Boosting the signal for one of my favorite people

My great friend Elizabeth Leggett (Or, as she's known here on the rare occasions that she posts, archway has, over the last year, created a beautiful set of paintings conceived as a Tarot deck. To bring her art into the envisioned form of a physical deck, she is running a Kickstarter campaign. Go take a look! I've been watching this for the last year as she painted each piece, and I can't wait to see the finished product!
Glass Blowing

Glass, again!

Wednesday this week I had, I do believe, my best night ever at the glass studio. I made three bowls, all of which included both color and cane, and this time I trusted the process and it worked!! (This is in contrast to last week, where the best piece of the night was ruined in the last 30 seconds, because I didn't trust myself to finish it off right, so I chose an alternate method which in fact was a) unnecessary, and b) proved to be the downfall of the piece of glass).

My glassblowing buddy didn't fare so well, his 2nd & 3rd pieces didn't make it. We've been told on several occasions that a piece of glass isn't beyond salvage until it's shattered on the floor. (sometimes it'll drop off the iron but won't shatter; you can sometimes pick it up and keep working at that point). Well, he lost two pieces in succession that way: they came off the iron and shattered when they hit the ground. (Until then, though, they were doing really well!)

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In this week's ventures, I made two more bowls just like this last one, but they *didn't* break (or at least, I'm pretty sure they weren't going to), and then I made a third bowl with cane in it (not Michelle's cane, just other stuff that I had) that didn't go at all as I had planned, but turned out pretty cool all the same. Because it hadn't gone according to plan, I played with it. I took the opportunity to play with the shape some, and flared it out into what I believe is called a "handkerchief bowl", something with a rippling shape reminiscent of a falling handkerchief. I also put a delicate spiral of glass running all the way from bottom to top of the piece! That's one of the more collaborative moves that requires a lot of work on the part of my glass buddy, since he needs to do a lot of work to prepare the glass I'm going to use to make the spiral while I get the piece ready to receive it. It went off pretty well, though, and one of the students taking a class that the studio was teaching at the same time we were in there working took a couple photos of it.

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I'll post pictures of this week's finished pieces as soon as I get them back!

Not all jobs, for sure, but sometimes...

In my weird world of IT contracting, it's easy to switch jobs often, it's easy to find work that sounds fun, and it's REALLY easy to find work that, once you get into the routine, will bore you off your ass. I know a lot of people who are miserable in their jobs because they've become bored.

With some of them that I work with, I see that they're miserable because they've *allowed* themselves to become bored, not merely because the job is boring.

I had a few jobs that were completely unchallenging, unrewarding, and uninteresting. But I was able to turn those jobs into something I loved, because I found ways to add extra dimensions to what I did, found ways to make it meaningful, or helpful, or useful, or somehow otherwise worthwhile. (I've also been phenomenally lucky, and had an unreasonable number of jobs that were easy to love without my having to try at it. I admit that. But it doesn't change what I learned about the other kind, too!)

If you have a job that you don't like because it's unrewarding or you're bored, You just might be able to find ways to make it better.
Glass Blowing

Back in the Gaffer's seat

The Gaffer is, in this case, the one driving when we're making something in the glass studio.

I got back to the glass studio last night for the first time in what I think might be 8 months, and rather than the potentially horrendous night of failed piece after failed piece, we knocked out 7 pieces between the two of us (2 paperweights and 5 vessels), and all of them went pretty much perfectly.

Alas, I think that the final piece that I made isn't going to make it through the annealing process (wherein the glass is slowly cooled down to room temperature). I made the bottom of the piece a little too thin for my comfort, and so I wanted to break off the little bit of glass holding it to the metal punty iron by dripping water on the glass-to-be-discarded so it would shatter easily. Instead, the water made it all the way to the thin bottom of my bowl, and cracked it instead :-( A network of 5 cracks erupted from the center of the piece. I aimed a blowtorch on it for perhaps a minute or two to try to get some of the cracks to mend, but I am unconvinced that it will work... but I can hope. It's one of the coolest bowls I've made so far, employing both a layer of color AND the inclusion of some swirly lengths of color (cane) supplied by my friend Michelle, who does glass beads and things of that size (she has a rockin' collection of sea creatures, and at this point TAs the sea creatures class at Corning) on a torch setup.

Pictures when I get the pieces back, but I'm very happy with how it all went!

Sequestration: Now, I'm job hunting.

As I'm sure you've heard a lot about if you live as close to Washington, DC as I do, the federal budget's Sequestration circus is causing a lot of people some heartache. Some (idiotic) members of Congress were "shocked and appalled" that cutting back the budget of the FAA meant long delays at major airports, and claimed that they had been taken completely unawares -- despite some pretty accurate and widely broadcast warnings of precisely that consequence, so I think they've got nothing to blame but their heads being stuck far enough up their own asses for not knowing what effects their (lack of) actions would have. Me, I've only had a few airline snags, and no delays lasting longer than 3 hours, the worst of which was due to snow in the midwest rather than the FAA's shortage of folks to push tin.

What happened a few weeks ago, though, was more exciting, but not in a good way, and a lot more personal. I'm a contractor, which means I work for one company - a Raytheon-owned technology firm - either uses me to fill a job on a contract that they've won, or they rent me out to someone else looking to do the same. For the last ~3 years I've been working on a contract that Northrop Grumman won (they're called the Prime Contractor, in this case) and Raytheon submits applications from Raytheon employees for them to use (Raytheon's the Sub-Contractor in this arrangement). People have come and gone, how much money is available for various work shifts due to changes in the priorities and funds from whomever is paying for the work we're doing... and then a few weeks ago Tuesday, me and 130 other folks get the word: "Thanks, it's been grand, clean out your desks tomorrow, and good luck."

Each company has its own way of handling such a situation. Most of them want to keep their employees -- they believe in the investment they've made in their people and believe that they benefit from longevity of the workforce -- but how long they'll pay someone who isn't earning the employer a profit varies. Some will keep you on "the bench" for a couple weeks, some for a few months, and some will keep you for a day or two while they try to find a new contract position for you. After your bench time runs out, though, then you have to find something outside the company, because they're not investing any more money in keeping you around as an available asset.

Three years ago, when I left my first company, I was hired by a company named Seismic. when I joined up they numbered ~180, and it was a small-feeling place: everyone knew everyone, there was no anonymity of passing and nodding at someone in the hall, and it felt like everyone cared about each other. A month or three after that Seismic joined forces with AST and Pyxis under the combined name of AST at ~1000 people, and it felt a lot looser -- three unfamiliar groups of people who didn't know each other, all thrown together, all frustrated by trying to get their health care and email systems coordinated, trying to lean a new department head and VP... I didn't like it as much, but I can't say that anything went substantially down hill. A few months after that, though, AST was bought in whole by Raytheon (~80,000 people), and we became R-AST: bogged down by all the anonymous "This is how we do things" crap, in addition to all the nice work I got to do.

Back in the Seismic days I'd have had a few months on the bench. I'd have looked at job descriptions, worked with my manager and with HR to get submitted to those positions, perhaps taken some classes or certifications in the meantime. But under the new layers of management at Raytheon and the (in my opinion) short-sighted (read: crappy) decisions made by some of them, I had no time whatsoever that the company coule carry me. It took a day or three for the paperwork to go through, but essentially from the day I came off contract, Raytheon didn't have the cash to pay me while they looked for a new spot for me to work. they'd cover my benefits for 90 days, but if I got a paycheck it was because they were digesting my accumulated vacation days from the last three years to make the money appear, and when that ran out I'd be high and dry.

Well. You can imagine that loyal as I am -- and if you don't know me in person, I'm pretty damned loyal -- knowing what the prospects looked like at Raytheon, I started talking to other companies, too. Last time I was suddenly off a contract I was scared and flailing: minimal experience, few contacts, no idea how the job-hunting game was played. When I changed companies a few years ago and went to work for Seismic, a few more people knew me and knew that I was looking around at new opportunities, and I got something like three or four offers. This time I spread my resume out to perhaps a half-dozen people the night I was told my contract was ending the next day. In 24 hours I had one contingent offer and contacts from a dozen more folks than I'd initially talked with. In 48 hours I had a list of ~20 companies that I'd had conversations with. Two days after that (plus a weekend) I had three dozen companies I'd talked with, and a week after that I had six contingent job offers and three more interviews scheduled.

A contingent job offer is an odd thing. A company decides they're interested in hiring you -- but only IF they can find a contract for you to work on. So you sign a piece of paper that says they'll hire you for sure if you can get on one of their contracts, which then gives them permission to submit your resume to the contract positions that they have available. It's bad news if multiple companies submit the same person for the same contract, so you need to pick and choose which companies are allowed to try to place you on which contracts, but the important part is that none of it counts for anything until you interview for a contract position -- and the people you're interviewing with don't work for your company, they work for the contract and interview people from dozens of different companies. So, when I had half a dozen contingent job offers, it didn't mean anything more than that I had at least half a dozen interviews getting set up so that each of those companies could try to make a profit off of me.

Two weeks into my job hunt I heard back from a very busy guy who I worked with for the last few years. He and I had a half-hour conversation just before midnight where we talked about his company and the work they were interested in me doing. The next morning I had a firm job offer -- not contingent on finding me a contract, just that they wanted to hire me ASAP -- and the day after that I informed Raytheon of my resignation and sent my regrets to the companies I'd been having conversations with during my job hunt.

The new company, WaveFront Technologies, is ~100 people strong. It feels close and friendly, it's been doing solid business for something like 17 years, and I know a few of the people that work there and I trust that the place will continue to feel good for a while longer. I'm teaching myself new skills while we try to get me onto a contract position that I'll be really excited about if I make it, and I'm working with my new manager whenever there are questions in either direction (from me to him, or from him to me). I was in no way looking for a new branch in my career, but I am thrilled with how this ended up, and I can't wait to see what happens next!

Well, that sure felt good...

I've been hammered at work lately. (Lots of work to do, I'm not drinking on the job!) When I joined the team nearly three years ago I was the junior member of 6 people. Now, I'm the only one who is left on my contract, and my former boss is able to help me out a little, but mainly I'm now doing nearly *everything* for half of the computer systems we handle, instead of doing 1/6 of the work on each of the systems. As such, I haven't been getting out to go climbing much lately -- usually I'm there on Mondays, but Wednesday and Friday I often miss the climbing gym for one reason or another.

Today, I got out of work at the climbing gym. I didn't climb, I didn't have a partner or the strong desire, but I did need to get some exercise in. I'd planned to walk around the neighborhood for an hour or two after work, but because I escaped work at ~9:30 I decided to use the machines instead. 25 minutes on the exercise bike with a faster pacer than I've used in the past, with good results. I gave myself a minute of recovery/stretching/water, and then decided to check out the rowing machine, which I've never used before, but have seen other people on for a minute or two. Ten minutes later I had figured out a nice easy sustainable pace: I did 2km sustaining a pace of 2:16/500m with only a second or two of variation, and I liked the way it felt! And because it uses a fan as the resistance, I had a real nice breeze the whole time, too :-)

Then, the extra fun part. A while back, lilwolfgirl22 posted a video of a guy holding one of those big platter/disc weights by gripping the edge, flipping it up in the air, and catching it by the opposite edge. I gave it a shot once before, perhaps a month ago, and the hardest part was getting the timing on the flip of the weight right. Today, it went great: I did a 35# platter 5x in each hand twice, then a 25# weight ~10x in each hand, and then a 15# weight in each hand for 30-40 seconds. A rather wiry dude doing a little light weight work in the same room looked me up and down (I'm not exactly the poster boy for a rock climbing gym, or any kind of gym!) and asked if I also broke rocks with my bare hands in my spare time, with that kind of grip strength. I laughed and told him that wouldn't be very nice to the rocks! One of the folks that works at the gym was coming through to clean up the equipment (this was just before closing) and heard the exchange, and asked me if I was scaring the members... all in all, it pleased and entertained me a great deal. As I said, I'm not exactly what you expect to see in a gym, whereas most of the people who climb and work out there are really well-muscled and have much less 'insulation' than I do. Getting noticed (in a good way) makes me feel kind of awesome :-)

My food tracking is going beautifully. I've added a few more stats: rolling 30-day averages, and a monthly average so I can see not just the how-it's-going-without-all-the-bumps-and-squiggles, but also have a good visual cue for how things are progressing every period of time. I've been slowly creeping up in how much I eat, corresponding to how much working out I've been doing, and how much I'm capable of doing in cardio, and how my body is changing shape (even if my weight still hasn't budged in 16 months). So while initial estimates of my BMR were around 3100 calories, I'm now thinking that I'm up around 3750 calories a day. (when I started tracking, my average intake was ~1900 a day, now I'm up to about 3000 a day. So 16 months ago I was burning off ~1200 calories a day, and right now I'm down to burning off only about 750 calories a day. My belt continues to need new holes, though, and even when the belt stays steady, the way the rest of the pants fits continues to change!)

So, that's how things are going in my world of health these days. A little rambly, but I don't really have much of a point. I just had a really good evening.

Sneaky exercise... I win?

I feel like Buttercup post-wedding in The Princess Bride, when she's baffled that she's married. She didn't intend for it to happen, it just sort of.. happened.

I've never really liked cardiovascular exercise. I don't like to run, it makes me huff and puff and get out of breath. For half the year or more, that triggers a really mild asthma attack, and I wheeze (mildly) for hours afterward. But January of 2012 I made a few decisions about my health and my body, and I've been sticking to them as much as physically possible ever since:

1. Log everything I eat every day (this makes me think about it, and therefore only eat what I'm willing to admit that I ate. So, I only eat when hungry, which is way better than not thinking about it at all and eating a LOT MORE, which has been my pattern for years!).

2. Really actually go to the climbing gym thrice per week, unless I really actually can't.

3. Every day I'm at the climbing gym, do 30 minutes on the treadmill (walking!!).

It's worked out pretty well -- I've babbled about it before -- but at some point months in to this routine, I realized that while I'd started off wanting to get off the treadmill before 10 minutes was up and *forcing* myself to stay on for half an hour, eventually I had to remind myself to stop at 1 hour and get my butt on the climbing wall. My stamina went up, and with it, my enjoyment.

I broke my foot and had to take a while off. I got the 2-week-long flu and had to take many more weeks off to let my lungs recover. Yesterday I had a good night of climbing, tomorrow I'll be climbing too, but I got there Monday late enough that I had NO time for cardio, and so after a really long tough day at work I headed to the climbing gym: 30 minutes on the bike, and then a water break followed by 45 minutes on the treadmill. Stretching a LOT after. And you know what? I felt completely wonderful.

This is a way I never expected this kind of exercise to make me feel. And I really like it. I'm sure this is tied in large part to how much my body (appearance and ability) has changed in the last 15 months. I'm excited to see how things continue as I, too, continue!
Music Is Life

I may have outgrown iTunes...

Hi, my name is Benjamin, and I have way too much music.

585.86 GB of tunes. 107,925 songs. 325 days of music. If I pushed play as the ball dropped on Newyears, the last song in my collection would finish playing some time on November 21st.

When you've got that much music, iTunes has trouble thinking about all of it at once. It probably doesn't help that I have a computer with a not-all-that-huge internal harddrive, so my music is actually stored in a larger-capacity external drive. That means that it stops spinning when it hasn't been used recently (I get to define what "recently" means, and so it shuts down pretty quick after I'm done listening to music, to drastically increase the lifetime of the drive), which means that there's a delay of a handful of seconds the first time I touch the program after I've left it alone for a while. I'm okay with that, but ... the delays get bad.

I'm pretty sure that iTunes just isn't cut out to think about as many songs as I've got in it right now. Most people can sync their iTunes and iPod with no trouble. The biggest iPod they make right now is a 160GB device, which holds about 1/4 of my music. Mine is only 60GB -- I hardly even use it any more, now that my commute is so short! But the inability of iTunes to even let me type in the name of an artist or song for it to search for without a 15-second spinning-wheel-of-potential-doom is kind of frustrating. An update came out recently that showed a marked improvement... but now, as I was doing some stuff today, adding new albums I just bought at a concert last night, it was back to its previous slowness. I wish it scaled up better than this... I'd like to love it as much as I used to.

Today I tried to burn an MP3 cd, and I got an error that all the files I were trying to put on the disc couldn't be put on an MP3 cd because they're not MP3s. (I rip my CDs to a higher-quality compression format called M4A, better sound than MP3.) I thought it would be easy to convince iTunes to do the task anyhow, but it's a completely unnecessarily irritating process:
--Select MP3 as the format iTunes will now import CDs as (even though I don't want to import things as MP3s)
--Select the tracks I want to put on the MP3 CD (That's easy, I made a playlist just to make this easy!)
--Right-click and select "Convert to MP3 format" (Before completing step 1 a moment ago, I could only have converted to the higher-quality M4A format that they are already in!)
--Note that none of the tracks in the playlist are MP3s, they're all the original M4A files
--Go to the album itself in iTunes and note that there are two copies of each track. One's a M4A, one's the newly created MP4. Two copies of track 1, then two copies of track 2.... and not a single thing to indicate the difference between them unless I summon the detailed information on each.
--Note that the MP3 is not reliable in whether it's the first or second copy of each song. *Grrrr...*
--Pick out each individual MP3 copy of the songs I want to burn to CD, and drop them each into a new playlist
--Burn the damned disc.

If I had listed my expectations for how this routine would go, there'd be a couple options.
**I'd be able to convert any tile to any format without having to change my selected format for importing a new CD
**MP3 versions of files that used to be a different format would have a tag on them so at a glance I'd know which was which
**If I got a "These files aren't MP3s!" error when trying to burn an MP3 cd from an otherwise acceptable playlist, there'd be a button to click that would create temporary MP3 format copies of the songs, burn the damned disc, and then throw away the unneeded files. Seriously! Is this such a stretch?

It's sometimes frustrating being a technology engineer saddled with not-as-good-as-I-want-it-to-be technology from one of the companies that advertises itself as one of the best technology companies in the world.

My life as an engineer

In the very odd work of engineering contracting, I work for one company (A) who in turn rents me out to a different, competing company (B). At Company B I work on a team of half a dozen people, some of whom work for B and some from other companies like mine (C, D).

The work my team does is paid for by two contracts, Y and Z. Company B is in charge of the work for both of those contracts, so a manager from B is who hands down the orders for who does what.

Contract Y is ending, and Contract X is beginning. The work covered by contracts (Y+Z) is the same as what's covered by (X+Z). However, Contract X isn't part of Company B, it was won by a bid from Company E! Company E didn't want to hire folks from A, B, C, or D, though. And since the work is kind of specialized, it's tough to find someone who hasn't been working on this stuff for a year or two already who would just be able to be assigned to the project and start being useful and productive real fast. (It takes ~6 months to learn enough to be really good at this).

Once E figured out that none of its inexperienced people were going to be able to learn their jobs fast enough, they started scrambling to hire anyone they could from A, B, C, and D. But some people actually have company loyalty, and so eventually E had to make agreements with the other companies to rent out their people like B rents me from A.

My team has been shrinking, as people head off for other opportunities. I still kind of work with some of them, but in the last year the team has shrunk from 6 to 3.

This week, the other two guys on my team transition from contract Y to contract X. I'm still on contract Z. And suddenly, I'm the ONLY person in my team, working on Z. Everyone else doing the same thing as me has gone to contract X.

This is a little scary. I'm an engineer, not a department manager. I don't really love doing managerial things... I really like doing engineerial things instead. (It's why I'm an engineer! Go figure...) As before, all the work (X+Z) is all the same work as before, so I'll continue working with the guys who have been on my team, but there's a slightly odd divide between the X and Z contracts, and the way that the work is divided up is a little odd to us too. But, whatever, we'll get it all done.

Now, I need to start attending the daily department planning meetings. Used to be that the head of my team went to them, and we all got our daily marching orders from him. Now... it's just me. It's not like I've leveled up, the old head of the team was in a first-among-equals position rather than a higher=ranking one. But still, it's a change of mindset.

The other part of this transition is that when there were three of us on the team, we each could do everything, but we also each had specializations. I've spent the last 2 years working on one part of the process, and doing only very little amounts of the rest of it. Ditto with the other two guys -- they worked together do to the other 2/3 of the process, but relied on me to do pretty much all of my 1/3. So now, they get a crash course in doing "my" stuff (while I help them through) and I get a crash course in doing "theirs". Luckily for me, in the years that I've been working here, I've filled up 5 1/2 250-page notebooks with everything I've learned and everything I've done, on a daily basis. So, I've got more than a little bit of reference material for how to do... um... everything I've ever had to do, even once.

Well, there are my work-related brain-droppings for the day.