Bean Town

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mrs. Van Horn's match results arrived at noon yesterday and we were really thrown for a loop at first.



For reasons related to the fact that we are a two-career couple -- with me trying to change careers -- this was our fourteenth choice. Neither of us seriously considered it as the place we'd end up.

And yet, that is where we will go.

I like Boston. I have several old friends there, including the one who first introduced me to Mrs. Van Horn. I have noticed that I'll probably get to make some new friends there through blogging. The place has lots of employment opportunities for someone like me.

Having said that, Boston was one of the last places I wanted to end up.

There is little one can do to control where one matches beyond interviewing only in places that might work well in the long run (which Boston can), ranking them accordingly, and sacrificing a fatted calf. The first two of these proved only slightly more effective than the last, and yesterday, I found myself, a little dazed at first, and thinking things like, "Well, I do have my health."

And that's nothing to sneeze at.

Yes. I may have to rewrite my whole post-match strategy from scratch. I have to leave behind some good friends and lots of good memories in Houston. We will be far from our families in the South. The high cost of living is going to make it much harder for me to transition from scientific research to something that will give me more time to write.

But these are obstacles, and I have learned through experience -- I initially lost Mrs. Van Horn to a rival -- that some obstacles are blessings in disguise and that others can be turned into new opportunities.

Time to start working on some alchemy!

-- CAV


Shea said...

For what it's worth, OCON '09 is in Boston.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's good news! Thanks for letting me know.

johnnycwest said...

Such are the vagaries of medical education. Good luck in Boston. I bet things will work out fine for you and your wife. I am reminded of my former brother-in-law who had the opportunity to do an externship in Sweden shortly after he interned. He was excited about the opportunity as he had visited as a child and had relatives there.

On the transatlantic flight, he got to talking to his seat mate and revealed his medical degree. His fellow passenger was delighted - he whipped off his shoes and socks and had Jamie examine a nasty foot problem he was having.

The flight to Boston will be shorter and hopefully you will be there to talk to. All the best on the new adventure and keep up the great blogging! And bonus... OCON '09!

C. August said...

You know, I opened the Boston Globe this morning and beneath the fold on the front page was a young Tufts grad screaming with joy at getting matched to Cedar Sinai in LA. And I thought to myself, I did, I said "Self, I wonder where Gus is going to end up?"

Well, I must say that even though it was your nearly last choice, welcome to Boston! When is the big move?

By the way, you'll have OH SO MUCH to blog about here.

Gus Van Horn said...


My wife will find your story both entertaining and profitable!

And all I get, with a PhD, is "Oh! So you're not a REAL doctor!"


Thank you!

Mrs. Van Horn moves either June or July. I have things to finish here, so I will probably lag by a few months.


LB said...

If you're apartment hunting earlier, they'll be two lectures in May by Yaron Brook:

Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Harvard University -- Cambridge, MA
"The Threat of Totalitarian Islam"
Yaron Brook, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer
Location: Emerson Hall, Room 210
Time: 8:00pm

Thursday, May 8, 2008
Ford Hall Forum
"Apollo and Dionysus" Revisited
By Yaron Brook
Boston, Massachusetts

And then, there are the Red Sox!!!

Welcome to Boston.

Gus Van Horn said...

Even more good news!

The warm welcome is making me glad to be heading that way!

Anonymous said...

I spent my freshman year of college in Boston. My only complaint about being there was the extremely bland food. Of course, I was mainly eating food served in the cafeteria which was not top quality stuff.

Best wishes on your new journey and don't forget to give me a call when you're down in Mississippi.


Gus Van Horn said...

Thank, Allen! You will hear from me the next time I or we head that way.

Matt F. said...

Wow, Boston, eh?

The part of me that loves cooler weather is jealous. However, the part of me that is a student sharing a downtown apartment with my younger brother in Houston, I appreciate your concern about the higher cost of living (I used to live in Southern California).

Good luck to you and Mrs. Van Horn in Boston.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Matt!

Tom Rowland said...

When I re-met Julie
(Mrs. Rowland was my high school love), i had a full-time piano studio in Columbus, Ohio and she lived in Lakewood, WA. I, too, was the one who could move and did. Fortunately, I love it here, despite the same lefty politics that you will have to live with in Boston.
BTW, things must have changed in medicine residencies since the seventies. My first wife had no problem doing hers in the same city where we had gone through both her undrgrad and medical school.

My couple of visits to Boston centered on history and seafood, both of which are in large supply.

Enjoy the adventure!

Gus Van Horn said...

Good beer will, for me, round out the triumvirate with seafood and history!

"[T]hings must have changed in medicine residencies since the seventies. My first wife had no problem doing hers in the same city where we had gone through both her undrgrad and medical school."

On top of that, my wife's matching situation was made difficult in part by her unusual background and interests. My surprise at going so far down the list aside, this was why she did so many interviews....

Good to hear from you, Tom!

SecFox HQ said...

Well Gus, Boston is just over two hours from my door. Maybe we can meet up? I'd like that. Boston is great, really. The rich history there will keep you occupied, for sure.
Hope to hear from you...


Daniel Rigby said...

Good luck with the move Gus. I'm sure there's good beer/pubs up there, which is surely a plus.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Guys! And yes, Blair, I look forward to eventually meeting you once we've moved.

Galileo Blogs said...

Boston is a great city, the home of the American Revolution. My brother went to law school there and then ended up far south in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

So, don't despair of never getting back to Houston.

By the way, I live in New York and occasionally get to Boston. Next time I do, may I buy you a beer? For me, I am glad that such a superb blogger-commentator will soon live so close to me.


Gus Van Horn said...

Certainly, as long as I can return the favor on your next trip!

I look forward to meeting you!

Dismuke said...

Gee - I am actually envious. Boston is one of the most beautiful cities in the USA. I love it - and would actually live there (second only to New York City) if it weren't for the high taxes and lower standard of living I would have to endure compared with what I can enjoy here in Texas.

As for food - actually there's lots of great food up there. Wonderful hole in the wall pizza joints with the sort of greasy pizza that is common in the Northeast and almost impossible to find here in Texas. Walk through the North End on a brisk weekend morning and the smell of Italian food is just incredible - and then you have to figure out which of the many restaurants there to try. If you like pubs - well, there's lots of them up there.

As for cost of living - well, there are very few places of significant size in the USA where one can beat Houston on that score. But keep in mind that within the Boston area, there are going to be some areas where the cost is lower than others. For example, in New York City, Queens and Brooklyn are cheaper than Manhattan. Obviously, you will want to limit your search ONLY to areas which are safe. Then narrow it down to areas that are viable from a commuting standpoint. You will find that between what is left, there will be some areas that are less "prestigious" but just as safe and just as nice (and sometimes even better) in terms of the available housing that go for a lot less. Years ago when I was up there, the South Shore area such as North Quincy, Wallaston, Quincy, etc had some very charming neighborhoods that went for much less than the center city and you got more space to go with it as well. And if you worked in the city, it was easy 20 minute ride on the Red Line. Don't know if that is still the case today. Best bet is to ask Objectivisits and other people you can network with who live up there for advice on the pros and cons of various parts of town.

The other thing about the Northeast is how compact everything is. Want to visit the coast? It is a very short drive away - and the New England coast is incredibly beautiful and varied. Apart from Galveston, the coast here in Texas is just ugly. Want to visit the mountains? Those too are a short drive away. And in between both are little small towns and villages that look like they come straight from a picture book.

And if you are missing your old friends in Houston - well, it is actually easier to make friends in highly dense and compact urban cities such as Boston. Here in D/FW for instance, the center cities and their suburbs spread out for about 50 miles or more in each direction. Kind of hard to find a location for something such as an Objectivist club meeting because where no matter where you hold it it is going to be an inconvenient distance for a certain number of people to get there. It is easier to find educated people with highly unique interests in the more urban cities for that and other reasons. And that factor might also work for you in terms of your writing career: my guess is the odds of finding people who are in a position to help you along those lines are probably much better in Boston than in Houston which, for all of its many virtues, is not exactly known as an intellectual mecca.

Sure, there are the stereotypical New Englanders who actually think Ted Kennedy is a civilized, benevolent human being. But there are also plenty of stereotypical Texans and Southerners in Houston who are just as bad in other ways. For the most part, one is able to go through life and tune such people out - and you will be able to do the same up there as well, no doubt.

Plus it isn't forever. If you and Mrs. Van Horn end up disliking it up there - well, you will have an opportunity down the road to move elsewhere. But there ARE some neat things about that part of the country that are simply not available here in Texas - so at least you will have the opportunity to discover and enjoy them.

One of those neat things, of course, is Moxie. You will be able to walk to the corner grocery and buy a can or bottle anytime you want - and you've got to admit that is a VERY cool thing. It sure is a lot easier to find Dr. Pepper up there than it is to find Moxie down here. Plus you will get to have all the fun watching the expressions on the faces of out of town visitors when they try Moxie for the very first time!

Gus Van Horn said...


You've made a strong case for Boston and I do have to admit that after the initial shock, I am beginning to look forward to the move.

One notable thing -- besides Moxie -- is that I've already heard from lots of Objectivists from the area and half the people I became friends with in grad school ended up there, with more on the way. I couldn't have landed anywhere more like Houston on that score.


Burgess Laughlin said...

Moving, itself, is often unpleasant. However, moving can offer an opportunity worth considering carefully. For example, you might consider looking for a situation where you can get rid of one car (if you have two).

I offer this example because (1) I have always lived without a car (I am 63), and (2) many people immediately reject the idea because they are now living in a situation (which they put themselves in) where they do need one.

For someone switching careers to a possibly stay-at-home career might gain from this much less expensive way to live.

More generally, the point is that this is an opportunity to re-examine one's whole pattern of living while maintaining the same value hierarchy.

Gus Van Horn said...

Looking at getting rid of a car is exactly one thing we're doing, given Boston's compactness and good mass transit.

As for staying at home and writing, I am nowhere near the point of being able to do that, but I had considered such things as taking part-time work and pushing really hard using the extra time to establish myself as a writer. That particular option probably just become a lot less feasible.

There are other options. I just have to discover them....

Dismuke said...

Ever thought of the possibility of being a technical writer as your day job? It is not the sort of writing that you are hoping to do - but it IS writing.

And I think you can get gigs doing it on a contract basis which would last for a specific duration. Something like that might even work out better than a part time job in that during the contract job you can focus ENTIRELY on that writing and, in the period between gigs when you choose to remain inactive, you can focus entirely on YOUR writing. A contract job that lasts 6 months of the year would result in the same amount of time demand as a 4 hour a day part time job. But unlike a part time job, you would have 6 months you wouldn't have to think about it - and I suspect it would pay substantially more than an ongoing part time job.

My understanding is that technical writers do NOT necessarily need to be experts on the information that they present. They have access to the experts and are hired primarily for their ability to clearly present information to the end users. Your scientific background might actually be an advantage for you because, unlike technical writers without that background, you are going have a decent understanding of intellectual context of people in scientific professions which might give you and edge when it comes to providing documentation for products that are designed to be used by such people. You certainly have decent writing skills.

Massachusetts DOES have quite a lot of high tech industry - so my guess is that it is not a bad place to do technical writing. And if you have the ability to get contract jobs more or less whenever you want them, that gives you a lot of flexibility to pursue other opportunities that you might otherwise not be able to with the long-term commitment of a permanent position. And you WOULD be able to put on your resume that you have had professional writing jobs - which might help you in landing the type of writing jobs you really want.

For all I know, you already know that such jobs exist and have possibly considered them. But if not, there is a summary of the profession in this Wikipedia article:

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for that suggestion, Dismuke. While it's similar to something I'd been considering before, you have reminded me of a couple of things I'd forgotten about (and hadn't dragged back into mind yet) when I thought we'd buried the expensive cities "safely" at the bottom of the match list.

Burgess Laughlin said...

I worked 20 years as a writer, editor, and publications manager in the electronics industry. Ten of those years were as an employee (for two large corporations), and ten were as a freelance writer, editor, and consultant.

There are, then, three alternatives:
- Writer as employee.
- Writer as a "contractor," which means you work full-time on a big project until it is done.
- Writer as a freelancer, which means usually that you work by the piece, where the projects are usually short and varied.

By varying your rates, with the third option, you can, to some extent, control your average workload, but there are peaks and valleys.

The main requirements for success are: responsibility (never ever missing a deadline), writing ability, interviewing ability (to gain the information you need), and technical ability (last, because you can acquire it through interviews).

I retired 18 years ago. I liked the business very much, but didn't love it.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the whirlwind tour of technical writing. As short as it was, it does give me a conceptual starting point to begin considering that option in earnest.


Burgess Laughlin said...

Here is a fact to consider. In the second corporation I worked for, there were three hundred writers out of 20,000 employees.

The top paid positions were copy-writers working on corporate advertisements. They were superb ad-copy writers. They were also masters at turning boring material (financial reports) into fascinating reading. Employees actually looked forward to reading the corporate annual report!

The bottom positions (in terms of pay) were individuals who wrote laboratory procedures in electro-chem manufacturing or in integrated-circuit engineering labs.

Note that even the "bottom" writers were much respected and well-paid. The lab-procedure writers I talked to were very satisfied with their work. They were individuals who were fascinated with science or technology, but also fascinated with writing.

This is a perfect example of a "double career." Another example is the young student who can't decide whether to go into science or into his love of learning German. Obvious solution: become a translator of scientific material to and from German.

It is these niche, "two-fer" jobs that can offer great rewards personally.

[I will send my bill later.]

Gus Van Horn said...


Hmmm. You definitely make technical writing sound like it's worth a look, and that is really helpful to me.

The cost of living in Boston makes it imperative that I make make more money than I would have had to in most other places.

But money alone motivates me poorly, so it helps A LOT to know that there are options out there that can offer the kind of job satisfaction a writer wants.


Burgess Laughlin said...

[...] You definitely make technical writing sound like it's worth a look, and [...]

I don't want to give a false impression. Technical writing (or similar kinds of writing), like all careers, requires time to learn. Max benefits come from years of experience. But as a "day-job" career, it offers real possibilities for those who have another, beloved central purpose in life that doesn't pay well (at least in the first decade or so).

The cost of living in Boston makes it imperative that I make make more money [...]

Have you considered the alternative: cutting costs?

I retired at 45, partly because I lived very cheaply before and after I retired. I shop at the cheapest grocery within walking range. I start my other shopping trips at Goodwill and go up from there (usually to army surplus stores). And I simply do without a lot of things. I keep my value hierarchy extremely steep, concentrating on only the three or four highest values (work, friends, and leisure [walking and reading mystery stories out of the library]).

Main point: consider a radical change in lifestyle, one that supports your goals, if your present one doesn't.

Gus Van Horn said...


You do have a point, but if we take the median cost of living in the United States to be 100, it is 83 in Houston and 126 in Boston.

I'd have had to make some big changes in my lifestyle just to do what I was planning on in the cheaper places I thought we'd end up.

This is going to be tricky at best.