Saturday, December 31, 2011

Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

And so a year comes to end, with this quite arguably being the quietest year of this blog's existence. The last post here was way back in July, over five months ago.

With the new year aligning on the boundary of a week, I've been feeling extra motivated to get my life squared away, tending to loose ends here and there. Because I took the last two weeks of the year off so that I could be with my daughters while they are on holiday break, I felt a lot more freedom to take care of neglected items.

I've made pretty good progress. My to-do list has been shrinking, but there's a number of things that I have been avoiding. One of them is taking in the year's worth of recyclable material that has accumulated in the garage. If I let that go much longer, it will definitely start to take on a hoarder feel to it. The other is working my way through a pile of junk mail and old bills that need to be shredded, which has been accumulating since mid-April, the last time I did a clean-up of that pile.

Kids are doing mostly OK...

My older daughter is in the third grade this year. She enjoys reading and writing, but math is a challenge for her. She's also very timid in the classroom, so she doesn't ask questions readily when she is confused. The end result is that her homework and test scores tend to bounce between extremes of really good and really bad. We met with her teacher and worked out a plan of action to encourage her to do more asking of questions.

The younger daughter is struggling some with school. The enthusiasm for homework that she had in her preschool and kindergarten years seems to have disappeared. She has her good days and bad days, but they are not the same kind of extremes seen in our older daughter. She's been experiencing some anxiety about school and missing me. There have been some mornings this year where she didn't want to go to school and complained about wanting to see me. She is currently seeing a counselor under X's EAP.

Both of them are involved in dance and girl scouts. They will be on the competition dance team again this year, and their nationals event will be down in that big amusement park in the Sunshine State. The older daughter is in year two of her piano lessons, and her teacher says that she demonstrates a lot of natural musical skills. The younger daughter has found her muse in drawing. Every weekend she stays with me, she makes a stack of drawings. Some of them are scenes involving family. Others are more abstract, and others are based on things she's learned from art class at school.

I'm burt out on work...

The VP of Product continues to cause me no end of frustration. It wasn't until sometime around October, five months into the job, that he decided to actually learn more about how our development process works. Up to this point, he had been using our issue tracking software as a to-do list, dumping in a random list of ideas every week, usually about the time that he had his one-on-one meeting with the President.

He's injected himself into all aspects of the company's operations, sitting in on sales and account management calls, overseeing marketing operations, stepping on the toes of product support, and micromanaging the engineering team. The director of the product support team, my most senior developer, and I do not like him at all.

Yet because he's a smooth talker with the sales team and the account managers, arguably the perennially underperforming branches of the company, those groups love him. This has led to a situation where things aren't getting any better, and the ones with the greatest say in the direction of where things are going are the least effective people. I don't hardly have the energy to put in the overtime anymore, and I don't think any of the options I have accumulated over the past four years have any real value,

I've tried to hold on as long as I can, but I can't take it anymore. After the first of the year, I'm putting my resume into circulation. A job search has its challenges, because the Circle City is a small town when it comes to tech. Chances are, wherever I go could run the risk of souring relationships somewhere.

The market for interesting, well-paying work around here is pretty sparse. Much of software development is done on the north side of the metro area, which is more sprawling and affluent, which means my commute may take a turn for the worse. I also may not have the flexibility with hours that I currently enjoy at my current job. Plus since I have served in a coding/leadership responsibility the past 2+ years means that my current salary is at the high end. Ideally, I'd like to find something that allows me to do interesting work but allows me to telecommute because I don't want to move away from my daughters.

My relationship with my significant other is going well...

It's been seven+ months since I started seeing my girlfriend, and life has been very good on that front. She has been a blessing in that the loneliness that plagued me for so long has been dispersed. I am a much happier person, and the contrast of now versus what was life with X was night and day. Not even in the early years of my relationship with X did I ever feel so cared for.

There's a lot in common between my girlfriend and me. We both survived marriages with spouses who refused to be financially responsible. We both have felt out of place with the rest of the world, and neither of us feel like we fit in down on the south side of town. We have an incredible passion for music, and a warped sense of humor that makes the world bearable at its worst. I've been able to have some of the most revealing and deep conversations of my life with her.

She's been a good influence on me. We've seen a lot more live music, including Gov. Davis and the Blues Ambassadors, a local band, Ben Folds with the ISO, the Civil Wars in a short private concert set at a radio station, a local high school jazz band, and the Leisure Kings (still just as funny as when I saw them two years ago). On some weekends, we have lazy time, watching an indie flick on Netflix or listening to weekend public radio and OverEasy on Sunday mornings.

I've met her most of her family at a few functions, including a fall cookout and Thanksgiving, and I really enjoy being around them. They are a well-read bunch, with eclectic tastes, moreso than I would have expected, given their past histories. It's been much easier to interact with them than X's family, which was much more drama oriented and fixated on watching TV. I introduced her to my kids for the first time in September, and they've warmed up to her after that initial round of bashfulness. She met my mom in December.

The status of the relationship is very pleasing to me. I'm finding that the reading and studying on anxiety management in the context of relationships several years ago was time well spent. At times, when she is stressed with work or kids, I am capable of soothing her rather than letting it affect me. We also work well together in cooperative situations, be it moving furniture or cooking meals.

We get each other, and because it has taken so long for us to find someone who does, we put a lot of care and attention into the relationship. While we are nowhere near talking about marriage, we both see this as being a very long-term relationship.

For someone who was so bent on keeping separate compartments between parenthood and new dates, I am surprised how much this relationship has challenged my original vision of loosely coupled monogamy. Unlike that desire to remain guarded against vulnerability, I am finding myself more open to the potential of intimacy, even at the risk of pain. I don't feel so quirky and different with her.

So as I close out 2011, I am a much happier and less lonely soul. I still have my annoyances, and the year to come may bring some big changes on the work front, but I feel like I'm moving in the right direction. My new year wish, to the perseverant few who have stuck with this blog, even as it has stagnated, will find their own lives moving on a similar path of positive existential resolution.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Earworms Come from the Strangest Places

Was reading the news yesterday and saw an obituary for Ed Flesh, a guy who was responsible for many a TV set design, including that of many game shows. The crown jewel of his accomplishments was the original Wheel of Fortune centerpiece, but it was his work for the $25,000 Pyramid that caught my eye.

As someone who consumed way too many game shows and cartoons as a child, I do have memories of this show, including its earliest incarnation, which had a $10,000 value. Flesh wasn't the originator of the set design, which included that overwhelming pyramid used for the winner's circle round, complete with chaser lights that seemed to march in time with a jazzy/funky theme that is burned into my mind to this day. Sure enough, there are plenty of mavens who have transferred old video clips of the show to YouTube, but someone was diligent enough to post a high quality audio of the theme song.

Now I can't get the d@mned thing out of my head.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Late Night Listening XL: Limping My Way to the Half Decade Mark

And now after some thinking
I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

-- Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues", Helplessness Blues, Sub Pop Records

I'm still alive, even if this blog is in a moribund state, most likely a victim of deep procrastination. It's hard to believe that I started this blog five years ago today.

Rather than write in painstaking detail over the last six months since my last post, I'll try to capture the big changes and list the challenges that remain before me.


Lots of slicing and dicing in the professional world. I'm still at my job. I still have my title and paycheck, but the landscape has undergone some radical transformations.

When I started with Company Line, I was the tenth full-time employee and first full-time rank-and-file developer. The fact that I've stayed on for this long is pretty remarkable. The only people who have been here longer are the CEO/founder and his niece.

The biggest change has been in sales, which has gone from over ten to five, one of whom is on a performance improvement plan and probably will get the axe in a month. The shrinking has been a mix of firings and voluntary departures.

The next notable is a major change in the managerial makeup of the company. The once immovable and incompetent President who pushed me to the edge of burnout left the company at the end of February, selling off her stake in the company as well. Taking her place is the guy whom we hired on in December of 2009 as the VP of ops. He proved his mettle in the summer and fall of 2010 turning around the performance of the post-sales team, stemming the churn of clients choosing not to renew.

My ex-boss, who returned to work for us as a contractor in November remained on with us up through the beginning of May. Upper management talked about making him an offer to come on full time, and this would have been a welcome development, but because there was delay after delay in formulating an offer, a window of opportunity opened for coastal recruiters who were aware of his talents.

He interviewed both for The Social Network and Shake-em-Up, the rapidly growing company in the Big Apple. He got offers from both of them, and turned down The Social Network on the premise that everyone he interviewed with was "a prick". He took the offer, much to the chagrin of upper management. Before reaching his decision, he spoke with me about his ambivalence in taking the offer. The other place would offer him challenges up to his mettle, and it was clear that he had outgrown the tech scene here. He's still young, not completely tied down, and has no children, and he knew of the struggles I had faced with the Online Payment Subsidiary of the Big Online Auction Company.

The Director of Marketing, whom I pictured leaving soon because she enjoyed a teflon coat in the days of the former President because they were sorority sisters, left in April for a position with a small e-mail marketing outfit up on the north side. A professor of marketing at the local business school has been filling in as the VP of marketing, and she's been whipping that department into shape, demanding from them faster turnaround times and better use of data.

The overpriced executive VP of sales, who had been commuting weekly from Beantown, said good-bye in mid-May after the President decided that we needed to free up his healthy size salary for product development. Further motivating the departure was a track record of extravagant travel and material expenses, including a very large screen TV that no one could quite explain.

My team also underwent changes. Our User Interface engineer, who had been with us since the summer of 2008, got a good size offer from Car Sales Management Software Company up on the north side. His commute shrank by many miles since he lives in the upper northeast burbs, and his salary shot up by about 15 grand. His departure capped off the near total replacement of my team, with our IT guy leaving in June 2010 and the System Engineer departing in October 2010. In the months in between, the other back end engineer and I have handled the job of user interface development, and we've held it together. Fortunately a new hire for our team will be starting in another week.

(warning, next several paragraphs include some ranting)

We took on a new VP of product management in early May, after upper management realized that they wouldn't be able to put my ex-boss in this role. This gave the CEO to hire someone whom he had been wanting to hire for an undefined role for over a year, mainly because he was afraid of the guy being hired on by another company in town.

The guy has a reputation of being a technically proficient entrepreneur, but in this town, to earn technical proficiency cred, you don't have to do much. As part of his role, he assumed the title of Product Owner in the SCRUM sense, even though he had zero experience with Agile development methodologies.

In two and a half months' time, the director of product, another software engineer, and I are ready to throw him from the roof of the building because he's established him as a self-important douchebag. Most of his e-mails and request tickets are injected with turf-marking language and condescending insults. At one point, he lectured the development team on the adequacy of his skills by stepping through year-by-year of his LinkedIn profile.

Despite our team's efforts to provide him with guidance and training in Agile, he has demonstrated very little desire to learn how the process works. Rather than putting together user stories for planning meetings, he would come unprepared with vague oral descriptions and hastily prepared mockups. We refer to his style as "screen shot driven" development where there are lots of markups but little explanation behind what the user interface is supposed to do.

At the last sprint planning meeting, his third such since coming on board, he told us quite openly that he had very little idea of how to write one. He also routinely makes additional feature requests outside the scope of the planning process, which is a big no-no in Agile.

Having to deal with him has been a drain on the morale of both my back end engineer and myself.

(ok, rant over)


A couple of departures over the past few months...

My mom's Chow had to be put to sleep because she could barely walk. Given that my mom lives alone, her dog was a major source of companionship. She recently adopted a St. Bernard from a rescue shelter and while the dog is a handful, she's really enjoying it.

My stepmom's dad passed away in June. I wasn't that close to him, but he was a good guy who remained physically and mentally active until the cancer took its toll this early spring.

At about the same time, I was worried that I was going to lose my dad, too. Ever since he had a stroke back in Nov. 2001, he's seen an ever growing list of prescription medications. According to my stepmom, he was on 20 different medicines.

In May, his health took a turn for the worse, and he wound up in intensive care for several days. The doctors determined that his kidneys could not keep pace with the accumulation of drugs in his blood stream, so he was slowly overdosing. Giving him a few days to dry out and then pare back the meds to some bare minimals helped him recover.

My daughters made it through another year of school. The older daughter advances to third grade with a mix of As and Bs, with Cs in math. The younger daughter will start in the first grade next month. They are now 8 and 6 years old.

They recently took home top honors in the petite division at their nationals dance competition that was held on the east coast a couple weeks ago. I got to see them perform their final round on a live webcast. The trophy was almost as tall as they were. I was very proud of them.

I've been seeing quite a bit of them this summer. Although it's nowhere near as bad as last summer, where X had me keeping them almost every weekend, they have been staying with me on alternating weekends. With my workplace trying a summer hours policy, which means most people take Friday off, I've been keeping them overnight on Thursday nights and having them spend the day with me.


I answered an ad on the big free online classified service in mid-May, and it's had a big impact on my spirits outside the workplace.

The situation is nearly ideal. She is a mother of two, with her kids being a few years older than mine. We are close in age, with her being a couple years older than me. She's been divorced for about three years, and puts her kids first. She's not looking to tie the knot, but she wants someone to share her alone time.

She lives on the south side of the Circle City, a couple of miles from my house, and is a social worker. Like me, she's been through her share of existential crises. She's a free spirit at hear, kept grounded by the kids. She loves good music, and there is a lot of overlap in our tastes. Both of our spouses had problems living within their means.

This may seem weird, but at the age of 42, I have for the first time experienced what might be described as chemistry, and for the first time I have felt wanted. Our sensual tastes have a lot of common ground, so the intimacy is strong. Neither of us see the possibility of marriage as long as the kids are at home, so this will probably grow into an arrangement of loosely coupled monogamy, which is what I want for now.

That's the news from here. If you have further questions, just drop a line in the Comments section and I will try to address it in a timely manner.

Monday, January 03, 2011

This is Just Asking for a Security Breach

Saw this posted on a techie forum:

Cupcaking: A fun, sexy, secure way to heat up your relationship

It purports to be a safe way to share naughty media with a paramour. I took a look at their HTTP headers to see what they are running for their server software:

$ curl -v -o /dev/null
* About to connect() to port 80 (#0)
* Trying connected
* Connected to ( port 80 (#0)
> GET / HTTP/1.1
> User-Agent: curl/7.16.4 (i386-apple-darwin9.0) libcurl/7.16.4 OpenSSL/0.9.7l zlib/1.2.3
> Host:
> Accept: */*
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Date: Mon, 03 Jan 2011 22:28:30 GMT
< Server: Apache/2.2.9 (Fedora)
< Set-Cookie: ubvs=; path=/; expires=Sat, 02-Jul-11 22:28:30 GMT
< X-Powered-By: PHP/5.2.6
< Set-Cookie: ubpv=p%2Cc1423c26-1246-11e0-96a1-12313e003591; expires=Wed, 06-Jul-2011 22:28:30 GMT; path=/
< Content-Length: 16936
< X-Unbounce-Variant: p
< Connection: close
< Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8
{ [data not shown]
% Total % Received % Xferd Average Speed Time Time Time Current
Dload Upload Total Spent Left Speed
100 16936 100 16936 0 0 33730 0 --:--:-- --:--:-- --:--:-- 60566* Closing connection #0

An old version of PHP (released in May of 2008) doesn't speak well for their security savvy. If I were you, I wouldn't try it out just yet. :-)

The Doctor's Diagnosis...

... a serious case of acute bronchitis. Prescription includes industrial strength cough suppressant (guaifenesin-codiene) and a 10-day antibiotic regimen (augmentin). Of course, that gives me a chance to pull up my favorite song that refers to codiene.