Sunday, November 29, 2009

What To Do Next... What To Do?

I am overwhelmed with choices these days, and I am hitting something that we used to call "vapor lock" in a co-worker back at my first job in 1986 or so.  The inability to pick something and work on it leads to a lack of progress on everything.

The major tasks on my list include (but are not limited to):
  • Write a carving document that has been on my to-do list for months now.
  • Add a bunch of things to my personal web site.
  • Learn MySQL and php so I can do some interesting things with book review indexing and searching.
  • Carve stone.
  • Write fiction.
  • Learn Java so I can figure out how to write Android applications.
And, of course, on top of all that sits the overhead of life.

I am starting to think nothing major will get accomplished until the new year begins, if then.  I wish it were otherwise.

Maybe the thing to do is spend a couple of hours on just one or two things each day.  Have to try that.  I certainly need to get something moving on all these fronts eventually.

I have to say it, though.  Work provided a focal point that removed some of the decision making process.  That may or may not be good in any given case, but it was real.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Last night as I drove to the stone carving class I teach I had a thought.

I've been unemployed for almost two weeks now, and I am noting some things about my own behavior and expecations that are interesting, at least to me.  Conversation at the class expanded on the issues as well.

Four years ago, when I stopped working the first time, I transitioned out of my job carefully.  I documented what I did for my co-workers extensively and handed off the tasking to others.  In addition, the nature of my work was somewhat different then.  While I worked on big, important systems with hundreds of thousands of users, I wasn't generally on call for support.  At least not regularly.  In a pinch I might get a call but I wasn't on the hot seat on a day to day basis.

During the last year things were different, and my exit was more abrupt.

This time I was working on systems that required more supervision and manual intervention.  That meant I was on call - 24x7 - for problems that customers, support, or automated tools might find.  In addition, every time I opened up my email I first looked for notifications about anything that might have gone wrong or that customers needed assistance with.  Those always took priority and required fixing.

Living like that meant there was always a level of adrenaline in my bloodstream.  Even now, just writing about it, I can feel it.  Keeping the system working and the customers happy was, effectively, a constant, low level engagement of my fight or flight reflex.  For the last year my body has been adjusting itself to that level of stress.  Now I have to become adjusted to a much lower level of stress and that's taking longer than I'd like.

There are behavioral things that go with this change too.  While working, my morning ritual was to get up, throw on some clothes, and check email to see what (if anything) needed work.  If something needed attention it got it, before breakfast or a shower, and well before driving to the office.  Correspondingly I'd check email several times a night while at home for the same reason, and deal with anything that came up then too. 
Now, of course, there's no reason to check email that often, but I still do.  Maybe that will change with time.

Last night, as I mentioned, those at my class pointed out other things that go with a high stress job, things that are missing now.  The feeling of being needed and the status that goes with being the one others turn to, for example. And yes, I am vain enough to care about those things - just about all of us are - and their absence is another thing I have to adjust to.

It turns out that being RIFed is very different from quitting on your own.  I know I've mentioned that before, but two weeks later the difference still looms large.  I couldn't discuss my departure in advance with anyone at the office, of course, so there was no ability to plan and hand things off carefully, as I would have liked.  That leaves me with guilt about what those who remain are dealing with, and a lack of resolution on my side.

I suspect this level of discomfort will go on for some time, no matter how much I wish I could get past it more quickly.  Just about everyone who is let go from any job probably suffers similar issues.  For me it only drives home the point that many companies should treat their employees a whole lot better than they do.  Letting people go should be the very last resort.  And if it really becomes neccessary, involving them in the process and giving them time to make the transition would be smarter for everyone involved.

At least, that's how it looks to me.  I'd much rather have taken a couple of weeks at the office to hand off my work to others and make sure - as best I could - that they knew what they were getting into.  Instead I was walked to the door because that was company policy.  Not good.  For me or the company.  Oh well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Most Social Thing You Do...

If you're like many people there is a high probability that the most social thing you do in any given day isn't something you expect.  In fact, the thing that causes you to interact with the most people - potentially making them happy, upset, or angry, and in which they can have the same impacts on you - is something you think you do when you think you're entirely alone.  Any ideas?

It's driving.

A typical commute to work involves interacting with hundreds of people through a set of mostly agreed upon rules, but with a faceless anonymity that lets everyone violate those rules without feeling the repercussions in the way they would if they did something similar in person.

How many of us willingly cut in front of others in line at the store?  If we turn a corner and nearly walk into someone we apologize, right?  Even if it isn't our fault.  These habits help keep society working relatively smoothly.  They reduce tension and lessen hostility.

But we all do stupid things while we're driving  - both inadvertently and deliberately - with astounding regularity.  And those actions affect others.  Don't believe me?  Just look at how others impact your driving.  When was the last time you got through a commute and weren't frustrated by someone?  Perhaps they were too slow or too fast, weaving in and around traffic, lane splitting on a motorcycle while traffic was moving at the speed limit, or just in your way while you were in a hurry.  You get the idea.  Almost every day I commuted to work I remarked to myself on someone doing something that annoyed me, and I know I'm not alone.

In truth I'm sure that some of the time I was equally annoying to others.  I also was moving at the wrong speed for someone else's taste, and so on.  Statistically it has to happen, and as a practical matter I know it did.  How many times have you looked in your rear view mirror to find someone sitting just inches off your bumper, impatient to get around you?  Regardless of whose fault it really is, you know they're blaming you.

So, the next time you're behind the wheel, think for a moment.  Ask yourself if something you're doing - while you're "alone" in the car - is something you'd do in person, where you'd have to talk to others as a result.  It's an interesting exercise.

That awareness won't fix conditions on the road, of course.  We're all human after all, and we all do stupid things, but it may give you a bit more patience with others and let you arrive at your destination less stressed out.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Well, That Was a Week of Work

Finally finished setting up my book review blog.  All the ancient posts are there, they've been spell checked, re-read, some tweaked, some commented upon, and the infrastructure in blogger worked to my satisfaction.

At this point all I need are a few hundred thousand readers. 

More to the point (for this blog, anyway) is that I have more time for other things now.  Tomorrow I direct at a fencing tournament.  Next week I will bathe dogs, something they will hate with a passion.  And I can read again, instead of just working on creating a place to write about what I read.

Changing topics, next week will be the first time I see my former co-workers since I was let go.  I'm already wondering how that will make me feel.  I've got a certain amount of guilt about the entire situation there.  I hope no one is holding anything against me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Review Blog Is Up And Running

Since sometime in 2005 I have been writing book reviews and posting them on the web.  The location they've been posted has changed over time, but I've now decided to create a blog where those reviews will get posted as they happen.  For various reasons it's simpler than what I had been doing.

If you'd like to check it out, the URL is: As of now I have all my reviews written in 2009 put into the blog.  That caught me up on something that was way overdue since I went back to work.  Reviews from 2005 - 2008 will appear over time.

Your feedback about the reviews and/or the site itself is encouraged and appreciated.

Note that I don't claim these are good reviews.  They're just my thoughts about what I am reading, and I read a fair bit.

Thanks much for your interest!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Revamped Blog Format

Just made some significant changes to the way this blog is displayed by blogger, but I hope they are mostly invisible to you.

If anyone has trouble reading this now, or thinks a change that is visible is a problem, please let me know. It looks OK on my browsers, but I run neither a Windows nor a Mac, so I represent a tiny fraction of the actual reading audience in terms of my technology choices.

You can send your comments directly to me via my personal website's contact page, or leave a reply here.

Thanks for any feedback!

So many little things change...

One of my former coworkers said something like the following yesterday: "Changing all of my contacts from 'co-worker' to 'former co-worker' is a drag." He's right, but that's just the beginning.

There are so many little things that need revision when you change jobs. In my case it extends to odd things. I had all kinds of bookmarks in my web browser for work related sites. Those can go. I moved my websites from my employer to another hosting provider, which means all kinds of things change.

My morning rituals change too. Until Friday morning I got up and logged in to work to see if anything needed my attention immediately. Then I went off and got ready for work. It's very different now, of course.

None of these things is a big deal all by itself, but they add up to something that I can imagine being depressing. I'll be fine. I wanted out, in fact, but my exit was actually involuntary. (About 1/3rd of a very small staff that had already seen significant reductions in size through attrition was let go. The implications of that are ugly for those left behind.) Still, the fact that I was let go, rather than choosing to leave on my own, gives some things an odd twist.

In any case, Now when I sit down in front of the computer my tasking is very different. In a week or two it will all feel natural again, I'm sure, but it's still a bit off.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

Yesterday the company I worked for followed through on things that had been going on for a long time. From my perspective things started going down hill some months back, when we had two consultants come in to evaluate the organization. (Anyone else remember "The Bobs" from Office Space? Yes, it was something like that.) Others tell me strange things were going on before I even hired back in, but most didn't know or note them at the time.

In any case, yesterday I was let go. The technical term for this kind of job action is "Reduction In Force" (aka, a RIF). As I understand these things, there is a legal difference between a layoff and a RIF. In a layoff, the company is obligated to hire the employees back preferentially if their jobs become available. In a RIF the company has decided these jobs are being eliminated permanently, and as a result no one will be hired for a similar job for some period of time.

In my case, the company is clearly not going to be hiring more people like me for a long, long time. Probably never again, in fact. They're taking a hammer to the organization that was Concentric and sucking it into XO completely. Those of us who did Concentric specific things are on the chopping block, now and probably in the future, though (of course) no one in charge anywhere would say or admit that.

As a result of these events I begin a new part of my life today. A life once again without work, at least for now. I don't know how long that will last. I might have to (or even want to) go back again. I might do some contract work, or not. For the moment I am taking a wait and see attitude, and using the time to catch up on a lot of things that have been put off over the last year.

There will be some changes in this blog and more changes to my sculpture web site. There will be additional posts in the new art blog, and I think I'm going to start a third blog as a place to put my personal book reviews, since that'll be simpler than the way I am currently publishing them. I probably need to spend some serious time learning web design more than I now know it, and I have a web site to play with for my fencing club for that little effort.

On top of all of that there are lots of projects around the house that have been put off for months, and a lot of stone carving to do too. I want to do some fiction writing as well. Maybe some of that will make it's way onto the web if I like the results.

In all, I have no shortage of things to do, and now I have a lot more time to do them. I'll keep you updated on things here too, of course.

Many thanks to the support I have received from friends who already knew about the RIF. I am amazed at the support I get from all of you. It means a great deal to me.

And so, on with day one.