About my Grandfather

Alexey Mikhailovich Shtanko 
2-Apr-1928 – 18-Mar-2012
Алексей Михайлович Штанько

My grandfather would have turned 86 today.

He was a doctor, and a dapper gent. He had a bum leg and walked with a cane.

That was back when people wore top hats non-ironically. And everybody smoked much more.

He was born in a village in Kazakhstan into a large Ukrainian family and was the first in his family to get a higher education. He started out as a nurse practitioner, because the local medical school did not offer an M.D.

So he worked in a small town while preparing for the entry exams to the university. That's when he met my grandmother. They married and had a daughter, my mother, shortly after.

Grandfather was accepted into the medical school, and they had to move to the city, where they had to live in a shared apartment with other families, because that's how it used to be in the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

When he graduated, he was offered a position in the town of Kustanay in northern Kazakhstan, and the small family moved again.

He was put in charge of organizing the town's first emergency medical service, and rode in the ambulance when someone dialed "03" – the Soviet emergency phone number for the ambulance. Their ambulance was t-boned at an intersection, and he broke both his legs in the accident. They didn't have seat belt laws and cars weren't yet all they could be safety-wise, so when they had a crash, it pretty much always hurt.

He had a car. First a Zaporozhetz, and then a VAZ 2101, which you can see in the picture. This was the first car I ever rode in. He had it modified with a lever, so that he could press the clutch in with his left arm, because of his injury.

In that car, he took the family to the forest to pick mushrooms and berries, or to the river to fish. He taught me how to make my own fishing rod out of a long branch, and I caught my first fish with it.

When I was born, he quit smoking cold, and never picked up a cigarette again.

He would read books aloud to me, over and over, and never get bored. He'd play every kind of pretend game I'd invent as a kid. He was the trusty Watson to my Holmes, and I was First Officer Lom to his Captain Vrungel. We solved puzzles together and he'd listen to my made-up stories as long as I kept on telling them.

He loved me very much, and I loved him back.

I miss him.

Danica Patrick autographed my helmet


That's all.


2013 year in review (photos)

Because there aren't enough year-end review blog posts out there, here, have mine. This year I decided to do it in pictures. Because I have tons of pictures from last year. Not significantly more than any other year (and maybe fewer than some other years), but they are many, and they've asked me to share them with the world.

1. We've lived in the new house for a full year now, and are slowly hacking the life in the mountains. If you look carefully, you will see a teeny-tiny man in the Douglas Fir on the right. The man is actually normally-sized, the fir is just really really big. We had a few trees trimmed, for fire clearance, to keep critters from climbing into the attic, and such.

2. Tasted a lot of wine, and drank some really good bottles. Didn't do any sub-10-bucks wine reviews on my blog, even though I drank plenty of that kind. The photo is from a wine tasting class at Cinnabar winery, who make some really nice reds. Do yourself a favour and try their Malbec.

3. Drove on track. Didn't race any, but did some time trials, and some open track days. My car's been mostly holding up, only needing a new alternator.

4. Instructed beginning drivers with several clubs, and got this nifty recognition from NASA (no, the other NASA).

5. Designed some furniture for my office: industrial shelving with ply-boo inlays, and a standing workstation, also made with bamboo ply and metal. The workstation I assembled myself, and got some help with the shelving from a professional.

6. Got back into role playing. The kind with dice and character sheets. I almost forgot how fun it can be! Glad I didn't.

7. Worked with some brilliant people to launch Nebula One.

8. Finally got my green card.

9. Went on an epic road trip across the USA. Saw the Andy Warhol museum, the Fallingwater house, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse memorial, the famous Bonneville Salt Flats, drove on the salt until I was giddy, and generally had a good time.

10. Totally geeked out on cooking, and got pretty good at it.

11. Got a new job.

12. Went to Berlin and London, for the first time in almost five years. That was good. Saw many of my good friends, drove on the autobahn, visited the Sherlock Holmes museum.

13. Did some digital art. Still figuring it out, but it seems like I can adapt to creating directly on a screen.

So that's about it for the year. Turned out pretty good, considering that I mostly winged it. Here's to the new one.

Recruiter spam that pretends to be creative

Most of you will know Linkedin, the professional network. I won't complain about it too much, because it got me two out of three jobs in the past five years. Most recruiter in-mail is even coherent, if not always targeted.

Last month however, I got this highly spammy message in my inbox.

Admittedly, I was biased by the double exclamation points and the "3 reasons" subject, ever before I opened the message. However, I invite you to judge for yourself.

3 reasons to open this in-mail!!
Recruiter, Marketing Division at SPAM Recruiting
December 2, 2013 4:57 PM
Hi Alex,

I hope all is well! I have no idea how happy you are in your current job - maybe all is well. If so, congrats!

If you are actively looking or just started your job search, we're both in luck.

My client is a full service ad agency that promotes global brands targeted towards a young adult market. They are looking for a Social Media Manager in San Francisco to own the social and community strategy for a division of one of their newest clients. Your background at Google in Social Media and Community Management could be a great match based on what they are looking for.

Below are 3 reasons you might be interested in talking to them:
- They have a very solid client base of well-known brands
- Opportunity to work with other members on the same account
- Great culture and leadership - everyone who works there loves it and they are about to move to a brand new office in SF!

If you aren't a good fit, do you know anyone who would want to hear about this opportunity?


Considering that at the time I got this message, I've only had my new job at Google for 4 months, and it is fairly widely known that Google is not a sucky place to work; knowing all this, you'd think the spammer would be able to make an assumption about "how happy I am in [my] job." I mean, how bad does it have to be for someone to want to jump ship mere four months into a new role?

I felt waves of snark wash over me, and could not resist. Here is what I wrote back.

Here are top 3 reasons I will neither work with you to find my next job nor forward your request further: 

3. The position is with an agency, and I have no experience (or desire) to work for one. 
2. The position you are recruiting for is significantly below my qualification, and also not quite aligned with my current specialization in community building. 
1. You sent me a generic email, not personalized in any way, which tells me that I will not get any individualized treatment as your client, and neither will my qualified friends. 

I'd like to say that I appreciate the thought, but I'm afraid you wasted no such thing on me. 


Men act and think. Women are pretty.

Was stocking up on vitamins yesterday, and saw this wonder of modern marketing in the store. Behold:

See? They're for women and men, because they're different. Purple! Blue! One gives you "physical/mental energy" and the other "supports bones/skin/nails!" OMG! Are you sure the two sexes are even from the same solar system? Because men DO shit that requires physical and mental energy, and women just stand around looking good with their healthy skin and nails.

Our physiologies are sooooo different! The one sex' gummy vitamin is probably so radically different as to be harmful to the other?

Welp, no. There are some minor differences in dosages of a few elements, and two or three elements are completely different, but the rest is pretty much exactly the same.

After admiring the display for a few moments and snapping this picture, I went and got a non-gendered vitamin D. In a white bottle.

Algorithm red wine

Meet 2011 Algorithm Red Blend. The bottle is empty because of how yummy it is. Erm, was.

From the label:

Algorithm balances the equation between your digital world and the tangible one. A common denominator between friends, it enables you to step beyond life's virtual parentheses and appreciate the absolute value of true friendships. Algorithm red blend creates a network of dark cherries and plums, interlaced with rich notes of chocolate and vanilla. Mature tannins create a silky backbone is linked together with ripe concentrated fruit flavors.

I must confess that I bought this wine primarily for its label and the clever, if somewhat cheesy word play. But cheese goes well with wine, so hey, have another bad joke.

We were entertaining last night, and I opened this bottle to enjoy while we waited for the dinner to be ready. I was pleasantly surprised by the richness and complexity of the flavor. They didn't lie on the label about the rich dark fruit: cherries and plums were there in abundance, and I would even venture to say I tasted halfzware tobacco or dark cigar notes. The wine was well-balanced and left a nice lingering flavour when I drank it.

Whoever authored Algorithm, didn't make it elegant, but I think we should not judge them too strictly for creating liquid indulgence. We're in California after all. Oh, and true to my cheap wine tasting tradition, it was just $8.99 at Nob Hill.



About Lou Reed

Lou Reed, the rock'n'roll animal, died last month.

The first time I heard his music, was on a CD I rented at a local library. I was still a fresh immigrant to Germany, and thirsty for all the art and music that the Soviet regime blocked for seventy years. At that point, I had been unraveling the great mystery of Western culture for maybe two or three years, consuming art and photography books, fine literature, iconic films, and all kinds of music.

Reconstructing cultural references would lead me from Oscar Wilde to Aubrey Beardley, and from him, to ukio-e of Japan, pop art, and comics, and on and on. I would read books and listen to music that was named as influences on the artists and authors that I liked, and would repeat the cycle as much as I could, building this mental map of the 20th century awesomeness.

So there I was, in my room in a high-rise on the outskirts of Berlin, listening to the soundtrack CD for the movie "The Doors" -- which I still had to watch at that point -- when I heard this unearthly electric sound and a languid voice reciting "I... don't know... just where I'm going..."

It was so different from the quite accessible music of the Doors[1], so dark, and so unlike anything else I have heard to date. I had to find more of the same.

Once I got to hear one full Velvet Underground album, I was in love forever. The love continues to this day. I have been lucky enough to attend several of Lou's concerts, both in Berlin and in the United States, and of course I collected all of Lou's music, from his Velvets days to the recent stuff.

Lou's music and lyrics followed me through my early years in Berlin, through the university, my travels, my first job, all the way to today. I found that different songs and albums resonated with me, as I lived and changed and grew as a person.

Even though I never met him in person, the fact that we're no longer sharing the same planet breaks my heart. Lou is one of the few people whose art and ideas influenced me the most.

World is not the same, now that it lost your creative mind, Lou.

[1] Doors' fans, please don't hate me, but the Velvets were in a whole different league.

Look ahead. Cook ahead.

One thing about being a member of two CSAs is, that no matter what your consumption, the food just keeps coming. And if you get behind, you'll be very soon swimming in perfectly healthy, organic, uncooked food that you have no idea what to do with. And then you give it all away to people who know what to do with food, unlike yourself.

Having gone through a few of these cycles, J. and I have wised up. Now we take an evening on the weekend to turn all the fresh veggies we have in the fridge into side dishes we can reheat throughout the week. The major bonuses of that being that (1) we/I don't have to spend much time during the week preparing dinner; (2) we achieve economies of scale in food prep and cleanup; (3) we don't spoil nearly any food anymore.

Recently I have been taking inspiration from the Googley cafeteria and roasting all sorts of veggies together, like...

  • Beets, carrots, and kale
  • Cauliflower, apples, and leeks
  • Radishes, carrots, and kale
Over the holidays, I've also cooked two birds, a chicken and a duck, and after all the easily accessible meat has been carved and consumed, I did two batches of home-made bone stock. That turned out to be an awesome thing. How come nobody told me about that? You get the awesome stock that you can use to cook things with, and then you can also pick off the remaining scraps of meat from the bones and use that in salads, or as a noodle soup topping.

Soba noodles in duck broth with duck meat topping, sprinkled with toasted nori and sesame seed, and just a little bit of salt made a great "leftover" lunch.

We're in the middle of a four-week delivery break from our vegetable CSA, and I am happy to report that as the first delivery of the new season nears, we'll be done eating all the vegetables we've received before the break. That's a good feeling.

Historically I've had some trouble utilizing all kinds of lettuces. I mean, I can toss a handful of arugula into a squash and quinoa dish, or use some romaine in a salad once a week, but when you have three bags of leafy goodness, and two or three heads of different lettuces in a single box, that's just beyond me. I have always despised eating raw leaves, no two ways about it.

This is why I'm looking forward to the next delivery. Our CSA now has a "custom order" option where for an additional five dollars processing fee you can pick what goes into your weekly box. This will hopefully mean less spoiled veggies, since we'll only be getting things we eat. Whee.


Enter Iron Man

This past Saturday, I went and did it. I put down a deposit for a Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. A convertible of course, why do you ask? Here is a screen shot from their car configuration app online. Looks just like Iron Man, doesn't it?

Because all the cars in the lot were looking like cars, and not like Iron Man, I ordered mine custom. That means it will be here in a few months, probably in March.

The plan is to lease it, and pay for the lease with the money I will save on gas going to and from work every week. Given that we have charging stations at work, it's going to be fairly cheap to operate.

So why this?

I test-drove a Fiat 500e, and a gasoline-powered Toyota Yaris, and of these three the Smart was the only tiny car that felt like an actual car to use. The door closes with a nice heavy "thunk" and the steering feels just heavy enough. The Smart uses it rear wheels to propel itself down the road, and that definitely helps with handling and steering wheel feedback.

Its turning radius is small enough that I could do a U-turn in the middle of the street in a residential neighborhood, with room to spare.

Also, all the other small cars didn't come with "no roof" option. Feh!

Anyways, who can resist the charm of Tony Stark?


You will read the Roundel, and you will enjoy it, damnit!

From: Jane Doe [Ed. - this isn't the "Membership Services" staffer's real name, as you may guess.]
To: me

An issue of your Roundel has been returned to the mailing house because of an addressing problem. It may have been any of the following:
  • The Post Office has a Forwarding Order for you but BMW CCA doesn't have that new address.
  • The Post Office Box we are using has been closed (according to the Post Office)
  • The address is good but the Post Office doesn't have your name listed as living there.
  • Mail has been returned but the Post Office has no forwarding address on file.
Obviously, the error could be the result of a Post Office computer problem, but it could be that you've moved and forgotten to tell us.

If you have recently moved and have forgotten to let National know your new address, you can update your information online in your account profile at www.bmwcca.org, by phone at 1-800-878-9292, or by email.

Jane Doe | Membership Services
BMW Car Club of America | 640 South Main Street, Suite 201 | Greenville, SC 29601

From: me
To: Jane Doe

I do not wish to receive a physical copy of the Roundel magazine anymore.
Thank you,

From: Jane Doe
To: me

At this time, the only way to opt out of Roundel mailings is to cancel your membership. We do not a digital only membership. Unless you can provide a valid address, we will have to automatically cancel the membership if mail continues to be returned to us.

[Ed. - This is the point where I go huh? WTF? I ask politely to not be spammed, and you threaten me with cancelation? Like, seriously dude, WTF?
But then I think, hey, I've been giving you guys money, and haven't seem much aside from spam out of you yet. Maybe this is a sign.
I'm also slightly miffed by lack of opening and closing greetings in all the above correspondence. A simple "hello" and "bye" would have sufficed; not asking for much, there.]

From: Me
To: Jane Doe

I have paid for 3 years in advance Jane. But if my BMW club is so inflexible that it would rather lose a member than stop wasting paper and energy delivering a magazine a member does not want, then by all means, feel free to do so. You can refund my credit card directly.
From: Jane Doe
To: me

It's not that want to lose you as a member. We are a non profit organization that one of the main sources of revenue is our advertising revenue from Roundel. In order to receive the revenue that we do, our advertisers expect their ads in our mailings to reach a certain percentage of viewers. Unfortunately, with our demographics at this time, online viewing percentage is not as high as would be needed to implement a web only based membership without significantly increasing dues across the board for everyone. So at this time we must mail to all members. [Ed. - Dare I suggest, that if your online viewership is low, and people keep asking not to send them the printed copy... maybe you could improve your content? I kid, I kid. You just got stuck with the wrong members who don't know how to appreciate your publication. Stay the course.]

For the members who do not read the publication, we suggest donating it at you local doctors office or hospital or even elementary schools [Emphasis mine]. They are always in need of magazines and paper materials.

We completely understand your point of view, and this issue is always before the board. It's just a matter of weighing the pro and cons versus dues increases.

Every magazine and piece of mail we have returned, we are charged an additional .50+ return fee by the USPS. This is why we have to cancel memberships that have repeated returns without updated address info but make every effort to contact the member first. With 70k members, this also effects the club.

So again I understand your feelings,but hopefully you can see our side as well. If you decide not to provide me with an updated address I will issue your refund. I do hope you reconsider.

Best regards,
Jane Doe

From: me
To: Jane Doe

While I can appreciate how tough it may be for a non-profit organization to make ends meet, I can't help but ask myself, what kind of benefits does the club provide to me as a member that my membership dues don't cover? Because I honestly have yet to see a penny's worth of benefits out of the club for myself. And no, I don't count the extra exercise I get from carrying the Roundel to the recycling bin as a benefit.

For a moment, I will assume that someone is deriving value from the club, and my copy of the printed Roundel absolutely must be forced onto some unsuspecting bystanders to help offset the cost -- why doesn't the club staff run around the neighborhood and drop off all the unwanted copies for free? Although, being a marketing professional, I know that preschooler demographic might not be exactly what your advertisers had in mind when they bought those ads.

Either way my position remains, if the club is inflexible about serving members' communication preferences, I am fine with no longer being a member.

If you have questions about refunding my prorated membership dues, please let me know.
Warm regards,


And more recruiter spam from Intelliswift

Alex to Amit

GREETINGS!!! right back at ya Amit.

Since you sent me half a novel here in job description and requirements, I figure you are a man of letters. Always happy to talk to a fellow sapient human.

Have you heard of LinkedIn.com? They have this really nifty function where you can look up your candidate and see whether they are a good fit -- before you even spend your time (and theirs) on unnecessary email. If you would have done this, you would have thought: "Gee, this community manager lady with nearly 10 years of industry experience, working at Google wouldn't leave that job for just ANY job opportunity. But boy, will she be amazed when she sees what I got in store for her: A three-month entry-level sysadmin contract!"

Since I assume that you are a hard-working professional with best intentions, I must conclude that someone misled you about the value of this opportunity, because it is not a good fit for me.

I have also heard that some lazy recruiters prefer to carpet-bomb a database and thus externalize the cost, saddling us candidates with the work of parsing the job descriptions and self-selecting of whether to respond. I am sure you are not that despicable kind of lazy recruiter.

So I'm just writing to you in hopes of clarifying that 3-months entry-level contracts aren't attractive to me.

Please remove me from the database.
For good.

Thank you!

Quoted message:
Amit Ambastha  to me

Hi Alexandra,


We have an opening that matches your profile from one of our clients in Fremont, CA. I would highly appreciate it if you could go through the job description below and send me an updated word copy of your resume with your expected hourly rates and availability details.

Please find the job description below.

Title: Sr. Staff System Administrator
Location: Fremont, CA
Duration: 3 months contract to hire

Sr. Staff System Administrator
Client is currently looking for a Senior Staff Systems Administrator with 10 - 15 years of experience to build and support our critical IT Application infrastructure. To be considered, candidates must demonstrate strong technology skills, ability to provide high levels of customer service, have built and supported enterprise IT application environment within a large corporate computing environment. Additionally, requires candidate to participate in a 24x7 rotational on-call coverage.


• Strong working knowledge on Linux (Cent OS, Redhat, and Oracle VM) AND/OR Microsoft Windows 2008 server
• Must have design and large scale implementation experience with Fiber channel and NFS based enterprise storage arrays (3PAR and Netapp skills are preferred) in a highly virtualized infrastructure
• Must have strong understanding and experience in VMware virtualization technology
• Good understanding of TCP/IP, DNS, network routing, and switching
• Experience in configuring and supporting network services appliances such as WAN accelerators, load balancers and firewalls preferred
• Prior experience in optimizing infrastructure components (OS, storage, virtualization and network) to support a very dynamic application environment
• Should be fluent in automating complex manual tasks using Perl, Python, Powershell and bash (at least one)
• Strong experience in designing, building, optimizing and supporting 3 tier / ERP application infrastructure
• Should be able to quickly identify the root cause and resolve critical issues by looking across multiple layers (storage, OS, network, virtualization, and application / DB stack)
• Should have good experience in building, scaling up and supporting database, web and application clusters
• Experience in supporting IT Applications with Apache & MySQL AND/OR IIS & Microsoft SQL
• Strong documentation skills


• Lead in the planning, design and implementation of 3 tier - IT application infrastructure and provide necessary support during application development life cycle and releases.
• Support the IT application infrastructure stack (OS, Storage, Network, Database, Web, and Virtualization) and ultimately accountable for the high availability of the production infrastructure
• Build and maintain IT Application - Software development environments
• Ensure company standard server technologies, proper performance and capacity standards are followed.
• Participate in planning, design and maintenance of enterprise IT infrastructure
• Lead problem resolution and coordination
• Facilitate knowledge sharing by creating and maintaining detailed and comprehensive documentation and diagrams.
• Evaluate and implement new technologies to improve the enterprise infrastructure.
• Participate in an on-call rotation for support of systems outside of normal business hours.
• Position will require being available to perform maintenance during non-business hours and over the weekends.
• Available for occasional business travel
• Strong team player with a high degree of self-motivation and the ability to manage additional technical resources to meet the project requirements.

B.S. Degree in engineering, science, mathematics, information systems or computer science.

If you are available and interested, please do send me a word copy of resume along with following details:

Linux: …years
Windows: …years
VMWare: …years

Earliest availability for the assignment:
Earliest availability for the phone interview:
Earliest availability for the in-person interview:
Current location:
Ready to relocate:
Preferred contact number:
Work Authorization:
Expected hourly rates:
Expected Annual compensation:

Thanks & Regards,

Amit | Intelliswift Software Inc | 2201 Walnut Avenue, #180, Fremont, CA 94538| Phone: 510 870 8644 | Fax: 510-578-7710


Working walkstation

I've meant to try using a walking workstation ever since they first got hip a couple of years ago. The standing setup works for me both at home and at work, so hey, this must be even better, right?

They are crazy-expensive though, so I never got around to buying one, and didn't work in an office that had these before. But at my new job, we have one of these in our building, and today after lunch I figured I'd get a few hundred steps in while catching up on email lists.

It was easy enough to adjust to, and I could still type walking up to 2 miles per hour. I tried going up to 3 mph, but that made reading uncomfortable, so I slowed back down to 2 mph.

After an hour, I have walked about two miles and was ready to return to my stationary desk. And that's when I realized that I totally confused my vestibular apparatus. To the point when I got insta-nausea from stepping back on terra firma.

Holding myself to the wall, I got to the nearest easy chair, where I still remain, forty minutes later, waiting for the world to stop swaying around me.

I get the same severity of motion sickness from reading while riding in a car, so in retrospect I should have expected this result. I mean, you're basically bobbing up and down and side-to-side the whole time, but your visual frame of reference (the screen and the desk) remain stationary.

As my nausea is ebbing, I can say through unclenched teeth "Welp, at least that took the doubt out of my mind whether I want one of those fancy-schmancy treadmill desks for myself."

Have you tried one? What's been your experience?


Stationery luddite

She's a cloud-peddling internet community manager by day, and a technology luddite in her note-taking, also by day.

Is it a fountain pen? Is it a paper notebook? Yes! And it's leather-bound!

Actually, it's a standard "composition book" (for some values of standard: those of you in the US will know it) -- and it is dressed up in my new classy leather cover! And when this book is full of my deep thoughts and meeting notes, I can just put a new one in the same leather cover. How cool is that?