Thursday, September 30, 2010


Whew... that was interesting. I guess my last post was circulated around the very company I was saying I really really really liked, so I've actually been a little nervous about posting... pressure to make it "good", or something. Fortunately, I think I've made it past that, and am ready to go back to my usual.

1) I'm psyched beyond belief for Fringe tonight. I say to all out there, if you haven't watched Fringe before, and are leery about getting started, go find last week's episode - it actually gives you loads of context and backstory, and you can just run from there. Then strap in for the rest of this season. I did a post about "arcs" a few months back, about how heavily plot-arc'ed shows are rewarding for the long term viewer but alienating to the casual viewer... Well, Fringe has basically said "yep - we're an arc, but we're taking you ALL someplace new, so here's what you missed, and now you know". And the possibilities this season are pretty big.

2) I know I've done this before, but I'm sort of gravitating back toward language study again: On my way out to Verona, I did a 4 hour brush up on my Dutch. It was very fun, but then I didn't run into any of the Dutch people at Epic. ANNOYING. I have two things to say about Dutch:
- I love making all of those gutteral Gs. Hrrrrragh!
- It completely ruins your ability on German. Dutch is hard where German is soft, and vice versa. "I" is "Ick" (hard K) vs "ich" (gutteral). And "happily" is graag (gutteral H, rolled R, ah, gutteral H), vs Gern (Hard G). Other geekier examples will not be provided in the interest of not going there.

3) Kvetch as I may about Cleveland, I have grown to love "Cleveland Style Pizza". Between Geraci's and Romito's, I can't get enough of the sweet sauce and the chewy crust. When I was in Florida, I had Anthony's COAL FIRED Pizza. Coal. You don't get a good aroma or flavor from burning a fossil fuel, but somehow the whole thing worked out. Did you know my first word spelled on the fridge was Pizza?

That tale may be apocryphal, and I'm sure Anonymous Poster #1 will set me straight. I just don't know if the magnetic alphabet set had multiple Z's. Like Scrabble. Maybe I repurposed an "N". I feel bad that the fridge in our house has a wooden, non-magnetic front. My kids were deprived the alphabet letter thing. So I compensated with an iPad.

4) I stayed late at the office today after the rest of the consultants took off, and it was wild to be in such an empty office. TWO people came into my office to turn off the light and were shocked to see me still at my desk. Got some good conversations in too. 5-7pm is apparently when the "real decisions" get made. I'm on the 6am flight Friday - can't wait to get home.

Pamela had her birthday on Tuesday, and it was hard to miss that... It was several days of my not being able to use my unappreciated "cradle robber" taunt, until my birthday in November. Fortunately we do "birthday weeks", so we're going out Friday night, plus there s a very nice flower arrangement in the house I sent. We're also having Isaac's birthday party at the swim school - swimming and cupcakes, oh my!

And that's the update. I have some writing to do (a white paper on the potential of the iPad in clinical settings, and another on Personal Health Records). Plus my Fringe. Plus digesting that Cleveland Style Pizza. Plus....Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

An Epic Week

While I usually keep things "no names, no companies" (except for movies, books, and music that I enjoy), I want to share something about the week I just had. One of the pieces of software I've been implementing at various sites including in Cleveland is "Epic". Epic is a full suite of hospital and physician management software tools, based around a centralized patient record. They have inpatient EMR, pharmacy, radiology, billing, ambulatory practice management, operating room, anesthesia, opthamology, and many more modules.

And people LOVE it. They are the fastest growing software company out there in this market space, and when we hear about someone NOT going Epic, there are usually a bunch of extenuating circumstances they're tied into. Is it the BEST software? Not necessarily... really what CAN be? But they have some clear advantages:

The company was founded by a software developer in 1979 and has grown organically. The founder is still in charge, and is fiercely independent. They build everything, they never acquire other companies. They are privately held and always will be. They build what they want to build, and their customers help them improve it. . Every person in the organization has an office. With a door. So they keep building offices in a cornfield in Verona. Anyone can approach the founder and she's on a first name basis with everyone.

They don't have a professional services arm: While a lot of companies sell you the software for a song then sell you the services to maintain it, Epic won't go there: Their software costs $X and that's non-negotiable. There is one way to have it cost less, and that is for you to HIRE as employees people on your staff who can maintain it. If you meet certain "self sufficiency" criteria, you can get a discount on your annual fees.

Every year, their customers attend one conference, held by Epic in their Verona Wisconsin location. It is well attended partially because you need to send people as a part of the annual discount, but also because it is a great way to re-connect with the community. CIOs, CFOs, and Directors from every single customer make the trek, as do their core support teams.

Now, let's put a different hat on here: Epic doesn't sell services, and they encourage clients to be self sufficient. This has spelled an excellent opportunity for consultants to staff these projects. I'm one of those, as are a few people in my firm. The company I left last year dealt exclusively in Epic staffing. So if you're in this business, you must know that UGM is an amazing opportunity to connect with potential customers.

So that's where I was last week - hanging out in Verona. My name badge looked like any other customer's, and I struck up conversations with people at many clients. Of course I was also wearing the hat of my current client, so I'd say that easily 80% of my conversations were actually tactical with peers... but there were 20% that were pure mining, and there are some definite opportunities I'll be following up on.

But more than the potential opportunities, something else struck me this year: This company impresses the heck out of me. They're so focused on a true mission, not beholden to shareholders, just trying to make a good product, and it's WORKING. They are the tool of choice across the country and even internationally. They try things out, they listen to their customers, and they aren't afraid to learn. They have an open culture that respects individual contribution.

It feels like a place I'd want to belong. Of course there are downsides. You need to live in Madison. No exceptions. There's a lot of travel, but it's here and there, not all one place. There's an expectation of dedication and hard work... but that's something I bring anyway.

The bottom line is that I'm thinking about what I could bring to them... maybe it is just that I continue to be a good partner on the outside, someone they can trust to install their software well (as I already am). But maybe there is something for me inside. Maybe. Just thinking about it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cats and Lizards!

Ah, beautiful Broward County. So many little lizards everywhere. And so many feral cats.

I pulled up to the hotel and saw three little kittens hop up off of the sidewalk and scoot into the bushes... while Momma Cat drew herself up into not really an aggressive, nor defensive posture, but sort of a "well what are YOU looking at?" sort of pose. Momma cat is a one eyed cat, and a bug-eyed one at that - her one eye was HUGE and staring. I felt like she was a cyclops... or a basilisk trying to freeze me.

I stayed a little longer than polite, since I heard my mom singing the "One Eyed Cat" song... which I don't even know if it's a real song, but it was always fun..

"Ah'm a one eyed cat! Sneaking 'round the corner... tryin' to get to you! I'm gonna GETCHA, when you least expect me to!" This song was usually "rapped", which just establishes our family as trend setters. I think that "Uncle Gil" who hung around in the early 1970s might have been spoken word pioneer Gil Scot Heron. Or maybe not.

And boy do I love all the little newts and efts and who knows what else - those little lizards are adorable. And EVERYWHERE. At least they're not in my room.

Monday, September 13, 2010

More like FART Lauderdale

Traveling to Fort Lauderdale tonight – I’m spending the week at the first hospital we’ll be implementing. And no, there's nothing stinky here, I just wanted to say Fart. MOVING ON. It’s a political mission to build relationships, which is a funny thing, since we’re actively trying to get me OUT of this client, so any relationship building I’ll be doing will have very little benefit to anyone. But it gets me out of Cleveland. And if you’re wondering, the reason I’m doing this is that we needed SOMEONE down there, and I already travel. Sending one of the rest of the team would have required travel authorizations and budget scrutiny. I’m the easy option.

(And yes, there is movement on the “getting Jim out of Cleveland” front – the client has crossed over from total denial of my ever leaving to provisionally thinking about a replacement… It is movement forward. Stay tuned.)

I’m flying on a “real” airplane for this trip. I’m in the big dog, a 757, up in First Class, enjoying a ginger ale in a glass made out of glass. It’s the little things. It’s a million times better than the little regional jet that I’ve logged almost 50,000 miles on this year so far.

I had an hour to kill in Atlanta, so I loaded up the iPod with the new Devo album: I remembered they had a new one because they were on Yo Gabba Gabba and the kids were shouting “Hey, look! It’s MARK!” – Mark Mothersbaugh has a recurring guest role on the show doing artwork, and they were thrilled to see him with a flowerpot hat singing “This is how we work it” (edit: original post had "This is what we do" - different song!). Anyway, the album is very throw-back and fun to listen to. And the 135 bpm tempo is good work “purposeful walking”.

(And if you're tracking the meta here: My children informed/reminded me of the existence of a new album by an 80's band I loved. The torch is passed)

I took a moment to sit in a bar to do some emails, and turned the music off to concentrate… there was a TV blaring, and I heard superdramatic music, with a voiceover “We’re taking detective drama to the next level”.. and assorted other dramatic hard-ass talk – I looked up and saw a soft focus girl riding an escalator, all smiles, looking at her phone… it took a while for me to figure out there was ANOTHER TV behind me that was the source of the cop show talk, and what I was watching was a cellphone ad. But for a minute, the juxtaposition was pleasantly jarring.

It reminded me of once when I came home in college to find my roommate Erik with a glass of bourbon, blaring Throbbing Gristle “Hamburger Lady” (industrial noise if you aren’t familiar) while watching The Dating Game with the sound off. I just looked, shrugged, and went to bed. In retrospect, Erik may have needed a hug at that moment. I let him down.

Oh, family updates: Bella and Isaac are back in school: Bella is my big Second Grader now, and she’s very happy to be back in her “zone”. But she’s tired and crabby at the end of the day too. Ship her off to bed with a full stomach and move on. Isaac is back to several days a week of preschool, and he’s full of stories about his classes too. He’s overtired too, and every single night at 2am sharp he wakes up, walks into the bedroom, and kicks me out so he can cuddle with mommy. I’m getting pretty used to comfort on an Ikea twin mattress.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


Don't know exactly why but I decided tonight to go to a Japanese Steak House. Something about a little sushi and a lot of table cooked meat sounded good. And it was pretty good, but I'm way too full now.

I sat at a table with two guys from Oklahoma, who were nice enough but sad I wasn't able to dish about sports, oh they WANTED to talk about Brett Favre. They had Mountain Dew with their shrimp hibachi. Our chef did a couple of small tricks but was pretty much all business. He was Taishanese, which is a southern region of China, not far from Hong Kong, which was the source of a LOT of Chinese in the 1840s in the Gold Rush. He complimented me on my Mandarin (they speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and Taishanese there), but let me know that the only people who call the Chinese Language "Puh-ton-qua" (the people's tongue) are government, so I should stick with "han-yu". Good to know: Pimsleur taught Puhtonqua, so I'll refrain from it.

Going to chill out a little before writing up a statement of work for my friends in Allentown PA for a little work... But perhaps I could just close my eyes for a few minutes to freshen up.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Jimmy's Tech Corner

1) I've gone a couple of days without shaving, and decided to take care of it this AM: We were OUT of my preferred Gillette Fusion 5+1 blade cartridges, so I went OLD SKOOL and rocked the Mach3. What, only 3 blades? What is this, Stalinist RUSSIA?

I gotta say that it was way BETTER: That little head stayed closer to my angular face curves and the shave was closer. It was like going from an SUV to a BMW 3 series. I wouldn't go all the way to say sports car, but it got the job done. So people, I'm here to say that you may not NEED the new Gillette 15 blade contraption. Mach3 did just fine by me. People you can get off of the upgrade train. Now, to completely reverse myself:

2) Pamela's phone was dying. Battery was down to a day, and mysterious white lines were criss-crossing the screen... I had to take action. So we got iPhone4s. We qualified for the upgrade, so it was a cheap move... and I love love love this phone. In fact, I have to say that the camera on it is actually a bit better than the Canon Supershots I've been using. I used it exclusively at the Fair yesterday and got amazing pictures and videos. Plus, in lower light situations, the white LED is much kinder to the photo subjects than a flash. I took a couple of A/B pics, Canon to iPhone, and the iPhone was nicer in all cases. Bella loves doing video chats from other rooms in the house with Facetime. Plus, HD Video, which came in handy yesterday....

3) I swapped out the insides of one of our toilets with one of those new two-stage flush systems - one button for mini-flush, one button for maxi-flush. The idea is that you use 1/3 of the water of a normal flush for your "pee only" flushes. They say it will pay for itself in water savings, but I just like the idea of saving thousands of gallons of water.

To celebrate, I donned a purple wig and sunglasses and a falsetto voice and used my iPhone4 to shoot a short video for the kids as "Mother Nature" showing them how the new toilet flusher works. I shot 5 scenes, loaded iMovie on the phone, edited it together with crossfades, added a techno soundtrack, and published the finished work. The kids watched it over and over, laughing. But it also got the message across. And it took all of 10 min to shoot and edit, and I was like a PRODUCER. Supercool.

And no, this video will not be on the internet.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Fashion Plate

Bella's hair. She hasn't let us cut it for about a year, and it's been getting long... and snarly. A low point of every day was approaching her with detangler and brush in hand and hearing the whining start. She has gorgeous thick blonde hair, but most days, it was matted and insane. We did ponytails and braids, but it was a mess.

Part of her goal was to grow it long enough to donate to "Locks of Love", so we were going for a 12" ponytail that could get snipped. The issue then became that yes, we want 12" on the ponytail, but she wanted shoulder length hair at the end of the process, so how long is that hair going to be again?

Long story short, we were able to get a 9" ponytail, with hair just at the shoulders. Snip snip. And then a transformation happened.

She's been brushing her hair with a beatific look on her face. Happy to be brushing without snarls. When we got home from the fair, she grabbed her shampoo and conditioner and said "I've got to get the fair out of this hair!". Plus, she started taking a closer look at her wardrobe and discussing color coordination options for hair bands. It's as though cutting that hair released a GIRL who was sort of stewing inside... she's gone all girly girl.

We're only 2 days into this, but it was such a stark difference in attitude, poise, and habit that I had to make a comment.

Just back from the Fair

Ah, the MN State Fair, the annual tradition. We had planned to go on any number of other days, but with my head cold earlier in the weekend, today was pretty much "do or die" day. So we did. And wow.

Usually we go early in the season, and early in the day. Today was smack in the middle of a holiday weekend, and we went in the afternoon. The swarm of humanity was incredible, and I caught myself a couple of times mildly hyperventilating. Fortunately, Isaac was a bit intimidated by the crowds, so he stayed close and came when called. There was only one moment where he decided to play "hide and seek" and raced off around a corner. Thankfully, his concept of hide and seek isn't too advanced, so he was just standing around the corner, grinning, but it was a panicky moment for me.

Food at the fair as always was delightfully disgusting. I started with an Andouille sausage with hot mustard and grilled onions, followed by a corn dog (Pronto Pup!). On top of that, a Harry Sings Jerk Chicken patsy with extra hot sauce (what was I thinking?). That held me until we found the cream puff stand and I indulged. I waddled for a while until the Strawberries and Cream stand was found. Finished the trip with one more trip to sausageland - a Kramarczuk's Brat with Kraut. Pamela, Isaac, and Bella all enjoyed their share of treats, but a gentleman doesn't tell what a lady has eaten (other than FRIED PICKLES).

This year was a turning point for both kids at the Kidway: Prior years, we've had to give away extra tickets at the end of the day because Bella just didn't like rides and Isaac was too small. This year was different: Isaac is over 36" and can ride everything there... and Bella was suddenly game for a lot of the rides. So I went through 2 $20 sheets of ride tickets in an eyeblink. They had a total blast - and I got some good pictures of them laughing.

The butterfly room was a bit of a bust for us: Not sure if there were just fewer butterflies or more walking perches, but we had no landings on us, and it was a bit embarrassing - a butterfly would float across the crowd and people were almost knocking eachother over to get "in the way" for it to land. And those who did get them to land on them walked through the crowd with a look of "see, I am a child of nature". Isaac had little patience, so I took him across the street for a burger, and we sat on the curb commenting on the passersby. Not bad comments: "Wheelchair". "Rascal". "Bus". "Car". "Balloon". He was into it.

My new highlight of the fair is "Pinball on a stick" - a full room of vintage pinball machines. They gladly ate about $2 of my quarters in short order, while Bella and Isaac looked on confused - why whack the ball around - what HAPPENS? Isaac chose the moment I hit multiball to take over one of my flippers, allowing all 3 balls to gutter in rapid succession. I wept silently.

Bella RELUCTANTLY took the sky ride with us - it's a gondola that crosses the fairgrounds. By the end of the day, however, the Gondola had become something she loved, and she wanted to be sure that next year, we take it for a ROUND TRIP.

Ending with the beginning, we got a late start as Pamela had Church duty (she did flowers in honor of Alexander, and they were amazing), so we took off after that. I took a wrong turn and we saw some scenic parts of north St Paul, but made our way to the grounds nonetheless... only to find that the "official" lot was FULL. We had to go on toward Snelling to one of the more expensive offsite lots... and it was a bit of a walk.

But on the way BACK at the end of the day, this lot was far enough away from the hue and cry that there was no line to exit, and we were on the freeway within 10 minutes of strapping ourselves in. Compared to up to 45 minutes we've been trapped getting out of the official lot. We also forewent the usual coating of dust and dirt that the usual lot gives. I think we may have a new "usual lot", people.

I will say that 4-5 hours is all we need of the fair in ANY circumstances, however. It is absolutely brutal. We got home at 6:30, and Zinsser was very very happy to see us (I had proactively blocked off all of his usual "indoor poo spots", so his legs were crossed. We were all in pajamas by 7:30, and I'm the only one up at this late hour or 9:30.

Another year, another Fair. Hopefully next year we can go back to my preferred "Opening Thursday with hooky from Work": Travel gods willing. Wait, that's not right. Let me amend that: Next year, we're going back to my preferred "Opening Thursday with hooky from work". PERIOD.