Saturday, May 28, 2005

Quote - Barbara Holland

I read to Liz before she goes to bed, and lately, we've settled on memoirs. The first was a joyous treat, Milking the Moon. Tonight, we just finished Barbara Holland's When All The World Was Young.

These quotes are from the end of the book, where at 18, after being turned out of her family's house and dwelling in deep depression, she gets a job at Hecht's department store in Washington, DC, and her life takes a sharp turn to happiness. The time is the early 1950s.


It was an era of lavish employment. Since then, the Personnel Department, with its echo of "personal," has been replaced by Human Resources, with its echo of iron ore, petroleum, and other profit potentials, but those were softer days...

[She describes how companies in that era kept on incompetent employees, provided free access to a doctor, and other perks.] Cynics might say that this corporate kindliness was designed to forestall the unions--which it did--but kindness is kindness and I lapped it up like a stray cat. Starting out in this generous atmosphere shaped my whole working life as a lark: jobs should be fun and bosses gentle, if not this one, then the next; plenty more where this one came from. Nobody nowadays expects to have fun at work. They want to get rich instead, but I could see from the start that the two were probably incompatible; too much pay would mean taking the work seriously. Believing it was important. The less money I needed to make, the more elbow room I'd have for fun. I held firm to this resolve through good times and bum times...

...Virginia Woolf, speaking from a different world, said what we needed, what women needed, was "a room of one's own" and a modest allowance so we wouldn't be distracted by money wories. But under what guarantee? What happens when our benefactor whimsically cancels the lease on our room and cuts off our funds? No, Mrs. Woolf. A job, Mrs. Woolf.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Quote - Alain de Botton

From Essays in Love

It is hard to imagine Christianity having acheived such success without a martyr at its head. If Jesus had simply led a quiet life in Galilee, making commodes and dining tables and at the end of his life published a slim volume titled My Philosophy of Life before dying of a heart attack, he would not have acquired the status he did.

Quote - Karen Joy Fowler

From her story "Private Grave 9":

The moon had risen, round as an opened rose.

Arnold Bennett quotes

(from the Moleskine harvest)

Quotes from Journal Of Things New and Old, by Arnold Bennett (about 1923)

All political parties in all countries disappear sooner or later, except the Conservative, and the Conservative is immortal because it is never for long divided against itself. How many times in Britain has the Liberal Party split? The first and most powerful instinct of Tories is self-preservation. They do not really want anything but the status quo.

The best part of a holiday is that daily habits and rituals are broken.

When a good novel falls away at the end or near the end, it's because the writer simply ran out of power. He miscalculated his creative strength. Nobody can pour a quart out of a pint pot.

[Man, was that ever true in the case of Stephen King's Wizard and Glass. The middle part of the book was strong and powerful. The coda in the Emerald City was anti-climactic and sodden by comparison. And I could tell King was trying to goose it along, trying to make the characters frightened and anxious. But it only made me annoyed. The book's real story had been told and this last bit was simply the connective tissue to get them moving back along the Path of the Beam.]

[Attending the performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko lifted his spirits regarding his in-progress novel.]
A novel in process of creation has to be lifted up ... [maybe] again and again. The large mood for it has to be recaptured again and again, to work its miracle there is nothing so efficacious as the sight or hearing of a great work of art -- any art. Many times have I gone into the National Gallery, or to a fine concert ... to recover the right mood.

An artist engaged in a work ought never to read or see or hear second-class stuff. If he does, he realizes the resemblances between his work and the second-class; and is discouraged. Whereas if he sticks to first-class stuff, he realizes the resemblances between his work and it, and is enheartened thereby.

It is well not to chatter too much about what one is doing, and not to betray a too-pained sadness at the spectacle of a whole world deliberately wasting so many hours out of every day, and therefore not really living. It will be found, ultimately, that in taking care of one's self, one has quite all one can do.

Can you deny that when you have something definite to look forward to at eventide, something that is to employ all your energy, the thought of that something gives a glow and a more intense vitality to the whole day?

Moleskine harvesting

I recently finished off one of my little squared Moleskine buddies. I don't number the pages, but I do date every entry. This book was with me from about 30-Mar-04 to 21-April-05. Plenty of pauses for no-entries, but it was with me during significant times.

There are entries on the letter Cara sent me that knocked me off-kilter, our trip to Toronto, drawings, details on job interviews, quotes, notes on my NaNoWriMo novel, my mother-in-law's final illness and death, various journal entries, booknotes, Liz's health crisis from earlier this year, my ongoing job-search efforts, and various lists, plans, and muslings (a new word I just invented blending "musings" and "noodling," with elements of "doodling" not to be denied).

After I'm done with a journal, I write up a date-based index on the last few blank pages, with brief indications of what I wrote about that day. Post-Its hold the overflow when I run out of pages. It's a terribly linear way of recording my life and thoughts, I suppose, but I like the juxtaposition of a visual journal entry next to my wailing about "will I ever find a job?" next to my mini-comic ideas.

So the next few blog entries will be me dumping various entries I deem blogworthy from my recently retired Moleskine.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Joys of Total Recorder

Without a doubt, one of the most-used programs on my PC is Total Recorder (I have the Professional Edition), which I use to record RealAudio feeds, most notably the BBC4's In Our Time series, NPR programs, Edison's Attic, interviews, All Songs Considered, and whatever else catches my magpie attention.

I use MediaPlayerClassic as part of the RealAlternative package, in my quest to rid all computers of RealPlayer. I'm still a happy member of Rhapsody, which no doubt has Real software entwined about its innards, but that I can live with.

I recently figured out how to use the TR Scheduler, so now I can record the entire In Our Time archives and listen to them on my commute, when I do the dishes, etc. I stack up about 5 programs at a time and set them to record when I'm in bed or at work. And the little MP3s are waiting for me when I get back.

(For the GTD geeks who care, I have the following folder structure: C:\Music\@Inbox\InPlay. The new MP3s go into the inbox, and when I load them on the Digisette, I also move them to the InPlay folder. After I've listened to them, I either delete or archive them.)

It doesn't quite replace Audible--there's room at the table for both. But I'm interested next in digitizing some of our old albums, and Total Recorder includes a plug-in to help clean up those scratchy audio captures. The only thing TR doesn't have is a CD-burning mechanism, but that's pretty ubiquitous. I still use Roxio CD Creator 5 for that (one of the few things I still use Roxio for).

TR is a great program at a very nice price and one of my pieces of Essential Software.


I was just listening to a BBC Radio4 discussion
on Stoicism and thinking how that and the Tao te Ching seem to be my natural philosophies. I don't know if you've ever heard of Constructive Living, but that's also close to my heart. (Here's another good place to learn about CL.) I wish I could remember their precepts in the heat of the moment, but it's when you're under the gun that you become teachable, or that seems to be my case anyway.

Does Stoicism mean you become a passionless robot? I don't know enough to say. But I think it is useful to channel those passions, to turn that random energy into more useful paths so that you're not damaged by it. And that probably standing a bit back from yourself, and seeing yourself as others see you, may be a very useful self-management strategy.

I was beside myself yesterday at work, pushing to get a project out the door and realizing that there simply wasn't enough time, that you can't pour a quart into a pint pot. I left to get something to eat, came back to the office, sat, and cleaned up what I could. I sent out emails that I think were measured and judicious. And I was counting on the rest I'd get this weekend to give me perspective and new ideas by Monday morning.

My main source for Stoic resources is/was the Ptypes web log (P for Personality Types) (maybe, P for Pita? I didn't know people still used that service.). He seems to try all the new blogging technologies: his Blogger log doesn't seem to work anymore, but he has links to an RSS feed and a Yahoo My Web page.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Trials of Joblessness

I was laid off from my contracting gig in January 2004. That's OK; I was on disability leave from September 2003 with a detached retina that took a long time to get better. My company kept me on for 2 extra months (Nov-Dec '03), in the hopes they could find me another gig. But it didn't happen, and I joined the jobless rolls.

I was hired by a local tech-writing company recently, so that period of wandering in the valley of the shadow of don't-call-us is over for now. But it's made me think about what I would do differently the next time I find myself without a job, and, just as important, what I should do now to ensure my next jobless stint doesn't last so long.

So herewith: a personal checklist.

What to do immediately after

  • Cancel subscription services you don't need. I kept Audible and Rhapsody. I should have cut off Netflix.
  • Scale down the budget. Create a new spending plan.
  • Upload your resume to Monster. It won't do any good, but it forces you to update the resume. Make one copy in WinWord, and another in text format.
  • When my brother got laid off, he immediately made a plan, figured out the budget, made a list of places to call, etc. Don't let the grass grow under your feet.
  • Apply for unemployment. In North Carolina, it's all online, with only a token first visit to the unemployment office. (Where I found one in three to be interested and helpful and offering advice that was useful. Counselors are assigned at random.)
  • Create an HTML page or set of Firefox tabs that holds all your job-search sites: Monster, companies you want to work for, etc.
  • Start networking if you've stopped.
  • Read Ask the Headhunter and Diary of a Job Search. Their message: Network, network, network.

What to do during

  • Read Ask the Headhunter again and again. Realize that there are not hundreds of jobs out there for you, only 2 or 3 at the most, and it's up to you to ferret them out.
  • Go to professional association meetings, participate, network. It's still the #1 way you find out about jobs. Try new professional groups that are on the fringes of your industry.
  • Do something that distracts you or occupies you. My friend Lew worked on his drawing and salsa dancing. I took the BioWork class at Durham Tech. That class was a life-saver, in a way, because it was 3 meetings/wk, for 4 hrs at a time. I was kept so busy it served as a very useful distraction.
  • Get down a routine for creating new resumes in Word and text formats.
  • Exercise. You have the time. It helps me regulate my moods and even out my sleep cycles.
  • Go out for coffee or a lunch with your spouse or spousal equivalent. The people in your life who love you feel your disappointments as keenly as you, and you need to acknowledge their support. Use this time to get to know them again.
  • Don't spend hours online looking for jobs: stay until you start getting down and depressed, then quit. For me, that's about 90 minutes.
  • Network.
  • File your ESC claims every week.
  • Exploit all those O'Reilly books the local B&N has. I should have spent my time learning DocBook and XML and SQL.
  • Read. Fiction, memoirs, biography--whatever. You've been given a gift of time--use it.
  • Learn something. Pick a "fun" project that you do simply because now you have the time to do it. Like learning Spanish or XML (or however you define "fun"). I was t-h-i-s close to taking banjo lessons. You really do need to do something to blow off the steam.
  • Spend time away from the computer. Take a walk.
  • Leverage the local community/technical college system. I recently discovered that Durham Tech offers the Ed2Go online learning program for popular mainstream apps, as well as SQL, XML, and other stuff. And for pretty cheap. This stuff looks good on a resume.
  • Leverage the library. We just visited today and I was amazed that I'd forgotten, yet again, how many computer books our local branch has. Yes, there are some outdated items (Quicken 99 for Dummies), but they had at least 12-15 books on XML, more than that on Linux, Java, Javascript, PERL, Python, and the like. (Their employment/job/resume books are pretty outdated too, but still, some good ideas here and there, and it doesn't cost anything.)
  • Go to museums and places that are free for the wandering. Enlarge the soul whenever possible.
  • Don't feel you have to be at the beck and call of contract agency reps. I eventually found 2 or 3 reps at different companies who were polite, efficient, used my time well, and offered pretty good advice. There were many other reps who set off my alarum bells and I should have told them I was busy or unavailable. These people wasted my time, held me to standards they didn't hold themselves to, and in general put me through more anxiety than the experience was worth. Adopt a zero-grief policy regarding these losers.
  • Also recognize that some days you'll get 4 calls from 4 different recruiters for 4 different jobs (and 2 others called you too late about the same jobs to get in your queue). You'll mail out the resumes to satisfy their requirements. And after that flurry of activity and excitement and hopefulness ... you'll never hear from them again. Learn to deal with the disappointment.
  • Get a part-time job. In NC, you can earn a certain amount of money without lowering your unemployment check. Also, since your part-time employer is also paying back into the unemployment program when he pays you, it extends your time on unemployment.

What to do when you get a job

  • I always deactivate my active resumes on Monster and other places.
  • Figure out your own "lessons learned." You've just been through a massive project. What went well? What didn't? What could make it go better next time?

How to prepare for the next time

  • Network.
  • Keep your skills up. Leverage Ed2Go, the library, etc.
  • Stay tuned with what the market is looking for. Scan the Monster boards for what companies are looking for.
  • Use MemoToMe to remind yourself to update your resume every 3 or 4 months.
  • Help out others. I pass people my personal Job Search page as a starting point for their own pages. I've also shared my reading notes on Ask the Headhunter.
  • Go to professional association meetings and participate this time. In the STC, I've heard the really good information is passed around at the board level.

Ask the Headhunter book | website

Diary of a Job Search

I'm a technical writer, so I also turned to the Intercom, the STC's professional magazine. Here are some good articles (if you're an STC member, you can access these articles from the web site):

  • Job Hunting in an Economic Downturn, 6 April 2002 BY JOHN H.THOMSTATTER
  • Fire up Your Frozen Job Search, July/August 2002
  • The Ten Commandments of Job Hunting, April 2004 BY PAULA BANNISTER GREY
  • Viral Networking: Tactics in Today's Job Market, Sept/Oct 2003 BY CAROLINE A. DRAKELEY
  • Job-Hunting after Thirty-Five, Jul/Aug 2002
  • Minding Your Business: No Work? Strategies for Surviving a Dry Spell, May 2003
  • Selling to the Hidden Job Market, June 2004 BY PAT O’DONNELL
  • Adjusting to Changing Times in Technical Communication, Apr 2003 BY CEIL HALL
  • (And dang it, there was another strong article from which I borrowed many of the above bullet points, but I couldn't find it using my search terms. I'll post it here if I come across it again.)

Saturday, May 07, 2005


I applied for a state government job a few months ago that required a security background check. The contracting company I was working through used Choicepoint, which of course fills one with confidence. The report came back with three outstanding warrants against my first and last names in Arizona and Virginia. I called Choicepoint to dispute the report and gave them more information (middle name, height, SS#, race, weight, etc.), and they ran this extra information past the outstanding warrants. Of course, that cleared me. I have to admit they attacked the problem and cleared up the report within 48 hours.

It made me think it was time to get a credit report as well, to see what might be lurking in the background there. Back in the late '80s, I applied for a loan at a computer store to buy a Mac and was refused. When I got the credit report, it was clear my name had gotten mixed with the name of someone who shouldn't have been allowed in the parking lot of a bank. I got that cleared up (and wound up not buying the Mac, after all). We had no problems later when it came time to apply for mortgage loans or when we refinanced.

Still, it's something that needs to be checked from time to time. I wish my credit union offered a service through which I could get a copy of my report. I saw that the FTC's credit website had a link to something called AnnualCreditReport. It looks pretty good: look up your state and see when you're entitled to request a free copy of your credit report from each of the big three (Experian, Equifax, Transunion).

From the home page: "This central site allows you to request a free credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion." Note that the site is co-sponsored by the Big 3.

You can request three reports at one time (one report from each of the three, which means you can't request again for another 12 months), or request a single report every four months and rotate through the three that way. See the FAQ more info.

From the site, you can check to see when you can request your free copy. (I can't request a free one till September 2005.) According to federal law, you can only be charged $9.50 for a credit report, so it's not expensive in any case. But since the credit-reporting companies don't make much money on them, they do offer extra add-on packages to the standard report that strike me of dubious value.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot

This one has been making the rounds of late, but it's especially interesting to me now as 1) I'm taking a writing class focused on plotting and 2) I read a *lot* of those Doc Savage pulps in junior high. (Anyone remember the movie with Ron Ely as Doc? Raise your hands.) (I saw it twice.)