Saturday, November 06, 2010

11/6/2010 Laura and Ryan head home

Laura and Ryan drove home today to be reunited with their new cat and their own lives. But only after greatly rocking our own lives, always for the better!

Last night, Ryan showed me again how to make his phenomenally perfect salmon.

After which we ate and drank and talked well into the night.

This morning, I made breakfast while Katrina enjoyed her favorite place to be.

After a leisurely morning and a big breakfast, it's time to say goodbye.

But not for long -- they'll be back in 2-1/2 weeks for Thanksgiving!!


Thursday, November 04, 2010

11/4/2010 Mouth mess

Oh my poor Julian. He was born with the most beautiful mouth, and look what the ravages of age have done to him.

He has a baby tooth that's ready but just won't let go, two permanent teeth growing in overlapped, a horrible canker sore, chapped lips and bad breath.

That canker sore has really been a problem for him the past 2 days. It's in a bad spot, rubbed against for all eating and talking. It's festering and swollen, and it really hurts him.

Today I sent him to school with an over-the-counter canker sore tube, so that he could numb the painful wound just well enough to eat his lunch. But, it turns out, no medicines at school without prior approval. It came back in a plastic bag with his name on it, and his lunch uneaten (rare for him). That explains the bad breath. He told me that I had to send an email to the principal about the canker sore medicine. CDC is even worse: no outside medicines at all.

I've lost count of how many canker sores Julian has had. They started when he was 4, and he's gotten them regularly ever since. Gabriel has never had one. Then again, Gabriel always has a bad plaque problem when they go to the dentist, but Julian's teeth are much cleaner (and it's not because of better tooth-brushing technique). Amazing how different body chemistry manifests itself in the mouth.

I do feel bad for my little boy. At least kids heal quickly! And with a smile and a giggle.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

11/3/2010 The ah-HAH

This blog is supposed to be about kids, not work, but in these past extraordinary weeks, work has been on my mind a lot.

Especially in learning how to keep conversations under control, how to keep a master-distractor from taking over a conversation, getting out from the defensive position, in handling criticism with grace. What is this, diplomatic negotiations? These are not things most engineers ever have to deal with, and manipulating discussions isn't my forte.

Monday during a one-on-one meeting intended for me to give constructive feedback to my awful boss, he immediately turned to what is wrong with my performance. He opened with a controlling rhetorical question, "You know I hired you, right?" When I didn't react as I awaited the point, he prompted, "Right?" Yes, obviously I know he hired me. (Note to self: find a polite way to take back control when someone tries to defuse you with a stupid rhetorical question.)

When I started this job last February, I was given a task I had no direct experience with -- but this is my element, I'm good at learning, and this was not rocket science. I dove in, asked a lot of questions, learned quickly and immediately started reporting problems and bugs and suggesting improvements to the vendor. That's my job.

But this boss has a completely different take on this. He said that a learning curve, lack of training and inexpertise on the product is why I was encountering all the problems. He didn't directly deny that I'd found real problems, but criticized me for "lack of humbleness."

Humbleness? Is this for real? Is there even a checkbox for that for evaluating engineer's work?

Never in my career have Ieven been accused of overconfidence, let alone arrogance. I don't doubt I come off self-assured sometimes (and good, I wish I did more), and I don't hold back at all when there's something I know well. But lack of humbleness? It's so asinine that I have to wonder if I'm encountering a subtle form of sexism. Would he accuse a man who'd pushed as hard as I had and learned as fast as I had of "lack of humbleness" ?

He went on to say that the vendor I've worked with had complained about me. I stopped him and asked point-blank, "Who complained?" Evade, brush off. "Who said what, and when?" More tutting and shaking his head, like "oh grasshopper, you must learn when to let these things go." I would not let it go: "WHO SAID WHAT." Finally he retorted the name of a sales manager, someone with whom I have very little direct interaction, but had to work with one of his employees early on. This liason was a nonresponsive, technically weak, dismissive sales engineer, and I did ask the sales manager if there was anyone else who had "more time" to support me.

Since then, I did finally get a line to a true support guy, who's worlds better. Things started moving. Now I've spent many many hours, written countless messages, talked on numerous conference calls, responded immediately to requests for information from this company, and in return received much gratitude and appreciation: "We've never had a customer give us this feedback," "Thanks for finding that, we never knew that was a problem." Their top software engineer that they never ever let talk to customers started emailing me for guidance in how to redesign some of their features.

We've developed a solid working relationship, and long since eclipsed that early rocky start.

But rather than sticking up for me when the incompetent guy's sales manager boss said something about our strained working relationship months ago, my boss took this as only more evidence of my inexperience, of my need for training, of my weakness, of my lack of tact and grace -- and, apparently, lack of humility. And he has not updated his opinion, or facts, about my working relationship with this company since.

So for this boss to bring up a complaint from this company as a problem with my performance as worthy of formalizing is pretty outrageous. So outrageous that I'd welcome an attempt to write it up and formalize to submit to HR. Go right ahead. I know any investigation or attempt at corrborating my "bad behavior" would turn up nothing but accolades. Oh dear, there I go being un-humble again.

I told my boss that if he couldn't "remember" what the sales manager said, then I'd just ask the manager myself. "Ohhh, I wouldn't do that," my boss says. "Let it go. It's important to maintain a good relationship with the company." I said cheerily, "That's exactly why I'm going to call him, so I can straighten out any remaining problems." Once again, he said not to -- and then, "I'm not lying, he really did complain about you."

Not lying? Who said anything about lying? Why did "lying" even come up? Who's thinking about lying? Unless....

Fascinating, these little slips.

Regardless, this boss will forever be unmoved. The very thing I did to do a good job is, to him, a sign of a lack of humbleness. A comment from a sales manager early on about my frustration with a molasses employee has permanently fixated in my boss's head that the problems, both in relationships and in technology, are with me.

This stuff shouldn't bother me, and it bothers me a lot less now that I've talked to his boss and I know the door is open to discuss any future untenable situations. If my boss brings up my "performance" ever again, I will not discuss it until he puts it in writing , and we discuss it with his boss too. I'm tired of the guy railing on me in private, using words and tones of voices that are far outside acceptable work decorum.

That's the huge weight on my psyche. Then it got better.

Yesterday, a 5-minute meeting with a high-level engineer I've not worked with much, turned into my favorite situation: a one-on-one whiteboard in which I get to ask 1001 questions of a skilled engineer and finally put some pieces together. It got me thinking, and that night, I went home and did a lot of reading and studying and drawing to understand. This is fun! Learning new network protocols and methods is exciting, and there's a lot there I sort-of know, but not well.

This afternoon, something else came up that led to my asking more questions of my wonderful coworker Yoon. In 15 minutes, she put it all together with the sort of progressive, organized, clear detail that makes it all fit in my head. And I had a rare and welcome ah-HAH moment. It's all spinning around in my head now, and I can't wait to get to work tomorrow so I can follow up on some of the things she explained, and maybe borrow a book before she gets to work and needs it herself. (For the geeks out there, it's about MPLS and transporting Ethernet over it.)

As a network engineer, it's not often I work with other women at all, let alone so closely -- and even rarer with one who is so so sharp and explains exactly what I need to know, and explains it really well. Having a great mentor at the ready is what any engineer lives for! No doubt there is a similarity in communication style too, likely one that comes from being of the same female yakkity-yak species : I need detail laid out perfectly to "get" something, and she thinks and easily explains at that level (even if she understands things 10 times faster than I do).

A former coworker and boss and current friend (you know who you are Sean) asked me recently, "Why do you stay there?" Well, that's why. It's for the ah-HAH moments, few and far between as they are. The ah-HAH is so powerful that it even trumps the verbal abuse and criticism and childish interactions I get from a childish, insecure, incompetent manager who twists a good job I did into a bad one. But the geek in me won this week.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

11/2/2010 The tower

Lately when Katrina gets home, she makes a beeline for the "music room" (which has become something of a de facto playroom) and plays with Legos. We have the kiddie Duplo legos, but she also plays with her brothers' "big kid" Legos.

Today she was very very proud of this tower she made. "Look Mommy! It's almost as tall as me!!"

Later she was building ships and making Star Wars blaster sounds. Much more boy-like playing than girl-like, though she did make a "good ship" and a "bad ship." I like the balance of functional and imaginative play! She does her share of tea parties with her My Little Pony playhouse (a birthday present), but there's no question she likes building things. I'm sure she gets that from me :).

(Let's keep it happy and just not talk about her brothers today.)


Monday, November 01, 2010

11/1/2010 A Star Wars weekend

Would you believe, we watched four movies this weekend?!

Well, it was supposed to rain, and Aunt Laura and Uncle Ryan are in town -- they're famous for movie marathons. So we rented all 6 Star Wars movies, the "first" 3 of which (first in the story, last in the release dates, the prequels) I'd never seen. The boys did all their laundry eagerly to "earn" the privilege, and even trick-or-treating had to be persuaded to interrupt the shows. And it's SOOOO fun watching movies with Laura and Ryan -- and since it's Halloween weekend, the boys had the outfits for it!

First, Return of the Jedi (third movie released, but last in the story), since the boys had seen the previous 2 in previous weekends.

We did take breaks for might Jedi light-saber battles outside.

As well as general run-around fun. The kids just love playing with Uncle Ryan -- and it doesn't seem to be much imposition on him either! He's a terrific big kid himself.

I'd never seen, or had much interest in, the "first" three movies -- the prequels, if you will -- but I was surprised how much I enjoyed them. There's actually a lot more to the story in the first 3, and some of the acting and action I loved. I'm a die-hard Yoda fan now.

When the original Star Wars came out in 1977, my father took us to it, and I went along begrudgingly because I had to, but ended up loving it (despite my embarrassment ay my father's standing up and cheering when the Millenium Falcon went into hyperdrive). I gooed and dreamed about Han Solo for months!! Well, I was just 13; 13-year-old girls tend to do that. But I've been a fan of the movies ever since.

Now, as an adult, I'm a little bit more critical (hmm, Mark Hamill isn't exactly the best actor!), so I wasn't expecting much of the prequels. But I loved the stories and I loved how it all tied in (mostly) with the "sequels." My new favorite character is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and how he develops and contributes to the whole story. So, watching all this with my in-laws and children (Dave was away for the weekend at a track event), it was great fun.

I think this whole family is going to be into Star Wars for some time now. Maybe I should get my own light-saber!