Saxophone Fire and Bad Words

There is nothing like having two children to remind you how strange, funny, and complicated language can be. Try answering the question “why is — a bad word?” in a way that makes sense to a four year old. Yesterday she asked me if hate was a bad word, and I was trying to explain that it not a good word to use about people, but was ok to use about things. Not sure I was successful or she was satisfied, but I wouldn’t trade that conversation!

Sometimes it’s easier to just declare the word as bad, such as s—t in Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas. Should a four year old be singing Boom Boom Pow or listening to it? Bad language is something they will encounter whether they do or not (my own use of language occasionally needing some cleaning up) and learning to filter is an important life skill.

Sometimes it’s easier to deflect. My seven year old likes Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon, and rather than explain the sex part, my wife has – for now – convinced them both that the song is Saxophone Fire. Good for a smile on any day, and another on the day when she figures out the title is wrong and then we get to explain it.

The Mute the Phone Office Prank

The client I work with as a lot of conference rooms, all with the standard Polycom conference phone that works well enough. Most just have the phone, a few have the extension microphones (image below). I was a couple minutes early for a recent meeting where I was an attendee but not the host, and while we waited for everyone to join the call there were some of us at my end of the table talking and laughing about something, being loud, and I reached over to hit the mute button, thinking it would mute our microphone to decrease the noise to those on the phone.

Turns out it mutes the entire phone, which I guess makes sense, but I did it just as the host in the room was starting to talk. She thought she forgot to unmute, did so, and said hello to someone that had just joined – but you could almost see her thinking “I don’t remember muting”. In a flash of inspiration I realize that I have this microphone/mute button where she can’t see it, my laptop is blocking the view.

I wait until she glances back at the phone and then hit mute. Eyes go big – “did you see that?”. She unmutes. I give it about three seconds and hit mute again. She is by now convinced the phone is broken,unmutes it. I wait,she sits back. I mute again. She starts to lean forward and I unmute. Mute again. Unmute. Pause for a minute. Everyone at my end of the table – fellow IT types/pranksters at heart all – about to burst. I hit mute again and she is about to launch, looks around, and the game is over, no way anyone was going to conceal that a prank was afoot.

She took it well, and it was all done before the meeting started, so we didn’t throw the meeting off track with the antics. Just a little fun, but maybe something to add to your list of things to try.

Review: Gamma Seal Lids

Last weekend I needed to go to Home Depot to get a five gallon bucket and a lid so we could store some rice we had purchased at Costco in bulk. The bucket was $3, and the lids were next to it for $2. We already have one of these setups at home for flour for baking, works ok, but removing the lid isn’t easy. Keeps the bugs out at the expense of not letting you in, but as we only go to it to replenish the smaller container we use during the week. The lid wrestling has always been a reason to not buy in bulk for my wife, and dry goods like flour, rice, and sugar are prime candidates for this kind of storage.

Gamma Seal Lid - White

Sitting next to that lead was the Gamma Seal Lid, for $6 a lid that mounts to the bucket and then has an easy to turn screw off portion.  Worth $6 not to wrestle with the lid? If it worked I was willing to say yes.  I took it home and tried to push it onto the new bucket, not easy, finally put the lid on the floor, put the bucket on it upside down,and stood on the bottom to get it to click  into place. Lid unscrews easily,nothing complicated about that part.

They sell more more than $6 at Amazon, so you may want to just buy locally. Definitely a good idea and good product. Looking at reviews on Amazon it’s been available since 2007, I just didn’t know/think to look for it. So I’m sharing here, and a reminder to us all that often there are solutions if we take the time to search – though not all of the minor annoyances we encounter in life even rise to the level of a search.

Book Review: Highest Duty, My Search For What Really Matters

Highest Duty, My Search For What Really Matters by Chesley Sullenberger is the autobiography of the pilot who landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson. I listened to it as an audio book and was pleasantly surprised, it was a well done effort that covered a lot more than just the landing in the Hudson, though it was covered well.

More than the landing I came away impressed with the man. Imagine waking up on an average day to go to work, a few hours later being a national hero and getting a call from the President, not being able to go anywhere without being recognized. I suspect few would have handled that as well.

Listening to the story rather than reading it had an added bonus. Most audio books are read by someone other than the author, with books like this even though you know that you think of the author as the one reading you the story. I’m listening along as I drive and near the end the voice changes, it’s actually Sully reading the final couple chapters. It was unexpected. He sounds like a pilot. Faster cadence, clipped, approachable. He talked about some very personal things, including his father committing suicide, and it was more powerful because it was his voice,it was him telling the story.

Listen to it if you can over reading it,I think you’ll enjoy it.

Managing By Walking Around

For a long time a core piece of my ‘style’ has been to wander the halls a couple times a day to see what is going on. It’s been effective as a consultant and as a DBA, I get a lot of requests for help as I pass by that I wouldn’t get if they had to email or call or IM, it’s just how things work. It’s also how I find out how things are going when I’m managing. It’s not about “checking up” but more “checking on”.

I was thinking about that recently, I see most senior managers either in their office or in a meeting, and I think its easy to get disconnected like that. I find most people like having me drop by for a minute once they realize I’m not there to catch them not working every minute of the day. It also means that I when I need to drop in for five minutes to discuss a sensitive topic that they aren’t immediately defensive. Not sure what I mean? Imagine that a manager two levels up dropped in on you, what would you be thinking?

Thinking on all of that, I was trying to recall where I learned this, and I just don’t remember seeing someone do it. The first time I used it was when I had a team of about 25 in the military. I had my own work to do, but I needed to make sure they had what they needed, so every couple hours I would make the rounds to see how they were doing. They liked that I checked on them, I cared about their success.

If you try this, I would offer a couple of tips:

  • Do it all the time. Teach them that you’ll walk by a couple times and if they aren’t obviously busy that you might ask “how is it going?”
  • Be sensitive to interrupting. Sometimes they have that rare hour to think and they will defer to you if you show up,so you have to learn the signals to know when it’s ok.
  • Don’t talk to everyone every time. You’re not running for office. Find a few different routes to walk.

Maybe not for everyone,but it’s been a useful tool for me.

Culture Cubes

A while back I posted about Culture Posters, a technique for trying to build your culture by writing down the core attributes. It’s worth doing, but is a poster enough? How do you get the team to truly absorb it?

The CIO I work with right now took those same values and had them put onto a cube thing like the image above. It folds this way and that way, each side has one of the values from the poster – same colors, same fonts, same logo. One for each employee to put on their desk. Do they get used? Here’s something you might not expect – the cube has a couple magnets to hold it closed and as you flip it back and forth there is an audible ‘click’. It’s not loud, but it’s noticeable, and she hears it on the phone all the time. People play with the cube while talking on the phone, I do it myself.

Does that translate into learning and internalizing the values? I’m not sure about internalizing, but as a tool for sharing them I think it’s more effective than the poster idea, though the two work nicely together.

Distance Decreases Stress

When I’m managing I tend to absorb the stress that my teams feel. It’s my job to help them be successful and to a large degree happy, so when they are stress – especially the frustration kind – I tend to share it with them. It’s human to do that, and in many ways functional, they aren’t “resources” to be used until depleted, they are people and stress has a real impact on productivity.

At the same time a manager has to detach some. Not all stresses can be fixed or reduced, and the work still has to get done. I was remarking to my manager about trying to maintain that balance on a day when I was feeling the frustration more than usual, and her comment was that it was easier for her to see the situation clearly because she wasn’t in the room with them each day. With the benefit of distance she could look at the situation and ask about the challenges calmly and logically. It was, and is, a powerful lesson.

The goal isn’t to reduce the stress of the manager though. It would be easy to create so much distance that the people really were resources and you never felt the stress from the team. Stress on the team is just one factor in the problem, but it can’t be the only factor when you make decisions.