Life-Long Learning FTW

The wife, through her job, has a union program that allows family members to attend online college to achieve Associates, Bachelors and various types of Certificates at no out of pocket cost to the family. I read through the programs available when she first got the union information pre-pandemic but didn’t put a lot more thought into it. Fast forward a few months into 2021 and a new job started and behind me, I wanted to take a look at the details again on the college programs that were on offer. I didn’t have a choice for the online school, however I could choose pretty much any subject they had available that was offered online, so I reached out to a scheduling coordinator for assistance and to get some questions answered.

I decided during that conversation to head into the Associate of Arts program since I already hold a Bachelors of Science and multiple Information Security certifications. My thought process was to do something that 1) was going to hold my interest through the next 2+ years while still working full time remotely and 2) could be transferred into a Bachelors program should I want to take it further. Even though I don’t write and post “online” nearly as much as I used to, I do still write on an almost daily basis and an Associates in Arts with an elective focus on English Lit would certainly strengthen that skill.

At this point, I’ve only completed the first two classes, which took place over the past 8 weeks. I was able to achieve a 96.5% and a 98.8%, and those grades are well above my overall goal of achieving 90% or higher in all my classes. I’m being realistic with that goal as there are some difficult classes in my academic plan especially adding the additional complexity of them being delivered online. It was refreshing to see a lot of mixed ages of people attending the two classes I attended so far as my one concern I had was being the “old man” in the group. The online discussions were deep and engaging as well from almost everyone in the class that made me look forward to logging on each evening, reading responses, and submitting answers.

My next two classes start in two weeks and will be full courses, compared to my last two classes where one of the classes was an introduction and only 1 credit. Classes are typically 3 credits. I am going to have to be laser focused on my time management on the next two classes so that I have enough time to read, complete assignments, and get them submitted in time. The other part is ensuring that I read and post to the discussion boards on at least 4 of 7 days each week to get full credit attendance adding additional time management pressure. I know some things will need to shift around as I progress into the program as my job will need to take priority because I can’t afford to not get paid.

It’s all worth it in the end though because it keeps my mind sharp and engaged. I’m always looking for ways to learn new things and not taking advantage of my wife’s union program is leaving a golden opportunity on the table.

Got my second arm stick

I went this past Friday to get my second COVID-19 vaccination shot from the local clinic. My thoughts on this are varied and are definitely not politically motivated so anyone who has arrived to this post expecting something political can just keep going. I’m aware this subject has unfortunately become politically charged but at the end of the day its always going to be a personal decision because its only you that goes into the room to get the your vaccination.

My reasons are more personal as I’ve seen what this virus is capable of doing to people. If you know enough people with underlying conditions or people in hazardous professions you’re going to have a high percentage potential of seeing more than “just a cold” as some will say. I know people who have gone onto machines and come out the other side and I’ve known people who never woke up again and didn’t have proper funerals. There are no words for someone when in the back of your mind you have the questions “would a mask have prevented this?” or “would stricter quarantines have prevented this?” My wife reluctantly has gone for the vaccine she claims so she doesn’t have to worry about being around her parents who themselves have received their vaccine as well. Asking her about the reluctance the response was a regurgitation of empty and unsubstantiated talking points from Facebook, or some other social media site. She got the vaccine, so that’s what matters, its unfortunate that the circumstances are negative for her since future vaccinations might not cross the finish line.

I’ve always and remain a firm believer in science and the methods that are used to provide answers to questions and solve problems. Science was able to identify coronavirus as a global threat very early in 2020 and private companies immediately started working on a breakthrough mRNA vaccine. This fact has made it possible for me to have had my second dose 15 months after the global pandemic was declared. We have been using vaccines for more than half a century with a relatively safe track record. The anti-vaxxer movement is depressing in that its putting children that don’t have a choice at serious risk to diseases and viruses that were once considered on the verge of being eradicated. Adults are joining this movement as they now have the opportunity to refuse a vaccine themselves.

Getting the vaccine is just the right thing to do. It protects you from others that aren’t being considerate or compassionate of those around them for whatever reason they have. It also protects others you come into contact with as you can’t pass the virus onto others. For me, vaccination has brought a renewed sense of patriotism and pride by contributing to the greater good. It has also lifted a huge amount of fear off my shoulders as I know that my chances of contracting covid-19 is significantly decreased. My path back to the “new normal” has become shortened while being protected from those that are being selfish. Just get the damn vaccine already.

Stimulating

A lot has changed since January 2020 for basically the entire world and everyone has written about it all over the Internet. I’m not doing that because I don’t need to, well, sort of. Having these large gaps between writing is a regular thing for me and it’s something I’ve done a lot of over the last decade or so. The difference is that there just hasn’t been proof of it as I’ve never stayed with a single location for it to manifest itself so clearly. Putting some thought into it the last several weeks I am no closer to a conclusion now than I was when I first started thinking about it. I get all into what I’m doing because it’s something new, something that’s different from the regular pattern, just to have it soon become part of the regular patter and the urge just slowly goes away. I envy those that have the passion and drive to take what’s in their heads and let if flow out onto their screens for others to read every day or multiple times per day.

One of the few posts I made a while back was getting laid off from my job in late 2018 and not finding something new for over 4 months. That job served me well, for just under two years, but it was time for me to move on despite a raging pandemic in the country. I was fed up with being belittled and condescended for work wasn’t done in a timely manner because of people completely outside of my control. So F them and I said “I’m out.” I had been working remotely since March 2020 and there was talk as we rolled into 2021 that we were potentially going back into the office in some capacity, which I opposed completely. I had demonstrated fully for almost twelve months that I did not need to be in person to do my job effectively and in fact, did my job better being remote than being in the office as I had two extra hours to work without impact to my work-life balance. I started looking casually for a new position a few weeks into 2021. That proved to be a quick process as I found a permanently remote position for a company based in Texas doing pretty much what I was already doing for a better rate and a more mature management structure and team. I gave my two weeks and that was that.

As the old job wound down and the new job ramped up, the news of the third stimulus check broke and people were happy. More money from the government most thought. Those of us that actually put some logic into these sort of things, like me, are a bit more concerned about how this is going to play out over the next 5-10 years when all of this “printed” money is going to have to be paid back. Most don’t remember (I was too young, but I asked my parents) this perfect storm of too much money and that pesky thing called inflation happened in the mid to late 70’s and something had to be done. The Fed has two choices: 1) raise interest rates or 2) slowly remove money from circulation. The country screamed “hell no” in unison on the raising of interest rates because, that would cost people more money to borrow money they didn’t have previously. The Fed started taking money out of circulation which didn’t require any approvals. That had the SAME effect on the economy, but indirectly, as interest rates naturally went up anyway because less supply means more demand. Ask a boomer how much their mortgage interest rate was in the 1980’s and most of them would probably say 15% or higher. That’s insane to say now, but it was considered acceptable as it was a means to an end and of course kicked off the Reagonomics, a concept of trickle down that never really trickled down where richer get richer and everyone else gets screwed.

I’ve since received my stimulus from the government. It’s safely tucked away in a savings account, doing nothing, except stimulating my eyeballs every time I open my bank app or log on to pay my monthly bills. See, I didn’t need the money, but I’m going to hold onto it anyway because I’ve been paying taxes my entire working life and part of that stimulus was supported by my hard work. It’s supported by a lot of people’s hard work actually. Yes, there are people who will be taking advantage of the system, its a given and inevitable in any society but the overall majority of people are inherently good. I’ll eventually use the money though more than likely to remodel a bathroom that I’ve been piece parting for the last few years as things slowly break on me. It needs an overhaul and I’ve not had a large enough lump of money to just get it all done in one shot. I’ll be stimulating the handy man down the street as he rebuilds my bathroom after I tear the hell out of it.

Originally most of the content I had written was a tie raid on all the nasty crap that’s been going on the last few weeks now that people are getting vaccinated and getting back into the world. I deleted all of that after writing as it was just too depressing and I felt less heavy after unloading it even if it wasn’t ever published. Some people are just ugly to the ones around them for no good reason, its just that simple and needs no further explanation. For all of our sakes I’m hoping we all get back to some sort of “normal” sooner rather than later. I get my second shot on April 9th and 2 weeks after that I’m getting back to the gym knowing I’ll have some protection. I’ll still be wearing a mask. I’m not going to be “that” guy.

Where Am I?

I don’t recognize the Internet anymore.

A few years ago I went through a purging of social media and online accounts thinking that would help solve the problem of being slammed into a algorithm filter from hell. For a short period of time, it helped, the algorithm didn’t have anything to hoover from me. I used a VPN on my personal machine and never did personal work on my work machine. It wasn’t until I started venturing back into the foray of social media that things started to go astray.

It started off innocently, a reboot of Twitter after not using it for well over a year. The account had been locked the entire time so I had no new followers and I hadn’t followed anyone new in that time either. What was flowing through my feed though was unrecognizable from what I had remembered and was polarized to a harsh left leaning point of view. The followers causing all the problems were summarily removed and I started rebuilding with slightly more centered and moderate points of view. What that means essentially is some that lean right, some that lean left, some in the middle. I confused the hell out of the algorithm!

The next expansion was to Instagram. I know there isn’t a lot of “news” on Instagram, but the daughter wanted to get it now that she was 13 and one of the requirements was that we follow each other. I use my own account mainly for music interests and have actually found quite a few new bands that I normally would never have found through other means. What I was unaware of until just recently though is that Instagram is owned by Facebook, mean that the algorithm was hoovering data directly to the core.

The Social Dilemma

This one documentary opened my eyes to something that I had suspected for a while but couldn’t quiet put into words. A feeling that there was something going on behind the scenes trying to guide the narrative in subtle ways. Try to find this documentary mentioned anywhere on Facebook and it will become clear that what I’m saying has some shred of truth. The algorithm is slowly moving us closer to the content we want to see, the content that makes us feel happy, the content that keeps us engaged on ads and making money for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

I woke up and saw the Internet for what it had become with open eyes since the early days back in the late 90’s. Conservatives were farther right than ever with their filtered feeds and liberals were farther left than ever with their filtered feeds. Ones like me, skeptical and asking questions, were in this massive abyss down the middle struggling to get any meaningful content that didn’t take us down a right or left leaning rabbit hole. Damn the algorithm and it’s simplistic efficiency!

Where the hell am I? How is this fixed?

Burning Fields of America

This was not the post I had intended to publish after such a long period of time since my last contribution. It’s needs to get said though.

There was a time not so long ago in my life that I would have been all over the news commenting on posts, following people on Twitter and putting my strong opinions out on the Internet for anyone who cared to read. I was writing a lot online for multiple sources, ran a few sites for myself and others, and even had a decent following for the short period of time I was regularly active. Free time was consumed by constant thinking about what I was going to write next when I got home and sat down to the computer. I would go through news sites and pin articles to my browser bar that I wanted to comment on later that day more often than not never getting back to them again because something else peaked my interest.

All of this wouldn’t last of course and didn’t all crash and burn at the same time, as it was more of a gradual decline and general loss of interest. Days turned into weeks which turned into months where I wouldn’t even think of writing. I stopped following mainstream news sites, stopped following a lot of my regulars on Twitter, deleted a lot of the news feed apps on my mobile phone too. Focus in my life started to become local instead of global and I worried about things around me and in my neighborhood, town, and local city. In hindsight this was very much an introverted reaction to getting overwhelmed and not knowing how to process or deal.

I recently was up way too late a few nights ago seeing how deep the Internet hole went only to get to a dead battery on my mobile phone never getting remotely close to the bottom. I was left with an odd feeling of hopelessness and dread mixed with anger and frustration similar to how ice and fruit are mixed in a blender to make a smoothie. See, a conversation I had with an old friend I had not seen or heard from in years brought into sharp focus just exactly what has been happening the last few days in this country. He was still very much the same person I remembered from so many years ago who got behind the cause du jour of the day and rallied with the followers of said cause. Through the course of this conversation I came to the conclusion that while he was the same person I remembered, he could not say the same about me as I had changed significantly.

Not sure when it quite happened exactly if I’m being truly honest. All I know is that the way I think about the world around me now is not how I used to think about the world around me in previous years. One really good example of this is when the topic of the president comes up in conversation, now always by someone else and never by me anymore. I listen to comments, hear the negativity spewing from people that I know and most of the time respect, and am left thinking about how obvious it is they don’t read half the articles that give them the “facts” now being spoken. We were always going to get to this point, it was inevitable, a country can only take so much stress before things pop off like a bottle rocket.

A global pandemic keeping people inside, away from social contact for weeks on end is enough to drive most people over the edge. I personally had several weeks back in April where I didn’t think I’d make it this far but I did. Now adding on a horrific event of police brutality that kicks off the worst protesting this country has seen likely since the 1960’s, people are just fed up and done. They’re just done. Things are broken and millions of people across the country are peacefully protesting for change that is decades overdue. I personally am in a weird head space emotionally and I’m having a difficult time processing anything significant in general let alone about protests, government, or a global pandemic.

We need to adapt as a nation to survive I think. The best way I know how to start to do that is by making sure we get someone new occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Violent rhetoric begets violent rhetoric, lets break that cycle.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #george-flynn, #trump
Skeptical dog is skeptical

Warning: Introverted Skeptic

In an extroverted society, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that an introvert is often unconsciously deemed guilty until proven innocent.

Criss Jami

Shame on myself for letting all of the outlets that help me get through life wither and wane on the vine hoping someday that I’ll come back and visit them again. Blindly paying the bill to WordPress for a domain and hosting that just… sits there… patiently waiting for me to return and breath new life into an impressive history of posts. A history of pain, mental anguish, life events, and other random crap that I felt like sitting down and writing about. I could go into details as to why I stopped, why writing became a burden for me instead of an outlet, why it felt as if I wasn’t getting any benefit, why, why why… It doesn’t matter honestly, really doesn’t. What matters is that despite not writing for so long, for whatever reason, I still kept reading and still kept up with all those that I follow. It was a one-sided relationship, take but never give except in rare occasions. The silent follower that would “Like” a post but almost never comment and admittedly in the last few months, the liking of posts had even stopped.

I’m in a weird place right now, mentally and physically. That in between place where you’ve sorted through the tough stuff and have all the annoying crap left that takes up way more time than it should. Using the regular routine of gym, work, dinner, lather, rinse, repeat is amazingly helpful to me but quite the opposite to everyone else. My attitude to them has been one of implying they should go pound sand and leave me be until such time that I’m ready to allow entry back into my head space. This is definitely one of those “in my own head” phases that’s lasting a little longer than typical and if I’m being honest, I’m in no hurry to really figure out because it’s just easier most of the time. Those that know me best understand, those that don’t, well, they’re getting good at pounding sand.

If you would have just told me to go pound sand and never contact you again... that would have been freakin' awesome.  Cause I'm not real figurative but I understand words real well.

The approach of the infamous holiday season does not have me enthusiastic regarding my ability in finding a solution to my current situation. Arrival of family, in an otherwise closed in space, usually puts the brakes on any type of civility past a certain period of time and I end up just finding a space to retreat. Individuals that seek me out to find out if I’m “okay” after having segregated myself (obviously don’t know me well) receive the full force of attitude that has been stored up like a twisted rubber band. It’s not their fault really, more of a wrong place and time type of situation that I usually end up apologizing for later on when the tension is gone. There are days I wonder, not wish, why I am the way that I am. I’ve never known anything different though and have no frame of reference other than my perception of those that aren’t the same as me, which is subjective as hell.

Ok, for those that have made it this far, bravo to you. I’ll explain the featured image now. It’s awesome because in my advancing age, my skepticism has been one of my true infallible weapons. This makes for one hell of a combination though; introverted skeptic. I should start wearing shirts that give people some advance warning.

Recruiting In The Age of Technology

One would think that in this age of technological advancement, finding a job and interfacing with companies or recruiters would be an easy thing to accomplish. When I was searching for a job in 2015, while still employed, I was meticulous in where I submitted my information and which positions I actually applied. The laser focus of my actions apparently shielded me from the unsavory underbelly of what I have experienced the last four months while searching for a job while being unemployed.

I followed all the mainstream advice given to me by my mentors and colleagues that I’ve kept in contact through the years. My resume profile is listed on LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder, and Indeed. The first 8-10 weeks were postive and yielding a lot of good results, especially after I replaced my resume with the updated one that the career management folks helped me write. These positive results unfortunately were not to last following the holiday season as I found my “profile” popped up on quite a few other job boards without me actually ever creating accounts for them.

The red flags started flying when I started getting calls by different people, from different recruiting companies I’ve never heard of before, for an opportunity with the same company, location, duration and description. At one point, during a few days in mid-February, I received more than a dozen calls for the same job. I called back a few of the ones that left messages and asked how they received my information. A few gave me the runaround once they realized I wasn’t serious about the position but a few gave me solid leads as to how it happened. My details had been uploaded into a massive database from an export of one of the legitimate job seeker boards. This database is then accessed via subscription by recruiter farms that are hired by large corporations to fill non-permanent positions quickly and efficiently. It’s too costly for these corporations to vet these candidates, so they pay a fee to the recruiter farms to present a list of a dozen candidates and they just pick a few and get them onboard to get the job done.

For the job hoppers that make a living doing this sort of work, its all well and good. For the job seeker that likes stability, it’s a reminder that technology can be just as much of a pain in the arse as it can be an efficient augmentation to our lives. I have no way to remove my information from this massive database and have resorted to manually, and tediously, marking these “recruitment” emails as spam. I downloaded an app on my phone that lets me rate and block these calls, some get blocked, some don’t.

As soon as I start my new job, I’ll be removing my profile from everywhere except LinkedIn, which is the way I had it before. I never received these stupid recruiter farm calls prior to my job search in November of last year by just being on LinkedIn.

April Fools Start Date

This is the part of the job search, the part where I know I have a new job and my first day is approaching, that I find the most stressful. Walking into a new environment is intimidating enough let alone adding the stress of meeting new people literally all day long. The part of me, you know, the part that is introverted and internalized, is usually not the part that leaves a stellar first impression with anyone. I wish there was a shirt I could wear on my first day of a new job that announced that I was an introvert to let people know that I’m not a pompous asshole.

The hard part is over, you’ve sold yourself to the employer and they offered you the job and know you can do whatever it is they hired you to do. Their part is over and it’s all up to you now to continue to sell yourself to everyone else that didn’t get a chance to interview you weeks ago. Being “on” for an hour or two during an interview is easy even for the most introverted of us out there. Being “on” for an 8 or 9 hour day, for 5 days straight is a completely different endeavor that requires a herculean feat of energy. Despite having started multiple jobs in the last 20 years, it’s never become easier and nothing has ever worked long term.

My standard approach is to observe, with an intensity that often doesn’t hide the internal F5 tornadicane that is going on inside my head. The astute observers will see this and often ask the typical questions “Are you okay?” or “Is there something wrong?” because they just don’t understand. The kindred introvert will immediately identify what is happening and make an attempt to figure out what support is most beneficial and offer it to me. The good ones figure it out and become essential co-workers that with enough time become friends. I have a few of them from previous jobs that I’ve remained in contact through LinkedIn or other means.

Glad I’m back to work again. Unemployment was scrambling my brain.

I’ve Got A Job!

I got a call this afternoon from someone that I interviewed with in person almost two months ago. He told me that he just received great news and that they received a verbal approval to start the hiring process and were preparing an official offer of employment to hire me. It’s been exactly 4 months and 1 day (by number, not actual number of days) that I’ve been out of work since I got laid off on November 12th last year. I didn’t believe him at first and a few innocent follow-up questions confirmed that the call was in fact real and it wasn’t a joke. I start, tentatively, on the 25th of this month after all the background stuff is completed.

For anyone that’s been out of work, especially in the information technology field, they know all too well how difficult it can be going through the process of screening and interviewing. Sometimes, depending on the company, it can take three or four rounds before a decision is finally made and an offer is extended. The direct hire market is the hardest, followed closely behind by the contract to hire market. The easiest to get hired and conversely hardest job to work is the short-term contract role as there is an assumption of knowledge and experience from day one. Thankfully the job I was offered today is a direct hire role for a stable company.

The last few weeks has been rather difficult as I’ve found myself getting lost in self-defeating thoughts and depressive black holes asking questions of my abilities. Why wasn’t I getting any offers? Why was I getting to a third and fourth round and coming 2nd or 3rd choice? What was I doing wrong that others were doing right? It was a self-deprecating pity party where I was the only guest that was getting harder to turn off when other people were around. The feelings were spilling into other parts of my life that were affecting the ones that were there supporting me through this crappy time of unemployment. My energy was spent by mid-day just keeping myself “together” enough to function. The days I had in person interviews were the worst of all because there was no relief.

I’m so happy now that the searching is over and I can settle into a new role. The bitterness of “why” from my previous role will fade over time as the new responsibilities of the new position start to become normal daily life. I can’t wait for the 25th now!

Migrated Back to WordPress.com

So, I decided that the cost and upkeep with a self-hosted blog was significantly more than I anticipated. The additional freedom to do what you want, how you want to do it, and in any way you want to do it no matter the “subscription” level wasn’t enough to make it worth all the other commitments required. The constant administration was enough to suck all the fun out of having a personal blog site in the first place. So much so despite years of writing easily migrating back to wordpress.com, none of my previous followers that had stuck with me during the first migration could stay with the return trip. I’m back to no followers again.

In my hasty retreat from self-hosted administration time suckage, I deleted the old site quicker than it took to transfer the domain and the lifebetween0and1.com site is currently offline and not reachable. Until the domain transfer goes through, it will continue to remain down. Oh well, it’s a lesson learned the hard way as are most lessons in the tech world, otherwise they wouldn’t be lessons. I’m hoping that I can still see followers through the JetPack details and get some messages off to those that I would still want to have follow me back again.

Now that I’m hosted again back at WordPress, at half the cost with a free domain I might add, I’m making some changes towards the minimal and slimming down the site even more than it already had been. Without constant administration, I really hope that the urge and drive to write more comes back again especially after I find a new job. That still has not happened yet, but I’m really close now with multiple irons in the fire. Only a matter of time.