Friday, May 26, 2006

Crossing a Line

Today at work I was confronted with a situation that confirmed my priorities in life. I was forced to decide whether I valued my job over my life outside of work. It turned out to be a pretty easy decision - as I've mentioned in the past, my job just isn't that important to me. I enjoy it, but it's not the focus of my life.

No, I didn't actually quit my job, or get fired, but some people in high places at the corporate headquarters most-likely aren't very pleased with me. Here's the story....

There's a project at work that is in danger of missing its completion deadline. It's not even a project that I am working on or am responsible for - it's someone else's project. But, because I have earned a reputation as a good problem solver, yesterday I was asked to help out with it. Today, I got a phone call from my boss as he was driving in to work and he told me that the VP of Engineering at the corporate HQ decided late last night that he wants (actually demands) the people working on the project come to the corporate headquarters immediately and stay until the project is complete. That would basically mean with no advance notice I'd be flying off a thousand miles away and living out of a hotel room for three or four weeks. It was such an absurd idea, I actually thought my boss must be joking. But, he was dead serious. I told my boss that it was best that I not tell him my gut reaction to the idea and I'd wait until he got into the office so we could talk about it. My gut reaction was I would quit before I agreed to such a ridiculous idea. Firstly, asking anyone at a days notice to just drop everything in their life and fly 1000 miles away and stay for several weeks is a bit much (yeah, like I might consider missing three weeks worth of karate classes for my employer). Secondly, there's no significant reason why we should have to even go to the corporate HQ. We can get all our work done in the local office. The only reason I can imagine they want us there is to basically hold us hostage and pressure us to work ridiculous hours since we don't have a home to return to each day.

Maybe if I was in my early twenties and was looking to make a good impression I might go for such an idea, but not now. I've already earned the good reputation. I've been in the software field for 17 years now and I'm very good at what I do. However, I'm not trying to climb the corporate ladder. My job is not my life. My job is 8 hours of my life each day. It is just a mechanism to provide enough money for me to do the things that are really important - like take karate classes. As one of my coworkers involved in this fiasco said, "I can have many jobs, but I only have one life." If the job starts to significantly detract from the rest of my life, it's time to think about whether it's really worth having. Granted, with any job there are going to be unexpected problems, overtime, and travel, but I felt this particular request was crossing a line. It showed a complete lack of respect for the people doing the work. I felt we were being treated like resources. And that's basically what I told my boss.

So, throughout the day today, there was meeting after meeting with my boss. We'd meet with him, then he'd call the VP at corporate HQ to relay the message that we still weren't receptive to going. I did not envy my boss. He is a very nice guy and I knew he was just doing what he was told by his boss, and he also thinks the trip is a bad idea. But he was still doing his best trying to convince us that we should go on the trip, while we were pushing back saying it was a stupid idea, listing personal reasons why we couldn't go, and if the issue is forced, we'll quit rather than go. At one point during one of these meetings I found myself staring out the window while calculating in my head how much money I'd get if I cashed in my stock options now and how long I could live on that money before finding another job. It might be fun to just take the whole summer off... (but it's probably not the most responsible use of that money.)

Eventually in these conversations with my boss, I realized I had crossed a line, too. I had made it quite clear to the VP at the corporate HQ that I am not a "dedicated employee". I had said in no uncertain terms that if the company had no problem uprooting people for signifcant amounts of time from their everyday lives with no advanced notice, then it wasn't a company that I wanted to work for. With all this refusing to bow to the VPs repeated demands, it dawned on me that regardless of how this current situation turned out, my days at the company are most-likely numbered. As it finally turned out at the end of the day, the VP decided that we would not have to travel, but this was after he said things like he felt we were "holding the project hostage" by refusing to go, that we weren't being team players, etc. I will now have a big black spot on my record. They may need me for this current project, but as soon as there is a lull, I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to find an excuse to get rid of me. No company likes to be held at the mercy of their employees.

So, what do you think? Was I being unreasonable in refusing to go?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Frailty of the Human Body

I got a good reminder today of just how frail the human body can be. I was working on removing some litter and dibris from a stream and I slipped in the mud. I fell forward and caught myself with my hands. Unfortunately, hidden in the mud was something very sharp - I assume a broken bottle - and I slashed the palm of my left hand quite deeply. When it first happened, I thought maybe I stuck my hand in a hornets nest or something as it felt almost like I got stung - a weird electric-like pain shot up the edge of my hand (kinda like when you whack your funny-bone). For an instant I even thought maybe there was some sort of poisonous frog buried in the mud that bit me. I knew it must be either that or I had just sliced my hand so deeply I hit a nerve. I was hoping for the poisonous frog. At least that would make for a good story. When I pulled my hand out of the muck and saw lots of blood, I knew it wasn't some exotic poisonous bite - it was just plain old boring broken glass. Oh well. Maybe I can have a poisonous frog bite some other time.

Fortunately, I was with some friends when this happened and they quickly took me to a medical center. It took 6 stitches to close up the cut. I also got 2 shots (one in the arm and one in the hip). One shot was for tetanus and the other was some sort of antibiotic. The doctor said I pretty much got the worst possible cut - a deep puncture and slash by a piece of broken glass in a swamp. There are all sorts of bacteria possibilities. So, in addition to the two shots, I also have a 7 day prescription for cephalexin.

My hand now looks like this:



If you really want to see what the actual cut and stitches look like, take a look here. Note, it's probably not a nice view for the squeamish.

My biggest concern now is the loss of all feeling in part of my pinkie. (Well, honestly, my biggest concern now is whether I'll still be able to take karate classes, but saying that will just make people think I'm crazy, so I won't mention it, except in this parenthetic aside). If I poke the side of my pinkie with something I dont feel it at all. I'm pretty certain that tingly funny-bone feeling I experienced when I first cut my hand was some nerve being cut. Due to the possibility for infection, the doctor asked me to come in for a follow-up visit tomorrow. He also said if I still don't have feeling in my finger he'll send me to a hand surgeon.

I was initially very depressed about this whole situation. I don't like the helpless feeling of being injured and having to depend on others for assistance. Then there's the whole thought of possibly getting some nasty infection from the swamp. Then there's the lack of feeling in part of my finger - will it come back? And on top of all that, there's the possibility of my whole daily routine of karate practice being disrupted since I can't currently make a fist or hold anything well with my left hand. So as I said, I was initially very depressed about this injury - probably the most depressed I've been in the past 5 years. But now, several hours after the initial shock of the injury, I think I've regained my emotional balance. There's no sense worrying about it. And being depressed about it certainly isn't going to make matters any better. I've found I've been able to take the Zen approach of accepting the current situation for what it is and not what I imagine it could be, acknowledge my feelings about it and just continue with life.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Entertaining Insurance Policy

An insurance adjuster is going to visit my condo on Monday morning to assess the damage from the water leak. Now that everything is finally dry and I can get a good look at things I was wondering if it was even worth the visit. Things look pretty good. The most noticable problem is the carpet is now discolored (it used to be grey, now parts are a faint yellowish-brown) and there are some bubbles in the ceiling sheet rock. Other than some books that are permanently warped (and still wet), things seem ok. The couch recovered well - there's just a faint water line near the wood trim that isn't really noticable unless you know to look for it.

But anyhow, since the insurance guy is coming on Monday, I figured I should at least read the insurance policy to be familiar with what is potentially covered and excluded. As it turns out, one of the "perils" my policy covers is damage from "missiles propelled and spacecraft". Who would have thought? So, if someone decides to launch a missile at my condo, or a spaceship crash-lands into my condo, I'm all set! Well, unless the missile was a nuclear missile. The policy specifically excludes "war or warlike acts" and adds for clarity that "Discharge of a nuclear weapon is a warlike act, even if accidental".

The policy also covers damage due to "riot or civil commotion", but excludes damage due to "insurrection, rebellion or revolution". I wonder where they drawn the line between those two types of activities.

Who would have thought reading an insurance policy could be so much fun? What better way to spend a free Saturday night!

Mystery Chinese Song

While driving home from work tonight, I was listening to NPR's "All Things Considered".  They had a short segment on songs mothers sing to their children.  It was basically a collection of snippets of people singing songs that they remember their mother singing to them. You can listen to the program here

About 2 minutes and 15 seconds into the segment, there is a snippet of a woman singing a song in Chinese.  For some reason, it really caught my attention. It was something about the woman's voice and how she was singing. I dunno.  So, if you happen to understand Chinese, do you have any idea what the song is?

I find it interesting how just hearing a voice can have a profound emotional affect.  I guess it's similar to how music can have a similar affect. I imagine someone must have done studies on why music can have emotional influence on people, although off-hand I'm not familiar with any.   

The whole voice thing reminds me of a time years ago when I was a teenager and I was watching some TV program on PBS where they were interviewing different people. There was this one woman that I instantly fell in love with as soon as I heard her speak, just because of the sound of her distinct Irish accent. Well, I didn't really fall in love with her - I didn't even know her, never met her, etc.  But for some reason just the sound of her voice brought about a strong emotional reaction and to this day I don't really know why.  It's not like I have that reaction to everyone with an Irish accent.  

Along a similar line, I distinctly recall the first time I heard a Norah Jones song. I was in Home Depot and her song "Don't Know Why" was playing. There was some haunting quality about her voice that made me take notice. At the time I had no idea who the singer was or what the song was, but I immediately scribbled down some of the lyrics so I could track down the music when I got home.

It's weird how the brain and emotions sometimes work.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why Karate?

As anyone who knows me well knows, I tend to spend a lot of time practicing karate. The dojo where I takes classes is about a 45 minute away, so I get a bit of time for reflection when I'm driving home at night after class. Sometimes I wonder why this is something I am willing to spend so much time on. I spend about an hour and a half each day just on the drive alone. There are other things I could be doing, there are friends I don't see as much as I used to, other hobbies I've given up on, all in order to spend more time on this thing called karate. Which inevitably raises the question of why does this captivate my attention?

As is the case with most things in life, there is no simple straightforward answer. There are a lot of different things that contribute, some purely selfish and others that are more altruistic. On the selfish hand (hmm.. we'll make that my left hand) I find karate a constant challenge. I don't think it's something that comes easy to me and it isn't something I'm naturally good at. But, over time, with constant practice, I am making progress, and there is a sense of satisfaction that comes with that. Many years ago (when I was in college) I read an interview with Carl Sagan (that scientist who used to talk about the universe and how big it was - think "billions and billions...") and he was talking about the importance of trying to be the best you possibly can at whatever you choose to do. If you are a chemist, try to be the best chemist possible, if a teacher, try to be the best possible teacher you can. Try to basically be an expect at what you do. Don't just coast through life. For some reason this stuck with me as a good guiding principle. I tried to take that approach with my career in computer science. Wherever I was working, I always tried to be the best I could and would become the expert that others would come to for help. But computer work is something that has always come easy to me. I have a natural aptitude for it. And, over the years, it has begun to feel a bit hollow. While it is nice to be able to help out other people at work by solving difficult problems, these aren't the types of problems that have any "real world" significance. I'm not saving lives. I'm not making the world a better place for others. I'm helping companies save money by being more efficient. The bottom line is I'm increasing shareholder value for my employer. The net result is I get paid well for solving challenging technical problems, but there is no soul or spirit to the work.

Which brings me back to the subject of karate. Since starting karate, I've discovered it is not something that comes easy to me, yet it is an interesting challenge both physically and mentally. As I already mentioned, that's the selfish appeal to it. But, on the other (less selfish) hand, karate is also something that can be very beneficial both physically and mentally, and so it is something I want to be able to share with others. As I was reminded by Sensei at the dojo tonight, the best way to help others learn karate is to work on being the best you possibly can. The practice and training shouldn't be about me getting better for my own sake, however. I should be working to get better at karate so I can be a better help to others who are also trying to learn. That is why it is important to try to continually improve - so one can continually work on becoming a better help to others. And that is at the heart of why I happily spend most of my free time practicing karate.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

After the Flood

Well, it's two days later and I must say, the carpet is taking a bit longer to dry than I expected. On a friend's recommendation, I rented a carpet cleaner from Home Depot and used it to vacuum up as much water as possible. Tuesday afternoon I vacuumed the whole carpet and probably got out about 5 gallons of water. I also rented the upholstery attachment for the cleaner and sucked up a gallon or so out of the couch. That definitely made a big difference in drying out the couch. This morning, before returning the carpet cleaner, I made one more pass over the carpet and surprisingly pulled out a few more gallons of water! I went over it one more time after that, but wasn't really getting a significant amount of water, so I'm hoping the carpet is on its way to getting dry. I also bought a rotary fan from the local hardware store and borrowed one from my parents (thanks Dad!) and have them both blowing on the floor. When I got home tonight, one part of the carpet was actually dry to the touch, so things are looking up. I also have a dehumidifier running and I've already emptied several gallons of water from it in the past day.

For anyone who is curious, the following picture shows what the living room currently looks like. I pulled out the coffee table and smaller sofa so I could have the fans blowing over more of the carpet to hopefully dry it faster. I positioned the large couch directly under a vent for my central air and have left that fan running. It seems to be drying out the couch fairly well. If you look closely in the photo, you should be able to make out how wet the edge of the couch still is near the wood trim. Also, the wooden beam in the middle of the room is sort of discolored at the base because the wood has been soaking up the water. If you really squint, you might even be able to make out that I am using two books to prop up one of the fans so it is better angled towards the floor. The two books are my slightly water damaged copies of The Art of Just Sitting and Easy Japanese.

So far the ceiling seems to be holding out fairly well. There are a few bumps where the paint appears to be bubbling up a bit, but other than that, it seems ok. No large pieces of plaster have fallen or anything like that.

All-in-all, it has turned out pretty well. It could have been a lot worse. This could have happened when I was away for a longer period of time. Now that would have been a disaster. Thankfully I think I caught it after the water had been running for only an hour or so. Imagine if I had been away on vacation for a few weeks!

I was also suprised at my reaction to the whole thing. I think it might have helped that I was coming home from a Zen class that night so I was in a pretty good frame of mind. When I first got home and discovered the flood, I remained calm. I quickly turned off the water, gathered all the towels I owned and soaked up as much water as possible and put out buckets to catch the water still gushing from the ceiling. I wasn't even upset. In fact, I was kind of mildly amused because it was such an odd sight to see - water pouring out the ceiling in my living room. There was no sense getting upset about the problem - the water was already there and anything that might be ruined already was. Getting upset or angry or depressed wasn't going to make the situation any better. I found myself just accepting it for what it was - a bit of an inconvienence. I now would have to spend some unplanned time cleaning up, but it was something that had to be done so I never even found myself complaining about that. It's interesting how much easier it was to deal with the unplanned event without having some negative emotional reaction to it. This Zen/Buddhism approach to life sure is helpful...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Minor Flood

When I got home from karate class and was getting out the keys to unlock my condo, I heard the sound as if someone were taking a shower inside. I thought that was a bit odd, since I live alone. I thought maybe the sound was coming from a neighbor's condo, but once I opened my door I knew the sound of pouring water was coming from inside. I was hoping maybe it had just started pouring rain outside and I left a window open, or maybe somehow someone broke in and as a joke decided to turn on all my faucets. But, alas, sadly that was not the case. It turned out the water source pipe for the toilet in my upstairs bathroom somehow started leaking in a really big way. It was basically spraying water full force onto the floor. Since I live alone, no one was home to witness this occurance and the bathroom floor eventually flooded and then the water seeped through the floor and came out the ceiling in my downstairs living room. There is a sprinkler head in the ceiling directly above my couch in the living room and the water found that the easiest path to come out. It was pretty funny to see - it looked like someone was running a garden hose out of my ceiling directly onto my couch. I quickly turned off the water pipe in the bathroom, threw towels on the floor in the bathroom to help collect the water, and put some buckets on the already soaked couch to collect any remaining water coming out of the ceiling. Then I figured I should at least take a picture - how many times does one get to see their living room flooded? (hopefully not too often). Unfortuntely, by the time I found my camera, the water slowed down quite a bit, so this picture is all I got.


I thought it was a funny coincidence that this same problem happened at the dojo just last week - a shop upstairs had a toilet water pipe leaking and the water started coming in through the dojo ceiling.

I'm not really sure what the end result of this flood will be. Right now I have a very very wet couch and carpet, and a few of my Japanese language books got a bit wet. I think given time it should all just dry out. At least the water was clean and it wasn't a waste water pipe that was leaking. :-)

One interesting thing that happened in this whole event was my sloppiness in doing laundry paid off. I had done a load of laundry last night, and in the process of sorting the same colors to put in the wash, I had emptied the hamper and left all the remaining dirty laundry on my bathroom floor. All this dirty laundry helped soak up a lot of the water. If it hadn't been on the floor, even more water would have poured into my living room. Also, I had been sorting and folding the clean laundry on the couch in my living room this morning and I hadn't yet put it away. As a result, all this clean laundry soaked up a lot of the water that would have otherwise gone into the couch. Woohoo! For once my procrastination paid off in two ways! Not that I encourage procrastination... it's a really bad habit in general. I've been told that it's my fatal flaw. (Thanks mom!)