Tuesday, April 28, 2009


From Minne-sota to Sara-sota. Why am I here? While at our trade show, we held a drawing for an Amazon Kindle2, and I got to deliver it! Of course it's for a customer who doesn't use any of the software we implement, nor do they use many consultants, but hey, it was a random drawing, and he won fair and square, so why not go out and see what they're up to?

My scotch avengers had just been talking about "when in a foreign land, look for rare bottles", and an internet search brought up an interesting restaurant/bottle shop on Longboat Key, advertising "Best rare single malt selection in Sarasota!". I needed some lunch, so off I went. The food was passable (gaspacho), the decor was mid-eighties Miami-vice style, but I was sitting outdoors and a breeze was blowing, so I didn't care all that much. The scotch selection was hilariously bad, however, which doesn't bode well for the rest of Sarasota, alas. We're talking 5 bottles: Macallan 12, Glenlivet 12, and Glenfiddich who-cares, Bowmore 18, and Talisker 10. Nothing to write home about, and I think that their internet bragging rights should be removed. Not that it would make much difference, all 5 bottles were covered with a thick layer of dust, so I suspect that even IF they were the best in town, there's just not a market.

Went to my meeting, which was pleasant enough. Confirmed we're not really a vendor match, but he was appreciative of the Kindle. I actually spent more time talking him through the features of the kindle than pitching the company... But who knows - something COULD happen - we did have a nice visit.

Then I called an old co-worker Nick who lives out this direction only to find that he's on a job in Connecticut, but he recommended a restaurant for soft shell crab (which I don't like, but I figure they'd have something I WOULD like), and gave me what seemed like clear directions. I just headed up Longboat key.

On the way, I stopped at a Marine Aquarium and met some Rays, Sharks, Octopi, and assorted fishies. But the COOL things were in separate buildings: First, a Seabird Hospital and Sanctuary. Egrets and Pelicans with broken wings are hard enough to look at, but for some reason, there were a LOT of sandhill cranes with prosthetic feet. Many of the birds didn't appear to have anything wrong - perhaps healed, perhaps just resting. A pen with 5 giant owls was quite startling - they all turned and looked at me at once. As sad as it is to see animals hurt, it was also incredibly heartwarming to think that people are giving their time and effort to help these animals and give them shelter and another chance. I left the hospital feeling hopeful for them, and for us.

Over to the Marine Mammal sanctuary: Some dolphins (not for show, they're healing!), lots of giant turtles (close enough to touch, but don't!!! they have powerful jaws!!!) And a manatee in a big pen swimming around: Manatees look like a child's drawing of an animal more than a real animal. They're all lumpy, and the tail seems added on, and the eye looks for all the world like a dot from a magic marker. They're like lumpy clay whale/seals. But they also seem pretty nice.

I enjoyed my time with the sea creatures. And that led to a powerful hunger... though not really for seafood.

I kept on the road, imagining that I'd hit the end of the road and the restaurant would be self evident, just as the Bubble Room really can't be missed on Captiva. "Just go til the road ends, and there it is". After 10 miles and two islands past Longboat Key, I figured out I had missed it. I pulled into a shack by the side of the road with a compelling skeleton sign called "Mister Bones BBQ". Turns out, it was delicious. I ate a full rack of ribs, waddled back to my car, and headed back to my hotel.

Now I'm working on "what comes next" in my career: I got a call this afternoon for a possible fun gig, which seems like a more major commitment than my other one... this is managing the building of an entirely new hospital... in the SF Bay area. Need to find out more (have a call in the AM), but it sounds like a great challenge.... Plus I have friends out there - first Yoshi moved there to work for Pixar, and my buddy Paul looks to have a new position at another Bay Area concern (which if you can believe it is actually as cool as Pixar, if not more so... but I can't reveal it yet). Plus the existing superfriends. So there'd be a lot of fun out there. I'd have to budget for a LOT of trips with the kids and Pamela - especially in the colder months...

The next few weeks will definitely tell more about what will happen: There are great possibilities, and the amazing successes of Paul and Yoshi just tells me that while there is a lot of upsetting energy out there, there is also some positive disruption happening, and I need to ride the wave.

I'll be home Wed afternoon... and we'll see what the rest of the week brings!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not to be believed

When Pamela went on Oprah a couple of weeks back, she self-identified as "Dr Mehmet Oz's biggest fan" and got to sit on Oprah's couch with her Dr Oz action figure (sans Oprah, alas). The talent wrangler gave Pamela her card and asked her to write for tickets to Dr Oz's new show coming in the fall.

So Pamela did write last night, and by this morning, the coordinator had written back: Dr Oz will be on Oprah THIS THURSDAY - does Pamela want to go? A quick set of calls to arrange things, and yes, she's definitely going, and this time bringing her mom.

I'll be superdad with the kids from Wed night to Friday lunchtime. And Pamela will have been in the Oprah audience twice in a month. WOW.

In my own world, I'm still waiting for the stars to align for my next gig, but am growing more and more amused at how things are turning at my work: Today the new "big boss" decided that the way to penetrate into more clients is... wait for it... to hire a telemarketing firm to do the initial calls, and set up meetings for us.

I actually can't imagine that working... not in a relationship-based business like this. In fact I could see it backfiring in a massive way. But I'm not the big boss guy. I'm just a guy who is biding his time waiting for the next thing. Nothing to see here. No siree.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Crazy Neighborhood Living

Spring has sprung SO HARD: For the third day in a row, the whole neighborhood has been parked out on a neighbor's yard with kids running around and adults shooting the breeze with a beer or two. It's especially fun now with Isaac, who is capable of holding his own with most of the bigger kids, and is in the middle of the action.

He actually does so well, that Colin, one of the neighbor kids who is TEN asked for a playdate with Isaac yesterday. They spent an hour in their backyard (with Colin's mom) playing happily.

Today we rolled out the Mobile Relaxation Unit - the couch that Jenny's parents donated to the cause which Pamela and Papa extensively redecorated with brightly colored remnants. We carried it out the front door, set it down, and rolled it across the street and down the block on its casters. The neighborhood kids were all screaming with excitement to see this grey, pink, silver, and zebra striped couch rolling down the middle of the street. We were going to bring it home tonight, but the fact is tomorrow will be another party (and we'll be grilling!), so we left it over there.

Bella and Isaac are hitting growth spurts now, and have both outgrown their shoes. Bella has these big paddlefeet (when Kaitie handed her to us in the hospital 6 1/2 years ago, she actually apologized "I can see she got my feet!") so we can't just do the neighborhood shoe hand-down. We went to Schuler Shoes, a local institution and got her properly fitted with a couple of pairs of New Balances which have the room she needs. One of the pairs has robots and blinking lights on it, the other is silver with bright yellow details (Yellow is coming up in the rankings of favorite colors these days). Isaac also busted out of his latest pair, and so we got him a couple of fresh shoes on sale.

Of course, nothing is FAST in a small shoe store, so Isaac and Bella were running around like MANIACS which exhausted us. Isaac walked behind a rack of sportswear, and pushed his way through, pausing to declare "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!!!" as though he had just emerged from the curtain on stage. I almost fell out of my chair. What a ham.

As to work: I have one solid offer to start in July, one potential to start in 2 weeks, one fell through already, and one just arose today from a new source which I should find out more about tomorrow. So parachute or not, I think things are looking pretty good. On the parachute front, there's resistance at the management level, as noted elsewhere... but then our April forecasts aren't looking so good and we have an "emergency circle the wagons" meeting tomorrow. We'll just see.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poor communication skills as plot device

I've grown in awareness when I'm watching or reading something of the prevalence of the unfinished sentence as a major plot device which simply wouldn't work in real life. This was used to horrible effect in the old X-Files, where if Mulder would simply finish a sentence, or add in a single detail when explaining something to Scully, she would have had enough information to actually HELP him sometimes.

Hypothetical example:
Agent 1 and Agent 2 are leaving from Spybase Alpha to infiltrate the underwater lair of Dr Devious.
Agent 1: How are we going to get in?
Agent 2: I'll go first and let you in.
Agent 1: How will you get past them?
Agent 2: I have a plan.

Flash forward - Agent 2 is seriously behind schedule, Agent 1 panics, stumbles into some guards, is taken prisoner, and is being brought before Dr Devious. In a nick of time Agent 2 pops out of a pool of water and saves Agent 1 "didn't I tell you, I can breathe underwater?"

If Agent 2 had just TOLD AGENT 1 his plan was to swim under the whole damn island because he has GILLS, Agent 1 could have sat back and worked with that. But NO. Agent 2 didn't reveal the plan. And it's not like they didn't have a good few hours in the SpyJet, just the two of them, flying to Dr Devious' island. What else did they talk about? American Idol???

This may seem extreme, but for god's sake, it's used on a weekly basis on just about every one of my favorite shows. (And of course in those Maximum Ride books: Anyone: "Max, let me tell you some useful information" Max: "WHATEVER!!!" )

And when they do it, I want to scream because it is just LAZY WRITING. Even well written shows like Fringe are guilty - The cellphone conversation where if they just added ONE MORE SENTENCE to the conversation prior to hanging up, things would turn out differently. Like "I'm at the corner of Dunn and Bradstreet", or "I think that my wound is growing more infected", or "He's acting strangely". Things that I imagine you or I would probably add in.

So writers, and I know there are so many of you reading this, please please please, if you catch yourself withholding information to further the plot, that's ok. But then at least be realistic with how people who HAVE the information would USE that information. In a life threatening or strategic situation, a person sitting on a key bit of info and somehow NOT revealing it during the entire course of a transatlantic flight, or just before a firefight is just absurd.

At least let the person either NOT have an opportunity to be sharing the info (IE - don't have them talking in 90% detail about something but then trailing off "there's more.... but we don't have time"), or let them actually share the info WITH their people, but not US, so we can all be pleasantly surprised by the entire SWAT team crashing through the wall taking out the Vegan Terrorists because the whole group was working with the best possible information.

We as viewers can still be surprised.
And I'll be a lot less frustrated.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So far...

Two days home, and it's good to be here. Tiring, too!

Last night Isaac was bursting with wild energy, leaping from chair to couch to floor announcing that he's "SUPAMAN!!!" He took a good hour to wind down in bed, and then decided to get up around 3 to talk, sing, babble, and demand my company. I crashed on his floor a while, then brought him into bed with us. Funny thing, Isaac harasses ME in bed but leaves Pamela alone. If I'm on my back or facing him, he's happy, but noisy, which makes it hard to sleep. If I roll over and face the other way, he kicks me, tousles my hair, pokes my back, etc etc. He just can't keep his hands off of me.

By 4:30 I had enough, got up and went to the workout - not teaching, just using the studio to practice my aerobics routine. It's been over 2 weeks since I last taught and I needed to a) remember everything, and b) make sure I could do the full hour without dying. PASSED on both counts. Got home with fresh bread from Breadsmith and caught 45 min on the sofa before the upstairs woke up.

At work today, it was supposed to be "D-Day": My boss had made the case for me to be laid off based on a few factors, and his boss was going to check in with me today. Well, we had the meeting, and I blew it. I actually was myself, and he decided that I had skills and energy and he didn't want to let me go. So I'm going to probably have to forgo the severance and just move on. SIGH. It was a long shot anyway, but at least I tried. This might not be "the end" yet, as my bosses might just decide to act in my favor... things move in mysterious ways.

I came home a little dejected, to find the entire neighborhood in Jenny's front yard: The kids were all running around playing, and the parents were all kicking back in lawn chairs with sunglasses. We were kicking off SPRINGTIME in a proper way. 3 hours later, the kids were filthy, we all had full bellies from Famous Dave's (someone bravely went out to get takeout for us), and the stresses of the day had melted away.

We threw the kids into the tub to soak and it was off to bed for them. And I'm debating whether to catch Fringe tonight, or wait until tomorrow... hmmm....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Home and Safe AGAIN

After 10 days away, I'm finally back in my own home, sitting on my couch in front of the fireplace, enjoying a decaf. The last 2 weeks have been a whirlwind - from the trip to Portland, to the secret Eastern city, to Chicago for the Trade Show of DOOM, to Palatine for more family fun and Easter... and finally home today.

Some highlights of Chicago/Palatine: On Friday, we went to the train station and caught the Metra and went 5 stops toward Chicago to Des Plaines, to lunch at the ChooChoo restaurant. Isaac and Bella were both wearing striped overalls and loved the train experience. The ChooChoo was opened in 1951 - a malt and burger joint where the food is sent from the kitchen around the bar on a model train. It's delightful, and the joint was packed. The kids were enthralled and got excited every time that train came out. It was like magic. Sadly the town of Des Plaines figures that spot might be better used for parking, so there's an online petition to save this place at www.savethechoochoo.com

Jimmy to the Rescue: I'd been hearing from Bam that her iMac was starting to act funny. The list of symptoms were alarming, and I was happy that at our last visit in November I had the presence of mind to set up a backup disk for them. When I arrived on Wednesday, I ran over to it, confirmed that there WERE backups, and took one more just for good measure. When it went to sleep after backing up, it was to be its final shutdown. It never woke again... perhaps it knew that things would be OK now that the geek with glasses was there.

Bridget (Lilli's mom) is an Apple Store manager and had a line on an ex-demo iMac to replace it: Amazing machine, amazing price (my jaw dropped), so we went to get it and I spent the next couple of days bringing her data back from the dead, while pruning out years of ridiculous old downloads. By the end, we were back up and running with a fabulously huge 24" display. I love it when a technology story ends well.

Easter was our usual brunch with Grandma and the K-family at her retirement community. Very good food, good conversation, and both Bella and Isaac were pretty adventurous with the eating. About a pound of bacon each, probably.

The drive home started around 2, and we rolled in just before 9, having taken a leisurely dinner at a Pizza Hut in Mauston. The kids slept the first half of the trip, and we watched videos the second half. All was very very nice until about 10 minutes from home when screaming and squirming erupted. It was all hands on deck triage to get things down when we got in the door, and both kids zonked almost immediately.

And now I'm off to do the same.

Words to Live By

Bella, Isaac, and I were at a playground, and Bella spotted a sand volleyball court and wanted to play "in the big sandbox". She dropped to her knees and started digging in the sand to make a big wall. Now, it was around 50 degrees, dry, and windy. There wasn't going to be much of a wall made, and while I was all for running around and climbing on the playground equipment, I told her I didn't want to get my hands dirty.

She told me:
"Dad, when you're having fun: the dirtier you get, the more fun you're having. And you're not dirty AT ALL."

Fair enough. We did play a lot, but not enough for her: She went to bed sad that she didn't get to have enough fun outside. Thankfully, spring is still springing, and we'll have a lot more fun in the months to come. And we're going to have to get some hands dirty.

Friday, April 10, 2009


The mind numbing events of the past week seem so far away now, after a couple of great days with the family. The kids and I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo yesterday and made friends with the big cats and the monkeys... while Pamela attended a taping of the Oprah Show!!! I don't think I'm breaking any nondisclosure agreements by telling you that Pamela did NOT attend a big giveaway taping, so no new cars or weeks at Miraval, alas.

We've been running around outside a lot, building forts, and giving a lot of airplane rides. The house has been full of giggles.

Thanks for the well wishes after the last update: It was a total "venting" post, I admit, but I needed to get it out! Things are moving forward on all of my "secret plans" so I'm feeling very positive now.

We're off to take the train for a family adventure this morning, so that's the short update!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Catch the Train

Well in the week since my last update... so much has happened. So much.

1) My secret meeting went extremely well, and I think there's a great opportunity out there. The catch is that for funding reasons it can't start until July, so I'm not sure exactly how to hold out until then. Perhaps I could get the old gang together and do some street corner busking.

But seriously - the job would be working in a clinical context again, doing large scale analysis and planning, working for cardiologists and geeks alike to build a new system. They were clear that it's a year to start, but could turn into multiple years... and they'd work with me on family friendly travel options (week on/week off, etc). It's for a children's facility too, so there's good karma in helping care for kids.

2) The trade conference has been an unmitigated disaster. We were asked to share booth space with our parent company which is in an entirely different line of business than us. So the whole booth looked like Company X, with just a little sign inside saying "Plus Company X Consulting". We were off the main drag, and had bad sight lines, and nobody knew we were there. And nobody would wander in looking for our services either, any more than you would go to a Ford dealership to purchase the new Stephen King thriller.

ADD to this that our parent company has been involved in some unpleasant litigation recently which has led (rightly or wrongly - I don't understand the lawsuits) to a general perception of our company is borderline unethical... and that's the name on my badge. As I schmoozed in receptions, I actually had several people physically recoil and walk away as they saw the name. REALLY.

So even though we all know I'm moving to some new thing, I did want to attend and do my real job well, since it is my job. But I was 100% stymied, and the end result is that I didn't have a SINGLE potential client interaction. It's mind blowing!!!

3) I did make some PERSONAL connections for my next potentials, however...

4) Allright I gotta vent - with a lot of time in the booth and not much traffic, I got to see our management team in action, and it wasn't pleasant. Our CEO showed up for 2 hours one of the days, and sat on a couch in the booth doing emails. Didn't say hello to the 10 people working, no pep talk, no personal connections whatsoever. The dominant narrative on this guy is "he's really smart, but not so good with people" - my revised narrative is "this guy is a total jerkwad". Sorry, but the job of CEO is to lead. To lead, you need to motivate people, not be a toad. It would have been better for him to have not shown up at all than this performance.

The layers below him were equally annoying. Booth rules are simple - walk around, engage customers, smile, don't eat, don't sit. Standard VP behavior in OUR booth? Sitting in circles, talking on phones sipping coffee, checking email, ignoring customers (the few that wandered in). It was embarrassing.

So to recap - terrible booth, bad location, uninspiring leadership, bad customer reaction to our brand... hmmmmm.... Remind me why I'm looking to move on again?

5) To rub salt in the wound of the week, the obligatory "team building exercises" for the week were just more depressing than anything. With the downward spiral in all other aspects of the company, our personal relationships are all fraying, and there's a breakdown in our willingness to tolerate eachother's quirks. So at the dinners, there were long silences, and a lot of "Whew, I'm beat - time to turn in!" Compared with years past where we all cut loose and had a great time... it just felt like one of those balloons with a slow leak.

I'm getting on a train to take me back up to Palatine to see the family, and I'm happy to have this week behind me. I thank you for letting me get this off my chest... I'm going to have 5 wonderful days up here surrounded with love which will bring me right back up to fighting strength!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


On Saturday, Papabam came up to spend the week with us. Papa and Bella immediately went into project mode, and took over the dining room table with all sorts of little crafts. By Sunday, Bella was wearing a pair of eyeglasses made out of twigs and string, and there was a full size drawing of Isaac with butterfly wings on the floor. It's simply wonderful.

Sunday AM we went to the Arboretum for their annual pancake breakfast and maple syrup tour. We ate huge stacks of very good flapjacks and sausages, and even though the weather was brisk, we enjoyed touring the maple syrup fields... I was impressed with the latest technology: while they still use bags/buckets for some trees, they also run loooooong tubes down hills connecting a dozen trees in series, leading directly to the collection vat.

Our neighbors upgraded their couch, so we scrounged their old one and turned it into a "Mobile Recreation Unit" - we recovered it in scrap fabrics (fake fur, vinyl, animal print, flannel, it's frankly hideous in a good way) and bolted casters to the bottom. This beast will live in our garage and get wheeled out on nice days for hobnobbing on the sidewalk. We're going to carpe a lot of diems.

I'm in Portland today: We finally got a meeting with a client that I'd been desperately trying to get into for over a year. And when they made time, they MADE TIME: I got 90 minutes with them, including 30 minutes with their CIO, plus their director joined us for dinner as well. It was actually fabulous.

But more than the schmooze: When the CIO arrived, he had some very specific questions - how would we solve problem X? How would we design project team to do Y? For 30 min, it was a rapid fire conversation with just the two of us, and the rest of the people at the table sat back and tried to keep up. I gave him some free consulting, and he took copious notes. Enough to establish credibility, not enough to do the full job, of course. It's not like I read him the Colonel's secret spices recipe or anything. I got a good email back from him today thanking me for my time and looking forward to working more in the future.

I really liked yesterday because it didn't feel like sales. It felt like consulting: Talking about problems, and brainstorming solutions. And that just further cements my conviction - I need to be consulting again. And do I even need to mention that there's not a single other person in my company who could have answered his questions, nor is there anyone who could actually do the work I was describing that needs doing? Of course I don't. You know what I gotta do.

Dinner at the Heathman was divine, and I always love the fact that they have Ardbeg at the bar - long live the smoke! The Heathmans in Portland and Seattle are just such amazing places.

So shhhhhhh don't tell anyone but I'm not actually going home from Portland - I'm headed out to an east coast city to talk to another group about solutions - on my own behalf. I bought my own ticket, got my own hotel... and it's another "who could do this but me?" sort of gig. I'll be home Thursday and will probably have some news...

Then it's off to Chicago for the big HIMSS trade conference. Mucho schmoozo. But I'm still bringing my A-Game to the job I actually HAVE. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, doncha know.

Pamela, the kids, and Papabam will drive down to Palatine over the weekend and I'll meet up with them Wednesday for family fun time. We'll come back home after Easter. The kids get two whole weeks with their grandparents.