flwyd: (charbonneau ghost car)
I spent Thursday through Sunday hanging out with the Colorado burners and other local freaks at Apogaea near Trinidad in southern Colorado. I signed up for the Saturday night graveyard Ranger lead shift (just me and other Ranger rockin' the whole event). I was able to bed down in a camp hammock in the shade at 7am, and managed to kinda-sleep until around noon. I then leisurely ate breakfast and packed up camp, and left the site around 4pm. I took a left at Colorado City and spent an hour at Bishop Castle in the San Isabel Forest in Custer County. If you've never seen Bishop Castle, it's totally worth the detour if you're anywhere near Pueblo or Florence.

I got back to the Denver metro area at about quarter to 10 and cruised up I-25. At 10:20, as I exited onto US-36 to Boulder, my engine started surging and lost momentum. I was able to safely pull over to the side of the highway on top of an overpass. I took a look under the hood and didn't see anything obviously wrong, so I started the car again (something sounded odd) and tried to creep forward to the nearby off ramp. The car felt like it was going about half a mile an hour, which would've taken me until midnight to get off the freeway, so I turned off the engine and called my insurance company's contracted roadside assistance company.

Some combination of busy callers and short call center staffing meant I spent around 15 minutes on hold before I talked to a person, who said she'd dispatch a tow truck and that I'd get a confirmation text message in 10–15 minutes. 20 minutes later, I called back and spent a couple more minutes on hold. The representative said someone was still working on getting ahold of a tow for me. A few more minutes passed and I got a text that said Apple Towing & Roadside Assistance would provide the tow with an ETA of 12:30am (two hours after my initial phone call). I hung out in my car, feeling the shake as vehicles passed by in the right lane, ate camping snacks, and played games on my iPod for a while. 12:30 came with no tow truck, so I called the number given in the text (303-222-4343), which led to a recorded message that a voice mailbox had not been set up, then disconnected. I called twice more with the same result and then called roadside assistance again. After another 10+ minutes waiting in the queue, the agent tried calling the company a couple times and also couldn't get ahold of them, so they put in another dispatch request.

Finally at 1:30am, a guy with a wrecker from 24/7 Towing showed up. Holy cow was I excited to see him. He loaded up my Subaru and homeward we went. A couple minutes into the ride, a supervisor from the roadside assistance contractor called me and said he was trying to figure out why I hadn't been picked up yet. I said I had just been picked up and gave him the name of the tow company, so he said he'd go poke at their computer system.

At 2:03am I joyously walked into my front door, kissed my wife, and took a shower. (OMG was I dirty after four days running around like a weirdo in the mountains.) Final bedtime was something like 2:30am. I'd already told my coworkers that I might take Monday off, knowing I might be tired from the graveyard shift, so I set a goal of sleeping in. A combination of my internal clock, the near-solstice sun, and a hungry cat woke me up at 8:30, but I was able to relax in bed for a couple hours, which was almost as nice as sleep.

Final score: 270 mile, 10 hour trip home. 5.5 hours driving, 1 hour climbing a castle and taking photographs, 3 hours on the side of the freeway, half an hour in a tow truck.

There was a bit of a happy coda. After unloading on Monday I couldn't even get the car to start, so I called roadside assistance back to see if a tow from my house to the repair shop would be covered. The representative said it wouldn't be, but then looked at my record in the computer system which still showed that no tow had arrived. She was therefore able to schedule my 2-mile tow under the original claim at no additional cost. So I had that going for me, which was nice.

I'd been worried that this might be the final outing for my car, which is now 20 years old, and has 213k miles and a bunch of body damage. It turns out that the failure was due to my fuel pump, which only cost $850 to replace (along with the fuel filter and diagnostics), which seemed like a better deal than shopping around for a new vehicle (since I'm not sure quite what my next ride should be).

Hopefully my family is done with car trauma for the year. In March, my mom totaled her Subaru by running into a large rock at the corner of her street and my dad's minivan stopped operating safely, so they ended up buying two used vehicles in the span of a week. And then in May, Kelly's car got totaled in the crazy Denver hail storm, though the car is still fully functional.
flwyd: (octagonal door and path)
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to do." -- my mishearing of "Me and Bobby McGee"

(Read my previous post if you're not into the whole brevity thing and would like a long-winded backstory.)

So here I am with 20 (maybe more) paid vacation days and a summer of high temperatures and high gas prices. What should I do with them? Here's a tentative schedule. Let me know if any look fun and you'd like to come along.
Memorial Day - May 24th through 26th
There's drumming at Bob's place on Saturday night, Boulder Creek Fest, and probably other interesting activities. Or I might take the opportunity to camp at Valley View. If you're planning a Memorial Day party and would appreciate my presence, please let me know!
Apogaea - June 5th through 8th
Colorado's regional Burning Man event. Should be full of colorful weirdoes. I might meet some people and join forces for the full burn. Or maybe I'll get the burning sensation without 2000 miles of driving and a week of dust, making a full burn superfluous.
Tuatha and Kan'Nal at Mishawaka Amphitheatre - June 20th
Tuatha features some of my favorite musicians from Dragonfest. Kan'Nal is a great tribal band. Put them together for a performance by a river on Summer Solstice and it sounds like a good combination to me!
Boulder SolFest (actually near Berthoud) - June 21st and 22nd
Organized by Double Rainbow Ranch and featuring performances by Lunar Fire (the feminine side of Kan'Nal), Tzol (the masculine side of Kan'Nal), Tuatha, and some folks not performing the night before ;-) If I camp the night of the 20th along the Cache La Poudre I can have a fun solstice weekend in Larimer County. I'm not tied to this one, though, so I'm open to other interesting solstice events.
Road Trip? - June 28th through July 6th?
I'd like to visit Glacier National Park before it becomes Ironic National Park. That probably means this year or next. I realize that driving to Montana contributes to the melting of said snow, so I'd like to make this a group (or at least paired) outing. Anyone want to visit the northern parts of the eastern edge of the rockies, stopping at hot springs and mountain vistas?
Dreamtime Festival - July 17th through 20th
I've heard this festival is a lot of fun, with elements of Burning Man, music festivals, and weekend workshops. Should be full of colorful weirdoes. I might start the week by visiting Conundrum or another west slope hot spring. With any luck, Paonia should have some tasty fruit I can ravage while I'm over there.
Dragonfest - August 6th through 10th
I keep saying "By next Dragonfest, I may have moved out of state," but it hasn't happened yet. I'm going to teach an introductory I Ching workshop, visit with friends I see once a year, and dance around a few fires. Who knows, maybe I'll draw down again.
Burning Man or Democratic National Convention - August 23rd through September 2nd or August 25th through 28th
Burning Man will feature tens of thousands of colorful weirdoes in the Nevada desert celebrating the theme of The American Dream. The Democratic National Convention will feature tens of thousands of political partiers in Denver celebrating the theme of electing America's first black or female president. It'd be pretty amusing to say "I'm at Burning man because my hometown is full of chaos," but I feel like I ought to spend less time driving and more time participating in the American dream when it lands on my doorstep. And if I do the latter, I can still go camping on Labor Day weekend. I'm not sure what I'd do outside the convention. I've thought about printing some "FREE HUGS" shirts and sharing human energy without a political message. I'd be interested in participating in some public/interactive political art pieces; I should probably see who got a permit. I could also get a video camera and act as an outside observer in case "Recreate Sixty-Eight" gets taken too literally. (I'm not sure why they named their organization after an event which featured police violence and the nomination of a candidate who lost to Richard Nixon.) How I feel about the convention will probably depend on whether Obama, Clinton, or neither has been anointed in advance.

Alternatively, I could say nuts to both and go berryquesting with [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz.

That should be enough to distract me from work for a while.

If I attend Apogaea, Glacier, Dreamtime, Dragonfest, and Burning Man I'll use 17 of 20 vacation days. If I turn Dreamtime into a full week for more west-slope adventures I'll expend them all. I should probably leave a few days free in case I need to fly somewhere for a job interview. So maybe I should ask for more time off as compensation. Or maybe I should put Glacier off until next year.

What would you do if you had a month worth of vacation to spend and might be in your last summer of residence in Colorado?
flwyd: (Akershus Castle cobblestones)
As I've said before, the freedom to leave is one of the most important. One must feel strongly about the benefits of a situation before giving up the freedom to walk away.

Sometimes it takes me a long time to leave. I'm often one of the last to depart an interesting party. I spent fifteen semesters at The University of Colorado. I lived in Boulder for twenty-four years. I've worked at Tyler Technologies for over four years.

I've been thinking about leaving Tyler for a while. I've learned a decent amount and written some good code, but I've also spent a lot of time writing boring code. Our product has some interesting solutions to typical government software needs, but in the end most of it is "Let the user enter this data into that view and store it over there. Take data X and make it look like Y so we can use the Z that we already built." Once I got that down, most of the interesting bits lay in what this and X are. And while I'm glad to have learned about legal descriptions and property appraisal, they don't hold fundamental interest for me.

I informed my manager a year and a half ago that "my time with Tyler is limited." He said he'd do whatever he could to keep me there, but I told him that the sorts of things I'd like to be working on are beyond the scope of what the company should pursue at this point.

I'd considered quitting as early as last summer, but the times at which it would have been auspicious to leave were also fairly hectic personally, so it was nice to have stable employment at which I'm appreciated (if underutilized). Before I went to China, my manager and I agreed that when I got back I'd wrap up the project I was working on (an implementation of a calculation method which proved to be 10% interesting and 90% tedious) and then work on an interesting module until I was ready to leave, "probably in May or June."

I came up with the "May or June" timeframe by intending to move out by the time my lease is up in June. I could spend March through May talking to potential employers with interesting projects in cool locations and then move in early summer... or perhaps in late summer, after traveling around the U.S. for a while.

Yet again, as the auspicious time for departure approaches, I've found reasons to put it off. My job search progress is nil, in large part because I've spent so much spare time drumming, roleplaying, hiking, and attending concerts. But there are work reasons, too.

Based on dissatisfaction from many customers, the president of our division has said that the module I'm working on is our top priority. I understand the customers' frustrations: most of the original development was focused on our largest client who, after a management change, decided not to buy the module yet. At around the same time, I was moved off that project and my time focused on Utah, sales analysis, big bugs, and other areas varying in degree of interesting. The module therefore never had a complete feedback cycle with clients who actually purchased it. And since the client we originally focused on does some things differently than the ones who are using the module, some behaviors are a bad match to user desires. After collecting complaints, we held a meeting and agreed on a two-phase approach. The first phase will deliver easy solutions to some annoying issues. Phase I will be included in the upgrade to our new release, slated for this and next month. The second phase will feature some more time-consuming but intellectually interesting solutions to some fundamental issues. I've refused to give time estimates on Phase II because I won't know what's needed until we've researched and experimented.

I told my manager and our president that I'm committed to completing Phase I. I've also said that I'm open to staying through much of the development of Phase II, leaving perhaps in September. My reasons for this delay are two-and-a-half fold.

First, I'm interested in sticking around because I take pride in my work. By completing, or at least making progress on Phase II, I'll be able to do a better job on some things I did when I was fresh out of school and didn't know any better. I'll be able to use some interesting techniques from my graduate-level courses on natural language processing and machine learning, the promise of which was one reason I was interested in this job originally. Plus, I figure if I do a good job using interesting computer science techniques I'll have something more worth discussing at a job interview with a prestigious company.

First and a half, my company is looking to hire a smart and creative someone interested in working on this module.* I'd like to work with the new developer on the existing product and design for Phase II so that I don't indirectly hand everything off to someone who spends a month going "What the smeg? Who wrote all this jibba-jabba? Why in Belgium did he do that?" As Eric Steven Raymond wrote in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, "When you lose interest in a program, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor." He was writing about open source projects; it's not as big of a deal in my case (Tyler can hire a competent successor after I depart). But I'd like to perform a quality handoff as a professional courtesy: I don't enjoy diving into weird code without advice from the author and I figure other programmers don't either.

Second, staying employed lets me spend significant portions of the summer having fun while still getting paid (instead of cashing in unspent time off for a lump sum). If I were to start a new job in June I'd only have a couple days saved up by the time the weather was cold and the nights early. I've got enough money that I could afford to put my stuff in storage and take a summer-long road trip, but I don't have a good candidate for the passenger seat in such a performance and I'd feel guilty about using all that petroleum by myself. I'll be able to spend about 20 days of vacation (that's a month of workdays) between now and September and extra vacation is on the table (along with extra money or something else I think of) as an incentive for sticking around through Phase II.

So unless someone has a compelling reason why a three month road trip would be a good idea, I think I'll go month-to-month on my lease and figure out how to spend another month of time off.

What happens to our intrepid programming hero? What sorts of vacation plans does he have? Stay tuned for the next edition of flwyd.livejournal.com to find out!

* If you, or someone you know, is interested in employment programming in Java with a focus on extracting names, property locations, and other interesting data from semi-structured text, drop me a line. I realize that "I'm quitting because I want to work on something more interesting,** want to take over for me?" isn't the best sales pitch, but I think the opportunity is worthwhile. Phase II should involve some really interesting work, there are other cool projects that need someone to work on them, the environment is fun, and you'll be well appreciated and compensated. I'm leaving in part because I want to move to Boulder, the west coast, or somewhere else nifty. I don't have any ill will toward the company or its current employees (at least on most days).

** If you've got connections or leads pointing to computer science-type positions relating to natural language, GIS/mapping, programming language development, artificial intelligence, or unusual human-computer interaction, put me in touch. My résumé is fairly up-to-date.

It's That Time Of Year

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007 04:46 pm
flwyd: (Trevor glowing grad macky auditorium)
In a short while I'll head south for the extended weekend. My brother's graduating from College of Santa Fe and has some pieces in an art show down there.

I hope to use the time as a good four-day break from digitalia, but I might do a quick scan of my inbox. Don't rely on me reading anything until Monday night, though.
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