10 July – Online Dating Fail

July 9, 2011

Productivity!

June 11, 2011

I miss nachos.

I mean, there are places where one might procure corn chips topped with an assortment of meat and veg, slathered in cheese, but it just ain’t right.

It’s your cheese, Australia.

Cheddar’s all well and good, and Monterey Jack is available, I guess, but that nuclear orange shit coming out of the tub at Taco Bell*? Not available. Chihuahua cheese? Nowhere to be found. Anything Mexican that melts? Sorry, Carlos.

*Ironically, the CEO of Taco Bell is Australian, yet there are no Taco Bells in Australia. They’d make a killing here, I assure you.

Went to a burger joint called “Grill’d”** for lunch yesterday, and they top their burgers with something called “Tasty Cheese.” This cheese isn’t American, and it isn’t cheddar. It’s “tasty.” Or “Tasty.” I don’t know what the Aussie Elements of Style dictates so far as capitalization is concerned.

**You see what you’ve done, Web 2.0? LET MY VOWELS LIVE. Also, they cut their burgers with bread crumb and egg here, which is an abomination. I ordered a Wagyu patty for lunch last weekend and got this… MEATLOAF. I mean, I don’t even…

Aussies are confused about their cheese. The one thing they get right, however, is halloumi. Or “hallumi.” It’s this Lebanese firm cheese that gets seared in a frying pan, getting tantalizingly close to melty in the middle without actually spreading out all over the plate. It’s quite good. In addition, they give you lemon wedges to squeeze over your halloumi, or “hallumi,” which is right nice of them to do. Citrus, by the way, is bigger and juicier than you get in the States. A single lemon wedge can pretty much soak the contents of your plate. It’s terrific.

I have grown quite fond of cooking curries out here. There’s a spice lady at the farmers’ market who gins up this basic yellow curry which does beautifully with lamb. I’ve also tried her korma, which is very good as well. I’m going to have to graduate to developing my own spice blend soon, as I have always seen using someone else’s starter as the equivalent of making Hamburger Helper (which they’d call “Mince Helper,” or maybe “Mince Maker,” out here), even if I’m dicing shallots, mincing garlic, and cutting fresh cauliflower to make the meal happen.

Oh, and my vegetarian future sister-in-law would be proud of me. I had KFC for lunch the other day (that’s not the proud part), and I felt guilty enough that I made a potato and cauliflower curry for dinner. No meat.

Enabling me in my love of cookery is a new joint called “Sourced Grocer,” who have a website which I think can be found here. It’s a boutique grocer focusing on local organic produce and meat. And it’s two blocks from my bus/ferry stop at the end of my commute. It’s like they knew I was coming.

So, I still have yet to drive a car since January (not counting stealing my employee’s car and driving it around to the front of the building behind which it was idling), and am taking a perverse pride in my endurance. Granted, I’m not seeing as much of the area as I would with an automobile, but I am getting out on foot and walking a lot. Which is nice. And I’m sure the QA Hotel on the corner appreciates the three pint lunch I’m having there once a week. Buy Local!

The real reason I’m blogging this morning, besides missing you all dearly and terribly, is that I’ve just procured one of those fancy bluetooth keyboards for my iPad, and am testing it out. Loving it. I’m trying to set myself up to use my iPad on my shorter business trips, hoping to leave my laptop behind. So far, I’ve added Remote Desktop software (LogMeIn), Dropbox, GoodReader (to view docs and mark up PDFs), and I’m grabbing Keynote from the App Store today to enable me to use my new VGA adapter to run presentations and light demos on a projector.

I’m kinda geeked over this. I mean, I’ve been on the road a lot since getting here (I’ll pass 100K ff points with Qantas on 24-June, if not sooner), and I’m always looking for ways to travel lighter and smarter. As a matter of fact, I’ve bought four bags since December to try to get exactly the right size for the right trip. When I go to Sydney, it’s corporate. I need to pack a sports coat and different dress clothes for each day. When I’m up at a mine site, it’s jeans and high-vis shirt (both of which I can wear multiple days in a row), but I do have to pack my big-ass steel capped boots (which are awesome, by the way, but huge). If I’m doing Darwin/Jabiru, I’ve got mine sites and office days, so I have to mix it up. So, I can generally do three or four nights out of a single duffel (plus my computer bag), but stretching into a week or more requires more space. The flaw in that, however, is that there’s a weight limit on luggage going to site on the FIFO (fly-in/fly-out) commuter plane. So, I need to pack big, but carry a duffel to scale down.

In other words, I’m not just buying bags for sport. There’s utility to consider, too.

I’ve still not got it quite right yet, but I’m working on it. My trip this coming week has me going to Darwin (1 night), then Jabiru (mine site x3 nights), then Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (four nights, on holiday), back to Darwin (1 night), then Jabiru again (3 nights). I’m doing it out of a backpack and duffel, with the backpack (clothes + computer) going to site, and the duffel (clothes) going to Vietnam.

I’m excited. I get to eat pho. I’ll tell you all about it, dear diary, when I return.

Fizzle

May 10, 2011

I don’t want to be one of those guys who blogs about how he can’t write anymore,

That being said, here we are.

Again.

I saw a quote from Ira Glass that basically posited that creative types get into vapor lock because they have problems meeting or exceeding their own standards. I think there’s something to that.

There’s also a little something about no longer being a miserable lonely fuck who hated himself and kinda needed to stretch out and figure out why that was.

It’s sad, but part of me misses that guy, or at least the urge that guy had to write everything down. This guy here and now is clearly in a better headspace, but there’s something else…

I’m a pessimist. That much is obvious. I think the lack of defeatism to partner with this pessimism dulls its impact more than a little, and allows me to use it constructively.

I’m also ambitious. I’m also afraid of failure. And bees. Then there’s that thing where ambition leads, ambition ends, and yet there’s no real mark of failure.

I need that mark – although I’m not at all trying to say I’m craving failure. What I mean is that a lit fuse proceeds an explosion, and to end up with a dud leaves you waiting for that explosion that never comes.

I don’t know if I’m in over my head yet. I really don’t. I’ve done some really terrific work here, so far, but the things I don’t know are becoming clearer and clearer to me every day. Take the ambition that had me chasing this gig, add to that the promotion, mix in the project plan for the next year, then two, then where does that take me?

I have a good guess at the answer to that, which was an incentive to take the transfer in the first place.

All signs point north (you see, that’s clever both as a metaphor and taken literally, considering what that next step might be). I want this, I think.

What happens if I get a big piece of it sooner than I had thought? If that happens, and I simply meet expectations, what then?

It’s not failure now that I’m worried about. It’s the plateau. It’s where ambition takes me, right to the ceiling and no further.

Someone on a reality program was trying to pay a compliment to a contestant last week and said, “the ceiling is the limit for you.” I thought that was hilarious (more so because the contestant was a woman and the advice giver a successful man in her fieldj), but that thought has stuck with me.

What happens when I light that next fuse and I don’t see the brilliant burst of fireworks light my path? And how do I know when I’ve hit that ceiling?

It’s that latter question that I think I know the answer to. There’s no sign, really. Just a slow evolution from the people who were your champions who then become the people who patronize you, but no longer facilitate your next opportunities.

A few years ago I worried every time my boss would drive across the state to see me. Was this the time he’d have figured out my fraud? Would I be fired?

I don’t worry about that much anymore. I think that, barring any truly royal screwup, I’m more likely to fizzle slowly when it’s my turn to stop climbing.

I won’t see the sign for my next step. My ambition will bang against the ceiling – blindly, at first, but steadily decreasing in will as I resign myself to my stalled career.

And really, ambition right now is all I have to brighten my future. I don’t know who the hell I’m going to be without it.

It’s Quite Lovely Here

May 1, 2011

I don’t mean to rub it in or anything, but this San Diego-style weather is pretty goddamn awesome.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m home from grabbing a bite ($18 for a “yiro,” chips, and a bottle of water, god help me) and running some errands. Walked probably 3K during this outing, and am now outside on my porch listening to jazz deep cuts and drinking a beer.

I wake up and have coffee on the porch most mornings, and there haven’t been more than two or three since I’ve been here where I haven’t been able to do that in shorts and a t-shirt.

It’s really an enviable way to start your day. I rank it behind those two mornings last May watching the sun come up over Notre Dame in Paris over an espresso, but it’s still pretty good.

Temps have settled, too, which means I’m not fighting flop sweats every time I stretch my legs for more than half a kilometer. This is a positive development, as we all know fat kids and heat just don’t mix.

I actually wore a sweater in to work on Friday, too. Unbelievable.

Anyway, outside can have its downside, and, just for today, it’s birds.

First off, the pigeons here are somewhere between ignorant and aggressive. Ate my yiro (I strongly prefer “gyro,” if we’re going to talk about fast food pidgin Greek) at an outdoor cafe, and a pigeon flew awfully goddamn close to my head and landed on a fence just over the edge of my table. I could tell he was eyeing my chips. He sat there for about 30 seconds, then did a flappy dismount right down to my table, about ten inches from my food. What an asshole. And it’s not as if the ibis birds are much better. They’re a hell of a lot bigger than pigeons, but at least they stay on the ground as they roam right up under your table to get crumbs.

And then there’s the crow across the street. I’m not sure what the natural predator of the crow is, but I’d like to get a couple of those for my porch. He’s noisy in the morning, and won’t shut up if he’s around during the day. It’s a little tough to listen to music at a reasonable volume on my porch with all the whinging he’s doing.

I should also mention that I had two more American appliances meet an abrupt end upon feeding off Aussie voltage for the first time. My rice cooker made a popping noise, then brought the contents to a more aggressive boil than I thought possible, and then my iron emitted smoke within ten seconds of being plugged in. That I’ve had to replace all this stuff is pretty obnoxious.

Anyway, this week I’m extending a Wed-Fri business trip into a long weekend in Sydney. I’m definitely pumped, even if it’s just Fri/Sat nights I’m staying over. I’ve also got Ho Chi Minh City on the calendar for mid-June, and need to start putting some ideas down for that trip. I’m not sure if I want to go five-star hotel style, which is definitely affordable(-ish) there, or budget travel (not that I need to, but it might be fun), but I think I’d very much like to take one of those boat trips up the river while I’m there. Other than that, it’s really all about eating pho and other street food while trying not to pass out in the tropical heat.

I’ve also got to look at my first trip back to the US to try and put something down. I had originally wanted to hit the last weekend in September and first weekend in October, but it’s looking more and more likely to be in the middle of a critical phase for me, which blows. I knew coming in to the gig that we were going to take a $50M program and turn it into $1.5B-$2B over two or three years, and it looks like our first wave of that gets turned over to me +/- two weeks from my intended travel window. If that timeline stands, no way in hell I get out of country for that. And there’s no fucking way I travel back and stay “on call” either. Not with a 15 hour time difference. Nuh-uh.

This possibly opens up something that resembles Thanksgiving plus WPBT Vegas in December, if that gets thrown together. Or Christmas, which makes it much, much harder to see the people I’d like to see while home. I could always blow off a 2011 return trip (although I get a free ticket home, per my contract, so I probably won’t blow it off) and move those days into 2012 when I’ll need to block out Bob’s wedding and Mom’s in-country visit (she’s coming with her husband and staying the entire month of March. Not all of it in Brisbane, thank god), and god knows what else that might pop up (I could easily see my step-sister getting married, should she get knocked up, for instance).

Or maybe I just try to convince someone to meet me for a long weekend somewhere halfway around the world. All sorts of options, I guess. Would just like to have something to look forward to, you know?

A Little Isolated At Times

April 6, 2011

Managed to snag a phone number in a bar last night. Haven’t done that in awhile, but somehow was able to ask without my voice cracking or giving her too many easy outs.

Yay.

The hardest parts of my days don’t have anything to do with work. I get home around 530pm local, which translates back to 230am Chicago, and leaves me without anyone (Lydia) to talk to on IM. I didn’t really realize how much I depended on the IM and instant Twitter gratification, but I do. Really does make those evenings feel terribly isolating at times.

I need a crew.

Not likely to happen overnight, but mixing it up with a meal that isn’t eaten alone or with a coworker (delightful people, but you know what I mean) every now and again might be nice.

Part of this is probably that I’m in Brisbane for my longest stretch so far without shipping off to Jabiru. It is a little easier to forget loneliness when the scenery keeps changing, you know?

Still no regrets. Just knowledge that it’s self investment and improvement that is going to make the difference in the long run. Online dating, approaching people in public (hello anxiety), and not worrying on rejection represent a good start.

And hey, if I can get an attractive woman to give me her phone number instead of an excuse, I might do alright at this.

(side note: T-Minus eight days until I have broadband wifi again. Praise Jeebus.)

Tuesdaying

April 4, 2011

There are things I’m going to miss about this temp housing hookup.

Last night, I slept with both slider doors to both of my balconies (bedroom and living room – both south-facing) wide open, and caught the cool breeze all night long. This morning I’m out on my living room balcony with my coffee and my iPad, watching the city wake up around me.

It’s been delightful to have this outdoor space available to me, and even better that the weather here is so damn pleasant that I can take advantage of the outdoors twelve months out of twelve.

That being said, I have a tentatively confirmed delivery date for my stuff on 21-April. Yay indeed.

My employee didn’t quit yesterday, which was a surprise. I think she’s running tight with money, though, and is looking to suck a paycheck for as long as possible. Until then, there’s some uncomfortable tension. She won’t even look me in the eye, which is crazy to me, but whatever.

I’m hoping I can get this resolved by Easter weekend, which is a five day break here in Australia this year. Somehow, the phases of the moon aligned with Anzac Day, which is like our Memorial Day, and we got an extended weekend out of the deal. If I can go into five days off without a looming employee crisis over my head, that’ll be helpful.

I think I might hire a car and drive to Ikea this weekend. I need lamps and outdoor furniture (want an outdoor couch, actually), and that need trumps my self-imposed moratorium on driving, which I’ve held steady since early January. Was hoping to stretch that into a year or more, but our next site deployments are going to make that unrealistic quickly.

And yes, I am a little freaked about driving on the wrong side of the road.

And no, I’m well over the fear that might have turned that last statement into an extended metaphor.

Long week ahead…

April 3, 2011

So, in about three hours I find out if my employee here in Brisbane is going to quit on me or not.

I won’t give anything away as to which way I’m hoping this goes, but I think her panic attack last week and fear of trying to communicate with me (oy) bodes well for one direction over the other.

Whatever.

So, this apartment I’ve rented a couple neighborhoods away is sitting as an empty box at $475/wk until I can get my shit through customs. That can’t happen a moment too soon, as I’ve been living off (what is marketed as) a 3G air card since January. Can’t download, get throttled near the end of my billing cycle, and can barely use the damn thing at all from about 5p-7p.

That’s alright, as you’re all sleeping then anyway.

In my apartment there’s a tv bench built into the wall (or, built off of the wall) which has some shelving, presumably for components, underneath. This would be fine, except that the craftsman who designed this thing didn’t leave any open space behind the bench to string cords. So, I’m either going to have a bunch of components sitting on top of the tv bench with my tv in an already tight space, or I’m spending a few hundred on some sort of wireless hd solution. I’m expecting the first few months I’ll just stack the components and handle it that way. Who cares if it’s ugly? Cable tv!

By the way, I get six real channels here, with one of those essentially a public access channel. Well, I say “essentially,” as it has roughly the worst and most amateur production you’ve ever seen. Guitar Gods is the only show worth staying with when grazing, and even that gets insufferable when they inject local shredders in between Zeppelin videos. My seventh channel is a silent security cam feed of my front door. Yes, I’ve watched that for more than twenty straight minutes. Beats netball.

So, cable and Internet get hooked up on the 15th, and current projections have my stuff available for delivery on the 20th. Fingers crossed, as I only have the 21st available personally that week to take delivery (Jabiru for training sessions all week leading up), and I’m desperate to have my couch, bed, and mixer for my five-day Easter/Anzac weekend. If I have to stay in a hotel all weekend (my temp apt lease will be up), I’m going to be miserable.

It’s not too wrong that all I want to do with my holiday is sit on my couch with my feet on my coffee table watching my choice of more than seven channels in hd while waiting for my baguettes to proof, right?

iPad!

April 3, 2011

This thing is pretty nifty. Yes, I was a Droid owner, and yes, I did work with Motorola, but I wasn’t about to pay extra for an Android tablet with an immature app market.

Anyway, WordPress app is loaded, and I can now blog from my iPad. Whee!

Cash Rules Everything Around Me

April 3, 2011

$22 here buys you one beer and four anemic drumsticks in something resembling a bbq sauce.

I mention this for a couple of reasons. First, QA Hotel, if you’re going to call these things “Buffalo legs,” let’s get with the Frank’s or at least the tabasco. Second, it costs a lot to live here.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about my ex-pat/relo package, then dinner with my team’s recruiter and her husband. In both conversations, the topic of money came up, and…

I have to buy a refrigerator and a washing machine for my apartment. I’m annoyed that I didn’t know this was standard Aussie rental practice, in that you’ll get an oven, a dishwasher, and a dryer, but neither a fridge nor a washing machine. That’s going to run me anywhere from $500 (used & cheap) to $2k (new & decent-not-exceptional). Add to that all the things I have to replace due to voltage issues (anything with a motor like my coffee grinder, although I’m keeping my mixer), and the things I had to buy to get my entertainment center set for Aussie use (a transformer and a PAL-to-NTSC converter – retail price combined $500, which is cheaper than buying a new TV), and I’m out of pocket $1500-$2k minimum for shit I wouldn’t have had to buy had I stayed in the States.

Without getting into the details, I did ask for a relo bonus, but was told my salary increase was plenty. I didn’t push my luck at that point. I worked hard to come up with a rough cost-of-living number, but wasn’t properly prepared to understand the cost of the ramp up to that steady-state rent/bills/groceries total I had put together.

This stuff is really small potatoes, though. I’m an adult, I have money in the bank, and I can buy a refrigerator if I have to.

I’ve always used exaggerated anger on minor indignities as a coping mechanism for dealing with the bigger stuff. For example, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth if I said to you, “Nothing makes me angrier than having to pick something up off the floor that I just accidentally dropped.*” I can channel that anger in the moment, release it, and have more room in my soul to handle the big ticket items. Whoever said “don’t sweat the small stuff” doesn’t have to spend time living inside my head.

*You can add “hourglass/spinning wheel for more than three seconds on my computer,” “the extended WinXP boot cycle,” “realizing just after the door shuts behind me that I have forgotten something and need to take four whole steps back to fetch it,” and many, many others to that list of frustrations.

When something larger is bothering me, then, it has tended to live in this sort of zen purgatory, where what should be constructive thought towards resolution is instead replaced in a sort of surrogate sense by an active search for whatever I can get angry about instead.

I can’t really talk about money right now, and I’m in no danger of running out of it. But between cost of living and poor preparation, I’ve got a potential problem looming, and I’m curious how it’s all going to turn out.

Frankly, it’s even odds right now that I’m going to have a difficult decision to make before the year is up. If you see me getting angry about the lack of meat on a drumstick, you’ll just have to trust that I need that quick burn to settle the rest of it back down to a steady simmer.

On The Job

March 27, 2011

I found out this week that the size of this program at year’s end is going to be about 1/3 the size I had thought it would be.

For perspective, my original estimate was roughly half what my leadership was telling me it would be.

Now, lucky for me I don’t have much responsibility for a P&L here. What I do is set up operations which reside as part of a client site’s version of the solution, and the client pays for the salaries of my team, part of my salary, and all of my travel. So long as I’m doing a good job, and so long as this account grows at some pace, no matter how slowly, I’m fairly well insulated. Hell, I get cheaper for my company to keep as time goes on. It’s not a bad gig.

This new year end projection has taken some of the pressure off, to be sure. I’ll still be traveling, though maybe not as much as I thought (50%, rather than 75%, until maybe Aug/Sep), and I’ll still be busy designing and building solutions, but the stakes are now a lot lower than they could have been.

This is a good thing, and it gives me some breathing room to consider other options in the early part of 2012, if I need or want to explore what’s next (to be clear, I have no intention of leaving or coming home right now).

What it doesn’t do is give me the volume under my management to be able to describe what I’m doing here as “game changing.” It’s not that the volume is dictating the game, but there’s a fundamental difference in a client who is mincing around the edges with a creative solution, and one who is shifting their foundation in this space in an innovative way. I need more sites, more employees, more enterprise-level data, and more of everything else to tell that story.

It’s going to be difficult to be patient if it takes five years to unwind this solution for this client. My “what’s next?” clock usually starts chirping at around two.


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