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Posts from the ‘Personal’ Category

2
Apr

The Joke That Made Me Laugh The Most Yesterday

From a newsgroup, posted anonymously and slightly paraphrased here.

WARNING: May only be funny to developers and other creative types. :)

Hey everybody, I’m a student over at the business school. I have a great idea for a novel and am looking for an author to write it for me. If anyone is interested let me know.

I don’t have any money right now, but I’ll give you some equity. Looking for someone with at least a Masters in English, preferably a Ph.D.

It’s a great opportunity and will really help build your resume. If you’re interested please contact me, and we can set up a time to meet in the library. After signing an NDA, I’ll share my idea with you.

I’ve already talked to a couple of my teachers and they think it’s a great idea.

21
Jan

Sudden Moment of Certainty

Matt Gemmell is switching careers. For years, he’s had a job programming and a hobby writing. Those will now be reversed. He’s feeling excited, nervous, and—my favorite part—alive.

I need to come back to fear at some point, but today I couldn’t stop thinking about this comment:

It’s a big gamble, but I walked into my office last Monday morning for my first full week of exclusively writing, I opened the blinds, and I felt something I’ve only felt one other time in my life: this is right. The last time I had that certainty, my next words were “I do”, and my fiancée became my wife.

I know exactly how that feels. There have been four times in my life when I’ve had that sudden clarity of thought, when I knew the right answer with complete confidence. They are rare, exhilarating moments that have occurred after spending time in deep thought or wrestling with a major decision over a period of weeks or even years.

I’ve found that the feelings of certainty don’t last. And doubts can begin to creep in almost immediately. But when I keep the memory of that moment alive, and trust myself to continue despite doubt and fear, it has given me the courage to move forward, commit, make a change, and keep going.

The artist Jordan Voigt mentions these moments of certainty too:

Sometimes it happens almost incidentally and you suddenly realize: I’ve got it! As soon as this moment of certainty is there, sometimes I can work for four or five months at a time on a single subject – and it’s a continuous flow. But I can also wait four to five months or longer for this moment to arrive!

I didn’t know what to call that feeling. Defining moment seems too general because those can be caused by external events happening to you. This seems more personal, the result of some internal process or effort.

Thinking about it again, I had a sudden flash of insight (of course) into what to call it:

Sudden moment of certainty (noun)
A point in time when you realize, with perfect confidence, that an idea is true or a choice is right.

I don’t know if it will catch on. I don’t know that it needs to. Good enough that I now have words to identify such a sublime and catalytic event.

18
Oct

Kestrel — A Choosable Path Novel for Young Adults

Just over a year ago, I wrote about the interactive fiction fantasy book app I was working on. After much work by many people, we released it just a few weeks ago. It’s free, for iPad-only (so far). Please check it out and let me know what you think.

Kestrel is a choosable path story or novel for young adults where you make choices in behalf of the main character, altering how the story unfolds.

You get to decide where Kestrel goes, who she trusts, and how she reacts to the events around her. Depending on your choices, she can end up on either side of the conflict or weave a path along the middle.

Growing up on a farm where she can see the city lights at night, Kestrel dreams of a better future. One without cows. But in a world where two forces of magic are about to collide, Kestrel is about to be caught up in something that will change her world forever. And she may be the deciding factor.

The app currently has just one chapter. Each new chapter will be published as it becomes available. You will be able to buy each new chapter, or the whole book (and all future chapters) for a great discount until the book is complete.

Version 1.2 was just released today. It fixes a few more problems, including one occasional crash bug.

▸ Fixed another issue where the app could crash when tapping the next button at the top of the app.
▸ Increased the font size a bit when the device is in portrait orientation.
▸ Added a request for ratings, but hopefully in a way that isn’t annoying. If you’re annoyed, let me know. :)

21
Mar

Moving Away From FeedBurner

Just a quick note. I’ve been using FeedBurner to handle my RSS feed. If you are subscribed to my blog using RSS, you will need to resubscribe to the new address. I apologize for asking you to do this, but it looks like FeedBurner may be shutting down soon. Thanks!

10
Oct

Information on the Internet Lives Forever

I bought a mattress a while back and a bad experience with one of the products I purchased. The company handled the return much more gracefully that I was expecting. As I wrote up my experiences with the whole mattress buying experience, I mentioned my mixed experience and moved on. I didn’t think much more about it.

Until the owner of the store called me. We were both a little tense. I was worried about threats and lawsuits, and he was worried I’d be a jerk. He was losing some business from people who’d read my article. Yay for blogger justice! But his concern was correct because information lives forever on the Internet.

He could have fixed the problem, or switched to a new supplier, or discontinued that product, or even gone out of business, and my article would remain. I’m glad he called. He was nice, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to keep my article current.

Information on the Internet lives forever. Unless you want to find something cool you know you read several years ago, of course. Then it’s probably gone forever. I just try to keep up.

11
Sep

My Best Stuff

You may have noticed the new My Best Stuff section on the side. The articles there either continue to be the most viewed or have generated the best reaction from people who know me. I didn’t think much about it when I was calling it Popular or Recently Popular. Calling it “my best” makes me nervous.

It made me realize that those articles probably do represent my best writings, or at least my most successful. And I wonder if they’re actually any good. No real way to find out, except by forging ahead anyway.

So please don’t hesitate to let me know if I’m wrong about what to include in the list or if you have any comments or suggestions. You can follow me on Twitter here or email me .

I’ll update the list on occasion as I discover which articles resonate with people the best.

4
Sep

My Current Project

A few months ago, two friends asked if I’d be interested in working on a book project with them. Jed is a successful artist and illustrator. Noelle is a brilliant writer and educational designer. They’ve worked together on several projects and wanted a programmer to help design a book app. I said yes before they stopped talking. :)

Here is one of Jed’s early designs:

Story app mock up

It’s an interactive fiction fantasy story app, except that the plot is cohesive and targeted at a young adult audience. In many choosable path books, the endings were often very different from each other. For example, the plot might change from bank robbers to aliens depending on which door you went through. Also you died a lot.

In our story app, you nudge the main character in the direction you want her to go even as the story unfolds around her. The book remembers the choices you make and adjusts the text and artwork as you go along. Noelle is writing the same story more than 20 times and loving it. She’s been planning this story since high school.

A website is coming soon. We’re close to finishing the programming, art and writing for chapter one. Noelle is wrapping up chapter two in a few weeks.

Jed recently completed a successful Kickstarter project for traditional hand-made Japanese woodblock prints of video game characters. It’s kinda cool, so check it out if you’re interested.

6
Jul

Bacon Candy

Picture of finished bacon candy

A delicious recipe for bacon candy from my friend Randy Hall:

  • 1 pound thick-cut bacon
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons favorite BBQ dry rub (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix brown sugar, cayenne, and BBQ rub together in a medium bowl. Place sugar mixture a gallon Ziploc bag. Add bacon and toss. Line a baking sheet with foil, and place a wire rack in the baking sheet. Lay the strips of bacon on the rack. Pat any remaining sugar mixture on the bacon. Put the baking sheet on the top rack of the oven and bake until crisp, about 20-25 minutes, turning once halfway through (re-coat with any additional sugar when turning if you want even more candy coating). When the bacon reaches desired crispiness, remove from the oven to a serving dish and let cool slightly before serving.

It’s a super simple recipe. The only real gotcha is finding the fine line between nice crispy bacon and black burnt sugary mess. Check it often at the end. It is delicious.

5
Jun

Are You Buying A Mattress?

UPDATED 15 Mar 2017

Buying a mattress is a terrible experience. A mattress is something we buy only rarely. So each time we head out shopping, we’re unfamiliar with the current trends in mattress technology, comfort and safety. Like many other manufacturers, mattress makers often try to save money by using low quality materials or construction methods, especially on the inside where it’s hard to see. A month ago, my wife and I bought a bigger bed and needed to replace our mattress. Here is what I discovered.

Mattresses are often made from materials that can be politely described only as unnatural. Over time, they can break down, wear out, give off potentially harmful gasses and quickly become uncomfortable. If you have allergies or are sensitive to smells, noises or motion transfer, buying the wrong mattress could lead to years of difficulty getting a good night’s rest.

Mattress Type

I spent way too much time reading, searching and researching on the Internet. I ruled out foam because of off-gassing, odor and durability. Innerspring mattresses are bad at preventing motion transfer, even the ones with separately wrapped coils (which is what we’ve been sleeping on for the last few years). While there are many mattress that use a combination of materials, a solid latex mattress seems like the best option.

Latex is the tree sap from which rubber is made. A latex mattress is made from natural rubber foam molded into shape using one of two processes: dunlop or talalay (see here also). Dunlop is older, while Talalay produces a slightly finer and more even foam. Synthetic latex is also used in mattresses. A “blended” latex mattress is a mix of natural and synthetic latex. If you have a latex allergy, you’ll want a synthetic mattress. If not, natural latex seems to last longer.

Firmness

Latex mattresses are most often composed of several layers of latex stacked on top of one other, encased in a cover. Latex layers (and toppers) are made by only a few large corporations. You can ask the manufacturer where they get their latex. Latex International seems to be highly regarded.

Latex layers have different levels of firmness measured in ILD (Indentation Load Deflection). Soft latex typically has an ILD of 20-25, while firm latex might be 35-40. The most common arrangement seems to be 3″ of firm latex on the bottom, 3″ of medium latex in the middle and 3″ of soft latex on the top. Another common option is 6″ of firm on the bottom with 2″ of medium or soft on top. Having several 3″ layers with differing firmness gives you the flexibility to rearrange them if desired. For example, moving the soft layer to the middle and putting the medium layer on top gives the mattress a firmer feel without requiring another purchase.

Cover

Most covers (also called ticking) for a latex mattress will have a zipper so you can swap layers or stack them in a different order. The best covers are made from quilted cotton with wool padding. The quilting keeps the padding from bunching up over time.

By law, mattress cover padding must be resistant to fire. Wool is naturally fire-resistant. Other materials, like polyester, must be chemically treated to provide resistance. If you’re going the latex route, especially for health or environmental reasons, it seems best to avoid chemically treated synthetic material in your mattress, all of which can off-gas.

Pad

Getting a mattress pad is important to protect the mattress from spills because latex and most mattress covers are not machine washable. Any pad labeled “waterproof” is going to have a layer of vinyl or plastic, or use a thin coating of polyethylene or polyurethane. Water-resistant pads are available in cotton, cotton-and-polyester and cotton-and-wool varieties. Pads range from 1/4″ to 1.5″ thick.

Foundation

Latex and other foam mattresses do not require box springs. Instead, if extra height is needed, use a mattress foundation. A foundation is basically a wooden box covered by fabric that does not have springs. They vary from 4″ to 10″ in height. Most foundations have wooden slats on top. The gap between slats ranges from 2″ (very good) to 5″ (less so). Too much space between slats allows the mattress to sag and decreases back support and the lifetime of the mattress. The covers for many self-assembled foundations use a drawstring and are open on the bottom.

If you have a box spring that you’d like to continue using, you can put plywood (or something similar) on top to help improve support and stability.

Sheets

Buying high-quality cotton sheets seems easy. The best sheets are woven from single-ply thread made from Supima™ or Egyptian cotton. Thread counts in the range 400-800 are great. Any higher and the sheets start to feel flimsy because of how thin the thread has to be.

Sadly, there have been many cases of manufacturers lying about thread counts or using fabric incorrectly labeled as Egyptian. And make sure your sheets say “100%” or else they may not be. A good return policy is your best defense.

Where To Buy Online

If you are shopping online, there are many places to buy a latex mattress. You can even buy latex layers and a cover separately as a money-saving DIY project. What’s The Best Mattress is a good place to do research. There is a great list of places to start shopping. I looked at PlushBeds, Rocky Mountain Mattress, SleepEZ, Foam By Mail, Foam Sweet Foam, Tranquility Mattress and The Natural Bed Store. Be sure to check the return policies because shipping costs, restocking fees, return periods and warranties all vary.

Interestingly, nearly all of the foundations I found online were re-branded versions of this one. Look for that image as you’re shopping. Alternatives include one by U.S. Box Spring and another by Bed In A Box, which is manufactured by KD Frames. Any foundation from a local store will work too. If you buy locally, you can probably have your old mattress taken away for free.

Here’s What I Did

I decided on a DIY project. I ordered a cotton-and-wool cover and three latex layers from mattresses247 on eBay: one soft, one medium, one firm. Their latex layers are blended “factory seconds” which are new, but have cosmetic defects — like lumpy M&Ms that can’t be sold at retail. The defects are visible, but do not seem to affect the feel of the mattress at all. And saving $1,000 is pretty nice. They have great return policy (30 days, no restocking fees, only pay return shipping). Valerie was responsive and very helpful over email.

I bought the American Hardwood Mattress Foundation from BedInABox. It’s extremely well made and perfectly quiet. The cover is open on the bottom and made from polyester and cotton, which was a little disappointing at first. Polyester doesn’t off-gas much, and I can buy another cover later if I want. The slats have a 3.5″ gap, which seems a little wide considering the price. I nailed using some thin sheets of hard material on top of the slats to try to avoid sagging. But while looking underneath later on, it didn’t seem like the mattress was sinking into the remaining gaps much.

UPDATE Oct 10, 2012: Scott Ravenhorst, owner of Foam Sweet Foam, reached out to me about my experience. I’ve updated my comments here to reflect that.

I ordered my first mattress pad from Foam Sweet Foam. I really liked the quality and construction, but ended up returning it. Foam Sweet Foam has a great return policy and gladly took it back despite the fact I had washed it twice. The owner later read my article and called me about my experience. He confirmed I’d gotten a defective pad and that nearly all of their customers are very happy. If I hadn’t already found an alternative, I would have given them another shot. Foam Sweet Foam takes good care of their customers, which isn’t something that is common on the Internet.

My second pad is a Washable Wool-Filled Fitted Mattress Pad by Natura World from Amazon. I confirmed with Natura that the “Wash N Snuggle” fitted pad is the same product as the “Washable Wool-Filled” fitted pad. We’ve been sleeping on it for a week four months, and I really like it. We aired it out for a day, washed it once, and can’t smell anything.

I ordered two sets of sheets from Costco. They have a great reputation and return policy. While I liked the Charisma Egyptian cotton sheets, I ended up keeping the Kirkland Supima sheets. They are really soft, seem durable and feel great.

Summary

Overall, I’m very happy with my new mattress: latex, hardwood foundation, cotton-and-wool cover and pad, high-quality cotton sheets. It’s true that it takes a while to get used to a new mattress, and it’s only been a week. But I find myself looking forward to laying down at night. It’s too soon to say if I’m sleeping better, but I definitely find myself smiling more.

2 Years Later

It’s been over two years since we purchased our mattress. I thought I’d add a quick footnote on how things are going.

We are still sleeping on our mattress, and it’s held up pretty well. The mattress is sagging a little where we sleep, though not in the middle, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any worse. It’s still really comfortable. My parents house-sat one night and told me later that they thought it was really comfortable.

If I had it to do over again, I would probably not buy my latex on eBay. It wasn’t made by Latex International, and I wonder if that is why it’s not wearing as well as I’d hoped. And if there had been a problem, it would’ve been nearly impossible to return because the latex expands and no longer fits in the box.

The sheets wore out a few months ago, and we’ve replaced them. We sit on our bed a lot at night, and they tore where I sit. They’d gotten pretty thin. The new ones are not as comfortable, but seem sturdier. I’m not sure if I prefer comfort or durability. Next time, I’m going to try to find both. :)

Everything else seems as good as new. My wife sleeps very lightly, often waking up when the kids talk in their sleep. I don’t wake her up at nights on this mattress, which is great. No smells, not much movement, very comfortable.

5 Years Later

Our mattress is starting to sag some. We sometimes fight over the middle. :) However, after a recent trip staying in hotels, we couldn’t wait to get home to our (still) much nicer mattress. When it starts to bother us, I’m planning to just buy replacement latex (or perhaps a full mattress).

12
Dec

Four Stages of the Game

Seth Godin says there are four stages to every “game” that we play in life. These are projects and activities in which we are involved. We even use game-like labels for some of these: the dating game, the corporate ladder, the rat race. I’d never before thought of them directly as games that could be played.

  1. You don’t even realize there’s a game.
  2. You start getting involved and it feels like a matter of life or death.
  3. You realize that it’s a game and you play it with strategy.
  4. You get bored with the game, because you’ve seen it before.

I’ve read Seth’s short article several times and wondered about myself. I’ve started to recognize these stages in the games that I “play” at work and home. Looking back, I see myself mostly in stage two: caring a lot about the outcome and stressing that things aren’t going well.

More recently, I see myself being able to step into stage three at times: not taking things so personally, being willing to change my behavior and conversation to be more effective. Stage three is certainly less stressful.

Occasionally, I’ve hit stage four and moved on. I felt like I’d learned all that I would and lost interest in continuing. Not giving up in frustration. More like losing interest in continuing to do something at which I already excelled.

Mostly, I wish for more than this. I’d love the passion and enthusiasm of stage two with the lower stress of stage three in a game that avoids the boredom of stage four. Marriage and family can be this way. Work has the potential as well, though the nature of corporations seems to work against it at times.