This year for Lent...

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25 February 2012

…I’ll be giving up girl scout cookies – for the entire year. (This is no small thing! I ordered 13 boxes, last year!)

Why this choice? Because I don’t have time for anything else, and this one still requires self-discipline.

Confused about why I’m posting this? See here.

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Liam Eldon Arthur

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5 February 2012

Per my previous post, our new baby has arrived. His name is Liam Eldon Arthur, and he was born 7lbs 14oz and 21” long. He’s perfect :)

It took me a little longer than last time to get a post up; you can take that as a sign of how much busier we are with a 2-year-old in the house with the newborn. But we’re much calmer about this one, I think probably because we know we can make it through this period. Our exhaustion level is about the same, though; see: 2-year-old.

The delivery was much easier this time, and Liam is totally healthy and has been fantastic since day one – eating well, sleeping well, and not fussing except when something is wrong. (Many parents report a very different experience; I suggest swaddling as the likely remedy, or having our genes as the second. Either way, we are very lucky.)

I didn’t announce this one as publicly as last time; I’m still stubbornly shunning Facebook in favor of Google+, even though it seems likely that Google+ will fail, and it just didn’t seem necessary to go out of my way to post it to Twitter. It was nice this time to be able to limit the scope of the Google+ post, so it isn’t actually public. On the other hand, pictures are here :)

On the name: this one, like the last one, came after the delivery. Neither “Liam” nor “Eldon” was on our list before the delivery, although Liam was on the original list for Benjamin. We ended up abandoning the idea of having a hungarian middle name because we couldn’t find one that we liked and that was spellable and that was pronounceable. So Liam was the name that best seemed to fit the new baby, and Eldon came from a good friend of Kristina’s who told us about it as an oft-used name in her family, derived from her grandfather, who was a very special person. We liked the name, and the source, and it went really well with Liam and Arthur, so that was that.

My feelings are very similar to last time: the delivery was intense, and the after-effects (pretty much all positive!) have been strong, and I feel really good about my life right now. The feelings have been much less momentarily-intense… I think just because I’m a lot less scared (of the unknowns) this time around. But they are no less deep – I totally understand now how parents can say that they don’t love any of their children more than any others. It’s also nice to know that Heinlein was right:

The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just. — Robert A. Heinlein, in Time Enough for Love

Also, as hard as this time is, I’m really enjoying having the quiet time at home with my wife and two boys. (I love that I have two boys… I didn’t expect that.) We have no distractions, no competing priorities, no work – just a simple life, focused on each other. I’ll be sorry to see it go (when I go back to work) in a few days.

As with last time, we owe huge thanks to all the people who have helped us, especially the huge investments of time and/or resources from grandparents on both sides – THANK YOU! I can’t imagine doing this without all that help.

Welcome to the world, little Liam. We love you already, more than you’ll even be able to understand… until you have children of your own.

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For Immediate Release: A. Muck Corporation names Benjamin Arthur as new CEO

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16 November 2011

Cleveland, Ohio, November 16, 2011 – A. Muck Corporation, a pioneer and global leader in disruptive innovation and chaos theory, today announced that it has named Benjamin Arthur as its new CEO. Arthur, well known in Ohio for his expertise in disruption, innovation, and chaos, will be the first official CEO of A. Muck, which previously relied on a “distributed leadership” approach.

Mr. Arthur brings 21 months of experience in areas strongly aligned with A. Muck’s corporate goals, such as increasing entropy and distributing goods as widely and randomly as possible. A. Muck currently has millions of dedicated employees around the world, and hires thousands of new employees each day.

Prior to becoming CEO of A. Muck, Mr. Arthur was a distinguished employee of the Cleveland division, focusing on areas of covert distribution of previously-stable goods. He expressed a strong desire for “more” disruption, especially as it relates to items at or below about 4 feet, and to anything reachable by standing on furniture.

“We feel that Mr. Arthur’s age will help him connect with the majority of our employees, who are in the 12-48 month category,” said Kristina Arthur, the local representative for the A. Muck division in Cleveland, Ohio. “Now that Benjamin is running A. Muck, we expect to see unprecedented levels of chaos and disruption.”

Shareholders have expressed some concerns about appointing such a young CEO, “but that’s probably just because they’re so old,” says an inside source who did not wish to be named.

A. Muck’s stock price rose 10% on the announcement, presumably because investors feel that Mr. Arthur will set a very good example as A. Muck’s new CEO.

Mr. Arthur would not comment on the possible purchase of of the B. Roken supply company, which has been rumored to be seeking a buyout by A. Muck. Mr. Arthur said that A. Muck’s law firm, Fall, Down, and Hurt, would have a press release shortly.

A. Muck corporation is a public, nonprofit organization dedicated to finding new ways to invest in chaos theory and innovative disruption. Since its founding in the days of Cain and Abel, A. Muck has charted relentless growth around the world, and continues to grow at an astonishing pace. A. Muck is an equal opportunity employer, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or disability.

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Green Man Gaming

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8 August 2011

A month ago or so, I spotted a slickdeal for a pre-order of a game we really want, from a company I hadn’t heard of called Green Man Gaming. The comments under the deal indicated that Green Man Gaming was reputable, and the deal would provide a Steam download code, which is my preferred way to buy games, so it seemed like a no-brainer to buy it that way and save $30.

Until I tried to actually buy it, and the purchase process was terrible – but this post isn’t about that. It’s about the nasty-gram I sent to them, and their response – which was fantastic.

Let me back up for a moment… I used to be a Product Manager for a software company, so I care a lot about software user experience. I get really angry when I see someone who did a piss-poor job of it. As a product manager, I also crave feedback from my users, so when I see bad work, I usually take the time to tell the company about it.

My experience with that has been frustrating. Usually the feedback process goes like this:

  1. Try to figure out how to provide feedback, discover that you have to enter it into a tiny field on a webpage.
  2. Type a thoughtful / angry letter into that field. Re-reread it, improve it, etc.
  3. Hit Submit, and have the web page lose everything I just typed because it has some secret field-length limit or time-based timeout that they didn’t warn me about.
  4. Paste the letter back into the field (because I’ve learned to copy it by now!), shorten it to whatever limit they are using, and hit Submit again.
  5. A few days later, get a generic form response saying “we are sorry for your troubles and we hope you understand that we serve lots of customers and sometimes these things just happen” – even though my feedback is nearly always about design flaws, not about incidental things.

I expected nothing better from Green Man Gaming, but I sent them a letter anyway. (And I’m sorry to say, re-reading it now, that it’s way more rude than it should have been, and now I feel shame about that.) I’m going to quote the part of it that describes what I had just gone through, and leave the rest out:

  • Register (ok, fine)
  • Fill out one of those stupid captcha things (ok, fine)
  • Re-enter my date of birth because you wanted it in the UK format, rather than US (but that wasn’t obvious at all)
  • Go back to the buy page and re-click ‘buy’ because your site lost track of where I was in the process
  • NOT use my American Express card that I use for everything, because you don’t take it
  • Have to skip past a bunch of fields on your site because apparently you can’t take the time to hide them / show them per card-type
  • Do another captcha, even though I’d done one just moments before
  • Have my card declined twice, and have to re-enter my details each time (!!!), even though there is money in the (debit!) account
  • Try another debit card, have it send me through the “verified by visa” process – and then STILL be declined!
  • Finally go back and change my email address on my account to the one that matches my paypal account (but that I don’t usually give out to websites), just so I could go through paypal.
  • Re-start the whole purchase process for some reason
  • Re-enter the captcha!!!
  • Pay via paypal
  • Oh my god, that actually worked!

You might have thought that I should have just given up, but hey, anything for a deal, right? ;)

So I sent that in, and expected a crappy form letter back. But instead, I got the exact opposite:

Hi Nathan,

I apologise for the problems encountered when purchasing from us; I’ll do my best to answer the problems raised.

- Captcha is a requirement and is used to reduce fraudulent transactions via ‘bots’. I agree, being asked again to repeat it is a pain; I’ll speak to the tech team regarding this.

- DOB, under the DOB field it does clearly state ‘Please enter the date in dd/mm/YYYY format’

- American Express. We are currently evaluating our current payment processing service and hope to offer American Express in the near future.

- Credit card declined; over the weekend we did see an increase in cards being declined; we believe this to be an isolated issue and are actively looking at how/why this happened and stopping it from happening again.

- PayPal email – This requirement is to reduce fraudulent transactions. It is possible to set up additional email addresses through PayPal and assign any of those as the primary email address instead of changing your GMG email to match your PayPal.

- Having to go through the purchase process again – your basket should not have been emptied. If this is happening, it is something that our technical team needs to address and I will certainly raise this as an issue.

We appreciate the feedback and we take all your criticisms on board and will actively address those issues to improve our service. I can only apologise again for the problems encountered and the inconvenience to you.

Regards,
Martin – HCO Green Man Gaming

Wow! A reply from a real human who thoughtfully addressed my concerns! And more than that, he said they’d actually do something about them!

Here’s what I sent back:

That’s a GREAT reply – thank you :)

Just a few suggestions in return:

  • Once I’ve done one captcha (to get an account), it seems pointless to keep making me do more of them. You really need to not require captchas for account-holders, when checking out.
  • DOB: perhaps use geolocation to see if the user is in the US, and reverse the expectation? I know that’s probably not worth implementing, but if you do end up having a lot of US sales, this will be a constant problem for US buyers.
  • AmEx: I understand that not all retailers take AmEx, and I’m usually quite forgiving about it. It just seems strange for a website to not take it.
  • Paypal email: (a long paragraph explaining why I didn’t want to use my paypal email, which isn’t really relevant here)

Thanks again for the thoughtful reply!

An in return, they upped the ante again:

Hi Nathan,
Thanks for your response; just wanted to follow up on it.

Captcha; we’ve removed this from the payment page now – so you will only see this the once.

AmEx: The reason we don’t accept it is because I believe our payment processing company SagePay, doesn’t – we are looking at alternatives to this so hopefully, we’ll be able to offer AmEx soon.

DOB: – Great suggestion, but may take longer to implement than simply putting: DD/MM/YY in the text box – that should hopefully make it a bit clearer for people.

PayPal – thanks for your insight and obvious concerns with that. As I briefly stated in my earlier mail, this ‘hoops’ are there to reduce fraud. However, we are continually looking at ways of improving both our customer experience while maintaining a good level of anti-fraud measures and so I will pass this feedback on to the team.

Thanks again for your reply.

Regards,
Martin

So, wow. My letter made it through to a real human who both replied thoughtfully and was able to actually implement changes to make things better the next time. Just, wow.

My hat’s off to you, Green Man Gaming – thank you very much! I’ll certainly be buying from you again.

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Boon, Inc.

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18 July 2011

Just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to Boon Inc.. (They make baby gear.) We have their highchair (the “Flair”), and we really, really like it. It’s easy to clean, easy to move around, easy to load Benjamin into (and out of)… it just does what it should, with no irritations.

And I’ve had to call Boon about it, twice. Both times, I called late in the evening and left a voice message. Both times, a real human called me back and just talked to me about my issues. For the first call, I was concerned that something wasn’t working correctly, and they explained that it was actually working as designed, and that if it worked the way I thought it should, it would actually be dangerous. (Imagine that – a customer service person who can reason about product design!) The second time, the brake on the bottom had worn out and was coming off. The chair was out of warranty, but they offered (without me asking or mentioning the warranty) to send me a new one if I’d just send pictures of the old one, showing the problem. I did, and they did.

So the point is, not only do they have great products, but they also have great customer service. Pretty darn rare :)

And looking around, I realize we have a bunch of their products, and we like them all: Flo, Grass, Snack Ball, Squirt, and Fluid.

So, thanks, Boon, for being awesome!

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Huge news - we're having (another) baby!

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11 July 2011

(You may recall that I said something like this before.)

As the title says, our second baby is incubating =D We just had the first ultrasound, and the baby is exactly as it should be – tiny, funny-looking, all the limbs are there, and the heartbeat is just what it should be. (It’s too early to tell the sex, although Kristina has been having a rougher pregnancy this time, which has led some to speculate that this one’s a girl… or twins.) The due date is February 1st, 2012. (Yep – just 4 days off Benjamin’s due date…)

I knew, the first time around, that if I posted something deep and heavy then, that I’d have a very hard time matching it the second time around. That, of course, has turned out to be true. A second child simply has a less-“heavy” impact on me, because I’m much more prepared for it, via my experiences with the first. That seems like an obvious consequence… but it also has the potential to be disappointing for child #2 when they see this post for the first time. So, little one, when you read this years from now, please don’t take my less-passionate commentary here as a reflection on you, but instead as a reflection on how much your father has changed since the first baby came along. We’re also not quite as far along in the pregnancy (now) as we were with Benjamin – just 10 weeks now, and we don’t know your sex yet. I expect that will still have a huge impact on me :) I will post again once that happens.

I will say that having a second baby has had its own set of new (scary!) thoughts associated with it:

  • Hurray, it’s not twins!
  • When will we sleep, with two babies on different (disruptive!) sleep schedules?!?
  • Are we crazy for trying to keep the OB/GYN (and hospital) that we loved so much the last time around, even though she’s 2.5 hours away?
  • What stuff do we need this time around, that we don’t already have?
  • Oh no! We’re going to need a bigger car!
  • I learned my lesson and didn’t wait (past the first ultrasound) to announce the good news :)

So, a big hello, new baby :) I’ll have more to say to you soon, I’m sure.

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On abortion

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3 July 2011

Hello, internets. I’ve come to offer myself as a sacrifice at the alter of people-who-can-never-be-politicians-because-of-things-they-said-on-the-internet.

Why? A friend of mine recently created a tumblr account as an alternative to his regular blog. He’s posted on a few topics, but most of his posts have been about abortion.

It turns out that he and I disagree, and none of my normal avenues of replying are available to me. Tumblr doesn’t have a comment feature, so I can’t just add a comment to his post. And Tumblr isn’t Twitter, so I can’t just tweet back. And his Tumblr account isn’t feeding his Facebook account, so I can’t reply there (not that I would have, anyway). Tumblr wants me to open an account with them, to reply, but “truist.tumblr.com” is taken (but not used) by the new owners of truist.com, so I’d have to choose a new moniker, and I’m not really up to doing that just yet.

So I’m left with finally getting around to codifying my opinions on my own blog. (Or staying silent, but I find that I can’t, on this topic.) In a way, that’s long overdue, so thanks for the motivation to do it!

Here goes:

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Baby gear for the first-time parent: the definitive list for 2010

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21 March 2011

(Yes, I know, it’s 2011. Read on and the title will make sense.)

Before Benjamin was born, I did a lot of research into all the “stuff” we’d need for him. A lot. A LOT. (You’ll see… keep reading.) I read books, reviews, and websites. I made spreadsheets and budgets. I comparison-shopped.

And in the end, I think we actually did a really good job with the stuff we bought. Only rarely did we get something that we didn’t end up needing and/or loving, and usually those ‘mistakes’ were because we rushed into a purchase.

My family knew about all this research, so when Benjamin’s aunt was pregnant, she asked me to pass my information along. I did so, with some advice about things we’d learned in hindsight. And then a co-worker was having a baby and asked for the information. And just today, an extended family member heard about this info and asked for it, and another family member suggested I just publish it, so…

The information below is an amalgam of lists, emails, and spreadsheets that weren’t written with publication in mind, and that have only been somewhat cleaned up. And I gathered most of this information in 2009, in preparation for an early-2010 baby, so it’s rapidly becoming out of date. But I’m guessing that it will still be useful to some, so here it is:

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$80 a year for a great, great service

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9 February 2011

Amazon Prime. If you don’t have it, you’re missing out on something great. Get it. You won’t regret it.

It’s $80 a year to get free two-day shipping from anything Amazon sells, and/or $3.99 (per item) for overnight shipping. So you pay for that once a year, and your whole shopping lifestyle changes, in a really great way.

Need something around the house? Go to Amazon (on your phone, if you have a smartphone!) and just hit “Buy now with 1-click” (if you have 1-click set up) and BAM! Two days later it’s at your front door.

Need baby supplies, because you’re about to run out? Spend 2 minutes on your phone, and two days later, they arrive. No need to make a special trip to the store.

Need a Christmas present at the last minute? Spend two minutes (er… maybe more than that, to be sure it’s a good one), and two days later, it arrives – and you didn’t have to fret about paying extra for fast shipping.

Two days is probably sooner than you would have gotten any of these things if you’d put them on your shopping list. And they probably cost less from Amazon, too.

Even if it’s big (e.g. two boxes of 250-count diapers, shipped monthly). Even if it’s small (e.g. watch batteries). Even if it’s food (e.g. the particular brand of basmati rice we like). Same thing: two days later, no extra expense.

And it seems to affect returns also, in a great way. For example, I just received a pair of headphones that I ordered. I opened them and found a broken part. I went to Amazon, clicked a few links to find my order, said I wanted to return it, typed in a description of why, and chose “defective” as the reason. Amazon arranged for UPS to pick up the defective one from my front door tomorrow (I just had to print a page to include in the box, and re-tape the box – UPS will bring a shipping label with them!). The replacement headphones will be shipped tomorrow, one-day shipping, for free, and will arrive the day after tomorrow.

Again, faster (and MUCH cheaper, considering gas costs and time) than having to go back to a store and refund it. And I don’t have to deal with waiting in line, or with annoying store clerks.

So: do yourself a favor. Try a free trial of Amazon Prime, to gain back a little time in your life, and enjoy the experience of having a really great service right at your fingertips, all year long.

(No, I don’t get anything from Amazon for writing this review – it’s just my way of saying “thanks” to them for doing something exceptionally well.)

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One downside to huge dogs...

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15 November 2010

…they can eat food right out of your baby’s hand, while he’s in his high chair:

Benjamin and Kodiak

This actually happened a few days ago. (The picture was somewhat staged, for demonstration purposes.) Benjamin had a pizza crust that he’d been gnawing on, and he held it out to the side, and Kodiak just came over and took what was offered. Benjamin didn’t seem to mind :-)

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