Here’s the first part of my UK trip account.
I’ve been here for five days. Half way.
My feet are just killing me.
For some reason, I have brought the wrong footwear with me the last three times I have visited. I’m usually pretty good about wearing the right thing; I’m not sure what happens when I pack for over here.
I chose to bring a set of Gripfast boots as my only set of shoes. It really sounds like a good choice; black leather combat boots. Can fit in any situation, office, squat, and (ambulance) squad. Wool socks, usually the right thing for hiking.
I got here very early Sunday and ended up hiking nearly ten miles according to the GPS. My feet started to hurt; the boots were a little tight and my feet were hot and sweaty. I had the foresight to buy moleskin, tape, and skizzors; Monday morning I had to tape and pad both feet, top and bottom. By yesterday, it was five patches on the left foot and four on the right before I could pull my boots on.
I’m not really sure what footwear I was wearing during the previous-before-last trip about which I posted a few days ago. To be honest, I had forgotten how bad my feet were that time until I reread the letter; I don’t tend to remember the severity of pain, I guess. Then last time, I think I had the wrong shoes again; I don’t remember my feet hurting, but remember trying really hard to find a pair of shoes.
Two days ago I tried to get a pair of shoes but everything was closed by the time I got back from the office to the city center. Yesterday I took the bus from the office into town at lunchtime and bought a pair of shoes. I was a few minutes late returning, but I think it was okay.
The office is an interesting place. I work fairly closely with about ten members of the local staff. The Red Menace (as I affectionately refer to my employer) has a pretty big place there, six or eight buildings in a campus right on the Thames. The buildings are clearly Red Menace buildings expressed in UK style, down to the fung shui ponds, paths, and raked pebbles.
The floor where my UK team works used to be a bustling place; it still is, really. Just a few weeks ago, though, the division the team used to work for decided that the particular product this team had been creating for the last several years would not, after all, be externally productized and that the team was now redundant, and would be let go.
Two Red Menace divisions are customers of this particular product. In my division, five thousand developers in the US, UK, India, and Australia rely on this technology as a part of their development infrastructure. Divisional executive management discussed and my group VP managed to score thirteen headcount from the old division layoff pool; he managed to convince the division EVP that the technology was crucial; had utilized all brownie points to get these people from the different division (a division that is ultimately closer to the king, as well).
The other thirty-seven people were let go. The Red Menace treated them fairly well (compared to the three times I’ve been laid off); six months severance, plus a month’s use of company resources from the time of notification. The redundant staff was quite good about turning things over in an orderly fashion.
So, now there’s a hole in the middle of the office bay where the other staff used to be. My first day here was the last day of the laid-off staff. It was weird, but I was glad to have the opportunity to say goodbye to some people that I had worked with for the last several years.
The UK has a weird view of office arrangement, so there are several other product teams in the same bay. Cubes are divided by low partitions only. No one has private offices except for the very senior staff. The previous UK team VP’s office is now empty; he was made redundant, as well.
Anyway, it’s open plan with many people about. It’s still bustling, as I said.
I’m here for knowledge transfer. The remaining ten UK staff now is part of my division, and I have been tasked with learning the guts of their stuff and teaching them the guts of ours.
Over the last five days, I have attended thirteen two-hour technical sessions. Some of the stuff is pretty interesting; a lot has been focused on a custom NFS daemon that uses a database as a data store, rather than a file system. I’ve given a session on the architecture and usage of the client software that my divisional team wrote that layers on the UK team’s product (twenty or so slides); I have two more scheduled to discuss our custom DAV utilities and other future customer groups that our unified team will have to serve (another ten or so slides).
It’s been hard to stay awake, for sure. But I can blame it on jetlag.
The Brazil factor is still in play; certainly the office environment is reminiscent of Lowrey’s place of work as the movie opens. Most things seem to work this trip, though. The CCTV cameras are much more prevalent, everywhere.
They’ve changed badges at the office. I’m really not sure why; the previous badges were just fine. When I got here, my old UK badge worked just fine to open doors and such. The badge is used as a smart card for purchases from the Menace cafes and sweets machines, though, and the smart card system had changed. My old card would no longer function as a payment device, despite the fact that I had a ten quid balance on the card when I left here last time.
It took me three days to get the card replaced even though they reused the old picture. The cards are virtually identical except that the new cards no longer have a photo of the office park, and the user photo is a tiny bit larger. The new cards look as though part of the production process is to leave them in the motorway for thirty minutes; as delivered, my new card had a big scratch through the photo and part of the Menace logo was scraped off. But they did manage to transfer my cash balance, and as of Thursday AM I was finally able to buy crisps and chocolates from the card-only vending machines.
I have a particular UK coworker. I will adopt ’s idiom and refer to the coworker as Mr. Ermine.
I have always liked Mr. Ermine. He and I used to have very similar positions in our various groups; the slightly flamboyant coder who’s idiosyncrasies and resistance to corporate process are overlooked due to the coder’s ability to pick up and deliver solutions to hard tasks.
Mr. Ermine started flying about a year ago. My suspicion is that my own flying experience may have caused him to consider picking it up. Before we met he was into audio and cars; now, he has embraced flying. Mr. Ermine has gone his own way, of course; he had hardly finished his private license when he started taking aerobatics training. I’m of the “wheels belong on the bottom” school of thought, myself.
He and I have about the same number of logged hours. I’ve taken twelve years to amass mine, while he has logged his in a year’s time.
I mentioned in an earlier post that Mr. Ermine had bought a share in a Russian trainer. This is to further his aerobatics skills; this particular plane can do all sorts of crazy things, including inverted spins. As far as I’m concerned, my ‘try everything once’ attitude stops just short of inverted spins. Kudos to Mr. Ermine, really.
Mr. Ermine has been stunningly cool to me since I’ve been here. We’ve gone flying twice so far, with two more flights scheduled. On Tuesday we left the office and went to the airfield where he had reserved a Piper PA-28.
The airfield, White Waltham, is a WWII-vintage RAF base. It has three grass runways, the airfield office is in a WWII building, and there is also a pub in the building with Fuller’s London Pride on the tap. It’s a very cool place.
We preflighted the plane and got in. Mr. Ermine took the left hand seat. The left hand seat is where the ‘pilot in command’ sits, and I had expected Mr. Ermine to take that spot. Even in the US, a pilot is not entitled to pilot a rental aircraft unless the pilot has been checked out by the renting agency. I figured I was along for the ride; sure, I’d like to drive, but I’m happy to ride, as well.
We got off the ground after a bit. Radio and traffic procedures are confusingly different from those in the states, so I was a bit overwhelmed watching Mr. Ermine and just as happy that I was not PIC. We gained a little altitude, got away from the field, and then Mr. Ermine offered me the controls.
Of course, I happily took them. I flew the PA-28 for about forty minutes; up over Henley, west up the Thames, south over Greenham Common, then back up over Reading. He seemed quite content to let me land the thing, but I had him take control as we approached the airport due to my inexperience with both the PA-28 and the UK airspace procedures.
Mr. Ermine has recently put his TVR, a tiny British sports car, up for sale, mainly to help defray the costs of his new Yak. We took the TVR to the airport, though, and he showed me what it could do. It’s possible I’ve gone faster in a car (I have vague memories of going 150 on the way back from a scouting trip in a car driven by another, older scout as a young teenager), but certainly I’ve never been in anything that accelerates like the TVR.
Yesterday, we went over to the airfield and took out a Cessna 182. I was a little surprised since Mr. Ermine seems to prefer low wing planes. He does, however, know that I like high wings and that I usually fly 172s.
Mr. Ermine had not flown the 182 before. It is considered a ‘complex’ airplane in that it has a variable-pitch propeller. Mr. Ermine had hired the head instructor at the field to familiarize him with the plane and certify him as safe in the plane. We went out to the plane before the instructor and Mr. Ermine had me do the preflight inspection due to my familiarity with Cessnas.
I happily sat in the back for the first forty minutes. We went up and flew around a bit while the instructor checked out Mr. Ermine’s technique. I held on grimly while we went through the stall series, but other than that it was great. We went back to the airport and did six or seven touch and go landings. Finally the instructor had Mr. Ermine pull over to let him out. I got in front and observed from the front seat while Mr. Ermine executed two more landings.
Mr. Ermine seems quite happy to indulge me. He has rented the 182 for Sunday afternoon, and again on Tuesday afternoon. We are planning a cross-country on Sunday and on Tuesday I am supposed to qualify in the 182. He’s also loaned me a cell phone for the duration of my trip.