Month: August 2013

Yes, It Was The Right Choice

Five months ago I accepted a new job with Sur La Table. I had spent nine years at Expedia doing a variety of things, and learning a tremendous lot, but it was definitely time to move on and be the “fresh blood” somewhere else. As I gleefully told my family, friends, and professional associates of my move, I got mainly 3 reactions:

1. That’s great… what do they do again?

2. That’s great… wait, you’re moving from Director to Manager?

3. That’s great… are you making more money?

I can sort of see the first reaction, if you’re talking to someone who’s not in one of the 27 states that SLT operates in, and/or you don’t cook. (I am not judging.  Yours truly has a few friends who know an awful lot about food but you shan’t let them in the kitchen). The other two have been reiterated so often that I figured I’d just answer them here, and then point people to it.

1. Sur La Table (www.surlatable.com) is a store, and site, for cook’s tools and entertaining. That’s it. You are not going to find beekeeping outfits, a large selection of scented candles, ironing boards, etc. You are going to find a wide selection of knives and people who can tell you how to use and care for them, because they know. You are going to find a variety of stove top cookware, in a variety of materials and colors, and any one of the people wearing a Sur La Table apron can tell you, depending on YOUR cooking style and YOUR stove what will work for YOU. In more than half of the locations you will find a roster of classes you can take that will teach you everything from how to use your knife properly to how to make homemade pasta to how to do five recipes on one grill for six people.

2. Yes, I moved from a Director to a Manager. Specifically the course was Director of Business Development to Director of Content to Applications Development Manager. And here’s your first clue why “different” does not mean “downward”: I went from what was essentially inflated project management (with a bit of ability to direct the change that instantiated the project) to Operations management to development management. With each step the skill set gets broader, and deeper. Project management is about managing people you don’t technically manage, Operations management is about managing people you manage and managing by proxy.  Development management is all of the above and now you get to speak two languages: business and technology.

I could go on: development offers a chance to actually BUILD THINGS, the reality that a Director at Expedia is not equivalent to a Director at Microsoft is not equivalent to a Director at Sur La Table, in either breadth of responsibility or in terms of compensation. And frankly, I’m mercenary enough to be happily titled the Hobgoblin of Object Oriented Programming if they pay me enough, which leads us to…

3. Yes. I mean, I can offer the logic that benefit packages from Company A to Company B require careful weighing and measuring, and that there are quality of life trade-offs with commuting time, etc.  But any way you slice it, frankly, the answer is yes. Anyone who tells you that “Retail” is this or “Technology” is that is at best over-generalizing and at worst missing opportunities.

None of this answers the question, four (working) months later, of “Are you enjoying it” and the answer is an unqualified YES. Do not get me wrong, there have been seriously frustrating times. Sur La Table has been around since the 70’s but its growth pattern is such that it *feels* like a start-up, with all that that entails. Development has to run quickly and there is enormous demand for my department, which leads to both the wonderful sensation that “we can DO this” combined with “OMG how are we gonna do this??” There’s a bit of “hey let’s go down this path… no wait that path… no let’s go down the first path” that you see in nascent organizations, and for someone who was at a company that went from start-up (well, close to, it was about 4 years in) to Mature Large Company in my tenure, there’s the urge to be much farther along the development path than we are.

Then again, it affords me (us, really) the opportunity to be there to make the changes that need to be made, and build the cool, fun stuff that needs to be built. That, by far, is the best reason.

Twenty Things

These days, perusing any news aggregator for “news” is an exercise in defeat. It really is. This evening I found myself on msn.com, and it had a feature, after the court clerk who got fired for helping save an innocent man, and the “latest news” (Hi, NSA!), of the twenty things you should do (EVERYONE should do, it proclaims!). Ok, then.  Challenge accepted.

For the record, they are:

1. Own your own business: check. I ran a freelance business from 1995-2002. Small, yes, but required separate taxes. For the record, I started one six months ago and if you would like consultation on your software choices as a business I have very reasonable rates. And at one point I sold Mary Kay cosmetics.

2. Live in a foreign country: check. Six months in Australia. You can never go home. You realize what makes you foreign, and what makes you accepting.  Further business trips to London, Rome, and Geneva emphasized this.

3. Buy a home. Check. Twice. moving on…

4. Drive coast to coast. Nope. Would love to, as I love to drive. But it takes time. Who’s with me?? Girls trip?

5. Get your heart broken. Bitch please…

6. Be cheered by a crowd: I remember, about 7 years ago, a friend took me to karaoke. I wasn’t good. I wasn’t awful. I was passable, but before I started I pretty much declared my insecurities, offered my apologies, and launched into a Sublime song. My faith in my fellow man was restored, and I remember it to this day.

7. Keep a journal. Hello, that’s what this is. There was another one, it’s under a pseudonym. If you’re friend, and you don’t know, hit me up and I’ll let you know. If you’re foe, or I don’t know, my previous blog is one you’ll not know.

8. Take a leap of faith: again, Bitch please. I don’t have faith. But I’ve attempted a reasonable facsimile when I thought the occasion warranted it. Some instances were not worthy.

9. Give Something Back: yes. YES. I don’t give a (bleep!) what your reference point is, you know of a way to improve your fellow man and/or his/her circumstance. Rewarding.

10. Design and build a house. Nope. Does planning to count?

11. Make a meal with food you raised yourself. Close! so close! Not all of the food, but most! The only human I know who has done this was my Nana (God Rest her Soul!) and my friend the StidBomb. Hey if anyone has seen/heard from the StidBomb let me know, okay? In the meantime, no. The male person won’t let me have chickens. For the record, I’ve caught and cleaned (and eaten) a fish. So, there’s the protein. The veggies are simpler.

12. Buy a piece of art because you love it. ZERO contest. In November, 2005, I was in Yakima with my best friend. We went wine tasting. That wine tasting will remain epic in Yakima because there is still a winery who remembers me, and it’s been 8 years, folks. Anyway, we saw a gal painting pictoral landscapes. And I bought one. Anyone whos’ been to my house?  It’s the one called “the Valley”.

13. Go Wilderness camping. Nope, sorry. Have been camping. Have been camping without a cell phone, and in the middle of nowhere, but I didn’t have to hike far, and it wasn’t the real deal. Maybe…

14. Take a sabbatical… I’m sorry, these words look like English but they’re not. Moving on…

15. Make a piece of furniture. NO! but I’d love to. Chairs are the hardest and that sounds like fun. My idea of “fun” is warped. But no, I haven’t done this and yes, it’s on the list.

16. Go snorkeling or scuba diving. Oh, wow. So for those of you NEW to me, I got certified at 16, I have dove to 220′. I am AOW certified and a butt’s breadth from Rescue Diver. I have dove with sharks, with whales, with whale sharks. I have done a 60′ free ascent, I panicked at 30′. I have wreck dove, cave dove, dove in 5′ vis and dove in visibility as far as I could see on land. I’ve dove the Great Barrier Reef, Hawaii, Cozumel, La Paz/Cabo, and pretty much the major hit points in the Pacific NW. The only lesson I offer is this: don’t dive on ego.

17. Adopt a pet. Have done. Multiple times. My only advice is be cognizant of what you’re getting in to.

18. Do something that really scares you. Again, multiple times. Fear is an evolution, you conquer one and another one comes up, like a weird videogame where the bad guys regenerate. Doesn’t mean you should stop, it just means when you face the next one, grin with the previous ones you conquered.

19. Take a stand. Done, still doing. Washington state (and hi, the US!) needs to properly fund education. That’s straight economics.

20. Do work you really care about. This is an interesting one. I didn’t care about most of my jobs growing up: they were a means to a fiscal end. The first job I really CARED about was at Expedia. I remember sending a six-paragraph email missive to my VP about why a particular person’s view on a report about inventory (Inventory of all things) was messed up. I met with him for our 1:1 and it started with him reading the email to me and asking “what is this??”. And I realized that Dan Pink was right: sometimes it’s not about the money.

Since then I have not settled for a job I don’t care for. I give them the college try: you look like you’re worth it, prove to me you’re worth it. And so far, it hasn’t been disappointing.

So what I take from this is, I need to make a piece of furniture (wait till I tell my Dad about this), go wilderness camping (no idea where this is going to go), design and build a house (okay, I have visio…) and drive coast to coast. And then my life is complete…

…according to a website.

Plus One To Awareness

Yesterday 10pm local time ended my 24-hour vacation from any sort of connectivity (including the ability to “google” anything, text anyone, etc.) If you think it’s simple, try it in a place as connectivity-savvy as the Magic Kingdom. There’s an app to navigate the kingdom that includes line times, parade routes and hidden Mickeys. I couldn’t download or use that, no phone. There’s free wi-fi in the hotel and in the parks. Nope. In a line for Space Mountain where every 3rd person is lit from beneath (thanks to their iPhones and in a couple of cases, iPads), connectivity sure would provide an answer to the waiting game.

When I turned my phone off I made an analog list (pen, paper) of all the things I’d use connectivity for if I had the ability to, and the time.

  • At 11pm that night, finding it difficult to fall asleep and devoid of reading material (I had finished it), I really wanted to read my twitter feed to fall asleep, but I didn’t.
  • At 3am I wanted to look up the symptoms of food poisoning (yes, it was), but I didn’t.
  • At 9am the male child asked if he could bring his DS into the park to keep him occupied, and when I incredulously turned to him to explain the whole park was designed to keep him occupied, and discovered that he was teasing me, I really wanted to tweet it. But I didn’t.

And on it went. In the line for Space Mountain I wanted to share the statistical correlation between a person with an iPhone and a lag in line continuity, I wanted to look up the name/number of the restaurant we are to eat at tonight, I wanted to check the terms of the Disney Visa and see if it really was the good deal it was purported to be.

But the thing that really got me was pictures. I couldn’t take pictures.

Pictures of the male child when he finally got his sword (it’s impressive), of the lush greenery that would exist just fine here without the careful maintenance it gets, but would die in two weeks outside in Washington, of the attention to detail this park gives to its art and architecture. “The floors here are *really clean*,” the male person said, as we trotted along in line at Space Mountain. (This was fortunate for the teenager in front of us who, when the line stopped, would sit down on them. Just plopped right down. Even if the line moved again, and then she’d try to scoot along on her ass. Ridiculous, naturally.) It became a challenge to find something out-of-place anywhere.

Therefore, today, fully connected, app-in-hand, there will be pictures, and tweeting, and tweeting of pictures, and Foursquare check-ins, and more pictures.

PS  – for those wondering, my personal email for a 24-hour period counted 74 including advertisements, and 2 for legitimate communications. My work email counted 14, of which 8 were things that were not about me and completely resolved before I got online, 2 were social (one going away notice, one lunch notice), a meeting change notification, and 3 legitimate to the project I was working on.

PPS — Grog the Luddite would like to mention he’s really a sensitive, un-macho, really into stopping and smelling the roses guy and likes technology just fine and even knows a thing or to about it, he just wanted me to realize that there was life outside of it. Point taken.

In a World…

Greetings from Florida, where the weather has been 90’s (or slightly less) via humidity or temperature, take your pick. It has been mahvelous, apart from a few work hiccups. (Yes, I check work email; yes, it’s a habit; no, I don’t intend to stop).

Highlights from the last 3 days include staying at the in-law’s fabulous new home, with 3 steal-worthy kitties and an enviable pool. Also, we saw our first palmetto bug (dead) and discovered that there is decent pizza in Florida. A comfortable bed, good company, and great hospitality sure kick-off a vacation properly.

No, I didn’t steal the cat (his name was Barney). But I wanted to.

But! Off we headed, in our Alamo Rental Car (WARNING: super ranty blog post coming on that soon, but right now I’m in talks with their twitter customer service people), down to Orlando. And found ourselves at the Art of Animation Studios.

It’s nothing short of perfect. We have a room separate from the boychild, so he has his own bathroom and his own TV. We are on the top floor. We are in the Finding Nemo themed room, on the building with Sharks on it, on the level with a ginormous shark mural. The poolside food includes sushi. The WiFi is free. The front desk clerk told me to have a Magical Day and SketchYa Later, which from a theme park about animation was so precious and yet cheesy and yet I had a huge grin on my face as I departed check-in. (The only time that has happened before was on late-night work trips when I realized the ordeal was over and I was about to get to sleep).

Instead, we headed down to the pool. Two hours of Mommy reading the Economist and working on the obligatory burn (YES I USED SUNSCREEN MY SKIN DOES THAT OKAY?) and the boys swimming, and we’re back to the room showering and changing for dinner. Our towels were folded on the beds in Mickey Ears and Fish (with the whole Nemo theme). The toiletries are about level 4, with differentiated soaps.  I’m not sure I want to check out.

Tonight we are off to Downtown Disney, where we are to see the Percy Jackson movie (2nd one) in a dining-theater, I’m not sure which of the three of us is more excited, to be frank. The boy just read through all 5 original novels (and three of the sequels) right before summer started, we have seen the first movie, but the trailers for the 2nd look really good and the prospect of “dinner and a movie”, without having to hassle driving or timing (they serve dinner… at the movie), is really comforting.

Especially for someone who has spent 450 words, up to the beginning of this sentence, enjoying things and augmenting that enjoyment by sharing over the internet. Because in less than five hours, I’m going offline. Completely. Internetless, textless, foursquare-less, email-less, twitter-less, Facebook-less until Saturday morning local time. It will be a first in many years. My son looked at me agog as I patiently explained that our wallets, AND our cell phones, were going in the safe. It’s like I told him Aliens would land tomorrow. That said, he too is looking forward to the challenge.

For those of you who know my penchant for the Pirate League, and getting made up into a Pirate Princess (SPECIAL shout out to ExpediaManny), I WILL be doing that and taking pictures — but we scheduled for Saturday, so I could live-tweet it. I know you’re stoked, as I am.

Vacation: it means different things to different people, and mine is going to 11.

Please Stand By

Greetings from Chicago O’Hare, and my second time EVER being here not as a business traveler. Bonus points for the food court between K and G gates.

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and we left Seattle at midnight local time “last night”; ergo, we are running on about three hours’ sleep. The reality of flying to a non-major city (hello, Jacksonville) is you either spend your entire day, or your entire night, flying, because you’re going to be stopping over someplace that is not quite but almost entirely out of any reasonable travel path between your points A and B. In this case to maximize our time with family and fun, we are spending the entire night. It’s not completely awful.

If you think about it, one of the most common ways to placate the boredom, frustration, and general weariness associated with modern travel, is your electronic leash. It may be a laptop; it may be an iPhone or a Crackberry. It used to be a book, but books are losing this race. I am sitting at our gate and follow me around the room: teenager across from me on iPhone. His Dad on iPhone. Behind him, lady with full back and arm tattoos (thanks to her tank top) pulling her cell phone out of her bag. Business lady on an iPad. Businessman on a Blackberry. Other businessman eating, iPhone, iPhone while eating, iPad, something-not-quite-an-iPad but not a Kindle, either.

Our connectivity gives us the opportunity to not connect with others. Anyone stuck in an elevator with (shudder) other humans will note two things: 1. The propensity for an elevator full of strangers to be, in fact, an elevator full of strangers looking at their smartphones, and 2. That the people in the elevator, in the absence of interpersonal communication thread active as they entered the elevator, will space themselves out as far apart from each other as possible. (E.g., if there’s one person in the elevator they’re dead center or in the corner. If there are two, you have upper corner and rear opposite corner. Three are usually one in front middle, two in the rear corners. Four = all four corners. Five = all four corners plus one in middle. And so on.) If ever you’re bored and don’t mind messing with other people’s personal space (and yours), deliberately defy this mechanism.

Yours truly is on her laptop, as it is my electronic babysitter as we wait at the gate for a couple of hours. This is wholly unremarkable with the exception that I know, coming up, I will have a day without connectivity.

I tried, the other night, to trace back how long I’ve had some form of connectivity (to the internet, I suppose), and as best as I can figure that started when I moved back up to Washington and started working for Premera. I think we’re looking at Spring 2001. But the connectivity wasn’t all-encompassing, all-binding until I started working for Expedia, 3 years later. I’ve had a blog since 2005 (not this one), “smartphone” of some sort since 2006, a Twitter account since 2007.

Nine years at Expedia trained me to expect emails 24/7 (this is the boon to working for an international company and having international internal customers). Moving  to Sur La Table has meant a dearth of weekend email. After about 6pm on a Friday it slows to a halt, and doesn’t kick up again (apart from automatic job notifications) until Monday morning. Twice now I have sent myself a test email to my work account to verify that it’s still working.

My addiction to this connectivity is starting to get noticed, and, while normally the recipient of a shaking head or an arched eyebrow, has spawned a bet by Grog the Luddite (Grog works with me, sits in what is referred to the “Man Cave Annex”, and does not understand addiction to connectivity. For “fun”, Grog went to Montana to go do crazy physical acts – like carrying other grown men for ½ mile – in high heat). Grog has declared that for a full 24 hour period, I am not to have any connectivity. To test myself. Like an alcoholic preparing for a day without booze I’m already nervous and wondering what my coping mechanisms will be. It will help that the day selected is a day we’re at the Magic Kingdom all day, right? Well no, because then I don’t get to do my Foursquare check-ins. And what about using Yelp reviews to pick the better eating options? And what if something happens at work?

Because that’s the real crux: what if something happens at work, and they need me, and I’m not available? That’s bad enough. What if something happens at work, and they don’t need me – or discover I’m not needed? Ridiculous, yes, but when you love your job that’s the irrational fear that comes with it.

So Friday it is. From Thursday night whenever I hit the rack, to the following Saturday morning when I awake, I will be totally, and completely, offline. The phone will be on to receive calls, but all email accounts will be turned off, cellular data will be turned off, and my phone will just…be a phone. By way of publishing this now, I am that alcoholic putting in place an integrity check: I’ve SAID I’m going to do it, now I have to do it.

I honestly don’t know what my reaction will be. I wonder if I’ll be irritated by the lack of convenience – or if like a mosquito bite I ignore it long enough I simply forget it? I will be sure to blog all about it… on Saturday.

The Ultimate Driving Machine

Just warning you: this post is a rant, mixed with a little bit of a whine.

On my way to work there is a nice stretch of straight road, maybe a mile long, that toddles along at 55 miles per hour, before it kludges up with traffic. It provides a nice counterbalance to the 25mph crawl I have through the suburbs before I get there, and it offers an opportunity to relax.

This morning as I drove along I let my left hand drop and it rested on my knee, the same one that I went in to get visco yesterday on. It felt damp so I looked down, and discovered that the injection site was seeping. Oh, joy. Back to the house to change bandages, change jeans, apply detergent to the stain, etc. Such are the joys of medical maintenance.

(Editor’s note: I asked for it. Now with an ultrasound machine and another six months of technique improvement, I was able to walk unassisted after the injection and by end of day my knee felt totally normal. So I didn’t exactly follow the instructions and went to the gym. I’m not a total idiot, all I did was upper body stuff, but clearly I had pissed something off.)

In the meantime, I’m struggling with a “decision” I need to make: my lower back. Arthritis isn’t uncommon in people over 40 (or, in my case, 39) and the PT should take care of the pain I have. Up until a week ago I would’ve said “what pain” because when I run, or indeed do pretty much anything else active, it’s not my back that hurts. My upper right leg hurts. Figuring that this was my body’s way of insisting I get a full set of x-rays, one body part at a time, I went back to the doc.

“So, my back is all better, but my upper leg is hurting, particularly when I run. The PT thinks it’s my psoas.”

“I think it’s your lower back.”

“No, no, my lower back feels great.”

“Yeah, I still think it’s referred pain from your lower back.”

“Well, okay”

Here she had me lay down on my stomach, flipped up my shirt, and started poking at my spine.

“Does this hurt?” (poke)

“No.”

“Does this hurt?” (poke)

“No.”

“Does this hurt?” (po-)“AAAAAAAAAARGH”.

“Yep, it’s your lower back.”

After brief consultation, here is the treatment plan: Go back to Physical Therapy (more time with my friend Dan, I see) and, if that doesn’t solve it in another month or so, start thinking about spinal injections.

Spinal. Injections.

I have no problem with needles (blood donation, tattoos, piercings, etc.) and I have no problem with my spine (apart from it being in pain) and one time in my life I didn’t mind having an injection into my spine (hello, Epidural!). But the idea of ongoing annual (or semi-annual) pokes into my trunk does not sound good, for a variety of reasons.

Being handed the ersatz ultimatum, such as it is, that if I do NOT get better with PT in about a month then we need to “look at this”, puts undue pressure (I feel) on the viability of the PT. This last two months’ worth have succeeded in radiating the pain OUT, in half that time we need to radiate the pain back in and start making it go away. It’s like being handed an assignment you’re likely to fail at. If I had that kind of control over my body I wouldn’t be IN this position.

This whole process feels a bit like my commute… slow crawling progression, nice coasting parts, followed almost immediately by infuriatingly gnarled systems.