Friday, February 22, 2013


This is about work--but it's mostly about me so I think it's okay to post about this. I feel like I've gone through a bit of a professional growth spurt lately. I put this mostly down to the fact that I'm almost a year into my MSIT program--in three more courses they give me a degree.

I do things I wouldn't have had the confidence to do a year ago (although some of these are things I was perfectly capable of doing). I find I don't always have to check with the outsourced IT firm before answering questions about why this e-mail message wasn't delivered or why So-and-So got a funny message the first time they opened Worldox today. This is a good change for the most part (assuming I don't get cocky and break something) but "in literature as in life" change can be scary--even good change.

I started noticing this last week when I was sending an e-mail out to the entire staff about changes I'd made to our document management system. "I have made a few changes to Worldox's file-attachment functionality" was the first sentence. I was a little appalled that I had used the word "functionality" in a written sentence. I've always hated this word and I refused to use it for a long time* but I needed to send this e-mail notification out yesterday so...functionality it was.  Luckily I usually ask a colleague to proofread memos before sending them out to the whole staff. The colleague in question rolled his eyes at functionality  "Yeah I know--I hate the word but.."

"Use 'feature'," he suggested. I did. My inner-French Major/Dickens Reader sighed with relief.

Today had to log in as a user for whom the CRM kept crashing and see if I could reproduce the crash. I did. I was alarmed at how satisfied I was when I succeeded in reproducing the crash and at how I could tell that this was the same error code the user had gotten. I've become a connoisseur of Microsoft Dynamics bugs.

I am not complaining about being deeply satisfied for something that someone paid me to do--it's just that I'm not yet comfortable with my new self--I never actually expected to use the phrase "escape sequence" in a sentence (at least not outside of a classroom.) Some of my apprehension is that I worry that some of this is just too far out of the acceptable range of dorkiness--that my new knowledge has pushed me farther along the NGLA spectrum. I know my Beverly pack mates (and most of the other humans I know) are not going to want to hear about Dynamics bugs or e-mail spoofing** over Saturday brunch.  The things I spend time working on have passed out of the range of "stuff I really think everyone aught to know about computers/be able to do for themselves" to the kind of things that don't work well on t-shirts. That's okay. I have my MSIT study buddies and a few nerd friends who tell SQL jokes.

Whenever I started a new romantic relationship, or even fell in love with a band I'd have a period of uncertainty at the beginning (no matter how nuts I had been about the person/band) where I asked myself--"Is this really what you want?" I figure that's what I'm currently feeling about my new, nerdier, self.

*I remember discussing our mutual hatred for this word with a colleague of mine at the tech startup where I worked in 2000. We both agreed that it was a terrible letter-salad and we were discussing whether it was grammatically correct. At the time I opined that it would fade out of usage soon. Hah!

**I was disappointed this wasn't more of a winner--I remember being awed the first time someone showed me how to do this.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ten Years Ago This Weekend..

On Friday I was shocked when I saw the 2003 protest against the Iraq war listed on Wikipedia's "On This Day" area of the page. Holy sh!t! It's been ten years since then. Time flys-whether you are having fun or not.

I don't remember who's idea it was to go down to the protest in New York City that weekend--if I had to guess I would have said it was Dan's idea. We had all gone to several protests in Boston. I even went to one march by myself on a Sunday. (Most of the people I encountered at that march were sanctimonious prigs.)

We must have rented a car because I know we didn't take Adam's ailing BMW 2002 down to New York. Adam and his girlfriend Stephanie and Sean and I drove down to my parents' house on Staten Island on Friday night 2/14/03. While on the BQE with Sean driving Adam ( a native of the Bay State) yelled "Don't signal! that will let them know what you're doing!"*

My dad was in Idaho visiting his mother because she was ill, but my mom was home. The front door was supposed to be unlocked, but  it wasn't. I called from my cell phone and woke Mom up. She came down to let us in to the house in a robe and then went back upstairs to have a sleep emergency. It reminded me of how Mom's mother--my grandma--would always come downstairs in her nightgown whenever we arrived at her house in Beverly.

Mom had prepared a vegetarian chili for us and left it (in a microwave safe container) in the refrigerator along with some beer. I was happy to have my friends down at my parents' place to show it to them and  shown them to my mom (see Mom--my friends aren't imaginary!)

 I had been a little worried what my parents would think of the idea of the protest. They had lived in the village in the 1960s and (as far as I could tell) still seemed to have missed most of the cool parts of it. They didn't seem to think highly of the anti-war movement (although they were anti-Vietnam war). Dad had gone to one anti war meeting at NYU and had come away unimpressed--"They kept talking about The Movement. It sounded like they all had trouble with their bowels."

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that that not only did they approve of the protest, Mom would be going with some people from her church. Perhaps we could all meet up at the rally? The city of New York had vetoed the idea of a march in front of the UN. Instead there was a park where we could hold a stationary rally. We were going to meet our friend Dan at the rally as well. He'd also come down from Boston but he'd stayed with his brother Friday night.

On Saturday 2/15/3 Mom went in to town earlier than we did. It was Cold that day. Luckily Adam and Sean worked at Hilton's Tent City. They had brought hand warmers for us. We all had ENEMY t-shirts, but you couldn't have seen  them without an X ray. I made the error of wearing just my t-shirt beneath my wind-stopper fleece and hard shell. This was not nearly enough coat and I spent the entire afternoon realizing this.

We took the ferry and the subway up to near the rally site. So did everyone else in the NY, NJ CT area. By the time we got off the train we were in a huge crush--everyone was headed towards the rally point, but there were so many of us we became a march (a very slow one) whether the City wanted it or not. We tried to stay on the sidewalks but there were just too many people. We never did find Mom. Somehow we found Dan. None of us had smartphones with Google Maps (because this was 2003!) and this was a part of New York City I didn't know well, but it didn't really matter because there were so many people that no one was moving quickly, and we were all going the same way whether we liked it or not. We passed a deli where Dan had once worked. I think we passed the Roosevelt Island Tram, but I don't remember for sure. The police were around but everyone was behaving well** People were drumming and chanting "This is what democracy looks like!" They got fire trucks to go down the avenue blocks with their lights and sirens on. People yelled at the firetrucks to stop doing the cops bidding.

We never made it to the "rally" but that didn't matter. The rally was too big to fit in the park and spilled out all over Manhattan.

Eventually we got cold and hungry and went to a bar to eat dinner. We were supposed to meet up with Dan's brother and my sister (because they both lived in New York City.)  I think we got Dan's brother but not my sister (she was working at the Strand that night.) We hit multiple bars. One of them had a juke box and Adam and Stephanie danced. I watched them feeling happy and sad. Sean didn't like to dance and so I'd occasionally danced with Adam, but now Adam had a girlfriend and so I'd lost my dance partner.

I was thrilled to be out so late because we were in a city with all night public transit. Somehow we all--Adam, Stephanie Sean Dan and I made it back to my parents' place on Staten Island and we all went to bed. Adam and Stephanie got the attic, I got my childhood bed, Sean got the bed in my sister's room (we referred to it as "The Slab" because it was like a marble mattress) and Dan got the couch in my parents living room.

The next day Adam and Stephanie went to Brooklyn to see friends of hers. Sean, Dan and I met them at the Brooklyn museum later and then we all went for dinner before driving back to Cambridge. At dinner my Mom called and told us to come back to SI. There was a snow storm coming and she didn't want us driving in it. We decided to go home anyways--we had to work the next day.

I'm sure there are plenty of parts I've forgotten and some I've mis-remembered. The part I remember the best is how very cold I was. I don't think I've been as cold since. It was still a good weekend and I can't believe it was 10 years ago.


*I have since heard other Bay State natives say this. I have yet to figure out why you wouldn't want your fellow drivers know that you were changing lanes.

** As far as we could tell at the time the protest was entirely peaceful. When I went to go buy bagels the next morning I noted that the New York Post had a picture of a cop on a horse with a protester in what *might* have been construed as a violent confrontation. The headline was "FACE OFF." The Post has never been noted for it's liberalism.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I Fought the Law...

This post is as much to bookmark videos as anything else. I love the Clash and I love I Fought The Law. I like the Clash's version, but I also think Green Day brought something to the song.

Here's the Clash's version--which I thought was the original.

It's good--it has a certain anger that's missing from Green Day's version.   Perhaps it's just part of their schtick but they don't flirt with the audience.  Joe Strummer and Mick Jones just throw this song out there as hard as they can.  It's part of why I like them (and punk in general--but that's another blog post). 

On the other hand I like about this later, American rendition. While I like Joe Strummer's version this has more showmanship. As mentioned above I think there's more anger (and with it more honesty) in the Clash's version. The Green Day version has a certain.. goofiness to it that I see as an element of American punk that is missing from the Clash or the Sex Pistols. The Ramones had it too--it's bratty instead of angry. (Not that I'm dismissing this--I love the Ramones.) Billy Joe is playing with his mouth open and rolling his head as if he doesn't really care but the moment he stops playing and claps--once--the audience picks up and starts clapping. 

One of the things I like about early punk is how it sounds like 50's and 60's rock and roll--but faster and without the bubble gum and marzipan--not that there's anything wrong with that. 

Which brings me to Bobby Fuller. I was screwing around with YouTube last December--probably avoiding a paper--when I came across Bobby Fuller's version of I Fought The Law--from 1965.I was mesmerized. I'm still not sure why.  It was the day after the shootings in Connecticut--I posted the video to Facebook and then remembered that people might not think the guns were so cute that day.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine over breakfast that day "You thought the Clash wrote 'I Fought the Law?'" said my buddy. "No that's an old time folk meme." It might be--I couldn't find any info about that in the Wikipedia article. The original sounds like it was written by Buddy Holly--which makes sense as it was written by another Cricket--Sonny Curtis (who replaced Buddy Holly after he died.)

I found another video version without the guns in the background. As I mentioned above I'm still not quite sure what about this song sends me to my happy place. Some of it could be because I love rock and roll from 1965--I like Help and Rubber Soul more than I like the White Album. Some of it could be just the novelty of guys in suits and ties singing a song that I usually associate with sweaty guys in eye makeup and studded belts. I think some of my fascination is because I look at this video--at all of the teenage boys in suits and teenage girls in dresses with flip hair dos--and think "Your world is about to change." 

But Bobby Fuller never made the change. Six months after the I Fought the Law made the Billboard top 100 list he was found dead in a car under mysterious circumstances. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Terrible Poetry

Today is Valentine's Day.

Today I had to give a MS Dynamics training session.

So my gift to me is some terrible Dynamics/Tech Support/V Day themed verses*:

Roses are red
Violets are purple
For a change of address
Please launch this Workflow

Flowers smell pretty
New leaves are green
If you see this error message
E-mail me a PrintScreen

Chocolate is yummy
Love stories need tension
If you can't find the "Any" key
Call my extension

*I try not to talk about work on this blog but this is generic enough that I give myself a pass--as a Valentine's Day treat. Also--given what I've done on the other V days post-liberation in 2009 (written a paper, submitted a report to the SEC, done Statistics homework)  count yourselves lucky this is the first time I felt poetic.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Let's hear it for the Staff of the Cambridge Street Whole Foods

 I have a  paper to write this weekend. I went to the Whole Foods by North Station because the idea of having no food in the house while writing a paper sounded like no fun. But tomorrow is also the day a giant snow storm called Nemo is going to find all of us in the Bay State. Consequently the Whole Foods by North Station was a bit of a madhouse. I have never seen a longer, more epic grocery store line.

I considered going home and trying the grocery store tomorrow morning but the idea of no food in the house + paper made me decide to get 'er done. It would take however long it took (I had a book and phone to amuse myself with while in line) and at the end of it I would have food to eat while procrastinating or looking out the window and feeling alarmed.

When I started the line was so long (back past the deli, the bakery through cheeses and into the dairy section) I wondered if I would just get in line and shop as I passed by the relevant parts of the store. The store was mobbed by yuppies who were freaked out that no one would be around to feed them tomorrow "No one keeps food in their house--they all just come here every evening and buy dinner" explained the woman behind me in line. "Of course I don't have any food in my house on Fridays either--because I do my grocery shopping on Saturdays." She added.

This could have been awful (Apparently in some grocery stores it was--the Market Basket in Salem called the cops) but it wasn't because of the staff. There were staff members directing the checkout traffic and managers bagging groceries.  There was a man with chocolate samples as the line snaked by the bakery. There were plenty of people behind the deli counter. There was a man in an apron at the (usually DIY) hot soup bar. All of these people were calm and smiling. We could see that they were actively doing something to make things run smoothly. It didn't matter that not all the people they deployed were actively speeding things up--I don't think the chocolate guy or the soup guy were making things any speedier--everyone who was on the floor was trying to make this as pleasant as possible. By their sheer number (and their calm friendly manners) they succeeded.

Part of what makes a mobbed store so unpleasant is the lack of staff--there are 50 of you to every one of them so there's never anyone around to answer your questions or keep the mob in check*. By deploying people every 2 feet or so--even doing something as silly as ladling soup at a soup bar--they ensured that we all behaved. It also helped that it was clear that some of these people were management. None of them were wearing suits (this is Whole Foods after all) but it was clear that some of these people had keys to the office.

Why am I writing a blog post about a trip to the grocery store (aside from the fact that I'm avoiding a paper?) I'm doing this because it's an excellent example of how good customer service and good management and such things are rare.

In the end it only took about 5 minutes for me to get in line and check out. I made sure to thank the man who pointed  me towards a checkout line that was freeing up. "You guys are doing a great job!" I said. The woman behind me agreed.

*I'm not being dramatic here--people behave better when they know they're being watched--even if it is by the 22 year old girl who does cheese samples.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


A year ago I was digesting my own stomach because I was in the process of buying a house. A year later I am much calmer. At the moment I'm freaking out a bit over the fact that I need to write my final paper for my Software Engineering class next weekend and I don't feel like I've learned anything from this class yet.

Am I being haunted by the ghost of my slacker undergraduate self? Have I simply misplaced my ability to give a fuck because it's January? Maybe this is all really boring? Whatever is going on I can't bring myself to concentrate long enough to write a two page paper. I also seem to be the only person in the class who thinks the textbook (the Mythical Man Month by Brooks-published in 1975) is a bit dated.

The good news is that my inability to perform as expected is only manifesting itself in my school life--professionally I'm still on top of things. Perhaps the problem is with the course material and the presentation. I like the professor--I find his lectures interesting. I *do* feel like I'm learning things when I'm in his class--it's just that I have problems associating those things with the other things I'm supposed to be learning. Perhaps the problem is that this is a class in software development that is being squeezed into a six week schedule and involves very little hands-on work. Week one we wrote requirements statements. Since then we've listened to lectures, read the textbook and various Wikipedia articles, and researched Open Source Licenses and the Five Most Popular Programming Languages. I spent most of today trying to compare two languages without knowing much about either. This meant paraphrasing Wikipedia articles without really knowing what I was saying. I hate that--it doesn't feel like I've learned anything.

I tell myself that perhaps the problem is that I've already learned some of the key points through life experience, since a lot of this is really project management (Requirements can be hard to get right. Debugging can take longer than building. Throwing people at a project that's late doesn't help.)  That doesn't mean there's not something else I'm missing.

On the "bright" side the next class (Information Systems) is going to be very MBA-like. This means lots of reading case studies and analyzing them. One the one hand I left B-School because I thought I'd get more out of Geek School--I don't really want my Geek School classes to be like B-School classes. On the other hand I can do "Read this and tell me whatcha think" standing on my head--I was a literature major. Harvard Business Review case studies have the advantage of being (nominally) in English--unlike the stuff I studied as an undergrad.

I don't mind working hard to learn--one of my favorite classes was Telecommunications which was the hardest class I've had in the MSIT program (second only to Statistics for Hardest Class of Graduate Career.) I'd rather work hard on interesting material (and let's be honest--I will feel gypped if the class is not challenging enough) than breeze through boring stuff. However I've struggled to get traction with this classes material. It's comforting to know that I'll be back on familiar ground.

And all of this is still way less stressful than what I was doing a year ago.