January 12, 2008

Reactions East v. West

Posted in Boston, Identification at 12:06 am by Michael

Boston Skyline 

I was extremely interested in going to Boston this week, not just because I love it there, but because I really wanted to see if there was a difference in reaction to me both at work, and out and about with Samwich.

Bottom line – no. No difference.

The only real difference I noticed was at work – and this was subtle. Basically, few to none of the people in the office there knew me as “Michael”. I started managing this group three weeks before Thanksgiving, and a few days after the announcement went out, I did send mail telling them all of my transition plans, but I hadn’t met many of them (ok – to be clear, there is one person on that team who I worked with before or who I had even met before)

As a result, the vibe I got when meeting these folks for the first time was very subtly different from meeting with people who had known and seen me before as “Michael”. Its very hard to explain, but it seemed more “Matter of Fact”.

I take away from this that meeting people for the first time post-transition may be easier than re-meeting people who had maybe seen you, or knew of you, or maybe even worked with you a bit. In the first case, you aren’t resetting expectations – you are who you are. In the second case – it’s a reset.

(Note, for friends and people who know you very well, I don’t think this applies — totally different dynamic).

As far as being out and about – only two notable things. One, the server at Il Panino (crappy experience documented below) was short with us, whereas before our servers there have been great. She could have been having a bad night, or maybe it was related – hard to say.

The other issue is a bit more complex but also a “passing” issue. As most people are aware, New England accents are pretty strong – Providence, Boston, Maine – all pretty distinctive. New England in general, and Boston in particular is an “Insider’s” place. If you are part of the club, you can get a lot of stuff done that “Outsider’s” can’t. Hard to explain, but if you are from there, you know what I’m talking about.

Both of my parents have/had very strong accents. My mom “Pahks the Cah”. I love it – it’s the way she talks. Before I was in kindergarten, because of my Dad’s job, I lived in Massachusetts, Long Island, Virginia and Connecticut. As a result, I really have no accent to speak of, but I can “turn it on”. Effectively, from a regional accent POV, I can “pass”.

In my experience though (and I’m sure there’s research here, and I may be WAY off), vocal patterns and accents for men and women in New England, even from the same geo-locations are different. I can do Guy Boston. I can’t do Gal Boston. As a result, I didn’t even try Guy Boston. Il Panino was a place that I used to use Guy Boston to effect. I’d use Guy Boston when I was buying something or doing any other transaction with someone who was also clearly a local.

I sounded like a tourist.

In many ways, that was more impactful to my experience than the whole trans-thing.

Not what I expected.


January 11, 2008

Iron Bureaucracy America

Posted in humor, Identification at 11:28 pm by Michael

Tonight on Iron Bureaucracy America, the challenger “Washington State DOL” is here in Bureaucracy Stadium to show us their mettle against some of the finest Iron Bureaucracies in all of America.

Will they choose Iron Bureaucracy IRS? Skilled at changing rules at the last minute?

Will they choose Iron Bureaucracy Banking Industry? Skilled at overcharging for the smallest misstep?

Will they choose Iron Bureaucracy United States Social Security Administration? Skilled at complex forms?
Washington State DOL, do you have an Iron Bureaucracy to challenge?

“We choose the United States Social Security Administration!”

The Chairman has a prepared a special challenge for each of you… one that challenges your powers of confusion and underdelivering!

The special challenge for today is…..

Battle Document! Mail out a requested form to Megan Wallent!

Ms. Wallent, what are your form requests for each of our mighty bureaucracies!

“For Iron Bureaucracy SSA, please mail me a new Social Security Card with my new legal name!”

“For Iron Bureaucracy Washington State DOL, please accept my request to get an F instead of an M on my driver’s license and send me a letter!”

Ms. Wallent, please fill out the forms and follow the procedures that each of our bureaucracies has established to achieve your goals.

Iron Bureaucracy SSA, you have lost points from the judges for having a posted procedure on the Internet that can be followed!

Iron Bureaucracy SSA, you have also lost points for having good customer service and making it easy to follow the procedure!

Iron Bureaucracy SSA you have promised a new card in two weeks!

Bureaucracy Challenger DOL, you have promised a letter in ten days!

[Ed. Unlike in Iron Chef, or Iron Chef America, once the challenge is accepted and the request made to the bureaucracies, a large black curtain falls down, and no sound is heard until the result occurs.]

[Ed. In addition, the “Winner” of Iron Bureaucracy America is the bureaucracy that delivers LAST, not first – because otherwise, why would they be a bureaucracy]

[Ed. Time Passes]

Ms. Wallent, do we have a result?

“Yes, we do! I can report that in today’s mail, only nine days, the SSA has overdelivered and I have in my possession a new Social Security Card!”

Ms. Wallent, do you have your letter from the DOL?

“No, I do not, Mr. Chairman!”

The Chairman then declares a winner! The winner of tonight’s challenge on Iron Bureaucracy America – Battle Document – is Washington State DOL!

Get Well Soon Chris!

Posted in friends at 10:56 pm by Michael

Our friend Chris woke up last Sunday with what he thought was a kidney stone, but turned out to be a mass on his kidney. He had surgery Wednesday, and is doing well… We love ya man… get well soon!

The North End and Second Dinner

Posted in Boston, food at 10:54 pm by Michael

Thursday night after work we went over to the North End for dinner. Almost every trip that we’ve made to Boston (probably 20+ in the time I’ve been gone – and at least 4-5 for Anh and I) I love to go to the North End to get some great Italian food, and cannoli. My favorite haunt is Trattoria Il Panino on Parmenter and Hanover. There’s great debate among Bostonians as to which place has the best cannoli as well as what comprises a cannoli and whats an aberration.

I assert that true cannoli filling is the sweet ricotta filling. No chocolate chips and no nuts (pistachios are the most common contaminant) should decorate the ends, IMHO. Chocolate or Vanilla pudding may be yummy, and one may put them inside a cannoli shell, but this doesn’t make it a cannoli.

Powdered sugar on the outside… I’m neutral.

The best cannoli are filled “on demand”, as the moisture in the filling will soften the shell. This means naturally that to get the true cannoli experience, you need to eat them as soon as they are filled (which means that you eat and walk, which is just good times).

Once you resolve what a cannoli actually is, then the debate is “where”. There are three major choices in the North End: Modern Pastry, Mike’s, and my favorite – Bova’s. All three are great – its just a question of variation in the shell – flaky to crispy – how sweet the filling is – and how smooth the filling is. For me, Bova’s does the best, and will fill on demand if you ask.

So of course we went to Il Panino for dinner, and honestly, it sucked. Bad. I was amazingly disappointed. We’d been there six months ago and it was great. Anh had lobster ravioli that were inedible. Fishy – this happens when they are frozen incorrectly. They have to be fresh to be great. There is ZERO excuse for this in Boston where pasta and lobster are like air. I had a pasta (a large style ziti) with a beef, veal and pork ragu. The sauce tasted fine, but they skipped the ragu part. It looked like they put about a quarter of the meat in the dish that should have been there. Anh ate half of one ravioli and made the same face that I make when I smell durian. I finished about half of my dish, and we were done.

We went to Bova’s, and luckily the cannoli there are still great, and we also got one for Samwich.

I asked Anh if she wanted to go to Chinatown to try to get something else to eat, and she said ok, so we cabbed it down there, and looked for the busiest place with the most natives of whatever country’s food was being served. We quickly came upon “Gourmet Dumping Restaurant” just inside of the Chinatown gate. At nearly 9pm it was packed, and this was a good sign. We had some pan-fried dumplings, watercress with garlic, and noodles with beef. It was all good! We’ll definitely go back. Samwich woke up while we were there (he was taking his afternoon nap, as we kept him on West Coast time), and after he had his dinner, he got his cannoli dessert. It was his first one, and it was memorable.

Lets just say that Samwich ate the vast majority of the filling osmotically.

Cuz I Love That Dirty Water

Posted in Boston, food at 10:53 pm by Michael

(Extra points for getting the title of this post).

For seven years I worked in Kendall Square in Cambridge at a company called “Intersolv” (first Index Technology). Coincidentally, the Microsoft team that I manage is just across the street from where I used to work. I can see my old office from the new Microsoft office.

I’ve been back to the area a few times in the past eleven years, but haven’t spent a long time there.

Back in the late ‘80’s, Kendall was going through a bit of a revitalization, as old warehouses (Just look at the illustrations of Cambridge from “Make Way For Ducklings” to see what it used to be like) were being torn down and turned into office building, retail space, and other new construction. This trend has accelerated after a slowdown after the Dot-Com bust. In fact, office space is now scarce in the whole area.

It was interesting to see what businesses have opened and closed since I was there last time. There was an amazing photo development shop right in Kendall – long closed. Who prints photos anymore in that way? Two of the really famous restaurants in the area – closed – Florentina and the Sail Loft.

BayBank – after numerous acquisitions and mergers – gone – now Bank of America. Sad.

We had gone over to Harvard Square – that’s changed a lot as well. Its been way more “Gapified” than I remember – and a Harvard Square landmark – Wordsworth Books – gone – space empty.

It still felt familiar – but not the same.

However, the margarita(s) at The Border Café are just as good as ever, and go down just as smoothly.


Posted in Identification at 10:49 pm by Michael

Getting “Sir’ed” has been a pretty regular occurrence for me, especially when I’m wearing my normal North Face fleece jacket. I had *never* yet been ma’am’ed.

That day has now come.

We were in Logan Airport, at gate C29, waiting for our JetBlue flight back to Seattle. Anh had just gone to the restroom, and I was there with Samwich. The gate agent (male, mid to late 20’s) came over (I was holding Samwich at the time) and said:

“Ma’am, is that carseat going on the flight or do you need to check it?”

Basically, he was asking if I needed a gate check ticket or not, or if we were bringing it on the plane.

I said: “We have a seat for him so we are bringing it on the plane, thanks”

Now, what he said next was up for debate. He may have said:

“Thanks Man, Have a Good Flight!”

He could also have said:

“Thanks Ma’am, Have a Good Flight!”

I think he said the first. Here’s why. My voice is a huge tell. By the look on his face it was clear that he was surprised and more than a little confused.  Anyway, I’ll take the first “ma’am” as progress.

Later on the flight, Anh was holding Samwich in the middle, and I was on the aisle. Samwich is now pretty active, and it’s not exactly good times for him because more than anything, he just wants to crawl, walk, play, explore, chew, etc. I can imagine buying the Samwich action figure, and reading the back of the box:

“Samwich Action Figure: Now With Real Flailing Action!”

Anyway, as happens a lot, he flailed, and whacked me with a left cross to the chin. Now, generally my chin doesn’t hurt much, but when whacked, it does hurt. I recoiled back toward the aisle, just as the flight attendant was coming by with a tray of bottled water. You guessed it “Wack!” Corner of the tray, meet noggin. Then to add insult to injury, the bottles of water on the tray then fall on my newly throbbin’ noggin. Sweet.

Now the relevant part. The flight attendant was a little mortified, and said “What happened?” and asked if I was ok or needed ice or anything. I said no, that I was ok, and just wanted this whole unfortunate incident to end. Just then, another flight attendant came by and asked what happened…. The first flight attendant says:

“Well, the baby hit her in the head, and she moved to the aisle and I hit her in the head with the tray.”

I guess passing was worth the whack on the head!

Wow – twice in one day!

Who is Megan Megan and Why is She Getting My Email?

Posted in work at 10:47 pm by Michael

Ok, I’m a big doofus. When I filled out the online form to change my name I screwed up and in the legal last name box, which I didn’t intend to change, I typed “Megan”.

Megan Megan #1

There’s a separate field called “friendly name” which is used for the first name that shows in your email and on your badge. As you can imagine, I changed that to “Megan” as well.

It turns out that the friendly name change happens quickly – in hours, but the legal name change takes longer to get through the system – a few days generally.

So, after last Thursday, I was “Megan Wallent” in most systems, and “Michael Wallent” in others. No biggie.

Wednesday though, I was sitting in the Boston office just after getting in on the redeye and mail started coming to “Megan Megan”.

Megan Megan #2

Now, I generally don’t sleep super well on the redeye, but I wasn’t that tired and I didn’t think I was hallucinating.

After a couple of quick emails to the nice person in accounts that helped me change my name originally, it was fixed.

However, Megan Megan continued to send and receive my mail for the next day, until the new change rippled through the system.

January 9, 2008

Jet Blue 498 to Boston

Posted in family, work at 3:51 am by Michael

Work proceeds pretty much as normal. Interestingly, it’s normal seemingly not just for me, but for the people who I work with. I had two interesting interchanges today at work that really pointed this out to me. I went over for a meeting with one of the senior tech leaders in the company, and after the meeting, I was talking to his technical assistant (TA in MS-Speak), and she was asking me how it was going since I was back. I told her it was going really well, but sometimes people weren’t sure what they should call me (I was thinking that they wouldn’t know because even though they had “heard” they may not have remembered what my new name is – I don’t think that EVERYONE at Microsoft plows through my blog blather on a regular basis). She gave me this look like “DUH!” and said “Uh, Megan?!” I took this as a super sweet comment, in that for her, it was clear that I am in fact, “Megan” and to think otherwise is non-sensical.

Later in the day, I had a meeting with the human relations person who supports my team in Redmond (there’s someone else who supports the team in Boston (technically Cambridge… just for clarity – there is a difference!) and she was talking to someone else who was an avid reader of this space who said:

“Wow, you are supporting Meg [Ed. Not a nickname I expected, but hey, whatever works] Wallent? That must be exciting!”

Her reaction: “No, not really. It’s just like supporting any other GM here.”

Again, I took this as a really clear sign of how normalized and accepted my transition has become at Microsoft. I’ve talked to a few co-workers and friends about that, and the reaction is pretty universal – both that the culture here is much more open than you would expect, and in general the public reaction to me (Crappy Look Counter at 6 still) restores faith about the overall state of the general public and acceptance. Maybe I was overly cynical, but I did expect if I was “read as male dressed female” that I would have issues. I haven’t.

On the topic of “Things Might Be Getting Better”, we were having a conversation with the big kiddos tonight about the New Hampshire primaries. When we picked them up from school, there weren’t any results yet, but Peri was VERY interested to see how Hillary Clinton was doing. Finally, when we heard to results that Clinton won, and Obama was a close second, Peri was thrilled. I don’t think she gets the overall primary system and was it means, but she gets that it has something to do with being President, and its important. She’s super interested to know when she can vote for real. After learning about the results, Peri said: “Well, a girl should get to be president FOR ONCE at least. All the other presidents have been boys you know.” (She had to learn all the US Presidents by heart last year in school).

Anh said to her: “That’s true; she would be the first female President if she got elected. But, might be even more historic if Obama was elected, since he’s African-American.”

Peri says: “Why does that matter?”

Us: “Well, No African American has even come close to getting elected as President before.”

Peri (incredulous) “That’s CRAZY. Why would that matter? Who would care about THAT?”

I said: “Well Peri, up until just before I was born, there weren’t laws in the whole country that guaranteed the same rights for all people, no matter what color their skin was, or where they came from.”

This dialog continued for a few more minutes, with Peri being JUST FLABBERGASTED that anyone would care about something as irrelevant as skin color.

Peri then said a couple of funny things. First “Well, I would NOT want to be President because I would NOT want to be famous. I wouldn’t want anyone who I don’t know to know me.”

I kind of smiled, there was a pause, and Anh said to Peri and John both “Well, in a way, you both are known by people who don’t really know you because Daddy [Ed. They still call me Daddy as documented previously, and we support that 100%] writes about stuff that we do as a family, and people read about it.”

Peri thought about this for a second, and said “Oh, like you posting a picture of Sculpey Samwich, and people thinking that was cool?” Answering her own question: “Well, that is pretty cool, I like that! Maybe that would be ok then…”

Sculpey Samwich

(As a note, Peri and John are not yet allowed to read this blog, but I do tell them about stories that I post about them. I did get a few nice comments about Peri’s Sculpey Samwich, and I let her read those. I’m sure someday when they are older and ready, I’ll give them the whole archive if they are so inclined.)

Peri then added: “Well, I wouldn’t want to be President because the White House is just too Big. It would take me four years just to find out where all the rooms were!” Always interesting to see a kid’s perspective on the world….

Right now, Anh, Samwich and I are currently on our way to Boston where part of my team is. This is our second (and a half) trip since my transition, and again, our ventures through the airport with TSA have been total non-events.

Anh made an interesting observation/question as we were getting on the plane tonight – “Does the fact that we travel as a family make it less likely that anyone would give you [Megan] a hard time?”

This is an interesting question. I haven’t yet flown solo, but I’m sure I will over the upcoming weeks. Boston will be our fourth city visited post transition (San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas were the others). I’m very interested to see if there’s a difference in the reaction to me and us as a family (more out and about than at work) once we get there and I’m working there for a few days.

January 5, 2008

Saturday Night Post

Posted in work at 9:32 pm by Michael

Anh is staying at her sister’s tonight, helping w/the new baby, so it’s just me and the Samwich (sleeping),

There was a question that came from CAREFUL examination of some of the stuff on my board from the picture in my office.

The question was “What’s the story behind that “No Promotion” sign? 

No Promotion

Here’s the answer: I travel a bunch to China. If you go there much, you’ll notice that there’s a bunch of “Chinglish” that’s used. Misspellings, grammar issue, misuse of terms, you name it.

Me and one of my coworkers were in Shanghai at one of the many outdoor markets, and they were selling all sorts of signs to be used by local vendors to post. We looked at the store, and laughed at a whole bunch of just funny signs.

Later that night, my coworker presented me with a gift of that sign (he worked for me then, and it was close to review time, when most promotions are done). I thought it was hilarious. What I think it actually means (when translated properly) is “No Soliciting”. However, its been translated “accurately” but not “correctly”.

So, even though I’ve moved offices twice, I move this sign and put it up.

However, sometimes this has unintended effects. Clearly, if you hear the whole story, its funny, and is about a memory of a great trip to China. It has nothing to do with me not wanting to promote anyone. More than one person has come to my office, and basically said “I’m afraid to ask, but what’s that sign mean?” Usually they have a scared look when they see this for the first time. When I explain, they smile, and it’s a good chat!

Ok, so since its Saturday night and I’ve got nothing else to do (although I am watching TV while I do this), I figured I’d explain the other stuff (most of it) visible in the picture.

Old Badge Picture

Old Badge Picture

August 12, 1996 was the day I started at Microsoft. This was the original picture from my badge that day. I still remember how happy and proud I was to be starting at MICROSOFT! Honestly, for the first three months I came home thinking: “Wow, they didn’t fire me yet!” It was overwhelming.

Which leads to…

Microsoft 10 Year Service Award

10 Year Award

It used to be that when you worked at MSFT for 5 years, you got a clock, then 10 years (and every five years thereafter) you got a metal and glass plaque with an imprint of a MS stock certificate, with the associated number of shares of stock granted (10, 15, 20, etc). About three years ago they changed to giving these glass obelisks at each of the milestones, each larger than the last. I was lucky enough to have an employee that was here for 20 years, and WOW – it was HUGE! We joke that for 25 years, it comes with a mover to help you move it between offices (we move a lot).  So, this is my 10 year award.

Ship Stuff

Ship Stuff

It’s the tradition to get a “Box” of the stuff that you ship, when you ship it (the retail box). On the left, you see the “IE 4” envelope. This was an issue with IE, since we didn’t really have a box – was a download only for a while… So, everybody got this special edition IE 4 folder that had a disk on it.

On the right, you also see a special edition version of Vista, the Ultimate “Handcrafted” box – just for folks who worked on Vista.

Diet Coke Can

Diet Coke

I’m addicted.

Curt Schilling Upset

Schilling Upset

Back in September, after a disastrous series when the Yankees (who?) closed the gap on the Sox to 4.5 games, one of my co-workers (Scot) dropped this nice note on my chair. It had a quote from one of the NY papers describing the events.

I kept this, and took a little pleasure in showing this to Scot AGAIN when the Sox won the Series. I keep this up as a reminder of persistence.


No Notebooks

I have a penchant for taking notes on sticky notes, not notebooks. When I changed teams last year (18 months ago), one of my new co-workers gave me this nice moleskin covered notebook. I was aware of said notebook technology at this point, I had just declined to participate in that technological revolution. So, this picture is of that notebook, with a stick note on the cover, with the universal NO sign. As in, “NO NOTEBOOKS”.



Quaker oatmeal, Clif Bars and my coffee cup. Nuff said. I get hungry after getting to work after running in the morning.


E Caper

Ah, perhaps my fondest work-related memory.

At the IE 4 launch event, which was held on the waterfront in San Francisco, there were these two big plywood and fabric “E”s that were like spotlights. The folks on the IE team who were present at the event were obviously relieved, elated, and well, maybe overly dorky (me included). At the end of the night, we inquired about shipping these really cool Es back to Redmond. No-can-do. They were built in place, and are wider/taller than a truck can be. It would have to be an oversized load. Too expensive, not expense-able.

I don’t remember who, but someone had the brilliant idea of “delivering” it to Netscape. Purely as a memento. Purely. We are nice guys you know.

So, after bribing a tow driver (it was a little WIDE), we had it loaded up (with the participation of two notables from Wired Magazine, who will go unnamed).

We stopped at a local Safeway on the way, and one of the participants got our Netscape buddies a card (crying baby on the cover, saying “Its so sad when..” Inside: “Bad things happen to good people.” We signed it – “Love, the IE team.”) and a sympathy balloon.

On to Netscape.

We arrive, drop off the IE, take some pictures, and quickly leave. (In the picture, I’m second from the left. The dude on the far left is the tow driver).

We all roll back to the hotel, have some laughs, and then go to bed.

Now, I have lousy vision. I wear contacts (-3.75), and I can’t see much without them. I wear them all the time, except when I’m sleeping.

I wake up, turn on the TV, and see what appears to be the E, but now toppled, with the Mozilla mascot on top – with a TV reporter doing a standup in front of it. “…and late last night a band of hooligans, purportedly from Microsoft…..”  OH CRAP! Its news!

It turns out that Netscape tried to make a big deal of this. Their PR people accused us of “Sophomoric Tactics”. I know, I have the article still. HA! We were having fun!

Ah, the heady days of the Browser Wars….

Who Are You?

Posted in family, Identification at 12:31 am by Michael

My first mini-week of work came to a close today with not a bang, but a whimper.

But, today started pretty early… Samwich got up before 5, and was very excited to get up and start his day. He’s got a really funny schedule these days – goes to sleep at 7:30 pm, and gets up near 5am. He’s been getting up a couple times a night these days as he’s cutting teeth, and not as restful as he normally is. Anh dealt with him last night a couple times, and was super tired, so I got up w/him at 5, and we went downstairs to play.

Now, this is one of my favorite times of the day to play with him, because this is when he seems to do the most new things. Last week, he started pointing. He’s also started making more “talking-like” noises. He often says what sounds like “What’s That?” And, most enderingly, if you say to him “I love you!”, he mumbles something that sounds a lot like that – at least to me and Anh.

Plus, making him breakfast is just fun – blueberry pancakes again today – a good choice for him as he loves it, and he can feed himself if you cut it up.

Anyway, time to go to work came and it was time to depart. Work today was just like before – lots of email, meetings, couple of calls and 1:1’s with folks on my team. Some planning for my work trip to Boston next week – should be great the week before the Pats first playoff game!

So… I went to my last meeting for the day, and got there a little late, but before the exec who’s meeting it was came. I sat in the back, and saw someone who I had worked with on and off since I started at Microsoft. I said “Hey Sam!” (not his real name). He looked around, looking for the source of the voice, and since there were about 20 people in the room, and it was loud, I said “Hey Sam, I’m over here!” again. He looked right at me, and said “Who are you? I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you.”

I was floored.

He got up, walked over, looked at my badge (only a day and a half old  ) and said “Oh! Good to see you, how are you doing?” I said I was doing great, and just as we started to chat, the meeting started.

I sent him mail apologizing for the surprise – I hate to surprise people. But he said something very interesting – that he had heard – but that honestly, he just didn’t recognize me.

Ok, here’s one of the oldest pictures I could find of me (digitally, at home), side by side w/the headshot version of my office pic yesterday. Unrecognizable?

Paris 2002 Office 2007

Now, I’ve lost probably 60-70lbs since the ’02 picture was taken, and clearly, other changes to, but would I not be recognized? Its funny, because everyone else – even folks who barely know me, say “Hi Michael (or Megan if they know” when they see me).

It was interesting… not sure if this is the first (or somewhat first time) that I actually “passed”. But, I’ll certainly remember this for a while.

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