Sunday, June 28, 2009

Little by little

The last week has been very hard, and it's not easy to look at it as a sign that an end is in sight. The "go-live" cannot be said to have gone well, but at the same time, there are positive signs. The biggest problem we've had is not in the system itself, it's in how the workload has been unusually high and we've had a number of absences; enough that we would have been strained even without a new system going in. And while there have been problems galore with the new system they're essentially all things that can be remedied, once time is found in which to remedy them.

So the whole week was spent in a frantic, exhausting struggle to get a little bit ahead, but actually falling behind most of the time. Lots of overtime was worked by many people, some of whom were doing unaccustomed jobs. Stress levels were high, but not primarily because of the workload; the real fight is against negativity and defeatism and their ability to be self-perpetuating.

For all that, though, we're on the mend, and there's hope in another week or two we might be approaching normalcy, as long as we can stem the tide of defeatism before it reaches that point of self-perpetuation. It's hard to guess how things will go. If we have gotten caught up and enough fixes have been put in, we could very suddenly find ourselves staying mostly caught up, and things could turn around fast. But we might go right back into the negative spiral that dominated last week, too.

So I'm not sure if this blog will remain almost-suspended another couple of weeks, or only a couple of days, or what. We'll just have to see.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The enduring lawnmower

In 1993 when we moved to Vermont I bought the cheapest push-lawnmower I could get. I used it for only a few years before we bought a riding mower, so the push-mower got put in the shed and forgotten. It wasn't until 1999 that I got it out to use a few times while we were renting for one summer at a house with a steep slope; it started up fine. After that season, I put it away again. It's sat in various garages for ten years since then. It never got cleaned, never got tuned up, and I didn't even take the gas out of it. That riding mower died, and we got a new one, and have used it ever since.

This year, since we now have a fenced-in yard for the dog, and since there's no gate to get the riding mower into that yard, and since it still has lawn (though Socks is hard at work digging it up, but it'll take her a while), I dug out that old lawnmower and started it up. Having sat untouched for a decade, even with ten-year-stale gas in it, it started right up. I gave it a basic cleaning, replaced its oil, and changed its air filter, and then ran it a few minutes to flush out the nasty smoke that that old gas made until the new gas kicked in, then mowed the lawn with it. It runs as good now as when we first bought it.

I normally have terrible luck with gas engines, one of the reasons I've stuck with electric chainsaws, but this one seems to be exceeding even the most optimistic expectations. I wonder why this one's so enduring.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Books that stick with you

The challenge: without thinking too hard about it, just doing the first that come to mind, list the 15 books that stick with you. Only I couldn't do 15, I had to do 20, which is a more manageable number. Here's my list, in no particular order:
  • The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster.
  • Hamlet, William Shakespeare.
  • In Search Of Schroedinger's Cat, John Gribbin.
  • 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov.
  • The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins.
  • Stranger In A Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein.
  • Permutation City, Greg Egan.
  • Goedel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter.
  • The Mind's I, edited by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett.
  • The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche.
  • A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold.
  • AD&D Player's Handbook and AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll.
  • Against A Dark Background, Iain Banks.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Starting to see the end

The pressure of this work project isn't exactly easing yet, and the busiest time is still underway, but the nature of the pressure is changing in a way that I find very heartening, and the beginning of relief.

For the last month or two, there's been a constant pressure of a deadline: certain things would be happening in June, and I had a list as long as your arm of things that had to be prepared in time. We'd committed to dates, and thus, to having everything ready for those dates. But more and more of that list kept falling onto my shoulders, not just my rather-too-large part but also parts intended for others; and more things kept getting added to the list. I was constantly swamped by the sense that there were so many things that had to be done in time and I had to be the one, not just to ensure they got done, but in most cases, to do them.

The first deadline was this coming Tuesday when training begins. I'll be attending most of the training during the week and a half to follow that. That brings us straight into the final preparations and thence to the day called "Go Live". And throughout those last steps, I'll be just as frantically busy as ever I have been, both attending those final preparations and training, and ensuring they go smoothly, and dealing with any issues that arise during them.

But it's a different kind of busy. Every day I'll have to do in each hour whatever comes up to do in that hour, but by and large I won't be carrying the weight of any deadlines. Well, that's not entirely true. Issues will arise that will have to be dealt with before the next class, or before inventory counting, or before go-live, or before any of the other steps on the way. And I'll probably be working a lot of overtime still, all the way to the end. But most of it will be "do this now" without the sense of it adding to a big list attached to a terrifying deadline: each thing will be handled as it comes up and set aside once it's done.

And that feels like a sea-change in the nature of the stress, and it's a relief. Combine that with the sense that in a few more weeks, it'll all be done, and I can taste it. Two weeks of training and transition, one or two weeks of dealing with problems as they arise, and then suddenly I'm free to go at a more reasonable pace again: the usual pace of "do whatever is next" without specific deadlines on most of it, plus the chance to take some time off (and you can be sure I will be).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Taking a break

Once I get going on my blog I like to keep up with one post a day every day because once I start skipping it gets too easy to let it flounder completely. But as I wrote yesterday, right now is an exceptional time. So I am going to suspend posting for the rest of the month, save posting whenever I happen to have something jump to mind and the time to post it -- i.e., erratically. Hopefully in July once the storm is passed I'll be able to resume my regular schedule.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Work stress

There's a stereotype (which has truth behind it, as many stereotypes do) of the overworked, stressed business executive who is constantly "right on the edge" of collapse. He (or she, in this enlightened age) works 60 hours a week, is always staring down a deadline, and is probably popping Rolaids to fend off a stress-related ulcer. Eating greasy foods on the run because he doesn't have time to cook or eat. Neglecting his family until they wonder who he is. Always just a few steps from a nervous breakdown, but you can only feel so much sympathy, because... how much of his life is because that's what the corporate world requires, and how much is because he chose this job, chose the never-ending escalation of "going the extra mile" to advance his career, chose to endure the stress? After a while, the sense of constant stress becomes the norm, and it doesn't seem exceptional at all.

Right now I am in the final month of a two-year-plus project and it is the most stress, the most pressure, the most work, and the most emotional difficulty of my entire career, bar none, hands down, by a long way. It's hard to tell people this, though. If I say something about how I'm really stressed at work right now, they've heard that so much from other people who are always "really stressed at work right now" and who don't seem to notice that "right now" is really "all the time". They probably imagine I'm just another one of those career-driven executives trying to get an ulcer and a promotion, not necessarily in that order.

But that's not my job, that's not me. I have been in this job for 15 years precisely because I don't want to advance to a higher-paying job that would bring more stress, more frustration, more demands, and more ulcers. Nor do I want to have to do the "go-getter" thing enough to get that job. I'm content where I am, because where I am means I have a job that ends at the end of my day and I can leave it at work (and if I think about it at home, it's not an agony to do so).

So this period, right now, really is an exception for me. It's by definition exceptional. If I say that right now, I can't afford to add anything else to my life, I can't say yes to anything, I need to shed every little thing I can drop, but it's just for another month or two... it really is just for another month or two, and then it should be back to normal.

But I really, really, really need to find a way to stop adding things, to say no, to divest myself of responsibilities and concerns. I need my non-working time (thin as that is, with me working 50 hours and up now trying to make up lost time) to be spent on destressing things.

But it's really just for now. It'll be fine soon. I just have to get through this last bit.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A rough night

Saturday Socks was probably worn out by the excitement of meeting us, getting adopted, her long drive to and from Petsmart, and all the shopping. Sunday though she started to get really excited and wanted to go out pretty much all day, except for a rest in the middle. She wore me out a few times and I had to ice my knee, and I only did about a third or less of the walks since I was also putting in five hours of overtime. The whole time, she peed a few times but that's it.

So we're convinced that we need to have a fenced-in yard, which previous to this weekend wasn't even an option that was on the table. And we need to have it now. In fact, as much as we don't like the dog-on-a-chain/runner thing, we might have to do that as a temporary thing just to let her wear herself out a bit, until we can get fencing put in. Today we'll be finding out how much fencing will cost (and how I'm going to pay for it!) plus how soon we can get it done.

Sunday night, though, was terrible. She still hadn't gone poo and she urgently wanted to go out but when she went out she just wanted to sniff and dig and run everywhere, then not poo, then once you got her back in she wanted to go out again and was no less insistent. In fact, she whined to go out.

All night long.

For eight straight hours.

Eventually I put in earplugs which hurt me like nuts, I can't stand them on the best of days and my ears were already feeling sore and tight yesterday for reasons unknown so this morning they are throbbing and I feel like my hearing is deadened somewhat, but that still leaves me with only about three hours of sleep. And I was already exhausted from all the overtime and stress and lost sleep on previous days, so I am just dead to the world today.

Naturally, I came in to a number of crises as well as the usual anxiety-attack-inducing pressure to meet deadlines on our project while being the only one who keeps morale up. This should be a positively terrible day.

There's a nugget of hope, though. On this morning's walk Socks finally went poo, a lot. And apparently she has worms, so at least that's something we know how to treat and will get right on it. Perhaps the worms are why she was so reluctant to poo, or perhaps she just hadn't found a spot she liked. Either way, hopefully tonight she won't have so many difficulties and we'll be able to get some sleep.

Even so, we can't get that fence soon enough. I knew we weren't ready for a dog (we weren't expecting to be coming home with one on Saturday) and that this isn't a good time for me to get one (they need a lot of time and patience and energy the first few weeks, and the next few weeks I will have the least of those three things to spare that I have ever had in my whole career), so I hope I can just make it through this month.