espresso machine

40 Hours

In 40 hours in New York, specifically Manhattan, I:

  • lost a favorite sweater, but comforted myself that I had had it for 3 years and probably got my money’s worth
  • ate two fantastic dinners, ate entirely too much, drank entirely too much, did not get hung over
  • tried a new app, Uber, which I was impressed with via friends’ use and then via my own
  • saw a Broadway show (Kinky Boots, which gets an A++)
  • discovered that a NY sommelier can handle clear directions like “pick a Rhone that puts hair on your chest”
  • shared an apartment with four other women (even if only for one night) and we’re still friends
  • messed up my back (again)
  • rode the subway, got carsick in a cab
  • walked through a bit of Central Park
  • had GREAT coffee (Manhattan), had crappy coffee (JFK)
  • saw every human cliché: the skinny socialite, the modern family, the naked cowboy next to the Cookie Monster in Times Square
  • had someone else do my makeup with satisfactory results (including false eyelashes)
  • slept 8 hours
  • rediscovered my friends, realized how much I missed them, and vowed to try harder to see them.

I did not get to partake in everything, courtesy of the back, the need for sleep, and just general timing. What I was there for I enjoyed thoroughly. But I think that has more to do with the company, than with the destination.

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Typing

It’s my “me” night — the boy is with his father, the man is with his brother, and I am home watching a James Bond movie. It’s “Thunderball”, released in 1965; at this time in history my father had been in the country 1 year, I do not believe he had as yet met my mother, and I was -8 years old.

All of the women are decorative, deadly, or both. Any one of them who was competent and even remotely personable was a secretary. The only two remainders were a deadly assassin (ultimately, and inevitably, poor in her job) and the clueless, innocent heroine.

When I was in 8th grade, typing was a requirement for everyone, but you had to do it on an IBM Selectric that was only slightly quieter than a beehive. Typing had time-tests as well as visual tests — you could NOT type the volume in the time if you hesitated to look at the keyboard. I had managed to multi-task and eyeball the keyboard through the first quarter, so my second quarter C’s were not welcome at home. (In point of fact, C’s were never welcome at home, but A’s that went to C’s were very much not ok). My grades came home and my parents acted.

My stepmother grabbed a sheet of blue, circle-shaped stickers. And covered every key in the keyboard of the computer my brother and I used. It was torturous. But I learned to type.

Not to become a secretary.

Seventeen years ago I took a couple of classes at the local community college to learn how to program websites — I was a “web developer” when everybody was, it founded a slightly profitable side business. In 2000 I took classes in DB development, by 2003 I had argued my way into a dev job. In 2004 I got the dream job, at Expedia, to do development in their Reporting group. By 2010 the good jobs had moved to Geneva and I had to find other pursuit. By 2013, I had tired of “other pursuit”.

Today I find myself with two keyboards, two machines, a multitude of projects and lots of things to build. I type a lot these days. But I’m not a secretary.

Sur La Awesome

My resolution to blog more often has gone by the wayside courtesy of a new job. I started working at Sur La Table about 10 (calendar) days ago (officially) and I’m having a bit of a hard time.

I’m having a hard time separating reality from all of the awesome.

Any time you start a new job, you’re going to be in a “honeymoon” period. Everything is new, and different. It’s a bit like the 4-week rule I had when I was dating. It went something like this:

Week 1: Dating again. Ok, this is cool, this is normal, everyone dates. Cool.

Week 2: He can do no wrong! He’s going to be a Doctor or Lawyer or Artist or Trashman and this totally meets with my life plans because of X/Y/Z contrived plan.

Week 3: He has a fault. It’s not a big fault, it’s a fault; everyone has faults! I’m totally not judging!

Week 4: The fault… has spawned. It has morphed into one giant gelatinous blob of fault-ness, and I can’t stand it.

(At the end of week 4 I’d dump him. He was still on week 1.)

Fully aware that I’m in week two at my new job, I’ve been doing my damnedest to be diligently down on the novelty, and… it’s just not working.

I get to *build* things again. My professional experience with C# is very, very little and very, very old, but I’m almost done building a nifty little widget complete with error handling. I’ve reaffirmed my faith in Stack Overflow, my lack of faith in MSDN, and re-verified that “Dummies” books are anything but. Half of my day is spent “managing” (two rock stars in their field, incidentally) and the other half is spent “creating”. There are two good coffee sources (NOT including those directly in-office) nearby, two Subways, and my desk has a view of Mount Rainier.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re a small shop. There’s a lot of cross-functional, “ok-you-don’t-know-it-so-can-you-build-that-into-your-estimate” expectations, a lot of last-minute, “oh by the way”. But… I get to *build* things again.

And… there are no more 5am meetings (or 6am, or 7am, or 8am). My earliest meeting is 9, most people don’t set one past 5. People show up, they work balls out, they go home. A tremendous lot gets done and while the shortcomings of the vendor/system/funding/etc. are all publicly, and explicitly, acknowledged, this somehow does not diminish the drive of the people who are involved.

We are selling kitchen supplies for the devoted chef. We are not saving lives, we are not universally accessible. But we are providing you the very best that you can get, at the very best value you can get it, with the very best, real advice you can get it with. We are trying lots of things, and we are experimenting, and we are innovating. And yes, my first paycheck will likely be contributing to my future Le Creuset collection. The real value, however, is that I get to build things again.

Even if it means I hit Stack Overflow six times a day.

In Defense of Marissa Mayer

Speaking as a working mother who has an extremely flexible schedule I realize it’s going to be a bit odd that I believe Marissa Mayer is doing exactly what needs to be done in removing work-from-home privileges in her organization.

Marissa Mayer’s job is not to be nice to people, her job is to turn around the behemoth that is Yahoo!. By its very function Yahoo! wants to compete with Google, and in its present state it is not able to do so. For big change you need big projects, for big projects you need lots of people working together, and as many of us recall from our formative developer years that means hallway meetings and late night in the office and pizza and early morning scrum sessions. While your work from home days may make *you* more productive, how more productive does it make *your team* — or your project? How many things get held up for “the next time you’re in office”? It’s interesting to note that the interviewee about this issue in this morning’s NPR story was a work-from-home lawyer mother, who spent the first 2 minutes describing how close the washer and dryer were to her desk, and how working from home was more convenient because she could get laundry done and walk the dog. How exactly does this further the company she works for?

It should be noted that the memo indicated people would still be able to take time to “stay at home for the cable guy”. This is not a draconian “you must be at your desk from 9am-5pm every day” mandate, this is good common business sense: work gets done in the office — please be in the office to do it.

Much has been made of the fact that Mayer, as a new mother, built a nursery in her executive suite, which some choose to point to as a double-standard. I disagree. Mayer paid for the nursery with her own money and it means she herself as a working mother will be in-office. Most of us don’t have office (or cubicle) space big enough to install a nursery in, but that (office space) is a function of title and position, and not of preferential treatment. You want to bring your kid to work? Fork up the money to install a nursery in your cube, or, more practically, don’t bring your kid to work. Mayer is using her own funds, of which we can assume she has plenty (relative to her title), to bring her kid to work. For *her* this decision is likely as practical as it is practicable: having made the declaration people need to be in-office, she’s doing so as well. The fact that she can pay to have her kid be there with her (presumably attended to by a nanny or other caregiver) is irrelevant.

Then there is the point that this declaration will harm Yahoo!’s chances in hiring new talent. There’s an inverse to this, too: those working remotely or from home for Yahoo! can choose to work elsewhere. If you’re that good, make a case for an exception, or get a job with a company that will let you work from home. If you’re not that good, you don’t really have a leg to stand on; work to get to be that good. And one of the perks in working for Google (ostensibly Yahoo!’s competitor model) is that there are all sorts of services and amenities *on site*, designed to keep you on campus. Google does not seem to have difficulty recruiting talent; so the rationale is that this ban on permanent work from home will not harm Yahoo!’s chances of getting quality staffers — Yahoo!’s reputation for innovation (or lack of it) will.

As further opinions weigh in, many ex-Yahoo!ians are coming forward to indicate Mayer is making the right decision, because there’s credible evidence that the work-from-home policy was abused, and oftentimes there were people still being paid and essentially not doing anything. It should also be noted that free food and iPhones (and other Google-esque amenities) were offered to in-house employees. Yahoo! has a managerial problem, not a problem with its CEO. As a manager of nearly 200 people and 4 levels, I know that you need to be able to tell via metrics or deliverables if work is getting done. And if it isn’t, you advise, you re-advise, you warn, you re-warn, and then you fire. It’s called “employment”, not “charity”.

Many are worried about “what this means” for other companies. Dire forebodings about how we’re going back to “the dark ages” and the images of Office Space and 9 to 5 come to mind. While it may be true that other companies follow suit, they will have to make the same trade-offs and analysis Yahoo! did: do we need to institute dramatic change, at a potential morale hit and/or dip in prospective employee attractiveness, in order to survive? If the answer is yes then the move is logical. The notion that a company would voluntarily undergo these hits for the benefit of “following the lead of Yahoo!” however is asinine: companies make decisions based on what they need for their company.

Full disclosure: quite a few people on my teams work from home. Many have flexible schedules. I don’t eyeball when people are in the office and indeed if you walk by mine you’ll often see I’m not there (I’m in about 36 meetings in a given week, too). That said, I have a pretty robust framework of reporting and can point easily to the productivity of each person on the team, as well as the quality of the production and the timeliness of it. I don’t need to institute a “Mayer Policy”, because I do not have the same problems Marissa Mayer does.

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 Match.com.

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.

Hm.

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. 🙂

Lufthansa FTW

[from the flight two days ago…]

I’m sitting here in what *should* be the most awkward seat in flightdom: in this A330 the first row of economy-class seats past the bulkhead, left to right, is a line of 2, a line of 4, and then a line of 3. I’m in seat two of the four (so, middle-ish) and this wouldn’t be “awkward” but for the fact that, in the bulkhead row ahead of us, there are only 3 seats.

So there are only 3 video screens.

For 4 people.

I’m still not sure how it works completely but about an hour into the flight I managed to figure out I do not control the videoscreen to the front-left of me, but the front-right of me. This leaves it as an exercise for the class as to whether the person on my starboard side is screenless or owns the far-right screen, and the person on THEIR right thereby gets none?

Ergo, awkward.

And yet it totally has not been.

In a supreme display of German efficiency, although the plane boarded late we departed on time and are tracking ahead of schedule. Dinner (which was good!) was preceeded by drinks, had drinks, and complimentary after-dinner drinks (Bailey’s on ice, yo!), the wine came with an actual cork. In Economy.

I admit the leg room is wanting but I’m 5’10” and all my height is below the waist so it’s a bit unfair to judge.

As Lufthansa is German-based, the first language everything is in on this plane (think: signage, instructions, videos, etc.) is German. I have learned that Nouns in German are capitalized. So if I were to write in English like one would write in German, I would capitalize Nouns. It’s a bit jarring to read.

I am also getting one more stamp in my passport this trip of a country I haven’t previously been to: Germany. (Hence the Lufthansa flight). I’m stopping in Frankfurt on the way to Rome. As this is likely my last international trip before I must get my passport replaced, this is a nice lagniappe.

In my time with Expedia I have flown to Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Geneva, Paris, Lyon, Rome, and London. I drove to Vancouver for one meeting. And yet the bulk of my travel has been in the last two years – there was a stretch of a couple of years where the annual Vegas event was “it” for my work-based travel.

In all that time you think I’d have the foolproof formula to combat jetlag – but I don’t. It’s 4:20pm my time, shortly after 1am the place I’m going, and I know that I will not sleep enough on the flight to make up the delta. I have a day in Rome to purportedly get over this, and I can’t quite figure if I will do that or go sightseeing or lock myself in my hotel room and catch up on work.

But at least the flight in was sweet.

Silver Linings

The last 24 hours have unquestionably been a series of Silver Linings.  (Note: I’m on a plane – leg 3 of a 3 leg sojourn to Heathrow – so I finally get to blog).

My day started on Monday, March 5th at about 4:30am. That’s when the eyeballs snapped open and steadfastly refused to close. Not being able to sleep is, I think we can all agree, a bad thing; but if it happens on a Monday morning you can at least attend to the deluge of email that Europe’s and Asia’s Monday morning delivered. Silver lining number one, then: clean(ish) email inbox before I hit the office.

I got the boy to school to discover he was the recipient of a C-slip on Friday afternoon but due to the last-minute nature of it the C-slip would not be sent home until Monday (a C-slip is a “Communication slip” – if you have inferred the communication is rarely positive you are correct. Typically C-slips are to indicate behaviors the school would like to stop, now, please. For example: chasing one’s classmate with a pencil). I spent the day agonizing that I had let the boy child have TV on Sunday night because I didn’t know of the infraction, only to discover (when I finally had a chance to talk to him) that he had already ‘fessed up at his father’s house and punishment had been delivered. Silver lining number two: he didn’t attempt to hide it and instead demonstrated true remorse and honesty.

At the point I entered the office I was 3 conference calls in, with no coffee; I stepped into the office of a colleague to discover she was leaving the company (she is a wonderful asset to the company and she’s been around for years and years). She is doing this to spend more time with her family – not because of any real dissatisfaction. Fair enough: silver lining number three – she made the right choice for herself and there is no argument with Family First.

The workday was about on-par for a Monday (which is saying both a lot and very little),  and I went to retrieve the boy child so we could go hang up Science Fair posters at the school. I thought this would take a long time, but it turns out the opportunity to spend time with him NOT doing homework or study or projects was incredibly welcome, and he took great pride in his taping skills. Plus, we finished early (and hello Silver lining number four).

We got to karate where he has steadfastly opined that he dislikes all Sempais and only wishes to train with the Sensei. Sensei is travelling back home so we had a Sempai: Silver lining number five was that my son has now declared that “THAT Sempai is okay. I like him.”

Dinner cooked mercifully in short time, I actually got to spend time with my son before I left (technically after his bed time). I rolled into SeaTac feeling especially reticent to fly and discovered that my flight was delayed 3 hours, meaning I would MISS my connecting flight at Dulles. I was rebooked to a flight that left at the same time for O’Hare, which would then meet up with a second flight for Dulles, to catch my third to Heathrow. At this point, all restaurants (even the Starbucks and the bars) at the airports are closed, and I have just enough time to get through security (where I got the complete feel-up even though I went through the perv machine) and catch my new flight.

I know what you’re thinking…. Where’s the silver lining there?

It’s here: my flight to Chicago was practically empty and I didn’t share a seat with anyone; I could stretch out and sleep.

My flight to Dulles was also practically empty and I could stretch out (across 3 seats!) and sleep.

And I type this now from my flight to Heathrow. Incidentally it’s the same flight the Seattle folks were trying to make and wouldn’t have; as a result I have changed my window seat for a middle/middle… with no one on either side of me. I have three seats to sleep in, work at, eat at, and I can watch 3 different TV programs if I was so inclined (I am not, however).

There are a lot of things of late that have me deliberately looking for silver linings: continued adventures in civil court, an overactive volunteering gland resulting in a very intricate Outlook calendar, the increasing realization that time moves much more quickly than it did when I was younger and there’s a definite crest to this hill.  I am very glad, then, that I can still find them.

Rome in a Day (and a half)

This post is unfairly titled, because most of my time was spent in a (rather nice) office building. The perks of said office building include the Best! Espresso! Machine! Ever! And the fact that everyone is bilingual – at least – and kind.  I’m here to meet my team, and other teams that I/they work with; hopefully next time I can stay longer than two nights.

Outside of the office building is Rome, Italy.

Several things I suspected and now know:

  1. Roman food is good. Like really, really good. I had gnocchi twice one day. Pasta. Cheese. Saltimbocca. Chicoria. Baba. So glad I lost a pound before I left…
  2. House wine is good. For 4 Euro you get half a liter of something drinkable and amongst two of us we couldn’t finish it, because you ALSO get a big huge bottle of sparkling water.
  3. Bidets do exist here and they are a wacky piece of swank.
  4. My phone doesn’t work here without adding on international services, which the procurement area of my work completely failed to do, and so I ITCH without the ability to get email or make calls on my phone.
  5. The gym at my hotel is serviceable but not stellar. Having had gnocchi twice, though, I used the hell out of it.
  6. It’s completely safe to walk alone, at night, by myself, on the side of the road (Sunday night = everything dead in Rome (at least where I’m at, on the ‘way north end), so I had to walk a couple of miles to get dinner).
  7. Everybody likes the new government, and no one thinks it will last, because it’s too “reasonable”.

Things I did not suspect and now know:

  1. Coffee is WAY stronger than the strongest stuff Starbucks puts out. Two teeny coffees and I was literally zinging around.
  2. Italians have AMAZING depth perception. I will never again fear sitting in the male person’s Awesomely Huge Truck, because I have seen an Italian park 0.2cms away from the nearest car, back and front.
  3. There are no traffic rules here, particularly for pedestrians. Crossing the street means you make eye contact with oncoming traffic, and once you do, you walk into the street.
  4. Dinner is at 9 because no one leaves the office until 7 and no one gets in before 9. Commutes range from ½ to 2 hours to/from home, and people go to bed at midnight.
  5. Italian women can run, in stiletto-heeled boots, down an icy, cobblestone street, after the bus, and not kill themselves.
  6. There is a high percentage of home ownership here, which drives home prices UP as real estate is more often handed down than sold. An 80sqm apartment with no parking (call it 725 square feet) in the area I’m in goes for about half of a million Euro at lowest. Hence the commutes. People have to move out to own a home.
  7. I am a total princess and cannot handle staying in a hotel where the internet is dodgy at best. They handed me an Ethernet cable. It works some of the time. This plus my brick-of-a-phone makes me sad.

This trip I didn’t get much time to go out and about but I did manage to eat everything in sight and meet with people I needed (and wanted) to see. Later today I head via 3-hour flight to London, where I will have a completely new hotel and social experience. I am definitely coming back to Rome!