Sunday, February 22, 2009

America's Most Wanted

Last night I tuned in and saw part of "America's Most Wanted" on TV. I almost immediately recognized the skeletal form hanging behind John Walsh.

Hmmm . . . that sure reminds me of the Crime Museum, I thought. It really did look like the place where my friend Rashmi and I participated in a free CSI laboratory workshop a couple weekends ago.

I watched and waited. A little later in the show, John Walsh was broadcasting from the very room where the workshop took place, and that's when I knew it was the same place. I opened up my laptop and went straight to the AMW web site. Sure enough, the show is being filmed right here in D.C. at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment.

How cool is that!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Job-hunters, Beware

I finally got a job, after exactly five months and one day of unemployment. To all the other job-hunters out there, it ain't easy finding work. In fact, the more senior you are in your skillset, the longer it's going to take. I made 197 job contacts before getting my first real interview (excluding head hunter interviews, of which I was asked to attend only three); and I was 211 contacts into the process before I got an offer. Five months. One interview. One offer.

And that's the good news—it only took me five months to get a job. After that experience, I'm convinced that you're lucky in this market if you can get a job at all.

The bad news is that you can expect a pay cut. To get an idea of what to expect, take a look at your stock portfolio. There seems to be a positive correlation between the percentage drop in value of your overall financial worth and the percentage drop in pay. Don't be surprised if your new job pays 50-60% less than your old one.

Now is a great time to go back to school. If you can afford to go to school full time and live on student loans (maybe combined with a part-time job), do it. I would if I hadn't gotten stuck with a property I couldn't unload when I moved out of state for my last job. That puppy is sucking down more money every month than the cost of a large, luxury studio apartment in Midtown Manhattan. So I'm in school part time. I'll be 47 years old when I finish my Masters degree.

But at least I'll finally be following my dream!

Now to rest up before work starts next week. I've got just three days to relax before life gets crazy busy again. Thank god I can go three days without the headache of filling out job applications several hours a day!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Going Nuts

I can't believe that, as of today, it's been five full months of unemployment. This has never happened to me before. I suspect that there are many others like me, who were sure they'd get a new job pretty quickly after being laid off.

Yup - five months. And 209 resumes sent. That's scary. The good news is, about 12 resumes ago I was finally asked to interview for a position. Usually I get no response at all, so I was ecstatic to get an interview last week. (Heck, I was happy just to go somewhere.) The meeting went amazingly well. I was sure I'd nailed it. I came out feeling convinced that I'd get an offer.

That was a week ago. No offer yet. The waiting kills me. However, I still have all my fingers crossed (which makes it hard to type).

If I don't get a job soon I'm going to go stir-crazy. I've begun volunteering at the local cat orphanage, helping out with adoptions, feedings, cleaning, etc. So at least I have some interaction with other people (and more kitties - yay!). But this job called job-hunting requires too much indoor time and too much sitting. It's incredibly time-consuming. And it can be de-motivating when continued efforts yield zero results.

Being a person of pretty high energy, I am not very good at sitting still for extended periods of time. So this whole being unemployed thing is my own living hell. It's getting so bad that whenever I see New York City scenes on TV I just want to cry. How pathetic is that! There is most likely going to be some kind of therapy on the horizon for me.

On the bright side, I've really bonded with my cat, Baby. She's so cute. When I open a drawer anywhere in the house, she comes running. She could be a mile away and hear the drawer slide open. It's important that she crawl in it (or behind it) in order to see what might be hiding in there. If it's a clothing drawer, it becomes an insta-bed.

With all the time I've spent with her lately, I'm learning her language pretty well. I know when she's hungry, and when she wants to play. I know when she wants to be scratched, and when she wants a brushing. Fortunately, unlike Martin (my previous kitty, may he rest in peace), she doesn't have a need to "go out," so there is no whining by the front door.

But she does love attention. She's very dog-like. She follows me around the house, joining me in whatever room I've parked myself in. Sometimes she does this staring thing when I'm sitting in my favorite chair. (That means, "Get up and play with me!") She loves to play-fight and chase me around the apartment, too. She's a sweet little girl. I'm so glad I found her.

One of my good friends in Seattle, Janet, lost her sweet cat (named "Blue") to diabetes less than two weeks ago. I'm sure that Martin is looking after his soul. Janet had Blue for 18 years, ever since he was just a kitten. I know how she feels. Losing a pet is no different from losing any other member of the family. It's not an easy thing to get over. I don't think my mom ever got over losing our boxer, Ginny, in 1979. Neither did our cat, Kitty, who died not long after Ginny. Probably of a broken heart.

I told Janet that she needs to run out and adopt another one (or two) right away. Honestly, it's the best treatment for pet separation anxiety. Just find another one to rescue and love.

I wish it were as easy to find a new job.

Off to bed, only to wake up tomorrow in my sixth month of unemployment. Yikes!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Arrested in D.C.

I was once detained by a cop in New Orleans in 1996 (for the crime of walking down the street), and I'll never forget how mad (or naiive) I was about it. I had no idea why I was being detained. It was only later, when my fiance got home from work that evening, that I realized that the cop thought I was a prostitute. I wasn't dressed like one, but that didn't matter. I was on a "bad street," therefore I must be a hooker.

That pissed me off, but this is ridiculous! I'm quite sure that my civil rights were violated. Talk about your biased lineup! I don't look anything like those guys. This could ruin my chances of getting a security clearance - geez.

My friend Rashmi and I enjoyed our trip to the Washington D.C. National Museum of Crime & Punishment on Sunday. She, too, was booked. But she managed to escape from her jail cell through the cinderblock wall.

Ok, so it was kind of a large hole.

The one-hour CSI Lab Workshop was fun. The audience was given a homicide to solve and participated in an interactive demonstration given by real CSIs, one of whom graduated from the GWU forensics Masters program.

A shoeprint mold was taken from a footprint left in soil. And we all got to lift latent fingerprints from a framed photo found at the crime scene. Instead of using a fiber fingerprint brush we used a magnetic brush, which was cool.

At the end of the workshop we went upstairs to visit the staged crime scene and examine the evidence. Many of the things we talked about were the same things that I'm currently learning about in my Intro to Criminal Investigations class. It was good to do this workshop on Sunday, as the very next day was "Crime Scene Night" at school—a day that my classmates and I have looked forward to since the semester started.

Rashmi and I toured the museum. We saw John Dillinger's gorgeous car, not to mention a lock of his hair, which was quite the souvenir to obtain after his execution on July 22, 1934 by rogue FBI agents. All John Dillinger ever wanted was to "be a bank robber," a dream that lead to his death at the age of 31.

We also saw the famous Bonnie & Clyde vehicle, riddled with bullet holes.

In the museum section that covers types of goernment executions, there is a glass-enclosed robot measuring about a foot long and maybe 8" high. It is armed with a syringe and is labeled "Prototype: Lethal Injection Attack Droid." I called Rashmi over to check it out.

She took one look and (in her usual quick wit) replied matter-of-factly, "Man, they're cutting back on jobs everywhere."

I couldn't stop laughing for several minutes. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sucker for Cute Kitties

I'm a sucker for cat videos (like this one, sent to me by my old Microsoft boss: I can't help myself. Even my cat, Baby, is spoiled beyond belief. She basically gets whatever she wants around here.

For example, the longer I stay unemployed, the earlier she gets her dinner. I adopted Baby just three weeks after arriving at my job on Wall Street in late 2007. In those days I got home from work anywhere from 6:00PM to 8:00PM.

So Baby generally got her dinner treat (a heaping spoonful of healthy, natural Innova canned food) between 6 and 7PM. She basically has her dried food available to her on a 24x7 basis. But there's something special about the canned food that she loves. This isn't about hunger.

After I became unemployed in September, I was home job-hunting all day every day (for the most part). So I was able to feed Baby her canned food no later than 6:00 every night. But she took advantage of her new-found fortune of having her caretaker at home all day. If it was getting close to 6PM, she'd let me know. She'd meow then sit and stare at me. Or, she'd follow me every time I got up to go in the kitchen, sitting on the floor looking up at me with those big eyes.

Soon, she was letting me know by 5PM. Her irresistible charms go the best of me, so I fed her at 5:00. That's not unreasonable.

But within a couple months it was 4PM. I told her, "Baby, this is getting ridiculous. I'll feed you now, but don't expect to eat this early again."

It's five months later now; today she ate her dinner at 3:00PM. Sigh.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

It Must be February

Of all the months in the year, February is the worst. Grey, lifeless, no-leaf, dismal, cold, dead-of-winter February. Yuk.

Looking back at my last post is something that depresses even me! I blame February. I hate February. Always have. Always will. They should just cancel February and add those days to March. March is a month of renewal and hope. Springtime. Warmer days, the first flower blossoms. A sign of better things to come, like vacations and beaches and suntans.

Well, today I felt better. It was a wonderful, sunny 56-degree day, although it felt warmer than that. After ZipCar-ing up to Maryland to show my rental home to a wonderful woman (I hope she takes it!), I came home and took a long walk. I finally went up to the George Washington Masonic National Monument for the first time. It sits atop a hill overlooking Alexandria, from King Street station to the Potomac, about a mile from home. It's the one tall structure in Alexandria that you can see for miles, and it's lit up at night like the Chrysler building. (If you ever need to find the Amtrak station, just head for this tower.)

Tomorrow my friend Rashmi (from Laurel) and I are meeting downtown to tour the Crime & Punishment Museum. We signed up for a CSI lab workshop afterward, something I've been looking forward to for a couple weeks. We'll be learning about fingerprints, footprints, and imprints. I already got through the chapter about fingerprint ridges in my Criminal Investigations class, but that's not the same as doing it in real life! It should be fun.

Unfortunately, Crime Scene Night for my class was cancelled last week. My teacher broke her leg and ankle on the ice. (That now makes three people in our small class of 10 on crutches.) So Crime Scene Night is slated for this coming Monday, Feb. 9th. I should be well-prepared after my trip to the Crime Museum tomorrow. Let's hope this weather holds up. Everyone needs cheering up these days, myself included!

Although, on a sad note, the famous Peeler Guy (Joe Ades) of Union Square in Manhattan died last week. My brother Dave passed on the news to me. I was saddened by it. But I realize that Joe lived the kind of life we should all celebrate--he's the type of guy who never dies. I used to watch him sitting on a crate on the sidewalk in his suit, hawking his five-dollar vegetable peelers at Union Square, right across the street from the Petco on 16th Street, and sometimes at street fairs. He's a New York icon whose memory will live on in the hearts of millions. See a meaningful tribute written by David Galbraith.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Spam Comeback

I just saw on the NBC Nightly News that Hormel Spam is making a comeback. A few seconds later, I discovered online that Spam was introduced during the Great Depression. With another half a million jobs last in the past four weeks, it's no wonder people are buying Spam again.

A recession is one thing, but now we're hearing talk of a "mini-depression." No doubt, conversations about a "depression" will be right around the corner. Pretty scary stuff.

One of the other things revealed in tonight's news cast is that the two primary sectors that are still hiring are government and health care. These two industries are your best shot at finding a job. It's interesting. If that's truly the case, I should be employed by now. I live in the Metropolitan D.C. area - a hotbed of government agencies. There are probably more government jobs available here than anywhere else in the country. I know because I apply for several every day on the web. I literally couldn't have a better chance at getting a job in this sad economy than I do here.

I have a great resume that includes 18 years of IT and technical publications experience. And, I have a degree now. How ironic: this is the first time I've conducted a job hunt having that piece of paper in hand, and yet it's useless (for the purposes of being increasing marketability, that is). Right now it's harder than ever to get a response to a job inquiry.

Let's see . . . looking at my spreadsheet, I see that I've made 188 attempts to get a job interview since September 20th. (That means 188 resumes sent, applications submitted, or contacts made.) Nearly 150 of those submisions are for jobs in the D.C. area. And the responses to those are few and far between. At this point, I'm getting a response for about one in 30 inquiries. And a response can be so much as "do you have a clearance?" "No, I don't." End of thread. They don't even reply to you when you answer their questions. Doesn't matter how many times you beg.

It doesn't get much worse than this. In all my years as a professional, I've never had this much trouble finding a job. I can continue to survive this way for a while yet. That's the good news. It just means I'll be eating up all the money set aside for grad school. I don't mind that. It's if I have to wipe out every penny I've ever saved that will bother me. But I have a long way to go before that happens. That makes me one of the lucky people.

I have it good compared to a lot of people. But, if it's this hard for me to find a job in the one place in the country where there are jobs, what about the rest of the unemployed? What about people who have nothing in savings? People with families and no income? People with massive medical bills? People who lost their homes? These are the folks who need our prayers.

Tough times indeed.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Bad Baby

My dear sweet Baby has a new bad habit. I can't keep her off the kitchen counter. I've tried, but there's just no point in my wasting my breath anymore. She loves to get up on the bar stools parked at the kitchen bar. The counter is just one step up from there, so she really doesn't know the difference. At my old place in Brooklyn she had to jump up onto the counter and would remove herself when I told her to "Get down." Not here in Virginia.

She has the same habit with our new (old) dining room table that my friend Rashmi kept for me while I was living in NY. I certainly can't keep her off the table because it's simply her new path to the window sill.

This is her territory and I can't stop her, so I have given up trying. Not to mention, that adorable face is irresistable. . . .

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

MagicJack: You Get What You Pay For

Some of us unemployed folks who can't afford a land line (and have bad cell service because all those red-shirted guys in the Verizon network can't seem to find the elevator to my floor), have been forced to try a VOIP system called MagicJack. It's dirt cheap. You pay about $40 for the USB device that plugs into your computer, then about $20/year for unlimited local and long distance calls.

My 30-day trial period is up today, and I've decided to keep the MagicJack, despite its flaws. This is fair warning to anyone out there who wants to try this product. It's a true fact that you will get what you pay for.

The MagicJack works OK for the most part. But there are issues. One issue is that the phone will stop dialing out occasionally. Stopping and restarting the software will generally fix that. Or I just reboot my PC.

Another issue is that you'll hear occasional beeps on the line, as if your cat was walking on the telephone pad, pressing the dial buttons. These can be annoying. Sometimes you hear them on your end, and sometimes your call recipient only hears them on his or her end of the line.

I've seen other complaints about this problem on online complaint boards; therefore, it's what we in the software industry call a "known problem." For every known problem, there should be a fix.

Not with MagicJack. They don't have a clue. Worse, the only way to obtain technical support is via online chat. If you can find the correct link to click on at the MagicJack web site to access the chat support folks, then you're 90% of the way there. After that, it's all downhill.

The support person, who is no doubt sitting in Bangalore (based on the lack of command of the English language) will never offer you a cause for the problem, much less a resolution. The toubleshooting steps consist strictly of trial-and-error, with the tech support person offering such sage advice as, "disable your firewall." Right. "How will that help the occasional audio beeps on my phone?" I asked. "Um, never mind. Don't do that. Let's reboot your router instead."

Unplug your MagicJack. Plug it back in.

Edit the registry. Change permissions on several USB-related folders to Full Control and then delete several registry keys. (My god!!)

If you aren't using the [absolutely unnecessary] USB extension cord, plug it into a USB port and plug your MagicJack to the extension cable. It will magically 'help add power' to your MagicJack. (I beg to differ.) Go to Disk Management and right-click. . .

And that's where I hung up. I know that the phone beeps have got to be a bug in the software. Everything points to that.

Nonetheless, it's a minor inconvenience and I will hang on to my MagicJack for now since it's saving me the 50 bucks a month plus taxes that Verizon wants for a land line, which I think is highway robbery.

To give you an idea of the quality of support you'll get, here is a snippet from my most recent online chat, about 35 minutes into it, which was "escalated" to Rosey. (Note that, at this point in the ridiculous conversation I was just a tad frustrated with the poor quality of support and on the verge of losing my sense of humor. . . . )

Rosey: You are only saying that you are a one
Rosey: If you don't want me to help you fix it, then fine!
susan: I am a "one"?
susan: I want to speak to someone who can help.
susan: Please
Rosey: I am trying to help you, so don't be rude
Rosey: I am trying to be nice.
Rosey: Don't try mew that I will not treat you nice
Rosey: And i am not that..
susan: Oh my god.
susan: Let me speak to your manager please
Rosey: I respect every people and my custoer
Rosey: *customer
susan: Thank you. Please escalate this issue to a manager.
susan: Is Therese available?
Rosey: They are on a meeting right now and I am the one who assigned to assist customers.
Rosey: Therese is not available right now, she is handling other chats.
susan: Well, I still don't have a fix for my ongoing problem. I just made a call and heard the beeping. What next?
susan: Can you just look in your knowledge base and tell me what the known fix is for this, if there is one?
Rosey: Are you using the extension cord now?
susan: yes
Rosey: Okay..
susan: what is the correct fix? if you don't know, then please say so. trial and error is not going to fix a bug in the product. can you please email your developers and ask them what they are doing to fix this?
Rosey: Please go into Task Manager (press alt-ctrl-delete on your keyboard one at a time together to get to it), look for the magicjack.exe process, right click on it, and set the priority to High.
susan: already did that, two days ago.
Rosey: Please do it again
susan: It's still set to high.
Rosey: Okay..
susan: ?
Rosey: Please unplug your magicJack. Now go to "Start" in Windows and click on "run". In there write regedit and press enter.
susan: you want me to edit my registry?????