SMICK.NET | Website of Mike Smick Graphics and Web Developer

False Nostalgia

I ran across this piece of writing at the Huffington Post:  I Miss the Village.  The attempt by the author was to lament a loss of community, but it comes across as a false understanding and a potential call to action was wasted.

I miss the village I never had. The one with mothers doing the washing side by side, clucking and laughing hysterically, tired in body but quick in spirit. We’d know each other so well: annoying one other from time to time, but never staying mad long because the truth is, we need each other.

washing-clothes-river-philippines-nostalgiaYes the same village where 300 people share a water basin and risk of deadly flu, cholera outbreaks, black death, etc. at any moment. I can’t stand selective false nostalgia pieces like this.

I consider myself very lucky never to have had this life.  Despite how it may feel, a sense of community is always at people’s grasp. But if anyone disagrees, and they want this fiction, plenty of villages exist around the world where everyone knows your name and you can do the washing in the contaminated creek/sewer. Where people spend so much time on repetitive activities that they never get above water to solve bigger problems, because they can barely fend for themselves. Where superstition is rampant, and lack of access to education and medicine.

The photo I’ve included here is misleading too. It’s present day Philippines, where this idealized location with a beautiful waterfall and kids playing. Most people don’t live by a source of fresh running water, and even if they did, there’s always somebody upstream putting something into it.

If you’ve ever washed and dried your clothes outside (I have many times) you can’t quite get that comfortable in a shirt that’s been drying in the humidity all day.  It’s crusty and wrinkled and never really smells clean. The author is correct, you do it because you have to.  Well, I’m glad I don’t have to. I’m glad a system is in place where I can attain mechanical and electronic tools that I could never make on my own has been designed and fashioned and shipped to a place that I can purchase it, even on a low salary.

People from that long ago would gladly trade places with us for our access to food, education, supplies, and abundance in general.  It’s true that many of us have squandered our abundance and broke away from our community, to the point where we might not even percieve it’s still there. We’ve bought into the 9-5 rules made up by richer people, we’ve upgraded our automobiles and forgotten how to fix things and ask for and offer help. We’ve taken the easy and cheap way to do things and caused damage and pollution and hardship for the future generations. Still I wonder, why would anyone dwell on a fictitious past?

The other cliche I often encounter in writing and from people, “Oh I long for the days when you could let your kids walk on their own without fear” People seem to think it’s because of the breakdown of community. That you don’t know and no longer can trust your neighbors and those who lurk in the woods.  Maybe partially, but no, you can’t let your kids walk on their own because they will get murdered by a 2,000 lb car at any given moment. A car that somebody sleep-deprived and angry is driving to get to and from job they hate. Somebody who forgot how to regard and pay attention because they can’t seem to get distractions of earning and attachments of possessions and lack of free time off their mind.

Today , we have more choices than we’ve ever had but haven’t attained the courage to make them. You need a lot of courage to trade one lifestyle for another.

We’ve traded a communal task environment for a complex machine that can do 1000% of what we need to survive and thrive. A machine that can provide us with amazing things, created mostly by people we don’t know. But a lot of us haven’t quite been able to grow up inside this massive cooperative environment and learn to feel satisfied and balanced within it.  In other words, even with the best grass the world has ever seen, somehow it must have been greener 200 years ago. I can say that, and I can say this:  If anyone want community and a sense of well being, they have to look first at how they are helping and interacting with others, what actions they are taking at any moment. Because community and friendships are only a conversation, or an invitation, or a kind gesture or a favor away from our grasp.

July 23, 2014 at 10:21 am | family, inspiration, nostalgia | No comment

Summer 2012 tapers off

Summer is nearing an end once again. The weather has gone from absolutely terrible, to extremely  pleasant in a very short time (where I live at least). I don’t like the smells of fall because they always remind me of the dread of winter. But this one is tapering off nice and slowly.

We went to japan for a few weeks. It was a good time as always. Due to the hot summer, the rice harvest began a little early and I was able to help out. Andrew got to see his Great Grandparents and hang with them a few times. We went on overnights and day trips to hotels, the ocean, theme parks and more.

This was the first time I brought my bike with me to ride and the first time I was able to ride and meet new friends on my own. My friends Norio and Hiroshi picked me up several times to take me riding. We rode with some great flatland riders.

September 22, 2012 at 6:57 am | family, Japan | No comment

Workplaces for designers and front end coders are way behind

Ask yourself… How does my workplace help me succeed?

I’ve worked in a lot of office environments and it comes down to this fact. They are basically the same. They are adequate, climate-controlled and exist for people to work in the same vicinity, but other than that, they don’t serve the worker all that well.

You have a small area you can furnish yourself a little bit, typically a set of tools that are somewhere between mediocre or decent and you are expected to stay in one place for 7-11 hours a day.

There are no incentives to improve the space yourself using your own funds; you can ask for better equipment when you need it, but you’d be expected to demonstrate that it’s problematic or limiting. You can improve your workspace by requesting a better chair, maybe a doctor’s note will help you in that way, but a better desk isn’t likely.

Expectations that conflict

You’re expected as a designer / developer to create, to bring a succession of progressive enhancements to your work in order to provide better service. And my view is you can’t do that in a typical work space. And no change in wall color or cube formation is going to ultimately fix that. A creator who is stagnant and does the same thing repeatedly is going to dwindle in usefulness. They will miss their family, resent their job a lot of the time and go home at the end of the day tired and unable to absorb or maximize their life experience outside of the workplace, not refreshed for the next day.

How does one create?

Well we do so by absorbing through experience in our life and by crafting a solution to a set of problems.  When you sit at the same desk for a sequence of so many days. How is your life experience bringing you things to help generate ideas?  What about that hour lunch break? Does it regenerate you really? I’ve always found myself rushing through it, and basically listening or contributing to complaint sessions with my colleagues.

The structure of offices is just strange to me. I get the whole discipline thing and team oriented work. But with design and development, you’ll have short bursts of team work which then require an individual to separate from the huddle and actually bring something to life so the group can discuss it. The majority of your time is taken in these individual tasks. The group feedback loops are at most 10% of your days at most. Probably more like 3%.

So what I’m getting at is if I’m required to be at an office, but mostly working solo, in order to serve the creative requirements of my job, isn’t there a conflict in my lack of world experience that I’m generating as well?

I had that thinking less than 6 months into my first office job. And despite my best efforts, I’ve worked in many other offices after that. Will I ever learn? Slowly but surely I guess.

Can you go big, portable or remote?

I think the issue is, many of us simply cannot bring with us a sufficient portable space, so we work where a den was made, and though networking is sophisticated enough, teammates do not use the capabilities of the available tools to work remotely in nearly the same capacity as an in-person setup. It basically works like this…

Worker: I want to work from home, I think I could get things done just as well (murmurs about office distractions)
Supervisor: That sounds good, how about maybe every other Friday you work from home
Worker: That’s something, (that sucks) but let’s do that (for starters hopefully).
Supervisor: Of course you’ll need to check in with me during that time
Worker: No problem you want to set up skype or get on chat or maybe open a phone bridge all day, or just open the view to the source code repository as I check things in?
Supervisor: I’m not familiar with all that, let’s set up some phone meeting times to go over some things
Worker: Ok fine

And what happens is, the worker spends a few extra half-hours during the day preparing to provide reports to the boss to justify working there. Eventually it’s a huge hassle and at some point he’s on the toilet when a call comes in, the boss starts preaching that it’s not working out and feigns panic.

Humans should be together, but not necessarily co-workers all the time. I’m advocating for a change in creative work where schedules are mixed, working from remote locations is encouraged and the absorption of experience resulting in the synthesis of ideas is maximized.  I realize this produces more opportunity to screw off and bosses don’t like screwing off. But you know what… I really don’t care.  Because change starts at home. I’m advocating people demand of their next job and plan on updating their home or portable capabilities.

Try this, when you actually have time for your family, when you split up your day, go home or for an outing for 3 hours multiple times during the week rather than spending the majority of the sunlight hours sitting indoors. I’m going to bet that you feel a little more refreshed, and capable of being excited over new challenges. I’m not talking about a couple days vacation or a bi-monthly “teambuilding” event only then to return to normal and then work on those ideas. I’m talking about killing normal and creating based on goals and energy, not required sitting periods.

‘Cuz I won’t be the one left behind, you can’t be king of the world if you’re slave to the grind’

-Skid Row (1990)

May 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm | design, family, inspiration, philosophy, rants | No comment

My plans for 2011

I’ve had a great 2010. I watched my beautiful son in his first year, did some home improvements, had a lot of fun riding my bike. Went to Japan again. But I also have a lot of empty spaces. Well intentioned things left undone. And I want you to know, I write this up not because I think I need to somehow be more of a person to be worthy or loved, but because life is short and a little more pressure and alignment with my life goals is a great thing.

So here’s my list of things to crank on for this year under my chosen categories.

Health, Fitness and BMX

I used to run pretty frequently, and I did run a couple miles maybe 2 weeks ago, but I’ve started to let that slide. Mostly because winter kills my motivation. Luckily there’s a new image of motivation helping me during this winter… This.

It’s a photo of a guy in Belarus, a republic in eastern Europe. I don’t need to explain what’s going in this pic do I? Not only does this make me laugh thinking about it. It’s also an example of some of the eccentric badassery in the world that is unfortunately in short supply around me. So I’ve got my plan to do winter runs. Do them because they suck, but also because they are a small form of badassery. Much more rewarding afterwards than during. (Well except for the part where the thick air made you taste like you’re coughing up blood for 2 hours afterwards.)

BMX. My passion is Flatland BMX, no doubt. Running is fun, but nothing beats coasting on the front wheel of my flatland bike, spinning, switches, scuff tricks. I’m extremely excited to say I ramped up my riding in 2010 to levels not seen since college. But it’s not enough. I’ve got a few stunts to pick up and practice from that I demand from myself in 2011. Not that most people care, but making gains in this sport matter to me, even if I know I’ll likely never be a Matt Wilhelm, Simon O’Brien or Matthias Dandois. (Video links of those guys in action)  I believe that to get good, you have to go out with a mission every day, an agenda of what to accomplish. Usually I figure that out once I get there, or I’m just on fire in my mind, something burning to be learned that I’ve been visualizing over and over. That needs to continue and be exploited. I’ve had a hard time riding in this weather, so getting around that problem is next. By warmer weather, I intend to participate in more shows just like I did in 2010.

Knowledge

I want to read one book a month. That’s reasonable right? There are a few classics I need to get to as well as some newer books that I own that have been untouched. Couple classics to mention, Great Gatsby, Art of War, and biographys of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Some newer ones to enjoy, Where ideas come from, Hitch-22 and something by Seth Godin.

I also want to write a book this year. Doesn’t need to be awesome, it just needs to be a contribution. I think I want it to be a book to my son, so far anyway. And it can include pictures / photos or not. Actually I’ve already started this book, but it’s not had a direction. That’s all it needs, focus and continuous contribution.

The last part of knowledge I’m stealing from a writer, Steven Johnson. In a book he wrote (and I’ve read this before.) he said most of the great idea people always had their notebook with him to record their ideas, document their experiences and work and their findings. I’ve started to do this already. It’s no masterpiece, but I found the book I like and filling it in has been helpful. I feel better knowing that interesting quotes and observations are slowly making their way into my little archive. I’ve always wanted a book like that to pick up 40 years later to say “wow” this is a fun little legacy keepsake. I’m not gonna lie here, basically I want my own grail diary from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I’ve always wanted one of those. Or my own DaVinci notebook.

Freelance

The bottom line on this topic my freelance work needs a reboot. I’ve tired of my web company name, SmickWorks. Too many company use the word “Works” in the name and I need something that feels a little more fun and unique. I don’t mind changing things up and I think the right name will draw the right clients. I don’t take on too many clients because I’m too busy in life, but I desire to keep my company strong and to always have it ready for when it can take an uplifting turn to something bigger. Let me quote Steve Jobs, I want to make a dent in the universe with this one, but despite not always knowing how, I’ve gotta set myself up that way. And if it’s my son who ends up building from a foundation here, then I’m more than happy to let him make the dent.

Not to get too far off course here because this is more important in the short term. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’ve allowed the clutter around me to drain me and to let my freelance projects slip. I’m embarrassed to say it and if you’re a client who has suffered waiting for things longer than you should have. I can only say I’m sorry and I don’t mean to put anyone through that. The road to good intentions is paved with milk and cookies, or however that saying goes. BUT I realized that I don’t have a simple enough way to keep my project tasks in order. Emails, phone calls, text messages. My requests come in and I just can’t seem to keep it all in my mind when I need it.

To combat this, I’ll be installing a very cool Issue Tracking app on my website. What this will do is allow me to post project and bug fixes to the database. And I always know where to look. Not only that, but I can set up my contact form on my websites to auto-generate an project request. So it doesn’t have to be a complicated extra step or require sending logins to clients.

I have a few freelance projects I intend to do. Both are actually secret, but they are 2 websites I think need addressing. And this is all doable. Nothing amazing required except for the desire and follow through.

Learning in my field of web and design.

Outside the regular book reading I want to do, there are gains I want to make in my work. I’ve never been a trained artist or a programmer. I’ve tried to fill the shoes wherever I could. Sometimes that meant looking for the right solution premade because I couldn’t do it myself. And that will get you pretty far, but I have a few areas where I think I can be more helpful (and enjoy my work). That would be learning Javascript (JQuery) and PHP. There are a massive number of resources to do this. Too many actually. But the key is to stick to something and practice. That’s it.

Other than Javascript, I want to dabble a little in IIS web server so I understand how it works. And install a few instances of Dot Net Nuke to see where it will help me, if at all. At work we have a need for one-off microsites and it might be a good way to deploy them. Or not. But I’ll never know if I don’t jump in.

Besides Dot Net, there are a few Content Management Systems I want to work on. I’d like to work more with ModX CMS, Mediawiki, and MindTouch Deki. I’d also like to continue to use WordPress and maybe try out WebGUI.

I’ve already kinda mastered 2D graphics software, but my art still needs a lot of work. That’s why I’m so happy my wife bought me this sketchbook called 642 Things to Draw. It’s a book of blank pages, but it has labeled spaces for certain things to sketch in the spot. So it narrows focus. That is awesome. I want to make a big dent in this, getting about 80 drawings into their spots. When I was little, I remember my dad helping me with a drawing, he did a really good job. I think having a sketchbook to give to my son might inspire him to learn how to see and practice the craft too.

Another end to exploit is video. I’m actually pretty flipping good at video when I eventually get onto the editing suite. I’m NOT good at thinkng about video projects because the amount of footage overwhelms me before I even open the tapes or files. I procrastinate on that. The difference now is, well I’ve got a kid and a life and an opportunity to share things with his family overseas. So video is the way to do that properly. And it’s a skill I want to teach him and I want to document our experiences that way. So I’ll be adding short videos to my monthly projects. Not enough to overwhelm. But things to get done.

Lastly in terms of planned learning, I want to get my head around the latest incarnation of Blender 3D. I haven’t worked with 3D for a while. I’ve played around a bit, but there is a lot to enjoy when you can get around the software. Since Blender changed so much I’ve avoided it to see where it finishes. But it’s pretty much where it’s going to be in terms of interface and so I need to dig in. Plus it will help me contribute to projects and solve visual problems.

Finishing projects

I’m ashamed to say it, but I’ve got a lot of half-finished projects I must address. These are videos and websites. I’ve made some promises, but kept the deadlines as soft. This has got to stop. Because if you’ve ever read anything about Getting Things Done, there’s a premise in that book that says projects that are unfinished make your brain always have to work harder because it’s always looping back to them. The more things in the done pile the better you’ll feel. I’d venture to say that unfinished projects even pulling softly at you could even affect your health.  Time to knock out those. Most if not all could be finished by March if I don’t pile anything else on them.

Family

My son is almost one years old. My wife has spent most of the year cooped up in the house and not seeing a lot of outside. Some by choice, but I think introducing activities will help Andrew’s brain and let us enjoy our lives more. So I’ll be cooking up at first, monthly outings and then maybe increase that. Part of the things that can help a lot are family home projects that also need addressing. I’ve never been particularly good at them, but it’s not that I can’t work on them. I just too often choose not too. I have a basement to get situated, and a few wood projects and trim work. Those will be done in 2011 even if I have to enlist my dad.

Blogging in the ole notebook

A hundred thousand people will be resolving this year to write in their blog in order to make something meaninful. I’ve kept mine for years and several times made commitments to fill it up daily or weekly. BUT what I never did was create an editorial calendar to schedule blog posts. And that’s what I just did now. I used a google doc spreadsheet that lists the 52 weeks of the year. And I’ve made columns for each of those weeks to list a 1st blog topic and a 2nd blog topic. Two blog posts a week could be one post covering graphics, design or other area of my interest. Topic 2 can be related to family or photo post, or could be a contribution for my upcoming book. Filling in these areas on the editorial calendar is the important thing. I already know I can write. It’s the habit I need. I’ve already made twitter a habit by using a few tools and slightly modifying my routine. That will be helpful to lead into expanding tweets into full posts. Not only that, but I’d like to see my blog be a little more relevant and interesting to friends, family and colleagues. It’s always been challenging mixing the 2 topics, but 1 post per week of both types will let me do that. One challenge will be that I also operate 2 other blogs, Snackhunting.com, and Readerwar.com. Trying to contribute to all of those is probably too much on a weekly basis. I think that’s ok though. My editorial calendar will help me iron out how to space those as well.

Sleep

Most of my issues in life are the result of a degree of discipline, focus and being energized and ready when I need to be. Sleep has always been hard for me because my cycle seems to be longer than most. Meaning I don’t get tired at 11pm, I get a second wind, that can take me to 4am without any effort. But I admire more the ability to wake up early being prepared to handle tasks. I’d like to beat a few people into work each day and even do morning exercise before breakfast, like the runs I mentioned earlier. I can do that if I make a habit of sleeping a little earlier. A fresh routine with the proper sleep-wake, wake-sleep transitions will help. This might be the hardest though. Because I tend to love the quiet of the night. But when you go to bed earlier, actually you can still get the quiet stillness of the night, just that it’s the after you’ve had full nights rest this time. I need a few tools for this one I think. On my own I’ll probably fail. If any of you have suggestions, please send them along!

So that’s a big list, but nothing too crazy, and it aligns with what I want to do just fine. I think that it will make a great year for me. Just have to read it over, stick to it.

December 31, 2010 at 8:19 am | family, inspiration, learning, publishing, writing | No comment

Ted Talk – Secrets of Longevity

My latest favorite snippet of valuable learning once again comes from a TED Talk. I’ve been watching these for years.

In this talk, to find the path to long life and health, Dan Buettner and team from National Geographic study the world’s “Blue Zones,” communities whose elders live with vim and vigor to record-setting age. At TEDxTC, he shares the 9 common diet and lifestyle habits that keep them spry past age 100.

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_buettner_how_to_live_to_be_100.html

No surprise, Japan and Italy include one of the blue zones where people in a certain community share a long life. And we find out a little bit of why that is. It’s not all what you might think.

January 10, 2010 at 2:59 am | family, friends, inspiration, interesting, learning | No comment

What to do on your birthday

There is a speaker guy named Seth Godin. Everybody likes him. Me too. And I read his site today, about birthdays. He was asking, what should we do on your birthday? Because mine is this coming week, it got me thinking about how I’ve been the past few years. Gifts have been really difficult to give and receive. I don’t take giving lightly in most cases. It’s hard for me, because if it’s going to be a thing I give, I want it to be special because it really will represent something, it acts on my behalf when I’m not there. Certainly I’m not better at receiving, because people ask me what I want for my birthday and I really can’t bring a certain object I want. I really just want to be better than I am. I want to see continuous improvement both slow and steady and through wild bursts and revelation. Projects I want finished, objectives I want conquered. Because it seems that when these things have happened, all the other gifts just flow in. But I don’t just want them done. I want to be engaged throughout the process. Nobody can do that for me, can they?

And yet when I think about that. It sounds like I want to rush through a segment of my life to get it where I expect I should be. As if I’m not quite complete yet. Not good enough. Analyzing that is kind of fun at this moment, because it’s a good reminder of how ridiculous it is. I’m happy that I don’t really believe that. And I’d be sad if others did for themselves.

If someone’s birthday is a day to be celebrated, it’s because of a person’s uniqueness and celebrating it because before that date, they weren’t here. The world before them didn’t enjoy their personality and contributions, their silliness, their ideas, and the things they do for others. At their moment, the pebble struck the water’s surface and the ripples began. The sequence of events in our world without their existence is difficult to imagine. Maybe even lonely.

And because they are here, often so briefly, it is one day a year where we remind them that it has been important that they are here, important to us, many of us. That’s the best thing we can probably do for people. And if we are all too distracted on that day to know or remind ourselves of the reason, that’s ok too. Because even if we realize it on another day, it’s that moment we appreciate somebody for who they are, we are bigger, we have grown.

So how do you celebrate someone’s uniqueness? I wish I could give a perfect answer, but I’ll try. I think the best you can do, is knowing them, you know what they like, what they do, want to be, or accomplish. Do your best to imagine what it takes to get there or to do that. And if you find your own personal way to help them do that, that day, I think it would be a hero’s gift, without a doubt. If you are close to them and already doing that, then maybe just a small surprise is something that’s needed. If you are far away, a card sent or a friendly phone call, can encourage and help and just tell them how much you and the people in their world appreciate them. You can also try to engage in their world a little more too. If you only saw them twice this year, try for five times over next year.

July 4, 2009 at 9:18 pm | family, friends, learning, nostalgia | No comment

Our last night in Japan

This is the sixth time I’ve been to Japan. This visit has been the longest, nearly two months. I’m a little nervous for some reason the night before the flight. Perhaps the large coffee I made myself, or just jitters for everything to work out ok. But it already has worked out ok. I suppose if my plane goes down in the ocean tomorrow, in my last moments I hope I could remember how great everything has been. We’ve been treated so well. Many outings and terrific meals at home and at various places. There has been a lot of good humor, surprises and interesting conversations. I came here hoping that I would have learned a little more about myself, perhaps came back a changed person. I do feel changed, but I realize now that no visit to another country helps you become the person you want to be. These changes are more involuntary. Nearly too subtle to report or specify, but I can feel them a little bit.

Every other time we have this final night, I always well up with tears at some point. It’s thankfulness you know. The part of me that can’t express properly I internalize and spills out of my eyes I guess. This time I want to hold it together. I’ll be just as thankful, but I want to save it for the plane. We are nearly packed, only a few accessories like this laptop and some trinkets are left to jam into my bag. Tomorrow, I imagine we won’t rush at all being we have a later flight. We’ve done this a few times now, so no real uncertainties.

So what have we done? Well it has been a mix of everything. A lot of mundane activities around the house, which I like. I enjoy spending entire days around the house as a matter of fact. I don’t even mind on some days that Japan is right outside and I don’t even step off the porch. We’ve had many day trips, some for shopping, some purely for scenery. Obsessed with taking pictures, I’ve burned through memory cards and entire camcorder hard disk. I’m happy I haven’t had to copy more than one set of cards and the camcorder because I am out of space on my laptop to backup to. We went to various locations to view cherry blossoms. This was the point of coming this time of year. I went on a run at Camp Zama military base (United States) during their festival. I went on training runs around the neighborhood. I’ve had special moments drinking in the beauty.

Family came over several times and we drove to visit them as well. Recently we went with Grandma and Grandpa to see Mt. Fuji from a secluded lookout point. Juri and I spent a night in a small village of historic build called Shirakawa-go. We went on a picnic bike ride over one of Dad’s long lunches. We played a few putt-putt golf challenges behind his animal hospital. We watched Mom’s favorite concert DVDs of the ultra-popular boy band called Arashi.

Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of downtime too, where I could have been building many new work initiatives. I did work, but I also let go of many proactive work possibilities in exchange for nothing special. On this last day I’d like to be able to say I went down my to-do list, the one that I wrote and rewrote several times while here and did everything on it. I’d like to say that but I can’t. Even if that makes me not bad, but just normal, I’m still regretting it. I did a few things, but not nearly enough. Even though I have a lot of fun working on the design projects I do, I trade that sometimes for letting my ‘Mr. Hyde’ take advantage of time-wasters.

Juri has a fun and unique family here. They appreciated that we spend time with them. They enjoyed even short opportunities to chat and drink tea together. Juri does a fantatic job quickly translating my little quips and jokes into something that works on their end. They are always laughing with us, and that is why we came. As much of a physical burden we must be, I thought that we could bring some happiness with us for them. Winter was long and cold for us and it had been too long. We thought we could bring some variety or some sunshine to the family.

I have a few pictures from the last couple weeks. We are happy for what we’ve been able to take part in. We are thankful to our family here and back home for taking care of us and our things. Stories and humor live on when the moment is over. We look forward to the next chance to come back again. We want it to be an ongoing exchange because it feels right, makes it less sad, and most of all, I haven’t climbed Mt. Fuji yet!

Japan_2009_30 Japan_2009_29

Japan_2009_28 Japan_2009_27

Japan_2009_23 Japan_2009_24

Japan_2009_22 Japan_2009_15

Japan_2009_17 Japan_2009_20

See The Flickr Slideshow Here

April 21, 2009 at 9:05 am | family, Japan, photography | 1 comment

Holiday Linux for Aunt Judy

Two posts ago, I attempted to lay out whether Linux could replace Windows sufficiently for most people. Some rewarding field work today proves it can and does happen. My Aunt was complaining about viruses again after we reinstalled XP less than a year ago.  Imagine my surprise hearing of this.  But it got me thinking about what I could do about it this time for a more permanent fix. Refreshing Windows is annoying for sure, but worse is the way people respond to their infected computers. They feel uncertain if they can properly use a computer, that maybe they caused the problem. Some feel guilty for wasting money on an lemon, even though their PC is probably fine.

Fortunately aunt Judy has a small set of needs for computing. Webmail and Internet searches and maybe the occasional letter document. She added pressure by surprising me with her dysfunctional printer that could only spit out blank pages. And we needed to give one more critical device a closer look. She hopes to one day see her grandkids on her new webcam before they graduate college.

I only had a disc of Ubuntu Studio 8.10 on hand that I had planned to eventually use at home. It would work fine, though it has too many programs Jude has no use for. Oh well. Either I could spend two hours removing stuff in the package manager or She could simply ignore some of the menu clutter. After a briefing, she assured me she didn’t have anything on the computer she was keeping so I went with an overwrite install on the hard drive. A nice clean slate. Cool!

Ubuntu Studio didn’t come with office, so I installed OO.org. Then I added MS Core fonts and Flash Player 10 for a better web experience. Of course the Ubuntu auto updates were dying to join the party so we let them in.

This “Studio” distribution of Linux is centered around media creation and it’s really beautiful. I loved the startup animation and login screen. The main menu bar and empty desktop are dead simple. I replaced the wallpaper with a fun 3D graphic I created last year and some nice big essential desktop icons. Then I reinstated some of their web favorites. Judy was pleased I didn’t delete Google and returned it to its proper location. Everything was going well, but I still had that feeling that I’d be abandoning them tonight and something they expected wouldn’t be there. I think they voted for Bush so maybe they’ll appreciate security and overlook any of the liberties I accidently might have taken away from them. ;>)

Next I installed the latest skype from a .deb installer file on skype’s homepage.  The webcam and video test worked, but later we got an audio io error when I rang her from Skype at home. Add to that, her printer managed to still only spittle out blank pages. This makes me growl. Sure we haven’t lost anything that wasn’t disabled before, but I can’t stand loose ends.

What is great though? Once prolific virus code on Windows will wither and die trying to execute on Linux. Plus the addition of a hardware router (I can’t believe I missed this the last time.) helped us close the door on ancient history.

Now for the absolute best thing about today.  Spending some fun time with Jude and Sammy chatting about everything. Family, politics, past Christmas’ and listening to old tape recordings of me, my sisters and my cousin Jen when we were 4-7 years old. I hope she had fun like I did. Judy apologized that it took six hours to do everything, but I could have been out of there in just two hours if I really wanted to just get it done. I loved introducing them to some of the fun stuff I do with computers such as discovering favorite music on Pandora.com web radio. They had no idea something like that existed. We also watched part of a feature film in full screen on Hulu.com and looked at all the free movies and TV shows Hulu has. It was a good test for Linux Flash player too. Judy’s old Dell was performing well and I think it might have long life ahead of it.  I’m hoping now there are some new activities that will be enriching for them.

Next mission: Give Judy my old (yet very booming) Cambridge speakers so they have even better radio sound. And we WILL conquer the webcam and printer troubles eventually.

January 5, 2009 at 3:44 am | computers, family | 1 comment

The Last Mile

Too many problems over the past couple weeks, too many delays and it has really made our migration back to St. Louis a bitter last mile. Sure we have plenty of fun, but with some issues with fixit people, inspectors, loan officers, it just leaves me hoping for the final moments that we can pack a truck and finalize this stuff. We’re almost there.

We’re going to be moving from a house we own to an apartment or some other rental property. Why? Because despite being a buyers market, it’s not a freelancer’s market. They like for you to have two years under your belt before assuming you’re doing ok enough to give you a home loan.  I don’t care that much anyway. Why would I want debt again? The reason for my self-employment over the past year has been flexibility anyway. Now that we are moving back, I can finally settle in more to what I love.

I want to say thanks to my parents for helping us get organized and for coming out to move a few things. Also their willingness to help us keep moving, and not to lose focus. Also thanks to our real estate agents. When we were looking for houses, our buyer’s agent was tireless. And we seemed so close, but it wouldn’t be.  Our seller’s agent for our house is doing well too. We’re happy to be able to sell in this market. We found the right buyer and we sold intelligently. Sure I’d love to have the thousands of dollars I’m losing with going with agents. However, I’m doing ok.  There’s always a better way to get it done. This is the way I did it and I’ll leave the regrets at the door of my new home.

Mostly I’m excited to get back in touch with old friends, classmates. Making new connections will be fun and so will spending time with family, such as my cousins who work in electric and building. I want to job shadow everybody I can just for the heck of it.

October 23, 2008 at 2:50 am | family | No comment

Dealing with the aging of loved ones

I’ve written about death before. It’s a topic you can’t avoid sometimes I suppose. It’s a topic worth exploring. Though I feel like my own death might be a ways off, being only thirty, I suppose you never know. Over the past few days, I’ve had a couple experiences that started to seem like a pattern. Noticing it, I began to desire to put it into words. This is just a short exercise, so bear with me.

Over time, we’ll have loved ones that grow old and die. When you are close to them and have been for some time, you’ll see the changes in front of you. One experience I had was thinking about my wife and I. We are still young and active. We are as sharp as can be in terms of mind alertness and personality. But eventually, we won’t be as sharp. One of us will get to the point where we notice the other starting to fail at certain things. It’s strange, but the thing that was most sad was thinking about one day having to tell someone else about how that loved one used to be, before they started getting old. Saying the words felt the most scary. “Yes I remember when they used to be so witty, and now s/he’s really lost a lot of that, really faded in the last three years.” I don’t know why, but it really gets me emotionally to think of that.

Another experience was I was watching this movie called “American Movie” about this guy my age who desperately wants to make a film. He feels like it’s his way to get out of being poor, or to be somebody. It’s a wonderful documentary. In it, he has an older uncle that he’s always trying to convince to fund his projects. The uncle is pretty old, his speech is slurred, his mind seems dulled. Sadly, the uncle dies sometime during the final production of the documentary, as it’s mentioned in the credits. At one point, the filmmaker’s dad, brother to the old uncle talks about him and how he used to be. The father is older, but still very sharp. He’s lived through seeing his brother grow up, become a scholar and then grow old and become senile. That might have been the brother that taught him to play baseball or tennis. That was the brother he might have looked up to, the one he wanted to grow strong like, or emulate. Now he’s a tired, old and dying man. How would you deal with that?

The third experience was today. I was helping my friend move a couple pieces of furniture in his new house. He had a photo of his mother on the window sill. He and his siblings are going to make a trip with mom in the coming months. An Alaskan cruise. They have an urgency to go this year because mom is starting to show signs of aging. Some frailty, even senility. They want to create this trip and experience it, as well as have the memory of it while mom can still do it. She deserves to experience it with all the senses she can. Everyone else too. How will they feel on the plane ride back from that trip? Once it’s over, it’s not the end of her life by any means. But they will have some feelings to contend with perhaps.

I don’t want any loved ones to die, certainly not my close family and my loving wife. But it’s going to happen isn’t it? This mindscape I live daily, lost in thought not nearly in the moment as I should be, it’s happening to all of us though. We can face it now, keeping it close to us, or face it later. We will have to face it. A popular writer I recently read about decided to estimate how much longer he has left to live. From that, he’s started a running countdown clock on his website. He wanted something he would see every single day. He’s done this to completely face that fact of his own death and to deal with how much there is to create, to accomplish before his own passing day.

I guess I don’t have an exercise on this as I thought I did. Writing this article has been the exercise. For you, maybe reading it will be. I ask that you take care of yourself and loved ones. Have many special and exerting experiences to stay sharp to live fully and enjoy others around you. Drink good red wine, do crossword puzzles and math problems, engage in new conversations, meditate. Or just be you for as long as you can.

September 28, 2007 at 5:27 am | family, philosophy | 1 comment

Next Page »