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.

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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…

Here there be Dragons

Because my asthma is a permanent, high-maintenance condition, I’m practically on a first-name basis with the entire pharmacy staff at the local Long’s Drugs. At least once a month I’ll come in; the pharmacist — or one of the staff — will greet me, saying, "Welcome back, Richard! What will it be today, the usual? How about some Serevent, that will really open up those ol’ bronchial tubes like nobody’s business!"

Well, okay, it isn’t quite like that. But sometimes I really feel like it is. When I call up to place a refill on a prescription, the staff member who answers the phone almost always knows my voice, and frequently can guess what medication I need.

Yesterday I went in to pick up some of the usual meds: two inhalers, an antihistamine, a painkiller for my shoulder. One of the staff members who knows me by name — and who also happens to be a part-time bartender at one of my favorite local music venues, The Palms Playhouse — was there as well. She wasn’t actually working at the time; instead she was picking up some medicine for someone else in her family: Rupert, the bearded dragon.

I had never thought that you could pick up some veterinary medications at Long’s Drugs (on the other hand, it’s probably good information to have, since when I marry Jennifer I’ll essentially be marrying her seven cats as well). Of course, I had never really thought of a bearded dragon as an animal that you would take to the veterinarian either; then again, where else would you take it when it got sick?

"Amanda" (not her real name, but I need to call her something) had brought Rupert with her, so I got to look at this creature. He was about fourteen inches long, from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. I’m guessing fourteen inches; he was in a Tupperware box, and his tail had to bend a little for him to fit into it. He was a mottled dark brownish-green color, with rough skin and sharp, beady eyes. Along his chin were lots of tiny spines, which is why he’s called a "bearded dragon". Looking at this animal, who was waiting with his owner for some antibiotics to help heal up an abscess for which he had just had surgery, my first thought was that he was emaciated and sickly. It turns out that yes, he was a bit thin, but bearded dragons have a tendency to flatten themselves out in order to capture more heat in certain environments.

Don’t you think that it’s amazing that there are such things in this world? It seems like every time I turn around, there’s something curious or strange waiting to be seen, and such things sometimes appear in the strangest places. A pharmacy is not a place I would expect to find a creature called a bearded dragon, any more than a Dungeons and Dragons game was a place where I would expect to meet my soulmate. But this sort of thing happens; strange and wonderful things pop up in unexpected places — and, furthermore, I’m convinced that this sort of thing happens all the time.

I know that when I was a kid, my mom sometimes got frustrated with me when she took my sister and I on walks. While my sister would run on ahead, I would constantly fall behind, caught up in some insect or rock or bug or piece of litter that caught my attention. I think I might have acquired this trait from my grandfather, who would frequently frighten the passengers in his car with his ability to say exactly how many cows were in the field beside the road, but not necessarily what was on the road ahead of him. I like to think that I’m a bit more attentive to the road than that, but I still find myself drawn to the world around me and all of the wonderful things that crawl, ooze, climb, and slime.

"Here There Be Dragons", the old cartographers used to warn, on maps that were necessarily incomplete: "Sail beyond the known boundaries of the world, and you will encounter deadly monsters." But the world around us is always incomplete, isn’t it? Keep your eyes focused on what’s directly ahead, and you’ll miss everything that’s going on beside you, where there are some pretty astounding things from time to time. And dragons aren’t necessarily bad things; dragons can also represent the strange and delightful oddities that populate this world like sprinkles on a cake.

Keep an eye out for that sort of thing. You’ll see exactly what I mean.


I wound up going home sick today from work, with only seven days left at my current job. I had awakened with a bad headache and an upset stomach, but figured it would pass quickly. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that, and both the headache and the stomachache got worse as the morning wore on; finally, around 10:00, my office mate reminded me that if I didn’t use up my sick leave now, I’d never get a chance to — the University will cash out my remaining vacation time when I move on, but not my sick time. So I copied a bunch of Cold Fusion code onto a Zip disk and went home with the intention of going through the code, cleaning it up, and thoroughly documenting it.

On the way home, I stopped at the video store, as I usually do on days like today, and rented both Fight Club and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (yes, I do love horror films, even the cheesy ones). But my intention to revise my Cold Fusion code never really became anything more than Good Intentions. I reviewed code for about two hours while Hellraiser played in the background, remembered that I had to leave Personal Web Server running on my computer in order to get the Cold Fusion server to work, and then undid all of the changes that I had made, since not all of them really worked. Backup files are a good thing.

But all the while, my headache and stomach ache were just getting worse. Finally around 1:30 or 2 I gave up, popped in Fight Club (an excellent film, by the way — I recommend it highly), and lay down. Then I slept for about three hours. When I woke up, the fever was gone and so was the stomach ache, but the headache had stormed in with full fury, to the point where I could barely move my head. Even now, it hurts. I get migraine headaches from time to time; this is a grand doozy of one. Bright lights bother me, and so do ambient noises, and so do the drumming of the fingers of the people sitting next to me at the cafe right now. (Yes, I’m feeling crabby; so sue me, I have a migraine.)

But no, I did not spend the whole day griping and feeling miserable. Besides, as Agent Cooper suggested in Twin Peaks, "Every day, give yourself a gift: it doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy, just something you like and enjoy. A really good cup of coffee, or a chance to watch a beautiful sunset."

Today, I gave myself the thrill of faxing in my acceptance of the position with [the new place of employment]. The first two months of this new job are going to be spent up in Portland, Oregon, learning about the company and how to use their in-house suite of application packages. I’m excited about that: I’m going to be learning a lot, I’ll be meeting new people, I’ll get to see what my new co-workers will be like, and so on.

The hardest thing for me to adapt to and accept with regards to this new job is the pay increase. It’s not quite going to double my income, which had been my goal for the year, but it represents an 83% increase over my salary with the University, which is close enough. Last night I dragged Jennifer with me while I went and test drove new cars; and it was such an odd feeling looking at the 2000 Honda Accord SE and realizing that I can now afford this car, instead of taking what someone else was willing to sell to me, a used car with "issues". It’s a marvelous feeling.

I didn’t buy the car last night, of course. For one thing, I haven’t gotten any paychecks at all from [the new place of employment] as of yet; and, for another thing, I’m going to be in Portland for two months starting on August 7; and what’s the point of buying a new car if it’s just going to sit in front of my house? [the new place of employment] will be flying me back to Davis on the weekends during that time, and Spiff will be just fine for me until October or so, when I start the daily commute out to Roseville. Then, I’ll probably buy the Accord.

And now I feel like I’ve completed a series of transitions in my life which began just about a year ago. I’ve transitioned from being single to being engaged to the woman of my dreams; the process of moving from my duplex with two housemates to a large custom-made home with a beautiful wife has begun; I’m finally leaving the University after having been there since 1986 in some capacity or another. And, most importantly, I’m moving from a existence which is essentially aimless and directionless to one which I feel like has a purpose and a direction.

All in all, a pretty good day for me.

It isn’t a great day for everyone, of course. My best friend continues to have problems with his own career (though I like to point out that if I can make this kind of transition, then he will be able to as well); my good friend Ivymoon was disappointed to learn that she did not get the job of her dreams; and Jennifer has ended up having to put in long hours at her own job yet again. And, of course, my boss in Information Technology is still left with the problem of finding someone to replace me (I still feel guilt about that; especially since I had to go home sick today).

So, with all of these transitions nearing completion, I find that it’s easy to relax and think, "Now things are settled. I don’t need to do anything more, now that all of my goals are met." Of course, nothing is further from the truth; I’m rebuilding my life now, making that fresh start.

Not to say that my life was boring or dull before, but… Now is when a whole new set of challenges and excitements begin.

Muggling Through

It seems that every time something good comes along, something else comes along (usually in the form of a money-hungry lout or a misinformed idiot) to try to spoil it. The great comic book Spawn, for example, might be forced to cease publication because some football player took offense at the name used as one of the villains, and is suing for more money than Todd McFarlane can pay out without shutting down the title. That’s the sort of thing that I’m talking about.

Now, Jennifer has recently converted me to being a Harry Potter fan. I had gotten the first book from my dad as a Christmas present just this past year, and started reading it — but sometimes when I’m reading a book, I get easily distracted by other things, and I just sort of put Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aside for awhile, intending to pick it up again later, and just never did. However, when news about the fourth book came out, Jennifer decided that she wanted to read the first three, and she thoroughly enjoyed them. And I couldn’t help but notice the Potter-mania that was going around, especially as the release date for the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, came closer. Then my sister informed me that my niece really wanted the fourth book for her birthday; and so on the Friday night before the release, I found myself standing with Jennifer at Borders, waiting for one of the coveted unreserved copies, while kids dressed up like wizards cavorted and adults — some looking exhausted, some looking enthralled — gazed eagerly at the counter and employees made periodic announcements about special giveaways that would be given out with the first fifty copies. It was actually fun, in a way. I had stood in line for six hours to be one of the first people to see Star Wars Episode I, and this was kind of similar. But this hype was for a book, not a movie, and I’d never seen this kind of hype for a book before.

So last week I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone again and started re-reading from the beginning, not bothering to try to find where I had left off before; and over the next two or three days I read all three of the Harry Potter books, then borrowed Jennifer’s copy of Goblet of Fire and read that (that one took me four days, partly because of the length and partly because I found that I had very little time to devote to reading even while Jennifer was gone in Ohio for her family reunion).

The hype was worth it. The Potter books are certainly not brilliantly-constructed fantasy the way that The Lord of the Rings (or my personal favorite, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams) is, but they are a lot of fun, and well written. And anything which encourages kids to use their imaginations, to explore the world around them with wonder, and simply read more books deserves high praise, in my opinion.

So, of course, some people have to try to ruin it. One author from the east coast is suing J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, over an alleged trademark violation (you can read more about this at The Unofficial Harry Potter Fan Club); and the Harry Potter books are actually banned in some schools in at least thirteen U.S. states (more about that at Muggles for Harry Potter). The lawsuit kind of makes sense, if you squint in an intellectual sort of way (though I think it’s tantamount to A. A. Milne being sued over the use of the word "Piglet" as the name of a character); but I’ve never understood the reasoning process behind the desire to ban books. Okay, some books (such as The Turner Diaries) are deservedly jeered and most bookshop owners with an ounce of decency wouldn’t carry them; but what is the logic behind banning books like Harry Potter? The perpetrators claim that the books undermine traditional Christian values and that they promote Wicca and paganism (though I can also see how Wiccans and pagans could find elements of the Potter books that are offensive), but, again, you have to stretch to see it.

Part of the reasoning that I’ve seen for banning the Harry Potter books claims that these books teach children that the world around them is worthless, that people who can’t use magic are losers and not worth paying attention to; I have to disagree. Of course, all novels are escapist, to a point; but children don’t lose themselves in a novel and then despair that their world isn’t like that in the novel. On the contrary, children read novels about heroic deeds and create their own worlds to match. The characters in Harry Potter — especially Harry Potter himself and his friends — are brave and heroic and courageous, and I believe that these are values that we ought celebrate children learning. And the lessons that children learn while acting out their own stories as heroes are carried over into their own lives — at least, that was my own experience as a child, and that’s what I see in children around me today.

So my thought is this. Everyone knows that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose the power to see or make magic in our world; some of us retain some of that ability, though it’s usually just a ghost of what we possessed in childhood. And some of us become so bitter at the loss that we can’t imagine that children still do have that power; so we deny that children have that power, and we try to bring them into our own world, just as bitter and jaded as we are, long before they are ready. "This is the real world," such people say, "and there is no place for magic or wizards or other fairy-tale nonsense."

But in reality, the world is a magical place, and full of wonder. Those of us who have had the misfortune to grow up can’t see most of the magic or wonder anymore, and so we have to Muggle our way through a world of taxes, difficult job transitions, broken cars, insurance, noisy neighbors, and so on. I’m glad that there are books like the Harry Potter books to remind me, at least, of what else could be out there.

It’s a shame that there are other people out there who feel like they have to spoil it.