Career

shades of blue

Rhiannon is into her second week with students in the new school year and I've been putting in some longer days with a busy project at work, so it feels like we see our girls for a short time in the morning and a slightly longer period in the evening, just enough to eat, briefly play, and get ready for bed. Luckily, part of the bedtime routine is taking a bath, which is one of Maddi's favorite things right now.

Post Bath

I just like how her eyes match her towel when she's done.

temporary fresh start

Through the entire economic downturn of the past few years, Rhiannon and I have been fortunate enough to make it though relatively unscathed. It turns out that there is a relatively steady demand for public school teachers. The salary and uncertain future notwithstanding, it's been a steady career choice up to this point. My particular job in engineering has been somewhat tied to the fortunes of the oil companies. Yes, the oil companies that I tend to demonize for the high prices of automotive gasoline and and general use of fossil fuels overall. But, when gas was $4.00/gallon a few years ago, we couldn't find enough people to work at our company. Overtime was abundant and job security was virtually guaranteed. Then the bottom fell out of price per barrel, and while cheap gas was one result, it turns out that big oil doesn't spend money on new development that they can't pay for a lack of increased profits.

I'm currently on a seconding[1. second - to temporarily loan an employee to another branch or business; Yeah, I had never heard this definition before either.] assignment with another company. A couple months ago, when my manager discussed the possibility of a field assignment, I wasn't really excited. Field assignments in my company have generally meant six months in another state which wasn't something I really wanted to do with Brooklynn around. Half a year of her life at this stage is a big long chunk of time. But, if it meant keeping a job...

Turns out the field assignment was with a company that has an office right across the street from where I normally work. I've gone from working one office in a Fortune 500 company with hundreds of people to an office of 45. Things are more relaxed. People have more of a sense that what they do might really make a difference. The computers are a lot nicer and IT is something that tries to help you get your job done efficiently rather than something that gets in the way.

I've been with the same company since I graduated from college and I've been very happy with what I've worked on and I like my department coworkers. I've never considered that I would might be just as happy or better off somewhere else. Until now.

I'm not planning on immediately sending out resumes, but the possibility is there. At least I know that if things ever do turn south, I've seen how someplace else operates.

Now I just have to figure out how to take the two big 24" monitors back with me. There are things I'm definitely going to miss when this is over.

brrrrrr

School has been called off again tomorrow due to cold weather. It's too cold to snow and the roads are cold enough to be free of snow and dry for the most part. Not so much a snow day but a cold day. And yes, it really is cold. Negative 17 in the morning with wind chills predicted to be in the negative 30 range. Too cold for kids to be out waiting for buses or walking to school. Maybe the kids are enjoying the extra weekend in the middle of the week. Unfortunately, standardized tests don't get pushed back at all, so that means two less instruction days for Rhiannon in the classroom before testing. Things I never considered when I was a student myself. Of course, back in the ancient days, standardized test results weren't quite the deal they are now.

times are changing (earlier all the time)

Rhiannon went back to work today after a couple of solid months off. I’m sure you know that teachers only work nine months a year (185 contracted days plus a few holidays minus some possible snow days, and you actually come in just shy of full months.) What I think that a lot of people assume is that this roughly translates into three months off each summer.

Not true.

For teachers on a traditional calendar in our district, it works out to about two months off over summer (June and July), a week off in the fall and spring, and two weeks over summer. Note that as we are now firmly into the second day of August, it does in fact indicate that Rhiannon is back to work.

She’s changing to the third school of her career, and, when I consider the fact that I’ve had a grand total of two desk locations in the same building at my job, I can’t really empathize with having a “first day” feeling when performing approximately the same job.

This move is a little different in the fact that she’s transitioning to a middle school from an elementary, and as with any change, there are both good and bad points. The following are the early major home impacts that we’ve already identified.

Good: She’s going back to work and so is provided with a district laptop. Schools know that their employees take work home with them on a regular basis and provide accordingly. I don’t always like the fact that Rhiannon does need to work nights and weekends to get grading and planning done, but I do like the fact that it brings another computer back into the house.

For the past 6 weeks, we’ve been down to just two computers, and one of those is a little computer in the basement that drives our home theater. The second is a laptop usually sits on my desk and is attached to things like external hard drives and a second monitor. So it’s kind of a hybrid desk-lap/top and not always portable. Really, it takes at least 20 seconds to unplug it and start walking around. Unacceptable.

And so we were left without a permanently mobile computer floating around the house and there are times when one of those is vital. I mean, imagine a question with life-or-death significance arises and you find yourself with no easy means to query the vast knowledge of the internet. Perhaps a question like “Was the first commissioner of professional football really appointed in the 1920s?” I’m sure that you can now see how important some of these inquiries really are.

(No, the first official commissioner was named in 1941. Now you can rest easy at night.)

For a little bit, I thought we were going to have to get an iPad just to handle situations like this. Luckily, we survived the extreme depravation.

Bad: The new school starts just a little bit earlier than the old one and is a few miles farther away. While there is a small benefit in the fact that I can be around to help everyone get out the door and still make it to work on time myself, it also means that everyone gets up early.

I’m not going to complain about getting up before 5:00am, because I’ve done it before and it’s something we get used to after a little while. It will just require us going to bed at a decent time during the week. What I will complain about is the fact that it will get Brooklynn on a schedule where she wakes up around 6:00am everyday because that’s when we get her up.

She has transitioned into sleeping in until 7:00 or 8:00 each morning, which is really nice on the weekends when both of us can sleep in until she’s up and ready to go. Considering we're aiming at having dropped off at daycare a little before 7am on workdays (sorry, Jamie), we’ll also see how quickly she transitions to early mornings during the week.

This morning, I went to get her and found her still sound asleep and sans diaper. She has taken to sleeping curled up on her knees and her naked bottom was perched high in the air for all to see. Apparently, sometime in the night, her diaper either came loose of was removed by the baby and she went back to sleep. Luckily, it came off late enough in the night that she didn’t wet the bed. We had her dressed and downstairs with a cup of milk before she really knew what was even going on.

I can’t wait until Saturday when she decides that 5:30 in the morning would be a perfect time to have some breakfast as revenge.

professional development

At some point in college, I went from a declared computer science major to a physics undergrad to electrical engineering in graduate school. Today, this progression manifests itself in the fact that I really like to tinker with electronic gadgets and I’m semi-competent in writing limited amounts of computer code. I can also discuss the differences in quantum versus physical characteristics of light photons and I may annoy Rhiannon at times when I note if the fans are running on substation transformers as we drive by. Being as engineering did in fact become my full time occupation, the other two items are more footnotes and hobbies at this point and very few people care if I can still find the rotational inertia of a complex object or not. (The answer is I probably can, but I might need a little computer assistance when calculating multivariable integrals.)

As a power engineer, I work with electrical systems of thousands of volts and a lot of energy. I understand the fact that electricity can be dangerous anytime you get much past yard lighting, but some of the equipment I design can make sticking a fork in an outlet look like putting a nine-volt battery on your tongue.

For those of you who have never put a 9V on your tongue, I suggest it. Briefly. It tingles and might leave a funny taste for a little bit, but it’s pretty harmless. (Repeat, briefly.)

So, we check our work. And then someone else checks it. And then someone puts an official stamp on drawings that are going to be used in construction. That someone is ultimately responsible for the adequacy of the protection and design of the electrical system that has the potential to kill people if something goes wrong. And, in order to have that stamp and ultimate responsibility, there has to be some sort of measure of competence that a licensing institution can rely on to screen candidates.

A little over eight weeks ago, I was in downtown Denver on a Friday taking a test. Five years out of school, spending up to 8 hours in one large room with a bunch of other people from many varied fields of engineering to find out if we could be professional engineers.

If that isn’t your idea of a good time, I’m not sure we should really hang out together.

I mean, who doesn’t want to be downtown by 7:45am to be scolded about having cameras, cell phones, music players, or any non-approved calculators? At that point, I was wondering if I should delete the photos I was just taking and maybe do something about the cell phone in my pocket. The instructions said to leave everything in your car. Except that I took the light rail because a)We had some free light rail tickets and b)no parking fees.

I figured as long as it didn’t ring, I would be fine. I wasn’t really planning on cheating. I spent the day before the test taking a sample exam and I felt pretty good about it. In the modern age of digital technology, it seems that everything has gone to fill in the bubble Scantron, multiple choice testing. It makes sense. It eliminates human judgment on long workout problems and should reduce human error in grading. It allows test makers to run complex statistical analysis on the results. And, it just so happens that I have yet to meet a standardized test that I didn’t like.

(Except for spelling in elementary school. And no, we’re not going to talk about it. I just maintain that, even as a second grader, I knew what the future had in store for us in the way of spell-checking on a computer.)

My particular exam was scheduled to be 4 hours in the morning, 4 hours in the afternoon, 80 questions total (40-40 split). My total time was a shade over 6 hours. And I felt good walking out. Mostly because it was almost 5pm at that point and I was ready to be done, but also because I thought I did well. Like I said, me and bubble-tests, we’re like this.

So, yesterday, when I got the email that the results of the test were available, why did I suddenly get nervous? Maybe I should have studied more than just the day before the test. Maybe I should have used the full time to check my answers more than a quick once over to make sure I didn’t miss any questions.

Maybe I shouldn’t doubt myself so much.

They don’t give out scores for this type of thing. It’s more just along the lines of pass or fail and even the passing score can change each time they give them. So, as far as you or I are concerned, I aced it.

The best part about passing it? I don’t have to do it again.

career choice

I've heard it said many times that if you choose to do something you love as a career, you'll never have to work a day in your life. Sappy or not, I imagine there are professions that people are really excited to get up and do every day. Now, I just need to figure out how to make a living designing Rube Goldberg machines.

Inspired by the following video from OK Go:

I'd suggest going to YouTube and watching the HD version, several times. This is one of the coolest videos I have seen in a long time on the internet. Please excuse me while I go pick my jaw up from the floor.

change isn't always for the better

I don't like to get into politics too much on this site, because, when it comes to opinions, I think everyone is entitled to one and, last time I checked, arguing on the Internet rarely solves anything.  However... We found out that the school board election in Rhiannon's school district, the one in which over half the school board was up for vote, did not go the way the teacher's union wanted. The new members are conservatives who ran on a platform that teachers are overpaid and schools would be better off as charter schools run by parents.

I think it might be time to consider a different school district. At least we have a few years before Brooklynn actually goes to school; we can assess how much things have gone downhill at that point.

big night out

Last night, both Rhiannon and I played volleyball, which means someone else watched Brooklynn for the evening for the first time since we had her. You know the TV shows where a couple goes out for an evening for the first time but calls the baby-sitter 70 million times just to check in and spends the entire night wondering what is going on at home? That was not us.

  • Brooklynn is not old enough to run around, take off her pajamas, hide in a closet, or break things. She is also not scared of people who are not Mom or Dad.
  • We already gave her a bath, so all that was left in the pre-bedtime routine was to eat. Brooklynn loves to eat. This was not a problem.
  • After she eats, she’s almost always happy and then she falls asleep for the night.
  • Finally, we left her with Rhiannon’s aunt and uncle (parents of the former baby-who-doesn’t-trust-me, now morphed into a very polite kindergartner with 30 minutes of homework each night including math and reading).

30 minutes of homework each night for a kindergartner? They don’t even go to school full time. Sixth graders aren’t suppose to have much over an hour each night. I think when I went to kindergarten for a half day, a good chunk of it was recess, naps, and snack time. And we would do something really challenging, like learn about the letter “C”. Amazing what happens when you expect kids to be taking AP Differential Equations and Advanced Cellular Biology by the time they finish high school.

/end rant

  • We left Brooklynn with Rhiannon’s family, who have raised a child of their own successfully up to this point and went through the baby stage not that long ago. We felt confident in them to handle our easy-going daughter for an hour or two of wakefulness.

And it went wonderfully. She was sleeping when we picked her up (and at 10:30 in the evening, we really hoped she would be). Frankly, since we are planning on asking them to watch her again, we were more worried about Brooklynn behaving badly and them not wanting her back.

Yes, she spit up on Mark. That’s kind of what she does at this stage of her life and really, it just shows how comfortable she was there. Or how uncomfortable she is until she burps after eating. I still can’t tell if she just thinks it’s funny to soil as much laundry as possible.

home away from home

Another week has passed with Brooklynn back at home, and we’ve done our best to keep things on a similar schedule as when she was at daycare. Sadly, the sleeping through the night seems to have taken a leave of absence, and all of a sudden we have a child who takes naps during the day and wants to play for a while during the wee hours of the morning. Having a run of four days at daycare was kind of eye opening for me. Yes, we got better at getting Brooklynn’s bags packed up to go, and no, I wasn't ready for the fact that a human under 20 pounds can need that much stuff. I think she takes more with her leaving the house than I do heading out the door to work, mostly because I am able to use a bathroom and I don’t usually fear that I will throw up on myself and require a change of clothes. I guess I have that going for me.

We’re really happy with where we’re taking her, and considering we didn’t spend the months of pregnancy checking out a million daycare options, we feel pretty fortunate about how it all turned out. We kind of stumbled into it at a Super Bowl party last January and put a check mark next to that to do item. And it worked out.

Jamie, our daycare provider, is pretty flexible on days and time and has a ‘dropping your kids off with a friend’ rather than at an institution feel. She has two kids of her own and a few other kids around. After seeing Grace and Jacoby obsess over the baby, I'm pretty sure Brooklynn isn't hurting for attention when she is away from us. I don't think it's easy leaving your child to spend a big chunk of her day with someone else, but neither Rhiannon nor I are ready to quit our jobs anytime soon, so we do what we can to spend time with her in the evenings and weekends and feel good about knowing she's in a good home during the day.

In fact, considering that Brooklynn slept through the night every single day we took her to daycare and has only done it a few times since, we’re strongly considering sending her back to daycare early.

(I’m kidding. Maybe.)

(Jamie, what is your secret to get her to sleep? And how do you watch five or six children at once? I can barely handle one, and she doesn’t move on her own yet.)

Plus, I know at Jamie’s, there is usually a camera around somewhere, which should make Brooklynn feel right at home. It's good to have those small consistencies, like the feeling that paparazzi are following you everywhere. I imagine by the time Brooklynn is five, she'll expect media coverage of her first day of school.

bring on the flu

Maybe you’ve turned on the news or listened to the radio sometime in the past week and heard about the “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, THE PIGS ARE COMING!!” disease, better known as the swine flu.  I admit, it is something that needs to be made known, and for small children or the weak and elderly, it can be very dangerous.  But really, talk of closing the border between countries? Pandemic conjures up images of widespread panic, irrational fear, and a very dangerous situation.  Ok, two out of three of ain’t bad.  I know that people have died and that it is slowly spreading around the world, but people die every year from the flu.  Is it a new strain that has never spread human to human before?  Yep.  Is it a super virus destined to wipe out the entire human race and/or irrevocably alter the course of history? Um, at this point, all indications point to no.  People who have the disease got on planes, and a pandemic to me means that everyone on that plane now has it as well.

Ok, I watch and read too much science fiction.

According to the World Health Organization, we are reaching pandemic levels, but we have much more pressing diseases to worry about close to home.

Like Fifths disease and Scarlett Fever, or as I like to call them, Parvovirus B19 (aka erythema infectiosum) and toxic streptococcus bacteria.  Kids in Rhiannon’s school have had both of these diseases recently and saying the scientific names make it sound much more panic-inducing.  Sure, about half of all adults have had the virus that causes Fifths and most don’t know it, and Scarlett Fever is essential a bad case of strep throat, but you worry a little with tiny unborn people who are little and precious like Beta.

The doctor says nothing to worry about anymore this late in the game and carry on like normal.  I say keep Beta away from nasty, germy hobbitses school-children, but we’ll trust the incubator to do its job in these cases.

Rhiannon did say one of her co-workers gave her an economy sized jar of hand-sanitizer to use in her classroom.  Take that, pigs.

the water has broke

No, not that water.  Beta is still safely put away in the incubator for the time being. Rhiannon just called to tell me that the water main at her school broke, so she is going to go home early at some point today.  Because there is no water, which means no working bathrooms.

For a pregnant woman, I guess it is not an option to tough it out.