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Nothing momentous to report, just a snapshot of my students working in the lab this afternoon.  No broken glassware, no spill, no disasters (that I’m aware of, anyway.)  Hopefully the results won’t be too wacky either!

The water they are analyzing for total coliforms and fecal coliforms comes from a site near the mouth of Martin Slough in Eureka.  The results will be used by the Capstone Project class (seniors graduating in the spring, working on their final project) to design a restoration that will include a wastewater treatment system for agricultural runoff on the site.  So it’s important that the Water Quality class pass good quality results to the Capstone Project students.

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My husband gave me a local cookbook for Christmas, “Locally Delicious”, which was just published about a month ago. I’ve been talking about cooking more often (he does most of the cooking)and we’re both partisans of the idea of eating locally grown or produced food, in season. I was raised that way — my mom always goes into cooking overdrive during the successive harvests of strawberries, string beans, corn, tomatoes, raspberries, etc., and still buys locally produced beef, chicken, bread, cheese, etc.

This weekend I tried three recipes from Locally Delicious: the cross rib roast (Humboldt grass-fed beef cross rib was on sale!), spicy roasted beets, and oven rosemary potatoes. Everything but the rosemary, salt and pepper was locally produced. (OK, the olive oil was regional, from Sonoma County.) All three recipes were keepers and quite easy. I liked that I was able to prepare everything in advance in the morning and leave it in the fridge until I was ready to pop the dishes in the oven.

I like “slow food” and I detest most instant, frozen, highly prepared foods (with some exceptions for brands like Casbah, Newman, and Oetker). I like a seasonal menu that reflects the changes around us. I like restaurants where the dishes taste a little different every time you go because they’re made in small batches by a cook, not an industrial assembly line. I like planning a menu based on what looks fresh. I like the rich flavours of produce and meat that have not had to travel more than a few hours to reach my kitchen. I like encouraging our local producers.

There are resources online for people trying to find out more about their local food chain. A good, food-lover’s book explaining our alimentary systems is Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

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Montreal, where I come from, looks like this today:

The office courtyard here looks like this:

The temperature here is about 7 C (45 F), while it’s -2 C in Montreal (28 F).

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I don’t believe that it’s Jesus’ birthday, but I do like Christmas nonetheless.

I don’t believe that a baby was born to a virgin travelling to Bethlehem. Moreover, even if Matthew (or more likely a later compiler and translator of Matthew’s work) had not added this bit to tie Jesus to messianic traditions but instead had been reported a true (or true-ish) story, it would still have taken place in the spring, not at winter solstice.

I don’t believe that fir trees, chubby white-bearded men in red costumes, flying reindeer, or hard-working elves, have anything to do with Jesus either.

But I like that just about every culture and tradition has created some way of celebrating hope in darkness, the time when nights are at their longest but start getting shorter again (which in the southern hemisphere happens in June, not December, of course). I like that we can celebrate during the same period Christmas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Rohatsu, Bodhi Day, a slew of other “Christian” holidays that used to be more important until the 20th century (St. Sylvester, Epiphany, etc.), and nowadays Kwanzaa (and Muslim holidays when they roll around to a convenient date along the lunar cycle).

I wish we took more advantage of this to celebrate together rather than fight, but we’re not so good at sharing, least of all sharing peace and good will. But every year those of us paying attention can get a glimmer of it, “if only in our dreams” as Bing Crosby would croon.

I like giving presents, especially those I can make myself. I like putting thought into something I hope will make a loved one happy. I like the symbolic light in the middle of the night. I like people genuinely bringing good cheer and children genuinely marvelling at the season. Yes, I hate the fakery, the commercialism, the too-worldly and mercenary children, the feverish hope that people will spend “enough”, but I’m not willing to let these dictate how I should feel about the holidays.

Happy holidays! I’ll be thinking of you.

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A picture I took yesterday afternoon in Eureka.  I loved the contrast between warm and cold colours.

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As in many other technical disciplines, it’s a frequent career path for engineers — almost required — to move from on from pure technical work (design, analysis, number-crunching, etc.) onto project management.

A long time ago as an undergrad in civil engineering, my course concentration was in construction project management.  I learned the crunchy part, the technical part of the work: cost estimates, budgets, schedules, systems analysis, the critical path method, all that good stuff.  But it turns out I didn’t learn, at the time, elements that in modern practice are considered part of a project manager’s job.

It’s hardly surprising; to this day, a majority of technical professionals learn project management on the job, through trial and error — lots of costly errors.  There are a lot of human, non-technical skills and tasks involved, the so-called soft skills: leadership, people management, client contact, networking, proposal preparation, finding new projects, keeping clients happy.

In truth, many of us take years to even start realizing that some of these are indeed part of project management!  For example, we keep hoping for the day the marketing personnel will learn to prepare proposals entirely without our help, without stealing our valuable technical time.

Consultants, you see, live and die by their “billable” (or “chargeable”) time: how many hours in a day do we spend working on something that advances a specific project and therefore can be charged to that client’s account?  How many hours in a day do we manage to get our salary covered by project work rather than to overhead?  Every employee in a consulting firm is acutely conscious of that percentage and every hour she has to spend on finding new work — networking, looking for leads, writing proposals, etc. — is an hour not spent on a chargeable project.

But it turns out it IS part of project management, as is keeping the client happy and informed, nursing bruised egos on a team, riding herd on sub-consultants, or negotiating with other project managers for common resources.  Yet most of us have to learn these skills by observation or by self-directed learning.

I spent 21 years out of school before finding a company where everyone, without exception, is sent for formal training before being given projects to manage. Even though by now I had done a lot of the self-teaching, I still learned valuable information on not only setting up a project right to minimize the risk of problems, but also — something usually neglected — on getting the project out of trouble when things go awry.

In addition, this company uses a coaching system in which every project has an assistant project manager to help with management tasks, ensure redundancy in case the PM is unavailable, and provide mentorship in learning the ropes. We have tools, we have support, we have a safety net.

The wonder, really, is that I spent so long and worked at so many companies without receiving the training or support.  In these places, you got technical training fairly easily, but you only received PM training as (a) a sort of accolade or pat on the back if you were doing well, or (b) a corrective measure if you were doing poorly but they still needed to keep you in the position.

Imagine that!  These companies all chose to let their professionals learn by making mistakes on their clients’ projects rather than get them trained, because of the training costs or because they were too busy putting out fires rather than planning ahead.  What a waste.

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As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts this week, I’ve been reflecting on career matters, including what I’ve changed in the last year and a half.

First, I read up on job search and career management, and the difference between the two (this is the theme of the week). I thought a lot about what I was looking for, and I formulated to myself what kind of job I wanted: “To find a job where I can continue to not only make an adequate wage for my efforts and qualifications, but also feel proud of and challenged by my work, and team up with a group of people I can respect.”

I greatly improved my resume’s style. I brushed up my skills and understanding of interviewing, networking (a word I dislike), career planning, project management, etc. I tried to make my online presence more coherent and to adopt an organized approach to contact management. I learned to wring more out of Google Calendar, Gmail, Outlook, Jibber Jobber, Box.net, and other tools that help me keep track of “people” information.

I got involved in local professional associations and I try to stay abreast of events in my community, my profession, and the world. I draw connections and I look for opportunities. Most of all, I’m very conscious of how I address people, what kind of impression I leave, and how I listen to them (that’s not new, just more conscious).

My new employer also provided training. The company uses a project management system base on the PSMJ training, and sends all new project managers to take the PSMJ A/E/C Bootcamp (that’s architects/engineers/contractors for non-jargon speakers.) There I learned a lot of interesting things which I plan to discuss tomorrow.

The change that is most embarrassing to confess: I improved my dress code at work. It’s so stupid to say, but I had reached the point when I was not even trying. Part of the reason was that it didn’t seem to make any difference in my work. A larger part was my bus commute in rainy Seattle and the long walk up along steep, windy hills to the bus stop. It seems that no matter how much I tried, I always reached the office wrinkled, rumpled, and my hair in disarray, so why bother?

Nowadays I’ve expanded my wardrobe a little bit and use accessories more. It takes actually surprisingly little to dress well (leaving aside the problem of long bus commutes for now). I have a few jackets and slacks in solid, “safe” colours (blue, ivory, black, gray, green, camel, brown) that I can mix and match, a few shirts and sweaters in solid colours that can be coordinated with these combinations, a few pairs of “good” jeans, and a few nice white shirts (alas, I hate ironing.) I vary the combinations and add yet more variety by matching with scarves and jewelry. It’s silly, but dressing up seems to improve how people see you at work.

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