Monday, May 28, 2001

Five-Finger Discount

I just wrote a review of Five-Finger Discount, a book I recently finished. It's the memoirs of a young woman who grew up in Jersey City. I gave it a fair rating.

If I were to ever write a memoir, Jersey City would have a prominent place in it, because I grew up there from 1971 to 1986 (when I left to go to college). My mother had planned for me and my brothers to live in Jersey City all our lives, because it had everything: church, schools, lots of decent work, and so close to New York City. Alas, when I left for college, I never really came back. Jersey City shaped my sensibilities though. I loved growing up there.

I knew the sounds of sirens wailing in the wee hours. I know what it's like to walk to the corner deli, or catch the PATH to New York City. Jersey City had everything a growing boy needed: great schools, big parks, lots of playmates, and a diversity that I simply took for granted. Whenever I go back with my wife, I marvel at how much has changed. Downtown, near my high school, is a transformed community. But my folks still call Jersey City home, and that makes every trip to Jersey worthwhile.

Sunday, May 27, 2001

Cleaning Shelves

I dusted off two tall book cases in my den. There were six shelves worth of books, the rest of the shelves piled high with clutter. I cleaned off each shelf, and dusted it with Pledge. I then took some time to deal with the clutter.

A few weeks ago, I read an article by Penelope Kramer about cleaning out your clutter in Utne magazine. She writes that clearing your clutter "clears a path to the soul by creating a serene space in which to foster your dreams and plans."

I have to admit that now that I'm almost finished cleaning off the shelves and throwing out the junk (I filled two kitchen garbage bags), the room feels more serene. More importantly, I feel more serene.

One of the things I threw out was an old paperback dictionary. I had owned it since high school. I used it so frequently, that it split down the middle. I managed to keep both halves of this dictionary together. Why did I keep this for so long? My wife has a bigger dictionary, plus there are dictionaries on-line. On page 265 of this old dictionary, a high school classmate wrote his name: Luis Freire. The page had the words between diva and division. The hardest word on this page looks like diverticulitis (inflammation of a tubular sac branching off from a canal or cavity). I can't imagine what compelled him to write his name in my dictionary. But it doesn't matter now, does it? I threw out this old reference book, seeking more serenity.

Saturday, May 26, 2001

My Vanity Domain

Finally put together a simple web page for my new domain, An old friend works at the company that hosts my site.

While I expect over time to develop more stuff for this new site, I have invested a lot time making web pages on The World, Lycos Tripod, and Yahoo! Geocities. I will most likely just maintain those as well, rather than migrate everything.

Friday, May 25, 2001

I'm Good People

I got 'passed over' by a company this afternoon. Today's rejection was done over the phone. The hiring manager was fair and civil. I perfectly understood his line of reasoning (I'm missing the technical requirements of the position).

I've been looking for work for about a month now. Since the start of my job search, I've interviewed at three companies. Today's rejection lowers my current 'active' list down to two.

On my own, I've dropped my resume (via e-mail) to various companies. Not one company has called or sent e-mail stating that they have my resume on file. For every article I read where companies are 'on the look out for talent', my cynicism grows. Companies can afford to be picky now. There are plenty of candidates out there. One friend of mine said he was starting to consider a 'regular job' (i.e. not with a high-tech company).

There's no doubt the lack of activity is due to the general malaise of the high-tech economy. But c'mon, don't companies need good people? I'm 'good people'. Instead, recruiters focus on reformatting my resume.

Another colleague said it's the nature of human resources. They are inundated by resumes. They have to wade through them, passing only those deemed fit to the actual hiring manager. The key is to get to the hiring manager first. Recruiters help with this, but one also has to network or make a lot of cold calls. I'm starting to do this now. As someone remarked to me, forget trying to find the job, and just find a job.

Monday, May 21, 2001

The Bar Exam

Last night, I feasted on Travis Wise's California Bar Exam Primer. If you are ever curious about what it takes to pass the examination that leads up to becoming a lawyer, read this.

Based on the comments that Travis has received, his site is tremendously valuable to those studying law. He provides resources (web sites, outlines, books, study suggestions) specific to passing the bar exam in California. He even documents how to make flash cards on the PC, as an aid for studying.

What I enjoyed was his terrific writing about how the test affected him, emotionally and mentally. He writes wonderfully about how to prepare for the test, and he definitely conveys how grueling the whole experience is. The section on the various dreams of those in the midst of the bar exam was revealing.

When I was younger, I read One L, a slim book by Scott Turow, the best selling author of Presumed Innocent, and many other legal fiction. Turow's book provides insights into the first year of law school. Travis' document gives insights into the final stages of law school, and the bar exam.

Like others, I often heap derision on lawyers. After reading how rigorous the bar exam is ("The bar exam is an exercise in malpractice."), and how fundamental a step it is on the way to becoming a lawyer, I'll be more mindful of what student lawyers go through. Travis has captured the feeling of what is essentially a lawyer's rite of passage, and he does it marvelously.

Sunday, May 20, 2001

The Last Rolling Rock

If you've been keeping track of my last Rolling Rock, you are rewarded. I finally drank it.

Saturday, May 19, 2001

An American Tragedy

I finished An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser. This was the most ambitious book I've read this year, because it is literature, and it was quite long (814 pages in my Signet Classic edition).

I was grateful for the lengthy afterword by Irving Howe, a literary critic. He put the novel into perspective for me.

The plot is simple: young boy with passive morals falls for the allure of the luxurious life, which leads to murder. But this simple sentence gives no justice to the depth and detail of this somber novel. Howe writes that the novel continues Dreiser's form of 'naturalism', which basically means lots and lots of prose. At times, it was almost like listening to someone drone.

Howe also points out that Dreiser really exposed you to the inner machinations of the main character, the unforgettable Clyde Griffiths. It was almost claustrophobic, how close I got to Clyde.

Howe states that a theme in the novel was the tragedy of trying to break free from one's social strata. Clyde is a poor boy/man, due to his upbringing as a child of poor wandering missionary parents. Clyde is exposed to riches when he works at a hotel as a bell boy. Clyde craves the good life 'insanely', but he cannot obtain this life because doesn't have the education or the fortitude. Through fortune, he obtains a position in his rich uncle's factory, and his troubles start. He sees the good life of his uncle, and cousins, and he starts reaching for it, by obtaining the favors of a rich woman. Unfortunately, his earlier relations with a factory girl causes a conflict in his pursuit of this rich woman, and the novel descends into the consequences of Clyde's 'solution' to this conflict.

A harrowing book. Would I recommend it? Yes. But give yourself time.

Friday, May 18, 2001

Searching for an Article

Today I visited the Robbins Public Library. I hadn't been in a public library in many months, and drifting in and out of the stacks of books was fairly intoxicating. I was searching for a back issue of GQ magazine.

In the current issue of GQ, the Letters to the Editor praised an article in the February 2001 issue by Guy Lawson. He apparently wrote a first-person account about skating a shift (or a period) with the New York Rangers. I'm always on the lookout for good sports articles, so I was excited to try to find this issue in the library. Sadly, my library does not carry GQ. Unbelievable!

Of course, I tried to find the article on-line, but I was unable. My wife, a librarian, accessed some special searching tools, but was unable to obtain it. I did find an old Lawson article on junior hockey, which I haven't read yet.

Looks like I may need to visit the Boston Public Library.

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

A Casual Job Fair

I wore jeans, a casual shirt, and my Fatbrain black twill cap to a career fair by BrassRing (Burlington Marriott, MA). I also brought my daughter, Mia, in a stroller.

Again, plenty of people, but this time there was good elbow room. Someone remarked about my baby "I guess you have to get them started early during this economic downturn." Yes, indeed. I wish I had prepared a resume for little Mia.

I ought to take these fairs a little more seriously. Plenty others in the auditorium did: suits, leather binders containing their resumes, nice shoes. Forgive me for the belief that clothes rarely make the man. I acknowledge that they do offer a first impression, but I think by being so informal, I'm the one making the impression. I suppose it doesn't hurt that I was the only one walking around with an infant.

Monday, May 14, 2001

Partial Times

Yesterday, the Sunday NY Times was delivered in its usual blue plastic bag, but enclosed were two copies of Saturday's newspaper! The rest of the Sunday paper (leisure, magazine, book review) arrived, but the main Sunday sections did not.

Miffed, I scanned headlines at the main NY Times website, but it was fairly unsatisfactory. I missed flipping through the broad pages, and smelling the paper and ink.

I was about to call to complain, but later that morning, the delivery service reappeared on my block, and gave us a new Sunday paper, complete with the missing sections. Jenn figured that enough people must have called to complain. It made for a good Sunday.

Still No to That Beer

Quick note: I didn't drink that beer yet. Maybe tonight, as I just interviewed with a second company, and things look promising.

Friday, May 11, 2001

Only One More

Correction to previous evening's post: I only have one Rolling Rock in the fridge.

Thursday, May 10, 2001

Beer with Dinner

Tonight, like last night, I had a beer with dinner. (Last night was a Rolling Rock, tonight was a Budweiser.)

It's unusual for me to have beer with dinner. These beers were purchased for guests, but are now relegated to bottom door shelves of the refrigerator, practically hidden. Typically, I have a soda (Diet Pepsi Without Caffeine). I drink a lot of soda. So much so that every once in a while, I'll run low on soda. Instead of drinking my last few cans of soda, I decided to reach for the beer.

The beers were good! And I got the beginnings of a buzz from each, even though I didn't even finish them (I left probably an ounce, of the 12 ounce drink).

In college, and a few years after college, I was a consistent beer drinker. Later, with the introduction of more sophisticated company, I learned how to drink cocktails (gin and tonic is the standard), wine and hard liquor (Jack Daniels, Maker's Mark). My last job had one evening reserved for a social hour, complete with beer. I often had a few then, but since I've been unemployed, nothing.

Probably worth mentioning that I have two more Rolling Rocks in the fridge, and I probably will down these this weekend.

Statistical Diaries

I spent most of the past half-hour reading my brother's statistical diaries, a profoundly detailed look at his life through statistic. He measures how much sleep he gets to how many eggs he consumes. Reading and reviewing his statistics inspires me to take on such an endeavor, because I'm sure reflecting on this detailed record keeping would really be eye-opening for me.

Robert Parker

Celebrity sighting today. In the waiting room of the dentist (Brookline, MA), an older man walked in with gray hair and sunglasses. The hygienist greeted him with "I liked the article about you the other day, Mr. Parker!" I looked at him more carefully. Later, the hygienist told me and Jenn that he was Robert Parker, famous crime fiction writer.

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

My Aching Back: Part 6

My back is 99% better. Hurray!

Attending physical therapy has taught me a number of exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the back, specifically the abdominal muscles. I also spent time learning better posture. I'm anxious to try out my back at the golf driving range, but the therapist wants to hold off until I get through all the appointments (only two more).

On the Dole

I have actually qualified and am now receiving unemployment checks. Despite receiving a severance package, the unemployment claims clerk determined that since I had to sign a 'release' to receive the severance, I was eligible for unemployment funds.

Dealing with the unemployment office was fairly easy. As I mentioned, I called in my claim to receive unemployment to the Massachusetts Division of Employment and Training (aka "the unemployment office"). Despite having their computers down the day I called, I received a Benefit Claim Certification Form, which is a postcard asking four questions: 1. During the weeks you claim unemployment, did you look for work? 2. Could you have worked, if offered a job? 3. Did you work? 4. Have you returned to full-time work?

By answering yes, yes, no, and no respectively to these questions, you get an unemployment check delivered to you. The amount depends on your salary. For me, I received the maximum weekly amount ($477). The clerk advised that since I have a new baby, I should file for a Dependency Allowance. This is going to be my new project for the week.

Saturday, May 5, 2001

Traffic Ticket

I got a traffic ticket tonight, parking in a bus stop in front of the Shanghai Village to grab take-out Chinese food. I even had my blinkers on ("I'll be back in five minutes"). Total damage: $15.

Thursday, May 3, 2001

Job Expectations

Another article in today's Boston Globe about how the new 'market' demands that employees must be realistic about job expectations, especially around salary, and job scope.

In marked contrast, I leafed through the entire issue of Fortune Magazine's Fortune 500. The number one company: Exxon. Where was Microsoft? 79th. Exxon has $210 billion in revenue, versus Microsoft's $23 billion.

A special advertising section inside featured the benefits of chartered planes, versus commercial. Talk about job expectations. Features of chartered flying include: no middle seats, just aisle and window seats with plenty of leg room; no waiting on silly lines: drive right up to the plane!; and the big one: the plane often waits for you.

Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Job Fair

I attended the Technology Job Fair this afternoon. I found it to be a scary scene. The parking lot of the hotel (where it was being held) was filled to capacity by the time I got there (five minutes after it started, at 11AM). The 'additional parking' was filling up quickly.

The fair was held at the Doubletree Guest Suites in Waltham, MA. Each company was in a hotel room, using it as a makeshift interview/meeting room. This left the mass of candidates milling in the narrow hallways. Thankfully, the hallways faced an open air mezzanine, which reduced the claustrophobia somewhat.

I overheard someone asking if there was a copier on the premises. I heard very basic questions like "Do you have technical support openings?" People fishing for jobs, casting their multiple resumes at the seventy or so companies there.

I went to see only two places (Rational and BMC Software). I visited their rooms quickly, leaving my resume with the company representatives. I thought there could be an exchange of information, or an exploration of job fit but with the wall of people, I knew that wouldn't be the case.

The fair was very crowded, and the atmosphere brought to reality that this was an employers' market. There was a steady stream of people still walking through the door when I left (twenty minutes later). And I'm in the job market with all of them.