Bamidele O. Shangobunmi

JANG Speaks!: 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hey, it's my anniversary!

Today I quietly, silently celebrated my 1-year anniversary with PayPal.  Not surprisingly, it felt just like any other day:
  • Busy
  • Hectic
  • Stressful
  • Unstable
It ended like any other day too, with me wondering if I'll make it to the next anniversary.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why only content writers, should write content

Today our content team was asked to add the following note to a customer service page:
"Please do not hang up as this may delay your call..."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ooh, shiny new tires

For almost a week I've had a screw in one of my tires and have had to top off the air pressure almost daily.  When I finally got a bit of a break, I did about 2 solid hours of research to pick out a full set of replacements, since all of my treads were a little worse for wear.

When I called the local Wheel Works, much to my surprise, they had exactly the tires I wanted in stock. In fact, there was a 4 for the price of 3 special in their latest mailer!  (The guy on the phone actually swore I was looking at the mailer.)  I got the new set installed first thing the very next morning while I waited.

On my way to work, had an opportunity to test 'em out on a tightening S-curve offramp that has lots of runoff.  As I trail-braked into the tightening part, my back end suddenly let loose, out followed by fronts.  This, on a naturally understeering front-drive car.  I was able to save it, but yikes, that was a hairy moment.
I forgot that new tires need to be broken in.
My bad.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Signed, sealed delivered

This is why when I say I'll be done with a spec on October 1, I don't mean September 15.
After successive challenges from three project managers and four product managers, I stood my ground on an estimated completion date.  I haven't been slacking one single bit since then, and I was able to finish the spec. 
October 1. 
Delivered at 6:24pm.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why, people, why?

Some building 10 conference room names are being reassigned to different rooms, in the same building, the same floor.  I can understand the desire to refresh old or confusing names.  However, previously, for instance, the conference room named "Yen" has been in the south hall of floor 2.  Now, the name has been moved to a room in the north wing.  The name "Euro" moved up two floors.

For people who remember conference rooms by name, I expect this will be extremely disruptive for a time. Imagine someone running downstairs with their laptop & paperwork to catch an important meeting in "Dinar," only to realize that the room by that name is now on floor 4, where they just came from.

So much for the "if it ain't broke" rule hmm?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Another "new record" post

My last record-related post was clearly not at all enjoyable.  I'm not sure how to rank this one on the goodness/badness scale.  Today I moved the 500th email to my saved items folder... for just one project.  Just one!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Strangest work question ever

"Hey Bamidele, can you use mayo to shine plant leaves?"

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The job market is good

This week alone I've gotten calls from recruiters at Yahoo, Flixster, Amazon, and Ning.  I'm glad the market is doing well, it's always comforting.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Oh this is not good...

Someone who started in PayPal User Experience Design the same day as me, just left the company.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New record!

This is not the type of record I like to make or break. It's my personal record for longest commute to this job to date. It now stands at 1 hour 20 minutes flat. I can't wait for the 880/Mission Blvd. work to be completed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A quote from a company-wide IT systems update

"The POS system at the Orchard cafe may experience a brief loss of connectivity
during a code upgrade of the Locoweed firewall."

I can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

What goes around, comes around

Remember when I helped box up a neighbor's cube? Yeah, it wasn't so long ago. Well after spending 1 1/2 weeks away from my desk, hiding away in conference rooms in other buildings to focus on some particularly tough and time-sensitive work, I returned to this.

It even has a roof, made of old BAPs (big-ass posters).

There's only one entrance, and that's under the desk on one side.

I guess we're even! At least for now...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Tested the upcoming SimCity Societies

I had the honor of being in a group of 7 people who were the very first outside of Electronic Arts to play a fully-functioning version of SimCity Societies, the next game in the SimCity series. Of course an NDA prevents me from saying anything about what occurred during the test or mentioning anything that isn't already public knowledge, but fortunately there's a decent amount of public knowledge out there already, like this and this.

There are several big differences versus the original series:

  • No zoning. Rather than designating areas for given types of construction, you actually go in and place every single building yourself.

  • Like other modern entries under the Sim moniker, Societies is fully 3D, and you can freely rotate & zoom with the camera.

  • You don't construct a power grid or lay water mains -- fine details of infrastructure are handled automagically.

  • Some "The Sims"-like elements are introduced in the form of what they call "societal energies" that influence cultural and technological development of your society as a whole.

Browsing around the web a bit, it appears that serious SimCity fans aren't too happy. In fact, they're quite disappointed, and in some cases outraged. They like being city planners and watching their cities grow, rather than building them piece by piece. We'll have to see how it works out once it's released!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A classified internal eBay statistic

This evening an email went out company-wide offering reservations for free movie passes for the upcoming Simpsons movie. In all, 950 tickets were available.

All were claimed within 7 minutes of the sending of the email. Seven minutes. Seven.

Holding down the fort

More shenanigans today, this time with moving boxes. The worst part? We did this while that cubicle's resident was gone, then we simply left. The only way in or out is through a very small crawl space at the far end, under a wing of the desk. Here's hoping this person has a good sense of humor, eh?

It never happened

Would I ever conspire to procure and illegally transport a wheeled ottoman cabinet, with a coworker onboard, from a recently vacated corner of another building, down an endless hallway, at breakneck speed, dodging Facilities personnel, simply to aid in the color coordination of yet another coworker's cubicle?

Never. I would never do such a thing. How dare you even ask.

photo by iwm

Cease and Desist, I Insist

Yesterday I was made privvy to two sites that were using content copied & pasted from one of my own sites, without permission. With the help of legal council, I drafted formal Cease & Desist letters to the owners of each of the sites. Within four hours, one of the sites was offline. By this afternoon, the other had removed the copied content.

Justice: 2
Shameless plagiarists: 0

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Great Lasagna Catastrophe of 2007

So I'm down in the eBay Cafe, checking out the day's specials. Nothing jumps out at me, but lasagna sounds good, so I order one up. The guy asks, "Meat or veggie?" Oh, meat for me please, and can you put some extra meat in it? He takes it off the little shelf and plops it in the rotating heating oven. So far, so good.

Folks trickle in to get pizza from the same station, and their slices go into the same oven, and come out a few minutes later. My lasagna keeps going round, and round, and round. That's ok, lasagna is a lot thicker and they probably have a minimum amount of time they're required to put it in there to make sure it's really hot for health & safety reasons. Ok, that's fine.

A couple other folks come in and order veggie lasagnas. Their orders go into the oven too, in between slices of pizza that are being shuffled in & out. Ok, that's fine. One of the people who ordered the veggie version was this lady about as tall as my belly-button, and somehow she managed to squirm her way in front of me in the waiting line. That was annoying, but it didn't really matter because they serve your heated food based on the order in which you plased your order, not where you are physically stand. Ok, still so far, so good.

However, time seemd to be moving very, very slowly. Five minutes went by. Ten. The lasagnas continued to go round, and round, and round. People were getting very antsy & anxious, as was I. This was taking entirely too long. What if I had a meeting to go to? The Cafe folks may have nothing to do all day but prepare & serve food, but ordering & eating is something that doesn't get a lot of priority for me, so I need to finish the whole process with decent speed.

After about 15 minutes, the first veggie lasagna came out of the oven. Right after that, the guy extracted what I swore was my meat dish, and who tried to claim it but the amazing miniature woman who had slithered in front of me, still trying to pretend I wasn't there. I wasn't about to be wronged like that. I walked up and leaned in, essentially over her, reaching for the plate while confirming very loudly and clearly, "Meat? That's meat right?" Both the little woman and the Cafe guy said in unison, "Veggie." Hmm. Okay. That's just dandy now, isn't it. I was just annoyed. Now I was getting irritated.

As soon as that second lasagna was served up, though, the Cafe dude immediately started helping some pizza line folks who had been queueing up. Being the nice guy I am, I waited, knowing it would only take a matter of seconds for them to place their orders and for their pizza slices to be flicked into the oven. Well, another several minutes went by, and finally I practically jumped over the counter to interrupt one of the Cafe guys from his rounds of ignoring me. "Can I get my lasagna? I've been waiting for an unbelievably long time." He says "Oh, okay, meat or veggie?" You've got to be kidding me. Alright, maybe he has some sort of short-term memory loss. I'm going to maintain my composure, though. I'm determined. I respond as calmly as I can, "It's meat, I ordered it over 15 minutes ago -- it's right there in the oven." There was only one lasagna left in the oven. It wasn't hard to figure out. He took it out, boxed it, and sent me on my way. I paid at the checkout counter, and off I went back to my building, my floor, my desk. I opened the box expecting to have the best meat lasagna I've ever tried (made so by the fact that I was now starving, which tends to make everything taste 2x as good as it actually is). What did I find inside? Why, if it isn't a veggie lasagna. Freakin' A. That tiny vegetarian lady probably got herself a nice surprise by now. That'll teach her for trying to pull a smooth move on me & take my place.

Ah well, this veggie one smelled good anyhow, and like I said, I was starving, so this was going to be good. I carved out a nice round bite with a little bit of everything and dug in.

But something was not right.

What was this sensation I felt on my tongue? It was strange. Very strange. It felt a bit warm, but at the same time, a bit cold. Oh, no, was I burning my tongue? You know how if you've ever accidentally put a finger into really hot running water, it first felt cold for a fraction of a second? It was that sort of feeling, only the excruciating pain and fear that normally follows, wasn't following. I chewed it down, and took another bite, carefully this time right from the core. As I closed my mouth, I felt cold air inside. As I chewed, my teeth were chilled. Not only was it the wrong type of lasagna, but it was literally refrigerator cold, except for only the outermost 1/8th of an inch.

I ordered a quick hot premade meat lasagna, and walked out 20 minutes later with a cold veggie lasagna.

Worst food service experience, Ever.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Just when you thought it was safe...

Yeah, thought I had given up on this thing, didn't you? You should be so lucky! I've been around, I just haven't been around... here... if you know what I mean.

I've actually been doing some editing of my life over the past couple months, if you will. The stress of work had been growing steadily, and I reached a point where it was time to scale some things back, reprioritize, and start enjoying things more again on a day to day basis.

After a good deal of adjustment, work is still quite painful, but everything else is better. My RC projects have been getting a lot more love lately, and one I started over 4 years ago finally seems complete and is tearing up the road something terrible. The sites have been doing well since I finished moving them to their new servers, ending a long stretch of technical problems there. The forums have been mostly running themselves lately, so there's really been no stress from the hobby, just more fun and accomplishment then I've had in about 2 years now.

My "to-do" list is now delightfully devoid of any "must do" items and nothing has a date next to it. The most longstanding and difficult item on there is even close to completion. My financial plan is right on track and I haven't even spent any petty cash from my Q1 bonus yet. I've become progressively less inaccessible to friends, too, thanks to more free time opening up.

Far & away the best thing in my life recently, though, has been my girlfriend. We've been going out for 5 months now and I can't point to anything that's really gone wrong the whole time. She's down to earth, unselfish, funny, caring, sharp, plus hot & scrumptious (bonus!). Having a special someone is great. Having a special someone who you feel comfortable with able to share any feelings at any time, and who you know always has your best interests in mind is just heavenly. Thank you, life, for this gift.

Right now, I feel like a really, really lucky guy. I've just got to be careful not to "f" anything up.

A dog with no bark

I think most dogs are born wishing (or thinking) they were human. Well, this one was born wishing (or thinking) he's a chimpanzee:

The Safeway receipt to end all Safeway receipts

When it comes to grocery shopping, I like to follow the "less is more" principle. I shop less frequently, but get more items than your average bear each time out.

Well, the most recent time I went, I got so much stuff that my Club Card savings alone totalled to $40. The receipt is 24" long. Twenty-four. Inches. That's not including the sheet of coupons they give out or any of that jazz. Just the coupon.

But less is more, right? More or less.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I've been christened

Today I received a new honorary title from a colleague. Thank you, I think? From his email:
"You are the WoundHealer. He who walks with the Neosporin."

User research from Australia

Today our team attended a presentation of the executive summary from a multifaceted user study that was conducted with Australian teens. On the slide, "Things teens like to do," bullet point #3 was:
"Pawn noobs."

After the formal presentation was over, I got to give my team a dissertation on the origins & deep meaning of the non-word "pwn," which our Australian research partners obviously chose to write phonetically, accent & all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

PayPal has changed

The main My Account -> Overview page has been updated in production. I'm happy to say I had a part in making that change by brokering an 11th hour compromise between a visual designer & UI designer after a long and politically-charged stalemate. It really had nothing to do with me, my team, or my vertical, but I hate to see people getting nowhere fast when a little mediation can fix everything. I ended up directly with the final mockup, picking colors & border treatments. Account Overview is PayPal's most-viewed page, and this is the first actual work I've done that has made it live to the site.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Oh hhhelllll no...

My manager comes by escorting a gentleman I've never seen before, and introduces him as a new PMM who's going to be working in our vertical. I extend my hand and say I'm Bamidele and his expression changes and he shakes my hand really firmly and says,
"Oh you're Bamidele..."

What is going on!??!?!

"We've been watching you, Neo..."

(I'm going to be lazy and just copy & paste what I wrote in an instant messaging convo earlier.)

Okay that was REALLY FREAKY.

The main project I'm on is on this really accelerated schedule, and we're doing usability testing not next week but the week after that.

We've spoken with the manager of the prototypers to get a resource, and he's identified the person who is most likely going to do the prototype, but the prototypers need scenarios & mockups & stuff and we're behind on that.

So I wanted to go talk to the prototyper in person to get the dialog going & see what we can do on schedule... phased handoff, etc.

So I go to the cube and knock and introduce myself and the gal cuts me off, speaking in a very intense, dramatic, but quiet tone.
"I know you're Bamidele."


I ask, have we met before?
"No, but I know who you are."

Oh... oh... kay...

So we're talking briefly and she says give her 10 mins and she'll stop by to look at the wireframes. I'm like ok great, I sit... and she cuts me off again.
"I know where you sit"


...righty then.

She's at opposite side of the building. What the heck.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Friday, April 27, 2007

New word of the week

PayPal is just chock-full of interesting vocabulary. Today's literary revelation comes from a senior editor:


As in, "A robotic-sounding status message could really add to the user's uncomfortabilitiness."

An innocent mistake

Oh this was fun. There's been a long email thread about some feature requirements for an in-progress project, and a new technical product manager (TPM) was just added to the fray. In one of his first responses, he quoted & agreed with something I had said and referred to me as "her." He's never seen or heard of me before, so I guess the "ele" at the end of my name could be seen as a feminine "-elle" by someone who didn't know better, but for some reason I found it exceedingly comedic. I was actually sharing the fun with a co-worker when my phone rang. Who showed up on the caller ID? Why, if it wasn't that same TPM. I tried my best to go straight-faced, and when I picked up the phone, I mustered up the deepest voice I possibly could, and answered, "This is Bamidele..." The silence that followed on the other end was priceless.

I know, I'm mean. It was just too good to pass up.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blast from the Past

Today PayPal successfully brought back a UI designer who had gone off to work at Yahoo for a bit shy of a year. He used to be on the team I'm now on, and he stopped by to chat it up with folks, vets and newbies alike. In talking with me privately for a short stint, he noted that I had built up a solid reputation at the company.


Many thanks but, do I know you? I know you can't know me. What's goin on here...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yo JANG, what've you been up to?

What do you mean what have I been up to? You follow my blog don't you? Oh, I haven't written anything lately? Oh. I can see how that could be a problem. Sorry about that. Well, I think a better question would be, what have I not been up to lately? Alright smartaleck, blogging is an easy one. Too easy. Can we move on now? Thank you.

Work has continued to be "challenging," but I'm changing gears in that realm and continuing to try to find or make an area where I can be fully effective at making the PayPal site/application look & function better for its users (against all odds). I continued to be courted hard by recruiters, though, so I'm not too concerned about things not working out in the end. Regardless, I'm going to continue to do my best to make sure it does work out.

On my RC sites I've been pushing forward as hard as ever, nearly completing the migration of a site I bought about 1 1/2 years ago to its new and better home beside my own creations. I've also been getting back into my projects as well as pushing forward on reviews and videos on which I've remained way behind schedule. I've even finally gotten my feet wet with RC helicopters, something I've been planning to try for several years now.

I'm still driving the Ralliart hard while waiting for the Evo X to come out. No complaints yet, though my left knee is getting a little tired of using a manual tranny on the daily commute. Speaking of driving, yesterday I went back out to my favorite road in Marin County, only this time I only hit it at 50-70% since I had a passenger. I stopped at the halfway point and took a few new photos, to boot.

Oh, and those of you who check out my MySpace page may have noticed that my status recently changed from "single" to something else...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Don't tell anyone but...

At this very moment, one of my coworkers is watching The Bachelor instead of finishing an IPP report...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Learned a new word today

This just in from a product manager:


As in, "let's wait to review the prototype in later state of updation..."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Son of a...

(an actual reminder that showed up today for a real meeting, I kid you not)

OOoooooh am I mad. I set my alarm for 6am this morning right, versus the ~8ish I usually have it set at. That gave me time to toss & turn in protest of having to get up early, finally lumber out of bed, get ready to go, and be on the road before 7. That was so that I could be at work by 8am for the surprise meeting I was added to late yesterday evening. All of that worked out just fine. I got to the office and naturally the place was pretty empty in comparison to what I'm used to, and that was fine. It as also still dark because none of the early-risers ever turn on the full bank of lights (and I don't mind). So I check my email, verify what room the meeting is in, undock my laptop, and head upstairs. I get to the conference room, and it's completely dark, completely silent, completely empty. Every chair is at the same height, perfectly arranged around the long conference table. Five minutes go by. Not a soul in sight. I pull up the meeting invite and dial up the teleconference number they had for the India folks to call in, and lo & behold, the meeting is in progress; everybody's there. On the phone. Calling in. Because little did I know, "folks usually just dial in to these things." Freakin. A.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Videocons are go!

Well our first semi-permanent video conferencing setups are in and I had an interesting introduction to it. When I walked into the room for my team's weekly meeting, followed by a few colleagues, the snazzy new video conferencing unit woke up and the camera started auto-tracking... me. I got the remote and started trying to figure out how to simply turn it off, but the power button did nothing and I, an experienced UI designer, couldn't find a place to turn off the camera from the convoluted menu system. I got the camera into manual mode and decided I'd just face it towards the wall and then turn off the monitor. That's when our manager walked in and sat near the screen. The direction controls were reversed, so my first turn of the camera, quite by accident, was directly towards our manager. Making lemonade out of the lemony situation, I just centered on the side of his head and started endlessly zooming in. Of course the room erupted into poorly-controlled snorts & giggles, and our manager kindly did me the favor of turning off the monitor.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Big things, little things

Ah, progress. It's a good thing. At times I've felt like I was trying to take down brick walls by throwing toothpicks at them, but now I'm actually starting to see some results. I'm getting through, to my peers, to the directors, and to the VP. I'm starting to see that when I raise a valid concern and suggest a course of action, something actually happens. When I first joined PayPal UED a little over three months ago, literally almost every project team I came across was building something a page or piece of a page that looked noticeably different from the next, creating what I called "the quilt effect." Today, the days of the quilt effect are numbered.

It's been interesting for me, being the bad guy, going around everywhere saying "no, don't do that" or "wait, hold on, that's not a standard, use the standard," especially since as one of the newest members of staff, I hardly have a right to. Sticking to my guns, though, I've managed to reaffirm the notion that no matter who you are, you can make a difference if you put your mind to it.

I had an especially sweet experience just this week. At the color printer I happened upon yet another feature that was being created with a brand new set of design rules, but by the time I investigated it and flagged it to the standards initiative lead and our creative director, the two of them had already seen & synched up on the project. The next day, a I found an updated version of the mockups on the network, following our current de facto design standards. Sweet, indeed.

Since I last wrote, I inherited a new project that had an insane timeline, and after busting out a draft design spec, I got to play bad guy yet again, pushing back very hard on a scope increase that was accompanied by too many unknowns for my liking. The push-back was approved and we delivered a design that met the original goals of the project while enhancing the user experience in a few more ways than expected.

Today I had my annual review, presented by my manager of old and attended by the new. The fact that I had an annual review after a little over 3 months of employment was fairly comical, but not as much so as the fact that the review itself actually covered just one single holiday-studded month. Much to my surprise, I picked up a raise! Given my extremely limited tenure, the amount didn't add up to much, but the thought certainly counts. Plus, I got a bonus equity grant of a very respectable size. It's like as if the company wanted to keep me or something. Hrmph.

Oh, I almost forgot, I picked up a new RC helicopter and took it in to work to show off. The first coworker to have a good look got his hands on the controller (my fault) and immediately proceeded to play with all of the very sensitive trims that take half of a battery pack to get just right. In the evening, I took the thing to a semi-secluded area outside to get the trims back in shape, and when I came back in and was walking past the main lobby, a coworker yelled out from the elevators, "DUDE! I've GOT to see that thing fly!" I gladly obliged, setting it up in the middle of the floor and heading up one story to the PayPal logo hanging from the high ceiling and then flying around the deserted lobby a couple of times. The security guard at the front desk turned around to see what the noise was and oh, how his eyes lit up and a smile grew from ear to ear. After getting over the initial shock of how cool the thing was, though, he remembered his duty to protect company property and the safety of the employees, blah, blah, blah, and kicked me out. It's ok, though. I took it up to my floor and flew it around up there to the delight of a bunch of onlookers. Friday evening I'll meet up with the Platform UI manager in our conference center a couple buildings over and fly with him -- he recently picked up a similar heli, following the lead of the same visual designer who inspired me to get mine after bringing his in.

Lots of work and a little play on the side. I can't complain.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I can move mountains

For the past couple of weeks I've made random references in the company of friends to an indeterminant mass of clothes piling up in my bedroom, patiently waiting to be ironed or folded and put away. Today, I ironed or folded all of them and put them away. With a twist. I counted them too. The results are in! Survey says:
  • 13 button-up shirts
  • 4 pairs of slacks
  • 8 pairs of jeans
  • 7 long-sleeve heavy shirts & sweaters
  • 3 long-sleeve undershirts
  • 11 short-sleeve shirts (from basic white tees to designer button-ups)
  • 2 pairs of PJ pants
  • 4 ties
  • 15 pairs of socks
  • 11 pairs of boxers
  • 1 set of thermals

Brutal. Just brutal.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Friday Tieday & Other Silliness

During the Omaha trip, one of the random topics of conversation that came up was my experimentation with an "anti-Casual Friday" dress routine at my last company. Places where dress is always fairly casual, I figured the concept of Casual Friday was pretty moot, if not a total sham, so from time to time I would actually dress up on Friday. Someone mentioned that we should try that with the coworkers in our cubicle row. Rather than going to the extent of recommending a full style of dress, we decided to just ask everyone to wear ties, one way or another.

Well, this past Friday was our proof of concept, and it worked. About 2/3rds of us actually took the plunge, far more than I honestly expected. Rather than laughs from folks on other teams that didn't know what was going on, I actually got complements, and even a couple requests to extend the newly founded tradition to the entire user experience team (most of the floor of our building). I don't think we're ready for all that just yet, but maybe we can find a second small team to combine forces with and extend our pilot test.

"Help! It's attacking my neck!"

Speaking of combining forces, my team underwent a merger this week with another group of equal size. The other team worked on a slightly different aspect of the application than us, so the biggest real change for us is that now instead of having three sorta-managers, we will have one. Well, at least we will once our new manager gets up to speed with what we do and how we work. Good stuff there.

The big fire recently enveloping my old project continued to burn heartily, and this week some of the swirling embers congealed into a new page flow, labelled #12 (out of the 2 originally planned). I managed to get that stomped out, but there are still flames everywhere. Thankfully my newer major project is so far behind due do delays upstream that it will probably have to be pushed back a release. However, delay or no delay, I'm still lined up for an executive design review on Wednesday, so here I am, midday on a holiday, merely taking a break before going back to work on these darn mockups.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Omaha Trip Report: Friday 2/9/07, and Summary

We were checked out of the hotel by 6:30am, and in the airport lobby by 7 after a very cautious drive that finally let me get a tiny bit of use out of that whole 4WD thing. My flight path included a stop at Denver, Colorado, and oh, how I was pleasantly surprised to see a wolf (yes, a wolf, not a coyote) out on the runways as we taxied in to the terminal! Incidentally, half of Thursday's summary as well as what you're reading right now was written in Denver terminal A, between gates 42 & 44, while I watched this plane get de-iced:

The rest below was pencilled in on the plane to Oakland.

Trip Summary
I've got to level with ya. I was absolutely dreading this trip. I've travelled by air only 4 times before and I hadn't gotten comfortable with the potential complications of airports & baggage claims, packing appropriately, and getting around in unfamiliar territory. On top of that, the consistently subfreezing (and sometimes even subzero) temperatures in Nebraska this season had me, a person who had touched snow only once in his life, imagining the agony of frostbite & inner-nose icicles. Oh, how I was pleasantly surprised by reality.
First off, the flight, hotel, and car rental logistics were a piece of cake. Secondly, the weather/climate wasn't so bad after all. On the first day I was keeping my brand new down jacket zipped all the way up, and of course when it was snowing I put the hood up. Gradually it got to where I would only gently pull the front closed for walks of a few blocks or less outside. By Thursday night I was going to & from the car in a regular shirt & slacks. I told my colleagues it was a 50-second rule. I could go 50 seconds without my jacket before the body heat buffered in my clothes got used up. This usually helped us get around faster. Usually.
Next up, the folks in Nebraska were the warmest, friendliest, most welcoming hosts I could have asked for. They truly made us feel right at home, and I didn't get the slightest bit homesick even once. For the first time in my life, I feel open to the possibility of moving out of California some day. Shocking? Well, to me it is!
Lastly, but most importantly, there were my three coworkers from the California office. Together, we had an absolute blast, and the trip was an opportunity to do a bit of bonding that I'm sure will make work-life back in San Jose ever more enjoyable. We were laughing & joking pretty much from the beginning until the end and were always watching out for each other & helping each other out.
I never expected to see myself write this, but I sincerely look forward to the next trip...

Omaha Trip Report: Thursday 2/8/07

Today was the big day of the "O.A.T.S." Summit (don't ask, I won't tell). I had stayed up late again the previous night watching Discovery, wired with my usual pattern of insomnia and not sleeping until 2am. I awoke before my alarm went off, but I had the most difficult time yet getting up. I was just getting out of the shower at the very minute the three of us were supposed to meet up for breakfast (down to three of us because one left to return to California a day early). I tried calling one colleague who often leaves her cell phone behind, and lo & behold, she had left her cell phone behind. Set on alerting the two of my status, I called the other, but she explained that she was skipping breakfast. Moments before we ended the call, she thanked me for calling and... waking her up. Hmm. That certainly explained her decision to skip breakfast!

We ended up leaving hopelessly late, but made up some time on the road. We actually got to the conference hall around just 8 minutes behind schedule. We had planned on arriving early to get good seats (an estimated 250-300 people were invited), but when we got there, we peeked our heads in the doorway, looked one way, looked the other, and stood in silent confusion for a moment at the sight of about 15 people in a sea of empty chairs. The presentation computer wasn't even authenticated on the network yet! So much for needing to rush in to get good seats! More people would show up over the course of the morning, but the joke of the day was that there were 50 people present (tops) and 200+ on the phone.

The presentations started at around 9:50 and went far faster than planned, leaving plenty of break time to wait for speakers who were running behind schedule. In fact, every single presentation completed well ahead of schedule and the day was generously peppered with long breaks. My laptop battery died midday and for some reason it wouldn't charge, so I borrowed a fellow designer's machine to check my email from the floor. Bad move. A fire had broken out on my old project. A big one. I ended up missing most of one presentation while I reviewed draft change proposals and exchanged emails with staff back in California in real time. Sigh.

After the summit ended (around 4:30), we went back to building 1 to log out from the guest desktops and clean up the desks. On the way over, we crossed paths with another group from California and shared "bye for now's" and wishes for safe trips for all of us. I "quickly" checked my email one last time, exchanging a few more fire-related directives, before packing up and heading out.

We immediately went back to the hotel to drop off our laptops & such, then headed back out to water around town while we had a chance. I had written down the locations of a few shopping spots and my colleagues were a bit concerned about the fact that I didn't have any actual driving directions. I tried to assure them that I had figured out enough about the city by this time and could get anywhere on the list with the help of just my few Google point-to-point maps to & from the office, hotel, airport, and a few restaurants (printed back in California). They weren't convinced, but I managed to get them in the car anyhow. Amazing what a good bribe can do. Just kidding.

The first place we went was Iowa. Yes, Iowa. The state. It was barely a 10 minute drive down one street and one freeway, so we figured, what the hey? Over there we saw a couple quick sights, including the Harrah's riverboat & casino complex. Soon we were back in Nebraska, heading due West down the main surface street that goes straight the hearts of the towns that make up greater Omaha. We stopped at a mall for awhile & then continued on Westward in search of food. We ended up eating at P.F. Chang's -- three shrimp dishes served family-style, brown & white rice, and garlic noodles. Ah, it was good food, the least oily & creamy versions of each dish that I had ever partaken of.

Once our stomachs were full, like N2Deep once said, it was time to go "back to the hotel." That night, two inches of snow fell over the city, painting a fresh glittery sheen over its dulling winter blanket.

To the driver of the maroon Corolla

You, my friend, whoever you are, have earned my respect.

The last time I encountered a driver with similar tactical skill to my own on the freeways was in 1999 or 2000. I was driving my '84 Volvo 740 (normally aspirated, 4spd manual w/ overdrive) headed south on I-80 through moderate to heavy traffic in Albany, making good headway. The driver of a late-model 2-door Tercel took interest in my bobbing & weaving and decided to give chase. He pushed hard, making more dangerous moves than I, and it wasn't long before he passed me. In my complete and utter stupidity at the time, I decided it was "game on." Within seconds, we had passed the battling stage. We were at war.

As we entered the limits of the next city, traffic became thicker and more erratic, varying from 50mph to under 20 in a zone where the usual flow of traffic is 70. The Tercel pilot used his vehicle's tiny size to his full advantage, fitting through gaps I could barely squeeze through if I was driving perpendicular to the road. I used my slight power-to-weight advantage to strike more suddenly through openings, and I raised my sensory awareness to the redline to gather the most precise real-time data on the cars ahead, how they were moving in relation to eachother, who was preparing to make what move, who was driving in what way, and what routes would most likely be at my disposal 5 to 15 seconds ahead. By using strategy and foresight, I regained the lead, but that is only where the real challenge began.

In previous freeway battles I had learned how to control traffic and use it against my opponents, or to lead them down rolling "dead end" traps by appearing to get frustrated at missing an opportunity that was really not an opportunity at all. Against this Tercel, though, none of my tricks stuck. Again, his car was too short to get boxed in, and he was too fast to react. We traded places several more times, but for him, despair began to set in. Once I saw him briefly use the carpool lane to get an advantage (generally taboo in these engagements), and worse still, at one point he drove on the shoulder to get around a car. Capitalizing on his wavering focus, I strengthened my resolve and began relying 90% on strategy and patience. It paid off, and he wouldn't pass me again.

That was then, but this is now. This evening, on my normal commute home, traffic thickened where it usually does, and rather than sitting back and going with the flow, I decided I wanted to get home as quickly as safely possible. It was time to "beat." When I say "beat," I'm referring what I call "beating" through traffic -- getting to the correct lane at the correct time to maintain the most forward momentum safely possible. It does not involve cutting people off, making sudden or erratic, unsignalled moves, using illegal lanes, or speeding. It involves obeying all traffic laws, leaving enough room for one's self and others to make mistakes or react to random hazards, all the while getting from point A to point B in the shortest time reasonable.

When I drive, I maintain three zones of awareness in all directions around my car. The first is the closest to me, and covers the car behind me, the two adjacent lanes from about a carlength behind me to a few carlengths in front of me, and the two cars in front of me, or whatever is within a second of space ahead of me. Within this zone, I know every single thing that is happening. I know who is on their cel phone, who is getting something for their kid out of a bag behind the seat, who is on cruise control, and who is thinking about changing lanes. If anything within this zone moves more than 2 inches, I know about it. The next zone extends out another several carlengths behind me and another second or two in front of me, and usually spills over to two lanes on one of my sides. Within this band of space, I stay aware of relative speeds as well as any unusual or potentially unsafe activity, so if something goes suddenly wrong in front of or behind me, I will be able to react immediately and escape without having to look first. The in the third, outermost zone, I collect information at the lowest fidelity and with the least consistent coverage. This is the range where I notice the slow minivan coming around the cloverleaf to merge onto the freeway 1/4 mile ahead, or the car 6 vehicles ahead that I can't actually see, but that I know is going slower than everyone back to me because the cars between us are changing lanes in sequence to get around.

When I go into "beating" mode, all of these zones expand dramatically. My eyes open wide, my hands go to "10 and 2" or sometimes just "8 and 2" positions, and every available brain cell is activated. My head stays steady, but my eyes shift incessantly, checking every mirror, maintaining a constant read on the situation around and about me. My second zone of awareness extends as far as the 3rd normally does, allowing me to plan lane changes 10 to sometimes upwards of 20 seconds before I need to make them to keep from getting stuck in a slowing lane. I watch for motorcycles splitting lanes behind me and people inching to one side of a lane or another to look for faster routes.

Now, back to this evening. I was beating up I-880, running the normal lane change decision tree algorithms that say such things as, "if the metering lights for the _________ Ave. onramp are on, stay in lane 4 until brake lights come on 50yds ahead, then go to lane 3 until speeds equalize after the left bend, and return to lane 4." Etcetera. Everything was going pretty normally. As usual, not a single car on the freeway was making as much consistent forward progress as my own. Except for one. It was a bone stock, maroon, early 90's Toyota Corolla. It wasn't following any of the patterns I normally observe, such as:
  1. Yaaaay I'm in the faster lane... booo it slowed down :(
  2. Yaaaay I'm switching to the faster lane... booo it slowed down :(
  3. Yaaaay I'm switching to faster lanes to the left because left lanes are always faster! Booo the left lane came to a complete stop :(
  4. Frickin', frackin' traffic! Argh! Ok now that lane is faster lemmie go there. CRAP! Now that lane is faster lemmie go there! CRAP! (Lather, rinse, repeat.)
  5. Zzzzzzz I'll get there when I get there.

No, this Corolla was making safe, timely moves and maintaining forward momentum. Many of its moves were, in fact, the exact same ones I was making, only with some of them, his timing was better than my own. Fascinating! The driver clearly knew this traffic, and had both strategic and tactical skill! For the first time since I settled into this commute late last year, I wasn't the getting from point A to point B faster than everyone else.

My first instinct was to step up my activity to try to keep up with this traffic-master, but my sense of safety wouldn't allow. There wasn't any quick & easy solution to this quandary; whether it was pure skill or skill combined with supreme luck, this guy had the clear tactical advantage. I was frustrated, but inspired at the same time. This guy thought just like me, only a hair better and faster, and before long, he was 6 or so cars ahead. I had only one last hope of keeping up -- resting on the laurels of my strategic skills. It would my traffic-beating algorithms against his. For the next few miles, we did the dance in lock step. He would make the right move at the right spot, and when I got to that same spot, I'd make the same move. Together, we were making tremendous headway, but relative to eachother, we were in a deadlock. Then, at one of the most critical decision points of the route, our plans diverged. It was the lane 4/lane 3 50yd/merge scenario I mentioned above. I was seeing all of the standard patterns of traffic flow and the metering lights for the merge lane were on, but lane 4 slowed down at the point where it normally does only when the metering lights are off. My rules said based on the symptoms, I should go to lane 3, but not all of the pieces of the puzzle were in place. I was confused. Something was wrong. The Corolla made it to lane 3 just seconds before the slowdown, again displaying his undeniable tactical mastery, but I stayed in place, trying to recalibrate & recalculate based on the strange readings the road was giving me. The 'Rolla began working good momentum in lanes 3 and 2, a strategy that I have made work in other situations, but never this one. I stuck to my guns and followed the rules that had always worked for me, moving to lane 3 for a stint, then returning to 4. The glitch proved to be just that, a glitch, like a stray eddy in an otherwise predictable stream, and quickly lane 4 was doing its thing, moving at a consistent speed while the other 3 experienced unpredictable turbulence (I like to use analogies to fluid dynamics because it's a fun and often very accurate way to model the way traffic works). The Corolla continued to work lanes 3 & 2, but his was a losing battle. I passed him once, then fell behind as he caught a burst of speed, then I went by again, this time not to see him again. Another half-mile down the road, where lane 4 becomes an "exit only" affair, I skewed my second zone of perception to the left and played the brakelight patterns in all four lanes to make my final move over to lane 1 with ease.

It was bittersweet. I had met, and defeated, an honorable, responsible, law-abiding, true traffic master.

You, my friend, the driver of that maroon Corolla, whoever you are, have earned my respect. Perhaps we'll meet again some day; it would surely be an honor.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Omaha Trip Report: Wednesday 2/7/07

Ugh, I should have slept before 2am. While Tuesday morning it was easy to wake up, getting up at 7:30 this time was very, very difficult. At preakfast, we all fessed up with stories of being scared in our rooms by mysterious self-moving curtain rods, an unexpected mirrored closet door, strange grumbling noises, etc.

On the way in, it happened. It actually happened. I saw snow, falling, from the sky, on its own. It was my first time, and my, was it a magical little moment. By the time we arrived at the office, we were in a nice little shower, and by lunchtime a blower/shovel/sweeper crew was making rounds nonstop around the buildings as the weather condition escalated to a "snow flurry."

In the morning we each spent about 2 hours 1-on-1 with agents working on account-level user issues. However, after lunch with our little traveling group plus one Omaha PM, we had a full 3 hours free. I took the time to "relax" a bit while responding to emails and working on my project from California.

As I looked around the office, I realized that ettiquite is a big thing out there. Eating (other than hard candy), drinking from open cups, and taking cel phone calls is not allowed at desks. People are reminded to keep their voices down around workers. Hand sanitation stations are located around the facility, and every desk gets a bottle of desanitizer. Signs are posted reminding people to cover their nose/mouth when coughing or sneezing. The rules are enforced by peers, but feeling is not oppressive, at least to a casual observer. It may seem like there are more rules than normal, but they're all there to help people be productive as well as safe. People personalize their work areas freely, dress is very, very casual, and people seem to get along well.

Nebraska folks seemed to me to be exceptionally personable, both in the office and out. When you pass a total stranger, eye contact is made and both people greet eachother. In contrast, in California there seems to be this inherent air of suspicion or alienation with many people. I don't know what it is.

Ok, in the later afternoon, to keep from being left all by my lonesome, I crashed a meeting my California colleagues were attending with an Omaha PM regarding a project they'd be working on this season. I liked the meeting room. Had it been a little larger and brighter, I think I would have loved it. There were huge whiteboards, practically floor to ceiling, and wall to wall on two sides of the room. The table was non-symmetrical, moderately organic in shape. Nice digs.

After work we went to a reknown steakhouse called "Mahogany" out West, on the other side of the expressway from the original Boys Town. To my surprise, the restaurant was decorated with what appeared to my eyes & fingernails to be real, hard mahogany as opposed to the cheaper "Philippine Mahogany," which is actually a Cedar (and also used as a substitute for teak -- as if you cared). Now, I'm not going to pull punches. This joint was entirely too proper & refined, so much so that it really started to piss me off. There were, for each of us, eight pieces of silverware brought out at various times, that the waiter or any of the 3 other individuals tending to us would come by & adjust anytime we would leave them out of place for more than 6 seconds. I swear, a guy would practically throw himself across the table, saying, "Oh, excuse me, excuse me, thank you, excuse me, thank you" as he adjusted the angle of a fork or moved a butter knife to the correct side of an appetizer plate. Annoying as ****! After all dishes were cleared, they even carefully scraped crumbs from the tablecloth around our glasses & such with what looked like a dull straightedge razor. Not cool, man. Thankfully, as true professionals, my colleagues & I made endless fun of the situation, and I made sure to keep my pinky finger straight & high while eating my french fries. Oh, yes, the food. The food was good, thankfully (though not good enough to endure the humilation of the service ever again). I had a 12 oz. filet mignon and shared a 10 oz. portion of Chilean sea bass with pineapple salsa and jumbo shrimp with one of my distinguished peers.

The entire dinner affair took 2 1/2 hours, leaving us behind schedule to catch the season premiere of Lost. Drat! To the Batmobile! Er, I mean, to the Suzuki! All the same. As we headed out I had my first loss of traction on the trip, sliding a few feet out on black ice under control in a wide turn at an empty intersection. Fun fun; I wish I could have done it again! Well, it wasn't too painfully long before we were back at the hotel, watching the last ~25 minutes of our show on the "big" screen downstairs in the lounge area near the bar. When it was over, we all scattered & took refuge back in our suites to relax a just bit more before hitting the hay.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Omaha Trip Report: Tuesday 2/6/07

This morning I was able to wake up at around 7:45 am local time (5:45 by my brain's time) even without my alarm, and surprisingly I felt pretty refreshed. The hotel's breakfast service was pretty decent; ten times better than the "continental" offerings at the places I usually stay when I travel.

The drive to the office only took about 10 minutes. There they were, two nice-sized 2-story buildings, standing pretty much in the middle of nowhere, all alone. The parking lots were very large and very full, but we were lucky enough to get a "visitor" spot. First each of us took ceremonial pictures with the PayPal sign out front, then we went inside and got our security badges upgraded to work at these offices.

Composite by Anna F.

We were met in the lobby by a program manager who had helped out a ton with consulting on my last project. Finding seating for our group was going to be difficult, but we ended up being set up in a cubicle corral made for four -- perfect! After settling in, we were taken in twos to observe agents at work on live cases. Over the course of the day we spent about five hours observing Omaha employees' work, including over an hour of listening in on incoming calls and watching issues being resolved in real time.

It's fascinating how much work the agents do with their dual screens and four to ten (or more) windows open at a time. I can't give any details, and even if I could I wouldn't because it's so sensitive, proprietary, and important to so many people. Suffice to say, though, there are a lot of sophisticated algorithms being run at all times and a lot of people working multiple shifts, and there is a lot of diligence & teamwork going on to help keep PayPal buyers & sellers safe and happy.

For lunch we went to the new building across the street. Opened just six days before, it was filled with a thick smell of fresh paint and many areas were still under final construction. In the cafeteria we came upon a couple more familiar faces -- PMs from my previous and current projects. We'd see one of them again later for dinner, along with 4 Omaha PMs I hadn't met yet.

Speaking of dinner, we went to a brewery/restaurant a little Westward called Upstream. The food was good and I had my first Hefeweizen before eating other peoples' overly rich desserts. There were a laughs around the table for a good while before we all headed upstairs to play pool. For once I even got in a few good shots. Just a few.

When we got back to the hotel we all immediately headed to the little 'net cove for a final late-night fix of email, and I hung out the longest to get caught up with URC before retiring uptstairs to watch Psych & Dirty Jobs.

Quotes of the day:

"At least it's not a tire" -Anna F.

"No, this is asphalt" -M.e.

"I'm gonna name my next project, 'Not Tellin'..."
"'What project are you workin' on?' Not Tellin."
-Barry G.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Omaha Trip Report: Monday 2/5/07

Sunday night I checked in online & printed my boarding pass before going to sleep very, very early, so waking up early Monday morning to get ready to leave was pretty easy. The taxi came on time, and off I went. It turns out I'm so close to the airport that the easiest way to get there was via surface streets. I checked one bag at the curb and about a minute later I was stripping down to my t-shirt & socks for the TSA. Yeah, that was fun. I neglected to take my laptop out of its bag (who could possibly read all of those little signs scattered everywhere?), so I was flagged for special treatment. I got pulled to the side and had my laptop thoroughly scanned for explosive materials. Hrmph. At least the plane departed right on time and wasn't too, too cramped.

My first stop was in Salt Lake City, Utah, a moderate 40 degrees F. Unfortunately, I landed at the far end of one terminal, and my connecting flight was to depart from the far end of the opposite terminal. It was about a 7-minute brisk walk, at the end of which I barely had a chance to use the restroom and send a text message to a couple friends before it was time to get on the next flight. Standing in the boarding line, suddenly and violently I was shoved from behind. When I turned around, I saw the first familiar face of the day, followed by another -- two fellow UI designers from my team. Onto the plane we went, and after stuffing my big down jacket into a tiny available crevise in the overhead compartment, I stuffed myself into the tiny available crevise known as my seat. It was a window seat, next to a pretty large guy, on a 2-seat row of a rather small plane (I believe it had about 40-50 seats total). I dozed off reading Design of Everyday Things and woke up about 45 minutes later, but two of my right toes and one of my left toes stayed asleep. It was that cramped. As icing on the cake, my right knee was freezing. Subfreezing outside air had been seeping in through a loose tether cover from the emergency exit one row ahead.

We finally landed in all-white Omaha and I had a chance to unfold & restore circulation to my limbs. I extracted my big jacket and got it on & zipped it up all the way before heading outside. As soon as I exited the plane, even in the covered corridor, every exhaled breath became thick with visible condensation like the clouds we had just descended through. It was cold. Really cold. Just ask her:

After everyone from my group met up from the two flights we took in, we got our car rental paperwork confirmed and headed out for a more thorough taste of the chill while one of my coworkers related seeing ECW wrestler Rob Van Damme in the airport just minutes earlier. The vehicle we got was a Suzuki Grand Vitara, a modest-sized, but comfortable SUV. The drive from the airport to the hotel was interesting in that, well, it took a bit of creative navigation by landmarks to get to our destination, thanks to an unforeseen feature in the main road.

After checking in at the Embassy Suites and dropping off our bags, we headed right back out to cruise around town & find a place to eat. After weaving up & down through the largely uninhabited downtown area, I parked about four blocks from the hotel and we did the last bit of surveying on foot. We settled at The Spaghetti Works, a restaurant with a very nice 20's/30's motif, semi-rugged, semi-swank. I hit the open salad bar (electing to go Cobb-style like I usually do) and ordered a custom-built bowtie pasta dish with hot Italian-style sauce and double hot sausage links. For a drink, I got a blueberry-flavored Italian soda that must have been 20 oz. In addition, we each got a couple pieces of bruschetta, and three of us shared a room-temperature chocolate ganache. The ganache was so thick and rich that we immediately got quite the sugar/chocolate high, and silliness ensued, leading to some memorable quotes that stuck with us for the entire trip and caused an untold number of laughs.

"It's like eating a tire."
- Anna F.

"The tar is better."
- Iram M.

You had to have been there.

Back at the hotel, we got all synched up with email & calendars down in the "Business Center" (four little booths, two with computers & two with empty ethernet plugs). After bitterly debating time zones & time offsets, we settled on a gameplan for Tuesday and retired to our adjacent rooms on the 4th floor. The TV selection was mediocre, but while channel-hopping I was very pleasantly surprised to see a "PayPal is hiring" ad in prime time on ABC. I ended up watching MythBusters, Dirty Jobs, and some kickboxing, then checked the Weather Channel before turning out the lights. It was 81 degrees in Honolulu. I dreamed about Honolulu.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Breaking the silence

Well look at that, two weeks since my last update. Perhaps there's been nothing happening that's worth writing about? Har!

This past week, in fact, was spent at PayPal's customer service & anti-fraud center in subfreezing Omaha, Nebraska, shadowing specialists from three groups and attending a day-long summit on key initiatives for 2007. I took 13 pages of handwritten notes, and over the course of the weekend I'll be culling through them and distilling out the public-safe parts, mostly focusing on the out-of-office experiences, for your reading enjoyment.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

"Ouch," said the wallet

Today I visited...
  • Macys
  • JC Penney
  • Another JC Penney
  • Big 5
  • Nordstrom Rack
  • Burlington Coat Factory
  • Sears
  • Target
  • Shoe Pavillion
  • A Japanese restaurant

...and purchased...
  • 7 shirts
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 1 pair of casual work shoes
  • 1 suede leather jacket
  • Socks
  • Underpants (yes, I said underpants)
  • 1 wallet
  • 1 paper shredder
  • Cereal
  • Milk
  • 1 chicken teriyaki, gyoza, and california roll combo dinner bento box and a tempura hand roll

...and for the trip to Nebraska I added...

  • 1 sweater
  • 1 pair of snowboarding gloves
  • 1 thick jacket
  • 1 pair of insulated boots
  • 1 set of hankerchiefs

Spare change, anyone?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ballin'... Paintballin', that is

Today I lost my paintball virginity to a field in Antioch literally right next to where I started RC racing some years back. I've seen pictures of folks with nasty-looking welts all over their bodies, and I earned my fair share of the same, but in all honesty the sting really isn't that bad so long as you're not just wearing a t-shirt or something. The worst part was getting hit square in the temple by a kid with really bad aim while I was standing eliminated on the sidelines. Was the whole experience fun? Hell yes! Will I do it again? Hell yes!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Today I...

...put curly pink hair and a monkey on our Director's head. No, really. Shocking as it may sound, it was fully in good taste and professionally appropriate. Now if that doesn't leave you wondering...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Not too shabby

Good week so far! Where should I start? I guess I'll take it chronologically.

Monday in the cafeteria I ran into a familiar face, a former co-worker from my last company! Talk about a small world. We're working in different product verticals, but my department and his work very closely, so I'm sure I'll be seeing more of him around over time.

Tuesday at 10:45am I uploaded the first final version of the user experience spec for my first full project. I say "first final" because I am living in the real world and everybody knows that little issues can and will keep coming up long after design is "final." Nonetheless, this was a major milestone and I'm very happy with how it has all come together. In the afternoon, revelling in my newfound (yet oh-so-temporary) downtime I took a look back at emails and documents to recall the project timeline:
  • 11/27/07 -- I was hired.
  • 11/28/07 -- Project kickoff at 3pm.
  • 11/29/07 -- Three hours of brainstorming meetings. By midday I had stopped working on mockup skeletons (made in PowerPoint and Paint on the kiosk) and started using my brand new laptop.
  • 12/1/07 -- First draft mockups of the four core new pages were up for review. Functionality and overall design of these pages would stand the test of time.
  • 12/7/07 -- The full breadth of the key page flow the project encompassed was shared with the team in a slide deck. Mockups by this time were fairly high-fidelity. I began woring on the second of two key flows that had been planned for the project. The first draft (a real skeleton) of the MRD was distributed. The first page flow was also officially split into two by this time.
  • 12/8/07 -- Mockups of the screens of the third flow were presented in a PowerPoint.
  • 12/13/07 -- A first draft set of clickable HTML prototypes were delivered. Normally prototypes are done by web developers, but we didn't have any webdev support as yet, so I downloaded a trial version of Dreamweaver and did them myself in "Can't Believe It's Not Butter" fidelity. Three click paths were supported in the initial prototype set, including some dynamic functionality.
  • 12/14/07 -- First review with the PM director and the VP of UED (UI/UR/visual/content). The VP was very late, so the review was very brief.
  • 12/18/07 -- Full formal executive review attended by the VP, three directors, the PMM, TPM, visual designer, myself, and a couple other folks who joined late and whose roles I did not learn.
  • 12/18/07 through 12/20/07 -- Usability tests were conducted using polished prototypes. It was pretty smooth sailing. All tested users were able to complete their requested tasks without help. Nearly all of the feedback we received pointed to needs for refinements in text, not design, which was great because our content specialist had not yet developed formal proposals for text entries in our pages.
  • 1/2/2007 -- First draft functional spec review.
  • 1/16/2007 -- First formal UED spec delivery. The document was at this point supposed to cover the first two core page flows, but in reality it covered all 11 (including 3 that had been flagged as either out of scope or blocked for technical or legal reasons).
  • 1/23/2007 -- Second UED spec delivery, officially covering all flows (with the reject bin taking one more victim).
  • 1/24/2007 -- Development began.
  • 1/25/2007 -- It hasn't happened yet as of this writing, but on this day, my Outlook Deleted Items folder will surpass 1,000 items. Mind you, all important emails relating to the above project are kept in a separate folder and not deleted.
The morning of 1/24 began with the kickoff meeting for my new major project. This one is being led on the PM side by the only current coworker who actually knows about this blog. I'd better key away quietly -- he/she could be reading it as I type!

Oh, one other thing. I listened to the earnings report with my team today. It sounded good.

Amazing, exclusive new scientific breakthrough

A crack team of researchers at the University of Florida have discovered that microwaving a wet sponge can sterilize it, killing bactera and parasites and neutralizing viruses. Results of their amazing discovery were published in the Journal of Environmental Health.

Sponges, with their huge surface area, high aeration rate, persistent dampness, and food particle-collecting pockets, are veritable petri dishes that grow all manner of harmful and benign microbes alike, an spread them wherever you wipe & scrub. The UofF team's research could utterly revolutionize household sanitary practices. I only wish this groundbreaking work had been done earlier.

Oh, wait, I've been microwave-sterilizing kitchen sponges from time to time for six years now. Damn. I should have written a paper about it. I could have been on CNN.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ultimate RC updated at last

I've you've been to URC before, look again. Yep, that's right, a redesign that I embarked upon over a year ago but kept getting side-tracked from (hostile [ex]-girlfriend, work stress, job loss, job search, new job, father's suicide), is finally live. There's a bunch of work to do yet, but the huge psychological barrier has been crossed, and it should be much smoother sailing, at least for awhile.

Excitement Intensifies, World Peace De-Prioritized

I snapped on Friday. A project on which I have a very small dependency has been dragging on, and on, and on. I've heard reports of everyone from my direct peers to a sister department's director being pulled into the quagmire. There have been inter- and intra-team disagreements, and even an incident of outright hostility. All of this around what was supposed to be a small project to introduce incremental improvements to one of the most-used pages in our application.

The previous Friday I had been promised that a final design would be ready for me to look at (with which to integrate one piece of my own project) by the end of the day. End of day Friday turned into Monday. Monday slipped gradually to Thursday evening, when I was shown a near-final design like nothing I had seen up to then. By the morning of Friday the 19th, that design was finalized and approved, but now I had some serious concerns about the very part of it that I had to work around. By the time I met with my counterparts on the other side of the building, more hell had evidently broken loose and the design direction had been changed yet again. With two interview sessions, a team lunch, and a large all-hands meeting to attend, it was around 4pm before I was able to really settle down at my desk, and that's when I learned that things were still up in the air with the hot-potato project, and changing regularly

And so, I snapped. I literally could not take it anymore. Everyone on the project is extremely talented. Heck, I had met with each of them individually and fully agreed with their concerns, and they were all trying to do the right thing for the company and for our users. So, why was this project so politically charged and wrought with heated debate? It was time for this madness to end. Luckily at 4:45pm on Friday all of the key players were still in the office, and after doing some crash-prep with each of them separately to make sure I would be sensitive to their individual concerns, I managed to get them all together. So help me, this was going to be the final confrontation.

By this time, I have to admit, I was feeling quite uncomfortable. None of the folks on this project report to me (I'm not even a manager to begin with). Most of them are my seniors, by a long shot. This wasn't my project in any way, shape, or form. I've been with the company for what, eight weeks, and here I was completely overstepping my bounds, essentially imposing myself as acting project lead, entirely out of the blue. Not good.

But by golly, whatever I did, worked.

The dust settled quickly (people had to leave to do things like pick up kids from daycare or meet with spouses), and I settled into the cube of one of my sempai, taking turns at the mouse & keyboard as we worked Photoshop magic to slay this screen-sized beast once & for all. A little after 8pm, we were done. I'm looking at the end result as I type this. A thing of beauty, it is, not primarily for its design, but for the fact that it represents a cornerstone of PayPalian world peace.

It's just a shame that achieving world peace was officially pushed down a notch in priority at the all-hands meeting earlier in the day, beaten out by a drive to further increase customer conversion rates or something of that sort. I kid you not. It was in the PowerPoint. Bummer, huh?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fire! Fire! Evacuate!

My commute Thursday morning took about 1 1/2 hours thanks to a crash on the opposite side of interstate 880, which led to rubbernecking, which led to 3 accidents on my side. Shortly after after I finally got to the office, what happened? *BRRRZZZT* *flash flash flash* *BRRRZZZT* *flash flash flash*

Yep, fire alarm, full building evacuation. After we all chilled at our respective 'assembly areas' very briefly, we began to really question whether it was a planned drill. After all, we had just gone through one of those a month before, with plenty of advance warning. Just as we started heading back towards the building, we heard sirens. Then came more sirens. Then more. It wasn't long before there were eight fire department vehicles surrounding the building.

It turns out it was just a very small, quickly contained electrical fire, but I have to say, I was pretty impressed by the response.

Blast from the past

After 12 years, I finally have screenshots of one of the more obscure & interesting projects I've worked on, "The Options Evaluator." I'm too lazy to write up a bunch more about the background of the project, so I'm just going to copy & paste the description from the screenshots page:

This project for a family member was a program from to run technical analysis on stock and stock index options. Begun in C (compiled in Borland Turbo C 1.5) and later converted to C++ (compiled with Turbo C++ 3.0), OptEval ran in DOS at 640x480 resolution with 16 colors. Lacking the funding to procure a rich GUI library, I was left to build everything from scratch, including mouse event handling at the assembler level, window management, and 3D effects.

Elements such as menus, toolbars, and dialog boxes were drawn with rectangles, lines, and pixels via the very basic Borland Graphics Interface (BGI) toolbox. Certain raster-based details such as mouse cursors and the animated scroll bar buttons were drawn on graph paper and then translated into character arrays representing hex codes for the color of each pixel.

The Options Evaluator

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hey Bamidele, what did you do this weekend?

A buddy made the mistake of asking that question this afternoon, and since the response was long, I thought I'd capture it into a post:

  • Got another ~200 photos uploaded & organized on Flickr
  • Completed the URC Q4 '06 MVP awards selection
  • Completed full year URC '06 MVP awards selection
  • Made URC '06 User Hall of Fame selections
  • Made a URC Network year in review post
  • Transitioned four older moderators, sent an invitation to a new one
  • Finished the HTML for a new URC homepage.
  • Cleaned up more stuff around the house
  • Paid some bills
  • Delivered my dad's 2 computers to a buyer
  • Did laundry
  • Ironed
  • The "I am RADAR" image, plus a 100x100 avatar version
  • Saw the 4 hours of "24" premieres on Fox
  • Worked out
  • Called Mom
  • Uploaded my oldest Ralliart driving video to YouTube after splitting it into part 1 & part 2 so it would fit

Sunday, January 14, 2007


My latest masterpiece:

You've GOT to be kidding me

This was posted earlier by a URC member named "decline1:"

Car nuts, look closely and tell me if there's anything really wrong with this picture. I'll give you some hints:

  • It's not that the bumper is missing
  • It's not that there's an intercooler on a Neon
  • It's not that there's a hood intake scoop on a car with its air inlet down by the ground

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Blessed be Fridays, especially those that signal the beginnings of long weekends. Cursed be Fridays where work doesn't end until around 8pm, where you're one of the last people on your entire floor to leave (save the cleaning crew) after keeping a new father working late from home to meet deadlines instead of spending time with his recently expanded family.

Blessed be coworkers for sometimes saying the most amazing things you've ever heard, such as:

"Oh poo, they can't Fu. Is that true?"


Friday, January 12, 2007

Movng to Flickr

At last, I'll be saying "goodbye" to my Coppermine-powered gallery on, because it's "hello" time for Flickr. I have all 583 of my previously-published photos up on the account now, and over the next week I'll be putting up a ton of ones that I've never shared because it was too inconvenient. In all, I have around 12,000 photos, probably 1/2 to 2/3rds of them retakes since I rarely ever take just one shot of a subject.

Let's see, now I have a MySpace profile, two blogs, the Flickr account, and an iPod Shuffle (although admittedly that was a gift from my company). Geeze, what's next, a TiVo?

Moving right along

Things were moderately hectic & fast-paced again today, but aside from a candidate interview that took a significantly larger-than-expected chunk of my day, things were again quite productive. We're tracking well towards the end of my involvement in this first project and actually chopping off scope creep and late feature definitions without lengthy deliberation. I received the greatest email from a product/program manager ever:


Love it.

Towards the end of the day I was actually invited to the kickoff meeting for my next big project. I've learned so much in these brief weeks that I can't imagine this next project going anything like the first. First off, I pray, I won't have a death in the immediate family right at the beginning of it. Secondly, far fewer process-related issues are going to take me by surprise. I hope to take this one by the balls early on and try to steer us away from making mistakes that I'm now familiar with. It's also a completely different project team, so I'm sure there will be new challenges due to that (not a bad thing).

I've started to get a sense of the extreme importance of the personal progress reports we have to do for HR every so often -- I guess what you're able to convey in those determines whether you stay in one place for your entire tenure or soar to great heights of management and salary. With this in mind, I've begun keeping a log of things I've done that I believe to be above & beyond the call of duty. It's just a little Word doc, for my own reference, so that when the review process catches up with me and I'm on to my nth project, I'll have something to jog my memory about what's been going on and what I've accomplished. It's all in shorthand, but already almost a full page.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ok, honeymoon's over

Just when I was starting to get comfortable with the pace of things, the pace doubles again. From the moment I walked in the office this morning until around 7:30pm when I left, I was running -- physically and/or mentally. I was booked solid in meetings or activities from 10am to 4pm and was handling emails, document reviews, and specification edits from my laptop whenever I had a moment to multitask.

I ran into one of my managers and a director in the restroom in the evening. Here's basically how the back & forth went, my words in blue:

"You're still here?"
"Slackin or bustin butt?"
"Is there light at the end of the tunnel?"
"It flickers."
"Fun project at least?"
"Mmm, maybe the next one will be."

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Did you say "snow?"

Deadlines approach increasingly rapidly and emails are coming through my inbox almost as fast as I can digest or respond to them, but I'm in good spirits. I'm sure that'll soon change, though. By the end of tomorrow I'll have a seat reserved on an upcoming flight to Omaha, Nebraska, where this weekend the temperature range is expected to be 8 to 26 degrees.


It's a business trip to get some of the newer folks acquainted with our customer support colleagues during their regular work hours. The rest of the time, I suppose we'll be learning the meaning of the term "freezing your a** off." Yay.

I can't believe I'm watching this crap!

This is ridiculous. While going through email & paying some bills online, I'm watching Wicked Wicked Games on "My Network TV." Once it's over, I'm going to leave the station on and watch Watch Over Me. What's worse is that I've been doing the same most evenings this season. Last season, I was following Desire. What. The. Hell?

I 'm the guy who's been all into shows like:
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Andromeda
  • Robot Chicken
  • MXC on Spike
  • FIA World Rally Championship
  • Formula One
  • I Pity the Fool

Wicked Wicked Games does not belong on that list. Watch Over Me does not belong on that list. Desire does not belong on that list! Granted, if somebody tries to dock me a couple of Man Points, I'm fully ready to defend myself by dropping names like Michelle Belegrin (oooh) and Catalina Rodriguez (mmmmm), but the prosecution has the two-word combo that can all too easily bring on a bona fide Man Court K.O. Those two words are "soap opera." GAH, it makes me sick even to type it! It's true though, these shows are... yeah those things.

Should I be worried?

Ooh, speaking of Catalina Rodriguez, gotta go, commercial's over...

Monday, January 8, 2007

Steak: 0 Me: 1 stuffed mofo

Me the point where a certain thing which the meat the part was eaten is largest. (English-Japanese-English-Japanese-English translation provided by Babelfish.)

(Biggest piece o'meat I've ever eaten -- 16oz.)

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Just a lil' update

December 19, 2006

Today I only got to attend one of three usability sessions. It went great; my first project has passed trial by executives and is passing trial by users, so I couldn't be happier. In the afternoon I crashed a meeting about my hiring manager's main project (he's out of the country, so I weaseled my way in as a replacement). I had a flashback to when I was shadowing my manager in a meeting about this very project on my first or second day of employment. There were half-dozen or so designers & product managers clamoring over mockups sprawled over the conference room table, defending their turf and explaining the method behind the madness of a rather difficult predicament they had been funneled into. At one point I interjected to propose what seemed to me to be a very simple, direct solution to all of their problems. My suggestion was appreciated, but quickly whisked under the rug as being simple-minded and completely unrealistic given the advanced stage of the project. Fair enough.

Back at today's meeting, that simple-minded, crack-headed concept I had was somehow still alive and looked at as the "If only we could start over, we'd do it that way... but maybe it's the only way we can pull this whole thing off at all" option. Sigh. I think there's another meeting for this project on Friday, but I have a sneaking suspicion there'll be another called on an emergency basis before then.

Talk about a "running start..."

"This is getting out of hand! Now, there are two, of them..."
-Nute Gunray, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

I've started up a separate blog specifically to cover my adventures at PayPal. Enjoy.


You know, when you think about it, when you reeeeeally think about it, emotions are completely and utterly unnecessary. We surely don't need them to survive, and in fact, they can get us in a whole heap o' trouble at times.

That said, though, MAN would life be pointless without them. Don'tcha think?

Taking the Plunge

When this whole "blog" phenomenon first started years ago, I thought, "Oh great, another Internet fad for a bunch of startups to get all wrapped around, waste a bunch of VC, and go under." I gave it about 6 months to live.

So here I am now, eating my words for dinner as I write up my very first blog posting. I've been putting up various random musings in the off-topic areas of my biggest forum site and writing a little here or there on my old homepage, but the more time goes by, the more I've found myself wanting a fast, easy way to write anything about any topic, share it with others, categorize it, and archive it for permanent reference.

Now that I've gotten past my mental block about blogs, watch posting here develop into a full-on addiction. Just you watch.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Time be flyin'

Dang, I can't believe almost the whole week has gone by already. A new girl started on my team on Tuesday, so all of our hires are filled for awhile. My project has continued to grow & morph in real time, but I'm managing to maintain equillibrium between my to-do's and those of others on the project. Stress has thus been pleasingly low this week. Acting on a tip, I spoke with my hiring/interim manager's manager today about the "ace card/special sauce" topic and it sounds like there's already a related effort about to kick off that I may be able to get involved with at the ground floor and to which I could really bring a lot of experience.

That same manager stopped by my cube later in the day with our director and evidently they really like the company logo I made out of Lego blocks real quick last night; word spread and the VP stopped by later in the evening to have a look-see. I also got a couple (artificial, but gotta-touch-it-to-see realistic) plants this week, and brought in this bright blue little office chair I recently inherited, to offer as my official cubicle guest seat. With a blue theme developing quickly, a coworker suggested that I seek a blue replacement for my green-topped ottoman/drawer thing, and I was able to make a successful trade with the new designer.

So, whaddya know, I'm actually starting to get comfortable at this place. Maybe.