Friday, May 29, 2009

US Open Pix

Mainly for interested family members. The rest of you can... uh... read about how mean Tasmanian Devils are to each other.

The pictures were from a Day 2 match against Creole, a fabled team from NYC. They were pretty good, but we won in three games.

I am fairly certain this tip landed in front of Kevin, the gentleman poised on the right. That's me blocking middle there (number 11).

Though I think we got him this time, the guy on the other team pretty much owned me this match. Number 4 there is Brad, the person I mentioned last post who flew in to see the Einaudi concert.

That's me on the left, demonstrating how NOT to block. (You see, if the ball hits my hands there, it goes back to the other side of the net, out of bounds. Which is exactly what happened, if I recall this play correctly.)

Serving a jump-float. Strange face.

I just barely got a touch on this, which was good enough for it to go down and land on the other floor.

Hmm. I think the only three times we / I stopped this guy, we got pictures of it. This time it was his own fault, as you see him hitting the ball in the net. Thankfully, there are no pictures of the 27 or so kills he must have had against me.

Eventually, I figured out he really, REALLY liked to hit the ball to his right.

- Aw2pp, the shiny-headed guy

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And another volleyball season is in the books

This is my 20th year of playing volleyball competitively. Last weekend, I played in my (counting, hold please...) 12th US Open. Or, as I like to call it, the Annual Memorial Day Convention of Unusually Tall People.

The first time I played this tournament was in Memphis, 1993. (It moves from city to city each year, you see.) At the time, former USA National Team middle blocker Craig Buck was regarded, at 6'8", as some sort of freakishly tall curiosity. Near the tournament desk, the USVBA Tournament Directors placed a lifesize, cardboard cutout of Craig, standing with one hand at his side, and another stretched toward the ceiling. I watched many people walk up to Cardboard Craig, compare their meager paws and reach to his, and walk away shaking their that such a creature could exist, especially one with the agility and quickness needed to play world-class volleyball.

Fast forward now to this past weekend. I must have seen, oh, 75 people (including at least one woman) taller than Cardboard Craig. Volleyball players are getting younger and taller. Craig would blend right in these days; nobody would blink at him. One of my friends had a 7'3" blocking specialist on his team. (That guy turned some heads, but he was not a very good volleyball player.)

So yes, you may have been walking around your block, or mall, or town square, or wherever one walks, wondering to yourself, "Gosh, where are all the 6'3" women, and 6'9" men I am used to seeing?" I can tell you. They were in Minneapolis playing volleyball. As a reasonably (but by no means shockingly) tall person, I am accustomed to being the tallest individual in sight. But this tournament (and, to a lesser extent, the smaller events held during the course of the regular season) are simultaneously thrilling and yet intimidating for me. On the one hand, it is a thrill to feel part of some sort of special (yet totally meaningless) coterie. But it is also highly intimidating to realize that there are hundreds, even thousands of folks that are highly skilled, athletically gifted, and yes, tall. It's a reminder to stay off the High Horse.

The tournament is called the US Open and Club Volleyball Championships. It isn't so much a single tournament as it is multiple concurrent national championship tournaments, in dozens of divisions defined by gender, age, and skills. My team, Chicago Coast North, technically doesn't play in the US Open. That level of play is reserved for folks who are (or recently were, or soon will be) National-caliber players. Among the Open women's teams, for example, were Team Canada, UCLA, and their PAC-10 rivals (and recent NCAA Champion) Washington Huskies. Canada also sent their men's National team, where they finished mid-pack among an 8 team field in Men's Open. My division, Men's A, is slotted a level (ok, fine, two levels) below Open. We were seeded 8th in our 52 team field, and at first, I regarded that as a gross exaggeration of our skills. Turned out, I underestimated us. We had a phenomenal tournament, winning 8 of our 11 matches, losing only to the eventual 2nd and 3rd place finishers. We finished 5th, the best finish I have been part of since my Texas team placed 3rd in 1998. Good time was had by all, but don't ask me to move any furniture today. "Sore" doesn't begin to describe the feeling of 27 volleyball games, played over the course of 3 days, on courts that are merely a rubberized surface atop a concrete convention center floor. Photos will come later. Thousands were taken, and I'm bound to have been in one or two of them.

During a lunchtime conversation, Kevin (another middle blocker) was complaining about TV. As the father of 4 youngins (three under 4), he and his wife have the same constraints Sue and I have about TV. Time restrictions and content (especially commercials) make family TV watching problematic. So he turns to me: "You don't watch much TV, do you guys?"

"Well, seems like Ro watches a lot, but for the most part, no, it never seems like there is time. Always moving to the next activity or stage in the day." And I launched into how I have had friends in the past who took pride in how little TV they watched, as if it were a sign of their cultural or intellectual refinement. Me, I take no pride in how little TV we watch. I would watch more if I could, and look forward to some day getting into shows like House, or 24, or Lost, or whatever will be on TV when Joey goes to college*. But since I don't watch those regularly now, there is no point in getting into them at all.

* - Joey is the soon-to-be 10 month old. Yeah, it will be a few years.

"So, aside from cleaning up after dinner, doing bedtime stuff, and all that, what do you do with your time? Like, for fun?"

"Well, talk is fun. Hanging out. And I play piano. That's part of how I got into piano in the first place, come to think of it."

"Oh yeah, how is that going?" (When Kevin and his family came to see us a few months back, I was goaded into playing Limbo for them. He warned me at the time, "I don't play an instrument, but I know enough music to be able to tell if you are faking your way through it, so you better play it right. No pressure.")

"Good. I have a recital coming up, where I am going to play something else by that same guy."

Brad, sitting two seats over, then piped in. He is an Outside Hitter we imported from Los Angeles. Good guy, really laid back in his Southern Californian way. I had no idea he was paying attention to the conversation, until he asked, "What guy? What are you playing?"

I assume, as a general principle, that the music I am playing (which, as you all know, is Einaudi's I Due Fiumi) is completely obscure. I further assume (which I shouldn't... Sue is telling me all the time I assume too much and too frequently) that nobody cares, or has ever heard of the music I am playing. I therefore assume (and I have no idea why I assume this) that these conversations would be much easier if I were playing something people can relate to, like Fur Elise, Hey Jude, or Hit Me Baby One More Time. But food had just arrived, I was more interested in eating my burger than continuing this conversation, so I said, as matter-of-factly as I could, "I Due Fiumi by Ludovico Einaudi." I thought that would sort of end the conversation. I was wrong.

"Oh, I love that guy. He's awesome. I saw him in concert a few months ago. What did you say you were playing again?"

I would have been less stunned had he told me about his plans to go to market with a cold-fusion powered Big Wheel. After a moment of recovery, I repeated "I Due Fiumi. It means 'The Two Rivers'."

"Never heard of it." He then pulled out his iPhone (every SoCal I have ever met has an iPhone) and showed me his Einaudi collection, including Una Mattina and Divenire. He wrote down I Giorni, the CD on which I Due Fiumi was released, and casually got to work on a cobb salad. In between bites, he talked about how he played piano a long time ago, doesn't anymore, a friend got him into Einaudi, landed concert tickets, they flew to San Francisco for the day, etc. As I mentioned earlier, I was stunned at this conversation... he seemed to regard it as quite unremarkable.

Next day, I handed him my Blackberry, and asked him to give IDF a listen. "Oh, I already have it. I downloaded it off iTunes last night. Good stuff. Anything else you want to recommend of his?" Well then.

On the way out after the tournament ended Tuesday, he wished me luck on the recital, and asked if I were going to record it. "Post it to Youtube." Right now, my Youtube channel consists of only a single recording (I think, it's been awhile) of me attempting Limbo last summer. Might be time to add some content.

- Aw2pp, who is all about the Requirements Author's Workbench

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Don't try to improve it"

Piano lessons continue, even though I haven't mentioned much about them here. While I was in Toronto last week, Jason pinch-hit for me, taking his first ever formal lesson (assuming you don't count Jillian's lessons last summer). He already has his first assignment in his first book. And, at the risk of sounding like the clueless proud daddy here, I must say he is off to a flying start. He can play his C-D-C-D-C-D-E-F-G (right hand only) just fine. Most importantly, it is great to see him proud of himself.

He'll pinch hit for me next week as well, since I will be on my way home from the US Open VB Tournament, and won't be back in time. Then, starting the second week in June, he and Jillian will have a permanent spot in PT's weekly summer rotation. Me? I will not. Heaven knows what my schedule will be, but Jason and Jillian will have schedules as regular and predictable as Johnny Unitas' hair.

(Quoth Abe Simpson: "Johnny Unitas... now there is a haircut you can set your watch to.")

So I will probably take one or two lessons over the summer, as kids' schedules permit, but my regular slot won't resume until September. Which means, among other things, that I am trying to get plenty of fodder in my last couple of lessons before summer hiatus. Tonight was my second-to-last. And the entire focus was on I Due Fiumi, my recital piece (countdown clock: 17 days). I played it (very well), tinkered with some trouble spots, implemented a couple of suggestions, played it in its entirety again (less well) and talked a little more about points of emphasis. Then she dropped this on me:

"Keep working on it, but don't try to improve it."

"Um, what? But... there are parts I can play better."

"Don't try to play it better."

Upon further investigation, what she meant, in the nicest way she could manage, was to say that IDF is about is as good as it is going to get for me, right now. Playing it more in the next 17 days may smooth out a rough edge here or there, but nothing anyone besides me (and possibly, but not certainly her) would notice. It is not perfect, but the only thing I can do to improve it is to improve my skill, my technique. Which could happen in six months, certainly in a year. But in two weeks? Meh. Eat a banana one hour before the recital (thank for that tip, mom3gram), and I'm good to go.

Some time in the next few weeks, I am going to try to score some time on the recital instrument, our church's five year-old Kawai RX-3. Looking at the list price of these pianos, I hope to not like it too much. ("Honey, about that new Odyssey we were talking about for this year... maybe next... for the same price, wouldn't you rather have a new Kawai instead? You would, right?")

I'll keep you posted.

- Aw2pp, wannabe arborist

Saturday, May 16, 2009

YYZ Mega-Lengthy Post

Hello from YYZ, the TLA* representing Toronto's Pearson International Airport. If you've been with us for awhile, you know nothing brings out the long, wordy posts in me like a few hours in an airport. To celebrate, let's hear Rush's song by that time. I am told that this instrumental is a series of variations on the Morse Code representation of YYZ, that beeps endlessly on those radio frequencies pilots use. Does anyone even speak Morse code anymore?

YYZ - Rush

* - Three Letter Acronym. Stay with us now, we covered this months ago.

After 50 hours of training, and more fancy dinners in four days than I have had in, mercy, a year, I finally have a moment to let my brain do nothing. I will now forgo that opportunity, and catch you up a little on details of how I came to be here.

As you recall, I got word that IBM figured they could do without me on January 24, one day after the Inauguration. I spent most of that first month of February lining up five really strong opportunities, all of which eventually, surprisingly, and disappointingly fell through. Of the approximately 400 jobs I have since applied for, 40 or so were with IBM. Of those 40, I secured interviews for exactly none of them. I worked with about 10 recruiters, some of whom submitted me for positions for which I was completely unsuited. Counting recruiter conversations, I did between 50 and 60 interviews, mostly over the phone. I'll advise my accountant that, in my job search, I drove approximately 1350 miles for interviews, and spend $68 on train tickets downtown. During those months, there were 4 positions that I was sure would turn into offers, and each of those disintegrated in the 11th hour for various reasons. Most of which were out of my control.

[begin tangential rant on meaning of life questions...]

A word on "control"... I've been giving a lot of thought these months to "meaning" or "purpose"... by that, I mean that thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. What's the meaning of your life? Jesus says the meaning of life is to love God and serve others. Nietzche claimed life has no meaning at all, a belief that led him to some startling conclusions. Literally, if meaning is "what gets you out of bed in the morning?" I would have to say these last few months, my children have been my meaning... they have come in earlier than they should, and drug me (and Sue) out of bed well before we needed to be. Of course, over time, the final meaning of my life will be partially defined by what my children become. But not completely. There is a danger there... while I'd like to think I have some impact on the final outcome of my children's development, I have to admit that my four independently-minded children are also their own creatures. There are aspects of their development that are out of my control, and who they become (if Sue and I do our jobs correctly) will be largely determined by them, provided we give them the guidance, resources, and opportunities they need to discover and maximize who they were meant to be. My purpose, then, is to provide them the tools they need. But in the end, the final outcome will be up to them.

* - YMMV, but that is my reading of Matthew 22:36-40.

Finding meaning in someone or something that is outside your control... that's a dangerous prospect. Here's another example... I am about to get on an airplane. I will derive no satisfaction, no sense of a job well done, if / when the airplane touches down at O'Hare. Will I be glad? Of course! But because the successful completion of this flight is completely and utterly out of my control, it will give me no satisfaction... no meaning.

So what else is there? Not to get all CS Lewis on you here, but Ecclesiastes suggests that it is a good thing to find meaning in ones work. And I admit, there is a lot of that in me. This can be a good thing, because, unless you are a... oh, let's pick a good one... Clown at the Goat Rodeo... you have some measure of control over the quality and perhaps even outcome of your work. You control how hard you work. You control how well you do your work. You may not always have direct control over the outcome, especially when you have to rely on colleagues or customers, but if you keep the focus on factors under your immediate control, this makes negative outcomes easier to handle.

[end tangential rant on meaning of life questions...]

All of this leads me back to these last (counts them...) 76 days. I was able to control the number and quality of applications and outreaches I made. And for awhile, I derived some sense of accomplishment from those days when I placed a large number of seemingly relevant applications. Thing is, I had absolutely no control over how, or even whether, the prospective employer would respond. Hyatt, iTKO, JPMorgan Chase, CNA, Riverstar, ArrowStream, they thought about me, many interviewed me, some should have hired me, but none did. Dozens of others never even responded to my application... many of those, too, should have hired me. It would have been better for all of us... me, them, and even you, we all would have been better off had they hired me as soon as they had the chance. They chose not to, for reasons that were absolutely and completely out of my control.

And this drove me batty.

So you'll never guess what I did. I undertook a project over which I had complete and absolute control. I cleared brush off our yard.

Wait... don't laugh. And don't leave. Seriously, think about this for a moment. Growing increasingly frustrated with how things were proceeding, not to mention taking some pride in all the money I was saving us by not having to pay $33 an hour for a yard crew to do the work for us*, I went out and started clearing this mess of a yard of ours. And believe it or not, I felt great peace and satisfaction at the results.

* - No lie, that was the quote. For that price, I would hope the crew would have thrown in some SAP consulting services while they were at it.

See for yourself. Mind you, it's now a group project (any volunteers?), and we are not even halfway done.


After - No livestock or power tools were used in the clearing of this land. Which is a real shame, because I bet it would have been much easier that way. Maybe not both at the same time (livestock using power tools), but certainly one or the other.

Me, and my trusty clippers. You'd be amazed at what they can cut through.

Then what happened? Just about this time, I began a fresh round of applications to employers that, for the most part, neither you nor I had ever heard of. Perhaps it was a coincidence (Gramma MA would say there are no such things), it was just that the timing was right, first signs of the economy improving... or perhaps these afternoons in the yard allowed me to approach this job search thing with a clean mind and sense of purpose... But for whatever reason, these applications resonated with the companies and hiring managers who received them. As of a week ago Monday, I had six things cooking warmly on the front burner, and felt good about almost all of them. I was ecstatic about one or two of them. I have since come to learn that I was a real candidate for most of them. Then, innocently, without much thought, on Monday morning, I applied for yet another position I saw, this time on Linkedin. This application was just another backup for these primary opportunities. I was sure I wouldn't need it, because I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these other things were going to result in several offers in the next few weeks. But I applied anyway. You can never have too many contingency plans.

Tuesday the hiring manager wrote back, asking to speak with me.

Wednesday, our scheduled 30 minute call ran over by 60 minutes.

Thursday, I had lunch with the local Sales Director. Upon completion of that meeting, he called his colleagues, asked them to circumvent their usual hiring process, and extend me an offer immediately. By the time I got home, I had it.

Friday, I accepted it.

I went from never having heard of the company, to working for them, in 72 hours. And now here I am in Toronto, having put in five days of boot camp training with my new team. It's ironic that, of all the customers I spoke with, all the recruiters who reached out to me and submitted me for jobs (some relevant to my skill set, some not), all the Ladders* openings I applied to... in the end, all of those activities amounted to nothing... they were merely preparatory exercises for the one opportunity that finally, and very quickly, came together. No recruiter was involved, no friends or friends of friends brokered the opportunity. Right place, right time.

* - Note to self... cancel that Ladders premium membership ASAP.

It only takes one.

Live, in-person recital countdown clock: 21 days, and counting.

- Aw2pp, who spent an entire week in Canada, and never once heard someone finish a sentence with "eh". Do they not talk like that anymore?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hello from Toronto

Just a brief check-in to let you know that I am at the halfway point in my first week of training with my new company. During the day, we've been plowing through the material, trying to cover three days of coursework in two days. For the rest of the week, we are going to learn about the new version of the software, when we hardly know the old.

At night, it's all about meeting people and trading stories. Not much time for much else.

More later.

- Aw2pp, eh

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Another recording - my ABF Recital Submission

Thanks for the warm welcome back. I owe you some thoughts on the job search, and the position I ended up with. Maybe later this week. But one of my to-do's prior to getting on the plane tomorrow was to record and submit my Quarterly Recital Piece (my second!). And here it is.

I Due Fiumi - Aw2pp link

Things I like:
- No major errors. Unlike Ombre, my first recital piece, there were no obvious hesitations or missed notes on this recording. Which is good for me. It's not perfect (hold that thought), but if I played it this well for my actual recital in June, I would be happy with this.
- The music. After playing it probably hundreds of times, this piece is still new and fresh to me. My attention span isn't so good... music tends to bore me quickly, so that is really saying something.

Things I don't like:
- I may have mentioned before that my Pianissimo virtual piano, which came with a Christmas present, was only a trial version. This MP3 was made with a free soundfount, the Maestro Grand Piano. It's a very large file, but still, I think the recording sounds artificial. It's obviously a digital piano. Wish it sounded more lifelike, but then again, I am not willing to pay for something that does.
- No major mistakes, but a couple of minor ones. A couple of pedaling errors that Monica K and Anthony B might notice, because they know the piece so well. And I wish I had come in stronger with the RH at about the 3:04 mark.

But all in all, this isn't bad for me, and I am reasonably happy with it.

Mom3gram... bananas? I hereby make a promise to you that I will eat a banana on the way to the church (where our recital will be). I found, during the 10 or 15 takes it took to record this version, that a good deep breath (combined with a bottle of Zinfandel... not White Zinfandel, mind you, but the real stuff) is a very helpful relaxer prior to the first measure. I'm all for trying other proven methods as well, because I bet I will be a bundle of nerves on recital day.

- Aw2pp, who hopes the Hilton in Toronto has a piano somewhere.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Regular blogging schedule to resume in 3, 2, 1...

Ok, the job hunt is over, and normalcy is making good on its threat to return. I've plenty to post, but for now, let's prime the pump with a shaky recording of Alexander's Ragtime Band. I admit to a love / hate relationship with this piece. First, the lyrics are totally annoying.

The can play a bugle call, like you never heard before
So natural, make you want to go to way
That's just the bestest band what am...

I mean, who wrote this, Popeye? (Answer: Irving Berlin)

But my initial dislike was more than lyrical. The jumps were unnatural to me, and rather than playing them, I had to basically memorize them, because they made little intrinsic sense to me. Once memorized, though, the piece start to come together a little for me, and at that point, it became fun. I played this a lot two weeks ago, and into this past weekend. But then I found I could not polish it to my liking, and I got all annoyed again. So here it is, as good as it is going to get.


Alexanders Ragtime Band - Aw2pp link

- Aw2pp, who is all a-twitter about his new job, and will tell you about it later