Monday, March 30, 2009

Making friends with the Mac

I spent the weekend trying to get familiar with my new MacBook laptop.

No, I do not love it yet. I'm still mystified as to where things are stored, why things show up on my desktop when I least expect it, etc.

I did get my virtual machine and MS office installed, though. I was a bit clueless when installing it and I suspect that at some point, I'll redo the installation. But for now, it's working. I don't really understand what I did to make it work. If I could figure out where the documentation went to (it's not in the Documents folder...where did it go???), I might be able to get a clue as to how the beast works.

I like the idea of having a laptop, especially with a wireless connection. I'll be taking the machine with me next week when I visit my family. The only snag is that there isn't a wireless connection where I'll be staying, so I'll be relying on my phone to check email. If I need to actually send files anywhere, I'll either need to connect to the cable modem or find a wireless hot spot somewhere. Or...use thumbdrives to transfer files to the computer there. Or just wait until I'm back in the airport :-)

I'm so used to everyone having a wireless network that I forgot I'll be staying with family members who have no real need for wireless. Thus, they don't have it.

I did let my current employers know that I'll be out of state, but still online and working. I'm hoping that's not an issue since we're all working remotely and as long as I'm reachable, it shouldn't matter where I'm at, physically. We'll see if they object.

In the meantime, I'll continue trying to make friends with my Mac. I've yet to discover why people love them more than a Windows machine. The hardware is lovely, but the actual operation of the OS doesn't seem to be anything that tugs at my heart strings. Not like my iPhone does (oh, I do *love* my iPhone!).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Drinking the Apple Kool-Aid

My current contracting gig allows me to work whatever hours/days I want. As long as the work gets done and you're available when needed, no one seems to mind. Kind of cool. I don't have to travel to an office everyday, so I get to save money on gas (which is good since the hourly rate is less than what I would prefer).

I knew I had to plan an out of state trip to visit my parents. But, not working means not getting paid. And, with the contract being short term, not working for 4 days or so seemed a bit much. My solution: buy a lap top. This way, I can travel, visit, and still work (which gives me something to do while at my parents house.). I'm hoping that my employer will be OK with this.

Well, really, what's the harm? My next assignment with them requires me to work with a team in Cork, Ireland. Will they really care where I'm sitting, physically?

I bought a MacBook Pro. I can set up a virtual machine so I can run all my Windows applications. And, at the same time, learn the Mac OS (because, it's just one more thing to add to my resume).

So far, the Apple Kool-Aid is not so tasty. :-) I'm a lifetime Windows user and the MAC OS baffles me. No, I don't find the UI very intuitive. I keep managing to end up with unwanted icons on my desktop and spending way too much time trying to make them go away. And, I wish the keyboard wasn't so high up on the device. I do have to get a mouse, since I just can't get the fine movement control that I need from the touchpad (I was trying to add items to the Dock and they kept ending up on the desktop. Which led to the frustrating exercise of getting the icons off the desktop. Still not sure how I managed to do that). And the online help, while attractive, isn't always accurate or useful. And, they could use a good editor.

Sigh. I'm sure that in the end, I'll grow to love my Mac. And I'm way overdue on the learning new techy things department. But right now, I tend to growl at my new machine.

Monday, March 23, 2009

bank deposits from home!

As several of my friends and family members know, I'm notoriously bad about getting checks deposited on a timely basis. I've been embarrassed by it on more than one occasion. (I just found last year's birthday check from my parents...never cashed. Sheesh. A full year ago, that check has been sitting around!).

My credit union has come up with the perfect solution: Check deposits from home!!! I just registered for a service that will allow me to scan in a check, with specific check endorsement information and voila! No need to drive to the ATM to do a deposit.

I wonder, though. Do I need to keep the original checks once the deposit is made? Should I shred them or mark them in some way so that I don't forget that I've already deposited them? When my activation information comes through, I hope they provide some guidelines and best practices.

I'm pretty excited about this feature. Although, now that I'm working from home, it seems harder and harder to get myself dressed and out of the house. At least, I still get up at a normal work time and get started. But, usually, the first couple of hours at home are in my bathrobe. :-)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bad luck comes in threes?

There's an old saying, "bad luck comes in threes."

Here are three bad things that have happened to me and my extended family in the last couple of months:

1. I lost my job.
2. A niece had a miscarriage.
3. A cousin's mother died from anaphylactic shock (peanut allergy...why would ANYONE put peanuts in a turkey sandwich????? Or was the chef careless and used a utensil that had contact with peanuts?)

If there's any truth to the saying...then maybe, the following things WON'T Happen:

- My sister will *not* lose her job -- instead her company's business will pick up and they'll stay open.
- My sister's significant other will *not* remain unemployed.
- My cousin (whose mother just died) will get a permanent job with her current employer before her contract expires.
- I won't have to go back to collecting unemployment -- instead, I'll find a nice steady job that pays close to my previous salary.
- No one else that I care about will have any other major losses, health issues, or employment problems.

Sigh. One can only hope.

Or, is one required to submit a burnt offering to a higher power?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Is there any real truth to the rumor that a 2 page resume is ideal?

I have over 25 years in the tech writing business. I've had a number of different jobs. I've done a lot of good stuff. It's so hard to cram all that into two pages.

At the request of my outplacement counselor, I just downsized my resume from 3 pages to 2. I'm not sure I like it. I had to cut out a lot of good things that I did. And crammed things together which makes me feel the document is less readable.

Most of the feedback that I get from others, including interviewers, is that the resume is very good. I've never heard that the length was a problem. Then again, since one doesn't get feedback from the people who don't call with an interview, who knows...maybe the length IS a problem.

It's really so subjective. During interviews, I've been surprised at what catches someone's eye. Sometimes it's a company name, or a technology, or a task. Sometimes it's something that I worked on a long time ago, and yet, I still get questions about it.

I'm interested in hearing what the outplacement counselor says about my latest resume attempt. I'm not sure I'll actually use it...I like my current resume, but it was an interesting exercise to see if I could reduce the resume down to 2 pages.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

irony in the job search -- they should have picked me

Just received a call about a job I interviewed for a couple of weeks ago. I was very interested in the job but they chose someone else.

Who, apparently, "didn't work out." The person had to have been at the job for a week? The person they hired was an internal referral. Makes perfect sense to hire that person instead of me. But now they're sorry that they didn't hire me, HA!

But too late for me, there's no way I can drop out of my current contract without committing professional suicide. And, they are now in a rush to fill the job so they couldn't give me 24 hours to think about it. And they have 3 other candidates who could possibly fill the job. And the rate they were thinking of paying is way too low for the type of work and commute required.

At first, I was heartbroken. This job had the potential to go permanent and it was REAL work, that would have challenged me. But, let's think about this...

What does it say about the company that it took them more than a month to select a candidate and then THEY PICKED THE WRONG ONE! Who didn't last more than, what, a week? And now, they're all in a panic and they're going to pick from a pool of people that they rejected. I was the second best candidate. Now, they'll have to pick the third, fourth, or fifth candidate. And they rate they wanted to pay?! Gee whilikers. It doesn't sound like documentation is highly valued there.

So, maybe it's for the best. Maybe they're not such a good place to work after all.

Spending for a good cause

I finally cleared up the snafu regarding my final bonus check from the previous employer (HR rep screwed up which prevented me from getting on the day it was distributed.). The HR rep claims she's fixed the problem and I'll see the deposit this week.

I've made a guesstimate regarding the amount. And decided to spend most of it on a new laptop.

Seems frivolous, doesn't it?

It might be...but, I've found a way to rationalize it. The contract work that I'm doing is home-based. That is, I don't go into an office. I work from home and can do the work at any time...morning, night, weekends, whatever. If I have a laptop, I don't even need to be in the same state.

So, if I decide to visit out-of-state family, I can bring the laptop with me and work. This way, I get the work done, as expected AND I get paid.

I'm going to buy a Macbook Pro. I'm a long-time Windows user but I'm thinking it's time I learned the world of Apple (hey, I *adore* my iPhone!). And, I can use VMware Fusion to run my Windows applications.

It will be nice to have a new techie tool...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

clipping coupons and other oddities

I'm back to clipping coupons.

Haven't done that in years. Once I became "highly compensated," I stopped clipping coupons. I'd go shopping if I was bored and would buy myself something, just because I could. I had no qualms about going out for an expensive outing or dinner. I spent money because, at the time, the steady income made me feel very financially secure. It was a wonderfully, liberating feeling.

Now, I clip coupons. I went out to lunch the other day and chose a less expensive entree than the one I really wanted (chicken marsala for $20.00 or chicken/ham calzone for $10.00 -- the difference was too extreme to ignore).

The problem with the coupon thing is that outside of cleaning products and some health/beauty products, the coupons are not for things that I want to buy. I like the unique things at Trader Joe's, Roche Brothers, and Whole Foods. Typically, there are no coupons for the things I buy.

But, I'm clipping and saving them when I find ones that I will actually use.

Maybe this is all for the good. I really did waste a lot of money on stuff I didn't really need. On the other hand, it really felt great to be able to afford all sorts of nice art work, to not worry about the cost of most things. I wonder if I'll get back to that place and if I do, how will I handle it?

Right now, I seem to be holding my own, financially. Although, every month seems to arrive with some large payment. This month, auto insurance. Next month, taxes (yes, I'll have to pay because of the extra consulting work I did last year as a 1099 consultant). I have not had to touch the emergency fund yet, and have not had to seriously deplete the checking account. My income and outgo were reasonably balanced during this last month, In fact, I'm a little ahead right now. But that's because I have unemployment income *and* severance. That will change next month when I'm relying on the income for my contract job, which is a significant pay cut from what I was earning.

What is keeping me going right now is to remind myself of a friend who was in a similar situation several years ago. She was stuck in a lower-paying contract job for a year or so. She's now in a very good, secure job that pays very, very well. So, I tell myself that if she could survive that situation, so can I.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ex-employer forgets to send me my bonus check.

A bit of an anxious weekend. At my job termination meeting, I was told that I would still receive the 2008 bonus check. Well, the time came for the check distribution and no money was deposited in my account. And no check was mailed.

I racked my brains to remember exactly what they told me. Did they clearly say that I was going to get a check? To the best of my knowledge, they did. I wasn't told I was let go due to a performance issue (was I? I still don't know) so I should have been eligible for the bonus.

I sent an email to the HR rep, being careful to not ask *if* I was eligible for the bonus. I made sure I worded my message so that it looks like I expect to receive it. Much to my surprise, I received a response from the HR rep this weekend saying that she was going to look into the situation and she apologized that the deposit wasn't made on Friday (when the bonus was distributed). OK, so it still sounds like I'm supposed to get my bonus.

I hope so. I want to use it to buy a new laptop. My current contract has a very flexible schedule regarding when I do my work. If I have a laptop, I can work anywhere and anytime. Which means, I can take the time to go visit my parents, and still get work done (and get paid for it).

I'm stil anxious that something is going to go wrong and the former employer will tell me that I'm not going to get the bonus. I will argue that they lied/breach of contract, or something, but my chances of winning that are slim. So, I'm hoping that the fact that I didn't get my bonus is just a misunderstanding and that I will see it later this week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

By Way of Sorrow

There are times when the following song by Cry, Cry, Cry (Lucy Kaplansky, Dar Williams, and Richard Schindell) speaks to me:

You've been taken by the wind
You have known the kiss of sorrow
Doors that would not take you in
Outcast and a stranger

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

You have drunk a bitter wine
With none to be your comfort
You who once were left behind
Will be welcome at love's table

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

All the nights that joy has slept
Will awake to days of laughter
Gone the tears that you have wept
You'll dance in freedom ever after

You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these... You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Outplacement services

As part of my severance package, I get a month's worth of a consultant's time from an outplacement service. They contacted me so I decided to give it a try.

Of course, the first thing they want me to do is rework the resume. The old "reduce the resume to 2 pages" routine. I have 25 years of experience...2 pages is pretty tight to fit it all in. But, I'll give it a try. The curious thing is, that even though I have a long resume, I find that when I do get an interview, people do peruse the entire document. And they pick up on all sorts of details that I never expect. You never know what catches someone's eye. Whether it's a technology, an artifact you've created, or a company where you worked. I hate to ditch some of this stuff.

On the other hand, since I'm not being overwhelmed with interviews or job offers right now, so maybe a new resume is something that will help.

The outplacement counselor wants me to sit through a 90 minute webinar about writing a resume. I just took a look at the resume development guide and wonder what could possibly take 90 minutes to discuss. I'm debating whether to just read the guide and give the resume rewrite a whirl or sit through the damn webinar.

Next on the outplacement counselor's list is networking. I wonder if they'll tell me anything that I haven't already heard before. And, what I really need is better advice about looking for a job in my *field*, not the generic advice that everyone gets. And the outplacement counselors do not have specific information, just general bits.

No one, and I mean *no one*, hates looking for a job more than I do. I hate the networking, I hate the "selling", I hate the resume sending, and the waiting --- I just hate it all. And yet, it's become necessary. Guess I'd better learn to not hate this stuff so much. :-)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So close, and yet so far

I was close to getting a very interesting job. It would have been very challenging, very interesting work, and best of all, the potential to become a permanent position.

I didn't get the job. I did well on the interviews, people seemed to like what I had to say. But, they had another candidate that had something I didn't. Not sure what, but somehow that person was deemed a better fit.

I'm disappointed. I was looking forward to not having to look for a job for awhile -- at least 6 months, maybe a couple of years, even. Instead, the search must continue.

In the meantime, I'm taking a low-paying but short term contract. I figure it's better than being an unemployment queen. But, it's just work, not something I feel I can be proud of having. Just something to earn a bit of money. A bit more than unemployment would provide. But I don't like it.

I know...I need to find a way to put a positive spin on this. Having a short-term contract does mean I have some income coming in while giving me the flexibility to explore any other opportunities that come along. There are few things that seem to pop up once or twice a week, so I can continue to pursue them. And, there's no way of knowing when something even better will come along than the job I didn't get. Maybe something closer to home? I do have a phone interview with another company today. It's not a location I like but, at least something about my resume caught their attention. So, I have to keep focused on the fact that other opportunities will come my way.

But, I really, really wanted the other job.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Those darn thank you notes...

After an interview, I always send a thank you note. I've noticed that a lot of interviewees don't do this any more. But, those that do, always score extra points with me.

I had a round of two interviews this week for a contract job at a start up company. I think the interviews went well -- obviously the first one went well, otherwise I wouldn't have made it to round two. And, from what I could tell, I did reasonably well in the second round. This is a company that makes decisions reasonably quickly. If I was out of the running, they would have told me so.

So, after 3 hours of interviews, I had to write thank you notes. Took me forever. Partly, because after meeting 4 different people, I had a little trouble remembering what I had discussed with the first person. Also, I hate writing these little notes. Sometimes it's hard to figure out the right words in such a brief message. Sound enthusiastic, but not over the top. Remember something that indicates I was listening to what they said.

I came home from the interviews fairly excited. I felt like I might be a top contender. But, then reality hit. I received email from the HR person indicating that they still have interviews to complete but that they would make a final decision by Monday afternoon. Which means I have competition. It's not a slam dunk, a done deal. There's just as much chance that I *won't* get the job as will. Perhaps, the thank you notes will help? Push me over the edge, if the other candidates don't do the same? Who knows.

And all this energy and hope for a contract job. That's right, once again, no matter how much the people say they see the documentation as part of the product, it's not important enough to add the person creating it to the permanent staff. No equity in the company, no real stake in its success. It's a bit hypocritical. The people I met all talked about these wonderful ideas about doing creating, innovative, and progressive things. But, are they ready to put their money where their mouth is? After all, a contractor is paid by the hour. If you want extra stuff that requires extra time, you have to pay for it. Hire the person as permanent staff, and the extra time comes at no extra cost.

What's with start ups and hiring only contract technical writers? I've seen that a lot.

Another reason for my enthusiasm to wain is that I stopped and reminded myself that even if I get this job, it's a temporary stop gap. After a couple of months, I'll have to start the job search all over again, because the contract will be for a set amount of time. After that, who knows? The VP of Engineering seemed to think the contract job will likely turn into a permanent one (his comment is that they'll need to bring the person in as permanent staff sooner than they they actually anticipate once they realize how much work is needed). But, anything can happen.

What I really want is a nice, local, permanent position. But, I don't see that happening anytime soon. Certainly, I haven't seen anything local. Returning to a long commute again is tiresome but right now, there's no choice. On the plus side, it IS good to know that I still can get through an interview without making a fool of myself. The people I met seemed to enjoy our conversations.

We'll see how it goes. If this job falls through, I'm thinking of taking a short term (albeit low paying) contract, just to keep busy. And get paid more than what unemployment will provide. And return to the job search. I took this week off, as a reward for interviewing well this week. Next week, I may have to return to the hunt again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A little bit of hope

The ups and downs of the job has to be careful to not get too optimistic or too miserable.

Today, I had a very good interview. I did well enough to earn a second interview.

I'm trying not to get overly excited. A second interview DOES NOT mean I have the job. Although, the VP I spoke with wants to have this job filled by the end of the week. But, I have no idea who else is a contender, if they have another person in mind that they might like better. Who knows? And if this one job doesn't work out, I need to be prepared to delve back into the job search morass.

So, I'm trying to just be happy that I did well today. I gave the right answers, had the right questions.

If I do get the job, it would be *very* challenging. Not a lot of traditional technical documentation types of stuff. I would have to stretch my creative muscles to do well there. And a very, very different environment than I'm used to (very, very "new age" start up). But, that would be a good thing. I think.

So, I'm trying to just be calm and not look too far into the future. And to just be satisfied that my interviewing skills haven't totally atrophied. And, have just a little bit of hope mixed with a lot of realism.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Today's gratitude list

When times get tough, it's a good idea to take time out to acknowledge things that are good. Here's my gratitude list for today:

I'm grateful for:

  1. The people who have been willing to support me with introductions and recommendations during my job search. Some of these people don't know me well, but they have been so very kind.
  2. I bought (and paid cash for) my car a couple of years ago. It's nice, at this time, to know I have a reliable car now.
  3. I'm sleeping better now. When I first lost my job, I couldn't sleep more than 4 hours a night. I seem to be more accepting of my situation now and am catching up on my sleep.
  4. I've had a few "nibbles" in response to my job search. So far, no real results, but at least I've had a few phone calls and a couple of interviews. Not bad for a month's worth of work in this environment.
  5. I am, mostly debt free. Other than my mortgage, I have no outstanding debts. Yes, in the past few years, I could have saved a lot more, but at least I didn't leave beyond my means. And, I suspect, once I'm back to earning a regular income, I doubt I'll go back to my most recent spending habits -- which, while not out of control, were more wasteful than they should have been. Nope, living below my means will be a better way to go.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Part of the ebb and flow of job searching is the waiting. You go through a round of submitting resumes to a number of places. Then you wait. If a week goes by and no response comes, you write off the submissions. And you start again.

Or, someone finally does call and you wait for the interview day. I was supposed to have an interview for a contract job today. But, it *snowed*! I have a foot of snow outside my door. Yesterday, I was dreading the thought of having to try to drive to an interview in a snow storm, but I was called yesterday (on a Sunday, no less!) and told that they wanted to reschedule. Whew. So, now I wait for the interview day again. This upcoming interview is for a job that I think I want, depending on what they are willing to pay. And it would be a relief to suspend the job search for a couple of months. But, as a contractor, you still have to keep looking for the next gig. So, you don't wait too long to do that.

I know my resume was submitted to another place (permanent, full-time job). According to the recruiter, they haven't said no to my resume, so I'm still in the running. Only, they take their time about deciding who to interview.

So I wait. For this company to decide if they want to bother having a conversation with me.

As a colleague of mine said, sometimes there's just no game. You wait. For another job lead, for another hint of something in the works.

So, today, instead of wandering the job boards, I'm going to finish updating my portfolio and explore the outplacement company's web site (my former employer has provided a month's worth of their time -- not particularly generous, but it's something to do). Tomorrow, I'll think about trawling for a job again.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Maybe the unemployment office should hire me

Because their systems are completely overloaded.

When I first opened my claim, I had to go to the office in person because you couldn't get through on the phone. The voice message said "please call on *another day*."

The representative I spoke with told me that processing of claims are 5 weeks behind. So, although my payments are retroactive to mid-February, I won't see a check until some time in March.

I file my weekly certification online. And the server is sooooo slow, that what should be a five minute task takes close to a half hour. If the server doesn't time out, that is. And I typically file my certification on Sunday morning. I imagine it's worse during the week.

As part of the unemployment deal, you have attend an orientation class. I tried to register for that class only to find out that the first opening was March 30 (and I tried to register for the class during the last week of February).

Really, the most secure job right now, has to be in the Division of Unemployment Assistance.