Best ever use of a cardboard box

I took a cardboard Uline box downstairs for recycling, and while it was patiently waiting to be taken out the kittens discovered it. And they love it. They loved the box so much that rather than take it out, I decided to convert it into a kitten gym.

I taped the top shut and then cut a circular hole for them to climb in and out of. I placed a smaller box, about 1/3 the height of the big one, under the hole so they could more easily get out. There’s also two door flaps cut in the side and two long, narrow rectangular flaps (one on the top and one of the side). The long flaps let light in, let paws out (yaknow, to attack whoever is outside the box), and the bit of cardboard flapping around gives them something to attack.

It took them all of 5 minutes to make and two minutes for the kittens to realize that this new box was the most exciting thing in the world. I consider it time well spent.


On Foster Kittens

New Foster Litter

As of last week, we have a new batch of foster kittens. We foster from Liberty Humane Society, and keep the kittens until they’re big enough to be fixed and adopted out (2 lbs).

Anyone who follows me on Twitter/Facebook knows that our fostered kittens tend to have a stream of health problems. A few people have commented on our “bad luck” and I thought I’d take the time to explain that fostering feral kittens is unlike raising kittens born to a housecat.

Like most animals born in litters, kittens don’t have the best mortality rate to begin with. The feral kittens are at a distinct disadvantage over the average housecat. For starters, the mother hasn’t been vaccinated against a whole host of diseases.  Kittens get antibodies from the mother’s milk, so from day 1 feral kittens are already more susceptible to disease. And unlike your house cat who gives birth on your favorite sweater and eats cat food, feral cats give birth in an alley and eat whatever New Jersey rats they can find running around. Many things which are trivial to an adult cat are fatal to a small kitten.

From there the mom and kittens head to the shelter. The good news is the shelter is able to give them healthy food and treat them for parasites such as worms. The bad news is the shelter is a great place to pick up a URI (head cold) and fleas. The staff do their best to keep sick cats away from healthy ones, but anyone who works in an office knows how hard it is to keep a cold from going around.

Getting the cats out of the shelter and into a foster home is good for a number of reasons. First, it gets their fragile kitten immune systems out of the hot zone of germs. Second, it helps keep anything they may be harboring from spreading around the shelter. Third, they get more attention (both in terms of health care and affection)  in a home than they would as one of the dozens of cats at the shelter. And perhaps most importantly, fostering reduces the load on the shelter giving them more resources to care for the animals there.

Our current batch is battling the usual URI, which means a room full of sniffles. The cold isn’t a big deal by itself, but when their noses are clogged they can’t smell, and when they can’t smell they can’t eat. I’m armed with a humidifier, pedialyte, saline nose drops, and subcutaneous fluids to help them fight it off. Subcutaneous fluids are injected under the skin. It sounds scary, but is actually much less of an ordeal than trying to force feed a cat water.

It’s a lot of work, but totally worth it to watch the little bugs chase each other and slide around on our hardwood floors.


Staying Awesome While You're Unemployed

I’ve never been without a job (or three) for very long, but It’s been a little over a year now since I’ve had an employer. While self-employment has its ups and downs, I’ve been doing pretty well. Looking back at the past year, I think it’s because I’m constantly moving at 1000 miles an hour. Since not everyone has the blessing/curse of “being driven by an invisible motor” all the time, I’ve compiled a list of things that have helped me find work over the last year. Hopefully it will be helpful for someone in a similar situation who isn’t having as much luck.

Do/make something. Every day.

I don’t mean you need to do the laundry or take the garbage out more often now that you have more free time. I mean you need to pick something and do it every day. Something productive. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as you keep doing it. Write, paint, code, whatever the hell it is you do… do it every day. If a big project is too intimidating and you find yourself procrastinating, set your goals smaller. Write a short story every day instead of your epic.

Some of the work you produce will be crap. Maybe it turns out you’re not actually that good at whatever it is you do. That’s fine. I bet you anything if you do it every day for a month you’ll get better. Or you’ll realize it’s not for you and move on to something else. Either way, you should have something to show for the time you haven’t been rotting away in a cubicle. Make other people jealous of you rather than pity you.

Keep working.

Just because no one is paying you doesn’t mean you get to quit working. Sucks, right? If you can’t find anyone to pay you to use whatever skills you have, find someone who will let you do it for free. If no one will let you work for them for free, come up with your own project and work on that (see above).

Working for free can suck, but it can also be a great way to get experience you might not already have. No one has any interest in hiring a web designer with no real world experience. But a designer with a few completed projects under their belt is much more interesting. No one has to know you did the work for free (unless they ask for salary history, but that’s a completely different story).

As above, the more you do it, the better you will get. If you don’t know how to do something, learn how. Do things you don’t know how to do. It’s one of the best ways to learn, and since you’re working for free anyway you might as well get something out of it.


Whenever someone says the word “networking” in a social context, I immediately think of slimy dudes who try to be everyone’s friend in hopes of using them for a connection later. You do not have to become a slimy dude to build your network successfully. But you do need to leave the house. Opportunities for paid work are not going to fall on your lap while you’re sitting around honing your Guitar Hero skills. Join club, volunteer, or otherwise go out and get involved with some sort of social activity. It doesn’t even need to be related to your professional skills. If it is, so much the better.

I’ve gotten a lot more value out of a few stronger connections than simply trying to meet as many people as possible. And networking is only valuable if you’re doing something / making work for yourself (see points 1 and 2). If you’re volunteering at the animal shelter, you want to be “that guy who paints and fixes broken pianos” not “that guy who is unemployed.” The fact that no one pays you to do these things is incidental. When your animal loving friend knows a guy who needs his piano fixed, he’ll think of you.

Lather, rinse, repeat

All this seems really obvious. And it is. Yet for some reason we all seem to have at least one friend who sits around all day replying to Craigslist want cialis levitra sales viagra ads and playing World of Warcraft not that there’s anything wrong with that and can’t figure out why she isn’t landing any jobs. Maybe you’re saying to yourself “but I already do all those things.” Do you? Really? Oh, good for you. But in my experience, it’s easy to start slacking once you have no deadlines or deliverables. Hold yourself accountable. Sure the economy sucks and there aren’t a ton of jobs out there. But if you find yourself in a similar situation, take a good hard look at what you’re doing. Maybe you could be doing it better.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Healthcare Fail.

I haven’t been listening to much of the healthcare political banter because honestly I don’t think it’s going to get anywhere. Universal healthcare sounds great, except for the fact that the healthcare still sucks.

I’ve been trying to set up a doctor’s appointment with a psychiatrist to see if I have ADHD. I don’t have a GP, so I call my viagra without prescriptions insurance company for a referral. They gave me a list of people I can go to, I say thanks and start calling them.

I made it through the list of 6 doctors they gave me (which seemed plenty at the time) without having a single office answer the phone. I leave messages on answering machines. I go online to bring up a wider list. After an hour of calling places to find they either don’t know how to use a phone or aren’t accepting new patients, I finally find the one doctor in the entire New York area who is both available and accepts my insurance. Hooray. I set up an appointment.

Apparently I have to call my insurance company (Oxford/UnitedHealth) to get an authorization. Except sometime between last week and today I have managed to misplace my insurance card. So I call the insurance company.  They can’t find me in the system, hold on while we transfer… oh wait I just got dumped back to the automated voice prompts. Next rep, “oh you need to call this other department, you’re with a different group.” And so on and so forth. After two disconnects and 5 different reps, I finally get to someone who is capable of finding me in the system. I ask if I can have a temporary card emailed to me. She says sure, it’ll go out in 1-3 business days.

What? How does sending an email take 1-3 business days? How is there not a button they can hit which simply pre-fills a PDF with my subscriber ID and group number?

Ok fine. I get my number and plan on just printing it out for the doctor. I get transferred somewhere else, listen to some really not very calming classical music on hold, and finally get my authorization number. They ask the address of the doctor, which I’ve of course forgotten. So I look it up online.

I found the doctor’s address on one of those “rate an MD” websites.  Along with a number of reviews for the doctor. The verdict? Terrible. The kind of shrink who just wants to throw a prescription at you, take some money, and shove you out the door. The kind of shrink I hate. I’d cancel my appointment and make one elsewhere if it were possible to get anyone else to answer their phone or return a call. Since that doesn’t seem to be in the realm of possibility, I’m stuck with this guy. Maybe he’s really great and the 10 people who wrote terrible things about him are really just crazy. I mean, they are seeing a psychiatrist.

I could go out of network but wow that’s insanely expensive. My out-of-network coverage is pretty much a joke. So I get to go to the one in-network doctor I can get a hold of, who doesn’t seem like a good fit for me at all.

But at least with the new government healthcare plan, everyone in America will be entitled to the same infuriating service I’m enjoying oh so very much right now.


Graduate School?

Yes, the earth has stopped rotating. I am officially considering graduate school.

People who know me well know that I don’t generally advocate going for a graduate degree. I feel many students are mislead by universities regarding the value of said degrees, and many people would be better served simply getting in some real-world experience.

And yet I’m considering grad school. For software engineering.

So why the change of buy cheap viagra internet heart?

Primarily, I want to learn new things.  I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in metalsmithing. Which is great, and I’m proud of that degree; I worked hard for it. But I also do a lot of professional web development and programming. I’ve learned most of it through the school of hard knocks. I’m self employed, and while one might think that would make it easier to take time to learn new things, in some ways it becomes more difficult. It’s easy to overdue “work time” and spend 12 hours a day on my business, leaving little time for anything else.

In addition to polishing my skills, I decided the degree was worth something to me. If my Bachelors was in CS or math, I’d probably skip the official degree program and just take some continuing ed classes. I’m after the information, not the acronym. But after talking to a few people I think there’s a benefit to having a degree in computer science on my resume. As much as I wish it wasn’t, sexism is still an issue for women working in technology and science. Having an advanced degree can help combat that, although it’s a shame that it even has to.

I’ve more or less decided to go into software engineering, as opposed to “computer engineering” or “computer science.” Admittedly before I started looking into grad school all these terms sounded identical to me. The Association of Computer Machinery put out a curriculum which breaks down various computer sciences into a few different disciplines. The article itself is a bit dry but there are some very useful charts and graphs which help me figure out how my interests lined up with different programs. You can find it here if you’re interested:

Now comes the daunting task of picking a college and getting admitted. I’m going to have to use all of the work I’ve done since college graduation to show my aptitude and interest in software engineering, since my college transcript just shows that I’m damned good at metalsmithing. I was hoping to take a few undergraduate classes as a non-matriculating student at a university I’m interested in to get a feel for it and meet the faculty, but it looks like most CS programs don’t let non-majors take classes. Without a lot of connections to academia, the graduate admissions process is pretty intimidating. When I was in high school, my college counselor seemed superfluous; I already knew where I wanted to go. Now I’d give my left arm to have someone help me navigate the sea of programs and paperwork.

I’m not looking to relocate, so I’m sticking to colleges and universities within a reasonable commuting distance (via public transit) to my home in Jersey City. So far I’ve checked out Rutgers, NYU, and Stevens. I’m still on the fence as to whether I should go for a masters or a PhD. A PhD sounds like it might be more interesting, but I’ve got mixed feelings about setting aside such a huge chunk of time. Would becoming a PhD student mean I’d have to leave my business behind?

One thing I’m oddly looking forward to is the GRE. I’ve always done pretty well on standardized tests.  Do you still use a number 2 pencil and fill in the bubbles? I find that to be immensely satisfying.


Burning Out

This is what a burnout contest looks like

A couple years ago I worked at a scooter shop. Not a lame electric wheel-around-the-grocery-store thing, but vintage gas powered two-stroke oil burning Vespas. And among many other things we did there, we held a rally which had a burnout contest.

If you are not familiar with burnouts, its when you manage to keep the bike still while spinning the rear wheel furiously (the front isn’t powered). It makes a lot of noise and smoke and is generally the sort of thing boys like to do.

Some Harley guys came to the rally, they were friends of our Snap-On guy. Snap-On is like an ice cream truck but instead of selling ice cream, he comes by and sells you $30 screwdrivers. They’re very nice screw drivers. Anyway, so Snap-On guy brought his Harley friends with their big snazzy bikes.

In what could only be described as a show of supreme manliness, the 3 or 4 Harleys lined up against the curb and proceeded to do burnouts, producing more smoke and noise and burning rubber smell than any tiny little Vespa engine. And I suppose we were all quite impressed. And then flames started shooting out the tailpipe of one of the bikes. He’d blown a valve. That was the end of the burnout contest, and most of his engine.

That’s how I feel today. I’ve been going and going and going, and sometimes just spinning my wheels without going, and today I’m just burnt out.  I’d love to just declare the next few days vacation days, after all I’m my own boss, right? Not so much. Time is my boss, and man is he harsh. I’ve got until Friday to get everything ready for Spring Bada-Bing, a wholesale order I should have gotten out the door today (it’ll go out first thing in the morning, promise!) and another one I need to start on. That’s this week. Next week I have to finish packing up all my belongings and move from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Yeah.

It’s all doable, but I ran too hard to long and now I’ve blown a valve of some sort. The guy with the Harley had to get a friend to come tow his bike home. I’ve got my boyfriend to direct me through the evening: eat, relax, play video games, snack on leftover Easter candy. It’s nice to have someone else to bail you out when all you really feel like doing is pulling the covers over your head and singing lalalalala I can’t hear you to the mountain of work you have to do.

The funniest part about the Harley blow-up to all of us scooter kids was that Harleys are expensive. Blowing up your Harley’s engine is gonna cost a bunch to fix. Old scooters on the other hand are simple; they’re two stroke engines, they don’t really have that many moving parts. You could buy a brand new engine for what the Harley guy probably spent fixing his bike. My business is more like a scooter. It’s not like a web service where you’ve got to maintain 24/7 uptime, and nothing I do is so time sensitive it can’t wait until the morning. So I get away from my burnout-meltdown pretty cheap,  and with any luck I’ll be all fixed in the morning.