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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

[travelogue] Brain full. Must get new brain...

OK. I reached overload today. This happens sometimes. The genius of yesterday is replaced with today's dullard. In the first two days I've taken over 20 pages of detailed notes about a hugely complex process. This is really one for the recordbooks. I can't go into it however, so you'll just have to use your imagination. Suffice it to say that Bob and I have a lot to analyze and sort through to make some recommendations, although what we figured out last night still stands; just with some complications. Such is the life of the solution architect.

I was dreaming about something to do with dolphins when I woke up this morning. Once again I slept strangely. I opted for a little more rest instead of working out, figuring I'd work out after work today. We had a gruelling 8+ hour day of data collection. All good stuff, but just a ton to sort through. I cut my lip on a sharp plastic spoon during lunch.

After work, the client took us to a really cool restaurant/bar called Anton's. It was in an old log cabin that had several additions. We sat in the screened-in patio upstairs, overlooking the Sauk river. The river was filled with geese, who honked and swam about all evening long. I had tilapia, a local beer, a cesar salad, and the largest popover I've ever seen. I don't even know what a popover is, but it was easily the size of my head. Fortunately, like my head, it was mostly filled with air. But, the quiet atompshere and softly flowing river helped me relax and gain a sense of balance again.

I came back and worked for a while; answered a emails from Mark, my sales minion on the lateness of the DTD I am *cough* working on. At 9pm, Bob and I met for about an hour to talk strategery and planning and all that nonsense. He gave me some good tips on extracting data from SQL to create the data model for the XML, and that gave me some good insight into how the XSLT has to be made so it can facilitate table joins and stuff like that. Just nod if you don't know what I am talking about.

Now I am catching up on emails that came in while I was out, and plotting my day tomorrow. We are ahead of schedule on our agenda, so we are likely returning home on Wednesday evening instead of Thursday mid-day. This will be good.

So, catcha layter, okayy? You betcha. Have a good niyt!

Monday, August 18, 2008

[travelogue] The road, unravelled

As expected, all my jitters went away today. It was a really good day. Our client was very honest and direct about the information they provided us. This location has employees that are retained for a very long time and it shows in the demeanor. It's a welcome change to talk about saving money through process, re-engineering, and data control rather than indescriminate slashing of dollars demanded by sweaty, wide-eyed executives fearful for their jobs. They were very relaxed, very clear, detailed, knowledgable, and great to work with.

After one day, I already had some broad strokes on what to fix, some areas where we can help, and a general improvement model that is focused on creating content once and distributing it many times. I've been doing this lately - after part of the morning I am able to see a conceptual model of how this could be better, rather than needing many days. The extra days help fill in the details and give me time to work on the solution model (pardon my jargon). Bob and I talked about my ideas at dinner and it's what we're going to use as a template for the next two days as we delve deeper into the processes here. We have some good questions to ask tomorrow, based on this approach. I still think it's weird that I have ideas and concepts that no one has thought of before. Surely they have, right? Who made me this thoughtful? Why am I figuring out things that big-ass corporations can't? If you know the reasons, let me know.

It's tough to write about work and not write about it at the same time. A lot was accomplished today, and my abstract analysis is making me feel more and more confident each time it engages well. And today it did very well.

So, at mom's request I need to talk about food and other things. To start with, I slept badly, which I always do in general but particularly so the night before an engagement. I get nervous that I'll wake up late. So, after going to bed at 11pm, I woke up at 3am, then 4am, then 5am, then finally got up at 6am. Went to workout in the little gym here - 30 minutes on the treadmill while CNN spouted its usual nonsense. They need to change their slogan "news you can trust" to "free bullshit".

I had a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, and orange juice. Light. I spent the day in boardrooms and small workrooms. Saw a press shop which brought back fond memories of my days at Minuteman Press, although this one was considerably bigger. Lunch was boxed - sandwich, chips, cookie. I had turkey deluxe. This is in no way meaningful.

After meetings, I went back to the hotel room to cool off (one of the work rooms was toasty) and promptly got too chilly. The Holiday Inn here provides an enviable AC unit in this tiny room and the controls are not subtle: "off" or "absolute zero". The blankets are warm, however. I worked for a while on a DTD (document type definition - that helps, right?) I need to finish by Wednesday. I didn't have all the tools I needed however, so I'm going to have to resort to writing it from an SQL schema script dump. Yay for me. I'll do that tomorrow when my fingers aren't numb.

This room has some weird noises. The tiny fridge makes a drippy gurgling digestive sound at frequent intervals, followed by a sudden louder knock every now and then. Also, the wall ticks. I don't know how else to describe it. It's like the wall by the bed is constantly settling so there's some kind of rattling or clicking. But, the CPAP device drowns out everything else, so when I slept last night, I slept well with good dreams.

Bob and I met up for dinner at 8pm and we talked over my theories and our stories about publishing and technology and jazz and things. We sat outside and a enjoyed the duck pond next to our table. A duck came up to my feet and begged for bread. We ate at Granite City Food & Brewery. This place makes its own beer varietals. I had an India Pale Ale that was very good. I broke from my generally healthy diet and had a BBQ bacon burger with shredded cheddar cheeze. Let me rephrase that - I had a shredded cheddar cheese burger with some meat and BBQ sauce. Srsly, I took off 2/3 of the cheese because it was past obscene and fell somewhere into arterial plaque disgusting. I didn't even finish it. But naturally it was good because it was bad for me. The best part was the berry cobbler with ice cream and whipped cream for dessert, which Bob and I shared. It's 1/4 of a pie, and is too much for one human to consume without their pancreas exploding. I had coffee, and this is in every way meaningful.

Our cheery waitress with the midwest accent announced she was "oot for the night, gentlemen" and bounced away with the check. We walked back across the highway and here I sit, writing non-creative blog copy. Publishing is everywhere. Fear it.

So I'm headed to bed shortly, to catch up on sleep and to hopefully not dream of XML and content management systems. I need a break every now and then. Off to read my trashy sci-fi novel. See you tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

[travelogue] St. Cloud

And so I go... to Minnesota. Am I always this pensive before meetings? I was grouchy the last day or two and I don't really know why. It seems like I should know the reasons for my own grouchiness, but I guess sometimes it escapes me. Nevertheless, I'm here now. The flight to Minneapolis was uneventful and I sat next to a young woman rather than a huge hairy man, so bonus points.

Bob met me at the gate and we drove about an hour to St. Cloud. It's about 1 hour NW of Minneapolis, and is a nice pastoral drive, not unlike driving in Iowa or Wisconsin. I was amused to note that this morning I drove on I-35 to get to the airport and then passed it again on the way to St. Cloud, fortunately bypassing rapidly the 2000+ miles in between the two points I saw. 35 is a long north/south road.

So, I've settled into the hotel and Bob and I are going to go use our free drink tickets and then get some food. I last ate around 12:30 so I'm hungry (it's 7:35pm). Not much else to say. I know you are all biting your fingernails right now. Calm down.

This trip kicks off at least 2 more trips in September (Boston, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania) and maybe a third one in there too. October will find me in San Antonio for vacation, and we might go somewhere else for vacation also. Dawn and I have not had a single day of vacation yet this year. So, we're kind of due. Work work work. More soon.

P.S. Subscribe to my blog via email using the subscription form to the right... that way you can get notified via email when I post. I probably won't send individual emails as much anymore. Yes, it's laziness.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

It's that time of year again

There's a special point in time, somewhere between official summer and official fall, where something in me shifts.

Some years I notice this shift when I step out the door on my way to the office and somehow the world looks just the same yet entirely different. Maybe it's a couple of degrees cooler (although in Texas, a cold-front this summer means it's 99 F outside). Maybe the wind is from a different direction. Maybe the earth shifted in its axis or interrupted its orbit because of solar mascons.

This year, I started buying books. And looking up scholastic career paths on the web. I observed this behavior, so different from my usual relentless playing of World of Warcraft, with an air of curiosity and tried to wait it out. I tend to be good at starting things of new interest, but not continuing on with them unless they take on some significance.

So this year, something is stepping up. I found myself looking at the SMU (Dallas campus of course) school of Engineering. I wandered into Borders and wandered over to the math and statistic aisle. I purchased a great design book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte. (I also purchased two science fiction books, naturally). I discovered, almost by accident, that I was reading an "Algebra for Dummies" book in the store and considering it might not be so tough.

Am I thinking of an engineering degree? Why did I purchase a solar power educational kit recently? Am I going to start mucking around with electricity and rocket fuels next? Mythbusters the other night was about using meat as a fuel source in a rocket. Fascinating!!

To steal the best phrase from my friend Patricia... "here we grow again." It's that time of year. I am so the opposite of everyone else. Most people get excited by Spring; I get excited by Fall. I look forward to the cooling air, the different light as Earth's orbit swings away from the sun, the rush toward winter and crisp clarity.

It's the fall where I pick up hobbies and interests and new things. What's on my plate for hobbies this fall?
-- Piano lessons, self taught
-- Finally really hunkering down with genealogy
-- Learning at least one level of a new language: French or Spanish
-- Um, engineering degree start???
-- More space madness - hopefully to see another shuttle launch if I can wing it
-- Learning about solar power and building solar-powered mobile things/gadgets/toys
-- Tapering off WoW? Although, the expansion comes out sometime this year. hmmm

In addition to this is the usual work related stuff and travel. At the moment I know of:
-- Minnesota, late August
-- Boston, early September
-- Pennsylvania, mid-September

So that's it for now. Gotta go build some process diagrams. And live in the new universe I've created for myself recently. Have fun!