Postcards from the Underworld: Volume 1

Despite my best efforts to correct the matter, I still have far more Gmail invitations than I have people to give them to. So a few weeks ago I got bored and started surfing to see if I could find any posts that were amusing enough to follow up on.

One that caught my eye was from an Australian girl who was getting ready to go on vacation to New Zealand and was offering a postcard from each city she visited, in exchange for the Gmail account. Being the huge Aussie-phile I am, I had to respond. Today I got my first installment, so I thought I'd share it with you all.

Postcard from Sydney


Here's the first postcard of the batch. As you see, this is my hometown, Sydney. The bridge in the first panel is a footbridge that I walk across every day to get to work! I only noticed that after I bought the card, though.

Next stop is Hobart, Tasmania. I've never been there before but I hear it's very picturesque. And the main attractions are a chocolate factory and a beer factory! haha

Best wishes, Aletha

There will be several more postcards coming over the next month or two. There's also a guy in Boston who's planting an apple tree in my name, which he will be sending me pictures of. And I'm currently in touch with a guy who's offered to prove to me that Verbal Kint was not Keyser Soze, in exchange for a Gmail account.

GmailSwap amuses me.

It’s true. I can sleep through anything.

Thanks to growing up in a loud, obnoxious Italian family, I can pretty much sleep through anything. Talking, arguments, construction, alarm clocks, earthquakes... and even attacks by the Brides of Dracula.

Fennec and Rachel left this charming little snapshot for me on my own camera, as a gift. Ain't that sweet? hehehe

Ack. I had a great weekend, and am looking forward to repeating most of it next weekend. But my arms are starting to get sunburn-itchy, I'm desperately craving a shower to get the remnants of clay mud off of me, I've had The Hero of Canton running through my head all day (and no one else there had seen Firefly yet - this must be remedied!), and I'm far too tired to get anything done.

I had planned to get home relatively early this evening and catch up on emails and such. I'm up to two months behind on responding to some emails, and others are much more recent but also much more compelling of a prompt response. But any attempt to make a coherent thought tonight will be pointless. I just need to shower, apply lotion to my scratchy sunburnt skin, and give in to the Sandman.

Back in the High Life Again

I'm usually pretty good at foreseeing the major events in my life. And I've always looked forward to my 30th birthday as one of the biggest transitional phases and door-opening events of my life. Now I'm beginning to understand why. Almost every aspect of my life that has been giving me grief over the past year or so is suddenly coming up roses.

The biggest thing, of course, is the job. I've already told y'all about the contract job I got at Google. But what most people didn't hear (thankfully!) was ho much drama went on behind the scenes as I tried to keep the job a secret for the first few weeks. The main reason behind this was that I was secretly ashamed of the job. Don't get me wrong. Google is one hell of a cool company! And everyone I met there was great. But the job I was hired for was a low paying support job that was akin to where my career was five years ago. And the fact that this was the only job Google was willing to give me, out of the several that I was qualified for, really made it feel like I was being seriously undervalued - like the entire past five years had been a waste, and all I was really capable of was an entry level support position.

Logically, I know that's not what was going on. But subconsciously, those were the sore spots that this particular position was hitting. So it made it very difficult to really get motivated. Especially when I was sitting just a few cubes from a team full of really smart, creative UI designers who were working on a really cool project, and with whom I would have loved to work as a colleague. I just felt like Tantalus, mere inches away from what I most desired, but always just barely out of reach.

I also realized something fascinating about Google while I was there. It's not really a company. At least, not in the traditional sense. Sure, they produce products, make money off of them, and use those profits to fund additional products and keep their employees well taken care of. But they also have a culture of open communication, camaraderie, and creative experimentation that it really is more of a research lab than a company. It just happens to be a research lab that is exceptionally good at wrapping its research projects into clean, user friendly UIs (with the notable exception of Orkut) and presenting them in a scalable, profitable format. And I don't think I'm really ready to work in a research lab environment just yet. Perhaps in another few years, when I have finished my degree and gotten my Ethos project up and running smoothly. But not yet.

Anyway, that all became a moot point yesterday. Several months ago, I had applied for an XSL Developer position at eBay that my Evil twin Mike had referred me for. I only got as far as the phone screening before the position was filled by someone else. But when another similar position opened up last week, they called me back for an in-person interview. Since I was working the contract gig for Google, they split the interview into to hour and a half sessions after work on Monday and Tuesday to meet with the technical recruiter and the team members. Wednesday, they called me back in the afternoon to see if I could come in for an additional hour that night to meet with the team managers. Thursday they called to let me know that they were doing reference checks but expected to be getting an offer letter to me within the next few days. And Tuesday afternoon they called me over to pick up and sign the offer letter.

So I got a job at eBay. And it's in my field and pays a hell of a lot more than the contract support gig did. So that kicks ass, right? Well, yeah. But that's not enough to explain why I'm bouncing off the friggin' walls with excitement right now! The simple fact of the matter is that this particular job, and the way in which it was given to me, has counteracted almost every career related anxiety that I've built up over the last five years, and then some.

One of the first things the technical recruiter told me, after looking at my salary history, was that it looked like it was going in the wrong direction. Which was definitely true! When I was at WebTV, they kept me at my original tech support salary a year and a half after I had been doing web development, so I was getting screwed (as were most of the people who were still contractors when the Evil Empire bought the company). So it was not surprising that my salary more than doubled when I moved to OpenGrid. But it went down considerably when I moved to Informative, because their HR department realized I was unemployed and desperate, and low-balled me on my salary. And, of course, I was desperate enough to take a support job after my most recent stint on unemployment, so my salary went way down that time.

I've never been good at negotiating salaries. I'm just not in this career for the money. I'm in it to make a difference, working on projects that will use the web to improve people's lives. So I'm far too passionate to be able to turn down the opportunity to work on an interesting project, and far too humble to play hard ball with HR departments. So when eBay came back with an offer that was not only going back in the right direction, but actually topping my highest salary yet, I was shocked.

This guy knew how desperate I was, and how much I wanted to work on the project to begin with, and he didn't try to low ball me. He even managed to get me a salary that is slightly higher than what my humble opinion thinks I'm worth. Which means that I'll be subconsciously working that much harder to prove that they made the right decision, and if I perform to *my* expectations rather than theirs, I'm sure to continue to impress them and be rewarded accordingly. Which is, of course, great from a financial perspective. But it's even better from a self esteem perspective. eBay, one of the most respected companies in the industry, has an incredible amount of faith in me and in my ability to deliver. And they're willing to invest in me for the long haul instead of just work me hard and fast until I burn out, like OpenGrid and Informative did. Which means that they have earned my loyalty. And as anyone who worked with me at WebTV will tell you, that can be more valuable than gold if it's applied properly.

Also, the project itself is ideal. I'll be working as a front end XSL developer for their Catalogs and Attributes group. That's the group that maintains both the category hierarchy and the attributes on static items (like books, CDs, movies, etc). Which means that I'll most likely be playing a sizable role in the transition of (which is all attribute items) into the main eBay site. And as anyone who knows me well is likely to find out, I'm an absolute fiend when it comes to, and am terrified of what would be lost if the transition is done poorly. So now that I'll be involved in the process, I can do everything in my power to insure that the things I'm terrified of do not happen, and that all of the most important features remain intact (if not improved upon) after the transition.

And it also means that no matter how long the hours get or how stressful any particular project gets, I'll still be working on something that is vitally tied to my driving passion for helping individuals and small businesses harness the power of the web to help their businesses succeed. That reserve of passion is not likely to run out any time soon. And even if it starts to run low, a weekend trip to a flea market or a visit to a local comic book store or any sort of Mom & Pop shop is usually all it takes to get me re-energized on the concept again, since I can see first hand how these businesses can better compete with the multi-national conglomerates using the tools that I'm helping to provide.

Yup. It looks like I've finally found my niche. I'm fairly confident that eBay is going to break my two year limit on working for the same company, and possibly even turn into a company to eventually retire from. The only thing I can possibly see interfering with my eBay career would be going back to school (which I'll probably try to do in the evenings while working here, instead of full time), or if I do eventually decide to start my own business around Ethos. But even then, I don't really see that happening in the next five years. And if it did, there's a possibility that I could still do it as just a side gig while continuing to work at eBay as my main gig. We'll have to wait and see about that.

And now that I'm financially solid again, I can finally afford to move out and get my own place. I've done some preliminary apartment hunting in Campbell, and found that there are a ton of really nice apartments within a mile of the eBay campus. The average price for a one bedroom place is $900, and the average price for a two bedroom is $1100. So I'll most likely be getting myself a two bedroom place and either using the second bedroom as an office, getting a roommate only if I find someone I'd really be a good match with, or possibly having the option of shacking up with someone, if that situation were to present itself (remember, I'm planning on staying in this apartment for as long as the eBay job lasts, so I'm looking at this as a possibility within the next five years, not in the next few months - I'm not that crazy!). One place in particular is surrounded by trees, is exactly a mile away (close enough to ride my bike to work, but far enough that it's actually a decent workout), right across the street from a grocery store, has tons of street parking (in case I start up the weekly TV night again!), and the available apartment is right above the pool, which would be great in the summers.

So my professional life is going great, my money problems are much less immediate (I'm even considering splurging for a lawyer for this whole legal battle thing), and my housing situation is about to improve immensely. Plus, by riding my bike to work every day and hopefully going dancing more often, I'll finally be able to get back in shape again, which in itself would make me happier in a pretty crucial way. And if I get a temporary roommate for a few months (which is a possibility) and can convince her to cook once in a while if I foot the grocery bill, I could even match that with a slight improvement in my diet. Heaven forbid!

My love life is still a bit of a question mark. But that question mark is a hell of a lot better than the definite null that it usually is, so even there I'm doing pretty damn well. Especially since I'm so distracted by everything else that I really don't care about the love life thing very much right now. Which is always the best frame of mind to be in where such things are concerned.

Innumerable times, over the past few years, I've bitched about my luck and wondered when I was going to be able to cash in all those karma points I've been saving over the years. Well, I don't want to get to cocky (since the gods have a way of smiting us when they see us getting too uppity), but it looks like that time is finally here.

Bring it on! :)

[PS: If you see a job listing on eBay's site that you think you'd be a good match for you, send me your resume. The more referral bonuses I get, the faster my unemployment debt will disappear. hehe]

Waiting for the fever to break

This week's Rob Brezsny horoscope for Aries:

For too long, grace has eluded you; you have had to fight your way through life. But now your luck is about to turn; your soul will get the refreshment it needs. To celebrate, imagine you're the one speaking in this poem by Theodore Roethke:

"Near the rose, in this grove of sun-parched, wind-warped madrones
Among the half-dead trees, I came upon the true ease of myself,
As if another person appeared out of the depths of my being,
And I stood outside myself,
Beyond becoming and perishing.
A something wholly other,
As if I swayed out on the wildest wave alive,
And yet was still.
And I rejoiced in being what I was."

I have been craving just such a rebirth lately. As every single aspect of my life has been coming undone at the seams and crashing down around me, I have been striving to figure out what I have left to work with. I have been looking at the old patterns of who I am, what I want out of life, and what I am willing to give in exchange, and realizing how little any of that really means to me anymore. But even as the old picture disintegrates, I have not yet found my inspiration for what to paint over it.

The story so far...