You’re going to die anyway.

You’re going to die anyway.

“You know you’re going to die anyway, right?”

It was 1999 and I had just temporarily moved into my Uncle John’s studio apartment in New York City. He very generously let me stay with him while I found an apartment for my family. After several years of trying to break into the animation industry, I had just accepted my dream job at Nickelodeon. Jenni and our two babies were packing up our home in Phoenix and I had to find a place for us, fast.

My uncle and I were getting reacquainted after many years. He had just learned that I was a vegetarian, and was grilling me on the why’s and wherefore’s of abstaining from a carnivorous diet. In contrast, John was a lifelong chain smoker and loved rich meat dishes. We both hailed from Omaha, Nebraska, that gloriously flat land teaming with beef, corn and ham. I was the odd one in my family (in many ways, but we’ll stick to diet for now). It seemed that everyone on my father’s side started smoking young and couldn’t resist a juicy steak or burger. For John to learn that I no longer ate meat of any kind, it was hard to comprehend. In true pragmatic, midwestern fashion he assumed that I might be trying to achieve some sort of immortality.

To put this in better perspective, my grandfather died of a massive coronary in his early 40s. My own father has suffered several heart attacks, multiple bypasses, stents and, like many people over 40, takes blood thinners to keep the arteries from blocking. My Uncle John himself developed advanced heart disease, eventually required a heart transplant and sadly passed away a few years ago in his 60s.

With both sides of my family steeped in heart disease lore, my genetics say that if I follow the same path as my ancestors, I will suffer the same result. It’s guaranteed. So I work hard to go in the opposite direction. I haven’t eaten meat since 1993 and I haven’t touched dairy since 2001. I don’t smoke, either, but I do drive too fast and I love my bourbon (not at the same time, of course). I’ve been known to consume large quantities of French fries and chocolate. I’m not infallible to the lure of gastronomic decadence.

I am far from immortal and I have no desire to live in this form forever – especially sans chocolate. While I eat pretty well and get regular exercise, I have no illusions that I am making Death twiddle its thumbs waiting for me to kick.

Living to infinity is not the point.

See, I didn’t expect to feel this good in my 50s. My observations of older family members growing up is that “Getting old is hell!” – a direct quote from my grandmother in her 80s. I had always assumed that what happens to you after 30 is that you start sliding down a steep slope into decay. At some point I made a conscious decision that shuffling around the mall in support hose would not be my fate.

I know I’m going to die. I’m not afraid of dying. What strikes ugly fear into my hammering vegan heart is the prospect of suffering through preventable disease. I don’t want my kids (or my wife) to worry about how long I’ll be with them, or put aside their lives so they can care for me in my old age. Or my middle age, for that matter.

I’m going to do everything I can to avoid spending my later years farting in an overstuffed chair watching reruns of Friends. I want to do things, not watching them being done.

Yes, I’m going to die anyway. But I’m not going without a fight.


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Septiember

Hop on board my Reading Railroad:

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

Mastering the Coding Mindset, Mads Brodt

The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse

The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman

How I choose to link the books I share. A sort of linking manifesto.

Work & Projects & Stuff

Holy ink, Batman! After a leisurely Spring and Summer (translation: slow), the screen printing business took off like a rocket to space. We are wading through boxes of shirts here.

I’m well into learning JavaScript. I pretty much have the fundamentals down, and once I build some projects I can officially call myself a Full Stack Web Developer. A few months ago, JS looked like total gobbletygook to me, but now I can write conditionals and functions like I’m writing this paragraph. But faster.

September is a super special month here, because:

  • My birthday! On the 21st, I’ll be x years old. x = (5 x 12) – 10 + (3 – 2). Solve for x.
  • Our anniversary! Jenni and I will be married 29 years on the 26th.
  • Our youngest’s birthday! He’ll be 14 on the 27th.

Oh yeah, we went to the beach a couple weeks ago. Can you tell?

Of course, I’m still creating my paper zines and sharing them with the world. If you’d like to get it (it’s free), you can sign up on my zine page.

Quote of the Moment

“If one door closes and another one opens, your house is haunted and you need to RUN.”

The frustration and magic of being a slow thinker

I’m a slow thinker. Not slow in that I don’t understand what’s going on, but slow in that my thoughts tend to percolate a little longer than others’ do. I guess you could say I’m more of a pourover thinker than a Nespresso thinker.

I’ve always been a slow thinker. In school, I was never the one with their hand up first. I hated being put on the spot. Back of the room, that’s me. When a teacher would call on me for an answer, I would freeze up. Even if I knew the material well, I just couldn’t give it up right away.

Let’s just say the debate team was not going to miss me. Even debating friends on any subject wasn’t something I had any interest in at all. I could spout off a quick answer, but it was usually some kind of non sequitur-ish funny comment linked to the last movie we saw. Forced to comment on the actual subject at hand, I was typically at a loss.

It’s not that I don’t understand things, or think my own thoughts. Obviously, because here we are in this post together. No empty vessel, me. I just like to linger in my thoughts. When I read, hear or see something new, I go into processing mode. I’m not one for quick reactions to things, unless it’s on the freeway. I like to absorb things, let them soak into all my brain pockets before coming up with thoughts about them.

You might guess that this did not go over well during meetings in the corporate world. After taking in a slide presentation or an info dump about a new project, I was percolating. Unfortunately, bosses and clients don’t want percolating, they want fast answers and verbose dialogue. Whenever I heard the words “Let’s have a brainstorming session,” I started looking for the closest fire alarm to pull.

Brainstorming is not only not my forté, it’s my Kryptonite.

Currently I have a writing gig with a media company. Once a month, we have a writer’s meeting where we share our ideas for articles and talk about our writing processes. I enjoy them because I genuinely like the people I work with there, but the big clouds of dread start to roll in as soon as we start discussing ideas. I love listening to everyone’s ideas. It just takes me a bit longer to jump in with helpful insights or feedback. Because everyone can’t hang out on a video call for two days while I percolate, I’m usually quiet during those portions of the meeting. Two days later, I’m full of thoughts and feedback on what I heard.

The flip side to this personality quirk feature is that I can also be very quickly witty in certain situations. When there’s any room to comment in a way that links the current topic with an absurdly weird observation, I slide right in like my brain was coated in grease. It’s usually funny to someone. And yes, it’s a coping mechanism because it draws attention away from the fact that I have nothing solid to contribute, yet it seems that I’ve somehow contributed something of value. It’s not actually a conscious tactic, I just drew that conclusion retroactively. Insert witticism = Take that, farty old brainstorming session.

I’ve learned to adapt my slow thinking ways to be a mostly functioning member of society. I’m also not as freaked out or bothered by the way my brain processes information as I used to be. When I’m working with clients I’ve become very adept at saying things like, “Tell me more about that,” or “Hmm, yeah. That will require some focused thought and I will get back to you.” It works most of the time. The other times I probably look stupid, but I’m becoming more okay with that, too.

While I sometimes envy people who can jump in and provide ideas or feedback seemingly without effort, I also think my percolating nature is kind of a super power. I think slow, but I think deep.

I’ll leave you with two quotes on this.

“If I look confused it is because I am thinking.” — Samuel Goldwyn

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?” — Winnie the Pooh

Awww, gust.

Reading Rainbow:

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

Mastering the Coding Mindset, Mads Brodt

A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley, PhD

How I choose to link the books I share. A sort of linking manifesto.

Work & Projects & Stuff

Last month I talked about that coding bootcamp I was registered to do. As excited as I was, I decided to cancel. It’s not that I’m done with learning to code. Far from it. I got a lot of advice and feedback from senior developers who suggested that teaching myself would be a better way to go. I’m motivated to learn, so I don’t need that from a bootcamp. There’s also a very helpful dev community online, so if I get stuck I can get help. Right now I’m focusing on JavaScript.

I’ve been writing for Puttylike Media for about seven months and it’s been awesome. Last week, I landed a new writing gig that’s starting very soon. More details on that after I actually get started. I don’t want to jinx it.

Now that our youngest is vaccinated, we’re going to start getting him into more unschooling groups and doing some day trips around Southern California. It’s still kinda hot outside, so we have to plan carefully to avoid melting.

Speaking of our youngest, I also created an online computer course for him. I want to teach him how to use the computer beyond Minecraft and Photoshop, to really understand how it works and how to maintain it. It’s only getting started, but you can sneak a peek at hello-computer.club.

Of course, I’m still creating my paper zines and sharing them with the world. If you’d like to get it, you can sign up on my zine page.

Quote of the Moment

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” — Mel Brooks

Mood: peet-SUH. luh-ZA-ña

Coding Journey Update

I first started learning to code in grade school – which is not that strange these days but in 1982 it was pretty groundbreaking. I wrote more about that on my dj-codes site.

I started coding again in the early days of the web. I created sites from scratch and tinkered with HTML wherever I could. I didn’t really do much more, except for adding some ActionScript to my Flash animations (another relic of a bygone era).

After I started using WordPress to build websites around 2009, I didn’t really move beyond HTML tinkering. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I always thought I would go back to learning to code so I could create applications or make robots move. Someday…

Last year, I decided to start learning to code again for real. Partly because I’m just a geek and partly because as a software developer, I can build really cool things that may actually be fun or useful. I would also make a lot more money than in any of my current freelance gigs or screen printing business. And of course, I just like to learn new things.

So far I’ve been learning on my own through Udemy courses, YouTube, books and other developers who know more than I do. It’s slower to learn that way, but I think I’m getting more depth of knowledge than if I did a quick-start bootcamp kind of thing. Nothing against bootcamps, I just know how I learn best.

I’m going to start documenting my journey into coding here and I may also start a YouTube channel. I’ll try to stay more on the journey side and less on the code side. I don’t want your eyes to glaze over in case you operate heavy machinery while you read my posts.

The last six months has been really fun. I’ve loved every minute of my learning, even if sometimes it makes me want to scream (looking at you, PHP). I’m learning to fail more often and pick myself up more quickly. I don’t really have a set deadline for when I’m supposed to be “done,” I’m not thinking of it that way. I’m just doing what I can, as much as I can and building projects that might be fun and useful.

Earlier this week, I got my certificate in Responsive Web Design. It represents about 300 hours of course work in HTML and CSS. Now I’m moving onto JavaScript, where the rubber meets the road.

Free code camp certificate

I hope you’ll follow my journey. I need all the encouragement I can get. And if you’re on a similar journey, I’d love to hear about it.

Get off my lawn

A pair of feet jumping off a lush, green lawn. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon.

Phsst-phsst-phsst-phsst-phsst-phsst-phsst-phsst…

On one of my morning walks in our suburban Los Angeles neighborhood, I took a detour around a home where a mass of sprinklers was dousing the lawn in little arcs. The lawn was green, lush and beautiful. If I played golf, I probably would have been tempted to tee up. Instead, I skirted the yard and went into the street to avoid getting my ankles splashed and my feet wet. Puddles formed on the sidewalk and the excess water not soaked up by the grass and dirt ran down the street in little streams.

Rather than pause to revel in the splendorous high pile of Kentucky blue grass, I thought about the fact that Southern California is in the middle of another drought year. As I watched the water run down the gutter, I imagined how much of it could have been used for drinking, cooking or bathing. Like the two expensive SUVs parked in the driveway, the lawn seemed like just another upper middle class trophy. Look! the lawn seemed to boast, they are doing so well they can even let their water run down the street!

Don’t get me wrong, I love grass. I love trees and thick, green forests. I grew up partially in the midwest, where lawns were ubiquitous. Unlike in the Southwestern desert, they didn’t need much tending to keep them going. They got plenty of rain and shade from the tall, mature trees in the neighborhood. It was a rare occurrence for my parents to put out the sprinkler on a scorching summer day to water the yellowing patches in the yard. For us kids, running through the sprinklers was an exciting rite of passage, a signal that school was still months away. It was also likely defeating the purpose as we trampled the grass on every pass. Somehow it always grew back anyway.

When I was ten, we moved from Chicago to Phoenix and I was full of questions. If it’s a desert, where will we get water? Will we have water? What if we run out? My vision of the desert at the time was taken from old TV and movies, where someone was always dying of thirst or covered in dust. I was surprised and relieved to find that our new home was in a suburb not unlike the one we just left. We had showers, sinks, toilets, running water and eventually even a pool. We were going to be okay.

Our yard, however, was a completely different story. It was covered in little rocks. There was a small tree and some bushes, but the ground cover was definitely not play-friendly. In fact, we were lectured not to ever walk or run through the yard because we would disturb the black plastic sheeting underneath that was keeping the weeds from growing. Because I was bad at listening, or following rules, or maybe just because I was ten, one of my favorite pastimes was running at full speed and seeing if I could clear the bush in the middle of the yard. Once my activity was discovered, I was given the job of pulling the weeds that were now popping up all over the place. If pulling weeds out of grass is annoying, digging your knuckles into sharp rocks is torturous.

A house in suburban Phoenix with rocks in the front yard.
A recent photo of the house where I grew up in suburban Phoenix. It looked almost exactly like this in 1980.

It didn’t take long for me to stop worrying about where our water came from. I splashed around in our pool without a care of water sources. I was satisfied after I learned that we had plenty of water because it was piped in from the Salt and Verde rivers, as well as the Colorado River. Plenty!

That’s still the case today. Phoenix largely gets its water from outside sources. Similarly, Los Angeles gets the majority of its water from the Owens River Valley, which in turn depends on snow melt from the Sierra Nevadas. If there’s little to no snow pack in the winter, there’s a drought in the spring and summer.

These systems worked okay when there weren’t almost 4 million people needing fresh water. It’s getting increasingly hard to serve such a huge (and growing) population. It’s fascinating to me that a majority of people seem to live as if the supply is endless. I don’t know if it’s willful ignorance or a genuine misunderstanding of the environment in which we live. It’s also both amusing and maddening that we blame avocado and almond crops for greedily sucking up all the water, when my own observations have shown me:

  1. Several cars waiting in line at the local car wash, all of them without a speck of dirt
  2. The aforementioned over watering and maintenance of golf-course level lawns
  3. The massively wasteful animal agriculture industry. If you’ve ever driven on I-5 through central California and held your nose for several miles, that’s what you smelled. But sure, almonds are evil.
  4. Overshowering, when George Carlin’s “four key areas” method works just fine.

Aside from just being cranky about the water waste from lawn maintenance, I am fascinated by the fact that in spite of all the gorgeous green carpet I see in our neighborhood, I notice one odd thing. I never see anyone actually using the lawn. No one ever sits on them, naps on them, or plays on them. They are purely decorative.

When we moved into our current home, the lawn had been very carefully built and maintained so as to attract renters like us. I admit that it worked. However, my just-spent-four-years-in-Oregon sensibility changed when I realized how much water we were losing every time the sprinklers came on. We slowly dialed it back until our landlord started complaining about how some of the grass was dying. To appease him, we dialed it back up until we started noticing mushrooms growing in the yard. So back down it went. We wondered how the trees and bushes could thrive without much water, but the grass could not. Our neighbors have beautiful rose bushes and other plants but they never water their yard at all. I started looking at my favorite yards, the ones with dirt and colorful desert plants, and decided that was really the way to go. Over the years our landlord has softened on the grass issue. We water the plants in the front yard with a hose a couple times per week, but I even wonder if maybe they’re getting enough water from the ground anyway.

Sometimes I miss the “accidental” green lawns of Germany, Chicago, or Oregon. I also miss the desert of Arizona. When I think about missing those things, I realize that what I miss is experiencing them for exactly what they are. I’m starting to understand what I used to hear people say about Los Angeles being fake. It’s not the people and it’s not Hollywood. It’s the day-to-day manufacturing of a different environment instead of experiencing the one we’re in at the moment.

Jooleye

Reading until my eyes are bleeding:

Face: one square foot of skin, Justine Bateman

What Do You Care What Other People Think?, Richard Feynman

Permanent Record, Edward Snowden

Rapture of the Nerds, Corey Doctorow and Charles Stross

How I choose to link the books I share. A sort of linking manifesto.

Work & Projects & Stuff

As part of my journey to learn to code, I signed up for a Backend, SQL and DevOps with Python Bootcamp that starts in September (can we start sooner, please?). The more I’m learning, the more I realize that I love working on the back end of developing applications. I still enjoy working on front end web dev, like WordPress, but my ultimate goal is to work for NASA’s JPL. I think this is a really solid first step. And yeah, being a back end developer is kinda funny. Technically, isn’t a personal trainer a back end developer?

Speaking of coding, I created a cute little AppleScript app that reminds you to get up and move every 40 minutes. It’s called (appropriately, I think) Get Up. If you want to try it, you can download the app for free. Just unzip it and double-click it like any other app. Psst: it only works on MacOS.

My world in July is really focused on learning responsive web design and digging into WordPress PHP. However, I’m still creating my paper zines and sharing them with the world. If you’d like to get it, you can sign up on my zine page.

Quote of the Moment

“When I die, I want to die like my grandfather, who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.” — Will Rogers

Mood: Brass in Pocket

How I choose to link my reading list

If you’ve ever checked out my Now page, you’ve seen my monthly reading list. Sometimes everything changes and other times it looks like I take months to read the same book. That’s because sometimes it does. Sometimes I give up on a book that’s not really happening for me. No guilt. I read for pleasure, mostly, so if it’s not pleasing, why torture myself?

In fact, I think kids should be allowed to be more honest about the literature in their school curriculum, rather than be trained to believe that just because someone like Twain or Hemingway wrote it, it’s automatically good or entertaining (I love both authors, by the way). While it can be good to understand why society as a whole has declared a book to be great literature, it’s not necessary to agree.

I list almost everything I’m currently reading, even if I’m not really getting into it. So if you see something on my list and are curious what I thought about it, you can check out my Goodreads page. It probably needs updating, so you can also just ask me.

I like to link to the books I’m reading. I’m just nice that way. Most of the time I link to books in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Mostly because I live here, but also because I believe that our local libraries are one of the most important public institutions we have. I grew up in the library, my wife and our kids grew up in the library. It’s an amazing, free resource. I want to see more people taking advantage of them.

While I love our library, I do also like to buy books and keep them in my own collection, or give them as gifts. For books to be bought, it’s probably easiest to link to them on Amazon. That way, almost anyone, almost anywhere in the world can find the book quickly and buy it on the spot.

I’m not going to do that. I have two reasons:

  1. I don’t think things always need to be so easy. Yes, you can get a book delivered to your home or office sometimes the same day. But when you consider the cost of the human and environmental resources it takes to make that happen, it’s a luxury that we can easily do without. Sure, I order things from Amazon, I won’t lie. But usually it’s something that I can’t get locally very easily without driving all over town – another waste of resources.
  2. I want to support small, local bookstores. I think the days of the behemoth bookstore are going to be over soon – because… Amazon – and I want to see small, independently-owned shops become the go-to source for book-buying. Many times I link to Skylight Books here in L.A., but if you have a local bookstore you love just let me know and I’ll link to it when I can.

That’s about it. That’s my great linking manifesto. I love sharing what I’m reading here and I hope you find some juicy books to check out. If you have some to share, get in touch. I always love to hear about new (or old) titles!

Jooon

Reading until my eyes are bleeding:

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford

True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer

Simply Scheme: Introducing Computer Science, Brian Harvey and Matthew Wright

Black Holes and Baby Universes, Steven Hawking

Work & Projects & Stuff

Jenni and I are thinking about making our front yard more sustainable with desert plants. When we moved in here, it was a golf course-type lawn, but over the years we’ve seen the exorbitant costs involved in keeping that up. It also seems silly since we live in a desert. We’ll transplant some lavender and rosemary from other areas of our yard and maybe find some cool desert plants that don’t need much water. I also love the idea of having useful plants around. We use the rosemary in food, the lavender and aloe for hair and skin stuff.

My movie catalog web app is a couple sneezes away from becoming reality! I’m not sure what involuntary nasal excretions have to do with movies, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that. I’m using PHP to connect to a simple MySQL database. I want to make it easy for us to find the movies we already own, see what we haven’t watched, if it’s a DVD or on our shared drive. I’ve completed Phase II, which is creating user account and sessions using cookies. Yay!

In case you missed it above, I’m studying computer science on my own. It’s funny because I already know 4 programming languages. I’m just really interested in stepping back in time and relearning some of the stuff I messed around with in the ’80s. I think that becoming a better programmer involves learning about all aspects of data science and computing, not just the structure and syntax of a particular language. I even borrowed my son’s LEGO EV3 brick to test out and learn Python. Fun. For me, anyway. I know, you probably skipped to the B-52s video a few sentences ago.

Quote of the Moment

“I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.” — Michael Scott

Mood: Lobster