You Ain’t -Punk

I missed my opportunity to go to Cleveland ConCoction last weekend due to a teensy little surgical procedure to reconstruct my ACL. Considering my mobility depends on a pair of crutches, and how my leg gets painfully swollen if I stand too long, I reluctantly relinquished my hotel reservation.

In fact, much of my year is kind of shot. ConFluence in Pittsburgh is up in the air. And in truth, I’ve kind of reached a break point in my job. I believe I’ve mentioned I was promoted to team lead, but the workload was vast. The goal post for our project kept shifting and work weeks inflated to 50 or 60 hours long. However we met the minimum viable product standards Friday before last, and I am getting more optimistic that the next release will not be so demanding.

The prior week however, was devoted to rest and recovery. Hours were spent catching up on television, including the second season of The Expanse, the final season of The StrainAltered Carbon and several episodes of the original Star Trek. I also made significant headway into Black Lightning and the second season of Jessica Jones. Movies weren’t ignored either as I finally caught Black PantherCocoThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (which I did not enjoy) and Moana (which I did). I also found time to wrap up Stephen King’s It and Into the Blight by my friend and first-time novelist Jonathan Ward. I recommend you read it and keep an eye on Ward as a promising new author as it was very well told.

With something to do besides just work all the time, I’ve felt a hungering to write again unlike any other. There’s a part of me who covets something that isn’t out there. Something that isn’t totally like everything I’ve read or watched before. Much of my bibliography has been to distinctly please someone else; a publisher, an editor, a franchise, a fan base. Very little has been for me.

This idea of writing for myself reminded me of the anger I bear towards the current direction of the indie publishing industry. In the last few years, a couple of publishers had ripped me and my friends off. Yet we’ve seen interest dying among readers from too many titles. Anyone foolish enough to ask writer corners for suggestions gets buried in 60 or so self-published sales pitches.

And maybe there’s a hint of paranoia in the mix. I find myself a bit guarded on the occasions when I’m asked about the process of writing for Banner Saga. Kind of like the Oscars, where those celebrities’ faces dropped when they were asked, “What would you tell the younger generation of actors who are trying to make it?” It’s this sensation of knowing that someone nakedly wants something that makes one feel a little apprehensive.

Honesty keeps a blog from being boring.

That’s the cynicism talking. The same bitterness that found itself into a short story embracing it. A story that was good enough to inspire Manuel to work on a comic for it, and he’s hard at work learning the ropes about this first time endeavor. I really wish I could tell you that it’s right around the corner, that it’ll be published in a month or so. But it won’t be. It sucks but art takes time.

More so because I really want Manuel to learn the ropes about every aspect of making a comic. I am not helping to raise an artist (Manuel was long already that), I’m helping to train a full fledged art director. And to do that, he has to have a solid, hands-on understanding of every aspect of the process, even if he eventually delegates others to take charge of lettering or layout, etc. I think a solid leader is a jack-of-all-trades who, at the very least, has a good grasp of each element of whatever makes the product in question.

But this comic and the bitterness that surrounds it… I worry sometimes that cutting off larger chunks of myself for the witch’s ink brew can backlash. New marketing ideas I’ve considered seem sarcastic and even combative. We talked genre labels and one idea kept coming up that we found hysterical: calling out the -punk suffix cause most of it isn’t really punk.

It isn’t.

All these names began as a twist on cyberpunk, which usually is punk— stories that mix low life and high tech, and usually revel around sticking it to the man. But with all the -punk genres, the anti-authoritarian attitudes died down, and the punk themes were set aside for exploratory tales, alternate histories (like Iron Harvest, which I’ve backed and if you’re into RTS games, you should too) and ideas more in the proto-science fiction vein.

I haven’t been studying marketing as hard as I should, but I’m fairly certain that calling a motherfucker out is not considered sound practice. Yet there is something attractive about the idea, given that indie publishing inevitably has an anti-establishment streak to it, or at least should. Therein lies the point: if you succeed, Disney will buy it and make a mint. If you’re semi-successful, Disney will loot the concept. Hell is the only asylum, full of the despicable and the incorrigible that they will never touch.

Back to work.

March Reading List

No pictures for you today!

I’m still not finished with A Dance with Dragons… I’m somewhere around page 400 though. My greatest complaint about A Song of Ice and Fire is the sheer length of the individual novels tends to eat into time spent finishing other books. At roughly 1,000 pages a novel, one could polish off three novels in the time it takes to finish just one.

As such, I’m supplementing my reading list with a few mythological books of much shorter length, usually 100 to 200 pages.

Thus Spake Zarathustra – A kind of “must read” for me. I got passed the first part and had to put it down for a while. I’ll wrap it up shortly.

The Whitechapel Demon – 2014 is really shaping up to be the year of indie games. Don’t Starve, The Banner Saga and both Shadowrun Returns and its DLC Dragonfall have wowed me. As such, I’ve decided to expand my efforts to consume more indie and small press books too. That, and it’s hard to go wrong with Josh Reynolds.

Betrayer – I have badly, badly fallen behind on my Black Library readings. This is my first sincere attempt to catch up since White Scars. The rising cost of new Black Library titles is also prompting me to cut back a bit.

The Epic of Gilgamesh – Another as part of my effort to factor more non-fiction reading into my lists.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – A gift to me over Christmas. Really don’t know much about it.

The Lives of Tao – Same as above.

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe – I’ve been meaning to really catch up on some viking mythology so this may actually go up in the reading list if only because of its short length.

The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlusson – My boss actually came over and discussed this one with me when he saw it on my desk. Apparently it’s important reading but somewhat boring. We’ll see.

Water for Elephants – Because I need me some Americana.

Napoleon – By Felix Markham. I really should read more biographies given how much I loved the ones I read about Genghis Khan and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Yes, I’ve never read it though I am aware it’s one of the “must reads.” I’ll get around to it sometime soon.

It – I’ve written my fair share of horror, so it may sadden you to know that I’ve read nothing of Stephen King’s work. Time to change that.

Heroes Die (The Acts of Caine) – Recommended by a co-worker.

Over Worked

I have to give up games for a week.

I just don’t have time. I had some balance between writing and gaming and the light work that came my way. I had been complaining to work that I did not have enough to do and that I should be given more reports to automate.

Instead, they had me working on tedious system administration tasks and IV&V (independent validation and verification) of the data. It’s tiring work to manually go into user profiles, update settings and then repeat for a few dozen users. Both myself and a senior guru wanted to go through the back-end and finish the tasks with a few well placed queries in the Oracle database. But the guru’s requests to get back-end access have been ignored or denied repeatedly.

Work then turned around, today, and granted my wish. A little too much and a little too fast. I suddenly have two new reports to automate on a tight deadline, followed closely by another report I have to repair. We switched over from a server side system to a web based one (at last), which was the reason for our system administrative work and IV&V.

I got started on the new report today. I have to get the data from the front end, and the data columns are not well labeled. I’ve got the data retrieval about 80% complete. When it’s done I’ll set up some Excel macros to format it appropriately.

During the transition to the web based platform, the format of the data I build my older reports (different ones) has changed, and has to be repaired. The Access DB I used to take in and process this data into the report has to be altered and tailored to the new data formats. It has to be fixed. It was a difficult task in the first place because of the awful way they presented the data. If you could see it, you’d understand why it’s poorly deliver.

And now it has to be done again. So I’m swamped at work. They kept bothering me and bothering me with light, annoying tasks and now they’re just going to overload me.

Which means I can’t write in my spare time at work.

Which means I have to write at home, and coupled with chores and Christmas shopping, something has to give. So I have to put the games aside.

Come Monday, I’ll slam these reports as hard as I can, and try to finish them before the week is up. I finished The Scarlet Letter and will write a review soon. I really want to talk about some of the themes and how they effect the modern political climate. I’m going to start reading Prospero Burns and get back into 40k at last.

Have a good weekend all.

So Mmmngry

Some of my art for no particular reason.

Some of my art for no particular reason.

Is there anything more passive aggressive than the strike out option? Well shut your pie hole! If there is, then let me know.

Because I had a rough time yesterday with my entry, Confessions of a Tech Priest. While using the numerically ordered list button, I kept losing my line breaks. I went back a dozen times, but it kept failing to create new paragraphs at random points. It was infuriating to deal with and I’m not certain I got it all.

I’ve been trying to help my friend get an IT position he needs to start his career. He even created a Youtube posting about it to give voice to his frustration. Only today I found out that he has not been using Craigslist. I corrected that quickly and found several positions he should have luck trying for. Cross your fingers for him.

In the mean time, I’ve been writing more fantasy. I now have two long and incomplete pieces waiting to be finished and it kind of frustrates me. One of the pieces grew into something far larger than I thought it would, approaching near novella length. It also requires some research to make more detailed. Maybe I’ll just set it aside and focus on the short stories until I get published a few times. Then lengthen and complete it, and pitch it as a full novel.

So it’s strictly pulp fiction for me for a while. Oh, I’m at 19939 words this month so far.

Confessions of a Tech Priest

Confessions of a real life Tech Priest, who is too cowardly to give up his limbs to the Omnissiah.

Confessions of a real life Tech Priest, who is too cowardly to give up his limbs for the Omnissiah.

So I want to take a minute to talk about the job situation across the nation. I don’t want to, and therefore won’t, dive into politics on the matter. But a lot of folks are less fortunate than me and are finding themselves either unemployed, under employed or doing jobs they dislike just to make ends meet.

I’m fortunate because since I was young, I had an affinity for technology. My dad nurtured that aspect in me and encouraged me to continue with it throughout high school.

In college, I knew my major was going to be Computer Science the moment I arrived. But I held back on declaring because I had to choose between two disciplines of Computer Science: the systems track (focus on programming, networking and hardware) or the artificial intelligence track (which involved more esoteric programming and some psychology courses). After sampling both choices, I went systems because of less theory and more market applicable skills.

Life after college wasn’t a cake walk. I found out the hard way that a degree didn’t entitle me to a job. I ended up working at a Starbucks to pay the bills while I searched for something in the field. It was hard. I kind of goofed off in college and didn’t search for a position before I received my bachelors.

That was five years ago, and it took a couple of false starts and lots of trial and error to begin my career. Today, a few of my friends ask questions and look to me for advice on how to get hired. These friends also want to join the IT field. So here’s a little insider advice for anyone trying to score a position in the IT field.

  1. The Resume
    The first thing that any head hunter or recruiter or manager is going to see is your resume. You have a maximum of ten seconds (the average is probably more like… half a second) to grab the attention of whomever is reading the resume. Why? Because hiring managers know what they’re looking for. And if they don’t see it in a cursory glance then they’re not going to look again.

    Therefore, the most important thing to top your resume besides your name and the objective is your set of skills. Any technical stuff you know, put it up there. If you can program in whatever language, or are used to whatever IDEs (Integrated Development Environments), or even simple things like the OSes and applications you’re used too, write it down. The chances of a candidate possessing every single skill a recruiter needs is unlikely. But whatever you have is what they don’t have to spend money and time training you on.

    After that, you’ll want to add as much professional experience as you can that relates to the job you’re after. If you don’t have much, put academic experiences. Break them down, be specific. Mention the skills you use to do whatever you did. Mention teammates and your roles and everything you can to bolster and prove that you can do the work that will be asked of you.

    Also mention amateur pet-projects that you do. If you have a website or work on C# or Python or whatever projects for your own interest, say so. IT managers love to hear that you do this stuff for fun. It proves that you’re motivated to do it and stay technically savvy. Constant self improvement is a mark of a professional. And they know it.

    Where do you put your resume up? The two best places I’ve personally found are Dice and Craigslist (just look for your city and the section called ‘Resumes’ toward the bottom). But you’ll also get noticed over at Monster, Careerbuilder and ITJobs. These five are good starts, but try to put your resume out on as many sites as you can, and keep reposting.

  2. The Interview
    If a recruiter bothers to call you, it means they take your resume seriously. It means that the two page advertisement of your employable services (your resume) got a hit. And they want to see if the person who wrote this backs up their claim.

    Interviews are rough because they make people nervous exactly when they should try to be the most relaxed and natural. Compared to a hot date, interviews are more nerve racking because your livelihood is dependent on them, where as a bad date you go home alone and a little lighter in the pockets.

    Now, I’m not a psychic. I don’t know what most managers are looking for other than the basics. This article on Dice covers it well: hiring mangers want someone who is motivated to do the work and will fit in well with the team. This is true of any position. The IT field however comes with a third factor, whether or not you can do the work. To this end, lots of recruiters absolutely love to throw tests at potential employees. We’ll cover that in a minute.

    Besides this test, the most important thing to prove is that you’re a likeable guy (or gal). Managers want to know that the team can get along with you, because the last thing they need to do is hire a prima donna who needs to be coddled and babied through everything. To that end, it’s important to smile and have a little confidence. Don’t expect instant friends, but definitely try to click with people. Listen to them. Nod your head, pay attention.

    Fact is, they’d probably rather hire someone with has less skills and more personality than someone who has more skills and is a total jack ass. But if you can bring both, all the better.

  3. The Test
    Personally, I have been tested in so many ways so many times. I’ve come into interviews expecting to shake hands and hit it off. Instead I get hit with a written pop quiz (which is not really fair because in this day and age, I can just Google the answer to a real life problem if I’m stumped on the job). Other times? The hiring manager asks you really technical questions about how you would do this, or that, or whatever. Which is sad because maybe I forgot the terminology but I would be able to do it if the issue was right in front of me.

    The worst test I ever faced was when they marched an entire group of programmers into the room to grill me. Not only did I have to answer rough technical questions, I had to do it with about eight pairs of eyes watching the sweat stains expand on my dress shirt. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

    It is a crappy state of affairs, but the fact is that companies get burned if they make a bad hire. One of the earliest companies I worked for hired a woman to a position because she seemed a good fit with the team. Then they found out she had absolutely no skills at all with her PC. Three days into the job, they had to let her go. But, the company paid out generously for her unemployment, a month of health insurance and salary for the full two weeks. Lucky her. Unlucky for them.

    That being said, always be prepared to be tested. If a recruiter says you’ll get an interview, whether on the phone or face to face, grill them to find out if there will be a test. And then study for it anyway. Find out what skill sets will be required for the position and then read up on them. Memorize the terms, know what the acronyms stand for. Know the basics like the buttons on your TV remote.

    And if you get caught flat footed, admit that you don’t know the answer but do know the resources and websites that you can get the answers from, like DaniWeb. Admit that you’re willing to learn anything you don’t know and prove you know what you claim to.

  4. The Thank You Note
    Okay, that’s a strange name for a section. But it’s effective. If you get out of an interview and you think there was a click there, sometimes a tiny bit extra can make all the difference in the world. Sending an email to the hiring manager to thank them for the interview and that it was great to meet them can be the difference between “When can you start?” and “You’re a great fit but…”

    So don’t be ungrateful. They’re a human being, treat them like one and you’ll find respect returned.

  5. The Hiring Game
    No matter how good you feel after an interview or what they tell you, always assume you’re not hired until you see that offer letter. This is especially true of contracting positions, because its quite common that a recruiter will lie to your facetell you what you want to hear right before they fail to land the contract. And most won’t have the common courtesy to call and tell you that it’s not going to happen.

    No matter what happens, remember that you’re a little better off than you were before the interview. Because even a failed interview gives you some experience into how this power game is played. Yeah you didn’t land that position, but now you are a little wiser about what to expect and how to react. What I said before about it being a game of trial and error wasn’t a joke. So don’t kick yourself because you got turned down- you’ll get turned down more often than you’ll succeed.

    So don’t pat yourself on the back when you’re out of the interview. Get back to work, chasing leads, working on the resume, reading, studying and working on your interview skills. Be a machine. And don’t give up.

So that’s what I got for anyone struggling out there to get a job in this climate. Fact is, don’t give up just because the prospects suck. There is always money to be made out there, always someone in need of someone to do something. And if anyone whines and nay says your efforts, stop talking to them. You don’t need someone dragging you down.

Keep calm and carry on.