I’ll miss you, Brad

“I try to be my own hero. That may sound flippant, but 15 years ago when I was really trying to grasp a direction for my life, a friend wise beyond his years reminded me that no one is perfect, that heroes fall and white knights on horseback are rare. Instead, he said, I should identify those qualities I found heroic and good and valuable in anyone I admired, and cultivate them in myself. “You won’t always succeed,” he said, “but you’ll be better for trying. Losers sit and wish. Heroes try. Be your own hero.”

It ends up, though, that most of the admirable qualities I want to have I saw in my father. He was the smartest man I’ve ever known and understood better than most the difference between education (of which he had little) and knowledge (of which he had much). He was incredibly gregarious, could always find something to talk about — at length — with absolutely anyone and in conversation with him, you always felt as though you were the absolute center of his universe right then. Dad had a story about everyone, and I never met anyone who knew him who didn’t have five or ten about him.

There’s a quote by Mark Twain, something along the lines of “You should endeavor to live your life such that when you die, even the undertaker will be sorry.” The procession of cars at my dad’s funeral stretched out four miles and, yes, the usually stoic funeral director cried. I should be so lucky. “

-Brad Graham, May 2001

Via Neale’s interview with him. RIP Brad.

Adventures in brain tumors: part one of many

 Photo on 2009-11-13 at 14.13

You know it's going be bad news when the ER doc slides a chair over to sit on. Good news is quick, a simple "You're gonna be fine! You can go home!" Seeing that chair slide over with her let me know I was in for some long explanations of bad news.

Of course the worst part is that I went to the hospital with a bad flu and two hours later this ER doctor is explaining that during the routine CT scan on my head, a lump was found. She couldn't tell if it was blood, a mass, or a collection of both. She couldn't tell if it was benign or cancerous either. I was immediately rushed to the area major hospital OSHU for MRI scans that could provide higher resolution data.

I finally got to experience the horribleness that a 45min long MRI I've been hearing so much about. That really is a ghastly creation, sliding me into a jet engine whirring to life for 45 minutes with about one inch of clearance above my face and an entire field of white to stare at until it's over? Figure out a way to project a few Simpsons episodes or at least some music to overcome the loud, claustrophobic noise machine that is a MRI.

I forgot to mention that before I got my MRI, I was waiting in their area and a technician asked me to move from my flat hospital bed that I was sleeping on to a waiting wheelchair before I got transferred to the MRI sliding test bed. I remember saying "Ok, I guess…" and as soon as my ass hit the wheelchair seat I said "I'm going to pass out" to the tech. I blinked my eyes and when I opened them six people were above me on a bed with an alarm sound in the distance. The head person in charge asked me if I do recreational drugs "It's cool here man, no judgments, it just helps us help you" and I said no, I've never done any recreation drugs (which is true). When I said I'd just taken a few doses of Codeine cough syrup the night before he rattled off a bunch of what I guess are street names for codeine based highs that were each more hilarious sounding than the next. I was exhausted and just coming back into consciousness so forgive me for not remembering the real names but it sounded something like this:

"Oh you took Codeine huh? You doing Night Rammers? Doing Robot Jammers? Doing some Springboard slammers?"

I had to confess that without a copy of UrbanDictionary.com, I wouldn't even know what he just asked me but that no, I didn't take any more than the recommended doctor's dose.

I'm getting ahead of myself, let me go back to the beginning for the sake of friends wondering what was up with my initial tweet (this is long and exhausting and I don't mind if it's tl;dr for you).

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Cling Clang Clang

Four years into parenthood, I want to look back and say stability is very important. As much as you can, try and be stable people, with a stable marriage, keeping a stable home, holding stable jobs, with stable schedules. The cornerstone of our stability as a family is our nighttime ritual, which rarely changes. At some point around 7:30PM we all go upstairs and help give Fiona a bath, then we each read three stories to her, then we tuck her in and if she's not already asleep, one of us lays down for a few minutes until she nods off.

Part of the night ritual is Mr. Rogers-ifying myself, as I change from daytime clothes into some fleece sweatpants and a fleece jacket. Last night, as I unbuckled my belt and slid off my jeans, I heard the buckle and my pulse and mind started racing.

Cling Clang Clang.

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Trying something new

I’ve been meaning to redesign this site for a while, to set aside more screen space for writing, both to make it easier to read longer pieces for readers but also to help me focus more on just plain old writing instead of all the other junk I used to keep here. As I sat down to think about how I could wipe out what I had and start over again visually, I kept coming back to all the cool WordPress themes I’ve seen lately, including the one you see powering this site.

Now, I would consider Ben and Mena Trott to be pretty close friends and I’ve helped write a book on Movable Type tweaking. I still use it for several other sites and don’t plan on changing, but when it comes to personal websites, I’ve always wished for a simple way to share MT templates either through actual files or the API. I’ve requested it from SixApart for the past 3+ years and in the meantime, WordPress came along with Themes and eventually every good web designer that wanted to see their work shared with millions flocked to it and started offering up downloadable Themes.

A few months ago when I was praising Vox I said I never wanted to work on another blog template file again and I was serious about that. WordPress has a great theme system and while I think editing php templates is an even worse idea than custom Blogger/MT tag templates, I don’t have to thanks to the thousands of free theme packs available online. I was somewhat reluctant to jump to WordPress until I saw some 2.0 screenshots and heard good things from longtime MT-using friends. The last time I used WP, I had a lot of problems with the admin editing backend. I noticed a few things have been fixed but a lot of things still got stuck.

Here’s a list of hang-ups I found when converting over. Some might read these and feel it’s nitpicking or criticism, but I consider these bug reports:

  • When searching google for info on importing a MT blog, I ended up at codex.wordpress.com with some instructions I followed only to find out the entire system has changed with the latest release. Since the docs are on the wordpress.com server, they should be updated to say “the following is for the 1.x version of WordPress, go here to see Importing tips for WordPress 2.x” or something like that. Adobe/Macromedia is great about this — anytime I hit an old Coldfusion docs page I see a pointer to the latest version of that page for the latest release.
  • I had to split my exported MT blog since PHP had a 1Mb upload limit on my server. That’s a drag (I had to ask a friend how to do that) and I wish it used the API instead.
  • To activate Akismet, it said I just needed an account (not a blog) at WordPress.com to get an API key, but I couldn’t get an API key unless I got a blog, which seems like a waste (and possibly a way to artificially inflate the subscription numbers at WordPress.com or something).
  • Plugins are activated in the Plugins area, but not set up there. Why? It makes no sense to me to activate something on one page, but have to jump to a submenu buried in the Options area to change settings on it. Why isn’t there a Plugin Options submenu in Plugins? And why instead is there a way to tweak the actual PHP of the Plugins? Does any normal user really need that? Oh, it looks like Akismet is configured in the Plugins area, but nothing else I’ve added is.
  • Where can I turn off comments by default on new posts? I don’t see it anywhere in the Options area (I found it under Discussion options, which I guess is more specific (though I would think putting in the Writing options would make more sense) though the checkbox describing it sounds confusing to me “Allow people to post comments on the article” when really I want a “comments enabled/disabled by default”. Fixed.
  • I don’t see anywhere to turn off or on Pings/Trackbacks system-wide or set defaults for it. Fixed.
  • The feedburner plugin I installed doesn’t auto-forward requests to Feedburner. I don’t think it works well with a pre-existing Feedburner feed. I’m going to have to edit my .htaccess or templates to do it. Fixed: it worked five minutes later.
  • Some custom styles (simple floats and margins) I applied to images in previous imported posts appear to be stripped on import. Dunno if that’s MT or WP’s doing.
  • After I publish a post, I get sent to a blank Write New post page. Why not jump me to the edit page on the thing I just posted? Also, I see that the Manage page still has the Edit screen linked on one teeny tiny link marked Edit. The “View” link made me think that would allow me to view the post in the Manage interface, but instead pops me out to the live post on my blog. Why not link the full title of the post to the editing interface? Why else would I be in the Manage section unless I wanted to edit/delete my posts?
  • Why isn’t the Categories widget expanded by default? Why do I have to tweak that every time I make a post? Why is “Uncategorized” an actual category?
  • In the wysiwyg interface, when you go to add a link, the popup has two buttons at the bottom, one to insert the link and the other to cancel. The Cancel button is on the lower right, where all the save buttons are located in WordPress, but you have to click the one on the left instead to actually save it. Intuitively, I almost hit cancel every time.
  • Widgets are kind of a mess. I had to download it and activate it like a plugin, then go to Presentation to edit (another weird plugin on one page, options on another). There’s no Flickr widget by default even though the first Google results for flickr widget say it is included. My other results ended up with 404s on download sites. There doesn’t seem to be a user-friendly widget gallery, as the plugin itself dumps me into some programmer widget trunk page which makes no sense.
  • My Archives page is a 404, and I have no idea where to find the actual page. Fixed.
  • The wysiwyg interface rewrites any custom CSS I try and add to an inline image. This is broken and needs to be fixed.

Ten Years

In spring of 1995, while using a borrowed computer (I didn’t own one myself) in the undergraduate lab, I noticed a new icon in the main window. It was a blue globe with a snake-like S shape around it. It was labeled Mosaic. It was an early version and you couldn’t type addresses in the URL field, so I took to just navigating from the start page, which was some generic NCSA welcome page. It was difficult to get very far, but eventually I found all sorts of things that interested me.

In Fall of 1995, I had a BS degree under my belt but felt I needed to know more, so I started work on a Masters. My parents bought me the first computer I’d had in many years, and with a Netcom dialup at home, I began to explore. Soon after, I felt I could do more than simply read stuff online — I wanted to create stuff as well.

About a week before christmas, I searched for HTML books and ended up buying Creating Your Own Netscape Web Pages for myself. On a lonely Christmas night, I cracked open the book at 11pm and began to read it while seated at my desk, in front of my computer. It was the only computer book I ever read every single page of, from start to finish, in a single sitting. It taught me HTML, the basics of FTP, Paint Shop Pro, and the Hot Dog Pro text editor.

There’s this moment somewhere around 3am on December 26, 1995 that I can recall vividly. I’ve only had a handful of moments like this in my entire life. I’m sitting there writing code for a couple hours. A bunch of special words bounded by greater than and less than symbols — stuff that seems meaningless. I press save, open a web browser, and suddenly it’s a rich and colorful page with all sorts of stuff on it. My first web page wasn’t a simple Hello World — I had graphics, backgrounds, colors, and loads of links. It took a few tries to get just right, but when it was complete, I was transformed.

I recall a similar moment the first time I used two-point perspective in a 9th grade art class. You follow some rules and go through some motions that feel mechanical and suddenly you end up with art.

By 6am that morning, I was exhausted and went to sleep. Soon after that night I remember telling a friend that I wasn’t sure I should be in grad school — that maybe this new web thing was taking off and I could somehow make a living building websites. I finished grad school, but soon after I got to quit my first job and do just that. Follow my dream building websites.

It’s now been ten years since that day and thanks to a mixture of luck, patience, and perseverance I’m in a wonderful place. I’m happy, content, and fulfilled. My personal and professional life are better than they’ve ever been.

And I’m still spending much of my day, every day, building web pages.

woot

A few weeks ago, an editor at the NYT contacted me asking if I wanted to write gadget reviews for the thursday tech section. I was floored by the opportunity and jumped at the chance. After pitching a few ideas, I got one greenlighted and spent a couple days testing the product out. My first NYT piece is up, and I can’t describe how crazy this is. I won’t believe it actually happened until I get a paper copy of the NYT in my hands tomorrow.

Years ago, I never thought I was the type of person that could ever be mentioned in the Times, and even after a few of those, I never in a million years thought I would write for it. I’m looking forward to testing out more cool gadgets and writing them up for the Old Gray Lady.

Modern living

I can’t begin to describe how happy I am to see that the next This Old House project is a rennovation of a modern house. I’m a longtime fan of the show, and even though lately it’s become a show with too many field trips and high-dollar makeovers and not enough actual tips and how-tos, I’m a sucker for their amazing work.

The problem is, they usually stick to traditional east coast style homes and my dream home has long been a sleek boxy modern one. This fall it looks like they’ll take a crack at that, and this looks like it’s going to be great:

Going fallow

I noticed it in myself several weeks ago. I hadn’t touched my camera in two weeks and I had no desire to snap anything when I did pick it up. Then I noticed that I don’t the time or motivation to write up all the ideas that are percolating in my head. Then I noticed that all my friends seem to be in a similar position, with their sites going silent for a week between updates.

We’re in the thick of the summer doldrums online.

Every year from about mid-July to about mid-August there’s a big lull in activity online among all my northern hemisphere friends. Usually, it’s everyone going outside to enjoy the good weather. Often, it’s a long planned vacation taking them away. Sometimes we all just take a collective break at the same time. Me? I’ve been spending 5:30am to 8:30am every day enjoying Lance Armstrong winning the Tour.

I’ve been thinking about this for the past week or so, since I noticed it in myself and how my RSS subscriptions are also suffering from a lack of updates. But I’ve been thinking this whole time about how it’s a good thing. It seems like a natural cycle that happens every summer and some good creative output follows it. Then as I was watching tonight’s Six Feet Under (sure sign of taking a break — watching lots of TV), Olivier put it perfectly:

We all go through fallow periods. We must let the soil rest..to prepare for new growth.

So don’t mind the weeds that are popping up in the cracks of all my sites. Whenever the lull is over I’ll be back, posting up a storm.

Webvisions

Tomorrow morning I’ll be speaking at WebVisions 2005 about convergence and digital devices — all the cool ways small gadgets can talk to one another thanks in part to open standards and lots of hacking.

Webvisions is my favorite “small tech conference that’s almost as worthwhile as an expensive multi-day big tech conference” conference. It’s cheap, the topics, speakers, and keynotes are good, and the extra bonus is that I can drive to it instead of fly.

If you’re attending, be sure to say hi.

Bursting any day now

The writing has been on the wall for ages but the real estate bubble’s getting really bad lately. Now I know my friends in SF have been hearing about it for a decade, but let me tell you: it exists and it’s real because it’s hit my out of the way corner of Oregon.

I remember before the internet bubble burst and friends in far off places like Austin, Texas were talking about all the new construction, the big salaries, and lack of employable talent. I remember thinking if the madness that happened South of Market could migrate halfway across the country to a place like Austin, it was bound to burst. NY and SF are where the internet hype started, and I’d call LA and Seattle 2nd wave cities. Austin I’d consider a third wave beneficiary of the bubble time and if it ever burst, those in the 2nd and 3rd wave would be hit hardest. Just a few months later everyone I knew in a Texas dotcom was out of work.

So we’ve owned our first home for about 18 months now and I watched real estate up here for a while before we moved, and prices barely budged. But in just the past six months, everything is skyrocketing. We are considering moving up to a house with an extra bedroom (having a baby that gobbles up your extra room tends to make you want to upgrade) and we found out our home has gained quite a bit in value in this short time. We were thinking a price that was about 10% over what we paid in late 2003 was pushing it. Turns out the local market is bearing a 30% gain on the house in this short amount of time.

Of course, any gains we make from the bubble will be gobbled up by a follow-up purchase. When we arrived in Oregon, I distinctly remember how refreshing it was to see affordable housing that was completely unlike the Bay Area’s ridiculous prices. What is shocking to me today is that this small out-of-the-way town in pretty much the middle of nowhere has a couple new neighborhoods with large custom homes pushing the half-million dollar mark. It’s like the Bay Area all over again, but worse since it feels like we’re sort of in one of those third wave kinds of places far from the source.

When things are getting bad this far off the beaten path, I have a strong feeling the end is near. The economy is doing better than it was, but it’s not great. The interest rates are really what is making this happen and they have nowhere to go but up, causing the entire house of cards to collapse. I’m counting the days until that happens and wondering if I should take the plunge in this market. We hope the next house will be something we can grow with and hold onto for a good 10-15 years, so maybe any temporary market correction is moot.