Three Good Things

I want to start capturing my days in a way I’m content to share. To that end, I will be sharing three positive things and one revelation as things occur to me. It’s a rare day that I don’t have some minor revelation, so this shouldn’t be overly difficult.

Positive Things

  1. I finally got a report working. It’s the first report I’ve written COMPLETELY from scratch, procedures, definition, and all. There was a problem with one data type that I needed a Java dev to fix, but the majority of the issues delaying this were mine. See revelation below.
  2. Less sick than I was yesterday. My throat still hurts, but my fatigue has subsided considerably.
  3. Genuinely tired. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling for a bit last night, and insomnia has been a strange, new companion for the last week or so. I’m not a fan. Tonight, I feel like my sleep will be incredibly sound.

Revelation

I hate doing things. I like building processes. In a way, this can lead to a grotesquely unnecessary complexity, like a Rube Goldberg life. But insomuch as I’m a developer, it enables me to see the repeatable process in things and find ways to automate that logic.

While there are exceptions I don’t understand (e.g. the delightfully meditative practice of washing dishes) and those I do (e.g. playing with my children or talking to my wife), this holds relatively true with most things that come to mind. Work things are at the top of this list.

Some people are process oriented. Some people, perhaps, could then be described as task oriented. If such a dichotomy exists, then we each may reside somewhere on that spectrum. (Surely it is not a binary system with people preferring only one or the other.)

If this is the case, I had a sub-revelation, or perhaps a child revelation that shall one day outgrow its parent. I realized that in the leadership hierarchy of a department, process-oriented people are likely better suited to guide task-oriented people than the other way around. As a process person being managed by someone who thinks in tasks, I feel regularly barraged with off-topic distractions that should be well handled by our existing process. Like re-testing things spontaneously when we have a reliable process for testing. Instead, I would rather see someone establishing processes to make everyone’s jobs easier while task-oriented people are resolving issues, putting out fires, making things work, and then passing information up so that their superiors can enhance processes to prevent those things from going awry again.

Another Round of Card Fraud OR Why Simple Is Best

Block letters, engraved into thick paperboard, reading, "It's a good day."The Georgia trip was a blast. We went everywhere we wanted to and did everything our hearts desired. Wonderful opportunities arose, and we were careful to avoid disaster on the trip as well. Caution can be taken so far that you don’t have fun, but short of that, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here are a few things we kept in mind on this trip:

  • Don’t leave valuables hanging out. Gadgets in the car, money in your wallet, camera around your neck, these are all attractive to people you don’t want to hang out with.
  • If you’re using a card, check for skimmers. Grab the card reader on the gas pump and tug on it. Look for bits that are hastily glued or stuck on. Thieves install these to read your card, store the number, and then print up a new card with your info that they can use or sell.
  • If you’re taking an adventurous trip or tour, do what the guide or company recommends. Danger is but an absent-minded fail away.

To the first point, I had one experience where someone kindly offered to take my laptop off my hands. I was stuffing it in my bag as I was leaving a cafe, because I was in an EXCEPTIONAL hurry. That was a poor move, but a kind “Thanks, but no,” resolved the situation. To the second point, I used my card very little and am now habitually check card skimmers without even thinking about it. Even places I regularly patronize. And I always cover my hand when entering my pin. And on our kayak trip, we heeded the advice on avoiding oyster cuts, sharks, and letting the tide drag us or our boats out to sea. It was a win overall. Screenshot of my bank app showing three fraudulent transactionsMonday, back at the office, I got an alert on my phone for $118.30 at Rite-aid Pharmacy. I messaged my bank immediately to make sure it was mislabeled or some other kind of glitch. A little while later, when two more transactions came through (one for over $500), I called the bank immediately. They’re usually quite responsive to messages, so I’ve never had to call them in the past, but this was clearly out of hand. The card was immediately blocked, and a new one was issued and expedited to arrive Thursday. I was assured that the charges would be reversed in my account and I would not be part of the dispute process. (Basically, the credit card company refuses to pay the shop, and that establishment is left with the burden of the charge and handling the criminal investigation. So the only thing I had to do is wait for the new card, activate it, and then wait for the funds to be restored to my account. My card (with numbers obscured) and the FedEx Express envelope in which it cameThe card arrived Thursday, ahead of the July 4th holiday, which was nice. But they got it here so fast, the card processor doesn’t have my information in the system for me to activate it yet. So I can’t do anything with it even today, Sunday, 7 days after the theft occurred. In a few days, my funds will be restored. In the meantime, all I can do with my account is send payments (electronic checks) and pay things with my account numbers. Now, while no retail establishments will accept that, I can at least manage most of my bills. The real moral of this story, then, is that caution is not always enough to protect you. While I wasn’t mugged or swept out to sea (thank goodness), I still became a victim of fraud. What can we do to mitigate the severity of the problem, should it arise?

Surround Yourself With Allies

Let’s be honest. We’re talking about banking, and it’s pretty much impossible to get allies in that market. You’re less likely to get mugged when you’re with a group of friends. When venturing out, the buddy system has been around all these years for a reason. Banks, however, well, what can you do. Well, you already know where I’m going with this. I can’t shut up about Simple. I’ve had my account for a while now, and have been raving about it from pretty much day one. The most frequent argument I see FOR switching to Simple is this: Fees. I know most banks hook people saying they have no fees, but then they all nail you on fees. Simple has fees on a few things I think, but literally nothing that I’ve ever needed. I’ve never gotten a single fee on this account. It’s incredible. But it’s still not the most compelling reason for me. I’m a Simple customer for the service. If I have a question, I can call and someone will usually answer right away. I don’t have to futz with digital prompts, pressing or saying 7, waiting on endless hold, or getting transferred the moment I get someone on the phone … three times in a row … with no one able to resolve my issue or answer my question. I can even send them a quick, secure message through the bank app and usually get a response within an hour. There are so many reasons, I should make a list:

  • No fees for anything a normal person would need to do with their account
  • Amazing service both in-app and by phone
  • Amazing app with TONS of features
  • Near-instant notification of transactions (mine push to my Pebble watch)
  • Transaction search, for the life of your account, on date, amount, text, tag, store, or even location via geotags
  • Goals, which are like little separate accounts where you can store money for special things like saving for a house or setting aside your food/utility/mortgage budget for the month – whatever you want to do with them
  • Send payments to anyone any time
  • Instantly send money to other Simple accounts (great for spouse or business partner)
  • In-app ATM finder (Simple doesn’t maintain ATMs, so they are part of networks that provide no-fee ATM services for account holders
  • Attach a PDF or photo to any transaction
  • Lots and lots of security, but still convenient to use
  • You can temporarily block your own card for any reason (fraud, theft, or otherwise) at any time through the app (I wish I’d know of & thought about this when that first transaction came through)
  • Transaction tags (through hashtags in the description) for detailed tracking and management (e.g. tracking business expenses for your LLC vs travel expenses to invoice to a client)
  • Tons of analysis tools (web only)
  • Simple isn’t a bank, but an interface to a bank (Bancorp, specifically), so your funds are still FDIC insured and protected by all the same infrastructure on which everyone relies
Map of scores of ATMs in Denver on the Simple network

Denver and the surrounding area has absolutely SCORES of ATMs on the network

Map of both ATMs in New Haven, Indiana on the Simple network

Even the sleepy town of New Haven, Indiana has two ATMs.

Aside from the web-only analysis tools, ALL of this can be done through their mobile app. Oh, and if you don’t have a fee-free ATM handy, cash back on transactions is free where stores offer it. Each of these features is excellent. All of them together is nearly overwhelmingly awesome. Think about all the times you’ve hated on your bank, yet still let them manage your money. You can put an end to that if you want.

There are few marks in the negative column, and perhaps none of them apply to you, but here’s what I know.

  • No business accounts (yet)
  • No joint accounts (yet)
  • No paper checks included (you can order them from a check company, but I’d rather send checks digitally, and Simple makes that easy)
  • US only (for now)
  • Invite only (they’re still scaling up)
  • Simple isn’t a bank, but an interface to a bank (Bancorp, specifically), so I don’t think they’re substantively disrupting the market, just providing an alternative front-end

In my mind, the only real takeaway from that list is that they’re still a young company and scaling up. That said, members are given codes that they can use to help their friends gain quicker access. You can sign up here if you’re interested. If you just want to learn more, Simple.com is their URL. I have been in no way compensated for or encouraged to write about this post. I’m just a massive fan of Simple. There’s literally nothing in it for me to write all this. After my phone call with them about the fraud, I was so delighted with the service that they were providing (on top of already loving the heck out of the company), I decided to blog about it. So there you have it. Questions? Let me know or contact Simple directly through their Twitter, Facebook, or site.

Fitbloggin’ Tough Love (and a little self-trollin’)

Fitbloggin’ is an awesome conference that generally falls on the last weekend of June. This is the fifth year it’s existed, and the second year I’ve attended. My friends and roommates Steve and Sue co-led a session called Fitblogger Tough Love. I went to support Steve and Sue, and while I knew a lot of it would revolve around weight loss goals, I thought there were still a few things I could get out of it and apply to my own goals.

So let’s talk about my goals, since weight loss (specifically) isn’t one of them. First, a list. Then I can break them down.

  1. Improve my sinuses
  2. Build cardiovascular endurance
  3. Have fun

Improve My Sinuses

Baked goods and iced latteI’ve had sinus issues for over 15 years. What started as limited and intermittent congestion bloomed into regular and then persistent sinus infections, massive sinus blockage, post-nasal drip, and tons of issues that came up around that (from mouth-breathing to the complete loss of olfactory senses). In the last several months, I’ve been more focused on allergy correction, getting back to the neti pot, and keeping up on my allergy med (I switched from Claritin to Zyrtec (generics, in both cases) and it was a big win. Another huge boon to my sinus health has been working out. But the main contribution has probably been cutting down on sweets.

See, sinus infections are generally bacterial. These require antibiotics (in medicine) and/or probiotics (in homeopathy) to cure. In some cases, however, Candida is the culprit. What I knew before is that candida is a yeast. So sinus infections, when it comes down to it, are yeast infections in your face. What I learned in researching this post, however, is that antibiotics actually PROMOTE yeast infections. I didn’t know this. This actually really upsets me, because it illustrates how half-assed medicine promoted continued issues for me. Awesome.

Now, if we consider what feeds yeast, we land immediately on sugar. And then we immediately recall how insatiable my sweet tooth is. And then we very quickly draw the conclusion that I’m not doing myself ANY favors with this biscotti I’m enjoying right here. But you at least have a little sympathy, because you understand, right? You know what it’s like to very genuinely crave ice cream or a cinnamon roll. Alas. So to be accountable to myself, I really must cut back on sugars, stay active, and continue to remember my allergy meds and sinus rinse.

Build Cardiovascular Endurance

I think it took me about two years to feel like I’d REALLY adjusted to the Colorado Altitude. Living in Miami, I could sprint up a flight of stairs without feeling winded. I could walk expediently up 2 or 3 without any strain. After moving to Colorado, slowly plodding up one flight demonstrated exactly how weak I am. After a few months, I had to sprint up that flight of stairs to elevate my breathing, but it took much longer to reach my sea level baseline.

Selfie with my wife at BolderBoulder 2014Running has always been a strain for me. I had no technique and usually just walked. In elementary school, I distinctly remember that my mile was more than 20 minutes. Isn’t 20 minutes the baseline for leisurely WALKING a mile? It’s a bit pitiful. I can tear down a mile in 10 or so minutes now, and that’s at a reasonable pace. I’d like to do better. I’d like to be able to jog a 5k without needing to walk. I’d like to finish my annual 10K in under 45 minutes. These aren’t extreme goals, but they will take work.

Have Fun

You know, I usually prioritize this, but in light of these two other goals, it’s a good thing to remind myself of. I don’t want to achieve them at the expense of enjoyability.

LEGO Simpsons couch gag with Maggie breakdancingBonus Goal: Creative Exercise

I need to continue to be creative, but this isn’t something you can really hold me accountable for. Or at least, it isn’t something you’ll know that I’m keeping up with or not, because creations don’t need to be shared. I am creative at work through database design or the wording of my emails. I doodle on my tablet or a napkin from time to time. I make up silly songs for my son. While I would like to write more, it won’t necessarily always be blogged about. I just need to keep that half of my brain exercised as well.

Conclusions

Massive gratitude to Steve and Sue for conducting that session and to all in attendance for so warmly accepting me. I wish you all the very best on your own path. Please let me know how I can help you remain accountable. And I appreciate your #JustTrollin #ToughLove in any form.

Employee Satisfaction

Here’s a free idea for your business. Give your employees each a $2,000 stipend every year. What will they spend it on? Who knows or cares, so long as it’s something the company is comfortable buying. Think of all the complaints it’ll solve.

My computer is outdated and too slow (or was garbage to begin with)!

Well, when new employees start, send them a letter informing them of the budget and let them pick out whatever rig they want. Give them a ready-to-order catalog of Dells (or whatever company your business generally uses for infrastructure) and let them choose from that or order whatever they like from either Amazon or Newegg. If they want to build the computer from scratch, fine. It’s their budget. And when they replace a system, they can keep it or donate it or give it to their niece. No overhead for the company to manage.

The company doesn’t provide good enough snacks!

So the employee chose to spend like $1,200 on their initial setup. They’ve got $800 for the rest of the year to spend on barrels of pretzels, tubs of red vines, cases of disgusting energy drinks, or whatever garbage they want to put in their bodies. Or they can get organic fruits and veggies delivered right to their desk. Whatever makes them happy.

I was really hoping you’d offer a gym membership.

You’ve got two grand. That’s a decent gym membership, right? Ok, maybe it won’t cover a full year after they’ve gotten a computer, but it’ll get them a good portion of the year at the nearest rec center. Of a punch card for that climbing gym that’s on their way home. Whatever works. And next year, they can allocate EVERYTHING to the gym and go crazy, plus have money left over to enter a triathlon. It’s up to the employee!

Office coffee is gross, and nobody ever washes out the carafe, or I prefer tea!

So get an Aeropress and a pound of coffee every two weeks. That’s a fraction of each employee’s allocation. Or put it all on a $2000 Starbucks card. Buy an expensive espresso maker for your desk. Or get a hot plate and a Bialetti. However you like your coffee, you’re covered. And if you don’t want coffee, you can grow chamomile at your desk and brew it yourself. Or just buy your favorite tea.

The reference books are out of date!

You’re in control of your budget. And you talk to your coworkers regularly. One department can kick in $10 each to maintain a seriously impressive library of books, or each person can go their own and maintain whatever library they like. Or avoid stupid written words altogether and subscribe to a video library. Then add on classes to round out your education.

Financial Freedom

Think about all the crap you buy for your employees just to keep them happy, and it’s never enough or just right, is it? Consider your annual budget in desktop computer costs (severs aside, I mean). Think about what you budget for snacks and beverages, plus whatever disposable cups and stirrers and sugar and nasty powdered creamer. Then think about what a small percentage of the office uses any of those things. Think about your budget for other perks for employees such as gym membership, toys, and books. When you add that all together, isn’t two grand a head a drop in the bucket by comparison?

You’re concerned, perhaps, about the overhead. Of course you can’t give it to the employees. It’d be taxed steeply, and they’d get a fraction of that. It needs to be spent like budget, properly. What can you do? Well, there are a few options.

Talk to your office manager. How much time does he spend every week trying to figure out how much coffee to stock, if there’s enough decaf, how many straws are needed, and all that? Sure, you’ll still want to handle napkins or towels in addition to certain office supplies like toner, but what about the individual things that everyone just takes back to their desks. What if he didn’t have to order that stuff? He already gets a ton of employee requests for stuff, right? What if that job just shifted to maintaining the remaining budget for each employee? Either buy it on the company’s account at whatever store, or pick it up and submit a reimbursement request. Either way, you’re reusing existing services within your organization.

For kicks, here’s my budget:

$1,200 Laptop
$350 External monitor
$50 Aeropress and a nice insulated thermos/pitcher
$100 Really good coffee beans from various sources through the year
And I have $300 to get snacks here and there.

As it stands, I spent all this myself. Work gave me a terrible laptop, so I just went out and bought one. They provided a monitor, but I constantly think about replacing it with a better one. I take in my Aeropress from home, but I’d like another, and I reuse my old insulated french press as a thermos now. I buy my own beans instead of using the pre-ground Starbucks beans they provide. And I hit Costco every couple weeks to make sure I have a small selection of mostly healthy food.

I would be THRILLED if the company gracefully handed all that for me or reimbursed me for it.

Sexual Orientation

I’m exploring the idea that projecting one’s sexual orientation is just a terrible idea. Showing people that you’re straight, coming out of the closet as gay or bi, it’s all folly. Hair length doesn’t matter. Nail polish doesn’t matter. All that matters is attraction and conveying it, plus being yourself.

Wanting to marry and have kids doesn’t mean you’re straight. It means you want to emulate traditional values. Being straight has nothing to do with this scenario. You can be bisexual and pull it off just as well. You can even pull it off if you’re gay. Perhaps not as enjoyably, but still entirely possible. The point is they’re unrelated concepts.

Sexual orientation is unrelated to goals.
Sexual orientation is unrelated to hobbies.
Sexual orientation is unrelated to vocation.
Sexual orientation is related ONLY to the sex of the people you find attractive.

The only think you convey by intentionally projecting masculine or feminine stereotypes is that you’re homophobic. This ALSO has nothing to do with your sexual orientation. You can be straight and homophobic. You can be gay and homophobic. You can be bi and homophobic.

The only useful way to convey your sexual orientation is to a person in whom you are interested in having an intimate relationship. And the best way to do that is to tell them you’re interested in having an intimate relationship.
(And hopefully, they will have read this or in some other way come to terms with how awkwardly blunt you just were, because we’re all supposed to be so much more subtle than that.)

The idea that I should be offended by the interests of another man is broken. The idea that I should crave the interest of women in whom I am not interested is broken. The way things are is broken.

The arguments for subtlety are broken. You can’t argue that a women with short hair and a pickup is a lesbian because that’s total bullshit. And when you argue that, you cast doubt and hurt into the mind of straight women who have short hair and drive a pickup. You can pile on more examples to make the picture less subtle. Maybe she hunts, too. Maybe she conveys any number of masculine stereotypes you have locked up in your brain. If you believe that tells you with any certainty what her sexual orientation is, you’re being hurtful.

Growing up, I was often believed gay. I’m not sure what list of stereotypes planted this certainty in peoples minds, but I was at least self-aware enough to know that I conveyed some feminine stereotypes like empathy, compassion, and politeness. I never had a boyfriend, and I never conveyed an interest in another male. There were, through the course of my adolescence and early adulthood, a number of women to whom I was attracted. There remains one woman to whom I am completely attracted. This alone conveys that I am not gay.

That I am still very empathetic does not bear any relevance to my orientation. Nor does the fact that I occasionally paint my nails. My schlocky affinity for Hugh Grant movies, and my disdain for violent and horror movies is equally irrelevant.

Eggplant

Right now, many people are choosing to openly proclaim their orientation to everyone. I get what this is about. Homophobic people want to project that they’re “ok”. Gay people want to be accepted. Bisexuals want to be acknowledged as existing and be accepted. Everybody wants to be accepted and liked. I can see how these actions are important at this point in our society. It just conveys that we haven’t reached a point of acceptance. (And I only want to talk about acceptance. Tolerance is an ugly, ugly thing that pretends to be acceptance, but is absolutely not.)

So what does acceptance look like, then? Acceptance is not cheerfully receiving the news of someone “coming out” with unsurprised congratulations. Cheer, coming out, lack-of-surprise, and congratulations are all inappropriate in a society of acceptance. It isn’t great news. It isn’t worthy of support. It’s like someone saying they like eggplant. Lots of people like eggplant. Lots of people dislike it. Lots of people are ambivalent about it. Some people don’t want eggplant at all, but they don’t congratulate someone else for eating it. Why would you do that? It’s just eggplant. I don’t feel compelled to share my personal feelings on eggplant with you. It just isn’t relevant to anything.

To continue carrying this metaphor to ridiculous extremes, what bearing do one’s feeling on eggplant have on the rest of their life? Do eggplant lovers all enjoy specific hobbies that eggplant haters dislike? Say you notice that a lot of people who eat eggplant also wear long-sleeve shirts, but that everyone else wears short sleeves. Would you presume, then, that anyone in long sleeves would be an eggplant lover? That’s a rhetorical question. You would. But what if your observation was instead that eggplant haters had shorter tempers and more violent outbursts? And what if you shared this observation with one of your close friends at work and they shared that they have made the same observation? Your prejudice has just been reinforced.

You may think you wouldn’t judge people based on eggplant consumption, but I mean to say that you’ve NEVER seen an exception to this. You reached a conclusion based on observations. A friend has reinforced this theory you’ve developed. You have basically employed the scientific method, right? It’s gotta be true. So now you pay a great deal of attention to who orders eggplant at the restaurant or has some in the fridge at work. You’re jumping to conclusions, and your mind is expecting behavior from people that is based on those conclusions. You would do this because people are prejudiced. It’s normal.

We are all prejudiced. We are hard-wired to see similarities and make assumptions based on those similarities. The excellent news is that we can overcome prejudice. First, we need to be aware of it. Once we are aware of our prejudices, we can actively work to undo the assumptions that create it. When you think about it, your “scientific” eggplant study had a pretty small sample size, didn’t it. Really, you only know like three people that love eggplant. And on further research, it turns out all three of those people are wealthy, have unloving mothers, and drive Audis. There are too many confounding variables, and you don’t know what relationships are causal, correlative, or purely coincidental. Your prejudice is shattered. Observation and education are always the best tools, aren’t they.

Why do we care what people like and what they want to enjoy? Why is it relevant to anything?

Simple App iOS 7-0-6

Simple Bank Threatens Punishment

Simple is my primary bank. I opened the account last year and have been beyond delighted with their service in every way. When the Target breach was announced, they handled it better than any other company I’ve seen (automatically issuing new cards to anyone with Target activity on their account and offering terrific advice on maintaining security). I experienced my first credit card fraud through my Simple account, and they handled that perfectly as well. I could not ask for more, and I could not be happier.

Earlier this week, it was made known that Apple had some SERIOUS security flaws built into both OS X and iOS. (I think TheVerge covered it best.) The moral of the story, if you don’t want to read all the gory details, is if you use any Apple products, UPDATE NOW.

  • In iOS, touch: Settings, General, Software Update
  • In OS X Mavericks: Open the App Store app and choose the Updates icon in the top bar

On the web, there is no reliable way to tell what operating system version you’re using (it’s more the honor system, so you can technically lie to every site about what you’re running). In the universe of apps, however, Simple has more power. And they’re exploiting it. I just got this email:

Simple App iOS 7-0-6

 

So their position is clear. You can do what they tell you or you can pay the consequences. This, my friends, is called punishing your customers.

But for what, exactly, are we being punished?!? Is this not outrageously irresponsible of the company to attempt to dictate how we manage our technology? Is this not the rampant suppression of liberty? Is this not tantamount to TREASON in a country so great and independent as the United States of America?

On the one hand, yeah, it’s a bit parental of them to tell us we have to do this. But on the other hand, residents of the USA seem to have such a problem with being told what to do that, let’s be honest, we come off as brats. So what does this really come down to?

It’s simple. Simple is punishing their customers. The brattiest, most childish, the stupidest, and the laziest customers (which I imagine are the only ones refusing to install this patch). Now when you punish your customers, you lose customers.

But really, is there any harm in losing your brattiest, most childish, stupidest, and/or laziest customers? I think not. And I applaud their decision. This vulnerability is SO critical, and now that it’s widely known, the opportunity to exploit it is tremendous. And through the exploit, Simple stands to lose a lot. Since the crisis is avoidable, then, it must be avoided.

Kudos, Simple, on making the right choice, protecting our money, and saving us from our bratty, childish, stupid, and lazy selves!

Incredibly Bad FiftyThree Pencil Sketch

FiftyThree Pencil

Incredibly Bad FiftyThree Pencil SketchFIftyThree is a company that creates products for the iPad. Their most popular product is a sketchbook app called Paper, and their latest product is a stylus called Pencil. As you might guess, their copywriters write delightful copy around these two words, but do the goods really stand up in a sea of products built to meet these needs? Well, that’s for you to decide, but I’ll gladly throw in my two cents on Pencil to help you make your decision on whether to give it a shot.

Fully buying into the company’s glamor (including their design awards, the lovely art that has been made in Paper, and an interface that is pure fun to work with), I preordered the Pencil a few days after I heard about it. I’ve been on the search for the perfect stylus for a couple years, but I’ve always been frustrated by how awkward and inaccurate they’ve been. My best purchase (of two, so don’t read too much into it) has been the Wacom Bamboo, which features a slightly narrower tip. Slightly. It’s still a dull sponge, but we must concede that this is a largely technical hurdle. For a capacitive touch stylus, you need to put a finger on the screen, and a fine point does not a finger resemble.

Having used the Bamboo twice and returned it to its box (for return to Best Buy, which has an EXCELLENT policy – I can’t recommend them highly enough, BTW), the Pencil was my first real financial commitment to the Stylus trials. Prior to that, I’d always just read online reviews and decided against everything. Two things matter, here. Make no mistake about them. The first is features, and the second is the impression.

Pencil’s features are pretty well documented. It’s a bluetooth stylus, but 53 isn’t reaching out to a bunch of app developers for wide acceptance the way that most of their predecessors have done (as least to the best of my knowledge). They’ve designed a mostly app-specific stylus (for a wildly popular app). It uses BTLE for an outstanding battery life. It is, at its core, a capacitive stylus, so it will work anywhere that capacitive styli work. That is to say you can use it in any app (our outside any app) on any iPhone, iPad, and darn near every Android device ever created. Do the Surface (1 and 2) have capacitive screens? If so, you can even use it there. Within Paper (iPad only, AFAIK), the Pencil can be paired using “kiss to pair” via a little circle in the lower right corner of the app. Once paired, the stylus draws, the eraser erases, and your finger smudges. It’s really cool!

FiftyThree Paper Pros and Cons

 

I’m not going to go light on the fact that this device ONLY works (fully) with ONE app, because this is when closed development becomes insular and fails. Contrast this approach against Adonit, who has shopped their Jot SDK to pretty much every company. And if you look at the list of apps that support the Adonit Jot, you’ll find Paper suspiciously lacking. What’s up with that?

Now let’s talk positives for a moment. The first three bullets in the above list stand to be elaborated upon. It is gorgeous. The walnut is so rich and a thoroughly satisfying tactile experience. I have long loved the feel of a carpenter’s pencil in my hand, and this is very evocative of that experience. It is far and away the most comfortable digital input device I’ve ever held, and I can’t imagine any of the existing competition could come close. That said, I’d be surprised if there was some sort of a patent, so should this product succeed, I expect knockoffs on the market inside of a year.

So finally, after outlining the most prominent pros and cons I found, I’m going to leave you with a decision guide for whether you should purchase the FiftyThree Pencil.

FiftyThree Pencil Buying Guide

Food Day

Today was a bit of a food day. We went to Lucile’s (Denver) for breakfast, where our son got powdered sugar all over himself (and a bit on his mother) (and a lot on his seat). He was asking about trains, but there were none to be found, so I drew him one. He stared at it for the rest of the meal, took it with him, stared at it in the car, brought it in the house, kept it near him for the rest of the day, and attempted to actually take it to be with him tonight.

I found a surprise giggle in the tea drawer whilst looking for spices for the dinner I was making. My wife is amazing. So is Patrick Stewart.

I actually made dinner. My wife and I came up with the meal, she gave me rough quantities and a little guidance, but I made it pretty much by myself. A spinach and baby portabella mushroom frittata was served on a bed of spinach, accompanied by a bowl of green lentil soup with sausage, carrots, and celery.

It was a wonderful family day.

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Save the Bunnies

There is an advertisement on television lately (I presume. They’ve been playing it during shows we watch on the ABC app, like Castle.) Have you seen it? It’s shot after shot of supporting actors from formerly-popular shows (plus one person you don’t recognize) pleading for bunny salvation.

Save the bunny

It’s cute and charming, seeing all these people make a plea for the bunnies, sort of in the style of the miserably depressing save the dogs/cats/children spots, but without the misery and depressing backdrops. And they’re all wearing these TRULY excellent Save the Bunnies t-shirts. Really, really, really excellent shirts.

Towards the end of the ad, you realize it’s a commercial by toy companies. This easter, instead of buying your children chocolates that will rot their teeth and make them all hyper, give them plastic that they probably won’t be able to swallow, let alone digest. It’s a win for everyone.

Ok, I can see where you’re going with this. It comes off as shilly and not really all that cute in the end, but I really, really love those t-shirts. Like a LOT. I want one. I would even by one, they’re so cool.

Save chocolate bunnies

And then the ad ends with the guy who was the miserable mind-control cop in Heroes. I liked his character in season 1 (like I did pretty much all of them. Man, that show went downhill fast.) He’s chomping on a bunny while laughing, and the sound that it makes is almost cooler than the t-shirts. So there are 2 awesome things in the ad. It’s even enough to make up for how otherwise lame the whole thing is.

My wife, the amazing woman that she is, actually wrote to the toy company behind the ad. THe very next day, she wrote them a lovely email confessing that her husband LOVES the shirts and OMG where are they for sale? They replied with an impolite, almost mocking rejection.

So now the whole thing has left a sour taste in my mouth. Like rancid, plastic bunnies. And I remain delightedly thrilled with the fact that we have bought our child (and our child-to-be) VERY few toys, and almost nothing new. Screw the toy companies. Get your kids what truly brings them joy. For our son, that means balloons, interesting rocks, unwieldy branches, and disposable bamboo chopsticks. And Netflix. That kid loves the hell out of Dinosaur Train.

Dinosaur Train Conductor

ADA STD FML

20130303-225459.jpgJanuary 13, 2012, I started a bold, new opportunity with a company that saw fit to pay me well over what my previous employer thought I was worth. The position (database developer) was similar to mine, but the company was significantly different. The commute would no longer be a happy trip downtown by bike or bus. I had to drive about 20 minutes (if the traffic’s good) up to a northern suburb. There were pros and cons to the commute, but mostly cons. I just don’t care to drive every day. Still, the opportunity was terrific. I would be learning on a better system with more smart people than I had access to at the prior job (which I held for over 3 years). Literally everything was better, not counting the commute.

Once in the swing of things at the new job, I found out there was a depressing amount I didn’t know about developing in a proper environment. My title actually became “software developer”, which was tough, due to my utter lack of experience with proper builds, deployments, or developing actual software. I rose to the challenge and learned a ton, but to this day, I may be the slowest developer in our department. I’m valued for my thorough, detailed approach, but it’s still some weight that I feel I’m playing to many of my weaknesses there.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a recruiter about a senior position with another company, but I declined. It would be even further from home (if only by a bit), plus it would require transitioning from the happy, stable environment I had, back into the unknown. Finally, the position called for MySQL experience, which I only have on hobby work. My entire career has been spent in Microsoft.

In a nutshell, the recruiter politely challenged my assertions and convinced me it was at least worth a call. The call lead to an interview lead to a test lead to a job offer just two days later. The offer matched or bested the job I’ve had for the last year in every way. The company is every bit as flexible (which is saying a LOT), the people seem every bit as terrific, and the salary and title are significantly better.

So just over a year after leaving my miserable jobs for a happy place in the suburbs, I am leaving that position for an even happier one. This is my final week in Broomfield, and I’ll be up in Louisville starting next Monday, March 11th. My mind is blown.

If you’re interested in getting together, lunches will be held at Busaba, a fabulous Thai restaurant just steps from my new office. Look me up any way you know how.

If you’re interested in working for either of these companies, both are terrific and hiring voraciously. Project management and development are always safe bets, but drop me a line regardless of what you’re looking for. So long as you don’t mind the suburbs.

It’s a bittersweet moment for me. I’m shocked and sad to be leaving a place that has been and remains so good to me. The departure is on good terms, though, and I am confident I will be seeing many of these fine people around.

P.S. The title of this post refers to some of the acronyms we use at the job I’m departing. Americans with Disabilities Act, Short Term Disability, and Family Medical Leave are all relevant terms when managing job absences.

Skyfall

Tonight, grandpa came over and watched our son. Date niiiight!!!

We had a quick bite and went to see Skyfall, the latest Bond film, at the cinema in Belmar. I’d seen the last two Bond films. Both starred Daniel Craig. The first one was brilliant, and the second was quite enjoyable, if not as amazing as the first. Prior to that, however, I hadn’t really seen any Bond films. I knew of the franchise, but only caught a few scenes here and there when a film was on TV.

Last week, we had a date trip and went to the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek. Since they gave us nearly the worst view in the place (second floor, overlooking the valet – see below), we flipped through the channels on the TV. It was a nice change of pace, since we don’t do the cable thing at home. Of course, instead of watching something, you know, current, we just locked into BBC America, which was playing a James Bond marathon. I saw probably 3.5 films between both days that we were there. And yet we still somehow found time for shopping, sightseeing, a trip to Leadville, and other non-tv-watching things. It was a great trip.

That’s not the point of this post, though. What I’m getting at is that I had no idea how much I love the Bond films. They’re campy, misogynistic, and formulaic, sure, but they’re also AWESOME.

Well, Skyfall came out last week, and word on the street has been that it’s beyond excellent. Even Roger Moore has come out not only praising Daniel Craig as Bond, but claiming that Skyfall is the best Bond film to date. That’s a pretty massive compliment, right? I was stoked to see it in the theater. And so we did. It was the 5th movie we caught this year. (I don’t really do the cinema that often.)

It. Was. Amazing. Kia didn’t agree that it was the best of the lot, but it was really, really enjoyable. Great pacing, great mood, great action, phenomenal acting, special effects on a really huge scale, and just … everything. It was incredible.

And after it was over, we couldn’t help but laugh at the mess the family in our row left. Americans are disgraceful. Finally, a poster caught my eye as we were leaving the theater… Despicable Me is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve seen it at least 15 times, most of them with my son.

 

gSchool email preview

Announcing gSchool

This morning, Galvanize announced gSchool (or g|school, according to their logo), an intensive course for learning to “become a professional web developer”. I’m going to break down the email that I received, and how I, as the potential target market, perceived it. If you just want the summary: It’s half an effort resulting in no appeal whatsoever.

The email consisted of three VERY simple parts, clearly constructed from a template. In the header was summary text (to show up in the preview that most modern email clients have) and an invitation to open the email in your browser (with a link, even). Following that, the body of the email was a 792 kb image. Finally, the footer held a couple social media links and links to manage your subscription or unsubscribe outright. Let’s go through the sections individually.

Much love and gratitude to Jessica for inspiring me to put this rant down on the web.

Header

gSchool email header

The first thing you see is the summary text for the email. One can easily tell this text is intended to to populate any preview that one’s email client offers. One can tell this because the default template text was never replaced with anything meaningful, so its purpose is explicitly stated.

gSchool email previewThis creates an incredibly tacky opening for a marketing message, and braces the reader for what is likely to be a poorly thought out experience. However, the message is about education, and the graphics hint that it may be about new education. If the reader is already a strong fan of Udacity, Khan Academy, iTunes University, or any of the other alternative sources for continuing education that have been springing up, that reader is likely to read on anyhow. And so I did.

Body

gSchool email bodyThe entire body of the image is comprised of a giant image that spans more than two screens in portrait mode on my tablet. This image, as I stated, is a 792 kb JPG. There are several problems with this. Without any preview text, the ONLY way to determine what this email is about is to wait for the image to load, but on a bad data connection (either on a mobile device, a bad computer network, or over a dial-up modem), this could take prohibitively long. This lowers potential readership, which lowers your reach. The image, as you can see (click through to see full size if you want), is mostly flat color with text. JPG is a terrible file format for this image type, so a higher quality (i.e. less compressed / larger filesize) image is needed for the text to be clear. Finally, with the entire body being one image, there is no sane way to create distinct links within the image. The whole image has to link to the same location.

Worst of all, the image in this email doesn’t link anywhere. Click it, tap it, or punch it. It’s not taking you anywhere. Yet if you look at the image itself, almost exactly in the middle, there is the URL to the site, gschool.it. Now you get to switch over to your browser (or open a new tab) and type it in yourself. Or you can scroll down to the footer for some clickable links.

Footer

gSchool email footer

The footer is easily the best part of this email. It contains two real social media links (Facebook and Twitter), a real address, and even links for updating your subscription (including the requisite link to directly unsubscribe). Ok, so it’s a failure that there are no images, colors, or other formatting elements to make the section at all visually interesting, but it is easily the most useful bit. Still, there is no link to gschool.it. But that’s ok, right? Because you’ve already been completely turned off by the experience.

Source

I didn’t click either of the social media links at first. I was just going to unsubscribe and be done. After a conversation, however, I decided it warranted a post. So I checked the source of the email to see if there was anything else to lambast.

  • The source code contains an inordinate amount of CSS, providing formatting for all SORTS of unused potential elements
  • The Twitter link leads to “twitter+account+not+yet+authorized”, which is not only not a valid twitter account, but isn’t even a valid URL
  • The Facebook link leads to “#”, which in HTML, is the definition of nowhere. Clicking on it does absolutely nothing
  • To add insult to injury, the entire email is structured as an HTML table – this method of creating HTML layouts was deprecated YEARS ago and is universally frowned upon by designers, coders, the people who build the Internet, and the people who write the standards for the Internet upon which the rest of us can build

Summary

If you’re promoting training of any sort, and if your marketing materials in any way directly relate to the subject of what you intend to teach, it would behoove you to have your marketing people either take the course or pair with people who have taken the course. In this case, emails are essentially tiny web pages that are sent out to individuals. This email is HTML formatted and includes links and images, just like a web site. It looks sort of like a website, too. The content is structured in a familiar way, interspersed with images and links. And yet, despite all this, it does not function. How does that instill any confidence in your product?

I’m not going to indulge in a rant about the program itself. This is just about the email, which is one of the more pathetic marketing attempts I’ve seen in recent history. The terrible user experience it provides will ensure that responses will only come from the most desperate readers. Initially, I compared gSchool to the DeVry of the internet, in that it is likely a quality enough vocational education to get a person hired doing a job (but without the respect and pedigree that a proper university degree can often pull). I see now that is giving gSchool far too much credit (and DeVry far too little). This is more like taking an apprenticeship from someone who is just really, really terrible at their job.

If there is any good news in this entire thing, it is that the unsubscribe link works brilliantly. And through it, you will quickly see that Denver Startup Week Bash are the ones who sold your email out.

Cleland Dairy Tour

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Josh Cleland, a 25 year-old with an Animal Science degree from CSU, is the third generation to manage the family farm in Erie, CO. This morning, we were fortunate enough to tour the dairy with a small group of bloggers. A couple groups worked with the farm to set up the tour, and it was terrific.

While we were asked to keep together, we were walked through every part of the dairy (except the family house, of course) from the calves to the yards to the feed stock to the milking facility. Questions spanned everything from the cows personalities to what they eat and how they’re managed. Absolutely every question was warmly and knowledgeably answered by Josh or one of the great people who helped coordinate the event. Everyone was kind and incredibly receptive.

I found that surprising. It’s unfortunate, but the fact is that the dairy industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country, so there is a lot of room to get defensive or even contentious. I found it even more surprising (and because of that, incredibly refreshing) for other reasons that I’ll cover shortly. First, some fun facts:

  • Cows have a body temperature of 101.4 (information I learned when we toured our raw dairy, but never bothered to retain)
  • Cleland holsteins produce about 70 lbs of milk per day (producing 40 lbs covers the cow’s boarding cost, and a few cows produce over 100 lbs of milk a day) – and this is WITHOUT any added steroids or hormones
  • Bovine hormones (steroids) are intended to increase a cow’s production, but can also shorten the cow’s productive life
  • Cleland holsteins eat about 100 lbs of food a day
  • Cotton seed (which still actually has a bit of cotton on it) is a viable source of protein, and is regularly part of a cow’s diet
  • Throwing a toddler into a pile of cotton is pretty awesome (from the perspective of both the thrower and the throwee)
  • The grain portion of a cow’s diet often comes from discards of the beer brewing process
  • The rubber liners from the milking system are replaced every 2 months or so and can be very effectively recycled as a dog chew toy

You may have known before, but at least gathered from the first point above that our family owns a share in a raw dairy. We are proud to directly support a local dairy, stand behind their product, and advocate the benefits of raw milk whenever the opportunity rises. The cows at our dairy are 100% grass-fed. On the dairy spectrum, we’re about as far left as you can go.

The most surprising part of this story, though, is that Cleland is a so-called “conventional” dairy. They feed their cows a mixture that includes grain, and while they don’t use hormones to increase milk production (given the reasons above), they keep some on-hand to stimulate a cow’s appetite when it’s not eating enough. Milk testing, of course, is rigorous. While an ailing cow may receive antibiotics for medication, it is not regularly administered, and sick cows are removed from the milk supply until such time that their milk is free of antibiotics.

Now, when I found out we were touring a conventional dairy, I was apprehensive and dismissive. (I’m not proud of that truth, but it’s important that I admit to it.) Fortunately, even when I participate in something grudgingly, I fix my mind on making the most of it. In giving Josh and the tour organizers my open, attentive mind, I was rewarded with information, explanation, and respect.

In addition to the warm welcome the dairy gave us, their candid responses to all questions gained my respect and my admiration. On the ride home, I could not stop thinking about how this conversation needs to happen EXACTLY like this in absolutely every industry. Shows up with an open mind. Approach conversations with the underlying assumption that we all have the same basic needs and goals. Receive the information that the other party is attempting to convey to you and weigh it carefully in your own mind and against your own logical constructs and moral compass. If we can all follow these simple-yet-difficult concepts, we will learn faster, grow stronger, and be fitter, happier, and more productive.

I have a ton of respect for the Cleland dairy and how Josh runs that farm. Their cows are clearly well cared for, and seemed as happy to me as cows can really seem. It was a beautiful, eye-opening day for me.

And on the way home, we picked up a gallon of raw milk from our share with Windsor Dairy. :)

How Not to Write Web Pages

When beginning a new web page, selection of typefaces is an important first step. Your choice of fonts helps to convey tone and carries a lot of weight in how readable your page is. Definitely don’t overlook this step in your own projects.

Given the weight and complexity of the topic, it may be useful to do some research. Let’s start by searching Smashing Magazine, my favorite resource on web design. I googled “smashing magazine font-family” because font-family is the CSS term for selecting such things. It probably would have made more sense to type “font-family site:smashingmagazine.com” but whatever. The second link took me to the Smashing Magazine article Guide to CSS Font Stacks: Techniques and Resources. Perfect.

That page linked to typetester.org, a great resource on which I spent probably twenty minutes, including time spent reminding myself how Google Fonts work. The visual resource of Typetester made it very easy to see how different font faces take up different blocks of space even at the same font size. It’s fascinating.

Over an hour after this whole thing began, I gave up, typed in the 3 font faces I always use, regardless of how inconsistent they each are with one another, and need to go to sleep.

This all just reminds me why I never went into web design. It’s just too damned complex.

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Detox Round II Conclusion

This wrap-up has been a long time coming, as I completed the month-long detox nearly two weeks ago. Still, the two weeks since its conclusion have offered additional insight that also bears mention. So think of this as two posts in one, only half of which is late.

I was tempted to call this post the Five Damply Sins, a take on the seven deadly sin combined with the fact that these five foods contribute to dampness in Chinese medicine. The problem, you rightly concluded, is that I have too much dampness in my system, and the solution is to consume nearly no dampness contributors so that my body (with the help of my wonderful acupuncturist) can return to balance.

The Detox Itself

The detox itself was difficult, even as often as I cheated, and the reasons varied by banned substance. Dairy and Gluten were simply difficult to avoid, given that they’re in everything. Sugar and Caffeine are drugs, and as such, as I was massively addicted to them. Finally, alcohol was difficult because it’s such a social lubricant. Ok, I’m exaggerating on the last one. Alcohol was easy. When I wanted to hang out with friends, I just drank something other than alcohol. It’s delicious, that other stuff. But 4 of the 5 banned foods were hard to go without. I wasn’t perfect, but I did well.

The Easy Part

I am extremely fortunate to have married well. This is clear in many aspects of my life, but of particular relevance is what an amazing cook my wife is and how amazingly food-aware she is. When I needed to call upon her to help me figure out what to eat, she was ready with advice and with meals. Chipotle is one of my favorite quick-food restaurants. A burrito bowl (double brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, green and corn salsas, guacamole and lettuce) is a great vegetarian meal that totally conforms to the diet. No tortilla – those have wheat. No cheese or sour cream either. And I can always give up the guacamole and get chicken or steak. Lunches were pretty great, even when I didn’t have leftovers to take from home.

The Hard Part

I mentioned my caffeine addiction. You’re probably thinking this was the hardest part, and for the first two days, it was. That addiction doesn’t take long to overcome, though, so it was no big deal for three and four-sevenths of the detox. (That third day was a little rough, but not nearly as bad as the second.) The difficulty with sugar, however, was an entirely different story. It’s not hard to avoid when you’re already avoiding gluten. Pastries, doughnuts, and a ton of desserts are already off the table. I don’t eat much candy (except chocolate, which was HARD to give up). My body pretty much immediately started starving for sugar. The cravings were off the charts, but the mood swings and energy roller-coaster were even worse. I was a nightmare to my family, friends, and co-workers. I was either spastically high (with boundless energy keeping me up until 4am) or miserably lethargic (nearly to the point of depression) at normally lively parts of the day. It was absolutely awful.

Sugar Is a Drug

I absolutely cannot overstate the lessons this can teach us about sugar. Processed white sugar is addictive, just like a drug. It throws off your hormonal systems, just like a drug. It alters your mood and energy levels, just like a drug. You come to gain a tolerance to it, just like a drug. You come to acquire a physiological need for it, just like a drug. And it fucking hurts to get rid of, just like a drug. Tell me why sugar is in SO many of the processed and “natural” foods we can buy.

IT IS SO THAT WE WILL BUY IT

My understanding of this is limited, but I’m told that simple carbohydrates (white rice, white flower, sugar) affect our adrenal and endocrine systems. Biology and physiology are neat topics and I wouldn’t mind learning more about them. The relevant part here is that I was peaking and crashing for nearly two weeks. It was madness, friends. I don’t ever want to go through that again. Ever. There were seriously parts of the day where I could barely keep my eyes open followed by nights were I could do nothing to get to sleep. Falling asleep, you need to understand, is literally never a problem for me. I can take a nap nearly any time I want. I’m just like “Body, Mind. Shutup and let it all go,” and then I’m like zzzzz. Done. It was ridiculous to have trouble with that.

And the headaches. Oh my god, the pounding, crazy headaches. Maybe I’m thirsty, no I’ve had a ton of water already. Maybe I’m hungry, no I’m too stuffed to eat. Maybe I ate too much, no I’ve had this exact same headache for three days. Maybe I hate life, yeah, that’s it. Miserable. I desperately needed to stop eating so much sugar. I’m infinitely grateful that I finally did.

Food Affects the Body

For the longest time, I was positive that all my sinus issues were the direct result of growing up in a cloud of cigarette smoke. I’ve never put a cigarette to my own lips, but I’ve had more than my fair share of second-hand smoke. It turns out that food may be the main contributor. Since I (mostly) cut those five foods out of my life, several major things happened, each resulting in several other things improving. I feel it’s important to list most of them.

The Big Changes

  • My sinuses have begun to open up (a lot!)
  • My digestion has improved (both processing and output)
  • My allergies have subsided (including sniffling, sneezing, and exercise-induced asthma
  • My energy level is better than I ever remember (EVER)
  • My mind is clearer and easier to focus (Adult ADHD? Not here!)
  • My mood is vastly improved (due to each and every point above)

The Detailed Improvements

  • Breathing through my nose is usually possible (it was previously almost always impossible)
  • I have begun to smell a few things (where previously I literally smelled nothing at all)
  • I don’t drip snot all over myself (it was incredibly disgusting and embarrassing
  • Food is VASTLY more enjoyable (due to the smelling)
  • My energy levels have improved (possibly due to the diet AND breathing better)
  • I have completely stopped snoring (except for that day when I ate half a large pizza)
  • Speaking is profoundly less embarrassing (I hated my Sicky Vicky voice)
  • I spend less time on the toilet (truth is truth
  • No gas bloat (which was pretty regular)
  • I lost 10 lbs (before I started gaining it back in muscle)
  • I lost an inch or two from my waist size (I didn’t measure, but my pants don’t lie)
  • I ran a 5K in 35:22 with absolutely no training (personal record!!)
  • People like me more (beginning with my family)
  • I want to live (Clarification in the next paragraph!

I can’t lie. My issues had me miserable to the point that I would daydream about fixing my sinuses with a power drill and other equally unsavory things. I say this not for dramatic flair or sympathy, but in an effort to reach out to anyone else who has been THAT miserable. My daydreams always ended undesirably, and I was never tempted to follow through. Still, it is horrifying to me that I even got that far. If you are desperate for a solution to your problems, keep searching, no matter what.

Back to my happy path. After the four weeks were up, I was supposed to try one thing from the detox list, and then wait four days to see how my body responded to it. Since I had occasionally pulled from the naughty list during the detox itself, I decided to instead do a week of one thing followed by a week of another. I knew dairy and gluten would be the first two.

A Week of Gluten

Gluten, in a fair quantity, messes me up. That’s all there is to it. My sinuses are affected to a degree, though it’s not a full regression. My stomach, however, goes into pure revolt. The king is beheaded and there are a series of military coups before it is fully digested. I can get away with having a burger or a few bites of a waffle or something with minimal repercussions, but if I go to town on a bready sandwich, indulge in a couple pancakes, or even eat every bit of crust from my and my wife’s homemade whole wheat chicken pot pie, I live to regret it.

Gluten is not my friend.

A Week of Dairy

Dairy and I get along much better than that cruel mistress, Gluten. We have a raw milk share, and I love it. Chipotle has shredded cheese and I love it (though I’m still better off with a bowl). Dairy is wonderful and great.

In moderation.

Caffeine Reintroduction

I had some caffeine through the detox, here and there. It helped with the sugar withdrawal, which was vastly more severe than the caffeine issues. It saved me at work a few days. I stuck primarily with maté tea during the detox and have reintroduced coffee since then. I don’t drink much. Prior to the detox, I would put down 30-50 oz of coffee a day. That’s 1 – 1.5 quarts. That’s way, way, way too much. Now I will drink, at most, 16 oz. Most days, it’s none or half a cup (4 oz).

Sugar Is the Devil

If gluten is bad, and sugar is bad, their combination is even worse. I’ve gone on about the evils of sugar quite enough, but let me talk about pastries and cookies for a moment. I have had a couple doughnuts. I had a little peach cobbler just last Thursday. My wife even picked up some ginger cookies for me to share at work because I have been doing so well. I haven’t opened them yet, but am very much looking forward to it. I will have sugar in EXTREME moderation, and I still enjoy it very much, but it punishes me brutally when I do.

Alcohol Returns

Beer is almost always horrible. Last weekend, I went to a scotch tasting at the Burns Pub and came out of that quite well. I drink very, very little now, but an occasional indulgence when I’m out has been working alright, so long as I steer clear of the beer & sugary cocktails.

I’ll have the Brut, please.

Ongoing Diet

Today, my diet is pretty simple. For grains, I stick with rice and quinoa. I eat a ton of fish, especially raw if I can. Beef and chicken are ok, but I have actually had to be careful with them. I’m not sure why, but my stomach prefers vegetarian food most of the time. I wonder if the dairy has helped me digest meats or some weird synergistic thing like that. I’ve been crazy for fruits and vegetables, and my favorite snack has become a banana with a large portion of almond butter. Bananas are great for sugar cravings, too. Having them on hand has saved me from a number of poor choices, and the apple butter adds healthy fats and a good dose of protein to make it a more hardy snack.

Fitness Benefits

The sinus and digestive benefits were surprising both in how quick and how significant they were, but they were also an expected change. The unexpected change is the immediate improvement in my fitness level. The Firefly 5K (mentioned above) was run with my son in the stroller. I’ve never run a 5K with the stroller before, and I’ve never run one that fast even without the stroller. My mind was absolutely blown. I’ve been feeling more inclined to do things to help my fitness as well. Even around the house, I’m hitting the pull-up bar a lot more often and have even done push-ups at bedtime. I play with my son more and more actively.

The biggest change is not just that I am active, but how much I enjoy it.

Summary

The detox has immeasurably improved my quality of life. I am confident that acupuncture has improved the speed of those benefits and perhaps even the extent thereof. I know that seeing my acupuncturist has improved my circulation, flexibility, immune system, and lowered my stress levels.

If you are in Denver and are at all interested in acupuncture, please consider Sylvia.

R-Money 2012

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This photo made the rounds weeks ago. It is a photoshop job, not a gaffe, so settle down. The thing is, I don’t want to talk about politics, money, or photoshop. I want to talk about fashion.

Wearing an ill-fitting tee is a pretty crummy way to show support for the aspiring president in your family. I think it would be more fitting (pun) to give him a little helpful advice in a topic he may be less well-informed about.

If the man can’t even find a cut to flatter his own wife, who apparently bore him at least 5 children. He simply needs to let one of his people handle it. (This is not a wealth joke. All viable presidential candidates have people.)

Show your family some respect, Mr. Romney.

The family, all geared up and loaded down for the hike

Backpacking

The family, all geared up and loaded down for the hike

In the back parking lot of Camp Dick, ready to hike up to a nice spot to set camp

It was an excellent weekend. We drove up to Camp Dick (which was packed) and parked in the rear. There are a ton of sites at camp dick, any of which can be reserved for a fee. I don’t know what the fee is, though, because backcountry camping is free*!

I wore my large backpack, containing our tent, both sleeping bags, a couple articles of clothing, our camp stove and cookware, water for me and Bodhi, some of our food, a couple torches, and my Leatherman Wave (never camp without it). Kia carried Bodhi in a backpack that held all his diapers and clothes, her clothes and water, and quite a few other things. We were both pretty well loaded down.

The shredded remains of a pine cone left by a squirrel after eating the seeds from it (the cob was a couple feet away)

Given the weight we were each bearing, I’m pretty pleased to report that we hiked back at least three miles. I wanted to track it, but without any cell towers, I don’t think Runkeeper can figure out where you are. What the place lacks in mobile phone coverage, though, it more than makes up for in trees, flowers, and clouds (and at night, crickets, sweet breezes, and stars). It was stunning.

I found a nice clearing a good hundred feet off the trail, behind a small stand of trees. There was already a ring of stones there which looked like it’s seen a good many campfires. It was a lovely spot to make camp, so we set up the tent and loaded it up with our sleeping gear. As we were relaxing from the hike, some dark clouds instantly appeared overhead. (Seriously, they came in but QUICK.) Kia made the timely selection that we throw the rain fly over the tent, and we started getting a few drops as we were staking it down. We got everything well covered and protected with a few moments to spare and got a lovely light show from inside the tent as a brief thunderstorm threw down all around us. Bodhi was delighted. We all were, really.

The clouds quickly roll in, prompting the rain fly to be thrown over the tent

For dinner Saturday night, Kia boiled some linguini and added pesto and a couple pouches of tuna. It was phenomenal, and we devoured it. Some clean noodles were set aside for Bodhi, but he ate everything that he could reach. Sunday morning, he wouldn’t touch my eggs (which had spinach in with them), but he tore up the eggs with ham and peppers that Kia made them. He also ate a bunch of bagel both days, tore up a few food bars, devoured two fruit leathers, and surely ate a few other things I’m not even remembering. Kia and I also had some bars, a bagel each, an apple each (with almond butter), and maybe a bit else?

A small flower stands out brilliantly, graced by a very specific patch of sunlight

The next morning, I ventured out from the campground to discover two unsurprising things. First, the main path a good stone’s throw from our site was now a major highway of backpackers heading down from goodness-knows-how-far-they-hiked-back. Also, the morning dew and sunlight left a dazzling spectacle to behold. I took quite a few pictures of flowers and mushrooms that morning.

Another upside to the wet morning was the need to lounge around for a while as our things dried out in the sun. The rain fly was draped over a fallen tree (and flipped a couple times to dry thoroughly). The fly had acquired a lot of condensation on the inside which also collected on the netted top of the tent it protected. My wife joked after we woke up that I should knock the water off of the rain fly, and in my still-sleepy state followed her advice. The water that had condensed on the inside (which looked to me like it was on the outside!!) pressed through the netting and showered down on me as I slapped it. She had a great laugh from it (from the far edge of the tent where she was wisely sitting).

Tent (North Face Minibus 23 – HIGHLY recommended), rain fly, and sleeping pads, drying in the sun

Bodhi refused to walk or hike anywhere, which hasn’t been the case in the past. He’s actually proven himself to be a surprisingly capable hiker. Between his insistence on being carried everywhere, his voracious appetite, and his unnatural tendency to make all sorts of other demands on the trip, he earned the nickname “Little Sultan”. Fortunately, his ego is immune to our feeble mockery. Unfazed, he continued with his demands even after we returned to the car and drove down into civilization.

All things told, however, he was a great camper. His energy level was high, his fussing wasn’t so bad (except when he was hungry, we refused to carry him, or when he refused his Saturday nap). For the most part, he was a joy on the trip, and found delight and excitement in the wilderness.

A nice pool created by an apparent beaver dam, beyond which was a rich cascade over water-carved boulders

I had a good bit of energy after a terrific night’s sleep, while Kia had been kept up a bit by the brat. With that in mind, I hiked ahead to drop my pack off at the car and help her bring the Little Sultan the rest of the way down. Of course, by the time I caught back up to them, they were nearly at the bottom. We met by the stream where what looked like a small beaver dam was creating a gorgeous pool before a rich cascade. She was shooting a vlog with Little Sultan sleeping in the pack on her back. After she was finished, we just sat down and relaxed while the little one slept. On an irresistible impulse, I stripped down to my briefs and took a cold dip in the pool. Within a couple minutes, my feet were absolutely numb. It was awesome. :)

On the brief trip to the car, I unloaded my gear and refilled my water bottle. Between that and some bars, I had a nice little snack while Bodhi finished his nap (and my unders dried out a bit, hah). Pants came back on when a father was coming up the trail with his young son. A quick dip in the cold water is all fun and games, but nobody wants to be a creeper. Fortunately, Kia’s observant enough to have pointed it out in time to prevent me traumatizing the poor lad.

Bodhi, splashing in the shallows of an awesome stream, wearing the galoshes he so dearly loves

Once Bodhi woke up, we pulled him out of the pack and let him play in the stream with us. He had a blast throwing rocks, splashing in a small pool (wearing his favorite galoshes), and watching his parents scamper over the rocks and take pictures of each other and everything. He also got to venture a little farther, but only when we had him firmly in our grasp. In addition to the brief rain storm the evening before, these moments were easily the highlight of the trip for me.

On the way back to civilization, we passed through Ward and Nederland. Ned is one of our favorite places in Colorado, so we had to drop in. We grabbed a slice each (and I got a beer) at Backcountry Pizza (best pizza I’ve found in CO, and a shockingly awesome, balanced beer selection, given that they only have about eight taps.) After that, we hit The Carousel of Happiness (more on that later) and grabbed dessert at the co-op. Ned is wonderful.

The Little Sultan and his mother ride the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland, CO

The Carousel of Happiness is a wonderful stop, and we make a point to go there regularly. It’s only a dollar to ride, and the attached gift shop is even surprisingly well priced. The history of the place is astonishing, and the people there are just delightfully warm. Ask them anything, and be sure to read a lot of the signs, placards, and clippings while you’re there. Don’t miss the upstairs, either. There is a small puppet theater where you can put on a brief, silly show for your friends. There’s also a window overlooking the top of the carousel. It’s just awesome to see how much work has gone into the place.

Carefully leaving Ned (25 MPH! Speed trap alert!), we meandered down the canyon road. Just past Boulder Falls, there was an empty parking area, so I pulled off to change into some fresh clothes before heading to a friends’ house for a potluck. Back in Boulder, we grabbed a couple bottles of bubbly and fixins for a salad, then made a beeline for the potluck. A lot of our dearest Boulder-area friends attend this regular gathering, and it was stupendous to see them all. There was, as usual, an abundance of delicious food and hugs.

By the time we returned home after an incredibly full weekend, we were both truly excited for a real shower. A good scrub with peppermint soap under cool water was just what I needed. Finally, a tall glass of water and a good, long blog post to recap the highlights. Just awesome.

Of course, after so much excitement, it took me until nearly four in the morning to wind down for sleep. Even then, the only reason I went to bed was because my wife got up and dragged me there. I was still going a mile a minute, but she correctly figured that a scalp massage would knock me out. Even running on under five hours of sleep, I woke up immediately charged with energy.

*If you hike back far enough, you’ll hit Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, where a permit is required for camping. There’s about a 4 mile stretch between Camp Dick and Indian Peaks, however, where no permit is required.

tcabeen avatar Mourn With Aurora

People Grieve Quietly

Funerals and memorials are somber occasions. So is the span of time after a massacre has occurred. Funerals and memorials are for mourning the loss of and celebrating the life of someone who touched many. The aftermath of a massacre creates a broader ache, reaching across a city, a country, even the world. Countless people are affected. Countless people mourn. Countless people are asking why. There is an outpouring of sympathy from every direction.

This is not the time to complain about the city in which it occurred, whatever politics you attach to it, or “the real problem” as you see it. Nor is it the time to argue. Arguing and mourning cannot happen at the same time.

It is impossible for anyone to say the right thing. It is likely that you will offend, hurt, or potentially enrage someone. This is the time to shut the fuck up and hug everyone you care about.

SteakBeforeGreens

Detox, Round II

I’ve started seeing an acupuncturist, and I’m in love with the results so far. After the first appointment, my right sinuses, which hadn’t been open for weeks, opened up and stayed that way. Mind you, it was only a little, and I still couldn’t smell anything, but If we’re looking at it on a scale of 1-10, going from 0 to 1 feels like a HUGE step.

The needles are all over the place. In each of my two sessions, she’s gotten my feet, lower legs, hands, forearms, abdomen, and face. (The ones in my sinuses, just below my eyes, within my field of vision, are the biggest trip.) I can very obviously feel the work they’re doing, and I’ve never had trouble with needles, so this is easy stuff. I lay down in my unders, covered with a sheet (like I’m about to get a massage), she asks me how I’ve been, and my responses guide where she needs to put the needles.

Detox Diet

The hard part is that she has recommended a detox diet, and I’m eagerly complying. I’ve only been doing it for a week, but I’m absolutely convinced that it’s doing BRILLIANT work. I’ll share the details. It’s pretty straightforward; I only need to eliminate five things:

  1. Alcohol (Not addicted. Easy to avoid.)
  2. Caffeine (Murderously painful withdrawl, but easy to avoid now.)
  3. Refined Sugars (Possibly even worse withdrawl, but easy enough to avoid.)
  4. Dairy (My favorite food group, but I can manage.)
  5. Gluten (No known addiction, and lots of options, even if this is the most restrictive thing.)

Alcohol

I only drink socially. I also keep the kind of friends who don’t push me to drink. I can easily go out, order a nice water or herbal tea, and get no real flack for it. They may give me a light ribbing, but once I explain, that’ll be that.

Caffeine

I think I’m over the caffeine addiction. I had a few really tired days, but by Tuesday, my energy was sort of through the roof. It was like I was on a caffeine high without having had any for days. Awesome. I haven’t really craved it, but I have had a couple of Maté teas. A cup of that has about a quarter the caffeine of coffee, and what caffeine it does have works differently. I think it’s a fine choice if I take it occasionally, but we’ll see what my acupuncturist says. The headache lasted for 2 or 3 days, but subsided well enough. I don’t have any distinct cravings for it.

Sugars

Sugar is the worst drug I’ve ever personally used. I freely admit to having a horrible addiction to it, and I blame industrialized food for creating it. That said, I’m a grown man who knows how problematic it is, so I can blame only myself for the continuation of the problem. I have been craving sugar madly. Knowing that I would regret it for a day and a half, I will refrain from eating a whole package of cookies, but I still sure as hell want one. The order was to avoid refined sugars, so maple syrup and honey are still fine, but I know better than to eat too much sweet anyway, so I’m abstaining as much as possible.

Artificial sugars (sucralose, aspartame, etc) are vile, destructive chemicals that I can’t stomach and know better than to consume anyhow.

Dairy

As you fine readers may already know, we maintain a milk share with Windsor Dairy for one gallon a week. I love milk, and it has been a staple of my diet for as long as I can remember. Therefore, it may also be a contributing factor to my congestion, which I’ve had issues with for NEARLY as long as I can remember. As reluctant as I am to give it up, I’m doing so. I think it will be the first thing I reintroduce to my diet once I’m allowed.

Gluten

Gluten is a protein in wheat and related grains (e.g. oats). It apparently is on the list of things to avoid, and I’m all in with doctor’s acupuncturist’s orders. I can still have rice and corn, but all pizza, pasta, bread, and pastries are gone. Shame. (But not as big a shame as giving up milk.)

Misc

I should really limit and avoid all bad things, which includes processed foods (including cured meats, so I’m abstaining from bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meats), nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers, apparently?), corn, eggs, beef, pork, and a few other things. This is generally not happening, aside from the cured meats. I’m craving iron badly, and I can’t really manage enough of a dietary shift to replace that with leafy greans, so I’ve had a PILE of beef this week. (Ok, just a steak and a burger, but still.) I’m also keeping corn for the time being. I’m from Indiana. Need I say more?

There’s also the topic of dairy-free, fruit-sweetened ice cream, which, while technically ok, is not going to enter as a replacement for regular ice cream. Why? Because it feels like cheating, first of all, but also because there are a few iffy components, there. How is guar gum made? Are we POSITIVE that “fruit-juice sweetened” doesn’t involve a fair amount of processing? There are just too many uncertainties that boil down to the fact that it’s not real food. I need to be eating real food, and I intend to take this very seriously.

Scents and Sensibility

I’ve actually started catching a few scents in the last week. Things taste more rich and complex. Almonds are more almondy. Everything has more nuance. Who would’ve thought that dropping just five foods and getting stuck about with needles could do what my sinus surgery didn’t? I’m dreaming wildly that this may actually be a CURE for my disgusting, depressing, depriving, irritating, and sometimes painful condition.

Want to know how it turned out?

Would You Care If They Saw?

Think about the things you allow simply because no one else can see them. Dwell on your secret shame. I have two pieces of advice for you on each of these things: Show people. Also, Fix it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a recent photo of myself in my swimming shorts, so I’m not fully following my own advice, here. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed by my gut. This is especially true when I’m feeling bloaty or over-full. And this occurs when I eat poorly. Three doughnuts and a quart of coffee for breakfast? Yeah, I don’t intend to hit the pool that day.

It is easy for me to say “Don’t do that” in response to such a poorly-chosen meal. I definitely shouldn’t eat like that. No one should. But I think it’s equally important for me to say “Go to the pool anyway!” First of all, going to the pool is going to help me burn off some of those calories. Furthermore, bringing forth my secret shame (which I’ve hidden behind a particularly well-draped shirt, that day) makes it impossible for me to personally ignore. Running around in full awareness of the embarrassment I’ve caused myself is an important reminder to myself that I should NOT DO STUPID SHIT.

Here, I think it important to mention that literally NO ONE at the pool is staring, giggling, or in any way judging me. Everything embarrassing that is happening to me is happening exclusively in my head. But that isn’t the point either, because people who care about me would treat me well and nothing else matters.

Share your story about tripping over your own foot or walking into the corner of a doorway because you were texting. Wear your shame on your sleeve, for it lets your humanity shine. We all do stupid shit. We all wish we never did stupid shit. We all feel shame, and we all benefit from seeing the foibles of others, because it reminds us that we’re not especially pathetic. We’re all very usually pathetic. It’s standard issue.

It’s all this stuff that makes people continue to talk to you. It is your imperfections as well as your warm smile that make your friends excited for your next coffee date. Do you really think Dick Van Dyke independently chose slapstick humor, constantly falling over some furniture or down steps for our amusement? I would wager a fair amount that he had a clumsy stage, like we all did, and just decided to OWN it. Instead of crying out the humiliation of laughter, I think he found adulation in it, and that fueled his comedy.

If you’ve invited friends to dinner and the roast tastes like salted charcoal, laugh it off and ask if everyone prefers Chinese or Italian. Post a picture of that roast on Fork.ly. Own the roast. Own the dinner. Own your mistakes, your shame, your laziness, and above all
Own Yourself.

And also chill out on the doughnuts*.

*The reader may enjoy noting that I will be starting up a diet next week, at the suggestion of my acupuncturist (first session of my LIFE last Tuesday, but that’s a couple totally separate stories). I will be eliminating Gluten, Dairy, Refined Sugar, Caffeine, and Alcohol. What’s left after losing my five major food groups? Well, the goal is primarily clear sinuses, but I’ve been informed that I can also look forward to more energy, happier digestion, and less of a gut. Miserable Delight. :)