Phrase Modulation

Usually I have about a dozen books at my desk at work. Most of them are essential references to my job, the usual O’Reilly or other guides that are not uncommon at any tech persons desk. Also, I will have two or three “mousetrap” books. These are books that are nifty in some odd way or are markers of subjects I am very interested in. The kind of book that causes a curious mind to stop a moment.

For the better part of the last year, quietly sitting on my shelf have been two books that don’t match the others. One was “The Science of Sound” which is a Physics textbook summarizing the scientific view of what musical sound is and how it is produced. The other was “Tonal Harmony” which is another text book, the kind that music schools use to teach historic forms, voice-leaning, chordal harmony, and modern composition to students.

I call them “mousetrap” books because ever since I brought an old calculus book to my first job I’ve find they “catch” the awesome people at a company. Inevitably the conversations that arise from people who notice them are simply awesome. It’s just a fun thing to do.

In that harmony textbook there is doubtlessly a section that talks of “phrase modulation.” Modulation is when the music changes key. There are a couple ways of accomplishing modulation. Phrase modulation is the most jarring. In the middle of a sentence both musically or otherwise, you just change the key with no preparation and no commonality. The most common and least-jarring use of phrase modulation is the so-called “Star search” modulation; where the cute little girl holds some high note in the middle of a phrase a nice long time, and then steps it up a tone or more to change key. It musically adds energy, and if it’s Star Search, the audience automatically applauds.

So two days ago, my career had a bit of phrase modulation. Which is a cute way to say I was laid off and it was somewhat unexpected.

I received a small severance, my work laptop was returned, and I was booted out the door. Health benefits are COBRA only effective immediately. It’s the usual deal for a tech layoff, I guess.

The company laid off about 30% of their staff. Operations, the group I was in, had 3 laid off out of 6. They laid off both systems admins. I’m guessing that either my boss or the load team will handle the servers from here on out.

In some ways, I am surprised how little it bothers me. For the last 2 years I have busted my butt and cleaned up a massive mess at the company. I automated their systems and got things running smooth and on good hardware and with good practices. I’ll go into more detail later if I feel like it, but I am proud of the good I was able to do. If anything I was afraid my assistant would be laid off because we had basically fixed all our departments major problems. I guess we did it too well since the company feels they can get by without us. It’s almost like the pink-slip was a weird compliment.

I think another reason it doesn’t bother me is the timbre things had taken. After those 2 years of intense work, management had shifted on focus and we were being nickeled-and-dimed to death. I am more than willing to cut corners. I don’t hold out for any form of perfection. But I could see that we were starting to backtrack and use questionable hardware, and skimp on things that would come back and bite us. But now I am not there and my name is not on it. I don’t have to worry about being the “responsible” sysadmin as stuff goes to crap.

I have been through some positively hellish lay-offs and parting ways with companies in the past. This is a cakewalk by comparison. (There aren’t police invading my coworkers houses this time after they quit with me.) The biggest concern in my head is the basic one: money. I have some pad and some work to stand on for a short time. Though my debt is high enough I’m not in the safest position I could be. So I am worried about the next gig and its paycheck, but right now I have one or two lines to tug on and look for jobs. Really it’s a worry about just not knowing.

On the flip side of the worry, as I said it was a good time to leave. And a good time to grow. I’ve got a few interesting items I think might bear fruit. I don’t know if I could walk from this moment into being self employed, but it is a dream I think might happen in the next turn after this. I think I will be able to post more freely on my personal work here. Maybe some of you folks will find it interesting too.

People ask you “how are you doing?” a lot when you’ve been laid off. I wish we had a way in our language of expressing affection and concern for people who are recently laid off without that question. Because how do you answer it? When you’ve first been laid off, you’re doing ok. You might even be doing well if you get that job in a week. It doesn’t get bad until you figure out you can’t find a job. Besides, the people asking it don’t really want to hear the answer as much as to let you know they are sympathetic. “How are you doing?” is a question that will have serious discussion potential after you’ve not had a job for a month..or a year.

Maybe it could be something like “hope the modulation resolves to a good cadence” or something.

11 Responses to “Phrase Modulation”

  1. wingywoof says:

    Would it be better if I said I hope you land on your feet?… your enormous, devastating, kitty feet?

    But seriously, I’m sorry this happened and your money situation is now uncertain. Thankfully you have other facets to your life besides just work. And you know Sue could always strike it rich with those penis creatures she’s been drawing then you could be the stay at home hubby!

    Also, you just had to use the word timbre didn’t you? That word is so… you.

  2. mongologue says:

    Well, it’s the old bad-news response. “How are you doing?” “Are you all right?” “How are you holding up?”. Natural questions, even thought you’re right, it’s a starter to sympathy.

    Mmm. The best of luck in your search, that it finds you the right next thing, that the modulation does resolve well, and the next piece of music will be the right one for you.

  3. Hm. Sucks to hear that, tiggy. Best of luck to you.

  4. tigjah says:

    *huggles tightly*

  5. I’m sorry to hear it, man. I suppose it’s never GOOD to get laid off, but then you have always managed to turn it into something pretty cool again. I’m hoping this will turn into an opportunity to get into a place that’s looking to get better, not nickle and dime itself to near-death before it realizes it’s the wrong way to go.

    tl,dr: You’ve got lots of experience AND are a good person to work with so I’m rooting that you get picked up by someone who recognizes value in short order. 🙂

    You should amplify your modulation. And timbre.

  6. kagur says:

    Very sorry to hear and I hope your modulation once again becomes harmonic very soon.

  7. puctiger says:

    Such is the life working in tech, though. There’s always so much turnover. =/ I hope you find something soon. Let me know if I can help in some way.

  8. tracerj says:

    I’ve only ever used this sort of key modulation once that I can recall, and it was by a fourth. I’m just not looking to be on Star Search. *weak grin*

    More seriously, best of luck on making this one resolve well into something better.

  9. iridium_wolf says:

    Good luck, Bennie, I’m sorry to hear this.

    And you know it’s always a good time to grow. 🙂 I’m sure you’ll be fine.

  10. petercat says:

    When I was asked that question after getting laid off last year (and for that matter, after getting mugged 3 years ago) I’d reply “I’ve been better.” Sorry to hear life has thrown you some lemons, but it does provide an opportunity to re-examine where you want to go in life. I found I had gotten overly complacent after being in the same job for nearly 20 years.

    Good luck! I’ve taken the self-employment plunge. You’ll want to save up enough to live off for at least a year or two (as well as whatever you’ll need for business start-up costs — promotion and marketing, etc.) to give you enough time to build up your clients and cash flow. I wish I’d taken the opportunity while I was still employed to put the business structure in place, as well as spending more time honing my skills, then I could have hit the ground running instead of playing catch-up.

  11. thedeere says:

    Ack, that sucks! X( But it sounds like you have excellent computer kung-fu, so hopefully you get back on track soon. Best of luck!

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