things at work

Things at work have been a little rough lately. I don’t mean “getting so blind drunk that I wake up three days later in a ‘no tell’ motel in Tijuana with a strange tattoo” kind of rough. No, I simply mean that work is more annoying than it was for me for many years. It is also taking me outside of my comfort zone.

Work is more annoying in part because many of the other people I’ve worked with for a long time are moving on. Management changes in our division of Company O. are giving people good reason to seek different pastures. It’s not necessarily because these changes are bad; it’s just that people that its an opportunity to do something else after working on the same thing for about four years. So, the “old gang” at work is largely packing up and moving on… and I, as I did more than once in grad school, seem to be staying behind to pick up the pieces.

That picking up of pieces of course means more opportunities for me… which is what is taking me outside of my comfort zone. My new manager since last October seems like basically a decent sort of fellow, with some good management skills. When I hear about the managers that other people are now working for, I think I managed to do fairly well. He’s looking to me to be his senior technical lead as other people leave. That’s putting me in different kinds of situations that I am used to… political situations mostly. I find that am being called upon to deal with people on a more diplomatic level, and this is bumping up against some of my basic personal tendencies.

I am not, for example, the most political of beings. One of the things that I like about science and engineering is that there is a logical basis for a lot of work that exists outside of the purely personal or political. One can argue about the nature of results or how they were obtained, yes, but results speak for themselves once an experiment or test is properly constructed. I therefore prefer the technical work part of what I do over the part that is more human interplay.

It’s not that I am bad at the “human part”. As you can see, I write fairly well and I can express myself. I have a fairly good presentation style. I clean up well.

No… I think that what I often lack in a in day-to-day conversational style is self awareness and finesse. I am not always able to step back and provide context for what I do and why I am doing it at a moments notice. I tend speak a little too often when I should be listening. I don’t always say things in a way that is sensitive to other people’s feelings as I could be. I talk loudly when I am excited. I sometimes don’t share information about what I am doing and why appropriately. I’ve been a little sloppy in experimental work lately. These are all little things in matter of degree, but they are piling up.

I want to grow. I want to be better. Fixing this is going to be hard. It’s going to force a change in habits. Can I learn to be more of the person that my boss and (by extension) Company O. needs me to be? I hope so.


tales from the Great Northwest

When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were having all kinds of mechanical difficulties… and mentioned that they had just returned from the Great Northwest.

Well, I suppose that tales from that trip must be told, and told now. The reason for our trip was a wedding. One of Mrs. Geek’s second cousins was the groom in question, as a matter of fact. The wedding of a second cousin (who you haven’t seen since God knows when) is a bit of flimsey excuse for travel… but I had not visited the Great Northwest before last week and had only heard good things. Plus, there were a whole raft of relatives who were unable to come to our wedding last year. This was my chance to meet even more them… especially since they were quite fun.

The wedding itself was at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon, with the rehearsal dinner and the reception at the groom’s parents’ house. This dwelling shall henceforth be known as The Shack By The Beach (TSBTB). TSBTB is… well how to describe it? Mrs. Geek’s Stepmom said “all your relatives need to know is that it is 7000 square feet and there are clothing racks in the closets that spin like the ones at the dry cleaners.” I think that description goes far. The only thing I would add is that the entry way is a Great Room with 40+ foot ceilings and walls of glass (some of it etched) on two sides.

Both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding day were quite fun. We brought excellent weather with us — sunny, warm, and clear. There were a few clouds when we arrived on Friday, but our weather mojo banished them by Saturday noon. Good food and booze flowed abundantly. The ceremony was in a Catholic high school chapel — the groom’s alma mater — where the couple was married by the groom’s uncle, the Jesuit. Mrs. Geek and I were pleased that we were seated at a table with her Dad and two of his siblings, plus the widower of a third sibling (plus assorted spouses). Everyone got along well — which hasn’t always been the case, let me tell you!!

Sunday involved more meeting and mingling with various family members. There was a family Mass in the TSBTB great room, the Jesuit celebrating, followed by brunch. After that, we headed over to an afternoon BBQ with another branch (of the oh-so-many) of the family tree. From there we traveled about 90 minutes north to have dinner with one of my Mom’s first cousins, R. and his wife T. R. lost touch with the family for a good 25-30 years — my Mom hadn’t seen him since sometime in the Watergate years. He’s very interested in making up for lost time though, and we had a very pleasant evening with them.

Monday involved looking at houses for sale. No, Mrs. Geek and I haven’t suddenly decided to pull up stakes and head to the Great Northwest. We are not uninterested in what other areas might have to offer though. One of Mrs. Geek’s relations is a realtor and we availed ourselves of the opportunity to see what a different real estate market looked like. We saw four houses that had been on the market for a while, all early 20th Century with at least 3 bedrooms in the $350-400K range in one of the most desirable nearby neighborhoods. While none of them were real gems, we were assured that much more interesting homes do regularly pop up on the market for comparable prices… and quickly sell within days. I’ll say this: it was VERY refreshing to see homes of decent size and good location that we could realistically afford. VERY nice.

Tuesday was devoted to various tourist-y pursuits… followed by a night flight home.

In all, I think it was a very successful trip… and a nice break from the daily grind. As for what’s happening at Company O. these days, that’s another story entirely and will be discussed next. Tune in next time! Same Bat time, same Bat channel!

mechanical mayhem

Ok, I’ve been a lousy diarist for the last two weeks. Best to just accept that mistakes happen and move on with life. Deep breath, people. Inhale. Exhale. I’ll try not to let it happen again for a while.

So what’s been happening for the last two weeks? Well, I spent the first week interacting poorly with all kinds of devices. First, part of my work here at Company O. involves running these large, 48 hour tests using groups of a computers in a computer lab over the weekend. Actually, it is “should involve”, not “involve”. The tests never actually ran over the weekend prior to the weekend of July 2-3 for reasons that are not completely clear right now. They ran over that weekend, though — because I changed the dates on the clocks of those machines to think that it was actually July 5.

This was a good step forward that was followed by two steps back. It seems that certain software running on some of the machines is very sensitive about clock changes (for licensing reasons.) When I returned the clocks to the correct date on July 6, that software pitched a MAJOR fit that kept me from collecting any additional data for the rest of the week. It took a couple calls to software tech support plus some fiddling with license keys to get everything working again.

Next, I came into conflict with corporate security at Company O. We just completed an annual “spring cleaning” of our machine rooms around here. This involves taking old hardware that is no longer really useful to Company O. out of the machine rooms where it ran for years, so Company O. can re-furbish it or throw it out. Needless to say, a lot of machines made it to these disposal carts on each floor of our building… and my colleagues and I engaged in a lot of “dumpster diving” to get free computer hardware. Mrs. Geek’s school is in need of a new web server and I thought one of the cast offs (an eight year old Dell server) would fill that role rather nicely. The whole idea went according to plan until I tried to get the computer past security. They wouldn’t let me take it out of the building without permission of my manager. I see why… but I’m not sure I want to go to the trouble to explain all this to him.

I also had trouble with my first eBay purchase. My Onkyo tape deck arrived in one piece and on time, but did not work when I removed it from its box. Great, I thought… $70 down the tubes. Fortunately, the seller was a real stand-up guy. He thought he was selling me a working deck and quickly agreed to refund me $30 for my trouble. I was able to use that money to purchase another, working tape deck of the same make and model for $12.50 on eBay and a service manual for both decks from a web site in Russia. Turns out my first deck has a blown power supply that (hopefully) can be fixed with two transistors and a capacitor. I knew my college degree in Electrical Engineering would come in handy eventually.

Finally, I took a step into the 21st Century recently by getting a cell phone. I know, I know… there are those of you crying “you didn’t get a cell phone until last week?!?! how did you survive???” Part of my reticence where cell phones was concerned stems from how I saw friends using cell phones back in the late 90’s. In those days, my friends got cell phones from their employers, start up companies mostly, who absolutely, positively wanted to reach my friends whenever and wherever they wished. After the agony of finishing a Ph.D. dissertation, being “on call” for an employer was pretty much the last thing I wanted in the world. Oh yes, that and I was just lazy about it. Really lazy.Given the mechanical mayhem I encountered in the earlier week, I was a little gunshy about introducing a new piece of technology into my life… but it actually worked out well. I got a nice little LG-PM325 phone. It’s cool.

There is more to tell, mostly about a trip to the Great Northwest that I just returned from last night. Those tales will have to wait, however. Until then.


I wish to propose to insert a new word into the English lexicon:

celebronuptiophobia — n. the fear of marriages between two people with high mass media profile

Why? I think we need it. With the arrival of “reality TV”, I think that the traditional barrier between the image and the reality of the lives of famous people is starting to break down in some seriously scary ways. There will be a backlash, and it won’t be pretty. I think that celebronuptiophobia is only one of those ways… and we better start naming these things now.

To prove this point, I think we need only look at the media obsession with the couple of the moment: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (“the TomKat”). I can’t seem to turn around these days without hearing something about these two. Print. Television. Internet. It’s all TomKat, all, nearly all the time. I find that Mrs. Geek and I talk about them with each other, and then we share our observations with friends. It is impossible to escape the nascent cult of personality surrounding these two.

I already feel that part of my brain is starting to rebel and say “to hell with it”. I feel that if Katie Holmes wants to marry a man who seems to choose a new wife who is at least 10 years younger than his last wife, great! If she wants to do it while grabbing two tin cans attached to a pastel-colored ohm-meter in the name self improvement, even better!

Oops… did I really say that out loud? I guess so.

freedom mcnuggets

It’s been a while since I posted any pictures of my culinary experiments. According to the venerable Chang and Kutscher volume An Encyclopedia of Chinese Food and Cooking, the Chinese call this tien swan gee jiu(sweet and sour chicken). Since this is Independance Day, I’ll just call it Chicken McNuggets with sweet’n’sour sauce.

The sauce itself was rather interesting. I made it from scratch. It’s a concoction of vinegar, sugar, water, soy sauce, garlic powder, soup stock and the key ingredient, sub gum ginger. A little research on the Internet revealed that sub gum ginger is otherwise known as pickled ginger. I was able to find some Thai pickled ginger at an Asian supermarket this morning. I have to say that this particular sweet and sour sauce is actually rather subtle… not strongly fruity, like so many I’ve had. The ginger adds sort of a fruity pungency, that taken with the vinegar, sugar and some organic chicken stock makes for a very different sort of flavor.

I was running low on peanut oil, so I had to use common canola oil instead. I think that lent a certain basic flavor more reminiscent of fish’n’chips rather than Chinese cuisine. It was certainly very edible anyway though.

an odd dream

Ahh… the warm, lazy days of summer. It’s a beautiful weekend here at the Geek household — warm, clear, sunny. It’s a perfect kind of weekend to kick back with a half gallon jug of Odwalla Summertime Lime. I like to call this stuff “the fruit juice equivalent of crack”, not that I know much about crack cocaine mind you. I can drink most of a jug without even thinking about it. It’s a shame that it’s not very nutritious; lime juice, water, and evaporated sugar cane juice can only provide so much beyond calories.

I’m going through one of my dreamful periods again; I think that the lack of 5:30am wakeup call is restoring some balance to sleep schedule. Anyway… I had two dreams this morning. The first was this very colorful dream in which I was in grad school once more. I was trying to track down a hapless undergraduate who was trying to steal an oscilloscope out of an engineering lab that I needed to use. That the oscilloscope looked suspiciously like the tape deck I ordered off of e-Bay earlier this week… is that a coincidence? I think not.

After that, I had a very short, very odd dream… which is what I really want to write about. I lay awake for a few minutes after the first dream, rolling around and finding a comfortable position. When I closed my eyes, I suddenly found myself looking at what I can only describe as a montage of smoky “cartoon silouhettes” — as if I was seeing groups of moving black and white cutouts taken from classic MGM, Disney, and Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1940’s and 50’s. It had a rather Fantasia-like quality. There was no sound, and I couldn’t distinctly recognize any of the shapes as characters like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Droopy, but the style was very similar. I recall thinking “wow… this is weird” and soon opened my eyes again.

I suppose the dream was odd because I usually dream in color. It also could be because it seemed like I had just closed my eyes and did not recall falling asleep. At the same time, some part of my brain did seem to be very awake and aware of the situation. The dream itself had no meaning… or seemed to have no meaning. It had a rather prescient quality; as if I was able to close my eyes and pick out shapes of the smokey swirls that played before my eyes. The variety and artistic appeal of those swirls was very interesting.

going back to analog

Once upon a time, I was a tape fiend… not a vinyl fiend, but a tape fiend. Yes, I am one of the Walkman generation. I did not bother to buy large black disks with expansive cover art and lyrics in the sleeve. That was for sissies. I bought cassette tapes… where liner notes saying who exactly played on the tape were often missing, much less detailed cover art or song lyrics. I did this for about 5 years… until I discovered that they stretch and wear, and wow and flutter. After March 1989, I was and remain a CD man.

Yet, those tape years were important years for me. Those were my high school years… when my musical tastes developed and came into their own. There were experiments, not always successful, in seeing what combinations of sounds my ears could take. Those tapes were also a way to try to fit in with other people and belong… because we liked the same bands, man.

A lot of those tapes eventually got purchased, sometimes more than once, as reissues on compact disc. Most of the Yes catalog. The Genesis catalog. The Led Zepplin studio recordings (I still don’t own a copy of The Song Remains The Same.) Much of the Sting catalog. The Pink Floyd albums from the 70’s. These are old friends that I immediately felt demanded the clarity of CD… not to mention the extensive liner notes.

Some tapes didn’t make the transition, and I’ve been thinking about them lately. Some of the 80’s Steve Winwood catalog, plus the odd Traffic album. That copy of ‘The Way It Is’ by Bruce Hornsby and the Range that I think actually belonged to my sister. Odd little bands of the moment like Bourgeois Tagg and Level 42 (their first, eponymous album… that I’m sure only 5 people still have.) Bootlegs, like that copy of “Led Zepplin, Tour Over Europe ’80” — made just months before John Bonham died — and that taped radio concert of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe. There is ‘Speak English Or Die’ by the Stormtroopers Of Death. Three Black Sabbath albums (the early Ozzy stuff), two Lynyrd Skynyrd albums, and the first two Danzig albums. There is a solo album by Daryl Hall, and a ‘cassingle’ by a band called ‘The Scream’, whose lead singer (John Corabi) went on to replace Vince Neil for a while in Motley Crue. There is that copy of ‘Slaves and Masters’ by Deep Purple that I won as a door prize when I went to see Steppenwolf (featuring John Kay) in a bar. There is the London Symphony Orchestra playing Genesis tunes with Ian Anderson and Steve Hackett. There is that tape I made with ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ by NiN on one size, and the soundtrack to Twin Peaks on the other.Finally, there are a lot of mix tapes made by friends… tapes where I first heard Ministry, Foetus, Bauhaus, Voivod, Helmet, the Lemonheads… as well as tapes that keep all sorts of 80’s bands alive.

Technology to listen to this haphazard collection has been lacking. The tape decks on my venerable Fisher PH463 boombox have seen better days, and as I discovered this week, no longer function (new drive belts are required.) The Hitachi D-W400 tape deck in the stereo Mrs. Geek and I inherited from her parents’ house is older than my boombox, and probably wasn’t quite that good to begin with. Any Walkmans I still own are sitting in a drawer at my parents’ house in the Land Of My Birth. So, tapes either can’t be played or sound pretty lousy.

I finally decided to do something about this state of affairs this week. I gave up my e-Bay virginity (yes… I somehow never bought anything on e-Bay before this week) and got a tape deck. A rather nice single bay, 3 head, 3 motor Onkyo tape deck from the late 80’s… which is, I discover, when they still made great tape decks. All this, for about $70.

It should arrive next week. Then we shall see… if all this analog nostalgia is what its cracked up to be.