If I knew that updating a .plan file was this entertaining, I would have started doing semi-regular updates a long time ago. Oh well. My web space is located at http://nuthouse.org/~hendersa and I can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Archived .plan entries can be seen at http://nuthouse.org/~hendersa/finger. ************************************************* *15 September 2002 - Where The Hell Have I Been?* ************************************************* Well, I guess the easiest answer to that question would be "I've been busy." In fact, so much has been going on that it's going to take me a good bit to tell you about it. Of course, I'm about three updates behind or so, so I don't think you'll be too worried if this is a really long update. First off, after months of going to doctors, getting poked and prodded, giving so many blood samples that I feel like a pincushion, and just generally jumping through the hoops of modern medicine, I finally know why I'm sick. Even better yet, I'm on medicine to fix the problem right now, and there was a VERY noticable improvement in my condition in only a few days. So that's good news, right? Second, I did indeed get into grad school. I'm now a student in the MBA program at the University of California at Irvine. The Wall Street Journal just did their yearly list of the top 50 MBA programs out there these days, and UCI's program just made the list at spot number 49. So, when people ask my parents how I'm doing these days, they can stop saying the default response of "he works for a Japanese company of some sort these days" and can now start responding with "he's getting his MBA at one of the top 50 MBA programs in the world!" The ranking of the school doesn't matter much to me, since that's not really part of my plans. Plans? Well, I'll get to that part. Finally, we're just wrapping up a period of crunch time at work. My 60 to 70 hour weeks have been pretty standard as of late, so I'm looking forward to getting back on something akin to a 40 hour work week. Hell, at this point a 50 hour work week is going to seem like a birthday party. So anyway, I'm here, alive, and getting buried under mountains of concerned e-mail from you fine folks. Lots of fun stuff has been happening, and I'm sure you want to know all about it. Why else would you be here, anyway? So kick back, relax, and enjoy the show. ************************************ *15 September 2002 - Medical Mayhem* ************************************ When I look back about three months, I remember being really suprised one morning by waking up with a sharp pain in my lower back. I just figured I had slept in a bad position that night, so I lived with it and moved on. Little did I know that my back was going to continue to ache and get much, much worse. In addition, I was going to start getting a lot of really ugly symptoms that were a pretty clear indicator that all was not well within. I would end up battling with these symptoms for two weeks before finally going to see a doctor about it. Keep in mind that I never go to doctors. I'd much rather suffer through the agony of whatever Mother Nature deems fit to throw in my direction. The idea of getting on a routine of taking medicine every day gives me the heebie-jeebies. It just doesn't seem right to me that human beings are so weak and frail that they have reached a point where they need to take medicine every day just to be normal and functional. Your body is telling you something, so do yourself a favor and listen to it, rather than muffle it. A few weeks of waking up and feeling like the Louisville Slugger Fairy did a number on your back while you were sleeping will tend to change your mind on that whole point of view. I was in a lot of pain, and I was tired of suffering through it. So, I went to the doctor. After a round of tests and a few more weeks of pain, my doctor shrugged his shoulders, gave me a few suggestions as to how to ease the pain, and said that I needed to go to a specialist. At this point, another two weeks had passed by, so I agreed to go see the specialist. Of course, there was another two week wait to get in to see the guy, but I didn't have much choice. In the meantime, the Louisville Slugger Fairy was practicing her swing on my lower back each night. I was getting less and less sleep because of the pain, often as little as three hours a night. Six weeks after this whole mess started out of the blue, I went in to see the specialist. He talked to me for a whole 15 minutes before he began scribbling on a sheet of paper and telling me that I needed to come in for a procedure. The procedure was diagnostic and also sometimes curative, and it was "just what the doctor ordered" for the situation. Of course, I'd have to wait another four weeks before there was an open spot on the schedule for me the get in for the procedure. So, I claimed a spot on the schedule and went back to more sleepless nights. After a total of two and a half months had passed by, I found found myself lying down on a bed in a hospital wearing just a paper gown and socks. A small nurse lowered my bed so that she could stick an IV needle into my arm and start a saline solution drip into my bloodstream. I was in pretty bad shape at that point, since part of the preparation for this whole event was starvation for the last 48 hours and no drinking of liquids for the last 12. I had lost a total of 8 pounds in only the last seven days, and I must have looked like death warmed over. Undoubtedly, you're curious as to what kind of procedure I was getting prepped for. You probably want to know if I got chopped open or if I got some part of my anatomy replaced with after-market parts. On the bright side, I wasn't going to get chopped open. I was just going to become VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. I would be uncomfortable, you see, because I was about to receive a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy, for the curious, is a procedure where a camera is inserted into your colon so that the doctor can have a look-see at your insides up close and personal. In addition to a camera, the probe is a Swiss Army knife of tools. There's a wire loop for chopping off any polyps the doctor might find. There's a laser for cauterizing any slices or cuts that might be in your colon. There's even a little pair of metal chompers that reach out and tear off little bits of your insides so that the doctor can perform a biopsy on the material to determine what's going on. A quick note about colonoscopies: When you aren't in work because you are in the hospital, every person you work with will want every detail about what happened when you return. The nature of colonoscopies tend to encourage a patient to whisper to the doctor something like "we will never ever mention this whole thing to anyone, OK?" But once you get to work, everyone will be demanding details anyway. My advice is to suck it up and just give everyone a really quick overview of what you went through and just leave it at that. This will be just enough to shut them up, but not enough that they will avoid you at company cocktail parties later on. Enough of that. Back to the story. As I sat there on that bed, feeling like I had somehow done something wrong to deserve all this, the nurse began sticking various sensors on my arms and chest. I started to hear the steady beeping of the equipment that was registering my heartbeat. She jiggled the saline bag back and forth a little bit, removed it from the drip stand next to me, and lowered it below the level of the bed. I saw a swirl of by blood start travelling down the tube towards the bag. "Looks like we've got a good counterflow on your IV. You're lucky to have such good veins on your arms," commented the nurse. "Sometimes, we need to stick people a dozen times before we get a good IV." I began feeling a little woozy, and the nurse assured me that it was a natural nerve reaction to the IV, and that it would pass in a few minutes. I just leaned back and looked straight up at the ceiling. Someone had the foresight to stick a sign up there that said, "Relax". The doctor came in smiling and greeted me. He asked me how I was doing today, and I took a moment to turn and look at each little sensor, needle, and pad that was taped to me, inserted into me, and clipped on to me. I looked straight at the doctor and said, "You know, I've been better." He looked back at me and said, "Well, pretty soon you'll be better once again, right?" Then, he motioned to the nurse and the fun began. I'll spare you the details on this whole adventure, but what it basically boiled down to was the fact that I was wide awake and well aware of what was going on. In fact, the doctor had placed a monitor about two feet from my face so that I could see what the inside of my colon looked like in glorious 8-bit color. Watching my insides on the monitor was complemented by the creepy sensation of having something small moving around inside me. This is seriously NOT a sensation that I hope any of you ever experience. It became extremely obvious what the source of my discomfort had been when it showed up on the monitor in front of me. The smooth walls of my colon suddenly turned into the biological equivilent of a few miles of bad road. The doctor instructed the nurse to note that he was taking biopsy samples. I winced as I watched the metal chompers tear pieces of my colon wall off. Strangely enough, however, I didn't feel it when the sample was taken. I would, however, feel it the next morning and for the next few days. After a few more biopsy samples and the completion of this whirlwind tour of my insides, the doctor turned me back over to the nurse for the post procedure paperwork. The actual procedure itself took only 45 minutes or so, but I had waited two and a half months for it. I was also rather suprised when the doctor came over to me afterwards and said that he needed to analyze the biopsy samples before he could begin my treatment. I just sighed, nodded, and agreed that I'd be in as soon as I could for the follow-up appointment. He put his hand on my shoulder and assured me that this whole thing was just about over, and that I should hang in there. I nodded and began gathering up my things to leave. The earliest I could get an appointment to see the doctor was about a week and a half later. At this point, I had gone nearly three months since this whole thing began, and I had yet to begin treatment. I had had blood samples taken, gone through a colonoscopy, had my midsection poked and prodded half a dozen times, been told by a ton of people to "go see a doctor", and was just plain miserable. This whole thing really was a very bad situation. FINALLY, after all this time, I was in my follow-up appointment with the doctor. He flipped through his sheets a few times, and said to me, "You have acute ulcerative colitis in your transitive colon. I have some medicine that I'm going to prescribe to you that will clear it up very quickly, but you'll need to take it for a while to keep things under control. Here you go." And with that, he handed me a slip of paper with a prescription. He also gave me a few samples of the medicine so that I could get started taking it right away. Ulcerative colitis is a condition where you basically have ulcers in your colon. It hurts like hell, and it can be pretty serious, but it wasn't a major health problem in my case. Since it came on so suddenly, it's a good bet that I can wipe it out with medicine over a couple of months and then move on. I've been taking the prescribed medication, and the pain in my lower back is all but gone. I'm starting to sleep like I should be sleeping again. I even gained back all that weight I lost. So that's the scoop. No poisoning by ninjas (the doctors originally suggested food poisoning as a cause of my discomfort), no colon cancer (which my parents were worried about), and no more pain (which is what I was worried about). My health is pretty much back to where it should be, and I'm getting back on track. Moral of the story: Colonoscopies are a royal pain in the butt. ************************************************* *15 September 2002 - Education Is Good Business?* ************************************************* So anyway, here I am in graduate school in a part-time MBA program for "working professionals". I'm still kinda suprised that I'm here, considering that the program is kinda hard to get into, and my reasoning for going back to school was rather shady in the first place. But hey, it was a business decision, so that's a good reason to go to business school, right? You see, people go to graduate school for a number of reasons. Some want to escape from the "real world" for a little while to avoid having to go to work or to wait out a soft economy. Some just like to learn, and would be perfectly happy being a professional student. Some want to do research in a field, and they see the academic approach as the best way to do that. As for me, I'm just doing this to help pay off my credit cards. That sounds like a rather unrealistic goal, but I think I have a pretty good scheme in place. Just stay with me for a minute while I explain it. When the technology sector took a dive a while back, I started feeling the brunt of it. One job stopped paying me (*cough*Loki*cough*), so I quietly found another job and then gave my notice that I was quitting. Four days before I was supposed to start my new job, the new position was cut, and I was told I wasn't going to be hired. Swell. So, I hit the recruiters and ended up getting a position within about two weeks. I worked there for about 6 months and was laid off along with 90% of the staff. The company tanked soon thereafter. Then, I was unemployed for about 6 weeks while I hunted for a new job. So, all in all, I was unemployed for about two months of the previous year. Figure in the cost of living in Southern California, and you were looking at a pretty decent amount of debt that was stacking up on my credit cards. The fact that the transmission on my car had to be replaced during this time wasn't helping, either. These days, I'm working in a stable job position and paying off those pesky credit cards. I sat down one night and tried to come up with a few plans to pay them off as quickly and inexpensively as I could. One of my more interesting plans was to go back to school. I could get low interest federal loans for school, use those loan funds for the tuition, and then get reimbursed for the tuition by my job. The reimbursement money could then be used to pay off the credit cards. By doing this, I was effectively lowering the annual interest rate on my credit card debt by about 10%. I was not abusing the college loans, since they were being used for exactly what they were originally intended for: paying for my college education. There are no stipulations on how exactly the reimbursement funds from work has to be applied, so I wasn't abusing that money either. The credit cards are happy, the government's loan money is being used for educational purposes, and my company is rewarding me for advancing my education. I get a break from credit card interest, and I'm not breaking any rules. I even can get a tax break for the money I spend paying the interest for those education loans. Sounds like a win-win situation all around to me. Anyway, this plan was shelved for the moment, along with about half a dozen others. I obviously wasn't going to get into grad school until the fall of 2003, so this maelstrom of circular logic was going to have to wait. The "apply for a new credit card and do a balance transfer" routine was going to have to be the order of the day for a while. Or so I thought. About three months ago during a lunch break at work, I decided to take a look at the UCI web site to see what graduate degree programs were available and interesting to me. Most of their degree programs for the computer-ish master's degree programs (CS, CE, and EE) pretty much required you to be a full-time student in order to participate. The classes were offered around 1300, and the maze of prerequisite courses eliminated any flexibility that you might have in selecting your elective courses to meet your schedule. Since I wasn't going to go back to being a full-time student, these programs just weren't going to fly. The people who design these degree programs are probably kicking back in their research areas while snickering about how they can abuse the incoming grad students, since those students are jumping through some major hoops in order to get an advanced degree from the school and will probably put up with just about anything. So, on to the next option: the MBA. An MBA is a good "generic" master's degree because it fits in just about anywhere in one form or another. Let's face it... where does an expert in business have trouble finding work? Also, the MBA is often geared for people that have been out of school for a while and are probably working full-time. The MBA wasn't really something I had considered in the past very much, but I figured it was always an option. I decided to sign up for an information session on the UCI MBA program. The info session was held bright and early on a Saturday morning in the middle of July. I was so tired when I woke up for the session that I considered just blowing it off and going back to sleep. After all, I wouldn't be able to get into their program until next fall, so why rush? But, I decided to drag myself out of bed to go check it out. I was going to go, but I sure as hell wasn't going to get decked out for the occasion. After a quick shower and no breakfast, I was bailing out the front door of my apartment wearing shorts, a Mandrake Linux t-shirt, a baseball cap, and sneakers. Three days worth of facial fuzz was adorning my face at the time, and my eyes were so bloodshot that it looked as if I had just reached the ugly end of a long drinking binge. I was in prime form. I think I was navigating primarily by smell at that point. I drove to the UCI campus and parked in the designated parking area for the information session. I slide my sunglasses down to the tip of my nose so that I could inspect the condition of my eyes in my rearview mirror. I looked like hell. I decided that I'd better just keep those sunglasses on for as long as possible. Grabbing my backpack and a few loose papers that were floating around the front seat, I bolted out of the car and started running across the fourth floor of the parking structure. I could see the business building from where I was, so I wasn't too worried about having a hard time finding where I needed to go. One of those odd aspects of my life is that I have an invisible "Ask me all your questions!" sign stapled to me. If there is a large crowd of people in public and one person in that crowd has a question that they desperately need to ask a complete stranger, that person will wade through dozens of people to reach me so that they can ask me "Is this the line for flight 257?" or "Excuse me, but do you know where there is an ATM around here?". In this case (or cases, rather), I had no less than three people ask me where things were on the UCI campus. "Do you know where the law library is?" asked one Chinese fellow who looked about twelve years old. I shrugged and told him that I had no idea. Fifty yards down the sidewalk, a young lady who looked Vietnamese asked me if I knew where the student union was. This was a reasonable question, considering that any student on campus would know that one. Too bad I wasn't a student. I told her that it was my first time on the campus, and that I didn't know. She gave me a cynical eye and walked off. I guess she thought I was just messing with her. So much for being honest. Probably an eighth of a mile further down the sidewalk, a generic southern california caucasian high school student with the I'm-going-to-be-a-college-student look stopped me and asked where the psychology department was. I actually knew the answer to this one, since the building was right behind him. But, I wasn't in the best of moods, so I told him it was in the complete opposite direction. He gave me a thumbs-up, said, "thanks man!", and ran off in the wrong direction. Oh well. When I arrived at the entrance to the area where the information session was to be held, there was a woman standing there in a power suit and sporting a picture perfect smile. She glanced at me for a second when I walked up to her. I think she must have been trying to figure out what I was standing there for, since I obviously didn't look like anyone she was going to have dealings with. After about 5 seconds, it visibly clicked in her head, and she asked me if I was there for the information session. I told her that I was indeed there for the session, and that I'd just head on in. Her plastic smile faltered for a second, but she quickly recovered and told me to go right ahead. People put too much emphasis on the way other people should look at 0800 on a Saturday morning. I wasn't there to impress anyone... I was there to get some information and free cookies. More for the cookies than the information by that point, since I was beginning to regret not grabbing breakfast before I had dashed out the door. In fact, I raided the cookies before I even went in. Once I entered the stadium-style classroom, I was greeted by a very proper sight. 99% of the people in that room were dressed at a level which far exceeded that of "business casual". The remaining one percent would be me. I looked like something that falls out of your keyboard when you turn it upside down and shake it. I just wandered on over to the side of the room and sat on the end of an aisle. The presentation wasn't anything too exciting. It was the basic "we know you're smart because you're here today and you realize the value of a good education" presentation. I personally realize the value of a good education to be a loan interest savings of about 10%. But that's just me. Your mileage may vary. The whole thing was about an hour of statistics about how your salary will increase with an MBA, your potential for promotion will increase with an MBA, and how you will have more respect with an MBA. This translated to about an hour of me pinching myself to stay awake, playing "spot the wedding ring" on the hands of every woman in the room, and composing my weekly grocery list. I knew there would be benefits to getting an MBA, so this was whole dog-and-pony show was more for the benefit of pushing the wishy-washy people over the edge so that they'd fork over their $75 application fee, apply for the program, and then get rejected. Just remember that the difference between a "selective" degree program and one that "takes anybody" is the ratio of how many applied compared to how many people got in. The folks doing the presentation were really doing their best to make the school more "selective". After the presentation, the people in the audience were invited to come down to the front of the room and talk to the admissions people who were giving the presentation. I had just spent the last ten minutes of the presentation coming up with a gameplan, and I began to put it into action. I scrambled down to the guy in the front, shot out my hand, and introduced myself. He acted nice, but his eyes did a quick up/down scan of my person that gave away the "jeeze, what a scrub" impression that was registering in his brain. "You mentioned that you accept people year round into this program. Are you still taking people for the upcoming fall 2002 quarter?" I asked him. He seemed rather suprised by this, but he said, "Well, we never actually accept the LAST people until a few days before classes start. But, we've got a long waiting list. You could feasibly get in, but I wouldn't count on it." He then gave me another quick inspection to insure that his analysis was correct. Keep in mind that this was July 13th. Classes started the first week in September. The absolute last day to accept people into the program was August 15th. I looked at him, smiled, stuck out my hand for another handshake, and said, "I don't know what kind of people are on your waiting list, but I bet I can give them a run for their money. Do you have any applications handy?" He gave a slight sigh which indicated that he thought I was crazy but not worth arguing with. He pointed to a stack of packets on the table and said, "Well, there's a bunch over there, but there's a lot more to applying than just the application. Have you taken the GMAT yet? You won't be able to get an appointment to take the GMAT for a few weeks, you know." I hadn't taken the GMAT, of course. "Do you have two transcripts from every college you've ever attended? We need those as well, and they often take a long time to get." I assured him that I could manage it. He shrugged and wished me luck. It was obvious that he didn't think I had a chance in hell. I hit the ground running. This was no longer about higher education. This was no longer about the lower interest rate loans. This was about making that guy sorry that he made estimations about people based upon how they look. He was going to get the mental wedgie of a lifetime. The application was no big deal. The hardest part of it was four 250 word essays on topics such as "Describe your management style and give an example in which you've used it". In other words, the application was annoying, but not impossible. It all came down to thinking up a good line and running with it. Since I was doing this during the time period where my colitis was really, really hurting, I wasn't spending a whole lot of time sleeping at night. So, I put that time into use as application processing time. Two days later, the base application was complete and turned in electronically. The GMAT was a different beast entirely. I found that someone had cancelled their appointment to take the GMAT at a testing center about 35 miles away. I jumped on the cancellation spot and scheduled myself to take the GMAT the next Saturday (only 7 days after the information session at UCI). I went in, took the test, and walked out with my brains in a state similar to that of tapioca pudding. I had only had about 7 hours of study time for the GMAT during the course of the week, so I'm suprised that I did as well as I did. Still, that part was done and over with. I walked into the administration office for the MBA program at the school, and slapped down my unofficial GMAT scores on the front desk bright and early on the Monday morning after I took the GMAT. I requested that the scores be included in my file, and I asked to see my file to make sure that it was complete. As I was making my request, the guy from the information session wandered out of his office and spotted me. He seemed rather suprised that I was there. He walked up to me like I was an old friend. "Well hey there, ummm... errr..." he said as he struggled to remember who in the hell I was. "Andrew. Andrew Henderson," I told him. "Right, right... Andrew. How is that application coming? Done yet?" he asked with a smile that denoted sarcasm. I smiled and told him that it was pretty close. The application was done. The GMAT score was there. Transcripts were ordered. I had my two sealed letters of recommendation. My interview was scheduled to take place next week. He seemed a little suprised, and asked the secretary to see my file. Since it was right in front of me, I slid it over in front of him. He took a look at it and suddenly his demeanor changed completely. He just gave me a quick smile, told me to "keep up the good work", shook my hand, and wandered back to his office. I really was hoping that guy had no say in the application process. Early the next week, I had my interview with the MBA school staff. It was a 30 minute interview that ran about 45 minutes long, and it went pretty well. I already had canned answers for the "Where do you want to be in 5 years?" type of questions, so none of the questions that came my way were any big suprise. All in all, I left the interviewer with a very positive impression. Since this was the last step in the whole application process, I had really buckled down the weekend before to make sure I had guessed and then answered whatever questions the interviewer would throw my way. Looks like it paid off. Once you've done the interview, gotten the transcripts, turned in the application, taken the GMAT, and done everything else you need to do, what can you do to increase your chances of getting accepted to an MBA program? The answer is obvious: pester the living spit out of the admissions people. I called the business admissions folks a few times here and there and sent e-mails just about every day that were requesting information on the application process and whether there was anything else I could do to assist the process. I offered to come in for a second interview. I offered to track down more letters of recommendation. I essentially kept myself very visible to the admissions staff and drove them nuts at the same time. It's not easy being annoyingly proactive, but gosh darn it, I was up for the challenge. At about 1730 on the Friday that fell 27 days after that initial Saturday morning information session, I got a phone call at my desk at work. The fellow from that original information session introduced himself again and told me that he had some good news. The dean and two professors had been in an admissions meeting for the past three hours, and they had awarded me the absolute LAST open spot in the MBA program at UCI. I was the 140th student to be accepted as one of the 140 students in the MBA class of 2005. He asked me if I was still interested in entering the program, and I told him that I sure as heck was. He said that he figured as much, congratulated me, and told me that my information packet would be in the mail. So less than four weeks after I rolled myself out of bed to go to an information session, I became an MBA student. And when my MBA classmates come up to me, introduce themselves, and ask me why I'm getting an MBA degree, I shrug and tell them that I'm doing it to help pay off my credit cards. This has opened up several interesting dialogs with people that extend far beyond the standard cookie-cutter banter that they were expecting. I had one fellow MBA student who is in a marketing position refer to me as the "man with the plan." I guess that's right. It seems to be a logical extension from being the "man with the .plan." No doubt about it, education is good business. Moral of the story: ... and knowing is half the battle!