Thursday, October 30, 2008


That's the number of lines of code attributed to me in our web services thus far. That's 7,963 lines of code over the past two months and 10 days.

Spent the morning working from home. The igniter on my furnace failed on me last night, leaving me without heat and a nice crisp wake up temperature of 55 oF.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fall On Me [1]

(a quasi poetic interlude)

On this chill morn did my inbound bus driver reveal unto me that he had seen between the third and fourth hour some snowflakes aflurry. I lamented the bitter cold's premature arrival as I fed my 12 bits for fare.

The chill seemed to sap the energy of all who claimed stride upon sidewalks of this city. The skies were overcast and dim for most of the day. Yet as I set foot from my homeward bound bus onto the drive of my residence did I notice that the sky had taken an appearance most odd.

The cloud cover had thinned in places, exposing a faint blue, reminding me that amid all this, her azure splendor did still dwell above all else. Yet evenso, the blue was so faint that you might not notice in the dimming moments of twilight.

The primitive reaches of my mind posited the supersition that the cold air was so vast in its hunger that it had devoured the sweet day's rays.

Loneliness... It is hardly coincidence that we do associate friendly company with warmth and isolation with the chill. I live alone now, save for the presence of my beloved wayward canine of seven years. I feel the isolation as I walk the drive from my bus route to my home.

I see the stately trees as they begin their colorful descent into a barren slumber. A breeze may ruffle the leaves here and there, with the gentle rasp of lifeless biomass across grass. This haunting scene brings forth an understanding of the ease with which our ancestors bound death, decay, and fear to this season.

Why do we despise the isolation? Perhaps it is because we know deep down that few of us could truly survive as an island. We need the din of others to drown out the vulnerability.

But why survive? This is the question so few of us can answer. Scholars tell us we are matter animated by energy through processes so complex that we cannot fathom, let alone fully replicate.

Through our beings we sustain life in the present and for the future, but in our brief existence here we have become so much more skilled at the destruction of life, but the a priori creation eludes us, probably for reasons of the better, given our penchant for folly.

We know that this universe is vast. We know we are insignificant in both space and mass. Our existence is fleeting. The energy that propagates us is a blink of an eye to the stars which populate in the heavens.

What is so special about our existence that it should merit preservation? Is it the rarity of such complex and organized systems? If so, who aside from us, is out there to treasure its scarcity?

It is this mystery which leads us to resolve this paradox with the divine. Some cultures have ascribed to divinity many attributes... jealousy, benevolence, omnipotence, destructiveness, omniscience, wrathfulness, forgiveness, self sacrificing, indifference...

Over the past few years, my faith in the divine has been shaken, but not abandoned. If he will not break the reed so bruised, nor will I. When people ask me what flavor of belief I am, I say, "Lutheran in Exile". At one point I went so far as to accuse the Almighty of my upbringing as being stricken with mental illness.

There are many in my trade who do not acknowledge the divine. Although most are tolerant, there are those who would seek to discourage belief out of the assumption that many of our ills are created or prolonged by disagreements over the Truth and a distrust of reason.

To these, I say that even in the rational constructs of computing, we indulge in regular use of useful illusions. We speak of them as real, as if they are there, but are not. The notion of the window in a graphical user interface is but one example. There is no window there as there are no buttons to press, but we rely on these metaphors to give us the ability to work with data on a higher level.

When they balk at me, I bring up perhaps their own pet constructs: data objects, sockets, or even pipes. It at this point they can sometimes see my point. We all rely on these things to help us do our job. If we were forced to work manually with the countless transistors on a single chip, we would certainly get little done throughout the day.

So even if there is no significance to our existence, I would rather live it believing that there is a purpose that drives us, than to be utterly adrift. I don't know the purpose. I don't know if I ever will, but just believing that one day it will be known helps me to act as if.

[1] -- Apologies to R.E.M., but only out of deference to their early years... before the Stipe went bald and the releases became tripe.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Whither Blogging?

In a comment, Digger Jones poses a deep question:
Just another random question for you: Is blogging of this type going to continue to be be viable in the next 5 years? I'm seeing more stuff happening in video with embedded links and annotaions. The stuff going on at Voicethread is also very interesting, but it makes me think this might be a dying medium. How does something like this compete with something like YouTube?

Just wondering about your take as an industry insider.

This one requires an essay to answer, so you know this is going to be a longer post. :-) To make this a useful discussion, we need to know to the meaning of the phrase blogging of this type and the definition of viability.

For the purpose of this discussion, I'm going to define "blogging of this type" in two senses.

  1. The content conveyed on a blog and the structure used to present it to the reader.

  2. The services or applications that bloggers use to create and host their content.

The first definition is motivated by your references to video and semantic web technologies that make finding non-textual content easier. The second is motivated by my own professional experience and some other essays that I have read.

When asked to define the term blog, most of us would probably point to a diary as a reference point, because a blog typically contain entries organized in reverse order of entry. Many blogs resemble real-world diaries because they contain very personal thoughts and experiences, but blogs are used for much more than that, and those uses vary according to who is creating and hosting them.

Personal blogs written by individuals have been used to:

  • Keep friends and family abreast of day-to-day events.

  • Express emotional reactions to personal experiences.

  • Digest and comment on current events, especially politics.

  • Entertain readers with passages of original creative writing.

  • Share links to other interesting content.

  • Track progress in a personal improvement effort like training for a triathlon or losing weight.

  • Chronicle a life changing event of significant duration, like pregnancy or cancer.

  • Engage in citizen journalism.

  • Share the contents of memes and hoaxes that are usually propagated by e-mail.

Professional and corporate blogs have been used to:

  • Write about emerging issues within the author's domain of expertise to build a reputation and achieve "thought leadership".

  • Open up a direct conversation with customers about company initiatives.

  • Provide a behind-the-scenes look into the company.

  • Add perspective to current events.

  • Post official announcements and marketing messages.

Blogging started out as a mostly one-way textual medium. I can remember when Blogger offered no built-in facility for reader comments and when the ability to post images was a value-added service that you had to pay to get.

The rise of broadband and the support of video in Flash brought video embedding to the masses in a way that QuickTime and RealVideo had failed in years past. YouTube made it fairly easy to upload short clips, and people seized on that to post the following:

  • Home movies to share with family and friends.

  • Clips of people engaged of acts of intentional inanity.

  • Alternate interpretations of popular songs through cover performances and music videos.

  • Transfers of music videos, movies, commercials, cartoons, and other copyrighted content from old VHS and Beta collections.

Also lowering the barrier to entry has been that YouTube is free.

Digger makes mention of efforts to add semantic information to video clips that would aid search engines and wonders if this might be a replacement to blogging.

Besides video, there have been other communication media that have been perceived as competition to blogging. Podcasts have been around for several years, both as a supplement and as an alternative to blogging. People have also pointed to the rise of microblogging sensation Twitter as another threat to blogging.

So now that we have surveyed the landscape of traditional blogs and the potential successors, we're now in a place to speculate about where things are headed.

In order for the standard text blog to be replaced by the newer technologies, a couple things would need to happen:

  1. Those writing standard blogs start to use non-blogging media instead or lose interest in blogging altogether.

  2. A monotonically increasing percentage of new content creators opt for non-blogging media.

If you look at all of those purposes for which people blog that we listed above, how many of these would be better served by the other technologies?

Twitter helps people keep in touch with neighbor nodes on the social graph, and it can be a great way to propagate reactions that fit cleanly into a sentence or two. Unless you are gifted with the ability of creating engaging blurbs on a regular basis or you are famous, most people are going to be of the same opinion that was expressed so bluntly by my ex-coworker at the Titanic, "I just don't find much use in following my friends and knowing when they're going to take a dump." Twitter feeds have also been the birthplaces of some petty insult matches between people, even high profile personalities.

Although it takes less time to speak words than to type them, podcasting can require more effort than composing a blog post. Podcasts can run for several minutes to the better part of an hour, and filling that time with something that is coherent and engaging requires preparation. Moreover, unless you are just a flawless extemporaneous speaker, you're going to make mistakes as you make your recordings, which may require some editing.

Podcasts make sense for people who have built up a readership that is eager to her his or her thoughts on a subject area. They are a great add-on for the thought-leadership blogger. But for the personal blogger who may write about a lot of things, a podcasting series or audio blog is probably a bridge too far. See for example, FTN's foray into podcasting, or the dabbling in audio posts that Desperate Husband engaged in before he ceased blogging altogether.

Video creation raises the bar even above and beyond the podcast. You have to make sure that either you look good, or your accompanying visuals are compelling[2]. Dumping the contents of your camcorder or webcam up into a YouTube clip is one thing, editing footage into a coherent work on a regular basis is another thing completely.

I think video posts make a lot of sense for personal bloggers, like citizen journalists or family bloggers, who have a need to put the reader live on the scene of an event. It's also helpful for those who might use it in a corporate blog to illustrate a dynamic process that isn't easily described in text, or to demo a new product. Digger's DDR posts aside, video isn't a place that anonymous bloggers would have a lot of attraction.

In some instances, video can seem just downright gratuitous. Although not really an instance of blogging, job ads can be good example of this. Back during my Great Job Search of 2007, I noticed that one area recruiting agency started adding "click here to view a video about the job" links to their job board posts. These videos were clips of a recruiter sitting in his[3] office pimping the job with a modest amount of preparation. The presentation was not much less inspiring than a PBS volunteer pledge pitch[4], and most of the time, the clips just drove home the message that headhunters can be vapid and shady.

Semantic web technologies will help non-textual content to be searchable, but in the short run, this will involve adding tagging information. As wonderful as this is, I don't place much faith in video bloggers making use of this diligently for the same reason that software engineers are bad about entering meaningful messages as part of their source code commits. For too many, adding summary information in a consistent manner is just too much work.

I think blogs also make a lot of sense from the content consumer perspective. Many of us bloggers read a lot of blogs ourselves, oftentimes managing the onslaught with RSS feeds. Since the volume of content is large, I have to do a lot of skimming to filter out what's truly interesting. The human eye and the brain can do this well. You can't do it with audio or video.

Whether new entrants into this space choose blogging or some other content technology is not clear. If anyone has any statistics, I'd love to know. If I had to guess I'd say that blogs haven't lost their edge, especially within the scope of financial and political commentary, where there is so much demand for clarity and analysis.

I think there are some questions about the viability of the major blogging services and their competitors.

Blogger offers an easy and hosted way to blog, but it survives by virtue of it's backing by Google. The financial turmoil is putting a crimp on online advertising revenue, which is a big source of money for Google. If advertising continues to remain in a slump for an extended period of time, would it be unreasonable for Google to reconsider whether its ownership of the blogging company, especially since it has a lot of blogs that do not host ads? What then?

Some are arguing that despite being ahead of the curve in many areas in the past, blogging service LiveJournal has made some bad choices that leave it left behind in the area of social networking web services.

SixApart (MovableType) and Automattic (Wordpress) offer standalone and hosted blogging products. Both have garnered funding over the past year or two, and each views the other as a hostile competitor. Both have found loyal users in the consumer and professional blogging spaces. However, a good part of their strategy is hinged on scoring ad revenue for their subscribers. If online advertising dries during this slowdown, that could force them to restrategize.

Twitter's unreliability earlier this year made it the stuff of countless jokes. Yes, they continue to secure funding, but the punditry is skeptical that it can survive in the long run with it's current form of operation.

For all of its popularity, YouTube is still something of an enigma from the business standpoint. Google has made no secret of the fact that it has been trying to figure out how to monetize the site. And there has been some recent analysis showing big media-backed, which doesn't focus on user-generated content, has been doing a better hob of "selling out its content" than YouTube has.

From all of this, it should be clear regardless of which side of the divide one sits, there are challenges to the viability of both the blogging services and their competitors. I don't think that the blog is doomed to obsolescence, but there may be some turbulence that weeds out weaker competitors.

My employer is pretty bullish on the future of blogging from the corporate standpoint. They take a different viewpoint, arguing that encouraging employees to set aside time for blogging will result in better organic search rankings[5]. Better placement leads to reader clicks to the blog site. The blog site becomes a customer acquisition tool.

When done right, the corporate blog has relevant content, written by authentic voices, and frequently updated. It provides a more compelling introduction to the customer than most corporate websites, which are sometimes nothing more than sleek digital brochures. From the corporate standpoint, blogs may not be threatened by other technologies, but they may threaten the prominence of the standard model of corporate websites.

[1] -- Face it, people tend to be drawn to content if the presenter is hot.

[2] -- For an example of a recurring video feature that has compelling visuals, take a look at the "Zero Punctuation" video game review series by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw over at The Escapist. While the reviews are side-splittingly funny, they are laced with profanity and sexual references.

[3] -- No, I'm not being sexist. All of the videos involved male recruiters.

[4] -- Relax, I'm a fan of both PBS and NPR. The pledge drives just drive me nuts. Although this past pledge drive with the local NPR station had a howler of a plug from the host of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and the guy who does all of the "Support for this program comes from..." voice overs for NPR. They hypothesized about what life would be like without NPR, and they had the voice over guy taking orders at fast food restaurant, acknowledging each customer order item with a description of where the item came from.

[5] -- This shouldn't be too hard to envision with one of Digger's blog ranking in the top 10 for Google's search against the keyword "Schnarch". Several of my own posts have ranked very high on topics in his books. I believe that my own blog ranks higher than Schnarch's website and the Google Books copy of one of his books on the term "Normal Marital Sadism".

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Therese Asks About My Karaoke Choice

AUTHOR NOTE: Edited post at 11:17 pm EDT on Oct. 25 to remove redundant sentence.

Therese asked in a comment:
It was just a guess, but I wondered if your karaoke song choice had any personal relevance to you right now. It was very fun watching you sing in any case!

For as much as I am a maven of symbolism, I did not consciously make a choice to sing this as a symbolic act.

I picked the song for a couple of reasons...

I've always loved the song "Tainted Love". The "bomp bomp" riff that repeats throughout the song is very addictive, and it's always struck me as sort of musical anachronism. Yes, there are little bits and pieces of 80s synthesizer, but to me this song looks and feels like mid-60s British Invasion artifact.

Second, I figured that if I was going to step out of my comfort zone and make a fool of myself, I might as well do it in the most comfortable way possible. :-) This is one of the few songs you might catch me trying to sing along with on the radio.

I was bummed that the karaoke version didn't use the longer version of this song, which includes a breakaway into a cover of the Supremes song "Where Did our Love Go?"

A Mild Lament on this Saturday October Morn

Tonight, one-time Talking Heads lead man David Byrne is giving a concert the city renowned, acoustically perfect performance venue on the old northside of the city.

I really wished I was going to this show, but I also know that it is my weekend with the kids, so I'd feel like I was not keeping up my commitments to them by going, given that I had a good-sized "me" weekend with the blogger gathering.

Byrne's promoting a new album that he and Brian Eno recorded, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Here is a video clip for one of the tracks, "Strange Overtones", that is getting airplay on XM.

I first heard the track about a month ago and fell in love with it. I also really like the description of this music as "electronic gospel."

Those of you who have read my backstory posts will know that I've been a Talking Heads fan for some time, but I don't think I've talked much about Eno in this space.

I remember back in 1985, as a high school student, going on an invited tour of the really big liberal arts college over in south central Hoosierland. I was sitting in a lecture hall as they were discussing some college information, and I noticed that someone at one time had scrawled the phrase "Eno is God" on the table surface.

The more I have become familiar with Eno's works, both as a producer and as a musician, the more I have come to appreciate just how much of a creative genius he is. You can see his signature on U2's Unforgettable Fire, wherein the music takes on a more ethereal sound. With respect to his own works within the ambient genre, "Triennale" stands out as a one of my favorites.

Triennale - Brian Eno

It can be either soothing or haunting depending on my frame of mind and the time of day.

My mother's 59th birthday was on Thursday, so my daughters and I will be treating her to lunch today. We also might make a trip down to my pet coffee shop for a smoothies and a game or two of Candy Land.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yes, I was There This Morning...

Made it to the Obama rally held today at the American Legion Mall. Here is the view from my cell phone camera...

'Twas a beautiful day, even if it meant standing on my feet for about four hours straight. He is indeed a powerful orator, and the crowd was moved by his calls to change not only the way our government runs, but also how we run our own lives.

With the intensity at which staff and volunteers were encouraging people to join in to get out the vote, it's pretty clear that Obama is taking this state, which hasn't cast its electoral votes for a Democrat in 44 years, very seriously.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Morning Singalong: Searching for a Mood Groove

I got to sleep around 4, woke up before 8, and I couldn't get back to sleep. I can already tell that the energy levels are going to be really interesting.

It's a Sunday morning, and I want a song that just captures the state of mind that I want to have. The Commodores' "Easy" comes to mind, but that's not really the kind of groove I'm craving, so I'll pull one from the Lionel Richie post-Commodores canon, "You Are".

You Are - Lionel Richie

As far as hits go, this was not Richie's biggest success. Indeed, his best years in terms of sales were still yet to come. What does it for me is the backup vocals that lead into the refrain. This song was recorded in the early 80s, when synth was taking over everything. To me, those low, smooth harmonies take me back to an earlier time, early-to-mid 70s soul, just before disco was about to really take off.

I was reading Digger's post about exposure after finishing up my own post about the get-together. He seems to be facing an virtual existential crisis, wondering what to do with his blogs as the real converges upon the virtual.

It's a question that anonymous bloggers, myself included, can seldom avoid. Our blogs attract readers. We read others' blogs. Friendships form. The friendships arc across the HTTP barrier into the world of SMTP[1], IM, and POTS[2]. Hell, Digger's blogging is the conceptual hub that links together most of the people who showed up last night.

I've become less seclusive about my blog identity. Indeed I met three bloggers in person over the course of 2007, two from the Bay Area, and one from here. One one of my kid-free weekends in the not-so-distant future, I'm planning a trip to the Big Apple to meet up with another anonyblogger who is not part of the Diggersphere, but clued me into Digger via his post about the top 10 signs of a low libido spouse.

I've kept in touch via IM with one of the bloggers who showed up at the gathering. All of them know my name and what I look like. All attendees of last night's gathering have my meta-number now, so they can reach me on my home or cell phone. So, yeah, the barriers are breaking down. I still don't think I will ever post my full picture on here, which is probably a good thing because a "rate my picture" system at a dating website show that after 66 votes from women, I'm ranking 3.91/10.

But the bigger question for me is this. How much more life is left in 2amsomewhere? In terms of output, posts have been a lot less frequent in 2008, but in all fairness, most of the posts have mostly been of great substance, giving a lot of updates about my life.

The original charter for this blog, trying to revive a rapidly flagging marriage, was inoperative from July 2007 onward. All that was left was to see how things would disintegrate. Granted, the divorce is still to take place, but two months and change into a separation, it's pretty clear that neither STBX nor I want to go back.

Yet this blog became bigger than the scope of the original narrative. The dissatisfaction with my marriage was really a symptom of a widespread malaise that had overtaken my life. I just hadn't gotten a handle on it.

The job search became a cause for me to channel my energy, and that helped me to grow and change quite a bit. The volume and intensity of the interviewing process, painted against a background of a faltering startup with it own set of foibles, made for compelling drama. While I have had some ups and downs at work, the discussion of building websites doesn't have the same universal pull.

So where does that leave this blog? If Google Analytics is to be believed, for the past couple of months, I still have a die-hard core of maybe 10 - 20 readers. A little over half of my traffic is returning readers. About half of my traffic is from direct visits, meaning someone has either bookmarked me or typed my URL in. Only about 10 percent of my visitors land here because of searches. The rest, about 40 percent, get here by hitting someone else's blogroll or clicking on a link to a post.

I think that I need to push this blog at least until the divorce is final and then decide where to take it from there. Unless there is a full blown damaging breach of identity, I will leave 2amsomewhere up for perpetuity, or at least as long as Blogger remains extant. I think this story is worth leaving behind for others who may be facing a similar crisis.

So the bottom line is that 2am stays up. I will try to keep posting to keep you informed, but there may be a day where new posts cease. If and when that time comes, I will make it clear with a farewell post.

I need to jump in the shower now. The meeting is a little over an hour away.

[1] -- SMTP = simple mail transfer protocol, the means by which e-mail messages are transmitted from one user account to another.

[2] -- POTS = plain old telephone service

Blogger Get Together Post Mortem

Overall it was a good time, but there were some bumps and scrapes on the way there. First of all, I misread the final e-mail, thinking that the gathering was at 7 pm. When I went to check my e-mail on arrangements, I realized it was 5 pm. The time? 5:24 pm. It was like one of those nightmares where you're running late for a final exam.

Feeling the anxiety creep in, I tracked down the number of the meeting place and asked the hostess to track down the person in charge of the gathering. I let him know my situation. He told me not to worry because only half the group was there. I raced to get ready, and rushed out the door at around 5:45 pm.

I got about just inside I-465 up on Meridian St. and I realized that I didn't have my wallet. So I doubled back and looked all over the house. If I was any more stressed out, I was going to hyperventilate. I looked up and down, around and around. Feeling defeated, I called the gathering place again to summon the organizer, this time to tell him that I wasn't going to make it at all.

As I paced the house waiting for him to get on the phone, I saw a small brown object located in the shelf next to the shower. It was my wallet. When the organizer got on the phone, I told him why I had called, that it was fixed, and that I was going to make it after all, but I would be late.

I rushed into town and made it to the pub where the festivities were going on. Everyone was in the process of getting their dishes delivered. I asked for the biggest glass of Killians they could bring me and a menu. Soon thereafter I got my meal.

There was lots of talking, lots of photographs being taken, a couple of voice recorders made the rounds for reasons I still don't understand, and there were a lot of cell phone calls placed to other bloggers who could not make it to the event. As I watched all of this unfold, the only thing I regret having not done was bringing my work laptop so that I could have live blogged the occasion. I think it would have been possible, too, because the restaurant next door had free WiFi.

We were at the pub until shortly before 10 pm. There was some discussion over what to do. Some wanted to do karaoke, but the only karaoke downtown on a Saturday night was at a gay friendly sports bar about a mile and a half away. We finally settled on the multistory bar/theme park establishment and headed down that way. The place was charging a $5 cover to get in because of a pay-per-view fight, but after some grimaces, we decided to fork it out.

The establishment had bowling lanes, but they were all taken with no waiting list, and no guarantee that we'd get a lane. The group split into three subgroups. Some went to the arcade floor to play games. Some played billiards. The remainder chilled out on the couch. I got my booty kicked in a friendly game of air hockey, did somewhat decent at the skee-ball, sucked royally at the speed boat and stock car race games.

I had an interesting conversation with a somewhat inebriated late 20-something guy who was celebrating a friend's bachelor party. I tend to do well having dialogues with drunks for some reason. Perhaps it's the joy of exploring how thought process become a mixture of declaring the obvious and reaching offbeat conclusions.

We wrapped up our stay there a little after 11 pm. Some wanted to go back to the hotel, but I managed to coax most of the party to walk on up to the Circle and make a trip around it. It was nice to get out into the fresh air and enjoy all of the people out and about, but even moreso, I felt like I was getting a rare chance to share my world with them.

After the stroll, we headed to the organizer's hotel room and played some games on his Wii. Guitar Hero and American Idol were the games of choice. Those who were brave enough to try their hands on the axe did a remarkably good job. No one scored below 60 % accuracy, and no one got booed off the stage. As for Idol, everyone did pretty well, save for me.

I tried doing the best rendition of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" that I could do given a scratchy throat, and I bombed it big time. Not even Paula could scrape up any redeeming qualities. Moreover, my warblings had grabbed the attention of the bachelorette party next door and moved some of them to stop by and offer up their commentary.

One of the bloggers had brought her 4-month-old puppy to the room, and he was adorable. As I expected, my doggie was quite jealous of the scent I brought home. He's now snuggled up next to me, snoring away as I compose this post.

By 1:20 am, everyone was off to bed. There is supposed to be a gathering around 11:30 at a nearby park, and I'll go to that as well.

As I started off the post, it was a pretty good time. I've never been one to handle large gatherings well. I tend to get very self-conscious, sometimes just cowering into the role of passive observer, or possibly firing up a neurotic conversation within the reaches of my mind about whether I'm trying too hard to get attention. In some sense, I feel like I let down the group by not offering a more decisive plan for what to do because there were times in between activities where there was considerable indecision.

These bloggers are a fun bunch, and I am glad I got a chance to meet them. Moreover, I am grateful to the organizer for having chosen my city of residence as the location. The time went by too fast, and I wish I would have had more time to speak with everyone on a more individual basis. I tend to do better in one-to-one or one-to-few conversations because I feel connected. At some point, the crowd gets so large that I feel lonely amidst the chatter. Oddly enough, the most engaging conversations I had were with the spouse of a non-blogger.

The walk from the hotel back to my parking lot was a long one, taking about 20 minutes. There was still a lot of life on South Meridian, with lines formed at some of the hipper clubs. It's a very different world from the otherwise sleepy landscape that I see when I walk those sidewalks on my way the office.

I did manage to help out a couple from Chicago who was visiting the city. They stopped me as I was drawing near and asked me if I was from around here. They were looking for a restaurant or bar that played a lot of 80s music. I told them that I couldn't be certain, but I pointed them southward, saying there was a retro themed bar just down the street off to the left and that there was a 24/7 restaurant just across from that on the right. They thanked me and complimented me on the city.

As I made my way down to the parking lot, I did see a lot of couples, out on the town. Many of them holding hands and affectionate, some of them perhaps the same age or older than me. Prior to being married, I used to look upon such sights with jealousy. Now being out on my own, I don't feel that way, but I do feel loneliness on the emotional and existential levels.

When I courted my STBX wife some 16 years ago, I put a lot of energy doing things that I thought would make her want me more. All of that drowned out the question of what I might have needed from a relationship. I think I've developed a greater awareness of what I want, and I've also come to realize that I am unique in a sense that makes me a hard person to match.

I know many things, but I still too often live within my head rather than doing things. I find myself at a loss at times making connections, usually trying to be humorous to bridge that chasm. You see this played out in the contrast between my solemn tone on this blog and my lightheartedness in comments. It's also very difficult to turn my brain off and just enjoy the moment. I don't know if I can ever truly let go.

It's almost 4 am, and if I don't go to bed soon, I will never make it to the gathering in seven and a half hours. Good nigh... er uh... morning.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

When Worlds Collide

I'm quiet you know
You make a first impression
I've found I'm scared to know I'm always on your mind

Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the stars refuse to shine
Out of the back you fall in time
I somehow find
You and I collide

-- Howie Day, "Collide", Stop the World Now

Today is the day... the gathering of a bunch of bloggers from points almost everywhere. I have been looking forward to this day, as the afternoon passes I find myself in a state of mild anxiety.

We all have our social circles. We start out within the context of a family, accumulate friends throughout our years of education, oftentimes developing multiple layers depending on how far we go in our studies. Then come professional relationships and in-laws. Usually these circles have minimal points of intersection, and sometimes it is surreal when they do.

Perhaps the best of example of that in my own life was my wedding in April of 1996. I had just left graduate school four months prior, and several of my classmates were still at the university, which was a four-hour drive away. The friends from undergrad days were mobile enough still to make the trip. Some of my high school friends were still living in or around The Small Town.

So at the wedding and reception, there was this scene where people I had known at all stages of my life were all in one place. It was interesting to make the introductions, and I knew that this level of interconnection would never take place again in my lifetime.

After the reception, I'm told, several of my friends got together and met up for coffee at the 24-hour restaurant near the interstate to talk into the wee hours. They said that of all the people in the group of friends I associated with back in high school, I was probably the only person in that group who could get them all together under one roof because not everyone had the same level of friendliness to one another.

In some sense, I was the social Switzerland of my youth. And in my darker emotional moments, I have wondered if I wouldn't be like the character who killed himself The Big Chill if I were to pass on at a premature age... the one person who wasn't super close to anyone, perhaps too hard to figure out.

So tonight there will be a gathering of as many as 14 people, and that count includes bloggers and spouses. They will be descending upon my world. Not just my metro area, but my world. I work about 1/3 of a mile from the meeting place. The few times I drive to work, I usually park in the cheap lot just a hop skip and a jump from there. I walk past the restaurant on the way to my office, a workplace where the goal is to build a better blogging platform. Blogging sustained my sanity at times, and now it sustains my livelihood.

Some of these bloggers I have followed regularly. Others not so much so, but I know of their general story. With a couple exceptions, I have never seen their faces, but I know very intimate aspects of their lives. It's as if I inhabit a parallel universe with them, and now I must interact with them in this one. Perhaps that is what is so unsettling, yet at the same time, so exciting.

I've been a little neurotic the past few days, and thankfully my workload hasn't been as heavy. The messy state of my house, both inside and out has been bothering me, and although it's a snowball's chance in hell that any visitors to the city might pay me a visit, I can't go to this gathering feeling good about myself with everything at home in such disarray.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I had been neglectful of the upkeep of my yard, and last weekend, I finally got an anonymous hate letter in my mailbox threatening to report me to the county board of health. I took off work half an hour early to get yardwork done before sunset. I also spent about an hour this morning finishing up that work.

My back deck still needs some major work, but I've made peace with that now. Early next week, I will be calling someone to clean out my gutters and remove the zoysia that is creeping out into the street and blocking some storm sewer drains. I will also have them haul out a huge pile of branches and clippings that have been accumulating in my back yard.

I also fretted over what to wear to the occasion. I have work clothes, and clothes to bum around in, but I have been sorely lacking in casual clothes, so I forced myself to head out to Kohl's to buy myself some new shirts.

After I finish this post, I'm going to try to wrap up straightening up in the kitchen, the dining area, and the family room. That should pretty much be about the time I need to head out.

So yeah, it's a lot of prepping for nothing, but it will be worth it all if my mind has less noise to deal with.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Late Night Listening XXVIII: Answering the Call for Updates

The Drunken Housewife writes:
TIME FOR AN UPDATE. It's been 2 weeks!!!

Thanks for the nudge, Drunken! :-)

Tonight's musical selection is an exercise in irony... Sarah McLachlan's "U Want Me 2".

It's been about two months since my soon-to-be-ex wife (hereon out referred to as "STBX") moved out, and it's been a mixed bag, as separations often are, but overall a move toward the better. I have no regrets about our decision, and I think we made the right one.

Our daughters have been handling the transition well. They like their new place, but every once in a while, one of them will express that she misses the parent who isn't present.

The older daughter seems to have adjusted well to kindergarten. It helps that five or six of her classmates from the preschool co-op are in her class. There have been a few times where she's had some trouble sitting still and paying attention, but she is picking up on the material well. Each week, the teacher sends home a couple of worksheets of things that the parent and child are supposed to do together. I try to help out with those things as much as possible. The younger daughter started preschool in early September and goes twice a week. Also in early September, both resumed their Tuesday evening dance classes.

The visitation routine has been worked out. I get them on alternating weekends, and I get them on Tuesday nights after their dance class. On the Thursdays preceding the weekends where I won't have the kids, I spend time with them, too. These also coincide with their bath nights. In practice, I haven't had a totally kid-free weekend yet. There have been a couple times where the STBX has either needed me to watch them or my relatives had a gathering of some sort, and I needed to bring them along. The STBX hasn't been unreasonable about asking for the extra time, though.

The STBX continues to live the kidaholic life. She works the dance school supply store on the nights our daughters have dance class. She is currently chairing the fundraising committee at the preschool co-op, and organized a huge bake sale last weekend. And, yes, she did bake for the event. She's also been going to PTO meetings at our older daughter's school. I'm not sure when she finds time to get her 32 hours a week of at-home work in.

Last week, we cleared another milestone in the separation with the division of our cell phone accounts. After spending a while double checking the legalese with the folks at CanUHearMeNow cellular, I figured out the appropriate steps to do this with minimal red tape and no early termination fees. The STBX's phone is now on a family plan with one of the preschool moms. My phone now becomes the primary line. I feel a little more free.

We've come to agreement on division of liabilities and assets, so the next step will be actually filing for the divorce. Since the terms of the divorce won't be contested, this should be a pretty cheap and straightforward process. I downloaded the forms from the Hoosier State's website, just to see what all is involved. I highly doubt we will pursue the case pro se since I want to make sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. With some luck, we my have the dissolution finalized before the end of the year.

There have been two major family gatherings since the separation, and I dreaded both of them. My nephew's birthday party, held a couple weeks ago, was one of them, and I almost didn't go to that one, but forced myself to do so. One reason was that it included my aunt, about whom I have written in this space before. Because I don't have an open channel of communication with her, she did not get firsthand word of the separation and divorce, and I was worried about how she might act. Fortunately things were civil.

The other event took place last weekend. My dad and stepmom watched the girls while STBX worked her bake sale, and they asked me to come down to see them and watch the fall festival parade with them. I wound up going to that, but really didn't want to because I didn't feel like seeing people from my distant past. For the most part, I managed to survive the day unrecognized. Only one classmate from my grade school years, someone I didn't know too well, stopped to say "hi" for a few moments.

During that visit, my stepmom asked if everything was okay with me. She said they were worried about me, and that they didn't want to pry but wanted to. I told her that I was doing okay and that we were trying to do this in a way that would minimize the disruption in our daughters' lives.

On a followup item, I found out that the STBX did indeed take the corkscrew with her. She made a mention of how I had purchased a new one and was surprised because I usually only drank wine when I was around other people. I asked her why she took the corkscrew when she doesn't like wine. Her reply was that her best friend drinks wine and wanted to have it around if they needed to open a bottle.

As an expression of gratitude for downgrading my service, my cable company decided to charge me some service fees for changing my service and picking up surplus equipment. The total cost was about that of a full month's service. It's too bad that the Blueberry Snowball's all-in-one service isn't available in my area, or else I would reciprocate the love by dumping the cable altogether.

We just capped off a big release a couple weeks ago at work, and we had a minor release last week. One thing I've noticed over the past month or two is that we've been running into post-release glitches that require rolling out emergency fixes. While my boss doesn't like it when these things happen, he is not a blame shifter. We've put a lot of time into identifying where things went awry and we've been trying to learn from them. We just had our first bi-weekly code review, and from that emerged several good ideas on coding standards.

Some of the problems, however, were completely unforeseeable. In one case, a slowdown arose from a weird way that one of the libraries upon which we depend implemented a standard. The common thread in a lot of these cases is that I wind up having to set aside what I'm doing and spend a good chunk of the day isolating out causes. It suffices to say that those moments can prove to be stressful.

Also on the downside, I haven't been as diligent about housework as I would have liked. It's been a few weeks since I mowed the lawn. It's far from code violation, but it is a bit shaggy. I can't seem to bring myself to clear off the pile of papers and such from the kitchen table, although I've managed to keep the bills promptly paid. I still need to get a frame for my mattress and move into the master bedroom. Right now, it is the sole domain of my dog. I also should start to look into putting up some new decorations to make this place my own. The house is still a bit too empty.

I broke out of my shell on Monday night and attended a local meeting of technical professionals at my favorite coffee shop. It was nice to exchange some business cards and learn what other things are being done, but the crowd seemed to be light on developers and heavy on marketing types who are interested in creating e-commerce or social media websites.

I have made a few contacts here and there on the personals websites. I'm starting to learn that there are some other interesting, intellectual (and even quriky) souls out there. Consequently, this town seems like a less lonely place. Still, there are times where I feel like I don't fit in with any social circle. I am geeky, but not geeky enough in hobbies to feel totally at home with those who usually work in my profession.

Listening to McLachlan's poignant, yet very real, lyrics...
So what are we saying
Our eden's a failure
A made-up story to fit the picture-perfect world
The one with "I do"s
and I love you
And we are made for each other
Is forever over now?

I've become increasingly aware of a feeling lurking in my subconscious, and I'm almost afraid to admit that it exists. I think I have become so disillusioned with marriage and romance that I wonder if I could ever have those feelings again. Maybe this is just a self-protective response to avoid the rush to a rebound, and it may well be that this fades with the passage of time. But for now, my capacity to love, with the exception of my daughters, seems totally depleted, with no pool of renewal in sight.

As readers of related blogs may know, FTN is organizing a meeting of bloggers in my neck of the woods in about a week and a half, and I intend to be a full-participant. I even went so far as to make sure that I don't have the kids that weekend. While meeting bloggers in real life is hardly something new to me, I've never done this on the level of a group. It should be fun!

Did I miss anything?