Talking About It

The last time I talked to a therapist for myself was when I was five or six after I fell into a beehive and then was petrified of bugs – to the point I had ulcers.

I found a program offered by my insurance company called AbleTo; it’s an eight week combination of therapy and behavioral coaching to help improve … whatever it is you need help with.

I asked for help making healthy choices and sticking to them – because boy have I struggled with that over the years.

In talking to my therapist and my coach I realized that I have failed to keep up with exercise and weight loss in the past not because I’m weak or incapable but because I’m too hard on myself. I get sick or hurt and feel like a failure… so I give up.

It’s the height of allergy season. I literally have a headache and sinus pain 24/7 right now. My therapist was worried that I’m hermiting myself away so we went through my calendar and she was blown away by how many commitments I have and am still able to keep.

And that’s when the light went on. I do not have to do it all and it doesn’t all have to happen now. Almost all of my guilt about things not getting done is self-inflicted. That guilt keeps me from seeing how much I’m able to get done in spite of my various health “challenges”.

So, no more. I will say no to things. I will do what I can and stop feeling guilty for not doing it all. I will stop sabotaging progress because that progress is halting.

Half assed is better than nothing.

Funny Not Funny

I was reminded of this story today, and wanted to write it down before I forget it.

My dad was in the Air Force for over twenty years, from a little after I was born until a little before I got married. He was a navigator, planned exercises and did all kinds of stuff I didn’t understand at the time.

When my brother, Tim, and I were high school, we went to his office after school (why, I don’t remember, and I think my mom might have been there, but I’m not sure). Almost as soon as he got there, he had to go talk to one of his coworkers, leaving Tim, me, and his desk, all alone. We were bored, so started looking at all the stuff on his desk. What did we find? His super awesome, self-inking, bright red, clicky-clack noise making, CLASSIFIED stamp!

We started stamping every piece of paper we could find CLASSIFIED: Post-Its, to-do lists, you name, it got CLASSIFIED.

Dad came back in, saw everything we “decorated,” pursed his already narrow lips, put his hands on his hips and said in his sternest dad voice: “Not funny.”

We, of course, thought it was hilarious. We thought it was so funny, we got him a blue, self-inking, clicky-clak noise making, super awesome, NOT FUNNY stamp for Christmas.

Developer Vocabulary Additions

This is my 20th year as a full-time professional web developer. I’ve learned a lot over the years… and at this point, forgotten more than I remember.

My favorite thing about being a developer is that we’re the heroes and villains of our story at the same time. We create the bugs and then get celebrated when we fix the bugs we create.

I’ve had a couple great bugs in the last week and my new response to the thanks I get from my Planted fam when I fix them is:

I’m sorry and you’re welcome.

It’s easy, concise, and both apologizes for creating the issue in the first place and acknowledges the gratitude for fixing it.

Elegant. That’s me.

My New Social Media Rules

Social Media, Social Media, Social Media! It’s awful! It’s ruining everything! Why are we all still using it then! I’ll leave it to experts to explain that part, but in an effort to extract myself from the worst of Facebook and Twitter, here are my new rules for myself. I’ve been following some form of them for over a year, and they’ve definitely made me feel better, almost as good as when I stopped watching cable news.

My Facebook Rules:

  1. Remorselessly snooze and unfollow toxic people, even if they’re close friends or family. I’m trying a two snooze then unfollowing if I still can’t deal with their posts showing up in my feed.
  2. Don’t dive into comments on a post where you don’t know everyone. There are too many trolls, and it’s not worth it.
  3. Don’t join new groups unless you have to.
  4. Never ever ever click ads. They’re almost always a scam anyway.
  5. No quizzes ever, not even the funny ones.
  6. Don’t share content from pages you don’t run.
  7. Set a timer. That’s your “mindlessly wandering Facebook” time. When the timer goes off, close the app.
  8. Use Facebook in a browser you don’t use for anything else (or use the Firefox Facebook Container extension).
  9. Before you post, think “should this be a blog post?” and post it here instead of on Facebook. It’ll last longer, and you’ll be able to find it again.

My Twitter Rules:

  • Don’t leave twitter open all the time. Check it like you would email.
  • Don’t speak in the internet’s, and especially twitter’s, default “sarcastic jackass” tone. Be conversational. Be helpful. Be fun. Because there’s too little of all of that.
  • Don’t feed the trolls (this is evergreen, but twitter is now majority troll and it’s just not worth it).

I don’t always follow them. I’m human. I screw up, and I can’t think of a case where I didn’t regret it almost immediately. I hope they’re helpful to you.

My Giant

If you go back through the archives, there are several posts about how funny my wife is. It’s been a while since I posted a new Jen story, and writing here is one of my resolutions for the year… so here we go.

At 3:50AM this morning, while I was very much asleep, Jen grabbed my leg and yelled, “There’s something terrible happening!”

“What?” I muttered trying to open my eyes and figure things out.

“Something bad is happening in the house. Go check it out!”

I was definitely awake now. I hopped up, rushed out of the bedroom, checked the kitchen, the doors, the windows, the floor (you know, for blood maybe? it was early), and then stood in the living room and just listened for a bit. Nothing. It was a house very much asleep… except for me.

I walked back to the bedroom.

“Did you find anything?”

“Nope. Nothing’s burning, no blood, all the doors are still locked. I think we’re good.”

“Maybe it was just a dream? OK, sorry, I know you don’t go back to sleep easily.”

“It’s fine. Better to check than not.”

With that, Jen put her sleep mask back on, rolled over and was asleep within 30 seconds. I think she was awake for maybe five minutes. I, of course, laid there, heart racing, trying to get back to sleep, for 45 minutes before I gave up, made tea (so I didn’t wake anyone up with the coffee grinder) and headed for the couch.

Re-reading this, it doesn’t sound as funny as it feels. But, it is a thing that happened, which makes it perfect for a blog post, right?

(and the title is a Twin Peaks reference… Jen is my very own giant, telling me crypticly that something is terribly wrong and to go fix it)

I’m on Team #OfficeHours

Inspired by Matt’s tweet, I’m trying out offering office hours on Fridays. You grab half an hour of my time on a Friday afternoon and we can chat about whatever you think I can help you with.

If you’re in Savannah, I also like to do coffee meetings weekdays between 8-9, but you should email me about those.

Some rules, because it wouldn’t be official without some:

  • Please don’t try to sell me anything. If you want to get feedback on your pitch, great, but I just… I don’t want to.
  • You set the agenda. Some things you might ask me about:
    • Savannah’s tech scene and TechSAV.
    • Savannah restaurants
    • Baking bread
    • Technical leadership
    • Ruby on Rails or CSS (or databases or javascript or whatever)
    • How to create a guerilla organization that actually gets things done.
    • How to write a resume that a robot can read
    • Being on a board
  • I guess “no sales pitches” is really the only rule.

And while you’re at it, why don’t you set up your own #OfficeHours and share what you know! It’s ridiculously easy to set up either Calendly or a Public Calendar on Google so people can talk to you.

My Friend Cindy Li

Cindy Li and Brian posing with silly glasses
Cindy Li smiling on top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco

I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years.  I’ve liked most of them, been friends with a lot of them, and loved many of them.  Cindy was definitely in the last category.

Cindy Li and I became fast friends and co-conspirators while we both worked at AOL.  We were on the CSS Working Group together.  We went to SxSW Interactive many many times (we had different but overlapping “gangs” at SxSW but we always intersected somehow during the conference – sometimes in the green room, where we’d try to distract each other’s panelists).  We went to countless dinners, lunches and dim sum brunches.  We caused trouble.  With our pal Jason, we built ficlets and came up with a t-shirt that became a bit of a sensation.

Matt Harris, Patrick Haney and Jason Garber sporting the Geeks Love * shirt at dim sum.

Cindy died on Monday, 10/15/2018. Cindy was amazing. She was equal parts creative, silly, kind, funny and smart.  She was a perfect co-conspirator.  She could take bad ideas and make them brilliant.  She effortlessly seemed to rally people to join the Cindy Li Vortex of Fun Adventures.

Cindy and Kevin making stupid faces for the camera.
Cindy tormenting Jason, one of her faaaavorite pasttimes.
Cindy, about to chow down on a steak at Austin’s Hoffbrau

Cindy brought people together.  She was the ultimate connector, and even though she’s gone, the connections she made with all of the people she impacted all over the world will remain.  After she was diagnosed, Cindy organized a small group of friends from all over the world into her support system.  We were all around, talking to each other about how best to help her and her family, and the whole while she was sick, she was there being the life of the party, right up until the end.  Even with her illness, she was connecting people and spreading love, kindness and empathy.

She was a vortex of love, and fun, and whimsy, and adventure, and you weren’t just along for the ride, you were an integral part of it. I don’t think anyone who knew Cindy thought they were anything less than 100% included and in on the joke, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing.  She was that way until the day she left, I imagine riding a Hello Kitty cloud on her way to organize an adventure with St. Peter and redecorate the gates of Heaven.

Her friends organized a site for sharing memories of Cindy as a way to share with her how much she means to all of us, and as a way for her sons to understand what she meant to us when they’re older.  You can share your own memory of Cindy by following the instructions there, read her obituary, and help her kids out if you’re able.

Reviving Old Recipes: Carolina Rice and Wheat Bread

Carolina Rice and Wheat Bread

I’ve had this obsession with old community cookbooks for a couple of years now, snatching them up whenever I find them at thrift stores, flea markets, etc.  There are two shelves on our big bookcase full of spiral bound journals of recipes from as early as 1933 and as late as 1991.  Honestly, I prefer the older ones.  Starting in around 1960, everything has at least one tin of salmon or tuna and a bucket of mayo in it.

Then I found The Carolina Housewife, which isn’t really a community cookbook.  It was published in 1847 anonymously, but most likely written by Sarah Rutledge.  I found a copy on Amazon, but it was just scanned pages, and almost impossible to read…  but what I read had me hooked.  No easy-to-read list of ingredients and step by step instructions.  Each recipe is a paragraph, full of lots of assumed knowledge (that I don’t have).  I was so fascinated, I found and ordered an old library copy on eBay and have this crazy idea that I’m going to take all the bread recipes, update them with modern ingredients and publish them.

But, I kept putting it off.  The recipes are intimidating.  But, I finally found my first one, Carolina Rice and Wheat Bread.  It took a few attempts, but I think I’ve got it.

The Original Recipe

 Simmer one pound of rice in two quarts of water until it is quite soft; when it is cool enough, mix it well with four pounds of flour, yeast and salt as for other bread; of yeast, four large spoonfuls. Let it rise before the fire. Some of the flour should be reserved to make the loaves. If the rice swell greatly, and requires more water, add as much as you think proper.

The Carolina Housewife by Sarah Rutledge

My Version

I didn’t attempt to make my own yeast for this, and it took a couple of attempts to get to this point.  Since I have no description of the taste, texture or appearance, I just baked them in loaf pans, and well, they turned out fine!  The long ferment in the fridge helps it develop flavor.  My first attempt didn’t really taste like anything.  This one, with the addition of the whole wheat flour and the longer ferment, still has a subtle flavor, but I think it’s really good.  And don’t worry about lumps of rice!  I have no idea HOW, but it all gets absorbed during mixing and kneading.

This recipe should make two large loaves.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 quart (4 cups) water (for the rice)
  • 1.5lb all-purpose flour
  • .5lb whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup of water (for the dough)
  • 2 tablespoons active dry or instant yeast
  • 1.5 tablespoons salt

Directions

  • The first step is to make the rice.  In a large saucepan, heat the rice, quart of water and a healthy pinch of salt over medium heat.  Once it starts bubbling, turn it down to medium low and simmer uncovered until the rice has absorbed almost all of the water and is really soft and sticky. 
  • Let cool to room temperature, or throw it in a bowl and refrigerate overnight.
  • Add the now-cooled rice to the bowl of your mixer, add the flours, yeast and salt and mix on low with the dough hook until the rice breaks up and the flour starts mixing with it.  Slowly add the water, about a tablespoon at a time until a shaggy sticky dough forms.  Depending on how much of the water is left in the rice you might not need all the water.  It should be just wet enough that all the flour gets absorbed into the dough.
  • Once you’ve got the shaggy sticky dough going on, turn up the mixer to 2 or 3 and knead until the dough gets smoother and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 5-7 minutes.  It’s still going to be sticky, but hey, that’s the rice!
  • Scrape the dough into a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or oiled aluminum foil and throw it in the fridge for 36-48 hours.  Check on it a couple times a day and punch it down if it looks like it’s going to jump out of the bowl.
  • Take the dough out of the fridge, cut the dough in half, form into loaves and put them into oiled loaf pans.  Let rise on the counter covered with a towel for 2.5-3.5 hours until they’ve doubled in size and a peeking over the top of the loaf pans.
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees, then take the out of the oven, remove them carefully from their pans, rub a stick of butter over the top of the crust, and let cool on a rack as long as you can stand it!
This is what my rice looked like after cooking.  It’s… not super appetizing, but it works!
Another view of the final product!

This recipe is still a work in progress.  If you try it, let me know how it goes! 

Agile Moderation

I read a lot of advice – on any social media platform it’s hard not to. Everyone spouts endlessly about hustle, self care, the grind, being the best you, on and on forever. There are memes and videos and heartfelt shout outs to gurus and coaches.

All of that advice is fine, but it always leaves me cold. It all feels so extreme and if you fall down one rabbit hole of advice or another, it will probably lead to a lot of unhealthy behavior.

I’m a developer. I’m incredibly hard on myself. I work with people who are also incredibly hard on themselves. They all seem to feel worse about themselves than I do, and I’ve been trying to figure out why – and what I do or what experience I have that tells me when to let up on the self-criticism.

It’s taken a while but I think I’ve figured it out.

I’ve been doing some form of agile development for a very long time. More than a decade but less than two. It’s fine and I’m not going to go into details about it because it doesn’t matter.

My favorite part of that process, though, is the retrospective. It’s where the entire team gets together every two weeks and answers three questions:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What are we going to do differently next time?

It’s a chance for the team to refine their process, learn how to work better with each other and improve personally. The best part is that my teams always write everything down so we have a record of our retrospectives over time so we can see our growth over time.

It’s so effective that I now use it on myself. And this is where the moderation from the title comes in. Every time something goes wrong or I’m under stress, I go through those three questions. It’s calming, and a chance to reflect and commit to doing better.

But, it’s not open ended. I can’t spent forever on how badly I messed up or on how great I did, and I always have to finish with how I’m going to improve.

That process allows me to continue to be self critical, continue to hustle and not just love through the grind of startup life, but to love it, take care of myself and be aware of what I still need to work on.

The goal of agile isn’t perfection; it’s constant, sustainable, incremental improvement. That’s a goal I can get behind for myself too.

Observing Humans Under Stress in the Airport

Being stuck in the airport is a great chance to watch people deal with disappointment and things outside of their control. Observed today:

  • The Grumbler: Vents aimlessly to anyone in earshot but not loudly or with any attempt to do anything to fix it.
  • The Busybody: Has to find something to do that’s demonstrably “doing something” about the situation because there’s nothing they can really do. Can usually be seen leaning againsr a column, gesturing wildly to someone on the other end of a phone call… who of course can’t see them. But we can. We can.
  • The Demander: must go up to the gate desk every ten minutes for an update. The more trips to the desk, the more red they are in the face and the longer their stride.
  • The Cheerleader: They’re just happy to be there and will loudly proclaim how wonderful everyone is being. Constantly fetching things for other members of their party. I have a feeling the cheerleader is the busybody when traveling solo.
  • The Relaxer/Fatalist: this is me. Weighs the situation. Decides they can’t do anything. Sits there reading and waiting for updates and silently wishing the grumbler had a better conspiracy theory and the busybody would express their distaste a little quieter.

And then there are the shell-shocked parents trying to wrangle angry toddlers who’ve had their routines even more disrupted than they would have been without a delay. These are really the only group I feel bad for. They all look so desperate for relief. Hang in there, parents. It gets easier.

Did I miss any? Who are you?