Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nacho usual snack

Nothing much to report today, so I’m pulling something out from my files.

A while ago there was an exchange on Twitter about guacamole, and someone made a reference that I didn’t quite grok, so I asked her. Turned out to be something a year earlier about adding ground up apples.

Now, guacamole is like religion for its fans. Actually, it is religion for its fans. During the last Republican administration, there was a gigantic hoo-ha over First Lady Laura Bush’s recipe, which uses lemon juice. Folks were ready to riot in the streets because lime juice is what their mamas taught them.

(We won’t have to worry about anyone giving a toss about whatever recipe Melania might put forward in an attempt to seem in any way humanoid. No one would believe that she is.)

Anyhow, I was reminded of the New York Times screwing with the delicate balance of the guac universe with their peas nonsense. My Twitter pal pointed me to the earlier thread, which I share with you.

Buen provecho.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Kinda squirrelly

For a couple of days last week, we here in the District They Call Columbia practically had short-sleeve weather. Friday in particular, we almost hit 70°. And then Saturday we were back into the barely double digits.

What this respite meant for my back yard was that, for one all-too-brief period, the birds took 48 hours to empty the Fine Tunes feeder. Since then we’ve been back to the 24-hour cycle.

But what’s interesting to me is the squirrel behavior. Over the weekend one squirrel (I assume it’s one—I suppose it could be more than one, but since I can’t tell one squirrel from another, I’m going to go with just one) started…eying my living room with an unhealthy interest, and climbing the sliding glass door.

Technically, it’s climbing the rubber gasket at the edge of the door, and occasionally scurrying across the screen door. Viz:

It runs up, looks around, sees no change from the last time it climbed up, and then eventually retruns to earth.

It’s also tried climbing the pole to the feeders, rediscovering the torpedo baffle that still foils its marauding intent. I’m glad, because I just ordered my second 15-pound sack of Fine Tunes from Amazon, and if those little furry vacuum cleaners got a direct line to the seed, I just couldn’t afford it.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Gratitude Monday: help in the search

So this happened…

I found out five weeks ago that the job I was hired to do two years ago is…no longer. Following the company’s board meeting the first week in December, my manager told me that they’d decided to end the new business innovation program, which left me—the Senior Innovation Manager—kind of up a creek and paddleless.

(I also discovered a week later, at the company all-staff year-end wrap-up that my position had been only funded for four years, and I’d been hired two years into that funding period. This little fact had at no time been mentioned to me during the interview and hiring process.)

There are a number of reasons why this should be—the original notion for exploring new products and services had been something championed by the previous CEO, and this current one just was never that much into it. It was also part of an overall organizational transformation initiative, which also has disappeared after an initial fanfare. And it was a task like unto Sisyphus to try to get people to understand that even a non-profit needs to bring in revenues if it wants to keep supporting its mission. But mostly, I think, this outfit just isn’t comfortable with doing anything that they haven’t done for the past century. The way I’ve described it to myself and my manager is: they’re all for innovation, as long as they don’t have to do anything differently.

(Moreover—my manager has burned a lot of innovation goodwill, tbh, by pushing his “communication and collaboration platform” that no one wants to use. That cost a few bob, and he’s described it to everyone as “innovative”, when it’s not. So, they associate “innovations” with [platform], and think, “Eh, no.”)

For two days after the board meeting, my manager avoided me, which was suspicious, and only when we had our weekly meeting did he mention that this was a thing. But, he said, there was a proposal to have me move over to another division for six months, to build out a business plan for a program that is related to one of my ideas for innovation. (This program is focused on diversity in academia; I’d pitched it for the business world, but that’s a market too far for this outfit, so we’re sticking with what we already know.)

I’m afraid I blurted out in disbelief.

“And [head of program] is down with this?”

“Yes, she’s enthusiastic.”

“[Head of program]?”


Ah, but there was a fly in this ointment. The head of HR, who has been as useful as a chocolate teapot, stuck her neb into it, wanting to know if [head of program] didn’t already have someone on staff who could create the business plan. [Head of program] insisted that she does not, and that I am uniquely qualified to do this. My manager said that he cannot guarantee anything, but this was what the plan was.

Now, in an organization with competent HR, this would have made me uneasy, but with a dysfunctional HR, whose head has meddled in hiring, and whom I’ve witnessed in person insert herself into organizational decisions as a clear exercise in power grabbing—well, I had no confidence at all that anything good (even “good” in the circumstance: that I’d be getting a temporary reprieve, instead of an immediate pink slip) could come of this.

Look—I understand it’s HR’s job to protect the interests of the company, not the employee’s. However, it’s not HR’s job to overrule hiring decisions that are legal and in keeping with company policies, and I’ve seen this woman do it and heard of other instances of her doing it. For just one example, one department had interviewed multiple candidates and told HR, “We want to hire these two people”. Ms. Chocolate Teapot replied, “No, you have to hire this one.”

(Most of the negative reviews of this company on Glassdoor cite HR as reason for the negativity, with incompetence as a major factor. One memorable one referred to its operation as “the Mean Girls Club”. She is leaving the company (along with many of her hires) at the end of the month, “after 15 years of service”, with the bare minimum of thanks from the CEO.)

This was how things were left following the board meeting on 8 December. In the intervening five bloody weeks, there was every possibility that Ms. CT would find some excuse to toss me. Imagine my holidays. And every time I asked my (current) manager what the status was, he’d shrug and say there was no update.

Last week—without update on my status—I was called to a meeting about the business plan (slugged a “huddle”, God give me strength), at which it became clear that, truly, building a business plan is not in this department’s wheelhouse. Following it, I consulted my (current) about a possible way to proceed, and he said, almost as an aside, “Just so you know, there’s funding for you for six months. After that [head of program] will need to get funds from outside sources for you.”

Now, that’s how most of the department’s programs work: they’re funded through outside grants. (It’s also why the company as a whole just can’t grasp the urgency of providing products and services that drive revenues, much less make a profit.) But, you know—it might have occurred to my (current) manager that this information about funding might possibly have been something I’d have liked to know, oh, say, five weeks ago when it was proposed.

However, I’d already reached out to a couple of people I know to start the process of networking into a new job. One of them may be a bit of a bust, but the other—a product management consultant I met in the Valley They Call Silicon—immediately riffled through his network and gave me introductions to a couple of guys he knows in this area. (I went prepared into our conversation, with a list of companies and verticals I’m interested in; I believe in giving people whose help you want all the information you can to make it easy for them to help you.) From that conversation, I’ve talked with his two guys, and from them on to some more.

I also confided in one person at my company, who commutes in to the District They Call Columbia on the train from Baltimore. He mentioned my situation to one of his fellow commuters, who works for an outfit in Fairfax. She gave my details to a colleague who runs the company’s emerging technologies practice, and he reached out to me immediately. He’s on travel, but we’ll chat in February.

Well, anyhow, this is Gratitude Monday, and this post isn’t about how dysfunctional this organization is. Or about my (current) manager’s obtuseness. Or about the long, hard slog that a job search is. Because what I’m grateful for is that there are people who will help—people who have helped—in contrast to the past, when people either dodged, or who blustered that they’d be happy to help, had connections, etc., but then all you heard was crickets.

I’d thought that this would be my last job. But since that’s turned out to be unlikely, I’m really grateful that I am not alone in one more search.

Friday, January 12, 2018

They'd none of them be missed

For my first-ever investment in a start-up, I participated in a crowd-funding campaign by a young woman in London who’s on a mission to get people to be more mindful in their use of digital tech.

I first came across Anastasia Dedyukhina through her 2016 TEDx talk, “Could you live without a smartphone?” The video is well worth your time.

My mobile phone is not actually grafted onto my body, but she had me at the line about using sat-nav even when I know the way. So when, about six months later, I heard she was raising money to publish her book Homo Distractus, I threw a few tenners at her Indiegogo campaign, which got me on the list to receive a copy when it’s published (hard copy, not ebook) and signed up for her #DigitalDetox daily challenge for the month of January.

Through that, each day this month I get a link to a video with an idea of one thing to do that will help break people’s addiction to their devices, with a glimpse at the science behind that suggestion. So far, they’ve included things like make room for boredom (whenever you’re feeling bored, don’t reach for something to entertain yourself; just step into it, bruh), incorporate physical breaks into the day, get into nature and cut out online multitasking (by only having one application or browser tab open at a time).

That last one stopped me in my tracks, because at any given time on my work computer I’ve got two browsers and three windows (with a minimum of three, four and four tabs, respectively), and Outlook, Excel and Word open, so I can hop from one thing to another. And, in fairness, my work requires that I very frequent web research for the documents I write, so it would be cumbersome indeed for me to close things down and have to wait to reopen each one before diving into the work. That would detrain my line of thought by an order of magnitude over my current focus level, so I think I’m going to have to pass this one over.

However, this is the one that I want to shoot into the sky with fireworks, and tattoo on some people’s foreheads:

Way, way too many people are so eager to slap something up on Facebook and Twitter before they even know what the hell the content is—just so they can be first. (Whether or not they actually are.) They’re utterly mindless and they clutter my timeline with crap, so they deserve a permanent time-out from all social media, no doubt about it.

But I’ve got an addendum to Anastasia’s suggestion: people who reply or comment on a post, when they clearly have not read either the posting (beyond the headline) or the material it links to, should skip the time-out and slide straight to hell, with their Windows XP desktop computer shoved up their butt. (As an aside, it's been my observation that the people who do this are more likely than not to be asses in other areas, including being the hero of every story they tell, and being self-anointed experts in every subject that arises in a discussion.) For a while I baited one malefactor whose ignorance and ego rendered them oblivious to what was going on, but I got tired, and now I just ignore them.

If they just dried up and blew away, it would certainly make the world a better place, but they seem to have infinite staying power. So ignoring them is my suggestion of the day. Consider it a kind of #nitwitdetox challenge.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Pressing all the right buttons

This came across my Twitter feed, and it was just too good to let pass:

It’s the third tweet that got me.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Out of the gutter

When I went out for my daily complete refilling of my bird feeder (with these cold temperatures, the little guys need to maximize their caloric intake) I noticed this:

You may not think it’s anything to write home about, but I’ve never seen water frozen to the spout of the gutter.

Yes, I’m easily amused.

Yesterday it reached close to 50 degrees, so my anomaly melted. Which I’m perfectly happy about. I’m ready for some weather that doesn’t cut to the bone, even if I have to trade interesting photo ops for it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Let me 'splain...

There was an inclement weather alert yesterday in the District They Call Columbia, warning of freezing rain and the dreaded wintery mix starting mid-afternoon. This caused a good number of people to bail out of work early so they could get home before the onslaught. I was one of the evacuees, because I know I don’t know how to drive in snow or ice, and I also know that most of the people in Virginia don’t know how to drive in it.

Unfortunately, one of my colleagues, who also goes to the end of the Silver Line, caught up with me, and for the entire 50-minute commute I had to listen to him mansplain the company’s organization, product management, artificial intelligence and his shifting role in various tech departments.

This colleague is not what you would call particularly aware—it never occurs to him to ask about what someone else is doing, except as a springboard for him to return the conversation to him. I know this, so I try to limit my interaction with him. When it’s unavoidable I just ask a few questions, nod and say, “Right” a lot.

But yesterday on the Metro, it was just painful. Yap, yap, yap, organization; yap, yap, yap, product management; yap, yap, yap, managing developers. His understanding of the organization is limited; that of product management non-existent (and, surprisingly, his grasp of AI is tenuous); and I don’t really give a toss about him managing developers. (Interesting, though, that they don’t seem to be overjoyed at the prospect, and it doesn’t seem to occur to him to make any moves to remediate that situation.)

I’ve been particularly disinclined to listen to his claptrap about product management since the time he told me, “We don’t need product management on [communication and collaboration platform that is God-awful precisely because there was no product manager involved in it at any point in its conception, design, building or maintenance] because we’ve got a project manager, a UX designer and I’m the technical director.”

But all the way home yesterday, he expatiated on stuff he knows nothing about, completely confident that I’d have nothing at all to add. It's occasions like these that prove the Theory of Relativity, because that 50 minutes felt like a day and a half.

This reminded me of someone I used to know, a Navy photographer and videographer. I learned a lot from about photography, and I really valued his expertise. But he just could not stick the idea that I, too, might have some understanding of things on my own account. Very often I’d turn around to find him cutting down something I’d said, and explaining how I must be wrong.

For example: I was telling him once about staying at the Rittenhouse Hotel, in Philadelphia, a luxury property by anyone’s standards. And I marveled that it cost $265 a night (which 20 years ago was big bucks). He shook his head and said I couldn’t possibly have paid that much because—and he pointed to the rate notice on the inside door of his Best Western room—“It says this much, but that’s not what I’m paying.”

Great non sequitur, dude, but I think I know what charge appeared on my credit card bill.

Then, he was going to come out to visit me when I lived in Oakton, and I sent him directions. (This was before the Internet, and before mobile phones; primitive, I know.) I told him to go out I-66, exit at Nutley, and follow directions to my place off Jermantown. He told me, “I think you’re wrong. My map doesn’t show I-66 going out that far.”

Dude—your map is from 15 years before the 90s; I-66 has been extended since then. How ‘bout you give me credit for knowing how to get home?

And one more: I told him where I lived in Reston, and that I used to walk around the edge of the golf course. He insisted that I couldn’t live there and walk around the golf course because the golf course was on the other side of the Toll Road.

Right—I regularly hallucinate, don’t I? It couldn’t possibly be that there are two golf courses in this town, and that I actually do know where I’m walking, could it?

That was the point at which I just quit talking with him.

I don’t know what it is about men’s egos, and why they’re so heavily invested in plumping them up, at the expense of their credibility, their dignity and their chances of making the kind of impression I’m guessing they’re hoping for. But I wish we’d get past this lemme-‘splain-that-to-you-little-lady condescending shite—especially when you’re talking out your ass—because I find that as I grow older I just don’t have the bandwidth for putting up with it.

And I hope to God I don’t end up in a Metro car with my colleague again, because I might be tempted to throw myself under the train. Or him.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Gratitude Monday: friendship...and food

Some years ago I wrote about my friend Chris and the many ways knowing her has enriched my life. While I was back on the West Coast, I only saw Chris a couple of times when she came out to visit family in the East Bay. On one memorable occasion, we met with our mutual friend Amy for lunch in Danville.

Since my return to The District They Call Columbia, we weren’t able to get together in person until I moved out to the Greater Reston-Herndon Metroplex. A couple of months ago she came by and we discussed garden possibilities. (Sadly, it seems probable that—even with the southern exposure—my back yard doesn’t get enough sun to grow tomatoes, which is a massive bummer.)

And we started out 2018 on Saturday by catching up on things and me giving her a tutorial in pie pastry. Then we went out to dinner at a Turkish place. (That choice was an homage to Amy, who I suspect factored into her decisions to stop by my place in the South Bay the fact that it was next to an Afghan restaurant.) It was so lovely to go to a place I’ve had my eye on with a good friend—especially one who, like Amy, really enjoys trying new foods.

(The Turkish food was gorgeous. But there are no photos, because we ate it before I thought about taking any.)

We’ve made a kind of resolution to not let so much time elapse between get-togethers. For one thing, I have a garden to plan, and for another, we need to find an Indian restaurant. Plus—I should check on her pie-making efforts. I’m grateful for all these things, and for a friendship that goes back more than 20 years.

Friday, January 5, 2018

No hot time in the old town

As I mentioned yesterday, this area is in the throes of really cold weather. If you want a precise measurement, it’s bloody colder than a landlord’s heart, which scares those of us who rely on Metro to get to and from work.

Especially when snow enters into it, as it did overnight into yesterday morning. Whenever there’s anything less than perfect weather, Metro becomes a crapshoot. Snow moves it to a whole new level.

School districts in the vicinity of The District They Call Columbia shut down for the day (which means supermarket shelves in the area were denuded of milk, bread and disposable diapers) and the federal government was on two-hour delay with liberal “unscheduled leave” and teleworking.

My mile-and-a-half drive to the Metro station was a little dodgy at 0445, but I noticed that highways were clear and plenty of traffic was moving at speed along both the Dulles Access Road and I-66.

However: Metro.

My car, as you can see, had drifts of snow from the doors being open for at least five minutes before departure:

And there was no heat on.

You cannot believe how cold the 40-minute ride is when there’s no heat and the outside temperature is around 25°F.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Forewarned is forearmed

As you might be aware, the eastern part of North America is experiencing positively Arctic weather, which we’re told will hang around for several days.

So you can expect me to be on the lookout for silliness.


P.S. From the Twitter thread, apparently the poster logged the danger, but went out for the food anyhow.