Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Birthday to Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni was first presented on October 29, 1787. It was not, I believe, initially well received. Saliari in Amadeus said it played only nine times. It was one of three collaborations between Wolfgang Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte. The three operas on which these two men collaborated—Cozze fan Tutte, Le Nozze de Figaro and Don Giovanni are often rated some of the best operas ever. Because this is a blog, I’m going to be lazy and not provide citations. Google it. When I was a kid reading my parents big book of Opera, Don Giovanni was listed as the best opera ever. Why?

Well Mozart wrote the book. I like Gilbert and Sullivan and I like Verdi, but Mozart wrote some of the best music ever. To make a musical theatre work really great it’s best if the librettist and the composer collaborate (see Gilbert and Sullivan.) And I think there’s some evidence that they did-at any event they produced three operas together.

But why is Don Giovanni so awesome-why not Figaro instead. After all, Le Nozze de Figaro is comedy and romance and Don Giovanni is dark comedy and people behaving badly.

I have to admit that I was initially drawn to the opera by the super-natural element of it. The Comandatore comes from beyond the grave in the final act to demand that Don Giovanni repent. The Don refuses. What are these sins for which he must repent? Well he’s a womanizer-he’s Don Juan, he’s a jerk to Leporello his faithful servant (when he gets caught sexually harassing Zerlina for the third time he claims that it was Leporello and threatens to kill him) and he killed the Comandatore in a duel.

I hate to try and defend the guy, because there’s no question that he’s a narcissistic asshole, but nothing he does (with the possible exception of seducing ladies of quality-Donna Anna and Donna Elvira) fall out of the norm of expected behavior for noblemen in the 1700s. They mistreated their servants and seduced/raped girls like Zerlina all the time. They got into altercations and killed each other in duels every now and again.

So why exactly is he such a problem? I have spent a while thinking about this and I don’t have an answer for it. Perhaps it’s just because an Opera needs a plot point on which to turn. I have given some thought to the other characters as well. Zerlina is the bride to be who Don Giovanni almost succeeds in seducing with La ci darem la mano. She and her husband to be (Masetto) present themselves at first as poster children for marriage. After their encounter with the Don they quarrel repeatedly. I find this dynamic interesting and actually reflective of real human behavior in a way that a lot of musical theatre isn’t.

The interactions between Don Giovanni and Leporello are also very real. Even though Don Giovanni mistreats him and is ready to kill him at one point in time Leporello is re-seduced by the Don’s charm into continuing to serve him. He is the most interesting character in the whole mix because although he realizes his boss is a dick he wants to be like the Don and he’s incredibly loyal. A smart, loyal servant is worth his/her weight in gold.

The rest of the characters are, I’m sorry to say, mostly annoying. It’s not really clear how Don Giovanni ended up in Donna Anna’s bedroom but she’s got a grudge against him. Her fiancĂ© and the only tenor in the opera is just there for decoration. Don Elvira is an annoyed ex girlfriend.

And somehow, in spite of these annoying characters this opera often gets chosen as the best opera ever-how is that? Well if you can’t figure that out pull Samuel Ramey singing fin ch’han dal vino or la ci darem la mano and you will have your answer. Don Giovanni seduces-that’s his nature. He seduces Leporello to remain in his (the Don’s ) service and Mozart and Da Ponte have provided him with the prettiest words and notes possible so that we, the audience are seduced by him as well.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Accounting Dork Moment

I get so little joy out of my Accounting class that I thought I should write this one up. I hate my Accounting class. That's not Accounting's fault. I like the precepts of accrual accounting-they make sense to me in the same way that IT or Compliance make sense to me because they are logical and they have rules. I like rules. It's just that taking Accounting requires that I do math. I'm really bad at math. That's what Excel is for. Even with a calculator I am still bad at math. I do things like move a number from one side of the equation to the other and forget to switch the sign. To be fair, I haven't had to do any math since 1994 until Summer term (not counting the GMAT), so this is not entirely my fault.

So here's my happy Accounting story. My boss sent me an e-mail saying that he had about $10,000 of computer equipment on his balance sheet. He explained that he usually expenses computer equipment in the year it was purchased so could I help him figure out what this $10,000 of computer equipment was? I had a happy moment where I said to myself "Oooh! I know what he means. He means his non-cash assets are too high by $10,000!"

For those of you who are as I was until 2 months ago unfamiliar with the principals of accounting, things are usually expensed when they are "used up". For example-you buy a bunch of books you're going to sell. You sell them. Once you have sold them they are "used up" and you expense the cost you paid for them. Rent and electricity bills are expensed-you have "used up" a month's occupancy or a month's worth of electricity. The toner that you buy for your printers is expensed as is the cab fare that you paid. By telling me that the company usually expenses computers in the year that they were bought he was telling me that this $10,000 non-cash asset on his balance sheet was probably equipment that I had bought it the last year.

Normally, computers are not expensed. The company guesses what the useful life of the machine is, marks it as non-cash asset at its purchase price and then depreciates it over the course of its expected useful life. For example, If I buy a server for $15,000 and I expect that it will last 5 years it goes on the company's balance sheet as a non-cash asset worth $15,000 at day one and after a year it is written down by 1/5 of the purchase price-that is we estimate that 1/5 of it is used up so we say it is now worth $12,000 and we have an expense of $3,000 for depreciation. At the end of 5 years, it is worth whatever we thought its salvage value was when we purchased it (whatever we thought we could sell it on Craig's List for.)

I know this is not how things operate where I work because my boss has yet to ask me what the expected useful life of anything I buy is. We are a small non-public company so we don't have to follow GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.) I asked my boss when he showed up what exactly he was looking for with his query. After all, whenever I buy something I send the receipt to the bookkeeper.

Luckily, he didn't need me to do the bookkeper's job and match all my receipts up to make sure they totalled the asset value he had on the balance sheet-he just wanted to make sure that the number made sense to me. I told him it did and we both walked away happy. A rare and pleasant thing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Balance and Mental Health

As any of you who read this blog may have noticed, I have been going nuts since even before this term started about how to handle two classes and a full time job. As I've probably stated before, I have continued going nuts through this term-not because I'm not smart enough to deal with either of my classes, but because there isn't enough time to do the work for both of them, while having a huge commute and working full time and trying to keep up with my friends. The keeping up with friends thing is huge, because I would crazy without it.

These people-you people-make it worthwhile to keep breathing and validate my existence in a way that is much more important than my GPA. You install my air conditioner, laugh at my jokes, take my advice on PC cleanup, lend me your dog for a day, recommend good movies and books to me, offer me your textbooks, yell at me when I'm not eating properly, help edit my papers, bring your small children to MA so that they can hang with their Tia Cantabridgienne, answer the phone when I call at 10:30 and say "HELP!", take me out for a drink when I need it drive me to Sugar Mags for my Hollandaise sauce therapy and help me clean my apartment so that I can host parties.

So you help keep me sane. Part of my problem this term was that I realized that I have a lot of work to do, but if I don't see my people-my pack I go nuts. Seeing my people is as important as eating and getting work done at my job. The other side of the equation is that because I have such nice people in my life I owe it to them to be as good a friend as I can (within the restraints of working full time and getting an MBA.) Tonight good friends of mine who are going to be out of town for a while wanted to hang out. I've got a lot of studying to do for an Accounting exam next week (I've fallen behind because I had a paper and a presentation due in my other class and because I hate doing Accounting problem sets.) I was hard at work reading about bond amortization schedules (and finally understanding them) when my friends texted me and said "hey come out." Part of me really wanted to stay at home and study Accounting some more, but what tipped the scales was that I owe my friends some time. It's not just about me-it's about them (you all) too.

Once I framed the argument in terms of things I owed other people my course was clear. Clearly I needed to go out and meet my friends for a few beers. I'm not just joking about this (who wouldn't prefer a few beers with friends to a problem set on bond amortization?) My people keep me sane. As such I need to be good people to them as much as I can as much for my own sanity as for my obligation to them. If they/you want to see me, want your plants watered, your PC looked at, your dog taken care of for a day or two, then I am happy to do what I can to oblige you.

Having my pack has made me a much saner individual than I was previously. People don't scare me as much as they used to (now that I know that there are some people I can interact with, do business with and work with at school I'm less afraid of presenting myself to strangers.) I know that I'm not a total freak who is unworthy of anybody's time and who can't deal with humans. Having a pack and going to school has taught me that I had been judging myself by the wrong criteria (or the wrong set of people's criteria.)

I don't know how to sum this all up except by saying thanks for making me saner. I had been hiding in my cave in Cambridge and minimize my friend exposure because I was scared of what people would require of me in return for being their friend. That was stoopid of me.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Things my Screen Saver Taught Me

I spent yesterday at UMB working with my IT Project Management group on the paper that's due Tuesday and the presentation that we have to give Tuesday. It took all day. I came home and spent a few hours editing the paper and then spent all of today editing the paper and talking with teammates.

As I pulled up various documents I couldn't help but notice the changing backgrounds on my computer's screen (the background is set to use photos from iPhoto's library and change them regularly.) Earlier today it showed a picture of me and my ex-boyfriend from Thanksgiving 2008. Now it's showing a picture of a family friend at a party my parents had in 2009. A month or so after I took that photo, the family friend (who was in good health and is younger than my parents) had a severe stroke while out jogging. The lesson I'm taking away from both of these photos is that time is short. Make sure you are spending your time in a worthwhile fashion.

As I mentioned I spent yesterday in a classroom at UMB. Even though it was a beautiful October day I don't think my time was ill-spent. I spent the day refining ideas with my team-mates. That is time well spent. It's fun to think together. It is the one thing that makes the rest of the pain and suffering (loss of sleep, loss of weekend, loss of social life, living on Odwalla bars etc) worthwhile. Yes, getting to put MBA after my name will be nice too, but in the meantime I have this-constructive collective thinking and good partnerships to keep me sane.

Last night I talked to one of my teammates on the phone about a paper part. At one point he asked me "are we having a discussion about capitalization?" I responded "Yes, we're having a discussion about capitalization at 10:30 on a Saturday night." Because we were having a discussion about what needed to be capitalized in the Work Breakdown Structure that he was working on. I did not say "and that means we both need to get lives" because neither of us would be where we were (discussing capitalization on a Saturday night) if this was not where we wanted to be.

I spent all of today editing a paper and discussing the paper and the presentation with teammates. As a result I'm beat. Would it have been more fun to have done something else with my Sunday (anything else-including cleaning the bathroom) absolutely. Do I feel like my time was ill spent? No. And in the end that's what counts. It's more important than grades or the name of the institution that gives you letters after your name.

But there are other components to time well spent as well-I dropped my Summer II course because two of my best friends were getting married last August. Getting an MBA is important to me. But I can take statistics anytime-I only had one shot at being a good friend to my friends who were getting married.

I am doing my best to make sure that my time is well spent. Right now that means doing a bunch of things that aren't much fun (paper editing & accounting problem sets) but I can't help but feel that i am putting my shoulder to the right wheels. And that's a nice feeling-perhaps it will help me unclench my teeth a bit.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Well I for One Feel Much Better Now

I went to UMB to meet with my IT Project Management team today. We spent all day laying out the paper we needed to present and working on an outline. In my humble opinion, we should have done this exercise weeks ago. We spent face-time working together and we took all the tools we need to use out of the box and tried them together.

This was amazingly helpful to me. It also reinforced some of the things I learned in my first class namely 1) You learn more from your fellow students than you do from the proff 2) Do your heavy-lifting up front-if you do a good job in your initial planning phase you can reuse your work later on. 3) If one person is talking someone else had better be writing .4) Bring food. 5) take breaks 6) if at all possible-work on it until it is done—take all day if you need to because you have momentum if you keep working.

This is what is happens when teams work well together. Of course, the problem with working with other people is that they are people-not computers. They have other demands on their time or they may just decide to dick you over. I had concerns walking into today’s meeting. I’ve worked with one of my team-mates before and I know he is solid-the others were unknown quantities. I had a pretty good idea they were all smart-I just didn’t know how much effort they were willing to invest in this project we had to do. One of them had to leave early because he has to work on Saturday nights, but he had already signed up to write several parts of the paper so it wasn’t like he was bailing on us. The other three of them stayed until 7:30 and were helpful the entire time. We started getting punchy around 4:30.

I am not sure how helpful I was anytime after 6:00 PM, but even though we were all tired (and sick of sitting in UMB chairs-by the end of the evening we were all standing and I was doing a lot of bouncing on my heels to work off nervous energy) we were getting it done.

I like having partners who are willing to do the work. It makes the whole thing (Spending a sunny Saturday in a classroom and eating nothing but Odwalla bars all day) worthwhile.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

working some of the Jibblies out

Last night I left left work a few minutes early so that I could walk to school instead of taking the shuttle bus. This was a new development for me. It's true that places I'd rather be than work are mostly limited to jail, the emergency room and a dentist's office. But the idea that being at school-at UMB-was an okay place to be, a place I was more comfortable being to think things out (since my existence since about September 7th, when school started has mostly consisted of crisis, crisis and more crisis whether it be school related or work related) is a step in the right direction. Sometime in the end of Spring term, I started to feel like UMB was a place I went for unpleasant things to happen to me. Apparently I've gotten over that.

This doesn't mean I'm okay with my course-load this term. If you ask me how it's going any time in the next few months my response is likely to be "AAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" but I'm not blaming UMB for that. I just mean that I feel like UMB is an okay place for me to be. I no longer feel afraid of being there. I don't feel like I'm a poseur who has no business being there. I don't feel formless dread. It's true I don't have many friends there, but the place itself is becoming friendly to me. That's a good thing.

Especially since I got back an Accounting Exam last night. I got a B. An 87. This is the lowest grade I've gotten so far. I am not particularly bothered by this. I briefly wondered whether or not this should bother me since all of my teammates, none of which I think are smarter than me, are all about maintaining their strait A averages. I'm assuming this means that all these guys got A's in Accounting. Well I probably won't get an A in Accounting. But that doesn't surprise me or concern me overly. I'm not a quant-I'm a verbal. I can understand recording revenue as earned and expenses as incurred, but if you ask me to actually compute some of this I'm lost. So while I'm a little disappointed about the B since I studied all weekend for this exam I'm not crushed-I could have blown it and I didn't. I can do better and, more importantly, I have more confidence in the program. Any university that gives me an easy A in Accounting is suspect. Again, it's not that I'm dumb it's just that my talent is not with numbers.

So yeah, we are normalizing our AAAAAAA! and it's working out well, sorta.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Jibblies

I had hoped a month or so ago that the anxiety I was feeling about taking two courses at the same time would dissipate once I actually started doing the coursework. That has not happened. One of my courses has lots of group deliverables and very little weekly homework. The other one has no group work and a heavy weekly homework assignment. My courses are on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and my Tuesday night course tends to run over which means that I miss the 9:30 train and have to take the 10:40 train (arriving at home at about 11:40.) This means that all my homework has to be done by Tuesday morning. I had an exam in my Wednesday course last week. I took Friday afternoon and Wednesday off to study for it (and studied all weekend.) Ironically, the more difficult course in my mind is the one with the lower course number (610 as opposed to 630) but it's Accounting and the other course is IT Project Management. I don't mean to boast or anything, but I've done IT project management (as have several of my teammates) but I've never done much with accounting. Also, it involves math-not hard math, but doing calculations-even with a calculator is just not something I can do after 8 PM.

I find myself with No Free Time. Worse than that though is the way my teeth haven't unclenched for the past 7 days and the feeling I had this morning (which is becoming familiar to me) of it being Sunday and me having a butt-load of homework to do and having to go into work tomorrow. Never mind all the other things that need doing-the mold in my bathroom or the dishes in my sink or the laundry or the cooking and grocery shopping (or the fact that I haven't talked to my parents in almost 3 weeks.) There's no time for any of these things because my time is spent on work-related stuff or school related stuff. I'm capable of working hard and I'm capable of working a lot but if I don't see my friends I will go nuts and if I don't go grocery shopping I will starve.

The combination of all these things makes me start panicking on Sunday-no matter how much homework I do it's still not all done by Tuesday. I wake up on Monday with my teeth clenched and my stomach tied in a knot. Tuesday and Wednesday I just roll with the punches-there's not much I can do but accept what happens. Thursday I am a zombie and by Friday I'm begging for mercy. I will do what I can-taking time off to catch up on homework-but things are interesting at work so if I take time off I pay for it when I get back.

Damn, this term is hard.

Friday, October 8, 2010

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

And I am feeling ambivalent. Obviously, I am not *anti* breast cancer awareness. One of my first jobs as a high school kid was working as a medical secretary at a breast-surgeon/oncologist's office. Some of the women who came in were only a few years older than I was (I was 17 at the time.) We even had one male patient. The clinic was on East 72nd street in Manhattan and catered to upper-class women. We had patients who were wives of famous men, broadway stars and at least one lady who sang at the Met. It didn't matter what these women did or who they were or how rich they were when they were sitting in the waiting room. They were all terrified.

So I wouldn't say that I am anti-breast cancer awareness. It's just that a lot of the stuff makes me cringe. I feel like the people who have designed this campaign have made certain assumptions about femininity none of which apply to me or any of my female friends. For example, I'm pretty sure we all hate pink.

I guess what's bothering me is that when an actual women's-issue gets airtime it does so with certain assumptions that don't apply to me or most of the women I know (including the stay at home moms.) It seems to me that the people in charge of the marketing campaign have sold it to the rest of the world with an overdose of cuteness (teddy bears and pink ribbons.) Um, neither I nor most of the women I like qualify as cute unless your definition of cute includes "has fangs." I realize that pink was the obvious color to choose for breast cancer ribbons but I feel that there's a "cutsie" meme pervading in the Breast Cancer Awareness culture (for lack of a better phrase.) And that make me angry. It makes me feel like some people felt that there the best way to make people think more about breast cancer (make women do their self breast examinations, make lawmakers and pharmaceutical companies spend more money on finding cures or early detection/preventative medicine) was to make the whole thing cute. Let's not have angry women demanding that we do something about this disease-let's make them sweet and cute.

I say this knowing that for breast cancer awareness to have gotten as mainstream as it has several angry women (many of them with no hair and single or double mastectomies) must have done some work in the past. I do not mean to belittle what they've done. And

In the end, however mad it makes me, I can forgive the cutsiness factor, and the lowest common denominator factor (ladies-don't you all just want chocolate?) to a certain degree because I feel it's intended to remind us all-survivors and other women that we are all women-no matter how many breasts we have and we all share some common interests-like making sure that legislators, doctors, and heads of pharmaceutical companies do the math on prevention, early diagnosis and least invasive/heroic healing of breast cancer.

That's far more important than where you like to leave your purse.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More Fun at UMB

Tonight I got my first introduction to Microsoft Project. My IT project management class is not going quite the way I'd hoped it would-my project team of five includes three people (including me) with some experience implementing IT projects and I had begun to suspect that we would all be better off if we didn't know a thing about IT-my suspicions were confirmed when we talked to the professor tonight. The professor is vague and unclear and always goes over time.

Tonight, as a special treat we got to go work in a computer lab on MS Project. The professor had a handout of things to do. The handout was written assuming we'd be using Project 2007. The lab had Project 2010 installed. Apparently they're a bit different.

Trying to get the project done was like learning a piece of new software while sitting in North Station. Instead of the announcements being "Now loading on Track 5 is the 5:40 PM train to Newburyport" the announcements were 1)the professor suggesting certain things and 2) getting them wrong and having someone else from the class correct him and telling everyone what to do (even though very few of my classmates have used Project before we are mostly IT types who are used to figuring out software and helping others figure it out. I would have been highly amused by the class offering usage tips to the Prof if I hadn't just been annoyed.) but even so the interruptions were mostly distracting. One of my team mates was sitting next to me-he spoke to me in soothing tones when it looked like I was frustrated. That helped.

But UMB? Get your ass together! I've taken technical classes at Bunker Hill and the lab write-up for what we had to do was always better written and (and this is important!) matched the software/hardware that was *actually* installed on the computers we had to work on. If I'm about to train people on a piece of software I make sure that it's installed on the PC(s) I'm about to train them on and that the training materials that I've written up correspond with what they are going to experience. I'm not a Rocket Scientist (or even a Rock Scientist) but this is common sense. Furthermore, I don't just hand them the training material and tell them to "have at" I lead them through the process.

So that was fun.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hippy Dippy

This was not the post I meant to write-I meant to write all about how I was settling in after 1 year of the Beverly experiment (official as of 10/1/10). But I don't have time to write that. I do have enough time to write this up-which I suppose does tell you something about how I'm settling after a year.

I got up at 6:30 this morning so that I could go meet my project team for my IT Project Management class in town. It was not ideal-we could only meet for 1.5 hours and the trip into town and back takes me 3 hours. But there are 5 of us this term and we badly needed to meet. This was the only period of time this week in which we could all be there so even though it was inconvenient and not at all enough time to discuss all we had to talk about into town I went. The team project for this class is to find an IT project that needs to be done and write up the project plan for whatever the project is-we don't have to implement it we just have to write up a document that we could hand to someone else who could then "make it so." The specifications are general enough so that if, for example, the project involves a web portal we don't need to design the portal-just list "Hire somebody to develop a portal" on the list of to-dos.

We were meeting so that the team member who had a project for us could explain what the project. He explained. We peppered him with questions. I would not call myself an experienced IT project manager. But I have done an implementation or two and the biggest project I've managed was the implementation of a document management system. And this project was a small scale DMS.

I love our DMS. It is my baby. I'm the person at our company who insisted that we needed one and as I mentioned above I oversaw it's roll out (and I have the scars to prove it!) Consequently, I think I can say I know something about the kind of project we were supposed to plan and what would make it work well. The list of requirements listed by the guy who's project this was set off several alarm bells in my head. Apparently I wasn't the only one.

After the meeting I spent about 1.5 hours on the phone with another team mate. We had worked together before and we were used to batting ideas back and forth over the phone. During this time we came up with several better project ideas than the one presented to us. It was a fascinating conversation. It would have bored most of you silly. During the discussion I mentioned how the Client (the people who want to implement this document management system) were being rather "Hippy Dippy" (without going into too much detail, they want the users to be able to file things however they please without imposing standards on them.) Normally, the phrase "Hippy Dippy" applies to me-my politics are far left, my apartment is a mess, I write and hang out with creative-writer types of people, I don't wear makeup, I dress comfortably and have a fondness for the Beatles.

However, apparently my love of free-flowing creativity apparently stops at the door labeled IT Project Management (If not there then certainly at the door marked Document Management Implementation-I was calling our DMS the "File Nazi"-and I meant it as a compliment until I was told that perhaps that nomenclature might not go down well with some people.) When I'm in project manager mode I want my terms defined. I want my deliverables defined ("What is the business need?") I need people to do the math (not-me I'm terrible at it). I need a few definite principles to which I can put my back. There must be rules or I cannot give you anything. But just as important, these rules need to apply to not just me, but whoever is using the...whatever the project is that we have just implemented. IT project implementation does not just involve installing a shiny new piece of software on everyone's desktop-they have to use it. They have to use it according to the rules under which it was designed or it will have no value. Somebody has to explain this to them. And if they design work arounds to avoid using it then the project will fail and I will have no sympathy for them.

It's funny, I was recently thinking that I cannot be anything other than Cantabridgienne-whether I was at work or at play. I've just had an illustration of this being untrue-I am not a free thinking Hippy when I'm in IT Project mode. Furthermore, a friend of mine and I were just discussing our various selves (to simplify-sometimes you're on *your* turf and things that would bug you in other situations do not worry you at all)and although I thought about it, I couldn't quite define the differences between my various selves (Work Self, Sugar Mags Self, UMB Self etc.) So I was pleasantly surprised to have one aspect of my personality illustrated. It's not the same as knowing what is my home turf-the one area where I have the confidence to state my opinions and follow through on my own ideas without digesting my own stomach-but it's a start.

And it's more than I knew a year ago about myself.