28 October 2009

Stress and the City

There's lots to say; but, I'm so deeply behind at work that there isn't the time or energy to put thoughts to keyboard and make a post. Suffice it to say that it sucks royally to work at a company that isn't "too big to fail." If I had made mistakes of the relative magnitude that the banksters have made, me and my whole team would be on the streets looking for work. Of course, instead Goldman Sachs and others are making money hand-over-fist by leveraging the tax payer's dollars.

On the home front, we finished H1N1 vaccines for the girls today. It was a really long line and Santa Clara county was down to just a few shots left. The H1N1 vaccines went really quickly. We had to queue up in a very long line out the door of the clinic. Already the clinic was restricting H1N1 vaccines to just high risk individuals, which meant the girls could get shots but Hirono and I could not. By the time we reached the nurses, even many high risk individuals were being turned away (such as those who were chronically ill or otherwise more susceptible to the flu but over the age of 24.) Luckily we made it in time before they ran out of vaccines for even the babies.

Also with the girls, their ability to comprehend us continues to amaze me. I've been very careful not to talk about sweets or desserts; but, today I slipped and immediately after dinner asked "What about dessert?" I'm not sure how Leia learned the word 'dessert'; however, she made a bee line directly to the drawer where we keep crackers and the like. She fished through the crackers, found the sweetest cracker that we have (a kabocha/egg cracker from Japan) and promptly brought it to me for distribution. Clever little girl, that one.

21 October 2009


Adobe just spent about $400 of my time trying to file an expense report for $143. The exact details were needed and the forms tool sucked badly (no, our HR didn't use Live Cycle forms - which actually work.) So I had to re-enter the information three times.

19 October 2009

What He Said

Glenn Greenwald says it well.

On top of that, this is a new freedom that is meaningful for me personally. Well done, Mr. Obama.

18 October 2009

Not-Working Work Night

Lots to do for work tonight but I'm just totally unmotivated. I've got about five hours worth of work to complete tonight. I'll probably do about two and head to bed at around 1am. I'm taking tomorrow as a vacation day and will work half-a-day to catch up from tonight. Depending on the hours logged by the end of the week, I may or may not actually file the vacation day.

The weekend has been fun. Spending time with the girls has become one of the most enjoyable pastimes ever. Although the days are taxing, and the nights still too short to get a full night's sleep, I'm very happy with my personal life (work is OK but severely stressful in this economy.) With Hirono's parents returning to Tokyo this past Thursday, we've had to spend the last three days recovering from their presence. The girls had to become adjusted to having only Hirono and me here. The kitchen needed to be rearranged to the way I like it after the interlopers left. And we had the normal chores to do. At the same time we moved the girls to one nap per day, which was very challenging for all four of us.

We went to the nearby uber-playground this weekend. The girls haven't been there for a couple of months. Since that time their own learning horizon has increased considerably, so they found a whole new playground awaiting them on Saturday morning. Both of them really enjoyed the swings this time, as well as the see-saw and the slides. They were frightened of the slide at first; but, after cajoling them into a ride with me holding them from the side, it was love at first slide. Eventually both girls even found their way around a wooden stage to the big kids' slides, where they promptly displayed an absolute physical need to go on the biggest slide possible. We eventually took them up to the littlest "big kids' slide" and held them on our lap as we went down together. They loved this, and it provided a good way to close out the morning before going grocery shopping. Sadly, we didn't bring the camera.

The girls have also developed a joy for shopping. With Alisa in particular, she loves shoe shopping. She points to the shoes she wants to try on and cries whenever we put her own shoes back on to leave the shoe department. Once we found a pair of shoes that fit our needs and her feet, she decided she wanted to parade around the store in them. It was quite fun! Now she started applying that same behavior pattern to clothes. While walking past the clothes section she twice squealed for a particular item that she liked. One of them, a sweater, had her size and she eagerly looked about for a mirror. Of course, she cried when we didn't buy the sweater - not accepting the rationale that we had enough sweaters already. In the toy section they had the most fun, of course. Both of them have a strong attraction to Snow White. Alisa is fond of anything cute and cuddly, such as all the animals in a toy pet store. Leia is more interested in balls and sporty stuff.

On the emotional front I'm quite pleased with the girls' progress. They both enjoy the praise whenever they try to help. Usually they really just get in the way; but, the fact that they are eagerly trying to help brings out our praise nonetheless. They also show lots of affection now. For example, I was dozing off this morning on the bed while the girls played around in the nursery. We sleep Japanese style (futons on the floor), so Leia found it easy to climb up next to me while I drifted off to sleep. She picked up Alisa's blanket and covered me with it, then proceeded to stroke my back trying to comfort me. She's such a sweetheart. Leia will also often bring Alisa's comfort object (a stuffed Miffy toy) to Alisa whenever she see's that Alisa is starting to get upset. She'll also share her food with Alisa regularly, including once giving Alisa the last cookie. Both girls regularly hug each other for fun or comfort. Often they'll bump their heads together when the hug, setting off a raucous wrestling match or game of chase around the first floor of our house.

Lastly, twice this weekend Alisa wanted me to teach her how to play songs on the piano. I'll play a melody she loves and she'll hold out her finger (often correctly on the first key of the melody) and have me use her finger to play the melody again. So far her two favorites are the theme song from Tonari No Totoro and the title song from the same cartoon. She'll also pick up her own recorder and try to play it whenever I play one of these songs on a recorder. She easily gets frustrated by not being able to play the songs herself, so we have to carefully encourage her to continue to learn and grow in this area without becoming bored or overly frustrated.

14 October 2009

This is Where Obama "Earns" His Nobel Prize

Andrew J Bacevich accurately describes my feelings about Obama in general.

The decision in Afghanastin will define his presidency - beyond being the first black president, I believe. He already won the Nobel Peace Prize, and he doesn't have to "earn" it in the sense that many (including myself) reacted when first hearing the news of the award. This is his chance to "earn" the prize in a big way. Shutting down both wars would be the first substantial step toward closing down the military industrial complex. This is also the decision that will determine where is the limit for the Change he promised to bring.

A few days late: John Lennon, Rest In Peace. Thank you for the song that calms Leia at night.

This link (sorry, no embedding) matches the theme of the post more, though. Yoko sent the unique brilliance of John Lennon off into a new direction. Where is our John Lennon today to bring attention to what is at stake?

Local Carnival

We went this week to the local carnival. It was Sunday afternoon and we weren't sure where to go for a walk. Hirono pointed to the obvious, a ferris wheel over the neighbors house.

Actually, it was two and a half blocks away. It just looked that close because it was a big ferris wheel. The local Catholic cathedral was holding its annual benefit parking lot carnival. I'm not one to support the church in any endeavor; but, this one could not be missed!

The spectacle amazed the girls. The pictures mostly came out poorly (with the notable exception of my mother-in-laws' shining face below.) The lighting was just a bit harsh with no greenery around. The priests' garden was the only flora, and that was taken by a stage with the most god awful cover band that ever played. At least there was a ride for the girls. They had a very colorful train for babies. I was mightily embarrassed by the operator chastising me for trying to strap a baby strap around my own waist. Leia was a dare devil and wanted to try the adult rides. Of course, when the train ride started she became scared again. All bravado!

Then she cried when the ride was over because she wanted more.


Not a Good Place to Be

Jetlag hit me again. I was asleep all day. It's 3:30am and I still am not tired.

Yummy Pickles

Since Kona and txrad are so fond of pickles I decided to pick up the best pickles I could find. One of my friends keeps bragging about her mother's cooking, and her colleagues back up the claim. So I took her to task and asked for a couple of her mother's best homemade pickles. She came through with a jar of mango pickles and a jar of lemon pickles; though she warned me that if I didn't eat the lemon pickles she'd kill me on account of her liking them so much herself.

On the way out of the New Dehli (Indira Ghandi) airport the security guards go through a very strict search. When they came across my pickles they were intrigued. It wasn't so much that I had funky food or that I was carrying pickles on board; but, rather, that the lemon pickles came in a pickled garlic jar. He was clearly aware of what they were and so was confused about the jar's label. He opened he jar and smelled the contents. After raising his eyebrows in appreciation of the smell, he closed the lid and put them back in my carryon bag. Then he let me pass.

We landed first in the US via Chicago (O'Hare), which is where I had the worst ever customs experience anywhere in the world - long story for some other time. Anyway, the xray machine for my connecting flight tagged this jar in my luggage. So the guard pulled it out and started questioning me about it. I told him that they were special pickles you couldn't buy in the US. That didn't impress him so I made up a story about how my mother-in-law made them for my wife. The sob story went on about her not being able to get the pickles in the US for years and that I was carrying them back as a special favor. Eventually he called over the shift boss, who had the pickles analyzed. They wiped the jar down with some cloths and ran the cloths through a chemical analyzer. The test gave them nothing, so they decided to bring over the vapor analyzer kit. That's when the guard opened the jar and made a screwed up face like he'd just been rubbed in the face with a skunk butt. Needless to say, they hurried through the vapor analysis as quickly as possible. After still finding nothing the let me through with the pickles. I bid them a nice day and was on my way home still clutching two precious jars of homemade pickles.

Thus far I've only had the chance to try the lemon pickles. They were truly awesome with some flat bread. Soan's mother had a fine showing with these little gems. They're sour and salty with just the right blend of spices to have a heavenly aroma. Its definitely food for the soul, at least for those of us with a taste for the pungent. Oddly enough, Hirono's mother liked them as well. She never likes spicy food and has a delicate stomach; but, she loved these little babies. They are slightly reminiscent of umeboshi, japanese pickled plums, so I guess it isn't too odd that she'd like them.

Kona and txrad, I had originally contemplated shipping these jars over to you after tasting them. Now that I've tried the lemon pickles I'm keeping them. If you want to try these bad boys you'll have to get your lazy butts to the SF Bay Area. Come on over, you'll at least have a home base to stay in for free while exploring the SF environs (I'm about 60 minutes away from SF by car, 90 min by train.) And you'll get to meet two of the most beautiful babies in the world. I promise to keep at least half a jar of each pickle for 6 months from today. After that, they're history.

10 October 2009

The Long and Winding Road

I'm feeling super mellow. This was written on the plane home tonight (today, this morning, yesterday, whatever it was.) The airline was so cramped I couldn't open my laptop. So it had to be written by hand.

This past week has been exhausting; but, as I fly home from India I’m filled with renewed vigor and enthusiasm for the coming years. The first stage of the Chocolate Factory is nearly accomplished. We can articulate a vision, show how that vision provides significant return on investment, explain a strategy to reach that vision, and have an action plan in place. Finally, after numerous attempts at selling a project idea, we have a plan that is audacious enough to be funded. Soon we enter the execution phase.

The vision and strategy changed dramatically over time. What started as exasperation over our dysfunctional bureaucracy has turned into a project that can both drive more revenue in its first year than many products we currently offer, and it can break apart this monolithic beast of ~1400 people all striving toward one insane schedule. We tapped into a groundswell of frustration across the business. People from almost every discipline felt similarly. Each had their own view of the problem and their own ideas for a solution. In the end, most are convinced and aligned. Some, primarily in marketing and experience design, seem more hemmed in by their narrow view. (As an aside – the business leadership has brought new blood into marketing that is more aligned. In addition, as experience design starts seeing the specific tasks needed for this project they’re coming around and now trying to partner with us.) All of these disciplines contributed so that now we have a broad-based vision and a five year strategy to achieve that final vision. Most importantly, the path along the way can be “productized” to generate surprisingly large incremental revenue.

This trip to India had many goals, some short term tactical goals and some long term strategic goals. While the tactical goals of ensuring our current raft of products ship on time and with quality were important, it is the strategic goals that were the heart of the journey. After getting input and alignment with business and engineering leaders over the past year, what we really needed to accomplish this week was to sell the vision and strategy to the engineering boots on the ground. I think we nailed it.

After our all-hands presentation on Tuesday I saw the mood and tenor for the team change. They had already been tasked with a lot of the specific steps needed to move forward. Now, however, they understood the context of the tasks. Multiple times different individuals came up to me to express a renewed motivation. They had a greater vision for what we could become. They grasped the logic, the cause and effect relationship leading from their day-to-day work to our ultimate business goal of long term shareholder value. They understood the investment we were making in the people and why. And they were happier, much happier, to be able to apply that context to their role in order to more effectively further our strategy. Visible action took place the remainder of the week, from the engineering director on down through senior engineering management, program management, development and testing. There was anxiety for those who saw that their work or skill set wasn’t a perfect fit. There was excitement for those who saw how much more they could contribute. But mostly there was understanding and reaction.

It’s not that everything was displayed simply and beautifully for a glorious new future. Almost everyone , including me, showed a healthy dose of skepticism. What lays before us is a daunting set of tasks. Even when we’ve fully accomplished our goals our work won’t be any easier. The challenges, particularly for the testing teams, will be incredibly hard. We fully expect to stumble occasionally. After we succeed in breaking apart this monolithic CS product process we’ll have the chaos of 150+ teams with much more independence than ever before. It’s frightening just to think about how to coordinate so many people after tearing down the very bureaucracy designed to manage them.

The next steps are to finish the first phase of The Chocolate Factory; sell the ideas to the individual contributors on the US engineering teams and write the next generation document describing the project in detail. Then it’s a simple (hah!) matter of execution. We have lots of challenges to overcome: the ability to succeed at the tasks immediately before us, maintaining funding in a high profit margin company, continuing our commitment through the myriad emergencies that arise, developing the right skill set on the team, my own ability to lead our teams through this upheaval, and – most challenging of all – figuring out how to work with the non-product functions within the company with whom we must partner. It most definitely won’t be easy. But we’re ready, energized and confident.

Beyond Reason

The flight from New Dehli to Chicago was long and tedious. I’m glad its over. What confused me, though was the many Indian men wearing white ten gallon cowboy hats. WTF?

08 October 2009

Ah, Fuck!

The week is nearly over and I'm going home tonight. Although the week has been extremely productive, I'm really glad its almost over. I miss my family something fierce.

This post originally went on for about another page worth of material about what has been accomplished this week; but, the damned online access in the hotel room timed out and I lost all the data. Crap!

07 October 2009

Fat and Happy

Ever since the girls were born I feel a strange sense of disinterest in self reflection. It isn't clear to me why this is so; but, in keeping with a general lack of desire to understand, I have very little interest in discovering why. Much of my life this would have troubled me. There were times when, if not drunk or stoned, I would have labored over discovering why I felt no care over my own motivation. Now, however, I just relax within a cacoon of disinterest and enjoy the sensual, shallow pleasure of food and drink.

Perhaps its fatigue. The girls have surely sapped my strength and energy like no other force before them. Sleep and relaxation are more precious than at any other time in my life. Even last night's five hours of sleep felt luxurious and refreshing compared to the neverending series of sleepless nights and crying babies.

Perhaps its contentment. There is no longer any fire inside, no hunger. I've realized all that I desire: beautiful wife, two gorgeous baby girls, nice house, challenging job, the respect of friends and colleagues. I've travelled the world (indeed, I'm half way around the world - twelve time zones from home - as I type this post.)

Perhaps I'm a jaded old man. There is little in life left to experience. I've seen pain and violence, death and hatred, hopeless poverty and the heights of opulence, passion, fear, debauchery and sin, plumbed the black abyss of my soul. Through it all I've witnessed mankind's ignorance, greed and sloth. I'm uninspired. Fat and happy. I have no compunction, no need, no desire to change. And I'm content to stay this way.

02 October 2009

We Have Ignition

For those following the continuing saga at work, not only is the strategy I'm pushing supported across the organization; but, the first re-org in line with the strategy was announced today. My US team has just more than doubled and we're poised to get this party started. Tomorrow I leave for India to sell the idea to the folks there. If next week in India is a success, then I'd say we have liftoff.

Updated: Nailed it. I'm wasted from multiple 17 hour days, transcontinental flights and high pressure presentations in front of 60+ people. But the critical piece of this week in India is done and done well. There was immediate effect on a number of individuals and excited eagerness for others. Sold. Now its down to a simple (hah!) matter of execution.