I’ve been with ElectNext for a little over a year, and this past week was only the third time since I started that everyone in the company was in the same place, and the first time that it was for more than a day. There are currently 7 of us, roughly equally divided between New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. So a typical workday entails a good amount of time in Google Hangouts, which is a great tool for keeping a distributed time on the same page. But there are a couple things for which there is no substitute for spending time in person: one is building team relationships (here’s a great article on building distributed Agile teams), and the other is brainstorming around challenging problems. As good as Hangout is, and tools like RealtimeBoard, there’s still no substitute for a team putting their heads together in person around a whiteboard or big easel pad.
We rented a 4 bedroom/7 bed house on the north side of Lake Tahoe, right across the street from the lake. This was a workation, which means we put in at least as much work time as usual. But we also enjoyed our evenings and our surroundings. We each had a turn preparing dinner, and sat down most nights around 8:30 to eat, staying at the table until late into the night. And we took the day off on Friday for a hike up to one of Maggie’s Peaks.
Click the album cover below to see more great pictures!
Spring is conference season, and I’ve given four presentations in the past for weeks: two in Philadelphia, one in Nashville, and one in Washington DC. Each presentation was different, and I did most of the preparation outside of my regular work hours, so I’m looking forward to not doing any more presentations for a while
I already wrote about the first presentation – Knowledge Slam, and a few days after that I headed to Nashville for their 2nd annual WordCamp. I also presented at the first one last year, which was my first time in Nashville. For both trips I was there for only a couple days, but I was able to get out and see some of the city each time, and I have to say it’s a great place. It’s a small, clean city, with very friendly people, and has culture and arts you’d normally find only in a bigger city… as long as you like country music.
My friend Caryn from grad school lives there now, and after I arrived Friday evening, I headed to the Station Inn to meet her, and see a show by Eric Brace and Peter Cooper. I’d never heard of them before, but Caryn was a fan, and after hearing the first song, so was I. Here’s a version of that song – “Ancient History” – that they recorded for Couch by Couchwest:
…If you liked that, I recommend the album.
The WordCamp was great. It had 3 tracks scheduled – one for beginners, one for users, and one for developers (a 4th was actually added on the fly, to accommodate the variety of skill levels in the beginner track). I spent the day in the developers’ track. Something I was excited to see in several of the presentations was a wider focus, showing WordPress as part of a broader ecosystem of development tools, as opposed to being the only tool in a developer’s toolkit. This came across especially in the talk about using WordPress in an enterprise software environment (unfortunately there is no information about this talk online), and Nathaniel Schweinberg’s talk on debugging strategies (many of which apply beyond WordPress).
My Clean Code talk was scheduled between those two, which was perfect, as the 10 techniques I presented are ones which you can apply to any software development project, not just WordPress. My talk went really well, with lots of good questions at the end. We even went over our scheduled time (normally that’s not allowed, but I was right before lunch, so it didn’t take away from anyone else’s speaking time). Here are some of the tweets people made during my talk:
Here are my slides, as well as the recording of my talk I made with my Flip camera (a professionally recorded version should be available on wordpress.tv sometime in the next few weeks)
After living near Philadelphia for 10 years, we decided it was finally time to visit Gettysburg. The boys are on Spring break, so I decided to take some vacation time (for the first time since last summer). We took our time getting there and arrived in the late afternoon, which turned out to be great, as we didn’t have to fight any crowds to get into the Cyclorama. The next morning we went through the museum. My favorite part were the derisive press responses to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (see my picture) – greatness is often found only through a historical perspective.
Then we bought an audio tour CD for our drive through the battlefield. This is a 2-3 hour experience, and I was worried Eidan would be bored, so before heading out we bought him a toy musket rifle at the gift shop. This made the tour an exciting adventure for him, as he got out of the car to pick off the other tourists at each stop we made.
One thing that stood out for me was that the guidebooks and audio tour talked about the strategic importance of various ridges and other high ground. So I was expecting some impressive hills, but with the exception of the two “round tops” these locations were all just very mild slopes. I was amazed at what a difference it made to occupy even just slightly higher ground.
The highlight of the trip for Eidan was his many hours spent in the hotel pool. For me it was dinner with the family at La Bella Italia. The place looks like an Olive Garden from the outside, but – speaking as someone who grew up eating Italian food – I can say my shrimp diablo was excellent. Two bottles of Lancaster Brewery’s Strawberry Wheat beer didn’t hurt my disposition either
We passed the Harley-Davidson factory in York on the way there, and figured we’d stop for a factory tour on the way back, but we belatedly discovered they don’t have tours on the weekends. We’ll catch it next time!
Last week I took my third trip to San Francisco since I started working with ElectNext in the Fall. Now that I’m back home, jet lag is keeping me up, so you get to hear all about it.
It was another busy week working side by side with Mertonium in the Code for America office. Maria was in Japan at the same time, leading a group of Villanova students. My mother was kind enough to come out to watch the boys while we were gone. Having someone else taking care of them for a week meant they were exposed to some new, yet everyday things. Who knew – Kai likes cranberry juice, and Eidan experienced his first batch of home-made jello. I never thought about it before, but a big, shimmering, jiggling bowl full of it is an entirely different experience than the tiny store-bought cups he’s used to. He reportedly announced in amazement, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
On my previous trips I’ve been able to stay for a weekend to visit friends, but I couldn’t stay that long this time. I did get a few hours in San Mateo when I arrived last Sunday afternoon though, with my friend Lynda and her son Grant. That’s where we used to live, and it was my first time back there in about 8 years. It brought back a lot of memories. I was delighted that my favorite restaurant was still in business, so we had a tasty, home-style Japanese lunch at Hotaru. It was a warm and sunny day, which was a welcome break from the perpetual gray and chill of Philadelphia this winter, so we strolled through downtown and visited the park.
Another highlight of the trip was seeing the Bay Bridge lights the night after they were inaugurated (unfortunately it was raining on the first night). Check out my video on the right. The only negative aspect of the trip was my coming down with a cold on Thursday, which was bad enough I had to cancel plans with my friend Paul that night. I’m not over it yet, and being up late with jet lag tonight isn’t going to help…
The ElectNext team has gathered from across the country – Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and San Francisco – to meet in New York City for the week of the election. We stopped by 30 Rock after work today, and as you can see in the pictures, it’s all setup for election night. Our candidate matcher is featured in the NBC News app that’s on the Microsoft Surface tablets that they’re promoting in booths all around the plaza. We also got to meet in person for the first time with the NBC team we worked with online, for getting the candidate matcher on their site.
I arrived Sunday night and I’ll be here through Wednesday. In the parts of Manhattan I’ve seen so far, there’s hardly any sign of Hurricane Sandy’s damage, but many surrounding areas are still suffering.
Update 11/7: here are a couple pictures from last night. ElectNext hosted an election night party at the General Assembly coworking space that we work out of.
We’ve visited Maria’s sister Yoko and her husband James several times in Denver over the years, and it has become one of my favorite cities. Visiting with kids, it can’t be beat – the many skate parks are amazing, the Elitch Gardens theme park and Water World are right in town, and the Arvada Apex Center, with it’s skate park and indoor water park, is probably the nicest public facility I’ve ever seen in the United States. Part of the reason the parks and related facilities are so nice is that they get money from the Colorado state lottery. There’s plenty for adults too – the bars and restaurants downtown are great (my favorite is the retro arcade bar 1UP), the Denver Cruisers are fun to watch on Wednesday nights, and the Denver Rockies play right downtown in Coors Field, a stadium which is much more impressive then the team’s record.
We visited for two weeks, and the boys spent one week in skate camp, which also included time at the Apex Center water park (the video at that link gives you a glimpse of one of the skate parks). Yoko and James were great hosts, taking us and the boys all around town, not to mention giving Maria and I a couple nights out while they watched the boys. James took me out to a shooting range, for my first experience firing a gun (by the end of the session I was a pretty good shot), and they hosted a great 4th of July party at their house. The highlight for Kai was spending most of a weekend in the garage with James, building his Captain America light-up sign that I wrote about last week. For Eidan I think he was simply thrilled to be in a house where there were twice as many adults, all giving him some significant portion of their attention every day. For Maria and I it was a very rare extended reduction in our parenting duties – with Yoko and James to help with the kids, we could do things like wander into a bar and see a band, just walk around town together, and other ordinary things like that, which become extraordinary when you have kids.
If you want to see more pictures, click the album thumbnail below:
We’ve been in Denver for almost two weeks, visiting Maria’s sister Yoko and her husband James. I have Post to Post Links II error: Unrecognized type: cat_slug about the trip so far, but haven’t had a chance to blog anything in detail yet. So I’ll start with the project James and Kai worked on most of yesterday and finished this morning: making a Captain America light up sign out of sheet metal (his WWII shield). James has made other light-up signs before, using different designs, so he’s experienced in the craft of making these.
Kai drew the initial design on a large piece of sheet metal, tracing a projected image. Then the division of labor between them for most of the first day was Kai outlining and cutting pieces of sheet metal, and James welding. The stars were a bit tricky, since they are small. James had to weld them individually first, and then attach each star to the shield. They finished the welding yesterday. This morning Kai degreased the shield, and then we did the spray painting (I say “we” because this is the one place I jumped into the uncle-nephew bonding: I painted some cars in my teenage motorhead days, so I helped with the hard to reach corners of the blue top section). Then Kai and James finished the project by modifying a set of Christmas lights and wiring them into the shield.
Now we just need to figure out whether to ship it back to Philly, or see if we can package it and take it home on our flight as checked baggage.
I’ve traveled coast-to-coast across the US 4 times, but until this past weekend I had never been in the South (except for a brief visit to UVA many years ago). I was in Nashville for only 48 hours, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The first thing I noticed was how kind and polite everyone is. The driver of my shuttle bus from the airport pointed out all the sights as we drove into town, and he seemed genuinely interested in what everyone on the bus was planning to do that weekend. I spent the day on Friday with my friend Caryn, who I hadn’t seen since we finished grad school 16 years ago. She showed me around town, and it was great to catch up.
This was Nashville’s first WordCamp. The organizers did a great job pulling it together, and they clearly had a lot of local talent to draw upon for their speakers. Coming from Philly, I think I was the only Yankee among the speakers – I felt honored to be included (Nacin, coming from DC, is a borderline case ).
I was in the developers’ track all day. The first two sessions were design focused, and here’s an excellent summary of both presentations. They were followed by the Otto and Nacin show. They are both deeply involved in the development of WordPress, and they gave a preview of features in WordPress 3.4. Their talk was the most popular of the day in the developers’ track.
I was up next after lunch, and my talk went well. It was an advanced topic (dependency injection) so I drew a smaller crowd. But I got some good questions towards the end, and some good tweets:
Here is a non-technical summary of my talk.
Russell Fair wrapped up the day, and he did a great job of sharing his experiences using LESS with WordPress.
I didn’t get to see Joel Norris’ WordPress bootcamp presentation, but from what everyone was saying, I believe he gets the prize for having the most popular session. He stayed in character as a drill sergeant for almost the entire session. And he was in costume – here’s a photo.
The speakers dinner and the after party were both a lot of fun. I learned a lot chatting with Otto and Nacin, made some new friends, and my friend Caryn was able to come too, so it was a great evening.
No photos found for specified shortcode
No photos found for specified shortcode
Our original plan for Kai’s spring break was a family vacation in San Diego, as the International Studies Association conference was at the same time, and Maria was planning to attend it. Then WordCamp San Diego came up for me, the week before Maria’s conference. We decided to stick with our original plan, but I would go to San Diego alone first, for WordCamp, and then I’d spend the week in between visiting old friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. Maria sometimes leaves me with the boys for 2 or 3 days when she has conferences, so it was my turn
When I flew into San Francisco from San Diego and hopped on BART, I had an almost overwhelming feeling that I was home. We moved away almost 9 years ago, so the Philly area is home now, but it has never felt like home. Philly has an attitude that I do appreciate – summed up nicely in the t-shirt “I’m not angry, I’m from Philly”. But it’s not who I am. Perhaps someday we’ll move back to California, but not anytime soon. Where we live now, we have a nice home with a yard, in a neighborhood where the boys can play in the street, with good schools, and easy access to public transportation: that would cost well over a $1 million in the Bay Area.
I was in the Bay Area for four days and squeezed in visits with six friends. I spent a couple nights with my aunt Tisha in San Francisco, where she’s lived in the same rent controlled apartment since 1972, much to the chagrin of her landlord. I also spent a couple nights with Maria’s friend from college, Sarah. My favorite feature of her place is the 1950s era, incredibly dangerous heater which one could easily mistake for a flame thrower. She calls it the cat emblazinator, as it set her cat’s tail on fire once. I fit in visits with Paul, Hilary, and Lynda – my friends from college at UC-Santa Cruz – and Stewart, who I worked with in the .com days. It was my first time seeing them for many years, but I hope to make it back to the Bay Area more often to see them again – WordCamp San Francisco will be a good excuse!
Next on the itenaray was a flight to LA, for a one day visit. I stayed with my childhood friend Aaron and his girlfriend Jessica. After a fun night out in LA, they drove me back to San Diego the next day to meet up with Maria and the boys. Seeing Aaron again brought back a flood a memories from my high school years (most of them good!). Maria was busy with her conference on their first day, so Aaron, Jessica and I spent the day with the boys in Balboa park. After that I spent the rest of the week with Maria and the boys in San Diego, which I’ll write about next!
No photos found for specified shortcode
If you might like a movie that is equal parts…
- Memento: but instead of the story unfolding in reverse, it unfolds in a completely jumbled sequence, going from 2012, to 1982, to 2009, to 1975, and then back to 2012. If you’re like me and you enjoy a movie that calls for your active mental participation, and you appreciate the movie maker’s attention to detail in making all the threads of a story mesh together, then this won’t be a problem for you.
- Anvil! The Story of Anvil: except instead of a story about a briefly famous band that falls into obscurity, the band in this story, Gekirin, goes from obscurity to oblivion. They write a punk song in 1975 that is ahead of its time, that almost no one appreciates, but ultimately is the key to saving the world (yes, punk rock can save the world, and fortunately, they actually wrote a great track for the movie).
- Armageddon: in 2012, the destruction of life on earth by asteroid is imminent. Last ditch attempts to save humanity, involving space ships and nuclear warheads, are involved. If you’re wondering what a forgotten punk rock song from the 70s has to do with saving the earth from an asteroid 37 years later, well you’ll just have to watch the movie!
- The Karate Kid and Power Rangers: a young man who isn’t sure why his father forced him to endlessly practice martial arts as a child finally finds his purpose.
- High Fidelity: the cool record store owner in this movie has the same encyclopedic knowledge of music as John Cusack’s character, but his sadness does not come from girl troubles.
- If You Give a Pig a Pancake: (which is a children’s book, not a movie) after watching Fish Story, Maria was talking about causality, conditionality, and contingicies, but all I could think of was this book. Each step in the story makes sense by itself, but they all add up to a crazy spectrum of events.
…then you will enjoy Fish Story. It’s available on Netflix streaming. There’s also a doomsday cult, a bitter old man, a brilliant mathematician, a hostage situation, and a love story, but I ran out of movie analogies. I encourage you to not read any plot summaries before watching it – a lot of the fun is watching the story unfold, as it definitely does not follow a predictable plot line. But I will share with you a bit of the review from Lost Turnable, which explains what makes it a good movie:
Although the idea of Fish Story is more than a little silly, its conceit is not. At its heart, Fish Story is about how music can connect with people and change their lives in unexpected and amazing ways. It shows how music can give us courage and hope, and challenge us to make ourselves and those around us better. It shows how a song, a stupid little song that almost no one in the world knows about, can drastically affect and change for the better the lives of people who have never even heard it. And when you think of it like that, it’s not hard to imagine that a song could, somehow, actually save the world someday.
Unlike modern American movie trailers that summarize the whole movie for you, the Japanese trailer for it gives you a sense of the movie without giving away the story (with subtitles).