Tag: Thadecdotes

Selling a Product

I wonder how many lost sales Bookman's can chalk up to stupid application of stickers.

I was there today and there were several CD's I looked at that had price tags or security stickers plastered right over track listings or album descriptions.

Now, I don't have a smartphone, but if I did have one, odds are pretty good that using it to search for album info would point me straight at sites selling the same album for cheaper -- and likely in digital format, removing even the "instant gratification" advantage to buying it in a store.

Guess I could have asked a clerk, but unless the clerk actually knows the album, that still means opening up the case and removing the sticker.

And anyway, I firmly believe that if somebody makes it harder for me to give them my money, I shouldn't reinforce them by giving it to them anyway.

Montana

My baby's coming in from Montana tonight, so in honor of that, here's Montana, live at the Palladium, Halloween '81:

I realize I'm going a little heavy on Over-Nite Sensation in my selections. There's a reason for that: it was one of my first two Zappa albums and I've always had a soft spot for it.

My dad was updating his collection from vinyl to CD at that point, and he picked up three Zappa CD's: The Grand Wazoo, Over-Nite Sensation, and One Size Fits All.

He held them out and said "You can borrow any two of these you want."

I pointed at Grand Wazoo.

He said, "Not that one. Any two except that one."

So I took Over-Nite Sensation and One Size Fits All. Never did give them back -- I offered but he said no thanks. He never really did get into CD's; live shows are much more his thing.

And YouTube. I bet he watches a lot of Zappa on YouTube.

Ephemera: The Day the Clown Cried

The other week I went to Phoenix Comicon with some family and friends.

On the train ride home, my uncle commented that cons aren't like in the old days -- it used to be this was your only chance to connect with other fans, your only chance to see the movies that were screening. Now, he said, everything's on the Internet.

I got to thinking -- are there any famously obscure movies that are so obscure they aren't on the Internet?

Yes. The Day the Clown Cried is not on the Internet.

Appropriately, I first heard of the movie from TV's Frank Conniff, in his blog on the Cinematic Titanic site. (I'd provide a link, but the old blogs don't appear to be up anymore.) CT is, of course, dedicated to mocking bad movies, and Clown is something of the Holy Grail of bad movies.

It's a Jerry Lewis flick about a clown in a concentration camp. It's supposed to be a Serious Film. It spent years in development hell and, when the rights reverted to the authors of the book it was based on, they refused to allow its release.

Lewis has a copy. He screens it for friends sometimes. Harry Shearer saw it in '79 and said, in a 1992 Spy Magazine article,

With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presense of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. Oh My God! - thats all you can say.

Aside from that, there are some tantalizing bits about the film on the Internet. There's a Wikipedia page, of course, and Film Buff Online has a review of the script. The most exhaustive fan site appears to be Subterranean Cinema, which has multiple revisions of the script, footage from the set, the above-linked Spy article, and pretty much everything there is to satisfy your curiosity on this curiosity.

I can't help thinking that some day, the complete film will be on the Internet.

Selling Out

It's interesting -- those last two posts have actually gotten a couple of people to tell me I should post more. A friend I hadn't talked to in a few months, somebody from the messageboard, and, to my pleasant surprise, a stranger. (Or possibly someone pulling a surprisingly elaborate hoax, which I suppose is still flattering in its own way.)

Partly because of the feedback, I'm going to try and write more here.

I've fucked around on the backend a bit; you've probably noticed posts have tags at the bottom now. I've gone through all the way back to when I first started using blogging software in '06, and tagged all of them. I'm half-tempted to go through the older ones, from when I entered everything by hand, perhaps for no other reason but to tally up how many posts each I've devoted to Mike Allred and Kurt Busiek, but that sounds suspiciously like a lot of work for very little payoff. The reason I switched to blogging software in the first place was because I found myself spending a really inordinate amount of time cutting-and-pasting from one page to another.

Speaking of which, I've also updated the KateStory page, fixed broken links, summarized Book XVIII, and added some new character entries, which is exactly the kind of irritating bookkeeping that drives me to go play Nintendo instead of updating the site. Wonder if it'd be worth it to set up a DB so I don't have to manage every character's list of appearances manually. Then again, we haven't done one of these in nearly two years.

And speaking of old crap that seemed like a good idea at the time, I've renamed the "My Personal Life" category, because that was always a pretty stupid name for "What book I am reading/What game I am playing" but which I kept for a dozen years due to a combination of inertia and mild amusement that I could refer to my categories with the shorthand "Life/Stream".

I've changed it to the more boring but more accurate "Status Updates". That still doesn't seem like a very good name, so if anybody's got a better idea I'm open to suggestions.


I ever tell you why this site is called corporate-sellout.com?

I was chatting with an old friend of mine. Girl I went to high school with; we were in drama together, and I went to my junior prom with her.

By this point we were in college. I was a freshman or a sophomore, thereabouts, and she would have been a year ahead of me.

We were still in touch but pretty testy with each other -- you know that age, where you're out on your own but still kinda stressed-out and pissed-off about everything.

Plus, I was still getting over a bad breakup. With her roommate.

Anyhow, we were talking about our majors. She'd picked creative writing and I pooh-poohed it a bit.

Not because I don't believe in writing, of course. She and I are both storytellers, at heart.

But for other reasons. I thought of college as a means to an end, a financial investment for a financial reward. And, well, I was lucky enough that I really enjoyed something that also was, unlike a creative writing, a lucrative degree. (That'd be CompSci, for those who haven't been keeping score.)

She responded, rather angrily, with "Well, it sounds like I'm studying to be an artist, and you're studying to be a corporate sellout."

It wasn't the worst thing she called me in that conversation (it was followed shortly by "asshole"), but it stuck with me.

Mostly because I make a terrible corporate sellout.

Up to that point in my life, I'd never even worked in private industry; all my work had either been for my family or for the government.

I've worked a few corporate jobs in the years since, but I'm still a bottom-rung IT temp. If I were going to sell out, it would have been for a lot more money than what I'm making.

Funny thing is, last I heard she was doing much the same work I am -- she's probably a bit higher up in the chain, actually, because a few years back she took an entry-level phone support job that I refused.

I can't say I regret refusing that job, because seriously, entry-level phone support sucks and I thank the all-powerful Atheismo every day that I no longer work in a phone bank, but I will say that the job I took instead because I thought it'd pay better and give me more room for advancement was...a miscalculation.

So it goes, I suppose. But I'm still a storyteller at heart.

I enjoy the hell out of writing. And I never really stopped doing it -- I just cut way back on doing it here.

I'm pretty damn prolific over on the forums, and I spend more time arguing with idiots in the ComicsAlliance comments section than I'd care to admit. I think I'm much better off trying to redirect at least some of that effort back this way.

I've probably got a pretty good backlog of standalone posts over at Brontoforumus (and maybe even Pyoko, if I feel like slogging through Wayback pages) that I could just copy-paste up here. I expect I'll do a bit of that, in addition to original posts.

Thad Doesn't Review The Avengers

Here's the thing: I'm boycotting The Avengers.

It was Steve Bissette who convinced me, in a blog post last summer just following the summary judgement against Jack Kirby's heirs. After that judgement it looks like the heirs will never receive their due through the legal system, and the court of public opinion is their last recourse. I haven't bought Kirby-derived Marvel product since.

People have argued this one up and down, and done it well -- James Sturm, David Brothers, Chris Roberson, Heidi MacDonald, Steve Bissette again -- so I'm not going to go into an extensive retread just at this moment. But to summarize:

Yes, Jack Kirby is dead. No, his children didn't write or draw those comics. Neither did Bob Iger or Roy Disney III, both of whom stand to make massive bank on this movie and both of whom are in the position of making a lot of money on this movie because of who they are related to. Captain America should be in the public domain by now, but he's not, again thanks to Disney.

Marvel gives Stan Lee a million dollars a year. His contract stipulates that if he dies before his wife, then she (who also did not write or draw any of those comics) will continue to get a million dollars a year until she dies.

Kirby should have gotten the same deal Lee did. And if he had, he would have left his money to his children.

Never mind the rights questions and the work-for-hire versus spec questions. (Personally I believe Kirby did at least some of his work on spec, and Marvel "lost" the evidence among the thousands of pages of art they contractually agreed to return to him and then didn't. But again, never mind that for now.) Just giving some form of compensation to the Kirby heirs at this point would be a step toward rectifying the injustices Marvel did to Kirby over the course of his life. Plus, as Kurt Busiek recently noted, if Marvel (and DC for that matter) started retroactively applying their current standard contracts to past creators, people like the Kirby heirs and Gary Friedrich would spend less time suing them and more time promoting their movies.

Anyway, here's the other thing: last night somebody handed me a free ticket to go see The Avengers, and I realized that yes, this was a loophole in my boycott. If I don't pay to see it, I'm not supporting it.

Now granted, Marvel/Disney/Viacom/whoever paid for my ticket, and it was part of a marketing strategy -- word-of-mouth, buzz, what-have-you. So here's my thinking: if I talk about the movie, then they've accomplished their goal, and I've broken my boycott.

So I'm not going to talk about the movie. If I say I liked it, then I'm doing just what Disney wants me to. If I say I hated it, then that misses the point -- then I'm suggesting people shouldn't see it because it's a bad movie, not for ethical reasons. If you choose not to see a bad movie, that's not actually a boycott. (I remember lots of people in various comments sections saying they would boycott Ghost Rider 2 over Marvel's treatment of Gary Friedrich -- I reminded them that it's only a boycott if they had planned on seeing the movie in the first place.)

But yeah, I saw it. And I'm going to talk about my moviegoing experience.

I suppose you could argue that I'm still giving them what they want, if you really believe there's no such thing as bad publicity and any mention of the movie is good for them...but, well, read on.


The movie was at 7 PM, and my fiancée and I arrived before 5. She'd eaten and I hadn't, so she grabbed us a spot in line while I found the nearest place to grab a slice of pizza.

The slice I bought was mediocre and I would probably not go back. I felt particularly disapponted inasmuch as the theater is a couple of blocks from my favorite pizza place ever, but I didn't have the time or the money for that spot.

(Tangentially, several nights before I'd had a dream where I was lost in the New York subway system trying to find a good slice of pizza. Because yes, of course you can find a slice of pizza on any given corner in Manhattan, but I was trying to find a really good place. I am sure that this is a metaphor for something.)

So anyway, I got back and grabbed my 3D glasses and my spot in line. I love my fiancée but I think I may have to fire her from holding-my-place-in-line duty. Holding someone's place in line requires more than just waving him over when he walks in; you also need to make sure that you leave enough room around you for a human adult to stand comfortably in.

And so began the hours-long wait in line. It went about how these things usually go: standing in line sucks, but you're there with other people who share a common interest. I was next to a kid who had just read Knightfall and gushed about it while describing The Brave and the Bold as "unwatchably terrible" -- well, at least he's a kid who's enthusiastic about comics.

'Round about 5:45, a manager came up to the line and announced that no cameras would be allowed in the theater.

Including camera phones.

IE, a thing that every single fucking person carries in their pocket, because this is two thousand and goddamn twelve.

Now, I know that this completely fucking boneheaded policy was Disney's and/or Viacom's fault, not the theater's. But what is the theater's fault is that they waited until we'd been in line for an hour to tell us. Yes, as it turns out it was written on our tickets -- in an illegibly-tiny, illegibly-antialiased font way down at the bottom —, but how the hell hard is it to post signage and tell the guy at the door to let everyone know as they come in?

So I went back to the car, along with at least one person from every single group in line. Fortunately, this allowed the line to rearrange itself in a way so that I actually had room to stand comfortably when I got back. And hey, it could have been worse -- as I discovered when the line started moving, the guys who got there first had to stand in a really cramped spot, next to lighted movie posters that gave off a noticeable amount of heat.

And then came the wands.

They didn't pat us down, at least, but there were actually people in suits outside the theater entrance who wanded us to make sure we didn't have cell phones on us.

Let me fucking tell you something, Disney and Viacom.

Captain America did not go to war and punch Hitler in the goddamn face so that he could wake up 70 years later in an America where people have to pass through security to see a goddamn movie.

All so that somebody wouldn't record a 3D movie with their fucking phone and post it on the Internet. Because that would really hurt this movie's business, I'm sure.

Well, the good news is it totally worked and nobody managed to sneak a camera into any of the screenings and post the movie on the Internet within a matter of houohhhhh I'm just messin' with you guys, of fucking course somebody did. I checked this morning, just for curiosity's sake, and yes, surprising absolutely no one, a bootleg cam video of the movie is now readily available on the Internet.

What, you mean irritating and inconveniencing law-abiding customers didn't actually stop anyone from pirating something? I sure never would have guessed that from every single time anyone has tried it, ever!

Anyway. After the wanding we were admitted into a theater that really was not big enough for the size of the crowd. I'm given to understand they opened a second one -- which means we would have gotten better seats if we'd shown up later, because as it was we wound up way too damn close to the screen. (We were in the second row. We were told the first row was reserved for press. If the people who wound up sitting there were press, they must have been there for their high school paper.)

The seats sucked, but on the whole I was surprised to find that they didn't really suck any more for a 3D movie than they would have for a 2D one. There was a sense that the whole thing was hovering above us, and of course since you are actually looking at a plane, yes, shapes distort depending on your viewing angle. And there were bits where the screen had some single massive object filling it that made my eyes cross. But still, I don't think it was any worse than if I'd watched a regular movie from that seat. The problem isn't 3D, it's poor theater design.

All in all, I would say the theatergoing experience left a lot to be desired, and I'm certainly going to remember it the next time I think about attending a prerelease screening -- or even a popular new release.

But I will say one good thing about it: it's the only time this century I've gone to a movie and nobody in the audience had a damn phone.


There's been some talk about credits over the last few days -- an interviewer asked Stan Lee why Jack Kirby wasn't credited in the movie and Stan gave the kind of tone-deaf response he often makes when people ask him questions about credit: he actually said "In what way would his name appear?" (He added that "it's mentioned in every comic book; it says 'By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby'"; I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's referring to the original comics that Jack actually co-wrote and drew with him, because no, Jack does not get a creator credit on most of the current Marvel books.) I know Stan doesn't make these decisions (anymore), but I think he should have responded with "Well, that doesn't sound right; I'll ask around and see what I can do."

People have pointed out since that Kirby's name is in the credits. I didn't see it, but I think it was probably in the "special thanks" section 2/3 of the way down; the credits went by fast and the only names I caught there were Millar, Hitch, and Lieber. (And I'm certainly not saying those names don't belong there, mind; Lieber co-created Iron Man, and this movie is largely adapted from Millar and Hitch's The Ultimates -- indeed, I read an interview where Millar says they're not getting any compensation from the movie and if that's true I think it's outrageous.)

At any rate, my point is, I didn't see Kirby's name in the credits, and I was looking for it.

So, to answer Stan's question, "In what way would his name appear?" Well, Spider-Man had a big "Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko" credit right at the beginning, and I think the Marvel Studios movies should have the same thing. I realize that Avengers, in particular, has a lot more creator credits, but I don't care; I still think they should be up onscreen in the opening titles, every one of 'em.

(An alternative idea, that I know could never actually happen but would like to see: in the end credits you get a prominent credit for each of the leads. The Iron Man helmet with Downey's name, the shield with Evans's, and so on. You could couple those with creator credits. Prominent, middle-of-the-screen credit saying "ROBERT DOWNEY JR.", and then, lower down and in smaller type, "Iron Man created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck". Then the big "CHRIS EVANS", with a smaller "Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby". And so on down the line. No, this would never happen in real life, because I am talking about messing with the top-billed actors' credits, but...a man can dream.)


Playing: Xenoblade
Reading: The Neverending Story
Drinking: Lumberyard IPA. It was on sale at my local liquor store, and I checked the label only to discover that "Lumberyard" is actually the Beaver Street Brewery, my old college watering hole. It tastes like the good ol' days. And hops.

Tempin' Ain't Easy

I try not to think about the fact that it's been seven years since I got my CS degree and I haven't put it to use professionally.

I entered the field at the wrong time and in the wrong place. It's rough all over, and the housing bubble hit Arizona disproportionately hard. I've spent the past few years working as a temp and building the odd website on the side.

The first temp gig lasted two years -- ironically, longer than any other job I've had. But I got laid off about a year ago.

There's this kind of paranoia you get. It could happen again any time. And it has absolutely nothing to do with how hard you work or how good a job you do. You could be out on your ass tomorrow, on the whim of some guy you've never met.

I've heard some of the "get a job" rhetoric lately and it's just baffling. A hell of a lot of people would like very much to get a job. I've been either unemployed or underemployed my whole adult life, and that's with a degree that, fifteen years ago, could have gotten me six figures.

Not that I intend this as a pity party. I've got work now, and it pays well enough to live comfortably while still squirreling away enough each week that I'll be okay for a few months if I find myself unemployed again. There are a lot of guys who have it a lot worse than I do.

And if you take anything away from this comedy of errors, let it be that: this is the story of a guy who's doing okay in this economy.

Job 1: Fortune 500 Company, Real Estate Business

Job: Imaging laptops, working in a warehouse, inventory duty
Distance from Home: 3.5 miles
Best Thing: Laid-back atmosphere most of the time
Worst Thing: Lung fungus
Length of Service: 2 years

This wasn't a bad gig, really. Not intellectually challenging, but I worked with some good people, I got some good exercise in, and most times things were pretty laid-back.

But it wasn't worth giving up my health for, and ultimately that's what I did.

I did a lot of work out in a dusty warehouse, and I managed to contract valley fever. For those of you not from around here, valley fever is a lung fungus, and it lives in dust. The Valley and valley fever are like the Internet and Hitler comparisons -- you stay there long enough, it's something you're eventually going to have to deal with.

So I contracted a lung fungus working there, and I've still got asthma. It's manageable now, but I'm not what I was. Before I took that job I was healthy.

The next-worst thing about the job, after the lung fungus, was the meddling from up the chain. People with little-to-no grasp of our actual day-to-day operations had very strong opinions of what those operations should be, and precisely which boxes we should check on which forms each and every single time we did them. Precisely what those opinions were tended to change from week-to-week, producing an ever-changing, increasingly complex system for dealing with very simple tasks.

And as this went on, the environment became less and less laid-back, and more and more stressful.

There was a real disconnect between the building I was in and management out on the west coast. Within my office I was regarded as an essential member of the team, and indeed my bosses not only recognized my value, they realized that I could probably be doing more for the company than just counting how many sticks of RAM were left in inventory, and fought hard to get me not only hired on but promoted.

It's no small comfort to me that every single person who actually worked with me was pulling for me. To the point that when Corporate decreed that all the temps would be let go, my boss's boss's boss got reassigned for telling his boss's boss's boss exactly how he felt about that.

It was nothing personal. And it was nothing to do with my performance. I was just caught up in a bloodbath. I was part of the first wave, but it kept going. Last I heard, they'd laid off another third of my department, every help desk tech in Arizona, nearly everyone in the front office, and most of the people up the chain to VP. And demoted my boss back down to tech.

But before all that, I got a layoff for Christmas. I lost my job two years, to the week, after I'd gotten it.

There's a fatalism that kicks in after awhile. A knowledge that no matter how hard you work and how much you're appreciated, there's some clown in a corner office somewhere who's never met you but has the power to decide whether you're drawing a paycheck next week.

But ultimately there's something liberating about that, too. After awhile you stop trying to impress the clowns in the corner offices who have never met you. You realize the only people worth giving two shits about are the ones you deal with every day -- and that trying to impress them isn't about whether you'll have a job next week, it's about doing a good job for its own sake and for the sake of your team.

Those guys had my back. And that means more to me than a paycheck ever did.

Unemployment

Unemployment sucks. But it could be worse.

It's a pretty damn smooth process in this day and age -- all online, no driving across town and waiting in line. You fill out an online form, they take a week or two to make sure your story checks out, and then they open up a bank account for you, send you a card, and put money in every week.

Once a week you'll have to resubmit your claim. You tell them you're still looking for work (and keep evidence on file in case they ask for it -- I kept rather a long Excel spreadsheet with a list of everybody I'd contacted) and declare any money you've earned.

The whole thing's demoralizing and more than a little Kafkaesque -- Ursula K Le Guin recently described it quite wonderfully in a short story called Ninety-Nine Weeks: A Fairy Tale, and it's barely an exaggeration. That spreadsheet I mentioned where I kept track of all the dozens jobs I applied for? Only one of them ever actually got me an offer, and it was out-of-state -- more on that below. By the time I did finally get work again, it wasn't from the job search, it was from the same temp agency I'd been working for since '08.

Job 2: Local Non-Profit, Medical Industry

Job: Imaging laptops
Distance from Home: 13 miles
Best Thing: A job!
Worst Thing: Poor pay, sporadic availability
Length of Service: 3 months, off and on

This one wasn't too bad either. Neat office, nice people, and a certain degree of autonomy. The cramped little room I worked in got pretty crowded and hot as time went on, and there was a whole lot of downtime as I waited for laptops to finish imaging, but hey, I got time to catch up on my reading.

I also learned some interesting things about security policy. I've never had to lock things down so tightly from the BIOS -- a unique strong boot password on every machine, USB boot disabled, Bluetooth disabled, and on and on.

The toughest thing was that this wasn't a 40-hour-a-week job. It was "We just got these laptops in; image them and when you're done we'll send you home and call you back in when we get more."

And, without getting into the specifics of my pay, here's where that got frustrating: often I didn't make significantly more money than if I'd just stayed at home and collected unemployment.

Unemployment in Arizona works like this: you get a weekly stipend of up to $240. I was eligible for that maximum amount.

Every week, you report how much you've earned. You can earn up to $30 before they start subtracting your earnings from your unemployment check.

So there's this sort of dead zone between $30 and $270 where you are making the same amount of money whether you work or not.

And at this job, I frequently worked a weird part-time schedule and fell into that zone. Once I got past that first $30, I wasn't actually making any money; I was just getting a paycheck from the temp agency instead of the state.

Obviously there are still reasons to work. For its own sake, first of all. And second, to stay eligible for my healthcare, which was set to expire after three months without work. (I got back into the market just in time, but not fast enough to keep someone from fucking up my paperwork and taking me off their books even though I was still paying in every week. I had to call three different departments to get it corrected and my last prescription covered.) But there's still a definite sense of frustration in knowing that you're effectively working for free.

More than one other tech actually told me I should slow down and deliberately take longer to do the work so that I wouldn't get sent home in the middle of the week to await the next shipment. What a position to be in -- effectively being punished for being efficient, and incentivized to slow down and waste time.

This, as you will see, was to become a recurring theme.

Job 3: Company You've Probably Heard Of If You Live in North America, Retail Business

Job: Phone support
Distance from Current Home: 30 miles
Distance from Apartment Where I Lived 4 Years Ago: Directly across the street
Best Thing: Coworkers seem like all right guys
Worst Thing: The single worst job I have ever had. Fuck these people.
Length of Service: About a month

On some level, this fucking fiasco was my own doing.

I'd been poking through listings on some job site or other (probably not CareerBuilder; I quit using it after I discovered it was the thing that kept locking up my browser and hanging my entire system) and I noticed an IT job being offered through my temp agency which my rep hadn't brought to my attention. So I E-Mailed him and asked about it. In hindsight, I should have assumed there was a good reason he hadn't approached me about it.

It was phone support. Not phone support like I'd done before, but in a phone bank -- I had a few feet of shelf that I wouldn't really refer to as a desk, partitioned off from the guys next to me by small dividers that I wouldn't really refer to as a cubicle. Every morning at 6 AM I pulled up whatever broken chair nobody was sitting in, put on a headset if it was still where I'd left it the day before, and started working my way through a list of branches to call to walk their managers through installing new kiosks that didn't work very well in buildings that, half the time, weren't cabled correctly. (Ever walk a retail manager through recabling a patch panel? I've done it six times before breakfast.) It was dimly lit and it was dehumanizing -- I'd compare it to an assembly line, but the assembly lines I've seen are a whole lot livelier and more fun.

(I will grant one thing to the "cog in a corporate machine" setup: this is a company with hundreds of stores, all organized exactly the same. Each store has the same patch panel with the same numbered ports that go to the same rooms and assign IP's based on the same scheme. There was this in-house .NET program we had that would let you plug in a store number, automatically populate the IP address for every port in the place, and give you a one-click ping for each one. That's the advantage of a company that treats its stores as unifom, cookie-cutter widgets. The disadvantage is that it treats people exactly the same way.)

I spent most of each day on hold listening to the same fucking 16 bars of piano music over and over again. Periodically interrupted by a recorded voice telling me I was on hold, of course -- and if I ever meet the son of a bitch who decided to stick voice recordings in the middle of hold music, I am going to gouge his eyes out with my thumbs. I know I'm on hold, asshole; that's why there is music playing. About the only thing that could trick me into thinking that I wasn't on hold would be if the music abruptly stopped and I heard a human voice instead.

There were a couple of guys there who I'd gone to high school with. One of them I recognized but hadn't really known very well; the other used to pick on me but claimed not to remember me (he blamed it on the drugs he'd been doing back then and I am inclined to believe him). Now, remember how earlier I expressed frustration that my career hasn't really gone anywhere? Well, if you want a symbol that will hammer that little insecurity home, suddenly finding yourself sitting next to a couple of guys from high school is a pretty good one. But probably not as good as being directly across the street from the apartment where you lived back when you worked a previous dead-end job. Man, that would have been a sweet commute in 2007!

So no, let's say that this job wasn't the best fit for me. But dammit, I got up every morning at 4:30, put on a smile, went in, did my job and did it well. I blew through every task they gave me and asked for more.

This, as it turned out, was a problem. But nobody ever actually bothered to tell me that.

One morning I walked in and found that my login wasn't working. I asked the guy who'd been training me; he hemmed and hawed and wandered off for awhile, then came back and told me to turn in my badge.

It bears repeating, at this point, that I had just driven 30 miles to show up to work at 6 AM.

My rep told me that they'd called his office the previous evening to tell him to call me and tell me not to come in to work in the morning -- after he'd already gone home for the day.

He added that I'd been sacked because they thought I didn't schmooze enough with the end users over the phone -- something that nobody had ever actually complained to me about. I wasn't rude, or even brusque; I was just, in my rep's words, "too focused on getting the job done". I'm used to support jobs emphasizing getting the task done quickly, because the user doesn't want to be on the phone and wants to get back to what she was doing. But apparently that's not how it worked at this company; they wanted me to slow down and shoot the breeze -- except nobody ever bothered to tell me that. Come on, guys, if you want me to talk about the weather, just say so -- I have quite a lot to say about the weather in Phoenix in June, even when half the state isn't on fire.

Anyhow, it's the only job I've ever been fired from. And nobody even bothered to tell me there was a problem, let alone that I'd been fired.

The guy who walked me to the door was apologetic and told me not to worry about it, that people get fired from that place all the time through no fault of their own; maybe just for looking at somebody the wrong way. And it occurred to me that I'd passed my boss early one morning in the hall and, when she asked how I was doing, cracked a grin and responded "Hanging in there" -- and she apparently took offense that I hadn't said something more enthusiastic.

On the whole, pretty demoralizing and upsetting, and far and away the worst professional experience I have ever had.

Of course, I use the term "professional" in its loosest possible sense.

Job Interviews

Through it all, of course, I was interviewing wherever I could.

There are lots of stories I could tell. The temp agency I spent half an hour trying to find. The interview where I referred to a former coworker as "A temp like me, but kind of a slacker" but the interviewer just caught the "like me, kind of a slacker" part and that pretty well torpedoed me. The interviewer who asked me about a comment I'd posted about Spore's DRM on the FTC website back in '09 and then followed up by asking my opinion about SB1070. But the best story is the hosting company I saw advertised on a billboard.

"Do you know Linux? We're hiring!" said the billboard, with a colorful mascot next to the words. I would see it on the freeway on my way to work. Or maybe it was on my way home from work. Maybe it was both; I think they had more than one billboard.

Well, hell yeah I know Linux. I pulled up the website and submitted a resume. Turned out it was a hosting company -- even better. I spent most of '07 running the backend of a local ISP singlehandedly; I know my way around Apache httpd and MS IIS pretty well.

So they called me back, and the most immediately odd thing was that they told me the job was in Austin. Why would a company in Austin advertise in Phoenix?

Well, of course the answer is that they couldn't find anybody in Austin willing to accept the shitty salary they want to pay for Linux administration, so they're advertising in depressed markets that are full of desperate, unemployed Linux admins. But as you might expect, they didn't come right out and say that.

No, they gave me some talk about how they're expanding into new markets, and how they'd pay for my relocation, and they didn't balk when I gave them a deliberately high figure for my expected salary. They made the whole process seem very exclusive, putting me through three different interviews -- a general one, a second one with a series of technical questions, and a third where they had me SSH into one of their servers and demonstrate that I know my way around bash.

And then they offered me an hourly rate that was maybe fifty cents better than what I was currently getting in the phone bank. And a relocation fee that might have covered a U-Haul rental, deposit, and first month's rent on an apartment.

I hear Austin is a neat place, but no thank you.

It was about this point that I decided to read some employee testimonials on the place, and it sounded suspiciously like the terrible job I was already working at.

The billboards are down now. I wonder if they ever found anybody desperate or gullible enough to take their offer.

Job 4: Contractor for a Contractor for a Contractor, Insurance Industry

Job: Imaging laptops
Distance from Home: 32 miles
Best Thing: Getting work immediately after the previous fiasco; autonomy and people who were happy to see me
Worst Thing: Night crew fired after their first day
Length of Service: 6 weeks

Actually, before this job my rep sprang into action and got me a half-day gig fixing a company's QuickBooks setup, a mere 5 days after the debacle at my previous job. But I'm not counting that as its own section. My rep's cool, though.

Anyhow, shortly after the half-day QB fixer-upper, he found me something else and, at last, I got to be part of a Windows 7 refresh -- the precise thing that my boss, the previous December, had assured me would ensure my job security for another year, the week before announcing that the Windows 7 rollout had been canceled and so had my employment.

Anyhow, this one was interesting. The idea was to provide a minimum of disruption for the employees, while upgrading most of the office to Win7 in a matter of weeks.

So we had a night crew. They came in, ran a script to back up the user's files, either reimaged the user's existing computer or grabbed a new, freshly-imaged one that I'd already put together, restored from backup, and left it to me to walk the user through initial configuration the next morning.

At least, that's how we eventually got it working. The first night, things failed rather spectacularly.

I got in the next morning to find the night crew still there, a small handful of computers actually in working condition, and the rest in various states of completion.

The way I heard the story went something like this: one tech on the crew had asked the guy in charge what the plan was -- how they were going to split up the workload, what the schedule was, etc. He had made some vague "Just get started" noises. She asked him a few more times; he responded similarly. Finally she just went to work; she was responsible for the handful of machines that had actually been finished, while the other techs hadn't really worked out a plan for how to get their work done.

So the company fired everyone else and put her in charge of the new team.

After that it went really smoothly most nights. There were a couple exceptions -- one weekend when the generator had to be turned off for maintenance and so they couldn't come in to get computers ready for Monday, and one night when the AC was out and it was too hot to work. But no more problems from the techs themselves; the second crew did a really great job and made my life much easier.

Job 5: Company You've Probably Heard Of If You Live in the Southwestern US, Real Estate Business

Job: Imaging laptops
Distance from Home: 22.5 miles
Best Thing: Autonomy
Worst Thing: Still a bit of a drive.
Length of Service: 4 months so far, out of a one-year contract.

And from there I moved on to my fifth job of the year, not including freelance Web design or that one-day gig fixing QuickBooks.

This one comes with a one-year contract, so hopefully that'll hold and I'll still be there through next August. But I'm not going to take that for granted; one of the many lessons I learned in the Dank Pit of Phone Support last summer is that a six-month contract can turn into a one-month contract with absolutely no warning. Course, I've been working this one long enough that I am confident in saying that this time I am working for decent human beings, but again, it's not the people I've actually met I'm worried about. And every time I hear the Windows 7 rollout's been delayed, I get a little nervous.


I guess it's worth asking, what motivates me to come to work every day and do a good job? Here's what I can come up with:

  • Need for money
  • Need for health insurance
  • Pride
  • Loyalty to my coworkers

It's instructive to note the things that aren't on the list. "Hope for promotion" and "fear of losing my job" are conspicuously absent -- yes, I do feel both of those things, but as I've mentioned several times, I have absolutely no sense that my employment or advancement is tied to my performance in any way. They're motivating factors just as much as the potential for finding a $100 bill on the ground or tripping and cracking my skull -- they're both things that have some potential for happening, and my job performance has about as much to do with the likelihood of either one.

Also missing: "company loyalty". And unlike those other two things, this isn't something I have in the slightest. I am, as I said, loyal to my coworkers, and I appreciate my rep at the temp agency, but that's not the same thing as being loyal to either the company I'm working for or the company that placed me there. If I get a better offer I'll take it -- and those last two bullet points are the only reasons I'll give two weeks' notice.

On the whole I'm not entirely sure this is a bad thing from my perspective -- hell, the ideal list would probably have two bullet points instead of four. Company loyalty, the stick of firing and the carrot of advancement -- I don't need those things to do a good job. But from the company's perspective, it's probably a bad thing.

And if I may be so bold, I think I'm probably representative of a good solid chunk of my generation. Educated, underemployed, unable to hold down a job for more than two years through no fault of my own -- what happens when that's your workforce? In the coming decades we're going to find out.

Trick.

Someday I want to make a webcomic out of last year's trip to the ER.

Phoenix Metro is a lousy place to live if you enjoy breathing. Sooner or later, you're going to get a lung fungus. The irony is that my family moved here because my great-uncle had asthma, and I'd dearly love to move away from here because now I do too.

I've never seen a summer like this past one before. It stormed but it didn't rain. Instead we had these monstrous dust storms called haboobs. They are, unlike most boobs, not fun.

Somewhere along the line, my girlfriend lost the ability to breathe comfortably. Finally she went to urgent care; they diagnosed her with pneumonia, gave her some steroids and antibiotics, and sent her home.

Well, the steroids made her hyperventilate, so we spent the next day in the ER. They told us it wasn't pneumonia and prescribed less harsh steroids.

Well, those steroids were still too harsh, and within a couple of days she was hyperventilating again and we had to call the paramedics. We managed to avoid another trip to the ER and she went off her prescriptions.

Since then, she's seen a couple specialists who appear to know what the fuck they're talking about. They told her it was a bad allergy to dust and we'd have to tear our carpets out.

So we spent this past weekend taking all the furniture out of all the bedrooms. It's kinda like moving, except instead of begging to borrow your friend's pickup you just move all your shit to your back porch.

Well, the floor guys were about 5 hours late today. So that's, you know, one whole day's worth of moving shit back into the house lost. Which gave us time for the power to go out in half our house. Second time in about 36 hours.

It was about this point that I decided I needed a beer.

The electrician told us that our transformer must be going out and the electric company would have to come out. In the meantime he hooked the other half of the house up to the same circuit as the functioning half of the house, so that the floor guys would be able to see things.

It was about this point that I decided fuck it, Halloween, you know I love you, but I am not dressing up this year; my house is mostly-disassembled and I was just going to reuse last year's Axe Cop costume anyway. Which is like a regular cop costume, but with an axe.

It was not much later that I decided I needed another beer.

The second beer exploded on me.

So I am currently sitting in my kitchen with a laptop; the flood of Trick-or-Treaters has dwindled to the point that I can finally bang out this post. My house is full of choking, eye-searing dust --

At this point in the story the dust got so bad I went outside. I gave candy to trick-or-treaters until people from the power company told me they were taking the power out. So, guess I'll wrap this and unplug my router.

Happy Halloween!

...was going to be the end of my post, but before I could get to the Post button the power went out. The floor guys, obviously, will not be finishing tonight.

I am currently at my grandparents' house. First thing I did was get a glass of water. Continuing the evening's theme, the dispenser did not turn off when I was done with it, and for the second time tonight I found myself toweling up a spilled beverage.

Well, happy Halloween.

To be continued? God, I sure hope not.

Oh, and also I've got company coming on Friday. Good times.

Pointless Nostalgia on an Aribtrary Date

Yeah, okay, so it's been awhile. It's been a busy year. Looks like I missed this site's tenth anniversary by a few weeks, but it was December 9, apparently.

2009. 2009, 2009, 2009. You know, the last two years were straight-up law-of-averages affairs, though in different ways. '08 was pretty mediocre all around; no real highs and no real lows. '09...well, if '08 was a flatline, '09 was a sine wave. It was like the "That's good! That's bad." bit on Simpsons. Alternating highs and lows. The best part of '09 was meeting a very nice girl and finding myself, for the first time in my adult life, in an actual relationship. The worst was losing my uncle. And there were peaks and troughs aplenty in-between.

In other nostalgia-y not-quite-news, I've gone and started another damn KateStory -- I didn't miss that anniversary. The sucker's 15 years old now. I can't believe it's already been 5 years since the 10th anniversary.

I reread all 17 previous installments in preparation. In reverse order. And you know, I learned some things.

  • Brent was right about pretty much everything. Books I-III should probably all be considered one book, VI shouldn't be in there at all, comedy is more important than strict adherence to whether or not I have replaced my watch battery, and Final Fantasy VII is not nearly as good as I thought it was when I was 15. (Chrono Trigger, on the other hand...)
  • Speaking of which, IX isn't nearly as horrifying on a reread as it was a year ago when I had to go through and excise all (well, most of) the adolescent bickering. It's actually better than X. X just fucking drags.
  • Going through the old books looking for "best lines" to reuse in the first chapter of XVIII, most of them were written by Brent. I had a pretty good number of runners-up, but there really weren't any with my name on them where I went, "Yes. That is the best line in this book." Though I threw a couple of mine in anyway for the sake of balance. (Of course, I also focused on lines that would work with the phrase "It was [year], and" prepended to them.)
  • I kinda miss the old days when chapters would cut off in mid-sentence. I should try doing more of those.
  • I've named every single book except KateStory Gaiden, which was McDohl's title. Some of them are well-named (I know Brent's a fan of "Midnight Falls. And can't get up.") and some aren't (I think the reason Book III is "Searching for a Plot" instead of "The Search for Plot" is that the latter was the title of Mad's Star Trek III parody).

I'm seeing end-of-the-decade lists pop up everywhere, but have no great urge to put up any of my own. I can't fucking believe I've got my 10-year high school reunion coming up. Feels like I don't have much to show for it, but on the other hand, I've got a pretty good life, all things considered.

Which isn't to say it can't get better. Here's hoping 2010 continues the past year's trend of wonderful things while ending its trend of terrible ones.

Happy New Year.


Reading: Jeez, haven't read a prose book in months; spending entirely too much money on comics. I just finished Fables vol 7 and Usagi Yojimbo vol 1.
Playing: New Super Mario Bros. and Dragon Age: Origins.

Auld acquaintance

You know, having my New Year's Eve traditions rudely and abruptly yanked out from under me has itself become something of a New Year's Eve tradition -- and, the childish drama inherent in such a change in plans notwithstanding, I think I'm all right with that.

The wonderful paradox about New Year's, and a significant portion of why it is my favorite holiday, is the balance of the old and the new, of tradition and change. (Also, beer.) I'm a guy who puts a lot of stock in his past, but who could sure use some forward momentum in his life about now.

Traditions are wonderful things, and seeing old friends is a joy -- but shaking up a routine is something special in and of itself. I'll never forget New Year's Eve 2000/2001 -- nothing special, perhaps; I just stayed home and watched Batman (the 1989 one) and Army of Darkness with my little brother. It wasn't the night I had expected or planned for, but it was a very pleasant capper to a very hard week. (It was also the first night I checked out #finalfight, starting another tradition -- every year I'd show up there early on New Year's morn, even years after I quit my regular attendance of the channel. That's another tradition I'm breaking this year -- with some pride, actually; it's important to know when to let traditions go.)

I've had a comfortable New Year's Eve routine for, if my count is correct, the past five years (and that image at the top of the main page is from the 2006 party). It didn't hold this year, but that opened the door for something new. I saw Lewis Black perform (second time; he always puts on a good show), and, running late to meet my friends at Four Peaks (as it turns out, they left at 11:30 -- honestly, who leaves a New Year's Eve party half an hour before midnight?), my dad and I happened to be on the new light rail train passing over Tempe Town Lake when midnight hit. We saw fireworks over the lake. Then we walked around the downtown area until the 12:45 fireworks show, which was pretty spectacular -- I don't understand how there were people simply walking away, with their backs to it, paying no attention.

Anyhow. In the spirit of the holiday, in the spirit of the balance of the past and the future, I have some thoughts on where I am and where I'd like to be -- nothing quite so simple as resolutions, but a few ideas.

I have a steady job now -- but I'd like a better one.

I have a lot of good friends -- but I could stand to make more. And, I hate to say it, but the truth is maybe some of my auld acquaintances should be forgot.

I love my hometown -- but I'm overdue for a change of scenery.

I'm an honest person, to a fault. I speak my mind and don't play games. But I could stand to keep my mouth shut more often than I do, and learn when to cut my losses rather than go down swinging.

And, as jaded a person as I am, I can never foresee a time in my life where I turn my back on a fireworks show.

I have no idea where I'll be come this time next year; I don't think I can count on seeing Lewis Black and then being on the light rail over the lake at precisely midnight. But that's a liberating thought -- who knows what the future will bring? Maybe I'll start a new tradition, or maybe it'll be another satisfying one-off.

Think about your traditions -- and think about new ones you can start.


Reading: Me of Little Faith, by Lewis Black; Our Dumb World (yes, still; it is a very long book best read in one- or two-page chunks)

Playing: Chrono Trigger DS, Final Fantasy IV DS, Super Smash Bros. Brawl

Halloween '08, Part 1: My Trip to Flagstaff

I went to Flagstaff yesterday, to see my old Rocky Horror cast perform. There are fewer people I know there every year.

If the needle is to be believed, I pulled off a 320-mile round-trip on 3/4 of a 14-gallon tank of gas, meaning I averaged around 30 MPG, going 80 on the highway for most of the trip. I do appreciate my Cavalier.

The trip up was reasonably quick. There were a couple of points where traffic slowed to a crawl, and one of them was on the hill. If you've ever taken the 17 north through Arizona you know the one I'm talking about -- that bastard hill where you can floor it and still not hit the speed limit, and where it's a pretty good idea to cut off the AC so as not to overheat your engine. That hill. Traffic was stop-and-go there, and, just my luck, for the past sixty miles I'd had to pee but figured I could wait until Cordes Junction. (Sunset Point is right at the top of the hill, but it's currently closed; Cordes is another 15 miles.)

I met my old friend and castmate Tami King, and she convinced me to go to both shows, the 8 PM and the midnight. I don't usually do that, but she told me 8 was a Hell Night (one where they shuffle the actors into different roles) and I had to see it. She was right: Jason totally nailing Columbia's tap part was worth the price of admission all by itself.

I think the biggest lesson to come out of Halloween was that chicks love Dr. Horrible. I wore a Dr. Horrible costume and wandered around the NAU campus, and one woman squealed and clapped and took my picture and another ran up and hugged me. I think I may reuse the costume next year.

(Dudes liked it too. At least two did the evil laugh -- one while driving past in a car, so apparently I was noticeable from a moving vehicle. And I had a conversation with a guy dressed like Einstein, or possibly Dr. Wily, about joining the Evil League of Evil.)

There were some pretty cool Halloween costumes at the midnight Rocky show, too; I saw the Monarch and Quailman. Also, there was a guy dressed like a hippie, except I don't think it was a Halloween costume; judging by the smell he hadn't changed his clothes or used a shower in several days. I moved to the other end of the theatre just to get away from the hippie stank, only to have him wander over to where I'd gone several minutes later, sit a few rows behind me, then on the floor in front of me, and finally right next to me. The people behind me were convinced he was doing it on purpose, but I got the impression he was stoned out of his mind and had no idea what was going on and was just sitting down next to random people. As the theatre filled up, I pretended to know some people who walked in and sat down next to them, where there were no open seats nearby.

I stayed at the Super 8 off the 66, near the Barnes and Noble. Knowing it would be a late night, I asked if I could check out later than the usual 11 o'clock; the lady behind the counter said I could check out as late as noon.

I woke up at 8 AM to the sound of a very loud engine running. In hindsight it was probably a bus from the nearby Greyhound station, but in my half-asleep stupor I managed to convince myself I'd parked somewhere I shouldn't have and was about to be towed. I put my pants on and snuck a quick look out the door, which proved this was not the case, but by then I was paranoid and my heart was racing and it took me probably 40 minutes to get back to sleep. And I didn't sleep very well after that, either.

Housekeeping banged on my door around 10:30. I struggled to get out of bed and back into my pants to answer and ask for more time to sleep. The housekeeper opened the door before I had completed my task and got a good look at my bare ass before fleeing.

I went back to bed; the phone rang at 11 to tell me I had to get out. I asked if I could have more time and the lady said no. So I got dressed, packed up my belongings, and threw them in the car, then wandered over to the office and explained that there had apparently been a miscommunication because I'd been told I could have until noon. The woman behind the counter was apologetic and said nobody had said anything to her about it; I asked if I could have twenty minutes to grab a shower before I left. She said that was all right. So I did that, and I think I may have left a sock there.

On the plus side, I didn't have to take time to shave, as starting today I am preparing my mustache for Brad's annual mustache and sweater party. (My plan is to start with a full beard and shave it down to something ridiculous on the day of the party. However, if I have any job interviews in the next few weeks, I'll probably have to shave it down to a goatee so I look presentable, and shave that down to a Zappa 'stache on party day.)

The ride down was much more stressful than the ride up. No major bottlenecks, but the road was a lot more crowded and people kept riding my ass. Look, I'll happily move over to the slow lane if I find I'm struggling to stay above 65, but if I'm doing 80 and that's not fast enough for you, you can go to hell and take your giant pickup with you.

(Also, the hill that is such a bastard on the way up is more of a Super Fun Happy Slide on the way down. But that's obviously stressful in a completely different way.)

Today my legs are sore. I'm not used to circling the entire NAU campus in knee-high boots.