Friday, March 25, 2011

the kid's side of the story

J and I haven't had any conversation about the wedding yet. We still don't talk a whole lot even when I'm around: I make a point of hanging out with him some in the mornings while Anna makes breakfast, but he's 6 and not much for sitting around chatting. I was around for an awesome conversation about him being a bit jealous of me: he has a lot of insight into his feelings, and he's good at articulating them.

Anna told him we're getting married, though. J said:
  1. Make sure it's on a Daddy day so he didn't have to come, and
  2. Make sure we don't tell anyone so it can just be a secret.
Anna suspected that maybe his mental image of weddings wasn't quite accurate, and there turned out to be two concerns:
  • He saw how many pictures were taken at a friend's wedding last year, and for the past while he's had this insane oh-my-god-they're-stealing-my-soul horror of having his picture taken. I tried taking his picture once, and he screamed and ran away and it took a few minutes to calm him down.
  • He's afraid the food might be yucky (this has come up again).
I anticipate plain grilled cheese on the reception menu. In exchange for a promise that there only has to be one photo, of the three of us, he's willing to come to the wedding now. So that's nice.

Meanwhile, this afternoon he apparently decided to play Private Wedding--there's that "private" thing again, though the thing that got him on board was explaining that the wedding is a public ceremony to stand up and tell everyone we're a family--with a stuffed bear standing in for me, Mister Potus the platypus officiating, and the full population of other stuffed animals as the Audience. Everyone had a lovely time, although it seems likely we'll have to do it again with me present: Anna says with the stuffed bear instead of me, it just wasn't the same.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

the gigantor apartment

We went and looked at this absolutely enormous apartment yesterday. Actually it's a condo. It's for sale, you're in luck! There's some photos there to give you a sense of scale, but nothing quite does it like this view from the front door:
111 Wellesley Crescent
It must be over 120 feet to the back wall of the master bedroom. Room-sized closets at every turn, a wet bar, enormous kitchen, at least 5 balconies. (Anna says 8. Which is totally at least 5. Plus there were 5, not 8. She's maddening.)

It was bewitching, really, to have all that space available. We were ready to take it. We could have people over! Everyone at once, if we wanted.

But the lease term would only be 12-24 months, because they want to try and sell it again. And it's $1000/month more than a small house down the street. Is it really worth $12,000 over the year to have all that space, just for a year, before we move back into a small space? Nope, not really. Properly managed, $12,000 could pay for the wedding and a very, very nice honeymoon. (You people eat hummus and Ritz crackers at the reception, we go to Venice for a week. Sounds like a plan.) We don't have enough furniture to make 1800 square feet feel reasonable. We don't want that much furniture.

Even more hilarious is to imagine buying that place, with the monthly cost pushing $4000/month. Ah, no.

So, nope. Gunning for the small house with the hideous kitchen and bathroom.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


As of Saturday night, Anna and I are engaged. We're aiming for October.

I decided sometime last year. I bought the ring in December, and it seemed like it was finally about time for us both, so I brought it with us to San Francisco last night, and asked her in the middle of the freezing cold dark windy rainstorm under the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts. Specifically, behind one of the columns, on account of the freezing cold wind.

It's an almond-wood ring because she doesn't really like metal rings, and it says "Say Yes" on the inside, which she did, and I hope she says yes every day, for a long time.

that was funZZZZzzzzzz

It's been a long weekend here in Chris's world. Yesterday we got up around 4:30 to go do Zen stuff, which lasted until 1 or so; then Anna went to help a friend pack up his late mother's apartment, and I picked her up and we went to the Bay Area Harmony Sweepstakes at the Palace of Fine Arts, which brought me a nice flood of memories. Many of the same people are still working hard that were involved 15 years ago. There were a lot of kids there, I assume because one group was a trio of 15-year old girls and another was an ensemble of middle school boys.

I am highly critical of a cappella groups, which kept me busy last night because most of them weren't very good. Some were worse than others, but I at least appreciate the courage it takes to get up on stage.

We ate a lovely dinner at Baker Street Bistro, which appears to be staffed by real French people, plus an absolutely adorable waiter. And a nice encounter under the giant dome in a vast, windy rainstorm.

Today was all decompression and reading and going for a run and eating chocolate-covered raisins and leftover duck confit. Life is, as always, pretty rough.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

aaaaaaand pause.


Okay! New job! Lots of fun stuff to learn, lots of desire to charge ahead and be productive and prove myself and learn more stuff and holy crap.

So, yeah. Writing hasn't been on the list. My brain has been tired.

Work is fun, though! One thing no one tells you when you get to the senior level is that they stop giving you stuff to do. It's my responsibility to go around asking questions, come up with a list of things that need fixing, and usually my responsibility to prioritize the list. (It has to be a list of things nobody wants to or can fix, of course, because otherwise, why am I here?) I check that list against what my bosses think is important, but mostly I'm self-directed.

Right now, I'm working with Team X. Team X's lead is a PhD, which rarely bodes well for code quality. It's extremely interesting to start diving into this system and see what makes me (and the inevitable comparison, my Danger colleagues) different in how we create software. The particular thing I'm looking at, for example, has no meaningful logging. There's no way to tell how many requests it's handling each minute, let alone of what kind. It seizes up every so often (1-8 times/day) and gets killed and restarted. There's talk of completely replacing it, but that doesn't really make any sense until you know what it's already doing--how many requests it has to handle, for example.

Team X is also on their first iteration of a development methodology called Scrum, so they've actually set goals for a 2-week period and they're a bit anxious about reaching them. So far I seem to be making the right choices about how to work with them, and I'm being reasonably efficient, considering I just learned the programming language a few weeks ago, and I know nothing about modern systems administration. I start doing something, discover it's difficult or tedious, then divert off to writing a tool to make it less tedious.

Anyway, there's months of work to do on this project alone. I feel like I should be doing more amazing things, more quickly; but I always feel that way, so I'm ignoring it.

I am sinking a lot of energy into ramping up, and I don't like how that takes me away from Anna and J, both physically and emotionally. We'll work it out, and it should settle down with time.

I did some more research on grad school, since a Stanford MSCS graduate at work pointed out that they have a continuing education thing you can do if your employer is a member (which is very cheap). It's the only way to do a master's part-time there, and it gets you a discount, so Stanford would only be 150% as much as Santa Clara, instead of 190%.
Anna: So, Stanford is twice as expensive.
Chris: Yep.
Anna: Is the Stanford name worth twice as much?
Chris: Yeah, it really is.
Anna: Yep.
As I was telling my team lead, the sad thing is that some amount of the Stanford coursework is likely to be online, so I suspect Santa Clara may actually be a better education. But the prestige and networking of Stanford really is worth the investment, even for my offbeat ambition of wanting to teach computer science.

I guess next up is the GREs. Because I don't already have enough going on.

art envy

One of our favorite blogs is by Tiffany Ard, who runs the excellent Nerdy Baby online store (if you want to get the house 6-year old a present, I recommend a framed copy of this poster, and let me know so I don't buy another one). She writes wonderfully about running her business and homeschooling her two kids. Her kid dialogue is especially awesome.

I was especially struck by this post showing the materials she made up for some of her lessons. I have this sting of envy because she's an Artist, and part of me always wanted to be, and I'm not, really.

Artists have this flow of ideas that I always covet. They just...create things, with ideas that come from somewhere inside them. I had a flow like that as a kid--show me a normal 7-year old who could possibly not spew out a world of ideas as they happen--but then it sort of dried up as I got older. I'm not sure why: one could blame school for crushing my creativity, but the truth is I don't think that's what happened. Plenty of kids around me became Artists. I think it's more that as I reached 6th-8th grade, I started to shut down emotionally as my friends and I grew in different directions and I lost them. And I'm just not really an Artist: my big gift is to understand the world, to learn stuff and find connections and patterns and things in common. Mostly I'm reading books or learning how to do something: ride a motorcycle, make books, make jewelry, shoot a bow and arrow. When I actually make something beyond the process of learning it, it's not the inexorable need from within that most Artists seem to have. I don't even make stuff because it's fun (even though it is). I make stuff in response to a need I have. I'm an Engineer. I solve problems.

(Usually causing more problems in the process. But hey, you wanted cable in the apartment, you said it was really important, and you did not say I couldn't drill through the outside wall to do it.)

I've gotten a lot of mileage out of understanding this and accepting it. We are simultaneously infinitely malleable--I have little patience with people saying they're too old to learn something or too old to change--and we are also who we are. I doubt I'm going to be an Artist, or a world-class musician, or any number of other things. I do want to learn to draw, so a drawing class is on 2011's to-do list (as it has been for every year except 2010). I've mostly accepted I'm not an Artist, but there's a part of me that at least wants to know a technique for making art.

It's amazing to think of everything about me that's changed over time: my experience of the world is completely different from 5 years ago. And yet, we were visiting my parents last month and looking at my baby book, and so much of what was true at age 2 is still very true now (in particular, I talk with a big vocabulary and I have a tremendous lack of moderation around grapes).

Everything changes, and yet...some things persist, in some form or another.

[Cleared out of the Drafts folder, mostly written in early January.]


I've mostly been reading nerd stuff, which I won't torment you with.
Actual writing soon, I promise.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

preliminary verdict

After Week 1, the new job is a thumbs-up. Nice, smart people, in a culture dedicated to having fun and shipping working software. And by "dedicated," I mean "willing to make serious changes in pursuit of the goal," rather than "spending hours in aimless meetings moaning about how we should make serious changes and then refusing to do so." It's pretty awesome.

I'm having fun working with the Ruby programming language. I learned the fundamentals before I started--the syntax, which is basically how to read and write it--but the standard library, which you can think of as the vocabulary to make useful programs, is large and I'll be learning that for some time.
(One example is how to make a directory on a hard drive: this turns out to be a function called mkdir in the module Dir. But to check if a file, including a directory, exists, that's the function exists? in the module File. It's hard to remember these things without using them at least a couple times.)
Ruby is quite a bit like Perl, which you could think of as my "native" programming language, the one I've spent the most intense and interesting time with. They're both called "scripting" languages, which isn't rigorously defined, but generally means "a bit slower, but lets you get more work done with less programming."

The people are really cool, I'm enjoying taking the train, and the food is good. Let's hope it keeps up.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

phase 3: profit!

(Underpants Gnomes reference.)

In a rather complete and abrupt lifestyle shift, I now go to a "job," in an "office." The first couple days have gone well: I'm still useless, but getting better. I made some minor changes to irrelevant things, often with supervision. Tomorrow the real fun starts, when we sit down with the head of the team I'll be working with for a couple months, and start to learn how the systems all work and tie together. My co-workers, not knowing my background, seem to think I will be cowed or dismayed by how bad the code is; eventually they'll get a better sense of what I've been doing with myself these past 6 years.

They're also training me to be a sysadmin, which is a bit outside my comfort zone--I'm not a sysadmin, I'm a software engineer. Isn't that interesting, though? "I'm a software engineer." I have this whole piece of identity involving the work that I do, and I have this internal rebellion against the fact that "Software Engineer" is not really my job here. It affects my interactions with other people in the company, especially the people who are SEs; and even on my team, my background is so different that I feel like a stranger in a foreign land. As Anna says, it's good that I've spent some time that way recently.

Anna has been visiting a friend up north for a couple of days, leaving me the apartment to myself. I'm enjoying the solitude: this apartment is a good size for just me. I've been listening to NPR again--I've gotten out of the habit, because while Anna can suck it up and deal, J hates it. In the quiet, I'm relaxing a bit, and noticing the sense of cramped-ness that I normally have to manage. I'm also dreaming of having my stuff unpacked and accessible, and a comfy place to sit and read, and generally starting to think I'd like us to find a bigger place before the summer.

I'm also not at all sure I'm up for the project of owning a house right now. My commute on the train is still 60 minutes, though I think I'm going to get a magnesium-frame kick-scooter that should shave off 15-20 minutes. My time is feeling crunched at the moment. Being alone in the house, I can get up, sit zazen, go for a run, and eat breakfast, all on my own schedule, and have plenty of time. With Anna and especially with J, I run on their schedule. I could do my own schedule, but then I would miss some snuggling and playing time with J, and that time is important to us, both individually and together. Then again, I'm cranky if I don't exercise, leaving me with less energy to put toward enjoying and being present for my time with Anna and J.

And I need to carve out time for aikido and Zen practice, but if I do those things for the purpose of deepening my relationship to the rest of the world, and they come at the expense of my relationships...well, you see the problem. Spiritual-yet-stupid parents can sometimes neglect their parenting in the pursuit of their spiritual path, a failure sometimes called the "Zen orphan" phenomenon. It's easy to do it wrong and think you're doing it right. (This is why it's important to have a teacher, who can tell you when your head's on sideways.)

The solitude is nice, but after 36 hours or so, I remember that living alone was only about 90-95% awesome, and we all live together to get that extra awesomeness. Soon the Barbarian Hordes return, and we'll all be home again.