Saturday, July 29, 2006


When I got sick last month, the last thing of substance I had eaten was a smothered burrito. I tagged it as the source of what I believed was my food poisoning. The other day, coming in from a job, we stopped to get some late lunch and I ordered a Navajo taco. It's basically a taco, except instead of a taco shell, it's fry bread and it's all flat like a tostada. So to picture a Navajo taco, imagine some fry bread topped with green chili and meat of your choice and then some lettuce and cheese and some tomato. Fry bread is a simple round bread-like product that has been deep fried. When eaten plain, it's often eaten with honey as well. While quite tasty in that form, fry bread is not exactly the breakfast of champions, but that's not the point.

The point is that I was hungry. I had had a small breakfast and a lot to drink during the day since the heat and rare humidity were sucking everything out of me. Now it was mid-afternoon and we sat down and ordered and were snacking on the complimentary chips and salsa. When the food arrived, I immediately lost my appetite. The Navajo taco reminded me of my smothered burrito from a month ago. I could feel my insides turning and almost felt sick. I couldn't bring myself to eat more than a couple bites of my taco even though I easily ate some fry bread with honey on the side and the fries from the other guys' orders.

I shouldn't be too surprised by all this. The last time I threw up, which was many, many moons ago, I blamed it on some vegetarian lasagna. After that, I didn't eat vegetarian lasagna for several years. This time around, the taco, perhaps it was the green chili and chicken which was also common to my smothered burrito, was just too similar. But I'm surprised by just how strong the feeling was. Just looking at my plate made my stomach turn. I have a feeling I won't be eating anything with green chili or the combination of green chili and chicken anytime soon.

Monday, July 24, 2006

week 30: twilight in the desert?

Sometimes I wonder if the increasing nationalization taking place in the oil and gas industry is more than just opportunistic resource grabbing while prices are high and instead a sign of something much worse. Prices have gone up before and this happens because countries are trying to secure their revenue streams. When prices go down, those countries are often suddenly interested in foreign investment. But will prices go down again or is this the beginning of a long, gradual increase in prices. Is it twilight in the desert?

Friday, July 21, 2006

see posts below

Ok, I've cheated again. I just posted multiple back-dated entries starting on July 15. Enjoy below.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

fight scenes

Next time you're watching an action movie where the hero fights a dozen bad guys at once, watch what the bad guys who aren't currently the ones getting punched are doing. There's usually some very entertaining zigzag dancing going on.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

i passed

From the looks of things at work yesterday and today, I think I passed my test. (See July 7.) Apparently there were some minor hitches originating from a lack of communication, which is why I spend so much of my time at work is spent conveying information to other people.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

purpose 0

I'm not quite sure where I've been going with the posts from the last couple days. Challenge does not require purpose, but it sure does help. And damn, back to purpose the unavoidable thinking person's dilemma. To avoid the issue, here's a quote from The Matrix Reloaded

Smith: There's no escaping reason, no denying purpose, because, as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist.
Smith 2: It is purpose that created us.
Smith 3: Purpose that connects us.
Smith 4: Purpose that pulls us.
Smith 5: That guides us.
Smith 6: That drives us.
Smith 7: It is purpose that defines us.
Smith 8: Purpose that binds us.

And then a bunch of Smiths and Neo fight for longer than necessary. And by the way, I don't necessarily agree with the entire quote.

Monday, July 17, 2006

week 29: the suck

And once again, I'm back in Farmington. As always, vacation was far too fleeting. And while I kept an eye on work and checked my e-mail and logged into our new server-based job planner I avoided any actual work.

While in the Los Altos, several people told me I should come back to the Bay Area. I wonder how much of that was generic conversation that people make because that's what people do and how much of it was a sincere desire to have me return and thus be more accessible. I do miss the place, quite a bit in fact. But I still have to accomplish what I set out to do here.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

challenge II

From yesterday, will I still be craving challenge in 15 years with a theoretical wife, hypothetical kids, and highly probable crossover utility wagon with 23 airbags, folding flat rear seats, and three DVD players? Or will the solace of security from upper-middle management for a Fortune 500 company, medical and dental insurance, suburban home, backyard pool, 2.3 kids, dog, cat, tile entryway, master bed and bath, walk-in closets be just too much to resist? Or am I just being cynical since the two aren't mutually exclusive, except for the fractional child which will need to be rounded.

I graduated from college and I chose escape. I left the people and places I cared about and went a long way from what used to be my home. It was a challenge at first, but it's become easy again. A coming change with my job role at work will make it challenging and fresh and new again, but I know how the course will run. It will become easy and routine. Even when there seems to be no routine, there will be one. I will look for things to do at work that will be challenging but those will be unfulfilling without a larger purpose in mind. In short, I will get bored.

School carried with it the continuous challenge of learning new things every single day and not just curiosities and trivia and gossip, but hard knowledge. In many ways, I long for a college environment with the chance to learn something new every day and be challenged to think every single day. A perpetual challenge.

Maybe I'll grow up and enjoy things a little slower, start to like wine, and become more patient. However, if that's growing up, I'm not so sure I want that. I think it would be best to grow out.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


In my post from last week right before I went on vacation (July 7), I alluded to enjoying school partly because it had well-defined beginning and ending points with a clearly defined final objective: graduation. Additionally, this all took place within a relatively short time frame (four years for some, seven for others but we usually call them doctors) which made staying focused on the purpose easier. Starting with kindergarten, college was the culmination of 17 years of living like that. Go to school, get good grades, graduate, and go to the next level. The problem is that that ended.

Now, we (the royal we) ponder what to do with the rest of our lives. Growing up, it was pretty much a given that I would go to college. The first 22 years of my life, while filled with plenty of choices of all stripes, had a single over-arching theme: get a college degree. Life was defined. It was easy and comfortable, possibly too easy and too comfortable. Now it is undefined.

Don't worry, this isn't some post about purpose and cries of "oh whatever will I do with my life" and that sort of blather. Well, actually it is, sort of, maybe. It depends on how you look at it. Try squinting a little more. Anyway, most people need definition in their lives, that overarching theme that enables them to get up each day. Otherwise, it's a life spent reacting instead of initiating. However, most people are not able to define their purpose on their own. It remains to be seen whether I can. The point (finally!) is that while I would take great solace in latching onto some pre-arranged program/idea/theme to give me purpose, I should absolutely hate it.

I should hate the idea of letting something or someone else define my, your, anyone's existence. It does give people a sense of purpose, but that purpose is not their own. It means giving up control. It means sacrificing free-will, creativity, and initiative for security. The security and peace of mind of feeling fulfilled, but at the cost of not being one's own master. Plus, look at what it does to people. It turns some of the best, those who could have had potential out on their own, into far too competent lieutenants of causes I almost always find repellant. They have the belonging of their groups, but will never truly challenge their beliefs or their comfort levels. They have security.

But I don't need security, I need challenge.

Friday, July 14, 2006

learning from mistakes, or not

Sometimes the best way to learn something is to screw up. Unfortunately, there are few things that can get through a screw up with no consequence. Thankfully, there are plenty of things that can handle a screw up with some, but not significant, consequence.

I spend more time than should be needed looking over service orders at work. It is necessary because select individuals often have mistakes in their service orders. I have often wondered if there is any way to let some relatively minor mistake through that would have minimal consequence, but prove to be a good learning experience for the parties in question. This is hardly some petty and unprofessional attempt to get someone in trouble. It's a desperate attempt to get someone to do their job right. There are two problems with this tact. For starters, I can't stand for even minor mistakes. I too badly want professional perfection as it were. Besides, if a problem is not corrected as soon as possible, others may assume that the mistake is now some normal operating procedure. Secondly, people rarely change. Mistakes are the result of an underlying attitude issue that won't be changing anytime soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

balance III

Again, let's step back two and three days ago and revisit the balance matter. I'm not just out of balance because I spend a lot of time at work. And I don't just spend a lot of time at work because other people aren't up to par. It would be disingenuous to attribute balance issues to work when the issue is one of choice. I choose to spend time at work as a way to not spend time elsewhere. Meaning, I avoid having a life outside of work by not leaving time for a life outside of work.

As socially comfortable as I have become at work, in many ways I am still the same shy person of my grade school years. Basically, I generally do not enjoy meeting new people. No, scratch that. I meet new people just fine. There are new people at work almost every week and I have no trouble introducing myself to them and engaging in meaningless small talk. However, that is a work environment where the topics of conversation, at least initially, are severely limited to an almost scripted nature. Aside from work, all the clubs I threw myself into in college were, despite their engineering basis, predominantly social in nature. I met people all the time in those and as both a more senior member and a peer and found plenty of ways to engage people.

Perhaps what I am avoiding is gathering more casual acquaintances. The easiest way to avoid those is to not acquaint myself with people in the first place. The problem I have with casual acquaintances is that they are so horribly awkward. There's minimal established rapport and no set routine so every encounter is like meeting for the second time all over again. It's like two guys who haven't seen each other in a while. Should they shake hands, do a quick hand clasp, engage in some complicated handshake maneuvers, or awkwardly hug each other but make sure they don't press cheeks or bodies together. I can engage in all the appropriate small talk with casual acquaintances, but I generally find it pointless. I understand the need for social niceties, but wouldn't it be better to not idly chit chat at all. If people are going to meet they might as well get meaningful questions answered, ask for advice, or engage in challenging and stimulating conversation. Pragmatism is underappreciated.

Of course more meaningful relationships begin as casual acquaintanceships. Meaningful relationships almost always require some level of underlying connection that cannot simply be developed from scratch. A common background, interest, experience, etc usually lies at the heart of deeper friendships. By and large, I don't share those things with Farmington and I don't find it necessary to seek out the handful of people I might have something in common with.

I'm a good lone wolf. Like I've said before, I can socialize and mingle properly enough and work well in groups, but left to my own devices I get along just fine and get my work done.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Attitude. So much of work is showing up with the right attitude. Either you want to be there or you don't want to be there. And it shows. At work, I decided long ago who wants to be there and who doesn't. To be honest, I would rather the people who don't want to be there not show up at all. In fact, it would be best if they quit right now instead of pretending to care and pretending to work. That way we won't even make plans assuming that they will come but instead know that they're going to be a never show. It would save the people who do want to be there the time and effort that it seems to continuously take to fix all the problems caused by the lack of desire from people who don't really want to work.

The lackadaisical effort turned in by the not-want-to-be-theres is huge drain on the morale of those who really are trying and do genuinely want to work. For starters, it drains morale because it takes even more effort to fix the mistakes of the others. Additionally, it makes some people who are generally good want to turn in similarly lackadaisical efforts because a couple louses are getting away with it. The result is bitterness about why some people get to suck and yet pay no consequence.

It's just best when people go ahead and quit before their dragging starts to drag everyone else down. One guy quit recently and I think any careful observers saw it coming. I can peg a couple other people as probable quit candidates. They tend to fit a certain type. They are relatively new hires so they don't have much seniority at stake in case they do quit. They also generally think that they're underpaid or talk about money a lot. And finally, they act as if they are better than the work they do. What I mean by that is they think the work is beneath them and that they could be doing something more dignified and more appropriate to their skill and experience and education level. Well, by all means, if that's the case, please go find yourself another job because I am certainly tired of all talk and no action.

The departure of the guy who quit recently puts me in the position of being the most senior field engineer at out district. There's no real significance beyond noting what that means for attrition and a couple other benchmark measures of my own.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

balance II

The natural question from yesterday would be why am I out of balance? The natural answer is that I am spending too much time at work. But why, always the why. The answer: I don't have confidence in other people.

A person starts working somewhere and various processes get passed to that person. In time, that person will pass those processes on to someone else. A great deal of what makes a successful company is the smooth and complete transfer of knowledge from one person to the next. That arguably makes up 90% of the knowledge it takes to operate on a day-to-day basis. Innovation is great, but operational excellence is much more fundamental.

I start working and learn various processes from others. In time, I am supposed to pass those processes on to other people. I have strong doubts about other people and their ability to competently do what are really very basic tasks. Consequently, either I do not pass the process on or I do pass it on but continually look over their shoulder to make sure they are doing it properly. Either way, I am still involving myself. Is it some subconscious desire to remain as needed as possible and thus make myself indispensable? I am fairly certain that it isn't. I have discussed related ideas before and the bottom line is that being indispensable, especially for me right now, is a terrible position to be in. Besides, the current state of the business does not lend itself to firing anyone except the most blatantly incompetent. By the way, I am not blatantly incompetent.

Let's revisit why being indispensable is a bad thing, specifically my situation. Locally, if I am the only person who knows some process then that would make my district reluctant to any sort of transfer. Additionally, I dislike the feeling of being the one people rely on. This is not because I am uncomfortable with responsibility, but mostly because I am uncomfortable with people who are not self-reliant. I want others to be independent enough such that they do not need me.

I enjoy teaching and mentoring and generally being a guide for people who are less experienced at whatever the particular task in front of us is. (In essence, I can picture myself, quite nicely in fact, working in some sort of teaching capacity for a large portion of my working life. That's not to say I want to teach in some way as a career, but merely that it is a viable and mostly positively viewed option.) As I reflect on work-specific examples, I am seeing that I do not have a problem letting go of a process. I have a problem letting go of a process to specific people. For example, I totally trust one particular person who is newer than me in a supervisory role in the field. I absolutely do not trust another person with the same role even though he has a similar amount of experience as the person I do trust. I want to trust that person and I have tried to let that person earn my confidence, but time and again my confidence seems to be misplaced.

Perhaps the entire matter of balance and time spent at work and moving on can be traced back to people. This isn't about me, it's about them. They're no good and I need to pick up the slack? Probably not. (Read: hopefully not because then there is no solution that I can implement.) Or perhaps I need to adjust my concept of the quality of work I find to be acceptable. In the end, the most likely scenario is that I need to give people more time. And after more time is given? Then I wait for someone to get fired by those with the authority to actually do so. That or someone will quit. Experience has shown that someone will always quit.

Monday, July 10, 2006

week 28: balance

In some ways, quite possibly many, I am succeeding wildly with the challenges of work. My attitude, commitment, and execution are strong and have helped me earn the respect and trust of those I work with. I can be counted on the pay attention to details and take on all the random things that need to get done to keep the wheels turning.

In another way, I am failing miserably. I am out of balance. Outside of work, well, there is no outside of work. Wake-up, go to work all day, go home, brood, sleep too little. As Homer put it so well, "Lather, rinse, and repeat. Always repeat." That's right, always repeat, every day. It's as if my life happens in short spasms during the far too occasional times I am several hundred miles away from Farmington. I don't have a life in Farmington. It's as if Farmington is one life and the Bay Area is another. When I travel from one to the other, one life resumes and the other is put on hold. The problem is that they are both my life, not two, nearly totally separate entities.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


This vacation is as good a time as any to catch up and get back into the blogging groove.

Continuing from two days ago, I mentioned that I have been taking on a lot of responsibility at work. I'm not trying to carry the world, but simply take up some of the slack. Obviously, or perhaps not, there is no explicit list of my work responsibilities on a piece of paper of anywhere and anything not on the list is totally beyond the realm of even thinking about doing. It's mostly a situation of no one telling me to do certain things (though people probably would for some of it) but merely identifying tasks that need be done to improve the quality of operations. Like I said two days ago, whatever is necessary to help out.

If taking on responsibility is putting so much strain on me, then why do it? Is it the intense hatred (or perhaps fear) of failing? The idea that some lack of effort, insight, or properly timed comic wit could lead to a poorly done job does bother me. However, after giving this some thought (but not too much since this is a blog mind you), I much more strongly feel the sense of success and getting a job done right than the depth to which I would fear any failure. Sure, there have been times in school and work where deadlines resulted in some garbled mishmash of crap because something is better than nothing. In the end, the sense of winning is a much stronger motivator than the fear of losing.

Success for successes sake is nice and all, but the motivation runs a bit deeper than that. Most people want to play/work for winners. I certainly do. Being with a winner validates a very big decision: the decision to work there in the first place. It means you chose right And if working till I feel like I'm going to snap helps make us a winner then that will be what I do.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

back in town

Back in the Bay Area until July 17!

You all know how to reach me. I plan to do a lot of nothing.

Friday, July 07, 2006

vacation needed

I start vacation tomorrow and I am in such desperate need of a break in the action. It's been a long time since I've been able to take a break at work and I can see how the pull has been affecting my attitude at work from time to time. The constant grind has made me a bit short with others, oddly glib at times, and, most serious of all, really cut into the blogging. This has been a challenge because I've never done anything meaningful that didn't have a predetermined end, kind of like school

Obviously, work doesn't reset to a new semester every 16 weeks. That short term nature was one of the reasons I enjoyed school. It had well-defined beginning and ending points and specific objectives were to be achieved during the semester that allowed me to keep a pretty good focus on the purpose of being there. Sure, there were always broader matters that carried over the entire year or many years. However, the overarching purpose of being in college was to graduate and there were specific tasks to complete in order to do so.

Work has some specific tasks too, but the stance I've adopted to what I should be doing goes something like this: whatever is necessary to help the district, and specifically the department I'm in, run. The result is that I do a little bit of a lot of things. Actually I do a lot of a lot of things. In short, I plug holes that other people leave behind (even though they shouldn't). This vacation is a sort of test, but not a test for me, or at least not directly anyway. It's not my test because I don't have to actually take it. My new department manager and my successor field engineer are taking the test of living without me for a week. The test for me is if I have sufficiently helped my new manager adjust to Farmington and provided him with all the local information he needs to do his job. The test for me is if I have prepared the next field engineer well enough to do what I do. I guess I find out if I pass in 10 days. (Or I'll find out sooner since I'm taking my work laptop on vacation to be able to answer e-mails and explain anything that needs explaining.)

In a way, I have made myself too useful. Go back to the last paragraph of March 13 to see what I mean. And the process of doing so has involved responsibility upon responsibility, often self-imposed responsibilities. And that is burning me up. And now, vacation awaits.