Archive for the ‘meta’ Category

I enjoy watching “reality documentaries” such as Alaska: The Last Frontier, Mountain Men, Yukon Men and Ice Lake Rebels. But I really don’t like “fake” shows, especially when they go out of their way to seem real.

That’s why I stopped watching Dual Survivor. Without Cody Lundin, the show lost its credibility in my eyes. I usually watch a show or two, then do some research to find out how legit it is.

Alaska: TLF and MM are, as far as I can tell, solid and real. I haven’t researched Yukon Men yet.

Today, I researched Ice Lake Rebels. The first thing I checked was the “remoteness” factor. The show portrays the people as far from civilization, far from help and resources. I was disappointed to see that they were within walking distance (or rowing if the lake wasn’t frozen) of a fairly large city. They can probably hit the Canadian equivalent of a 7-11 for a box of Twinkies. Check out the picture below – that island at the top right is the one on the show.

image

The city of Yellowknife is right there. In this case, I don’t think less of the people on the show, unlike the apparently very fake and scripted Alaskan Bush People. But I do think that the producers are being a bit deceptive. Some shots are high views of the island, and the developed mainland next to it are blurred, obscuring the docks and boats and buildings.

That’s NOT good television… but I am still watching the show. The Rebels clearly face some real dangers and some tough conditions. But I’m watching a bit more… skeptically than before.

Every family has its customs, from eating dinner at the Outback Steakhouse on Sunday nights to the family vacation trip during the summer. There are special rituals that stand out in my memory: the coming of age ceremonies that transformed my cousins and me from boys into men.
 
My grandmother’s farm was the focus of the family while I was growing up. We’d visit almost every weekend, often staying the night during the summer. Their property and surroundings were in Midland, Texas, near the outskirts of the city. Oil pumps and mesquite bushes dotted the dry, dusty landscape. Randy and Ronnie, my two closest cousins, lived nearby. It was our Adventure Land and could easily rival staid, packaged and sanitized parks like Disneyland.
 
There we would find snakes, mice, jackrabbits, and our favorite: horned lizards. We called them horny-toads, and they were all over the place in West Texas. I’d put one in my pocket and it would kind of flatten out. They aren’t fast like other lizards, so I could easily catch them. Grabbing one of these was brave when you were only five years old. I’d carry them around for a few hours and let them go.
 
Grandmother’s house had this rock and weed garden in the front where the horny toads could be found. They also owned wide swaths of land around their house. I remember cows, a few horses, some chickens, a mean old bull and lots of alfalfa. That’s what they mostly farmed: alfalfa. My cousins and I came to know those fields very well. We would be assigned the task of moving the irrigation pipes during the hot summer months. They just lay on the ground, so we’d have to move them from one part of the field to another. That was a real chore. I’d remove the connection collar, then slide the big pipe out. The pipes were twenty feet long and had a nine-inch diameter. They weren’t too terribly heavy – at least I didn’t dare show they were heavy in front of anyone. One of us would pick up an end to dump out the water, and possibly dump out any rabbits that may have wandered into the nice, cool, water-filled pipe. We’d carry the pipes about fifty yards to a new spot and hook them back up, then walk back to the next set of pipes and do it again. Over and over. Hour after hour. All three of us were about eleven years old at the time, and it sure seemed like a lot of work for a couple of silver dollars. We were happy to do it: you knew you were “growing up” when grandpa invited you into his truck for a day in the fields.
 
Once all that alfalfa turned into hay bales in the fields, I worked hauling it onto a flat bed. Attached to the trailer was a hay elevator. It picked up square bales of hay and carried them way up in the air where they dropped out of the top. Sometimes they became stuck in the top. I’d pull them out with big hooks that resembled the ones used by that homicidal rain slicker slasher guy in I Know What You Did Last Summer. I’d stack them neatly on the trailer, hour after hour, layer after layer, until I was perched on top of five layers of hay bales on a rickety, swaying flatbed and hoping not to fall into the hay elevator the next time the wheels hit a bump.
 
Near the fields were some rent houses that my grandparents owned. At the end of the block was an old fireworks stand that we would operate around the fourth of July. It wasn’t a big stand: not much demand for fireworks out there in the sticks. What was really cool was to light a bottle rocket and hold it until just before it went off, then toss it high into the air. If I timed it right, the rocket would gain extra altitude from the boost. If I didn’t, the rocket would be pointed randomly at the dry grass, someone’s car, the house, or the person who threw it into the air. Then there was a mad scramble to avoid the widely careening firework before it exploded. I don’t think we burned too many things down.
 
Grandmother’s house needed burning down anyway. It was built in the 50’s, but it wasn’t vacuumed until the 90’s, if then. The pipes were almost totally corroded away from the super-hard water. I think they pumped it straight out of limestone or something. We didn’t dare drink the stuff. Using it to brush your teeth was torture enough. I’m not sure if I got cleaner or dirtier taking a shower, but I certainly gained a nice, shiny coating.
 
The backyard wasn’t any cleaner. There were random holes, snakes, flies and bits of unrecognizable metal lying around: farm implements that had seen better days. The fence was made of concrete blocks but it had no top. That made for empty holes where the blocks were with unknowable creatures living inside. Only the bravest of us would dare to walk on or near that fence. There was a rickety old wooden gate at the back. It led into the barnyard and the fields beyond. Sometimes the bull would get into the yard. I think. Maybe that’s just vivid nightmares of the bull getting into the yard or something, but I know there were bees around the side, near the extra front porch. If you had to mow over there, well, just make sure you were a fast runner.
 
On the opposite side from the bees and way in the back, there was a big hay barn. When we were old enough to go exploring on our own, probably about twelve, we could walk through the field with the bull to go play in the barn. I’d stay close to the fence, but there was a problem with that strategy. The entrance to the barn faced the road, and we came up on the backside of the barn. Therefore, I had to either risk the run in the field with the bull or else climb over the fence. The climb wasn’t a big deal; it’s where I was climbing to that was the problem.
 
Bees. Lots of bees. Hives of bees. They were kept at the end of that field behind the barn. I guess they helped pollinate the fields of alfalfa. Maybe that hive on the side of the house was founded by Columbus Bee. All I knew back then was that: 1) Bees made honey, and 2) Bees stung little boys. However, they were near the hay barn, and although it was a good walk from the house, it was fun to play in the stacks and stacks of hay. It was also the shortest path to the gravel pit.
 
After working in the fields all day, we’d go down to The Pit and play around. It was big, probably a football field in length and forty feet deep. It had a mucky, yucky, water-filled end where we would swim, usually with cousins and sisters from five to fifteen. We had to wear these ratty old shoes because the bottom of the “pond” had the sort of trash you’d expect in a gravel pit: old tires, rusting re-bars and other pointy, infectious objects. There was a sort of platform (too generous to actually call it a “dock”) on one side. It was just barely possible to jump off and sort of dive into the water, but we first had to walk around out there to make sure we wouldn’t impale ourselves on something. Usually we had to aim to the side to avoid hitting an underwater obstacle, and it seems like only we twelve-year-old boys made that leap of faith. The water was only about four feet deep, and we couldn’t see the bottom.
 
All of these adventures helped shape the boys in our family, but there was one final exam before you could say that you ran the gamut and survived.
 
Grandmother’s house was near, way too near, a sewage treatment plant. When the wind was just right, which was all too often, the smell would waft over the house and fields. We boys were drawn to that place like flies to carrion. We just had to go see what a sewage treatment plant was like. It was at the outer edge of walking distance, just past one of the fields and across a highway. I don’t know why the plant drew us, but draw it did. We would talk about it almost every weekend.
 
“Let’s go to the plant!”
 
“Nahh, I saw a truck and a bunch of people when we came up. They’re doin’ somethin’ over there.”
 
“Let’s go see what they’re doin’!”
 
And so the dialog went, always discussing but rarely taking the chance until the need to visit overcame the obstacles of distance, highway and danger. First we’d plan the attack.
 
“Right after lunch,” I’d whisper to Ronnie, “We’re goin’ to the plant.”
 
“What are we gonna tell Mom?”
 
“Nuthin’, let’s just go to the other block and play around. We’ll head off down the road when the coast is clear.”
 
“I’ll tell Randy.”
 
It was rare that we’d attempt the trip when the wind was blowing the stench across the farm. It couldn’t really be that much worse close up, right? We’d work our way toward the plant, down the road and across the highway. It was at least a twenty minute walk. We ignored the “Keep Out!” signs and clambered over the low fence to stare at the pools of ooze before running out of stench range.
 
This was the pinnacle of our coming of age rituals: visiting the sewage plant and getting the blast full on. It was our final family test of manhood.

I think that my best apps are the ones I create in order to fulfill my own needs. PhotoKiosk is one of them – I wanted a nice way to view and discover photos. I set it to view the Flickr public feed, Utata Pool, my own feed, plus a variety of tags. It’s cool!

I recently saw new toy prototypes for the next Batman movie, beautiful snowscapes from around the world, and even a ladies’ roller derby team party. It’s also cool watching what people tag as “iPad”. It’s usually a drawing created on the iPad, but sometimes it is children using the device or a new case. I saw a sort of stick on peel off case that created a form-fitted protective cover around the iPad.

I updated PhotoKiosk, so check out the Lite and paid versions in the App Store.

Here’s the Feed list I use on mine:

  • public feed
  • Utata Pool
  • wildlife (tag)
  • tiger
  • guitar
  • toys
  • iPad
  • batman
  • snow
  • landscape
  • funny
What’s your feed?

 PhotoKiosk turns your iPad or iPad 2 into a gorgeous kiosk, displaying photos from an unlimited number of Flickr photo feeds or compatible URLs. Also works with the iPhone and iPod Touch.

A password-protected setup screen allows you to add feeds using an individual ID, a group ID, tags, the public feed, or a custom feed URL, or any combination. Feeds can be easily switched on or off, and a description of each feed can be optionally displayed on the kiosk.

Feeds are automatically cycled based on the refresh time you set, and the number of photos to display can also be changed. Touch a photo to zoom in, triple tap the screen to access the settings (after also entering your password), or quadruple tap to refresh the page and move to the next feed.

Older pictures are smaller and/or more transparent, while the newest pictures show up larger and opaque. Tap any picture to zoom in to the fullest size possible.

Works in either landscape or portrait mode and automatically compensates when you rotate the iPad. Use it in conjunction with iPad kiosk hardware that hides the Home button to turn it into a photo display for trade shows, non-profits or other businesses.

In this version:
* Customize the kiosk name
* Custom kiosk description or per-feed descriptions
* Unlimited feeds
* Select the number of photos
* Select the refresh timeout
* Change the password

Available now in the App Store!

Updated to version 1.2 – fixed a bug introduced by a Flickr API call change. Also removed the interruptive error messaging.

Super Conversions/SuperConvert

SuperConvert is the iPad/iPhone/iPod version of the popular Super Conversions Windows application, with over 20,000 conversions possible in 18 categories: Distance, Area, Volume, Weight, Power, Pressure, Temperature, Time, Energy, Force, Acceleration, Illuminance, Concentration, Electrical Current, Hydraulics, Density, Velocity and Viscosity.

Now Available! Click here to view it in the App Store.

Updated to version 8.2, fixed a problem where it was ignoring decimal places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 2008. The snow turned to rain, falling steadily throughout the night, coating the forest surrounding my house with tons of ice. A layer of warm air, high above the surface, melted the falling snow. The air at the surface was still below freezing, causing the ice storm. I live down a one lane gravel road, tall trees guarding the road and the power lines that snake up the hill. Both mighty oak and tall pine trees were broken by the onslaught of ice, yanking the phone line from our home with a loud tearing noise, snapping heavy power lines in two. The grid went down at around 2am.

I ventured out every time a falling branch or tree shook the house, just wanting to check the integrity of our shelter. I didn’t venture far, and I wore a protective… well… a bike helmet… just in case. The crash of falling branches sent me scurrying back under the roof. Trees continued falling all through the night and even into the next afternoon. I wasn’t too worried – I was reasonably prepared for an extended power outage lasting, oh, three or four days.

I had a small generator – enough power for lights, a small electric burner, and a fireplace blower. I had 15 gallons of fuel, bought in advance of the storm.

I had a stockpile of good wood, enough to last maybe a week of solid burning. It was dry and underneath a tarp.

Our water comes from a well, but I had enough – we began conserving as soon as the power went out – even filling containers before going to bed.

The house is reasonably well insulated – it would keep warm enough without even a fire for several days, especially after I got out the duct tape and made sure the recessed can lights weren’t leaking warmth into the attic.

But this was no ordinary outage, and it showed me how little I was prepared to be off the grid for an extended period.

There were about 6 very large trees blocking the driveway, and about 30 smaller ones. My neighbor and I went through two chain saws clearing them. We just picked up the power lines and moved them out of the way as best we could – no way there was any juice running through them!

The family moved into our warm room, closing the door and putting a towel under it. We had a light from the small generator, plenty of heat from the air-blown fireplace, board games and plenty to eat. We put a table on the deck and emptied the fridge onto it, covering it with a tarp. We didn’t need no stinkin’ fridge! Not with the outside temperature peeking at 45 or so during the day.

The true extent of the disaster unfolded during the next few days. Power wasn’t just “out”, the entire grid infrastructure was broken. Hundreds of miles of power lines had to be rebuilt all over the Northern counties of Mass and some Southern New Hampshire areas.

Not only were we dead center in the disaster zone, but our house is one of the last ones on the grid. We were hosed. And we couldn’t even drive out of the disaster area – there was a huge tree hanging off a powerline in the middle of the road.

After six days, I began running out of wood. Water wasn’t too big a deal, and the food supply was still okay. But the nights were going to get really cold without a fire. The generator ran out of gas, too, so no fireplace blower. My wife had already left for a hotel in Burlington, Ma, with the kids, where her car window was shattered by a GPS thief. I stuck it out for a while longer and prepared the house to be on its own for a while. I left after, I think, day 9 without power.

It takes a lot of work to become prepared for an extended period off the grid. The best book I know of is Cody Lundin’s “When All Hell Breaks Loose”. It’s practical, not fanatical, and Cody lives what he teaches, having been off the grid for (correct me if I’m wrong) decades. I had some big basic things I wanted to do to be prepared for the next time it happens, and Cody’s book has done a great deal to fill in the blanks and give me confidence that I’ve taken the right steps.

Cody teaches the rule of 3’s – you can live 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, but only 3 hours without warmth.

  1. Core body temperature.
    This means a simple fireplace isn’t good enough, nor is a six day supply of fuel. So, wood stove and lots and lots of wood. Better overall insulation in the house – plug the gaps. Quality sleeping bags – for everyone. No more SpongeBob overnight bags, might as well buy the good stuff.
  2. Water.
    Stored potable water – enough immediately on hand for a month for 3 people, plus enough in a backup source, plus the means to make it potable, for as long as 100 days for 4 people. In addition to the 50 gallons in our regular water tank. And then there’s the lake down the road, and several year’s worth of disinfectant for water. Yeah, we got that covered now.
  3. Food.
    Okay, so this one seems to be the hardest for some reason. Looking at all the food options, things that seem to make it easy……. Cody makes it pretty clear – just buy more of what you eat right now, and rotate it. That’s a little harder when you eat a lot of fresh stuff. But, some things are easy – more rice, more spaghetti, more spaghetti sauce, lots of Pop Tarts and cereal. Okay, maybe not as hard as I thought! Plenty of bullion cubes and hot chocolate mix and some instant coffee. And, well, go ahead and get that 10 pound box of powdered milk, but put it in a food safe plastic container!

It’s not too hard, and it’s mostly cheap – even an installed wood stove is less than $2,000. You don’t need to go crazy, or be crazy, to prepare for a disaster, or at least prepare for an extended time of living off the grid. It’s happened to me, and tens of thousands of others around me.

Be ready.

Spill is almost 16 years old, but it’s time for him to go. He’s been suffering for a week now, despite repeated visits to the vet. We’re paying extra attention to him today, and he seems to be liking it, although he doesn’t wag his tail.

He was our first dog, a miniature poodle with “phantom” markings – similar to a “party” poodle, but with symmetrical markings. His chest had a “bow tie” and he had white “eyebrows”.

Like most poodles, he was intelligent and had a unique personality. As a puppy, and our first, he wasn’t crated and it took a long time to housebreak him. He tore up carpets and scratched up doors. We finally crated him and he quickly learned to go outside, but he did have one last trick: he ate my daughter’s homework once when she left it on top of his crate!

He managed to get out of our yard a few times, always into our neighbor’s back yard, attached to ours just like the duplex we shared. Once during a birthday party, he burst out the door and took off down the street. Even in his old age, he was the fastest dog we had. The kid’s grandmother led a flock of screaming girls and boys after him.

My most vivid memory involves another attempt at escape. I was picking up some Outback to go food, and I noticed a problem with the order. As I opened the door of the car to get it corrected, Spill shot out and ran toward the restaurant. I was wearing some “I’m not going into the restaurant” clothes: a holey shirt, shorts, and sandals. I ran after him as he made his way to the sidewalk surrounding the restaurant.

Did I mention he’s fast? He rounded a corner and headed for the front door. If someone had opened it, no doubt he would have run inside. Instead, he continued left around to the side. We were near a major road, and quickly running out of sidewalk. I knew I had to end this pursuit fast, so I literally dove onto him, banging and bloodying my knee and hands and arms. Once home, I instructed everyone to not be nice to him!

When we got our other dog, Haunter, Spill was hilarious. He didn’t want anything to do with this visitor. He would not even LOOK at Haunter, averting his eyes and never playing with him.

But then a curious thing happened – we noticed that he would play with Haunter outside, but only if no one was looking. If Spill saw anyone observing his play, he would immediately go back to ignoring Haunter. Funny little guy.

He was always kind of a nervous dog, furiously moving his legs on wooden floors like Fred Flintstone trying to run, slowly gaining momentum. When we moved into our current home, Spill was stuck running around on wooden floors and wooden stairs. He would have to nerve himself to charge up the stairs, sometimes tripping and falling backward as he clawed his way to the top. Often there would be a terrible racket as he scrambled up, missing steps and pumping his legs. He didn’t seem to realize it was okay to take it slow and sure-footed. We put carpet stair thingies down just for him.

When we got our daughter’s puppy, poor Mr. Spill had yet another hurdle to get up the stairs: the puppy would wait at the top and ambush Spill as he came up, barking and playing and blocking his way. This was a nightly headache for Spill, as the puppy harassed him for almost two years as he clawed his way to the top. He seemed to learn to ignore it, or at least nerve himself for it before he began his mad scramble.

Spill could roll over, play dead, speak, give you a high five, and catch popcorn… at least he would catch it until one day when he missed a Frisbee that hit him in the nose. After that, he wouldn’t try to catch anything.

For the last few years of his life, he would get up and go outside, get his canned food, lay around on the couch or easy chair, go upstairs, then go to bed in my son’s room. Sometime during the night, he’d come into our room and sleep on his own little bed.

We buried him on a hill, lying in his bed.

Goodnight Mr. Spill, wherever you are.

I was recently asked a question that was, essentially, “What is your perfect job?” What is my passion? After a few moments of thought, I knew exactly what to say.

I’m passionate, work-wise, about three things: two of them I’ve always loved, the third has come about only in the past few years (see Transformation). They are related to each other, but separable in terms of job responsibilities and opportunities.

When I was in eighth grade, living in Reno, I had a friend at school – I don’t even remember his name. But his dad owned some 7/11 stores, and he used a Radio Shack TRS-80 to help him manage them. It was my first glimpse of a “personal computer”. I asked how it worked, and he showed me a “code listing” – lines and lines of BASIC. I could even recognize some of the words! I played Dancing Demon on it and started trying to figure out how to get one of those things.

After working a while as a dishwasher, I managed to save enough to buy a Model I Level II 16K TRS-80 for about $700. I was about to turn 15. I spent many nights and weekends in a scary attic space workroom typing in lines of code from SoftSide magazine and learning how to debug my typing errors using just a language reference manual. Fun stuff!

My first passion reared its head when I was 17, working at a skating rink. I became an assistant manager and started calculating payroll for the employees. I used a rate chart and a calculator, and it took me about 4 hours to do the twenty or so employee time cards every week. With a couple of years programming under my belt, I just knew I could create something on the computer to do this payroll thing for me! It took me a couple of weeks, but I wrote my first computer program that solved a customer’s pain. Including unpacking the computer, running the program with its nice summary printouts, and packing the computer back up, my payroll time was cut in half to just two hours. My first passion is simply:

Solving Customer Pains

I like to visit customers, talk to them, discover ways in which I can help them work better, faster, easier, whatever-er. This is why I created QuickBooks Keyword Search. It’s why I took on consulting jobs like my first paying gig for Plaza Diagnostics. That one took a 2+ week billing cycle for a medical diagnostics firm down to 1 night. From a “hand the papers off to a data processing company running a PDP-11″ to “enter the night’s stuff into a T1000″ and bill the next day! I interviewed that customer, understood his process, turned it into a program that saved him thousands of dollars. And learned to value my time more – I only charged $90 for that program.(!!!!!)

Today, this translates into visiting customers, talking to them, seeing their work, seeing them work, discovering new ways to help. You know I’m visiting customers if I’m applying for patents! There are always new ideas out there.

My second passion is all about playing around. I like to play with new languages, new platforms, new types of customers, new technologies. When I was coding in BASIC and Z-80 Assembly, I was part of Fidonet, answering questions and creating samples for people. When Windows came around, I wrote VB samples (see BlackBeltVB.com) and helped folks.

When I was stuck on version 12 or so of the accounting system our team created, I thought I’d go bonkers. I asked my boss if I could write articles for magazines, create some shareware, have some fun!! He told me, “Sure, as long as it is non-competitive with our software.” So I wrote maybe 20 or so articles, several shareware applications – one of them highly successful, and dozens and dozens of sample applications… just fiddling around with functionality and learning new things. I created a 3D rotation and transform wireframe app (it’s on the bbvb site). I tried my hand at games, at network communications tools. I even wrote my own HTML web browser!

Nowadays I still experiment with every language and new technology that comes down the pike. In one week last year, I remember that I coded in: 1) Groovy, 2) VB6, 3) Java, 4) PHP, and 5) Objective C. Groovy was for an app at work, VB6 was a quick and dirty card printer, Java and Objective C were for a Droid phone and iPad respectively, and PHP was the app that worked somewhat with the VB6 thing. I latched onto Smartphones when they first appeared, creating Palm apps and even a floating point emulator in C (of sorts – really it was just a very large integer math library) for the early Blackberries. I can’t help myself… I see an RFID reader for $39.95… wow!! Gotta have it and play with it. Cameras and GPS and motion sensors, big touchscreens… I even bypassed a UPS power switch and wired it to a phone-controlled radio transmitter relay system for remote power cycling of a computer and network switch. All that to state my second passion:

Experimenting

I’m usually pretty good at making connections between a need and a solution. The more I learn about new capabilities in the world of computing, about new technologies and devices, the more connections I can make and the more potential solutions. But mostly, it’s fun! It’s fun because I’m curious, I’m a programmer, so I love to find a real challenge and then figure it out. I’m like a little kid with a cube full of odd-shaped holes and a bunch of plastic shapes. I pick up each one and try to hammer it in a hole, crying out with joy when one fits!

Two down, one more passion left: acting as a catalyst. This one is really my least defined, as I haven’t really been “passionate” about it, or recognized it as something I love, until far more recently that the other two. Oh sure, I enjoyed teaching the occasional class on creativity or visiting customers, and I enjoyed participating in or facilitating brainstorming sessions. But it turned out that what I really like is to just be part of a team that wants to be more creative, wants to try more solutions and possibilities. I want to be a catalyst on that team, spurring people to greater creativity of their own. I want them to empathize with the customer the way I do. I hope that my curiosity will rub off on them. I want to instill the ability and desire to be innovative to others. I have tools that I’ve both learned and created for framing problem spaces, conducting customer visits, taking and understanding notes, using qualitative data to determine which direction a project should take.

I remember standing at the podium in a standing-room only gallery and holding up a bottle of conditioner I’d grabbed from my hotel room. My first words in that session on Walking in your customer’s shoes were, “How many of you tried to use the conditioner from the hotel?” The room erupted in laughter and people calling out – immediate customer empathy! Those little conditioner bottles were diamond shaped, stiff, filled with thick creamy conditioner. It was almost impossible to squeeze out the stuff. Observation! Empathy! Success! I took a whole room full of people and made them customers on a visit to their own hotel.

That’s something I want to do more of, and I’ve found the best way, so far, is to join with teams on their journey toward solving customer problems – be it with new offerings or old.

Be an innovation catalyst

I steal that term unashamedly from my current company, and although I mean the same thing… I think… I want more than short spurts of innovation engagement, rather I want to be part of the entire journey of investigation, learning and development: to be a real part of lots of teams.

So there’s my perfect job: visiting customers, creating offerings that solve their pains, using a variety of solutions and technologies, and as part of a team of innovators.

A co-worker of mine told me of an ongoing contest at my office: a contest centered on me. The winner would be the person who could get me to say “Hello” to one of them. Someone would see me go for some coffee or popcorn, and they’d queue up to go into the break room and try to talk to me.

It wasn’t that I was intentionally unfriendly… I was just… focused. This was back when I was coding every minute of every day, cranking out applications at a rapid rate. My fellow programmers joked that I must type with my feet, too, since I was so fast. That speed was, in part, enabled by my ability to focus. Even necessary activities like restroom breaks or a snack were unwanted intrusions, an opportunity for my attention to drift away from the next line of code, the next bug to resolve.

My concentration was such that I would acknowledge other people, but often only in my mind. I said “Hello”, it was just so low-pitched, and sometimes no-pitched, that it was simply not there. So the only winners in that contest were the ones who happened to catch me at a transition, like finishing a bug sheet or a major part of code.

When I joined the Intuit Innovation Lab in 2002, some of that… lack of social grace… was necessarily overridden by the nature of my new work: I had to visit customers and talk to them. Or at least listen closely and ask the right follow up questions. I talked more to my co-workers, with my co-workers, and I learned how to connect with customers.

But all that change was just an unthoughtful response, not a deliberate difference compared to my “contest” days. It certainly wasn’t enough. I still had a lot of friction with my co-workers, viewed as “smart, fast, creative, and hard to work with”. It came to head when I locked horns with a co-worker, pushing things “my way” and not allowing a different opinion into the room. I didn’t like working that way, and neither did people like working with me when I was that way.

Fortunately, my boss at the time, Tara, suggested and supported me with a plan to change. She hired an executive coach for me. With his insights and help, I transformed how I interact with people – everyone, from my family, to my co-workers, to customers and just to everyone I meet.

I first took a personality test called an Enneagram. There are many such tests out there, and the Enneagram is probably one of the best. It has 3 person types, and 3 sub-types. The three types are Body, Mind and Feeling. I’m a Body type, with a sub-type of 1 – the Reformer. I want to solve problems, to make everything better. At my worst, I’m a perfectionist, plowing ahead with my own solution and pushing everyone else to the side.

The key to my transformation was to take the worst stereotype of a Reformer and apply that to myself. In every situation, I would laugh at that stereotype picture and refuse to fit into it, even as I knew that my normal mode would fit into it! I became a listener, a peacemaker, able to get things done as a team, as part of a team. I could let other ideas join my own without feeling like the solution would be “worse off”.

I can feel the difference, and it usually astonishes me. I’m happier, friendlier. I can connect with almost anyone. I get onto a plane where a flight attendant is greeting people. She didn’t look particularly happy, saying “Hi, welcome aboard.” I said, “Hi, thanks! How are you?” It was amazing – her face brightened, she talked some more, told me thanks for asking. I could hear her behind me greeting others with a smile! That’s why I’m astonished – I really had no idea before that I could personally, individually, brighten someone’s day just by, well, caring about them, to be honest. It’s more than just a “friendly” hello, rather I actually mean it when I ask, “How are you?” I talk to people about their day, their work, their feelings.

Those of you who know how I was “before” will, I believe, be pleasantly surprised at how I interact with you and those people around you. It’s a world full of people out there, and they’ve had all kinds of days: good and bad and indifferent. Open up ye engineers and explore the people around you. We’ll all be happier for it!

I feel very fortunate to have grown up closely with my cousins. While living in Texas, we visited family almost every weekend – my mom’s family most of the time… sometimes my dad’s. After my dad moved to Reno, I spent my summers, and many a Christmas season, in Reno. I also lived there for a little while.

I don’t remember exactly when or how Mark and Nancy became my favorite cousins… probably it was all the time we spent together either at their house or at The Lake – Lake Lahontan. We learned to water ski together, to fish together, to ride motorbikes together. We spent nights looking at the stars and days swimming in the lake, or in the swimming pool and hot tub back at the “Compound” – a group of 4 motor homes with a boathouse on some land just outside the Lahontan park area.

I was able to spend some extra time with them last week, along with their mother – my Auntie Pearl. My Uncle Jim recently died, and I really wanted to be there. At least I was able to take a few days and hang out. I’ve greatly missed them – they aren’t terribly active online or on social websites, although I’ve watched and looked for them over the years.

Fortunately, Nancy has an iPhone and likes to communicate via texting, and Mark will text and watches his email. I’m like a “tornado in a trailer park” now – happy as can be that I’ve found them again, connected again! They live super close to where I often travel for work (although super far away from my home). I plan on making a side trip to visit them every time I travel to the San Jose area for work — if I can swing it.

I spent a day and a night with my Auntie Pearl and cooked dinner (my simply grilled swordfish recipe… except we used ahi tuna), plus some vanilla creme brule. Then I spent a day with Nancy. The highlights were getting my hair cut (Nancy is a stylist), watching some movies and meeting one of her cats, Peaches (left). They are apparently very shy, and it was raining and thundering, so they hid under her bed. But Peaches eventually came out and we made friends. I’ve only seen her other cat in pictures. By the way, if you need your hair cut, styled, colored, or anything else – and you are in the Reno area, Nancy is the best. Call Bellissima and ask for her. She’ll make your day simply by smiling at you!

Mark lives out near the Moon Rocks and is an avid motocross rider with plenty of trophies in his career. As you can see in this picture, I geared up and went riding with him! I have my motorcycle license, although I don’t currently own one. I spent many summers puttering around Lake Lahontan on mini-bikes and a small motorcycle. I don’t think I ever wore a helmet back then! We did some four-wheeling until the rain stopped, then rode bikes for a little while, played some darts. Mark is now giving tours around the very special and little known trails in the area. Check it out and reserve a slot! You won’t be disappointed!

I love my extended family dearly, but Mark and Nancy hold a very special place in my heart, and I love them with all that I am!