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Once More Upon The Mountain

Because it’s there.
– George Mallory on why he wanted to climb Mt Everest

I have bad knees. It comes from too many steroids as a teenager. I was taking 125 mg per day for months when I was 14 years old. the doctors warned me they would take 4-5″ off my height. (I’m 6’0″ both my brother are over 6’3″.) What the doctor didn’t tell me was the effect it would have on my knees. The sound like crunching gravel when I stand up or squat down.

But, today I’m going to abuse them. . on purpose. I’ll strap a 35 lbs (okay, MAYBE it’s closer to 40 lbs, but only because my sons aren’t coming to help share the tent load) pack on and climb up the side of a mountain. It’s going to be too hot and then way too cold. I’m going to sleep on the ground and my knees are going to ache the whole way. Tomorrow, we’ll summit at 8500 feet and the walk down will be the worst part of the trip.

Why do I do it?

Ask me on Monday.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

When The Snow Wouldn’t Melt

It felt like the end of the world. It turned dark and streetlamps started to come on although it was only 9:00am on a Sunday morning. It looked like snow at first. That fine grained snow that doesn’t really form flakes. If snow could drizzle, that’s what it was like. But, it wasn’t snow. It’s doesn’t snow in Eastern Washington in May. It covered everything; cars, lawns, houses and acres and acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and alfalfa. And it kept coming down for hours and hours. When it finally stopped it was about 6 inches deep.

When the clouds finally cleared, it was kind of pretty in a way. Like a new blanket of slightly grey snow that stretched as the eye could see. Miles and miles of it. But, this snow wasn’t going to melt. And to the farmers who were worried about their crops it looked like the end of the world.

May 18, 1980 I was getting ready to go to church. I was 15 and my brother had just turned 17. We liked church. Most times we got ourselves there. My parents weren’t active church goers at the time. It was left to us if we wanted to attend. The only rule was,

If you can’t get up for church on Sunday morning, you can’t go to the dances on Saturday night.

We loved those dances. This day, was a Sunday that started like many others. But 37 years later, I still remember where I was and what I was doing that morning. I was standing on my front porch in Lacey, WA, a small town south of Seattle, looking South at the growing ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. The eruption which started with an earthquake at 8:32AM lasted about nine hours and threw 3.3 billion cubic yards of ash into the atmosphere.

The prevailing wind pattern in Washington is from West to East. Lacey, located about 70 miles north of Saint Helens didn’t get hit by the ash at first. We had a spectacular view of it as the angry volcano continued to throw ash 15,000 feet into the atmosphere. The ash pushed off to the East and fell heavily on the Palouse farm country of Eastern Washington and Oregon and Western Idaho. We actually got a dusting of ash when the cloud made it all they way around the globe. 

It was through news coverage that we saw the impact on the farming communities in the Eastern part of the state. My grandparents lived in Tekoa, WA on the Idaho border. The ash was inches deep in their yard, on their sidewalks, on their cars and their houses. Ash is probably a bad name for it. It wasn’t ash that you’d get from a fire. Instead it was what you would get if you burned rocks or sand. Scraping it off your car immediately ruined the paint. Driving in it was outlawed for several days and even after the travel restriction was lifted, you risked heating it up and turning the ash to glass inside your engine.

After the initial blast, the real question became, “What do you do with it?” It was literally everywhere. And when it got wet, it became even heavier, as it soaked up and held any water. Folks cleared it off their roofs and their cars and then they started clearing their walks and their lawns. They piled it wherever there was space. All the while the farmers anxiously watched their fields for any signs of life. Eventually, the hardy plants started to push up through the blanket of ash. Some farmers lost crops but many of them had bumper crops. The ash “blanket” had trapped heat and moisture under the soil and turned the fields into incubators. The plants that survived came roaring back. Much to the relief of those whose livelihood depended on those crops.

Two years later, in 1982, I went to live with my grandfather for the summer and worked on a friend’s farm. On the surface the land had nearly fully recovered. But, as we would start harvesting a field of wheat, the point at which the trucks turned off the road into the field would quickly become a trough of ash as the thin veneer of new growth was run into the ground.

During my summer in farm country, I attended a play put on by the local high school kids. I don’t remember the subject of the play, but it was set in Italy. At one point the actor playing the tour guide said,

On your left you can see Mount Vesuvius, Europe’s only active volcano. It last erupted in 79 A.D. wiping out the city of Pompeii. Aren’t volcanos interesting?

Everyone in the theater agreed on the answer: No. Not at all.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Everybody Talks About It, But No One Does Anything

It takes me about fifteen minutes to get from my house to the freeway onramp at Pleasant Grove Boulevard. That’s good because it means that no matter what time I leave, my clock will end up on a “9” before I hit the freeway. The local news station broadcasts “traffic and weather on the nines.” So, at

  • 0:09
  • 0:19
  • 0:29
  • 0:39
  • 0:49
  • 0:59

…minutes after the hour, I’ll hear the traffic and the weather report. The traffic report is only mildly interesting. I have two routes I can take to work. One of them is shorter and uses the freeway. It takes 45 minutes with no traffic and up to an 1:15 minutes if the traffic is bad. The second route is longer and it takes 1:15 minutes regardless. So, most mornings, I’m taking the short, crowded route. But, it’s still nice to hear what my commute will be like.

After the traffic report, they do the weather forecast. To mix it up, at some times they will do the current daily forecast. At other times, they will do an “hour by hour” forecast for the day. Still other times they will give the “seven day forecast.” I find the weather forecast much more interesting than the traffic forecast. And yet, there is literally nothing I can do about the weather, where I do have some control over traffic.

Now, I know what you’re saying. I might change my plans based on the weather. And that’s true. We are going on an overnight camping trip this weekend. We’ll be camping around the 7200 feet level. Knowing what the weather will be like will help determine what gear to take. And since we are hiking in 6 miles, with 4000 feet of elevation change, every extra pair of socks or rain poncho adds up.

But, honestly, I need that forecast once, maybe twice before Friday. I don’t need it literally six times per hour. And yet, I tune in on my way to work to hear what the weather will be like at 3:00 this afternoon, or tomorrow morning at 2:00AM. We all do it. And more than that, talk of the weather dominates our daily conversations.

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
– Mark Twain

Today is May 17th, we are well into Spring here in Utah, and this is a picture of the grass outside my office. We might not be able to do much about it, but snow in May is certainly something to talk about.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Cobbler’s Kids Don’t Have Cell Phones

We often set a time after which there is no screen time and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour.

We don’t allow our kids to have cell phones until they are 14.

Our kids haven’t used an iPad. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.

I think our rules for electronic usage at home are working. How do I know? My kids object to them.

At the same time, I’m constantly worried that I’m not keeping up. It’s a balancing act, right? Kids need electronic devices. Homework literally requires internet access. As parents we can use the internet to check our kids’ grades and attendance. As parents we like to be able to text our kids and ask them where they are and when they will be home.

Kids also want cell phones and other electronic devices for the convenience of connecting to their friends and playing games. And that shouldn’t be discounted. Did I need a car in high school? No. Was it nice to have the convenience? Absolutely. Did I get into trouble that I would have avoided if I didn’t have a car? We should probably not go into that too much since my kids read this and I don’t want to give them any ideas.

It’s where to draw that line that’s important, of course. Our house rules are

  • No cell phone until the kid can pay for it themselves (typically 15)
  • No cell phones in bedrooms. In fact, no electronics in bedrooms
  • Computers in common area (living room, kitchen, etc.) 
  • No electronics after 10:00pm
  • Two hours per day of internet access
  • Filtering installed on the WiFi

As you can see, our rules are practically draconian. My kids sometimes think so. I used to feel guilty. As an IT professional, shouldn’t my kids have access to even more IT stuff? Shouldn’t my kids be the walking cyborg types with the google glasses, bluetooth headsets, VPNs, lates and greatest phones?

I used to think so. Oh, I wasn’t going to buy it for them, but I felt slightly bad about not giving my kids the benefit of my experience. After all, a mechanic should be able to fix his kid’s car. A motorcycle shop should be able to provide his kid with a dirt bike. Why shouldn’t an IT expert provide his kid with the latest and greatest tech?

I felt guilty until I read the quotes I listed above. Those are similar to our rules. It sounds like some of the ideas we would have at our house. And they sound like rules my kids would hate. My kids might even accuse those saying that of being out of touch with technology. After all, what do those guys know about modern computers and phones?

Quite a bit actually. Here are they are again

We often set a time after which there is no screen time and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour. 
We don’t allow our kids to have cell phones until they are 14.
– Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft

Our kids haven’t used an iPad. We limit how much technology they use at home.
– Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple

I don’t care if everyone else at school has an iPhone or an iPad. . .they guy who invented it limited his kids’ access.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Hiking, Business Trips And Babies

This Friday I’m going to climb a mountain. Well, I’m probably going to climb a mountain. It’s a small mountain called “Baldy.” Its summit is about 8500 feet above sea level. That might not sound like a little mountain if you are living in Seattle, or LA, or New Orleans. You know, places actually at sea level. But, I live in Pleasant Grove, UT. My house is about 5000 above sea level. So, the hike will be about 3500 vertical feet and 12 miles over two days.

We take the scouts on this hike every year. We are hiking with 12-13 year old boys. This is a hard hike. It’s been decades since I was a 12-13 year old scout, and it’s a tough hike for me. We had the hike planned for either this weekend or next weekend. . .depending on weather.

Hiking the Rockie Mountains in May is a chancy outing. We are expecting snow above 8000 feet this week. We are thinking it will clear off by the times we leave on Friday. In past years, we’ve hiked in freezing rain, and brilliant sunshine. There are been years it was all we could do to get up and down the canyons with no thought of the summit. Other years, the weather has been perfect.

This year we hedged our bets with the two weekends. It was only later that we realized that next weekend is a major holiday in the United States and next Friday is the last day of school. You know, school for those 12-13 year old boys. So, we are happy that the weather appears to be cooperating.

We recently welcomed a new grandchild to our family last Friday. We are thrilled, as you can imagine. Mother and baby are doing great. In the past we’ve grieved with some of our children as they’ve dealt with tragedy around their kids, so we take nothing for granted. The baby almost came the previous Friday. My daughter was at the end of her pregnancy and if the baby didn’t come on it’s own, the doctors decided to induce her. Originally, it was scheduled for May 5th. As the date got closer, the doctors decided to put it off a week.

I have a huge project going on at work. It will involve switching a large portion of our architecture to a new platform. I have four locations across the United States and the change will require me to spend two weeks at each location. Originally, we scheduled the transition to start in June. My summer was going to be very, very busy.

As we got closer to the due date, it became obvious that pieces of the project plan were not coming together as quickly as we needed them to. We made the decision to push off our transition to October. My summer freed up a little and my winter just got busy.

Despite being a technology guy, I am a firm believer in tangible tools. I have a pocket watch, I write letters and I keep a physical paper calendar. If it’s not written in that calendar, it’s possibly not going to happen. I write down just about everything; project dates, vacations and kids birthdays. And I end writing all of them in pencil.

You never know what will come up.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

I Am TOTALLY Winning At The Office Game

It was far easier for you as civilized men to behave like barbarians, than it was for them as barbarians to behave like civilized men.
– Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror

You’ve no use for it, right? All that office politics. Just ignore it, do your job and let the rest of them play their silly reindeer games. Right?

Wrong.

I’m no fan of office politics. I most enjoy working with people who eschew hidden agendas and turf wars. When managing teams, I try to be as transparent as possible. It doesn’t mean I won’t attempt to influence my team. I once offered free soda to my employees. As much as they wanted. We stocked it in the refridgerator in the break room.

Was I doing it to be nice? Not at all. I just knew that if I stocked Diet Coke, my lead programmer would give me an extra 30 minutes of work per day. Rather than walk to the corner store for his caffeine fix, he’d get it and go back to work. The thing is, I told him exactly why I was providing the free soda.

Rodney, you’re the only manager I’ve ever had that didn’t just manipulate me, but ADMITTED to it, and I STILL let him!

You would think I’d complete reject office politics. I would like to, but unless you work for yourself and have only yourself as a client, you cannot avoid it. If the rest of the company is playing politics and you refuse, I can predict what will happen. Within a very short amount of time, you will be manuevered out of your position and probably the company.

So, “if you can’t beat them, join them”? Give yourself totally over the petty politics?

No. You need to find a middle ground. In that middle ground, you have to make sure you defend your position, take credit for your successes, don’t let other teams or managers harm your team. At the same time, you need to do everything you can to create an environment where the cancer of the gossiping and backbiting cannot get a foothold. Be accountable. Own your mistakes. Be as transparent as possible. Give credit where it’s due. Especially, if it’s due to the office-politics player. Give him credit when he’s earned it. It actually helps protect your team from him taking credit that isn’t his.

In one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, four members of the Enterprise crew get swapped into a mirror universe. Except in the mirror universe, it’s everyone for themselves. You get promoted by killing your superior. We watch our heroes try to navigate a universe where the rules are kill or be killed. Eventually, they manage to switch back. Spock, who remained in the normal universe, informs the captain that he immediately locked the “mirror universe” crew as soon as they appeared. Kirk wants to know how he managed to identify them so quickly.

It’s possible for a civilized man to act barbaric if necessary. The opposite is impossible.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

I Am NOT Winning At The Office Game

We have different names for it: Office Politics, Reindeer Games. Whatever you call it, every business has to deal with it. Sometimes it seems that those who are best at it, do the best in the workplace.

When I worked for Microsoft, I had a manager that I really struggled to connect with. He was a former English teacher and nothing that anyone on his team wrote was ever good enough. We’d get back emails printed out and marked in red pen. That was only the least of his aggravating management practices.

It became obvious that I needed to find another team. The only question was whether I would find something before he decided to fire me. During one particularly tense 1:1 “coaching” meeting, in frustration I said,

You should really be more careful about who you go to lunch with.

What do you mean?

Nothing. Sorry I brought it up.

No, I really want to know. What do you mean I should be more careful?

The manager only occasionally went to lunch with members of his team and whenhet did, it was always with the same woman. And always at her invitation. He was single, she was married, but there was no hint of scandal. It was the fact that the woman wasn’t particularly good at her job, but she consistently was ranked at #1 for the team stack ranking. This was a ranking that was done by the manager and was supposed to be confidential.

At Microsoft the stack rank was important because it was not uncommon for upper management to force a team to cull, or fire those on the bottom of the stack rank. In addition, those ranked higher received bigger bonuses and larger raises, they were also first in line for promotions. Stack rankings were also supposed to be confidential.

Not only did this woman get stack ranked #1, the manager told her she was #1 and she in turn told the rest of us. And not in a nice way.

My manager was genuinely surprised when I told him that he only ever went to lunch with one member of the team. It never occured to him that he was showing favoritism. He was getting played. And my coworker was doing it so well that he never noticed.

Smart, right? I mean, that’s how you play the game isn’t it? Where was the downside?

No, this was not smart. The downside wasn’t with this one clueless manager. The downside is that none of us work in a vacuum. Her team knew that she was not the #1 person on the team. We all could see what was going on and it affected our working relationship with her. We were careful to not share with her too much information about what we were doing. She might take the credit. We were less inclined to help her on a project. She was definitely going to take the credit. Basically, she sucked up to the boss and alienated her entire team. And now, even 20 years later, we remember.

At Microsoft, like many companies, teams shift and get rearranged. And “who you know” becomes important if the person you know happens to also know of a cool opening on a new team. Those relationships are important. And you cannot be successful long term without them. Even today, if she were to apply to work on a team I was connected with, I’d have to say no.

“Winning” at the office politics game can be a losing decision.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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