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Chapter 12: At Home with the Wu Family

Inside the house the family are lined up to see the famous lion person: I gravely shake Mrs. Wu's hand. She seems to get addressed as ``Mama''. Jasmine greets me shyly; she is female, about nine lion years old. Samson is male, six years. He is ambivalent, and I don't reach for his hand; he touches mine and then is gone. Mrs. Wu laughs.

Mama: He's shy around strangers, especially one as strange as you, but he'll be back. Does it bother you if I say you're strange?

Me: Not at all; I know it's true, for you. My name is Simba, but what would you call me in Chinese?

Jasmine: Mao-guei. That's what you are!

Mama: Now, that isn't so nice. It's a variation on a Chinese phrase and means hairy demon. I don't think you want to be called that.

Me: If I don't have to be a mean demon, it's OK.

Mama: It's up to you. Now let's get you settled. Right through here; is this couch going to be OK? When it's bedtime I'll get you some sheets and a blanket. The downstairs bathroom is right around the corner opposite the kids' rooms.

Me: No problem, but I really need only one sheet or none. My fur keeps me warm even in the forest in winter. What's your normal morning schedule?

Mr. Wu: I get up about half past six to run, before breakfast.

Me: Normally I get up at six and stretch and do strength exercises. Silently. Maybe we could run together. Um, do you have an exercise bar?

Mama: Lixing, do you remember where you put it?

Mr. Wu: Right here; it's a shame nobody has time to use it. See, it wedges in the door.

Me: Oh, that's a nice one. My roommate works in the plumbing department and he got a piece of pipe for our room that sits on top of our cabinets.

Mama: I see. Now, what do you like for dinner? The word lion has certain connotations...

Me: Of large amounts of raw flesh. In the diet area we're not leonine at all. I eat mostly starch, vegetables and fruit, with a little of whatever else you're having, for variety. I really don't eat a lot. My diet would kill a human, but all I need beyond fuel is some mineral supplements, which are different from what humans get. Rice suits me fine.

Mama: That we have in abundance. Your diet is very Chinese. Do you want to watch TV until dinner's ready?

Me: Actually I'd like to read a book I bought.

Jasmine: Come and see what I'm doing on the lion disc!

Mr. Wu: Yes, could you take a look at their work, please? I have a lot of trouble to figure out what's a reasonable rate of progress for them.

Jasmine: Aww! Come on, Daddy, you're spoiling it!

Mr. Wu: Now look, Wo-Li, I'm supposed to be your father. Do you want me to just treat you like a street kid?

Little Jasmine sticks out her lower lip in a pout and I can hardly keep from laughing, but then I interpret this little psychodrama and feel the grenade ticking in my pocket again.

Me: This lion doesn't want to set off a family fight five minutes after coming into the house. How about we compromise? I'll look at Jasmine's stuff now, and we can talk later about how we handled progress monitoring at the Lion Foundation. Would that be OK?

Mr. Wu: OK, OK, for harmony. Go on.

Just around the corner is Jasmine's room. Its color is, of all things, pink, with posters of cute little animals, and a plethora of colorful stuffed ones. I'm pleased to see several lion people among them. It's been a while since I smelled a little human kid's room; it brings back memories of simpler days at the Lion Foundation. Samson is using Jasmine's computer, doing a lion lesson, I notice, but he immediately saves and exits, and scoots from the room. The machine is several years obsolete but is fully functional. A quick look through the directories shows that it's well maintained, presumably by Mr. Wu, although with a typical Xylogen backup situation.

Jasmine: See, I'm doing four digit borrowing. I can add and subtract three numbers in a column. Only one other kid in my class can do that, and he learned it off his lion disc. I got a bad grade on a math test when school started, and Daddy bought me the disc to help me get my grades up. It sure worked; now I get hundreds every time.

Me: Thank you! We worked hard on that disc and I'm glad it's helping people. Are you doing any other topics?

Jasmine: Well, I'm doing some science, you know, how to keep healthy. We don't do much of that in school and I thought it seemed important.

Me: It certainly is. I helped to write some of those lesson pages; did you see my name at the bottom?

Jasmine: No, where? You wrote that? You're a real good writer!

Me: How about you? Do you do the writing assignment? The human health section was my writing assignment every day for over a month.

Jasmine: No... I wouldn't know what to do.

Me: Would you like me to show you? It really helps me to practice writing, every day, even now that I'm in college.

Jasmine: I suppose you write books now.

Me: No, I've never written a book. But... Does it bother you that you're just starting and I can do so much more than you? There are always people better than you, and you mustn't compare your performance to other people. You have your skill level now, and your goals, and if your little friend can write better than you can, you shouldn't care, you just follow your goal. And if you're the best writer in your class you also shouldn't care. Does that make sense to you?

Jasmine: My teacher says something like that to the dummy kids who don't want to participate in class. So what do I do? Should I start the word processor? I have a simple one for kids.

Me: Yes, hit it. Your teacher is wise. OK, the first thing you need is a topic. I keep a list of topics and whenever I think of something interesting, it goes on the list. Then when I'm ready to write I pick the topic that seems the most fun or the most useful at the time. Do you have an idea?

Jasmine: I'm going to write about Hercules. Aww, you're going to say it's dumb.

Me: I certainly am not! It's your project and it's not my place to judge what you put your time into. I'm curious though; I thought little kids didn't know about Heracles. That's how we learned his name at the Lion Foundation.

Jasmine: There's a TV program. He does all these superhero things. You're sure not like my Daddy. He'd be all over me. What do I do, just type?

Me: Just type. When you're done I'll show you how to run the analysis program on it.

I can't bear to watch the opus unfolding. Phonetic cues are ignored in spelling. The syntax resembles Croatian, that's a joke. If there's any organization I can't see it. At least it's short.

Jasmine: There, saved! How do you like it?

Me: Remember, what I think isn't important. Did you have fun doing it?

Jasmine: Yes.

Me: Then it was successful. Um, I would suggest that your supervisor probably wouldn't like it, and you're going to get the best results if you just work with the analysis program, until you can write pieces consistently that it likes, before trying to get any useful information out of him. OK? Now there are two areas that you may not be getting enough of in school, and you're going to make more efficient progress doing the regular lessons, rather than trying to learn the whole topic by fighting over it with the analysis program. May I turn those topics on for you; they're spelling and syntax. OK, now see the tools menu on the lion lessons: hit writing analysis, and tell it what file to analyze. Give it some time.

Jasmine: Oh, so many colored marks! I think those are bad.

Me: Yes, it doesn't like those. Red is for spelling; you have to fix those first because otherwise it doesn't even know what you've written. Click on the first one.

Jasmine: A list of words I might have spelled wrong here. How do I know which is the right word if I don't know how to spell it in the first place?

Me: Lion lesson number one: when someone is talking to you, you listen to every word, and you hear it, and remember it, and you get it right the first time. Not paying attention is impolite. Agreed?

Jasmine: I listened to you!

Me: But not to someone else. You were told something and missed it. Try to find what I'm talking about.

Jasmine: The computer? It didn't talk, it put up a window. Are you trying to say that it's the same thing? But if I have to read every word it will take forever!

Me: Somebody, Mr. Rothko and Dr. Deutsch, put those words in the program for a reason, and the reason is you need to know them. Do you want to apologize to Mr. Rothko for not paying attention, or...

Jasmine: Oh, it has definitions! Here it is, sword, a long knife for killing people. A W in sword, that's crazy!

Me: Definitely crazy, but I'll bet you never forget that one. Go through all the red marks, and... I think your mother is calling us for dinner. Save, and you can finish later.

We all sit around the table. The air is filled with so many delicious flavors. I get meat, pork in oyster sauce, for almost the first time in three months. There is a concoction of red and green peppers with snow peas, and I have to hold myself back from hogging that one. And of course there's plenty of rice. I ask Mrs. Wu to show me how to use chopsticks. The kids just hold them in their fists and shovel the rice into their faces, but I try to be more civilized about it.

Mr. Wu: So how did they gauge your progress in lion school?

Me: My supervisor would check on me twice a day and I'd report what I was doing, which lesson or whatever. Weekly, or whenever I went through an important checkpoint, he would put a note in my progress file in the archives.

Mr. Wu: How did they decide if your progress was satisfactory?

Me: I'm sure it was discussed in staff meetings, but mainly we told them if it was satisfactory. For example, you might remember our press conference five or six years ago. Only six? It seems like forever; I wasn't even starting sexual maturity then! Anyway, someone asked what we were doing in art, which wasn't much, so we all bought lesson books and made more progress in art, and also music and literature. And accounting: when we decided it was time to go to college we asked Mr. Rothko for some lessons in that, because we found in our web research that bad money management often sinks college kids. I'm sure the staff have a list of upper bounds for ages at which certain skills should be known, and it's probably even in the archives, but Mr. Chernik has never had to bring it up with me. This pork is delicious.

Mr. Wu: No controls? No tests?

Me: Well, at the end of a lesson group I'll usually generate a test of some kind, to make sure I haven't missed anything, unless it's not a test kind of topic, like reading literature.

Mr. Wu: So they just let you do whatever you want to? That doesn't seem like the wisest way for a parent.

Me: Well, really, Mr. Chernik and the staff can hardly do anything else. If we choose to do a particular thing, what are they going to do, kick us out and blow a twenty million dollar project? Um, am I taking too much of the vegetable? OK, I think I'm misinterpreting, I think I'm interpreting your words in my context, not yours. Try to put yourself in my fur. I have this list of topics, and why do I choose to do one and not the other. Say, math rather than physics, or physics rather than math.

Mr. Wu: I have no idea. I don't know how a lion person would think.

Me: Jasmine, would you like to try an answer? No?

Samson: I choose what's fun. I choose what's going to help me learn other stuff, like reading.

Me: Very practical. I make almost the same choice. Mr. Wu, can you understand our logic?

Mr. Wu: The kids and I have had discussions about fun. Not very satisfactory, I'm afraid.

Me: I'd say it more like this: my goal is to grow up and thrive. I'll choose topics that get me to that goal, and foundation topics, that let me learn more, are a big part of that. Something is fun because I'm getting product out of it; something useless is boring, not fun. If Samson has his goals straight, and has a reasonable idea how to reach them, I'd be pleased when he has fun.

Mr. Wu: Your diet may be Chinese but not your attitudes about kids and work.

Samson: Daddy! I work hard just like you do. There's nothing wrong with having fun while I'm doing it. Is there?

Mr. Wu: No, Shao-Wei, there's nothing wrong with having fun if the work gets done. I just wish I had a little more fun now and then... Well, that's not your problem. Simba, would you like more rice?

Me: No, thanks; I see a piece of papaya waiting for me. If I eat too much I get a bellyache.

Samson: Da-Jie, can I show Simba my lessons after dinner? Please?

Jasmine: OK, but you have to have your bath. Afterward.

The kids' names change in every different circumstance. How am I going to keep them all straight? Anyway, we finish off the delicious papaya. I help carry dishes to the sink but Mrs. Wu insists on washing everything herself, and Samson drags me off to Jasmine's room.

Samson: See my topic list! It's not much but I'm only a little kid. Here's my writing assignment, and see, the analyzer wants me to improve the organization, but it's never satisfied with that.

Me: Very nice. You've done a good job on that essay. And in figuring out how to run the analyser and learning what it's trying to tell you. I'm trying to remember when I was your age; I think the analyzer had the same complaints about my work. Mr. Chernik said not to worry about it; I'd learn what to do when I got far enough in my regular lessons. And I did.

Samson: Is that story long enough? It's kind of short.

Me: I'm going to tell you the same thing I said to Jasmine and to your supervisor: it's not my business to tell people what to do with their time. Do you see a need to write longer pieces, for a purpose? Maybe on some topic you'll just have more, or less, to say. If it's fun, if you're getting something out of it, do it. But a longer piece puts more pressure on organization, and there's no point doing a really long story until you've had those lessons.

Samson: I heard Da-Jie tell you, you're sure not like Daddy. I wish I had my own computer; then I wouldn't have to share with her.

Me: That's a point. I suggested some lessons to her, and she may be doing lion lessons more in the future, which could cut into your time. You've made really good progress. You're a regular little lion kitten! Let's talk to your supervisors about how to deal with the computer problem.

Samson: I wish I really were like a lion. But I'm so weak. My name means a really strong person. What a joke!

Me: What exercises do you do?

Samson: I don't do any. Daddy just yelled at me. I wish the lion disc told how to do some of the things. Like, maybe you could show me what a pushup is.

Me: It's not there? Do you know how to do a keyword search?

Samson: Yes, see, the word is there, but I've looked at every one of these lessons and it says you should do it, but not what it is.

Me: Well, that's going to change. That's going to change tonight, if you have a digital camera. Who's the best camera operator in your family?

Samson: Daddy takes the pictures.

Me: OK, I'll show you how to do each of the exercises, and we'll ask your supervisor to take pictures, and I'll make up a lesson from it that will go in the next issue of the lion disc. I can't believe we missed that! Here's the skeleton of the lesson; learn this, as an example of organization. The lesson will start out with a frame saying why exercises are important and giving a summary of what we're going to learn. Then there will be some stuff for each of the exercises: pushups, leg lifts, chinups and bendovers. Probably two frames each. The sequence will end with some suggestions on getting started and a review. See, first tell them what the section is about, then a bunch of content units, then wrap it up with a review and conclusion so they can remember it. Now on each subsection I want a sequence of let's say five images showing exactly how to do it. One frame for the full exercise, and a reduced version for people like you who aren't strong enough to to twenty of the full one. We'll find a spot. We'll put my exercise mat down, me in back and you in front, and we'll just do it and your supervisor will take the pictures. What do you think?

Samson: Cool! But I don't know what to do! Maybe this isn't going to work. And Daddy's going to say how weak I am.

Me: I'll show you and you just copy what I do. We'll be doing it together for the camera. I want to put in the lesson, the demo person is Samson Wu, who's six lion years old and has never done this before in his life, and if he can do it, so can you! I think that between us we've gotten the message to your supervisor that comments about peoples' progress don't help. Can you very politely remind him of that, if he starts getting negative? Are we going to do this? Tough as a lion!

Samson: Tough as a lion! I know where the camera is. Daddy! We need you!

I can't believe we missed the most obvious lesson for the disc! And nobody ever complained about it until now. The photography goes tolerably well. Mr. Wu is enthusiastic about having his kid on the lion disc. Samson really isn't very strong, due to inadequate exercise, and when Mr. Wu's inevitable comments start, Samson squelches him really bravely, and he takes the hint, backed up with a glare and ever-so-slight show of fangs from me. For pushups, Samson takes his shirt off so people can see what's happening. Start, click, half down, click, full down, click, half up, click, full up, click, and Samson's back is ramrod straight but that's about all his arms can handle.

The chinups are weird. I put the bar two thirds of the way up the rec room door frame. Samson can hang full length, whereas I have to bend in the middle in an L shape. It's cramped, but there's just room for us to do chinups side by side. L-form chinups are tough; I'm not used to them. I think it will be valuable to the learners to see how we accommodate different sized people at the same bar height.

It takes about an hour to do all the pictures, about 35 of them, and download them in batches to my laptop. Thanks to aggressive compression, they all fit on my disc. I've been composing the text in my head, and I download that as well. The whole Wu family is pleased as punch with the product, and Jasmine goes back and does all the exercises, hitting a reasonable balance between full and reduced movements like I described in the text, to build both strength and endurance at the same time. Mrs. Wu even gives it a try when she thinks nobody is looking. Mr. Wu agrees that I should upload the lesson to the Lion Foundation on the T1 line at Xylogen, tomorrow. There's time to get it on the spring edition of the lion disc.

And now it's time for bath and bed, for the kids. At long last I get to read my system administration book. But Mr. Wu interrupts me.

Mr. Wu: Am I just a control freak? You have the kids eating out of your hand, by refusing to tell them what to do! I sweated blood to get little Samson to do something about his so-called muscles, and you show up and draft my camera and now Shao-Wei is going to be on the cover of Muscle and Fitness! Am I just doing everything backward?

Me: From the lion point of view, according to the lessons we've been given and the experiences we've had with our own supervisors, I think you kind of analyzed it correctly. I don't mean to be disrespectful.

Mr. Wu: This is serious! You met Hazeltine, I think I heard you talking with him? He called me a control freak to my face! Do you suppose he's right? What does he want me to do; my job is the company controller! What should I do if not control? We can't go off on a riot of spending! And now Shao-Wei wants me to buy him a computer.

Me: Let's leave the computer issue for later, OK? About the kids, could we agree that what works is the most important? Are you tough enough to do what works, even if it's not what you're used to?

Mr. Wu: But it's all backward! It stands everything on its head, everything I ever learned from my parents.

Me: Would you stand on your head for your kids? My supervisor would. He'd do a lot more; you should see his scars, from my claws.

Mr. Wu: OK, agreed, so will I. But this has implications for work, nasty ones. Have I been screwing up?

Me: Let's do an easy one first: I suggest you buy a spare toner cartridge and store it somewhere.

Mr. Wu: That's over a hundred bucks! We can't go spending money like water! Why are you looking at me like that? OK, what's your analysis?

Me: It doesn't do the company any good to not print; if it did, you'd take out the printers and sell them. So when the toner runs out, you either have a spare, or make people curse you as a control freak, and eventually spend the same money and print the same documents after a delay. Does it make sense?

Mr. Wu: In a perverted way. So what happened to control?

Me: You can check if the printer is broken, or, there's supposed to be something you can do with that kind of cartridge to get a few hundred more pages out of it, and you can make sure that's done. That's useful control. Maybe yelling at people to print less, that would save, unless the documents were worth more than the paper and ink they were printed with. But getting people mad at you for controlling the money so tight, when you're just going to have to spend it anyway, you're controlling something not worth controlling. Does that make sense? I really don't want to be disrespectful.

Mr. Wu: In a perverted way, like what you did to my kids. OK, we'll get the spare. But don't tell anyone! Let's talk about Jack Hazeltine and his so-called budget. He wants me to give him more and more. Am I doing the right thing, stonewalling him? How can I control spending responsibly if I don't stick to the budget and insist that he stick to it?

Me: There's a deadline coming up. Something bad happens if it's not met. Dr. Hazeltine and his cells have a big part in meeting it. You can choose one: meet the deadline or stick to the budget. Have I got the facts right there, you can't do both? Look, if you actually don't have the money I'll give you a loan, a negative encumbrance on my salary, and you can use the money to buy Dr. Hazeltine's stuff, and pay me when or if you get the money. It didn't take me long, just checking out peoples' machines, to find out what's important and whose job is just extra.

Mr. Wu: Lao tien yeh! Look, we have reserves; I'm not totally incompetent as a controller. You're saying this is what reserves are for.

Me: Right. At the Lion Foundation nobody estimates things exactly, so they tack on a reserve encumbrance, and it almost always works out.

Mr. Wu: So how does the Lion Foundation control spending? We use the cash method, not the accrual method you apparently do.

Me: Well, it depends on what kind of project, but basically the staff plan what to do, and estimate how long, by stages, and make a spending plan, and they put the whole thing on the books as a bunch of future encumbrances. Negative if the project generates income; some of them do. Then the encumbrances are made real when the money is spent or received. Amounts are checked periodically and at project milestones.

Mr. Wu: I don't see the control.

Me: Well, the plan isn't allowed to have a negative balance. Mr. Rothko invests the positive real balance, and makes plans how to invest the virtual balance when he will receive it. On spending, you can't spend more real money than your segment real balance. That's the control. In Dr. Hazeltine's case, the staff would yell at each other, that's what Mr. Chernik says though I think they're really more polite. They might decide that they really screwed up the cost estimates, and either replan the whole thing or junk it entirely, but we didn't see any evidence of that in the books. Apparently lions are pretty easy to estimate. Anyway, they would just adjust the encumbrances within the limit of non-encumbered real money, and Dr. Hazeltine could replace his broken sonicator. That's what the reserves are for, after all.

Mr. Wu: Hmm. Encumbrances, you seem to have them coming out your ears. That's a lot of work.

Me: Yes, each real expense goes through at least one stage as an encumbrance, if not two or three of them. But you can't plan without them. Even for me, my personal finances are much simpler, but I couldn't get along otherwise. My whole college career is laid out as a bunch of post-dated encumbrances, and the first quarter at least, all the money has been where it's needed, when it's needed. I'd have trouble on the cash method.

Mr. Wu: OK, I've decided. We'll do it all backward. First thing tomorrow, I'll order the toner, the sonicator, the water bath, and the vacuum pump.

Me: I didn't know about that one. I'm not sure if I should bring it up, since it's kind of late, but how would you like some really smiling faces tomorrow? Let's order the stuff now, and pick it up on the way to work.

Mr. Wu: At ten at night? You've got to be kidding!

Me: What's the web for? At least for medical supplies, I know there's a place near Xylogen because we get boxes at the emergency room that have an address on Stevens Creek Expressway. You game?

All the equipment is available locally from companies with a web presence. We put it on will call, and with luck the night workers will make it ready by morning. By picking up from three different companies rather than getting everything from the same vendor, Mr. Wu makes a significant saving in price.

Me: It's even later, but there's something going to be hard to talk about at the company, because of so many listening ears. How would you like to solve the scheduling software problem?

Mr. Wu: You figured that one out? In just a few hours? They said you were a sharp one, but that's unbelievable!

Me: Aww, I'm not that wonderful; I haven't even read any of my system administration book. But the problem isn't in the network; it's a people problem. Listen to what Dr. Chang told me. He's guiding the company through all these problems, financial, technical and competitive, and he needs to know things like how projects are coming along, or the financial situation. So he says he calls a meeting to get the info. Then he starts complaining how hard it is to schedule the meeting. See the problem?

Mr. Wu: That stupid software...

Me: No, not scheduling! He shouldn't be calling a meeting at all! If someone's working as hard as he can to do whatever project, he's going to do everything in his power to avoid going to a meeting to report on the project. Example: oh, so sorry, at three o'clock I have to comb the fur on my cells. Or my scheduling software is broken and I can't get it to work. Because the people don't want it to work. As far as I can see it's perfectly fine if it were just installed properly, and people have been extremely creative making little mistakes in installation, or in loading up their schedules.

Mr. Wu: That bastard!

Me: Those hard workers! Let's make smiling faces on both sides, OK? In your case, figure out what Dr. Chang needs to know about finance, and every morning make a report of that, or even twice a day, and post it on the web. Local distribution only. You'll never have to go to another meeting just to deliver the financial report. Sound good?

Mr. Wu: I know it's important to Dr. Chang, so I always try to accommodate him for meetings. It's a lot of work to close the books, what, daily? I never heard of a company that does that.

Me: I had in mind just a simple database sum. If some items aren't definitive, well, that's what encumbrances are for.

Mr. Wu: We'd have to convert everything over...

Me: Suppose Dr. Chang showed up tomorrow and asked, what's our financial condition this instant? What's the best you could give him in ten minutes? Automate that, post it, and make it better when and as you can. Convert to accruals area by area so you're not overwhelmed by changing everything at once. How does that sound?

Mr. Wu: Not bad. It has possibilities. OK, now what do we do about Hazeltine and his sabotaged software? That makes my blood boil.

Me: He'll make kind of a diary of the day's progress, kind of like the reports I made to my supervisor on lessons, but written and always visible on the web. Dr. Hazeltine specifically seems to me to have the discipline to keep up that kind of thing, although some people might need to be pushed. Gently educated. And there's an art to making reports; it took me quite a while to learn to give a complete, coherent report in two or three sentences. Dr. Chang and the other people would have to understand that they would need to negotiate the kind and form of information going into this diary, and to get the right balance between showing success and troubles honestly. How do you think that would go over?

Mr. Wu: When I push the kids, they shrink up like a snail going in its shell. When Dr. Chang calls a meeting, people do the same thing. It fits! I think your plan might work. I really think it might. How does it feel to earn a month's pay in one day?

Me: I haven't earned it yet. Someone has to be extremely charming and sell this to Dr. Chang and to everyone else. The presents tomorrow will make it a lot easier for people to listen to you, and to your lion, don't you think? And there are some real networking issues that need to be worked on, but I felt nothing could be done until I at least got a start cleaning the non-network junk off the network. Does that make sense?

Mr. Wu: You make more sense as you go along.

Me: It's called sleep deprivation. Weird stuff starts sounding reasonable. What a day, first a bitch of a final exam, then... Come on, my tail is sagging. If we're going to get up at six to exercise, we have to get to sleep now. Do you mind if I read my book at work tomorrow? I really need to know something about system administration if I'm going to deal with your actual network problems.

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