Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Broken Vagabonds


The job problem has been solved. I've accepted one of the two offers that were presented last week. Funny, I think the one I wanted (and accepted) knew that I wanted it, and therefore did not budge on any of the terms. The other seemed to know that I wasn't thrilled with the company nor the offer, and, so, seemed to be willing to change anything. Too bad that wasn't compelling enough.

That's negotiation, I suppose.

It now official: June the Twelfth, I give up my short-lived, roaming lifestyle, and stay put. These vagabonds are broken, and I'm free to return to those of labor.

It's not so bad[1]. It really just ushers in a new chapter, with new work, new locations, a new home, and a new outlook on life. It's been a while since I've worked as a full-time employee. I have been contracting for the past three years. Perhaps I'll see something different, this time around. I've had some good career experiences since then, and some changes in the attitude which will make things go quite a bit more smoothly.

It does seem appropriate that I end my vagabondage with a trip. I'm leaving for Yosemite on Friday[2]. I'll have a Sunday to recover, before heading into the grind. I'll be in on the read eye.

Which brings me to one further subject that has not been touched on lo these many weeks. It's the question on everyone's mind: How's the Tango, since you've been back? Well, I haven't been able to make it. All that effort, wasted, you say? No, no. I'll be back out on the floor on that Sunday.

That's the way to end it.

[1] In other words, I should really stop being so fucking melodramatic.

[2] No, there probably won't be a post. There, there, don't cry. I know, it's hard, but time heals. Trust me.

shut up!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Decisions, Decisions


Even I'm surprised by my Network. I had two interviews last week, as a result of openings passed my way by its members. The results came in pretty quickly: I had two offers sitting in front of me by afternoon Thursday. So now, I have been thinking through the process of deciding on which of the jobs I should accept.

It is not as hard as you think.

As it turns out, I really only want one of the positions[1]. They both have their reasons for interesting me. They both offer a competitive salary and benefits. They both come ready made with people I've worked with before (and, therefore, an easier transition into working again). One of them is just more compelling to work for, however.

One just has a bit more interesting work, is populated with a bit more interesting people, and has a more interesting location. Otherwise, it's actually hard to compare the two. They are apples to oranges, completely different jobs, targeting completely different types of software.

So the choice for me is quite simple. I just need to get what I want out of the company. This is the really selfish stage of job hunting. The potential employee (me) needs to try and get as much out of the potential employer (the people with the money) as possible[2]. Everybody at this stage is trying to get all they can out of the deal.

Sure, there is a little bit of compromise on both sides. I'm usually a pretty poor negotiator with, in the past, all the compromise on my end of the table. This time, I'm trying to move it back into the middle with some give-take on both sides. I'll give a little on salary, if you give a little on benefits.

I like to think that the last three months of traveling has emboldened me to think this way. I would like to think that I learned a thing or two about haggling, bargaining, and negotiating to get the best deal. I would like to think that it has given me more confidence to judge my value at a higher level.

Really, it's those two offers on the table. Says to me that I am one damned desirable little coder.

[1] I won't say which one. I don't want to tip my hand here. I'm still doing a little bit of negotiating. You'll have to guess, really. I'm hoping that I don't give too much away.

[2] With in reason, of course. It's not like I'm asking for a leased Porche, or a corner office. I'm just looking for a little more vacation time. I'm giving up my travel freedom that I get with contracting. I see that as a big sacrifice that I'm willing to make because I like the company, and feel like it would be a good fit. Otherwise, I'll just stick with contracting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stock Photography

Covered Stairs

I've been trying to sort through my pictures to find the decent shots. It's been taking a while. There are so many photos, that I'm a bit daunted. I took just short of four hundred pictures that need to be viewed, approved and made public in my photo stream.

That doesn't include the pictures of Scotland.

It's one of the few things I've been really procrastinating about. I know that people are interested, but I don't want to overwhelm them (nor underwhelm them - they need to be the best of the best). I think there are a few decent pictures in there. A majority of them have some decent elements in them, but perhaps need to be cropped correctly.

Here's the one major complaint I have about the camera that I used on recent travels[1]: the optical viewfinder is an asymmetrical cropping of what the lens sees. This really has ticked my off in the final evaluation of photos. Many that I thought were centered have a slight (like the one above) to seriously noticeable asymmetry.

This has created one of the major sources of procrastination: I don't really want to post-process my photos. If they didn't turn out well, then they get dropped into the archive.

It's also created a desire to drop some more cash on a new camera. I really would like to get a nice[2] SLR camera, with a set of lenses for varied zoom levels. I would like to be able to take more intimate photos while shooting street scenes, or at gathers. It seems to be the best way to capture natural emotions if the subject doesn't know that you're shooting them.

I could probably get by just with learning how to shoot around this particular camera's idiosyncrasies, but why "get by" when I could do it right? Or is it just throwing money at a problem?

[1] The Canon SD450. It a great camera for point and shoot, really.

[2] Digital, but not too expensive. I don't ask for much, really...

Monday, May 22, 2006



I've been making the rounds, since I've been home. I've been refamiliarizing myself with Minneapolis. I've been returning to old haunts, enjoying the a strong cup of joe. Checking in with people, catching up, and basically re-integrating myself back into society.

As a result, I've already another trip planned.

I know, I just got home, but I still have this fly-by-the-seat-my-pants mentality. Go where the wind and low cost airless will take me. That, and dinner and beer goes along way to convincing me that I should join a camping expedition to Yosemite.

Granted, it's only for a week. It's not some grand adventure. Although, if I go on the planned whitewater rafting trip[1], I might find myself dashed about the rocks. There will be some hiking and camping.

This does not mean that all's quiet on the job front. I had an interview this morning, which I think went pretty well. I'm not going to count it as won, but I'm sure I've made it past the first round.

The only thing here that really makes me step back and think about this position is that it would mean an end to contracting for the time being. I will lose the freedom that contracting provides to go on these longer term trips. It ties me back to the two or three week length vacation. Kind of puts an end to all the wandering.

I don't look at myself as a guy who does serious wandering, either. Most of the people I met in Argentina were on the road for six months to a year. Less so in Europe, only due to the fact that there are so many students who have finished up their study abroad programs. Then there is this guy, who has been traveling around the world for nine years. I have no idea how that guy can do it, but he must be making a living somehow.

I, on the other hand, am ready to get back to work. I've come to terms with the fact that I am a programmer. It's what I do and is what I'm good at.

Just one more little trip, though. I promise, it's the last one for a while.

[1] For those of you who I haven't caught up with yet. Patience people, patience. There's only so much time. If you all would quit your jobs and be a bum like me, it would be easy. That not being the case, you'll have to just hang on... I'm doing my best.

"Your best? Only losers whine about doing their best. Winners go home and f**k the prom queen." - Sean Connery, in The Rock.

Oh, the quotability of Michael Bay films.

[2] I'm freaked the hell out by rapids. I don't know why. They're a fear of mine. Water. Rocks. Brains being dashed out all over said Rocks by said Water.

Gives me the willies.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Punches Keep Coming


I feel almost Zen like in my ability to accept things that I cannot change. I'm not sure there's any problem that I couldn't pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again[1].

It turns out, I'm not starting work on Monday.

Apparently, one of the joys of contracting seems to be that things aren't definite until you show up, sit down and maybe write a little code. The contract I thought I'd be starting has been pushed out three or four weeks, due to another project that seems to be running long. This does not instill confidence in me about the fact that this will be the only delay.

Here's where that Zen attitude comes into play. I got the phone call about the extension in my car, on the way home from a lunch. When I got home, I sat down with my laptop and sent emails out to all the hits I had received whilst[2] I was away. By dinner time, I had another interview setup for Monday. All in under three hours.

Sometimes, I love the digital age.

So with emails fired off and a meeting setup with one of my pim...err...contracting firms today, I find myself less than worried about this whole delay. If I don't find a new gig in the next few weeks, the original contract should (as long as there are no further delays - I'm not holding my breath) start.

No worries, I'll be back in the ring soon enough.

[1] I'm ripping that one off from "Pick Yourself Up" by Nat King Cole. What a song writer, that Nat.

Whilst is a good word. I don't think people use it enough. It seems to fit in better than while when followed by a vowel.

Ok, so I think I might be just tripping on a little too much on my own vocabulary.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Weary Tappers

These guys have been through streets, mountains, and dance halls on two continents. They've been plodded along rough terrain and cobbled streets for what I estimate to be about 250 miles.

They are worn out.

This is a first really. I've never had to just throw out a piece of travel equipment due to extreme use. However, this pair has done it's duty and deserves to be sent off to it's final resting place.

I shall shed a tear for their tireless efforts.

Keep On Rolling On


Jetlag is a curious thing. It affects the brains ability to feel fully awake. It steals one's ability to sleep. It alters one's internal clock, to the point the one hour feels as good as the next. It steals one's car.

Wait. Steals one's car?

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun on that one, blaming Jetlag, and all his siblings[1]. It was incompetence that stole my car actually. Apparently, the security at the contract parking ramp where I stored my car felt, for the security of the other ramp users, that it would be best to tow it away. After all, it had been there seven weeks, it must have been abandoned.

Even though it had my license plates clearly in the place that license plates should be. Said license plates, again easily readable, also were listed on the contract. This did not deter the them from thinking it was abandoned.

Granted, this sort of situation would usually make a person angry. They would be in their right to be so. I noticed, though, that I was able to take this in stride. Backpacking has a tendency to really reduce the concern that someone has about something going wrong. While backpacking, more often than not, you are relying on public transport, publicly controlled attractions, and government employees of all types. In less developed countries, with decaying or poorly built infrastructure, delays are an expected nuisance. One just has to get used to the idea that more likely than not, something will go wrong.

In Paris, for example, I was kicked off the Metro. No, I wasn't doing anything wrong, everyone was kicked off. There was a lot of rather embarrassed and concerned looking maintenance people scurrying around the platform, trying to figure out what was going wrong. I tried to take the other line at that station, only to be told (I think) that the whole station was being shutdown, and I should find a different way home. So, I just walked, no big deal. And this was Paris.

One just has to roll with the punches. It's good when one returns home because, for a while at least, this ability to roll is great. Nothing really gets the blood boiling. This tends to wear off in about a week[2] or so, but it's nice while it lasts.

Err...So, What Happens Now?

Right, so, I do need to answer the question of what the hell am I going to do with the blog, give that I am going back to work. Well, the answer is pretty simple: I'll keep writing for a little while longer. How much longer is still up in the air.

Going back to work is certainly part of this whole experience. That transition back may provide something interesting to write about, or it may be as boring as watching any of the CSI spin-off/knock-off shows. I have been away from work for about five months now. I wonder if it's like a break up; perhaps I'll need a week recovery time for every month I was in it.

We shall see.

[1] Jetlag is a minor Greek god from the lesser-known family of second generation gods, the Annoyances, birthed parthenogenically via Eris. His siblings include Bloating, Irritability, Dry-Mouth, Pun, Film Criticism (originally know as Theatre Criticism - he recently had his name changed after a dispute with the Tony Award Committee), and, of course Incompetence.

Every one had always hoped that Incompetence would have killed himself in some sort of an accident with one of Zues' lightning bolts, but he was always too busy petting George, the lint in his belly button.

[2] Under less stressful environments, this can last indefinitely. As I do start work for another few days, and I'm not going back to G******ks (name hidden to protect the innocent), where high stress is considered "normal", I feel that I can keep this laid back attitude a little longer.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Last Stop


Back up in London town, after a surprisingly quiet and relaxed weekend Paris. It really was great to be back. I found that the parts I love best in Paris, where I felt most at ease. Montmartre, as neighborhoods go, is one of my favorite parts of town to just walkabout, have a coffee, and sit in a restaurant enjoying a meal. It also happens to be a great place for people watching.

Another great people watching area is the Gardens of Luxembourg. It's the park where the Parisians come to enjoy a sunny weekend afternoon. The occasional tourist wonders through, but they don't seem to stick around past a few snaps of their camera.

But here I am, up in London, with one more day. Which is a bit odd, actually. I thought I was supposed to fly out today. I thought I had planned it so that I wouldn't have to spend more than a few hours trekking between Luton and Heathrow airports. It turns out that I actually leave tomorrow. Fortunately I figured this out a few days ago. No worries on booking a hostel, getting into to town, not mistakenly heading to Heathrow, only to be turned back.

I seem to have a problem with keeping the last day of a trip in mind. Any trip longer than two weeks and that last date starts to become a little fuzzy. I have a ballpark figure in my head, but it's usually a plus-or-minus situation. This happened to me in China, as well. There I was thinking I left a day later. Fortunately then, as now, I figured this out a few days in advance[1].

I'm not sure I'm ready to put in closing thoughts on this little vagabond tour. It's still a little open-ended. Not that open-ended, mind you. I actually start a new contract a week from today[2]. That has put a definite end to this whole voyage, err, adventure, err, epic expedition of Avoiding Responsible Adulthood.

Now the only question left is, what the hell should I do with a half-day in London?

[1] Would have been much more of a pain in the ass, since I would have been in Shanghai, 1800 miles from my flight.

[2] Chalk that up to some mean, international phone interviewing skills.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bit of a Present


I had a problem. I couldn't fly back to London from Bucharest for less than 900 bucks. My inexpensive options were Bratislava, Slovakia, or Paris. Both provided cheap hops back to London.

I gave into temptation.

I've said before, Paris is one of my favorite cities. There is so much here I haven't seen. It has cafes, it has the parks, and it has great people watching. It really wasn't that hard of a choice.

There was on thing in particular that I gave myself, as well. I happened to walk past this place called Breakfast in America. As the name implies, it's a American-style grille. I haven't had a good, American breakfast[1] in a long time; eggs, pancakes, and some sausage. Man, it was tasty. I know, I know, I'm in Paris, and I should be sampling local cuisine, but I've been doing that for weeks.

Ok, so that and a trip to the Louvre. No trip to Paris is complete without it. I think I've gone everytime I've been here, and probably will in the forseeable future. I spent much of my visit this time around touring through the ancient artworks of Rome, Eygpt and the Middle East. These cover practically a whole wing of the building (which also exposed me to some pretty amazing rooms I had not seen before).

I stopped in the Italian Painter section, as well, for the obligitory viewing of the Mona Lisa. I had seen Da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine in Krakow, and wanted to compare the two. I think the Lady is actually his best work. The museum had re-done the Italian section, rotating in different works, as well as moving the Mona Lisa to a larger room in the section. The Da Vinci Code Effect[2] strikes again.

It's a joy to walk around this city, again. It seems so familiar, yet there is always something here that suprises me. One of the surprising things is that it also has, apparently, a pretty good tango scene. Something to check out tomorrow...

[1] I really hope the NSA is monitoring everyone's reading of this. All this "American"-whatnot business will help your standings in the Not-A-Terrorist Department.

[2] Similar to the
Slashdot Effect in the way it increases traffic to sights in the novel.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bucharest Blues


I'm determined to not let Bucharest get me down. It's gritty. It's full of awful looking communist block housing. It's been devastated by war, earthquakes, and Ceauşescu.

It bloody challenging.

Bucharest used to be called "the Little Paris" or the "Paris of the East." It turns out that I was wrong about this for other cities. They all aspire to have the reputation. Bucharest had it. So much of the construction around the turn of the century was designed to make the city a little duplicate of the French Capital. Unfortunately major earthquakes and World War II destroyed much of the great structures in the city. And only a few of these buildings continued on after the reign of Ceauşescu.

Another reason is that I think I'm starting to feel a little sick. I was quite relaxed in Brasov, ready to take on a new and challenging city. I might have gotten a little too comfortable there, and a little careless. I'm normally pretty good about food, but...

So Bucharest might not be much of a stop. I'm only here for a whole day as it is, since I fly back West very early tomorrow morning. Hopefully I'll be back on the healthy train, as well.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Transylvanian Hide-away


This is a pleasant little place. Well, it feels pretty small, anyway. Similar to Krakow, in a lot of respects, only smaller. The old medieval town center is still the center of commerce, at least as consumer business goes. The locals are quite friendly and I've had some of the best service at restaurants on the whole of my trip.

I think I might stay just one more night than planned.

I took a half-day tour yesterday to see the Bran and Rasnov Castles. Bran castle has the (false) reputation of being Dracula's castle, but is quite distant from the actual home of the historical figure, in Wallachia. It was used up through the Twenties by part of the royal family of Romania, which has left it in excellent shape, and with very modern interiors.

Rasnov castle is the much more dramatic of the two. Perched very high up on a hill, over looking the town, it is more of a old ruined citadel, than a castle. Inside is the remains of a whole town, some of which has been rebuilt to form the museum and the requisite tourist shops. The views from the top provide a dramatic panorama of the surrounding mountains, marred only be the ruined factories and nuclear cooling tower in the town below.

There are a good deal of other day-trips out of the city as well. Brasov sits in a valley in the Carpathian mountains. Many of the small towns surrounding Brasov still maintain their medieval flavor. I plan to take a day-trip out to a very well preserved town tomorrow, hence the extra day[1].

I've really enjoyed being back in a more rural setting. The mountains are accessible from the center of the old town, full of well maintained trails. It's been a really great break from the hustle and bustle of the cities.

[1] Ok, so the other part of that is that I have not heard great things about Bucharest. Everyone I talk to seems to say that you don't need more than a day or two there. So this way, I'm just shortening my stay to about 2 and half days, before flying back west.

Apparently, totalitarianism was not kind to Bucharest...

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Danube in the Night-time

The Danube in the Night-time
Originally uploaded by

This as up-to-date as it gets. I finally was able to upload a couple more photos from the Eastern Europe leg of the Journey.

I made it down to Brasov this morning on the train. It's a confusing little town, with winding, medieval streets. A Poor map and a hostel just off the map doesn't help.

The locals are pretty helpful, though. I'm amazed at how well (and willing) they speak English. I asked an older woman for directions and was suprised by the her skill. She actually left her shop and walked me half-way to the street I was trying to find.

Not that the town is that large that being off the map is a problem. Every thing (save the train station) is within a 15-20 minute walk. The town square is a small, but pretty part of town. Apparently it is the best one of its kind in the Romania.

It's on and off rainy here today, so the exploring might be minimal. Not a worry, though. I'll be here three nights before heading down to Bucharest.

Things certainly are winding down...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Can't Stop, Won't Stop


I chose to spend an extra night in Budapest. It's such a great walking city, for one, and a couple of rainy days also made me think that I might need that extra day.

The rain did not stop me.

Slowed me down a bit, but there was no stopping. I think that it merely added a different flavor[1] to the city. The heavy rain and thick, low clouds reduced the number of people out on the streets, making for a more tourist-free scene. Most of the people with umbrellas looked like locals going to and from their daily routines. It gave the city a more natural feel.

I did take that breather with the trip to the baths, on the first of those rainy days. The public bath is an enormous complex with a variety of pools of varying temperatures. There are both indoor (which I used) and outdoor (which somehow I couldn't find) pools. I just alternated for two hours between the 38 degree C pool and the 50 degree C sauna. I felt so relaxed.

Even still, all relaxed and prepared to just hang out for the rest of the day, I did a quick walk up Gallert Hill, to the citadel. This is the highest hill in central Buda, which affords some great views of the city, including the castle from above. The citadel itself is only the remnants of a fortress, but now is the location of a World War II monument. It is surrounded by a massive series of parks that cover the whole of the hill.

The following day was filled with more museums, more monuments, and Roman ruins. The most interesting museum, based on presentation, was the Terror House. It covers the history of the Nazi occupation, the Arrow Cross Party (Hungary's own home-grown Nazi party), and the communist era. Most of the history surrounds the atrocities surrounding each of these regimes. The museum used a multimedia approach, with many contemporary art pieces to present the concepts. The only detractor was that only some of the videos had English subtitles.

Also had quite the run around to get tickets out of to Brasov, Romania. I lost a whole afternoon, going back and forth from the station. It's all squared away and I so I'll head onto my last set of destinations in Eastern Europe. The trip is really starting to wind down.

Maybe I'll take that break in Romania...

[1] The rain, unfortunately, also added a certain smell, a wet Budapest smell. It ain't like roses...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Public Holiday


May the First happens to be Labor Day in much of Europe, including here in Budapest. Most things are closed, but all of the state run entertainments are open - museums, baths, and monuments. But stores and many restaurants are closed. It's also a bit rainy. Really rainy. Damned rainy.

This is not a Bad Thing.

My dogs are tired. I have been hoofing it for well over a week now, doing some pretty intensive sight seeing. So the rain is providing a much needed day of rest. I may try to go up to the baths, today, but I'm not really going to push myself.

Given the holiday, I spent much of the day yesterday walking about the central park where fair-like tents and food stands had been setup for the holiday. There are rides, fair-food and a whole lot of music. It was Sunday, though, so it seemed as though it was only half setup. I actually feel a little sorry for the locals, missing out on today's holiday cheer due to weather.

The Tango Report

Budapest actually has the best list of tango venues of any city I've been to. There are about five a week, but lessons seem to be harder to find. I checked out a venue last night, a place called Cinema Urania. It was a classic place, with architecture circa 1900, but wonderfully restored. The dance floor was on the first floor, above the lobby. It was also one of the youngest tango crowds I've seen outside of Buenos Aires. They played a great mix of classic and modern tango music, which is a first for me.

For a small milonga, it was pretty impressive.