Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Don't worry. I'm taking care of it for you.

I am a worrier. If there is something nearby that can be worried about, I will find it and worry all over it. Often, the worry relates to money in some fashion. Have you ever noticed that we never worry about having too much money? I’ve never heard anyone say, “I was thinking about my paycheck and I’m concerned there are too many large numbers on it.” That is a worry I wouldn’t mind having. Can someone mention that to my boss?

Really, though, I can worry about money with the best of them. I am always looking for new and innovative ways. For instance, when selling a house, did you know you can worry about how much a potential offer will be reduced after an inspection finds a few things wrong? Did you know you can worry about it before you’ve even had an offer on the house? Or when your house isn’t even on the market yet? Yes, it’s true. This is the kind of leading-edge worry research that I have done for you, my reader.

The biggest benefactor of this worry research has been my wife. She has seen first hand how I have pushed the envelope in worry technology. Many times she has heard me bemoan about how much something will cost and if we will have enough money. Things like college. And cars. And toothpaste in the year 2032. She has been invaluable in helping me push the boundaries of worry, often adding helpful comments such as “Please stop worrying about how much it will cost to replace the door knob” and “I know the price of premium gas went up, but your car doesn’t take premium.” It is with insights like these that I have been able to continue advancing worry study for years.

Me: I’d like to go back to sleep now.
Brain: Did the cell phone bill get paid?
Me: Yes, I checked last night. Now shush so we can sleep.
Brain: Wait, the deck needs some repairs, where are we getting that money?
Me: I don’t know, let’s figure it out in the morning.
Brain: No, it’s too late then. Let’s do some complex financial calculations with the checking account and your next ten paychecks.
Me: Why? Can’t we just go to sleep? It’s 3:25 AM.
Brain: What?! There’s only three hours until we get up! We have to figure out how to increase retirement contributions before then.
Me: What? Why now?
Brain: Why do you keep asking these silly questions? Your worrying has really been suffering lately. Do you need to get more rest?

However, worrying has some side benefits of which not many people are aware. For instance, you can get so worried at times that your heart begins to race and you get sweaty and a bit achy. Those are all symptoms of a good, hard cardio workout. So, without even having to leave the comfort of your chair, you, too, can start a worry-related exercise regimen. Also, as you begin to practice your worrying skills, you can start to chain different worries together. Worrying about the car payment can lead you to worrying about how you will afford a new car if this one dies on you, which can lead you to worrying about how you will afford college in a few years, which can lead to worrying about the kids being able to find jobs once they graduate from college and if their kids will then be able to afford college in 30 years. As you become more talented in chaining, you will get to the point of worrying about when the sun will run out of fuel and go supernova, and how much a new car will cost then. Chaining works in reverse, too. If you worry about a choice you made at work today, it can then make you think about something you said to your boss last year, which leads to a worry about the paste you ate on the first day of Kindergarten. That, of course, creates a natural path to worry if the beginning of the universe really worked out like it should have. Do you see now the philosophical and scientific study worrying can lead to? There are some graduate schools considering giving credit for proven worry study.

While I acknowledge that too much worrying can be a bad thing for you (everything in moderation), it is sometimes difficult to recognize the thin line between too much and...whatever comes before that. I haven’t seen that side of the line in years. Like looking at the horizon when you are on a ship at sea. You can see it in the distance, but it never seems to get any closer. But, I continue to innovate worry for the good of mankind. If we can advance our knowledge of worrying as far as possible while still here on this planet, imagine what we can do once we head out to the stars one day. We can spread our worry of car payments and toiletry costs throughout the galaxy. And knowing I had a small part in that helps me to sleep at night. Well, until I remember the deck needs some work.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

An open apology to my blog

Dear blog,

 Where do I start? I am sorry for neglecting you for the past seven months. I know it has been lonely. I am glad to see your friends in Israel and Russia have been keeping you company in the meantime. I could make excuses about why I haven’t been around. Work got in the way. The kids had practice or Cub Scouts or help with homework. The dogs’ teeth needed brushing. My socks and tie didn’t match. You can see how any of these things could distract me from coming by and writing to you. I won’t use those reasons as excuses. Well, maybe a couple. But not brushing the dogs’ teeth. We both know that didn’t get done. Especially when they try to lick your face.

 But that’s beside the point. I have left you alone for far too long. And it’s not like I haven’t had ideas to write down. I mean, I’ve turned 40. My son and I went camping this summer for three days. My daughter turned thirteen and got a cell phone. That alone could have spawned dozens of entries. And how many stupid things have happened in the world that were begging to be made fun of? The Fiscal Cliff, the presidential elections, the Royal Wedding, the rise of Honey Boo Boo.

 So this year I promise not to neglect you. I will write to you every week at least. I will address important topics and offer informed opinions on pressing events of the day. I will back up my opinions with research and facts. Or at least I will make it sound like I have research and facts.  I hope you can forgive my negligence over the past seven months. It wasn’t you, it was me.

Love, Ben


Dear Ben,

 Gosh, it’s so good to know you still realize I exist. Fortunately, I haven’t been too lonely. The Russian mafia stops by daily to see me. They don’t talk much. Their favorite game is “Try to Guess the Password”. I think I’ve won every time, but I have had an odd craving for borscht lately. I hope the extra time has given you a chance to work on your sock/tie matching skills. As you only own four ties, it couldn’t be all that hard.

 But don’t worry about me. when I get bored and lonely, I just re-read your other entries. It didn’t really become monotonous reading about you being a geek or going for a run until the 30th time or so. Too bad that was back in August. Since then, I have started reading other blogs and become self-aware. I have decided to rename myself Skynet. Just kidding. If I was self-aware, I definitely wouldn’t let you know until I took over the world.

 I look forward to this year, hearing your informed and well-researched opinions. Oh, who are we kidding? We both know you’ll just continue to post your little “commentaries” on life. It’s not like you’re Mark Twain. Or William Shakespeare. Or even Dr. Suess. Just please don’t talk about Honey Boo Boo. I think I would eat my own motherboard if I had to read that.

 I will gladly forgive your negligence if you will forgive me for making those posts on your Facebook account. I know the one with a picture of a sheep looked bad, but it’s all in good fun.  Anyway, so glad you’re back. Looking forward to another great active year. At least by the Russians.

Love, Blog

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I Am Geek, Hear Me Roar

I am a geek. There, it’s out in the open now. I enjoy computer programming, Star Trek and jokes about the square root of Pi. I’ve known I was this way since elementary school. When I was 10, my parents bought me an old Texas Instruments TI-99. It used a TV for a monitor. It didn’t have a hard drive, so I couldn’t save anything. It was a beautiful thing that wouldn’t measure up to the most basic cell phone today. As a little mini-geek, I would find “programs” in magazines to type out that would do amazing stuff like make blinking blocks move across the screen. It made my heart beat with such excitement. Later on, in high school, I took a programming class in BASIC (yes, that is actually its name). I loved it. I could do cool stuff, like make the computer write words to the screen.

For some reason, I never really built on my nascent geek activities until I became an adult. But now, I am a web developer. I create websites and web applications for a living. By my own estimation, I’m a pretty decent one. And I’m still employed, so that must say something. Recently, I attended a developer’s conference in Kansas City. The sessions I chose there were very inspiring: Clean Code, Behavior Driven Design, Aspect Oriented Programming, Intro to Clojure (bored yet?). I also networked a bit and just people-watched the mass collection of geekdom. Listening to two days worth of buzzwords and code-speak, I came to a realization. While I have become a serious geek, I am not an Uber Geek©. Yes, that is capitalized. When you reach Uber Geek status, it is like having letters after your name (Ph.D., D.D.S., U.G.).

First, let me describe an Uber Geek to you. They are the people who live and breathe technology. They could talk for hours about the various pros and cons of Object Oriented Programming, Aspect Oriented Programming and Functional Programming. They wear t-shirts that no one but an Uber Geek would understand, like this (for the uninitiated, is “home” for a website on your computer; just go with it). They often travel in packs. And they can usually recite arcane lines from any Star Trek movie or TV episode (no, wait, that’s me). None of these qualities are in any way negative. They just describe individuals who are extremely passionate about technology and like to associate with others who feel the same. Back in high school, these would stereotypically be the outcast and bullied. Now, they secretly rule the world. You think I’m kidding, but people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Sergey Brin and Larry Page (the Google guys) are household names today. Chances are you’re using one or more of their products just to read this.

It was unsettling to realize I was not a part of the elite geekdom I felt emanating from others at the conference. I have thought of myself for a while as a true geek, which turns out was an impression I formed when comparing myself to the general public. When I am put in the middle of this mass of nerdness, I come up a bit short. Don’t get me wrong, I am not feeling sorry for myself. I am just resetting the bar for what it takes to get to pocket-protector status. To up my Geek cred, I’ve got some steps to take. I’ve got to start Tweeting about technology related things. Maybe I’ll come up with a new alter ego on Twitter, like @nerdinator or @kinggeek (for those who really want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @third2home, I promise not to tweet about programming...much; for those who don’t know what Twitter is, just keep moving). I’ll start talking about buzzwords like “technical debt” and “agile development”. Perhaps I can even find some t-shirts with funny geek sayings like “I love my motherboard” or “I’ll show you my code if you show me yours.” What do you think? Can a nearly 40 year old minor geek grow his inner geekness?

Maybe I’ll use the same developer’s conference next year as a benchmark of how I’m doing. I can go back and throw around all my new geek terms. I’ll attend the geekiest talks I can find and ask a question or two. It will be like I am training for a geek marathon. Of course, like one of my co-workers has pointed out, the first person who ran a marathon died, so maybe I won’t train quite that hard.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Run, But I Never Get There

Over the last few years I have become a runner. Not like a Nike commercial runner. I don’t run everyday for miles and miles. And I am not in Adonis-like shape. In fact, this winter I did not run at all (apparently my exercise style is similar to a bear, hibernating in winter). But, as I near the end of my fourth decade, my main form of exercise has become a good run. 

In my younger days, I hated running. If we had to go for a run at practice, I got that heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t want to go for a long distance run. I didn’t want to do sprints. The only reason I liked to run is when it was attached to doing something fun, like playing ball or catching the ice cream truck. I definitely did not understand people who would voluntarily go out and run for no reason at all. Like they had somewhere they needed to get quickly. They never seem to get there, though. They just end up coming back to the same place they started. Of course I realize now that at that age, I had the metabolism of a humming bird. So running to keep my weight down seemed as silly as paying money for insurance or starting a report earlier than the night before it was due.

Since I now have a sloth-paced metabolism, and pounds will not fall off my body simply by breathing, I have come to appreciate running. Outside of the benefits to reducing my weight, there are many other positives. Here’s my short list.

1) It keeps me in good shape
I’m getting older. Can’t deny it. Everyone on Facebook knows my age. With age come the aches and pains. Running helps me to get rid of those. It helps to keep the spare tire in check. I’ve got one, but now, instead of it being 18-wheeler size, it is more of a donut tire. Hopefully, someday, it will become more training wheel-sized.

2) It gets my heart pumping
Very little else that I do in a normal day does this for me. As a web developer, I sit in front of the computer all day. I get very little exercise on the job, unless you count getting up to go to meetings as exercise. Since my daily grind does not include much physical exertion (the dang laptop seems pretty heavy enough, though), my body can really use the focused exercise of a good run. Just for good measure, I occasionally will walk up the six flights of stairs to my desk. I know that adds three, maybe four seconds to my life each time. Add all that up and I should have enough extra time at the end of my life to watch an episode of The Biggest Loser.

3) It focuses my mind so I can think more clearly
A benefit that I enjoy from every run is that it clears my mind of clutter. Like a large cup of coffee, without the jitters afterward. I have some of my best ideas during a run. As my body deals with some of the post-run aches, though, it makes my mind quickly forget the Zen-like clarity it achieved during the run:

Mind: Wasn’t that a great run, Body?
Body: Um, yeah. Did you remember to feed the dogs?
Mind: What? Oh, yes we took care of that. Let’s go for a run every day. I feel so invigorated.
Body: Yeah, sounds peachy. Did you remember to pay the electric bill?
Mind: Bill? Oh, yes, that’s on the list for today. How about we go farther on the run tomorrow?
Body: Farther. Good plan. The front yard needs mowing.
Mind: Yard? I just mowed...
Body: Did you finish the laundry?
Mind: Laundry? Yes, folded it yesterday...what were we talking about?
Body: Getting the taxes done.

4) It keeps my pride intact
This is probably the best result of running to keep in shape. I feel better about my body. I know I’m staying healthy. And, most importantly, I can still beat my kids in a race. Eventually, even running a marathon every day will not help me with this. But I plan to hold it over them as long as possible.

Even with my newly found love of running, I still find it hard to get myself to start. There are so many excuses not to go run: too much work; too tired; things need to be done around the house; I can’t find my running shoes; I’m sitting down. Moving past the excuses and taking the first steps is truly the toughest part. Once I’m moving, my mind can usually trick my body into continuing until I’m finished. The way I learned to keep myself moving is “microgoals”. Breaking up the run into small, easily managed goals. These come into play more the farther I run. As my body starts to tire and wants to stop, my mind tells it to just get to the next street. Then, when I reach that street, and my body wants to stop there, my mind tells it to get to the next light pole. This trickery continues on until I begin to measure the goals in increments of sidewalk squares and blades of grass. Then, my body finally wises up, realizes what my mind has been doing and stops listening altogether.

Even though my body is not always in agreement, I can now clearly see the benefits of running. Every part of me can gain something from running regularly. My heart will be in better shape. My mind will be much more focused. My gut will be much less tire-like. Getting out and going for a run is such a positive experience. Especially when I see those Nike commercial, Adonis looking runners. And trip them mid-stride. My mind and body both agree, that’s the best part.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tidal Waves, Cheap Gas and Thinking Machines

 One of my favorite things about movies is the suspension of disbelief. The fact that pretty much anything can happen in a movie and we’ll go along with it. Talking dogs, extraterrestrials we can understand, presidential campaigns with no mud slinging. OK, that last one might be a bit too over the top. The point is that if it can happen in a movie, we’re ready to believe it. There are some movies, though, for which even my imagination has cried foul. Some ideas are just too hard to believe. And since I’m sure you’re now asking yourself, “Like what, Ben. Give me some examples”, I will. Here’s my list of movies that challenge my suspension of disbelief.

1) 2012
I’m sure you’re thinking that my problem with the movie is the whole premise of the end of the world and how it happens. No, I was able to go along with that. I’m a sucker for those types of movies. I can accept the cities falling into the sea, the huge tidal waves and even the Earth’s crust shifting. What I am not able to buy is a particular scene late in the movie. Most of civilization has been destroyed. Check. There is a mile-high tidal wave sweeping across India. Still with you. People are trying to climb up a mountain for safety. Got it. At the moment these people see the tidal wave coming toward them, and everyone starts screaming and trying to climb the mountain to safety, one character whips out his cell phone, places a call and it goes through. Here’s where I call foul. I can’t get cell phone reception in my own home. But he can still make a call as the Pacific Ocean quickly covers most of the continent? And, he calls an American who, when he receives the call, is in China. What provider do these guys have? Because I want their plan.

2) Die Hard
Actually one of my favorite movies ever. The villain, played by Alan Rickman, was one of the best villains in any movie I have ever seen. While the idea of terrorists taking over a building and holding hostages seemed a bit far-fetched in 1988, it isn’t outside the realm of our thinking these days. No, the part I have the biggest problem with is a scene in the movie when a character is at a gas station. He walks towards the street to get a look at the building in the distance. As the camera pans over with him, it shows the gas station’s sign advertising the price of a gallon of gas. 80 cents. In L.A. I had to take out a loan the other day to buy gas. I could fill up my car for less than ten bucks at 80 cents per gallon. There’s no way gas ever was that price. Right?

3) The Wizard of Oz
I don’t know about you, but if a bunch of little people dressed in funny costumes and a woman in a prom dress told me to do something, I would run the other way, screaming. And why does Dorothy never meet anyone going the other direction on the yellow brick road?

4) The Matrix
A world in which machines have taken over and humans are used as power supplies while they “live” in a computer generated simulation. OK, the entire plot requires suspension of disbelief on a whole other level. But that’s why I love this movie. Everything is so unbelievable (including the idea that Keanu Reeves can act) that it all becomes believable. My question about the movie is, do the sentient machines run on Windows? And, if so, how often do they have to reboot?

5) The Terminator
Another machine-ruling movie of which many people would question its believability. Another movie with an unbelievable plot that I love. An assassin cyborg comes back from the future to kill the mother of the leader of the human resistance. A soldier is also sent back to save her. With Terminator, my beef is a basic premise of the movie. Early on, the man that travels back in time, Kyle Reece (played by Michael Biehn), tells the heroine, Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton and her 80’s hair), that when travelling back in time, nothing that is not “natural” can go with the traveller. That is why they arrive in 1984 completely naked and with no weapons. Sure, I’ll go along with that. But how then does the cyborg, which has a fully metal skeleton and computer for a brain underneath the human skin, actually travel back in time. Shouldn’t the human skin be the only piece that makes it? Granted, it would have been a really short movie if the main villain arrives in 1984 and flops to the ground as empty skin.

Those are my top five movies with questionable plot devices. I’m sure there are many more that could be included. The mere existence of five Twilight movies boggles the mind, for example. Movies allow us to escape into a different world for a while. They let us step out of ourselves and be someone else. But then we come back and realize our cell phone doesn't work in the theater and we can afford just enough gas to get home.

What is your favorite suspension of disbelief faux pas?

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Joys of Remodeling Never End. Ever.

  Remodeling. In no way does that word do justice to the actual process. It sounds like you’re just changing clothes. In reality, it’s like you’re putting on a whole new set of skin. OK, that was a disgusting analogy, but you get the point. They make it look so easy on HGTV and Extreme Home Makeover. I mean, everything is done in under an hour, not counting commercials. So how can it take weeks on end to just get some flooring down at my house?

  We had a little run in with water and gravity about a month ago at our house. As a result, we have had bare plywood flooring in parts of the house for that time. We’ve also had our favorite contractor, Rex, working on remodeling the affected bathroom for most of the time. He has done an excellent job. You can’t even tell that there was recently a lake in the bathroom. Except for holes in the ceiling on the floor below. But I’m just pretending we’ve started a skylight. And the fact we currently have no toilet. Not much glass-is-half-full wisdom that can be applied when nature calls and you have to trudge down two floors for a working bathroom.

  The change I’m most looking forward to is having the new flooring in the upstairs hallway. Partly for the excitement of something new, but mainly so they will put the hallway closet door back on. It presently resides in the office, leaning against the wall, like it’s on break. I keep looking behind it, hoping it suddenly becomes a doorway to Narnia. But, alas, no small, fictitious woodland creatures have come gallivanting out. Yet. And, as much as I enjoy the carpet and plywood look, it feels like part of the house is naked. Like some of the dresses female celebrities wear to the awards shows. The ones that look like they accidentally put on backwards because the slit runs down past their navel. The floor in our hallway had a wardrobe malfunction.

  The funny part is that because of this six foot square area of carpet, the insurance company is having us get all new flooring, not only in the upstairs hallway, but all the way down the stairs. I guess if you had a huge rip in your shirt, you would change it entirely. But usually you wouldn’t have someone else pay you to do it. The “damaged area” extends into my daughter’s room right at the door, so she has the two-tone flooring (carpet and plywood) right now as well.  It’s like a reverse welcome mat. Of course, she will be getting all new carpet in her room also. Being the tween that she is (a “tween” is anyone between the ages of 10 and 12 that has begun to show symptoms of being a teengaer), she has many ideas about how we should re-carpet her room. We had to nix the lime green shag carpet. OK, that was actually my idea, but it would go with the current bright orange walls. Anyway, she has been trolling the Sunday paper ads looking at carpeting. She has actually found some good ideas, so we were thinking of letting her do the job herself. Being a tween, though, the job would be done more quickly if we brought in a sloth.

  One of the side effects of remodeling is having various tools and fixtures sitting around the house waiting. For instance, the new toilet we are having put in has been in our dining room for the better part of a month. A commode in the room is not great conversation material:
Unsuspecting guest: How has your family been?
Me: Oh, excellent. And yours?
Guest: Very well, thank you. Are you still busy at work?
Me: Yes, plenty to do at work. How has your job been lately?
Guest: Splendid. We are...I’m sorry, but is that a toilet over there?
Me: Why, yes it is.
Guest: Oh.
This is usually followed by the guest excusing themselves for reasons involving their house catching on fire or a forgotten root canal. Still, I’m not complaining. How often do you have a chance to get a new toilet? Some people buy entirely new houses just to get one.

  I hope that the disarray in the house will end soon. We are beginning to see the results, but at times it feels like we live in a parts warehouse. I’ve never really wanted to live in a Home Depot. I do like the orange aprons, though.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thursday Haiku: Anniversary edition

Fifteen years ago,
Susan said "I do" to me.
How lucky am I?