Wednesday, February 10 2021

genealogy, silos, and hockey night



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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everybody! Happy Wednesday. If we were in the same room, I’d offer to clink coffee mugs with you to commemorate the halfway point in the work week.

Speaking of being in the same room, we heard some exciting news from our doctor. After raising a baby in secret for the last nine months, our pediatrician gave the all-clear for contact visits from vaccinated family members. Our doctor still recommends masks and sanitizer, but this is pretty huge for us. This is the first time the recommendation has budged since Miles was born, and for our family it’s a much needed pinhole of light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. Now about this vaccine… what’s the hold-up?

One of the panelists in a podcast we listen to pitched, “Why are we even bothering with places like Walgreen’s? Why can’t the army just set up a tent and start handing them out?” I felt the frustration, and it was worsened by the recent memory of super bowl ads. At this point in the pandemic, any kind of corporate messaging just feels a little tasteless. Stop for a life saving vaccine, and while you’re here don’t forget our two for one special on Diet Coke.

Hang in there, everyone. The dawn is nigh. Looking ahead, I see a bright future where this thing is well behind us. Of course by thing, I mean the “we’re in this together” type of commercials. They are the worst, aren’t they?

Sip. I’m running behind schedule a bit, and as a result I’ve cheated myself out about ten minutes of writing time. This kind of distraction usually comes from reddit and twitter, but this morning the source is genealogy. The book about my Recker family ancestors arrived yesterday. In quick reading sessions between work, exercise on the stationary bike, and in the evening just before bed, I’ve already plowed through four chapters. Throughout my morning routine, I’ve been distracted by googling names, reading obituaries, and clicking through scans of old newspapers. I think I’ve been officially bitten by the genealogy bug.

At face value, the oldness of my family’s stories is interesting. I read about what coming to America was like at the turn of the 20th century. I read about how the homes didn’t have electricity or bathtubs. Maybe credit is due to the story-telling, but what’s really captivating about these stories is in how relatable these ancestors were. They felt familiar, like family.

The book describes Ahlrich Recker, my great-great grandfather, waxing poetic about his favorite painting The Milkmaid. He praises the artist for so deftly capturing the plain beauty of daily work - how the artist made an ordinary milkmaid look so angelic. He felt the painting resonated with his love of balance, routine, and taking pride in even the most menial of tasks. Ahlrich made wagons and baby strollers by trade, and he etched his initials AR on each one.

2021 02 10 the milk maid

And then when he was finished bragging about the painting, his wife answered with “Who do you think you are, some kind of art critic?”

There’s another story about how the family used to read a psalm or another passage from the Bible when they finished eating at the dinner table. When the reading was done, all the kids were expected to remember the last word read - a clever incentive to ensure they were listening. Over a hundred years later, my family would be doing the same thing at our dinner table. My sister Kelly was always much better at remembering the last word. I was frustrated by the game because I felt I was listening, even if I didn’t happen to catch what the last word was.

The author tells a story about a time they were reading after dinner. They read a passage out of Song of Songs that mentioned breasts like fawns while comparing the church to a young bride. The boys, Dick and Bill, snickered and exchanged their own theories about where the breasts were hidden at their church. Their mother grew upset and lectured them, but she was undermined when Ahlrich himself couldn’t resist joking about it. “What? It’s in the Bible,” he said. “How can we forbid this kind of talk?”

Yesterday was a quiet day, but I can feel a quiet storm brewing at work. To be honest, these days our team feels too small to keep up with all our diverse responsibilities. Fielding questions on slack, maintaining our services, jumping in on outages, all while trying to develop the next generation of tools our engineers work with.

I’ve been in a silo this week. A silo is the term we use in software to describe when someone is working on something big all by themselves, and the knowledge doesn’t really go anywhere. It just accumulates in a dark, impenetrable vessel, like a silo. I’m building a copy of one of the services we have in a new environment. The ticket has flipped from “DONE” back to “IN PROGRESS” several times. Every time I feel like I’m close, I hit another roadblock. It might be an unforeseen problem or a mechanism that I built two years ago and forgot about.

At the moment it feels like each of us on the team are in a silo. This kind of thing happens when the ratio of engineers to important priorities approaches one-to-one. Everyone takes a number one priority and sees it through. Everyone in their own silos.

I’m feeling hopeful today. I have another full day with zero meetings, and that’s plenty of time to wrap this thing up for good. Maybe today my ticket will move to DONE and stay there, and I’ll be free to find another silo to climb into.

Yesterday was hockey night. Rodney put on his Kaner jersey, Marissa put on her hoodie, but I once again struck out on expressing my own hockey fandom. My t shirt was still in the wash. On swag selection week, I should have went with something that was a little more re-usable, like a sweatshirt or a jersey.

The hawks had a rocky start in the first period. The offense wasn’t clicking, we couldn’t control the puck, and there were numerous sloppy turnovers in the neutral zone. We came to a consensus that I was to blame for the bad juju. But we turned it around. It took until overtime, but we swept the Dallas Stars in a double header. Nice job, hawks.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a great day, everyone.