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Geeze, nothing for nearly a month and a half, and that shortly after a post talking about how I should write here weekly.

As a quick update—which I seriously need to get back into the habit of doing here, don’t I?—I’m heading to Florida starting this coming Friday the 18th, and will be there for a week. My new job is somewhat less crazy now than it was over much of November, but during November it was… we’ll just say really hectic.

It often seems to be the case that people get more done on personal projects when they’re getting busy with other projects, and to some degree that’s even true with me. I’ve made progress on Claw & Quill in the last two weeks or so that I’m proud of, although a lot of it’s awfully nerdy stuff at this point. I’m going to put out another quasi-call for people who are interested in helping with coding. The site’s being written in Python using the Django framework; experience with either one isn’t strictly necessary (although it’s obviously helpful). There’s also going to be call for work with Javascript and jQuery (and jQuery UI), HTML 5, and other such markup-savvy stuff. A couple people have expressed interest in the past in a general way; if you’re still interested—or have become interested since—give me an idea of what you’re actually interested in and I’ll try to bring things to a point where I can start getting people on board shortly after the holidays.

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About halfway through October I went up to Seattle to visit [ profile] shaterri and [ profile] quarrel for a long weekend, which involved visiting a few Seattle neighborhoods, walking around downtown, and visiting Vancouver and Granville Island. And—unsurprisingly, given that Shaterri is at least as much of a foodie as I am—various restaurants, from Poppy to Spur. I spent some time at Zig Zag Cafe, home of the quasi-famous (and terrific) bartender Murray, and tried Carpica Antica vermouth for the first time, and Victoria Gin, made—I think—up in Vancouver.

Shaterri talks up Seattle so regularly that one wonders if the Visitors’ Bureau is paying him (and if not, why not). But it’s an area that seems eminently worthy of accolades: many walkable neighborhoods, a great culture (by which I personally mean “coffee shops, brewpubs and restaurants”), and very, very green. Yes, it’s rainier and a little cooler than I’d personally prefer, but I suspect if I were offered a job in any major American city of my choice, that’d be the one I’d choose.

Of course, I’ve just started a job in the closest American city to me, San Francisco. This is the first time since I’ve been out here (seven years, as of next month) that I’ve worked in the city, and at least so far I’m really liking it. My commute is the longest that I’ve had time-wise, but ironically one of the easiest: I drive to the Millbrae Transit Station, which is usually about 20 minutes with traffic, then take BART into the city, about a 35-minute ride. Since Millbrae is the start of the BART line, I always have a seat in the morning; I usually start standing on the way home but get a seat before we’ve left downtown.

The office building I’m in is One Market Plaza; this puts me within a few blocks not only of the bay itself, but an amazing array of lunch choices. There’s a food court in the building itself and another one in Rincon Center, the next block over. And a row of restaurants and cafes along Steuart Street. And the Ferry Building sits right across the Embarcadero, with its array of permanent food stands and cafes, and a farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m used to taking long lunch breaks to go find interesting places to eat—but now I’m surrounded by them. (I see coworkers bringing their microwave lunches to work and I want to shake them and scream, “You are in one of the best food cities in the world and you are having goddamn Stouffer’s?”)

I’ve written before about my feelings of being tugged toward both urban life and—well, less rural than a particular kind of suburban life, the kind of place where you can see a lot of stars at night but you’re not isolated, where there are homes around but it’s not modern tract housing, and where urban life isn’t more than an hour or so away when you want to spend time experiencing it. (Shaterri’s place is actually pretty close to this ideal.) This job is the most exposure to true urban living that I’ve had—even though I go home to a very suburban community every night.

Yet I think I don’t really want to live in a big city. There are urban places that might tempt me: the Fremont area in Seattle, and I’ve mentioned the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland before. But San Francisco? Probably not. There’s not much greenspace in SF except in small pockets (and one huge one), it’s very expensive, and even in “nice” areas there’s litter in the streets. That last one is very striking comparing it to Seattle or Vancouver, but it’s not too hard to see even comparing it to other Bay Area cities.

But for now that’s not much of a concern; I don’t expect to move any time soon (I’m about to sign a lease here for another year). I don’t know if this contract will last the full six months—I’ve grown to assume that plans collapse on short notice—nor if I’ll be able to go permanent, but just going the full six months will help my finances considerably.

I’ve been considering trying to make a more concerted effort to write something in this journal at least weekly because, frankly, I need the mental exercise. This is a recurring promise I recurrently break, so no promises, but I’ll try.

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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 [ profile] tugrik’s big shop shindig (to borrow [ 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, [ 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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It’s been almost a month since I’ve updated my LiveJournal. I see I wrote then, “I feel like I should be taking an entirely computer-free day, but that’s hard for me to manage.” Both parts of that statement are even more true right now, but especially the first one.

It’s a kind of perverse state to be in: I’ve been working with computers almost daily since I was in elementary school, and while I’d decided I wanted to be a writer by the time I graduated high school the truth is that I’ve always made a living working with computers. I’d decided earlier this year that if I ever went back to school (God help me) it would be to backfill the foundation in computer science that I never actually had. The contract I’m on now that’s not quite keeping my head above water1 is for web development. The jobs I’m trying to get? Web development again. Hell, the main move I’d like to make is from doing PHP-based development to Python-based development…which is something I’m hoping Claw & Quill will help with, since right now I’m facing a chicken-and-egg problem (nobody will give me a job using Python/Django because I haven’t had a job using Python/Django).

And right now I am really sick of staring at computer code.

I’m dragging on the contract work because I’m having so much trouble focusing.2 I have contacts from recruiters that I’m procrasting returning. Granted, in part it’s because the contract work is, as it turns out, likely to run another month, and my assumption that I’d be able to start another job while finishing up the contract work is likely to prove false. But honestly, it’s in part because I just don’t want to deal with code.

I have a friend who’s been a freelancer for years now, doing desktop publishing work rather than coding. I’ve occasionally thought about following in his footsteps for web development/design—and in a way I’m experiencing it now. I can take two (or three or four) hour lunches. I can work at my desk or in the living room or on the balcony or at the Chili’s in San Bruno or pretty much anywhere I can set up the laptop and get email. (When I started writing this I was, in fact, at said Chili’s.)

But really, I’m always on the clock. If I decide I’m just not up to working right this moment, nobody’s going to fire me—but the work still needs to get done. I may be working on a weekend or past midnight. Stuff I need for my job may come on somebody else’s schedule, and it’s somebody who’s paying me, so I can’t just lean across the cubicle wall and say, “Hey, get off your butt.”

People will tell you that the plus of this lifestyle is that you’re doing what you love, and have freedom that you can’t match with an office job. We like to think that working on our own terms is worth nearly any reduction in salary. Well, we’d better think that. I have another friend who’s a tech consultant in Florida. Between him and the friend out here? Most years both of them could be making more money at Starbucks.3

Okay, two isn’t a huge sample size, and I know of freelance designers/developers who’ve raked in the money. But the guys who talk about making more money than they ever did at their office jobs are really good. This isn’t to say the guys I know aren’t good or that I’m not good, but we are not “being actively sought to teach at conferences” good. Being on the 10% side of the Sturgeon Line gets you enough not to be starving and homeless, but you need to be in the top half of that top 10% to keep up with the guys who stayed in the cubicles—and in the top half of that half to be doing it every year. It’s not a pleasant truth, but it’s a truth.

And the really perverse thing is? Right now I’m still in love with the idea of working on my own terms.

1. Technically, the job will have a bigger payout at its end, but the whole thing is flat rate plus potential royalties, and the checks I’m getting now are advances against the flat rate.

2. To be fair to myself, I’ve actually been averaging 40 lines of code a day the past few, which isn’t completely slouching.

3. No, I’m not kidding. According to Fortune, a “Coordinator II” at a Starbucks—an hourly, not salaried, position—averages $35K annually.

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It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Wo… sorry, where was I?

I’ve been curiously unmotivated in job-seeking right now. It may in part be the time of the year; even in good economic times, November and December are bad times to be looking at anything other than seasonal retail work. (And in the current economic times I’m not sure how many stores are going to be laying out for that, either.) This isn’t to say I haven’t been looking, but the number of jobs worth applying to is small and the number of jobs returning calls is zero.

The economic figures aren’t encouraging either, of course; while the unemployment rate is at 6.7%, that’s misleading: since World War II, the BLS keeps narrowing the definition of “unemployed”: that 6.7% reflect 10.3M unemployed people. But it doesn’t count 1.9M “marginally attached” unemployed, who are people who for various reasons didn’t look for work in the last four weeks. There are statistics for these people, and discouraged workers (those who “have given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job”), and for “persons employed part-time for economic reasons,” which is to say people who want full-time work but can’t get it. All these statistics are readily available:

Measure Nov 2007 Oct 2008 Nov 2008
U-3: Total unemployed as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate) 4.5 6.1 6.5
U-4: U-3 plus discouraged workers 4.7 6.4 6.8
U-5: U-4 plus all other marginally attached workers 5.3 7.1 7.6
U-6: U-5 plus all workers employed part-time for economic reasons 8.2 11.1 12.2

So, really, U-5 or U-6 are more realistic measures of unemployment. Don’t you feel better now?

(As an aside, I’d like to thank LiveJournal for adding things to their base.css style explicitly designed to screw up tables. Love you guys. Really.)

I’ve been working on Claw & Quill and being somewhat disgruntled at how far one has to actually go to show off something, but such is the way of web work—particularly when you’re starting from scratch on the design. I’m also wondering whether my idea that C&Q will be a good web development/design “portfolio” piece is naïve and/or quixotic; if it’s finished and nobody uses it, will that be a good calling card? If it’s finished and it’s full of (gasp) furry stuff, will that be a good calling card? Should I not worry about that until I actually get to the “finished” part? Probably.

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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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Yesterday I twittered:

Feeling peculiarly Zen about unemployment. “Lack of work. Huh. Let’s go out wandering.”

This pretty much sums up my last few days. After some times my work has ended I’ve been depressed bordering on devastated, but this wasn’t one of those times.

I think part of that might be the feeling that it’s not due to anything I’ve done, or not done: it wasn’t that I was too slow, or didn’t impress them enough to go permanent, or wasn’t “right” for the position. And I don’t know that those things have necessarily happened in the past. There’s a position I nearly had a few years back that I wasn’t good at because the way the employer described the position and what the position actually involved were markedly different; there are a couple times I’ve worked as a contractor and expected to be asked to go permanent, and after it didn’t happen it was hard not to wonder if there was some flaw in my performance I wasn’t told about (or office politics I didn’t perceive).

This time, though—well, I think I was treated like a contractor even after going permanent, even if that likely wasn’t the intent: the project I’d been working on had gotten to a state where it would be relatively easy for just one person to maintain and tweak, and with my ex-boss able to devote more of his attention to that project now, that one person was him. If the product had gotten more clients lined up, maybe it’d have needed two developers, but this isn’t a good economic time to be selling a fairly expensive software service.

So am I kind of Zen about this because OMG you’re out of a job! just hasn’t sunk in? I don’t think so. My apparent lack of concern in my last post seemed to engender concern, but look, this is a road I’ve been down before. I know the old saw about job hunting being a full-time job. But I also know that flailing around desperately and taking the first job I can get is counter-productive. I know that I have personal projects I’ve been putting off for years, always making excuses about not having enough time to do them. And I need to see what I can do when I don’t have that excuse. Yes, I need to learn to do those projects at the same time I’m getting an income, but for right now this is very much about making lemonade.

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As some of you (at least those of you following my Twitter feed) have heard, I was laid off from my job yesterday.

I have a tendency to do a lot of navel-gazing at this sort of event. Over the last couple of weeks I felt like I was going pretty slow, dallying on things that shouldn’t have taken me nearly as much time to complete. And I suspect I’m probably 3-4 months behind where I’d have been if we’d had a better development process, with a better bug management process, a formal testing requirements, someone with QA experience doing actual QA… basically, a somewhat larger team, rather than one and a half people and others finding bugs when they could.

Of course, a larger team would have meant more money, and according to my (now ex-) boss, money was the problem. The company’s primarily made income through consulting services, and this economy is, well, not very pretty for consultants. It’s also not very pretty, apparently, for starting up a fairly expensive business web service. The demos to prospective clients are apparently going well, but generally getting, “Come back to us in mid-2009” as a response.

While legally I was only an employee since the end of January, I’d actually been with the company full-time for over two years, a total of 26 months. It’s somewhat dismaying to realize that, in terms of my employment history, that makes this the second longest stretch of employment I’ve had. Ever.

So. Now what?

A bit over two years ago, after a permanent job in Palo Alto fell through, I wrote a bitter entry called “The hamster wheel” about possibly moving or going back to college or what have you, anything to get off the cycle. Which, of course, continued anyway. Ironically, at that point I wrote, “I’ve transitioned to technical writing successfully,” and then proceeded to end up having my most successful, enjoyable job out here back in the programming field.

My personal situation has changed markedly since I wrote that, of course; I’m no longer living with [ profile] tugrik, which has good and bad points for job-seeking: Foster City is farther away from San Jose and the South Bay, but it’s more central to, well, nearly everywhere else. I’m less than 10 miles away from BART’s southern terminus, too. On the flip side, it’s a lot more expensive to live here. Naturally, part of me regrets not pushing for one of the cheaper apartments we looked at up here, but c’est la vie. Part of me’s also thinking, “Why did I buy that TV? That DVD player? That sofa? I didn’t need a living room!”

But the silver lining is that I have more in savings now than I did back then and very little debt; while I can’t coast indefinitely, I can coast a while if necessary. I suspect I’m going to go back to being something of a café bum again. I may drive to random locales a little more, although with gas prices as they are I won’t be too cavalier about it. Maybe I’ll splurge on some cheap flip flops. (One downside to being up here: getting to Santa Cruz, the best town in the area to be a beach bum in, is much harder.) Maybe I’ll apply for unemployment and actually follow through with it for once; I’ve applied twice but never actually collected it, simply because I got contract work before the checks started. I’ll try to resume cooking at home, since I no longer have the excuse of a lack of time.

None of which is to say that I’m intending to stay off the hamster wheel for very long; I’m just being realistic. This time two years ago I didn’t know whether I’d be staying in the Bay Area, and I’m still potentially open to moving, although realistically I suspect the only places I’d be willing to relocate to are either back to Florida (Tampa Bay or Orlando) or up toward Seattle. As much as I like some of the other areas I’ve been to—Portland, Oregon is very pretty, as is Santa Barbara—I’ve realized that having a social support network of the offline kind is important to me.

Now to shower, get lunch and possibly buy some flip-flops.

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Work has calmed down, to the degree that the SaaS project I’ve been working on passed its demo milestone and indeed its first demo. This doesn’t mean things stop, not by any stretch, but it does mean that I have a chance to catch my breath.

The first three days of this week were a highwater mark of suck for me, at least for the last 12 months or so. I wouldn’t think I’d miss the lonely melancholia of my last journal entry, but the combination of hair-pulling bugs the first two days with a traffic ticket on Wednesday (for an “unsafe lane change,” a subjective charge I don’t agree with, but never mind) had me nearly in tears by Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday evening was one of the few times I can remember drinking with the hopes of getting sufficiently tipsy to destress, a success achieved with a mai tai, a rye and soda and a Kahlua-spiked coffee. Are two strong drinks and a nightcap all that’s necessary to get me tipsy? That night, apparently, even though I’ve had more alcohol at other points to less effect. I’ll chalk that up to stress as well.

Yesterday, Thursday, was better; work was essentially stone quiet for me, the product demo went off apparently with no significant glitches elsewhere, a restaurant I’d been waiting for months to open (the Oaxacan Kitchen in Palo Alto) was yesterday, and I bought two expensive things: a Canon PowerShot G9 and a bottle of Laphroaig 10 Year “Cask Strength” single malt whisky. I’m somewhat worried that both of these purchases were a response to stress, but I’ve actually been thinking about the G9 for months specifically for the upcoming trip, and “learn about single malt” has been a low-level to do item for years. (Although honestly, the choice to learn about single malt this week? Yeah, stress response.)

Today also promises to be quiet. I’ve decided to try and update my personal website, making it something more of a project showcase than it is, and likely putting more stories online there. This raises some interesting issues to chew on with respect to making “in print” stories available for free online; while my first instinct has always been that you don’t put stuff you still want to be able to sell up on web sites, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary, from the Baen Free Library to everything Cory Doctorow does to [ profile] haikujaguar’s writing experiments right here on LiveJournal. My growing suspicion is that putting a good chunk of Why Coyotes Howl online, for instance, is going to either have no effect on book sales or slightly increase it, and that having a three-month “exclusive window” for stories that get publication in periodicals is, barring contractual obligations, sufficient. Of course, I still want the print work to sell and my gut feeling is that “but it’s print! dude!” isn’t in and of itself sufficient for most buyers, so I’ll be chewing on that, too.

I’d like to have that website updated before the Eurofurence trip, but I don’t know how likely that is, because it’s occurring to me that said trip is in just over two weeks and it will behoove me to have some idea what the hell I’m going to do for an author reading. If anybody has any “you should read that story” suggestions, I’m open.

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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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In no particular order…

  • Work is kicking my ass recently. It’s been an interesting experience, in the oh, yes, I am at a startup, aren’t I? sort of sense. It’s made writing difficult and driven out enthusiasm for personal coding, though, and also rather cut down on my time online.

  • On a not entirely unrelated note, I’m about ready to throw in the towel with the Excursion Society MUCK. I’ve had little time for it over the last year and honestly not all that much enthusiasm, even though I appreciate the diehards who’ve stuck with it; it’s mostly still around just because of them. I may think more on other systems to do in the future, like an MU* set in Ranea. (After I get my other programming projects back on track. After I’m willing to do programming on my own time again.)

  • I keep starting and stopping other blogs around the web, because I’m just like that. It occurred to me that if there’s any topic I really should be writing about somewhere, it’s not politics or programming or even fiction writing, it’s cocktails. If this thought goes anywhere, I’ll let you know.

  • I contemplated the “blog like it’s the end of the world” zombie thing that’s going on today, but ya know, it seemed like it would be too much effort for today. (And besides, I already wrote an apocalyptic plague story recently.)

  • Speaking of cocktails, I’m really tempted to go to Elixir tonight or the weekend, but probably won’t. Probably.

chipotle: (Default)

I read an interesting column on TidBITS; while this is a Mac news site, “Instant Messaging for Introverts” isn’t platform-specific. Instead, it’s about the author’s problem using IM and similar apps, and trying to explain first what an introvert is (i.e., not “shy, withdrawn, afraid of crowds, or lacking in social skills”) and why this can lead to the problems he’s describing:

Introverts typically need to concentrate on just one thing at a time, and are often particularly sensitive to interruptions and distractions. Now, I happen to think “multi-tasking” is a concept that should never, ever be applied to human beings (regardless of personality type), but be that as it may, I can certainly say that I’m easily distracted, and having more than one thing to think about actively at any given time is sure to make me both ineffective and grumpy. Chatting online while also working on another task, therefore, is unthinkable.

As Rands observed in his article about “Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder,” or N.A.D.D., the state of having a half-dozen different activity windows scattered about your computer screen isn’t multi-tasking. It’s context switching, or less generously, an inability to focus. I am less sanguine about the upsides than Rands is. People with N.A.D.D. have problems in 2008 that they didn’t in 1998 and really didn’t in 1988. The internet, and particular its flirtations with ubiquitous presence, offer opportunity for immediate distraction that has never existed before in all of history. No, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.

In 2006, Internet law guru Lawrence Lessig wrote to his e-mail correspondents, “Bankruptcy is now my only option” and deleted all their messages, asking them to resend anything particularly pressing. I’ve gotten reasonably good at managing e-mail without just deleting it all, but I’m considering declaring IM bankruptcy.

Sound nuts? Here’s the thing. Suppose I have an IM window open and a MUCK window open, as I’m wont to do, and a couple of hours elapse. Now three or four (or five or six) tabs are open in Adium, each a different conversation; two or three MUCK characters are online, at least one of whom is sitting in a room with a handful of other characters, some trying to interact with him or her. In addition, several people will almost certainly be “paging” to one or more of those characters intermittently, in effect creating separate private communication channels.

That’s a half dozen or more one-on-one conversations and one or more group conversations at the same time. You wouldn’t attempt something that absurd in “real life,” but the mental context switching that you have to do online is the same. And if I’m sitting in front of the computer, the chances are there are other windows I’m trying to pay attention to, like a web browser or a text editor.

This is, pardon the language, objectively batshit.

Since many—not all, but many—of my correspondents across the internets read this, I’m going to put this here as a general beg for understanding. My “real job” work often requires real job attention, and I’ve learned from experience that I cannot write fiction and have any other communication window open. Given that at the moment I’m trying to write a novel as well as, at the immediate moment, an unrelated short story I need to get done ASAP… well, here’s my thoughts.

  • When I am on MUCKs, I may turn off pages more than I historically have. It’s difficult enough to keep up when I have a character in a busy room having “cocktail party” conversations — throw in a couple page conversations and it gets psychotic. (VR social dynamics apparently dictate the only cause for missing someone’s cues is because you hate them.)

  • I’m going to try to be more aggressive about setting my IM “away” when I don’t want to be disturbed. I’m going to try to do this instead of just not being on IM at all, but respect the away-ness.

  • When I really can’t be disturbed I’m just going to shut the IM client off, and log off the MUCKs. Sorry. Email, Twitter and even SMS will all get in touch with me in ways that don’t break my concentration (but won’t get an immediate reply).

Oh. And sometimes, when I am online, it may be appropriate to ask me if I’ve actually gotten the shit done today that I need to get done. I have about a decade of NADD to try and dig my way out of.

chipotle: (Default)

Yes, I’m still here!

Work is going reasonably well; not much to write about it. Things are likely to get busier as the project I’ve been working on starts getting actively beat on by other people. I’ve decided that the web framework I’m using really isn’t particularly testable in its stable version, and when I try to transfer it to its beta version, it segfaults Apache. Yes. But only when—wait for it—the debug mode is turned on. While I presume this is something peculiar about my code, I can’t imagine just what it is in my code that does this, and it happens on two different installations. Part of me wants to lock myself in a closet for a week, with nothing but the computer and an unlimited supply of nachos and margaritas, and rewrite the entire thing in Django or Rails. But I shall not.

Writing is also going reasonably well; I have about 9700 words written on the new “Gift of Fire.” This is remarkable, given that the old one was about 24,000 words, and I am not 40% through it, but more like 30%. (I think.) I’m writing in fits and starts rather than consistently; I tell myself I should write in the mornings, but my oft-griped-about problem with getting up early has been particularly bad the last month and the time change surely isn’t going to help. I should note that I usually wake up of my own volition by 9 a.m. so we’re not actually talking late, but since I should be leaving for work around 8:30 a.m. or so, to actually get a reasonable amount of work done I’d need to be sitting at the computer, coffee in hand and brain in gear, by 7 a.m. and this should not be as hard as it keeps being.

I have been feeling a little bit of pain in the wrists occasionally again recently, and so I have looked around for a truly ergonomic keyboard. No, no, not one of those dopey curved things. I mean one of these:

Unicomp SpaceSaver

Yes, that’s the modern descendant of the old “Model M” IBM keyboards, the ones with the buckling spring switches and are really remarkably loud. This one is made by Unicomp, and it looks, well, pretty much like it always did—except that now it has the Windows keys and is USB. I also discovered, as a minor but pleasant surprise, that OS X Leopard has improved slightly on the modifier key remapping introduced in the previous version: now not only can I flip the Windows and Alt key mapping (Alt sends the keycode for Option and Windows for Command, but they’re in the reverse positions that they would be on a Mac), but I can do that on a per-device basis, so when I’m using the laptop’s internal keyboard or a Mac external keyboard, the remapping doesn’t happen.

Anyway, at the moment I’m just back from a trip to Forbidden Island and then Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub with [ profile] dracosphynx to meet [ profile] gatcat and a bunch of other people with him whose names I’ve already mostly forgotten because I suck. While I don’t feel tipsy, I feel tired, so maybe going to bed at a rational early time is in order.

chipotle: (Default)

I’ve let this journal get behind again, so time for an update.

This most recent round of “I should really get up earlier to do things in the morning” I’ve been through has been different from the rest in that I’m actually managing to get up earlier, and actually managing to get things done. Last week, every morning I wrote 500–1000 words on a new story, which is now finished (and even through a couple small revisions). This week, I’ve been starting work on my very belated revival of Claw & Quill, although what I have so far appears to actually be the start of my own object-oriented PHP web development framework. I hate when that happens.

And today, of course, I’m working on a journal update. This morning I didn’t get up as early as I should be, and I blame it on the weather. Well, indirectly. See, the weather patterns are shifting a bit more toward autumn’s now—a little early, based on my past shifts here—so the low’s approaching 50, instead of the mid-50s. It was cool enough I felt like putting a blanket on the bed, which was just comfortable enough this morning that I wanted to keep lying there. So I did. Even if I hit the snooze button a few times I should be able to easily pull off an hour’s worth of personal time before the commute, but I hit the snooze button… more than a few times.

I realize that when I talk about this to any friend who doesn’t live in Silicon Valley, the hours sound… odd. The before-work hour that I’m usually aiming for is 7:30–8:30, and even that gives me some room: I don’t really have to be on the road before 9:00. My alarm clock goes off at 6:30, which gives me a lot of leeway: even after snooze button abuse I have time to shower and grab coffee and still make it to the computer for the personal hour. (Then, I disconnect it and take it to work, because my laptop is my work computer.) Yet I’m generally awake before anyone else (unless Tugrik has been woken up by a work phone call, a pretty common occurrence) and generally the first or second one out the door—and when I roll into the office in the 9:30–9:45 time frame, I’m almost always the second one there after the admin assistant. The tech industry here just seems to work on a later schedule. I’m not sure how much of that is due to the night-owl hacker stereotype and how much of it is drift born of awful commute times.

Speaking of commutes, as I wrote way back in July, I do keep idly musing on the subject of moving. I may write more about this in detail in another journal entry; for now, just say I don’t have any firm plans for a housewarming (apartmentwarming?) party anytime soon.

I’ve hit my 8:30 mark, so I’m going to wrap this up and finish before-work prep.

chipotle: (Default)

The weekend before this, we obtained an ice cream maker, and I’ve been engaging in the art—as yet not fine—of making ice creams. Well, four ice creams—three of them vanilla, and all different kinds!—along with an apple sorbet and a raspberry frozen yogurt. I’ve managed to botch the recipe on several of the ones I made, yet all of them have come out well in spite of me. The yogurt is extraordinary, despite needing somewhat more “punch” in its berry-ness; all of the vanilla ice creams have been good. (I have a fourth version to make soon, which requires vanilla sugar—which requires time to make!) I also made a peach ice cream, with a few fresh peaches from Andy’s Orchard; the texture didn’t strike me as quite “right,” but the flavor was fine. I’ll probably start trying stranger concoctions soon, but I figure I need to get the hang of the basics first.

Beyond that, things have been… quiet since I last wrote, albeit not in a bad way. The current iteration of the project I’m working on at the office is wrapping up, but there are future iterations already being talked about, and there’s at least one project that was put on hold for this one. So I’m not worried about the contract ending any time soon. I do have to worry about getting new medical insurance shortly, as all this time I’ve been on COBRA from my time with the Armada Group (the contract at Cisco), and those benefits end next month.

My desire to work on my own projects seems to wax and wane, and right now it’s waxing—yet for programming, I’m finding myself starting to work with PHP again rather than jumping into Ruby on Rails. I’m not entirely sure why, save the computer variant of “write what you know.” At work I’ve been using a Rails-ish framework for PHP called CakePHP, which is a mix of good ideas and frustrating implementation. What I’m poking with is taking some of the former, with a new implementation. The only drawback to this is, of course, that it’s absolutely nuts. So we’ll see.

Writing projects, you say? Well, I’m likely to end up with more writing tools—Nisus recently introduced Nisus Writer Pro, an upgrade to a word processor I already own (and reviewed a few years ago), so I’ll probably upgrade, although truth to tell I’ve found myself doing more and more of my writing in TextMate these days. I used to mock the idea of using a text editor for writing prose (“I don’t do that for the same reason you don’t write C in WordPerfect”), but there’s always been truth in the idea that editing and formatting are two vastly different functions—I don’t need what’s on the screen when I’m typing to look like a manuscript, and Markdown removes my long-standing objection that I do actually need some formatting tools (italics, at the least) when typing.

While I’ve been using an odd digital notebook program called Mori for years, I’m considering switching to VoodooPad unless Mori’s new owner shows visible signs of life development soon. I may upgrade my old copy of Dramatica Pro to one that will run on my notebook, although it’s galling that the only change between the version I have (4.0) and the current 4.1 is OS X compatibility—they haven’t even made an Intel version of the damn thing yet.

Oh, you say writing tools ≠ writing projects. Okay, you got me. I still have a few of those, too, but they’ve definitely been stalled. The tools do sometimes kick my muse in the butt to get things going, which is why I’m contemplating the Dramatica upgrade (it’s a quirky program, but muse-kicking is its entire point).

At any rate, I’ve actually been writing this fairly short entry for days, writing the second half before leaving for work this morning—without having time to post it. Now a quick post (I’m actually working, really), and off to lunch.

chipotle: (Default)

I’m working from the field today, and at the moment the field happens to be Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden in Alameda. Yes, I’m back here, although earlier today I was in Walnut Creek, which is where I actually did most of the work that I’ve gotten done so far, working before and after lunch at the Pyramid Ale House. I’ve closed two tickets out of five I need to work on, with another two being pretty trivial and the remaining one being… well, less trivial.

When I was reading The Four-Hour Work Week a couple months ago, one of the “worksheet” exercises there was just listing things you’d like to do and be: to be a good (or better) cook, to write a film, to drive the entire Pacific Coast Highway. At the time I did that, I checked Sur La Table’s web site to see if they had any upcoming cooking classes, specifically something useful for a beginner like “Essential Knife Skills.” They didn’t have that one then. I checked again, on a whim, on Tuesday, and they had that specific class that evening. After a bit of waffling, I signed up then and left work a little early to get to the class. Was it worthwhile? Probably. It was fun, and while I’m not sure I was told anything that I hadn’t read somewhere, there’s a difference between reading and having hands-on instruction. There’s a few other classes there I’m going to be interested in pursuing, I suspect. I don’t have any professional chef aspirations, but I do want to kick my own ass into doing more in the kitchen than I have been. On Wednesday, I did cook—just a simple pasta primavera type dish, but it worked. I have a vague intent of using some leftover cooked pasta for pan-fried noodles, although given that it’s past six-thirty on Friday as I write this and I’m fifty miles from home, I don’t know if that’ll be tonight. We’ll see.

I did get to drop into a couple apartments on Alameda today, and I persist in having an attraction to Shoreline Drive there, the road that runs along San Francisco Bay. The apartments, as usual, really aren’t cheap, although given that they may be facing the bay, or at worst just a block away, they’re surprisingly affordable. (Again, by area standards—in most other areas, they’d be blanche-worthy.) These are in part because they’re, well, old: most of them are 1960s-era, don’t have air conditioning, don’t have laundry connections, may not even (gasp) have dishwashers. They’re mostly all independently-managed, so maintenance, office hours, and so on could be highly variable. Many of the buildings have character, but one man’s character is another man’s dilapidation, and I’d certainly have to think about where on that side of the line I fall for a given unit.

All of this is moot while I’m still in debt and without the resources I’d need to not only pay a deposit on a new place but buy furniture, since I’m without most of the basics beyond bedroom stuff now. Even so, my debt’s lower now than it’s been in years, and I expect to knock another big chunk out soon. (I’m realizing just now I’m failing to account for the still outstanding car A/C repair, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.) As fall approaches, I’ll have to take stock of where things are in my life in terms of savings and job security.

chipotle: (Default)

As usual, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Perhaps I’m simply getting out of the habit of journaling? I hope not, since I don’t have anything else on the horizon to replace it, use of Twitter notwithstanding. Of course, between that and Coyote Tracks (my “tumblelog”), it’s possible my need to parade myself before the internet at large is satisfied.

As I mentioned in passing, Anthrocon was a lot of fun. I don’t have a lot more to say about it, in retrospect: all of you I met, I enjoyed meeting, and as usual, there’s a few I wish I’d spent more time with. The panels I was on were generally fun, the Iron Author stories were appropriately awful, and I got to see a little more of Pittsburgh than I did last year, from the pleasantly upscale Shadyside to the “Strip district,” said to be the up-and-coming hip neighborhood. It reminds me a lot of the areas in Oakland around Jack London Square: a warehouse district that’s had some businesses for decades, is starting to get clubs moving in for that grungy bohemian vibe, but is still very much a working warehouse district. As mentioned on Twitter, I did make it to Primanti Brothers for lunch, which seems to be something of a Pittsburgh tradition (and it is pretty good).

Yesterday was my first experience with jury duty. I’d originally been given a summons for the week of the convention but deferred it until this week. In Santa Clara County you’re on “standby,” checking in twice daily until they tell you to report to a courthouse the next day; I checked in Monday, and got told to report to the Hall of Justice yesterday to meet the Superfriends be assigned a “panel” (a group of potential jurors) and wait to see if I actually got called. Many people don’t; my panel did get sent to a courtroom for a specific criminal case, and I watched the whole process of selecting a jury, but I wasn’t actually called to serve. The Hall is just far enough away from the downtown center to make walking somewhere interesting for lunch problematic. I ended up at “House of Bento,” a Japanese fast food place that’s taken over the location of the Juicy Burger that used to be on First Street. (I think there was another very short-lived occupant between those two.)

Now, it’s back to the office and back to attempting to set up a server for the demo of the web product I’ve been working on. It’ll be nice to have, after a decade, possibly worked on a web site that I can actually give someone a URL to—with very few exceptions, everything I’ve worked on has been for internal company use at various employers.

chipotle: (Default)

I’m still about and obviously back to not keeping up my journal as well as I should. I have a few things I’d like to write about, in no particular order, though, and hopefully a couple things will fall out shortly.

My mother’s visit around Mother’s Day went quite well, I think. The dinner at Manresa was quite an experience, and it was nice to show her around the local area here rather than going off somewhere else. We talked about housing (which will be the subject of another journal post) and Northern California, and what she’ll do when she retires, which will be within a year.

Work for me has momentarily slowed, although it’s going to pick up again after Memorial Day, I think. (Nothing has actually come to an end, it’s just one of those weeks that’s a bit of a lull for various reasons.) I’m thinking about other projects and starting to putter around with actual code for a Rails-based publishing system, which may be first used as a sort of “group blog” engine and then adapted for Claw & Quill.

More later, but not too later, I hope.

chipotle: (beer)

This afternoon I was having a lunch of fish and chips on the outside deck of Quinn’s Lighthouse Pub overlooking the Oakland Marina, on a sunny day with temperatures in the mid-70s, and it occurred to me that any complaints about my life being tough wouldn’t be that credible.

After lunch, I did a little exploration around the Oakland Embarcadero area, which is oddly pretty in an industrial way. The sort of place you’d imagine you’d find a lot of warehouses that had been converted to lofts — and in fact, you’d be right. Most of them are condos rather than rentals, though, and I’m not sure whether I’d wanna pay a half-million for a thousand-square-foot one-bedroom place. I’m not sure I’d want to move to Jack London Square, either, regardless.

The afternoon was spent at the Nomad Café in Berkeley, a coffee shop with free wifi and a very, well, Berkeley vibe: earnestly liberal politics, organic everything (their vegan peanut butter cookies are pretty good, I gotta say), and a charmingly funky residential area around the corner. The coffee was good, although like most coffee shops, they really don’t know how to make a cappuccino. From there I ended up cruising up San Pablo Avenue, eventually stopping for a walk around Point Pinole Regional Park. It ended with a somewhat late dinner at On the Border with [ profile] dracomistle.

I haven’t gotten much comment back on the free release of “Why Coyotes Howl,” which mildly surprises me, but there you go. I’m still trying to work on other stories, although I’m still trying to work on time management, too — which is mostly just getting more free time accumulated. I have ideas for that, which in turn mostly revolve around telecommuting a few days a week if I can. I know you’re still doing the same amount of work, but you don’t lose the time involved in, well, actually commuting. I’ve noticed the times I’ve done that, I’m often more productive than when I’m in the office — yet I feel almost like I’m on vacation. That’s a pretty cool combination.


chipotle: (Default)

February 2018

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