Paul Geromini

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Saturday 26 August 2017

Thoughts on being unemployed

I am a few months back to being employed and I have some thoughts on the two or so months I spent unemployed.

1. I am not ready to retire yet. The one nice thing about being unemployed is all the free time you have. While this was nice originally, I mostly did the same thing I always do with my free hours: watch TV, play video games, and read books. It was awesome for a while, but after a month or so of gorging it begins to become unstimulating. While it is true I did work on some side projects, like an AMV or two and a Chex Quest cosplay, I mostly have little to show for my long break. This does not bode well for my early retirement plans. Consuming media is fun, but not rest of your life fun.

2. Job Hunting is hard. Even for a field in-demand like software engineering, job hunting was not an easy task. I applied to 50 places, had 10 phone screens, and three in person interviews. Part of the problem was geography, since a lot of work is in and around the city of Boston and I did not want to work there, but I feel the main issue was a disconnect between me and the applications I was viewing. While it is true not all the jobs I applied to were perfect fits for my experience and skillset, I felt most of the applications I submitted were good matches. Given the 20% contact rate the employers disagreed. This leads me to think their job postings were not accurate to what they wanted.

3. Youtube is awesome I started really using Youtube and subscribing to channels and there is quite a lot of good content to be found there. Some of my new favorites are: 1. Forgotten Weapons 2. LGR 3. Tank Museam 4. The Examined Life (of Gaming) 5. Spacedock

4. Baldur's Gate is awesome I had beat Baldur's Gate 1 (along with Tales of the Sword Coast) before I was "budget actioned", but all this new free time begged for long, involving RPGs. Thus began epic quest to rid the world of evil in Baldur's Gate Siege of Dragonspear, Baldur's Gate 2, and Baldur's Gate 2 Throne of Bhaal. Ultimately that is 100+ hours of classic D&D gaming. Overall I would say it was time well spent. The isometric graphics hold up well, the voice acting is solid (Irenicus portrayed by David Warner being the highlight), and the story being pretty compelling. I will say, I am still rubbish at the combat.

5. Gundam is awesome Surprising no one I started watching Gundam and it is as good as everyone always told me it was. I do get to cheat a little and watch just the good series though. That turned out to be Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (just the first two cours), and Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt. I would recommend those series if you are in the market for a mecha anime.

6. Unemployment Services are a pain I got my first taste of the MA safety net when I started to collect unemployment. What I did not know was I had to prove to the state that I was looking for work every week I wanted benefits. That was not a huge issue, even if the site for reporting what you did that week was slow and poorly formatted, but it does highlight an unfortunate gap. Specifically, if you have signed an offer, but have not started work yet you still have to be looking for work to get benefits. That seems rather disingenuous so I did not do that, but I missed out on two weeks worth of benefits. I also had to go to a unemployment class which was a huge waste of my time. I did not need a class to tell me MA offers a site to do job searches on.

7. Being unemployed hurts the ego Its pretty deflating to be unemployed. I very much enjoyed being a software engineer and having that title. Lacking it, is was a big bummer. It is strange, because I was still the same person, but it was harder to prove I was who I said I was without some sort of outside validation (like being employed).

8. The MA healthcare bureaucracy is vast I almost had to switch to MA healthcare and it was a huge pain. They wanted forms faxed (no online upload or emailing) and it took forever to hear back from them. One day I got two letters in the mail. One saying I had been denied health care and the other saying I had been accepted into the plan. It was all very confusing and I am glad to not have to deal with it now that I am back to work.

And that is my unemployment nutshell. I hung around the house for a bit, played some games, watched some anime, and then went back to work.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Four Years Later

It generally takes three times for the normal mind to understand something. The first sign I got was seeing my senior coworker having part of his cube in boxes, the second sign was having another coworker come by and shake my hand saying, "it had been great to work together", and the third sign was my new, one on one meeting at 10:15. This is what it is liked to be laid off (although I prefer the more humorous "budget actioned"). That was March 7, 2016 for me. It was the end of a (just about) four year period of employment, my first post-school job. I want to take the time, now a week or so later, to describe what I actually did for four years. I want to give the highlights, the lowlights, what I thought we did wrong and what I thought we did right. I will preface this all by saying I harbor no ill will towards anyone I worked with or Oracle itself. Oracle always treated me fairly, I am just sad it never worked out for them.

May 28 2013 My first day of work. The week immediately after Anime Boston. It was going to be the 27th, but that was a holiday (Memorial Day). I was horribly late, the latest I ever was in my four years there. I left early, but spent ages in bumper to bumper traffic. I called in to let them know I was going to be late, but I was still majorly embarrassed. After getting in late I was rapidly given a bunch of documents and a cube. As I was getting setup in my cube, I remember opening the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet and finding three liquor bottles in it. It was nice liquor too. I told my coworker and he secreted it away never to be seen again. The rest of the day I sat in a HR conference call. I would be the last legacy TEKELEC hire before the company was completely Oraclized.

July 2013 My first real assignment. Before then I had been familiarizing myself with the code, trying things out, going to meetings to learn our process. Now I had my first real piece of work to do: S9. You can read more about S9 here. I was responsible for everything: GUI and backend. I would work on this for the next few months. It would never ship as the customer who wanted it never actually wanted it. Company wise, everyone was stoked that Oracle was going to keep our office in Marlborough and not have us commute to Burlington.

November 2013 I am a bit hazy about this point, but at some point I finished S9 and moved to building the "Subscriber Activity Log". A feature that allowed a customer to track a subscriber as the subscriber's calls flowed through the system. You can read about this in the 11.5 release notes as it actually shipped.

December 2013 My first company Christmas party. We go and watch: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at the IMAX in Jordan's furniture. It was good, but my boss was mad it ended on a cliffhanger, so we went back next year to see the final film. I remember spending a long time in traffic trying to leave that area.

January 2014 Again, I am bit unsure when this happened, but at some point I finished up "Subscriber Activity Log" and was moved to a new project: MPG. The Mobile Policy Gateway (MPG) was a project to develop a device that would deploy policies to a customers phone. One of the big use cases was a provider could offload certain customers onto wifi if the load in an area was too great. I would work on this for nine months, but it would never ship and it would ultimately be cancelled. Company wise, things are going great. We are making good money and selling a lot of product.

September 2014 NGCMP, our replacement for our current configuration management platform (CMP) begins. I am project lead and I start investigating new technologies. My first challenge is to pick between OJET and LUX, two competing JS GUI libraries. I end up picking OJET, which you can use today if you want. Weekly Wednesday calls with the offsite groups (Bangalore and Nanjing) start. I went to JavaOne at the end of the month and got this great photo:

I wrote more about that trip here.

November 2014 My first raise and bonus! I live the good life. The NGCMP is starting to grow as other people finish up the projects they are working on and get assigned to it. NGCMP starts driving major reforms around how we do work. Code reviews are formalized, code quality tools like SonarQube start to come into play, and we get serious about unit and robot testing.

December 2014 Second company holiday party! We see the last Hobbit film in IMAX. It is ok, but not worth sticking through the traffic in that area.

February 2015 I miss most of the super bowl (I hear about the Patriots winning during the flight) as I travel to India to meet the team in Bangalore. I stay for a few days. I wrote about this trip back then.

March 2015-May 2016 Nothing of real note happens during this period. I do get a raise, and we continued to make a lot of progress on NGCMP. Customer demos are being planned at this point. NGCMP itself is in an ok place. It has a lot of functionality, but a number of bugs. I produce the greatest Star Trek TNG parody video during this time. It was a demo highlight.

June 2016 Things are not going well for our business unit. We have our first layoff. Management talks about pivoting to a cloud based deployment. NGCMP gets "paused". We no longer want to build a product that does exactly what our legacy product did, we want to build something for a cloud based customer. TREC is born and we pivot to new use cases.

October 14 2016 I close on my first house as more people get laid off the same day. This would start a gradual local attrition of talent.

March 7 2016 Judgement day. I along with 90% of the office get budget actioned. Layoffs are around 200 for my business unit. The Bangalore team gets assigned to different projects and the Nanjing team gets reassigned back to the legacy CMP product. TREC presumably dies as there is no one assigned to work on it. The show ends.

That is the whole story. I really think things started to go wrong when Oracle panicked and moved us to the "cloud". It never made sense how we were going to make money in that area and we certainly could not produce a viable product for another year at least. In the end, I think Oracle could not take the losses it was taking so it bailed. Ultimately it was a pretty good ride. I had a lot of fun, made money, and learned a lot. It is just a shame it never worked out.

Sunday 4 October 2015

The Doctor Who Problem

Doctor Who is back for a new season and having seen the latest two episodes it is right back to having the same problems that have dogged the new series for years. Before we get into it, some background first. I do not claim to be a super who fan. You will find plenty more knowledgeable folks than I. That said, I have watched a number of the old serials, and all the new series, and there is a distinct difference between the two. More than just the clunky special effects the old series approached its stories and characters in a fundamentally different way. Some spoilers incoming, so you have been warned.

Lets start by comparing the very first episode I saw of the classic series, Pyramids of Mars, to the most recent two episodes: The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar. At the start of Pyramids of Mars an outside force surprises the Doctor and his companion (Sarah) and the Doctor stops to investigate. They then start to uncover a mystery while avoiding malevolent unstoppable mummies. It is all very fun and engaging. In The Magician's Apprentice in the first scene we encounter a younger version of an antagonist to the Doctor. Then we spend the next 30 minutes or so (in a 45 minute episode) trying to find where the Doctor is and what he is up to. Everyone is all concerned about having him solve their problems, or they want to talk to him about this and that. In my book, that is a problem. The new series has always been focused on the Doctor. How he impacts the worlds he goes to, his past, his motivations. The old series was never that concerned. Who cares why the Doctor travels around, who cares where he comes from. Let us go someplace exciting and different and have an adventure. The new series is obsessed with the Doctor to the detriment of the story. In the Whoverse there is no one more important, and that is a problem. I may sound old and crotchety here, but the older serials had the right idea. Doctor Who is an anthology series that happens to have a few recurring characters.

The second problem in play is the characters. Lately Doctor Who has just been a factory for tumblr memes. Sure you are allowed some funny lines from time to time, but all this off beat, look at me I am so random, twitter chaff is just distracting. Especially guilty is this Missy character. Every other sentence is trite "I'm evil so I speak in stream on conscience style and it only makes sense to me. But you know I am serious because I kill people from time to time." I admit to having a special loathing for this character. She has added so little to the series and it is just awful to hear her lines.

Next up we have some serious worldbuilding issues. Nothing is ever final in the Whoverse. People die and come back. Planets are destroyed and come back. Whole races are killed off and then miraculously reborn the next season. In the series 8 finale Missy dies. She is literally disintegrated. Series 9 starts, shes back just fine. Just a simple hand wave and no respect for the continuity of the series. When your universe has no consequences there can be no suspense. At the end of The Magician's Apprentice, Claire (the companion) and Missy are both disintegrated by Daleks. It is supposed to be a great cliffhanger, but you literally brought a character back from death at the start of this episode, no way I believe these main characters just bought it. And of course at the start of the next episode you drop some contrived garbage for how they survived. Take some risks, kill some characters, have some actual consequences in your show or else no one will ever trust you when a main character is in peril.

Speaking of the Daleks, that nicely highlights another issue the new series has. It keeps going back the well. Star Wars has this same problem. Everyone likes the old characters, the old races, let us just roll them out again instead of creating a new idea. I am so sick of the Daleks showing up every series for a few episodes. Seriously, look at how many races we have to play with! You can use them too we do not have to have the Daleks be the big bad again. Maybe then we can have the Doctor use something other than his sonic screwdriver to get out of a jam for once. Maybe then someone other than the Master can be the Doctor's big nemesis.

Let us summarize, the new series: 1. Revolves around the Doctor instead of the adventure. 2. Loves to fill dialogue with jokes and upstart memes instead of contributing to the plot. 3. Prefers to constantly fiddle and retcon the past instead of having something they did be final. 4. Loves to go back to the well instead of creating new things.

And yet, after all that, I am still going to tune in next week, because when everything works the show really is something special. When they go somewhere wonderfully new and meet a new race and have a rip roaring trek it is magical. It is worth all the awful. Each time I hear that music I hope this will be the episode all sins are forgiven. Sometimes I am right.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Two Years at Oracle

Today is the second year of my full time employment by Oracle. Studious readers will remember a similar article exactly one year ago on this day. There is nothing particularly important or auspicious about this day, but it is a good milestone to reflect upon the previous year.

What Did I Learn This Year?

1. Buying a house is hard when you are picky. At this point I have looked at around 20 houses or so. I have come close to making offers on two of those, but ultimately decided against it. The benefit to this is a growing down-payment which will make the purchasing easier. The downside is a a kind of purgatory where I wait for something to happen. I am going to give it a few more months and then consider more seriously a place less optimal than I would have liked. The thought of another winter, house less is decidedly unpleasant.

2. I do not have to do everything. For a few month I have been helping to oversee a project at work. It has been tough, but I am growing more accustomed to delegating things to be fixed instead of just doing myself. It is tempting to try and be the guru who knows and does everything, but this leaves no room for the team to grow and become empowered themselves. It also serves to centralize knowledge which can make maintainability troublesome in the future.

3. I have a better idea of my long term life plans. Expect an article on this to come, but I have a much better sense of how I want my career to go and how (hopefully through good planning) I can retire early and pursue a second less profitable career.

4. Investing is a big large monolithic subject, but easy to do once you clear that first hurdle. I started a small account with Betterment and I am up $10 last I checked. With continual investments every month this service (or some other endeavor I run myself) will greatly contribute to my long term goals.

5. As you remember from last year I wanted to find old friends who I had been out of contact with for some time. The good news is, in this digital age, finding old friends is easy. The hardest part is starting to talk to them. It is a lot like pulling out the knife from deep in the peanut butter jar, slow but once you finish you get a sweet reward. I have had some great success rediscovering what made us friends before.

What Am I Looking To Explore This Year?

1. Interested in doing some more metal working projects. With the great success of my foundry I want to try actually making something useful with it. Maybe a butter knife. The real problem now is making a good mold so my research will focus on that next.

2. More puzzle hunts. We have done two so far with a vast increase in success with the second one compared to the first. Hopefully we can do some more and maybe even finish one.

3. Film projects of the small variety. I really like AMVs so I want to try making a few to see how difficult they are.

4. Improve my technical skills. I said I would do it last year, and I am recommitting to that again. I learned a lot of web2.0 frameworks this year such as knockout, angular, some of the new java 1.8 enhancements (like lambdas), and a fair amount about our build tools like ant and rpm.

Things I Failed at This Year

1. Buying a house.

2. Doubling down on costuming. I did do a little work making a helmet, but I was nowhere close to making the two costumes I thought I would. I am just less interested in this than I used to be.

3. Historical reenactment. I did nothing in regards to this during the year. It is on hold until the house thing is settled.

4. Contacting my old friends. I had some success, but there are still some who elude me.

Overall, an enriching year. 6 more years to retirement? 16 seems more realistic.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Am I Making Any Sense?

I am nearing 50 posts on this little blog so an important question naturally arises after having written so much. Does anything I write or say make sense? Do people just nod along with it and then when I finally stop and leave think, "man that guy is crazy, what is he talking about?" I like to think I am Brain, but do others just hear Pinky?

An example for context. I am talking about acting to some friends, and how I am rubbish at it. So bad people would be asking "why did the filmmakers use actors from Home Depot?". That is not the exact line I said, but it is close enough. I thought it was clear enough, but all I could see were confused faces. The thing is, this is my humor. Anyone can make a joke about a person acting wooden. You have to go to that next level, where you understand everyone knows that. You build on that knowledge and layer a joke on top. A person is acting wooden, wood comes from Home Depot. Simple right? Blank stares, no laughing, failure to communicate.

It is not just jokes though. Jokes can be excused. The issue at play here is I might think I am being clear, but actually not being so. Imagine a carpenter made chairs in a sealed room. Wood comes in one side, the carpenter sends the finished chair out the other. She does this for many years and things, "I make so many chairs, I am a skilled carpenter." Meanwhile, outside the sealed room, the chair inspector keeps rejecting them and burning them for firewood. Without feedback how can any of us know if we are making a worthwhile product? I just happen to be making collections of words here though so we are even further removed from my example. Not everyone is a carpenter, but, as the internet teaches us, everyone can write.

So what is to be done? How can I know if I am clear or not? It helps if I write without error in spelling or grammar. I think I am doing that well, I have no proofreader, but myself to confirm. I study logical fallacies so that should help with my arguments, but it is so easy to fall prey to them. Discussing issues with others seems to help. Easy to establish a feedback loop. See what is working, adjust, see if it works better. If anything I am going to blame others for being too polite and not calling me out when I say something dumb or make no sense.

I hope, dear reader, you are not expecting a sudden insight with a solution to this problem because I have none. Which is why this is tagged 'Musings' and not 'Philosophy'. Just thoughts on a continuing process.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Thoughts on BFIG

Boston Festival of Indie Games was last weekend. This was my third time going to the festival which has been operating for the same period of time.

There is a very curious dynamic at play at this festival. Generally I am a very reserved individual. If you were in a charitable mood you could use the word taciturn. The point is I rarely talk to people at these things. I am more inclined to see and listen and take in what I can. Except at this convention. I talked to way more people than usual, far in excess of what is normal for me to do. I talked to just about every indie developer there. This is no joke, I went to every table and saw every game in the digital section. I even played most of them. Best of all I got to play this cooperative survival board game (After the Crash):

with this nice fellow:

the game creator. Go check out his site and buy the game when it is available it is awesome. I also played an in development real time restaurant management game. Each player played a role (I was busboy aka plate and glass washer) and helped work customers through an assembly like system. There were many sand timers and much yelling. I can see it being a great party game as it is real quick to learn, but pretty stressful to actually play well. Those two board games stood out the most. In regards to the digital section there were a lot of familiar games, either from past festivals or ones new to the festival that I had heard about prior. Some ones that stood out:

  • Anchorage Adrift: a cooperative space ship game, similar to Artemis, players are tasked with running a particular role on a space ship. A little rough technically and usability wise, but showed great promise.
  • Soda Drinker Pro and Vivian Clark: the first game is a first person soda drinking game which is hilarious. The second game is hidden within Soda Drinker and is weird and strange and has to be played. It is akin to dreaming or hallucinating. You play a rain drop that changes to whatever it touches. Also the developer is a real funny upbeat guy so that is cool too.
  • Adrift: a real polished looking arcade space shooter and tower defense hybrid. It is slick, fun, and a good coop experience. Why it still is not greenlight yet is curious.
  • Talon: a fast quake style spaceship multiplayer shooter. It reminded me of playing Unreal Tournament or other arena shooters.

Best part of all though was I got to throw my business card in one of those raffle bowls. The phone number is wrong on it though so hopefully they just send an email.

Sunday 3 August 2014

A Few Words on the Greatest American Sport

Our long dark offseason has ended with the playing of of the Hall of Fame game tonight. With that starts another season of the greatest American game, football. Not that game with the round ball, the game with the egg shaped one. I love football and many people think that is an aberration of my character. I want to explain why I love this sport so much. So its time for my favorite organizational structure, the numbered list.

1. I love the violence.

I am not going to pretend that football is not a violent game. Last year you could literally hear the screams of a player tearing up his legs on live tv. Some of the most entertaining plays in the sport involve the big crushing tackle from behind, the power of players running over one another. This in fact could easily be the downfall of the sport as it probably leads to long term damage. Despite that, it is supremely entertaining to watch huge burly men run into each other all day long. It is nothing refined, just pure, base, animalistic love of violence.

2. This is a team sport.

All the other major sports in the US (baseball, hockey, basket ball) are team sports too, but football makes full use of the team. Each play has 11 players try and work in unison to accomplish one goal. I do not mean to diminish the team play of other sports, but no other game has so many players working together at one moment. Football is a game the celebrates the accomplishment of a team first and a star player second. Sure we all hear of famous individual football players, but the actual impact these players have is the least amongst professional sports. Tom Brady may be the best QB ever, but if his receivers cannot catch or if his offensive line cannot give him enough time, the team will lose every game. Plenty of other sports focus too much on the individual or allow them to have too much of an impact. Basketball in particular is notorious for this. A real good player can make or break your team. Not so in football, it is all about the team working together.

3. This is a game of strategy.

When you have so many players on the field at once it can be a challenge to get everyone working in concert, but that is the best part of football. Watching 11 people (the offense) work in unison to accomplish a common goal is amazing. Even better you can watch 11 other people (the defense) try as team to mess that up. And this happens ever play. Plenty of other sports play lip service to the idea of their game having strategy, but their game is so fluid that it is hard to actually setup a play. To pick on soccer for a second, you can see the players try and setup, as a team, favorable situations, but everything is just moving so fast no one can really do anything but try and win their individual battles. Football stops, resets, and lets each team make a play. This allows a huge variety in plays a team can run, formations a team can field, feints, and fake outs they can make. More diversity than all these other sports means more options which means more strategy can be brought to the game.

4. Each play has many layers.

When you watch a play in football, on the surface, the actual facts of the play are very straightforward. Someone throws a pass and it gets dropped, someone tries to run the ball and gains a yard or two. The actual enjoyment in these not so showy plays is in in the details. Here is a dense example of that. The thing to know is because football is such a team game, tiny individual actions by each player combine to make big plays, or small failures. In the example of a dropped pass, you can see the receiver dropped it, but it really was not his fault because the QB had to throw it early, he had to throw early because his offensive line was not able to give him enough time to find better people to throw to, specifically it was the fault of one player who could not block his assignment. All this detail happens each play and happens to every player. It is that detail that makes both the replay so satisfying to dissect and the actual play so complicated to watch.

5. True league parity.

Every team in the NFL has a chance of winning the Super Bowl. This is because the league works real hard through salary caps, drafting rules, and trade agreements to ensure each team has a level financial field and an equal opportunity to acquire and hold on to talent. This ensures that team that were bad one year have a good shot at coming back the next year. A perfect example would be the Chiefs who went from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 in 2013. Plenty of other leagues are not so successful in this endeavors and it ensures teams wallow in mediocrity for years. Not so with the NFL which means more exciting close fought games and respect for a fan that sticks with a team in good and bad times.

So here is to another exciting season and to watching the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl again.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

The Office Walk

It has been a year since I started the full time cube life and have discovered a peculiar mostly silent communication system in play at my office. Often I find myself having to walk around the building to talk to someone, get something, stuff my face with snacks, etc. On these jaunts I may occasion to pass or see other employees. I am not sure what happens at other places of work, but here we observe the following rules based on the distance between coworkers when they first see each other.

1. If the distance is greater than 30 feet a small chest level wave will be given. This is done by raising up your hand so that it is parallel with your chest and making a slight wave. One or two 'wave' rotations is all that is necessary. Your elbow should form an angle grater than or equal to 90 degrees. Any more and you have committed too much to the wave.

2. If the distance is less than 30 feet, but greater than 10 feet short quick small talk may be exchanged (less than two sentences) or the aforementioned hand wave may be done. The small talk must follow these conversation topics:

  • Weather
  • Weekend plans
  • "Good" -day, -night, -morning, etc

3. If the distance is greater than one foot and less than or equal to 10 feet a small head nod will be observed. The coworker will nod either up 15 degrees or down 15 degrees once. The other coworker will reciprocate this head nod. This may or may not be accompanied by each coworker saying the other coworker's name.

4. Distances equal to or less than one foot should be avoided. if this rare event does occur a short office appropriate exclamation must be used. These include, but are not limited to:

  • "Oops"
  • "Sorry"
  • "Oh"

I have found carefully adhering to these rules ensures safe interoffice travel and adequate daily office socialization.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

White Collar Guilt

Have you ever felt guilty for doing the work you do? Not guilty because what you are doing is illegal, but guilty because you have it easier than others. At the risk of bragging I have. The 2012 American Community Survey estimates the median earnings for male full-time, year-round workers in Massachusetts to be $60,414. I make a non trivial amount more than that, and that is my starting salary.

Why does that make me guilty? Because there are people who work far harder who make far less. Lets look quickly at a couple examples:

  1. Construction worker: $34,490.
  2. Landscaper: $25,870.
  3. Teacher:$40,462.
  4. Police Officer:$52,810.
  5. Firefighter:$42,878.

My job is not 1/10th as hard as these jobs. No way am I cut out to get up early and go build houses or plant trees. I sweat walking up stairs, I would die trying to make it through a day. How could I even begin to start teaching kids, I can barely stand kids. Police officer, lets not joke now I can barely sound commanding to people I know let alone strangers. And firefighter, look at that job name they FIGHT FIRE. I cried the last time I burnt my hand making toast.

Now this is admittedly a small sample set. You can see I excluded people who work hard and make a lot of money like Doctors. The point is there are people who work hard who do not get rewarded. Meanwhile they are people like me who sit in a cool climate controlled environment, work at a leisurely pace, and get rewarded disproportionately. I do not mean to imply that money is the perfect metric by which to judge the relative worth of a job, but I will say that money is social power. The power to choose where you live, how much you work, the quality of food you eat, etc. There is a tipping point for sure, where each extra dollar delivers less social power than before, but I am not sure the average salaries of my examples have passed that. MIT's living wage calculator estimates for one adult the cost of living to be $26,316 if you live in Boston, MA. Granted the cost of living will be higher in a big city, but it is a decent reference point. So for everyone except a landscaper you would be good to go. What about having a family? If you are married and have two kids MIT estimates $43,683 per year. Doable with one parent not working in some cases based on my example salaries. Probably pretty comfortable if both are working. So these are livable salaries, but are they fair for the work?

That is what makes me feel guilty.

Thursday 29 May 2014

I Miss Market Basket (Sometimes)

Couple years ago (six or so to be more exact) I was dirt broke. Never was much of a spender. The less charitable might have used the term miser. Still when you make zero dollars you can only ever go down. It was this point in time where I realized I would need a job. I shot high with my first few attempts. Gamestop seemed like a good fit. I had a friend who worked there, could always use a discount on games, I am knowledgeable about the subject. I had an interview (which is farther than some other people I knew got), but no call back. I moved on. I know some other people who worked at the local CVS and BJs. Got nothing back from my online CVS application so that was bust. Got an interview at BJs, but I seem to recall saying I preferred to work alone. Many people have called this a 'poor move' which seemed to be accurate as I never got a return call. I tried some local independent bookstores, but go no bites from them. It was this desperate state of affairs that forced me to consider the grocery store business. I had thought about this before, but I was admittedly unexcited about the idea. Here is a quick rundown of how I would have rated part time jobs back then:

1. Paid to do nothing

2. Gamestop

3. Bookstore

....

567. Test subject for radiation experiments

568. Live fire missile target

569. Grocery store

560. A life of destitution and poverty

Granted it is not at the bottom of the list, but it comes in pretty close. That said, bank account was trending toward zero and Anime Boston was coming up. Man has got to make ends meet yo. Why Market Basket? Why not the closer Shaws or Stop and Shop? No real particular reason, a person I knew who worked there suggested it to me. The thing to know about Market Basket is they are mad cheap. As in we do not run a website we are so cheap. As in we print half sized job applications because the full size application would cost to much. That is the kind of place they are. The kind of place I worked at for four years. The kind of place I wore a tire, a button up white shirt, fancy pants, and dress shoes. I remember cleaning up an oil spill once in my nice white shirt once. Half the difficulty is in staying clean for a day. So why do I miss it? What could there even be to miss? Long tedious hours, a pay slightly above the minimum, constant interaction with people. This is the place I got yelled at because a man wanted a few extra dollars off on a cooked chicken, a place where one day I cut my hand to pieces picking up shattered glass, a place where I spent all day sweating it out pushing carriages in that hot Bellingham summer. My job now is luxurious, a quiet uninterrupted climate controlled environment to play with digital legos. And to think they pay me to do it too. How could I even think to compare what I have now with what I had before? Yet it is true, my job now lacks what I had before: joyful communal torture.

I miss the struggle of trying to last through a day. The pure stress of not being sure if you can stand one more hour, but pulling through anyways. It is not just that however, I miss struggling together with everyone else like me. Market Basket was stratified into two classes of employees: long term lifers and short term teenagers. The split of about 200 employees was about 40% lifers and 60% teenagers. That is not the split where I work now. It is more of an even breakdown of ages. Back then it was thrilling to work with so many people like me. All at near about the same place in life, similar hopes and dreams. There is an inexpressible joy in struggling together with everyone. We were challenged together and did it together everyday. It sounds incredibly sappy to write that, but since leaving I have not found that feeling again. It is probably for the better too, I can only endure so many stressful days. But you cannot replace those frighteningly strong burst of comradery. It is what motivated me to fill in other people's shifts, what kept me sane, what kept me still working.

I work for myself now, but back then I worked for others.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

One Year at Oracle

Today is a reasonably important day for me. It is my one year anniversary of starting my first full time big boy job at Oracle. Although a year ago it was called Tekelec, so things have changed somewhat since then. I would not call my year spent at Oracle eventful, but I have gleamed some new insight that I would like to share.

What Did I Learn This Year?

1. I am much calmer than I once was. The four years I spent in college were stressful and not very enjoyable. There were certainly light moments at school, but I found it increasingly difficult as I progressed to enjoy them. I never was able to forgot my obligations. That sounds awfully stiff, but college was an incredible investment in time and expense the ultimate success of which was 100% dependent on me. I feel as if I spent four years vacillating from total despair to apathy. It was not pleasant. Now though, having spent the last year working, I have found a deep tranquility. It is very calming to have an ordered day. I know what times are for work and what times are not. I attribute this clear distinction to the big gains in calm I have found. At school I never could quite turn off. I always seemed to spend a lot of time needlessly worrying. That is not a concern anymore.

2. I understand how people get old. This was a frightening realization. Previously I understood the physical act of getting old, but the length of time it took to get there seemed very long to me. After working a few weeks it is easy to see how you can just put your head down, concentrate on work, and look up a little while later and be 40. Not to say that 40 is 'old', but that time can pass by more easily now that you have a set unending schedule. It is scary to me that my job has no end point. It just keeps going until an outside force acts upon it. Akin to starting into a void, just an endless expanse. It may be enjoyable time spent, but the idea of action having no end is unsettling to me.

3. I have less free time, but the time that I have I enjoy more. This relates to point one. In school I never could turn off. I always worried about the next assignment, exam, evaluation. There always was that nagging thought that I should be studying more, revising more. When I punch out at the end of the day that is it. Sometimes I find myself idly spinning work problems in my mind, but I have no obligation to work beyond my set contract. To put another way, work has established, for my benefit, clear boundaries in time between work and non-work. As a consequence I have found my time outside of work to be much less stressful even if I have less of it.

4. I love side projects. I love having little things to work on outside of my job. It does not have to be technical (although I do enjoy those too), I just like different problems to work on. For me this has taken the form of costume work, prop building, etc. I spend a lot of my day working on abstract technical problems, spending time working on a more physical problem domain is a refreshing context switch. My skills in this regard are meager, but I feel the cycle of busting something out and reviewing what I produced have resulted in marked improvements in quality and speed.

5. I solve problems and I love doing it. This is a brag on my part, but I have learned I work best solving tough problems. The solution is not always pretty, but it will work. There is nothing more satisfying than solving a problem someone thought was impossible.

6. I am liking this blog thing. This is a recent discovery, but I really do like writing up blog entries. It is nice if people end up reading them, but irrelevant as for the most part I find the mere act of writing to be very therapeutic.

What Am I Looking To Explore This Year?

1. Buying a house. It is time to start pursing this seriously. I know what I want, I have the resources to pursue it, and I am confident enough in my job stability and future outlook to consider more permanent residence. The idea of making such a big bet, especially given how unpredictable things can be, is concerning, but not enough to dissuade me. I am excited to see how this will turn out.

2. Double down on the costuming. Along with this being my year anniversary at Oracle it is also the anniversary of when I first started making costumes and props. I had some major successes in that regard this year, and also some major failures. I looking to complete two costumes this year. A Vostroyan Firstborn from 40K and a Anatoray Soldier from Last Exile. More information to follow.

3. Continue to improve my technical skills. This is going to be a recurring goal. I should be learning new technical skills every day. If I continue to make small incremental gains daily it will eventually add up.

4. Look into historical reenacting. Always had a interest in history and would like the chance to gain a more in depth understanding by taking up reenacting, specifically American Civil War. There is some expense to this, but I would like to investigate some options more thoroughly this year.

5. Find old friends. Seems five years after high school some friends I used to know quite well have phased out of contact. This is my fault. I should work harder to retain what I have and recultivate what has been lost. I miss the insight and experience they once provided.

One year down, seven more to go (shooting for the retire by 30 plan).