Category Archives: I Should Have Been a Firefighter

The E-Word

Today was my first real graduate school class. Yes, it was a Sunday class; since the MLIS program at San Jose State is geared toward working people, they decided to have the single actual meeting for the students on a Sunday so that we could all attend.

The topic of this class is management theory. Apparently, when you run a library, you see, there is some management involved; and when you’re doing management, it helps to know what you’re doing. The professors who are teaching this class said something along the lines of, “We understand that none of you want to go into management. But the sad truth is that you’ll all probably end up doing it at some point. So you should learn something about it.”

There was a time, believe it or not, when I actually thought that I really wanted to go into management, so I actually read a lot of books on the topic. And so a lot of what we’re going to be covering in this class, in the on-line sessions and in the textbook, is pretty familiar to me; it’s interesting stuff, though, so I’m enjoying it.

Today we mostly concentrated on ethical decision making as it relates to library management issues: how to evaluate moral problems, basically, and how to evaluate an ethical problem to find an appropriate solution. Libraries are never free of controversy, I’m learning, and in the modified world we find ourselves in today, full of paranoia and tension, it’s more important than ever to keep the basic values of the library in full view. I’m finding that there is quite a wide array of opinions on how to keep the mission of the library in focus and on making ethical decisions; and I think it’s fascinating.

The main thing that the professors tried to get across is that Ethics is important. It’s in the news right now (is an invasion of Iraq ethical? or anything that Enron did, or the current administration’s involvement with it?), and it’s on everyone’s mind. This attention to ethics kind of goes in cycles; right now, it’s the In Thing, and everyone’s trying to be ethical. Sometimes, though, “ethics” is a dirty word, implying a hardline attachment to patriarchal and outmoded ways of making decisions. Ugh. It’s the “E-Word”, volatile at times, loved at times, always essential for making proper decisions. Far too many people at too high levels of business and government believe that they’re above the need for ethics, and that’s a shame.

Meanwhile, I’m here in San Mateo County for my job. After nearly six weeks on the bench, it’s weird to be back on the road. It’s especially frustrating, given that it’s hard to schedule job interviews when you’re traveling. This hotel, at least, has free high-speed internet access, and my room has a microwave oven and refrigerator. So tomorrow after work, I’m going to swing by the grocery store I spotted on the way in to the hotel and pick up some groceries, so that I can keep up with some healthy eating; that’s hard to do when you’re on the road and eating out most of the time. There’s also a decent work out room in this hotel, so while it’s not really in a neighborhood where I would feel safe running in the morning, I can swing on the treadmill or the recumbant bicycle to get some exercise in tomorrow morning before heading to the training site. I also got to have dinner with my parents this evening after class, which was nice.

So this evening’s schedule is set for me. Study a little, read a little, work on my resume; keep your fingers crossed for me, because there’s a nice looking job at UC Davis that I’m looking at. Of course, as I’ve said before, my top priority right now is getting out of Benthic Creatures and getting off the road. A job with UC Davis would be great for me, because it’s within bicycle distance from my home.

December Night

The wind crashes outside, slamming up against the south end of our house like a mad thing throwing itself against walls, trying to escape its prison. I look outside, and the brances and leaves of the trees next door writhe; drops of rain hammer incessantly against the window, as if trying to break it down by sheer force of numbers. Through the trees and the rain, the light of the streetlamp a house or two down the street is unsteady, flickering like a distant beacon.

The storm has made me restless. I shift in bed, trying to make myself comfortable. Jennifer shifts in response. “Are you okay?” she asks me sleepily, softly as though she were dreaming. “I’m fine,” I tell her. “Go back to sleep.” She rolls over and her breathing deepens again while I wrap my arms around the pillow anew, and try to sleep.

I’m a natural worrier, of course. I hear the wind and the rain, stronger than any storm I think I’ve seen in my fifteen years in this part of the valley, and I can’t help but wonder if that wind will find some hidden weakness in our windows, some flaw undiscovered since the house’s manufacture, and come roaring in through broken glass and ruined floor.

My imagnation works in overtime. It always has. I’ve never been able to help it.

* * * * *

The day before Thanksgiving, I went to see the new pulmonologist. The old one had retired over the summer, which kind of took me (not to mention his staff and the rest of his patients) by surprise. He’d been the one treating my asthma for something like seven years, after nearly ten years of letting my asthma go unchecked while I was in college and for years after college while I flitted in jobs without health insurance.

The new pulmonologist reads over the results of my spirometry test and reviews my medication regime. “Why are you taking Unidur?” he asks me.

“Um,” I reply medically, “I’ve been taking it since high school. I think. Probably longer. It’s theophylline, kind of the basic drug for me.”

“Hm,” he replies. Then a moment later he asks me, “What about the Atrovent?”

I shrug. “That’s another one I’ve been taking for a long time.”

“Ah,” he says. This pulmonologist is a lot younger than his predecessor; hell, he might be about the same age as I am (I remember this as a warning from someone a few years ago: “Just wait until your doctors are younger than you, then you’ll feel inadequate!”). Reading over my chart again and listening to my lungs with his stethoscope, he comes to a decision.

“Let’s cut out some of these drugs,” he says.

“I’m game,” I say. “Which ones?”

“Let’s try the Unidur and the Atrovent. The Singulair’s a reasonable drug for you to keep taking, and the Advair’s really your first line of defense against the asthma. I don’t think the Unidur’s really doing you any good, and the Atrovent’s probably doing nothing for you but complicating your life.”

I chuckle. “Yeah, it’s just one more inhaler to track.”

“Exactly. And how often do you go through your Albuterol inhalers?”

“About one a month. That’s about right, isn’t it?”

He shakes his head. “They should be lasting you about four months. From now on, whenever you feel like you need to use your inhaler, take a peak flow measurement to see if you really do need it. And if you do need it, take another measurement after you’re done, to see how much good it’s doing.”

I nod and agree to this change. I’ve been thinking over the past few months that maybe I’m using the Albuterol far too often when I really don’t need it; maybe it’s become more a psychological thing for me than a real medical need. I tell that to the doctor, and he says, “Yep, we’ve found that that’s pretty common among long-term asthmatics. And you’ve had your asthma all your life, haven’t you?”

I nod. We talk a bit more about my medications and my lifestyle and the fact that my body has probably added GERD to its repertoire of conditions that shouldn’t hit me for another fifteen years or so but which were probably brought on earlier because of my asthma drugs.

After my appointment with the doctor, I chat with the nurse as he takes my blood pressure and prepares me for my allergy shot.

“So I see he’s got you dropping the Unidur and Atrovent,” he says.

“Yep,” I say. “It’s going to be a big pscyhological adjustment for me. I’ve been taking theophylline all my life.”

“Well, it’s probably not doing you any good anyway since you’re taking the Advair. Hell, you’re probably old enough to remember Marax, aren’t you?”

I blink for a moment; Marax was the front-lnie drug for asthma way back when I was a kid. I think I stopped taking it when my age was still measured in single digits.

I laugh. “Sign of the times, I guess, isn’t it?”

“It sure is, Rich.” He gives me my shot and then we start talking about computers and fishing, just like we always do when I come by the office, even though I know more about the first than he does, and he know way more about the second than I probably ever will.

* * * * *

Earlier this week, I got word from San Jose State University that I’ve been accepted into their Master of Library and Information Sciences program. It was kind of funy, actually. On Monday morning I decided that six weeks was long enough to wait to hear, so I had sent an e-mail to the program director, asking when I mihgt hear on the status of my application. I should have just waited an hour or so; my acceptance letter was waiting for me in our mailbox.

And so now I’m a graduate student, well on my way toward becoming a rich and powerful librarian. Jennifer says she’s just as excited, and she can’t wait until she can get away without having to pay any more overdue library fines. Me, I’m really excited. I’m taking my first class beginning in January; just one this coming semester so that I can ease my way back in to the whole study routne. I tell people I can’t wait to begin the process of juggling classes with this full-time job that’s got me on the road so much. Thank God for on-line learning.

Of course, I feel kind of strange in a way, too. Is it right to study to be a rich and powerful librarian when I’ve got a ton of late books sitting on my shelf?

* * * * *

Sitting here and writing this while listening to Celtic music on my computer hasn’t done much to curb my restlessness. While Jennifer was at practice blasting through her oboe, I was at Borders, dosing up on caffeine. It used to be that caffeine, even late at night, wouldn’t do much to keep me awake so late, but that seems to have changed. I told Jennifer that I think that cutting out the theophylline from my medications might have sometime to do with it; theophylline is very similar, molecularly, to caffeine. Perhaps I’d built up a tolerance over the years which has now vanished since I’m no longer consuming 1200 mg worth of it each day in addition to the coffee? If that’s true, it will be useful when I begin taking classes in earnest and need to stay up late to study.

In our computer room, you can barely hear the storm at all. I’ve stepped back briefly into the bedroom to see if it has died down a bit, and it has. I think that I’ll head back to bed now, stay awake for a bit longer reading, and then finally try to get to sleep.

On The Beach

This week, my job has me in Santa Barbara. Jennifer’s a bit further north, in the same county as I am, but in the city of Santa Maria. It’s been pretty hectic this week, what with me zipping from Santa Maria to Lompoc and down to Santa Barbara. But, on the whole, it’s been pretty good, despite the long hours in the car. The drive from Lompoc (pronounced “LOM-poke”, I found out — not “LOM-pock”, as I’ve always pronounced it) to Santa Barbara on Highway 1 is absolutely beautiful, with all kinds of neat mountains and trees and twists and turns. I love driving on mountain roads. The regional manager who was behind me, following along the way, does not. When we drove from Santa Cruz to Santa Clara a couple of weeks ago, with her following me, she complained about how I have a tendency to accelerate on those curves, the same curves where she’s applying her brakes.

Well, okay. No more manic driving when a regional manager is trying to follow me to a training site. Important lesson, that.

Benthic Creatures has conducted this same sort of training of mollusc handlers and the molluscs in several other states throughout the country. Molluscs everywhere have been using the same shell polishers for years, and California’s one of the last to implement the same new technique. And within the company, there’s a common saying: “California’s just different.” Most states implement these changes on a statewide level, but California — being California — does it on a county-by-county basis. Each county in California is like a different state. It really is, especially when it comes to implementing policies and procedures for shell polishing.

Santa Barbara certainly feels like a different state than Solano County, where I’m from. My hotel room is decorated with neo-Spanish style decor, including a miniature palm tree — bonsai, southern California style — sitting on the table next to my laptop. And, of course, since it’s Santa Barbara, my room has a ceiling fan, and a standing fan hidden away in the closet. But, oddly, no air conditioner. Which means, I suppose, that this hotel generally caters to those with a preference for broiling temperatures in the summer time. It’s December now, of course, so it’s tolerably cool here. I like it.

I have become oddly jaded with regards to business travel. I admit that I get annoyed with all of the time on the road for this job, and I’d much prefer to stay at home. But I find odd things to complain about. “My room doesn’t get a decent internet connection,” I whine. It’s only 20kpbs, not the 50+ that I’m used to. And this hotel doesn’t even offer a broadband connection, like so many of the other hotels I’ve stayed at. And there’s no customer parking at this hotel; only valet parking, for which I shell out another $7.00 per night. And… and so on.

The place where I’m working is kind of odd as well. Example: the elevator has buttons for three floors. Inside, the floor indicator goes up to three. Yet, the building only has two floors. Perhaps this is a metaphor for Santa Barbara in general: something about reach extending grasp, I suppose.

My hotel, though, is right on the beach. I can look out my window and see… well, I can see the parking lot of the hotel next door. I can hear the ocean, though, and I know that when I go out the front door of the hotel, it’s just a hundred yards or so to the shore. I’ve walked down there a couple of times in the evening, just to hear the ocean and the gulls and smell the air.

And this evening, after I was finished doing the training at the Social Services office, I decided to wander through downtown Santa Barbara. I’ve never been here. Well, actually, that’s not quite true; three years ago, I was at UC Santa Barbara for a UC conference on information technology. But back then I never got to go downtown. There are dozens of fascinating little stores in downtown Santa Barbara, with names like Masks of Venice, and Gentlemen Antquarians. There are big chain stores, of course, like Borders and Starbuck’s (huzzah!) and Banana Republic; but enough independent stores to redeem the overwhelming presence of the chain stores. I even bought an odd little gift for Jennifer in one of the small shops; it’s kind of a strange gift but I think she’ll like it.

And that is the plus side of business travel. Going to new places; exploring new downtowns to discover new treats. Assuming, of course, that you’re in a town with some sort of character to it.

And the training itself has gone great. The people here in Santa Barbara are so very nice, if a bit dizzy at times. I’ve gotten great evaluations, and the handlers that I’ve trained are all very friendly and receptive to what I have to train. I’ve really enjoyed working here. And I got a wee surprise yesterday when I discovered that the classes I was to teach on Friday were canceled, so I get to drive back up to meet Jennifer a day early; perhaps I’ll sit in on the classes she’ll be teaching then.

Or, perhaps, I’ll just sleep in.

That is part of the southern California lifestyle, isn’t it?

Why Is This So Freakin' Hard?

I can sit down and churn out a three-page document summarizing some new features of a software product that I’ve helped develop. Within minutes I can spew out a humorous e-mail inviting all of our friends to a Hallowe’en party. And all throughout college I could sit down and write a paper or an essay or a thesis with little effort. Really, it was that simple.

But here I am now trying to write my personal statement for library school… and facing a writer’s block like you wouldn’t believe. This this thing is huge. Imagine some chunk of ice or something about the size of one of those giant icebergs that break off from the Antarctic ice cap once in awhile and wanders about, sinking unsinkable ships and confusing the hell out of a flock of penguins who suddenly discover themselves floating hundreds of miles away from home with no warning.

Imagine that block of ice sitting on your keyboard. Mocking you. Taunting you. Daring you to write one word, one bloody word, that will demonstrate “your interest in the program and how getting an MLIS degree will help your career.”

I have all my thoughts down. I have a draft, unreadable though it is. I know what points I want to cover, and in what order I want to cover them. Really, all that’s left is to just start writing it.

But for some reason I just can’t. Over the past week I’ve written something like a dozen false starts and scrapped them all. Yesterday I finally wrote up a draft that I was more or less happy with, but decided that there was still a lot of work to do on it.

It’s only two to three pages, fer crying out loud! I write more than that when I’m planning out a Dungeons and Dragons game!

Ah, well.

Today, while Jennifer is off in Contra Costa County for a meeting (which I’ll be attending on Thursday), I finished filling out the rest of the application: filling out the forms, tracking down professors to list on the application itself, double-checking my old transcripts, and so on. But now I’m done with that, so I better just finish that essay.

Okay, now I’m done ranting for the day. Wish me luck. Hopefully, I will finish this essay before the end of the day. Then I shall reward myself by possibly installing Movable Type on my server.

It's All Circular

Today Jennifer and I had our first meeting at Benthic Creatures, and I discovered how amazingly small our world can become at times. One of our co-workers is a former co-worker of Jennifer’s from her Company To Be Named Never, but we knew that was going to happen. We knew that was going to happen going in. But there were other surprises in store.

A few years ago, when I was first planning my trip to Europe, while I was still working as a clerical goon in the HR department of UC Davis, I took a part-time job as a video store to supplement my income. Despite the fact that it was an evening job and the pay was, well, minimum wage, I had a lot of fun at that job (well, of course, there were times when I couldn’t stand the thought of working, but every job has those moments); the co-workers were cool, and I got along great with the manager — who shall be referred hereinafter as Mr. Manta (no insult intended by this or any of the other names I’ll be using to refer to my co-workers; I like underwater creatures and benthic life forms, they’re so freakin’ cool!)

A few months back I heard that Mr. Manta was no longer working there. It was really too bad, because I liked him a lot and I enjoyed stopping by to chat with him even if I wasn’t going to rent a movie, long after I’d quit working there. I tracked him down and got in touch with him, learned that he was worried about finances and wasn’t sure what he was going to do job-wise. I was worried for him, of course, but our situation was such that I couldn’t really do anything to help him out financially.

So during the staff meeting at Benthic Creatures today, the door to our boss’s office opened and in stepped Mr. Manta.

For a moment, I didn’t even recognize him; he’d lost weight, cut his hair, shaved off most of his beard, and looked, for the first time in all the time that I’d known him, calm and relaxed. Energetic, even. I could tell that he was enjoying working for Benthic Creatures.

As Mr. Manta and I began reminiscing about the poker games we’d gone to and the movies we’d watched and the fun we’d had working at the video store, our boss — hereinafter referred to as King Squid — said something along the lines of, “Mental note: never put the two of them on the same project.”

It looks like it’s going to be a good crew to work with. Between Mr. Manta and the co-workers that Jennifer knew from her last company, it seemed that the only stranger in the room was King Squid. There was a good feeling in the room, relaxed yet focused.

I’m excited about this job. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever done before, but it’s also the first job I’ve ever had where I feel like I’m going to be doing something important. Contributing. Those mollusc handlers do important work, and we’re going to make their work easier and help all of the molluscs and the benthic bedrock as well.

Things are easy so far. Today, after the meeting, Jennifer and I came home and, well, sat around, casually poking at the manuals that we were given from time to time. Next week we’ll be traveling to Stanislaus County for some meetings, and in October we’re headed out to Chicago for “boot camp” (as King Squid calls it), and that’s likely to be tough. But I don’t expect that I’ll ever stress out too much over this job; and when I hopefully begin classes for library school in Spring, it shouldn’t be a problem to make my work schedule and my class schedule mesh.

So, yeah, that’s my news.

In other news, I’m trying to figure out how to set up a web interface to my mail on my computer here at home so that I can check my e-mail from Netscape while on the road. I’d like to do it without having to set up a POP server on my computer, or point a domain name at my IP address. Any suggestions on how to get started with this would be more than welcome.

Two Errors

Robert Bly, in his poem "Four Ways of Knowing", writes, "I usually ignore the other three / and learn by falling." Some force — God, your higher self, whatever — is out there, says Bly, and there are times when you desperately need to learn something. It starts with subtle hints: a shape in a tree, or a scent, or a snatch of overheard conversation. Then if that doesn’t work, it moves to more direct hints: "two strangers speak the same phrase in the same day." Then, dreams. Then, direct intervention. Then, if you still don’t learn, you just fall.

Some silly kid at work — because I work in a University office, there are plenty of college kids working there too — who is freshly graduated came up to me for advice today. I have no idea what possessed her to do this. She told me that she was having trouble choosing a direction for her life and asked what I thought she should do about that.

In my opinion, this is sort of on par with asking Quasimodo for cosmetic tips, or President Bush for tips on integrity. It’s kind of an exercise in futility. I didn’t say so to her face, of course, but I am not at all qualified to answer that question, so I told her that it would probably be best for her to talk to a career counselor at the University, something like that.

But upon further reflection, I think that there are definitely some pointers I’d give to people. Specifically, I’d like to go back in time and pound them into my younger self’s head. Maybe I would have gotten my act in gear and gotten something accomplished.

I don’t believe anyone when they say that they’ve always known what they want to do. I think it’s a lie, and that they are, at best, deluding themselves. I do think that each person has a purpose, though, and the means to achieve that purpose, provided that they act appropriately and take the opportunities that are given to them. That being said, here are the pointers for my younger self:

  1. First of all, if you don’t know what you want now, then do something. Even if you don’t like it. Find something to do, do it honestly and with integrity and honor and to the best of your ability. The first mistake is to not do something, and let things slip by while you just kind of wait for something to happen. If you do something — anything — then when you do find your purpose, or that spark that kindles the fire in your soul, then you can make that leap and have something to take with you. That’s the trick: you need to have something to take with you.
  2. The second point is, when you find something that you do want to do, then you have to go for it. If you’re doing something that you don’t like, and fail to go for your purpose when you discover what it is, then you’re stuck.

The first mistake is the one that I made. If you make that mistake, you run the risk of becoming a middle-aged, directionless fool without anything to take with you when you finally figure out what it is that you are meant to do, just kind of marking time. I’m not entirely sure what my purpose is, though I have a pretty good idea. It doesn’t really matter, though, because following up on it now would be an exercise in futility.

Anyway, if I could go back in time and beat some sense into my younger self, that’s the sense I’d beat into him. Me. Whatever. I never know what pronoun to use in this case.

On a more interesting note, I’ve decided to go along with Evilpheemy and send a campaign setting outline to Wizards of the Coast’s fantasy setting contest. Coming up with strange and interesting new worlds is something that I’ve always been pretty good at, even off the cuff. Putting stories in them is a bit of a challenge at times, but creating the worlds isn’t. Top prize is $120,000. There are folks, I know, who think that they could go ahead and publish their own game worlds on their own and somehow make millions, sort of like George Lucas did. I really want to know what fantasy world these people are living in. There are millions of incredibly talented and gifted visionaries out there, but while they can all inspire and stimulate, they can’t all be millionaires. $120,000 is pretty good for one solid idea. Let’s see if it pans out.

Moving Target

Note: I added this bit after I’d already posted this entry… I found it so incredibly… odd. This person makes me worry. Using Apple’s newest operating system apparently makes you a Communist and an anti-Christian evolutionary propagandist. Somehow. I can’t quite trace the thinking, but the article is good for some laughs. Here it is:

The Truth About Evolutionist Propoganda

(check your brains at the door)

What really gets me is the author’s characterization of "evolutionary thinking" as "pseudo-science" and bad thinking. What saddens me the most is that this person appears to be sincere.

My Linux box has crashed three times in a 48-hour period. Linux isn’t supposed to do that: my experience with Linux is that so long as I don’t mess with it too much it’s much more reliable than Windows (yes, I’ve killed my Linux box more often than I’ve killed my Windows box — but, then, I’ve experimented a lot more with my Linux box than I have with my Windows box, because it’s actually easier to recover from a Linux problem). I can’t figure out what the heck is wrong with it. I sent panicky e-mails to various Linux related mailing lists that I belong to and get the usual set of friendly, helpful responses that set me in good directions, but at the moment I’m still too annoyed. I recently figured out how to log in to my computer from elsewhere, like from work, and that’s been a good thing, except when the computer is down. I think it crashed at about 9:30 this morning, while I was trying to upload a file to the server in our house. That was bad. And I couldn’t do anything until I got home at 5:20 or so and was able to reboot it. So I let it reboot, recover all of its filesystems, and then I shut it down normally and let it have a good sulk for a few hours. Now it’s back up, I’ve changed a few configuration settings, and we’ll see if it can maintain its previously amazing uptime. But I may be in for quite a trek of tracking down what’s wrong and fixing it in this machine. I just hope that it isn’t one of the CPU’s or a memory chip that’s burned out.

Priorities at work are a moving target. On Friday afternoon I was given a thick pile of cases and told to develop a marketing list. So I dutifully went to the search engines and our database and began to hunt away. I did pretty good, I think, but I realized this morning that I’d failed to mark down where I’d finished up. So, this morning I essentially had to start over and review everything I’d done. Then one of the IPO’s came to my desk and presented me with another stack of cases.

"These take top priority," she told me. "Okay," I said, "how does that affect the priority of this project that you gave to me on Friday?"

"Oh," she said, "That’s bottom priority now. Those cases have been sitting around for years. They can sit awhile longer."

"So I’ve got this other low priority project from the other IPA that I’ve put aside…"

"Yes, and the project I gave you on Friday can take lower priority than that one."

I nodded and smiled. This early in the game, when I’ve only been in the office for a week, it’s still politically okay to demonstrate my ignorance. "Give me a couple of weeks," I told the IPA, "and I’ll get these priorities straight."

She scoffed. "I’ve been here for years, and I still can’t figure it out. It’s a moving target."

That works for me. I tell my co-workers that I’ve worked in startups and I’ve worked in Human Resources, so I’m used to the "organizational chart of the day" process. So far, though, I’m actually enjoying this job. I’m amazed at how quickly the time passes.

And tonight I grilled chicken again. Came out a bit dry, but still tasty. Perhaps I should have let it thaw a bit longer; who knows? I’m still finding myself amazed that putting a chunk of raw meat above a layer of hot coals and combined with vegetables and bits of dried up leaves can actually bring about something which is delicious and nutritious. Tomorrow, I’m probably going to do something with more salmon, unless I decide on another type of fish, and some capers.

I’ve gotten some good responses to my most recent short story, and I’ve begun writing my next one, "Homestead". Evilpheemy knows what that one’s about, but I usually keep most of my stories to myself while I’m working on the first draft. I’ve been shooting for 1,000 words a day, but sometimes that goal is a bit hard to reach.

So that’s life in a nutshell this evening. The three biggest loci of my life right now seem to be grilling, writing, and Linux administration. Perhaps, someday, I’ll figure out how to pull all three interests together.

Being Where

So where have I been? I’ve been busy, and for some reason I haven’t had much inclination to update my journal of late. Here, then, is a brief summary of what’s been up with me.


I’ve revised a short story that I wrote about a month ago, something called "Ten Feet Tall, with Eyes of Flame". I am about as finished with this story as I’m going to get any time soon, and it’s time to send it off to find a paying home. I’ll let you know if I succeed with that. But the project that has really eaten my time has been my newest short story, "Burying Uncle Albert", which I think it one of the better ones that I’ve ever written. I’ve also been consistently fussing with The Troll King’s Daughter and "Mother Tsan-Chan". Lots of ideas rushing around in my brain, bumping into each other, trying to make sense out of each other.

Evilpheemy has said of my last two stories that they are a sort of "Prairie Home Companion" meets "Severn Valley". I’m not entirely sure what a Severn Valley is, but I appreciate the compliment.


I guess it was inevitable that I would end up back in the Temporary Employment Pool at UC Davis. I put in my application a couple of weeks ago, dreading the notion that I’d be back at some desk, scheduling meetings and doing correspondence and such. The first assignment I was told about was one in Sacramento, at the UC Davis Medical Center, where I’d be doing transactions on the University’s Financial Information System. Accounting is not a thing that I go into ecstasy over, but I am used to the software and I’m good at making it work for me (every now and then I’m even reminded of the time that I’d just finished a long and complicated transaction that I made work right after two hours of slaving… I screamed at the computer, "You’re my bitch now!", much to the amusement of my coworkers and the annoyance of my boss). Working at the Med Center would have been truly ironic, though, since, specifically, I would have been working in the department that was the medical specialty that my old company tried to deliver to. Ironic? Yes.

But, you know, God had that sense of humor that every now and then makes you remember that He/She/It/They is/are watching. The position was canceled at the last minute, and instead of doing accounting in Sacramento, I’m doing marketing in downtown Davis. And not just any marketing; I’m helping to market the new inventions and discoveries that come out of the University and that need to make their way into the wide world. As a consequence of where I’m sitting, I get to see just about every cool new project, idea, research direction, and so on that comes out of the University. I get first crack at the various magazines that our department subscribes to — Science, Nature, and Issues, among others. I’ve been wanting to do some science writing; where would be a better place to actually get in touch with the cutting edge of research? Naturally there are confidentiality rules and rules about what can be revealed when, but even my supervisor — who I actually like very much — concedes that given what I want to do, this is probably a prime location for me. As an added bonus, it looks like I’ll be able to take over some of the department’s database and web development needs as well.

The downside, of course, is that the job represents a 33% pay cut for me from my last job. Still, it’s better than Unemployment Insurance.


Well, yes, I’ve been playing with my new grill a lot lately. Boy, that’s fun. If you haven’t tried taking pieces from a dead animal and putting them over fire, you ought to. Nothing like it. What, me savage?

And because I have spare time, I’ve been playing with our network at home as well. I’ve installed Apache on our little webserver, just because it’s so much more secure than Personal Web Server is, and now I can sleep better at night. I’ve been experimenting with port routing, FTP, TelNet, and SSH daemons, and now I can pretty much log in to our network from elsewhere and control things remotely… if I’m willing to put up with the timelag. For some reason, it’s all incredibly slow. Our DSL was down for a few days, and now it’s back up, better and badder than before. I hate to think what my SSH throughput would have been before the new modem.

And that’s about it, really. I feel better now. How about you?

Still Breathing…

…but only just barely at the moment. Darn asthma.

I haven’t completely forgotten about you, Faithful Reader. I’m still here, and I’m still moving, kicking, and so on. I’ve just been feeling a remarkable lack of inspiration of late, as well as beginning a process of completely rebuilding my website (all on my computer at home; it probably won’t relaunch for a month or so).

In quick summary, though, I begin a new job this coming week: back to being a temporary employee at UC Davis. Could be worse: I could be selling special medicated shoes to rugby players who haven’t washed their feet in three months for medical reasons.

Yeah. That would be bad.

Two Petals of the Flower

I think that this is the second time that I’ve posted the results of one of those silly "What kind of … are you?" in my journal — three, if you count the Which Crawford Cat Quiz that Jennifer and I came up with a few months ago — the one that prompted my aunt, my mother, and my mother-in-law all to declare, "Richard, you REALLY need to find a job!"

At any rate…

You are Civilian Calvin!
You don’t get to travel much outside your neighborhood, but you still manage to get in plenty of trouble. When you’re not acting up, you like to wax philosophical.
Take the What Calvin are You? Quiz by!

Just how accurate are these tests supposed to be, anyway?

Jennifer and I watched the Academy Awards tonight. I haven’t watched the show all the way through for several years now, and even tonight I was more focused on the novel I’ve been reading than the show itself. Shrek got Best Animated Feature Film. How spiffy is that? I was pleased that Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings received four Oscar awards. It was a stunning film; I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t get Best Picture, since there is still the stigma of the Genre Film, but LotR proved that good, intelligent, thought-provoking fantasy films are possible (as opposed to tripe like Beastmaster).

I received an e-mail a few weeks back from someone who was distraught that I was "giving up on your dreams", in response to my entry from February 28, 2002. I didn’t write back to her; I should have. I’m not really giving on anything, you know. I’m just sort of taking some time to refocus myself. I’m pretty sure that my life does have a purpose of some sort, I just don’t know what it is. I’m pulling back from everything I thought was my purpose, and giving myself some space and permission and time to discover that purpose.

To that end, I’ve decided to pick up my old copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? and wander my way through some exercises in that book. In that book, author Richard Bolles likens a person’s ideal career to a flower of sorts, with six petals and your skill set in the middle. One pedal of the flower represents your ideal location; for me, that is right here in Solano County. That’s one down. Another petal represents your fields of interest. And for the purposes of this exercise, you need to limit that to three.

How in the world am I supposed to do that? My problem all along has been that while my tangible skills have stayed relatively few in number, my interests have wandered all over the map: astronomy, botany, Chinese philosophy, xenobiology, philosophy, religion, archaeology… so how do I narrow it down to a mere 3?

Thank God for Perl. Bolles has a nifty little procedure in his book for prioritizing just about anything, and I spent a couple of hours yesterday putting together a Perl script that would let me write up a list of subjects in Emacs and then prioritize that list according to Bolles’s procedure (it’s very simple, actually; all you do is just compare every item on the list to every other item on the list, circle the one you prefer, and then count the number of times each item has been circled).

I admit that I cheated, by lumping biology, paleontology, evolutionary theory, ecology, and so on into "Natural Sciences" — mostly because I doubt that I’ll ever be able to focus on one field, and I find them all equally interesting. I also lumped archaeology, anthropology, psychology, and sociology into "Human Sciences".

So, using my program to narrow my list down to my Top Three, I get the following:

  1. Natural Sciences
  2. Travel
  3. Writing

Bolles also uses a method of writing up seven "life stories" from your past where you’ve accomplished something that you were proud of and that you enjoyed, and then writing down and listing all of the skills that you used in that accomplishment. He offers a list of nearly 100 skills just to get you started. I went through, and, to my surprise, I came up with nearly fifty separate skills. And then you have to narrow it down to the top six that you enjoy using and that you do well. Using this technique, and my program, I came up with these:

  1. Initiating, starting up, founding, establishing
  2. Creating New Ideas
  3. Writing
  4. Representing Other People’s Ideas
  5. "signing", miming, acting… "Hamming it up", in other words
  6. Helping people link up and communicate

I’m not entirely sure what to do with these lists. If I’m interpreting the results properly, it looks like I ought to retrace the voyage of Darwin’s Beagle and write a series of books and articles about it, and possibly establish a tour company and conduct the guided tours myself, then write some novels and role-playing games based on the places and people I encounter along the way.

Hm. Actually, that doesn’t sound all that bad. The only downside would be the little issue of being away from home for months at a time. I suppose it wouldn’t be all that bad if I could bring Jennifer along, but then we’d have to put litter boxes on the boat for the cats, and I’m not sure how well they’d fare aboard.

At any rate, I’ve made the inner workings of my soul public so that I could solicit feedback from anyone who has been reading this journal regularly — all two or three of you.

And one thing that struck me while I was writing up these lists and using my little Perl program to prioritize everything… Computers, programming, and web development did not show up in my lists anywhere, except at the very bottom. Hmm.

On a different note, I received an e-mail earlier this evening from the webmaster of While Jennifer thinks that this may be a 50-60% match to my own personality, I think it’s probably closer to 80-90% (I’m not all that drawn to recreational drugs or alcohol, for example). Whatever the number is, it’s good to know that I’m not the only "intellectual vagabond" out there.

Oh! And a follow up to my last entry… I’ve managed to get my Linux box working again. As always, it was a two- to three-hour project, but it was fun and worthwhile. Linux is not an OS for the weak or the easily frustrated…