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August 6th, 2003

Meme of Wired's choosing

20 years ago, I
1. Moved to Bemidji from Colorado to help out my folks.
2. Smoked a lot of homegrown weed.
3. Was unable to argue with my parents for any reason (thus #2)
4. Broke my father's ribcage and forced a rib end into his heart during CPR.
5. Had my first recurring nightmare.

10 years ago, I
1. Bought a house.
2. Earned 3 patents.
3. Made a company 13 million dollars.
4. Got a coffee cup with a gold star from said company.
5. Got laid off from said company. Became bitter and cynical.

7 years ago, I
1. Was working at a job I liked.
2. Had a working studio.
3. Was contemplating going into the video production business.
4. Narrowly missed selling a product that I had invented to a startup company.
5. Remastered a CD.

5 years ago, I
1. Was working as many contract jobs as I could.
2. Had a business partnership producing videos.
3. Had a working video production studio.
4. Was learning non-linear editing.
5. Blew up the boiler in our house.

3 years ago, I
1. Got a dog.
2. Was strangely sick.
3. Went to my high-school reunion.
4. Owed the IRS huge back taxes.
5. Started my first long bout of unemployment.

2 years ago, I
1. Was unemployed a lot.
2. Got hired and laid off in six weeks.
3. Became bitter and cynical.
4. Got a really bad infection.
5. Was really depressed.

1 year ago, I
1. Was unemployed a lot.
2. Went further into debt.
3. Was diagnosed with diabetes.
4. Contemplated suicide.
5. Started on antidepressants.

Yesterday, I
1. Wrote and debugged code.
2. Sat in a hot tub.
3. Read some of "Cryptonomicon".
4. Ate dinner.
5. Slept.

Today, I
1. Wrote and debugged code.
2. Will sit in a hot tub.
3. Will read some of "Cryptonomicon".
4. Will eat dinner.
5. Will sleep.

Tomorrow, I
1. Will write and debug code.
2. Will sit in a hot tub.
3. Will read some of "Cryptonomicon".
4. Will eat dinner.
5. Will sleep.

Hmmm. There's a stuck-in-a-rut thing happening here.

misnøye

Remember fahrvergnügen?

A couple of years ago, it was the catch-phrase of Volkswagen. The literal translation is something like driving-satisfaction, but the true meaning goes shades deeper. It's a kind of intense internal happiness, like when you're having a good time out with friends, or the afterglow of a nice orgasm. Vergnügen.

There is no such word for the same thing at work. Something like werkvergnügen. Just ain't there.

Probably a reason for that, I'm thinking.

Like today. A full four hours spent trying to get the device I'm working on attached to the network. And three engineers. Finally took a complete reflash of the entire memory and a rebuild of the entire system to make it work. It wasn't fun.

Which is kind of the point. I like doing embedded programming. There comes a point when you see what you have done actually work for the first time, and it's got the earmarks of vergnügen, but that stuff rarely happens at work. It usually happens at home for me, when I work on stuff in the lab, or in the studio. When I create something.

Ah, there's the key. Creation. All the hard work finally pays off when the creature comes to life for the first time. Still an infant, still needing tweaking to make it operate smoothly, but that first glimmer of having this thing do what you want it to do.

Mostly, work isn't like that. I've been putting in a lot of long hours on this project because it's considerably behind, and nerves are frayed all around. There is a certain feeling of camaraderie which I wasn't expecting, I suppose because everybody is in the same boat, and maybe partly because I am here so much now. Hey, I am getting well-paid for the time I spend here, so it's not exactly an altruistic motive on my part, but yeah, I'm willing to spend extra time here.

But there have been very few shimmering moments of getting something working, partly because it's been a fight all the way (having to learn the structure and architecture of how the Beast works by dissecting uncommented code), and partly because it's not anything new. Basically, I've learned to do something they've been doing for three years. And the stuff that I've been doing is all middle-layer stuff. Invisible to anyone who uses the tool. The unsung inner guts. No glory.

I desire vergnügen. I want to derive satisfaction from the work that I do, and I want to come about it honestly, not having to rationalize some shadow of what feels good because it will help people, or it will make me money, while all the time I am suffering through boredom or hatred.

I want to create. I want to create things that I can put my name on, and say "I made this", and have people go "hey, that's cool". And I want to make a living doing it.

I'm very good at ingenuity. I am amazing at coming up with elegant solutions to complex problems. I have an intuitive grasp on user interfaces and visual and auditory communication. I write excellent documents that clearly state what is needed and how to make it happen.

However, I don't fit well into the corporate world. For a long time now, there has been a trend toward making engineers a commodity. Rather than having engineers be an integral part of a team, companies have defined the concept of "intellectual property" as a workproduct, and have created an environment where engineers become plug-n-play components, to be replaced at whim by either contractors, or now overseas workers who can GetTheJobDone for a fraction of an engineer's salary.

The talents of the raw engineer have become less creative and more code-pushing, have become more rote design and quick-as-you-can time-to-market driven stuff of assembly-line furniture. You push a button, and make it go, and blast it, do it the way it's always been done, we have no time for innovation.

I recently overheard one engineering manager turn down an idea because it was not provided for in the product design specification. He would have actually been in trouble for suggesting it to upper management, because design is a different area, driven by marketing.

It is not as it once was. And I don't see it ever going back to the way it was. I think those times are over, and I need to find something else to give me satisfaction.

I know what I'd like to do. That thing that I'd do if I won the lottery and never had to worry about making a living again. I don't know how to go about making a living doing that at this point in my life. The things I have tried have not worked, and I've gone out on a limb once too often with finances. I'm not in a position right now where I can risk not having income for any length of time anymore.

Unfortunately, that's out of my control. This job has a definite end date. I know when I will be once again sucking at the unemployment teat, and I hate it. But it took me almost nine months to find a job last time (yes, I was looking while I was still working, thank you), and things have not been looking up all that much.

I either need to find a windfall that can provide me with enough resources to build up a business of my own, or a startup company that needs my expertise and is willing to keep me around.

And I'm not finding either.
The most aesthetically pleasing woman I ever met was named Melissa.
She was highly symmetrical.

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