chipotle: (Default)

After eight and a half years and 192,000 miles—yes, that’s over 20K miles a year—I’d started looking about for a new car to replace my Acura RSX. As much as I liked it (and the engine still seemed to be in pretty good shape), it needed work: squeaky brakes were a must-fix and tires were due to be replaced within the year, and it had annoying and expensive non-critical problems: a blown air conditioner compressor and an ugly dent in the passenger side door. A median estimate for all that would be around $2500, notably more than the car’s actual value at this point.

I’d made a short list of cars to look at—the Ford Focus or Fusion, the Mazda 3, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Nothing by Honda, Toyota or Nissan particularly grabbed me this time, which surprised me. (Which isn’t to say that I’d turn down a 370Z, but it’s out of my price range.) The Hyundai appealed to me as something similar to the RSX but more powerful, with rear-wheel drive, and just an all-around great driving machine. And even less practical than the RSX. The Mazda 3 surprised me by being as interesting as it was—for what’s basically Mazda’s answer to the Accord, it’s aggressively styled, has some interesting standard electronics and even with an automatic transmission is as responsive as the stick-shift RSX. (And it’s a five-speed auto with a “manual shift” mode, to boot.)

The Ford salesman was pretty cool, managing the neat trick of seeming laid back and attentive simultaneously. He didn’t fail to close the sale—the car did. It may be that nearly nine years with a quasi-sports coupe has changed my perceptions, but the Fusion seemed to take the steering wheel and accelerator as suggestions rather than commands. It’s a distinctive ride style I imagine some people would like, to be sure, but those people are not me.

I hadn’t actually expected to buy a new car now, either way, but Mazda was offering a 0% APR deal expiring on Monday. Gnaw gnaw gnaw. So I took a deep breath, went back, signed all the papers, drove away from the dealer five minutes before they closed, and the car immediately died.

No, seriously. A mile away from the dealer the “check engine” light came on, which isn’t necessarily serious, but so did the “automatic transmission malfunction” light, which is drive to the shop now do not pass go do not collect $200 serious.

As you may guess, this caused a great deal of stress for me, and more than a little consternation at the dealership. Their service department wouldn’t re-open until Monday (yesterday). I got a loaner then—apparently a very ad hoc “don’t strand the customer” choice of cars, as they’d actually just closed when I rolled the ailing car back up—and then swapped it for a somewhat more official “drive this while we figure out what’s going on, please” loaner on Sunday.

To wrap the story up somewhat more quickly, yesterday I checked in with the service manager in the morning, who optimistically said, “It’s probably just a loose connector.” I wasn’t so sanguine, and had been preparing myself to politely but firmly suggest that perhaps they should look into getting me a different car. As it turned out, the return visit in late afternoon made that unnecessary. When I walked in, they greeted me with, “We’re getting you another car and it should be here in a couple hours.” They couldn’t determine what was wrong with the original car (“something’s wrong with the transmission”) and didn’t want the deal to be permeated with lemon scent. I’ll give them points for handling it proactively.

So, bottom line: new car. Payments for five years, but slightly less than the payments on the RSX were, and with no interest. A lot of the gadgetry that’s become standard in the last decade, too—the advancements are remarkable. I may be a nerd and post pictures later.

I’ll take it out for a long drive—well, maybe not for three weeks: this upcoming weekend is booked for Mother’s Day stuff, and the weekend after that I’m keeping open for potential visitors.

After that, though, I drive somewhere stupidly far away.

(Also: props to Menlo Mazda and Jessica, the saleswoman there who helped me out and handled what’s surely on the list of Things You Do Not Want To Go Wrong With Your Sale with grace. And, if you’re in the market for a Ford, Zach at Sunnyvale Ford gets cool points. Hopefully he won’t lose them when I say I’ve bought a Mazda elsewhere.)

chipotle: (Default)

…but not as brief as a tweet.

Work has been busy the last few weeks, culminating in really busy this last week. Today was a coworker’s last day and he was trying to do a knowledge dump while we’re trying to roll out the code that he’d been working on and merge in various fixes that were being stashed away rather than checked into the source code trunk line, because the now ex-coworker was maintaining his Huge Project in trunk. (Why was he not maintaining it in his own branch? I don’t know.)

To add spice to it all, my “other job,” the contract that I started last March or so, is finally wrapping up. Sort of. This means a big push to get it running in production mode rather than development mode. So this has been eating up most of my spare cycles this week. Truthfully there are other projects I’d rather be devoting spare cycles to, but a contract is a contract and all that.

Speaking of C&Q, there will be more to report on that soon. While I can’t say that interest in it has spiked—we’re still flying very much under the radar in most places, I think—I’m getting asked about it more frequently. And there’s work, er, being worked on. (In part that’s why having the other contract pop its up head and demand work on me now now NOW! is so frustrating; there’s only a couple more hills to climb before I can start getting things into a private alpha stage.)

Anyway, on the train now heading home to do Jäger shots and collapse.

I’m kidding about the Jäger.

Probably.

chipotle: (Default)

Time for another update, and also time for my quasi-regular reminder that if you’re interested in more minutae from me, follow my Twitter feed; my journaling is as light as it is in part because I just throw the little things I’m doing up on Twitter rather than collect them and write about them here. One may argue that Twitter can’t adequately replace a journal, and of course that’s true; I may try to get back to more “long form” journaling, if for no other reason than to keep in practice.

However, the big news for me is as follows:

  1. The contract that I am on is still not concluded. While I give some knocks to myself for not having done a good job of measuring the scope of this project initially, the truth is that the scope simply wasn’t understood by the client at the start, either. And it… kind of still isn’t. “I think we’re close, just a couple more little things” has been the watch phrase for the past three months at this point. The little things in question sometimes involve database changes and adding new functionality. I have a much deeper understanding now, at least, of the importance of not just sitting down with a client and having them describe the functionality they want, but stopping at every bit of customer input and exchanged data and saying Is this capturing everything that we need? and Is this sending everything to the other system that it needs? and Is this screen displaying all the data you need here and in the right fashion?

  2. I am starting a new contract position sometime this month. This will be full time, on site in San Francisco.

This new position doesn’t replace the old one directly. For a time I will be working on both of them at once, and I’ll continue as the current contractor’s “web maintenance guy” indefinitely. I hope this will not drive me nuts. We shall see.

I’m excited about the new job. The intent is that if it works out, it will transition into a full-time job with the employer. It is through a recruiting company, so I am technically working for the recruiting agency, and they will be handling taxes and potentially providing health insurance. (I’ve just switched my personal health insurance over to Kaiser Permanente from Anthem Blue Cross, and I have to decide whether it’s worth it to immediately switch over to the recruiting company’s insurer.)

I’m also frankly kind of intimidated by the new job. It’s paying a lot of money, and that’s good. But, you know, it’s paying a lot of money. More than I’ve ever been paid. By a significant amount. I think I’m a pretty good programmer, but there is part of me going Holy hand grenades, I don’t know if I’m that good a programmer.

Even so—well, getting a lot of money quickly would be good. I have debts from the last year of underemployment to pay down and a savings account to build back up. And the job’s location in San Francisco—in the Embarcadero area, for those of you who know the area—guarantees I’m going to see a lot more of the city than I’ve been seeing since I’ve been living out here.

The two concurrent contracts are probably going to put a dent in Claw & Quill, I know, but hopefully not too much of one. I’m looking at it as yet another opportunity to get better at personal time management—other people seem to be able to manage not only a full-time job and a couple hobby projects, but frequently a family as well, whereas I’m still inexplicably living like a college student in middle age. So I have no excuse, really, do I? Perhaps I’ll figure it out before I retire.

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I opened my last entry, back on June 17, with “it’s been almost a month since I’ve updated my LiveJournal.” Well, now it’s been, uh, more than a month.

I went to [livejournal.com profile] tugrik’s big shop shindig (to borrow [livejournal.com profile] jakebe’s word) on Saturday and had a great time. I’ve driven all over hell the last couple of days, so it seems, between here in Foster City, [livejournal.com profile] jadedfox’s place in Alameda and Tugrik’s shop down in San Jose; while I was tempted to drive somewhere yesterday (when I wrote this) just to find a quiet place to hang out, I was also tempted to, well, just stay in one place. The sedentary impulse won out.

Beyond that... )

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Specifically, to steal from Seth Godin, in an entry he titled “Who you are and what you do”:

The neat thing about the online world is that you are judged almost entirely by your actions.

If you do generous things, people think you are a generous person. If you bully people, people assume you are a bully. If you ask dumb questions, people figure you’re dumb. Answer questions well and people assume you’re smart and generous. You get the idea.

This leads to a few interesting insights.

  1. If people criticize you, they are actually criticizing your behavior, not you.
  2. If you’re not happy with the perception you generate, change the words you type and the messages you send.
  3. When you hear from someone, consider the source. Trolls are almost trolls through and through, which means you have no obligation to listen, to respond or to placate. On the other hand, if you can find a germ of truth, it can’t hurt to consider it.

The biggest takeaway for me is this: online interactions are largely expected to be intentional. On purpose. Planned. People assume you did stuff for a reason.

Be clear, be generous, be kind. Can’t hurt.

I think Godin’s pinging off the same thing I was thinking of on January 1st when I spent a paragraph describing why I wanted to “disconnect” from some people who were being bitter or easily offended or took pleasure in kicking over other people’s sandcastles. It’s just that Godin captured it in one six-word sentence. A positive, not a negative; not what you want less of, but what you want more of. Be clear, be generous, be kind.

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I’ve never been inclined to greet the new year with resolutions. I often greet it with reflections, but I reflect constantly—likely too much.

I realized that in my too-constant reflection, I can’t recall anyone ever saying they hope the next year will be even better than the great one they just had. Everyone hopes the next year will be better, but the sentiment that one couldn’t wait for the last year to be over with is awfully common.

It could be that I just know a lot of mopey people. But we all wonder how our lives would be if we’d made different choices. We may be buffeted around by circumstances beyond our control, but it’s the stuff that is in our control that haunts us. I didn’t have to take that job I hate. I didn’t have to invest in that stock that tanked. I didn’t have to move to that city. And sometimes we just have a lingering notion we’d be happier if we’d done something differently. We’d have more money. We’d have a significant other. We’d be living where we want, doing what we want.

I’m starting 2009 with no job in an economy that’s short on work for the time being, and—because I’ve worked nearly exclusively on internal company projects for years—no portfolio in a field whose prospective employers like to see them. Even with unemployment insurance, I don’t have the savings to last out a year of no income.

But 2008 was a pretty good year for me. It was my first full year up here in Foster City, and being in the middle of the Peninsula is pretty cool. I enjoyed my job and it paid well enough that I have the savings to ride out some unemployment without incurring much new debt. I’ve learned new technologies. I’ve started writing again. I’ve made headway—not a lot, but more than zero—in finally restarting Claw & Quill.

I don’t know what job I’ll get next. I don’t even know where; a year from now I may be still living here, or have moved back to Florida, or be somewhere entirely new. All I can do is be open to possibilities, and hope I make good choices.

I’m going to try to do a few simple things for myself, the kind on every New Year’s list. Get up earlier. Do exercise—just five minutes of aerobics in the morning when I get up noticeably helps my energy. Cut simple carbs out of my diet as much as possible. Eat more vegetables and less meat.

I’m going to set writing goals. In 2009, I want to finish the Gift of Fire rewrite. I want to write a new “Narrow Road” story (the first appeared in New Fables #2). I want to write a sequel to “Going Concerns,” a Ranea story that hasn’t appeared anywhere yet. (I want to publish “Concerns,” too.) I want to write at least two other short stories in addition to those. I’d like to update this journal at least weekly this year again. And while this is a different kind of writing, I want to have a version of Claw & Quill up and running sooner rather than later—the second quarter of 2009.

I want to cook more. My goal is to eat in five nights a week most weeks, and eat lunch in most days when I’m working at home (particularly while I remain unemployed). To some of you it’ll sound incredible I don’t do that already. To those of you also in the “eating out is easier than eating in” culture of urban areas, though, it’ll sound unduly ambitious.

I’m going to try to manage my “connected time” better—to break my cycle of overloading, hiding, returning, and overloading again. Ninety percent of this might just be setting the instant messenger to “away”—or “offline”—when I’m busy. I need to trust friends I talk to on IM to understand.

And I need to quietly disconnect from some people. People who seemingly spend all their time looking for things to be bitter and righteously angry about. People who are constantly offended by my (admittedly too dry) sense of humor. People who repeatedly piss over things they know I like because, apparently, that’s their sense of humor. The qualities that attracted me to these friends are still there, but they either wind me up tightly or sap me of energy far too often.

While I use symbolism in my stories sometimes, I don’t subscribe to them in real life often. But for some reason this morning I thought about what coffee mug to use: the whimsical “Pessimist’s Mug” (with a line that reads “this glass is now half-empty”) [livejournal.com profile] dracosphynx gave me, or the mug from “Xero,” [livejournal.com profile] tacit’s long-gone eclectic magazine, or one from a bed and breakfast my mother and I went to in New Mexico years ago. Instead, I chose a smaller, simple coffee cup, part of the dish set that I got when I first moved into my own apartment, when everything was about looking forward.

Have a good year.

chipotle: (drinks)

I’ve applied at a few positions so far, haven’t heard back from any of them. For now, I’m trying to be selective in where I shove the ol’ résumé out to again, like I was during my layoff period in 2006. I am of course mindful that the job I ended up with for two years was one that contacted me, not the reverse; that’s often been the case in jobs I’ve gotten. I’m not sure I’ve ever picked a company, said, “I want to work there,” and worked there. But I’m going to at least spend another few weeks trying to be selective; I suspect the current economic climate works against me in this approach, but we’ll see.

I’ve been going back and reading some of my entries from that 2006 time—it’s fascinating (sometimes morbidly so) to have a journal to go back and read this way, I admit—and paused on an entry about driving down the PCH and ending up in Morro Bay. I’d mused then on whether I might want to aim for contract work rather than permanent work, and on the answer to the interviewer’s chestnut, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

As standard as the question may be, in the 21st century tech market, a three-year anniversary is relatively rare. What I’m expected to say—what I usually do say—is that I expect to be with that company, on a career track. But right now I don't feel like there's a company out there I could honestly say that to.

And indeed, I didn’t hit the three-year anniversary with the last company. If you count from the start of the contract I passed the second anniversary, which I think makes that my second-longest stint at any job. (Yoinks.) My proposed answer was “Working for myself, in a cabin not too far from the Pacific Coast.” It’s still a pretty good answer, but it still feels like it’s at least five years out. I don’t have any idea what the near-term future will bring, or even medium-term. I had a dream last night of driving around somewhere and thinking I needed to explore that area more—but I don’t know where that area was. When I woke up, I thought it was in Florida, but it could just as easily have been somewhere in California. (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest, which I also want to explore more.)

So here I am, cup of coffee in hand, “working” on a journal entry. For the past three weeks I’ve mostly been sleeping eight hours every night. I’ve gotten a little work (although less than I want) done on C&Q. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo but I have some story notes. I’ve gotten back into cooking at least a little more than I have in some time. (Working with more than one pan at a time has become unusual for me, I’m chagrined to say.) On Tuesday evening, I went up to Corte Madera—something I’d have had to leave early from work for, had I a job—to wander around and then see John Hodgman, with musical guest Jonathan Coulton, give a reading from Hodgman’s new book More Information Than You Require.

I am, for the moment, having what could be described fairly as… a nice time. Somehow, I always guilty about enjoying being underemployed.

But not, you know, really guilty.

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As I’ve written before, it’s a busy time at work. I feel sheepish complaining, given how many friends I have who’ve had much tougher periods at their tech jobs. But my crunch time has been just enough to keep me off-balance. As inadvertent demonstration, I started writing this on Thursday at lunch and didn’t get back to it until Sunday afternoon. The product I’m working on had its internal demo on Friday, which was an important milestone, but there’s still a small flotilla of bugs and feature requests, and at the moment my best bug tracker is my personal copy of OmniOutliner.

On Thursday I wrote that I think I’m missing “chill time,” time to just sit around without any expectations. When I used to go out driving long distances for trivial reasons, engage in what I called (without as much facetiousness as you might think) driving Zen, that was a way to get chill time; I didn’t see any reason why I’d give that up, but I didn’t see $4.50/gallon gas getting here quite as soon as it did, either. Yesterday I set out on BART to Richmond, with the expectation of catching the Capitol Corridor train to Sacramento, but that didn’t happen; instead I ended up in Berkeley, meeting a friend who lives and works in the East Bay who I should probably see at least marginally more often.

I’ve written recently that I need to see friends more often in general; in a way this is unusual for me. I’ve never considered myself antisocial but I’ve never had a real desire to go out and connect. But over the last couple of months, that desire’s been strong. One might even say desperate. I hate the thought that I’m having a weirdly inverted midlife crisis, but it’s hard to escape: if my path had gone more conventionally, then about now—give or take a year—my child would be preparing to go off to college. Instead of getting a divorce and a red BMW, I’m suddenly pining for a marriage and a minivan.

Of course, as I’m writing this, I’m acutely aware that I’m also behind on personal projects, and that calls for staying at home and, well, being antisocial. That’s an interesting Catch-22, isn’t it? Recently I learned of another Quasi-Secret Project™ to make a writing archive site that sounds… well, not too far off from what I was thinking of with Claw & Quill. While part of me has a predictable competition! I must drop everything and get going on mine! reaction, the truth is that I want to do C&Q because I want a site like it myself and I just don’t think anyone else has done it right. I know other work these folks have done, though, and give them a very high Getting It Right chance. Does it make more sense for me to give them a list of demands see if I can work with them in some fashion, even if only to say, “Well, here’s what I was thinking, see if you think it makes any sense?” My gut feeling is yes; I’ll see if anything develops.

This doesn’t mean I’m out of personal projects to work on, of course, not by any stretch. I have reading to do for my writing group, writing to do for my writing group, and a couple other ideas I’m kicking around which I could actually bump up in the stack if I’m able to push C&Q off.

One minor downside if I start resuming personal projects: I’m realizing that the chair that I’m sitting in now sort of hurts. I’m going to fiddle around with the adjustments yet again, but I may end up breaking down and finally getting a Herman Miller chair. For now, though, I think my ambition’s a little more modest: an afternoon drink and a push to actually move forward on some stories again, or plot out a little more of one of those programming projects, or… something.

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I spent a chunk of the day over at [livejournal.com profile] tugrik’s, doing 4th of July BBQ things and re-meeting a bunch of folks I see too sporadically—Frang, [livejournal.com profile] smackjackal, [livejournal.com profile] tilton, [livejournal.com profile] higginsdragon, Baron, [livejournal.com profile] smudge_dragon and more. A good thing, overall. I may have a few conversations to follow up on specifically, even—but what I’d mostly like to do is just keep in actual (gasp) face-to-face contact more than I have been in general. I’ll see how that goes. (If I sound skeptical, it’s of me holding up my end of that, to be clear!)

I got back to Foster City in time to run down to the park where the fireworks were at and attempt to take photos. No idea how they turned out—I have no real clue how to take shots of fireworks, so if they’re not just all blurs and/or complete blackness, I’ll be happy.

And I am now celebrating with what I’m arbitrarily dubbing the Coyote Cadillac Margarita, inaugurating a new bottle of tequila along the way. The recipe:

  • ¼ oz. simple syrup
  • ¾ oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz. Gran Gala orange liqueur
  • ¼ oz. curacao
  • 1¾ oz. Partida Blanco tequila

Yes, it looks kinda complicated, but I have a 2 oz. measuring cup in ¼-oz. gradiations—add the simple syrup and fill it up to the 1 oz. line with the lime juice, and do the curacao and tequila the same way. (My normal version leaves out the curacao and just has 1½ ounces of tequila. You can of course change the alcohol types, but don’t use cheap-ass triple sec, do use fresh-squeezed lime juice, and remember that any tequila with the word “gold” in its name sucks. You don’t have to get an ultra-premium one, but you want one that says it’s 100% agave, either “blanco” or “reposado.”)

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The last few weeks I’ve been reminded that yes, I am working for a Silicon Valley startup. We’ll just say things have been busy, and on weekends I’m usually inclined to be doing something that either doesn’t involve being in front of the computer or at least requires no thought. (Standard plug: one can follow me on Twitter or FriendFeed as “chipotlecoyote.” I’ve seen utilities that let you echo Twitter messages to your LiveJournal, which I hereby solemnly swear to never use.)

There’s many things I like about living in the San Mateo area. I like San Jose, but in terms of “urban cool,” the Peninsula wins. Mountain View, Palo Alto, Burlingame, San Mateo itself—and of course now BART is just about 10 minutes away, which opens up a huge chunk of the rest of the Bay Area. I’ve regularly gone not only into San Francisco but to Berkeley and Walnut Creek via rail.

What’s not so cool, though, is that it’s been somewhat isolating. Most of the people I know are in the South Bay. While 25 miles isn’t that far to travel, I’m no longer quite a “local.” I don’t get together with folks very often. I don’t think to call people (or IM or SMS or whatever) to ask what’s up when movies open or guests are in town, which means I’m often reading about get-togethers after they happen. While this can lead to a certain sense of paranoia, I’m pretty lousy at initiating contact myself. Some of that’s longstanding social paralysis; most of it is, I fear, that out of sight, out of mind works both ways. “Oh yeah, I should get together with $X” flits through my mind occasionally, but all too often keeps right on flitting.

So as a general thought: hey, if you’re a friend in the local area, I should get together with you more often. (If you’re a friend in a long-distance area, I should probably get together with you more often, too, but that’s trickier.)

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I realize it’s become something of a cycle for me to go several weeks without posting here and then make a post which mostly consists of an apology about how little I’m posting. I’m going to try to stop doing that. Which is not to say I’m going to make an immediately-to-be-broken vow to post more; I’m just going to try to stop apologizing for it.

It feels to me like I’m posting a lot, but that’s one of the combined virtues and vices of Twitter. While I’m tempted to engage in a defense of Twitter, those who want to read a much better one than I could muster can read Rands’ “We Travel in Tribes”:

Via the LazyWeb convention, I expect reasonable, informed, and quick answers to most any question. Where I used to use Google, I now use Twitter for questions, because not only do I get the answer, I also get the opinion. And sometimes I get my world rocked with random, psychic, off-the-cuff, tangential information that Google will never give me because Google doesn’t know who I am.

My own use of Twitter is more prosaic, granted. I’ve had conversations on it, I’ve asked questions (and gotten responses), and I’ve learned a few interesting things. Mostly, though, it’s where the minutiae of my life ends up going these days: stuff that I’d like to share but not enough to write a journal post about.

This does leave me wondering what to actually write about here. I’ve done essays on occasion and I suspect I still will. I’ve sometimes tried to start other blogs elsewhere—a link blog, a tech blog, a political blog (twice)—and all of them have been false starts. I may try to resurrect the link blog, but, y’know, I may not. Tech stuff might as well go here. Political stuff I tend to be reticent to get into. I’m interested in discussing politics but not so much arguing politics; attempts to merely talk about current events a few years back left me feeling rather singed. Besides, looking for things to be outraged about has decidedly limited appeal.

At any rate, I’d like to commit to writing something weekly, but I’m not going to—not yet, at least.

What’s been going on? Work, mostly, and mostly office work. I haven’t gotten appreciably farther on Gift of Fire, nor on the new Claw & Quill software. At the beginning of the month I visited [livejournal.com profile] shaterri, [livejournal.com profile] quarrel and [livejournal.com profile] ladyperegrine in Seattle, which was a wonderful if slightly whirlwind visit. (I have a photo album of that you can visit if you’re so inclined: “Seattle” is the main one, with a food porn type one of the visit to The Herbfarm taken on the iPhone.) Starting tomorrow evening, my mother will be in town to visit for the long weekend; we’ll be staying in Emeryville for no specific reason other than availability and the likelihood of exploring some of the Oakland area, which actually has a lot of interesting there there.

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So I’ve been in a moderately quiet period again and haven’t made any mention here of the fact that today — well, now yesterday — was my birthday. A few other people have mentioned it, both in LiveJournal and elsewhere; thank you all.

I also haven’t mentioned that it’s not just a birthday, but my 40th birthday. I can’t help but wonder if my recent bouts of ennui don’t stem from this. You can say it’s an arbitrary milestone — I’ve told myself that more than once — but of course, it isn’t entirely arbitrary; it’s a conveniently rounded midpoint of one’s average life expectancy. They’re called “mid-life crises” for a reason. As I wrote to a friend earlier today:

Part of me is wondering if there are big existential questions of the “how come you’ve apparently accomplished so little by 40” variety here. At 30, it seemed like everything was moving forward. I had what seemed to be a pretty stable high-paying job, had my own apartment, was floundering toward savings, was contemplating looking into home ownership within a few years. But it didn’t stay together, and I spent most of the last five years trying to get back to that point. I’m still not really there.

There are people my age who have kids in high school now. It’s not just a road not taken, it’s a road that somehow I never actually saw. I know a fair number of other people in similar boats, with varying degrees of comfort levels at how they arrived there. My own comfort level varies a lot. I’m feeling like I’m approaching another turning point, but I’m not quite sure what it is.

So today has been something of an emotional roller-coaster, nearly all of it internal, going from a “meh” morning to a reasonably good lunchtime to a downright depressed and headachy and kind of panicky afternoon to a very good dinner out with friends (thanks to [livejournal.com profile] tugrik) to a somewhat thoughtful and quiet evening (tempered by the return of the headache). I can’t really say it’s been a bad birthday, but it’s been an unsettled one.

I’ll try to write a couple less navel-gazing posts in the near future, although I may have one or two more of those to get out of my system. (Part of the panic of earlier today is realizing that I may have no medical insurance active for a physical that I’m supposed to get next week, related lab work I should get this week and the possibility of, well, unrelated things I may need to get checked out. I am hoping a phone call tomorrow will illuminate this all, though.)

Oh, yes: I should mention, yes, I felt the earthquake — it happened at dinner. This isn’t the first earthquake I’ve supposedly been through out here, but this is the first one that was a real quake experience. Not particularly scary, just, “Oh, so that’s what this feels like.”

chipotle: (Default)

Even though it’s a Saturday, I woke up later than I expected to, getting out of bed around 9:30. I can blame it in part on the weather: it’s not only cloudy, but drizzly out, and so the change in light level from night to morning was modest.

This isn’t to say that I dislike this kind of weather, though. This is what I’ve come to think of as “northwest rain.” San Francisco Bay is where two broadly-defined coastal regions meet: to the south is the chaparral-dotted oceanfront cousin of the high desert, and to the north is the rocky, foggy evergreen landscape that Pacific Northwest brings to mind. This is why, I think, the Bay Area is in such a climatological sweet spot: the meeting of these two forces produces Mediterranean temperature and precipitation. Napa and Sonoma aren’t the American answer to Tuscany by mere chance.

While the couple of times I’ve been to Seattle and the one time I’ve been to Portland did involve this kind of rain, they didn’t involve only this kind of rain, despite the reputation. I hear a lot of people say that they couldn’t ever imagine leaving in the Northwest because of the rain and the drizzle and the fog and the gray skies. My mother—who’s definitely one of those people—tells the story of a coworker who moved to Brooksville, Florida (a little rural town north of Tampa) from Seattle and was constantly complaining about how much better Seattle was, until she went back to visit. Then she came back and complained about how it rained the whole time she was there and it was so dreary and she was so glad she moved to Florida.

So as a guy who lived in Florida for about three decades of his life, you’d think I’d really hate these kinds of days. But I don’t at all. Instead, they conjure up very non-Floridian thoughts of lodges on pine bluffs, blustery evenings spent inside with coffee or cocoa by a fireplace with a book, and the feeling of missing that experience—even though I’ve never actually done it.

Instead of being mopey, I’m getting coffee and listening to a somewhat eclectic iTunes mix called “The Gentle Rain,” and contemplating what I will do for the day. It should clear up by the evening, so I may yet wander. But I think I’m going to stay around the house and see about a few neglected tasks I should, well, stop neglecting. Which includes just reading, even if it won’t be by our fireplace.

chipotle: (Default)

I’m currently preparing for a visit from mom, which happens in… less than 24 hours. Eek. It’ll be something of a mini-vacation, even though we’re staying in the San Jose area: we’re renting a room for a few nights at the Inn at Saratoga, and will be sticking to Bay Area locations rather than going too far afield.

One of the highlights for me, food nerd that I am, will be dinner Thursday night with mom and [livejournal.com profile] dracosphynx at Manresa, a restaurant a mere five miles from the house with an international reputation. I am not sure if our rather late reservation of 8:30 will preclude getting the chef’s tasting menu—I hope not, although I don’t know whether the other two will be up for that level of food insanity. We shall see.

However, the real preparation for this “trip” is, of course: a mad dash to do laundry, and to pack tonight. I’ve actually reserved a rental car at the airport, too, but I don’t know if I’ll really go ahead and get it. My car needs service, most notably the air conditioning; the temperatures here are likely to get to the high-to-mid 70s, so a lack of A/C will be uncomfortable but survivable. If I do get the car, I’ll either have to do some creative juggling on how to get to the airport or have my mom drive one of the cars back to the house with me.

Yet I’m still going into work tomorrow, for half a day. This gives the whole endeavor a bit of a surreal air to it—I’m preparing for a trip that really isn’t one.

2006

2006-12-30 15:53
chipotle: (Default)

Christmas was good, as it always is. This trip has been the longest chosen vacation I’ve taken in years (as opposed to “enforced vacations” of unemployment) and it felt a little surreal. Of course, I don’t get paid time off, so the tacit trade is that I don’t have to worry about how many vacation days I have.

I spent yesterday hanging around with Scott (“Mirage”) in Tampa, ending up with a nice dinner at a restaurant near where he lives in Apollo Beach, and [livejournal.com profile] hellesfarne came up for both a Solstice party my mother threw on the 22nd and for Christmas Eve dinner. (That dinner was the first time I’ve cooked salmon, and I’m surprised at how well it came out!) I had a wonderful time having dinner with [livejournal.com profile] ladyperegrine a few days ago. I’m unhappy that I’ve managed to miss [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar; it seems her husband was sick earlier this week, and she was later in the week, and plans for a get-together never came together.

This is a traditional time to be, if not making resolutions, at least thinking about the new year. I might resolve to get back in the habit of more regular journal postings than I’ve been making over the last few months, I don’t know. More seriously, I’m thinking about my various projects and moving them forward. Claw & Quill has been a “coming soon” placeholder page for a year now; in 2007 I need to actually do something with it, whether or not the plans are as grand as I’ve considered.

I have a feeling—a premonition, if I may be so bold—that 2007 is going to be another year of changes for me, but I’m not sure as of yet what those changes will be like. My financial goal is to cancel out my outstanding debt, finally, and rebuild my savings; the big caveat there is, of course, that it’ll only be possible if my current contract continues for all or most of the year (or another one of comparable salary level starts again real quick). My debt will be reduced by about 50% by the end of January from where it was in August, but it’ll likely stall there as I start frantically stockpiling money for the self-employed, nothing-withheld tax bill heading my way in April, which will be many thousands of dollars.

If things really do hold fast and the debt and savings end up where I want them to be, I might see if I could convince my current employer to let me telecommute a few days a week. Then I’d consider moving somewhere on the outskirts of the Bay Area where rent is, well, somewhat lower, with the expectation that I’ll just have a commute from hell once or twice a week and be hanging around home the rest of the time. There are many, many “ifs” in that thought, of course.

2006 has been a turbulent year for me but not a bad one, all things considered. Am I looking forward to 2007? I don’t know. I’m happy, but have a strange sense of melancholy-tinged ennui. Another friend mused earlier today on the dilemma of contentment; I rephrased his question as Am I content with what I have now, and if not, why not? and he replied that it also came down to If I am not content, is it possible for me to be content at all? Upon putting the two side by side, I think the second is implying a bleak answer to the first (“Perhaps I am not content with what I have now because it is not possible for me to be content at all”).

I look back at my time working for Intermedia as a contented time, and one I keep striving to get back to; the job that didn’t work out earlier this year was one I imagined would be “like Intermedia” (it wasn’t). Yet, I was keeping a journal back in 2000, and I was frustrated at my lack of advancement ability within Intermedia, frustrated at the Tampa job market, frustrated at my failure to have followed up on opportunities out in Silicon Valley when the dotcom boom was in full force. A picture of contentment that was not.

Of course, it’s easy to lament what we don’t have and give what we do have short shrift. Maybe the secret of contentment is simply not to do that.

No matter your own state of contentment, best wishes for the new year.

chipotle: (Default)

So: it’s my birthday.

Birthdays haven’t been big deals to me in years, although as I approach 40 they’re starting to be sources of trepidation. I have no party planned, other than having vague thoughts of seeing if I can get a few people to go to The Melting Pot soon. (Or perhaps the Zuni Café in San Francisco if I’m feeling particularly ambitious.) Tonight I’m likely to just go off to the biweekly writing group as per usual, even though I’m tempted to go home and make some kind of crazy tiki drink instead. Maybe I’ll try and invent one of my own! I do have my own recipe for a zombie, a least, which is a decidedly non-trivial operation.

I could make a crazy tiki drink and bring it to the writing group, but I’m not sure I have enough to make crazy tiki drinks for everyone.

Anyway, yes. Birthdays. My thirty-ninth year has the potential for involving more change. Soon I’ll be living in a five-person household and having a longer commute than I’ve had in many years (about 35 miles each way), and as I’ve written, this may end up motivating me to get over my grand dislike for moving—even though I should note I like both of the people planning to move in and think it’s cool I’ll see them more, and I’ll be able to do a lot of the commute over fairly pretty roads. I have many things to weigh, ultimately including just where it is I’d want to live if I did move. So far I don’t have an answer.

For a lot of the past few years I’ve felt like I’ve been in retrograde, that I’m going through the motions I should have been going through a decade ago. I still feel like I’m a year from thirty rather than forty. I’d like to think that means I still have a long life ahead, because I’m clearly behind on where I really should be at this point.

Well, not that clearly, since I can’t define should in that context.

Where will I be when 40 actually hits? I don’t know, honestly. This current job is, after all, a contract, even though I have hopes of it running at least as long as the Cisco gig did. My mother would very much like me to move back to Florida close to where she is. Yet other than her presence, and my friends in the Tampa and Orlando areas, I don’t feel very grounded there (beyond the sense of familiarity that comes from three decades in roughly the same place). I rarely write things that sound spiritual, but I believe people have connections to the land, and those connections are stronger or weaker depending on whether they’re in the “right” area for them. So far I’ve felt more connected to the west coast than the east, and—while I should explore both areas more—pulled more toward the northwest than the southwest.

But here’s a present—the zombie recipe.  )
chipotle: (drinks)

There’s a brief bio of a staff writer for the Tidewater Times, a magazine published on and about the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I found in a quick Google search:

Originally from Texas, the Tidewater Times critic, John Goodspeed, has lived and reviewed books in Maryland for half a century. His reviews, 2,500 or more, have appeared in the Baltimore Sunday Sun, Baltimore Evening Sun, Easton Star-Democrat, Annapolis Capital, Baltimore City Paper, Baltimore Chronicle, Towson Times, Air & Space Magazine, Maryland Magazine, Potomac Review and Bloomsbury Review. He was a reporter and daily columnist (“Mr. Peep’s Diary”) for 18 years on the Baltimore Evening Sun, jazz critic on the Sunday Sun and drama critic on the Annapolis Capital and book critic for 12 years on the Maryland Public Television program, The Critic’s Place.

I know a bit more about Mr. Goodspeed than the Times tells you. I know he considered himself a Baltimorean, not a Texan; he lost his Texas drawl as soon as he could. He looked the part of a Texan, though. For all the time I knew him, he had gray hair, and never lost it.

In addition to being a jazz critic, he was a jazz musician, although not—as far as I know—professionally. When I was quite young I tried to play Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer on the piano for him and he told me it was awful; this didn’t bother me too much—he was right, it was awful—but it’s something my mother never quite forgave him for. (She’s still convinced it scarred me because, after all, I’ve remembered to this day, nearly thirty years later; I’ve remembered it mostly because she brings it up every few years.)

The “Mr. Peep’s Diary” column was about life in Baltimore, and was collected at least once into a book I’ve seen reference to occasionally, the “Fairly Compleat Lexicon of Baltimorese.”

I recall him writing a long article after Dr. Seuss’s death which began with, more or less, “Is it too early to start saying bad things about him?” and proceeded to harangue the children’s author for bad linguistics: teaching kids to read is fine, but why teach them made-up words in doggerel rhyme? That was something else that annoyed my mother. He could be a cantankerous old coot.

He’d read a few of my stories. As I’m given to understand, he thought they had potential, although he didn’t get the recurrence of the talking animal people.

I don’t know when John Goodspeed was born, but he died yesterday, September 10th, at home. He’d gotten more antisocial over the last couple of years—his words, not mine—perhaps because, as his health declined, he didn’t want his remaining friends and family to have an image of him as frail and, in the last few weeks, bed-ridden. His daughter—my mother—didn’t see him at all in the last year of his life, and spent that year feeling rather estranged from him. (See: cantankerous old coot.)

So I’m left with the image of my grandfather I’ve had the last few decades, of a tall gray-haired man, younger than his years yet hard to picture as young, soft-spoken but intense and acerbic, a glass of whisky usually in hand. Just about the stereotype of the mid-20th-century writer, isn’t it?

Closing platitudes about going to a better place, or resting in peace are close at hand but shallow; I’m feeling too agnostic to embrace them, and if there is an afterlife, eulogizing a good writer with pithy clichés is asking for a lightning bolt.

Toasting him with a Jack and Coke later is in order, though. Godspeed, Goodspeed.

chipotle: (Default)

I’m skimming through my LiveJournal entries over the last few years and there’s a recurring pattern there, which goes something like this:

  • I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.
  • Hmm, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my life and figure out what I want to do, and—
  • Look, an IT job! This could lead somewhere good! Let’s take it.
  • I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.

It’d be nice if, instead of just telling me I’m heading the wrong way every few months, fate would consider giving me better directions.

You know, I didn’t wake up one day in high school or college and say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I had trouble ever holding a job for more than a couple years? And wouldn’t it be especially wonderful if those positions were just contract work with no chance of permanence? It’d be just great if, twenty years after I graduate high school, I could be one of those statistics in newspaper articles about people with a negative net worth!” Twenty years ago I didn’t even expect to be working in the technology field, despite having been a computer nerd from a very early age. It’s not what I failed to get my degree for.

If I’m frustrated, it’s in part because I’m surrounded by people who came from very similar places to me and have done a lot better. The wall I run into is often less a lack of degree than a lack of portfolio. I have very little I can point to as examples of my past work; what I’ve done has usually been proprietary manuals or UIs I haven’t been able to keep samples of.

I feel like I’ve spent the last few years in particular stuck with most of the drawbacks of a tumbleweed existence, but few of the benefits. If I was able to roll around the country in a VW conversion van doing odd jobs—or if I wanted to be a 21st century bum, doing just enough freelance web work by remote to pay for wireless internet along with gas and food!—for a couple years, that’d be absolutely terrific, but that’s not what’s happened.

So what if I pick up on my idea of going back to school and pursuing something completely different? I don’t know. At this point I’m having trouble seeing how to get off the hamster wheel without, well, a lot of money I keep failing to secure. What I’d really like, I think, is a short-term contract that would pay me an ungodly hourly rate through the end of this year, so I’d be in a better position next year to go back to school, move anywhere, what have you.

Could I just move back home for college? Yeah, and I might, even though the idea of moving back in with mom at my age is a bit wince-inducing. Yet now I’m a California resident, rather than a Florida one, so I would pay in-state tuition rates here and out-of-state rates there. Pasco-Hernando Community College’s’s costs for me would be over $200 per credit hour, for instance; Foothill or De Anza’s cost would be about $20 per credit hour. Even so, if I’m not paying rent there and I am paying it here, the finances still marginally tip in favor of such a move.

But hold on, my spreadsheet says: working part-time retail won’t pay for tuition, expenses and debt reduction in either place. If I got 10-15 hours of work a week at consulting rates, it’d work out, but I haven’t had much luck pursuing that approach in the past.

And, of course, if I got an AA in English, say, what could I do with it? Go on to get a BA in English. (In Florida, you’re automatically accepted at a state university with an associate degree awarded from a state community college; in California it’s not automatic, but it is more likely.) Or not. Then what? Journalist? Staff writer… somewhere?

I could do that, of course. I might like it more, in the long run. Computers are in my blood at this point, but maybe taking on an open source project or two would be sufficient for that. (I have a perverse temptation to implement a generalized version of the document management system I’d started to design for the company I was just let go from, although on a practical level I should only do that if I can apply the lessons from it to other personal projects like Claw & Quill.)

I am, in any case, starting to wonder if my California adventure is coming to a close. I haven’t been a miserable failure out here; I’ve transitioned to technical writing successfully, I’ve worked for some interesting companies, and I’ve grown to really love the area. But I’ve barely been keeping my head above water. Every job has managed to leave me in a slightly worse financial position than when I started. And it looks like I may end up having to fight to get the last 6-7 days of pay for the most recent contract.

If I can get support to stay out here and go to school, I may very well do that. And, if one of those high-dollar contracts really does happen, terrific. This upcoming week I’m likely to talk to a college or two near here, and I’m going to be dusting off the resume and getting myself back in circulation. My experiences in March were fairly encouraging in terms of my “marketability” now.

If, however, I’m still writing emo journal entries this time next month, it may be time to cut my losses and hit the road again.

chipotle: (Default)

I’ve finished updating my résumé, and put versions of it on Monster.com and Dice.com. Craigslist will be coming this weekend, I suspect. I’ve actually already sent it to one job—one at my current employer.

Spending a few days in a funk over this was, I suppose, inevitable; I was starting to think of the position as permanent, and of course it was never intended to be. (Not that a permanent position these days is particularly permanent.) By Friday, though, something clicked and I thought, Okay, enough wallowing, time to move on.

I’m going to be trying to get my personal projects in order during whatever downtime I’m stuck with; at least one of them would, if it comes together, re-energize my possibilities for web development work. Actually, even the ESM web site will go a bit toward that direction, as I’m getting some experience with the PEAR DB system for PHP, and some experience with PHP’s odd OOP system along the way. I have both computer programming projects and writing projects I’ve been considering, both fiction and non-fiction. Were I only able to get the same salary and benefits to work on these full-time…

And, I’ll make a gentle request of my readers: if you’re working at a place that’s looking for technical writers, or possibly “LAMP” style web developers (my experience is mostly with FreeBSD and Mac OS X, not Linux, but it’s easily transferable), please do consider passing along my résumé—or passing me your company’s contact info, along with permission to use you as a “so-and-so pointed me to…” reference. Obviously, I’m primarily looking for work in the Silicon Valley area, although I’m open to the idea of relocation to some areas—notably Seattle, Portland (Oregon) and possibly even back to Orlando or Tampa—if the employer is open to the idea of interviewing an out-of-area candidate.

chipotle: (Default)
The dinner with [livejournal.com profile] ladyperegrine and [livejournal.com profile] hellesfarne, which also included Mirage at the last minute, was wonderful, as was the company.

Christmas day itself was quiet but nice. [livejournal.com profile] hellesfarne came up again during the day, after the gifts had been exchanged. My big gift was a set of Cuisinart pots and pans to my mom, to replace the battered Teflon-flaking and glass-chipping ad hoc set she's accumulated over the years.

The day after Christmas was hectic, as I flew back to San Jose. And, here it is the day after that, and I'm back at work, on what I imagine will be a rather light work week.

I'm feeling a bit of renewed energy. Possibly that's just from having nine consecutive days off. I think, though, it's from trying to get myself a little more organized. At this point I'm so far behind that I have to have a plan of action to get to a point where I can start making better plans, but just taking steps to start throwing crap out of my room and thinking about how to organize the living space I have. I either have too much stuff, or not enough boxes to put stuff in. (A visit to the Container Store may be in my near future.)

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