Another thing we learned in my peer mentoring class was that there are such things as stupid questions.

That sounds bad, but let’s look at that: what constitutes a stupid question? Well, if you flip it around, what constitutes a good question? A good question is one in which the person asking the question has really thought the question through, they’ve tried to answer it themselves, and they have a good grasp on what they’re asking - they’ve put some effort into the formulation of the question. So, then, a stupid question is when the person asking doesn’t think at all about the question, they just blast it out there.

What shows me that you’ve thought about a question? That’s different for different people, but when you ask me a question, especially if it involves me having to stop what I’m doing to answer, here’s what I want to know:

  • Priority: Is this super-urgent, or are you just asking out of curiosity? If it’s not crisis level and I’m busy, maybe you should save it for later.
  • Time To Answer: How long do you think it’s going to take me to answer? More than two or three minutes (from the time you start asking the question to the time I finish answering) and you might want to block off some time in Outlook.
  • Concise Description of Problem: Can you ask the question in one or two sentences (including enough context to make the problem understandable)? If not, stop and think through what you’re asking.
  • What You Expect: What are you looking for from me? Advice? A technical direction? Just someone to vent to?
  • Who Else You Asked: If you asked other people the question first, are they still working on it? Did they give you any additional information?
  • What You’ve Done: What have you done already to try to answer the question yourself?
  • When You Need It: Do I have to answer right now or can I get back to you?

Much of this goes hand in hand with the use of correct communication protocol. If you bug a person too much and/or in the wrong fashion, you’re not going to get a great response.

I’ll also throw out two more tips, specifically for people asking me questions:

  • Do not start your question with “I have a quick question.” I’ll determine if it’s quick or not based on the amount of time you think you need. Instead, try “I have a one-minute question” or “I have a two-minute question.” Make sure your time estimate is accurate - don’t say you have a two-minute question if it’s a fifteen-minute question. Don’t tell me you need one minute when you really need five.
  • Do not show up and drop your laptop on my desk. I know you may want me to review some code or look at something. The fact that you had to bring your laptop over already tells me you’re over the one-or-two-minute limit on drop-in questions and you need to schedule some time in Outlook. Nothing is more frustrating than “*bam* Hey, can you look at this?” Seriously.

I think I’m going to try this out on a larger scale. If folks at work have questions, I’m happy to answer them, as long as they’re good questions.

Stu kills me. It’s always all-or-nothing with everything he does.

Like, every three months or so, he decides he’s not drinking soda anymore, he’s just going to drink water. So he’ll do this cold turkey thing for a week or so, then slide into just having some juice or lemonade or something every once in a while. That lasts a couple of days until he moves to diet soda of some nature… which also only lasts a couple of days until he skips directly to the Mountain Dew. If they had Jolt at work, he’d probably have hit that long ago.

That cracks me up - he can’t just stick on the diet soda or maybe something a little lighter, he goes right from water to the Mountain Dew. If the guy was a poker player, he’d have a pair of twos and go all in.

The latest Stu craze is coffee. Up until about a week ago, Stu had never had a single cup of coffee. When you offered him one or urged him to try it, he’d politely decline. Not sure why, whether it was that he didn’t think it’d taste good, or that it didn’t sound good, or something else. He just wasn’t interested.

Somehow last week Sara broke him down and got him into a Starbucks. Hoo boy. Here’s kind of how it went last week:

Tuesday: Went to Starbucks, had first coffee. Pretty good! Going to have to try this again. Thursday: Went back to Starbucks after work, this time with Trav and Jenn. Had a mocha. Fantastic! Friday: Went to Starbucks at lunch. Decided I need to try one of everything on the menu. Started at the top with the standard “cup of coffee.” Will work through all specialty items. Saturday: Stopped in at Bed Bath and Beyond as well as Fred Meyer to look at coffee machines. Did you know you can brew this in your own home? Brilliance! I must have one. Found one that appealed to me, but decided to do a little research before committing. Sunday: Went back to Bed Bath and Beyond and picked up a nice coffee machine. Trekked past Starbucks for an “official” travel mug because the ones at Bed Bath and Beyond, well, they don’t quite profess my newfound love of coffee the way it needs to be broadcast. Also stopped by Fred Meyer and ground me up a couple different types of coffee (roughly two pounds worth - I anticipate tearing through this like it’s going out of style). Can’t wait to get this stuff home and set up my shrine to the coffee god. I have a tatami mat that will sit perfectly in front of it, and I can face the whole thing to the east so I can see the rising sun as my fragrant new coffee brews to perfection. Next stop, self-actualization!

I won’t lie - I can’t say I didn’t egg him on just a little bit. It’s kind of fun to get swept up in Stu’s waves. I mean, it did lead to bongos before, so I’m curious to see where this one will go. Sara, you’ve created a monster.

Continuing our foray into new board games (and following some recommendations from readers/friends), we went to the game store on Saturday and picked up a copy of Alhambra.

The four of us (Stu, Tif, Jenn and I) had a pretty good time with it. The object is to buy tiles that you place in a city. Each tile is of a different type (“tower” or “garden” or whatever) and scoring is based on who has the most of any given tile type (“I have the most towers, so I get X points; you have the most gardens, so you get Y points”). The mechanics were pretty easy to learn and after the first couple of turns folks seemed to get it pretty well. I liked the way turns were broken down and the way you lay the tiles to build your city, but I wasn’t too thrilled with the expense of rearranging the tiles in your city. For example, I can either remove a tile from my city, add a tile to my city, or swap a tile in my city for one in my reserve board (sort of a “holding area” for tiles). But I can’t take a tile from one place in my city and move it to another place

  • I’d actually have to remove the tile and place it in my reserve on one turn, then spend the next turn placing it elsewhere. I think there should be a “move tile” option.

Other than that, like I said, it went over pretty well and I look forward to playing it again. We only got one round in that night.

Tiff also picked up a couple of games, both by Cheapass. The first was Kill Doctor Lucky, which we didn’t have a chance to play, and the other was Give Me the Brain!, which we did play.

Give Me the Brain! is a card game that takes about 15 minutes to play through. The idea is that you’re all zombies working in a fast food joint and there’s only one brain (represented by a six-sided die) amongst you. The object is to get rid of all the cards in your hand, but certain cards require that you have the brain in order to play, so there’s a round of bidding to see who gets the brain followed by a round of card play where each person tries to complete “jobs” by playing cards. Each “job” causes some sort of consequence to occur (like someone else will have to draw a card). What makes things interesting is that there are a lot of “perpetual cards” (with things on them like “give this card to the person on your right” that will never actually go out of play).

It took a while to figure this one out because the rules are written in a sort of confusing fashion (plus it was getting late), but once we played a game through we figured it out and were able to play a second pretty easily.

It’s an okay game, and I’d like to give it another shot because I don’t think it got a fair shake that late at night, but it is fairly quick and not too deep, so if you’re looking for something to while away a rainy afternoon, this probably isn’t it… but if you’ve got a group of friends who maybe aren’t entirely sober, this could be pretty fun.

Saturday was cake tasting (and decision making) day, so Jenn, Stu, Tif, and I all went down to JaCiva’s to decide what kind of wedding cake we’re going to have.

Pretty much anything JaCiva’s makes is awesome (which is why we went with them), and after some tough decision making, we’re getting a four-tier cake that serves 125 and breaks down like this:

  • First tier (bottom) - 14” - Chocolate Fudge cake with Bavarian Custard filling
  • Second tier - 10” - Pink Champagne cake with Strawberry Preserves filling
  • Third tier - 8” - Poppy Seed Pudding cake with Raspberry Preserves filling
  • Fourth tier (top) - 6” - Pina Colada cake with Pina Colada (pineapple, coconut, and rum) filling

The style is called “Chocolate Flow.” Each tier is iced in white and then dark chocolate is poured on top and allowed to run slightly down the sides, creating a nice flowing effect. It has red icing roses with silver leaf petals on each tier that accent nicely against the dark brown and white cake. Beautiful (and, in fact, reasonably affordable).

Sunday Jenn and Tiff met up with Jenn’s mom and sister and they picked out bridesmaid dresses. I haven’t seen the dresses, but Jenn assures me that they look great. I have seen the shoulder wrap portion of the dresses, and the red that Jenn chose is gorgeous. It’s going to be great.

That said… Jenn went back with Tiff to see how things would match up with her dress, and looking at the dress it turns out there are some holes in it that Jenn didn’t see when she first purchased it. She got it from a charity event for a steal, so it’s not like there’s a whole load of money out the door, but she really loves the dress and now she sees that someone must have torn some of it when they tried it on or something, which sucks. Now she’s going to talk to a bridal shop and see if it can be fixed. If not… well, looks like she’ll be dress shopping again. That would suck because, like I said, she loves the dress, but she’s like me: just “repairing it” may not be enough - you know it wasn’t perfect at one point, so it’s going to bug you.

I told her we should call her dress “Distort-o-Dress” after the TV incident that ended up causing me to get a new big-screen TV (“you only see it if you’re looking for it, but since you know it’s there, you always see it…”). That got a smile, which I’m glad for. It’ll all work out. At least we caught it early, right?

I went on a little business trip yesterday to take a class about Peer Mentoring. The class was awesome, taught by a guy named Steve Trautman from Practical Leader.

We’ll get to that, though. Let’s start at the beginning.

The class was in San Jose, but I couldn’t get a flight directly from Portland to San Jose, so I got this awesome Portland-to-Seattle-to-San-Jose thing on the way down. Nothing like flying north when your destination is south.

I don’t travel much, so a lot of the changes between now and the last time I traveled were pretty amazing. You don’t really check in with a human anymore. Instead, almost every airline has these sort of ATM looking machines planted around the airport that you go check in with. Punch in your confirmation number or put in your credit card, it looks up your reservation, and it prints you a boarding pass right there. If you don’t have any luggage to check, you’re good to go.

The security checkpoints are a little different, too. Your ID gets checked at the security checkpoint so the people at the gate don’t need to. Plus, last time I traveled, not everyone had to take off their shoes

  • it was more of a “random check” sort of thing. Now everyone has to take off their shoes, empty their pockets… you end up sending your carry-on through the x-ray machine as well as a bin full of everything not affixed to your body. My belt ended up setting off the metal detector (it’s never done that before) so that had to go through the x-ray. Once you get through the metal detectors, you pick your crap up on the other side and it feels like you’re getting dressed first thing in the morning: Put on your belt, put on your shoes, put your keys in your pocket. Crazy.

As I was getting on the plane to Seattle I bonked my head really hard on the door frame. Turns out the plane was super small - like, the ceilings were probably 5’ 10” clearance, so I had to hunker down to walk around. I’ve ridden coach before, but these seats were like “mini-coach.” I’ve never seen seats so small. Thank goodness the seat next to me was empty because I had to sit sort of diagonal to get my legs to fit with any level of comfort.

When we got to Seattle, we got off the plane right on the tarmac. I didn’t realize how common this was. I’ve only ever gotten on or off planes using the covered “tunnel” things that you walk down directly from the airport. On this trip, the only time I got on or off a plane that wasn’t right on the tarmac was that first boarding in Portland - every other time, I got on or off the plane by walking out onto the tarmac. In some cases, it was as loose as “follow the yellow line to get to the plane” - not even any cover at all.

Got to San Jose late and picked up my rental car. I had asked for a compact - not only for price, but because I hate driving around large cars. Lucky for me, they upgraded me - free - to a full size because they were out of compacts. Faaaaaantastic. I’m in an unfamiliar area of California where every parking spot is a sub-compact and I “get” a full size car.

Left the car lot and went to the hotel to check in. My room was on the other side of the complex. Of course, why wouldn’t it be? Got to the room and noticed there was a peephole in the normal spot on the door and one at the level of my navel. Why does my belly button need a peephole? Oh, I see - it’s the handicapped-accessible room. What does that mean? It means that everything has been moved down so that folks in wheelchairs can get to it easier. A noble gesture and I’m glad that they do things like that. On the other hand, it means that everything is down around my knees.

I suppose it didn’t really matter, though, since I basically just went to bed once I got in.

When I woke up the next day it was raining. In San Jose. I visit California, like, never, and it rains the day I’m there. Went and had some waffles at the little continental breakfast bar the hotel had, checked out, and drove to the place where the class was.

The class size was small - there were only seven scheduled - but we ended up starting a half-hour late because four of the seven decided to show up late. I hate that.

That said, the class went off without a hitch and was really awesome. I learned a lot of techniques that I want to apply to the way I do things, and I see how in the past some of the things I was doing wrong were causing frustration to others (as well as things the folks asking questions could have done differently to be better learners). I totally recommend it to anyone who has to answer questions or help people out with on-the-job training sorts of things, regardless of whether you’re in a technology business. It’s globally applicable stuff that can make everyone better mentors and better apprentices.

After class I returned the rental car and headed back to the airport to catch my flight. I had some time, so I went to the Togo’s in the San Jose airport. My instructor was in there just ahead of me, which was kind of “small world,” but then, San Jose airport didn’t strike me as all that big, either, and he was on the way to Seattle. Anyway, he went up and decided to order a sandwich… but wasn’t too successful, since they only had like three of the eight bread types listed. Oh, and they didn’t have all of the sandwich toppings listed on the menu, either. Hmmm. When he was done, I decided to skip the sandwich and just have the soup of the day (clam chowder). They sell soup one of three ways: small, large, and “in a bread bowl.” I decided to go for the bread bowl. “We don’t have bread bowls.” Ummmm, okay. Large soup it is.

Ten minutes before my flight was to depart, I figured I’d take a last minute restroom break. Unfortunately, a plane had just landed so there was a pretty significant line for the two available urinals. Eventually I got my turn. As I was going, the guy next to me finished, flushed, and walked off. The next guy came up to the newly vacated urinal and as he was about to start going, quickly backed off and left the bathroom. What? I then looked down to see that the urinal next to me was, in fact, overflowing all over my fucking shoes. The water had to be a good quarter-inch deep. What was I going to do? I was in the middle of peeing

  • you can’t just clamp it off, and it’s too late anyway, so… I ended up starting to laugh and said really loud, “That’s AWESOME.” The guys in line started laughing.

The flight home was in “mini-coach” again, but this time I didn’t have two seats to myself so I had to cramp in. It wasn’t a horrible flight, but I can see the value of paying for a larger seat. I had my coat out this time, so when we de-planed on the tarmac I was ready for it.

Just before I left, the last major upgrade since I last traveled hit me: Paying for parking. Now when you come into the lot, you get a ticket with a magnetic strip on it. As you walk out of the airport (before you make it to your car), you feed it into a machine, then it asks for money, so you feed in either cash or put your credit card in. It then spits your credit card out, your original ticket out, and a receipt. When you pull out of the parking lot, there are two lot attendants (to take money from folks who didn’t use the machine) and like eight automated exits where you feed in your original ticket (you keep the receipt), they eat your ticket and they open the gate to let you out. Very cool.

All in all, not a bad trip, and a really great class. Plus an eye-opening travel experience. Makes me feel like I really need to travel more so I can keep up with these things. Maybe I’ll have to make that a priority.