Saturday, December 12, 2009

Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Discovered today that I'm only one degree away from the following people on LinkedIn:

Kevin Bacon
Barack Obama
John McCain

Small world or what?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hope, NJ

Enjoying an "alternative Thanksgiving" this weekend at this bed and beakfast in Hope, NJ. Hope was the first "planned town" in America - it was built by Moravians (a Lutheran sect) in the 1760's. The one inn in town used to be the mill, so its situatied on this quaint stream (the stream runs through the building). The inn is also the tavern and the restaurant for the town - it's a compact little place, but one of the most unique I've seen in New Jersey. There's an alley you can walk up a hill past the stream into the center of town, and most all the buildings date from the 1700's. Outside the town its just the rolling hills of Warren county. Hard to believe that New York City is less than an hour away.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Is my favorite time of year and things seem to be going better than they have in a long time.

After Dad died at the end of 2007, it was a dark period...we bought property in California to cheer us up...Mom got sick...and then the economy crashed. Suddenly everything looked glum.

This seems to be the season of recovery. The new job is going well - having a long weekend of beautiful weather to take a break is a great recharger. Moreover, the economy seems to be stabilizing, our finances are improving, Mom is stabilizing in her new living situation, and it feels like things are getting back to normal. Unemployment may still be on the upswing but for us, at least, anxiety is definitely subsiding. Who knows, maybe soon we could even start thinking about things like our future again.

September has had a checkered history this decade. There was September 11th, to start it off. Other Septembers have brought economic crises, work crises, office moves (which I hate). But September is the season of most possibility, when the air turns clear and crisp, when the sunlight shines bright, and where fall is still a welcome season of harvest and bounty to plan and bundle up the house for. This September has that feeling again and it's most sincerely welcome.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How I Found My New Job: The Stats

As many of you know, I recently started a new job. I've been asked by many people how I found a job in this tough environment, so I thought I would publish a few of my stats here that might put the job hunt into perspective.

First, the job I found was in the area of new media strategy. While many traditional industries are shrinking - including advertising, publishing, real estate, finance, and traditional marketing - one area where companies are still building up staff is in digital. For anyone who has worked in a new media environment for a substantial length of time, as I have (fifteen years), the hiring prospects would be better than most other industries. It's probably third only to government and healthcare in terms of marketable expertise these days.

Even so, the difference between my job search this time and the last time I actively looked for a job (in 1996) was noticeable. My job hunt in 1996 took roughly a week. This job hunt took approximately six months. Of course, I'm looking at a higher level (middle-management), and that would arguably add to the time. But certainly the tough environment has probably doubled the normal time frame that a job search - even in a growing segment - would take these days.

So here are the stats for my search:

I sent out ~180 resumes over a period of six months, averaging roughly eight a week. These resumes were targeted to companies and positions for which I was qualified and which I would consider a good career move - there were no "just need a job" applications. The great majority were in my geographical area (New York metro). I created six different versions of my resume based on my experience and interests, each extremely tailored to a particular type of job title / industry vertical that I was looking for (product development, agency strategy, publishing strategy, interactive marketing, etc.) The best place for me to find job leads were:

Linked In

Twitter job tweeters (ie., @socialmediajobs) and their ancillary job boards

Google search on desired job titles

Those 180 resumes resulted in roughly 35 phone screens, or approximately one phone screen a week. About half of the phone screens were with independent recruiters, the other half with in-house HR personnel or entrepreneurs. That's about a 20% success rate from resume --> screen, which is what you want your resume to do.

Phone screens led to approximately 14 in-person interviews, or about a 40% success rate on the phone screen. To me that actually seems a good rate - anything higher and you'll probably be wasting your time, as the most time you spend is on arranging and attending the first in-person interview. Also keep in mind that my schedule was flexible and allowed me to arrange all these interviews without interference.

Each initial interview required a few hours of preparation in terms of reviewing your resume and the job description, researching the company and the position, determining the correct wardrobe and strategy for the interview and so on. I found this research essential to having a good interview and being able to respond to questions "on your feet." It was particularly good to research a few facts related to your duties that you could toss out - information that would be impressive to know - and find good occasion to include this information in the discussions. In fact in the cases where I didn't have time to do such preparation (I got one call from someone to come down "immediately" that afternoon for an interview), the interview didn't go nearly as well, so spending this time was critical.

Fourteen first interviews led to eight second interviews, or a ~60% call-back rate. Cases that didn't result in a second interview were likely cases where there had been no phone screen, I hadn't had time for full preparation, or in some recruiter-arranged interviews where my background hadn't been a good match for the position to start with, and one case where a new person was assigned to manage the job who brought a different set of requirements from the initial reviewer. In most instances where I had already had an initial contact with the company going in, and knew that job was a good match for my skills, getting a second interview was going to be likely. Lesson: if you are well prepared and a match for the position, then you should be able to get the second interview, unless there are factors out of your control.

So I had eight second interviews, but of those eight second interviews five of them PUT THE POSITION ON HOLD instead of giving a job offer. This was very frustrating because in normal times, I felt I would have gotten five - not one, but five - job offers out of this process. It was also frustrating to go through a complete interview process only to be told at the end that there was no position. Couldn't companies make that decision earlier, or give candidates some indication that the allocation for the position might be uncertain? All of these positions that evaporated - saving one - were advertised as fully funded approved positions. I know these are challenging times, but I think that companies might want to re-look at how they handled the "putting on hold" issue with their HR personnel. However, the fact that so many positions are being "put on hold" means essentially you need to be able to land four offers just to actually get one, since a MAJORITY OF ADVERTISED JOBS are ending up being put on hold. If you think about that, you realize that you can't count any offer until it actually arrives - and don't think anything is likely. Getting your hopes up and then dashed is one of the hardest things about this process.

Of the remaining three companies, one was planning to continue interviewing for another couple of months and was in no hurry to extend an offer, one praised my abilities but said they felt they couldn't afford me and were hiring someone more junior instead, and the other extended an offer.

One last point I need to make. As it turns out, the company that extended the offer has turned out to be a really excellent match both for them and for me: not only an excellent opportunity for my personal career, but also a job where it seems all my experience is valuable and I can make the biggest difference for my employer. So perhaps there is a silver lining, here: the fact that the slow economy has stretched out the interview process, and required talking with many more companies and a wider pool of possible employers, might mean there is more time now for the right employee to realize a better match with the right employer. Which is good for everyone.

So this was the process. The average time from initial phone screen to hearing a no, "put on hold" answer, or an offer was approximately two months, with a lead time between one to four weeks from resume submission to phone screen.

I hope this information helps anyone who is looking for a job in this tough environment. One other piece of advice - keep some kind of Excel document or ledger about your progress, so it is easy to track who you've talked to and when to check in with them again. While you are in the interviewing process, check in every couple of weeks by sending a very short "hello again" email with a link to some relevant research, news, or information. Everyone I did this with appreciated it and staying in touch pro-actively with my active leads kept me on the radar at companies where I might have slipped off otherwise.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Battlestar Gallactica Finale: Good, with some Meh

Ok, now that it's over, here's my rundown of the final act of what I think has been the best TV sci-fi series in history.

Yes, spoilers abound, so tread carefully.

Focus on character - top notch!

Toasters battling each other - super cool!

Revelation about Earth - figured we were going there, but handled well.

Big thematic revelations about God, Gods, et all - not so much.

However, what's beautiful about this series is that it's woven together many characters and themes over several years. The final five episodes did a marvelous job of bringing those together...mostly. Here's what I liked (or didn't) about each of those.


Dee - Though suicide was symbol of general despair of Galactica, felt this was the wrong sendoff for a character of such spirit. Wasn't prepared well enough.

Cally - LOVED...absolutely loved how Cally's murder suddenly resurfaces in final episode and was so tied to the drama. That's courageous writing, and it worked.

Zarek/Gaeta - The mutiny and the turn these characters took were essential to the overall thematic duality of the show. A powerful sendoff for two of the shows "glue" characters whose fates symbolized that of humanity as a whole.

Doc Cottle - Best written goodbye of any character. Yes, self-referential, but so what.

Racetrack - Her death was cut short, especially considering its pivotal role to the final battle. Where was her backstory?

Lampkin - Fitting punishment for such a cynic: becoming President.

The Replacement Admiral (whose name I can't remember) - Why not give this to a longer recurring character? These moments were wasted, especially considering the position ended up being meaningless.

Helo - Nice ending with Athena, but his final character test - the moment that he had to defy Galen's advice and trust his cylon girlfriend - was absent. Why? Sending her off while bleeding isn't trust; there was no real jeopardy. This set up wasn't delivered well.

Baltar - The Caprica flashbacks, father, farming comments at end all worked well. Seeing the flashback scene where Baltar offers Caprica a look at the facilities as a coda to the entire series was chilling, simply chilling, and so I know this character arc was handled superbly.

Laura Roslin - Lovely story, death handled well, perhaps one of the most moving characters in the series in the end. I must admit, I never really liked Roslin that much but the finale really brought me to feel for her. It was wise of the writers to sense that she had been a cold character most of the series and to give her a rich family life/tragedy was a nice touch to explaining who she was.

Lee Adama - Really felt he got the short shrift of the finale. What the hell was the bird metaphor for? Lee deserved a better written ending, his character felt weak. However, liked introducing his brother at the end. They really looked like brothers.

Bill Adama - Sitting on hill seemed an appropriate final moment. But the flashback scenes of his potential retirement (and "interrogation"?) were confusing. His decision to lead Galactica was muddled. For such an important character I think more thought needed to go into this. Would have preferred more about Adama's backstory and less about the ship itself.


Cavil (#1) - I felt Dean Stockwell's decision to have Cavil off himself was a fitting ending for him, though I would have liked to have had some dialogue to go with that.

Leobin (#2) - His prescience about Starbuck was never explained. This lose thread should have been sewn up (see below). Will we get more in "The Plan" miniseries?

D'Anna (#3) - Presumed her "boxed" model was lost when base ship was destroyed. But would have liked to have had some reminder of her before the end.

Simon (#4) - A bit of a mystery to the end, eh? Perhaps we'll get more in miniseries.

Doral (#5) - Stood around a lot looking Cylony. Never really got to know him either.

Caprica (#6) - Ah, now we get to one of the key characters. Her flashback scenes with Baltar were great, but in the end, we never got to understand her. I think this was a mistake and could have made the "Head" characters more interesting (see below).

Boomer (#8) - This two-faced character was always a problem throughout the series, but the final episodes handled her brilliantly. Loved the final flashback. Actually one of the more touching moments of the finale. Even so, the issue of "switching her on" as a cylon (in the first season) and whether or not she had the free will to decide her fate (as the final five cylons do) was never satisfactorily explained. It's as if they realized they made a mistake with her character and handled all the other cylons differently. The nice ending couldn't clear that up.

Athena (#8) - Her fight for Hera was well handled, though not exceptional. There could have been more here.

Tory - Never handled well, I thought, but her fate was fitting. Even so, why did she do what she did? She was always too much a cypher.

Anders - Well, what can you say, he went out with style. Beautifully shot, very majestic.

Galen - I like the idea that he ends up on a cold isle in the north. Is this supposed to be the origin of Gaelic? Even if not, it was a nice joke.

Ellen & Saul Tigh - I never bought that they were a couple that were meant for each other. More like one that hung around for shared addictions. I suppose that's what we're supposed to get from their flashbacks, but where are we supposed to take this? Something was missing here, in their trajectories.

The others

Hera - Yep, mitochondrial mother makes good sense to me. I know some laugh at this but the series seemed to know where it was going here and played it out logically.

Starbuck - Count me on the "what the frack?" side of the controversy over Starbuck. I really felt disappointed. Not just because I had bought into the Seven/Daniel/Father theory. But because a) if Starbuck is an angel, why doesn't she know she's an angel? and b) why can everybody see her and c) doesn't this just break with the reality the series has been striving for all along? I saw it as a story cheat, and they should have found a better way to stay in the world they had created. She can be a "symbolic" angel but to make her a real one is a deus ex machina cheat of the worst kind.

Plus, why kill herself trying to find the first Earth? This makes no sense, if she was an angel wouldn't she have ALWAYS been an angel? If God (or whomever) can send her back as an angel, why not send her back with a print-out of the coordinates to Earth 2? (And a heap of pepperoni pizzas for the crew, I'm sure they could have used those too.) Or why not send back a more deserving character - Billy, say, who probably had the most angelic nature of anyone on the show.

Not being Catholic I also don't by the "trinity" idea between Adama, Apollo, and Starbuck, that some writers have suggested and which I find a bit insulting since Adama would be the last person to equate himself with God. I liked the religious symbolism in this series but symbolism is different from a literal descent of an angel, which is just either preachy or insane.


I don't buy the "Watchtower" music thread. IF this is a code for coordinates to earth, how can Hera be born with it, how can the final five be activated by it, and how can Starbuck be taught it by her father? Either the writers think Dillon is God (which is, by the way, extremely teenagery), or they are saying Dillon merely discovered the song from the great cosmos (which is extremely silly), or they just fudged this thread that they had woven through the entire series. I don't buy it and it bothers me that they hung SO MUCH of the series on this idea that was not even 1/4 baked.

The "Head" Characters - Ok, here I laughed. The ending was so Matrix-y, I was like, come-on, can't you make up something more original? It was like the ending to Bedazzled with Elizabeth's Hurley's devil debating God on the Santa Monica pier. Again, it makes no sense that Baltar and Caprica are the only people who see these characters, and their effect on the trajectory of the series is so flippant that it again undercuts all the other good that had gone before. Here's the problem - IF they are figments, then they shouldn't be able to see each other's characters. At least that would have kept the reality a bit more consistent.

As you can see, I'm so irritated by the problems posed by these non-human/non-cylon characters, especially because they really undermined what was otherwise a great series and great finale. I really wish the writers had had more time to figure out these essential elements more carefully.

Even so, it still remains one of the best shows on television. If the writers had been able to resolve these elements, it could have been great all the way through.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Battlestar Gallactica Spoiler Theory

Ok - just three episodes remain and some writers on BSG forums have postulated an idea that is making more and more sense. So I think I've figured out how this series will end. This is ALL SPOILERS so if you aren't up with the latest episodes, stop reading NOW. But I believe the next three episodes will answer all the questions we've been waiting for from the entire series. Here are the big questions remaining:

1. How / why does Baltar communicate w/ 6 in his head if he's not a cylon? Why does this seem so similar to the "cylon projection" we saw between Boomer and Chief?

2. What is Starbuck's "special destiny"?

3. How did Starbuck survive the crash if she's not one of the thirteen cylons?

4. How did Starbuck know how to find Earth?

5. Why is the human/cylon hybrid child Hera so important to Cavil and the "hardcore" cylons?

6. Why does President Roslyn share the visions with 6 about Hera?

7. Where did resurrection technology original from, and how was it lost?

8. What was the cause of the destruction of Earth?

What we've learned so far about these questions:

1. On Friday night's episode we saw Starbuck playing piano with her father (or a memory of her father, at any rate). Her father was a composer who left her mother because she asked him to stop playing.

2. We know there is a missing cylon model (Daniel, #7) who was an "artist."

3. Baltar is still capable of imagining/having visions of 6.

4. The final five cylons "re-invented" resurrection/download technology before Earth was destroyed, led by Ellen.

5. The cylon models created by the final five have been infertle, and as Cavil has explained, feel existentially trapped between machine and human (except that Caprica Six and Tigh were able to have a child).

6. The 8 cylcon models created by the final five seem much more capable of deception and murder than do the final five, with the notable exception of Caprica Six and Athena.

7. The child Hera seems to intuitively know the same song that activated the final five on Gallactica.

So my theory, or the enhanced version of the theory others have proposed, is this:

Starbuck is the original cylon/human hybrid, born of Number 7 (Daniel) and Starbuck's mother, an army officer who died of cancer. Like Hera, the latest cylon/human child, her heritage has given her an intuitive understanding of the location of Earth.

Sensing that their cylon creations were about to turn on them, Ellen and the final five must have programmed some of the cylons (Daniel, possibly number 8 - Athena - and maybe 6?) with some kind of musical DNA that could be pass on to his heirs and that would re-call and re-activate the memory of the final five at some future time.

There may be other secrets programmed into the DNA, and perhaps Cavil wants Hera in order to plumb what else she might know and have stored, perhaps even as a way to achieve control over the final five.

As for the shared visions that 6 has with Roslyn and the projection she's capable of with Baltar, my theory is that the final five are really humans that were able to "crack" download technology and that the potential exists for cylon projection with all humans. In other words, a shared heritage that suggests there is little difference between cylons and human, other than who created them, or rather, the only difference is technology. As in all wars, the original war on Earth was over both the religious and technological differences over this technological advance.

And what of Baltar and his seeming cylon projection with 6? How was it possible that Baltar survived the initial blast on Caprica?

My theory: he didn't survive. He was, like Starbuck, resurrected. But unlike Starbuck, I don't think Baltar is a cylon-human half breed. I think he is a human who 6 decided to try to resurrect, using Ellen's technology. He is the first successful human resurrection - which is why he has visions of 6 (they were resurrected together) and also why Baltar believes in the one God like the cylons.

Then again, maybe not. In three more weeks, we'll find out what we'll find out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

California Dreamin

Just got back from our annual Palm Springs trip. Did the usual things: stayed in Desert Hot Springs, relaxed in spa, hiked through canyons, visited our property. Had our ritual breakfast at Rock Garden Cafe before leaving town.

The house we stayed in was lovely - better than we had expected. Turned out to have three bedrooms and so we changed beds to feel like we were getting our money's worth.

The outdoor spa was the highlight, though. Didn't really need the pool - we'd warm up the spa each night and soak under the stars while we prepped dinner. Then we'd eat next to the outdoor fireplace.

Went on our usual hike through Palm Canyon - that's the canyon that gave Palm Springs its name. It winds behind the town between the hills, and a mountain spring creates a microclimate with cottonwood trees and Palms.

Also went hiking in Box Canyon, which is about fifteen miles east toward the town of Indio. You drive to the end of the desert cities, then cross the All American canal (which is a canal off the Colorado River that pumps water into the valley for date and orange farms), then head into the Mecca Hills, which are low, dirt-colored hills on the north side of the San Andreas fault. There was no-one there at all, it was eerily quiet, and with temperatures in the mid-sixties, it was a much more forgiving environment than it usually is in summer, when temperatures can reach 125. Of course, we also took lots of pictures of our lot in Desert Hot Springs, which you can see here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Brother and His Family Just Returned From Vietnam

My brother and his husband adopted their younger son from Viet Nam. They decided to take the whole family there for the holiday. I think it was a great idea, a real experience for the kids and certainly something they will remember for life. My brother is an optometrist so they also gave eye exams and medicine to the kids at the orphanage where they adopted my nephew.