Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Monday the family spent the afternoon at Camelback Tubing Park. It was fun, but I could do without the long lines waiting to get to the top of the hill.

What was the most interesting was the people watching. There were a large group of Orthodox Jews who were there enjoying the snow. It was just odd seeing the women with their long skirts and ski pants underneath.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Caro Christmas 2008

This is a typical Christmas Eve with my family... music, food, dancing, laughing...Good times.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Top 10 Christmas Songs

It's a strange Christmas this year. It's comes on the tail end of a downer year, but it's not without its own kind of magic.

I believe in Santa Claus. He might not ride around the world in a sleigh, but I know he's delivering his gifts when I get to spend the holidays with my family and friends.

Music also plays a particularly special role during this season. It instills messages of peace and hope and it brings me back to my childhood when I would try and wait up all night trying to catch Santa in the act. My parents were none too pleased.

So here is a list of my Top 10 favorite Christmas songs.

10. Wonderful Christmas Time - Paul McCartney
9. Where Are You Christmas - Faith Hill
8. Last Christmas - George Michael
7. Christmas Don't Be Late - The Chipmunks
6. Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano
5. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Bing Crosby
4. Something About Christmastime - Bryan Adams
(I couldn't find a video for this song, so here's Bryan's other Xmas one!)
3. Do They Know Its Christmas - Band Aid
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen
1. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon

Merry Christmas to you and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Connection

I was having a lame Saturday. I didn't want to stay in, but I didn't want to spend any money. I hopped on to the 'Things to Do Around Princeton" site and saw that there was a free concert at Rutgers. Good! I put out an open invite on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to meet me. No responses. Whatever.

I went out in crappy weather to Rutgers. It was the Rutgers Alumni Wind Symphony ensemble. I love watching live music. It's so moving to me So personal. Magical how a collection of notes could make something so beautiful.

photo by jkl; katI liked picking out the parts each instrument was playing. The flutes, clarinets, french horns, oboe, trombones, tubas, trumpets, saxophones. But I loved the percussion section the most. They all changed between different instruments, often within one song. Chimes, xylophone, various drums, timpani, cymbals, triangle, wood blocks, tambourine, jingle bells.

For the time I was there I forgot about the world and just focused on the music. Concentrated on specific instruments, then let my mind go to absorb the entire symphony play together. I watched the conductor wave his baton leading the ensemble, all connected to him keeping time.

My favorite part was the Christmas Finale -- a medley of Christmas carols that the audience was encouraged to sing along. At first I was shy and thought it was silly, but soon I was singing along and turning into complete mush. I was singing despite my teary eyes and the sobs stuck in the back of my throat trying to escape.

I was singing in a theater with a few hundred strangers, but there was a connection that I felt that I hadn't felt in a long time. It was strange, and comforting and beautiful. It was good to be a part of something, no matter how fleeting. It made the loneliness go away for a little while.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This was taken on Wednesday. Pretty, right? Tomorrow evening we're going to get hit with a huge storm that supposed to take over the East Coast. This might be just an appetizer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Over the edge

I haven't been very shy in writing about my frustrations with work, but today I just wanted to cry.

I'm a project manager in a very small (12 people) company that creates online training courses for companies. The type of projects that I work on are 'off-the-shelf' or minimally customized compliance courses for pharmaceutical companies. We partner up with another company that develops the content. We take their content and pretty much cut and paste the content into our home-grown rapid-development tool (RDT).

The development life cycle is around 10 days from when the content has been approved by the client. In those 10 days:
  • the text is imported in the RDT
  • audio recording is scheduled, received, edited and added
  • new graphics are produced
  • Beta is presented to the client on our client extranet

We have a suite of different compliance courses, so clients typically choose one from our library and apply minor modifications to it -- policies specific to the company, or changing "your company" to the company name to make it seem more custom.

Really, it's not difficult to develop one of these courses. After a year of doing it, it's become more and more like monkey work to me. The skills needed to do the work are cutting/pasting text, Photoshop, audio editing, and some XML code updates. If there are functionality changes, I'll let the Flash developers take care of that, but there are even some Flash updates that I'm able to do. So because many of the tasks are within my skillset, I took over about 80% of the developments of my projects. I became a Project Doer more than a Project Manager.

For the longest time I saw it as a benefit that I was able to be my own production team. If I needed something done, I didn't have to wait my turn for one of the developers or graphic artists to become available; I just did what I needed to do. I was pretty self-sufficient and was left alone to get things done because my projects were getting done quickly and mainly under budget.

But as I became the Project Doer, I became less of a Project Manager. Because of the short life cycles and the minimum resources needed (me), creating detailed timelines didn't seem to be so important. Clients were always delaying feedback and I'd wind up spending more time adjusting schedules than doing any production work. Reporting on status to my boss was also kind of a joke, too. There was little organization in the project manager department. There are no documented processes on anything that is done. No consistent use of project management tools for the oversight of all the active projects and there was no enforcement from my manager or anyone else on the management team to use any tools. To me, it was a lot of make it up as you go along.

When I started there a year ago, I had ideas of implementing some project management methods, tools... anything that could be used to create some process that we could use consistently. They never really got off the ground because they didn't get the buy in needed from management to keep it going. Billable projects got in the way, the learning curve needed to use Microsoft Project Server seemed to be too high, or it just didn't seem to be important enough to anyone. So after a while, I just gave up trying to work on something that would benefit the department. I was tired of getting shot down. I just became focused on what I needed to do to get through the day.

In the meantime, I've been going to grad school to get my masters degree in education and become a Instructional Designer. I love the challenge of taking raw, dull content and turning it into a relevant, engaging and meaningful training course. It allows me to use my creative, logical and analytical mind all at once. But it kills me when I see the stuff that we're building. So boring. So mind-numbing. I don't even think the user interface is very good. In a nutshell, I'm not very proud of what's delivered. The content is developed by our content partners and our company owners are so attached to that damn RDT. There are some battles that can't be won. That in itself often makes me frustrated about the work I do.

But today almost put me over the edge.

I had just sent an email to the owner of the company asking if they would sponsor my registration to an upcoming eLearning conference as a career development opportunity for Instructional Design. Then in a completely unrelated matter, I get called into a meeting with the owner and my manager because a client was having audio problems with a course that I recently deployed. In addition to bandwidth problems they were having, the audio files in the course weren't compressed correctly and were too large.

"Who did the audio editing?" asked the owner, knowing full well it was me. Who else did the audio work on my projects.

"I did."

So he went on about how he and my manager had standards for editing and compressing audio so they aren't huge files that hog bandwith. (To which I'm thinking, "Oh you have standards? Are they shared? How the hell am I supposed to know that? It's not like we have a process for anything else in this place.")

But instead I respond, "Ok. That's good to know."

"It's also good for you to ask." And he leaves the room.

I may as well have been punched in the solar plexus. I felt like such an idiot.

I so much want to be able to come up with excuses. To lay the blame on management for not having processes or guidelines, or anything that would make me feel like I'm not making things up as I go along. But I do have to take some responsibility for myself. The problem is that I don't know where that separation line is.

And then I realize that I don't even want to do this job. I don't want to be a project manager -- especially this bastardized version of one. I wanted to just give up and tell them to fire me.

Then fear set in. Because I know I need to make a change, but I'm terrified to take the steps needed to do so.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Columbus Circle Snowflakes

Columbus Circle Snowflakes

I had a great weekend in NYC, but I'm much too lazy to write about it. Especially now that it's two days later and I still have homework to do. But here's a pretty picture of the hanging snowflakes at the Time Warner mall in Columbus Circle. They change color and every 15 minutes, they're synchronized to holiday music and fake snow is blown from the top of the atrium.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sign of the Apocolypse

I have started drinking coffee at work. Me. Drink Coffee. Not because I like the taste, but because I'm just trying to keep my fingertips warm.

Monday, December 01, 2008