Category Archives: personal

On the Value of Practice

Once upon a time, I couldn’t read. I practiced sounding out the words, and each day seemed like I was making no progress. Then one day, I could read–haltingly, but I could read.

Once upon a time, I couldn’t write a line of code. I’d see these long elaborate programs listed in the early computer magazines and wondered how people figured this stuff out. I practiced, and practiced, and one day, I wrote a simple program. And then another, and the programs got more complex, and the languages changed, and I get better and better at it. Today, I make a living a software developer.

Once upon a time, I couldn’t fly. Then I took flying lessons. I practiced as much as I could. I passed my written, and then my oral test, and finally, my practical test, and came home from the airport that day with a private pilot’s license in my pocket.

Once upon a time, I couldn’t write. My stories had no identifiable beginning, middle, or end. They- characters were carved out of thin cardboard. The language was in primary colors. The dialog dripped adverbs. The plot was an overly complicated Rube Goldberg contraption. I practiced. I read a lot. But I practiced a lot. I tried to learn from my mistakes when that was possible. I sold a story, and then another, and then another, and then more.

Without practice–a heck of lot it in my case–I would never have learned to read, or write code, or fly a plane, or tell stories that at least a small number of people seem to enjoy. If there has been any overarching lesson in my life, it has been this: don’t underestimate the value of practice.

28 Days of Crazy Busy

I just punted on my Feedly list.

2,469 posts had accumulated, and I had to face the fact that there was no way I was going to catch up. So I punted. I skimmed the list, sent a few items that caught my eye to Pocket, and marked the rest as read and moved on. Full reset.

That digital footprint, however, provided an interesting insight into how long I’ve been crazy busy with the day job lately. Usually, I skim Feedly at least once a day, and either send to Pocket the stuff I want to read later, or clear it out, so that each day starts more-or-less fresh. When I looked at Feedly this morning, however, I saw that the last time I had cleared it out–the last time I had really looked at it in earnest, was 28 days ago. I’ve been so busy that not only have I not had time to read the articles in Feedly, but I haven’t even had time to review or clear them out.

Well, it’s done now, and I’m back to a clean slate, although I did so essentially by “rebooting.” I shudder to think of all of the good posts I’ve missed sin simply skimmed the 2,400+ pieces that had accumulated in that time.

The Little Man and the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

I was in the shower when the Little Man let out a shriek that would raise the dead. He had been sitting on our bed, watching Power Rangers Megaforce when a bug that had been crawling along the wall landed on his knee.

Little man, meet Halyomorpha halys; brown marmorated stink bug, meet the Little Man.

After he calmed down (his jets had launched him well beyond the orbit of the moon), he asked what it was. “A stink bug,” I told him. You’d think a five year old would instantly fall in love with anything that had the word “stink” in it. Perhaps I should have called it a fart bug.

It was really a minor thing, except the Little Man now worried that Mr. Halys might somehow find his way into his room, and worse yet, into his bed. Kelly tried to assuage this by giving the bug an exciting ride down the toilet. This seemed fine for a little while. Then, after the Little Man used the facilities, he said, “Daddy, we have to make sure to close all of the toilets in the house to make sure that the bug doesn’t come up.” We made sure all of the toilet lids were closed. Stephen King, eat your heart out.

Once in bed, the worry crept in that this bug would somehow come back, and bring its legions with it.

“I’ve got it covered,” I told the Little Man, “Zekie (our cat) will patrol up here tonight.”

“What will he do?”

“Well, if he see the bug, he’ll eat it.”

He’ll eat it?” the Little Man said, shocked.

“What’s your favorite food in the whole world?” I asked him.

“Candy.” Of course.

“Well, for cats, stink bugs are like candy.”

“Not uh,” he said.

“What happens when you eat too much candy?” I asked.

“You get a tummy ache.”

“And don’t we come home sometimes to find that Zekie has been sick on the floor?”

“Yes.”

“Well, what you do think made him sick?”

That seemed to make him feel better. I tucked him in, gave him kiss, turned off the light. His brow furrowed, “But Daddy, how will Zekie see the bug in the dark?”

Stop obsessing over the bug, I wanted to say, you’ll give yourself nightmares for no reason. “Well, Zeke is cat, and cats are nocturnal. Do you know what nocturnal means?”

He nodded, “It means that they don’t sleep at night, and can see in the dark.”

“There you go.”

He considered this logic for a long time, and then seemed satisfied. “Okay, Daddy,” he said, “just make sure you bring Zeke upstairs right now, okay?”

“Okay,” I said.

The Little Man slept soundly through the night.

His father, on the other hand, had dreams of stink bugs swarming his bed, crawling all over him, and getting in between the keys of his keyboard, making it particularly difficult to write.

Aborted rollout and other things keeping me busy

Last weekend was supposed to be a big milestone. We were finally rolling out some software we’d been working on for nearly a year. Unfortunately, late in the day Saturday, we ran into problems that forced us to abort the rollout. We are now scheduled to rollout next weekend (Valentine’s Day, actually). In the meantime, I have been having these really long days trying to work with the vendor and address the issues that prevented us from rolling out in the first place. Here is what a typical day has looked for me this week, according to RescueTime:

RescueTime

12 hours days with an 80+ productivity pulse for most of the week has been draining me. My writing is down for most of the week, although my streak remains unbroken.

Fortunately, we are getting away this weekend, to a resort in western Virginia to celebrate a friend’s birthday. My workday ends at noon today and I’ll have a few days to relax.

I’ve got 3 new Going Paperless posts planned for the coming weeks, and putting those together have been keeping me busy as well.

Anyway, just a quick note here to say that I’m still busy, and haven’t been as active here as I like to be. I’m hoping that this unusual level of activity will end soon, and things will get back to normal.

January by the numbers: A winter slowdown?

January seemed like a pretty slow month when it come to writing, reading, and walking. In fact, it may have been my slowest month on record when it comes to my FitBit data. I walked a total of about 198,000 steps in the month of January. This may sound like a lot. It comes to roughly 90 miles worth of walking. But it is dramatically lower than nearly any other month on record since I started using a FitBit–which is nearly 3 years now.

January 2015 FitBit

I am to walk 15,000 steps per day. But as you can see, there was only one day in the entire month that I hit my goal. For the other 30 days, I didn’t even come close. How much of a difference was this from a typical month? Well, December was pretty typical and here is what December looked like:

December 2014 FitBit

A big part of the drop in steps was due to how busy I was, and a little of it was the result of uncooperative weather. I am perfectly willing to walk in the rain, or the cold, when it is hot, or when it is snowing. But when you combine two tough conditions, it gets too hard for me. We had a lot of cold and wind. And some snow and wind. And some bitter cold and snow. And because of that, I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked. Last January I walked 340,000 steps, and the weather was probably more cooperative.

Writing in January

I was extremely busy in the day job in January working hard to get ready for a big software rollout. That meant longer than usual hours, and it also meant that I was tired and had less energy by the time I got home from work. All of this contributes to how much I can write. Still, all things considered, I didn’t do too badly. I wrote nearly 18,000 words in January, almost all of them on the novel draft, although there was a little nonfiction here and there.

January 2015 writing

This is down significantly from December where I wrote about 30,000 words. On the other hand, despite how busy things were, my consecutive day writing streak remained in tact all through the month. As of today, my streak stands at 559 consecutive days.

I had two items published in January, an editorial in the March 2015 issue of Analog, and a new story, “Meet and Greet” in the January 2015 issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show. That helped make up for the lower word counts.

Reading

I didn’t finish a single book in the month of January. Usually I average between 50-60 hours of audiobook listening per month. In December, while on vacation, I got more than 70 hours of audiobook listening in. But in January I managed only a meager 18 hours of audiobook listening.

Audiobook Listening

How much audiobook listening I do is highly correlated to how much walking I do, because I typically do both at the same time. Since my walking was down, it makes sense that my audiobook listening was down.

And now, February is here. If the weather cooperates, I am sure to do better in all three categories this month.

More Going Paperless Posts Coming (and Other Updates)

I am in the midst of a major software rollout this weekend, and the last few weeks leading here have been a whirlwind of activity. I’ve been working on this project for a year, and am glad it is finally coming to a conclusion, but it is wiping me out. This is my excuse for why things have been relatively quiet here on the blog lately. That said, here are some things folks might be interested in:

1. More Going Paperless posts are coming soon

While I am no longer writing regular weekly posts, I am writing posts when I have worthwhile ideas. As turns out, I have 3 ideas, and you can expect 3 new Going Paperless posts over the next few weeks,

2. I am hard at work on the second draft of my novel

No one ever sees the first drafts. But earlier this week, my writers group got to see the first chapter of the second draft and comment on it. That was eighteen months of effort (if you include the time spent on the first draft) coming to fruition. The feedback was generally positive, although there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. So I remain hard at work on that, and it takes priority over all other writing, including here on the blog.

3. More to come here on the blog

I have a growing list of things I want to write about (technology, productivity, some humorous stuff about the kids) here on the blog. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.  This software rollout is sapping nearly all of my time and most of my energy. But by this time tomorrow, it should be all done, and hopefully things will ease up a bit.

4. I’m a little behind on email

I’ve been trying to get through my email, but I’m still a little behind, so if you’ve emailed me and haven’t heard from me, chances are good that I got and read your message, Boomeranged it until after this software rollout.

5. Upcoming speaking engagement/guest posts

I’ve got at least one speaking engagement on the horizon, and a handful of guest posts that I’ve been asked to write. I’ll be tackling the latter shortly after the rollout, and I’ll let you know when they are available.

That’s it for the updates. Thanks for sticking around, and there is definitely more to come soon.

Imagined Conversations with my Dentist

Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Is it a logarithmic scale?”

Dentist: ???


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Well, I’m a software developer and I tend to think in either base 2 or base 12. Could I give it to you that way?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me:  “Does 1 mean no pain? Because it seems weird to me that a 1 would mean no pain. What would a 0 represent on that scale? Less than no pain?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Do you get tired of asking the same question over and over again?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “About as painful as this conversation. Where would you say it falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “No.”

Dentist: ???

General Updates, 1/15/2015

It occurred to me that I haven’t posted since Sunday, so here are some general updates for folks who might be wondering what’s going on.

1. Recovering from wisdom tooth extraction. I’m still recovering. Things were going pretty well until yesterday when it seemed that I started to have a reaction to the antibiotics. I’m off those now and on a special mouthwash. The pain is okay during the day, but pretty bad at night. This was expected. I have a follow-up appointment on Monday and hopefully things will look much better then. Needless to say, it has been slowing me down and making me grumpy.

2. Writing. As of yesterday, my writing streak stands at 542 consecutive days. Despite the pain, medication, and grumpiness from the extractions, I am still writing every day. My numbers over the last week or so are down, but that is to be expected. My mind is fuzzy with pain medication and it is harder to write, but I am writing and making forward progress on the novel draft.

Writing without wisdom

The data in the red box shows my writing since my wisdom teeth have been yanked, and it is clearly down. But the extraction isn’t the only thing causing the lower word counts. I’m busy with other stuff as well, including day job projects and setting up a new work laptop.

3. The new work laptop. I got a new Dell Latitude 3800 laptop at the day job and have been setting that up. It is by far the fasted Windows machine I’ve ever had. It boots in seconds, which is pretty amazing. I’ll have more to say about the laptop (and the setup process) in a separate post when I have more time.

4. Morning routines. A while back I was asked to participate in an article that would discuss people’s morning routines as they relate to productivity. I’d written and sent my responses a while back and pretty much forgotten about it. This morning, I learned that the post went live. If you are interested, check out, “22 experts share their morning rituals to stay productive” and you can see what me, and 21 other people have to say on the subject.

That’s it for now. I hope to get things back to normal here shortly. I have some ideas for new Going Paperless posts, and lots of other good stuff, once I can find the time to sit down and write it.

Wisdom Tooth Extraction Completed

I am home, and lighter by two wisdom teeth. The last two. As Hawkeye Pierce might say, “Hopefully they took the took and the left behind the wisdom.”

I’m feeling better than I expected to feel. They put me completely out for the procedure, and the numbness around the affected area is still pretty numb, although it is beginning to ache. Kelly is off to the drug store to pick up my prescriptions.

I plan on taking things easy today. I’ll probably alternate between watching episodes of M*A*S*H and listening to the current audiobook I’m working my way through, Will Durant’s The Age of Faith. I got some writing in first thing this morning. Later today I might try for some more.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Twitter and here on the blog as well. But I’m glad this is finally done, and I’m glad I did it with a weekend to back me up on the recovery end.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction Tomorrow

I was supposed to have my remained 2 wisdom teeth extracted back in late September, but had to reschedule. Tomorrow, I’m set to have #1 and #32 removed. It will be only the second time in my life that I will be under a general anesthetic1. I opted for the general because, as the doctor explained, when you are 18 years told, your jawbone is like sponge, and the teeth come out relatively easy. At 42, the jawbone is like cement, and the process is more difficult.

So I’ll be asleep for it.

The appointment is first thing tomorrow morning, and the whole visit is supposed to last about an hour and a half, after which Kelly will deposit me at home.

For those who might be concerned about my writing streak–535 consecutive days and counting–I plan on getting some writing in early tomorrow before heading to my appointment. That way, it’s done, in case I don’t feel up to it later in the day. Of course, if I do feel up to it later in the day, then I’ll write more.

I hope to be online after the appointment, but I might be slower than usual in responding to email, tweets, etc. over the weekend. Now you know why.

  1. The first time was when I had my tonsils removed when I was 10 years old.

Back at the Day Job

I think there is a universal law that says the longer the vacation, the faster it goes by and the harder it is to go back to work. We were off for a total of 23 days–just over 3 weeks. Today we were back to work, and the kids were back at school.

When I am on vacation, I completely disconnect from the day job. No checking email, no thinking about projects. Nothing. I’ve gotten very good at this. So when I got back to the office this morning, I had over 900 emails awaiting my attention. I quickly whittled that down to 140 that I actually had to read, or at least skim. By the end of the day, I’d sent nearly 50 email messages, knocked a ton of items off my to-do list, and in general, felt like I had a good first day back.

My new work laptop had arrived, but was still being imaged. It’s a high-end beast, 16 GB of RAM, a large SSD, and I was looking forward to getting it it setup (often a multi-day process), but it probably won’t be ready until tomorrow or Wednesday.

It was also good to see my coworkers (those that I could see–many I work with are in L.A. area) although I spent a lot of time behind closed doors today, either in meetings, or working on things that have been waiting for me.

Overall, good to be back. Lots of work ahead this year, which seems to be the case every year. I remember in the year leading up to Y2K, the workload seemed to increase dramatically. “It’ll ease up after January 1, 2000,” we were told. But it’s only gone up every year since.

Can you believe it’s now Y2K + 15?