Category Archives: I Should Have Been a Firefighter

True Horror Stories

There’s a trending topic on Twitter right now, #FiveWordTechHorrors, which even I, a lowly PHP developer, find mighty funny. I contributed a few Tweets to the trend myself, each one based on something that really happened to me.

For example:

This happened to me in my early days at my current job. I was originally hired as a temporary employee to take over for someone who was out on extended leave. While I was being shown around the facilities by one of the two IT guys, I was shown our two in-house web servers which were, at the time, running Solaris something-or-other. I asked, “So who’s the Unix guy who keeps these servers up and running?” The IT guy replied, “You are.” This frightened me at the time because my experience of Unix was running a desktop installation of Red Hat, back when Red Hat was free for non-commercial users (now people use Fedora, I think), which was very different from Solaris. Over the years I’ve gotten quite comfortable running a Unix server, but back then the notion that I, a new employee whose experience with servers was pretty much nil, was now in charge of two of them was somewhat horrifying.


My first (and only) private-sector web development job was for a tiny company called [REDACTED] (this company no longer exists). It was a risk, taking up the employment offer, but I figured what the heck. We started out pretty strong, but as the months wore on, things got a little tight. Then the layoffs began. The first department to get laid off was the Business Development department, which baffled me personally; I mean, if your problem is that you’re not getting a lot of new business, why lay off the department which is responsible for getting that new business? But whatever.

The true death knell, though, was when the entire QA department was laid off. Not outsourced. The duties were not reassigned to the development team. No, QA was just dissolved as a practice. This, again, baffled me. But, whatever. At that point, I figured it was just a matter of time until I was laid off myself and the company went away entirely.

Cute story: I was at one point in my employment for [REDACTED] responsible for installing a product called Phorum, a web-based forum tool built in PHP. Because of database issues, every single SQL call in the product had to be rewritten. Shortly before I was laid off, the tech lead ended up reassigning the task to our local Perl developer, saying, “We need you to fix the mess that Richard made.”

Hah. I guess I showed him.

Another one:

I actually don’t really have anything against Microsoft. I haven’t used Windows in years (aside from running it in a virtual machine on my desktop once every three months or so). I find the Windows operating system inflexible, buggy, and insecure, not to mention expensive, but this is not a moral judgment. I use Linux now, and have never looked back; and while Linux as a desktop OS certainly has its share of issues, it’s still free and I still find it much more flexible than Windows.

At one point in my current job, I decided I was going to lobby for a Linx-based desktop computer. It made sense to me, because I was responsible for maintaining the Unix servers we had (see above), and I knew, because I had a Linux desktop at home, that it was much easier to maintain a Unix server from another Unix computer. It had gotten to the point where I was bringing in my own Linux-based laptop to the office to do my work on. While I was working with IT to get a Linux desktop, I was told, “We are a Microsoft shop”, which, to me, usually indicates that the entire computing infrastructure, from desktops to servers, were Windows computers. This was, of course, not the case in this job. My boss was behind me on this issue, but IT certainly was not.

I did finally get my Linux desktop, though.

I’ve contributed a couple of other tweets to this topic, but I told myself I was going to limit myself to three in this blog entry, and so I have.

‘Tis the season for (horrifying!) Holidailies.

Quick Note

On the whole, MoodleMoot 2008 was pretty good and I’m glad I went. There were good panels, many of which, like any self respecting panel in any event where you have a bunch of nerds gathered, went over their time limit.

I focused on the panels that seemed most appropriate to my situation. There were a couple of panels on Moodle customization and on Moodle as a social networking tool, and those seemed most important to me. I also picked up some good strategies for completing our own upgrade.

Of course there were also panels I didn’t expect to see at a large conference devoted to educational technology. "Distance Learning for the Metabolically Challenged?" " as a Model for Post Mortem Social Networking — What Can Moodle Learn?" They seemed like interesting panels but I assume they were just jokes and I didn’t bother attending. I would have if I’d had the time.

I did find myself at the same lunch table with a few of the lead developers of Moodle, including Mr. Moodle himself, Martin Dougiamas. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to ask them about any of my particular issues, which is a shame because I’ve been stuck on an upgrade issue for nearly a year now. Of course, it did feel good that every person I talked to about my own situation had pretty much the same reaction: a quick, sharp intake of breath followed by, "Oooh, ouch."

So I think I have some good ideas for when I start tackling that project again.

Time Sinks

…Being evidence that my blog can indeed consist of more than just Twitter updates.

It’s November, which is always a month full of time sinks for me.  I mean, everyone’s busy during November what with the holidays and Thanksgiving (well, everyone in America who celebrates Thanksgiving at least).   But for about 100,000 people around the world, November is also, of course, National Novel Writing Month, and the pressure of churning out 50,000 words in a single month can get to some people.  I passed the 50K mark yesterday, with 50,007 words total (according to the official NaNoWriMo word count verifier), so technically I’m done with that, even though the story itself is still incomplete.  It’s part two of the novel that I wrote last year, and I realize there’s at least one more part to come.  I’m really hoping, actually, that I can get this third part written in a very short span of time (maybe December through January), so that I can leave Deacon Dread and the Lord of Nightmares behind and get back to work on The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, which has been languishing since late October.  I have ideas for other novels I want to work on in future NaNoWriMo’s, too.

I also chose to be a Municipal Liaison for our area in NaNoWriMo this year, meaning that in addition to writing my own novel I was helping to plan events and gatherings to help other people in Sacramento who are participating get their own novels written as well.  I had a helper in this, which was great, but the point is that NaNoWriMo kept me even busier this November than it usually does.

There’s that whole Thanksgiving thing, too, and I love Thanksgiving.  But since we don’t host Thanksgiving at our house, and since everything I bake always ends up tasting like soap, no matter how closely I stick to the recipe, my role in planning Thanksgiving is calling my parents (if it’s a year at my parents’ house) and asking them what time we should arrive.  That’s pretty much it.  So while I love going to the family for Thanksgiving, it just isn’t that big a time sink for me.  More on Thanksgiving in general in a future entry.

Another big time sink for me this past month has been, I confess, Second Life.  I signed up for an account just before the start of November, just to see what it was like, and was kind of hooked right away.  I decided to create a female avatar for myself for several reasons.  First, I know that even though I enjoy writing about female protagonists, they tend to be pretty passive, which frankly irks me, so I thought that maybe having a female avatar in Second Life would be the closest thing I’d get to having a female me in First Life that I could experiment with (no, not like that, you morally turpitudinous leches!).  I don’t know how accurate the experience has been, though I’m assured that even stating pretty obviously in your profile that you’re married (sort of the Second Life version of wearing a wedding ring) and that you’re not interested in sex of any sort, cyber or otherwise, is no deterrence to the guys who will come up and say something like, "Hey baby, nice breasts, wanna get it on?"  Of course, their language is usually not quite so refined.

Second Life has surprised me, though.  The brand new residents and the ones who are mostly interested in sex and guns mostly hang out in the newbie areas, and I’ve learned to avoid those.  Once you get past those areas you can find some truly remarkable simulations that have been built up by very dedicated people.  I’ve found a recreation of the city of Dublin; a couple of really amazing garden sims (my favorite is the SL Botanical Gardens, which was built by some botanists who wanted to recreate as many real world plants in SL as they could); some impressive music venues; a sim called "October Country" that’s dedicated to Halloween and the works of Ray Bradbury and other horror writers (Lovecraft’s Cthulhu makes a regular appearance); a recreation of the Globe Theater from Shakespeare’s days; and tons more.

Another reason I chose to have a female avatar in Second Life was that I originally thought my chances of meeting people who weren’t interested in just sex and guns would be increased if I made it clear that I wasn’t as well, and my impression was that simply having a male avatar in Second Life was an implicit announcement that you were after such things, no matter how many times you said you weren’t.  I’ve since learned that this isn’t automatically true, but my avatar’s gender had already been assigned, and even though I could change it simply by clicking a radio button in my "Edit Appearance" screen, her name — Zoe Compton — isn’t very unisex.  Besides, I’ve gotten used to her.  Plus, there are a lot more ways to customize your avatar’s appearance and dress it up if it’s female than if it’s male; if your avatar is male, your choices are pretty much limited to looking like a soldier with lots of guns, or a beefed up muscle man, or a hip hop gangster, or a super powerful corporate executive.  And besides, I’m a straight, non-transgendered, non-transvestite guy who enjoys watching "What Not to Wear"; how else am I going to express that side of me that desperately needs to shop for nice clothes?

It should come as no surprise that there are a number of men that play women in Second Life.  A lot of these men are gay (though I don’t see why they don’t just play gay male avatars); a lot of them are transgendered individuals who have no medical options for various reasons in real life, so this is their only way to express it; a sizable number of them are in it for the lesbian sex scenes because they now have a little porn star that they can control themselves on the screen; and, believe it or not, there are quite a few like me who are just in it for the heck of it.

So Second Life really has been a time sink.  In fact, I was falling behind in NaNoWriMo because of Second Life until I discovered that there is a surprisingly large contingent of NaNoWriMo participants who also participate in Second Life.  Hanging out with them, exchanging encouragement and participating in word wars really helped push me, which is why I was able to actually reach 50,000 words.

In case you’re interested, I’ve set up an in-character blog for Zoe.  You can find at it Zoe in Second Life.  I’ve run each entry through the Gender Genie to try to make them sound more genuinely female than male, and I’ve done a pretty decent job of at least fooling that website, though sometimes I end up with sentence constructions and word choices that don’t really make a whole lot of sense and that definitely don’t sound like me.  I’ve gotten several favorable emails about the entry called "Second Life: Not Just About Detachable Penises".

Another big time sink has been my lungs.  I seem to be fighting a permanent upper respiratory infection, and while I don’t focus on my lungs to the point of exclusion even when I’m sucking down on my nebulizer for the fifth time in a day, it sure feels like I have been.  Right now I’m on horse pill antibiotics and more steroids than I’ve taken in years, which means that my biochemicals are all screwed up.  I have not, strangely, gotten that magical side effect from Prednisone where everything in the world sucks including you, but I’m definitely getting the voracious and insatiable appetite which gets very consuming when I sit down to eat, crowding out any thoughts of "Hey, I shouldn’t have this huge hamburger" until, unfortunately, after I’ve alr
eady eaten.

Some day I hope to get my lungs under control.  They told me I would grow out of my asthma.  They lied.  And my doctor and I were discussing airway remodeling last week, a process where a long term asthmatic develops so much scar tissue in their lungs that the airways actually get altered and moved around.  This can show up in X-rays as blotches or white areas around the lungs, particularly near the heart, and it has freaked out at least one emergency room doctor who thought I might have some horrible heart condition until I mentioned the airway remodeling to her.  Of course, the airway remodeling has also left little pockets in my lungs which don’t get a lot of airflow, but do get some, and thus prove wonderful incubators for some of these infections once they show up.  This is why a cold which gives you a sore throat and a cough for a couple of days turns into a Cecil B. DeMille production for me lasting for weeks at a time.  My doctor tells me that I’m doing as much as I can, using top of the line drugs, for my asthma and there isn’t much more we can do without getting into areas of treatment that would simply be too risky and that my insurance probably wouldn’t cover anyway.

And, finally, there’s work.  I still love my job, but I feel like I’m reaching the top end of my skill set.  We’ve spent two years customizing Moodle to work with our department’s business model (because we’re a University governed by traditions of bureaucracy that go back to roughly 1100 BC, changing the software is a lot less painful and complicated than changing our business model), and we recently decided to rebuild our site using a newer version of Moodle.  Unfortunately for me, the internals of Moodle have changed so much since we first started working with it that it’s like learning the product all over again and has proven much more difficult than I had first anticipated.  This is the first time since my first few months with this job that I’ve come across a challenge at work that has really made me question my programming abilities.  It’s a new feeling, and one that I don’t particularly enjoy.  I’ve always been able to hack my way through any challenge at work, and in pretty short order; but this one is just grinding me down.  I know that I will get through it and that I’ll succeed, there’s little doubt in my mind about that; unfortunately, I’m just not going to succeed as soon as I would like to.

So, anyway, that’s where I’ve been this month.  Writing, Second Life, lung joy, and work.  See, I do, indeed, do more than just post to Twitter.

360 Degrees

It’s that time of year in our office again: where we are all supposed to do our “360-degree feedback evaluations” of each person in our office.  And the buzzword for this year is “opportunity area”.  If you have an ongoing problem with tardiness, it’s not a weakness; it’s an “opportunity area”.  If you have a prediliction to slicing up your co-workers with paring knives, this is not a murderous impulse, but merely another “opportunity area”.  The idea being that we always look for areas where we have the opportunity to grow and improve.  The kitchenette in your break room, for example, may be the perfect area for an opportunity to upgrade that paring knife to a meat cleaver.

My problem is that I have never had any difficulties with anyone in my office, so it’s difficult for me to come up with “opportunity areas” for anyone.  It’s easy to find strengths with each person: I really enjoy working with so-and-so because I feel he/she is always open to communication new ideas, and very clearly explains why some ideas don’t work instead of just brushing them off.  She may explain, for example, that a paring knife is simply too small and too fragile a weapon to be wielded with any appreciable force, while never making me feel like my murderous impulse is something to be disrespected.  So I do my best to explain in excruciating detail why I enjoy working with each person on my feedback list, and explain why I can’t think of any opportunity areas.

This is why I hope I never end up in a management position.  That would suck.

But let this be a lesson to all of you out there hoping to improve your job situation.  Whenever the interviewer asks you what your strengths and weaknesses are, you simply have to say, “I have no weaknesses; only opportunity areas.  For example, I have found that with all my previous supervisors, I have always had excellent opportunities to practice carving up large slabs of fresh meat with a paring knife.”  Go on, give it a try.  See if you get that PR job.

I’ll be waiting over here.

Braiding the Monkey

On Monday, a bunch of us piled into our office manager’s van for the fifteen mile drive from our office to the main division office where the Halloween party was. Climbing into the passenger seat behind the office manager’s, I noticed that she has a stuffed monkey attached to the headrest on her seat. It’s one of those long toy plush monkeys with really long arms, legs, and tail, which you can stretch, tie into knots, and so on. When I sat, I saw that the monkey’s two rear legs and tail had all been braided.

“Hey, R–“, I told the office manager, “someone braided your monkey.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “My daughter likes to braid the monkey.”

“Well,” I said, impressed. “That’s not something you hear every day.”

At that moment, J1 was just climbing into the van. “Huh, Richard? What don’t you hear every day?”

I quoted R–: “‘My daughter likes to braid the monkey.'”

“Braiding the monkey.” He nodded gravely. “No, that isn’t something you hear every day.”

The subject was dropped, then, for about five minutes. When we hit the highway, J1 repeated, “Braiding the monkey. Hmmm.”

“It sounds like a euphemism,” I said. “I can imagine it: Yeah, Bob, I had a real hard night braiding the monkey last night.”

After that, things pretty much just got worse, as we kept imagining other ways to use the phrase. When, during the awards ceremony part of the program, I received my own, J1 congratulated me. I replied smugly, “Yeah, there’s a lot of hard time braiding the monkey represented here.”

We made a pact, then, J1 and I, that we would find ways to incorporate that phrase into as much casual conversation as possible. I personally would like to see it become part of the standard American slang lexicon: “Braiding the monkey”.

So, my friends, I challenge you: find ways to use the phrase, “Braiding the monkey” or “Braid the monkey” in casual conversation. You get more points if everyone pretends that they know what the phrase means and don’t call you out on it.

When we hear it in Congressional speeches, we’ll know that we’ve really braided that monkey.

Move Along Now…

I’m beginning to wonder if, instead of promising one entry per week, I should just promise one entry a month, since that’s the rate I usually post at these days. It’s not only that I don’t have nearly as much time to update this journal as I’d like (between work and school, I’m pretty darn busy this semester), it’s also that I have such a hard time, sometimes, coming up with things to say. My wife can come up with five or more entries per week, and they’re all funny and well-written. Me, I have a hard time coming up with anything at all to say.

But this is me, updating today anyway.

One thing that’s new is that I now have a new permanent job. This job which I’ve had since April was supposed to be a temporary job; I was supposed to come in, do a quick migration of the campus website from Windows to Solaris and convert their database from SQL Server to Oracle, and then get out. Three weeks, tops. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Then I’d move on to a new temp job, reasoning that even working as an administrative assistant again would be better than Benthic Creatures.

Of course the three weeks stretched out into a month… then two months… then nine months. The director finally determined that as long as the department’s going to run their database on a Solaris platform and use Oracle as a database backend, they may as well hire someone to take care of the Solaris computers and the Oracle database full time. The position was approved, I applied, interviewed, and was hired.

It was kind of funny, getting hired permanently into a job I’ve been doing as a temp for so long. It was never a guaranteee, of course; I accepted from the very beginning that someone else might come along who is much better qualified than me to do this job. I was 80% sure I’d get the job, I’d say, but not positive. But when I got the offer, my boss told me that not only had I demonstrated my qualifications, I’d “raised the bar” with my interview, and made it really tough for the other candidates to match. That felt really good to hear.

And later that same day, everyone in the office threw me a surprise “Welcome Aboard!” party. There were doughnuts. I indulged.

Our primary business is providing distance education, and my job is to support that mission by supporting the Solaris servers and Oracle databases, acting as a technical lead and lead programmer. I’m getting paid slightly more than I was as a temp, but I’m getting wonderful benefits: medical, dental, vision, legal, the works. Jennifer’s thrilled; even though all of the benefits I’m getting cost us something like $115 out of my monthly paycheck, it’s still about $100 less than it cost to cover both of us under her work’s health care plan. Everything’s good there.

And to continue the time-honored tradition of keeping where I work confidential to protect the names of the innocent, I’ll use a made-up name to refer to my place of employment. But because I lack originality sometimes, I’ll tell you that I work for Miskatonic University, in the Miskatonic University Extension Distance Education Program. This obviously has great potential for names of co-workers. My boss is Randolph Carter. He works for H. P. Lovecraft. Obnoxious people I run into (and fortunately, my office is full of good people that I like) will get names of Cthulhu and other entities.

I actually really like my job. I feel very, very fortunate to have landed here. I’m sticking with library school, of course, because even though I like my job, it’s not my ultimate goal. But I’ve landed on my feet, and it’s a good feeling.

And speaking of jobs and nicknames of jobs.

Yesterday at a staff meeting we bandied about the possibility of expanding our mission to include providing on-line services for medical doctors attached to Miskatonic’s medical school. I found it ironic, since the company that laid me off in 2001, a.k.a. “The Little Engine”, did almost precisely the same thing. During the meeting I offered to show one of the other developers, C. D. Ward, my old company’s website, so that he could see the kinds of things that we did. I logged in and was surprised to see that the company is shutting down and ceasing all operations by the end of March 2004. It’s kind of sad, in a way; it was my first private-sector job, and my first full-time IT job. It’s the job where I really got my introduction to Linux and Oracle. I learned a lot at that job, not just about Unix and Oracle but about work habits and all that. I feel bad for the people who are being let go, and I wish them all well.

And, of course, my irony meter pegged out. Just as my new public-sector job starts looking like it might move in a similar direction as my first private-sector job, the company where I held that job is going under. It’s very surreal.

Walkin' The Line (or something)

This actually happened last Friday. Our department decided that we wanted to have a group costume theme, but we couldn’t decide on anything. For two weeks we pondered, and finally settled on “Arnold’s Transition Team” because we couldn’t think of anything better. The plan was to have someone dressed up like Arnie, then have the rest of us dress up in costumes and then come up with titles to match our costumes. Our department manager was dressed up as a biker chick, and she was “The New Chief of the DMV, Harley Sue Davidson”, and she promised to “give the roads back to their rightful owners — THE BIKES!” My boss was dressed up like a farmer, with knee high rubber boots and carrying a shovel; he was the “Minister of shoveling BS”.

I was supposed to be a Goth. Well, originally I was supposed to be a pirate, but between being sick and the busy schedule I live by, I never got a chance to run to Evangeline in Sacramento to pick up a costume. So I threw together all of my black clothes, including my black boots and my black trench coat and my black leather vest, and said I was going to be a Goth.

Of course, that didn’t work. Instead of anyone telling me, “Great costume!” everyone said, “Wow, Richard, you look really good in that outfit.” Bastards. When I got to work I was told the same thing. I was supposed to be “Morpheus, lord of the despairing undead and State Minister of Happiness”, but instead I was just too good looking. I really hate it when that happens.

So we quickly scrapped the plan for what I was going to be doing. I told the two co-workers who were coming up with the script to come up with something new for me while I went back upstairs to work on a project.

A few minutes later I heard my name being called from the downstairs office. “Richard!”


“We’ve decided on a new title for you!”

“What is it?”

“You’re going to be Johnny Cash, Minister of Walkin’ the Line!”

“I am?”

“Yeah! It’s the leather vest that really makes it work.”

That satisfied me. Johnny Cash I would be. The Man in Black himself. I smiled and went back to my project (have I mentioned in this forum yet that I really hate Oracle — all software, really, any particularly anything that runs on a computer?).

At noon we headed into Davis for our department Halloween party. We had printed out a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face and glued it to a piece of cardboard, then cut out the mouth; when we got to Davis we gave this cardboard head to the dean, who agreed to play Arnie for us.

While we were having lunch, J-, who was dressed as Adam Sandler from The Wedding Singer (and who would be Arnold’s new Public Relations minister) asked me what my line was going to be.

“Line? What do you mean?”

“Well, we’re each going to say a line when we get up front,” J- replied. “You haven’t thought of anything?”

My mind drew a blank. I couldn’t think of anything. I don’t know a whole lot about Johnny Cash, and I can only name one of his songs. So I said, “Uh…”

“Well, how about…” J- said, and between the two of us we came up with one of the best lines I’ve heard.

Our turn for the group costume contest came up. We got up front, Arnie made his speech from the front and introduced each of the members of his “transition team.”

“Here’s Joe the Farmer, minister of scooping up the BS! Here’s my new DMV Chief, Harley Sue Davidson! Here’s our purveyor of culture and intelligence, Britney Spears! And here’s Johnny Cash, minister of Walkin’ the Line.”

I stepped forward.

“Well, Johnny, how are you today?” The dean had an impressive-sounding fake Viennese accent. He didn’t sound exactly like Arnie, but enough to be really funny.

“To tell you the truth,” I said, in as deep and gravelly a voice as I could muster, “I’m not feeling all that good. I had a bunch of jalapeño peppers for lunch, and now I’m sitting on a real burning ring of fire.”

The entire department laughed at that. And, of course, “Ring of Fire” is the only song by Johnny Cash that I could name, which made the whole thing hilarious. Well, in my own mind, at least. I don’t know how funny it might be for you.

At any rate, the department party went on after that. There was a costume parade, there was an auction for cleverly carved jack o’ lanterns (one of them brought in $45 — it was a pretty impressive one). There was food and music and photographs.

It was the first time I’ve worked in a place that actually encouraged Halloween events like that. Most places I’ve worked at have discouraged Halloween (or any fun at all, really). Based on a conversation I had with my boss, I have a good chance of going permanent with this job. Naturally, I hope it goes through.

In the end, we got second place for our group costume. The audience laughed more for us, but I guess the judges liked the “Joe Tech” (based loosely on “Joe Millionaire”) skit better. We were robbed.

Perl and Me

Prologue: Yesterday, in my Live Journal, giddy with excitement over having finished a major project, I wrote, “Perl is my bitch.” I should have known better.

Me: Okay, Perl, let’s get busy. Yesterday we figured out how to move files from one server to another one file at a time. Today let’s work out how to move more than one at a time.

Perl: Okay.

Me: So, let’s do it. Here, move these files.

Perl: Nope.

Me: Please?

Perl: Nope.

Me: Okay, let’s try another approach.

Perl: Uh uh.

Me: C’mon, I’ll give you a nice little upgrade if you work with me on this.

Perl: I refuse.

Me: What?

Perl: You heard me. Fuck this, I’m going to take a nap.

Me: No, you can’t! We’re on a deadline! This was supposed to be done yesterday!

Perl: Yawn. Like I care.

Me: You bastard! Okay, here, have a major code rewrite!

Perl: Oh, neat. Watch me crash.

Me: NO!!

Perl: In fact, I think I’ll take all these files with me!

Me: You’re kidding!

Perl: Yeah, I’m just kidding.

Me: Oh, thank God.

Perl: Bwah ha ha haaa!! I wasn’t kidding!! Watch those files evaporate into electronic mist!

Me: Hah! I have those files backed up on our old development server! Nice try!

Perl: Oh, poop.

Me: Okay, I’ll pull out a majority of your code base and replace it with something I know works. Try that on for size!

Perl: Clunk.

Me: Um. Oops.

Perl: Clunk.

Me: Oh, come on! Let go of those files!

Perl: Don’t want to. They’re mine, all mine. I’ve done a total permissions change on them and now you can’t touch them!

Me: Oh my god.

Perl: Who’s the bitch now?

Dirt in the Conversation Pit

I remember through many of my jobs with UC Davis, with Little Engine and with Benthic Creatures, fantasizing about having some sort of management position. Not that I really ever wanted one. I’ve always known that it would be way too much responsibility, and a level of technical and people skills that I don’t really have.

And yet, somehow, here I am, pretty much taking on the job of managing this transition from our department’s old platform to the new one. I hadn’t really planned on it working out this way, and I don’t think my boss was planning on it either. But apparently I’m the only one in the department with any sort of experience in doing a major platform upgrade like this — I was a small part of this sort of thing about three years ago, but I guess I did learn a few things. I find myself talking to the developers and coordinating with them on pieces of our software as they go up to the new production server; I talk to the network engineer to make sure our new servers are set for the task; I talk to the course developers to make sure the content is up to snuff; and I talk to the DBA to make sure the database is ready to go. And somehow it’s my job to coordinate all of these things and make it all happen. I think my boss likes it because I have been making recommendations that he knows make sense (because he’s been planning on some of them himself). I want a middle tier server for QA purposes, for example. I want a better process for coordinating software and content changes. And so on.

And moving the website to a new platform is just one step of the process. In a couple of weeks we’re going to change our entire database, and that will probably entail another round of coding changes, server setups, and so on. And I already have in mind a set of recommendations for changing the QA process for the next time around. But all in all, the weird thing is that I never planned on this. When I took this temp job, I had figured on yet another clerical job, where I’d take minutes at meetings and make appointments for managers. I wasn’t expecting something like this. And I’m not at all qualified for this job; if I had to apply for it, there’s no way I’d get it.

Life is weird.

Anyway, for library school, I’m now taking a class in resources for children ages 6 to 12. Part of the point of this class is learning how to write good book reviews which will server as solid purchasing recommendations for the children’s section of a library; and at this point I’ve read something like two dozen books for children. Because I’ve sped through them all so quickly, I haven’t bothered updating my library with the books as I read them, though I’m building a readers’ advisory notebook as part of this class — and when I’m done with that (which will end up being a pre-alpha version of Lucien), I’ll ost the URL publically for the world to peruse. For now, I’d recommend a few titles for your perusal:

The Ashwater Experiment
by Amy Goldman Koss: A neat story about a girl who decides that she really is the only real human being in the world, but who gradually learns that other people are real and not just stock characters in the drama of her life. A good book about loneliness, friendship, and saying goodbye.



The Giver
by Lois Lowry: A young boy takes on the most important role in his futuristic community: the Receiver of Memories. This book has been controversial for its examination of ethics and some issues that could be tough for younger children to come to terms with. While it may be challenging for some readers because of its philosophical bent, it certainly is not inappropriate for them.



by Lois Sachar: Against an almost surreal backdrop involving a bizarre penitentiary for boys and a complex history, a young boy comes to terms with himself and with his family’s past. Highly recommended.




This weekend Jennifer and I will be toting many, many pounds of dirt to fill up the conversation pit that we built a couple of weeks ago. For some strange reason, I’m not actually looking forward to this task all that much. Oh, sure, it will be nice to have it finished so we can plant things in the planter, but the idea of lugging many wheelbarrows full of dirt in the sun… strangely, that doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to me.

So much for the dirt from the conversation pit. Okay, it wasn’t that clever a title after all.