Saturday, December 20, 2014


We live with this weird dichotomy, where in one sense we are whoever we are, and some part of us is born that way; and then as we grow, we can (or should) think about what we value, and what kind of person we want to become.

This past summer we had a membership at a swim club up the hill, a really remarkable place on an artificial pond (what Californians call a "lake") built in 1926. They have all kinds of cool stuff, including a water slide, a 1-meter diving board, and a 3-meter platform.

One day, I jumped off the platform. I didn't like it. I've jumped off taller cliffs (30 feet or so) into water, and didn't like that either. In fact, I knew ahead of time I wouldn't like it. The feeling of freefall is something I mostly associate with painful landings. I don't like adrenaline rushes.

I jumped off the platform again, which seemed like the obvious thing to do.
I swam over to Anna and said, "God, I hate doing that."

She said, "But you did it again."
Okay. I mean. If you want to put it that way, it sounds a little weird.

It's not that I'm not afraid, because I'm a normal human being and I am. I'm not a thrill seeker and I don't find adrenaline rushes satisfying. Actually, I find adrenaline rushes to be kind of a pain in the ass, because I have to work harder to think straight. And that's really what it's about.

I value being able to help people and act usefully in a crisis. I decided that a long time ago, and (probably not coincidentally) those are things I have an aptitude for anyway. In order to do something reliably and under stress, you have to train for it. You have to make yourself jump off a cliff into the water, go speak or perform in front of people, go teach English in South America for a year.

And that's all there is to it. I do scary things when I don't have to, so that I know that I can do scary things when I don't have a choice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

trust me! I'm an expert.

My parents just left after a long-ish visit. We spent Thanksgiving in Grass Valley, as usual, and after a quirky motel experience last year (and leaving this year until the last minute), I found us a rental house on VRBO ("vacation rental by owner"). We use VRBO all the time, and it's surprising how easy it is to find something price-comparable to a motel, and then you usually get a yard and a living room and kitchen and everything.

(There is Airbnb as well, but VRBO is a bit less chaotic and deals with serious vacation rentals, where you don't even have to filter out the "cozy cottages" that are actually a 1960s RV in someone's driveway. Conversely, Airbnb is where you will find crazy shit for $40'night.)

This house's owner is new to the renting game, so we had a little snafu with getting the keybox combination, leaving us with a 30-minute delay waiting for him to call or text me--bonus points for the house's spotty cell phone reception. The boy arrived in the second car, and he was all revved up to explore the house, because that's what we always do. (Partly he's a kid, partly it's helpful for spectrum kids to know the full environment right at the beginning.) We had no key! Expectations crumbled, plans fell apart, and anxiety produced an unquenchable spew of doomsaying.
"Oh, no, we're never going to get in--"
"--we're going to have to sleep outside, or maybe in the car--"
"Whoa. Hey. Buddy."
"--this is the worst possible thing that could ever happen--"
"Okay, look. The guy's gonna call back, we'll get the key--"
"--what if we never get home? we're not gonna be able to eat--"
"Okay, hey, look, everything's gonna be fine--"
"--how am I going to fall asleep? and I can't charge the iPad--"
"Hey. Hush. Stop. Let me ask you: how many times have I told you everything will be fine, and then it wasn't?"
"Let me help you. The answer is 'never'."
"So if you need to perseverate, that's totally fine, just get back in the car, close the door, and read your book, and we'll come get you when we have the key."
"Yep, there ya go. Bye!"
The owner texted back, and I got the key. And I could have just played it straight, but have you met me? I held the key and opened the car door.
"J? You're right! We're completely doomed."
[that got his attention]
"Just kidding! Here's the key!"
"What'd I tell you? Am I batting a thousand on 'everything will be fine'?"
What fun is family life if you can't troll your kid?

Monday, December 1, 2014

I just like saying "Antikythera"

Here's a story about learning stuff. Normally I just learn something, full stop, and this is only a story because it took a few years.

As discussed previously, my high school calculus teacher was the quirky and charming Don Joffray, who among other things was a big fan of the famously earthy Nobel physicist Richard Feynman. If you can look past Feynman being a womanizing chauvinist pig even for a guy born in 1918, he wrote a superbly entertaining book called Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and the somewhat darker but still worthwhile What Do You Care What Other People Think?. In the latter, he writes the kind of passage that sets young people off on their scientific careers:
Yesterday morning I went to the archeological museum....I saw so much stuff my feet began to hurt. I got all mixed up--things are not labeled well. Also, it was slightly boring because we have seen so much of that stuff before. Except for one thing: among all those art objects there was one thing so entirely different and strange that it is nearly impossible. It was recovered from the sea in 1900 and is some kind of machine with gear trains, very much like the inside of a modern wind-up alarm clock. The teeth are very regular and many wheels are fitted closely together. There are graduated circles and Greek inscriptions. I wonder if it is some kind of fake. There was an article on it in the Scientific American in 1959.


[The Greeks] were very upset when I said that the development of greatest importance to mathematics in Europe was the discovery by Tartaglia that you can solve a cubic equation: although it is of very little use in itself, the discovery must have been psychologically wonderful because it showed that a modern man could do something no ancient Greek could do. It therefore helped in the Renaissance, which was the freeing of man from the intimidation of the ancients. What the Greeks are learning in school is to be intimidated into thinking they have fallen so far below their super ancestors.

I asked the archeologist lady about the machine in the museum--whether other similar machines, or simpler machines leading up to it or down from it, were ever found--but she hadn't heard of it. So I met her and her son of Carl's age (who looks at me as if I were a heroic ancient Greek, for he is studying physics) at the museum to show it to her. She required some explanation from me why I thought such a machine was interesting and surprising because, "Didn't Eratosthenes measure the distance to the sun, and didn't that require elaborate scientific instruments?" Oh, how ignorant are classically educated people. No wonder they don't appreciate their own time. They are not of it and do not understand it. But after a bit she believed maybe it was striking, and she took me to the back rooms of the museum--surely there were other examples, and she would get a complete bibliography. Well, there were no other examples, and the complete bibliography was a list of three articles (including the one in the Scientific American)--all by one man, an American from Yale!

I guess the Greeks think all Americans must be dull, being only interested in machinery when there are all those beautiful statues and portrayals of lovely myths and stories of gods and goddesses to look at. (In fact, a lady from the museum staff remarked, when told that the professor from America wanted to know more about item 15087, "Of all the beautiful things in this museum, why does he pick out that particular item? What is so special about it?")
Joff mentioned this passage in a class digression, but he didn't know any more than we or Feynman did. I never followed up on this, because I was in college when I read it, and the Internet was not yet in a state where you could just type "what's that mechanism in a Greek museum that Richard Feynman was writing about?" and get an answer. If you've ever used the old-school data archives like Lexis-Nexis, you know that life is too short to use them in your spare time.

Years later I saw it covered (lightly, as research was still sparse) in some books on engineering in antiquity, and then over the past 15 years we've had numerous breakthroughs as we develop better non-destructive imaging techniques, and uncover some more pieces of the thing from its surrounding collection. (Feynman may have been a little too hard on the Greeks, because the technology to investigate the thing didn't really exist yet.)

It turns out this device is called the Antikythera (an-ti-KY-the-ra) mechanism, and it's a brain-bender because it's more sophisticated than anything we've found from the following 1500 years, and we've found no precedents, nothing simpler or similar that would have led to it. It's like opening a time capsule from 1850 and finding a digital camera. There's no question of its age, but what the hell?

The thing is fiendishly complicated, at least if you lack a background in watch-making and astronomy, but you can read about that yourself--it calculates a variety of astronomical phenomena, including lunar and solar eclipses, locations of planets, and (WTF?) the dates for the ancient Olympics. The most recent news is that they figure the start date for the calendar is 205 BC, and if we assume they wanted to maximize the calendar's utility going forward, that pushes the date of manufacture back more than a hundred years.

There's the pure archeological puzzle, but how can we look at this in the broader scope of what we think we know about antiquity? An economist has a thought:
The key point, in my view, is that we have discovered no other comparable machine from antiquity or any other era other than modern times. It took us until 2006 to even understand what the device was supposed to do, using advanced tomography, and we had been holding it since 1901.
So what to infer? The first option is that this device was a true outlier, standing sui generis above its time. Cardiff University professor Michael Edmunds "described the device as 'just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind'".

As an artifact that is true, but is that so likely in terms of broader history? It is pure luck that we fished this thing out of the Mediterranean in 1901. (By the way, further dives are planned to search for more parts of it.) The alternative possibility is that antiquity had many more such exotic devices, which have remained unreported, at least in the manuscripts which have come down to us. That would imply, essentially, that we don't have a very good idea of what antiquity was like. In my view that is the more rational Bayesian conclusion. It is more likely than thinking that we just lucked out to find this one unique, incredible device. To put it another way, if you found some organic life on a traveling comet, you ought to conclude there is more of that life, or something related, somewhere else.

And to me, the Antikythera Mechanism does not sound like a "lone genius" kind of device: "The gear teeth were in the form of equilateral triangles with an average circular pitch of 1.6 mm, an average wheel thickness of 1.4 mm and an average air gap between gears of 1.2 mm." (Wikipedia) That suggests it was made by some kind of regular industrial process. It also had some sophistications which modern Swiss watches do not.

Given this Bayesian conclusions, which other strange claims stand a decent chance of being true of antiquity? Which other surprises await us? [emphasis added]
Short version: humans are awesome, and we know nothing.
So what to infer? The first option is that this device was a true outlier, standing sui generis above its time. Cardiff University professor Michael Edmunds "described the device as "just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind"".
As an artifact that is true, but is that so likely in terms of broader history? It is pure luck that we fished this thing out of the Mediterranean in 1901. (By the way, further dives are planned to search for more parts of it.) The alternative possibility is that antiquity had many more such exotic devices, which have remained unreported, at least in the manuscripts which have come down to us. That would imply, essentially, that we don't have a very good idea of what antiquity was like. In my view that is the more rational Bayesian conclusion. It is more likely than thinking that we just lucked out to find this one unique, incredible device. To put it another way, if you found some organic life on a traveling comet, you ought to conclude there is more of that life, or something related, somewhere else.
And to me, the Antikythera Mechanism does not sound like a "lone genius" kind of device: "The gear teeth were in the form of equilateral triangles with an average circular pitch of 1.6 mm, an average wheel thickness of 1.4 mm and an average air gap between gears of 1.2 mm." (Wikipedia) That suggests it was made by some kind of regular industrial process. It also had some sophistications which modern Swiss watches do not.
Given this Bayesian conclusions, which other strange claims stand a decent chance of being true of antquity? Which other surprises await us?
- See more at:
The key point, in my view, is that we have discovered no other comparable machine from antiquity or any other era other than modern times. It took us until 2006 to even understand what the device was supposed to do, using advanced tomography, and we had been holding it since 1901.
So what to infer? The first option is that this device was a true outlier, standing sui generis above its time. Cardiff University professor Michael Edmunds "described the device as "just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind"".
As an artifact that is true, but is that so likely in terms of broader history? It is pure luck that we fished this thing out of the Mediterranean in 1901. (By the way, further dives are planned to search for more parts of it.) The alternative possibility is that antiquity had many more such exotic devices, which have remained unreported, at least in the manuscripts which have come down to us. That would imply, essentially, that we don't have a very good idea of what antiquity was like. In my view that is the more rational Bayesian conclusion. It is more likely than thinking that we just lucked out to find this one unique, incredible device. To put it another way, if you found some organic life on a traveling comet, you ought to conclude there is more of that life, or something related, somewhere else.
And to me, the Antikythera Mechanism does not sound like a "lone genius" kind of device: "The gear teeth were in the form of equilateral triangles with an average circular pitch of 1.6 mm, an average wheel thickness of 1.4 mm and an average air gap between gears of 1.2 mm." (Wikipedia) That suggests it was made by some kind of regular industrial process. It also had some sophistications which modern Swiss watches do not.
Given this Bayesian conclusions, which other strange claims stand a decent chance of being true of antquity? Which other surprises await us?
- See more at:

Sunday, November 23, 2014


My body can't yet handle aikido: the constant impacts drain my energy and still take several days to recover. (Recall that since we take turns, everyone spends roughly half of every aikido class falling down and getting back up.) I need to do a martial art, though. Nothing else transforms anger and aggression in quite the same way, and I've been noticing I'm more irritable this past few months.

But! I just watched Reclaiming the Blade, a very high-quality documentary about European martial arts, which are so far fallen into obscurity that most of us didn't know they existed. Of course they did: the human body is always the same, and swords around the world are still long, sharp pieces of metal, so there's no reason Europeans wouldn't have developed systems of killing each other every bit as sophisticated as (and having much in common with) the systems of Asia. There are philosophical and maybe moral differences, to be sure: there are distinct sets of ideas about how training can or should change you, and into what. Though, even that isn't as far out as you'd think, and the main element absent in Europeans systems seems to be the connections to attentional training like Zen.

The Bay Area is practically the nation's Nerd Capital, so of course there are multiple ongoing groups here. There's a place in Santa Clara which even has the no-nonsense URL, and then there's a chapter of Schola Saint George. The latter meets on Sunday afternoons for 2 hours, in a park in Mountain View, so I went there today.

It's fun, and not exhausting! My years of aikido are a big help, because (a) I already know how to use a sword much better than your average human, and (b) I can also fight without a sword, which is where a lot of European techniques end up (grabbing one sword or the other, or moving in close for a non-sword attack, just like aikido).

I used a very heavy two-handed steel practice sword, which was fun, and heavy. My steel Japanese katana weighs about 2.25 pounds; I'm guessing today's monster was 3.5-4 pounds, which is on the heavy side for swords.

[The group website actually has links to equipment, and it's this thing. As I thought, 3 lbs. 10 ounces.]

It was fun! 4 of the other 5 people were more or less exactly the kind of college-age geeks you'd expect to be doing this, plus one very strong-looking barrel-gutted guy with a t-shirt from a jujitsu club. The text they work from is Fiore dei Liberi, who wrote a pretty complete arms manual. We started with "the sword with two hands," then moved on to "the sword in armor." The latter is a little unsettling because the standard attack is to grab your sword blade--called "half-swording"--and try to jam the point into one of the less-protected spots in your opponent's armor. (This makes sense if you think about it, since cutting attacks with a steel sword are useless against steel armor.)

In aikido, we spend a lot of attention specifically not touching the blade, and in general that seems like the way to go. Half-swording, though, can be done not only with armored gauntlets, but also with leather, and also...bare-handed. I'm still a little fuzzy on how this is accomplished, but this gentleman does some demos:

When I talk to people who are skittish about knives, and worry when I run my thumb perpendicular to the blade to check the edge, I try to get them to understand that knives don't cut anything in that direction. You can put a blade right on your thumb, and as long as you don't move along the blade, you're not going to get cut. You can take a super-sharp knife, and press it into a tomato, and if you're only pressing down, you'll just squish the tomato. So in theory, you can half-sword without cutting yourself, and the guy in the video goes into that. I think I'll pass, though.

Half-sword techniques are more or less like the aikido short staff (jo), and regular techniques have a lot of positions and movements in common with Japanese sword.

And most importantly, I wasn't a complete husk afterwards. So hopefully this can be a thing that I do.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

north of the border

We spent the weekend in Vancouver! I'd never been to Canada, and we had some airline miles about to expire, so we thought it'd be a fine anniversary weekend. Thanks to airline delays, we had a day less there than we'd hoped, in that we landed at 6pm instead of 1pm.

Hoooooly shit. I liked it a lot.
  • All the Canadians we encountered were in fact conspicuously nice.
  • On the phone we told J "Can you believe we're in a big city, and it doesn't smell bad?". He could only summon a disbelieving "Whaaaaat?!".
  • The major policy disagreement between the mayoral candidates is about which form of mass transit to invest in.
Vancouver may be even more diverse than the Bay Area. The food is great, public transit seems to work really well. It is not, that I could tell, overrun with Silicon Valley douchebags and the kind of people that enjoy or tolerate them.

I finally had a flat white, and am happy to crown it the king of coffee beverages. Not every cafe knows what it is though: we were at the particularly sophisticated Milano Coffee. I still don't know exactly how to describe it, and neither does anybody else (on paper it's like a proper microfoamed cappuccino), but it's really good.

Based on a recommendation from my good friend Some Canadian Guy Who Follows Me On Twitter, we had dinner at Tuc Craft Kitchen, which was absolutely amazing and I cannot recommend highly enough. I had their (quite ornate, it seems) version of a Negroni, which was a lovely drink if you can appreciate a little bitterness. (If you've never had Campari, I recommend against trying it straight or with soda, as it is thoroughly disgusting by itself.) Also, it's a nice red-orange.

Mostly, as is our way, we alternated going out to eat and read books with staying in the hotel room and reading books. We talked once or twice, but as we all know, I do not advocate speaking to one's spouse if it's avoidable, so we kept it to things like "I'll have the pork" and "I'm not sure what's going on, but your shoe is on fire."

I'm still really struck by the contrasts with the United States.

The overall feeling is that Canada is an "us." There, the debate seems to be about "how do we make this a better society for people to live in?"; here, the debate is "should we bother trying?". It got me thinking a lot about what kind of national project I want to be a part of, and highlighted my disappointment in my fellow citizens over the past 15 years, who have been voting--with their votes, not in any indirect or cryptic way--to be a nation of violence, afraid of our shadow and dedicated to relentlessly bombing brown people in the name of principles more honored in the breach than the observance.

Not that it bothers me.

On the way in, everyone in Canadian Customs was, of course, ranging from polite to friendly. On the way out, there's a whole section of the airport just for U.S. departures, and you do your whole customs entry before you get on the plane, and pass under a big sign saying "WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES". Directed by one unhappy-looking Customs and Border Patrol staffer, we handed our passports to an even more unhappy-looking CBP staffer, who veered well past "unhappy" and into "thoroughly crabby."

Anna said, "Aaah, surly airport security people. It feels like we're home already."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

new job continues

We are all really enjoying that I work from home. I quickly realized something I'd never bothered to examine before, which is that I really hate offices. I love talking to people; I hate the soul-sucking fluorescent lights, the noise, the constant interruption, the ugly furniture, and pretty much everything else. Because most of Engineering works remotely, the communication friction is very low: if we spend more than a couple minutes not making progress on HipChat, we switch over to Zoom immediately and figure it out on a video call.

In an office, when you've got your head down and completely absorbed in a programming task, inevitably someone comes up and says "I hope I'm not interrupting...". I usually say, "Too late!", which not everyone has a ready sense of humor about. Working remotely achieves the Holy Grail: it is more work to interrupt you than not.

When the boy gets home from school, there are snuggles! And I can go annoy him almost whenever I want. And I get to spend more time in Redwood City, which is one of my favorite places in the Bay Area (good thing, since I own a house here now). We got a killer Vietnamese restaurant some months back. What's not to love?

(Okay, the bank owns most of the house. I get to act like it's mine, which is pretty close.)

The job itself is quirky, in that my primary skillset is distributed Unix/Linux systems--think 500 computers all trying to coordinate and talk to each other--and I am working on a Windows client program. We'll have to see how it unfolds with my desire to get back into leadership. My co-workers are super nice, though, and it's a joy to be back working at a place with a more adult attitude.

And I have a really nice chair...


One of many nice things about our house is that we have a proper compost bin. At our previous place, a very nice but yard-less rental condo, we would put our compost stuff into special plasticky bags for the city compost, which reduced our trash by a whole bunch, but was still pretty annoying. Thanks to my parents, though--who not only bought us the bin but assembled it while they were visiting--we have this magical thing where I take what turns out to be 50% of our trash, throw it casually into a bin, and then it smells like dirt.

(All of our parents, when visiting, seem energized to do house or yard projects for some reason. One year on my younger brother's farm, my father and older brother had the urge to build a very nice outdoor shower.)

I periodically (once a month, maybe) turn the compost over, and as much insect life as you can see on the top, there is so much more underneath! Once I went so far as to try and extract some dirt from the bottom (not really worth the trouble, at the moment), and I unsettled a vast quantity of the only beetles I ever see around here, these 1.5cm grooved black thingers with small heads. The compost heap is apparently where all the tiny ants live, and I'm thrilled they have a place to be that's not in the house. More recently, millipedes appeared.

Maybe I wouldn't find this so magical if I grew up in the country. Really substantial amounts of food trash turns into a really very small amount of dirt. And it never smells like rotting food, only like dirt.

Between the compost and recycling, we put out about a half a paper shopping bag of actual trash every week. Pretty cool.

Monday, October 13, 2014

true story.

Once when I worked in Palo Alto, a bunch of us were walking back from afternoon coffee. One of the schools would get out around that time, and our office's street is also a bike thoroughfare, so you'd see teenagers of all ages biking to and from school or other places.

I was wearing my (now-deceased) t-shirt with the capsaicin molecule: the primary chemical that makes peppers spicy. The t-shirt doesn't say what the molecule is. It's just the diagram.

We're walking along, and a few kids are riding towards us on the sidewalk. They turned off before they got to us, but as the second kid rode off the curb, he said:
"Hey, look! Capsaicin!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

new job! again.

I finally got a new job, working for a company in Seattle. I work out of my house, which turns out to be delightful, thanks to Anna and J's hard work setting up my workspace. I have a table, where our large Totoro sits, grinning. Work mailed me a laptop, keyboard, trackpad, backup drive, and giant monitor. I typed "best office chair" into The Wirecutter, and they said the Steelcase Leap; because companies are constantly popping in and out of existence in the Bay Area, we are blessed with many high-end office liquidators, all happy to sell me a used chair at half the price of a new one. (It's a really, really great chair, and in the future I would consider buying one new and leaving it to my grandchildren.)

My friend Jess works there, as well as a couple other friends, and she wasn't kidding when she said the learning curve was more of a cliff. The codebase I'm touching is terrifying: 47,000 lines of Ruby code, which would conservatively be at least 150,000 lines of Java. There's a reason apps in Ruby-like languages don't usually get this big. It's not incomprehensible, but it is very dense.

My old job was not surprised I was leaving, and after some initial bumps we had a lot of really good communication--including several "why didn't you tell me this 6 months ago?" moments--and I left on good terms.

I love working from home. It has brought into relief something I've always known but ignored out of practicality, which is that I despise offices. I really enjoy face-to-face contact! But the noise, the drab atmosphere, the interruption, the hideous, life-sucking fluorescent lights. It's even worse now that the open floor plan has taken over, the cheapest possible office layout, loudly justified with trivially disproved claims about how it increases collaboration.

Home, by contrast, is generally pretty quiet, and there's a couch and a bed I can work from when my body needs a break from the home office. Or coffee shops. Or the back patio, though I haven't tried that. It's too early in the job to know if I'm more productive, but I'm definitely happier.

I also get to go to Seattle periodically! They flew me up there on July 3rd for an on-site interview, which sounds extravagant until you look at how much it costs to hire somebody. Last year a different company flew me out to Boston, which cost them about $1400 total. But, in general, by the time you total up the time taken from recruiters, managers, and engineers, a company will easily spend $20,000-40,000 hiring a candidate. There's a reason companies offer $15,000 referral bonuses, and that's because $15,000 is a bargain.

I flew up there again last week just to meet folks, and besides the work conversations I did some solid walking around town. I like Seattle better than here, which is unfortunate since I can't move. (Anna and I could consider giving up the roots we have here, but there's absolutely no option of taking the autistic boy away from everything he knows.) The world is a strange place, though, and nothing is permanent.

Anna and J really enjoy having me around, too. As J said:
And now that your new job will be working from home, I'll be able to come home from school and come in to your office, I mean I can't come in because you'll be working, but I'll at least be able to look in and see a Chris!
Anna says pretty much the same thing.


I decided I wanted to lose weight, and what I have energy for now is simple calorie counting, using the MyFitnessPal app, which makes it pretty easy. I tell it I want to lose 1 pound per week, it says I need to eat 1700 calories per day, and off we go. This ignores everything I learned while eating Ayurvedically: that there's more to it than calories, some foods are more easily processed than others by your particular constitution. Even by Ayurvedic standards, though, I'm not doing too bad.
I bought a modern scale, which gives the exact same reading every time, and does so no matter where on the floor you put it. Not bad for thirty bucks.

I'm definitely not losing 1 pound per week. The general trend is downward, but more like a pound every 2-4 weeks, which is not so bad. I'm not in a hurry. Some of it may also be muscle mass, because...

...for exercise I've been going on bike rides. Anna dragged me to the bike shop a few months ago to get a Trek 7.2, and starting with a rack and pannier, I've slowly been adding what motorcyclists call "farkles." Turns out I did really want the water bottle, and of course I need lights, and a bar-end mirror would be really helpful, and a riding jersey really is much more comfortable...

I don't ride the dozens or hundreds of miles like my friends. The longest I've ridden was 19 miles, which was sort of accidental and ended up misaligning my body a bunch. (Also, that is well into the distance where you should be wearing padded shorts, and I wasn't.) Usually it's more like 6 miles, or 10. I had started biking to work in Palo Alto and back (7 miles one way), and now that I'm working from home I just make sure to kick myself out the door every other day or two and go for 45-60 minutes. I even ride uphill, though not for long.

I liked running and aikido better, but the best exercise is the one you actually do, so here we are.

I still don't quite sleep like a normal person, the way I used to. I often surface near consciousness throughout the night, or (whether or not that happened) randomly wake up completely unrested. If I go to bed before 10 PM, my body thinks I'm napping and I'm wide awake at 1:30 AM, so I have to go to bed after 11 PM. To answer your next question, I can't sleep late, so there's a pretty hard limit on how much sleep I can get, and when I can get it. I can bounce back from 1 or maybe 2 nights of dodgy sleep, but 3 just knocks me down and takes days to recover from.

I miss sleep, but this will do for a while.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

slowly re-watching "Dead Poets Society."


I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.

To elaborate is no avail, learn'd and unlearn'd feel that it is so.

Sure as the most certain sure, plumb in the uprights, well entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery here we stand.

Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.

Lack one lacks both, and the unseen is proved by the seen,
Till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age,
Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things, while they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself.

Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.

I am satisfied--I see, dance, laugh, sing;
As the hugging and loving bed-fellow sleeps at my side through the night, and withdraws at the peep of the day with stealthy tread,
Leaving me baskets cover'd with white towels swelling the house with their plenty,
Shall I postpone my acceptation and realization and scream at my eyes,
That they turn from gazing after and down the road,
And forthwith cipher and show me to a cent,
Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

in which a boat is bigger than originally thought.

We've been doing our regular summer traveling, up to the Seattle area for one family, and out to Cape Cod for another. I wound up being out of the office for at least half of July. This meant being gone when the completely new team structure at work began, but since I was reading books and playing in the water with my kid and my niece, the first part of the re-org went very smoothly for me.

J keeps growing up, and this time he was a perfect traveler, with nary a single meltdown before, during, or after, where previously he would do well in transit and then be a mess the next day. There was a bit of shouting at other kids or when losing too much at games, but that's to be expected. I watched him start crabbing at some kid his size who was with J on our small moored sailboat.
"Okay, come here. Why are you shouting at this kid who's all the way on the other end of the boat?"
"He's trying to take the whole thing."
"Are you sure? It looked to me like you were each staying on one end of the boat and there was plenty of space."
[inaudible grumbling]
"Did you ask his name?"
Annoyed. "Yes, it's Oliver."
That's actually pretty impressive.
"Did you tell him your name?"
Still annoyed. "No!"
"You didn't tell him you are Count Grumble von Hmphenstein?"
The smile begins.
"And that this is your boat, the Hmph of the Sea?"
"Based out of Hmph Harbor, Cape Cod?"
"How about you assume Oliver is willing to share the boat, and you go talk to him?"
And then there was playing! Or at least bits of conversation and acknowledged coexistence. We try not to be too picky.

Getting the hang of this whole "parenting" thing. Just in time for the boy to hit adolescence...

the bright, burning light of politeness.

The other day there was an intermittent loud honking out in the street. I finally identified it as a silver BMW sedan which would drive up part of the street, honk, do a U-turn in the intersection, honk, drive back down the street. Over and over.

At last I noticed the driver had stopped cruising and parked over by the corner. I decided to go ask them to stop honking their horn. As I walked up to the car it occurred to me that there are a few folks living in the area who might not respond well to some random guy asking them to quiet down. I decided to deal with that if it happened.

As soon as I saw the young man in the driver's seat, I felt a little awkward, because he had a fascinating array of tattoos, most of which I would (admittedly in ignorance of the details) associate with gangs and/or prison time. You know how some criminals have teardrops tattooed under their eyes, typically assuming to correspond to people they killed? This guy had musical notes. A quarter note and then an eighth note, if I remember right. Well, okay, maybe I'm about to go ask a gang member to keep the noise down. No point in turning back now.
"Excuse me, sir? Are you the one honking his horn?"
The driver looked furtively around, in pretty much any direction except my face. He is looking at his phone.
"Yeah, I just gotta meet my friend at this intersection."
This is new. "You don't know where he lives?"
"Nah, he just said this intersection."
Still looking everywhere but at me.
"Is there anything I can do to help you find him? The honking is pretty disruptive."
"Nah, I just gotta wait for him."
 Luckily for our driver, I spot another young man coming down the street toward us, clearly the awaited passenger.
 "Oh, this is him..."
"All right. If you can stop the honking, I'd appreciate it."
And then back to the house.
I hate to draw conclusions about people, but I'm going to assume that our tattooed driver, furtively honking and looking around for a guy he doesn't know to come meet him at a specific intersection--rather than, say, an address--was involved  in some criminal activity. Some theory, some observation:
  1. There's no criminal genius here. Nothing about this episode screams "Professor Moriarty."
  2. It's interesting to just walk up and ask. It could go bad, but...
  3. ...I think the young man didn't like the attention. I've written before about how you alter the situation by just being there and letting someone know they are seen. I'm hoping that by signaling that sketchy activity is noticed, they'll take it elsewhere.
Ah, city living.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

I hate living in a desert.

It been desert-hot here, high 90s here on the Peninsula, and topping 100 in San Jose and the far East Bay. It is a dry heat, although I encourage anyone who thinks that's some sort of consolation to heat their oven up and then stick their head inside. It's true that we're not Arizona or anything, and maybe you have different expectations, but "at least the asphalt isn't melting in most places" doesn't really make me feel better.

Trees all over town are starting to get unhappy, and even ours, which we're watering, look like the sun is burning the leaves on top. The cherry plum gave up pretty early on fruiting, and the pluot has been trying but is yellowing. The peaches are good, but taste a little funky, and when they go bad, they do this bizarre rot-from-the-inside thing I don't remember from last year. Maybe just as well we didn't have the raised garden beds ready for the summer.

There's been incremental work on the house, starting with the tree guys coming and taking down five dead or extremely sick trees, and pruning our very large and overgrown Australian [not actually a] pine, and then dumping a couple huge piles of wood chips for us to cover the lawn with. We're putting in a proper fence, which will add some privacy and dampen both curb noise and the noise from the extremely boisterous recovering alcoholics across the street. I've been daydreaming about proper windows, but we haven't yet identified a window person. And Anna has gotten an itch about the bathrooms, which I find more daunting than she does, having watched several friends endure months-long bathroom renovations, a single bathroom often costing as much or more as remodeling the kitchen.

(We will someday also remodel the kitchen, but that's quite a bit down the list.)

Maybe it's time to finally install that screen door that's been sitting in the garage for a year...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Quantified Chris.

Last month I bought a Jawbone UP24, a bracelet that collects data on your movements. It's part of the whole Quantified Self idea, which I've steadfastly ignored, but now the hardware and software have progressed to a point where I find it acceptably simple and unobtrusive. I actually bought it just because I read it would track your sleep (apparently through a sorcerous art called actigraphy), and that's worthwhile data to have, which I am far too lazy to write down myself. Instead I press the bracelet's button when I go to bed and when I wake up, and it figures out pretty well when I've fallen asleep, and I can look at the data in the iPhone app (and apparently download it from somewhere as well).

It also acts as a pedometer, which is vaguely interesting (on a recent overnight trip I walked 8 miles in the course of the day), but mostly I'm enjoying that the UP24 app integrates with a bunch of other apps. The ones I use are Strava, to record walking/running/cycling, and MyFitnessPal to record what I eat, so I can eat less and drop some weight.

The first thing I notice is that I don't eat as many calories as I thought I did. The app says that to lose 1 pound per week, I should eat 1,720 calories a day, which to my surprise requires just a bare minimum of austerity on my part. Then the 7-mile bike ride to work is about 375 calories one way (40 minutes or less), so with that or some other cycling on my shiny new bike that Anna made me buy, I'm not feeling deprived. I'm not sure I'm actually losing weight, either, but it's hard to tell since our trip to Cape Cod messed things up. We don't own a scale that can reliably measure a 1-pound difference, so I'm really looking at a sort of tendency over time.

There's no illuminating data about my sleep, except that when I have a few bad nights in a row, I often forget, and the app will both show me and occasionally alert me that I should sleep more. (No shit, Sherlock. Sleeping more hadn't occurred to me. Not their fault, really.) I still can't stretch my sleep out, nor do I have a lot of flexibility in the hours I'll sleep. Still, I'm functional and occasionally rested, so it's hard to complain too much.

Strava is a great app for tracking rides and runs and things, but it's really aimed at competitive people, like my friends who enjoy going out and riding up and down Mount Tamalpais twice in  day. That was about 4 hours; another guy with them did it 3 times, for a ride of over 7 hours.

Strava shows you where you are on various road segments compared to everyone else, which is how I know that on various stretches, people are going twice as fast as me. I've never quite understood the hypercompetitive thing. Super-competitive people often don't seem very happy.

Anyway. Fun toys.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


The boy was sad at the end of the day: bored with all his books, bored with the iPad, annoyed at his admittedly near-useless unreliable laptop. After forcing him to go back outside the bedroom and knock, I dragged him down on the bed where Anna and I were talking, for a hopefully quieting snuggle.
"I just knew it was going to turn out this way. Nothing you can do will change anything."

"Now, if I were a better parent, I would make you laugh."

Giggling commences.

"Unfortunately, you have the worst Chris ever. Possibly the worst Chris in the history of Chrises."

Smiling, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world: "There's only one Chris."
 That is a nice feeling.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

field trip: Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn

I occasionally tell Anna we're going somewhere, but I won't tell her where, or what we're doing. So a month ago I planned last night, and we went to see Béla Fleck perform alongside his wife, Abigail Washburn. Abigail is a well-known old-time banjo player and bandleader, and seemed like most of the audience was there to see her; they got a bit of a surprise when Béla was unleashed a couple times, because he is almost certainly the greatest living banjo player, and possibly the greatest ever.

Just to give you a sense of the difference, this is Abigail with her band, playing a typical one of her songs:

She's a great songwriter and singer. But Béla plays like this, when he's just jamming and improvising by himself:

And then this is his band:

So that's interesting, to see a very comfortable rapport between two people with unequal gifts on the same instrument (they focused on Abigail's music). And they are completely adorable--actually reminded us a lot of us.

There was jumping up and down with joy. It was satisfying.

parenting by annoyance.

"Hey, monkey. How was your weekend?"
"What'd you do?"
"Did you go for a hike?"
"Did you play basketball?"
"Did you go water-skiing?"
"No. You know I don't play basketball."
"You're not giving me any information, so I'm going to ask you about every possible thing you could have done this weekend until I find out."
"Oh, okay, fine. I did a bunch of stuff without screens. We went for a couple walks, and we played some non-video games. I read a bunch of books. There, are you satisfied now?"

Sunday, May 11, 2014

you can hear the gears turning

It's common for adults to enjoy kids around age 8-11. Their consciousness expands to more and more include the world beyond themselves, and they start thinking in more sophisticated ways. They become more like adults, in other words. We're just biased, because it gets to be less work to relate to them. (This obviously ends with adolescence and picks up again sometime later.)

J is no exception, filtered through his unique brain wiring. The other day he learned what home-schooling actually means--he's heard the word many times, but the reality of it never quite penetrated. Anna is going to be watching a friend's daughter, and I was blessed to witness the discussion.
"So I'm going to have M during the day on Thursday, and I'm volunteering at school, so you might see her."
"During the school day? Doesn't she have to be in school?"
"She's home-schooled. Her mom is her teacher."
There's a pause while he processes this. If he could, he would be raising one eyebrow and giving Anna a hard look.
"But I still have to go to school?"
Yep, kiddo.

This probably won't get easier once he finds out his cousin is being home-schooled too. We've discussed it, and it's the fallback plan for any unresolvable school situation. Anna and I both had traumatic school experiences, and while we work hard not to project our memories too much onto the much safer realities of the modern public school, we're determined that he not have a traumatic school experience, whatever that takes.

His moods are much more fluid these days, and we can often redirect Angry J into Laughing J without much trouble. The other night we got him laughing and after a few minutes he said, "I wish I could stop laughing so I could go back to being angry." Let's call it a success.

One night he was grumbling about not finding a library book, but it was time to call his father. I get to do these all in a cheerful voice.
"I don't know where it was, and my parents won't help me look for it..."
"We will. Now it's time to call Daddy."
He made it about three steps towards the room with the phone when he got distracted and grumbled back to his room again.
"I don't know where that book is, I'm never going to find it--"
"J, go call Daddy, we'll find the book after that."
This time he didn't even make it out of his room.
"And my parents aren't even listening to me..."
"Less grumbling, more calling Daddy!"
That was awesome enough, but then we could hear him ranting on the phone.
"...and then Chris wouldn't let me look for it! He made me come in here and call you!"
Oh, the tyranny!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

all the things, all at once.

We're having an extraordinarily busy time here at the Snugglehaus. Anna and I wound up booked for stuff several weekends in a row, enough that we moved our planned trip to Vancouver out to November. We weren't going to Vancouver for any particular reason--I've never been there, and we had 6 hours left to use some frequent flyer miles--but she had the genius idea to go there around our anniversary. This at once gives us a special way to celebrate the end of year 3, and more or less relieves her from having to remember when our anniversary is.

(There is a mosaic plate in our living room with our anniversary date on it.)

I have been fully engaged at work in what we call a "fire drill," which means different things in different contexts, but always involves something important enough to override your previously-most-important work and require your attention until it's resolved. In our case, an unfortunate confluence of organizational failures led to a certain amount of engineering work having to get done within 7 weeks or so, before a certain date.

If you're unfamiliar with the practice of engineering, defining a required set of work and a hard deadline is a terrible idea. It's beyond terrible. It's fundamentally stupid. It produces tired people and crappy code, because there's no time to apply the usual techniques for making sure our code isn't crappy.

It happens anyway, because the world is inconvenient, and the most you can hope for is that the executives truly internalize that this is a corrosive and unsustainable way to operate. They'll do their best to avoid it, and be really apologetic in the future when it happens again, and they'll take your glaring and severe tone of voice seriously.

We're doing stellar work, of course. Tonight I am taking some time to sit back and admire my ability to take a team full of chaos and quickly induce order and organization. The last time I did this I was pleased with the magnitude of the change; this time I am startled by the speed. Once I started facilitating, the fundamental change was almost immediate, within 48 hours. Now it's an actual cohesive team, fluidly communicating, sharing and handing off work, with lots of self-organization. People trust each other, and so there's beautiful, mostly-productive argument. And. And. This happened as we all walked out of our semi-weekly retrospective/planning meeting, which took just under its allotted 2.5 hours.

"This meeting will get shorter, as we find our rhythm and cadence."

This is a true statement.

P is one of my favorite people at work. We argue and debate constantly, which was a little uncertain until a couple weeks ago I made a point of signaling that I understand we disagree continuously and that I really enjoy working with him.

"Lies. I don't believe you."

He was being flippant. It's what we do. And yet. I turned around, grinned, and wagged my finger at him, walking backwards.

"You don't know shit. You don't know that this is my mission in life, and I'm good at it."

I laughed, turned around, and kept walking forward.
He paused for a second.

"Okay. I earned that."
It was just an impulse, to turn his glib moment into something more serious. It's important that they trust me, though. Cynical jokes are funny, but they can also be seeds of doubt, especially in the two new people. The meeting will get shorter, because we will work more smoothly. There is not, in practice, a question about this. They want to perform better, they are more than capable of it, and I am more than capable of guiding them to do that. If we are left to our own devices, it is a certainty.

And now, I think, they have seen some of my certainty.

wife meets binary.

Life with me inevitably means conversations like this.
"How many bytes in a megabyte? A thousand?"
"1024 times 1024."
"Okay, wow, that is so random."
"It's not random. It's two to the tenth."
"Okay, bedtime now."
 She did know what she was in for, at least.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


On Wednesday, I had, hands down the best day ever at this job. That's actually a low bar, but in absolute terms it ranks favorably with all of my best workdays ever.

Wednesday was our planning day for the coming 2-week sprint. We look at the work lined up in our backlog, we decide what we're going to work on, and we break the implementation down into manageable tasks with clear definitions of "done." In order for this to be effective, the design work has to be at least mostly done. Sometimes you need to make time in previous sprints for people to do the design; most often you don't, because design tasks generally don't have a clearly defined end point, and it's the kind of free-thinking work that's good for us to do in between bouts of focused coding.

On Tuesday I sounded an alarm to the two other planning people (our manager and our product manager) that for the two projects we're trying to get done on a tight schedule, there was nothing defined well enough to start working on. I was promptly shouted down, with lots of crankiness on all sides. I went up to the City on Wednesday with some crabby going on.

And then. Then.

We got to the planning meetings, and because the team is fabulous, they discovered quickly that the work wasn't defined. So, without comment, they just jumped in to doing the design work. I didn't have to do much beyond the occasional well-timed nudge. It was glorious. (The next day, they did completely effective sprint planning without me. I should just retire.)

I had a long talk with the product manager about what went wrong with the planning and how we'll proceed from here, and also about our working together and the fact that our conversation the day before hadn't given either of us what we wanted.

At our manager's instigation, I talked to another scrum master about how we run things, and discovered we're doing most of the same things for the same reasons: the beginning of a concerted effort to change how Engineering operates.

I provided a gentle counterpoint to the new guy when he was being overwhelmed by our manager's dial being stuck on Highly Intense.

All of this was awesome because I fixed things. I went to work on a complex system (people working together) and got immediate feedback (people being able to work together better). Relationships repaired and improved, plans made, seeds planted, realizations begun.

Not bored now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

once again I wield my iron fist of command.

I've had a tumultuous time at work, this past eight months. A variety of interlocking issues make it feel like a less-than-great fit, and that was sort of a constant stressor until recently, when I decided to just accept the situation and relax. It's not such a bad thing to not be working at 100% capacity.

As usual when I settle down and accept reality before trying to change it, within a few days it made sense for me to take over as the team's "scrum master," to take on most of the organizing work. This took a load off a teammate who had been doing it for 18 months, under quite trying circumstances (and without any guidance). This coincided happily with a sudden "Hey, can you guys write a whole ton of software for us to demo for thousands of people in 6 weeks?" fire drill from the Powers That Be: a sudden need for particularly team leadership, and a particularly good team leader.

Telling people you're a very good team lead is a little like telling people you're a very good kisser. It may be true in your case, but enough people believe it about themselves, and are wrong, that no one's really going to believe you until you do it. It happens that I am both a good team lead and a good kisser, though Anna made me take the latter off my resumé.

24 hours later, the team's manager noted that our tasks were better organized, and the four of us on the team were communicating more often and more fluidly in the chat room we use. In a way, I didn't do very much: so much of leadership is just being an information traffic cop, making sure that person A waits to talk until person B is actually listening, asking "Hey, can you jump in on this other thing with Person C?".

This is very difficult if the team is looking to someone else for their cues, whether it's a "team lead" as such or just a scrum master. (We don't really have team leads, which is one of our many organizational problems.) We might have all been happier if I'd taken over this job a couple months ago.

The managers are being very kind and making sure I'm not overloaded, but the truth is that this is the first thing I've done at this job that I'm particularly good at. After my previous team of 9 people, with a dozen conflicting priorities and several constituencies, a team of 3-4 with simple priorities is easy.

Friday, March 14, 2014


The boy has exhibited some super competence this week. He got himself into the shower, mostly managed the shower without prompting, and hung up his towel in the bathroom, which was a pretty long time for him to stay on task. If the three of us are home for dinner, we play the Conversation Game that we started over the summer during his social skills camp: everybody goes around the table and talks about the high point and low point of their day, and everyone else has to ask clearly-relevant questions. He has either started to enjoy the conversation, or has learned to be convincingly deceptive for a full half hour, either of which is cause for celebration.

(He did manage to bullshit briefly, when Anna asked what he thought and he didn't want to admit that his attention had wandered off long ago and he hadn't heard anything I said. "Wow, that does sound like a real low point!" Obviously, this is an invaluable classroom skill, particularly in high school and college.)

He's growing up, which I could be sad about, but the older he gets, the more fascinating I find him and (by and large) the easier he is to deal with. He can talk more about his extremely unusual internal processes, and he can better manage the negative voices of his mind. (We all have them, but his are quite a bit stronger than normal: watching him battle himself to spit out "ThankyouMama" when prompted is both sad and endearing. I, of course, have never known the feeling of resisting something just because someone else told it to me.)

The other night at dinner, we discussed foreign languages--he would like to learn some Russian, since his best friend is bilingual, and I got to bust out the classic history of the Lord's Prayer in English to illustrate how language changes. Anna and I got to talking enthusiastically about the various countries we've been able to travel to. As I went into the kitchen, he asked:
"Why would you even want to leave the country to go someplace else that's all different, anyway?"
Which is a good question! And there is really just one answer.
"Because the world is awesome, that's why."
I think that was the main thing to get through, though we did talk about how much fun it is to go to other countries that seem really strange, and discover that by and large almost everyone on the planet is really nice and they're just trying to work and raise their kids and pay their bills just like we do.
"How come you don't take me with you?"
"Well, notwithstanding that Mama came to visit me in Chile for a weekend, twice, traveling to other countries takes a fair bit of time and effort."
"I would like to go with you to another country."
Anna chimes in.
"In order to do that, you'd have to be willing to eat a lot more foods. When you're in other countries you can't be sure what food is available, so you have to be able to eat many different things."
"I would like to start eating more foods. I like broccoli crowns."
Wait. What?

It turns out he does not particularly like broccoli crowns, or rather he has a memory of liking them, when he was much younger, when they were dipped in apple juice? Or something. He tried, though, and while he made The Face of Disapproval, he did not:
  1. Have to keep himself from retching.
  2. Melt into a panicked puddle on the floor.
  3. Give in to an irresistible urge to run away and hide in the farthest corner of the house. [That response is reserved for babies.]
Then it was bedtime.
"You're getting all grown up. It's really cool to watch, and I'm glad I get to be here for it."
"Can we please stop this conversation because it might make me sad, because the more grown up you are the less good your life is."
(This is a kid who has been complaining constantly [and correctly] since at least age 4 about how little control he has over his life because he's a kid.)
"Sure, but you should know you'll always be my kid, no matter how grown up you are. I think being grown up is way better."
"Chris, please stop, this scene is so touching I'll be sad." [He appears to have an affinity for filmmaking.]
Sleep well.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

the child, it grows.

We've been having a generally lovely time with the boy lately. I can definitely see the feeling that they grow up too fast, but on the other hand he gets more and more fun and capable as he grows. We expect a reasonably stormy adolescence (which sort of started a year or two ago, really), but it seems pretty likely he'll be close to home for a while. We doubt he'll be ready to live on his own at 18, for example. But he's nothing if not surprising.

Being the remarkable parent she is, Anna has been thinking about J's obsession with computer time, which he's been getting in return for participating in his various things: occupational therapy, social skills group, etc. She realized she doesn't actually care about the computer time, she cares about his level of involvement in all the things that aren't computer time, including free play and exercise. She and J sat down--for a few hours, they both really love organizing things in a way I cannot comprehend--and now there's a big weekly schedule on the wall with Post-Its and color coding and 27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining how it covers some number of concerns. Outside of those things, he can have screen time or do whatever he wants. (There is not a ton of free time, really.) Today he had his oldest friend over for most of the day, and that encompassed Socializing, Free Play, and Exercise all at once.

It's only Day 2, but this has some promise to reduce the stress and constant checking for both of them. It wouldn't have been possible even 6 months ago, but now he's capable of greater abstraction and perspective about his life and what he needs because of his non-typical brain wiring. He's had half a year of school not being awful, and for the most part he not only doesn't have to be badgered into participating in his various activities, he often enjoys at least part of them.

He's not worrying about his future much, it seems, though I think he relaxes a little every time I tell him the only things he has to do as an adult are to support himself, and love people.

this is new.

"Good night, my wonderful boy. I love you."
"Good night, wonderful Chris. I love you too."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

water under the bridge.

Tonight was the annual cocktail party at my old house in Oakland. It's one of the least exclusive events I know, and you're encouraged to bring friends or co-workers--often it turns out they know someone else at the party anyway. Sometimes, it's a small Valley.

When Anna and I were dating, I once told her that if I got married, I could easily invite 200 people to the wedding without thinking very hard. She was skeptical, since she was still deciding whether I was a fountain of bullshit--I am, but not so it matters--but then she started meeting the horde, and saw that I wasn't showing off. It is actually a very big group, and while relationships vary as you'd expect, by and large we know each other well enough. The accumulated weight of shared experience.

Tonight there was my ex-girlfriend C, who was quite justifiably angry at me for a few years, until I got my head out of my ass and apologized, and eventually we became able to talk like old friends. Just last week, at a dinner party, I got to tell the remarkable story of our first date, which is one of my favorites. Of course everyone at the table has known me for years, and known her almost as long, and that just makes it all awesome.

There was also my ex from The Bad Relationship, who doesn't want to remember anything about our mutual past, but we did have quite a civil conversation about the labeling of the numerous cheeses. She reportedly acknowledged Anna's presence in the room, as well. Small steps toward a more peaceful world.

Many of us have dated, several have been married and divorced; sometimes the pairing up happens within the community, and sometimes the pairing up brings in a new person. (Or several, in my case: on the way home from the party when my late friend J and his wife H first met Anna, H commented how much she liked Anna and how well Anna and I seemed to fit together. J said, "Yeah...don't get too attached. We've seen this before, and they don't necessarily stick around." Anna was unable to convince H to tell this story at our wedding.)

(In my defense, this seems a little unfair, since my pre-Anna girlfriend was around for 3 years and still talks to my friends, if not, for mysterious reasons, to me. Nonetheless, a valid point.)

Most of the gang is a bit older than me, so they've had the pleasure of watching me grow from an obnoxious, if usually charming, twentysomething single guy, into a charming, if occasionally obnoxious, thirtysomething husband and father. These are my people. We've all grown up together, gone to Burning Man, eaten lovely food, helped each other, trusted each other, adjusted our expectations to what we're all capable of.

Across the community, biological families range from the fabulous like mine, to varying levels of dysfunction, all the way down to the horrific. No matter what we each started out with, now we have each other, too.

Our traditional dinner toast is "Here's to the family you choose."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

back to work, slackers

We had a lovely holiday season here at the Snugglehaus. On Christmas Eve we went to St. Gregory's to watch a family we're friends with be in the Christmas pageant. (The 3-year old was the best sheep ever.) Of course, since it's St. Gregory's, the pageant is different every year, there's a script and choreography and varied kinds of singing, and of course they alternate years with the different versions of Jesus' birth (Luke's and Matthew's). Then we were off to Dessert Night elsewhere in the city, and then we were cooked.

On Christmas we got the boy back around noonish, and opened presents. We spread his larger presents over the twelve days leading up to Christmas, which encourages actually playing with them as their opened. I got various nice useful things; Anna got a boatload of ukulele accessories from her family Secret Santa, and I got her a ukulele. I had hoped the ukulele would be a surprise, but she had said she wanted one, I'm the resident string instrument expert, and I'm kind of predictable in that this is exactly the sort of situation where I will buy her a present.

J got a full set of Star Wars Family Car Decals, so now our two back doors have adorable banthas on them.

The boy has been challenging at times recently, which I think is manifesting the half-year pattern: half a year of turbulence as he struggles to make a developmental leap, followed by half a year of cruising as he flexes new skills and cognitive abilities. He's been reliably on that cycle, and it's been a very smooth 6 months overall, so I suppose we're due. Given the level of sturm und drang we can already get at age 9, the teenage years are looking a little daunting. He's a loving, compassionate little human, and we'll figure it out.

At just about any tech job, the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year's is largely a loss. Half the company goes on vacation, which makes it hard for the remaining half to accomplish much; you have long deploy blackouts, not wanting to risk production outages during the holidays, which are customer-visible and also short-staffed (see above re: vacations). Years ago I stopped taking the holidays off, first because holiday travel is miserable, but second because workplaces become largely indifferent to whether and how long I show up in the office during that time, so it's not like I'm Bob Cratchit, toiling away while everyone else relaxes into the holidays. (Larger companies will often just shut the office entirely for the two weeks of Christmas to New Year's; nicer ones will do so without requiring you to take vacation days for it.)

Work has been unfortunate, if educational in a character-building sense, and that's probably all I should say about it for now.

We've added yet a few more stuffed animals to the household. We already had so many! But there's a specific kind of stuffed beaver that's a family institution, and Anna couldn't resist a pair of badgers from Ikea. I think we need a moratorium.

And, as always, being married is the easy part. Nice work, if you can get it. =)