The Feline Meeting

business_meet_121125“I’ve come up with a way to skin the cat.”, said the junior software engineer at the end of his presentation. “It won’t take much in the way of resources, and we can have it done within a week.”

The senior software engineer studied the blueprint of the cat, glancing up and around, then back to the blueprint. He looked up again, around, then fixing his gaze on the junior software engineer said, “Using your method, we can only skin the cat once since the cat will then be dead. Are there any other ways to skin the cat? There’s usually more than one way.”

Another software engineer chimed in, “Well, we could re-skin the cat as we de-skin it.”

Everyone looked at him, puzzled, and the junior software engineer said, “So we won’t be actually skinning the cat?”

“No, no, we can get the skin of the cat while encapsulating it in another ‘skin'”, she said, using her fingers to make fingerquotes.

“That’s interesting.”, said the manager.

“So we use this process, but we use another process to re-skin the cat, and we can customize the skin to be what the owner of the cat wants?”, asked the saleswoman, immediately seeing a new market.

“But then we’ll be stuck with a skin of lesser market value, wouldn’t we?”, asks the business analyst.

The new CTO, exasperated, looks around the table. “No one here has yet shown me why we should skin the cat in the first place.”

The CEO looks over, “Well, I asked them if we could do it.”

Silence.

“Why?”

“I read it in a magazine article on the plane and we could get venture capital if we found a way to do it.”

The Reason, The Move

The Sunset Over The Hercules' GraveI have a simple rule in my life that may be right or may be wrong, but it has always been a guide. The rule is, “Don’t do anything for one reason.”  I’m a strategist.

When I decided to move to Trinidad and Tobago, I felt a little insulted by the idiots (ok, I felt very insulted) in the U.S. and in Trinidad and Tobago who made this into an issue about Trump winning the election.

A close friend asked me if I was sure it was the right thing when I told him my decision – “so many are trying to get out of Trinidad and Tobago, and you’re coming back?”

I responded, “It may not be a good decision, but it’s the right decision.” What does that mean? It means even though he may think it isn’t a good decision or isn’t sure, it’s the right decision for me. ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ are subjective.

Politics

When I made the decision to move to Trinidad and Tobago, most people made a leap to this somehow being about the U.S. Presidential election in the United States. That had something to do with  it, but not in the way that most people thought. The harsh reality was that I did not like either candidate, and that whoever won I saw either a continuation of the mockery of the American dream or a new one being born that wasn’t what I needed. And that stemmed from other reasons, all of which revolved around the way you have to live in the U.S. if you want to, at the least, tread water.

And the American public insisted on having the debates that they were fed instead of discussing the actual issues. It was a sharp contrast of unrealistic idealism on one side backing a candidate who was not an idealist, and the unrealistic want for change by many who need change on issues with a candidate who was outright scary in his used car salesmanship. Where I was in Florida, it was a war between those who had met Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and those that were fighting to continue treading water in that arena. Some will argue that, and they have a right to, but in the end it wasn’t as much about skin color as it was about socioeconomic classes (though it wasn’t advertised that way).

The U.S. wasn’t what it used to be, and making it ‘great again’ was as vague a direction as one could have. It’s all crap anyway.

So, no, it wasn’t Trump. It wasn’t Hillary. It was about the decisions people were making and refusing to make, it was about the decisions being made about the economy and income levels with my years in technology – where the landscape is on the cusp of making a quantum leap that the bureaucracy doesn’t seem aware of. And my own life was changing, too.

And Trinidad and Tobago politics? That doesn’t even deserve mention because ultimately it’s a zero sum game. As the saying is in T&T, “Same khaki pants” – which is odd, because they keep voting for the same khaki pants.

I digress.

That Tech Life.

There are three key aspects to a job in technology for me. My priorities are:

  1. Doing things of worth.
  2. Getting paid adequately.
  3. Having a life outside of the technosphere.

Most of the work I’d ended up doing over the years was superfluous in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t immediately appear that way in my younger days but as I grew more experienced it grew more apparent. Being able to do something that was better had to become a business case, and the business case almost always took away from the value.

That seems very negative as I write that and there’s no defense. I know I worked on things that mattered but they were few and far between all the things I had to do to get paid adequately. I had dangerous things called ideas. I continued to read more and more widely, understanding things better and better. And Thoreau’s quotation, “Men have become the tools of their tools.”, seemed more and more appropriate as the years went by. I tried brushing off the negativity, even thinking that I had become jaded, when in fact – no, empirically, it was getting more and more difficult to both meet (1) and (2), which left (3) hanging in the wind.

Well intentioned people told me to move to California. Specifically, to Silicon Valley, where things always seem to happen. But Silicon Valley had become the epitomy of what I believe to be wrong in technology (another post, sometime), so I stayed in Florida. And, paying attention to tech as I do, I had a sense that big changes were and are coming to the software engineering field in ways that people still don’t yet understand. AI using object oriented practices to write code coupled with poor human design and technophile narcissism is an indicator.

This will lead the majority of software engineers into a precarious existence, lacking in predictability and job security. This is precarity, and I saw myself as a part of that particular precariat. There’s a lot of denial about this in the field and it suits business because business will need software engineers until they don’t.

The long-hour sedentary lifestyle was also taking it’s toll. A visit to a hospital in 2015 had doctors extolling the virtues of not being a software engineer – indirectly. Exercise. Better diet. Less stress. The fact that my employer at the time ‘suggested’ that I take unpaid time off for my hospital visit, or we could ‘work something out’, highlighted the issue. It wasn’t that I was bad at what I did, or I wouldn’t have a job. It was because they were so bad at what they did. And they wanted me to pay for it. Again.

It was time to move on, but I hadn’t plotted a course yet – though I did have a general direction.

Personal

I had personal reasons to go and not to go. The personal reasons to go revolved around work, and the reasons not to go revolved around a surprise relationship that had formed in early 2015 and abruptly ended in late 2016. Untethered in late 2016, it was time to make a new decision.

Options

I’d somehow gotten the label of Business Analyst at one particular company I worked for. When I started programming, business analysis was a major part of doing the work – but it had broken out in the 20+ years, and I happened to be good at it – part natural ability, part medical background where leading questions were avoided and the art of listening was necessary, and part incisiveness. I am also good at documentation, because that was a part of formal software engineering and it had been a weak area that I strengthened to the point where I stood out.

I also wanted to develop something cool, so I worked on some Natural Language Processing code and, about to release, found Google had released something similar for Google Docs. I sighed. It wasn’t the first time a corporation would beat me to the punch, and I’m fairly sure it would not be the last. I have the ideas, but with only two hands to implement, I’m usually behind those with more capital and resources.

People were beginning to buy prints of my photography. This simply blew my mind, that I had gotten good enough for people to offer to by my prints. I’m still not sure how this will work out, but it’s something I enjoy, so I’ll continue that… but continuing that doesn’t require much for me other than enough money to buy cameras and lenses.

And… I have land in Trinidad and Tobago that is really the only thing I truly got from my forebears that is tangible. It has it’s challenges, but in early 2016 I found that work I had done between 2001 and 2010 would pay off well enough to fund my own projects, if only for a while,  and so I did. And then, seeing the market changes in technology and the oncoming precarity, I came to the realization that it was time to get back to working on the land.

Personal Level: Toska

Vladimir Nabokov wrote:

No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.

Toska best describes how I had come to feel about technology, the field I had spent decades working and playing in. I had grown bored. And this extended beyond technology since most of my life revolved around it in one way or another. I would watch people staring at their phones as I spoke to them, or reach for their phone to do simple math… it had become so mundane, and where once calculators and other devices were crutches it seemed like I was staring at a world full of people who upgraded to bumper cars and were busy slamming into one another with the wild abandon of teenage lust.

I should write about that. I digress. This ‘toska’ has been on my back for at least a decade, and it’s time to put it to rest by changing things and taking more control of what I have.

So, for you, gentle reader, this may not be a good decision. But it’s the right one for me.

Life Finds A Way

life finds a wayOne of the neighbors was staring at a tree as he walked up to me, the hood up on my pickup as I checked the new fuel filter for leaks.

“You know, I drilled that tree in 4 directions and I poisoned it.”
“Oh?”, I said, politely semi-interested.
“Yes, I drilled in 4 holes, one in each direction, and I poisoned it.”

My youngest cousin walks up, and the process repeats with a new person.

A silence hung.

I asked, having now looked at the tree and seeing that a few branches were dead and most others not, “How long ago?”

“2 months now.”, he said, staring at the tree.

The silence that previously hung returned. We all looked at the tree – watching the fresh branches nearer the base.

The tree was not near death. The dose was too low and the tree was recovering as if it was getting over the common cold.

Rather than state the obvious, I went with something deep in the hope that it would cause some thought and I could escape the odd group of three men staring at a tree… because… that’s not who I am.

“Life finds a way.” A nice deep thought to consider.

“What do you mean?”, asked the neighbor, unwilling to have fun with the deep thought.

Slightly exasperated, I returned, “Have you ever noticed that stupid people have children? How?”

“Ohhhhhh….”

Escape.

The Rolling Stone

Woman and BuoyThey say things. They don’t mean them as they are heard, but they scrape across a heart like fingernails on a blackboard.

That scraping sound you can feel in your bones.

They say, “One day, when you find a woman…” as if you’ve never loved a woman, or had a woman love you, or had the pure luck to have both at the same time. As if they know some secret that they will only hint at, that they cannot explain.

They act as if marriage saved them, sitting next to me telling me how a wife will keep you healthy – as if men need mothers as they grow older, as if men are incapable of taking care of themselves.

They say that you’ll never be complete, unless… or they’ll say that you’re still living your life as an explanation for how someone can live without the bindings that they live in.

And it’s all bullshit. All of it.

You can love and be loved – and you can have that more than once, misfortunes be damned. Maybe one will die in an accident. Maybe one will take her own life. Maybe one will simply grow in a different direction. All of these things and more are skipped over by those who choose the mundane life, defending it as if under attack – they feel besieged by those who can live outside of it. It is beyond them that the world could contain people who live differently, that implicitly something is wrong with someone because they are single. And sometimes they cling to their own partner even in the worst of circumstances.

Being alone doesn’t mean being incomplete. A single man or woman may have drank deeply of a partner, may have almost drowned in it and lived to tell the tale.

Single people are not broken, and while a rolling stone gathers no moss, one has to question whether moss is a goal worth achieving.

A Stranger

Enigma IIPeople who have known me for years have made it here and at least one liked how I write.

What they don’t know is that I’ve been writing for over 30 years, that it was my escape, and that there was plenty of writing I burned rather than have it read.

But then, few people truly know my inner life, my life experiences – it’s not their fault. It’s circumstance; I have been a tumbleweed and few people get to be around me very long. And when people do get to know what rattles around in my head and why, I’m not sure how they will react. Will someone misunderstand what I wrote? Will they understand it and run away screaming?

I suppose I’ve gotten too old to care too much about what people think in that regard. My life has been and continues to be stranger than fiction, and to explain it to people is difficult. How does one convey things beyond their own caves? And what of those that even the allegory of the Cave is too much to read, much less comprehend?

My life, like yours, is fiction. My fiction connects different parts of the world, different societies, different cultures at different times…

A stranger in my own skin.

The First Victim Is Truth.

Blue Sky TwitterJournalists, Please – We Have Enough Activists Already‘ is probably the best criticism of today’s journalism that I have seen in a while.

When you get done reading it, understand that the ‘need’ to report fast has replaced the actual need to report accurately, and that what you get immediately is likely not the full story.

A few examples from the link:

On Thursday, Peter Alexander, national correspondent at NBC News, reported (on Twitter, where most reporting happens now) that the U.S. Treasury Department had quietly eased sanctions to allow U.S. companies to do business with the Russian FSB; 40 minutes later, he noted that it was a “technical fix” planned under the Obama administration. The first tweet was retweeted more than 6,200 times, the second a piddling 247.

So the odds are good that you might not have read that it was planned under the Obama Administration.

Last Saturday, following Trump’s controversial executive order on refugees, CNBC’s John Harwood reported that the Department of Justice had no role in evaluating the order (3,000+ retweets); one hour later, he issued a correction (199). Similarly, Raw Story cited American Foreign Policy Council scholar Ilan Berman to suggest that there was “no readout of Trump-Putin call because White House turned off recording.” The tweet linking to that story has 9,700 retweets, and travel blogger Geraldine DeRuiter’s outraged tweet — “They. Turned. Off. The. Recording. When. He. Called. Putin. IF OBAMA HAD DONE THIS THE GOP WOULD HAVE HAD HIM TRIED FOR TREASON.” — has been retweeted nearly 30,000 times. Berman took to Twitter to explain that he didn’t know “for a fact” that the recording had been turned off; it was simply “conjecture.” Twenty-seven retweets.

Seriously, what is wrong with these journalists? Isn’t there some responsibility in reporting?

And it goes beyond the citations in this article, beyond politics, beyond all of that. Indeed, the responsibility has shifted to the reader to get the facts since it would seem that the media itself doesn’t want to be encumbered by the full story.

And people reposting them? They also don’t want to be so encumbered. It’s not as if they actually read what they share.