Monday, November 18, 2013


J has been home the past couple weeks with chicken pox. There's a vaccine now! And he was about to get it, when he came down with the actual disease. I had no idea there was a vaccine. I'm not very educated about parenting. I take my considerable knowledge about people, and I've more or less learned to adjust it to kids--toddlers are still a challenge, but that seems to be universally true--but I don't necessarily know a lot of things about raising kids. Do they get adequate nutrition from apple juice and Doritos? Do they really need clothes that fit? How many days per year do I need to let them sleep inside at night? So many mysteries!

My ignorance comes from never having had to freak out about caring for a baby. I met J when he was 3 or so, and he was (and remains) very attached to a fabulous mother who knew all the ins and outs of caring for J specifically. It's not a small list of ins and outs, because he is off the usual map. I've picked up some of it, but to e.g. make his lunch, I still need to refer to the "Care and Feeding" manual she typed up. (For example, you have to pack the food in a specific arrangement in his lunch bag, or else he can't find anything. Also, the lunch bag has to be separate from the backpack, because it was separate from the backpack for years, and if it's inside the backpack, he won't be able to find it, and he won't eat lunch.) It's all relatively minor for kids on the autism spectrum, at least.

On this remarkable Sunday, we finally had Jim the electrician come figure out what was wrong with our garbage disposal switch. One day I flipped the switch, it sparked, and the power to the under-sink outlet died, and the breaker wouldn't reset, and I ran an extension cord from an outlet so we could run the dishwasher, and then we sort of called it good and I think it's been a couple of months. We couldn't remember which of the two switches was the disposal, anyway. The extension cord became a semi-permanent fixture, and we've settled for running the disposal periodically by plugging it in, often when the sink strainer stops up and the sink is full of delicious food-rinse water. I particularly enjoyed the surface layer of red oil that came after a meal with tomato sauce.

We'd replaced the switch already, and Anna had gone back in and reconnected the ground wire that someone had cut once up a time, but that didn't help. Jim was able to reset the breaker, using some arcane "push on it harder" technique he doubtless learned during his years of study with various Oriental mystics.

The next step was to try the switch again, which I did, and was rewarded with a loud *POP*, numerous sparks, and some kind of burning ember flying out of the switch and onto the counter. That's apparently what happens when a short circuit burns out: the ember is a piece of burning copper. (In retrospect it seems entirely possible another ember could have gone behind the switch and into the wall, but the one we saw extinguished quickly, and we're constantly at home for the next week. Good thing the house isn't insulated!)

Jim cracked the switch open, and there were just some side screws that had to be moved out of the way, or something. Now we have a garbage disposal again! We can dispose of things! Garbage will be disposed!

It is a good day.

Friday, November 15, 2013

hack hack cough cough hack

I don't do very well at writing these days. I'm so excited to have my brain back that when I have energy, I spend it learning things. Because learning things is what I do, and I'm able to make a living by synthesizing and applying the things I learn, and then learning from the application, in a virtuous cycle that keeps me from having to get a real job.

I've been feeling better enough that I went to aikido twice in a 7-day period, which hasn't happened since I don't know when--mid/early last year, probably. And afterward I felt the way I always used to! (Tired, logy, satisfied.) And I recovered in a normal amount of time! Pharmaceuticals are amazing. Not that we know what they're doing to me, but I'm enjoying life again, so I decided not to care.

Over the course of Tuesday, I developed a cold or flu or something. On Wednesday I worked a full day from home, Thursday I worked a half-day from home, and working today was out of the question. The decline has to do with quality of sleep rather than the sick, though. Briefly, it appears I had a slight fever, although since (a) I haven't had a fever in at least a couple decades, and (b) the awesome skin-reading thermometer gives me ludicrously high results on the first try--I'm pretty sure if I had a 101° fever I wouldn't be casually hanging out in the hallway checking my temperature--I'm skeptical.

Thinking back on my medical history, I've been blessed that before 2010 and what I might call the Great Decline, nearly all of my problems have been glaringly obvious to diagnose. Broken bones, bleeding wounds, concussions. There's no mystery. "I'm not a doctor, but you got washed over a coral reef, so that may be why your back hurts."

The Great Decline was unsettling because it's even hard to describe. Lethargy, absurdly long recovery from exercise, cognitive impairment...all tests normal. As always, on paper I am completely healthy. (I am grateful for a standard-issue no-surprises body.) Numerous rock-star doctors confessed bafflement. Now that there's a medicine that I take it forever? How can I even experiment, given the consequences? Does it fix the sleep apnea? (Okay, that one I can actually test pretty easily.) It's like a dark shadow out there in the woods, waiting to grab me again.

After months of trying to adjust my work approach to accommodate how my team works, I finally gave up, and I'm switching teams. There's a bunch of stuff around it, but it boils down to working in isolation and not having a use for my talents. Sounds like fun, eh?

I had a long IM chat with my new manager today. None of us are entirely sure whether or how this change will solve the problem, but it's an honest attempt. Plus it's really the only option available! I gather that my experience has generated some organizational turbulence, outside my frustratingly limited field of view. So we'll see how that goes.

At my last job I did the best work of my life, completely turning a team around, as well as its technology, while still delivering new features. The problem with performing up to your potential is that it then becomes really annoying to do anything less.

Monday, November 4, 2013

living all the things

Time is flying by, mostly an artifact of being busy and not doing the zazen and aikido that help slow down my experience of life. I did go to aikido weapons class last week, but then I promptly went to a conference in the City for two days, then had a three-day weekend visiting Ben in Minnesota.

Just two weekends ago we went to North Central Nowhere, New York for my cousin's wedding. With my wedding and my grandmother's funeral, I've seen more of that family in the past 3 years than in most of the past 20, which is great, because they're awesome. The cousin I'm closest to now has three great kids, including a gangly 13-year old in the classic male "non-verbal lack of eye contact" phase. On a recent visit with my 12-year old niece, I learned that one approaches these creatures by not talking; so I walked up behind him, tapped out his knee, held him up but severely off balance for a couple seconds, then put him back upright and walked away. We bonded.

I'm going to try to avoid flying for the rest of the year, though. It taxes my physical resilience, which is still coming back.

I finally bought and installed a Nest thermostat. Being able to control it from your phone or a website is more handy than you'd think, but overall I think it's a geek toy, and if you've got a functioning programmable thermostat, I can't recommend shelling out to replace it just on practical terms. It made sense for us because (a) we're dorks who like the occasional pretty gadget, and (b) our original thermostat, inasfar as it never actually turned the heat off once it reached a certain temperature, wasn't actually a thermostat.

I learned a little about thermostat wiring from this blog I read (the Nest bothers his heating system, but doesn't bother ours). I hesitated slightly on the installation, because there are two wires and they're both black; one day it occurred to me that if you've only got two wires, it doesn't matter what order they go in, so I could just go for it. (Current polarity does matter with individual LEDs, but even then the only thing that happens is the LED doesn't turn on.) The Nest is eminently civilized, a black glass circle on the wall, gracefully ringed with steel. The house is still cold, what with the dozens of drafty windows and general lack of insulation, but so far the Nest beats turning the heat on and off by hand.

I've been fantasizing about insulating the house. I'm not sure how practical that is, though. When I was a kid we had insulation blown into our house's walls, which involved drilling an endless series of 2-inch round holes in all the walls. They might be able to blow or stuff it into the walls from the attic. In reality, though, there are more important and effective projects: window repair/replacement, fixing the bathroom drainage, and adding piers below the house that aren't canted at a 20° angle.

J is doing pretty well, all things considered. His great-grandmother died, so he's been processing that in his J-specific way. He seems to be exploring ideas about death and adulthood in a much more mature way, thinking about what happens when he grows up.
"I'll have to live on my own?"
"Eventually, yes. Not until you're ready, though."
"But I won't be able to eat my favorite foods any more."
"That macaroni and cheese you like? They sell it at Trader Joe's."
We'll have to see what he needs when he starts pushing into adulthood, but it'd be nice if he could rent an apartment from us--over the garage, say, or if we moved into a different house with an in-law unit--as part of his transition.

Learning to purchase and make macaroni and cheese will obviously be a key part of that project.