This year for Lent: electronic distractions

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28 days ago

I think I skipped last year’s Lent, and maybe the year before, too. (You can read about prior years, if you like.) But this year it was clear a few months ago what I needed to give up: my phone.

And then Lent snuck up on me. (It starts tomorrow!) I’m not ready! I can’t let go, not yet, not now! Nooooooo!!!!

So I’ve made some hasty plans. Here they are:

  1. I’m not giving up the phone entirely. I depend on it to manage most of my life, and I don’t really think I’d be better off with e.g. a paper calendar or paper lists of reminders or communicating via telegraph. Specifically, I’m keeping access to:
    1. Calling (you know, the “phone”)
    2. Text messages
    3. Email (but no notifications)
    4. Weather
    5. Music
    6. Pictures (but no notifications)
    7. Reminders
    8. Calendar
    9. All the various utilities that serve a single purpose that I don’t usually use as a distraction (e.g. Notes, Amazon, Dashlane) (but no notifications)
  2. I am giving up all the things on my phone that I use to distract myself from boredom. That means hiding the apps, disabling their notifications, and not looking at them at all between now and April 12th. These include:
    1. Twitter & Google+ (I don’t have Facebook)
    2. Safari & Chrome
    3. Newsify / Feedly
    4. Kindle (I have a Paperwhite; I’ll allow it as a substitute for a physical book)
    5. Youtube & Air Video HD & Podcasts & Audible
    6. Games
  3. Also, to keep myself from just bingeing at a regular computer, I’ll be giving up most of those services entirely (until April 12th):
    1. Twitter & Google+
    2. Feedly
    3. Youtube
    4. Watching movies and TV shows by myself
    5. Games on the computer (ha ha! I haven’t done this in years)
  4. Finally, to get the phone away from my face as much as possible, I’ll be putting it down as soon as I get home, and only picking it up if there’s some specific reason to do so.
    1. Oh, and I’ll apply a similar rule in the morning – no picking it up until after I’m showered.

Here goes!

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Speaking up

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57 days ago

Note: I thought long and hard about what to do about Trump, and decided that personally reaching out to my family, many of whom are Trump supporters, was the best thing I could do. I wrote the email below and sent it. I thought it might be important or useful for other people, too, so I’m sharing it here. Feel free to do with it as you like.


This email is about Trump. I know email isn’t the best way to publish political thought, but I’m trying to do what I can about a terrible situation, and this is the most valuable thing I can figure out to do (that I’m not otherwise already doing). I’m writing this to save myself, my family, and all of you – so I’m willing to break a norm.

Please read this. Do it as a personal favor to me, even if you think I’m being dramatic, or wasting your time. I’ll owe you. Do it as a personal favor to yourself, so that when you look back on this moment, you don’t feel ashamed.

Trump is headed for a coup. Either an explicit, overt one, or a fumbling, oh-we-didn’t-really-notice-until-it-was-too-late-that-he’s-unstoppable one. He’s moving very, very fast – it will be over within a few weeks. It doesn’t matter if you agree with his stated goals and plans; converting our country into an autocracy will not be good for any of us. Think about what it would mean to have a president who was accountable to nobody, and nothing – not to his prior statements, not to his political party, not to any court.

If this idea is at all surprising to you, that’s why I’m writing this email. It’s going to be over before you’re even ready for it.

If you’re angry at the “idiots” who created this situation, that’s why I’m writing this email. You’re part of the problem. I’ve been part of the problem, too. I’m trying to dig my way out from under that mistake.

Even if you totally disagree with all of this, I’m desperately asking you to pause now for a minute and think about what things would be “over the line” for you – what things could Trump (or any president) do, that would be clearly wrong and irreparable? What things are so far out of “normal” that they’d clearly indicate that something is very broken, and that he’s uncontrollable? Write those things down. If he hasn’t already crossed that line for you, look back at that list periodically. It will help you realize when “the next little thing” or “the next thing that’s too heavy to face” is actually across that line.

Now ask yourself – is banning a group of people, based purely (and overtly) on their religion, or country of origin, over the line? What if that group of people has exactly zero history of ever killing us in terrorist attacks? What if none of the countries-of-origin of the 9/11 attackers were on the list? What if all these immigrants already have to go through an 18-to-24-month vetting process across multiple federal agencies before they are allowed in, so all the statements about needing “more vetting” or “they’ll sneak in” are just outright lies? Would those things be over the line? Would causing all this pain and suffering, just for personal political gain, be over the line? What about all these other worse things, that are going to happen?

Please realize that at some point in the near future, any rights you have – yes you, a middle-class white person – will cease to become “rights” and will only be “by Trump’s benevolence”. As interpreted by his cronies. And driven by their personal motivations. Without consequences for their terrible actions.

Whatever he can do to any marginalized group (e.g. Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, gays, etc.), he can do to any group (i.e. you). He will be able to grab any one of you/us and make us homeless, helpless, powerless – without recourse.

His regime is doing exactly that with Muslims, right now, via DHS and the 100-mile border. (The 100-mile border was the thing that was over the line for me, years ago – well before Trump.) And DHS is clearly supporting him. But for middle-class white Americans in general, he doesn’t quite yet have the political foundations yet to get away with it en-masse. But that’s coming.

Note that I don’t care whose fault this is, and I don’t think “Democrats” are somehow better, and I’m not at all concerned about what we should have done before now. I don’t care about Trump’s stated goals for the country and whether they are good or bad. I don’t care whether each individual executive order is a good or bad idea. I care about what they all mean, collectively. I care about the complete destruction of our democracy, our safety, and our freedom.

The whole system is fucked, and it has been for a long time, and this is just the consequences playing out. But now that we’re here, we have to survive it, and ideally we do so with some semblance of honor and dignity.

If you want my advice on what to do about it, here it is: think of every “enemy” you can think of – Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, rich people, poor people, “terrorists,” whoever – and just… let go. Stop imagining them as enemies. Remember that they are people, and they have jobs and kids and backyards and games… and the only reason they have different values and viewpoints than you is that they have different experiences and history than you. Neither side is right. There aren’t even sides. There are just people, and all people are just trying to get through life. Take some time and try to understand why they would think the way they do. Assume that they all started as good actors, and imagine the circumstances that would have had to exist to make them the way they are. Imagine if you’d have turned out differently, in those same circumstances.

(Note that this viewpoint isn’t incompatible with needing to kill people, sometimes. But it is incompatible with doing it out of hatred.)

Imagine what your life would be like if you suddenly found yourself in a group that most people saw as “the enemy”. Imagine if you had to live through that. The only reason that isn’t your life, is the luck of your particular circumstances.

Go back up and read that article I linked above under ‘You’re part of the problem’. It’s advice from someone who has been through this before, and failed. He says that we need to make more bridges, not fight more enemies. Making enemies is what Trump wants us to do.

That article says we have to work together to limit this president to only those powers that we want every president – even ones we vehemently disagree with – to have. We don’t have to stop them (Trump and all future presidents) from doing all the stupid things they’re going to do. We just have to work together to ensure that no president – now or in the future – has more power than it is safe to let him (or her) have. Even if you agree with Trump’s current goals and actions, ask yourself – do you want a future president, that you disagree with, to have this much power? This is the foundation of our democracy – that we limit the power we grant to our government – and we’ve been failing to do so.

Then do the most important thing you can do: reach out to the people around you – especially the people you usually think of as “enemies” – and get them to see that we’re all in danger. We’ve all been played for fools. We’re all being tricked. We’re all in this together.

Maybe getting more of us onto the same page, will be enough.

With love and concern,
Nathan

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A bicycle test

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296 days ago

(I know, it’s been years since I posted here. I’m going to pretend like that doesn’t matter. You should too. Thanks!)

Benjamin initially resisted the removal of his training wheels. When he was finally willing to try it (at the end of last summer), I told him he couldn’t have them back on – he just had to learn to ride. He eventually started to learn to ride without them, but then winter hit.

This summer (as a 6-year-old), he figured it out, and he started to enjoy riding… but then he plateaued and wasn’t really all that interested in getting better. (He still wasn’t good enough to really love it.)

So I devised a riding test, and told him that once he passed it, he’d be allowed to go around the block on his own. It turns out that was a great idea, for a bunch of reasons – so I’m sharing the test here. Maybe it will be useful to you.

Reasons why it was a great idea:

  1. He was motivated to work on it, because of the goal
  2. He was motivated to work on it, because it was a discrete list and he could measure his own progress
  3. He was motivated to work on it, because he got 1-on-1 attention from me
  4. He got better at riding, because of it
  5. He learned that even the things that seemed hard/scary could be learned/overcome with practice and determination
  6. He came out of it loving to ride his bicycle
  7. He came out of it more proud of the work he had done, than of the new privileges he earned

(Note that it took about 6 weeks, start to finish.)

So here’s the test. I don’t remember the order in which he did the individual parts, but it certainly wasn’t in the order presented here. (It was certainly important that some were easy.) The order here is the order I thought of them :) I’ve added comments where particular tests were notable for some reason.

For each item on the list, he had to do it twice, back-to-back, without putting a foot down (or without falling, if the test involved stopping). If he did it once and then failed the next time, he had to start over and do it twice more. (To prove mastery, not just luck.) If the test involved e.g. a turn, then the first time he had to turn one way, and the second time he had to turn the other way.

  1. Start from standing without falling over
  2. Ride the length of the driveway (about 50’)
  3. Ride and stop with the front wheel on a line (within about a foot of it)
  4. Ride and stop without putting a foot down until all the way stopped
  5. Ride down the sidewalk and turn around in a neighbors (wide) driveway, without putting a foot down
    • This one he avoided until near the very end. The driveway was slightly inclined, and the turn radius was fairly small, so it was tricky. (Remember that he had to do it both ways, too.) He was scared of it – but once he had developed the skills from the rest of the test, and once he got up the courage to try it, he passed it quite easily.
  6. Pedal while standing up
  7. Slalom of 5 cones, 4-5’ apart
  8. Avoid a surprise obstacle
    • His brother ended up providing the surprise obstacle, twice! (Not in a row, but I counted it anyway).
  9. Ride down the driveway (a mild hill) and turn onto the sidewalk without using brakes or riding over the grass
    • He surprised me by doing this one fairly early.
  10. Ride down the sidewalk and turn up the driveway and make it up the hill without stopping
  11. Start and stop while riding on grass
  12. Start from a standing stop on an upward-facing hill (the driveway)
  13. Use his kickstand (which was very stiff)
  14. Cross the street (on his bicycle) between two driveways, safely
  15. Cross the street (on his bicycle) at a corner (4-way stop)
    • This one provided a great example of why you have to pay close attention to traffic in all four directions!
  16. Ride at a walking pace for 50’
  17. Go all the way around the block (i.e. not crossing the street) with someone following him (on a bicycle)
    • This one and the next were off-limits until the rest were completed.
  18. Go all the way around the block by himself
    • This one he did once without a problem, but then got scared of falling or hurting himself with nobody around. After a week or so he got up the courage to do it (and was fine) – and passed his test!

One final note – we ended up including “crossing the street unsupervised” as a new privilege. (Both privileges require getting permission to go, first.)

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Technology and Lent

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1462 days ago

This website

The plugin that provided the email notification feature for this website broke with a recent update to my blog software, and it’s not going to be easy to fix. So I’m not going to fix it.

Of course, that means that the affected people aren’t going to hear that they’re affected. Sorry about that! (I’ll tell personally the few I know.)

In fact, I’m likely to switch to ikiwiki …eventually. Textpattern seems to have lost its mojo, and there have been some long-standing issues with it (like no native tagging support!) that seem unlikely to ever get fixed. And I’m hip to the cool technologies now, so a more infrastructure-like framework (i.e. ikiwiki, with git) for my blog feels like a better answer. And schmonz volunteered to do most of the work :)

That also means I’ll probably abandon tru_tags …more than I already have. There hasn’t been anything to do with it in a long while, at least not that I felt was worthwhile to be done. Most of the features that remain to be implemented require a major refactoring of the core Textpattern code, and that just seems very unlikely to happen (by me or anybody else) any time soon. So hopefully it will remain useful to the people who still use it.

This year’s Lent

I have utterly failed at this year’s Lent give-up. I have been better at going to bed at a reasonable hour, sometimes for days at a time. But I simply can’t do everything I need/want to do in my life with the few hours that leaves me between work, kids, and chores. So sleep will continue to lose to projects – although less-so than it used to. There are some nice perks to getting more sleep – I’m much more on-the-ball and willing to take on mental tasks that otherwise seem hard. But that extra value doesn’t offset the lost value from just not being able to do all the things I need to do.

Vegetarianism

Speaking of Lent, I also broke a 5-year streak of vegetarianism a week or so ago. Benjamin, Liam, and I had some extremely delicious tilapia, also breaking both boys’ life-long vegetarian streaks. Kristina chose not to participate.

We had a bunch of reasons for deciding to do it. And a bunch of reasons to not do it (i.e. to stay vegetarian). I may blog about all the tradeoffs some day soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it was a very close decision, and I’m not sure what’s next.

I made a web app!

If you recall, I started using SmugMug for my online gallery a few years ago. But when I made the switch, I left behind an old gallery site (on Menalto Gallery 1) that I’ve been meaning to clean up for a long time. It broke a while ago, motivating me to finally migrate off that old software – to ZenPhoto, which had been my long-standing plan. It took a few days getting ZenPhoto to work (when it should have been easy!), but I got it there, and I shut off the old site.

I also started this exchange with the ZenPhoto dev in which I start by being too grumpy and then he finished by insisting that his software simply must be unsupportable for him to support it. Net effect: I had to get off ZenPhoto.

But I had no alternate destination for self-hosting my images. My long-term goal is to migrate the images to SmugMug, but I want to filter them down from “every picture I took during that time period” to “just the best ones, tagged and rated” (like all the other pictures I post to SmugMug). And it will take Nathan-weeks of work to get that done, so it keeps getting put off. So in the short term I just needed a new self-hosting product, and there just aren’t any good alternatives. They’re all either old or ugly or badly designed or some combination of those three.

So I made one myself. I’ve never made a web app from scratch before, but I am quite comfortable in perl, had used Catalyst from a prior job, and I’d heard then that Mojolicious is better. So I tried it.

And wow, was it easy. Probably 8 hours total from “install mojolicious” to “the gallery is up and running on the new software”. That’s only just a little more than I spent trying to get ZenPhoto to work. Many kudos to Mojolicious, perl, and pkgsrc.

Now… ZenPhoto does way more stuff. (TONS more… too much, actually.) And this new software isn’t really ready for someone else to use it. And it has no tests. And it only does one extremely simple thing (i.e. serve nested directories of images, in name-sorted order, with no metadata).

But the code is small, easy to read, and easy to modify. (Roughly 300 lines of code, 115 lines of CSS, and 80 lines of HTML template.) The site looks really good (in my opinion). And it doesn’t require a database – just a directory full of images. And with some app-level caching and the help of Mojolicious’s preforking web server and great documentation for setting it up under apache mod_proxy, it’s about as fast is it could possibly be on my old host and slow network connection.

So ZenPhoto is out and my home-grown software is in. Here’s hoping it doesn’t need maintenance!

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Liam Eldon Arthur

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1879 days ago

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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1960 days ago

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

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2087 days ago

(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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2096 days ago

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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Still here, really! With pictures to prove it!

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2348 days ago

Hello all, sorry for the 229 days between blog posts. I fear this blog is destined to become one of those 85% of blogs that are never read by anybody :) As always, the busier my life is, the less of it ends up online, and the past year has been no exception. Babies are hard work!

So this post isn’t about anything in particular; just an announcement that I uploaded a ton of pictures to the new gallery. Specifically, about 200 pictures from as far back as last Thanksgiving. See them all at media.rainskit.com!

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Benjamin Zoltan Arthur

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2598 days ago

In case you didn’t hear from my email, twitter posts, or corresponding facebook posts, my amazing wife gave birth to my amazing son last Wednesday. His name is Benjamin Zoltan Arthur, he weighed 7lbs 15oz, and was 20.25” long. He is perfect!

I’m writing this post in a very exhausted state of mind, so please forgive my ramblings. I wanted to just get an announcement (plus a few thoughts) out before too much time passed.

I have a temporary photo gallery set up, but I put a password on it because I plan to move it later and don’t want it showing up on the broader internet until I figure out what pictures are really going to be ‘public’. (The picture in this article is from that gallery.) If you know me, please feel free to request the link and password from me or anyone in my family.

Some notes on his name: we’ve known for a long time that we wanted his middle name to be Zoltan, because he is half Hungarian (from Kristina) and he has a great-grandfather named Zoltan, and another great-grandfather with Zoltan as his middle name. We couldn’t decide on a first name, though; we had a list of about 10 candidates, with “Alexander” at the top, but were never quite sure about any of them. As soon as he was born, I declared “he is not an Alexander” and Kristina agreed (once she had a chance to really look at him). The problem was, he also wasn’t any of the other names we had on the list. So we grudgingly started looking for new name ideas. A good friend suggested “Benjamin” and as soon as I heard it, I knew it was a good fit. Within minutes I was certain it was his name. Kristina took a little longer to come around, but also agreed that it was a good name for him. So we finally settled on it, just a few hours before we left the hospital. I knew at the time that he had a relative named Benjamin, but I wasn’t sure exactly who; it turns out that Levi Benjamin Valley (commonly known as “Ben”) was my great-grandfather, and a father-figure for my own father. So this little boy is named after great-(great-)grandparents on both sides of the family!

We call him a bunch of things – Benjamin, Z, Big Z, Little Z, and Mister Z. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have “Z” as a nickname for him for a long time to come, and that his proper name will be “Benjamin”. I can’t get myself to call him “Ben” so I think we’re going to try to keep that nickname out of common use, but I have learned (from my wife) not to try to force these things, so I won’t.

So far, he’s been a very happy, healthy baby. He eats well and on a regular schedule (every three hours), he sleeps most of the rest of the time, and he has fairly simple cues for when he is hungry, needs burped, or needs his diaper changed. He is as cute as I’ve ever seen a baby be :) (Of course, all parents say that, but so far everybody else who sees him also has said that.) He has one minor medical problem that he inherited from his father, but it’s not a big deal, and easy to fix.

Our lives have changed heavily, of course. Everybody says birth is a life-changing experience. It is certainly an emotionally overwhelming one! I can’t remember another time in my life when I was so flooded with raw feeling in a single moment; it’s impossible to even catalog what the feelings were, simply because they were too big to be identified. One feeling was and is very identifiable – pride and love for my wife, who was simply amazing throughout the delivery, and through these first five days of his life. (Benjamin was posterior in the womb and sideways when he finally delivered, but she did it with only 6.5 total hours of labor, and only 1.5 hours of pushing. And now she’s totally on top of everything he needs, every single time he needs something.) And now I can’t help but feel completely attached to this little child; I get a little energy boost every time I see him; I can’t leave him alone for too long without needing to check on him; I have a really hard time leaving him, once I am with him.

In contrast, I find myself almost totally calm, all the time. I feel totally confident about how I handle him, about the choices I make for him, and about the things that will make him calm or upset. I don’t have any hesitation or doubt about him, at all. I think it’s some combination of a vastly simplified priority list (if you need a hint: it only has two items on it), general exhaustion, and general euphoria. It’s an interesting experience, living such a simple life (for the moment, anyway).

And of course, I have to thank all the wonderful people who helped, offered well-wishes, sent gifts, or gave their advice. And Kristina and I both owe a huge debt to my mother-in-law who came and spent the weekend with us. I think she made this weekend about 80% easier than it would have been on our own, and gave us a chance to adjust to this new lifestyle. We’ve spent today on our own, and largely we’ve been OK, and that’s because we had a few days to prepare because of her help. In any case – THANK YOU ALL!!!

And welcome to the world, my son. I’m writing this in one room, while your mother cuddles you in another room, and just in the time it’s taken me to write this post, I miss you :)

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The nature of a fetus

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2608 days ago

Today, I had a startling realization about the nature of a fetus. It’s an interesting topic, but also a very delicate one, and it seems somewhat risky to post this so close to our delivery. But this realization is a consequence of all the events during this pregnancy, so I think it is natural that I had the realization now, and appropriate that I share it now, also.

But before I get to that, I have to explain another startling realization I had a few months ago, when I started learning more about pregnancy: that the placenta actually belongs to the baby, not to the mother. Specifically, the placenta has the baby’s genes (i.e. from both the father and the mother), and is formed from one half of the blastocyst (the other half becomes the embryo itself). I had never really thought about the issue before, but my basic assumption was that the placenta was a part of the mother, and that the umbilical cord was actually the place where the mother merged into the baby. But that’s not what happens – the mother has the uterus, and the baby has the placenta. The placenta attaches to the uterus, secretes hormones that make the uterus (and the rest of the mother’s body!) do what the placenta needs in order to allow the embryo/fetus to grow, and exchanges oxygen, nutrients, and waste products to support the embryo/fetus. The placenta is actually an agent of the embryo/fetus!

Now that I think about it, my confusion probably stems from the idea of cutting the cord, which I had always thought of as “separating the baby from its mother” but in fact is actually separating the baby from its own placenta!

So somehow I’d missed figuring that out before now, and it was a bit of a shock. In some sense, the mother is just a container for the developing fetus, and the placenta actually ‘tricks’ the mother into letting it stay in the uterus, and providing a good environment for it. So from the very moment of conception, there are three parties – the father, the mother, and the embryo/fetus. In no way is the baby a “part of” the mother. The baby is “inside” the mother, is “attached to” the mother, and is “dependent on” the mother, but biologically, the baby is not just an extension of the mother.

And that’s the source of today’s realization: I no longer give any weight to the argument that the woman’s reproductive rights are the only issue that matters. Yes, the woman’s body and the woman’s life will be affected, but per the realization above, the woman is not the only party involved in the decision. Any argument for abortion, in my newly-formed opinion, must take into consideration the impact on the embryo/fetus (i.e death), and weigh that against the benefit to the mother.

And here’s where it gets tricky – removing that argument from my list of “arguments to which I will give consideration” isn’t really a huge deal for me, because it isn’t a part of the basis for my own opinion about abortion. That argument always seemed a bit dumb (because it seems very petty). But this new logic still represents a fairly hefty shift in my thinking, so I wanted to share it.

And to the obvious question: I am not going to share my stance on abortion in this post, because I don’t have time to carry out the whole argument with the whole internet right now. I have a well-formed opinion, and if you know me personally, you may already know it. I’m also very willing to discuss that opinion, in person, with just about anyone. But I’m not quite ready to subject myself to the commentary of the internet (any more than I just did, anyway), so internet, you’ll just have to wait for another day :)

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A few pre-baby notes

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2609 days ago

Just a few notes that I’ve been collecting, but that aren’t individually worth a blog post. I know it’s been a while since I blogged, but in spite of some prompting, my blogging rate remains inversely proportional to my living rate :)

Kristina found a horoscope for our baby. It will be fun to check it out in a few years and see if it is at all correct.

I found a great blog article about the real causes of terrorism and the mess we are making trying to fight it. Some new information there for me, but I’m hoping that you’ll read it – because the focus isn’t just on “what’s wrong with what we’re doing?” and instead is on “what should we be doing?” As always, people are the source of the problems, and “better people” are the appropriate solution. The politicians, though, seem focused more on how to look good than how to get the job done, so we end up reorganizing all these organizations, without ever kicking out the people at the top of them that are actually the problem. That’s something I have some first-hand experience with, so it rubs me the wrong way.

I also wanted to mention that I’m deeply saddened by the Supreme Court decision that corporations can buy elections. I don’t agree with the idea that corporations have “rights” like people do, and it makes me extremely sad to see how little shame our leaders about letting corporations run the country.

I’ve also been sad lately about Obama and his fiscal policy. I like, very much, that he seems to be taking his time to think through all the issues he faces, but I don’t like his attitude that “profits and bonuses are bad,” even if he was forced into that position. I also don’t like the size of his budget, even if it is very carefully crafted. I knew when I voted for him that I wouldn’t like his economic policies; I just wish that it had turned out that I was wrong :)

Also, my calendar reminded me that Lent is coming up soon. As I mentioned last year, my plan this year is to exercise. (Remember, my focus is self-discipline, not “giving things up.”) Of course, I’m about to have a baby, so this will be rather complicated. But I’ve been putting it off long enough, so I don’t feel like I have any leeway to put it off again. This year: exercise!

Speaking of the baby – it really does seem like it will be any day now. If you haven’t been following my twitter feed, here’s my latest one. Plus our due date is tomorrow.

For those of you wondering what the name will be – please trust us that we aren’t really settled on a name, ourselves. In fact, we got a new recommendation today that we are seriously considering. So, we’ll let everyone know just as soon as we decide – and that may not be until after he comes :)

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Huge news - we're having a baby!

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2751 days ago

Well, the title covers the major fact. But there’s a lot more to say… too much, in fact. It’s hard to know where to start, how much to cover, how much to say online…

To set the stage, I’m sitting in an airport (BWI), after an essentially pointless (but expensive!) single-day trip that finished early, and I suddenly find myself with a few unexpected hours on my hands. Probably enough to write something appropriate online about my new baby boy. (Yep, it’s a boy!) But there is so much tied up in my head and my heart, it’s really hard to just get started.

First: to our baby: whoever you are, whoever you end up being, when you read this someday, you should know that your mother and I already love you very much. We’re a little nervous about what the future holds, but we feel so good about you, and about us, and about how this is going to work out. People say that you’re never really ready to have a baby, and we followed that model – we weren’t quite ready, but we knew it was time, and so we decided to try. And suddenly (quickly!) it happened, and you are on your way. Our life isn’t perfect… but I (we) find that it doesn’t really matter… we know that it’s going to be great. We’re in the 20th week of the pregnancy, halfway there. You have been perfectly healthy so far, and your mom has had an easy pregnancy, and you have little bones, and fingers, and a heartbeat, and a face, and it’s so scary wondering who you are going to be, and if we’re going to be good parents, and what you’re going to need from us, and what we’re going to have to give up, and what we’re going to gain, and where you’re going to take us. And yet we aren’t often actually scared; somehow, we are both generally calm, and feel ready for all these things to come, one day at a time. I think a lot of that is because your mother and I have such a strong relationship. And some of it probably already comes from you. And some of it is probably just because we’re underestimating everything to come :)

And I have to let you know – just yesterday, when I found out you are a boy, was the first time it really hit me that you’re going to grow up someday, and be an adult person, with your own decisions, hopes, failures, loves, stories… and suddenly you were a person, not just a creature growing in my wife’s belly. (!!!) It’s a very, very heady thing. Welcome to the universe, little one. In about 20 more weeks, I’ll get to welcome you to the world. Oh boy, here you come :)

Second: everyone else: Kristina and I are having a baby. (Just in case you missed that part.) And it’s a boy (we found out yesterday!). And we’re already mid-way through the pregnancy, with a due date of February 5th… or 8th. The official date with the doctor is the 5th. But the real date is the 8th, based on my own calculations (using a variety of official methods) plus what the ultrasound estimated. But someone had calculated the 5th using the simple method, and the doctor said the date from the ultrasound (the 8th) was “close enough” that she just called it the 5th. So really he’s due on the 8th :)

You might also have noticed that it took me a long time (about 15 weeks!) to make the announcement online. Well, there’s a reason for that. Which is that work wants me to move to Phoenix, and this baby has made us rethink whether that is a good idea, and I have been hiding the fact that we’re pregnant from work, so they don’t wonder if I really will move… because if they find out I’m not moving, I might lose my job. That’s been a lot of stress. A lot. So two weeks ago I finally got fed up with it, and told them that I’m not moving, and here I am, still with a job… at least, for now.

The important part, though, is that when I told them, I also felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders – and suddenly I was free to be excited about this little baby, and I started engaging in all sorts of ways (budgeting, shopping, reading, announcing, blogging, etc.!) that made it clear to me that keeping my baby secret was really having an impact on my life. So let that be a lesson to you, readers, family, and child: secrets aren’t worth it. I regret that period when I wasn’t free to tell the world about my son – that shouldn’t ever be necessary. I wish I had told work right away, no matter what the consequences might have been.

And lastly, no, we don’t have name ideas yet. Other than “Arthur” or “Gunther” or “Edgar.” And we do have ultrasound pictures, but my wife has a shy uterus, so we’re sharing those off-line :)

So, good morning, everyone! I probably won’t be blogging a lot in the coming months… but that’s because I’ll be so damn busy living!

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Lent, 2009

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2953 days ago

Happy Lent! (It started today.)

As I mentioned last year, I give up something for Lent each year. It’s not for religious reasons; the purpose is really just to strengthen my self-discipline, and Lent happens to be a convenient reminder to do it each year.

Two years ago I gave up beef. Last year I became vegetarian, and somehow I’ve managed to stick with it. (Almost a whole year, now!) So this year I’m giving up food entirely.

Er, no. Not really.

But it has been a little tough to figure out what to give up – there isn’t really anything in my life that I feel is excessive right now (except maybe work). But my goal isn’t really “give something up” – it is “improve self discipline,” so that leaves other options. The two that seem most needed, in fact, are “take vitamins” and “exercise.” Both are things I’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the discipline to actually carry out.

But I’m not going to do both, and “exercise” scares me, without at least a little forethought. (I only realized yesterday that Lent starts today.) So, vitamins for me! Thankfully, I had a bottle of good vitamins already sitting around, so Day 1 was easy. I’ll need a little more planning ahead as I travel for work, but this one should be relatively easy. Hopefully, though, by the end of it vitamins will just be a valuable habit, and I’ll keep it up.

And next year’s Lent starts on February 17th, so I’ve marked that day on my calendar, and my plan is to use exercise as my discipline-improving technique next year :)

So, wish me luck. Hopefully, I’ll be a healthier, more energetic person come Easter. And if not, well, maybe my pharmacist friend is right that vitamins as just a good way to pee money down the drain ;)

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The long-overdue "I know what I did last summer" post

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3033 days ago

Wow, according to my last post, it’s been 144 days since I blogged. Too long, but it’s a sign of how busy life has been. I’m going to use this post just to catch up quickly, then future posts will hopefully be more insightful:

  • I’m still a vegetarian
  • The new job is good (and I was promoted!), but time-intensive
  • The dogs are awesome
  • Buying the Honda Element was very much the right decision – it is perfect for the dogs and for Kristina’s plant (and dirt!) hauling
  • The new house is great
  • I did buy that motorcycle I had my eye on (and I love it!)
  • I sold my domain (truist.com) and replaced it with the one you see before you (rainskit.com). (And truist.com now has some very interesting content. But it’s a dumb name for a company.)
  • We all finally hired the right president

But of course, all of that put a ton of stress on my life and my wife, and we are still trying to recover from it. Speaking of which, she (my wife) also:

  • Turned 30, and got through a party that I think she would have preferred to delay
  • Took care of the dogs while I was traveling
  • Worked an internship
  • Took over as president of Pi Alpha Xi at OSU, and has had a stellar experience
  • Took a full load of classes this fall

Regular life things also happened. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many of them, but notable items include:

  • Discovered Pistacia Vera, an absolutely life-changing “dessert botique” (in Columbus!), that we now go to every weekend
  • Found DropBox and Carbonite, which are similar services that finally make file sharing and backup (respectively) just work the way they should have all along
  • Found Woot and its associated sites and got addicted; we’ve probably ordered 10 things from them so far
  • Amitai visited and during that visit, I bought a first-gen iPhone and hacked it to work with T-Mobile. (I love it!)
  • Had a very good Thanksgiving at my dad’s house, at which we learned some great news (that isn’t quite yet public)
  • Released two new versions of tru_tags, and used one of those releases to make this site’s archive page

So anyhow, it’s been really busy, and many parts of our life have fallen behind where we’d like them to be. The busyness hasn’t really been a problem… it’s just prevented us from doing other things we might want to be doing. I think our priorities are in the right place, though – I’m doing what I love, and Kristina is working toward a new life where she gets to do what she loves. I think that’s how things are supposed to be.

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Stirred, not shaken

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3201 days ago

Two posts ago, I mentioned how we were stirring our lives up, in a number of specific ways:

  • new job
  • new car
  • new house
  • new dogs
  • birthday party
  • uncertain motorcycle

And I forgot to mention that Kristina would be starting an internship at Franklin Park Conservatory.

So, all that stuff happened. I have the new job (in Cleveland, so I’m traveling there 50% of the time), we have the new car (described previously), we found a house in Harrisburg (Ohio), we have two new Great Pyrenees puppies (details below), the birthday party went well, Kristina started her internship, and the motorcycle is still uncertain.

Yeah, it’s been stressful.

I don’t have pictures of the birthday party, although some of the guests will probably send me some of theirs. I also don’t have pictures of the puppies because the camera is still in a box somewhere, but you can see a picture of Kodiak (the 11-week-old) on this page (with the little blond girl on the right side of the page) and Sophia (the 11-*month*-old) on this page.

As you can imagine, we’re pretty much stressed out, especially Kristina who did everything I did, plus started the internship, plus had to be home a few days with the dogs without me. But we’re getting through it.

Oh yeah – and some guy called me and offered to buy truist.com. I think I’m going to sell it to him (he offered a lot of money). I’ll post about that soon, but for now – I need a replacement domain name, and I’m running low on ideas. If you have any, please email me or post them here as comments.

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Stirring things up

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3259 days ago

Four weeks ago, life was pretty simple: I was comfortable (but not really happy) in my job, we had a nice apartment, our expenses were low, we had a fairly stable plan for the future, and I was planning on buying a motorcycle. Now, though, everything is different: today was my last day at NetJets, we just bought a car, we’re looking for a new place to live, the future is very uncertain, and it’s not clear if I’ll be getting a motorcycle.

And yet, still, I think today is better than four weeks ago. Crazy, huh?

The story goes something like this: Five weeks ago (to the day), I finally realized (after much prodding from my wife) what I wanted my next career move to be. I wanted to be a Product Manager for a software company, much like I was back before I left Noteworthy Medical Systems, four years ago. I realized how important it is for me to have my hands on real problems that I get to solve myself, and how important it is for me to be on the front lines rather than in an IT department (“in the business, not serving the business”). Nothing against NetJets – they have a truly amazing IT department! – but having tasted life in a software company, I wanted to get back to that. The problem was (five weeks ago) that it’s extremely difficult to get a job as a product manager in a software company, especially in Ohio, so I essentially put that plan on hold for “someday”.

So then four weeks ago (to the day), an old friend/coworker from Noteworthy called me up and basically said “we need you to come back and be a product manager – are you interested?”. Huh, funny how these things happen. I told her I was maybe interested, and spent the next week talking to her, going to Cleveland for interviews, and trying to figure out what had changed since I left. After about a week of this, I was convinced that Noteworthy was in good shape, and that this was a legitimate opportunity, and that I’d really love going back into the product manager job.

So it was easy for me to say yes to the offer – except that Noteworthy is in Cleveland, and we live in Columbus, and Kristina is very happy as a student at OSU. So I was going to have to travel to Cleveland for this job, leaving her in Columbus, and we both know that we don’t do well with full-time travel. So I managed to work out a deal with Noteworthy to travel half-time, working from home the other half, and after much discussion we decided that we could handle that, and I said yes to the offer.

That was two weeks ago (to the day).

So I put in my notice, and we started making plans for how to make this all work. First, obviously, we needed a second car. We’ve never had a second car – our lifestyle just never demanded it, and a car is a huge expense. The question was, which car?

Well, that gets to the next decision, which was to get a dog. As part of agreeing to the travel, Kristina and I made an agreement with each other that we’d get a dog for her, to help keep her company while I’m gone. Well… she wants a big dog. And I think that it’s always better to have two dogs, because they keep each other happy and healthy. And we happen to know of a breeder who has Great Pyrenees puppies for sale, and that happens to be the particular breed of very large dog that we had our eye on… so the plan is to get two huge puppies. Oh, the changes…

So back to the car. Between the two new dogs, and the fact that Kristina is a horticulture student who regularly carries plant stuff around, we decided that we needed a car with lots of space and that’s easy to clean. Minivans were right out, jeeps weren’t big enough, and SUVs are generally a waste of money, so that left the Honda Element – a perfect car for this situation, and one that we really liked. But then that got tough – we were trying to keep the cost low (so we needed a used car), but we like having convenience features (power mirrors) and a nice stereo, and we both like driving stick-shift cars, and we didn’t want one with a ton of miles on it. It is possible to get an Element that meets all these criteria, but we couldn’t find one in Columbus. So we went to Pittsburgh (Monday night) to buy one that we found there, and so far we love it. It took a lot of work to finally settle on that car, and to get the financing sorted out (without having a used car dealer screw us), and get a price negotiated, but it was worth it.

But wait, there’s another consequence to getting these dogs: our current apartment doesn’t let us have pets. (And I wouldn’t put two huge dogs into our place anyway.) So we have to find a new place, preferably a house with a large fenced yard. And we need to rent it because we’ll probably move in two years when Kristina graduates. And our current rent is quite low, and we don’t pay our gas bill, so our housing expenses are about to go way up. And we’re probably not going to find something close to campus with a large fenced yard in a safe neighborhood that’s not too expensive. So that search will continue :)

And finally, all these increased expenses may mean that I can’t get a motorcycle. I have my license (took the class last fall) and a helmet (birthday present, a week ago) and a riding jacket (another birthday present), but no motorcycle. More on this as events unfold.

So, to summarize: new job, new travel lifestyle, new car, new house, new dogs, maybe no motorcycle. Oh, and Kristina’s 30th birthday is in June, so I need to plan that. So yeah, things are a little stirred up around here :) But they’re good.

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Oregon trip

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3493 days ago

Kristina and I took a vacation in Oregon this August, and as expected, we fell in love with it. We’d both always had this idea that we’d like Oregon, and one of the people on my team at NetJets lives out there and invited us to visit, and this year is our fifth anniversary, so we decided to go. With the help of a few borrowed guidebooks and the advice of a local, I did a lot of planning, made a loose itinerary, and booked the flights and hotels.

I’ve posted about 500 pictures over in the gallery, and they tell the basic story. (I know, 500 is way too many… but we took 1300 originally so this is a huge improvement.) We started in Portland and wandered all around town on the very-well-done public transportation. While there, we went to the world’s largest bookstore and went there again to stand in line for the midnight release of Harry Potter. We also went to the stunning Japanese Garden and the much-less-stunning International Rose Test Garden. From there, we got on the road and happened to pass by (and stop at) an aviation museum that houses the Spruce Goose. We then drove down the coast to Yachats, which is now the easy winner as our favorite place to vacation. I was a little sneaky and had rented a room with a view, and we spent a lot of time exploring the rocky coast and playing in the tide pools. Driving around there, we saw these cool Tsunami Hazard Zone signs, went to the famous Newport Aquarium (and stopped by the headquarters of Rogue Brewery), and took a few long-distance (but free!) pictures of the Haceta Head Lighthouse. You can see our cool Mustang convertible in some of those pictures :) Sadly, we eventually had to leave Yachats, and we semi-intentionally ended up having a crazy driving adventure through deep forest roads housing scary people who really, really don’t want visitors. From there we visited a few waterfalls and drove out to Bend. (Bend is the town where the person I work with lives.) Somehow, we don’t have any pictures of Bend, but we really liked it there. We do have pictures of our canoing trip and a trip we made up the Mt. Bachelor ski lift to try to eat dinner, but we ended up not eating there. Finally, we drove back to Portland, did a little more sight seeing, and flew home.

Phew!

Actually, it was great. We had 9 days, and no set schedule except for the hotel bookings. We were able to take our time and do whatever struck our fancy, from a big menu of previously-researched sights and activities. It’s my new favorite way to take a vacation :)

I have a few lasting thoughts / advice that I want to save, also:

  • Portland was an OK city, but we didn’t really love it. The highway traffic sucks, and the sky is always gray. It does have some great vegetarian food and good public transportation, but it just didn’t grab onto us the same way Chicago did.
  • The Japanese Garden is truly incredible. Wandering through there, I could help but feel awe and wonder, and be inspired by the talent and energy and time that went into making it. I will go back.
  • The International Rose Test Garden was boring (for me). It is just row after row after row of roses. If you really love roses, maybe you’ll like it.
  • Voodoo doughnut is only going to seem cool to you if you come prepared for it to be a dingy place from the 70’s.
  • When you think Portland Saturday Market, think “flea market” and you’ll have a good idea what to expect.
  • The Newport Aquarium is well worth visiting, and it’s even worth the price of admission :)
  • Never, ever, ever go to Yachats. If you do, you’ll be tempted to stay, and then it will be more crowded when we retire there ;) If you must visit, it’s well worth the money to stay at the Overleaf Lodge. You should also eat at the Drift Inn Restaurant (we ate there five or six times) and at the Yachats River House.
  • The best thing about Bend is that you can drive 30 minutes one way to be in desert, or 30 minutes the other to go skiing, or you can just stay in town to have great weather and lots of cool things to do. It’s the ultimate in micro-climate adjustability!
  • The Mt. Bachelor twilight dinner is a giant rip-off. We thought it would be really nice, but it’s really just a cheap ski lodge trying to sell fancy food. We tried to eat there, but they didn’t have anyone to seat us, didn’t have a table ready for our reservation, don’t have a good wine or beer selection, and ran out of steak (one of the four dinner choices). We left, and ended up at the Seasons restaurant in the Seventh Mountain Resort. It is now at the top of my list of all-time best restaurants, for service, atmosphere, food, and wine. Dinner there was absolutely amazing.

Anyhow, the trip was fantastic. We will go back to Oregon, maybe this winter. We want to see what it’s like in winter, and we’re already wishing that we’d brought back some good art from there. If not soon, though, then someday.

One last thing: I’ve put together a folder of favorite pictures, suitable for framing or giving as gifts ;)

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Pictures finally uploaded

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3493 days ago

I finally got around to uploading all my recent pictures to the gallery. “Recent,” in this case, is defined as “in the last 8 months.” Before this I hadn’t uploaded anything in 2007, even though I’ve been taking pictures all year. So without further ado, I present:

I’ve also uploaded pictures of our recent trip to Oregon, but I’ll be describing those in another post, momentarily. We also (also) have pictures from Kristina’s trip to Richmond, VA, but those haven’t been uploaded yet. Maybe they’ll make it up before Christmas ;)

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Another quote about guns

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3580 days ago

From time to time, I add a quote to my quotes list. When I find a quote that catches my eye, I usually sit on it for a week or two to see if I really agree with it. That way my quote list reflects the ideas I truly hold dear, and not just the things that sounded good at the time.

Recently, a friend sent me this quote:

There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order. — Ed Howdershelt

I’ve been holding on to this quote for a while, trying to figure out what I thought about it. It didn’t really inspire me, but I couldn’t figure out if I agreed with it or not. Just tonight I realized that the quote is based in the notion that the first three ideas can come before the fourth. That is false. Without the power of force behind them, the other three don’t survive. It’s the basic ability to defend against aggressors that enables peace among those with that power. The quote works within a society that has already created a basically peaceful and just environment, through force or the threat of force. (Note that an unjust society can also be created through force; the force is merely the means to the end, not a guarantor of it.) In the raw world, without the protection of pre-existing force, the quote seems almost quaint.

Within such an already-stable society, though,I agree that force should generally be the last defense of liberty. But I don’t agree that it should only ever follow after the first three. I’m not going to wait for a speech, a politician, or my neighbor to stop the man intent on killing me.

I think a better quote would have been one that demonstrated that each of the first three ideas depends on the last. That idea rings true with me, and ties strongly to why I believe in guns as a good thing. Without the ability to defend ourselves, and our ideas, none of the rest of it is possible. Guns are simply an effective tool for earning and preserving freedom. Without them, the rest isn’t possible.

As you can imagine, I’ve decided not to add this quote to my quotes list, but I am very glad for the intellectual push. If any you readers care to comment, I would love to hear it. Please just post something here, and I’ll be sure to think, and to respond. Or send me a quote :)

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Recent events

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3621 days ago

It’s been a while since I wrote and I have a small pile of small things that I wanted to write about, so I’m posting them all at once. In chronological order:

Cool blog / cool book

In my first case ever of one blog leading to another, Amitai’s blog led me to Bil Stachour’s blog, Journal Wunelle, on which I found this awesome post about evolutionary psychology and the book The Moral Animal. Bil writes intelligently, often, and interestingly, and his writeup of the book has led me to put it on my wishlist.

A combination street car and airplane

Check this out. Terrafugia has announced that they plan on creating the first commercially available flying car, called the Transition. I like living in this age :)

Buckeye Blast

On April 1st, I attended the Buckeye Blast, a fun-day shooting event put on by Buckeye Firearms Association, an orginzation heavily involved in passing the concealed carry laws in Ohio, and of which I am a member. The event is a fundraiser for the organization, and my wife bought my ticket as a birthday present.

The day was a blast! (ha ha) I learned more about real-life shooting in that day than I had in all my previous training and shooting, and greatly improved my shooting skills. I met a bunch of new people, and even got my picture taken. The event was held at the very impressive Tactical Defense Institute – I highly recommend them.

The Principles of Beautiful Web Design

One of my birthday presents was an awesome book called The Principles of Beautiful Web Design. For years the “designers” have been saying that the “coders” can’t learn what it takes to design great websites; this book tries to prove that wrong. You can judge for yourself when I update this site’s layout :) (someday soon…)

The shooting on my birthday

The Virginia Tech shooting happened on my birthday. It’s a very sad, tragic event, and I’m sorry that such things happen in this world. It was initially reminiscent of the Case Western shooting which was a little closer-to-home for me.

My mom asked me what I thought about the shooting, and my response sums up my whole belief about the issue: “if someone there had had a gun, they could have stopped the attacker.” It’s a shame that Virginia Tech (like Case Western) has a ban on all firearms on campus.

I know this is a big issue, but I don’t want to dwell on it. My middle sister (privately) wrote a great piece about her feelings and reflections after the event, and there’s a lot more like that on the web. I’ll leave it to others to hash out all the nuances, but I did want to get my broad-stroke opinion out in public.

Other

There is other news, about life, work, and family, but most of it isn’t really good fodder for a public forum. Suffice it to say that all three have been interesting, hard, and good. This is a good time, for me.

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How to give great gifts

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3762 days ago

I like giving gifts. I like it a lot. (It seems to be one of my love languages.) Like most things I care about, I want to be good at it. In this case, I’ve learned a few rules for how to be good at it, and Mom’s post below has inspired me to share them.

Some of this is basic stuff; some of it will help you choose gifts that will succeed wildly. Either way, following these rules will help.

In order of importance:

Put some energy into it

If you only follow one rule, let it be this one. When choosing a gift, make sure that you take the time to do it well. It doesn’t matter exactly what you give or how you give it, so long as you care about it and work (even just a little) at it.

Be thoughtful about what you’re giving

Give gifts that actually reflect the recipient’s individuality. Give something that relates to their life or their situation, or that involves something they care about. Personal gifts demonstrate that you put some energy into choosing the gift.

Give something they want

This one is subtle: give something that the person is actively thinking about or wishing for. A gift that everybody likes is much less exciting than a particular thing that the recipient really wants.

Give something they wouldn’t get for themselves

The gifts that really make people happy are the ones that are just out of their reach. Giving them something they want but weren’t going to get for themselves is almost a sure-fire way to make the gift a success.

Be sincere in your presentation

The actual presentation of the gift is at least as important as the gift itself. Depending on the situation, you may just need to take the time to wrap it or you may need to work some magic and make the presentation truly exciting. Either way, use your preparation, words, and actions to indicate that you are giving the gift because you really want to, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. This ties back to “it’s the thought that counts” – the “thought” is expressed more by your presentation than by the gift itself.

Give something useful

There are a lot of gifts that seem like a good idea when purchased but then end up in a drawer or closet, forever. Such gifts aren’t as effective as gifts that end up in frequent use, over a long period of time. Take the time to consider whether your gift will have staying power.

Note: flowers, art, and charitable donations all break this rule (somewhat), and yet they can all be great gifts. That’s why the rule is near the bottom :)

Don’t give money

It’s almost impossible to give money and live up to all the rules above. Instead, if you can’t do something better, give a gift card to a store that will let the recipient get something that meets the rules above. Be careful, though, that they don’t end up buying socks when what they really want is a sweater.

Happy gift giving!

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The meaning of Christmas

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3762 days ago

I occasionally ask myself why I celebrate Christmas, because I don’t really focus on it as a celebration of the birth of Christ. The general answer that I give myself is “Christmas is about people,” and I’m very happy with that idea. But I’ve never thought it out, or written it down.

My mother, on the other hand, has. She apparently got into an email conversation with someone who isn’t giving gifts for Christmas because they feel that it is too commercial / expected / etc. (I don’t know the details.) Mom replied with a detailed writeup of how she felt about Christmas, and then forwarded bits of it on to me.

It’s quite impressive, so (with her permission) I’m quoting it here, for anyone who needs it. (She’s a teacher, so she mentions the school(s) that she teaches at occasionally.)

Read more...

Tidbits

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3780 days ago

Just a few quick updates, between work and sleep:

Fun Stuff

At work the other day I spotted a background image that I really liked on a neighbor’s computer. I tracked down the source and discovered a treasure trove of fantastic backgrounds. The best ones are found by clicking the “Flame Favorites” links on this page (try this set, for example). You can learn more about Flame Fractals at lines and colors or flam3.com.

Work / Life

Work has been relatively insane the last few weeks. That’s the biggest reason I’ve been offline so much recently. On top of that, we’re hosting Thanksgiving Thursday, so we’ve been doing a lot of work to prep for that. The craziness will continue until about the end of the year. It’s good work, though, and I’m enjoying it.

Software

Joel has posted a rather amusing article about usability in Windows Vista, Microsoft’s next version of Windows. He demonstrates the type of thinking that’s necessary for making great products. It’s also the type of thinking that makes great Business Analysts :)

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How many pennies in this jar?

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3838 days ago

How many pennies in this jar? (Click the image to see a bigger version.)

penny jar

I started this penny collection sometime around 1994, because I don’t like pennies. Really – that’s the reason. My goal is to collect all the pennies there are, so that there aren’t any left in circulation, so I don’t have to deal with them any more.

Really :)

I won’t spend money to add pennies to my collection, but I also won’t spend any pennies I get. They all go into the jar.

Beyond my goal of collecting them, I’m also not allowed to give them away. Back when I started the collection a good friend gave me some pennies and told me that I could only have them if I swore to keep them for the rest of my life. I was allowed to will them to my grandkids when I died, but that was it.

I agreed, and immediately mixed his pennies with the rest of the collection. That way, I never know which pennies were his and which weren’t, so I can never risk giving any of them away. My friend wasn’t the sort of person I’d break my word to.

The collection continues to grow, and it’s been more than 10 years now. I’ve had to upgrade containers a few times (from a little glass jar, to a gallon jug, to two gallon jugs, to a small Pyrex container, to the current large Pyrex container), but I’ve never really known how many pennies I had.

I recified that a few days ago, after I happened across an old scale at a yard sale. I bought the scale and used it to weigh the full jar, and the empty jar, so I could subtract to get the weight of the pennies.

As proof, here’s the setup:

penny weighing setup

The result?

Pennies + jar: 111.5 pounds
Jar: 12.5 pounds
Pennies (by subtraction): 99 pounds

According to the United States Mint, I have no prayer of knowing the average weight of the pennies in my jar. If, however, I’m willing to live with a very imprecise answer, I can assume that the pennies in my jar are all relatively new and untarnished, in which case the Mint then informs me that a penny weighs 2.500 grams.

Given that, google tells me that I have:

Pennies (grams): 44,905 grams
Pennies (count): 17,962 pennies
Pennies (value): $179.62

Rounding that off, I probably have about $180 worth of pennies. Apparently this endeavor isn’t going to make my grandkids rich :)

Did you guess right? I did – I had guessed that I had $150 – $200 of pennies in the jar.

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In Loving Memory

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3962 days ago

Anna Torontali

Born
March 4th, 1930
Budapest, Hungary

Passed
May 20th, 2006
Cleveland, Ohio

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Twenty questions for making things happen

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4021 days ago

About six weeks ago my brain caused my body to write down a list of roughly-categorized questions, all vaguely related to “optimizing my ability to make things happen.” I’ve been sitting on those questions since then, trying to figure out where they came from and what they’re for. I’ve puzzled over it multiple times and not gotten any clue at all.

It’s fairly obvious to me that they all have a theme. They’re all questions about issues that I focus on all the time, and they are all a part of what makes me good at what I do. I just don’t know why I wrote them down.

So I’ve decided to post them here and see if any of you, my dear readers, have any ideas about them. Maybe this is the seed for some grand idea that will change the world someday, and I’ll later come back to here and realize that this was the beginning of it. Or maybe this is just what it seems: a list of questions that will help you focus on the right issues, so you can make things happen.

Here they are:

  • audience: who needs this information, and what for? what are their key issues? who else will eventually use this information?
  • effort: is it worth putting this much effort in, at this point?
  • perception: how will the audience perceive this? what will they think? how will it affect their attitude? what questions will they probably ask?
  • purpose: what is it that I’m trying to accomplish? does what I’m writing accomplish that?
  • core issues: who feels the pain / wants this done / cares about this? are they the ones driving the solution / issue / work? are they getting what they want? is the work that I’m doing going to help resolve the core issues?
  • image: does my audience trust me? how do I get them to trust me more? will this help our trust? do they think they can rely on me? do they think I have their best interests in mind? am I doing work that doesn’t have any value except to my image?
  • understanding: how well do I understand my customer? do I know what is relevant, and what is irrelevant, to the decision/direction/solution I am trying to make?
  • value: what do I bring to the table – why am I needed? does my audience understand that value? am I maximizing that value? am I letting others give their value? am I doing work that doesn’t support me adding that value?
  • listening: does my customer feel like he has been heard? have I made sure to give them time to explain their needs/issues/wants?
  • focus: does what I’m writing solve the core problems? does it also try to solve other problems? is there content that doesn’t lead to solving any particular problem?
  • knowledge: do I know what I don’t know? have I asked for help / more information whenever I needed it? do I have enough information to solve my problem? have I identified which information I need, and which information I don’t need?

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Some quick updates

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4071 days ago

  1. I’m not reading any of my (30) RSS feeds any more. (It’s amazing how disconnected I am from the geek world, now.) I’ve stopped because I can’t find a decent web-based feed reader anywhere. I usually use Thunderbird, which does it just right, but then my feeds are tied to a particular machine and I switch machines (and logins!) too often for that to be acceptable. In the meantime, I’m working on writing my own web-based reader and once it’s done I’ll switch to it. (If you’re interested, my reader is written in Ruby on Rails, and it will work much like Thunderbird, but in a browser.)
  2. Matt and I are slowly working on a wishlist app so we have a good way to keep and publish and track our wishlists. This seems like an obvious thing that ought to already exist, but it doesn’t. I’ve been using Amazon’s but they seem to enjoy making it less-useful occasionally, and it won’t let me track things that aren’t available on amazon.com. So again, once this new one is developed I’ll switch to it.
  3. I will eventually be converting my existing gallery to ZenPhoto, because Gallery sucks. The only reason I haven’t switched before this is that there wasn’t a better product out there.

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A new year, a new lease

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4085 days ago

We signed a year lease this evening. Not very exciting to most, I know, but it represents a year of certainty to us – and that’s huge.

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A time of change

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4090 days ago

My life has been nothing but changes for the last 20 months; first, a new job with ThoughtWorks which meant a new lifestyle of travel and consulting, and then a series of projects and cities and travel arrangements that is still making my head spin. (The final count is six projects for five clients in five cities).

My wife and I aren’t really the right sort of people to enjoy a travel schedule like that, so we spent most of that time trying to find a way to mitigate the discomfort that it brought, and in the end, gave up. And thus that time of change has ended: I am no longer a ThoughtWorker, as of last Friday.

But that, of course, brings about a new time of change. I start tomorrow (Monday) with NetJets, which I’m really excited about (although they may make me wear a suit). Kristina and I have found a very nice apartment in Columbus, she’s looking for a job, and we’re both re-learning how to live with each other. It’s another time of change but we both believe that after this one our lives will settle down to a normal pace-of-change, and we need that.

To add to the changes of this time, I’ve re-implemented this site in TextPattern, mainly so I can start blogging, as I am now. This is a long-overdue task, and I’ll be posting soon about why it was overdue and what made me finish it. I also hope to post on other topics such as insights about life, goings-on in our lives, the tagging plugin I wrote for textpattern, etc. etc. etc. We’ll see if I keep it up :)

For those of you who want to follow along automatically, the preferred way is to use the Atom feed (or the RSS feed, which doesn’t validate), but you can also sign up for email notifications using the form over in the sidebar.

So Hello, World. Here’s hoping that this more-sane travel schedule will also mean I have time for more of the things I want to do.

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