Wednesday, May 27, 2009's a little scary

Yup, I'm on Twitter (@jgoldstein2 -- follow me if you dare). I know that my new employer is big on using Twitter for business purposes. I decided to set up an account there to get a sense of what it's all about. I started to follow a couple of NASA astronauts (YES, astro_mike and astro_127 twitter from orbit on the Space Shuttle...way cool).

And then, even though I hadn't posted anything, PEOPLE FOUND ME!!!

So, I now have a very small group of followers and feel compelled to post little blurbs. Only, I don't have much to say that isn't mundane (or possibly inane). Made the mistake of mentioning my new company's name in one of my posts. The CTO of the new company found me and is now following me. Ack!

Social Networking, sigh. It's cool and yet...there's something annoying about it. Almost makes me want to go back to old fashioned letter writing. Only, I was never very good about doing that!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Amateur Gardening

Another gardening (mis) adventure today. Still trying to get the dirt off.

I admit it, I'm a gardening dilettante. I know a few facts here and there, I keep acquiring plants (that I often kill) and I have a patio container garden. Although, I've been doing this for years, I' don't really know a whole lot about what I'm doing. I don't fuss over fertilizers or soil mixtures. I don't know the names of most of my plants. But, I like the whole growing thing. I like when plants that are supposed to bloom, do so. It's random though, most times, my green companions just glare at me because I neglect them. I think I've heard the primrose sigh in resignation as I water its wilted body for the thousandth time.

Last week, I went to a lovely class about growing herbs in containers. All of the class participants went home with a lovely collection of plants, neatly planted in our containers. Our instructions were to go home and give the pot a good, soaking watering.

I had the bright idea of putting the pot in the sink (after removing the unwashed pots that had taken up residence there, sigh) and using the sink sprayer thing to soak the soil. Of course, as I went to position the pot in the sink, I caught the edge on the faucet and the whole container went belly up. I had a sink full of dirt with my lovely plants buried beneath the results of the soil avalanche.

After digging up the dirt, including scooping the packed soil out of the garbage disposal, I replanted everything. The plants looked stunned and droopy. Sigh. Next day, I move the pot outdoors onto a wooden plant stand. In a day or two, the plants perked up and actually started to shake off that stunned look.

Today, I was rearranging some of the pots and as I moved one, the outdoor plant stand collapsed. Just folded into itself as if to say, enough. I've been outside all year and I need a break.
And there was my lovely herb pot, once again, belly up, plants buried beneath a soil avalanche.

I scooped up the dirt, replanted the plants, rearranged a few things, washed the dirt off the patio, and eyed that plant stand with suspicion, waiting for it to collapse again (no, I did not put all of the plants back on it, just a couple).

This a new plant stand that's a bit more sturdy! If I have to replant that herb pot one more time, I'll bury my head in the pot, instead.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Where's the innovation?

One of the pluses and minuses of the new job is that my new employers do not want traditional manuals and online help. They want something new and innovative. Something very "Web 2.0" (or probably "Web 3.0").

The problem is that I haven't seen much that's new and innovative in the documentation world. Same old stuff. Oh sure, people are using DITA and topic-based content. But, that's not particularly earth-shaking stuff. And it seems odd to me that people are using DITA and creating output that makes it obvious that someone is using DITA. It's like keeping the outside cover of your laptop transparent so you can see how it was put together. Does anyone really care?

I did speak to one of the well-known consultants in the business and gleaned some ideas of how to incorporate videos and wiki content into user documentation. Simple, yet sensible ideas. So, I have something to start to mull over.

Having a mandate to create something new and innovative is kind of cool. Except, there isn't a lot of innovation in the tech doc world, so there aren't a lot of things I can use as a model. Ironically, my business card states that innovation is one of my strengths. It's a little bit of a lie...I'm not really all that innovative on my own. I can extrapolate ideas from others but a true innovator? Not really -- not when I'm starting from scratch.

It's all very exciting. And exhausting. Since 2000, I've had 4 jobs and now I'm starting the 5th. Five jobs in 9 years. What I liked about my old job is that it was comfortable. I knew the tools, I new the process, there was little stress involved. Now, I'm starting over, most likely creating a completely new tool kit. Which is good in some ways, but not exactly comfortable.

But, all whining aside...I DO truly recognize that I am very, very lucky to be offered the position. I am determined to live up to the expectations...some how. Because, I really want to be able to stay with this job for as long as possible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ramp up to new job

Went into the new office today to drop off all the paperwork and get some benefits questions answered. Of course, ended up chatting with some of the people I met during the interview process. It was a fun, little visit.

Everyone I talked with seemed very excited to have me join the company. Very uplifting. The product manager wants me to help out with some user testing, the Engineering VP said he expects me to be very busy. And I just love the founder/CTO.

The company is actually smaller than I thought...only 16 US employees! (I thought it was 25). They're moving their off shore jobs back to the US, which thrills me to hear. Also, shows that they are solid decision makers. They have had the offshore team for less than a year. It wasn't working out well and decided to back off, rather than keep trying to make it work. Smart move. Most other places sit in denial about the failure of the off shore efforts and just continue to pour money into it.

Because the size of the company is so small, there are benefits they can't get short term disability. I've never worked without that safety net. But, the Founder assured me that, whatever the life event is, the company will do the right thing (as in, pay for the time off that you need). I like their philosophy about building employee loyalty --which only goes so far with me, to be quite honest. My view: treat me well, and I'll do well by the company.

I'm going to have to become a Twitterer and a Wii person (they play every least I already have a nickname that I can use!). Mixed feelings about that. Fun and yet silly. That's the price you pay for joining a small start up. You've got to join in during "recess." I don't really need the whole "play time" thing but, it's something you have to do in the start up world.

I still believe that this job with be very challenging and not so easy. I'm definitely going to be moving outside of my usual comfort zone. For the first time, I'll have a job where I don't bring my usual box of tools with me. I'll have to create a whole new tool box! And yet, it just might be fun.

Friday, May 15, 2009

To close or not to close... or maybe Twitter?

Close the blog, that is.

I've been debating whether to close down the blog. I don't seem to have much to say these days and although I treasure my small, loyal audience, well, it's a rather small audience. Maybe I'll Twitter instead.

Twitter is something I'm just starting to look at. Right now, I'm following NASA shuttle astronauts. Kind of cool, especially when they tweet from space. I might have to get on Twitter for the new job...they are very Web 2.0 and encourage employees to know and use these tools.

On the other hand, there's a part of me that wants to become a Luddite. Enough with all the changes, new technologies, social media, new this and that. My mind hurts some days, just trying to figure out what these things mean to me -- do I like them, do they serve any purpose in my life? I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I notice that most of the entries there, from me and my "friends" don't generate a whole lot of conversation. Which, is the point of it all, isn't it? Letting people know what you're doing or thinking and generating some interaction? Or, are people really exhibitionists and WANT others to watch them in silence?

Some days, it's all mind boggling. A former work colleague of mine retired a couple of years ago. He doesn't have to deal with wacky changes in the work place or pay attention to a whole lot of anything other than playing tennis and traveling with his wife. Sounds rather appealing to me these days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Less than reliable MacBook Pro?

OK, so everyone raves about how much better a Mac is than the garden-variety PC. I dunno. I've had my MacBook Pro for a couple of months and keep running into annoying oddities that I never had with my Windows laptop.

On a couple of occasions, I've lost the display on the laptop. The first time it happened, the battery needed recharging. I had to plug it in and wait until there was enough power for the display to appear. Never had that happen with my Windows laptop. Even after the battery was 100% discharged, I could plug it in and it worked immediately.

The blank display thing happened again the other day. I have no clue what the deal was. I woke up the machine from sleep and poof..nothing. Just black. Eventually, after hitting the power button several times, I got the display to appear, but the boot-up sequence hung. I tried removing the wireless mouse thingie and restarted the machine, which worked. But, I'm not sure if that actually did anything or it was just coincidence.

I wandered around the system and found the console log and it looked like the culprit might have been the VM. But I'm not sure. Do I really have to suspend the VM when the machine goes to sleep? I've left the VM running before and never had this problem.

I think I need learn the underpinning of Mac OS so I can troubleshoot these issues.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Dragon has landed...

...a new job, that is!

All that's left to do right now is sign the papers. The IT guy has already contacted me about the type of laptop they should purchase for me (talk about serendipity...a couple of months ago, I decided to buy a MacBook Pro laptop, even though it was 3x the price of a Windows laptop. Turns out, the new company uses MacBook Pros as standard equipment! So, what I thought of as a splurge, simply because I wanted to learn how to use the Apple OS, turned out to be a wise choice).

The hunt is over. Considering today's market, my job hunt was exceptionally short. 4 months from when I lost one job and I start the next. There was a lot of luck involved, do not doubt it! Sure, I did the work of presenting myself as a good candidate. But, getting my foot in the door was luck, pure and simple.

Some people might say that losing my job was a blessing in disguise, meant to be, or happened so I could move on to something better.

Sorry...I'm not buying it. Stuff happens. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. Being thrown out the door from my last job is something I could have done without. If it hadn't happened, I'm sure I would have been content to have stayed there. There's a new manager that could have made all the difference with my job satisfaction, I had a lot of vacation saved up, the benefits were just fine for me, I had a nice comfy office, walking trails, and a convenient cafeteria. I won't have all these things at the new place.

That's not to say that I can't find the upside to the whole event. Here are some of the things I will take with me as I move forward:

I am more motivated than ever to make the new job be as successful as possible. I am determined to be the best I can be (I sound like an Army commercial, eh?), to prove that I really was the best candidate for the job.

A good network is crucial. Keep the good people close and as much as possible, be a person of integrity. I found my new job because a former colleague thought highly of me and got me in the door. I never worked closely with this person, but somehow, I made a good impression on him. And his recommendation made a huge difference during the interview process.

Live a more simple life. One of the big shocks for me was to realize that at any moment, my comfy and expensive lifestyle could disappear. There's no need for me to "live large." A more simply lifestyle will enable change in the future with a lot less agony.

Plan for the future. I had nothing to fall back on because I kept putting off vague action plans for education. Because I was not unemployed for very long, I was able to save some money. I'm going to take some of that money and put in towards education. A friend of mine pointed me towards some interesting programs at the Arnold Arboreteum. Something that's completely different from tech writing. I have a feeling that there's something there for me, something that will be a good alternative when I'm done with technical writing (and yes, that day is coming).

"Pay it forward." A lot of people were quite supportive and helpful while I was working on surviving my job loss. I know the despair when you look out and just don't see any jobs or hear only silence after submitting resume after resume. Or the emptiness when you realize that there's just *nothing* out there other than finding ways to fill the slack time. I intend to help out wherever and whenever I can. There are some vague signs of economic improvement -- I met with my financial advisor last night and my IRA is up 6%, which is so much better than the humungo loss I had previously. But, jobs are still going to be hard to come by.

So, now I turn my face to the sun and leave the winter behind me. The new job will be demanding and ever so slightly scary, but I'm up for the challenge.

(and all these lofty, good intentions...I wonder if I'll really stick to them...)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

All sorts of good things this week...

There's something in the karmic atmosphere this week. Several of the people in my world had serious personal concerns last week dthat have turned out to have better outcomes than expected:

A friend of mine thought he had a form of lymphoma. But this week's biopsy results revealed that cancer is NOT the issue: he has a very treatable skin condition.

A friend of mine thought his cat was at the end of his life. But no, the vet prescribed medication and the cat's health seems to be improving.

A friend of mine thought she was going to have to put her dog down due to an incident with a neighbor (no, no one was hurt, just a scary situation). But no, the dog is not a menace to society, and has a long life ahead of her.

My former glass studio has a renewed lease on life. A local college needed space for it's fine arts program and they've formed an alliance with the glass studio. With a new influx of money, the studio can reopen soon. And the public will be able to take classes there again!

And for me, I was completely wrong about not moving forward with a potential job offer. Personal references are being checked and there's been talk of compensation and start dates. No formal offers are in my hand yet, but this week is looking much more promising than I thought.

It's a nice week.

Missing the cows

One of the really nice benefits of my past job was the walking trails behind the building. The land is conservation land and I went walking on a regular basis. Now, working from home, I'm even more sedentary than normal and I miss my regular walks. I had a walking buddy at work and we both were good at motivating each other to get out and walk.

The town where I worked maintains a herd of Belted Galloway cows (the ones that, as Diane Ziegler puts it, look like Oreo cookies). During the warm months, the cow caretakers walk the cows across the street to the conservation land. I like cows. I don't know why, but I do like cows. And I used to see them on a regular basis during my mid-day walks.

I miss my cows. A lot of them have probably calved by now and the babies are probably out in the field. We never knew their names, but we could refer to them by the number tags in their ears. (awww...isn't cow #51 cute!).

As I look towards my next job (and good news about that is on the horizon, I believe), I feel a touch of nostalgia for the lost walking trails and the cows. While the job had its issues, the location and amenities were about as perfect as I've ever had. The only place where I could visit cows on a regular basis.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

e-book readers are back!

Amazon's Kindle is getting a lot of, ummmm, well, "press" lately. Kindle is an e-book reader and seems to be in the online news quite a lot lately.

I own one of the original e-book readers, the Rocket Ebook. I bought that little device, what...5 or more years ago or so? Back in the days when I had some aspirations of being an early adopter of neat gadgets.

I *loved* my e-book reader! I haven't used it in a long time, but I'm tempted to charge it up and start perusing the 40 or so books still stored on the device. I have a bit of an addiction when it comes to buying books. They're stacked all over my home -- I just don't have enough space to store them, I never get around to giving them away, or trading them, or selling them. An e-book reader gives me the option of feeding my addiction in a practical way. I can buy books, read them, but not have to use up what precious little space I have left to store them. And, I will never run out of reading material, no matter where I go.

Because of issues about price, reluctance of publishers to stand behind the technology, and proprietary formats, my e-book reader went the way of the dodo bird. Publishers no longer made books available, the service disappeared, and that was the end for a very long time.

Then, suddenly, Kindle appears. It's not even as good as my original - no backlighting from e-Ink, the technology that's behind all those lovely online words. Backlighting was great because it was easy to read in the dark). In many other ways, the Kindle is very, very similar to my original Rocket Ebook. But, it's selling and the Rocket just never caught on with a large enough crowed. Right idea at the wrong time, I suppose. important, especially when it comes to profitable products!

Maybe, when I'm fully employed again, I'll treat myself to yet another new gadget. Yum.