Category Archives: personal

Earlier Tonight on Twitter I Revealed My Secret to Drafts

I was overcome, earlier today, with the sudden desire to reveal my closely held secret, as a writer, to what I really mean when I talk about draft.

So there you have it. When I talk about drafts and writer, know you know what I really mean.

James Michener on Forming Opinions About the Arts

While reading Michener’s memoir, The World Is My Home, I came across this passage where Michener describes his feelings about the arts, criticism, and how he formed his opinions:

I had always had the habit, which I adhered to in my response to the arts, of trying to look or listen with an unprejudiced intellect. For example, whenever I entered a museum I would walk to the center of each room, from where I could see no labels, and ask myself: What is worth noting here? By taking this approach I note only discovered some excellent art but also gained confidence in my artistic judgement so that I have never had any hesitancy in relying upon my own taste. I have consistently fortified it with the opinions of others–I read a great deal of criticism–but I have never allowed critics to dissuade me from making my own evaluations. As a result my appreciation of the arts has been nothing but positive, and it has been one of the best parts of my life. I doubt I would have felt this way had I been overawed by the opinions of others.

This resonated with me because my approach to reading has been similar for many years. A quick scan through the list of books I’ve read over the last 20 years will show something of a diversity of subject matter, fiction and nonfiction. Some of the books that I have read have been panned by critics, but I only considered the criticism after first plowing through the book out of some curiosity on my part. I read P. G. Wodehouse for this reason, and while I found his writing amusing, I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary. On the other hand, I found odd books like Philip Caputo’s The Longest Road to be an unexpected joy.

With two young children, it has made me consider how they will appreciate art. Art, for them, may very well be in terms of video games. I can go on and on about what joy Richard Garriott’s Ultima IV was for me, but ultimately, I want to instill in them the idea that they need to walk to the center of the room, so that they they can’t read the labels, ask themselves, “What is worth noting here?”

Summer Wanes and Fall Approaches

This morning we took a walk to local farmer’s market. The air was cool and freshened by breeze. All traces of summer’s humidity had vanished. Just last weekend, we were sitting lakeside, enjoying the sun. Today was the first day of 2015 that felt like fall. I snapped this photo as we approached our destination. Fall might not be here quite yet, but it is approach with alarming speed.

Feels Like Fall

14 Years Later…

And I still can’t watch the news footage of the World Trade Center smoking, and eventually collapsing. It still seems profoundly surreal. A new building has risen from the ashes, but I still see the ghosts of the old twins when I catch a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline. I think those ghosts live in my eyes, like floaters. And like floaters, they are here to stay.

Two Days in West Virginia

We have been doing more short, mini-trips lately. Often, these are one day jaunts, like our recent trip to Monticello, or our trip into the mountains of Maryland last weekend. I like these mini-trips. A good experience on such a trip can be completely revitalizing.

For Labor Day weekend, we decided at the last minute to head out of town. We wanted to avoid crowds and traffic, so we settled on Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, which we have visited on several occasions in the past.

Driving there, we avoided the highways and took backroads, passing through some beautiful farm country. We did the same on the drive home this afternoon, making even drives pleasant (to say nothing of traffic-free).

On Saturday, we arrived in Berkeley Springs, and headed over to Tari’s for lunch. We’d eaten there a couple of times before, but what stuck out most in my mind was their French Dip sandwich. I ordered it again this time, not having had it in years, and nervously wondering if it would live up to my memory of it.

It did.

French Dip at Tari's

We wandered around the springs with the kids, pointing out the George Washington’s bathtub (much to their disbelief).

George Washington's Bathtub

Back at the hotel, the kids had a chance to spend an hour in the pool, cooling off, as well as burning off excess energy accumulated by sitting in the car for a few hours earlier in the day. For dinner, we made our way up to Panorama at the Peak, where we had eaten with friends exactly six years earlier. It was a little overcast when we arrived, but we still had a rather striking view of the confluence of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania below us.

Panorama at the Peak

This morning, after an early breakfast, we set off for Cacapon State Park. We took the kids on an early hike on the Piney Ridge Trail. We nearly walked into a deer on that trail. Both kids were pretty excited about that.

We arrived at the lake at about 10:30 am, right when it was opening. We found a shady spot on the beach, and for the next three hours, the kids played in the sand and water, while Kelly and I relaxed. The shade and breeze kept us cool. It was, for me, the most relaxing part of the trip.

Lakeside Beach

We were back home around 4 o’clock this afternoon, and I think we all considered the trip a success. We liked the beach so much that we are considering going back next season and staying at the lodge for a few days, or perhaps getting a cabin. The trip took my mind off work, and allowed us all to spend quality time together. The fact that it is a long weekend helps. We got back this afternoon knowing that there is no school tomorrow, nor is there work for Kelly and I. Instead, we’ll be doing more relaxing, and visiting friends.

August Was a Busy Month – Just Look at the Numbers

It certainly felt busy, what with the projects I am juggling at the day job taking up so much of my time. But I didn’t realize just how busy August was until I looked at the numbers.

RescueTime tells me that I spent nearly 300 hours in August on the computer:

RescueTime - August 2015

More than a third of that time was spent on various software development projects. A mere 7% was spent on social networking, which is low for me overall, and which probably helps explain how quite I’ve been online recently. Oh, and that spike you see on August 14? That was an 18 hour and 40 minute day. Put another way: there were 744 hours in the month of August. Nearly half of them, I was working on the computer.

That much work has its affect on other parts of my life. I wrote a total of about 13,000 words in the month of August, and so far as I can tell, for the first time since February 2013, I did not crack more than 1,000 words in a day for the entire month1.

Writing in August 2015

I spent a total of 9.5 hours writing in August. Meaning that of those 300 hours I spent on the computer, only about 3% of the time was spent writing. Still my writing streak remains intact, and with my writing finished for today, I have 772 consecutive days of writing under my belt.

My stress level increased tremendously in the month of August. I can tell this because my shoulders and neck are tight to the point that they are painful when I wake up in the morning. Part of my stress relief used to be getting out for a walk a few times a day to clear my head. But I’ve been so busy that I’ve neglected those walks. Last August, I managed to walk nearly 300,000 steps (135 miles). This August–wait for it–191,000 steps (87 miles).

I also managed to read only 2 books in August. Again, my time was taken up by work.

I find myself in a crunch that I’ve never experienced before, with three major projects converging at the same time. Hopefully, things will lighten up a bit at the end of this month, as two of the three projects wrap up. In the meantime, I am looking to get back into my regular walking routine. That walking was a great way to relieve tension and stress throughout the day, and the way I’ve been feeling lately, I could use that kind of relief.

  1. Compare this to June, when I wrote nearly 30,000 words in the month.

First Days of School, Last Days of School

Remember when the Little Man was born? It seems like it  was yesterday. Turns out it happened over 6 years ago. This morning, the increasingly Not-So-Little Man set off for 1st grade.

First day of 1st grade
First day of 1st grade

First grade is a special milestone, because it is the earliest grade for which I have a pretty clear memory of things. I remember snippets of preschool, and bits and pieces of Kindergarten. But I still remember the songs we sang in first grade. I remember my first grade teacher’s name (Mrs. Sapala) at MacAfee Road School in Somerset, NJ. I remember playing (and intensely disliking) soccer1. I remember walking to school with my best friend. I remember going to the school library, and discovering a book called The Nine Planets by Franklyn M. Branley–a book which set me on the course of becoming a science fiction writer, although I didn’t know that at the time.

Naturally, I wonder what kind of things the Little Man will discover in first grade that will set him on his own course. I don’t remember being particularly frightened in first grade2, and I suspect the Little Man won’t find anything to be frightened of either. He goes to a small school, Pre-K through 8th grade, but only one class per grade. That means that most of his friends from Kindergarten will be back in his 1st grade class. He’ll have a new teachers, but the teaching assistant from Kindergarten will be in the 1st grade class. I’m already excited to hear how his day went.

Today also happens to be the Little Miss’s last day at the Montessori school. Next week, she’ll start attending St. Ann, just like her brother. The Little Man started at St. Ann in Kindergarten. The Little Miss will start in pre-K4. Our kids have attended the Montessori school across the street from our house since the fall of 2010. So today concludes a 5-year period during which we had one or both of our kids in the school. This weekend, we met the Little Miss’s Montessori school teacher for ice cream, to say goodbye. It is the end of one era, and the beginning of another.

  1. Sorry, the baseball gene formed early in me, and baseball snob that I am, I do find other sports lacking.
  2. With the exception of a short period during which I had a to-do with some humongous third graders.

The Perfect Project Storm

If you are wondering why it has been so quiet here, the reason is pretty simple: I am inundated with day job work. This has been building over the last few months for a variety of reasons, but the main crux is that I am project manager and technical lead on 3 projects, all of which appear to be converging for a simultaneous rollout. How I will manage this is still a question. Mostly, I have been focusing on one task at a time whenever possible just to get through the day.

It has, obviously, affected my blogging. It has also affected my writing. A glimpse at the last 3 months of writing data paints a pretty clear picture, and brings to very real life the bare fact that there are only so many hours in the day.

Last 3 months of writing

Where as I was coasting along pretty smoothly at 800 to 1,000 words a day, these days, I’m lucky to hit 500 words. My consecutive day streak is still unbroken (767 days as of this writing) but the pace has slowed dramatically.

So what is this perfect story of projects that is keeping me working through the day, and often well into the night?

One of the projects is an implementation of a conference room reservation system. This project was supposed to rollout back in February, but enough critical bugs were uncovered that we went back to the software manufacturer to get fixes before we could release it. We got some (but not all) the requested fixes, and are now doing our own internal regression testing in preparation for rolling that software out by the end of our fiscal years, which happens to be the end of September.

One of the projects is outsourcing our building information software to a cloud-based system. This requires ensuring that we can generate the same types of reports we get today, but also requires us to build integrations with internal systems, which complicates things somewhat.

And one of the projects is a data warehouse project, in which I am acting as project manager, technical lead, and sole developer. It’s a great project, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Unfortunately, this is one of those great ideas that keeps getting pushed off for more urgent things, and this is one of those now-or-never situations.

That’s not all I am working on, but that is what is keeping me most busy in the day job. This is leaving me very little time for writing, and no time for blogging. But I do want to change that. I miss posting here, and I want to get back into the habit of it. This November marks 10 years that I’ve had this blog, a pretty significant milestone. I’d love for that milestone to be a jumping off point for new and exciting things here. But first I need to get through this storm.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the worst of the storm is yet to come, and so, while I will do my best to drop in here more frequently, if you don’t see me, you can safely assume it is because I’ve been sucked into a project tornado, and whisked away to some kind of Oz of Project Land. Hopefully, by October or early November, all of this will be behind me.


Thomas Jefferson: Lifehacker

On Saturday, on a whim, we drove down to Monticello to visit the home of Thomas Jefferson. One of the many things I like about living in this area is the rich history. We can drive north to battlefields at Gettysburg, or we can drive south and visit the unique home of Thomas Jefferson. So on Saturday, we gathered up the kids and hit the road at 9 am. Google Maps told us the trip would take 3 hours on Interstate 95. It suggested taking Route 29, which would take only a little over 2 hours. It failed to mention the beautiful farm country we would pass through.

None of us had been to Monticello before, and I was particularly excited about it. I love history, and have a special place for American history. Within that special place is a niche reserved for colonial history, which I adore above almost all else, perhaps because I was living in New England when introduced to that history in school.


Wandering the grounds of Monticello was a treat. The weather was perfect, the skies clear, and as we walked the grounds, I kept thinking to myself: Jefferson walked here. He walked here. I remembered a similar feeling I had once, a decade earlier. I was walking on the campus of William and Mary, and happened to be reading a biography of Jefferson at the time, when it occurred to me that I was walking past the very dorm that the biographer said Jefferson stayed in while at the school.

We had a tour of the house. Our guide took us through it and I was amazed my Jefferson’s attention to detail. Jefferson was, like Benjamin Franklin, a lifehacker. The clock he made that mounts the front door made it easy to tell the day of the week. While standing beneath the portico, you could look up and see the wind direction marked on the ceiling, by a clever mechanical connection to the weathervane on the roof.

Jefferson’s “book room” made me green with envy. The shelves were full of books (at the time he sold his collection to start the Library of Congress, he’d amassed 7,000 of them). The books in the room were all the same titles and editions that Jefferson had in his collection. In two glass cases were book that Jefferson was known to have handled himself.

Jefferson had even considered that books get moved, and made it easy to do so. Each shelf was an independent unit that could be removed. A board could be be nailed over the opening without removing the books, and the box could be placed in a wagon for transport.

There were other clever touches to the house. Pocket beds kept the rooms spacious. Jefferson had a pocket bed between his study and his sitting room, so that he could get out of bed and start working right away. He had a revolving door in the dining room with trays for food to make the transport of food to the table quick and efficient. He had wine dummy’s built into the sides of the fireplace. He used narrow staircases to conserve space.

At the end of the tour I asked the guide if she knew of anyone who had seen Monticello and decided to replicate it for their own home. In fact, she had. She told me about someone in Pennsylvania who had done just that. It makes sense. It is a house designed for a reader and a writer. It is a house designed by an early lifehacker.

Jefferson was a lifehacker in other ways. He wrote more than 19,000 letters, and used1 a device that allowed him to write one letter, and automatically make a second copy. It is for this reason, apparently, that we know as much as we do about his life. He also invented a revolving bookstand which could hold 5 open books at once. Try switching that quickly between 5 books on a Kindle!

The trip reminded me that I eventually want to get through Dumas Malone‘s 6-volume biography of Jefferson someday. Six books on Jefferson! That biography would not fit on Jefferson’s clever bookstand in its entirety.

For more pictures of our trip to Monticello, check out the pictures on Google Photos.


  1. But did not invent.

L.A. Stories

I lived in L.A. from 1983 – 2002–almost 20 years. I come back to L.A. for work every now and then, and it is always an interesting experience, one that fills me with mixed feelings. A lot of things have changed about L.A., but a lot of things have remained the same. Cities evolve. Santa Monica looks very different from the days that I worked here1. People seem to stay pretty much the same. On the east coast, if you tell someone you are a writer, the response if often the reasonable, “What do you write?” or “Have you ever been published.” In L.A. the response, more often than not, is “Do you have representation.” I hate stereotyping, but “Do you have representation?” is stereotypical L.A. for me.

Some things never change–or change so slowly that it is impossible in a human lifetime to notice the change. There is, for instance, the Pacific.

The Pacific

Through a quirk of memory, I can often remember where I was when I read a particular book. I can recall fondly, driving from the Valley to Pacific Palisades and sitting on a park bench overlooking the Pacific and reading William Gibson’s Idoru back in 1996.

I have worked at the same company for nearly 21 years, something virtually unheard of today. It’s funny how often I see TV shows or movies or commercials that take place at the Santa Monica pier. Folks: for 8 years, between 1994 and 2002, my office practically overlooked the pier. Walking home from dinner with good friends tonight, I took a detour and walked past the pier. The view of the entrance to the pier at night has been made famous by television and movies, but it is something that I look at with a wistful eye to the days when I worked in our Santa Monica office.

Santa Monica Pier

The funny thing is that I saw the Pacific ocean and the pier so often that I never really paused to enjoy them. They were tourist spots, much the same way I think of the Washington Monument and the Air & Space museum today. Walking by the pier this evening, with a crescent moon overhead, I felt like I wanted to knock some sense into the 22 year old version of myself, and say, hey, sure this may be something you see every day, but do you really see it?

Moon over the Pacific

When I worked in Santa Monica, my experience was tainted by traffic. I lived in Studio City, 20 miles from Santa Monica. It often required traversing the infamous Four-Oh-Five, and One-Oh-One. I’d leave the house at 5:10 am and get to the office at 5:30, making it in ahead of the traffic. But I’d leave the office at 5 pm and get home at 7 o’clock. L.A. seems glamorous until you sit in eight years worth of traffic2.

The thing is, I met my best friends in the world in L.A. I met them at Cleveland High School, in Reseda, California. 28 years after we first met, we are still friends I went to dinner with two of them this evening3. The friends I made living in L.A. made it worthwhile. The 2,200 hours of traffic I sat in over the course of 8 years was a small sacrifice for those friends.

Steve Martin’s L.A. Story was touted as the first great comedy of the 1990s when it came out4. For all its humor, L.A. Story is probably the best movie about life in L.A. that I have come across in the quarter century since it first came out. There have been great movies about L.A. before, and since, but none of them capture the spirit of L.A. the way Steve Martin did in L.A. Story. As Shakespeare once said (according to Steve Martin):

This other Eden, demi-paraside, this precious stone set in a silver sea, this earth, this realm, this, Los Angeles.


  1. There’s a train station that is almost finished where Sears used to be on 4th and Colorado.
  2. Sitting in L.A. traffic not long before I moved back east, I once calculated that over the course of 8 years, I spent about 2,200 hours commuting. 2,200 hours is the equivalent of 1 full-time-employee for a year. A year. Think of what else I might have been able to do with that time if not for sitting in traffic.
  3. At Santa Monica Yacht Club, in case you were wondering.
  4. Writing that line makes me feel old. The first great comedy of the 1990s. The movie is 25 years old, gang.

“So quiet in my Sekrit Writing Room”

My pal, Fred Kiesche (@FredKiesche) made the following remark on Twitter this morning,

and at once I felt guilty for neglecting to post here more frequently. So I figured the least I could do was offer some explanation as to why I haven’t been posting as much as I used it.

1. The day job has been very busy. I’ve been doing more and more project management and less and less hands-on software development, which I think shows career progress, but also means that my days are just busier. Each time I reach a new level of busyness, I feel certain that I’ve finally hit a plateau–only to discover that the trail continues on up and up. More time at work means less time here with you all.

2. My energy level has been a little lower lately. Ten days ago, I gave up caffeine cold-turkey. I did this once before, back in 2004. I gave up caffeine for over 6 years. I started up with it again in 2010 during NaNoWriMo. My relationship with caffeine is akin to how I’ve heard an alcoholic’s relationship to liquor described: I don’t want just one Coke, I want five. The only way for me to cut back is to cut it out entirely. Which I did on the last day of our vacation. I have now been caffeine-free for ten days. The headaches have mostly passed, as has the grumpiness, but I feel unusually sluggish throughout the day.

3. Summer schedule is chaotic. Kids are in camp, hours get shifted to cover the times that they are not in camp. During the school year we maintain a very regular schedule. Right now it is precariously controlled chaos. That becomes a little draining.

4. I’ve been doing a lot more reading. On average, I probably get in between 50-60 hours of Audible listening1 each month. In June I had over 80 hour, and July is on pace to hit 100 hours. I’ve been reading enormous amounts of nonfiction. I’ve been working my way through a period of American history that I am least familiar with (the Civil War through the Great Depression), although not quite chronologically. I find the reading fascinating, and can almost always been seeing with my earbuds in place, listening to one book or another. Of course that much reading means less time for other stuff.

5. I started reading the newspaper again. After 15 years of not reading newspapers, I started again. I started, coincidentally, right around the time I gave up caffeine, but I really think that is a coincidence. What started me up again was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book The Bully Pulpit, which describes the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, as well as the birth of investigative journalism. Reading about Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Ray Stannard Baker, and muckraking journalism jumpstarted my desire to read the papers again–although I don’t deceive myself into believing I am getting Tarbell, Steffens, or Baker in what I read. Reading the paper takes up more time, however, and is yet another thing I’ve been doing in my Sekrit Writing Room.

6. Fighting tooth and claw with the novel draft. I am still writing every day, although considerably less each day than last month. As of today I’ve written for 725 consecutive days, and will, in 5 more days, hit 730–or two years without missing a day. Novel writing is the hardest thing in the world for me. But I’m not giving up. I’m fighting back with everything I’ve got. Sometimes, thought, it wears me down to the point where I just don’t feel like posting.

7. I’m traveling more. The family recently returned from a vacation in New York and Massachusetts. On Sunday, I fly to Los Angeles for a week for work. Travel takes something out of me, and places writing high on the list of things to get done early in the day so that I don’t miss it later.

8. I feel like I don’t have as much to say as I used to. I used to post 2 or 3 times a day. Many of those posts, however, were frivolous. When I post today, I want it to be about something meaningful. So I’ve hesitated to post here to tell you what I had for breakfast, or to rant about some bad customer service experience I had. There is no originality in that, and I don’t want to bore you. Sometimes, I’ll jot down a note to write about something that captures my interest that moment, only to reflect on it later, thinking, nah, this really isn’t something interesting. I’d love to write more here, but the writer in me does not want to bore an audience.


I’ve found that this comes and goes in waves. This blog is nearly 10 years old. There have been periods of time where I posted for years without missing a day, and periods where I didn’t post for a month at a time. The pendulum swings back and forth. When things settle down in my head, things will probably resume something like a more normal schedule here, too.

In the meantime, I am alive, I am still writing, and I am still very much committed to, and appreciative of, the folks who come here each day to read what I’ve written.

36 Years from Jupiter to Pluto

Almost exactly 36 years ago, Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Jupiter. I was 7 years old, and the recent acquisition of a telescope that allowed me to see the moon, and other planets up close thrilled me. I spent what seemed like days clipping photos of Jupiter out of the local newspaper and pasting them into a scrapbook that my mom had prepared for me. I had only the barest sense of the achievement at hand–that a robotic probe had been sent millions of miles into space and was now sending back pictures of what I already knew to be the largest planet in the solar system.

The telescope, Voyager 2, and a book I encountered in the public library called The Nine Planets by Franklyn M. Branley, served as the fuel, flint, and steel that stoked my lifelong interest in astronomy, and science in general.

Thirty-six years later, New Horizons is rapidly approaching Pluto–which was a planet when I was seven, but has since been demoted. In a few days, it will pass within 7,000 miles of the planet. I am no longer clipping photos from the newspaper (although I read with relish the piece in today’s Washington Post). Instead, in keeping up with the times, I am following along with events the way all the cool kids do it today, namely, on Twitter:

Reading the article, and following along with the excitement on Twitter, I can help but be amazed by the achievements we’ve made in science and engineering. A decade ago, we rocketed a robot into space, and based on Newton’s laws of motion, shot it at point in space that would intersect with where Pluto would be nearly 10 years later. Now, we are getting high resolution images from just a few million miles away from the planet, with more to come as New Horizons approaches ever closer.

Looking at the pictures, and reading the excited tweets of astronomers and engineers, and friends, and fellow science fiction writers, I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe the feelings it has generated within me. All I can come up with is this:

I feel just like that 7-year old, 36 years in the past, who eagerly awaited each day’s newspaper hoping for new images of planet unimaginably distant, and yet appearing close enough to touch.