Category Archives: About Me

MasterCard’s Truly Priceless Ad Campaign

(Originally posted on 2007-11-20 as /archives/118)

The 2007 Subprime Mortgage Financial Crisis is well underway, and what does MasterCard do?  Present me with an ad about using a credit card to get busy with some big-time housing market speculation (see a cobbled-together version of it below).  Priceless.

house

To be sure I don’t see many enemies there.  The market is non-evil.  It just is.  Real Estate has always been a very risky business.  Why?  …because buildings aren’t liquid capital, and houses eat up a large part of one’s income, so one isn’t diversified when one buys a house.  What do I call a non-liquid, non-diverse investment?  I call it a gamble.  Still, if you really want to live in that house, and that house is for sale, then you will need to buy it.

Me?  I tend to prefer to go the Coliag route, which is to rent, while putting the difference between what I pay for rent and what I would have paid for a house into diversified funds.  Coliag (not his actual name) did so well this way that he was buying things like cars, computers, and photographic equipment with cash… before the age of 44, and he stilled had a great retirement stash.  The man was frugal and it paid-off, plus he didn’t need to worry about mowing the lawn.

Yes, some folks have done really well buying and selling their houses, but guess what?  It’s still a gamble, and the baby boom that drove the long-term-run-up is over.

My first house purchase was in Plano Texas… just North of Richardson’s Telecom Corridor…  just before the Dot-bomb-bubble-burst.  IT is a luxury, and spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down. Yes, I know, “But computer jobs are important.” …but they are not. If I run a foundry that makes car parts, and business is slow, then do you think that I am going to buy more aluminum, or complete my new HR IT project? That’s the real story of the dot-bomb implosion. The media focussed on the failing dotcoms, but that didn’t account for most of the layoffs. We had too many computer programmers, working on too many projects, at too many companies, that were still needing to “buy their aluminum”. In a slowdown-like-that the luxuries go first. My industry went first.

I survived one-layoff-per-quarter for 5 years at two different companies, but when I finally was “affected” it was certainly not within my control: the company that I worked-for went from around 2500 workers to less-than 250 during my period with them.  No-one is safe when the cuts run that deep.  Folks said, “Why aren’t you looking for another job?” and then looked at me like I was some kind of freaky alien when I said: “There aren’t many available jobs for what I do, so I am going to focus on doing the best job that I can at my current position.”

  1. I lost my job, and most people that do-what-I-do were already flooding the job market.  I could no longer afford my house, because I had too-little work (I never completely stopped working).
  2. My foreign national neighbors, most of whom were great engineers, were forced to go home, when they also lost their jobs, and couldn’t afford to pay Dallas Texas real estate prices, and also live in India, or wherever, so many of them were forced into foreclosure.  This drove down the value of my house.  So I couldn’t afford to sell it.
  3. I could not afford to rent-out my house, because any potential renters could simply buy my neighbors’ houses for peanuts.  I was very dissapointed with  NPR‘s recent article about renting-out your house if you can’t sell it.  The interviewie had a good experience doing that… when the market was hot… and the article implied that y’all will have the same experience now.  It’s just not so.
  4. The housing market in my area-of-town completely crashed as developers put their new houses on the market, because these builders were also competing with the foreclosures.  Spec builders make building decisions based on yesterday’s demand: where “yesterday” was around five years ago, but the housing market moves up-and-down much faster than that.  (This is is the type of thing that makes it tough to sell a house in Phoenix these days.)  Plus, new houses are luxuries, and “spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down.” <– I just quoted myself!  (Why 5 years?  They need roads, and sewers, and utilities, and government approvals, and so on.)
  5. …then my car got totalled.
  6. …my spouse divorced me (actually that happened before the layoff).
  7. …my arthritis got worse.
  8. …and someone kicked my dog.  No, I just made that part up.  I didn’t have a dog.

How much did I lose by “owning” that house for three years?  It cost me $100,000 more (two closings, two residences, and a 30,000 loss in value) than I would have paid for renting one apartment, but hey, my (former) spouse wanted that house, so we bought it.  I now had no job, no family, and no savings.  Swell.

My plan was to work as much as possible, while spending my free time either looking for better work, or riding my motorcycle to Wendy’s for that great dollar menu.  Really.

I followed every lead.  I went to a Diversity Job Fair like this one (because how diverse would it really be without at least one white male?  That’s a joke.  Actually, it was because I was going to every job fair.)

So I go to the hotel that’s hosting the job fair, and they have 30-or-so companies arrayed around a large conference room.  Two of those companies were tech companies.  Hundreds of people were in line to speak to those two companies.  One of the companies was looking for Math folks with top-secret government clearance to work on a flight simulator or something (not a good fit for me), and the other one wasn’t taking resumes.  They simply asked every person to go to their Web site.  Well…  Well, why not talk to everyone else?

The Wal-Mart recruiter that was there explained to me that she was hiring night stockers for the Christmas rush, and I told her that I loved doing night stocking when I worked in retail, plus that I would really like to move to Bentonville Arkansas to work for the IT department there.  She told me that she would take my resume back to Arkansas.  I assumed that it would just be tossed.  It wasn’t.

Wal-Mart called me up.  I had a few interviews.  They asked me to fix something that couldn’t be fixed in the way that they wanted it to be fixed (this “something” happened to be listed on my resume). I told them what could, and couldn’t be accomplished.  I have integrity, so I was clear about the situation.

During one of the interviews Jeff (the manager) spins around in his seat and types “W. Paul Caligiuri” (my old name) into Google and finds the Web site that I set up to sell my house.  He laughs and says: “Did you put this up yesterday in order to impress us about how confident you are about this job?” or something like that.  “Well… No.”  I didn’t explain that the Web site had been up for years.  Bentonville Arkansas had a booming economy.  So that’s how I ended up in Arkansas: the best motorcycling-place in the US of A.

I had to pay for the Texas house for 1.5 years of my stay in Arkansas.  It was simply that hard to sell.  I would go down there every other weekend, and work on it.

I suspect that lots of folks are being burned by the mortgage crisis, but that we only hear about the fringe cases, because the fringe cases make for better stories (just like in the dot-bomb days).  Also, Real Estate is:

  • Not-liquid
  • Not-diverse
  • A gamble
  • …and a luxury, and “spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down.” <– I just quoted myself!

Oh, and the MasterCard ad was a really bad idea on someone’s part.

There’s lots of bad ads out there.  They don’t get made “because they work”, they get made because advertising firms know more about selling their own services, than they know about selling their client’s products.

THE END

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Too Much Stuff In A Car Story

(Originally posted on 2007-07-04  as /archives/38)

During my freshman year (1986) I lived in Hood Hall (under my old name: W. Paul Caligiuri). Some other guys that lived there would circle the place for hours in an old white convertible. I think it was a 1959 Cadillac deVille.  When it was time for a dorm picture, the driver drove the car over, and offered for us all to get in it, and on it, in the tradition of how-many-people-can-you-fit-in-a-phone-booth? Folks opened the doors afterwards, but they wouldn’t close.  For a few seconds people were trying to figure out what was wrong when I loudly said, “That thing is shaped like a ‘U’!”  Needless to say we never saw that car again.

Why this image? I like it. It’s a wrecked car. No, it’s not the one in the story. John Allan [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Don’t eat burning matches. Do join The Rolling Stones.

My science teacher once accused me of trying to steal magnesium. He told us to cut off a piece, and then said that I was cutting off too much, and I must be trying to steal it.

Well, I cut off _exactly_ how much he told me too. I asked, “Why would I steal it?” He said, “Well it burns good.” Riiiiiiight. And I would know this how? There was no YouTube in 1984.

Well, it only took me about 20 years to realise that this conversion had nothing to do with magnesium, and everything to do with what another teacher was saying about me. I am slow when it comes to relationship stuff.

The magnesium-loving teacher had been my rifle team coach for years, but by this time he had completely written me off, and for good reason. I was nearly incapable of keeping friends, and I had quit varsity shooting to play in a rock and roll band.

The shooting could have easily won me a full scholarship, (if I had good grades, and was accepted by a school with a shooting team, neither of which happened). I was really good. Good enough that nobody on any competing team ever outscored me (I was really only competing with my own team, which was one of the best in the country.)

What did rock and roll earn me? Some talent-show battle of the bands failures, and the ability to perform at open mic night. (Meanwhile some of my teenage friends here on Facebook became successful, professional, musicians.)

Later on that period, I entertained that science teacher with my burning match trick, where I eat… a burning match. There’s not much of a trick to it, I simply eat a burning match (who needs magnesium to entertain? Not I.)

(Kidz DO NOT TRY TO EAT A FRICKIN’ BURNING MATCH, I have seen this not end well for people that thought they knew how I did the trick. Don’t do it. Don’t steal magnesium. Don’t burn magnesium, and don’t join a rock and roll band, unless they are The Rolling Stones. You can always join The Rolling Stones.)

My KISS Story

(Originally posted on 2016-06-08)

By Alberto Cabello from Vitoria Gasteiz (KISS) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I went to see KISS at the Glens Falls Civic Center in the 1980s. My seat was on the floor (where the hockey ice would be) way in the back, the seats in front of me were roped-off and watched by security. This kid walks up to the security guard and starts messing with him. While he is harassing the guard he looks at me and says, “What are you waiting for? Go!” So I go up to the stage.

When the concert starts I get crushed by bodies, but I know all these KISS songs, because I used to play them on bass; Robert Pulsifer, a guitarist, made sure that I knew them. So Gene is in front of me, and I am doing air-bass identical to what he is doing. All the people around me push back, and give me room (weird), and now I can really pretend to be Gene Simmons right in front of him. He is singing and watching my hands. Between songs they switch places, but before-going he leans over the bouncer pit and flicks his tongue at me.

That’s what KISS fans were like. They will crush you to get closer to the band, unless you need room. Also, they will mess-with-security for a stranger.

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Find Your Next Job Online: Even In A Recession

(Originally posted on Apr 20, 2009 as /archives/2531)

I had this experience back during the dot-bomb bust. Obviously I need to paraphrase here, because this conversation happened long ago.

By Tulane Public Relations (Career Day Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Recruiter:

“How are you doing your online job search?”

I then describe how I search for positions via friends, Monster, etc.

Recruiter:

“That will never work. Those ‘known’ positions potentially have hundreds of applicants. It doesn’t matter how good you are. There are just too many other applicants.

Here is how I find potential applicants. One of my clients contacts me directly to fill a position. These are typically not positions that are widely advertised. My client wants to interview a small number of highly qualified people. I go to one of these Web sites (she then shows me Monster).

Then I search on the keywords that are in the job description, the potential applicant’s location, etc. Then I contact the folks on the first page. I am almost always able to fill the position for someone near the top of my search results.

So, the most effective way for you to find a position is to be on that first page. You don’t look for positions, because too many other people are applying for those very same positions. You simply position yourself so that I can find you.

See this? The results near the top were edited recently. Make a resume. Put it on here.

Put all the technologies that you know on it, and update it every single day, even if you simply add a space somewhere. Editing it every day puts it near the top of the search results. This advice will help other recruiters find you. In the meantime I will see if any of my clients need you now.”

Needless to say, this turned everything upside down. My job wasn’t to look for a job. My job was to market myself.


The advice above eventually generated many leads over the next ten years: long after I stopped updating my resume online. So this plan did work.

That said, you never know where your next offer will come from. I met a Walmart recruiter at a Diversity Job Fair during the dot-bomb implosion.

The Dallas Metro area lost over 78,000 IT and Telecom jobs during the 12 month period prior. Many of those folks were at this job fair.

There were two extremely out-the-door lines to the only two tech companies present, and a lot of empty booths for non-tech companies.

One of the tech companies was interested in applicants with flight simulator engineering experience. The other said, “Go to our Web site. We are not taking resumes.” O… K… I was near the start of the line, so I let others know what I learned, and I heard a lot of, “Thanks, now I don’t have to waste anymore time here” in response.

So, I introduced myself to a Walmart recruiter at her empty booth, because why not? She took one look at me and said, “I am not recruiting computer programmers. I am recruiting night stockers in Dallas for the holiday season.” I reply with, “That’s OK I was a Night Stocker at Ames Department Stores. I like retail, and I like stocking shelves. Also, I would like to move to Bentonville Arkansas to be a computer programmer.” She took my resume, told me that she would bring it home, and give it to a tech recruiter. That led to the highest paid position that I have held.

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Loud Parties, Playing the Bass

(Originally posted on 2016-05-29)

Author: Ethan Prater Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eprater/4380249444/ CC License: Attribution 2.0 Generic
Author: Ethan Prater
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eprater/4380249444/
CC License: Attribution 2.0 Generic

The guy below me (at 30 Larnard St, Potsdam NY, in the early 90s), had a loud party, and played metal and classic rock records, real loud. Did he invite me? No.

Kids: if you are going to have a loud party, then you always invite the neighbors. In most cases they won’t come, but they will appreciate it, and they won’t call the police. Here endeth the lesson.

So I invited myself by plugging in my bass amp, and playing along with all of the songs. He eventually turned it down.

Did that end it? Not exactly: this started to become a regular thing, but at least he turned it down much quicker.

So one day his girlfriend stops me in the store, and says, “Hey, you’re the guy that lives above us. Every time that we have people visit, my boyfriend turns up the stereo, and then lowers the volume so that he can show everyone how you play the bass!”

All righty then…

 

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Aspergian Prosopagnosian

(Originally posted on 2016-02-21 as /archives/10770)

At least I don't have that Aspergian glassy stare. Oh. No. There it is.
At least I don’t have that Aspergian glassy stare. Oh. No. There it is.

Naturally I have some reservations about sharing this information, because people have prejudices, and prejudices can keep you from getting jobs. Also: most social interaction makes me uncomfortable, and putting something like this on the Internet? That’s a big deal. That said, John Elder Robison did it, Temple Grandin did it, and Dan Aykroyd did it too. It’s not like my introvert-ed-ness is some kind of dark secret, but where does it come from?

I recently learned that I was born faceblind (congenital prosopagnosia). I also learned that I have Asperger Syndrome. These two facts explain a childhood of wondering why “complete strangers” insisted on talking to me.

I made a long list while reading John Elder Robison’s (JER) Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. This was a list of “things that JER says are Aspergian, but are true of most introverts, computer programmers, engineers, and cats.”

A few years later I took one of those screening tests, and scored way into the you-are-autistic range. I was surprised, because I answered all of the list-making questions with the equivalent of I’m-not-Rain-Man, but as I later realized I actually do keep lots of lists.  From time-to-time, I wonder, “Who will maintain my lists when I die?” (The answer should be: who cares.)

The irony of keeping a list of all my attributes, that in my opinion at the time, were not actually related to autism, is not lost on me now.

This Asperger’s thing also explains why, in the past, female friends have asked me “why don’t you like me”, or told me, “you are not like other guys.” They could never tell me how I was not like other guys. Well, “It’s not you; it’s me,” is not a cliche in my case. I really am different from other guys, and no, there’s nothing wrong with you at all.

How about those Mets?

None of this stopped me from being successful, JER designed the first fire-spitting guitars for KISS, and that Dark Tower game, and shot a snake with a pistol… or something: you don’t get more successful than that.

But really the only thing keeping me down is the CFS/ME. It’s like being drunk and having influenza all the time. I have been sleeping 20 hours per day most days for a few weeks, and 16-20 for more than five years.

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My Coursera Accomplishments —and— thoughts about MOOCs

(Originally posted on 2016-06-09, 2016-06-19, and 2016-07-28.)

I recently participated in online non-credit courses (MOOCs), and I did well. This gave me a real sense of accomplishment. That’s something that I miss from my software development days.

I have a college degree, but my disability makes homework a real challenge. This format allows me to study, and attend lectures, when I am at my best, which is rare.

That flexibility makes online lectures better than live college lectures. Although, yes, you would also want access to your instructors.

The first course was Survey of Music Technology.

Dr. Jason A. Freeman taught the class. He is from the Georgia Institute of Technology. I completed it on June 1, 2016.

This was like a recording studio engineering course that I took at the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam (back in 1990?). Back then we did the recording on tape, and when we needed to splice it? We used razor blades, and we walked uphill, both ways, and we liked it!

Here is a video that shows what we did in the Crane class. We also spent a lot of time doing wacky things with analog synthesizers. I was always able to figure out what the sound would be just by seeing how the modules were hooked up.

The course had one quiz each week, and two projects. The first project involved using the Reaper DAW as a virtual recording studio. For the second project we did something similar, but we used the EarSketch instead.

EarSketch allows us to write software in place of the DAW. It’s a Python API and runtime environment.

I earned 100% on all tests and assignments.

survey

The second course was The Blues: Understanding and Performing an American Art Form.

Dariusz Terefenko taught the class. He is from the Eastman School of Music, the University of Rochester. I completed it on June 8, 2016.

This was like a Jazz Improvisation course that I took at at SUNY Plattsburgh back in 1988. 

Dr. Terefenko’s version was much deeper with regards to composing and improvising on the piano. I suspect that he has covered everything. If you are a piano player, and you love the blues, then you need this course.

It’s pretty amazing how much information was in the lectures. This would have been difficult to do in a live classroom setting. The logistics of getting everyone into the class, out of the class, and on the same page, eats up way too much time in a traditional setting.

Blues

The third course was Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python)

This is a basic beginner’s programming course taught by Charles Severance from The University of Michigan. I would recommend it to any beginner. You really need to take all five courses in the Python for Everybody specialization, in order to get the full benefit though.

What’s “For Everybody” mean? For some reason, in academics, there’s a stigma attached to anyone using relational databases to create computer programs. Outside of academia? Everybody does this, but inside academia, there’s Computer Scientists, and then there’s “everybody” else.

I believe that this is a bad name for the course. It makes it look as though it’s not as serious, and the name itself undermines the accomplishment made.

I earned 100% on all tests and assignments.

python-for-everyone

Lastly there’s Python Data Structures.

This was about how to use the data structures built-in to Python’s standard API.

It was very different from my previous data structures courses which involved using pointers, and other techniques, to build our own data structures.

I earned 100% on all tests and assignments.

Python Data Structures

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The Kansas Speedway: Inadequate Parking for those with Disabilities

(Originally posted on 2015-11-22 as /archives/10609)

This image is from a 2014 Texas Speedway road race. © Paul Danger Kile, All Rights Reserved

I missed this year’s Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway.

I do prefer road racing to NASCAR, but we didn’t have road racing this year. Heartland Park Topeka was on life support, and Kansas Speedway didn’t host the IMSA TUDOR roadracing series.

The thing about NASCAR is this: it is perfect for those who are at the track. TV shows the front runners most of the time, but spectators get to see cars battle for position everywhere: not just in the front. Most super speedways allow you to see all of track from any stadium seat. You can listen to team managers talk to their drivers via a scanner: that you rent or own. That rocks.

Here’s the thing: I bought the tickets, but I missed the race, because of my disability. Here is a quote from my email to Kansas Speedway. I haven’t heard back from them yet. Maybe the email went to the bitbucket?

  1. The Kansas Speedway parking lot is inadequate for those of us with disabilities.
  2. Disabled placards are unavailable to people that can walk this far:
  1. The walk from the end of Talledega Drive to Gate A is over 1.2 miles long (more than 6300 feet).
  2. Disabled parking at Kansas Speedway is only available to cars with disabled placards. (http://www.kansasspeedway.com/About-Us/FAQ.aspx)
  3. There is no tram service in the parking lots. (http://www.kansasspeedway.com/About-Us/FAQ.aspx)

I have documentation that proves that I have a disability, but most days I can walk 100 feet, so I don’t have a placard. I cannot walk more than half a mile 95% of the time. I suspect that many other people are in exactly the same situation.

A few days before the race I called Kansas Speedway, and I explained my situation. I was told, “You won’t have any problem, because we have a tram going to Gate A.”

I looked at your map on race day (10/18/2015) and I realized that the tram goes to Gate A, but doesn’t go to the parking lot, so it won’t help. I was unable to walk long distances on race day, so I had to miss the race.

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