The Other Demon

Warning: Not for the squeamish or for those who wish to harbor any ongoing delusions that I am a "Nice Guy"TM

In my last entry, August 25, 2000: A Dream of Stephen King, I spoke of a demon called "Impatience". Impatience is always a struggle for me, but now there’s a demon of another sort bothering me: Resentment.

Those two or three of you who have been following my journal since the beginning probably remember an entry from March or April where I spoke of my plans for an upcoming two-month solo sojourn through Europe. I’d set up my 403(b) account with the University and was regularly stuffing 30% of my monthly income into it in order to save up for the trip; when the time for the trip came the plan was, I would take out a loan against that account and begin paying myself back upon my return.

The plan was going well. When I proposed to Jennifer, she asked that I not postpone my trip just to accommodate the upcoming marriage. With some prodding, I agreed, and began to plan out my itinerary, I began calling around to check out ticket prices, and making some contacts with people in Europe that I could hook up with while I was there. The first leg of the trip was going to take me through the British Isles, especially Ireland and Wales — places that I had always dreamed of visiting.

But plans come and plans go. When my job at the University became unbearable, I knew that I had to leave that job and that I would face a very difficult choice: either move on and make my job change and start heading on a career path which I knew would be a lot more rewarding but sacrifice the Europe trip, or stick with the unacceptable job but keep the trip. In the end, I chose to change jobs and sacrifice my European trip. I suppose that I could talk to my new manager and tell him that I’m going to take two months off in April and May, but I doubt it would go over well, since I’ll have been with the company for less than a year at that point. Probably not the best of plans.

So I sacrificed the Europe trip, but with very little regret because I knew that the career change would serve me much better in the long run; and while I will probably never again have an opportunity to spend two months backpacking in Europe, either solo or with someone, the career change was, I felt, worth it.

Now the company that Jennifer is currently assigned to is talking about sending her to Milan, Italy, for two months to work on the project there. She won’t be able to go because the time frame they’re talking about is right about the time that construction on the house will be heating up and we’ll both need to be around to work with the contractor to make decisions about things like faucets, electrical wiring, and so on. While a part of me is glad that she has been offered this opportunity, there’s another part of me — a disturbingly large part — which isn’t, and which is glad that she won’t be able to go. I’ve spent much of the past two days — between moving, plumbing, sorting and organizing books and CD’s and coping with incoming housemates and financial complications — soul-searching and trying to figure out why I’m feeling this way.

The answer is, probably, resentment.

I first conceived of my trip to Europe about two years ago, shortly before I even met Jennifer. I began saving money right away, first putting it into a savings account, and starting some early planning, back in 1998. In early 1999, I wound up with some medical expenses and other financial emergencies which required large amounts of cash — just the amount that I had in savings, in fact, close to $1200 at the time. So my savings were wiped out, and I had to begin again. I saved a few hundred dollars before having to start over again. Then I began the 403(b) account, and I now have close to $3000 there; if I’d stuck with the University, I would have close to $7000 by the time I left for Europe, far more than enough to pay for the trip and for the costs that would accrue back home while I was gone (e.g., a month’s worth of rent, and so on). Of course, since I’m no longer with the University, no more money is going into that account, so the money will sit there gathering light interest until I get to transfer to the 401(k) with my new company.

In other words, the trip had been planned and postponed several times. And each time I cancelled it I did so with some regret, and each time I restarted the process it was with some glee. But this time, the cancellation was final, and there is no real hope of rescheduling any time within the next couple of years.

My new job offers some travel. For the rest of this month and probably through the end of next month I’ll be spending the majority of my time here in Portland. In October, I’ll be headed out to Boston to attend a trade show. In November, I’ll be going to Atlanta. And in December, Los Angeles. After that, though, the travel will probably taper off. And with this company, there will never be international travel. And, being realistic, my skill set probably will never call for any sort of international travel, since UI can really be done from the comfort of one’s own home (part of the reason why I’ve decided that I really need to start making another shift and start building up some back end and programming skills, especially database skills). Conceivably, I could get myself into a situation where I would get to do some international travel while still using the skills that I enjoy; but, realistically, it will probably not happen within the next few years, if ever.

So this is where the resentment comes in. I gave up my own international travel plans for a career which will probably never offer the opportunity for travel; and Jennifer’s current assignment will get her going overseas, if not for two months, then probably for some brief periods of time. I’m happy that she has these opportunities, but at the same time I feel upset and angry and even hurt. It’s nothing Jennifer did and I hope to God that I don’t wind up taking out these feelings out on her (and I’m sure that she’ll let me know if I do), but these feelings have colored my mood all weekend and are really gnawing at me this morning.

Last night, I dropped Jennifer off at her local office so that she could take care of some business while I ran some errands of my own. After I finished up my errands, I went back to her office to pick her up. I found myself getting depressed while I was there. It reminded me that while I’m closer to where I want to be, career-wise, I still have a hell of a long way to go, and the feeling is daunting and intimidating. There’s nothing anyone can do about these feelings except for myself, and the only thing I can do is to continue building my skills and keeping an eye out for new opportunities and challenges.

I’m a lot more optimistic about my future than I was just a few months ago. But, still, these feelings — the intimidation, the resentment, the anger, and even the hurt — still remain.

A Dream of Stephen King

Last night, I dreamt that on the flight home from Portland, Oregon to Sacramento, California, I wound up sitting next to Stephen King. Now, I’m not sure why Stephen King would be flying on the Greyhound of the Skies, but hey, it was a dream. Who cares about that sort of detail?

 I am an aspiring writer — okay, granted, I don’t write nearly as much as I used to, but I still churn out something every now and then. I’m not as productive as I was just six months ago, when I was regularly putting out a thousand words a day working on a novel, but I have hopes that I can regain that sort of productivity again soon. In my dream, I remembered that there’s a part of me that wants to be a bestselling horror writer, so sitting next to Stephen King was a great thrill for me. And at the end of the flight, we got off the plane together, went to a coffee shop, and sat and chatted for a long time. I even got to introduce him as a friend when my parents showed up at the same coffee shop.

So Stephen King and I sat and chatted about life, the universe, and everything. Of course, I really wanted to ask questions and get his insights into writing as a career, about what to do when you’re stuck on a novel, about how to track down an agent, about how to cut down on bloated verbiage (okay, so maybe Stephen King isn’t quite the right person to ask for advice on that problem), and so on. But did I get around to it? Nope, of course not.

It’s a good thing that I don’t feel the same way about my writing career as I do about my web development career! While I’m quite content to let various ideas and stories fester in my mind and set down notes and develop them later and turn them into publishable books and stories a few years from now, I have an overwhelming impatience with the state of my development career. I love my job right now, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction (although, as I’ve said before, I would like to learn more programming and PL/SQL). But I can’t shake this feeling that says that this is where I should have been five years ago. If I’d been here five years ago, then today I would be where I want to be now: project management and director of development, or something like that.

I keep reminding myself to have patience. Five years ago I was in a completely different place in my life, and my priorities were completely different. Five years ago I was giving no thought at all to my career, and I just wanted to go to work, punch in, do my thing, punch out, and go home. As long as I was getting the money I needed to survive, I was happy.

At the time, I also had a vague sense that I was interested in Human Resources. And when I actually settled down at got a "Real Job" I ended up doing Human Resources, primarily by pure accident rather than intent on my part. And found that I didn’t really enjoy it. And now I have a new job in a new career which I actively sought out and got on my own, which is something that most people never get a chance to do. And with this new job comes a paycheck which, I recently discovered, is well above the median household income for people my age. But where I want to be is still far in the future; and there’s still a part of me that is angry that I’m not quite there even yet. How absurd is that?

To be honest, none of Stephen King’s books have ever really scared me that badly. I enjoy them because I think, when he’s at his best, he’s good at using horror as a metaphor to explore human emotions. I think that perhaps he could write a really terrifying novel about a demon called Impatience, which causes its victims to, oh, get so insane from impatience and envy that they go nuts and, say, go out and become killer clowns or something.

Or, who knows? Maybe some day I’ll write it myself.

Slaves of the Volcano God and Other Amazing Adventures

Every year, for several years, my parents have given me strangely-titled books for Christmas as stocking stuffers. The quality of the books haven’t mattered so much as the title; this is how I’ve managed to end up reading books such as Bride of the Rat God and The Generic Science Fiction Novel — a thin book with a plain white cover imprinted with the words Science Fiction in bold black letters. But the best find my parents had, by far, was a series called The Cineverse Cycle, by Craig Shaw Gardner. These three books had the most amazing titles: Slaves of the Volcano God, Bride of the Slime Monster, and Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies.

Needless to say, these books were wonderful. I devoured them in a week, and they quickly became some of my favorites. But alas, I loaned these books to an old friend of mine, who soon thereafter vanished, taking these great books with him. I’ve searched for new copies since then, haunting the used bookstores and libraries; but I was unable to track them down anywhere. It looked as though these books were gone forever.

Hang on; I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.

So far, I’m really enjoying my new job quite a lot. My co-workers are great; I like my boss; and there are times when I find myself amazed that I’m actually getting paid to design and create web pages. I have to say that I wish I were doing more straight programming and database development, but that will come with time. Right now I’m enjoying the time I’m spending here in Portland, and learning how the company works and what the development environment is like.

And the much-prayed-to employment gods have also apparently heard my request for a job with some travel as well. I’ll be in Portland for a few more weeks; then in October, I’ll be spending a few days in Boston; in November, Atlanta; and in December, Los Angeles. These are trade shows and conferences which are related to the e-health industry and to our company’s particular medical specialty. My boss tells me that he wants me to "feel the doctors’ pain", which I think is probably a good idea; but I’ll also be serving as technical support at these shows and conferences.

But the job has its down sides as well. Putting in ten- to twelve- hour days is not unusual. I was up until about one o’clock this morning helping to QA a data migration, and I was up very early double-checking things and sending out e-mails. And I admit that I’m still feeling overwhelmed and sort of "in over my head". But I’m starting to sort things out here, and I’m starting to make sense of it all. I know that I’m looking at some more long hours and heavy projects, especially since I’m apparently being moved into project management, and I’m looking to really build up my skills in many other areas.

The worst of the downsides, of course, is that I’m spending far too much time away from home and away from Jennifer. For nearly two weeks, I haven’t seen my own house at all for more than a few minutes at a time, usually on my way to or from somewhere as I pick up some more clothes or some medicine or a book. When I am in California, I am almost always at Jennifer’s house. I’ve started giving out her phone number as an alternate "home number" for myself. I’ve even listed her address in a couple of places as an alternate address for me. It’s almost as though I’m living with her when I’m in California.

But the point, really, is that when I’m in Portland, I miss Jennifer. A lot. I miss hanging out with her. I miss spending time with her. I miss going out to dinner with her, or snuggling up with her on the couch watching a movie.

In the time that Jennifer and I have been together, I have never had any doubts about the two of us. But if I had ever had any doubts that Jennifer is the one for me, they would have been completely removed with the gift that she gave me prior to my first departure for Portland. She came to my house — one of the last times I was there — to pick me up for dinner or some such event, and as we drove away, she said, "Can I borrow your books in the glove compartment?" I assumed, at the time, that the books she was talking about were the same books she’d had in there for some time, so I said, "But they’re your books."

"No, they’re not," she replied. "Open it up and see.

So I opened up the compartment — and there they were. Slaves of the Volcano God. Bride of the Slime Monster. Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies. The entire Cineverse Cycle. Jennifer had saved a conversation that she and I had had via Instant Messenger months ago, and had managed to track the books down on an auction site. And I’ve been having great fun here in Portland, re-reading these favorites of mine, and smiling when I think about how I got them.

Jennifer and I have taken the next logical step; I’m beginning the process of moving in with her this weekend. I’ve lived with significant others before, but she never has. This is a big step for me, but it’s an even bigger one for her. I can’t take that lightly, of course, and this wasn’t a decision that either of us made on the spur of the moment. But it’s right.

Jennifer is a marvelously practical woman, and has begun the process of cleaning and rearranging furniture in her house even while I’m up here in Portland, reading silly books, working hard at this crazy job, and thinking of her. She’s charming, funny, intelligent, bright, and witty; one moment she’s planning out investments and going over our house plans with me, and the next she’s sitting beside me gluing together a working clock made out of cardboard or hunting for a stone dragon with me. I can’t help but love her.

So if Jennifer ever were to be enslaved to a volcano god, or forcefully wed to a slime monster, or threatened by a horde of vengeful fluffy bunnies, I would certainly be there to help protect her (not that she couldn’t take care of herself, of course, but you know what I mean). She hunted down a trilogy of strangely-titled novels for me on the basis of an IM conversation that she and I had months ago, that I barely remember; how can I help myself?

Back in Puddle City

So here I am back in Portland for a second week of work/training. The propoganda says that in Portland is rains all the time, though I have yet to see a drop. Which is good, because I managed, for the second time, to forget to bring any sort of raincoat or jacket. But if it really does rain a lot up here, that explains why this town has the nickname "Puddle City".

I still enjoy flying; I’m told that it will get tiring and wearying, but it hasn’t so far. I sat on the plane up here and did some work outlining the documentation guide, but mostly I stared out the window down at the forests and cities that were underneath the plane. Being able to see Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helen’s, and so on, from above… seeing an ocean of clouds… it was breathtaking to this landlubber.

It pretty much made up for the two airsick Intel employees who were sitting on the plane next two me, trying to get their marketing reports done while also gulping down Dramamine and trying to hold in their breakfasts.

It was kind of strange arriving here in Portland; the last time I was here to work, I was here with CW1 and CW2. This time, I arrived by myself, though CW1 and CW2 will be arriving tomorrow morning, along with several other bigwigs from the Roseville office. After a productive half hour convincing the hotel that they did, indeed, want to take my credit card, I went into the office here and began to work. I fought with a single page for some time while also continuing to document the directory structure and getting some direction from the production manager.

It’s hard to feel as though I’m really "in the loop" as of yet. I’ve got a good grasp of the product we’re shipping out, and tomorrow I’ll be involved not only in documentation but also in testing the data migration to the new hub. This should be interesting, to say the least. It will give me a good opportunity to learn about the QA and production migration processes.

It’s also kind of weird to be back here after the weekend that I just had; on Thursday night, after arriving in Sacramento and driving away from the airport, I merrily took the wrong turn onto I-5, and started heading south. I drove for nearly 45 minutes before realizing my error, and managed to turn myself around (there are stretches of I-5, even close to civilization, where a turn-off is a hard thing to find) and get back to Davis… and got all the way back home with just about a half-gallon of gasoline in my tank. For all of its faults, my Geo Metro does at least get excellent gas mileage.

Saturday and Sunday were spent with different members of Jennifer’s family; on Saturday we spent the afternoon with her sister and brother-in-law; and on Sunday we went to church with her parents and then, later on, had dinner with them. Jennifer’s family is just as fun as my own family, and I really enjoy spending time with them. And just like with my own family, spending time with them puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

So here I am back in Portland; and, in a way, I feel like I’ve never left. I feel like I didn’t get to spend enough time with my friends back in Davis and Sacramento; and I wonder if that feeling will get stronger the longer I do this.

On the whole, though, I’m glad I’m here. I miss Jennifer, I miss my family and Jennifer’s family, and I miss my friends… but I’m glad to be here, feeling productive and knowing that I’ve finally got my career going in a direction where I want it to go.

On an entirely different note, I admit quite freely that I sometimes wonder about the people who read my journal on a regular basis. The tracker I have installed is a wonderful thing: I know now that there are several regular readers from around my home town, which isn’t surprising; but I also have one regular reader from Folsom (I think I know who that is), and a bit of an international audience as well (including the regular from Hong Kong and the regular from Australia). I’d be interested if you could drop me a line.

Be well!

You Kiss Your Mother with that Mouth?

We were on the plane, a few minutes out of Portland, my two co-workers and I, and we were talking — as always — about technology. Co-Worker One (hereinafter referred to as "CW1") had just taken out his new web-enabled cell phone and was demonstrating to Co-Worker Two (hereinafter referred to as "CW2") some of its features. In the middle of his demonstration, CW1 paused.

"Just think," he said. "A hundred years ago, this kind of technology would have been inconceivable to doctors and their patients." We’re all three of us in the e-Health industry, which is why our focus in many of these conversations tends to be on doctors, patients, and how to use the Web to faciliatate communication between them. "I mean, just the idea of a telephone at all would be completely foreign!"

"Yep," replied CW2. "It’s pretty amazing."

CW1 went on. "And just the idea of taking an airplane to get from Portland to Sacramento in less than two hours… a hundred years ago, it would have taken a week, if they were lucky. And can you imagine using a web-enabled phone to browse a website back then?"

To which CW2 replied, laughing, "Can you even imagine using language like, ‘Using a web-enabled phone to browse a website’?"

The conversation then turned to coming up with more and more obscure ways of using language. I pretty much won with, "Our mission is to enhance and facilitate the migration of neurologically-focused business practices from transient processes to a fully integrated suite of web-oriented management processes." (I didn’t like using "processes" twice so close together, but I had to think fast at the time).

As soon as I had uttered that, both CW1 and CW2 stared at me. "Where in God’s name did you learn to talk like that, Richard?" CW2 — who also happens to be my manager — asked in awe.

I shrugged modestly. "Well," I said, "the last department I worked in at the University had been infested with Gartner Group terminology. Plus," I continued, "I worked in Human Resources for three years. Sometimes, it just kind of rubs off on you."

The really scary thing, though, is that when I thought about the sentence I had just uttered, I realized that I knew precisely what was meant by it. I meant that our job was to take bad business management practices that were on paper and transform them into good business practices using the Web as a tool. But somehow when you get into the world of startups, you stop saying things like, "Bad ways of doing business," and you start saying things like, "Transient modalities".

But the worst part, really, was when I was writing an e-mail to my mother this morning. I was telling her that I was worried that I hadn’t yet figured out how the company I’m working for will be making money in the long run (which does not, of course, mean that they won’t be making money — just that I haven’t been involved in figuring it out); but instead of saying that, I wrote to her, "I’m concerned because this company has not yet identified a revenue stream."

I didn’t realize I had written that until I’d sent it.

I told CW1 and CW2 about that on the flight back. Both of them complimented me for actually e-mailing my mother, but they both agreed that it was funny as hell that I had done that; and then they both admitted to talking the same way to their wives from time to time.

But still, I can’t believe I wrote that. To my own mother. Excuse me, but now I feel like I have to wash my mouth out with soap.

That First Feeling

        One of the other milestones that I’ve reached with this trip is that this is the first time I’ve ever stayed alone in a hotel room. The first time. I’ve been on trips and I’ve been to conferences and so on before, but I’ve always shared a hotel room with at least three other people; when a bunch of us from UC Davis went to Santa Barbara for a computing services conference just last summer, we rented two hotel rooms but we all wound up sleeping in the same room. Of course, we were also all drunk and up to two o’clock in the morning watching reruns of I Love Lucy. And, of course, I’ve gone to science fiction and gaming conventions; and, of course, to sleep by yourself in a hotel room at such a convention is tantamount to blasphemy of some sort.

        So I woke up this morning, fully twenty minutes before my six o’clock wake-up call; and the first feeling I felt at that first moment was panic. "Where am I? How the hell did I get here? Oh my God, I’m in Oregon! I’ll never get to the University in time for work!" And, of course, "Where are the cats? What’s happened to Jennifer?" Hi, Jennifer! I love you!

        Which probably goes to show just how quickly I’m adjusting to this new job.

        I’m finding that the past couple of days have seemed almost surreal to me. Most of that, I’m sure, comes from the culture shock. No, it’s not the shock of going from Davis to Portland (they’re not that different after all, despite how different people may think Davis is from the rest of the world — but then again, perhaps Portland and Davis share some sort of alternate universe); rather, it’s the shock of going from a huge bureaucratic institution — the University — to a tiny little startup. At the University, overtime was severely discouraged, especially since I was an hourly employee (very few departments at the University have the budget to pay out overtime; all of the overtime I did in my last few days at the University were basically volunteer, and I never even tried to claim them); here, as an exempt employee on a salary instead of an hourly wage, overtime is pretty much expected from time to time. It was good for me at the University, where I honestly felt like I was making good progress on a project. Here, though, I’m still learning. I haven’t had much of a chance to produce quite yet.

        "Patience," my new boss advises me; "patience and flexibility. Your job here for the next two months is to learn as much as you can." Today I began seriously exploring the development environment and the directory trees, and began tinkering with the in-house middleware development tool.

        I’m also not entirely certain that I’m fitting in well with the culture here. I am, for example, I seem to be the only one here who isn’t into fast cars. I went to lunch with my boss and the partner integration manager, for example, and listened to them talk Mazda Miatas, GT’s, and so on, and the ones that they owned. The inevitable question came up: "Richard, what kind of car do you drive?" Things got kind of quiet when I replied, "Uh, a 1992 Geo Metro." Though things perked up again a bit when I added, "But I’m thinking about buying a Saturn."

        Yep, it’s a different world for me.

        Oh, okay. I’m exaggerating. This place is actually pretty fun. I miss Jennifer, of course, and I’m a bit homesick, and, of course, overwhelmed… But I believe I’m getting the hang of all this, and I know that within a few weeks, I’ll have this job licked.

        And now, work calls once again. Be well.

Reply to this? Sign my Guestbook or send me mail!


Richard

copyright ©2000 by Richard S. Crawford

Window Seats

…And so ends my first day in Portland.

I spent a lot of time in front of windows of various types today. On the flight up — a short flight from Sacramento to Portland, too — my new co-workers were good enough to let me have the window seat. Actually, neither of them wanted it, so I had no problem snagging it. Of course, the flight was on Southwest Air, which was sort of a cattle call as we were being herded on to the plane itself. The flight was kind of crowded, and short. And I sat next to the window, with the morning sun streaming right into my face. I could look down onto the clouds and see the sunlight reflected off of them.

I do love flying. I will be doing quite a bit of it over the next couple of months; perhaps I’ll get sick of it soon, but for now, I really am enjoying it.

At the Portland office, I discovered that desk space is a rarity, indeed. I don’t have a desk, and certainly not a cubicle. I have a card table with a computer on it, situated against the western window of the building. Behind me is the technical support manager, who has gobs of ideas for projects and tasks for me. So before me lies a wonderful view of the hills of Portland, and behind me are piles of work for me.

And, of course, my computer didn’t work when I turned it on… something about being unable to see the network. So the LAN manager, who has been with the company for eight weeks — which, because this is a startup company, means he’s one of the "old-timers" — spent the entire day fussing with the cables, the cards, the hubs, and so on — while I dug out my laptop with the network card that I had just happened to buy over the weekend, and set myself up to do some actual work.

Suffice to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed here. Okay, I’m here to do web development. Yesterday I learned that this can entail going beyond straight HTML and JavaScript to Perl, other middleware, WML, and more. Today I learned that I’ll be interviewing candidates for supporting developers, QA personnel, and technical writers; documenting the entire web development process in the parent company with an eye towards creating a complete development manual for the child company’s web product; designing and implementing a web data migration protocol; and delving into marketing and serious testing as well. I’m overwhelmed, but very excited. As opposed to the minor growth opportunities that there were for me at the University, this place is so wide open that I could go just about anywhere with my career. While at the University I had to kick and scream to get any sort of growth opportunity, I suspect that with this company, I’d have to kick and scream if I wanted to stay in one spot.

There is a downside to all of this, of course. While I put in a normal 8-hour day yesterday in California, today I put in a 16-hour day, from the "working flight" in the morning where we discussed implementation strategies to the "working dinner" where we brainstormed about just about everything to do with the company. There’s a part of me which hopes I can just sit in my little cubicle and happily code away for eight hours each day; but there’s a bigger part of me which knows that this job situation simply won’t allow for that. And, more importantly… I’m glad about that.

False Accusations

I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend "Frog" (not her real name, of course), who defended me against vile accusations from a certain someone that I am, in fact, a "nerd". In support of this accusation, Jennifer cited the following facts:

  • I take my laptop computer with me nearly everywhere I go

  • I own a Palm Pilot

  • I work with computers for a living

  • I have a very hard time keeping in touch with friends or family members who do not have Internet connections

  • I like science fiction and fantasy

  • I play role-playing games, even at 30+ years of age

  • My idea of a good time with my fiance is going to Fry’s Electronics, buying a network card for my laptop computer and a router, and setting up her DSL connection so that we can both log in and take advantage of its speed.

  • And, of course, I’m in love with and I’m going to marry a nerd.

In opposition to these facts, Frog countered with:

  • Richard’s got too much style to be a nerd.

Of course, she also followed that up with, "No, Richard is definitely a geek." So perhaps I don’t owe her that big a debt of gratitude after all.

At any rate, I started my new job at an e-Health company today. It’s a forty minute commute from my house to my new workplace, which, so far, is fine with me; and it’s going to be nearly an hour’s commute from the workplace to the new house that Jennifer and I are building in Dixon. It’s probably okay with me so far just because I happen to be listening to Stephen King’s Hearts In Atlantis on tape, and it’s a fascinating book. But when I’m done with that book, we’ll see if that commute is as okay with me as it is toay.

I’m really excited about this new job. While my job title is "Senior Web Developer" (according to my offer letter, the paperwork I filled out, and my new business cards — which I haven’t gotten yet), I was hired pretty much to do HTML and JavaScript coding, and graphics. However, a conversation with my manager made it clear that if I chose to hone my skills in Perl and other middleware products, the company would certainly appreciate that. So far I like the people I’ll be working with, and the product we’re developing has a lot of potential. And, of course, I fly up to Portland tomorrow for the first time tomorrow morning.

Yes, I will have my laptop computer with me. Yes, I will hook the modem up to the dataport in the hotel room, and I will write journal entries from the road. Yes, I will have my laptop at work and will use my brand new network card to hook it into the company’s LAN.

And no, of course this doesn’t make me a nerd.

Odds and Endings

Here I sit, on the last day of employment with the University. I haven’t been in this department for very long, so I know that it’s unrealistic to expect that they’ll throw me a party or give me a going-away present or something like that. When I left my last position, I received a nice gift from the department; but I’ve only been here a month, and while I did my job well while I was here, I didn’t really have much of a chance to get to know anyone at all.

My portion of the product has been successfully completed and transitioned to a consultant who will work on coding another portion of the product for another week until he, too, is moved off to another department and the product becomes someone else’s responsibility yet again. Add to that the server troubles, the data migration troubles, and all of the other problems that the department has been plagued with, it’s not very likely that the product will be ready for roll-out by the time the students need it. Still, miracles happen every day, I suppose.

There’s a part of me which feels bad about leaving this department. I know that if I were staying here, I’d be buried at the moment; after all, it wasn’t unusual, over the past two weeks, for me to put in 12 to 13 hour days constantly hammering away at Cold Fusion, JavaScript, HTML, and SQL, trying to get the thing to work. And it does work. And today it’s on someone else’s desk, and even when I offered to go over the code one last time with the new developer, I was told, "Richard, this is really good code and very well-documented. There’s no need to review it further, I understand it perfectly." And when I quizzed him a bit — "Can you guess what this function here does? Or that query?", he replied, "Oh yes, it does…" and he told me exactly what it does. And why it was a better choice than what he had in mind. While I’m thrilled to think that I might be a decent programmer after all, it’s kind of sad that I’m not being given any last-minute desperation projects. Which means that after three insane weeks of long hours and packed days, there is nothing for me to do here now.

And so here I sit, with ample time to reflect and write.

I hate being bored at work. Particularly here, where there is no one standing over me giving me assignments and asking me for continual updates. I suppose that normally, there would be, but since I’m only here this one last day, no one figures there would be any point. I feel like I’m cheating the University, in spite of the long hours that I’ve put in already.

Ursula K. LeGuin had a good name for this condition. Ethica Puritanica Laboriis, she called it; the need to work, to produce. I don’t normally think of myself as suffering from this condition — in fact, I’m pretty certain that I have a very healthy sense of procrastination and denial, and I’m sure that there are many people, including an ex-girlfriend or two, who would be happy to testify to that. But in this case, just sitting here at my workstation, listening to Switchblade Symphony and writing up this journal entry just feels wrong to me. But, at the same time, there really is literally nothing for me to do here, and that just feels… weird.

My job here did not require me to work as hard as some other people I know; Jennifer’s job works her a lot harder than mine worked me, and I have to admit that I feel a bit guilty about that. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, though. As I begin my new job next week at a new company, and as I build up my skills over the next few months, I’m certain I’ll be longing for days like today, when I didn’t have eighteen different projects due right now. But working hard, particularly on something that I enjoy, is good for me. I like it.

But days like today encourage me to think randomly about random things. For example: watching Survivor on television the other night for the first time. I know it’s a cultural phenomenon, but I’ve been trying my best to avoid it, just like I successfully avoided ever watching a single episode of Miami Vice or 90210. But yes, I watched Survivor. In my own defense, I have to say that it was entirely Jennifer’s idea. It was Jennifer who said, "We really ought to watch it at least once in our lives." And so it happened.

It was a strange and somewhat disquieting experience, watching Survivor. Each contestant acts nicely toward all of the other contestants; but they plot against each other behind their backs. In a way, it’s just like human society in microcosm; though I admit that I like to think that people aren’t always plotting against each other. What I’m most intrigued with regarding this show is how the winner will be decided. What happens when there are two or three people left on the island? How will they decide who gets voted off and who stays? I suppose I might have more interest in it if I were one of the ones on the island…

Also on my mind: my car. My car has been making an ominous squeaking noise — Jennifer has called it "a miffed mouse" type of noise — and today I took it to the Geo dealership to have the brakes checked (squeaking noises almost always mean bad brakes to me). Nothing wrong with the brakes. Or the CV joints. Or the axle. The squeak probably comes from the old suspension. Nothing that can be done about it, since the car is getting old, and it’s not an urgent repair job, so it won’t be addressed. I’ll live with the squeak. But in a way, I’m kind of disappointed: I won’t be able to afford the new car I wanted for a few months yet, until I can build up a decent down payment — something I’d rather do on my own without help from anyone else, if possible — so that my monthly payments will be somewhat manageable (a few financial mistakes I made a few years ago still haunt me in the form of higher interest rates). But if my Geo Metro, Spiff, were terminally ill — well, then it would be much easier for me to talk myself into believeing that I can afford the higher monthly payments. As it is, it appears I’m stuck, for the time being, driving this beer can with no air conditioning and a driver’s side window that doesn’t roll down (in the Central Valley, with 100+ degree temperatures, no less!). If nothing else, though, this car really lets me prove my manhood: air conditioning and safe cars are for wimps! Give me a hot (literally hot!) Geo Metro over your wimpy-ass Volvo or Saturn any day. Ha! I laugh in the face of uncomfortable danger…

Still, though… That Saturn SL2 I looked at last weekend really looks awfully appealing… But even with my new job with its 75% pay increase, those are still some distressingly high monthly payments. And leasing a car is just not something I want to do.

And the last thing on my mind today: the theme for the wedding. Yes, Jennifer and I have picked a theme. I’ve listed a few possibilities on the sidebar to this entry; see if you can guess which one is ours? Bearing in mind, of course, that the real theme may not be among the list I’ve presented.

What happened was this: last Saturday I showed up at Jennifer’s parents’ house, after Jennifer had been out and about all day with her mother, looking at patterns and plans. Jennifer came up to me and said, "Honey" — in that tone of voice which I’ve come to associate with impending doom, or at least with an impending strange new idea for the wedding, the same tone of voice she used when she proposed the procession of circus animals — "we’ve found the perfect dress for the bridesmaids and for our mothers." So, she showed me this dress. She and her mother and her sister all burst into laughter when they showed it to me because they all thought it was hideous. I admit, though, that I thought it was pretty attractive. Granted, only three or four women on the planet can wear such a dress, and those three or four women are probably simultaneously anorexic and more silicone than flesh, but it can look good. My mother, upon seeing this picture, affirmed that it would be nice; and since she already had one, in DayGlo orange, she was all set for the ceremony.

Sometimes, there are simply things about your mother that you had no idea at all about. I had no idea my mother had such a dress. Perhaps I’ve just never gone anywhere with her fancy enough for her to wear such a thing.

But now I’ve been presented with actual work to do these last 101 minutes of my tenure with the University. Mappings to validate, DNS changes to make, development files to upload. So this entry needs to be cut short.

Be well. Enjoy life!

Out of Orbit

The sad thing is that this morning I’m actually feeling better.

I’m not really all that certain as to what, exactly, is causing this set of symptoms that I’m currently enjoying. Certainly the heat has something to do with it; Davis has been hitting 100+ temperatures consistently for the past few days, reminding me of that old Twilight Zone episode called "The Midnight Sun", where the earth had somehow gotten knocked out of its orbit and was moving closer and closer to the sun, causing everything to heat up. My body has never really responded all that well to extreme heat; I’m okay up to around 95, but anything above that causes my body to rebel and get sick.

The shoulder impingement also has something to do with it, I’m sure. Back in December 1999 — yes, eight months ago — I must have injured my shoulder somehow, and simply not let it heal. In June it finally started hurting so bad that I took myself to the doctor who pronounced, "Impingement". Basically, my shoulder bones — which are already oddly shaped, apparently — are coming too close together, irritating all of the surrounding tissues and causing a constant pain which feels something like having a vise grip on to the joint itself and squeezing. Hard. Constantly. I started physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in the area and reduce the inflammation, but it didn’t seem to help. The doctor injected cortisone into the joint, and that provided some relief, even though there is still some pain.

The pseudo-migraine isn’t helping either. It’s not really a migraine, I’m told; the pain in my shoulder is causing all of my muscles in my upper back and neck to tighten and this is causing migraine-like symptoms, from sensitivity to bright lights to nausea. Very little of the food that I eat actually has managed to stay in my body lately.

And the insomnia. For some reason I’ve been unable to get more than three or four hours of sleep per night, maximum, for a couple of weeks — normally, even less. Last night I think I slept for an hour. Here I am at work now, not finalizing the report codes that I should be finalizing, wishing for coffee, worried that if I get some it won’t stay down and knowing that coffee tastes really nasty coming up and wondering if I could get an intravenous caffeine hookup.

A planet spinning in space must be a dizzy thing; maintaining constant acceleration to remain at a steady distance from the sun which maintains a steady gravitational pull to keep the planet in place. All the while, the planet rotates on its own axis, at thousands of miles an hour, and if its own gravity did not hold it together, it would fly apart into a million pieces of interstellar dust and tiny rocks.

These feelings of mine right now are a funny thing. I’m barely in touch with the earth. One wrong push and I’ll go flying off into space, losing orbit, falling into the sun…