Oops! Something went sideways.

Looks like the styling got goofed up. Sorry about that, unless it's what you wanted. If this isn't what you were looking for, try force refreshing your page. You can do that by pressing Shift + F5, or holding Shift and clicking on the "reload" icon. (It's the weird circle arrow thing "⟳" just above this page, usually next to where it says https://blog.unitedheroes.net...)

isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Questionable Career Advice

Every year or so, i have a friendly meeting with my latest manager who inevitably asks the question i hate the most: “What is your career path?”

There’s lots of ways to ask that question, and you’ve probably heard a bunch of them. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, “How do you feel you can better yourself as an employee?”, etc. They’re all basically the same question. It’s a question asked by management to employees for any number of reasons. Usually, it’s because of some mandate to show “employee growth” as part of some retention initiative, or as a metric for managers to show their superiors that they’re doing a good job. Sometimes, it’s even asked as an honest query for personal or professional growth.

i’ll be frank. Over the past 30 years, i’ve never had a singular focus on an overreaching goal. i’ve never wanted to be “CTO of a Fortune 500 Company” or “Chief Architect of Foo” or whatever. Those positions, while bringing great acclaim and glory, tend to be bogged in politics and other crap that i would much rather avoid. The driving force of my personal career has always been: “Do what you can to make the world better” and on a lower level “Do your job better than you did six months ago”.

There’s a lot of reasons for this. Computers and the Computer industry are pretty new. Heck, most companies “pivot” half a dozen times in five years. We’re finally getting to the point where there are “mainstay” companies that are becoming entrenched, but the web is really only 20 years old and societies don’t really move that fast. i also prefer being in a support role. If others are the “Rock Stars” i’m perfectly fine being the bass player. The odds of being a “Rock Star” are pretty small. The odds or being good enough to play in great bands and make a more than comfortable living doing what you love are actually pretty high. Ok, that’s a crappy expansion of a crappy metaphor, but you get what i mean.

The problem is that sort of view flies in the face of decades of Tony Robbins style career guidance. If you’re not 40 and on the board of a fortune 500 company, you’re obviously a failure. Granted, the fact that there are about forty one million people in the US alone who are about your age, i’m pretty sure that the top 500 companies don’t have 82,000 people on each of their boards. In short, exceptional people are exceptional. Yeah, it’d be nice, but it takes a LOT more factors than just “hard work” and “focus” to get into a position like that.

Instead, i try to find somewhere to work that matches closely with my desired life goal. By the way, if your life goal is “Make shit-tons of cash and retire to a private island in the Pacific”, that’s fine too. It’s just not mine. If i’m going to be mostly doing support, i want to make sure that what i’m supporting does things i approve of. If it doesn’t i’ll go somewhere else. Yeah, i’m fully aware that my gender, race and career choice makes that exceptionally easy to do. That’s why i try not to have dirtbag motivations.

So, how do i answer the question i loathe? i still have no clear idea. Most companies have HR department provided “Career Tracts” or pay grade differentiates. Things like “these are the responsibilities outlined for a SE-III mark Alpha” or whatever grade is above what your current position is. They usually indicate what tic-boxes need be checked for you to move to a slightly better pigeon hole. Honestly, i’ll probably just select a few from that list and offer them as “Career Objectives”. Some of those might even be interesting to follow up on. In reality, though, i don’t really see myself radically changing my personal tact anytime soon.

i’m pretty fulfilled with how i’ve chosen to earn my keep.

As for the question, “How important is a bass player to a Rock Star”, i’ll offer this:

:: F*ck You, Brain.

i feel fortunate that i am reasonably mentally healthy. There’s a lot of people who actually have depression, bi-polar disorder, ADD and other conditions and those people have my respect.

That said, i can understand a tiny fraction of what they go through. i tend to be very hard on myself. i tend to favor criticism more than complements. This is normal, of course, and chances are exceptionally good you do the same thing. i know this because a few years ago when i felt i was at a very low point i wanted to understand what the hell was wrong with me. It was a pattern i found myself falling into and since i didn’t enjoy it, i wanted to know what i could do to solve the problem.

Turns out, little, since we as a species are pretty firmly hardwired for it. i found that at least for me, understanding what was going on did help. Later on, finding books like You Are Not So Smart really helped me understand even more of this sort of self inflicted crap.

Part of this is also my industry of choice. Long ago, i consigned myself to be a tradesman in the midst of artists. There are programmers that craft things of magic and joy. These are wonderful creations that improve life in this veil of tears immeasurably. Granted, those things often need to be maintained and supported. At times, bits need to be built out of things stronger than pixie dust and gossamer, and i take a bit of joy trying to make sure that folks don’t know that some of the “magic” is now rebar.

i’ll also admit that i’m not the best at what i do. Even after working a lifetime in the industry. There are others that i work with that make me look like an amateur. These are people i can greedily learn from, and i’m damn thankful of the opportunity, but it also means that in a culture that spotlights “Rock Stars” and “Ninjas”, i’ll be the guy near the back of the auditorium clapping.

All of this can be a bit… i don’t want to say depressing, but it’s certainly draining. i’ve had numerous, very dark thoughts, but generally can dismiss them. There are days where i feel reasonably good about myself and completely understand that in very short order, my mood will be completely reversed by something. i’ve learned that this swing happens in both directions, and frankly it’s best to simply not let the pendulum swing that hard in any direction.

Take, for instance, right now. At this time, i’m feeling very low. i was responsible for a bit of infrastructure. i drafted the design, implemented code, and got it working, and felt reasonably good about myself. Projects started relying on it. Outside groups started playing with it. There was a significant challenge, i needed a bit of help, and we met the challenge with some tweaking.

The code has since been rewritten by someone far younger than me and is, in many respects, far better than what i originally built. It’s lighter weight, more responsive and probably more maintainable than what i had built. i already see ways that it could be improved and expanded.

It’s also probably going to be a failure point because of things outside of my control, which may cause the projects that were relying on it to also fail. None of the breaking points are my fault, and i’ve noted what the problems are, how to address them, and what actions are available to all. When i dismiss fault, i am being very clear. The failure is due to a behavior in a system i did not code for nor did we clearly understand at the onset of the project. If this system is removed, the fault is also removed, however this system is required for it’s own reasons. It’s a bit like saying “Well, the crop harvest failed due to the dam break.”

Still, it’s damn hard for me to shake the “This is your fault, and you suck as a human being” mindset. The program was written in a language and construct i wasn’t fully familiar with. The younger engineer is, so that’s why the code is better after his attention. The failing system is one that i am also unfamiliar with, and the subsystem that is an issue came as a surprise to a good many folk. i view all of these as being “excuses”. My psyche demands that excuses don’t matter, only results. (Yes, i was brought up in a strict, military household, why do you ask?)

People talk about failure as a benefit. It’s how one learns. It’s inevitable, and constant, and what makes success so remarkable is that it’s uncommon enough to be remarkable. This does not make failure any less pleasant. Culturally, and personally, it’s a stigma. Feeling that way is irrational, but very common.

At this point, i’ll also think about the various other projects that i feel the need to accomplish, and the sorry state that they’re in, the 60+ articles moldering in my unread queue and a thousand other reasons i have to beat myself up. i should be accomplishing more. i’m not. i should be more creative. i’m not. “Nobody else knows how big a screw up you are” as Mr. Savage points out, but i am acutely aware of it.

Like i said at the top, there are folks out there with serious medical issues who are constantly struggling with far bigger demons than me. i admire every day that they succeed in beating those demons and they have every right to scoff at me and my personal pity party. If you’re one of those, i welcome your well earned derision.

Possibly, you may feel the same way i do. Here’s to letting you know you’re not alone.

And thanks for reading my bit of personal therapy.

:: MacGuffin!

Last night, a bunch of friends watched a show called Scorpion. i had no idea it was on, nor did i really have any interest in watching it, but they took to twitter to comment about how bad it was. From what i understand (again, having little interest in actually watching the show) it was the usual Techno-Crime thriller about a group of “geniuses” who use Technology to battle Crime. The show featured such techno crime fighting as driving a Porche behind a plane so that the heroes could grab a network cable dangling beneath, apparently because nobody on the plane had a cellphone or anything that could do wifi, and tossing a few USB sticks would have probably been out of the question as well.

Honestly, it reminded me of something my Sister in law (who is in the entertainment industry) yelled at me while watching a similar sort of show “It’s Entertainment! It doesn’t need facts!”

That flash of insight into the mind of what’s making this stuff really helped me understand quite a bit. i mean, how does one possibly counter something like that? It did, however, make me understand that there’s a huge opportunity there for folks.

i realized that what was sorely lacking was a show that treated the rest of the planet the way that technology is horribly abused. i’d call it “MacGuffin“!

It starts off with a sweeping shot of the city that’s central to the story:
McGuffin

We see our hero, Jack MacGuffin engaged in a chase with his partner Alan Smithee.

Smithee: “Jack, they’re getting away, we need to go faster.”
MacGuffin: “Alan! Quick, grab the wheel and start driving!”

Alan grabs the wheel and starts pounding on the brake and gas pedals of the car. With a cloud of tire smoke, the car lunges ahead and quickly overtakes the van containing the enemies, a group of 80 year old women who had once seen a crime drama and were acting out the overwhelming influence of that corrupting medium.

MacGuffin and Smithee soon learn of a gang that plans on flooding the streets of Phoenix with drugs and white slavery purchased using counterfeit Monopoly money.

Smittee: “Jeez, imagine the number of houses you could buy with that kind of money”
MacGuffin: “Houses? you could fill the block with hotels.”

They reach their biggest break when they spot a “Classified Ad” in a local “newspaper” that they quickly correlate to a “phone number” using a copy of “Yellow Pages” and with that phone number in hand, race to the abandoned warehouse of the gang.

Before they go in, they quickly construct some guns out of some tinker toys and sheet metal they find outside, before bursting in and taking out the gang with a 2 X machine.

Of course, my biggest fear would be that it actually would be made.

:: Latest Trip Learnings

i’ve learned a few things from the latest trip:

  1. If i’m not 100% positive i’ll need the laptop, don’t bring it. Just bring the 7″ tablet and phone and you’ll do just fine.
  2. When most relatives are asking for “A Beer”, they want lightly carbonated, slightly alcoholic seltzer water.
  3. While the fancy work bag looks nice and is nice for the daily commute, get a bag that can also hold a sandwich when traveling.
  4. GSM is FAR more battery friendly than CDMA.
  5. A pair of high quality earbuds on a plane are things of wonder and delight.
  6. 6-10 year olds are like non-routable continuous connection protocols. They will find one thing and flock to it en mass regardless of however many other things are present. This includes machines, uncles, balls, etc.
  7. While most modern rentals have USB ports and AUX plugs (finally), none will have a spot you can stuff a phone without it sliding all over the dash. Get a jelly pad, stuff it in a zip-lock bag and swear about all the weird curves car makers insist dashboards be nowadays. (NOTE: DO NOT LEAVE THIS COOK INTO DASH ON HOT DAYS.)
  8. Just buy toiletries when you get there.
  9. Tie your shoes with a TSA Hitch, and you’ll get through show time with the least amount of swearing.

:: A Quick Updated Refresher

i wrote A Quick Refresher seven years ago, and i think it needs a bit of correction:

Please note:

The following rules need not only apply to the internet.

  1. Don’t be an asshole.
    1. An asshole is someone who thinks of themselves first, and without consideration of anything else.
    2. An evil bastard is someone who actively seeks not only to be an asshole, but to inflict pain and suffering on others.
    3. Nobody likes an asshole, and everyone hates evil bastards.
    4. Assholes should be ignored or treated like infants (at best). Evil bastards should be opposed.
  2. If you do something nice (like link to someone else’s page, hold the door open, upvote a post), never expect to see the favor returned.
  3. People who ask/plead/demand your generosity, should be avoided. Their actions should be enough to warrant your contributions.
  4. It is possible that someone else may share your opinion. This neither validates that opinion nor implies that they agree with you in all other aspects.
    1. Your point of view is only valid because you have no idea what the person who opposes your view has experienced.
    2. Their point of view is equally valid, unless, of course, they’re just being an asshole or evil bastard.
    3. Correcting a person to their face is always better than scolding in public. Doing the latter without trying the former makes you someone who is intentionally inflicting harm on someone else so that you look better. (See “evil bastard”)
    4. Tragedy and comedy are both sides of the same coin. This is why folks find slapstick funny. i’ll come over and help you back up, but don’t be offended if i’m giggling.
    5. If i do something stupid, i’m ok with you laughing while you help.
  5. Always presume the worst until pleasantly suprised otherwise.
  6. Nobody actually rolls on the floor, laughing out loud.
  7. Most of the stuff you see is done by a lot less folks than you think.
    1. Stuff breaks.
    2. When it breaks, they want to fix it
    3. It may take them a while to fix it because of other things that are even more broken that you don’t know about
    4. It’s not that they don’t like you, it’s just that it’s hard for five people to respond to several million messages a day.
  8. There are people smarter than you.
  9. There are people dumber than you.
  10. On an average day, half of the people you meet will be in each category.
  11. Nobody expects courtesy, it confuses them. Use it with abandon just to catch them off-guard.
  12. The best reason to be nice is that it means the person is less likely to screw you over.
    1. Not that there’s any reason for them not to try anyway.
  13. Friendship and trust must be earned every day.
  14. Be open about what you accept, but strict about what you provide.
  15. Good and Evil are relative ideas and need context.
  16. Never agree to someone’s protocol/ideology without really understanding what that protocol/ideology is.
  17. Always understand that every protocol/ideology is subject to corruption. If you can’t get it from the original source, it’s probably invalid.
  18. Read the documentation.
  19. Never blame the user for a failure of the protocol. Simply report the error as clearly as you can and move on.
  20. Errors are errors and no amout of argument will change them. Work around them if you need to get something done or consider using another system.

Thank you, please pull ahead to the second window, and have a nice day.

Blogs of note
personal Christopher Conlin USMC memoirs of hydrogen guy rhapsodic.org Henriette's Herbal Blog
geek ultramookie

Powered by WordPress
Hosted on Dreamhost.