Monday, December 31, 2012

A Year Gracefully Slips Away

Another quiet day. I spent most of the morning just lazing around the house, then went to the Texas Road House with Tony for a steak, then drifted home.  I watched a truly excellent movie to wrap of the year - The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich). That movie sits high my list of classics that I love - it is easy to watch and re-watch, which is one of the traits of a great movie.

I've also made a series of telephone calls and texts into the evening, wishing a variety of people a Happy New Year - T.R., friends and family.  My plan for New Years this year is to do exactly what I am doing - feet up, relaxed, and easy.  It is a good way to the end the year.  Tomorrow, I am going to start thinking about my New Years resolutions for 2013.  But tonight, I am just going to let 2012 gracefully slip away.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

An Incidental Day, With Lunch

I started the morning in conversation with T.R. about dreaming about Buddha. An easy going morning, breakfast at the Hickory Pit, a stop at Target, and a bit of relaxation at home. 

Then, we took Brandy out to lunch to celebrate her graduation from culinary school. We went over to Mandarin Palace, near the Oakridge mall in San Jose. It was an excellent lunch, the food was great, the company was great, and there was great conversation and laughter - all of the things that a celebratory dinner should have.

I drifted home and spent an easy afternoon watching TV, reading, and tinkering around the house. This evening has been nice and quiet.  I am currently watching a documentary on the Modoc War on KCSM.  It should wrap up about 9:00 PM and then the plan is to curl up and start reading "The King of Thorns", the sequel to "The Prince of Thorns". I am looking forward to just lingering through the day tomorrow.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chely Wright - Wish Me Away

I just watched an outstanding documentary this morning - Chely Wright: Wish Me Away.   It is an inside look at the singers decision to come out and become an openly gay country music singer.  It is a powerful little piece of film and did nothing but vastly increase my respect for her as a person and an artist. If you haven't seen it, I would highly recommend it.

It's an easy going morning today.  I woke up about three AM and couldn't go back to sleep, so I spend an hour of so reading the news on my iPad, then finally fell back asleep. Consequently, I managed to sleep a little later that usual, until about 7:00 AM.  Breakfast was simple, chased with coffee, and I was channel surfing when I stumbled across the documentary above.

My plan today is simple as well. I am going to meet my friends at Hickory Pit for breakfast, the run a few morning errands, then meet my friend Rick for lunch, then maybe catch another movie in the afternoon. I haven't decided which I am interested in, but there are several out there that are on the short list, including Les Miserables and the Cirque du Soleil 3D film.  I'm definitely looking forward to another easy going day.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Another Simple Day

Another simple day.  I slept in,  I woke and read.  I had a simple breakfast, then spent most of the morning just reading and listening to the odd bits of music. I went to the Cheesecake Factory with Tony for lunch, where I had an excellent piece of rib-eye steak. From there, I wandered the mall for a bit while Tony bought a new laptop, then drifted home.  It was a quiet evening with incidental household chores and Ancient Aliens. All in all, it has been a very pleasant day.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A very pleasant day, with traffic. I slept in a bit, then showered and watched a couple of episodes of Ben & Kate off of the DVR.  Breakfast was the huevos Mexicana's at Goodies II, then Tony and I headed up to the Cache Creek Resort and Casino for a day trip.

The traffic was a little heavy getting out of the bay area, but once we hit 505 north, it lightened up and was a quick enough trip.  We gambled and lost a bid of money, had a great lunch at the buffet, and then scooted home. The whole trip was pleasant and enjoyable, though there was one white knuckle moment.

We were just across the Benecia bridge when Tony went to shift from the left most lane to the next lane to the right - at the same time a semi-was moving into that lane.  The angle of it blocked Tony's view of the trucks blinker (which was on) and made for a purely adrenaline fueled couple of seconds.

After that, the rest of the drive home was gravy.  So, here I am, with my feet propped up, watching a movie called "Catch .44" with Forest Whitaker, Bruce Willis, Malin Akerman, Nikki Reed, and Deborah Ann Woll.  It is an interesting little film noir shoot-em-up that Tony recommended.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Simple Notes from Simple Days

It's been a good Christmas vacation so far.  The holiday itself with simple and quiet - Mass, an easy morning, lunch at Holders Country Inn with Don and Tony, then Django Unchained at Century 22.  The faint echoes of A Very Tarantino Christmas echoed through my day.

I can definitely recommend Django Unchained - I'd go so far as to say one of Tarantino's best, technically. Story-wise, I think he will be hard pressed to beat the pair of Kill Bill movies.  But, Django Unchained is definitely worth the price of admission.

Today has been just as easy going - I had breakfast as Goodies II on Bascom, then ran a couple of errands, then came home for a lazy afternoon of movie watching on television and incidental house cleaning, with a focus on the living room, which is not reconfigured into my final winter configuration.

I've spent most of the evening so far watching "RED" with Bruce Willis, which is an amusing movie with an excellent cast.  I may watch another movie off the DVR tonight, or I may settle in and read some more in "The Prince of Thorns".  I haven't made that decision yet.

I had a nice little exchange with T.R. tonight, who is safe in the bosom of her family, telling stories into the evening.  Story-telling is an art and it is carefully nurtured.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Let There Be Light

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jack Reacher

I woke this morning to the sound of pouring rain, that heavy rush of a winter storm, with the deep and long rumbles of thunder providing a magnificent undercurrent. A wonderfully lazy hour with T.R. to start the day, then breakfast with Tony and Tyrone at the Hickory Pit, followed by a walk-through of Fry's, where I managed to only buy a Vitamin Water Zero and a package of mints.

Then, home for a few hours of  laziness and out to see an afternoon showing of the new Tom Cruise movie "Jack Reacher", with the wonderful Rosamund Pike and an excellent little supporting turn by Robert Duval. I was not enthusiastic about the movie, though Cruise is rarely bad - I had read the book and I just could not reconcile Cruise with the character of Jack Reacher in my head.  Still, I was willing to take a chance on the movie and I am glad I did.

I am happy to report that it was very enjoyable, Cruise was good in the role (was he Jack Reacher, uh, no - but I could accept him as an alternate universe Jack Reacher and ultimately that was good enough), and Rosamund Pike was absolutely luminous. All in all, an entertaining film.

From there, we grabbed a bite Buffalo Wild Wings, then drifted home. Tony stopped by and I helped him do a little research on his installation of dual video cards (sweet!) and then I settled in and watched the most recent episode of Fringe.  Excellent as well.

I am about to fire up the DVR and watch the guilty pleasure of my days that T.R. turned me on too - Ancient Aliens - and wander my way into the night, but I thought I would pause and make a quick entry out here.  I hope the rain pours all night so I can sleep like a baby.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Rambles

The Christmas vacation begins with an lazy evening at home, watching "Click" on cable, largely because I didn't see anything else on at this hour that I wanted to see - and it has the lovely Kate Beckinsale, and yes, Adam Sandler can also be funny.  I had an great little dinner over at Frankie, Johnny and Luigi II - the sausage Calzone, chased with a piece of Tiramisu. They have improved their Tiramisu but it is still no Mama Mia's. I am looking forward to the vacation.  I'd write more, but even my thoughts are sliding into relaxation this evening. Oh, one note, I started a new book - Prince of Thorns. Outstanding.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Golden Christmas Wreath

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One Black Dream, One Light Dream

Last night, I dreamt a black dream, quite literally.

In the dream I was driving through a strange city in my Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera (I haven’t had the car in years).  I was in a part of the town where they had the road torn up for repair.  I had to weave my way through various obstacles and then cross a short section of road that was completely torn up. I could see it was muddy, but I figured with enough momentum I didn’t have to worry about it.  I started across…

Immediately upon crossing onto the mud I realized it was far more treacherous than I imagined.  The car skittered across the top of the mud and almost made it - but, just as the nose of the car reached the far side, the rear end of the car started precipitously dropping and in a matter of moments the entire car was sliding backwards and down.  A sea of blackness and cold swallowed the entire car. I had a split-second to get out, which I did.  I was instantly engulfed in the cold black mud.

I knew that I was very close to drowning and I fought the rising panic. I knew that I was literally seconds away from death.  But, I also knew that in order to survive I had to very slowly and very carefully “swim” my way to the surface of the liquid mud, which I did successfully.

I woke from the dream thinking I haven’t had a dream that as clearly symbolized the level of general stress I have been under in a long time - drowning in the cold and black.

Then, interestingly, when I went back to sleep I followed that dream with a cool dream.  In the second dream, I was in a movie theatre (like the Centuries in San Jose), sitting there watching a double feature.  There were some people sitting around me, familiar strangers, who were sharing a big bag of red licorice whips. It was a pleasant experience.  

After the movie ended, I walked out and then walked down the rain slick streets, shiny and beautiful at night, to my car (my current car) which was parked by a restaurant, like an old Bakers Square.  I went inside to get a dinner of comfort food and I knew that I was going to meet friends there, though they had not yet appeared.  It was a perfect California winters evening.

Every Day - Wolfgang Van Goethe

"Every day we should at least hear one little song, read one good poem, see one fine painting, and - if at all possible - speak a few sensible words." Wolfgang von Goethe
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Service at Tao Tao

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Waiting for the Tropics

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Aren't We All Amazing Creatures

I enjoyed my little break from routine yesterday and I thought I would repeat it again today.  I came into the office early this morning so I could get a jump on that day - mornings tend to be the most productive time for me.  By the time I get later into the day I am often tired and irritable and that makes productive work difficult until later in the day.  The constant stream of interruptions from the ordinary course of business makes any measured approach to the day very difficult. I often wonder how much other people have to deal with the interruptions as well. I know they are common in my division, but I wonder if other divisions do a better job of controlling them.  It may simply be a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence.

My thoughts this morning are flowing around two things - expectations and control. They are both deeply intertwined. Control is one of the primary methods we use to try and insure that our expectations are fulfilled.  We want certain things to happen, usually based on our own needs, however base or noble we perceive them.  We then reach out and attempt to influence the course of events, attempt to drive them toward our expected outcomes. Often, we attempt to drive them there by command, by coercion, by the judicious application of force. Yet, thousands of years of observational experience, distilled and passed down to us as the wisdom of the world, tell us that force only works in the crudest sense.

I tend to be a person who divides things into two parts - yes and no, good and bad, creative and destructive.  I think the middle ground between these poles is pretty small - sometimes it is a razor blade upon which we are trying to juggle a world view. I think that, when we do not have an accurate perception of circumstances, when our perception is strong influenced by Maya, it is very easy for us to slip into the land of unmet expectations and all of the things that come with it. The better we perceive what is real, the more likely our expectations are going to align with what is real. It would then seem to follow that if we want our expectations to be met, we would have a higher chance of success if we aligned them with what is real.  Then, if we use the real to influence the real, we have a better chance at increasing the probabilities of success.

It is definitely a brain tickler to be spinning around inside my head today.

On other fronts, T.R. is back from Charleston and they are settling in for Christmas.  I was able to spend some quality time with her last night that I very much enjoyed.  My nephew was hoping to be discharged from the hospital today, so my parents drove up from the ranch, but there may have been a wrinkle thrown into the middle of that. Last night my nephew had rather severe stomach pains, so this morning they had run him through x-ray and then shot him up with morphine. Who knows what the outcome of that all is going to be. It is in part the events surrounding my nephew that have me contemplating issues of expectation and control.  Various people involved in the process have various expectations and wanted outcomes and yet, with the exception of the actions they take as individuals, there is very little they can do to control the process.

To me, when you are faced with this kind of circumstance, the question becomes - what are you willing to do to influence the outcome toward your expectation.  If the most you are willing to do is express your opinion and hope other people do the things you want them to do, then you have a relatively small chance of success.  The deeper you get into the reality, the closer you come to perceiving reality, the more likely you are to be able to influence the outcome. In the arena of expectations, victory goes to the person who is most willing to get deeply, deeply involved in the reality of the situation.  That involvement often comes with a very high cost in term of surrendering your own personal set of illusions to fully embrace reality.  Maya disapproves. So we attempt to control the unreal (reality as we would like it to be) with the unreal (actions that are not aligned with that which is real) and crash into the world of unmet expectations.

Aren’t well all amazing creatures?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Last Night I Wrestled With Maya

I needed to work on my elasticity today, so I thought I would take a couple of minutes between working on regression testing and attending a meeting to write an entry for my blog.  It’s been a pretty ordinary morning here at the office. Once every three weeks a vendor releases upgrades to their software so we run through a fast cycle of regression testing to make sure that all of the core functionality still works as intended. My portion of that testing passed with flying colors this morning, so it was time consuming but fruitful.

Last night was not a good night for sleep. I spent most of the evening in family calls and they were not the most fruitful. One of the things that happens to people, as they go through any sort of crisis, the crisis allows our better angels to rise up.  Then, Maya begins to rise up and counter whatever action they took or planned to take.  I know from the years of dealing with Maya in my lifetime that Maya is unrelenting and unforgiving and, like water, seeks every crack and crevasse, worms its way in and cracks things open through its relentless pressure.

As the people around us succumb to Maya, then the pressure on us becomes greater and greater as well.  The people around us are one of the entry points for Maya in our lives. It can certainly be a struggle to not allow that to happen.  Recognizing Maya for what it is remains a huge part of that journey.  Recognizing Maya does not free us from reacting or acting because of it, but the awareness gives us the glimmer of hope.

On the wall next to my desk I have a white 3x5 note card.  On it is written one of the things I learned in “The Buddha Walks Into A Bar”.

“May all beings enjoy happiness and be free from suffering.”

*Maya - in the zen tradition, maya denotes that it is not a form of self-deception to acknowledge the physical world as real, however, the deception occurs when one assumes the physical world to be the only permanent reality.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

I Am Human and Attached

I watched the season finales of Dexter and Homeland today. Both of them are awesome television - it is pretty amazing what can be done with the medium these days.  However, I always say that with the immediate caveat of - whatever you like on TV, rest assured that for someone else it's the stupidest thing they've ever seen.  For what it is worth though, for my money, Dexter and Homeland are as good as it gets though.

It was  typical Monday at work - I managed to get some things accomplished and then lost the bubble of the day to unfolding events.  One of the skill-sets I possess is complex data retrieval and analysis for legal investigations.  It is an interesting skill set and I enjoy the investigative aspect of it.  I do find it frustrating that it is always "oh my god, we need to know the answer to this right away" - so, it is complex requests on short lead time. I lost a good part of the day to that sort of event today.

Dinner was a simple cheeseburger and onion rings, in large part because I was too lazy to cook when I got home tonight.  Then, I ended up spending most of the evening on family phone calls.  Two under my belt, my nephew in the hospital and my step-dad out at the ranch. I am going to try one more in a couple of minutes - my mom was napping when my step-dad called earlier, so I promised to try and call back a little later.

My nephew is starting the slow approach to the runway to get out of the hospital and the question is rising up where he is going to land as an initial destination.  That is a discussion that has the chance to become heated, in part because, like most family things, it is one thing layered on top of many layers of other things. That is going to make some stressful days ahead, so I am going to have to practice compassion for all beings. I have to keep practicing it because I am definitely not good at it.  I am human and attached.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Another Nice Day In The Bag

Another nice day in the bag.  Breakfast at the Hickory Pit (ah, the power of habit).  From there, I took a walk through of Best Buy and then swung by the Apple Store at Valley Fair.

I find the Apple Store to be a cult like place, full of people with glazed eyes - none of which stops me from owning an iPod and an iPad and considering buying a MacAir.  My friend Tony is also looking at the MacAir. I like the idea of the ultralight laptop and the MacAir seems to be the top of that breed.

From there I stopped at Safeway to stock up on groceries for the coming week. 

Then, I headed home. I had planned on watching a movie off the DVR but ended up spending the afternoon on a pair of family calls. I tried to take a nap, but couldn't quite get to it. Dinner was Patxi's and then a walk through Barnes and Noble, where I actually managed to get out without buying anything. 

The evening finds me with my feet propped up, watching the SyFy Twentieth Anniversary Special.  I plan on writing a little and reading a little and easing into the night. I feel like calling off sick from work tomorrow, except of course I am off work all next week, so I probably won't. 

Oh, I am also on call for Jury Duty as well.  I already called in for Monday and now I have to call in between 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM tomorrow and work my way through the entire week on call.  I kind of hope I get called in as it will be a nice break in the routine of the last couple of months.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Movie Review - The Hobbit

I saw "The Hobbit" today.  On a scale of 1 to 10 I would put it at a solid 8.  I'd definitely recommend it.  It loses two points - first, for violating Rod's Rule of Action Movies - which is "faster is not better" and the second for being two indulgent is a wide variety of establishing scenes and shots.  It would have benefited for a more judicious editing. 

However, even with both of those sins - I definitely liked the movie and I would definitely recommend it.  In fact, I would take that a step farther and say is was actually better then I expected.  It passed The Watch Test with flying colors.  (The Watch Test: The sooner and more frequently you check you watch, the worse the movie is).  In this case, I checked my watch about two and a half hours in - but it was not a movie quality check. It was more of a "okay, I drank the large diet coke, can I make it to the end of the movie..." check.  I did, though, find it was amusing to watch the mad sprint for the bathroom on the part of a lot of the spectators.

Cate Blanchett is barely in the movie, but I love her as Galadriel.  I count myself as a Cate Blanchett fan, she's an incredible actress.  Richard Armitage is outstanding as the dwarf Thorin - he brings a certain gravitas to the role that clearly sets himself apart from the other dwarves, which is consistent with the character, the character is forged from a different metal then the rest of them.  Martin Freeman shines as Bilbo and of course, how can you possible go wrong with Ian McKellen as Gandalf?  So, again, all in all, I recommend The Hobbit.

After the movie, we popped over to The Flames on Winchester for a post-movie lunch and conversation and, by and large, my friends enjoyed the movie as well. I had a great chili burger and then headed home for the evening.  

Once home, I tinkered for a bit, then took a hot bath, traded texts with T.R., and have now settled in to watch a couple of old movies off the DVR for the rest of the evening. It is a beautiful late fall day here, cold and rainy, perfect for a quiet evening at home.  Oh, and I had a decent conversation with my nephew, whose moving slowly but steadily down the road of recovery.  The degree and extent of his recovery will remain to be seen, but I keep my fingers crossed and keep him in my prayers.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Dude Abides

It's a cold evening outside here in San Jose.  I am kicked back on the couch, with my laptop in my lap, watching one of the great movies of the Coen brothers - The Big Lebowski.  It seemed like a good choice for the day. It is one of those movies I truly love. So, ending with The Dude, I am wrapping up a very lazy day where I went out for breakfast, stopped for an errand or two on the way home, and then spend pretty much the entire day relaxing, watching the DVR, and reading - the exact same thing I am going to do tonight.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Amazing Subconscious

It was a relatively quick day today - about eight hours of meetings with some work accomplished during the in-between times.  All in all though, it was a good day.  I was a little frustrated by the time I reached the end of the day, but that is not an unusual thing. The small frustrations of the day add up and by the end of  the day they are carrying a certain weight. Then, if you drop something else on top of them it may be just enough to break the camels back for the day.  Just enough to take me past the tipping point.

But, then, the day is done and I head home to start the three day weekend.  I am sure I'll do a little work over the weekend, but not much - hopefully it will be mostly planning and such.  With the overload of meetings and tasks there has been very little time for simple thinking - and thinking is so crucial in an information job.  It always amazes me when I encounter people who do not understand that.  But then, LOL, I do work for an incompetent Director, so I guess that should not surprise me too much.

I am definitely looking forward to the weekend and I am going to start it with an easy night, some reading, then sleeping into the morning.  Last night I had two work related dreams.  First, I dreamed that I was in one of the bad meetings that have characterized this project - no agenda, no control, people talking over people and ignoring the conversations around them. That dream was followed by a dream of me yelling at people on the phone. I thought it was odd that first, I had a dream that built up the stress - then I had a dream that released the stress.  The subconscious is a pretty amazing place.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chasing The Last Hour of The Day

I am chasing the last hour of the day.  It was a long one. I started at 4:30 AM with email review and then basically moved from meeting to meeting through the day, with a pause for a department luncheon, then back to meetings.  All in all, twelve long hours in the day.

I stopped for a burrito on the way home, then unwound by cleaning the kitchen sink and the bathroom sink. I think I needed the zen flow of it.  I watched a pair of sitcoms off the DVR and then basically decided I was finished for the day. I am going to head for bed shortly, curl up with a book, and probably manage to last an hour or two, if I am lucky.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In The Land of Development, Process Is King

Today at work I played a truly Machiavellian game in order to get some forward movement on a portion of the project.  We have one portion of the project where three different teams are working on an integration - the Evil Corporation and two vendors.  This is a part of the project that ran into schedule delays due to poor planning and feeling were high and hostile by the time I got involved.

In order to make the integration work, it was necessary to get down into the nitty-gritty details and line out each individual data element - however, because of the delay and the fact that all three sides were pointing fingers at each other I could not get them to do the detail work.  Each group was playing highly defensively, waiting for the other groups to make a move, so they could dodge any blame.

After several fruitless meetings last week where we struggled to get even the most basic questions answered I spent the weekend reading a massive chain of email trying to figure out how to break through through the logjam. The answer was in the changing tone of the emails.  As they progressed through time I could see the tone changing to more accusatory, more defensive, less productive,  until the reached the point where I had been brought in, which was the point of near total meltdown.  Everyone was waiting for someone else to go first, so that if something went wrong they could point a finger at someone else.

So, I over-reached my authority and went first - I wrote up a set of requirements and announced - this is what we are going to do, this is the condition the data is going to be in, this is the place we are going to send the data. You all need to be ready to pick it up when it gets there.  Then, I spelled out, in some detail, what I was planning to do. 

Of course, it was wrong, largely because I was making it up out of whole cloth - but one of the vendor rose to the bait and said "that's not right", which opened up the door for me to simply say "tell me exactly where it is wrong, and what change needs to be made to make it right".  They tried to dance, but I just drew back to my original proposal and said "absent detailed input, I am making a best guess and doing it this way, and I have no problem documenting it as a best guess in the lieu of more detailed information" - and that was enough to prompt, first, the two vendors to talk to each other, then the whole team to get talking.  When I left tonight, I have two thirds buy in and one third outstanding.

It was pretty Machiavellian, but it was the only thing I could think of to break through the positions that everyone had hunkered down in. Sometimes a stalking horse serves a good as well as a real horse.  Of course, none of this would have been necessary if we'd actually followed any sort of good engineering process from the beginning.  What appears to have bitten them on this end of the project was that no one wanted to do the grunt work - and everyone preferred to assume that someone else was doing it, so there were no detailed documented system requirements.

When it comes to software development, process is king.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Simple, Simple, Simple

Another very easy going day during which I did next to nothing of any significance and then went out for pizza.  It has been the most relaxing weekend that I have had in a while and I am grateful for that. I am winding out the last hour of the day with a cup of hot chocolate and the novel I've been reading. Simple, Simple, Simple.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It has been a fairly good Saturday, everything considered.  I'd normally run through the list of what I did today, but, just imagine me easy going and relaxed and you'll have a very good picture. 

I am winding into the evening now and I'm shortly going to be wrapping up the last load of laundry.  I usually don't do my laundry here at the complex, since there are limited machines and more than a load or two can be very time consuming, but I wasn't doing anything else of any significance tonight, so I am running three loads through one after another. 

The last load is blue jeans and they are washing right now and in about seven minutes I am going to walk down and move them over to the dryer.  It's one less errand that I'll have to do tomorrow. I would like to go out and see a movie tomorrow but there really isn't anything that is crying out for me to see it, which is odd for this time of year.

I haven't decided if I am going to watch a movie or read into the evening yet. Right now I am mostly inclined toward reading, but that could all change in a couple of minutes. I have "The Golden Compass" sitting near the Blu-Ray player, so I may slip it in and enjoy the movie. I liked the original and I was certainly hoping they would do some of the sequels, but at this point it doesn't seem like they are going to.  Considering one of the major characters was Daniel Craig, he might be a bit hard to get now days, seeing as he is James Bond and all.

One of the reasons the movie was on my mind was last night I saw part of "The Kingdom of Heaven" with Orlando Bloom and Eva Green, and Eve Green is the Witch in "The Golden Compass". Which lead me to think "gee, I haven't watched that movie in a while" and decide to set it out for when I was in the right mood.  And now that I have been writing about it for a while, I am suddenly much more in the right mood for it.  So, after I move the jeans over into the dryer, I think "The Golden Compass" is coming on to watch.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Fought The Math and the Math Won

I am home and probably in the most purely relaxed mode I have been in several months. We had some fast breaking project news today.  The project is comprised of three parts - one part was mine, another part I am now deeply involved with, and a third part I am peripherally involved with.

Last night, my part went live - and today, they finally bit the bullet and have pushed the other two parts back into the early part of 2013. Neither of them was ready to go - both of them have serious technical problems that come from not following good engineering processes. 

Once they announced the schedule slip, you could feel the audible sigh of relief from the assorted team members - the most important thing that the slip buys is time, precious time. With time, then we can make a good effort to get the other two parts of the project back on schedule.

So tonight, when I got home, for the first time in quite a long time I was able to just settle in and relax.  There is still plenty of drama moving out there on the family front, but only involves me on the edges and I can, mostly, set it aside and let them work it out.

The next challenge in the work environment is going to be to see if we can rapidly get organized to make the most out of the time that was bought.  My perception is that neither of the parts of the project that got delayed were seriously out of whack - just the lack of good process control meant that their were assumptions and mistakes made in the early parts of the project that could not be recovered from quickly enough in the later parts of the project.

So, I have a fairly simple plan tonight - I am going to take a deep breath, I am going to watch a little bit of TV, I am going to curl up with my book, and I am going to sleep tomorrow until I wake up.  I do have to go into the office tomorrow, but I am going to spend the day working on a pair of data retrieval issues from our normal operations.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Persephone Is Having Sex In Hell

"Persephone is having sex in hell..."

I have a new poet (new to me at least) who has captured my imagination - Louise Gluck. On recommendation from T.R. I ordered "Averno" from Amazon the other day and it arrived tonight - I spent most of the last hour reading the first half of the collection, and then I had to force myself to set it aside so I didn't finish reading it all in one night.  So now I am splitting my reading time between  "Averno"...

And "Among Thieves: A Tale of the Kin" by Douglas Hulick.

That is the way reading works - when it rains, it pours. 

I am enjoying both books immensely, even though it meant that I set aside Orson Scott Card's "Ruins" because if it was going somewhere, it was going too slow.  I may pick it up again later and give it another try - it's pretty rare when Card disappoints, but, alas, it does happen.

Broken Sky

This was the view as I commuted homeward last night, a beautiful and broken sky.
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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Though busy, the last two days have been good, on several levels. Spent some quality time with T.R., was productive-though-frustrated at work, and the nephew has been moved out of critical care to a regular hospital room and I've had the opportunity to talk to him. Speaking of which, I am going to call him shortly and hope to have a nice little conversation.

The project at work is still drastically out of synch with reality, but the laborious and painful process of dragging it back into some semblance of normality in underway.  Many a deadline has been missed and I find myself actually hoping that their are consequences and then hoping that those consequences land on the right people, perhaps heavily. How a director can be so far detached from reality and still retain their position is totally beyond me.

I have a handful of project related things ahead of me this week and I suspect I will actually be able to get them accomplished.  I haven't worked any excessive hours this week - and I am not planning on working any. The price of those long days is very high and unfortunately I think it is being paid by good people. As a leader, that type of thing irritates me.  The fundamental responsibility of management is managing resources and the tragedy is, when management fails, it is often those resources that pay the price.

I was planning on watching some TV today, but in the last couple of minutes I've decided against it.  Instead, I think I will make a couple of phone calls, then settle in with my novel and read my way into the night.  There are a couple of sitcoms that come on around 8:00 tonight, but I'm not sure if I am going to watch them - I will make that decision when the hour approaches.

I have my Christmas tree and some decorations, except the full sweep of lights, up, so there is already a bit of a Christmas feeling spreading over the room, which I am enjoying. We have one more California rain storm stacked up to make a sweep through the bay area, so I think I will wait until after it has finished it's run to put the lights up.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday's Chronicle

I made today an easy day. I slept until about seven a.m., then woke to the sound of heavy rain.  I laid there in bed for a while savoring the sound, that quiet rush of water cascading off the roof of the apartment building, the steady hiss of the rain on the street outside, the occasional loud pop of a large drop against the bedroom window. I rolled out of bed, splashed through the shower, had a cup of coffee then sat and thought and meditated and otherwise enjoyed the rain.

Breakfast at the Hickory Pit with Tony followed.  The restaurant itself was only half full, due to the heavy rain, and it was dark and gloomy outside.  After breakfast I swung over to Target to pick up some odds and ends, then a stop at Michael's and Ross for the same reason. I took a leisurely walk around the mall and people watched for a while, before heading home to a quiet afternoon.

I spent the afternoon split between family calls, true crime stories on the History Channel, and setting my Christmas tree and decorations up.  The only thing I haven't done yet is hand the lights.  I am going to have to wait until the rain stops before I do that, since on the outer string I have to use duct tape to hold the lights in place. My Christmas tree looks great though, I will have to take a picture of it and share that picture with you all.

I took a short nap about three in the afternoon, but actually just kind of laid there, not quite napping, not quite awake, simply admiring the colors of the tree outside the bedroom window, since the afternoon sun had broken out.  About four p.m. I went over to meet Tony for an early dinner at El Burro in the Pruneyard.  I had enchilda suiza, chicken, with rice, beans and cheese.  It was heavy and filling meal, but because I had skipped lunch, it did not weigh me down.

From there, I took a walk through Barnes and Noble (and managed to not buy anything, but I did take pictures of the covers of a couple of books so I will remember to look them up the next time I go through there), then drove home to watch the season finale of "The Walking Dead".  Outstanding bit of television, all in all, and a great mid-season finale.

The rest of the evening is going to be "Once Upon A Time" and then reading.  I am anticipating a full week at work with two main problems that I would like to solve in the early days of the week. One of them is about eight hours of just grinding through details, so I am going to try and clear my calendar so I can deal with that.  I am holding out the hope that, hour wise, it will be a regular week.  And not the regular 12 hour week, but a regular week.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


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California Rain

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An Unspecified Morning

I woke crisply this morning, which is the primary sign of a good nights sleep.  If I dreamed, I don't remember the substance of the dream. All in all though, it was a nice sleep and I've kind of segued into an easy day.  It is raining outside, here in San Jose, but that is nice in its own way.  I don't have anything planned for the day.  The usual breakfast with friends at the Hickory Pit, then I might slip out and see a movie or shoot some pool.  My intention is to ease through the day as simply as I can.

My nephew was moved out of critical care last night, into a regular room, so we will see how that goes. Always keeping him centered in my thoughts and prayers.My family, otherwise, is doing well. I decided to cancel my Christmas trip back to South Dakota due to work obligations and a need to keep the stress levels down and under control.  I could feel the waves threatening to crash over me and decided to take a few proactive steps to lower that stress level.

I seem to be in an introspective and unspecified mood today.  We will see what that translates to in the course of the day.  For now, I am going to start the process of getting ready to head over to the Hickory Pit for breakfast.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tomorrow, When The War Began After The Red Dawn

It's been a good Friday. I've kept it low key and am carrying that into the night.  I just watched an interesting movie - well, interesting meaning "really kind of bad by strangely entertaining".  The movie is called "Tomorrow, When The War Began" and is based on a set of juvenile novels by James Marsden. It is an Australian film and I would call it a Red Dawn clone - except without the acting.  And yet, with all that, I would recommend it as an entertaining B movie, but like Red Dawn.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Day In Fragments

Sometimes, in the middle of doing something else, a pang of loss and loneliness will wash over me. Then, life sweeps on, inexorably. That is the nature of things.

Today was one long meeting.  My first meeting started at 7:00 AM and my last meeting ended a little after 4:00 PM. Inside of that window I had a problem with one of my contacts, which was a low grade irritation through most of the day, until by later in the day it was seriously irritating and I took it out, through it away, and drove home with one eye.

I also had one whopper of a stress headache come on, probably aggravated by the contact (which I didn't realize until later).  I left work early, because of the headache and the eye irritation and came home to finish up the last of my meetings.  Once they were wrapped I ordered a pizza and settled in and watched the last episode of "Ghost Hunters".

My nephews condition remains mostly the same - drug induced fugue state, limited communication, ventilator.

Other than that, that pretty much sums up the day.  I am starting a three day weekend - and I will be working over those three days, but somewhere in there I do want to take some times off and do nothing, deliberately do nothing, for at least the better part of one entire day.

As for tonight, I think I am going to take a nap and then, depending on how the nap goes, wake up a bit latter and figure out what to do for the evening.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

60 Email on the Transsiberian

I spent the evening watching the movie "Transsiberian" with Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, and Ben Kingsley while I was working my way through my email backlog.  I managed to read, delete, sort and respond to about sixty email this evening, which made for a long, but mostly productive workday.

The movie was pretty good, it's a film noir set on the Transsiberian railway in Russia.  It is dark, intense, and well acted.  I'd recommend it if you haven't seen it. Emily Mortimer is very powerful in the film.

Work was long today, so I won't dwell on that - another day ahead of me.  The project is struggling and people are coming apart at the seams.  Yet another sign of bad management - a well managed team pulls together when it comes under stress, a poorly managed team falls apart.  It's amusing to me that part of our team is pulling together (the part under my direct manager), while the rest of it has started to fall apart.

My main concern is that the whole thing is going to implode and innocent people are going to catch the blame for our incompetent director, whose already casting about for ways to blame the problems on other people.  Dang, it is tough being under bad management.

It's been a stressful fall, that is for sure.  I wanted to go back to South Dakota for Christmas, but I am going to postpone that trip. All that is going to do is ratchet my stress level even higher - trying to travel in that most challenging season.  Running full speed up to Christmas, then stressful travel, then coming back to work and hitting it at full speed. That would definitely take all of the fun out of the vacation.  I think I will sit tight and aim at a more leisurely vacation after the holiday, somewhere in the early spring.  It would be nice to get two weeks or more completely off the work grid.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Life is a Strange Journey

Okay, lots of work, most of it detached from reality, but a deliberately easy evening here at home.  I've got to head in early in the morning to run a 7:00 AM User Acceptance Test Kick-Off Meeting for yet another part of the project.  Amusingly (and with plenty of attendant stress) I caught two of three UAT projects - both on less than four days notice, both because the existing plans for it had collapsed under the weight of the project.  Once again, I get to pull a complete cycle of UAT out of thin air.

With that in mind, this afternoon, when I wrapped up my last meeting and headed home I decided I was going to spend a quiet evening relaxing, then some reading time tonight. I am working my way through Orson Scott Card's "Ruins" and quite frankly, it is slow going.  I keep hoping it picks up some action, but it seems to be slow developing in that direction.  I may give it a few more nights and then I am going to have to abandon it.

On the home front, my nephew still remains in critical care.  He was off the ventilator for one day, then landed back on it due to fluid build up in his lungs.  He is once again heavily sedated and each day is the day it is.  I keep him close in my thoughts and prayers during the day.  Life is a strange journey.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday's Struggle

The day was mostly a struggle.  I slammed into the wall of frustration when I hit the office - there are just far too many moving parts and too may parts moving in chaotic cycles, to have any level of confidence beyond maybe the eighty percent level. I sure don't like being that frustrated. I did manage to make a few small advances during the day, but all in all if feels like I ended up further and further behind. It's a very difficult environment to be working in and I know I am not the only one who feels that way, but, since the root of our problems is our director - there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it.  Very, very frustrating.

California Morning Fog

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Notes from a Full Day

If nothing else, it has been a full weekend.  Let me run over the day's developments along the arc of this particular part of my journey. I met Tony for breakfast at the Hickory Pit, which is always enjoyable. 

Immediately after breakfast we went over to AMC 14 and watched "The Life of Pi", directed by Ang Lee. I was in a strange place going into the movie. I read and liked the book very much and that is often dangerous when it comes to movies because it sets expectations at a certain level and more often then not the movie does not live up to the movie. 

However, in this case, the director was Ang Lee, whose work I admire.  (I list "The Ice Storm" as one of my favorite movies quite often.)  I was confident that whatever had landed on the screen was going to be a good movie - the only question was - would it be the same "Life of Pi" that resides in the pages of the book. 

The short answer is - it wasn't, but it was still an excellent movie.  I'd highly recommend it - but the movie is just a faithful sampling of what is in the book, so also read the book.

After the movie was over I went down the street and did a walk through at Office Max,  I am considering buying a new desk for my apartment and I would like to get a slender L.  Office Max happens to have one that is very close to what I am looking for - but I haven't yet made the decision to buy it. I am contemplating moving my office desk out of the spare bedroom and back into the living room, in large part due to the winter light, but I also haven't quite made that decision yet.

From there, I took a walk through at REI.  I am looking for a pair of 3 gallon water containers for use in camping as part of my emergency reserves. They have them at REI, but I wanted to do a little bit of shopping, since REI isn't always price competitive, even on the same products as other places.  While there, I picked up a pair of lodge moccasins (think slightly stronger that normal bedroom slippers) and took a call from my step-father.

There was a bit of good news there, my nephew is conscious, off the ventilator, and communicating - though he is still not entirely lucid. My parents are going to stay until tomorrow and then my brother should arrive there on Tuesday or Wednesday, since he is planning on driving up.  My sister is also going to head back up to Rapid City in the next couple of days as well.

From there, I stopped at Lucky's and picked up groceries, then headed home. At home I had a sandwich, then laid down and took a nap.  This evening my place is "The Walking Dead" and ease into the evening with a bit of reading and maybe some quiet time.

It was a very full weekend, unexpectedly full.  Let's hope the week is a little more same, though I doubt it, given all the chaos at work.  That is why I am going to enjoy the quiet evening, since I don't think I am going to get any in the coming days.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Chopped Up Day

It's been a pretty chopped up day. Because of the situation with my nephew, I didn't sleep well last night.  I fell asleep at about 10:00 PM and managed to sleep until 1:00 AM or so, then woke up and spent the rest of the night tossing and turning.

I managed to squeeze out another hour of sleep in the 5:00 AM to 6:00 AM window, then headed off to work. It was blessedly quiet at the office and I managed to knock off a pair of objectives.  Dinner was pizza with Tony at Mama Mia's (the very excellent Mama's Masterpiece and a piece of Tiramisu), then home to watch a bit of Ghost Hunters.

Next, a hot shower and then the struggle to stay awake until I can fall asleep at a reasonable hour - meaning an hour when I won't wake up in the middle of the night.  I am close to exhaustion, physically, due to the lack of sleep last night. So, hopefully, tonight will be a night of rich and deep sleep, with my nephew in my prayers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Complicated Thanksgiving

I slept well last night and lingered in bed this morning until about 7:30 AM, which is late for me.  Had breakfast with Tony over at Goodies II on Bascom, then took a meandering walk and stopped for a cup of coffee, a cupcake and a banana.  From there, I went and saw "Silver Linings Playbook" which is an excellent movie.  A great cast, a sweet, funny, and well-told story layered under the acting (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Tucker, Robert DeNiro) just made it a truly enjoyable film. It comes highly recommended from me.

A lazy afternoon followed, marked by family calls and texts, then a simple Thanksgiving dinner at Marie Calendars with Don and Tony.  Excellent food, good conversation.  From there,  home and into the evening.  A spot of bad news when I got home, one of my nephews has landed in the hospital in another state, apparent in the emergency room. Since he is largely estranged from the rest of the family, I am pretty much the only family member he talks to (though he does have friends there where he lives).  It was one of his friends who got a hold of me.  I don't really have any information at this point.  I  had called the hospital but when they rang me through, I simply got dial tone and no answer.  I will try again shortly.

His friends have relayed that one of them who lives close by is going to go see him, and I passed my number on to them, so hopefully I can hear something.  I know that he has had health problems for the last year or so, in part due to lifestyle choices he made.  They have landed him in the emergency room several times over the last couple of months.  I will keep him close in my thoughts and prayers until I hear more.  Not much else I can do from half a world away.

So, I would guess that, if I had to characterize this Thanksgiving, I would characterize it as complicated.  I think that would be a characterization of life around me of late - simply complicated. I hope your Thanksgiving is good, whoever you are and wherever you are.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Little Bit Older and Deeper In Debt

Another 12 hour day under the belt.  (A little bit older and deeper in debt...).

Today's insight - perspective matters.

Work was the usual madness associated with this project.  I was frustrated at one point in the morning, but once that discussion was over I calmed down.  This project remains the perfect example of why leadership matters - good leaders made difficult circumstances better. Bad leaders make it worse.

I've got my feet up and I am going to wander off to bed to read shortly, but for now I am watching the latest episode of Castle and unwinding.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Teasing Out The Day

Well, let us see what sort of insight I can tease out of the day.

It was a typical Monday in Cloud Cuckoo Land.  Here is one small tribute to the insanity - because of the Thanksgiving Holiday, we have Thursday off. (I am working Friday, but most people are not.) In the first three days of the week, Monday through Wednesday, I would normally be slated to work three nine hour days, for a total of twenty seven work hours. I have twenty one hours of meetings scheduled, not counting incidental and unscheduled meetings.  Consequently, in three days, not counting the over time that I working (today I worked twelve hours), I have six hours to actually accomplish anythings.

UAT continues to move at a high pace, though I am already behind the eight-ball there.  One of the things I need to go is review all of the bugs that have been reported and forward them to the appropriate group for resolution.  Of course, given the amount of time involved, I have not been able to do that. I was hoping to do it this evening, but I ended up spending the time doing a variety of the things I couldn't due during the day due to interruptions and meetings.

Now, on top of the UAT, it looks like I am going to catch another segment of UAT, for another block of the project that some other group screwed up.  I tell you, I am getting tired of being the go to guy for failed program rescues.  I try not to let the sheer insanity of it overwhelm me, but sometimes I really feel like I am the lone voice of reason.

I will share with you something amusing that happened to me the other week.  I was in a meeting with a manager and the manager, by oblique reference, without ever coming out and actually saying it, strongly hinted that I should temper the opinions I deliver and only deliver positive news and if the news was negative, spin it in a positive light. I actually laughed.

I am a fundamentally honest person, and what I mean by that is this - about twenty years ago I made one of those personal vows and that was this - I would always speak the truth to my leaders as best I understood it.  I would not shave, slant, or other color my inputs.  I firmly believe that the truth will set you free - and in the case of business, the truth is what makes one person or group successful and another unsuccessful.I think a huge part of the reason this project is in so much trouble is because various people at various stages, on a continual basis, have not spoke the truth.  This is compounded by the Director, who does not want to hear the truth and generally doesn't seem to care.

It's a challenging environment and I am thankful every day for that stress counseling I went through a few years ago - those skills and techniques have been invaluable.  So, I would strongly urge anyone who is considering stress counseling to go - it is well worth your time and the techniques that you learn are very valuable.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Sunday Morning Narrative

Yesterday afternoon I spent about two hours doing laundry, picked up an order of honey walnut prawns and combination fried rice from Tsing Tao in Campbell, then circled home and spent a lazy afternoon watching a movie.

I was in the mood for something very good that I hadn't seen in a while, so I opted to watch "Winter's Bone" again.  One of the things about a good movie is that they can be watched over and over and each time you glean something more from them.  "Winter's Bone" is one of those movies for me.

Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Garrett Dillahunt all turn in amazing performances.  When you compare Garrett's performance with his role in "Raising Hope" you come away with an awareness of an actor whose range is astounding. John Hawkes has that same ability.

After the movie wrapped up, I spend some time hooking up one of my early Christmas presents to myself, a sound bar for my television.  It was a low cost Phillips one, from Radio Shack.  Given the small size of my apartment I really couldn't justify a higher end system.  There is no sense in having a stereo that can go to 11...when 2 or 3 is actually about as high as you can set it without intruding on your neighbors.

Then, I watched an episode of "Elementary".  After it wrapped up I went to bed early, laying down about 7:30 PM with Orson Scott Card's "Ruins" and reading for about an hour before I fell asleep. I slept pretty soundly.  I woke up about 11:30 PM, briefly, then fell back asleep.  One of the things about living in an apartment is that, periodically, you wake up for no apparent reason. Every now and then you'll know the reason that woke you - some sound, some passage, some external thing.  But, usually, you don't, you simple wake up.

All in all though, I got a good night sleep.  On waking, I folded and put away my socks and underwear from yesterday, exchanged texts with my sister, and set up my iPad with iLapse to capture a time lapse sequence of sunrise. Then, a bowl of maple and brown sugar cream of wheat, a cup of black coffee, and I've settled in to watch an episode of "Fringe" as I contemplate the day.

I have a stack of work in front of me and I will tackle it at some point in the day, but most likely later in the afternoon. This morning my plan is a bit of writing (here and in a few emails) and then breakfast, perhaps a bit of wandering, and a movie. I am thinking about seeing Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln", but the jury is still out on whether or not I am inclined to a serious drama today.

I do have a bit of inner work to do, mainly in consideration of my inner turmoil, so I may tackle that today, setting aside some time later in the day for meditation and contemplation. The recent changes in my personal relationships have left me...I don't know how to describe it, but with a certain degree of emptiness.  I need to contemplate that emptiness.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Blue As Ice and Desire

A few minutes past noon.  I am sitting in my spare bedroom/office, listing to Blondie sing "Maria" over the rain outside.  It is a beautiful, rainy, cool California day. I met Tony and Ty for breakfast, stopped at Radio Shack on an errand, and then came home to attend a brief coordination meeting to get my arms around what I needed to focus on for the week ahead.

Other than that though, I am not planning on doing an work today.  I am going to mainly just relax and let my brain recover.  I think I am going to head out and catch a movie this afternoon, or maybe head over to the pool hall to shoot a couple of games.  On the other hand, on a day like today, it is an almost perfect day for just hanging around the apartment and not doing anything.

Music is an amazing thing, with it's ability to transport us to another time, another place, another state of mine with a few bars.  I started out today listening to Eddie and the Cruisers (John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band) and that has landed me in a seemingly endless queue of sixties and seventies music on YouTube.  That is a dangerous place to be on a day like today.  Definitely going to hurl me into a nostalgic mood.  (Right now I am listening to Abba "The Winner Takes It All".

"The judges will decide, the likes of me abide..."

I am not sure I could define the mood I am in today. Physically I am feeling very well. Emotionally I am, mostly centered and introspective.  Work has been obsessive lately, but I know that will eventually pass. In my heart there is silence where a voice should be.  (I like that, that is a good line, I might have to set it aside and do something with it, incorporate it into a poem or a song.)

Sometimes it is strange the things our friends and our lovers bind us too. Promises extracted. Promises given. For some people, a promise is a binding thing. For years I've always spoken obliquely about my personal relationships, not because I am concealing anything but because, early on, when I told her about my blog, when she first read it, she asked me not to write about her, since she was very uncomfortable with any aspect of her personal life on the web.  I've always honored that request, and even now I am writing obliquely about her.  Are we bound by the promises made in one aspect of a relationship when that relationship changes?  I think we are, I think I am.

Well, where ever you are, who ever you are, I hope this day has found you well, content, perhaps even happy. Always remember - the judges will decide, the likes of me abide...


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A Healthy Lunch

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ulysses - Tennyson

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.
-Tennyson "Ulysses"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An Indifferent Lunch

I just wrapped up a rather indifferent lunch at the cafeteria near my office. I am making it a point to linger over a tall glass of water and enjoy the moment.

The day is chaotic at work, but no more chaos than expected. UAT continues at a maddening pace. The project consists of three distinct part and I've got the only part that went on time. Now (and my fingers are crossed) it looks like the whole project might get delayed due to the inability of the other two parts of the project to make it out of system test.

I'd like to see the delay as it would allow all of us to spend more time in test and more time polishing out work. I think the overall project would benefit from it. Actually, it would have benefited from a realistic setting of expectations and schedule way back in the beginning. Ah, if wishes were horses...
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Zen at Work

I put my zen training to work today. Specifically, I used the technique I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh's book.  When I was walking and found my brain running at a hundred miles an hour, I stopped, I looked around me, I breathed, and then I focused on simply walking and breathing.  It worked very well and pulled me down a couple of notches a couple of times.

I am two days into the UAT on my portion of the project (this would be the UAT that I pulled out of my butt on four days notice) and things are moving rapidly forward, with good feedback from the users and most importantly, no major findings yet.  There have been a couple of minor configuration issues that we'll take a look into as we go along, but other that the very long days, things have been going well.

I am settled in for an hour or so of relaxation and then I am going to curl up and spend a little time reading.  One advantage of the high work load is it keeps my mind off the tangles of my personal life. I will of course work my way through them too, but for now, they are pushed aside. That ability to focus on the immediate and the external has stood me well over the years.

So, let me leave you with a snippet of the song running through my brain tonight...

It's one I've mentioned before, from John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (on Eddie and the Cruisers):

Tender Years

When the moon hung soft and low
Catching stardust in the light
You held me closer and closer
There was magic in the night.

A sweet love song, a melody
That I still can recall
Two young hearts filled with dreams
To walk away with it all.

Whoa, whoa tender years
Won't you wash away my tears
How I wish you were near
Please don't go, tender years.

A summer love, a beach romance
Sought her kisses in the sand
Two young hearts filled with fire
Lost in never-neverland.

 Whoa, whoa tender years
Won't you wash away my tears
How I wish you were near
Please don't go, tender years.

Whoa, whoa tender years
Won't you wash away my tears
How I wish you were near
Please don't go, tender years.

Whoa, whoa tender years
Won't you wash away my tears
How I wish you were near
Please don't go, tender years.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Deep and Peaceful

Thirteen hours of work today. Hosted a pair of UAT kick-off meetings, bounced through a couple of technical meetings, coordinated some test case construction, and then came home to spend most of the evening reading and responding to 109 email.  What a day.  Tomorrow however looks relatively sane.

I am planning to go to bed early tonight, spend a little bit of time writing, and fall asleep.  I wish I had more exciting things to tell you about - but work seems to be the order of the day for the immediate future. The project I am working on has three functional parts - and now two of them are delayed.  The only part of the project that is still moving forward is mine - but there is now a very good chance that we are going to slip the whole project again (which is actually a good thing, as it will give my team more time to polish their applications and systems). We should find out in the next couple of days I hope.

So, here is hoping that the dreams tonight are good and the sleep is deep and peaceful.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Struggling Into The Morning

I'm struggling into the morning today. I slept well enough, though I woke up a little early then I had intended to, but it seems to be going well. Black coffee and oatmeal, sunrise and "Haven" on the DVR.  I am estimating that I have four to six hours worth of work to do today, maybe more - I really have two things that I want to accomplish. 

First, I have to prepare the PowerPoint presentation for Monday's meeting, which I anticipate is going to take two or three hours, then another two or three hours working on the actual test materials. I've got the whole test cycle broken down in stages, so I am going to try and roll it out, one block at a time, which is less them optimal, but the whole project is less then optimal.

I am going to try and move easily and smoothly through the day. A simple breakfast, then, maybe a movie, or maybe just come straight home and work. I have to do a couple of loads of laundry at some point during the day, so I may do them here at the apartment complex, and I may do them at the laundromat. It will depend on whether or not I have an urge to get out of the apartment later in the day. 

I definitely want to head over and get a pizza at Patxi's today, in part because I am pretty sure it's going to be a hectic and busy week, with more than it's fair share of stress moments.  I am going to try and keep focused and move easily through it, but I am not sure I am going to be able to. I think I am going to have to use all of my stress management skills to make it.  Actually, sitting here thinking about it, the week should not be too bad - it's going to be the first couple of days that are very difficult, but once I make it through them, I should be all right.  I will have to keep telling myself that as the week starts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Saturday, I Ramble

It was an even 60 hours by the time I logged out of work Friday, which was a mostly unproductive and frustrating day. I made it a point to take most of today off just to give myself a chance to recover. I was mostly successful. 

Here is what the day looked like - I got up about seven this morning, after a long night sleep.  Breakfast with Tony and Ty at the Hickory Pit, then I zipped home for an hour long teleconference. When the teleconference wrapped up I dashed out and met the guys at AMC 14, where we saw "Skyfall", the new James Bond movie.  It was...excellent.  After we came out of the movie I made the comment that it has that one thing that all good Bond movies have to have - that ability to thrill you.  An excellent addition to the Bond canon.

From there, we had lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Then, I came home and just relaxed - I did some work related email off the Blackberry, but mostly I watched "Carnage" on the DVR (based on the play "God of Carnage"). It was a strange and amusing movie, a good choice for easing through the afternoon.

After it ended, I curled up and took a nap for the better part of two hours.  I had set the alarm to wake me after an hour, and it did, but I needed the extra time so I simply stayed in bed. All of the hours I worked last week caught up with me and I needed to get the batteries recharged.

I am tired, all in all. I am on the borderline of being burnt out at work, so I need to be careful and "brush back" to a degree and make sure I don't let myself get unhealthily overloaded.  Part of the process of brushing back is to remember to take time for myself, in simple ways, and give my brain a rest. I keep letting the frustrating things at work get under my skin and make me short tempered, which is a wicked little loop to get caught it.  It becomes a feedback loop of frustration and I have a tough time breaking through it.

I do give a lot of credit to the counselor that I went to several years ago for work stress, in that I am putting a lot of the techniques to use and though my stress does occasionally peak, it rarely stays at the peak.  Generally, when I go through a peak period I start laughing about it - finding the humor in it, realizing that most of the stress and unreasonableness at work has nothing to do with me.

One of the key stress triggers I run into is when I am told to one thing, start work on that thing, and then get told to either do it differently or to do something else.  This stop, start, and rework has been one of the killers on this project - wasting a tremendous amount of time. I estimated at one point that some very routine and ordinary tasks were taking up to three times as long as normal to get done because of the constant rework.

That was part of what sent me into a stress loop on Friday.  I'd been asked to create 250 test scenarios, so I got the team working on it. It was slow going, as I had predicted, and we made some progress but not as much as project management would have liked.  I provided the feedback on the progress - and after a days worth of work, was told to do it a different way. Now, the different way is faster, but it was not what I was originally told to do, and it completely skips one of the purposes of the exercise.  It was very frustrating and I expressed that frustrating. (One of the key things I learned from the counseling was not to lock it up inside.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

53 Hours

Well, if you're wondering what happened to me - it's Thursday, I've worked 53 hours in 4 days.  Fun. Not. 

I ultimately caught the role of functional test lead for UAT on planned UAT, no one appointed UAT personnel, and I have the skills and ability to bring order from chaos.  (No modesty here, that happens to be one of the things I am good at.) 

Now, I won't kid you, it is an uphill battle - I am going to try and roll the UAT out one step ahead of the testers. Prepare block one, roll out block one, and then while the testers are moving through block one, be working frantically on block two.  There are about six blocks, all told, of varying degrees of complexity and it is going to consume the next two weeks.

I haven't had much time for anything else. I wake up in the morning, I start working, I work through the day, I come home and have dinner and then go back to work. I have deliberately decided not to work tonight, just to give myself a bit of a rest.  I think 53 hours so far this week is enough, and I know I am going to wrack up a few more hours in the run of the next two weeks.

If there is a project management take-away it is this - it is all in the planning. Succeed in the planning and you will succeed in the project. Fail in the planning and you will fail in the project.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Inauspicious Start

Well, it has not been an auspicious start to the day. My work laptop struggled through a series of installs and reboots, locking up twice and forcing me to cold start it. That ate up a solid hour of time.

Then, I turned my attention to three urgent data requests that originated from legal. Then, into a status meeting that got totally co-opted for another subject. Followed by direction for the immediate turn around of some test related material.

That pretty much ate up the morning, meaning I got zero time to work on the projects assigned directly too me.

I took a hard hit on a favorite stress trigger of mine. Let's see if I can accurately describe it. The trigger gets hit when I am assigned a project, or a portion of a project, and after going through the discovery phase I start working on it.

Then, I get asked or tasked on something that is "part of the project" that I had never heard of and it is revealed that it was included in the project as a result of a meeting I didn't attend, or a conversation I was not part of, or an email exchange that did not include me.

That instantly slams into my fairness stress trigger. I think that it is unfair to hold a person accountable for an action or a task without first making that person aware that they are on the hook for it.

Fortunately, a walk and a simple high protein lunch have helped to pull that stress level back down from it's peak. It in a few moments I will head back to the office and dive back into the fray. I just keep reminding myself that all projects, good or bad, end.

Later That Evening...

Well, I was able to get some productivity out of the day - granted most of it came during the evening when I was working at home.  The afternoon was mostly consumed in a pair of meetings about UAT (User Acceptance Testing) and some follow on conversations.  The UAT meeting was scheduled for an hour, but extended well beyond that.

They have appointed a test director, and a good one at that.  I definitely don't envy him.  He echoed what I have said in that, during the course of a career, this project is a once in a lifetime event, it is so chaotic and so scattered.  It actually heartened me to hear someone else say that.

At one point during the afternoon meeting I was pointing out the difficulty of the task (the math simply does not add up).  The UAT cycle is pretty much a pure mathematical fantasy.  I may have to write an entire post on that, since it is a perfect object lesson on what not to do during UAT. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

May All Beings

There is a decision point that I seem to hit every other weekend or so.  I try and decide if I am going to do any work on the weekend. If I thought that by working on the weekend I could gain some ground on the week, I would be more tempted to do it. But, the general result is I work extra hours in the weekend, and then I still end up working extra hours during the week, so it is definitely a zero sum game. 

This weekend was no different, but, here I am, Sunday night, watching Once Upon A Time and quite happy that I didn't work this weekend - with the full awareness that I am going to be working long days this week.  I have one major task that I want to accomplish this week, so I am going to try and stay focused on that, try and keep a disciplined approach to it.

Today was a good day, all in all.  The switch in time impacted me this morning when I woke up at about 4:00 AM, so I expect to pay for that by hitting a hard wall before too long.  I can already feel the first edges of sleep trying to steal over me, so I suspect it will just be a question of "when do I give in", followed by a bit of tossing and turning, then a swift and smooth journey into the land of sleep.

I feel like I need a day off, but the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner, so I may hold out until then. I also may take a day between here and there.  Perhaps to celebrate one of the milestones at work as it passes. We can list that as one of the failures of our current project management, they do not celebrate the milestones that we reach and pass.  This is just another thing in the litany of things that make this program the object lesson in how not to run a project.

I had an easy afternoon, alternating between reading and watching the DVR, then I had dinner with Tony over at Mama Mia's on Hamilton.  Excellent pizza and Tiramisu. Earlier in the day we'd gone to Cupertino Square to see RZA's "The Man With The Iron Fist", which was an enjoyable old-style Kung Fu movie. One of the players in the movie was the actress Jamie Chung, who happens to be portraying Mulan on "Once Upon A Time".  She is a very beautiful and talented actress. 

On that note I am as ready for the end of the day as I can be. I hope you had a good weekend and, as the sign on the wall in my office says:  May all beings find happiness and be free from suffering.