I’m unemployed for the first time in 12 years.

My group, the Microsoft studio responsible for Flight Simulator, Train Simulator, and ESP, was closed in January. My severance package included 60 days’ paid leave with recruiting support to find a position elsewhere in Microsoft. I looked at a number of job descriptions, most of which started with a question, something like "Are you passionate about integrating SQL server with dynamic .PHP calls and cross-referenced bubble-sorted data groups with an eye for increasing performance as much as 4%?" At this point, my answer to that is a respectfully sighed "…no, I’m just not." (But ask me again when the money runs out.)

Yesterday was day 60, and I turned in my cardkey, my parking passes, and my belov’d corporate American Express Card, sauntering off into uncertainty with a distinct lack of fanfare.

My last break was a mere 18 hours (I had to formally quit one job before the next company could make me an offer without violating a non-compete agreement) back in the summer of ’97. If you don’t count that, then my run was even longer – about 21 years.

If you include part-time work, then my history goes further still: I got my first job when I was 14, which was 26 years ago.

Instead of working in a field and "picking berries and building character," my dad’s suggestion, I was a professional musician, believe it or don’t. I was a drummer, accompanying my friend Tom Gire, a piano playing prodigy who remains the best keyboardist I’ve ever heard. We worked the restaurant circuit, entertaining diners eating Sunday brunch at Andy’s Auburn Station and dinner at Jabingo’s, playing for tips, and, in the case of Jabingo’s, barbecued pork sandwiches.

Tom and I threw ourselves into the rock star lifestyle with rebellious teenage abandon. After our moms dropped us off, we’d jam sedately through a set list that included Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, and, when we thought we could get away with it, Bobby Hebb. And the groupies … I can still feel that tingle at the base of my neck that I’d get whenever some babe would catch my eye, and, with a wink and a smile, send her great-grandson up to the piano to drop a quarter in the jar.

Since then, I’ve held the following positions (many of which have overlapped):

  • Actor
  • Security Guard
  • Day Care Worker
  • Radio Voice Talent
  • Mailman
  • Emergency Medical Technician
  • First Aid / CPR Instructor
  • Police Officer
  • Emergency Communications Specialist
  • Database Developer
  • IT Consultant
  • Senior Technical Support Engineer
  • Toy Store Proprietor
  • Technical Support Instructor
  • Sr. IT Technician
  • Software Test Engineer
  • Beta Coordinator
  • Notary Public
  • Software Test Lead
  • Subject Matter Expert
  • Software Design Engineer in Test
  • Community Evangelist
  • Business Development Manager

The last two blend together a bit and describe my final two and a half years at Microsoft, and, in combination, encompassed a lot of different roles: writer, editor, web publisher, public speaker, media spokesman, networker, researcher, amateur marketeer, etc.

Clearly, I don’t know how to do just one thing.

I’m utterly baffled by what my friend Jim calls the "40 years and a gold watch" crowd. Barbara Sher’s books call me a "scanner", Ned Hallowell’s books tell me I have Attention Deficit Disorder*, conventional wisdom tells me that I just lack discipline and my friend Glenn simply calls us "Swans." My personal favorite came from my friend and "other mother" Donna who has no idea the gift she gave me when she called me a "Renaissance Man."

The tagline on my résumé closes with "…I’m looking for a new place to hang at least some of my many hats." And therein lies the challenge, and the promise.

While I am seriously considering a couple of "real jobs", the kind where I’d be employed by somebody and paid by them to go to where they are and do the things they tell me to for eightish hours a day, those are the exception – not many places are actively advertising for world-class-hyphenates.

In the meantime, then, I’m trying an experiment: As of today, I am now officially a full-time part-timer, a freelance thinker working from a home for which I hope to continue to be able to keep paying.

I’m consulting (in some cases as a volunteer at this point) for groups like the Museum of Flight, the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation and Topgun Simulations, as well as a couple of other ventures (including one that I’m starting with two close friends) that aren’t quite ready to be discussed. And, above all, I’m finally, and I hope fully, committed to writing, something that the universe has been patiently screaming at me to do more of for years.

Yesterday, I came up with a daily schedule for my new job, one that specifically delineates periods of writing, as well as email, mucking about on Facebook, and semi-aimlessly surfing the web. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but, as I write this, I’m actually 19 minutes ahead of schedule.

Not bad for my first day.

*-For the record, it’s not that I have a deficit of attention, it’s that I have a surplus of tangents.

Posted in Egocentric | 5 Comments

Australia – Before and After

More proof that the smartest thing we (Microsoft) ever did while building the Flight Simulator series was to build it as a platform, enabling third-party developers to build things like this.

Or at least do our best to stay out of their way … enjoy this utterly stunning before and after footage of a virtual Austraila.

(And watch for the blink-or-you’ll-miss-it Rapide!)


FTX – Enter a whole new world! from Orbx on Vimeo.

Posted in Flight Sim Centric | 1 Comment

Just Call Me Roger Windsock

The latest ephemeral film added to my personal collection is this classic from the U.S. Air Force about an obsessive airport kid. Animated by the well-respected Gene Deitch,  in a Chuck-Jones-meets-Quisp-Cereal sort of style, the film is a love letter to the airplane, showing how it allowed the rest of the world to come see how we live. (The " … and bask in our obvious superiority!" is mercifully left unspoken.)

Listen for the "Roger, Roger" joke at least 30 years before Airplane!

This post, like the film,  was produced by the Jam Handy Organization.

Click the pic.

Posted in Fly-y | 2 Comments

Niaga Ton!

In my continuing quest to vent my irritation at the mistakes of everyone in the world but me, I’ve written here about strange messages from machines (mojay and NO2), and, more recently, about things that are printed backwards by people who should know better. Sitting here in my glass house, it’s my duty to throw more stones, this time at yet another Swiss watch company.

The culprit today is Torgoen watches, though given their propensity to reverse things, they may actually be called Neogrot, which is much more fun to say. They first caught my eye in this month’s issue of the Smithsonian’s always enjoyable Air & Space Magazine. They have a full page ad, scanned and shared here, that shows one of their watches in the foreground with a grainy, monochrome, slightly fish-eyed airplane  behind it. I’m about 95% certain that this is a CP-121 Tracker on display outside somewhere (note the anti-bird mesh riveted over the engine … maybe the museum at Trenton or Comox?) though the distortion makes ID a little tricky. I am about 104% certain, however, that the image is … wait for it … backwards: note the words "RESCUE" and "DANGER" in the detail blowup, not to mention the pitch of the prop.

To make matters slightly worse, when I went to their website to snarkily try to find some text about how proud they are of their attention to detail, I found no less than three other pictures that were also reversed. I don’t make watches, nor do I make advertising, but, in the words of laymen everywhere … come on, why not just do it right?

Oh well, at least Torgoen watches cost about 98.5% less than their IWC counterparts, about which I ranted previously.

And now back to all the things I was supposed to be doing.

Posted in Egocentric | Leave a comment

Yeah, What He Said

I’m not normally a big fan of writing something here just to tell you to go look over there, but in this case, I’m happy to make an exception. My friend and esteemed once-and-future* colleague Mike Singer has written two great pieces that deserve all the attention they can get. In the aftermath of the closure of our studio at Microsoft and the fact that our jobs "went kablooee", as he so eloquently put it, Mike offers some fantastic perspective.

First, he reminds us what every pilot needs to remember when faced with a crisis: Fly the Airplane. When things go bad, you have to prioritize, and his insights are a wonderful and I daresay inspirational refresher course.

In his follow-up, It’s a game, it’s a simulation, it’s a … platform!, he offers the best and most concise encapsulation of what this whole Flight Simulator thing has been about for the past 27+ years that I’ve come across.

With both of these articles, it’s as if Mike took the words right out of my mouth. Then, after taking them out of my mouth, it’s as if he dried them off, looked them over, replaced them with good ones in a different order and then published them.

Do give them a read if you haven’t seen them already.

*-Mike and I have too much fun scheming about things for this to be the end of our professional collaboration!

Posted in Flight Sim Centric | Leave a comment

Welcome to Surreal, Population: Me

Earlier this morning (and, by "earlier", I mean "much earlier than I would have liked") I had trouble sleeping. (It seems there’s a lot of that going around lately.) Because of the way my mind works (and, by "works" I mean … well, I don’t really know what I mean) trying to get (back) to sleep is usually an uphill battle between a body that wants to crash and a brain that wants to go sprinting off in every direction at once like a dog chasing a swarm of bees. This isn’t always a bad thing, as I get a lot of ideas this way.  Unfortunately, this is also when I tend to do my best worrying, with visions of unemployment and dead franchises dancing in my head.

So, I have a number of revolving strategies that, if they don’t actually keep my mind in check, at least restrain it from getting too wildly unchecked. These usually involve math problems of some kind, my current favorite being stepping through the Fibonacci sequence in my head, which works fairly well: there seems to be about a one in three chance that I’ll start dozing by 4181 or so. This morning, though, it was more like 0,1,1,2,3, how am I going to pay the mortgage in March, 5,8, what was the number of that truck driving school, 13, 21, do places actually buy blood, 21, no, wait I did that one, blast, 0,1,1, etc.

Clearly, it was time for plan B: external distraction. Television wasn’t an option – my eyes were too tired, and there’s only so many times I can stand hearing people say "Sham-wow!" before I run the risk of believing it. So I grabbed my AT&T Fuze / HTC Touch Pro Windows Mobile Phone (I hear WinMo is hiring!), fired up the RSS reader and decided to listen to a podcast – in this case, it was today’s Aero-Cast special feature from Aero-News

And what I heard was … me.

In the wake of all of the things that have been euphemistically going on lately, they decided to air an interview that my colleagues Brett Schnepf and Mike Singer and I did with ANN back in ‘Ought Six. So, instead of an interesting story that would distract the front of my mind (while the back of it snuck up from behind, threw a bag over its head, and smacked it until they both dozed off), I listened to myself. (And the other guys, of course, but that wasn’t nearly as weird …)

It is perhaps needless to say that I didn’t go back to sleep,  but maybe you will. Click the banner image just south of here if you’d like to give it a listen, and enjoy the sounds of three of us waxing optimistic back in what we had no idea were the good old days:

Posted in Flight Sim Centric | 3 Comments

All Things Must Pass …


Or, if "Star Trek" is more your cuppa … "All Good Things …"


Posted in Flight Sim Centric | 19 Comments