Category: Work

Your Average Ordinary Alien: My Second Audiobook

My latest audiobook: Your Average Ordinary Alien, written by Adam Graham. Available from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

The description, in the author's words:

Kirk Picard Skywalker is an unemployed sci-fi fanatic who dreams of being abducted by aliens from outer space. One day his dreams come through and he's horrified to learn that the aliens are all too ordinary.

It's the story of an unemployed computer scientist and his long-suffering girlfriend -- can't imagine what drew me to it -- and gave me the opportunity to flex some comedy muscles and play three characters plus narrator. It's a fun read, a bit of good-natured but ultimately sympathetic skewering of fanboys, and it made me smile. It's also got a Christian message -- a bit outside my usual, more cynical milieu, I suppose, but "Work hard and be kind to people" is, I think, a sentiment most everybody can get behind.


Be sure and read my previous audiobook post for some notes on Audible DRM. And you can discuss my audiobooks at Brontoforumus.

Stray Thoughts

Bit of a sore throat today. Second consecutive day I haven't felt quite up to biking downtown for comics. Hope I'm not coming down with anything. I'm on a new inhaler (actually, I've started taking one I haven't taken in a couple years) but it started before that.

Speaking of meds, tried to buy my prescriptions at the Costco pharmacy last night, now that my COBRA's kicked in. They said my insurance card was rejected; when I said I was on COBRA they said I needed a new card. Today I called the COBRA line. When prompted, I entered the option for "I don't know my account number". So it asked me for other information -- first my zip code, then the month I was born, as a two-digit number. I entered 10 and it told me that was an invalid selection. I tried it again; it told me it was an invalid selection. Again and again. That was it. No other information, no option for exiting the loop; it just kept telling me that 10 was not a valid entry, and then telling me to enter the month I was born as a two-digit number. I tried 6-2, for the first two letters of October; I tried saying "October", "one-zero", "ten" -- same error message, over and over. Just for the hell of it I tried 11; got an error for that too. Then I pounded 0 until it disconnected the call, called back, and chose the option for "I don't have an account number" and was promptly connected to a human being.

She told me the pharmacy had been wrong, that my current card is the right one for COBRA, but that my insurance probably won't be processed until thirty days after I paid my first bill. Which is just grand, because my insurer took two months to get my information to COBRA in the first place. Man, health insurance in this country.

Speaking of horrible, kafkaesque looping menus, I also got an E-Mail from CareerBuilder asking me to fill out a survey. I usually do when they ask; I like to think it helps them improve their site, and sometimes they offer prizes.

But the goddamn thing was a mess. It kept asking me the same handful of questions, over and over again. Sometimes it would rearrange the order of the answers I could choose. I began to wonder if this was really a survey to see how I felt about CareerBuilder, or some grad student's psych project to see if my answers would change if the multiple-choice options were rearranged.

I spent about fifteen minutes at it, getting more and more of the same questions, and more and more complex and detailed questions that took longer and longer to answer, and then showed up again thirty seconds later -- and no, you couldn't just choose not to answer. Even if the question was "If you are currently working, how do you like your job?" and the options were "A lot", "Somewhat", or "Not at all" -- if you didn't select any of them, you'd get an error telling you you had to answer the question.

As you might expect, I did not answer the text-field questions more than once; when I started getting them repeatedly, I started putting in things like "I have already answered this question. If you need to find a competent Web developer to fix your survey, I know one who is currently looking for work."

It was about the time I noticed that the progress bar at the top of the page was actually decreasing -- it was at 55%, I clicked continue, and it changed to 53% -- that I finally gave up. I wrote something snarky in the last text box, hit Continue, and then clicked Exit Survey. They probably never saw my responses -- I'm guessing incomplete surveys aren't submitted -- but I did click Continue that one last time, just in case.

Other'n that, kind of a slow day. Got declined for an audiobook part (no big deal, that's part of the job; I'll record some more auditions tomorrow if my throat's better), called a contact for a job lead (left a voicemail). When my fiancée got home we took a trip up to Changing Hands; I bought a used copy of Starship Titanic (one of the few remaining Douglas Adams books I haven't read), and noticed that Cory Doctorow is going to be doing a signing next week. Guess you have to buy a book to get a ticket, so I suppose I should buy one of his books in print -- otherwise I guess I'd have him sign my Nexus 7, since that's where I've been keeping my copies of his books up to this point. Debating whether to go or not, but it would be fun.

Dinosaurs in the Home Depot: My First Audiobook

As you may have guessed from the various not-so-subtle hints I've been dropping over the past month, I've started recording audiobooks.

The first one, Dinosaurs in the Home Depot, written by Bret Wellman, has been released, and is available from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

The audiobook is 18 minutes long and delivers what it promises. There is a Home Depot. There are dinosaurs in it. The story does not waste time on details like why there are dinosaurs, why somebody decided to leave them in a Home Depot, or actually bothering to give any of the characters names (unless you count "the ugly giant" as a name). It's mostly people fighting dinosaurs with power tools.

If you want to give it a read before you buy, it's available for Kindle, or you can read it for free on the author's website.

It's also bundled with Audible's DRM. Staunch anti-DRM advocate that I am, I regret this, but there's nothing I can do about it except let people know before they buy. You shouldn't have trouble playing it under Windows or OSX, and there are clients for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry as well. I haven't tried it under desktop Linux yet; I've read that the Windows player works under WINE, though users have reported playback issues with recent versions. You can read more about Audible's DRM format at Wikipedia.

I've got two more audiobooks coming sometime in the next few weeks; I'll write about them when they're available.


Discuss my audiobooks at Brontoforumus.

DES Fixes It

Worth getting up a little early for: today I got a call from DES telling me that I would finally be getting my unemployment check for the week of January 5. (I'll have to take his word for it since I can't log into the website this morning, but...well, if that keeps up I guess I'll have more to tell later.)

To recap: I've been doing some freelance work which paid no money upfront and which will pay an unpredictable amount of royalties in the future. I asked how to report this on my weekly unemployment claim, and a nice but incorrect lady told me on the phone that I should say Yes I worked and my earnings for the week were $0.00. This resulted in DES paying me nothing for the week, and I've spent most of the month trying to get it corrected -- I've posted about it previously on 01-09 and 01-17.

Well, after the failed phone call of the 17th, I submitted an E-Mail asking for help. A week later, I got a call back. I missed it; I noticed it late the next day and, since it was Friday by then, I didn't get a chance to call back (at last! a phone number for a real person!) until yesterday.

It wasn't what you'd call a productive conversation. We talked in circles; she said I should estimate my earnings and correct them later if the estimate was wrong, I said there was no way for a reliable estimate, she said I should just estimate $240 (a week's unemployment pay) then, I pointed out that well then I'd be SOL if the thing never made that much money, this repeated for awhile until she offered to put me through to her supervisor. I got his voicemail and left a message.

And he got back to me this morning. He told me that, while the lady I'd talked to yesterday was right for the general case (like if, say, I'd built some furniture with intent to sell it), in rare cases like mine where there's no reliable estimate, I shouldn't report the work when I do it, I should only report it when I get the income from it. Which, you know, I'd figured out three weeks ago, but I guess it's nice to get it from an official source after only two letters, two E-Mails, and seven phone calls.

He added -- and I already knew this, too, but it bears mentioning in case any other poor soul winds up in the same predicament -- that the important thing is to make sure I keep looking for work and logging my search, even if I'm working on a freelance job in the meantime.

So, if you're in Arizona and face the same issue I did -- producing work on a royalties-only basis -- that's the official response from DES: don't report the initial work, report the money as it comes in, and don't stop looking for other work while you're doing it.

I can't vouch for other states. If you're not in Arizona...well, typically I'd say "You should ask your state's DES," but to be perfectly honest asking is what got me into this mess in the first damn place. So if I were offering a recommendation, it'd be do it the same way: keep looking for a day job, don't report the royalty gig until the money comes in. (Obviously if you're getting money upfront, as most people working for royalties do, do report that; I'm only speaking of cases where you get just royalties with no stipend/advance/etc.) If it turns out that's not the way it works in your state, I think you're better off apologizing and correcting it later.

It should go without saying that this isn't legal advice, it's advice from an out-of-work computer scientist who just spent most of a month trying to get an unemployment check. Like most of what's on this site, it's worth exactly what you paid for it.

Today's Barrier to Productivity

I was recording today and the damn power started flickering.

One of those weird little things where the lights go down for a little bit and then come back up, and some stuff goes off and some doesn't. The clock on the oven got reset; the one on the microwave didn't. The Mac Mini I was using stayed up; the external hard drive I was recording to (plugged into a different surge protector) did. Pro Tools hung; fortunately I didn't lose any recording but some of it wasn't stored in the .ptf file and I had to drag-and-drop the WAVs from the Audio Files directory.

So I got started and it happened again. This time I didn't lose anything but it started throwing permission errors. So I restored from an earlier .ptf and then I managed to finish.

Always something new and exciting to impede progress. But ultimately I got two good auditions recorded. Fingers crossed...

Robot Hell

Still haven't received my unemployment pay for the week I reported (accurately) that I worked and earned zero dollars. The status of the claim still says that it was unpaid due to earnings.

As I mailed the documentation on Wednesday the 9th, DES should have received it a week ago today. So I decided I needed to follow up.

The DES contact page lists a number for a Client Advocate -- "Contact the Client Advocate if you have a complaint about an Unemployment Insurance related matter or the service you received." That sounds right.

So I called the number. And, surprise, it's just a damn computer switchboard.

Thank you for calling, visit our website; you can file your claim there. To talk about a claim, press 1; for other questions, press 2; to repeat, press 3.

Welcome. You can file your claim on our website. If you have a question about your card, call JP Morgan Chase. (Different voice at different volume:) To continue in English, press 1.

(Tangentially: It's a pity "I shouldn't have to press 1 for English" is the battlecry of ignorant racists, because it's actually a legitimate UI complaint. The most common option should be the default and shouldn't require user intervention. The switchboards that do it as "For English, stay on the line; para español, oprima número uno" have the right idea. Not because of any ignorant "Yer in Amurika; speak English" notions, but simple demographics -- if I were calling a business in Guadalupe, the reverse would be true and UI design would dictate that Spanish be the default option and, yes, as a member of a minority, I should have to press 1 for English.

All that said: pressing 1 for English is not that big a fucking deal, and I've already spent more time talking about it than the subject deserves.)

To file a claim, press 1, or file via our website, where you can file your claim. (Several other options, routinely switching voices and volumes.)

Lengthy legal disclaimer.

Enter your SSN.

You have entered blah-blah-blah; if this is correct, press 1.

Enter your PIN.

You must speak to a customer service representative. Please wait while your call is being transferred.

I am sorry, we are experiencing a high volume of calls. Please try your call again later. Thank you.

And then -- it hangs up.

No hold, no voicemail. Just 4 minutes of navigating fucking prompts, only to be hung up on.

This, right here? It's why people fucking hate government bureaucracies.

Just because I'm unemployed doesn't mean I don't have better shit to do than fuck around on the phone for 4 minutes to get hung up on.

(8 minutes, actually, because I tried again a little later, partly in the hopes of getting someone this time and partly to make sure I got all the details right for this post.)

So I guess I'll submit a comment on the website? I don't think this qualifies as an Appeal of a Determination of Deputy, because there's nothing under "Determinations" on my claim page. I think this is a Written Protest. And although I've already sent a letter, I'm wondering if they're going to make me send another, and hoping I won't pass a deadline and miss my window.

Hey guys, unemployment is really pretty terrible. I do not recommend it.

Guess I should submit more auditions -- which I'd have probably already started on if I weren't busy fucking around with DES.

This time I'll focus on projects that offer hourly rates and bypass this issue altogether.

And after a few hours of that, maybe I'll get a chance to go for a bike ride. We've had a couple weeks of weather that was pretty damn chilly for Phoenix metro, and now we're back up above 70 -- it's a nice day out and a shame to be cooped up indoors.

Games a-Breakin'

I can't get Windows to boot at all on my main computer -- the Win8 preview doesn't expire until next week, so I think it's because I stuck my helper card back in so I could get a stable Mac boot. Which apparently means I can't get a stable Windows boot.

I tried to play The Walking Dead on the HTPC in the living room, but the controls don't map right on my Cordless Rumblepad 2, x360ce doesn't work, and my Xbox 360 wireless controller receiver seems to have died when I tried disconnecting and reconnecting it. I've got a third-party wired Xbox controller, but for some reason that doesn't work either.

And my Wii is now ejecting every disc I put in it.

Come on, games! I've been productive this week! I finished two submissions, scheduled a job interview for Monday, and have a potential programming position lined up for a few months from now! I deserve a little time to kick back and play games!

...guess I'll just have to work on one of the several dozen on the list that aren't Walking Dead or a Wii game.

My Latest Barrier to Productivity

So yesterday I set up an external hard drive for my audio recording. Because as it turns out a 40GB hard drive is not a good long-term choice for audio production. (In fact I'm surprised I've gotten as far as I have using a 2005-vintage Mac Mini in the first place.)

Setting up an external hard drive turned out not to be as easy as it should have been. Pro Tools kept giving me a crypic "DAE error -9131", because apparently this is 1993 and it is still considered acceptable for a programmer to throw up an incomprehensible number for an error message instead of telling the user what the fuck is actually wrong.

An hours-long troubleshooting story short, I found the solution via Noize at Gearslutz. It involves not merely reformatting the external drive, and not merely repartitioning the external drive, but repartitioning it using the old, pre-OSX Apple Partition Map. (I also disabled journaling because another post somewhere recommended that, too. Plus that way I can hook it up to a Linux box and mount it read-write.)

After that, though, I had a good, fruitful few hours. And then I took a break and biked downtown. When I got back my voice was hoarse and I found I couldn't record any more for the day, but as it was I was already a week and a half ahead of schedule so I'm not too worried. And I came home to a note from my contact on the project about more possible work in the future.

It's early days yet but I've certainly received a lot of encouragement.

Fucking Government Bureaucrats

So I'm doing a bit of freelance work right now, on a royalty basis.

I wasn't sure how to fill this out on this week's unemployment claim. They ask, Did you work or earn any money during the week of [whenever]? Well, I worked, but the work hasn't yet earned me any money, and because the money is based on future sales, I have no way of accurately estimating what it will be.

Given this problem, I submitted a question to the unemployment website as soon as I knew I would be doing the work, to make sure that I filled out the form accurately and correctly.

I got a call two days later -- at 7:15 AM, because of course an unemployed person is going to be awake at that hour -- from someone who had never heard of an unemployed person working for royalties before, but who said she thought it would be okay if I answered Yes to the "Did you work or earn any money?" question and then filled out the amount as $0.00.

Because -- and here's where I start nitpicking about the definitions of basic fucking English words -- the word or does in fact indicate that if you meet either one of the listed conditions, the answer is Yes.

But I guess when whatever government bureaucrat wrote that question wrote it, what they really meant was and, not or. Because yesterday I got a notice that my claim had been denied for failure to report wages.

Now, to be clear: I am not blaming the nice lady who I spoke to on the phone for this mess. She did the best she could with an unusual and unfamiliar circumstance.

I blame whatever nitwit wrote the question, and also whoever decided that the solution to the "Wait, this guy said he worked but earned no money" condition would be automatic rejection instead of, say, flagging the account and getting a human being to spend five fucking minutes reviewing it. Because of course in addition to my having submitted a question on the website and spoken to a representative on the phone, I also noted that I was working for royalties on the list of jobs I had applied to over the week (which is also an asinine requirement and which I have discussed previously).

Sure is nice to know nobody reads those fucking things, even if your claim is flagged.

Guess that reassures me some that nobody from DES is likely to stumble across a blog post titled Fucking Government Bureaucrats while I'm waiting for them to fix this and send me my check.

Hopefully I will get my money by the end of the week. In the meantime, I guess I learned my fucking lesson: when dealing with government agencies, never use any logic complex enough to destroy a robot in a 1940's science fiction story.

You can't tell them, because that would hurt and you mustn't hurt. But if you don't tell them, you hurt, so you must tell them. And if you do, you will hurt and you mustn't, so you can't tell them; but if you don't, you hurt, so you must; but if you do, you hurt, so you mustn't; but if you don't, you hurt, so you must; but if you do, you—

Loud Noises

Working on a project right now that involves some audio recording -- I'll talk more about it when I have something to show.

In the meantime, I'm going to talk about the actual logistics of recording.

I haven't rented out a studio; I'm doing this in my home office. And while I think I've got the acoustics set up nicely -- boxes of comics around the walls deadening much of the sound, blankets covering surfaces, the heat and all the fans turned off, and doing the whole thing on a very quiet 2005-vintage Mac Mini -- I'm still at the mercy of noises from the great outdoors.

Yesterday I got up, ate a breakfast bar, did 45 minutes on the elliptical machine while watching an X-Files, showered, and then sat down to start recording...and that's when a neighbor started using a weed eater. Damn it. Well, I was hungry anyway, so I went and fixed lunch (with an extra helping of Gas-X, because leaf blowers aren't the only background noises I don't want on the track) and watched Tron: Uprising.

Then I sat down and recorded for a couple of hours, mostly without incident. But as I was wrapping up the day's recording with some dead air (room tone), I heard a jet overhead. And then I had to wait for that.

And that's when my fiancée got home from work.

Clearly this is going to take some fine-tuning. I could try recording first thing in the morning and then working out -- but I don't have much of a voice when I get out of bed. I could shower and then record and then work out, but then I'd probably wind up having to shower again.

Anyway. Off to take another crack at it -- bit of a late start today but we'll see how I do.

...oh hell. Is that a fucking lawnmower?