Settled in Seattle… the Anita Rowland Interview
Anita, I have a blog. It runs a day late and a dollar short. I don’t think I’ve ever “scooped” anybody. I have a tendency to refresh ideas that are a month or more old, buried in the antediluvian mists of internet time. But I enjoy having readers, and to the end of attracting them by publishing something interesting from time to time, I began to publish weekly Sandhill Trek interviews in late May. There have been ten so far.
Would you consider being the interviewee in an upcoming interview?
Thanks! This sounds like fun, I’m up for it. Ready when you are!
And so begins the eleventh Sandhill Trek Interview. One of the things I love about Blogaria, and Blogistan, and Blogville and all the other communities on the Planet Blog is their adjacency. I was always thrilled with topological concepts… moebius bands, Klein bottles, two dimensional map adjacency problems… here on the net all that bounded spatial metaphor gives way to the god of packet switching. How did I find Anita? Maybe I ran into her while we were window shopping at Zeldman’s Or maybe across the counter at Cory’s or Doc’s place. Something was cross linked somewhere and when I got to Anita’s blog there was a web cam and a saucy comment about the topless picture in a batch of pix and I have no self control so I went riffling thru the pix and came upon Jack, Anita’s fiance. Now no offense Jack, but in many ways you look a lot like me and a
topless picture of me is to be avoided at all costs, so I saw the humor in that and this interview was off and running.
Anita, I understand that you are a card carrying member of the Trollsylvanian Society. Without getting way over my head, could you expound briefly on this, your cultural heritage?
Ha! The Trollsylvanians were inspired by all the local ethnic groups and festivals we have here in Seattle. It was a Cacophony Society thing, and worked really well because a bunch of people could contribute ideas, and it could spark off multiple activities. That’s always good for Cacophony!
I was mostly in charge of our ethnic garb. My idea was that Trollsylvanians loved stripes like the Scots love tartan. We also wore epaulettes that symbolized life events or personal ideas. Those were fun to make!
Oh, I almost forgot about the hats! kind of like a fez, but with troll hair on top.
All the food at the fest was stick-shaped, since the culture was stick-based. Pretzles, pirouette cookies, pepperoni sticks, and so on.
We thought a lot about Trollsylvanian culture and made up games for the Trollsylvanian festival. My young nephew came up with the game where you tie a balloon (or more traditionally, a bladder) to your ankle with a ribbon, then try to stomp on everyone else’s balloon and pop it while avoiding getting popped yourself. Fun!
We also went out dancing in trollsylvanian garb a few times.
The Seattle Cacophony society did a lot of fun stuff!
I understand too that you worked long and hard for Microsoft. On the whole, would you rather be in Trollsylvania?
I was a contractor at MS for six years, and enjoyed it! Many folks have strong feelings against the company, but I try to avoid such discussions. Arguing about religion is so tedious!
I left to be a “real” employee at stockcharts.com, then got laid off from there after a year and a half.
I’d like to ask how old you are, but mom always said that wasn’t polite. So maybe you could date yourself by talking about some of the tunes you listened to when you were in school?
I really didn’t listen to much pop music. I was more into classical, and studied music in college. But, I don’t mind saying that I graduated from HS in 1974. The movie Dazed and Confused depicts that time, but I was near DC, not in the South.
I’ve heard you’re getting married. Is the date set, or is this still in the general planning stages?
The first Saturday in October is *it*. There are still arrangements to make, but I know where and when. I’m looking forward to a fun party with room for dance friends, science fiction friends, web friends, film festival friends, other friends, and family.
…your dance friends. Tell us a little about this. What kind of a dancer are you?
Over the years I’ve done bits and pieces of social dancing — a course in college for PE credit, some lessons with a boyfriend in the eighties, a class for singles at a local outdoor club (the Mountaineers) that has other sorts of classes. In 1997 I read a posting in a public folder at MS (like an internal mailing list) about a swing dance at a place near my home in Seattle. So I decided to check it out.
I loved it! Lindy hop is so much fun! The music is great, and it’s a challenge to blend with a partner and to show your own creativity also. Lindy hop is the original swing dance from Harlem in the thirties; other dances like east coast swing, west coast swing, developed from it.
Getting to know the other dancers is also part of the experience. One of the fun things we do is called a lindy exchange: dancers from other cities are invited to come visit us and are hosted by local folks. Then we get to go to dance in their cities when it’s our turn!
Is Jack into it too, or does he go along, or is it your own thing?
Jack’s not a dancer, though he will admit to doing the white man’s shuffle. He can do “Freestyle” dancing or even the robot when the spirit moves him. He doesn’t go dancing with me, but he’ll do a slow dance or two at our wedding.
And of your web friends you’ll see at the wedding, are they local or expected from far and wide?
I was mostly thinking of local folks, but if someone wanted to come they’d be welcome!
Rounding out the friends expected at your wedding questions, there are your film festival friends. What kind of film festival involvement do you have?
I’ve been buying a full-series pass to the Seattle International Film Festival every year since the early nineties. It’s great fun! I get into the zone and do nothing but work and movies. Getting the full series means that I don’t have to decide which films to see ahead of time. I have film buddies that I see every now and then the rest of the year, but during the festival we are constant companions.
Out there on the web, where no data is ever lost, although it may be buried in cache and require crypto/anthro/cyberpologists to exhume it — out there on the web I spotted a picture of you in natty Trollsylvanian garb. When my software company was acquired by an offshore firm, the folks who did the onsite due diligence wore clothes that looked a lot like this… but if I remember right, my boss, who had pointy hair actually, said they were from a country called macaronia, or elbonia or something like that. Help me out here in the cultural antropology department.
I don’t know if we were inspired by Elbonia more than any other fictional nation. Don’t forget Fredonia! The troll statue in Fremont was a big factor, too. That location was good for us because a lot of folks come by there, so we had a built-in audience.
You’re blogging these days. How long have you been at it? What’s a blog to you? Any sense of what’s special about blogging? Who are some of your favorite bloggers and why?
I started with webstuff in 1996 — putting our cacophony events on the web. I began an online journal in May of 1997, partly because I enjoyed reading other people’s journals. Doing my own was a way of giving back. I added the weblog in May of 1999. I read so many that
It’s hard to pick favorites. When Jim Roepcke was using weblogs.com info to categorize webloggers, I was in the mega-reader category. (Those pages still exists but aren’t updated now.) I wanted to play with pitas.com which had just come online then, and enjoyed it so I kept it up.
I still try to distinguish between weblogs and diaries, although some personal stuff creeps into the weblog especially when I’m behind on Anita’s Book of Days as I am now. Of course, I did some web-pointing in my journal before my weblog began, so it all evens out.
Favorite (current) science fiction writers? And comments on why you like their work please…
C.J. Cherryh is a long-time favorite. She’s got great action and pacing, and really holds my attention! I dig her aliens, and the complicated interactions of different cultures. Her protagonists always have a tough time of it.
Vonda McIntyre is a friend, but I read and enjoyed her work before meeting her. Her latest book, The Moon and the Sun, has a great historical setting with the sf element of sapient sea creatures.
Greg Bear is also a local writer who I read before I met. He’s working new discoveries about bioengineering and genetics into his current works.
Tim Powers, yeah! There’s no one like him.
Neal Stephenson is a Seattleite but doesn’t interact much with the local fan community so I haven’t met him.
A blogger is perforce a writer. How long have you been a writer, what’s your favorite genre, any publications?
I’m not a fiction writer. I know a lot of aspiring writers, and I think if it’s in you, stories will demand to come out. That doesn’t happen with me. I’m more of an appreciator.
I like following your “daily crawl.” How does this blog feature work, where did you get it?
ha! When I noticed that Anita Bora had beaten me on Google, I realized that many folks I read probably didn’t know about it, since I was using Dan Sanderson’s blogtracker to find updated weblogs instead of having a blogroll actually on my page. So I wasn’t getting linkbacks from them. That’s what I attribute her higher ranking to. (The fact that my old URL still gets some hits probably divides my google-weight, too.)
I thought about using blogrolling.com but they weren’t accepting new accounts a month ago (they are now, I think). So I thrashed around looking for another tool, and found the Daily Crawl written by Matt Kingston. It tracks the updates from weblogs.com, which I like better than just a static link list. I still haven’t sorted out the fact that my server is on central time and I’m on the west coast, which leads to some date and time oddness (negative hours, anyone?). But it’s still very workable and easy to edit the list.
My biggest problem right now is that my hosting company has decided to limit cron jobs to “non-peak” hours! So bogus. So I run the cgi manually about once an hour, and I’m looking for a tool to automate this from my desktop.
The possibility of living in Seattle has always intrigued me, but in the final analysis the climate has been a stopper. Do you know any people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? We run into that a lot here in our long winters when the sun never shines. I’m thinking the perpetual rainclouds might yield similar effects.
We tell people it always rains, but actually in the summer it’s like a mediterranean climate! We are far enough north that the winter nights are long; I think they do research on SAD at the University of Washington. Some people use the lightbox treatments. I don’t think it’s affected me, though.
I was scanning your online resume for background and I notice a big chunk of time between when you finished with college in Virginia and when you showed up in the publishing business in Seattle. What happened during that time? Did you run away and join the circus, or what?
I worked at a dead-end job in a fancy restaurant, but I enjoyed it while I was there: I was a restroom attendant!
I ended up moving west to Seattle with my parents (one of my sisters already lived here) and I was their primary caregiver for the last few years of their lives. Turns out I liked Seattle better than DC where I grew up!
I’m an IT Consultant who relies on contracts so this question feels like a bitter no-brainer, but I have to ask: How’s the market for web workers in Seattle?
There are signs that things are improving, but it’s been tough for lots of folks to find work the last few years. Don’t move here now!
Jack’s heading to Michigan soon for a contracting assignment. Is he an independent or does he work through an agency? How about you? Independent or on the bench with a contracting firm?
He’s working through an agency right now. I was with an agency from 1993 to 1999, then full-time, now unemployed.
You aren’t in direct contact with Neal Stephenson, but do you know when he’s going to release his next book? (I need to know this. I am always jonesing for Stephenson, Sterling, and Gibson). Cherryh and Bear are favorites of mine too.
Nope! no knowledge.
Maybe one of our six readers has some info on Stephenson they can share in the comments below.
Let’s talk about contracting some more. What do you find to be the advantages of working on contract? The disadvantages? If you had your druthers, would you rather work full time as salaried staff or full time as contracted staff?
The only reason I worked on contract was that the jobs that I did were mostly offered as contract jobs. Editorial, text prep, and so on weren’t regarded as the core tasks at MS. This has probably changed since the permatemp lawsuit — no more permatemps! People can now work for a certain number of months, then must have a break in service for three months and try to get an assignment elsewhere. The result of this
rule change was that many job slots that were formerly temp were converted to “blue badge” which means full time MS employee.
I don’t think most folks found any advantage to being a contractor or working through an agency; it would always be better to be working for MS. Plus, because MS must be very clear about us working for the agency and not MS, there are parties and group events that we aren’t included
in. There were movie previews that whole teams would go to, and we didn’t get to go (unless our agency made arrangements to pay for our ticket, which sometimes happened). Not good for that team spirit thing.
I’d rather be a FTE than CS (contingent staff). That’s one of the reasons I went to Stockcharts.com! I was laid off from there because they had to cut back (from six to four people) and refocus the company solely on the charts. We’d had stock commentary before, and that’s what I was in charge of. A stock analyst and I were laid off. No hard feelings, though; I understood why it happened and didn’t take it personally.
People sometimes see the flexibility of contracting as an advantage, but that mainly comes into play when you are certain of getting that next assignment if you take a break. In the current market, that might not happen.
Douglas Coupland, the famed genX novelist but what has he done for us lately guy, coined the term Microserf. I wonder if you can tell us a little about about Microsoft culture. Did you work “on campus” at Redmond?
I think he was fairly accurate in the early part of the book, but I didn’t see much resemblance to reality later on. I worked on the main campus for most of my time, with about a year and a half at Redwest, a satellite campus that was built for the multimedia products.
The book that most matched my MS experiences was called “Microsoft Secrets” and was really a business book.
Would you say that full time staff have a strong loyalty to the company?
I think most do!
Does the company have a strong loyalty to staff?
They do treat people well, at least in the groups I’m familiar with. (I think the worst place to work is in tech support — another place where vast amounts of contractors worked.) I know several people who have had health problems that meant significant time off from work, which they took without problem.
Since World War II big companies have sponsored activities that result in community formation and encourage people to look at the company as more than a job. Did you see this at Microsoft? Company picnics, bowling leagues, golf leagues, Doom tournaments, whatever? If so, as a contractor did you feel like you were on the outside looking in?
There were certainly social groups doing almost activity you can name. Contractors participating in social mailing lists or public folders was winked at mostly.
You studied music for a long time. What instrument(s) do you play today?
I don’t play any instruments today, but still listen a lot. I really shouldn’t have picked trombone as my specialty, with my short arms!
Seattle is famous for the grunge scene. Were you any kind of Curt Cobain fan?
Nope, no grunge involvement. I do know some people in the psychedelic revival — my landlord Joe Ross is a swing dance friend, but has also been a member of the Green Pajamas for a long time!
I have most of their CDs, bought because he’s a friend. But I do listen to them and enjoy them.
What are some of your favorite movies? Why do you like them?
I’m very fond of Hal Hartley films! He’s got a quirky, dead-pan style. That’s where I first saw Martin Donovan, one of my favorite actors. Clerks was a film that bowled me over at the festival. Slackers, too! I’ve watched that one many times.
I really adore Julio Medem’s films. He’s a Spanish director whose films are unique! Mysterious, funny, tragic, unpredictable, all of that. Sex and Lucia is his most recent. I’ve been watching his stuff since Vacas!
What kind of hardware do you have on your desk? Does Jack have his own PC set-up or do you share?
Right now as my main machine I’m using an HP that was a parting gift from Stockcharts.com. Jack has a desktop machine (with huge monitor) and a laptop with wireless PCMCIA card. We have a home network. The webcam is still connected to a Win2k machine — that’s the one connected to the DSL.
How does Seattle feel about Boeing’s headquarters move to Chicago?
If it means jobs leaving the city, folks aren’t thrilled. but what can you do?
You are into CSS and XML. Are you doing anything with XSLT?
I did work on converting a proprietary production process to XSLT at Stockcharts.com, but I don’t think it was ever implemented. The work was educational, though! I studied the XSLT Programmers Reference and got a lot out of it.
I think my approach to markup languages was helped by learning SGML before I learned HTML, for a CD-ROM project back in 95 and 96. After that, XML and XSLT weren’t too tough. But I certainly wouldn’t call myself expert, and I’m not using XML on my site right now.
If you win the $100 million lottery, how many servants will you need?
My dream with unlimited funds would be to start a performing arts center. I always admired Mrs Shouse who founded Wolf Trap Farm Park near DC, and she always seemed to have a great time bossing the performing arts center.
Do you care one way or another about some distinction between modernism and post-modernism?
Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, Crusader Rabbit, and Silly Putty have all been important to my generation and yours. How would you rank them in importance? And perhaps less tongue in cheek, where does feminism fit in your values package?
I am definitely a feminist. But it’s not something I debate with people. In fact, you can see from my writings that I don’t like to argue or debate on controversial topics much. Perhaps this is because I take it too seriously! Jack enjoys it, though, so sometimes I’ll try to take him on.
This has been a very pleasant exchange and I’ve enjoyed it. But let me ask one last question, virtual tourist that I am… Describe a pleasant Saturday in Seattle. How would you and Jack (or just Anita) have a good time in the city?
If I’m with Jack, we’d very likely go to the University District and take in a movie, hit the used book stores, and have Pho at the Than Brothers. Mmmm, love that noodle soup! Also, a walk in the Arboretum would be good.
Do you put that red hot sauce in your Pho? How much of it do you use?
Jack uses it liberally, but I usually just add a few drops. There’s the vietnamese or thai style in the plastic bottle which is good but hot, and also some dark chili oil thing in a glass jar with a spoon in it. Jack calls the latter “evil”!
I do use hoisin sauce, putting some in a little dish and dipping the meat in it from time to time. I get my pho with rib-eye, brisket, and flank — I don’t usually get the tendon and other oddball parts.
I’ve never tried the chicken version!
At the rack, I’m usually not looking for clothes. I like to scan the hair thingies, candles and other odds and ends.
I’d very likely see a movie also, probably one that Jack isn’t interested in. He’s got a narrow range of things that he likes, while I’ll go to see a variety of movies.
Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed!
It was my pleasure. When you and Jack are in my part of the world, please call me. I’m sure we can phind some Pho somewhere!