mm018: Surprise!

May 31, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Surprising myself, I am a teacher.

Not under-qualified, apparently, but under-credentialed certainly, I spend a good portion of my working week teaching adult fellow employees how to use the software tool our team supports.

Because of the under-credentialed thing (I am a 20?? graduate of Hard Knox U), I never really thought of myself as teaching material. Indeed, when I came up onto the scene, there was something, forgive me all the teachers in my life, including my supremely patient spouse, something declassé about the “profession” of teaching. It certainly didn’t seem to pay a lot, and that derisive slogan (“them that can’t, teach”) must have colored my opinion early on.

Silly me. No, unless one is tenured at some golden suburban secondary school or first rank university, teaching is still a depressingly under-compensated career. And kids today! I have nothing but awe for those who daily (except for three blessed months during the summer, you fiends!) face today’s MTV’d, video-gamed, reading-free children.

But, I teach adults in a corporate setting. And, better yet, I teach them remotely, via web conference, which provides some excellent insulation: I can’t witness them dozing off, doodling, or (I hope they’ve muted their phone so I can’t hear them) answering email. And by my benighted standards, the pay is acceptable, the benefits better than expected, and I’m not at risk from receiving angry phone calls from parents of misunderstood students.

The dozing off thing comes to mind because yesterday morning I engaged in one of my rare personal appearances. One glance at the blurry photo adorning this page (blurry for public safety reasons) will convince you of the truth of my oft stated slogan: I’ve always been told that I have a great face for radio. But there I was, presenting my technology to the last group in the local area of my employer apparently unaware of it, and I watched a woman deal with my presence and presentation through closed eyes. I was envious.

But, my classes, two to three a week, are conducted via web conference. For the uninitiated, a web conference consists of a telephone conference that accompanies visual material presented from a web site. This visual material can be static, like a presentation, or dynamic, like a demonstration of a live application, but it does not include video of the speaker or participants.

The web conference as teaching medium is a blessing and a challenge. A blessing for some of the reasons noted above (the dozing, the doodling, the email). But a challenge because I am stripped down to my essentials, my voice and how I deliver it. That’s where the radio comment rings so true, since what I have become is not so much a teacher but a radio actor, a genre that seemingly only Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion keeps alive today. I need to engage people by projecting my knowledge and enthusiasm across the wire, for one to two hours at a time, solo.

No wonder I’m worn out at the end of the day. Today was that kind of day. My two-hour advanced topics class, begun at 3pm Central time to accommodate the occasional participant from the West Coast, of whom there was one representative today, I am happy to report. Because a 3pm start of this arduous exercise is tough enough, without the disappointment of realizing that I’ve accommodated no one. It’s like the 8am classes I teach several times a month, designed to enable attendance during the work day for the occasional Western Europe student; I am disappointed to have to work so hard, undercaffeinated, without the payoff of a UK or Netherlands or German participant.

But, the end of day classes are the toughest for me. Not the material, I’ve got that locked down solid. It’s that corporate advantage again: do the same thing enough times and be appreciated for it. But just the fatigue that comes from performing, emoting really, with unknown or insufficient feedback. Most of those radio programs that people are nostalgic for, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee, and the like, and today’s Prairie Home, were/are performed in a studio with an audience of some kind, because actors require feedback. I get some, sometimes, and people are usually more than kind when they fill out our end of session survey. But, it’s a large emotional expenditure with little payoff, short of knowing that the biweekly direct deposit can still be depended upon.

And that’s enough. So, I teach, as I say, surprising myself several times a week. After nearly five years, that’s a happy outcome.

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm009: Lost and found

May 16, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Skipped a day for the first time in this brief string, yesterday. Needed to get some distance from the hammering I took. Got it. So I’m back.

Many of us are creatures of habit. It’s part and parcel of curmudgeonhood. A place for everything, and everything in its place, and all that.

So, my personal cell phone went missing. Found it missing (a wonderful contradiction in terms first highlighted for me years ago by Flanders and Swann) as I unstrapped my daily armor upon my return home from HCA.

I remembered pulling it out of my pocket shortly before departing work, and reading the text message from the traffic service, and I remembered all too vividly later that I was impatient about cramming it back in my pocket. It didn’t go very deep, but I let it pass.

So when it was missing, first thing I did was head back out to the car: did I have it near the opening of the pocket, and did it slip out during the 75-minute Moby Dick on wheels session? Didn’t see it there. So, perhaps it fell out of my pocket as I sat at my desk. Maybe someone found it there. Maybe it’s already in use dialing Bulgaria. I scrambled to find a customer service number for my cell carrier (funny, *611 doesn’t work without the phone!), ended up calling information on my land line (another 75-cents down the drain) and suspended my service immediately.

Then ensued a conversation with the customer service person regarding my options, which turn out to be manifold. I have been paying several $ per month for insurance on the thing, having lost a couple (1. back seat of a taxi; 2. plopped into a commode — a distressingly common fate for cell phones I found out) through the years. So there’s that replacement, less a $50 deductible, of whatever model would be comparable. Also, I’d heard from the carrier a week ago or so, reminding me that my 2-year commitment is up and offering some choices, and this agent re-reminded me of same. Sigh. What I really wanted at this financially constrained time (and, another element of my curmudgeonhood, when are the times NOT financially constrained?) was to go to the office in the morning and find my phone.

So I got back to the office this a.m., after a distressed night (what a bother! Is someone plundering my contact list — for what exactly? etc.) and of course did not find the phone in my cube. Sigh. So, I called Security, reported it missing so that they would be on notice if I had to file a police report (required I was told if I wanted to replace the phone via insurance), contacted the department’s assistant who left word with Housekeeping, and stewed. It’s just a phone, a commodity, hardly state of the art two years ago when new, but I like it. Sigh.

Then, I got an idea. Grabbed my car keys, and took a look again, this time in bright sunshine, as compared to the fog of distress at 6PM the evening before. Crawled onto the floor in the back seat, and there, wedged into a corner and thus hiding from my hurried foggy on-tilt search before, was the phone! Whew! So, called the carrier to get service reinstated (can I help you with anything else today sir? Thanks, no! [I really like this phone, and don’t feel like spending more for a new one without a lot more analysis of my instrument and carrier options]), called Security and our assistant to stand down, let my lovely spouse know. What a lot of Sturm und Drang for no achievement whatsoever. Except grist for another post, I guess. Sigh.

Of course, the episode of the phone was just one hammer-tap last evening. A couple of others, probably of greater long term import hit at roughly the same time. Sigh. Maybe those will age gracefully as the phone incident turned out to, and we can discuss at leisure, or not.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm008: Working

May 14, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Telecommuting

I have a friend who for years has commuted 50 feet to work and back. Self-employed in the best sense of the word (on purpose and would have it no other way) his work week is seven days long, but he has flexible hours. He works long and hard because he loves what he does, but also can stop and grocery shop in the quiet middle of a week, away from the weekend crush that devils mortal man, and as what he does is very high quality and fairly unique he knows that if we wants to take a couple of weeks of vacation in Europe or China he can, because his clients will be there on his return.

That’s him. Here’s me: a 30-mile one-way commute, made bearable for those two hours a day only because an otherwise contemptible employer some years ago introduced me to books on tape. (Now I read and stay connected in several media: audio books, real bound paper books, and this newfangled Internet thingy I’ve heard so much about. I’m so flexible.)

A few years ago, I made the leap from hourly contractor to salaried employee at the Heart of Corporate America (remember? HCA — not the name of a real place I really work!) I call my home away from home. Honestly, un-curmudgeonly, an excellent place to be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever: far and away the best place I’ve ever worked.

But the commute is a killer, book on tape or not. Unfortunately, or not, with employee status came a couple of things: a pay cut, of course, since overtime is now on me; and the opportunity to participate in the golden treasure of the white collar working stiff in HCA – Working from Home, WfH for delicious short.

For a day or so every couple of weeks, I get to enjoy the 50-foot commute I have long envied in my entrepreneurial buddy. In fact, this is one area I can trump even him: I have a much smaller house; the commute is about 20 feet. It’s a beautiful thing. Due to the nature of my work I take home a laptop computer every evening, and on those lovely days that I can eschew the highway, I pull it out, plug it in, connect to my home wireless network and in short order I’m connected to the corporate world only slightly less directly than had I invested the nonreturnable two daily hours of my all too short life in my mobile library, dodging the clichéd but all too real coffee drinkers, cell phone gabbers and makeup applyers all the while. My auto insurance company should send me a valentine!

And here’s the deep dark secret: I’m a better employee for it. I’m sure that for some, “Working from Home” is code for “goofing off on company time.” In fact, the first time that I heard the expression regarding a former colleague at a former company (and I do mean former – 9,000 employees swallowed up and spit out in a typical episode of corporate bulimia), my boss illustrated it with the sardonic two-handed quote mark gesture.

I’m connected – on line I do everything I do at work, including conducting on line classes and providing high level technical support on the on line tool for which I’m the local champion. I religiously check office voice mail for my two lines every 30-40 minutes, and I’m always available via the corporate instant messaging tool.

And it’s quiet when I WfH. No unwanted intrusions from the cube dwellers all around me at the office. I respect your single-parenthood but I can only tune out so much for so long. And I respect the management work you do, but I wish I learned about it in smaller doses at times of my choosing. And your analyses of last Sunday’s game is fascinating, BUT I HAVE WORK TO DO!!!

And I know it reciprocates. If I had laryngitis, I can name several candidates who I’m sure, through osmosis and sheer repetitiveness could fill in for me in one of my classes.

Dilbert is an optimist.

Or, maybe it’s not quiet WfH. When I’m not on the phone, likely as not I’ll be enjoying Pandora.com, as marvelous a construct as I’ve seen recently in webland. Check it out while you can, as the riaa-monsters are preparing to pounce.

But, it’s my choice – quiet or not so, and if not, I choose the content. Tell me that doesn’t make me more productive.

But, don’t get me wrong – I like the people I work among, and I really don’t have a problem spending most of my employment on the man’s premises. But he (and I’ll bet he does), and now you, should know what a blessing it is to have the opportunity to telecommute occasionally.

Thanks!
–MUDGE

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mm007 H.M.D.

May 13, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Started to think about all of the mothers I know: my own dear mother, just about to celebrate her 80th birthday; my wife’s mother, a reasonably spry 86; my wife, a champion mother; my daughter, excellent mother to our grandchildren; our friends close and not, near and not; my coworkers, many of whom, like my wife, juggle family with a demanding job (I certainly couldn’t do it).

A member of the curmudgeon’s guild ought to be railing against artificial so-called holidays egregiously invented by the greeting card, floral, jewelry and brunch businesses, but not me today.

Thanks, Moms and moms.

–MUDGE

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mm005 Nearly the end of the first week

May 11, 2007

MUDGE’s musings

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For a professional curmudgeon I can be a helpful guy, at least in my professional life. As I was wrapping up a fitfully busy week, less than 10 minutes away from time to hit the road, my chat window chimed with a request from a colleague: could I handle an anxious customer, because she really didn’t know how to respond to him.

Not a problem. She joined me to the caller, and I spent a half hour walking him through the process, illuminating where he had apparently gone astray, and promised him that I would look in on his meeting early Monday morning. He told me, “You’ve made my day.” And that made mine, and the cost of a little longer commute, and a weekend started 30 minutes later than planned, infinitesimal.

It’s one of the hoariest clichés in modern business that customer service is everyone’s job, but as the wise man said, that’s why they call them clichés – they’re so often stated because they’re so often true. I can riff on this topic for pages, and maybe later I will, including the story of why I no longer use a “heck” PC at home.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm004.9 Last of the day…

May 10, 2007

MUDGE’s musings

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Well, day four of the great experiment! So far, I’m batting whatever average results from 1/6,000,000,000. My older son has read some of this today, so I guess I’ll have one witness.

Today was a consolidation day on-line. Added tags, the better to be noticed by someone beyond my immediate family. And I added a couple of small entries, including a link to a most depressing news story from the NY Times that I had managed to overlook regarding the scientific confirmation of the futility of diets. Sigh.

My work life was similarly unnerving, as I received confirmation from our technologists that an ambitious undertaking by one of my clients was most likely going to founder. Sigh.

Time for a few Murphy’s Laws. My favorite: Murphy was an optimist!

Thanks!
–mudge

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mm004: Mid-day update

May 10, 2007

I always knew it was my mother’s fault!

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mm003: they’re going to throw me out of the guild…

May 10, 2007

Left-Handed Complement
MUDGE’s musings

Things I’m liking today…
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Pandora
Wow, what a great internet radio station: You tell it what song or artist you like, and it builds you a channel to suit.
Sometimes the choices seem odd, but I’m especially liking my “The Girl from Ipanema Radio” channel, all instrumental and latin flavored jazz. Had a little trouble with it at work on Monday (it has sounded wonderful on my broadband connection at home since I fired it up last Sunday), but the stream has come through loud and clear at work the past two days, and I’m very pleased.

Besides the above channel, listened to at home almost always (very spouse-friendly), here are my other channels:

* Green Onions Radio
* Ruby Tuesday Radio (the song, not the restaurant!)
* The Turtles Radio
* Perez Prado Radio
* Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Radio
etc.

My pop music tastes are stuck in the late-sixties—early 70’s, obviously. Mostly I’m a classical guy, but I like to be at least a little eclectic. I’ve a son who creates beats for hip-hop performers and I find some of his stuff quite listenable though he’s never invited me to a concert to hear what words are matched up to his foundation – maybe he’s not sure that I’m young enough!

Netvibes
I found Netvibes this weekend also, and was I ready for it! For years and years, I was a pleased customer at My Yahoo! I had it tuned to perfection, with everything I like in one place: stock prices, news, sports scores, weather, etc., a great home page. Then, one day a year or so ago, my page was about 2% of its former self, and I never could get their support people (ha!) to pay attention. So, grumbling (I am the mudge, after all) I did without. Oh, eventually I found that I could gussy up my Google home page, but it never had the functionality or look of My Yahoo!, and I was bereft.

Netvibes has brought it all back, and I am thrilled to bits. When I get a little better at this blogging routine, I’ll show you what my General page looks like – it’s a thing of beauty. A few bugs, it’s beta after all (ha!), but I am most pleased. They’re going to throw me out of the Curmudgeon’s Guild for sure!

Thanks!
–mudge

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mm002: Oddly, a good day

May 8, 2007

Left-Handed Complement

mudge’s musings

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So, a good day, professionally. And I knew it by 10:00am.

Web Conferencing

That’s my thing, collaboration via the web. In this day of the public Web 2.0 this sounds routine, and pretty much a given, but not necessarily in a corporate environment. Here we’re protected by firewalls with fierce bulldogs of security types to maintain and defend them. And most of all, we corporate types are often hemmed in by our “we do it this way because we always do it this way” leg irons. I support web conferencing for my employer, and have done so pretty much full time for nearly five years, filling a need, and a niche no one really knew existed. I teach our technology (on-line of course), participate on the technical team that supports the tool, and facilitate key meetings. Today’s meeting wasn’t key per se, but it was important to the people who organized it and thus to me. An attorney came into headquarters from Germany to discuss arcane, but important, legal issues for a small group of our corporate attorneys here. We supported the meeting via web conferencing, which in our hybrid world means a conventional telephone conference augmented with a web conference loaded up with the speaker’s presentation. I sat at the rear of the room, having spent a little while earlier in the morning taking in the speaker’s presentation in email and converting it to a format enabling efficient transmission on line. While the presenter advanced the presentation slides on his laptop connected to the meeting room’s projector, I mirrored his actions in the web conference, enabling the remote attendees to see what the people in the meeting room could see. Nothing that wasn’t ordinary. Except the participant list. This little meeting, one of dozens running at the same time in our organization, had a very small list of on-line participants. From Ohio, California, Canada, and Southeast Asia, where the meeting began at 2100 hrs, 9:00pm! Call me naïve, but I continue to be impressed that I’m able to assist our global enterprise to be global. And it made my day. How very un-mudge of me! Thanks!mudge


mm001: The first real post!

May 7, 2007

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Wishful thinking… Left-Handed Complement MUDGE’s musings I start this first true entry many months after establishing my WordPress account, because I couldn’t figure out why people would want to read what I write, and let’s face it up front, the dictionary has my picture to illustrate the concept of procrastination. Still haven’t figured out the why, and may never get that one, but I’ve been inspired to cast away delay, and am happy to say “Welcome!” to all six or eight of you. Let me know what you think. Who? I work deep in the heart of corporate America, a place I never thought I’d spend much time. I went for years in the bosom of my family’s business telling people (and myself) that I was just a small business guy. Well I never was that happy in the business, and when it finally came screeching to a halt when my father became too sick (and sick at heart) to fight off Chapter 11 anymore, I kicked around for a long time, before landing finally here in the HCA. I hasten to add that HCA is not my employer’s name – that may reveal itself in the fullness of time. It’s my state of mind. I toil in the confines of my employer’s Corporate Information Technology department, although where I work and what I do doesn’t define me much. I am nearly 60 years old (but everyone my age tells each other that “60 is the new 40,” not that 40 was so terrific for me!), with a lovely wife (for whom the above hopeful cliché is manifestly the truth), three (mostly) adult children of whom we are inordinately proud, and two faraway, perfect grandchildren. Okay, so I figure that this paragraph just chased away at least half of you – what can a codger say to GenX, Y, etc. worth reading? Buh-bye. Many of my contemporaries at work, and in my personal life, have retired, or are mere months away from doing so, but I’ve done the calculations: based on the money I have been able to sock away for retirement, I’m retiring promptly on January 21, 2038, my 90th birthday. Only then will I have finally accumulated sufficient funds to maintain my lifestyle for the rest of my life: two, maybe three weeks. Until then, work every day it is! What? For those of you too lazy to close your Firefoxes just yet, thanks! But that was the big joke for the day up there, so don’t be too disappointed if we end today’s session with a thud. Not so much a joke though, because I’ve lived life so far much more grasshopper like than ant, and I’m coming to grips with my financial shortcomings. No, I don’t expect to make up the slack here, so I don’t expect you’ll ever see a lot of links here, advertising, etc. Deep down, I’m just not corporate enough. But, maybe I have something to say that someone out there may wish to read, and maybe we can even have a discussion or two about corporate life; the wonderful(?) world of technology on the ground, far away from the glamour and glitter of the media spotlight; global political trends – I’ve got an opinion on most subjects, and am willing to talk for hours whether I am informed or not. Move over, Rush! Thanks! –MUDGE