Here and There

24 April 2015

Dear J-

I have the office to myself over the next week, though I’ll be gone on Monday and Tuesday, so there’s been no incidences of me slobbing up the place more than the already-established small disaster pile that is my desk. When I’m there in the mornings I’ll tend to plug into headphones and tune out the rest of the world, though I won’t have that opportunity in the near future while I … yeah, I dunno. Friday and it’s all right for listening while we get ready for work, right? Friday and we’re heading towards where we’re meant to be.

You spend money in drips and drabs and that starts to add up after a while, doesn’t it? A little here and a bit there are soon overwhelming our budget, which is zero for fun stuff like this. But but but the opportunity? These opportunities come again, sooner than you think too. Forget your opportunity, and forget your paranoia too; it’s not simple and also not hard to figure out where we’re going with this: headed towards another meltdown despite your insistence that you could stop. Yep.

Mike

This Organ Eyes

23 April 2015

Dear J-

At work I’m suffering from the self-inflicted scourge of disorganization; there’s plenty going on but nothing more or less important than me sitting around in a state of sheer disorganization; between my inbox and my desk there’s nothing that won’t get buried in a pile of papers before too long. I understand that with enough diligent searching I’ll probably be able to find … well, something, but it shouldn’t have to be that way. Next steps: folders, labels, being a responsible adult rather than a sad sack of disorganization.

Without it, each day is starting to blend into the next and I can’t say for one way or another how I’m fixing it. I look at other desks which are clean and organized and know that’s not me, possibly not ever going to be me, but it’s something I should at least pretend is a priority. Let’s see. Remember when … remember when you had to clean up old coffee rings from the new desk you had for a month or two? How about when your mouse disappeared? Do I really need rocks from Camp Pendleton, nice chunk of quartz though it might be? You think vividly about these things and it’s clear that all of them or none of them are really necessary.

In the lab you’re supposed to be concerned with housekeeping issues; a messy workspace can blossom into a safety violation. Likewise in the office, it’s clear that a messy space doesn’t imply creativity; it’s not can’t-be-bothered either, as when that’s the case you’re usually important enough to have someone scuttling around behind you in your wake. Nope, this just means you’re lazy, your work is weak and they’re well within their rights to can you, doesn’t it? Huh. All that extrapolation from a few casual pieces of paper lying around? Except it’s not just a few, and they’ve been around for more than a week or two, casual put-offs aside.

Mike

Slow Progress

22 April 2015

Dear J—

We have had, er, I have had little success and no small frustration in drafting this report as it feels like the more I write, the more I have to keep repeating myself. I’d rather be drawing some illustrative figure or pretending I know what’s what about what’s next, which I don’t but I have fun anyway. How do you … no. Let’s get these changes executed first and then go on with what you need to be complete. See, I can’t even write about it without being slower than I thought I’d be.

Meanwhile … I’m off to Denver on Sunday, and I still need to cancel a car reservation to conform with personal policy (thou shalt not drive a rental car) that’s in every danger of being broken with every trip I go on. What else do we have coming up? Birthday parties. Girl Scout outings. Many different (diffident) paths, lots of work, and yet here you are diddling around with drawings. Yep. I feel extra useful, don’t you?

I think the train this morning may have gotten skunked; I smelled it coming into the station and I don’t know what else we might need to do as we progress forward through the days and nights yet to come. I’m at the point where there’s too much going on and I need to winnow it down to a useable pile and … okay. Deep breath. One thing at a time, and if that breaks down to one word, then one sentence, one paragraph, any steady progress is better than none, and I’ve only got one set of eyes and a pair of hands to do the writing with, so let’s take a minute to do this right.

Mike

Blinking

20 April 2015

Dear J—

Last night as we were putting the kids to bed the power blinked off for a few minutes, twice; the first time you announce what’s happening and then fumble your way over to where the flashlight is kept, turn it on and bounce it off the ceiling so you don’t blind anyone accidentally. And then you wait; who know when or if it’s coming back promptly as you’re attacking other issues; without knowing exactly when or for how long (though in the back of your mind you’re always thinking it’s a developed country, and spoiled as we are, why for-heaven’s-sake isn’t it back on yet?) but biding your time until maybe there’s something you can do that’s more fruitful than conserving energy and walking around the house shutting down switches to make sure it’s not going to overload once it does come back.

The second time was clearly declaring it was time for bed; I had picked up a game and was in the midst of some level when it blinked out again, and resigned you say it’s just not meant to be tonight and move on to bed as you can manage through the rest of the night. I’m not sure why but there’s a significant amount of me that wants to chuck work today (Monday) and take the day off; the weekend was busy and next weekend will be busty and the weekend after that will be … you get the picture. We have a lot of activities stretching between here and there, and that’s okay, so why am I thinking about adding more into the mix?

As I was riding my bike to the station this morning I was thinking about what’s waiting for us on the other side of this: whether there is a great river of souls in the sky unchanged and moving, coursing around this world peering down on us and blinking occasionally. Do you remember X—? Will you remember this next? How about what’s happening today? I take pictures but not as many as I used to or maybe would like to; between looking after the kids and not feeling comfortable gearing up completely in front of other parents I can’t say for sure that’s what’s causing the imperfect memories lately but it certainly can’t be helpful, can it?

Mike

Fame and Fortune

16 April 2015

Dear J—

I used to want to be famous in many ways, such as maybe I’d be the guy who cracked fusion or then you know, that guy who … or all these other things, perhaps. You have some fears but never any real doubts that you won’t make it; here you are, ready to go and welcome to it; it’s just a matter of time before it happens.

I think you do so not expecting to have to promote yourself and what you do; lately with work all I’ve been thinking about is how to advertise what we do and how well we do it, marketing they call it, and it’s part of the cycle of business: the more you read the more you realize the folks who come up with the way we do things today aren’t any more clever about their approaches, but they’re more dogged and determined. The highest nail, they say, gets pounded down but then again there’s the idea of the nail house, the stubborn folks who won’t go away, who won’t bend.

You don’t have to only be stubborn for stubborn’s sake; you don’t have to be a jerk to get your way. There are so many different ways to convince people what you’re doing is right and valid and everyone should adopt your approach because by thunder, it’s just flat-out right. I struggle with this every day when I’m writing or driving at trying to find the reasons why; it’s tempting to succumb and just be the one who never says anything without having evidence to back it up, spending all your time trying to digest the impossible, but let’s be fair and call it regurgitation without digestion; do you remember any of these things you wrote during the slow times? What sticks in your head is here-and-there, all-around and nowhere else.

Mike

Productivity

15 April 2015

Dear J—

Productivity, pro-duck-tivv-ity. These are things I think about when I’m finding photos to caption instead of writing a report that’s due in a few short weeks. The longer I meander through this, the longer it’s going to take to review and finish. Shall we instead work a bit harder and not spend so much time wandering about lost in assumptions and illustrations? I’m quite fond of the illustrations, though, and it’s starting to feel a little like a thesis, given the amount of explanation I have thrown in between the intended audience (legal professionals) and complexity of the subject (very). If you had told me years ago that what I’d be doing most days was writing and drawing pictures I’d have laughed at you.

We measure productivity in terms of output and completeness; did you get this done, what about that fragmentary thought you were about to finish? My writing on this has come in fits and starts; the first chapter was relatively easy and flowed naturally from mind to page; going through the assumptions has been far more staccato, what with not fully understanding them the first time through and then fretting over whether they made a significant difference or not (answer: unknown; I still have to re-do the analysis to find out if what I’m saying makes a difference. Part of my delay is just that: I don’t want to have to deal with it, as we’ve already reported results and I’m loath to change them, though I really ought to for this reason alone: it’s not right. GOYBS.

The nuclear world is filled with acronyms, some of which form a common lingua franca between plants. PRA: probabilistic risk assessment. HP/RP: Health Physics or Radiation Protection. RCS: Reactor Coolant System. The first few months it’s overwhelming and you carry around a sheet or a notepad to jot them down for later reference in meetings when you can nod knowingly and authoritatively. Aye, I understand what you mean by a LER, a Licensee Event Report. To this I throw the GOYBS: Get Over Your Bad Self, which is advice I take every time I start to think that I’m immune or special or can’t be bothered to do that. No. I can, and I probably should. I’m not always productive, but at least I recognize where I need to go.

Mike

Tuesday Monday

14 April 2015

Dear J—

Today’s Monday, or Tuesday, depending on how you count it. Yesterday I stayed home and did work remotely (which ended up being me writing some more stuff, although I’m pretty sure some of it was fragmentary in nature and incomplete; if you get stuck on a section, mark it and come back later, right? As long as the framework is there it should hang together and make sense. Between childcare and having to drop off a car for repair it was a fairly busy day of driving, though not anything that was impossible. At the end of the day what you do isn’t as important as what you’re imparting, and I’m not sure I’ve done right.

We had the typical bedtime moans and reluctance and so you do what you can but often it’s too much. I made her bed – twice – and instead of telling me how it should be done she dumped the covers on the floor so I in a huff ran off and left her there to do it by herself. I mean, come on, what are you supposed to do? How about reacting with patience and forbearance? It’s not like everything I’ve ever done has been filled with happiness and sunshine, after all: remember when? Once I was mad at my brother so rather than talk to my dad, who had called the house, I silently hung up the phone instead; not ten minutes later he had walked back and let me know exactly what was rude about that.

I suppose I get my temper from who I am and not getting my way, but there’s no reason to pass it on down, is there? Though anger has been a powerful motivator for me in the past I can’t help but think there must be some better way to handle it. There is, I’m sure. It’s the sustained slow burns that you can’t help but use once in a while; if it came right down to it then you’d find a better way, wouldn’t you? Well, if it feels toxic afterwards then I’m sure it doesn’t help during the event either, does it? Once we’re done here we need to talk, won’t we?

Mike

Dry Wind

10 April 2015

Dear J—

I stayed up too late last night doing things I didn’t need to do (let’s find out how to construct a Union Jack so that you can make a square version! I whipped one out in twenty minutes, which was great except it was twenty minutes out of my sleep time. Plus I’m not sure why Inkscape’s being goofy about cut-and-paste on OSX: cut and paste a line segment and watch it grow by approximately 10% in all dimensions. What?) so I’m rubbing my eyes this morning which is pretty crappy for anyone who actually needs allergy medicine to function and I’ve been laying off it because … wind, pollen, eye: direct route to misery, at the moment.

You tell yourself that you’re just going to treat yourself, at least this once and then what? Hours spent inching closer to your goals, only to see them slip away at the last moment on a fluke. At least I’ve unburdened myself of scaling the model to fit the situation and it doesn’t seem completely outrageous. I’ve been fretting about that for a while and that hasn’t been helpful for much of anything; I end up worrying about things I can’t control instead of actually doing something about it to make sense out of the world. I did spend half a day sulking that I’d really messed things up and just didn’t want to deal with it, but learned my error (when you build a look-up table, make sure you put the right entries in) after a while.

On the other hand, I’ve learned quite a bit over the last week, and stayed pretty busy, and look like I’ve had a lot of involvement in a lot of things, so I don’t think I’m going to be fired anytime soon. The paycheck this week should reflect a raise. We’re getting our taxes paid off, and I’ve managed to figure out the Byzantine arrangements of my parents’ financial situation enough to more or less document what their taxes are for last year (every time I think I’m doing relatively well, I then look at my parents and berate myself for not investing more wisely instead of in durable, depreciating goods like the stupid materialist that I am). So changes are afoot, and we are ready for the next, aren’t we?

Mike

Sanfo

9 April 2015

Dear J—

We’ve been having a light load of people over the last week; even the Stanford guys aren’t showing up as reliably. Perhaps it’s the Spring Break effect, when folks are out on vacation with kids to places that … sigh. Hawaii. The thought that San Francisco is the coldest major city in the United States during the summer months weighs a bit on my head, or maybe that’s just the cold talking, telling me what I do is no concern of yours. We have a “cold front” moving in, which amounts to nothing more than a few degrees colder than usual, perhaps (although with the cloud cover like it has been, shouldn’t it be about ten degrees F warmer?) but compared with weather other places, it’s still easy living as far as you can tell.

Let us this day our daily meals be given as knowledge and progress; let us learn willingly and avidly, let us listen openly, let us accept criticism with an honest approach and an eye to improve. Let us dine on accumulated wisdom and build upon it to make sense of our every actions, let the enlightenment bring us comfort and guide our steps towards accepting who we are and how we approach things.

If I’m not – or, for that matter, if I am willing to change then it’s because I know I should be doing better, or more, or … yeah. That’s the way we can bring our lives in line, in shape and in truth. If you have envy then perhaps it’s a question of reshuffling your priorities and making things fit rather than putting them up in boxes once their utility becomes more questionable.

Mike

Flash in the Pan

8 April 2015

Dear J—

I think the point where you start to get fussy about things like curly quotes and em and en dashes is when you’ve started falling down the slippery slope of typography. Font selection becomes paramount, at the cost of content, as the more time you spend formatting a document, the less time you have to actually write the stuff in it. On the other hand, you could perhaps stop worrying about that and just do as good a job as you can instead: these are concerns that were promulgated almost thirty years ago when some lecturer or professor went to prove their hypothesis that people with Macs were more concerned with style over substance (I don’t remember from which school or what the eventual outcome was, but I do remember the furor it caused in the Macintosh community).

My brother sent me a link to the Wikipedia entry on the “bike shed law” which is a tongue-in-cheek business principle akin to the Peter Principle, stating that more trivial or mundane tasks will consume a disproportionate amount of time and effort compared with their eventual or actual utility. I certainly believe it; for the report I’m writing, I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking chart formatting and maps, creating illustrations and tables but actual time spent writing? Yeah, there’s the rub. I suppose it’s one of those things that will seem trivial in comparison to completely re-do the analysis, which is where I think I’m going to have to go, but there you have it.

In the end I suppose you have more available time to get things done once you’ve sorted out all your assumptions, which is what I should’ve done at the outset. Instead – hi, lesson learned – I proceeded haphazardly and didn’t document what I did along the way (a lesson I’ve been learning more as I work here longer) and now the consequence: I haven’t the foggiest idea where some of the charts and other calculations live, and I’m forced to re-examine the basis for a lot of these assumptions. Actually, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, assuming I can get everything written down in time. I believe I can, and I believe I will.

Mike


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