Thursday, April 01, 2004

Welcome to my world.

Such as it is...

I was downsized from a large bank a month ago today. I hugged my remaining staff (named Nicole) goodbye and carried out my last bag of stuff (a box of Earl Gray teabags, a folding cube with company loyalty terms, and my coffee mug). I went to my Grand Am and drove the hour and twenty minutes home.

The next day, I went to a freelance gig for a two-week project at a company where I’d worked for eight years prior to the bank. Then I filed for unemployment. The first check arrived today.

Yes, my job effectively went to India. The projects I worked on were offshored, and while technical communications (my field) is hard to offshore, the programmers for the projects are effectively out of the picture, so my job was as well. The rationale by upper management was that “the business analysts can do the documentation”. However, in my experience A) business analysts suck as writers, let alone technical writers, and B) they are too busy doing the work of three business analysts, since the BA staff was downsized as well.

I’m not allowed by my severance agreement to say where I worked in context with any criticism, so to avoid the risk, don’t expect such posts until March 2, 2005.

I am considering a web site with a countdown clock, however…
And videos… and a parody song or two… and a lot of commentary…
Yet it was the best group of people I’ve ever worked with, and we still cry like Israelites being dragged to Babylon.

While I was working at the aforeunmentioned bank, I never seemed to get out of the office on time to hear the one hour of Hugh Hewitt every night from 5PM to 6PM, which is all they carry in Chicago. Now that I’m home, I listen to all three hours on the web. Today they discussed blogs, and had my favorite blogger, James Lileks, as a guest. At the very end the mentioned this site, and so I decided to finally put out a blog. As a writer, the idea of blogging is something I’ve toyed with since the advent of the Internet but never done. As an unemployed writer, I really need to keep typing before my writing skills suffer. I promise not to subject you to technical writing in its boring sense.

My adventures this summer will include designing an Earth Return Vehicle for a contest hosted by The Mars Society. The Kepler Prize has nine international teams competing, of which I’m 95 percent of the work for one. I hope to score in the top three. I have until June to get my design fine-tuned and put into a 100-page paper, but it’s been slow going. Next week I’m going to work earnestly on weight and balance calculations from the nose to the tail. I’m also working out power requirements.

My other main adventure involves finding a job in Chicagoland. Chicagoland is the term for Chicago proper and its 400 or so suburbs and older cities. My definition of older cities are ones that existed as long or longer than Chicago and have been either engulfed or edged-up to by suburbs, so a city that’s been around 30 years is next to a city that has been around since the Lincoln-Douglas debates and to the new resident are indistinguishable on the map. I live in St Charles, an older city. I grew up downstate in Canton, Illinois. This is also an older city, but one in deepest decline.

Finding a job… Yes. This will consist of roughly equal mix of interviews, Odd Todd adventures, and the guilty pleasures of the intellectual, such as downloading Jules Verne novels as computer-voiced MP3s from Project Gutenberg and listening to them for six hours at a stretch.

My wife, Theodora, is a director of software engineering who, despite some time as a catalog model in her younger years, scored higher than ANYONE she knows on The Nerdity Test (82.4 percent, if you are wondering). And no, gentlenerds, you can’t have her.

Right now, the Austin Powers song "BBC" is playing in iTunes on the laptop, which is putting out the sort of graphics that are A) deeply appropriate to the Sixties, and B) a strong indication that the 1970’s Apple job application question “How many times a week do you drop acid?” is probably still in play on some level.

Despite the current situation of being stuck at home with three cats my life is interesting - at least at the thought level. A child character from a novel wandered away from his usual place in school and was asked by a concerned teacher, “where is your classroom?” His response was basically “Where is my classroom? On the farthest star, in the smallest atom, within the woods and cities, among the friendly.” I’ve misquoted that entire thing and frankly at the moment can’t even remember the novelist, though my friend Jonathan has this memorized. Perhaps that version is mine.

I grew up among woods downstate under very starry skies – the son of a former test pilot turned banker and an artist. Growing up in the middle of nowhere with a formerly great pilot as a father, we both flying Cessnas now and then, made Luke Skywalker's life very much my story. Father not in great health, and has gotten to the point where he cannot remember conversations from the day before, so I’m thinking whatever adventures he’s carried all these years are already lost. Fortunately, I have interviews with him on video tape for the grandkids.

Until these days, he has reminded me of that line from Blade Runner “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the Shoulder of Orion... … all those moments will be lost in time… like… tears… in rain.” His face is still there and he still loves me and I love him. But I think those moments are lost. He remembered the fuel capacity of the tail tank of a B-47 until last summer, at least, after his last flight in one fifty years ago.

I soloed when I was sixteen, but shelved it until after college. On my second "first" solo flight in my early twenties, I flew over my hometown as it was shrouded in the light foglike haze. A few hundred fireplaces were putting smoke trails through the haze before they each joined it at roughly the same altitude. On the flight towards my farmhouse going away from the sun, this was unremarkable. On the flight back to the airport, into the sun, the haze glowed with sunlight that was interrupted by a forest of smoke columns above each house. It was amazingly beautiful and utterly impossible to paint or draw, since it was a play of transmitted rather than reflected light. I saw something the people in those houses wouldn’t believe. There was a beauty in the skies above them they each contributed to and yet of which they were completely oblivious. They sat in their homes, played with their children, argued, watched television, threw in more logs, and got romantic, but they had no idea, to a soul, of the forest of smoke columns extending hundreds of feet above them playing on November afternoon light and shadow.

I think of the moon landings and how the memories of those steps will be lost in time. That is part of the reason even a small push towards the moon and mars is needed. Once those soils are touched, should no one know what it is to touch them?

So welcome to my world, such as it is. Or worlds, as the case may be.

By the way, I call it Earth Return Vehicle for multiple reasons. The first is obvious. The second is a reference to this particular crash-down in my career. There are more. You will see.

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