Category Archives: personal

Fall Day, Soup Day

Yesterday was the first really fall-like day we’ve had this year. Sunny but cool and windy. It was a day off for me. I’ve been working hard on a software rollout project at the day job. This weekend was supposed to be a rollout weekend, but it was postponed thank in large part to flaws in the software that we uncovered and that the vendor now has to go and fix.

So I spent my day yesterday trying to relax and not be frustrated over the fact that our hard work is now delayed. Kelly took the kids out for the day, and I lazed around the house. I watched a movie. And I made soup.

The cold weather, coupled by a scene of cold weather in the movie, made me crave soup. I decided to make my Apple, Ale & Cheddar soup, but knowing that Kelly prefers a healthier soup, I also made a sweet potato soup for her. I went to the grocery store to stock up on what I needed, and then spent an hour or so in the afternoon preparing and cooking the soups.

Soups

They both came out really good. I had 3 bowls of my Apple, Ale & Cheddar soup after I made it, and I brought some for lunch with me today. I picked up a loaf of sourdough bread at the store and had that with the soup. It was fantastic. When Kelly and the kids got home last night, I had their soup all warmed up for them.

It was chilly again this morning, and the house was cold, so I finally turned on the heat this morning. I tend to see how far we go into fall before the heat gets turned on.  This year, we made it a month.

20 Years at the Day Job

Last week, I started receiving congratulatory messages from folks I’m connected to on LinkedIn. They were congratulating me on the fact that this month, I’m have my 20 year anniversary at the day job. It reminded me of that fact, and indeed, this Friday, October 17, 2014, will be exactly 20 years since my very first day on the job with my current company.

I understand that these days, it is pretty rare for someone to work at the same job for 20 years, especially someone in IT. I’ve had people tell me that they are amazed by this, and I’ve had people tell me it is the worst possible thing that you can do in IT. I happen to fall into the former camp: I am rather amazed that I’ve been with the company for 20 years. But I’m even more amazed at how quickly that 20 years has flown by, and all that has happened during that time.

I started with the company just shy of four months after graduating from the University of California, Riverside, fresh with a degree in political science. Naturally, I went into IT. When I started, the position that I applied for was called a “Microcomputer Support Consultant” and don’t let the “consultant” part fool you. It is not what we call consultants today. Basically, my job was to work on the corporate help desk (I’d never even heard the term “help desk” at the time) and fix people’s computer problems. When I started I’d never used email before, had no idea what the “web” was, and had no experience with networking. I learned quickly.

For the first few months, it seemed pretty touch and go, and I can remember thinking that maybe this wasn’t the right job for me. But I stuck it out. I had a pretty good first year, and things got better. By 1998 I’d become an IT manager and continued in that role through Y2K and until about 2002 or so. 2002 was probably my peak in terms of sheer success. I was on the fast track at that point, and when time came to announce the company’s annual President’s Award, I discovered, much to my amazement, that I was a recipient.

I worked my first 8 years for the company in southern California. But I’d wanted to come back east for some time. In the summer of 2002, I had the opportunity to do that, and I’ve been in the Virginia office ever since. Not longer after I moved, I changed career paths. I went from being an IT manager to being a software developer. I’d burned out on the management side, and needed a break from the politics. I learned that there’s a lot of politics in software development, too, but as I was the only person on my team in the Virginia office (and still am today) I could avoid a lot of it.

It’s also amazing to realize how many people have come and gone in the time that I’ve been working for the company. I lived through the Dot Com boom, and the bust afterward. I lived through Y2K, and 9/11, and two government shutdowns. I have a mousepad in my office that I got back in 1995 or so, and it has photos of a bunch of us who worked on the help desk back then. Here it is, and you can see the 23-year old version of me circled on that mousepad:

Mousepad

Of all of the faces that appear on the mousepad, only mine and one other are still at the company. I’m in regular contact (via Facebook or email) with four others. Two people on the mousepad have died in the time since the photos were taken.

When I started at the company, on that very first day on October 17, 1994, I was given a desktop computer in my office. It was a Windows 3.1 machine with an Intel 386 processor, 16 MB of memory (which was an astonishing amount for 1994) and a 40 MB hard drive. Twenty years later, I have a Dell Laptop running Windows 7, with 8 GB of RAM and a 300 GB hard drive. Times change.

For me, the Golden Age was the years 1997-2001. The Dot Com boom was in full swing. My career was in high gear. I got my pilot’s license during that time, as way of reducing stress. I worked long hours back then, arriving at the office at about 5:30 am, and sometimes not leaving until 8 pm, in order to avoid the horrendous L.A. traffic. We had a great team during those years, and we did a lot of good stuff. The camaraderie during that time was unlike any other time I’d experienced, and I occasionally turn a nostalgic eye on those days and wish things could be like that again.

But they can’t. People evolve and so do companies and organizations within then. When I started in 1994, “IT” was not even a buzzword. Today, IT is one of the biggest players in the service industry. Companies can’t live without IT. It is become very process-driven, and that has its pluses and minuses. Truth be told, I prefer the days when the processes were less formal, and the quality of service to internal customers was the priority. There was a lot more personal interaction, and I think people felt like really cared about helping them.

I was 22 years old when I started at the company. 20 years is a significant milestone only because it is a round number, a multiple of 10. For me, a bigger milestone is 22 years, which will come on October 17, 2016 The reason this is a more significant milestone for me is that is marks the day on which I have spent half my life working at the same company. Half my life!

I wouldn’t have stayed this long if I didn’t generally like what I did. Mostly, it is the people I get to work with that keeps me at the job. That, and the fact that, even after 20 years, I am still learning new things almost every day.

Shelving Books in the Early Morning

I volunteer at the Little Man’s school library. Because my schedule is so crazy, I picked Thursday mornings at 6 am as the best time to do my volunteer work. Kelly and the kids can sleep in a little on Thursdays, and I can get in my volunteer work before the day job starts. I did my first stint this morning. I arrived at about the same time as the school’s librarian. There was a cart full of books that needed to be shelved, could I do that?

There was no order to the cart, so I first ordered the books into piles by section, and then took the stacks to each section and shelved them. It was pleasant, mindless work, and I chatted with the librarian as I worked.

One side effect: as I was shelving the science books, I noticed a bunch of Isaac Asimov books on the shelves. In particular, books from the Gareth Stevens science series he worked on late in life. Now, I have most of the books Isaac Asimov wrote, fiction and nonfiction. However, I have only a few of the 30 or more Gareth Stevens books. So seeing this made me envious:

Isaac Asimov Library

It was fun working in the library early in the morning when almost no one else is there. There’s just something about being surrounded by books that feels good.

Oh, and I managed to shelved all of the books on the cart. It took me about 50 minutes, and I started a little slow, but picked up steam along the way.

Running on Empty

In recent months, I have not only reached my peak capacity, I have exceeded it. At any given moment I can run on afterburners, but that is not sustainable. Indeed, too long and everything begins to fall apart. My level of busyness reached its climax this past weekend, and on the long drive home from New York, I decided I needed to slow down for a while.

Here is a list of just some of the things I have taken on, or been working on regularly for the last several months:

  • A big implementation project at the day-job, set to rollout the last weekend in October.
  • A presentation for Capclave
  • A novel draft
  • A novella draft
  • A short story for an anthology
  • Articles for The Daily Beast
  • An editorial for Analog
  • A technical advisor for a neighbor’s company
  • An interview on productivity for Forbes
  • The SFWA reception
  • The Little Man’s baseball team
  • Volunteering at the Little Man’s school library
  • Volunteering on the Little Man’s school’s STEM committee

I’m sure I’m leaving some things off, but you get the idea. All of this is my own fault, of course, and I take responsibility for that. It has had three negative side-effects, however, that I have been struggling with:

  1. Added stress to meet each commitment
  2. Longer recovery time from illness. This cold I’ve had is lingering, probably due to the fact that I have not been slowing down.
  3. A dramatic decrease in real productivity.

The latter might seem strange, but when I look at the data, sure enough, things are going down, not up. I suppose it depends on what you define as being productive. But think about how a multitasking computer works. The more things that are running at the same time, the slower they tend to run. Take writing for example. Here’s a look at the last 90 days of my writing:

90 days of writing
Data from http://open.jamierubin.net

My 7-day moving average word count–which is my personal benchmark for writing–has generally hovered around 900 words/day. You can see from that orange line that there has been a downward trend. Indeed, as of this morning, my 7-day moving average is just over 500 words! That’s a pretty significant decrease. I am still writing every day (443 consecutive days and counting), but I’m not writing as much. One reason is less time because of all of the other things I am doing. Another reason is exhaustion. By the time I get to my writing each day, I am wiped out and can’t do it for long.

Another example comes from my daily activity, which is mostly walking. I try to get in between 7-10 miles of walking each day, because it is really the only exercise I get. I walk everywhere I possibly can. And I walk 3 times during the day at work just to get in the exercise. But lately, my numbers for walking are way down.

90 days of steps
Data from FitBit

The red line represents my 7-day moving average for the same period as the writing chart above. Aside from the slight downward trend, what is most striking to me is that earlier in the summer, that red line was up closer to 15,000 steps/day, as opposed to 9,000 steps per day. Again, a big reason is that I hesitate to take the time to walk when I have so much other stuff on my plate.

Recharging my batteries

On the drive home from New York, I was thinking about this and thinking about ways I could recharge my batteries, and continue to do the things I enjoy doing. I have come up with a four guidelines for myself, some of which I have already put into action.

Continue reading

Coming to New York City on Monday

I will be roaming New York City for most of the day on Monday. Strictly speaking, I am in town to attend the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) annual reception, which takes place Monday evening at a fancy penthouse in Manhattan. But it turns out I was able to do a few other things as well.

For instance, I was contacted by some folks at Forbes to do an interview on productivity for a series they are doing on the subject. They asked if I was going to be in New York City any time soon, and I said, well, actually… So I’m being interviewed there on Monday morning.

I’m having dinner with an editor1 on Monday evening. In between, I’ll be wandering about, looking for quiet places to sit and get some writing done. Or maybe just checking out the city. It’s been a while since I last wandered about Manhattan.

I am there in my capacity as a writer and technology blogger, and I think that’s a pretty cool reason to be in New York City for a day. Maybe not quite as good as attending a Yankees playoff game, but I’ll take it.

Notes

  1. If the 20-year old version of me could read those six words he’d probably faint dead away with excitement and disbelief.

3 Milestones for Writing and Blogging

I seem to be passing through a confluence of three milestones. That they have all come at roughly the same time is coincidence, but they are still worth mentioning.

1. I passed 400,000 words written on my consecutive day writing streak

With the writing I did last night, I have now passed 400,000 words written over the span of my (so far) 430 day consecutive writing streak.

400K Words
Click to enlarge

Four hundred thousand words seems like an awful lot to me. But what I find more remarkable is that I don’t have a lot of time to write each day, and yet, the streak has helped pile up the words. Over 430 days, I’ve averaged about 930 words/day. If we assume that most professional full time writers try to get in 2,000 words/day, I’m nearly halfway there.

I didn’t start automating the tracking of my writing time until August, but if you look at the RescueTime data (the green chart) over the last 2 months, you can see that on my best day, I spent only 80 minutes at the keyboard. Indeed, over the course of the last 2 months, I’ve averaged 40 minutes of writing time per day.

2. I passed 500,000 words since starting my attempt to write every day

My 430 consecutive-day writing streak is part of a larger effort to write every day, which began in late February 2013. Since then, I’ve written for 573 out of the last 575 days. Put another way, I’ve only missed 2 days in the last 575 days. In all of that time, I’ve written 511,000 words. Half a million words is a pretty big milestone. It’s like an entire Stephen King or George R. R. Martin novel!

3. This blog has had about 1 million page views so far in 2014

I’m jumping the gun slightly on this one. More than likely, the blog will actually hit 1 million tomorrow evening or Saturday, but I have a busy weekend coming up and wasn’t sure I’d have time to note it.

One million views

It’s kind of hard to believe that I’ve managed a million page views over the space of 9 months. It means I should end up with around 1.3 million by the end of the year. Things slowed down a bit in September, possibly because I haven’t had time to post as much. Still, it’s pretty amazing. I can remember back in 2011 when I was hoping to triple the page views from about 30/day to 90/day. And here I am averaging somewhere between 3,000 – 4,000/day.

Here is how the traffic has evolved since January 2011:

Since 2011

Anyway, those three milestones all happened (or will happen) in the last few days. Pretty cool, eh?

Good Customer Service at the Apple Store

Last week, while getting out the car after the Little Man’s baseball practice, my iPhone slipped through a hole in my pocket and landed, face first, on the concrete. At first I thought it was no big deal. I’ve dropped the phone before. But later, I discovered a long, crack diagonally across the screen, and was dismayed.

For a while, I thought I’d have to get a new phone, but then I remembered that I’d bought Apple Care+ with my iPhone last summer (2013). I checked, and from what I could tell, Apple Care+ covered a couple of incidents of accidental damage to the phone. So I booked an appointment at the Genius Bar for this morning at 10 am.

At 10 am, I arrived and was greeted by the Official Apple Store Greeter, who signed me in and asked me to wait a moment for the tech. A moment later, Tim arrived. I showed him what happened. He verified my Apple Care and then said that it would take about an hour to fix. It seemed to me that the Apple Care+ held the possibility of a $79 charge, but when he processed my order, there was no charge. He told me to come back an hour later, which I did.

I picked up my phone and it had a new display. The crack was gone! I didn’t even need to restore my data!

Tim told me that without Apple Care+, it would have cost me $129 to have the display replaced. As it turns out, it cost me nothing today. Of course, I did pay $99 for Apple Care+ when I bought the phone, but it has now more than paid for itself.

All told, it was a solid customer service experience. Quick, efficient, and entirely paperless!

My Friend, Winston Churchill

I should finish the Winston Churchill biography today, and once I do, I’ll have some thoughts about it, which I will post in due course. However, I wanted to mention a strange dream that I had last night, and yes, the dream involved Winston Churchill. My dreams rarely seem to have any relation to what goes on during my days, but in this case, it was very closely related. As I approach the end of the book, I am also approaching Churchill’s death. That thought must have stuck with me.

In the dream, I was wandering through the underbelly of London with my friend, Winston Churchill. He was old, and somewhat frail, but was focused on his task. That task, it seemed, was evaluating the superstructure of London from beneath. We walked through broad tunnels, down into which sunlight filtered from the sides somehow, and every now and then, Churchill would stop, tap some object with his case, and say something like, “Struts for the bridge. Needs a new coat of paint, I think.”

This went on for quite some time, until we arrived at a place where stairs led up to the street level to the left and right. From one direction, a phone was ringing, and I picked it up. On the other end of the line was King George VI. “I’m very sorry to report,” he said, “that His Majesty’s Government bears the news that Winston Churchill has passed.”

I started to tell the King (uncertain how to address him) that he was mistaken, that Churchill was here with me, checking out the superstructure of the city. I turned, but Churchill was gone, and I was down there all alone. All at once, I was overcome by a feeling of despair and sadness, certain that HMG was right, that Churchill had died, and here I was all alone.

I began calling friends and family to tell them the news, and they were duly sympathetic. I remember thinking, “My friend, Winston Churchill, is gone.”

After that, the dream faded away and I woke up. The Little Man was calling me from his room, and I got out of bed to see what it was he wanted. But the dream stayed with me, and I still feel some of that sadness lingering this morning.

Red Sky This Morning

I didn’t post here all weekend, and indeed, barely posted to Twitter, Facebook, or other social media. On Saturday, the heat just drained me, and I tried doing as little as possible. Yesterday, the weather was much nicer, but there was lots of small stuff going on.

I awoke this morning to a red sky out of my home office windows.

Red Sky

It it is a sign of cooler weather, I’m all for it. Saturday was blisteringly hot, and Sunday, finally cooled off. In fact yesterday evening was delightful, and we spent it barbecuing with friends.

I’m approaching the halfway mark on the final volume of William Manchester’s The Last Lion, and the truth is, I’m neglecting other things (like the blog) in order to squeeze in more time to read. Once the book is over, I expect things to return to normal around here.

I’m making some progress on the new story, although I restarted it yesterday because I realized that I’d been telling it from the wrong point of view. That said, I think it will go much more smoothly now. And I have a small backlog of nonfiction articles to work on. I’m nothing if not busy.

And as of yesterday, I’ve written every day for the last 413 days.

Here I Am Accepting the ALS Ice Bucket Challange

I woke up this morning to discover that Brent Bowen, of Adventures In Sci-Fi Publishing fame, had named me in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Not one to delay the inevitable, I enlisted the help of my family to complete the challenge. We made a donation to the ALS Foundation this morning, and then, we me made this video:

In case it wasn’t clear in the video, I challenged Doug Rubin, Jennifer Ashlock, Eric Straus, and Lisa Krupp. You guys have 24 hours…