Little Rock, the Food Tasting, and Littlefield

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Little Rock, AR the last several weeks. I was shipped out there to help a large telecommunications company with some critical LDAP problems they were experiencing in their production environment. Since it is a production environment they have strict change management controls which dictate that we can only make “atomic” changes in their environment between 11pm and 5am. This made things complicated as we had about 10 changes that needed to be made and were told we could only make one of them a night. When I left last week (on the 5th) they still had about 5 changes to get in. The change window was a pain as well. I’d work from around 8:30am until 6:00pm monitoring their systems and determining what other problems existed and how to best fix them. I’d head out to the hotel, then to a restaurant for dinner, and back up to the customer site at 10:45pm to make the changes needed and with luck I was back at the hotel and in bed at 2am. This went on for about a week (Mar 31 to Apr 5). The flip side is that I identified many many areas in their environment that needed to be changed to better stabilize their systems — most of which we were able to accomplish before I left. Based on an email that was sent to the IBM account team, the customer loved me and my work which is always a nice reward.

During that time Benjamin and I had our food tasting for the wedding. Once a season the Barr Mansion has a buffet dinner for several dozen couples to allow them to get an idea of what menu options are available for their upcoming event. Since I simply could not miss this (according to Benjamin) I flew back to Austin from Little Rock on Saturday evening, interpreted at church on Sunday morning, attended the food tasting Sunday night, and was back in Little Rock by 9am on Monday morning. Talk about a whirlwind weekend! The tasting itself was fun. We weren’t the only gay couple there although we were greatly outnumbered by our heterosexual brethren. We by chance picked an excellent table as the two other couples at the table were very cool and gay-friendly.

I finally made it back to Austin from Little Rock on Wednesday the 5th only to turn around on Thursday and drive up to Littlefield. As my role of Computer Guru for my dad, I had several computer-related tasks that I needed to be present for in Littlefield. Over a month ago I had decided to take off work and get it done over a long weekend. The trip didn’t start out well when the Mustang began to overheat when I reached Leander. Thankfully it was Benjamin’s half day so he was at home and was able to meet me in Cedar Park and swap cars. The Fusion is a great car to take on long road trips I’ve decided. Beyond that the trip went well. I accomplished about 95% of what I went up there for, and it was the important 95% at that. As always it was good to see the parents and grandparents.

HRC Gala and Michael Buble

Saturday evening Benjamin and I attended the Austin Human Rights Campaign Annual Gala. This is our third year to attend and also marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of the organization. I heartily agree that this year’s event was the best organized from a participant’s perspective. Benjamin and I are HRC Federal Club members, a distinction obtained by contributing over a certain amount to HRC of the course of a year. We’re frequently being invited to Federal Club events although we haven’t attended any of them to date — mostly because we don’t know anyone in the organization. Before the Gala this year the Federal Club gathered for a Pre-Gala Mixer to sip on free wine/champaign/cokes and meet this year’s speaker, Joe Sol., the head of HRC nation wide. Benjamin and I attended and sipped our champaign (Benjamin) and coke (Casey) and proceeded to stand in the corner and talk to each other for about 30 minutes. Yup, we totally copped out and stood in the corner looking like dorks — total affirmation why we don’t attend the more frequent events throughout the year. The silent auction before the dinner was well done. Benjamin and I bid on at least 10 different items and at the time the dinner started was looking to be out about $1k. Luckily (nor not, depending on your perspective) someone went in during the dinner and outbid us on most items. We still walked home with a marble vase, a chandelier (that we discovered has a few missing parts – arg), tickets to the Alamo Drafthouse, tickets to a Zach Scott performance, and gift certificates to Which Wich (a sandwich joint downtown who is building a location on Parmer across from the old Randall’s).

On Sunday we got up bright and early and headed to church. The young deaf woman who has been attending regularly was there again and was particularly attentive during the sermon. I felt I provided a good interpretation although I need to ask Terri the signs for a few words (race, racial, prejudice among others).

Directly after church we drove down to San Antonio and spent the day on the Riverwalk until the Michael Buble concert started at 8pm. The weather was oddly nice in San Antonio despite it being rainy and cold in Austin when we left. The concert itself was very good. I wasn’t sure what to expect really as MB’s sound seems to target a large audience. If you’re not familiar with him, MB is a modern day Frank Sinatra. He has a jazz/big band sound that seems to appeal both to the younger teenie-bopper crowd as well as older folks like my grandmother. Given that diverse fan base I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a crowd surfing concert or a classical recital. Oddly enough it was a little of both. He had a live jazz band on stage and sang songs off both his major albums. There was only one song that Benjamin and I didn’t recognize. MB is a great entertainer. He didn’t just get up there and sing, he worked the crowd making jokes and such during the breaks between songs. The beginning of the show featured his fast songs that got the teenie-boppers rushing the stage (yes, rushing the stage) to take his picture. The tickets specifically mentioned that photography and recording of any kind was expressly prohibitive so Benjamin and I made a point to leave our camera and both cell phones in the car like good little citizens. Apparently not everyone was so inclined. Between one of the songs MB said “you know, you paid good money for these tickets, take as many pictures as you want” so of course, everyone did all throughout the performance. After a couple of songs the bouncers got the area in front of the stage cleared (which I’m sure the people in the first 5 rows who paid $$$$ for their tickets were glad of). He then switched into a slower song set and threw in two other fast songs at the very end (and the teenie-boppers rushed the stage again). Benjamin loved the performance and admitted that he would love to be one of the folks rushing the stage. I liked the music but would have enjoyed the concert more if the teenie-boppers had just stayed home. It illustrates again how different we are. All in all, the concert was well worth the price of the tickets. If you have a chance to see MB in concert, I highly recommend it.

Marathon Results – Take 4

Three weeks and 4 emails after the fact and I finally have official results for the Austin Freescale Marathon. As I mentioned in a previous post – the point of having an official time was to enable me to have a placing in the Austin Distance Challenge.

After some digging I found my splits. It looks as though they have my halfway time (2:42:34) and my 30k time (4:08:25) but not my 10k time and obviously not my finish time. I need to see about getting my chip checked out as I’m thinking it is defective.

Finally – closure!

Signing Music

As some of you may know, I’m proficient (but not fluent) in American Sign Language (ASL). I regularly interpret for the deaf at my church on Sundays. While I’ve had no formal training, I have taken several classes as the Austin Sign Language School (mostly vocabulary classes) and have interpreted for a few deaf individuals. I’ve considered taking the test and becoming certified in Texas however my receiving (ie: reading ASL) is very poor due to my lack of practice.

One of the things I love to sign is music. I don’t have much of a singing voice (that’s Benjamin’s department) but I have been told by both the deaf, interpreters, and others that I have a knack for signing music. In fact, just last Sunday a hearing woman came up to me after the church service and said that my interpreting was so beautiful that it almost brought her to tears. I, personally, think that’s over the top — but apparently it does move some people.

I should probably take a moment and describe a little bit about our church for you to better understand the rest of this post. I attend church at Gateway Community Church. It is a non-denominational church here in Austin that is very uncontemporary. Each and every Sunday the live band covers a song that 80% of the audience knows and would hear on the radio. To give you an idea, I’ve interpreted at least one song from each of the following: Madonna, Matchbox 20, Hootie and the Blowfish, U2 (lots of those), Green Day, Nickleback, Sherryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, The Police, Sting, The Eagles, Coldplay, and many, many more — you get the idea, this isn’t your normal Baptist Hymnal.

Interpreting music is a bit different than interpreting someone speaking. Typically with music you get the lyrics ahead of time so you know what you’re going to have to interpret whereas with someone speaking you’re good to know the general topic. On the flip side, with someone speaking you just become a living conduit — hear what they are saying into your buffer, parse the meaning, translate that into sign (using a huge mental thesaurus), and sign it a couple of seconds after the speaker has said it while still filling new input into the buffer. The delay really isn’t that important as we’re obviously going for content — the delivery itself just has to be comprehendable. Music on the other hand goes through the same general buffer but to capture the true meaning of a song, the delivery can often be more important than the content being delivered. The interpreter’s movements have to mimic the music, not just convey the meaning, to be truly enjoyable to the deaf. I personally believe that a good song interpretation is part dance.

Interpreting music for the deaf is often very challenging. Think of the last song you heard on the radio. Do you actually know what every word was? If you actually do know all the words think quick: what did the artist mean with those words? Could you explain it to another person? How much of the song’s enjoyment is from the play on words? The rhyming? To interpret a song and do it well you have to break the song down into it’s core meaning and interpret that into signs that convey the same meaning in a way that is visually appealing. Just as a poet or artist might choose a different word to better fit their work, an interpreter might choose a different sign with the same meaning to better fit in with the previous and following signs to make it look better. Now imagine doing that on the fly while trying to maintain sync with the music. Without previous exposure to both the lyrics and the music this is virtually impossible.

There’s a very interesting article titled Keeping deaf fans rockin’ that I saw linked from Fark. I think the article does a great job of showing some of the challenges that deaf interpreters experience when signing songs for the deaf. The article discusses a great deal of the same topics that I’ve touched on although in a much more succinct way.

I’ve interpreted several concerts although all of them have been in a church setting. I’ve interpreted a mini-concert by Wide Awake, Malford Milligan, and others although their names escape me. Usually I have about a week’s notice of the concert and if I’m lucky I can borrow a CD or two from someone to listen to during the week and “get into” the music. I’d like to do more music interpreting but if I’m going to go down that path I really need to get certified first. No time for that now however.

Casey gets a new label

Yet again an event has occurred in life that grants me another label. Two days ago (Wednesday, March 1, 2006 at roughly 7:15pm CST) I was bestowed the title of “Uncle Casey”.

Allow me to introduce Kooper William Peel. He is officially a “big boy” at 9lbs 4oz and measuring 21.5 inches.

Labels
I began thinking about labels over the past couple of days. It is interesting how we’re given some and some are given to us. Regardless of their origins some are objective and some subjective. Some labels change over time, from subjective to objective or from involuntary to voluntary. I was involuntarily given the subjective label ‘Casey’ roughly 27 years ago although after a few years I have internalized it and accepted it as objective (one could argue that after the label was put on my birth certificate that it then became objective, but I digress). Likewise just 1.5 years later I was involuntarily given the objective label ‘brother’ when Kelly was born. Since then I have taken actions that have caused me to give myself labels such as graduate, employee, Software Engineer, Performance Lead, fiancee. I’m more proud of some of these labels than others. Not sure how I feel about Uncle yet. I played no part in receiving the label although I have a feeling that a great deal of work will be required for me to live up to the title, much in the same sense that a ‘father’ (one who fathers a child) is not necessarily a ‘dad’ (a father who is deeply involved in his child’s life).

Casey vs Whataburger

It takes a lot to get on my bad side. This applies to restaurants as well as people. There are many restaurants that I prefer not to eat at however there are two that I refuse to darken their door ever again. Those two restaurants are Whataburger and Marie Callender’s.

I’m not sure of the exact date, or even year, but it had to be post TAMS so circa 1997. Some of the TAMS group were headed through Brenham late at night probably either going to or from Shaun’s parent’s house in Round Top. We were in my Grand Am with at least Janice and Jodi although there were at least one or two other TAMSters in the car too. It was late enough that Whataburger was the only eating establishment open and being hungry we pulled into the drive-thru.

We pulled up and it took them a while to take our order. I believe every person ordered something, such as a shake, carbonated beverage and maybe some side order. After we gave them our order we pulled up. Shortly thereafter another car pulled up behind us. At this point there are one or two cars in front of us in line and one behind us. The drive-thru lane is designed such that once you are in the lane you can’t get out unless you pull forward or back up – there is a curb and a slight drop off to your right. We sit there and wait for ~25 minutes in that spot, waiting for the Whataburger employees to help the people in front of us. When we finally get up to the window, the clerk very rudely asks what we ordered again and goes off. Five minutes later she comes back and hands us the correct number of items, all of which were wrong: wrong flavor shake, wrong carbonated beverage, wrong side item. We inform them that they got our order incorrect and that we’ve been waiting in the line for around 30 minutes now. The clerk calls me a liar and said she gave me exactly what I ordered. I insist she is wrong and she goes off to fix it. She comes back and only gets 75% of the order wrong. At this point we just want to get out of there and accept all of the items and give her money to pay for it. She then proceeds to hand us back incorrect change and slams the drive-thru window.

In summary, Whataburger forced me to wait 30 minutes for a drive-thru order, got my entire order wrong, called me a liar, and then gave me incorrect change. In short, they failed at every single thing they tried. This is the reason that I refuse to ever give any Whataburger my business. Ever.

The Job – Closure

Last week a gentleman from the ISST group called me for a technical interview. After finding out that I was the performance lead on the product, he quickly informed me that he would not be asking me any technical questions because I obviously knew the product at least as well as he did. Late Thursday afternoon I received a phone call and email offering me the job.

Friday morning I emailed them back and requested to think about it over the weekend and let them know. About an hour later my manager called to let me know she would be out for the day but that we should get together on Monday to discuss when my availability date was for the new job, assuming I accepted it. She also let me know that my current management team was trying to locate “moving compensation” for me in an attempt to keep me within their group. How they thought this helps is a little round-about. My manager was under the impression that I was interested in the new job primarily to allow Benjamin and I to move to another, more “family friendly” state. With this in mind my management team was trying to see if they could locate funds to assist me in moving to another state while keeping me within their organization.

Given what Benjamin and I want to do (ie: live in various cities/states for a while and see how we like them) the moving compensation wouldn’t have really helped, however it helped me realize just how much they wanted to keep me. I asked jonobie out to lunch to help me filter out some thoughts on the various options. Before we went to lunch there were two basic choices:

  1. Decline the job: maintain status quo
  2. Accept the job: travel all over the US

While at lunch Jonobie came up with another option entirely – a truly “thinking outside the box” option. I present you, option 3:

  1. Decline the job: become a mobile employee keeping my current position but working outside of Austin

Being a mobile employee would allow me to live in different locations and keep my current job that I really enjoy. Granted it would not come with the “signing bonus” or the higher bonus potential but I consider that very acceptable if I could spend more time with Benjamin and less time in a hotel room. I decided to run this past management.

Seeing as my manager was out of the office for the day I contacted my 2nd line manager and set up an impromptu meeting later that afternoon. In the meeting I explained what I was wanting to do and my timeframe for doing so. He saw no reason why making me a mobile employee would not be possible. He was quick to mention that nothing is guaranteed but said that many people in the Security organization want me to stay within Security and that if making me a mobile employee would make that happen that they would do their best to make it work. I left for the weekend to ponder the three options and discuss them with Benjamin.

After discussing the options we agreed that option 3 was the clear choice pending two important items that needed to be confirmed.

  • Danny in Colorado would be ok with the new plan and setting aside an office for me to work from
  • My manager (who has been in the Security organization longer than my 2nd line) would validate that the organization is truly amenable to having mobile employees

We were able to validate those two items on Sunday and Monday respectively so early Monday afternoon I declined the new job offer.