Thursday, April 28, 2016

Let Me Earn Your Praise

Sal and I have a friend who is getting married. How do we know that? Well because she made a hashtag, and if you search for that hashtag she has six daily reminders that, "this is the last laundry day until my wedding," "last sandwich until my wedding," "last date as fiancees."

Now, someone excited for their wedding, no matter how much of the patience of their friends they are spending, is a good thing. But this person also wants all eyes on her for everything. She wanted a bachelorette party, a wedding shower, a housewarming party, and she even tried to set up a present unwrapping party for the day after the wedding.

I like when all eyes are on me. I love attention. I will gladly take control of a room and get everyone listening to my quips and stories.

But I like to earn it.

I've always had a hard time where all eyes are on me and I didn't do anything to earn it.

Like my birthday for instance, I've always hated the cake and song and opening presents while everyone watches. Yes, celebrate me! Yes, I love getting presents! But all I did was not die in the womb. Everyone's eyes should be on my mom while I open presents. Sing to her. That's sort of my ideal birthday.

Same thing for college graduation. I was going to go to college anyway. I looked at the roster, saw there were 600 people I didn't care about graduating at the same time, didn't recognize the speaker, and thought, "meh, I'd rather have free time."

Even my wedding, I had to win over Sal and by the time the wedding came along, I had already done that. Now everyone wants to congratulate me for what? Being attractive, funny, and locking things up?

And then I was awarded "Team Member of the Year" at my old job. I didn't realize I was signing up for exactly the thing I hated. I showed up in a button down and tie and soon saw everyone else decked out in suits and dresses, I heard the music hit, and realized... "uh-oh, I stumbled backwards into an award ceremony."

I guess what I'm saying is... only throw me parties if I've won the room over on my own? I don't know what the point of this really is. Just been hearing a lot about weddings and graduations today and it is really weird how different I feel about those situations than most people.

Edit: After giving this a second read, I think I realized the point of this was a humble brag about how awesome I am.

Friday, April 22, 2016


In elementary school, I was in the gifted kids program. Once a week I was shuttled off to the high-school where we did incredibly more interesting studies than we did at our normal schools.

Usually we would study something in history in the morning (middle ages, Greek mythology), do something language related around lunch (poetry, French), and something science related in the afternoon. (weather studies, engineering). 

The lesson plans were usually written out to last about 6 weeks before moving onto a new subject and typically at the end of the 6 weeks you had some sort of presentation to give. 

Well there was one time where we had to come up with an invention. 

Being the selfish video-game addict I was, I would get incredibly irritated anytime my mom vacuumed the living room and I was watching TV or playing a game. Not only do you have the noise from the vacuum, but with older CRT TVs you would get all the static fuzz on the image.

So my idea was some sort of vacuum muffler or insulation. Something to kill the noise and interference. 

Now, I'm an idea man. I've never embraced math or science. I tend to blame having really boring math teachers never gripping me in the studies. I remember really enjoying balancing equations, but that's about the end of my math love. 

Now, I also loved building LEGOs. So I had a sort of engineering / problem solving mind, but without the math background this never really matured. 

So... my idea, incredibly solid. My implementation... meh... maybe not as much.

I remember the two teachers telling me it would be hard, but as long as I tried, even if the invention failed, I would get a passing grade. 

We had to call places and ask them if that product existed as part of this. I called Sears and asked their home appliance department if they ever heard of a vacuum muffler. They sounded really confused for a moment and then said, "No, I don't think so, but if you figure it out, we would be really interested in that."

And then I ignored the project for the next four weeks until I had that panic grip me because I was never going to get this done.

So, idea man happened again. I figured I could use recycled materials and get a bonus for being environmentally friendly. (I also did not want to go to stores and figure out what material I would actually use for this.)

So how did I solve the problem? I cut (probably my mom actually) several gallon milk jugs in half, taped them together, and then spray painted this monstrosity red. Once the paint dried, I glued a ton of cotton you use to stuff pillows with to the inside.

Success bullet points:

  • It fit nicely over our vacuum.
  • There was a mild noise reduction to what I considered to be acceptable levels. 
Failure bullet points:
  • The vacuum got really hot since I essentially put a blanket over it.
  • Spray paint does not stick to milk jugs, so the red paint chips went everywhere in the classroom and on my hand.
  • Static was still an issue.
  • I lied, the sound reduction was not at an acceptable level.
So basically, if you need an idea or a brainstorming session, I'm your guy. If you need me to build something for you... you should really just call literally anyone else.

I did get a passing C+ since I did build something and it was a good idea, but my teachers knew this was a last minute and half baked idea.

And to be fair, the inventions that did work were really dumb rip-offs of things that actually exist. Come on Brandon, there are already utility belts you can wear that stores your tools. Don't be dumb. Just look at every handyman in the world. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Memory of Spencer

I had one of those insanely vivid dreams that I was on an adventure with a very old friend, and of course a stream of memories were accessed in my brain when I woke up this morning.

I just had one of those feelings that my brain was getting ready to purge this information for some new stuff, and I felt sort of sick to my stomach not having a memory of my friend Spencer.

Spencer and I hit it off in 4th grade, when during our scheduled restroom break, we were sitting cross-legged in the hall of the school. Most of my friends were in the other 4th grade class, so not being shy about just talking to whoever was around, I turned to the guy behind me, pointed at a roster for the 2nd grade class, and said, "there's a kid in that class named "I-ON." (Phonetically how I said it)

Spencer looked at the name, and looked me in the eye, and said, "You're an idiot. That's my brother. His name is Ian."

And that is how we started hanging out.

Spencer used to spend the night at my house fairly often, especially early on. We would spend nights drawing from comic books, drawing on huge pieces of paper, even drawing on my unpainted wall in my basement room.

I remember how he used to tell anyone that would listen, how great of an artist I was. He's honestly probably the reason I kept with drawing for a few more years.

I know Scully, my face exactly.
He'd often spend the night on Friday. I remember this because he had an unhealthy obsession with Gillian Andersen's (Scully) boobs.

After NYPD Blue showed a bare butt on TV (a dude's at that), Spencer was convinced that Scully's "bowling ball boobs" (his 4th grade words, not mine) would eventually be shown on TV. So every week, around Wednesday, he would start hyping up the Friday X-files by telling me his older brother heard this was the week.

It obviously never happened.

Side note: This may be where my love of red heads came from.

After we had been hanging out for a year or so, he started inviting me to spend the night at his grandma's house, but not his.

His grandma and grandpa were pretty well off. They would pick me up and take us to Mid-Rivers mall in their giant, leased SUV. Spencer's grandma would give him $30 to spend while we putz around the mall. I always thought Spencer was lucky to have so much money at his disposal.

We usually ate mall food (me Sbarro, him Chic-fil-a), comb through all the books at Walden's, usually buying a comic-book (me, Calvin and Hobbes if I had money, him Batman vs Predator), and then head back to his grandparents's really nice duplex around a lake.

Normally we would then play his grandparent's Gateway PC which was incredibly powerful
compared to any computer we had.

There was a largely forgotten game called Hunter Hunted that was our favorite, where one of us would play as a beast and one a man, and we would fight our way through a post-apocalyptic future together.

To this day, these warm memories usually have me loading the game onto my PC once a year to play through it.

We would fall asleep on the couch bed and every hour I was woken by an incredibly loud cuckoo-clock.

It was probably year 2 when I got my first invite to Spencer's actual house. Even then, I remember feeling really bad for him and his dad.

It was an ideal Bellefontaine Neighbors suburban ranch home, probably built in the 50's. It was down the street from a middle school, had fenced in yard, made of brick, and had a market on the corner.

Except that this house was on the western side of the town, near Glasgow Village and the river. White flight had already started in the area. The middle school had closed down from lack of kids. There were 10 houses on sale and not taken care of in the area. I remember how the street used to shimmer under street lights from all the broken glass.

And Spencer's dad... he was the man I really felt for. He had a 900 square foot house, filled with five children. He worked long hours, 5 in the morning until 7 at night from what I understood. Some sort of manual labor. He would come home, pass out fast food to everyone, and sit to watch TV.

He was nice, never hit anyone, but he did have a temper. He was too tired to really pay attention to the kids, so instead he would yell for them to do things.

I remember eating pancakes off a plastic plate at Spencer's one morning and the pancakes tasted like soap. Spencer's dad flipped out yelling at Spencer, "I told you to rinse all the soap off of the dishes when you're done cleaning them." We all sat in silence eating our soapy pancakes.

I think the worst I felt for Spencer's dad is even though he had all the kids, Spencer's mom got them in the summer and she got to be a superhero. All the kids couldn't wait to go out to Arizona where there were no rules.

Every year, when Spencer was coming back from his mom's, excitement built again. I couldn't wait for nights filled with games and comic-books.

Then one year he came back. I rode my bike to his house, and we started walking to our favorite market to buy candy. He pulled out a cigarette. This must have been before 7th grade. I felt a sea change.

He offered me one, I said no. Then he got antagonistic, "Oh, I guess you're too good for me now. You think I'm a piece of crap for smoking don't you?"

Despite me answering no, something had changed. We both knew it. We got some candy, made some small talk, and this is the last time I remember hanging out with Spencer. I was at a different school now, we were both at different places in our life. It's one of those friendships where a coming of age film could be based off of it. It was probably a few years too short, but I really appreciated having it at all.

I saw Spencer once, maybe six years later, at Jamestown mall. He looked exactly as his older brother looked back then. Him, just stretched longer, some stubble on his upper lip, wearing a Charlotte Hornets Starter Jacket.

I think about Spencer every now and then. I think because it was such a short friendship, I don't have as many stories about him so he doesn't come up as often. I hope he's doing OK.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Game of Stocks

Imagine a world where a king's head can be chopped off at the jealous whim of a former knight. Or a lord trading secrets in order to gain more favor and land from a queen. This world exists folks, welcome to the Game of Stocks.

I've spent the last almost decade working closely with those people that trade in the stock market.

Most of them seem stressed, privileged, and angrily satisfied. In the brief glimpses of what that money could earn you, a yacht, lake house, or vacation to Costa Rica, I got calls from guys desperately trying to sign in on their "day off" and would often hear the family complaining that their broker parent was signing in to work again.

It put a bad taste in my mouth for all of it. The guys that trade. The people who invest. Companies that go public.

I understand why companies go public. They see a chance to expand, to make their product better, to make their company stronger. But that opens them up to people that don't care. People that got into it to make money, the stock holders. And from what I can tell, the stock holders with the power, don't care if your company is bought, moves overseas, or stops innovating, at long as they can make a dollar and get out before the ship sinks.

I'm reading Dethroning the King which talks in depth about what lead to InBev buying Anheuser Busch. It's interesting to see some of the behind the scenes stuff that I always assumed happened, but wasn't privileged to know.

What I'm learning, is even the most powerful and rich people on the planet, are just as scared and petty as the rest of us.

There's a story about AB hiring a bunch of banks to pitch them strategies on how to stop a hostile takeover. AB picked their favorites and dismissed the other banks. Well, one of those banks went to InBev and was like, "Hey dudes, we don't like those AB guys anymore. They didn't pick us for kickball. We have all this financial information that you may like to see, maybe we buddy up?" Like literally, billions of dollars at play, and a butt hurt bank goes out of their way to stab an American company.

There's stories about InBev offering $65 a share when AB's stock was in the low $50s, and stock holders shutting down the acquisition of Mexican brewer Modelo by AB. An acquisition that would've saved AB and kept them American owned and would've brought the stock prices up naturally.

And just how bulletproof the Busch family felt sitting a top their St. Louis thrones. The gall they had to just say, "Nah man, we're good just owning America. We don't need protection against those foreigners. We're too big to fail." (Heard that one before haven't you)

A buddy of mine admitted he's part of the problem, although a small one. He knows he's giving money to a company with the promise of a return, and he demands that return get larger and larger.

Eventually there's no where left to grow, no other companies to buy, no major innovation in the near future. So how do you keeps the stock holders happy? How do you keep them from selling shares off in droves or demanding the head of the top dogs of the company?

You start making cuts. First things to go are research and development and Information Technology. Both divisions that generally cost money, and don't make money. (Both of which are incredibly necessary nowadays thought)

Micheal Dell famously bought back Dell computers and penned an article basically saying, "Stock holders want short term money, despite what our customers want, despite us staying innovative with new products, and it put Dell behind many other computer companies."

The stock holders are happy when you show them the graphs that say, "We trimmed up, we made slightly more profit for you."

Then the next quarter comes and the stock holders say, "Hey, what's up with this? You're not making any more than you were last quarter."

The company says, "We have a strong, diversified portfolio, but the market was weak this quarter. We promise next quarter to make more."

Then they start looking at departments they can outsource to other countries. Data entry, accounts payable, third shift workers, all gone.

Then the next quarter the company get a pat on the back.

Then quality starts suffering, no innovations have come in a while, and there's no more fat that can be trimmed. In fact, those offshore positions are now making a middle class wage, which means they are worth more money. Which means companies either find a new third world country to go to for cheap labor, or they onshore a fraction of the jobs that were once here and just have people do several jobs for one paycheck.

The morale of the people still with the company, working several people's jobs are at an all time low.

The company tries to calm stock holders, talking about a fickle market and the lack of spending (which the large amount of unemployed / recession scared workforce is probably contributing to), but the stock holders no longer have it. They demand the CEO step down. A new one steps up.

That CEO makes a promise to quality. They hire a bunch of American contract workers, start righting the ship, that is at least until robots can replace the people.

Rinse, repeat, the American dream.

Did we betray the idea of the free market? Or is the American dream only meant for a select few?

Monday, March 21, 2016

State of the Job Search

Now that I've tapped my networked resources and have a few things in the pipeline, I decided to check out the public world for work, just to see what I will be dealing with.

It's interesting, because some of my complaints from a 2008 post are exactly the same.

  1. Contracting Firms: I've applied to roughly 10 positions now. These are positions that sound perfect on paper and are written as if from the perspective of the company I'm looking at.

    Then I get a call. "Hi Dan, yes, this is Amanda with Gotcha Enterprises. We see you applied for a job at Blah Blah Co. Well, we don't actually work for Blah Blah Co, but are actually a contracting firm that they use. We'd love to set you up with an interview for the position. Also, can you sign this exclusivity agreement? It basically says you can't work with another firm and it gives us the right to schedule interviews with other companies we think we could get you hired.

    Beyond that, I've had two contractors ask me if I have a skill, I say, "not really." And they respond with, "Oh, I'm sure that's fine. It's something you can pick up on the job."

    And contract work has only been growing since World War 2. No PTO, no health insurance, and gives the company all the protection it wants. You can be laid off without notice or have your pay cut.

    This happened to me in my first contract job. "Dan, so sorry, your company wants to cut the amount it spends on you, so we are going to cut your pay by $3 an hour. You can either sign the new paperwork or lose your job.
  2. Terrible Web Forms: Please upload your resume.

    OK, we scanned your resume and found your name and phone number.

    Click Next.

    Please manually type out all of your job experience, education, skills, and awards that are also found on the resume you just gave us.

    To the Internet's credit, I did have a few applications that I could just click, "Apply Using LinkedIn" and it auto-filled everything which was awesome. So not as prevalent as it was in 2008.
  3. Insane Qualifications: We would like you to be a doctor, but also have three years experience in technology work, and you must be willing to work some weekends.

    Who is that person? If you're a doctor, unless you really hated it, wouldn't you rather do doctor stuff?
  4. LinkedIn: There is only one thing human resources like more than QR codes... and that's LinkedIn. It's unfortunately a necessary part of job hunting nowadays.

    If you just run with the default LinkedIn settings, be prepared to get 10 emails a day. "Hey see what this guy is up to. Ho Dan, someone endorsed your skills. Hey Dan, why not upgrade to premium so you can see who looked at your profile? Hey Dan, this contracting firm is contacting you about a pyramid scheme you just can't pass up on.

    Took me 10 minutes to unsubscribe from all email notifications.

    And they are a tricky bunch. When looking at potential connections, they hide people that aren't on LinkedIn with people that are. So if you just click connect on everything, you'll spam friends and family with invitations to join LinkedIn. 
I've only been really looking hard for a few days and I'm already tired. If this is the punishment for finding work, just let the robots replace us all and I'll join John Conner and eat bugs. I'd rather wield a laser rifle while I'm young and able than slowly die on our overpopulated, over-polluted, AI planet. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Cord Cutters

Sal and I have been without cable TV since 2009. 

Every now and then someone says, "Have you see this show on FX yet?" and after replying I don't have cable, I hear about how awesome the show is. And sometimes I do feel like I'm missing out on cultural touchstones like Walking Dead.

And there are times where I consider the $120 a month it would cost to have the three channels we actually want vs the bar tab of going out to watch Blues games three times a month and I think, "You know, somehow I would save money with cable."

But overall, I'm happy without it. 

I like having the freedom to watch what I want when I want. I like feeling like I could go out on a weeknight. I like not watching appointment TV. There are too many people in my life that won't go out on a Thursday night because they have must see TV. 

People will say things like, "But don't you worry about missing Big Bang Theory or Pawn Stars or whatever is on TV," and you know what... once you haven't had it for a few weeks, you really don't miss it. In fact, you start seeing patterns of how every sitcom is the same, how every late night interview with the same celebrity is the same stories, about how every sporting event is filled with prescription drug commercials that both cause and solve constipation. 

And anytime Sal and I do stay in a hotel or a house with cable and we watch it, I quickly realize how much I really don't miss it. My brain feels worse off after an hour of network television than it does watching Netflix, or playing video games, or reading, or socializing. 

I like that I don't lose hours of my life having the TV on in the background. Other friends will admit they will watch 7 hours of TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon where they can't remember a single thing they watched only hours later. I've seen people literally consuming movies that are edited for time and commercials via their cable subscription when they have the Blu-ray sitting on a shelf 12 feet away. 

And there are people that think they circumvent appointment TV with their DVRs, but in my limited experience, these people seem the most stressed. 

Say they had a busy week. Usually when I ask them what they are doing this weekend and they frantically say, "I'm really behind on my DVR, I need to catch up on like 6 hours of TV this weekend."

The fact that cable companies still use non-replaceable hard drives in their DVR devices, that will fill up eventually, hardware that often times will crash and lose weeks of saved shows, shows that they aren't looking to the future. They a desperately trying to keep the status quo going by signing sporting contracts in the hundreds of millions of dollars because ultimately they know that is what is keeping the cable box alive in the American home.

Friday, February 12, 2016

On the Hunt for a Wild Job

Yesterday I found that my job was being eliminated. I literally am being laid off by anonymous versions of the Bob's from Office Space.

It's not the first time I've been laid off. With the way robots and outsourcing are going, probably not going to be the last.

The last time I was laid off was in 2009, shortly after the economy tanked. Then, things felt dire. The first feeling was fear. Sal and I had barely made any adult money, our car was on it's way out, student loan bills started coming in, and we had to move back across the country to stay in my mom's basement.

This time it's a little less dire. I'm getting a severance package and will have the luxury of looking for something that I really want to do while having adult job experience.

I guess the main difference is last time I felt fear, this time I feel anger.

We were all cut by an anonymous team of people on an "Efficiency Team." We don't know who is going to replace us yet, but signs point to our jobs being outsourced.

My anger stems from the overtime hours and extra work I put in desperately trying to make our knowledge base better for the phone agents. A position I previously held and knew how tough it could be. And I felt like our team was making huge strides despite budgets and red tape consistently working against us.

And strangely there are a lot of parallels to when you're grieving for a lost loved one. My first thought was how little the world feels as upset as I do. Sure, friends and family care greatly about my well being and I already have people with their ear to the ground for other jobs, but no one is upset in the same way. I want someone to commiserate with. I guess this is the downfall of having a team spread out across the country. We can't go out for a beer and rip the company a new one.

I'm angry every time I see another email saying how strong the company financials are and the upbeat tone the "Efficiency Team" emails are. They're just doing us all favors right guys? Making this a better place! Right?

I'm angry because I thought Sal and I were done with this. I'm angry because I was really happy and thought that I had a career instead of a job.

I want this upbeat acoustic song playing from my computer speakers to take a dark turn. No one should be this happy.

You sort of want to be able to look at the guy next to you and say, "Do you believe this?"

But no one around me (other than my peers) is feeling that. The world goes on, friends have jobs, and I know I'm about to again start my least favorite things in the entire world, job hunting.

But like I said, this time is different. We are in a better place. We have a much stronger support network. So I'm not going to hit the panic button yet. Instead, I'm going to have a beer tonight, and Monday I'm going to start looking for a job I love and am proud of all over again.

I'd be lying if I said I slept like a baby last night and my last thought wasn't of another debt I'm not sure I'll be able to pay. But I'm just going to try my hardest to take it a day at a time and see where the chips fall.