The Other End of Sunset

Monday, September 25, 2006

Turn and face the Strain, Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I love innovation. Really.

I get to work in an industry that thrives on innovation. I get to give talks to large groups about how to do innovation, and how cultures support that, or get in the way. I love it.

And so today I’m going to talk about innovation.

But not technical innovation. Nope, I’ll leave that topic to people smarter than me. Instead I shall talk about innovation in a critical area. Today’s topic: Innovation in the restroom.

It’s kind of amazing that there is innovation in restrooms. After all, they have been around for a while. Since the Romans or so. But there is still, apparently, room for change, for improvement. Much like the bionic man, we can make it better.

I was having a drink at a trendoid bar in San Francisco this weekend. As happens, if you are me, and you are hanging out in a bar, I went to the restroom.

For those of you who don’t hang out in men’s restrooms, there are multiple styles of urinal. There are ones that flush, and ones that don’t. There are ones that are hung up on the wall, maybe a few feet long. There are ones that run all the way up from the floor. There are ones that are like troughs, and ones that are like art. Apparently, urinal design is an active area.

All that design aside, I have never seen urinal innovations until this weekend. All urinals share one element – there is urine, on the floor, in a semi-circle in front of the urinal. This is true everywhere, in all places.

The bar this weekend had floor-up urinals. Art-like, actually. But at the floor, there was a metal shield that started farther away – maybe a foot out from the wall – and got closer to the urinal towards the ground. It sloped inward, if you can visualize that. It was grey metal. Artistically tempered, and kind of pretty actually.

However, at the end of the day, it was a functional item. It was a chute. Yup, a urine chute. Trying to prevent the puddle in front of the urinal. Lovely and functional, both.

The best part? There was a large puddle in front of the urinal anyway. So, I guess it was lovely but not functional. But innovative, nonetheless.

Today, at work, I saw another example of urinal innovation. There is a group of folks at my work who have taken to putting flyers up on the walls over the urinals containing interesting educational materials. In this case, it’s the testing folks, and their flyers are about ways to test different kinds of code. They put a new one up every week or so. It’s been going on for several weeks now. (My personal favorite was the early one that had a coding error in the test, but never mind.) The flyers were just taped onto the wall over the urinals, at roughly eye level.

The world changed today. Today, the company paid facilities folks to mount these little clear plastic holders for the flyers over the urinals. Apparently these holders are there so that the flyers don’t have to be taped onto the walls. This seems like innovation in search of a problem. And, as my friend pointed out this evening, what happens if there are two people who want to put up a flyer? It’s a race condition – last in, first read. What a conundrum? Do you think that facilities will pay more money to have MORE holders put up? Stay tuned, more drama ahead.

Innovation and drama go hand in hand.

I was looking in a dresser for a hat this evening. I ran across the place where I put JR’s wallet after she died. She hadn’t needed it for some time, as she hadn’t left the house in a long time, but she had it with her anyway. Regardless, I found it this evening.

It’s odd to look through someone else’s wallet. It feels a little voyeuristic. Like you expect to find a receipt from a hotel… in the town where you live. Or a business card for a divorce lawyer. Or a secret, that even you don’t know.

Me? I hoped to find something like that. Living people have secrets.

I found no secrets. Instead, I found an odd amount of cash – she didn’t carry cash much, so I must have refilled her wallet sometime relatively recently. And a set of business cards for oncologists. And a receipt for a car wash she got in December 2005.

I wonder which car she had washed? And whether the guys who dried the car annoyed her – she didn’t like sloppy car washes, and she would correct their work. But she was too embarrassed to really be “that lady” – you know, the one who examines the car oh so carefully after the wash to find that last drop of water, or spot of soap. Nope, she didn’t want to be that crazy lady, so she’d look over the car, in a very offhand way, and really not tell the guys she wanted other stuff done. It would just annoy her. A lot.

I was going to write “annoy her to death” in that last sentence, but I stopped myself. A little too ironic, even for me. Hope the self-censoring is acceptable to you, my fine readers.

By the way, please don’t ask why I might keep a hat in a dresser. And, furthermore, please don’t ask why I was looking for a hat, at night, in the fall. I just was. Deal with it.

My odd desire to find said hat yielded an incidental contact with JR.

This has been a week of incidental contacts.

Through a not-yet-discussed-in-blog acquaintance, I got directed to a creepy web site that does “full background checks” including criminal records searches and other stuff. Hmm, interesting. I have always wondered what “full background checks” look like, or contain. So I did one on myself.

Turns out I’m not a criminal, although there is someone with a name MUCH like mine who is. It ain’t me, babe, no no no, it ain’t me.

I also found the best list of my home addresses, going back a long time, that I have ever seen – except for the list they put on the forms for my Top Secret background investigation. Different context. Irrelevant right now.

But you know what else I found? A “likely associate” who lives in Pennsylvania. More specifically, I found my first wife.

She cut me out of her life a long, long time ago. I didn’t even know where she was. She really wanted me to be … well… dead. I always wondered what happened to her.

We were children, and weren’t right for each other, and, while we were married, she found someone who was right. It was hard at the time, but it seems to have worked for her.

She has a personal web site. Strangely enough, it had never occurred to me to do a web search for her. Yeah, now THAT is ironic, eh? Anyway.

She’s still with the guy she found when we were together. They have a child, and dogs. She got my dogs in our divorce; apparently my Samoyed just died last year.

She never went to medical school. That’s a tragedy. She writes music, and apparently performs it. That’s a blessing. On her resume, she describes herself as “a generally useful person”. That is a truth.

She looks happy.

Do you ever wonder what effect you have on the people around you? For good, or for ill? The lovely Italian used to say “Everyone is a role model; some are role models for what you don’t want to be, but still.” I find that idea compelling.

She’s on life relationship number two – me, and him. I’m on what? 4?

I am glad she found the right guy. Maybe I was such a bad role model for relationships that I helped her be happy. More likely, I’m irrelevant, but if I were to say that, what fun would this posting be? Really?

She looks EXACTLY the same as she did then. I can tell from the pictures; that is the woman I knew. There’s a picture of her, and her child, and another person, and she’s smiling, with her head tilted over, and one eye slightly shut. I know that smile. That’s her oh-so-happy relaxed smile.

But you want to hear something funny? The image in my head, the one I see when I close my eyes, the “real” picture I have of her is prettier. I remember her as more lovely than she is, and she’s a quite beautiful woman.

I wonder what that says about me. But I don’t actually care. I think I like that about myself – I paint a picture of days gone by, and I remember her.

What an odd situation. An innovation – the Internet – enables people like me to look at “comprehensive background checks”. A little creepy, and probably more stalker-friendly than one might like, but certainly enables different behaviors. I used that innovation to check myself out, and found the first Mrs. Merrill. And she seems happy.

See, innovation is good.