Monday, February 27, 2006

A light has gone out in the SF world

Octavia Butler, one of my favorite authors, passed away this weekend. She was only 58 years old. She fell on the ice outside her home and hit her head.

My favorite Butler novel is Kindred. But I was rivetted by the Patternmaster series as well.

Octavia Butler's fiction was thought provoking and very well written. She will be sorely missed by the SF community.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cell phone intelligence, and lack there of

When I am home, I typically pay no attention to my cell phone. The folks at my office have a tendency to call my cell phone. If I have an emergency, and am unable to reach someone by one contact number, I will try other numbers that I have for them.

On Saturday, two different individuals tried to reach me via my cell phone for two different issues. Both left messages on my cell. Neither tried to reach me via my land line. This evening, someone else from the office called my cell, but left no message. The house phone did not ring this time either. At the time of each of the three calls, I was home. I am guessing that none of these calls qualified as emergencies for the individuals callling. If that was the case, why disturb someone on a weekend? Or maybe, people just don't think things through when they're in the throes of their version of an emergency.

The only reason I uncovered the phone calls at all was that I decided to take my phone out of my purse and charge it. That's when I saw the missed calls and message notifications. So, I dutifully checked into the issues described in the voice mail messages, called the office, and subtly suggested that folks use my home number if I don't answer my phone.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Getting back on the horse

Yikes! So, I bit the bullet this morning and told B to go ahead and get me a plane ticket as well for our vacation in April. I didn't want to fly. I was going to let B and K fly while I took the train. However, a number of factors convinced me that it was time to get back on the horse.

1) The cheapest round trip train ticket would have had me on a train for NINE HOURS. The least amount of time I could have spent on the train would have been a little over six hours. And the tickets would have cost twice as much as a plane ticket.
2) We were able to find non-stop flights between Manchester and Reagan National in DC, that would have us in the air for about 90 minutes.
3) If I am lucky enough to have found a new job, I don't want to have to miss an additional day of work so I can leave ahead of my family.
4) I think I can convince my doctor to prescribe some anti-anxiety drugs for the flights (that I can take with the anti-nausea drugs).
5) I really don't want to be ruled by my fears.

For those of you who don't know, this is HUGE for me. I have two major strikes against me when it comes to air travel. First, I am EXTREMELY prone to motion sickness. Second, I used to be afraid to fly. Since 9/11, I am categorically terrified of flying.

If this trip goes ok (I am NOT kidding myself that it will go "well") maybe I'll be able to reawaken some long buried travel fantasies. I would really like to go to Iceland, Ireland, the U.K., and maybe even mainland Europe. Iceland is the big one that the air travel prohibition was bumming me out on.

So, now I can move on to the fun part of vacation planning, making lists of things to take and things I'd like to do while we're there. And, yes, I know that it's a sad thing that I find list making fun. But, get over it, I'm obsessive so I like to make lists.

Friday, February 24, 2006

I want a REAL day off

I've found myself looking forward to my April vacation, and being rather impatient about it. The way I figure it, I haven't had any REAL time off in more than a year. While I was "on vacation" over Xmoose, I worked some nearly every day. I was "on vacation" last summer for a week, buying/selling/moving houses. Prior to that, I don't recall the last "vacation" I had. Xmoose 2004 I was sick as a dog for the entire 10 day spell. No wonder I'm about to go postal.

I am a single point of failure for my current job responsibilities. I have a "back up" person, but he struggles with my duties. If I don't come in, the work piles up until I return, since my responsibilities are directly tied into the daily operation of the business. Not a good thing. While I truly disliked being at the beck and call of customers 8+ hours every day, and then being on call one out of every four to five weeks, this situation leaves its own putrid taste in my mouth.

This is a MAJOR contributing factor into my increasingly desperate search for alternative employment.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Beer is not necessarily off the menu

Just because you are on a low calorie, low carb, diet is no reason to give up beer. This very evening, I enjoyed a nearly completely liquid dinner: Healthy Choice Chicken Gumbo (1 can) and Michelob Ultra (2.5 bottles). While the third bottle may have been a bit excessive, at 95 calories per, I still kept under my 1300 calorie maximum for the day.

Be advised, that this is a very rare menu. I had a very disappointing interview experience this morning, followed by an EXTREMELY frustrating day at my current job.

In any event, I'm off to tune out the world by watching one of my favorite movies: Snatch, Guy Ritchie's best flick. If you haven't seen it, please put it on your rental list. You will not regret it. Here is my favorite bit of dialog from the movie:

Turkish: F**k me, hold tight. What's that?
Tommy: It's me belt, Turkish.
Turkish: No, Tommy. There's a gun in your trousers. What's a gun doing in your trousers?
Tommy: It's for protection.
Turkish: Protection from what? "Zee Germans"?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Online is THE way to do school

At least the second (or third, or whatever) time around.

I am taking a class through New Hampshire Technical Institute (New Hampshire Community Technical College's Concord campus). While the class has obligatory meetings on Saturday morning, the assignments and tests can all be handled online. Every week we have a quiz that must be completed by midnight Friday night. We also have homework, from the text book, that can be turned in online. This week, in addition to the homework and quiz, we had a midterm that we needed to complete before Monday, the 27th.

All I can say is BRING IT ON!

At first I was concerned about having so much to take care of this week. We don't have a class meeting on the 25th, so I could have waited until then to do some of the work. However, I didn't want to put it off in case I ran into any issues.

No issues AT ALL. I finished the homework and the quiz Saturday evening. Today, I took the exam. One of the great things about online quizes and exams is that they are open book, AND you get to see how you did on the spot. With the quizes, there is a time limit (typically an hour), so you should kind of know the material since you don't have tons of time to go and look it up. However, the midterm was not timed. And, we could print the questions off before actually sitting down to take the test. So, I printed the questions and sat in a very comfy chair with my graded quizes. Most of the questions were taken directly from the previous quizes. And, yes, I totally aced the thing when I submitted my answers this afternoon.

Don't get me wrong, I am learning the material. But, the online thing probably wouldn't work out for everyone. Students who don't have a couple of hundred credits already under the belt might not be flourish in the self-driven environment.

I suspect that the courses that I'll be taking at my next school, Granite State College, will be a bit more difficult. They will be almost wholy online. My final exam for my current class has to be completed the weekend that I start my first class at GSC. Should be a good time, no?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Happy 50th!

I've been wanting to post something for the last few days, but I had a miasma of topics swirling about in my mind.

While it seems pretty innocuous, I thought about saying something about the weather. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, New England suffered through some freakish wind for the last few days. Gusts were hurricane force. Thousands are without power, and several people have been killed. I hate driving in high winds. It feels like I'm going to lose control of the car when one of the massive gusts slaps into me.

The topic most on my mind is my job hunt and the insanity at my current place of employment. However, since I have yet to aquire other employment, I would rather not delve too much into what's going on where I am now. Once I have moved on I may post the highly ridiculous and somewhat horrifying Dilbertesque tales here.

I do have a job interview with an employer on Tuesday, and also with a headhunter. The later is down in Boston again. However, I made it clear to the headhunter what my geographic limitations are. I am willing to go into Boston. However, I will only consider positions that are within walking distance of the commuter rail line. I will not be changing from the commuter rail to a subway. Fortunately, there appear to be a fair number of employers within a quarter mile of North Station in Boston. So, we'll see where that stipulation leads.

I have had a lot on my plate lately, some of which I will elaborate upon in future entries:

  • Current School: Homework, Quiz, and Midterm all due within a week's time.
  • Next quarter school: Finally wrote my application essay. Now, I have to hurry and register for the class that starts the same day that the current one officially ends (at a completely different college).
  • Taxes: Just about done. Need to wait until next weekend to file. Should be getting enough money back to pay for school for the next two quarters, at least.
  • Church: March newsletter entry due this past Friday, which I missed but was awarded 'grace' (truly saying something in a Unitarian Universalist church). Still haven't finished converting the February newsletter for the web. Guess I'm going to UU Hell.
  • Job hunt: Need to fill out application forms for both this week's interviews within the next 24 hours. Also, need to devote a huge chunk of time preparing for Tuesday's interview so I can justify them breaking the salary ceiling they had on the position before finding out my bottom line.
  • Weight loss: "Patience is a virtue." Rinse. Repeat.
  • Are the Olympics over so I can return to my normal NBC programs?

And, as to the title of this post: This is my FIFTIETH BLOG ENTRY!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dilemma resolved

Today was the day of my interview down in Boston. The trek in wasn't so bad. It was two hours, but it was mild enough. Then again, it was not during rush hour. I was quite conscious of that upon my arrival. Plus, I discovered that the closest Green Line train to DFCI wasn't the one that picked up at North Station. I would have to switch Green Line trains half way into my subway ride.

The interview went pretty well. The people I met with were very laid back and fun. I didn't have a 100% of the skills they were looking for, but they seemed satisfied that I had the critical ones (I think). We all talked about the commute and how that would be tough, but that there could be some flexibility in scheduling and potentially some telecommuting.

I also had a good time with a couple of the staff at the end of the interview talking with them about how they might be able to resolve a network failover issue they are having. They said that it wasn't really part of the interview, but asked me if I would mind. I said it'd be fine. We played around on the whiteboard. I loved it. I actually felt confident and useful.

Unfortunately, the ride home was reality. I hit North Station just after 4pm. Crowded train. Very little space to myself. Studying would be difficult. Then, I hit Lowell at the height of traffic there (around 5:30). So, the commute home actually took two hours and ten minutes.

So, while the position would entail lots of cool stuff and would challenge me, I just can't see inflicting the commute on myself, or the effective-irritable-me on my family. I plan to email my contacts at DFCI tomorrow to let them know to take me out of consideration. Major bummer.

Before I left this morning, I did apply for a couple of jobs in NH. They probably won't pay so well, but maybe they'll pay just enough that I can afford the cut. So, I guess the saga continues...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Patience is a virtue

For those of you who know me at all, prepare to shout out the big "Duh!" I am not a patient person. It is something I constantly stuggle with. When I want something I want it now. This has led to numerous issues in my life (out of control credit card debt being the nastiest side effect - but that's getting WAY better).

My latest wrestle with the "I want it now" demon is the weight loss thing. I am down nearly twenty pounds since the beginning of the year. While part of my brain understands that this is a significant accomplishment, I want the weight loss to move faster. The first two weeks I lost twelve pounds. Ergo, I want to lose six pounds a week until I reach my goal. But, any one who knows anything about lowering your calorie intake can tell you, you will lose big in the beginning, and then you'll level off. Sorry. The "I want it now" demon doesn't listen to reason.

I am losing between one and three pounds a week now. Nutritionists say between a half a pound and two pounds a week is reasonable and healthy. Yeah. Right. Blah, blah, blah.

The exercise option is sounding more appealing. I guess that's another strike against the potential two-hour-commute job. When would I have time to exercise? I currently leave the house at 7 and get home around 5:30. If I was doing a 6-6 (or 7-7) stint out of the house, that'd be even less time to devote to exercise. Plus I'd be that much more tired when I got home. So .... the two-hour-commute job would be a good excuse not to exercise, right ;) ?

Tomorrow is the inteview. Hopefully, I have the energy afterwards to post how that went tomorrow night.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Great White North

We got about a foot of snow today. The nice thing about where we live now is that we really only have to dig out our cars. In our last house, we had a one hundred twenty foot long drive way to clear off. So, I guess this is an improvement. I still despise the stuff. But, no, I am not moving south. Thanks for asking.

I did get a nice chuckle out of this storm. Turns out that while we got a foot, Columbia, MD, where we used to live, got twenty one inches!!!

See. That's why I'm staying here. (grin)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The two hour commute dilemma

So, I am interested enough in the job at Dana Farber to be trekking down there on Wednesday for an interview. The journey will give me a taste of what my commute will be like. I've estimated that it'll take me just under two hours, from door-to-door, each way. Huge, HUGE, dilemma.

The job sounds very cool, working in the The Computational Biology and Functional Genomics Laboratory. And, it'd be great to be in a research science environment where people love their work and are more easy going than folks at a struggling for-profit start-up. While the commute would suck, the train ride would give me dedicated study/reading time.

Bear in mind, moving closer to Boston is not an option. Also, only about 30 minutes of the commute will involve car time. I'll have a solid 50 minutes sitting in a comfy commuter train (from beginning of line, to end of line, both directions). Subway ride for another 25 minutes. Then a three block walk.

I'd be leaving the house around 6:45 a.m. and I'd get home around 6:45 p.m. Tell me what you think, please.

Networking TiVo

For those of you interested, I got the network adapter and it all worked great. It's very silly, but I am quite thrilled with the fact that my TiVo is now networked. I might just have to start getting into the whole Home Media Option thing. Maybe I'll be able to play mp3's from my computer through the stero in the living room. I've been wanting to be able to do that for some time. More reasons never to leave the house.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More phone calls

So, I returned my mysterious phone call from Friday. Ended up having to leave a message. He in turn called me back at the very end of the day asking to schedule a real call tomorrow. And, yes, the call was about a job. So, tomorrow we'll talk about the position, and if I might be a good fit (if the salary is close to interesting, and if I could possibly stand the commute).

Now, for more strange phone calls. There was a voice mail message for me from about 4pm this afternoon. Someone calling from Perceptive Informatics, also wanting to talk to me about a few open positions there. The company also works with health care. One of their offices is in Lowell, Massachusetts, right across the street from where I currently work. I'll be calling them back tomorrow.

My former boss tried to give me some encouraging words in December after he resigned. He told me that he had heard that the job market was slated to pick up first quarter of this year. I figured he was talking out of his hat, just trying to make me feel better as it were. Maybe he heard right, or maybe it was a lucky guess. Or maybe, these two calls were a complete fluke.

Stay tuned to: "As The Career Go Round Turns"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Unexpected issue by switching to VoIP

While I have said previously that I am not a big television watcher, remember that I do ocassionally (still) like to watch. The way I manage my viewing habits is via TiVo. I watch only what I really want to watch and when I want to watch.

The one thing I neglected in my quest to rid myself of the archaic land-based telephone line is that TiVo updates its programming over the telephone. Yes, it is capable of being connected to a home network, so it can update itself over the Internet. However, I am an Acolyte of the Cult of Procrastination. Though I am also High Priestess of the Obsessive Impulsive, as witness of the fact that I just picked up and

Now, I must bite the bullet and network my TiVo. This is not a bad thing. I just hate undertaking projects "because I have to". I considered and dismissed implementing wireless networking as an option. We live in a condo complex, and there are several wireless networks that my work laptop sees when I hardwire connect it at home. I haven't been inspired enough to learn how to properly secure a wireless network, and I refuse to do THAT under fire. So, we are running ethernet from the front of the second floor to the rear of the first floor, via the basement since the TiVo unit is installed on the far side of a fireplace.

The most entertaining aspect of this undertaking (and there have been several, mind you), is that TiVo only lists two "TiVo tested and certified" wired USB-ethernet devices. One involves cracking the TiVo case (something I am NOT about to do), and the other is a USB 2.0 device that they currently only support an older and unavailable version of. They say that they plan to support the new version with a "soon to be released" beta version of their OS, and that anyone who orders the adapter from them will be notified as soon as the beta OS is available. Hrm.

There are about ten other devices that they list as "not tested, but reported to work". Comforting thought, no? So, I ordered one of those today from Amazon, to be delivered on Tuesday.

Stay tuned, if you have a compatible device.

Strange but potentially exciting phone call

Friday afternoon K called me at work to let me know that he had just taken a phone call for me at home. Someone called me from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. He told K that he would be out of the office for the rest of the afternoon, but I could call and leave a message or I could call him on Monday.

Call and leave a message? About what? OH! OK. My resume is up on I visited the DFCI web site and found that they had several technology related jobs that I might be qualified for. Could this call be about a job? What else could it be?

DFCI is in Boston. Getting there would be a long commute. However, I could take the train and make use of the time studying for school. Plus, I have been hoping to get a job in health care IT.

Cross your fingers. I'll post what this leads to.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Geek Parent-Child Bonding

About two weeks ago I discovered a simple, but highly enjoyable, online gaming site: Kingdom of Loathing, aka KOL. The day after I started playing, I told my son, Kiel, about it. He immediately became addicted, and spurred me on in my play. Since his gaming skills and interest are higher than mine, he quickly became the master and I became the student. We also got our friend, Brian hooked. He has an excellent write up of the game on his blog

KOL is a very silly game with lots of pop culture references and humor. In the game, you can get a familar (ie. creature sidekick) for your character. From day one, I was intrigued by the idea of having a Sabre Toothed Lime as a familiar. They are difficult to obtain through normal adventuring, and pricey to buy through the game's flea market or mall stores.

I came home from work a few days ago to a very coy and gleeful boy. He told me that I really wanted to log into KOL. As usual, I was tired and cranky. So he really had to egg me on to get me to go to my computer. He said, "I sent you something." I logged in and there was a message from him saying that he was giving me "an early Mothers Day or late Christmas Present". I am now the proud owner of a bouncing baby sabre tooth lime. I named it Margarita. (The game uses food and alcohol to increase the amount of adventures you can have every day.)

I was extremely happy with my son's gift. Later, I realized that it was probably one of the nicest most unselfish things he's ever done for me. All in all, that is very silly. One of the deepest bonding moments he and I have ever shared is based in a joint obsession with an online game. Geek Parent-Child Bonding!!!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Feeling alien

A few mornings ago, the drive to work suddenly seemed very surreal. The sky was dark gray. The air was saturated with a mixture of fog, mist, and drizzle. As I looked to the sides of the road to get my bearings, on a road that I'd traveled hundreds of times before, it felt as if I was in a new and unfamiliar place. Maybe I had zoned out for a few minutes. Maybe it was the quality of the light. It just felt very "other". The feeling passed. However, I recognized it. Where was I? How did I get there?

This feeling has snuck up on me before in many an innocuous situation. In a meeting. At the grocery store. Lying in bed. Talking to people I know very well. Who are you? Why am I talking to you? This seems so unreal and unimportant.

A similar feeling strikes me when I am witness to the stupidity of others. I start to think that I must be a different species from most of the "humans" walking around on this planet performing such idiotic actions. Quite arrogant. But wouldn't it be funny if it turned out to be true? You know. One day someone from the home planet comes to gather up the few changelings left on Earth. "Time to go home?" "Home?" "Yes. We sent OUR inferior specimens here to Earth, where we knew they would excel. However, no one that's left on the home world will stoop to working at the fast food joints, so you schmucks have to come home."

That would be the way of it. So, I think I'll just stay here where I can feel safely superior. (grin)

Down by 15 since 1/1

I have lost 15 pounds since the first of the year. I am not losing as quickly as I did the first two weeks. However, I feel really good about hitting the 15 pound loss mark. I was moderately surprised this mornng since I had overeaten yesterday a bit.

I also feel generally good. If someone offered me the opportunity to lift weights right now, I'd be so there.

Realistically, I know that tomorrow I'll probably be back to my lazy old self. But, I'm basking in the good vibe right now.