Life Outside My Cube

My life, a work in progress.

Asking the Right Question

Most of us would admit to asking ourselves, at some point in our lives, questions about how to earn more money, how to become independently wealthy, how to retire at age 40 and so forth. And we get these rather smallish ideas about how we can do something to earn that money or independence, but really don’t get anywhere.

So it turns out I’ve been asking the wrong questions all this time. Justine Musk says,

Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you, no one could outsource you, no one could steal your product and make it better and then club you into oblivion (not literally). Then develop that potential. Choose one thing and become a master of it.  Choose a second thing and become a master of that.  When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before and b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.

Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it? So the question changes from “how can I earn X” to “what am I deeply into”. This sounds somewhat like the old adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” In other words, find out what you like to do, and somehow you’ll be able to monetize it. Which is awful advice – few people ever get the opportunity to see that become a reality.

Justine, however, puts a twist on that, and says it’s the intersection of two passionate interests that create the spark leading to a successful idea. So I get that too, it’s one of the reasons why we cross-train and organize interdisciplinary groups. bringing both together creates synergy.

Of course, one needn’t insist that a single person master both worlds – this could as successfully accomplished by two or more people with disparate passions who agree to jointly cooperate to achieve something neither could do (or do as well) independently.

All in all, though, it’s an idea worth considering.


Empty Green Space

Many communities make a big deal out of how much “green space” or “open space” they have set aside for public use, as recreation areas, green ways or parks. The community in which I work is no exception, and boasts no fewer than 5 city parks within approximately 5 square miles. However, I contend that aside from limited sports and walking, they’re rarely used.

The park immediately adjacent to me – and whose nearly four acres I observe from my office window – is half wooded, with a maintained baseball diamond, sunny playground and open field. Tall oak and maple trees shade half of the blacktop walking path that circles the park. It’s a good looking park, and well maintained. I see a handful of walkers each day, a few kids on the playground, and some summer evenings a girls softball team comes to practice.

However, the park itself is inaccessible on three sides (office building, fence/railroad, yard fences). The one accessible side is on a dead-end street with no turnaround or parking area. It seems more like an adjunct to the surrounding neighborhood rather than an integrated space, as if the city didn’t know what to do with the odd piece of land. The playground was renovated about 4 years ago but the only nearby benches are in the full sun. There are no other benches or picnic tables in the park. The baseball diamond is pretty weedy and only tended a couple times each year.

Many deterrents, under-utilized, but with great potential. The one thing missing is community involvement. It wouldn’t even take the whole community – a single person could organize events and activities, and help make the park an integral part of community life. Matching funds available from the city to encourage neighborhood projects are available. The park is surrounded by houses on two sides, and the park, with some small improvements, could easily accommodate after-school programs, sporting events, picnics, neighborhood get-togethers and other activities.

Who will step up to fill this empty green space? Or should we just let the grass turn brown?

Writer: One Who Writes

What would you answer someone new if they asked “What do you do?” Would you, like the guy in that Silverado commercial, be stumped trying to narrow down everything you do in life to one thing? Or would you respond with what you do in your daily 8-5? For me, it would probably be “I”m a software programmer,” with a few more details about the work I do.

When you think of what you do, we typically associate that with our work, career choice or daily job. Some might even respond with their favorite hobby or activity or passion. I think it has always been the case, however, that few people are fortunate enough for those two to coincide.

For me, my heart is not in “what I do” in my daily work. Oh, I diligently get up and actively participate in the business that employs me, and I do it well. Given the opportunity, however, there are myriad other things that I would pursue that are more in tune with who I am.

I am a builder, a creator, a nurturer, a communicator, a planner, a thinker, a tinkerer, a listener.

One career on my bucket list is that of a writer. While the thought of that career greatly appeals to me, I’m certain the reality of an author’s life is far different than what I imagine, and far beyond my current reach. I can hardly imagine ever responding, “I’m a writer,” to the “What do you do” question.

What are the qualifications for being a writer? At it’s foundation, a writer… writes. We all write in one way or another, whether it’s an email to a friend, a letter, a school essay, a blog post. Technically, we’re all writers. Why is there a distinction between one who writes in the course of living life and the one who writes for financial gain?

For a century or so, the concept of the approved professional has dominated our perception of quality and acceptability. Only an M.D. can properly treat our colds, only an ASME-certified mechanic can fix our cars, only a published author can rightly be called a Writer. Colleges, certifications, diplomas, credentials all testify to the common man’s unworthiness to even shine his own shoes.

Without throwing out all the worthwhile training such professionals have endured, I reject much of the attitude of professionalism. I would rather be adequately skilled in a wide variety of skills than excellent in only one. I would rather be able to care for my sickness, fix my own car and communicate through words rather than achieve greatness in software development and nothing else.

If you’d get down to the root of it, my heart is really in a wide variety of things rather than just one, and I experience fulfillment in participating in many types of work. Am I an auto mechanic? No, but I enjoy working on my vehicles. Am I a construction worker? No, but I enjoy building. Am I an author? No, but I write.

I write.

I put figurative pen to paper and communicate ideas and stories to whoever will read them. I have no illusions that I’m a professional, but have no need to convince anyone that I am.

I write.

I am adequately skilled at it. I might get better with more hard work and training. A writing course might even help, but I’ll only take one if I want to, not because someone says I should.

I write.

I write, and I enjoy it.

I think… I’m a writer.


Postscript, 4/21/2015 This article dispels – to me – the myth that becoming a clearly successful author can be accomplished by writing a scattered few hours here and there. Besides diligent writing – 4 hours a day! – this author is a very active salesman of his work.

Jailbreaking my Kindle 3 WiFi

It wasn’t long before I became annoyed with the ads, both at the bottom of the home page, and as screen savers. The former can’t be removed, but the screen savers can, first by jailbreaking the Kindle.

I started with the How-To Geek article, which was very helpful. The jailbreak code provided, however, wasn’t the ticket. Apparently v3.2.1 has problems with that particular hack. I did find one by Yifan Lu that almost worked, then a mod to that one written by Serge Levin that almost worked too. :-( Apparently there’s something in 3.2.1 that prevents it from working. I gave up, unregistered, and restored the factory defaults.

I found a couple posts by chas0039 that offered yet another solution, including links to the latest hacks. Basically, they go through the hacks above, but with wireless turned off. Also, creating a blank .assets file in the KSO system folder. Finally, everything worked great!

With trepidation, I turned on wireless and connected, then registered. Still working!

There also seems to be some rumor that things will change yet again with v3.3. We’ll see!

The Yellow Light of Dawn

Fourteen minutes into the mission, and things were looking pretty good for Ranie Scott, considering. He was squatting with his back to a brick wall, just inside the compound, waiting for his breath to come back. Not moments before he’d had to silently – he hoped – climb the 12-foot chain link fence topped with new barbed wire, not before having to disable the electric current running through the fence from the control box just inside the one rear gate. The electric fence was a major oversight by Lance Beach, the spotter on this job, and one that would have stopped him, if not fatally, at the outset. He’d have words with Beach in the morning.

The small spark of a damp weed against the fence had alerted him to the fact that the fence was wired. He was fortunate that tonight’s lightning storm provided cover, both auditory and visual, for the disabling of the high-voltage charging system with his silenced HK45. The rain didn’t dissuade him from his task; in fact, the mission had been on hold, waiting for just such a night, as it considerably helped by increasing the night’s background noise to a more comfortable level for maneuvers. On a still night, the rattle of a chain link fence or the metallic ting of snipped barbed wire fence could echo dangerously. He’d seen no movement in any of the lighted windows of the main house, nor seen or heard the guard dog who was loose somewhere. At least Beach had alerted him to that.

The rain would keep the dog under cover. It would also keep common burglars at home, so the lone security guard inside would probably be less vigilant. Scott’s senses, however, were tightly tuned, not distracted by the rain, thunder or occasional lightning that had assisted him just prior to his fence climb. He stood, sheltered for the moment by the garage roof overhang under which he’d squatted, and made out the corner of the machine shed that blocked the doghouse from view. He padded quietly to the far corner across the cement drive, hugged the shed wall, and pulled a ziploc bag from his thin backpack. Opening it, he pulled the cord lashed around the thick ham bone, and winding back, swung it around the corner toward the doghouse.

Quickly sprinting back to the other side of the machine shed, he silently jumped up on the outside pallet rack that held myriad tires, scrap parts and used 55 gallon drums. He crouched for several minutes to give the dog time to settle in with the bone, then stretched himself down and quickly walked toward the east wing of the manor house. Only three windows were lit – a second floor pair covered by sheer curtains and a first floor frosted window that glowed somewhat blue. The former he knew belonged to the master bedroom, the latter the small security room. Beach had determined that the lone guard, a 56-year old retired security van driver, spent most of his time on duty browsing the internet. An alarm system, but no cameras, was his only monitor of outside conditions.

Undoubtedly the guard had by now noticed that the electric fence wasn’t functional, but Scott guessed he was too comfortable inside on a night like this to bother coming outside to check on it. He’d probably connected the charging system failure with the fortuitous lightning strike, an assumption he’d come to regret by morning. The owners of the house probably had complete faith in their security arrangements,   an assumption they’d come to regret by morning too. The dog had probably assumed that meaty bones just naturally dropped out of the sky, an assumption that would never be corrected. Scott, Beach, Woodsey and the new kid Spatz had diligently thought through all these assumptions, and would be counting their cash in another state by the morning.

Peace Amidst Tension

This morning I got up and immediately threw on some dirty clothes. I lumbered downstairs – walking is clearly an “awake” activity – and out to the garage and my bike for a bit of early-morning tweaking. I’d noticed a rapping sound when decelerating that I surmised was a loose chain hitting the chain guide; a quick visual inspection showed about a couple inches of play, about one inch too much.  A quick adjustment on the chain tensioners and I’d be done.

I reread the notes in the shop manual, just to to be sure, and got out the tools. Loosen the axle nuts, loosen the double-nuts on the threaded tensioner shaft, tighten left side a half-turn at a time until tension is right. Rotate chain, verify measurement. Dupe on right side, lock double-nuts, ensure wheel is straight, and torque back axle nuts. How hard could that be?

Until I got to the right tensioner (4) and tried to loosen the larger of the two nuts on the right side (14, not 21), still a bit sleepy. A quick twist of the wrench… and the shaft broke off right at the end cap (6). Drat. No way to cobble up this one. So it looks like I drive the car today.

I took a half-hour drive to the nearest cycle parts place – to find that the store location (of their two) that I was at only carried 4-wheeler parts. Another half hour to their other location, to find that the part would have to be ordered. 5 days. And it’s just over $20 for a little part. Ridiculous. I wish I had $40 so I could order two, for next time. On the wish list it goes. So now I’m stuck without a ride for few days.

This is actually a good thing, as I wanted to deal with the dirty chain anyhow. I bought some degreaser and lube the other day, so I’m going to take the chain off and soak it, clean it real well and lube it before I put the new tensioner on. Something good to do while I’m waiting.

Wouldn’t be a problem for most riders, who only go out on the weekends, I suppose. For us commuters, it’s a big interruption. All in stride, though, it’s an opportunity to get more “intimate” with the bike while I wait. I’m discovering that while a bike and car might require similar amounts of maintenance, the former is more likely to involve a wrench, the latter a checkbook.

More work, more fun

I had a conference call with a client this noon to clarify some issues with his software product (he was in London on a trip, I was at my workplace; loving Skype and Google Docs). Resolved quickly, I can move past this roadblock to complete implementing a new email template system for him. I’d already developed a prototype to thrash out the idea, but needed to understand better how to integrate it into his system.

His previous developer used a very wide, sparsely-populated non-normalized client table (around 60 columns), to which I needed to add another handful of columns. That is, if I continued in the same design vein. I won’t.

That table’s so integrated into the website code it’s not even funny; correcting the bad design would be a tremendous effort. I’m not going to even attempt it right now. I told the client about this, as I knew he was propositioning a large potential customer that would add tens of thousands of records to this table. TBD, I guess, but I’d sure like to see it changed sooner than later. I think I shook him up a bit when I talked about it with him. He has greater confidence in his prior developer than I do, ’cause I’ve seen the code.

Anyhow, I can easily split out the email template columns into another table, so it won’t be so bad, and that stuff is pretty much used in only two places. Will be kind of a fun addition, and limited in terms of touching the rest of the system, so testing should be fairly easy.

The website application also provides for handheld data-entry using a mobile device. He also mentioned today that he’s going to want more work done on that part of the site, so he’ll be sending me some kind of device, probably iPod touch related. Cool! I’m not really interested in a smart phone or iPod touch thing; I have a cell phone for talking to people, and a computer to store stuff and browse the internet. I don’t need another expensive piece of technology. But if someone gives it to me, I’m not going to turn it down. :-)

Plus, it turns out another of my clients also wants a mobile-optimized view for her website, so that’ll be handy to have. I had thought I’d need to purchase one on my own. I’m really looking forward to working on that optimization project, having never done anything for mobile before. That will really be fun, but probably not on the table for a while; she’s not sure it’s worth it right now, until her site gets more traffic.

The other client’s data entry stuff needs to be done by July 9 – I don’t even know what needs done yet. But if I have time, I can perhaps do the optimization project on my own, and just present it to her when it’s done, just for fun.

Big difference between the two clients – the one I talked with today is hourly, and the other is “free”. The former is a more stressful, the latter is more enjoyable. The former involves managing others’ code/design, and the latter is all mine. The former is a guy from Manhattan, the latter is a woman from New England.

We’ll see how they both pan out. In the meantime, I’ve got work to do!


The beginning of a new month, and almost summer. It certainly feels like summer, with temps in the mid-to-upper 80’s. I still feel lethargic, what with the heat and  the lack of urgent work. Volleyball last night was a good escape for a while.

As promised, I got everyone going on dynamic stretching before we started playing. It was fairly well received, but I only had everyone do a few; my mind went blank trying to remember all of the ones we did at the volleyball camp. So here’s a compiled list of all I can remember:

  1. Jog
  2. Sprint
  3. Lunge walk
  4. Lateral lunge walk
  5. Butt kicks
  6. Walking quad stretch (pull back to butt)
  7. Straight-leg deadlift walk
  8. Forward hand walk
  9. Groin stretch walk
  10. Alternate toe touches
  11. Left and right shuffle
  12. Left and right crossover
  13. Leg huggers
  14. High knees jog
  15. High kick toe-touch
  16. Heel-to-toe touch ground
  17. Jumping jacks
I also reinforced the perimeter defense in all the teams I played with, and introduced No Mercy at the end, which was more of  a fun thing than anything else; it wasn’t clear that everyone knew positions well enough for it to be a good drill.
Anyhow, we’ll see how it all works out in the coming weeks. Perhaps if I added one thing each week, it wouldn’t be too overwhelming.

Thursday morning blahs

Failure to provide proof of financial responsibility, when required, will result in the following civil penalties imposed by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles:

  • Lose driving privileges for a minimum of ninety (90) days and up to two (2) years;
  • License plates and vehicle registration suspension;
  • License plate reinstatement fees for first violation, second violation, and third or subsequent violation (There is an additional non-voluntary surrender fee for failing to surrender the license, plates or vehicle registration to the BMV);
  • Require filing with the BMV (SR-22 or bond) to continuously maintain proof of financial responsibility for a minimum of three (3), up to five (5) years from the date of the suspension of operating privileges;
  • Vehicle immobilization and confiscation of plates for 30 to 60 days for violating FR suspension.  Third and subsequent offenses could result in vehicle forfeiture and a five (5) year suspension of vehicle registrations.

That sounds serious. Which is what my wife was thinking this morning when she asked if I’d gotten the bike insured yet (I hadn’t, out of laziness). So I drove the van to work today.

You would think I’d be terrified to be out on the road at all driving an uninsured vehicle. I have no explanation for why I rode to work the last 4 days. Looking back on it, that was really stupid. Stupid stupid.

There are a several things on my TODO list that I’ve been ignoring recently. I don’t have an explanation for that as well. Perhaps I’m just weak from the pounding I took last weekend at the volleyball camp, and it carried over into a kind of mental “don’t care” attitude. I know I have that state of mind, but I can’t pinpoint why.

Even this morning, I’m having trouble getting motivated to think through code problems, despite a good breakfast and coffee. I feel pretty lethargic physically and mentally.

I wish there was more to do at work. I’m stuck working on intermittent bugs, with no real project work ahead. Two major opportunities have disappeared within the last 2-3 weeks, which otherwise would have kept me busy through the summer and possibly into fall. Now, I don’t even know what I’ll be doing in the next month. I’m sure this affects my attitude.

So I’m a bit down today.

The Anti-Rain Man

Today is the second day I’ve ridden prepared and anticipating a soaking during my daily commute. And it’s the second day of overcast or simply sunny skies while I was on the bike. I’ll just bet that if I left rain gear at home, it would pour.

Not that I’m complaining, mind. I don’t mind riding in either condition; I just love riding period. And the beauty of it is, I’m 131 miles into the 2-gallon tank. :-)  At 31 miles per day commute, that’s almost a week’s worth of driving for one fillup.  65.5 mpg is fantastic, and the primary reason we bought the bike.

I figure, comparing the Kia at 20mpg and the Rebel at 70mpg, 30mi total daily commute, $3.50/gal fuel cost, and riding 9 months of the year, I save about $731 in fuel cost. So the bike itself is paid back in a bit under 3 years, and including all the gear, about 3.5 years. Gotta subtract insurance – $99/year from Geico – and potentially extra usage of the Kia, but for sure in 4 years it’s clear and we’re saving $731 per year after that, even more if the price of gas goes up. (wanna take bets?)

Carrying stuff is my second major concern. the guy I bought the bike from threw in a set of saddlebags for nothing; they’re cheap backed leather, and even though I tightened up the yoke, they still hang toward the wheels. I’d need to get a set of brackets. Or make ’em – they run around $40-60 online for just a couple stainless pieces, which is ridiculous.

I bungee’d an igloo cooler to the pillion instead of trying to strap down my gym bag; looked quite a bit neater. I’ve seen a larger luggage box that replaces the pillion cushion that’s big enough to store a helmet, I just don’t recall the manuf/name. It’s in the rebel250 forum somewhere. Anyhow, my igloo works for small stuff; I have a bigger one, but I’d need to relocate the brake light for it to sit level. Alternatively, I could get a luggage rack.

I like the one shown in this thread, and was fascinated to read about the low-temp aluminum brazing he fabricated it with. Turns out there are several kinds (alumiweld, HTS-2000, Durafix, etc), and someone said that Harbor Freight has some small packs; I’m going to stop by a local surplus store on the way home and check. My local hardware store might even have the stuff. Some aluminum stock, and I’m on my way! This seems like a very *doable* project.

Once built and mounted, I can use the larger cooler, which would fit lunch, books, maybe laptop, rain gear, jacket, etc. and easily bungee or velcro in place. Maybe I can get a local guy to bend me a couple stainless saddlebag brackets, and I’m all set for just about anything, rain or shine.