risk & fortune

In 2000 I interviewed with the Consumer Prototyping and Strategy team at Microsoft. From what I remember of the job description, they were looking for someone who could think outside the box developing prototype demonstrations for the future.

I thought about what “out of the box” might look like for them?

One idea was showing up for the interview in a 50’s apron with matching garb, while sporting a tray of visually enhanced cookie. Already with Microsoft, I had been managing a design team and asked my then colleagues what they thought of the idea. Their response was quick, wide eyed, and followed by “I wouldn’t do that”.

Even though it was corporate America I decided to take the risk. If they were really looking for something different, they wouldn’t be off put by my humorous yet respectful gesture. And if they were offended, I likely wouldn’t have fit in.
I arrived with my apron, a retro hair style, and fresh homemade cookies: classic chocolate chip, triple ginger, and cherub coins (a favorite from my childhood).
Because I love connecting things, I added a powdered sugar stencil of a fractal image on top of the ginger cookies; marrying math, science, and hearth. Luckily they got the point and I got the job.

Good fortune
New Year’s Eve 2000, prior to interviewing I  experienced an event that foretold the outcome of this job opportunity.
In mid-December (of 1999) I was ready for a change and applied for 2 jobs within Microsoft: one with the Connected Home team, and the other with the Consumer Prototyping and Strategy team.  The Connected Home folks responded and scheduled an interview for me after the holidays. I hadn’t heard a peep from the Prototyping team; so figured they weren’t interested.

Meanwhile, for the coming 2000 millennium my friends and I organized a big community New Year’s Eve party. We had a bunch of activities, and one friend brought a Tarot card reader.

Always interested in different perspectives, I asked for a reading. She guided me to ask a specific question as I shuffled the cards.

I asked if I would continue working at Microsoft and if so doing what?

She turned over a few cards and told me I would continue working at Microsoft. Then she hesitated for a moment. With a puzzled look on her face she said I would be working on something to do with a home. At that time Microsoft was not known for anything close to being home related. I said great, I’d applied for a job with the Connected Home and had an upcoming interview.  Then she hesitated again and said it would not be the job I thought it would be. I mentioned I had sent resumes for 2 jobs, one was home related and one was a prototyping team that hadn’t gotten back to me. She replied asking if it were possible that they were both home related? She also said the reason the other team hadn’t responded isn’t for the reason I had thought. She continued saying once I started talking to them it would happen quickly and while the job would be challenging, I’d be ok.

She was right about all of it.


It’s 2012 and again I’m in a position of looking for new work.

Will I risk cheesy humor upon interviewing? It depends upon the context.

Will I ask the cards? Definitely.

risk & fortune

tito stories: part 1

Tito was our family dog; he was a very good dog except for when he wasn’t. He was occasionally neurotic, and had a few bad habits like eating anything that wasn’t secured.

Like any beloved family member, we have stories about him.

The first time Tito died

It was 4:38 am when Tom woke me to tell me Tito had died. He had been sick the night before, so it seemed possible . I crawled out of bed to find Tito curled up on the chair in our bedroom where he normally slept. We stood over him mourning his passing. I remember repeating “poor Tito” as I choked back tears. At first I was hesitant to touch him knowing he was dead. I resolved to pet him and after about 30 seconds he woke up. Then I think I might have punched Tom.

Creature of the night

On another occasion, Tito was restless and whining in the middle of the night. He wanted to go out. I took him to the basement and out the back door. The night was warm. As I stood on the patio, Tito headed down the rock steps deeper into the yard.

I heard some unusual rustling so I called him to come. He came up the steps and as he turned the corner heading into the house I saw he was carrying something, an animal; its eye caught the light and flashed pink. By the time it had registered, Tito had disappeared into the house. OMG, he brought it into the house! My heart pounded. I called him frantically to come. A second later he reappeared with his dog puppet. Phew, my mind was playing tricks. With a sigh of relief we headed back into the house. We didn’t get far.

In the middle of the basement stairs lay an opossum, bloody, not moving. I ran back out the door. Tito followed me, and as I excitedly told him to go back in and get it, he just ran circles around me (literally). I freaked. A wild animal was in my house. My sleeping family was in my house. All I could see was carnage.

I ran to the front of the house, found the hidden key, unlocked the door and ran upstairs to get Tom. Tom jumped out of bed and without missing a beat, tore down stairs, grabbed a plastic bag from under the sink, and headed for the basement.

He was naked, with a plastic bag, ready to remove the thing with claws and teeth… I threw him a towel for protection. He scooped up the opossum and took him out the back door and placed him on the grass. About 10 seconds had passed from me opening the front door to the beast being jettisoned. From a safe distance we stared at the bloody marsupial, still not moving; it looked like a supersized rodent from Homer’s nuclear plant.

The next morning there was no sign of the opossum. We had a blood stain on our basement stairs for years until we replaced the carpet. For a while Tito would stop to smell it. It was a continual reminder for me of the event. Tito wasn’t allowed out in the middle of the night for a long time.

Stay tuned for more Tito stories: Sun Lakes mishap’s : the steak, the muzzle, and the hole in the bedspread; The car door; Synchronized swimming; Issues with food; and Perpetual Tito.

tito stories: part 1

objectified: i raised this boy

After returning from a trip, my son now 18, greeted me wearing this hat. This picture reminds me of how society objectifies women. It may happen unconsciously, but regardless it happens. In this case I raised this boy to think it was ok to wear images of women as sexual objects. Interestingly this image is commonly seen on the mud flaps of trucks. Pause for a moment to absorb the symbolism, this image is placed on a vehicle where mud and road dirt are spewed at it.

I couldn’t make up anything as quintessentially disrespectful as this if I tried. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son with all my heart, I just didn’t care for some of his younger behaviors, reminding myself- I raised this boy.

There was also period of time when too often I would see him he was wearing a t-shirt with this funkadelic image. When I saw it I would cringe. I wanted to throw rocks at him.   I tried to explain how vulnerable that position is for a woman. He thought the image was cool. I think he had a sophomoric perspective. Today there are still countries where women don’t have the right to vote, and sections of our society that ask women to submit to their husbands.

Back in the day, I was not raised with an overt oppression to be submissive. It didn’t matter; the cultural expectation was there. I remember in junior high hearing I was a nominee for class clown. I was mortified thinking girls weren’t supposed to be funny; they’re supposed to be demure and submissive. Ingrained in me was the collective unconsciousness from hundreds/thousands of years of bad behavior.

I often think of what I could have done differently to have discouraged this. I wonder what girls today think?

In 2009 Jimmy Carter wrote an article “Losing my religion for equality”. The article describes his struggle and brake from the Southern Baptist church in support of human rights and equality. Go Jimmy!

objectified: i raised this boy

pam and help desk

I will never forget the time when I was sitting in my office and heard Pam’s office door open. The opening of the door brought a quick presence to the moment which drew all attention to Pam.

She walked over to Sven’s office and then back to hers where she picked up the phone to continue a conversation with help desk. Her voice was composed and precise…
“Sven is not in his office. I can only assume he is in the rest room puking up his guts. I have already emptied the contents of my stomach so am able to have this conversation with you. In case I haven’t made myself perfectly clear, this is for Bill Gates, the flight leaves in 2 hours and we need access to the server now in order to copy the files to a portable hard drive.” Pam never missed a beat. Although not audible, I could feel the sweat and panic coming from the other side of the conversation.

Bill was a regular customer and our team had created a demo/prototype for him to present at an event. The server had been down for hours and the help desk team was franticly working to solve the problem. Happily the server came back online in time to get everything copied. This was before remote access had decent speed or reliability.

Pam is a true role model, always calm and clear with her intent; I was lucky to work with her for five years.

pam and help desk

hostess gifts

One of the perks of giving tours of the Microsoft Home was receiving small hostess gifts from visitors. These gifts usually had little monetary value although held significance for the giver; sometimes a cultural icon, an example of art and engineering, or symbol of friendship.

I would re-gift most things. I always got a kick out of passing things onto my colleague Jim. I would stand in front of his office with something like a packaged set of character key rings for the 2010 Olympics, while spewing that plastic crap like this would be the end of us all… when he would leap from his chair and squeal with delight saying how cool they were.

The gifts also made for great contributions to my friends yearly white elephant party. Year after year I would bring a small collection and people would fight over them; a book of stamps, cloisonné necklace, a silk scarf… to add my mark, each re-gifted item was accompanied by a riddle or poem describing the wrapped gift and the original giver. It seemed right to include some of the gifts history.

The gifts I valued the most were ones I developed personal meaning for. Among them are a paperweight, nail kit, and a blue bag. Each now represents a small story. The stories have nothing to do with the givers intention, but relate to my personal meaning for them. That’s the thing about giving gifts once they are given they often take on new meaning.

The glass paperweight was a gift from a Taiwanese development company Farglory. They were building a new city and had come to Microsoft to discuss partnership and technology needs. The glass is faceted and looking through it produces beautiful effects that remind me of perspectives, each prism produces a different view. The paperweight is also inscribed with the following:

Microsoft May our friendship lasted forever”

I kept this as a reminder of the power of communication and how positive intent is often lost in translation. It was clear that they wanted this to be a symbol of friendship. However because the statement was awkward, it amplified the cultural gap of an unshared native language. I identified with this gap as I often struggled with communicating my intent to the world of corporate business software. Preservation of identity and culture is important; I hope that Farglory doesn’t feel they need to be more like us.

Nail Kits
The nail kits represent before and after 90 seconds of exposure to fire. The new kit was a gift from ING, a partner of Microsoft, and frankly I can’t remember the specifics of this particular visit although the gift struck a chord.

A few months prior to ING’s visit we received a call in the middle of the night. My son Sam was on the other end. Sam- “Mom, I’m in a bit of a predicament.” Me- “Son, its 2:38 am what the @&#$ is going on.” Sam-“Our house burned down”.

4 minutes later I was at the scene a few blocks from my house where I found Sam, Jordan, and Bennett on the street in their underwear with firemen attending to the remaining structure. The fire had taken half the house. Only 1 smoke detector was working in the house, it was upstairs outside Jordan’s room and luckily he heard it.
The next day as we picked through the wreckage looking to see what could be salvaged. I found a nail kit in what used to be the bathroom and decided to keep it as a souvenir. The plastic top had melted onto itself creating a strange kind of mummification. The bathroom shared a wall with Sam’s’ room. Sam was sleeping when the fire started and his room was the next to go.

One of the firemen told me it takes 90 seconds to destroy each room once a fire is going. These 2 kits now sit as a pair and a reminder of the impermanence of life, before and after 90 seconds.

The Blue Bag
We often received gifts that were wrapped. The anticipation and promise of each wrapped gift made them fun to open for a while, but being continually disappointed gets boring. When I received the blue bag I decided not to open it. The idea of what could be in the bag was likely much more interesting than the gift itself. For years the bag was attached my office door with a paper clip. When people would ask what was in the bag I could honestly say I have no idea. This made for interesting conversation as well as pushed some people’s buttons.

At the end of a contract, a designer who was leaving asked if she could look inside the bag if she promised not to tell me its contents. Her expression was flat when she let me know she had looked. It was a telling look justifying my decision to keep the gift secret.

I have had the blue bag now for eight years and have never looked inside. Someday I will burn it as an offering for honoring the unknown.

Long live hostess gifts and re-gifting.

hostess gifts

work stories

For years I would post things of interest to my office walls and shelves at Microsoft. The things ranged from pieces of projects to events or elements of life. I liked being surrounded by them. It was a curated visual history, each holding some meaning, all with a story. I will post some stories soon.

work stories

life obscura

My visits to facebook have been sparse over the past 6 weeks. I decided to suspend activity after I caught myself thinking about what ironic statement I would post as I was on my way to the Puyallup Fair. It occurred to me that I was manufacturing the message before the experience; risking the simple act of experience. So I decided to shut it down for a while.
The result – I slightly missed fb, and I do value it. Moving forward I will attempt to use fb for the value it provides- a rolodex of deliberately manufactured semi-public life. One veil in our ever expanding digital world, our “life obscura”.
Life obscura is a manufactured representation of a physical being using digital technology. It has multidimensional and interactive potential, that potential also influences the representation.
Similar to “camera obscura” it is a projected reproduction. Camera oscura was the precursor to photography. Life obscura may be the precursor to “digital grip” or “d’grip”: a maintained, measureable and evolving set of controlled and uncontrolled incarnations that permeate the digital realms.

life obscura