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Monday, May 27th, 2013
1:33 am - “If I Did It”
Did you know that “The Juice” wrote a book? It was a few years ago. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

There are only a couple of things I remember about his trial, which I did not follow closely. (The first one.) I was at Kirby’s, my favorite local bar, for the very last time before I moved away from Wichita forever. Every TV station was showing the low-speed chase in the white Bronco. Everyone in the bar was riveted by it. Pretty sure that’s the first I’d ever heard of the situation.

Cut to a few months later, the next year. The trial is over, and they are about to read the verdict. I was at work that day, at my first telecom job in Miami. We had a TV turned on in the office, which was a rare thing. I remember being flabbergasted by the result. But people were saying it was a racial issue, that black people generally believed he was innocent. So I wasn’t as sure as I might have been.

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Sunday, December 23rd, 2012
10:34 pm - don’t let me hear you say life’s takin’ you nowhere
Well. It has been a long time, hasn’t it, LiveJournal.

My (lack of) employment situation has been going the same way as usual: more downs than ups. Oddly enough, I was the one who put an end to quite a few potential employment opportunities. At the time, I was making a fair amount of money working for that company in Colorado, so I felt like I had more room to be choosy than I normally do.

I was contacted by a company I worked for briefly in the past. I had not enjoyed that they’d put me on an ill-defined project, that they were in a ridiculous hurry, and that they’d cancelled my contract the very first time I told them that a particular feature was going to be harder to implement than I’d first thought. I check the app store every now and then, and the app they wanted me to build was never completed. I told them all this, they didn’t take the criticism very well, and that was the end of that.

There was a game company in the U.K. that wanted me to work on an Angry Birds clone. I had many long and fruitful chats with one of the principals of that company, and I liked him. But I thought their deadline for the project was beyond unreasonable, especially for somebody like me, with no experience in physics games. So I reluctantly refused their contract. I talked to Alex about taking it in my place (hi Alex!), because he does have experience with physics games. But he also thought their deadline was unreasonable. That cemented my decision.

There was another company that wanted me to do an iPad app that would be used by people visiting a certain museum, which explained some of the exhibits. I liked the guy I was going to work for. Just one snag: his company has a style guide that all their code has to conform to. I ignored that bit, hoping that he would consider my obvious talents more than enough to make up for my failing to follow this particular rule. I was wrong. He just about had a cow when he saw my first checkin. He sent me a sternly-worded email about how we needed to have a “serious talk” before continuing. I sent him a reply that said: no, actually, we don’t. And goodbye. And good riddance. (Okay, I didn’t actually say that last part.)

Then I was contacted by this large-ish consulting company that writes web apps and mobile apps for hundreds of different clients. Not just for a contract this time, but for full-time employment. The recruiter that emailed me was polite, and wise to the ways of technical people. Their website showed them to be a hip place to work. And they had no problem with me working remotely from home. Their hiring process is based on giving applicants a coding challenge, and I always ace those. I considered my eventual employment with them to be all but assured.

Their coding challenge was a lot of work. I had to write a hybrid iPad and iPhone app that consumes data via the API of a movie site. After I turned it in, they said they wanted me to fly to their headquarters for a couple of hours for an in-person interview. When I got there, I learned that this was quite unusual for them. “We normally do the code review via Skype, but we knew there was so much about your submission that we wanted to ask you about that we just had to have you come onsite.”

I interviewed with two of their iOS devs for several hours. They had many, many questions for me. They called my submission “the best and the worst code challenge app we’ve ever seen.” They thought I’d done a great job overall: the project was well organized, it handily solved the problem they’d set forth, it was well commented, easy to read, and so on. They part they had a problem with was that it was deeply non-idiomatic. About as far away from Apple’s default house style as you can get. When asked, I had good reasons for all of my deviations, many of them technical. But for them, this was a deal-breaker. I would have to work with all their other iOS devs, and they knew for sure that the whole company was not going to switch to my highly non-idiomatic style. So I was not offered the job.

By coincidence, the iPhone 5 was released on the day I flew to their headquarters. One of the two guys I was interviewing with had gotten one in the mail only hours before. He handed his new phone to me so I could have a look. “So at least you didn’t come all this way for nothing,” he said. This was before they told me I wasn’t offered the job, of course. I guess he knew even then.

I was pretty shaken by their rejection. When the first guy rejected my idiosyncratic coding style for his museum app, it was easy to shrug off. His “style guide” was atrocious. It looks to me like he put it in place because he hires below-average developers, and he was hoping to minimize the damage they could cause. But this new rejection was different. I really respected those guys. They were intelligent and well-informed, with strong opinions. I would have been happy to have them as coworkers. But they decided that, no, my coding style is just too weird for them.

This made me reevaluate where I am going. I’m starting to feel like I am not at all a good fit as an iOS developer these days. It was great for me back when it was the wild west. In the beginning, just getting an app onto a physical device was a major achievement, let alone getting one into the app store. Now it’s a field that has become commoditized. As far as most clients and potential employers are concerned, run-of-the-mill mediocre developers can do about as good of a job as I can. This particular rejection is more proof of that: they were more interested in hiring somebody who would fit into their organization, rather than somebody who was really good. I probably need to move to something that’s a little harder, where my superior problem-solving skills can differentiate me from the pack. Some specific flavor of backend server development sounds good. Like the music recognition farm I built for my last full-time employer.

Then, at the beginning of November, I was offered a long-term iOS contract. It’s with a company I found through the usual job boards, quite some time ago. I’ve talked to them on a couple of occasions, but every project they were going to have me work on seems to fall through. Finally, their bread-and-butter iOS app, for a big famous financial services company, grew in scope enough that they needed to hire another guy full-time to help.

The people at the client company that we have to deal with are a pain in the ass. Name a cliché you can think of about big companies, and I can tell you about the time that somebody at the client company has exhibited it. And the app we are working on is pretty boring. Nobody is ever going to get excited about this thing. The best you could ever say, if we do really well at this, is that the app competently performed its job, and then the user went back to thinking about something he’s actually interested in.

But, you know what, I don’t care. The people I work with more directly, the ones who write the code and the checks, are great. We have a dedicated project manager who deals with most of the heat from the client company. Everyone is highly respectful towards me, and they’re great communicators. The two other iOS developers I work with are competent and easy to work with. They let me get away with my quirky coding style, so long as it’s in code that I am responsible for. I know they’re not just tolerating me, because they make use of a lot of the new stuff I’ve introduced.

There’s about eight people in the company. Every one of us works remotely, there is no central office, so I’m on an even playing field with everybody else. We have a video chat in Google Groups every workday that lasts about half an hour, and a conference call with the financial services company for another half hour. There is no bureaucracy to speak of. I can get away with nearly anything, just so long as I watch what I say when we’re on the conference call with the client. There is some talk about my becoming a full-time employee instead of just a contractor, if they can find enough work for me, after we’re finished with this financial iOS app. I would be totally down with that, because I really like these guys.

And then, another chapter of an old story. You will perhaps recall an earlier story I wrote about. I rather huffily decided to stop working for a company in SF. The contracting company that had gotten me the job fired me over it. I can’t remember if I mentioned or not that they also stiffed me for my last week’s worth of work. Damned if those people didn’t contact me out of the blue, trying to get me to work on the project I started for them. In all the months since I quit, they haven’t persuaded anybody else to work full-time on it. And the occasional contractor they’ve had has only made the code worse. They've busted a lot of the features I had working.

Given the way it ended last time, Steph thinks I’m a fool to even talk to these people. She might be right. They are the opposite of respectful. I’m not surprised they haven’t found anyone to work full-time on it. But this is probably my greatest technical achievement in the iOS space. I wrote a reusable client library for them. I am great at that kind of coding. There were strange technical challenges that you don’t see in most iOS apps, and naturally I conquered all of them. According to the guys at the company, it has been installed on around 12 million iOS devices. And I don’t really need the money, so I can afford to be cavalier about it.

I told them I would give them 10 to 15 hours a week, and that I wanted a raise, from the 40 bucks an hour I was making last time, to 50. They agreed. So now I have a part-time job, in addition to my full-time job. I’ve only put in about ten hours so far.

It’s almost starting to look like I have a career. Now if I can only get enough of a steady income going to move out on my own. I probably would have already, but supporting Steph in college is pretty expensive. I’m glad she’s going, but I’ll also be glad to see her graduate and get a job.

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Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
4:03 pm - she’s a hypnotist collector
In our previous episode, I was working for a company in Colorado on a simple HTML wrapper app, which on the whole seemed too good to be true. It wasn’t. All the money I was promised has made its way into my bank account, and then some. Since the original project was completed, my contact at the company has had me implement a few new features, submit the first app to Apple’s review process, and start a second app based on the same code base. I guess everybody gets lucky once in awhile.

Every time we’ve negotiated for what I’m going to get paid, he always says “yes” to my first offer. So it feels like I’m leaving money on the table. In fact, one time he not only said “yes,” but also tacked on a 500 buck bonus, because I had completed the allotted tasks so quickly. Going forward, I’m keeping track of my time, which we’ve established is worth 75 bucks an hour. I invoice him whenever the balance gets fairly high.

Holy cow. This is far and away the best contract job I’ve ever had. Out of all my contract bosses, this guy is by far the easiest to get along with. And he found me, so I had to expend zero effort to get the ball rolling.

I often think he’s making somewhat short-sighted decisions, which I occasionally try to talk him out of, typically without success. His apps are ugly and boring. But given all the other stuff that’s going right, who cares?

The only down side of this job is that it’s almost over. He plans to release a veritable army of apps, all exactly the same as the first, except for the HTML page that gets loaded. And occasionally he needs a new feature or two. So it will provide me with a trickle of income for a long time to come.

Today, I had a Skype call with a new company that wants me to do some work for them. These guys are in the U.K. My new contact has the most beguiling British accent. He is claiming that they have enough work that it might keep me employed nearly full-time.

Once again, this was a lead that just fell into my lap, without any intervention on my part. I asked how they found me, and was told that somebody in their office googled up my website and liked what he saw. Holy crap. How can I make that happen more often?

I’m also talking to a guy in Toronto who is starting a social-oriented app for casual athletes, which they will use to get together and have pickup softball games and tennis matches and so on. He sounds like a real go-getter, and he’s gotten a lot of stuff to go right for his company so far. Now he’s trying to attract a technical team to implement his vision. He doesn’t have any money yet, so this would be for equity only. I’m willing to do that sort of project every now and then, if it seems like I’m working with people who know what they’re doing.

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Thursday, May 31st, 2012
2:16 am - i’ve done no harm, i keep to myself
Oh, man. Where to even begin? I put off writing this next episode for a long time, because I had no good news to report, and a lot of bad.

That company that I used to get all my contracting jobs from? They did indeed dump me over the situation with the stupid CTO. I thought about it for awhile, and I guess I don’t mind that much. They were not nice people. Terrible at communication, among many other things. If it hadn’t been this, something else would have put an end to it. So fine, that’s over with.

Then there was the new company in SF that I found on my own, and started contracting with. That was a stressful mess from day one. They had this passive-aggressive project manager that was on my ass every single day over every little thing. “Here’s this huge codebase that you’ve just been introduced to today, and here’s this feature that we want you to implement, and now you owe us a time estimate. And if you’re off by very much, we will be upset about it.” They dumped one of the messiest codebases I’ve ever seen in my lap. That thing has been mauled by five or six different programmers at least. And they expected me to implement major new features in basically no time.

I kept ahead of the mess for about a month. Then I hit a feature that was going to require deep, intimate knowledge of CoreGraphics that I just don’t have. I told them it would take me about two weeks longer to implement than the two or three days they wanted me to do it in. So they decided to end the project. I was deeply relieved when it was over.

I did get paid $3800.00 for my work up to that point, at least. And surprisingly, they said they’d like to work with me again. Probably won’t happen unless I get really desperate, though. I do not relish having their harpy of a project manager on my ass again.

And with that, I was out of steam for awhile. No new prospects, and not much energy for cultivating new ones. For the first time since the beginning of the year, I wasn’t working. That lasted for a couple of weeks.

Then I discovered this web site that connects startups with potential employees. I don’t know what the deal is over there, but suddenly I was Mister Popularity. I got messaged by like eight companies that were “interested to meet with me,” to use the site’s terms. Most turned out to be poor matches or flakes, but that’s to be expected. There are still a couple of companies from there that might work out for me. I talked to one of them for the first time today. They seem mildly interested in having me do a small contract job for them, as a prelude to possibly becoming an employee.

Early in my contracting career, I made a half-hearted stab at oDesk and Elance. I quickly discovered that both sites are geared more towards slave labor than anything. oDesk in particular has just completely unreasonable jobs on offer, the types of employers who want you to build them a Facebook clone for 200 bucks. oDesk has since shut down my account for non-activity. Elance seems slightly better. I never got any work from there either, but the potential employers seemed slightly more sane. I still get the occasional request for a bid from there, but it is almost always somebody who expects an unreasonably large amount of work in an unreasonably small amount of time for an unreasonably small amount of money. So I turned them all down.

Until a week ago. I got a bid request from a guy who wanted an almost comically simple app. Basically a wrapper around an HTML page that he would provide. Apart from displaying the page in a UIWebView and allowing the user to interact with it, the only other thing I had to do was provide GPS-style location updates via iOS’s CoreLocation framework. I guess the app is mostly ad-supported, and it provides deals and coupons and so on for a small skiing community in Colorado. His acceptable price range: one to five thousand dollars.

I didn’t make a real effort to estimate how long it might take to build. Instead, I decided to go for the middle of his range: three thousand bucks. Not too cheap, not too expensive, I thought. I figured I’d for sure be outbid by the rabid sharks on Elance who will tell you with a straight face that they can indeed write that Facebook clone for 200 bucks, easy.

Less than 24 hours after I placed a bid, I was talking to the guy on the phone. I heard a lot about his app, future features he might want to add, and what a stinking mess the existing version was.

One thing I’ve discovered from all this contracting is that I just plain HATE having to deal with other people’s shitty code. The jobs I’ve liked the best, and the ones where the clients have been happiest with my work, are the ones where I get to start from scratch. I can leverage my existing code libraries, which I’ve built up from years of iOS experience, so the first version tends to get off the ground faster than they’re used to. And not to brag too much, but I am almost constitutionally incapable of writing bugs. My shit works, yo. Win win win, all the way around.

However, if there’s already an existing version of the app, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the client will force me to use it. They tend to get emotionally attached. In their minds, I guess it must go something like: “I spent thirty thousand bucks getting to this point, and you are DAMN WELL going to use that code I bought. Because otherwise, it looks like I just wasted my money, doesn’t it?” This despite the fact that, in the long run, it’s probably cheaper to let me rewrite it, and far less stressful. If I’m on the project for any length of time, that’s going to happen anyway. But whatever, that’s one of these people’s emotional needs that I just have to deal with.

I was expecting the same thing this time. The guy has an existing version of the app, so I figured he’d make me use it. He said I could start with that version of the code if I wanted to, but apparently, his revulsion for the project so far is so great that he discouraged me from doing so. He didn’t say so in so many words, but I felt he was thinking something like: if you start with this shitpile of code, I am very afraid that these same shitty bugs I’ve been staring at for months will persist for all eternity. So not only is he overpaying, but I get to start from scratch.

We talked for an hour. He got off the phone and immediately approved my three thousand dollar bid. Apparently, I should have asked for more. From what I can see on Elance, the guy didn’t even offer the job to any other programmers.

I finished the first, crude version of the app in three days and roughly six hours of development time. I used Testflight to get it installed on several phones within the guy’s company. He played with it for awhile, declared the first milestone met, and agreed to release the first thousand bucks of the money.

Now, call me crazy, but damned if this doesn’t seem too good to be true. Why didn’t he offer the job to anybody else? Why is he willing to drastically overpay? I still don’t know for sure, but I have my theories.

I think the guy just got straight-up screwed by his last programmer. Based on what I’ve heard, the programmer was not capable of doing the job. His app crashed a lot and almost never reported any location updates. Worse, the programmer apparently had other priorities, and was not responsive to bug reports. That got my client to thinking that this must be a harder job than he thought. He really needs this app to work, so he was willing to spend his way out of his problem.

I can convince myself of all that, but it still doesn’t explain why he didn’t offer the gig to anybody else. I am for sure not the only iOS programmer in the world who could have taken his money and done a decent job with this. So I’m still a little paranoid. I am definitely not going to release the source code until that first thousand bucks clears my bank account.

Somewhere in there, I had a job interview with a local company in Nashville that does mobile projects for all the major types of phones. I knocked on the front door of their office and was greeted by a dog, which was a good way to start. I think it went pretty well, and I liked the people I interviewed with. However, their tendency is to hire green kids right out of college and pay them next to nothing. I said I wanted $95k a year, they said they tended to pay new people closer to $55k. They said they’d think about whether they could use someone with my “senior capabilities” in their organization or not. I guess the answer was “no,” because they emailed a few days later and said they are no longer interested.

I also had a couple of phone interviews with a place that is what I am going to call a “pure telecommute” company, which makes mobile apps for trade shows. Everybody there has to work remotely, because they don’t even have a central office. Just my kind of place. I liked the people, and I loved the telecommute aspect. I wanted to work with them, so when they got to the salary question, I said a lower number: $80k. They said that was higher than most of the people they were talking to, so I guess they also went with somebody cheaper. Dang, I thought iOS programming was supposed to be a lucrative career specialty.

So. I am not out of the woods, but I am also not out of the game. I can still get a little action going here and there. I think I’ve convinced myself that contracting is not a good long-term option for me, though. I don’t have the stomach for it. I want to find some startup to hire me full-time and let me work from home. Yes, that’s a lot to ask, apparently. But I don’t think it’s out of reach. So I keep plugging away at my goal.

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Sunday, April 8th, 2012
9:52 pm - it’s only water
My contract job is over. It lasted a hair over three months. It went pretty well for almost the entire time, then ended on a sour note.

My boss was the CTO of the company. I came to like him less and less over time. He’s not at all technical. He’s a terrible communicator. He forces me to justify nearly every technical decision I make from every possible angle, which is pretty hilarious, given how little he knows about iOS.

I briefly toyed with the idea of getting myself hired full-time by this company. They have a job listing on their web site for an iOS programmer, and their CEO had stood up in a couple of their video meetings and raved about what a great job I was doing. What ultimately killed it for me was that they’ve got such an insubstantial little boy for a CTO. So I decided to just work until the end of the contract and go on to the next thing. I could see that feature requests were slowing to a trickle, so I was almost done. I figured I had about two more weeks, tops, before I had implemented everything and I could move on to some other job.

All of the CTO’s little passive-aggressive jabs and fragmented, vague communications I could take. It was when he started making a big deal out of me debugging other people’s stupid, buggy apps that we really had a problem.

My task at this company was to write an SDK that other developers could use to display video ads inside their apps. At first, this seemed like the perfect job for me. I am far more careful and thoughtful than most programmers. Writing code for other people to use, where the API matters a lot, is exactly the sort of situation where a fanatic for details such as myself could really shine. And I did. What I didn’t count on was all the idiots I’d have to deal with, as they made their feeble attempts to integrate my code.

I could not believe some of the stupid questions I got. Over and over again, I thought: You’re writing an iOS app. Did it not occur to you that this job was going to involve, you know, programming? The answer, at least from this particular group of guys, was: nope.

The issue really came to a head when we encountered some guy with a memory-smashing bug in his program. He was scribbling all over my SDK code and making it misbehave, but naturally would never own up to this. I told my boss what was happening, but he staunchly failed to believe me. And rather than just saying something straightforward like “I know this is stupid, but how about debugging this for me, just this once,” he’d just send me screen-shots of his fumbling attempts to make it work.

So. I finally snapped at him. I told him that our repeated failures to communicate seemed like a good sign that we shouldn’t be working together, and that I was going to go work on something else.

Well. Based on the story he told to my boss at the contracting company that got me the job, you’d think I’d just threatened to rape his mom.

This is where I started to panic. I couldn’t care less if the boss at the video ad company doesn’t like me. That job was pretty much done anyway. The problem was the possibility that the guy at the contracting company would now consider me a troublemaker, and wouldn’t give me any more work. I found this golden goose that lays eggs full of money, I don’t even have to leave my home office to do the work, and now I’ve killed it. Fuck.

So I started beating the bushes for more work. I still have a few contacts from back when I was trying to scare up contracting jobs by myself. Incredibly, it worked. I emailed a guy in SF I’ve talked to a few times before, and he wrote back: “your timing couldn’t be better.” I have a new iOS contracting job starting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I mostly managed to fix the situation with the CTO. I sent him an email, apologized for popping off at him, and then explained various things about how I thought our communication had deteriorated to the point where such a thing was likely to happen. Not only did he accept that, he asked me to provide him with some thoughts on how he could improve his communication abilities in the future. So, score? I guess?

I can’t say I exactly feel confident about what I’m doing yet. The guy who used to get me all my contracting jobs hasn’t said one way or another whether he’s decided I am a troublemaker. But the good news is I got myself out of the immediate jam, and lived to fight another day. I don’t have to get a desk job. At least not yet.

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Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
6:24 am - these foolish things
A couple of days ago, Steph and I went to China Spring to eat. As per my usual modus operandi, I got us two to-go boxes and we took all our leftovers. Steph didn’t seem all that interested, so I wound up with both boxes.

I ate my own leftovers last night. Tonight, I was getting ready to put Steph’s leftovers on a plate and then into the microwave. I thought of something that I decided absolutely could not wait, can’t even remember what it was now, which took me back to my computer. When I returned to the kitchen, the styrofoam to-go box was on the floor and the leftovers were gone. A certain brindle-colored foodhound had just executed her first successful food bogarting since she moved in here. I went to find her, and she was just lying on her bed, all quiet-like. Who, me? la dee da.

As long as I’m talking about the dog. Since it’s cold out and I am too much of a wuss to take her for decent walks, I found a “doggy daycare” place, where I have been taking her every Friday. They loved her there from the very first minute she showed up. Polly is way better at social situations than I am. And all that extra exercise is making her a lot less anxious.

My new contract job is about seven billion times better than the last one. These guys value code quality, empathy, and following the platform’s established conventions, unlike the Canadians. They listen to my input, and mostly let me have my way. They’ve never tried to get me to commit to doing six months’ of work in two weeks, which seems to happen even in the best of circumstances.

All jobs through the contracting company I work for start with a two-week trial period. At the end, they talk to the client about how it’s going, to see if they want to proceed. I was forwarded the email my new boss sent in response. He said I was “kicking ass,” and could the contracting company get them somebody else with my same skill-set and experience, but for Android?

Dude. I totally rock. And it’s about time I got paired up with an employer who can appreciate that.

To be fair, I know at least part of it is that the guy I’m working with doesn’t really understand iOS, so he’s kind of dazzled. He presents a fairly common problem, I produce a fairly pedestrian solution that just about any iOS programmer could have pulled off, and to him it looks like magic.

If anything, I feel like it is me who is dropping the ball this time. I am not working as much as I probably should, because all their deadlines are reasonable and/or pretty far away. Since I don’t have to go into an office, who ever knows that I am taking advantage of the fact that my bed and my iPad are a match made in heaven?

This is one of those problems that long-term telecommuters face: blurring the line between personal life and work. I have to establish a routine and stick with it. It helps when I get out of the house and go work in coffee shops, but that’s not as much of an option as it should be, because I don’t like leaving the dog here by herself. She doesn’t like that.

Steph is, and remains, the light of my life. I don’t feel like I can or should talk about that very much, because it’s mostly Steph’s story to tell, not mine. She is doing very well in school, despite a whole lot of things that have conspired to make life difficult for her. I do what I can to remove obstacles.

In many ways we have a stereotypical father-daughter relationship. I often feel like she takes me for granted, as all children do with their parents, and that she doesn’t listen to me very much. But every now and then she parrots back something I’ve said without even realizing that she did so, in such a way that it’s obvious that it has become a plain uncontested fact for her. I often hear these things in the context of her taking my advice and passing it on for someone else’s benefit. Then I am reminded that, yes, she really does listen. I just can’t expect her to be like me, is all.

Finally, a little postscript about the Canadian company I was working for. They still haven’t cut me off from their subversion repo, and I can’t stop looking at the updates. Now that I am no longer invested in it, I can see how horribly wrong their app is shaping up to be. All the signifiers are there, glossy images and decent colors and marketing copy, but in total, it’s just ... off. There is no soul. It’s like something put together by aliens, doing their best homo sapiens impression. It has the same lack of joy and humanity that characterizes that terrible boss I used to work for. Nobody is ever going to fall in love with that app, that’s for sure.

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Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
3:38 am - my blue etching
My contract job with the Canadians is over. Thank god.

The boss was an incompetent egotistical asshole who respected no one’s opinions but his own. It is pretty amusing to me that one of the complaints he took to my bosses at the contracting company was that I was “not enthusiastic about the project.” Perhaps because voicing opinions different from his own often resulted in yelling and screaming? That has a way of diminishing one’s enthusiasm, all right.

I tried to quit multiple times. My boss at the contracting company urged me to keep trying, so I did. I kept my head down and did a competent but not outstanding job, keeping my mouth shut as much as possible. Then one day the Canadian boss just up and terminated the contract, and that was that. Oh heavenly day.

I got along just fine with his second-in-command, though. If I could have dealt solely with that guy, I’d probably still be working on that project today. I sent that dude an email after the fact, to see if there was anything I could do to ease the transition, and I answered a couple of questions he had. I learned that he didn’t know about the end of my contract any earlier than I did, and that this is a typical end to programmers that this company has hired.

Conveniently enough, a recruiter contacted me with a job here in Nashville, a few days before I got the boot. A big famous IT services firm with thousands of employees worldwide. I would of course have to work in an office again. The really appealing part was that it pays 55 bucks an hour. With a lot of mandatory overtime, I’d be making around 130k per year. That would be way more money than I’ve ever made before.

I went to the interview the day after I got the boot from the Canadians. The two guys I interviewed with were more clueful than I was expecting, possibly because the group I’d be working for is so small: six employees. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to returning to long hours in a cube farm, though. I decided to put them off as long as possible, to see if the contracting company could come up with something new for me.

After only a couple rounds of back and forth during the week before Christmas, I do indeed have another contracting job. I will be creating the iOS version of an SDK that delivers video ads, for a company in the Bay Area. This could actually be a good fit for me. Due to my exceedingly anal programming style, I am exactly the sort of programmer who should be writing SDKs for other programmers to use. And the guy I’m working with has seemed pretty humble so far, in stark contrast to the Canadian jerk I was working for last time.

Shortly before I secured a new contract, I heard through the recruiter that the big IT services firm had rejected me before I had a chance to reject them. I am a little surprised, because I thought the interview went really well. I guess they thought I wasn’t “enterprise-y” enough? Not enough experience in big companies, I guess? Calling that a bad thing demonstrates the vast gulf between their expectations and mine, I guess.

I think I have mentioned this before: when the situation with the Canadians turned sour, I contacted the guy in San Francisco I had turned down earlier. I thought he was ignoring me, but he finally wrote back, weeks later. By that time, my boss at the contracting company had convinced me to soldier on. By the time I lost the contract for good, I didn’t have the heart to contact him yet a third time. I guess I have to consider that opportunity to be a victim of bad timing, and move on.

I have to give the contracting company credit for getting me into a new job so quickly. And I think I get part of the credit, because I only had to “audition” once, and I nailed it. When I got the Canadian job, it was the third potential employer I was pitching to, I think. I did a lot better this time around.

Still, though, doing this as a career feels awfully tenuous. Constantly going to bat, proving myself over and over again. Little or no security. I guess this is my life from now on, if I continue this route.

On the other hand, the likelihood of me getting bored or burned out is near zero. That’s almost always how my earlier jobs ended: I just couldn’t stand that particular company’s flavor of dysfunction anymore, and I had to bolt. I guess that pattern sort of describes what I’m doing now, but the roles are more formalized.

*****

And now, a bonus technical section. I left this until the end, because none of my readers will even vaguely appreciate this, except for Alex. (Heh.)

The Canadians have hired a guy with no iOS experience whatsoever to pick up where I left off. My access to their subversion repository has not been cut off, I guess because of my helping the second-in-command guy with the transition. This is the first time I’ve ever been allowed to watch somebody take over a project I started, and boy is it ever disconcerting.

I can certainly understand being ignorant of any particular corner of the tech world. There are many, many programming specialties, iOS being only one of dozens. It’s still a pretty new thing. What I cannot understand, from this particular programmer or anybody else, is willful, aggressive ignorance. Looking at the code he’s writing, it’s pretty clear to me that not only doesn’t he know anything about iOS or Objective-C, but that he’s also not willing to learn. He’s making mistakes that five minutes with an introductory text would have cleared up for him.

Here’s a choice nugget I found:

-(void)checkQuizComplete:(NSArray*)history
{
    NSLog(@"The size of history is %lu", sizeof(history));
    NSLog(@"The contents of history is %@", [history objectAtIndex:0]);

    if ((sizeof(history) == 4) && (XYArrayHasObjects(history)))
    {
        NSLog(@"I AM DONE");
        [AppController switchToTabBar];
    }
    else NSLog(@"I PITY YOU FOOL");
}

So, let’s see if we can figure out what in the hell he thought he was doing.

Apparently, he’s trying to determine if ‘history’ contains any objects. So the obvious thing to do is check its size, right? Hence the first NSLog() call, to see how big it is. Except he’s checking the size of the pointer to the array, rather than the array itself. And the sizeof operator is evaluated at compile time, rather than runtime. And that whole rigmarole is completely unnecessary, because he apparently also found XYArrayHasObjects(), a small inline function I wrote, which does exactly what he wants: returns TRUE when an NSArray is valid and contains one or more objects.

But never mind all that! He has determined that, when he gets the result he wants, the size of ‘history’ is 4! So put that test in there! Which is always true, so long as you are compiling for a 32-bit architecture. The first and only time that test will fail is when this code is compiled for a 64-bit machine, where the size of pointers is 8 bytes. IT IS TO LAWF.

Okay, never mind how mind-bogglingly stupid that is. Everybody makes dumb mistakes in the beginning. What I find really incredible is that there is no way he actually tested this. He should have run through this method at least twice, once when ‘history’ contains objects, and again when it doesn’t. Had he run that test, he would have seen that sizeof(history) was 4 either way, and therefore that this test is meaningless. But no, he never did that, and left this bogus test in there, for all eternity. A time-bomb, waiting to blow up, as soon as iOS devices get 64-bit CPUs.

See, this is the kind of programmer my former Canadian boss would rather work with: young, inexperienced, unable to debug, willfully ignorant, no opinions of his own, and (presumably) easily bossed around. Puh-leeze.

AAUUGH, I know I should stop looking at his commits, but I can’t help myself. What a train wreck. I wish they’d just cut me off from their subversion repo and save me from myself.

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Thursday, December 8th, 2011
9:12 pm - i talk in pictures, not in words
Last night I dreamed about the occupy movement. There were millions of people involved. So many that you could barely walk along sidewalks, because they were all choked with occupy protesters. There were a bunch of different occupy groups, each with their own distinctive outfit, like the gangs in The Warriors.

I wanted to get involved, but nothing constructive was happening. I’d be like, Hey, we need to have some goals, talk about the banks’ gross misconduct, hold people accountable, that sort of thing. But everybody involved was only interested in drugs. They wouldn’t listen to me because they were busy toking up, or talking about legalizing the doob. Bunch of unmotivated potheads. I was frustrated by their lackadaisical attitude.

I often pretend I can see past the end of this life and into the next one. This is especially easy to fall into now that I am once again the caretaker for Steph’s dog, Polly. It is the afterlife and Polly and I are talking. We are both souls. It was pure coincidence that I ended up the human and Polly was the dog. Could have just as easily been the other way around.

I imagine Polly saying things like this to me: I was bored out of my mind. We had the sort of bond that you knew that. I conveyed that to you just as surely as if I could talk. You knew that I was a strong dog, that I had as much personal strength as many weak humans. You really couldn’t find anything better for me to do? And I would say something like: Polly, I had to work. I had to make money to keep you in dog food and chew sticks. It was a very rare day that I didn’t take you for a walk, fill your Kong ball, throw treats across the house for you to run after, or take you on a trip to Petco, where you could drag me around excitedly, smelling the dog food and ogling the mice. You might have been bored a lot of the time, but you were well-fed, warm, and never without companionship. And I saved you from that horrible situation you were in before, at great personal expense. I was doing the best I could. Then Polly would say: Hrmph, I can’t wait until next time, when I am the human and you are the dog.

There is a new chapter in my long, LONG history of digging up people from the past. A guy I used to know in Miami, who has since moved to Los Angeles. Steph and I were talking about him on Thanksgiving, so I made an umpteenth attempt to dig him up on the ’tubes, and finally succeeded. This one is particularly good, because the reason we got out of touch was my fault. I can apologize for that stuff now and we can move past it. We already have, actually. He owes me a thousand bucks, but I am not particularly angry about it. I wouldn’t loan him any more money, that’s for sure. But I’m not going to let it become a sticking point. I enjoy talking to him. He is the same guy I used to know a decade ago.

I should write more about my job, but I’m tired. It is taking a lot out of me. There’s plenty of good stuff, for sure. I took off two hours this afternoon, mostly so I could help Steph with various situations. Couldn’t do that if I had an office job. I should write more later.

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Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
4:54 am - oh what a pearl, what a well made world
There is this website that I hang out on a lot. It was started by a guy who’s famous in the startup community. People working for startups have to be prepared to deal with anything, so the topic of working remotely comes up frequently.

I am surprised to learn that many people don’t like working remotely. A lot of them say they feel lonely and isolated. They have trouble getting up at a normal hour, or sticking to a routine. They need coworkers nearby to bounce ideas off of. The physical distance might mean that they are out of the loop more than their coworkers in the office. They may have trouble separating their home life from their work life. Often, their spouses and kids assume that, since they’re home, they must be free to run errands or play Scrabble or whatever. Since work is always only a few steps away, they might be seduced into working too much.

I am somewhat sympathetic to the being-out-of-the-loop thing, and the blurring of work life and home life, due to one being only a step away from the other. Other than that, I think they’re nuts. I love working from home so, so, much. I’ve been doing just that for five or six weeks now, and oh my god I am ecstatic. I have hit the fucking job jackpot.

Now, picking up where I left off. The Canadian company reimbursed me for my hotel stay. The final tally is that I’m out about 100 bucks, due to Fedex charges and so on, but I’m not complaining, because I got a passport out of the deal. Uncle Sam doesn’t give them away for free. My overall costs were less than if I’d gotten one on my own.

The process has not been without tribulations, however. For one thing, this all feels so ... virtual.

There are two guys at the contracting company that I deal with a lot. I’ve talked to them both on the phone a handful of times, and we’ve exchanged a lot of emails. I’ve never met either of them face-to-face, and I likely never will. Unfortunately, they are not the best communicators, so I sometimes feel like I’m left hanging.

Many times I’ve thought that this can’t possibly be real. It has often felt like they are simply going to stop answering my emails, and that will be that. It has been difficult for me to feel like this is a real thing that I can count on. But I’ve now passed two two-week pay periods, and I’ve gotten paid in full both times. It’s hard to argue with that.

My biggest crisis of faith happened about a week ago. My Canadian boss was being really unreasonable. He tends to dream up grand, implausible ideas that are far too abstract and fuzzy to ever survive in the real world. On this particular occasion, he really outdid himself. He dreamed up something that I know perfectly well I could not implement in a million years, and I told him so. This caused him to angrily insist that as a matter of fact, I was indeed going to write just such a thing. The more I tried to reason with him, the angrier he got.

If this had happened two months ago, I would have told him to shove his grand idea directly up his Canadian asshole, and never spoken to him again. Alas, since then, I have committed myself to spending a certain amount of money per month to keep my little girl in school. I can’t just screw around and take six months to find another job, the way I have been doing recently. So I swallowed my pride and shut the hell up. But I immediately set to work finding my way out of the ridiculous mess I suddenly found myself in.

I sent off two emails. The first was to my handlers at the contracting company, telling them the sad, sordid tale of how the Canadian dude had just insisted that I pull an impossible miracle out of my butt. I didn’t say it in so many words, because I was waiting to see what their reaction would be, but I implied I was finished with that guy, and that I wanted to work on something else. The second email was to the guy in San Francisco that had offered me a job earlier, that was originally supposed to start on the same day that I started working for the Canadians. After that, I hit up my usual job-hunting sites, trying to find something local in Nashville, or more contracting work.

Strike one: The San Francisco guy never wrote back. I am a little surprised. He seemed pretty enthusiastic about working with me. Did it hurt his ego that I turned him down the first time, despite the fact that he specifically asked me to get in touch when I was free? Who knows.

I was expecting the worst from the guys at the contracting company. They seemed really stoked about this deal with the Canadians. I assumed they would tell me that I just need to buck up and do whatever was expected of me. I was pleasantly surprised. I can sum up their reaction like this: “If you’re not happy working for the Canadians, we’ll find something else for you to do.” Holy crap, totally the right answer! After hearing that, knowing that I have an out if I need it, the situation with the Canadians seemed not nearly so dire. I resolved to keep my head down and try to reason my way out of it. Soon enough, the boss’ ridiculous idea moseyed off into the sunset, the way most of them do. Score.

So now here I am, crisis averted, but still working for the Canadians. It’s more than a little frustrating. They can’t seem to decide what it is they want to do. They’ve had several short-lived, ill-fated ideas. I’ve had to throw away a lot of work I’ve done for them. I know it shouldn’t matter, as long as I’m getting paid, but it’s frustrating, never being allowed to complete anything. And I didn’t get to test the contracting company, to see if they would have succeeded in getting me into something else in a timely fashion. That would be valuable information to have, if I later find myself ready to quit, yet again.

So just for grins, I’ve asked the contracting company to give me a second part-time assignment that I could do in five or ten hours a week. This will accomplish several goals for me. I can build up my savings faster, so I’ll have some cushion in case I have to quit the Canadians. I can test my relationship with the contracting company, to see if we’re getting along as well as I hope we are, and to confirm for myself that they really do have work in the queue. And I can (hopefully) complete something for a change, in contrast to the constant futzing around that the Canadians are putting me through. I’ve heard back from the contracting company, and they say they’ve got the perfect thing for me. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Holy crap. I feel like I am in charge of my working life for the first time in ... decades? I have options. I can make things happen.

The last time I felt this secure was when I moved to Miami. The telecom business was booming. I had a good relationship with a prominent switch manufacturer. They could get me work all day long, and twice on Sunday. Sadly, that field dried up in a very short span of time. Deregulation swept through second- and third-world countries practically overnight. Government-controlled telecom monopolies throughout Africa, South and Central America, and Asia were dismantled left and right. I had been working for companies that took advantage of the huge price disparity between cheap U.S. long distance and the unholy crap available in the rest of the world. Those sorts of employers are now extinct. I’m pretty sure that the switch manufacturer I was so tight with has completely exited the market. So I was faced with yet another big career change.

I still don’t feel so secure that I can exit my cave and go out into the big wide world as a full-fledged human being, blinking into the light. But if the contracting company keeps holding up their end of the bargain and stuffing those big fat checks into my account every two weeks, then it’s just a matter of time.

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Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011
2:35 am - maybe tuesday will be my good news day
When I wrote this earlier post, I gave myself permission to do so because I thought I had made some money on the deal, which legitimized it. How utterly naive that sounds to me now. Heh!

Yes, the contracting company gave me money to expedite my passport approval. But I still wound up going out-of-pocket about 100 bucks on the deal. For example, the expediter in Chicago I was working with insisted that I had to send my materials to her using Fedex’s “it will absolutely be there first thing tomorrow morning, no really, we pinky-swear” level of service, which cost me 60 bucks, all by itself. And the passport was far from the biggest expense I’ve incurred so far. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Many years ago, I was working at a company in Miami. They wanted to send me on a month-long business trip to London. It is all but impossible to get a temporary work permit in that scenario. The U.K. puts many ridiculous roadblocks in your path, all designed to get you to give up and just give the job to a U.K. resident already. So the company instructed me to say that I was on vacation. I was “visiting a friend” who was actually a coworker. I stayed in that coworker’s apartment, which the company was paying for. So it looked like we really were friends. Apart from hearing enough to establish this pseudo-friend relationship, the customs officials in London did not ask me any significant questions. It all went fine, and I very much enjoyed my first trip outside the country.

Fast-forward to now. I am once again “visiting a friend” in Canada, the guy who is my new boss. He was in fact picking me up at the airport. Alas, he decided to put me up in a hotel in downtown Calgary, so it looked a lot less like we are actual friends. This made the customs officials suspicious. They asked me what I planned to do in the two weeks I was going to be in the country, and all I had for an answer was a couple of touristy things I had googled up an hour before on my phone. They did not believe my story, and began the process of kicking me out of the country.

If that was all that happened, I think I’d be okay with it. All right Canada, you caught me breaking the rules, now you’re going to escort me out, fine. But that’s not how it went down.

The customs official I was assigned to who made this decision decided that he was good cop, bad cop, and outraged rogue cop, all rolled into one. Here’s an example. Not content to merely browbeat me for my indiscretions, he wanted to call my boss and browbeat him as well. I dutifully found the number and placed my phone on the desk, so he could copy it down. He took down the number, then he put my phone in a drawer in his desk, saying nothing. It didn’t seem like a good time to question him about it, what with him having already pounded on his desk several times in anger. So at this point I’m thinking: Great, on top of everything else, I just lost my phone. Good thing I recently synced all my contacts to my Mac, or I’d be stuck in this godforsaken place forever. The rogue customs official did indeed call my boss, and tried to get him to show up in person at customs, so he could abuse him face-to-face. My boss wisely declined.

God, this story makes me sick to my stomach. So I’m going to cut it short by saying that this guy also threatened to send me to jail for the night, and leave it at that. He kept my passport and demanded that I report back to their office at 11:00am the next day, so they could officially throw me out. I did get my phone back, at least.

I finally got out of the airport and into my new boss’ car. He is not exactly what you’d call sociable even in the best of circumstances, which this definitely was not. Conversation was strained, to say the least.

As he is trying to pay his way out of the parking lot, something went wrong. The automatic ticket-taker thing wouldn’t let us out. He tried pressing the call button. We could hear a phone ringing somewhere, futilely. He quickly backed out of the automatic pay lane and got into one with a real live attendant. Then we learned why the ticket machine had failed: his credit card was declined. Whoops! He had to pay cash to get us out of the parking lot.

He took us to some clichéd sports bar to eat. He vacillated between showing signs that said he was sorry for having put me through this and acting like it was my fault for not having a more convincing story. As if! We hadn’t talked about this at ALL beforehand. In fact, I only remembered to ask if I was “on vacation” mere hours before I got to customs. If I hadn’t brought it up, he would not have said a word about it. And it’s my fault? I THINK NOT.

As we were getting ready to leave, he gave our waitress his credit card to pay for dinner. Declined again! He paid in cash, and we left.

Next he took me to the hotel that had aroused the customs officials’ suspicions. I was originally supposed to stay two weeks, now reduced to a single night. The boss was worried that the hotel might try to charge him for a broken reservation. But they didn’t have a problem with that.

The desk clerk asked me for a credit card. “Just for incidentals?” I asked. Actually, no. Nobody had bothered to pay for the room yet. My boss reached into his wallet, produced his card, and stopped. We looked at each other. We both knew what would happen if he gave her that card.

And this is how I managed to go 300 bucks out-of-pocket for the hotel bill, Dear Reader. For a project I had yet to make a dime on. A project in which I was already 100 bucks out-of-pocket due to the expedited passport stuff.

The next day, I was escorted around the airport by a Canada customs official. Thankfully, I didn’t get the same abusive asshole I got the day before. This guy turned out to be very polite. I was cooperative to the point of embarrassment. He needn’t have worried about me trying to “escape.” At that point, I could not WAIT to get out of that wacky place.

For once in my life, this story has a happy ending! Yesterday I got paid for my first full two weeks of work. The contracting company stuffed the money directly into my account via wire transfer. I get reamed in fees for that, so I’m trying to get them to send checks in the mail from now on, the old-fashioned way. I haven’t yet gotten reimbursed for the hotel room, but I’m told that they’ve sent the money.

I am only making 40 bucks an hour for this. It’s a regular 40-hour-a-week thing, so I get paid the same no matter how many hours I work. For the first two weeks, it has been quite a lot of hours indeed. I get no paid vacation and no sick days. No health insurance. All of that makes this easily the lowest-paid full-time job I’ve taken in 15 years, at least.

But I don’t care! The up-sides FAR outweigh the down-sides. I get to work right where I’m sitting now, in front of my huge Apple monitor, streaming my favorite jazz stations. If I need to take an hour or two off in the afternoon to run errands, nobody has anything to say about that. There is no commute. I don’t have to sit in a low-walled cube and ignore nearby idiots. I can stay in Nashville, and help my little girl get through college. I can take long working vacations to any part of the world that has innertubes. I could be making ten grand a year less than this and I’d still be a lot happier than I was in my last full-time job.

I am finally on track to solve “the money problem” in my life in a way that won’t kill me. I am so happy that I could spit.

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Saturday, October 15th, 2011
6:37 am - this must be the ugliest piece of bread i’ve ever eaten
This is the way progress happens in my life: I work and work and work and work and WORK for got-dammed YEARS, it looks like nothing is happening, I am making little or no progress, and then it all falls into place at once. Hence this unusual posting frenzy from yours truly, Dear Internet.

To be a successful contractor, I have to do a whole lot of schmoozing and deal-making and job-estimating, and a smaller amount of actual, technical work. These two pursuits are very different. They exercise different parts of my brain. I have been spending so much time on the former that I am finding it difficult to transition to the latter. At the moment, I don’t have enough technical juice to make decent progress on one gig, let alone two. So I chickened out. The Calgary job is not quittable, the Berkeley job is, the decision is made for me.

I felt horrible, having to email the Berkeley guy to tell him I couldn’t do his job after all. I fibbed a little bit and said that, all things being equal, I’d rather work on his stuff. Not true; I find both jobs about equally technically challenging. I also said that I have an ongoing relationship with the contractor company, that they get me a lot of leads, and I can’t afford for that situation to turn sour. All very true. The Berkeley guy was totally gracious about it. He said I should contact him again when and if I am free to work with him. I don’t think I burned that bridge.

I’ve now had quite a few conversations with my new boss in Calgary. I think I am back to genuinely liking him again. He is often frustrating, but his heart is in the right place. He is making a genuine effort to find the discipline to do the right things with his company, rather than just going with his (likely flawed) gut feeling on everything. He makes “evidence-based decisions,” as he puts it. The part I find frustrating is that he goes so far with this that it is bordering on religion. He has locked on to a recent book written by one of the leading lights in the startup community as his own personal bible, and he has insisted that I read it. Okay, fine, I will, but I’m already a little turned off, due to the religious aspect. And he is often not respectful of my time. That’s a real pet peeve of mine.

In this phase of my life, I have pretty stringent ideas about what constitutes a good job. I don’t want to work in anybody’s office. I don’t want to commute. In fact, I want to be able to work from wherever I damn well please, anywhere with an internet connection. And I want to be able to take a couple of hours off in the afternoon, so I can go for a walk. Give me that much, and I will work my got-dammed ASS off for whoever fulfills my conditions. I am a strong B+ player. I can get more done than 80 percent of the world’s techies. I thought I was an A player, until I spent a year in the Bay Area. Now I know my limitations.

I am pretty close to getting there. Pretty got-dammed close. If I can finally solve the problem of keeping money coming in without sacrificing my ever-loving soul, then I can start working on higher-level goals in my life.

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Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
10:38 pm - don’t try to understand ’em, just rope and throw and brand ’em
While trying to scare up contracting work, I am often talking to several companies, each in different stages of the process. Many times, it has seemed like two or more of them are going to turn real at once. I fear that I am in danger of overcommitting myself. Over time, I have learned to ignore that concern. No matter how much of a sure thing any particular negotiation might seem, I know from bitter experience that they may simply stop writing back, with no explanation whatsoever. In fact, that’s the most likely outcome. I’ve had to learn not to take it personally. To tell you the truth, I think it’s incredibly rude, but I just can’t let myself get worked up about it. I’d never stop being angry.

Well, for the first time ever, it has happened. I now have two full-time jobs: The one that is taking me to Calgary for two weeks, and another with a company in Berkeley that maintains a stable of iOS apps. And a part-time iPhone project that might require my attention at any minute.

(In the interest of keeping my own memories straight, I guess I should mention that I did actually have two full-time jobs once before, along about 2006. It wasn’t in the context of contracting, though. It was near the beginning of my boring corporate job, which was driving me completely nuts. So I took on a one hundred percent remote assignment with this other company in Los Angeles, as a tryout. The remote people were even worse, and they weren’t offering much money, so I quit after only two days. And I learned how to negotiate the stifling environment at the local corporate job, at least well enough that it wasn’t killing me every day.)

Further, there is this other guy, who I have had ongoing negotiations with, who just asked for my “availability.” We have never worked together before, but I like him. This is a relationship I would like to nurture. So I said I could take a small project if he has one, just to see if we can work together. Ergo, I have effectively turned down work. Yet another first. Naturally, I have “turned down” oDesk-style grunt-work that pays twelve bucks an hour, but that doesn’t count.

Having spent most of my life in office-type situations, all my instincts are telling me that I should quit one or the other of these two full-time jobs. So far, I prefer the Berkeley company. I like the way the guy in charge talks to me. He gives me a very high-level overview of the problem he has to solve, and lets me take it from there. If only everybody I’ve ever worked for was like that.

Alas, it would be difficult to quit the Calgary job. Contracts have been signed. I have accepted money for the expedited passport application, which I would have to return. And this job is through the “federation of contractors” company. I don’t want to sour that relationship. They could wind up giving me a whole lot of work over the years. So, I can’t quit that one.

I could easily quit the Berkeley job. We are at the very beginning. I have done no work, and accepted no money. But this job pays significantly better, and the first project they have given me is cooler.

Even if there weren’t valid, undeniable reasons to keep both of these jobs, I think I’d do it anyway. One serious error I’ve made in the past is forgetting that jobs end. When the money is reliably rolling in, I have a tendency to stop thinking about where my next opportunity is going to come from. And I know that one or the other of these two jobs is likely a whole lot worse than it seems, because I don’t yet know the whole story. When the time comes to ultimately quit one or the other, I can use the losing job as leverage and insurance.

So, here I am, making the conscious decision to allow myself to become seriously overcommitted. Scary. Guess I’ll be chained to my Mac for the next several months.

I’ve said before I have no real skills that make me good at contracting, other than tenacity. So I want to make note of something that seems to have worked pretty well.

When I was in early negotiations with the place in Calgary, I wrote up a report of the first phone interview I had, to present to the people at the contracting company who got the lead for me. Most of what I wrote was just blind enthusiasm, “it seems to have gone well,” blah blah blah. But I also noted that I liked the guy I was talking to. It was true at the time I wrote it. Since then, that guy has shown me a bit of his bad side, so I’m not so sure it’s true now. Not that he’s terrible or anything, just not my favorite person in the world. But that off-hand, throwaway remark seems to have really tickled the fancy of the hiring manager in charge of this job. Every time we talk about it, and we’re trying to decide if it’s going well or not, he says “You like the guy, right?” It’s like a sigil he’s holding onto, which helps convince him of the rightness of going forward. I bet he has repeated it to somebody at the Calgary company. And I got the job, so it seems to have worked.

The process of becoming successful in work situations is largely a matter of repeating magic incantations that ultimately make no sense to me. If saying “I like the guy” is one of them, then sure, I’m willing to do that. Doesn’t matter much if it’s true or not. I can’t fake enthusiasm very well, but those four simple words, spoken in my normal tone of voice, apparently helped quite a bit.

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Friday, October 7th, 2011
10:15 pm - never turn your back on mother earth
I told myself I couldn’t write this post until I had made actual money from this deal, proving that it is real. Today, the “federation of contractors” company direct-deposited money into my bank account, so that I can expedite my passport application. I think that counts!

Folks, I am going to Calgary for two weeks. Would not have been my first choice, because of the weather, but I am not yet in a position where I can be all that choosy. This is the start of a full-time, long-term, open-ended contracting gig. I am improving their iPhone shopping app. I will work remotely after the initial onsite visit is over.

The contractor company also got me a gig writing a small iPhone app, which I think will be about a week’s worth of work. That one is currently stalled while I am waiting for another guy to do his part of the job. And I have yet another contracting gig that will start on Monday, through a company I found on my own, so I don’t have to split the money with anybody. And there are another two companies waiting in the wings that I have had some conversations with, that might get around to giving me some work eventually.

I’ve been trying to find a way to make money on my own terms ever since I quit my job at the boring corporate company way back in 2008. These are the signs that I am getting a little traction.

If I have succeeded, it isn’t because I got any better at any of the skills needed to make contracting work as a real job. I am still lousy at dealing with people and closing deals. My only “skill” is unwavering tenacity. (Well, my other “skill” is that I am a good programmer, but that doesn’t matter very much at all, I have discovered.) I decided I was willing to be broke and homeless until I made it work somehow. I just kept emailing and emailing and emailing until I found some people willing to put up with my sorry ass.

For a good number of years, my long-term goal was to get back to the Bay Area and work for another A-plus tech company, like the one I worked at back in 2000. What changed my mind was the few months I spent working at home, at the tail end of my boring corporate job. I no longer had to commute through brutal traffic at the beginning and end of the day. I didn’t have to sit in a stupid low-walled cube and try to ignore all the idiots around me. Every afternoon, the dog would guilt me into going for a walk with her. It felt like a chore to leave the house, but I enjoyed those walks at least as much as the dog did. An hour or two of walking and sunshine and real air, every day. That’s as close to what they call “work-life balance” as I’ve ever achieved.

I didn’t know it when I moved in, but the house I was renting was perfect for my chosen lifestyle. It had a couple of bedrooms and a garage. I lived right next to a public golf course. The dog park was only a mile away. I could never afford to buy a place like that in San Francisco, but locally, it is well within my reach. And if I can work remotely and live anywhere, then I can choose a place where the cost of living is downright cheap. I can have all those things and then some. And I can live all over the place until I decide. Amsterdam, Panama, Detroit, Thailand.

I used to fear getting older. But generally speaking, things get better all the time. The terrain inside my own mind is a calmer, happier place than it has ever been.

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Saturday, October 1st, 2011
2:09 am - they call it stormy monday, but tuesday’s just as bad
Steph sprained her ankle really badly. She is hobbling around on crutches, her foot in a compression boot. I am now her designated driver. We are using her car for this, because mine is kinda broke, and I can’t afford to take it to the shop right now. She has to go to school five days a week, plus other miscellaneous trips. I am enjoying being more involved in her day-to-day life, but boy am I tired. We have been doing this for two weeks now. I wonder what I am going to look like after six weeks. Or eight.

Adding to the fun, the hard drive in Steph’s Mac died. She had no backups! As if her busted ankle wasn’t already enough of a blow to her schoolwork, this was almost worse. All her pending homework, gone. I had to buy her a new hard drive for her Mac, and a new drive for time machine backups, and loan her my Mac while I was fixing hers. Stuff I can’t really afford right now. To her credit, Steph did not let all this bad news distract her. She is working harder than ever at school. She practically lives there now.

Steph also moved into a new house. There is a seven-year-old girl that lives next door, and she is the KUH-YOO-TEST thing EVER. I have spent many dollars I don’t have buying kiddie apps and books for my iPad, so I can watch her impatiently bang her way through them. I took a photo of this activity, but I can’t show it to you, because you are all perverts and child molesters. Thanks a lot, internet. This is why we can’t have nice things.

The seven-year-old lives with her grandparents, because her mother is a meth addict. I have met the mom. Many times, unfortunately. God, what a mess that woman is. All the more reason for me to try to give the kid some positive attention. Her grandparents have been really sweet about it. “She is so happy you are here,” one of them said to me. This is reminding me that I need to have more kids in my life. They are such a joy.

I have gotten myself involved with a company that is a federation of contractors. They introduce you to pre-qualified clients who need contract work done — iPhone and iPad programming, in my case — and they take a cut of your hourly rate, if the job works out. Everything I know about this place is stuff I figured out myself, because almost everybody I’ve interacted with is terrible at communication. Despite that, I’m finding that I kind of like dealing with these guys. They are often ridiculously demanding, which could potentially be a problem, given how much time I spend ferrying Steph around during the day. But I always have my trusty iPhone with me, so I can answer emails, or take a Skype call, or look at a PDF, or whatever. I haven’t started a paying contract yet, but I am very close. If the one I am angling for now doesn’t work out, they will find something else for me to try.

Can I just say again how much I love, love, love my iPhone? I use that thing 40 times a day, for so many different purposes. Especially now, given that circumstances have forced me out of my usual self-imposed cocoon, blinking into the sunlight. Best tech gadget EVER. Steph is even more addicted to hers than I am to mine. Good luck getting her to look you in the eye, you’ll do better if you send her a text message.

This girl I used to know in my twenties recently found me on Facebook. We have had a few phone calls, and a few emails, and a few text message exchanges. Before this, we had been out of contact for over 20 years. She is still exactly as selfish and impossible as she ever was. She suffers from something I like to call “pretty girl syndrome.” People who are as attractive as she is become accustomed to other people doing almost all of the work in their relationships. I wasn’t willing to call her ten times for every time she called me back, so we fell out of contact. But these days I am much better at managing her mercurial behavior. It takes a lot to get me flustered, in my advanced years. And there is a lot of good in her, despite her flaws. God knows I can always use a few more sane people to talk to.

So, that is my life right now, internet. It feels like the wheels are going to fall off at any minute, but they haven’t so far. Knock wood.

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Thursday, August 25th, 2011
12:48 am - journey to the center of my navel
thanks to the miracle of facebook, i recently got a bit more information about some of the people mentioned in this story, which i originally wrote on november 17, 1999. it includes the full name of one participant, which i would normally change, but it turns out that i had remembered it wrong. which explains why i couldn’t ever google up anything about her before now. as is usual when i go digging up something i wrote years ago on usenet, this historical account is presented for entertainment purposes only. i wouldn’t write it like this again today.

This is a true story. (When have I ever told one that wasn’t?)

It was 1983 and I was living in Lawrence, Kansas. In another month I was going to enter the worst period of my life, bar none. Thank god I didn’t know that.

I’d pretty much exhausted my options on what I was going to do next. I’d already dropped out of college twice. I’d let my apartment go, I was sleeping on the couch at Jake and Chuck’s place and they were getting sick of me. I’d had enough of working for the jerk boss at Pizza Hut so I’d quit. What to do, what to do ....

So one night it was two or three in the morning and three of us from “The Gang” were laying around on the floor watching some stupid crap on TV, both of them smoking dope, me pretending to. “The Gang” had a female contingent that lived in another group house right across the parking lot from us. “The Female Gang.” They’d all been out doing something and they came over to crash our “party,” such as it was.

The only one of them I can remember clearly was Susan Strobb. She’d had a little to drink that night, which had kind of loosened her tongue, but she was far from drunk. She was standing there, hadn’t been through the door even five minutes, surveying all of us proto-slacker deadbeat dudes sprawled out on the floor, and she says “So, who wants to fuck?”

Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life and this goes on all the time in the rest of the world, but I can’t think of one single other time I’ve personally been involved in such a thing. And it’s not like Susan should have to beg or anything. She was very short, four foot ten and sensitive about it, but she was cute, ballsy, curvy, and she dressed like a trashy early-eighties Madonna. I doubt she’d appreciate that reference though. More like Madonna crossed with the Cramps. (For those not familiar with the Cramps, the band contains several “women” who are in fact inexpert transvestites.) She was just doing a typical guy thing: I’m a little bit snockered, it has made me horny, I’d like to sleep with somebody without having to go through a lot of rigmarole, who’s going to help me out here?

And all of us hip, cool, with-it, cynical, arch, clever guys looked away like she hadn’t said anything. Not even so much as a flip remark. She had just flattened every one of us.

(I’d just like to say it now and get it over with: I’M SORRY ALREADY!! I was a weak spineless little mama’s boy! I’m SORRY life dumped an opportunity like that in my lap and I didn’t have the balls to do anything about it! Please, give me another chance!!)

Man, Susan was really cool. She was a KU student and she’d stuck out the bullshit long enough that they were finally letting her do interesting stuff. Behavioral studies involving pigeons. She took me to her lab one day to see one she was working with who she called “Clay” (get it?). She opened the door of his cage, gave a command, and he flew out and landed on her hand, the down from its feathers billowing in the air. She gave another command and he flew back in.

She was usually playing the part of the ballsy party girl, but she had a softer side that she might show you if you played your cards right, and only if there was nobody else around. She told me once that she didn’t like to be touched. She blamed it on the fact that she was so short and people had treated her like a toy her whole life. I bet it was a little more complicated than that.

For the space of a couple of months, Susan was trying to decide who would be better to pursue as a boyfriend, me or this other idiot named Larry. If we were her top two prospects, then the pickings must have been very slim indeed.

I can only remember one even vaguely romantic moment between us. “The Gang” and “The Female Gang” were all at this dumb Lawrence bar called the Sanctuary and I was experimenting with exactly how drunk I could get without puking. I had yet to go all the way over the line, so the prospect still kind of intrigued me. Me and Susan were outside on a patio behind the bar. It was very cold, but when you’re drunk, who cares? And then, wouldn’t you know it, I had one of those goddamned BLACK-OUT PERIODS that still happens to me today if I go too far with the booze, and so there’s a period of several seconds where I can’t remember what happened. At the point where my memory resumes, Susan is kissing me, and it’s so sweet, even falling-down drunk I could get the message: “I want to let go of this mask.”

I don’t remember who started kissing who, and for most of my life between then and now I’ve pretended like it’s a big mystery: Did she start it or did I? As if there could be any doubt in the mind of any sane human who’s read this far. Of course she started it. Like you even vaguely had the balls to do it yourself, you idiot.

So we broke away and I probably looked startled. I mean, I know I definitely wanted to kiss her and everything, but I considered the possibility so remote that the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind in a long time. Being a sissy, you can’t just get what you want and like it, you have to go through that stunned-rabbit-in-the-headlights thing first. And that was the last thing Susan could deal with. I could have gotten mad, laughed, any strong emotion would do, it would have led to the next thing. But no, I sat there looking like a weakling.

So Susan backtracked. I really can’t get into a relationship right now, you know. Everything is just too complicated. Too, too, too complicated. I don’t know why I did that really, just bzzzzz bzz bzz bzzzz ....

I don’t remember the words after that, just the tone of voice. Now that I’m no longer an idiot, I can decode the subtext: IF ANYTHING IS GOING TO COME OF THIS, YOU HAVE TO TAKE PART OF THE RESPONSIBILITY, STUPID. But I didn’t. I took what she was saying at face value and started nodding vigorously like an idiot, yes yes yes, I understand completely, too complicated and everything.

When Jake and Chuck got too sick of me, I moved back to Wichita, WHERE MOM WAS, so I could get those apron strings tied around me a little bit tighter. For Susan that narrowed down the competition considerably, and I heard from Chuck that she ended up marrying Larry. A few years later, he was riding a horse and not paying enough attention, he fell off, the horse stepped on his head, and he died. A happy-go-lucky idiot right up to the very end.

I am telling this story today because I walked to Denny’s this morning for breakfast, and damned if Roxy Music’s “More Than This” didn’t show up on their piped-in music service. It’s a track from their 1982 album “Avalon,” one of the prettiest records I’ve ever heard. “The Gang” almost exclusively listened to hipper-than-thou cynical music, Elvis Costello, the Clash, the Jam, Replacements ... and yet almost all of us had a copy of this ineffably pretty record, “Avalon.” Somehow it was able to cut through our defense mechanisms.

One afternoon Susan invited me over to “The Female Gang’s” group house, all her roommates being somewhere else at the time, and made me lunch. It was the best damned chicken I ever ate. And she was playing “Avalon” on the tape deck.

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Monday, June 27th, 2011
12:04 am - all that fur and all that hair
Steph has been on a Depeche Mode kick lately, and has been talking about them a lot. They were my favorite band for many years. I can vividly recall flipping through the phonolog at my local record store in Wichita, looking for the entry for Speak and Spell, the band’s very first record, long before it was available in the states, so I could order it and wait eight weeks for it to arrive and pay through the nose for the privilege. But Steph hasn’t tempted me into listening to them again, because they’re just too pessimisstic for me these days. Their message is that sooner or later, regardless of what you do, you are going to get fucked, and somebody else is going to enjoy it. Doesn’t jibe with my reality anymore.

After the third or fourth mention, I told Steph about the obvious alternative: Peter Gabriel. “His records are largely electronic, and he also has a mostly pessimistic worldview, but he’s a lot more constructive about it,” I said.

I convinced Steph to download Gabriel’s entire catalog from the illegalnets, and told her to start listening at Peter Gabriel 3. She wasn’t thrilled, calling it “dated.” That prompted me to listen to the track previews on Peter’s website, to see if the songs were as good as I remembered. That’s when it dawned on me that this guy was one of my favorite artists for ages, and I hadn’t listened to his records in, oh, let’s say 15 years.

I’m usually not “down” with the illegalnets. But all my CDs are in boxes in the attic, and even if I were up for a scavenger hunt followed by a ripping session, there are some of Peter’s records I have only on vinyl. And he’s released a couple of new ones since I stopped paying attention. And I’m pretty poor right now. Sigh.

It was worth the digital thievery. After having listened to Gabriel’s entire catalog of studio albums a couple of times, I can safely say that after years of only middling interest, I once again Believe In The Power Of Music. Holy cow.

I’ve read interviews where Peter sort of disowns his first two solo records, Peter Gabriel 1 and 2. They’re competent British-flavored prog rock, but there is nothing to distinguish them from any of the millions of other entries in the genre. For Peter Gabriel 3, he discovered his secret weapon: African rhythms. There has always been an ugly side to Peter’s music, and he finally figured out how to show, not tell. This record and Peter Gabriel 4 feature an atmospheric dread that has never been duplicated. It is anguish made flesh. Phil Collins’ “gated” drumming became the envy of the music industry for a couple of years, everybody wanted to duplicate that sound. If you grade records on the effectiveness of presenting their message, then these two are my all-time winners, hands-down. They drag me in, every time.

Then we have So. This is the record that made him a household word, and I listened to it a lot back in the day. But he was drifting away from what I found to be so compelling about his music, towards a more poppy, accessible style. It no doubt made him a lot of money, and I can’t begrudge him that.

For me, Peter’s story stopped in 1992, the year Us was released. I liked it okay, but he was venturing ever further into territory unfamiliar to me. I can see how I lost the thread.

His next proper studio record, released long after I stopped paying attention, was Up. I’m sorry I missed that one. Excellent addition to his ouvre, and it catches him right up with the times. Incidentally, this is the record where Steph was finally able to grasp what I meant when I said “still generally pessimistic, but more constructive than Depeche Mode.” I suppose it helps that she can’t claim it’s “dated.”

Then there’s Scratch My Back. This one doesn’t work for me. It sounds too much like something Barbara Streisand would do. Peter’s all weepy and emotional, blubbering over tasteful piano arrangements. OVO is similarly foreign. I’m going to be really ugly here and say that this sounds like an entry in a category I like to call Noble Brown People Records. Yes, I am a racist, you are outraged, etc etc. I still don’t want to listen to it.

But you know, even considering the ones I’m not crazy about, I think it’s worth the effort. Peter’s middling records are better than most people’s best efforts. Even though I don’t like OVO, there is something to be gained by listening to it. When I can mentally filter out The Noble Brown Man’s Struggle, I can hear a lot more interesting stuff going on underneath.

One thing I was really shocked by was the stunning technical quality of the records Steph dredged up from the illegalnets. These are all high-fidelity rips from the best SACD versions, along with scans of the artwork. This saves me from having to buy them and rip them and scan the artwork for iTunes and carry around the physical CDs for the rest of my life, or worry about my DRM-infested files becoming obsolete. Win-win-win. Except for that nagging conscience thing.

There are of course arguments to be made that you are only ripping off rich, soulless corporations. I admit I have little sympathy for them. That’s beside the point. The reason you shouldn’t steal is not because you’re hurting some corporation, it’s because of what it says about yourself. You are sending yourself a message: I am the type of person who will fuck people over for my own benefit. That was the big blow when I discovered that my sister had stolen from me. It’s not so much about the money, it’s that yes, she really is the craven, soulless, selfish bitch I’ve always feared she was. She left no room for doubt. How I could I be related to someone as horrible as that? It boggles my mind.

Despite the big speech just there, I’m not tossing my newfound Peter Gabriel records. Even though I personally make money by selling piles of bits that are easily and naturally duplicated, the same predicament that the record industry is in.

A little back-of-the-envelope math says I’ve spent about 50,000 bucks on records over the years. I am at the moment pursuing a path that is not likely to make me wealthy any time soon. I haven’t had a real home, where I truly stretched out and unpacked everything and felt like I really lived there, since I was living in Miami, over a decade ago. I’m going to be nomadic for awhile. This is one of the compromises I am going to make. I’ll find a way to make good on it later on.

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Thursday, June 9th, 2011
5:07 am - from the corners of my mouth
I saw this WikiHow article linked from Google’s home page today, and thought it was something I could learn from, so I read it. This is the most unnerving thing in there: Consider that a person whom you detest is invariably your “perfect” mirror — they are just like you.

Okay, that’s a pretty ugly thing to think about. I’ll try to trace along the edges of it, though.

In the last few years, I think the guy I detested the most was somebody I worked with at my last corporate job. He was a mediocre developer, which is not a big problem in and of itself. The problem was him acting like it was his world, and the rest of us just live in it. He would be working on some module, and then completely rewrite it without telling anybody, breaking everybody else’s code that depended on it. Somebody would mention this, and he would completely brush off our concerns, explaining how much better it is now. When there was some technical decision to be made, like how to solve a problem or which library to use or which platform or whatever, he would argue desperately that his choice was the only possible way that it could ever work. Mild disagreement was met with increasingly shrill retorts, appeals to authority, and threats.

I distanced myself from him, even though he was ostensibly my technical lead at the time. I gradually changed things so that my work depended less and less on his. I did what I could without consulting him, all the while trying to get myself moved to another group. So he went to our mutual boss and complained about me. I was wrecking his group, you see. This got me and the other guy hauled into our boss’ office. One of the many gems he uttered there that day: “I don’t like him [referring to me], and I know that’s not a very nice thing to say, but it’s just the truth.”

That situation settled itself without me having to do anything else. He was psycho enough that he pissed off everybody, not just me. I succeeded in changing my role in the company enough that I had basically nothing to do with him. He got demoted into lesser and lesser roles, and was ultimately laid off.

Then there was the guy at the company where I was initially so happy to be contracting. It turns out that he wants to treat all developers as interchangeable cogs. Just do the job, as quickly as possible, for the least amount of money, and get out. Don’t bother trying to understand the project, that’s a waste of time. If you are not available today, I’ll get another cog to take your place. Complaints? You are defective cog. Next!

I have to assume that guy has so far been successful in his strategy. One of the apps they were working on had a hard deadline, because it was tied to a real-world event. Looking at the iOS app store, I see it was released just yesterday. He started his own company and he lives off the profits. A goal of mine which I have not been able to realize.

Then there’s my former sister. Through a twist of fate, she ended up in control of the family fortune. Then she betrayed me, worse than anybody has ever betrayed me in my entire life. She decided that all the money is to be spent on her, and me and our mother can go pound sand. I haven’t spoken to her for seven or eight years now.

As to whether she was successful in that strategy: Half and half. She lives in a very nice house and travels all over the world, all on the family fortune. Of course, she is also a bitter shell of a human. A weak, petty, egotistical liar.

Am I seeing myself in these people? Wow, I hope not. There are some areas where I can clearly refute any similarity. In the corporate job, I was way more successful than that other guy. I was the first and so far only person who was so valuable that they bent the rules and let me work from home for several days a week, for example. I would still be working there, if the job hadn’t been killing me. The other guy was essentially fired. Here’s another area: I don’t have a lot of money, but there is nobody who knows my whole story who could possibly doubt that I am generous with it. I wouldn’t mind telling those stories, but it would involve a lot of other people who don’t necessarily want all those details to be public.

In other ways: well. okay. um. It’s my world, and other people just live in it? I think some people might agree with that assessment. I could go on, but this is already painful enough.

I’ve not allowed myself to be this negative in public for quite a number of years. It was a good idea, at the time I instigated the rule. I couldn’t see anything clearly in my situation, due to all the firestorms I was creating in my life. I could not be trusted with negative thoughts and words. It was like keeping a loaded .38 in a house with a toddler. I needed to impose some order so I could think for awhile.

But now, I’ve learned how to control it. I don’t go around starting unnecessary fires anymore. And all those negative thoughts are still there. They didn’t go away on their own. My evil sister really is a weak, petty, egotistical liar, and it still grates on me, to this day. And by me not saying anything out loud, she gets away with it, every day.

UPDATE. another gem from the aforementioned WikiHow article: “People who are unwilling to reflect on how their words and actions appear to others can end up not caring about how they are viewed and in turn, this shows up as not caring about others either. This can make them seem selfish, aloof, and perhaps even vacant and after an initial enthusiastic encounter with such a character, you may have initially felt they were attractive, or interesting, only to quickly realize that they are blinded to their effect on others and have little to share because they hide within themselves.” Steph, guess who I am thinking about right now. And for that matter, the overall trend that you love to point out about the sorts of people I end up fraternizing with.

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Friday, May 27th, 2011
1:15 pm - a soap sud stickleback navy
well, i feel pretty bad right now.

i had an awful childhood. there were a lot of adults around me that could see what was happening, and did nothing. i am still a little bit angry about that. now, after steph and i went to visit asheville, it has dawned on me that i was one of the people that saw my sister’s four kids were having an awful childhood, me probably moreso than anybody else, and i did nothing. i am ashamed.

okay, not completely nothing: i berated my sister, long and loud and hard, trying to get her to see how she was failing her kids. she was having none of it. and because she wasn’t, i decided to wash my hands of the entire affair.

i am thinking about how i saw most problems back then: find the person who is screwing up, and berate them like mad until they straighten up. guess how many times that worked.

steph says that i am assigning myself too much blame here. i wasn’t those kids’ parent, i never lived close by, there wasn’t much i could have done under the best of circumstances. i am not so sure about that. i am comically bad at dealing with people in general, but astoundingly good at dealing with people who i feel a connection to. there are five or six people in my past for whom i was the most important person to them, during one phase of their lives. and they are all such interesting kids! all four completely different from each other, all with strong personalities and their own strengths and weaknesses. my life is worse than it could have been, because i shut them out.

another thing has become clear for me, because of this. i’ve never been very close to anybody in my mom’s family. i always assumed it was because of too much friction caused by an ugly past. now i know it’s because they have nothing to offer. some people think being closely related to a group of people is enough to maintain relationships with them; i don’t agree. but my sister’s kids: they are interesting. i would want to know them even if i wasn’t related to them. it’s not just me, steph feels much the same way. she has met a number of people from my mom’s family, and she is non-plussed. then the two of us visited asheville, and it was like a thunderbolt from heaven, shaking up our lives. we both want to be involved with those people.

i am so disappointed in myself. with the information and perspective i have today, i can see that everything i did in this situation was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. small wonder i’ve tended to get such poor results.

but there’s no time like the present. my sister’s two oldest kids are going to succeed no matter what. the youngest two could use a little help. i will try to make up for lost time.

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Friday, May 13th, 2011
3:45 am - i’m the antenna
Here’s my sad history of trying to scare up work for myself in the past few years, outside of the usual employer/employee paradigm:

Cold calls: 300 or more
Serious negotiations: 50 or so
Gigs where I did actual work: 15 or so
Gigs where I made actual money: 3
Gigs that led to additional work: 0

The biggest success I can point to is my iPhone/iPad card game. It has made me more money than all three of my paying contract gigs combined. It remains an ongoing source of revenue today. It has also opened a lot of doors to potential jobs. Most people with iOS work to farm out want to hire people who have “apps in the store.” Thanks to the two versions of my card game, I meet that requirement.

I have never before succeeded at getting the attention of a top-shelf development house. Until now. I can’t claim I did anything different. I saw an ad on craigslist, indistinguishable from hundreds of others I’ve responded to. But this time, it was placed by a firm here in Nashville that does really, really good work. No one has heard of them, and I think they want to keep it that way. They have produced a few semi-famous, very good-looking mobile apps.

I just finished my first day of contracting for them, and it went well. I don’t think I’m all that great, but my contact there was wildly appreciative. I fixed three minor bugs in one of their apps and you’d think I had cured his mother’s cancer or something. According to him, they have had trouble hiring “senior people,” as he put it, so they’ve been trying to grow their own iOS programmers by retraining web programmers. Looking at the amazing apps they have in the store, I can’t imagine how they created them, if they were truly written by former PHP guys. If they were willing to hire outside of Nashville, they could have ten guys better than me working for them before the day was over. I guess I’m lucky that they have a bias for locals.

Of all the numbers I cited at the top of this post, the one that disappoints me the most is the big fat zero jobs that led to additional work. Okay, so I had trouble getting the first few jobs. That is expected. But what’s supposed to happen next is that your work shines, so that leads to your early clients giving you more work, and referring you to other people they know. That didn’t happen for any of my original three paying jobs, due to, respectively: the first guy was a megalomaniac that I never want to speak to again, the second guy was a cheapskate that expected me to work nearly for free, and the third guy worked for a company that had basically zero budget for the app I was working on, and he was trying to pay me out of pocket change he scrounged up from the office doughnut fund.

What’s different this time is that the people I’m working for have a track record of success, and they are not jerks. They have been so respectful of my time. I have downloaded several of their apps onto my actual phone, and they are fucking gorgeous. I am not surprised that they keep getting new work.

Early in the process, I was so intimidated by the idea of working for them — a company that is, by all outward indications, actually competent — that I nearly dropped out. Fortunately, Steph listened to me whine about it and convinced me that I was being stupid and that I needed to get real. So I did.

This could be The One. The contract job where I finally get to shine, that leads to more contacts, and more work. So that I can finally support myself without long dry spells, and without having to get my soul scooped out with a melon baller at some corporate bore-fest of a job.

I complain a lot here. But I must inform you, Dear Reader, that ultimately, I am going to win. It has taken me a long time to get here. I am pretty old. But in the long run, nobody can stop me. I will get what I want.

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Monday, April 4th, 2011
6:29 pm - scientific breakthrough


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