Sunday, September 30, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment XI

I still haven't fully recovered from the ordeal that was my journey home. Tonight's selection is "Fortress Around Your Heart" by Sting.

The song itself has no immediate relevance to my life as is. Indeed, its theme of hoped for reconciliation is the farthest thing from my mind.

I chose this song because the tune is wonderful to listen to when pondering heavy things, and the lyrics are poetry in the purest and most potent sense.

I am weary and lost at this hour. I am ready to move on in so many areas of my life.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Greetings from the Land of the CocaCola 600!

Because of the black hole that is New York City, I am spending the night doing what James Taylor could do in his mind... Yep, that's right, I went to Carolina and got stuck for the night.

Apparently the plane that was supposed to shuttle passengers from here to the Circle City didn't make it out of New York City. By the time I arrived here from the Sunshine State, the departure board said that the flight was to leave an hour later. I grabbed some dinner, only to find that the gate displayed a time of 1:30 am! I called my wife on my cell phone, and as I was telling her the updated time, I was told by someone else that the flight was canceled altogether.

I was then redirected by an airline employee at the gate to their Special Services Desk. They were busy printing out boarding passes for a flight leaving at 7:55 am and serving them with a little blue slip that said, "Sorry, not our fault. But here's a toll free number where you can call someone who cares... Well... not really... but they will help you get a room at a discounted rate.

So I text messaged my bosses to tell them the news, and in the process accidentally speed dialed my mother and my brother, so I had to explain that whole gaffe. Then I got on the phone with the hotel discount. They said I could have a room for $59, which came complete with free ground transportation. Because I had only a debit card, which would have been hit with an additional $100 hold just in case I did something stupid like eat my way through the mini-bar or watch some pay-per-porn, I turned down that offer.

I set up camp in the concourse with my laptop and enjoyed one of the rocking chairs (Yes they have them here and at the northeast Sunshine State aiport. They're not just for Cracker Barrels anymore, I guess.) the amazing speed of a mostly quiescent free WiFi network. About an hour later, an announcement came over the intercom telling us to pick up our baggage on the carousel. I went back to the special services desk and asked them whether I'd be able to get back to the concourse. They told me "no" because the TSA goons are off duty. I have to pull myself back from blowing a gasket.

So I head down to the baggage claim to get my bag, and there's all these bags which won't be picked, because their owners have already left for lodging provided by the someone-who-pretends-to-care 800 line. So I've released some negative energy by firing of a stern, but not profane, e-mail to the offending carrier through their Investor Relations webpage. I feel a little better now, but it's going to be one long night. At least the airport's free WiFi still works in this area, otherwise I'd have to spend the wee hours staring at the #24 car displaced proudly next to the ticket area.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Half Nerdy Thursday: Installment II

First, the winner of the Smart @$$ Question of the Week... FTN writes:
Why is the square root of two so irrational? I'm always trying to have a nice, polite conversation with it, and it always starts screaming and going off on me.

Also... Fermat's Last Theorem: Better than Schwartzeneggar's Last Action Hero? Yes or No?

FTN, the secret to the irrationality of the square root of 2 lies in some oft forgotten wisdom of the ancients. In earlier times, numbers had a gender associated with them.

Had the there been a more rigorous understanding of real numbers back in those days, I'm sure that they would have deemed the set of irrationals to be masculine.

An irrational number is a number that cannot be expressed by the ratio (or fraction) of two decimal integers.

In this base 10 world of ours, the decimal representation of an irrational like the square root of 2 decimal is nonterminating and nonrepeating. He can't fully express himself, and is likely to be irritated when you prod him to do just that.

To him, you're like a wife who keeps prodding him with expressive questions like, "What are you feeling?" After a while, he'll lose his cool and withdraw.

Your best bet is to to accept the square root of 2's personality and appreciate how he expresses himself in non-decimal ways, like slicing squares of length one into beautiful right triangles. It is there that he can find harmony with the rationals.

I'm sure that Dr. Laura might also recommend supplying him a steady diet of home cooked meals and regular wild monkey sex.

As for Fermat versus Schwarzenegger, I think I'd pick Fermat just because the theorem had a larger body count than Last Action Hero. Of course, when your story lasts a century or two, you can rack up those numbers pretty easily. But, then again Ahnold probably got paid more for that stinker than Andrew Wiles, the guy who proved Fermat's Last Theorem, will make in a lifetime.

GodsKid writes:
You could tell us a little more about elliptical curve cryptography -- if there is a layman's sort of explanation. It sounds interesting!

I might save this for another installment since such an accessible, yet concise, exposition will take some time to edit.

Anais writes:
I think I'd really rather have a "traditional" HNT from you. :-)

(sighs) Trust me, my dear, you don't want to see me exposed. Maybe if I lose some weight first. ;-)

Therese asks:
I would love to ask a really good math or tech question, but I don't know enough about either to do so. Now, if you made a Half Nosey Thursday where you allow bloggers to ask you impertinent questions, well, then I might be able to contribute better. :)

Oh, wait. I have one. Is it possible to add sound files to a blog in a post?

I'll give the nosey angle some thought.

As for adding sound files to a blog, the answer probably depends on the blogging service you're using. Last time I checked, Blogger does not provide a built-in facility for posting sound files, but I did find a third party blog posting that shows how to put streaming audio on your blog. Maybe you will find it useful for your purposes?

Keep those cards and letters comin', and stay tuned for next week's installment of Half Nerdy Thursday.

(nerdy NPR voice over)

Support for Half Nerdy Thursday is brought to you in part by the Digger Jones Foundation, promoting scholarly inquiry into clashing libido relationships for a really long time.

This is NPR. National... Public... Radio

(flip the switch before the beggathon guy comes on to offer premiums)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

All Quiet on the Posting Front for a Few Days

I will be at the dreaded arcane standards body conference in the northeastern part of the Sunshine State all day Tuesday through Thursday. My flight leaves late Monday afternoon, and I get back very early Friday morning. Blogging will be very light, with the possible exception of HNT replies.

Cutting the Cord on the Cable Guys

The local lead I had for a manufacturer of cable TV network compliance instruments has been crossed off as dead.

I made contact with the recruiter who introduced me to them, and he said that their official line was that they had found someone who had better qualifications than I, but that they hadn't ruled me completely out yet.

His interpretation of this statement was that they were dragging their feet on the decision, and even if they were to make an offer, it would probably be a lot less than what I was hoping for. He suggested that I give up on it, but he promised he would continue looking for other possible opportunities for me.

The countdown to the second interview with Do-No-Evil is a little more than one week and a day. It's pretty much all I have left now. After the interviewing hell that first week of September, I throttled back on job hunting so that I could concentrate on the work leading up to my conference this coming week.

The odds are against me on Do-No-Evil, given my success rate with the upper stratospheres of interviewing experiences. Maybe the job boards will have cycled themselves through, and new opportunities will arise. I don't know.

Quite frankly, I'm not sure where I go after this. I don't think I'm going to make it through by self validation alone. Maybe it is time to get evaluated for medication.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Late Night Listening Installment X: Long Distance Dedication Edition

This one goes out to bloggers Law Girl and I Hope So (f.k.a. some poems don't rhyme), in regards to posts from this past week:

Ladies, tonight, I give you the final track (at least on the vinyl version) of Berlin's 1984 album Love Life, a song titled simply "Fall".

Since it's a deep track, there is no video of it, and since I'm not all that hip on exposing myself to copyright infringement charges, I can only point you to a 30-second MP3 snippet of the song. If you want the full version, you can get it from iTunes or WalMart for less than a buck.

The album Love Life is a collection of songs largely about relationships... most of them gone bad. The one song that got pop chart traction, "No More Words", is an anthem of anger. "It's My Turn" isn't too far behind in its disillusionment, reading the lover his Miranda rights. "Beg Steal or Borrow" is laced with cynicism. "Touch" is ironically detached. "For All Tomorrow's Lies" is resilient in the face of adversity.

However, the album closes out with "Fall", a lush blend of synth with a just a dash of cha-cha rhythm. The verses speak of the insecurity that one faces in making the leap into romantic vulnerability. In the refrain, the angelic harmonies of lead singer Terri Nunn of beckon us to take the plunge, even if the relationship may not be forever. The imagery of autumn makes this song all the more appropriate for this time of year.
"Fall" by Berlin

Where do we go from here?
The sun is shining
Look into a night time sky
A star is calling
As seasons change
Why are you so afraid?
In darkness you'll see
A new light

Fall -- fall in love
Fall -- fall in love

You know I can't read your mind
If never spoken
Tell me if it hurts too much
The door is open
Colors all around
Smile, cry, then laugh out loud
Feel the autumn breeze
Come alive

Where do we go from here?
I'll stay be your side
If you choose a different path
We'll say goodbye
Open your heart
A shooting star could shine and touch you
Here comes the light
Your star will shine again

Here's to you two, and other like hearted souls. May your stars soon shine brightly once again!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

He Bought It... for About $200 More

On Wednesday evening around 5:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, I got an IM from my boss, the CTO, telling me that he was in the process of making my travel arrangements.

The e-mail that I had sent to the CEO and him on Friday evening must have gotten lost in his Inbox because the next 15 minutes were spent having me answer questions that basically repeated all the information in the e-mail. I didn't ask him what he found out about hurricanes in the area.

Later that evening, I got three e-mails: an e-ticket/flight itinerary, a hotel reservation confirmation, and an e-mail from the CTO telling me what had been taken care of and what he still needed me to do.

He went ahead and booked me for an outbound flight to the northeastern Florida city that departed two hours earlier than what I had originally planned and had me returning on the late Thursday flight that I had suggested in my e-mail. On Friday, the total cost of my suggested Monday/Thursday trip was $264. The cost of his itinerary? $471.60.

Per his instructions, I registered myself for the meeting, applying the discounts that he instructed me to use. The cost was $550, which would be paid upon arrival at the conference. He said they would cut a check for me to hand over to the organization when they were in the office on Monday.

The hotel, which will run for $544.40 after taxes, will be charged to his credit card.

In the instruction e-mail, the CTO said I could charge meals not covered by the conference to the room account. He then asked me how much cash I would need. Since there is no free shuttle to the aiport, and the hotel information estimates cab fare at $35, and I'll need to cover long term parking at the local aiport, that breaks $100. I'll probably need another $100 for any incidentals, especially if I have to schmooze any with the standards body folks after hours.

I'll be a much happier person about a week from now.

... Because My Body Doesn't Look Good in JPEG : Half Nerdy Thursday!

I've decided to add another variety of posting to this blog to keep things from getting too dreary. Talking about personal and professional turmoil all the time is just too much of a downer.

My goal is to post this type of article every Thursday, sort of keeping in tradition with a different kind of HNT. I know that from my last geeky post, writing about this doesn't stir up much excitement. But I figure that posting gratuitous images of me in varying stages of nudity would be just too much torture for my readership. Besides, if I were to do that, it just might give Trouble some ammo should she decide to start an "I Can't Believe He's Getting Divorced" blog.

To launch this series, I'll dig back to a comment left by Therese this spring:
Oh, and "elliptic curve cryptography"? Geez, you are always giving me little things that I'm dying to work into normal conversation. ;)

Well isn't everybody talking about this stuff these days? Want to be in the know? Well then get yourself over to Dr. Dobb's website, where you can feast your eyes and mind upon this 10-year-old classic article:

Elliptic Curves and Cryptography

It will help you immensely when trying to converse with that hardcore gaming spouse who is all aflutter because he just found out that the Nintendo Wii used elliptic curve cryptography to sign saved game data.

What's that? Eyes still glazing over? OK. Let's make a deal. If you've got a techy or mathy kind of question that you've run into recently or have at one time racked your brain over and would love to know what the answer is, post it to the comments section. I'll pick out one or more question each week and post my replies to them in the Half Nerdy Thursday installment. If you don't, I might find some other arcane topic to scribble about.

One warning: If you post a smart @$$ question, I might just provide an appropriately smart @$$ answer. ;-)

I'll be watching my inbox.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Late Night Listening IX: Weird Dream Edition (or: Shanooz Shoobah )

I had a strange dream prior to waking up Tuesday morn. I dreamt that I was asked by INXS to be their stand-in lead singer for part of a concert. Most of the dream was spent worrying whether I'd get to do songs that I actually liked. I was hoping that they would let me do either this one:

or perhaps, to a lesser extent, this one:

I always found their earlier stuff (you know, back in the day when they were opening for Men at Work) so much more fun to listen to. I'll even go out on a limb and claim that "Don't Change" might be one of the few songs that seemed to embody all that was good about 80s music.

As the 80s drew to a close, it seemed like the band had started taking themselves way too seriously. So did REM for that matter, but that's another bad dream for another night. For now, I'll just let the commentariat puzzle out what the hell my dream was supposed to mean. I'm stumped.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Would You Buy That for a Dollar?

In a prior post, I talked some about a conference that the CTO wants me to attend because he's quietly bailing out of his prior commitments to the conference's sponsoring organization.

That conference takes place next week, and I still don't have any of the things that I asked for early last week, when he told me that I would be going alone.

  • plane tickets

  • hotel accomodations

  • laptop to deliver presentation

  • carrying case for laptop

On Friday, I talked to the CTO about the travel arrangements. He said that I should go log onto a travel site, draw up some itineraries, and send them to the CEO. I did that and didn't get any communication from either the CTO or the CEO over the weekend. Today, I raised the issue with the CTO on IM (both he and the CEO are out of town this week).

me (9/18/2007 1:54:02 PM): Are you there, (CTO)?
CTO (9/18/2007 1:54:26 PM): yep
me (9/18/2007 1:54:56 PM): Did you happen to hear from (the CEO) whether she got the proposed flight itineraries I sent her on Friday night?
CTO (9/18/2007 1:55:09 PM): I am making your flight arrangements
CTO (9/18/2007 1:55:12 PM): and I did get them
CTO (9/18/2007 1:55:18 PM): I will lock them down later today
CTO (9/18/2007 1:55:26 PM): I wanted to see what was going on with all the Huricanes
CTO (9/18/2007 1:55:29 PM): in the area
me (9/18/2007 1:55:32 PM): OK.
me (9/18/2007 1:55:46 PM): Always nice when Mother Nature plays along.
CTO (9/18/2007 1:55:54 PM): yes
me (9/18/2007 1:58:19 PM): When you make those arrangements, please make sure to take care of lodging as well. And we still need a carrying case for the (laptop), if I'm going to be taking that with me. (My coworker) said that the spare case he has is too small for that widescreen behemoth.
CTO (9/18/2007 1:58:45 PM): right
me (9/18/2007 1:59:40 PM): That's all I needed for now. Reminder for the next (standards body conference call) went out earler today, and it looks like we've got (three people whose names have been removed) confirmed to attend.
CTO (9/18/2007 2:08:46 PM): great'

My question is, do you buy his hurricane excuse? The only thing I can find on the National Weather Service site is some stuff about Tropical Depression TWELVE-E, which is currently out west of Mexico. My coworker and I are skeptical.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Two Small Job Updates

Friday came and passed without a word from the local recruiter about the Cable Guys' decision. I suspect that I didn't get the offer, which is not a massive letdown, but it pretty much exhausts my list of live local leads.

The second phone interview with Do-No-Evil is on the evening of Monday, Oct. 1.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment VIII

Tonight's selection is a song called "Common People", recorded originally by Pulp in the 80s. It enjoyed a revival a few years back with a cover by William Shatner, backed with vocals from Late Night Listening alum Joe Jackson.

Shatner's delivery isn't as good in this live performance as he is in the studio recording, but Jackson does not disappoint. I think that the angrier, more frantic arrangement conveys the spirit of the song much better than Pulp.

Money has been on my mind a lot lately. The insurance premium increase I mentioned earlier this week went into effect on Friday's paycheck. And then there is the whole collapsing marriage narrative, which will certainly create hardship for the future.

Of the two founders and two employees at my startup, I was the hardest hit. The CTO founder gets his health coverage through his wife's job. The CEO founder is on our health plan, but has individual coverage because she has no children and her husband already has a cushy health plan at his own job. The other employee is single and is living at his old frat buddie's house with nominal rent. I'm the only one who is using the family coverage. Taxes and insurance now consume 37.5 % of my gross pay.

This rollback forced me to revisit our financial obligations. So I did a survey of our liabilities, which have increased now that dance class and preschool have resumed. To her credit, my wife has managed to get some discounts from the dance school by working at the school's supply store and fundraising activities.

The one line item that has grown, much to my anger, is my wife's credit card balance. The last time I had talked to her about the card in January, she said that it was about $6,000. A check on the balance revealed two very disturbing things. First, the balance was $7,877.61. Second, she had missed payments so that the interest rate had increased to over 20 % APR.

When I brought this up with her on Tuesday, she was unrepentant, saying that she hadn't charged anything frivilous and then asserting that if she had to choose between going into debt and not buying diapers, she had to choose the former. But there's been a lot of things besides diapers that she's spent money on since then, so her diaper defense is all wet. Her willful refusal to manage finances or even communicate that she's having problems just solidifies that I need to cut loose and let her sink.

I let her know that because of the strain on the budget, I would be cutting the cable bill to the minimal service (read: no more DVR for her). I would also be switching the cable internet service to the cheapest DSL plan, and I would be cancelling my XM radio subscription.

She was very grumpy with me earlier this week, expressing resentment at my decision to interview for very distant positions. She said she couldn't imagine why I'd be doing this, other than to get my ego stroked. She also added that if I was willing to move so far away from the kids, so that I wouldn't see them more than four times a year, I certainly wasn't the man she thought she married.

Another point of contention was my travel schedule for an upcoming meeting. As I've mentioned before, my boss has been involved with a prominent standards organization, but he hasn't been diligent in keeping his commitments. He was supposed to be charing the process of creating documents for a standard that is in its very early stages.

He started offloading some things on me in the spring so that he'd have things ready for the organization's quarterly meeting in March. And at the end of July, he said he'd need my help on something for another deadline in August.

So, most of my work the past month and a half has been trying to learn how things are done in the standards body and getting participants to contribute. He's basically abandoned the role so that he can jet back and forth between here and La-La Land, racking up billable hours doing consulting work for the angel investor's friend.

On Monday, he said that he wanted me to go to the conference by myself. I will be charged with giving an update presentation on the process to a task force committee and a special interest group meeting. I will be surrounded by people who have been doing this stuff for years, steeped in both domain and procedural knowledge. I will be an empty suit by comparison. I'm not happy with the situation, but given that's the only thing they have for me to do right now, it's not like I can bail on it.

The meeting itself lasts for five days. My two presentations are on days two and three of the conference. The CTO said that there might be one other meeting he wants me to attend down there, but he hasn't been able to articulate why or when that meeting is, yet he wants me to scope out travel itineraries for the meeting.

So my wife has been angry because she doesn't like me traveling, period. She's been pressuring me to limit the number of days I'm at that meeting to the days that I have to be there. The inability for me to get that pinned down has just thrown fuel on the fire.

On Wednesday evening, over dinner, she complained that I still didn't have an itinerary for the trip. I told her that I knew that I had to be there at least for Tuesday and Wednesday. She then said I was sugarcoating things, and that it was getting in the way of her earning more money for us.

According to her, she had already made plans to watch her best friend's autistic daughter a few nights that week, and that would earn about $200 because she gets paid by a state agency for providing that care. She said that the meeting was interfering with those plans.

I said that the truth of the matter was, no combination of days that I would have chosen would have made her happy. In order for me to keep this job, I had to do this standards work because they had nothing else for me to do right now. I then said that my salary, which at an hourly rate is triple what she earns for watching the friend's daughter, should trump that.

She was so mad at me afterwards that she took off after dinner and said she wouldn't be home until after the kids were in bed. She didn't say where she was going. She came home after 11 p.m. and offered no explanation.

On Thursday, we were all invited over to her best friend's house for a cookout to celebrate the friend's youngest daughter's second birthday. She and the friend had made a large volume of a mixed drink called a Junebug, and they had been imbibing. She said she was too tipsy to drive, so I wound up taking home the kids and putting them to bed while she stayed there to sober up.

On Friday morning, we talked about how the bills would be payed. I offered up a different strategy that put an emphasis on getting all the obligations up-to-date rather than paying things every other month, which seemed to be what she was doing. She said my plan didn't take into account some things, so I gave in and said she could do things her way.

Then she got belligerent and said that I was just doing that so that "I wouldn't get into trouble." I told her that I was trying to compromise and that I didn't understand what she meant by getting into trouble. She then made some remark about how we didn't have enough money to live on.

By the time I rolled into work on Friday, I was thinking that once I got a better idea of where I was headed job-wise, I would be less inclined to ease her into self sufficiency. I just want to let loose that attorney on her and let her work those two jobs she said she would work back in July.

One thing I have factored into my divorce calculation is the fact that I am being payed well below the market value for my skills, even in the metropolitan area where I live. One of the draws of working in a more tech heavy place like the Silicon Valley or the Emerald City is that the pay scale for my line of work is a lot higher.

If I was able to live austerely for a year or two, I thought, I would be able to whittle down the debts so that I could live somewhat well on my income and still afford to pay child support. A recently published article from the AP on rental markets made me pause to wonder if my calculation was flawed. Chances are, if I do move to a more thriving job market, I will have to live with a roommate during those austere times.

It's tough to be patient nowadays. I want some clarity so that I can move on. This state of limbo is sapping my motivation, and it is only worsening the tension between my wife and me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I Probably Owe "Have-the-T-Shirt" for Good Vibes...

(cue the Mamas and the Papas)

In response to my last pensive moment, Have-the-T-Shirt wrote:
awww, hang in there, it's always darkest before the dawn, or something like that :)

Ain't it though? The following e-mail was sent 31 minutes after Have-the-T-Shirt posted her comment.
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 13:25:57 -0700 (PDT)
To: (2amsomehwere)
Subject: Do-No-Evil (2nd Phone Screen Request)


Thank you for your interest in (Do-No-Evil). I have taken over for (a recruiter) who you worked with to set your first phone screen. The feedback was very strong and we would like to set up a second phone screen to focus more on your coding ability. If you are available and still interested in (Do-No-Evil), please let me know a couple of days and times when you would be available (next week and the week after preferred) as well as the best phone number to contact you. I'll email you back to confirm the details.

Please feel free to contact me with questions and thank you in advance!


(name withheld)

(Do-No-Evil) Staffing

Everybody Wants You Doesn't Want Me

After several business days of silence, my wayward recruiter returns from the wilderness with this terse reply.
The message I am getting from (Everybody Wants You) is that at this point they are not extending an offer but want to keep you in mind for future opportunities.

We will continue to seek opportunities for you.

I have one last local lead standing, The Cable Guys. If the hiring manager was being honest last week, I should receive word sometime within the next day whether they are making an offer.

My mind is feeling more depleted than the uranium in an A-10 shell. Maybe it's time to ask for meds.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

2am Answers a Programming Question

In one of my prior posts, I recalled an experience with an obnoxious interviewer:
Being told that no one uses select() for I/O multiplexing: 2 minutes

A commenter known as GodsKid asks:
[Just found your blog, from Drunken's...] Ok - so what DOES one use instead of select() ? [I just wrote one of those, with nothing to model it after.]

It's been a few weeks since this infamous interview, but I think I can recall what he suggested.

If you go the traditional select() route, a single thread uses that system call to wait on a group of sockets until one of them becomes ready to read. He said the better way to handle this is to have a single thread block on accept(). Once accept() returns a socket for an incoming connection, assign it to a member of a thread pool. The thread that gets that socket is responsible for reading and writing from it over the lifetime of the connection.

In doing some further reading, I learned that the thread pool approach has the disadvantage of requiring lots of memory for the case where the thread pool becomes very large. I also found an interesting blog posting that says a better way to go is non-blocking I/O. He writes from the Java NIO perspective, but if you're a UNIX programmer, you can get there with the POSIX asynchronous I/O functions.

Hope that helps.

PrizonFone on Hold

Got a followup from the recruiter representing PrizonFone. He said that "they hadn't completely shut the door on you yet", but they wanted to hold out for someone who had more telephony experience.

Now if only I could get some meaningful feedback from Everybody Wants You.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A (Golden Gate) Bridge too Far

This just arrived within the last hour from the recruiter at Pack-the-Pipe, the company with whom I interviewed on Friday...
Hi (2am), I spoke to (the hiring manager) and he said technically it was not a fit, so sorry, I am glad you did come and hope you do find a role that you like, good luck.

Attention all Titanic Passengers...

"...there will be a surcharge on the last leg of this voyage."

Two and a half weeks ago, management at my current employer took us out to lunch. At that lunch we were informed that our health plan was up for renewal starting in October. The current insurer wanted to raise the premium on our PPO by 25 percent because of the costs of claims filed over the past year. We were told that they were in the process of trying to find a new plan that would cost less, perhaps a health savings account. The next day, we were given forms to complete for another carrier. I filled them out promptly, and we heard nothing about them since.

Last week, my wife said that we should think about tapping my 401(k) to help meet the shortfall of the increased insurance premiums, and if I didn't do it, she would take it out of her own account. She knows full well my feelings about treating retirement plans as a source of immediate liquidity, and it's none to brightly.

I told her that my employer was supposed to be finding a replacement plan that would spare us the higher costs. I agreed to sit down with her over the weekend and work out a revised budget instead. We wound up postponing the discussion because I was gathering data over the weekend, and I needed her to dig up bills and statements that are in her possession.

On Thursday of last week, while I was out West, the CEO sent out an e-mail:
... as we discussed, (the company's) insurance costs have increased. The employee portion of these new costs will be reflected in your next payroll.

We are currently obtaining quotes from other providers so I hope to be able to bring these costs down.

I will send you each a follow up email with the former costs and the new current costs on a monthly basis.

Let me know if you have any questions.

I never got the followup message, so I sent out an e-mail for clarification. It turns out that they do not have a replacement plan lined up for October, so we will stay on the current plan on a month-to-month basis.

I got the numbers for the increases, and they are not pretty. Currently we pay $351.77/two-week pay period to cover all of us. That goes up to $432.65/two-week pay period. That's $80.88/two-week pay period or $2,102.88/year. That would be a 3.39 % pay cut against a salary that hasn't increased since I started with the company in November 2005.

Oh, and by the way, the CTO today told me that he'd like me to go to the standards body group meeting in the northeastern part of the Sunshine State the last full week of September, by myself. I said the only way that I'd go is if they'd pay for the tickets, hotel, and transportation up front. I would also need a per diem and temporary use of a laptop since I don't have one of those right now.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Reviewing the Interviews

I've made some passing comments on job search progress in some of the more recent posts, but it's been a long time since I did a comprehensive run through the complete field.

The job search lead count spreadsheet has accumulated 129 entries since 7/15/2007. New recruiter contacts have slowed substantially, as anticipated and desired, since I took my resume down from the big four boards three weeks ago.

Hedge Funds and Investment Banks: Last week, I finally told the recruiter who had been setting me up with hedge fund and investment bank interviews that I didn't want to do any more interviews. He had set me up with three hedge funds and two investment banks, and he was wanting me to talk to one more hedge fund and one finance software vendor. For all the time I put into it -- four hours of online programming tests and maybe six hours of phone interviews -- I hadn't gotten much from it other than a sense that I didn't quite measure up to their standards. He said that the feedback he had gotten from his clients seemed to suggest that, and he said he understood why I was ceasing my search in this direction.

Letdowns I Sorta Foresaw: Over the past two weeks, I learned that two of my leads had gone dead. They weren't exactly jobs I had my heart set on, but it was a bruise on the ol' ego nonetheless.

On Aug. 27, six days after the interview with Steel City Trading Software Company, I got a voice mail from the Obsessive Girlfriend Recruiter, who was representing them. In the message, she asked me how I felt the interview went. She said she had been out of town and that neither she nor her manager had received any word from me.

I returned her message, leaving a voice mail of my own. I said that I thought the in-person discussions went well, but the phone conversation I had with the guy in NYC was awkward. She sent me an e-mail the next morning, once again asking me how the interview went. I responded to the e-mail asking her whether she had checked her voice mail from the night before. She then responded with another e-mail saying that she hadn't checked it yet, ostensibly because the e-mail notification for voice mail on her system wasn't working.

She verified my suspicion, that there were doubts about my skills. However, they were still interviewing others and I wasn't eliminated from consideration yet. I wrote back a lengthier explanation of the basis for my impression.
I suspect that (interviewer in NYC) has some strong reservations, based on his comments during my phone discussion with him while in (a north suburb of the Steel City).

First of all, our conversation got off to an incoherent start because he wanted to jump right into discussing the logic problem that I submitted back on July 17. I had not looked at that problem since then, and I didn't have any hard copy of either the problem statement or my solution to it, so I was at a distinct disadvantage in terms of mental preparation. To give you an analogy, suppose you got a phone call sometime around 4 p.m. after a long day at work, being told it was someone who wanted to talk to you about something, and it turns out that it's someone from the IRS wanting to have an audit of your tax return you filed maybe a month ago, and you're expected to discuss the items on that return without access to a copy of your return or any of your receipts. That's sort of how I felt.

Second, because I am self taught within the area of software development (my original background is in Chemical Engineering and Applied Mathematics), there are some aspects of computer science where my knowledge is incomplete. I have written parsers, and usually that involves using some form of finite state machine because the grammars are usually pretty complicated. Given a parsing problem with a one-hour time constraint, I'm probably going to approach the problem using the tools I know to work rather than coming up with more clever optimized solution. Even with compiler software, there is a time penalty to be paid when a high degree of optimization is desired.

All other things being equal, a time constrained problem with high optimization being the criterion of success can serve to identify two classes of candidates: those with a very high level of natural intelligence and those who have seen that kind of problem so many times, they already know what the solution looks like before the question is posed. I've been around enough really bright people in my life to know that while I can analyze and solve difficult problems, I don't quite fit in that "very high level" range. I suspect that (guy in NYC) is looking for someone of this caliber, and he has some reservations that I don't quite make that cut. I understand and respect that. Trading software is a pretty demanding area, and they need to deliver a reliable product on a tight schedule.

Later that day, I got an e-mail from the recruiter informing that they were going to pass on me.

The other let-down was So You Think You Can Search. I tried in vain to reach the recruiter representing them just before Labor Day weekend. It has almost two weeks since the second in-person interview, and I had heard nothing from them. On Sep. 5, I tried reaching the recruiter again, getting his voice mail. He responded with a terse rejection.
I spoke to the hiring manager and although your experience was relevant, you are not exactly what they were looking for. Thank you for all your for all of your efforts and I will keep your resume on file for future job openings.

I kind of gathered that when I was brought in for a C++ follow up interview that turned out to be mostly a Java coding test. In essence, I lost the job because I had not memorized enough of the Java class library to the satisfaction of their new director of systems engineering.

Missing, Presumed Dead: Some of my leads have disappeared into the job search Bermuda triangle.

Contrary to information supplied by the recruiter and the interviewer, I never received a follow up from Do-No-Evil. After a week, I sent an e-mail to the recruiter. Since then I've left three friendly voice mails with the recruiter just checking on whether she had received feedback from the interviewer. If I don't hear anything back by Wednesday, which will be the four-week mark, I'll write this one off as dead.

This coming Wednesday will also mark the three-week mark since my two phone interviews with PrizonFone. They said that they were in the process of interviewing several candidates and would proceed to the next round when they had finished the phone interviews and created a short list. They didn't give me a time frame, but I suspect that after three weeks, it wouldn't be too much of a leap to write this one off, too. I might give the recruiter a buzz just to see if he's heard anything.

This Tuesday marks two weeks since my phone interview with Everybody Wants You. I called the recruiter last week to see if he'd heard anything, and he didn't return my call. The position is still being pimped by several headhunters both on and Monster. Methinks they're looking for someone who's as desperate as they are.

I also haven't heard anything back from the HR contact at Large Indigo software, so I suspect that local lead might be dead and gone.

Last Minute Bookings: I have two leads that popped up over the past two weeks. One is local, and the other is down in the Sunshine State.

The local lead was the result of meeting with a recruiter one early morning about a week and a half ago. It was a guy I had talked to during the January round of job searches, but he had not really followed up on initial contacts.

The meeting was a get-to-know-you-better/what-are-you-looking-for thing. He said he had some ideas where I might fit in. Unfortunately, two of the leads were for companies with whom I had already interviewed. The third one was one I hadn't heard of. He vetted me with their hiring manager, and I was notified that they wanted to interview me. I agreed to interview on the day before I left for the Pack-the-Pipe interview.

The local lead, which will be known as The Cable Guys, make diagnostic equipment used by cable television providers to ensure that their infrastructure is compliant with government regulations.

The software development deals largely with instrument administration, data acquisition, and reporting. The code base is Win32, with an effort to migrate to Microsoft's NET framework.

One of the bright sides is that it is located on the east side of town, which means much less congestion than someplace like up on the far north side. Another bright side was that one of the technical interviewers was someone I knew from my days back at my undergraduate school. I recognized him first, asking him if he went to my school.

The technical interview involved two problem sets. The first asked me to look at a the hardcopy of piece of C# code and comment on efficiency issues. The second part was an exercise where I discussed how I would design the object model and implement some of the methods for a hierarchical file system.

I'm supposed to know their decision by the end of the coming week.

The other position, which is located in a major Spring Break destination, and is known primarily for their remote access computing products. We'll call them GoTo Software for this reason.

I was contacted by a recruiter about two weeks ago, and he was really laying it on thick about the pay and benefits. He also said that they were on an aggressive hiring schedule, which would be tough for me to pull off because I had basically filled up the next week with interviews. What's worse, their initial screen interviews required 90 minutes of time and an internet connection, meaning I'd have to do the interview from home during business hours.

I wound up talking them into letting me do the interview on the Wednesday after Labor Day, meaning that every business day of the first full week of September would have an interview of some sort. The interview actually had two 45-minute segments, phone interviews with different people. The first quizzed me on my C++ and Windows system programming. The second part had me implement some methods for deleting elements from a linked list based on some criterion.

I did well enough on the interview for them to ask me for an on-site interview. I stonewalled on this one, telling them that I was out of the office all week this week, and I couldn't commit to anything until I actually had a chance to feel out my bosses for another day off. I agreed with the recruiter to touch base with him on Monday afternoon. I'm probably going to tell him that I'm no longer interested in this lead.

The West Coast Interviews: I did two interviews with companies on the West Coast.

I was at Broadshoulder Broadsides up in the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday, flying out on Labor Day evening. The flight plan put me through O'Hell, resulting in lost time. I was flying the friendly skies, which provides some XM channels to listen to, so I drifted off into a musical cocoon on Audio Visions (XM-77). I really needed that, too.

I arrived in the Emerald City about half an hour behind schedule. It also took a while for my shuttle van to become available, so I didn't get into bed until around 1 a.m. Pacific Time. My interview was at 8:30 a.m. that morning.

The interview had four stages. The first was a half hour backgrounder with the hiring manager, with whom I also had interviewed over the phone back in July.

Then I was placed on a pair programming exercise, to see how I functioned with programming in pairs and test driven development. They said they were okay with people who hadn't done this kind of thing, as long as they were willing to adapt. The task was to develop a class for scoring bowling games.

It took me a bit to get an idea for how the process worked, but I think it could be a fun thing to do, provided that you're pair programming with a person who has good people skills.

The third stage was a modeling exercise where we discussed the design of an elevator control system. Once again, the model was to be developed using a more agile mindset, where you don't worry about everything upfront. As someone who can overanalyze things, I had to throttle back at times.

The fourth stage was a lunch interview with two staff developers, asking me questions about how I function in the workplace.

By the time all of these interviews were done, it was nearing 1:30 p.m., a little under two hours before my flight left, so they headed me downstairs to take the shuttle van to the airport. Later on, I would find out that they were supposed to take me by the recruiter so that she could talk about benefits and relocation policies, but there was some miscommunication on their end.

On Wednesday evening, I got a call from the recruiter to go over the wrap up stuff. She said that they found me to be very good at adapting to their development style, but they noted that I was still very much a "waterfall" style thinker when it came to software development. I was then told that they were going to extend me an offer, not quite as much as I would have imagined, but still a good amount, and the benefits package was quite nice.

I told the recruiter I would need the information in writing. She said she would get that out to me the next day. I then gave her a heads-up that I was going to be flying out to the West Coast again on Thursday afternoon (the next morning by their clock) to do another interview. She agreed to extend the usual and customary 48-hour decision deadline to 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday.

I had an interview with Pack-the-Pipe on Friday, flying out early Thursday afternoon. Given that I had a 10 a.m. interview on the east side of town, I was cutting things close. I managed to get home shortly before noon, just enough time to scarf down a sandwich and some chips for lunch before barrelling out to the airport on the southwest side.

My flight to O'Hell was running really late. Indeed, the plane wasn't even at the gate by the time boarding should have started. I barely made my connection, which was in a different concourse and was in the final stages of boarding.

I spent the night before the interview at the Drunken-Sober residence, which was a really nice stress reliever. I've chronicled that on a guest post.

The interview at Pack-the-Pipe started at 10 a.m. Pacific Time and ran all the way to 5 p.m., with about an hour break for lunch. They treated me right, though. We picked up some gourmet sandwiches at a local deli and then headed town to the Embarcadero, eating lunch in the view of the Bay Bridge. Temps were in the 70s, and the weather was beautiful.

The interview questions were a mixture of coding and design. I liked most of the guys I talked with, and the confirmed something that both Drunken Housewife and Sober Husband have been telling me for some time now. All of the guys wound up there because they had been clued in by a friend with whom they worked at a prior job. The networking is extremely rich out there.

Their development style isn't quite as progressive as the folks at Broadshoulder, but then again, the Broadshoulder folks by far have been the deepest devotees to agile software development methodologies that I've dealt with.

The product that I would probably be working on is so secret that they couldn't tell me anything about it, which adds to the sexiness of the job. They are growing like crazy, and they've been doing well on sales. It's also in one of the most beautiful places in the world, so what's not to love?

I'm not sure whether I'll get the offer from them, but given that the interview lasted so long, I'm hoping that's a good sign. According to the team lead, they were supposed to meet on Monday for a debriefing on the interview and come to some decision.

Stay tuned to see how all of this unfolds...

2am. Somewhere Else.

For those of you who have been refreshing this blog frequently to find out whether the guest post is up, I'm happy to report that you can now find the article online now.

Late Night Listening: Installment VII

Tonight's featured selection doesn't have a deep connection to my life as some of the other posts in this category. The song is U2's "Unforgettable Fire".

I had been thinking about using this song for weeks, but it always seemed like I had a more relevant choice. The chorus of this song is sort of a musical mantra, for I find the instrumentation and rhythm to be the sound of quiet, and determined resolve. I sometimes find myself hearing it played in my head during times of somber thoughts or when I'm walking for an extended period of time.

When I watched this video clip, two things went through my head... One is that Bono sure looks young, but that was almost 23 years ago. The other thing is that the video has a lot of nocturnal urban skylines, a frequent sight for me on my travels for interviews.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Come Friday

Updated 3:21 p.m. EDT on 9/9/2007 to note that Drunken has my guest post up now.

(apologies to Jimmy Buffett)

Thursday, September 6, 2007, sometime around 7:30 p.m.

Flying into San Francisco
for a post Labor Day interview.
I've got my Birkenstocks on.
I guess I was never meant to
be a midwest suburban soul.
A year back, how would I come to know
I'd find myself in old Castro.


Come Friday, I'll all be done.
Come Friday, at the set of the sun.
I've spent four lonely days in a white board haze,
and I just wanna go have some fun.

Yes it's been quite a summer...
prepaid hotels and cramped airplanes.
Now I've spent all my vacation,
but I really shouldn't complain.
Because tonight I'll be over
at the house of Drunken-Sober.

Repeat chorus.

I'll say I'm kinda nervous,
to meet a family I know only online.
That's just the introvert in me
Doubting I'll break outta my shell.

I soothe myself with a deep breath.
It'll be a real blast, I bet.
With Iris, Lola, Sober, and Drunken...
and a hearty kitten. He's quite the punkin'.
California's called me once again.
I knock on the door to greet my new friends.

Repeat chorus.

If you want the full story, check over at the Drunken Housewife's blog in the next day or so. I have been invited to blog about my visit.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Late Night Listening VI

Tonight's selection, "Down at the Twist and Shout" by Mary Chapin Carpenter, is apropos on several levels.

I heard this tribute to Zydeco a few days ago on the X-Country channel (XM-12, Americana/alt country). It just so happened to coincide with the day that the headlines brought news of the observance of the second anniversary for the devistation that Hurricane Katrina visited upon the Gulf Coast. The song's lyrical passage:
A gulf storm blowing into town tonight
Living on the delta's quite a show
They got hurricane parties every time it blows

seems hauntingly ironic some seventeen years after its release.

The fall of 2005 was a precursor to the story chronicled in this blog. I was moving into the closing days of my employment at Tungsten Technology of the Silicon Prairie. I was unhappy with my job. I was unhappy with my wife. We were in month 15 of what would be an 18 month drought wherein she offered quarterly mercy fucks. By the time that she made her offer in October, I turned her down.

The idea of divorce had crossed my mind, but I couldn't bring myself to talk about it. It was for the better because I still had a lot of issues of my own to deal with, and I had no idea of just how much her spending had compromised our financial position.

In a way, the fall of 2005 was something of a double witching hour on my life. I was 36 at the time. It was the 24th anniversary of my parents separation. In essence, I had tripled my age since that horrid milestone. It also hit me that I had doubled my age since entering college, even though didn't seem all that long ago. With a marriage and a career seemingly adrift, I felt like a total failure.

There aren't many songs where I remember the first time I heard the recording. For "Down at the Twist and Shout", I do for some reason. I was shopping at the Target up at the Princess City in the fall of 1991, and the video for the song was playing on some of the demo TVs. I had just started my studies in graduate school in the Land of Touchdown Jesus.

At that stage in my life, I mostly loathed country music. My dad was into classic rock. My mother was into R&B. My paternal grandparents were fans of Big Band and Standards. I acquired a taste for alternative from a closeted friend in high school. I had picked up a love of both classical music and blues from friends at college. I looked upon the rise of pop Country in the early 90s as a form of white flight from the top 40.

Yet, I liked this song. I had never really been exposed to music from the Bayou Country, so this song had a refreshing feel to it. It also was one of the first of many instances where I began to realize that there were some beautiful harmonies to be found in Country, if you knew where to look for them. Nowadays, I enjoy Alt Country, Bluegrass, Folk, and Zydeco (XM-12 has a weekly show for it), all thanks to the wonders of satellite radio.

Finally, this song's is relevant in another more timely way. I mentioned earlier this week how I learned that the stresses of my life are starting to take a physical toll.

I vented about this to a very faithful blog reader a few days ago, and the reader suggested, and then demanded (grinning as I type this), that I start doing some nice things for myself, like spending some time out of the house seeing live music or reading a good book.

Something as simple as this has been difficult for me to do. I've had a really hard time winding down mentally the past couple weeks. Between the stresses of the standards body work and preparing for upcoming job interviews, it was tough to avoid an entropic consciousness. Shifting gears into fun mode in times like this is like taking your car out of fourth gear and throwing it immediately into reverse.

Then there are the remnants of Nice Guy Syndrome, the part of me that guilts me out of asserting myself. It plays itself out in statements like, "You're going to be leaving your wife eventually, don't you think it's a bit selfish not to want to spend time with the kids or at least help out with the house?" Or, even better, "You don't have enough money in the bank to go out and spend money on a cover charge and some adult beverages!"

Then there's the check-mate, "You know your wife will get all bent out of shape if you say you're going out for a drink by yourself. She's either going to worry about you drunk driving because you have a sissy's tolerance for alcohol, or she'll think you're going out to meet someone else."

Don't worry, I'm getting ready to put the smackdown on Mr. Nice Guy. He doesn't take into account that my wife has been able to get out of the house quite a bit lately, both for errands and for fun. She's not really done much with respect to housework, and has cooked only on average a couple times a week for the past month. This is not an overworked woman.

I did manage to make it to the library this afternoon, and I picked up something with a plot no less. I'm reading Boomsday by Christopher Buckley, a satire on intergenerational warfare between the Baby Boomers and Generation X.

I've also been scoping out the local alternative newspaper's website for where to find live music. Once this coming hell week is passed, I'm treating myself to either a night at a local famous blues bar or one of a couple of venues for live jazz.

On Friday, I had lunch with a reader/blogger who is local to the area. To the best of my knowledge, that person is only the second such person to have met me in real life. The company was quite enjoyable, and it was a nice break from the isolation of my otherwise empty office.

I am taking some vacation time this coming week to do traveling interviews. I am heading out to the West Coast twice. I'm up in the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday, interviewing with Broadshoulder Broadsides. On Friday, I'm in the Bay Area (sans flowers in hair) to interview with Pack-the-Pipe. The night before, I am planning on making a social call at the Drunken-Sober residence, which should be quite a pleasant change of scenery. I hear that there's one member of the residence who's quite fond of XM-12, no less.