One is sweet and the other is … a web developer

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Letter 16 (page 1)

6 July 2003

Dear everyone,

I've got a lot to cover in this letter so get comfortable! It’s going to be fun.

I expected that I would now be writing to you from a city other than Denver but we are still here. Those of you with long memories will recall that part of the reason we came here was to the see the country but we have been in Denver for 8 years now!

Employment, or lack thereof

Lan has her job at American Express for 2½ years. While some of the people appreciate Lan’s technical skills and her general fun-to-be-with factor, others have been difficult to work with. There was good news in January when her boss was fired!

However, circumstances have forced another change of plans as I lost my job in late-March. I knew that business was quiet but thought I had another month before I needed to worry. It was quite a shock. Another person was "let go" the day before me.

I had been at Premier Data for a little over three years which is lucky as that time seems to be a threshold for companies to separate those with experience and those that don't. I spent most of my time working with something called "ColdFusion" and so that is the key word I'm searching for across the various employment web sites. I've done a bit of "ASP" and "Java" but I really can't apply for any jobs where either is the main requirement.

There are few jobs in Denver so I was applying for jobs in Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC. I am ineligible for perhaps half the jobs in Washington as they require government security clearance, for which a precondition is generally US citizenship. Initially I thought that I would move first, leaving Lan to sell up and follow me.

I've largely given up on that idea—it is a big risk if I move but Lan can't get a job in the same city and we already know there are few out there for her. Her job pays a lot more than mine does, so if anyone is out of work it is better to be me. There now seem to be more jobs here than there were in March and April so there is some hope.

Since the decision to be unemployed was made for me by my employer, I am able to collect a government unemployment payment though it took 5 weeks to start. Unemployment "insurance" here is different to the unemployment "benefit" in Australia-employers pay taxes based on the amount they pay in wages and so the amount you get is determined by how much you previously earned. It doesn't matter if Lan earns a million dollars a year or nothing but it lasts for a maximum of one year.

Although I have no paid work, I have plenty to do. We made he decision to repaint our place in January but when I started looking, I was amazed how bad it was. There was wallpaper under the paint; the walls, ceilings, doors and door frames were all a revolting cigarette-stained beige, there were cracks in some corners and the sea-grass matting that covered one wall of our bedroom was full of dust and rotting. I don't know how I've lived here for five years and never noticed. I think being male may have something to do with it! Although I started in January, the pace picked up once I could devote all day, every day to it.

I seem to spend a full day per week looking for jobs, all on the internet and all except one application has been by email or through a web site.

Everyone in IT (Information Technology) needs a lot of acronyms on their resume and I don't have nearly enough so I've been teaching myself some new software. I recently added "LAMP" which stands for Linux/Apache/mySQL/PHP, a useful set of tools to build web sites and all the components are open-source i.e. free, though the proponents of the movement want you to think in terms of "free speech" rather than "free beer".

As a demonstration, I rebuilt our web site and you can see it at Check it out. Although it looks much like the old one at, it is far more sophisticated behind the scenes. As soon as this newsletter is done, I'll be attempting to plug the biggest hole on my resume which is Microsoft’s ".net". I have exactly 60 days to do it since the trial version of Visual Studio I bought will shut itself down after that.

In the last week I've spent a lot of time working on our car which recently passed 150,000 miles/240,000km. I wasn't expecting it to pass the emissions test but it did so we still have the dear thing. While I was testing the new muffler I installed, the water pump failed so I had to undo the work I did replacing the timing belt to get to it.