Friday, December 31, 2010

As the Passing Year's Last Embers Flicker and Fade...

Yes, I am still alive.

No, I have not abandoned this blog.

Yes, I have been horrible about not posting.

No, I don't know whether I this post will mark an increasing frequency of content.

There's a lot of catching up to do, and I fear that this might quickly degenerate into something like the enumeration of all things seen in "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"[1], so bear with me.

Current Status

Physically, I am finishing the year on a down note. I'm staying in for New Year's Eve, opting to listen to the folk radio programming on the nearby university's fine arts station for my entertainment.

I have been ill for most of December, and it has taken an even harsher turn the past week. The symptoms started around three weeks ago. I attended my employer's [2] holiday party, which was held in one of the rooms in an upscale steakhouse in town. This is an old building, so it was spacious, with tall ceilings. Over eighty people were present, so the noise level being what it was, I carried my own conversations at a volume well above the comfort level of my larynx.

The steakhouse chased us off shortly after 1 am, so a remainder of us walked to a very smoky martini bar in the heart of downtown. So I endured a couple hours of smoke inhalation, followed by a half-mile walk back to my car at 3 am. The temperature had plummeted, causing the precipitation from earlier in the day to freeze and slush. I spent most of the next day asleep, recovering from a very long night. Fortunately, I cut myself off from alcohol consumption around 10 pm, so I was sober, albeit very tired, by the time I did put the keys into the ignition.

On the following Monday morn, I was running late for my bus, and I had to run to make it in time for my ride into town. The run took place in bitterly cold air, single digit temperatures, so my lungs were on fire. Over the next week, I developed a cold that moved into my lungs, most certainly morphing into bronchitis. Since then, I have coughed so much that my chest and back muscles ache from the repeated strain of each hack. This week, I developed a fever, and have been able to retain some semblance of humanity with the help of generic NyQuil and Ibuprofen. I'll probably have to see a doctor on Monday if things haven't improved.

I took the last two weeks of December as paid leave. I had accumulated 32.9 days of paid leave through a lack of vacations. It worked well as my kids were off from school during that time, so I've had them staying with me during the holidays, which saves the X the cost of a sitter. I had hoped to take them do to something fun at a local museum, but my health didn't cooperate much the past week. We did do some christmas shopping together. There have been plenty of movie nights, which they love. I took them shopping for new coats, and we've spent some time putting together their Christmas gifts.

The Struggles of the Workplace

My employer continues to plod along. Since the VP of Ops took over the management of post-sales accounts, the bleeding of clients has subsided. They still have a lot of goofs over there who are willfully non-technical and all to prone to wig out over small issues. The sales team has been a train wreck, with many months falling far short of their targets. Most of the people who were hired on at the beginning of the year have been since let go. The ones who remained have not closed enough deals to cover their base pay. I look for there to be some major bloodletting over there with the new year. That's not to say everything has been a disaster. The company will gross probably a few hundred thousand over last year's numbers, but we're going to be only about half of the number that they were planning on hitting during budgeting last year.

My team reaches the end of the year a bit behind on its development schedule and way overworked, but we are definitely on an upswing.

We went through a lot of candidates trying to find a new IT guy to replace the one we lost in mid-June, but we managed to hire on someone new for mid-September, just in time for the departure of the Systems Engineer, the guy with the most knowledge about setup and operation of the production environment.

The software engineer we hired in February and I split the task of monitoring and troubleshooting on wayward servers. Things held out okay for about a month until mid-October, when we had an extended disruption of service that resulted in a several hours of total outage. The problem was prolonged by our misunderstanding of how the configuration of the load balancers at the front line functioned.

The ordeal started around 1 am on a Friday morning, which happened to be a time when I was still up from the previous day. We troubleshot almost non-stop over the course of the day. I finally had to turn in at 5 pm for a three-hour nap since I had been functioning without sleep for almost 36 hours. When I returned from slumber at 8 pm that Friday night, they were still at a loss as to how to lessen the load on the front end servers. I then walked through every step of a request and figured that the problem was in the handling of rerouted requests between data centers. With that information, we were able to get some help from the former system engineer. We wrapped things up 10 pm, almost 21 hours after everything started.

You can imagine what life was like for me after that. My team and I conducted a lengthy postmortem and I filed the largest outage report of the company's history, weighing in at over fifteen pages. Most reports did not exceed two pages. The weekly management meetings weren't pleasant as I had to answer questions about what I was going to do to make sure this didn't happen again. The outage report contained a good sized list of lessons learned and action items we would need to implement.

A couple weeks later, the president and CEO managed to lure my ex-boss, who left us in the mid-summer of 2009, back as a contractor. I was glad to see him coming back because I knew he was a sharp guy who could help us get the recommendations implemented. Indeed, when he was weighing the decision to return, he asked me whether I would be willing to stay on if he came back because he enjoyed working with me. But on the other hand, I was worried that the president and CEO would decide that services were no longer needed.

Fortunately, that proved not to be the case. My ex-boss took on most of the managerial meetings that made my job a drag, which freed me up to be more involved with coding. I continued to lead my team and hold them accountable for meeting commitments. With some complications from a failed database server in early November, the ex-boss took it upon himself to rework our system configuration and deployment to reduce inconsistencies and human dependencies. By the end of the year, we had completely new servers in production with the new and improved management infrastructure in place.

Another thing we were able to do at the end of November was find a great candidate for the System Engineer role. He had been involved with maintaining high-traffic, production website and was already familiar with many of the technologies we used, which made him a rarity for this area.

All told, we now have a pretty solid team that I love working and socializing with. I just wished that the rest of the company could find its bearings.

The Struggles of the Home

A few weeks after I wrote my last post in this space (mid August), the X opted to bring the kids to my house rather than me come meet her somewhere on the weekly night out with the kids. Not only that, she let herself into the house and started to forcibly clean up my cluttered house. She said that she was worried about me and thought I wasn't functioning. Still, she seemed to take joy in throwing things away, especially things that I would have recycled.

Soon thereafter, I changed medications from escitalopram oxalate to desvenlafaxine after indicating to my doctor that I had suffered several unpleasant side effects from the first prescription. That has seemed to help me uplift my sprits. I did some additional housecleaning and hired some cleaners to do a deep down clean of the whole house. I actually moved back into the master bedroom, getting a frame for my mattress. I bought a second mattress for the daybed/trundle combination so that the girls could sleep in beds of their own.

I had one big jar from my past in October. One of my coworkers at a former employer killed himself after becoming despondent with a long struggle over health issues. He was only a year older than me. We were good friends at work, maybe not super close, but we had lots of deep and funny conversations only true geeks could love.

I traveled to the Land of Lincoln to attend a memorial service. It was the first time I had been there since leaving about five years prior. It was good to see some other former coworkers. One of the unexpected aspects of the event was that the deceased party's entire book collection, which was very large and of high quality, was on display and free for the taking.

Soon thereafter, I started giving myself permission to buy new books on things I saw myself wanting to learn over the year to come. Part of this was an act of rebellion against the default stance of non-indulgence that I had taken for so many years. Another part is longer-term strategic -- namely, I see this year being a major turning point at my employer -- either they figure out what they are going to do, or I will need to find work elsewhere. I need to invest in my own skills to keep the doors open.

To that end, I invested in new computing hardware, based on purchases of on-sale components. It may not have the raw power of a gamer's dream machine, but it certainly can pull its own weight. I finished assembling the components earlier this week. It has a quad-core CPU, three hard drives that are set up in a RAID 5 array, and 8 GB of RAM. The goal was to create a machine where I could set up and run virtual machines for development and testing.

As of this week, I've also broken down and gotten a smartphone -- an HTC Droid Incredible, which was free with 2 year contract with my current phone provider. The touch screen keyboard is taking some time to get used to,

The X got her home broken into in early December. The burglars made off with her TV, the Wii and its games, and her laptop, which had many pictures from 2009, which she had not backed up. She has responded by getting an alarm system installed and adopting a black lab. Oddly enough, the burglars did not take the kids' handheld game consoles, her digital camera, or the desktop computer.

Looks like we've got ourselves a new year, and it's pouring down rain outside. I'll close up for now. If you have other questions, please leave them in the comments. The best of wishes to all of you who continue to check this site for updates.

[1] -- Don't get me wrong, no one can touch Dylan's work as a lyricist, I just want to make sure my narrative provides context in addition to facts.

[2] -- No, I haven't changed jobs yet. More on that in a bit.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Late Night Listening XXXIX: Just a Little Unwell

Spent most of today in The Small Town, visiting with my Dad. My stepmom is on a weekend trip to the Windy City with a close friend of hers who also doesn't get much downtime. They are staying with a son of hers, who lives up in the outer burbs. My daughters are with me to provide him some cheer.

The X spent today with about five other school moms moving stuff from her apartment to her new house. She offered up a love seat and easy chair that she had taken when she moved out because she's getting new furniture for her new house.

But I didn't come here to talk about that...

This past Thursday, I paid a visit to my new primary care physician, and explained how the illness from a couple weeks before had been a wake-up call for me. I then talked about how I had been through some life changes in the past year, and that I had been in an increasingly dark space. I took some questionnaires, and she put me on some samples of Escitalopram, because it is indicated for depression and anxiety.

I'm hoping that this works. In the moments I feel most isolated, I feel as if I my interests and desires are nil.

Work is no longer the Foreign Legion for me, a place for me to forget. The guy we had lined up with an offer for the UI position declined our offer because our health plan is so crappy compared to where he works now. The response from my boss was to throw her hands up in the air and say that we won't be hiring anyone new for my department for the rest of the year. I can't deal with management that one day tells me that we need to hire hire hire, and then when we get the chance to hire, we don't have the ability to offer a decent compensation package.

The resumes I posted last weekend are getting views on the boards, but nibbles have been largely constrained to financial services buckshotting recruiter letters to anyone with a pulse for sales positions. I've also gotten some leads for positions in the suburban Empire State, the Deseret, the land of Art Deco and Dance Clubs, and the Windy City. Right now, I'm keeping things local.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Has it Really Been Four Years?

Yeah, it has. First post went up on 7/17/2006. I was 37, and this was supposed to be a refuge from the flack I had been taking on the PA Forum. Now this blog covers about 10 percent of my life on this planet. Let's celebrate with something a bit more upbeat.

Granted, critics will argue that Bowie's artistic apex occurred in the 70s, but to me this video represents a different kind of finest hour, and it's one that speaks to me louder in my dark moments moreso than Ziggy Stardust. So let me indulge a bit.

What's happened in the four years?

The forum itself got a new home, leaving the initial post with a mess of broken links. It's gone through some turnover in people, but from what I hear, the topics recycle pretty regularly.

This blog turned up a whole new social graph for me, much of it centered around the frustrated writings of Digger Jones. He's gone quiet, as have many of the anonybloggers, including Therese, whose writings and conversations I miss very much. Fade to Numb and Have-the-T-Shirt went private. Anais, Cat, Trueself, and Drunken Housewife still blog away. Dad's Life and Tom Allen still post occasionally. FADKOG is still writing her megasized posts true to form.

As for my real-life... The marriage that this blog intended to save died about a year into the blog's existence. My kids have grown by leaps and bounds, and now both of them are in school.

I got myself out of the dead-end startup and channeled a huge amount of energy into rebuilding my career. I've come along farther than I ever hoped, but the past year has been an increasing drain on me.

How did I celebrate the blog's anniversary. It was pretty uneventful. Took my dog to the groomer for a much needed bath, brush, and nail trimming. Took the kids out for a late lunch. Enjoyed them as they labored away on little art projects, much of them taken from a Disney themed "make it yourself" book that I had as a child.

This evening, I got my resume uploaded to the four big job boards, making it anonymously searchable. For now, my geography preference is set to "no relocation". We'll see how many nibbles I get from the recruiters and how clueless they might be.

I've been flirting with the idea of finally putting a profile up on the mother of all social networks, but I can't quite bring myself to do it. I fear there are too many demons from my past that will be summoned with the friend requests. I think that Google's Paul Adams is onto something about the need for friend compartments in social networking apps. Those of us who have unspoken social graphs need such things.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

You Know, I Don't Find This Stuff Amusing Anymore

The latter part of this week was a wash with respect to productivity.

Starting late Wednesday night, my throat started to turn scratchy. By the time Thursday morning rolled around, the soreness worsened, my head was aching, I was measuring a body temperature of 101.3 oF. I took the day off trying to rest it off.

For a while, I feared that drinking no liquid after having three beers with coworkers at the end of Wednesday had left me dehydrated.

Past-the-sell-by-date acetaminophen, the only fever reducer on the premises, was having minimal impact on the fever. I had to pick up the kids from the dance school at 7:30 pm, since X was working until 11 pm. I picked up some ibuprofen on the way there and took them home, put them to bed, and slept on the couch at X's apartment, waiting for her to get back from work. I started to develop chills around 10 pm.

She got back from work around 11:15 pm, surprise to find me sleeping. I told her that I had been through a rough day with the fever and sore throat. She said that her friend, who had watched the kids during the day and brought the kids to the dance school for their summer class, had noticed that I looked rough.

I drove home shivering and climbed into bed. The chills subsided, but I woke up at 1 am measuring a temperature of 102.8 oF. I got up and went to the couch in the den, where there at least was a ceiling fan.

Not being able to sleep, I looked up my health plan to see if the primary care physician I specified some two years ago, but never visited, was taking new patients. The plan's network directory said "yes", but the website for the doctor's practice said "no". I decided it was a lost cause on that front, so I started to look for other doctors in network and in my zip code.

I found a doctor less than a mile away who was accepting new patients and called my network first thing in the morning to see how I should go about changing the primary care physician. I found out that the choice isn't handled by the network, but by another agency that deals with the providers. So I got that number and gave them a call. They said I should just call them back when I got an appointment set up.

So I called the doctor and got an appointment set up for 1:30 pm that day. Then I called the agency, which said "no can do". I said that the doctor was on the network. The person handling my call said that it wasn't enough to be on the network. The provider also had to be "contracted" with the agency.

I noted that made the network directory virtually useless because of this undocumented subsetting. The agent then looked up their directory and found four providers in my zip code who were listed as taking new patients. I started calling the list. One was taking new patients, but couldn't see me until next month. The next one's office wasn't open yet. The last two were at the same practice and no one could see me until the middle of next week. The receptionist there said I might want to try a Minute Clinic.

So I went to the Minute Clinic and waited for a little over an hour to be seen. I paid $122 for an inconclusive diagnosis, other than my throat looked "pretty raw". About $50 of that was spent on a tests -- a quick test for strep that turned up negative.

The second got sent off to a lab and wouldn't hear anything back for 24 - 48 hours. Because prescribing antibiotics for an infection is a no-no without evidence of a bacterial infection, the recommendation was to continue the ibuprofen and rinse the throat with salt water. The temperatures continued to vacillate above and below 100 oF for the rest of the day, with the fever being completely gone today. Throat is still raw, though.

I have a strong feeling that succumbing to this illness was driven in part to my body not being able to withstand a steady diet of stress over the past couple of months...

  • I haven't had a completely kid-free weekend in over two months. One weekend where I didn't have kids (June 26 - 27) was because X took the kids to the older daughter's dance competition in The Volunteer State. I wound up keeping them two nights before they left. Another weekend, the first in June, was offset by the fact that I put in 16 hours working at the daughter's dance recital and its dress rehearsal. Her reason for the extra weekends has been that she has had to work extra hours to pay for the house, but there have been a couple of weekends where I've found out after the fact that she wasn't working.

  • The divorce and mortgage have been a very stressful process. I already have noted some instances of X's bitchiness when I didn't have answers for her on whether the divorce was final or that my mortgage refinance was ready to close. In addition, the mortgage lender was being very invasive about some petty things. I understand their need for bank statements and pay stubs, but when they started to dispute the legitimacy of the divorce when they said that there weren't enough items listed on the division of property request list, I about lost it. Apparently because we weren't at all out war over everything, we were considered questionable, not taking into account the child support payments I had been making since X moved out in Aug. 2008 and the fact that she lived in a separate residence for almost two years.

  • X has been sending a steady stream of money requests... I've paid 100 % of the younger daughter's all-day kindergarten tuition (first two installments totaled $600). Paid for two months' worth of summer dance classes at $135. Because she was in danger of not having enough money to close on her house, she asked for two sums of money -- $1,059 and $1,500 over a period of three weeks. This was on top of the $3,600, half the 2009 tax refund, that she claimed entitlement to even though she was not gainfully employed, save for a couple of part-time jobs in 2009. Pile on that the cost of trophies won at dance competitions.

  • The President and the CEO have no clear vision of what they should be hiring for our department. All they know is that development isn't as fast as they want it to be. The CEO gave me flack a couple times the past couple of months for not being more aggressive in recruiting at the same time that the President told me that we needed to be careful about starting salaries. The CEO decided that we needed a VP for me to report to, so they did some recruiting, brought in someone I once interviewed with back in 2007. After many hours of interviews, the other managers decided the candidate wasn't a fit. So CEO decided that maybe we should hire this over priced guy we considered for a UI Engineer who was making more at his current job than what I make. So we brought the guy in for another interview with management. It wound up with a split decision. Meanwhile, our team gets a candidate we talked to back in Oct. 2008 whom we bring in this week, and the President starts talking like we might not hire him even if he does well on the interview.

  • The Executive VP of Sales continues to target big clients, and because his sales team can't carry their own weight in the technical vetting, both my team and I get brought in on conference calls, sometimes just so they can show they have someone with a big title on the line. As much as a big game he talks about "strategic HR" and hiring only "A team players", two of his hires he brought on in February already have been canned, and another is on the bubble.

  • My IT guy, who got me in hot water with the President when I refused to fire him on the spot back in April, decided that rather than work with me in a smooth transition out, he would quit on me with minimal notice in mid-June, once he got the mortgage for his new house closed and started a new job the very next day. Since then, my systems engineer and I have been slogging through the IT demands of some very non-technical people.

  • Two weeks ago, the display on my 2 1/2 year-old laptop refused to re-illuminate after bringing it out of sleep mode. I feared the worst, thinking my laptop had died completely. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to ping the computer from my other old laptop and got a response. The webserver also responded to requests, so things were still alive. Found out later on that the issue was caused by a horrible defect in the video chipset and was so onerous that Apple was replacing the video hardware at no cost, even if the machine was no longer under warranty. A local Mac reseller got my laptop fixed and it was back in my possession at the end of the week.

  • During a pool party at my dad's on the 3rd of July, my stepmom called us aside to talk about her situation. She said that she had seen the doctor recently and had been diagnosed with severe depression, caregiver burnout, and ADD. She was in need of some time away, and wondered if we could take turns coming down to visit my dad while she was on a brief vacation. I can tell from his actions that my dad can be very high maintenance, so I don't think she's exaggerating. My brother and I were willing to do this, but it saddened me that he has become such a drain.

  • My house is still a mess, and most nights I can't bring myself to attack the paper pile I've mentioned in prior posts.

  • I think my car has suspension problems and its air conditioner is non-functional. The thought of having a car payment again terrifies me.

  • With seemingly annual repair bills of $300 on the heating and air conditioning, I know it's only a matter of time before I'll need to replace that.

  • My attempts to locate some divorce support groups on around here were futile. One is closed to new members, and the other is about 25 miles away and meets on alternating Sunday evenings. The ever helpful organizer of the closed group said I should go look for a support group at a local church (heaven forbid there should be respite for those in crises of faith) or start one of my own.

I have been talking about being in an increasingly dark space for a while. And I know I've gotten advice and even talked about getting help. I think the illness this week was my body telling me, "We can't go on like this."

So on Wednesday at 3:30 pm, the first time that one of my eligible doctors can see me, I'm going in for a check-up, and I'm going to talk with her about how this is taking a toll on me and that I probably need formally evaluated for anxiety and depression, if not Asperger's.

I've also decided that its time to say no to X on money. We've got a divorce decree in place, with a child support schedule based on state guidelines that factor in income, health insurance, and child care costs. The child support payments she get are as much as her pre-tax income for her job over the same time interval. If she can't make that work with her life, then she needs to do one of the following:

  • Readjust her lifestyle (e.g. give up the deluxe cable package with DVR and the Droid Smartphone) and live with what she's got.

  • Get a higher paying job.

  • Find a sugar daddy.

What sent me over the edge was a conversation she started today while she was fixing our older daughter's hair for her team's performance at a local dinner theatre tonight. She tells me that she's signed up to work the concession stand for the dance school at all of the home games for the local pro football team, so she'll need me to have the kids those days even when it's not my weekend to have the kids.

She's worked some of the games in the past two years, but never all of them. When she does it's an all-day thing because they have to be on-premise for the setup, and then they have to wait a couple hours afterwards because they have to turn the money into the bank at the stadium. On the days when it's a Monday Night Football game, I've had to take off work early to get the girls.

I asked her how many home games there were, knowing that there would probably be eight of them plus some other special events. I expressed reluctance to just accept that. She said that my other option was to pay her for a babysitter during that time because it didn't make sense for her to work the games, which earn her maybe $8/hour for tuition credits.

I started to put together an argument that the child care allowance for child support was based on child care needed for employment, not sub-market barter work, but I stopped myself because I remember from the parenting class that potentially contentious financial discussions shouldn't happen in front of the kids, and both were present. I told her that we'd have to have this discussion at a later time.

I am angered by the sense of entitlement she continues to have, even now that she is supposedly on her own legally. Making such an in-your-face demand for time or money after you've repeatedly offloaded extra overnights and requested or demanded thousands of dollars in assistance beyond an already generous child support allowance seems like a really bad calculation. Prior to the divorce, I was more lenient for many reasons... wanting her to get on her own on an even keel, wanting the kids to be taken care of, not wanting the kids to be let down over the house. Now I know this has done nothing but to create disrespect.

The following scenes capture that lack of respect in a nutshell...

Scene 1: On June 28, X sent me this text message:
Ok (older daughter) is performing at (northwest side dinner theatre) on july 10 at 6. Tickets will be 146 total for all of us to go. Then they will watch high school musical Tickets r 25, 25, 48, 48. I could pay for one ticket if u wanted to pay for girls

I agree to this. On July 2, she sends me a text telling me to drop off a check for $146 at the dance school mailbox for the tickets. I presume that she is going to pay me back for her $48 ticket. A week goes by without reference. Today, I send her a text message asking if she is going to reimburse me for her ticket. She replies, "Sure." At the performance, she hands me a $20 and a $5. I ask her what that is for, and she says, "The ticket." I thought about asking where the other $23 was, but I got the hint.

Scene 2: We drive separately to the dinner theatre late this afternoon so that I can take the kids home with me for the evening. As I arrive, she tells me that I need to go back to her place because the older daughter needs the gloves and bracelets for her costume. It's about 5:20 pm, and the dinner starts service around 6:30 pm.

I tell her that it is probably going to be a little over an hour to make the round trip, because it's about 30 miles. She then gets testy with me about it saying that if I can't do it, then she'll just have to do it. This is not a realistic option because she will need to help the daughter get ready for the performance during that time.

So I set off on my way, trying to go as fast as I can without running afoul of speed of safety. About 25 minutes into the trip, she calls me to ask me whether I've made it. I tell her that I'm still about eight miles away. She seems irritated and tells me to call her when I get to her place.

I get to her place and get the forgotten items and head back up. About 30 minutes into the return trip, she asks me where I am. This time, I am a couple miles short of the exit. I arrived right around 6:30 pm. Just in time to catch the last line of buffet goers.

In the grand scheme of things, a couple of gloves and bracelets seems inconsequential. Even if she were the only one lacking these accessories, she was in a troupe that numbered over 20 dancers. She was among the younger members, who are less visible. It was an exhibition event for which the school received no compensation, yet the dinner theatre sold 81 tickets to the families of the dance school student body. It was not for a competition, where they would have gotten docked points.

I've been in this situation numerous times before. I am given ownership of a problem that is of her making (like forgetting to make sure all costume items are packed). There is not so much an expression of remorse at having to ask or even gratitude that I would do this for her. There is only disbelief that there would be any other option than me doing what she wants done. It's a dynamic I've seen in our relationship from the early days, on the wedding day, and even during the divorce.

I have been subconsciously aware of it. I think now that I am no longer legally bound to her, I am free to admit its full existence in all of its ugliness.

I don't know what I hate more. Her for treating me this way over the years or myself for having not stood up to it. Either way, there is no other word for it than "hatred". I FUCKING HATE IT.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Drama TXT from the X

The X sent me a series of texts this morning to find out whether I had found out when they would do the closing for my mortgage refinance. I replied informing her that I had left a message on the loan officer's voice mail just before 9 am this morning and was awaiting a reply. She then wrote back this:
Then who knows when u will close. I am just about to throw in the towel. I will just concede to the girls that I am a horrible mother and we will live in apt forever. I am sure it won't be the only thing that I cause them to have therapy about

Bear in mind that this was the mortgage lender she recommended to me and is the same one who is handling the mortgage for her house.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Letting the Coworkers Know

Stress level over the past 30 hours or so has been pretty high.

Yesterday afternoon, I had trouble bringing my work laptop, a MacBook Pro, out of sleep mode. The screen remained dark. For a bit I feared that the machine had failed entirely. Later on I got the idea to try requesting pages from the web server that was running on it, and I got responses, so the machine was not lost.

I later verified that this was the symptom of an issue that existed with the video chipset on the laptop, and that Apple was replacing the part at their expense. So the computer will be resurrected in some way, but at signficant loss to productivity.

One of the lingering questions that has dogged me since I started my current job, way back at the end of 2007, was when should I let my coworkers know that a change in marital status would take place. Over that time, I've taken very discreet approach. I talk about the kids, but don't mention much about X.

Last week, after the divorce was finalized, a feeling of heaviness began to sink in. I needed to dismantle the facade and at least admit that I wasn't married anymore, so I didn't cringe when someone asked me a question about "my wife" and I was evasive about details.

I decided to have a conversation with another manager with whom I have a pretty high level of trust. I knew that she had been through a divorce prior to coming to work with us two years ago, and had some inklings that it was a pretty difficult one. I gave her some basic facts. She said she had sended that I had been "off" the last few days of work.

I asked her if she had any advice to offer from her own experiences. She said that the divorce made her feel like such a failure that she couldn't bring herself to let her coworkers know and wound up quitting her job after the divorce was finalized

After I wistfully noted that quitting wasn't much of an option for me, given support obligations, she recommended that I at least tell my boss and the rest of my team. She also gave me the contact information of someone who had counseled her with her own divorce.

Later that day, I broke the news to them. I think my team didn't know what to make of it. One of them wondered why I had chosen this time to disclose. Another said that I had done an amazing job of not letting on that there was trouble. I made it clear to them that what transpired had its roots well before I started working there, just so they didn't get the impression that working there had been a factor.

I felt like the weight had been lifted, but I also still had an awful feeling. This evening, I felt restless and depressed. I finally tore into a huge pile of junk mail, newspapers, and other things that had been sitting on the floor for weeks, the aftermath of an earlier attempt to clear the clutter off of a kitchen table. I managed to put a dent into it, but I was feeling stir crazy and felt like crying at times.

I will get through this. I have to.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

And Now, She is Known as Simply "X"

It's official. The divorce is final. I went over to the City County Building early on Wednesday afternoon to pick up the signed divorce decree documents. It had been a harrowing few days with work involving meetings, a stressful release, and an elusive database performance issue that was bringing the production environment to its knees.

Against this was a recurring stream of IMs, e-mails, and text messages from the woman who had been my wife for 14 years, two months, and three days. The 60-day waiting period from filing to decree review passed over the weekend, so she developed the (unreasonable) expectation that the document would be signed and ready to go on Monday.

When I called the office on Monday to check on the status, I got an answer that it wasn't done yet and that I should check back on Wednesday. She was not happy about that, badgering me to call the office back to find out why. Sure enough the slow grind of justice delivered on the schedule that they told me.

After her last nag message, which included the text, "Divorce ? ? ?", I was finally able to write back that the documents were ready and that I would pick them up in the afternoon. She texted back saying, "Thanks for taking care of this." I wrote back saying, "No problem. I guess you can now make it 'Facebook official' as they call it :-p ." She wrote back with this statement:

U know I didn't mean to hurt u. I'm sorry it had to end this way. I'm glad we can still be good parents to the girls. Thank u for giving them to me.

I didn't know what to make of that.

I felt a deep sadness after picking up the papers, a sense of acceptance that I had failed in this relationship... a lingering doubt over that feeling of being different, defective, and inadequate. I could not self validate in the moment.

Where do I go from here? There are still loose ends... getting the mortgage re-fi wrapped up, getting the house restored to order. Right now it looks like a scale model of the 9th Ward in New Orleans circa mid September 2005. I need to start making time for making new real-life friends. I need to start getting resumes out there before I lose my sanity on this job. I need to get some help.

Friday, June 11, 2010

And Soon, the Legal Bond Dissolves

Less than ten days to go.

That's right, it's ten days until the passing of 60 days since STBX filed petition for dissolution of our marriage. We've completed the county mandated "be a good parent" class, we've squared away the division of property and allocation of parental time. It now all comes down to having a judge sign off on the agreement, and it is finished.

The grounds for urgency from STBX was based on the goal of buying a new house and closing before the end of June so as to qualify for the tax credit, but this week she learned that those hopes may be dashed, for the bank will not loan to her with less than six months of employment at her new job. For those of you who are keeping score, her six month mark transpires sometime in early July. Still she wants the house.

Her quest for the house has affected me on a few fronts...

To qualify for her mortgage, she needed to be liberated from the the mortgage on this house, so I have been rushing to go through the meat grinder of refinance, and I am eating the cost of that.

It's a shame she has been in such a hurry because I could have done an assumption of the mortgage for about 1/3 of the cost, but it would have taken 90 days to get it done.

For the most part the refinance has gone well, save for the fact that my employer outsources its payroll and other HR functions to another company, and the underwriters wigged out when my paycheck stubs did not match the name of the employer.

Also, her quest to pay for costs of buying the house have required her to pick up some extra days at work. Combine that with dance competitions and recital, and you get a picture where the kid-free weekends have been few and far between. I am logging the requests for extra days, and if this becomes a recurring pattern that bumps up the overnights by a couple weeks, I will push for a recalculation in the child support because overnights affect the balance.

With the financial scrutiny over the refinance, I've also had to put the job search on the back burner. I can't do anything to spook them until we're past the refinance at best and maybe even until STBX closes on her house, since almost half of her pre-tax income is child-support payments.

With all of this in play, I think it becomes pretty easy to see why I feel locked in and out of control of my near-term destiny.

On the personal front, I think STBX is starting to date. A couple weeks ago, she asked me to keep the kids on a Wednesday night because she and her friends were going out and were planning on staying out late. The next morning, she called me and told me to take the kids directly to their sitter instead of her place because she said she had too much to drink. The next Wednesday, she asked me to keep them another night.

I'm not mad or jealous. Indeed, if she finds someone who "does it" for her, that will be great. Still, after the collapse in 2007, I was pretty certain that she'd never seek to reconcile, but I figured that she would remain very focused on the kids' lives at the expense of another relationship. Just goes to show how off base my perceptions and speculations might be.

Work isn't quite as demoralizing as it had been, but my faith in the leadership is fading.

My boss has backed off from the "bring me our IT guy's head on a platter... NOW!" stance, but I suspect that could come back with a vengeance if there are random glitches that impact her directly. My IT guy has been interviewing and preparing documentation for a successor with the goal of being out of there by the end of June or so.

The CEO had a talk with me a few weeks back and has decided that they need more of an empire builder guiding the development of product, and they've sensed that I find greater reward in the coding aspect of my work moreso than the manager stuff. I think what finally pushed them in this direction was pressure from their advisory board on why the developer team had not grown so that new features could get released at a higher rate.

So they are starting to look for a departmental VP, a role that they said they were going to fill during my promotion to Director last summer, but held off doing, most likely in an effort to get cashflow positive. As of this writing, they are starting to interview candidates. The part that puzzles me is that although they are looking to take on this new person, which will command a six figure salary easily, they are also holding the line that we cannot hire anything else other than a user interface engineer up through the end of the year.

Hiring in general has been a point of confusion for me, with the CEO telling me to hire as many new people as possible and the President telling me to be very measured in hiring. I report to the President, and she has to deal with the numbers much more closely than the CEO, so I think she has a closer lock on reality.

Burn rate shot up in March, shooting up from $100K-ish in the early part of the year to $500K in March. Much of that has been driven by aggressive hiring by sales and marketing. The EVP of sales they brought on at the beginning of February has been very high maintenance, both in terms of spending and dragging other department members into meetings and conference calls.

We could be at a point where we are out of money by late in the year. With VCs looking at our renewal rates and shaking their heads, I don't know where they will get the cash to keep things rolling.

For those of you who have been following the saga involving the Pacific Northwest Prima Donna Travel Agency, they finally sent out their initial e-mail a week ago, nearly two weeks behind schedule. The missed target wasn't due to any problems on our end. There were tons of technical bungling on their end in getting other pieces of the project into place. Our VP of Ops said that we are very much "under water" with this contract, and probably will be for a couple of years. My guess is that upper management went this route because they wanted a really big name logo on the site.

A burning out factor for my job is that the challenges I've had to face have migrated from ones involving technology to ones where people are involved. Conflict is much higher, and I have to deal with a lot of situations where I am on the defensive from the start.

The bumpiness of this journey, combined with my fear that I'm going to snap and say something inappropriate, has turned my focus toward whether I might have Asperger Syndrome. The obsessiveness over problems, my continued withdrawal from others, and STBX's behavior has left me feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. There's been several days where I've felt washed up and unattractive. I'm at a point where I need to get some help, even if it is just initially just reaching out to our employee assistance program.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Late Night Listening XXXVIII: In the Room Where Light does not Find Me

Tonight, I am immersed in the 80s. In lieu of the Groove Show on WTTS-FM, I am listening to the Saturday Night Safety Dance on Sirius/XM First Wave. They haven't played this song, but out-of-context snippets from this work certainly capture my spirit.

Work/life balance is way out of whack these days, and my desire to write for clarity has been almost nil. I have lost sight of a forward-looking narrative and have had a world of trouble regaining it or at least revising into a work that could revitalize me.

Pointing my browser back to the editor to write another post has been hampered by a false premise, that I must somehow have a grasp of what is going on before I can write about it. And as I have become mired in the fog of lessening awareness, I have been all the less moved to write on matters personal.

There is always an e-mail to answer, an IM conversation to have, a fire to fight, another coding task to wipe out. Somewhere in between there are parental tasks, bills to pay, and a whole host of other issues. Tonight I am writing because I forced myself to get the bulk of my coding tasks out of the way, and the kids are in bed.

The divorce papers were filed officially last week, one day after our 14th wedding anniversary. STBX had a recently-divorced friend complete the initial paperwork. If we complete the parenting class and get all of the settlement items worked out, our divorce will be final on the first full day of summer.

STBX has been super motivated to get the divorce moving forward because she wants to move out of her apartment when the lease is up in August and get moved into a house. I don't see how she thinks she will be able to handle the mortgage and upkeep, something she sought to get out of when she moved into the apartment, but it is her life.

The kids are doing well. My older daughter's grades have been really good thus far, but she has been having a rough patch in math with things like counting money. Her dance school has had two competitions so far, and she's been performing in two routines -- one with girls her age and a production number that runs the full gamut of ages. The production act won overall high points for their first competition.

The younger daughter has been enjoying the church-sponsored preschool co-op she changed to at the beginning of the year. They have a different instructional style from the co-op, but she seems to be really enjoying her homework. She seems to be having a harder time with not seeing me every day. There have been occasions where she calls me and cries saying she "really really misses" me. It tears my heart out to hear it.

Since STBX started her new job, I've started keeping the kids three days in a row on the weekends that I have them, which allows her to get ready to go to work on Friday mornings without having to wake up the kids.

A few embarrassing disclosures:

I haven't completed my Census form, but I did get my taxes paid on time. Federal refund was big. I owed the state money because STBX didn't do any state withholding for her unemployment benefits.

I haven't mowed the lawn at all this year, so the yard looks like a jungle. I wrote someone advertising on craigslist and got an estimate for a bunch of yardwork items that would greatly improve the situation, but he has been slow to get things going. He came over on Wednesday evening to scope out the property but then said that he wouldn't be able to get over to do the mowing until 8:30 am tomorrow, which is questionable now because we've gotten some rain. I got my first anonymous hate message in my mailbox on Friday, informing me that I would be reported to the county health department.

I haven't updated my direct deposit to reflect the child support recalculation based on STBX's child care bills. I have been writing supplemental checks to cover the difference and annotating the checks appropriately. It will be nice once this is all switched over to the state's payment system.

As for work, I'm finding myself increasingly burnt out, with some days going in wondering whether I'm going to have a job by the end of the day because I'm going to just throw up my hands and say that things are untenable and I'm quitting.

What has happened to make me so sour on my employer? The migration to management in August of last year moved me from a rather cloistered role where creation was of the greatest value to another which involved interacting with other parts of the company which have varying degrees of dysfunction.

The upper management knows something is wrong, but they haven't been able to develop the self-awareness to see how they contribute to the problem. Instead, they have sought out the corporate analog of religion, tea leaves which give them ways to explain away the problems with vague statements like "we don't communicate well enough".

Indeed the search for cosmic truth has led them to have a week-long training course on personality types back in August, another week long strategic planning session in January complete with a massive list of worksheets, an overwhelming list of followup tasks, and, most recently, a series of management meetings (two business days and counting!) based on a compulsory reading of a business book about management teams where we've allegedly figured out that no one has a clear idea of what the company is supposed to be about.

Since throwing the third VP of post-sales client relationship management off the ship back in February, the President of the company has taken on the role of managing that department. Her calendar is a wall-to-wall list of 1:1 and status meetings. She sent a company-wide e-mail a few weeks back enumerating all of the things they were doing to stem the churn of customers (which has been awful). They fell roughly into two categories -- giving away more free stuff to the customers who complain and smothering the others with tons of attention, including hand written notes.

Over in marketing, a department which has been amazingly free of accountability in the face of turmoil in sales and post-sales client relationship management, there has been an unearthing of some ugly statistics by the VP of Ops regarding just how much they skew the incentives so it's impossible for them to fall short of their targets. There is a dearth of automation, so things like lead distribution takes days. The department manager seems to think the only thing that will solve the problems is to throw more bodies at it.

A new EVP of Sales hired on at the beginning of February. I'm still trying to figure him out. One one hand he is very big on "collaborating" with other departments. He seems very hard nosed, which should bring some discipline to a department that has been adrift sans rudder since last fall. But there are some very big red flags.

For one thing, he is very resource intensive. He makes his home out on the East Coast and flies back and forth at the beginning and end of the week. For high profile leads, he will bring in three or four other people from other departments to sit in on calls or even make trips. He has brought on a large number of new reps, with more to come by mid-July. He shut down sales activity for the better part of a week in March to have sales training courses.

He is also very big on delegating tasks, which means he creates work for other departments, myself included. I've had to write more special documents for clients, and have prepared several hours of training materials for his team. He treats the Office Manager as his personal secretary, so a lot of his requests come to other people through her.

I also am not certain I can trust him. I know of anecdotes at his former employer where he had the habit of promising big ticket clients lots of custom work and then strong-arming the company into bending the roadmap to satisfy the client's whims. He has been chasing a major online travel website for three months now, sucking up lots of resources in landing them. This has included travel out to the Emerald City for him and the CEO to visit their HQ and for us to pay for three people from that company to come over and visit us on site so that they could have two full days of planning meetings with members of our team.

As for that travel site, the people we are dealing with are empire builders. They see social media as a gold mine for personal data, so they want to use a mix of e-mail and our application plus some custom development to collect all kinds of data about who drives the most revenue in their direction so that they can offer the deepest discounts. Their biggest competition, in their eyes, aren't other companies, but rather other departments within the same company.

One of the guys from the team, a meta manager with an overinflated sense of self, shared his enlightened visions of project management, his stint as a professional player of soccer overseas, his decade working for SauronSoft, and his pet dog of exquisite pedigree, traceable back to a champion. One of my coworkers, who had the horrible experience of sitting across from him at dinner during their visit, referred to him as a "douche wallow".

The CEO keeps expressing frustration that our team can't give his full wish list at full speed, going so far as to ask whether we needed to bring on contractors or offshore. So far, I have been able to hold my ground, refusing to compromise the department's history of high hiring standards. What we do develop gets done on time and with high quality. The new developer we took on in February has been doing well, taking on the bulk of server side software development for the last two sprints.

I've lost all respect for the President. At the beginning of the year, I found out that her father is among those on the company's board of advisors (translation: daddy bought me a job). She takes great pride that she majored in highly non-technical course of study -- writing of the creative sort. She's also in thick with the marketing manager cited above, with ties that date back to their hellenic affiliations in the college years. But these are small change compared to the things that really bug me.

Back when we did departmental budgets, I allocated enough money to pay raises to my team based on past payments, which are a sliding scale between 4 and 7 percent based on the quality of the effort. If you wind up on the 4 percent track, you get fired because it is a sign of zero growth. When the budgets were being reviewed, I was complimented on my restraint on spending, and I thought that would mean that my items would be honored.

I was worried at the January planning meeting when managers were told that the raise pool was 3 percent of the existing payroll. I figured that didn't apply to us, especially since we were the only department that had no form of bonus built into the compensation.

I recently had my annual review with my system engineer, who has done a great job moving our platform to the cloud, automating recovery of problems in production, and keeping costs so low that our cost of hosting the servers that serve our 400+ clients with more than three 9s of uptime is less than our company phone bill.

I recommended a nice increase, thinking that it would have a good chance of going through since I knew that both the President and CEO were worried about him leaving. In fact a couple months prior, they were so afraid that they asked me if a raise wasn't in order then.

After she read the raise request, the President wrote back telling me that the 3 percent value applied to my team, too and that it would deplete the pay for others. I wrote back strongly encouraging reconsideration of the decision, citing the fixed compensation and the fact that the overall value was less than the traditional "you're fired" value. She said she would consider it, and that circumstances might change if we managed to get outside funding this year, but no concrete improvements.

When it comes down to an issue raised by a non-technical person either inside or outside of the company, I am seldom given the benefit of the doubt, so a lot of my discussions with her start off on the defensive. After recounting many of these things with my system engineer, he said that if he were a manager and put as little trust in my work as it appears she does in mine, he would have fired me.

Moreover, because she is non-technical and unwilling to pick up much of any new knowledge in that area. If there are ever issues with her computer or one of her friends within the company, you can be sure there will be hell to pay.

In late March, I took a couple days off to spend time with my daughters when they were on spring break, and she interrupted my time off to drag me in on drama involving my IT support guy. The main gripe was that a new phone auto answer greeting wasn't live yet, even though we had made no promise that it would be. We were still awaiting the delivery of the recording from the professional voice service, and they were still within their turnaround window.

And then again when we had the high profile visitors from the Emerald City a couple weeks ago, she pulled me out of another meeting so she could rail off about the unacceptable IT conditions with said IT employee present. The infraction? She couldn't get her wireless network or ethernet to work in the conference room. The wireless issue was caused by her leaving her ethernet connection turned on after disconnecting from her docking station, and the ethernet didn't work because she didn't have the cat 5 cable fully plugged in. Still that was somehow our problem.

She wanted me to agree with her that he needed to go right then and there. I sat there listening to her throw a fit about how time was money and she was so far behind in her work and that we had a people problem. I asked her what we could do to help make the situation better, but she continued to press for him to be gone.

I told her wearily that I wouldn't make a personnel decision in the heat of the moment, so she scheduled yet another meeting at 3 pm the same day so that she could complain more about it. I talked her down to a two week performance improvement plan where she wanted no problems with the networking or her ability to connect to anything. Moreover she was refusing to authorize any more spending on IT until all the "problems" were resolved.

I wanted to quit then and there. So did the system engineer, whom the IT support guy helps out, when he heard about the whole thing. Had we all been gone, that would have meant 60 percent of the engineering team would have disappeared in a single day. Moreover, there would be no one left to keep either the internal IT infrastructure or our production servers alive.

Moreover, since something like 60,000 lines of code of the application were written by me, there would have been a huge evisceration of knowledge. That's not the kind of thing you want to happen when you're burning money at a rate of where you might have four months of cash left to live on and you're in talks with VCs. I joked to my team that it would have be the $6 million hissy fit. Shortly after that eruption, I found a blog post written a little over a year ago that seems to sum up her personality.

The IT guy sees the writing on the wall, and he's been trying to line up a new job so he can get out of there. He's in a precarious situation because he's working on lining financing on a new house, and the last thing he needs to have happen is lose a job.

As for me, I've sketched out the revisions I want to make to my resume, and I'm contemplating putting it into circulation. My Aspergic mind keeps rerunning the calculation to see whether there is any hope for the company. The one bright point in management, the VP of Ops (who is a strong ally on many fronts), is making some traction, but probably not enough to make the needed difference. He is getting more and more stuff dumped on him by the President, and he gets pulled in to play Dad in more and more squabbles between other departments.

During a 1:1 with the President, where she asked me what might need to change to reduce the burden on me so that I had more time to recruit new employees, I mentioned that the lack of desire by some team members in sales and client relationship management was generating a lot of work for me and recommended that we start encouraging them to take more of an initiative to increase their tech savvy to handle customer requests without having to continually turn to more skilled team members.

She said that wasn't going to happen with her team. I told her then we needed to get rid of them and start over and raise the hiring bar. She came back with some handwaving mumbo jumbo about how marketing and sales people, because of their personality types, would not be inclined to learn the details. The thing is, our team doesn't even think twice about taking it upon themselves to learn more about marketing and other areas that concern the other departments, but the curiosity is not reciprocal.

I guess the bottom line is that there are few islands of doers which survive in a sea of people who fail to execute or just toss things over the wall to those who can get things done. Further complicating things are that some of the people who need to go most are closely tied to the founders, either by longstanding friendship or even blood relationship, so there are critically entrenched vestiges of unassailable incompetence. At some point, there has to be a sort of Atlas Shrugged moment with in such an arrangement where the skilled people leave the whole mess behind because working harder is just an exercise in futility.

There are several things that keep me from moving on... I have been accumulating options, and I'd hate to see them go to waste. I enjoy the company of my team, and the lunches I have with them provide very stimulating conversation. There are a couple members of the product support staff that I get along well with, whom I would miss dearly. I've learned a lot about the finance of startups from the VP of Ops, and I want to help him succeed at his goals. I don't know if I could earn as much somewhere else, which is important to keep in mind when child support is a recurring obligation. I like working in the city, which is a much shorter commute than the sterile office parks on the north side.

So that's where I stand... light at the end of the tunnel on the personal front... lots of uncertainty and ambivalence on the professional front. The good thing is that I find myself much better armed with skills and experience than I was three or four years ago.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Damn, These Videos Have Great Production Quality

I apologize for the lack of post activity in this space. I've been underwater with work and home stuff. I'll be back soon. For now, enjoy this...

New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don't Love Each Other

Monday, January 18, 2010

Schnarch's Writings Applied to the Age of Social Networking

It's been a while since I've made mention of Schnarch in this space. I saw a post over at the New York Times blog Schott's Vocab that reminded me of his writings on two-choice dilemmas.

The term being discussed was e-ttenuation, which is attributed to Raymond Tallis. The post quotes an essay by Madeleine Bunting published in the Guardian:
... faced with such an abundance of interesting choices, there is a reluctance to commit and a provisionalism which promotes grazing, keeping options open. Above all, there is a paradigm of contractualism: relationships are measured by the question “what’s in it for me?”

When I read this, I heard echoes of Passionate Marriage (p.298):
None of us wants to face our dilemma(s) and choose one option over the other. Manic attempts to "do it all" maintain our secret fantasy that we can have it all -- and never have to face our anxiety. The 1960s free-love ethic that "it's unrealistic to expect one person to meet all your needs" subtly reassures us that we can have everything we want (all we have to do is spread our needs around several people). But decisions, commitments, friendship, and integrity only become meaningful in a world of finite options.

In Constructing the Sexual Crucible, Schnarch quotes Tristam Engelhardt:
(Friendship) is also a sacrifice. Since humans are not gods or goddesses, friendship entails the abandonment of other possibilities. Humans have limited resources of energy and time. The person who has a hundred friends has none, or is a god.

Perhaps once the craze over social networking websites has subsided, we will interpret it as a period where society was seduced by the connectivity of the web into believing that friendship could be as free as love was thought to be back in the 60s.

I sense that the seeds of disillusionment with social networking sites are beginning to take root.

In late December, the New York Times published an article about high schoolers making a pact to reduce Facebook dependency.

Then word broke out about a parody site called the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. The virality of the site is a hint that there are good number people who are ready to unplug.

Finally, Bunting's own remarks point to another issue with social networking:
It is not technology per se at fault, but how it is used, and in particular how it combines with another equally powerful phenomenon – commercialisation; the assessment that everyone and everything has a price. It is the two combined which I would argue are so corrosive to our capabilities to create and sustain relationships of depth and durability.

It's not just person-to-person relationships that are commercialized. The site itself commercializes on a relationship of its own, just as Danah Boyd writes in her blog apophenia:
Let's take this scenario for a moment. Bob trust Alice. Bob tells Alice something that he doesn't want anyone else to know and he tells her not to tell anyone. Alice tells everyone at school because she believes she can gain social stature from it. Bob is hurt and embarrassed. His trust in Alice diminishes. Bob now has two choices. He can break up with Alice, tell the world that Alice is evil, and be perpetually horribly hurt. Or he can take what he learned and manipulate Alice. Next time something bugs him, he'll tell Alice precisely because he wants everyone to know. And if he wants to guarantee that it'll spread, he'll tell her not to tell anyone.

Facebook isn't in the business of protecting Bob. Facebook is in the business of becoming Alice. Facebook is perfectly content to break Bob's trust because it knows that Bob can't totally run away from it. They're still stuck in the same school together. But, more importantly, Facebook *WANTS* Bob to twist Facebook around and tell it stuff that it'll spread to everyone. And it's fine if Bob stops telling Facebook the most intimate stuff, as long as Bob keeps telling Facebook stuff that it can use to gain social stature.

Why? No one makes money off of creating private communities in an era of "free." It's in Facebook's economic interest to force people into being public, even if a few people break up with Facebook in the process.

Perhaps this exploitation of relationships will be what drags the collective consciousness into the crucible.

The shrinking number of active bloggers that once were counted among my unspoken social graph is also evidence of this fatigue. It's hard at times for me to imagine just how many posts I read and wrote during 2006 and 2007. Now I can go for days and weeks without corresponding with these erstwhile net friends, perhaps validating just how easily friendships can dissolve online.

Still, I don't think the friends I made writing here could be discarded purely as shallow. Indeed, the conversations we had online were deeper than what is usually found on a Facebook wall. We were struggling with big questions on our relationships, perhaps things that we weren't ready to share with friends in our real lives. As for me, it was more of a testament about the lack of depth in my real-life friendships, which I let subside horribly during the deterioration of my marriage.

What matters now is that I continue to work on building real life friendships where I can be my authentic self, finally accepting that by living in the real, I must let go of the promise of many for the rewards of deeper, and fewer, friendships.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Late Night Listening XXXVII: Darker Days

One of the things I love about my Friday and Saturday night radio shows is that they introduce me to so many new things. I heard this gem from Widespread Panic on WTTS-FM's Groove Show.

This song does a good job of capturing the mood I've been in since I went back to work. Somber, drained, yet hopeful that lighter days will return.

Dark day program – pen to page
Nothing’s broken – show our age
Feed the flame – tears enrage
Wait till morning to face the day

Now we’re toiling over
Thoughts and mixed emotions
Hard to really see
What’s lying underneath
Like a roller coaster
Up and down just floating
Touch the grass and leaves
Faces in the trees

Kick ‘em over – the darkened days
Tip ‘em over – the darkened days
Door is open – light the way

So what's got me in this funk? I think it's a culmination of many things, some of it is valid concern, part of it is just the pain of going through changes.

The snow and bitter cold has been a drain on my energy, and that's just the start.

In the wee hours of Sunday, Jan 3, we had an outage caused by a runaway process on a key server, which caused a cascade of server failures. My systems engineer, support engineer, and I spent two and a half hours on IM and phone trying to untangle the mess.

I started of the week by working at home. I had my daughters over the weekend, and as Sunday was drawing to a close, my older daughter was starting to look tired and droopy. By the time they got into the tub for bath, she said, "I don't know if I'm going to puke," which is her way of saying, "Get met to the toilet. STAT!" She got sick two or three times before the night was over.

STBX's first day at her new job was on Monday, and she had no place for the kids to stay with the older daughter being sick, so upon learning the the older daughter had gotten sick, she asked me whether I would be able to work from home. Since the meetings I had on my plate could be done by phone, I agreed to do so. The girls stayed an extra night, and they enjoyed having an extra dash of daddy time before they went back to school.

STBX's schedule is going to be variable these first couple of weeks because she's still in training, but once things settle down, she will be working three days a week with 12-shifts. One of those days will be on the weekend, which will coincide with when I will have the girls.

I came back to work having to deal with the president in a tizzy similar to that meltdown back in November. She was bent out of shape by problems that were being encountered by the three biggest customers, and she had a list of things in mind that she wanted fixed.

She tried to blunt the criticism that this was falling back into the trap of wasting development resources to mollify complaints of a few customers by making the hand-waving argument that if these customers are running into it, then other customers are, which isn't really the case.

There was a meeting of with members of the client services on these issues. Prior to the meeting, I asked for the raw data upon which the complaints had been based along with some narratives on the genesis of the problems. What emerged was a picture of scattered data points and bad analysis.

The more I work with the president, the more I am reminded of Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, who had the unique capacity for drawing the least reasonable conclusions given a set of facts (c.f. Master Shake's analytical capabilities in Bus of the Undead).

My team wasn't happy because the technical solutions were being formulated and presented to us without our input, which was different from what we had done in the past, where we were given a description of what problems we were trying to solve, and then our team determined the technology to address the needs.

During the meeting, I worked to point out in places where the customer's complaints were caused by the inability to properly set up and manage customer expectations. When we brought on these larger customers, there was no agreement with the clients on what metrics would be used to determine success, and so we had fallen into a trap where our good standing with the client was imperiled by whatever measure they chose to focus on for the moment, an that was definitely happening in each case.

We managed to eliminate many of the proposed solutions, but the president was adamant that we didn't have enough time to do an analytic approach, modifying individual parameters and waiting to see if they had the expected effect. She wanted to make all the changes and right away. My counterargument to that was that by making all of the changes, we stood to gain little knowledge regardless of success or failure. She refused to budge. We have a project planning meeting Monday afternoon where we're supposed to start drawing up the to-do list for the next few weeks. I suspect this will be a doozy as well.

If there is any hope in all of this, it's that the VP we hired at the beginning of December has been gathering hard data and is starting to see the processes, or lack thereof, that wind up hurting us. Our department has been very open to providing him with cost data on our production environment and advocating areas where we saw opportunities for improvement through automation. From his preliminary findings, it looks like he could succeed in making the president aware of the true costs of perpetual fire fighting.

Some other things that have been going on... Been working my way through another round of resumes submitted via online ads and a posting the CEO put on a business networking site. We've also got a big management strategic planning meeting coming up that will take up the time of all department heads for two full days.

Changes on the personal front with respect to STBX's new job include me getting up really early one day a week to get the daughters ready for the school bus and preschool. My nights out remain unchanged, but on Wednesdays I have to pick up the kids from SBTX's friend, whom we're paying to watch the kids. The cost of that has been something of a stressor for me, but STBX's insurance is much cheaper than mine, so she will be putting the kids on her plan. All in all, I suspect it will balance itself out, but there's a part of me that's worried about making all the ends meet.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2am... Back from Fountain Square

Made it home from the music venue safe and sound. Last alcohol was consumed at 10 pm, so I was not even so much as buzzing after the Born Again Floozies finished up their last number.

All in all, it was quite a night. For a mere $15 + small convenience fee, I saw four local acts made up of some of the city's most talented and creative musicians. I wound up buying some CDs from the merchandise table. I'm glad I pushed myself into going, and I think this will motivate me to get out and see some other local music performances in the year to come.

My only regrets... First was showing up at 8:30ish. I figured that there wouldn't be many people there, but many of the good tables were taken. I wound up sitting towards the back. Second, although I had a great time with the music, the New Year celebration was hard going alone. I felt like the grade school playground again, where I was the odd kid out who didn't really relate to others.

Loneliness anxiety is painful for me. Very painful. I need to dig up my readings on this topic because I am far from transcendence in this area.