Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Hunt for Green October

So, like I was saying, I am unemployed. I did not go all-out with the job search right away. I was getting enough aggravation from people connected to my ex-employer, as well as a number of other distractions, and did my best to balance that with a sincere effort to enjoy the summer.

But that doesn't mean I didn't expend any effort in the job hunt. I didn't knock myself out over it, but I still managed to come up with at least three realistic prospects almost every week. (The state only requires three "job search activities," not actual applications, each week. I figure three applications are more likely to yield results.) There was only one week when I couldn't come up with three prospects: it was the week of the debt ceiling dance-off, when nobody was listing anything new, and some old listings even got yanked.

Three realistic prospects per week is way better than what I was finding in 2009. Back then, I had to apply to some iffy things in order to make my thrice-weekly goal, and the job I ended up with had been one of those half-assed 4:30 pm Friday desperation applications. (My entire cover letter was as follows: "Please let me know if you think I'm a good candidate for this position. I am interested in aviation.") I don't ever want that to happen again!

And I was spending a lot of time each week to dig up those three leads. This time around, often these leads come from incoming calls.

Of course, I'd be happier if any of them ever panned out - if I could even get in for an interview. But at least people are calling me. And I'm not having to expend much effort to get my three per week. Not like last time.

This means that theoretically, if I were to spend more time looking, I might actually get something. I plan to spend more time looking after this weekend.

Aside from all of that, I still have the same job-hunting complaints I had in 2009: crap from afar (overseas "recruiters," i.e. telemarketers, calling with low-paying, short-term, out-of-state contracts for which I am not remotely qualified); inquiries from insurance companies that are looking for "sales trainees" who work straight commission and have to pay for their own training before ever earning a nickel.

Job sites are still full of ads that sound as though they are written with a very specific person in mind, with an awe-inspiring list of qualifications, who somehow has only 2 to 5 years' experience to work for $15/hr. Or they want someone with ten years' experience in a technology that didn't exist ten years ago.

I saw one ad from a company that listed "free coffee" among its benefits. Some companies (including my most recent ex-employer) actually have eliminated free coffee, either temporarily or permanently, due to budget problems, but when you're at that point financially, I think it's time to throw in the towel. Anyway, coffee is cheap. If you describe it as a benefit, prospective employees may wonder how petty you are. Is anything else free? Will they have to bring their own toilet paper and paper clips?

Some small creative contract jobs are listed as "contests." Applicants are invited to complete the work (on their own time, for free) and submit it to a website where everyone can see it, and only the winner gets paid.

My biggest gripe is the Taleo resume submission system. If I see a job that looks good and I click the "Apply!" button and it sends me to Taleo, I skip it. That's how bad Taleo is. It makes you upload your resume, and then it attempts to parse it into a standard form, which ends up a garbled mess. Then you have to cut and paste everything, piece by piece, into all their little fields until it is satisfied.

You have to "create a new account" and rebuild the form every time you apply to a different company that uses Taleo. You can't just say "hey Taleo, you remember me from that other company, right? Everything's the same, so go ahead and get the data I already gave you and then tell me if you need anything else." Nope. You start from scratch every time.

I'd probably grit my teeth and endure it for a really good job, but so far I haven't seen a really good job on a Taleo-powered site.

I remember encountering this a lot more often in 2009, even though I was applying to fewer jobs. It would seem that other resume submission sites have either given up on half-assed parsing or at least have the good manners not to require applicants to suffer for their software's deficiencies.

Fall is just around the corner. I can probably make it through the winter on just my unemployment and savings without missing any payments as long as it doesn't get too cold, but I'd rather get something sooner, before the furnace starts guzzling oil. That means that I should try to get something before the end of October. Is that realistic? Can I do it? And can I get something that's actually better than crappy this time? I look forward to finding out.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Oh, hello! I didn't see you there!

Did I mention that I lost my job at the end of May? Yes, I did mention that... just not here. I am now gainlessly unemployed.

I don't have the time or energy to do much more than scratch the surface of what this has been like, but here are some lowlights:

- The company ceased operations abruptly and completely, leaving a couple of small airports in the lurch when their FBOs were shut down. Everybody (supposedly, but apparently not really) was laid off.

- After the layoff was announced, but before I had finished packing up my desk, I was asked to do a substantial amount of work (two or three weeks' worth) before going home. I said no, and I'm still flabbergasted that he had the nerve to ask. (Or I would have been, if I hadn't already known how clueless this overpaid useless jerk was.)

- I was later allowed to take my laptop from the office in order to do contract work for a couple of the company's ex-clients as well as for whatever new company might buy some of the old company's assets. I was worried that I would be swamped with work, when all I wanted to do was put that horrible place and all of its flaky people behind me.

However, I had serious trouble getting cooperation from any of these people. Several of them wanted me to give an estimate for the work but refused to give any details as to what they wanted. I told them, "Mark up the documents with the changes you want and send them to me, or just answer the questions below. That will let me scope the work and then I can give you a firm quote. Otherwise, my hourly fee is $X and I'll bill you as we go."

One of them said he had no trouble getting a flat quote from someone else. Really? Without giving them any information up front? I bet they're being grossly overcharged. I considered grossly overcharging too, but I know these people too well. They're so disorganized and indecisive that no matter how much I charged them, they'd drag it out for so long that it would average it out to $2/hour and drive me insane the whole time.

So I refused to price the work without additional details. They got all offended and said they were just trying to help me out because they thought I needed the work. LOL. I need money, but not so desperately that I'm going to commit myself to an unlimited run for a fixed price. I'd commit myself to a laughing academy first.

So I ended up with only one client, who gave me a week's worth of work but has been blowing me off for six or seven weeks since. He insists he still wants me to finish the work just as soon as he can get around to figuring out what he wants me to do. But at least he paid me.

- To complicate matters, my old work laptop committed suicide a few weeks ago. (I don't blame it.) Long story short, one of its crucial but elderly internal organs shorted out. Badly. I had to call in an electrician to restore power to half my downstairs afterwards. It was Saturday, and they always charge more on weekends. I could have waited, but I wasn't willing to spend the rest of the weekend with no power in the most important quadrant of my house. Fortunately, I was able to salvage the hard disk; but I already had backups of all my documents. What I really needed was some very expensive software that had been installed on there, but I've discovered that I can't run the software from that disk on a different computer unless I have an additional software license. Sigh. Without that software, I may not be able to finish the work at all.

Incidentally, the electrician was able to give me a price quote on some future work I'd like him to do, but only AFTER I gave him all the details of what I wanted. Funny how that works.

- ANYWAY... the new company that bought the old company contracted someone else (who is probably overcharging them, but that's not my problem) to do that work. Maybe I should be miffed and heartbroken, but I'm relieved. The person I'd be dealing with is the same one who originally wanted me to do all that stuff before I went home on our last day. He asks me the same questions repeatedly even though he already has my previous answers in writing AND I scold him for re-asking. He never ANSWERS any of my or anyone else's questions. He generally doesn't seem to know what's going on.

I could go on and on about all the things I loathed about this guy and how he's a symbol of what's wrong with America and why keeping him on makes the new company look stupid, considering the trail of destruction he's already left in his wake. But I won't do that. I'll just say I'm thrilled that we're mostly not working together any more.

- I am doing a minuscule amount of work for the other VP, but he's not an idiot. He's pretty good to work with. If he'd been in charge of the original project, we'd be done by now and they wouldn't be getting overcharged by those other people. But that's not my problem!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Because misery loves company

Recently, I had occasion to conduct a Google search for "little shits egged my house" (with quotes).

I was very sad to get only one result. It made me feel very alone. So I'm putting this here to give comfort to others who find themselves in need of company during a very specific type of crisis. :)

It was only one egg, and it was on my living room window rather than on the shingles, so it wasn't too difficult to remove most of it the next day. The rest, I couldn't reach very well, so I hope the last few days of rain have helped to dislodge it. I'll try again later.

As for the miscreant(s), I am only assuming that it was a couple of youngsters trying to impress one another. But I don't really know. I was in another room when it happened, and I thought something had fallen in the living room. By the time I figured out what what had happened, they were long gone. But regardless of their size or number, they're still little shits in my book.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Update on Nova Scotia

A couple of years ago I mentioned a problem with a fax machine from Nova Scotia that had been going on for several years. It would call relentlessly, all day long, starting before 8 am, every few minutes.

It was especially a problem on the day that I blogged about it, because I was using Verizon DSL for Internet instead of cable, and it would drop my VPN every time the phone rang because there was no DSL filter on my burglar alarm. (Long story here.)

Anyway, the day I blogged about it was the last time I heard from them for a while.

Some time passed before the fax machine started calling again. It was still Nova Scotia, but one digit in the phone number was different. And in reviewing that old blog post, I discovered that it had been two years almost to the day; and that the calls the previous year had also been in January.

I suspect that telemarketers and junk faxers don't work on that kind of a schedule. Businesses do, though.

I Googled the new number and found out that it was the "incoming faxes only" line for a water testing lab that was part of a bigger company that dealt in frozen seafood.

New Bedford... frozen seafood... hmmm. Yes, it was starting to make sense.

Probably this outfit was trying to buy fish from a supplier in New Bedford. Maybe their regular fax machine was on the blink, so they went down the hallway to use the water testing lab's fax machine instead. And if their fax machines are anything like that piece of crap I sit next to at work, it didn't give up after the first try. It just kept dialing and dialing and dialing.

Actually, it didn't keep dialing this time. Not that day. I have a new phone with a BLOCK button that, when pressed, causes the phone to not-ring on any future incoming calls from that number, and when the answering machine picks up, it sends an obnoxious beep that tells the caller there's something wrong.

So I pushed BLOCK and thought the problem was solved; but just to be on the safe side, I went to the company's website and explained the situation.

The next day, when I came home from work, I found six more calls from them on my caller ID. (I still have other phones that DON'T have the blocking feature, so I still get a list of blocked calls.)

But only six. Maybe someone read my email during mid-fax and stopped the machine, because I'm telling you, that machine usually doesn't give up after only six tries.

That was three weeks ago. They never did reply to my email, so I'll never know for sure what that really was all about. I also don't know for sure that they won't try again next year. But now I know who they are, and I have all their contact info, and I have access to a fax machine that's just as tireless as theirs.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Good News and Bad News!

So, the good news is that I get to keep my job through the rest of the week. The bad news is that most of my coworkers (those who hadn't already quit) were dismissed today. Also, because the company is going out of business, they don't have to offer COBRA. (So they've told us, but we're not going to take their word for it.)

There is a slim but definite chance that what's left of us (I think like six people, plus any remaining accounts that haven't already run screaming into the night) could get bought by the end of the week, in which case my job will probably continue. Joy.

It would have made lots of sense for them to throw in the towel six months ago when we were losing accounts left and right. In fact, at that point, I was hoping to be let go because the stress and insanity and futility were so demoralizing. But our investors hung in there with us and nursed us back to health and waited until we stabilized and showed signs of growth... and then they gave us the finger.

In other news, I wore mismatched shoes to work this morning, and not even for the first time.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pool of doom

This happened in several stages over the last week or so. (Contrast with this, taken during the summer.)

In some way, this reminds me of pictures of the dilapidated structures at Lincoln Park, Rocky Point, and The Gobbler (long story, and no I never went there). Once the focal point of a happy family's fun, it's now a dangerous eyesore.

I wonder if my neighbor will pay someone to take care of it now, or if she'll just let nature continue to take its toll. Her husband died years ago; her older son is still in jail (knock on wood), and her younger son lives in a home for adults with Down syndrome. It must break her heart to see this thing in her yard every day, but it's probably expensive to get rid of it professionally.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My high beams, let me show you them.

Yesterday I got fed up with my boss's vague, incomplete, ever-changing, sometimes contradictory instructions, especially when she took to scolding me for not following a particular set of instructions she had not given.

Oh, as an unrelated side note, if Blackberries are as unreliable for sending emails as multiple Blackberry-using bosses I've had have claimed, why is anyone still using a Blackberry? And how is it that only the useful emails fall through the cracks, but the bitchy ones always seem to reach me?

Back to my story. At the height of my anger yesterday, and after having received a couple of email scoldings, I was called into my boss's office, and I was ready to tell her to shove it.

But she was all chipper and cheerful and that just made me madder, so I gave her a piece of my mind. (My job, though busy and frustrating, does not require a lot of brain power, so I could afford to lose a piece of my mind.) She responded calmly with a lot of BS, including a game of and "my problems are bigger than your problems" and "my health is worse than your health." Which is probably true, but doesn't excuse poor behavior. In fact, if it's true that her health problem causes cognitive defects, then she probably shouldn't be in charge of safety (among other things).

After that, she then semi-hesitantly told me that she needed to talk to me about a "sensitive subject." You see, apparently, allegedly, multiple male coworkers have complained that I've been flashing my high beams and it makes them uncomfortable. Ah, not literally flashing them, as in exposing them, but that my gigantic mutant nipples are visible through my clothes in our very cold office. And there was this one particular blue sweater that they wouldn't shut up about. (I do have one blue sweater that I wore once, several weeks ago.)

It would be different if we were at a party, ha-ha, the coworkers allegedly said, but this is an office.

My boss claims that she was outraged on my behalf but felt that she should tell me to cover up, in the interest of workplace decorum. (This workplace where people play obnoxious youtube videos at full volume to "entertain" the staff. Hello, some of us are actually working.)

I asked my female coworker, who also reports to this woman, what she thought of this claim. Like me, she thought it was more likely that either our boss had a personal problem with it, or she was just playing mind games with me as punishment for being uppity. Seems she made a similar comment to one of my predecessors, that her clothes made male coworkers "uncomfortable."

There have been three people with my job in the last 1.5 years, including me. (Not including the consultant, a man who worked offsite.) All three were women. She's made these comments to two out of three. Remarkable. (The other one was apparently a saint; boss won't shut up about about how great she was.)

I'm working in an extremely sexist industry, and it's true that my perkiness is sometimes visible, so my boss's claim is not entirely implausible. However, I don't think I'm unusually indiscreet, and most of the time my clothes are not only modest, but frumpy. And I actually do cover up when I'm aware of a problem. In any case, no one should be looking at my chest if it makes them uncomfortable. In fact, it's pretty rare that they can even see it, since I spend very little time away from my desk.

So I'm not upset if someone saw my twins making a point, and I'm not going to throw away the blue sweater or buy special extra-thick bras to hide my shame. But I am upset that my boss is full of shit. Which is silly, because I already knew that.

Friday, August 28, 2009

TV with minimal cable

Cable is not in my budget, which means I'm not watching Mad Men or Adult Swim, two of my favorite things about having cable. (I know I can watch some of this stuff on the Internet, but I really, really, really don't want to spend MORE time in front of the damn computer.) Missing my stories makes me sad, but I managed to pick up a few new habits on regular TV anyway:

Da Vinci's Inquest

This Canadian show from a few years back is in syndication in the US. I watch it (okay, I tape it) on channel 5 at 1:35 AM on Sundays, just before the overhauled Star Trek episodes. It's a crime drama loosely based on a real coroner in Vancouver. It's very talky, with a lot of political intrigue. I'm not sure why I like it so much. It might be Da Vinci's dry sense of humor. I know it's not his cheap haircuts.

I started watching this a year or two ago, but it was on Sunday nights and I couldn't keep up with it or tape it because the schedule was perturbed by football or something (or maybe I just wasn't able to keep track). Hopefully that won't be a problem any more.


Over the years, I've wondered why TV series about mental health facilities never do well. I liked Wonderland with Michelle Forbes (who at the time was famous mainly for a brief stint as a Maqui on ST:TNG), but it got canceled after three episodes, and then I spent the next nine years hoping something like it would show up again.

Then Mental came along, and I was quickly disillusioned. It sucked like nothing has ever sucked before. I don't even want to waste my time telling you all the different ways it sucks; it's just thoroughly horrible. Imagine if Dr. House were a psychiatrist, and used various little schemes to trick his patients into getting well. Okay, well, sometimes Dr. House resorts to dirty tricks, but the Dr. House's tricks usually convince the patient to accept the treatment. They don't constitute the treatment! Dr. What's-his-name's tricks actually heal the patients. Like one time he shows the the patient some spiral twirly wheel gadget to hypnotize him, and then the guy's all better. Later, Dr. Mental admits to someone else that he didn't really hypnotize the patient with the twirly spiral wheel.

Great! What a wonderfully inaccurate and misleading of a profession that's already horribly misunderstood. Did the Levines do any research into mental health care or mental illness at all?

Another big difference is that, because of his unethical hijinks, Dr. House is generally portrayed and viewed as a troubled jerk who is tolerated (barely) by most people only because of his tremendous diagnostic skills. Dr. Mental is adored by most of his colleagues, and it's supposed to be charming and cute that he treats his patients like pathetic gullible morons with his cheezy theatrics.

It makes me wonder if the Levines are Scientologists, but my Google search says probably not. I'll continue to be curious, though.

These petty criticisms are just scratching the surface. Hate it, hate it, hate it, and I really hope to hear soon that it wasn't picked up for a second season.

So why did I keep watching it? At first I was hoping that it would get better, and then when I realized there was no hope I continued to watch because it was still programmed on my machine and I was fascinated by just how bad it was.

If it does get picked up for a second season, I really hope that it's on at the same time as something I actually like so that I won't be tempted to stare at this train wreck again.

The Goode Family

This was Mike Judge's new effort with ABC after the cancellation of King of the Hill. The Goodes were a lot like the Hills, but sort of opposite... only not really... and it's already canceled. Maybe that's because ABC continues not to know how to position an animated show, or maybe it's because some of the people who were willing to laugh at Texans took it personally when the same kind of humor was pointed at them. I didn't find it mean-spirited at all - not more than KotH, anyway - but it seems that many people really were uncomfortable with it.

I don't know why ABC picked it up in the first place. It doesn't really fit in their lineup. But it was good to hear the voices of Julia Sweeney and Brian Doyle Murray again, even if only for a short time.

Penny Dreadful's Shilling Shockers

Okay, so I accidentally lied. I do have a little bit of cable. I have basic (not to be confused with standard) cable, because antenna reception here is very bad, like, nil thanks to wind and ocean. New Bedford was probably the first city in MA to abandon roof antennas as soon as an alternative became available; our roofs take enough abuse without mounting big things on them.

So with cable, I get most of the Boston and Providence channels, plus several public access/government channels and all the shopping channels. I also get a few more unscrambled cable channels, mostly HD plus Univision and Telemundo, thanks to the QAM tuner in my digital TV. Sadly, however, that's of limited usefulness since it's only on this one TV and I don't have any way to tape the shows or watch them in a different room (I'd need a QAM tuner on my DVD-RAM machine or VCR to do that). I watch my telenovela "live," or I don't watch it at all, because life's too short to spend the whole damn day on YouTube.

But I digress. I'd love to blather at length about the unavailability of standalone, non-USB QAM tuners that I could hook up to a VCR (tell me if you know something I don't), but this is not the time.

New Bedford cable access channel 95 is the home of Penny Dreadful's Shilling Shockers, a local horror host show that can also be seen nationwide thanks to some horror host network. I started watching Penny infrequently a few years ago, but didn't make it a regular thing until I lost the rest of my cable channels and could no longer get my Friday Night Fix on the Cartoon Network.

After Penny's show, we're usually treated to some other horror host's show. Sadly, because most of these horror host shows deal in movies that are in the public domain, you end up seeing the likes of Dementia 13 a lot, or worse (like The Brain That Wouldn't Die). So it's very important that the horror host not suck.

There's one who just stands around in a cape and recaps the scene that you just saw, mostly to drool about how hot the woman in it was. There's another who interrupts scenes to make insipid wisecracks. (Being surrounded by flames does not make him or his skanks look any hotter.) There's also a non-horror one with an ensemble cast that reminds me of Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job.

Only The Late Dr. Lady Show comes close to Penny Dreadful, in my opinion. Penny does field trips to local places, like the Lizzie Borden House and the former Danvers State Hospital, and she also interviews local artists and showcases their work. She did one episode in Portuguese. Neat! New Bedford is very, very lucky to have her.

On that obsequious note, I leave the computer to go back to my TV, where an old Penny Dreadful Shilling Shocker is already in progress. (New eps in September. I can't wait!)

Semi-apathetic suspense

Yesterday, my boss left the office early to participate in an important managers' teleconference at home. The purpose of the teleconference was for the managers of the week to justify the expense of each direct report. The admin assistant and I each had to send her a list of all our recent duties and any future projects we were waiting to do.

("Managers of the week" is not an official term. It's just that certain managers each week are getting hit by layoffs.)

To put this all into perspective, they've recently dropped several pilots (and aircraft), and our one and only Sharepoint expert will be gone in a couple of weeks. (His last day was going to be today, but he got a temporary reprieve.) Being essential to the company's operations doesn't seem to be a factor in the decision making. It's all about the money. Fortunately, I'm not exactly pulling down a king's ransom right now, but I know that I'm also seen mostly as a glorified admin who knows how to use Framemaker, and the consulting firm that had been doing my work before is still interested in the relationship.

I checked my email this morning for a reassuring email and didn't find one. That doesn't bother me as much as you would expect. I've been pretty unhappy working there - I don't feel respected there, and it looks like they're going to go back on the agreement to let me work at home anyway (due to a laptop shortage). If I do get the axe, I'll ask if I can claim that this was only ever meant to be a limited engagement; that'll look and sound better on my resume and in interviews. I'll be upset if I can't get that.

Don't get me wrong. I'd rather keep my job than lose it, just so that I don't have to desperately grab the next low-paying crappy job that comes along. It pays a little bit better than unemployment, and I like most of my coworkers. But this layoff, if it happens, will be the least upsetting layoff of my entire life, including the time I lost my very first out-of-college job with the real estate tycoon and wasn't eligible for unemployment. It's so much stress and so much time for so little money, with a cloud of doom hanging over everything, and it's leaving me with very little time to do anything else.

I don't strongly expect a layoff, and my boss thinks we're safe, but I do have some reason to worry. I may stop at my grandparents' on the way home, but I'll blog and tweet whether I'm out or safe as soon as I have a chance.

Update: I'm safe. Exhausted and overworked, but safe. At least for today!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Poolside view

This is the view from my bathroom window. (Click to enlarge; even the big version doesn't do it justice!) It's my neighbor's yard.

The swimming pool has been out of commission since before I moved in here in November 2003; I don't think the liner was completely destroyed yet then, but there were at least a few weeds in there the following summer.

The plants die off over the winter, leaving behind nothing but sad grey brush, and then they come back ever-lusher with the next summer. By 2007, it was full of green, though not quite as wild as it is now; my neighbor's son (who would technically also be my neighbor if he could just stay out of prison long enough) spent a weekend with a friend digging the substantial foliage out of there and told me that he planned to put in a new liner and restore the pool to its former glory.

That seems unlikely now, as the walls appear to be rusted all the way through. He went back to jail a few weeks after that, and is still there now. (You can see only one of his three vehicles in this picture. There was a fourth one too, next to the one you can see, but it was hauled away as evidence.) The weeds grew back, somewhat meekly at first at the end of that summer, but the remaining roots of the plants that had been removed came back stronger than ever in the summer of aught-eight, and now it's just plain crazy.

I am fascinated by this mess. I wish my neighbor would plant a garden in there, but she's not good with steps, and the whole thing probably breaks her heart. She had a contractor there recently to do some work on her house; I had hoped he'd do something about the pool, but I guess it wasn't in the budget. I think her lawn service asked her about it too, but it appears that they'll continue to mow around it for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hamster's new wheel and other adventures

I meant to post this weeks ago - after I accepted the offer, before my first day of work. It started out as a summary of the interviews I had at three different companies, but it was too long, and when I had time to cut it down, I had already started the job, and I wanted to talk about that instead, but then there was the vandalism, and that seemed more important to write about, and then I got sidetracked...

So here are shortened versions of all those things. It ends up being long.


I think everyone already knows about this stuff by now, but someone sorta-broke one of my windows with a BB gun back in June, and someone (else?) badly dented the roof of car a few weeks ago (my first week at work) when they walked on top of it. Footprints on the hood, roof, and trunk. The cops managed to punch out most of the dent from inside the car, but you can still see hints of the damage.

Later that week, someone (else?) left a big fudge dragon on the front steps of my house. Yes, I'm sure it wasn't from a dog, based on the size, shape, location, and smell.

The police asked if I thought it was personal. I don't think so, but it was an interesting question, because I've had some experiences that prove you really don't know what goes on in someone else's head. Now that I've had a few incident-free weeks, I'm less worried about that, but it's not going to make replacing the window any cheaper.

And now the spellbinding tale of my three interviews

The thing I found most interesting/awful about this job search was that I did not get called in for even ONE software-related job, or indeed any technical writing job. 21 years of software technical writing experience, starting before I even graduated college, and I couldn't get an interview. I'm not sure what that says about my future, but now that I've been working in another industry for a short while, I really want back into software.

First interview: Proposal writer at a lottery systems company in Providence

No parking or validation, not even for visitors, at a company that has a parking garage in the building. The staff were unfriendly and inconsiderate. They didn't ask to see my writing samples, and were obsessed with telling me about the overtime. If I had gotten the job, it would have been strict office hours (plus tons of take-home overtime), no telecommuting, an annoying drive, expensive parking (or a short bus ride from East Providence, not cutting enough time out of my drive to actually get any reading done), and two bosses with no personality. The building, which is supposedly the company's world headquarters, also has no cafeteria. I guess you go to the Providence Place mall for everything - parking, lunch... I wonder if the company provides office supplies, or if you have to buy those at the mall too.

Second interview: Appraisal writer at a metals appraisal company in Lincoln

The interviewer on the phone gave inadequate directions to the place ("look it up on Google," but the building itself was difficult to get into and there was no hint as to what floor the company was on). He asked me if I had kids (not a legal question). The office was in a dumpy old mill building among a bunch of other dumpy mill buildings, with a rubbly parking area ("lot" would be a gross exaggeration) that promised to be dark and creepy in the evening, much like the inside of the building itself.

They didn't ask to see any samples, and they asked me repeatedly if I was cool with lots of overtime. (How the hell do you answer a question like that?) The guy who had interviewed me on the phone asked again if I had kids. Then he explained that they had to know if I had any "childcare issues" that would interfere with aforementioned overtime. (That version of the question is legal, but only if you ask it of all candidates, not just the female ones. I don't know whether he would have asked that question of the male candidates too.)

I've been dealing with overtime throughout my adult life; it really isn't a big deal, so it annoyed me to be asked this at two interviews in a row. But I really don't want to work for a company that's too rinky-dink to have someone on board that understands basic EEOC stuff. (No HR department.) Of course, I was in no position to turn down a job, regardless, and it seemed like interesting work. But they had no idea whatsoever what a technical writer does. I explained that it was essentially the same as what they do: obtain information from many different sources and distill it into a form that's meaningful and actionable for the intended audience. But I guess I wasn't convincing. Maybe they had already decided on someone.

When I was rejected, they told me it was because they wanted someone with "more of a narrative style." Huh? What would they know about my narrative style? They never mentioned that during the interview. I have a narrative style. I saw their appraisal documents, and they didn't require any more "narrative" than technical manuals do.

Third interview: Where I work now

This one's not even a writing job. Despite being called "technical publications editing," the pubs aren't particularly technical, in my opinion, though they are extremely dull. And I'm not sure I'd even call it editing so much as formatting.

But what I liked about the interview was that the people were friendly and nobody made a big deal about overtime (though they acknowledged that it exists). I also liked that my future boss was impressed with my attention to detail - a quality that some ex-employers have found annoying, and which didn't seem to delight the other people I had interviewed with, who got impatient when I asked them detailed questions about the position other than the overtime.

The job

It's not the best-paying, most interesting, geographically convenient job I could have wished for, but in thinking back over the three interviews I had, I'm glad this is the one that panned out.

Okay, so I kind of hate it right now. I've got deadlines all over the place, but I still don't have most of the software or source files I need to complete any of the work, and the atmosphere is often much more schmoozy than I would like. But it's much better than working with people who act like they have broomsticks shoved up their butts, so that's nice. I just wish they'd dial it down a little when I'm trying to work. Instead, it becomes more schmoozy when the Government Airplane Agency (GAA) guys are around, which is usually when I'm under the most pressure.

And my boss thinks I'm too impatient, which might have something to do with the fact that I'm trying to get some work done instead of participating in the stupid banter. She's right - I get very short with people when they prevent me from getting my work done so that I can go home. It's an hour each way, so the thought of staying late because I had to wait for one of the managers or GAA guys to finish telling some lengthy, non-work-related anecdote so that I can get some urgent piece of information really pisses me off. (I used to be such a procrastinator. Now I can't wait to finish things. Maybe it's the ADD treatment. It's nice to finish something on time and then goof off guilt-free afterwards and not have to put in overtime. On the other hand, when I had more ADD it was easier to tune people out instead of getting mad when they were wasting my time.)

But it'll get better when I have all my equipment, software, source files, etc. and can do some of this stuff from home. At least I hope so.

I don't know how long it will last. The company may be in trouble. Some high-ranking partner in the company was recently charged with securities fraud that took place a few years ago when he was a partner in another company. He's also being sued by former employees who weren't paid for their last two weeks of work before that company folded. (Link to interesting website removed for security purposes because the management is understandably keeping tabs on the website too. Email me for URL if you're interested.) He was also allegedly in on a deal in which some employees' insurance and retirement account contributions were diverted for some other purpose. This worries me because I'm working for the same company (same money and same people), just with a different name.

The company has lost some contracts lately, and at least a few of our accounts payables are way overdue, so I have reason to be a little nervous about the future there. The company's strategy is to spend more money to provide greater services than some of our competitors, but if nobody wants to pay for those services, we're screwed.

Oh well. I'll continue to ride this gravy train (bouillon-cube gravy at best, I assure you) as long as necessary and/or possible.

But wait - there's more!

That is, there's more in this Notepad file that I write my blog posts in, but I'm going to have mercy on you and wait a few days before I post more. Actually I am going to post them now but tell Blogger not to publish them until later; if I don't do that, then who knows how long it'll be before I get around to it again, and then I won't want to post the stuff I've already written.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This is not an update

I want to write about what's going on in my life - my new job, and various other things - but what I want to do takes third place to what I MUST do and what I NEED to do. Sadly, I'm barely addressing the "need" stuff these days because there's so much of the "must" stuff.

I'm still hoping that things will get better when I'm able to do some of my work from home, but since my boss and my employer are in constant crisis mode, I don't know when they're going to be able to get their shit together long enough to make that happen. Hell, I don't even have most of the software I need yet to do my job.

Drat. I only meant for this to be one sentence. It's past my bedtime. I've already given more of an update than I intended. I'm turning into my boss! Oh noes!!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The good, the bad, and the maybe

We've had three family deaths in the last month - none of them related to each other, strangely enough. (Technically, not related to me either except by marriage.)

Two of them were elderly people who died last Saturday. Both of their services were yesterday (fortunately not at the same time). Damn, that was a long day.

Weirdly enough, at both wakes people wanted to talk to me about my unemployment, especially at the second one, because nobody liked the guy.

At some point, my newly-widowed aunt asked my dead uncle's nephew (REALLY not related to me) to find me a job. The guy kind of reminds me of a gangster. He said he'd talk to his buddy for me. That's when I found out that his buddy is the former mayor of my city.

Great. The only letter to the editor that any newspaper has ever published from me was the one where I urged my fellow citizens not to re-elect my uncle's nephew's buddy in 2006. (The buddy lost, and we've been better off without him.) Hopefully the guy doesn't keep a list of his dangerous letter-writing foes!

It would be a long shot at best, so I'm not getting my hopes up. It would be nice to have a local job, though.

The other thing that's going on is that I'm hanging around an office in East Providence in my paltry free time. They're giving me free training on for some skills I want that should really improve my resume. They also give me free lunch every day when I'm there (it's a three-person office at most, they're all siblings, so they eat together). In exchange, I do miscellaneous writing tasks for them. So far, in a month, that's consisted of helping to write a short blurb for a website, and helping design a flier.

I'm supposed to give training on some software in a few weeks, but it will be for only one person, so it's not going to pay much - I don't know how much. It'll just be a one-time thing, but then I can add training to my resume too, if I want to (not sure if I do).

Meanwhile, the job listings are getting crazier. More companies are looking for combo writer/programmers and so forth. And I'm also seeing companies advertising specifically for recent graduates with less than one year of experience.

So, it's not all bad - I'm learning stuff, and once in a while I meet clients of the company that I'm training with, any of whom might suddenly need a writer in a hurry (doubtful, but please don't burst my bubble). Plus, my relative's gangsterlike newphew's buddy might have something. There's still hope - it's just not easy to keep my spirits up all the time. I just try to take it easy on the days when I feel really bad, and then make up the difference when I'm feeling better.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crap from afar

The moment a contract job gets posted on Monster, my phone rings. Isn't that great?


So, what's the problem? Here's what it's like for the job-seeker:

The phone rings. The caller ID says that it's someone in Virginia or some other place with a good job market. The caller is actually somebody in India who claims to have found me on Monster and thinks I'd be a great fit for this three-month contract in Missouri which requires an active security clearance and experience with ArborText.

Here are some things that you can find out by looking at my profile and resume on Monster: I don't live near MO, I have never had a security clearance, and I have never used ArborText.

Often they email and call at the same time, or just email.

Today, I replied to one of those emails, asking if he had seen on my resume where it says that I live in MA and not MO, and if the client was open to telecommuting (they're usually not). At this point, I was genuinely curious as to what was happening.

A few minutes later, he called. I asked him if this meant that the client was okay with telecommuting. He had no idea what I was talking about - he hadn't read my email yet. (sigh) He claimed that he had seen my resume on Monster, but then backpedalled and admitted that he hadn't. I advised him that he could have ruled me out in just a few seconds if he had looked at it.

Then he told me that he didn't have access to my resume.


That's when I realized that I wasn't talking to a real recruiter. I was talking to a telemarketer. It took only a few seconds of Googling to find out that many US staffing agencies have outsourced their recruiting functions to India. For what it costs them to pay one worker in the US to screen resumes and contact only the most likely candidates, they can now pay a whole squad of overseas workers to phone and email as many people as their technology can handle. No need to pre-screen!

Based on the calls/emails I've been getting, these are mostly agencies that I've never had a good experience with as a job-seeker and I've often wondered how they stay in business. Their recruiters (on either side of the ocean) are very polite and cordial until the moment they realize it's not going to work out. Then they won't even answer an email.

These agencies never seem to have exclusive relationships with any clients. Whenever I see a contract that's listed by multiple agencies, these are the agencies whose names I see repeatedly. I'm also seeing some new names, and I'm wondering if some of these new players are perhaps even based in India.

Well, it was annoying enough to see a long list of "new jobs posted today" and realize that they're all for the same contract. Now I'm getting contacted multiple times for the same contract as well.

But every time I've had a call about a contract, I've seen it on Monster, too. Sometimes I see that the contract is also listed with a staffing agency that I wouldn't mind doing business with.

So, these companies are really shooting themselves in the foot with this strategy. In addition to wasting my time, spamming me with totally nonsensical queries (a one-month contract in New Jersey that I'm not qualified for? three months part-time in Austin?), and generally pissing me off, they're also alerting me to the existence of contracts that I can apply to through another agency.

But at least these are real contracts. I'm still getting spam from "Michael Vincent" three times a week claiming that he's found me a job. What a guy! (I've never opened these emails; I have no idea what they are, but I think it's safe to assume they're garbage.)

PS: I realize that I label most of my blog posts with the "dumbness" tag.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Putting trivia on my resume

I just had the most illuminating conversation with a recruiter. (Yes, I'm getting calls every week. This is so much less awful so far than 2002 was.) Knock wood

I already knew that HR people and recruiters search resumes for certain buzzwords, which is why my resume now lists every software I've ever used in my entire career, even if some of the software is pretty much a given within my line of work.

Now I've discovered why this isn't good enough. I also have to exhaustively list every activity involved in performing my job, no matter how universal it is to the job. For example, any technical writer can tell you that the job requires you to refer to various resources (documents, people, a product) in order to get the information you need to complete the work. However, the HR community doesn't seem to know this.

So, it turns out that for as long as I've been doing online job searches, I've been falling through a lot of HR nets because I neglected to include the secret word "interview" on my resume, e.g. "interview analysts." ("Interview" does seem to be the standard word, so if I'd said "consult with analysts" I'd still miss.)

I don't know yet what the secret verb is for reviewing specification documents. Read? Review? Inspect? Refer to? Use? Peruse?

I guess HR's ignorance explains why I am constantly encountering lengthy, detailed job application questionnaires asking how much experience I have performing each of the many minuscule mundane general tasks that comprise any tech writing job, such as "using word processing software."

Yes, really. I had to answer that question twice on Friday on different job applications.

The same recruiter also told me that it is even worse for software developers. More buzzwords. You have to guess what they are when you write your resume. You can't assume anything.

What's funny about this, not that I'm feeling amused right now, is that I went to a "career consulting" place this morning (old job pays for it) and their advice about resumes was very touchy-feely: Don't just repeat the job description. Tell them who you ARE.

Ha! Maybe that works in non-technical fields. In the software industry, as long as you match their description, they don't give a shit who you are. You might as well cut and paste their job description into your resume. It's the only way to make sure you used the right words.

I'm so, so tempted to upload a resume to Monster that's simply a list of words and phrases, with no employer names, dates, sentences, or even formatting. Just to see what will happen.

Alas, I can't really afford to screw around with my job search...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Unprovoked kindness

About a month ago, I ordered some Moro blood oranges - my favorite citrus in the world - from a grower in Arizona. The only box size available is 18 pounds, and it's not cheap.

I had been nervous about layoffs for months, but after the holidays passed, I made a resolution to stop worrying and enjoy the good fortune of being employed. So I decided to get the oranges. (I still winced when I saw how much the shipping would be!)

A couple of weeks later, when I lost my job, the first thing I did (even before telling anyone else) was to cancel the oranges, which wouldn't ship for a few more weeks. Between the cost and the shipping, it was more than I felt I should spend. I'd be starting my period of incomelessness on the wrong foot by splurging on something I could get at the grocery store.

They were nice about it, didn't try to talk me into keeping the order or buying something cheaper, and wished me luck. That, in itself, was a relief to me, and I made a mental note to place a guilt-free order next year if I had a job.

Sunkist blood oranges showed up at the supermarket last week. I bought a few. They were all flawless on the outside, but on the inside most of them were already past their prime after sitting on the store shelf unrefrigerated for a day or two. I still thought they were fine - a slightly withered blood orange is better than none at all - but I wondered how much nicer a fresh one would be.

When I came back from my errands today, there was a big box of blood oranges on my doorstep, with a note from the grower asking me to please accept the gift and good luck with a new job. The box was crammed full of blood oranges.

I picked a squashed-looking one with particularly scarred skin and cut it open. It was beautiful and juicy and perfect.

The McClendons sent me a big box of fresh oranges for no good reason other than to brighten my day - in fact, there's enough here to brighten a few weeks. It worked, and now they have a customer for life, too. (For the record, they also sell other citrus, dates, and honey.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Job hunter's lament

Never in the history of the world has job hunting been such a royal pain in the ass.

I'm not talking about the shitty job market. I'm talking about the websites. Oh my god, the damn websites.

Six years ago, you could enter a profile on Monster and similar sites, and then apply for those jobs by clicking Apply. That wasn't too bad.

You'd think that six years later, these websites would be even more robust and easier to use. Not all of them are. I have found Monster to be particularly moody. Sometimes it seems to accept my edits, but when I check later they're not there. I never know at any time whether all of my info is up there or not, so I refer people to my LinkedIn or Dice profile instead.

Monster is also semi-unusable in Firefox, much to my profound annoyance.

LinkedIn and Dice are much more reliable, but I have yet to find a good lead on Dice (everything worth looking at there is also on Monster), and LinkedIn is suffering from a bad case of overload, as is USAjobs. There are too many people hitting these sites at the same time. There's nothing like entering lots of information on one of those forms, only to click Save and get an error. Sometimes you can click again and it resubmits okay, but sometimes your info is lost and you have to try again. And again. And again.

Now for the even bigger annoyance: employers post their jobs on various job search sites and presumably also search them for your resume, but because some of these job search sites have performance issues, not to mention that Monster got hacked recently, many (actually, all of them so far) make you go to their own website to apply.

So now you have to enter all of your info. Again.

Some let you paste in your resume and call it a day, but others want you to enter every data element individually. Then you hit Save and hope it takes.

But that is not annoying enough, so a great many of these sites make you create an account with a password.

For Christ's sake. This is fucking ridiculous.

Funniest of all is that many of these companies are using the same forms. It would be nice if I could just enter all of this info just once, into a single password-protected account, and then let them each refer to it at their leisure.

Oh wait, that already exists! It's called Monster, Dice, LinkedIn, etc... (I used to use HotJobs and CareerBuilder, but they never got me anything except phone calls from MLM companies.)

I can understand why companies do this. I really can. There are probably legal reasons I don't even know about. And it ensures that they get all the data they need, even if it's not in your Monster profile. If they don't make you jump through hoops, they get inundated with frivolous applications.

Still, it's insane. My day is way too short already. I don't want to spend hours cutting and pasting the same information in multiple places, but that's my new hobby.

In other news, I may be getting some editing work on the side. It won't pay much, and my first client is a university which means it's going to be reported to the IRS, which means I'm going to have to go legit. But if I get enough editing work, I can raise my rates. Then I'll have to decide how much time I'm willing to spend on fruitless cutting and pasting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Slightly less dire than originally thought

Turns out that my unemployment payments in Massachusetts will be much higher (more than double) what they were in Florida, so I may be able to stay afloat a little longer than I had expected.

I probably won't be able to stay afloat without a job for as long as I did in FL, though, because I no longer have any savings and the cost of living is a lot higher.

Still, it was a big relief to find out that it wasn't as bleak as I had first thought.

On another note, please check out Look Around You at 1:00 and 1:15 AM Sunday nights (Monday mornings) on the Cartoon Channel. It's weird and funny beyond belief, but it's not violent or crazy. It's a live-action, very dry British parody of educational films circa 1980. There's a website, too.

Last night's episodes were "Maths" and "Water," below. (I thought "Water" was the funnier of the two.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hamster needs a new wheel

It happened again. The recortes de personal. This time I have no occasion to feel any guilt, because I did not survive!

My severance letter was dated January 2. This was probably in the works long before Christmas. I wonder how long my boss knew.

Investors were not impressed; the company's stock price, which had been stable for a few weeks, has been going downhill ever since. (I remember the good old days when this sort of thing was good for the stock price.)

I cleaned out my desk today. I've barely updated my resume. I'm still catching my breath. My LinkedIn profile still isn't fixed up yet (almost, but not done). I have some leads that I haven't had a chance to follow up on.

I've been in touch with two of the other three writers who were included in the purge. We're all flabbergasted; we did good work. But it's clear that our work is going to be completed in an exotic land. The software is coded and tested there already. (It's not technically "outsourcing" because they're all company employees.)

As for the reason we, specifically, were chosen, we weren't given a straight answer. The answer I got was mathematically improbable. In reality, I think it had to do with office politics. It seems that staying out of office politics can be as dangerous as getting involved, if someone takes your silence as evidence that you've sided against them.

The software industry has been very unstable for me. My job title doesn't command much respect, either in creative circles or in technical circles. Some people see technical writers as overpaid secretaries; some see us as failed novelists; some see us as unimaginative nerds. We're usually at the bottom of the food chain in a software company.

I'd love to do something else, but it's very rare that I see a job description for anything that doesn't require a lot of exactly-the-same experience. Employers aren't really into "transferable skills." Or the job is entry level and won't pay enough to cover my bills, assuming they'll even agree to speak to someone with experience. Or they want someone with a master's degree. Or they're really, really far away. I'm going to have to get creative about ways to make money.

PS: Forgot to mention - I took home a souvenir with my boss's blessing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I suck at parallel parking

Fortunately, I rarely have to park between two cars on my street. When I do, they're usually so far apart that I can easily drive forward into the space.

When they're a little closer together, I can try to parallel park, but I usually end up about a mile from the curb.

If they're close enough together to be the size of a regular parking space, I drive around the corner and park on the cross street.

It sucks, and I've tried to remedy this before with actual people explaining how to do it. Sadly, however, I am a very bad student and people get frustrated and then I just give up.

This weekend, I tried to learn by reading and watching instructional videos. I thought that if I had a well-narrated explanation, something that fits my own cognitive process better, I'd have more luck.

I viewed countless videos and read countless narratives, and discovered that there are at least two popular techniques (the two-turns version and the turn, straight, turn version). You would think that this would double my odds of getting it right. That's what I thought, anyway.

Then I found this neat flash game, which tests your grasp of the concept and lets you practice. Or, if you're like me, it forces you face the sad fact that you might never, ever be able to do it, due to some strange personal cognitive/spatial/something deficit. I played that damn thing for over an hour and mostly hit the curb and the two cars. I did get the car parked a few times without incident, but this seemed more like a fluke than an accomplishment.

Here's the thing: I have a problem, both in video games and in real life, with driving backwards. I can't figure out which way to turn the wheel. Even when I know, intellectually, which way it's supposed to go, I really have to think about it to understand why it works.

This probably seems ridiculous to you. Of course, if you turn your wheels to the right, you'll go to the right, whether you're going forwards or backwards and no matter which way you're looking! Duh! All I can say is that I'm glad it makes sense to everyone else. There's some disconnect between the part of my brain that understands that, and the part of my brain that understands what I see out my rear window.

Swapping things from left to right isn't a problem. I can easily write backwards. I can easily drive a car on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right (unless the road is really narrow and full of sharp pointy rocks, but that's another story). But put the car in reverse, and I'm lost.

Another problem is being able to figure clearances. Objects in mirrors are closer than they appear, but objects in windows are evidently a lot further away than they look through the window. I discover this when I'm parking in front of someone on the street. Time and again I'll back up as far as I dare, only to discover that I still had an insane amount of space to deal with. It's as if I don't how long the back of my car is. How can this still be a problem after 25 years of driving? Why can't I get past the incorrect belief that I'm going to hit a car that's 10 feet away? I do not understand!

Combine my confusing backwards left-and-right stuff with my apparent inability to judge distances, and you can see why this seems overwhelming.

I think there's a third obstacle, too, but I haven't figured out what it is. It's not just fear/anxiety, because I can't even manage it in a video game, where I can (and do) hit the other cars with impunity.

I'll try parallel parking again eventually, but I don't think I'll make much progress until I can deal with the backwards driving and/or the clearance issues.

(By the way, if you try the Flash game, let me know if you think it's a lot harder than the real thing. Maybe I let it discourage me more than it should.)