An open letter to Nest Labs: please don't outsource your support

Dear Nest,
Yesterday, you launched your new Protect smoke detector product. Pretty much my entire social feed is filled with people lusting over the device, especially those — like me — who already have enjoyed the Learning Thermostat and want the amazing experience that comes with a Nest product.
You have another experience beyond your products that also receives massive accolades, and rightly so: your product support. From what I understand, you’re about to do it a terrible disservice.
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2011, A Year In Review

I like long years. Really. Yes, I complain about when things seem to drag out far longer than they should, or if I’m busting my arse far harder than I think I should. That’s part of being human, no? In the end, though, I like long years because I get to look back and not worry about how quickly time has flown by. Time should never fly by quickly — it means I’ve missed something, and … well, darn it, I just hate missing things!
This last year was a big one for me in one major way: it was a redefinition of my professional existence. Since the end of 2009, I’ve transformed from a professional manager to a … hmm … well, my title (however formal it needs to be) is “Solutions Lead”, but that belies a lot of what I do every day, and just using “web developer” or “programmer” — even with a “Senior” prefix — completely understates the reality. This year was really about taking all the skills and knowledge I’d acquired as a leader, and merging that back into my day-to-day development practices.
And that, as the saying goes, was only the tip of the iceberg…
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Alberta communications companies suck

It’s about as official as it gets, now. We leave Costa Rica on 8 December. Which means that on the morning of 9 December, we’re going to be needing a few things. We’re trying to establish as much of that as we can remotely, so that it’s “in place” when we arrive. It just makes things easier, right?
Well, it would make things easier if we could actually set things up properly. Therein lies the problem — it’s not that easy to do! Especially when it comes to the Holy Trinity of communications services: phone, internet, and TV.
The term “rocket science” comes to mind…
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The importance of delegation

Delegation is the act of assigning work to other people, generally people who report to you. It’s supposed to be a way to ensure that the right people are doing the right jobs, and that large pieces of work will ultimately be completed. It’s something every manager will ultimately encounter, and their effectiveness at delegation often reflects the performance of a team (or department).
In many ways, it’s more art than it is skill. You have to know a lot about other people: their knowledge, their abilities, their sense of dedication, how much information they need before starting a project, their trustworthiness. It’s not something that comes easily.  
Which leads to a sobering fact: some managers don’t delegate well, or even at all.  
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The Failure of Offshoring

A couple of years ago, I engaged in my first offshore experience, when we hooked up with a small company out of Argentina to develop and deliver some additions to a website, including the addition of a simple CMS. It had been a first crack at what would end up becoming a significant change in my career.
At the time, the experience had left a rather bad taste in my mouth, like realising that the glass of milk you’re drinking is a little off. It wasn’t that the experience was horrible, just that it could have been a lot better.  
My experiences continued with other groups, mostly in Central and South America, and also included an arm of one of our regular vendors, who shifted operations from the United States to India. And I think it might have been the point at which I decided that if the opportunity arose, I really needed to find out what offshoring was like, first-hand.
Funny how life works, eh?
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Yes, I'm still alive

You’re probably looking at the datestamp of my previous entry and wondering: Where the heck has that loser Geoff disappeared to? Well, much to your chagrin (or reassurance, depending on your point of view), I’m still very much alive.  
Yes, I’ve been very incommunicado. I’ve been exceedingly busy. Busier than I’ve been in my entire life. Busy in a way I can’t even begin to describe adequately. Busy in a way I can’t even appreciate myself.  
I’ve been here in Costa Rica for a mere 9 months. And I gotta tell ya, it feels like two years.
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I swear I'm going to kill my vendors

I don’t care what the excuse is, the reality is that I’m not getting service I expect from a vendor. I’ve been told that it’s just something I have to adapt to. That it’s the way things are done. That it’s a cultural difference. I’ve encountered a variety of these aspects since first arriving here in Costa Rica. I’ve dealt with the indifferent, the incomprehensible, the insolent, and the indescribable.  
But no matter how bad that service is, nothing excuses you from lying to me.
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Where I've been for the last few days

I’m in Panama. Been here since Tuesday afternoon. Been really, really busy. So far, the biggest problem I’ve had here (aside from the aforementioned busy-ness and subsequent inability to talk to my family), is that I’ve had Van Halen’s Panama stuck in my head pretty much since we left San Jose.
Damn you, David Lee Roth. Damn you!
So far, it’s a great place to visit (a post coming on this soon). But we’ve been steadily on the move.
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Setting up the office

Getting everything going here is a bit of a challenge. There’s a lot to do, and we’re starting from scratch. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. There’s currently four people down here working on all this, and only one of them is actually from Costa Rica.
It started a few weeks ago when we were down here on the “tour”, when we started talking about what this company should be called. We latched onto an airline theme, which led us down the road of a name (to be announced at a later date), but also for how it should look.
More on that in a moment.
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Costa Rican Interviews, Day 1

A tropical depression in the north of the country has created our weather woes of the last few days, and a heck of a downpour this morning.
Following our usual breakfast run, Joaquin arrived to pick the three of us up at 8:30 to take us downtown to the CIS / Rapp Collins office to interview candidates for our new office. We had a lot of people on the list, and we all knew it was going to be a long day.
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It's the end of the world as we know it…

…and I feel, well, okay. Maybe not necessarily “fine”.
Critical Mass has done a bit of a reorganisation. I emphasise “a bit”. Mostly because this is not the radical shifts we’ve seen in the past. I think this is my third or fourth reorganisation since starting with Critical Mass back in 2000 (admittedly, I’m losing track), and this is the most minor change we’ve had.
At least when you look at the big picture.
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Thundercats are go!

The contract is signed. It’s as official as it gets until my feet stand on Costa Rican soil. Most everything was already 99% assured, but until my name appeared on a legal document, there were still a whack of questions. This puts those questions to bed.
It wasn’t easy signing that contract. Not because it wasn’t a good offer, though. It’s because it’s not about me. Even though it was.
Let me explain…
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Tech Summit, Day 2

Day 2 got off to a lousy start. I was sick. Nastily so. At first, I thought it was a hangover (I might have had — perhaps — one beer too many last night). But I realised very quickly that this was not, in fact, a hangover. I’ve had my share of them, I know how they affect me, and I know how to handle them.
This thing — whatever it was — knocked me flat on my back and sent me back to bed for the rest of the morning. Fortunately, I didn’t feel like I missed too much.
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This morning, the Blue Business Unit (aka the Mercedes-Benz USA team) decided to prank the Gold Business Unit (aka the Rolex team). Toilet paper — hundreds of rolls — over everything. Silly string. Blue streamers. And randomly-attacked items with Saran Wrap.
Call it petty jealousy, call it bravado, call it a need for decorating our space without input. We still got pwned.
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Je quitte Paris!

The flight left Charles du Gaulle at 11:30. That meant, of course, that I had to be there in sufficient time to check in, get through security, find the flight, and so forth.
Thankfully, I’d gone through the trouble last night of finding the RER station at Chatelet-les-Halles. As is turns out, it’s a weird sort of situation. Chatelet is the Metro station. Les Halles is an ex-market area. Chatelet-les-Halles is a station almost mid-way, pretty much right under my hotel, actually. So there was a fair bit of walking to get there and back. Which was fine, no biggie. It was still cheaper than taking a cab.
Albeit a lot more packed. While my trip in on Monday was blissfully free of people, the train was nearly full leaving Chatelet-les-Halles. When we left Gare du Nord, it was standing room in some places. The only stop after that was the airport. It’s effective public transportation, I’ll give you that! (Canadian airports and cities, please take note!)
No elevators this time to slow me down. Just a really long lineup for Lufthansa. It took nearly 45 minutes to weave my way down to a clerk. I had a bit of a terrific thought as I waited. Technically, my flight is Air Canada. What if I had to go to the Air Canada counter? They’re not even in the same terminal. My only consolation was when I’d verified my flight this morning, the Lufthansa website told me my seat assignment. I could only hope that it also covered my Air Canada seat from Frankfurt to Calgary.
Fears bubbled away as the rather cheery clerk (given the insane volume of people) jokingly suggested that my flight was cancelled and that I had to stay in Paris indefinitely. Admittedly, I was briefly tempted to believe him. But the rest of me quickly kicked in — I wanted to go home. I spent about 1/10th the time at the counter as the previous couple. Bag checked, boarding passes for both flights in-hand, I headed for Satellite 6.
That’s the way Terminal 1 is broken up: a central hub with seven satellite areas for boarding planes. And sadly, that’s about literally all there is at Terminal 1. It’s devoid of almost everything else. It’s probably the dullest terminal I’ve ever had the pleasure of waiting around in for an hour and a half. (I prefer to wait in airport terminals, rather than rushing. Too many variables that could lead to a missed flight.)
I had planned my Euro spending carefully, having only barely enough to pay for a muffin at a small cafe in the waiting lounge. That was fine with me — I didn’t want to go home with extra change. Still, I would have liked a ham and cheese baguette.
Like the train out, the flight out was also full. Although I had an exit row, I was seated next to a woman who clearly did not fit in her chair (or really give her late-teenage son any credit for anything). I think this is partly what led to a rearrangement of seats. She was moved to the front of the plane, and the couple across the aisle were bumped a row up. The staff didn’t say why, but since I was allowed to remain and thinner people were placed in the now-vacant aisle seats next to me, I can only assume it was to ensure that the exit aisles could be cleared quickly.
I passed out from exhaustion moments after the plane left the ground. I awoke only when the attendant happened to rather loudly plunk ice in a plastic cup. I was thankful for this — I got my cheese sandwich on dense German bread and a Coke. That would keep me going until I got my meal on the trans-atlantic flight.
Virtually retracing my steps through Frankfurt to find my next flight (including the 700 metre-long tunnel), I rushed along just in case there was a lot of people at security. Given how heavy the airport traffic was, I didn’t want to risk holding things up. As it stands, I didn’t have to pass through security this time — just passport control. While not the speediest passing through, I was asked no questions. Stamp, done.
Just past passport control was my gate, so I suddenly found myself with almost an hour to kill. Boarding would start soon, but my seat row meant I would be among the last called. Not a big deal, and far more comfortable as I wouldn’t have to listen to a jet engine the entire flight.
My rowmate (I love the outside row — only two seats) was an oil driller from Oman, travelling back to his home around Great Slave Lake or something to visit family. He’d been flying already for about 20 hours. I couldn’t believe that level of stamina. I think I’d lose it after that long, personally. (I want to go to Australia someday, but the flight worries me a little.) He started chatting with me almost barely five minutes after sitting down. So much for a quiet flight.
Actually, that’s not fair. He was an interesting person, having seen a great deal more than I have. And made me feel pretty damned petty about my mere 35 degree woes. Where he worked, it was 55 Celsius, not counting the blowing sand. He slept most of the flight, too, likely due to exhaustion.
The flight was mostly uneventful. Some bouncing around (though we had a nasty approach to Calgary due to strong winds), the movies were there and the food was decent. I plugged away at getting these blog entries caught up. And I slept, even if just a little. While I hadn’t been flying for 20 hours before this one, I was still wiped.
My bag was #155 coming off the carousel at the airport. Typical. Pass through customs, and waited to be picked up. Surprisingly not tired, I fully expect to pass out tonight.

Je suis en Paris, Jour Cinq!

I ate at the hotel this morning. Not a bad little place, really. And it meant I could sleep in a wee bit. Four hours of sleep just isn’t enough. But I brought that on myself.
I was a bit late arriving at Eurosites — about five minutes. This was not due to the aforementioned lack of sleep, though. This was due to the previously mentioned crappy wireless internet connection. I was determined to send out some emails before I left for training, and the connection just wasn’t offering up what I needed. When I finally got it working, I almost ran out the door to get to training on time. Kayo, Loic, and Adam were already there.
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Je suis en Paris, Jour Trois!

No crepes for me this morning. As I’m beginning to discover, the French don’t consider crepes a breakfast thing. At least at the shops near the hotel. But hunger knows no bounds and I was forced to hunt out an alternative. The hotel clerk misdirected me to a boulangerie (that wasn’t there), but I managed to find a small grocery store on the way back to the hotel. A warm baguette and a chunk of a somewhat smelly cheese made for a pretty decent breakfast. The leftovers should cover me for tomorrow as well.
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Je suis en Paris, Jour Deux!

Despite wating up at 4:30 thinking it was daylight (in reality, only the hotel’s light outside my window), I slept pretty well. That didn’t mean that I’d totally licked jet lag — I ended up needing a nap in the afternoon. Hopefully, though, that was the last of it and I’ll be able to carry through without difficulty.
I met Adam in the lobby as I tried to resolve why I couldn’t connect to the internet. There’s something with the wireless connection here, and I think they turn the connection off at night. I can connect to the router, but not a single thing beyond that. Purely a guess, but it seems safe enough. Adam was down there for the same reason.
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Je suis en Paris!

I’m beginning to understand why people hate business trips. You can’t pack what you want (you have to pack for meetings with clients) and you don’t travel necessarily when you want. But at least the locations can be interesting…
The account I work on now is European. They’ve got a massive global presence and are very good to work with. They tend not to hesitate on monetary decisions (unlike most clients), perferring to get the image just right (and understandably so). So when they said that I needed to be present when they were trained with the new RedDot Content Management System, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when they said I had to fly to Paris.
Yes, that Paris. France.
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New York Meetings: Heading Home

Yesterday was tough. We did a lot of talking. We didn’t leave the building until we were done. The three of us, Lark, and Jim went for dinner at some steak house. Despite having been out with the client before, I felt oddly nervous. I don’t know why. Maybe because this was nothing to do with marketing, it’s all about technology. It’s weird. And exhausting.
I ate along this morning, as Allard and Mark took their time to get downstairs. We took another car to Mercedes’ New Jersey office and prepared for another day of talking. Most of today would be my thing, namely my current baby, the CSR (Client-Side Rewrite). It’s a massive overhaul to strip out the legacy crap and put in something more solid to keep things moving.
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New York Meetings: Outbound

Leaving Alex this morning wasn’t easy. Given the events of the last couple of days, I would have preferred to stay in bed with her.
But business calls, and I’m off to New York (though Newark) for business meetings with the IT department of our Mercedes client. It’s mostly an educational exchange, as we try pass on a lot of the knowledge we have to the IT group. Exactly why we’re doing this I’m admittedly a little unclear on, but I’m sure it’s all for a good reason.
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Mercedes-Benz meetings, going home

Despite having the room to myself, I was really groggy when I got up this morning. I know it wasn’t a result of last night, though, as I didn’t feel any worse for wear. I showered, packed, and checked out (using the television interface — I don’t go to the front desk unless I have to). Running into Jamie on the way down, the two of us hiked directly over to the Tribune building. We didn’t get a chance to go to the office for email.
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Mercedes-Benz meetings, team building

Allard and I hit the restaurant in the main atrium for breakfast, joined shortly thereafter by Christian and a very tired-looking Jules. Powdered eggs aren’t exactly the breakfast of champions. Jules has been up late working on presentations for today. Allard and I are thankfully exempt from any actual presentations. We’re more or less along for the ride.
Actually, me more than Allard. Allard, at least, is the Technical Director. He needs to be there because the client knows who he is. He needs to be there because some of MBIT will be there. Why do *I* need to be there? Well, I can’t say for sure, because I really don’t know, but I think it comes down to the Client-Side Rearchitecture project that I’m spearheading, and that Allard won’t be here tomorrow (he’s only here for a day).
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Mercedes-Benz meetings, Calgary to Chicago

I hate waking up before 6:00. There’s just something fundamentally wrong with it. Today, though, it was necessary. Today, I fly to Chicago.
Was ready for my 6:30 pickup. Allard was collecting me for the trip to the airport. I wasn’t sure if he was going to show up on time, since we’d had no actual solid confirmation of the pickup. At 6:25, I started formulating a backup plan, in the event that Allard was running a little late. His car appeared in front of my house at 6:30, right on the nose, saving me additional grief.
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Troubles trying to get home

Travelling is never easy. Especially when my best friend Murphy is along for the ride.
I rose late (catching up with sleep lost the night before), and met up with Craig, Jill, and her daughter Jamie in the concierge level for breakfast. Craig did a short presentation on the tools he has for managing the pay-per-click materials for the Hyatt programme. I hadn’t seen it before, so watched with interest. I realized that like with everything else we have, Craig has a great deal to offer for SEM presentations and theory, and that the two of us really need to get ourselves organized within Critical Mass.
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Practical Jokes Around the Office: Wrapping a Desk

There is an Old Klingon proverb that says: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
It is very cold in December. (Well, when we’re not chinooking, anyway.)
Several months ago, I fell victim to an attack. Not a physical or verbal attack — a water balloon attack (see [[Critical Mass Reckless Summer Reunion]]). This was orchestrated by the Delichte brothers, Jason and Darren. (I’m still not sure how I became the focus of their attention. I’m not sure if I should be honoured or horrified.) I certainly owe them a special “thank you” for that particular event, and one day, when I find something appropriate, I shall.
But first things first.
The water balloon attack could not have been pulled off without inside information, namely my boss, Allard. As you know, I tend to carry cameras with me. The Delichtes made sure I was camera-free by having Allard make sure that my cameras were at a safe distance. He did it very well, too — I had no idea that I was being set up. At least not until a line of water bombers appeared on the hill above the volleyball courts.
As the sayings go: One good turn deserves another; no good deed goes unpunished; eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth; wrong me, do I not revenge?
For the last few months, I’ve been plotting and scheming, trying to think of something good to pull off. The trick, of course, is so that the person at the receiving end has no knowledge what is to befall them, yet can do nothing about it once it’s happened. Not as gruesome as Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”, but certainly something that when seen, will provoke the appropriate feeling of “he got me”.
Such it was that in a moment of brilliance (or drunken stupidity, they’re pretty much interchangeable), it came to me. I would give Allard a nice, gift-wrapped present.
His desk. And everything on it.
I wish I could take credit for this little idea, but I must confess that Chris had mentioned it around the time we were replacing Teak’s files with several cubic feet of candy (see [[Revenge is Sweet]]). But no-one had acted on it around here, so it was left as a possibility. And with Allard taking a couple of days off for the Christmas holidays, I was presented with a prime opportunity for revenge.
Yesterday, I made a little trip out to Costco, to acquire a few rolls of cheap(er) wrapping paper. I didn’t know exactly how much I’d need, but the desks aren’t that small (Allard has an end unit, which means vertical surfaces), and while his desk isn’t even remotely as cluttered as mine, there are still a number of things that require wrapping.
I arrived at the office around 19:00. I needed to make sure that there was no-one else around on the second floor. My goal was to complete the task without anyone knowing who it was. I wanted the mystery effect to last at least a few days (Allard won’t be back until the 29th), and because Allard arrives so early in the morning (before most of the people on this floor), I wanted the effect to be seen before he “opened his gifts”.
The first thing I did was take reference photographs. I needed to know (roughly) where everything was so I could put it back in a wrapped state. Then came the fun part: wrapping. I started with the aisle-facing side of his desk — it was the easiest thing to do, and a good place to start. It didn’t take long, but admittedly, didn’t really leave me with a sense of accomplishment. I still had a long way to go.
I got bogged down in the details. The table legs are not straight cylinders — they are slightly arched, and taper quite a lot towards the top; the shelving racks are like blocky shovels, which do not wrap easily (or nicely). It was 21:45 when I came to the realization that I needed help, or be up all night.
For the record, I would love to give credit where credit is due. I would love to stay who it was who loaned two hours of their time to my task, as strange (and draining) as it was. However, in the interests of preventing any form of retribution, they will remain nameless. But their help was invaluable, and definitely prevented me from staying too late. They left shortly before midnight.
I continued working until everything had at least some wrapping paper around it: the desk, side table, filing cabinent, phone (wrapping the cord was no fun), the monitor and monitor stand, the laptop dock, the keyboard, mouse and mousepad, more books than should be allowed on a desk, the chair, the light post, and his nameplate.
Everything was put back in the place it had been originally found. Cables were plugged back in. Ideally, everything should be exactly as it was before … just covered with wrapping paper. There are even bows on a few things. (I had toyed with using ribbon, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. That’s a little more detail than I really care to think about.)
Towards the end, admittedly, I was getting a little sloppy. My back was killing me, I was hot, tired, and desperately wanting to go to bed. But I finished, leaving the chair perhaps a little less wrapped than I would have liked. Around 1:45, I finally packed up my things, cleaned up the evidence, and made for home.
I skipped gym this morning — I needed the rest. After the “workout” I’d had moving things around and wrapping, I figured I’d had enough exercise for a while. (Yeah, I’m stretching. I’ll do cardio all week to make up for it.)
A couple of people were already in the office when I arrived. It didn’t take long for word to spread. People were taking notice. Even the less-than perfect wrapping job was being lauded. And if nothing else, the smiles have been worth all the time and money.
After all, if you can’t get a good laugh out of revenge, why do it at all?