Happy Holidays!

by on Dec.27, 2010, under family, health, home & stuff, money, technology

Clearly I need to improve upon my time management – the fact that I’m writing a Christmas-related post 2 days after the holiday notwithstanding, it has been over 6 weeks since my last post.  I know this without checking because my last post was about my kidney stone removal and I had my 6-week follow-up appointment last week.  I’m fully aware of the negative impact this inconsistency may have on what little audience this site has, and I’ll have to live with it.  This blog is more of a personal journal or online diary than any pertinent subject-matter forum.  And I’m happy with it being so, readers or not.  But for those readers still interested, here is how my holiday season has been panning out.

To be honest, the sprint to Christmas has been mostly a blur with a few incidents of note spattered among a long grind of work and preparations (with any gaps remaining filled with sigh-filled collapsing on the couch/bed/floor).  Since I mentioned my kidney stone, I guess I should touch on it.  After readjusting to not having any foreign objects within or protruding from my body, things have been pretty smooth.  I haven’t had pain in my back since the week after all was removed.  I did my follow-up tests of getting another x-ray and collecting my pee in a jug for a day, and the result seems to be that while there is no longer a big bad stag-horn lurking in my gut, there are numerous tiny candidates waiting in the wings if I don’t make some adjustments.  Luckily for me those adjustments are small and non-dietary in nature – I just need to drink more fluids and take a few supplements (my citrate and magnesium levels are apparently low).  So I have another 6 weeks to follow those instructions before redoing the pee test, getting another x-ray, and taking another hour-long drive to see where things stand (if this becomes an on-going thing, I may need to move).  Unfortunately even these small accommodations have proven to be difficult as my pharmacy has been unable to fill one of my prescriptions for over a week.  Supposedly they should be able to work things out today with my doctor – we’ll see.

Speaking of health matters, my wife has since been on her own medical roller coaster – specifically of the dental variety.  After having numerous visits with a dentist who arguably seemed to be doing a variety of unnecessary procedures in her mouth, she ended up needing extensive work done in her mouth – specifically a few root canals, some new crowns, and at least one possible extraction.  And it seems that despite going back to this guy 4 or 5 times in 2 weeks due to increasing amounts of pain, he seemed to miss the fact that she had multiple abscesses around some of the teeth he had been treating (diagnosed by an endodontist not 2 hours after leaving his office with a diagnosis of ‘I don’t see anything that would be causing such pain’).  After a couple weeks of antibiotics, more methodical work on her problem teeth by the endodontist and a more trustworthy dentist, she is gradually getting to a better state (no thanks to our crappy dental coverage – any work from here to May will be out-of-pocket).

As for the holidays, we seem to have been spoiled both by ourselves and others.  For one, my mother has been especially generous this year (I’m guessing only having one house to pay for has left my parents in a more financially solvent position) – she bought us an early Christmas present (and by early I mean when she visited in October) of a 88-key, fully-weighted electronic keyboard.  With that I expected little else from my parents, but then when my mom came to visit again this month, not only did she have a suitcase full of gifts for all, but on an outing intended for me to finish our shopping agenda she buys us an area rug for our living room.  All I can say is thank you and hope that at some point we’ll have the opportunity to return the favor somehow.

While she is visiting, we get side-swiped by a visit by a long-time family friend (hence the last-minute shopping trip previously noted) who also seems to have found his pockets deep and his funds semi-combustible.  While I know we got him and his sister and niece some decent gifts that they will enjoy, I know that dollar for dollar we ended up and the favorable end of things.  But it isn’t really a contest, and if it were I’d settle for losing because I’ve got bigger bills to pay – literally.

Speaking of which, we somewhat spoiled the kids this year (though surprisingly frugally).  Each of them got 6 big presents and stockings stuffed to the brim – all toys and games that were hot on their wishlists – and all for easily less than $100 a piece.  My wife and I had considerably less spoils under the tree (by design), each with only 2 gifts and modestly filled stockings.  And while the $700 new laptop she got trumps the $50 worth of stuff I ended up with, I ended up with just what I wanted and cannot complain in the least.  Besides, I also now get the gift of not hearing any more complaining about computer problems (at least for a while) – and that is a gift that keeps on giving.

My only complaint that I can offer regarding this holiday season (which I feel is a legitimate complaint, albeit to whom I cannot say) is spending most of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day bowing to the porcelain gods.  I don’t know if it was something I ate or a bug that had been going around, but for about 24 hours – with exception to about an hour where I was able to keep it together enough to watch the kids open gifts – I was in no position to be jolly.  After making it through the kids unwrapping things (which was I believe all complete before 9AM), I spent most of the rest of the day in bed occasionally interrupted by kids fighting over their new toys and games.

But now the holiday is behind us, our living room has mostly recovered from the carnage, and our children are gradually coming down from their candy cane-induced sugar high to resume semi-normal behavior (though now it seems being pent up due to snow is re-contributing to their vigor – luckily they have plenty to entertain them).  And tomorrow I’ll return to the slightly less sophomoric environment of the office and back into the swing of all the things that keep me from finding the time to do things like write on my blog.  I’ve considered using my commuting time to dictate posts, but I fear they would end up even more tangential than usual and much more heavily riddled with expletives.

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My Digital Revolution

by on Jul.14, 2010, under books, technology

As I’ve stated more than once recently, I am now the proud owner of a Nook by Barnes & Noble (great thanks to my parents for the early birthday gift). If you are a regular reader of my blog, you likely know that I have been on a fairly consistent reading kick lately. After wrestling with a few instances of trouble finding a book I intended to read, It only seemed reasonable to consider going digital. And at the current price it is hard to argue against it (though technically in this case my price was free, if I didn’t get it gifted I would likely have bought it myself anyway).

I’ve just finished my first ebook on the Nook and I have to say that I really enjoyed reading as such. There are a number of features I haven’t even fully played with that I intend to explore in the future (such as loading some music on it and playing some tunes while I read). I have a colleague who is all psyched to try out the LendMe feature with me as well as take a lunch to B&N to enjoy some of the perks that come with being a Nook owner (e.g., access to free titles in the store, discounts on food and drinks at the café).  I have also experimented with the text highlighting and annotation features.  I will say that the touch keypad takes a little getting used to for text typing (as is typical to any new handheld device I’ve experienced), but I’m sure I’ll adjust – otherwise I’ve been very happy with the device.  The screen is easy to read, the battery has a long life-span, and navigation is simple and intuitive.

I opted to skip the 3G version as I don’t see a need for constant online access when I only will likely be downloading books as I need them and I have access to WiFi both at work and home.  Though the difficulty of getting onto my work network consistently has made me question this choice at times.  But arguably there are more pressing matters I should be attending to at work anyway (supposedly).  I’ve tested the beta browser on the device and it is sufficient, though a bit slow.  But truly I don’t anticipate spending a lot of time web browsing on the device (though if it were faster and the keyboard easier to use, perhaps I would be able to post my book reviews directly from it).

All in all I am fairly happy with the device and I’m enjoying my reading experiences on it.  If anyone else has one (or gets one) and has books they would like to lend or borrow, feel free to let me know.  So far my library is one 2 books deep, but I’m sure it will expand quickly.

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Travelogue – Vacation Update

by on Jul.04, 2010, under books, technology

Just to be clear, I don’t intend to do daily updates of my vacation events – that would be semi-contrary to enjoying my vacation. Yesterday was an eventful day in leisure. We started by heading to a local swimming hole (a lake nearby that had several swimming beaches) where we enjoyed several hours of swimming, playing in the sand, and picnicking. Then we attempted to go hiking, but due to heat and navigation issues, we gave up after about ten minutes and headed to the mall to watch Toy Story 3 in 3-D. Finally we stopped by Barnes & Noble for an early birthday present – a Nook.

The swimming was fun and went as would have been expected. Cricket spent as long as possible in the water. Grasshopper spent as little time as possible in the water. Gumba (their grandfather) spent the majority of the swimming time fabricating various tall tales for my daughter to consider. Grammy spent little time in the water and mostly sat either in the shade or on the beach playing with my son. The water was as warm as bath water which made the hardest part of the day getting out of the water – despite the air temperature being in the mid-80’s, leaving the water was a chilling affair. Then we enjoyed some sandwiches and chips while we dried off before changing and heading out to eventually arrive at the movies.

Toy Story 3 was much better than I had anticipated. As usual, it tackled the same types of issues typically addressed in this series – themes of loyalty, pride, betrayal, love, and friendship in the face of adversity all masked behind the role of a toy and its relationship to its owner. In this film the struggle came in the form of Andy growing up and going to college, both he and his toys coming to grips with change and learning when to hold onto the past and when to let go of it. I don’t typically find myself emotionally moved by movies (well, except in the forms of excitement or frustration), but this movie moved me to such levels of empathetic joy that I almost started to feel choked up (almost). Of course constantly keeping my son from swinging from the seat or running down the aisle helped keep me grounded.

So finally, the Nook. As is probably obvious by how many books I’ve been reviewing here (and there are several that I read and opted not to review), I’ve been reading a lot of books lately. So I’d been considering going digital with my hobby for a while now. And to my fortune, my parents had also observed my reading affinity and opted to help me achieve my digital goal. Yesterday they sprung for my Nook as well as a nice travel case for it. By the end of the day I’d already setup my account, bought my first ebook, and went to bed having gotten to chapter 7. Now the only outstanding issue is figuring out what other books to download.

There were other events that occurred after the Nook purchase, but they generally blurred together as I was somewhat distracted. Though among those events was my children camping out in Grammy and Gumba’s yard for the night (my wife volunteered to spend the night with them). It seemed to go well – no middle of the night fallout – but they did troop in early this morning at which point they became my problem so that my wife could get a couple hours of rest in a soft, dry bed. So I put on some cartoons, grabbed my Nook, and settled on the couch for a low-key morning (or at least as low-key a morning as is possible with a 3 and 6 year-old).

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Window to the Future

by on Jun.23, 2010, under technology

It seems that I can’t escape them.  I’ve been through my honeymoon phase with Facebook so I’m past the crest of full immersion and on to the phase where I’ve blocked most of the game and app requests so that my news stream looks less like some sort of ticker feed from a bizarre slot machine and more like a list of random status updates and photo posts (which I’ve gotten somewhat out of the habit of reading often anyway).  And yet this morning I found that some have taken to the closed door / open window philosophy to an odd new level.

I was on my way to work, had refueled my wheels and decided that I needed some fuel myself.  So I pulled into 7-Eleven to pick up some form of caffeine-based liquid enrichment.  As I do, in the same spot they normally place their product-promoted Slurpee poster of the moment, I saw something surprising.  It seems that the current promotional cup series for this product features various Facebook games – specifically depicted were Farmville, Yo-ville, and Mafia Wars.

As an aware consumer and one who works and has worked in various levels of marketing-adjacent industries, I like to think that I get on a core level how product placement advertising works and how important demographic targeting can be to marketing success.  It would not have occurred to me to align the users of such niche games as these in an application of fairly broad but still limited reach to the consumers of such products (though in thinking more about it, perhaps it does make a sort of sense).  But typically such cross-product promotion is intended to (a) drive the consumer to buy the immediate product (e.g., get a Slurpee because it has a cool cup) and also (b) drive the consumer to buy into the brand featured (e.g., if they were Iron Man cups, go out and see Iron Man and/or buy other Iron Man merchandise).  In this case, the featured brand is a series of free games that themselves are advertiser-subsidized.  I guess driving customers to consume such products still results in increased revenue for the producer (after all, Google fits a similar paradigm and they advertise), but it seems like a step in a new and unusual direction.

I’m curious where this will proceed.  Should I expect to next see a set of iPhone app-themed coffee mugs (could you imagine the potential of an iFart travel mug)?  Perhaps this is the dawn of a new era of marketing.  Who knows.  The only thing I can know for sure is that even with the best of efforts, Farmville is inescapable.

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Have Funds, Will Travel

by on May.30, 2010, under career, family, money, technology

I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten into a habit of writing nothing but book reviews lately.  That is mostly because I’ve been doing little else but reading in my spare time.  I’m sure there may have been other things to write about in the meantime, but a lot of that writing time I’ve been, well, reading.  So today I will break that trend (and then tomorrow I’ll likely write another book review).

It seems that June is going to be a stressful month in many ways – some positive, some negative, and most of it stemming from a confluence of just a couple of events.  My company is sending me to two conferences that take me in opposite parts of the country.  Also my wife will be managing a farmers’ market launch and juggling a few photo shoots including a wedding.

I’m both excited and nervous about the conferences.  While they will be fun and positive experiences and allow me to see some new sites (one is in SF, the other in NYC), and it is great that the company is willing to pay my way (it seems the worst of the effects of the recent economic downturn have passed – at least for us), but it is a long time to be away from my family and it is a lot of money to spend in a short amount of time between food and lodging.  I don’t envy my wife’s role in this – a 3-year-old and 6 year-old all day every day for 2 weeks without reprieve is a test of anyone’s patience.

Additionally, the second conference will bring the added pleasure of traveling, rooming, and spending most of my time with a colleague who has a rare talent of pushing my buttons (he knows it too).  Professionally, I can respect his talent and appreciate his contributions.  But personally, he can drive me crazy sometimes.  I’d be remiss to say that his affect on me hasn’t had an upside – his insistence on challenging my ideas has drawn me to rethink some and become more confident in others.  And I’d like to think that I’ve helped steer him towards being an improved version of himself (you can never be sure how much is your influence and how much will stick).  But while we’d learned to worked well together, lately we’ve been pushing each other’s buttons more than we intend to and I worry that this conference could bring the straw that breaks one of our backs.  Most likely he will push my buttons, but I’ll roll with it, stew over some of it for a few days after, and then flow back into our regular routine.

Anyway, two weeks of conferences with travel should be fun.  But I know that tensions from my absence from family and/or work will build up.  I’ll likely have to work on both while I’m away.  Still looking forward to it, though.  I just have to remember to pick up some books to read on the planes.

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