Category Archives: Short Story

Short stories

Alien Weather Report

“…and that was Koflan Whitzan’s 3142 classic, ‘Baby, You’re So Cold You Make Cold Fusion Hot’, featuring the 2718 Frank Zappa AI on lintar, here on Classic Earth Radio.”

“That was truly an elevated choice on Koflan’s part, Arlanda.”

“It really was, Miguel. Speaking of elevation, I’m heading off-planet to the Europan floes this weekend for a little ice fishing with my girlfriends in the tourist zone. What’s the alien weather looking like?”

“Well, Arlanda, we’re going to be tracking a number of alien fronts all across the solar system this weekend, so be sure your distress beacon is operational and your EVAC suits are patched.

“The Jovian system in particular is expected to have elevated activity, as a large contingent of Yautjans have been observed in orbit around Jupiter and performing regular sorties into the atmosphere. We think this is a repeat of their 3164 coming-of-age ceremony when we observed their free-fall hunts of the floating Sagans…”

“Whoa, hold up! There are a bunch of horny Yautjans in town? I’d better pack a mud mask for my trip!”

“Ha ha! That’s not all you’ll need, Arlanda. Brood twelve is still actively harvesting sulphur on Io, and their swarming ships will be a navigational hazard throughout Jupiter’s gravity well. Last but not least, you’d better pack your flamethrower because Biological Sampling Station Eleven on Europa is missing a husky sled dog and is on lockdown until it’s found.”

“Sounds ominous, Miguel.”

“But not as ominous as the Three-eyed Venusians who are back at it on Mars this week. The truce seems to have broken and Sojourner and Jezero Bases are reporting aerial bombardments. The Federation is scrambling to enforce a no-fly zone for the planet and all commercial traffic is being re-routed to Phobos and Demios.”

“Thoughts and prayers go out to our Martian listeners, Miguel.”

“Indeed. And you better think twice about trying to get away from it all out towards Neptune and Pluto unless your UV decontamination is shipshape. Kuiper Belt observatories are showing large fluxes in interstellar spore showers, posing ongoing contamination hazards.”

“With all that, maybe my group should change our plans!”

“That’d be an excellent choice, Arlanda and it’s not all doom and gloom out there. You and your throuple might think about packing bikinis and sunscreen instead of parkas, and heading to Mercury’s sunside to watch the Dahomey Walking Trees’ marathon.”

“Oh that sounds like fun! Hey, Miguel, what do you say to a Dahomey Walking Tree dressed like a Douglas Fir?”

“I don’t know, Arlanda. What do you say to a Dahomey Walking Tree dressed like a Douglas Fir?”

“Aren’t you barking up the wrong tree?”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that and remind our listeners that it’s peak mating season for the Meekrobs and if you have the chance, you should head on out to Saturn to watch their prismatic displays in the rings. And to close out the alien weather report as we always do, Arlanda, we have to talk about Uranus.”

“What do you have to say about it this week, Miguel?”

“Uranus has more dark rings than a bathtub after washing a tauntaun!”

“Zing! Alight folks, it’s the weekend, I’m Arlanda Washington.”

“I’m Miguel Hernadez.”

“And here’s a deep cut from Classic Earth Radio to send you on your way, 3156’s top hit by the Pleasurebot Confessionals, ‘When the Chamber Vents’. Have a safe one out there people!”

Hello Zillow Group!

Zillow logo

Since my work laptop arrived Wednesday and I cleared the I-9 hurdle this morning, I’m incredibly happy to announce that I have accepted a Web Marketing Operations Manager role at Zillow Group, starting next week!

What will I be doing? From the job description:

  • Partner with the website marketing team and program managers to define and execute on the web technology stack with the goal of supporting marketing initiatives
  • Build and handle web pages and merchandising placements within the content management system (CMS) based on business requirements
  • Work with marketing and development teams to coordinate requirements and govern website tagging and tracking
  • Drive and configure integrations of tools such as customer data platform, A/B testing, forms, and other technologies with the CMS
  • Build and maintain a high level web technology roadmap
  • Coordinate the selection and management of agencies and third-party vendors for web consulting and platform execution
  • Collaborate with other marketing operations partners to ensure website solutions are in alignment with other channel approaches
  • Stay plugged into emerging technologies/industry trends in the web technology space and apply them to strategies and tactics

A few of the many things that attracted me to the role are that Zillow Group is in the midst of shifting their business model from essentially selling ads against their inventory to a vertically integrated real estate solution in a sector that is ripe for disruption, the ability to learn more about the marketing discipline, and that everyone I talked with just seemed like good people. Zillow Group has also embraced flexible work, so I won’t have to commute every day and they score well for gender equality. They’re also hiring, so come work with me!

And to answer the question, “Heather, what the heck have you been doing since you left IMDb almost five years ago?” – it’s been a ride.

When I left IMDb I had resolved to take six months off to just be a mom for my kids after a turbulent year and feeling burnt out on tech. Around month five, just when I was getting the itch to get back to work, my mom unexpectedly passed away. It hit me hard, and with the object lesson of life being short I decided to take more time off to support one of my kids who needed some extra help, settle my mom’s estate, and figure out what was next for me. One year turned into two and then bled into a third before realizing that spending down my retirement fund wasn’t the smartest financial move.

Prior to my mom’s death I had visions of doing user/customer experience consulting, but freelancing is hard and requires a lot of hustle, and I just didn’t have it in me at the time. So, I turned my attention to a side project that I’ve been incubating for a few years, Alluvial Lux, designing and fabricating custom freshwater aquarium sculptures. Throughout 2019 I worked to get the business structure set up and start work on my first design. As my money started to run out, I realized I needed another job and started looking in September 2019.

My 2020 plan was to work full time in tech and use weekends and nights to get Alluvial Lux up and running, using my living room as a gallery showroom for the sculptures, and see what happened.

I was intentional in looking for an all- or mostly-remote gig, and interviewed at WordPress VIP (VIP), a subsidiary of Automattic, a remote-only company for an Enterprise Technical Account Manager role. Hiring in there took about six months(!) and my first day of work in March 2020 coincided with the first Covid lockdowns in the Seattle area. My Alluvial Lux plans were put on pause because the whole world changed and I wasn’t about to have people I didn’t know over to the house.

On the surface, VIP seemed like a perfect fit; it’s managed WordPress web hosting at scale and was very digital.forest-like. I’d be able to marry my web operations background with my experience in supporting enterprise customers. The reality turned out to be not so great for me.

The 7/24 nature of the business gave me stress flashbacks to digital.forest, there was more technical support than I realized or wanted (my bad for not realizing that beforehand), and over time I realized I didn’t fit well into their technical operations and business cultures. But ultimately I lost faith in leadership over a business decision they made that I was morally opposed to and their dissembling and condescending justifications for making it is what drove me to seek a new job.

I did make some great friends there and I wish my former colleagues at VIP all the best.

Onward to the future!

Heather Kilbourn’s looking for work!

The tl;dr: I’m looking for a senior-level IC role in information architecture, user experience optimization, project management, communications, or writing/editing.


For the last year plus I’ve been at WordPress VIP, a part of Automattic, working with some of their largest, most complex customers as an Enterprise Technical Account Manager (TAM). I’ve loved working with the great people there and supporting my customers, but I’ve come to the realization I have been working 180º away from the type of work that brings me the most happiness and that I need to make a change.

See the source image

I’ve had a fortunate career with the successful exit by sale of my data center startup and working at companies who operate chunks of the web at scale. The through-line for me has been roles where I am building things or fixing things. I thrive working on green field or transformational projects and my TAM role has been more to the side supporting things. Thus, the change.

I also realized I missed things like analyzing customer data to optimize information architectures & help smooth user experiences and then seeing the results of that work; project managing high-stakes bets and bringing to bear all my strategic and tactical experience plus soft skills to get stuff done; and the opportunities to use my writing skills in the communications and documentation spaces. Most of all, I missed the sense of completion of a job well done and the excitement of the next thing over the horizon.

So, I’d appreciate any and all referrals, pointers, tips, and leads for roles in those areas! If you’ve worked with me and feel so moved, a LinkedIn recommendation would also be most appreciated. 🙂

Onward!

Simplicity

Within the heart of hazy complications
Beats a truthful simplicity
If you take the time to listen

Moon over Zion

Zion National Park Subway

Zion National Park Subway pool by Jeremiah Roth under CC BY-SA 2.0 – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rothwerx/

Gigantic curtains of stone towered on either side of me, divided by a river of whitecapped blue sky. The river, only an inch or two deep and flowing merrily along in splishes and splashes against my boots and dampening my socks, belied the patient chiseling it had done through the epochs to create this amphitheater.

My attention focused upward, through sheer luck I narrowly avoided stepping into a five foot diameter pothole. I warily eyed its dark depths as I skirted it while listening to the hike leader warn people to keep an eye out for the watery holes. Of course, his warning came when we were already thirty yards or more into the canyon.

“They’ll swallow you whole,” he admonished with a giddy lilt, likely secretly hoping someone would fall in. Ray was like that. A grumpy curmudgeon whose greatest amusement was to watch others flail in vaudevillian slapstick tragedy, he was mostly grim and carried a chip on his shoulder when sober and was boisterously belligerent and argumentative when having drink, which he took to with relish when the day’s work or hike was done.

The night before, we had camped in a nameless canyon spot, and as shadows inched down the walls, a two-liter plastic jug of whiskey was passed around the company. It was a wedding party after all. Dave and I had missed the ceremony the previous day due to car troubles on the 191 pass on our way to Colorado two days prior. We had had to locate and then field replace the distributor on my 1969 Pontiac Ventura, which had seized up and spun around, puncturing the main coolant line to boot.

The group consisted of Ray and Patty’s friends and families. All their friends were climbers, most of them ex-Mountaineers, who had quit the organization in disgust at the ‘soft, lax, and dangerous’ training regimens for contemporary members. As the whiskey fueled their restlessness, many began to free climb the walls about us, like crickets in a box scrabbling to get out. One man, a wiry and gnarled old-timer spider-climbed an overhanging ledge upside-down, with bare feet and fingers in a feat that young men forty years his junior were unable to match due to their lack of strength and dexterity.

Ray was in fine form, slurringly egging along all and sundry to ever more challenging feats. Ray and Dave didn’t get along so well, and Ray kept handing the jug past his newly minted stepson to his own kids, irritating Dave. Dave called out Ray about how he was all mouth and no action. Piqued, Ray scrambled up a nearby wall to a narrow ledge fifteen feet up and proceeded to turn around, drop his pants, and moon everyone.

Patty decided she didn’t like Dave prodding her new husband to take silly risks, and loudly announced he was cut off, sending Dave into a small whining fit and back to his backpack for a beer. Ray secured further revenge by successfully convincing Dave it was tarantula mating season, and gleefully watched him spray almost an entire can of bug repellant in three concentric circles around his sleeping bag.

The hijinks culminated the following afternoon when after a grueling hike/climb/scramble of more than a thousand feet up and over the rim, one of the party asked Dave’s newly consummated girlfriend for his rock back. Tired and dehydrated, she didn’t understand his question. Pointing at her backpack, he reiterated his request.

Puzzled, she dug through it and at the very bottom was a child’s head-sized rock, easily one stone or more in weight. Angry, she heaved it at him and missed, and it rolled over the edge and tumbled down, missing someone by mere feet. Ray jumped down her throat, ignoring her indignant protestations.

She muttered “Fucking assholes,” over and over as we sat in the baking sun waiting for the truck to come and pick us up.