Michelle Goodrich, Mandarin Designer Intention

Michelle Goodrich, Mandarin Designer

Intention is the core of all conscious life. It is our intentions that create karma, our intentions that help others, our intentions that lead us away from the delusions of individuality toward the immutable verities of enlightened awareness. Conscious intention colors and moves everything. – Hsing Yun

Earlier this month I learned that my friend Michelle Goodrich was going to have knee surgery.  In a couple of clumsy emails, I managed to convey the following: 

Sandhill Trek:  “The traffic from Mandarin Design is up over here at Sandhill, and I’m guessing it’s because our lovely crane is the top left thumbnail on the Quigi Board.

“So, you’re going to have knee surgery!  Best of luck and much as I hate to suggest this, maybe you better stay away from the blog while you’re medicated.  Here’s my thinking.  The meds may make you pain free, but blogging puts you in a sedentary position that might not be great for the knee in the early days.  Anyway, take good care of yourself and I’ll be thinking about you as you go through your knee tune-up.

“While you’re convalescing, how would you like to be featured in the return of the “Sandhill Trek Interview?”  I think it would be fun to pull out background stories and personal information on Mandarin Meg.   

“Maybe you would find time to answer a flurry of emails that I would then assemble into a fairly lengthy blog posting.  Would you do this with me?  Please.”

Michelle is one of the more gracious people on the planet and she kindly consented to the interview.

Michelle E. Goodrich (Meg):  I didn’t realize that you interviewed blondes, but it could be interesting, especially if I take a pain pill first.

ST:  If I had a choice, I think I would interview blondes exclusively.  And a few redheads, brunettes, Sinead O’Connor types if it came to that.  But indeed, I DON’T DISCRIMINATE AGAINST BLONDES.  Quite the contrary.   Tell me more about this knee surgery.  What’s going on?  I’m grateful of course that we have you slowed down enough to take the time to do this interview, but what laid you up?

Meg:  Well, Chris Webber of the Sacramento Kings has the identical injury right now but I wasn’t playing basketball. A cabinet fell, damaged the spine, and then the knee.

ST:  Your spine was injured too? What have the doctors said about that?

Meg:  The plan was a three-disk fusion. But they recently decided that the surgery would ensure that I wouldn’t be able to walk at all within about 3-5 years when the next three would need to be fused. It’s been a long process and Doc is in Baghdad right now but the last message he left is that the surgery is a no-go. That’s OK. I want to detach from all of the doctors and get on with rehabilitation my way.  I use a cane or a chair but either one may go away sometime soon. I get around pretty good. 

ST:  You’ve mentioned your interest and your husband’s business relationship to F1 in your blog. The details escape my memory, but it seems like an interesting slice of world culture to have had passage through. What can you tell me about all that?

Meg:  More than you want to know… Rob works for a company that sponsors race teams, from Toyota Atlantics to F1. Part of the deal is hospitality suites for entertaining customers. In corporate America there are some heavy hitters that Rob entertains. These are folks that turn donw free trips to Hawaii, NBA Playoff tickets, and more. The company sponsors CART and F1 so part of his job (“our job”, in corporate America one has to have the corporate wife) is to invite customers to join us in pit row suites, dine with the drivers, golf with the drivers at Pebble Beach, and more. Basically, whatever they want to do. When we arrive a full weekend wardrobe of team gear including dress shirts, golf shirts, coats, backpacks, hats, instant cameras, sunscreen, sun glasses (you get the picture) are in our hotel rooms. Laid out for a queen. None of the funky limo drivers at the airport holding signs, we are greeted by folks in full team gear and leave in the Team van. Photographers record the entire event. Details details, I was at a race weekend for a moment there in my mind…

Michelle on the track

That’s our CART racing world, some customers need more — the full race weekend at a Formula 1 race. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. We’ve actually only done two F1 weekends, both in Montreal. We watch it on TV of course, but being there is spectacular. No wake-up call needed, the cars are loud. F1 is the epitome of racing. Difficult to describe in words. I sit alone mesmerized by the sights and sounds. F1 is like that. The customers don’t feel like I’m ditching them when I ditch them.  Sometimes they go off alone. It’s not a social event. This one you savor alone, every second, every turn. So we got to know drivers and other folks and miss them all now. The company pulled all sponsorship.

Rob, the genius, was able to fit our racing interests into entertaining customers. Like how can we go to the race car driving academy for free with free time off work? Take customers! Ten at a time. Ten drivers to tend to us with a professional photographer to snap every turn of every car.  The boys who sit in the big kids chair are all over this one. That C-level formality at the dinner the night before at Mortons turns into “can I take your turn around the track again, please, please, please”. By the second day we are all best friends and everyone agrees that this is better than thier honeymoon. The all turn into little boys again who want to drive race cars. It’s a kick. Wow, can you tell where the real fun is? Love it.

Speaking of F1…there are a lot of wheelchairs at races.  I always wonder, is it because they race too? You don’t have to be able to walk to drive. Mobility. And some are probably drivers injured along the way. Either way, the handicapped section at Montreal are the best seats at the track (smile).

ST:  The closest I ever got to the racing life was cruising Main Street in Walnut Creek in 1964 in my friend Bob Stone’s ’40 Ford with the Chevy 286. Oh, and we went to the drags at Vacaville a few times. I wonder if that dragstrip is still there. There was a less formal event at an old airstrip near Dupont Chemical in the Pittsburg/Antioch area. The percentage of blown out engines to successful drag racers always baffled me… I was always too poor and too cheap to play those fast toy games!  Listen to me, comparing teenage dragsters to Formula One race cars.

Meg:  Uh, I think it’s about the same Frank. The race bug bites and it doesn’t much matter what kind of car it is. Right?  I wonder too about that Pittsburg track, I heard about it from a ex-driver somewhere along the way.

ST:  Tell me more about the philosophy behind Mandarin Design.  Are you making any money with it?  Clearly you’re staying up front with the CSS2 stuff and all. I sense that’s what it’s for – just staying involved in forward tech, but the work you put into it seems like it should have a payoff in US dollars.

Meg:  “…it should have a payoff in US dollars.”  No, you don’t believe that. I can tell, you are like us.  None of this is about money. Nothing we do is about money.

The idea in the beginning was to have a job to fall back on where we could work from home and from any place in the world. When money is exchanged things get complicated and I realized later that none of it was really for money.  It’s for stimulation and just plain fun. We don’t need money right now. There’s plenty from the day jobs and we both prefer a humble lifestyle. The things we like to do are what companies pay us to do (races, conferences and other travel). And, Rob’s territory does include Hawaii.  Doesn’t this all sound too good to be true? Our life is like that and we appreciate every minute of it.

ST:  I gathered from your blog that this is a second marriage.

Meg:  The teenage marriage lasted ten years and we are still best friends. We just moved on once we grew up. He needed to pursue his musical career. No, he’s still is not a rock star. His kids call me “Aunt Micki” and don’t have a clue that they are not actually related to us. We have a large extended family. Dennis (the first) and Rob (the best) are best friends now. Dennis calls from Atlanta, always visits when in Sacto, and we are just one big happy family (or famdamily as my daughter’s mother-in-law calls us). We are all very family oriented.

ST:  Michelle, I’ve been talking around some deeply personal stuff that I read on your blog.  And last November in an email you shared with me that things were different “since the stroke.”  I don’t want to open any wounds, and I’ll respect your privacy to the extent that you require, but can you share with me some of that dark, perhaps tragic undercurrent that informs your life and your work?

Meg:  I trust you with this information and you are welcome to use whatever you can.  Not to bore you with the details but to summarize: My mother was brutally murdered and psychologically tortured by a young man and Sis and I sat through the trial where he was sentenced to life (three jurors wanted the death penalty).

A few years later I found the perfect man to marry (a real marriage, not like the other marriage at age 16). I suffered a brain event before the end of our first year of marriage. The recovery was slow and is not complete. I relearned how to think and am about one-half as productive as the pre-stroke; luckily only two people at work even noticed.  A friend who was also my boss at the time remarked to the only other person who had noticed the change in me, “It’s too bad what happened, she was a good programmer.”

Actually, it is this same friend, the genius, who thinks that I have now developed a method that is more precise,user-friendly, and works well (he tells the other person, not me). It’s a slower method. For all in-house apps they ask “has Michelle approved this?” which tells me that upper management does think that all Internet applications need to have my blessing. That feels good and makes me know that I have improved.

Then there was a spinal injury and the knee injury that was secondary to the spine injury. I pretend that all is well here in the wheelchair but my world is filled with obstacles.   The point? I lose that…what I’m trying to say is that while I was once a person who people asked “what are you always so happy about, you always have that smile”. And, I still smile but also [feel from time to time] that the animated part of the personality is gone.  The part of Michelle that is left is…well, that changes from day to day. But the Michelle in these pictures is also me

The guitar is my friend. Growing up married to a musician brought pain and at the same time allowed me to find and explore music. I started writing songs as a teenager, singing (on recordings only, too shy for the stage). The guitar became my best friend. I had a knack for melody and words hardly mattered. Those who would play my songs never understood what they were about. It’s like when you write and go back and do not recall if that is your own writing or if you copied it.

For one fellow who asked (back in the old days when a recording meant a professional recording and wasn’t something every band did) my husband if he thought I would mind if he used a particular song he had heard that I had recorded the day before on his album, Dennis said “here take the tape and I’ll make sure tonight”.   Ah, I had written five or six songs that night and all were up for grabs. You get it, right? Prolific song writer and some were good. Actually, when that fellow married later he and his wife started doing duos. He said he had never forgotten how Dennis and I sounded together. At one event they sang “Danny’s Song”, the song he heard us do together. Lew (still a professional musician) and I are lifelong friends. We practiced Buddism together.

The Day Job
My work persona has changed dramatically. I no longer lead multi-million dollar projects which is fine with me. I work alone. There isn’t anyone to tell me what to do, I make up my work as we go along. When folks need something (information, design, development, integration of multiple products, etc. they ask if I can do it and then I do.

Again, what is the point?  There was a time when I was somebody. Conferences are avoided now and I’ve turned to doing this puppy-chow site to keep up with some of the aspects of Internet-related development, and to help others who learn by doing (the only way that I can learn now).

It’s a new life now.  I sort of “bragged” once in the blog about the people we know, the movie stars we get to meet, the famous drivers, etc. Most of that is just to let folks know that I am OK. It isn’t intended to be bragging, just portraying what our real life is like and that while there are deficits here and there we do live a good life, the high life. We live in a humble home, earn enough money and we will live happily-ever-after. Rob left early this morning to work in Hawaii for the week so, as you can see (or read), I have way too much time to type.

ST:  Where are you from originally?  Where did you go to school?  As a little girl, what were your favorite things to do outdoors? Indoors? 
 
Meg:  Floridian by birth but grew up in Sacramento, California.  The folks moved here so that Mom could attend UC Davis.  They returned to Florida when I was sixteen. I stayed here with my (first) husband (he was older, age 17 *smile*).  I’ve attended every school and training center in driving distance, and then some. Like my mother, I still take classes at UCD now and then (she was a teacher and a student until the end of her life).

Growing up we camped at Muir Beach and in the mountains exploring most of Northern California in a panel wagon truck. We would hunt right here in West Sacramento and that’s still how I see the fields, as places where pheasants, dove, and quail hide. I had a horse, played Bobby Sox (catcher, not pitcher), took dance lessons, all of the normal kid stuff (except that other girls didn’t shoot or hunt). I didn’t kill anything, just carried the gun and enjoyed the outdoors. Now I hunt with a camera. It just wasn’t cool to walk through the fields back then without a gun.

We weren’t indoors a lot. That’s where we did our homework and slept. We weren’t a big TV family. In the evenings Mom graded papers while I did my homework.   Or vice versa. Some nights she would do my homework (if it was interesting like a book report on Wuthering Heights)  and I would grade the papers. Essays from six English classes were boring to her, Wuthering Heights was boring to me.

Nothing changed much by the time I was in my twenties.  Still love the outdoors and don’t do much TV.  I started work for the State of California at age 18, my husband for Ma Bell age 18. We got him out of the draft (Vietnam) raised our kids while I went to college and well…we didn’t have the same experiences that most have in their twenties. We were planted firm with our own home and good jobs with benefits at an early age.

ST:  How long have you been programming?  Where did you get your start?  What kind of work are you doing these days?

Meg:  I started programming in about 1985. Labor Market Analysts were being laid off due to budget cuts so I sent out 50 resumes a day and landed a job as a Programmer II within two weeks of the layoff. The pay was the same and I needed a job. They needed experienced Analysts for an intensive programming training program. The job included mainframe programming,installing Datapoint LANs (minicomputers), and coding operating systems. The next job at Fish and Game was more interesting. A mainframe and PC position where I set the statewide PC standards, wrote feasibility studies, and mostly built custom PC-based applications.

I work at a Data Center now where I specialize in Network data. I torture data and build Internet and Intranet applications. There is still mainframe work involved too, but I prefer the PC work. I’m a rogue who swims alone. My boss vaguely knows what I do. He sees only the end product and doesn’t see everything I do of course.

They know that independence is a good thing.

ST:  Can you send me a couple of pictures to dress up the interview with?  Shoulder shots are fine although the full frontal nudity ones would make wonderful screen savers… oops.  Let’s stay professional here.

Meg:  Sure. I’ll send the one Computerworld spent $1800 for.  Nah, I’ll find a better one. For $1800 they could have photoshoped it and made it look good don’t you think?

ST:  It was recently reported that Microsoft had produced the world’s first Wi Fi enabled toilet… A reputable publisher put this forward.  Now, it’s been revealed that the whole thing was probably a hoax.  How do you feel about that?

Meg:  It’s just the sh..ts when my perfect hoax is revealed. We better start working on another one.

ST:  I have a personal question about sex in a wheelchair, but I don’t know how to frame it.

Meg:  Step 1. Get out of the wheelchair

ST:  I don’t want to pry too deep, but I can tell from the pixels on my screen that you smell great!  Where do you stand on fragrance?  Do you use perfume?    Scented bath smellies?  A shampoo that gives off a signature whiff?   Was it de Niro in “Scent of a Woman?”  What would that blind guy have said when you walked by?

Meg:  Tresor with a hint of Gap Heaven.

ST:  Thanks, I needed that.  Here’s a political question or two… I know you supported the young people in the US armed forces who have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 18 months or so.  I wonder how you feel as it becomes more apparent that the administration lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? 

Meg:  Everyone lies but you and me.  Peace dude.  I respect people like my spine surgeon Dr. Matthews who is still in Baghdad.   I feared for the young and hoped they would never have to come home to the angry mob. My friend was killed in Vietnam at age 19. He didn’t know what Vietnam was about. He came home in a box. Others came home to those of us who failed to give them proper respect, me included.  With yellow ribbons I will greet them now. My yellow ribbon today is for Dr. Matthews. Even if he can’t help them he will help them.

ST:  Are the tech types in Sacramento suffering reduced income like they are in many other parts of the country?  Has the state lowered the rates that they’ll pay contractors?

Meg:  Our pay is going to be reduced by 10%, but that isn’t a lot of money. We’ve hired some of the private industry folks who are happy just to land a job. Our contractors are paid $160 – $260 hour. They are generally hired for long term projects (most that I work with have been with us at least a year). The pay doesn’t  change and their fees haven’t changed that I know of. We have not noticed any decrease in the number of contractors.

For any one meeting I attend there will be at least one or two who are contractors. Some stay on for so many years that we don’t know who is under contract. Alex stayed with us for nearly three years at $160 hour. Todd who just left us was on for a few months for $240 hour.

ST:  Has any of that affected Mandarin Design?

Meg:  We are non-profit by design.
 
ST:  Food groups –  What’s your favorite healthy meal? 

Meg:  McDonald’s Happy Meal with a strawberry shake and a boy toy.

ST:  What’s your favorite unhealthy meal? 

Meg:  McDonald’s Happy Meal with a strawberry shake and a boy toy.

ST:  Would you rather dine out or eat at home, even if it meant fixing the meal yourself?

Meg:  Restaurants feel too much like work. We never go out to dinner unless it is a work obligation.

ST:  Who are some of your favorite bloggers and why?

Meg:  You are my favorite blogger.

ST:  And you and I don’t lie!  Would you rather camp out or go to a four star resort?

Meg:  I prefer to camp in the backwoods, trailblazing, no facilities, by a mountain stream. Rob thinks camping is a Hyatt on the water. Mostly we stay at 5 star resorts (some only have 4 stars). But we do frequent a little motel on the water in Florida that is a dive. They greet us with a hug and a “gimme some sugar”. We wear old clothes, use faded beach towels, and sit at night and talk with all of the new friends we make each day.

ST:  Jet ski or canoe?

Meg:  Sailing

ST:  What online and/or mail order catalog serves you best in the search for clothes you can wear to work?

Meg:  Fredericks?

ST:  That’s what I’m talking about!

Meg:  Stop it!  I meant to say Gap and Talbots.

ST:  Tell me about Mandarin Design’s hardware and software… what kind of computers do you have around the house and what do they have running on them?

Meg:  Here I have the usual setup, the only difference is the 21″ monitor and dual flat screens at work. Software includes Apache, MySQL, PHP, ColdFusion, Adobe, Visual Studio, and more.  For Web development I use notepad. Fast typist, slow clicker. Have the WYSIWIGs but don’t use them.

ST:  Do you think blogging and/or wikis will find their way into the workplace?  I tried to get our State Division of Public Health into it a year and a half ago and they just sort of sat there with empty expressions.

Meg:  Empty expressions? I suppose that means you were meeting with the highest level staff. 

There is a tremendous opportunity in blogs that are being overlooked or not taken seriously.  For example, we have about 2000 customer sites that serve about 150,000 – 200,000 people.  Naturally, Disaster Recovery has been stepped up since 9/11 and teams are working on it as much or more than for the Y2K effort.

A simple suggestion that I keep throwing out is to create a site (blog) where the servers are not located in California (earthquakes and floods). On a daily or weekly basis we could attract our customers to the “communication” site by listing current outages and ETAs, post tips, tricks, treats, and more. Get our customers used to going there and remembering the URL or some good search terms.

With this site/blog we all have a place to go to communicate with one another in the event of a disaster.  Some folks might be up (Los Angeles)  while others (Sacramento) are down. We have to have a physical location to meet but that can’t be determined until the actual disaster. The blog could be used to communicate among ourselves and our customers.

Everyone that I mention it to thinks it is a great idea (the “site” with servers located in another state) and they expand on it. Most don’t know what a blog is so I try to sell the idea referring to it as a site that would cost very little to operate and everyone could use…. No heavy training….  Access to the blog to various geographical areas, etc.

Right now I think the idea doesn’t actually get to Exec staff because they can’t dabble in small successes that cost very little. Our multi-millon dollar projects apparently need solutions that are comensurate with the cost of the project. Seriously. If they charged us, the State of California, at least $500,000 then the idea  would  get passed up the food chain. Our Director reports directly to the Governor. Now, how can the Governor say “we are going to have 30 bloggers in the State working on a Disaster Recovery site disquised as a Communicate with the Customer site”.

ST:  It hurts to close this conversation.  The material is so deep and rich.  Michelle shared everything with me, and I’m humbled by own linitations.  Mandarin Design has tips tricks and cheats for bloggers to make our sites look better. I have all these good intentions of someday tidying up by using the information Michelle shares freely on what she CALLS a “puppy-chow” site, but is actually a rich resource for the HTML novice like me.

She sent me links and pictures that time constraints prevent me weaving in here tonight.  And a blog is a blog and i’m not prolific like Golby.  You’ll just have to hope she reposts some of them on Mandarin.  I’m still hoping she’s going to send me that screen saver. 

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