Browse Month: November 2013

Mr. Busy

I found this little book in a pile of old stuff from my desk.

busy

I’m pretty sure it’s from Mom, many Christmases ago. And, funny thing, it’s still apropos.

Parachute spiders

For the past few days, as I sit at my desk in the basement, little baby spiders have been parachuting down from the ceiling right in front of me. I’ll be watching the monitor and suddenly notice a little black dot slowly descending in front of it, or I’ll feel a little tickle on my arm and notice a spider crawling on it. They’re really tiny– probably a couple of millimeters across at most– so it’s not like Arachnophobia where giant deadly spiders are attacking me. But it’s still a little disconcerting.

The only thing I can figure is there’s a nest or something in the air vent directly above my desk, and they’re jumping out of there in hopes of finding a new home. Unfortunately for them, the ones that land on me are meeting an untimely demise. After all, I can’t let them live because they’ll scurry into a corner of the basement and grow to become giant deadly spiders.

More money than I knew what to do with

Today I’m cleaning out the crawlspace, and I found a box full of my pay stubs from the distant past.  I have no idea why I even kept all of that stuff, but it was interesting to look through the stacks and think about those golden days.

After graduating from UMR in the spring of 1995, I started my first “real” job at Hughes Information Technology Corporation. At the time, my salary was $759/week– almost $40k/year. Wow. It was more money than I knew what to do with.  I still remember opening the offer letter in college and being floored by the prospect of that kind of money.  When you’re used to a weekly budget of $20 to buy pizza, it’s a big change.

paycheck03

Giddy with the prospect of being a bachelor with so much money, I immediately bought a new bigscreen TV. Well, it was 32″ but back in 1995 that was huge.  Of course with a new TV I needed a new VCR.  That led to a new entertainment center.  Oh, and since my trusty 1982 Nissan 300SX had died the day after I moved to Colorado, I bought a new car.  The expenses kept mounting because, hey, I had money!

Four years later, I left Hughes (then Raytheon) for a consulting job in Boulder.  My salary had ballooned in those four years, and after three promotions I was doing pretty well.  The funny thing is how no matter how much you make (or don’t make), your expenses tend to fit your income.  By then I was married with two kids, and didn’t seem to be putting any more money into savings or whatnot.  In fact, it seemed like money was always tight.  We had a mortgage, car loans, student loans, credit card bills, baby stuff to buy, and on and on.

Now it’s fourteen years later, and every month we look at our credit card statement and ask ourselves, “We spent how much?”  To be clear, we have a good lifestyle and don’t have to worry about whether we’ll be able to afford food next month, but we’re hardly extravagant.  We don’t go on international trips, we don’t drive fancy cars, and we live in a nice but modest house.  I still find it baffling that our expenses have risen right alongside our income.  How does that happen?

I need a hobby

I need a hobby.

Since it’s Thanksgiving break, I’ve had the opportunity over the past few days to sort of hang around the house a bit. Of course there’s always some work to do for my clients, but I decided to (surprise!) take a vacation. I took care of a few minor things that needed doing, then sat down to figure out what I could do “for fun”.

I worked on our family Christmas cards– always an exciting annual tradition– and they’re off to the printer as of this afternoon. In a few weeks we’ll get the final cards back and can spend an evening stuffing envelopes and slapping labels and stamps on them. After ordering the cards, I organized a few things, read some blogs, came up with a new backup/archive scheme for my data files, and then sort of ran out of ideas. What next?

For the past few years I’ve repeatedly had the resolution that I would scale back the hours that I work. For over a decade I’d put in 50+ hours a week, including every Saturday. Although I enjoy my job and generally like the challenges I tackle, after ten years it does get a bit tiring. This year, I accomplished the first of these goals: I stopped working on Saturdays. It was kind of cool to have a bit more of a weekend than I’d been accustomed to for many years. I’ve even had some success in not working so much in the evenings for the past few months. Before long, I may only be working 40 hours a week!

Now, as 2014 looms, I wonder if I can take the next step: not working on Fridays. At Zing we always work at home on Fridays, and for a few years I’ve thought it would be great to take off on Fridays during the summer so I’d have time to bike or hike or just hang around outside with the kids. As it turns out, they tend to spend their summer vacations with friends. I discovered that I didn’t really have much to do on Fridays, so I would inevitably head downstairs to my office and knock out some work projects.

Interestingly, things are finally in place so I may actually be able to accomplish that goal. Brent has taken over many of the day-to-day scheduling and project management tasks I’d been doing for many years. He’s also taking on more responsibility with new business, estimates, and proposals. Brian has decided he’d like to step into a role as a technical architect, leading many of the larger development decisions we make as a team. In theory, as the two of them continue expanding their roles in these areas, there’s less for me to do in the day-to-day business of the company. Of course I’ll still go into the office and handle the various questions and crises that seem to pop up every day. I’ll probably continue doing some programming work here and there (since I enjoy it). But if things go according to plan, it may be possible for me to truly walk away from my desk on Fridays.

As the last couple of days have shown, that means I’m going to need to find something to do. Unlike Laralee and Kyra, I can’t sit on the couch for hours reading a book. I enjoy reading but find that I can only do it for perhaps an hour a day. I also get bored of watching movies or TV shows. It’s nice now and then, but certainly not a noble pursuit. In the winter months it’s harder to get outside and do things. I don’t have (or want, really) a gym membership; I don’t enjoy exercising just for the sake of exercising.

One thought: I could get back into writing. The last time I did any writing was around the time Alex was born: I started working on a full novel. After about a chapter, the project sort of fizzled and I kept telling myself that I’d get back into it someday. Perhaps this is someday. I still have some ideas bouncing around my head.

Alex told me I should write a computer game that’s like Minecraft in that it’s pretty simplistic, immensely popular, and ends up producing a fortune. I’m not much of a gamer, and I think most people would agree that Minecraft is one of those things that surprised everyone, including its author. So despite Alex’s ambitions to inherit a multi-million-dollar game empire from me, I don’t think that’s going to be a direction I take.

I enjoy photography, although I don’t have half the talent of Thom or my friend Jason. I find that I’m just not “artistic” in that way. My photos tend to end up as desktop backgrounds on my computer from time to time, or a poster-sized print in my office, but little more than that. I certainly couldn’t do commercial photography.

I enjoy hacking on Linux systems and messing with servers (as long as I don’t inadvertently bring down one of my clients’ web sites). But that’s pretty close to what I do at work, and I feel like a hobby should be very different from work. It wouldn’t be very exciting if I spent my Fridays in my basement office sitting at the computer.

I’ve thought about re-learning calculus. I always enjoyed math, and three-dimensional calculus (integrations of solid functions) was my favorite. I also had a good time messing with fractals and chaos theory back in high school and early college. Having math as a hobby would certainly let me keep my status as a first-class geek.

A few years ago Laralee and I taught a science class to second-graders in the local elementary school. I really enjoyed that, particularly because the kids were so excited to learn about lasers and magnetism and rocketry and the solar system. If I had Fridays off, I could volunteer at the school and teach some science. Maybe Laralee would be my “assistant” again.

Anyway, there are a ton of possibilities– I just need to figure out which ones are right for me. And of course I have to actually stop working so much…

Calvin kapow

I was skimming one of our old Calvin and Hobbes books yesterday and found a comic that I thought would make a great desktop background for my computer. So I scanned the page, did some color cleanup and other manipulation to the image, and ended up with this:

0167

Transition

My loyal readers– all four of them– will recognize that I’ve completely restyled this blog.  After more than a decade using my own blog platform, I finally bit the bullet and installed (gasp!) WordPress.  Although I’m not a huge fan of WordPress as a web developer, I can’t deny that it has some nice features my platform didn’t.  As long as I keep it updated, I shouldn’t have to worry (too much) about malicious attacks and security problems.  And I can benefit from some of the nifty plug-ins built by the community.

Anyone who uses the RSS feed will need to change the URL– just click the orange RSS icon in the top right of the main page.

Other than that, everything should work pretty much the same as it always has, so the full eleven-year history of this blog is still hanging around waiting to be explored.  Personally, I find it fun to poke around stuff I wrote years ago.  I can’t help but notice that I don’t pen such blistering political commentary these days… probably because there are just too many things for me to complain about, so I find it more interesting to just share a funny story about the kids or something.

Google Classic

As I was thinking about old photos, I thought I’d do a quick Google Image search to see what turns up.  This struck my fancy.

google-classic

Old photos

For years I’ve thought about scanning all of my photos from yesteryear.  Although I have a nice scanner, it’s not designed for photos and, in general, photos tend to be a bit grainy and sometimes off in color– especially if you’re like me and always printed them at Walmart back in the day.  Apparently negatives can be scanned much more effectively: not only are they higher-resolution, but the colors are more “true”.

After some thought and online research, I decided to hand over my entire collection of negatives to ScanCafe.  They have generally positive reviews, are recommended in several discussions about photo scanning, and have reasonable prices.  I spent the entire afternoon today organizing the negatives we’ve had stored in a fireproof box for over a decade.  They’re all in little sandwich bags, carefully labeled and ready to ship to ScanCafe.  On Monday I’ll drop off the box at UPS and wait 6-8 weeks for the scans to come back on DVD.  I had originally thought I had maybe a thousand photos.  I was wrong.  The final tally: almost 1,100 negatives… with roughly 4 photos per negative strip, that comes to well over four thousand photos.  Wow.

I admit it’s a little scary sending all of these precious memories out the door, but I feel like in the end it’ll be worth it.  Moreover, once I have the scans in hand, it’s going to be fun to go through them with the kids… and also email them to friends and family for a good laugh.

11/13/2013

The ash tree in our back yard turns beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow when autumn hits. This is what it looked like a couple of weeks ago:

Of course all of the leaves have fallen by now, but for a few days it was brilliant.

11/13/2013

Last week Laralee opened the front door and was surprised to discover a squirrel camped out on the pumpkin on our front porch, tearing it open and having a feast. (No, this wasn’t a jack-o-lantern left over from Halloween– it was a whole pumpkin we hadn’t carved… left over from Halloween.)

He didn’t even move when she opened the door just a few feet away. He was pretty intent on the goop inside the pumpkin, and as she and I watched with amusement, he continued to dig in and chow down. He was throwing little pumpkin-skin scraps all over the porch.

A few days later, Alex noticed a squirrel in the tree in our front lawn, right next to the porch, staring down at us.

Is it the same squirrel? Is he camped up there waiting for us to put out another pumpkin? Who knows…

11/13/2013

Kyra is pretty happy today. She’s been wearing braces for over a year, and during the past two months she’s had at least four appointments with the orthodontist where she was scheduled to have the braces removed. Unfortunately, on each visit they found another reason why she needed to keep them on. They were fine-tuning her bite, and removing the braces early would mean her teeth would shift back to their old positions.

Today was her lucky day, though, and the braces came off.

Here’s Kyra in the morning, looking sad (or attempting to do so) because once again we weren’t sure whether the orthodontist would actually do it.

And here she is this afternoon, with her pearly whites visible to the world, and no wire grilles. Yay!

11/09/2013

This afternoon I taught Alex and Kyra how to drive a stick shift. They’re both pretty comfortable driving– after all, Alex has been doing it for almost two years now, and although Kyra only has four months under her belt, she took to it pretty easily. But as anyone who’s done it knows, learning to drive a manual transmission is a whole new ballgame.

I remember how rough I was when I first started: constantly killing the engine or grinding the gears. I figured the same thing would happen with these guys, so I was hesitant to take them out. After all, I love my car and would hate to listen to the poor gears grinding. But Kyra really wants to learn to drive a stick, and Alex sort of accepts it as a useful life skill and thus worth learning.

To my surprise (and joy), both of them did pretty well. Kyra was a little smoother as she started from a stop; Alex tended to release the clutch too quickly and kill the engine. But in general, they did pretty well and we enjoyed an hour circling a parking lot while a few neighbors and dog-walkers watched in passing.

We’ll keep practicing, of course, and at some point we’ll have to do The Test. When I was learning, mom decided that I’d only be “officially” good at a manual transmission when I could pass The Test, which was a stoplight at the intersection of Willott and Jungermann Roads. The light was at the top of a steep hill, meaning as you sat at the light you were a couple of feet in front of the next guy, ready to slide backward if you didn’t get into first gear smoothly and quickly. I passed (although nervous) and haven’t looked back– all of my cars have been manual, and I love driving that way.

I wonder how long it will be before we’re ready for The Test…

11/07/2013

Ahh, Songza… a nifty music service that Thom showed me. When you first arrive, it suggests different types of music depending on the time of day. There’s always something about “working” (we all know web developers need music while coding) and usually some off-the-wall category as well… often “Music for drinking gourmet coffee”. Well, just now it’s “Music for entertaining cool friends”.

I have no idea what kind of music I’d want to play while entertaining cool friends, but I’m going to find out.