Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Somewhere Normal

Somewhere along the line my personal blog became my work venting blog. I guess that is bound to happen sometimes. With the recent decisions at work to transfer us out from underneath the evil director I’m hoping to return to some semblance of order in the work world. We seem to be moving in that direction, though we have a lot of territory to cover. For several years what I would call the project control mechanism was broken.

Each of the feudal baronies in our kingdom was once again pursuing their own goals and their own systems to attain those goals. We found that in several cases the company is at varying degrees of implementation of duplicate systems. I suspect it will take us a couple of years to get them under control.

The first step, the first challenge facing our new management is going to be to put into place a process to control the creation of technical projects. Once they have control of the faucet they can then control the flow. It’s going to be fun.

I’m getting ready for vacation at work right now. I’m trying to knock off the things that have to be done in the intervening week. I made good progress in that direction today and I expect to make a little more progress tomorrow. I should be in good condition when I come home tomorrow night. Then it’s just a question of easing into the vacation.

I am looking forward to going back to South Dakota, I’m looking forward to visiting family, I’m looking forward to seeing the old country and I’m looking forward to moving outside of the world I’ve been moving in. One of the great things about travel of any sort is that it reminds you that there’s an entire world out there that you are part of. That is a wonderful feeling.

I think I’m going to keep this entry simple tonight. I’m in a good mood, I have lots of work to do, but I’m not feeling that crushing stress that came from the unpredictability of the evil director. I’ve got a lot in front of me but like anything it can be divided and conquered with a little bit of work and a little bit of imagination.
I went to bed last night with the intention of reading some more of the serpent of Venice but I only managed to knock off a couple of pages. Tonight I’m hoping to do a little bit more than a couple of pages. I love a good book and I count myself a great Christopher Moore fan.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Just An Evening, Post Nap

Today was a fast day at the office. I went in early for a meeting that started at 6:30 AM. With the exception of lunch I then pretty much spent the entire day in meetings. They were long, but they were productive.

I left work about 3 o'clock, came home, and took a two-hour nap. I'm not sure if I was short sleep from last night or tired from allergies. Either way I definitely needed the nap.

Dinner was a vegetable soup, some hummus and cinnamon toast. After that I watched an episode each of Madmen and The Good Wife.

For the rest of the evening, which only be another hour or so, I'm going to curl up and read some more of Christopher Moore's The Serpent of Venice, after an attempt to call my brother in Arizona.

Monday, May 19, 2014

I Am...The Law

Like the song says, "busting rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won". Except in this case to quote Judge Dredd, "I am the law!"

Last week at work I thought that perhaps, finally, I have found the dragon to big to slay. After a couple of months of dancing around and trying to find a place of compromise I sought out a final ruling on the question of who ran the program. I was pleased to learn this afternoon and then see it in writing that my team ran our projects.

In that great battle between creativity and innovation versus bureaucracy and conservatism we won a tiny battle, a simple battle, the battle to determine the parts of a project. In some ways it's kind of tragic that we actually had to fight it. But corporations have a tendency toward stagnation so it's the constant pressure of creative destruction that keeps them moving forward.

I'm actually looking forward to the next conversation with my friend the project engineer because I sincerely believe he did not expect to lose. Now of course all I have to do is deliver and prove that how we work is the best approach. Either way I am kind of just relieved that that particular struggle is over for now. Let me switch gears real quick.

Three days of work ahead of me and then it's off to South Dakota for a weeks vacation and a nice visit with the folks. I'm going to spend a couple nights at the ranch and then I've got a room in a Holiday Inn Express in town, close to the assisted-living apartment where my parents now live. I didn't see any real value in driving back and forth to the ranch every day. My nephew is staying there of course and I look forward to seeing him but we live on different schedules. He is very much a night person and I am very much a day person so even if I stayed at the ranch we would probably barely cross each other's paths.

He is going to meet me in Rapid City on Friday and we're probably going to spend the night there. Get a good dinner somewhere and see the new X-Men movie. However it unfolds I am definitely looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to the conversation with TR tonight like I do every night. And I think on that note I'll wrap it up here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

An Evening With The Serpent of Venice

I've reached the end of a fairly decent Saturday. I slept in, lingering into the dawn listening to the birds singing outside in the cool green morning. It was a very pleasant way to start the day.

When I finally decided to get out of bed, I ran through the shower, and then started that first morning cup of coffee. I might have watched something off the DVR early in the morning, but I forget what it was. At the usual time I headed out to meet Tony and his friend Matt for breakfast at the Hickory Pit. It was an enjoyable breakfast, a little heavy on the woes of the city of San Jose conversation, but enjoyable nonetheless.

After breakfast I stopped at Fry's Electronics and picked up a headset. I bought a Steele Series V2 gaming headset. I've been wanting to get an around the ear gaming headset for quite a while. It is light and it seems to have good quality sound and good-quality pick up on the microphone.

I also bought a pair of noise canceling headphones that were on sale. Unfortunately I'm going to have to take them back tomorrow – the right side is dead. We will see if they're willing to do a simple exchange. If they are all crackerbox staring the store and make sure I get one that works. It is possible but they've got a bad batch.

At home, in the afternoon, I caught up on the latest episode of Elementary, then settled in for a two-hour nap. As typically happens when you want to take a nap as soon as I had settled in and dozed off everybody in the world decided to text me, so it was a fitful afternoon of napping.

But, the rest of the afternoon was exceptionally lazy and enjoyable. It is from there but I slid into the evening, and then having slid into the evening, slid into bed. My plan is to round out the day reading some more of Christopher Moore's novel The Serpent of Venice.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Wall Approaches At Full Speed

Corporate politics. It is its own breed of stupidity. I slammed against it pretty hard this week at work. I ranted about it in an earlier entry so let me just cannot catch you up on the way of the world. Earlier in the week I had the conflict with the project engineer over who controlled the project, how it was supposed to be run, and who needed awareness/approval. We had what amounts to being a sincere difference of opinion. 

The organization within the company that he works for is very bureaucratic. Typical of bureaucratic organizations they think their way is the only way. We skirted around it multiple times in the project life so far. He gave, I gave, and we kept going forward. Then I realized that unless we settled that it would be a never ending struggle that would rise up every time, every project. 

So I suggested we have a meeting with the key project people, my manager and his manager. 
I suggested the meeting so we could talk it out, resolve our differences, and keep going forward. Instead, for unknown reasons, he decided to escalate by forwarding the email that was asking for clarity to multiple people on his side of the fence. I talked with him briefly today trying to get a little information out of him and he intimated that he had inadvertently touched off a firestorm on his side of the fence and that he had a meeting scheduled with his manager and the impression he gave me was that his manager was not happy. High above us, at another level, at the level of vice presidents and directors there is an ongoing internal struggle about which model works better. 

On our side of the fence we have a very fluid model where the project manager is able to determine the approach that is proper to the project and has a tremendous amount of leeway to determine the process steps, the various milestones, and the reviews. The Corporation has recently stood up in independent organization under a new vice president and directors in order to increase efficiencies in the delivery of key software and technology services where speed and innovation triumph over the rigid bureaucracy. This represents a loss of power on the part of the rigid bureaucracy and the rigid bureaucracy, typical of creatures of their nature, is responding by trying to tighten their grip. 

This project engineer is caught in that cycle. Bureaucracies do not like people to rock the boat. They tend, if at all possible, to crush them. That crushing mechanism has swung into action. The only question is who's going to get crushed when it finally stops. Because the project engineer was basically brought up inside the bureaucracy moving outside of his box is a frightening experience I think. Because I could give a flying rat's ass about the bureaucracy banging into it, bouncing off of it, going around it, even getting battered by are things that I'm used. I'm always amused at how the bureaucracy wins until such time as it gets in the way and then everybody looks the other way while something gets cowboy through the cracks. 

I'm curious as to how all this is going to work out. I suspect that the end of the day there be a compromise at the levels above us. I just hope that my project engineer friend survives. I do feel sorry because I caused him stress, because I caused my own management stress, I'd rather move much smoothly through the waters. However there is a particular type of bureaucrat that this organization within our Corporation seems to grow. 

These are the people who have the mindless obedience to the machine. It takes place in a sort of passive aggressive way. Even when pushed outside of the box they just try to climb back in and pull the cover down. It's crazy to me. I think that any project in order to be successful must be organic. By organic I mean that the methodology, the style, the scope, the tools and the process must be tailored to the project. Whereas the bureaucracy believes the project must be tailored to the process. 

I think were my friend the project engineer makes his logical mistake is in thinking that the procedural direction, the templates, the processes of his bureaucracy must be adhered to as if they bore the weight of law. When in fact if you read the actual processes they give a tremendous latitude to the project management. It is down that opening that I've driven many a project to success. Of course every now and then I crashed into the wall at full speed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thoughts on Conflict

I have a complex relationship with conflict.  I don't like it, I don't want to do it - but I sometimes, personally and professionally, find it necessary.  Today, at work, I crashed into some unresolved issues and they rose to conflict.  I apologized profusely because I did not want to go there, but I found myself there.  Let me run through the scenario.

At work we are split into multiple groups.  As different groups we all have different processes. Our IT Support group is very process and procedure driven.  They have all kinds of process maps that they must follow, all kind of matrices they must adhere too.  We have a project engineer who comes from this group and insists on processes that I don't think are necessary, that our group, in general, does not follow.  For the most part, on the project we've been working, we tend to be able to find middle ground - many of the steps in their process documents run in parallel with the steps in our processes. We use a very general, very broad process milestone approach, which is very flexible and our project managers have a lot of latitude to determine which steps we do and don't do.

Their process requires a certain set of review meetings with their upper management - these meetings are required, they are not optional for them on their projects.  On our side of the fence, we have similar meetings (reviews, approvals, etc.), though we structure them differently and time them differently.  According to their processes "you must do A, B, C" in sequence.  According to our processes you must do A. B, and C - but the sequence timing is up to the project manager and the project team to determine what is the best approach (our approach is more organic and fluid).

Because they are so process driven they become fixated on their process and, at times, their bureaucracy means they are driving very hard to check the boxes - whether those check boxes add any value or not.  We've been hung up over a series of meetings that my management tells me we do not have to do (and I agree) and the project engineer keeps insisting we have to do them.

So, today, we are in a meeting the new project manager and the project engineer starts going over how we have to have these meetings and these are the slides we have to have and we need to schedule them immediately.  I gave him a brush back and said "wait until we have the new PM up to speed", but he kept going.  My temper got the best of me, and I explained it was an area of difference between us. (What I didn't like was the language he was using - we must, we have to, we are required to, we need to.)  So, I suggested that, once and for all we need to go to our respective management and figure out who is the tiger and who is the tail. 

The source of my objection is their process drives us through specific steps, processes, documents and reviews that we do not need.  I want to establish that WE run the program, not him and not his process.  It is a challenge and now we're trying to draft up an email to engage our management and get a decision as he insists that he is doing it the right way and the way that has to be done.  I content that this is not a technical group development project - but that it is an IS SaaS vendor implementation.  We are going to be working together closely on multiple projects in the coming year and we need to establish that we run the project, not them, since our model is different then theirs.  Their process will add time and cost to the projects -  potentially significant time and cost.

I thought we had it straightened out earlier, but I don't think we did - he keeps circling back to wanting to do it their way.  I hate to go to our management - but we need to so, going forward we do not have all the conflicts where we're subtly trying to figure out who is in charge and whose processes and process steps apply. 

And of course, one of the things that made the conflict even more difficult for me is that I happen to sincerely like the guy, and I felt bad that we ended up there again, so I apologized repeatedly for getting hot. Mara in action. I am very sure that I have the right of it at the end of the day, but I would have much preferred that it did not go to conflict.

I will segue for a moment here and say this - it is actually a problem with the people from that group on other projects as well (though the lines over there are drawn a little better).  The challenge is that they just relentlessly push and don't listen to you because that is what their organization rewards.  Oh, the challenges of corporate life.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday Was A Moving Day

Today was our move day at work. It went pretty smoothly. I got in at about 6:30 AM, did a final sweep of the area and made sure that everything was boxed up, and coordinated with one of the service desk people. Waiting for the movers to arrive I weaved in and out of a couple of teleconferences.

Once the movers arrived it took them maybe 20 or 30 minutes to clear the area out, to get it all loaded up on trucks. I took an early lunch then came back did a final sweep of the work area and then slipped into the series of afternoon meetings. Once I wrapped them up I went over to a new area where people were already starting to settle in and checked on a pair of our people who were there. From there I headed home.

It's a hot day here in California, and it's only going to get hotter over the next couple of days. So, because of that, I am going to look forward to some quiet evenings. I will see how good the air conditioner does at holding off the heat. It did a fairly decent job today but as the building around me stores more and more solar energy I suspect that the end of the heat wave it will be touch and go.

I may drag the mattress out into the living room and sleep out here where I can be a little closer to the air conditioner. I don't do that often but every now and then it has to be done. This evening, after dinner, I took a long hot soaking bath. It may seem strange to take a hot bath on a hot day but I needed it. Moving is a stressful business and even though ours went smooth there was still a good deal of residual stress and a minor emergency or two. But, all in all, I have to say it was a good day.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday on a Simple Mothers Day

It is 10 minutes after 7:00 PM Pacific time. I have that great just shaved feeling. Probably because – I just shaved. I went through the day without shaving but as the evening was approaching it was starting to bother me so it had to be done.

It was a good and easy day. It was Mother's Day of course and now that my parents live in town I was able to do something I haven't been able to do most of my adult life. I was able to send my mom flowers. They just don't deliver flowers to the middle of nowhere except the UPS version. They count, but in my mind, it just wasn't the same thing. So, flowers to my mother, the quintessential Mother's Day.

I'm going to go back to South Dakota for a week on the 23rd, staying through the 31st. I'm looking forward to the visit. I'm going to spend a couple of days on the ranch with my nephew and four or five days in town at the Holiday Inn. I'm actually looking forward to staying in town.

After a couple of days on the ranch, well, you get kind to stir crazy if you are used to life in the city. Plus one of the things I'm really looking forward to is not going off the grid. Now it's not that I have anything against going off the grid, as a matter fact I think it's a good idea periodically in the course of any given year to simply drop off. That is something I learned from TR, and have come to value in my own.

However it's no fun to drop off the grid because there is no grid. Then I usually go through two or three days of electronics withdrawal. I'm looking forward to being able to stay on my cell phone while I'm traveling. Oh, I'm sure I'm going to venture into some parts of South Dakota where I fall off the grid, but for the most part it's going to be all good.

Today was a pretty simple day, an early breakfast at the Hickory pit with Tyrone, then a broad sweep of early morning errands, then home. I spent a pair of hours this morning catching up on da Vinci's demons and then headed back out to meet Tony for pizza. After pizza I wandered home and took a nap for about an hour and a half. Then I woke up to do some incidental things around the house and prepare some dinner. After dinner spme cleaning and then this moment, this now, where the only sound in the apartment is the hum of the air conditioner and my voice as I dictate to the Dragon. On that note I'm going to wrap this little entry up and settle in for some reading.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Seven Years In Darkness

It is about 130 in the afternoon. I'm sitting in my office watching the clock tick down. On Monday we're going to be physically moving to another location, another building here on the company complex. I have my reservations about it but I am also looking forward to it.

We've been in our current work area going on seven years. I never really liked this area. The only thing it has going for it is there was a degree of privacy. Other than that, it was an ugly area, with bad ventilation, no natural light, and furniture as old as I am. I can't even begin to describe for you how hideous the carpet is.

I joke that the color palette here was mud, bird poop and mold. The entire building itself was not in much better condition. Naturally, I have my apprehensions, most of which resolve around privacy and group dynamics. Not a single one of them relates to the physicality of the work area.

The building we're moving into is also old and crappy, but at least our work area is remodeled and repainted. Our work furniture is probably only a decade or so old. The carpet is still hideous though!

However I'm going to try and approach the whole move with the Monty Python mentality. Specifically I am thinking of that epic song from the Life of Brian. "Life's a bowl of shit, when you look at it, so always look on the bright side of things!"

Truth be told, at the end of the day, I'm just damn glad to be getting out of this space. I'm looking forward to that first workday with a bit of natural light streaming into the work area. This area was a dark depressing interior dungeon. Fare thee well and good riddance.

Monday, May 5, 2014

On The Theme of Simplicity

For the last couple of days I feel like I've been cluttered. It seems like I keep bumping into things and dropping things. I generally take that as a sign to simplify. Besides the physical layer of simplification there is also the psychological layer. True simplification happens on both layers, if not simultaneously, then in close proximity to each other. The psychological follows the physical and the physical follows the psychological. It is a beautiful feedback loop. In keeping with the theme of simplicity that should do it for the evening.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Sort of Urban Silence

Okay, I am winding down at the end of the day. I’m sitting in the living room with the patio doors wide open listening to the neighborhood kids play in the courtyard. Most of them are pretty good, but we have one whose volume seems to be stuck on scream at the top of his lungs. The wonders of youth! I remember very well running and screaming at the top of my lungs. At that age that is about the only volume you have. It is not like you have any control over it.

I started the day to day with breakfast with the guys at the Hickory pit. I had a wonderful Santa Fe omelette, which is their special this month. Amusingly enough I just discovered that Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Microsoft word disagree on the proper spelling of the word omelette. For some reason I find that very amusing. In the world of voice recognition software that is just a small example of how difficult the task it is.

After breakfast we made a swing through Fry’s Electronics where I picked up a tiny set of torx drivers to try and fix one of my pocket knives that has slipped off the rail. I am hoping it can be repaired because it is one of my favorite little knives. It may just be worn out though I will know in a short while since I am going to work on it after I finish this entry for my online journal.

From there I swung home and picked up my laundry. I contemplated doing it here at the apartment complex since one set of machines were free but all in all I had six loads so I decided to go down to the laundromat and just do them all at once. That way it only takes about an hour to an hour and a half regardless of how much laundry I have. While I was sitting at the laundromat I wrote a long email to Tony about storytelling based on some questions he had asked during breakfast.

After laundry was finished I came home and folded and hung my clothing. Then, I drove up to Union City, to the Texas roadhouse, to meet Ty and Tony for a steak launch. It’s been a while since I’ve been up there. They have truly excellent stakes. I had a 10 ounce ribeye with a bowl of their chili and a mixed green salad. It was everything I wanted it to be, which is saying a lot for a steak. After that late lunch I headed home and slid into the evening.

I tinkered around the house a bit, but the patio furniture back out onto the patio, set out a new type of bird feed, did dishes, and then settled in with an iced decaf coffee. I watched in episode of mad men, that I watched an episode of the good wife. I love both of those shows. That brings me right into this moment, where I am writing this entry, and getting ready to move into the next task of the evening. It is a truly beautiful Californian night and I’m going to segue into the next part by doing 10 minutes of meditation on the patio. The small army of screaming children has vanished into their own homes with the setting of the sun and so a sort of urban silence has fallen. I’m going to enjoy it.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Grateful Day

It is Saturday evening here in California. Life has been moving a fairly quick pace so I really haven't had much time to write. Life is good. I woke up this morning with a strong sense of being grateful for what I have. Then, I proceeded to fritter the day away. But it was a pleasant day regardless of what I was doing. 

I woke up early, took a shower, then spent most of the morning reading. After I talked my book away I went over to the Hickory pit to have breakfast with Tony, then we made a walk-through at Best Buy, and then I took a walk-through at Home Depot. I'm looking for a new set of patio furniture but right now I'm in that phase were what I am doing is just kind of trying to see what is out there. 

Oddly enough, so far, the best that I have seen has been at big lots. I'm going to go online here shortly and check for modular patio furniture because I think that's the direction I want to go. I want something that's comfortable to sit on but at the same time I want to be able to lay down and enjoy a quiet evening on the patio. Target has some nice patio rugs and I may get one of those. 

After Home Depot I swung by Bob's to drop some books off for Pierre who was there for a game. Then I swung up to Milpitas and met Don for lunch at outback steakhouse. After lunch we took a rambling stroll around the great Mall and then sat drinking Starbucks and people watching. 

It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Dinner was a nice little salad with grape tomatoes. The quiet evening, once again, reading. I wrapped it up with a quick call to the parents in South Dakota and then flowed seamlessly into this moment. After this quick entry 

I am heading off to bed to read myself to sleep. I missed talking with TR tonight as she had late guests. I end this entry as I and this day in the same condition that I started this morning – grateful. Simply grateful.