Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment XIV

On this belated edition of Late Night Listening, we go way back to the mid 70s and pull out a deep track from The Eagles' Hotel California... the song "Try and Love Again".

The video is an unofficial creation by a film student. To the best of my knowledge, this song has no video associated with it.

While the chorus features the band's signature harmonies, the verses are sung by neither Glenn Frey nor Don Henley. Instead Randy Meisner is at the helm, and I think the song is all the better for it because his voice captures the song's sense of loneliness so well.

One by one
The lonely feelings come
Day by day
They slowly fade away

That passage speaks loudly to me because it helps me to realize that one day the pain that I now feel from my inner loneliness will subside. I need to have enough faith in the future to move forward. When I can be happy with who I am, I can then face the question of loving another. I cannot find my happiness through someone else.

My dad was a huge Eagles fan in their heyday. I think it was the closest thing to country that he'd tolerate, and I probably heard every track from Hotel California at one time or another in my childhood. However a real awareness of this song didn't come until the fall of 1987, my first year in college.

I was driving back to school from a weekend at home, listening to a newly launched classic rock station in the Circle City, WKLR-FM. On Sunday afternoon, they had a program called "Ultimate Album Side", and they played the side that featured this song. It was a warm, beautiful afternoon, without a single cloud in the sky. To this day, I still associate the songs introductory guitar chords with Indian Summer.

Twenty years ago... seems like such a long time to be sleepwalking through life.
Well, it might take years
To see through all these tears
Don't let go
When you find it you will know

Feedback, Seymour, Feedback!

Now if you're feelin' kinda low bout the dues you've been paying
Future's coming much too slow
And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on stayin'
Cant decide on which way to go
Yeah, yeah, yeah

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

-- Boston, "Peace of Mind", Boston

Time for another update on the job search, as moribund as it has been of late...

Last week Wednesday, I wound up turning down an offer from the Amazing Music Floating Price Machine Co. The pay was attractive, but I just couldn't see myself stomaching another job at a company where my code winds up never being used by a customer. Later in the week, I got a call from someone else at the company wishing to speak with me to encourage me to reconsider. I returned his call, but he's out of town until Wednesday. If they're still wanting to make their case, I'll hear them out, but they've got a very high bar to clear.

Also on Wednesday, I had a conversation with the hiring manager at Susie Student Loan Co. regarding feedback from my interview on the prior Friday. He said that they definitely wanted to bring me in for the second round half-day interview, but they were hamstrung by a bureaucratic budgeting snag. He said they hoped to have it cleared up by the next week. Sure enough, I got a call this morning asking what times would work best for me. I gave him the dates, and he's going to get back with me once he's coordinated with the many people who will be participating.

No word from Safe-T-Call on the contract position. I talked to the recruiter a week ago, and he said that he had yet to hear from them but expected to hear something before the end of the week. After hearing nothing last week, I e-mailed him today to see what's going on. I am not really impressed by them because when I did the interview, they were emphasizing how important and how time sensitive this project was... on the order of a couple months, and they've burned over two weeks trying to make a hiring decision.

The job boards have been lacking good leads of late, but I haven't watched them too closely.

2am Misappropriates the Office Camera...

... and uses it to capture the colors of the day.

I've always wondered whether it's by some divine edict that nature's colors do not clash, or perhaps it is that we are wired to find appealing those blends of colors that echo nature's ways.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I Have a Mattress...

... in which I use a rather mundane development as an opportunity to give you some more background story material.

If you've been reading this blog long enough, you know that my wife has a core group of three friends. One, whom we'll call "Self Unhealed", lives about an hour and a half away. The other, whom we'll call "Neurosis without End", lives about five minutes away.

Self Unhealed and Neurosis without End have known each other since they were small children because their mothers were close friends. My wife became best friends with Self Unhealed back in her middle school days. Neurosis without End came into the picture during her college years while working summers at a restaurant in her hometown.

Self Unhealed is relevant to our past history because she was the one who fixed us up on our first date in the summer of 1992.

In the fall 1994, she married a guy she had been dating for a couple years. The guy had a daughter via an ex-girlfriend, and she was about four years old at the time.

Throughout the course of the marriage, the relationship between Self Unhealed and her stepdaughter was strained. By her own admission, Self Unhealed's behavior seemed like that of a moderately evil stepmother, but she seemed unable to change her ways. This was but one of the reasons that, as a therapist focusing on the treatment of abused children, she earned the moniker Self Unhealed.

As you can imagine, my wife, Self Unhealed, and Neurosis without End have been engaged in a Bowenian Triangle that has lasted for about 16 years. The strength of the bond between my wife and Self Unhealed has waxed and waned over that time.

When Self Unhealed fixed my wife and I up on our first date, they were very close. After we married in 1996, the relationship started to go through a dry spell as my wife strengthened her relationship with Neurosis without End.

In the late spring of 1999, Neurosis without End gave birth to a daughter who had a rare genetic disorder that resulted in lots of hospital stays. That sort of brought all three back together again.

Things got really tight as Self Unhealed approached a breaking point in her marriage in the fall of 2000. Soon after we moved here, Self Unhealed asked if she and her nine-month-old daughter could stay with us until things cooled down. The total duration of her stay was about two months.

About two years ago, things began to wane again. Around that time, Self Unhealed found out through text messages on her husband's cell phone that he was involved with someone at work. All hell broke loose, and the atmosphere worsened to the point where they entered into a legal separation about a year ago.

Communication between my wife and Self Unhealed slowed to a bare minimum, but she continued to converse with Neurosis without End. My wife speculated that it was because she felt more comfortable with Neurosis without End because she herself had been through a divorce.

During the separation, Self Unhealed started to reach out to her stepdaughter. The 180 in attitude puzzled my wife, who thought it might have had an ulterior motive. This fall came the news that the stepdaughter, now a junior in high school, was pregnant. Moreover, her stepdad had committed some unspecified act of domestic violence against her.

In response to this, Self Unhealed has now suggested that both her estranged husband and the pregnant stepdaughter move into the house. This seemed really strange because Self Unhealed has repeatedly said to her friends that she didn't want her husband back.

The estranged husband has taken her up on the deal, and as such, he is moving out of his separate residence. That has left them with the quandry of excess furniture. Over the weekend, Self Unhealed decided to contact my wife and ask whether I'd be interested taking a queen size mattress and box spring set. The price $0. The catch, I had to find a way to remove it from the apartment before the lease ran out on 10/31.

So I wound up borrowing Neurosis without End's husband's short bed pickup truck on Sunday to do the deed. A recent accident had left the tailgate stuck in the shut position, so there was some concern whether I'd be able to fit the mattress in. I asked the husband of Neurosis without End, and he said he thought it was doable, provided that enough ratchet straps and bungee cords were used.

I managed to get the mattress and box spring home unscathed. Fortunately the weather cooperated on Sunday night with no cloud in the sky. The materials are currently stored in the garage. They will be used once I get a place of my own.

This brings to light an amusing irony... namely that the same person who set me up with my wife is also the first person to provide me with my first post marital possession.

Codependent Bullshit

Blogger's Note: One of the surest signs that you're slacking on blogging activity is when you get an IM from a loyal reader that says, "all right, SPILL". I started writing the following post a week ago, and it has been festering in draft mode ever since. I apologize for having been stuck in writer's block for so long. From the outer perspective, I really shouldn't be that distracted, given current events, because there probably have been more demanding moments over the lifecycle of this blog. I think what makes things different is that I am just plain tired... not of blogging itself, but rather the lack of progress I am making in my life. I can't promise that my posting frequency will improve in the near term, but what posts do make it up here will be well thought out. And now, on to the actual post.

Last but not least... The nagging co-dependent bullshit. Holy god. If you wanted a pussy, you should have been a lesbian. Castrating the man you married is wrong, even if it is just by brow beating him until he loses the will to live or stand up for himself. If you wanted a man you should let him be one...

Bleh. This is why I could never be a lesbian, women fucking annoy me.

-- excerpt from a June 4, 2007, blog posting titled "Love, Lust, co-dependency, nagging.... what is marriage made of?" on the website for MySpaceUser harley_krissy, ostensibly written by Krissy

I stumbled upon the blog posting, from which the above quotation is taken, in mid-July, just a few days before my wife decided to play the Separation card. I had found it by Googling the quoted phrase "sex life hostage". It was reminded of it the night of Sat., Oct. 21, during a painfully protracted discussion with my wife.

Before I go into that, let's go back several posts and pull out the following passage, written over two months ago:
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.

The week before this past week, my wife traveled to east central Illinois, where her current employer is located, to get some training. She was gone from the evening of Wed., Oct. 17 - Sat., Oct. 20, for a total of three full days.

My dad and stepmom picked up the kids on the late afternoon of Oct. 17, so that they could spend some time together. I was to pick them up on the morning of Oct. 20 and take them to go see the other set of grandparents as well.

This past paycheck has a few hundred extra dollars in it, partially because of the lower health plan premium and the reimbursement of one month's worth of overpaid premiums. After the bills were paid, there was some money left over to have some fun.

I decided that Friday night that I would finally do something nice for myself and go see some live music. I took a look at the local entertainment newspaper, and found a spotlight article on a little tavern north of downtown. I looked at the featured acts, and it said that there was a blues band playing. I checked out the tavern's website, and found that it had a reasonably priced menu and a cheap cover charge. So I made plans to go.

I arrived just after 8 p.m. and grabbed a spot at the bar. I ordered something to eat, a killer patty melt on marbled rye, and a Killian's from the tap. The place didn't have too many people in it, but it was also true that the band hadn't started playing.

The show started shortly after 9 p.m. The lead vocalist wasn't the most powerful, but the lead guitarist and saxophonist were amazing. They served up a healthy mix of blues covers, with a few rock & roll oldies in for good measure. They made my night when they played "I Ain't Drunk; I'm Just Drinkin'", which is one of my favorites. It was a nice break from the inner loneliness, even if I wasn't really socializing. I was happy with myself. I sat through two sets, which took me up through 11:30 p.m.

During the show, my wife called my cell phone twice. We had spoken sometime in the early afternoon that day, but it was before I had made the decision to go out. With the music so loud, answering and conversing would have been a fool's errand, so I let the calls go to voice mail, keeping an eye to see whether a message was left. In both instances, she chose not to leave a message.

The second call came around 11:20 p.m., shortly before I left, so after I got into the car, I called her to find out what she had called about. She asked me whether I had talked to the girls that evening. I told her, "no", and added that when I called to talk to them around 10:30 that morning, I told my stepmom that I would call them when I got ready to leave to pick up the kids on Saturday morning, so it was clear that I hadn't planned to make a call. I asked her why she was asking, and she said it was because she had poor reception for her cell phone where she was staying.

I told her that I hadn't answered the phone because I had been at a bar seeing a blues band. I added that I was there alone, and that I had moderated my alcohol consumption so that I would be fit to drive.

She then asked me when I left work. I answered honestly, telling her that it was shortly after 5 p.m. She asked why I had left so early, given that I had left so late on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. I said that I had left the house at 7 a.m. that morning to do my interview with Susie Student Loan Co. at 8 a.m. Had I not left right at 5 p.m., our dog would have been cooped up in the house for over 11 hours. I noted that on Wednesday, she had left around 6 p.m., and on Thursday, I did my morning teleconferences from home and left for work in the early afternoon.

She didn't say much else, and we said our good-nights. I thought that was the end of it.

On Saturday night, everyone was back home. I had gone down earlier in the day to pick up the kids as scheduled. My wife had returned around 8 p.m. Kids were in bed at 9 sharp. About a half hour later, we're both sitting in the family room. She's working, and I'm surfing and blogging on the laptop I got from work a month or so ago.

Out of nowhere, my wife asks me whether we should tell our families about the decision to divorce before the holidays. I pause from my surfing, and answer the question, saying that I don't think it would be wise to tell anyone anything until we have a more concrete picture of where things will be going, and we can't answer that until we know where I will be working. I continue typing and listening to what she says

She goes on to say that she thinks we should go ahead and tell the families because otherwise things will be really awkward during the holiday get-togethers. She adds that I'm a lousy faker, and that I had seemed awkward at the last big family gathering at my dad's over Labor Day weekend. I acknowledged her points, but I said that I still thought it was best for us to disclose things we were sure of, not how things might unfold.

After a few more minutes of back and forth, she asks me whether I'm having IM conversations with other women. I tell her, "no." She then tells me that she cried herself to sleep on Friday night after we ended our phone conversation because she feared that I had gone there to meet someone.

I explained to her that it was based on some advice given to me by my therapist several weeks ago: go out and do some nice things for yourself on a regular basis to help promote taking care of your mental health. I said that being alone without major obligations on Friday night presented me with a good opportunity to do just that.

She expressed frustration, claiming that she had been telling me for years that I needed to go out and do things, but that I never heeded her advice. She said her suspicion about me meeting someone was because going out like that seemed such an unlikely thing for me to do.

She said that although we hadn't slept together in months and we weren't sexual, she said that she could not bear the thought of me seeing someone else while we were living under the same roof, thereby answering once and for all the question of whether a da/dt arrangement might have been possible with her.

I said that I would need to have a day out of the week where I could go do something for myself, and it might involve doing something else like taking a class. She said that because she was now working 32 hours a week, I'd have to schedule it at a time when the kids were in bed, which meant after 9 p.m.

She also expressed anger at me over a comment I had made during a phone conversation earlier in the week. At the time, she was trying to figure out the logistics of her taking classes to learn medical coding. She brought up the possibility of me watching the kids those nights.

Unclear over how many nights she would need to do this, I didn't make a wholesale commitment. I said that I couldn't make any promises on that because of the uncertainty of my job. Even if I did stay local, I might wind up moving to the other side of town so that my commute to work wouldn't be as bad. Right now it's 26 miles and anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour. I said that if need be, I would help her pay for a sitter.

This didn't set well with her. She said that I was trying to back out of my obligations as a dad and just write a check. Then she said it would be hard for her to find a sitter she could trust and who would be available twice a week. Then she said it would be expensive to do that, something on the order of $500.

She then said that perhaps she should require that I have custody of the kids on a weekday so that I would have to worry about the logistics of getting them child care for the day. At one point, she invoked the "Fine, I just won't go back to school then." She was just sinking into spiteful mode.

She then railed at me for being delusional about the whole divorce process, saying that I underestimated how much this would cost. She asked me what kind of living arrangement I pictured once I moved out. I said that I would probably rent a room at first to keep costs down so that I could save up money for things that I would need. For the most part, I would be starting from scratch.

She said that was unacceptable, saying that I would need to have a place big enough to house the girls overnight or at least for her to stay while I spent the night with the girls at the current house.

She said she also wanted wherever I moved to be on this side of town because she thought that I would consider being close to the girls more important than a short commute. I told her that it was easy for her to say because it wasn't her time that was being wasted for almost two hours every day.

She then laid on the guilt, asking me whether I had planned just on seeing the girls every other weekend while I built a life of my own.

The conversation didn't resolve much, although it did suggest that she wants to dictate the constraints of my life so that I am not left enjoying myself too much. This is going to be a tough battle over boundaries because I will need to balance my obligations as a father against my wife's tendency to treat me more as a means to accomplish her agenda than as a separate person with desires and goals of his own.

After the conversation ended, I was left feeling angrier toward her. If I would have had enough money for the retainer, I think I would have called my attorney the next day to tell her that I wanted her to get me out of this marriage as quickly as possible.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment XIII

The quest for certainty has produced a fascination with reducing everything to its basic components; everything must have an answer. Only the poets are unafraid of ambiguity.

-- the character of Cassandra, taken from Friedman's Fables by Edwin H. Friedman, pp. 104 - 105.

In an unusual break from the overanalytic tenor of this space, tonight's selection is delegated to the poets. Submitted, without further commentary: "Somewhere Down the Crazy River" by Robbie Robertson (Link goes to video; Poster did not allow page embedding).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sorting Out this Infernal Stack of Aging Envelopes

Have you ever been through a time in your life where you just don't want to open your mail? Maybe you just got tired of hoping that something you'd really want would arrive. Maybe it's because most of what arrives are bills, or maybe they're even past due.

Perhaps the direness of your situation makes you take those "You may have won $100 million" announcements personally, and rather than just shrugging them off as just another lame marketing gimmick, you just get into a state of outrage thinking, "D@mn it! Where's my $100 Million?!!" You run the envelope in the shredder proclaiming the likenesses of Ed McMahon et al. to be postal persona non grata ad infinitum.

Did Kramer seem quite reasonable during that Seinfeld episode where he goes to demand that mail delivery be stopped altogether? At some point, you know you need to tear into that stack and clean it up once and for all, but you just can't summon the energy in the moment to do it.

No, that's not what's really happening in my life, but it's a really good metaphor for explaining why I haven't felt much like blogging. Subsitute "junk mail" and "bills" with "difficult situtations" and "unattended negative feelings", and that pretty much sums it up. I've been fighting bouts of hopelessness. I've been having trouble sleeping through the night. I've been feeling anxiety over the lack of any physical or emotional intimacy.

The death of Do-No-Evil as a job lead continues to have a negative impact of my job search motivation. I've set up some automated search agents at the usual and customary job boards to feed me national leads, but that's about all I can stand to do. One of my readers suggested to me in private correspondence to check out the craigslist.org sites at cities I'd like to move to for leads, citing that the reputation of the big job boards is deteriorating with employers. I might just do that, but as of yet, I haven't been able to push myself to execute.

As I mentioned, I've applied to some local companies. I did an interview a week ago with Safe-T-Call for a three-month contract position on Thursday. On Monday, I did an interview with The Amazing Music Floating Price Machine Co. on Tuesday. In a couple instances of small worldishness, I learned that a good chunk of the company's development staff graduated from my alma mater, and the CEO is from my hometown. Both interviews seemed go go well, but they said it would be a week or two before they would have a decision because they had other candidates to consider.

Tomorrow I have an interview with Susie Student Loan Co. for an application security analyst position. I think that there is some potential there, but I suspect that I may not get the offer because they are wanting someone with .NET Framework know-how since they are a big Microsoft shop, although they have quite a mix of other technologies from mergers and acquisitions past.

True to form, Large Indigo and Local VOIP Co. haven't responded to the job applications I submitted a couple weeks ago.

The standards body work continues to consume most of my time at my current job. The next submission deadline is November 12, and we'll probably make that, but there's still a lot that needs to be done in terms of supplying content for the survey of standards and specifications. I've been trying to get representatives from corporations to contribute their input, but with the exception of two reps, my requests have been met with a collective yawn. Yet, they want this to move forward. And I still don't fully grok what we're trying to accomplish because to do so would require me to learn about five years of arcane knowledge in a couple weeks.

My boss has asked me to resurrect some proprietary compression code so that he can start working on it again. It was actually the first project I worked on here, almost two years ago. It hasn't been touched since the spring of 2006. The original client for whom we were doing the work, has been in bad financial troubles -- shareholder lawsuits, creditor revolts, accounting irregularities, and the threat of stock delisting.

I suspect he thinks we could reuse it for the client for which they're currently doing consulting work. He wanted me to get the code working for the new version of the development tool he wants to use. However, I found out through a rather paninful process of troubleshooting, that it's just not possible to do the job using the tool. You have to buy a license for the higher end tool, which will cost several hundred bucks, which they will refuse to spend. 'Tis as if Pharoah himself had asked for bricks without straw.

I'm not sure why he's so motivated to develop another proprietary compression algorithm when the domain for which he's like to use it is so saturated with other industry standard algorithms. How he thinks his brilliant mind will outdo an array of experts who spend their lives on this stuff is beyond me. Methinks he's looking to collect licensing fees of some sort. But, then again, it could just be more busywork for me to do so he looks like he's doing a modicum of management.

Then there is the health insurance. We are on a new plan now, with a high deductible and a health savings account. For family coverage, it is a $4,000 deductible, and the maximum contribution that we can make to the savings account something on the order of $5,800. The monthly premium goes down $177.25/month, so we'll be saving $2,126.94. But since the deductible quadruples with no co-pays, that decline in premium and then some needs to go into the HSA, so in effect my net income continues to shrink.

My wife has started gearing up for life on her own. She requested and got from her employer permission to increase the number of hours she works per week from 10 to 32. That will make her eligible for her employer's health plan. She wants me to go on that, too, because it will be a lot cheaper than what we have. My employer still wants me to stick with the plan so that they can make good on a promised one-time $1,000 contribution to the HSA. However, I don't know whether I'll have tax liabilities should I get the money deposited then quit before the end of the year. It shouldn't be this complicated.

I've talked with my therapist about depression the last two sessions. She says the sleeping problems could be rooted in it, and has instructed me to keep a more regular sleep schedule and keep a journal of when I wake up. She's also reminded me that I need to set aside some time for myself, even if my wife has increased needs for me to watch the kids as she starts to work more. I'm to get a sitter, if necessary. I can't argue much with that. :-)

There is one other thing that has been weighing heavily... I am feeling very alone these days. Part of it is the earlier nightfall and the spooky twilight breezes. There has been some realignment in friendships, too, case of disruption in some Bowenian triangles, which can be very jarring.

But I'm really starting to miss touch. It's been over 20 weeks since my wife and I did anything sexual. And it's been even longer than that since we engaged in anything close to loving affection. I know that I don't want this from her anymore, and she seems to be doing quite well without any from me, thank you. I also know that from others' blogs, there are those who are facing worse droughts and living. I really need to get myself out of this limbo and move on because it's sapping me of energy.

I need to revitalize the narrative of my life, because right now it's stuck in a swamp.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment XII

Tonight's selection is what I believe to be one of the most unappreciated and underrated entries in the Eurythmics' songbook -- "Love is a Stranger" (could not embed because the poster doesn't allow it).

If my memory serves me correctly, this song was the followup to the hit single "Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)", and it didn't really take off in terms of airplay. My guess is that the song was less accessible than its predecessor.

"Dreams" might have been exotic sounding, but it had a steady rhythm, and fairly consistent meter. "Stranger"'s seduction arises from being elusive and unpredictable. In the last half of the song, the formula of the first two verses is broken by an extensive and passionate enumeration of Love's darker attributes.

I also love the video for "Stranger". When I first saw it, I found the use of the ventriloquist's dummy to visualize the phrase-ending male "uhs" to be hilarious.

The other thing that grabbed my attention upon first glance was the sheer femininity of Annie Lennox in the opening scene. It contrasted starkly against the cold, androgynous, power hungry image Lennox conveys in the "Dreams" video.

On subsequent viewings, I notice just how expressive Lennox is with her face and eyes when she sings the refrain for the first time... luring you in with the "I want you" and jolting you with "It's an obsession", transitioning from temptress to mental case and back in fractions of a second. Within the hormone induced confusion that a 14-year-old male such as me would have have had, I wouldn't have cared. She could have had her way with me regardless.

Had you asked me in the summer of 1983 whether Eurythmics would go on to have more hits, I would have said "no". I couldn't get past the gender bender schtick. The success and longevity of Eurythmics and Lennox's own solo recordings are a testament to both the group's versatility and the raw talent of Lennox's beautiful voice.

Any doubts I may have had back then were put to death with the 1985 release of "Would I Lie to You". That roaring fusion of rock and soul was an in-your-face statement that they could handle anything that you threw at them. I found it to be a sweet irony that they would chose to record such a mold breaking track for an album titled Be Yourself Tonight.

I'll be back in the next day or so with an update on my life. Keep visiting.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Half Nerdy Thursday: Installment IV

In a prior job, one of my tasks was to write code to convert documents of one format into another. Both formats had rich facilities for specifying document structure. So, for example, if you had a document that had section headings, you would apply a "Section" style to the heading text rather than changing the font size, weight, and text for each heading. Here is what things looked like syntactically in the source format:

Cell["Theory of Relationship Blogs", "Section"]

and here is what it looked like in the destination format:

\section{Theory of Relationship Blogs}

The source format wasn't human generated; it was actually created in a WYSIWYG editor, not much different from a word processor.

In reality, it was my experience that most people didn't use word processors this way. Either they would manually adjust the fonts of the text to get the appearance, or they would use the styles to achieve a certain appearance without regard for the style name's semantics (e.g. use the Section style in the body of a paragraph because it changed the font to a bold faced, sans-serif font). Unfortunately for me, these people also were the most likely to use the automated document conversion features and complain when they got weird results.

I was thinking about those days as I read a blog posting from today, titled The Structured Web - A Primer. Granted, the document centers around websites and HTML, but at its core, this is the same issue that one runs into with any format that has both structure and presentation features.

Even if you don't spend a lot of time editing HTML, this highly readable article is worth the time, and it will give you a whole new appreciation of how the packaging of information can enhance or limit its usefulness.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

As the Doors Open and Close

My phone interview with Do-No-Evil on Oct. 1 appeared to go well, but apparently not well enough. After a week of silence, I e-mailed the recruiter for an update, and I got back the following reply this afternoon.
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2007 10:38:59 -0700 (PDT)
From: (recruiter e-mail withheld)
To: (2amsomewhere)
Subject: Thank you from (Do-No-Evil)

Hi (2am),

Thank you for your time and interest in the Software Engineer, Internal Applications - (Windy City) position. We carefully reviewed your background and experience, and though we do not have a position that is a strong match with your qualifications at this time, we will be keeping your resume active in our system. We will continue to use our database to match your profile with new opportunities and will reach out to you if we find an opening for which you may be qualified.

Thanks again for your interest in (Do-No-Evil)'s careers and unique culture; we hope you will remain enthusiastic about our company. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (e-mail address withheld).

Kind Regards,

(recruiter name withheld)
(Do-No-Evil) People Operations

I am grateful that I got a chance to prove myself in some small way. It's a lot more than what some local employers of lesser stature have been willing to grant me. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that my heart sank heavily when I read the message. There's still some hope, but not enough to hold breath. It's time to let go of this child's fantasy and move on.

I have one interview scheduled on Thursday afternoon. It's a contract position, minimum of three months, and a chance of going long term. The client is a company that develops software for public safety agencies. I'm a bit nervous about this one because not only do they have a staffing agency trying to fill the contract position, they are also trying to hire directly a director of software development. The thought of going into a situation where there is a leadership vacuum makes me wary.

A number of posts on the job boards caught my eye late last week, and I put my name in at four different places.

One of them is the Local IP Telephony Company with whom I have applied no less than five times in the last two and a half years without so much as a response. I've also been submitted by two different recruiters in the past year, getting rejected before the interview stage.

Another is a second chance with Large Indigo. If you recall from earlier this summer, I applied to them, got some help from a reader on getting my resume to a live person, only to find later that the position had been filled. Then the position reappeared, and I e-mailed the contact with no response. More recently, I noticed that a second posting for the employer has been posted on the boards. It is worded a bit differently, and the job code is different. I decided to put in my name again with the hopes that I can still get on. I also saw a recent press release from a local university hailing the creation of the new site, and it noted that there will be five people working there. Maybe there's still some hope.

I have put my name in with two other local companies. One is a startup that deals with dynamic pricing software, which might be interesting, but my gut tells me that they might be suffering the same troubles getting people to buy into their product that my current employer has run into. I have an interview with them on Monday next week. The other is a very large student loan company, which is looking for an someone who can keep an eye on the security issues with their applications. That would be a nice transition from the world of coding, but I don't know if I'm what they're looking for.

I got a call from a recruiter today plugging a local company that does content management for technical documentation. It would be an in-house developer role, but he thinks that they might be interested in me. He's submitting my resume for their consideration.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Half Nerdy Thursday: Installment III

Today's post is on human based computation.

The use of human input as an aid in performing computational tasks may seem a bit bass ackwards at first, but it's an idea that's gathering steam in disparate places. Here are some examples:

  • A little over a year ago, a search engine startup known as ChaCha went online with an alpha version. The selling point of this search engine is the ability to summon a human guide via an instant messenger style user interface. The paid human guides work from home. They've been through some rough bumps, from what I hear, but they've been working hard to beef up their technology so that it scales better.

  • Amazon.com takes this idea to the next conceptual plane with its Mechanical Turk web service. Mechanical Turk matches up people with tasks, and those who perform the tasks successfully are rewarded with monentary compensation. A blogger from CNet's website decided to try it out as one of the paid workers, but she learned that you probably won't be able to quit your day job by doing so. Indeed, one of the commenters on the blog astutely notes that the wages will probably have better appeal in developing economies. Which brings to the fore an irony of sorts. Why would you choose a name that might be interpreted as being ethnically derogatory? Actually, the name for this service is derived from an 18th century hoax perpetrated by a Hungarian nobleman, a chess machine that actually had a human being inside calling the moves. The machine was decked out in Turkish garb. The subtitle of "Artificial Artificial Intelligence" is the best moniker I've heard since "Disappearing, Reappearing Ink" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

  • If you're not into the whole for-profit thing, you might be interested in this final example of human assisted computing. Those of us who have musical inclinations have probably wished for a musical search engine that could dig up titles beyond mere lyrics or titles. Some researchers are working on this effort, and they are compiling the data for the engine using a game to solicit human input about songs. If you're into all the high brow background stuff, there is a short paper on this topic. If you want to joint the fun, just point your browser to ListenGame. I'm sure that FADKOG would kick many an @$$ playing it.

Remember, if you want to play along, feel free to leave questions for next week's installment in the comment area of this post. Don't make me break out the dreaded elliptic curve cryptography expository.