Friday, November 28, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 134: Pot, meet kettle


Did I mention that SH joined me in Chicago when I was there for the conference? A paid hotel room - why not?

Did I mention how good the food was at the conference? And that my company allows only $35 for dinner? Which is not enough to get more than fast food in downtown Chicago? Or not enough to get more than just a bare minimum entree? No soup, no salad, no drink, no dessert? Not that I spend that much money on eating out in Milwaukee (BTW, $35 is not enough to get all that in Milwaukee, either), but when I am away from home and have to eat out, I like to do something nice.

What this means is that I was compelled to save yogurt and hard-boiled eggs and chocolate croissants (I would have saved chocolate croissants even if I had an unlimited allowance for dinner) so I would have something to eat in the evenings. I could have gone out to eat, but I would have been stressed about staying under the limit - sure, I could spend more, but that would have been my money - and annoyed at not being able to eat someplace good.

Besides, I don't really like eating out by myself. I barely like eating out with other people because it usually takes way too long and I would usually rather be alone unless I am with someone I really like. SH takes forever to eat. There is a reason we do not eat together at home. The main one is that he doesn't want to eat until after I want to be in bed, but the secondary reason is that it takes him 20 times as long to eat as it takes me and it is boring to sit at a table waiting for someone else to finish eating.

The other thing is that the $35 is a per diem, so if I don't spend it on dinner, I get to keep it.

A perfect storm:

1. I don't like eating out by myself
2. I don't like fast food
3. After a day at a conference, the last thing I want is to be around more people
4. If I eat a couple of eggs and some yogurt in my hotel room, I get to be by myself and I get to pocket $35. And I get to do this while watching three straight hours of Big Bang Theory.

I was at the conference all week. SH joined me on Thursday. Friday night, we had dinner with our friends Lenore and Rob, which was fun and not stressful because I have known Lenore for almost 30 years and it is very easy to be with her. Plus we were eating tapas and what's not to like about eating tapas?

On Saturday morning, as we were packing, SH called me a little old bag lady because I still had hard-boiled eggs and yogurt and chocolate croissants.

In addition, I had grabbed a few of those cute little jams.

Here is a question to consider: if someone else orders room service and then doesn't keep or open the little jams and then leaves them on a cart in the hallway, is it stealing to take the little jams? They have been paid for.

I don't understand why someone wouldn't keep them. The little jars are perfect for other things once you have eaten the jam. That's where I keep my migraine painkillers. Imitrex and relpax come packaged in these horrible blisterpacks that are very difficult to open. The last thing a person needs when she has a headache, especially in the middle of the night, is a blisterpack that takes several steps - and possibly scissors - to open.

So I open six of them at a time and store them in a little jam jar. I also usually only take half a pill at a time, so it is good to have an easy way to store the second half of the pill.

So maybe I saw some unopened little jams on a tray on a cart in the hallway and maybe I said, "Oh! Little jams!" And maybe I grabbed them and stuck them in my pocket and then put them in my suitcase next to the eggs and the yogurts and the chocolate croissants - because we had gone out to eat on Thursday and on Friday - and next to the little Nutellas because maybe I had saved two of them from the lounge at the Drake, which is where we stayed on Friday night with SH's hotel points that are about to expire.

And maybe SH called me a little old bag lady.

And maybe when we got home and we were unpacking, I saw that SOMEONE had also packed the little Lavazza coffee pods from the hotel room.

And maybe it wasn't ME, Little Old Bag Man.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The working life with engineers: Packing for a conference


Remember how I was at a conference with all engineers except for the one other person who was a liberal arts major? Bless their hearts, engineers are fabulous, but they don't like the abstractions involved in marketing. We did these exercises about customer needs and talked about understanding the market. The instructor showed examples of how to do these kinds of analyses and the engineers wanted to know how many lines the forms should have. Engineers do not like ambiguity, which is great for product design. I want a phone and a computer that work all the time, not just some of the time.  I want precision and accuracy and predictability in my electronics.

But marketing, unfortunately, does not have that level of precision. You don't know if things work. You don't know if they will work. You just have to test and make assumptions and even when you have success, you don't always know why.

This is maddening for English majors and must be horrible for engineers.

So I was at this conference with a bunch of engineers and I made a big mistake. You would think that after working for a while in an engineering company, I would know better, but apparently, I am a slow learner.

I overpacked.

I took the train to Chicago and then walked the mile to the hotel. I pulled my very full suitcase behind me.

I had packed an outfit for each day. I had packed not one but two pairs of gym shorts. As if anyone ever really exercises while she is on a business trip. I had tennies and work shoes. Another pair of jeans. Not one but three books.

I forgot I was going to be at a conference with engineers. One of the things I like best about my new job is that it doesn't matter what I wear. I mean, I can't be a total slob, but nobody notices what I wear. NOBODY. I could wear the same thing every day and nobody would notice.

I have decided to use that fact for good and am on a mission not to buy any new clothes for a year.

During the conference, one of the presenters asked, "Is there anyone here from the fashion industry?"

I looked around and almost laughed out loud.

"Clearly not!" I said. Unfortunately, I said it out loud and that was rude.

"Speaking for myself," I added quickly. Honestly. There are times when I think it might be a good idea for me to sew my lips shut.

Why did I feel compelled to pack an outfit a day for an engineering conference?

I did not do it right.

I did not exercise every day as planned.

I did not wear every outfit.

I had extra things to take home - books, chocolate croissants - and still had to drag those behind me on the mile walk to the train station.

I did not do it right.

I will not make this mistake again.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The working life with engineers: Not every blank has to be completed

I went to this conference for work. It was about marketing stuff and there were a few breakout sessions where we talked about marketing strategies.

It was an engineering conference. An engineering conference with some marketing stuff.

Based on the questions people asked, I think I was one of two non-engineers in attendance.

We had this breakout session about how to understand the customer.  We did an exercise where we were supposed to identify the problems facing the VP of sales. The only information we had was the job title. We had a worksheet containing spaces for the VP's age, industry, boss's title, job duties, and major problems.

The bottom half of the sheet was devoted to major problems.

Most of the top half was for the job duties.

There were lines for age, industry, and boss's title.

We had half an hour to do the exercise.

Remember, the point of the exercise was to understand the customer's issues. What are the problems the customer faces? Once you understand the customer problems, you can figure out if your product solves any of those problems.

The major point of the exercise was to get people to understand that you do not succeed in sales by listing all your product features - it is by understanding what your customer needs and by addressing those needs.

The first thing we were supposed to do was appoint a spokesperson for the group. One of the other women said, "CF likes to talk. She can be our spokesperson."

Ouch. I had actually been trying to keep my mouth shut. Apparently, I had not been successful.

So I tried very hard not to talk a lot during this exercise. I did not want to dominate or be considered bossy or overbearing. I bit my lip and said nothing.

But after five minutes of listening to people discuss just what industry should the VP be in - and what stage - startup? mature? - I had to speak.

Very carefully, I said, "I suspect that the problems that a VP of sales faces are pretty common across industries. They are all concerned about whether customers and prospects can reach them. They are all concerned about the CEO asking what sales are about to close and will they make plan this quarter. They are all concerned about knowing if there is anything in the pipeline."

A few heads nodded in agreement.

I continued. "Perhaps we don't really need to be that specific about the industry. Perhaps we can put down anything and just focus on brainstorming about the problems." I wanted to add, in all caps, "BECAUSE THAT IS THE POINT OF THIS EXERCISE!"

But I didn't. That would have been really rude.

Another person on the team said, "OK. How about manufacturing as the industry?"

Everyone agreed.

Then one person asked, "But manufacturing what?"

Lord have mercy.

Another person sighed. "Widgets. They are manufacturing widgets."

The Italian guy with the jaunty scarf and the graceful hand movements that accompanied every word that came out of his mouth asked, "What is wiz-EET?"

Friday, November 21, 2014

The working life with engineers: Having my cake and eating it too

Have I told you guys I have a new job? Well I do and oh man it is like night and day from the old job. Until you have worked with either a really bad boss or with a horrible CEO, you have no idea. I expect it's like people who have horrible in-laws but nobody believes the stories because their own in-laws are so nice. "Nobody has in-laws that get drunk every single day and call their own son a 'Bad Son!'" they chuckle. "That's not how people act."

But then your best friend, whom you have known for years and whose judgment you trust completely, tells you that her in-laws are crazy drunks and you have to re-think things.

Same thing with the job. If you have never had a bad boss or a bad CEO - and I don't mean just incompetent, I mean vindictive, mean, sarcastic, vicious - then you have no idea. None.

I didn't. Not until my most recent job. I have had moderately incompetent bosses before but they were always nice. They were always people whom I would be happy to have as next-door neighbors. They just were not good bosses. I would probably be a crummy boss. I hate dealing with people issues. I would be a good boss of good people, but I would be a crummy boss of bad people because I hate dealing with other people's incompetence.

So I had never had a truly bad boss until my most recent job and then I learned how awful work can be. I learned that you can dread going to work and that you spend every minute of free time looking for a new job and that you apply for over 100 jobs in a few months just to get three phone interviews, two in-person interviews, and, finally, one job offer.

It is hard work indeed to look for a job and I don't wish that task on anyone. Almost anyone. There are a few nasty people I have known who deserve that kind of stress, but only two or three. I won't name names because - well, because it doesn't seem like a good idea.

So I got a new job and I have been there a little while and can I tell you it is sooooo great. I mean, I don't take the bus to work any more and I hate that part. I hate driving and I especially hate driving after dark because glare gives me a headache.  I wonder what has happened with Goth Girl and Goth Boy. Did they find happy ever after? We will never know because I will probably never see them again.

And I don't like my new workspace. I used to have a window office overlooking the river downtown, but that was going to go away because the awful CEO had decided that people work better on open plan and he remodeled the offices so that nobody has a private office any more except him because of course a CEO cannot possibly work better in open plan. So even if I had stayed, I would now be in an awful workspace.

What I like the most about my new job is that I have a good boss whom I respect because he is not incompetent and I work with smart people. I work with almost all engineers who are, kind of by definition, smart.

They are smart and they are logical and there are no games and there is no drama.

They are smart and logical and when there is a potluck, they do it right.

There was a potluck last week. I took Julie's marzipan polenta cake, which is one of the few non-chocolate desserts SH doesn't heave deep, disappointed sighs about. It is delicious. He wanted to cut a slice of it before I took it to work.

I was appalled. "I can't take a partial cake to a work potluck!" I said.

"But why not?" he asked. "You'll bring some home to me if there are leftovers, right?"

"Yes," I admitted.

"This is just making sure there are leftovers."

I shook my head. "It's tacky."

He disagreed, so I put the question to facebook and of course everyone agreed with me.

Well. I went back and checked. Two of my friends agreed; a third said, "Aren't the coworkers engineers? They'd appreciate the efficiency of polenta cake separation."

I took the whole cake to the potluck, as was proper. But I was curious to get an engineer's perspective on the question - a disinterested engineer. So I asked. I asked several engineers. What would they have thought about an incomplete cake at a potluck?

They all shrugged. They all wanted to know why it would have been a big deal. An incomplete cake would not have bothered them, they said.

And then one of the few female engineers said, "I would rather keep my husband happy than keep my co-workers happy."


Monday, November 17, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 764: The scales of justice

We have an electric scale that is frighteningly accurate. I do not need this level of accuracy in a scale. I don't need to know how close I am to That Number, the number that I suspect many of us have, the number that means that the rest of the day and until The Number goes down, I will feel not so great.

I try not to write about this stuff because

1. talking about weight is boring
2. talking about weight is self indulgent
3. talking about weight is pointless

I do not want to hear about other people's diets. I don't want to hear about what they weigh. It is not what I care about with other people and I certainly hope it's not what they care about with me.

Still, I envy the naturally slim.

So we have this super accurate scale that takes batteries.

I know.

It was SH's idea, not mine. I do not need that level of accuracy. I have jeans. I know.

The problem with battery-operated items is that eventually, the batteries run out.

This causes multiple problems:

1. The batteries have to be replaced
2. The scale does not work while it does not have batteries.

That is only two items, which I guess is technically "multiple"  but I wonder.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

When I lived alone and had dead batteries, I had new batteries within a day or two.

Then I married an engineer and ceded control of anything using other than human-made power (ie, anything that did not involve human hands, such as scrubbing, chopping, and washing) to him. Usually, this does not bother me as I do not have any ego invested in maintaining a car or a computer. I am happy to delegate all this work to someone else.

But when it comes to batteries and lightbulbs, I would rather they be replaced sooner rather than later.

SH does not operate on that philosophy.

SH operates on the philosophy that it's not enough to complete a task. The task must also be completed perfectly. He must optimize all things, LPC.  (Lisa has worked with engineers. She knows.)

And for batteries, optimization means paying the lowest price possible for the best battery possible.

We are talking about batteries. We are not talking about shoes. We are not talking about purses.

We are talking about SH seeing the battery he needed - he knew it was the proper one because he had taken the dead battery out of the scale and left it in the car in the little pocket created around the gear shift so he would have it if he happened to go by a battery-selling establishment - and not buying it because it cost seven dollars.

"It should not cost more than four dollars!" he said indignantly when he came home battery-less.

"So you think it's worth driving to some other store just to save three dollars?" I asked.

"Yes!" He was surprised I had to ask.

I presented the question to my boss and co-workers, engineers all. They had just discussed the dentist who was paying ten dollars a pound for Halloween candy and what would be the most they would pay for post-Halloween on-sale candy to redeem at the dentist. My boss mused that he could get candy for under five dollars a pound and decided that the returns of selling to the dentist would be worth it.

I asked them about the battery. "Shouldn't my husband just have bought the battery?" I asked. "It was right there. He was already at the store. He could have crossed that task off his list and been done with it. Now, we still don't have a battery and he will have to make a special trip to find it."

We live in a great neighborhood - we can walk to restaurants and the library and the grocery store and city hall - but there is no place within walking distance of our house to buy batteries unless you can get them at Walgreen's and I think this is a special kind of battery not carried by Walgreen's. So this battery expedition would require driving.

My boss and co-workers were shocked. "No! He needs to get a better price!" On principle, they supported SH completely. It is better to spend a lot of time procuring an object than to overpay for it. Even when that overpayment is only three dollars, which is 0.75 beer units.

It was another week before SH got the battery. He got it at Menards, the store he loves to hate. Menards did not treat my uncle well when my uncle worked there. John Menard, the owner, is apparently quite the jerk. SH does not like John Menard for his own sake and now, after we learned about what Menard did to my uncle, we don't like him even more.

Yet he went to the store. I can't remember why. He misses Menards. It's a love/hate relationship. It's a little like SH's dad's relationship with Wal-Mart, except SH does not proclaim loudly how evil  Menards is and condemn the people who shop there and mock them but then shop there on a regular basis himself without any shame. No, SH has not been to Menards in a couple of years. I don't know why he fell off the wagon. But he did - and he returned home with a four-pack of batteries. They cost four dollars. He was so proud of the bargain.

He replaced the dead battery. The scale works frighteningly well again.

And when I was cleaning out the junk drawer, I found a pack of the scale batteries in the back.

Marrriage 701, Lecture 674: The marriage bed

I am in bed, under the covers, minding my own business, reading a book. SH decides to come to bed with me, which almost never happens, as our greatest area of incompatibility is not religion or politics but bedtime. He stays up late and I have to get up for work and even when I wasn't working, I would get up to go to the gym. Even if I am not going to the gym or working, I wake once it is light because that is what the human body is designed to do. As much as I would like to just sleep, sleep, sleep all day on Saturday, my body will not let me.

So SH is coming to bed with me.

I am under the covers on the right side of the bed. I am not that side specific but SH is adamant that the only side he can sleep on is the left side. Fine. Whatever. I don't know why it should make a difference.

I have left plenty of slack in the covers to my left so that once SH is in the bed, he will not move the covers from me. He does not turn properly. When he turns over in bed, he takes the covers with him, instead of just rolling under the covers and leaving them stationary. That is the proper way to do it. With SH's method, given repeated turns to the right and to the left, holding the covers each time, one would end the night with all the covers bunched up around him.

So I have left slack because I do not want to end up coverless.

And yet - SH is getting into bed and all of a sudden, the covers over me are lifted. I feel cold air on my hitherto almost-warm body. I have just lost 20 minutes of warming time because SH has raised the covers.

"HEY!" I say. "What are you doing?"

He has raised the covers in the middle of the bed rather than the covers on the left side of the bed, which is the logical, normal way of getting under the covers. Who gets into bed by climbing into the middle of the bed and lifting the covers IN THE MIDDLE?

Not anyone who is doing it right.

"You are letting in all the cold air! What is wrong with you?"

He gestures to the lower left side of the bed, where Shirley is curled up. "I don't want to disturb Shirley."

The honeymoon is definitely over.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 234: That takes the cake

Me: Should I make two of Julie's polenta cake?

 SH: Why would you make two?

Me: Because I am taking one to work for the potluck.

SH: Why don't you just take part of the cake to work?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The working life: The Home T's shirts are not well made

It's not just me, right? This piece was cut seriously off grain.

That's The Home T, people. Do not buy.

Marriage 701, Lecture 124: I can see clearly now

SH: If we didn't have cats, the house would be a lot cleaner. No cat hair. No cat vomit.

Me: No cat snot on the windows.

SH: I don't care about clean windows.

Me: What?

SH: I want the blinds closed most of the time anyhow.

Me: But clean windows are nice!

SH: I don't care.

Me: Didn't you have clean windows when you were a kid?

SH: I guess.

Me: Didn't your mom keep a clean house?

SH: My mother is a very good housekeeper! Was a very good housekeeper.

Me: Uh huh.

SH: She made me help her with vacuuming. That's why I am so good at vacuuming now.

Me: Didn't she make you do other chores?

SH: No.

Me: So you never cleaned windows when you were a kid?

SH: No. She did all the dusting, too.

Me: Wait. She had two children yet she did all the work? That's the main reason to have kids - so you have someone to delegate to. Your  mother did not do it right.

SH: Yes she did.

Me: If I were dying and confined to my bed, would you clean the windows for me, inside and out?

SH: Well sure. In the bedroom. Where you could see them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The working life: A customer who will complain to you rather than to her friends is your best friend as a business

Did I tell you guys about the t-shirts here?

Photo: It's insanely soft and has a V that's just right. The Home T V-neck. Get yours,

Well, forget anything nice I said. The Home T looks good, but is poorly made. I ordered two - one for me, one for my sister. When they arrived, I discovered that the back piece was cut way off grain. I sent a photo to the company and they sent me two new shirts.

The two new shirts also were cut off grain.

I wrote again and explained that the problem persisted.

They responded, "Please note that we can't always control how each shirt is sewn."

Which was when my manufacturing hackles rose.

What did they mean, they could not control how their own product was made? I know my company sure controls how the product is made. We do not want to ship bad product. We want to ship high-quality product. First, because we take pride in what we do and want to be known as the best. Second, because you don't keep old customers or get new ones when you produce crappy product.

I returned all four shirts and asked for a refund of the purchase price and of the shipping costs. They refunded the purchase price and told me that the shirts were not bad, that I was wrong, and that they had already paid to ship the second batch of shirts to me, so too bad.

The "too bad" and the "I was wrong" parts are implied.

But yes. I am not happy at all. They sent out bad product and then were not interested in making it right. I know how to sew. I used to sew all my own clothes. I know how to lay a pattern on fabric. I know that you do not cut a t-shirt on the bias. They did not do it right and what's worse, they did not care about doing it right.

The shirts are very attractive - I liked the Texas shirt a lot. But unless you think $30 is a fair price for a t-shirt that is not made properly, do not bother to do business with these people.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 743: Housework is exhausting

SH: I am worn out.

Me: Why?

SH: Because I did the laundry and I cleaned the bathrooms and I made the bed in the guest room and I did the dishes and I went to the grocery store.

Me: Wow. That's a lot.

SH: I had to do all the housework! I had deadlines! I didn't want to feel taken for granted!

Me: I appreciate it.

SH: It was a lot bigger than what I just do every day.

Me: Thank you.

SH: It was a big deal!

Me: Thank you.

SH: I want to be validated!

Me: Thank you.

SH: It was a lot of work.

Me: You mean like I have been doing since we got married?

SH: Yes.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 254: An engineer does laundry wrong

Me: Hey! You didn't do it right!

SH: What are you talking about?

Me: You sorted the laundry but you just threw my underwear in with the darks.

SH: I know. You put the underwear in the mesh  bags when you are putting things in the washer.

Me: No you don't.

SH: Yes you do.

Me: No. You sort it as you are removing items from the laundry chute.

SH: That's what I did.

Me: No. You sort and bag the underwear as you are removing items from the laundry chute.

SH: But there are only three baskets. One for whites, one for darks that get dried in the dryer*, one for your gym clothes.

Me: Yeah but you still sort the underwear during the initial sort.

SH: No! As you put things in the washer.

Me: But you are adding another sort to the process. You are creating extra work.

SH: But I can't bag the underwear as I am sorting the clothes.

Me: Sure you can.

SH: How?

Me: Just toss the underwear on the floor.


Me: So? So are the clothes.

* Because SH will not hang clothes out on the line.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Marriage 701, Lecture 875: Walk softly and carry a rolling pin

Things I did not do right tonight while I was making goat cheese pesto pizza:

1. The eggs [hard boiled - not related to the pizza] started to boil! And I wasn't watching!

2. The mushrooms were cut too thick.

3. The pesto was not spread properly. It has to go to the edges.

4. I ate apple pie from the container.

5. That sandwich would taste better warmed. [Nah, I wasn't really hungry by the time the pizza was done.]

SH: And [next thing that someone who has not spent a lifetime cooking yet has very strong opinions about how it should be done]...

Me: Have you noticed that I am holding a rolling pin?

SH: Yes.

Me: And that I have knives within easy reach?

SH: Yes.

Me: Then knock it off.

SH [laughs]

Monday, November 03, 2014

The working life with engineers: Am I old?

I was minding my own business, walking down the hall at work, squinting at the person approaching me in case it was one of the very few people at work I have met. It's always awkward to be greeted by someone I can't see and not be able to return the greeting - indeed, not even know about the greeting - until I am only two feet away from him. I could wear glasses all the time, but really, there isn't that much that I want to see and I can't use my distance glasses for working on the computer so I would just be switching glasses out and that's a pain in the neck. It's easier just to be blind.

Where was I?

So I was walking down the hall when, even in my state of blindness, I saw a man approaching me carrying a huge potted palm.

Of course you know what I had to say.

Of course you do.

You do, right?

I asked him if he was bringing me a shrubbery.

He just said, "Hi!" and continued walking.

He did not stop in amazement at my amazement-causing wit.He did not tell me to run away! run away! He did not say, in a bad French accent, that he farted in my general direction.

What is the world coming to that in a place where I regularly hear men talking about role-playing games that someone had no idea what I was talking about?

I sighed, went into the bathroom, and looked in the mirror for wrinkles. Not a lot of wrinkles - sagging, yes, wrinkles, no. Sunblock gets you only so far.

Then I thought, "It is not I! I had the bad luck to run into another immigrant engineer, like my boss, who grew up in another culture and does not understand this very specific Anglo-American reference!"

I walked down the hall and stuck my head in Dave's office. "Dave," I said, says I, "if I asked you - while you were carrying a huge potted plant if you were bringing me a shrubbery, what would you say?"

He cocked his head to the side and furrowed his forehead. "What?" he asked politely.

"A shrubbery!" I said. "If you were bringing me a shrubbery!"

He smiled politely, the smile you give to crazy people who work in a cubicle and aren't even engineers. "Sorry," he said. "I'm not sure what you are getting at."

"Monty Python!" I said in frustration.

"Oh! Yeah, I think I saw one of their movies a long time ago." He shook his head and returned to his computer.

I wanted to scream. Who were these engineers and who was responsible for their complete and total lack of education?

I went back into the bathroom.

This time, I found wrinkles.