Sunday, August 26, 2012

T minus 15 days

The major updates from the past week are:
- I had my last day at my company
- I submitted my pre-employment forms
- This all became real when I sold our 105-pound plasma tv (a weight that's not exactly conducive to moving)

I recognize there were many signs before now that indicated this was all "real".  Flying to DC to interview, going through the medical and security clearances, signing the appointment offer saying I agree to join, and scheduling the movers.  But when I sold my, the plasma, that did it.

Another sign: I'm officially in between jobs.  Surreal.  Exciting.  There are a great many words that apply.  It was hard to leave everyone, but we think the experience will be worth the change.  I'll also find ways to keep in touch with everyone, like this website.

I don't have many administrative updates this week; I had a few questions on the pre-employment forms that got answered late last week so I turned them in this week.  As it turns out, I only had to turn in 15 of the 23 forms at this point.  Nice.

It's just two weeks before starting orientation.  As a reminder of the overall schedule:
2011-Dec-16: Construction Engineer vacancy announcement closed
2012-Apr-19: Passed Oral Assessment
2012-Jun-12: Notified that I was added to The Register
2012-Jul-13: Received official appointment offer e-mail
2012-Aug-22: Submitted pre-employment forms
2012-Aug-28-30: UAB and HHE packing
2012-Sep-1-4: Drive from Denver to DC (Note to State security: don't worry, I won't post stuff like this in the future.  I believe I'm anonymous enough at this point that it doesn't matter.  Then again, I believe a lot of things...)
2012-Sep-10: First day of orientation

At this point in the process, we're entirely focused on moving.  This hasn't been an ordinary move for us as we're downsizing dramatically: we're expecting to live in about 1/3 of our current space.  Good thing we like each other.
The packers will be here Tuesday through Thursday and we're not exactly sure what we're in for.  We're trying to create three piles: travel/car stuff, UAB (short term shipping), and HHE (long term storage).  We've read various bits of advice for improving the experience, such as tagging items with different-colored sticky notes, buying donuts, and offering massages.  We're just so mired in the minutia now that it's hard to see the forest.  It seems a bit wrong that I'm looking forward to an 1800-mile drive as a vacation (although now that I think about it, we did almost exactly the same thing in Ireland a few years ago) (although now that I think about that, the 1800 miles in Ireland was over two weeks, not four days).  For some examples of this week's logistical items:
- Encrypted our external hard drives and USB drives (yeah, I know - my techie friends will be very disappointed in me for not doing this sooner)
- Reviewed our files and shredding many boxes of old records
- Sold and gave away many more items, requiring varying amounts of effort

In the haze and haste of our packing extravaganza, my wife pointed out tonight's thought-provoking/accidental centerpiece for dinner:

For my final retrospective on the top practical jokes in my 15 years at my current company:

1 - The Box.  The same deviously-minded co-worker I referred to last week quickly developed a reputation as a practical joker with a variety of tricks: graphite-coated vaseline on eyeglasses and phone earpieces, decorating unsuspecting people's motorcycles, and various other ideas.  This was early in our company's life, when were were about 10 people total.  He engaged one of our bosses who worked in the office next to his and the war of jokes went back-and-forth.

In reviewing this early history with a different co-worker close to the situation, I recently discovered an unusual twist: I may have triggered a significant step in the evolution.  I noticed that the practical joker happened to have a skylight over his desk, and that he wedged a piece of foam board in the skylight opening to reduce the amount of light in his area.  For reasons I can't quite explain, I decided to remove the board, pour all of the hole punch paper dots I could find on top of the board, and very carefully wedge it back in place.  He blamed the ensuing mess on the boss he'd been battling with, and evidently it prompted a major retaliatory strike.  Oopsies.

He ended up developing the Little Boy of the exchange: a certain type of box rigged with a modified rat trap and internal platform that could "deliver a payload".  It was ingenious.  He described the extensive testing required to get the right tension for the trigger mechanism.  After selecting a payload, he carefully applied labels to the box addressed to our boss to make it look like it was from a contractor.  He picked a perfectly random day to set it on his desk after the mail had arrived.  I was in an office one door away when he opened it.

The sound was incredible.  Not the boss' moaning, which was very satisfying in itself.  My jaw dropped as I heard the sound of the hundreds if not thousands of tiny bird seeds bouncing on the plastic desk chair mat.  No vacuum was powerful enough to clean them all.  We moved offices years later and our boss was still finding bird seed _in books_ in the bookshelf behind his desk.  I discussed payload options later with my co-worker, and we agreed he was right to not use toner.  After The Box, peace was achieved.

Fast forward several years to an office holiday party.  I started a white elephant gift exchange that we've continued for, well, 15 years now.  My co-worker suggested that he resurrect The Box, and evidently we didn't think the worst thing that could happen was all that bad.  We'd grown to over 20 people but we still felt like we knew everyone well enough that the joke would be appreciated no matter who opened it.  We had no way of controlling who would pick a given present, so my co-worker prepared the box, wrapped it, and set it with the rest of the gifts.  Most of the office participated, so we sat down for the gift exchange and a name was drawn at random to start it as usual.  When we realized the first name was the same boss who'd received the bird seed box years ago, the three of us that knew about the box went into high alert.  The boss got up, walked over to the stash of about 20 boxes...and picked The Box.  I barely contained myself as he unwrapped the box, set it in front of him, and opened it.  Once again it launched its payload, which this time was a combination of bird seed and paper hole punches.  It ran into his lap and down his shirt.  Everyone howled with laughter, it was unbelievable: the odds seemed so vanishingly small, yet it obviously was possible.  It was a very proud moment for The Box maker.

This goes down as the top practical joke for me because of not only the history and the incredible odds of the same boss picking first and choosing The Box, but because of the impressive legacy: every time anyone in our office who was there opens any box, they do so very, very carefully.

(This post written while listening to The Cure Fascination Street.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

T minus 22 days

The major updates from the past week are:
- We scheduled our moving dates (starting just 9 days away) and had our pre-move survey with the mover
- We reviewed real estate options in the Virginia area and discussed related issues with an agent
- We established our new bank account in DC (that we assume will be more conducive to international management issues than our Colorado bank)
- We continued our massive possession downsizing efforts

This will be my last week at my company.  While it's quite hard to believe, the change became much more real to me when we scheduled the movers.  The self-imposed level of effort is a bit staggering, but I can't help but feel we have it incredibly easy compared to a family with kids.  That has the sound of a classic horror story setup.

Unfortunately our house is still not yet under contract.  This will be a nuisance (to put it mildly) if we haven't sold our house by the time we need to fund our permanent housing in DC.  We also still have a variety of extra furniture we've been unable to sell.  This will also be a nuisance if we move furniture to DC and then have to try to sell it there.  Logistics.

For this week's retrospective on the top practical jokes in my 15 years at my current company:

2 - Chickens.  My co-worker had a great relationship with his two sons.  In addition to the good times, he also had to mete out his share of parental guidance (punishment).  The story goes that, when his sons misbehaved, he would sometimes make them move a stack of cement blocks from one side of the backyard to another - and then back again.  He was also arguably the ring leader of practical jokes around the office, with a particularly devious - or creative - mind, depending on how you look at it.

Along came his 50th birthday: his sons and co-workers decided this would not be a single-day celebration.  In fact a seven-day celebration was in order, with each event building to a crescendo.  His co-workers went to great ends to make a conventional mess of his office, which was all in good fun.  We weren't involved in all of the events, so we waited to hear the stories.  One morning he came in a bit late after his sons had stacked a pile of cement blocks behind his truck overnight - he had to move them before he could get out of his driveway.

The next morning I was in early and happened to be present when one of his sons brought into his office - you guessed it - two chickens.  Let your imagination run wild with the absurdity and you'll begin to get a feel for what it was like.  Two doors down from my office, the chickens started by bawk-BAWKing, then settled down to clucking, then eventually just murmured quiet chicken sounds with occasional outbursts.  Trying to get work done was like trying to sleep in a hotel with random loud noises in the hallway - just as I settled in a bit, a chicken's bawk-BAWK would resonate down the hall.  Eventually I was laughing so hard I was crying.  I called a friend to try to convey the scene but I couldn't control my hysterical laughter and I had to hang up.

When he arrived, he knew something was wrong because his door was closed.  He carefully opened the door and saw the pictures below. 

After he stopped swearing, he got some work gloves from his truck, closed the door to his office, and started trying to catch the two chickens.  For the rest of us, this was a glorious flashback to the days of old-time radio before television, when the listener heard all of the sounds and imagined the pictures.  What I neglected to imagine was that an excited chicken getting chased would poop on the floor, desks, and even mid-way up the walls.

He did catch them eventually (the chickens, not the sons) and they were released to some homeowners a block away from our office who actually had chicken coops (strange zoning for central Denver); no chickens were harmed.  He then spent some significant time cleaning his office.  I must say to his sons: bravo gentlemen.  Bra-vo indeed.

You might think that was the end of it, but no.  Evidently the sons had two more days planned.  Rumor had it a goat was somehow planned for one of them.  However, the sons felt their message of love had been received and they skipped the final two rounds.  Raising the alert level to Chicken was adequate: a Goat Alert was unnecessary.

(This post written while listening to The Samples Finest Role.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

T minus 29 days

The major updates from the past week are:
- I received many responses to questions I posted to AAFSW Livelines
- We had our Clean Out the Bar party last night, which means I have just two weeks left at work
- My parents surprised us by showing up unannounced for the party, what an incredibly fantastic surprise!

I'm still working on resolving official questions on the pre-employment forms, packout scheduling, and other issues, but I'm very hopeful these issues will land this week.

AAFSW's Livelines Yahoo group has already been a great resource: many people responded to my questions on pre-orientation concerns.  I can't stress enough how much I appreciate the time so many members spent responding.  Obviously it's really reassuring to have information in a time of major flux.  I've forwarded the info to three other Construction Engineers in our September class - we're forming a concensus of opinion on what to prepare for and what we might expect.  For example, based on the AAFSW responses, we're expecting to complete the three week orientation class then start immediately at the Office of Construction Management.  This should mean our temporary housing per diem allowance will end, and we'll need to find permanent housing around the end of September.  Based on this, my wife and I are planning on getting to DC a few days before the orientation class starts to get hunting.

Unfortunately our Colorado house is still on the market.  Apparently SOMEone must've listed its haunting on the MLSS., this is embarrassing, BUT evidently I have to be crystal clear on this: I'm joking about the haunting.  Thanks Stambovsky v. Ackley.  Thanks a lot.  *facepalm*

I'm afraid I'm going to defer this
week's retrospective on the top practical jokes at my current company.  This afternoon I attended a memorial for a 36 year old friend who passed away.  My deepest condolences go to his wife and seven children.

(This post written while listening to Nick Drake Fruit Tree.)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

T minus 36 days

The major updates from the past week are:
- I got my appointment offer e-mail!
- I got my revised appointment offer e-mail!
- I got my revised appointment offer mailed package!

The appointment offer is the conventional employment offer.  It included or referenced 23 forms to complete.  Wow.  Off we go!

This is definitely seeming much more real now.  I have only three weeks left at work and only four weeks until we leave for DC.  I like to think that we've been diligent about our house cleaning and organizing, but our To Do list seems to be piling up faster than we're Doing, largely because of unanticipated issues that are pretty obvious in hindsight.  For example:
- We'd like to open a DC checking account that's geared for heavy traveling before we're in DC (we have this handled now)
- We need a new home mailing address to complete forms that are due before I start BUT we won't have our full temporary housing address until I start (we have this handled now...I think...only time will tell if The Plan works)
- We need to really start distinguishing between the three categories of all of our stuff (without physically labeling everything because our house is still on the market):
 1) Stuff we're bringing with us in our cars
 2) Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB) = 450 pounds of relatively small stuff to be shipped
 3) Household Effects (HHE) = long-term storage until training ends

We have lists everywhere for everything we've thought of so far.  (Hey, whaddya know: there IS an app for that.  We haven't actually been using it, but we probably should.)  Our recycling can is overflowing, and we've been very good about filling our garbage can each week with things we should've gotten rid of long ago.  I posted 9 things to Craigslist today alone (one of which already sold).  We've decided that our Clean Out the Bar party next weekend will include a silent auction for an incredible amount of stuff we don't need and haven't taken to Goodwill yet.  Looking for an inflatable globe beach ball?  Maybe you haven't [re?]discovered croquet yet.  This one's killing me, BUT: my life-size cardboard Han Solo is already in rough shape and I don't think he'll survive many moves - he deserves a nice retirement in a cool, dry place.

For this week's retrospective on the top practical jokes in my 15 years at my current company:

3 - Projects Doppelganger and Latex.  I'm breaking The Rules a bit here by picking two, but you'll get over it eventually.  I spearheaded both, which were played on two of my clients.  Fortunately I happened to know them well.  And lest you get the wrong impression, we're still friends today.

Project Doppelganger was suggested by a friend and I marvelled at its simple beauty.  One of my clients happened to have a lot of pictures of his family in his office.  I know what you're thinking.  "Did he have six pictures or only five?"  Well, to tell you the truth, with over 20 photos I kind of lost track myself.  So I printed 21 different pictures of myself (as many as I could find - it wasn't easy) and made a few extra copies, got into his locked office while he was out, and changed them.  It was disturbing.  And hilarious.  To me.

Project Latex celebrated another client's 50th birthday by filling his cubicle with almost 1000 balloons.  After you get the hang of it, it's not hard to add confetti to the balloons as you fill them with an air compressor.  They only very rarely blow up in your face and spray confetti everywhere.  And I do mean everywhere.  But this project wasn't completely without consideration to the victim: I included a balloon-deflating tool to help with the demolition - a small pet cactus.  Of course, it might've been more useful if I hadn't buried it under the balloons.  And on the seat of his chair for good measure.  This community effort included other quality additions like boxing up his work boots and gloves behind a sign reading "In Case of Non-Administrative Work, Break Glass".  We weren't completely heartless: we left a ShopVac so he could clean up after the mess he made.  Good times.

(This post written while listening to The Clash The Magnificent Seven.)