Friday, July 31, 2015

It's been a month, part 5: work!

Work has been... pretty great actually.  I really don't have anything I can legitimately complain about, which is quite a statement coming from me.  I can typically see the worst in every situation (especially when I'm in a mood), but in this instance I have to admit that everything is going as well as can be expected.  Our team is coming together really well and producing a ton of great code in remarkably little time.  The team is, simply put, awesome.

Before I get ahead of myself... let's rewind a bit to cover recent events.

Trip to California

June included a work trip to California.  I've mentioned this in a couple of other posts, but wanted to take a moment to elaborate on why the work part of this trip was also great.

First of all, what was I doing?  One of the projects I've been working on at Outpace is an in-room device for when a person stays at a Starwood hotel.  When you check in at a participating property, the hotel system sends the check-in message back to Starwood's data center, which then publishes the event to our system.  Our system then looks at all of the available data on you, the property, the reservation itself, etc., and determines which promotions are best suited to you.  Meanwhile, the tablet in your room asks our system what content it ought to be showing.  After we have received the check-in event and determined the best content for you, we tell the tablet to change its display.  By the time you get to your room, you see content on the device that has be picked specifically for you (or for people very much like you).  Pretty neat idea, huh?

We were provisioning devices, doing staff training, changing master content, and providing general production rollout support for the week I was there.  I got to hang out with Albert and Daniel quite a bit.  Beyond working, we walked/ran to the beach, ate good food, drank good wine, had existential discussions, and played fun games.  That is a great way to spend a work week!


Not everyone has been able to adapt to the reshaped Outpace System, however.  This is to be expected -- after large layoff, people test the waters to see if there are other (typically more stable) opportunities to be had.  Since June, we've had several people decide to take other jobs.  I've been genuinely saddened to see each of them go.  At the same time, I'm genuinely excited when folks find things that they really enjoy doing.  So I always feel strangely when someone leaves on their own.

To my knowledge, three people have left so far.  I know that there are two more in the process of transitioning their workloads to other people so that they can leave.  By the end of August, five people will have left the company voluntarily since Not April Fool's Day.  That is about 1/6 of our remaining force, making us a company of roughly 25 people.  We're still a really strong team, and a good size for a normal start-up.  However, if there's anything that is a bit of a drag about the company right now, it's that people are leaving from time to time.

Working with Tanya

On a happier note, I've been able to pair with Tanya quite a bit over the past month.  This is always a treat for me, because there is no one in the world that is better at teaching me stuff about problem solving.  She's always patient, which is a great thing because I'm really grumpy while I'm trying to learn something.

As an aside, I've been told that I have unrealistic expectations of myself.  People don't normally have master over subject matter that they haven't practiced/studied constantly for at least a fair amount of time.  I fully expect that I'll understand and be productive with something foreign after an afternoon of watching someone else do it.  OK, that's a slight exaggeration -- it might be a morning and and afternoon.  In any case, I get frustrated with I'm not good at something.  Tanya handles that better than anyone else I've ever met.  It's actually quite unfair to her, since my knowledge that she can deal with it makes me behave more badly than I would with other folks.

The other thing about Tanya is that she is REALLY FREAKIN' PRODUCTIVE.  I've known this for a long time, but since we hadn't worked together much at Outpace until the past month, I'd lost sight of the fact.  She constantly gets stuff done, with high quality and an eye towards extensibility.

Long story short: I'm glad she works at my company and that I get to work with her directly sometimes.  She's THE BEST!

Working with the boys

And finally, I've been working with the boys.  Every summer we try to do at least one thing that helps us learn something.  This summer, we decided to try our hand at learning Python using

Even though both boys professed to actually desiring to do the coding stuff, neither one seems very eager when I bring it up.  I get the feeling that they do this in order to please me instead of out of a genuine desire to learn something.  I guess I can understand that.  I still remember summers between school years as being times where all I really wanted to do was play video games, watch movies, and go swimming.

For now, I've decided not to push them too hard on the coding stuff.  My hope is that they'll be exposed to enough variety of activities (via the trips we take and the stuff we do) that they'll find something that they enjoy doing that might eventually translate into a way to make a living.  Unless someone starts paying a lot more money for watching other people play games on twitchtv or youtube, they might have a hard time... :-D

This wraps up the "it's been a month" series.  I hope you enjoyed reading it -- I enjoyed writing it!  Next month is my birthday month, so I would expect that I'll be back to the usual shenanigans soon.  Until then... enjoy!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

It's been a month, part 4: fitness!

Walking, not running

July in Texas... after a very pleasant June, summer is finally upon us.  With summer in Texas comes unbearable heat.  When I say "unbearable" here, I mean it's so hot that bears begin their annual migration to the north, trading in their darker colored fur coats for those of purest white.  That's right folks, you heard it here first -- the reason polar bears exist is because of summers in Texas, not because of natural selection processes.

With the heat as it is, it's extremely difficult to find a window of time to run outside where you can actually finish the run and not get second degree burns on your feet from the heat radiating off of the sidewalks.  Well, that's not true, strictly speaking.  There's about 45 minutes between about 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. during which you could get a good run in.  The main issue with that is because it's so hot, I'm having a harder time getting up that early.  Yes folks, you heard it here first (again) -- sleeping late is directly attributable to summers in Texas.

In any case, we have punted on running for the time being.  Instead, we are getting a 30 minute walk in around lunchtime.  Don't bother me with the obvious fact that it's just south of oppressively hot on the thermometer at that time.  We've been really successful at it so far; the only side effect I've observed is the propensity to shower an extra time or two per day.  Suffice to say, walking at lunch is a thing that we can, surprisingly, do with consistency.  We've even managed to get a couple of easy hikes in!


Right before our trip to California, we went biking for the first time in 5 years.  We'd had the bikes serviced, we had our gear ready -- everything was set.  Our fearless leader Marco (a magnificent triathlete) had chosen an "easy" 22 mile ride for us north of the DFW metroplex.

Why I thought this was a good idea in any way, shape, or form, I can't clearly recall.

The first 15 miles or so were pretty smooth.  There were some hills, some nice scenery, and good times were had by all.  However, within the space of about 2 miles after that, I realized what a huge mistake I'd made.  The main issue was cramping.  Both of my thighs began cramping in such a way that I couldn't get any relief from the cramps: not riding, not standing, not sitting, not stopped, not lying down, not severing my legs.  We still had 5 miles to go, and I didn't think I could ride any further.

The second problem was that standard mountain bike seats are not very comfortable.  Let me elaborate further on that.  For those of you that don't own a standard mountain bike, I'll let you in on a secret: the seats are NOT MEANT TO BE SAT UPON BY ANYONE WITH A BUTT.  They are tiny torture devices created to remind you that the human butt, while providing natural padding via muscle and fat in normal situations, can render some of the most uncomfortable pain when injured.  If I ever meet the sadistic son-of-a-bitch that designed my original bike seat, I'm going to do two things: 1) punch him straight in the face with a bike-seat-shaped fist, and 2) introduce him to my brilliant and ideal bike seat design (think La-Z-Boy meets go-go-gadget-pedals).

Marco, realizing I was in serious trouble, actually pushed me the last few miles.  It was a very strange feeling for me, not because I was being assisted by someone working harder than I was, but because I felt both in awe of and terrible hatred for Marco.  Luckily, Marco is one of the genuinely nicest people I know, and I quickly forgave him.  Plus, I rigged it so his bike would be stuck in 32nd gear for his next ride.

I learned several lessons from this ride.  The first was that dehydration in general is not the main cause of cramps (at least in this case); it is actually a lack of sodium and other electrolytes.  As it turns out, Marco commonly mixes sodium/electrolyte tablets into his drinking water when he rides.  We did independent research and bought some tablets for our next ride.  They happen to be the same set Marco uses.

Secondly, I need to work up to that mileage/duration of physical activity.  Given that we haven't done anything active for two full hours since... well, all of history, means that we probably would have suffered regardless of the sport.  Tanya and I are going to start biking a little more regularly, but we're going to go for an hour or so at a time until we get our bike legs into a little better shape.

Finally, doing something completely out of the ordinary right before a work trip is a monstrously bad idea.  I got lucky this time and managed to recover enough to where the plane ride was ok.  However, the bike ride and subsequent suffering could have made things flat out horrifying for me and those poor souls unfortunate enough to incur my pain-induced wrath.  The fourth in our party of bikers (Marco's wife, Tanya G.), actually wound up at the doctor the next day.

All of this to say, biking is awesome and we're going to do it more (except in a saner way).


Tanya has always liked tennis (as have I).  It wasn't until she met me that she stopped playing.  This was coincidental, as I never discouraged her.  We simply found other things that we enjoy doing together that didn't require as much effort and discomfort, like sitting around surfing the Internet, watching Big Bang Theory, and basking in the presence of each other's aura.  

Sorry, I just got slightly distracted by Tanya's presence... Back to the post!

We have finally decided to start swinging the racquets again.  Part of the reason is because Marco (yes, the triathlete mentioned above) and Tanya (again, she is known as Tanya G., not Tanya my wife) are playing and want us to play with them.  Another reason is because we want to vary our fitness routine in general to keep it interesting.

Imagine our dismay at finding that my racquet (well, Tanya's old racquet that I had been using) was in a sad state of repair when we pulled it out of the attic where it had been for 5 years.  Obviously we needed to get a new one for me, so Tanya did the research and found a Yonex EZone Xi that I like very much.  We went out and hit a few times, enough to realize that I especially would benefit from some lessons.  We're currently looking at signing up for the Advanced Beginner lessons at the local tennis center.  After that, perhaps we'll get into a couple of leagues, and then... maybe... we'll break onto the ATP Seniors tour and give up this silly obsession we have with solving problems through technology... 


Finally, we come to swimming.  Swimming is a fantastic activity to do for recreation and fitness for your entire life.  Being low-impact, you can do it despite a certain level of infirmary.  And, since we're in Texas, you can swim outside practically all year round.

We had debated building a pool in our back yard with an endless pool machine.  Given the way Not April Fool's went, I'm very glad we held off.  In lieu of that, Tanya has investigated several options.  There's a swimming center not far from our house that offers lots of classes and clubs.  We're looking at getting into a Swimming for Fitness class or an Advanced Swimming class before we commit to joining a masters swim club.

Granted, we've been talking about swimming for fitness for at least 4 years and have yet to act on it seriously.  This time feels slightly different, however.  For one thing, it's hot enough to sear a steak on the sidewalk.  For another, we seem to be taking fitness more seriously.  This entire year has been full of active things (running, hiking, upcoming active trip to Colorado), and the fact of the matter is that we want to be in the habit of being healthy as we age.  There's no time other than the present to handle that particular issue, so we're taking the steps to do so.  Hopefully this blog entry is evidence of that fact.

I've said that the final post in this series will involve an update on work.  It will, but for those of you not interested in the more mundane portions of the blog, you might consider skipping it.  Aw, who am I kidding?!  You'll love the next one!  Stay tuned!!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It's been a month, part 3: books!

I have WAY TOO MANY books open right now (listed below).  Again, I make no distinction between physical, kindle, and audible books.

  • Dune, by Frank Herbert: I re-read it just prior to the "camping" trip.  It's still great.
  • The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson: The boys and I are reading through this via audible while waiting for the next book in the Stormlight Saga (also by Brandon Sanderson).
  • The Magicians, by Lev Grossman: I made it about halfway through this before putting it down.  I'll probably pick it up again at some point, but there's nothing compelling enough about it currently to keep me reading (aside from the reviewers' assurances that it is great as a series).  You end the first half of this book only really rooting for one of the main characters, and not really caring about any of them.  My hope is that the relative mess that the first half of the book represents is set-up for the rest of the series.
  • Turn Coat (The Dresden Files), by Jim Butcher: I'm a big Jim Butcher fan, and found myself behind in the series by several books.  I made it about 20% into the book when Armada came out, and decided to put it down in favor of that one.
  • Armada, by Ernest Cline: I've been waiting for Ernie's second novel for quite a while now (as have lots of Ready Player One fans).  I'm about 35% into it and am enjoying it quite a bit so far.  I haven't read many reviews, but I hear that they're very mixed.  I'll defer until finishing, then post my own.
  • The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse, by Red Pine: This is a book I picked up on our hiking trip in Utah.  Tanya doesn't understand how it can be classified as poetry (since Russian has a very strict definition).  I find it to be very calming, and read it when I need a bit of centering.
  • Mindfulness in Plain English, by Bhante Gunaratana: Speaking of centering, this book came highly recommended by several of our coworkers that realize that meditation is good for you.  Honestly, it's hard to get through for me, because I'm so far away from that state of mind typically.  Tanya is very interested though, so that keeps me reading a bit at a time.
  • The Analects of Confucius, translated by Roger T. Ames: Confucianism is one of the oldest and most lasting ethical and philosophical systems on the planet.  A lot of people consider it a religion, but at its roots it is a way of living, not a world view in and of itself.  Some people might call that a semantic difference, but I think there's an ocean of meaning between the rational and dogmatic implications...
  • The Search (Avatar: The Last Airbender): I've been a fan of this series since it first started airing.  The boys were young enough at the time that I could use them as an excuse to watch it.  Then, within the last year, Tanya and I binged the entire series on Netflex.  It turns out that it's compelling to adults (or can be, at least).  It ends with a bit of unfinished business, however.  This book (which is a collection of the first three parts of this "season" of Avatar) resolves that storyline.
  • Hoard of the Dragon Queen (D&D Adventure): This is the first of two D&D adventure books the boys and I are playing through.  As the DM, I'm reading ahead far enough to tell a good story but not so far as to prejudice any of my NPCs.  However, I typically have to read the sections two or three times to make sure I thoroughly understand and can recall the salient facts.  If you're looking for a gateway to the drug that is table-top role-playing games, I recommend picking up this book.
I don't think I've had this many books in flight since I was in college.  Honestly, I'm best if I can focus on a single book at a time.  Having to split my attention too many ways results in me not paying enough dedicated attention to any of them to make the effort worthwhile.  Surely I'm not the only person like this, am I?

Two more posts in this series to go -- Fitness and Work.  Fitness will be done soon!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's been a month, part 2: games!

In part 2 of my "It's been a month" series, I touch on the games that we've been playing lately.

Civilization V

Civilization V was originally released in 2010.  Gabriel has played it off and on for at least a year now, but I didn't pick it up until a couple of weeks ago at my annual "camping" trip.  As it turns out, it's a fantastic game.  It would have to be for people to continue to create downloadable content for the thing five years after its initial release!

For some reason, I really didn't think that I like turn-based or real-time strategy games.  However, when I take stock of the ones that immediately come to mind (Dune 2, Masters of Orion, and Civ V), I realize I actually do enjoy them quite a bit.  The problem with them is that they require a lot of time/dedication to get good at, and I've got a lot on my plate.  ;-)  Still, Gabriel and I managed to start a multi-player Civ V game and play together long enough to realize he needs a new computer.  I can remember those days of needing to constantly upgrade my machine to keep up with the Origin games of the day... Wait, didn't I just say Civ V was five years old?  Isn't Gabriel's laptop a 5-year-old state-of-the-art machine?!  Apparently the DLC acts like new games from the requirements perspective.

Settlers of Catan

We've had the Settlers of Catan board game for a couple of months now, and realized that we like it well enough to consider playing it during the down times on vacation.  The problem there is that the box is quite bulky, and who wants to pack a board game in a suitcase anyway?  As a result, we picked up the iPad version.  It's not perfect, but it's certainly playable.  I think that the AI cheats in favor of itself though...  You would not believe how many 4s, 10s, and non-6-8s get rolled when the AI is in trouble.

There are also a couple of things that are annoying, which are probably correct according to the rulebook but that haven't been done according to our house rules.  For example, you can trade and build at any time during your turn, alternating the actions until you're done.  Another thing is that once you've purchased a development card, you can't play a development card that you've secured on another turn.

The biggest issue, however is that fact that you can't tell what happens on any turn other than your own.  The idea around the iPad game is that you pass the iPad to the person taking the current action.  When it's your turn, you hold the iPad, but if you want to trade with someone, you initiate the trade then hand the iPad to the target person and wait to see what they do.  You act like this so that you can't see the cards that everyone else is holding.  The fundamental problem is that you have absolutely no idea what happens between turns, since you can't look at the board on other people's turns, including the rolls.  You can't tell what was rolled, who might've gotten what, etc.  If you're holding a Monopoly card, how do you know when to use it?  If someone rolls a robber, how do you know what to discard?  Ultimately, I suspect it's designed such that you can watch the rolls without seeing what the current player's cards are, but it would be a close thing.

These issues won't prevent us from playing it, however.  Someone's got to have bragging rights about being the ruler of the imaginary island we explore while on vacation...

Dungeons and Dragons, 5th edition

And Dungeons and Dragons continues.  The boys and I set up a regular game night (dedicated to D&D): Tuesdays, starting between 6 and 7, and going until 9 or 10.

It's a classic setup -- this gaming table is upstairs and seats 4, although we have it arranged to seat three currently.  I sit in the seat nearest you with two books near it, Gabriel to the left and Garrett opposite.  Actually, Gabriel migrates back and forth between that position and his laptop on the couch (to the left, out of picture), where he keeps his character sheet.  I typically have my Mac on the right corner, from which I manage my NPCs and the soundtrack.  Garrett goes old school, using the notebook on the far left corner to keep track of everything by hand.  It's ironic that he's the only one that uses a dice-rolling app; both Gabriel and I use the dice on the table.  The blue dice to the right side are for rolling monsters/traps, the orange dice in front of me for NPCs, and the rest of the dice are fair game for anyone else.  Occasionally we have a game in a game that uses the dice as well, which the boys typically win by cheating.  :-D

We're playing through the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, and everyone seems to be enjoying it pretty well.  Garrett is playing a monk that started with the Way of the Four Elements but has now switched to the Way of the Shadow.  He actually came up with a plausible side quest/story that made sense within the context of our play through, so I allowed it.  Gabriel's rogue even got to participate, where "participate" means that he snuck along behind and almost got killed while going through the Shadow Temple where Garrett made the transformation...  The main NPC I'm playing is a Warlock.  We're all currently 4th level and getting ready to embark on our most dangerous mission yet -- trying to win the favor of a paladin by rough-housing with all the other recruits to his order.  It's going to require arm-wrestling, archery on horseback, sparring with bare hands and weapons, and eating and drinking FAR MORE than necessary.  Wish us luck!  ;-)

Keeping ahead in the adventure far enough to tell a coherent story while not spoiling the entire thing for my NPC has been pretty challenging.  Part of the challenge is that I've currently got quite a lot to read that is not involved with the game.  More on that in the next post -- it's about BOOKS!  Keep your eyes peeled for it!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

It's been a month, part 1: traveling!

Apparently, I've had other things to do besides write blog entries... What have I been up to for the past month?  Quite a bit, actually.  I'll do you a favor and break the info up into a short series of five posts: Traveling, Games, Books, Fitness, and Work.  There will probably be some overlap with several of them.  Let's start with traveling!

I've made a couple of trips in the past month: one to the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort in California, and another to Austin.  Monarch Beach was a work trip where we rolled out the MVP Stay pilot program at the resort (think Android tablets in resort rooms providing awareness advertising to the guests staying there).  It also provided me the opportunity to meet up with Pat and her SO and friend in Santa Monica.  We are terrible at taking pictures, especially at night, but here's a (blurry) shot that I like:

And yes, that's a minion in Tanya's arms.  Ken (the guy on the right) actually won it for me, but I gifted it to Tanya.  He (the minion, not Ken) now sits in my office in any case.

The Austin trip was a college buddy "camping" trip.  Why we persist in calling it "camping," I'm not sure.  Even though the trip originally entailed tents, sleeping bags, fire pits, etc, it hasn't been "camping" in almost 10 years.  For me, it is now a lot of time in a swimming pool drinking beer, an annual round of golf, an annual poker tournament, an abandonment of anything resembling fitness and diet, and a great time of fellowship with guys that I only get to see once every year or two.  No pictures allowed at this event, though.  The new experience this year was purchasing and playing Civilization V.  More on that in the gaming post...

We've got one more pre-planned trip coming up.  We're going to Colorado for a semi-active vacation with the boys.  I'm not sure either boy is ready even for the "semi" part of the activities, but Tanya and I are determined to get them outside a bit while they're still somewhat young and impressionable.  We'll be riding the Durango-Silverton steam train, going rafting, taking an all-day hike, and learning stuff at Mesa Verde.  It will be the first time the boys have seen mountains in real life.  I hope they're as impressed as I was the first time I saw them.

In other traveling news, I'm teaching Garrett to drive.  He's already 16, but hasn't shown any real interesting in learning to drive.  I recently asked him why that was, and he said "well, there's nowhere I really want or need to go."  I distinctly remember wanting and needing to get my license as soon as I turned 16.  I wanted to drive myself to school, the store, Brian's house, or other places as needed.  I wanted to be able to cruise 57th (not that I ever did, but being able to was a big deal).  I suppose it was more disconnected time... the Internet in general and cell phones weren't a thing and entertainment was harder to come by.  Ah, to be a kid in today's society!  How many video games would I be playing right now?

Speaking of video games... stay tuned for the Gaming installment!