serve a nice espresso. They have wi-fi in the room!

That crashed every. fifteen. minutes. I am not exaggerating. And since my midterm exam was available only for 24 hours, of which 8 I hoped to be sleeping, 4 I had to reserve for dinner (European dinners are breathtaking both in quality and stamina), 9 for work, I really needed my wi-fi to work in my room. A panicked conversation with the front desk man assured me that HIS reception on HIS phone was great, therefore don’t worry.

Thanks to the immense resourcefulness of a lovely gal in the Rome office, I had a quiet conference room and busted out my midterm in 90 minutes right before we left for dinner. Not ideal, but, as the company is/was paying for the class I assume they’ll understand. And yes, I got an “A”.

The Best Laid Plans Will Go Awry. Just Plan For It. 

My flight into Rome was late. My flight into London was late. My flight out of London was really, really late. Jet lag hit harder than any other trip I’ve been on. I broke one of the coffee machines. I lost a meeting room. I totally meant to spend time with someone and didn’t realize I hadn’t until I was almost to Seattle. My plan to have extra room in my bag was thwarted by the fact that it’s winter and all of my clothes were heavy sweaters. Pret changed their menu.

This last trip was a constant reminder that whatever you’re counting on, make sure you’re not counting on it. Or something.

The Best Things Happen When You Take Chances

I went for a run on the Friday, my only morning in London where I’d actually be staying in London that night. Following a map saved to my phone (which got no reception, so it wasn’t a moving map but a pic), I ran about 2.5km up a road and around a park, and then trotted back… or so I thought.

I was about a mile in before I realized *nothing* looked familiar. Not a blessed thing. No buildings, no shops, etc. As most of Islington looks charmingly alike this did not engender much confidence, so I walked into the nearest gas station and asked directions to the Angel Building in Islington. No dice. Walked across the street to a shop, same question, same result.


Now, I had no service on my phone, so I couldn’t call up Google Maps. I did not think to bring anything with me but my hotel key, so I had no cash or card to grab a cab back to the hotel. I had run a mile in the *wrong* direction, but which *wrong* was debatable. And so…

I ran back from whence I came, back to the park, and then leveraged every tube station map and bus station map I could find around that park to figure out where I had to go. And got back to my room eventually, ridiculously pleased I didn’t have to give up and get a cab with the promise of “and then wait outside the hotel whilst I go get my wallet”.

Other successful chances included: trying a new place to eat (Meat People. It’s very yum), using my static Starbucks iPhone app to purchase a latte while I had no connectivity (totally forgot Sbux has wi-fi even in London!), and, for the first time in more than 3 years, checking my bag on an international flight. Contents arrived safely both ways.

I therefore declare this trip a success not only for the original needs met, but for the additional learning items. My next trip will be much more local but no less adventurous — please send me your ideas for Portland and the Oregon Coast, with a 10-year-old. 🙂

The Economics of (a Minor) Failure

First, let me point out I’m safe. I am sitting in Heathrow, for the 2nd time today, waiting to get on my flight. For the 2nd time today.

Twenty minutes into flight I realized we hadn’t gone above 10,000 feet. Another minute later all cabin crew were called to the cockpit — over the PA system — and this, if you pay attention at all, and you haven’t had anything to drink and/or have a deep-seated fear of flying you totally forgot about until just the moment you hear this, will make you quietly fret. Then if you pull up the travel map on-screen and discover for the last ten minutes you’ve flown in circles, well… you’re pretty not happy.

We couldn’t pressurize. They tried everything ground crew suggested, none of it worked; so they confessed (our Captain was extraordinarily calming), and flew over the water to dump fuel (fun fact: dangerous to land a fully fueled plane, because the wings are so full of fuel). We spent 20 minutes dumping fuel that vaporized as it exited from the wings, it was both spectacular and appalling (to those of you on the east side of the English channel you may have an odd taste in the air…). Imagine a fire hose strapped to the wing of a plane (on the underside) and then turn it all…the…way…on. For twenty minutes.

After that completed we went back inland and landed.

We were handed 10GBP vouchers. For information, this purchased one tomato-and-mozarella sandwich, one bottle of water, and one glass  of wine. The flight was full (no space), and so this got me thinking about the economics of this little enterprise.

We flew a 747-400, which has a fuel capacity of 57,285 gallons and a passenger load of roughly 416 people (1) (for 3-class version, which is what I was in) but British airways uses 345 for their figure. The plane consumes 5 gallons of fuel per mile (2), at 250 knots per hour and we were up for 45 minutes. The delta between maximum takeoff weight and maximum landing weight is 240,000 pounds, which for fuel means 6.8 pounds per gallon of jet fuel, and therefore 35,294 gallons of jet fuel we had to dump. Currently, jet fuel goes to about $3.30 US as of today (3).

Including flight crew time (time starts when the door closes, for 8 crew members and 2 pilots they probably ran $800, maybe $1000 fully-loaded). I’m not going to include the passenger opportunity cost (e.g., I could’ve done something else for the hour or so this ate up), and they’re going to stick me on another flight that I do not also have to pay for, so they don’t get “credit” for the income of the ticket against the first flight. The rest of this we’ll assume is a dead weight loss.

  • Cost of the meal vouchers for passengers: 10GBP x (345-154) passengers (first class passengers were invited to the lounge for private dinner)=1,910 GBP, at today’s exchange rate is 1.55 USD to GBP, so $2960.50.
  • Cost of fuel burnt (45 flight minutes, which is 3/4 of an hour, at blended speed of 250kph (would actually be a little less, let’s call it 225)is roughly 845 gallons of fuel burnt, at $3.30/gal is $2785 in lost fuel.
  • Cost of fuel expelled: assuming they planned on their burn, they still needed to dump 35,294-845 gallons, which is 35,450 gallons (roughly) at current price is $117,000 roughly.

Total cost: $122,750 (very roughly). This sounds huge to an individual (it is) but in terms of overall expense I’d think it were a rounding error in terms of the bank of overall flights leaving Heathrow for British Airways.

There are other things here that should be flagged but are hard to quantify: costs incurred by passengers beyond their 10GBP purchase (which would be a plus to Heathrow but not British Airways), and the aforementioned opportunity costs. There’s also the plus/minus on the experience in terms of word-of-mouth — interestingly most people were jovial getting off the plane. The general feeling was one of “hey, we’re alive, and they let us know what was going on”. It’s interesting to watch people purchase items they didn’t really want to take full advantage of their free 10 quid, by the way. They’d come to the register having purchased their beer and sandwich, ask for change, realize they won’t get it, and then ask what they could get for 1.5GBP or what have you. The apostrophe here in Heathrow is doing a fair trade in bananas and nuts.

Reporting for Duty

I’m travelling, which means I’m captive in a long metal tube going an insane speed that contains about 300 other people, of which at least 2% are crying babies. Thank you British Airways.

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the reason I’m travelling, or part of it: I’ve hired someone new, and I’m going to meet her (in person) for the first time.  By Expedia standards I took my sweet time – I got notice in September; she just started last week.

Part of the delay was that I was hiring in the UK – where to give 2-3 months’ notice is typical. I am pleased that I was able to get away with about six weeks, which I looked at as a positive sign from the Employment Gods. This means I spent two and a half months looking through CV’s and phone screening people and having lots of disappointment. The fact is I’m picky.

This does not engender you to your coworkers as much as you’d think.

  • For the four people on the interview loop (not including the executive member), this meant interviewing about 8 or 9 people. One actually approached me and asked me to “just pick one already”.
  • For the 20-odd FTE’s and extended contract staff this person would manage, this meant waiting an interminable four months for a local manager, having to deal with me by email and conference call, and having to run things and try things and just deal.
  • For the three internal candidates who were not accepted, this meant wondering just WTF was I looking for anyway, Ms. or Mr. Perfect? (Well, yes…)

Because I was.

The duty of a hiring manager is not to get a warm body into the job – I don’t care how hard the employment market is. The duty of a hiring manager is not to be convenient to him-or-herself, or to his-or-her extended staff, or to his-or-her coworkers on the interview loop.

The duty of a hiring manager is to pick the person best suited for the job.

I have, in my employment history, hired two people in haste. The Scots have a saying that’s relevant – “Marry in haste, repent in leisure”. The two times I hired in haste I had to repent – then put on a PIP (performance improvement plan) – and then “manage out”, as they say.

This is even less pleasant than it sounds – you take a morale hit in your team for hiring someone who is not effective and needs babysitting, you take a hit as an employee of the company because there is this outlying question of “Why did you hire that person, again?”, and the company takes a hit because you just spent resources – hiring resources, placement resources, HR resources, team resources, that-person’s-worth-of-resources on what ultimately finds itself as a failed experiment. The first time I hired in haste I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to fix the problem, the second time I recognized it for what it was and followed the appropriate procedure. Hiring in haste is an expensive, expensive mistake.

You know, as a manager, when you’ve made this mistake. It’s like that first date, in the online dating world, where everything looks pretty much okay and then you get to day 1 (aka, first date) and discover they aren’t what they said they were and aren’t capable (or willing) to do what you need them to. And then it becomes the exercise of “do I try to fit this square peg into this round hole” or “do I cut my losses”?

You also know, as a manager, when you have made the right choice. On day one they are asking the right questions (and there had better be questions). They are asking “why” in the right places, and they are doing things without babysitting. You find they insert themselves exactly where and how they need to be inserted, you don’t have easy answers to every question, and they don’t require an inordinate amount of babysitting.

So no, I wasn’t going to “just hire someone already”.

Some companies go to great lengths to avoid the temptation a frustrated Hiring Manager may face – recently I talked with a friend who works at Amazon about this very topic, and he pointed out they have this person who is, in effect, the Bar Setter. This is the person on the loop that is not in your team and would have only cursory excuse to work with you should you get the job, and that’s the whole point: they are there because they have no skin in the game, other than to see if you’re a good fit for the company. They will not be given to the frustration of “just hire someone already”… unless perhaps they’ve been dragged in on too many loops for the same position (which, it should be noted, could be an effect of the job description not actually describing what you’re looking for).  It’s an interesting solution for the problem, and should I find myself in this bind again I may use it.

Although I consider my lesson learned.

A Did Not Equal B. I Don’t Know Y, Either

Someone very dear to me told me about a year ago that I kept succeeding and succeeding at things, and one day, I was going to fail at something, and it would be interesting to see how I took it. Sad to say, that time has come. I bombed my Calculus test. (Please do not read a Perfectionist’s “I got less than an A” into this). The fact of the matter is I went IN to the midterm with a 98.5% cumulative grade in my homework assignments and discussion groups. (Yes, you can have discussion groups in Calculus. Yes, they’re about as stimulating as you may think.)

I left the midterm with a 74% in the class.

You don’t have to have taken Calculus, or anything other than some very basic Algebra, to know that I bombed the midterm. Here’s the rub: math is cumulative. So how could I get all of the homework *right*, but the test so very, very wrong?

“Taking Calculus online is probably the hardest way to learn it”, my teacher had warned us. Still, I went in feeling confident, I left the test thinking I may have gotten two (2) problems incorrect, and so the grade was a shock to me.

I withdrew from the class.

The numbers are thus: I could have stayed IN the class (I’m taking another one), been a metric stressbunny, and possibly toiled enough to bring that grade up to a B –*if* I aced the next Midterm, *if* I aced the Final. Statistically speaking that would mean one thing would have to give in my life — and since I can’t give on motherhood and work pays the bills, school had to give. I’m still taking my other class (that one still have my A, thanks, the midterm isn’t until this Wednesday — I’ll be taking it from Rome) but, given current conditions, I can’t take a class where the context is not intuitive… or at least not right now.

Many friends recommended Khan Academy, which I will likely play with as I get a little more time; but quitting and/or failing at something (it amounts to the same thing) was a huge disappointment and I didn’t take it well. It got bad enough to where I was wondering if I was having a midlife crisis, then I realized at 39 I am in fact, mid-life, and things really got ugly for a couple of hours whilst I wallowed in self-pity and the belief that I wouldn’t amount to anything.

It’s been about five days since my reality check and I am feeling better — a lot of peripheral stress died down and I realized that I can still take classes and still toddle on to the goal — just perhaps a bit slower, and without the ability to phone it in.

I took it as a sine.