Saturday, August 25, 2007

Wishing Traditions

Yesterday, coming home from work with the girls in tow, we had a surprise on our front doorstep.

The Sears Christmas Wish-Book was waiting for us.

The surprise was that Sears still publishes a catalogue. I personally haven’t seen one since at least the rise of the Internet.

But then I wasn’t exactly a member of Sears target catalogue audience until recently.

I picked up the two-inch thick tome of available wares up and gave it the quickie thumb-flip through. It was just like I remembered:

Tools and Appliances
Yard and Patio

and Sporting Goods

and Toys.

The memories came flooding back. The weekend mornings of me and my brother Paul lying on the floor of the living room, carefully scrutinizing every product entry that fell within the boundaries of the toy and sporting goods sections of that colossal encyclopedia of what the world had to offer.

Ok, we scrutinized the boy’s toys, and flipped quickly past the girls stuff.

The action heroes, the hot wheel sets, the helicopters and planes that really flew.

Then we would review the sporting goods section, where all the ball gloves and bats, tents and various accessories were listed.

And I would start my list of things to ask Santa for.

I was pretty organized from the beginning. I would start at the first page and list everything of interest, and the page number. I would then proceed through the section until all pages had been indexed.

The first draft was usually several pages long.

As the time grew closer and closer to Christmas, I would continue to refine my list – scratching out those items that would not make the subsequent cuts.

In the end, I had a three-quarter page list. And I would present this final draft to my parents as my list for Santa. I was keenly aware that Mom had a direct line to Santa.

A slight sadness fell over me. It is only August. Okay, it's the last week of August. But still - “Did the Christmas Wish-book used to come before Labor Day?”

After I finished my quick thumb through, I called Alannah and Ashley-Rae into the living room. I sat them on the couch with me, and I introduced them to the Sears Christmas Wish-Book. And I explained to them:

“This is a wish book. This is a book for wishing from.”

“And the wishes come true Dad?”

“They might. They might not. But this is a book that shows you all the kinds of things that the world has to offer.”

“Everything in the world is in that book Dad?”

“No, but it’s a start. A pretty good start” and I turned the page to the sporting goods section. I showed them the ball gloves, and basket ball hoops. I showed the pool table section where they listed various types of accessories.

“Boooor-ring!” exclaimed Ashley-Rae.

“Isn’t there anything in there for kids, Dad?” asked Alannah with big hopeful eyes.

“Why yes, I believe there is some kid stuff in here too,” I replied, flipping to the first of many pages showing various 5-6 year old girl stuff.

As I walked down stairs to the family room, both girls sat in stunned awe looking at all the dolls, and doll houses, and games and toys. In a few minutes I heard the awe change to shrieks and could hear the pointed fingers slapping the page where they found something they like, and saying “I want that!” – “No I do, find something else!” … echoing through the house.

And I thought to myself … “What have I done?”

I’m anxious to get my hands on the Wish-Book myself. I will flip to the Tools, Yard and Patio sections.

And the Sporting Goods section.

I better go find some paper, before the girls use it all.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Digging for Knowledge

Have you ever tried to write down absolutely everything you know about a topic that you are supposed to be the “expert” on?

That is what 'knowledge transfer' is all about.

Somehow you have to take the knowledge in your head, and put it in someone else’s.

Please let me express to you that I do not like the word ‘expert’. It sounds vain and pompous. I especially dislike – with a high degree of contempt – self-proclaimed experts.

I have no problem with terms like ‘most experienced’.

Better ask Fred, he’s had the most experience with that”.

If you say it that way, I still have some leeway for uncertainty. But if you say “Better ask Fred, he is the expert” – well, I had better damned well know the answer off the top of my head, or my credibility is shot.

I do not keep knowledge at the top of my head, nor the tip of my tongue. I write stuff down. I write it down and I put it someplace else. Someplace that I can hopefully remember so I can retrieve it later when I need it. I do this so that I can remember the important things, like my phone number, where I live and the names of my wife and two daughters.

I hate acronyms.

Some would say “why? Acronyms makes it so much easier to write or speak about”. That would be true, but please stop and think of the acronyms in your life, and how many you don’t know or can’t remember what they stand for.

Make a list, go ahead.

Beside the acronym, write down what it means. Then go Google them and see how close you are.

IT roles like mine are inundated with acronyms. You name the technology, and it has an acronym associated with it. Then you have the business industry that your IT position serves. In my case it is health benefits. They have their own set of acronyms. And you - Mister IT smarty-pants – had better understand what those business people are talking about.

But I digress. I usually do.

Right now the acronym I am most sick of is KT. KT stands for knowledge transfer.

Knowledge transfer is the art of taking the knowledge in your head, and put it in someone else’s. Am I repeating myself?

So I have been writing down everything I know about what I am the the most experienced in. Then I have been standing up in front of a group of people who are going to do my job, and try to explain to them everything in my head.

So far it has been going well.

But I wish I could perform the Vulcan Mind-meld instead.

Instead, I have been standing at the front of the room, my laptop connected to a projector which displays PowerPoint presentation slides about all the stuff in my head. I turn and I read the slide projected on the wall, and I read to them what was in my head at the time I wrote the slide.

And they write stuff down. They are writing down a lot of stuff. When they fill up a page, they flip to blank pages and they keep writing. They are writing down the stuff that is in my head. They are writing it down so that they can put it someplace when they need to retrieve it. This way, they can remember the important stuff.

Like their phone number, their address, the names of their family members.

After this is completed, sometime this fall, the tables will turn on me. For a lot of that important stuff that I projected on the wall will be useless to me. For I will move on to another role.

To ramp up for this new role, someone will have to provide me with knowledge transfer. They will write down all the stuff in their head, and then shove it into mine. I will write it down – and put it someplace so that I can retrieve it later.

The entire process of dumping the stuff in my head out for others to write down, and then writing down what others know so that I can fill my head with it again will take approximately a year I estimate.

When I was in boot-camp for the Coast Guard, I was made to dig a hole on one side of the yard, and use it to fill a hole on the other side. Then re-dig the hole to fill the first hole again.

This seems strikingly familiar.

I am very anxious to move into my new role.

I have half of the hole dug in my head already.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Welcome to the Neighborhood

We have a new pet. It seems he came with the new house.

His name is Hoppy. Alannah gave him the name. We do not know if he was ever given a name by the previous family who lived here.

Hoppy is a squirrel.

To be quite honest, Hoppy does not truly reside on our premises. In fact he only uses the back rail of our fence for commuting between the walnut tree he scavenges and the maple tree he lives in. Both trees are in the neighboring yards.

Hoppy uses our back fence like commuters in Chicago use the El train.

He is quite industrious. He constantly makes trips from the maple tree, across our rail, to the walnut tree. There he collects a green walnut in his mouth, and travels our fence back to the maple.

As he crosses our yard on the fence rail, he hops over the fence posts that protrude higher than the top beam.

So Alannah calls him Hoppy.

I guess now we all call him Hoppy.

But Hoppy does not have free reign. He has competition. A bully squirrel we have yet to name; perhaps we will call him Sluggo; likes to ambush Hoppy, and contest him for his walnuts. Hoppy usually prevails. No fights ensue. And then Hoppy makes another trip.

This morning, Darlene was sitting on the deck having a morning coffee and reading the paper. Hoppy was returning from the walnut tree. Sluggo was waiting. Up popped Sluggo, and off ran Hoppy, walnut in his mouth. The got to a corner of the fence, and all that could be heard was the trickle and thud of the walnut as it fell down the wooden fence and hit the ground below.

Shortly after, Darlene saw Hoppy emerge to the fence top with the dropped walnut. There was no sign of Sluggo. He hopped a couple of posts, and then flopped out on the flat fence top – all four legs sticking over the side – as if to say, “"Whew! That wore me out!!” After a minute or so of resting, he hopped back up and finished his commute.

Later this morning, on a subsequent trip, Hoppy had two walnuts. One walnut is bigger than his head. Some how he had snagged two, most likely by a joined stem. He stopped in mid-trek, put one down, and proceeded to eat the other.

All the while he was watching us watching him.

We had several squirrels at our last house. They sat in our crabapple tree and ate nuts from the neighboring yard. The nuts are still green, and they turn the nut like we would turn an ear of corn, chomping circles around the nut until the nut is consumed. All the while, a green dust falls like sawdust from a cutting saw.

Darlene turned and said “Look how pretty Hoppy is”. I turned to look. “His fur is nice and full and shiny, and his tail is so fluffy and soft”, she continued. I knew where she was going. The squirrels at our old house had patchy fur and scrapes and scars from battling the neighborhood pets. One’s tail had been broken and carried bent and crooked. They were tough squirrels.

Hoppy looked so soft and clean, you might think he was a house pet.

Amazing how you can tell you’re in a nice neighborhood, eh? Even the squirrels are of a better quality.

After I came in, Darlene continued drinking her coffee. She was reading her latest Nora Roberts novel. She heard a “Thumpity- Thumpity- Thumpity- Thumpity- Thumpity…” from the pool deck. She looked up.

There sat Hoppy – thumping his hid foot like Thumper from Bambi. When he had Darlene’s attention, he looked at her and dropped the walnut right there. He turned to hop away behind the pool to the fence. But after two hops he stopped to turn and look back at Darlene – as if to say “It’s for you – go ahead”.

I’m not sure how this relationship will evolve. I have fears of little squirrel houses and feeding schedules. I worry that I will wake up to find the girls holding Hoppy like a cat in the living room – stroking his fur while he … does whatever squirrels do when they are content.

But it does prove to me that we are in a friendlier neighborhood.

Even the wildlife drops by to welcome you.

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