Friday, November 16, 2007


The lake was very still this morning. It reflected the trees on the shore and the sky above with exquisite clarity and I sighed upon climbing the last hill and seeing the water.

"It's pretty today." I told Chienne as she trotted along in front of me. The winds had died down and the leaves on the trees - well, the ones that remained - were quiet as they clung motionless to their branches. I stepped carefully toward the shore and found a ledge of grass before sitting. My dog came close for a little while, cuddling against my back in the cold morning air. As she went to explore the ground behind me, one of the brave black ducks with the bright white bills came closer to investigate. He stayed several yards from shore and a few more yards from the rest of his flock as he turned to face me.

The water was marred by only a few gentle ripples, so I think it was easy for him to remain in the one spot he chose. I wished I had something for him - a bit of bread or a cracker or some popcorn. He deserved a reward for his friendliness or bravery in warning me away - I wasn't sure of his motive. He continued to watch me as I moved my stare to one of his friends. Other Black Bird moved gently toward him, white bill bobbing gently as he paddled through the water. Suddenly, his head ducked down and he suddenly gained speed as he moved toward First Black Bird. First Black Bird began to swim away slowly, looking rather annoyed, I thought, and Other leaped up and jumped on First, submerging him in the lake water. First squawked when he broke the surface and flapped his wings furiously. Other backed off and both made a show of fluttering and fluffing their feathers.

First watched Other after that. And when Other would get to close, First would face him and make a warning sound. He didn't want to be dunked again, I decided, and admired his ability to learn.

I've been working on Project I Failed for the last few days. I realized when Jane said she didn't know how much longer she could deal with Anti-Friend and her attitude that I had some ideas I could try. It's just that I hate starting over. I spent so much time on the first analysis and I don't have a clear idea of what went wrong. I like things quick and easy and efficient. So when I do something wrong, I'm sometimes throw up my hands in defeat and move on to the next thing. Which is exactly what I did here. I tried to fix it at the end stages, realized that was futile then passed it back to Carrie with the idea that someone else should take a shot from scratch.

The problem - and the reason I was bothered - is that I've used this particular software ever since I started grad school. I should be an expert! Or at least proficient enough to work through a huge (but straightforward) dataset! So getting the project back hasn't been been the headache I imagined. Instead, I've taken the opportunity to hide in my house and relearn the software I though I mastered long ago.

There was an upgrade about a year ago that offered considerable improvements. In fact, as I've played the last few days, I realized every complaint I'd made in the past has been addressed. I'm delighted with the functionality and the ease of use. But the reason I knew to search for certain features was that I watched Steve - a different collaborator - work for several hours while he went through another patient dataset from scratch. He was applying a different technique, but covered the basics first to make sure everything was cool. I realized I don't do the same steps in the same order. And Steve is a natural teacher. When I asked a question, he'd back up and explain, show me the technique and make sure I followed before moving on.

Some of that information must have stuck because I'm doing much better this time than last. I'm implementing time-saving measures. I'm feeling pleased that this project is teaching me something after all and giving me an opportunity to refine some skills. I'm watching data process and checking quality and fixing mistakes as they appear. It was a good thing I got it back.

So if I am First and this software is Other, I have my eye on it. I'm figuring it out and know when to squawk out a warning when things start to go badly. It turns out the some tasks are worth trying again. Because I think this time I'm winning.

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