randy_byers: (Default)
DARS Gang.jpg
With Tom and Kathy at a Washington State DARS conference in Ellensburg probably in the late '90s (Photo by the fourth member of our team, Susan)


Yesterday I cleaned out my desk in Schmitz Hall, and amongst other things I discovered this photo from a long ago work conference. December 31st was my last day as a University of Washington employee. I'm now officially retired, and I've specifically applied for a disability retirement, although that hasn't been approved yet. This, however, is the story of how an English major ended up working in the Academic Data Management Office. Not that my trajectory is all that unusual for the early days of the Information Revolution.

My first job in the Office of the Registrar, which is currently located in Schmitz Hall, was a temp clerical job in the Graduations Office in 1988. The supervisor there, Virjean, liked my work well enough that when a credentials evaluator position opened up in the office in February 1989, she hired me. The cred evals processed graduation applications, which meant we determined whether students had completed their degree requirements and could be granted a degree. So in four years in this position, I became thoroughly familiar with the University's undergraduate degree requirements.

A few years after that, around '91 or '92, the U bought a license to the Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS), which was a software package that allowed schools to encode their degree requirements, feed a student's classes into the system, and let the program determine whether the degree requirements had been fulfilled. Since I was familiar with the degree requirements and was considered a pretty smart guy, in 1993 I was given the job of implementing DARS from the degree rules side. Susan (who took the photo above) was the COBOL programmer in charge of installing DARS on the mainframe and figuring out how to feed the requirement "encoding" and student records into the system.

The mainframe version of DARS came with screens for entering the requirement encoding, but the mainframe team was short-handed in those days. They didn't have the bandwidth to implement the entry screens. The first stage work-around was to have me manually create text files in which each line and each position within each line was mapped to the DARS data structure. Needless to say, this wasn't a very user-friendly solution. So they decided to have me develop an Access database with forms that allowed me to enter the data in a more intuitive way and then export it into a flat file like the text files I'd created earlier. I don't think I had any knowledge of Access at the time, or if I did it was just a couple of entry-level training courses that introduce you to the concepts of tables and queries, forms and reports. I'm not sure why they thought I'd be able to figure Access out on my own, other than they thought that I was a smart guy with good analytical abilities.

So I spent six months learning how to use Access, including how to write procedures in Visual Basic. This was definitely one of the strangest periods in my working life, because I was essentially being paid to learn. I spent all day, every day, reading Access manuals, trying to figure out how to do what I needed to do. Eventually I developed a database with data entry forms that allowed me and others to encode the degree requirements for DARS in a relational database and export them into flat files for upload to the mainframe every night. If there was any kind of error in the data, the upload would abort. However, it worked well enough that eventually we were able to hire two more encoders to begin the job of putting all of the UW's undergraduate degrees into the system. I also developed a diploma back-order database for the Graduation Office, and I was pretty darned pleased with myself.

The first woman we hired to encode turned out to be mentally unstable. She had scars on her wrists from previous suicide attempts, and she tried to commit suicide while she was working for us too. The story she told us of that attempt is actually pretty funny in a morbid way, because everything she tried failed, including closing the garage doors and starting up the car, only to have it run out of gas. Anyway, it was less funny when she accused me of emotional abuse, and we had to go through a long, painful process to determine that I wasn't actually being cruel to her.

I think by that point we had hired Tom, who was a gay man from Minnesota. He was tighter with his money than anybody I know, except for maybe my brother's friend, Steve, who funnily enough is another Lutheran-raised Minnesotan. Tom's partner loved opera and had hundreds of CDs that he loved to listen to at top volume, which got on Tom's sensitive nerves. So, like my Mom, who insisted that they add a room on their house in Crooked River, so that she didn't have to listen to Fox when my half-deaf father had it on full-blast, Tom and his partner had a grandmother apartment separate from their house where Tom's partner could listen to loud opera to his heart's content.

Eventually, much to everyone's relief, Kimberly moved on to another job, and we hired Kathy to replace her. Kathy was a much more down-to-earth, no-nonsense person who was also taking care of her sick mother. Things in DARSland stabilized for a while until Kathy's mom started going downhill and Kathy had to look for a less demanding job so she could spend more time caring for her.

I'm not sure why I went into such detail about these folks, other than to give some context for the photo. In the meantime, because I needed to pull in representative students to test our requirement encoding against, I learned how to write queries against our student data and started to learn the structure of the relational data warehouse of the mainframe flat files. I even took over the creation and maintenance of the official degree codes for the university, because I had become so familiar with them through using them in DARS. Also, once we hired Maggie to replace Kathy, we were well into the maintenance phase of DARS, and I started to lose interest in the project. While we were in the implementation phase, it was the first time that I had ever felt I got my greatest sense of fulfillment in life from my job rather than from my hobbies and pastimes. This was also the point at which a client-server version of DARS came along, and all my Access work was scrapped.

By this point, my knowledge of student data structures and Access query writing were good enough that in 2007 I was moved over to a job in the Academic Data Management Office essentially writing ad hoc queries as well as running stored queries and processes that more knowledgeable people had written. Eventually through a process of attrition through death, retirement, and post-Great Recession layoffs, I became the last person standing on the data side of the office, which also included some non-data functions such as desktop support. I always felt like a total imposter, because I didn't know how to write SQL from scratch, but I kept reminding myself that nobody knew the underlying data structures better than I did. By the end of my career in that department I was *the* go-to guy on the campus for questions about which tables had which student data and how to join the tables. If I didn't know the answer to the question, I knew who did know the answer. Needless to say, this stuff wasn't written down anywhere, and our data dictionary was always a work in progress. So I guess I earned my keep despite my lack of SQL proficiency.

And that's the long-winded story about how an English major ended up in a semi-technical job. Aside from my knowledge about the data structures, accrued over time, my other important skill was the ability to problem solve in a methodical way when things weren't working. I was good at analyzing where things were breaking down and then working my way toward a solution by a process of elimination. At least one person I worked with who was far better at SQL than I had no ability to trouble-shoot, because when she started getting bad results, she always jumped to the idea that there was something wrong with the underlying data rather than accepting the more obvious possibility that there was something wrong with her SQL. Of course she was also mentally unstable, so there's that.

Anyway, needless to say this career path was not anything I had in mind when I earned my English degree and started looking for work. But I wandered along the way, going with the flow, and found my own idiosyncratic path.

Name Plate.jpg
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
1990ish Graduations Office Halloween webres.jpg


I just got a call from my HR rep saying that Friday is my last day as a University of Washington employee. I'm feeling slightly shocked, not only because I was expecting more warning than that, but because it's the official end of a major part of my life. I worked at the UW for 26 (nearly 27) years, starting in February 1989 (not counting a year of temping for what they still called the Steno Pool before that). Not quite half my life, but pretty damn close. I've known it was over for at least a year, but now that it's come, I feel suddenly naked somehow. Not that anybody ever understood when they asked me what I did and I tried to explain.

I did a lot of things over the years: graduations, residence classification (for tuition purposes: are you in-state or not? A job I hated, because people would actually cry if we denied their applications), a brief attempt at supervising (fail!!), implementing the degree audit reporting system (huge success!), and finally various flavors of data management (widespread fame and acclaim!). Anyway, above is a photo from more innocent times (circa 1990, and a Halloween, whichever year it was) with the old Graduation Office, which has gone through a number of name and personnel changes since then. On the left is Fred (who tried to call me just as I was starting this round of chemo, so I haven't gotten back to him yet), Virjean (the supervisor), Barbara, Pat, and me. I haven't missed work one iota, but I'm feeling a pang now.

Since I know she follows this LJ, I just wanted to thank Virjean for hiring me, mentoring me, and putting me to good use over the decades. With apologies to Matt S., you'll always be my favorite boss, not to mention a fine human being.

This probably deserves a deeper dive at some point, but I wanted to spread the news.

P.S. Notice the dumb terminal and the IBM Selectric on the right side of us, both of them mine. To my left, but hidden from the photo, was a PC running DOS 6.0, as I recall.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
The year is drawing to a close, and I am succumbing to the urge to look back. The calendar year is an arbitrary unit for contemplation, but it's also a handy way to parse things into intelligible chunks. As such, 2014 doesn't seems very remarkable in any way, but maybe I'm just in a jaded mood.

In many ways the highlight of the year was the trip I took to Europe in August. It's hard to overstate what an acre lot of fun that was. The first part of the trip, in which my sister and I treated Mom to a visit to Amsterdam and ancestral lands in eastern France was definitely one none of us will ever forget. My sister's French friend, Kelly, opened up doors to our past that we probably wouldn't even have noticed if we'd been on our own. Then for me it was onward to London for beer tourism and the mighty Worldcon, which was almost fannish overload. Well, no, it was definitely fannish overload. There's a part of me that doesn't enjoy overseas travel as much as I once did, but it's hard to remember why while I'm in the middle of it having so much damned fun.

Other than that I traveled to San Jose for Potlatch in February and had a splendid time there with exotic foreign visitors (the Fishlifters) and various other well-memorized faces. This was followed by another of my retreats to Astoria and the Olympic Peninsula, which have rapidly become one of my very favorite things in the whole wide world ever. The other relatively long trip was the drive to Southern California with my parents in November, and I once again really enjoyed the scenic drive along the Sierra Nevadas on Highway 395. Other than that there were several trips to Oregon to visit the family, including the big pig roast family birthday party at my brother's place in July and another family birthday party at Waldport on the coast. Now that my parents' Oregon abode is back in Portland, I've really been enjoying taking the train from Seattle. It's a lot more relaxing than driving or flying.

A lot less satisfying in some ways was my year in writing and publishing. We only got out one issue of Chunga, and that was way back in January. We had been getting out two issues a year recently, so this felt like a step backward. I also felt like I didn't do much writing for other fanzines. I had pieces published in John Purcell's Askance and Pete Young's Big Sky (thanks, guys!), but the more major piece I wrote about 30 years living in Seattle was rejected by the fanzine that solicited it. Even worse, I had to agree that it wasn't a very good piece and thus not worth submitting elsewhere, and this failure has had me contemplating my navel a bit. Have I gotten stagnant? Do I have anything left to say? Why do I want to write? Sometimes I think I just write from reflex now, but then again, maybe that's the best reason to write. I just don't want to get rote, right?

The bulk of my writing was on the internet. I still feel very ambivalent about my (mostly) film blog, Dreamland Cafe, but it does give me a reason to write, even if I'm not sure of the reason why I write. Do I really have anything to say about film? Wouldn't I be better off to just write about science fiction, where I have twice as many decades of experience and knowledge to back up my analysis? Perhaps the most striking thing to me about the blog is that the two most popular articles in the past year have been one I wrote in 2013 about slavery stories, which keeps getting found by people using search terms like "plantation sex stories," and the piece I wrote in February about the French film The Ring Finger. Considering the fetishistic sexual interest that seems to be driving the readers of the slavery post, it's hard not to assume that people are searching for the piece about The Ring Finger looking for nude screencaps of Olga Kurylenko or to contemplate the sadomasochistic bent of the film. Nonetheless, that's probably the best thing I wrote for the Dreamland Cafe last year.

Meanwhile, my LiveJournal plugs along as a repository for trip reports, convention reports, book reports, and memorials to dead friends. I think I'm still writing some good things here, although since I outed my true identity it feels as though I'm writing less personal stuff. Not sure if that's actually true. Is this post personal?

The biggest surprise development this year came on the job front. After years of stasis partly caused by reduced budgets in the aftermath of the Great Recession, we were finally given the funds to hire two new reporting positions. Since I'm a "super SME" for student data, it will be my responsibility to train these two new people in the mysteries of student data, which means a lot more work is being put on my plate. What is perhaps most surprising is that one of the key figures behind the allocation of funds for these positions also pushed heavily to give me a significant raise commensurate with my new responsibilities (and my old ones too). That's all still being negotiated, but the tea leaf readings are positive. What I take away from this is that after 25 years of working here, I have developed some powerful allies. I still worry about what's going to happen when one of my biggest long-term allies and mentors retires next year, but it's encouraging to know that I'll still have people who might be able to help me if I need it.

Finally, there's my health. Three years after getting a wake up call about growing insulin resistance, which caused me to make fairly significant dietary and life style changes, I developed a nagging pain in my right shoulder that was diagnosed as rotator cuff tendinitis. This put me on a course of stretches and exercises that have increased my upper body strength. Between the recent weight loss, eating better, getting more cardio, and now putting on some muscle in my shoulders, I'm feeling unexpectedly fit. At the same time, at age 54 my body is definitely showing its age, and while I may have built up my shoulder muscles, I'm losing muscle mass elsewhere. Part of me wonders whether the tendinitis, which is caused by impingement, was the result of losing muscle mass that had previously been keeping the impinging bones at bay. In any event, I'm feeling pretty damned good physically right now, but the slow slide is in progress.

Well, no doubt I could natter on some more about various projects and plans and desires, but I won't. I've been feeling slightly blue today, but I think it's just a random existential mood. I remember when I broke up with Sharee back in 2005 I felt that I'd probably reached the pinnacle of what I was going to accomplish in life and it would be all downhill from there. Two years later I'd somehow finagled my way onto some Hugo-winning coattails. The thing I ask myself more and more these days is how can I help younger people face their challenges in the way that I was helped as a young man. My goal for a long time has been not to be a burden on anyone else, even if I'm not strong enough to carry anyone else's burden. But can I do more? Can I help to lift other people up? I really don't know, but it's been on my mind.

And on that note I wish you bottoms up for the new year.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
The University of Washington has a new online degree program called Integrated Social Sciences. One of my jobs is to create major and degree codes, and so today the adviser of the program emailed me to ask if it was okay to use ISS for their major code, even if it might be confused with International Student Services. Here's what I said:

If you guys are okay with possible confusion with International Student Services, the International Space Station, and whatever else uses those initials that’s fine by me. You’re right that I can’t create a code until you’ve gotten FCAS approval, but in the meantime if the International Space Station asks me for a major code of ISS, I’ll tell them sorry, it’s already reserved.


And here was her reply:

You know, Randy, I wasn’t worried about the International Space Station … until now. The other day I drove past our local gravel yard. The reader board out front exhorted me: “Time to start thinking about drainage problems.” Before that I wasn’t really thinking about drainage problems. When the International Space Station makes a fiery re entry into the earth’s atmosphere, I’m hoping it lands on the gravel yard.

Thank you for preserving the ISS major code from territorial poachers from outer space.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Work has continued to be ... oh, I dunno, challenging? Heavy? Hard? No, not really hard (other than the stuff I wrote about last time). Just heavy, I guess. I'm looking forward to taking a week and a half off in November.

Other than that, this and that. We're working on the next issue of Chunga. Mostly waiting for solicited artwork at this point, although I'm also finally editing the lettercol.

Last Thursday I saw the Seattle Opera's new production of Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment. Once again this was thanks to my neighbor's boss, who gets passes to the dress rehearsals but was unable to make it to this one. This time my neighbor joined me. The opera was a delightful truffle -- sort of a variation on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs about a young woman who was orphaned and raised by a regiment of French soldiers. I don't know much about Donizetti, but apparently he was massively popular in his day. This one was first produced in 1840, so it says something that people still want to see it nearly two hundred years later. The setting for this production was updated from the Napoleonic wars to World War II, and I believe the nationality of the romantic tenor was changed from Tyrolean to American.

Last night I watched the DVD of James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera's 1990 production of Wagner's Das Rheingold -- the first opera in the Ring Cycle. My article for this issue of Chunga is about seeing the Ring Cycle last summer. As I wrote here at the time, 15 hours of music is a lot to absorb, and I borrowed this DVD set from [livejournal.com profile] ron_drummond to try to get a better handle on it. I listened to the DVDs (with an occasional peak at the video) while I was writing my article; now I want to watch them. As before, I found a lot of music to like in Das Rheingold, and I'm fascinated by the fantastical, high fantasy nature of the thing. Just a tad different from the frothy romantic comedy of The Daughter of the Regiment!

I don't know what else. My raspberries have been incredibly productive this month. I picked a collander full on Saturday, and I can't remember ever picking them this late in the year before. Then again, I'm terrible about keeping a gardening journal, so I don't really know. I don't even know whether this has been an unusually warm October.

Oh, and I was also completely fascinated by an article in the Grauniad, "Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?", particularly the concept of soshoku danshi ("grass-eating men"), which is a term of disparagement that some men have embraced. One of them defines it as "a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant." I wouldn't agree with the "unimportant" (quite the opposite, really), but I do identify with the mindset that makes do without and that finds process of establishing and maintaining a romantic relationship incredibly complicated and fraught. For me this has nothing to do with the kinds of socioeconomic conflicts this article is about, but I still recognize the psychosexual terrain being discussed. "Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction," says one demographer. Life on the cutting edge, eh?
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Okay, I think I have made it through the annual Big Upload Project relatively unscathed, other than the usual shredded nerves. If there are no alarms in the next four hours, I think I'll download to Corflu XXX. Looks as though it's going to be a beautimous weekend here in the Pacific Northwest.

Hail hell

Apr. 15th, 2013 08:33 am
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
As a follow=up to my last post, which was about the hail storm on Saturday, I should mention that after I entered the coffee shop I got a text message from the UW alert system, which I didn't even bother to read once I noticed where it was from. As soon as I got into work today and started looking through my work email I discovered what it was about. That enormous thunderclap I mentioned in my previous story was the result of a lightning bolt that apparently struck the University power substation, resulting in loss of power across campus. One of my co-workers had to come into the office, because he had to reboot our servers and restart the cooling unit. He was coordinating with other university personnel who had to deal with the consequences of power outages all over the place. So while Drunk Guy was celebrating life with a little hail dance on Queen Anne Avenue, responsible people were being responsible elsewhere. As usual, I was oblivious to the signals.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
We had our office holiday lunch today. There were seven us, three of whom are supervised by M, who was the one who organized the whole thing. M is retiring in July, and we got to talking about that. At some point in this discussion, B, who works for M, turned to me and said, "When I heard that M was retiring, I was hoping you'd be the next supervisor."

I laughed. "I tried supervising once, and I didn't like it. I don't have the right personality." I grinned at M. "I'm not bossy like she is."

To which L rejoined, "That's why we wanted you to be the next boss!"
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
So yesterday was the watershed moment for the reason I couldn't go to Corflu this year.

Every year around this time I have to send some files to an outside vendor who runs a website for us that allows students to sign up for the commencement exercises in June. This involves gathering some files from the three branch campuses, and I spent last Thursday and Friday consulting about and collecting the files. On Monday I imported them into the proper databases, reformatted them, refamiliarized myself with how everything fit together, and generally made sure that everything was ready to roll. What I had to do yesterday was pretty simple, basically running macros and then reformatting the resulting tables into tab-delimited text files. I also wrote up the procedures for all this, because I've become acutely aware of being the only one who knows how to do this job now.

These days I frequently feel like a monkey running around in the ruins of a previous civilization. I run databases that my forebears wrote -- forebears who were lost to death and budget cuts. These databases are often black boxes to me. I don't understand how they work, I just run the macros. There are some, like the commencement databases, that I've worked with enough that I have some understanding of them and have even made modifications. But if I were asked to write them from scratch, I probably wouldn't be able to do it. My expertise is really in the underlying data structures, the institutional knowledge and policies -- the "business rules" as they apply to student data. That's valuable knowledge, for sure, but we are sorely missing somebody with in-depth knowledge of SQL and/or statistics.

Well, that's more about work than I had intended to get into. I was explaining why I couldn't make it to Corflu this year. I did manage to join the fun in the virtual consuite/program a time or two, and many thanks to the folks who made that possible. I won a FAAn Award this year for Alternative Pants, so I also thank those who voted for me, bless your hearts -- and thanks also to carl for the great design and layout work on the zine. This award was in a new category for one-shots or fanthologies. This ended up being a weak category, and one that a lot of people didn't understand, although certainly there was another strong candidate in Travlin' Jiant, the collection of Art Widner's writing put together by Kim Huett, which came in second. Andy Hooper indicated during the ceremony that the category wouldn't be continued, and I would agree with that decision. It's true that single issue fanzines rarely get award recognition, and are expressly excluded from Hugo consideration, but there probably aren't enough of them in any given year to support their own award category. Still, it was nice to get the recognition, and it also reminded me of what a great trip that was. It reminded me of all the friends I visited and hung out with on my travels, and it reminded me of previous fun times, like the 2002 Corflu where I met the [livejournal.com profile] fishlifters, the 1996 Worldcon where I met [livejournal.com profile] gerisullivan, or my 2003 TAFF trip where I met [livejournal.com profile] reverendjim and [livejournal.com profile] pingopark.

It also made me think about my vague idea of going to Novacon again this year. I didn't make it to Corflu and won't be making it to the Chicago Worldcon, so Novacon beckons again. However, lately I've been feeling like that wasn't going to happen, both because I'm feeling so wiped out from work and because my sister and I are planning to take Mom to France in 2013 for her 80th birthday, and then it's the London Worldcon in 2014, and maybe another British Corflu in 2015. How many years in a row can I afford to travel across the Atlantic? But another Belgian adventure sounds like just what the doctor ordered right about now. Wouldn't that be a nice reward for all my hard work and stress this year?

Still dreaming ...
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Yesterday I took a cow-orker out for drinks at the Deca to celebrate his impending retirement. He's quite anti-social and insisted (to no one's surprise) that he didn't want a party, so as far as I know this was the only work-related acknowledgment of the transition. He did allow me to invite the person he works most closely with as well.

T. was one of the few people I supervised in my brief stint as a supervisor, so that's where my mind goes, as he goes. I guess he isn't the last person here who worked under me, because I even more briefly supervised a large office that has had approximately zero turnover since then -- and we're talking probably a decade ago now. It was that move from supervising two people to supervising ten people that convinced me I was not cut out for supervision. It seemed to me to be related to my lack of parenting impulses as well. I'm a good lieutenant, but a terrible captain. Or something like that.

Anyway, T's plans to retire at 62 were at first disrupted by the economic collapse, but not for long. I hope it works out for him. He loves to travel, and he isn't sure how much of that he'll be able to do now, after a long trip to Germany in May. I'm happy for him, even though it adds to the feeling that I'm rapidly becoming the old guard. I guess he's proof that you can work here till retirement without moving up the ladder, but I do wonder sometimes if I will start to look like dead wood at some point.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
I went to a meeting last week about scheduling for the Time of Chaos that happens every spring around Commencement sign-up, and as I looked at the dates when I had to do important, mission-critical stuff, I had the sinking feeling that it might coincide with Corflu Glitter next year. I finally checked today, and sure enough Corflu is happening right smack in the middle of the time when I'll be needing to run test extractions and then the actual extraction. I suppose I could pop down to Las Vegas Friday night after work and return on Sunday, but my gut reaction to this idea is not good, no fun, ixnay. I think Corflu will be a no-go for me next year.

Ugh. And fuck.

Well, maybe another reason to go to Novacon then.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
So I stopped by the Bean and Bagel this morning to get some coffee. The barista was filling the coffee grinder from a bag of beans.

Me: How often do you go through one of those bags?

Barista: This thing was full at 7 this morning. It's been crazy busy.

Me: It's all these damned students. Oh, you're probably one of them!

Barista: I used to be, but I just graduated.

Me: Congratulations.

Barista: Thanks. [Looks embarrassed.] Um, yeah ... this is my, um, internship. Yeah, that's it!

Me: This is clearly today's job market at work.

Barista: Yes, free-wheeling free-market capitalism at work!
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
A group of us had drinks after work yesterday with a cow-orker who is leaving the UW to work for Microsoft. He's a web developer, and Microsoft will pay him something like half again as much as we were paying him. On the downside, he'll get less time off and a more expensive health insurance plan.

He had been here less than a year. I've been here for over twenty years. It's hard to imagine working anywhere else at this point. It's very, very hard to imagine working for a corporation. It's quite possible that I could make more money working for a corporation -- during the dot-com boom I used to fantasize about doing technical writing -- but the reality is that I make more than enough money to meet my needs at this point, as a single guy without dependents. (The guy who is leaving has a daughter who is starting college this year.) And I love working for a university, and a very good university at that. I'm proud of our mission, and I love the campus atmosphere, love seeing the kids stepping up into the world, love working with people who are interested in knowledge and learning. Oh yeah, and I love all the time off. I haven't counted in a while, but last time I did I was pretty close to the European ideal of six weeks off a year, although it took me a decade or so to get to that level.

Anyway, that's what I got out of saying goodbye to O yesterday. I understand his reasons for leaving, but I'm damned grateful that I get to stay.
randy_byers: (colma 1987)
I've been walking to work along the Burke-Gilman trail for over twenty years now. (Eventually I'll get there!) Over the years I've tried several times to remember where it was that a certain old friend of mine used to live back in, oh, 1986 or so. It was an apartment with a balcony just up the hill from Lake Union, and we had some crazy good times in that apartment, back when I was still doing my best to live the rock'n'roll life style. Memory said it was on Eastern Avenue, but every time I've looked at the apartment buildings on Eastern Avenue in these past twenty-odd years, none of them have looked familiar. Eventually I concluded it was actually on 1st, because a couple of the apartment buildings on 1st looked more or less the way I remembered the building looking.

So this morning on the walk to work, I was thinking about my little black address book, because I was wondering whether I should take it with me when I leave for Mexico tomorrow morning. The answer to that question was No, but in thinking about the address book I started thinking about how I don't use it as much as I once did, because I now have an address database on my PC that I use more often. And I was thinking about what addresses I have in my address book that aren't in my database, and whether I should transfer them.

Then I got to 1st and went through that whole thought process about my old friend's apartment again, as I have occasionally done in the past. I looked at the apartment buildings, and a couple of them looked like likely candidates, but which one was it? And it suddenly occurred to me, because I had been thinking about it for other reasons, that my little black address book is so old that it might actually have my friend's old address in it. So I pulled it out of my bag, and sure enough there was the old address. It was crossed out (along with four or five subsequent addresses for the same old friend), but I could still see that the address had been on Eastern Avenue after all.

Well. This illustrates the process by which false memories are formed, for one thing, because I really had convinced myself that the apartment had been on 1st. But because my current job is all about databases, it also got me thinking about how if I'd transferred all the current addresses from my little black book into my address database and thrown the book away, all the historical addresses would be lost, and I quite likely never would have gotten rid of my false memory. Not that it matters much, in this particular case! Yet I immediately realized that I'd already overwritten addresses in my address database a number of times, and I began to wonder how I could replicate the historical aspect of my little black book. Well, obviously I would need date ranges on my address records. So I started thinking about the best way to configure the date ranges, and about how to replicate the crossing out of old addresses so that I didn't use them by mistake ...

And I realized that I am sooooooo ready for a vacation in Mexico.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Coworker 1: The budget news sure is pretty grim.

Coworker 2: Yeah, less is now more.

Coworker 1 (sarcastically): Why not just have students teach their own classes?

Coworker 3: Yeah, lesson is now moron.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Yesterday was a tough day at work. After three different hour-plus meetings ([livejournal.com profile] bluewoad will probably scoff at the idea that this is a lot, but hey, he's management), the day was capped off by the discovery of an error I made that has money attached to it. This is the second such error I've made in the past six months. We had just this week finally put the first error to bed after a couple of months of work, and now this one pops up. It's partly a process problem, and it's something that a multi-department team I'm on is working to solve. However, both errors were things I should have caught myself, and I can't understand how I didn't. I ground on it all night, and I woke up feeling really down this morning.

So the walk to work was quite a trudge. I stopped at the Bean & Bagel for my first americano of the day, and one of the baristas gives me a good looking-over and tells me she really likes the new facial hair. The other one chimes in that she had already told me the same, which was true. She went on to say that she thought it actually made me look younger. "Grey hair makes you look younger?" I said dumbly. I thought for a moment she was taking the piss, but she insisted it was true. There I was, feeling about as low as a ground down heel, and she's telling me I look younger?

Well, I had to laugh. Thank you, ladies, that was a nice booster. I mean, I may be completely fucking incompetent, but at least I look good while doing so.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
So I got a question today about an old MS Access database I had created when I was in a different job. Hadn't looked at in years. Couldn't figure out why the hell the query in question wasn't working the way it was supposed to. Futzed around with it for a while. Could not make sense of what I was seeing. Went away for a while feeling defeated. Had an idea about another approach. Opened it up again and starting futzing around some more. Finally got really frustrated with the Access graphical interface and went directly to the SQL and beat the damned thing into submission. I've been having to learn more SQL lately as we switch to a new reporting tool in the current job. Frequently I feel that SQL is smarter than I am, but it appears I actually have learned something. I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself. Guess I'm not an old dog quite yet.
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I'll be at a class for most of the next three days, learning about some reporting software for work. Will the learning never stop?

Oh yeah, and, "Boo!"
randy_byers: (Default)
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wrdnrd, I've just been interviewed by the editor of University Week about the Science-Fiction Five-Yearly Hugo. UWeek is a university (not a student) newspaper. I did my best to explain fandom, fanzines, conventions, Hugos, the history of SFFY, Lee Hoffman, and ghu knows what else. I'm so adrenalated I can hardly sit still. She'll send me a copy of what she writes before anything is published. She also wants to arrange a photograph of me with a copy of the zine. They did a great job on a recent profile of another UW employee, Neile Graham -- a poet who also has connections to the local SF community -- so I'm hopeful that she'll turn my gibbering into something sensible.

Jeebus, I don't think I needed this cup of coffee. I'm on the ceiling already. Help me, mommy! I can't get down!
randy_byers: (Default)
Well, I finally got my reclassification and am now a Senior Computer Specialist. Gosh, that sounds important, doesn't it? Makes me wonder what I do! It isn't actually a whole lot more money, and they can now fire me at will. Still, it's nice to have "supervisor" dropped from my job title, since I haven't supervised anyone for at least three years. Also, this is retroactive to September 16th, so I'll get a little bonus out of it. Not bad for government work.

My (now former) union is continuing to challenge this reclass, along with some other positions that went from classified to professional, but I doubt they'll win. But they're apparently saying it's illegal under the existing contract, so who knows? I am not a lawyer. I continue to be mystified by their behavior on this, which seems to be working against my interests and is certainly against my wishes.

Anyway, it's good news for now!

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