My (Unexpectedly) Expensive Weekend

The major deity of technology took a serious crap on me this weekend.

It started on Saturday morning, when we had to wake up early to go see an apartment building where we’de made an appointment to see an opening.  I went into my office and I noticed that my five year-old LCD was blank.  At first, I thought it was my computer; I thought maybe it had locked up during the night or maybe the video card died.  So, I rebooted it before doing anything else, which was stupid.  I should’ve switched ports on the KVM before trying to diagnose this further.  But no, I forced my machine to suffer an ungraceful restart, first.  it turned out that my faithful display finally stopped working.  And to be honest, I figured that five years was a good run for an LCD that had a little burn-in on it.  By the way, I didn’t realize that LCDs could burn in.

After we saw the apartment, we had breakfast and then we headed over to check out some monitors.  The place we went to, I remembered they used to have a huge flat panel display selection and when we got there, it turned out that they’d reduced it to all of six (down from over 30) and all of them were pretty damned expensive.  I was aiming for a striaght replacement (19 inch for 19 inch), but Julia and I were discussing it and it made sense to go a little bit bigger… except that adding 5 inches also seems to add a couple hundred dollars to the price.  But we decided, reluctantly, to bite the bullet and buy it anyway, because if we settled for a cheap brand and it broke down later, then we’d be out the money on it and then we’d buy a better one, spending more money in the process.  So, I now have a 24-inch display on my desk.

Here’s the kicker: the display won’t work plugged into my KVM switch anymore, but Julia plugs in her iBook and it works fine.  I’ve been in the tech industry over a decade and I’m still scratching my head over that one.  Since I have multiple computers, I need the KVM switch… or I need to buy 3 displays.

That was Saturday.  Sunday morning, we tried to hook up Julia’s iBook to the old screen and it turned out that her DVI-D wouldn’t adapt to the VGA 15-pin connector.  So off we went, back to the store to buy an adapter, except it didn’t work.  DVI-D is not the same as DVI-A, and if we wanted to get a DVI-I to work, we’d have to buy a 35 dollar cable along with it.  Since we dropped a pretty penny on the monitor, we were starting to get a little gunshy about buying more stuff, so we set it aside for now.  I mean, we weren’t even sure the old display would work, y’know?  But, while we were there, we checked out hard drives.  As you might remember, my 250gb portable drive died in June, and all the data on it is unreachable (sadface).  I considered buying a new DVD-RW drive for my system since I usually rely on Julia’s external DVD-RW.  I used to be able to use it on my system, but I switched to a new one and it doesn’t have the IEEE1394 port on it anymore… and there’s no firewire to USB adapter out there.

Hard drives were too expensive and Fry’s had a DVD-RW for under 40 bucks, so we went with that.  I came home and installed it and suddenly my system wouldn’t turn on anymore.  Wonderful.  I pulled everything out of the case, and started troubleshooting it, component-by-component.  The result?  My power supply was dead.  I transferred everything to an older case (this old black one that glows blue when it’s on… I’ve always really liked it), and it turned on when I had the motherboard, cpu, ram, and video card in it, but it would only stay on for like 1.5 seconds when I plugged in the primary hard drive.  That screams not enough power, so Monday… we were back at the store again, this time to buy a power supply (500 watts).  While we were out, we stopped by a Mac store and bought Julia a Mini-DVI to VGA adapter.

I was really gentle with this install, folks.  I mean… I was taking every single precaution I could think of in handling each component.  We’re talking about a system whose total worth reached into $1400, all told.  I don’t think I could bear another part failure (neither could Julia).  Luckily though, I pieced it back together and everything was gold.  I even managed to salvage an old 200gb EIDE drive I had doing nothing in the old case, so I have access to a lot of my old media (mostly TV shows) I lost I had lost when Redtail (my old system) died.

With the new monitor, power supply, adapters, drive and blank discs, we spent over six hundred-fifty bucks more than we planned to.  Originally, we figured less than two hundred for the monitor and that was it.

That’s what we get for thinking, right?

Olympic Fever, Baby!

Every year since I could remember, my family and I have always watched the Olympics. Since the 1980 games in Moscow, I can recall sitting in my family room and enjoying the competition of the worlds’ athletes every four years (until 1992, when they started staggering the Winter Games). I never miss out. My favorites are volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, swimming, and for some reason, I always seem to catch the Equestrian. It never fails! This year, instead of happening upon it, I shall seek it out and get it over with. I have no idea what it is about the equestrian that just sucks me in.

I was in awe of the opening ceremonies last night from Beijing. The Chinese know how to put on a show, but as Julia and I were commenting on the torch-lighting ceremony, I said that I thought the best torch-light I’d ever seen was Barcelona ’92. When they passed the torch fire to the archer and he had the one shot to hit the target.  At the time, I thought it was the best way ever to light that torch.

Paralympian Antonio Rebolle gets ready to send the torchs flame into the huge cauldron at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Paralympian Antonio Rebolle gets ready to send the torch's flame into the huge cauldron at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Did anyone else fast-forward through the march of the athletes? Julia and I sat through a healthy chunk of the smaller nations, but once we got to Italy, and it was starting to get later and later into the night, we decided to time-shift on the ol’ TiVo and blow through the geographical trivia contest and slow it down during the more impressive nations (such as the UK, US, etc). I cheered for the Japanese national team early on in the march, and of course, the “Chinese Taipei” team waving their specially-designed, least-offensive Olympic flags instead of their own national flag (which China finds too offending to display). Here, I thought the Olympics were about setting aside differences and competing on a level playing field… but whatever. The reception of the team from the US was heartwarming. It makes me want to pull for Chicago in their bid for the 2016 games, and wish that the San Francisco bid for 2012 wasn’t such a spectacular failure. I think having the games in the Bay Area would’ve ruled big time, and I don’t care how much of a traffic jam it would’ve caused… I love the Olympics.

My question to my readers today is in two parts: 1) Are you watching the 2008 Games? 2) If so, what’s your most favorite event?

The Summer So Far…

I know I haven’t really posted anything lately.  I sort of fell out of the habit of blogging, and things have been a little hectic as of late.  Needles to say, I’m not entirely certain who knows what, but Julia and I have had a rather interesting summer so far.  Read on if you should want to learn what exactly happened.

It all began with the loss of my job at Teneros.  We’d just returned from Danyel’s wedding in Las Vegas, and I had to go to sleep to prepare for my shift that Monday night.  I woke up a little earlier than I had planned, but it turns out that it didn’t matter one way or the other.  I had a voicemail from the Vice President of our division, asking me to return his call as soon as possible.  This is never a good thing, let me tell you.  I hadn’t heard or seen this guy in months, and getting a phone call from him out of the blue was highly unusual.  My sixth sense was screaming big time, and I went out into the living room to tell Julia that it was resume-updating time again.  This, of course, did not make her feel any better.

I took a quick shower, grabbed the work-issued BlackBerry phone and its charger, told Julia I’d be back in an hour or two, and headed out the door.  I pulled into the parking lot at work, and I was curious to see if maybe they’d already pulled the plug on me.  Interestingly enough, my badge and secured door access were still in place, so I had this fleeting thought that maybe something else had happened… like maybe someone else got the axe and they were telling me in person that I might have to switch shifts this week.  But then, I thought, why wouldn’t they have called me ahead of time to let me know?  Nah, I was definitely getting laid off tonight.

I walked in and the only other person in the building was my swing shift co-worker.  He looked up in surprise… maybe because he wasn’t expecting me to show up so quickly.  I said hi, and grabbed the empty box I’d left underneath my desk when I arrived for my first day there.  I started packing up my speakers, keyboard, mouse, books, the picture of Julia and me from Valentine’s Day, and then the VP walked into the NOC and saw me.  I was all smiles about the whole thing, because I guess I had seen it coming… but not this soon.

There were a lot of little changes they were making at Teneros.  They switched CEOs a few months back, which was a huge shock since the CEO we had when I was hired… I mean, the company was his baby, you know?  It was really weird to find out one day that he stepped down and we got this other guy in there.  Talk of the corporate reorg came through and everyone was worried about their jobs (of course).  I spoke with my manager, and he assured me that support would be untouched, since we were one of the hardest working departments in the company (true).  I was satisfied with that, but there was that inkling in the back of my mind that said to take it with the grain of salt.  I had no reason to doubt his word, though, so don’t get me wrong.  But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t lied to, you know?

Shortly after that announcement, the kitchen stopped being stocked so frequently.  This really sucked for me, because I was there during grave shift and a bare kitchen meant I had to either bring in lunch or go hungry.  One of the great perquisites of working at Teneros was the awesome kitchen, and now that was gone.  Sure, they tried to bluff their way through it, but I told my swing guy that when a company stops stocking the kitchen, then it’s time to start looking for work elsewhere.  It’s one of the warning signs of something big on the horizon when the little things suddenly disappear.

But back to the meeting with the VP.  Now, I really liked my VP.  He was a really nice guy and I didn’t bear him any ill will about the decision he had to make.  I knew it was a numbers game (I was one of the highest paid techs, if not the highest paid) and they needed to cut someone’s salary.  Add to the fact that the grave shift was probably a luxury at that point, in spite of the day guys really enjoying their sleep being uninterrupted during the week.  It made sense from an executive standpoint, but it still sucked the big one dry.  Plus, the people I worked with were a great bunch of guys, and I’d miss seeing/talking to them on a daily basis.  My soon-to-be-former VP and Manager explained the logic and I was sitting there nodding my head.  My manager looked grief-stricken and I tried to keep a positive attitude about it.  I did make a few jokes when the stock issue question came up, considering that they were laying people off (I was one of many, apparently).  I laughed and shook my head, passing on purchasing anything that put money into a company that was showing signs of failure.

I signed my papers, took my “generous” two-weeks’ severence pay and final check, grabbed my box and walked out to my car.  My now-ex Manager walked out there with me and promised to keep in touch (he hasn’t) and also said he wanted to have a lunch with the whole group sometime (no joy, there, either).  I took his consolations with a grin and shook his hand.  I pulled out of the parking lot for the last time, and headed home.

I enjoyed unemployment for a good three weeks.  I had a large number of leads, folks, going into the first week.  I posted my updated resume on DICE and my cell phone rang so much, I blew through my anytime minutes on my phone plan within the first week and half.  Julia was pissed.  I got calls from StubHub, Yahoo (3 different positions), 2 startups not worth mentioning, and Netflix.  The Yahoo interviews were all on the phone, and StubHub never called me back.  Adobe called (as usual), but they were offering twenty bucks below my asking price, which was a deal-breaker (why would I take a 40% pay cut to work there?).  I also got an email for a job in Japan that turned out to look fucking awesome on paper, but that phone interview was a complete and utter disaster, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.  Let’s just say that it sounded like there was an active resistance toward hiring someone in America for a job in Japan, and the guy on the phone was doing everything he could to sabotage it.

In the meantime, my nephew flew in from Arizona to stay with his mom for the summer.  I usually get him for a week in July, but since I was not working… it made sense to have him sooner rather than later.  I got to spend a week and a half with him and we hung out, played a metric shitton of Halo 3, watched a season and a half of The West Wing, and took him to Pac Bell Park for a Giants game.  We even got to play some D&D at my buddy’s house along with his nephew so we had a decently sized group to play with this time around.  He had a blast, and I had a lot of fun having him around.  I’m hoping that next summer, we can arrange for him to stay a little while longer by getting him a paying job for the duration so he’ll have some experience in the industry.  He wants to work with video games and has a keen interest in it, so I figured if I could swing an EA game tester job for him, it’ll work out great for him in earning and saving some money.  He’ll be 18, and not subject to work permit law, so I’m hoping for the best.

While I had him with us, I was going out on interviews and feeling some places out for possible employment.  In the third week, I got this call from a recruitment house.  All they do is recruit for other companies, but instead of doing it by contract, they actually place people for regular employment.  I didn’t have anything to lose at this point, since this was a longer stretch of joblessness I’d experienced in the last two years.  One more week and I was going to have to file for Unemployment Assistance through the state.  I went in, met with the really young guy who was telling me how to interview (look, kid… I’ve been interviewing for jobs since you graduated elementary school).  I smiled and nodded, took their advice and walked out feeling like my time had been wasted.  Then, I got pulled back in at the last moment to sit with a guy from a company who was already there to talk to someone else.  It was for a position at a company I’d heard of, Mimosa, but it was for a position totally not my area of expertise (if I even have an area of expertise).

Mimosa sounded cool, but I was reluctant to entertain going back into Windows/Exchange support.  I felt like I had moved on from Windows and wanted to get back into Unix support or operations again.  Nine months of bashing my head against crappy Microsoft products felt like a lifetime, and even though the job was pretty cushy, I really didn’t want to continue to lose my Unix street cred that much.  Anyway, I figured that since the job wasn’t a match, I would move on and find something else.  By that time, I was emailing my resume at least three times a day to various job listings I’d find on DICE or HotJobs or wherever.  Then, Mimosa called back.  Apparently, they were hiring for customer support positions, and they wanted me to go in and sit down with them for a few hours and talk things over.

Like I said, it was nearing the end of the third week.  The interviews thus far had not proven to lead anywhere, and the phone interivews I’d completed until then hadn’t panned out as well as I hoped.  So, I went in with no expectations whatsoever, figuring that if I didn’t go in, all I would do is watch TV, play on the Xbox or waste time in some other fashion.

Funny thing about interviews with no expectations.  After all, that’s how I got hired at Teneros.

I sat down with them, and right away I really liked these guys.  They had a good sense of humor (rather closely aligned with my own, which is saying a lot), they were pretty damned smart, and they were really driven toward their goals.  Further, they prized several things I always look for in a new company.  I was intrigued by the notion of actually going to work for them, and out of all the itnerviews I’d been on, Mimosa was the only one where I got that feeling that I could really work there.  After the interviews were over, I got the offer the next Monday and I signed it that afternoon and faxed it back in.  I would start the next week and my period of unemployment was finally over (for now).

I’ve been at Mimosa for two and a half weeks.  I really like the people.  I feel like I’m learning a lot while being there.  I appreciate the straightforward nature of the group and I like that they don’t beat around the bush when they talk to you… it’s all out there for you without having to read between the lines, y’know?  This is a very rare thing here in Silicon Valley (or possibly anywhere).  Since Mimosa is one of Teneros’ direct competitors, it’s pretty funny seeing alot of clients from Teneros show up as clients of Mimosa as they’re dumping and running toward my new employer.  The other day, I was looking through our tickets and I noticed familiar names and companies listed as customers and laughed.  I guess things are getting worse over there.

Anyway, that’s my summer so far.  How’s yours?

My Wife Left Me…

There’s just no other way to say it, I guess.  She took off to Hawai’i with another man, and I’m sitting here in my apartment, all alone.

I guess I should mention that the other man is her father and she’ll be back Saturday, but I’ll bet you I got you to click on the link anyway, right?  Feel free to punish me in the comments.  I’ll take my beatings like a man.

First, we upgraded to 2.5.1.  I hope you’ve all upgraded your WordPress installations.

Anyway, I have the place to myself this week and already it’s pretty damned weird to not have her around here.  I wish I could’ve gone to Hawai’i, too, but I’d already taken too much time off from work in the past thirty days to get away with a whole week off like that.  Plus, I’d just started the grave shift, so it would have sucked to suddenly take a week off on the on-call guy and make him suffer through a week of painful middle of the night calls because I wasn’t there to catch them.

Speaking of… it’s been going pretty good on the grave shift so far.  I’ve been keeping to a strict schedule of sleep and exercise that my doctor recommended.  Unfortunately, it also means that on the weekends, I have to keep to it as well.  I only get two days off and it’s just not enough to right myself to a day schedule and then prepare for a night schedule in forty-eight hours.  This makes participating in activities a little more difficult, and it always seems to result in people being pissed off at me for not going to parties or visiting.  There are exceptions, of course, but not very many.  Plus, everyone likes to get together at noon, which is thirty minutes after I go to bed.  What?  No more evening get-togethers anymore?

On the subject of evening get-togethers… I think it sucks that I keep having to cancel the monthly parties because people have better other things to do.  By the way, on May 10th, we’re celebrating Julia’s 30th birthday.  I sincerely hope that people will show up for it, because we’re holding it at San Jose Municipal Stadium this year and it should be a lot of fun.  Get a hold of me if you want to go.

I leave you all with this little gem: Hard Candy.  Rent or buy the DVD; you will not be disappointed.

Netflix’ing the Night away…

Like most new toys, one plays with them pretty incessantly upon arrival.  Christmas morning growing up, I think once all the presents were opened, the rest of the day was battle between parent and child, over getting ready for the family dinner and playing with the new toys.  Well shit, folks, you gave me the damned things to play with.  It’s pretty cruel to just say, “Here you go, now put them away and don’t play with them.”  Christ… kick me, too, while you’re at it.

Uh, anyway, Netflix I’ve had for a while now (the new toy), and lately I’ve sort of gotten into a cool cycle here on the graveyard shift at work, where it’s really quiet during the night.  I have DVDs I take with me into work and listen to them in the background while I’m taking care of business.  Recently, I’ve cycled through a couple of gems that I wanted to bring to your attention…

The first is Cashback, a British film starring Bionic Woman’s Michelle Ryan and Harry Potter’s Sean Biggerstaff.  It’s about an art student who suffers from insomnia following the break-up of his relationship and ends up taking a night job at a local supermarket, where he meets a group of varied personalities and an attractive girl named Sharon who’s caught his attention.  I picked it up at a Netflix suggestion, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take a chance on it, but hey… what the hell, right?  I wasn’t disappointed and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The second is the Academy Award-winning Juno, starring X-Men 3’s Ellen Page as the eponymous protagonist.  A girl has sex with her best friend and it results in her pregnancy.  Since the abortion clinic scared the shit out of her, she decides to keep it and put it up for adoption.  She meets a couple that suits her unborn child’s needs (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) and befriends them, all the while having to suffer the social inequities of high school life as a pregnant student.  In spite of all that potential morose drama, it was smartly written and the performance of Page as Juno was amazing.  I was laughing my ass off at this movie, because the character of Juno is nothing short of an amalgam of most of the women in my life.  Sharp wit, acerbic sense of humor and blunt force trauma when asking questions.  Not to say that you all are bad, but there were times when Juno spoke that I remarked to myself that she reminded me of Tap or Julia or one of my sisters…  It made the movie more enjoyable, although the ending was a little out there.  Plus, it was an Arrested Development reunion, pretty much, with Michael Cera and Jason Bateman, although they never had a scene together.  And surprise, Allison Janney and Rainn Wilson’s in it, too!  Highly recommended, if you haven’t already seen it.

What’s next on my list?  Since I’m now an Ellen Page fan, next up is Hard Candy.  Check my queue on the sidebar for more information about my list.