What an experience – Aggression and Racism in the DC Metro Station

Yesterday I travelled to Washington DC to attend the Gartner Security Summit. This is not my first time in DC but I had never been to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and since I had some to time to myself on this Sunday I decided to head over. I was going to Uber over, but the hotel receptionist mentioned that it was a quick trip on the Yellow Line Metro to L’Enfant Plaza and a short walk to the National Mall. I decided to take the Metro. I like new experiences.

First, I found a wallet on a bench at the Metro stop. It had $83 in cash and a bunch of credit cards and such. I turned it in the lady in the booth. It took a while, but we inventoried the contents and she logged the find, etc. I missed a couple of trains during this, but that was OK, I did the right thing.

I caught the next train there at the Eisenhower station and headed along the path of the beam to downtown DC (Blaine is a pain*). About 15 minutes later I arrived at L’Enfant station where I happily disembarked, looking forward to my trip to the museum. At this point, it was about 1:00pm and since I had not had lunch after arriving, I decided to find something to eat on my way. Now, L’Enfant station is huge. It’s a transfer point for several other lines and is not easy to navigate. It’s also underground at this point. I managed to find the exit after a few minutes and headed out the gates. There was not much in the way of foot traffic actually leaving the station, so I was alone.

Just about the time I exited the little podium gates, I was approached by guy. He was about 6’1″, tall and skinny, had short dreadlocks, and was black. I wouldn’t normally mention his race, but it plays in to things a little later. His approach was aggressive and unexpected, however I do keep an eye on my surroundings (*cough* *cough* *paranoid* *cough*).

He said something to me, but I had my earbuds in, so I pulled one out while continuing to walk. I said, “huh?” and he repeated himself. He said he wanted me to give him a dollar for the bus. Mind you, he told me he wanted me to give him a dollar, he did not ask. I told him I didn’t have any cash (true) and he get even closer asking me for the dollar. I told him again that I had no cash. At this point he called me some pretty rude things and walked ahead of me quickly. There are some long escalators heading to the plaza, 2 of the 3 were going up, one going down. He got on the right escalator going up about 10 yards ahead of me, and I got on the left. He glared at me the entire way up the escalator, then at the top,  he proceeded to block the escalator he was on pestering the next 2 people trying to get off the escalator.

The folks just walked by and ignored him and he repeated his action of talking smack to them as they walked away. I kept going and found a place for lunch where I got in the line. There were only a couple of people ahead of me at this time, and the same guy walks up to the older people who were at the register, gets in their face and demands a dollar from them. One of the 2 people told him no, and they guy reached over and pointed at his wallet and said, “You have it there!”. The 2nd guy at the register gave him a dollar, probably hoping he would go away, but the guy turned around and started cussing at them all the same. As he was leaving, I told the older folks that he had been demanding money and cussing people out from the exit booth.

He heard me, turned around and got about 2 inches from my face and started talking a lot of smack, cussing me out and asking me if I had a problem. At this point something sort of odd happened, I found myself very detached and calm. That surprised me. I just looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You have some issues man.” and continued to stare back. He broke eye contact and turned around like he was going to walk away, then turned around quickly and got in my face again. He started calling me names again, pretty much everything was about being white. I’ve never really experienced a racial tirade like that before, but I just stared him down and started to smile. I couldn’t help it, it reminded me of Full Metal Jacket and I could just feel that he was just blustering a bunch of hot air. I can’t say how I knew he was all show, maybe it was because his eyes showed some confusion and actually looked a bit scared. I don’t think he expected me to stand my ground and start smiling, because he backed away quickly, then walked away quickly while continuing to hurl racial insults. He really didn’t like the fact that I was white.

It was easily one of the more interesting experiences I have had. Fact is, he would have been easy to put down as he was trying to make himself look big by holding his arms out at shoulder height, looking like a chicken while exposing his whole midsection. He was open for a knee to the groin, the gut or a headbutt before he could have done anything to prevent it.

I don’t know if he was on drugs, but I don’t feel like he was. His eyes were focused and appeared to be aware. I could actually see the change in them when I wouldn’t back down. Honestly, I think he is just a punk that uses extreme aggression to try to bully things out of people. I wonder if this works better in places like DC where the general population is almost guaranteed to be unarmed.

One thing is for sure, I won’t be doing much more walking around without some sort of defense available. I usually take my camera monopod, a large aluminum tube that could double as a seal club, along when I walk strange cities alone. This time I did not. I can tell you that I won’t be caught off guard like that again.

Stay safe out there.

 

*Obligatory Dark Tower reference when I ride a train.

United Flight 3411 – The Violent Removal Of Dr. David Dao

Okay, before we even start on this topic, I ask you to put down your pitchforks and torches for just a moment while we look at what happened in a non-emotional way.

Obviously the internet is abuzz with this story, some folks even claiming racism as the motive behind it. Clearly this is not the way United wanted things to go down, but here we are. Given the reports I’ve read and of course the video footage,  I think there is more to this story then we know. This does not mean I’m supporting United in the actions that happened, but I don’t think this was racially motivated. I rather think this was an emotional reaction that could have very easily been avoided.

So, obviously we know that United overbooked the flight  As a frequent air traveler I’m not surprised by this. It does happen on most carriers. In the U.S. air travel used to be an exciting thing to do, now has become more of a commodity and the people who travel are treated as such. The flight crew is told their primary responsibility is safety, but customer service is not really something that is focused on. In addition, many of these people are given a lot of authority on the aircraft. They are human too, and suffer the same faults as other humans. sometimes this can make people a bit more abrasive, especially when they know that there isn’t much you can do about it.

On the flip side, this has made air travel more stressful and indeed more irritating for the traveler. Now combine this with the folks that feel like they have to carry their entire house worth of stuff onto the plane, taking up more than their own amount of overhead space, being very selfish, and you start to have a recipe for high tensions and associated aggressive attitudes.

So, now you have irritated passengers and empowered flight Crews mixed in this tiny tube on the runway or in the air. Things tend to go wrong.

So what went wrong in this case? I honestly believe that both sides have a part in this. Starting with United, this should have been resolved before people got on the plane. I can tell you that I’ve been moved 15 rows back on a plane after boarding and it annoyed me a lot. My boarding pass had me and row 15, they moved me back to row 30. I wasn’t even having to get off, they just changed my seat without telling me.

I have no doubt that he was selected randomly, or maybe pseudo-randomly based on class of service, check-in time, or similar variables. Same thing happens with seat upgrades, it can be based on your original ticket class, time of check-in, etc. I do not believe this was racially motivated.

Finally, I believe the police were actually from the airport as opposed to United employees. Likely, the way this went down is that he was being belligerent (again, he had the right to be pissed), they called security to deal with the issue and the police went way too far with it. Is that United’s fault? Only sort of. The root cause was their over booking of the flight, however the actions of the police officers were their own and in my opinion they are most responsible for the violent removal of the Doctor. Think about it this way, if a store owner call the police because a customer does not like a policy and is becoming belligerent, then the police take it too far, is that the fault of the store owner?

With respect to the Doctor it is a little bit tougher, however many of the reports do say that he had been belligerent and that’s why they ended up calling in the police. Did he have a right to be irritated, yes, but I would bet that United is on firm legal ground with respect to “re-accommodating” passengers. We don’t have the part where he may have been belligerent on video, but I caution you that there are usually two sides of a story and neither is always 100% accurate. I have the feeling that a lot of things happened prior to the police coming on board that led to that happening. I’m not saying it should have gone down like this, because I don’t think it should have, but I seriously doubt he was being in any way cooperative. That then escalated into what we have here.

Before we jump on the bandwagon here I guess I’m suggesting we take a step back and consider the issue without the emotional parts involved. United screwed up bad, the Police in my opinion did not handle this well and we are seeing the fallout from that. just keep in mind that there may be other parts to this that we haven’t seen or aren’t aware of. I’ve been on flights where unruly people have been removed, I’ll be less violently, and honestly it was a relief to many of the other passengers.  In this case, I don’t know if that was the way it happened, but we have to be careful applauding the involuntary removal of belligerent people in some cases, but not others.

In closing, until the U.S. airlines can start treating their people like humans and less like cargo, packing humans in to every spare inch of the plane, tensions will remain high and we will see more and more things like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, You Are a Tech Manager Now…

** I want to start by saying that this is nowhere near a comprehensive list of things that can help you better manage, but simply a sharing of my personal experience and meant to help people step back and think about things a bit. **

 

So, now you’re a manager. You got that promotion that you probably either dreaded or worked very hard for. The question is, what now? Your whole career you’ve been a tech guy and now all of a sudden you’re a manager. First thing to remember is, don’t panic! (and perhaps carry a towel just in case)

While this can be a very spooky time, it’s also a great step in your career. You are going to have to look at things a little differently though. For one, instead of waiting for somebody to tell you what to do, you’re going to have to do the telling. That means now, all of a sudden, you are responsible for figuring out what needs to be done and assigning someone to the task. This may be new to you, but if you keep a cool head, it’s not that bad.  Remember that when you’re in management, the responsibility falls to you. You can delegate the work, but you are still responsible for the results.

 

Budgets

Being in management means looking at the big picture. You need to understand what it really cost per unit of XYZ, and you are going to need to start thinking about how much available labor you have versus how much you need to spend. It’s like budgeting with money, only with time instead.

Something to remember here is that unlike money, where a dollar is worth a dollar, labor varies in its value. Some folks are 85% efficient, others hover around 12%, some can even cause an efficiency/oxygen deficit by dragging others down (<- we all know that person, right?). Labor is generally referred to in a unit of measure called an FTE (Full Time Equivalent) which we consider to be a body working 40 hours per week. Don’t ever try to calculate projects based on straight FTEs though as this can result in much wailing and gnashing of teeth. You have to remember that just because a person is burning oxygen for 40 hours a week, they are not producing 40 hours worth of work. On the flip side, sometimes a person can be working on 2 things at once that overlap, so you have to consider that. For example, if it takes 2 hours to image a workstation, you can figure that much of that time can be spent doing something else while data copies, so it may only take .5 FTEs (30 minutes of actual labor) to do the job.

 

When it comes to financial planning, if you are going to have a budget or be a part of budget planning, learn about the difference between CAPEX and OPEX. Understand that in the technical word, a lot of CAPEX also requires significant OPEX. Likewise, you can move some CAPEX expenses to OPEX, for example by moving to that cloud thingie that is so popular with you youngsters.

 

Language

Another hurdle you may face is a different language used by leadership. They tend to speaking dollarese where we speak in techenese. In a truly cruel irony of the universe, these two languages have very little in common, and those words that are similar in pronunciation, mean polar opposite things. This can lead to anything from minor misunderstandings to World Wars.  To get a handle on this I recommend you spend a little time with some online management courses, maybe somewhere like Lynda.com, that can help you understand management basics and semantics.

 

Personnel 

This can be truly difficult if you were promoted from within the ranks. You may be dealing with folks that are jealous that they did not get the promotion, folks that were peers that you did not get along with, or even the feeling that you “sold out” to management. Regardless, you have to change the relationship. This doesn’t mean you can’t be friends, but what that means will probably need to change how the friendship operates or is perceived. The days of partying after work with the team, sleeping in the parking garage and coming to work to hear stories that start with, “I can’t believe you did that!” are over. If that’s what you want, resign your leadership role now.

 

The best advice I can give when it comes to becoming a manager is to be humble, but firm. You are there to help the people you manage succeed and grow, and make the business a success. This is not about power, it’s not about bossing people around, it’s not about you, it’s about leading. That means getting your hands dirty as well and not just giving all the garbage jobs to the team. On the flip side, that does not mean you should do everything yourself. You have to allow others to do new things so they can grow, but don’t try to use them as your personal slaves. This may take some practice, but if you are honest with your team and humble about your role, people tend to respond well. You may have some folks push boundaries, this is normal as they figure out where your limits are. Don’t take this personally, listen to their suggestions, consider the argument, but remain firm in your decisions unless there is a compelling reason to change.

 

There are other things you may not have had to do, such as performance reviews for your old team members. This gets a little weird when you are managing people that you used to be peers with. It may not be easy, but this is one place where you really earn the title of manager. You may find yourself reviewing a person that you don’t like personally. Set the personal issues aside and judge them on the job requirements. It’s not always easy to do, but just because they shared that embarrassing picture from the Christmas party after a few too many eggnogs, it doesn’t mean they aren’t great at the job. You need to be honest about it and fair to everyone. Don’t be afraid to say, “Tom, we haven’t always got along, but you are a great here.”

 

Check Your Pride at the Door

Embrace feedback from your leadership and your team as well. Be open to criticism and be willing to learn from it. You are doing something new and uncomfortable and you will make some mistakes along the way. Mistakes are OK if you own the goof up, learn from it and don’t repeat it. Apply this to your team members as well.

 

Dress Code

I decided to add this after just having lunch with a friend. You might need to dress differently. Embrace it, love it, live it and SUIT UP!  😀

 

 

 

TL;DR

You are responsible for people now, and you will need to act like it. Embrace the personal and professional growth, get serious about things and enjoy seeing your team grow. It will grow on you, and one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced is watching a person I led excel in their career and personal life.

 

 

 

Life on the Road – Cats, Cold and More

My job takes to a lot of places and I love that part of it. Seeing the country and gaining the experiences is something I love to do. There is an old saying about the journey being a big part of the fun. I cannot agree more.

Some of these travel posts are going to sound like complaining. I assure you, they are (probably) not. They are really about the funny stuff I get to see. It’s humorous story telling that may (or may not) embellish a tiny little bit. All of it is based in truth though, and only the details might be, um… “enhanced” a bit.

Having said that, let me give you a little background. I am an airline snob. I admit it. I don’t care much about the hotels I stay in, or the dinners I eat, but I do care about the airline experience. I hate being rushed, I am dismayed by the fact that people often revert to Lord of The Flies like behavior when it comes to air travel.

Take for example the carry on baggage rules. 1 personal item and 1 carry on item. The carry on item is limited in size (stuff it in this box over here and see), but the personal item seems to be magically unimpaired by size restrictions, or at least the rules are unknown and unenforced. I see folks with bags bigger than my checked bag going onboard as a “personal item”. The other thing is animals.

Get These @#&! animals off the @#&! Plane!

Yeah, there was a time when animals travelled in crates in the belly of the plane. Now, it seems, they are everywhere. Comfort dogs, pot-bellied pigs, and worst of all… CATS!

Now, I like cats, but folks, 30,000 ft and 600mph is no place for a feline. Southwest Airlines seems to gather more than it’s fair share of animals. Yesterday was a perfect example. I was going from Tampa to Columbus. I normally avoid Southwest when I can, as I hate the open seating thing, but it was the only direct flight. I get on board as part of the “A” group and take my customary window seat. This was about row 10. Now, with an entire plane full of empty seats, I am joined by a couple with a lovely blue carry-on containing a rather unhappy looking tabby. It’s eyes gleamed yellow out of the mesh on the ends of the soft-sided carrier. For some reason, it looked right at me, right in to my soul. I was scared. Terrified really. I believe my very life was being weighed by that creature (That was likely called something cute, like Fluffy, or Tom, or Mr. Tinkles). For a reason I have yet to understand, I believe the cat blamed me for its current predicament, and it wasn’t happy.

It looked meaner in person!

Why these people decided to sit beside me, in a barely filled plane is still beyond me, but I wasn’t going to move. I was trapped in my windows seat, and any chance of escape involved passing the pointy parts of the Hell-spawn in the seat beside me. I just tried to avoid eye contact.

Another thing that Southwest does well is cater to families. That means children, and children are magically attracted to my part of the plane (whatever part that happens to be), especially when they are going to act up. This was no exception. Little Tommy, (we will use that name) decided he wanted no part of the plane thing without fully exercising his well-developed lungs. When Tommy let loose, even Mr. Tinkles took notice! He was now even less thrilled than before. I began to fear for my life.

Fortunately, the rule says livestock must be stuffed under a seat for takeoff and landing. It seems nobody wants an angry, airborne murder-cat loose in the plane in the case of a rough takeoff/landing. Good idea! Mr. Tinkles got unceremoniously stuffed under the seat much to my relief, now he could only plot the destruction of my Achilles tendons rather than my throat. That was the good part.

The bad part, was that the cat decided to become… “musical” and join Tommy in a serenade of noise that no sound cancelling headphones can dampen. This continued on for most of the flight. Once the cat started, there was no “off” button. He did modulate between simple loud meows and “I’m caught in a blender” yowls, so we had that going for us.

By the time I hit Columbus, I was ready for the 5 degree weather if I could just get off the plane.

I am currently back in the airport waiting to board another tube-of-hades to return to Tampa. I ended up in a “B” boarding group, so I’m hoping for the best. I’ll let you know if the return goes off the rails.