Tuesday, November 20, 2012

work work worky work

Work had a disconnect for a few months, where my team has been doing incredible work, and I was really unhappy with my job. I have the biggest team in Engineering, with arguably the most complex technology, and so more and more over the past 6 months, I've been sucked into being purely a manager, without the time needed to focus on making technical contributions. (Doing ordinary coding work alongside the team has always been out of the question, but for a while I was able to do useful prototyping and experimentation.)

This reached a terrible crescendo a couple of weeks ago, and I sent a big "help me" email to my bosses. The initial response was to promote my senior minion Jess to co-tech lead, a creative solution that addresses several needs at once. That's taken a bunch of pressure off, and I've been able to unwind and do some more technical things. I'm still not doing mainline coding on the team, but that may or may not ever be possible. I also have to be careful not to just drop my workload on Jess, however happy she is to help: otherwise, she'll just end up with the problem I had.

The team is close--SO CLOSE--to the first milestones of this massive re-architecture we've been banging away at for the past year. We had a great meeting with the executive team today, which went something like this:
"Our customers are screaming with frustration and anger. What are we doing to fix it?"
"We've been working on it all year. We're expecting to have something in production by the end of Q1."
"Phew. What can you do to help in the meantime?"
"Nothing, really. We've done it all already."
"That makes me a sad panda."
"I know! Us too."
We established a common understanding of the situation, and everyone feels heard and nobody has any idea what else we can do that's faster than the re-architecture. It was a good bonding experience.

Also we told the CEO we'd have it in production by the end of March. So, hey. We should get on that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

an alt-medicine fiesta

I accumulated enough stuff to do today that I just bailed on work entirely. In between fetching my motorcycle from the shop in the morning, and getting the oil changed and tires rotated on the car in the afternoon, I did a Great Circle of the Bay Area, visiting a Chinese medicine guy in San Francisco and a wacky hippie doctor who defies description in Oakland. These were probably the last step in my Quest For Sleep before going to talk to an actual medical doctor (which would be sad, since I find them mostly useless).

(The Oakland guy is a certified and practiced chiropractor and obviously very smart, but he uses these magnetic-field generators and he sets off my low-level Bullshit Detector. Except that magnetic fields are used for various therapies, as they induce currents in the body, and our nerves do run on electricity. The world is a big place and there's a lot we don't understand.)

The Chinese medicine guy listened to my issue--essentially, waking up many hours too early--and said it was a pretty standard case, which was a relief, since he'd thought my case would be "out on the fringe somewhere." Then he actually took my pulses, whereupon he decided his theory was wrong, and we talked about how to address the massive chi and yin deficiency he found. I don't think he has a theory about the insomnia, actually: I asked him about it twice, and both times he sort of circled around it and talked about the underlying issue. Whatever: he could tell I'm deeply fatigued, and he suggested a couple over-the-counter supplements that won't hurt me in any case, and unlike obscure Chinese concoctions, I don't think there's any worry about the supplements interfering with the obscure Ayurveda concoctions I normally take. (Traditional medicine systems are great, but you shouldn't mix and match.) In particular he said I have a massive B-vitamin deficiency.

He also got my pulses more or less back in sync somehow--my wrist pulse was delayed from my neck pulse, and if you're healthy all your pulses should happen at the same time.

After a stop at Rainbow Grocery to buy supplements and lunch, I headed over to Oakland to see Dr. Hippie.

Holy crap.

I didn't try retaining the vocabulary for what this guy was doing, but basically he put a thing around my head with electromagnets controlled by a computer (but not touching my skin). The first phase was diagnosis, where, I gather, the computer manipulates the electromagnets so they use electromagnetic pulses like sonar, bouncing them off different...things, to get information about different parts of the body. I didn't get a picture of the machine, but it looks like it's from 1980 and it was made by "Maitreya, Ltd.", which...wow.

Bullshit Detector notwithstanding, Dr. Hippie came up with a very similar profile to Dr. Chinese, even though he was reading straight from the computer--the only thing he knew about beforehand was the insomnia. Common things:
  • Systemwide fatigue, where parts of my body are not getting enough energy.
  • Broad B-vitamin deficiency.
  • My liver is a little crabby. (Dr. Ayurveda has done a lot of work for that this year, so I'm not surprised.)
Dr. Hippie's machinery pulled out some other useful and pretty accurate results, and then he proceeded to have it adjust...things. It does double duty as both diagnosis and treatment, depending on what you have the computer do with the electromagnets. I did start to get drowsy while the treatment part was running: qualitatively different than any usual afternoon drowsiness, but it was an unusual day.
"When do you want to go to sleep and wake up?"
"Uh...exact times?"
"10 P.M. to 6 A.M.?"
"Okay, that'll take a few minutes."
Apparently this is a thing he can do. I'm very interested to see what happens tonight.

housing doom

With Anna's business, our finances are now complicated enough that she had to go talk to an accountant. I didn't meet him, but he sounds really nice,. In examining our situation, he did the math that's always been too hard for me, and demonstrated with numbers that we should buy a house.

We're already up to our ears in difficult projects, but there was this beautiful little house for sale. The price would be ambitious for us, but whatever, it couldn't hurt to try.

Let's set some expectations, for those of you not accustomed to Bay Area house prices. In Redwood City, where I live, the absolute lowest you'll find a 2-bedroom house within a couple miles of downtown will be $450,000--that's likely to be a fixer-upper--and it goes up from there. If you have normal American expectations about what kind of house and neighborhood you'd want to live in, you're looking in the $500k-$900k range for an 1,100-square foot house on a 5,000-square foot lot.

I went to talk to our realtor about this house, to find out whether it was worth buying, but also whether it was possible or worthwhile to put an offer in. It turns out the answer was "no":
  • Banks are tight on financing right now, so you need 20% down. On a $500k house, that's $100,000 in cash. On a $700k house, it's $240,000.
  • Houses in this range are getting multiple offers, at least one of which is typically all cash with no contingencies. Cash offers usually win.
  • For an offer to be considered, it usually needs to be at least 40% cash.
That's $200,000 in cash for a $500k house, or $280,000 for a $700k house.

Life's been really good to me, but not quite that good, yet.

With much less excitement, we're keeping an eye out for a condo we could live in for a couple years before renting it out and buying a house, but the outlook is pretty grim.

Sometimes I really want to move somewhere with weather and a sane housing market.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

music: what makes a song?

I've never really written a song, passed from half-assed efforts I wouldn't show in public. For a lot of artists, songs develop a life of their own, as they're bound up in the writer's experience and carry a lot of emotions. I'm fascinated by what makes the essence of a song, and so I love hearing different versions of the same song. This got really started with Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes". Unless you're my wife, that's a really pretty song, and I was always caught by the rich instrumental layers.

But think for a minute: Peter Gabriel didn't write the first version of that song using a dozen different synthesizer tracks. The overwhelming majority of lyrical songs are worked out on solo piano or guitar. So we get Jeffrey Gaines's solo-guitar version.

One of my favorite songs of the past few years has been "Fireflies" by Owl City. It has a really, really recognizable opening riff.

This is a ton of electronic stuff, right? It's very much descended from The Postal Service and some other lyric-electronic bands of the mid-oughts. Guys like this often perform what you could call a "laptop show", where they're onstage with a bunch of boxes, twiddling knobs. And this song pretty much telegraphs its presence immediately. So, how cool is this?

SO MANY INSTRUMENTS! It's so tempting to think the orchestration defines the song, because that's the idea of the song that I've built up in my head. But the songwriter knows the song in a way that I can't.

Music is awesome.