Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Card

I received a holiday card from a boss at my current client, and she wrote,

"...your grace with people is a gift to us."

Oh, yeah. All you people who think otherwise can suck it!


Friday, December 12, 2008

It's All About the Coat

This is a coat that can make a homeless man raise his head off his cardboard pillow and yell, "Nice coat!" It's made from the pelts of a thousand Beanie Babies. It has raised the green-eyed monster in my cubicle mates--I swear they wear it when I have to leave my desk.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

When Precondition is True

Now, I'm not a super-glamorous traveling consultant anymore, racking up frequent flyer miles and tiny bottles of hotel shampoo. But I'm a consultant, and that means I work with the dysfunctional. The latest? A QA person who doesn't understand the word WHEN.

WHEN doesn't she understand WHEN? Hah! I crack myself up. WHEN it's used as such, "WHEN the customer is super-special, always use the smiley-face icon in the confirmation message.

Which causes the QA person to ask, "What do you mean by 'WHEN'?" Uhhhhh.... Just try to define the word 'when' without using the word, or risk workplace bias by asking if English is their first language.

We compromised by changes all instances of WHEN to IF. As in IF the customer is super-special, THEN always use the smiley-face icon in the confirmation message.

But it got better--or worst.

The developer and architect don't understand the concept of a precondition for certain functionality--something that has to be true in order to access the functionality. "But what if it's not true", they ask. Then don't show it to them because they can't do it!

But they protest, "But we can't do that. What we can do is give them access, then if they shouldn't have access we take it away."

What I call taunting, they call cross-selling.


Monday, October 27, 2008

What's Next?

Wikipedia had a front-page article today on the NeXT computer. When I was in grad school in 1990, I decided to do a paper on the NeXT computer for a class. I can't remember why, but it seemed like a good idea. I (felt like I) was computer savvy, after all, having taken programming courses in high school and as an undergrad. I've often said that I would have had a minor in computer science if only the University of Texas had offered minors. But they didn't, so I was saved from having to actually take all those computer and science courses, and instead took Pascal pass/fail.

So I went to a demonstration of the NeXT--it was being offered to universities--and I remember standing in front of that oh-so-sleek cube, with the amazingly crisp grayscale display. It was 17 inches! And there were these things on the screen. Icons. Now, you have to get in the wayback machine and remember that in 1990 there were no icons on PC's. Macs, yes, but I wasn't a Mac person. And I stood there and admired it, and even poked at the keyboard a few times, and I did move the mouse around--but I didn't know what I wanted this beautiful computer to do. And the very geeky guy demonstrating the computer couldn't tell me what I wanted it to do, either, so I left and wrote my paper from articles I got out of the library.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Elevator Story

I was listening to the commencement speech by Robert Krulwich at the California Institute of Technology today, and it reminded me of a story. If you don't listen to the podcast, the takeaway is that if scientists don't find some way to tell regular people about the work they do--their elevator story--then science will suffer.

One of my good friends is married to a man who works at NASA. A rocket scientist, if you will. One evening, at a party, I asked about a project he had worked on that was written up in the paper. Now, maybe he was tired of making conversation. Maybe he's incapable of abstracting up what they do at NASA. Maybe he had had enough of that project. But what he said to me was, "You wouldn't understand it."


If they could write it up in the newspaper (6th grade reading level, typically), I can understand it. Now I take great pleasure in mentioning to him that rocket science isn't exactly brain surgery. And neither is making small talk with non-engineers. But I think, like Robert Krulwich, that anyone involved in science needs to be able to tell their story to the average person in this day and age of the assault on science. Creationists should *not* get away with saying, "Evolution is *just* a theory", without the rebuttal that so is gravity, but we're not flying off the face of the earth. Science needs it elevator stories to defend itself!

Now, I must admit I have not always been the wisest person with the elevator story. My first programming job was as a contractor at a bank, and my uncle asked what I was doing. So I gave him the spiel. I'm working on a check reconciliation project--after a check is sorted but before it is posted, many are lost and blah blah blah on and on. I think I even explained what check kiting is.

Now, my uncle is a banker. Had been for over 30 years when he asked me this question, and he had the social grace to walk away, leaving me to realize what I'd done much, much later and still live with that mortification. But you better believe that if I had told him, "You wouldn't understand", he would have sat me down and made me explain it until he did.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

During a web usability session today, where we were reviewing the things that need to be done to a website to make it accessible to a screen reader or other web accessibility tool, someone made the following statement: "If you ever use the words 'click here' on a web page, it's a slap in the face to those without hands."

Slapping someone without hands? Oh, yes, that's an image that'll teach me to be sensitive to those that are different from us.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Dear Diary

Printers in offices are facinating places. You could be at one, innocently pawing through all the documents, looking for your one page, and you find out many things about your colleagues. Like someone's going to Sonoma for the weekend (reservation confirmation), someone doesn't know how to get to Home Depot (Google map), someone's starting a new project in the same area you've been working on (yes, I took that one), and then there's a stack from that idiot who PRINTS OUT ALL THEIR EMAILS. Even the ones with the signature

But on this day what I found was the "Daily Diary" of a coworker who's becoming famous for not getting anything done. Here are some snippets I read before I got nervous and dumped it back in the tray and skeddaddled.
10:16am - 10:33am Walking to work
10:34am - 11:56am On the train
Noon - 1pm Lunch
1pm - 2pm Status Meeting
2pm - 3pm Meeting cancelled
3pm - 5pm Updates
Total project hours: 3

Oh, yes, this is certainly going to buttress your argument that you've got too much to do.

Years and years ago, I used to keep a diary at work, but it wasn't work-related. It was so long ago that I used WordPerfect (it was the top word processing program at the time) and stored it on a 5 1/4 disk. Now *that* was a floppy disk!

And I was so paranoid that I encrypted it with the longest possible password I could come up with--close to 100 characters. (I have a vague idea of what it was, and still believe that one day I'll be able to take it to the Computer Museum and have a couple of geeks retrieve it for me. And then be horrified by my decades-old musings.) But one day I decided to print out a page from it, and accidentally sent it to the wrong printer. By the time I realized where it went, it was too late. I clearly remember bursting out of my office and finding the office manager holding it up, asking, "Is this yours?", and she started reading it. Out loud.

Maybe that's why I take such pleasure in thinking of ways to torment coworkers. I think one of the most diabolical things to do is to take something sensitive or personal and immediately dump it in the shredder. The unwitting victim will spend ages looking for their printout! And if you sit near the printer, you can enjoy the sound of their panicked tromping around.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Work Humor

In addition to my scintillating wit, this is the stuff that cracks people up in my workplace.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's not what it looks like....

I've been trying to bring fruit into work so I'm not constantly pumping quarters into the vending machines. I like bananas, but transporting them is a bit tricky. Especially if you forget you put a banana in your purse, oh, say for a day or two, and then dig deep in your purse for your keys.


So I was sure someone else had this problem, so I turned to the Internet. This is the banana bunker. There is no way you could carry one of these in your purse and not look like a sexual deviant.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Kinder, Gentler Me

This was sent to me by a former colleague. Apparently I was a bit sharp when I was younger. I'd be offended, if I wasn't so proud of what a smartass I was.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Too Funny

We were having one of those idle chit-chats in cube-land about a colleague's upcoming camping trip, and we began reminiscing about the troubles associated with roughing it and getting clean. Mention of pay showers requiring quarters led one person to ask, probably rhetorically, where you were to keep your quarters while showering to ensure you weren't left lathered up when the water ran out. Where are you supposed to keep the quarters? I couldn't resist answering, "In your fanny pack!"

It broke everyone up--one guy was laughing so hard he had to walk away. Now, it's probably funnier given the quiet constraints of an office, but I was quite proud of myself. And when I picked up Conor from his after-school program and the director told me that Conor was quite the wit, I puffed up with pride and said, "I know where he gets it!"

From my fanny pack!

Still cracks me up.


Monday, March 03, 2008


I started my new job, at a client where I'd worked before, with a group I'd worked with peripherally. Very nice people, reasonable hours and pay--who could ask for more? And the work seems interesting, which is a bonus. I went to my first staff meeting and got a fabulous introduction by the department head. She started by mentioning the great things I'd done before, how happy they were that I had come back, how I'd already made a contribution, that I'd invented sliced bread and shown them fire. And everyone clapped.

She looked around the room, very pleased to have brought onboard such a stellar player, and her eyes fell on the other new person in the room.

"We have another new face here today", she said, "His name is Dwight. Okay, does anyone have anything to add to the agenda?"

Welcome, Dwight. Don't let your inferiority complex get in the way of adequate performance.


Friday, December 07, 2007


At the risk of revealing too much about my soon-to-be former client, I have to share this. The following is the basic text of a recent email to all employees:

Game ON!
Time for the 2007 Annual Salary and Performance Review Process.

Suit up and get your game plan ready now - this email officially kicks off the Annual Performance and Salary Review process. Blah blah blah

Now, am I being ridiculous, or do others think that pay raises aren't a game?


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Do You Tell?

I sit by the manager on this project, and today she's having a conversation about the fate of all of us consultants on my project. Including me. (I can tell when she's talking about me because she starts to whisper.) So I know that my time on this project is nearly up, as is everyone elses. Except one guy.

Do I tell anyone?

You never know how people will react--what if they march right over to her and say, "She says you're letting me go."

What if one person is close to buying a house? My first software job was at a teeny-tiny company with some cash flow problems. I got the job because a friend of mine worked there, and she told me that a great interview question was to ask if they'd ever missed a payroll. The answer was yes, and the guy interviewing me just laughed. Anyway, so this company ran into some other cash flow problems and had to lay off the last guy hired. I don't know why, but we all knew he was getting fired. Except him--and he and his wife went out and put in a bid on a house. He didn't get the house, he did get fired, and that week the rest of us ran to the bank our paychecks were drawn on to cash them.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Corner Office

I see around me (above me, actually) women who are my age--and younger--who are climbing the corporate ladder. They're in those offices (doors in cubicle-land!) with those vague titles (Senior Manager, Director) and sometimes I wonder if that shouldn't be me. Should I be more focused on the career? What derailed me?

I can't blame on kids--I took 6 weeks off (or, as my boss said SIX WEEKS OFF?) in the early 90's before Kevin and I were married. I was living in Chicago and burned out from the weekly travel. The last job was a soul-sucking consulting position in DC and I remember hating hating hating that corporate apartment.

But did I get off-track before then? When I was in Dallas, I was working for a now-defunct small company with some seriously dysfunctional management. One of my favorite examples of their true idiocy was when there was a shakeup in the management of the training department. I was one of the 5 or so trainer/instructor/slide-flipping monkeys and our boss finally flipped out and quit. I think he tried to quit the company, but they managed to talk him out of that--for about 20 minutes. So he's out. This happens over the weekend, and on Monday we're called into a meeting and informed he's out and another trainer has been designated as the new department head. Okay, I think, mentally placing bets on how long he'll last, and tune out the rest of the meeting.

On the way out, the president of the company (the one really responsible for the previous head's departure) says to me, "We tried to call you this weekend." Oh, says clueless me, I didn't get a message--what did you want?

"We were looking for a new department head, but you didn't answer the phone."

It takes me a good 5 minutes to figure out what he meant. Five long, standing in the hallway, head-scratching minutes. (I had to confirm it with a very bizarre follow-up conversation--if I had answered the phone, I would have been the department head.)

This, I thought to myself, was bullshit. I had seen this company chew up and spit out a number of really talented people, and I had worked enough places in my nascent career to know it wasn't unusual.

I think this is when I decided that chutes were more fun than ladders.

Another reason why I might not make it up very far on the corporate ladder even if I tried? Sometimes, I just can't stop myself. Now, I like and respect the guy who got the position. Every once in a while I'd feel resentment that I hadn't picked up the phone, but for the most part I realized that I'd dodged a bullet--this was a job no one could succeed in. So before our first official department meeting, I got the new head a present. Something to commemorate his promotion.

My inaugural gift to the new department-head designee was a copy of "Managing for Dummies". It still makes me laugh to this day.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Rice without the White

My new job is rolling out a new software development process at a large corporation. Something I've done before, which they think gives me 'experience', but I know it really gives me 'instant cynicism'. I'm sitting in a meeting where the right-hand man to the bigwig is being walked through the process. He says he just wants to see what documentation has to be produced. We give the standard answer--the process is more than just the documentation produced--but he's having none of it. He doesn't even appreciate my Dwight D. Eisenhower quote, "The plan is nothing. Planning is everything."

So my colleague puts up the list of documents so we can go through them one by one. And have someone who's never done this before tell us what can be ignored. Here's how it went.

"That looks like a lot of documents. My boss, well, she doesn't like so many documents. Can't they be combined?"

We explain that each document is to be completed by a different area--business, technology, etc.

"It's still a lot. Those two have similar names, so combine them. Then combine the last three--better yet, let's just put them all into one document."

Uhhhhh, okay. Is that really what you want?

"Yes. This is what we need here at XYZ corp."

Okey-dokey. Let's go over what's in these documents, uh, I mean, what's in this ONE document.

"Wait--how are you going to manage all these different authors from different areas? Who's going to own the document? We're going to have to split these up by area."

Do you know what I get paid for? Keeping a straight face.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Can't talk now? Don't answer!

Now that I'm back at work, one of my pet peeves is coming to the forefront. Have you ever called someone and had them answer the phone is a very muted voice by saying, "I can't talk now."? Guess what, buddy, that's what the 'Ignore' button is for. DO NOT ANSWER THE PHONE IF YOU CANNOT TALK. The entire phone conversation interaction is predicated on the understanding that YOU CAN TALK. Guess what voice mail is for?

I love to tell these people that I'll just call back and leave a voice mail.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Stupid Internet

So I'm back at work, and the usual issues crop up trying to get everything set up. I'm having trouble with my email--they changed the name of my mailbox--and they sent me the change via email. Which led to the scintillating conversation that went something like this:

"I'm having trouble getting to my email."

"Yeah, I sent you the changes we made."

"I didn't get the changes."

"Why not? I sent them last week."


"Oh, right. You didn't get my email?"

So then the dude takes over my computer courtesy of the magic that is the internet and gets me up and running. And I feel smug and superior until later that evening, when I'm getting ready for bed, and I realize I've been wearing my underwear inside out all day.

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The New Consultant's Assignment

At some point in every consultant's assignment, usually very early on, you are sent on a messenger's errand, as in, "Don't kill the messenger". Here's what happens. You get a meeting request (if it's a civil place) or buttonholed in the hallway (if it's not). The individual then proceeds to ask you a seemingly innocent open-ended question. Something like, "How do you think the blah blah blah is going?" Don't worry about giving the right answer--there isn't one. The only thing they're waiting for is your lips to stop moving on so they can rip you a new one as the proxy for whatever individual or individuals you work for. And if it's not a civil place, you'll get a finger poked in your chest along with a few, "You go back and tell your boss yadda yadda yadda".

Every good consultant knows damn well not to go back and tell anyone what happened, especially anyone on the client team. And if anyone asks hey, how did your meeting go or I saw you talking with so-and-so, what did he say; you say fine, it went fine, they're really interested in what we're doing. Eventually someone will break and tell you how it went down with them, and someone lets on that they told the client and got their head ripped off for even talking to so-and-so. And you just nod your head because you know you're there to bill some hours, not get caught up in their drama. Drama is for newbies and anyone without a life outside work.


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