FET 230 Hours Furlough Report

Now to grow my hair out so I look like the guy from Sleepy Hollow.

Now to grow my hair out so I look like the guy from Sleepy Hollow.


Duration of Furlough: 9 days and counting

Work not done: I forgot to mention that yesterday I would have had my branch staff meeting.  What’s so important about that?  Well, once a month I get everyone in my branch together and I give out Tastykakes!  I try to recognize any notable accomplishments from the previous month.  Thus I have been deprived of the most fun thing I get to do every month – throwing food at people.

The other big thing that we’re falling behind on is training people to be flight controllers.  Five people in our branch are currently working toward certification – two in our ISE flight control group, two in our PLUTO flight control group, and 1 Daily Ops Instructor.  These five people are needed to either fill spots for people who have left or to help offload other team members.  All five will be assigned to missions as soon as they achieve certification.  The sooner this training is completed, the better off we are as an org.

Outlook for Continuing Resolution passage by Congress: Hints at a possible temporary solution are emerging; though if we’re back in the same position in a month, it’s going to royally suck.

By the way, if this kid doesn’t burst into my house when the shutdown is over, then I’m going to be incredibly disappointed. Good thing I’m used to that feeling by now.

Have I showered today? Yes. Painting makes me sweat.

Chores done: Dishes

Wife-Requested Tasks: Painted the master bathroom.  My wife considers new paint on the walls ‘exciting.’  We have different definitions for the word ‘exciting.’

Video games played: I ain’t got time for that.

Mood: Skeptical.

Republicans seem to be pushing a debt ceiling extension without re-opening the government.  Obama wants both.  I’m not convinced we’ll get there.

Furlough Fun Fact: Furloughed federal workers may seek another job, but they still fall under the ethical restrictions that normally are in place for seeking a second job while employed by the Government.

Movie of the day: Matrix

This whole situation would be a lot better theater with some special effects and bullet-time camera shoots.  For some reason the Matrix movies are on my mind today, so with that I give you the characters from the Matrix movies recast with the major players from both side of the shutdown.  In an attempt at bipartisanship, I will include a Republican and Democrat for all/most characters.

Let’s start with the bad guys:

matrix comparison 2


First, the Architect, the father of the Matrix, the one who keeps the system going and alleviates the systemic weakness due to the illusion of choice by inserting the relief valve that is Neo.  For the right, John Boehner is clearly the Architect, the one who has catered to the monsters of the far right and created the untenable situation we are now in.   For the left, Harry Reid refuses to negotiate, Boehner can either pick 17 people and restart Zion or he can destroy everything.  There is no in between.

matrix comparison 3

Now, the Merivingian, the unnecessary mouthpiece of the system who serves no real purpose other than to initiate one of the coolest car chases in film history.  For the right, only Michele Bachmann (of Republicans currently holding office) combines totally, completely crazy with complete and utter pointlessness.  Meanwhile, Sheila Jackson Lee is usually the one spewing crazy for the left, but she’s been remarkably quiet during this climactic standoff.

And finally…

matrix comparison 1

Agent Smith infects the system with himself overwriting every other person and program, infecting the Matrix with his consciousness so he can bring it all crashing down and escape this putrid system. Ted Cruz has roused his followers across the country, taking his brave stand against providing healthcare to the working poor, and he will bring the system to its knees in his bid to overcome the atrocity that is Obamacare.  Meanwhile, President Obama infects the common rabble with his giveaways of Obamaphones, food stamps, and welfare checks and turns the populace into a walking army  of Obamaphiles, unaware that they have been infected by the scourge of evil.

Now for the good guys…

Matrix comparison 5

This crotchety guy, who was more lucky than good, who believed he decided what to do with his ‘boat,’ but who was really not much more than an extra with a speaking part.  Does anyone really believe that Boehner is the one in charge on the right?  Is he really in charge of this careening ship or does that distinction really belong to the person who’s at the steering wheel?  Similarly, Nancy Pelosi has no real power here. The left can fantasize all it wants about moderate conservatives falling in line behind her, but will she actually lead us there?

matrix comparison 4


The smooth-talking Morpheus was a believer and could rally others to the cause with his inspiring rhetoric, but in the end he played second fiddle to a false hope that was really just another construct of the system.  Eric Cantor says the right things to the right, but in the end, he’s just a proxy for his current leader. President Obama inspires with his words like no one else, but the hope and change that he pitched have been constrained by a system that he either doesn’t want to change or more likely can’t change.

Matrix comparison 6

Trinity kicks ass and takes names and she will escort our hero until the bitter end, where she will die pointlessly not in a showdown with evil-doers but rather due to some rebar stuck through multiple points on her body.  Paul Ryan is dreamy and his budget proposals will cure the ills of this country, but the underlying tenants of his proposals – reductions in social security and medicare – leave him dead on the doorstep.  Harry Reid throws himself at his tormentors, he takes the abuse of the right, so that the good fight can be fought.  In the end, they will all suffer the same fate.

Which brings us to Neo…

matrix comparison 7

The One.  The only one who can stop the war against the machines  and restore humanity to its rightful place as rulers of this world- or achieve a temporary standdown in hostilities that will likely re-ignite as soon as the movie is over. Ted Cruz can fit fifty gallons in his Texas-sized ten gallon hat and he squashes liberals under the heels of his cowboy boots.  He is the one who will save us from our reckless demise.  For the left, the savior has not yet appeared, but she is out there, lurking.  She alone can stand up to the evils of corporate America and help Washington serve Main street instead of Wall Street; she will be the one.


Of course, all this is brought to you by…

matrix comparison 8


The Wachowskis, Koch brothers, and George Soros.

If you missed it:

F + 1 Day Furlough Report

F + 2 Days Furlough Report

F + 3 Days Furlough Report

F + 4 Days Furlough Report

FET 155 Hours Furlough Report

FET 203 Hours Furlough Report


F + 4 Days Furlough Report

Another note of explanation for the non-NASA folks: The time stamp in the title stands for Furlough (F) plus ‘x’ days.  At NASA, we put a clock on every important event.  Proximity to launch dates for spacecraft is tracked as L (for Launch) minus ‘x’ months/weeks/days.  If there’s something significant happening counting down toward an event, we put up a clock in mission control to track it.  We track mission elapsed time, time to morning and evening crew conferences, elapsed time on spacewalks, and dozens of other things.  If something can be counted up to or down from, we’re your agency to do that.  So, these reports come out after 24 more hours elapses on the furlough clock.

Yes, I know I’m a dork, but it’s been ingrained in me for 14 years.

furlough beard 4

Furlough beard – now with 100% less neck beard!

UPDATE: We’ll get back pay!  Congress, I dislike you all just a little less right now!

Duration of Furlough: 4 days

Work not done: Friday, October 4th was going to be a day off for me regardless of the shutdown.  With the local school district having an in-service day, our kids were home, my wife had to work, and I was on Dad duty.  Fridays are usually my most lightly scheduled day of the week and I try to turn my attention to what I can do to make improvements to our organization.  Over the past few months, I’ve used this quiet time to revamp our branch meetings to align with the concepts outlined in Death by Meetings, drafted a career progression white paper to follow our directorate “Top Gun” philosophy – the best flight controllers train the next generation of flight controllers – to help our young engineers understand their potential career paths, and pushed to modernize our knowledge capture practices by using blogs and wikis to share project status information and better store all the information our flight controller and instructor teams need to do their jobs.  I try to use Friday time to make us more efficient so that we can spend our time on what we really want to do – flying spaceships and exploring space.  But as I said, I was planning to take the day off anyway, so in the end, I didn’t miss out on much yesterday.

Outlook for Continuing Resolution passage by Congress: Still poor.

I make more forward progress on the stair climber at the gym than Congress is making towards finding a solution.   That this could be over if Boehner allowed a vote on a clean CR is incredibly aggravating.

Have I showered today? Yes!  Date night with the wife.  I’ll even have to clean up the scruff a little.  Don’t panic though!  I’ll just be getting rid of some neck beard so I don’t look like this. Although I have to say my wife is a far greater threat to the existence of furlough beard than my job (or lack thereof).

Chores done/Wife-Requested Tasks: I get a belated birthday pass!

Video games played: Injustice: Gods Among Us.

Exciting news – Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is on its way from Gamefly!  I try to get some games that the girls might enjoy.

Mood: Brief moments of relief surrounded by extended periods of head-shaking.

My status was officially changed on Friday at 5 pm from non-excepted to on-call!  The agency has decided it needs to press ahead with the Increment 38 Flight Readiness Review, so I have to come into work for a couple hours next week to make sure we’ve got our piece of that puzzle pulled together.  I’m not going to get paid for those few hours until the shutdown is over, but still.

Furlough Fun Fact: Federal workers  on furlough cannot take leave (vacation time) to compensate for the furlough.

Once the shutdown is over, even if I wanted to take this past week (or two or three for whenever this ends) to cover the time off, I would not be allowed to.  I have a top employee who went on maternity leave in the beginning of September.  She’s not scheduled to return to work until December.  Federal leave laws say she can take 12 weeks of leave.  With the shutdown, her leave stopped on the day of the shutdown and will pick up after the shutdown ends.  She can’t apply any of her leave to the furlough.  Her husband is also a federal worker and they have another toddler.  This whole situation is terrible for many people.

Song of the day: Never Go Hungry –  Hole

If you asked me in college which bands I would still be buying albums from 20 years later, Hole would not have been on the list.  I recognize Courtney Love essentially has new band mates for every album so it’s not exactly the original group, but it’s a wonder that she’s still alive.

Questions?  I’m  happy to answer furlough or NASA questions. If you’re so inclined, leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them in posts as this drags on.

Next update will be Monday.  I may tweak my approach slightly in order to provide updates Monday through Friday.

If you missed it:

F + 1 Day Furlough Report

F + 2 Days Furlough Report

F + 3 Days Furlough Report

F + 3 Days Furlough Report

I get another gray hair each day of the furlough.

I get another gray hair each day of the furlough.

Duration of Furlough: 3 days

Work not done: Yesterday we were supposed to discuss a proposal for supporting Robonaut next year.  Robonaut is a bit of a different beast from  an operations perspective as it’s not within our traditional area of expertise.  Spacecraft systems, while they’ve become more advanced and intricate, have stayed relatively consistent over the decades.  Every spacecraft regardless of purpose has to have a power system, motion or attitude control system, command and data system, communication system, etc.  If the spacecraft carries people it also has a life support system.  Robonaut doesn’t fit into any of those categories; it also isn’t that similar to the robotic arms used on ISS or Shuttle.  It’s analogous to a Mars Rover in many ways, but it must operate inside the living space of the ISS.  As such, we can’t allow it to inadvertently flip a switch, hit a button, or bonk a nearby crewmember.  Robonaut is not autonomous, so there is no fear of a robot uprising.  Given the constraints we place on it (Robonaut will automatically shut down if it detects it’s exerting a very small amount of force on something), we’re from rebellion for some time.

However, someone needs to send it commands, monitor and troubleshoot the command path if necessary, and make sure failsafes kick in at the right moment.  While our engineering guys design Robonaut’s experiments, the PLUTO flight controllers in my branch are currently responsible for conducting those experiments and commanding the little robot who could. As of a couple months ago, we thought Robonaut would not be funded next year, so we cancelled planned support.  A few weeks ago though, we got a call from the science folks saying they had secured funding.  Robonaut could theoretically add a backpack, with a battery and wireless comm system, and a set of legs which would allow it to be mobile.  So we were supposed to be discussing how we would support this experimental robot going forward.

Also, yesterday was also the day I approve timecards for all the civil servants in my branch so that they can get paid.  We get paid at 2 week intervals.  Our next paychecks are due on October 11th.  We’ll all get a check that covers work from September 23rd – 30th, but we’ll receive nothing for any time after the shutdown. Back pay for those on furlough is not guaranteed.

Outlook for Continuing Resolution passage by Congress: Still poor.

The best hope of seeing this end before the debt ceiling deadline of October 17th is that a small group of Republicans breaks off from the rest of the party and supports a clean resolution.  House leadership most likely won’t allow that.

Have I showered today? Not yet.  Soon, I promise.

Chores done: Cleaned playroom with kids. Can now walk without fear of stepping on a Lego or hair band.

Wife-requested tasks: Take care of all 3 girls for the day (it’s an in-service day for the school district).

Video games played: None, see above.

Mood: Calm, with brief moments of parental anger.

Furlough Fun Fact: It is illegal for a federal worker on furlough to use government issued smartphones or laptops (sorry, can’t find a good link).

My government-provided iPhone 4S, given so that I can be notified immediately in the event of an ISS emergency, an issue with flight controller or instructor support of ISS operations, or any other organizational issue, sits in its charging cradle on my kitchen counter, calling to me.  I try not to listen.  Instead, I am forced to use my personal iPhone 3G, which based on the date stamp in the twitter app, I hadn’t used in 958 days.  I’ve used my government phone for years, because beyond my wife calling me at work, I don’t talk to anyone on the phone (I am a bit of a misanthrope).

So I went to the AT&T store yesterday, asked about the iPhone 5S and settled for a 2-year old iPhone 4S…but it was $.99!

Song of the day: Thrift Shop by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Movie of the Day: Mr. Mom

I’m slightly more competent than Michael Keaton.

Answering Furlough Questions:

How did we decide who was essential vs. non-essential?

I admit I was irritated by a twitter troll who was happy that 800,000+ leeches had been removed from the payroll, referring to the federal workers had been furloughed.  I resisted the flame-bait but I thought I’d clarify how we determined who was considered ‘essential’.  For us, it wasn’t about differences in ability; it all came down to who was scheduled to work in mission control or who had an Expedition crew in training.  If a civil servant was already on the console schedule then they were essential; if they weren’t, they were non-essential.  We try to give our flight controllers at least 2 weeks working in the office after one week of console ops in mission control.  This keeps them sharp and operating at a high-level.  As this furlough draws on, some of the folks who were not originally deemed essential will be granted that status. For us in mission ops, essential vs. non-essential was just the luck of the draw.

All management was also deemed non-essential because I don’t work in mission control or train crews.  I used to, and I was fairly good at it, which is why I now run a department of almost 80 people. Am I a leech or just an incompetent do-nothing manager?  Obviously, I can’t answer that question objectively.  You’ll have to make your own conclusion on that one.

I have to go now, before my girls kill each other.

If you missed it:

F + 1 Day Furlough Report

F + 2 Days Furlough Report

Advice on Interviewing for an Internal Promotion

Over the past two weeks, I’ve interviewed 9 candidates who’ve applied to become the lead of the Station Training Lead Group. This group is responsible for overseeing the completion of training for all of NASA’s human spaceflight missions related to ISS.  The group lead will be counted on to keep a team of high performing employees acting in concert with the overall goals of the Mission Operations Directorate while fostering the leadership and integration abilities of each one of those employees.   It is critical that I select someone who is going to lead this team in the right direction.

Each applicant I interviewed had more than 15 years of experience with NASA or its subcontractors.  Each applicant had strong backgrounds working  in human spaceflight and had major accomplishments on their resume.  I had first-hand experience working with some of the candidates; some, I didn’t know at all.  How do you separate those candidates?  Here’s what I looked for:

  • Did you do your homework?
Did you take the time to learn something about the organization?  Did you talk to anyone in the organization to find out what the perspective of the employees is?  Did you talk to any of our customers to find out anything about their perspective?  Show that you’ve taken the time to get a grasp on what our priorities are, what challenges the organization faces, what the outlook of the group is, and what we’ve been doing lately.  This is particularly imperative for someone coming from outside the organization.  I’m going to need someone who can step in right away and be a leader.  Doing this shows me that you’re proactive, that you’re truly interested in this organization, and that your putting effort into this.
  • Do you really want this position?
There comes a time for many employees when they feel like they’ve done their time and they are ready to be a leader in an organization.  There also comes a time when you grow tired of facing the same challenges day-in and day-out and you’re ready for something different.  I understand those feelings and have had them at different points in my career.  Just wanting to do something different or just wanting a chance at leadership doesn’t show me that you really want the position that I’m interviewing people to fill.  I have 9 candidates who want that promotion.  The reason you want the promotion is an important factor.  Do you care about our mission?  Do you care about the direction of the organization?  Our work is challenging, draining, frustrating, and constantly changing.  If you’re only in this for the title or the money or to do something different, then I’m going to look for someone who wants it more.
  • Have Vision
If you’re going to be a leader in this organization, then I want to know that you’ve thought about the direction the organization needs to go.  How can we be more effective?  How can we improve?  Is there something we should stop doing?  Is there something we should start doing?  Do you have some idea of where you’re going to lead this group?  What’s important to you?  What’s important to my boss?  Put some thought into it.  Be specific.  Give me two or three concrete things that show you’re going to come into this position and work with me to maintain or improve a world-class organization.  Your vision doesn’t need to match mine.  In fact, your vision may be better than mine.  If that happens, you will force me to consider you for this position.
  • Know Thyself

Even if you do all of the above, you need to be completely and brutally honest with me about what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.  Know your strengths and weaknesses, tell me how you play up to your strengths, and tell me how you overcome your weaknesses.  Be honest about them.  If you’re not, I will find out about them when I talk to the people you’ve worked with for the last 15 years.  Sure, I will talk to your references, but I expect those people to be generally positive about you.  I’m also going to talk to people I know you’ve worked with.  I’ll talk to Flight Directors, other managers, co-workers, and anyone else I can find with an opinion.  If you don’t know what your weaknesses are, you’re co-workers and former and current bosses will or at least they’ll have their opinion.  If that opinion is different than what you told me, then it becomes a case of your word against theirs and I have to wonder if you don’t see your shortcomings.  Having shortcomings is not a bad thing; not knowing how to deal with those shortcomings is.  Not being honest about them is a dealbreaker.

Doing these things won’t guarantee you a promotion, but it will put you in contention. If you don’t do these things, then I will find someone who will.