Friday, June 26, 2009

At the Zoo

While at the Zoo last weekend, we went into the wolf area. Isaac pointed to one of the big grey wolves, and called out:

"A WOLF!!! Will he try and trick us?"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A better week

The unreasonable pace of the past few weeks has slackened somewhat this week, with me actually getting to do things like get more than 5 hours of sleep some nights, and put my feet up in my hotel room. There's still a lot to do, of course, but it's doable without working TO DEATH. Not quite not-busy enough for me to sneak off to see Transformers 2, Electric Boogaloo, however.

I had a checkpoint on my "reboot" project with the sponsors, who are so far thrilled with the different direction I've taken the project and are appreciative of the things I am uncovering. On the OTHER project, there's a little lull while I marshall the troops to start planning action on my findings... but a few key people are out this week, so I can only plan.

I had a dinner out with people from the company I'm subbing through. The company is one I knew from my previous work, and I'm quite grateful to them for giving me a short term gig, and for their fast payment, which is unusual in the industry. We went to a cuban food place in downtown Philly called Mixto. As we walked through the neighborhood, I grew excited about the upcoming change from Jersey to Philly for me... this will be my stomping grounds. I will get to know Philly. Of the group, 3 had lived in Manhattan before, and all said Philly had more to offer them.

One of the gang is a doctor who, like me, is a subcontractor. Michael is an oncologist who is full of humorous yet grisly anecdotes, and every third story ends with "of course, he died." He has a farm, is quite wealthy, and told a great story about accompanying a friend to Peru to visit Machu Piccu a few years back. They started at the bottom, and Michael decided to forgo the 3 day hike. He went back to the hotel, and took a helicopter to meet his friend at the top 3 days later, fresh as a daisy. He's that kind of guy.

Today the sight of some geese outside our window (they took over where the Mister Softee truck had been.... but it's been cold and rainy for weeks and I haven't seen that ice cream truck since my first posting!) It launched into a story about Guinea Hens and a lonely turkey who was hatched with them and thinks he's a hen too. He waits at the base of the tree that they all roost in all night. Fortunately, that cute story did NOT end with "of course he's dead now."

Anyway, I had a cup of coffee with the owner of the company today, and he has offered me a position... and it's quite tempting. It addresses all of my concerns: You bill hourly and get a good cut of the proceeds (indeed, the percentage is the same as my OLD company took for Independents), health benefits, and additional percentages based on sales. So I could do nothing but bill and get about as good a deal as any sub firm would give me. But if I sell a little on the side, it's all upside. Plus, health insurance. He even said I could work my next year in Philly for them at the rate I negotiated with them, they'd take ZERO percent just to have me with them.

It's pretty tempting. I told him I was just getting out of a bad relationship and needed some time to think, and he said the offer's open anytime I want to take it. That's pretty cool. I could just keep doing side work too, if that's what I prefer.

Talked to the family today on iChat: Bella is still loving Sync, and learned how to flip underwater ("it's easy" she says, with a confident smirk). Isaac is Isaac, and I'm looking forward to more cuddles this weekend. Zinsser is being trained by Pamela and Bella, and he knows "Sit" and "Come" pretty well, and is learning how to walk on is leash. He's adorable and I love him.

We have a third kid - Jenny has been spending several days a week at our house while JeMae and Randy are at work. Having her around is a nice buffer - she plays with both Bella and Isaac, and offers some cushioning between the two, who left to their own devices would probably tear eachother from limb to limb some days.

I haven't been working out much on the road - things have just been too busy - but I found time this morning to give it a go. I did 2/3 of my BodyAttack class, and felt like I was going to flat out DIE. Time Out called today to ask if I could teach this weekend, and I had to decline - I'm not in good enough shape to do the workout, much less lead the class. It was a wakeup call, and I'll be getting back on the exercise stick soon. At least it hasn't hit my waistline yet - all pants still fit. I repeat, all pants still fit.

Well, a little more work left in the evening, so off to it!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day

It was a LONG week in South Jersey last week: Instead of my usual 4 day stint, I had to pull a full five due to important meetings Monday AND Friday. So when I rolled in on Friday Afternoon, I was VERY ready for a break with the family... and what family I got! PapaBam came up from Palatine with niece Lilli in tow on Wednesday and had been keeping Isaac and Bella more than busy... The weekend itself was busy and fun: Saturday was Swimming with Isaac, then the Zoo, then naptime, then Swimming at the Edina Pool... then ZZZZzzzzzz. Sunday was a lazy start to the day, some walking around and wrassling, a good heavy lunch from FiveGuys (burgers and fries - what every dad needs), and more naps. In the evening after the Chicago gang went off home, I cuddled up with the kids and watched my favorite movie - The Incredibles. Isaac only engaged during the Super scenes, jumping around and shouting, and went off to play with blocks during the "drama". Bella and I loved the whole thing.

Just because I was home didn't mean I didn't have work, alas. As part of the "reboot" project to recover from the nightmare earlier in the week, I had a big spreadsheet and a presentation to build. I worked on both after bedtime on Sat and Sun nights - getting to bed after midnight each night. But I feel I got things where they needed to be, and will have a good week here, where I will hopefully not be spending quite as late of evenings as I did last week. But with the full days and working late, I feel like it was a bit of a "lost weekend!"

Kid Updates... Kid Updates.... Kid Updates.....
Bella has decided to try her hand at Synchronized Swimming: One of our friends is a "SynchroMom" and both of her daughters (who are friends of Bella) are involved, and with Bella being such a water bee, we asked if she'd like to try. YES she said without hesitation! Her first session was last Tuesday, and she didn't say much about it, but did want to go back.

Saturday swimming with Isaac was a big step: I didn't get in the pool with him this time - it's just him and two other kids listening to the teacher. They sit on the steps and learn how to be in the pool safely without mom and dad holding them. Next week, no swimsuit for me even - just a bystander! It was quite bittersweet for me: He's such an independent guy that in a way I liked having our swimming time for him to clutch to me, needing my support. He still likes a cuddle in the shower at least.

Today was apparently very hot in Edina, and the kids were pretty poky on the soccer field. Isaac had a special job to work the spray bottle and keep the girls cool. Or so I heard, since I'm in Jersey again! I got upgraded in my hotel to a bi-level two bedroom suite. Not really sure what to do with the space, so I'm moving from surface to surface every 10 minutes. Not getting the upgrades at Hertz though - got a tiny Toyota Yaris rollerskate today... but actually it's pretty cute.

Well, I'm a few hours down on my sleep, so I'm going to turn in and read another chapter of Pillars of the Earth, which I'm finally getting around to reading only around 20 years after it was released. I hear it'll be a miniseries soon, with Rufus Sewell as Tom the Builder.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Best of times, worst of times

Work, work, work. It has been over 3 weeks since I started this gig, and I had my first major touchpoint yesterday: I presented a powerpoint of my findings to date and initial recommendations to my boss and her boss. This is where my ability to "synthesize" multiple threads really came into play: The project is tracking 3 different technical threads across five different applications, with a core technology that people don't really understand.

To succeed in this presentation, I needed to teach about the underlying technology, THEN describe the 5 applications, THEN address each technical thread and how it crosses the five application areas. And more than that, I needed to describe why it's not working today, and how it SHOULD work. Heck, it's hard to write even generically. The core tech is the mark of the beast, the Barcode, of which I understand a great deal more today than I did 3 weeks ago. We're talking about how to scan patients and drugs to make sure the right drug is going to the right patient, then scanning the nurse to register WHO administered the dose.

This is good stuff: We want to get it right so that we can reduce medication errors and keep people healthy. But all of the interdependencies were breaking their brains, which is why I was brought in. So after 3 weeks of learning, listening, and synthesizing, I came up with my presentation.

It took 45 minutes, but by the end, everyone understood. The CIO actually said it was "the best presentation he'd seen" and was looking forward to re-reading it several times for further detail. That pretty much had me walking on air. And it was vitally important to establish that credibility, for today.

As I mentioned a post or two back, I've been dropped in to help a struggling colleague with his project. He's been working on his for over 8 weeks now, and frankly his scope was a lot more narrow than mine. His materials were almost incomprehensible - he had reams of information, but no structure. He couldn't talk to his findings, and he had to present to the same group I did yesterday.... today.

So I've been spending my evenings trying to whip his stuff into shape, and finally I was asked to lead the presentation as well, and let him offer details as needed. I did my best to assemble everything and make a coherent presentation, but I was worried - I felt like there was something very KEY missing from this, but couldn't figure out what.... and he wasn't able to help me figure it out either. Something just felt... wrong....

We did the presentation, and everyone was very polite.. but there were no followup questions whatsoever. And it hit me: We didn't answer the question they needed answered. We completely missed the point, and this guy had burned through tens of thousands of their dollars. As we walked out, the consultant patted me on the back, thanked me for helping, and said he thought it went very well. The pit in my stomach grew and I decided i needed to get some air. I visited the geese and turtles out back.

Long story short: The client was livid, the consultant will be done tomorrow, but didn't blame me. In fact, the only thing keeping them sane is that I agreed to parachute in, circle back and find the missing information. The next 4 weeks will be even BUSIER than before, but at least I bill hourly. The good thing is that I know what he missed, and I know I can get the info, and I already know all of the OTHER stuff he found out. I can pull this off.

But not tonight: I was at work until 7 recovering from this, had some dinner, and came "home" to watch a movie. Over the past 3 weeks I've got caught up on Joss Whedon's brilliant space-western Firefly, and tonight I watched Serenity, the "wrapup movie". I had seen Serenity a couple of years back without having watched Firefly and I thought it was only ok. But given the context of having watched all 14 episodes, the movie really was a capstone and a wonderful one at that.

Family: Started a new swim class with Isaac on Saturday - up to now, it has been me in the pool holding him for everything. This new level is to build independence, so they're to be more solo in the water (with the teacher). I'm still in the water, but they spend time on the steps, sitting on the edge, or floating without my help. It's a smaller class (3 kids), and the teacher actually thinks that by next week we might have the parents OUT of the water, encouraging from the sidelines. I'll have to get my wet Isaac cuddles some other way. Showers. Those are nice, and he loves for me to hold him for a cuddle in the shower.

We went to visit my dear nephew Magnus on Sunday, and I'm proud to say we brought THE CHAOS to Carrie's house: We brought Zinsser to meet Freddie the Boston Terrier and there was a lot of barking and chasing. Isaac loved "Baby Maggus" (can't quite get that "n" sound in there) and wanted to hold him a lot. Bella had a quiet fascination with the little man. And by the time we left, I could honestly say that Carrie and Scott felt that things were comparatively quiet... even with Magnus starting to squawk. Glad to help.

Oh, and one more surreal image: Last week, I was visiting the geese and turtles out back and saw what looked like a log sticking out of the water, around 15 feet out from the shore. Then a shell bobbed up - at least 2-3 feet in diameter ("big as a truck tire" said one other watcher). It was a HUGE snapping turtle with that sinister smirk they have, and he looked over at me. He stayed on the surface, and was bobbing up and down. I wasn't sure what was up with the bobbing, until a SECOND big head came out of the water from underneath. Yeah, I saw some hot hot giant snapping turtle love.

I'm telling you, South Jersey is bringing all KINDS of experiences.

More as it happens.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Tetris Effect

Week three on the new gig - can it almost be half over already? I'm back at the first hotel again, in a much better room, and actually like it this time around. Not that I'm here that much - there's a lot of work to be done. ;-> But I'm appreciating the better location, and the great healthclub too.... while also trying to eat a bit better so I don't go all Jabba the Hutt.

One casualty of the travel is my fitness instruction: My Bodyattack Class was canceled just before the gig started due to low attendance, and I'm dropping my Bodypump teaching for a while too: Can't really justify that time away from the family right now: I can keep in shape while on the road, and not disappear for hours to teach or practice teaching. It has been a fun thing to do these past 9 months, but I have other priorities that need to take precedence. Sorry Les Mills.

On the home front: Bella finished Kindergarten on Friday - she's officially a "first grader". I think that the excitement wore us all out a little... plus Isaac has some molars cutting right now, so he's pretty ornery. The upshot is that while Saturday was the usual fun, Sunday was a very crabby day for the kids, and Pamela and I were completely at a loss as to what to do. Even TACO night wasn't able to break through it! Even good guy Zinsser was a bit peevish.... After everyone was off to bed, Pamela and I just stared at eachother in disbelief.

Fortunately, the tide turned somewhat yesterday, and Pamela hasn't been exactly besieged.... she's handling things pretty well and I'm grateful. Last night Bella played Soccer again, and she told me on the video chat this AM that she "actually kicked the ball this time". I'm so proud!

Ah the Video Chat - it's a valuable lifeline to home. It's no secret that while one huge driver for my career change was the rewarding work (and I really am loving it), it can't be denied that there was a financial element to it: Things really hadn't panned out as expected with the new sales role, and I needed to make a change. Well, last night I was doing some financial modeling to budget things out.... and did a model of what things would have looked like if I had stayed the course with the same revenues... It wasn't pretty. I sat back and took a look around my Residence Inn room and said "Yeah, this'll do. This will be ok."

Besides, I love South Jersey. I'm catching myself imitating the cadence of the speech patterns here... and am terrified that I'll come home and start sounding like mobster. A problem of having a "neutral" accent (since my MN accent isn't very strong) is that really strong accents are "contagious". "Do you want more coffee?" "Nah, we're good here. Tanks".

One more detail: Uncle Ant of the Scotch Avengers leaves today for a 5 day trip to Scotland - a first class ticket paid for (by miles) from another scotch aficionado who wanted to see what sort of tour Ant could whip up of the Isle of Islay. So we'll have some great stories I'm sure... We're all jealous!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Surreal Moments

I'm at the new gig in South Jersey again this week and have some odd occurrences to report:

1) The worksite here backs onto a small pond with a walkway around it. I was just out there collecting some thoughts and my eye was drawn down under the walkway: Floating in the water was a bunch of what looked like comic books... but on closer look appeared to be written in arabic. The cover of one had an eagle holding an AK47. Other books were below it... all getting waterlogged.

As I studied this, my eye tracked and saw a HUGE TURTLE - over a foot in diameter - sitting in the water just next to the texts. Guarding them?

I moseyed back inside.... and there haven't been any reports of global jihad breaking out in Gibbsboro New Jersey, so I'll just keep an eye on things. They're moving from that location in 2 weeks anyway.

2) Some may remember my brief career in the early 1990s doing arrangement work for lounge singers: I shorthand that as "i wrote Karaoke backing tracks", but in reality at the time, the true customer was single lounge singers with a single keyboard that could play "midi files".

Well tonight I saw the logical progression. As I had some VERY tasty Penne Arribiata at a restaurant recommended by my Italian boss, a lounge act came on stage. The lady was rail thin with hair teased to double her head circumference, and the guy had a non-ironic latin 'fro, a solid black sponge going down to a ponytail (I know - how did that WORK?).

The two of them sat with microphones on either side of a LAPTOP COMPUTER and a mixer. So they weren't even trying to pretend to play one of the parts, as my lounge singers felt obligated to back in the day. Better, when the lady was singing, the guy was playing with the knobs on the mixer, adding in reverb and delay to make her voice sound more exotic at certain points. When he was singing, she sat on her barstool and stared into space. It was a beautiful evening.

And it set me up with energy to do 4 more hours of work in the hotel room. See, in addition to my gig, there's another guy there who has a big deliverable and the other consultants have figured out he really isn't going to deliver much for the 400 hours he has billed, so they've asked ME to ghost write a bunch of his stuff (for pay, of course), so tonight I was reformatting and rewriting a bunch of reference documents. Good times.

3) Surreal moment number three wasn't really that deep: It was just me driving "home" to the ALoft hotel through some very industrial areas, with the sky just superblue with dusk, the lights just coming on, and wisps of orange and yellow clouds across the sky.

As I sat at a light, just ahead a freight train started across a bridge I was about to go under. Very slowly, pulling flatbed cars on which were stacked black metal boxes with the word "EPIC" stenciled on the sides. (Epic was the software we specialized in implementing at my last job... not touching it right now).

I drove under the bridge and on the left was a scrap yard, and as I glanced, TWO cranes literally FLUNG clawfuls of metal onto a small mountain. They wound back, swung forward, and released the gleaming metal. Then I drove up a 30 degree incline to a bridge into the sky (over a waterway).... then down to the hotel.

I'm telling you, it was a very peaceful and strange few minutes.

And that's my story for the evening. Night night.