Adventure looking forward

Chris Baldwin’s brilliant comic (I won’t belittle it by calling it a “web comic”) Little Dee ended today. He’s been winding it down for months, so it’s no surprise that it’s over. What is a surprise to me is how resonant the ending is, even in its first two panels:


It’s tempting, as I start to see forty up on the horizon, to think that all my adventures and all the beauty are behind me. Weeks like last week, when my father in law was in and out of the hospital and I was forced by illness to withdraw from a Tanglewood Festival Chorus concert run that would have taken me to Carnegie Hall, seem to reinforce that thought.

But then I watch my family, and I catch my breath a little bit at all the beauty that is yet to come.

Falling summer leaves


A day of work today as the sun came and went over the Berkshires. I spent the morning in a coffee shop and the afternoon in a hotel room. If I could have, I would have done all the work in the coffee shop, but giving demos and being on conference calls doesn’t lend itself well to public places.

So I work in my room and flirt with depression. This is a necessary but frustrating part about being in Tanglewood; one is removed from one’s normal routines, for better and worse, and dropped into a new world. Sometimes it feels like being plucked from a stream and heaved vainly gasping onto a dock. Today, I need to see it more as a falling leaf, one of billions that will fall without the world ending.

Successfully evading depression, for me, relies on my ability to recognize the warning signs and turn aside the behaviors. When my normal routines–which function as a daily defense mechanism against the Black Dog–are disrupted, I need to acknowledge the disruption and do whatever I can to fill the void. It’s something that’s done one day at a time.

Thank your local optometrist

I may owe my optometrist my vision.

I was running low on contacts and considered simply calling in an order, but thought maybe I should go and have my eyes checked. Normally I only change prescriptions every few years, but about a year ago I had an eye infection and a more indepth visit. While I wasn’t experiencing any real pain, I thought I should check in anyway.

It was a good thing I did. My optometrist used a number of diagnostic tools to check up on my eyes, concluding with anterior segment photography. She then said, “You have a corneal ulcer.” She went on to explain that my eye infection had recurred in my left eye, and that a slight cloudiness in my cornea was an indication that my white blood cells were fighting the infection and that the surface of the cornea was opened as a result.

She put me on aggressive antibiotics drops, told me not to wear my contacts, and asked me to come back in two days to check the progress. So I’m not out of the woods yet, but the prognosis is pretty good. On the other hand, if I had followed my first instinct and simply dialed in the order for the new contacts, I might have seriously damaged my eye.

If you wear contacts and you haven’t been to the optometrist in a while, you might want to schedule a visit–or at least write them a note. I think they’re underappreciated.

Ramagon 2: the toy in action

There are about 150 people who have stumbled across the Ramagon tribute I wrote last year, one or two at a time. I finally stumbled across some photographic evidence of the toys when I was scanning an old photo album last night. Here are some out of focus close-ups of three things I made with the Ramagon toy kits:

  1. ramagon2Sheath for a toy sword: I had a cheapo plastic toy sword which glowed in the dark, so it became both a medieval sword and a lightsaber. Since it wasn’t a real lightsaber, it needed someplace to stay when I wasn’t posing like Luke Skywalker, so I built a simple sheath for it. You can see the basic symmetry of the Ramagon toys in the photo: they did pyramidal very well, and it was easy to link them together into a strong boxlike structure.
  2. ramagon1Holster for a toy gun: Just as the Ramagon hubs could do pyramids, it was trivially simple to make cubes with them. Add a pyramid at the end to taper the gizmo, extend one end with a square for a belt loop, and cover the frame with the plastic snap-in panels, and presto: very uncomfortable and big holster. There’s a very cringe inducing “action shot” of the holster and the sheath on Flickr; in my defense, it was 1982.
  3. ramagon3Toy gun: This was the coolest of the three toys, and I’m sorry I don’t have a better picture. A combination of a long hex frame and some closely snapped together hubs, and the illustration shows the short connectors (the black piece here used for the “trigger” and to secure the close clusters at the end of the gun) that I had forgotten existed. “Action shot” here (not me in the picture).

Web birthday#8

This is my eighth birthday… since starting my blog in 2001.

Seems like it was an eternity ago. I didn’t even bother to blog on my birthday then–of course it was close to the end of my third semester of business school and I was going nuts. But then, I didn’t realize that I was starting a tradition.

I went back and looked at past birthday posts. 2001, as I mentioned before, wasn’t blogged. In 2002 I turned 30 and reflected on Bilbo Baggins’ birthday benediction (more on that in a minute). 2003 was gearing up for what turned out to be my last Microsoft Christmas party. 2004 was a reflection on over ten years of no one knowing you’re a dog on the Internet. 2005 was my quotation in Business Week over the Sony BMG boycott. 2006, a dinner with friends and reflection on mortality. And in 2007, turning Presidential and lining up my new iPhone.

This past year is definitely a year of change — new website, a shift to linkblogging, killer new job. But my birthday this year feels more like a homecoming. As my sister says, this is pretty much my first Facebook birthday, and the people I’ve reunited with over there are making it a very nice happy birthday indeed. In some ways, I think this is the first birthday in a long time where I’ve felt something like contentment. Probably a sign that vast upheaving changes are right around the corner.

It’s a wonder that I still know how to breathe

After months of following the Democratic primaries and cheering for Barack Obama’s victory, did I watch his acceptance speech last night? Did I scour the crowd for signs of my friends Greg Greene and Jen Sorenson, who were both in the crowd? Did I relish a speech well done, a fight well fought, and clear signs that the candidate is coming out swinging against a weak Republican nominee? Did I?

Well, actually … no. As Barack was starting his speech, I was getting 30 electrodes applied to my head and body and having a mask strapped to my face.

I’ve long struggled with snoring. My dad has legendary volume and persistence: a true Heldentenor of a snorer. In college my good friend Don Webb told me that he could hear me snoring through the 19th century brick wall that separated our beds when we were both residents on the Lawn at UVA. But recently it’s been getting worse, according to reliable observers, and to top it all off I’ve had decreased energy and an indomitable desire to nap whenever possible. So I finally manned up and scheduled a polysomnogram, better known as a sleep study, to see if I had sleep apnea. The first study was a few weeks ago, but I hadn’t gotten the results until last night, when I went back to try sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

The background: sleep apnea is a condition of repeated interruptions of breathing (apneas) during sleep. An apnea is defined as the cessation of normal breathing for 10 seconds or more, followed by a gasping resumption of breathing. The clinical threshold for an apnea diagnosis is 5 or more apneas per hour (5 on the AHI index).

My AHI score was a whole number multiple of the clinical threshold, meaning that I was experiencing oxygen starvation for an average of 2 minutes out of every hour. No wonder I’ve been grumpy and sleepy all the time (not to mention several other of the dwarves).

So last night I slept with a CPAP machine for the first time, and I feel amazing this morning: awake and alert, quick, and in a great mood. This despite the fact that I woke up three times (that I’m aware of) overnight–sleeping with the mask and all those wires isn’t easy.

Apparently I’ll be using a CPAP machine from now on, something that I’m actually looking forward to if it makes this much of a difference in my mood. Plus it apparently stops the snoring, which is a pretty significant bonus.

And yeah, while I’m looking forward to catching up with Barack’s speech, I’m kind of glad now that I skipped it in favor of this study. Both look like they’re going to have a big influence on my life going forward.

Veracode is hiring

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to work at an amazing company in the security space, wonder no more. Veracode is growing, and we’ve got quite a few openings in sales, engineering, QA, research, and even (particularly) in product management.

If you’ve read my posts about security and product management, if you’ve read about us in the press, and if you think you’ve got what it takes, drop us a line. Of course you’re welcome to contact me and ask questions about the company too.

Presbyterians slowly reversing stand on gay ordination?

Like Estaminet, I hope so. But I also fear that this motion in a General Assembly committee to recommend the deletion of G-6.0106b, the part of the Presbyterian Book of Order that requires “chastity in singleness” or “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman” of church officers, and therefore bans ordination of gays and lesbians, is destined to, at best, be defeated by conservative presbyteries, and at worst cause a schism in the denomination.

In an alternate universe, where the church would care about “all the ordination standards, rather than singling out just one,” the committee’s alternate resolution would pass easily. But in this universe, where there is a vocal group that out of fear is determined to deny rights to their brothers and sisters in Christ, there’s just no way this effort is going to succeed, I’m afraid.

Nokia + open source Symbian: too little, too late

TechCrunch: Nokia Acquires Symbian – Goes 3. Hear that sound? That’s the sound of Fake Steve Jobs just itching to skewer somebody, but since he’s on vacation I’ll do it instead.

Make no mistake: this is a defensive move by Nokia in response to the iPhone and Android, not an offensive one. Five years ago, an open source OS for smartphones might really have made the market. Now Nokia’s not even calling the tune any more: with Motorola, Samsung and LG eating them away on the low end, and RIM, the Windows Mobile folks, and Apple eating them away on the high end, pretty soon there’s not going to be much left in the middle.

I enjoyed the Symbian phone that I used from 2003 to 2005, but Symbian didn’t move quickly enough with the OS and it became stale. It doesn’t smell any better now. When you have unnamed senior execs inside Nokia calling Symbian a POS, you’ve got problems.

And what about units? Those 291 million handsets you sold in Q1? They’re legacy products. Apple sold 6 million in the iPhone’s first year as a brand new market entrant even without the benefit of enterprise mail integration or independent developers. Now granted, you can sit fat and happy on your 291 million units shipped, or you can reflect on the fact that you shipped 100 million of them in the last 18 months, and the other 100 million are in all likelihood no longer in use since your European customer base replaces its phones every 12 to 25 months, and the US customer base every 17.6. Is your market really still growing, or did you just sell replacement Symbian handsets to your existing customers?

And I haven’t even talked about Android yet–it’s probably a trainwreck, but it’s from Google so it’s going to exert some market pressure on you too.

And your developers are talking crap about the OS, too. And I can’t blame them. Which would you rather write apps for: an OS that’s forked three ways, requires you to use a crippled version of C++ with weird string handling practices and proprietary error handling, and needs a downlevel version of Visual Studio, all of a sudden the iPhone’s development frameworks and XCode look like nirvana.

So, guys: if your competition is a competitor who’s locked up the enterprise and a user centric market innovator, I’m afraid that open sourcing the OS (the POS OS) is not going to save the company. Maybe if there were already a bunch of really talented individual developers working on creating a great mobile experience, but guess what? They’re on Apple’s platform now, not yours.

Woody Allen at the clarinet

Via Matthew Guerrieri, who writes “sometimes a clarinet is just a clarinet,” in reference to Woody asking Dick Cavett to hold his clarinet and then saying, “Don’t hurt it, because it affirms my Freudian totality.” <audience titter> “Should be playing the harmonica.”

What I love about this clip is how the first part makes him look like a stork romancing a tree limb.

The bonus 1965 standup act is also hysterical, though it does make one contemplate a young Woody Allen who looks surprisingly like Peter Sellers.

Short weeks

… are the fun weeks, aren’t they? I feel like I’m up to my eyeballs in work and yet the week just started.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • I’m within striking distance of reaching zero unlistened to tracks in my iTunes library, after almost two years of dedicated listening to ensure that I listened to every track in the library at least once. As of the end of the Great CD Ripping Project that was around 20,000 tracks; it’s a bit more now. I’ve got it down to fewer than 500 tracks that haven’t been listened to at least once.
  • I’m starting to like this theme; think I’ll stick with it a while longer. If I get bored I’ll always switch it to Stripped.

New lenses on the world

A few weeks ago my eyes turned bright red. They didn’t hurt but something was clearly wrong. I stopped wearing my contacts for a few days and got rid of the infection that had settled in. In the meantime, I relearned what I already knew: my glasses prescription was woefully out of date. Like, when I got these glasses, Clinton was beginning his second term. They didn’t correct for my astigmatism and I had a headache after a few hours wearing them. And the frames were loose to boot.

So I bit the bullet and got new glasses. They’re a departure—I went to heavier Italian black frames, about ten years after everyone else did, and the effect is a cross between young Peter Sellers and early 1950s British Health birth control glasses. This post is, as they say on Fark, useless without pictures, so I’ll see what I can do about that.

But I had forgotten what it’s like getting used to new glasses. I need to keep my head very still or the distortions moving in my peripheral vision give my stomach flip flops. And trying to glance down at my iPod while driving in was a whole different experience again. Like: if I ever give up contacts for good, I might need to go to bifocals.

So: not exactly the total stylish package that I imagined. But at least I can see through them, when I look straight ahead. I think the bottom line is that I’m really glad that I can switch back to my contacts.

Some days are not profound

This is one of those days.

Nothing’s really wrong. I’m just weary of winter. The sun is out and I’m not out there. I really, really want to put my snowblower in the back of the garage and pull the grill to the front.

RIP, Myrtle Talbott

Every now and then, you lose one of the truly influential people in your life. Earlier this year, it was my grandfather. Last week, I got word that another one had passed on: Myrtle Talbott, who taught my once-a-week TAG class when I was in fourth and fifth grade, who was a longtime member of my church, and who was the first teacher I had who really stretched me.

Picture this: I’m in elementary school, glasses and so uncoordinated they give me extra time in the gym outside of classes so I can learn how to do something athletic without falling over. I’ve been through third grade and the teachers are so tired of trying to keep me engaged that they shift me off in the corner with a book. Then fourth grade starts and they round me up with a few other kids, put us on a bus, and send us to another school halfway across town, where Ms. Talbott waits for us, along with a Spanish teacher, CPR practice, creative writing instruction, real-life biology and science, and a bunch of kids who didn’t seem to mind that I was so odd. And she wouldn’t let me just slide by on glibly knowing the answers. Indeed, she was the first teacher I had who gave me an inkling of that uncomfortable truth: sometimes there are no right answers, only tough questions.

Later I saw her all the time in church, but I never made that connection again. She had already put me on the path and I needed to find my own way from there. But I still wish I had been able to come back and see her before she passed away. I don’t think I ever really thanked her for everything she did for me.

So if you see this and were one of her students, stop in at the guestbook and leave a tribute, won’t you? It seems a shame to leave it empty.

Sharper Image Bankruptcy Schadenfreude

Couldn’t resist pointing to this article about Sharper Image’s bankruptcy filing. I remember back in the 1980s when they were the coolest thing around, at least to a 12 year old boy. Tons of gadgets and insanely expensive lifestyle gizmos.

What changed? Well, for one thing, fewer yuppies. For another, their target audience got older. You can’t continue to draw a new audience, particularly one willing to pay a hipness premium, when you’re pitching to their parents. Exhibit A: Turbo Groomer. No matter how you slice it, a nose and ear hair trimmer is never going to be hip. But the damned thing is always on page 2 of the Sharper Image SkyMall pages. Exhibit B: Fresher Longer. Sorry, guys, it’s Tupperware. No sale.