Friday, August 31, 2007

Internet Off the Grid

For the past year or so, the thought has occurred to me that conditions could reach a point where energy is precious enough that we may be pushed out of urban centers to better situate ourselves to grow our own food or at least live closer to its production. That's not the only cause or justification, but you get the drift - people more spread out instead of more concentrated. People quite likely living off the grid.

And if that were to happen, the question I keep wondering is whether that would result in going back to an agrarian society or whether some other way of being might evolve.

I'm comfortable enough with the former, having grown up around wheat farming and having helped raise cattle myself. But I'm betting on the latter. There is so much of what so many of us do that is virtual anymore that if there were a way to stay virtually connected via the internet, despite the distances and the changes in availability of energy, then I'm sure we could rebuild a spread out, virtual society.

It's an interesting thought anyway and now it seems there really does exist the technology that could take the internet off the grid. Makes you think about where the new power centers are likely to be, doesn't it? Of course, with the combination of the decreased daylight and increased clouds and storms in the wintertime, the Seattle area would likely be open for business only in the summer months.

So - what's your most interesting and/or optimistic post-apocalyptic scenario assuming there are still computers and ways for them to stay connected over distances? I love science fiction "what-if's" so send yours to me at and let's riff on it a bit. You never know where it could lead.

Where do I want to be in twenty years? What's likely then? And what can I do today to make the two mesh?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shades of Gray

Yesterday, I read one more tipping debate and yet another question about whether and how to move into management. I see these questions come up from time to time, and usually end up shaking my head.

As always, there are people who understand something about waiting tables and what it takes to be a manager (some of whom even have good advice). And then there are others who don't quite get what management is all about or think all managers are idiots. Sadly, these are perhaps the same people who display no understanding of the challenges faced by waitrons.

I'll step out on that limb because while there seems to be very little in common with these two subjects, there is one important aspect they both share - at least part of the passion associated with each is of the shoot first, ask questions later variety. People feel (and react) strongly without taking the time to understand more than their own perspectives.

Seeing issues in black and white terms seems easier than making the effort it takes to see and understand the shades of gray. It's more satisfying and there is rarely any shortage of like-minded opinions.

The real truth, however, generally lies somewhere in between. There are stupid managers but being a manager does not guarantee the lack of a brain. And yes, the federal rules that allow employers to pay servers less than minimum wage does cause serious and damaging misunderstandings about tipping, however it appears that the "tip credit" loophole is no longer a factor in Washington State. If that had been true back when I was waiting tables myself, I wouldn't have the stories I have to share today of getting negative paychecks.

It takes real effort - and a willingness to set preconceived ideas aside, even risk being wrong - to find out the truth. In the case of tipping, it's compassion for fellow human beings doing their best to make a living (or, on the other side of the coin, understanding people who may not realize that there is more to waiting tables than keeping a water glass full) that's at stake. I really can't imagine getting into a shouting match over it. I prefer to be nice to my servers and hope they're nice back to me. I've been there - which means I also know the real differences between good service and poor service and when there is a problem in the kitchen and when someone is just looking for someone else to blame for inattentiveness.

I also take the time to educate friends and family on the wage issues associated with the food and beverage service industry.

In the case of management (high-tech and otherwise), it's the difference between working together effectively or seeing the people you work with most closely as "other" - a de-humanized "them" that automatically puts these others on the wrong side of the fence as "us". Working with the shades of gray where one typically finds the truth can be very uncomfortable. The finer lines between the more black-and-white viewpoints are far simpler to work with than all the fuzziness. I like to think the rewards of trying to be right as opposed to just feeling right are worth it though.

And by the way - I'd hazard a guess that a willingness and an ability to work with those shades of gray is probably a good indicator of future success and/or effectiveness as a manager. There's no guaranteed black and white on that one - just a hunch worth checking out.

If you've learned something about waiting tables that applies to leadership or have a well-reasoned thought (as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction) to tipping or transitioning into management, I'm interested to hear all about it. Send your thoughts to me at and feel free to stretch my boundaries. Maybe you'll stretch some of your own boundaries in the process.

How rewarding is understanding vs. ridicule?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

SMOG Is Back

It may be a perfectly sunny late-summer day in Seattle today, however I learned over the weekend that I was SMOG. Oh, and Tall Person was FOG. As a former meteorologist, I found this rather disconcerting at first, because even though we were in Spokane at the time, the weather was great there too.

It turns out, this was just Rev. Mary's way of identifying Step-Mother of (the) Groom and Father of (the) Groom. Today I am no longer SMOG; today I am simply a Mother-In-Law. While that news hasn't really quite sunk in with me just yet, the weekend of wedding festivities gave it a good start and I was reminded of how important ritual can be at times like this.

It was explained to me once that all the major rites of passage in one's life - births, coming of age, marriages, and deaths among the most important ones - typically involve ritual as a way of making the mental shift from one way of being (and relating to others) into another way. Understanding what I do about change management these days, this makes sense to me and this weekend, I had a chance to see this process up close and personal.

It wasn't just a weekend full of partying. My son and his new wife will have an easier time embracing the notion of starting a new life together as a couple because of having taken the time to mark the passage of their old ways of being. These same rituals also help family and friends to stop seeing them as they had been and begin seeing and relating to them in new ways.

My son is now grown-up in ways I hadn't really thought about before. I have a daughter now in addition to my two sons. I myself am now a Mother-in-law. And on top of all that, there are new people in my life to think about and perhaps bond with as a result of this marriage. These are strange new concepts for me and yet they have more sticking power because the wedding and all the trappings of the weekend help me get my mind around all the changes this marriage means.

My experience is that it is no different in corporate life, especially in the fast-paced world of high-tech. People come and go, managers change, new products are added while others are dropped, processes are added, improved, or eliminated, companies are created and then they grow, shrink, merge, move or fold altogether. All of these changes impact us to some degree or another just like weddings change our relationships in some way, even when we're not the ones getting married.

All the best materials I've seen about change management say that no matter what the change is, it helps to identify what is going away as well as what is new... and to properly grieve that loss first as a necessary step in the process of moving forward. Seen now in the context of a parent of a child who has just gotten married, I have to say it makes even more sense now than ever before.

It seems I've been pretty successful at one challenging role - that of a stepmother - so I'm hoping that I can learn from that and be an even better mother-in-law. The idea is starting to grow on me at least.

If you've got good advice about making that shift, I'm open to hearing whatever you feel like sharing with me at and I'm sure you'll hear more about my experiences and progress as I go along. As always, I'll try to keep it relevant. After all, the connections between the ideas is as important to me as the connections between people.

In the meantime, I'll probably still laugh from time to time at the coincidence that of all the people on Rev. Mary's map, we should be the two to end up with the meteorologically-inclined acronyms.

What do I have to give up in my life or work now, in order to make space for what's new?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hell Week(s)

I'm having trouble imagining the full impact the I-5 construction is likely to have starting Monday morning. No big deal or bigger than we all figured or what? Here's a thought - how about buying some time to see what it's really like before venturing out into the mess by test-driving the telecommuting component of your business continuity plans.

You know, the plans that take into account the possibility that some flu pandemic could hit, or the 520 bridge could sink or float away or the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct could pancake (especially after having been damaged in the Nisqually Quake), leaving workplaces not nearly so accessible as normal.

Having already had to restore tech support services offsite once when our building was red-tagged after the Nisqually Quake, I highly recommend making sure you can keep doing business from a remote location. That capability could come in handy over the next few weeks if the traffic really does get as bad as they predict.

I'm interested to hear how you'll deal with the anticipated construction havoc. Send your thoughts to about what you will (would) do if getting to work is difficult (or impossible).

What's in the way of your goal and what will you do about that?

Saturday, August 11, 2007


A lot of summer mornings, I love to get up early while the world is still quiet and just enjoy the stillness. Sometimes it's nice just to sleep in. Today would have been the latter except that after a while, I realized I was hearing a noise that didn't quite fit. There was too much regularity to the sound to be the wind in some shrub near the house. Curiosity (of course) forced me awake to investigate.

What I had decided must be chewing (and pretty big chewing at that) turned out to be a mid-sized raccoon (maybe 25-30lb), probably enjoying the apples that have started dropping from our tree. Mind you, although I enjoy a fabulous mountain view from my back patio, the downtown Bellevue skyscrapers I can see through the trees are walking distance away, so the fact that there are raccoons in my suburban backyard always strikes me as funny. I know they live here. I just don't always expect to see them.

I don't know if it's the same one or not but a while back, we actually had a bit of a raccoon problem. For a long time, I just thought our two cats really were eating 2-3 bowls of cat food a day from the self-filling dish I put out for them in the garage. Then one evening, tall person noticed a bandit face and little paws peering through our patio door from the dark. At that moment, we both realized that "Rocky" was getting into the garage through the cat door and was responsible for eating much of the cat food so I moved the dish indoors.

I didn't move the large container of food though, and so Rocky pretty quickly adapted to lifting the lid off of the storage container. Our next move was to lock the lid in place with bungie cords. A couple of mornings later, I found the entire 20lb container moved from the doorway to between the cars, tipped over on its side. Thankfully, the bungie cords were still in place but it was clear that Rocky was not only motivated and persistent, he was pretty clever too. I didn't want to give him another chance to figure out how to open the storage bin, so we moved it indoors and hoped he wouldn't be interested in looking inside for it.

As far as I know, Rocky hasn't been in our garage lately, so having him enjoy some of our fallen apples outdoors isn't such a bad trade-off. I'll probably be back to sleeping in when I want since I won't feel such a compelling need to get up and investigate now that I know what's making that noise. And next time I want to hire a tech support rep or a QA tester, I'll know where to find a character with the kind of ingenuity and persistence I like to see in those roles.

Send your stories of close brushes with nature or thoughts on hiring practices to me at

Which critter embodies your best/worst traits?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Start Me Up

Back when I was in Tech Support at Attachmate, we used to have an award where we'd pick the top ten people we'd want to work with if we were to put together a dream team - most of us chose people who were both knowledgeable in their domain(s) and were easy to work with.

Startup Weekend feels like that to me, especially since Andrew Hyde copied a handful of us who have expressed an early interest in making a Startup Weekend - Seattle event happen here by way of introduction to each other. So - now we're working on figuring out when to hold Startup Weekend - Seattle, where to have it and who to include. I can't really say I have any idea where it will all lead... and it's pretty exciting anyway, quite likely at least in part because I don't know.

So now I'm starting to think about who of all the people I know might be good in a startup environment and, of those, who might want to be part of a Seattle Startup Weekend, creating a company and a product all in one weekend - what Andrew calls Jazz for Entrepreneurs.

Some of us are having conversations already. Now that I'm back from vacation, I'm also working on getting to know the folks Andrew has put me in touch with and hear more about what they're up to in terms of planning for this event so we can begin to work out some kind of a division of labor. All of us are working on getting the word out - we're sure that Seattle has plenty of talent that would be drawn to this kind of experiment and help bring it to life.

Does the idea of Startup Weekend interest you? Do you know people in (or willing to travel to) the Seattle area who might be interested? Do you know someplace we could use for the weekend for this event? Send your thoughts to me at and let's have some fun pulling together a great team for a fun project and see what we can make of it together.

What does it take to make the unknown exciting instead of scary?