11 October 2012

Didn't we just leave this party?

Last July my commute vehicle, a 2001 Ford Focus, died miserably the day I found out I was hired- my first full-time job in 19 months. I sold my life bereft hulk for $500, and started the dealership rounds, finally ending up with another '01, this time a Honda. Happy feelings: new job, Japanese car that I can depend on, and the two large pizzas which accompanied on the Ford's death voyage.

Little more than a year later, we have our first protracted family vacation. First as in first ever. A whole week away from home in Atlantic City. It was beautiful, I got to walk the boards, I was in the ocean, I ate saltwater taffy and funnelcake. I even got pinched by a crab, twice. Not sure if it was the same vindictive crab, or just two surprised crabs. I thought they were seashells. They were not.

The van makes it all the way down, takes us out the two days we needed it, and makes it almost all the way home. As soon as we touch Pennsylvania proper, it gives up its spirit. I open the hood. There are belts lying around like so much offal, and the final diagnosis is that our beloved '96 Honda Odyssey has a broken timing chain after traveling its 238,000th-odd mile.

Our mechanic puts on the timing belt and water pump kit, and we're hoping to come up trumps for around $500, but they start it up and it sounds like the 7:15 from Tulsa just steamed into the station. I'm wondering if they put a coal conversion kit in it or something. Turns out, there's no compression in the first cylinder and it will take another 900-1500 to fix it.

Wonderful. Now what can we do? Three car seats do not fit in the backseat of a Honda Civic. Not even with imagination. Not horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. We would need the space-bending properties of a Stargate to accomplish it, and I don't see Richard Dean Anderson anywhere. Or Macgyver for that matter.

As a man, I would never drive a minivan without children in it. You can't roll down the window, crank up August Burns Red, stick your elbow out and feel awesome. It just can't happen. But as a family vehicle, I have grown to love that van more than I ever realized. Now that I'm about to lose it forever, I finally appreciate it. So I am struggling. Herein comes the quandary. We can spend 2 grand total and have it fixed up (probably). Or we can junk it and spend almost all the money we have saved (not much, think of buying a lawnmower with a canopy, and that's our budget) on a high mileage Japanese van that might have a catastrophic failure itself within the year? This is the classic story of the lady and the tiger. Either door I open may have a tiger behind it. Probably eating the lady, because like raptors, tigers can open doors.

I don't WANT to buy a new family van. In fact, I've just thought of a great reason why we can't. Aside from all of the Cheerios, Goldfish, and pretzel rods buried in the dark crevices of the seats, there is a sword from a Playmobil knight that was lost the day it was purchased. We just can't fail Sir What's-His-Name. Nor do I want to buy some car sight unseen from strange people who may or may not smell like curry, or have a very hairy dog, or a habit of spilling orange juice while driving, or any number of other things that happen to cars that just shouldn't.

Any suggestions are welcome. Even silly ones that involve horses or jetpacks. Or We Were Promised Jetpacks.

05 January 2011

A hiatus from my hiatus

Here I am on winter break from school. Additionally, I'm marking the 14th month of unemployment with not a little bit of dismay. My most recent job market defeat had me placed as 1 of 2 candidates in a second round interview for a job that on the surface appeared ideal. The other guy had way better hair and a winter tan that I just couldn't compete with. Not to mention teeth that could be used to bring airliners with disabled instruments safely to earth at Heathrow in a fog. At night.

It didn't help that I was inordinately nervous and my voice cracked a couple of times. During the ordeal, I was distantly aware that I had broken out into a sweat. Not the runny kind you get after jogging up and down the attic stairs for an hour and a half, but the thin coating that makes your face all shiny. It's the interrogation sweats.

The problem here is that the longer I'm out of work, the worse the interviews go. I used to be a great interviewee, confident, cool, collected; but now each consecutive interview gets worse and worse. The one before this I actually talked THEM out of hiring ME. I'm fairly certain that the next time I get a call for an interview, I'll show up in cargo shorts and a Pac-Man t-shirt and fart explosively the entire time. I'll probably get hired, too.

It seems to me that it's a numbers game right now. I know that I've been hired on first impression alone in the past. Recently, I suspect that I've been passed over for better resumes, regardless of the impression that I've made. I have little experience in my chosen field, I am currently completing a 2-year degree, and I have two entry-level certifications, which are my only tangible accomplishments. It would probably be a challenge for me to get a job at Best Buy.

In all likelihood, there will inevitably be someone more qualified (or handsomer) than me for any given position I apply for. But, as my 5-year-old will tell you, 'In God I will put my trust, I will not be afraid.' I've got lots of great ideas for all kinds of things. For instance, the Amazing Exploding Alarm Clock Puzzle Game. I continue to limp along with writing, but I'm so easily demotivated by setbacks. Like a balloon in the National Museum of Pins.

What I need is to find a niche as an idea consultant. Someone has a problem or a need or a story, and they need strategy or a bunch of crazy ideas in order to finish it. I get the details, and I'm a one man brainstorm. I furnish a catalog of possibilities, and they pay me. I could be a Think Tank of One.

Incidentally, I checked on Monster, and I am uniquely positioned for this future growth opportunity.

27 April 2010

Macho Monster Truck Man Time

My son and I stumbled upon the Design Your Own Monster Truck contest while wandering around Hot Wheels' website. We were looking for a replacement Monster Truck for an el cheapo supremo truck that broke a few days ago. He already has one Hot Wheels truck, but since the other one broke simply by merit of being junky, and since he's been pretty good about cleaning up and taking care of his other Hot Wheels cars (he has just under 600,000 at this point), I decided to tell him he could *maybe* have another one.

It turns out that the possibility of creating your own truck and having it made into a real live toy is just way cooler than buying some toy from a store. So we made this:

There was a lot of fist pumping, grunting approval, and going , "Whooooah," while we brainstormed this truck. Father-son time for us isn't what I envisioned growing up, which was something like the boy and his grandfather in the Werther's Original commercials, it's more like we're just buds, and I think I like that better.

26 April 2010

The History of Computing c. 2030

With all the detail some of my computing courses go into about the history of computing, electrical engineering, and motherboard architecture, I find myself feeling badly for the future generations who will try to break into the Information Technology field. It's bad enough that I've got to hear about ENIAC, the 8088, and Pentium 2 SECC slots, but for those students of IT who are just in their toddler-hood now, I can't even imagine. It'll take two full semesters just to bring them up to speed: "Now back when Windows 18 only supported 200 Terabytes of DDR20 SRAM..."

And all that will be simply to make them current. It'll take years more for them to learn the new routers, switches, VPN applications, hardware, etc., that make up personal computing. Although, by that time, PC techs may all need to have some expertise with neurosurgery just to access components. We'll swap trade secrets and horror stories with surgery residents. "Oh, you think your last spinal reconnection surgery went badly, you should have seen the time when I had to upgrade this guy's hard drive and he almost bled to death!"

I'm at the cusp of taking my CompTIA A+ certification test, which I know no one out there is impressed by, but for me this will be the first tangible land mark of my new career direction. A firm anchor point from which I can proceed. With no job on the horizon, my second Associates degree a year away, and any other certifications in the remote near future, this will be something I can use to bolster my confidence for at least a month or two. As it stands, I have more acronyms floating around in my head than the average U.S. Army laptop. I've read two books of nearly 2000 pages on the subject of PC maintenance and repair, and answered hundreds of practice test questions. I'm 95% ready.

I've loved computers all my life, from the first Commodore 64 we got for an obscene amount of money, with her much-beloved 5 1/4 floppies which included such gems as Q*Bert and Boulderdash. To the Intel 486sx running Windows 3.1 shoddily piggybacked on top of DOS, to the PII running at a blazing 233MHz and Windows 95 (Oh the fond memories of playing Mechwarrior on dial-up). Now I have a chance to get into the field professionally. My ideal is to be with a small company or a medium-sized company with small to moderate IT needs as a Network Administrator. I'd like to run a system from inside each desktop all the way out to the firewall between us and the Internet.

It seems a long way off at this point, but the unemployment clock is ticking, so hopefully the job opening for me coincides with the running out of my benefits.

19 April 2010

Go back to the shadow!

I was walking with my son the other day, as we are often wont to do, and we passed a couple of girls a little older than him (he's four) riding bikes in their driveway. I must not have noticed them, being that we were walking in a somewhat narrow alley and I was on the look out for runaway cars and marauding stray dogs, so I heard him say something. "What did you say, bud?" I asked him.

"I wasn't talking to you," he replied only with a tone ever so slightly indicating that I should have known that.

"Oh... who were you talking to you?"

"I was saying 'Hi' to those girls over there."

"Did they say 'Hi' back?" I inquired.

"No. They didn't." He said with a hint of disappointment.

"Well, maybe they didn't hear you," I said. He was a little sick and had probably mumbled.

He looked at me sort of doubtfully, and then asked, "Dad, what does it mean when girls don't say 'Hi' to you?" What a question. The right answer wasn't to laugh at him, so I explained again that maybe they didn't hear him, or maybe they were just shy, without going into the intricacies of what it means when girls don't say 'Hi' to you.

My own wife, when we first met, only said 'Hi' to me out of Christian charity. Any normal girl would have probably have averted her gaze, taken a few hesitant steps backward, and when she thought she was a safe enough distance away, spun on her heel and bolted for the nearest guard shack.

Certainly, very small children don't have this complex interplay in their social exchanges like grown people, but it made me think of the day when the opposite sex would become significant in our house. The fact that I have two daughters escalated that future pondering to acute paranoia. Any boy who has intentions of dating my daughters is going to find in me the veritable walls of Jericho, or Gandalf the Grey shouting, "You shall not pass!!!"

14 April 2010

Crafting for guys with big thumbs

I'm planning to draw my wee daughter a picture for her 3rd birthday. My idea is to use scraps of wallpaper and/or scrap book paper to form the background of the picture, segmenting the elements of the sketch onto different patterns and colors of paper. I doodled the basic composition (once again during a particularly slow-moving lecture) and have only now to shop for paper. I feel slightly less than macho, but it's for the children!!!

She likes balloons, smiley faces, clouds, and attractively sub-divided farm plots, not to mention polka-spot dresses and pretty shoes. The best part really is that she's so small that even if I have her a plastic grocery bag full of shredded newspaper as a gift she'd be beside herself with happiness because, "Daddy made this for me!"

13 April 2010

The Oozing of Time

I've been unemployed for somewhere in the vicinity of 5 months now. Aside from classes three days a week to 'break up the routine', my days and weeks and months have been blending together in a mush like room-temperature patè. Not to say I haven't enjoyed my sabbatical, it's been good to be home with the kids, and losing track of what day of the week it is happens to everyone, but when you start to not know what month it is, that's a bit disconcerting.

In the morning, I sort of poke my head out the door and go, "Hmm. Bit chilly, could be winter. Hang on a minute, there's green on the trees, might be early fallish. No, that's not right, the leaves are just budding. That's it-Spring!" And off I merrily go, secure in the fact that I've nailed down with reasonable certainty which 1/4 of the year it is. Those couple of days where it was in the 80's and there were no leaves on the trees really had me going.

It's strange. For all those years I was working, and begrudged the universe that fact, and grumbled and groaned, I never realized that even in my truly miserable state that I was missing something essential in the identity of every man.

Even still, after not working at anything income-generating for these months, I wrestle with it. At first, it was terrifying not knowing where my next two bits would come from. Then unemployment benefits were approved, the first check was received, and I took a deep breath. I looked around and I saw this: Wake up every fine morning with my wife and children, have a REAL breakfast for a change, no cold cereal or NutriGrain bars- eggs, toast, and most gloriously, coffee that wasn't brewed in an office urn and left to stagnate in a carafe for 6 hours before I got to it, and added enough powdered creamer to dull the taste to just barely drinkable.

I got to sit at the table with everyone while the sun climbed noonward, drinking a leisurely cup, and then another leisurely cup of delicious home brewed java. The first couple of months of this was really pampering, and much of the stress of the past year dissipated along with my motivation. The job market is competitive, sparse, and demanding. Employers can literally wait to hire the exact perfect person for any open position simply because of the sheer number of applicants. I turned out to be not the exact perfect person for anything at the moment.

Then it struck me. What I'd been missing all that time. It wasn't sudden, or staggering. It dawned. It was like a blind cave-lizard that accidentally crawled into a patch of sunlight from a shaft that penetrated to the surface. It sort of gave me a headache and made me want to run away. But an idea once realized cannot be unthought, and so I had it: I needed to work. I was meant to work. In some way, part of what makes me a man (aside from the obvious pendular bits) is the need to work at something productive. The blind cave-lizard part of me went, "Rubbish!" and wondered where it could find some lovely blind cave-crickets to eat. The part of me that resonated with this new thought went and did some yard work.

It was great. I (almost) woke up to an alarm clock, dug holes, ran to the hardware store for materials (three separate trips, proving that I AM in fact a man), planted a tree, felled weeds with an electric trimmer, spread some grass seed, and sweated until my wife would back away from me when I entered a room. I felt something I'd almost forgotten, the job well done feeling. Which I couldn't get from doing school work, or household chores no matter how or how much I did. Vacuuming a whole house and washing the same four plates after every meal just won't do it for me. At this revelation, I called Molly Maids and asked them to tear up my application.

All this being said, I know myself well enough to know that most jobs are fun to me for a range of two weeks to six months (the last one was interesting enough to last about twelve months), before I start to FEEL like a blind cave-lizard. Putting widgets into bigger widgets, or answering phones, or similar tasks are not going to keep me going for very long, and after a while I'm going to be a hunched over, hollow-eyed, ghost-ship of a man grinding my teeth on the bitter bread of a wasted life. On this point, the cave-lizard and I are in complete agreement. Which he appreciates, because whenever we get near a cave cricket, I scream like Shirley Temple in a horror-themed wax works.