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Back in Philly

You know it’s bad when your ten year old daughter points out at dinner that your blog hasn’t been updated since before Thanksgiving. Who decided she could have an iPod Touch for Christmas?

The big news is that we’ve sold our house in North Carolina, moved up to Philly, found a house and hope to close by the end of April.

When last I wrote, our old house had been on the market for a few months – with lots of interest but no offers. We came off the market in October, switched realtors and had a good debate about whether to relist over the holidays or wait until the Spring. In an ideal world, we didn’t want to have the move the kids in the middle of the school year. Assuming it could take another few months to find our buyer, we opted to relist and were back on the market the day after Thanksgiving. Eight days later, we were under contract and had a closing date of January 17th. So much for minimizing disruption.

The next six weeks were a blur. There were a couple of weekend trips north to look for a house, a mad dash to empty the storage unit and a little thing called Christmas, which we celebrated in Philly (so we could house hunt). The real packing didn’t begin until January 2nd. The movers came on the 15th, we closed on the 17th and left Durham on the 19th. We spent our last week in Durham living in a two room hotel suite, prepping the house for close and trying to say goodbye to as many people as possible. (We didn’t get to an awful lot of people – and for that I apologize.) While the move was clearly emotional for my wife, I think it was worse for my oldest daughter. At least my wife was looking forward to coming home. For my daughter, this was just a goodbye.

I will say that email and FaceTime have made the transition a lot easier for my kids. When I moved as a kid, the best you could hope for was a couple of letters before everyone drifted off into their lives.

Since we hadn’t found a new home and my parents didn’t want us to rush into such an important decision (aka: buy one of the houses we were looking at 45 minutes away), they offered to let us stay with them. As generous an offer as this was, it wasn’t easy to say yes. My ego didn’t like the idea of being nearly 40 and moving my wife and three children in with my parents. More importantly, we’re loud and disorganized and were going to disrupt my parents’ empty nest lives in a major way. On the whole, it’s gone relatively well. There have certainly been a few moments… but we’ve worked hard to contain the chaos and my Dad has been forgiving. (I think he really enjoys having the grandkids around.)

Our children have also weathered the transition well. As our realtor told us, going to a new school in the middle of the year made them rock stars for a while. However, the novelty has worn off and now they are going through the normal challenges of building new relationships. It’s hard but they were adamant that they didn’t want to switch schools again. We were fortunate enough to find exactly the house we wanted in an area that would keep them in the same school.

Now it’s all paperwork and phone calls to get ready for closing. It’s amazing how phone oriented the mortgage business is. It’s actually slowed down the process for me as I spend most of my day already on conference calls or on a plane. They really need an electronic interaction system with a secure way to upload the needed documents. But that’s another topic for another day.

Refit Enterprise, Part II

As you can see, I’ve made some progress on the drive section. It’s been completely wrapped in ‘Aztec’ decals… which simulate the thousands of individual panels that make up the skin of the Enterprise. And when I say wrapped, I mean wrapped. Virtually every inch of this thing is covered. I can’t fully declare victory on the Secondary Hull yet, though. I still have to apply the detailed marking decals.

While I have the inevitable list of things I’d do differently “if only I had known”, I do have one major gripe. I got exactly the brand and color/number of paint specified in the instructions… including a blue/green mix called Duck Egg Blue. You can see this color on the Pylons, Nacelles and the top of the neck. The problem is that the decals in the same area have a blue coloring that’s supposed to match the Duck Egg Blue… and it’s not even close. I don’t know if Testor changed the color, the instructions were just wrong or the decals are off, but my color scheme doesn’t match the hero or other models I’ve seen online. I haven’t seen any indication of a mismatch in any of forum or other build instruction. I’m at a bit of a loss.

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My ideal company / job

During a mentoring conversation the other day, I was asked to describe my ideal job and/or organization. I find questions like that – along with ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ and ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?” – to be a double-edged sword. While a clear answer makes it easier for others to help, it also cuts off unexpected opportunities that might have been much more interesting. Either way, I gave the topic some thought and came up with the description below. Feel free to share if this would be helpful to anyone you know.

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First, let me say that what follows should be taken as guidelines instead of rules. For the ‘right’ opportunity – defined as ‘I know it when I see it’ – I could go in virtually any direction. But there are some characteristics that define my ideal company right now.

  • Aligned
    An organization that uses a shared vision, values and culture to guide and reinforce decision-making across teams. When people understand where they are going and what kind of behavior is expected, they can be trusted to make good decisions without micro-management. On the other hand, constantly changing strategies; poorly conceived objectives; and a short-term focus create conflict and lead to selfish decisions.
  • Focused
    An organization with a concrete view of the market, its role in it today and it’s aspiration for tomorrow. A willingness to say no to good ideas so that it can focus resources on executing the vision. It’s better to do a few things well versus many so-so.
  • Innovative
    This isn’t necessarily just a technology or product statement. It could be business model or process. For example, I joined IBM as part of their unique EBO program – the way that IBM pursued new opportunities that were too small to for the mainstream businesses to notice. BTW: The concept of entrepreneurship in an established organization still fascinates me.
  • Produces technology (or products) that people use. I moved to the Sametime team because I wanted to work on products that people could see, touch and use… as opposed to middleware connecting systems. I’m a gadget guy. I love toys. Some days, I think I would love to be a reviewer for engagdet or gizmodo.
  • Has a bit of a wow factor. Enough of a wow that I’m willing to tackle the mundane tasks because what we’re doing in the end is energizing.
  • Geographically open-minded. My house is for sale and we intend to relocate to the Philadelphia area to be near family. I’m willing to travel if it means my wife and kids can be near the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. On the flip side, I have not found working from home to be a challenge with all the communication tools at my disposal.

As far as the actual role…

    • Most likely: Product / Solution Management, Strategy, New Product Development or Evangelism. This is what I’ve done for the last 10 years. I tend to be comfortable with what I call the ‘gray spaces’… areas where decisions need to be made with imperfect information and iterated on quickly. That was also one of the things that attracted me to Sametime. The collision of communications and collaboration opened up all sorts of new possibilities, market dynamics and new lines of competition.
    • Secondarily, I would be open to exploring roles in Business Development and Acquisitions. I do a lot of the former and have been involved in several of the latter.
    • Something with an external component. I like dealing with customers & partners. I find it very energizing / motivating.
    • A suitably senior/executive level position.

Updates and Musings

Doctor Who

My family just finished watching the ‘fall season finale’ of Doctor Who and the production team has to be congratulated for creating such great family entertainment. Sure, it’s got tech and the occasional mind bending, timey-wimey plot for geeks like me, great characters and romances for my wife and monsters to scare the kids. But what I really love is the way they’ve written the 11th Doctor. He has exactly the same reaction to Amy and Rory kissing as my 7 year old son (eeewwww!). That makes the Doctor very ‘real’ to my son and, somehow, excuses all the grown up stuff at the same time. It’s just brilliant.

The Enterprise Model

I’ve made some good progress on the model. Here’s a shot of the drive section. It’s ready for decals. Unfortunately, I’ve had some issues with the saucer section… so am going to have to repaint it.

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Selling the House

The house is still on the market. We had a second showing yesterday and have another first showing today. One couple wanted to make us an offer contingent on selling their house – but they would only put their house on the market if they knew they had ours. Somehow, that seemed to shift all the risk onto us and we declined. Another couple loved our house but can’t make an offer until they sell theirs. The realtors are keeping in touch but no news yet. Finally, there was ‘this guy’. The wife and daughter loved our house but the husband didn’t. I don’t know whether to buy this guy a beer for standing his ground or smack him upside the head for being an idiot. Either way, he’s not going to stay married very long by denying his wife (and daughter) something they really, really want. Needless to say no offer from them.

Refit Enterprise

And so we find ourselves in the ‘dead zone’. The house has been on the market for 6 weeks. We had a dozen showings in the first month or so… but since the July 4th holiday and the extreme heat hit… there’s been nothing. The kids’ early summer camps are over and we didn’t schedule a vacation trip because we didn’t know where would be. We’re in limbo.

I decided that since I don’t have much in the way of house projects (kitchen cabinets came out beautifully), I’d take advantage of the downtime to build the Polar Lights 1/350 scale Starship Enterprise that’s been sitting in my closet for nine months. This is the ‘refit’ version from the Wrath of Khan… one of my favorite movies as a kid. (They have a similar version for the Reliant that I’d like to do next.) I haven’t done a ‘model’ like this in years and given it’s size – nearly 36 inches long with a saucer section nearly a foot and a half across – it was a good excuse to learn to airbrush. Some of the pine wood derby cars in Jack’s cub scout troop were very professionally finished. This will help me teach him how to do it for his next competition. (Plus, Grace really likes going the model store with me. I see rockets in our future.)

I opted not to light the model for simplicity. Again, I haven’t built something like this in 20 years and I invariably screwed up every paint job. As of today, all the major assemblies are together and I’m painting. And just like as a kid, I’ve screwed up the paint job. I sanded the final matte coat before applying some Pearl White – assuming that the Pearl White was an actual color that would provide uniform coverage and hide the sanded areas. In reality, Pearl White is virtually clear and adds a pearlescent shimmer to whatever is under it. So all the scuff marks were very pretty… and entirely too obvious. *Sigh*.

On the flip side, the HVLP paint sprayer I used to paint the inside of my house gave me enough experience that I quickly developed a reasonable airbrushing technique. (Not claiming expertise yet. Need a lot more practice for that.) I bought a Paasche  H single action airbrush and hooked it up to my Porter Cable pancake air compressor (which I bought for use with a nail gun when I was remodeling the master bath). I’m using Model Master acrylic white paint for the base coats, Tamiya White Pearl (TS-45 spray cans) for the required pearling effect and Model Master and Testor enamels for the accent colors. There are an enormous amount of decals that go on this beast. I will post some pictures when I get a few minutes.

Taking the fun out of using a Mac for work

As you can imagine, IBM has some pretty strict requirements about IT assets used for work purposes. For Windows machines, they’ve long had a suite of software that validated compliance with these policies and ‘automated’ certain required tasks. You know… conveniently pushing a Windows update during a customer demo or executing a virus scan that slows the machine to a crawl 30 minutes before a key deadline.

So, four years ago, when I starting using a MacBook for work, it came with a certain degree of freedom. IBM had no monitoring software and, since I owned that machine, I used it for both work and personal needs. One machine and no overhead… it was ideal.

Fast forward four years. I’m now using an IBM owned MacBook and have just been directed to install the new OSX management software. I can’t really argue the point because it is their machine. But I’m not comfortable with my personal data being on a machine that IBM can “manage”.

Last week a shiny new (BTO) MacMini arrived and I’ve migrated my digital life to it. [I thought about a MacBook Air but it felt redundant with my iPad. A tiny, always on workhorse seemed to make more sense than another mobile device. Especially since I can use the Mini from my iPad with SplashTop Remote Desktop.]

Next week, I will install the IBM required software, activate the mandated 3rd party whole disk encryption, and boldly go… back to the future of two machines.

Off Topic: Not entirely sure how IBM intends to reconcile this with the ‘Bring your own device’ program. If I owned this MacBook, I’d be much less inclined to accept these mandates.

Kitchen Renovations

For the last few months, I’ve been refinishing our kitchen cabinets on the weekends. We’re almost done with this room and, looking back, it’s a pretty amazing transformation. The picture below is what our kitchen looked like when we moved in to this house in 2003.Image

As you can see, it was brown… really brown. The cabinets, island, light box and floor were all stained the same dark brown color. The counter tops were beige laminate and the walls were an awful mint chocolate chip green color. The appliances were original to the house – at that point 15 years old – and only moderately functional. And that light box… nothing like “natural” fluorescent lighting to brighten a kitchen.

ImageToday, the light box has been replaced with a decorative pot hanger featuring three pendant lights. The two layers of wall paper that had been painted that interesting shade of green were removed and the walls were painted two shade of blue. The counters are now high-end solid surface (grey with speckles of white, black blue and brown). The stainless steel sink & faucet were replaced with two integrated sinks and a rubbed bronze, high arch faucet. The island is navy blue while the rest of the cabinets are a sand / khaki color. The microwave, oven and dishwasher were replaced with new units at various periods over the past year or so. We also removed the wooden valence that spanned the cabinets over the sink.

It’s a little hard to tell in the picture above, but the in-progress photo to the left shows that the hardwood floors have been refinished and lightened considerably. All told, it makes a huge difference.

You might notice that the drawer faces in the above picture are still brown. Refinishing those and the cabinet doors are the next step in this particular project.