For not having a job, I've been pretty busy. I get up an hour later than I did, I start cooking dinner around 4:30 (an hour before I'd typically leave work), and in between there's been things to do, and things to avoid doing. I'm amazed how much time I can spend avoiding doing things. The internet is an incredible tool for this. It's also the best place to look for jobs.
Throughout the month of October, Jordan and I hosted a Nigerian immigrant named Ogbonnaya. We picked him up on his first day in the US. He's a registered nurse in Nigeria, and is studying to be an RN here. Walker Methodist Health Center in Minneapolis hired him and several other nurses. This was a learning experience for us. We discovered how easy and safe our life, how much of our life is centered around entertainment, and how most of that entertainment depends on cultural references to more cultural references. I also tried a couple Nigerian recipes and learned a thing or two about Nigeria. We learned how lucky we are to not have wild animals or disease-carrying mosquitoes. And how amazing it is to have politicians who don't ruin the economy by raising their own salaries.
I've also been working on EarthView, a high-concept mapping program. This has turned out to be a little bit of programming, a little bit of documenting, a little bit of learning how to publish software on SourceForge, a lot of math, and a lot of poking around on web sites that have latitude and longitude data.
I've branched out my job search by looking into teaching at community colleges and vocational/technical schools. We'll see if anything comes of that; a career change will take a while, and by the time I've had enough part-time experience to be hired full time, the economy might be way up again. Teaching has its appeal, as does programming. I just wonder which one will keep its appeal the longest. I may have to do both.
Thanksgiving was good. This year folks invited Ogbonnaya and his roommate Andrew to join us. The next day was a dinner for the Nigerian nurses and their host families. We discovered that by some incredible coincidence, nearly all of the host families were UUs. The food was great. We learned a few things. First, what Nigerians call yams are a white root with absolutely no relationship to what we call yams. Second, what Nigerians call soup is what we call stew-- it may be soupy, but it can also be served on a plate. Third, Nigerians eat a lot at celebrations-- only about half the food got eaten.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving was Peter and Carla's baby shower. They are expecting twins. Soon. They are due in January, but we got news today that Carla is in labor.
Finally, the Sunday after Thanksgiving was Christmas Day. Karina will be in New Zealand for Christmas, so we exchanged stockings. I had a computer email everyone to tell them whose stocking to secretly fill; this turns out to be a simple solution to the annual selection problem.
There's been a lot in the news lately. With yesterday's destruction of the World Trade Center it seems trivial to talk about my little world. But since the topic of this page is news about me, that's where I'd better start.
Net Perceptions laid me off again last Thursday. In another all-too-common round of layoffs, 26 people lost their jobs. This time it coincided with a planned company reorganization. In any case, I'm back to looking for a job. I just finished rewriting my resume. My suit has just been dry cleaned. Doesn't seem like a lot to show for nearly a week. Last time I took a week off to clear my mind, but this time I just wanted to get down to business.
When I woke up yesterday there was news on the radio about a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. By the time I got downstairs to exercise the second airplane had hit the second tower. At the time it looked exactly like a Hollywood movie-- airplane hits skyscraper, big explosion, falling debris, etc. (It's amazing how good Hollywood has gotten at this; you'd think they'd destroyed a few to see how the structure holds.) I had no idea how many people worked in those buildings. Nor could I fathom it for quite a while. Jordan and I watched the TV as I exercised, while we ate breakfast, and while we finished choosing whom to vote for. (It was primary election day.)
It wasn't until we heard reports of people jumping out of the buildings that I saw these attacks on a human level. It's still unfathomable how many people must have been killed almost instantly in the building-- and easy to forget that the airplanes also were filled with innocent bystanders. My heart goes out to all those who were caught in the mayhem, and to their families.
Yesterday afternoon the news reports seemed certain that the attacks were perpetrated by Osama Bin Laden. I wanted the US to invade Afghanistan to make sure this can never happen again. But today my thinking has evolved.
What we are seeing is the world getting smaller. We are seeing distant violence spill into our country. Though we don't know who caused it, they probably thought of it as an act of war against the US. There are quite a few conflicts in the world we are involved in, and the people there don't value an American life above their own. Our country has, in living memory, considered it just to retaliate against the loss of dozens of American lives in ways which cause the deaths of hundreds of lives. No matter how just we try to be, we simply don't get as worked up about Arab, Israeli, or Kosovar lives as we do about American lives. Nor is it easy to be compassionate about those we consider foreign. Yet we cannot escape the fact that not only are there people out there who hate us, there are people out there who hate us enough to kill us.
There is no heavy-handed way to stop this terrorism, since it is, in part, our own heavy-handedness that has caused known terrorist organizations to hate us. This was an attack of ingenuity. We can shut down their command posts and cripple their armaments, but we are unlikely to halt their ingenuity. Instead we must neutralize their resolve. If we seek vengeance and in our fervor kill innocent bystanders, we will fuel their resolve and recruit people to their cause. To be effective we must be targeted in our response-- far more targeted than smart missiles. Clearly we have the moral high ground, and clearly the whole world (with a few small exceptions) grieves for our loss. But we have a history of treating the lives of others as less important than our own. If this continues, distant wars will again spill into our country.
We can't change the minds of the terrorists who planned this attack. But we can avoid inspiring new terrorists. We do this by living up to what we think makes America great: a respect for law, democracy, and justice. And a resolve to be just rather than vengeful. There is a risk that this attack will inspire xenophobia against the nationality or religion of the attacker. Too many Americans believe that Islam teaches war. Yassir Arifat has already donated blood for our wounded. That's more than I have done. (I have a phobia of needles, but Jordan will make sure that I give blood this week.)
Graham Gelling posted the following to a mailing list I read:
Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if complled, will use them
with the utmost restraint.
Peace has the highest value.
If peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not deamons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How can he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
Tao Te Ching 31
Summer is going by very quickly. Jordan is spending the summer working in the garden and on various other chores around the house. The garden looks great, but clearly still a work in progress, as evidenced by the huge wire-mesh crate of rocks on the garage pad and the pile of wood chips in front of that. Jordan's spot in the garage contains the new dining room table and chairs, which are in the process of being stained. She parks on the street.
Jordan's mother, Catherine, spent much of the summer in Windom, MN training teachers to use computers. Her focus is PhotoShop, but it sounds like she spent a lot of time dealing with the basics of Macs and Windows. She occasionally came to the Twin Cities to visit.
My sister Karina was also in town for a week or two around the Fourth of July. Catherine, Karina, Jordan and I spent the day at a state park near Red Wing while my parents and a dozen of their best friends (including Peter, Carla, and John) went bicycling. The hike was lovely and we found several varieties of butterflies. (Jordan's latest passion is identifying butterflies.) We met up for dinner at a Chinese buffet in Red Wing, where people showed up over the course of an hour as they finished bicycling. (One contingent decided to go for pizza elsewhere.) Remarkably, the buffet contained no vegetarian food to speak of, so Karina ordered off the menu. Were it not for tradition and convenience we probably would have eaten elsewhere, since we had all feasted on Chinese the night before for a "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" movie night at our house, an event which would live on in leftovers for the next week. (This event will also be remembered for two-year-old John's fascination with refrigerator magnets.)
After dinner came the fireworks over the Mississippi. Peter set up his tripod and got some excellent photos. Mom brought some of her incredible cherry pie. A few weeks later the ancient and gnarled tree which produced the cherries finally died, although a stockpile of frozen pie filling will last us for several more years.
On the way home Karina set up her telescope in an empty field and we saw the full moon, the Andromeda galaxy, Mars, and a binary star system (one star was yellow, the other was blue).
To back up a bit, the weekend of June 15th was the Stonington Family Reunion. The family tree which this reunion covers starts with a couple who had a daughter who was the second wife of my grandfather John White. My mother is the daughter of his first wife. Thus, we aren't blood relatives, but we're still welcome. (Jordan pointed out that she and the other spouses aren't blood relatives.) The reunion was at "The YMCA of the Rockies." YMCA implies inexpensive camping. "Of the Rockies" implies the opposite. This was the biggest and most posh YMCA camp I've ever seen. There were seventy of us there, about 3/4th of whom were from the White side of the family.
The next weekend was the wedding of Anne (Gay) and Bill Murphy in Ann Arbor, MI. Jordan and I drove there starting Thursday night. It was eleven hours each way. Jordan was given the task of keeping the checks to pay various people, which gave us extra opportunities to get to know the people involved at the wedding.
Other events this summer have included our 4th anniversary, babysitting Pete Clark's newborn daughter, watching Shakespeare in Loring Park, and Jill and Charles' annual croquet party. We still play D&D every Friday night, although the Sunday campaign ended on June 10. I've been working on a campaign idea of my own, which we'll be playing every other Friday night.
My job search is over. My new employer is (drum roll please...) Net Perceptions. Yes, I'm back with the company that laid me off. I've been hired to replace Scott Elmer, who quit to work for Best Buy. Ironically, I almost took an offer from BestBuy.com. Morale at NetP is pretty low, and nobody seems to know what's going on; the company seems to be in a holding pattern waiting to see what our new CEO (or owner, depending on the rumor you listen to) will be like. Still, there are a lot of great people there whom I enjoy working with, and some cool technology. The technology I was fighting to have the chance to productize has finally been embraced as high priority. So there's reason to be happy. That and I'll be able to bicycle to work again. Did I mention how pretty the bike commute is, or how useful showers in an office building are? I won't be bicycling until I get a key card with access to the showers, though.
In other news, I've published some software while I was unemployed. IFS3D, a screen saver for Mac OS X. It's hard to describe, so take a look at some screen shots.
Well, it's been a fun, wild ride, but my employment at Net Perceptions ended last Thursday. They terminated 46% of their workforce, myself included. The company still has a lot of money in the bank, but revinues were so bad that they felt they had to cut hard. My guess is that they've decided to give up their product lines and start over. Whatever's going on it's a much different company than it was a week ago, and I feel lucky to have been let go. The folks who are left don't have an easy job, and those who decide to leave won't have the severance package I'm getting.
I've been at Net Perceptions for over a year and a half and my ties to it go back to the research I did at the U of MN. I wanted an exciting ride, and I got it. I've been able to work with some of the smartest people I've ever met and write some amazing stuff. It was fun up until late Wednesday afternoon, the moment when the rumor mill gave me the bad news.
I just finished updating my resume and I'll find out soon enough how good the job market is.
Jordan and I got back from our vacation in Belize. We took scuba lessons in December so that we'd just have to do two days of diving to get our scuba certification. This was great, except that it left little or no time to prepare for Christmas. (Work plus the political election situation made Christmas seem far away even as it was nearly upon us.)
Here is a brief daily summary of what we did, starting with January 1.