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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Michael's










I suppose it is human to complain when service is bad, but forget to praise when it is good. Had our experience with Michael's turned sour I know I would have related the story here, so now I am going to tell you how it did pan out.

As I start this I don't actually know all the details, I will have to wait till Christmas Day to complete the story.

What I do know is that my husband decided to spend an exorbitant amount on my Christmas present this year. I know that because we share everything, all our expenditure is from a joint account. I also know (for the same reason) that what ever he bought required framing. We went to Michael's because their framing department has never let us down before. I browsed through the craft shelves while he did his business at the framing department. The final bill almost doubled the cost of my gift .. apparently.

Two weeks later he went back to pick up the finished items, only one was ready, the second one was waiting for wood to be delivered and would be ready the following week. Next week, another trip to Michael's, I never mind a chance to see what I might pick up for my embroidery and various associated projects. This time it was a short visit. Turns out the wood came in, but the 'item' had gone missing. By now I had already figured out it was a print of some sort, but because it went missing and they offered to replace it, I discovered that it was not just a print, it was a limited edition, vintage print.

I have to mention at this point, that I was a bit worried. Larry and I have very different tastes in decor. He once had an antique shop. Now, what a Texan calls an antique shop and what someone from Europe calls an antique shop are very different beasts. The majority of antique shops in Texas would be classified as junk shops in Dublin. But either way, I don't much like antiques, nor junk. But I do like old prints, particularly I like old photos of Dublin, or Austin, taken at the turn of the century, and most of all I love old western prints and ever more than that I love anything to do with John Wayne. So I was keeping my fingers crossed that if it was vintage (and now I knew it was) - that it would be something to do with the Alamo, or John Wayne.

Back to the missing print. We left Michael's with them promising to search and get back in touch the following day. The following day they called and said they couldn't find the print and they would make compensation if we brought in the receipt, furthermore we would not have to pay for the frames and we could keep the second frame.

The final agreement was - we got one vintage print framed for free, one frame free and $300 to compensate for the lost print. We went back the next weekend with the receipt and brought the empty frame home with us. I planned to create a collage of photos of my children and grandchildren to till it. Two days later we got another call from Lori, the framing department Manager. They had found the missing print and could we bring the frame back and they would put it in for us. Still no charge, but naturally, the $300 compensation was no longer on the table.

Christmas Morning:

The final result is that we will return to Michael's for all our craft and framing needs, we will tell everyone we know about the wonderful service we received and I received two amazing, limited edition, original vintage movie posters, yes, John Wayne movie posters,beautifully framed, at a total cost of approximately $60. And one was The Alamo!

Thank you Larry, and thanks to Lori and Michael's Framing Department!






Monday, December 15, 2014

Pedantic

I do like that word, it sounds exactly like its definition.


pe·dan·tic
pəˈdan(t)ik/
adjective
of or like a pedant.
synonyms:
over scrupulous, scrupulous, precise, exact, perfectionist, punctilious,meticulous, fussy, fastidious, finicky;



I have freely admitted to being somewhat anal, slightly OCD and maybe just a little bit neurotic. All of these 'qualities' are required for my profession - well, perhaps not required, but are definitely assets. Perhaps the world of Quality Assurance is the only place where such otherwise debilitating afflictions are actually valued. But there is a very fine line between being what we QA engineers prefer to call 'detail oriented' and the over the edge version 'pedantic'.

One of the very important qualities a Quality Assurance Engineer needs to have is the ability to be able to call a halt and realize when paying too much attention to detail is actually wasting time and not serving quality. Because, after all, quality, at least in software development, which is the field I am talking about, is getting software to market on time and at the highest possible quality. The object of the exercise is always improving the customer experience. Therefore splitting hairs and wasting time on minor points which do not make a bit of difference to the customer experience is something we have to be able to recognize and let go. Not easy for anyone who is detail oriented, OCD, anal or neurotic, and impossible for those who are pedantic.

So, when considering applicants for a position testing software, how do you establish that they are within that percentage of people who are definitely suffering from neurosis but that does not spill into the pedantic percentile.

I believe there are a number of criteria you can consider.

1. Attitude towards developers, and ourselves as QA. They are not Gods, they are one of us, we are not superior, we are one of them. So, a question  'how would you deal with this scenario' and the scenario being some breakdown in communication between QA and Development,  should establish the candidates inner feelings. Here the developer hero worshipper will be exposed and we should get some insight into how the candidate interacts with development.

It is important that we are peers, all working towards the same end, quality software, quality customer experience, minimum time to deployment. Maximum quality.

2. Simple example of test code that may not be optimal, but is efficient and gets the job done in the least amount of time and effort. Review this code. Here is where the pedantic soul will come to light. They will come up with the most convoluted methods to 'improve' the code. Possibly making it difficult to implement, difficult to maintain and even more difficult to follow, plus taking too much time, something most QA engineers never have enough of.

One of the big differences between developers and test engineers is the fact that while test engineers need to be able to write code to test the software, their code doesn't necessarily have to be highly efficient so long as it achieves the end result and it has to make debugging test failures fast and easy. Developers on the other hand, need to maximize efficiency as well as achieving the correct functionality.

Customers do not have to interact nor depend on test code, just benefit from the results. Developers code is what the customer is ultimately going to skid to the finishing post on, or fall off the mountain as a result of.

A good QA Engineer will attempt to maintain a fine balance between being OCD and overly pedantic, and will always be detail oriented.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Another update on my foot

Two years and nine months ago I had the first surgery on my foot. The main symptom that sent me to the doctor was severe knee pain when climbing stairs and running. The running was the main issue. I need to workout, I have osteoporosis and I need to keep my bones as healthy as possible, but I dislike working out. I dislike it intensely. I get bored. I also dislike taking any form of medication.

I discovered that running is the activity I dislike the least, probably because I can get it over with fast, in fact the faster I run the quicker it is done. I also find it challenging and therefore exhilarating. But the pain in my right knee eventually forced me to give up running. The knee surgeon looked at the x-ray and told me there was nothing wrong with my knee. However, he then caught sight of my right foot and immediately referred me to his colleague - a foot specialist.

it was my right foot - 
looks good now though you can still see the scars
The foot specialist agreed that I needed surgery for a bunion and a hammer toe. Now, I do admit that the hammer toe caused me some pain, in fact even in soft sneakers it hurt most of the time. That surgery took the best part of a year to recover from fully. Oh, I was able to walk and drive without difficulty after about 4 months, but it was a full year before the swelling went down sufficiently to fit into most of my shoes. Before the swelling had completely subsided, I noticed another toe was getting hammered, so I took myself back to my foot surgeon. (see here for photos before and after surgery).

That was November and he agreed it needed to be done but could wait until I was ready - I decided to leave it until after the new year.

In February, 11 months after the first surgery, I went back to him to schedule the surgery but also to get his opinion on yet another toe on the same foot, that was looking a bit hammered. Sure enough he agreed to take care of both toes - actually, the little toe was also heading in the same direction but my little toes are so incredibly small, and set low on the side of my foot, that neither of us considered it to be an issue worth surgery.

March was becoming my annual foot surgery month, however two hammer toes is not nearly as serious an operation as a bunionectomy, so I was back on my feet almost immediately and full recovery took 3 months. I was not impressed to discover that my knee was still as sore as ever. So I paid some attention to my balance and realized that I was putting little or no weight on the inside of the ball of my foot, I assume this was something I had subconsciously done to avoid putting stress on the bunion, and avoid jamming the hammered toe up into the shoe.

For the next 5 months I practiced rolling off the ball of my foot and making sure that my big toes took all of the stress while walking. I did frequent exercises to strengthen the muscles in my legs, and increase the flexibility of my feet. I got a balance ball - and spent a lot of time attempting to balance on one leg on that thing. It was not easy, but it worked wonders, so much so that I still use it regularly.


This week, two years and nine months after the first surgery I am delighted, if somewhat disbelieving, to report that I have finally started running again, well, I say running, what I really mean is jogging. Gentle jogging just for 2 minutes at a time, then 5 minutes walking to verify that the knee is doing OK. Repeat for 30 minutes.  I am really hoping that I will soon be back to my 40 minute run 4 days a week. The other days I plan to work on strengthening my core and improving my balance and stability.

It is never too late!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I have an Apple Mac headache


You know you are getting old when introduction to new technology gives you a headache, actually towards the end of my first day working on an Apple Mac I was feeling almost nauseous.





Don't get me wrong, I am not an applephobe. But I have worked in a Windows world exclusively for the best part of 18 years. Prior to that I did work in UNIX and .. dare I say it without giving away my age entirely, I actually worked with a Wang word processor - (I was very young then) and if you ever worked with a Wang, a MAC would actually appear quite easy, but not after 18 years of Windows.



I never realized how many of the shortcut key strokes I relied on, until I entered the MAC world and then it was just like when I tried to change trains in Paris - without a word of French. (See my book for that unfortunate escapade).


I got my MAC on Wednesday, continued working on my Windows 7 machine through to the weekend, mainly because it was one of those mad dashes to get it done, and mad dashes and a new MAC didn't seem to be compatible. Monday morning I knew it was now or never - no matter what urgency arose, I had to bite the proverbial bullet and make friends with my MAC.

Thank God for Google! And for my office mates, two young developers who both work on MACs and were so patient responding to my cries for help.

It all started when my boss decided that to be more productive I really did need a MAC, for reasons that are not really relevant to this story, but trust me, they were sound. For further (also unnecessary to the story) reasons, I had to travel to Dallas to get my MAC set up - along with one of our developers who was also moving to MAC - incidentally he didn't get a headache - he was already well versed in the ways of the Apple and happy to be moving.


MegaBus pickup point
In the interests of frugality, and not wishing to actually drive myself to Dallas and back in a day, I took advice and booked a bus, MegaBus to be exact up from Austin to Dallas in the morning - unfortunately the MegaBus schedule returning didn't work for us, so it was Greyhound back - however, if you know me, you will know that was very exciting. I had already driven a U-Haul, what was more symbolic of Americana than a Greyhound Bus! So, one way ticks on Megabus up, leaving from the UT campus area at 7.20 with a checkin time of 7.05 required a taxi from the office at 6.30. Return bus was 5.30 p.m. from downtown Dallas, arriving back in Austin at 8.35.

I reserved a yellow cab to pick us up from the office at 6.30 a.m (see my phobia about time here) and when he had not arrived at 6.35 I called. Guess what? they had no record of a reservation but would send a cab immediately. I was silently distraught (at least I think I was silent) until the taxi turned up at 6.55 a.m but you probably won't be surprised if you know my history, to discover we got to the bus exactly on time. The pickup point turned out to be a run down parking lot at the back of a shopping mall, checkin was not an option because all there was there was one security guard and a bunch of assorted people with suitcases and backpacks waiting for the bus. Somehow I imagined a shiny glass booth with an automated checkin, and my traveling companion actually expected a security check.

We arrived in Dallas at 10.30 as advertised, picked up a cab almost immediately and we were at the office by 11 a.m. It took the best part of 30 minutes to get us checked through security but our meeting with IT was for 12 noon, so all was good. One hour later we were in the huge Dallas style mall searching for food. Then back to the office to wait for a cab to bring us to the Greyhound terminal.




It is sufficient to say, I have been there and done that, and I might just travel by Greyhound again if the need arises, but it was definitely not as comfortable as Megabus - and to be fair, Megabus was mega .. it was a double decker bus complete with free wifi and you could reserve seating - for $5 each I reserved seats 1 & 2 on the upper deck at the front of the bus.

What still amazes me is that the taxi cab rides, to and from the office in Austin, and between the bus and the office in Dallas were each more expensive that the bus rides. The entire trip for two including lunch cost slightly over $200.  $60 of that covered both bus fares for both people.

I sure hope that my subconscious forgets the Windows shortcuts quickly. I would really like to enjoy this new MAC experience. And I need to gather some speed to get this work done.


Christmas tree at the Mall in Dallas. Huge Dallas Style!!!



Thursday, November 27, 2014

Now I know why their interest rate is so high!

American Express - one of the first credit cards I got when I arrived in the US. It was essential for me to get a credit card in order to start building my credit history. The AmEx Green card was easy to get because I was working and while it claims to have no spending limit, it was also required that you clear the balance at the end of each monthly billing cycle. Therefore their exposure was only for one month, and as I discovered, until you build up a history with them, they don't honor that 'no credit limit'.

I got my card just before I moved to California from Texas. I was going to be reimbursed for the cost of my relocation once I started work and submitted my claim, but meanwhile my new AmEx Green card took the hit. Sadly, the 4th day of my first week at work my mother passed away, I booked a flight to Dublin due to leave SFO two hours later, and headed to the airport. At the ticket desk I presented my AmEx card only to have it refused based on the amount charged in the first month of the card's life. I spoke with the AmEx agent on the ticket desk's phone and eventually was approved (full story is in my book ).


After that I had no problem with American Express as I paid off my monthly balance for years, eventually gaining Gold and then Platinum level - however the annual fee jumped,, plus they started extending the limit to pay over time for major purchases, such as travel and appliances. They also offered me a Blue card at a much lower rate, and lower annual fee, with a very healthy credit limit.

At that time I was still working on establishing my home in Texas, and recovering from an expensive two years in California (again I refer you to my book for full details) and sadly was trapped in the typical American credit card spiral.



However, the point of this blog is to explain how I discovered why AmEx has such high interest rates - because they do. I am happy to say I finally did get out from under the credit card debt and we now only use our credit cards for major purchases when we know that we can clear the balance immediately. We have a very low interest card from our Credit Union and decided that was all we needed, and we certainly didn't need to be paying annual fees to AmEx for cards we rarely used. So, last month I called and cancelled both my AmEx cards. They explained to me that as long as there was a balance on the card I would receive paper statements (I have been on electronic statements since they were available). Well, fine - I didn't have a balance on either card so that was that.. I thought.

Then I received two letters from AmEx, one for each card, confirming what they had told me on the phone, next day I received two statements, each showing a credit balance - the annual fee refund for what was left of their financial year. Then the following day I received two more letters pointing out that I had a credit balance and would therefore continue to receive statements despite the cards being closed.


I wrote to them and requested a refund check be issued. I received two letters, one for each card, confirming receipt of one letter and advising me that they would issue refund checks. A couple of weeks later I received two letters containing the checks. Finally, last week I received a statement for one of the cards, showing a zero balance on a card that had been cancelled for over a month. I am waiting for the statement on the other zero balance and I sincerely hope that will be the last communication I ever have from AmEx. I can't begin to imagine how much it cost them to generate all that mail, paper, postage, person hours - all for nothing! Why could they not just issue a check once the cards were cancelled and be done with it? Then maybe they could reduce that high annual fee and the high annual interest rate.

I looked on their web site - they now offer no less than 21 different credit cards, mostly in partnership with other businesses, some with various rewards attached, all with very high interest rates, and most with an annual fee. They even have one prepaid 'credit' card, which has no credit check required! Well, why on earth would you expect a credit check if you have to load the card before you can use it. But what most intrigued me about that prepaid card was the $1 monthly fee!





Saturday, November 22, 2014

I might be neurotic, or maybe it is OCD - perhaps both?


I freely admit that I am obsessed with time. Not just being on time. In fact I am almost always early for everything, and if it looks like I might not be early I get very stressed. But I have a real need to know what time it is, all the time.  I have a clock (thanks to my husband) that projects the time on the bedroom ceiling in large red digits, so that when I wake during the night I can instantly know what time it is. We have at least one clock in every room in the house. I feel very uncomfortable if I don't know what the time is, even if I have nothing to do and nowhere to go. So, I do know that I am a little obsessed with time and, after all, that is what the 'O' in OCD stands for (Obsessed not Time).

Then there is the germaphobia I don't believe I have, but I think I almost do (see this blog entry). As I looked back over blog entries I noticed I have alluded to similar topics before, as in this one here. Perhaps I am just a bit obsessed with the possibility of being neurotic?

Today I had to consider that perhaps I am also almost neurotic. What, I hear you ask, made me think that? And naturally I will tell you, as there would be no point in mentioning it here if I was not prepared to expand.

I went to get my nails done today, manicure and pedicure and an eyebrow waxing. The full treatment. No, I don't consider that neurotic behavior, but as Kim (at Millennium Nails in Cedar Park) started on my nails, a married couple came in and asked if they could both have a manicure and pedicure and how long would it take. When they were told it would take about an hour, they said great, because our daughter has a performance in an hour and a half. They sat side by side on the plush pedicure chairs, enjoying the massaging action and reading magazines or accessing email or similar on their phones. The were totally relaxed. I, on the other hand, was quite stressed. An hour and a half 'till their daughter's performance! There wasn't enough time to be sitting there relaxing!

I didn't know where the performance was and didn't care what it was, I just knew they would be late. I kept checking my watch, and the clock on the wall and the progress of their pedicure, mentally trying to figure out if they could possible be ready in time. The wife was done with her pedicure first, smaller feet I suppose, and she moved without any sign of stress to the table for her nails. She didn't even glance at the clock. Finally the husband's feet were done and his manicure began. I consoled myself that he would not be getting his nails painted so it would be faster. But still I kept looking at my watch, then at the clock on the wall, and I so wanted to warn them they would be late, and tell everyone to hurry up! Of course I didn't but I can't begin to tell you how relieved I was when they finally sauntered out of there, exactly an hour after they had arrived.

During that stressful (for me anyway) hour they mentioned that the performance was at the Cedar Park Center - approximately 5 minutes away. But I knew there were at least 4 sets of traffic lights between Millennium Nails and the Center - and traffic was bad on Saturday afternoon, especially as it was raining, and parking was a nightmare at the Center.

My only argument in favor of my claim to sanity is that I was aware that I was being neurotic and I was mildly amused by it. When I got home I searched for tests online - not that I really believe these tests prove anything, but I find them interesting. Let's face it , quizzes are all the rage on social media these days.

I took one test for Neurosis here, and the result was :

My understanding is that the higher the score, the more neurotic you are. I did take the test a second time and it was 70% still too high to be normal.

Then I found a test for OCD here.


I am guessing that was a US test because I got slightly different results (with identical questions) on a UK website here - notice however that the total score was also 12!



Perhaps OCD type behavior is more normal in the UK? I couldn't find a test for the Irish but I am fairly sure if I did, it would prove me to be 100% normal by Irish standards.





Friday, November 21, 2014

Shopping

I absolutely hate shopping. Well, I lie, I hate shops and dealing with sales people. That is why I love shopping online.

Most of all, I hate buying a car. Don't get me wrong, I love cars, I love new cars as is obvious by the number I have owned! But my experience buying them has been varied. Perhaps it is not so much buying the car, as trading in the old one.

I bought three cars in Ireland. all used and in each case I had no trade in. The first I bought from my sister - not an issue. The second was a used Fiat 128 from a dealership, It turned out to be a very reliable car and I drove it to a standstill. It ended it's life as a 'green' house - that is a planter behind our back yard. I grew bell peppers inside and other items out of the trunk of that car and they were amazing. The only other car I bought in Ireland was a used Volvo, who can go wrong with a Volvo? It was a great car. I sold that car to a friend and my only mode of transport for a number of years was a motorbike.

However, when I came to the US and settled in Texas, I discovered that a car was not a luxury, it was absolutely essential if you wanted to work and I did. But I hit that chicken and egg situation. You can't get credit without a credit history, but if you never got credit you don't have a credit history. I was lucky, I had someone who was prepared to go guarantor for me. I picked out a beautiful cherry red Ford Ranger Pickup Truck. I told the salesman that I would be financing it but that I had a guarantor because I had no credit history. He insisted that I should be the second on the loan and my guarantor should be first.  Not only did I not buy his truck, I lost my guarantor who got frightened off by this idea. I do not blame her either.

So I continued to search. I may have mentioned my amazing friend Paul Neumann - I know I have mentioned him in my book Peeling The Onion, well, he introduced me to a Mitsubishi dealership and there I found Debrae. She found me the perfect car, but more important, she bulldozed the finance department in the dealership and secured me the much needed financing - not only did I get my car, I also started building my credit.

I traded that car in, again with Debrae, so I was treated well, and moved up from a program car with 6K miles, to the same model, brand new but had been sitting on the lot for a year, so I got a good deal. It was my first time trading in a car, so I didn't know that I could have negotiated, but I was satisfied with the deal.

Two years later I was ready to move up from a Mitsubishi Mirage to my dream Mustang. Of course I wanted a Cobra, but I was realistic and knew that I would have to delay that dream. I upgraded my Mirage for a Mustang with a very tepid sales experience. Three years later and another Mustang, this time my husband closed the deal. When the time came to trade in for another Mustang, working my way up to the Cobra, the dream dissolved. This purchase was memorable in that it was a nightmare ordeal. Looking back on it I have no idea why I actually bought the car. If it were today, I know I would walk out and go elsewhere. Back then I still had not got a good grasp of how capitalism works, and to this day, I can't haggle - I am not sure why I did this one on my own. I swore that after that my husband would take care of the car purchasing.

I spent what seemed like hours while the salesman ran back and forth between me and some back office, arguing the trade in price. They claimed the car had been repainted due to an accident. I told them not only was it repainted due to a recall on the paint, but their own service department had done the respray job. I did end up buying the car and regret it just because I know I should have walked out. The salesman gave me a bottle of Irish Whisky when the deal closed, but I just felt like hitting him over the head with it. I didn't. But I did learn a valuable lesson. I will never be treated like that again. I will walk out and not go back.

So I will never have my Cobra because I will never go near another Ford Dealership. And now that I have found Joe Ward in the Lexus Dealership in Austin, I no longer care about giving up my dream. I recently purchased my third Lexus from Joe and I have got to tell you it was not just a painless experience, it was fun. There was no pressure, on each occasion I feel we got a very reasonable trade in for the old car and did love my Lexus IS 250s, But this time I got a truly beautiful car, and ES 300 Hybrid! I am so delighted that I finally have a Hybrid - oh and I also got a lovely bottle of Cabernet :) - I like Irish Whisky - but I love red wine! This is going to be the last car I buy, Those words sound sort of familiar - I do believe I said that before, a few times.




Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Repurposing & renovating


Recently Larry pulled a couple of pairs of jeans out of his closet to be thrown, they were not even worth giving to Goodwill as the seat was worn through. Before he threw them out, I rescued strips of denim from the legs. Ideal for samplers when testing out my embroidery designs.



Currently I am working my way through a pair of sheets, but I needed some fabric of a heavier nature to give me some variation. Denim was perfect for that.

The following week I looked at my potholders and bemoaned the fact that I would have to finally throw them away as they were really getting to look ratty. They had proved to be the perfect pot holders for me, I had tried replacing them but as my hands are not very strong (the result of having suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome before it became fashionable), I need pot holders that are not doubling as resistance training. Larry suggested that I could possibly recover them. !!Light Bulb!! (He comes up with some very clever ideas).





So, using the denim saved from his old jeans, an ideal material to recover the back of the pot holders, the working side is silicon and in great condition still. I played around with a few designs and, because I don't go much for the 'twee' theme, I selected to use cartoon type drawings of a hamburger and a hot dog.





The hardest part of this entire task was stitching the finished backing to the potholders, and I would be the first to admit it isn't perfect by any means - but it works for me and I am now on a quest to make, from scratch, some more of these, perhaps for myself, maybe for gifts.

I am hopeful that making them from scratch will be a lot easier. With that in mind I have ordered some silicon pieces. I will let you know how it goes!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Sleep..

.. or lack thereof.

Many of my friends (and you know who you are) suffer from chronic insomnia. My sleeping patterns over the years have changed, naturally, as we get older everything changes, so why not sleep patterns. When my children were babies and growing up I, like all mothers of young children, slept when I could and generally spent the waking hours like a zombie, it is normal and fortunately short lived. Though at the time I felt no one had it as bad as I did. My first child didn't sleep through the night until he was 3 years old, and when I say he didn't sleep through the night, I mean he woke 10 or 12 times each and every night. During those three years I had two more pregnancies and two more babies who also woke at night at least for the first few months, but at least only for normal feeding routines.

As you can imagine, I have little or no patience for people who complain about lack of sleep, even now, or maybe especially now?

I remember my father talking, without any complaint, but purely statement of fact, about how as he aged he slept less.  He woke regularly at 4 a.m. and spent a few hours reading until the rest of the world awoke. He, like most men, happily indulged in what I call the great American 'Nap', though it is not just Americans who enjoy this pass time as my father was Irish, it is much more normal here, in fact it is almost obligatory, at least for men.. or so they say, at least in Texas.. at least in our house.

My sister, a self professing cat person, can survive happily on cat naps. I will be totally antisocial if I nap during the day. No matter how tired I am, I know better than to take a nap, I will regret it, as will all those around me.

I was always a morning person, I love that quiet time when the rest of the inhabitants of my immediate surrounds are fast asleep. I love to be able to think without interruption, without television. I have a hard time with television.  Why do people need to turn that thing on even when they don't intend to watch it? But that is another blog I think...

As I got older, yes, most probably menopause related, I started waking frequently throughout the night, and waking earlier and earlier in the morning. Of course, being a morning person, after a limited attempt at sleep, I got up and enjoyed the morning. I do also feel that time sleeping is time wasted even though I do know we need sleep to survive, I think it is such a waste of life. However for years I thought it was just an age related thing that I slept about 5 hours per night, waking at least 5 or 6 times during those 5 hours. Yes, I got back to sleep almost immediately, so I didn't see any need to complain. A night where I slept 5 hours without remember if I awoke was a very good night indeed.

So, imagine my surprise when suddenly I started sleeping almost 8 hours a night - with maybe only two or three remembered disturbances!? After ten years of the same sleep pattern what could have changed you ask?  Well, that was not a hard question to answer. I refer you immediately to my previous blog regarding change - I finally listened to the Universe and realized that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing. I took life by the proverbials and changed it and here I am sleeping, not like a baby.. well, yes, maybe a bit like a baby because I still wake two or three times a night, and still on rare occasions my restless legs will trouble me, but more often it is my restless mind, but I get back to sleep almost instantly, the good thing is that I sleep for at least 7 hours each night.

How did I do it? I embraced change and I found a job where I was challenged and happy.

So, next time I find my sleep patterns unacceptable perhaps I will take action somewhat sooner. And, to my friends with insomnia issues (not related to essential medication and you know who you are) I suggest you look at your lives and make changes accordingly.

Just saying...

I did try to relate my sleep patterns to some form of research, but apparently the sleep foundation didn't consider stress as one of the reasons for sleep pattern distortion. However in the interest of full disclosure here are two links to take a look at.

The Sleep Foundation
and
Help Guide

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Change Aversion



I have a number of principles that I try to live by, some I list below:

  • Trust the Universe
  • You alone are responsible for your own happiness
  • If you are not happy with your life - go change it

If you read my book, you will see, I hope, that I have done my best to follow these principles.


However, as we get older change becomes more difficult to embrace.

After thirteen years in the same company, doing pretty much the same job I felt myself becoming more and more dissatisfied. Yes, it was a good feeling to be so familiar with the work, and the company, but while familiarity may not necessarily breed contempt, it does frequently reduce challenge and increase boredom.

Why, I hear you ask, did it take 13 years for that to happen? Well, I have to admit I went through stages of being bored during that time, each time it happened I was able to reinvent my position so that it became more challenging. But eventually that became more difficult, and then when changes I disagreed with, outside my control, occurred within the company I decided it was time to make a move. A previous blog entry deals with making that move.

I have to say I was surprised at how difficult it was to push myself to do it, and I really mean push. The temptation to crawl back into my comfort zone was hard to resist, but that was exactly what gave me the incentive to make the change - if only for change sake, but as I said, my reasons were more than just a need for change. However I do believe firmly in my husband's favorite quote
"Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature's inexorable imperative."
― H.G. Wells
And so I found myself on a 'plane to Seattle for two weeks training, a few days before my **mutter-mutter**th  birthday. Before I started training I had a serious talk with myself.  I warned myself that I would be overloaded with information, if I was lucky I would be able to understand about 5% of it, and remember about 2%.  I also reminded myself that I had started new jobs before and thought I would never be able to figure it out, but I managed then and I will manage again.

It took a lot to not panic those first two weeks, and possibly even more the following month when I was no longer training, but had returned to Austin and was actually doing. At first I felt like I was driving unfamiliar roads in a thick fog. The fog is letting up some now, but still very much in evidence. And while I am still drinking from a fire hose, the pressure is reducing somewhat.

What was unexpected was my inability to pay attention to any of my normal pass times, my embroidery machine sat idle for weeks, this blog has been totally neglected and my next book has been given only a few fleeting thoughts. However, I think I am back on track again.

Now the important thing to remember is that I still don't know very much and all I can hope for is knowing enough to ask the right questions - and more importantly - direct these questions to the right people.



The great thing right now is, everything is so challenging, even what will eventually become tedious contains a challenge. As has always been the case before, I am so glad I made the change. It was hard, and though I didn't go to the moon - I do believe JFK's quote works - and I do love so many of his quotes:


"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
― John F Kennedy 
And here are a few quotes from Project Life
"Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change. The Universe is change."
― Marcus Aurelius
"We must be the change we want to see."
― Mahatma Gandhi
"If you do not create change, change will create you."
― Unknown

Saturday, October 18, 2014

No Smoking



When I was growing up smoking was not just normal, it was cool and the tobacco companies would have you believe it was glamorous, even sexy! I can't think of anything less sexy than smelling of stale smoke and that awful early morning hacking smokers cough, not to mention the stained teeth and foul breath. But almost everyone smoked. Even while pregnant, and as bad, while nursing. In our defense, we didn't know it was bad for the baby. We didn't even think it was bad for us.


When I was twenty I worked as a secretary in a financial services company. I shared an office with my boss, glass walls so he could keep an eye on the workers in the main office, and a closed door so they couldn't hear his dictation, or telephone conversations, so no air. And he was a chain smoker. The office, everything in it including me, reeked of smoke. I don't remember now, but I am sure that the walls and ceilings were stained.  By the end of the day there were ashtrays on his desk filled with butts and ash, and the ash was scattered over the desk and papers and wherever it happened to fall from his always present cigarette.


People smoked in cinemas, theatres, restaurants, on 'planes and on buses (though I do remember when you could only smoke on the upper deck of the bus, in their own homes and in any  home they happened to visit and of course in bars. No one had come up with the idea of going outside to smoke. The movies and billboards were filled with smoking. Cowboys struck matches on their pant legs to light up - very macho and cool and I never could figure out how they did it.


Even in hospitals! Here is a classic photo of my beautiful mother. This was taken when she went to visit my sister who was in hospital, you will notice my mother is smoking. She used a cigarette holder not to be glamorous, but by that time the suggestion that tobacco was bad for your health was being bandied around and someone came up with the idea of using what was then ( in the '60s) very popular, the cigarette holder, to take a filter, just a small plastic tube filled with silica gel, through which the smoke was drawn, the idea was that the silica gel would absorb the tar and allow the smoke through. It definitely trapped a lot of the tar, because I remember being fascinated by the filters she threw away - they started out filled with white crystals and finished up a deep brown mess.

What is particularly scary about this photo is that my sister was not just in a hospital, she was in a sanatorium - a tuberculosis sanatorium. That is a lung disease... right? But in the '60s it was OK to smoke anywhere, even in a ward full of tuberculosis patients, most of who were a lot worse off than my sister whose illness was caught early.




Back then pregnant women smoked and drank alcohol, that is to say they didn't stop doing what they were doing just because they were pregnant. Today the sight of a pregnant woman with a cigarette in her hand is just unheard of - thankfully!



Now smoking is considered anti social, one of the very few place I have seen where an exception is made for smokers is at Atlanta (and I know in a few other airports) Hartsfield Jackson Airport. There there is a glass enclosed room, with an automatic door so you don't forget to close it, filled with people, mostly standing, puffing away between flights. The room is thick with smoke and when the door opens to let someone in or out, the smell is awful.







Offices have designated smoking areas - outside - and I notice that the distance from the entrance has been increasing over the years. In many areas smoking is not allowed even in bars.







We no longer see the Marlboro Man on billboards (a good thing as it is said that four of them died from smoking related diseases), no more TV or Cinema ads and you won't see your favorite hero lighting up on the screen. I have to admit, Marlboro was my choice and I am sure it was the rugged cowboy that drew me to it. Then I moved on to Lucky Strike, definitely these ads were designed for me.





The awful addiction to tobacco has spawned a whole new business, quit smoking aids. From prescription medication (and that really does work - my husband is a testament to that) gum and lozenges laced with nicotine - swapping one addiction for another, patches and hypnotism. As far as I can see, one of the biggest incentives must surely be the cost of a pack of cigarettes today!




Monday, September 15, 2014

Friends on a plane

.. as opposed to snakes on a plane.

In the years that I have been traveling on my own regularly, starting back in the early 1990s, I have talked to a whole lot of fellow travellers, some very briefly, some intermittently during a long flight, or even a short flight, and just with a very few there was an almost 'already knew you' feeling.

Recently I spent two weeks in Seattle training for my new job, and on the trip home I had the good fortune to sit beside Tina and A.D traveling to Austin from some outreach of Alaska where Tina (an Austin native) was an ER nurse. The mind boggles at the emergencies faced in a way back Alaskan ER compared with a metropolitan one, I just bet it was different.

A.D and Tina and I were seated in the less than salubrious seats, backing onto the toilets, with no possibility of putting our seats anything but in the upright position. When the drinks cart came around A.D had two vodkas and two Bloody Mary mixes, Tina had two coffees and two Baileys, I ordered a red wine and they paid for the entire order, so, naturally the second round was on me. And while it did cost me more than two red wines (as pointed out by my frugal husband) I only paid for a wine and two baileys, but I had the amazing experience of total strangers buying me a drink on a plane. I do love new experiences.

It set me thinking about all the people I have met on flights, mostly just to exchange names, enjoy conversations, or just drinks, but on one notable occasion I met an amazing woman. It really was like we had known each other all our lives, or in previous lives if you believe that stuff, whatever, we were like sisters who had not seen each other in ages, we spent at least half of the flight from Atlanta to Dublin non stop chatting.

Now, back in the early 1990s I guarantee you that would have been an end to it. But thanks to the Internet and social media in particular, by which of course I mean Facebook, we have stayed in touch. I am absolutely sure that if the occasion arises that I am in LA or Valerie is in Austin, we will meet up and pick up where we left off, just as sisters do.

I absolutely love flying - it opens up the world.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Teenagers! Have they mush for brains?

I do remember being a teenager. And one of the things that stands out in my memory is that, yes, I really thought I knew it all, and I really did believe that adults had no understanding of the world and didn't know what they were talking about. On top of that, I thought that anyone over 50 was most likely senile and had pretty much lost touch with reality.




Of course, when I was a teenager we didn't have smart phones, in fact we didn't have mobile phones, we had rotary dial phones which could only move a few feet while in use, being restricted to the length of the cable connecting it to the wall.





We called our radio a 'wireless' and I have no clue why because it was also connected to the mains in order to work. But my research tells me it is because radios used to be in fact, wireless, because they ran from gigantic batteries, due to the fact that not everyone had electricity. The highlight of our week was to listen to Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, on the 'wireless' when I was a child, we didn't get television until I was into my teens, and then there was not much to watch.

But I am wandering from my point.



We didn't have personal computers, much less tablets. Our entertainment was not at all virtual, books with paper pages, pen or pencil and paper, jigsaw puzzels and board games, where pieces were frequently missing. No video games, YouTube or Facebook.




It was a different world with different holes to fall into if we took a wrong turning. Smoking and drinking underage was what the bad kids did, and into my later teens, that included weeds other than tobacco. I am sure other drugs were readily available. What I am not sure of is why I never indulged in anything more than tobacco (and how I wish I had avoided that too!). Alcohol held no mystery for me as my mother was French and so wine with dinner was perfectly normal, though the kids did get their wine watered down. As there was no mystery involved in drinking there was no reason to consider it wild and free. I was never one to go along with the herd, peer pressure had no effect on me and drugs frightened me, so I avoided them, even to the extent of leaving a party or gathering if I became aware that there were drugs involved.

I am not saying that I was a goodie two shoes, on the contrary, I was a rebel but apparently I had my own personal drummer and didn't need to be in step with the rest of the world.

I guess that teenagers are not nearly as grown up as they look, nor as grown up as they think. So, some of the things they do, frequently illegal and often resulting in considerable suffering and expense to the adults responsible for their actions are incredibly stupid. Rather than being young adults, they really are big children.

Today's teenagers still have smoking, drinking and drugs beckoning them to come ruin their lives and those of their parents. But they also have all the electronic crimes ready to trip them, such as illegally downloading pirated software and music. And those still mushy brains fondly believe they are smarter than the adults who developed those computers, tablets, smart phones and created the software. I suppose if they are also exposed to the criminal adults who indulge in the same infantile behaviour, it can be explained if not forgiven.

And sadly, those mushy brains have still not learned to value trust, and have no clue how hard it is to regain a trust that has been broken.

I wonder how many parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents have displayed extreme self control by not actually shaking their teenagers at least once a month. Perhaps it is all a necessary part of learning and growing.

My wish for the teenagers in my life, and those children who have yet to head through that awkward and frequently dangerous stage, is 'May your mistakes be small, may you learn from them quickly, and may you be smart enough to never repeat them, and may you march to your own drum and not that of someone else'.






Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Farewell

The last few days in a job after 13 years gave me pause to think.

I have always held that when someone leaves their job to take up another position, there is far too much fuss made of them. When I worked in Dublin the tradition was to have a 'whip around' that is, pass the hat, then buy a gift or a gift card, or even have the company cut a check. Then, on their last day they would have an official presentation of the gift, a card signed by the entire company, or maybe just the entire department if it is a huge company. Then off to the local pub where there was usually an open bar for a couple of hours, subsidised by the company.

Here in Texas, and also in my experience in California, there is less fuss, but still farewell lunches and happy hours are the norm.

Why? why make a fuss about the person who is jumping ship and moving, one would assume, to bigger and better things? Why not make a fuss of those people who remain and continue to work to further the company's bottom line? I never could understand it.

I am used to people, and not just new employees, asking me questions and because I have been here for so long, I frequently have the answers, but if I don't, I will know who does or where to look. I hardly noticed. This week I noticed. Every time someone asked me something and I was able to give them the answer, they said "what will we do when you are gone!". And I noticed how often in a day it happened.

This caused me to stop and notice just how much folklore information I did have stored in my head. Yes, I have been documenting all the projects I have been responsible for. Yes, the code for all the utilities I developed to assist me in my testing and automating of my tests is checked in to source control. But, how do you document answers to questions. I guess if I had thought about it 10 years ago, I could have started a FAQ page. Every time someone asked me a question, however simple, I could have added it to my FAQ page. Perhaps it would have helped, but only if everyone was aware that it existed, and where it could be located. Of course once I left, it would slowly become obsolete as systems changed, but at least I would be leaving that information behind where it could be useful.


And so, when I walk out of the office for the last time, I will carry a wealth of knowledge in my head. Knowledge that, for the most part, will be of no value to me whatsoever, but will be a huge loss to the colleagues I leave behind. Perhaps in my next job I will keep a FAQ page, it will of course start with all of the questions that I will find myself asking in the first few weeks or months. But hopefully, it will eventually be where I store the knowledge that I will accumulate.



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Job search

I have 10 days left to complete thirteen years, one month and one day working the same company. If I have learnt anything from the past thirteen years, and more specifically from my search to find another position it is this:


Never take your eyes off the job market.

It is important to know what jobs are available and you never know when an even more perfect opportunity will arise, and if nothing else, you will keep up to date on what skill sets are being required. In this way you can keep honing your own skills to meet the trending marketplace.

Apply for at least three jobs per year, even if you have no plan to change employment. 

If all you get is a phone screen, this is good practice, and hopefully you will get at least one interview. The interview process varies so vastly from company to company, and there is a distinct fashion in interview questions and styles. Thus, if and when you decide to move on, you, and your resume, will require very little extra work.

One of the hidden disadvantages of staying in one company as long as I have is that you get stuck in a rut, you are almost completely blind to the changes going on in the working world outside your currently employment and this will work against you in interviews. Regular interview practice will help to keep you in tune with the world.

Serious about changing your job?

I am a thinker and a writer, an introvert. I have always felt that I am not very good at presenting myself at interviews and, as a result, I have had very many interviews where I came out knowing that I messed up. You know that feeling? 'Why did I say that?! I know what I should have said'. But after the interview is way too late.


Below are a number of things I have picked up, either from my research prior to interviews or from personal experience both as an interviewer and an interviewee.

  • Prepare for your interview as you would for an exam.
  • The single most important thing is be honest - never lie about your skills or experience
  • Turn off your mobile phone
  • Arrive early - most definitely do not be late
  • Don't be afraid to ask for water if it is not offered, believe me you will need it.
  • Dress appropriately - it is OK to ask what the expected dress code is at the time the interview is being scheduled
  • Research the company
  • Know the specific position you are applying for
  • If possible, speak to people who have interviewed at that company
  • If you don't know anyone who has, there is a lot of information on the Internet (www.glassdoor.com) on this
  • Don't let all of the reports on a company phase you, remember that a lot of these will be from disgruntled people. Ever noticed how only those people who are dissatisfied write reviews?
  • In the first few minutes an interviewer's opinion of you is formed on how you look, act and sound, not what you actually say
  • Watch your body language
  • Listen 
  • Relax - remember they are not trying to prove you are wrong for the job, they want you be right 
  • Don't talk too much and don't interrupt 
  • Prepare answers for the main questions: why do you want the job, what are your strengths and weaknesses, where do you want to be in 5 years
  • In particular, be prepared to answer what your weaknesses are with a weakness that is not going to adversely affect the position you are applying for, and follow up with what you are doing to try to correct that - don't labor the point.
  • Be prepared with a list of examples of things you have done in previous positions that illustrate your abilities
  • Make sure you understand each question and take your time if you need to think
  • Be positive about yourself and your experiences
  • Prepare some questions to ask at the end of the interview 
  • Finally, if you are asked how you would solve a specific problem, at least try. Don't say you don't know, don't try to figure it out silently, try to work through it verbally. Almost always it is not the solution they are looking for, but how you approach the problem and more important, that you are prepared to try to solve it.