Steve Jobs Gave Us The iPad

The initial impression that I gathered from my Twitter feed of writers and webcomic artists was using the iPad for presenting content.  Most writers saw the iPad and the iBookstore as an ebook competitor and what it means for publishing as a whole.  Most webcomic artists saw the iPad as a platform to present their archives or put together 24-page comics at near full-size and in color.  I’m looking at the iPad as a portable writing device and a programming platform.

What I need the most was a mobile replacement for my aging Mac mini (PPC) that has grown long in the tooth since the hard drive was killed last summer by killer dust bunnies after nearly five years of continuous use.  I need Pages (wordprocessing) from iWork for writing.  Check.  I need a virtual and physical keyboard support.  Check.  The price had to be less than a replacement Mac mini (Intel).  Check.

Ding-ding-ding! We got a winner!

As a writer, I can load up the iPad with my files and go anywhere to work with my manuscripts. Maybe the iPad will wean me away from yellow notepads and pens to finally embrace the paperless office.  Or someone will introduced a yellow notepad app with superb handwriting recognition.  Or, if the iPad ends up like my iPod Touch, it’ll make a great paperweight Kindle reader.

I’m also looking for a new programming platform.  If I had the time, money and motivation when the iPhone first came out, I might’ve gotten in early on the app store craze and become an instant millionaire.  I haven’t been enchanted by either the iPhone or Touch to jump on the bandwagon since then.  The one thing that I learned about being successful at anything is finding a niche that no one else wants and run with it.  I see opportunities to make to create applications that take advantage of the new iPad features.

I recently started reviewing the C programming language and plan to learn Objective-C programming language and the iPhone/iPad SDK.  My first applications will be similar to the Joomla! modules that I have done to pull pictures from various Twitter-based picture sharing websites.  If you look at Apple app store, you will find plenty of applications to upload pictures to these websites.  None, however, will pull pictures from those websites, present them in a slide show, and enable a user to set a picture as the wallpaper.

A more ambitious application is a kid-friendly turtle graphics with the LOGO programming language.  Why resurrect a near dead programming language on the iPad?

  • There’s nothing like that available in the Apple app store.
  • The perfect opportunity to create a virtual version of Big Trak programmable tank that I loved as a kid, which, unbeknown to me at the time, was a physical version of the LOGO turtle.  (When Big Trak is reintroduced this year, I’m planning to get one and may casually steal the keypad interface for my own application.)
  • The Berkeley LOGO (UCBLOGO) is a freeware interpreter with C source code that I can use in my own application without having to reinvent the wheel.
  • The iPad is the perfect platform for an application of this nature.

When I get this application done, there are several more ideas I would like to pursue.  Once upon a time, I wanted to be a game programmer.  The iPad might be my ticket — especially if I become an instant millionaire.

The Video Game Industry Sweatshop

I read over the weekend that Rockstar Games employees are badly overworked in an open letter from their wives.  This is the samedevelopment studio that made Grand Theft Auto into a $1 billion franchise.  They apparently have no extra cash to change the work environment for the employees working in the trenches by giving them raises, hiring more employees to reduce grueling work hours and letting them have vacations.  The situation is so bad that employees are exhibiting suicidal tendencies, their marriages are on the rocks, and the future of the studio is in jeopardy.  (Working for a drug-addled rock band would be easier in comparison.)  The executive management team, of course, blew off the open letter as “the opinions of a few anonymous posters on message boards[.]”

If you’re familiar with the video game industry, this won’t surprise you at all.  The trend over the last ten years is for the executive management team to emulate the Wall Street corporate model: squeezing the blood out of the workers in the trenches, boosting the short-term profits to keep the markets happy, and kicking the money upstairs as bonuses.  (This model replaced the Hollywood “content is king” strategy that failed miseribly after most of the development studios relocated to Southern California.)  Employees are “resources” to be used, abused and fired at will.  If this process ruins the lives of employees and destroys the studio, the executive management team can always bail out to find another studio to ruin.

The video game industry has become the sweatshop of the 21st century.

What did surprise me was that the Sony Playstation Network has a reality game show, The Tester, where the contestants compete for a video game testing position.  That’s pure fantasy.  The sofas are long gone to put in more cubicles in any studio that has embraced Wall Street.  Contrary to public perceptions about working in the video game industry, being a tester stops being fun and games after the first six weeks and becomes pure hell when crunch time is all the time.  The recent Penny Arcade webcomic reveals the stark reality for the potential winner: long hours of being in the same dim cube for days on end, testing an unplayable video game that no one likes, and eating a “nutrient-rich sludge” every eight hours (i.e., the roach coach or Taco Bell).

After having spent six years as a tester and lead tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises) that went from a family-owned company to a corporate hellhole, I’m using that experience as the basis for my first novel to reveal the truth about the video game industry and convey all the funny stories that I have witnessed, heard about or been involved in.  (More romans à clef than kiss and tell.)  The only major difference with reality is that my novel has a pissed off ghost with homicidal tendencies.  Considering some of the things that I went through, a homicidal ghost would’ve been a blessing.

Another 13 Weeks Of Unemployment Benefits

My unemployment check arrived a few days late with an automatic 13-week extension of benefits.  I’ll be celebrating my one year anniversary of being laid off from my desktop support job in three weeks.  I’m starting to go stir crazy from being at home.  I told a recruiter to submit my resume for a position that pays $5 per hour less than what I was making at my last job.  While I’m not thrilled to be making only an extra $500 per month above my current budget if I got that job, recruiters look at you funny if you been out of work for more than a year.  Unlike the last time I took a year off from work, I don’t have my mother’s death from breast cancer and finishing school as an understandable reason.

I recently spoke to a recruiter who thought I sent him an outdated resume because my last job listed was in February 2009.  I told him that’s correct and he wanted to know what was wrong with me.  That was a very awkward conversation.  Although I had talked to three or four recruiters a week and had three or four interviews per month, the recruiter didn’t understand why I haven’t gotten a job yet.  I then had to explain that the economy is in the toilet, Silicon Valley has a 12% unemployment rate, and for every job I interviewed for that were at least five better qualified candidates being considered.  (A survey by JuJu reported that San Jose is second easiest place to get a job with 2.5 people per advertised job, which suggest to me that someone was munching on magic mushrooms while crunching the numbers.)  When recruiters start to forget why the economy is in the toilet like clueless Wall Street bankers, that’s something to worry about.

When the recruiter asked what I did with my free time, I told him that I was working on my novel.  From the sound of his voice, I think he drew a negative conclusion that I was a basket case and quickly ended the call.  With eight short stories, one essay and one poem accepted for publication, I’m not going to hide the fact that I’m a writer.  That’s my real job even though rejection slips and contribution copies doesn’t pay the bills.  My other job is supposed to pay the bills.  Unlike a lot of other unemployed workers, I’m not writing unemployment lit.  If I said “ceramics” instead of “writing,” that might’ve been a safer answer.  Everyone understands ceramics.  Some people regard writing as a form of mental masturbation.

Surprisingly, no recruiter has mentioned technical writing as a job.  I’ll never be a technical writer since that will suck the life out of being a fiction writer when I’m not at work.  When I spent six years as a video game tester, I stopped playing video games at home.  When I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory for three years and had spaghetti for dinner every night, I didn’t eat spaghetti for the next seven years.  Which is why I like desktop or help desk support jobs since it doesn’t infringe on my personal life.  Some recruiters don’t understand why I won’t work more than 40 hours a week to make bucket loads of money.

My novel is one reason why I want to get back into a job.  I wrote two-third of a 700-page rough draft behind the steering wheel of my car during my one-hour lunch breaks.  When you have a regular spot at the same time everyday for writing, you can get a lot of stuff done.  I’m now revising four chapters per week for the second draft.  Having the discipline that comes from being behind the steering wheel would be a great help.  My wide open schedule from being unemployed doesn’t make that discipline any easier.  As much as I love to write, revising can be a serious grind sometimes.  The one thing I’m not trying to do is finish, shop and sell my novel before my unemployment benefits run out for good.  The odds are long and I don’t like the idea of being a starving artist.

I started studying for the Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) to improve my job prospects.  I also picked up “C: All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies” by Dan Gookin to refresh my programming skills.  I took C++ for object-oriented programming in college but I never mastered the language.  PHP is the only language I continued to use after college for my website.   After I familiarize myself with C, I plan to study Objective-C (a programming language for the Mac that derived from C and influenced bySmalltalk) and iPhone development.  Combining an ACSP with Mac programming should open up many more job opportunities, especially if I end up at Apple.

Now I don’t plan on developing iPhone applications (not yet because Apple requires a $99 per year fee for their developer program), which is a popular cottage industry for unemployed Silicon Valley workers.  I didn’t have the resources to get in early on the iPhone apps craze a few years ago.  With Apple rumored to be announcing a new tablet computer and releasing iPhone 4.0 SDK next week, I’m waiting to see what the new features are to determine if I want to develop software for that platform.

What I’m looking for is niche potential to develop something that no one else has done before and/or very unique (e.g., Hawk Sketchbook #1 by the artist of AppleGeeks that just came out).  My Joomla! modules were developed because no one else had a module to pull pictures from a Twitter-based picture sharing website.  If you search for TwitPic, TwitGoo or TweetPhoto on theJoomla! Extensions Directory, the only photo sharing extensions you will find are mine.  I’m sensing an opportunity to expand my programming portfolio.

When you’re unemployed, sometimes the best opportunities are the ones you make.

Updated 2010/01/22 @ 11:30AM – Silicon Valley now has an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent for December 2009.  The JuJu survery of 2.5 people per advertised job for San Jose is a mushroom-inspired fantasy.


California Governor’s Race Goes Off To The Deep End

Tom Campbell is reportedly planning to switch from running for California governor to running for U.S. senator this year.  That changes a predictable state election year into something more dynamic by making an interesting governor’s race boring and a boring senate race interesting.  This is both disappointing and exciting.

Disappointing because Campbell was the only candidate who talked about reforming the budget process as the centerpiece of his campaign.  Neither Meg Whitman nor Steve Poizner on the Republican side, or the undeclared Jerry Brown on the Democrat side, will talk about reforming the budget process.  They all want to talk about what they’re going to do rather than talk about how they’re going to do it.  Unless the budget process is reformed, nothing will get done in Sacramento.  Campbell is willing to acknowledge the pink elephant in the room that everyone else wants to avoid since they’re afraid of being trampled to death by the special interests even though it’s killing the state.  Unlike his opponents, Campbell doesn’t have the personal wealth to buy his way into the election.  Now I don’t want to vote for anyone in the governor’s race since it’ll be a choice of the lessor evil.

Exciting because Campbell will be running against two relatively unknown Republican candidates, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine, and, if he wins the Republican nomination in June despite the tea baggers, he will be a serious threat to incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.  Campbell is no right-wing nut job like the other Republican candidates and has moderate positions similar to Boxer that makes it harder for her to dismiss him as such.  I won’t know until Election Day for which candidate I’ll vote for since I’m waiting to see who represents the issues better.

On a related note, a job recruiter contacted me for an I.T. support position in a local office for a candidate running for governor.  While making $90,000 USD for nine months work would be great, I quickly determined that the job would require sacrificing my life at the political alter for a candidate I wasn’t going to vote for and couldn’t see myself remaining apolitical even for that much money.

I’m not cynical enough as a writer to think I could use that experience to write a bestselling political book.  With two novels and two short story collections on deck for this year, I simply don’t have the time to chase after another writing project.  I require a full time job that pays the bills without interfering with my writing life.  If that means passing up a job with bucket loads of money, so be it.  If anything that the Great Recession has taught me in the last year, it’s the ability to live on substantially less.

I did pick up “Mac OS X Support Essentials v10.6: A Guide to Supporting and Troubleshooting Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard” by Kevin M. White to start studying for the Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) certification.  For the last few months, every recruiter has been calling me about technical support jobs requiring Mac skills and most were for working at Apple.  (One recruiter who called about a “well know company in Cupertino” flat out refused to tell me the company name but hung up in a hurry when I told him that Apple doesn’t consider me to be “genius-level” for their direct hire positions.)  Although I’m a Mac user at home for the last five years, my certifications and work experience is with PCs.  Earning an Apple certification should make it easier for me to feel confident about getting a new job that requires Mac skills.

Updated 2010/01/13 @ 12:45PM – The switch is now official and the San Jose Mercury News editorial sums it up nicely.  Another recruiter at a different recruiting compnay called me about that political I.T. support job in Curpertino.  Does anyone in the Tom Campbell campaign want to offer me a similar PAID position?