Adam

For brothers, and all the camaraderie that the word implies, my oldest brother Adam and I were never all that close. Part of this, I imagine, was due to the age difference. When you’re in your thirties, perhaps, six years is not that much. The difference between age seven and age thirteen, however, may as well be a light-year.

Our personalities, as well, could probably not have diverged more. Where he was reserved, I was outspoken. Our mutual love of LEGO notwithstanding, where his hobbies were ones of solitude and observance– photography, journalism, reading, old TV shows– mine were more of engagement and attention deficit disorder (theatre, video games, action figures). Where he was Oscar, I was Felix or— whichever one was the tidy one, that was him to a tee. Me? A fucking disaster, from my bedroom  to my occasional blue language, the latter courtesy of meeting friends in fourth grade who introduced me to the likes of N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew (and of which Adam would almost certainly still disapprove). (Joe, for his part, managed to straddle a bit of both worlds growing up, as the middle child seems to do: neither overly neat nor messy, and just generally involved in everything for good or ill.)

In a sense, these stark contrasts were also just purely markers of our individuality, a product of how we were raised. I don’t claim to know much about the human condition, how we become who we become, whether its driven by nature or nurture, but I would certainly describe the way we were raised as “having our nature nurtured”. The way my mom sees it, people are going to be whoever they’re going to be and it’s a far better thing to encourage them to be the best version of that, and to enjoy it, rather than to force them to fit into the world in some wholly unnatural way. I can’t say as I disagree. Growing up, we were allowed to pursue our own paths for happiness, whatever that entailed. One of the things that I believe this engendered in us is a strong sense of self, and of self-reliance. And although me and my two brothers often did have afternoons and summer days riding bikes together or chasing each other around the yard with cap guns, it was also not uncommon for all of us— my parents included— to be off in separate rooms of the house, tending to our own projects, following our own muses.

Perhaps it is telling that when we, as a family, played the card game canasta, we always preferred to play the version that is “every man for himself” instead of playing with partners, even when there were just four of us playing. In any case, learning to live with one’s self— to survive without a partner— is a valuable thing. I highly recommend it.

As we grew older, as if in keeping with our theme of being polar opposites, Adam and I seemed to drift further in opposite directions. He had gone off to school in Montana for a couple of years, true, but when he finished he moved back near our parents. As for me, I moved out the day I left for college and never looked back (save for the occasional visit home, rarely for more than a week at a time).

I never really saw him much after I moved out. After both he and our parents moved to San Antonio, visiting was harder but I tried to make the time once a year to fly down. Still, he was often busy. He was at work, or off on one of his many adventures. We would talk from time-to-time. He would write me, occasionally, and at some length. It was usually good news tinged with a bit of bad (broken cars and money troubles, the usual sorts of things). I would, even less occasionally, write back; I have always been bad about that.

And I’ve missed my chance to write him again, ever again. I’m not saying this in self-pity. Rather, it serves to point out one the most fundamental ways in which he was different from me, and indeed from most people I know: he was, endlessly, a thoughtful human being. There was very little he did in life without someone else in mind. Always a card, always a call, always a thoughtful gift on birthdays, on Christmases. When I was visiting North Bend and my friend Eric passed, he dropped everything to drive me up to Eugene, no questions asked, to be with my friends. For that and a thousand other things, I am grateful.

I tried to repay him in kind, where I could, and I didn’t always succeed. The larger point is that I really had to actively try. To him, it was closer to a second nature. Why wouldn’t you be thoughtful? Why shouldn’t you care?

Adam would have been forty-four today, June 21st, the equinox, the longest day of the year, and perhaps all that sunshine that was the source of his generally sunny disposition. Happy birthday, dear brother. You are missed.

Add comment June 21st, 2016

Mountweazel Mondays #002

Today’s Mountain of Mountweazels: NGWEEPARVO, and DIAZO

No, they are not a singing trio.

 

NGWEE

(n.) – A monetary unit of Zambia, equal to one hundredth of a kwacha.

Not to be confused with legendary Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, this is a bit of a circular definition, because it immediately raises another question: what’s a “kwacha”? Obviously, it’s a unit of currency. You can check the relevant exchange rates yourself, should you be Zambia-bound in the near future.

I do find it odd that currency names are valid “English” words– NGWEE, for instance, meaning “bright” in the Nyanja language. This does, however, open up other interesting possibilities for the board. Drachma, zloty, krona, and baht are all valid Scrabble words.

 

PARVO

(n.) – A shortening of “PARVOVIRUS”.

Shortening is reasonable, particularly when it comes to viruses and the like. “The flu” is easier on the ears than “influenza”; “a cold” certainly sounds less drastic than “a rhinovirus”. I do wish we shortened the latter as we did our friend “PARVO” because “I can’t come into to the office because I’ve got a rhino” is a fantastic excuse.

So what’s a PARVOVIRUS? Apparently, it’s a family of very small viruses that affects all manner of creatures, from starfish to humans. The contagious “canine parvovirus” in dogs is one of the more prevalent forms in which it appears. The Wikipedia entry on the subject is light on the details of what various PARVOVIRII do to humans but there is a picture of a young girl with very red cheeks.

 

DIAZO

(n.) –A copying or coloring process using a diazo compound decomposed by ultraviolet light; a type of organic compound called diazo compound that has two linked nitrogen atoms (azo).

Not a terribly exciting word. It just reminds me that Words With Friends will accept this crazy word but not “PIEZO” for some reason. Piezo buzzers were always the most fun aspect of building circuits in school.

 

Until next time!

Add comment June 20th, 2016

Mountweazel Mondays #001

mountweazel (n.) – any invented word or name inserted in a reference work by a publisher for the purpose of detecting plagiarism

Welcome to the inaugural installment of Mountweazel Mondays! Every Monday that I decide to post this, I’ll be taking a look at some awfully peculiar words. The source of most of these is “words that have been played against me in Words With Friends to my utter disbelief”, but that doesn’t exactly make for a catchy title. These aren’t really mountweazels, in the strictest definition of the word, either. Does it matter? Not so much.

Today’s unlikely trio: ABMHO, OBEAH, and ZOEAE

Just let those sink in for a minute. Any guesses as to what any of these words mean?

 

ABMHO

(n.) – The centimeter-gram-second unit of conductance, equivalent to 10^9 mhos.

If you guessed that this one had something to do with electrical conductance, congratulations! You probably took some electrical engineering class. The word “mho” is a weird word in itself; it’s the reversal of the word “ohm”, the unit of electrical resistance, named after the German physicist Georg Simon Ohm, a pioneer in the field. Conductance being the inverse of resistance, they flipped the word as well. This is not a strategy you see employed very often when naming new things, which is probably why this unit is more commonly known as the siemens, possibly also because the letter S is a lot easier to use than the upside-down Omega symbol.

(The “ab-“ prefix is used for a centimeter-gram-second electromagnetic unit, of course. The “abmho” is also known as the “absiemens”, accordingly.)

This seems extremely jargon-y for an acceptable “scrabble word”. This sort of thing is frustrating to me, since the rules by which jargon is allowed seem arbitrary. Offhand, there are a lot of Computer Science terms that are not accepted. TRIE is one that I know I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, on more than one occasion.

 

OBEAH

(n.) – A kind of sorcery practiced especially in the Caribbean.

This seems like a pretty good “vowel dump”, or, what you do when life hands your a rack of AEIOUs. I’m going to have to get this one in my lexicon as my luck frequently grants me more vowels than seems decent. Wikipedia states that this word is “sometimes spelled ObiObea, or Obia” and with that many alternate spellings they may as well have tacked on “…or however the hell else you feel like spelling it”.

Jamaican sorcery seems like a pretty cool and interesting subject, and, indeed, Wikipedia has a fair amount to say on the topic. Almost immediately, however, it’s noted that the word has pejorative associations, so you probably shouldn’t work it in to conversations too often.

Despite the fact that it seems to be used almost exclusively as a proper noun, the word “obeah” has been used quite a bit in popular culture– in everything from Live and Let Die to Pirates of the Caribbean and, indeed, most films that I can think of where Caribbean magic is involved, with the notable exception of The Serpent and the Rainbow. If nothing else, this seems to warrant it as a potentially reasonable word.

 

ZOEAE

(n.) – A larval form of certain crustaceans, such as the crab, having a spiny carapace and rudimentary limbs on the abdomen and thorax.

This is an utterly ridiculous word. Great vowel dump, though!

I won’t lie, I’ve already used this one once already since I’ve seen it. I immediately felt guilty.

Add comment June 9th, 2016

2015 in Music

2015 had its share of ups and downs. The end of the year was particularly hectic for mostly no good reasons that I’m not going to get into now.

I had meant to do my traditional long-form “these are the albums I liked the best” post but my heart has not been into it, and my time has been sparse. So, in brief:

  1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
  2. Clutch - Psychic Warfare
  3. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love
  4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think And Sometimes I Just Sit
  5. Pure Bathing Culture - Pray for Rain
  6. Tame Impala - Currents
  7. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

The list of albums that I still want to hear is longer still, but these seven are pretty great. ♥

1 comment March 2nd, 2016

On Resumés

My blog was eaten by a grue. It regurgitated a lot of special characters funny. :(

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I’ve been in the people management gig for a while now and, even before that, my former boss would have me screen the resumés of potential hires for our team. Even before that, back in the pleistocene era, I spent a lot of time looking for work and, when I wasn’t actively applying for a job, I was either polishing my own resumé or reading up on how to do it. So when it comes to the subject of the resumé, I have opinions.

A friend of a friend who’s moving to town recently asked me for some help finding a job in a field tangentially related to my own. They sent over their own resumé and, before I proferred to forward it on, I decided to start with some advice on what they sent. I tried hard not to be overly critical but it was a rather lengthy response; I have not heard back from them since. Perhaps they were insulted, or perhaps they just thought it was too much of a response to actually read. I may never know, but I thought the advice was, in general, good advice from someone who has a good deal of experience in this arena. I thought I would post it, in a bit less specific of a form, here.

1. Your Resumé is Your First Impression

This is your first and maybe only chance to get your virtual foot in the door. Remember that the person you’re sending it to is very likely a busy person. To that end, I personally don’t read cover letters and I’ve never sent one unless it was asked for. And yes, it will probably be pre-screened by a computer for keywords, but keep things realistic.

For example, I recently received a resumé that listed a staggering array of technologies that they claimed proficiency in. Eight software languages is not unheard of but… In addition to six different JavaScript libraries, thirty-one different web service engines, and nine different databases? With a seven year career, I am going to guess that you are (a.) proficient in none of these and/or (b.) hoping to catch the eye of the automatic resumé reader. Either way, it’s circumspect.

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2. Your Resumé Should Not Be More Than One Page Long

This one is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but it goes directly to the first point above. I often get resumés that look like novellas and I patently do not have time for that. There are rare exceptions, but if I get a resumé that’s more than two pages, I ignore it outright. If you have enough detail to catch the hiring personnel’s attention, you can always get around to the more gritty details during an interview. Again: managers are busy people, hiring is a pain in the ass, and this is your elevator pitch.

Say there’s a lot of stuff in your resumé, though— how do you cut it down? Well, what’s most relevant to your career? Usually, it’s the stuff you’ve been doing either the last five years or the last two-three jobs. So, provide the details on those jobs and then, perhaps after that, you can just bullet-point previous jobs that you feel also lend good credence to your expertise. But if I’m applying for a job in the IT industry, I don’t really need to trump up my accomplishments from working at Hot Dog on a Stick in the summer of 2012, no matter how many Employee of the Week accolades I received.

3. Describe Your Accomplishments, Not Your Job

The job title should, more or less, describe a given job. There’s no point in then rehashing your specific responsibilities. Instead, focus on what you, personally, achieved in that position. Again, just focus on the highlights.

Instead of:

Software Guy (2009-2013)

  • Helped develop “Happy Fun Game 2.0”
  • Assisted with patch delivery
  • Worked in a multi-faceted environment using Git and Maven to achieve deadlines

Focus on your own accomplishments:

Software Guy (2009-2013)

  • Improved loading time performance on “Happy Fun Game 2.0”
  • Fixed critical defect on a short deadline to ensure a stable release
  • Instigated adoption of Agile processes to improve our delivery lifecycle

The point is, just doing your job is not that interesting. Anyone can be a “Software Guy” (or Gal). The interesting part is: what did you bring to the table?

4. The Summary

Also known as the “professional profile” or “career goals”, this guy usually sits at the top of the resumé and, ideally, gives a quick summation of what a person’s background and goals are. E.g. “Software developer with over seven years in the information security sector”.

In my experience, this is rarely the case. This section is, instead, actually used for more buzzword bingo dreck. This is where people trumpet that they have “good communication skills”; that they can “work well in team environments”; that they are “self-motivated self-starters”; that they have “proven skills” in some form or another. If you find yourself using these terms, you’re probably doing it wrong. (And I would hope that almost anyone that I would hire would have passable communication skills and some level of self-motivation.)

In short, I’m not a fan of this section of a resumé. I’ve gone back-and-forth on including it at all, myself, although usually I have omitted it entirely.

5. The Skills

This is absolutely one of the things that I’ve struggled the most with, but one of those sections that is, itself, fairly important in the tech world particularly. But I’ve used a thousand different programs, tools, and languages in my career. What the hell do I put here?

Well, if you’ve read this far, you can correctly surmise that the answer isn’t “everything”.

First off, list only those things that you’ve used the most and/or have the most proficiency with. Software languages provides a fine example. Here are the list of languages that, offhand, I have used and programmed with in at least some capacity, academic or otherwise:

  • Java, JavaScript, C++, Swift, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, Ada, ASM, Lisp, Prolog, Pascal, HyperScript, T-SQL

There are probably others, but we’ll take this list for consideration. Some of these I have only dipped my toe into (such as the recently-released Swift); others I haven’t used at any length for years (HyperScript); and still others that I’ve only used on a project or two (most of these). Instead, I would just list the ones that I have multiple years of real-world experience in and would feel comfortable really diving into on short notice. For myself, this list becomes:

  • Java, JavaScript, Perl, PHP

Another thing you can do here is, if you did use some particular language on a project, you can just list it in the details for that job. This is a pretty good rule of thumb: if I’ve used the name of the software in my “skills” section, I don’t need to include it in my job descriptions and vice versa.

For instance, if I’ve included “Java” under my skills, I don’t feel it’s necessary to point out that a given job was developed using Java. However, if I had some special project that was built up during Python, I might well bullet-point it under the job details (e.g. “developed server-side load test tool using Python”).

In other cases, you can probably do some consolidation. For instance, if you say “Microsoft Office Suite”, I can assume you know your way around Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. I could even safely assume that you could make your way around similar tools, such as OpenOffice or Apple’s iLife suite without too much trouble. You could even just say “office productivity suites” and people would know what that meant without you spending too much time trying to remember every word processor that you’ve ever used. (Is WordPerfect still a thing?)

6. No Typos

Spell check is built in to every program. There’s no reason for typos.

If you were hiring for a job where attention to detail wasn’t critical, maybe you could let this slide, but it’s unprofessional at best. A typo means the resumé goes straight into the round file.

Et Cetera

My ownРadmittedly somewhat minimalistРapproach to my current-ish resum̩ is here.

It’s always a work in progress and I’m never quite happy with it, but even though I’m not actively looking for anything new, I do try to revisit it once a year and keep it current. (I really need to fix up the bullets under my current job, but that’s another story).

Just remember that, as the old Head & Shoulders commercials used to say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Add comment October 30th, 2015

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