A Post out of Principle

Why do I blog? Because it is here. What’s on my mind?

First, I need to be writing, but I am not. What I am doing is coming up with ever better details and plot points as I research this and that obscure set of information. And that’s nice, since I think of a thing and jot it down in my ever-present electronic journal that’s automagically up to date whether in my pocket or at my desk. Lots of notes in there. But they’re only notes. The actual writing is hard work, and I still have a lot to learn about turning on my magic-maker when all my impulses aim towards taking care of life. I have a lot of life to take care of. These writers who are single and live alone piss me off.

Not really. You who know who you are know you’re not who I mean. I’m just whining about circumstance.

When I was a kid and Mom would go away for the weekend I’d sit under my trusty Royal (the one Mom used to type up Dad’s doctoral thesis in 1953) and pretty much write fiction all day and night. It was nothing but juvenile shit derived from rereading Conan books, but it was something. I had the ability to focus and create. This is the ability that after several decades of family and corporate living I want to recapture. I have not yet done so outside a few precious moments.

Meanwhile my plot is fricking brilliant. I’m passionate about historical accuracy and I love browsing old newspapers and have come up with unexpected turns driven be real events that happened on the dates I have them happen. And it doesn’t even matter if anyone notices. Someone will, but while historical fiction is better if it’s accurate, it’s still fairly worthless if it isn’t fun. So my dream is to write a great story that really could have happened. A lot of historical fiction has migrated away from my nightstand for failing in this area.

Second, I take a lot of pictures and have nowhere to put them. I put a few up on Facebook, but it seems annoyingly self-serving to show all the fun things. And yes, even if it’s not on Facebook, it did happen. I just wish for a better means of remembering things that happened than storing hundreds of gigabytes of non-annotated photographs. Is there a business opportunity of some sort, a market for very personal photo-essays? Perhaps, if the writing is outstanding AND the pictures are too. But just thinking about it is an awful lot of work already.

I’m told I have a good eye. Some of my pictures are really great. Even if taken on a smartphone. Oftentimes because. Apart from the little plastic lens, smartphones have much smarter photographic guts than any camera I’ve ever owned. Pretty amazing what you can capture with them these days. But good eye or not, I see lots of things and have a strong impulse to see if I can keep them as I saw them.

Which suggests an opportunity. As the technology advances, more and more people are going to be saving their pictures. Very few spend much time organizing them. They require an assistant, and an AI of some sort that takes care of this for us all would be very helpful and popular. Something that can analyze the date and location and content and automatically put pictures into categories and albums with useful tags would be great. It’s completely feasible. I just don’t think AI is advanced enough yet. And I am absolutely not positioned to do anything about it. Maybe if I were some genius who worked at Google, I could use my 20% time on it.

Speaking of living life while not writing and taking lots of pictures, shortly before sunrise of New Year’s Day we met a genius who worked at Google and spent his 20% time on a project that made him rich. It was quite an interesting visit. But the man has a fairly extensive writeup at Wikipedia and I’m not comfortable sharing info and risking an invasion of his privacy. Here’s one clue: His penthouse apartment complete with roof garden overlooks the Old Mint, located here.

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Some of the shadowy Mint in the foreground with the Chronicle behind.

Tempted to make a NYE album — we were all over the place this weekend — but, eh.

Third … I could make a third subject. Any of many that come to mind would do. But this is long enough. Whatever this blog is for, here it is.

Oh, third, it’s 2017 and time to rename this thing. Removing the 16 from the title.

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F*ckin’ This and That

This.

F*ckin’ website techie nonsense. I wrote a comment at a friend’s Blogger blog and wanted to be identified with this blog here. Signing in as WordPress was an option. But it came back and said it could not verify my OpenID credentials. I have no fucking clue what that’s supposed to mean, and there was no little ‘?’ button to learn from. I did a little searching but of course that only led to a rathole of webmaster shit without answers. It might be some kind of thing you sign up for, I don’t f*ckin’ know.

That.

F*ckin’ DAPL protests. In my world it’s become a given that the Dakota Access Pipe Line represents Capitalist White America and its Oil Man Running Dogs running roughshod over Indians to protect a city full of white people from oil spills. I even have a couple friends with significant protest experience who’ve spent time in the blizzards and so on, and when I met one of them face to face (17 mutual FB friends; her heritage is mostly Native American) she nearly had me in tears. But a FB comment from Someone On The Other Side inspired me to look a few things up myself and now I don’t know which side has the more effective liars and impassioned dupes. The dupes on either side are, of course, quite sincere and believe strongly in what they are doing. But the facts I found contradict some of the background a more “progressive” FB feed gives one, and I just, aargh. And these days it’s not hard to imagine a certain foreign power using this as yet another thread in their multilevel chess game to distract and fracture the American people so that their government is more and more divided and unable to make the right strategic decisions. It’s already beyond ironic that so much anti-establishment news and outlook comes to us via RT.

Still Regrouping in 2016

I came down to the main branch of the library to get some quiet without the distractions of food and housework etc. I decided that as much as I should concentrate on obtaining an income, I must not abandon my writing project. I’ve been away from it long enough to make restarting difficult, and also long enough to have rethought so many things my efforts so far need a complete overhaul. I want to ignore the just-keep-going advice and start over. To this end, for the sake of one of the early chapters, I need to become an expert on the arcane details of early 1850s telegraphy. To that end, I need the right research materials. Internet and catalog searches do not assure me that they exist. But details are important, so I need to learn what there is to learn and extrapolate what I need to know from basic technical common sense.

I look around this room, three floors up and across I St from City Hall, and I see mostly men about my age quietly going about their business online, business every bit as obscure to me as mine is to them. We all seem to be of a type. Time has moved along, and we no longer have any particular role to play. Now, I could have a role to play, if I pushed hard enough along very specific paths related to my experience and expertise. But I haven’t been terribly motivated. The reality of ageism is a poor excuse for it but my motivation to go work for someone else remains weak. I really would rather create my own sources of income. How I can do that to any significant degree remains the mystery.

I can’t, is the reality-based answer, apart from just working within someone else’s plan. I am not engineer or driver enough to create a technology company, however small. If I’m going to do something significant on my own, it’s going to be something ridiculously unlikely such as writing exactly the right book. But if I could fill my days as I please, after defeating the mental monsters that leave me vulnerable to distractions and immediate needs, I would be writing that book and learning how to make programmable lighting displays. The latter is for the business we have going, and it’s nothing new. I know people who were doing things with intelligent structures of LEDs five years ago that I haven’t a clue how to do today. But it’s a fun-looking direction to go in with some growth yet in it. And it’s interesting to recall that I was dreaming of doing exactly that when I first became a technical person in 1981.

Yep. In ’81 I got my first technician job, for a company that made digital displays for cable TV. They’d sell to whatever cable company a box that allowed the company to put text on one or more of their channels, say for a viewing guide or what have you. As I recall, the central computing power was an 800-series microcontroller from National Semi. They also used those old nonvolatile memory chips in ceramic packages that could only be erased by shining UV light through the little window. Somehow I picked up that a memory device could be used as a control unit. All you do is access the contents via memory addresses, and use the resulting data as control words for whatever. It did no processing, of course, but if you set up your 1s and 0s correctly, it didn’t need to. I recall thinking how cool it would be to take something like that to control a vast array of LEDs of various colors for use as a display, say for the background at a rock concert. I even wondered if there was a way to affect the display with the music.

I followed my usual path and did nothing with this idea. I’ve never been one to put truly significant effort into any idea of my own. Or anything else for that matter. I’ve accomplished a lot because I’m talented and smart, not because I’m hard-working and driven. But Sunya is all of those things, and I’m trying, by fits and starts, to catch on.

Thus this post-Intel regrouping continues, and will continue for some time yet. I’m sometimes more willing to start digging in to my 401(k), with all the taxes and penalties implied, than to go find forty-plus-hour work to get paid for. I’m not young, and it would be nice to seriously try something of my own.

Well, my parking meter is about run down by now, and the day’s half done so I may as well toodle along home. My great challenge these days is to find a way to dive deep into my mind and produce. In other words, relearn how to hyperfocus. I did that well when I was a teenager with a typewriter or a college student with a board layout job. But family life and career cured me of the ability well over twenty years ago. Getting it back feels very important, and very difficult.

Three Questions for “Ladies”

After our flu surrendered just in time to allow us to work an event at the Crocker Art Museum, and after that, and after hanging out at a friend’s house, we got antsy and went out dancing.

Question One. If when you were a young woman the dance clubs had signs like this posted prominently, would your social life have been different in any way?

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Some things are better now than when we were “young”. Let us not forget that while being cranky about all the ways the world now sucks.

Question Two. Is it weird that I decided this observation can’t go on Facebook? I decided that because a lot of, probably most, of my friends there are young enough to render Question One kind of weird and pointless.

Question Three. Am I the only one who first saw the asterisks as quotation marks and had a moment’s smirk at what subliminal message was being sent, that actually wasn’t being sent? I am? Of course. Figures.

 

Thirty Two Boxes

The flu hit me last night. Over the weekend I was semi-confident it would never catch me, because Sunya was thoroughly miserable and I was not. I was fine. Now she’s a lot better and I’m a lot worse. There are no digestive symptoms, barely any sniffles, just a feeling all over my body that I somehow pissed off Evander Holyfield.

That, however, cannot stop me. I do need a job, and while I’m resigned to accepting contract work out of the Bay Area if that’s all there is, a local job did drift into my perception recently that is very nearly perfect. I have to some degree or other all the engineering skills called for, and I know at least one engineer at the company whom I worked with pre-Intel. A problem is my resume isn’t ready for it and I can barely keep my head up. By ready I mean edited per the feedback from a professional resume-tweaker as well as per the requirements of that particular job. But there’s another problem. Some of that work I haven’t done in over twenty years and I really need to pull out some old textbooks and get refreshed.

A short while ago I posted a picture of my office and mentioned that there is a tall stack of boxes between it and the wall. That stack is four boxes wide and eight boxes tall. Usually when we stack things in boxes we end up with little idea of what is in which box. But somehow I know exactly where my old textbooks are. They’re in the box on the floor against the rear wall. They’re in the very last box, under and behind every other.

I can find whatever I need on the web. I guess that’s what I’ll do. I just feel it will come back to me more swiftly if it’s in an actual paper book that I referred to regularly back in … back in the day. Gawd. 1991.

That brings up another problem. The resume-tweaking career-change counseling service advises you remove dates from your resume that are from more than ten years ago. Ageism is real. But a lot of my interesting and relevant work was from far more than ten years ago. And it’s not obsolete. I wasn’t a programmer. Analog design has fundamentals that don’t change. All you get are better devices to choose from. The fundamentals of using modern op-amps have been the same since the 1960s.

I guess I’ll just say I was at Intel starting in 1995 and lump everything else under “Prior Work.” Who knows. Thanks to this illness I’m —  Okay, no more negativity! Go team.

Restart, No Start 

Probably too insensitive or otherwise inappropriate for Facebook, so I wonder only here how many young people, dissatisfied with their lives, angry at their parents, would consider using the opportunity of being one of the missing after a warehouse rave fire to go ahead and disappear completely. I know there was a time in my young life I would have considered it. 

Only briefly. I wasn’t nearly angry enough. And I’d have been even less angry if I had enough social connection to be at such a party. 

But surely the idea fits someone here and there. It’s unspeakably cruel to friends and family to fake your death. Not on a par with suicide, but headed that way. There are people confused enough to consider it, maybe even try it for a few days. Coming back would be hard, but unavoidable. 

Well, there’s a short story idea. Being the typical writer type, I’ve come up with a pretty good short story idea, and am now going to replace a door and then work down a to-do list that has no writing on it. 

Scribble Time 

I’ve been in bed and scribbling into this phone for hours. You’d think I’d want a break. 

There were a lot of social things on the calendar for tonight, and all day I wondered which I’d end up at. I’ve been feeling socially deprived lately. But that’s a complex phenomenon and subject to much revision. And as the day faded into evening, I wanted less to go out and more to stay in and keep my very sick girl company. So I did. There will be plenty of other weekends. 

The tragic fire at a warehouse artist collective in Oakland bears reflection, but it’s all been said. Yes, any of the victims could have been me or close friends. But they weren’t, and as humans at some remove do, we move on. 

We lay here, she being miserable, me eating snacks, and watched a 2001 movie called Heartbreakers. It was fun. In time she passed out (yay for painkillers) and I found myself FB PM’ing with a new friend. Story is this. 

In a Facebook group dedicated to growing up in the Bay Area, someone posted a link to a YouTube video of the old electric commuter trains that ran through my neighborhood before my time. I was super jazzed because there was a three second clip of a red SP car making the turn, in about 1940, from Solano Ave onto Colusa Ave, which are in the North Berkeley neighborhood I grew up in. The Oaks Theater where I saw Bond movies in the 60s was in the background. There were no tracks when I was a kid, but I remember a concrete strip that came down Solano and angled through the gas station as it turned into Colusa. Only recently did I realize that was where they had pulled out  the railroad tracks. Seeing film of a train making that turn made my day. (I grew up on Colusa about three blocks south of Solano.) 

The next film on YouTube happened to be a tribute to the F train, so I watched that too. The F bus was the bus you took from our neighborhood to San Francisco. The F train did the same thing on the same route back in the old train days. This guy had made a little movie about it for his mother, who grew up in the neighborhood and loved the trains. I left a comment. 

Some hours later, he sent me a PM. He’d noticed that we both went to Berkeley High School. We had a few mutual friends but as it happened he graduated four years after me. 

His YouTube handle was different than his Facebook name. It looked oddly familiar. My name was familiar to him too, actually. We pondered back and forth until Aha!  Turns out he’s on the team that reviews applications for Burning Man mutant vehicles. We had interacted over mine back in 2010. His YouTube handle was also his playa name. 

We had a great long conversation about Burning Man and mutant vehicles and maker spaces and high school drama and electric trains and railroad museums etc. Definitely the highlight of the evening. 

Honestly, I don’t regret not going out into the bitter cold to party with my friends at an old bar in Auburn. I would like to have gone, but this evening staying in was better. 

Deconstructing Reluctance

I rarely know when starting a new post if the effort will just sort of end about halfway through and never get published. Sometimes one just wants to write in a more public space.

But not too public. That’s what Teeter Tottering is supposed to be for. Clearly I’ve had little to say that I want to put there.

My job search hasn’t really started yet. I mean really started, as in treated like a job worked on for several hours every day. A part of me just doesn’t want to. For example, I got a query letter yesterday from a recruiter describing a contract job that touches on all the right skills. I replied, and he replied asking for a phone number so we could talk. Suddenly I’m all NOOO AAAH MUST CLEAN POOL. I’ll have to do it soon. But. But!

But what? I’m not ready, as in I haven’t been studying up on the things I know and the things I want to know better in order to give a good interview. I’m still in the space where if I go to an interview I’ll just wing it with whatever I happen to have. And that isn’t good enough by any stretch.

And why haven’t I been preparing? Well, beyond the attractive alternatives that surround me (and I’m told that a feature of being ADD is that when faced with multiple tasks, it’s very hard to tell which ones are important), I have to recognize that when in my office my mind reflects my environment, and this place is ridiculous. I’ve known for months that a necessity for working again has been to clean up and organize this place. Well, I did that for the garage pretty well. But I have a lot of shit that can’t go in the garage or the attic or anywhere else — I have a desk covered in whatever whatever that is two and a half feet away from the wall because that wall is hidden behind tall stacks of boxes — and I also have a table covered in whatever whatever plus computer stand, printer, monitor, and attendant wires, and stretched between them a workbench made of boards on which I repaired a laptop or phone or two but which is also covered with whatever whatever. Before I really fix up this room I need to deal with all this whatever whatever, and it is really hard to classify and deploy. It’s nearly axiomatic that a pile of whatever is made up of things that didn’t have a place to go hence still do not have a place to go. If not the trash, then I need to define yet another place for each of those things to go. And that quickly becomes an overwhelming and intimidating idea.

I was successful though in doing so in the garage. It still has large artworks and octahuts and supplies and pieces and things, but it also has walking room and working room and more shelves serving as places to keep things I want access to such as cable ties and shop manuals and tools. I was successful because I just went in and did it. I’ve been successful with a similar process in the office only when I’m willing to haul a bunch of shit out into the hallway and leave it there while dealing with other stuff — and then go through both sets of stuffs and find things to sell / donate / shitcan. I guess my plan for the remainder of today can be a) finish extracting leaves from the pool despite the cold weather because tomorrow is the green-waste pickup, b) call that guy and talk about hardware engineering contracts, and c) process this pile of receipts, file that pile of papers, and then “deploy” more of this crap. What crap? Fine, here’s a picture.

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“Office”, 30 Nov 2016

A Little Backbone Please 

A week and a half ago I discovered that under the years of dead leaves that had decayed into two inches of dirt, I had a concrete walkway along the side of my house. I raked and shoveled it clear, thus creating a big pile of dirt to dispose of. The city comes around periodically for just this sort of thing so I hauled it out front. Since I had an only partially dismantled fence to port it through, I had to lift it. No place for wheelbarrows. My first attempt was to shovel it onto a tarp and wrap that up and carry it. Bad idea.

I’m strong and got the job done but a day and a half later I couldn’t get out of bed. Not right away. I managed, and went about life, but from then on my lower back hurt like the dickens when I attempted to use it for almost anything. Ibuprofen made zero difference. A massage might have, but I didn’t make the request. I felt fairly debilitated; but not with nearly so much pain as my housemate endures all the time, so I tried not to complain. And over time the pain subsided, as muscle-strain pain will.

All but one sharp point of pain about three inches to the right of my spine in the concave curvature. That one ain’t going away. It pulls me up short at unexpected moments. I’ve a growing sense that finally, after all these years, I’ve done some damage that time and hot water jets cannot repair. I guess it’s my welcome to being almost sixty.

(Which chronological fact is hard to internalize given how many of my friends are between 28 and 45 …)

Random Rants about Recruiters, Telephones, Cheating on Girlfriends, etc.

Third day in a row blabberblogging at a cafe in the general vicinity of the middle school on the eastern edge of downtown. The weather’s beautiful and it just feels wrong to be at home when I should be out at a job somewhere. This is a recent and fairly sudden shift. All of a sudden I am wanting for a strategy, because these calls from recruiters with nearly impenetrable Indian accents don’t feel like they’re actually going to go anywhere. I feel as though my name has fallen into a database owned by some second- or third-tier talent firm and that just isn’t good enough.

* * *

That was all I had to say. Now I’m home, no longer at a cafe, getting thoroughly sick of phone calls. Beginning to decide that any recruiter who calls rather than sends an email is worthless. Especially when I can barely understand what they say. Is it racist to have a hard time with some impenetrable accent? No, it isn’t, though a scam artist tried to manipulate me into such a position yesterday. I said he didn’t sound like Microsoft technical support and he started to argue with me. I stuck to my guns, though, that he was being unprofessional. I never said a word about accent but that’s what he was fishing for. Clearly I was in whatever state we are in when we give time enough for that

It’s depressing. Monster sends word of contract engineering jobs in Sacramento. Five came up today. Four of them are in software, and the fifth clearly at the company I can’t go to. (And wouldn’t want to. I was there for years and years and never wanted to be a Verification Engineer and there’s no way I’m going to suddenly apply to do that as a temp.) I don’t think software, for all its popularity, is a great gig either. You spend your entire time on your ass coding or in meetings, and from what I know the contract jobs are sweatshop positions with impossible deadlines that eat up your life. At least in hardware and board designs the work is sometimes visually appealing.

* * *

Speaking of the annoyance of phone calls, an old old friend gave a rare comment and then sent a PM. The PM was nothing but some anti-Trump article. I wrote back to ask how he was. He said fine and asked for my number and a good time to call. I know the problem is me, but that effectively killed the conversation.

Which is weird and anti-social of me. He lives in Puerto Rico. We roomed together in the 1980s. It was because of his outgoing nature that I met my wife.

* * *

Do you ever wish you could go back to before some event or other and start over? After a couple three years of marriage I understood that we should have broken up after our first year of dating. We didn’t because a) I have a strong loyalty / longevity-of-relationship strain that probably grew, like the hard wood on the lee side of a tree, when I was a child and my brother died and my father moved away and my mother busied herself with 1960s dating and 1970s self-empowerment and b) she was convinced we belonged together and I held her opinion in higher esteem than my own and c) I was at that age (~30) when the nesting instinct overpowers all reason. When Jose picked up on her and then I went out with her (breaking the bros before hos rule but there ya go) she was perfect for what I needed at the time. I cheated on her a year later though and when that went sour took the wrong lesson, i.e. that going back to her after cheating meant we were meant for each other rather than that cheating on her in the first place meant we were not. Still we had two incredibly wonderful children and lived a mostly happy married life of twenty-two years, marred only by the inescapable leakage from somewhere deep inside us both that we knew we wouldn’t last. It sprang from different sources. In me, that I was unsatisfied and Just Knew that the woman I was meant for was still out there mixed with a lack of any real conviction for the permanence of marriage, and in her from picking up clues that I had no idea I was revealing.

That’s one interpretation. There can be many others.

So, if I could design a trip back in time, what would I change? Thing is, if I retain memory of the life I’ve lived, then a trip back would be such an incredible experience that questions of specific relationships would not be the most interesting aspects; whereas if I did not, everything would go the same way. The thing is to go back with just a few snippets of wisdom somehow implanted, and I don’t know how to do that. The important thing is that it could form the basis for an interesting story.

When I was younger and even less mature I frequently daydreamed about a magical trip back in time so I could fix or change things. I don’t do that anymore. But I used to and pretty soon they turned into ruminations on the possibilities in fiction, since sometimes writing fiction seems like the only way to live out a fantasy. In these cases, the stories would inevitably turn into moral lessons on the futility of second chances. My favorite second-chance story idea is actually still kind of creepy-cool. I should use it for a writing exercise.

* * *

Up above when “That was all I had to say,” I had found myself sitting at a table at Weatherstone falling into negative spaces I had no business writing about, across from an impossibly adorable blonde about my own age whom I chatted with briefly, and I just couldn’t come up with any blog-worthy ramblation. Instead I sat there distracted by Facebook and my job-search and pondering the for-me eternal question of how people meet each other. I met a woman at a cafe in Austin, TX, once, and took her to dinner that night (nothing else), and my sweetheart back home was fine with it (of course, or I wouldn’t have). But that as it turned out was an exceedingly rare sort of occurrence. People like me need a lot of small things to line up fairly perfectly for that to happen. I still have, and probably always will have, a strong reluctance to break my perception of the social contract whereby a woman, especially an attractive one who therefore gets lots of unsolicited attention, shall get no unsolicited attention from me. Even after all these years, my instincts tell me they have had enough of that shit and don’t want any of mine. It’s too bad because I know it isn’t true. But I only know it academically. I’m shy, you know. It’s a terminal condition. And anyway, she was with a dude; albeit a dude twenty or thirty years her junior who was probably in no way a social obstacle. Doesn’t matter.

These are the random moments with which I add up my days.

* * *

Friend of mine works for GoPro, which from the outside looks like an enormously successful manufacturer of products everyone wants and uses, but is really a sweatshop. Of course it is, there’s no other way to succeed. So I look at the highly attractive wording in an electronics design job at Fitbit, and think, uh huh, it’s all right here: “You will work on system- and circuit-level modeling, PCB design and layout, hardware bringup, and embedded FW development to rapidly build successful prototypes.” That looks like a whole lot of fun, and includes skills I either have, or that I would have if I had spent my time in smaller companies doing what I wanted rather than fitting in to the pigeonholes of a huge corporation. But there’s this one alarming yet absolutely necessary word: rapidly. This tells us that their campus of “modern buildings located at the heart of SOMA” is pretty much home for the energetic young visionaries who work there late into the night with just enough time for a shower and a nap in their shared artist loft in the Mission before they head back for work. No place for an old guy with a house up in another metropolitan area.

* * *

You ever write a bunch of stuff and then forget all about it until the next day? Publishing whatever this is now.