September 19, 2008

Leaving Israel

Posted in Identification, travel at 1:13 am by Michael

Getting to and from Israel from Seattle is non-trivial – both in time and overall travel effort. I came in on Tuesday night, through Paris, on Air France (I left midday Monday from Seattle).

To leave I was departing from Tel Aviv at 5am, on a KLM flight to Amsterdam, then on NWA to Seattle, which should get in mid-afternoon the same day (Friday).

I had heard epic stories about security at airports in Israel. I had asked a bunch of folks in the office how long to get to the airport before the flight – the general consensus was between two and three hours. Even traveling business class – even at 5am.

There is a bit of a shortcut though – if you are “hosted” by a large company or organization, they can “vouch” for you, and security gets a little easier. Yesterday I filled out the forms, and they were sent in to the airport security office. What got sent back was this:

My Security Ticket
My Security Ticket

The key thing wasn’t the piece of paper, but it was the security authorization number, and the fact that they had all my info in their central database.

For my 5am flight, I left the hotel at 230am (love that jet lag!), and got to the airport at just about three.
The trip to the airport was fun though – at that time of the night/morning, Tel Aviv is a hopping city. Maybe we just drove through the club area, but every block seemed to have a collection of young, well dressed (very well dressed) party-goers – both inside and outside of clubs. I’ve been to a lot of cities, and I have to say, this was the *most* busy that I’ve seen a place so late at night.
Outside of the airport, there is what appears to be a tollboth – with a long line of cars. It turns out that its not. It’s a security checkpoint. The car pulls up, the guard asks the driver questions, then opened the back door to ask me questions. He started in Hebrew, and I had no idea what he was saying. After a couple tries he said in English “Is everything ok?” I said “Yes”, and he waved us through. There were guards with machine guns right on the other side of this barrier. (Sorry, no pictures, I’m not crazy!)
When you pull up to the terminal, you get into a line to go to the checkin counter – before you can go to the counter, there are very nice security people who ask *a lot* of questions. These were the people who I gave my paper to, and who then entered the data, and came back to talk to me – why were you here? where did you stay? who do you work for? whats your title? who did you meet with? And, this was *with* the card! The guy in front of me worked for some medical device company and had prototype devices that were fabbed in Israel. He was still there long after I left and checked in.
There were no fewer than four more checkpoints to go through before going to the gate. I’ve written about the Bee Watcher Watchers in Paris, where there are multiple lines to go through, each with some perfunctory check. This is not the case here – every line had some purpose, and they were checking and rechecking to make sure that you were okey dokey.
One thing I was surprised by though – at the xray machine, you do not need to pull out your small baggie of liquids or take off your shoes. They scan you, and your stuff, right there.
I will have to admit that I was a little concerned with all the extra checking of me and my passport, at some point someone would notice the “M” gender on my passport. This wasn’t the case, and it never came up.
I felt pretty safe as we were taking off from Tel Aviv that the folks on the plane were well vetted.
I’ll be happy to be home in a few hours….

Hummos in Israel (The Lunch of Choice!)

Posted in food, travel, work at 12:54 am by Michael

This week I was on business travel in Israel. As part of an internal reorg, I’m now responsible for a small development group in our Microsoft Israel office outside of Tel Aviv (in Herzeliya).

Food is an obvious connection when meeting new people – in business or personally. While we were working, we talked a lot about good food – both in Seattle and also in Israel. One of my new co-workers is a hummos fanatic – constantly searching out the best places to go, with awesome critiques of which places have the best salad, the best hummos itself, the best sauces – you get the picture.

Yesterday for lunch, he asked where we should go.

“Hummos!”

It was unanimous. He told us about his favorite local place. He described it as “The Hummos Nazi” – like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. I was more in than ever for this place! We set of on our hummos adventure for the Hummos Shack (my term, not his!) which was tucked in a small retail space in another office complex. (Its in the Ramat-Gan neighborhood)

"Parsley"

The name of the place is “Parsley” in English.

A Good Sign

A Good Sign

When we walked up, there was a good size line – with members of the Israeli Army just in front of us. This is a good sign – the longer the line, the better!

The Menu

The Menu

The menu was posted on the far wall, all in Hebrew. It turns out that there is a “stack” that you can build:

– stewed beans (looked like some red bean variant)

– hummos

– oil and chickpeas

– diced onion

– parsley

– hard boiled egg

The menu basically describes that.

The prices are in NIS (New Israel Sheckel), and the rate is about 3.5 NIS = $1 USD. You can see then, at 7 to 8 NIS per plate, this is a good deal.

The Home of Happy Hummos

The Home of Happy Hummos

The ingredients are served from these trays, into your waiting plate.

Saucy?

Saucy?

You have a choice of sauces – the far left are whole jalapenos, the middle is a mango salsa, and the right is a red pepper mash (schug).

No Egg

Option 1: No EggOption 2: Egg and Beans

With the plate, you are served pita bread, as well as the ubiquitous Israeli salad – tomato, cucumber onion, parsley. (Some places add cabbage – this place did not.)

Pita!

Pita!

Salad!

Salad!

Basically, you mix and eat into as many combinations that you would like. This was an *awesome* lunch. The veggies were fresh – the sauces were crisp and fresh, and the bread was warm and clearly fresh baked.

Not only that, but this was an amazingly filling lunch. Lunch in Israel turns out to be a big meal (little to no breakfast), usually taken between 12-1, but then dinner isn’t until 8-9pm – and these are leisurely affairs. This lunch served me well to tide me over for more than eight hours until dinner.

One thing that just about everyone said though about Israeli restaurant service is that its brusque at best. To the point. Brief. This place was no exception. As we were finishing up, probably a little too slowly, one of the guys from the restaurant told, or “invited” us to leave in Hebrew – I guess we were taking too long!

Even with that, I’d go back in a second… it was amazing.

September 12, 2008

Discretion is the better part of valor?

Posted in family at 9:40 pm by Michael

Run Away!

Run Away!

We were in Austin since Wednesday night for the Out & Equal workplace conference (see posts below). My presentation was Thursday afternoon (more on the in another post), so my official work there was done, although there were more conference things going on until Saturday. We were planning on going home Sunday afternoon.

Then Ike showed up.

Over the past couple of days, people all along the Gulf coast have been keeping an eye on the approaching storm. Austin is a ways inland, but there were concerns that even there, this very massive storm would have an impact on the city – potentially with a loss of power and other challenges.

We got a letter from the hotel last night saying that they were tracking the storm, and if they lost power, they had emergency generators for some elevator operations, some emergency lighting, and limited foodservice. No ventilation, and certainly no AC. For the last three days, it was in the high 90’s, with very high humidity there.

As of last night, all the flights today (Thursday) out of Austin for Friday (today) were all sold out. The Houston airport was closing at 6pm Friday (closed as I post this), and the Austin airport was not scheduled to operate on Saturday, with the requisite flight cancellations.

This morning, I woke up a little before Anh and Samwich did, and checked out the weather. There was no definitive forecast for the storm’s effect in Austin, but there were already FEMA people in our hotel (dealing with evacuees, and preparing Austin too).

I checked for flights out of Dallas (DFW) to get back to Seattle today. Yes, there were flights, direct on Alaska, and there were still rental cars available.

Hmm… there were a bunch of other folks from Microsoft at the conference, and I had hoped to spend more time there.

I thought about this, thought about what it would be like to ride out a major storm in a hotel with no power or ventilation, in a city with potentially large number of evacuees coming from even more impacted locations.

Anh was stirring, and I said, “Anh, how about if we leave now. Let’s drive to Dallas and get a flight out of there.”

Anh immediately agreed, and we got ready to leave. I sent email to my co-workers offering folks a ride, but no one else decided to come with us, although some people changed flights and were going out of other airports.

The traffic leaving Austin was pretty heavy, probably both because of the time of day, but also because there were a lot of people on the road. For the next hundred miles or so, there were temporary signs telling hurricane evacuees where to exit, and where they could stay. It was honestly a little spooky.

So, we left.

We got to the airport in plenty of time, got on our flight, and off we go.

As we were driving I was thinking about the choices that we have that others don’t have. We were able to rent a car without a thought. I rebooked the travel without a thought, and got to where we needed to go. If the Dallas thing didn’t work out, then we’d just drive until we found an airport or a flight that did. Two cell phones, two laptops with data cards and a GPS give you that flexibility.

Before I booked it all, I was starting to feel a little trapped.

What if there was no power – no milk for Samwich – hot and steamy on a high floor in a hotel that we had to walk up and down the stairs to get in and out. What if? How would I have felt if I didn’t take the choice that was available to us, and the storm was a little more to the west, and a little worse than thought?

I can only imagine how the residents of that area (or, lets say New Orleans, pre-Katrina) felt when facing such an impending area. They have babies. They have loved ones. They want to protect them too.

The choices that I have are a fortunate gift, and I was reminded of that today.

I hope that Ike isn’t as bad as forecast, and the people of the region are in our thoughts.

Samwich Rates the iPhone

Posted in family, Samwich at 9:37 pm by Michael

My son, the traitor.

Samwich has a very simple rating scheme for things.

Things that you can eat are rated either:

– Ah! (with mouth open): Translation: “Give me more, now. Didn’t you hear me? I said now.” Things in this category include M&Ms (yes, we are bad parents), fried rice and sushi.

– No! (shaking head): Translation: “This stuff is foul. Are you trying to kill me with this crap?”. If not obeyed, this expression will be followed with the self-evident “Ptoey!” with the accompanying ejection of said objectionable material.

Non-edible things that are cool are rated “Whoa!”, generally with his lips pursed into an “O” shape, and sometimes accompanied with a point at the “Whoa” rated thing.

Things that have been rated “Whoa!” before include airplanes, dogs, Elmo, car wheels, and digger-like machines. The maximum “Whoa!” rating ever received was three. For Elmo.

Until today.

Sitting on the airplane, waiting to go back to Seattle from the Out & Equal conference (more on that in another post), Anh was showing him the latest Conde Nast Traveler, looking for “Whoa!” things.

He flipped to the back cover, which has an iPhone ad – showing the face, with the “desktop” icons visible (just about life size).

Samwich sees this and goes “This is Whoa!”, and starts pointing to it, trying to press the buttons. Now, the fact that he strung the phrase “This is” on the front of the rating gives it even more weight (little dude is only 18 months old now, so three words is pretty good).

He proceeds to rate this 13 “Whoa!”’s, a new record.

To add insult to injury, he starts to kiss and slobber all over it.

Samwich, iPhone, get a room!

Anh says “Looks like mommy needs an iPhone….” Giggling.

Maybe we’ll just laminate the back of the magazine and call it done.

September 10, 2008

Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2008

Posted in transgender at 8:56 pm by Michael

Anh, Samwich and I arrived in Austin today for the Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2008.

I’m on a panel tomorrow for the afternoon plenary session (at 3:30) with the CEO of Clorox, as well as the President of AT&T California – Don Knauss and Ken McNeely (bios). Cindy Solomon is the moderator. We are doing a panel discussion, and we each have been given a few minutes to speak up front, and then answer questions from the audience. I’ve been asked to talk about transitioning in the workplace, and I expect that I’ll be asked questions around that topic.

So… I’m a little nervous. I’m no CEO, and this is the first time that I’ve done a non-techie presentation to anywhere near this number of people (I’ve been told that there are about 3000 registered – how many show up to see us? Well see!) I still feel like a total newbie in this space. Who am I to give advice, or even think that my experience is relevant? After a lot of teeth gnashing, I’ve decided to go pretty simple – big lessons learned for me, and big lessons that (I think) Microsoft learned.

For any even semi-regular reader of this space, my big lessons are the same ones I’ve been writing about for quite some time:

– If you aren’t ashamed, don’t act like you are!

– Open to questions means that there aren’t any secrets!

– Be unconstrained by percieved limitations

– Don’t be an adjective!

and so on… Of course, each of these little bon mots will be accompanied by an anectode (I’m nothing if not anecdotal).

I can’t say that my path would be good for anyone else, but it was my path, and I’ll talk about it. Please, if you are in the audience, no snoring.

Plenary 2 – Tomorrow in Austin. I’ll be there.

(As an aside, tomorrow is the one year anniversary of me sending my “Hi, I’m coming back in January with a new name and a new gender presentation!” (No, the mail didn’t say that – I’ll post it tomorrow for reference… it was *way* more eloquent) I could not have planned it this way… Quite a bit of change in a year, huh?)

PS – If you are at O&E and are wondering where I’m going to be, drop me a comment on the “Contact” page, and I’ll see what I can do!

September 5, 2008

Megan’s First Review

Posted in transgender, work at 8:41 pm by Michael

Microsoft Campus

Microsoft Campus

September is annual review time at Microsoft (it used to be August, but three years ago it changed to September). This is the time of year when everyone gets a rating (on past performance and also on future potential), and there are raises, bonuses and stock allocations. You submit a written form, your manager comments, then you sit down and talk about it, and you are given “your numbers”.

For managers (like me), this tends to be a lot of work, as you need to do this for each of your directs (I have 13 this year), and then manage budget, and monitor the progress of the entire group (I oversee about 300 people).

I actually like the Microsoft review process. I like the regularity and the rigor that’s associated with it. I know that there are a wide range of opinions, but I’m still a fan.

All through my transition and working with my manager(s) (I changed jobs right before I transitioned), I’ve said how fantastically supportive Microsoft has been. Now, lots of people have asked “But how supportive, really?”

One way to tell is from review, and from your evaluation. Look, the process isn’t perfect, just like any human-driven process there can be bias (pro and con) at many levels.

I’ve done well at the company in my time there. I like to think that I’ve contributed, and the company has been behind me. There’s always room for improvement (in me), but that’s a good thing.

I got my review this week, and if there was any question if the company was going to back their words of support with actions of support, then the question was answered to the affirmative.

My review was fair, completely in-line with my expectations (or even a little better  ), but more than anything, completely divorced from my transition.

I wasn’t worried, but wow, its good to have that milestone behind me.

September 3, 2008

Joe Biden: Self-Admitted Bullshitter?

Posted in work at 7:44 pm by Michael

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

The summer of 2001 was an eventful time for me at work. At that time, I was running the Internet Explorer 6 team, and our big focus was on privacy on the Internet. Just before that, DoubleClick had bought out an offline (old-school) marketing information firm, and the FTC got concerned that they would merge online and offline data – creating master profiles of everything that people did in both worlds. (This was at the time that DoubleClick was the king of ads, before Google took it to all of them/us.) As a result, there was a lot of FTC, state attorney-general and legislative concern about protecting user’s privacy.

Turns out that when folks are concerned about Internet privacy, when you are running the browser that has 95% share (ah, the good old days), well, you get to talk to those concerned folks – the FTC, state AGs and the people’s representatives in congress and the senate.

As part of my IE gig then, I flew to DC a few times and presented to members of congress as well as the FTC and other NGO-type privacy advocates. I even got to testify in front of congress on this point. Now, that was fun!

You can even read the transcript  (where Mr. Ed Markey from Massachusetts goes off on me about WebTV and credit cards, and where I’m told by Ms. Anna Eshoo from California:

“We have got to get you over to the State Department. You know, you give these answers that are–there is
an answer buried in the answer, but it is not like upfront. It is kind of diplomatic talk.

But at any rate, I congratulate you for having refined that.”

I was telling them how IE was dealing with cookies  in our upcoming v6 product. I was also telling them about P3P and how we were using that to help users.
 
During that summer, I got to meet with a wide range of folks in congress – John Kerry, Ted Stephens, George Allen, John McCain and Joe Biden. No kidding.

During the time that I was going back and forth, control of the Senate changed from Republican to Democrat. The interesting thing was that I met with Ted Stevens from Alaska when he was the Senate Appropriations* Chairman – and we met in the room in his office -actually in the Capitol building where the Senate Appropriations Committee met. It was pretty imposing. (NB – most people in congress have their offices in either of the office buildings *next to* the Capitol. Only the most senior Senators and Congresspeople (generally of the party in control) have offices actually in the Capitol.) On a later trip, when control had shifted, he was in a way smaller office, which was kind of like a little hallway actually, in one of the senate office buildings. He did not appear pleased by this turn of events.

Anyway… I digress.

After doing about twenty of these presentations, with me, a rep from the Microsoft DC office, and someone from our PR group, we had gotten into the flow of it. We knew how to do the presentations, we knew what questions to expect, and we knew when to cut it short and stick to the shiny demos.

One of the last people we had the opportunity to present to was Joe Biden (D), from the great state of Delaware (Delawarians, or Delawareites?). I love to rag on Delaware, since they are only marginally bigger than the state of my youth – Little Rhody.

It turns out that the Microsoft DC guy, who was just fantastic (and I state this up front, because, well, this story doesn’t turn out so well for him – but, I still like him a lot) – he knew all of the staffers, knew many of the members of Congress, and was an overall great guy to work with – and, Joe Biden was his Numero Uno favorite member of congress.

“He’s my idol. Can I do the presentation to him?”

Now, we had this whole deal carefully scripted – when I would talk, when he would talk, when we’d do demos, when we’d do slides – it was tight. Now, he wanted to do the whole deal for his idol.

“Sure, no problem.”

So, we go in to meet Biden, and Biden just looks feisty. He’s buzzing with energy. Maybe he needs less coffee, maybe more – who knows! But, he’s en fuego.

My colleague, who I will call “Ringo” for sake of argument, starts off.

Biden starts peppering him with questions. Questions that we have not heard. Questions that don’t really make sense. Ringo is flustered, and Ringo doesn’t know what to do. I don’t want to rain on Ringo’s parade, so I let it go. I don’t want to jump in. You can pull it out Ringo!

About two minutes in, Biden says, and I quote:

“Look, don’t bullshit a bullshitter. What’s really going on here?”

Ringo is crestfallen. Ringo turns to me and says:

“Michael, why don’t you take over.”

I did… Biden had his pound of flesh, and we went on to our next appointment, all smiles, except for Ringo…..

*9/5 – Correction, Senator Stevens was the head of the Appropriations not Finance Committee, thanks to SAC for the edit.