How to declutter when I know I will need it again?

Argh. I know that we have too much stuff (well, either that or the apartment is too small). We’ve moved a couple times in the last couple years, and unfortunately a bunch of stuff is still in boxes! I have some plans to work my way through them, especially now that I have a little more free time, but it isn’t that I am a hoarder, it is just that these things have their uses! For example, yesterday (Thursday) at 10 pm I was told “Oh, btw – on Saturday you need an orange top with your number on it for the scrimmage.” (New uniforms have been ordered but aren’t here yet.) So I find myself suddenly digging through the very bottom box in a stack, looking for fabric paint (it’s either this or sewing one on … not sure which is the quicker/cleaner (optically, but also really, given the fact that we have company on Monday night) option).

Oh well, it will get sorted. Tonight is date night and The Redhead should be home in about 30 minutes!

Oh yeah, just wanted to add that since I was at the mall anyway, I did stop in and ask the t-shirt printing shop how much it would cost to get three numbers added to a shirt I provided – €16.50! Does this make keeping and digging the paint out worth it?

Update#2 – Was just done getting my patterns sized and done when The Redhead came home and we headed out to our dinner reservation, so didn’t start painting until 10 pm. Some of the paint was a bit gloopy (and after I thinned and mixed, a bit thin), but I think I made a good first pass. On clean up and while rechecking a page I had been looking at about using acrylics on fabric I came across a note “Allow to dry for 24 hours” … oops! I don’t have anywhere near 24 hours! I will have to get out of bed soon and see if it is dry enough … otherwise we might have to go back to the sewing idea!

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Don’t talk to Jeannette

Yes, I do know that many of my stories are poorly structured. You know what, though? That is life! Not everything has a clean ending. And if you wait for an experience to end, you (I at least) will never care enough any more to write about it.

Anyway, today was a build day. Just as background, I work remotely in a different (a _very_ different) timezone than most of my co-workers. It works out pretty well, although I do as a rule work evenings, but build days are exceptional. Since my group works on a government contract, we have a lot of very specific rules and a lot of inertia that has to be overcome to make changes. So getting code into a build is structured. The development pipe has two builds every week, so being ready early would actually just be a tight deadline for the previous build. And right now I am working on a major change request, and so I have to coordinate my activities with quite a few other people. So I actually had “working” code finished three or four weeks ago sitting out there for the rest of the group to interact with, and, sure enough, three or four weeks go by with nary a complaint about the interface or the results. As if no one had actually interacted with it, really! So then I suddenly get told that I need to be ready for the next week’s build. No big deal, just some comments I had to clear up and some constants I have to get into this one .h file. Except that one of my co-workers beat me to the punch, checking that header file out three weeks ago and hanging on to it … ok, so I just have to talk to her to get my constants included. That actually works out ok, and I am still ahead of schedule. Except that the developer of the layer that calls my code just started working on it and twice a day tells me that there is one more parameter that needs to be returned or that a specific date can’t be passed in, only a month. And I’m still easy-going. And so Monday at noon I send out an email asking for review of my code and an hour later the other C developer on this project calls on me to return the favour. And next thing I know I have 2 checklists and 7 configuration windows open, plus I am verifying constant and comments and logic and still taking requests to make changes to my structures and I’m getting dizzy and then a reminder pops up that in 15 minutes the mandatory monthly developer meeting is taking place and I call in … but the sound is bad and the video is worse and I can’t even figure out if the new policies are relevant (and the shared screen says “Item 1: Discuss new policies”, but these policies aren’t specified so I am trying to follow along on the conversation) … at least this time they force muted everyone’s phones, because the barking dogs and the chain saws last time really grated on everyone’s nerves.

So I log out, committing to finish my colleague’s walk through before the next morning (only slightly pushing the “close of business” deadline I was given) and I do get up and finish it, and make the required changes to mine, and then of course the tech lead who needs to give the final approval is nowhere to be found before the noon cut-off for the preliminary build list, not approving my package until 1:30 and forcing me to try to get onto the final build list (and we discuss what was mentioned about this process in the meeting yesterday – I don’t need to send an email as long as I make it before three? or I do have to send an email, but I shouldn’t cc the whole company? Eight emails are sent, cc’ing everyone even though 98% of us don’t care. I don’t reply all, only to have one person message me later asking if mine finished in time for the build. It is now going on midnight, and the final build list hasn’t come out … I’ve never had to correct the list, but I still always check and make sure I am on it, especially since we were just warned yesterday that if we include the letters WP when specifying the work package, the build won’t pick us up … we have to make sure that we submit only the numeric portion. And in spite of our being a tech company and this being discussed in the last one or two developer meetings, the assignee has yet to discover anyone who will admit to being responsible or able to change the form so that it has a comment or forces the proper format …

Oh yes, this is also the day that The Redhead is working from home, because he is on call the second his parts come in, and while it is nice to have him there and talk when _I_ want, he has the worst timing, trying to talk about his day just as I am trying to tune a SQL or rebuild the catalog so that I can pass one more parameter on to the next layer, and so my answer to whatever it was he just asked me? “Don’t talk to Jeannette!”

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Back in print?

OK, I haven’t been writing anything, even though I mean to … somewhere between my urge to write and my desire to control information flow, there has to be a compromise, right?

Last week I got an e-mail from one of the local extras casting companies saying that they were looking for “French or German looking people” for an advert. While this kind of confused me (I do know some people that I think _look_ German, but I can’t put my finger on what it is …), I decided that by definition, I must look German, and so I forced The Redhead to find or take some pictures of me for submission. We talked about the casting call wording and discussed whether this was just a way of specifying a certain Caucasian look without coming out and saying that. Anyway, late Tuesday night I got an invitation to attend the casting, and this morning I decided that as long as I am a developer by night, I could be an actor by day and so I went.

Either we read too much into the description or a lot of the people there received a different advertisement than I did, because the crowd was really quite varied. I chatted while waiting with a regular, but during the occasional lull in our conversation I heard some interesting lines – a pair were catching up and discussing their recent roles “I went from Poor Woman to Rich Woman – there were a lot more jobs for Poor Woman!” and from a group near by “I have nothing against straight people, I told her!”

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I woke up the other day with a song running through my mind. This happens a lot, but this week’s was particularly annoying because I only knew two or three lines of melody and only one word. I can usually get rid of a song if I can sing it, but this one was firmly stuck. Fortunately, I was able to roll over and pass this one on to The Redhead. (You do know the story by Mark Twain, “A Literary Nightmare”, don’t you? (The theme of which also appears in one of Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price stories “Pie and Punch and You-Know-Whats.”) In it, the only way of getting a recurring song out of your mind is by passing it on to someone else.)

Anyway, I say to The Redhead “What is the song by Chumbawamba that goes ‘da-da da children, da-da da da da children, da da da da da-da.'” As I am sure you can imagine, his reaction was to not be impressed. But, he took up the challenge. By the time we got in the shower, he had expanded it to ‘da-da da children, da-da da da da children and sell them to the devil’ and before we got out it was ‘something your children, gonna brainwash your children and sell them to the devil’. Which seemed like a good enough place to be – I googled the lyrics to find a name, The Redhead thought he knew what album it was on and started looking to play it for me. We both struck out for the longest time (it turns out it only appears on the 12″ of Behave?), but he found it before I did, we played it, and it was cleared from my mind so I could get some work done.


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Thanks for the memories…

Out for dinner with The Redhead at a vegetarian Indian buffet … reminds me of that fateful first-not-date how many years ago? Was that summer of ’97 or ’98? Wow …

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Quinoa biscuits and spinach butter

I told The Redhead not to sabotage my job search just because right now he has a live-in maid and cook, that if I got this job I could get a chef to come by and make him oatmeal for breakfast. His answer? “Yeah, somebody will probably come over and make quinoa biscuits and … spinach butter.” He honestly believes this is what personal chefs do.

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What to do first?

OK, so I told you that I unwrapped my Arduino yesterday, right? So, I’m sitting here looking at it and going, ok – what do you do with a micro-controller on a board with only an LED attached (I mean, other than unpack the breadboard and components and attach off-board LEDs or something)? My first thought – Morse Code! I mean, I had already made the light blink steadily, right? Unsteady blinking is obviously the next step.

I looked up a Morse Code translation table on Wikipedia, and I thought I was good to go. But I didn’t want to just have a static message being sent out, it had to respond to input, right? So a little pocking around and I found a mention of opening an input window and a serial connection, and 70 lines of code later I can type a message in on my computer and set my board a blinkin’!

But now what? Oooh – I just looked at the contents list of my component pack, and there is an LDR! Does that mean that now I can detect and translate Morse as well? Next project, here I come!

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Just got my Arduino

I know, I’m a bit late to the game, but I have busy doing other stuff … so I was very excited to get an Arduino Uno for my birthday!

Being the typical impatient person, I couldn’t be bothered to read any instructions or anything, and just went to the Arduino software page and grabbed the main Mac code (v. 1.0.5). When I unzipped it and started it, though, I got a message that it was damaged. Downloaded it again, unzipped it, damaged. Hmmm. Read some of the stuff on the page – yep, looked like the latest stable version. Went a little further on the page and grabbed the latest Beta; whoo hoo! Success.

Plugged it in, saw the blinking lights I was supposed to expect, and did the first/easiest/most visible change – changing the speed of the blink. Edited, compiled, uploaded – no. Port not found. COM1. OK, yeah, that makes sense – changed the port to USB and I was golden! Lights blinking as they should.

So, now that I have it set up … what next? I haven’t programmed a micro controller since the Redhead and I were working on making a GPS receiver he could attach to his camera. (And that didn’t get too far, since we were planning it as a part of getting our paper accepted to Embedded World, but the company shut us down and refused to sign off on it, which meant we also wouldn’t have the “support” we were hoping for.) Finding a need to fill is always the Redhead’s field, I am more of an implementor.

But let’s see if I can’t get some creative juices flowing. How about a motion-detector/shutter-release triggered by hummingbirds in the garden? Or some kind of sensor that would send me an SMS when something happens – I just have to decide what I care enough about to be informed of!

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I could be in class right now…

I don’t think I’ve blogged much about my job search. It is something I have been of two minds about, because on the one hand I think the experience has been interesting, but since I don’t know if I have learned anything from it, I am not sure that it would make for a meaningful post. I don’t want to come off sounding pathetic and unhirable, since this platform is a combination of sharing my technical discoveries and accomplishments and a personal forum/sharing space for distant friends and family.
But this is topical, and maybe it will also transition into other long-overdue stories I will get around to sharing.
In general, I feel like I am caught in a weird place. I have a software degree, but apparently, based on the hundreds of programming jobs I have (to-no-avail) applied for, no one wants to hire me as a programmer. Even though that is something I think I am very good at: I captained a team of freshmen to a fabulous result at the regional ACM programming competition! I thought that was because I was an awesome programmer, but due to some feedback I got on my resume and job search prospects recently*, maybe I should credit it more to me being a great captain? I feel like a jack-of-all-trades, which I thought would make it easier to get a job, but every job seems to be overly specific, like

“3+ years of experience in product management with direct experience in I/O virtualization”

(Is it unfair to call that overly specific? I wouldn’t mind if the requirement were

“3+ years of operations support with direct experience in MES administration”

(It was actually oddly hard to write a requirement there that I don’t think I have seen, which is kind of part two of my frustration: when I do find something that is either vague-enough or coincidentally completely appropriately specific, such as:

“Basic Qualifications
Bachelor degree in Business, Engineering or a Supply Chain/Operations discipline.
5+ years of experience in supply chain, logistics or inventory management.
5+ years of experience managing cross-functional projects and programs with tight deadlines.

Preferred Qualifications
Advanced degrees in Operations Management, Mathematics/Engineering, or an MBA with a quantitative focus.
Proven ability to influence others, facilitate agreement among stakeholders with different interests.
Excellent written and verbal communication skills, building relationships.
Technical aptitude and familiarity with the design and utilization of complex systems.
Proven track record of complex and creative problem solving and the desire to create and build new processes.
Advanced knowledge of SQL, Excel, and Access is a plus.”

which I totally have, right? But does that company call me or acknowledge my application? No!)

So anyway, lately I have been going through a phase of anything-would-be-better-than-nothing, and I started looking at restaurant/barista/bartending positions. But places either aren’t hiring or also want to call “3 references who have worked with me in the past 5 years”, which is kind of awkward, because a) most people I worked with in the last 3 years don’t speak English and b) do I really want my references to get calls from someone who asks them if they think I would be good at waitressing?

But I digress (as usual). I had been checking out Craigslist for the last couple days, and coinciding with the latest economic figures saying that car sales are up, ads appeared for several car dealers saying that they were hiring sales staff. I had a little internal debate about whether or not this was a good thing and stalled on the actually getting dressed and going out and doing it, started to fill out one on-line application but because it asked for beginning and ending salary for every job ever and 5 non-employer/non-family references (plus SSN and driver’s license number, which I am not about to write into a random webpage), I bailed out, but one of the ads said “Mon and Tues 10 – 4; email to make an appt or walk in.” I emailed and got no answer, but on Tuesday I decided to walk in.

Strangely, the application I was asked to fill out when I got there was the same as the one I had half-completed on-line, although this was a different dealer, and when I went in to see the interviewer, it was the strangest interview I had ever been through – all “word association” and time machines and other oddness. Then he said he needed 2 minutes to think about whether he thought I would work out and during that time I should write a paragraph – not a novel – on why I should get the job. I had one sentence done when he came back (which is probably why it takes me literally hours to write these posts! (Ok, that might be more due to the fact that I get distracted by emails and lunch and loads of laundry)), and he said that in spite of me being “goofy” (is that why I don’t get hired as a programmer? and no engineering firm can bring themselves to name that as the reason?), he thought I could do the job. And that by-the-way, he is actually not associated with the dealer, but a contractor hired to screen and train, and can I commit the next three days from 9:30 to 6, and be open to reinvent myself, and park in a different place tomorrow, and bring 2 pens, a notebook and a packed lunch because we would be too busy to take a break, and (in spite of the ad saying “Paid-while-you-learn training”**) there would be a fully refundable cost for this training, but when I asked him to clarify he said “I’ll go over that tomorrow for everyone all together. Goodbye.”

So, I got in my car. I was excited, but the last-minute rushed comment just wasn’t sitting right. And one of his questions at the interview had been “If you could change one decision you made, what would it be?” and I answered “Nothing; no regrets.” But now, in the peace and quiet of the car, I remembered there were times, when I had been pressured on the spot to agree to something and wasn’t allowed the chance to stop and think it over, and forever afterward was convinced that I had been ripped off (even if it was only for $5). And it really just wasn’t sitting right. So, I came home, thinking about who I knew who would be available and that I could run this by and decided that google was my friend.

Google returned a fair number of opinions: There are some reports from people (with generally atrocious spelling and grammar) thinking they were hoodwinked, some rebuttals from the company insisting it is very fair and valuable, plus some “more neutral” reports of people who actually attended and got the details of the price and refund policies and training content.

For a while I considered going anyway, checking out what they had to say and then making the decision, but I was afraid I would get caught up in the excitement of the hard sell and if I go in knowing I am going to leave halfway through, what is really the point of going anyway? And if I had gone, there wouldn’t have been time to write this post!

*Not from anyone I interviewed with, of course. I am lucky if I can get them to say as much as “I’m sorry; you’re not what we are looking for.” Actual useful feedback is completely missing.

**Not actually the text of the ad I saw, because that one is no longer posted. Because it is over? Maybe, or because after talking to them and hearing their sales talk a person could actually flag it as being incorrect? (And Craigslist does always post a warning about not accepting jobs that require you to pay!)

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My first hackathon!

Just got back from my first hackathon, held at the Sacramento Hacker Lab and organized for International Open Data Day. It was exciting to be around so many intelligent and inspired people. All the people I met when I first walked in had the same story “Don’t know what to expect;” “Read about it and thought I would join in;” “Not sure if I have any useful skills.”

Ash from the Hacker Lab told us about the goals for the day, we went around the room and introduced ourselves, then a couple people stood up and said they had some ideas for things we could (or should be able to) do. One that caught my attention was Ron’s idea regarding knowledge that an acquaintance had been arrested for a fairly major violation but due to family money and influence was let off the hook. We wondered if we could use social networks to link defendants or lawyers to judges or use other public data (neighbourhoods of residence, ownership, etc) to show affluence, then check dismissal rates or (statistically relevant) shorter-than-average sentences to causally prove impropriety or bias. We also talked about the fact that judges are elected, but how little information a voter typically has to use to make a decision for or against an individual. Aggregate data could also show if a specific judge was stricter or more lenient, or tended to sentence certain demographics to shorter or longer sentences.

But before we could prove anything, we needed data to analyse. Ken and I found public court records, but it turned out we couldn’t download the entire data set. By entering common names into the search field I was, however, able to see sample records and figure out what format the data came in. Ken had to leave early, but I continued to search for other data while Ron wrote a program to bring the data into the form we needed, while Hailey started on the pitch, because it was clear we wouldn’t be able to finish the project on that day. Our idea had already morphed (sorry, pivoted) several times during the day, but during the writing of the pitch and justification it changed a few more times.

In the end, we presented, promised each other we were still interested and would keep working on it at the next Hackathon in June.

So, how do I feel about it now? The energy was very contagious and I believed in it, but once I got home it all seemed so remote and unproductive. I don’t know if we just tackled an “impossible” project (given the lack of accessible data) or what, but I guess I am not yet sold on the Hackathon concept. What do you think – have you participated in a hackathon? Did you accomplish something?

Here is the coverage in the press! Sacramento Press covers Sacramento’s first civic hackathon.

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