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Falsehoods Organizations Believe About Timecards [Feb. 13th, 2019|04:16 pm]
Beemer
Many organizations have policies, procedures, and tools for reporting hours worked. These are often used to determine how many hours an employee has worked on different projects and hence how much to charge to the account keys associated with those projects.

For some kinds of work, this accounting process is relatively straightforward, but for others, not so much. Particularly when it comes to knowledge work, these systems rely upon and encode a variety of assumptions that are, to varying degrees, wrong. (It's the view imposed by this system that matters here, not what individuals involved with the system think, which is why this is titled "Falsehoods organizations believe..." rather than the usual "Falsehoods programmers believe...")

For jobs like mine, none of the following assumptions are reliably true, most of them aren't even commonly true, and some of them are never true. (Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list.)

Falsehoods Your Time Reporting System Probably Believes
  1. Work can be cleanly associated with a single project.

  2. Work can be cleanly allocated amongst a fixed set of projects.

  3. Projects are distinct from one another.

  4. There is no essential work that isn't associated with a project.

  5. Switching tasks takes no time.

  6. Working productively is a boolean state, either off or on.

  7. Working is synonymous with being in the office.

  8. Employees have regular and predictable schedules.

  9. Hours worked can be predicted in advance.

  10. Knowledge workers can do 8 hours of useful work in a day.

  11. The amount of useful work an employee can do in a day is a constant.

  12. A 40-hour work week maximizes net productivity for knowledge work.

  13. Productivity has a linear relationship with hours worked.

  14. Project budgets reflect estimates of work that are accurate and precise.

  15. It is possible for estimates of work to be accurate, precise, and bounded.

  16. Project plans accurately reflect the work to be done.

  17. Projects are finished when the funding runs out.

  18. Once a project is complete, it stays finished and no longer requires work.

  19. A supervisor's approval of a timecard is meaningful.

Now, the fact that these assumptions are wrong doesn't mean that something is broken and needs to be changed. A timecard system is essentially a model of how employees do work, and everyone knows the aphorism that all models are wrong, but some models are useful. As long as the model is useful, it's okay for it to be imperfect. Plus, it may be required that the system pretend that these assumptions are true for various legal and practical reasons.

Consequently, there are there important things to keep in mind when implementing or changing a timecard system: first, that it is in fact a model and not an objective measurement, so the measure of its worth is its utility, not its correctness. Second, that context matters and it's best to proceed with caution when considering policies, procedures, and tools that were created for other endeavors and may have different wrong-but-useful assumptions. And third and most importantly, that the work performed is what matters, so if there is a divergence between how work actually gets done and assumptions about how work should be done, the thing to change is the assumptions.

Feel free to suggest additions in the comments!
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Nebraska Birthday [Feb. 2nd, 2019|07:43 pm]
Beemer
I'm in Nebraska! Today is my step-dad's 80th birthday and my step-brother Dave and his girlfriend Michelle were heading out here to surprise him, so yesterday afternoon I hopped in the truck with them and came along.

After a long and uneventful drive (other than spilling guacamole all over my shirt while eating dinner), we got in a bit before midnight (successful surprise!) and socialized for a bit before bed.

This morning I went for a walk with my mom and the dog (Squirt) and one of the cats (Toodle). Then after lunch all of us walked over to the little defunct cafe on main street (well, what passes for it in a town of less than a hundred) that my parents bought and are going to renovate into a bunkhouse for the hordes that come into town for hunting trips. So they're going to expand the bathroom and contract the kitchen, wall off part of the main room to make some bedrooms, and have a place that a bunch of hunters can stay.

Later on we all hopped in the truck and drove down to the lake and walked around on the shore (very muddy!), then drove around looking at various properties for sale to get a sense of what's available for a friend of my brother's who's looking for a place to buy.

We grilled some steaks for dinner, plus a salad, baked potatoes (for everybody else), and some cauliflower I roasted. There was no birthday cake, so my mom stuck a few candles into a bowl of peanut M&Ms to create a symbolic cake.

We just finished a game of Illimat, which my Mom won, and will be heading to bed soon so we can get back to Denver tomorrow in time for the Superb Owl (for them what follow the footballs).

Pretty low-key overall, other than the phone ringing all day with birthday wishes for Larry. A nice visit. Good to hang out with my brother, who I don't see very often.
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Crispy Inside-Out Omelet [Jan. 29th, 2019|10:29 am]
Beemer
My journaling backlog is appalling, so to keep it from paralyzing me further, I'm ignoring it and posting something, anything. Here's a recipe.

This is what I make for breakfast most days of the week.

Crispy Inside-Out Omelet

Ingredients

shredded cheese
heavy cream
eggs
sausage (or other fillings of preference)

Directions

Scatter a handful of shredded cheese over the bottom of a large non-stick pan. You want enough to cover the bottom. Turn the burner on to about 4 (a bit less than medium).

Cut up your filling and distribute it uniformly over the top of the cheese. I typically use two links of breakfast sausage (previously cooked) sliced into little rounds. Let it sit undisturbed until the cheese has begun to melt and bubble. You want it to melt evenly, so keep an eye on it and see if you need to tweak the pan's position on the burner as it starts to melt.

Meanwhile, crack two eggs into a small bowl. Add a pinch of kosher salt and a long splash of heavy cream. (Probably a couple tablespoons?) Whisk with a fork until thoroughly blended.

When the cheese is bubbling away, pour the egg mixture into the middle of the pan and let it spread out to cover the cheese. You may need to swirl the pan a little to cover any bare spots, but you don't want to be too vigorous or the eggs will go up the sides of the pan and give you a lot of thin film along the edges of your omelet.

Let it sit until the eggs are set, then use a spatula to fold the omelet in half. Slide the spatula under the middle of the omelet, turn it sideways, and transfer the omelet onto a plate. If you do it right, you can get it to form a sort of tent shape, which looks neat and will help it cool off to edible temperature more quickly. (And also makes it fit on the plate better if your plates are smaller than your pan.)

The outside of the omelet should be a rich orange-brown color with a gentle crunch. Toasting the cheese on the outside enhances its flavor, plus it greases the pan for you.

Notes

It's a little trickier if you're using something big and flat instead of small and chunky for your filling, like slices of lunchmeat. If you put a slice of lunchmeat between the cheese and the eggs, it may keep them from bonding and cause to things slide apart on your plate, but if you put it on top of the eggs, it slows their cooking and makes it harder to judge when they're done, so you're more likely to get either detachable filling or burnt cheese. You just have to do your best and remember to get more sausage next time you go shopping.

Salsa makes a nice filling, but it's prone to the same problems. Instead, you can beat it into the eggs in place of the cream. Just beware the giant blup of thixotropic flow dropping way too much into the bowl.
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AGU & Recovery [Dec. 20th, 2018|05:30 am]
Beemer
AGU was good, other than catching a nasty cold that started on Monday. I think it helped that my hotel was so close, and my schedule this year was kind; I only had early morning stuff on one or two days.

I ended up working all day on Sunday finishing things up for my talk. I finally called it done at 1 am that night. Uploading it on Monday and the talk itself on Tuesday afternoon both went smoothly, and I was apparently speaking coherent English, because a couple people told me it was good. So yay!

Had a few useful side meetings (none in the evening, which was nice), and the DC convention center is reasonably laid-out (although the signage wasn't the greatest), so I didn't feel like I was running running running to see everything. Absorbed what feels like useful information about a number of topics.

I got dinner with Ian L. on Tuesday after my talk, at a vegetarian middle-eastern place (Shouk) a few blocks away. And then I was able to meet up with Seth S. for lunch at the Native American Museum on Wednesday, in celebration of his completing his nursing program. Since I had the next afternoon off, I trekked out to Bethesda and got a massage from him, too, and that was quite nice.

They had a "night at the museum" set up for conference attendees to go visit several of the Smithsonian museums from 7-10 on Thursday night, and I had plans to go see the Air & Space Museum (picked up my wristband and everything), but I was just too wiped out to leave my hotel room after dinner.

What with getting sick and pushing hard to get things finished, I was too wiped for a lot of things. I tacked on a personal day before and after the meeting, and I was hoping to visit more friends and do more sightseeing, but I just didn't have it in me. (Apologies to everyone I missed!)

I did manage to get to the Air & Space Museum for a couple hours before closing on Saturday. It started raining on Friday afternoon and didn't stop until I left on Sunday, so it wasn't terribly crowded. There were a number of things that were neat to see the in person -- not a replica, not a model, but the actual thing itself. They have a piece of moon rock that you can touch, and that was pretty keen, actually. I got a shiver from it. I also really liked the Wright brothers exhibit. They did a good job of telling the story of how they figured out flight, and then you turn and look at it and there it is! The first airplane ever!

I also managed to drag myself to the Green Lantern on Saturday evening to meet up with Seth and some other folks, once I realized it was only three and a half blocks from the hotel. It is very stealthy - I circled it twice before figuring out where it was. I was wandering through an alley in the rain thinking I can hear the thump-thump-thump of dance music, so there HAS to be a gay bar somewhere nearby! Had a pleasant time. It was low-key, and we were able to just hang out and chat.

I realized at some point on the trip back that I have been working at about 120% of my normal capacity since, like, October, and that I need to operate at reduced capacity for a while to rebuild my reserves. I've been working half days all week so far. Today I managed to shovel out my inbox. That's not actually dealing with anything, just reading through the backlog and deleting all the unimportant stuff. And that was enough.
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DC [Dec. 8th, 2018|08:17 pm]
Beemer
I'm back in DC! I was here week before last for another conference, but other than meeting up with Ian for dinner one night, I hardly even left my hotel room. (There was nothing at the conference I was interested in, but one of our grants requires us to attend and present on our funded work.)

So I spent all my time at that meeting working on the research for AGU, which is what I'm here for now. I'm still working on my presentation, but after many long hours, I finally have my code for the multivariate bias correction working. Yes! Finally!

Travels today were smooth and boring. I'm staying at a (brand-new) Residence Inn that's right across the street from the convention center, which itself sits athwart the Metro station, so that's about as maximally convenient as it gets. On checking in, I realized that it's actually a little tiny apartment. It has a living room and a little kitchen! Which is actually stocked with implements of cooking and usable for the preparations of comestibles!

So I wandered over to the Safeway a few blocks east of here and picked up groceries for several meals. I figure it'll be nice to just run back to the hotel for lunch and not have to fight the crowds. (It's tricky to buy groceries when you want about a week's worth of food but nothing left over. And are trying to stick to a low-carb diet.)

I also got dinner at Sweetgreens, which is a great fast-casual chain that does big hearty salads. Thanks to Ian for pointing it out to me on the previous trip!

P.S.: Here's the description of how the multivariate bias correction works that I came up with while pondering whether I could condense it all into a single sentence or whether it would implode under the density of the jargon:

Using an augmented moving window, we detrend the data with a broken-stick regression, apply a rank transformation to extract the copula, bias-correct the copula using repeated quantile mapping of random orthogonal rotations, transform the probabilities back to variable values via a kernel density estimate of the observational cumulative distribution function integrated using the trapezoid rule, and finally restore the trend with an offset equal to the mean bias during the overlap between observations and the historical simulation; for precipitation, we also work in log space, replace sub-trace values with random uniform noise, and apply a final distribution mapping and mean scaling step at the end.


Isn't that delightfully opaque?
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We finished Pandemic [Dec. 4th, 2018|09:30 pm]
Beemer
Well it's been quite a hiatus and many things have happened, but if I wait until I have the mojo to catch up on all of it, I'll never get caught up.

Karen and Chris and I finally finished our game of Pandemic Legacy! It only took 3 years. We actually won! I think we got lucky in the initial configuration of the game, and we put a lot of effort into keeping things contained, which I think was a good strategy. (Of course, we also got lucky with the inevitable rules screw-ups / accidental cheating, so that didn't hurt.)

Final game board and score under the cut!
SpoilersCollapse )

Okay, that's a thing, and therefore a post.
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Art show [Oct. 2nd, 2018|11:03 pm]
Beemer
So we have this family friend, Peg, who was a friend of my mom's when I was a kid, and whose daughter Kelly was my babysitter when I was in elementary school, and whose son Gus was one of my best friends in high school. She used to be a high school English teacher, but she also painted, and since she retired and moved to Nebraska she's been doing a lot more painting.

Sunday was the closing of her art show at a gallery in Scottsbluff and also her 80th birthday, and it turns out that Scottsbluff is only a 3 hour drive away, so Jerry and I hopped in the car and took a little day trip to attend.

It was a good trip and I'm really glad we went. The drive was nice, and we got to do a bunch of spousal chatting on the way there and back. In addition to catching up with the artist herself, I also got to reconnect with Gus, who I had fallen out of touch with and hadn't seen in, gosh, fifteen years or so, and his family, and Kelly too. And of course there was the art.

I really like Peg's art, and the directions it has evolved since she retired from teaching are pretty amazing. It was a retrospective, so it had pieces going back (one or two of them older than me), and it was arranged chronologically. There were also little blurbs for each piece, and it was neat to find out the stories behind each piece, including some that I had first seen in her house when I was a kid. Plus some of the stories feature people I know (including my mom), so that was fun.

I also had never known that she majored in geology in college, and after reading her biography I realized that this style of stippling and patterning she does in the ground and the sky in the paintings sometimes -- that comes from geological maps!

She often puts super-saturated colors against dark backgrounds, which creates an effect I really like. Her work really brings out the colors hidden in the landscape, and on the drive home I felt like I was looking at the landscape around us with new eyes and a better appreciation.

Also, we bought a painting! Only a little one, but I like it very much.

Pictures (just a few, highlighting some of my favorites) under the cut. Definitely click to embiggen!

ArtCollapse )

Oh, and here's her website:
https://www.facebook.com/Peg-Fowler-Fine-Art-Gallery-198558093523000/
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Cheese sauce [Sep. 25th, 2018|10:19 pm]
Beemer
I am feeling proud of myself for successful kitchen improvisation tonight.

I bought a whole bunch of pattypan squash and kale at the farmer's market on Saturday. (I also got the four knives that we use most frequently sharpened. Totally worth it!)

I didn't have a firm plan for what to do with them, but later on while I was at the grocery story picking up the rest of our weekly provisions, I found a recipe for a casserole on my phone that sounded good. So I picked up extra Swiss cheese and some shredded Parmesan, but then started looking at the recipe a little more and thinking, hmm, I bet this is going to turn out bland and watery.

Squash releases a lot of water when you cook it, and the recipe called for sauteing onion and kale and then adding chicken broth and cooking it "until it's absorbed", and I'm like... kale does not really absorb liquid. There was a fair amount of brown rice and bread crumbs in it that could soak up a lot of the liquid, but I was planning on leaving those out anyway (because low-carb), and again, bland, so clearly some adaptation needed to happen.

So I cubed up the squash and roasted it separately first to drive off some of the liquid and get some browning going. Sauteed the kale with onion and a bit of chicken bouillon powder. Then mixed it all together and stuck it in the fridge.

And then instead of making it into a casserole, I made a Swiss-Parmesan cheese sauce to go over the top. I was able to find a number of keto-friendly recipes, which all amount to one part each butter and cream cheese to two parts heavy cream and four parts cheese. So tonight I whipped that up. It came together pretty well, then threatened to seize and break (I think that's too much butter), but I added more cream and whisked like mad and was able to recover it.

And the result is very satisfying. The sauce is thick and rich and the flavor complements the vegetables well. There's a little too much of it (next time I won't measure the amounts, I'll just eyeball them to match), but overall I'm pretty satisfied with it.

(Are there other, less banal things going on?  Of course, but I haven't got the energy for a catch-up post, let alone trying to engage with anything more substantial, and I figure sharing A Thing is better than nothing, even if it's inconsequential.)
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Recent Recipes [Sep. 10th, 2018|10:30 pm]
Beemer
Yesterday I made an eggplant-tofu stirfry, and dry-fried green beans. And last weekend, I made a big batch of ratatouille. (Hooray for big batches of farmer's market veggies that I then feel obligated to cook! And potlucks.) And the weekend before that I made a nice mustard-y coleslaw to take to a pool party. I was very satisfied with how they all turned out, so here are some recipes.

Easy RatatouilleCollapse )




Eggplant and Tofu with Garlic Black Bean SauceCollapse )




Dry-Fried Green BeansCollapse )




Mustard ColeslawCollapse )
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A new car! [Aug. 10th, 2018|10:32 pm]
Beemer
The other exciting thing that's been going on lately is we bought a new car!

The minivan is pretty clearly on its last legs, so we decided to finally bite the bullet and get a new vehicle.

Jerry did a lot of online shopping and decided that a Kia Soul was a good fit for our budget that still had enough cargo room to haul a bunch of martial arts weapons around. We were able to go over to the K'GoGos' place (three? weekends ago) and were able to test-drive Cris's, which was a nice no-pressure way to check out that we really did like it.

So then we started looking for ones we could buy. I will say that the entire car-shopping process is a lot easier than it was the last time we did this. Not only is absolutely everything listed online, there are also website like cargurus that will tell you what's a reasonable price for that particular vehicle.

So Jerry did all the online shopping and I went to the credit union and got a loan preapproval and ran the numbers to figure out what we could comfortably afford and did the in-person looking at the top candidates. (Many of which had already been sold.) My mom also looked around some in Nebraska for us, since cars are often cheaper out there. She found one that was likely, but the guy selling it couldn't deal with a SMART preapproval, so that ended up being a no-go.

Anyway, after a lot of looking and prepping, we found one we liked and decided to go for it, so Thursday two weeks ago we drove all the way down to Centennial to buy it. Turns out the other thing that the internet has made easier is that you can just google "how to negotiate a car price" and get a bunch of good advice on that part of it, too. The one we were looking at had a posted price that the websites said was a fair deal. The dealer had signs posted declaring the fixed amount that they add on to the negotiated price (to cover costs and their baseline profit); we followed the tips we'd found online and got them to reduce the price by that amount, so that put us back into "fair deal" territory when all was said and done, and it was within our budget, so we decided that was good. (We figured they had come down by a fair chunk and weren't likely to come down further by that much again or even anything close to it, and we didn't care enough to spend a lot more time haggling over a couple hundred bucks, so good enough.)

The actual buying was then a little bit adventuresome, because the salesman sent us off to the finance guy, and there I discovered that I'd left my checkbook at home! Whoops! We were on a time limit at this point to get Jerry back up to Boulder for work, and we didn't want to make another trip all the way back down there to finish things off, so there was a little bit of a scramble to get it all sorted out. We figured out that we could put most of the down payment on the credit card (hey, free miles) and then we ran over to a nearby Wells Fargo to pull cash out of the ATM to cover the rest. We hit the limit on how much I could pull out with my card, but fortunately Jerry had his card, and we were able to get the other half of it with his, which gave us enough to go back and have the entire down payment we'd planned for covered and not have to redo all the financing. Woot!

So we drove home with a new car. It's a 2017 Kia Soul with only 17k miles on it. It's dark brown with a white top, and Jerry dubbed it Cappuccino (Cappy for short) because that's what it looks like. It's very nice, and we are very pleased with it.



(Postscript: To add to all the excitement, at the same time that we were dealing will all this car buying, we had a clog in the pipes that resulted in an overflow of blackwater into the laundry room. Super gross. We got a guy to come and snake the drain, and then a couple days later it overflowed again. Fortunately, this time it was only graywater from the washer. We had a warranty on the work, so the guy came back and did it again, and this time it seems to be all fixed. The basic problem is that he was going through a 1.5-inch pipe (where the overflow happened) to try to clear a 3-inch pipe where the clog was, and it's hard to get the snake in there. The other fortunate bit is that it only affected the upstairs plumbing and the washing machine drain, so we still had usable toilets, kitchen, and shower downstairs and in the basement. The previous owners of our house appear to have drywalled over the pipes where the cleanout is, so if it happens again we'll probably have to cut a hole in a wall, but at least at this point we're pretty sure where to do that, and it'll be in the garage or the laundry room. So that was an adventure. A gross, gross, adventure involving lots and lots of laundry.)
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