MegaZone (zonereyrie) wrote,

As Promised, the Story Behind the Long Hiatus

Gizmo Lovers Logo So, in my last post I talked about HP killing of WebOS and why I felt a bit of smug satisfaction as a post I made about WebOS back in 2009 cost me my job at Sling Media.

I said a while back I’d get around to writing up the reasons for why this blog went on hiatus for over two years and this seems like a good time for that. It is no coincidence that it started shortly after the events in the previous post. Getting fired over them was a complete and utter shock, and it shook me up. Of course it meant I had to scramble to look for a new job. It also left me pretty pissed off, frustrated, and depressed. And, understandably I think, a bit gun shy about social media, blogs, and forums. If you look back I posted 37 posts in January 2009. I posted nothing at all in February, I was in a bad way. I tried to get back on the horse with a post in March and nine posts in April, but my heart just wasn’t in it and it was a struggle to post even that much. I made one small post in October, and then one post each in July and August of 2010, and that’s it until I relaunched in July of this year with 88 posts. I guess I’m back. ;-)

This is going to get very long, so I’ll cut here…

Now, I should tell the whole story and back up a bit. One of the things that contributed to my being fired over this was probably that I was almost fired for something similar less than a month earlier. I say probably because I don’t really know for sure. As some of you may recall, just after CES 2009 ended, several of the original founders of Sling Media announced they were leaving, including Blake Krikorian. I was actually still in Las Vegas when that happened, flying home that day. That morning I got a call from my manager to tell me the news. Apparently they’d called an all-hands meeting in the office to let everyone know. She was shocked and frazzled, and it seemed like things were kind of chaotic there, so the call wasn’t long. I went on with my day and caught my shuttle to the airport.

On the ride to the airport I was reading Twitter and checking out blogs on my Treo. As I recall I saw a tweet from Om Malik about a new blog post, and went and read the post. It was about Blake and crew leaving Sling. There were other posts up with quotes from Blake about his departure. In other words the news was out and public, and absolutely confirmed by the man himself. At that point I tweeted something along the lines of “Just heard Blake Krikorian is leaving Sling. That sucks.” Something like that, I tried to find it but couldn’t seem to go back that far in Twitter. I didn’t think anything of it, the news was all over. I just shared how I was feeling.

Well, just after I got the the airport I got a frantic call from my boss asking me what the heck I’d done. People in upper management were calling for my head. I had no idea, but it turned out to be the tweet. So I deleted it immediately, for what good that does. It seems that at the meeting, which I wasn’t at remember, they’d told everyone not to say a word about the departure until EchoStar had made an official statement confirming it. And they still hadn’t done so. So they want to fire me for the tweet for leaking news – which was already all over the net. I was dumbstruck by the very idea.

Their rational was that I should’ve just known not to say anything, even though I was reading about the news already and Blake himself had commenting publicly. Nothing I said was going to matter, it wasn’t like I was revealing any secret or confirming any rumors. The horses were gone and the barn had burned to the ground. Everywhere else I’ve worked the common sense rule has been that you don’t mention things that are internal only, and you don’t confirm any rumors, etc. But if hard information is out in the open then it is ridiculous to expect people to have to pretend it isn’t.

In the end I had to grovel and apologize profusely verbally and in writing, but I managed to keep my job. I found the whole situation kind of bizarre, but I didn’t realize it was foreshadowing what was to come.

All of this time I’d been Sling’s official unofficial representative on Sling Community. Sling’s relationship with Sling Community was kind of weird. They didn’t own it, it was run by Capable Networks. But I had a regular call with Capable Networks to keep them in the loop on what was going on with Sling, to give them a heads up. And we had a few blogs on the site, one of which I contributed to. I was also the one Sling employee truly active in the forums, constantly fielding questions, offering support, etc. Within Sling I regularly had managers and the like thanking me for dealing with some issue in the forums before it got out of hand, handling some support issue, etc. So lots of people knew what I was doing and approved of it, but it wasn’t an official thing. Part of that whole arms length relationship.

The post I made that got me fired wasn’t really any different than countless other posts I’d made over the course of the year I worked for Sling. And that’s what made it such a shock to me. Everything I said in the post about Sling’s plans were things I’d said previously – and the official reason I was given for my termination was that I’d announced company plans without the authority to do so. What I shared were items the product managers had told me it was OK to share previously. But I didn’t have official authorization, so it didn’t count.

The final conversation in which I was fired still bugs me. Basically it boiled down to me needing official written approval for every thing I said on the forums. Each individual post. Which makes no damn sense. If you have someone posting on forums like that you can’t have them asking for approval on every post or they’ll never post anything. You can’t participate in a community if you’re too tied up in red tape. My feeling is that it reflected the shift in management. Sling’s original management got social media. They understood the value of the community and the give and take it required, and they were willing to risk a few slips because it was worth it. But EchoStar’s management was the opposite, they didn’t like the idea of anyone who wasn’t an official corporate mouthpiece saying anything to anyone. That’s evidenced by them subsequently buying out Sling Community for the express purpose of shutting it down and launching a highly censored, support-only board.

I remain convinced that if I’d made that post before the change in management things would’ve played out differently, and I don’t think I would’ve been terminated. But that’s alternate history and what happened happened and there is no changing it.

Losing the job at Sling hit me especially had because it was contending for position as my favorite job ever at that point. I loved what I was doing as a Beta Program Manager. At the time we had several cool projects going that I was involved in. I was mainly running betas for SlingPlayer Mobile, but I was also involved with the Slingbox PRO-HD, and I was looking forward to the iPhone and Android programs. I was working out of my home, and I got on great with my manager (whom I’m still in touch with and consider a friend – she actually came to me about working for her) and my colleagues. I loved the community of users on Sling Community and was glad to be part of it. I was considering moving back to California to work in the home office. And I’d just returned from working Sling’s booth at CES, which I thought had gone very well. I was riding high and thought things were going great.

So when I had the rug pulled out from underneath me I crashed pretty hard. Fortunately I was in an OK position financially to be able to make it until I found work and I found a new job pretty quickly due to the Small World Factor. The manager who hired me was someone I’d worked with back in 2001 at a different job when I was a consultant. Due to my unique name when he saw my resume hit his inbox he remembered me immediately and I got the job. When I applied I had no idea he was with the company I was applying to, let alone the manager for the position. That was just dumb luck.

The job was doing IT for a hosting company, but it meant working the night shift (11-8, midnight-9) and I had an hour commute each way. I also tended to end up putting in a lot of extra time, so I’d often be leaving work at noon. And I was the only night guy, so it was a fairly lonely, isolating job. So my work days were effectively longer and I was tired most of the time (the overnight shift is tough on the body and mind). The anger and frustration faded fairly quickly, but the depression set in for a long while. I pretty much fell off the net. I didn’t just stop blogging, I stopped reading blogs, web comics, LiveJournal, etc. My heart just wasn’t in it.

But there was more to it than just that. In one of the last posts I’d made I mentioned that’d I developed a problem with my left hand. I woke up one day at CES 2009 and the outside of my left hand was numb – the pinky, half of the ring finger, and the outer part of the hand down to the wrist were pins and needles. I figured I’d slept on it wrong, but by the end of the day it wasn’t any better. Nor the next day. Nor the next. In fact, it got worse. I lost an increasing amount of sensation and motor control over those fingers. And the muscles started to atrophy, you could see the difference in my hands. I spent months bouncing between my doctor and various specialists until I was referred to a hand and arm clinic and the doctor there recognized the problem instantly.

The ulnar nerve is the nerve that gives you your ‘funny bone’. It runs from the neck down the outside of the arm, around the outside of the elbow, and down to the hand. It carries the signals for the portion of the hand I was having trouble with. Somehow the sheath around the nerve had become irritated and inflamed, and was putting pressure on the nerve. The problem is this has negative feedback. The inflammation pinches the nerve, which means it can’t slide in the sheath and every time you bend your arm it tugs on the nerve and irritates it and the surrounding tissue. Which makes it inflamed. Which pinches the nerve. Etc.

We tried braces and anti-inflammatories, but it didn’t heal on its own. It caused problems with my typing, and there was some pain, so I saved most of my typing for work. Since I wasn’t feeling all that great about being online to start with, having physical problems typing was just the icing on the cake and was more than enough to keep me away. I eventually had surgery at the end of October, 2009. An ulnar nerve translocation, I believe it is called. Basically they flayed my arm open at the elbow and moved my ulnar nerve from the outside of the elbow to the inside. So now when I bend my arm the nerve isn’t stretched – it is on the inside of the curve not the outside. I was in a case for a little while and I had to take it easy even after that. Then it many months for the nerve to slowly heal on its own, now that the irritation was removed. And I have an awesome scar.

We never did figure out what the exact cause was, but the primary suspect is simple – I lean on that arm. I’m a big guy – 6’6″ tall and, frankly, carry a bit too much weight – around 400#. (When I was in decent shape I was still around 300#. I’m pretty broadly built.) This means most of the world is too small for me – desks, chairs, tables, cars, etc. I’m right handed, so what I find I do, unconsciously, is tuck my left arm across my body as I lean forward. That puts a lot of pressure on my arm, especially at the elbow, as it ends up taking the weight of my torso. I try not to do it, but if I don’t actively think about it I find myself just naturally in that position. We figured it was just a cumulative thing. I leaned on it long enough and eventually it just had too much and got inflamed. And once it was irritated enough the negative feedback loop started. I didn’t feel anything until things hit the tipping point and my hand went numb. By then things were pretty bad.

I’m not back to 100%, and I probably never will be, but I’m at least 95%, maybe more. I have most of the feeling back in my hand and nearly all of the fine control. Typing is back to the way it used to be and there is no more pain. I have a very faint numbness tingle which seems to increase when I’m fatigued, but it is a big improvement over the dead meat feeling I had when it was at its worst. I was constantly jamming my fingers on things because I had no sense of where those two fingers were, especially the pinky.

I kind of lucked out having gotten into a relationship with a nurse just six weeks before my surgery. She was an incredible help in dealing with the recovery. Especially the first days. I had a nerve block as part of the surgery and my arm was completely dead from the shoulder down, and in a cast. No feeling, no control. It just swung around in the sling. Big fun. Without her around to help me out I’m not sure how I would’ve managed.

So all of these things added up to making 2009 a real banner year for me. And I really didn’t feel much like doing anything, let alone blogging. Even if I wanted to it would’ve been hard for me.

It took a while for that feeling to fade and to slowly start reading a few blogs, then some more, getting more active on Facebook (where most of my friends had shifted from LJ while I was out of the loop), etc. I had my first date with my now-fiancee on September 12, 2009 (just before my surgery, as I said above), and that relationship certainly helped improve my life and outlook overall. Of course, I live in Worcester and she lived in Boston which is an hour away, but fortunately not too far from where I worked. She’s a nurse and was also doing a fair bit of night shifts at the time, so we were able to meet up before/after our shifts, etc.

Though it did mean that what little time I had outside of work just shrank, since if I had the option of being with her or surfing around the net reading blogs… well, I’m a geek but I’m not that much of a geek. Not a hard decision to make.

I worked that job for about a year, until early 2010 when an opportunity with F5 networks fell into my lap. The brother of one of my best friends from college worked there and they were looking for someone with my skill set on the east coast. My friend’s brother mentioned it to him, and he thought of me. I wasn’t actively looking at the time, but it sounded like a great gig, so I applied. Long story short, I got the job. Not to knock the company I was working for, but it meant better pay, better benefits, no more commute (working from home again), and the work is much more stimulating for me than data center IT. It just suits me better and I’m better at it. I started my new job on 2/28/10.

It is a senior level position so there was a steep learning curve and a lot of time spent building my skills with the products and getting comfortable for myself – I tend to be pretty demanding of myself professionally. Between six weeks in Seattle for training, and then a few months of learning and adjustment on the job, as well as maintaining my relationship, well, it didn’t leave a lot of time. But my overall mood improved, and my energy levels were much better being off the night shift. So my online activities picked up and I started reading more blogs again, leaving comments, etc. And I started to get the itch to blog again myself. I even started making occasional comments about it here and there.

But I went through the rest of 2010 without really making real moves to get the blog going again. I was focused on my new job and my new relationship. In early September she moved in with me, which was good timing since I’d ordered a ring and I proposed to her on September 12, 2010 – the anniversary of our first date. (Yes, Monday was the anniversary of our engagement, the wedding is February 4, 2012.) I was increasingly active online, mostly on Twitter and Facebook, and also reading and commenting on a number of blogs again. But it was mostly inertia. I’d been out of blogging for so long at that point that I didn’t have the groove. And everything felt out of date, which was discouraging. But I would mention it from time to time and was starting to poke at things behind the scenes by the end of the year.

Come January 2011 and I was seriously thinking of relaunching the blog. I registered to use as a custom short domain. I knew I wanted to relaunch with a big update to get with the times – Facebook and Twitter integration, the custom short domain, etc. The problem was finding the time to do all the back end work. I didn’t want to promise anything until I knew I had things in a good condition to start over. So I spent the next few months researching software options, updating things on the server, etc. And then there was the final push to upgrade all the software, remove old plugins, add new ones, setup the links with Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal, update, or recreate, my affiliate accounts, and, most important of all, create the new look and feel for the site. While I liked the old look back when I created it, I didn’t think it had aged well and I really wanted something a lot more modern looking.

It was really a matter of finding, or making, the time to do all the grunt work that it takes to setup a blog. It is all the grunt work you don’t want to do but have to in order to get to the fun part – actually blogging. ;-) Not that blogging itself isn’t work, but it is a different kind of work.

I still have a lot to do. There are pages on this site with old info that need updating – the TiVo Resources, Support Gizmo Lovers, etc. Lots of broken links to fix (I’ve already fixed a few thousand, around 600 left now…) and other things to clean up. But I’m doing that bit by bit and it’ll get done in time.

In the end I’m almost happy that I got fired when I did. Sling Media has kind of gone downhill, IMHO, under EchoStar’s rule. No new boxes since the PRO-HD. The SlingCatcher came and went. The SOLO-HD that was talked about never happened, nor did the ‘God Box’ combo Slingbox/SlingCatcher. The SlingLoaded products are around but aren’t doing much. EchoStar’s MSO push hasn’t gotten very far. They have continued to update the clients, and I’m glad to see the progress made on the iOS and Android versions, as well as the upcoming clients for Google TV and Boxee. I was arguing for that kind of thing instead of the SlingCatcher back when I worked there. (But that’s maybe another post someday.)

A number of the people I really enjoyed working with left Sling after I was booted, including my manager. I probably would’ve bailed when she did anyway, since she was a big part of why I took the job in the first place. Other people I’ve talked to have indicated that the overall mood and morale isn’t what it used to be. If I had still been at Sling when the F5 opportunity came up I don’t know that I would’ve pursued it. Since I did enjoy working for Sling overall I don’t know that I would’ve felt any desire to apply anywhere else. I really can’t say, since I don’t know what my trajectory would’ve been.

In any case, the fact that I was out of Sling and working a job that I wasn’t really a good fit for put me in a position where I was open to new opportunities. And F5 is, hands down, the best place I’ve ever worked, and this is the best job I’ve ever had. I love the product, I love the people, and I love the work I do. It has its ups and downs, like any job, but most days I have no aversion to going to work. Not that I have a long commute – down the stairs from the bedroom. Which is a nice perk in itself, of course. And even though I work from home I feel less isolated than I did working the night shift in an office. I have daily calls with my team, email, Communicator, etc. I may be on the other side of the country from most of the team, who are in Seattle, but we interact regularly. The physical distance is less isolating than the temporal distance of being on the opposite shift from everyone else.

So things worked out in the end. I got fired, but a year later I landed what seems to be the perfect job for me. I’ve met a wonderful woman who shares my home and we’re engaged to be married. (And she’s motivated me to improve my home – new furniture, etc. Which I actually appreciate.) My health has improved. And my overall attitude and mood is much improved from 2009. I really don’t have much to complain about these days. My fiancee kept encouraging me to get back into blogging. She could tell it was something I enjoyed and missed, but that I needed a bit of nudging to overcome the inertia and finally get on with it again. So I owe her for that.

I’m happy to be blogging again. It feels like a slow slog sometimes, trying to rebuild my audience, but it seems to be happening slowly but surely. It feels a lot like launching the blog did in the first place, though there were a handful of diehards who stuck around through the hiatus. And I’m thankful for that. I’m still kind of finding my footing again, getting my groove back. The more I blog the easier it flows. So I think it is coming back to me. And I’ve gotten used to the changes in the tools I’m using. I have to say things are easier now than the were in 2009. Lots of improvements to WordPress and the plugins I’m using.

I hope you enjoy the new look & feel of the site, as well as the new content. And if you’ve read this whole post… wow, thanks. ;-)

So there you have it. I may have forgotten to include something here and there, but I think this is way too long already and it covers the important bits. I’m glad to have all of that behind me now and I hope the future is as bright as the present.

Mirrored from Gizmo Lovers Blog.

Tags: echostar, hp, palm, site updates, sling media, slingcommunity, webos

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