Friday, September 28, 2007

Another Case Study in Attitude

My Dad plays trumpet with the DC Alte Kameraden. This year, he was kind enough to put my name on the guest list for German Beer Night - their biggest concert of the year.

German Beer Night is held in a large hangar near Dulles Airport. It serves as a base for the German Armed Forces Command and is hosted by the officers and soldiers who work there.

Every year, the German Military sends a large plane filled with beer, bratwurst, saurkraut, and German Military Band members to Virginia for this event - one of the hottest tickets in DC. 3 services (Army, Navy, Air Force) are represented. From what I can tell - the soldiers look forward to this event all year. A few highlights:

- They gave the guest list to the Lieutenant Colonel for safe keeping. His eyes lit up when he saw the boyfriend's Prussian last name and heard his attempts to pronounce it correctly (the pronunciation became more "Americanized" during WWII, the spelling didn't). And he had a great time flirting with all of the female guests as they entered the compound.

- The 3 star army general (at least, I think that was his rank) giving a master class on how to tap beer without the foam. "Zees is how you poar bier!" banging the stein with the correct amount of force to burn off some of the foam. I think this guy is planning to retire and become a beer garden bartender. Either that or they teach proper tapsmanship in German Officer school....

- The German Military Band - the some of the best musicians in the country - playing bad 80s English technopop in and singing in German (full uniform, of course). Of course, the American "German Band" played traditional polkas.

- Soldiers across the services dancing and drinking with each other and their civilian guests (to polkas, german military marches, and the aforementioned bad 80s English technopop sung in German). Also in German.

- The best part of the evening: Watching the band leader for Alte Kameraden leading the orchestra with a stuffed chicken puppet. By mid-way through the evening, I suspect they could have played the Chicken Dance and Beer Barrel Polka ad nauseum and no one would have noticed. I think both bands played each song at least 5 times during the evening. And I think somewhere in the set was a polka about a crustacean.....

The folks of the German Military, practically across the board, took great pleasure and pride in hosting this event. They had decorated the hangar with balloons, beer banners, parachutes, christmas lights and camo-nets. They focused on the details to make it as close to a "real" Oktoberfest beer garden as the ones back home - long tables too close to each other, pitchers to pour into steins, multiple beer stops, traditional German-brand condiments (their ketchup is less like Heinz and more like KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce - without the liquid smoke), and lots (and lots) of bratwurst. The soldiers were willing to answer guest's questions about their culture and some of the flags hanging on the wall (even if their English wasn't particularly strong) and almost all of them seemed to have a great time.

That made a HUGE difference.

To the ladies and gentlemen of the German Armed Forces Command at Dulles Airport - you folks sure know how to throw a party. Thank you!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Case Study in Attitude

This "getting a life" project seems to be working......

Wednesday evening, I took great pleasure in watching the Washington Nationals come from 5 runs back and beat the New York Mets.

The Nats are nowhere NEAR making the playoffs. And yet these boys have embraced the "spoiler" role to glorious effect. They've swept the best team in the National League, have 14 wins thus far in September and closed out RFK with a win.

What impresses me most about the Nats - their attitude.

Interviews tend to focus on how their strategies for improvement. The guys on the team seem genuinely likeable. And when you watch the game in person, it is apparent that these folks genuinely enjoy playing together and trust each other implicitly.

There are 2 other things about the Nats that has me impressed with the job Manny Acta did this season (despite the under .500 record):

- He gave Dmitri Young a chance to salvage his career. A case study in how to appropriately provide second chances....

- He built a culture that quickly absorbs acquired players and call ups(Hanrahan - I hope you stay in the majors!).

And he did it in less than a year....

This bodes well for next season.

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Let's look at the alternative - the Baltimore Orioles.

I have rooted for the Orioles since I was a little girl growing up in Northern Virginia. I lived in Baltimore for 7 years as an adult. I bleed Orange and Black.

But it's hard for me to root for them any longer. And it's not about a losing season (or 2, or 10). It's the ugly grey cloud that hangs over that entire organization.

So what are the symptoms of a team gone bad?

- Individuals try to "cheat" the system: The O's have the most players (past and present) cited in various steroid scandals (Which, sadly, tars them, even if they are innocent). Players that immediately come to mind (remember, these are just folks who have been linked - they are not necessarily guilty): Gibbons, Palmero, Tejada, Sosa, Roberts, Grimsley, Segui, Tatis, Hairston. They have been talking to lawyers and getting their medical records subpoenaed. Not a good sign....(Interesting blog post on the topic from The Grand National Championships)

- Regular displays of temper: Daniel Cabrerra just came back from a 6 game suspension - not for accidentally throwing the ball at the batter's head, but for attempting to "confront his opponents." He's just the most recent example....

- Team members start fighting with each other: See Payton v. Mora. If folks are fighting in the dugout in full view, imagine what is actually happening in the clubhouse behind closed doors. I'm certain it is NOT pretty.....

- The focus is on "getting through this" rather than on how to improve right now: Compare this article and David Trembly's comments about the season (Uh, Trembley - I think a little stress might be a good thing) and this article with Manny Acta's comments about Felipe Lopez' slump. See the difference?

- Individuals outside the team stop caring: Brian Roberts is absolutely right to be upset that the fans have quit caring. And, from what I've been able to tell over the years, he's been a pretty mild-mannered guy. To have a respected player call out the FANS (as misguided as that sounds) tells me that this is one frustrated person.

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Looking from the outside - if I were a ball player, it strikes me that the Nats, losing record and all, would be a more fun and productive place to work than the O's.

As a fan - I can sense that something is rotten inside the O's organization. Tough to support that....

I hope that Acta's work and positive influence pays off next year.

Mr. Trembley - It may be a good idea to drive down I-95 and pay Mr. Acta a social call this winter....

Fantasy Football

(note for international readers - I'm talking about American football, not Association football/soccer)

After my experience with Fantasy Golf (I got up to the 61st percentile before finally losing interest 1/2 way through the season), I had been convinced that I have no business doing fantasy anything. It seemed to require more mental bandwidth than I was willing to give to any project of this sort.

Then I was suckered into the abyss called Fantasy Football.

There are a few important differences between Fantasy Golf and Fantasy Football:

1) My friends roped me into this one. As a result, there is a greater social factor to participation than in Fantasy Golf. Draft Day - we went to a bar with our laptops (how geeky is this) and did a face-to-face participatory draft. Smack talk is so much more satisfying when you can see the facial reaction of the recipient.

2) Because my friends roped me into this, there is more encouragement (enforcement) for participation. They constantly remind me to check my lineups and make sure that I have people who are actually PLAYING in my lineup (unless that person is playing against me, in which case they become suddenly silent....)

3) There are more people to keep track of. In Fantasy Golf - you have 4-8 people. 4 playing, 4 on the "bench". In the league that I'm in, I have playing: 1 quarterback, 3 wide receivers, 2 running backs, a tight end, a kicker, and an entire defense (thankfully - we don't have individual defensive positions in this league). On my bench I have some running backs, 1 wide receiver, and 1 quarterback. That reminds me, I need more wide receivers......

4) It's easier to pretend that skill is involved. In Fantasy Golf, unless you are playing with Tiger Woods, it's a gamble to see whether you get points. The golf gods seem to smile or frown at a particular player at random. In Fantasy Football, past performance is a better indicator of future performance - LaDanian Tomlinson's (San Diego Chargers) current stats notwithstanding.....

5) There are more variables. In Fantasy Golf - it's the player against the course. In Fantasy Football, you have to look at the individual matchups for practically every game that week. Of course - if you are fortunate enough to have a super-good person playing to their potential, you'll get lots of points no matter what. Sadly - I don't have super-good people playing to their potential (Drew Brees (QB - New Orleans Saints) - I'm talkin' to you!!!!)

I can see why most of the men in the office love playing fantasy football. It gives them an excuse to slack in front of the TV for an entire day (and Monday night) while keeping track of statistical minutia. Add a beer (or two) and you have most of my male friends' idea of a blissful day. To add to the appeal, they can then spend the entire week "researching" (i.e.reading sports headlines) for the next week's matchups and talking avatar smack to each other.

I know that I am learning more about football than I ever really cared to playing Fantasy Football. I'm sure there are some more advanced skills I'm practicing as well (making decisions based on research?). Right now, those escape me....

If you'll excuse me - I have to double-check my lineup for week 4.....

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More Adventures in Team Sports - Bowling

The bocce team decided that we were so successful at bocce (we actually WON a game....OK, admittedly it was because the other team forfeited...but still!....) we would try our hand at another sport. Bowling.

Our bocce captain is a life-long bowling freak. He has a bowling ball named the "Black Widow" with fingertip holes, a fancy bowling brace, and a 165 pin average.

The rest of us - well, one of us is OK (I think he's averaging 111 right now). The rest of us are happy to keep the ball out of the gutter.

Much to our chagrin... we are in first place after 6 weeks. By a LOT!!!!

This is a game where it helps to be a noob - most of us have ridiculous handicaps. The big advantage to this - if you have even a remotely good game (say, 10 pins over average) - you can wipe good bowlers out. It's incredibly satisfying to beat bowlers with their custom bowling balls, pretty shoes and fancy throws...

My average is currently 89. So they give me 111 pins per game (bowling handicaps are 200 minus the average number of pins)

Last night was one of our best nights ever. I got 118, 141, 118. Considering that over 100 is an incredible game for me, the fact that I got 3 in a row makes me wonder what is in the beer at the Bowl America this week.

Of course, the bummer about doing so well is that my average is slowly increasing. This hurts when your best shot is the gutterball.....

The best part about this experience - the incredible supportiveness. If one of us hits more than 5 pins - we're cheering like jacked-up freaks. If one of us (me) has a gutterball special (or my specialty of 0/10 spares) - we cheer and rib each other mercilessly. I'm suspecting that having played other games together before (and the fact that only one of us takes this at all seriously) is really helping our performance. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we also know what it takes to motivate the others.

As I have mentioned before, I am NOT a fan of team sports. Too many bitter experiences with too many hyperactive type A people who forget you are playing a GAME.

The experience with bocce, and now with bowling, makes me realize that team sports (and team endeavors in general) can be positive. A group who understands how to motivate each other, incredible supportiveness, perspective, and a sense of humor seems to make all the difference.

Motivational Problems

I have an admission to make....

It's getting harder for me to come up with interesting blog posts. From what I can tell, there are a number of reasons for this.

1) I'm having a hard time coming up with uninterrupted time. I spend most of my time on help desk calls these days. As soon as I get any sort of flow going, another help desk call comes in. I'm not going to outline why this is the case Read my past blog posts on the EHR upgrade project from April / May. Let's just say the chickens are coming home to roost..... And it's depressing enough that I REALLY don't want to write about it. Besides, saying "I told you so" is just not that satisfying when you have to live with the results every day....

2) Because of the system instability, a number of projects have either been put on hold until we get things stable. After 5 years of very intensive work, my work life has finally slowed somewhat. I've been working on embracing this new rhythm. I'm making it a point NOT to get involved in every little thing. I've been go go go for so long, that it had to crash at some point. I'm still getting stuff done, but for the first time in years - I'm not being pressured.

Work has also partially slowed down by circumstance. The person I have been forced to keep on my eLearning project has stopped doing her piece of the work in a timely manner. All stuff she could get done in 3 hours at most. I had to wait a month and a half for the first small thing I asked her to do. Admittedly she's busy, but I'm now having to sic the boss on her every few weeks, since it's not my job to be her enforcer. And so, I wait and busy myself with strange little experiments. Maybe I'll talk about those in my next few blog posts.....

3) Because it's been slow, I'm finally getting the opportunity to look at things OTHER than education/technology/eLearning/computers. This is really important because I fear I am becoming something of a one-trick pony. I can only do that for so long before I become depressed. There is so much neat stuff out there in the real world and I don't want to be one of those people whose life is spent in front of the computer. Bad enough I spend 60+ hours a week on the thing. I want to use more senses than just the site of the monitor, the touch of the keyboard, and the clickety clack of fingers on buttons

4) Life circumstances are also encouraging me to spend more time with my real world friends and family. It's incredibly important for me to re-establish balance in that portion of my life. Thankfully, the change of attitude is a result of positive events rather than the usual motivators of death and illness.

I am blessed with such great real world friends, a loving family, a fantastic boyfriend, and an incredibly supportive virtual community.

These people remind me that, in the long term, it is the person to person relationships that make life important, not necessarily our "accomplishments."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Opportunities for Comparison

Monday, we had a meeting to kick off the second part of our major IT systems upgrade. This time, we are going to focus on the scheduling and billing systems.

There are a few very important differences between this project and the Electronic Medical Record upgrade:

- The product is mature. It was released 1 year ago. As a result, other early adopters have found the bugs and fixed them.

- The vendor has already gone through multiple upgrades and installations of this product. They know all of the pitfalls during installation and, during the kickoff meeting, were able to provide concrete advice for how to prepare our site.

- The product is legitimately more intuitive. Items seem to be located in the exact place they should be for the natural workflow of the day. You can also click on links that go exactly where you expect them to go. BIG improvement over our EMR.....

- The timeline is realistic. We will be live on the upgrade 90 days after the kickoff. The product will not force a complete change of workflow. The benchmarks are aggressive, yet achievable with a little bit of focus. Since this is a more mature product, we anticipate less trouble-shooting and problem reporting - more actual testing. That will be a FANTASTIC change of pace.

- The training challenge is less difficult. Since the interface is more intuitive, training will be less cumbersome and can be more focused on changes and improvements to their current workflows. We can also use the opportunity to reiterate some policies and practices that tend to be forgotten in the heat of the day. We also have far fewer people to train. Only front-desk staff, secretaries, and some clinical support staff - no docs, no residents, no med students. We will catch the other members of the clinical support staff who irregularly use the scheduling system once the mission critical folks are comfortable.

- The interface is less customizable. I find this to be a GREAT thing - less support problems, less decision-making on what stuff should look like. Also, it will make it much easier to develop later documentation, tutorials, and training that applies to the whole organization.

Maybe it's the meds that I'm on, but I'm feeling a lot less anxious about this upgrade than I did about the EMR upgrade.

Now if only we could resolve the ongoing problems with our EMR......

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dealing with Unforseen Variables

Of course, as with any change management project, unforseen variables occur at the most fragile part of the change. How these variables are dealt with - by both the change manager (me) and those inflicted (Spike and Chainsaw) - determines the long-term success of the change.

Soon after I posted last night, the boyfriend calls to inform me that we have to take Kaia in for the weekend. Turns out a beloved family cousin died and the family is going to the funeral in Florida.

Kaia is the boyfriend's dog. She was a faithful companion to him throughout college and into his adult years. Since he moved back to DC, Kaia has lived with the boyfriend's sister since she has a more flexible schedule and more room to roam.

The apartment is familiar to Kaia. She visits regularly when the sister is out of town. This time, something is amiss. Where is her favorite chair? (In the dumpster - the stuffing left little orange puffballs all over the carpet). And where are the cats that she's smelling......

I locked the cats in the bedroom to see how Kaia would react to the new smells. She smelled around, but didn't bark and didn't try to break down the door to get to the cats. Once she was satisfied that what she smelled was accurate, she went back to her 2nd favorite spot underneath the coffee table.

I let the cats out of the bedroom. Spike and Chainsaw had decided that Chainsaw, being the bigger kitty, should go first. Spike following close behind. No hissing. No running. No ruffled fur. Just curiosity and a healthy distance.

Satisfied that what he saw was accurate - and not feeling particularly brave - Spike slowly walks back to the bedroom and safety.

Chainsaw, in the meantime, decides that obtaining his favorite spot on the couch is more important than possible harm and cautiously makes his way past Kaia. He eventually makes himself comfortable on my lap - Kaia watching the entire time.

So Kaia, Spike, and Chainsaw have quickly reached a comfortable equilibrium. With little drama - as I speak - Spike is lying on my arm and "helping" me draft this post. Chainsaw is lying in another hiding spot watching me and Kaia (gotta make sure she doesn't do anything sudden). Kaia is lying in her favorite spot watching Chainsaw watching her.

The next 24 hours or so will be key, but I sense this change management project is going much smoother than anticipated.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moving as Educational Experience

This is an indicator of how much one year of blogging has changed the way I view the world - I found an analogy to education through moving.

Spike and Chainsaw have been with me for 12 years, through 3 states and 8 households. Change is NOT their forte. They like the pattern's they've set for themselves and make it very clear to me when something is amiss.

From watching them - I'm see that acceptance of radical change happens in phases.

Status quo - all of the furniture is in the proper place, smells "right" and has the obligatory layer of cat fur. Spike patrols the joint and gives me regular "state of the beastie" updates - usually first thing in the morning and as soon as I get home from work. Chainsaw is the "guard kitty" and makes sure I am within eyesight and petting distance. All is right with the world.

Stage 1 - the initial trauma. Each cat has their own reaction to being shoved in a carrier and driven 5 miles. Chainsaw complains loudly and lets me know that he is being TORTURED and that the "pain" is UNBEARABLE. Spike whimpers in a corner and poos in his box.

Stage 2 - introduction to the change. The cats are set free from the carriers and invited to investigate the apartment (after appropriate cleaning of cats and carriers - see above). Spike wanders around to investigate the new surroundings. Chainsaw attempts to find a hiding place (I haven't moved my furniture yet), complains loudly about the lack of hiding spots and the indignity of the whole thing and attempts to escape out the door.

Stage 3 - a search for safety. Both cats find hiding spots in closets to rest and recuperate from the change. Spike performs occasional reconnaisance to determine the location of food, litterbox, and feeder woman - reporting his findings to Chainsaw, who is still in the closet.

Stage 4 - getting comfortable (early adopter version). Spike decides that the environment is not so bad. In an attempt to gain some feeling of control over his surroundings, he tasks himself with the job of supervising the move - following my friends around and talking to them as they unload boxes and furniture. Chainsaw is still in the closet.

Stage 5 - challenges to the change. A friend, unloading books, accidentally drops a blender near Chainsaw - who has come out from his hiding place looking for food. Chainsaw races back to the closet. Finding the closet door closed, he makes the "I'm being TORTURED, my life SUCKS and I HATE YOU ALL!" sound until someone opens the closet door. He does not come out until I physically drag him out about 12 hours later.

Stage 6 - getting comfortable (change-phobic version). Realizing that things have stabilized, (and after I spend 2 hours on the couch petting him), Chainsaw begins to investigate his surroundings. For the next 2 days, he will locate all appropriate hiding places that allow him to keep an eye on me while staying someplace safe (i.e. where blenders won't fall on his head). He will come out from the various hiding places to follow me around when I am not within eyesight.

Both cats are starting to revert to the status quo state and are beginning the process of developing patterns around their new environment. Last night - Chainsaw started hanging out on his favorite spot on the couch - near my head and within petting distance. This morning, I was greeted with the state of the beastie address from Spike and a list of complaints from Chainsaw. Though all is not quite right with the world - I think they will have their patterns pretty much set by the end of the week.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

If I Seem to Blog Irregularly....

It's because I'm in the process of moving a whopping 5 miles.

Of course, doing this means that I have to get all of my utilities reconfigured. Especially my Internet. Blah.

They make it sound so easy on TV.....

So my internet access is going to be somewhat sporatic over the next couple of weeks until I get settled in. And my mental energy is being spent on the lengthy moving to-do list rather than this blog....

Unless you all WANT to read my moving to-do list.... (and I'm kinda doubt that).

So - do me a favor....play the games and answer the question:

"What is your favorite game and why?"

There's an educational reason behind this. Really...

Besides, we don't play enough......

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Promised Question

OK - so I'm a bit late on the question...

And I'm hoping everyone was away from their computers this weekend :' )

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Of the 4 games - which was your favorite and why?

I'm supplying links to the widgets below since the widgets did not show up in the feeds.....

Frogger
You Don't Know Jack"
Sudoku
Asteroids

Please post your comment on your favorite game. I'll be summarizing the comments next Wednesday.

I look forward to hearing from you!!!!!