Archive for November, 2006

Eat Your Cake and Wait for It Too

Also on Friday, Larry Bowman and I got to attend my Great Uncle Chuck’s 90th Birthday Party!  Great Uncle Chuck was visiting from his farm in New Castle, Pennsylvania.  He had Thanksgiving at his sister’s house in Richmond and then she organized a surprise gathering the day after Thanksgiving.  Uncle Chuck thought they were going to eat at Wendy’s (I suspect he is a fan of Wendy’s– everytime I visit the farm we eat a lunch there).  The guest of honor did become suspicious, however, when his sister made him change out of his Virginia Tech sweatshirt and into a nice dress shirt. 

The party was held at a local country club.  For lunch we had a buffet that featured fried clam strips, hush puppies and some kind of chilled potato and shrimp salad.  I got to sit near the head of the table and was squished between my father and my sister.  It proved to be the perfect locale.  I had easy access to my grandmother, Great Uncle Chuck and Great Aunt Carolyn.  Plus I got to talk about Borat with my father and compare hair color with my sister. 

After lunch, came my favorite part of any celebration– the cake.  Again I profitted from my position at the table.  Since we were near the honored guest, my father, myself and my sister were served pretty quickly.  After making a comment about how my sister got an icing rose and I just got a plain piece of cake (I don’t think she picked up on my envy), I started to dig in.  I took my fork and scooped off that coveted inaugural bite when suddenly I noticed all three of my oldest relatives were not touching their cake.  Uncle Chuck, Aunt Carolyn and Grandma all sat stoically with erect postures and hands no where near their desserts.

“Oh whoops, ” I said and slowly returned my cake-loaded fork to the plate, “I guess we aren’t supposed to eat yet.”

“Mmpf?” My father was in mid-bite and with a clank, he retreated his fork as well.

At that point I was glad to be sitting next to my sister, because we simultaneously noticed Dad’s plate.  In the time it took me to balk about the rose and start to eat, my father had nearly devoured his entire cake.  His plate was home to two measley bites (and I mean measley). 

A lot of words can be used to describe Sawyers.  Those words are typically not synonymous with the likes of “neat”, “patient”, “quiet” and “polite”  🙂

But we sure do have some good laughs.

November 26, 2006 at 11:26 pm 4 comments

Embroided Stools and Orphan Decline

On Friday, Larry Bowman and I stopped by to visit his father outside of Richmond Virginia.  The visit was hauntingly like my visits with my grandfather.  Age has left Larry’s father rather feeble.  Like my grandfather, he spent most of his time in a recliner.  I saw pictures where he had a dog sitting right next to him, the way Hans the dachshund did with Grandpa.  And then the eerie part– next to the recliner was an embroidered stool where the newspaper was placed.  An identical setup to my grandparents’. 

Grandpa in his chair.  Hans and Carolyn nearby.  Carolyn may be on the stool??

I used to sit on that stool to listen to my grandfather’s stories or on occasion help light his pipe.  On Friday, Larry’s father wanted to see a photo album.  I found myself flipping through it with him and suddenly I realized I was sitting on the stool.  A strong sense of deja vu.

There was a big difference between my grandfather and Jasper Bowman.  My grandfather was very much the story teller and was always talking and sharing tales.  Larry’s father was more of a listener and observer.  He didn’t talk very much during our visit and when he did, he was very soft spoken.  I was sitting the closest to him, so I tried my best to start up conversation during the visit.

At one point, Larry’s father pulled up a black and white picture of a strapping young man in uniform.

“This is my father,” he said softly, “He fought in World War I.”

“Wow,” I said, “He fought in World War I?  Cool!  Did he ever tell you any stories about the war?”

“No,” he said, “My father was shot and killed.”

Before I could say anything, he sighed and added, “And then I was put in the orphanage.”

It wasn’t quite a Sister Gonorrhea moment, that’s for sure.  But it was certainly no ice breaker either!

As a recap, last weekend I was reading about orphans in Hungarian Rhaposody and then this weekend, I managed to mangle a conversation with an orphan.  If the degradation continues, I reckon next weekend I’ll be mooning orphans and calling them names.

Wish me luck.

November 26, 2006 at 5:03 pm 1 comment

Hungarian Rhapsody: An Adoption Story

I tend to be a slow reader, but last weekend I finished a book in almost one sitting!  The book was Hungarian Rhapsody: An Adoption Story by James Derk


I may be biased as I’ve known the author a number of years through my work,  but I found the story fascinating.  It’s about how Jim and his wife, Kim, traveled to Hungary on three different occassions (and complied with a month long Hungary-residency requirement each time) in order to adopt six siblings and keep them together.

Through the years, Jim and I’ve worked on a number of computer-related issues together.  He never seemed to get flustered by ActiveX frustrations, Oracle error messages or troubled web services.  Now I think know why.  At one point, Jim and his wife took 4 children (Ages 4 and under) on a 20 hour flight home from Hungary.  When you’ve endured traveling with four small children who don’t speak your language, two of which are infants who are riding on your laps and refuse to sleep, and one of which starts “this cute little projectile vomitting thing”, computer woes probably seem pretty mudane! 🙂

I found the descriptions of the orphanage in Hungary to be both heart-warming and somber and I enjoyed Jim’s observations of the cultural differences (One of the older boys was weary of ice in his soda, the infants were fed a coffee concotion in their bottles, the children took outdoor naps).  I especially enjoyed a snippet where Jim mistook an eldery woman who was innocently waiting for a bus as a prostitute.  🙂

Anyway, it’s a very quick read and I recommend it.  I think it will be of particular interest to any couples who are considering international adoption.


November 26, 2006 at 4:29 pm 2 comments

Christmas Cards as a Corrective Action

We are about to hit one of my favorite times of the year!  I’m not talking about the festive lights and music, the good food that warms you from the inside out, or the anticipation of gifts to be received.  I’m talking about the weeks where you are almost guaranteed to find something in your mailbox besides the usual bills and advertisements.   Christmas Card Season!!!!

I love everything about Christmas Card Season.  I love going to the stores and picking out the cards I’ll be sending out.  I love updating my Excel spreadsheet and printing out the address labels (using an old crappy Lexmark color printer that only sees action during this time of year).  I enjoy handwriting individual messages to all the recipients.  Usually that task takes place at home in front of the TV, but in 2004 I wrote a number of Christmas cards in hotel rooms and airplanes.  No matter where I am, it is a dedicated time where I step back and think about those who’ve meant so much to me through the years who through distance or circumstance are no longer a part of my daily life.  And, of course, I enjoy the thrill of receiving cards back and I enjoy hanging them like trophies in the dining room. 

Another thing that makes me smile is how my husband accepts and humours my love for Christmas cards.  It’s not his thing, but each year he’ll patiently append “& Sean” to large stacks of cards.  Now, he does see some gain in my affection for Christmas cards.  Occassionally someone will include money which we both end up profitting from.  And, in 2001, Sean was able to successfully exploit my love of Christmas cards to shorten the forgiveness lifecycle.

So here’s the scene.  A group of six of us had long been planning to see The Fellowship of the Rings on opening night.  We got a count of commitments and purchased our tickets days in advance.  We also had plans to meet at Red Lobster for a nice meal beforehand.  The work day came to a close and the plan looked in order.  Sean went home and walked the dogs.  While he was there, he found that we had received a mind-boggling 5 Christmas cards in a single day.  A record!  (In subsequent years, we’ve killed that record).  The celebration was short-lived, though, when Sean annonced he didn’t want to go to film anymore. 

“I’m just not motivated to see a movie,” he reported.

So the rest of us called around to find a replacement for Sean’s ticket.  As luck would have it, people tend to work late at CCS and we managed to snag Eric Goad to take Sean’s place on short notice.  We moved on to Red Lobster, where during a conversation I thought of an idea for a Christmas present for Sean’s youngest brother, Bret.  We had been struggling with what to get him (as we often do), so it was exciting to at least have an idea to work with.  When I called Sean to tell him about it, that celebration was short-lived as well.  I noted an awful lot of background noise.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Sharkey’s,” Sean said.  It’s a local bar.

“Well,” I snapped, “I’m glad to hear you are motivated to go out to a bar!” and then hung up the phone.

In retrospect, I bet that helped solidify my infatuation for beautiful, gorgeous Legolas.  Afterall, not only is Legolas stunning, if he had to renege on plans with me, he’d certainly have a better reason.  He’d be out saving Middle Earth…not going to the same bar he goes to every single night. 

“I will see a movie with you, Vicky”

After nearly 3 hours, the film and my exposure to Legolas was over.  With no more eye candy to distract me, my fury really started to sink in.  There was a strong indirect relationship between my anger and my distance from the house.  The closer to home I got, the angrier I grew.  Memories of past infractions surfaced, were tallied and tailored as ammunition.  I was ready to let Sean have it.  And I didn’t care how he was going to apologize, I was fully poised to snub any such efforts.  I wouldn’t even acknowedge it.  At least…that was my plan.

As soon as I came in the door, I saw a horrifying obstacle.  On the breakfast nook were some beautiful roses in a crystal vase.  I probably could have persevered if my only opposition was roses.  BUT….leaning against that vase were all five of the newly received Christmas cards.  Sean had placed them strategically and it was a very good strategy at that.  In order to get to the cards, I would have to acknowledge the roses. 

Sean knew the cards would be the first thing I’d go for, regardless of mood.  He knew I wouldn’t be able to resist them.  And he knew the cards would end up being more important than any gratification a grudge could give me.  Him knowing that about me and knowing the full appeal of the cards…. that may have spoken more than any bouquet or apology could.

Anyway, Sean ended up being forgiven. 

And I– I got my Christmas cards!  🙂 

November 26, 2006 at 4:02 pm 10 comments

DocProperty Size Discrepancy in Word 2000

Got to have some fun with Word 2000 today.  Yup, Word 2000.  Microsoft stopped mainstream support of Office 2000 in June of 2004.  However, their extended maintenance covers it until July of 2009, so we try our best to accomodate it with our customers.

Anyway, this particular frustration came from the number of characters permitted in a custom DocProperty.  Microsoft’s resources describe a limit of 255 characters.  Sure enough if you work through DSOFile.dll or if you manually enter in a DocProperty under File->Properties; Custom, it truncates off at 255.

No Biggie.  A limitation is a limitation.  We did what we needed to do to work around that 255 character restriction and we tested in Word 2003 and everything worked like a champ.  Well guess what.  Word 2000 also supports 255 characters being saved in a DocProperty.  BUT— when you insert that field somewhere in your Word 2000 (SP2 or SP3) document via Insert->Field, it only displays 254 characters!

You look under File->Properties; Custom and see all your data accounted for, but inside the content of the document, it is one character short.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset.  In Office 2000 SR-1, there was a bug where a DocProperty field inserted in the Word 2000 document only displayed 127 characters.  So I should feel blessed that I have an extra 127 characters to work with.

But…….I don’t feel blessed.

I just feel annoyed. 

November 20, 2006 at 8:03 pm 4 comments

Wake Forest and Satellite Navigation

Yesterday, Andy B, Sean, Mike E, Larry Bowman and I traveled to Winston-Salem to watch the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest game. We met a number of people down there, including Bret, Phifer, Jason, Steph, Ben Harden and Keith Phelps. Through the years, we have been quite accustomed to the facilities at Larry’s house. It was eye opening to see how others, who don’t have access to the same stationary resources we do, have architected their tailgates.

From a letter written to my cousin Adam (who’s in Iraq) dated today (11/19/2006):

… We arrived around noon and set up our modest card table and our collapsible cloth chairs. Our food was different than normal. At home games, we do elaborate smoked meats. Just the week before, Sean sent three hours the night before the game, preparing stuffed jalapeño peppers. This game we showed up with a sandwich tray and an assortment of chips.

The other people in our lot had more impressive arrays. Some brought full-sized grills. I even watched a man stir a big vat of batter (for frying) with– I kid you not– an oar. A rowing oar. That is how much batter he was preparing!

We had a humble little TV with [a $10 antennae] to get the Michigan-Ohio State game. We saw a number of people who brought giant flat screens with them (and [sometimes] a generator to [power] them). A lot of people had a satellite dish with them.

The party across from us actually had custom fittings installed in their van to hold up a high-def plasma TV in the back. An [adjacent] truck had fancy welded hardware attached to it to hold up the satellite dish.

(FYI– there were advantages to our TV getting antennae feed– we got to see touchdowns and interceptions five seconds ahead of all the others).

All those satellites did prove to be helpful to us though.

After dark, we approached the stadium and noted the tickets were for the West stands.

“Which way is west?” someone asked.

During his day, my grandfather [a navigator during WWII and Korea on B-29s] used a number of navigation techniques. He’d make use of the radio signals for his LORAN system. Sometimes he used the same celestial navigation the early sailors would have used or sometimes he would use dead reckoning and plot the direction and distance traveled from a known point.

Our party of slightly inebriated fans did not have access to LORAN, had no idea the bearing we were traveling and certainly had no idea what to do with the few stars we could see past the bright stadium lights. But we did have access to something that proved just as helpful as a compass.

“Well,” [Andy B] said, “All the satellite dishes were pointing that way and the dishes point southwest, so west is there.”

His observation proved correct. Who needs the moon or the North Star, when we have DirecTV dishes?

Having been involved in geocaching, I found it amusing there is a form of satellite navigation that does not require a GPS unit! 🙂

November 19, 2006 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

Sister Gonorrhea and the Recrap

My speeches at the user’s conference went well, but the week before I did have cause for some slight concern.  During a meeting with a number of sales managers and resellers spread between the U.S. and Mexico, I was tasked to give an abridged version of items we’d be covering during the conference.  With my first sentence I wanted to express my intent to summarize a previous meeting.  As soon as I finished my thought, all my local colleagues started laughing and would not tell me why.  I carried on and after the meeting was over, I was enlightened.  Instead of using the word “recap”, I managed to say, “recrap

I shared that story with my father and he reminded me that my slip of the tongue is nothing compared to the linguistic missteps of my relatives!  The reigning champ would be my Uncle Mark.  A number of years ago, he was emceeing a banquet for about 200 people and part of his responsibilities was introducing the guest speakers.  Well he managed to mangle the name of a nun.  Instead of introducing Sister Donna Maria, he introduced Sister Gonorrhea!  I’m told the audience certainly found the mistake amusing, but Sister Donna Maria’s red face indicated she felt otherwise.

There are a number of things I’ve inherited from my father’s side of the family and my use of “recrap” may just be a symptom of my heritage.  I guess I should be thankful that, like my greying hair, this trait seems to be diluted slightly through the generations. 🙂

November 19, 2006 at 9:42 pm 4 comments

Hope as a Preventive Action

Section 8.5.3 of the ISO 9001:2000 standard discusses preventive action and its requirements. One such requirement is a documented procedure that defines five aspects of preventive action:

a) determining the potential nonconformities and their causes,
b) evaluating the need for action to prevent the occurence of nonconformities,
c) determining and implementing the action needed,
d) records of results of actions taken (see 4.2.4), and
e) reviewing the preventive action taken

Yesterday, I was away from work, but still got to see first hand why all those steps are valueable in a preventive action. Mike E and I took the dogs out for a quick hike. When we first arrived at Falls Ridge, Mike promptly said, “Hey there’s a wild turkey wing here.”

Sure enough, right by the car was a severed, rotting wing from some poor turkey. I managed to corral the dogs away from it and we went along our merry way.

On the way back, we neared the car and I noticed Henry’s pace pick up.

“Oh, I hope he doesn’t roll in that turkey wing,” I said and then I promptly got distracted by a nearby trail map. I was hoping to find historic details on a structure Mike and I were looking at.

By the time I turned my attention back to Henry he was actively rolling on the decomposing wing. I yelled and ran his way, but by the time I could reach him and pull him off, he had successfully rubbed his entire body over the carcass.

Henry (pre Turkey Wing Encounter)

So in this situation, I had successfully determined the potential nonconformity (the opportunity to produce a smelly, disgusting dog) and I knew its root cause (Henry is an idiot). But that’s where my effort stopped. I never took any action to prevent its occurence. Instead I focused on other items (as many of us tend to do with all our hectic work duties). Before I knew it, the dreaded nonconformity happened.

On the upside, I have examined the “results of the actions taken.” I can confirm without a doubt that “hope” is not an effective prevention tool. I believe this applies equally to both bad dogs and processes within an organization:

Hoping that the bad thing, the scenario that turns your stomach, does not happen– is not going to keep it from happening.

November 14, 2006 at 9:57 pm Leave a comment

Memories of Meredith – Still Going Strong

In June, my friend Meredith moved from nearby Christiansburg, all the way to California. Here’s a journal excerpt about her going away party. It’s from my June 25, 2006.

When we first arrived – Bill and I walked over to a large grounp standing outside watching one of their friends swinging wildly at a pinata.

I realized I had forgotten the card for Meredith — so I made a trip back to my car. As I walked down the gravel driveway in the dark dusk, I could hear Meredith’s voice above all the others. It made me smile– at her party and her moment, she was shining. However, as I got further and further away from the party and closer to my car, her voice started to fade away. My smile dropped, realizing the same thing may happen to my memories of her. They are loud and clear now and prevalent above the others — but eventually they may fade away.

Well, five months has past and so far so good. My memory of Meredith is still going strong, especially this past week! It seems all week I had little brushes with a Meredith Memory:

  • Friday
    Phifer organized a surprise birthday dinner for Bret. So at 10 PM, Bill, Andy, Phifer, Bret, Larry, Lindsay, Sean and I convened on Kabuki for the traditional gorging on high sodium foods. Kabuki did make me think of Meredith as I accompanied her there often and I believe we had two seperate going away feasts there.
  • Saturday
    Saturday was the tailgate, so I had some wine– a cabernet sauvignon. It was Meredith who helped fuel my love of wine– taking me to Villa Appalachia and inviting me to wine tasting parties at her house. Plus I learned I liked cabernet sauvignon by copying Meredith. At restaurants I would cheat and just order whatever she ordered! 🙂
  • Monday
    Monday on a whim, I took off early and spent the afternoon hiking with Mike E. Daylight is scarce nowadays. Luckily I was able to expose Mike to a nearby gem– the Falls Ridge Nature Preserve in Ellett Valley. Meredith’s memory is strong there. She was the one who first introduced me to the spot. She and I visited on a number of occassions– including the day before my wedding (it proved to be a great way to relax before nuptials)! Frequently while Mike and I explored yesterday, I’d mention Meredith. “Meredith and I once climbed to that rock!”, “Meredith and I walked down that way.”, etc.
  • Tuesday
    Today, Mike E, Tony Airaghi and I tried out Sushi Factory. It’s a new sushi place in University Mall. Once again, I thought briefly of Meredith. She was there when I first tried sushi and she organized a number of the subsequent sushi gatherings I attended.

So perhaps if I keep on eating, drinking wine and hiking– Meredith’s memory will never fade away.

Unless, of course, I take the wine drinking part of the equation a little too seriously. 🙂

November 14, 2006 at 8:35 pm 2 comments

T9 Provokes Gossip

On the subject of T9 mistakes, earlier this week, I got a text message from a friend that simply read:

“r u pregant?”

The question seemed pretty out of the blue, but upon inquiry it turns out the T9 on my phone was to blame. 

Earlier in the day, I had sent a message to that friend to talk about lunch.  In the middle of the message, T9 guessed one word (not sure which one) as “mommy”.  It was a mistake I did not catch or correct.  So my friend received a message with the word “mommy” inexplicably in the middle. 

She thought I was trying to send her a secret message!  🙂

November 12, 2006 at 2:08 am 6 comments

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