Saturday September 10, 2005

We Are The Web

Ten years ago, Netscape went public, bringing the WWW to the attention of Wall Street and the masses. The masses took the Web as their own.

Kevin Kelly published an excellent article on the Web phenomenon of the decade in the August issue of Wired magazine. My own comments, on both the Wired article and my own experience, are posted in my "commentary" weblog.

Read my `commentary'.

We Are The Web - posted at Sat, 10 Sep, 00:11 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday October 31, 2004

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

Happy Halloween

Heart's Gladness is... Halloween Memories

Anibat1-5 My sister and I never wore "store-bought" costumes for Halloween (those stiff nylon things with plastic masks). Our mother was a consummate seamstress and a very creative person (she's still creative although I don't think she sews much anymore). Our costumes were always home-made and definitely creative.

One year I was an... I'm not sure what she was exactly... but I was a little round lady in a red and white polka dotted dress, with a mob cap and a frilly parasol. Whatever she was, I loved her dearly and played dressup in the costume for years after.

Frank1-6 One year I was Frankenstein's monster; the monster was about 7 feet tall. His monster's head was made from a KFC bucket, covered in white paper and colored green, with eyes and hair made from construction paper (and ears that stuck out!). I held a crosspiece of 2x2 wood which wore the monster's shirt (a stuffed sweatshirt of my Dad's, with stuffed arms). I also wore a pair of my Dad's pants (belted just under my arms) and pair of his shoes. The trick-or-treat bag was attached to the monster's hands (in stuffed gloves). I could barely see, looking down at my feet beyond the hem of the shirt and my sister, dressed as Igor, guided me around. It was a great costume.

Tort1-2 One year (of course) I was a witch; my sister was a black cat that year. Another year I recall we were both clowns in yellow and blue Harlequin costumes.

We never went door to door exactly. Our parents would put us in the car and we'd drive around town to friends' and relatives' houses. We had lots of fun (and plenty of treats) and our parents always knew where we were and whose houses we were visiting.

Pump1-6 Pump1-22 Our whole family carved pumpkins which we'd sit in the front windows of the house. In the very early years we put them on the front porch but after the year we woke to find pieces in the street we always kept the pumpkins inside. We'd light them ever night until they started to fall in on themselves.

My Halloween candy usually lasted till Christmas. I especially loved candy corn. Candy1-1

In fact, one year when I was about... 5? I asked for "a suitcase full of candy corn" for Christmas! Santa came through (ok, it was a very small suitcase and it held one bag of candy corn). I was told later by one of the elves that they had a very difficult time locating any candy corn in Central Pennsylvania in December!

Halloween was a lot of fun for me as a kid.



Halloween Clip-art images from Cavern of Clipart
Ghosts of Halloweens Past - posted at Sun, 31 Oct, 21:36 Pacific

Sunday May 02, 2004

Weekly Wrap-up (Apr 25 - May 01)

April marked Rich's and my 21st anniversary, Squirrel's 4th anniversary with us and Raven's 1st anniversary! Happy, happy, everybody!

The weather for the first half of last week was HOT — record high temperatures caused by a strong high pressure ridge. Yuck. We opened windows, turned on fans, and wore shorts. The weather finally broke on Thursday and the rest of the week was lovely, sunny, clear, and warm but not too hot.

Raven and Bebop had their annual health checkups on Monday morning. Neither of them enjoyed it much. I was treated to kitty stereo on the drive to and from the vet. AwroOOOOO.

On Tuesday night, Rich gave a talk for the San Francisco Perl Users Group (SFPUG). The title was "Modularity through Frozen Data Structures" and discussed his current project. Rich is doing "document mechanization" for a software development project at SLAC (the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center). Every morning, his scripts harvest the latest information from the build tree, turn it into YAML, and then produce several hundred web pages (most with generated diagrams) and a scattering of PDF files.

We had a minor snafu at the beginning, when it turned out that the projector had not been left in the designated place that afternoon and was not to be found! But we persevered. Rich gave a short talk on the science of the project while Quinn (current captain of SFPUG) went off to get a 21-inch monitor. Then Rich plugged the laptop into the monitor, hooked up to the web, and gave the rest of the talk with visual aids.

We had about a dozen attendees. I think everything went well.

Wednesday, I had a job interview. I thought it went very well. Apparently, so did the people on the other side of the table because I got a call on Thursday evening to ask when I could come in on Friday to sign various papers so we could move forward. Whoo hoo! So, on Friday afternoon, that's what I did. I have a 6-week contract (possibly extensible (I hope!)), starting Tuesday.

Friday night we discovered, to our dismay, that one of our favorite restaurants, a Greek place in Burlingame, is no longer there! We'd just been there a few weeks ago; there was no indication they were pulling out. But on Friday night the building was empty. There's another branch that opened in San Francisco three years ago; we may go there sometime, but it's a lot farther. Sigh. I hate it when restaurants we like disappear; it wasn't as if they didn't have much business. They always seemed to be doing well.

My latest Two Cents comment was published on Friday. The question was: "How much would you pay for a gallon of gas".

Rich wandered up to Forestville on Saturday morning to visit friends so I was on my own after lunch. I mostly spent the day reading and napping with cats. I had dinner with a friend at Fresh Choice, a restaurant I like but Rich doesn't much care for, so I take the opportunity to go whenever he is out of town. I ate too much but the peach streusel cake was sooo good!

I finished The Tail of the Tip-Off, the latest in paperback from Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown, a good series for lovers of mysteries and cats (or dogs) and started another book before bed.

In between and around the rest, I've had several naps, some excellent meals (Joe's does the best pork chops :-), interesting conversations with Spouse and friends, and many snuggles with the cats. I've "chatted" several times with my Dad, kept my weblogs reasonably up to date, enjoyed my many mailing lists, and exchanged letters with my Mom. It's been a good week, overall.

Weekly Wrap-up (Apr 25 - May 01) - posted at Sun, 02 May, 12:40 Pacific

Saturday May 01, 2004

Career Epiphany

e·piph·a·ny (n)
  1. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.
  2. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.

Before you can do any thinking "outside the box" you need to realize that there is a box and that you've placed yourself within in. For the past two decades, I have been almost constantly rethinking my career path — the kind of work I like to do, the types of jobs I like (and don't like). Periodically, I'll have small insights when I learn something about myself.

At least ten years ago, I made a set of Pro and Con lists, variously entitlted, Programmer, System Administrator, Tech Support, Quality Lead. In the years that followed, I added Technical Writer and Webmaster to the lists. I added a list of generic Preferences and another for Interest Areas. But I was still thinking inside my box.

Last week, I had a job interview. One of the interviewers looked at my resume and commented that I have done many different things and held many positions — programmer, tech writer, quality lead, web weaver. Then he asked a thought-provoking question:

"What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you really love to do?"

Good question.

I thought about it, and then I said "quality, process, and documentation". We talked some more, but my brain continued to churn over the question.

Write or code? Code or write?

For many years, I have been struggling with the question of "what do I want to do with my job". I've reconsidered many times what I want to do, what sort of job I want. As a result, I've had many different types of jobs, including Unix programmer, part-time system administrator, Perl programmer, technical writer, quality lead, project manager... I have an interesting, and eclectic, resume.

I've become quite familiar with the sorts of projects and jobs I do and don't especially enjoy. I really like certain types of programming (data filters, tools) and using scripting languages (e.g. Perl) while I dislike other types of programming (large application development) and using compiled languages (C++, Java, much of C). I enjoy technical writing but don't care for business writing. I love all things technical, but can't stand marketing. I don't want to manage people.

I enjoy QA but not certain types of testing. I enjoy many aspects of Sys Admin, but not the 24/7 requirement or 6:00pm installations. I like doing support, but not by telephone (I hate the telephone). I enjoy configuration management but I don't much like doing product builds.

I enjoy bug fixing, problem solving, and maintenance and like doing these things much better than I like designing applications. As a former co-worker once pointed out to me, I greatly prefer strategy to tactics.

Lately, I've been having a dialog with myself that goes something like this:

If I could choose a job, really choose, what sort of job would I want? One thing that dawned on me a while back is to realize what sort of work I do when I'm not employed. What sort of personal projects do I get involved in?

  • I write. I create web pages. I write essays. I do weblogs. I read.
  • I don't do a lot of programming. I could... and I don't. When I needed a replacement for cgiemail, I found one on the Web.
  • I like Perl, but I don't hack code in my spare time.
So, does that mean I should write for pay? I didn't like the Sr.Tech Writer job at Apple but it wasn't the writing so much that frustrated me... there were a lot of good things about that job, the most important being that by the last 4 months I was doing it entirely off site, only coming into the "office" for meetings. And that didn't bother anybody, including my manager.

Of course, I didn't write any side articles during that whole year. But was that because I didn't want to write? Or simply because I was too busy and stressed to take on additional projects?

I was so happy to be leaving Apple at the time I left because I didn't have to get involved in, or have to say "no" to, the upcoming (IMHO misguided) plan for us all to spend a week writing a Cocoa App. If I had wanted to write a Cocoa App I would have done so. If I had wanted to be a Cocoa programmer I would have applied for that job. I thought the idea was lame, foolish, and pointless. I was very happy I never had to argue the point!

I had a recent chat with a recruiter, where I said "I'm both a programmer and a tech writer" and the recruiter asked "Which do you like better?". I told him 'It depends on the job'." Often, when I'm coding, I'd rather be writing. But at Apple, I got so tired of the writing and wanted to go be a coder again for a while.

What I really want is a fun, exciting, job that matches my skill set and catches my interest. One that matches my definitions of fun and exciting. Pizza lunches, movies, and beer bashes do not make a job more "fun". Layoffs, changes of direction, a false sense of urgency and artificial deadlines provide excitement I can do without!

I don't want to write vaporware (or write about vaporware!). I don't want to write "catchy ad copy". I don't want to be asked to try to convert people; people should make their own decisions. I certainly don't want to be asked to lie to users or investors (shudder).

I want to feel that I'm doing interesting work that someone else will appreciate and use. I want to feel that I'm making a contribution; I want to feel needed.


I've rearranged the paragraphs above, but they're all excerpted from writing I've done in conversations with myself over time. The answer isn't unusual or new. In fact, it's right there in the last paragraph of the section.

I want to feel that I'm doing interesting work that someone else will appreciate and use.

I want to feel that I'm making a contribution.

I want to feel needed.

What's new is my sudden ability to see this as the most important piece of the puzzle. When I think back to jobs I really enjoyed, I think of these:

  • My first job, at Genentech, in which I answered questions for folks in the group, did minor bits of system administration, and wrote data filters to order for the chief biostatistician. I wrote tools to improve the department workflow and project process.

  • Parts of my second job, at Apple, when I wrote useful utilities, such as adduser, and joined other members in planning and discussing the best ways to implement the product.

  • My first year at Taligent, where I joined others in determining workable ways to improve quality and process, extracted information from engineers, asked probing questions, reviewed documents... There was even a little bit of systems administration in that job and I loved that.

  • The beginning of my job at Incyte, where I was hired to review and rework the existing set of moldy, buggy scripts that processed the data.

  • Much of my job at Deltagen, where I was half of the programming and IT department — I set up internal domain name service, improved the email system, created data filters, and wrote tools to allow the scientists to check their sequences more easily.
Everything I did in those jobs was in aid of the local community.


Last week, after my brain worked on the question for a while, I had the answer. It came in the form of an epiphany, one of those insightful, lightbulb-over-the-head, "Ah Ha" moments when you feel like slapping your forehead and saying "Du-u-h! WHAT was I THINKing before this?!"

Code or write? Both, and either. Programmer, web weaver, or documentation specialist? None of the above and all of the above.

I've been asking myself the wrong questions. I've been mislabeling the boxes.

I have a passion for quality (assessment and assurance), process (creation and improvement), and documentation (of all forms). I enjoy solving problems. I enjoy writing. I love the Web. I'm great at reviewing (code and text) and fixing (bugs and text). I love working on document mechanization, automated text processing, and data filters.

I want to do internal "support" work. However that doesn't mean classic tech support, sys admin, "help desk" work. I want to do quality assurance and web work; I want to write tools, data filters, and docs. I want to improve process. I want to do it all, but the essential, motivating, binding thought is, I want to do it all internally. I want my work to support the project and the people working on the project. I want to be near the people I work for, get their feedback, improve my work to improve theirs.

I want to be in an "internal support" role. I want my job to be heavy on QA, process, and documentation. I want the opportunity to write — Perl, English, and HTML. I don't have to choose; I only have to redefine.

Career Epiphany - posted at Sat, 01 May, 21:50 Pacific

Sunday April 25, 2004

Weekly Wrap-up (Apr 12 - Apr 24)

One of my online writing groups, Journal Writing, posts several regular summarizing prompts, including
"Wednesday's mid-week reflection"
Take some time to write in your journal. What's happened so far this week?
"Summary Saturday"
What's the most important thing that's happened this week?
and a bi-weekly prompt called "Check In".
The list is like journaling. Sometimes life takes over and we don't have time to write like we'd like to, thus the check in.

All members please take a minute to respond to this email. Let us know how you are doing, what's going on with you. How is your writing? How many pages have you completed in your journal since we last had roll call? Read any books you could recommend. Tried any new writing methods?

A summarizing entry seems like a good idea. This is my summary of the past two weeks.

I was Summoned to Jury Duty on April 12. I was originally Summoned (I just feel I need to capitalize that word) for last November but at the time I got the Summons I had a contract and didn't want to lose the income. Our county allows us to ask for an extension for up to 6 months, so I did. By the time the original court date came up, the contract had ended abruptly but I wasn't in any great hurry to Perform My Civic Duty so I just waited for April to come around.

I took a journal along to the court and kept an account of the day. In brief, I was called to a courtroom, they told us about the case, they dismissed us temporarily, then they brought us all back in and told us the case had been resolved to the attorney's and everyone's satisfaction, Thank you, you have Served Your Purpose Here Today.

The long version took up more space and four entries (as posted to my weblog). If you're interested, they are here:
[ Summoned to Appear, Part 1 of 4 ] [ Summoned to Appear, Part 2 of 4 ]
[ Summoned to Appear, Part 3 of 4 ] [ Summoned to Appear, Part 4 of 4 ]

I had a few lucid dreams (dreams where I know I'm dreaming). I don't have the kind I can control; it's more like knowing you're watching a move. But I recall being quite fascinated by various _things_ in the dreams. In one, I was walking along between two rows of metal fence (made of pipe), like they use at Disneyland and such, to keep people from going off the path. And I was noticing the detail, the number of horizontal and vertical pipes, the color (nicely painted, a glossy dark maroon paint) and thinking how much effort "I" had put into creating this scene.

In another dream, "I" had a music player; it may well have been an iPod. But it wasn't working well. The music was choppy and staticy and faded out a lot and kept stopping. Then we'd try again. I kept trying to "nudge" it to work and thinking "Come on, I know a lot of music; this is a dream. I'm having _technical difficulties_ in a dream?! That's just silly! This should work!."

In the third dream I remember, I was in a 2-story house that "I" (the character I was watching) was planning to rent. I was quite impressed by the architecture, the pain job in the various rooms, the details to the junk left by previous tenants. My subconscious can be amazingly creative sometimes!

We applied for overdraft protection on the checking account we have set up to auto-pay our Hoe Equity Loan payments. In investigating that, I discovered the bank has online banking. But online banking requires an ATM card which I don't have for this account (because ALL it's for is making auto-payments). But I wanted online banking so I went to the branch for an ATM card. Which it turns out could apply for but couldn't get immediately because they had to send out for it and have it delivered. This meant a second trip to the bank on Saturday morning. Eventually (long story VERY much shortened) I got the card, despite numerous technical difficulties (I think I rest my self-chosen PIN 2 dozen times).

I found an intriguing job to apply for. It looked like something I could do and it required a 30-40 hour at-home qualifying test (the intriguing part) before the company would consider interviewing a candidate. I'm not a big fan of most popular interviewing techniques; I thought this was a very good one. The "test" (actually a practical coding exercise) took me 46 hours over the course of a week. I learned a lot about the company and their work, as well as a lot about myself. And I got three more journal/weblog entries out of it (well, one out of the exercise and two more out of job interview strategies in general). If you're interested, the links are below.
[ Interview Strategies, Part 1 ] [ Interview Strategies, Part 2 ] [ Interview Strategies, Part 3 ]

I read another book by Jennifer Cruisie that I recommend to anyone who can stand contemporary romance (good plot in which the romance is a strong subplot, not the purpose of the story). The book is called "Welcome to Temptation" and is the prequel to "Faking It" which is my favorite Jennifer Crusie novel. Neither is really sexually explicit, however, neither is suitable for children.

In between, before, and after all of the above, I've had several excellent naps, a number of very good meals, interesting conversations with Spouse and friends, a trip to the bookstore (always fun), a number of job applications submitted, a few calls from job recruiting agencies, and an interview scheduled for next week. The weather cleared up after a week of drizzle and flowers everywhere are stunning. I'm still keeping my regular daily journal entries, posting to two weblogs (I need to post to the cats' weblog; I have been remiss), reading and replying to list groups and generally going about my usual daily activities.

I'm amazed by how much happened in the past two week!

Weekly Wrap-up (Apr 12 - Apr 24) - posted at Sun, 25 Apr, 11:20 Pacific