AFK with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

I have been staying away from keyboard because I have hurt my wrists typing too much lying down, with my laptop on my belly. Silly me.

So in the meantime, I have been using voice entry a lot (Android rocks at that!) and icing my arms as much as I can stand.

If you are worried, don't be--it's already getting better. I've had this once before, from the same stupid behaviour, and healed myseld in a couple of weeks. Back then, I thought I had learned my lesson, but apparently I needed a reminder.

Anyways. What this means for now, is fewer posts from me while I heal. I'll be back before you know it.


2014 Corvette is still ugly

Seeing how my old post about the 2014 Corvette being ugly is bubbling up in the traffic stats, I thought I should revisit the topic and reiterate that yes, indeed, I still believe that the newly-released C7 is unsightly.

Don't believe me? Have a look:

This is not a body of a car worthy of the name Stingray. This is just another middle-aged wannabe sportster. Like a retired bodybuilder, it's got muscle, but the sex appeal is gone.

I have allowed my hope to see a sleek futuristic take on the classic to rear its pretty little head, but lo! My hope was dashed as I feared it would be.

Don't believe me? Have a look at this:

This is the concept car that made its debut in the Transformers movie, and inspired me and thousands of others, giving us hope that we may have a new car to admire and lust after. What a difference to the tame diluted mishmash of a car that was unveiled this week!

While we all know that dashing concept cars rarely make it to production unchanged, I have to always wonder--why not? Why try to appeal to the lowest common denominator? Why not make a bold statement? Why so afraid?

If Chevrolet is afraid that its market of balding midlife-crazed men would reject a car that oozes style, power, and self-confidence, then it betrays that it thinks poorly of its customers. Further, it will not gain any new ones, failing to inspire and capture the aspirations of young kids like the wide-eyed kids that are still alive inside the middle-aged men, who want to own the car of their childhood dreams.

It certainly does nothing to ignite my passion, and I really wanted to fall in love with the C7.

Silly me.


About recruiter spam

1:34 PM

to Sam

Dear Sam C,

I would like to thank you for taking the time to contact me, but the thing is, you did not take the time, so the thanks are sadly not in order.

I will however take the time to personally respond to you, because I hope to make it one of those "teachable moments."

My current role is Community Director at Nebula. My previous role was called "Community Manager" at VMware. I have not held a contracting position in my entire career, and have not really had anything to do with business analysis or operations.

Wherever you found my resume, it is clear to me you have just run a search for "Eloqua" or some such, and blasted an email to every single person the search returned without spending as little as 30 seconds to make sure the position you advertise would be even remotely suitable.

30 seconds is a generous time allowance to determine how a senior marketing professional with 15+ years of experience would react to a pitch of a 8-month entry-level contract requiring relocation, but you obviously seem to be lacking in the reading comprehension department, so I am not going to be too strict.

You've got the "swift" part of Intelliswift covered, but not the "intelligence." If you want to ever reach out to me in the future, feel free to do so, once you learn to represent both components of your company's promise.

Most respectfully yours,
Alex Maier

On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 9:16 AM, Sam C <sam@intelliswift.com> wrote:
> Hi,
> My name is Sam  and I'm a recruiter at Intelliswift, a global staffing and
> IT consulting company. We are constantly on the lookout for professionals to
> fulfill the staffing needs of our clients and we currently have a job
> opening that may interest you. Below is a summary of the position.
> Job # : 2199802
> Job Title : Business Analyst
> Job Location : , Plano, TX
> Duration : 8 Month
> Job Description :
> This position resides within the Enterprise Operations department  and is
> responsible for the Eloqua marketing automation system. This position will
> be responsible for creating and maintaining documentation of all standards
> and processes used within the Eloqua system and its integration points
> Responsibilities:
> •Will be required to document the “as-is” processes in Eloqua
> •Document field level rules and validations within Eloqua
> •Create and maintain a ‘data definitions dictionary’ for critical fields and
> attributes within Eloqua
> •Maintain documentation of Eloqua data flow processes; user documentation;
> and training materials
> •Implement standardization of usage and data entry
> •Optimize data hygiene through proactive monitoring of automated programs
> and system usage
> •Perform admin tasks; adding/deleting/changing fields; editing Programs;
> adding/deleting users; etc.
> •Will be required to work with Eloqua admins to perform root cause analysis
> •Work with business users and 3rd party Eloqua agencies to understand the
> business application of Eloqua
> •Ability to translate high-level business and user requirements and
> functional requirements
> •Write UAT test cases and perform UAT
> •Work with Eloqua admin team to understand roadmap, enhancements, updates
> If you believe you're qualified for this position and are currently in the
> job market or interested in making a change, please give me a call as soon
> as possible at 510-870-3518.
> Note: Please allow me to reiterate that I chose to contact you either
> because your resume had been posted to one of the internet job sites to
> which we subscribe, or you had previously submitted your resume to an
> opening with Intelliswift’s client. I assumed that you are either looking
> for a new employment opportunity, or you are interested in investigating the
> current job market.
> If you are not currently seeking employment, or if you would prefer I
> contact you at some later date, please indicate your date of availability so
> that I may honor your request. In any event, I respectfully recommend you
> continue to avail yourself to the employment options and job market
> information we provide with our e-mail notices.
> Thanks,
> Sam
> IntelliSwift Software Inc.
> 2201 Walnut Ave. #180, Fremont, CA 94538
> Tel:    (510)-870-3518
> Email:   sam@intelliswift.com
> Intelliswift is ISO 9001 - TL 9000 certified company.
> Intelliswift wins award for the 4th fastest growing company in East Bay
> Intelliswift among the top 10 fastest growing companies in Bay Area
> Intelliswift Ranked No.2 by the Indus Business Journal
> California  | New Jersey | India

Of mice and rats

Mountain Lair is as far from civilization as CA-17 will allow, and I am glad we don't have to live completely off the grid. Electricity is good, as is water and the holy Internet. Everything else, we have to either truck in, such as we do with propane, or do on-site, such as waste water treatment (A.K.A. septic tank), back-up power generator (still on the list to buy).

It's really not bad, just gets expensive at times. But it's quite civilized, and we even have proper garbage pick-up, with recycling and yard waste bins, like you'd have in a city!

It being mostly wilderness though, you could have guessed that humans are outnumbered by other mammals ten- if not hundredfold. Coyotes, deer, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, mountain lions. And rodents. Nature is constantly trying to take over and re-appropriate what humans cleared for themselves, and mice and rats are the vanguard of the constant siege.

Us being us of course, we deploy electronic surveillance and state-of-the-art traps baited with bacon and peanut butter. Bacon for the rats, PB for the mice. Okay, maybe the mousetraps have not really evolved that much in the past hundred years, but they are still the state of the mouse trapping art.

It all started with noises in the attic. Some large animal kept waking me up at around 1am with its heavy footfalls. We weren't sure whether that was a rat or maybe an opossum. The websites about rats in the attic all said that the rats would be "scurrying" -- and "scurrying" this was not. These were deliberate, slow, and not too-cautious footsteps.

We both have a soft spot for marsupials, so wanted to find out what that animal was before trying to deal with it. We would hate to kill an opossum. Opossums are neat. We'd probably want to prevent it from climbing in by closing the openings it uses, or have a professional catch and remove them. But killing? No!

So to be sure what it is we've got in the attic, we put up a little surveillance camera in there first. It works with ambient light and infrared, and then you can watch what it sees on a little embedded-linux box it came with. Neatness.

It did not take long until we have identified the perp. It was a giant rat. And by giant I mean about three quarters of a foot long, before the tail even starts. No wonder it was not scurrying. With heft like this, scurrying would be completely impractical and undignified. It's like imagining Bruce Willis pattering along. That's just wrong.

So J went to Home Depot and got a rat trap, baited it with bacon, and set it up in the attic. Every once in a while, we'd check the attic-cam to see if the trap was still there. It remained untouched for a couple nights, despite the rat's continued return visits. Finally it decided that the trap was safe enough, or maybe it was overcome with the aroma of bacon. Either way, it bit.

If someone tells you that the traps kill the rat in an instant, don't believe it. The rat thrashed about for maybe 30 seconds, woke both of us up, but finally everything was quiet. We weren't even sure it was dead or maybe managed to free itself, because in its final throes it moved off-camera. The next morning we confirmed the kill.

I am not big on killing animals, so this was pretty sad. On the other hand, can't have rats in the house. Sigh.

Then last night I realized that some fruit on a shelf in the kitchen was nibbled on. On closer look, there were also mouse droppings in the fruit bowl! Yuck!

All the fruit went in the trash, and four mousetraps were set, baited with peanut butter.

Guess what? The very same night, two of the traps had mice in them.

So we are preparing for the siege and buying an extra large box of mousetraps.


Athletic asphyxiation

I went to buy some new exercise clothes last night. Tomorrow, I will be returning five out of the eight items I bought. Four of these items are sports tank tops, and they will be going back because I can't breathe in them.

Over the years I have begrudgingly complied with the sexualization of female bodies, which means that somehow the hint of my nipples showing through fabric is offensive, while a man's nipples are not. I've never worn a bra, and therefore the societal requirement to hide my anatomy results in having to wear layers even in summer, and most annoying of all, to exercise.

Enter sports tops.

They usually have some sort of a double fabric or padding cups in the front, and for women better endowed than myself, some sort of an integrated bra. While I don't need the support, I wear the padded tops for "modesty."

The only difficulty with them is that someone in the industry decided that a sports bra has to be constructed of high-tensile-strength elastic material that will compress my chest to the point of suffocation. Last night I was in a hurry and also it was cold, so I was wearing a coat and a jacket, and other warm things, and did not want to unpack in the store just to try on some tops. So I grabbed two of each kind and went home. When I tried them on this morning, I had problems getting into one, and out of other, which proved to be worse.

Now the thing with the integrated bra is that it is shorter than the tank top and often only attaches to the top at the straps, closing with an extra-strong elastic band at the bottom. Once I had the top on and realized that I was having difficulty breathing in it, I tried to take it off. The longer part came off fine until the point where it attached to the elastic undercarriage, which was still gripping me around the ribcage. My arms were trapped in the top, held over my head, and no way to reach the little elastic contraption to pull it off my body.

Close to panic, I briefly considered waking up J to ask him to cut me free of the evil garment, then continued the struggle. Instead of stumbling around blindfolded by the top over my head, I knelt on the floor and redoubled my efforts to wriggle my way out of the predicament. After a few panting fits and starts, I managed to escape the ties of the sports top, and sat on the floor trying to catch my breath.

Once my pulse was back to normal, I neatly folded the armored tops and put them in a bag with their receipt to take back to the store tomorrow.

Yay victory.

Photo credit: dagophir.com


About paperwork

I haven't written much about my immigration status, because frankly, there hasn't been much change over the years. The process moves at a glacial pace, and two or three biometrics[1] appointments aside, I am still where I was in 2007.

While you wait for your case to be processed, there's mostly nothing to do but to wait and freak out, because the authority does not provide any real answers if you asked them about the status. Here is an example of a written response I received when I asked about the status of my application:

The status of this service request is:
A visa number is not available at this time.

Make of it what you want. Apparently it means that maybe my case has already been adjudicated (i.e. decided) and I am now only waiting for the visa quota to become available. Maybe. I could not get further than that with the "customer service"[2] rep on the phone.

Each year, a certain number of immigrant visas (a.k.a. Green Cards) is made available for the immigration authority to hand to people like me. There are rules governing how many visas each of the many immigration categories will get. I won't bore you with the different categories and what they all mean, suffice it to say, that they hand out visas on the first come, first served basis. Your place in line is determined by the date on which you first initiated the process, which is called the priority date. Once a month, the immigration folks publish a Visa Bulletin where they list the status of each category, so you can see how much longer you have to wait.

This month, my priority date has become current, which means that maybe my case will be taken off the shelf and reviewed by someone. Or not. Apparently there are no guarantees of that happening just because your priority date is up.

From here, I may get an appointment with the friendly authority, where they will interview me to help them decide whether to let me stay. Legend has it that sometimes you just get your green card in the mail. That would be nice.

As luck would have it, my German passport is going to expire in November this year. So I figured, let's get a leg up on that and start the process of getting a new one. The Consulate is right here in San Francisco, and appointments are readily available. They also have a checklist of all the things I will need to get this started. A photo is one of them, sounds easy enough, even though they say that they have to return 90 percent of all applications because the photos aren't good enough. Being German, they provided a multi-page booklet with all the requirements and good and bad examples. Armed with it, I think I should be able to get the photo right.

Now the next requirement is not for the faint of heart. Turns out that if your passport lists a German residence address (as mine does), in order to have a consulate process my application I need a paper from the Berlin authorities saying I don't live there anymore. Which I think I got at some point. Or not. It was almost seven years ago, and I don't remember. Thankfully, the City of Berlin has a very comprehensive web presence, and I was able to download and print the un-registration application, fill it in, and physically mail it to the friendly B├╝rgeramt Steglitz in Berlin. Hopefully they will promptly stamp it and send it back, so I can get my new passport.

In the meantime, I am going to keep my appointment at the consulate to make sure that I am not missing anything else, because it would suck if the US Gummint came to me to stamp that long-awaited visa in my passport, and my passport was expired!

[1] "Biometrics" is a fancy name for having your fingerprints and your mugshot taken annually. What drastic changes in my hands and face they expect to catch, I don't know. Once taken, both pieces of data are swallowed by the authority never to be seen again, judging by the fact that I always have to provide new mugshot pictures to renew my Employment Authorization document (EAD). When the newest one arrived, it had "Not available" written in the field where my thumb print would go.

[2] I like the doublespeak of calling me a customer, when I have to use their "services" and follow their procedure under the risk of deportation. While I understand that I am here by choice, and immigration is a privilege, not a right and blah-di-blah, it's much easier to say this from the comfort of your country of citizenship. When you've lived in a foreign country for six years like I have, paid the taxes, and built a life here with real human connections, a home, and a career, you get tired of the constant vague threat of losing all of this because some bureaucrat misplaced your paperwork or decided to deny your petition.


Furniture shopping for my office

I will have a dedicated office in the Mountain Lair, which I am also designating to serve as our library. Over the years, I have collected a number of books, most of them still in Berlin, and now I finally will have a place to bring them all together.

It being a library and also having soaring 15-foot ceiling, I embarked on a search of tall bookshelves that would befit such a room, and not be dwarfed by it. Ideally the shelves would be stained espresso brown and made of solid wood or bamboo, and may have metal pieces. I would tolerate plywood parts, but no MDF or particleboard. Here is an illustration for what I thought would be a good kind of shelf for the library.

As I was soon to find out, solid wood furniture is now only available from super-expensive places such as designer or antique stores. Or if you have it custom-built.

The picture above is from the World Market catalog for a shelf that costs nearly $700. That's not cheap if you ask me, so I assumed it would be true when their website said the shelf was made of solid wood. I bought it, and two very energetic ladies helped me load it into the van with great effort. It was flat-packed in two boxes, and each box weighed 100+ pounds.

When we got home, J and I unloaded the shelf piece by piece, opening the box inside the van, and carrying the parts upstairs in manageable increments. When the shelf was three quarters of the way assembled, I realized with that sinking feeling of doom that the main vertical supports of the shelf were indeed thick MDF.

So the next day, I disassembled the shelf, and we loaded it back into the van in reverse order, putting it inside the original boxes as good we could (which was better than we expected). I drove it to the store, where nobody showed themselves concerned with the reason for the return, and even when I told them, no written note was taken as far as I can tell.

I have crawled hundreds of products in online and physical stores, but it appears that any shelf that's not costing multiple thousands of dollars will be made of engineered wood.

What really puzzles me at this moment is where all the real wood is going? MDF is made of wood that's left over after the good stuff is cut. If the rich folk comprise one percent of the population, they can't be needing that much solid wood furniture, as to make it so outlandishly expensive.

I am not skilled in woodwork, and don't really have the patience or desire to learn. I just want to buy something that won't poison me with formaldehyde and also something that is environmentally sustainable. Like bamboo. For now, the search is coming up empty, but I have a few other angles if that fails. One, I may find a local craftsperson who can build me custom shelving out of inexpensive local wood or bamboo plywood, which I know a source for. Two, I may buy a bunch of used wine crates, stain them, and arrange them as a shelf along the wall. There are tons of pictures online, here's a random one to give you an idea what I am talking about.

With the right stain and some brass brackets and accents to make it look more intentional than just a pile of old crates, I think it may have a chance of achieving the right effect. Not sure though. I have not yet worked with anything as big, and built no furniture, so I hope I won't have to do it.

For the desk, there's actually been a good development. I want a standing workstation, and have been shopping all over the place for one. The thing is, they are just coming into fashion, so the choices are limited, and most are expensive. Again, you'd think a piece of wood on legs should not cost the world, yet $1000 seemed to be about average as standing workstations go. After I gave up on the idea of buying a ready-made one, I decided to buy a tabletop and legs separately, and put it together myself.

An evening of search has yielded a 6-foot long work surface made of thick bamboo at Craftsman, and next day, I bought some 40" table C-legs for it. It's not going to be adjustable, but barring me growing taller 40" is the exact height I need.

All the parts should be arriving in about two weeks, at which point I can start setting up my office for real, instead of just using it to park all the unopened boxes from the move.


In my mirrors: 2012

2012 did not suck.

Tell the truth, it rocked.

I spent it all with J, and it couldn't have come any more natural to share our lives with each other. Now we're in our newly-remodeled home together, and can enjoy those spectacular sunsets and even more spectacular night skies in the mountains.

Do you have an idea just how many stars are visible to the naked eye once you're not in a light-polluted city? I didn't. It's humbling.

What else was there?

Well, shopping for a home and buying one, then remodeling it. Some say people break up and get divorced over stuff like that, but they also say the Stig only knows two facts about ducks and both of them are wrong.

I drove a lot. Not as much as I'd liked to (which would be full-time), and not always as well as I'd want to, but today I can consistently outdrive my performance from the year prior. I had to rebuild and repair most of my race car: motor, roll cage, containment seat, safety harness, shock absorbers, differential, rear suspension bushings, power steering. Most of the first half of the year was spent dealing with that, and the second half was me getting used to the new handling characteristics.

I have added Laguna Seca to my repertoire, and I would say out of the three I got, it's my second most comfortable track after Thunderhill. Sonoma is still a challenge, yet being there makes me happy before I even turn a wheel on the track.

I lost my grandfather that year, and after a week of mourning, I went to Sonoma Raceway, and sat on the hill there, overlooking the track, and was able to leave there at peace, ready to return to my life.

I suspect Sonoma will keep its special place in my heart and in my life.

Speaking of which, J and I enjoyed a lot of good wine together, and I have developed meagre cooking skills.

Professionally, it's been a year of growth.

In 2012 I took over managing the vExpert program, ran it, loved every moment of it, then changed jobs. I still miss my colleagues and my vExpert friends, but life is a funny thing. Just when you are getting comfortable, new challenges come around.

I am at Nebula now, working to build a community of cloud computing users and enthusiasts, and helping out with marketing work along the way, seeing that I am the only marketing professional in our company at the moment.

I gave talks, one proper solo talk and two panel discussion contributions. I started to write a book, which I hope to finish this year.

I think 2012 was the year when I realized that I was not poor anymore and did not have to live in constant "prepare for the worst" mode.

Both J and I enjoyed good health and spent tons of quality time together.

I am very grateful for all the love, and growth, and positive change I have seen in 2012. As years go, this one may well have been the best of my life so far. It would be silly to expect the curve to keep going up and to the right at quite the same rate, but even if 2013 just flatlined at the same level, I'd be very content.

Oh yes, I have learned a little about contentment and zen in this year too. There's more to learn, but I think this also played a role in the overall 2012 experience.

Looking forward, I would like to spend more time in 2013 working on my yoga and meditation practice. Finally, I intend to spend more time with my friends, because that's really what life is about: being healthy and content, so that one may enjoy good company.

Expendables 2

Watched The Expendables 2 movie the other night, and it was even better than the first one. Great entertainment, even on a living room screen. Can only imagine how fun this would be in a theater.

Here, have a trailer.

This pretty much sums it up for me: lots of wisecracks, plus the entire pantheon of action stars from the past three decades. The movie has a pace and feel of a video game, and also game-like blood and special effects. That is a plus in my book, actually, but YMMV.

The best part, it does not take itself too seriously. Would definitely recommend for an evening of quality entertainment.