furia furialog · Every Noise at Once · New Particles · The War Against Silence · Aedliga (songs) · photography · other things · contact
10 April 2006 to 7 March 2006
I won't actually go back to work for a little while longer, but I now know where I'll be working once I do.  

I really wanted, in the spirit of openness, to journal my job-search. I think we benefit from sharing our evaluations and processes and experiences, in general, and finding a new job isn't structurally all that different from the kinds of consumer decisions that it's already considered wholly appropriate to write about in public. Legally speaking, I was not under formal non-disclosure agreements anywhere I visited or interviewed, and morally it would have been trivial and narratively harmless to leave out the few specific details that were revealed to me in informal confidence.  

But the big difference between consumer decisions and getting a new job, obviously, at least here in the part of the world where I buy and work, is that sellers don't get to choose their buyers, so consumer openness mostly doesn't introduce any risk of recoil. I could have written about my job-search anonymously (and for all you know, I did), but writing about it here would have put my thoughts into the awareness of my potential employers. That should be safe, in the same way that writing openly about your actual employers (short of definable trade-secrets, and that should be more carefully circumscribed and limited, too) ought to be much more rigorously defended. But some precedent still needs to be set, and I wasn't quite up to putting myself in the position to set it. Until I found a new job, I couldn't be sure that I wouldn't end up wanting or needing to take one about which I'd previously expressed reservations or criticisms.  

In the end, though, my search turned out to be less contentious than I imagined it might. I walked out of more than one office thinking "Well, I'm not working there", but almost always due more to a mismatch of interests than any overwhelming sense of systemic dysfunction. I visited only one company that made me feel like I'd spent a day on the B Ark, and two of the most successful VC firms in the world had just expressed several million dollars of confidence in its commercial viability, so what do I know?  

My search was also a lot less involved than I expected. This was the first time in my working life that I'd ever left one job without the next one already lined up, and really the first time I'd ever done a job search, as opposed to having a new job basically present itself to me at random. The overwhelming and unsurprising moral is that connections are everything. I spent a lot of time digging through public job-listings and refining filter subscriptions and sending off resumes to careers@... addresses, and nothing even marginally promising ever resulted from any of that. All meaningful leads came through people I knew. Weirdly, maybe, almost all my meaningful leads came through friends and colleagues, not former bosses, and in no case was anybody I know directly involved in the decisions about my role.  

But I'd have spent even less time and energy on the process, and none pondering the ethics and repercussions of writing about it, if I'd known ahead of time that the very first casual job-related conversation I scheduled after being laid off, the connection to which came through my own sister, would end up leading to basically my dream job. This will probably be my easiest employer to explain, and my most arcane actual job. The company makes software for finding plane tickets, most prominently for the travel sites Orbitz, CheapTickets and Kayak, and the ticket-search functions on the airline sites for US Airways, Alitalia, Continental, and Alaska Airlines. The founder was recently listed by Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the 35 innovators who are changing the way people travel, and their blurb about him ended with this comment: "But it's Wertheimer's next undertaking that will most affect travelers. Called Project Needle (as in haystack), it uses artificial intelligence to search travel sites, quickly 'learning' them and giving shoppers only the information they're looking for."  

I'm not at liberty to explain the exact relationship between this description and reality, but there is a real project to which they are referring, and I will be working on it. In casual conversation I will probably usually summarize it as "semantic web searching", which, depending on where you put the hyphen, has to do with either how to structure human information so that it can be better synthesized by machines, or how to teach machines to better help humans extract useful understanding from bodies of information not already structured that way. It will be a while before you get to see any form of this, and probably a while before I can even say what that form might be. But I believe it's one of the mutations that will shape the future evolution of the net, and I'm thrilled to get to participate in something I would spend so much of my energy pondering and following even if I weren't.  

And although this could have been my dream job even if I'd had to move to California or Norway to do it, its most hilarious minor virtue is that the office is so close to my house that I think the single Walk light between here and there accounts for 20% of the variability in my commute time. In fact, coworkers who live elsewhere and drive to this office have to walk farther from their parked cars than I will from my bed.  

But maybe the future is always closer than you think.
- Essentially all decisions are at least partly wrong. The act of making a decision, arguably, is primarily the emotional acceptance of the inevitability of error. The difference between good decisions and bad decisions is not that the good decisions have fewer flaws, but that their flaws are more inspiring. Thus the art of deciding lies in erring creatively. And thus the primary component of leadership is creativity.  

- If you are demoing a prototype to VCs (or me, pretending to be a VC), try not to accidentally show them porn unless that's actually part of your business plan.  

- The fact that so many businesses have means without ends does not make it any more sensible to run a company with an end but no means. Or, to put this another way, if you have more Senior Vice Presidents than either months until your first product launches, or programmers, you are not really a software company.  

- It's usually easier to talk one person out of a million dollars than it is to talk a million people out of a dollar each, but it's probably easier to talk a million people out of a dollar a hundred times each than to talk a hundred people out of a million dollars, or ten out of ten million. (And even easier to not need a million dollars.)  

- Business development is about figuring out where money is. Marketing is about convincing the people with the money to give it to you. These are money activities, and thus the proper occupation of money companies. A software company develops software, which is hard to do well, and thus should only be attempted where you believe there's a genuine chance to improve something in the world. A commercially successful software company does something valuable for somebody, and then finds a way to allow them to express their appreciation.  

- You can buy programmers pizza and they will appreciate it. Actually, you can buy most people pizza and they will appreciate it. And pizza is cheap. Thus there's no reason to lose more money than pizza costs, in pursuit of anything people are going to appreciate less.  

- Process and specialization are attempts to minimize individual variation. But most new businesses fail, so individual variation is actually your only hope.  

- Do not tell a job candidate that you have a great working environment and then keep them in a 60-degree room from 10am to 3pm without food. For extra credit, do not brag about the quality of your hiring process while reading their resumé for the first time right in front of them. And if the job requires that a candidate arrive with any kind of pre-existing expertise or experience, it's minimal courtesy to Google them ahead of time to find out if they have any.  

- If you think every other company in your field is run by idiots, you're probably almost right.
A reader of my previous note wrote to report the same problem with Showtunes on her PowerBook. I've emailed Nonesuch to see if they have any insight.  

Metropolis did write back, saying there's no copy-protection on the Gary Numan album and they weren't aware of any problems. Their official guess is that my copy is defective, so if I send it in, they'll mail me a replacement. My Showtunes experiences makes me doubt that this will help, but the two cases may end up being unconnected.
In the three-plus years that I've had my PowerBook, I've ripped thousands of my own CDs into iTunes to listen to them. The only one I couldn't rip was an Australian release by David Bridie that I digitized as audio because I didn't feel like sending it back to Australia.  

But in the last week I've hit two more. I tried two different copies of Stephin Merritt's Showtunes, thinking the first one was just defective, but the PowerBook just kicked both of them out as if they weren't audio discs. The packaging didn't indicate any sort of copy-protection, and Nonesuch seems like an odd offender, but my wife's PowerBook (different model, different OS version) just ejected both copies, too. I was irritated enough to take the second copy of Showtunes back to the record store and wade through their reluctance to get a refund. Merritt has too many tracks to digitize and index by hand.  

In exchange I bought the second Sounds album, and the new Gary Numan record. But the Gary Numan album has the same problem, again on both machines. Put it in, listen to some fruitless whirring, watch it get ejected as unreadable. Two solid hours of Mac troubleshooting changed nothing. Both machines can still read other new and old CDs and DVDs fine. It's a pretty strange coincidence if these discs are normal but both of our machines happen to have started having this very particular trouble at the same moment.  

But it's also a pretty strange coincidence if I've just happened to hit two of the three computer-unreadable CDs I've ever encountered (out of well over a thousand I've ripped) right in a row. I've written Numan's label (Metropolis) to see what they have to say for themselves. My fear, I guess, is that some new idiot manufacturing process has just come on line, and half the new music I try to buy from now on is going to do this. My fear is that I'll have to switch to stealing all my music simply in order to be able to hear it.
Before Saturday, my longest single run was about 8.5 miles. Saturday I ran 12.2. I'm a record-keeper, so there's a certain inherent appeal for me in getting to update one, but in neither of these particular cases was distance the independent variable, so it's not really a significant statistic. Plus, I run 6 miles routinely and comfortably, so I figured I could at least survive a 12-mile run.  

I didn't just survive, though. I only planned to do 6 miles, but it was sunny and in the 60s in Boston, and the Charles was lined with people gamely not focusing on the possible climatic implications of Spring in Boston in early March, and it just felt good to stay out there longer, so I did. My usual pace for a relaxed 6 miles is around 7:30/mile, and I finished 12.2 in a steady 7:36/mile, feeling fine.  

But that's still not the real triumph. The real triumph is that today, Monday, two days later, I did my routine 6-mile run right back on schedule. It was still routine, still comfortable, 7:32/mile, and afterwards I still feel fine.  

There are the things you think you could do, and the things you've done once and think you could do again, and then there are the things that are simply now within you.
Even the most movie-addicted people I know don't usually take the time to re-watch movies with the DVD commentary track on. I do, but I was a filmmaking major in college, and have a really high tolerance for obsessive introspection in any format.  

But if you haven't seen the movie Spy Kids, go watch it, especially if you haven't seen it because it's a kids' movie and you aren't a kid. It is a kids' movie, but in a way that you should still be a kid.  

And then, if you haven't seen Spy Kids 2, go watch that, especially if you haven't seen it because it's a kids' movie (see above), and especially if you haven't seen it because it's a sequel. It is a sequel, but it's the kind of sequel that the first movie makes wonderfully possible, not cynically expedient.  

And then watch Spy Kids 2 again with Robert Rodriguez's commentary on. It's not laborious annotation, it's an accidental evangelist's 97-minute exhortation to creativity and experimentation and simplicity and complexity, and not only makes me love the movies more, but makes me happier and more excited about art, craft, technology, freedom and everything I haven't tried yet.
Anyone who wants to have more reason to feel involved with arbitrary MLS games this year should go sign up for MFLS, the best and longest-running MLS fantasy league.  

The roster deadline for week 1 is 3pm Eastern, April 1 (and remember that Daylight Saving Time starts on April 2 this year).
"I've been sad with my magnitude lately, what and you."  

I know what it's insinuating, of course, but sometimes poetry writes itself into our deceits while we aren't watching them closely enough. Our powers are so great, and yet here we are, lately as ever, sad with our magnitudes.
I'm not sure I've seen more than a dozen music videos in my life that seemed to me like independently worthwhile demonstrations of human creativity. As a field of marketing ingenuity and technical innovation, music video is astonishingly rich, but as an art it's a horrific disaster. At this point the most I really hope to get out of a video is some more visceral impression of how an artist from some culture other than mine fits into theirs, and/or crosses out into mine.  

But I just watched HIM's DVD of 1997-2003 videos, in search of little more than some shots of their Finland, and am adding "Right Here in My Arms" to my not-formally-compiled but I'm sure pathetically short list of internally brilliant music videos. It's brilliant enough that I can tell you what's brilliant about it without you having seen it. Structurally it's mostly a performance video, staged inside and outside of a room whose walls are one-way mirrors transparent from the outside in. The band is inside the room. A girl is outside. She is watching the band, and sees them watching her back. They see and are watching nothing but themselves. She presses herself against her side of the glass, while Ville Valo writhes against his reflection. He doesn't know she's there, and she doesn't know he doesn't know.  

Thus her contact is a delusion, and an artifice, but her experience of her contact is real. The band's performance is a ballet of narcicism, but it is narcicism as a proxy for empathy. The box is how art works. The box is, in fact, what differentiates art from conversation.
As I organize my job opportunities and meta-opportunities I've inevitably found myself writing a large number of variations on the same basic summary sentences about my professional interests and experience. The most succinct explanation of my "field" I've been using is "social information systems", which I like for its deliberate ambiguity as to whether I mean information systems with social components or systems for explicitly social information, since in general I'm more interested the more data and the more people involved, and most interested when there's an apparently unmanageable overload of both.  

The problem with a compact and expressive phrase like "social information systems" is that if you use it confidently enough, anybody who doesn't already think they know what it means will assume it means something specific that they don't like (otherwise obviously they would know about it already). You have to be able to put everything in some context you can count on your audience knowing, knowing they know, and knowing they like. So I end up talking a lot about "information technology", on the theory that anybody I'm likely to work for or with knows what "information" and "technology" are and thinks they're important. The "technology" part conveys that I'm not looking for a job as a data proofreader, and the "information" part helpfully suggests that I don't know anything about metallurgy or processor cooling.  

The problem with "information technology" as a phrase, however, is that it's so similar to "Information Technology", which has come to refer exclusively to that subset of information-related technology that can be hoarded by gnomes and used to build dank, gloomy catacombs where information nobody wants goes to molder and hide from the sad people who are cursed to need it. This is not exactly my niche. And worse, perhaps, information technology is not a goal, it's at best a genre of tool, and if I think goals are more important than tools, I should have some better way of talking about what I think the information technology is for, or should be. Plus I've been reading a lot of bravely humane Theodore Sturgeon stories, and I think he'd say that displacing the oppressively dreary IT, as an acronym, is worth a quest in itself.  

The main thing I'm after, always, is understanding. And since understanding is usually a process, not a point, it's more accurate to say that my preoccupation is understanding-seeking. This is probably not a usable resumé phrase in the current software business, as it sounds dubiously spiritual, and this is an audience spooked by Faith-Based Initiatives and Creationism into taking "spiritual" as the opposite of "rational". And "rational" is the same as "logical", and obviously software is quintessentially logical.  

But then, churches aren't built by devoutly instantiated reverence, they're nailed together with hammers like anything else. The difference between good software (when it ever so occasionally exists) and bad software (the rest of the time) is not usually in execution, but in inspiration. Design, as I use the word "design", is at most 20% rational (and "usability" is rarely more than 20% of that). The rest of it is spiritual, or moral, or conceptual, or whatever you want to call the part of the process in which you decide what kind of story you are helping people tell themselves about themselves, or tell others about how we share the burdens and potential of our nature.  

So I'd love to see a world where I could write in my resumé that I do US, and have people know that Understanding-Seeking is a real and definitively pragmatic discipline. I'd love to not have to explain that nudging widgets into line is a part of the software creation process I sometimes do personally in the same way that an architect who really cares about a building will still be there the day they're putting the sinks into the bathrooms, trying to think of an even better spot on the wall to hang the hand-dryers: not because that's what "architecture" means, but because if the architecture was done well, by the time you're doing the bathrooms the hand-dryers are the largest problem that wasn't already solved long ago, and it's the architect's job to keep working on the largest remaining problems until the building is done. I'd love to not have to explain to anybody that "fixing our usability" is a way of saying "we're too committed to our big mistakes to dream of anything better than doing our bad job a fraction more efficiently". I'd love to feel like I can say to a VP of Engineering that design is a moral act, and know that I'm just reiterating something they already know, that of course engineering is the art of our holding actions against entropy, and US is why it's worth so much elaborate effort to buy ourselves these moments of time in which to live.
Site contents published by glenn mcdonald under a Creative Commons BY/NC/ND License except where otherwise noted.