A different kind of bubbly

I'm going to be a bad boy tonight - I bought a slice of chocolate overload cake for dessert and will munch it at midnight as my celebration. I realize this is pretty tame as far as things go, but everything's relative.

I also plan on spending the first in my usual way, which means in as little clothing as I can get away with. Some would argue that this isn't any different from any normal day, but they don't read this blog.

So, there's my idea of a good time: sober, naked and hyper in a hot tub in the middle of nowhere. Oh, with high-speed wireless access.

Here's hoping you all spend your new years how you like it.

Sun, moon and stars

I should qualify the following as pure entertainment... I don't believe in horoscopes. I am, however, very good at suspending disbelief temporarily for the purposes of fun. Patterns and systems are my life, and I always enjoy dissecting and reassembling structures just to see how they work; that holds true for myths and belief systems is well as techinal or logical ones.

In the same way that I can discuss Dagny's shooting of the guard as inconsistent with the larger philosophy of Ayn Rand, I can comment on the self-consistency or lack thereof in destinies determined by the movements of cosmic entities as perceived from Earth. The despairing fact that either is taken seriously by large numbers of people is a topic for another time.

My birthday is June 28th - that's Stonewall for the uninitiated - but I was due June 4th. Yes, I was 24 days late, and was only born the 28th because the doctor induced labor (he picked a Tuesday because it would be a slower day for the hospital). I may not have been a planned pregnancy - my mother was actually told she'd never be able to carry to term after my sister's difficult primi birth and her subsequent miscarriage if she could get pregnant at all, which was doubtful - but I was a rigidly scheduled birth.

Because of my doctor's concern for hospital regimen, I was born under the sign of Cancer. The full chart is here. Most people would say this fits me to a T. I probably wouldn't argue much.

Interestingly, though, my hobbies, interests, and whimsy have always focused on Hermes, the messenger in Greek mythology and their incarnation of the trickster god (like Loki, Coyote, etc.). Hermes represents the synchronistic - the patterns that seemingly emerge out of chaos - and also contradictions: as the patron god of both travelers and thieves, he embodies a dichotomy with which I identify heavily (most people don't know this, but as a youth my serious and silly sides were so distinct that one therapist considered a diagnosis of schizophrenia).

In Roman mythos, Hermes is Mercury - and Mercury is the ruling planet of Gemini, which would have been my birth sign had I been born "on time." Of course, the dualistic nature of Gemini embraces the fact that I could be Cancer as well, but maybe that's going just a little too far down the rabbit hole.

The upshot of all this if that, whenever I'm presented with horoscopes, I always read both Cancer and Gemini to see which "fits" better. Interestingly, it's almost always Gemini.

Of course, now I'm going to be working at an institute that fights cancer. Maybe Gemini isn't so accommodating after all.

Stand up

People are turning out to be a lot more insecure than I would have thought.

I've had people leave the company while I've been here; in almost 13 years, it's impossible not to have had dozens if not hundreds of people quit or get laid off. One of those was my best friend, 3 years ago, who was also my "partner in crime" here - so much so that people seemed to forget our names could be said separately. It was always "go ask x and y if they can do this" or "y and x are supporting it". Granted, when he left, there was some extra work load that had to be passed around.

But I've never felt like the world was coming to an end, or that I couldn't get things done. It was always just an inconvenience of more work, not a catastrophe. I've pretty much always been confident enough in myself and my abilities that, if something unknown or unexpected came up, it was mostly a matter of, "Okay, let's figure this out and move on." It may be more ego than anything else, but I've never considered taking over any task overwhelming - just annoying.

I'm beginning to suspect that I might be the only person here who feels that way.

I'm hearing, from almost every direction, protestations of panic and chaos - "we're screwed!", "who's going to do xxx for us?", etc. - which I have, until very recently, been attributing more to politeness and/or complimentary nature than actual concern: the typical "I don't know how we're going to get along without you" that every departing person hears no matter how replaceable they really are. The actions and results I'm seeing, though, may indicate that these are more than platitudes as people really don't seem to have any clue how to handle things without me.

(Random note: I have one sweater where the torso is fine but the sleeves are too long. This, for me, is unusual, because I have a short torso but long arms. I always feel like a 6-year-old in his older brother's sweater when I wear it, which is odd because I never had an older brother. Still, I always end up with a bit more bounce in my step when I walk around with the ends of my sleeves almost covering my hands.)

Now, I assume that someone will step up and/or problems will get solved in the end: I have no illusion that I, or anyone else really, is irreplaceable. The issue, though, would seem to be the length of time it takes to get everything sorted out. And as I said, I don't see anyone - not one single person - who is stepping up and "figuring it out" the way I typically have in the past. You would think that, out of 20 or 30 IT personnel, there'd be at least one - but then I have to consider that, out of 20 or 30 IT personnel, that one is (or was) me.

I've been often told by people that I have a pretty substantial ego - something I've loosely defined as knowing who you are, what you are, what you want, and how to get it. I consider this a good thing: a true ego, a true sense of self and security, helps to keep one balanced and not be thrown off by minor (or even major) problems or issues. Someone who is self-assured isn't afraid to be wrong or challenged, nor to take some risks, because one's self-perception isn't based on the false premise of perfection or ideals. By no means am I perfect, but knowing that and completely accepting that fact means imperfection doesn't threaten me.

That also means being realistic about one's limits; ironically, true modesty is born of self-assuredness even while one decries one's abilities. It's only when we're comfortable with what we are that we can realistically approach or confront what we aren't. One of my favorite lines from a book comes from Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series: "False modesty is the refuge of the incompetent."

What I'm finding in most of my coworkers, however, is the false ego born from the insecurities of people who are trying to make everyone else believe they're competent even when they themselves don't think they are. I see people who constantly portray themselves as experts in their fields and, yet, get flustered or even angry at relatively minor challenges to authority or comprehension. Throw in the large unknown of extra work that they haven't been carefully led into and what results seems to be total paralysis. Of course, there are a few who are probably completely competent, but who are also so burnt out that they don't care enough to try. While the mechanisms may be different, the result is the same: someone who sees something mildly challenging and then simply throws his or her hands in the air saying, "oh well, I can't do it."

I know that eventually everything will get sorted out, that problems will get solved and new routines will develop to handle the new issues and circumstances. The question is, though, at what price? How long will it take to knock things into their new shape, to adapt current resources to the new needs? And how much money - real money, in terms of time, expenses, and lost business - will result?

I suppose that's no longer my problem; I can't solve it in less than two working days' time, and it really isn't my responsibility to do so. But I wouldn't be me if I didn't concern myself with the process as a whole, even as I step out the door. That's part of the reason why I'm so respected around here and why I've been recruited so actively by this new company. One doesn't simply turn that off and walk away.

So, as I sit here with basically nothing to do for the next day or two, this shit runs through my head. I really don't think they're prepared, but there's nothing else I can do to prepare them; I wish there was, but they don't seem to want to be prepared. They say the quickest way to learn how to swim is to jump in the pool. The problem is, how much water do you swallow before you make it to the edge?

All these posts about my career change are probably getting boring. So, on to something else.

This weekend was, obviously Christmas. Saturday, I had dinner with my parents and one friend; he and my step-dad like to talk military history and such, since they're both experts on the subject. My mom and I always end up sneaking off to the kitchen or whatever, but they don't seem to notice. My step-dad's getting older, and a few of his old friends have died over the years, so there's not many people he can spar with, intellectually, on these subjects; handing out with Phil fills some of that need.

The day after Christmas, the 26th, is my step-dad's birthday and, traditionally, the day all his kids come over. This, of course, meant their kids as well, and while individually they're all fairly well-behaved, when you get four 7-12 year-olds in a room it gets pretty chaotic. Like most years, I spent the day helping my mom keep the kitchen going - she always makes up these lists of things to do at various times so that she doesn't lose track, but with the extra moving parts in the house it takes a little more effort to keep up. Besides, while I like my step-brothers and sisters, I really don't have much in common with them, so if I'm part of the socializing circle it just feels awkward; helping cook means my mother can spend more time with them and I can legitimately spend less. It's a pretty decent tradeoff, even if it does mean than my ribs are a little sore today from standing for pretty much 12 hours.

Wednesday I'm taking a (hopefully) much-deserved break and driving up to Guerneville, which for those who don't know (probably most of the world; even people in California don't know) is a small town along the Russian River an hour or two north of San Francisco. The salient factor, though, is that 1) it's in the redwoods and 2) the "resort" I'm staying at is gay and has a clothing-optional pool and hot tub. Now, I'm not going to be doing much sunbathing in 50-degree weather, but the hot tub's always great. Plus, I'm getting a massage while there, and in general just trying to relax.

Hard to believe that a week from today I'll be at a new job; luckily, reality requires no belief, only existence.

Good will towards men

Holidays. Enough said.

For an asocial individual, this is one of the worst times of the year, but there are promises to keep (and miles to go before I sleep).

(On a side note, I actually got a call from work today - database went down and the new DBA couldn't even log into the server. This doesn't bode well for the very near-future when I won't be working for them any more.)

Tomorrow (boxing day) I get to deal with all the nieces and nephews for my step-dad's birthday. And then it's my last two days in the office at my current company. Then, I get to disappear up to the woods for a few days, to rest and recoup and hide away from the world.

Anyway, in the interest of the holiday spirit, here's hoping everyone makes the best of it - in whatever method works for them. Enjoy it however you prefer.

... and there's reasons to believe...

So, been a few days. Today I hit that "fuck it, I'm only here a few more days" zone. I think that offically makes me a short-timer.

I've done what I can to make my leaving as easy as possible, but that frankly isn't much. It's going to be hell for these guys; there just isn't a way around it. Almost 13 years of taking it for granted that I'd be here to "fix anything" doesn't just go away in week and a half.

But that isn't my problem any more, and I can't take responsibility. I've already done far more than most people expected me to be willing to do - in the sense of flying to NC for a week, all the extra training and working with folks, etc., trying to get as many details covered as possible. I think, though, I'm done - I've got two more sessions with people, but I doubt much will change.

(Random note: today, for the first time in probably 5 or more years, I forgot my badge at home. Odd, that.)

On the other side, I got poked, shot, and bled at my new job yesterday; I go back tomorrow to finalize one of the tests and then pick up my employee badge. That's the last step before orientation on the 3rd of January. I think I'm finally feeling a little excited about that.

Financially, I'm not in as good a position as I was hoping. The current company is playing hard-ball and won't be reimbursing my expenses from my last trip until the 6th of January; it's all legal, but I was trying to get them in early enough to be paid tomorrow. On the consulting side, I'm supposed to be getting a check from the woman running the project when she's "in town", but I don't know if that is this week or next week.

So, I'm running low on funds, but not drastically. No thousand-dollar Christmas presents this year, but I can cover the bases and likely still have enough to take a trip up north for NYE. Plus, my payroll person told me that I should be getting a direct deposit with all my outstanding pay (vacation and actual pay) on the 30th, which should be a significant chunk of money (about $6k all-told). If I get my consulting check and, eventually, my expense check, I'll definitely be riding high for the new year.

That means it's just a matter of waiting at this point - something I'm not wonderful at, since I'm always projecting ahead what could possibly go wrong and contingencies to handle them. Still, the window is narrowing.

It's been a *long* December.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

I may have made a mistake today (yes, it does happen). You see, I put in my notice last Friday, but my management team has been lax about any kind of official notification to the company at large: when I talk to people, I'll tell them (and some have heard through the grape vine), but unless I bring it up most people don't seem to know.

So, seeing as I've only got 6 business days left, I decided that certain users I support really ought to know that I'm leaving. My boss and I discussed today who would be taking over most of the responsibilities, and I've been doing training for the last few days with many of them, so I thought it was a decent time to crack that nut.

Boy, howdy, did it crack.

People are, of course, panicking now, all of them insisting that their requirements are the most important and that I drop everything to make sure their systems are covered to their satisfaction. I think I'm doing a decent job of deflecting and/or depanicking (is that even a word?) most of them, but it's making me wish I hadn't said anything and had just let them find out after the fact.

(Random note: I had a hot dog on a slice of bread for lunch yesterday. I haven't had a hot dog like that since I was like 7. When the lady at the counter handed it to me saying she was out of buns, I just replied, "That's okay, I'll just drench it in mustard and pretend I'm in first grade again." She laughed.)

I also learned today that my company's doing another wave of layoffs, mostly at the location where I am currently rather than my normal location. I think, anyway; the person who told me didn't want to say too much since she's theoretically not allowed to say anything at all, but a wink is, as they say, as good as a nod in most cases. Besides, I had the head of Finance hint at much the same thing, and I know we're losing a major client in the coming year (like, 80% of one location's business). So, I've probably picked a great time to get out.

Flying back to the left coast tomorrow, and heading right to a party - so, it's kind of a win/lose situation. I hate parties, but it's my (ex)boss throwing it, and most of my current and past coworkers will be there. So, I kind of have to show up, if only for the sake of propriety. After that, though, the weekend is mine. Seeing TRON on Saturday; was supposed to see it tonight - even bought the tickets ahead of time - but of course the last-minute trip put a kibosh on that. So, I sent the tickets to the guy I was going with, and I hope he enjoys the movie (and takes someone with him).

Last Saturday, one friend was a little astonished that I wasn't nearly as excited about my new job as he thought I should be (or even as he was). I responded by pointing out that this week would be hell, and that I'd probably be more enthusiastic for it when the week was done. At this point, I think that's true: right now I'm in the burnout phase. I just want to be done with this. By Saturday morning, I'll be through the worst of it. That's when it'll probably kick it.

For now, I'll just be glad to be on a plane back to civilization tomorrow. I always lose the sense of how big Los Angeles is until I go someplace where their idea of a major event is the town bake sale. As one of my co-contractors said, "When you get to an airport where the guy checks you in, changes hats, takes you through security, changes hats again, and lets you on the plane, you know you're in a small town."

It's far easier to be asocial in a crowd of thousands than in a group of dozens.

Midnight in the garden of good and... well, useless

It's midnight here, but my sleep schedule is all fucked up. I caught about 3 hours' sleep on flights from LAX to Detroit Sunday, drove 3 hours because MBS was closed, then was up until 10 working with people. Up again at 7 am, full day in a meeting, then driving back to Detroit (MBS was still closed) to catch an 8 pm flight back to LAX so I could catch a midnight flight to Atlanta and then Asheville. Worked until 3:30 a so, but then the 6000 miles of travel in just over 48 hours caught up with me.

So, checked into the hotel, ate something, took a bath to relax and was in bed fast asleep by 5-ish. Anyway, that's why I'm awake at midnight local time.

Meeting went pretty well, though I got slightly blindsided by the folks running the project: they expected me to run a session on systems I'd never heard of without warning me. Oh well.

(Random fact: yesterday, for the first time ever, I drove in real "icy conditions." Driving SoCal freeways after the first rain in a while is harder, and I've been doing that for years.)

Now I'm in North Carolina trying to explain to folks that you can't train people on 13 years of experience in four days. The boss seems to think I can just snap my fingers and his people - nice ladies and gentlemen but certainly not up to speed on the technologies I support - will be able to handle everything. While he's wishing he should ask for a pony.

By the time I leave here on Friday, I think I'm going to be mentally ready to leave the company.

On a more personal rote, Christmas is going to be a little scant this yes since I'm floating a few thousand in travel expenses. I'll get reimbursed, but I doubt it'll be before I have to buy presents. Ironic, really, since in a few months I ought to be in better financial state than I've been in years. If it had just been the Michigan trip it would have been okay, but they sprung this NC trip on me on Friday.

Oh well, all the more reason to get out of my current job into something more stable, right? Anyway, I should try to get back to sleep.

When the hurley-burely's done

When all is said and done, when the last gun is fire, the last shell exploded, the last scream faded into the night... was the war worth it?

Most people walk around in a daze, sublimely average and only moderately alive: socioeconomic cattle, in a sense, there to support the population. They're content, in a way, and (mostly) living how they choose to live. No one can fault them.

But some people can't be like that. They are fully aware, and in being aware have to live to the fullest extent they can. Sometimes that means chaos; sometimes it means beauty. Sometimes it means great intellect. Sometimes it's all three.

But always, it means war. Making a choice means taking responsibility, throwing away the quiet, careful safety of mediocrity. It means taking a stand for something, which means taking a stand against something. It means war: war against attrition, war against stagnation, war against self.

Pure chaos, and there is no continuity. Pure order, and there is no change. Life exists on the edge between both, the perpetual collapse of order into chaos, and chaos into order, over and over again in a cycle. And always, at the front of that collapse, is the point of decision: the choices we make, the wars we fight.

We can't always choose right. Sometimes, there isn't a right and we're merely choosing between two different kinds of wrong. But the choice has to be made, the war has to be fought, because that's who we are. We are the drivers, the makers, the fighters, the choosers.

We make the best choice we can and hope that, in the end, we can make it the right one. It's how we know we're alive.

... I took the job. Now comes the hard part: making it the right choice.

Tonight on As the Wold Turns...

... Brief update, just because of the novel I posted yesterday.

2:30 conference call with the HR rep went well; this was the HR screening that never got done, where they ask questions like "Are you a mass murderer?" The good part, though, is that they also asked what my targets were for salary, benefits, etc. I gave her what I think are reasonable goals and she didn't sound at all surprised or flustered by them.

She's going to go back to the compensation department, compile an offer and is "hopefully on target" as she said, and then present it to me tomorrow afternoon. So, probably the best practical news: my major concern this whole time is that any offer they made would be completely unrealistic since no one knew what I was seeking.

Oh, and the new boss came grabbed me for a "virtual cigarette break" and basically said that, if this doesn't work out, they're willing to bribe me with a $10k bonus (on top of my regular bonus) if I agree to stick around until the end of March. So, there's that. I hope it's not needed, but it's always nice to have other options.

Either way, I feel like I've ramped down a little and am no longer about to vibrate out of the universe. Of course, that'll probably change when I get the call tomorrow, since that's pretty much the "make or break" moment.

Tune in next time...

Hexagram 23

It's been one of those days.

I was in my manager's office this morning, ostensibly to talk about what various pieces of documentation I need to generated "just in case" I end up resigning. She's my backup for a few critical functions, and she wanted to go over them with me at a later date.

Eventually, though, it was just to chat. Even if I don't think she's a perfect manager, she's a great person, and we get along well. So, we talk, a lot, and one topic that has been coming up more and more lately was the possibility of her manager (who neither of us really likes but she can't stand) finding some reason to lay her off. He already tried once, a year ago, but justification was found to keep her on.

She found out yesterday that he and one of the other directors was flying in for a couple of days but hadn't informed her; her immediate suspicion was that this would be the day. As we stood there talking, someone kept walking past her door. Then, her email started having issues. About that time, I noticed the person walking past was the local head of HR, and believing he might need something from us (we manage one of the critical HR systems), I stuck my head out and asked if he needed anything. He said he needed to talk to her, and asked if we were done. He had a sheaf of papers in his hand, and I just got the impression that he was doing his best to be neutral. So, I walked away and went back to my desk.

About 20 minutes later, her manager was in our office telling us she'd been laid off.

Now, I knew she wasn't going to be upset - not just because she expected it, but because, in a way, she'd been looking forward to it: the office has been really stressful lately, especially for her, and I think this was just the push she needed to get out and do something. Rather than quitting under duress, she gets a severence package and unemployment. So, she'll probably be alright a few months at least.

Instead, the thoughts that immediately popped into my mind were: shit. She's my backup on some very important things. I've been planning on leaving the company for a while, but it was always in an orderly, controlled, reasonable manner - because she was still there and could handle the critical stuff. Suddenly, that's out the window.

I don't care about most of the systems I run; they're not terribly complex in concept, just in detail, so pretty much any technical person could deal with it if they had to. The one piece that isn't true for is the HR system, which is extremely critical in that many people get paid out of it. While Doris was there, it wasn't a problem; without her as a backup, though, I'm the only person in the company who can manage the system.

So, I decided I had to "spook" HR a bit about it, somehow. But how, when I can't legitimately say I'm leaving until I have accepted an offer from another company?

This issue stressed me out for a few hours until, around 2:30 pm, her manager came and asked to speak to me. We went to a different office, and he began some long oration on how this was the only layoff planned, on how we needed to better merge the teams on opposite sides of the nation, how everyone was likely to be nervous for a while, etc. At one point, he flat-out said, "And I'd hope that, if you ever consider leaving us, you'll give me fair notice..."

Well, shit. My boss had known - even encouraged - that I was looking around, but I hadn't told anyone in management other than her. I didn't have an offer from anyone yet, even if I was expecting one. But I also couldn't just flat-out lie when I'm planning on handing in my resignation in a matter of days. So, I told a half-truth. I said, "Well, to be honest, right now I'm looking for a new job. I haven't had any offers yet, but that could change at any time." All of it true, with the only omission being that I was *expecting* to get an offer in the next 2 or 3 days.

It was enough, though, and he was obviously contemplative on the concept. His first statement was that he hoped I'd give him a few days at least to try and "make it worth your while to stick around a few months". He did, later, ask me an approximate percentage of what I was expecting in a new position, so I told him (legitimately) 25-30%. "I was afraid of that," was his only response.

As I walked back to my desk, I made up my mind to tell the head of HR the same thing, that I was looking around but that I didn't have an offer. Beyond that, even if I didn't leave, I still needed a backup to manage the HR system, and it should probably be an HR person. Having decided to tell him, I sent him an email when I got back to my desk asking him to let me know when he had a minute to talk.

Then, I get a phone call from the company where I interviewed last week; I wasn't expecting the call until Thursday. Their HR rep asked if I could speak with her for about half a hour tomorrow, so we scheduled the call for 2:30 pm. This has to be the formal offer; I can't think of what else they'd be calling me about.

The I went and talked to my company's HR rep, and let him in on both the official (I'm looking around, no offer yet) and unofficial (I'm likely to have an offer tomorrow, and I'm probably going to take it after negotiations) details; we've established a pretty decent camraderie over the years, so I wasn't worried about him being able to manage the distinction. He told me he'd actually raised the same concerns I'd had about the HR system with my boss's manager when the layoff decision had been originally told to him, but it got brushed under the rug. He was more than happy to escalate the importance with his manager, and agreed to some of the contingencies I'd been thinking about.

So, that was it. For obvious reasons, I've been in a bit of a state all day. It's not so much nerves as... well, I do projections. It's part of why I'm good at what I do: I can see most (if not all) of the potential outcomes and their consequences, and keep layering and factoring until I think I see reasonable or "best" paths through a situation. Today, I had a lot of random factors thrown into the mix, and I think I'm burnt out at the moment.

I just got my copy of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, and I don't even think I have enough mental cohesion left to anything more than install it.

Monday morning, I put on my facebook "the next seven days will change everything" as my status. Sometimes, being right isn't always fun.

Everything changes

It's officially the last month of 2010. The year is winding down, and another will be starting soon. Of course, the "year end" is an arbitrary designation, but the result is more symbolic than practical anyway.

Most transitions in my life come about around February; don't ask me why, it just seems to be when major moments occur. This time, though, I seem to be stacking the deck: while some of the results won't come about until February or March, I'm building up for some significant changes here at the end of the year.

One big piece of that became official yesterday: I "passed" the last hurdle in gaining this part-time contract I'll be doing for the first 4-6 months of 2011. This is, ironically, the secondary portion of the big financial impacts in my life: a major step in the primary portion takes place tomorrow. However, regardless of how the rest goes, I'm on track for most of my plans for the new year. By the time my birthday rolls around at the end of June, I ought to be in a very good place financially (even if I'm exhausted getting there). If I get a new job that pays more than I earn now, so much the better.

Interestingly enough, having the contract position guaranteed means that I'm less nervous going into the interviews tomorrow: because I've got the guaranteed extra income, there's less riding on getting this new job. I'd still like to get it, obviously, but the pressure's gone. That's why I play the game this way: I hedge my bets, build in safety nets, so that the end result is more likely the outcome I desire.

On a separate tack - universe, I'm tired today. Not sure why. I need to make sure I go to bed a little early tonight so that I'm rested for tomorrow.

I'm officially back in World of Warcraft; I played a bit on Sunday, but not since then. As always, I managed to be online for only an hour or so before someone dragged me into a raid; I hadn't even gotten everything set up again after my long absence, but I think I did okay in general. Gamestop just billed me for the expansion I ordered ages ago, so I assume that will process through correctly and on-time.

(Random note: my desk sits against the eastern wall of the office, so that, in the mornings, the sun shines in through the window - almost floor to ceiling - behind me. Right now I have the almost unresistable urge to put my feet up and nap in the sunbeam.)

A friend of mine is getting kicked out of his rental; while he's made some stupid and probably annoying decisions, the impetus seems to be more related to some kind of mental instability on the part of his landlord than anything he's done. He's asked if I can drive the moving van when the time comes around (he has a motorcycle license but can't legally drive a car); I told him that it depends on when he needs me to do it. Knowing him, I'll get a call one afternoon with "can you come over now?" He's not exactly good at planning ahead.

Phil's gotten some good responses on his book; his agent seems to think they're almost at an offer from at least one publisher if not more. Hopefully they make it in the next few weeks; that'd be the best Christmas present anyone could get him, even if he is Jewish.

More later, maybe. I've got to get ready to tell someone he's an idiot, but in as polite a manner as possible.

Promises to keep

I feel like writing a post and don't know what to write, so be warned. It's probably because I just spent 2 hours hanging lights on my mother's tree. I guess that means it's story time.

I grew up in east L.A. in a small 3-bedroom house. The living room was about ten feet by fifteen feet, and it was probably the largest room in the house. One of the long walls was along the front of the house, a window set in the middle, and in normal time there were two recliners under the window with a short table between them. I think it belonged to my grandparents; pretty much everything in the house was second-hand or very cheap, because we didn't have a lot of money.

(That's something that a most of the people who know me don't really get. We weren't "poor", but we were definitely lower-middle class; spaghetti and fried chicken are my favorite foods, but that's because they were cheap to make and, therefore, cooked often. The fact that, nowadays, my last few birthday presents to myself have consisted of a sports car and first-class trips to Maui is probably, in a lot of ways, a response to that past.)

Anyway, the day after Thanksgiving, my parents would take us out and we'd pick up a Christmas tree. We didn't have much room to place it, and couldn't afford the big ones anyway, so we'd buy a smallish 4-5 ft one and place it on the table between the chairs in the window. Decorations were mostly felt ornaments, hand-me-downs (or heirlooms, if you like) from my great-grandparents, and flimsy strings of light that my dad would repair over and over again. Outside, over the garage and across the front of the house, we'd hang one long string of the huge old outdoor christmas lights - again, often repaired. Stockings, of course, went over the fireplace.

It wasn't much, but it made the place feel better - more cheerful, I guess.

Of course, then there was the divorce, the arguments, the re-marriages to other people, but the tree always went in the same spot. Even when my mom had to save pennies for food, when we went to other people's houses for Thanksgiving because we couldn't afford it on our own, we'd still go out the day after Thanksgiving and pick up the tree.

Well, years go by; my mother got a few promotions and met my stepfather. They moved out of the house in El Monte (originally to rent it, but they sold it after their first rental agreement resulted in a SWAT team and a drug bust) to a much larger one out in the boondocks. Money was still a little tight but less so.

When Christmas came around, the only room where a tree would make sense was the combination living/dining room: about 35 feet long, the entire length of one side of the house, with a huge, 20-ft vaulted ceiling. That first year, we got a slightly larger tree - about 7 feet - and put it in the front window. It felt tiny: with almost no other furniture in the room, it was just swallowed.

The next year, we got one about the same size and, instead, put it in the middle - which was worse. Even with more ornaments and new lights, a 7-ft tree will never look decent with a 20-ft ceiling.

So, the third year, we upgraded. I think that one was about 10 ft tall, which necessitated buying a lot more lights and ornaments, but it looked decent if a little sparse. So that was the trend from then on: we'd go out on the Friday after Thanksgiving and cut down a large tree. The tallest was narrow but about 13 feet; the biggest was only 11 feet or so, but easily the same across. When we got that last one, it was so heavy it took three of us to carry it, and it bent the first stand we tried to put it on; we ended up having to get this massive steel tree stand to hold it.

Well, time passes. My parents are older, and my step-dad just can't carry something that large; I can't do it myself, and the step-siblings aren't always around. So, a few years ago my mother consented, shopped around, and finally bought a fake tree. It's still tall, about 11 feet, but it goes up in pieces, branch by branch. It actually looks very real. I miss the pine smell, but since I'm allergic to the sap, at least I don't have to deal with the rashes any more.

I'm still required to hang the surface lights, though: I'm the only one tall enough to reach, even with a ladder. So, my mother puts it up over a few days, adding in the white lights in the middle as she goes, then asks me when I can hang the lights on its surface. It's usually the weekend after Thanksgiving - sometimes it's been up as early as mid-November, if they're going on a trip - but it was a little late this year.

So, tonight, I took out the strands and tested them; none were bad, and there were no significant outages. I start at the top, winding clockwise, weaving them in and out of the branches. When they go on, they're dark - it's just easier than having them plugged in - so when I'm done, there's a little bit of a "celebration" in turning them on and seeing it lit up: the twinkling of rainbow stars on a green sky.

My mother will decorate it over the next few days, and this weekend I'll probably hang the lights outside the house. In the end, there will be 2000 lights on the tree: 8 100-strands of white in the middle and 6 200-strands on the outside. There will be over a hundred white bows, over 150 24-karat gold ornaments, and another 200 or so other ornaments from the years. She's stopped buying them; there's simply no room left.

But it's worth it. It's beautiful. And with the garland on the banisters, the stockings, the nutcracker music boxes and the ceramic train, it's the only time the house gets close to feeling like home to me.

I don't "believe" in Christmas - I never really have. But, maybe, if I pretend hard enough, in the end it doesn't make a difference whether I do or not.

Diversionary Tactics

I don't do holidays. Which is a little odd to most people, since I do them really well.

Let me explain a bit.

As I've said before, I'm asocial: people annoy me more than they entertain me, and in almost all situations I'd rather be by myself than with someone. The idea of being forced into dinners or long evenings with extended family - most of whom I have absolutely nothing in common with and wouldn't befriend if we met on the street - is bad enough, but tack on the forced cheerfulness and/or religious undertones and, well, it just isn't pretty. When I was young enough to not have a choice in the matter, I'd typically spend an hour max "socializing", then try to hide myself in the kitchen helping cook or whatnot until dinner was actually served; afterwards, I'd slink off to my room and hide until everyone left.

According to society, of course, this is "bad" behavior: everyone loves holidays! So, as a kind of social camouflage, I started getting really good at decorations. I honestly think that things like Christmas lights and garland actually make most places look better - when done tastefully - and figuring out how to decorate and spice up a room may appeal to the gay gene I've got buried in me somewhere. Plus, if you spend enough time/effort making someplace look festive and holiday-ish, people overlook the fact that you seem to skip out on the holiday itself. It's a kind of psychological misdirection I learned years ago.

Nowadays, my mother's adapted to the fact that I really don't "do" social gatherings. If she's having a lot of people over for Thanksgiving, I'm excused and can be somewhere else; Christmas is generally less of a big deal, since my step-dad's birthday is the day after: most of the family comes over for his birthday instead. I'm expected to be around for part of that, but I consider it as much his birthday present as whatever I buy him. For New Years, I typically disappear somewhere.

(Random note: Today is the 151st anniversary of the publishing of “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” by one Dr. Charles Darwin, M.A. So, celebrate by using antibacterial soap all day or something.)

However, my mother's gotten used to my eye for decoration, so I'm responsible for doing much of the non-tree decorations for her: it's partly her way to keep me "involved", as it were, but it's also because she (and he) simply can't do a lot of it (contrary to what I insist on telling her, they're getting older). So, starting Friday, I'll be tasked with helping Mom hang around 2500 lights, plus garland, stockings, etc. It's just the way it works, part of the "dues" of being a son.

Anyway, because of my aversion, I won't go into the whole routine of what I'm thankful for - frankly, the idea has always been suspect since, as an atheist, I don't have anyone to be thankful to; I can appreciate things, and be glad they have turned out as they have, but there's no one to thank. I'll simply state that, as ever, I have no regrets about life - and hope that, in the end, everyone reading this will be able to say the same thing, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow or not.

Under gray skies

Today, I'm in a good mood.

I learned yesterday that I'm the only person seriously in the running for a part-time, off-hours 6-month contract position that, over the duration, should net me $30-40k on top of any other job I have. This is great, not just because of the money but because, if I do get another job somewhere, I'm not likely to be able to take time off anyway for that period (most employers make you accrue your vacation time). Even if I get laid off and don't have another job, this would pay the equivalent - even in part-time - of what I'm making now, so I could easily still be "afloat" for the duration.

It's always nice to hedge your bets.

Also, it's cold, gray, and eventually rainy. For some reason - probably because it's so rare in SoCal - I've always loved wet weather, the colder the better. We're not in snow range (though the snow line may drop down, depending on how cold it gets tonight), but it's chilly and damp. This is hot chocolate in front of the fireplace with a good book weather.

This weekend, we're seeing then new Harry Potter movie, of course. I actually bought the tickets a month ago - and not because I'm looking forward to it. I'm really not. I'm not just excited about the series; somehow, it always seemed, I don't know, silly. And not legitimately silly, like Terry Pratchett. I mean silly like sparkling-vampires silly.

I'm probably going to get a few avada kadavera curses hurled my way because of that statement.

Anyway, the only movie I'm really looking forward to this year is Tron: Legacy, but that's more of a geek-fest than anything. Actually, there's a good chance it'll end up being a decent movie, like Star Trek. Either way, though, I'll be seeing it. I just confirmed with Rex that he wants to go to the midnight showing, so that'll be fun (I actually just bought us tickets to The Tempest midnight release too).

(Random: Rex just told me he's playing more of an architect role at his company. I asked him if he's saying "ergo" a lot and steepling his fingers. His reply was that he doesn't own a white suit.)

Still wondering what I'm going to do for New Years; still thinking about Guerneville, but financial considerations are leaning away from anything, really. If I can pull a few hundred dollars out of a hat (move over, bunny), I can probably still justify it. We'll see.

Oh, and this morning, as I was getting into the car from buying bagels for the office, I noticed by odometer read exactly 80000 miles. I'm one month short of 4.5 years on the car, so that's not horrible. Especially given that I go back and forth to SF at least once a year, and that this year I also drove over 2200 miles round-trip to Portland. So, I did a little dance in the driver's seat to commemorate the occasion, then drove to work.

No one ever said "brilliant" had a high correlation to "serious", or even "sane".

Single serving

It can be a little odd to be turned on to an author or philosophy and realize that you've been a fan for years even though you've never really heard of them.

We saw Unstoppable on Saturday - in my opinion, pretty good. It got into the action pretty quickly, and all the emotional/social connecting and such took place on-the-run, so it never really felt like they had to stop the narrative. Chris Pine was great, and Rosario Dawson was excellent - but the hat tip goes to Denzel Washington, who just rocked it. But, man, he looked old. I hope that was mostly makeup.

Still no word on the job posting, but more calls from recruiters today. I also applied for a couple more positions; I figure that something has to stick at some point. The good new s is that, if I end up getting laid off, I've got years of contract work I can do at a really good rate.

A friend of mine is probably breaking up with his girlfriend; she's going through the whole post-highschool "I'm an adult I can do what I want so let's party" phase, which he sort of skipped. The real problem isn't her drinking, but that he's a geek-type and she's his first real girlfriend; he's upset at the idea of "being alone", pissed at a world where most people his age are far less mature/intelligent/aware, and mad at himself that he can't solve problems in the real world as easily as he can in code. The only part I have trouble with is the loneliness - I mean, he came to me of all people for reassurances that it gets better, that he'll meet people like him one day. I tried to offer them, since I think for him it will, but I had to smile to myself at the irony.

My coffee machine arrived Friday. It's one of those K-cup single-serving deals. I don't drink coffee, really; I like Kona, but that's it. It'll make hot chocolate too, though, and once in a while a cup of Kona is nice. I tell people I drink a cup of coffee before bed, and they flip out. "Doesn't that keep you awake?" Quite the opposite, actually: like most folks with ADHD, caffeine generally relaxes me. This is especially odd since one of the affects of caffeine is to reduce the functioning of the neurotransmitter primarily responsible for inducing sleep by suppressing neural activity. An 8-oz cup of kona will have me ready for bed in about 30 minutes.

(Random note: a friend of mine started working at a newly remodeled pool hall here in L.A.; I'll probably need to stop by. I love pool, but it's been ages since I've had a hall to go to that wasn't seedy.)

On the weather front, it's almost summer temps here again - mid-to-high 60's and low 70's, at least during the day. It's supposed to be cold and rainy again by the weekend, though.

At some point here in the not-to-distant future, I need to make plans for New Year's Eve... I haven't, yet, because I didn't know what my job situation would be. However, it's looking like I'm stuck here at least through December, so it's a good thing I scheduled the time off. I'll probably wait until Thanksgiving and then book a trip somewhere; maybe back up to Guerneville, since that was so relaxing last time.

The poor sort of memory

I'm not sure that anyone here will know what I mean by the word "synchronicity". I suppose a technical definition would be "causal linking between casual events", but most people probably won't really understand that either. In layman's terms, synchronicity is the recognition or observation of a pattern linking events or behaviors that cannot by other methods be linked. It's "coincidence" taken to extreme levels. Synchronicity is, in essence, strictly a function of pattern recognition, and as such is highly dependent upon the observational and creative capabilities of the individual doing the observation. While such events have long been attributed to non-material causes (for example, to the ancient Greeks, Hermes is the embodiment of synchronicity), it is more reasonable to attribute them to the human addiction for causation.

If you've ever played the game "six degrees of Kevin Bacon", you probably have an intuitive understanding of both the appearance and probable cause of synchronicity: what can seem like a magical coincidence is actually a carefully manufactured chain. Synchronicity simply takes place at a lower level of consciousness, but the principle is still the same: we can link any two activities, events, or observations, if only we try hard enough to create such a link. This is the fundamental reason why people often require reminding that "correlation does not imply causation."

Nevertheless, one must actively remind one's self that it's an assumed and not existant phenomenon... especially when it seems to appear in overwhelming magnitude.

Some background is probably required.

I've long been interested in linguistics and semantics; as someone who doesn't think in verbal structures, I've spent a considerable amount of effort in trying to get the closest possible approximation of my thoughts into language. To that end, I've read millions of pages of books - from scientific theory to poetry - and developed a far larger linguistic foundation than most people I know, not just in words but in understanding of connotation and denotation as well as an awareness of both the limits and impositions of language. As I mentioned recently on Out Not Up, language itself has restrictions on what it can represent, often in ways of which speakers aren't aware but which can have major impacts on society. For instance, our tendancy to conflate observation with inherent property can be directly associated with our linguistic tendancy to speak of something as something else, not merely appearing to be something else; we state that so-and-so is a bad man when what we usually mean is that he appears to be a bad man from our perspective.

This ties, in a synchronistic fashion, to Robert Anton Wilson via a friend named Peter. Peter loaned me his copy of The Illuminatus! Trilogy while we were - well, I guess "dating" isn't really accurate, but that's probably descriptive enough - and I fell in love with the material almost immediately. I had my own synchronistic event during the first reading: I was, at the same time, reading a book about asian philosophy. In the philosophy book, I came across the Buddhist koan of "what is the Buddha? Three chin of flax," one afternoon; later that evening, while reading Illuminatus!, a main character brings up the phrase "What is the Buddha? Five pounds of flax."

R.A. Wilson also introduced me to the phrase "the map is not the territory", a concept I immediately latched onto as a concise description of the kinds of linguistic/semantic problem I often experienced. Of course, in researching Dr. Kodish's books (which will arrive this afternoon and probably be read by Saturday evening), I had to delve into Korzybski, whom Wilson mentions periodically but I'd never researched. It turns out that Korzybski originated the phrase "the map is not the territory" in his works on general semantics, which relates to exactly the kind of discrepancies and problems inherent in langauge and thought that I'd always experienced. Oh well, better I come late to the party than never.

The rabbit hole goes deeper, however. "The map" is also a phrase that, in my lexicon, prominantly relates to a series of talks/essays by a man named Alan Carter and called The Programmer's Stone. One of the main focuses of The Programmer's Stone is the notion of two types of learning referred to as packing and mapping. Packing refers to rote memorization and recitation of facts or data; mapping, in contrast, is forming an understanding of the relationships between facts or data. Carter's contention is that most people simply memorize most of the time and never really understand how what they're memorizing fits in with what they already know; this is why they can quite easily have contradictory ideas and yet never realize the contradiction. Programmers, however, are inherently "mappers", because the key to programming is an very deep understanding of the relationships between data points or processes. In this case, Carter is definitely using the general semantics concept of the map as something more utilitarian than representational: it's a functional abstraction of the "real" concepts or facts that can be used to gain further understanding of those concepts or facts.

Carter observed that the ability of individuals to form maps - deeper levels of understanding - seems to be inversely related to stress. As conjectured, this likely has evolutionary origins: deeper understanding often comes from reflection and daydreaming; stress, on the other hand, is generally a motivator for fast action or response to external stimuli (such as a tiger trying to hunt you down). So, the two would reasonably be exclusive: the same stimuli that would cause stress should also reduce the tendancy for quiet reflection. Biology is notoriously efficient about many things, so it makes sense that both of these factors seem to be controlled by the neurotransmitter dopamine.

I've got my own history with dopamine: it's been hypothesized and seemingly proven that "ADHD" is "caused" by abnormal dopamine levels in the brain - too low of production in some cases, or in others due to the apparent reduction in reaction to it due to a mutation in dopamine receptors. According to a doctor I used to see, I'm likely in the latter half, which means that most of the currrent ADHD drugs would be contraindicated for me. I certainly fit Carter's profile of a "mapper" as well as the novelty-seeking (but not risk-taking, which is different) behavior associated with low-dopamine individuals. I'm also one of the least stressed people most of my friends know, as any of them could tell you.

Which brings us full-circle: stress inducing mental conditions that prevent an individual from being aware of the general semantic differences between "map" and "territory", equating the two and thus preventing "deep understanding" typical of "mapper" behavior. Likewise, "mapping" capability hampered by linguist problems resolved through understanding general semantics.

The synchronistic factor comes in when one friend brings up the topic of stress-addiction on facebook yesterday, another sends me an article on dopamine levels in relation to novelty-seeking (without knowing of my interest in the subject; he just thought it was a "cool study"), my coworker having issues with understanding a concept due to semantic limitations (and who only managed to get it when I helped him see those limitations), and the seemingly random discovery of Korzybski through a follower on this blog that I simply hadn't noticed until yesterday (and who has a recommendation from R.A. Wilson himself).

Which only goes to prove my tendancy towards "mapping", since only someone ADHD could build that kind of crazy framework of semi-associated concepts (no Hermes required)... as well as proving your patience for reading through the whole nonsense.

Perhaps we ought to start a new game: six degrees of Alfred Korzybski.

House calls

So, this is a short one, but I have to mention it.

I have few enough followers here (at least officially) that anyone who does it stands out a bit. That being said, at some point I missed that fact that there's a PhD. actively following this site - I suppose everyone likes to let their hair down once in a while, but whatever the reason Dr. Kodish is more than welcome. Especially as one of the books he's written has a recommendation from Robert Anton Wilson, by far one of my favorite authors (right up there with Terry Pratchett).

I've just purchased two of his books, since the topic seems to be right up my alley anyway. Go check out the good doctor's stuff.

Many paths and errands

So, a little bit more on the results of the "interview" yesterday.

I'm reasonably sure that I did beyond well - not only telling her the sorts of things she wanted to here, but also giving examples or ideas beyond what she was talking about. When an interviewer starts on a topic, sort of loses her way and you reply with something that makes her face light up and say "Exactly!", it's probably a good sign. I'm more that qualified for the position - which may actually be a negative. When an employer is looking for 5-7 years' experience and you throw 12-13 at them, it can be intimidating.

(Random note: I think the heater's not really working in here. It's 55 degrees outside, but it's probably about that inside as well.)

The "bad" news is that it's likely going to be a really extensive formal interview process, which would mean that I'll have to be taking time off from work here to make the drive for multiple interviews. That's more than a little inconvenient depending on how they schedule them, but I'll cross that bridge when we come to it. It also, of course, means that an offer - if I even get that far - wouldn't be made until some time in December at the earliest.

The other "bad" news - which is only potential and not actual until I see the job posting - is that the salary range for the position may be lower that I'm willing to accept. What they're looking for is definitely a senior-level employee, but we'll have to see if they're willing to compensate at that level. I mean, this is a "buyer's market", as it were, so I wouldn't be surprised if they low-ball the salary. Only time will tell.

Even if this position doesn't work out, it's gotten me off my ass to start seriously looking. Plus, you know, the office is really in the wrong direction for where I want to move, physically: it's east L.A., and I'd prefer to be on the west side. As much as I need to get out of Arvato and this job looks interesting, there are a few reasons why I wouldn't be totally upset if I don't get it. It's not like I'm in a major rush; I can afford to take my time and be thorough, even if the company lays me off today.

Regardless, it's time to send out more resumes. I've just sent one to a placement company that specializes in IT services for a lot of places here in L.A. (at least judging by the job boards). We'll see if that makes any difference. Unfortunately, the holiday season is coming up, and things tend to slow down heavily until the new year (especially here in L.A., where most of Hollywood goes out of town). I've already requested the last week of December off here, just in case - one thing I do very well is "play defense". I've also still got this potential contract position in early 2011 which will add in some income no matter where I am.

So, the future of work life isn't absolutely amazing, but it's decent. We'll see where the road goes.

It is pitch black.

* I spent two hours this morning giving a training session on our Time and Attendance system, and then the last few hours carrying on a silly email conversation with a coworker I've never met and never communicated with before. It must be Friday.

* I have an interview on Tuesday - well, a sort-of interview. But at least things are progressing.

* I seem to be a verb.

* Going to see Due Date this weekend. It was either that or the Valorie Plume movie, and frankly I don't feel like doing serious stuff this weekend.

* I'm not mentioning the elections.

* ... damn.

* I'm actually going to be awake at 2 am on Sunday morning so I can set my clock back to 1 am. I think I'm going to try and make multiple bank transfers between 12:45 am and 2:15 am, just to fuck with their system. I may regret this, but hell, it's only money.

* I just realized it's impossible to quickly enunciate "mixed nuts".

* It's supposed to be cool and rainy this weekend. This in itself isn't surprising, as it's November. However, it is currently 84 degrees outside, and was in the mid-90's yesterday. Someone needs to tell Mother Nature to lay off the sauce for a while.

* The Lorentz factor is not a reality TV show. I know that wasn't funny, but I've heard that all humor is relative, so...

* This is the 11th item on the list.

* Apparently, people's taste preference for soda is almost entirely psychological. Oh, and Mexican Coke is chemically identical to American Coke, whether it's made with "real sugar" or not: any difference you think you can taste is just in your head.

* Happy Guy Fawkes Night to all you British-types. Maybe I'll burn something down in your honor.

* You will likely be eaten by a grue.

Sky's the limit

One question that's come up a couple of times while talking to recruiters and such is about relocating. "To where would you be willing to relocate?" the question usually goes.

The answer is both simple and complex. I'm a city boy; I like big towns. And, by "big towns", I should point out that I live in the second highest populated metropolitan area in the nation and have lived here all my life. I mean, Los Angeles metro has more people than most states. I've travelled to smaller towns for business, obviously, and even vacation in such places, but I tend to end up feeling cramped or restricted in places even up to 500k or so. So, I'd prefer a larger city somewhere.

Ironically, I'm probably more willing to move to someplace like New York City than to, say San Francisco - I'd rather make a bigger jump than a smaller one, if we're talking about changing cities. I mean, I'm all for moving actually *into* LA Metro (I'm a half-hour north of the city), but if I'm Leaving Los Angeles (to steal from Sharyl), I'd rather it be a major departure. I'm also open to leaving the country, depending on the circumstances.

(Random note: it's November and over 90 degrees today. We've had some really freaky weather this year.)

A position where I'd be a kind of travelling consultant would work as well. I had such an opportunity in the late 90's that I would have taken had the first position not been to South Africa - one where I would have been restricted to the bank where I'd have worked and the hotel I would have stayed at, with a multi-man armed escort between the two buildings. Not exactly a "safe" environment. In general, though, I love travelling and seeing new locations, so a roving consultant position would be great.

I know a lot of people are terrified of the idea of travelling or moving. This is probably one situation where my peculiar biology comes into play: I honestly think I have some kind of neural discrepancy where I don't feel "at home" anywhere, probably related to always feeling like an outsider. The advantage is that, if nowhere is specifically "home", then you're equally comfortable in any environment. That's pretty much the case: I can check into a hotel and instantly be comfortable. I can also fall asleep anywhere if I want to - planes, trains, cars, any bed, etc. - and don't usually suffer from jet lag. Even airports don't piss me off the way they seem to annoy most folks.

If anyone's still actually reading this blog - how do you guys feel about work travel, either permament or transient?

Making the effort

So, today, for the first time in 7 years, I've taken the initiative and applied for my first position outside of arvato. I don't count the current pending (but likely DOA) potential positions at my best friend's company, because those sought me out, not the other way around. While being asked to apply to something is always an ego boost (almost as much as having your resume submitted without your permission, not merely as an application but to define the position), it's hardly any effort on a personal level.

(Random note: I beat Angry Birds Hallowe'en. I love this game.)

This is, obviously, different. This is a conscious, active effort. This is the difference between not helping the Defias to burn down Westfall and, instead, picking up a sword to go beat some rioting thieves into ploughshares. I've been scanning positions for a few weeks, but I found one today that is almost word-for-word my current position and it pays signicantly more and it's closer to where I actually want to live. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I didn't. We'll see what the result is, but the next few should come faster and faster; it's always the first hit that's the hardest.

There's also an opening at the RAND Corporation; I'll probably apply, but that's off in fantasy land. For those who don't know, getting a job at RAND would, for me, be the mental equivalent of a 13-year-old with NASA posters on the wall and plastic models of lunar landers hanging from the ceiling getting an internship at JPL. Sometimes, ideas are too amazing to be allowed to be thought, and must be relegated to the realm of dreams where they can't interfere with our mundane lives. To put it plainly: these people are paid to think, and little else.

Hallowe'en is done and over with; I think that's the best thing that can be said about it. Soon, the election will be done and over with - and that's certainly the best thing that can be said about it. Regardless of your political affiliation, the stagnation and rampant headbutting that is going to result from a split Congress is definitely a bad thing when the economy hangs by a thread. Whichever motion of direction you support, at least it's movement; even movement backwards at least injects something of principle into the process. What we're about to get is nothing, and while in normal circumstances that's the best outcome, in the current world it may well be the death knell. Only time will tell.

I won't say who or what I'm voting for, though most people can probably predict most of my decisions based on the fact that I tend to be socially liberal and fiscally moderate-to-conservative. I might write something up later in the week with my views on what actually happens, but since there's going to be plenty of pontification on political preferences (sorry, practicing my alliteration), I might just skip it unless something extraordinary happens.

On a separate note, I'm currently arguing with myself about posting a link to my blogs here on my facebook page. For a variety of reasons, this could be a bad idea. For example, I say things here about friends that, while I've said most of it to their faces, they probably don't want to be reminded. In a more practical example, I have coworkers (who are legitimate friends) on my facebook account, and any time you discuss alternate employment with current coworkers in the room it can get sticky: the line of "things that might be suspected generally but shouldn't be discussed in general company" should definitely not be crossed, but it gets blurry very easily. I might just wait until I'm out of here, or simply invite specific people across rather than everyone.

Oh, the joys of managing social intercourse in a digital world.

All work and no play

Sometimes it's hard to remember that reality is thermoplastic, not thermosetic. Not for long, though, as reality will inevitably remind me.

If I say the phrase "Vinny quit", it will mean nothing to 99.9+%of the world. To the few dozen (perhaps more) who understand the implications of those two words, it is heard as if spoken by 3-foot-tall men in odd clothes dancing around an old farmhouse that has inexplicably fallen from the sky (I suppose, to clarify, it is inexplicable how it got into the sky in the first place - one there, the falling was pretty much expected). Without going into too much detail, I will state that this particular individual is personally responsible for a large portion of my workload, not because he actively sought to dump it on me but because he was so incompetent as to drive his management to seek alternates. Quite literally, I have had to take over functions or business for this person 3 times because clients were on the verge of cancelling contracts. Of course, he got promoted to management (the Dilbert principle is alive and well) while I got sacked with more work.

I've got a potential contract position coming up, in which I'll help a company set up their Kronos Time&Attendance system. It's a 3-month project at 10 hours a week; if it works out correctly, that'll be a nice bit of extra money on the side (I suspect somewhere between $50 and $100 an hour, so after taxes I'll be getting $350-700 dollars a week). Nice pocket money, if nothing else.

(Random note: I have two pairs of black jeans, one that fits and one that's too big for me. They're identical other than size. For some reason, I always grab the ones that are too big. I'm walking around to day pulling my pants up because they keep slipping down.)

Still looking for more permanent positions outside the company, though I haven't been digging as much as I should. I'm excused last week, as it was Blizzcon and, frankly, that's just go-out-and-play time.

Speaking of, Blizzcon was fun, though not as exciting as it's been in the past. No real major announcement this year, and many of the panels felt as if the teams more "punted" than anything. Of course, they just released SC2 a few months ago, and Cataclysm is about to come out, so I imagine they're a bit busy. Still, Metzen's always great, and there were some interesting tidbits and such. Plus, you know, geeking out with friends is always good.

I may have to go back to WoW for Cataclysm. I just read through "The Shattering", which is a kind of prequel novel to the expansion pack, and it teased with a few storylines that could be very interesting. I've always been a lore geek - I actually walked around and read the in-game books *before* there was an achievement for it, and I'm always looking up stories outside the game to find out what's going on. This is obviously a major change for the game world, but it's also got a few major storyline changes. It may be with reluctance and while holding my nose, but I'll probably re-subscribe some time next month. I think I'll stick to game cards, though, rather than simply giving them my credit card info. We'll have to see.

Hallowe'en is coming up this weekend (and, yes, I use the contraction since that's the correct form). I've never really been into the holiday - I don't like dressing up in costumes, and I'm not big on candy. My mother will make me carve a pumpkin for her; that's tolerable. She buys these carving kits that have patterns and such you cut out. Some are pretty complex, but they generally end up looking pretty cool. Certainly more interesting than the standard face.

Might be going out tonight - was originally planning on it tomorrow, but tonight might be better. At least I slept well last night, after reading all evening. Just as a bit of trivia, I read about 100 pages an hour for most fiction. So, "The Shattering", which is about 330 pages, got dropped off by UPS at around 6 pm and I had it done before 9:30. It's a handy ability when you have a friend who regularly gives you 500+ page manuscripts to edit.

/rant on

I am so going to strangle someone at work today. It feels like I get "blamed" or have to take responsibility for everything that goes wrong with any system to which I'm even remotely associated. I've spent a good portion of the day telling people that I'm not completely responsible for everything. For example, the public internet is beyond my control. So is, amnazingly enough, the functioning of processes our clients designed and manage. Strange how that works.

I understand that there's history here: I tend to fix - or expedite the fixing of - most issues. So, there's a tendancy to just point at me and say, "Give it to him, he can fix anything." Which is flattering, yes, but it's also totally obnoxious as well as completely unfair when you consider that we've got employees specifically hired to work on these problems, and they're not me.

I also hate managers who try to manage by spreadsheet. If you have to go around asking your employees for a list of projects on which they're working, you have too many employees. I'm sorry, but if you can't interact with them and keep a reasonable idea of what's being done in your head, you shouldn't be managing them. Yes, this means most people shouldn't manage more than 4 or 5 direct reports.

The current director of IT wants a list of all projects by all personnel, and he wants it updated weekly. He admits this is a huge timesink but wants it anyway. To me, this says a something interesting: he doesn't trust any of his subordinate managers to - well, to do a lot of things. Like actually manage. Or to be able to accurately prioritize the tasks about which he needs to be notified. This is the sign of a director who can't do his job, and likely for a bunch of managers who either can't or aren't being allowed to do their jobs. It also means the communication structure is abysmal, which I know from other factors.

There's no reason why anyone in a management position needs to know the minutae of every single thing going on beneath him. Not only is it totally impractical - the whole point of having multiple levels of management is to filter data and manage tasks on a more relevant level - but it also sets an impossible expectation: that one can know everything that is occurring. While I agree that a manager should know, on a general level, everything about every task beneath him or her, I don't think s/he needs to be involved in every day-to-day specific.

... All in all, I need to get the fuck out of this place. My patience is almost gone. We all have bad weeks, I know, but it's hard to chug through under the banner of "it'll be better tomorrow" when you know it won't, when you know that there's a bullet in a gun with your name on it. At this point, it's probably a matter of weeks before they give me my official "xxx will be your last day" speech, and to be honest, part of me is looking forward to it: if they do lay me off, I'm pretty much set for 6-9 months. And at least I won't have to answer my cell phone at 3 o'clock in the morning.

I'm also looking around, trying to find something that'll get me out of here. One iron's in the fire, but who knows if that'll work out. I've been scanning other job openings, but I haven't found many that are in the right combination of location, pay range, and skill set requirements. Being a specialist means one is generally immune from all but the most severe of economic downturns, but it also makes it harder to find positions. My only advantage is that I don't have to be a specialist, but since that's the only way to get the salary I want, I'm still a but pigeon-holed.

(Random note - a friend of a friend did this short. It's cute.)

Maybe it's just that time of year. This is when we typically take more vacations, get more time away from the office, etc. It's also when many of the divisions of the business ramp up to "peak season", so there's a much higher chance of shit going wrong. Combine the two, and it's almost guaranteed I'm going to get harassed by coworkers during "off time" - either on vacations or just after hours. It's also the end of the fiscal year, which means this is when most major decisions about future employment are made: if they get rid of us before the end of January, they don't have to pay us our bonuses.

Not that I have a bonus agreement this year. Hell, I never even had a review or signed anything agreeing to the completion of last year's bonus or my raise (such as it was). They just pushed through paperwork and never even had us look at it, much less agree to it.

... I just put a vacation request on my boss's desk for the week between Christmas and New Years. Hopefully I won't be here by then, but if I am, I'd go over my cap. And if I'm not here, it won't matter, so no harm in doing it.

Anyway, I suppose I should "shut the hell up" and "get back to work". More worlds need saving. People better start being reasonable, though, or this Atlas will do more than shrug.

/rant off

Papers, please

... on a completely separate note...

In case of emergency, don't call anyone

I have to say, when I came to "friend"/"coworker", I was seriously giggling.

I'm glad I never travel anywhere with my parents, because I don't think I know the address for anyone else - even the guy I pick up every Saturday. It isn't that I can't remember things - hell, I can still remember the license plate number of every car my parents ever drove (long story, when we'd do car trips I kept getting asked "go read our plate and tell me" at every single hotel). It's just that, with cell phones and such, I don't think I ever actually had their addresses. I can drive you there, drop you off on the spot, but I can't tell you the street number.

I'm sure that's a sad indication of something, but I haven't the foggiest what.

Laundry Day

I have about 50 pairs of white socks in 6 different styles; about 15 of them are crew socks, the rest are ankle or "booty" style. I didn't bother counting the non-white ones.

I have an entire drawer full of undershirts; they are mostly not-white. Generally black or grey. Ironically, I rarely wear them as undershirts; usually, I'll wear a regular shirt as a kind of jacket, but the undershirt is really just the shirt.

I have a drawer of underwear that I don't wear, and when I do wear them, they're not under anything. I used to be an underwear fiend; I've got silk, satin, flannel - boxers, briefs, boxerbriefs, thongs, one-piece - black, white, grey, red, blue, pattered... I stopped about two years ago wearing underwear for almost all occasions (I do with a couple pairs of pants, simply because they're almost transparent; while that doesn't bother me, it tends to make religious folks titter). Between my socks, underwear, and undershirts, I could probably clothe a small tribe in Africa. Well, a skinny tribe, anyway.

The main reason I have so much in the way of socks, underwear, and undershirts is to facilitate laundry. See, most of the "outer" clothes I wear are dark-colored: blues, blacks, browns, dark grey. So, if I did laundry every other week (like most people I know), I'd have a large pile of darks and about a quarter of a load of whites since socks, underwear, and undershirts don't take up much bulk. This way, I can wait to do my whites for 4 or 5 weeks and still have clean stuff, so that by the time I do a load it's actually a load.

I have no logical reason for why I have 47 ties. I hate ties, and generally will not wear them even on formal occasions. I usually manage to get away with vests and mandarin collars in formal wear, though once in a while I have to resort to strangulation. I think I've been given most of them.

I have a black silk robe. If you ever come across a situation where a black silk robe is appropriate wear (that doesn't involve the Playboy Mansion), let me know.

I only own three pairs of jeans: two black, one blue. I own a pair of white pants that are jean-ish, but they're not really jeans.

I own four suits, though - three black, one grey. Only the grey one would be considered a "buisness suit"; the others are, technically, tuxedoes.

(It probably says a lot about me that I own as many tuxedoes as jeans.)

I've got about 15 sweaters or sweatshirts of various types. Most of them my mother bought for me as Christmas presents. She's got pretty good taste, and never knows what else to get me.

Of course, there's also a slew of long sleeve shirts, short sleeve shirts, and non-jean pants. They take up two drawers and about 4/5ths of my closet, and are far too varied to count in any reasonable way. They range from a hocket shirt and a rugby shirt (blue/white and purple/black, respectively) to dress slacks and old pirate-style lace-up shirts.

As far as shoes go: one pair of running shoes, one pair of slip-on vans (my day-to-day shoes), two pairs of dress boots, one pair of dress shoes, my flipflops (Armani Exchange, for a laugh) and a pair of water shoes (a kind of rubber-soled cloth sandal designed for walking in streams or in tide pools).

So, all in all, I have about 85 cubic feet of clothing. That's 4/5ths the cubic feet of books that I have just in my room.

At least the books don't need to be set for knits-gentle-low.

(I skipped the "random fact", since this entire post pretty much qualifies. But, Don Henley rocks.)


(I wrote this years ago for a friend. It's one of the works that seems to strike certain people in a certain way. Enjoy, or not, as you see fit.)

For all the words I've left unspoken,
For all the hours spent by phone,
For all the times I've left heartbroken,
For all the tears I've cried alone,
For all the meals I've cooked for one,
For all the nights I've wished you'd stayed,
For all the poems I've written to none,
For all the moves I've never made,
For all the stars I've wished upon,
For all the dreams that won't come true,
For all the chances I've pass on,
For all the love I've felt for you...
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned:
I've passed up all that could have been.


It's been a slow week, but at least it's Friday.

For some reason, Fridays tend to end up being "exciting" days at the office. We're not talking good exciting here. For example, this morning for about 30 minutes the entire network went down. I hate to see what the rest of the day will bring. I've had Fridays where, minutes before walking out the door, major production systems crash. I was once driving to San Francisco on a Friday; I left the office at 12 sharp, and by 12:05 someone had managed to crash the main production DB for the company.

Yes, my coworkers are special.

Today at least has the advantage of being cooler; it was actually drizzling a little this morning, and I woke up to that fresh rain smell again. Our weather this fall's been very chaotic, but the hot-to-cool-to-hot at least beats the normal hot-hot-hot we have until the end of October. Sun's out at the moment, but the temp still reads as 66.

(Random note: I emptied my change holder yesterday and took it to the store. $38. That isn't the highest I've ever had: I once had one of those coin machine receipts for over $100. The clerk thought I was insane. Little did he know...)

If it keeps like this over the weekend, I might try and go hiking on Sunday - L.A. is normally too hot in the summer for real hiking, so it's been a while. One firend wants to go on a "photo safari", which means I at least need to find some place interesting to look at. Maybe a trip to Catalina if it's warmer.

Another friend keeps talking about starting a political blog. He's a writer, and he automatically assumes that, because he can write novels or essays, he can successfully write a blog. I've been trying to get the idea across to him that successful blogs are a lot different and that I don't think he's got the right personality to be that kind of public figure, but he doesn't want to hear it. Of course, he'll make me do the "hard part" in getting everything set up, advertised, etc.

Sometimes, there are disadvantages to being known as "good at what you do".

One week 'til Blizzcon, and then there's no planned vacations through the end of the year.


So, saw The Social Network over the weekend. It was alright. There's nothing actually wrong with the movie; I just didn't find it all that exciting. Parts are cool, parts are dull, and overall it's a decent movie. Timberlake as Shawn Parker is awesome, though.

The problem with something like Facebook is: how do you make money? The only asset the company really has is the personal information of everyone that has signed up for it. Right now they get by on ads, but as I said before I think that's ultimately a losing deal. How, then, can the company make money?

They can't sell the data - that kind of breach of trust would instantly kill them; just as Blizzard, who tried to roll out a "real id" system earlier this year to their World of Warcraft subscribers and ended up facing what can only be described as an insurrection: a single thread on the subject reached quite literally hundreds of thousands of posts in a matter of hours, and Blizzard was forced to severely curtail their plans. So, sale of info is out.

Likewise, you can't just charge for the service. Something most old-model business folk don't understand is that "free" is a big part of why Facebook has so many people. Students - even college students - likely wouldn't pay for such a service at this point. Putting the content behind a paywall would be more disasterous than selling data: they'd likely lose 99+% of their client base overnight.

Could they offer some services for pay while leaving others free? Maybe; it's still a fine line to walk, and most of the services people would be willing to pay for as "defaults" are already there (and thus can't really get stuck behind the paywall): email, chat, searches, etc. And what would you charge for? Custom shopping? That's basically advertising. Microtransactions for games and such? That could generate some revenue, but it'd be mostly for the gaming companies. Maybe Facebook could become a content delivery system and charge developers instead of users - for example, charge Farmville a fee for every person who plays it or some such. That's really just a modification of the ad business, but there are lot of people trying to get into content delivery.

The point is, having 500 million subscribers doesn't mean much when the whole model is based on free services and privacy. Generating income in spite of those limits is tricky.

(Random note: the new Terry Pratchett book "I Shall Wear Midnight" isn't one of his funniest ones, but it's still pretty good. I read it in about 4 hours, which means it's probably 300-400 pages.)

(... and yes, that means I read about 100 pages an hour, usually with 80-85% retention. I'm also dyslexic. No, none of it makes sense; you should be used to that by now.)

In other news, I officially start looking for a job today. No, I'm not laid off or anything, but I know it's coming down the line: upper management is doing everything they can to minimize the location where I work. They've already transferred most of the central services out of the building, so it's just a matter of time. I've already given an informal application at one place where a friend works, but I haven't hear anything from them so I have to assume either it's been indefinitely delayed or that I'm not suitable. So, on to other options.

I *hate* looking for jobs. Interviews are mostly about sales, and I hate sales. I just want to be able to walk into an interview and say, "I know this, this, and this, I learn pretty quickly, and I'm loyal enough to have been working at the same place for over 12 years." That's not how the world works, unfortunately.

Three weeks until Blizzcon. For those of you who don't drink the kool-aid, Blizzcon is a convention held in Anaheim by Blizzard to talk about their games: Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo, and now apparently some new title coming out. It's actually pretty fun. I know most people think MMO and RPG gamers are weird introverted socially-inept freaks, but - wait, actually, most of that is true. Except - and here's the interesting part - gamers aren't socially inept around other gamers, just around people who don't get it. Regardless, Blizzcon ends up being fun, and even if I'm not playing WoW anymore, I play StarCraft 2 most nights and will probably try Diablo 3 when it comes out.

Besides which, I get to spend a weekend hanging out with my best friend who I don't get to see very often even if he only lives a mile away. Can't beat that. Speaking of, go check out www.housepandas.com and marvel at his pandaness. Er, pandidity. Panditude? Something like that.

Anyway, enough for now.

Pop go the weasels

So, I was thinking about posting this on OnU, but I decided it doesn't go there since it's mostly speculation.

Ever since Blizzard announced their (now limited) deal with Facebook, I've been thinking about the whole revenue-through-advertising model that is the latest craze on the web. Now, I know a lot of people make a lot of money on this, and that it's helped a lot of groups - especially the early progressive bloggers - stay viable and do a great public service without having to charge their users.

But there's always been this underlying sense of warning. As I've said before, I approach my intuitive/creative side in a way that I can best describe as the sensation you have when you're in a pitch-black room next to a large object: you can "feel" it there, not really physically but in an almost ESP way. Really, what you're "feeling" is awareness of normal sensory perception you don't normally "hear", but in the absense of other stimuli, your brain listens and you notice it.

That's basically how I approach ideas or relationships (conceptual, not romantic): I get this sense that there's something there that I can't quite make out, and then spend a lot of time mentally poking, prodding, and walking around it in my head to get the notion of its true shape. I've had one of the amorphous lumps in my mind about the Google Ads model (to give it flavor), but it hasn't taken full shape yet.

This weekend, something helped to nudge the outline into focus: I went and saw "Wall Stree: Money Never Sleeps". I won't go into the details (it's a pretty good movie; I never saw the first), but many of the financial conversations in it focus on the concept of bubbles - mainly the real estate bubble of 2008, but also past and future bubbles. That was the key concept.

Almost everything has value because of scarcity. Without scarcity, diamonds are just a pretty form of carbon and gold is a mostly-useless metal (outside of electronics). Food and fresh water are about the only things that have native worth, since they're the only things that the body can actually use in any situation. Even without those two, however, the rarity of the item - Maine lobster, Kobe beef, San Pellegrino - affects the pricing far more than the actual usability.

So what does this have to do with advertising?

Advertising is about exposing a message to an audience. A man can stand on a street corner and hawk wares - and generally did for centuries. However, this reaches a very small audience. He could then hire a bunch of other people to stand on other corners, but this has high costs associated. The billboard really started as a stand-in for the guy on the corner - someone shouting, but without the someone. When someone realized that some corners are more trafficked than others, or that some corners are more trafficked by the kinds of people you want to reach than others, the whole business of paid advertising was born.

Historically, paid advertising has been the darling of media outlets: theatres, newspapers, magazines, radio, television. All of these outlets could charge decent rates because of scarcity: there's only so much air time, so many commercial slots, xxx number of full-page ads, etc., and (in general) a large number of people trying to occupy them. Along comes the internet, the new media, and for the most part it's treated the same: there are a limited number of web sites and a larger pool of advertisers seeking placement on them. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Except it's not.

Publishing is obviously limited by physicalitieS: paper requirements, distribution, etc. Radio, there are only certain frequencies. Same with broadcast television. A slightly less limited model is cable since there's theoretically a much larger number of channels, but as anyone who has ever channel-surfed knows, finding anything on cable is pretty difficult.

The internet is not limited, not in any practical sense. Any limitation placed on it can be (and naturally will be, just through demand) overcome by pretty simple technology. What started out as a dozen websites changed to a few hundred, a few thousand, a few million - and if you count all the channels, forums, personal blogs, etc., is probably in the billions by now and still growing.

So what's the relevance? In the beginning, advertisers still had limits in the web, since most of the viable "channels" - forums, blogs, etc. - had no mechanism for contacting the majority of advertisers and there was no real pricing model for such small-time ads. But along comes Google Ads (and various other forms), where almost anyone can start generating revenue based on their volume. Now, almost literally, every page of the web can become an advertising channel.

Obviously, some channels are still preferred because they have more volume or are better "targetted". But, if we have a million pages with ten hits each or one page with ten million hits, we don't care so long as we're just paying by hits. Google's marketting strategy has, in a sense, commoditized advertising, and in doing so spells the doom for their own market.

Because it's all based on scarcity. Today, there may be 1 billion channels. Soon, there's likely to be double that. The more channels that are available, and the more web sites Google Ads signs up, the less valuable each individual click becomes to the advertiser because there are simply so many more potential clicks available. As a channel owner, your survival depends less on your number of clicks (or impressions, or whatever) than on the ratio of your traffic to the total aggregate traffic across all channels. This is why ratings on TV and box office results are important: they define those ratios.

Granted, there's still likely a pool of potential advertisers to sign up, but there is a wall sommewhere out there beyond which the increase in clients cannot compete with the increase in distribution channels. At that point, the model of support-through-advertising on the web disintegrates, because the value-per-click starts dropping. There may be a bottom, but once the wall's hit, it'll be a long drop.

I don't know when it'll come, but there is, from a rational perspective - a bubble in the web-based advertising market that *has* to pop at some point. Either Google needs to proactively limit the number of channels (web sites) they're willing to work with (and pray every other web-based advertisement system does as well) or they're going to simply put themselves out of business (or at least that business) by oversaturation. I'm no advertisement exec; as I said at the beginning, this is speculation on my part. But it seems, to me anyway, to be a logical conclusion.

(And just to lighten the mood a bit: I absolutely love sugar-free Popcicles.)

Weekend highlights

No woman who expects a man to open a door for her is a feminist.

Straight boys are cute when they start flirting with gay guys - especially when they (the straight boys) don't realize they're doing it.

Temperature ranges should not shift 50 degrees in a matter of hours.

Dead bunnies are sad. :( (see prior line)

Explaining the general physics behind photography is very useful to laymen; jotting down equations for determining the amount of light hitting the sensor is probably pushing it.

Getting carded at the age of 33 is far less annoying but much sillier than getting carded at 23.

Fish tacos rock.

It's impossible to promote diversity without also potentiating stereotypes; the essential factor in both is recognizing differences in populations.

Getting cruised by a cute guy is a nice ego boost.

I seriously need to get a new job.