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Where are they now? – the personal edition December 27, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in chorale, personal, Uncategorized, worklife.
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The note in Tony’s Christmas card wondered what had happened.  This was a fair question, since verb. sap. has been completely silent since  late July (not that it was particularly prolific before then).  And since Tony is a substantial fraction of my readership, I feel impelled to bring things up to date.

What happened was that I got a job. 

I’d been looking around, with steadily increasing conviction, since March, and I’d actually interviewed at a couple of places.  Then, out of the blue, there came a suggestion from my ex-colleague and choir buddy Mike that I might consider talking to the company for which he, though ostensibly retired, was still putting in hours.  The company was Agilis Solutions, based in Portland, Oregon and run by an old friend of Mike’s who, like him, was an ex-Unisys VP.  I talked to a number of people at Agilis, liked what I heard, and, pretty much, that was it. I started in early August.

Agilis Solutions is a small software development house.  Typically, we work with software companies facing challenges in bringing their products to market quickly and cost-effectively.  We use a blended model which combines onshore technical leadership and project management with a strong group of smart, experienced offshore developers to allow projects to be completed more quickly, more cheaply and more effectively than would otherwise be possible.

So that’s the boilerplate out of the way. 

From a personal perspective, it’s going really well.  I mostly work from home, although more on that later.  The project I’ve been working on is also Oregon-based, as is my project manager, so I spend a lot of time on Skype with Oregon and Ha Noi, Vietnam, which is where our group of developers is located.  Lorraine and I share an office at home, which works remarkably well, even though it’s an understatement to say that it’s sometimes a tight fit.  The people at Agilis Solutions are wonderful – supportive, outgoing and friendly.  There are less then twenty of us, and it’s such a refreshing change to work in an organisation where you know everyone,  your boss runs the company and what you do actually makes a difference.

I spent a couple of weeks in Springfield, Missouri in September, working with the technical lead for the customer. In October we decided we had to make things move a little more quickly.  The initial plan was for me and the customer lead to spend two months in Ha Noi, working directly with the development team.  Lorraine, the intrepid traveller and selectively occasional corporate wife, thought that this was a splendid idea, and started buying guidebooks while I was trying to organise visas.  So, of course, it didn’t happen.  The team decided that they liked the  let’s-get-everyone-together plan, but the location was moved to Oregon.  So I spent nine weeks in Portland living and breathing the customer’s application, finally returning home a couple of weeks ago.  The work was intense, in a way which I hadn’t really experienced since my days in fly-and-fix field support twenty years ago, but there was a good positive atmosphere around what we were doing, and there were always my new friends at the Riverwood Pub  to keep me sane, which they mostly did.

So there hasn’t been much room for anything else since August.  Lorraine  had a successful Sawdust Festival, her second, in July and August, but the Winter Fantasy festival in November and December was very subdued.  No-one seemed to be buying anything.  In a sense, though, the Festival is its own reward.  We both love being there, seeing artists who have become friends in the space of two festival seasons – people like Christopher Jeffries (with his wife Jitka and their new son Ry), Greg Thorne and Ray Caruso.  We’re both looking forward to next year.

There’s one final thing to record.  The choir I’ve been singing with for almost fifteen years, the Saddleback Master Chorale, had a fund-raiser this year, something which, for some reason, has to be called an Opportunity Drawing.  We sold just over 300 tickets at $25 each, and the prize drawing took place last weekend at the group’s holiday concert.  Imagine our astonishment when my name was pulled from the hat!  So, slightly shell-shocked, we’re now the proud owners of a four-night Junior Suite stay in any Fairmont hotel or resort in the US or Canada, plus round-trip airfare to get there and back.  This is not going to be easy.  Fairmont operates the Plaza in New York, the Empress in Victoria, BC, and – my nomination for the most beautiful place on the planet – Chateau Lake Louise in the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.  However, the current edition of the plan calls for us to use the prize to spend some time in Montreal, Lorraine’s birthplace, staying at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. It’s not clear when we’ll fit this trip in, but be sure that we will, and I’ll talk about it here, I promise.

So that’s the brief update.  Normal service will now resume.

(And, for readers with long memories, I’m still stuck on 1453!)

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Moving more mail into Gmail April 25, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized, worklife.
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I spent a lot of time some months ago moving substantial quantities of mail from a work-based Outlook mailbox into Gmail. I started on the next step yesterday – moving mail from the Entourage 2004 mailbox on my wife’s Mac into GMail, using the technique written up by Zoli Erdos – configuring an IMAP connection to Gmail, and mapping local folders to Gmail labels.

This didn’t go desperately smoothly, but it seems to be working now. The technique is comprehensively written up by William Smith on the Entourage Help blog. Unfortunately, as noted by commenters, there’s something screwed up in the process, and the timestamp you get in Gmail is not the original Received-Date. So the first attempt didn’t work, and I deleted (in Gmail) the messages with the bad timestamps.

Commenters came to my aid, describing the workaround of using a third mail account, configured using IMAP, and then setting Gmail’s Mail Fetcher to get the messages from the third account using POP. So I set up a temporary Gmail account, and gave it a shot. Well, that didn’t work either. For some reason, my Entourage aborts the IMAP upload to Gmail, in an oddly random manner. Some small number of messages are uploaded (and the number is not the same each time), and then Entourage throws up an “Error 1025” (whatever that is), and a message of “Unable to append message to folder”.

So, back to my friends, William Smith’s commenters. There seemed to be evidence that Apple’s .Mac mail service could be used to supply the third mail account. So I signed up for a free trial, and tried again. This time, it all worked – almost. The messages uploaded to .Mac fine, and Google Mail Fetcher started pulling them in to Gmail. All went well – I transferred several thousand messages – until I got to a particular folder in Entourage’s mailfile. All the messages in this folder were uploaded to .Mac, Google Mail Fetcher reported, eventually (because this takes a serious while – no, I mean HOURS), that all the mails were fetched, but only half of them ended up in Gmail. Very odd.

This time, my buddies the commenters were no help, nor was the Gmail help system. I tried again, uploading the messages which had got lost to .Mac. Same thing. All uploaded OK, all pulled into Mail Fetcher OK, around half seemingly thrown on the Gmail floor. I spent most of this afternoon trying to work out what was going on, until, eventually, I had a forehead-slapping moment. I realised that the messages which were being thrown away were exactly the messages that I’d uploaded with bad timestamps way back in the first step, and which were still sitting in my Gmail Trash folder, waiting for the executioner’s axe. Gmail thought I already had these messages!

So, I emptied the Gmail trash, started over, and everything seems to be running sweetly.

53 and counting January 19, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in worklife.
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Today’s my 53rd birthday, I’m happy to say.  My life is in the middle of being turned upside-down, so it’s maybe time for some reflection.   A year ago, I was halfway through my 30th year with Unisys, and wondering, with increasing frequency, if this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my working career.  Well, the question was resolved in December, and I’m – mostly – pretty delighted.  For the first time in decades, I can say, with some certainty, that I have no idea what I’ll be doing, or where I’ll be doing it, a year from now.  There a sense of liberation, but also a feeling that this is a chance, maybe my only chance, to move my life in a direction of my own choosing.

And there’s the wrinkle.  I’ve never been particularly good at acting, rather than reacting.  Most of my career moves, starting back to 1977, when I joined Burroughs in the UK, have been, to a lesser or greater extent, influenced more by circumstance than my conscious choice.  So, here’s a chance to change that, and I’m starting by taking advantage of the outplacement services provided by Unisys.  The program is offered by Right Management, and I attended my initial orientation class on Wednesday.  Right Management seem very energised and on the ball, and I’m looking forward to working with them.

But not just yet.  First comes some travelling.  We have three jaunts planned over the next six weeks or so.  First off, we’re heading up to the Bay Area, to see friends in Paso Robles, San Francisco and Sonoma.  Lorraine also wants to get to Fort Bragg, famed home of beach glass, so we’ll try to fit that in too.  Then it’s a road trip to Tucson, for our second annual visit to the Tucson Gem Show.  Last year, we were like a couple of kids, just blown away by the size of the thing, and by the astonishing range of products available.  This year, I think we’ll have a little better idea of what we’ll be looking for, but it’s still going to be pretty overwhelming.  Finally, we’re planning a week on the East Coast, to see friends in Philadelphia and New York.

And then, in early March, it’ll be time to start the serious business of inventing a future.

Watch this space.

Reduced in Force December 16, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in worklife.
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I think we all knew it was coming. The Reduction in Force (RIF) happened on Thursday, and I was one of a substantial number of people laid off from the Unisys engineering facility in Mission Viejo, California. The other two plants, in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, were similarly affected.

How do I feel? Well, after 30 years, it’s a shock, even though I’d been more and more convinced that I was going to be affected. But, overall, I have a tremendous sense of relief.

I write those words “after 30 years”, read them back, and there’s a sense of astonishment. How did I end up working for a single company for thirty years? And how would I have ever left without this layoff? I suspect that the answers are related. It becomes comfortable after a while, even if the job changes, as it did for me on many occasions. You see the same people, people who are also lifers, you understand the way things are done, you feel a sense of satisfaction at seeing organisational structures repeat themselves. In other words, you get tired and cynical, and I think that’s where I’d arrived at. But, that said, I don’t see how I’d have left on my own. That security blanket is very warm and comforting, and the alternative seems challenging, not to say frightening.

But that’s where I am now, with a sudden open space in front of me, after decades of walking a path which had become darker and more overgrown. Is what I see a meadow or a desert? Time will tell, and I’m excited at the prospect of finding out.

But, in the short term, I’m going to take a little time off, and consider the next couple of months as a mini-sabbatical. Lorraine and I might take an extended east coast trip to see friends in New York and Philadelphia, or maybe we’ll visit her birth city, Montreal.

It all starts on Monday. For the first time since June 1977, I’ll wake up with no thought of Unisys, a part of my life which is now complete. Let’s see what happens.

Moving mail from Outlook to Gmail December 5, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in worklife.
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For reasons which may become apparent – or which may not – I thought it would be a good idea to move some of the squaggabytes of Outlook e-mail I’ve accumulated over to Gmail.  I found lots of suggestions on the web, but not much that was too useful until I ran across a blog entry from Zoli Erdos which told me exactly what I needed to know.  The key point is that Gmail, as of about a month or so ago, now supports IMAP.  And since Outlook 2003, which is what I’m using, allows you to create an IMAP account, you’re off to the races. 

The only wrinkle from my perspective was that either the receive (IMAP) connection, on port 993, or the send (SMTP) connection, on port 465, or both, are blocked by my corporate firewall, so I had to do this from home. It takes a while over a standard upstream cable connection, but I think I have all my personal mail moved to Gmail now, just over 110 MB worth.  The IMAP integration is really nice.  You can create, delete and edit mailbox folders in Outlook, and they’re turned magically into Gmail labels.  The header addresses and timestamps are maintained.  All in all, a good experience.

Now we’ll see whether I was being paranoid about the need to do this in the first place.