Thursday, June 30, 2011

Time, in Flight

Well, I certainly didn’t intend to not write anything nearly two weeks, but life has its own rhythm.  I spend a full week in South Dakota, visiting friends and family. Since I’ve been back in California the working days have been kind of hectic. I’m looking forward to the long weekend and looking forward to finding the time and space to write when I am in that long weekend.  Time, in flight, is an amazing thing.  I tried to write an entry last night, but it appeared that the website was experiencing some sort of technical difficult – I could not save my work or post it.  It wasn’t anything spectacular, more of a vent at the end of the day.  Since today is a day later, I am pretty clear of that powerful need to vent.  I might still  write about what I was venting about because I think there was a good topic or two wrapped up inside the vent.  Have a great weekend and I look forward to writing more, virtually, as the weekend unfolds.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Waiting in Denver

Well, I am on the move today. I was up at 3:30 AM, took a shower, had a light breakfast and caught a cab to the airport. The ticket counter was more chaotic than usual because on the previous day United had problems with their online check in system, so many more people than usual were doing the counter check in - including me. The line at security was equally backed up, for no apparent reason, but it moved and I made it through.

The flight from San Jose to Denver was pretty smooth. I slept the first hour and dozed and listened to the Indigo Girl's "Retrospective" on my iPod.

I grabbed brunch here at one of the cafes. It was edible. Mostly. Now I am sitting here, watching people flow by on the people mover, and waiting about an hour and fifteen minutes for my flight to depart. It's delayed about fifteen minutes according to the screen. But, since this is purely vacation travel - delayed or not delayed, it all is what it is.
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The Rockies in June

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lunch on a Thursday

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Laptop Question

When I go on vacation, one of the questions I often find myself wavering back and forth on is whether or not to take my personal laptop. We live in a wired age. Even if I were to leave my laptop behind I have email and internet connectivity via the Blackberry and my back up iPhone/iPod.(1) However, for me, the laptop is a combination tool and entertainment device. I use it to upload pictures and videos from my cameras, which is necessary on long or image intense trips and I use it to do incidental web surfing, play the occasional game, or watch a movie. Where I end up wavering is it seems that about half the time I carry the laptop with me on a vacation, I never really use it. I might flip it open once or twice to play with it, but that is about the extent of it. I often think I am going to use it, but end up not using it – but, the nature of the beast is that if I need or (or perceive I need it), then I definitely want it with me. Of course I travelled for years without a laptop – before they were invented, or before I owned one. I guess what I like is the feeling of having the option to connect with as much convenience as possible. So, as I am getting ready to travel once again, I find myself hovering around the question – do I take the laptop or not. I am inclined to say not – but I am also subject to changing my mind repeatedly in the next couple of days before I leave.

(1) I have an iPhone that I use mostly as an iPod and entertainment device. I often describe the difference between the Blackberry and the iPhone as the difference between a tool and toy. The Blackberry is an excellent tool. The iPhone is a better toy. This distinction has been known to send Apple fanatics into spasms.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Sirens of the Unreal

We carry within us the echoes of past events. The complex weave of our memories interlaces with the moment in a hundred subtle ways. Small current events can brush against older events, causing the memories to rise up and inhabit the current moment, like ghostly judges, peering over our shoulders, sitting in judgment of the day and the events of the day.

It can be very difficult to shake those judges, with their opinions made of memory, out of the moment. We live in a world of illusion. The illusion is that past events somehow cause present events. The illusion is that the past somehow illuminates the present, somehow shapes the future.

Reality is that we are in a world where we, as independent beings, capable of thought and action, possess an incredible potential, limited only by the physics of the universe. The opinions made of memory are essentially meaningless in the present. Each moment is shaped by the thoughts and the actions that happen inside of that moment. Nothing more, nothing less.

Our thoughts and our actions inside the moment bring forth the occurrence of that moment from the vast and amorphous potential that is the universe, that is our life. It is an incredible thing, dazzling in its sheer simplicity. The past is an echo. The past is the opinion of memory. The past is illusion. The near limitless potential of our lives is born in the thoughts and actions of the moment.

If you can reach out a nd pull yourself into the moment, pull yourself away from the echoes of the past and the dreams of the future and the allure of the sirens of the unreal, then you will known the moment and knowing the moment you will know…everything you need to know.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Is This The Right Tempo

Tempo: The speed at which music is or ought to be played, often indicated on written compositions by a descriptive or metronomic direction to the performer. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Wouldn’t it be nice if life came with musical notation?

If we knew, from the hand of the Unseen Composer, the tempo of our lives? \If we knew, each day, each moment, the speed at which we were supposed to play the day?

It is tempting to think of life as jazz, but even jazz has it’s set of musical rules and traditions that define it as this form or that form. Imagine studying the performance of life with the same discipline and dedication that one grants to the study of music, imagine what would be possible as one slowly mastered the instrumentation and the forms of life.

That would truly be an astounding life.

My thoughts had turned to tempo this morning as I was driving into work.

It was a beautiful morning, cool, clear – a good morning for reflection and meditation (and Melissa Etheridge’s classic “Chrome Plated Heart”).

I was working through the things that I want to do before I take off on vacation next week, sorting the tasks to each evening, saving some for Friday, making the necessary contingency plans when it dawned on me that on a musical level I was arranging the days between here and there. With the week as a symphony I was looking at each day as a movement within the symphony and determining what the appropriate tempo would be.

It’s not just a matter of picking the tempo, but understanding that on many levels that music determines its own tempo, at least while composing. Life is a lot like that I think. Our lives set their own tempo as they are composing and we, as the player, need to understand the concepts of tempo and need to understand the importance of letting the tempo arrive naturally from the flow of the music – but once it has arrived, we need to understand the importance of working, properly, within the tempo.

So, as you go through the hours of your life, what is the tempo? Is it the right tempo?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sliding Into Friday

Today was definitely a far better day than yesterday. (And that reminds me of the song "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" by Flogging Molly.) Because most of the company is on the 9/80 shift, and of them, most of them are on the opposite shift of me most of the time when I work on Friday's it is very quiet because most of my customers are out for the day.

Today was no different - while working on a variety of projects through the day, I sent out about a half a dozen emails to customers. All but one gave me an out of office bounce back, which is fairly typical. It means that, for one day every two weeks, I have the chance to work mostly uninterrupted and to play that old game of catch-up. I took advantage of it today and made good progress.

I had a nice long lunch at Chili's (some chicken dish, I forget the name of it), and then met Tony for dinner at Holders in Saratoga, where I had the excellent chili-bean omelet and wheat toast. From there, it was home, where I've come inside, pulled the blinds (the living room faces to the west, so the summer sun can be quite hot), fired up the AC and have settled in for a very quiet evening of reading, writing, watching the DVR, and sliding as seamlessly into the weekend as I can.

T.R. was teasing me the other day that I was already in countdown to vacation and there is no doubt about that - I've got four days of work left, then I have a day off, and from there its a early morning flight back into the heartland of South Dakota and the Rosebud for a week long visit with friends and family. I'm looking forward to the trip, but the vacation aspect of it and the family visit aspect of it. I'm looking forward to a succession of lazy days watching satellite TV, reading, and visiting with family.

Then, it's back to CA for three weeks, and then I will start a two week long vacation. In the middle of the vacation I'll go down to San Diego for Comic Con - the trip I look forward to every year, the trip that allows me to embrace my inner geek. So, summer is going to slide on by, gently and easy, full of silences and grace and good things. (And hopefully, from my lips to God's ears.)

As a consequence of the day I am sliding into this wonderful weekend in just the right mood - tired, but bright, looking forward to the chance to just relax, read, write and watch some DVR. On Saturday I am getting together with friends in the afternoon and on Sunday, we've talking about slipping out to see "Super 8". It should be a good weekend, all in all.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

On The Plus Side - I Am Watching The Thing

Least we think the entire day was frustrating, on the plus side, I did have a good bowl of soup, I followed it with a brownie, and now I am sitting here watching the sunset, feeling a bit of a cool breeze blowing over me and watching a true cult classic - John Carpenter's remake of "The Thing" with Kurt Russell. Probably one of the rare movies where in many ways the remake exceeds the original. If you've never seen it - I definitely recommend it as an excellent John Carpenter/Kurt Russell collaboration and the cult classic it is.

The End of a Challenging Day

Well, today was definitely one of those days. It started out very well - I had an excellent morning and made it into the office without incident. The first three hours or so of the day were pretty productive and peaceful - and then things took a turn for the worse. By the end of the day I was tired, short-tempered, and pretty frazzled.

I came home and had a very simple dinner - a bowl of chicken noodle soup, spent some time with TR, and wandered the internet for a while, looking at the excellent work out there on Deviant Art and Red Bubble. From there, I popped over to Amazon and saw a book that looked interesting, so I added it to my wish list - The Buddha in the Robot.

I got chewed up today by one of the things at work that is a constant hot button for me. We have a pretty good desktop support group (the group that configures and supports the PC's). For the most part, as individuals, they are talented and professional. However, we've got a problem that a lot of help desks deal with. The analysts on the help desk are measured on ticket based metrics. They are measure based on home many tickets they open - and close. The cycle time between opening and closing is also one of the key metrics.

Years ago Deming pointed out the irony in this type of arrangement - people perform to what they are measured on. Pure human nature. Measure someone on how fast they close a ticket and guess where their emphasis lands. (I also run a help desk and on my help desk the analysts are measured on customer satisfaction and task resolution - not cycle time.) Our emphasis is on figuring out what the problem is and fixing it. So, there is a place where I collide with the culture of ticket based metrics.

We periodically get cases referred to us that are the PC help desk cases because they close and refer tickets out as soon as possible. If they have an opportunity to transfer something out - boom, out it goes. Now, our applications and systems run on the desktop environment - so, if there is a problem with one of our systems or applications, they pass it over to us - as they should. Except, in a good number of cases - it is a PC problem, not an application problem. So, we have to hand it back to them - and the customer gets caught in a loop.

There is actually a very simple test to prevent this hand-off. Access the system and see if you (on your PC) can do the task the customer is reporting as broken. If you can - then it is not an application problem, but a PC configuration problem. However, sometimes, in order to keep their metrics down, the analysts on the central PC help desk simply see "X Application" and close the ticket and transfer the call out, without doing any troubleshooting.

Sometimes it gets truly absurd. I've personally called the help desk to try and get a desktop support person to address a problem, or at least open the right kind of ticket and route it correctly, only to have the try to transfer my me! (To my help desk that is.) It's very frustrating. Despite repeated training efforts and documentation efforts - all of which are contained in their reference materials - they still "transfer and close" to keep their numbers down. Unfortunately, it sucks up my time and the time of my help desk analysts on trying to get the customers out of the loop they land in. Of course, to the customer - it's all Greek - they don't care who helps them, they just want help. Today, what sent me spinning into a frustrating mood was a succession of these types of calls.

The pure frustration of bureaucratic nonsense and corporate group-think is one of the things that can be so draining. I get home and I just want to lay down and stare at the ceiling, or perhaps nap, or perhaps both. It usually takes a while to get free of that crappy and crabby feeling. It is very tempting in a company to "measure the easy things" (like ticket cycle times) and ignore the hard to measure things (like customer satisfaction or actual problem resolution). Ah well, as my stress counselor successfully reminded me - you chose this job. I did. And sometimes, having chose it, I just need to put on my armor and suck it up Today was definitely a suck it up day.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Small Things

Today turned into a day of small things. Life is wrapped in the small things of course, interwoven in all the intricate little details of living. There are times when we need to just simply pay attention to the small things. That was today for me. I was just thinking about the strangeness of writing a longer blog entry about small things. So, let me simply wrap it up here. Today, I paid attention to the small things.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thursday Evening Burns

It was nice to wrap up the three day work week tonight, though I made a critical mistake at the end of the day. Because of the variations on my schedule I had Monday as a holiday and then Friday as my normal off Friday, which made for a short three day work week. However, it sure felt like I crammed five days of work in three days and I ended up with more work than I like to have on my plate as I left for the day. I am naturally reluctant to surrender any of my weekend to play catch up, but I may have to invest a couple of hours over the weekend, just so I don't end up to far behind the eight-ball on Monday. Of course, I can also talk myself out of that idea pretty easily to.

Meanwhile, back to the critical mistake I made at the end of the day - I finished the working day by doing three online compliance training classes. At the end of that little cycle I was struggling desperately to stay awake. I often wonder how hard is it to make engaging training materials? Dry and monotone always seem to be the order of the day. We compound that problem at work because I personally think a lot of our training material is - so bland as to be mind-numbing.

So, after work I set off for home, including a stop at the market to pick up some odds and ends, and then I stopped at Holders to meet Tony for a quick bite to eat. I had an excellent plate of Swedish pancakes - and got to see a car fire in front of the market. (The picture is from that car fire, taken with my Blackberry.) From there it was a trip home, a quiet evening with TR, and now I am watching one of my guilty pleasure shows - "So You Think You Can Dance". I am tuckered out, so I am going to sleep well this evening. I am going to be headed straight into dreamland as soon as my head hits the pillow.

A Great Jonathan Franzen Essay

I thought I would share a great little Jonathan Franzen essay from the NY Times.

Jonathan Franzen "Liking is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts".

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Stories We Rarely Tell

We are the sum total of our histories. When we tell the stories of our lives we tend to select them carefully. We select the ones that we think other people will find interesting. We select the ones that have meaning to us. We select the ones that are poignant or amusing or enlightening.

But we have other stories too. These are the stories we rarely tell. These are the ordinary stories. These are the secret stories. These are the subtle and simple stories. In many ways these stories, the untold stories of our lives, are our best stories. It doesn't matter whether we ever tell them. We know them. We know their significance. We know the place they hold in our lives, the quiet places, the secret places, the simple places.