Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Say, Ol' Chap, How Goes that Job Search of Yours?

On Monday of last week, I had an 80 minute phone interview with some guys down at the Bluegrass Printer Manufacturer. They said they liked what they heard and wanted to invite me down for a half-day on-site interview. I decided to pass because the job was more along the lines of build engineer than software engineer, although it did have some software development aspects.

On Tuesday of last week, my contact at Company Line dropped me an e-mail saying that he would be calling my professional references early this week. Assuming that they checked out okay, he said they anticipated making me an offer soon thereafter.

I was supposed to have an in-person interview with Bonded and Insured, but because of the big file upload/power supply problem, I had to reschedule for Monday. The interview took place yesterday, and it went well. I spoke to five people, four of whom bore the words "vice president" in their title, plus one HR person. I suspect that this lead might result in an offer in the next few days as well.

After many rounds of phone tag, I managed to have my phone interview with ShovelSite. It was a good conversation, but I could tell from some of the questions that I wasn't what he was looking for. That was verified in a followup e-mail, which thanked me for my time but indicated that they would not be moving forward. I'm thinking that were I to go the startup route and hire on with Company Line, my skill set would be better tuned to their needs.

Just for grins, I called the recruiter representing Safe-T-Call. I got sent to voice mail. I don't think I want the job so much as I want to just torture the recruiter for stringing me out so long.

No word from Large Indigo other than a "thank you" e-mail from the contact to whom I addressed my resume and cover letter.

On Tuesday, I got a response from my contact at Susie Student Loan Co., who said that things had not changed since the interview got spiked a few weeks ago. He said that they were hoping to resume the search after the beginning of the year, and that I would be the first person outside the company they would contact once they got the green light.

Late Night Listening: Installment XVII

In keeping with the spirit of the forthcoming holiday season, let's celebrate the mid-80s Minneapolis way by dragging out "The Belle of St. Mark" by Sheila E.

The quality of the audio isn't the greatest, but I believe that the track does have jingle bells in the background.

Bonus points to readers who can name the Prince single whose B-side was "Another Lonely Christmas" without Googling.

Monday, November 26, 2007

19 Gigs, and What do You Get?

Last week started off in a not-so-fun state.

Earlier this month, I wrote about a consulting gig that our company had taken on.

The day after that post was written, we met with a couple of departments at a large medical device manufacturer with operations here in town. One department had approached us about auditing the security of web based applications and the server that hosts them.

The other department's interest was driven by a network effect. The manager of the first department was friends with the other manager and had told her about the project and decided that might be a good thing for them to do with their own applications.

In the two weeks since the initial meetings, not much had happened. There was a teleconference with the first department, where we got to meet the technical contact for their web hosting service. There was a teleconference with the second department to talk about what information we needed to do the audit.

My action item was to create a virtual machine, a software emulation environment that mirrored the setup of the staging server so that the contractors could conduct their security tests against it rather than the actual server. To accomplish this task, I had copies of the operating system installation disks and a huge three-ring binder manual that documented what was done during the install two years ago.

After a day or so of work I got the installation mostly done. Part of the setup involved installing a few gigabytes of patches on the simulated machine. Some of those patches had dependency issues that could not be easily resolved, so I held off installing them rather than forcing the install by bypassing the dependencies. Almost all of the problematic packages were peripheral utilities. The only exception was the webserver program itself.

Another issue was the collection of files that comprised the application. This was a huge collection of data, consisting of scripts and media, totalling 17 GB of disk space. On the company's weakly DSL connection or my own weakly DSL connection, it would have taken over two and a half full days. There was talk of us doing an on-site checkout of the files from a revision control server that is owned by the client site.

Finally, there were several system configuration files that would need to be edited to reflect the setup on the server. The client had not supplied these files or the contents thereof to us.

I documented my progress and listed the problematic packages in a memo to the CTO. A week passed by with no acknowledgment or further guidance. Last week early Monday morning (like right-after-midnight-early), the CTO dropped me an e-mail instructing me to send him a set of DVDs for the virtual machine so that he could set it up on his laptop. Later on in the morning, I wrote back advising him that the install was not complete as per the issues described in the memo.

During the early afternoon, while I was on a phone interview, he called my coworker to have him relay new instructions. I was to go down to the colocation facility where our external servers reside. Among those servers was the sandbox server that belongs to our client. Although this server is supposed to be close in configuration to the staging and production servers, it is not rigorously audited. I was to do a network file copy operation from that server to the virtual machine. The thinking was that a direct connection would proceed more quickly than one over the internet. Once that was done, I was to finish off the configuration of the virtual machine by copying over a select set of files and then upload the virtual machine data to one of the servers so that my boss could download it to his home, about 200 miles away.

I told my boss that I had pre-existing commitments to watch the kids after work from 5 - 9 pm, but that I would take care of this once I was done with watching them. So I headed out to the "colo" after 9 p.m. with my laptop, some Cat 5 cable, and the installation binder. I started the file copy operation. Based on the transfer rate, it looked like it would take a little under two hours.

After the two hours had passed, I realized two very disturbing things. First, the disk space consumed by the transferred data was 19 GB, 2 GB more than the original file system. Second, it seemed to be copying the same set of files over and over. A little research determined that the copy operation was following a symbolic link in an infinite loop.

I called my boss and explained the situation, and then he realized that my diagnosis was probably right. He then told me to create a TAR (UNIX Tape Archive) file of the 17 GB file collection and then download it to the virtual machine. I said that wouldn't work because the virtual disk partition that where the TAR file could reside was 24 GB. There wasn't enough room to hold a TAR file and its extracted result. He told me to go ahead and download the file to the Windows XP host operating system and then figure out how to make the file visible to the virtual machine in the morning.

I created the TAR file, which took over an hour, and then started the file transfer on Windows XP. Something wasn't right because the transfer rate was 1/4 of what it had been with the virtual machine. I tried another file transfer program but transfer came to a dead halt at 4 MB for reasons unknown. I reverted to the original program and set up my laptop to sit in the server rack. I went home and got in at 2 am. I wasn't happy because I was scheduled to have an interview with Bonded and Insured at 9:30 am. I figured I could still make the interview by getting up early and stopping by the colo on the way to work.

When I got up on Tuesday morning, I went to check my e-mail using a web interface to our mail server, which is hosted at the colo. I couldn't get to the server. I was about to have a heart attack. I checked our external website. It was down, too. I knew that I needed to get up to the colo ASAP because something was really wrong.

I made it to the colo around 8:15 am. My laptop was running, but a low power warning dialog box was visible, indicating that the laptop wasn't getting any current and hadn't received any for about an hour. The firewall through which all the external servers run was down, too.

I called the CTO and left a voice mail to let him know about the situation as I frantically tried to diagnose the problem. Both the firewall and the laptop were plugged into a uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which then plugged into the power strip of a neighboring server rack. Yes, my employers were so cheap that they stole power from other server racks. I managed to find a power strip opening for the firewall and my laptop to get them back up and running. The UPS appeared to be non-responsive, even with a change of outlet.

I looked at the clock. It was 8:45 am. I figured that I still had a ghost of a chance at making it to the interview up in the north suburbs, so I headed out. I got as far as the near north side of town, when I got a call from the CTO. He said that the external web server machine was down, so I needed to get a power strip as a stopgap measure. I clenched my teeth and said I would take care of it.

I doubled back, stopping to call my HR contact at Bonded and Insured. I said that I would need to reschedule the interview because I had to take care of a mission critical server outage. I apologized and expressed that I was still very interested in going through the interview. She said she would take care of it.

Then I stopped at an inner city drug store to buy the cheapest power strip and extension cord I could find. I then headed back to the colo and got to work. I transferred everything from the UPS to the power strip and got them back online. Then I called my coworker to verify that it was working. It was, so now I could get back to the virtual machine stuff.

Fortunately, the 17 GB archive had been transferred successfully. Now I needed to figure out how to make the host system's file system visible to the virtual machine. After fumbling my way through the product documentation, I figured out how to get that working. The next step was to do the extraction, which took well over an hour.

After the extraction was complete, I had to do some additional software installs. One package appeared to already be at the required version, so no update was needed. The second failed because of a missing user interface library, but I don't think it was lethal because the utility was used only for viewing PDFs, and that probably wasn't needed for the website.

A third tool was supposed to be built from source code, but the build failed because the header files for a library upon which it depended were not installed. So I had to go track down a matching version of the library from a download server and get that built and installed. A couple more hours were lost fooling around with that.

Once every thing was set up, I started creating a ZIP archive of the virtual machine files. I did this using Windows XP's built in Send To -> Compressed (zipped) Folder menu command. Because I started the operation by right clicking a folder a couple levels above the collection of files, the compression code did not do a sanity check to see whether the collection was too large. It proceeded to create ZIP file approximately 5 GB large over a period of an hour or so. No error or warning messages were displayed.

I transferred the 5 GB file up to the download server and sent out a note to the CTO that he could now snag the file from his home. I went out to the car and did my phone interview with ShovelSite, which used up close to an hour. Then I went home, anticipating that I would be able to relax for the evening.

I got an e-mail around 7:30 pm from the CTO saying that he had downloaded the file but that it appeared to have problems because he couldn't extract it with any utility. After some research, I turned up Microsoft Knowledge Base Article ID 301325. The gist of the article was, "Yes, there are ways to create a ZIP file larger than 4 GB. No, the archives won't be valid. Yes, there is a workaround: Don't do that."

So I wound up having to compress each virtual machine file individually. Since the largest of these files was 2 GB, they could be zipped safely. The total byte count of the compressed files was over 19 GB, and it took over two hours to create them. With the new archives in hand, I drove up once again to the colo to do another file drop. This time I turned off the virtual network adapters created by the virtual machine and got double the file transfer rate that I did the night before. I was done shortly after midnight and in bed by 1 am Wednesday morning.

It suffices to say that I was dragging on Wednesday, but I went into work anyway. The CTO called me on his way to his in-laws in the Keystone State. He said that he had gotten the files downloaded successfully and that he had gotten them to run successfully on his laptop. The CEO took my coworker and I out to lunch, and in recognition for my efforts, I got to pick the restaurant. I selected a nearby Italian eatery that has a damned fine chicken Parmesan sandwich.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Move 'Em On, Head 'Em Up. Head 'Em Up, Move 'Em On. Rawhide!

Keep movin', movin', movin',
Though they're disapprovin',
Keep them doggies movin' Rawhide!
Don't try to understand 'em,
Just rope and throw and grab 'em,
Soon we'll be living high and wide.

-- Theme to Rawhide

Let's just dispense with the usual and customary groveling over blog reticence and get on with the updates, shall we?

Job Search

In my last post, I mulled over a list of options I had drawn up in an even earlier post. Options (5) and (6) were looking like the best alternatives. There has been movement in both of those directions.

Regarding Option (5), I had an introductory phone interview with one of the lead R&D guys at ShovelSite, a well-funded and wildly popular website that makes its home in the Bay Area. We have agreed to conduct a more extensive technical interview, but we've been having trouble finding a common time block on our schedules. The current plan is to do the interview sometime in the early evening (my time zone) on Monday.

There's been a lot of activity on the Option (6) front.

On Monday, I got contacted by a sister company of the staffing company that set me up with an interview with Bluegrass Printer Manufacturer back in late July. They said they were looking for someone who has experience with C++, UNIX system programming, and automated build tools (like make and imake). From the description, it sounds like a cross between a software developer and a release engineer.

Like the earlier position, this would be a year-to-year contract, but the pay would be about 45% more than what I make now. The downside would be that pay is only for what you work. There is no paid time off. I have a phone interview with the staff on Monday morning. If that goes well, they will invite me to an on-site interview.

Last weekend, I stumbled upon an opening that had been on one of the boards for a few weeks. It was with Bonded-and-Insured, a local company that deals with fixed income investments. From what I understand, they do some trading based on quantitative models, just like some of the investment banks and hedge funds in the Big Apple metro area.

Almost three years ago, when I was thinking about leaving my former employer, I had seen a position advertised by several different recruiting agencies, perhaps five or six of them. After doing some search engine detective work, I determined that it was Bonded-and-Insured.

Back then, I didn't get any traction. The recruiting agency through whom I replied didn't respond to my follow up e-mails. I applied through another, and then learned that trying to go through two different agencies to the same employer can get you disqualified for consideration. It was a useful lesson that has served me well to this day in dealing with head hunters.

When I applied this time around, I didn't have high expectations. Bonded-and-Insured uses one of those third party web submission systems, which might as well be a big black hole. However, on Thursday afternoon, I got a call from an HR person who asked me some basic questions, including salary expectations. She said she would set me up with an initial phone interview. A few minutes later, she called back with the time, 10 am on Friday morning.

The interview on Friday morning was a technical screen, asking me about my experiences with UNIX, C++, perl, and databases. The follow ups to his questions seemed to suggest he was skeptical of my skills, especially when it came to perl and databases. I used some concrete examples from past experiences that I thought would support my ability to come up to speed quickly. The interview wrapped up after 40 minutes.

I got a phone call not much more than an hour later from the HR person, telling me that they normally don't move this quickly on an applicant, but they wanted to bring me in for an in-person interview before Thanksgiving, so after some back-and-forth with the interviewers, we agreed upon a 9:30 am - noon block on Tuesday morning. I got a the list of interviewers, and it looks like mostly non-technical management. I suspect that this will be much like the interview I did with Susie Student Loan a couple weeks back. They want to make sure I would be a good match not only on my skills but also on my ability to interact with different portions of the company.

Also on Thursday, I had my two-hour technical interview with Company Line. They are a local startup that was founded toward the end of 2006, and they are developing a Software as a Service product for companies that want to publish customer facing blogs. They got a chunk of financing over the summer that should allow them to grow, and they're hiring.

The interview was a mixture of whiteboard coding and design discussion questions. I found out that the company is really small, currently at 10 employees. I would be the third full-time developer in the company's history, so I would be trailblazer. I think the interview went well because the interviewer asked me to send him a list of professional references.

On Saturday, I was doing some searching on the web regarding that new computing research facility that was announced by Large Indigo Computer Company. It turns out that they were advertising for this position out in the open on a university job mailing list about a month or so before they put the postings up on the job boards. The mailing list message included a direct contact and an e-mail address, so I decided to roll the dice one more time by sending a resume and cover letter to the guy.

Tales Told from the Titanic

In a prior post, I lamented my current employer's tendency to build facades.

My coworker did get a plane ticket for the trip to Beantown late Wednesday evening. The price of the round trip ticket, which departed on Thursday afternoon, was almost $500. He said he thought it was quite a waste of resources, given that they basically had him fly there and back for a two-hour dog-and-pony show, wherein his only apparent purpose was to:

  • Be introduced as the Senior Project Manager.

  • Take notes on the meeting.

They were pitching the product to Red Arc Cable Company. True to form, the presentation made lots of claims regarding features that existed only in the company's website literature, which hasn't been updated since 2004. My coworker said he had trouble keeping a straight face through it all. Afterwards, he said that the CEO and CTO complemented each other on how well the meeting had gone. In reality, though, he said that most of the people in the meeting had tuned out after the early stages of the presentation, either toying with their laptops or PDAs.

This week, the CEO and CTO were out of the office, spending most of their time out in Tinseltown with their client. My coworker was saddled with the task of figuring out why the consulting client we met with the week before couldn't access our portal. It turned out to be an issue with their firewall. Only the CTO could make the changes needed to get things working, and he wasn't responding to e-mails and phone calls from my coworker.

There's been very little movement on the consulting gig since the kickoff meeting almost two weeks ago -- two teleconferences and some e-mail exchanges. I've done my part, setting up a virtual machine for the third party contractors to use for testing, but its setup needs to be validated against the current hosting environment. I provided a status update on this to the CTO over a week ago, and he hasn't even given me an indication that he's even read the report.

Then there's the third-party contractors, whom the CEO and CTO hired to take care of the grunt work. They still have yet to sign an agreement so that they can start work. When my coworker asked the CTO about this on Friday, he said that the CEO was taking care of that and refused to elaborate further. If I've learned anything from having worked with this company for the past two years, if the CEO is involved in a negotiation, you can usually count on it falling apart.

My coworker has been getting a lot of micromanagement static from the CTO through all of this because his role is supposed to be the Project Manager, but he really doesn't have the resources or authority to make relevant decisions on the matter. He's so sick and tired of it he actually applied for a job lead that I sent his way earlier in the week. He also grumbled about possibly quitting at the end of the week.

During quieter moments, my coworker and I have been speculating over what might be going on. Our guess is that the grand design to get bought out by the Tinseltown friend of the angel investor is not going to happen. Perhaps the friend doesn't see the value of buying a company with little intellectual property and not much in the way to offer for staffing talent. Why not just rent them for a while as is being done now or even hire the CEO and CTO? One other possibility is that there is something that got uncovered during due diligence that suggests exposure to risk, and they haven't been able to resolve it.

We think that at some level the CEO and the CTO are aware that the grand design to sell the company and perhaps continue to develop their product has fallen through, but they haven't been willing to admit this to us. They always talk up emerging opportunities and make it look like this is going to be a done deal. But after a while, you never hear about them again.

We think the consulting deal and the sales pitch to the cable company are last ditch efforts to stir up cash flow because whatever they're making on the Tinseltown gig isn't enough for the long haul or might even dry up.

About that Massage

I had my first massage at the clinic on November 10. Admittedly I was nervous going into this because it was the very first professional massage I had ever experienced, but I was determined to confront and face down the anxiety. I disrobed all the way down to the boxers and let the masseuse do the full one hour routine.

Because I wasn't sure what I was going to be encountering, I don't think I was able to get the full benefit of relaxation, but it went really well. The masseuse was very understanding and checked frequently to make sure that I was comfortable with what she was doing. She noted that my calves seemed very tense. Of all the parts of my body. I'm not sure if that comes from the fact that I use the stairs to get to my third floor office or if it is because I sleep on a couch that's not as wide as I am tall.

When I got up to walk, I could tell the hour had made a really big difference. My body didn't feel nearly as tense. I noticed that I slept a lot better this week as well. It helped some with the lack of touch, but it's just a stopgap for now.


I had a counseling session about two weeks ago, and I have another one coming up this coming Monday. Most of it was devoted to workplace stress and the control issues with my wife. The therapist said that my whereabouts the night I went out to the bar should have been non of her business.

My therapist's advice was to let go of the hope that this marriage will dissolve neatly if I just play nice and placate her concerns. My wife's incapacity to view me as a separate person means that this will get uglier as the move out draws nearer. I will need to be strong and stand my ground.

The holidays are going to be difficult because there will be a lot of guilt being tossed my way throughout. I'm pretty sure that when I do have a new job in line, and the new year is here, I will be moving out on my own.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Move Me on to any Black Square

(apologies to those of you who recognize the origin of this post's title and are now trying to stamp out the background sound of a lute and recorder playing in the mind)

A few days ago, I was trying to figure out where to go with this job search stuff. I made some progress, but things are still a bit murky.

First of all, option (1) is looking like a last resort.

Option (2) didn't work out because Safe-T-Call didn't reach a decision like they were supposed to. I contacted the recruiter representing them on Thursday, and he didn't have any updates. All he had to offer was perplexity over why they were taking so long to make up their mind. Tomorrow will mark a full month since I did the interview. The contract was supposed to be three months maximum. That leaves me believing that either the project was endangered or they are just so bureaucratically paralyzed that they can't make decisions in a timely manner. I'm not holding out for htem any longer.

I've been playing phone tag with the guy from Amazing Music Floating Price Machine Co., so option (3) could become a short term worst case scenario.

I'm really trying to avoid option (4) because I am finding it harder and harder to tolerate management. This week, with the seat-of-the-pants way that they handled the consulting meetings and their east coast dog-and-pony show, just convinced me that the labor market needs to send them a very big vote of "no confidence".

I acted on option (5), sending an e-mail on Tuesday evening through the appropriate channel. It took a few days for him to get back with me, and ironically enough, his reply was snagged by my e-mail provider's spam filter. His line of work includes filtering out spammish content for his employer's site. I'm going to e-mail him a time or two for us to talk in the next couple of days to see where this is headed. I've heard that they allow for off-site work, so I've been contemplating the prospect of seeing whether I could start off remotely (after an appropriate period of on-site training) and then perhaps move out West once the divorce has been filed and finalized.

I also moved on option (6). Last weekend, as I was scanning the job boards, I found a local posting that sounded very bleeding edge for this area. So I Googled some of the keywords in the job against my town's name, and I found a blog posting that had some very similar content. It was a personal blog maintained by a person who had just hired on at a startup here and in the post he said he was looking for software developers.

So I dropped him a line on Tuesday along with my resume. This started a series of e-mail exchanges that led to us meeting for an hour and a half at their offices on Friday afternoon. It was an informal conversation, a sort of metainterview.

It turns out that he and I have been through some near misses on our personal paths. He was job hunting this spring and summer, and was being very selective about what he wanted. He, too, had been recruited for a job with Online Dating Service but had decided he couldn't tolerate the idea of working for an online dating service. He had moved here from the Emerald City just before Labor Day and lived in an apartment only a short distance from Broadshoulder Broadsides, with whom I had interviewed just after labor day.

The current plan is to bring me in for a more technical interview later this week once I figure out what time would work best for me. It will probably happen later in the week.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Half Nerdy Thursday: Installment V

This posting deals with the arcane subject of railroad equity sales. It was inspired by an entry in my Sitemeter log that showed someone in or around the City of Brotherly Love was Googling the keywords:

I have to say this is one of the more unusual referrals for this site. I get lots of hits from people googling various forms of sexual, porn, and masturbation addiction. But railroad keywords are a rarity.

While I'm not a licensed securities dealer, I think it is safe to say that the answer to our reader's question is an unequivocal "no". The answer is based on an SEC Form 8-K filed on May 23, 1997 by CSX Corporation, one of the two companies that wound up purchasing Conrail and then dividing its assets. Quoting from that report:
On May 23, 1997, the joint tender offer (the "Joint Tender Offer") of CSX Corporation (the "Company") and Norfolk Southern Corporation ("NSC") expired. The Joint Tender Offer was made pursuant to an agreement between the Company and NSC dated as of April 8, 1997 (the "CSX/NSC Agreement"). It was effected through Green Acquisition Corp. ("Green", a subsidiary jointly owned by the Company and NSC) for the outstanding shares of Conrail Inc. ("Conrail") not already owned by Green, the Company and NSC. Most of such outstanding shares were acquired in the Joint Tender Offer...

On June 2, 1997, a subsidiary company wholly-owned by Green merged with and into Conrail. In the merger, all Conrail shares not already owned by Green, the Company and NSC were converted into the right to receive $115 cash per share and the remaining Conrail shares were cancelled.

That means the spouse should have collected $115/share on that stock over ten years ago. Whatever Conrail stock certificates this person may have been found are worthless on the equity markets. They may have a scripophilic value, but it is unlikely that they're worth that much right now. At the time I was composing this post, no Conrail certificates were listed on eBay.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Schnarchian Survey: A Meme with a Purpose

This afternoon, I got an e-mail from the Marriage and Family Health Center of Evergreen, Colorado, announcing a call for participation in a couple of assessment tools that are being developed by Schnarch's practice. The names of the tools are the Personal Development Scale and the Sexual Relationship and Satisfaction Assessment.

According to the announcement at the center's website, the survey should take 20 - 45 minutes to complete. Completion of the survey enters a participant into a raffle to win up to a $200 gift certificate. Prize notification is on Dec. 2.

The posting also notes:
In order to make sure that these two instruments are reliable and valid with a large and diverse population, we would greatly appreciate it if you would cut and paste the link on to your website or forward it to your friends. We want a diverse population in terms of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age and gender!

With that in mind, I am going to tag seven bloggers with the request that they do the following:

  1. Take the survey described above.

  2. Create a blog posting announcing the survey.

  3. Tag seven other bloggers to take the survey by listing them in your post and contacting them by either e-mail or blog comment.

Please note that this survey does not return a score value.

I tag the following bloggers:

Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Surviving the First Meeting and Some More Job News

Spent most of the morning and early afternoon getting face time with the client. Fortunately, I was there primarily just as a backup for answering questions and maintaining the facade that our company has employees.

My head was hurting through most of it. At first I thought it might be some stress, but as the day dragged on I came to the conclusion that it had more to do with that massive temperature swing that we had earlier in the day.

I did pick up a little piece of trivia with some personal interest. The newest hire in the client group just happens to have worked for the startup that I interviewed with back in early May. He didn't elaborate much on why he left, but the nature of his remarks led me to believe he wasn't happy with the way things were going over there. If I can get a bit closer into his comfort zone, I might try to pick his brain some more. I'd love to know whether my gut was right about the company.

I got a call from the recruiter who set me up with The Cable Guys back in early September. He was plugging a company on the northwest side, claiming they had an interest in my resume. I don't fully trust him. The last attempt at getting me in somewhere didn't get anywhere. He said he'd submit my resume, and then about a week later, I got some rambling e-mail from him on the state of the local market.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Life in a Potemkin Company

The company I work for has a relationship with another, much larger company that has a presence in the area. At one time, I believe that they had hoped to sell their product to the company, but it never got any headway. They did manage to rack up some billable consulting hours, though.

In late September, just before I took my trip to the northeast corner of the Sunshine State, we had lunch with some people who work over at that company. It turned out they had budget money to burn before the end of the year and wanted us to do some computer security consulting.

About a month ago, I got told by the CTO that I needed to mark off the first full week of November for this consulting project, meaning I needed to be in the office and no days off. Between then and last week, we heard nothing further about this effort.

Then in the middle of last week, my coworker got a phone call from the CEO telling us that there would be a meeting with the client on Tuesday, Nov. 6 to kick off the project. We were also informed that they would be hiring some contractors to do the grunt work of the project.

It also came to our knowledge that the CEO and CTO planned to travel out east later in the week. They would be in the Big Apple on Wednesday and Beantown on Thursday and Friday. The Beantown trip was supposed to be a meeting with a potential customer. My coworker found out that they wanted him to come along, apparently to take notes.

On Friday, I was instructed by the CTO to download the evaluation version of some computer virtualization software. He said that I would need this to do my part of the consulting work, but did not elaborate what that was.

Also on Friday, my coworker and I got sent draft copies of the work proposal, which was worded too vaguely for us to figure out what the project fully entailed. As far as we could tell, the document does not say anything about us reserving the rite to contract work out to other consultants.

Today we had an afternoon meeting with the contractors to get them up to speed on what little we knew. The CTO, en route from his home three hours away, arrived in the office just before the contractors were to arrive. During this meeting, I was introduced with the title of "Technical Lead", and the coworker was described as the "Project Manager."

I was also told that we would have two meetings with the client. One at 10 a.m. and the other at 1 p.m. We were told the second meeting would be short because the CEO flies out of town at 3 p.m. and the CTO leaves a couple hours after that.

As of this afternoon, my coworker still didn't have his ticket to Beantown.

My coworker has been working furiously to get the project charter completed and has been kicking the document back and forth between the CEO and CTO. Neither of us are clear on what's going on, and it's taxing the outer limits of our sanity.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Another Step Toward Self Care

Acting on some commenter advice, I found a massage school on the northwest side that holds clinics offering $25/hour massages, and I've booked an appointment for a full body massage this coming Saturday afternoon.

2am Ponders the Next Move on the Job Search

With Susie Student Loan Co. in suspended animation for several months, Safe-T-Call entering its fourth week of indecision, and the Amazing Music Floating Price Machine Co. begging me to reconsider, I am wondering what I should do. Right now, here are the options as I see them.

  1. Get a prescription for some good meds, pull up a chair on the Titanic, and hope for Susie Student Loan Co. to come around sometime early next year.

  2. If Safe-T-Call makes an offer this week, abandon the Titanic and hire on as a contractor, keeping open the possibility of hiring with Susie Student Loan when they come around.

  3. Give up on Safe-T-Call and Susie Student Loan Co. and abandon the Titanic for the Amazing Music Floating Price Machine Co.

  4. Stay aboard the Titanic and interview for some jobs in the Bay Area while out there in mid-December for a standards group meeting.

  5. Don't wait for December to roll around and apply for a position at a really famous Bay Area-based website for whom I have a personal contact

  6. Look for other possibilities in the Circle City and do some more interviews.

I really don't want to take my chances on (1). I might roll on (2), but my gut tells me that a company that takes over three weeks to make up its mind on hiring for a three-month contract is one that doesn't have its act together. I still can't bring myself to go with option (3). I found out tonight that (4) may not be possible because at the end of the week for that meeting, my daughters' Christmas dance performance will be taking place. I think (5) might be a bit of a stretch, but given my wife's increasingly stronger signals that she wants to control my life after I move out, it might be the best option for my sanity. There might be a ray of light for (6), for I found a posting for a contract-to-hire position locally that may be a real skill builder.

In any event, I'm sleeping on it one more night and I'm going to talk things over with the therapist.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment XVI

You've probably heard of Linda Ronstadt, if not for her roots in California folk rock, then perhaps for her many covers or her later flirtations with the Standards.

Unless you're a fan of folk music, you probably don't know Kate and Anna McGarrigle are at all.

And unless you were really paying close attention to the adult contemporary music scene in the early-to-mid 90s, you probably weren't aware that Ronstadt did a cover of a McGarrigle sisters song, namely tonight's selection "Heartbeats Accelerating" (link points to a video on iFilm).

Although I tend to prefer the lesser known original artist when it comes to songs like this, I have to admit that I like Ronstadt's version better. The McGarrigles' voices are too ghostly, and the accordion just doesn't work. Ronstadt's arrangement boldly takes the song in a different direction. If you listen closely to the musical arrangement, you can hear several musical styles at work.

Upon the subtle opening rhythm is layered a keyboard that is akin to a pipe organ. It's solitary nature reminds me of something that might be played in the church of my youth during the post sermon gathering of offerings, or perhaps as an interlude between to hymns sung during the distribution of communion.

The organ soon gets lost in a cymbal crescendo, but if you listen really closely, the theme remains in the background, plods its way through, and resurfaces at the end. Kicking in just prior to the crescendo is second keyboard track that is reminiscent of a reggae skank.

The verses lead off with Ronstadt singing without the full strength of her pipes, so it's not immediately obvious that it's her. Even when she does kick into high gear, it doesn't quite sound like her, and I can't put my finger on why. The latter parts of the verses cue the listener that this has some folk roots. The reverberated guitar is a nice touch, reminding one of the theme to the TV show Twin Peaks.

The lyrics are anticipatory, perhaps the thoughts of a young woman trying to puzzle out love. Whom will she love and when will it happen? I find it interesting that she speaks to Love as an elusive entity unto itself, something that manifests itself through another person (What earthly body will you assume?). Indeed, I was reminded of this song when Cat posted a recent comment about love finding me.

I first heard this song driving the long, lonely road between my home and the place I went to graduate school. It was perhaps early January 2004, about the time I was to undergo the Ph.D. candidacy examination. I didn't know it was Ronstadt at the time, but the unique sound of the song stuck with me.

I heard it once again in January 1996, just after I had left graduate school for east central Illinois. It was then that I went on a quest to identify the song. Fortunately at the time, search engines were sophisticated enough that you could punch in select phrases in quotes and turn up the lyrics to a song. Lyrics sites were not out there, but sometimes you'd find things on newsgroups. Indeed after several months of sporadic searches, I hit paydirt with a post on DejaNews. With a title in hand, I could find a CD.

To say that the sequence of notes that are used in the beginning of the latter part of the verses (e.g. "Will you come on a Saturday night? Maybe then the time will be right? Love love where can you be?") have been an earworm would be an understatement. The tune will play in my head at random times, especially when I am driving long distances in the cold dark night.

My mind plays games with the notes, trying to picture what they would sound like played to different instrumental arrangements, perhaps a chorus of dulcimers or a harp with orchestral back up. After a while, I can picture an entirely different piece of music that is vast expansion on this theme. Sometimes I wish I had the ability to transcribe these things into written form. Other times, I think it's for the better because they'd probably come across sounding worse than my fantasies. And then there are times that I wonder if I'm just an Asperger's case that slipped through diagnosis.

Nonetheless, enjoy the song, and remember to change your clocks. (No this doesn't mean I'm now 1amsomewhere)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment XV (Contrarian's Choice)

Tonight, we listen to Beth Orton's "Conceived", if only for the fact that I find it a beautiful song, and I'm tired of reading posts about Regina Spektor on other people's blogs[1].

[1] -- That's not to say I don't like Regina Spektor, because I do. I'm just feeling compulsively contrarian.

And I'm gonna bowl me a perfect game...

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don't come easy.

-- Ringo Starr, "It Don't Come Easy"

Welcome to the 300th post of this dissertation on depression and disappointment.

It also happens to be somewhere around 300 days since I began the first big round of job searching. I've spent a lot of time interviewing both far and near, gaining an unseemly reputation as some sort of job search slut. Maybe someday I'll write a parody of "I've Been Everywhere, Man", set to the names of corporations, as a testament to my promiscuity, but that's for another day.

Yet, even through all of this experience of self sales, I have never encountered what I encountered today. My interview with Susie Student Loan Co. got cut short by about an hour. Yep, you heard that right. After enduring the first four interview blocks, my interview took a detour to the department's senior manager, the hiring manager's manager.

Seeming both apologetic and embarrassed, he relayed to me the mixed bag of news. While I had made a very good impression on everyone with whom I interviewed, he had received news about 15 minutes ago that upper management had put a hold on hiring for the position.

The uncertainty over a potentially protracted legal battle with a cold-footed private equity suitor had made management clamp down on new hires. It was this snag that delayed my second interview, and they thought they had managed to work around the issue by expanding the role's responsibilities. They had gotten a verbal commitment from the higher ups in the middle of this week, which prompted them to go ahead with the interview. The word this morning was that the higher ups and reneged and would not sign off on it. Making the news even worse was the possibility that the hold could last for several months, up into next year at the very least.

The good news was that they wanted to keep a channel of communication open because they didn't want to lose me if I was still in the market. On my way out, the hiring manager said that it's been tough finding qualified applicants for this role. Echoing Sober Husband's advice from about 11 months ago, he said they needed someone who was capable of picking up new things and could look at things with a critical eye. The feedback they had gotten from the interviewers was that they liked the way I analyzed things and could articulate myself in front of both technical and nontechnical staff.

I have their contact information and they have mine. We're supposed to get in touch every couple of weeks to update on any changes, especially if I think I might be accepting an offer elsewhere, because that might give them additional leverage against upper level management.

I enjoyed speaking with everyone, moreso than I had initially imagined. When I learned that database security had been added to the list of responsibilities, I feared that was going to sink my chances because I have almost no experience. I stuck with the adaptability storyline and pointed out how my resume experiences reflected that, and that seemed to work well.

I'm not going to hold my breath on this one, but if I don't find something else around here soon, it might be my best bet in terms of compensation and skills development. The skills that this kind of job will foster are going to become more valuable with time. It will also help me break free of my links to native code (e.g. C/C++).

At the very least, I might try to tough it out through December, when my standards group technical meeting takes place out in the Bay Area. I might take some additional days off while I'm out there to interview for jobs.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Did I Say "Job Interview"? What I Meant was "Gang Bang".

My interview with Susie Student Loan Co. is Friday morning at 8 a.m. I got the schedule for the day late last night. Over the course of four hours, I will be interviewed by thirteen different people, many of whom will be from other departments. This certainly sets some sort of record in my book, and I'm quite the interview-around.