Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas from Woodinville

Merry Christmas from Woodinville (2013)

Tom celebrated his second anniversary with Microsoft - enduring the high pressure, short deadline world of building the cloud. You might see his work if you use MS Office online, or CRMLive or Lync. It's all totally top secret, but here is a picture of the throne that Tom aspires to.

Click for larger version.

He has also brushed up on his handyman skills including landscaping, drywall repair, light electrical, chalking, and painting (lots of painting). Christy has added spackling, sanding and furniture repair to her repertoire. As much as the house is eating money, at least it is starting to look a lot better. 

We have moved from stabilizing a run-down foreclosure into building a beautiful home. The kitchen has new granite, new cabinets, and a new tile back-splash. The main bathroom remodel has been finished, and a ton of trim and crown was added to the first floor. There is still plenty to do… starting next year. 

Original tile counter-tops. 

Granite (prior to back-splash). 

Christy and the neighbor ladies made a couple of overnight trips to Friday Island. It’s hard to say exactly what happens there (kind of like Las Vegas). Christy also has a new best friend: Craig’s list. The recycle/reuse mantra is huge up here in WA. Once we finished adding the built-in cabinets and shelves, then painting the accent wall, Christy found plenty of deals on Craig's list to complete the room. The "mercury glass" was made by buying old vases and spray painting the finish. The chairs were under $50.

She is committing more time to both scouting groups. During the summer we went to the County Fair where Tom got a lesson in who he is really married to: mud bogging, demolition derby and deep-fried anything. 

In addition to viewing every single animal at the fair, and trying a few rides, Christy was brave enough to try deep-fried snickers bar. Actually, she tried everything deep-fried. Holly picked the winning pig in the pig race. 

Everyone traveled to Texas for spring break. We logged tons of miles on the rental car visiting friends and family in Round Rock, College Station, Magnolia, Paige, and Galveston. Staying at the Hotel Galvez on the seawall and visiting NASA were highlights of the trip. Many of the family have traveled overseas for work. The Hotel Galvez is a throw-back to high style, comfort and luxury. The room was a bit small, but the pool and spa area were amazing.

The kids have had a very busy social calendar. In addition to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, they played baseball and softball, took horseback riding lessons, tae-kwon-do lessons, spent lots of time at the pool and tried roller-skating and ice skating. 

Phillip was tossed from his horse on the last day of riding class, he landed on his face. Nothing was injured but his pride. He got right back on, but has not asked for any more lessons. He did notice that the girls taking lessons were very pretty. 

Tom and Phillip spent a week at Camp Brinkley doing all the normal Boy Scout stuff: tying knots, whittling, shooting BB Guns and archery. Phillip’s first pine wood derby run was intense – with speed results posted for each heat. Scale speeds were over 200 MPH. His car was number 665 (so they can track statistics across multiple runs). Had we entered a minute later we could have been 666. 

Holly is taking band and learning to play the clarinet. She has to get up early three days a week and travel to the Jr. High to take class, then is bussed back to her regular school. She has a pretty tight group of girlfriends, all slightly nerdy. She played on a semi-pro softball team (at age 10). Well, at least that is what the coach thought of his team. “Extra batting practice is recommended”. 

September was a very challenging month. Tom flew out to Paige, TX to say good-bye to his Dad. Frank Sr. went on hospice care for Cancer and passed away in October. 

Then mid-September a tree branch feel a clubbed Tom behind his left ear. The ER room cat-scan showed no skull damage. “Amazingly thick” was the preliminary diagnosis, but a grape-sized object was found in his sinus cavity. Tom argued that this was proof that he had a brain, but it clearly had to be removed. (Seen the movie Total Recall? Same thing). It was impressive that the Cat-scan was done in Redmond, relayed to Everett where it was read by a radiologist and the diagnosis returned all within 30 minutes. 

We promised to keep the Holidays quiet. No contractors, no big projects, just a nice quiet end to the year. Instead, we decided to breed Olive – she delivered puppies on December 19th. 

In November Christy taught the girl scouts to make Christmas wreaths. Then in December, she led the boys in Christmas caroling at a retirement home in Woodinville. 

Tom got to go to Seattle to take a college friend, Marilyn, to a hockey game in Kent. The players were really young, and really fast. Tickets were cheap and it was 2:1 beer night.   

Christene and Ron and their kids drove up from Walnut Creek for Thanksgiving… so we cleaned the house, cooked a big meal, took them to Seattle, up and down the space needle, to the Seattle Gum wall, and Pike’s Market. The line at the original Starbucks was too long, so we walked a block away for drinks. Holly and Phillip got spun up on hot chocolate.

Everyone stayed a safe distance, with their
hands in their pockets, from the Gum Wall.
Yes, it is truly gross. 
Christy had asked for dinner and tickets to the Pacific Northwest Ballet version of the Nutcracker for her birthday. So we went back to Seattle the next day, up and down the space needle for dinner and then off to the ballet. 

We dressed up and hob-nobbed like we knew what we were doing. The kids had ice cream served over dry ice which put out a huge gas fog. It was freezing on the observation deck. Did I mention it was the coldest winter in 15 years up here? We never went below zero, but we had a full week below freezing. At least is was a bone-chilling dry-cold. 

We unpacked the very last box in the garage to get the China out for Thanksgiving dinner. Now that it has been unpacked, we are looking for the next stop on our journey.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Two Things I Dread...

Today I posted my horoscope and asked my friends what I dread most. I do not dread death, or even a harsh sickness like Cancer. And, I really do not fear becoming a liberal.

Here is my greatest fear: Someday I may do something stupid (really, really stupid). 

Several times in my life I did stupid things on a motorcycle. First, I tried to cross the California Street cable car line on a rainy night. This was so stupid that I was able to tell my passenger to get ready to fall, right before we crashed. The second time I was riding towards Point Reyes Station, when the road changed from asphalt to gravel. Again, I had time to tell my passenger to hold on - and safely avoided the spill. I also got pulled over in Oregon for speeding. I honestly answered the officer that I did not know how fast I was going because the speedometer stopped at 85. On that same trip I fell asleep while riding - waking up right on the rear end of a truck. I pulled over and slept for several hours before resuming the ride.  

My second fear is that someone will not take a moment to tell me that I'm about to do something stupid. And, at a more subtle level, that they are simple watching, allowing me to make a bad choice. A two minute conversation could cure the problem, but they will not take the time. 

Two Simple Examples

In college I was having trouble with football blocking schemes (right-guard). Since I did not play in high school, I was behind on much of the terminology, schemes, and audibles. My coach was not really interested in taking the extra time to work with me. In his eyes I was the long snapper and second string guard. Of course, things change and I moved into a starting role against Oregon State. It ended badly for me and our QB.

More recently, I have been working in a challenging environment - with high turn-over, imprecise deliverables, and a certain lack of cooperation across teams. During my mid-year check-in I was soundly humbled.

Six months later, after following remediation guidance, it turns out that my management has never validated the work that they requested. Questions about a problem that has been reported for 7 straight weeks, and which was escalated to him (among others) proved that my weekly reports and escalation emails did not merit his attention. Three missed one-on-one meetings isn't lending to the solution. (He provided plenty of excuses... and a crystal clear statement about his priorities). 

A two minute conversation, to allow course correction, adjustment, realignment is apparently too much effort. 

In college I let down my team. I could have injured my girlfriends - truly things to dread. Those problems were instantaneous, and over. Now, I have to make career decisions that will impact my family, and I feel like those that can provide guidance are not helping, that they are perfectly willing to let me do something stupid.

It's my plan to be really open and honest with my manager - about my role, my lack of faith, my disappointment and my wish to move on.

Yes, I'm stupid.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Telecommuting, Cows, and De-calibration

Telecommuting, Cows, and De-calibration

Drawing a straight line from one theme to another to a third is not always a simple task. Writing when emotional does not really help the process, but it does inject a certain amount of creativity. Six months after writing a post on Stacked Ranking, I have a few more thoughts and (hopefully) a more interesting storyline.

My wife and I were driving past a small farm one morning. The farm owner is clearly creative. In addition to a couple of plywood bear cut-outs, he has a Nessie (Loch Ness) cut-out standing in a small pond. Also standing in the pond... a cow, doing what cows do. I made the quick joke "well, we don't want to be drinking water from that pond". I made a mental note to talk to the boy (age 8) about how to locate fresh water while on his Boy Scout adventures.

Drawing a Straight Line

Let's assume that the pond is corporate culture.

None of the cows on the farm are impacted by the dirty pond water. Their systems have adapted a tolerance for less than pure water. New cows would probably not be impacted by the dirty pond water. 

But I don't think companies hire "new cows" if they want to change. Many companies hire new employees in order to gain an infusion of ideas and to improve productivity. How can new employees impact the existing culture if they are the same as old cows?


Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! recently changed the rules for telecommuters. Some may have been less-productive while working off-site, but some were probably very productive. The strict nature of the change and the broad-brush painting of telecommuters as not up-to-par caused quite a stir. See: Yahoo’s Telecommuting Ban Shows Mayer is working.

When does teamwork and cooperation become "drinking the Kool-Aid"?

I would argue that Telecommuter productivity is bolstered by being away from the corporate cultural pond. Remote workers still need leadership, still need strong managers and certainly need accountability. Mayer may believe that bringing everyone together will help move Yahoo! forward. Mayer does risk losing some talent, along with some dead wood, but at least she is showing leadership by acting upon her vision. 

When is the Best Time for Feedback

End of the Season, Mid-Season, or in the middle of the game?

One of my most despised corporate stories comes from a mid-year review when I was working in Phoenix, Arizona. The conversation was very short, and went something like this: "We got feedback from an anonymous source that sometime back you told an inappropriate joke across the cubicles, so you are not getting a high rating..."

I packed my things, left Phoenix and moved back to San Francisco.

The feedback was late, un-actionable and indefensible.

How Useful is the 360 Degree Feedback process once the Pond Becomes a Cesspool?

Key Manager Goal: Attract and Retain Talent

In the previous Stacked Ranking post I discussed the idea of "out-running the bear". In this post the question focuses on entrenched employees (cows) and the inertia they maintain. New employees need to find a means to adapt to the culture and then apply force to change the culture. 

What are HR Assumptions about the 360 Review Process

A surprise outcome in my recent cycle was the poor return of 360 degree reviews (many requests were sent, very few returned). Then again, why the surprise? There is no incentive to return a 360 degree review. Are you going to write kind, supportive words for someone that is going to be ranked against you? Are you willing to return kind words for someone in a different organization, or different job or different pay grade? Are you willing to slam someone, or merely trip them while trying to outrun the bear, just to keep your relative ranking? 

A review process (like stacked ranking) supports both good behavior by allowing rewards for performance, and correction for under performance. But does it incentivize bad behavior? It should not allow cows to do what cows do.

While working on a resume tracking application several years ago, I saw an interesting graph which showed employees by years of service. The company had gone through an acquisition, and was leaking talent in years 3, 4 and 5. Changing the culture would be a challenge since new employees were not maturing in the organization. 

Was the sophomore and junior talent leaving because of the acquisition, because of a competitive internal environment, or because of better external opportunities? Were the people that stayed impacting change, or adapting to the pond (or contribution to the pollution in the pond)? If the Human Resources department cannot answer those questions, then the leaking will continue and the entrenched bureaucrats will begin to calcify. 

Fictional recreation of employees by years of service.

Telecommuting, Cows, and De-calibration

  • Do you run the stack-ranking (calibration) process at the end of the year, or mid-year? 
  • Are you adjusting for the next season (the next year), for the next quarter, how about next month, or tomorrow - the next game?
  • If your team is not performing, is the reason 
    • Management - tracking, reporting, direction
    • Leadership -  vision and motivation
  • How good are your company processes, people and tools?  Which is the weakest link?
  • If running a process to evaluate employees is a necessary evil, what is the best way to mitigate the impact?
  • Are you providing encouragement and rewards, or are you frustrating your employees - resulting in "de-calibration" and eventual exodus?
Marissa Mayer is showing leadership by changing the telecommuting policy. It may lead her team to understand that she is willing to make the big changes that leaders are paid to make. How she deals with the employees at HQ is yet to be seen. She changed a policy that employees actually "liked" (if you will pardon the Facebook pun).

What are your thoughts on work-place reviews, new employee assimilation, and the ability to inject change into a culture?


Monday, February 18, 2013

$10 Reminder: Covey is Correct, Habit #7

$10 Reminder: Covey is Correct, Habit #7

Every now and then a real life example is useful to ground an academic thought. Academia becomes trite without the simple story to reinforce the concepts. In this case a $10 part reinforces and reinvigorates the point.

Last spring we purchased a home that had gone through foreclosure and had been uninhabited for more than 8 months. The interior of the home suffered from neglect – bordering on abuse. The landscaping was ignored as well. After months of getting the interior cleaned up, the temperature rose above 50 degrees (practically spring!), so it was time to go outside.

Deciduous Trees on Cul-de-sac.
A dozen deciduous trees (maple and poplar) blocked the native conifers at the front corner of the lot.

Simple plan: cut down the trees, cut into logs, and clean up.

Lesson Learned From Last Year:

Do not wait for the foliage to come in – the leaves on some of the maples were the size of dinner plates. Chipping the branches with the foliage was very tedious, left a huge mulch pile and the chipper was $400 a day with operators. 

What Stephen Covey Says - Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

“Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. 
You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. 
Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish.”

In this case the saw is actually a chainsaw and a bypass lopper. So, the process is:
  • Identify the trees
  • Identify the process
  • Apply lessons learned from previous year
  • Prepare the chainsaw (bar oil, fuel, sharpen)
  • Cut down the trees (landed them in the cul-de-sac)
  • Sharpen the lopper
  • Remove the small branches with the lopper
  • Remove the litter (recycle bin)
  • Sharpen the chainsaw
  • Remove the large branches
  • Sharpen the chainsaw
  • Cut the trunk and branches into log sized chunks
  • Use the wheelbarrow to move the logs up to the wood pile (multiple trips)
  • Clean up (no scraps left in the street)
  • Take aspirin (required at my age)

An entire set of files... $10.
When a lopper becomes dull you are no longer cutting through branches as much as you are crushing your way through them. A dull chainsaw will spin and smoke, and not do much cutting.

Just five minutes with a $10 file and both tools can be brought back to near-perfect service. Less force is required to do the same amount of work.

In our always-connected, multi-tasking, firefighting, respond to the latest hot problem world, we should not forget to take a few minutes to “Sharpen the Saw”.

Are you going to skip that vacation, or take some time to refresh yourself?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kindle Fire, no. Samsung Galaxy Tab, yes.

Kindle Fire, no. Samsung Galaxy Tab, yes.

Previously I discussed the Amazon Kindle Fire as a potential tablet for our kids. Now that they are a little older and have managed to keep their Nintendo DS devices in working order for more than a year, we went back to the market to pick a tablet. And the best part; the kids are using their own money to make the purchase.

Two Galaxy Tab 2 devices are on the way from Amazon.

Here's why we went with the Samsung:
  1. Android OS is more open than iOS
  2. Plenty of games from Amazon or Google Play
  3. Amazon movies, we have a Prime Membership, and Netflix movies are an option
  4. Standard browsers - no "Silk" to get in the way 
  5. Expandable storage
The kids have had time to play with my Toshiba Thrive. They are familiar with Android 4, how to download games, and the basic functionality of the tablet (taking pictures, playing music, etc.). 

At 12 ounces the Tab is much lighter than the 1.6 pound Thrive. They might notice the lack of a docking option, but the form factor is perfect for portability.


As a footnote: I have a Microsoft Surface RT, but the kids are just not interested. The game selection is not yet up to speed, and I have not turned on the XBOX Smartglass. As soon as I do, I think they might be more interested.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Can We Send ALGORE to Beijing China?

Can We Send ALGORE to Beijing China?

The Wall Street Journal reports: On Saturday in Beijing, the concentration of the smallest and most dangerous air pollution particles, known as PM2.5, climbed to 886 micrograms per cubic meter, a level 35 times the World Health Organization’s recommended standard.

On the same day, New York City was a 17.

The incremental cost to improve the score in New York must be huge compared to the cost to reduce the problem in Beijing.

So, Why is ALGORE still here, lecturing the US?

Could it be that ALGORE is more concerned about his pocket and his future than the causes that he supports?

After all, the American taxpayer has very deep pockets to plunder, and the centralized government in China will certainly do the right thing.  

P.S. I'm sure it really "all about the children".

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