The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

May 2, 2013

OK, What Next?

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:01 am

As seems to be the case on a fairly regular basis, I’ve been quiet here for a bit lately.  It’s not that I haven’t had things to write about (I’ve still got a whole Disneyland trip to go over, plus another trip coming up next weekend,) it’s just that I’ve been busy not only with work (which continues to take up a disproportionate amount of my time,) but also with some personal challenges I have going on right now.  Although out of respect for those involved I feel that I should avoid discussing the details here, the short version of is that I am currently in the process of dealing with a rather significant setback in my personal life.  It’s nothing that I can’t get over, and I feel that all involved (including myself) have handled this about as well as it can be handled, but at the same time it also leaves me having to do some pretty serious reevaluation of where I am right now, and where I plan to be in the future.  I already have some of this coming up with the need to figure out where I’m going to be living in a couple of months (having to deal with apartment leases every year gets to be a serious pain after a while, but in the end it’s mostly just background noise in the bigger picture,) but recent events constitute a pretty significant change of plans for my indefinite future, one that I had not expected to have to deal with at this point.

To be honest, although there is definitely a significant amount of disappointment involved here, in some ways that’s the easiest part of the whole thing to deal with.  Yes, it’s true that things have not gone the way I had hoped they would for me in this case, but nobody is immune to that type of thing, and it serves no useful purpose to obsess over it or to make a bigger deal out of it than it really is.  On the other hand, I think the part of the experience that’s most difficult for me to deal with is the uncertainty that comes with this.  For years now, I’ve just had a general sense that I’ve been “running behind” on life in general.  If you had told me fifteen years ago that I’d be where I am now, in some ways I’d be quite happy about it, but at the same time I’d also have to tell myself that there are some goals my 20-year-old self would assume that I would have figured out years ago which remain unfulfilled at this time.  I know that one way or another things will all work out eventually, but I tend to be impatient about these things.  Then again, knowing what I was like back then, I suspect that my 20-year-old self would have dealt with this particular situation much differently than I am dealing with it now, and not in a good way.  Looking back at that time, if there’s one thing I’m thankful for, it’s the fact that I’ve been able to (mostly) grow out of the cynicism and pessimism that tended to dominate my mood during my earlier years.  It does still manage to creep back every once in a while, but I’ve learned to mostly ignore it, and when I can’t ignore it to keep it to myself.  Having a bad attitude about things rarely does much besides get people into trouble.  I suppose some people might call this type of thing maturity, but I suspect that even now I still have a lot to learn.

In particular, the most frustrating of the challenges I still face is the fact that, at age 35, I am still single with little idea of how I’m going to fix that.  Sure, I’ve managed to carve out a reasonably comfortable and stable niche for myself where I am, and by most accounts I’m doing pretty well in most areas, but finding the right person to spend the rest of my life with (and beyond) just still seems to elude me for some reason, and it makes it difficult for me to be completely happy with where I am right now.  Then again, given the consequences that arise when people end up getting that particular decision wrong or rush into it without proper forethought and planning, I firmly believe that this is the type of thing that you do not rush into.  I’ve seen far too many instances where making bad decisions here can lead to all sorts of problems and complications down the road (especially when children get involved in the process.)  I suppose everyone gets their own set of challenges and trials to deal with, and this seems to be one of the bigger ones on my plate, but I do imagine I’ll manage to figure this one out eventually.  Sooner than later would be nice, but at this point I’m mostly just hoping I can manage to not have to deal with teenagers when I’m 60 years old.

I apologize for being vague about all this, but I feel it’s best that I keep the specifics of what happened off the Internet.  In the end I’ll be OK and I’ll probably manage to learn some valuable lessons out of the whole process, but I suspect things will take a bit of time to sort out, and in the meantime I just need to deal with things as they happen.  I wish I had some idea about where all of this is leading me, but if I knew that there wouldn’t be any point in going along for the ride, right?

March 5, 2013

And Who Is My Neighbor?

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:34 pm

Note: This is admittedly a bit of an unusual post here, so before I proceed with it, I think I should provide a bit of an explanation.  About a week and a half ago, I was asked to give a talk in Sacrament meeting at church.  As you may know if you’ve been reading this Blog for long enough, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  In lieu of the professional clergy that is common in many churches, the church at a stake and ward level is operated by members of the congregation on a volunteer basis.  This also means that on an almost weekly basis, the talks in Sacrament meeting are provided by members of the congregation who have been asked to speak by the ward’s Bishopric.  In this case, my turn to speak in Sacrament meeting came up a couple of Sundays ago, and this was the talk I gave.  I realize that this will not be of interest to some of you (or most of you, for that matter) but one of the purposes of this Blog is to act as something of a personal archive for things I would like to preserve in the hopes that they may be useful to whatever future members of my family may follow me, and it is in this spirit that this is posted here.  Where applicable, I have posted links to the various sources I used in creating this talk.  If you aren’t interested in this, I should have another post coming later this week that should hopefully be of more interest.  If you are interested in this, the talk will be found after the jump.


November 7, 2010

Caught Between a Golden Rock and a Diamond Hard Place

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 8:56 pm

I don’t even know where to begin with this post really.  Quite frankly, I don’t even really expect anyone to read it, except perhaps my future wife many years down the road (yes, I do still sort of believe I might actually end up with one of those someday) who, while in the process of telling the grandkids various stories of the old days, needs something to explain the whole “Did you know Grandpa was out of his flippin’ mind?” bit.  To make a long story really short, I am going to be starting a new job on Monday, one that finally allows me to get away from a decade of dead-end contracting and into a position where I have room to grow, actual responsibility for non-trivial things and a lot nicer benefits than I’ve had… well, ever.  That’s the ridiculously oversimplified version of it anyway.  The long version is a whole heck of a lot more complicated than that.  Let’s just say that if there’s one thing that I have learned out of the whole ordeal that I am now finally emerging from, it’s that oftentimes the unexpected onset of good fortune (especially in large quantities) can be just as nerve-wracking as dealing with a major (but probably not life-threatening, now that I think about it a little bit more) crisis.

As you might know if you’ve been reading the Blog, roughly a month ago I was in the process of trying to find a new job after my previous contract at Teleca came to an unexpected end back around the middle of August (although unlike quite a few of the contracts I’ve been on, they had the courtesy to provide a reasonable amount of advance notice before this happened.)  Given the years I spent in contracting I’ve really got a lot more experience with job searching than I’d like to have, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m any good at it.  Even so, for the most part things were going well, with a number of good contacts and several interviews (plus the usual mess of half a zillion different contract agencies offering the same few Microsoft contracts and seemingly competing to see who can lowball on the pay rates the most, but that’s a rant I should probably just leave unwritten.)  In particular, one phone interview for a QA testing position in came up that really sounded like it would be a good prospect.  This was with Motricity, a mobile services company located in downtown Bellevue, which given my current residence would reduce my daily commute to a couple of blocks worth of walking.  Apparently they liked the results of the phone interview as well, as I was informed shortly afterward that they requested an in-person interview a couple of days later.  Just a couple of hours before I was set to head over for this interview, I got a call informing me that the interview was cancelled, as the position I was applying for had been lost in the shuffle of a reorganization.  This was a disappointment, as I thought it looked like it would be a really good fit for my skills and my long-term career goals.

The next week or two of job searching after this provided mostly lukewarm results, but a couple of weeks later I got a call informing me that the position at Motricity had opened back up (albeit in slightly modified form from what had been discussed originally) and that they were once again interested in bringing me in for an interview.  This time around, the interview did actually happen, and in fact seemed to go quite well.  The thing about technical interviewing (another area which, in spite of plenty of experience, I’m not so sure I’m all that good at it) is that if you’re interviewing for a contract position, you’ll usually be talking to one or two people over the course of an hour or two, maybe three people if they really want to grill the candidates.  Once you start getting into interviews for full-time positions they really start to put you through the proverbial gauntlet.  This is quite understandable;  After all, hiring someone into a full-time position is a pretty significant commitment (especially in this day and age) and you really want to be sure you’re getting the right person.  This interview loop was definitely one of these through-the-wringer ones, as I spent most of an afternoon talking to a variety of different people in various positions, going through all the usual test questions, programming questions and even a logic problem or two.  All in all I thought it went reasonably well, but once you’ve had enough experience with interviewing you’ll always think of things that could be done better, especially on the big technical questions.  Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed a phenomenon in these types of interviews.  There are some of these where you know 20 minutes into the thing that you’ve completely and totally bombed the whole thing, and others that you feel like you’ve completely nailed it.  While it’s usually pretty obvious what the results of the former end up being most of the time, I find that it’s the ones I’ve “nailed” (in my own mind, at least) almost never produce the desired results.  Almost counterintuitively, I’ve found the most results in my interviews have come from the ones that seemed to go reasonably well, but with room for improvement.  I could probably find some job-hunting guru out there who could either explain the whole thing and/or provide fifteen different pieces of evidence refuting this theory, but it almost seems as if there’s some sort of “sweet spot” somewhere in the middle (well OK, maybe a bit to the higher end)  that seems to produce the best results.  But I digress…

Anyway, the interview came to a conclusion, and although I thought it went well, I was informed that it would probably be at least a week before I heard an answer back, as there were other candidates being interviewed for the position as well.  It was around this point that things started to get interesting.  Later that day, I received a phone call from an old friend of mine who just happened to be the test manager for the mobile team at Amazon, and he happened to have need of a tester.  Like, right away.  The next day I went in for a relatively brief interview that ultimately ended up being mostly a formality, and was asked if I could start out on a contract basis on Monday.  It did take a few extra days to sort things out, so I wasn’t able to start until that Thursday, but I hadn’t received any feedback on the other position up to that point, so I joined the team at Amazon and got right to work on one of the several projects they have going on there (most of which are subject to NDAs at this time, but the recently released Amazon Windowshop app for iPad is one of the major projects currently being worked on by this team.)  I got off to a not-so-great start by misreading the address when looking for the place I was supposed to report to for my badge and ending up 1.6 miles of walking away from my intended destination, but I barely managed to get settled in at my new desk before getting a call from the recruiter from the Motricity position informing me that I remained one of the front-runners for the position I had interviewed for the previous week, and that an answer should be coming shortly. 

It was on the following Monday that I got the call informing me that I was, in fact, going to be offered the Motricity position, although the terms of the offer were still being sorted out.  Yes, finally after over ten years of jumping around from contract to contract with little besides a plain old paycheck to show for it, I have now made it into a full-time position, albeit in a completely different manner than I had been planning on for so many years (but that’s a topic for another post that I’ll probably never bother writing.)  And the terms of the offer, which I was presented with later in the day, turned out to be even better than I had been expecting them to be.  As I set about the process of accepting the offer and getting the last few bits and pieces in order (complicated by difficulties in contacting several of my intended references) there was the little matter of getting out of the Amazon contract I had just started.  I gave a start date of three weeks from that day to Motricity, and started working on arrangements to attempt to make at least a somewhat graceful exit, which, even though the Amazon job was one of the long line of contracts I’ve been on, is a very difficult thing to do without looking like a total flake, especially only a week into the job.  I figured that there were a couple of responses I could have expected based on my previous contract experiences:  I could have either been  A) thanked for my services and escorted out the door that very moment, or B) congratulated on finding a full-time position and be allowed to complete the remaining two weeks I had before I made my exit.

What I hadn’t figured on was that there might have been an option C: that they’d actually make an effort to keep me there.  I was asked about some of the basics of the offer I had received and if I’d be interested in considering a full-time offer on this position, but I thought nothing more of it until I unexpectedly found myself being scheduled for interviews with several of my co-workers a couple of days later.  I guess this wasnt too much of a surprise following the previous conversation, but it did certainly complicate things a bit.  Nonetheless, I went along with the process since I was, to borrow a gambling term, playing with house money at that point.  There could be no harm in at least taking a look, right?  So I went through the interview loop over the course of a couple of days (with the weekend in between) and it seemed to go quite well. 

Sure enough, the next day after the interviews were completed, my manager informed me that an offer was going to be on the way soon, meaning that after years of dead-end contracts and pretty much taking whatever was offered, I was now going to find myself in the unfamiliar position of having two competing offers on the table.  I knew at this point that it was likely that Amazon was going to beat the other offer (at least in terms of money) but there were a few disadvantages on their side, mostly in terms of having to commute daily to Seattle.  Eventually this team would be moving to the new Amazon South Lake Union complex which is currently under construction, which would probably make the commute even more difficult.  Oh, and around the time that happens they’re also going to start tolling on the 520 bridge in order to pay for a replacement for the current aging bridge.  Nonetheless, I was assured that the offer I received would be sufficient to make up for any transportation issues.  And they weren’t kidding about that either.

When I got the phone call outlining the details of the offer, I had to have them repeat it, because I wasn’t sure I heard it right.  It turned out that their offer was significantly higher than the other one.  And not by a few thousand either.  Apparently the solution to the transportation issues involved going out and buying a new car, because between the extra base salary and the signing bonus (a term I’d only ever heard applied to professional athletes’ contracts before this) I was being offered, I could probably have paid cash for one.  And yet, in spite of the huge (relatively speaking) offer, I just felt that I couldn’t quite bring myself to accept it.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know exactly why this was the case though.  After all, I suspect that given those same two offers, nine out of ten people would take the bigger one without giving it a second thought.  I could have easily turned the money into a good down payment on a condo, or even a house.  And to complicate matters even further, my manager over at Amazon is an old friend of mine, who made significant efforts to sell me on staying with this team.  As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s amazing just how much dealing with a large amount of sudden good fortune can feel just like dealing with a large crisis, and this was definitely one of those times.  And on top of all that, I had less than 24 hours to make a decision between the two offers, as it would have been necessary to back out of the Motricity position that I was scheduled to start four days later if I had accepted the Amazon position.  After a significant amount of analysis, study and prayer, I was still having a great deal of difficulty making this decision.  And yet, I somehow felt that the first position offered would be a better fit for me and much closer to the answer to the obligatory “Where do you want to be in five years?” question that comes up in practically every interview.  Ultimately, the question ended up boiling down to two things:

  • How much is an extra hour a day (that isn’t being spent sitting on a bus) worth?
  • Could I really pass up all that extra money? 

I think the first question is, quite frankly, best left to a ravening horde of philosophers, but in the end, I decided that the answer was that I could, in fact, pass up the money, and my final decision was made to decline the Amazon offer and stick with Motricity.  I’m pretty sure my parents think I’m crazy, my sister thinks I’m crazy, several of my colleagues think I’m crazy, and I suspect that even Imola and Minardi think I’m crazy for passing up that much money.  I’m sure I’m going to end up spending far more time than I’d like to analyzing and wondering about this particular what-if scenario for the rest of my life, but this just feels like the right decision at this time.  As such, I will be starting my new job with Motricity tomorrow, and look forward to the new opportunities and challenges which await there.  This isn’t to say that I couldn’t have chosen the Amazon position though.  Under different circumstances I’m sure I could have been happy remaining there too, but almost counterintuitively I think the extremely large counteroffer may have almost worked against them in a way.  Had the offer I received been closer to what I was expecting to be offered (possibly a few thousand more than the Motricity offer, I probably would have been far more objective in evaluating the two positions next to each other, and it’s entirely possible that I could have come to the opposite decision.  But when the offer turned out to be far more money than I was expecting, it changed the subject almost entirely into a simple question of money.  Yes, money is nice to have, but there are a lot more important things in life than money, and I’m still trying to find some of those things.

We all come into our mortal existences knowing that along the way there will be joys and there will be sorrows, and there will quite often be difficult choices to make.  This was one of those choices, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve never expected to have a decision like this to make.  And believe me, the fact that I found myself forced to make a choice between two good things certainly didn’t make the decision any easier.  But nonetheless, a decision had to be made and the consequences of this decision are going to be following me for quite a while.

I sure hope I got it right.

March 17, 2009

The Best Car Accident I’ve Ever Had

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 10:10 pm

As much as we’d like to avoid them, accidents do happen every so often.  Apparently my number came up on the great big Wheel of Misfortune today, as my car seems to have gotten into a fight with a wayward 1990 Honda Accord, and from the looks of things, I think my car won.  I was at the intersection of 148th street and NE 24th next to the 76 station in Overlake (which also happens to be the site of the Taqueria Guadalajara taco truck that I posted about some time ago.)  I was second in line when the light turned green, and as we got underway the car in front of me stopped abruptly for a pedestrian in the sidewalk.  I managed to stop in time to avoid it, but the guy behind me unfortunately had a little bit harder time of it, and ran into my back bumper.  As you can see, my car seems to have made it through mostly unscathed, although I did have to go retrieve my license plate from the middle of the street (and duct tape it into the back window so I could drive it home.)  Aside from that and the slight bit of damage you see here, everything seems to be fine.  I’m actually surprised at how little damage occurred here, especially after seeing what the other car looked like afterward:

Hmmm..  It’s probably a good thing that I never got around to putting those lowering springs on my car, isn’t it?  You can see a couple of lines on the front of the hood showing where I’d guess it hit the indent for the license plate bracket on the back of my car.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt, both cars were still drivable (to some extent anyway,) and thankfully we both had insurance (and I’m really glad that I paid my renewal premium last week) and they’re going to get things taken care of.  The driver of the other car was cooperative, and seemed to be taking it in stride.  Hopefully he’ll be able to get things back in order quickly. 

If I was going to have to have a car accident somewhere along the way. this would definitely be a good type to have.  In fact, if there was one thing I would change about the whole thing, it would have been nice if I hadn’t dropped my camera just after taking these two pictures, resulting in the dreaded Canon E18 lens error.  Fortunately, that seems to be covered by warranty too, although it might leave me going back to my clunking old beast of a camera for a couple of weeks while it’s in for repairs.  All in all, not a bad day, considering the circumstances.

January 29, 2009

A Clean Desk is the Sign of a Sick Mind.

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 5:05 pm

Anyone who knows me is most likely well aware that I’m not exactly what you’d call a neat and tidy person.  In fact, most of the time I am far from being neat and tidy.  For some time now, my apartment’s cleanliness level has been hovering somewhere in the thin range that falls between “cluttered” and “messy”.   If there’s someone around to tell me that the place is a mess and that I need to clean stuff, I’ll actually clean stuff up (sometimes,) but with nobody else living here and with visitors to my place being rather infrequent, the stuff does tend to get ignored every once in a while, until I finally get stick of looking at it.

In particular, my den/office (actually a second bedroom, but since I have the place to myself its my office) has been particularly messy, mostly due to the shockingly large pile of miscellaneous crud which usually covers up most of the desk.  For various reasons, I have managed to put off actually doing anything about the mess for far longer than I really should have, but today I finally reached the point where I got sick of looking (and having to walk around) the mess for long enough to actually do something about it.

Although there’s pretty much nobody to blame but myself for the whole place becoming so dang messy in the first place, if for some reason I was to assign blame (theoretically, of course) for why it took so long to actually clean it I’d probably have to go with this shredder, which could barely make it through the six sheets of paper it claims to be able to handle in the first place, clogged up with paper debris every few minutes requiring frequent excursions into finger-mangling territory (with the cord unplugged, of course) to clear it out enough to keep using it, and then eventually it just decided to bite the proverbial dust about halfway through the big pile of pay stubs, credit card offers and other such documents I had accumulated on my last attempt to clean this place up.  Given the fact that this was far from the first cheap document shredder that I have gone through around here, I decided that it was time to stop messing around, and get something that would actually do the job it was intended to do.  A trip to Costco and ninety-nine bucks later, I came back with Shredzilla:

Well OK, it’s not much bigger than what I had before, and it’s not intended for more than medium duty use, but compared to the dinky little thing I was trying to use previously this thing is a beast.  The remainder of the (rather substantial) document pile was dispatched in five minutes flat (it’s a lot easier to do when you don’t have to remove everything from the envelopes and feed it in three sheets at a time) and once that was out of the way, the whole thing became a whole lot less daunting.  This morning, I got the stuff cleared off the desk, cleared off far more dust from the desk than I care to admit, and after a bit of rearranging I have the desk looking pretty good, and with a whole heck of a lot more room than I would have with half a ton of miscellaneous junk sitting on top of it.  There’s just one little problem left to deal with…

Now what the heck am I supposed to with all the stuff that came off the desk?  I’ve gone through and done an initial sorting of the contents to clear out the stuff which is obviously trash, but most of what’s left here seems to be too useless to keep around but too useful to throw away.  I suppose I could meticulously sort through it all, winnow tbe pile down to the truly useful items and then store them in a n easily accessible place, but since I don’t have the attention span for that I think I’ll just toss all the stuff into a storage bin and hide it somewhere out of sight and out of mind.  There’s still plenty of cleaning to do here (and that’s not even taking the rest of the apartment into consideration,) but at least I can actually see the desk again for now.  Oh, and if you happen to be wondering about that ugly black-and-blue thing in the corner…

Long story.  I think I’ll save it for another post though…

January 13, 2009

I’ve Got Just One Single Problem…

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 5:48 pm

Image credit: Flickr user doubl

There is a piece of apocryphal folklore (no definitive attribution exists for the quote) within the LDS church that the prophet Brigham Young once said that anyone who was over the age of 25 and unmarried is  a menace to society.  A number of ancient cultures actually imposed legal penalties on men above a certain age who were unmarried, ranging from taxation to some form of public humiliation.  In fact, in some cities in Germany there is  a tradition known as Treppe fegen where an unmarried 30 year old is made to sweep the steps of some public building (usually the City Hall) on his birthday.  This is usually done using a rather small and impractical broom as the man’s friends sprinkle sand, bottle caps  or other similar detritus on the steps as he goes along.  This sweeping is supposed to continue until the bachelor in question is kissed by a virgin.  If you do a search for “Treppe fegen” on YouTube, you can find several videos showing this

Fortunately for me, no such customs or laws exist in America that I am aware of, otherwise the steps of City Hall would probably be incredibly clean by now.  By choice or otherwise (to be honest, I’m not entirely sure which,) I find myself in the position of being 30 1/2 years old and still single, and at the present time haven’t ever really done a whole lot to change that.  To be honest, there is quite a bit about the whole bachelor lifestyle that I enjoy, mostly the part about being able to do pretty much whatever I want (within the limits of the law and society, of course) without anyone telling me what to do, being able to stay up until 2am every night, and other things like that.  On the other hand, not having anyone around to tell me what to do means that my apartment has become something of a mess (I am not going to even talk about how long the pile of clean laundry has been on the floor by now) and often I find it difficult to keep track of what I am supposed to be doing when I’m trying to manage my own time.  Regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of the whole bachelor lifestyle, the fact of the matter is that I am just really starting to get sick and tired of being single at this point. With my 31st birthday (at which point I will be too old to attend the Young Single Adult ward at church) just a few months away, I’m also starting to get the sneaking suspicion that the proverbial clock is ticking on the whole thing, and if I don’t find someone soon there’s a good chance I never will.  There’s just one minor problem:  I don’t have a clue where to look.

Yes, there are the other members of the Singles Ward I attend, but to be honest, there is only a handful of people (male or female) within the ward that I even really know all that well, and even those people I rarely have any contact with outside of church itself.  Part of this has to do with an inability to remember names and faces until I have talked with someone many times.  I can have a conversation with someone I am not familiar with, and five minutes later I will have completely forgotten their name or what we even talked about.  The other problem I seem to run into with this is that the women within the ward that catch my attention are invariably the ones who are already taken.  I can name at least three people who have been in the ward during the time I have been there who I really would have liked to have at least taken out on a date or two or possibly even pursued a relationship with, but by the time I realized this they were either steadily dating the person they would eventually marry or already had an engagement ring on their finger.  I suppose that means I should be a bit more proactive about this type of thing, but there’s still the pesky matter of actually FINDING Ms. Right somewhere first, and to be honest, I’m probably doing a really lousy job of that too.

Nonetheless, I believe that somewhere out there, there’s a young woman with whom I can spend the rest of mortality and eternity with and raise a family, and I’m guessing that by now she’s getting sick of waiting around for me to find her too.  I’m just not sure if I’m looking in the right place to find her, or if she’s been here all along and I just haven’t been paying attention.  All I know is that one way or another, marriage is something that I’d really like to get right the first time, because it’s enough of a pain finding the right person to marry the first time, and there’s no way I’d ever want to go through it all again.  Maybe she’s even reading this and wishing that I’d hurry up and find her so we can both get on with our lives and quit being so freakin’ single all the time.  In the meantime, I wonder if it would help if I went out and swept the stairs at City Hall for a while?

December 7, 2008

OK… Now What?

Filed under: Personal Stuff, Site Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:22 am

First of all, I apologize if posting has been a bit light lately.  About a week ago, my contract at work came to an end (not unexpectedly, since it happens after working for a year) and now I am on the 100-day break that comes up every year or so as part of contracting at Microsoft.  Fortunately, I’ve been doing this stuff for long enough now that I have had plenty of opportunity to plan for this, so I’m actually in pretty good shape to deal with it right now.  Most often what happens (and what, if things go well, will most likely happen here) is that I end up back on contract as soon as I am eligible to do so, either with the same team I was with previously or with a different team.  All things considered, the whole break in service bit can be a pain to deal with, but I’ve been through the whole routine several times, and have prepared well enough for it that I should be fine for a few months until I am eligible to go back.  I wouldn’t mind a chance to get into something a bit more permanent though, and I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to do so before too long.

Of course, this also means that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands for a while.  For the past week or so, I’ve been busy with trying to get my apartment back in order (the place has been slipping lately,) and starting to get ready for the Disney World trip coming up in about a week.  I expect that I will be creating a full trip report from that one, although it’ll probably have to wait until I get back, since my Internet access will probably be limited while I’m there (the connection will be available, but I’m guessing I’m probably not going to find myself paying $10.95 a day for Wi-fi access.)  Once I get past that and past the Christmas and New Year holidays, chances are that I’m going to have time available to get around to working on some of the projects that I’ve been putting off for lack of time and/or resources to conduct the necessary research.  One of the big hang-ups with some of the projects I’ve been working on is that most of the available resources are located in the offices of the local historical societies, and those offices are generally open only during times when I am at work.  Having some time off means that I should have a chance to go do some of the research I’ve been meaning to do, and assuming my attention span allows it, hopefully some of these should be making an appearance  soon.

Here are a few of the projects that I’ve been meaning to do here (read: stuff that I’ve been putting off for way too long,) in no particular order:

  • The malls:  Finish up Crossroads, find out more history on Totem Lake and Factoria, and start working on Bellevue Square.  I’ve also got a draft post sitting in my folder for Westlake Center and Pacific Place in Seattle that I should probably finish up some day.  I also need to get started on Redmond Town Center at some point, but the thick binders full of stuff at the Redmond Historical Society indicate that I’m going to have my work cur out for me on that one…
  • Redmond malls that never were:  Maingate, Evergreen East
  • The Ghosts of Boston Market:  I’ve been collecting photos of some of the former Boston Market restaurants in the area to show what they got turned into, and need to make a post on this sometime.
  • A local history mystery: Mario and Luigi’s Pizza (According to stores on the Internet, even though Mario already had his name before Nintendo moved to Redmond, Luigi’s name was derived from this local pizzeria.   I haven’t yet been able to determine if the place even existed, much less where it was located.)
  • The history of the Overlake Fred Meyer (it’s a lot more complicated than you might think…)

I’d also be interested in getting some other ideas for what the people reading this Blog (all six of you) might want to see here.  If you’ve got any ideas, feel free to throw ’em out here.

Another thing that I’ve been giving some thought to is splitting this Blog into two separate sites.  If I was to do this, my current  Blog (this one) would be used primarily for the random stuff that I come across and for more personal and family stuff.  I would then move most (maybe not all, I’ll see) of the local interest, history and mall related stuff onto a new Blog to be named later.  As you might know if you’ve ever been bored enough to actually go in and read some of the really old stuff here (Editor’s Note:  I am NOT recommending that you actually do this,) The name of Sledgehammer on this Blog is derived from a really ancient Web 1.0 site I wrote between roughly 1996-1998 or so.  Having a name like “The Sledgehammer” might make some sense for a cynical tech support drone having to fix broken computers over the phone all day (I don’t like to talk about it much,) but it has absolutely nothing to do with the vast majority of the content that I am writing here these days.  For that reason, I’m wondering if it’s time to move my history and local stuff to a more appropriate site.  If I take that approach, it would also mean that I could keep that particular site focused on the more research oriented projects that I’ve been working on (which, quite frankly, probably bore a few of you out there reading this,) and the more random things can remain here so those of you trying to find all the empty mall pictures won’t have to dig through fifteen pages of disturbing animatronic frogs and unfortunately named chocolate  bunnies to get to them. 

Another thing that I need to give some consideration to here is just how much effort I want to put into this in the long run, and if it might be possible to make some money doing this.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed working on this stuff as a hobby and I seriously doubt I’d be spending as much time on this as I do if I didn’t, but somewhere along the line I need to consider the possibility that there might be some money in it.  I seriously doubt that I’d ever be able to reach the point of being able to quit my day job (if I actually had one right now, that is) and Blog all day, but I’d be happy if I could figure out how to make a few bucks on the side from this.  At this point, I haven’t made any definite plans to move anything to a new site or to try to monetize this one, but it is something that I have been giving consideration to for a while now, and having some downtime from my day job means that now is as good a time as any to consider these things. 

One way or another, I doubt that I’ll be doing much of anything (aside from the usual semi-regular posting) before the new year or so.  In the meantime, I would be interested in getting some feedback on what people would be interested in reading here, and what I could improve on.  Apparently I’ve got a bit of time on my hands to work on it right now…

September 11, 2008

What I’ve Been Working On Lately

Filed under: Personal Stuff, Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:37 am

Aside from a brief mention on the “about” page, I haven’t really talked much about my job here on this site.  Part of this is a matter of keeping some degree of separation between what I do at work and what I do in my own time, and part of this is because unless some disproportionately large portion of the people who read this Blog happen to work in software development, the stuff I do at work would just bore most of you to tears.  I remember several years ago seeing a recruiting poster for some team which worked on particularly low-level development stuff, which bore a tagline of “Because you never want your mother to understand what you do for a living.”  I’d have to say that in the field I work in, this is probably the case.  Then again, I’m not entirely sure that I understand what my mother does for a living, so we’re even, right?

Another reason that I don’t write much about work here is that a lot of the products I’ve worked on over the years have been the type of stuff that most of you out there wouldn’t even know existed.  For most of my professional career, I have worked as a contract software tester at Microsoft.  All in all, it’s not a bad place to work, and I’ve been able to make a comfortable living doing this, but it also has its disadvantages, the most notable of which is the requirement to take 100 days off after you work there for a year before you can return as a contractor.  With careful planning and savings, I have learned to deal with this period without too much difficulty, even though it does tend to leave me with a bit too much time on my hands.  Another effect of this policy is that during the time I have contracted at MS, the longest I have remained with a single team has been 2 1/2 years over three different contracts, and jumping from one team to anoither is a fairly common occurrence.

It was one of these semi-unexpected transitions that landed me on the Zune team a couple of months ago as an SDET (Software Development Engineer in Test, basically a tester who with a focus on programming for test automation.)  Even though I tend to be something of a confessed gadget junkie, the Zune is a product with which I had very little experience at the time.  For that matter, I haven’t ever owned a Zune, an iPod or anything more complex than a semi-ancient MP3 CD player that I stopped using years ago, simply because I haven’t ever really found a need for one.  I rarely listen to music outside of my car (which has a MP3-capable 6 disc CD changer in it) and even with that, I find myself spending a lot more time driving with the radio off than I used to.  This meant that when I joined this team, I wasn’t really up to speed on what these devices are capable of, and actually found myself surprised at some of the stuff that you can do with one of the things.

Fast forward a couple of months, and just this week the stuff that I have been working on has been officially announced, which means that I can talk about it now.  Although there are a couple of new  Zune models that have just been released (a 16GB Flash device and a 120GB hard drive device,) most of the new stuff going on here is found on the software side of things, which is where I have been working.  Perhaps the most notable feature found in the new Zune 3.0 software is the ability to purchase and download music directly from the device while it is connected to a wireless connection, as well as the ability to tag songs you hear on the device’s built-in radio for either immediate or later download.  Even though it was apparently declared officially uncool to listen to the radio sometime back in the late Nineties or so, I still listen to it quite a bit, mostly to relentlessly mock the insipid advertising thereon.  My personal music collection really isn’t all that big (having a big test server full of stuff tends to expand it a bit though) and limited in scope, so the radio usually provides a better selection of music than I’ve got, depending on which station is on.

New features aside, another interesting aspect of working on this team has been the aspect of working on a product that people have not only heard of, but one that get a surprisingly large amount of exposure in the media.  It’s been a particularly interesting experience to go watch commenters over at Gizmodo and Engadget discuss and speculate about the stuff the team has been working on, even if every Zune related comment thread seems to attract about three busloads of Apple fanboys.  Before I joined this particular team, I had spent most of the previous three years working on enterprise management software, which is the type of stuff that generates a fair bit of revenue for a company like MS, but does so with little glamour and with little exposure.  I can’t recall the last time that I saw a comments thread full of Configuration Manager fanboys arguing with the LANDesk fanboys over some obscure bit of functionality, but I’m sure those people are out there somewhere in some forgotten corner of the Internet (if someone knows where, please let me know so I can stay as far away from those places as humanly possible.)  When you spend your days holed up in a dark and drafty test lab on a team like that, you tend to doubt that you’ll ever run into an actual end user of the product you’re working on without attending some obscure trade show.  On the other hand, on a product like this one, there’s at least some chance that you might see someone using the product you worked on out in public.

Anyway, if any of you out there happen to actually have a Zune, enjoy the new features when they show up on the 16th, and feel free to find someone else to blame if the stuff doesn’t work.

August 31, 2008

Sometimes Too Much Technology Just Isn’t Enough

Filed under: Personal Stuff, Technology — Brian Lutz @ 10:53 pm

As I have mentioned in other posts here, I attend a young single adult ward in my church (I’ve got the “single adult” part pretty well figured out, but I’m really pushing it on the “young” part of that these days.)  In my church, the members of the congregation receive callings to serve in various capacities within the ward, from the bishop and other leaders of the ward (the church has no paid clergy,) to the teachers for Sunday School and other groups, all the way down to the greeters at the chapel doors when people enter for their meetings.  Currently, my calling within the ward is to be the communications director, which mostly involves creating the weekly bulletin passed out at Sacrament meeting.  In general, callings in the church tend to be somewhat temporary in nature, and it is not unusual for someone to go through a number of different callings in a relatively short amount of time, but for one reason or another I have had this particular calling for a number of years now in two different wards that I have attended during that time.  I have to figure that either I haven’t gotten enough practice at the whole bulletin thing yet and they’re keeping me there until I manage to get something right, or I did manage to get it right at some point and they’re keeping me there because of that.  I can’t seem to figure out which of those is more likely.

Because a lot of the information that gets printed in the bulletin isn’t finalized until the Ward Council meeting an hour before Sacrament, I have to finish filling in the information during the meeting and print out the bulletin in the Ward Clerk’s office before taking it over to the copier in the library to duplicate.  There was a time that I swore that I would never for any reason bring a notebook computer to church, but apparently someone had other ideas about that one, and now I bring my notebook to this meeting on a weekly basis (but don’t bring it to the other meetings unless I get really lazy when teaching a lesson and decide to resort to multimedia.)  Either way, the arrangement usually works out reasonably well, but every so often something comes up and tosses the proverbial monkey wrench into the works.  Today was one of those days.


June 30, 2008

Is it Any Wonder I’ve Got Too Much Time on My Hands?

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:58 pm

Of all the subjects I talk about on a regular basis here on my Blog, I tend to avoid talking about much my job too much.  Part of this has to do with keeping some degree of separation between what I do for a living and what I do in my spare time, but mostly this is because my job is in a highly technical field, and I don’t think I could write more than a couple of paragraphs about what I work on without boring most of the people reading this.  I can recall seeing a job posting flyer on the bulletin board many years ago for a team that works on some pretty low-level stuff on their particular product, which had a tagline that read “…Because you never want your mother to understand what you do for a living.”  I think that can be said to be true for what I’ve been working on. as a Software Tester for the past several years.  Then again, back when my Mom was working as a travel agent, I don’t think I would have had the slightest clue how to do anything in SABRE, so we’re even in that regard.

In some sense, I have found the need to hold a job to be something of a limiting factor in what I have been able to do with this Blog.  In my ongoing mall research project, I have been mostly limited to what I have been able to find in the microfilm available at the Bellevue Library.  I suspect that the local historical societies would have plenty of additional information available (or at the very least, actual newspapers that I can get better photos from than the grainy ones I’ve been getting off the microfilm,) but so far I haven’t been able to get over to any of the offices because they are only open when I happen to be at work.  It looks like this week, I may finally get that opportunity though.

The short version is that I have this week off from work..  The long version is that my contract on the team I’ve been working with for the past seven months has ended, but I was able to sign on to a new team before the end of my last one.  I will be starting with this new team on the 7th of July, which basically means that I basically have a week of semi-unplanned vacation.  Having a bit of time on my hands means that I should get the opportunity to get some of the big posts I’ve been sitting on for a while out of the way, as well as a chance to go do some of the research I haven’t been able to do previously. 

Over this past weekend, I was also able to go take a look at the new Bellevue Safeway, so expect some pictures of that later on.

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