Flash Fiction Friday (#1) – Login

Bob Fenton sits at this cube. It’s small, and it’s near a conference room. Boy, if it isn’t loud here most of the time. Miraculously, there are no meetings. It’s quiet. Bob takes a sip of his coffee. Ah. “This is nice” he thinks, flashing back to his most recent doctor’s appointment. “Doc wanted me to take it easy.”

“Jesus, Bob!” Tim Drake slams his hand down suddenly on Bob’s bookshelf, jolting Bob out of his revelry. “Did you hear what happened?” Tim’s voice is louder than usual, apparently not caring who overhears.

“Wait, what?”

“With the PharmDataUploader. Remember? We pulled that back three months ago because it couldn’t connect with PharmDataDist”

Bob recalled the project. The development teams had spent 9 months making updates to the application. It was used to securely transmit sensitive patient information to drug makers. It was hard enough to interface their unique data schema with proprietary retail drug store exchanges, but factoring in HIPPA protections as well took ages. The first day they tried to run it, the whole thing failed almost instantly. Execs were pissed, and customers will pay top dollar for the data if this thing can ever launch. “Did we finally figure out the problem?”

Tim leans in closer. “We never activated the user login in Production.”

“What do you mean ‘never activated’?”

“Well, remember how our developers couldn’t reproduce the error on their boxes? Or that QA couldn’t reproduce it anywhere?”

Bob nodded.

Tim continued “We spent forever putting in special logging and debugging features. We built out a whole staging environment with scrubbed data thinking it might be related to the sheer size of the data. We spend millions building this thing, and it would have worked on the first day except no one enabled the login from PharmDataUploader into our database.”

“No” Bob replied. “What did Danny say?”

“He said it isn’t a DBA issue. They don’t do anything with users without a ticket from the operations team.”

“Wait, didn’t we have operations on board?”

“Of course we did. They sat through the entire release plan. They claim that the project manager never requested that they enable the login”

“She talked about it at the status meetings. What do they mean it wasn’t requested?”

“She apparently sent in the request to operations, but needed the DBAs to confirm which login to use. They provided a list of all the logins and asked her to pick one. She asked the devs, but they don’t know anything about how production is configured. So, in a vacuum, she picked one and provided it to operations.”

“So, why didn’t operations ask the DBAs to enable that login?”

“Because that login is being retired. Since it is being recycled, they didn’t include it in the instructions.”

“Seriously? This is a weird case of who’s on first.”

“We finally figure out the cause, released the code today, and the sucker is working just fine. Here’s why I’m pissed, though. No one knows who to blame: DBAs, operations, the PM, or development. This is just the way we do things around here. However, because this is my program, I’ve missed three months of revenue so I’m taking the hit on my KPIs.”

“No way. What did Kurt say?”

“He said that there is nothing he can do. This is just the way we track things here.”

“Unbelievable.”

What the boys taught me by playing baseball

This weekend marked the start of the Little league baseball season here in Seattle. A sport like baseball is hard to play in the spring here in the northwest, given the amount of rain we have and very few covered indoor baseball fields for children. In fact, all the practices the boys have had thus far have been in the rain. We had great weather for the season opening Jamboree. I was impressed by the quality of the little league baseball fields, which included dugouts, bleachers, outfield fences, an electronic scoreboard, real grass fields, a concessions stand, clean restrooms, and loud speakers. While I will always prefer the crack of a wood bat on the ball, the aluminum pinging sound accompanying the laughter of children and cheers of the parents created a wondrous cacophony on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Here are some of the things I learned by watching the boys.

The Clothes Make The Man
When the day started, the boys were just wearing jeans and long sleeve tshirts. Once they put on their uniforms, they transformed into ball players. They way they wore their hats, rocked the gloves, and tucked in their jerseys made them look legit. I was reminded that looking the part, and having confidence, takes you a long way.

Ritual Matters, as does Pomp and Circumstance
Before the games, every player was announced by name and number, then ran out to the pitchers mound to stand and receive applause from the crowd. This reminded me of watching the World Series, when all the players are introduced. I’ll admit it, I was jealous and wanted to be out there myself. My oldest told me afterwards that his favorite part was the pre game ritual. I find that when watching groups do ritual, there is a clear feeling of belonging, as being part of the team. I’m going to try to not find ritual annoying anymore, but recognize it as a powerful binding of groups to a shared identity.

Baseball is still America’s Pastime
Here in Seattle, we have a fantastic soccer league and community. Over the last few years, I have been impressed with the coaches, uniforms, and organization. However, little league really blew all that away. I already mentioned the wonderful status of the fields, and the crowds were easily double or triple the size of the soccer games. After the game, my oldest had a quick practice across town. Despite being at the field for a couple hours watching the game, all of the parents and kids made it to practice. During the scrimmage, there were parents acting as umpire, pitching, coaching the infield, coaching the outfield, and managing the dugout. It was impressive. While the Mariner’s may have been lackluster the last few years, little league baseball is very strong here in the northwest. A game that was custom built for radio is still the king of the internet age.

There is always summer better, and always someone worse
It was very clear to me that some of the kids on the field are naturals, future monsters dominating the diamond. Many of the kids had a hard time paying attention, and a handful got hurt (though nothing serious). My boys, and pardon the pride here, had both hustle and good attitudes. I’m not naive, and I know that talent takes you far in this world. It was good to see that my boys were able to compete by running harder than most kids on the field, willing to try new things, and were mentally engaged in the game. I’ve achieved some decent successes in my life, and while I’m smart I’m not the smartest person in the room. Watching them play reminded me not be afraid to ‘challenge the experts’ and that ‘chance favors the prepared mind.’

For a variety of reasons, most of them failures on my part, this is the first year I’ve been able to get the boys into baseball. I am coming into this season eager to introduce the boys to the sport that connected me to my dad for a lifetime. I am also looking forward to experiencing the cliche that I will learn more from watching the boys play, then they will learn from me.

There seems to be less and less time

Life seems very busy for me these days. I don’t know if there is any one cause. Is it just my own nature to add more to my to do list? Could it be that as I move up the ladder at work my responsibilities take over more of my thoughts? Is this just what happens as you near 40? What about my kids? Are they the ones who are making me busy?

I look back on my 20s when I was finishing college and entering the work force. I felt as though I had so much going on, so much to do. During those same years I saw all the movies I wanted, never missed “must see tv” on Thursday nights, and was able to read every Jordan, Martin, or Goodkind book. What I would give today to find a time not just to read more than one chapter of a Sigler novel at a sitting, but that by taking that time I wasn’t missing something else critical. Well, in my 20s, I was also convinced that it was only a matter of time before I was able to achieve greatness. The world was my oyster.

In my 30s, I decided to strive harder to accomplish more. I made the deliberate decision that there are sights I would like to see, experiences I wanted to have, goals to achieve, stories to tell, money to save, lessons to teach, and dreams to chase. I think this is it – allow me to elaborate.

I push myself in multiple directions. Spending time with my kids, and helping them grow into the best adult they can be, is a prime motivator for me. It’s why I spend almost an hour at night talking to them about their “best and worst” parts and helping provide what wisdom I can. On the physical side, I am a solid 30 pounds overweight. I spend an hour a day exercising, and what feels like an hour a day worried about what I eat and whether or not my minor insulin resistance is going to turn into something much worse. After having been laid off in the 2008 economic crash, I vowed never again to be dependent upon income from my main job, and thus spend time focused on investments and passive income. Not that I ignore my existing job. I put in my hours in a place where if I get rated “very strong” verses “strong” there is a several thousand dollar difference in income. I volunteer. I mow the lawn (half the year). I fold laundry. I clean the bathroom before company comes over.

I guess it really is, as Green Day says, it all keeps adding up. There isn’t one thing that makes me busy, it’s everything. It goes to reason that by the same token, simply changing one thing won’t make me feel as though I have a miraculous amount of free time. Could it be that, if I reminded myself of why I’m busy, why I invest, why I volunteer, that then my tasks would feel less like burdens? Would remembering my purpose lift the weight off my shoulders? Or, as it has been suggested, maybe I should just go back to watching must see tv?

Let me know what you think?

BTW, Scott Sigler (mentioned above) is my new favorite author. His book The Rookie is a story about the future of football after the alien invasion. You should check it out sometime.

Clipping the Helicopter wings

When I was in elementary school I used to walk myself to and from class, and I carried a key to my house. I used to ride my bike all over the neighborhood, ranging from 7-11 to O’Leary’s comic book shop. My wife, friends, and co-workers all have similar stories. My boys don’t have that same freedom. I haven’t intentionally withheld that from them, it just seems that the world is a different place. Heck, every time I do leave them somewhere I insist that they borrow a cell phone so I can call them. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was almost 30, and somehow managed to keep safe.

I’ve recently begun to notice that there are some basic skills these kids don’t have, primarily around age appropriate levels of responsibility. So I’ve been asking myself the following: how do I teach my boys to grow up?

So, what does it mean to grow up?

1) Does it mean they need to stop finding silly things to be funny? We have a blast playing wallball and making everything goofy. I don’t want them to lose their sense of humor and having fun.

2) Does it mean they should be willing to try new things? Not all kids are adventurous, but I wonder if my kids don’t try new things because they want the safety and stability of the known. It is easy for me to attribute this to the dual household arrangement they have. However, if I had them all the time, would they feel more safe, or be even more stuck in their ways?

3) Do I want them to be more aware of others and their feelings? This may be the big one, the one I want them to embrace, both for empathy, for relationships, and competition.

4) Do I want them to work hard? Yes and no. I don’t want them to be stuck in a 9 to 5, living hand to mouth, and choosing between bad options. I want them to build income when they are sleeping at night, so they can pursue their interests when they are awake. Yes, I do work at a stock brokerage, and I’ve learned first hand how powerful compounding interest is and that wealth begets wealth. I wish I had started investing at 18, rather than 28. Shameless plug – here are some Investing Books you may want to read or pass on to your kiddos.

5) Does it mean I need to be harsher with them? I’ve recently started “making” them go outside and use their imaginations more. They have a toy bow and arrow set, and we made target “creepers” to shoot, so they have fun when they do go outside. It’s heartbreaking to see them complain and drag their heels. Honestly, though, they need to be able to entertain themselves and pursue their own interests rather than just doing what their mother and I think they should do.

6) I’ve also resorted to bribery. I was getting tired of losing the water bottles that I send with them to school. I’ve taken to giving them a stick of gum each time they return their water bottle. I’ll tell you, that system is working well, but I don’t know how comfortable I am with providing external motivation for all of their responsibilities.

All this being said, I’m actually quite excited about helping them grow up. Middle school is not far away, and every empty nester I know says that the years go by very quickly. I’ve really enjoyed hearing their stories, seeing their minecraft creations, and watching them develop as artists and team mates.

By the way, helicopters are much cooler now then when I was a kid.