Sunday, January 29, 2006

We have reason to believe your vehicle….

Was involved in a robbery.

That’s what she said…

It was a Saturday morning, in the mid-1980's, and one of the rare Saturday mornings back then that I was sleeping in, all the way to 7:00am!! When I heard the knocking at the back (garage) door, I assumed it was one of my friends stopping in for coffee as was the Saturday custom back then.

So I hopped out of bed, slipped on a pair of gym shorts and headed out back and opened the door.

There, instead of one of my friends, was a female New York State Trooper.

I asked what I could do for her and she replied by asking if that was my truck parked there, as she pointed to my 1968 Ford pickup. I said “Yes it is”, thinking she was going to attempt to buy it, as I had at least one person a week do that.

Her next statement stunned me though. “Sir, we have reason to believe this truck was used in a robbery on Thursday.”

I can’t really begin to describe to you the thoughts that ran through my head at that moment. You see “knowing” there was no possible way I’d done anything remotely illegal, combined with her statement and my not yet fully awake state, had me in some sort of surreal ‘limbo’, where reality as I knew it had been suspended.

After what felt like an hour, but was probably only a couple of seconds, of mental anguish on my part, I responded with “Do you really think I could possibly be that stupid?”

You see this was not some old ratty 1968 Ford, it had originally been a North Carolina truck, brought back to NY and completely redone. Drive train to paint, it was just about 100% new, and the paint job, well it was mostly black, but it was also covered with Candy blue’s, yellow’s and gold’s over a white metallic base. It was distinctive, one of a kind, and everyone in three counties seemed to know the trucks history.

I quickly followed my comment with “What I’m trying to say, Officer, is that if I was going to commit a crime, wouldn’t I have used something a bit less conspicuous?”

She then began to tell me what she believed she knew.

That on Thursday, the truck had been involved in the theft of some antique ‘rocking horses’, and went on to tell me the name of the victim, and how he came to ‘finger’ my truck as the one he’d seen.

As she was doing that, my mind was racing a mile a minute, retracing my week, trying to remember where I’d been, what I’d been doing, and which vehicle I’d been driving (we had at least three back then)… in the course of that mental journey, I remembered that I hadn’t had the truck on Thursday, that I’d lent it to my buddy Whit so he could help another friend of ours Greg, move into a new apartment.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks… I knew what was going on.

Now, I’ve had friends, at times, who, if the police had came to the door with this story, I’d have believed it was possible. Not Whit, he’s without a doubt one of the most honest men I’ve ever known, then, and to this day.

I did recall him telling me the previous weekend (you might recall from some earlier posts that he and I were, and remain, good friends and I could be found at his shop, as often as you’d find me anywhere) that he and this fellow that lived next to the shop were having a bit of a ‘land dispute’ over a deeded right of way.

I explained to the officer that on Thursday, I was not in possession of the truck, and that I had lent it to my friend Whit, saying “You know, Whit, that fella down the street, across 49, who does all the service on your police cars?”

She looked at me, quizzically actually, and something to the effect that she would be headed down there now, got in her car and left.

I was on the phone in less than 30 seconds, had Whit on the phone letting him know what was headed his way, and he was actually laughing… we ended the phone conversation with him saying “She’s pulling in now” and me saying “I’ll be right down”.

I got dressed, hopped in the pickup and shot down to Whit’s place, the cop was leaving as I pulled in.

It turned out, that in an attempt to prevent Whit from using his right of way (which, for those of you who don’t know is the ‘right’ to cross another persons property at a particular place, power companies have them all over the place for access to the power lines) this old fellow had placed some very old, as in 30+ years old, “Saw horses”, not rocking horses, across the driveway.

Whit, simply loaded them on the back of the truck and moved them out of his way, placing them out of sight, but still on this fellows land. So technically they hadn’t been stolen, just moved off the right of way.

Once the Troopers realized they’d stepped in to the middle of a land dispute, and that the ‘value’ of these saw horses was probably less than the cost of the gas they’d used driving to my house and Whit’s place, the investigation was over.

I remembered this story, yesterday as I drove past a 1968, maybe 69 Ford pickup… It got me thinking of that old truck, how I’d gotten it from Whit, made all sorts of my own tweaks on it, and then sold it back to him years later… How we’d both loved, and enjoyed that old truck, from the way it would nearly drive out from underneath you when you dropped the hammer, to the heads it turned where ever you went in it!

I hope Whit reads this, and will add a comment on his memory of that day, I’m sorry it wasn’t one of the tales we told last summer because it never fails to amuse the listeners when we tell it together!!

Thanks for listening, please feel free to leave a comment, thought or memory of your own!!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Testing… Testing… Testing….

I mentioned in the last post that I have been very busy with work related issues for the past week or so, and I have been, so involved mentally, that for the first time in nearly a year it was all my small brain could handle.

Several of the projects I’m involved with are moving, or have moved, into user and pre-production testing.

This has been an interesting experience for me. Believe it or not, throughout the course of my 20+ year career, I’ve never worked anywhere that the attention to detail and pre-production testing was so well organized.

One of the steps we’re taking is to actually ‘hand off’ the processes to an individual who has had no involvement at all in the project, or the processes, up until now.

While my inclination is to develop discrete modules that can be deployed and run by anyone, this project has had many twists, turns and rework items along the way. It turned out fine as last evening about 5:30 or so he called and let me know that everything had runs as expected, once a couple of ‘authority’ issues were addressed earlier in the day.

This company also has a very secure system, from the PC at the desktop, through the mid-tier Sun systems and all the way through to the mainframe. Every file has associated read, insert, update and overwrite ‘authorities’ attached, if any of these are not set exactly right, you simply can not even ‘see’ the file let alone open or change it.

It turns out that the three of us who’ve been primary in the development on this project all had things ready for hand off, and things went exactly as planned with only a couple of small glitches.

I’m convinced at this point, that this process, this pre-production “hand-off” is an excellent way to uncover not only any incomplete components, but, maybe more importantly, to sever that ‘ownership’ many of us developers tend to feel with our applications.

It’s no wonder then that this organization is tops in its field, has some of the most state of the art applications in any industry, and continues to grow in a very stable market.

Someone should do a case study on this operation, their operations and practices, as a guide to how IS/IT should be run, can be run, profitably and without the ‘in production’ problems so often associated with software development.

If you recall, the company is the electronic ‘hub’ of an industry, much like Sabre is the electronic hub of the airline industry. Having worked for both of these companies, I can tell you that everything here, from the initial rough project specifications through the final steps to take the application to production are an order of magnitude more detailed and complete here.

Prior to this experience, I’d felt that Sabre was the standard, before Sabre it was a place called NDC in Brentwood, TN… If I’m lucky, I’ll find someone even better somewhere else along the way. On the other hand, maybe, if I’m really lucky, I’ll get to stay here and be able to contribute to their efforts to continually improve their processes.

Why am I telling you all this? Primarily because it’s on my mind.

The other reason though, is that for many of us, we live in a work environment where speed is the focus. Getting it done sooner, faster, that “I needed it done a week before I asked for it” mentality, is very prevalent in the workplace today.

Companies are always looking to get it done faster, cheaper and with less resources that ever before.

I’m telling you that on this project, for the most part there were two primary developers, late in the project they brought in a Web (Java) developer to create some web pages for the new tables and accesses we’d created. Then, about two weeks ago, in preparation for the other primary person being assigned to a new start-up project a third developer was brought on to take over the finalization of her in progress work.

The rest of the team consisted of users and a product manager, my development partner and I simply took their needs and bought them into being, against the project timelines, the project manager keeping us apprized of upcoming deadlines and seeking our input for any risks we saw in meeting those deadlines.

I’ve often said that when it comes to almost anything in life you desire, you can have it two of three possible ways, Fast, Cheap and Right. You can never have all three, attempts to achieve all three usually result in none of the three being accomplished.

I’d say, in this project, we’ve achieved Fast and Right, due to the number of people involved, it certainly wasn’t ‘Cheap’, it was however, cheap in terms of IS resources. I’ve seen much smaller projects, involve many more developers, many fewer users, with far less satisfying results.

I’ll be thinking more about this development process, and how it differs dramatically from the “Run, Crash, Debug” cycle I’ve seen at nearly every other gig I’ve had. I thought, at one time, that this CRD cycle was the lot in life of the developer. This experience has changed my thoughts on that radically.

So, whatever ‘rut’ you find yourself in at the moment, take a moment, think about it, and realize that out there somewhere is a company who’s figured out that there’s a better way. Now, all you have to do, is find them!

Once again, to all of you who took the time to drop me a line and ask if everything at my end was ok, THANK YOU!!! Despite the hectic pace of the past week or so… it was very nice to know y’all were thinking about me!! I promise I’ll be by your place(s), as soon as I can!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Where in the world is Bill??.....

Crazy busy is where.

Work has been just very busy as several projects are nearing completion and are currently in both user and pre-production testing at the moment... fun stuff!!

So far so good with everything, it's just a bit hectic and a lot of details, and keeping me very busy.

I expect that by the close of business on Friday we'll have it mostly on 'auto-pilot' and I'll be able to put some of the things I've been thinking about into words!!

Thanks for the emails inquiring as to what's been happening with me, I appreciate that you took the time to check in!!

I'll be back in form soon, I promise!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Blogging is good for the soul…

Or can be anyway.

I write, mostly because it helps me slow my mind down, organize my thoughts and settle the internal debates I’m having at the time.

The last few posts I’ve made, I actually almost didn’t post. They felt very personal, exposed some of my (in my mind) shortcomings, and painted a somewhat less than ‘perfect’ picture of me, or so I thought initially.

Over the past few days, the thoughts, comments and emails I’ve received let me know that I’ve touched a chord with more than a few of you.

That one fact alone, made posting them worth it to me. First, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in these kinds of thoughts, anxieties and decisions. Maybe more importantly though, I’ve found that not only are a number of you wrestling with many of the same issues, you’re reaching similar conclusions!

Outside of this cyber-place, I rarely have the opportunity to discuss these kinds of things, except with my wife. They’re certainly not the kind of discussions you normally have over a couple of beers while watching a game. Also, the folks I used to be able to have these kinds of discussions with, are either too far away, or have passed away. As I’ve mentioned here before, I often didn’t know how unique a particular friendship was, until it was no longer available to me.

So this place, you folks, have become like a sort of cyber-coffeehouse… We each get our chance to speak our minds, and then the others chime in with their thoughts, feelings and experiences on the topic. Once again this place turns out to be quite different than I’d originally anticipated.

I find myself wishing we could all get together on a regular basis and have these sorts of conversations in real time, face to face, in three dimensions. I know if I’m ever traveling and it will bring me close to where you live, I’ll be letting you know on the off chance you’d take me up on ‘coffee and conversation’.

I’ve been amazed this weekend in particular that several of us have been reflecting along very similar lines. Separated by 1,000’s of miles, having never actually met in person and without this media would know nothing of one another, yet, here we are, posting on very similar topics and interacting with one another. Judging by the comments, we’ve all touched on some very common points.

Even 10, 5 or maybe even 2 years ago, it’s doubtful we’d have ever known what the other was thinking, let alone that there were many, many others thinking virtually identically. It’s actually amazing to me that we’ve all discovered one another.

One of my fairly regular ‘blog activities’ is to click the next button several times to see what kinds of blogs I’ll stumble on, another is to go to places like “weblogs” and check out recently updated blogs… for every 1,000 or so I visit, maybe, just maybe one or two will catch my interest… knowing that, the fact that we’ve all stumbled upon one another, remains one of the internet’s sweet mysteries to me!

So while I’ve been thanked from time to time for providing ‘soul food’ or thought provoking posts, the most important thing to me is that what I write connects with you from time to time. So, from that standpoint alone, this, was a very good weekend and I thank you all!!!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

Sunday, January 15, 2006


The first two comments I received on yesterday’s post got me thinking about responsibility.

I written more than a little over the past year on taking responsibility for my actions and how I believe we are all responsible for the choices we make.

In those posts, I was primarily talking about our conscious choices, our decisions, and how regardless of the outcome we need to accept the responsibility for having made them. At the same time accepting the consequences, understanding that we got ourselves into this consequence, and with the right set of choices we’ll get through it.

Then there are our mistakes.

There was a time in my life where I felt that any mistake I made was a failure. That in failing I had not only let myself down, but (and get this) more importantly, I had let someone else down! That someone else in my case, was most often my Dad. I felt (and again I’m not sure it was a correct feeling) that he expected perfection from me. That anything less was unacceptable.

Those feelings governed my life for more years than I care to admit. In fact it wasn’t until after he’d died that I began to comprehend the degree to which I’d assimilated these feelings and was living my life accordingly. Everything I did, every chance I took, was in some strange way (unknown to me at the time, at least on a conscious level) an attempt to gain his approval, to have him be proud of me.

In some ways, it was a blessing. If I felt capable at something, I would through myself into it 110%, sparing no effort to see to it I would succeed. In other ways though, it was a curse. I was afraid to take chances in any direction where I felt less than certain I would shine. While the only example I can think of at the moment is basketball, I’m sure there were others.

I tried to play basketball while I was in grade school, tried out for and made the team, but I didn’t last very long. Not because I got ‘cut’, but because (as I remember it) I felt I didn’t play as well as the other guys, and so I ‘gave up’, ‘lost interest’ or whatever other term I used at the time to explain why I wasn’t going to play any more. You see, with my Dad being a former semi-professional player/coach, I knew (at least in my mind) there was no way I’d ever measure up to the things he’d achieved in his days on the court.

Looking back, I probably would have been better served had I enlisted his help, got him to coach me privately, and worked as hard as I could have, and just see where it ended up. Fear of making mistakes, of failure, though paralyzed me, and I don’t recall ever even contemplating that option.

I have no problem taking responsibility today, for my choices, my decisions, but it wasn’t always that way. The area I find I still have the most trouble with, is the ‘honest’ mistake though.

That event where you ‘think’ you’re doing the right thing, but like last week for me you send the wrong file. Maybe you put that new line of code in the wrong subroutine, skipped a ‘case’ in the test scenario because you were feeling time deadline pressures, or did any of a thousand other things, thinking at the time, it was the right thing to do.

Then, later, hours, days, sometimes even months years later, you discover you’d made a mistake. Each time this happens to me, the first thing I begin to feel is some sort of ‘disbelief’… like I’ve stepped into some alternative ‘plane’ where things are not making sense. You see, as a result of my history, I still try very hard NOT to make mistakes, which I could prevent by being diligent. I normally recheck everything twice, sometimes three times before it ever leaves my hands.

Like I’ve said though, this past week was a little humbling, I’ve had to realize, once again, that it doesn’t matter how hard you try, mistakes will still happen.

So, in coming to that realization, I’ve also decided, that like a decision or choice, a mistake I make, is my responsibility, regardless of intent, if my actions result in a ‘less than desired result’, it’s still mine to claim.

It might have been the way it was handled by my supervisor, after I’d stepped up, that made this an easier realization, I’m not sure. I do know it sure didn’t hurt the process.

Mistakes are just a part of life, of being human. They’re rarely the catastrophic event we (or at the very least I) tend to view them as initially. In fact, in virtually every case they’re usually a chance for learning. Learning how not to make that mistake again, and, to lessen the likelihood of anything similar happening either.

Maybe, just maybe there’s a chance I’m really beginning to understand Thomas Edison after all this time. In case you don’t know, one of my favorite quotes of all time is one from Edison.

When asked, after his 10,000th experiment to create a light bulb, how it felt to have failed 10,000 times, at anything, he responded simply:

“You don’t seem to understand, I’ve not failed 10,000 times to make a light bulb, I now know 10,000 ways NOT to build a light bulb.”

I’m a long way from ever attempting anything 10,000 times without success, in fact I have trouble even beginning to comprehend what kind of internal strength it would take to get to that level of perseverance. Especially when I think of the fact that virtually no one had electricity at the time, and that for years he gave away light bulbs to get folks to install electricity, and use the bulbs!!

So, maybe the moral of this all is that we find a lot more ways NOT to do things, than we ever find to do them right. That finding the wrong way is just in integral portion of the search, for the right way. Without failure, without mistakes, it’s very likely there would be far less sweet, in the sweet smell of success.

What do you think? Do you accept your mistakes as part of the process, or are they hard to swallow? Do you swallow that ‘pill’ anyway, are you able to then let go and just chalk it up to experience?

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Pointing Fingers…

Or more specifically why folks who point fingers tick me off!

I’ve never really understood the practice. It rarely, if ever, actually accomplishes anything. Unless of course, you count heated, pointless, arguments as an accomplishment!

I had a rather humbling experience on Thursday.

One of the processes I’ve been handling at work is being shifted to another person in preparation for its move to production, in the transition we’ve been uncovering a number of anomalies (don’t you love that word… not problems, screw-ups or mistakes… anomalies) in portions of the inbound data.

In reviewing some of these on Thursday, the team and I determined our provider had simply matched the wrong file. Used a previous transmission from us, rather than the latest one we’d sent them.

I was elected to fire off an email about what we were seeing, and get those folks hopping on correcting the problem.

The email I sent, while firmly placing the problem in their ‘matching’ process, did not ‘point a finger’, but instead, told them what we were seeing, and why we thought, what we thought.

Well, Thursday afternoon the provider called me and we had a rather lengthy conversation over the situation. It was in the course of this conversation that I became aware that they had not ‘matched’ the wrong file, I had sent them the wrong file!

Once we concluded the conference call, I sent out yet another email, taking responsibility for the problem, and handing off a file to resolve the issue to my coworker.

I telecommuted to work on Thursday (worked from home), and never had a chance to speak with my supervisor about the issue that day.

As I was driving into work Friday morning, I’ve got to admit, I had some visions of a fairly decent ass chewing for my screw-up, (or is it for “being responsible for the anomaly we witnessed”)… what transpired however wasn’t even on my play list of possibilities.

When I saw my supervisor Friday morning, she smiled at me and said “I saw you ate a crap sandwich yesterday”. She then went on to tell me she appreciated me standing up and claiming that prize. That she hates it when folks ‘finger point’.. and commended my initial email as being factual, and not pointing a finger, but instead enlisting the others to help us resolve the problem.

It turns out, that my tendency to simply accept and acknowledge my screw-ups has been a big part of the reason I keep getting extended there. That while I don’t make many, when I do (oh… and when I do it’s usually a big one!) I step up, take responsibility and simply get it fixed, what ever it takes to do so.

I know “why” folks point fingers though, it freakin sucks to stand up and say… “Oh.. that… that was my fault”. For me anyway it triggers every fear, insecurity and anxiety I have. From being viewed as incompetent, to getting fired, they all raise their ugly heads.

I don’t know why I don’t try to play the ‘blame game’, I could, in fact had I not sent the last email (and copied every single person involved) I probably could have ‘slipped’ through this with the problem unknown but to a few folks.

See, I didn’t think that was fair though. I may not have explicitly said it in the first email, but I certainly implied our vendor had screwed up. I’m sure that there were a number of them who thought if they had, they would be in big trouble (as there have been a number of times in this process where the ‘anomaly’ was a result of their actions)… but it wasn’t their fault, I had simply selected the wrong file for transfer, and transferred it to them.

Even when something isn’t my fault, I don’t really care whose fault it is, what I do care about is getting the problem resolved, and putting some procedure in place to minimize the chance of it occurring again.

With that said, one thing I’m pretty good at is returning those things that are sent my way incorrectly. That is, when someone points a finger at me, and they’re wrong, I’ll let the world know that, in no uncertain terms, it was NOT my fault. I’ll fix it, I’ll do what I can to see it doesn’t happen again, and, if requested (by the boss) I’ll provide details as to the event; the who, what, when, where and why of it all.

As a manager, I’ve often ‘taken the fall’ when a boss asked “Who’s responsible for this!?” I figure if one of my folks did it, they work for me, I’m ultimately responsible, and that’s what I’d say. In fact, once, when asked “Who should I fire for this?” I responded, “Fire me if you need to fire someone”.

I remember the look on his face when I said that, it was priceless, something I’ll remember forever, as in his wildest dreams he never thought I’d have said that. Even 3 months later when he did fire me, I still remembered his face and thought, well, if that was at least part of the reason… it was worth it!!

In my personal relationships it’s pretty much the same thing, although sometimes I find it more difficult and I’m not sure why.

Once, as I was pulling up to the house (when I lived over on Front Street) I noticed there was smoke coming from the dining room window. I rushed into the, very smoky, house and there was my girlfriend, in tears, in the kitchen. It turned out she’d tried to start a fire in the fireplace, and as often happens in the fall, the draft was inverted and a considerable amount of smoke had escaped into the house. Well she’d tried to exhaust it by putting a fan in the window, but, that had only made things worse.

She was very worried I was going to be pissed off. I turned the fan around (which pressurizes the house a little, the smoke began exiting via the chimney, and I assured her I wasn’t upset.

How could I be? She was building the fire to set a romantic mood for dinner! How can you fault someone for doing something they perceive as ‘nice’, even if it doesn’t go 100% according to plan? I mean, her intentions were good, she didn’t intend to smoke up the place.

I cite that example, as that's how I feel about things that go wrong at work as well.

If you truly believe that a worker is intentionally screwing things up, or simply does not give two shits about the quality of their work, that’s an issue, in and of it self, which needs to be addressed on its own.

On the other hand, if you don’t believe that, then when a coworker messes up, it truly is an accident, a mistake, and they fully intended to do the right thing at the time. Chances are, they already feel like crap knowing they screwed up, any stuff you can toss on there is probably overkill and they’d never make the same mistake again anyway.

So why not just resolve the issue, get some clear indications that whatever it was, won’t happen again, and move on?

So what about you? How do you handle this sort of thing?

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

Thursday, January 12, 2006

What is it…

That’s had me a little less than satisfied work-wise lately.

That’s what I’ve been pondering as there’s really no reason for me to feel that way.

I think I hit on it last night, and, in all honesty, it actually surprised me. It’s that I miss being ‘the man’, the guy in charge, the final answer on everything in my domain.

The fact is though; I don’t really miss it, at least on a conscious level. I sure don’t miss the late night and weekend phone calls, the endless hours, after hours, working evenings, weekends and holidays whenever there was a problem.

I don’t miss any of those things at all.

I do miss being the decision maker though.

Being the “buck stops here” guy has always appealed to me. I have a low tolerance for things not going how “I” think they should. So, when I’m the last word, I get things my way.

I’m actually fairly embarrassed by this self-discovery.

On the surface, and at my conscious level, I’ve loved the freedom from the responsibilities of the past decade. I get up in the morning; I go to work, do my thing all day working with great people and go home. No muss, no fuss and no ‘long nights’ without any financial reward.

So, that got me to thinking about ‘why’. Why I miss the command level position?

At this point I’ve decided it’s actually one of those parts of me, one I don’t think about very often, a part that likes to travel my own road. In the workplace, the only way you really get to do that, especially as a developer, is when you’re ‘in charge’.

I think that component of my personality comes through at work, to co-workers, supervisors and managers. It’s probably why, in virtually every company I’ve ever worked for I’ve been moved into a management slot in very short order.

Truthfully, I’ve never asked for, or sought, those promotions, just the opposite in fact. I’ve usually complained afterwards that I wasn’t getting to do the kind of work I wanted to do, I was spending more time managing than I was developing. However, somewhere along the line I started getting people around me who were so capable that all I had to do was tell them the general idea of what I wanted and they would make that happen.

It’s like I was developing through them. I was seeing my vision come into reality but they were making it happen.

Simply put, I got spoiled by the likes of Ken, Rick and Dale. They really did bring life to many, many things I dreamed up.

So now, I’m having this running conversation with myself, about all of this.

In short I:

  • don’t want to be the boss.
  • really love writing software, especially software that turns data, into useful information
  • like having a regular 8 work day
  • don’t miss the frantic nights and weekends solving yet another emergency
  • am actually working at what I should consider a dream job
  • will try to remember how much happier I am now, than I was a few years ago


I can always use those ‘recovered’ nights and weekends to:

  • enjoy extra time with my wife
  • get back in the gym, and into shape
  • build any little piece of software my heart desires
  • ramp back up on the truck project
  • explore writing and getting published on a regular basis
  • get focused again on what’s really important to me
Isn’t it funny, how, when we’re exactly where we said we wanted to be, that fact can slip through our fingers (well mine anyway) somehow?

I don’t know what it is about my brain, why it seems to always want me to be somewhere other than where I am. I think, at times, that I’ve beaten this particular demon and I’ve matured past it. However I’m beginning to think that’s just fooling myself and I’d be much better served if I remembered this little ‘quirk’ of mine, and be prepared for it, rather than surprised by it!!

For what it’s worth, this little revelation hasn’t changed my feelings from the previous post. Solidified them is more like it. I’ve gotten a new ‘lease’ on things, a new sense of purpose.

I’m going to find some interesting things to occupy the ‘extra’ time I have these days, I’ve been making notes on some article ideas, this weekend I’ll get back on the truck as it’s supposed to be almost 60 here, temps like that will allow me to put some primer down if I get that far.

It’s a Zen thing, this trying to live ‘in the moment’… I know now why some folks spend a lifetime trying to perfect it; it’s not at all easy to do!! My mind is constantly trying to sweep me forward, or backward, in time… when all I really want to do, is be right here, right now!

So what about you? Do you find yourself always focused on the future, or dwelling in the past? How do you get out of that trap?

As always, thanks for stopping by. Comments, thoughts and ideas are always greatly appreciated!!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

Sunday, January 08, 2006


I’ve mentioned in the past that one of the strangest things in life to me is that events we perceive as ‘bad’ when they’re happening, later, months, often years later, that somehow those 'crisis' times become remembered as "the good old days". In many cases, even feeling they were more like the "Glory Days".

I’ve thought a lot about that over the years, wondering how it is that our minds (well mine anyway) can convert even the toughest of times into a fond memory.

On a conscious level, I know, deep in my heart, that the time I spent in the military was, if not the toughest, then very close to, the toughest part of my life. I remember thinking, nearly every waking moment, of every day, how badly I wanted that hitch to be over.

But now, with 30 some years between then, and now, I really only truly remember the ‘good times’, and I know when I got out, I couldn’t think of one single ‘good time’.

Time it seems does in fact heal us.

I know my childhood too, was turbulent, emotional ‘hell’. I was filled with insecurity, uncertainty and doubt. I often felt alone, unwanted; I never seemed able to find my ‘groove’. Once I hit high school that changed somewhat as I found something I was good at. Mechanical things, I was good with anything mechanical, bicycles, cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, lawn mowers, if it was mechanical I could take it apart, and when I put it back together it worked very well.

For at least a decade I lost myself in that, immersed myself in that talent, and closed out any part of the world I didn’t understand. Or, maybe more importantly to me, that part of the world that didn’t understand me.

I built cars, painted cars, got involved with race cars... if it made horsepower; I wanted to be around it.

I have wonderful memories of that decade, even though I know; I spent a lot of it intoxicated. Intoxicated on alcohol at times for sure, but, intoxicated mostly on what I was doing. I was learning, doing, and achieving a fair degree of success with my talent. For the first time I was, as I recall, finally feeling like I had a place in the world, that I actually fit in.

I know now that it was a just part of a process. One that in the end opened my eyes to the fact I could learn, could focus on, something, anything, as long as it held my interest. It held my interest as long as my control over it was tenuous…. That I felt there was still a lot to learn, that I could still do it better every day, if I just knew a little more, practiced a little harder….

It’s been that way the rest of my adult life.

A lot of folks have remarked over the years about the number of different careers, or types of jobs, I’ve had. For the most part they express their amazement at my ability to just ‘shift gears’ and go off in another direction. In general, I accept their kind words and say thank you, but I know that I really had no other choice at the time. I’d simply lost interest in whatever it was I was doing, or, maybe more to the point, I had found a something new that now held far more interest.

I don’t know what my next ‘thing’ will be, I never have. What I do know is that it’s coming. How? It’s simple really, I’ve been doing virtually the same thing for over 20 years, and I find myself with far less ‘drive’ for it than I once had.

Don’t get me wrong, I love programming, I really do (and I especially love the company I’m currently contracted to). But I love cars, teaching, selling and any of the other things I’ve done as well. I could probably still do any of them and make a living, but, like everything else I’ve done professionally I’m simply not driven to do them any longer.

Programming is becoming that way for me now, or at the very least, it ‘feels’ that it is.

I still enjoy it; in fact I enjoy it more at this point than I think I’d ever enjoyed any of the other jobs I’ve had. I miss the drive, the passion, though. There was a time when I’d rather be writing code than doing anything else. I felt in control of the process, yet slightly out of control as well, at times like I imagined a fine craftsman of old felt building a fine piece of furniture.

Each piece fitting perfectly into the one before it, the vision of the completed piece firmly in mind as each subcomponent was formed, fitted and meticulously added to the whole. I’d get swallowed up in the process, often working 60, 70, or more hours a week and never tiring of the work, anxious, like a kid at Christmas, to see the finished product in the hands of the users. To see the impact my work had on the organization.

Most of the projects were on the edge of my skills, causing me to stretch, learn, grow, every single day just to get them done. To me, it was very heady stuff!

Maybe it’s just a natural evolution. When I started in the business, the industry was starting too, it seemed everywhere I turned there was someone asking for my help. I felt like my work made a difference, not only to me, but to those I did it for. Maybe it was also the people I worked with, each of them shared that passion too, we labored long and hard, claiming on one hand it amazed us that we could get paid to do something we loved, and on the other that we’d ship no software ‘before its time’. If it wasn’t right, we didn’t want it to leave the shop.

I still know many of those guys… it saddens me to talk with them at times. They too have lost the passion for the work, as they now are working for a living, not living for the work.

I know that some will think, “Why would I want to live for work?”…. Well, it’s not living for the ‘job’, but living for the craft. It’s getting out of bed each morning with a 1,000 ideas in your head, grabbing a shower and a coffee on the run so you can get to that keyboard just a few minutes sooner to start putting them in place.

I often imagine that’s how artists, or writers, live. Using each day to transform a raw idea into a tangible, visible reality they can share with the world. Hitting the floor running on more days than not, with more ideas than they can possible bring to fruition that day.

I’ve been thinking for the past few days about where that passion goes. What kills it off?

I can’t speak for others, but for me, it’s at least partially the daily grind. A decade ago I was independent; I did what I wanted, the way I wanted, for who I wanted. Then, I took a ‘job’… I got enamored with the steady money (it does feel good to be able to pay the bills every month), the security (hey, a paycheck every two weeks was easier than chasing customers for the money they owed me) and being able to go home at 5:00pm most nights. The fact is though, for the first 15 months I worked for that company I worked 7 days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day… there was that much work and I loved doing it that much.

I saw myself, finally living that elusive ‘American Dream’… a nice title, a solid paycheck, the house, picket fence, a couple of cars… etc….

It was a dream though….

In the end, here I am, out on my own again, sort of, and have been for almost two years now. Contracting is sort of a halfway point between working for yourself and being a traditional employee. To me, the main difference being, as a contract ‘employee’ you actually know when your time is up, no surprises, unless you consider contract extensions a surprise.

So what will Bill do ‘next’? Like I said, I don’t know. I’ve thought about trying to make a living as a writer, dreamed about it, is probably closer to the truth… but every time I look into seriously giving it a shot, I find the ‘entry road’ to be a bit on the rough side. There’s certainly no shortage of aspiring writers. Oh, I’ve managed to get a few articles published, but I’d have to be a lot more prolific than that to make a living.

I know that whatever path I choose next a few things will have to be there.

  • I’ll have to be able to work mostly from home (or anywhere I choose).
  • Set my own work schedule.
  • Be doing something that made a difference, to me, and to those I do it for.
  • I’ll have fun doing it
  • It’ll be challenging work, where I have to continue to learn, to improve, to grow my skill set almost daily.

Many would say I’m describing what I do now, programming, and software development. It certainly has all the right elements, at times. The truth is, if I could find that passion again, it could be the career I retire from. The trick here is, how do I do that again?

I’ve had moments in the past year that reminded me of the ‘old days’… spending hour upon hour working on a unique resolution to a particular problem, finding a solution, writing the code to bring it to a reality, and in the end presenting it to the client and having it be an accepted solution.

I know that it’s partly crossing that line into the unknown, the uncertain, that fuels the passion, but, I also know there’s more to it than that.

For some folks, those moments might be enough, they’re not for me. I wish they were, but, they’re not. I’m a problem solver by nature, in my element when I’ve got a problem to solve, out of it at virtually every other time. I find my life demands from me that I ‘live’ it, not simply watch it roll on by.

I have friends that are perfectly happy with gainful employment, a place to live, a few bucks in the bank, a family and a cold beer on a hot summer day. I truly admire that in them, and often wish I was cut from that same cloth. I’ve tried, many times, to just ‘settle in’, let go of the need to be on the edge. I’ve had therapy, medication, and made several attempts to fill the ‘hole’ with responsibility, money, possessions, titles and so on. They all work, for a while, but eventually that need to be on that “edge” returns.

That slightly ‘out of control’ edge, yet with a high (although possibly unfounded) confidence of success, and a passion for the process.

At this point in my life, I doubt that there’ll be change to this fundamental component of my personality. I don’t actually think I’d change it, even if I could. It’s brought me at least as much joy, as it’s caused anguish. What I need to do, is find a new outlet, a new ‘process’ so I can channel it and grow.

So that my friends, is my “New Year’s Resolution”. To find the passion in my professional endeavors once again. It’s always a bit scary, not only to me, but to those around me, when I hit one of these moments. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air, especially if I find that ‘new thing’ and it’s a 90 degree turn from what’s been working, and comfortable.

I’m sure it’ll be interesting, if nothing else, as the year progresses.

So what changes are you making this year?

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Requisite Blog Birthday Post….

It seems most folks write a little something to acknowledge the anniversary date of the start of their blog and admittedly it’s more than a little surprising to me that it has actually been a year.

But, it has, I made my first blog post on January 3, 2005.

So much has happened over the past twelve months, not the least of which is the fact that I found the time, and inspiration to make 185 posts. Almost one every two days. The other thing that remains a wonder, and a joy, for me is that you folks keep stopping by to read, and comment on, what I’ve written.

Initially I’d intended this to be a sort of ‘code forum’ where I’d post tips and tricks and encourage others to share theirs. While I still do post some ‘code’ stuff from time to time, the blog has taken on a more personal slant.

It’s allowed me to explore, in writing, some of my emotional ups and downs, and how I’m dealing with them. To recall some earlier times in my life, some of my fondest memories, write them down and share them with you. I’ve enjoyed your many comments, in some ways they’ve helped validate my own feelings about these memories.

Memories are a tricky thing as the mind can often ‘adjust’ them to suit the reality you’d have preferred. It’s been a wonderful surprise for some of my old friends to show up here and, on occasion, add a comment (and in one case an entire post) of their own. It’s been those kinds of moments that kept me writing, and posting.

I’ve had moments of doubt… thoughts of ending the blog… in fact my wife has even expressed her surprise that I have continued to write and maintain the blog this long. I’ve struggled with what to write about, when (or if) to post it after I’d written it, and especially early on, wondered if anyone would ever read my posts, or worse yet, read them and hate them.

Writing has always been that ‘dream job’ of mine, something I’d always wished I could do, but never thought it would be possible. I’ve found, over the course of this year that I can find things to write about, that folks will read what I’ve written, and I even managed to get published in a local magazine.

So, all in all, the blog has been a good thing.

I got to talk a bit about my “Percentage of Likeness” string comparator, something I seriously enjoyed researching, as well as developing. It turned out to be a major tool in the development of process to merge Dun and Bradstreet data with my client’s data. Although it probably will not be used at this client site in the long term processes, it’s certainly on center stage for the next few months.

Outside of one or two associates here locally, I don’t know where else I could have shared that process. While some of you mentioned reading about it made “your head hurt”, you read it anyway, and in that way I felt ‘someone’ knew what I was doing. It was a very nice surprise!

The support, well wishes, thoughts and prayers for my Mom in December were also a highlight of the year, thank you all for that… thank you!!