I was on a business flight between Seattle and Anchorage earlier today. In the days coming up to the flight, I was re-checking seat assignments to see if I could get something better than the premium cabin middle seat. This morning, before the flight, I saw an exit row seat in coach open up, and I decided to go for it as I knew I would want to work on a book I’m finishing up.
A man in the same row as me arrived and sat down. He had a C.S. Lewis book that I have not read, so I asked him if he liked it. He said that he did. I shared a couple of other C.S. Lewis titles that I have read over the years. As we talked a bit more, I shared that Lewis’ title, A Grief Observed, was a good read many years ago after my son passed away. The man told me that he had lost a son as well.
Three weeks ago.
My heart ached for him. I know this pain well. I imparted some of my own experiences and observations, including sage advice imparted to me, including that given by one of my half-brothers who lost two children. I told him that the memories will remain and the pain will slowly ebb.
Our conversation lasted but ten minutes.
You never know who you are going to run into or what opportunities will come your way to help others.
I’d thought of a cross-country road trip all of my adult life, but never thought I’d have the opportunity or take the time to do it.
That all changed in June, 2022, when we purchased a moderately rare vehicle from a private party in Rhode Island and drove it home to Washington State.
The journey was moderately stressful, as this was a new-to-us 17-year-old complex machine, and a couple of minor things didn’t work right. And the trip was a bit of a dash. I would have preferred to do the trip in two weeks instead of one, and take the time to see some of the sights.
Still, we saw a ton of farmland, and from our vantage point, realize again that America has vast agricultural resources that could feed the entire world. We live in the middle of farmland back home, so it was familiar to us, but there was so much of it to see along the little strip of land that was our journey’s path.
The entire trip – flying to Boston and driving back home, was nearly two weeks. It’s the longest stretch of vacation away from work I’ve had in decades. Unplugging from work was hugely valuable to me. As a type-A, I need to take more breaks, and am grateful for the opportunity to have done so.
In the late 1990s, as I was pivoting my career from IT architecture and management to cybersecurity, I became a member of some new virtual communities within my employer’s organization. We had a loosely knit virtual security team that consisted of people in numerous departments who were all interested in cybersecurity. Every other Thursday, we joined an audio conference bridge to discuss relevant issues.
In 2001, we had a meeting scheduled with some outsiders – I don’t remember if they were with an outside vendor, or another group in the company (it doesn’t matter now). In the days leading up to this meeting, a few of us expressed concern about this meeting and how it would go. I thought about this and had an idea: before the conference call begins, let’s all open Microsoft NetMeeting so that we can send text messages to each other to discuss and control the verbal discussion.
The meeting backchannel was born.
During the call, there were a few key moments where our backchannel was valuable. In one, someone from the other party said something that was not true. In the back channel, someone typed something like, “He’s lying! Someone, please refute this now before he changes the subject!” Moments later, one of our team members spoke up and corrected the earlier speaker.
I’ve used backchannels consistently since that time, generally in situations where we are in conference with parties whose level of trust is unknown, and in situations where conflict is likely to arise. There were times when the use of a meeting backchannel was common – practically the default. Sales calls were a great example, particularly when there were many of us on a call, representing many company departments, including product development, operations, security, privacy, and legal. We could help each other rapidly and keep the flow of the conversation moving in the right direction.
Today, backchannels are the norm – in the circles I run in, anyhow. Depending upon the situation, we’ll discuss the backchannel first, but often it’s an unspoken arrangement. When I’m speaking in a meeting, I’ll keep an eye on a window where incoming private messages from another in the meeting might influence what I’m saying – this can be invaluable. In contentious situations where one of my managers is talking, sometimes I’ll drop a quick note such as “You’re doing great!” to give them the added confidence they might need in the moment.
Modern videoconferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams include a chat feature, where participants can drop in URLs, images, and notes to supplement what they or others are saying. An advantage that Microsoft Teams has over Zoom is that participants can chat with others who are not in the meeting without switching to another tool. In Zoom, you can only chat with people in the meeting; if you need to chat with someone not in the meeting, you’ve got to use a different tool.
At times, I’ve witnessed (and participated in) what I call a “meeting within a meeting” in which a verbal/video dialogue is taking place, and underneath that, a parallel discussion ensues, sometimes in the same meeting’s chat, but more often in a separate chat channel with a subset of the meeting’s participants. Again, we’re tossing ideas, throwing hints, and encouraging those who are speaking, or about to be.
Generally, we do not acknowledge the presence of meeting backchannels. They are often covert, and knowledge of them could be perceived as individuals colluding to influence a conversation and thus, an outcome. But now and again, I’ll implicitly acknowledge a backchannel: in one recent conversation with several business leaders, one of my managers sent a few words to remind me of something. I verbally acknowledged the assistance: “And, in addition, my colleague Kate has reminded me that we also need to consider….” In this example, I’m describing the assistance that helped everyone on the call.
With modern videoconferencing and chat tools, it’s possible to have several texting channels operating at once. There is a real danger here: being poor multitaskers, we humans need to be mindful of where we are paying attention: as soon as we start reading a chat message, we tune out whoever is speaking audibly in the meeting. This happens quite a lot, actually, as I often hear in a meeting these six words:
Can you please repeat the question?
Backchannels really only work when meetings are virtual. In face-to-face meetings, it’s more difficult to hide the fact that one person is typing text messages to another who is also there in the room. It’s considerably more difficult to covertly guide an in-person conversation, since it’s usually necessary for someone to speak up. For instance, while one person is speaking, another recalls an important point that a third person needs to mention. The listener would have to interject: “I think that Jose has another example to describe here, specifically regarding that travel agent customer we met with last week.” This puts Jose on the spot, and the listener is hoping that Jose will understand and proceed correctly with no other help. This is how meetings used to flow: everyone had to pay close attention, take notes, and know when to speak up to make an important point. Backchannels are becoming a crutch, albeit a useful one.
My earliest memories of coffee are of my parents using their large Chemex coffee urn to brew coffee in “pour over” style. I think they brewed 3-4 cups, and kept the coffee warm on their electric cooktop with a star-shaped wire thingy that kept the borosilicate glass from directly contacting the electric burners. In those days, I had little interest in coffee: I didn’t care for the smell, and it seemed to be one of those things adults liked that children did not.
Fast-forward to the early 1990s. I was in a new job at World Vision, helping them move their computer programs from old mainframe computers to new ones. They put a bunch of us in a class on network technology fundamentals. I had already mastered this knowledge but wanted to attend to know what my colleagues were being taught. I was hired as a technology mentor, familiar with the kinds of computers new to the organization.
The class was painfully dull, and I was literally head-bobbing. I recalled a coffee maker in the back of the room, and I thought that perhaps this magic potion would help me stay awake.
By my current standards, the coffee was terrible, but it did have the intended effect.
Later that year, I met a friend who liked to patronize Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a coffee shop chain in malls and airports. I found their mocha java coffee delightful with a healthy (?) dose of cream. My coffee senses were awakened.
For the next few years, I was drinking coffee at home with a lot of cream (or you might way, I was drinking cream with a bit of coffee). But as I came to love the taste of coffee, I gradually reduced the cream dose and switched to half-and-half, which I use to this day.
In the mid-1990s, I moved to Seattle and discovered Starbucks Coffee. I gravitated to their Café Mocha, and drank them daily for years. My standard order became “double tall 175 degree non-fat mocha with whip,” which rolled off my tongue as easily as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. But that was not the end.
My work situation changed, and my daily Starbucks mocha became my weekly Starbucks mocha. At the same time, I began to buy Starbucks Italian Roast coffee for brewing at home. This, too, would last for many years.
A few years ago, I decided to venture forth and try other brands of drip coffee. On a particular business trip, I was traveling through the Silicon Valley with a couple of colleagues one afternoon, when one of my colleagues asked, “who wants coffee?” We stopped at a small Philz Coffee stand, where I ordered a cup of Ether blend coffee. Philz is a pour-over coffeehouse, no espresso. And Philz makes the complete cup: if you want cream or sugar, they add it as they make it. Imagine my mild embarrassment when I ordered my coffee “with a little room,” to which they replied that they add all the fixings.
This cup of coffee was the best tasting coffee I had ever had in my life. Believing it to be the coffee itself, I bought two pounds on the spot and took them home. And indeed, this was delicious coffee, but it was not as good at home. Then I recalled that the brew method at Philz may have played a part. Remembering my parents’ Chemex coffee, I purchased a 3-cup Chemex coffee maker and soon mastered the art of pour-over.
I switched back to Starbucks Italian Roast for a while, but soon tried other brands, including Black Rifle Coffee, Peet’s, and others.
About two years ago, I was on a business trip to Marina Del Rey and was having breakfast on the restaurant patio. The server asked if I’d like some coffee. Again, this coffee was wonderful, among the best that I had ever tasted. I asked the server what kind it was; he wasn’t sure and went back to check. He brought back a large bag of Lavazza Intenso – a rich, dark blend that induced Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus in my brain with each sip. I sourced this myself, and a pound of Lavazza Intenso was waiting for me when I arrived home two days later. This is my daily coffee to this day.
I generally have two cups of Lavazza in the morning, and a cup of coffee in the afternoon. My afternoon coffee is locally produced, Blue Star Espresso Roast. This blend has some high notes absent from Lavazza and is a welcome afternoon flavor. I make Blue Star with my Chemex using the standard method used for my morning coffee.
On business travel, I sometimes patronize Starbucks. But my sweet tooth has waned, and I rarely order a mocha. Instead, my choice is a cup of dark roast drip, to which I add a dash of half-and-half. Today, I patronize Starbucks less than one visit per month: I work from home full time and do not frequently travel, and the nearest Starbucks is 25 miles from my house.
Thankfulness is a choice, and it is about perspective.
If you are not thankful, then perhaps you are not seeing the complete picture of your life.
Are you bitter about a job with pressure, deadlines, and quotas, or are you thankful that you have a job? Are you bitter about family relationships, or are you thankful that you have a family? Are you bitter about your living situation, or are you thankful that you have a roof over your head? Are you bitter about your health, or are you thankful that you are alive another day?
Thankfulness, like gratitude, is a choice. Thankfulness should come through any circumstance, not just when things go your way.
Do you notice that one or more of your co-workers always seem to have a good attitude? I doubt it is because their life is perfect and everything for them is going great. Instead, I propose that they have simply decided to be thankful, regardless of their circumstances.
An old saying comes to mind as I write this: “I cried when I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
An experience late last week was an epiphany for me.
While managing the financial affairs of a relative, I needed to get a one-page document notarized. I live in a small town, where there are only two or three local bank branches.
One of the branches is K** Bank. On their website, K** Bank makes available the capability of making an appointment at a nearby branch. I filled in the appointment form, including the specific nature of the visit. Another relative who was visiting a few weeks ago got a document notarized there, so I knew that this branch of K** Bank had a notary.
I showed up, was greeted by branch staff, and invited to have a seat while someone came to assist me. Soon, another branch employee came over and said she was ready. I presented my document and my photo ID. The employee asked for my K** Bank account number, and I replied that I was not a customer. She replied that Key Bank only notarizes documents for customers. When I asked whether K** Bank would notarize my one-page document for a fee, the answer was, no, sorry. The branch was not busy: there were six employees in the branch, and I saw one or two customers come and go in the ten minutes that I was there.
I left and drove two blocks to the town’s professional building, where a lawyer, an accountant, a marriage counselor, and a financial advisor have small offices. I poked my head into the CPA’s office and asked, do you know of a notary here in town? The CPA got up, greeted me, and took me across the hall to the financial advisor’s office, where she introduced me to an independent financial advisor. He gladly took a couple of minutes to notarize my document. He refused to accept a fee. Since he was conversational and polite, I asked him about his business, asked for some business cards, and may have some business to refer to him.
Branch banking is going the way of the bookstore. Key Bank had an excellent opportunity to take a few minutes to meet a new potential customer by showing a bit of goodwill. Instead, they turned me away, and frankly, I will probably never set foot in that branch again.
While hiking in the hills near our mountain cabin one day, I realized that I was looking down at each step. The terrain was unlevel, full of brush, rocks, critter holes, and other obstacles. In a moment of realization, I stopped and looked out in front of me. I realized that, for several minutes, I was not looking at where my walking was taking me.
Our jobs and our careers are like a hike on uneven ground. We make small and large decisions, interact with people, often only in the moment, without pausing to look up to see where these daily activities are taking our careers. When working only in the moment, we are surrendering control of our careers to others and to chance, rather than taking the reins and going where we want.
Like walking or hiking, it’s essential to make good in the moment decisions, but we must occasionally stop to see where our steps are taking us, and change direction when needed.
I am a CenturyLink DSL customer in Seattle, WA. CenturyLink advertises 1 Gig Internet, but in our neighborhood, 10MB is all that is available. Countless inquiries to customer support and tech support have not identified a soul who knows if or when faster DSL is coming to my neighborhood.
Often, the DSL is so bad that simple tasks such as loading web pages often times out. Speed tests typically show < 1MB of download speed. Here is a typical test from earlier today.
CenturyLink techs have been out to the house numerous times. I’ve tried several different modems. I’ve bypassed my internal wiring altogether. Nothing they have done has made any difference.
I am a work from home (WFH) security consultant. However, on bad days, WFH is more like “wait from home”. Some days it seems like a miracle if my VPN connection stays up for more than an hour.
Here in Seattle, my only choices are CenturyLink for DSL and Comcast. CenturyLink has had two years to get the DSL service working right. Comcast, you’re next. My neighbors all say their Comcast Internet rocks and is really fast. Let’s hope so.
I am visiting Reno, Nevada after quite a long absence. I’m here to speak at a professional event on the topic of human factors and data security (in other words, why we continue to build unsecure systems).
My IT career started here in Reno, with on-campus jobs in computing (operations and software development), and later in local government, banking, and casino gaming. Each job built on the last, and I gained positions with greater responsibility, creativity, and rewards of various sorts.
I buried my young son in Reno – it seems like many lifetimes ago. He was my first stop. Time is a great healer – you’ll have to trust me on this one, if you have recently suffered a big loss.
I looked up a couple of long-time friends, but waited until the last minute. They’re probably busy with their own lives today.
Done with my coffee stop and time to check in to my hotel. My talk is tonight, and then I’m back on the road tomorrow with other stops in the Pacific Northwest.
I relocated to the Seattle area in mid 1993 and took a job in Kirkland. From 1993 until 2013, I have worked for three different organizations and reported to work in Kirkland, Redmond, and Bellevue. These are three cities in the area known to locals as “the East Side” – meaning the East side of Lake Washington, which separates Seattle from these other communities. For about ten years, I lived on the East Side as well. Today I live in Seattle.
Starting today, I am neither living nor working on the East Side, but living and working in Seattle. My daily sojourns to the fair city of Redmond are over and likely to never recur. The prospects of my returning to Redmond, even for a visit, are slim. Even towering Bellevue will see me perhaps twice each year.
Earlier this year we purchased an RV and spent about 40 nights in it all over Washington State, including American River, Whidbey Island, Vasa Resort, Ames Lake, Alder Lake, Riffe Lake, and Kitsap Memorial State Park. We spent much of this time with good friends whose company we enjoy very much.
My wife and I went on several motorcycle rides, although none were overnight trips as I had hoped. Still, we were blessed with great weather and safe riding.
One one particularly nice weekend day, I took a very early morning ride up Mt. Rainier, arriving at Paradise Lodge at around 8am. There was practically no traffic on the way up the mountain – the entire two lane highway was mine.
After writing twenty-two books in ten years, my list of honey-do’s around the house was growing, and I got a lot of things done in this department.
We also had an exchange student from the Czech Republic stay in our home for a year. She arrived in mid August 2009 and returned home in July 2010. This was a great experience for everyone. She was a member of our family and she participated in everything we all do together.
Today I completed the draft manuscript for a book on security technology that will be published in December or January. This was a short project that took just a few weeks. Today I met with my literary agent to plan the next five years of my writing. My business manager and I are both quite excited about the next few years.
Finding number three is an interesting array of geometric shapes within a rectangular area on the ground, shown here.
Time Magazine reports that this was found on a military base in England. Military officials called it a motorcycle range and is apparently not saying any more about it.
I immediately recognized the pattern.
It is the standard template used by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation for its rider training drills. Various parts of the painted patterns are used to guide riders through different maneuvers that simulate different situations while riding on roads and highways.
The course shown in the Time Magazine article is the same layout as the course I took at Cheney Stadium’s parking lot a year ago, and also the same as the course used at the Church of the Nations in Tacoma. “On the ground” photos of an MSF training course with the same layout can be seen below.
How many times have you heard this: a company doesn’t have the budget to make much-needed improvements to IT systems, but the company will allow people to work long hours fixing outdated or ineffective IT systems.
Remember, you gotta count man-hours as part of the TCO for IT systems. Man hours are not free.
Companies that spend time and effort to identify heroes are missing the boat. Instead of rewarding heroes, companies should be rewarding people who make processes and systems more efficient and effective.
Disclaimer: no I’m not ranting about my employer, whoever that is. I heard comments at a lunchtime event that made this clear to me in a new way.
The Carbon River Road at Mt. Rainier National Park suffered severe damage in November 2006 as a result of torrential rainfall and high winds. What follows is an update, directly from the National Park Service, on the status of the road repairs.
“The repair work that was recently accomplished was actually very limited stabilization work to hopefully be able to protect some portions of the road corridor that were not damaged during the November flooding ……… and to hopefully lessen future flood damage in some areas that were damaged. Due to Threatened and Endangered Species issues and the immense damage that occurred, we have very limited access to stabilize all the damaged sites.
The park carpenters are disassembling the historic Ipsut cabin, which will be protected and stored at Tahoma Woods until which time
we can identify an appropriate relocation site. We are clear that the current site is not sustainable, given that the complete Isput area is
located in the main deposition zone of the Carbon River (ie. just downstream of the Carbon River canyon where the river bed opens to
wider/flatter floodplain and deposits a significant amount of bedload)! Consequently, upstream of Isput, the Carbon River actively braids across the floodplain and severs the Isput Creek campground, as well as damages trails upstream of Isput and the roadway downstream!
This is a very dynamic area and a huge challenge to address its future! We will be developing a range of alternatives that will address this situation this winter and be requesting public input.”
Gloria Strauss’ life touched many, including mine. It broke my heart to see an innocent child, especially one who was so concerned for others, suffer as she did. Her family’s unwavering faith is also an example that we should all follow.