Stolen Identity and Next Steps

Well, it’s finally happened. Some enterprising twat has used my identity to do something naughty and it’s causing no small amount of consternation.

Like many in Washington, my information was used to file a false unemployment claim.  Some pseudo-human got hold of my social security number and my email, went to the ESD, and said they were me and that I was unemployed and “I can haz money now?”  I heard about this from my employer, who wanted to know if I really had filed for unemployment, while still employed.

  • Of course I couldn’t concentrate on anything after reading that email.
  • Of course I went and put a credit freeze with all three bureaus.
  • Of course I changed all my passwords.
  • Of course I filed this as a fraudulent claim with the ESD.

There’s a couple more things I didn’t realize I should do (that I have since done):

  • I have filed a police report (this can be done online!).
  • I’ve documented it with the FTC.

Going through all of this is a hassle of course, and on top of other things right now it’s quite unwelcome. Here’s the thing: I have resources, and time, and a really great employer who identified it and let me know it was happening, along with specific guidance on what to do next.  Given the size of this fraud (there’s thousands of fraudulent claims for state of WA right now) there are literally thousands of people dealing with this, and not all have time to deal with it or guidance to deal with it. So, if you or someone you know has discovered some sort of identity fraud, here’s some links and things to do:

  1. Put a credit freeze (free to do, and can be done online) on your credit with Equifax(yes, that Equifax), Experian, and TransUnion.
  2. File a fraudulent claim with the entity that was defrauded (in my case, it was the Washington state employment office– and it was filed online)
  3. File a police report (also online, non-emergency).
  4. Document it (online!) with the FTC.
  5. Call (or email, or go online) your banks and let them know, so they can guard on their end.
  6. Change all your passwords and/or your password algorithm.

Will this make you bulletproof to future fraud? No — shit can still happen. (Murphy’s Law is a law for a reason). No sense in making it easier for the assholes that do this.

Virtual

I am looking at a medal for the Tenacious Ten event for 2020, sitting in a plastic wrapper on my desk.  I did not participate in this event.

I was going to, and then the current pandemic shut it down.  It also shut down the Mercer Island Half (at which I was going to run just a 10k), and the Vancouver BC Half Marathon (the date for which was this weekend).

It’s interesting how the different events chose to address the situation.  They all pivoted/cancelled around the same time; the Tenacious Ten (at which I was going to run 10 miles, on April 11th) has sent me a medal and a shirt, and basically said “go run this virtually and send us pics!”  The Vancouver Half not only pivoted to virtual but offered to just send you your shirt if you couldn’t run and/or left it to you if you wanted your medal.  I’m still waiting to hear from Mercer Island — the one that would have been first, incidentally, back in March — as to what they are doing.

For someone who is very, very good at getting things done, I am not good at getting things done virtually.  I sign up for races as a forcing function, much as I work with a personal trainer as a forcing function.  Since my gym closed I have done one (1) round of push ups and that’s about it.  The thing that keeps me running and doing any kind of aerobic exercise, apart from the fear of gaining back the thirty-plus pounds I have lost, is my health tracker telling me that I have to do N minutes or Y activities. But it only cares if I do so much, and none of that adds up to a 10k (or 10mi or 1/2 marathon), and my longest running distance since the Great Stay Home Project has been about five miles.

Accountability for me is a mixed bag.  I put all sorts of accountability on myself for work — working from home has actually made me *more* productive, and current circumstances personally — I lost my mother to complications from vascular dementia about ten days ago — mean I am pouring myself into productivity; the house is very clean, the garden is very tidy, the backlog is very organized.  I risk irritating my coworkers with this enhanced level of checking boxes but I have asked them to be frank and let me know.  They are either cutting me slack (entirely possible) or, awash in their own productivity gains (and losses) they’re too busy to care.

I can’t seem to drive that same accountability into physical exercise; I leverage external drivers like fitness apps and “points” — I’m a sucker for points-for-points-sake — and events.  But “virtual events” do nothing for me — I need to know that some brisk, cold and possibly rainy morning I will find myself out somewhere in a series of shut-off streets, watching people stretch in ridiculous ways while a loudspeaker blares incongruently happy music while I ask myself why I do these things, and a chipper emcee counts down the corrals until it’s my turn to run through the start line and pound away at the pavement, occasionally taking time to walk it out or grab watered-down Gatorade in a small  flimsy paper cup.

Yet since receiving this medal (yesterday) that I did not earn, it bothers me.  It’s a reminder that there is a thing I signed up for and have not done, have not completed.  And maybe this irritation will drive the accountability I need to get going again. Not right now, though. It’s raining too hard.

Back to Facebook

Well, I made it 2 years. Almost to the day.

I left Facebook in March of 2018, upset that they were collecting and selling/abusing my data and in general disgusted with the midterm election specious articles and micro-targeting. I was mostly happy with my choice at the time; I didn’t need Facebook and could make plans with friends to see them in person.

Now, with social distancing, “Stay Home/Stay Safe” or whatever form of “don’t go out into public and everything except the bare necessities are locked down” you want to call it, I am giving in.  I miss my friends, and we can’t get together for dinners or coffees or walks or runs; I can’t see my friends at the gym and I can’t see my breakfast club.

Not to say there weren’t problems with having left Facebook before this. I’m on the PTA (yes, still/again), and a lot of information is disseminated on Facebook that is referenced from our primary email communications.  It’s much harder for me to keep track of friends in London and Sydney and Georgia and such. If I want to find out more about special upcoming things (Peloton classes, gardening groups, etc.) I have to go pull method (go to the site and/or dig for it) vs. push method (just have it show up in a centralized location). I guess I have to trade my data to Facebook to get that convenience.

And with that data, Facebook will do two things: they will market things to me that I may or may not want (fine – I have FB Purity and Ghostery Chrome extensions), and they will show my friends different targeted ads than the one(s) they target to me.  As such, I may end up seeing that junk, because I don’t know the limits of FB Purity, and so I need to set some very specific settings and configurations and rules on Facebook as I go back.

Speaking of rules, here’s the thing: I’ll only be adding people I hang out with outside of work.  If we hang at work, but nowhere/when else, then LinkedIn is how we should interact; it’s professionally-based and I’m happy to write an endorsement on how we work together or promote your hiring-or-seeking posts and if you have board positions open we can talk (or if you want a recommendation of a board to join, etc.).   But if we don’t hang out outside of work then you probably don’t want to see my latest kvetch on the deer eating my tulips, or the inadequacy of social provisioning in our economy, or how my experiment with paperless paper towels is going.  You’ll roll your eyes at my latest pair of knit baby booties and question my sanity after finishing a thousand-piece antique map of the world puzzle because I was having an anxiety fit.

It’s going to be an experiment, I’m going to learn as I go (again), and yes in the meantime Facebook has probably kept a large and extensive ghost profile on me based off of the cookies it has dropped here and there (although I try to maintain cookie hygiene).  It’s just that I, a very very very introverted person, and missing my friends.

A person should know their limitations.

Eat Your Vegetables

Let’s take a moment and talk about Podcasts, shall we?

(Author’s note: I had to do a check to make sure I hadn’t posted about this before, because I had thought about posting this a bazillion times. Clearly never did.)

I rely on podcasts for the bulk of my audio entertainment. I probably spend 2-3 hours a day listening to them: the morning run/workout, the commute to work, the commute from work; then there’s weekends driving 75 miles each way to/from my son’s father’s house.

I have three tranches of Podcasts:

  • Podcast Vegetables
  • Podcast Main Course
  • Podcast Dessert

The largest group, of course, being Podcast Vegetables.

Podcast Vegetables

Understand that I like Vegetables.  As a kid, not so much, but as an adult, I recognize them as a tasty low-calorie low-fat low-carb way to fill my stomach.  My absolute favorite are roasted broccoli, followed by roasted carrots and then pretty much roasted every other vegetable you can name.  Don’t give me your sauteed stuff.  Gimme your charred-end-bits, slightly-salted, roasted-in-the-oven veggies. They’re good for you, they take up (relatively) little attention, and did I mention they’re good for you?

In the podcast world, I give you:

  • Up First With NPR News: 10-12 minutes of encapsulated news, alive and in your feed by 5am (yes I checked), personable.  Few interviews so Steve Inskeep doesn’t interrupt so many people.
  • Marketplace Tech with Molly Wood: 5-7 minutes, up to 10 if you include the “Related Links” section (my fave), of tech-related news.
  • Marketplace Morning Report: You get three (3)! of these, one or two from London (BBC partnership) and one from New York (usually with David Brancaccio), each is 7-15 minutes long and spans from the morning markets to the news of the day.
  • Marketplace with Kai Rysdaal: 20-30 minutes each afternoon, a good mix of what happened and what to think about. Also: listen for the market song (“We’re in the Money” for a good day, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (if it Ain’t Got That Swing)” for a mixed day, and “Stormy Weather” for when it’s down.  One thing I really appreciate is Kai interviews folks on the ground who really have to deal with the brunt of economic choices. And he’s unfailingly polite.
  • The Indicator by Planet Money: a daily 5-7 minute podcast revolving around some statistic, indicator, or other numeric thing in marketplaces and/or economics and an exploration therein.
  • Planet Money: a weekly (ish?) 15-30 minute podcast that started right around the 2007 crash; super useful to understand why some things work the way they do (or don’t) in economics, trade, and monetary policy.

Main Course Podcasts

But Bobbie! I hear you saying.  Bobbie, I need some real deep-dish, filling, main course!

I give you:

  • Hidden Brain with Shankar Vidantham: 30-45 minutes, roughly weekly, of why we act the way we do, with studies and experts.
  • The 538 Politics Podcast: 30-70 minutes of what the F happened in politics from a data scientist’s view (and or political analyst’s view).  Incredibly un-partisan, hyper-logical, almost infuriatingly so.  Claire Malone is my fave.
  • Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Leavitt: although it’s more Dubner these days. The authors of the book series (Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, etc.) have a podcast about… economics.
  • Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell: Not just accepting what your history teacher taught you, Malcolm Gladwell looks at what we thought happened and what probably happened.  Example: the great Toyota acceleration problem, or why LA has a lot of golf courses and very few parks.
  • Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly: The Host of Marketplace and the Hostess of Marketplace Tech spend about 10-20 minutes with an expert in the field on a current event (or movement) and then discuss.
  • This American Life with Ira Glass: 60 ish minutes weekly (drops Saturdays or Sundays). Usually features stories with a common theme, broken up as “acts” (e.g. Act 1, Act 2, etc.)

Something Sweet?

Of course, there are the ones I save for the long slog to go and get my kid (and return).  Often an aggregate four hours in the car, I reserve these for my Sunday dessert.

  • Factually with Adam Conover (NEW): 60 minutes of Adam Ruins everything crossed with interviewing  an expert on the thing he’s ruining.
  • Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwitch: Science for ears.
  • Every Little Thing from Gimlet Media: How did Cheerleading start? Why are flamingos badass? Why do we reserve blue for boys and pink for girls?
  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me: 45 ish minutes weekly, dropping Saturdays, of a news quiz with 3 guests (usually comedians).
  • No Such Thing as a Fish (the QI Podcast): 45-50 minutes on Fridays of four brits talking about facts unearthed for the QI show and riffing off of each other’s discoveries.
  • Science VS. from Gimlet Media: Common debates of the day (is alcohol good for you? what about colonics? what about juice cleanses or intermittent fasting or keto diets?) on a roughly weekly basis for about 40 minutes. Hosted by Wendy Zuckerman.
  • The Nocturnists: I have to admit I only listen to the first part, which is about ten minutes, where the doctor in question is relating a pivotal story from their practice.  After that the host interviews the doctor but I find that less interesting.
  • Reply All from Gimlet Media: a 45 minute fortnightly delve into the latest internet meme, concern, or drama.
  • Invisibilia: All the things that surround you that are intangible but you have to deal with.  Like differing opinions, psychosomatic pain, and how we perceive things. But it’s fun.
  • More Perfect: Jad Abumrad investigates different stories of the Supreme Court.  It’s a lot better than that sounds.

Some Ephemeral Notables:

 

Accounting on a Monday in May

Imagine a filled bubblegum dispenser, a big glass globe replete with colorful gumballs crowding the edges and filling to the top.  Imagine each of these represent at thing to do. Imagine that you are holding the great glass globe in your outstretched hands.

Now imagine the glass disappears and gravity does its thing. That’s a bit how I feel right now; I’ve decided May is the month of mania. Work is hectic, school is hectic, life is hectic. Enter a 3-day weekend, to give some respite.

As very little gets done on the home front during the week, all of the home front to-do’s get crammed into the weekend.  Usually there’s some spillover into Monday, kicking off an already frenetic week with additional to-do’s.  So it’s nice to have the catch up Monday.

At a cost.

Memorial Day is the day we reserve for those who went into uniform and never got out of it; the men and women who went to war and never came home (or at least not alive). (Veteran’s Day is for those who are remembered at Memorial Day *and* those who got to come home, in whole or in part).

Did you know that at 3pm local time you’re supposed to take a moment and remember those who died?  I knew the whole day was reserved, and that there are parades and postings. I knew about visiting graveyards (which is something I like to do anyway) and the pinning of poppies; I didn’t know there was a special time.

I do know a lot of people died*:

  • 620,000 soldiers died in the US Civil War (Memorial Day was started shortly after as Decoration Day)
  • 10.8 million soldiers in World War I (add in another 8 million or so civilians)
  • 21 to 25 million soldiers in World War II (estimates vary) (with up to 28 million civilians)
  • 600 thousand in Korea (another 600 thousand civilians)
  • 1.8 million in Vietnam (note: not including civilian deaths, which pushes it up to 2.5 million)

In more recent wars (the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War (still going!), the Iraq War (still going!), the tallies seem to muddle.  Accounts and numbers vary depending on the resource.  It’s notable that the more “sophisticated” we are and the more precise we’ve become, the less specific and discrete we get in how we count the dead.

As we see the increased attention to Iran and the “will we/won’t we” hype machine spin up, and as we review the meaning of this day, it would be as well to get clear about our accounting, and the very real ways we all pay.

Speaking of currency, if you’re interested in donating to a worthwhile charity, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation is highly ranked on Charity Navigator and supports veterans and their families in active duty and beyond.

 

 

*Yep, I know this is US-Centric.  Mainly it covers what our kids are taught in our schools, such as that is.  I graduated in 1991 and my World and US history books only had a paragraph about the Vietnam War, which had ended when I was born in ’73.

Un-Stuck

About five weeks ago I gave myself permission to reduce the amount of running/weights I do in a week. I gave myself permission to loosen up on my diet — which isn’t terribly strict in the first place but if you are having doughnuts twice a week you know it has loosened up, even if your pants don’t — and I stopped doing most of my hobbies (knitting, gardening, random acts of sewing, etc.).  I did this because My Product Was Shipping, and it was Kind Of A Big Deal, and I had only been in the team for something like six weeks when that happened.  My function is a weird one: I don’t write code (or at least not for this role).  I don’t spend a lot of time in Power Point.  I don’t go into meetings and wave my hands around and drop some Very Important Sounding Names and so forth. My job title is flexible enough to let me do what I want to do (which is to Facilitate Other People Getting Things Done  and then of course for me to Get Things Done, which I’m kinda good at). But I dropped all of the aforementioned balls because I had to pay attention to *this particular ball*, because I feared if I didn’t that it might break.  (Note: not one word about giving myself permission to slack on mom-ness.  That is because when you are the mom of an almost 16 year old you don’t get to slack. Ever.)

As a result, when the Product Shipped and things calmed down, I found myself heavier (thank you for the brutal honesty, scale), but drastically less inclined to actually run (in the waning weeks I told myself that walking 2 miles on a treadmill at a reasonably fast walking pace and on an incline counted as much as running 2-3 miles, and if you believe that then I have some data for you). I had a backlog of projects that I had started and not finished.

While I was able to finish off most of those (and pre-plan the next ones), I found getting back on track dietarily and getting back into running– really running– was not happening.  I was stuck. I had no motivation.  Earnest morning plans about prudent food choices were shot by 4pm; earnest evening plans about early morning runs were dismissed with the snooze button. The days I made it to the gym, I was literally going through the motions. (ha). All of my workout music seemed old and overplayed, all of my dietary planning seemed dreary.  I had given myself permission to de-motivate under the assumption that if I hadn’t something would break (probably me), and ironically in the process I managed to break myself. Oh, not to injury — I do have a history of getting to about two weeks before an event and fondly hoping for a sprained ankle or some lovely tendonitis to give me “permission” to Not Do The Event — but in this case I managed to break something I found harder to deal with: my motivation.

I tried all of the tricks.

I switched to caffeinated coffee (caffeine and I shouldn’t be a “thing”). Historically I mostly drank decaf and then would use caffeine sparingly (Say, once a week or every two weeks) to give myself an extra boost.  I tried it for two weeks straight this time in an effort to kickstart something.  I was literally bouncing in my seat in a meeting last week (I know this because someone pointed it out).  But I wasn’t running.

I made some dietary tweaks in hopes of giving myself more energy and getting myself kicked into gear. That didn’t happen.

I researched articles about getting back into running, finding your motivation; considered getting a workout buddy (I don’t like to run with other people so while this felt like a good forcing function it also seemed detrimental).  I made public comments about how I was going to run so I would have the “hey I said I was gonna do it so I better do it” enforcement. (This kind of worked when I was at my mom’s and ran by the graveyard, which is full of history and a worthwhile visit).  I cut back (waaaaaaay back) on Diet Coke. (Full disclosure: I have “quit” Diet Coke two other times — no, three — and for me it’s largely a concern of quantity).

No dice.

I began to have some of those thoughts that are oh-so-tempting when motivation is gone: hey, I’m 45.  I’ve been running for 10 years, maybe it’s just “time”.  Lots of people get more sedentary as they age, they get a little freer with their diet, as long as my weight and measurements don’t go drastically up it’s all good, isn’t it? (Speaking as someone who has weighed 230 pounds unpregnant and once ate an entire box of pop tarts — that’s 12 for those of you counting at home– no, it’s not good).

I got lucky.

I was at breakfast with my son – we go out to breakfast on Friday mornings, just some mom and son time – and the breakfast counter had oldies playing.  Specifically Steve Winwood’s “Gimme some lovin‘”.  The song came out in 1966 — it’s 7 years older than I am — and my first exposure to it was in “Days of Thunder” (yes, the Tom Cruise movie). And at that breakfast counter, eating my Responsible Choice Wheat Toast with Fruit Cup, and drinking my Please Please Kick In Caffeinated Coffee, I found myself looking outside and realizing with the time change I could run outside — not on a treadmill.  We finished breakfast, I took my kid to school, and I went for a run by the lake.  I listened to this song over, and over, and over again over 3 miles. I didn’t hurt. I didn’t plod. I had one of the fastest miles I’ve had in years.

And I did it again today, just to see if it was a fluke. It’s not.

I am Un Stuck!

 

 

 

Business Travel: Quick Tips for Hassle Reduction

I do not travel for work nearly as much as some of my friends do or as much as my father did while I was growing up, but I have been on a plane roughly once a month for the last 6 months and am good for 1-2 work-related trips a year (at one time it was 5-6) (added to personal travel). Traveling for work is not as glamorous as one may think but despite Skype and Teams and lighting fast WiFi sometimes you just need to be there in person. With that in mind, here’s a set of useful tips culled from my personal experience and from my coworkers and friends.

Airport Strategy

To check bags or not to check bags? That is the question. Before your trip assess which airport(s) you’re flying in and out of and then see what their reputation is online — for example, CDG in Paris has a reputation for losing luggage, one that I found well-deserved (I got my bags about a day and a half after I arrived). If you don’t want to risk it make sure your carry on fits carrier guidelines (many carriers have *reduced* the size of acceptable carry ons) and be prepared to not use that space under the seat in front of you for your feet — because if you’re in a later boarding group there may not be overhead bin space. Also, take advantage of YouTube packing videos.  You can get a lot of stuff in a small case.

Inversely, if you do choose to check, weight your bag before you get to the airport — and maybe pack a smaller lightweight bag or backpack in it. This is because if your bag is over 50lbs they usually charge $100 instead of a $25 or $30 bag fee, and having 2 checked bags is still cheaper than one overweight charge.  If you travel a lot and you have a carrier Visa card, that usually comes with free bag check. Finally: add some unique item to your handle, even if it’s just a strip of novelty duck tape. You would not believe how many identical black Samsonite bags are out there.

Get TSA Pre Check.

If you aren’t thrilled with an airplane loo — and who is? — and find yourself needing to go as you exit the plane: use the facilities closest to (and just before) the security exit. That is, you get off the plane, you  head down the concourse to the main hub, and you get to that part where it says “after you go through here you can’t go back” — and find the restroom right before that security exit.  This is because it will be less crowded than all of the ones you just passed (because everyone else got off the plane and will happily stand in line) and is likely to be less busy.

Hotel Strategy

Hotels often have more amenities than are listed on their site. For example, mine has a free shuttle to the conference I’m attending — even though it’s a half hour away. It wasn’t advertised and I came across it by accident (while trying to schedule a Lyft) so it’s good to ask at the front desk if there is a shuttle service to your location of interest.

The gym at a hotel can be resplendent with fresh towels and water bottles and a wide assortment of machines/weights or it can be one dilapidated bosu ball and a sketchy elliptical trainer. Check TripAdvisor or Yelp hotel reviews to see what the gym actually has and also when it is open.

It’s nice when they hand you your room keys in that little paper fold and it’s a pain to carry that around. If you travel a lot room numbers kinda blur, so take a pic of your room number (at the door) to remember it without having to keep track of little foldy bits of paper. This strategy also works with remembering parking space/stall numbers.

Hotel toiletries are unreliable (in terms that some hotels offer a selection of toiletries and others offer the inherently suspicious bottle of 3 in one shampoo/conditioner/body wash).  Get reusable travel-size bottles and fill up with your stuff from home. Bonus: keep them all together in a quart size Ziploc – you’ll need it for security, anyway.

Conference Strategy

Ever notice how conferences are usually in a hot-weather area during the hottest time of year? It’s because it’s cheaper (it’s during their off-season) for the conference provider and usually for the attendee. Case in point: Grace Hopper (where I’m at right now) in Houston, or an analytics conference I attended in July. In Las Vegas.  You’ll be tempted to wear a super-lightweight top and pants or a skirt, but don’t forget a light jacket or scarf — because as soon as you get into the Convention Center or Hotel Ballroom, the AC will be jacked up and you will freeze.  As much as you’d like to think that will help you focus on the material, it won’t, and you’ll end up drinking too much coffee in an effort to keep warm.

Speaking of coffee: the coffee shop or stand *at* the convention center or hotel may sound like a good idea, but it will be slammed.  Go around the corner or even two blocks away, or leverage pre-ordering apps like the one offered by Starbucks.  Bonus points if your hotel has a mini-market or quick options like muffins or fruit, but you’ll want to put thought into your breakfast strategy *before* the morning of.  This is because when you get up, you will be thinking about your deliverables and schedule, and just hoping to run into food. So are the other thousands of attendees.

Seating strategy is also important – you’re in a room with 300, 400, 500 other people? Figure out if you need to exit early (for a conference call or because you’re dubious on the content) — and sit closer to the door so you don’t feel like a horrible human being when you do get up to leave.  Do you need to take notes during the presentation and you’ve got a laptop? Look for carpet cutouts in the floor –– typically power outlets are stashed there (or sit along the walls).  Poor eyesight or you like to ask questions? Sit towards the front *or* near the mic stand.

Most conferences have some sort of expo or booth-laden enterprise where you go learn about new things and acquire swag. Don’t acquire swag to acquire swag. It’s more stuff to pack into your suitcase for dubious benefit. If you’re interested in the company or its offerings, grab your cell phone and take a picture of the business card or product info – doesn’t get lost, takes up no space, and you have all the information nearly instantly.

Finally — Conference WiFi (and any publicly available WiFi) is open — so remember to use a VPN to keep your electronic traffic safe. If you need super-reliable WiFi, don’t rely on conference WiFi — they can easily underestimate traffic — see if you can tether to your mobile or get a mobile card if it’s an absolute must.

Hustle: How to Get Things Done

In Empire Records, Liv Tyler’s character is this seemingly perfect human who is a straight A student, cool, works in a record store, and gets a lot of things done. When her friend comes to pick her up for their shift at the store she’s got fresh-baked cupcakes and her friend marvels at her productivity: her answer is that there are 24 useable hours in a day. (Sure, later on we find out she’s been on amphetamines but we all know someone like this who isn’t. Or probably isn’t.)

Increased productivity is an economic expectation (and/or desire) for a given population but it’s also an expectation we put on ourselves, and our kids, coworkers, volunteers, etc. The “always busy” culture celebrates the hyper-productive person who, when you ask them how their day was, will inevitably reply “busy”.

In my career (which sounds really great as a tag for a series of only vaguely tethered job choices) I have developed a set of practices to live in that world and get a lot of things done. While it’s true that there’s no such thing as multitasking you can learn to recover from switched contexts faster, when to shove the ball into someone else’s court, and how to pursue the answers you need (to unblock your course of action) doggedly.

Getting Someone to Respond

Most offices work in an email-enriched environment (maybe too enriched) for primary communication.  Some have Slack or Teams as an augment or replacement. Then there’s meetings and conference calls.  Within these, there’s usually the need to either disseminate information and the need to acquire information. Getting someone to respond is the need to acquire information: either to get them to acknowledge a given topic or to provide a missing piece of data so you can go about your day. Example: I need to know if there already exists a security protocol/practice on a system I’m thinking about using. I’ve read the provided documentation* and still don’t have an answer.  At this point I reach out to the name responsible for the documentation (or the name responsible for the product, or indeed anyone I can find related to it) and send an email or Slack@. When the inevitable non-response occurs (email is good for that), I set a meeting.

Why?

Because people hate meetings. It’s a massive disruption, they’re stuck on the phone or in a conference room when they could be doing something else, and it means they’ll have to (gasp) talk to you in real time.  The reason why texting has taken off and voicemail is dead is because, for the most part, people don’t actually want to interact with you unless they have some social basis for it.  By creating a meeting and pushing the point it gives them one of three options:

  1. To unblock you by responding to the meeting request/your original email and giving you the data you need or some other poor sop to go after.
  2. To actually meet with you, in which case you get not only the answers you’re after but you can pelt them with more questions.
  3. To ignore your meeting request.

For that last: it does happen, but rarely.  When it does, and *if you’re truly blocked*, you request a meeting with their lead.  At some point up the chain, meeting requests and emails can’t afford to be ignored.  This is a somewhat nuclear option, so use sparingly.  You can also branch out and forward the meeting/email to others in the same group/product.

Carving out Time

This may seem silly, but actually carving out time on your calendar (“booking yourself”, as it were) will make sure you have the unblocked time you need to get whatever-it-is done, and that you don’t accidentally overlap incompatible things.  I can clear out my email while dinner is in the oven, and I can go for a run on the treadmill while listening to a podcast, but I can’t clear out email while listening to a podcast (because the brain gets confused). Some folks use this to actually make sure they remember to eat (e.g., “lunch” as a 30-minute block) and some folks do this so they can catch up on training or get focus time to diagram something out. Bottom line: book your time, because if you don’t someone else will.

Also, this includes personal stuff: I have calendar time carved out for housecleaning, for laundry, for grocery shopping, for trimming the kitten’s nails, for blood donation, etc. It keeps me straight. Sure, I could try to keep it all in my head, and I used to try to do that.  In 10th grade I double booked a friends’ house sleepover (super-rare for me to get to do those back then) and a babysitting job.  I was devastated because I had to do the job (you do what you say you’re going to do. Period.)  Keeping it written down reduces unpleasant double bookings.

Finally: carve out time to do nothing.

That’s right. Do nothing. Give yourself a night a week if you can afford it. Block it off so it can’t be consumed by other things (unless you really want it to).

Prioritize your Backlog

In the Hyper-productive Expectation World, you will always have more to do that can be done. Always. There’s not enough caffeine, amphetamines, or hours to accommodate everything.  You can either ruthlessly trim things (which is very effective but requires a strong will to say “No” sometimes) or you can prioritize things (which means you still have them on your list, they’re just much farther down).  Look at the Volume of Stuff, and figure out which are most important to least.  Some things will be of related importance (you can’t do A until you do B, but A is really important, so get B done now) and some will be compatible or a two-birds-one-stone situation (I can walk at an incline on the treadmill and read that latest set of whitepapers). I recommend having prioritized lists for Work and Non-Work (and if you have other commitments — PTA, Scouts, Church, Nonprofit, Clubs, etc.– prioritize within those).

Use Technology To Help You

Use your calendar and reminders. Use a list/task tracking app. Use OneNote. Use the alarm on your phone. Use sticky notes. Use whatever works for you to remind you if/when you need to do stuff and what it is.  For example, we have a running One Note grocery list broken out by the stores we use (because Trader Joes doesn’t have all the things and Costco doesn’t either). We update it through the week.  I have an Outlook task-tracking list of the things that are most important for a given week. My friends use a Trello board to organize household responsibilities and projects.  Another friend uses their inbox to prioritize.

The thing to determine here is what set of technologies work *for you*, because some folks like to leverage their mobile for keeping their brains straight and some people prefer tactile things like sticky notes and highlighters.  There’s no one *right* way, just the way that works for you.  You may have to try a few things before you hit on the right combination.

Eat Your Frogs First

In any prioritized list of things to do, there’s the thing you don’t really want to do but have to do.  Maybe it’s the cat-pan change out. Maybe it’s reorganizing under the bathroom sink.  Maybe it’s collecting all of the papers for your tax return. Maybe it’s going line by line through an excel spreadsheet until you find that the issue with line 943 is in fact that the value that should be a decimal was in fact a text and it broke your import. You know, that thing.

Do that thing first if faced with it and another 3 things of the same priority. You’ll get it out of the way, the other things will feel (and be) easier, and you’ll feel all kinds of virtuous.

Wash your hands when you’re done, though.

 

An Illustration of Live Site Practice, Featuring My Eyeballs

Congratulations to me, as I’ve got a new job, and I’m in a new team here at the ‘soft. Specifically, I’m in Azure, in the Internet of Things space, working on a Thing. I can’t talk about the Thing. Some day I will talk about the Thing. But not now.

This means I’m back on a live product (or a product that will be a live product, it’s all very complicated) and that means I am on a Live Site team and I’m pretty happy about that. I enjoy the Live Site process because it’s basically enforcing a culture of learning from mistakes.

What is Live Site Practice

Generally speaking, Live Site means that your site is… live. Meaning when something goes wrong (and there are varying levels of wrong to Wrong to WRONG to WRONG!!!) you have a person responsible to fix it, you have expectations of how quickly it gets fixed, you put a plan in place to make sure it never happens again and monitoring to catch it when it inevitably does. Live Site incidents can be singular (this one experience happened this one time) or multitudinous (cascading incidents, parallel problems, etc.) or chronic (a liberal application of the philosophy of Live Site could categorize a series of data breaches or questionable data sharing practices by a given company, for example, as a very large Live Site Incident).

Measuring the Live Site Response

There are four major ways to measure the response to a Live Site Incident. These are: Time to Detect (how long it took you to figure out something is wrong from the time something actually went wrong), Time to Engage (how long it took you to start trying to fix it from the time it was detected), Time to Mitigate (how long before the customer stopped having the negative experience), and Time to Resolve (how long before the actual problem was fixed).

General prudence means I don’t illustrate this with an Actual Thing From Work because I like my job and I want to keep it, so I’ll use a recent personal experience to illustrate.

At about 8am on August 25th I went to the gym and my contacts clouded over. It was annoying so when I got home I took them out and put them in a fresh solution/case and went about my day in glasses.  At night we had friends to dinner so I wore my contacts with no trouble. At about 9am on August 26th I went to the gym and my contacts clouded over. It wasn’t horrible, just annoying, and so when I got home I took them out and put them in a fresh solution/fresh case and ran around with my glasses.  No problem.

  • By 4pm that afternoon my eyes were itching. Because we’d had smoke issues lately coming in from the Canada and Eastern Washington fires, I figured my eyes had got irritated from that, and put some drops in.
  • By 5pm my eyes were uncontrollably watering and itchy.
  • By 8pm I had to stop watching Aliens, one of my very favorite movies, because the following hurt: opening my eyes, closing my eyes, and having my eyes closed. Thinking that eye irritations usually resolve themselves with a good night’s sleep (hello, morning eye crud) I went to bed (yes, at 8pm). The software equivalent of this is turning the machine off and turning it on again.
  • By 10:30pm I woke from a dead sleep feeling like someone was stabbing me in my eyeballs and asked my husband to drive me to the ER.
  • By 11pm they had put numbing drops in my eyes. Ensuing investigation showed my corneas had all kinds of pitting all over them and possibly dual infection in both eyes.
  • By 12:30pm they discharged me with a Percocet (to help me sleep and ignore the pain), antibiotics (for my eyes) and an instruction to see an eye doctor the next day.
  • By 10:30am the next day the eye doctor confirmed the infection, noted some abrasions, and said I’d self-heal in about five days.

Time to Detect

This one is tricky, because on one hand you can say I “detected” it at 9am when my contacts clouded over… but on which day? As nothing hurt and I wasn’t inconvenienced and I carried on with my day.  So I’ll say I detected it at 4pm.  But it’s likely the problem actually started at 9am on the Saturday, so my Time to Detect was 31 hours.

Time to Engage

Again, it’s not a clear line (and I’ll point out these things are hashed over in the Live Site world a lot as well). I started “engaging” with eye drops at 4pm. I didn’t request professional help though until 10:30pm when it got really bad. I’m calling it 6.5 hours (4pm-10:30pm).

Time to Mitigate

Mitigation is all about the customer’s perspective. How long from the time the problem started actually happening (and the customer was inconvenienced) to the time it got fixed from the customer’s perspective. For me, that’s from 4pm (eyes watering) to 11pm when I got my first numbing drops. Seven hours. If you want to be really specific, my eyes had stopped hurting mostly by the next day, *without* numbing drops, so a more conservative mitigation time would be from 4pm Sunday to 10:30am Monday – 18.5 hours.

Time to Resolve

Resolution is about the actual problem being fixed (perspective or otherwise). In this case, five days from Monday the 27th, or September 1st. Time to Resolve: a little over six days.  As part of resolution I had to throw out all open saline/lens solution containers, contact lenses, etc.  As a “customer” of this experience I also took the added step of “re-architecting” my framework: I went and got a different brand of contact lenses (that change out more frequently), and started wearing my glasses more often.

Measuring the Impact

Money

The Emergency Room is not cheap, although by comparative standards I got off easy. My bill, after insurance, was roughly $700 (not including the follow-up eye doctor visits, new contact lenses, replaced makeup, etc.).  The bill sent to the insurance company was roughly 3 times that amount.

Time

Money isn’t everything, and time is more precious: I lost about 4 hours’ sleep, I lost 6 hours’ quality time with my husband and a favorite movie. I lost another 2 hours or so to the ER and another 2 to/from the eye doctor.

Peripheral Impacts

I had to work from home on that Monday, and that meant even though it was my last week with my old team they didn’t have me right there to help with my transition; that’s 4 people impacted. My husband had to take time from his evening and next day to take me to appointments, which he was super supportive of and insisted upon, but it also meant he couldn’t do whatever it is he should have been doing during those hours.  Rarely is it just one customer who is impacted in Live Site.

Post Mortem

Yes, post-mortem means “after death”, and no one died. In the Live Site world, no one dies. (Well, we hope no one dies). The Post Mortem is when you look over what and how it happened, figure out how to keep it from happening again, and figure out how to detect if it does.

What Happened – also known as the Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is the review of what instigated the problem. In this case, what happened was that I somehow (?) got either smoke between my contact lenses and cornea, creating a corneal abrasion that then lead to dual infection, OR the I got an infection, which led to corneal abrasion. The experts weren’t really worried about which came first, and if I had wanted to spend lab money to dig into which came first, I don’t know that they would have been able to figure that out. It is, in fact, a moot point.  If it was smoke from the environment, that’s how that could have happened. Or it could be infection from saline solution, eye rubbing, random bacteria, etcetera.  It could have been from contact lens over-use. If they would have been able to tell me definitively the root cause that would be great, because it would impact my next two steps, but rarely do you get a clean root cause.

How to Keep it from Happening Again

As we read up above, I trashed all of my eye-based items (including, incidentally, my mascara, every one of my eyeliners, etc.).  I washed all of my makeup brushes and sterilized them. I got a new brand of contact lens that is changed out more frequently.  I got new glasses and wear them more often than I used to. This may be overkill, but it is everything I can do to ensure I don’t have to miss one of my favorite movies.

How to Detect if it Happens Again

In this case, my first clue was my contact lenses clouding over on the Saturday. At that point I should have quit wearing contacts for a few days and thrown those lenses out instead of trying to disinfect them. My second detect point was the second day of clouding lenses — those two combined should have sent me to the urgent care or an eye doctor, which would certainly have been more cost-effective than the ER.  Uncontrollable eye watering, foggy lenses, and/or gritty pain when opening, closing, or having closed eyes are all reasons to see a professional right away.

Coda

You’ll notice in most of this I’ve not beaten myself up about being stupid, making poor choices, etc.  That’s because it wouldn’t help (either me or the situation) and it’s entirely beside the point. I can’t go and change what happened, so the best practice is to learn from it and ensure others do, too. *That* is what I like about Live Site. If your Live Site culture feels like a giant finger-pointing exercise, then it isn’t being implemented properly, and it’s time to do some Root Cause Analysis.

Ragnar, Continued

‘”A wizard is never late… ” he arrives precisely when he means to.’ The first half was emblazoned in chalk pen on the back of a van. I spent many minutes reading the rear end of vans this weekend.  There was the “Team which Shall Not Be Named” with full Harry Potter references, and “Worst Sleepover Ever”.  There were ultra marathoners (where instead of one van of 6 runners for this 200 mile relay race, they only had one of 6 (or 2 of 3)).  There were Unicorns and tutus and T-rex outfits and Nacho Libre vans. There were Runners Against Humanity (a play on Cards Against Humanity) with unique magnets (a Rangar tradition of tagging other vans with magnets about your team) for everyone. There were missed directions, weird road closures, and trains of chalk-painted vans between Blaine and Langley, WA, this weekend. This was my third Ragnar.

I didn’t do well.

I didn’t do crap, either; but having thought I was in better shape for the event I was disappointed when on my first leg I had to walk one of my miles (I had trained in heat. I had trained hills. I hadn’t trained in heat and hills and full sun, and so I had to walk). Fortunately, I was in a van with people who were supportive and encouraging without being condescending or smarmy.  I was able to text for help and get Gatorade, wet wipes, and body glide on demand. (Those didn’t happen all together. Different stories, and all). (Wet wipes for sunscreen that had sweated into my eyeballs — not fun at all. Gatorade because I hadn’t chugged enough and found myself dizzy on run 1 about halfway through.  Body Glide because my shorter shorts had only been with me on a 3-miler and apparently at 4 miles things start chafing).

I enjoyed it, for the most part (not the chafing, the event).  Our van was a homogenous blend of analyst-program managers with a penchant for the same podcasts and excel spreadsheets, decent food and a discreet understanding of what happens when six adults get into a van and run… and get back into the van. Wet wipes and deodorant were our dear companions. We attempted to sleep in LaConner (shoutout to LaConner Marina where the bathrooms at dock B are locked but the ones at dock F are not) and Coupeville High School (where the south side of the basketball court is shady in the morning if you need some sleep… watch out for the goose poo). We had local support (shoutout to the many Whidbey Island residents who had their sprayers out along the course — when it’s 85 degrees and full sun and you’re running, an open hose sprayer is amazingly wonderful). I was introduced to the magic of Cloud City Coffee in Seattle (before we departed), Port of Subs in Bellingham, where my turkey avocado sandwich was more than I could eat in a sitting and helped fuel the day; Panera Bread Company in LaConner with their Orange lemonade. Special shoutout to Coupeville High School and their flushing toilets.

I believe I ran the fewest aggregate miles in my van (more than a half marathon, but only just); you wouldn’t know it by the support and encouragement (and regard) of my teammates. I kept apologizing for the stretches I had to walk.  They kept being supportive. This sort of thing usually serves to make me feel more guilty but in this case it made me feel supported, and made me try harder. K-tape, Ibuprofen, and Gatorade all helped, too.

I want to do this again. I want to do better at it. And I want to do it with the same team.