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Loving Rain And Hating Sunshine

Too bad the weather was so bad tonight.

What is bad weather to you?

Rain?

Wind?

Heat?

Cold?

I spent the weekend in Washington attending a friend’s wedding. It rained everyday. Sometimes a lot.

It was great.

First, understand that I grew up in the Seattle area. (For people from Washington I tell them it was actually around Olympia, (For people from Olympia, I explain it was actually Lacey.)) It’s not a surprise to anyone that it rains in Seattle.

It rains nine months out of the year in Seattle.
– Sleepless in Seattle

One of my favorite rain jokes is

A couple moves from California to Seattle. It rains the first week they are there, so they stay inside. It rains the second week. By the third week they decide to venture out despite the rain. They see a young boy and ask him “Does it ever stop raining here?”

“How should I know? I’m only 7.

Yes, it rains. . .a lot.

But, I no longer live in Washington. I’ve lived in Utah for years. Utah is a desert. Desert people love the rain. We love snow. We love any sort of water that freely falls from the sky. We need snow for the ski resorts and we need snowpack to feel our reservoirs next the summer.

And we aren’t allowed to complain about any form of precipitation. Several years ago after shoveling my driveway 5 times in as many days, my neighbor (also shoveling his driveway) turned to me and said, “You aren’t still praying for snow are you?” It was the closest I heard someone come to complaining. I almost had to report him. Snow could be five feet deep in your driveway and you always have to say the same thing.

Well, we can certainly use the moisture.

It’s like a state law or motto.

So, hanging out in Olympia, WA over the weekend, I simply enjoyed the rain. Rain is something we like. It’s something we pray for God to send us. How could I not love the rain?

So, was the weather good or bad?

It was a matter of perspective. I would have loved for Utah to be getting inundated with the rain that was making people in Western Washington complain. Terrible weather in Utah is weeks of no rain. I live in a big bowl. The air gets trapped, especially in the winter and we get terrible inversions. Air quality is often worse than LA or pretty much anywhere in the country. You know what clears out an inversion?

Yup. A nice rain or snowstorm. It’s like putting the “air blanket” through the washing machine.

There’s a business lesson here, of course. I work with a lot of call center agents. An agent is hired to take calls. They are told when to show up, when to take a 15 minute break, when to take a 30 minute or 1 hour lunch (no, they don’t get to choose typically) and when to go home. Their day is regimented. Our call floors are secure so they also cannot bring tablets, or phones, or even a pen onto the floor. It’s a firing offense.

My schedule is whatever I decide it to be. I typically show up early and leave late. As a project manager, I’m on the list to be able to take my cell phone on the floor. I can take paper and pen and basically do just about everything the agents are told they can’t do.

There are many of them that would love to have the privileges that my position entails. And yet. . .when their shift is over, they hang up their headsets and go home. The job doesn’t follow them.

I got a call on Friday (a scheduled vacation day for my friend’s wedding) because a system was broken. I was shopping with my mother at the time.

You go ahead, Mom. This may take awhile.

Ninety minutes later she got back with an armload of packages and I was still on the phone.

Who has the better job? The person with the rigid schedule or the guy who has to take support calls while he’s on vacation? My dad used to say,

Do don’t get to wish to trade just one piece. You have to look at the entire package.

I love my job, but, it’s no fun to feel like I cannot take a day off. Is it worth it? Sure, so far.

What is bad weather? In Seattle over the weekend it was loads and loads of rain. As I landed in Salt Lake, my phone said that we were experiencing a winter storm warning for the next 18 hours. Heavy snow above 7,000 feet. Heavy wind and rain on the valley floor at 4,000 feet.

What wonderful weather to come home to.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Lessons Of A Road Warrior

It’s just like riding a bike, right? If you get really good at something and then you don’t do it for a while, it comes right back, right? In the grand scheme of my trip it was a minor thing. But, I forgot my neck pillow.

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And I shouldn’t be such a wimp about it. After all, no one else in my row had a neck pillow! My inner observer pointed out,

Obviously they forgot there’s too!

One of the first things I learned when I was doing lots of traveling was that packing was my least favorite part. And unless I made a list I was going to forget stuff.

So, I didn’t make a list, I just went out and bought more stuff.

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This is my traveling kit. It all fits in that black bag. The nice thing about buying a second set of gear was that I now only had to remember one thing instead of of a dozen. If you’ve ever arrived at the hotel only to realize you forgot your shampoo, chance are you are going to your meeting tomorrow smelling like whatever was cheapest when the shampoo sales guy met with the general manager. Of course it hasn’t totally eliminated the need for remembering. Now, I have to remember to refill the toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo. But, at least if I forgot those things one day, I typically can try to remember the next day or the day after that.

Do you want me to throw away that empty bottle?

No, that’s a very expensive bottle!

It looks like a normal plastic water bottle. We have dozens of those go through the TSA checkpoint everyday. What makes that one so special?

This water bottle is worth well over a $100 dollars.

Really?

Yes. It’s worth $2 every time I fill it past security.

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I’ve become a great fan of drinking water. As I mentioned when I talked about How I Lost 30 Pounds And Why You Can’t, I’ve pretty much replaced drinking soda with drinking water.

It’s made ordering dinner very easy. Since I don’t drink alcohol I always know they’ll have my preferred drink. And by taking my own bottle of water on a flight, I don’t have to wait for the flight attendants to come through and ask me what I’d like to drink. I did have to get used to drinking it room temperature, but I’ve never really been someone who needed a lot of ice for my drinks.

Except for one time.

I was in China to adopt my son. We went to a really nice Chinese restraunt. I ordered a Coke.

Do you want Ice?

Drinking tap water in 3rd world countries is a risky proposition. And I didn’t want to be that American who needed his drink ice cold.

No, I’ll be fine without ice.

I don’t know where they were storing that can of Coke, but I think it might have been next to the oven. Or perhaps in direct sunlight. The can was hot to the touch. Not wanting to embarrass my hosts, I drank it anyway, but it wasn’t easy.

The final road warrior lesson has to do more with attitude than actions. I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve travelled all over the world for business and adoptions. I’ve travelled by plane, boat, car, bus and train in the United States. I prepare well and then attempt to simply “be” in the moment when I travel.

During a trip to Haiti to adopt a sibling group we missed our flight. Haiti is an interesting place. Like a lot of Carribean or South American locations, time is a relative thing. A 9:00 AM appointment means, “We’ll see you sometime in the morning. . .and if we don’t, we’ll see you in the afternoon. . .but maybe you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” As Americans we are used to a 9:00 AM appointment time meaning, “That’s my time, and you as the person I’m meeting with need to give it to me.” That totally doesn’t work in Haiti.

We ended up at the airport with less time to get through a complicated exit process than we wanted. When you fly out of Port au-Prince you can go to Miami or you can go to New York. That’s literally the only two destinations. And there is a single queue. We got in line and inched forward watching the clock anxiously. Finally, they called for the guy in front of us. We were next. We were going to make it.

No more Miami flights. We are now processing passengers for the New York flight.

What?

Haiti. We could see the plane on the runway, but we weren’t getting on it. In fact, we weren’t going anywhere today. Booking our tickets had been a huge struggle since I had flown directly from North Dakota, my lovely wife, daughter and and one of our boys had flown from Utah. Of course, we all wanted to return on the same plane.

The airline representative spent over an hour rebooking our tickets. We had to call the orphanage we were adopting from and have them send our driver back to the airport. We then had to book another night in a hotel. Not to mention try to contact the people watching our kids at home that we would be delayed a day. And I had to tell my boss.

All because we were one person too late in line. Why do I tell you this story? Because, we got to decide how we were going to react. We really had no control over the circumstances. We could have chosen to be upset or annoyed. But, maybe some of the Haitian attitude had rubbed off on us. We enjoyed the chance for one more night in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. We were going to be there anyway, we might as well enjoy it. We were saddened years later when the earthquake hit Port ah-Prince to see pictures of the hotel we stayed in that last night completely destroyed.

Life is short. Plan as well as you can and then take what comes. You’ll enjoy your travels a lot more.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Our Waiter Was Rude So We Left A REALLY Big Tip

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Welcome to the Tap House. My name’s Carl, I’ll be taking care of you folks tonight. Can I start you folks off with something to drink?

Yeah, I think I’ll have a water.

And you, sir?

What beers do you have on tap?

We have. . . .

And he was gone. Mid sentence he left and rushed to the table next to us. He picked up a stack of bills and then quickly hurried out the door. My three business associated and I just stared at each other.

That was weird.

There’s a story there, of course. How often do we make snap judgements based on incomplete information? I’m a big Louis L’Amour fan. In his autobiography, “Education of A Wandering Man” he tells of a time when he had a job digging foundation holes for some government barracks. Each man was armed with a shovel. An average digger could dig one hole per day. L’Amour wasn’t average. He could typically dig two per day. The laborers were paid by the day, so there was no incentive for him to double the output of his coworkers, he just did to challenge himself. There was one other guy on the crew who was as good as L’Amour. They would regularly challenge each other to see who would produce the most each day. One day around noon, they had both finished their first hole of the day and were taking a break leaning on their shovels before starting on the next one. At that moment, the foreman came out of his office.

I’ll have no slackers on my crew. You two are both fired.

The lesson of course, being that by acting hastily, the foreman had let his two best workers go. (I have to wonder how good a foreman he was if he didn’t know who was doing the best work, but L’Amour doesn’t touch on that.)

Think about your office. Are there times where at first glance something looks wrong, but with complete information the view changes?

While working at Microsoft I had a manager named Susan. She told me about a time she needed to retrieve email from her spam folder. But, the way Microsoft had their network setup, the spam mail was stripped out before it ever got to the mailbox. It went into a system quarantine folder for 10 days and then was deleted. Susan needed a particular email that the system had decided was spam. She had to physically travel to the datacenter and use a special computer in the datacenter to search through her spam mail. The computer was isolated because most spam also includes viruses. The IT department didn’t want to allow the possibility that a virus might infect a user looking at their spam mail.

Susan made the trip and started looking through her spam folder. The program she was using had a “preview” pane. When she scrolled over a message, the message was displayed on a part of the monitor. Well, a spam folder also holds a lot of porn messages too. They are probably the worst type of spam. Just as Susan was scrolling past one of the porn messages, and while it was displayed on the screen, a coworker walked through the datacenter.

No. This isn’t what it looks like!

Hey, no worries. It’s cool.

No, you need to believe me that I’m not down here surfing porn!

Eventually our waiter returned.

I’m really sorry. It’s just when I saw the stack of bills on that table I knew the people had “dined and dashed.”

I hate when people do that.

Yeah, their bill was $130 and they left about $20 in ones on the table. It’s not my money, but they still stiffed me for a tip. Where were we? Drinks! What can I get you?

We didn’t really talk about it over dinner, but when the checks came, I decided he had been a good waiter and I felt bad that people had cheated him on the tip. My meal was $22. I left an $8 tip, slightly more than 30%.

We really liked the Tap House. Although I was leaving the next day, we typically went there at least a couple of times per week when I was in Louisville.

Two weeks later I was back in Louisville and we were back at the Tap House. And I was with the same group of coworkers. I pointed out that we were sitting at the same table that the people had dined and dashed from.

I felt bad for the waiter. I left him a very nice tip.

Yeah, we came in the following night and had the same waiter. He thanked us because apparently we all left big tips.

Nothing could have reinforced more clearly that while I don’t share geography, religious affiliation or history with my coworkers, we share a common view of what’s right and wrong.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

The Anguish of Mother Duck

Most people are familiar with the children’s story of the ugly duckling. For any readers who may not be, it’s the story of a duckling that looks different than the other ducklings. The ugly duckling is more awkward, and in an anthropomorphic story feels rejected by the other ducks. The duckling feels resigned to his fate until one day he wanders to a different part of the pond and discovers the graceful, beautiful white swans. And the “duckling” realizes he’s not an ugly duck, he’s a beautiful swan. The story is designed to help us consider what it means to be beautiful or ugly; what it means to be accepting of those who are different. It’s a lesson important for home, family and work.

On my personal blog, I’ve created a slightly different version of the story.

The Anguish Of Mother Duck

How do you think the Ugly Duckling’s mother felt? By the end of the story the Ugly Duckling wants nothing more than to get away from the ducks and go to his “real” family.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

He Was Brilliant At Basketball. Computers? Not So Much.

Hey Rodney, you’re good with computers, right?

I’m okay.

Well, you work for Microsoft don’t you?

Yeah.

Could you come help me fix my computer?

My neighbor was pretty good at basketball. In fact, he was really good. He was selected #16 overall by the Seattle Sonics in the 2000 NBA draft.

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(Photo credit: exnba.com)

We lived in Maple Valley, a suburb of Seattle. He bought the house next to the lot where we built our dream house. (Neither one of us would be there a year later, but that is another story.)

I invited my friend CK to come help. He’s much better at the hardware diagnoses than I am. And we were headed to Desmond’s house because the computer was broken. He had already tried to upgrade it once.

Desmond, can you explain what you already tried to do?

Yes, I tried to ask it very diplomatically.

Well, my cousin came over to help me upgrade it to Windows XP.

Did you guys run the Migration Wizard?

The what?

A program that tells you what you need to change on your computer so that Windows XP will run?

Oh, yeah we did that. It’s right here.

Desmond, this says that your modem isn’t compatible with Windows XP. How were you going to get the files you need to make the modem work?

My cousin said that we would just download them after we upgraded.

Over your dial up phone connection?

Yeah, I know. That’s when I decided to call you.

Desmond and I both thought we were going to be neighbors for a long time. Him because he’d been assured he was the future of the Sonics franchise, and me because we had just built our dream house.

I fell victim to a falling stock market, and Desmond ended up as trade bait.

Don’t worry Desmond. We can fix this. But, you’ll owe me.

Oh? Okay, what do you charge?

You misunderstand. I would never charge my neighbor for helping him. But, I’m going to ask for something in return.

What’s that?

I bought a new basketball standard and I need a tall person to help attach the backboard.

Cool.

And my buddy Ck here wants a peanut butter sandwich.

Okay, so to fix Desmond’s problem was actually fairly easy. His Gateway computer came with a “soft” modem. It was a modem that was configured completed through software rather than hardware. When he ran the upgrade, Windows XP wiped out the old software that was running the modem. And this was in the days before hi-speed modems. It was all dial up over the phone.

To fix his computer we simply bought a $15 modem and stuck it in one of the expansion slots on his computer. We could then connect to Microsoft.com and download the drivers for the other parts of his PC.

It was several weeks later when I was finally ready to install my basketball standard. I poured the concrete and mounted the base. Next, I attached the pole. I attached the hoop to the backboard and then we were ready to put up the backboard. I stood on a ladder and Desmond just stood on the driveway.

I was disappointed when Desmond explained that my $1000 basketball standard was not strong enough for him to dunk on. (Desmond won the 2001 NBA dunking contest his rookie year.)

See that little bolt right there holding the breakaway rim?

Yeah.

That would snap right in half if I dunked on this.

Huh. Thousand bucks and I could have just bought a $75 KMart special. Hey, where you going?

We’re done. I have stuff to do.

Wait, wait. When do you think I’m ever going to have this chance again?

What do you mean?

You have to take the first shot.

After he missed two jumpers in a row…

Desmond, I don’t care how close you stand.

He went on to a good career with Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings and eventually the Oklahoma Thunder, the former Seattle Sonics. He was a good neighbor. And like most good neighbors he was happy to trade favors. Of course, CK really did ask for a peanut butter sandwich. He never actually got it. And I think he’s still bitter.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

When Telling The Truth Was Still A Lie

Rodney, we’d like to ask you to help Kerry with the scouts as an Assistant Scoutmaster.

I’d love to.

My life just got busier. Our church, like most LDS congregations, sponsors a Boy Scout troop. I was recently asked to join with our scoutmaster and help run the scouting program for 12-13 year old boys, two of which are my sons.

Some people would rather stick red-hot needles under their fingernails. I know this. I’m not one of those people. I love scouting. I met with the boys and the leaders today and they got to ask me questions for ten minutes non-stop.

Many of the lessons I’ve learned in Scouting apply directly to business. One of the most unusual lessons occurred nearly 30 years ago. I had to decide if telling the truth was a lie, and if lying would have been the truth.

I’ve been involved with Boy Scouts since I joined my first boy scout troop when I was 11 years old. I fell in love with scouting. I went on to earn my Eagle Scout badge. As an adult, I’ve been Assistant Scoutmaster, Cub Master, Scoutmaster and a troop committee member. This story happened right at the beginning of my adult scouting career.

Like many LDS young men, I went on a two year mission when I turned 19. I was called to Chicago, IL to work with deaf people. When I arrived, I discovered the missionaries sponsored a deaf Boy Scout troop. My companion was the Scoutmaster. I became his assistant. It was an interesting letter to write home and ask my parents to send me my scout uniform.

After a couple of months “transfers” happened. My senior companion, Elder Thompson was transferred. I became a senior companion for a new missionary and I was asked to become the scoutmaster.

There was just one problem. BSA regulations require that scoutmasters be 21 years old. Elder Thompson went on his mission later, he was 25. I was 20.

Lying would have been the simplest solution, right? I just tell them I’m 21 and keep my mouth shut. The problem was now two-fold. First, I was missionary for the Mormon church. We were supposed to represent not only the church, but Jesus Christ himself. Lying didn’t seem like something that Jesus would do.

Second, I was applying to be a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts, and organization whose very name is synonymous with honest.

A scout is:

Trustworthy
Loyal
Helpful
Friendly
Courteous
Kind
Obedient
Thrifty
Brave
Clean and
Reverent

I’m pretty sure lying on the application would have broken at least a couple of the items in the Scout Law.

What would you do? Without a scoutmaster the troop would disband. We didn’t have any local leadership that knew enough about scouting and could also sign. As a project manager I can think of at least two or three alternatives. As a 20 year old young man, I couldn’t think of a single one.

Finally, I went to the Scout office and sat down with the Scout executive responsible for chartering our troop.

Look, I’m not going to lie. I’m happy to be the scoutmaster, but not if I have to lie.

Well, tell you what, put your actual birthdate down and just leave blank the box where it asks for your name. We’ll send it up and see what District says.

That seemed reasonable to me. At least I wasn’t lying. . .was I?

I’ve often found myself in a situation where sharing complete information would actually be harmful. Does the client need to know that we came within an hour of missing our deadline?

Rodney, how are we looking for the launch?

Great. Yep, right on track.

Is it a lie? Being able to know how much information to share is one of the most important skills of a project manager.

There are other times where even though the news is bad, you have to share.

Our testing failed. We cannot make the deadline that we committed to.

But deciding when to do one or the other is a critical skill.

In Chicago all those years ago, we tried to walk a fine line of being honest, but not oversharing. And it worked. I became the Scoutmaster for our troop of deaf boys. It made me the youngest scoutmaster in the BSA organization.

Now I have the opportunity to step back into it. My new role as assistant means I don’t have to do any of the planning, or not a lot. My role is to show up and teach scout skills. You know, building fires, identifying plants, teaching first aid.

I just figured out what I’m going to be doing with my spare time.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

My Boss Just Put a Teenage Driver In Charge of My Team

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Little more left. . .No. Not too much. Back in the middle of the lane. . .A little more gas. The speed limit is 50. Little more left. . .watch the center line.

I’ve taught three of my kids to drive. I’m about to start teaching 5 more who all turn 15 or 16 this year.

It’s a job that takes a lot of patience and no small amount of courage. (I like long empty two lane roads like the one pictured above.) New drivers tend to bounce back and forth between the yellow center line and the white shoulder line. It seems like they do almost as much back and forth as they do forward. You know they are finally getting it when you don’t bounce back and forth.

My department was doing another reorganization. . .and I was loosing my email team. I’d been hired at the large non-profit to oversee the rollout of the new Microsoft Exchange system. The team was now going to Robert.

Okay, it wasn’t my team, but I had really enjoyed being the manager, and I was good at it. We had to tune the Exchange system. My background in messaging and Microsoft Exchange let me implement some really innovative solutions.

It was also easier for me to relate to these engineers than any others. I not only had the credibility I’d built up over the past year and a half, I also had written a book on Exchange and hours of training materials. I really knew this stuff.

And Robert didn’t. I didn’t have anything against him personally, but Robert was not a manager I really understood. I have my management style, and I realize that others have theres. But, Robert didn’t seem to have any. I watched issues that his current team struggled and imagined how I would address them. Mostly they were issues with training and coaching. Robert really wasn’t engaged with his team.

My boss didn’t see what the big deal was,

It will be fine, Rodney. After all, the messaging team is one of our best performing teams. I don’t understand your concern.

Teenage drivers.

I don’t follow.

Every taught a teenager to drive?

Yeah. So?

They weave back and forth like a drunken sailor, right?

Right.

Who makes more corrections, a seasoned driver or a teenage driver.

The teenager.

I don’t think so. The teenager makes big corrections when they get too close to the edge, but the seasoned driver makes 1000 times more corrections, but they are tiny. So, the car goes straight, but it’s because the driver is making all these little corrections. Robert doesn’t have the experience to make the small corrections.

I understand your analogy, but I’m still moving the messaging team to Robert’s group.

A couple years later Robert was still there and I was accepting some nice parting gifts as they laid me off.

So, maybe he was smarter than I gave him credit for.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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