19 April 2014

Week 14: Like, what are my skills?

My first encounter with a "backwards calculator" was 20 years ago, give or take. And I'll admit, I was intimidated.

I'd used scientific calculators in high school. Graphing calculators, even. In fact, I think I killed three or four of them -- remember how the screen used to pop off? -- but this was different. You did your inputs backwards, punched a few buttons, and only then did the answer reveal itself. These were financial or engineering calculators: ugly, inelegant, squat, sideways, brown, backwards calculators -- and I was a journalism student. We didn't use calculators in J-school.

My, how things change.

The calculator above isn't quite the same -- it's the slightly better-looking cousin of the HPs that used to scare the heck out of me. But the principles are the same, and as our first final exam approaches, I'm taking on a dual-study program: Teaching myself how to use it while trying to remember the past 13 weeks of Financial Accounting. And you know what? I realized a funny thing.

Technology makes us dumb.

All these years, I've judged myself inadequate next to the financial "whiz kids" wielding the ubiquitous HP-12c. But now that I have an HP of my own, an interesting thing has happened: While teaching myself "how" to do certain things, I have forgotten just how to do them.

Let me explain: This calculator takes the formulas out of the equation. Now, this is a good thing -- it speeds up calculations, and lets us concentrate on interpretation vs. mechanics -- but it's also kind of bad. For example, I think it would be an interesting experiment to round up a room full of financial types, take away their calculators, and ask them to write down the equation for double declining balance depreciation. Without their backwards calculator buttons of PV, FV (salvage), N and I/YR, how many of them would know (Cost-A/D) x 2/Y ? I mean, I started using that equation regularly just before getting this calculator, and even I've already put it out of my mind.

I'm no longer intimidated.

If anything, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. We're 7 days out from our Accounting exam, I have 8 chapters to study, and I'm feeling good in a not-cocky-but-sort-of-confident way. I'm looking forward to knocking out some journal entries, lease tables, and the like. I'm enjoying punching buttons and getting the right answer (most times). In fact, having this tool in hand makes things go so much more smoothly, I'm thinking I'll have a decent shot at finishing early on Saturday. And that will be a good thing.

After all, technology shouldn't be intimidating, right?

14 April 2014

Weeks 12 & 13: Change

This has been my life for the better part of the past 2 weeks.

Our team assignment for Financial Accounting included financial ratio analysis of a public company -- we eschewed mass-market food for the super-competitive retail space. We don't know yet the results of our work, but if re-reading the last sentence is any indication, the assimilation has begun. I'm actually beginning to make sense of it all.

Of course, that isn't all I've been up to. Quant has had us examining demo- and geographic data and OB is teaching us to examine ourselves and step up to owning our behaviors. It's all really come together, as ethical considerations in OB make their appearance in Financial Accounting, and statistical analysis like the one here help make better sense of personal choices. OK, maybe not that exact analysis, but you get the idea.

I snuck away to Illinois last weekend for a covert mission: My "second mom" had a big-time birthday. It was fantastic to see everyone, and I really enjoyed catching up on some ancient history. It was also bittersweet: Change is in the air, and for the first time Illinois felt very foreign to me. It was unsettling really, but I also think it's a sign of where we're at in life, and the things to come.

Next week is Easter, so I'll be catching up on what I missed, and then it's a full weekend down in Charlotte each of the next two. Finals, prep sessions, workshops -- it's one last push before we get three weeks off, and I'm determined to make the most of it. I'm breaking it down, piece by piece, to try to keep from becoming overwhelmed -- but yeah, there are moments.

Then again, after a weekend shopping at Kohl's, at least I look the part. Nevermind that their share price may be artificially inflated due to an overly aggressive stock buyback program, yadda yadda yadda ...

31 March 2014

Week 11: The Plague

This is what a sick day looks like in our house: Elton John meets SpongeBob Squarepants.

This has been our life the past 10 days or so. Ear infections, fevers, crying, all the other not-so-fun stuff you get when you're sick ... it's all here. But then we get moments like this.

Classes are going alright. Org Behavior has been tough; good readings that really probe where I'm at in life. Quant is getting fun, what with multivariate regression analysis on tap. And Financial Accounting is kind of kicking my butt -- I'm bogged down on leases and bonds, while also pulling together a financial analysis brief comparing two retail giants in the midst of the Great Recession.

And did I mention the sicknesses? Plural?

All of a sudden there's a light at the end of the tunnel -- Final classes for this semester are in 32 days. It's a weird feeling, considering where we started. I'm already a different person, approaching things in very different ways than just 3 months ago. And I'm really looking forward to seeing what the next 3 months will bring.

For now, though, we just need to make it day by day; sometimes, hour by hour, or minute by minute. "One step at a time" as Mom used to say. Because for sure, there's no shortage of steps to take!

23 March 2014

Weeks 9 & 10: March Madness

This is sort of how I feel this week.

After the high of last week, when KATE RODE HER BIKE!, I spent all day last Sunday trying -- desperately -- to get back into the swing of things. As in, I spent nearly 10 hours trying to make sense of Financial Accounting -- a subject I hadn't touched since February 15, a full month before.


So I kinda', sorta' got a handle on it, only to wake up Monday staring at 5 readings and two papers due by yesterday. Personal papers -- "who I want to be when I grow up" type stuff. Team dynamics stuff. Navel gazing at its best, after not navel gazing for a month. And then Mars Hill went and screened The Armstrong Lie at Asheville Pizza & Brewing on Thursday night. How could I pass that up? (It was hard to watch -- maybe the Leadership & Org Behavior stuff is really getting to me?!)

So it wasn't with a completely clear head that I went down to Charlotte on Saturday. Daniel got sick on Friday, Kate was on her way, and I spent all last week on a razor-thin edge, subsisting on a fitful 4-5 hours of sleep each night. Our first class went alright, since navel gazing (LOB) is always better with coffee. We crammed during lunch for our Financial Accounting quiz, and then ...

... I tanked it. I had a choice to make, right off the bat. Red pill or blue pill. Either way, I could execute on either one correctly. Blue pill equaled a perfect score. Red pill equaled a C at best -- but really, probably a D. And I chose the stinkin' red pill. I spent the entire 2-hour drive home looking like that poor KU fan in St. Louis.

Things are getting interesting, as our classes are beginning to converge. But that doesn't make them any easier -- we have 2 individual assignments left, a couple of quizzes and two exams, and a full run of team-based projects. With only 1 free weekend between now and finals, the Madness is on -- I'm definitely hoping for an upset of inspiration. It's the last best chance I have left.

15 March 2014

Weeks 7 & 8: Taking Flight

Thank goodness for spring break.

I mean, SB14TPE was ... well, everything I thought it would be ... and more ...

'cause you know, instead of Florida, or Myrtle Beach, or New Orleans, where there may have been 1,600 coeds scantily clad in their swimsuits, I got to see 1,600 panda statues scantily clad in their raincoats. Which, by the way, was really cool. And I finally got to go to the 101.

Spring break this year happened to coincide with my trip to Taiwan for the Taipei Bicycle Show. I had every intention of studying on each of the 24-hour journeys, plus catching up during the many hours spent after waking at 3 a.m., unable to sleep, but a funny thing happened this year: China Air had every single one of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture on demand at my seat, and for some reason I slept through the night, every single night, and on the double red-eye flights home. I even got in some solid runs, despite the ever-present rain, and really enjoyed myself at our many vendor dinners. We even had McDonald's delivered to the booth one day!

But, I didn't study. At all. Once I settled in on the outbound leg, sleeping just enough to stay sane but staying awake enough to reset my clock, things just sort of rolled. The whole week. And into the next. Until today: Saturday, March 15. When we decided to have a family day. At the Swamp Rabbit trail in Traveler's Rest, SC.


It's been building, but today it was official -- Kate can pedal! I'm so proud of her. She wore out pretty quick, but she was a trooper, rolling over bumps, through the grass, and along the path like a pro. It was awesome. Things will never be the same.

So that's where I'm at. This week promises to be pretty nuts at work and in life, and I'm staring down the barrel of a chapter and a half of Financial Accounting, watching a 4-hour class recording that's been sitting since I was in Minnesota, a bunch of FA ratio assessments, plus two individual and one team assignment for Org Behavior. Spring Break: No regrets, but dang this re-entry is going to be painful.

Better get to work!

26 February 2014

Week 6: Leaving on a jet plane

This, quite clearly, is not North Carolina.

I mean, it gets cold here. It snows. But when the rain came last Thursday to Minneapolis and the temps plunged and the snow started, it was a righteous blizzard as only the Midwest can serve up ... and I was there, thankfully holed up in my hotel. It never got above 18 degrees after that, and even five days later the freeways had hardpack on them. Ford Focus with traction control? Game on.

My annual pilgrimage to Frostbike obviously had a bit of a twist to it this year -- while rocking the stationary recumbent in the hotel, I was also plowing through Org Behavior articles and Financial Accounting. I turned in a paper just before I left, I took a quiz in my hotel, and despite my best intentions I didn't get near as much done as I wanted to on the flight back -- sleep caught up, and I just. couldn't. highlight. any. more.

When I landed Monday I drove straight to Charlotte -- our team put together our plan for the rest of the semester. I think we're all looking for the bit of reprieve we get in the next 2 weeks, but in the back of my mind I also know I need to keep the pressure on a bit -- it would be too easy to fall out of practice. I mean, seriously, there are too many distractions -- Kim and I somehow binge/crammed the entire season of House of Cards before I left (mark it: Four days, including two episodes after class AND a quant workshop on Saturday! Or was it three?!), and two full weeks off could be dangerous to my focus.

Still, it could be worse. I leave for Taiwan on Sunday, and the only thing between me and the departure gate is a few documents for work, a quantitative analysis paper and an exam. And then ... spring break! In Taiwan! Gonna' get rowdy, yes sir!

OK, not really. It's another trade show. And we have a team assignment and a quiz on March 22, our next day back in class. And an M&A workshop the next day. And then things start getting intense.

And maybe it won't be snowing.

16 February 2014

Week 5: Code Black

This was almost the week that wasn't.

We finally got a bit of a reprieve, with a take-home exam early in the week and no assignments due on the weekend. Which was a good thing, since early Wednesday the snow started, and by the time it was done that night we had 7" at the house. So of course we did what every redneck Southern family would do -- neighborhood sledding right down the middle of the street!

Kim was on standby at the hospital in case they called a "Code Black" -- I've been through enough of them to know that meant she would have been on lockdown until they lifted the code. Thankfully they never called it, so we got ready to spend a couple of days at home together, which was really nice.

And then the internet died.

We get fairly steady service, except when there's any sort of weather. Or if the wind blows the wrong way (not really, but that's what it feels like). Or when I sneeze. It's sort of maddening, and when working from home and trying to get things accomplished, it's pretty frustrating.

So I shoveled. And shoveled. And shoveled some more. Stephen inspired me with a photo of the igloo he built, so I built an ice house for the kids with the driveway snow. It was perfect -- warm-ish and with wet snow -- and by the time I was done nearly 7 hours later, the kids had a 4-foot-tall house complete with chairs and a "television." I was so tired I couldn't lift the blocks for the entryway, bed or bathroom that Kate asked for, but it sure made for some fun times over the past few days. I figure this chance will only come along a few times in the kids' lives, so I just had to grab it!

On the school front, I managed to get a little ahead again, especially with my reading, and we got some good work completed on our first team assignment, which is due Tuesday. It was a bit of a rough week for me, even so, but by the weekend things had settled down and I was back in the groove. Saturday's classes were weird -- there was a palpable change in the air as we have finally settled into our routines, and it's not so "new" anymore. As a class, we're entering into the conflict/"storming" phase, and a few fissures have arisen -- mainly we're just trying to figure out what our three very different professors are looking for, and are trying to deliver on it. I did well on my accounting exam, and alright on my first stats paper, but Org Behavior is kicking my butt -- ironic, given that it's the one area I actually have studied before.

We've got spring break on the horizon now, but a few big stage gates to get through first -- I'm just gonna' keep on shoveling and hope for the best!