The New Thing

There’s lots of change going on in my life right now, and the most visible external indication of that is my job: April 15 was my last day at Creative Commons. I’ll be joining the engineering team at Eventbrite in early May. I’m really excited to be joining Eventbrite, and am really looking forward to seeing what it’s like to work on a consumer web product.

Someday I’ll figure out how to write about why I’m making the move, and why now; for now, it’s the new thing in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.

date:2011-04-18 22:44:05
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Perfection is not an option

My friend Andy, a successful organizational development consultant, moved to Ohio last year to pursue an MFA in playwriting. I spoke to Andy yesterday for the first time in about a month. We talked about his first year play, and he told me about how he’s felt blocked for a few weeks. After an initial reading with actors, he received consistent feedback in one area: he had to decide if he was writing a farce with some serious undertones, or a serious piece with some moments of light. Andy told me that this weekend he finally gave up trying to have it both ways, made a decision, found himself unblocked creatively, and spent the entire weekend writing.

“I realized that I don’t have time to fix everything I want to fix this time around. I need to fix the big things, get it in front of actors, and let the little things take care of themselves. I can’t afford to wait around for it to be perfect.”

Perfection is not an option.

How many projects do I have in some sort of blocked state right now because I need to find the time to do them right? How many ideas are only half-executed because I haven’t figured out how to finish them the “right” way? I have friends who agreed to read some of my writing in December, whom I haven’t followed up with because I haven’t “finished” revising. And I never will, at least not as long as I hang onto a belief in perfection.

This should sound familiar to anyone who’s worked on a software project using one of the agile methodologies. You don’t try to perfect — finish — the software, and then show it to the users. You take care of the big stuff, and get in front of users. And then the big stuff changes, and you can take care of it again. Rinse and repeat.

Perfection is not an option.

Perfection is, of course, quite alluring. I know that I want to be recognized for my work, want to be seen as someone who has intellectual authority and gets things done. At the same time, I’m afraid that I’ll be seen as less than that: as a failure, a poser, someone who just doesn’t get it. So I hold onto this belief that if I do it perfectly, I can somehow control how people see my work. This is a lie. I can not control how people see my work, and can not control their reactions. If someone reacts negatively, it’s possible they’re reacting to the quality of my work (I am not for one moment arguing I shouldn’t care about doing my best), but it could also be something else entirely. The way I present myself. Their own concerns and fears about their work. Things I can not control. So I remind myself of the truth.

Perfection is not an option.

Just like I’ve tried to stop worrying about having the perfect tools, I want to let go of believing the output has to be perfect before I share it with others. [Reading this blog, you can be forgiven believing that I let go of that belief long ago; I do better here, but there are still drafts from 2006 that I’ve never published because they weren’t “right”.] By definition what I put out, no matter how much time I put into it, is not going to be perfect. If I can accept that, embrace it, I can spend my time and energy actually doing the work, instead of worrying about the output.

Perfection is not an option.

date:2010-03-29 08:04:46
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Six Word Memoir

I received an email from my ninth grade English teacher a few days ago. She emailed the alumni list, asking for help with a project they’re doing: six word memoirs. Of high school. I suppose this is where I make a joke about that being the appropriate length for a memoir about something like high school, something that seems so important at the time, and turns out (for me, at least) unimportant in the scheme of things. I was interested at first, but the guidelines fixed that:

The guidelines are simple: First, hyphenated words may count as one or two words. Second, include your name and class year. Don’t libel anyone, get too personal, or try to get revenge. Rather than saying “ All A’s except for Mrs. Hancock” say, “All A’s except for English 9”. The plan is to pick the best six-word memoirs and use them on the calendar’s monthly picture page.

It seems to me that the point of a memoir is to get personal, contemplate revenge, and come as close to libel as you can while remaining emotionally honest. I suppose that doesn’t play well on a calendar, though. So thinking about what high school feels like in retrospect, I offer my six word memoir of high school:

Alleged wish frustratingly fulfilled: left alone.

date:2010-02-24 20:58:26
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Done with Citi-First-Greg-Apartments

A few days ago I published a post about CitiApartments and 400 Duboce that’s been flagged “private” since January 5. Why did I wait? I wanted my deposit back, and given their track record, didn’t want to give them any reason to hold onto it.

California law states that landlords have 21 days after you move out to refund your deposit, or provide you with an itemized statement listing deductions. As I might have expected, Citi did neither. Luckily for me, I date someone who deserves an honorary post graduate degree in information retrieval. He found the California Courts’ self help page, which includes a tool for writing deposit demand letters for your landlord.

Armed with that generated letter, I emailed my building accountant and Ed Singer, general counsel of the Lembi Group (the parent corporation of the many, varied LLCs that actually own the buildings; email him to say “I love you” at esinger@lembigroup.com). Less than an hour later, I received a reply promising my check would be cut that week. My cautious optimism turned to near giddy relief when I received the check on Thursday. On Friday I walked to their bank to cash the check1, and then nervously walked two blocks to my bank to deposit the take. Walking away from my bank, my hands were shaking as I held the deposit receipt: the sense of relief at being done was palpable.

It’s clear that I’m one of the lucky ones. Sure, the math on the statement doesn’t make any sense at all, but I only lost $30 of my deposit — and actually got them to credit the interest to my last month’s rent. But the contrast between my experience and Richard’s — he received his refund check less than a week after moving out — is dramatic and telling.

Take away lesson: renting from CitiApartments, First Apartments, or Greg Apartments is probably not in your best interest. Unless you have money to burn. In which case, I can help with that.


1 There were reports on SF Appeal of checks bouncing; the last thing I wanted to do was add a returned check fee to the tally.

date:2010-02-15 15:50:50
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Ugly, Pretty, Special

Another example of the power of young adult fiction.

I visited my family in Indiana over Thanksgiving. On my flight back from Chicago, I was upgraded to first class, seated next to a girl who appeared to be about twelve or thirteen, traveling as an unattended minor. As I sat down she was scribbling furiously in a notebook. She looked up and I smiled. “Hi, there.”

“What’s pithy mean?” she responded, pencil poised to record my answer. My mind went nearly blank; this was not the question I was expecting to answer in the middle of a day of traveling.

“Uh, a short, compact phrase; witty?”

I must have telegraphed more confidence in my answer than I felt: “Thanks,” she said curtly, and went back to her notebook. I pulled out the `Specials <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specials_(novel)>`_, by David Westerfeld; Dan and Monya had given my `Uglies <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uglies>`_ and `Pretties <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretties>`_ for my birthday just before I left, and after tearing through them, I’d picked up Specials for the trip back. My traveling companion looked up and saw the cover, suddenly becoming animated.

“Oh my god. You’re reading Specials. That’s so awesome.”

“Yeah, I know, it sort of is,” I replied, reverting to a tone more appropriate for gum snapping and borrowing the car than for grown men. “Yeah, like, I read Uglies, and Pretties, and now I’m on Specials; Uglies was great, and Pretties was OK — a bit of a slow down— but Specials is great so far.” Capsule review.

“Totally. I totally agree. Oh my god. So cool.” I seemed to have made a friend, making up for any issues with my vocabulary performance earlier. “Do you have any other authors you recommend?” she asked.

I suggested Octavia Butler, thinking to myself, “kid, this shit is going to blow your mind.” She dutifully wrote it down, checking the spelling as she went.

“I’m writing a story,” she offered. “Sort of science fiction; I mean, it’s set in the future. Well, time has passed from the present; I need the reader to understand that to get the plot.” I continued to nod in solemn agreement and she looked down at her notebook, fingering the pages a moment before snapping her attention back to me.

“Are you a good reader?” How does a thirty-three year old man answer such a question?

“Uh, yeah, I think I’m OK; I like to read,” I answered.

“You know how you can tell a good reader?” She didn’t wait for my reply. “They write down the recommendations from other good readers.” She proceeded to give me some recommendations, which I made sure to write down, not wanting to sully my good reader image.

I finished Specials on the flight home, and it was a fun read. But on my traveling companion’s recommendation, I’ll be checking out the final book in the series, `Extras <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extras_(novel)>`_, from the library — “it’s totally a let down.” So sayeth the good reader.

date:2010-01-26 10:04:22
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Ocean Beach Between the Storms

I spent an hour or so Saturday morning at Ocean Beach with my friend Scott, taking some pictures. Scott is a painter and was taking some reference shots. I was playing with the blackbird, fly Richard gave me for Christmas and taking some digital shots as well.

When we got there it had started to sprinkle again, giving us an amazing rainbow that appeared to land on the Cliff House.

We took a couple photos and went back to the car to wait it out. A few minutes later we had a reprieve from the rain, and we spent the next forty-five minutes walking down the beach.

The sun to our backs and the clouds over the ocean gave everything an ominous, foreboding appearance. Interestingly, this only made the waves and the water more appealing to me. I love watching waves crashing on rocks, rumbling to the shore; I have never seen the waves at Ocean Beach looking so powerful and so merciless.

Even with the crashing waves, though, the dogs were still running around and loving it.

By the time we were close to the Cliff House, it started to rain again. Scott and I hurried off the beach, walking quickly along the sidewalk towards the car. We were soaked when we got there, and the next storm had started.


See the full set of Ocean Beach photos on Flickr; those taken with the blackbird, fly will be uploaded when I get them processed.

date:2010-01-25 09:04:20
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San Francisco Habitation, Take Two

Last week I took two days off work and, combined with the three day weekend, uprooted my San Francisco existence to date, relocating to the Dogpatch. Not coincidentally, Richard did the same thing, on the same day.

It’s sort of hard to believe it was over two and a half years ago that dad and I drove cross country, spending three days in Motel 6’s and a 16 foot Penske truck along with Maddie. When I was in Indiana for Thanksgiving he said, “Well, I guess you’re coming up on two years in California; how does it feel?” “It feels like I’m coming up on three years,” I said dryly. He was silent as he did the math, realizing that the time has flown, and hopes that life in California is just a phase are just that.

400 Duboce Avenue was a great place for me to land back in 2007. It was close to the Castro, without being in the heart of the Castro. It was convenient to the grocery store. I had plentiful transit options just outside my door. And it turns out lots of people I made friends with were often passing through the neighborhood. But it’s been time to move on for a while.

So I moved to a loft in the Dogpatch on Saturday. I love it, whole heartedly, inside and out. We saw a friend on New Year’s Eve who said, “Man, you should be moving to the Mission, where I am. You just go outside your door and shit’s goin’ on; there’s nothing going on out there.” I simply smiled and said, “Yes, exactly.” Walking Maddie in the evenings, I am delighted at how quiet it is, how non-confrontational. For the first time in two years, I have a kitchen table that isn’t doubling as a desk. And I have a kitchen with actual counter space. It’s like I’ve graduated from the race car bed to the big boy bed; I sort of feel like an adult again.

I made a roast on Monday night for dinner. Richard and I sat at the table — as opposed to on the sofa — with Maddie sitting next to us, patiently waiting to be rewarded for her inherent, obvious goodness. Sitting down to that meal, sitting at that table, I had this feeling of belonging and of home. This is exactly where I want to be right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing San Francisco in a whole new way this year.


Although now I don’t have a desk, so I guess there was an obvious trade off there. But I do have room for both, now, which is a change.

I think the last time I felt like I had a really adult residence was in my house in Fort Wayne. I don’t think I really appreciated that feeling until this week.

date:2010-01-21 21:29:51
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tags:400 duboce, dogpatch, move

400 Duboce #113, Now from “Greg Apartments”

So things are continuing to get a little weird at my current building. First, management was “transferred“ to FirstApts. I put transferred in quotes because, really, it’s the more of the same: same phone numbers, same people, same lackluster management. Apparently an exercise in branding, trying to excise the CitiApartments name from people’s memory (for some reason). You could write a case study about how not to rebrand yourself in the 21st century based on this. Their old email addresses start bouncing, their old domain doesn’t even redirect. Hell, even some of the email addresses they put on the letter to residents bounce as non-existent. (When calling to let them know, the receptionist is hardly interested, telling me, “someone ought to update that sign.” Yes, someone indeed.)

So it’s a little strange, given all this effort to present a new, uniform brand, to see the following on Craigslist (thanks, Richard!) (cached copy):

|image0|

Huh, that looks like 400 Duboce. But “Greg Apartments”?

|image1|

Yup, that’s unit 113, the first one I looked at when I was looking at the building (it was leased to someone else before I got my application in two and a half years ago).

Greg Apartments website also has contact information; that’s a different phone number than Citi, er, FirstApts uses, but 2099 Market sounds awful familiar. Oh, right — that’s the same address at Citi and FirstApts. Digging a little (but not much) deeper, we find that gregapartments.com is registered to none other than FirstApts, with Greg listed as the technical and administrative contacts.

All these shells, and they’re still trying to raise the rent.


Updated 2012-10-24: Removed Greg’s contact information.

date:2010-01-05 22:01:31
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Meta

My friend and colleague Vern used to joke that it was more fun to write code to help you write code than it was to actually write code. Except that it’s not just a joke, it also contains a truism: if you like to create things, it’s really easy to find things to put off the actual act of creating. Especially if that involves creating something else.

Exhibit the first: When I started hacking on gsc, I didn’t do it because I wanted to dig into version control. I did it because I wanted to blog more, but I “really needed a great theme first”. And I knew that doing it from scratch was foolish, so I decided to base it on Carrington. But Carrington uses subversion, and I wanted to track my local changes, like any competent engineer. And none of the DVCS tools I found handled svn:externals, so there I was, writing a tool to help me develop a theme, so I could actually get around the writing (creating) something. Let’s be honest, hacking on gsc didn’t motivate me to write more. It just let me put off something I wanted to do, in the name of perfection. [NB: I’ve since just given in and begun using Carrington Text; I have a few local modifications, but until they grow sufficiently large, I’m not going to worry about them]

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of spam here that gets caught in the moderation queue. This has actually been nice in one respect: I get to go back and revisit some of the things I wrote in 2003-2005. One thing I’ve noticed is how awful a lot of that writing is, but also how frequent. It’s like it just kept coming and I had to let it out. In contrast, I wrote 14 posts in all of 2009.

I should point out that it’s not that I’m not writing these days. I started journaling again back in 2006, writing for an audience of one. I have a shelf in my bedroom with my journals on it.

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Since moving to San Francisco, my writing on the blog has declined, and my writing in my journal has picked up more than proportionally. On that shelf, June 2007 through 2009 dwarf 2006 (I think 2006 has one or two notebooks on that shelf; the rest are post-move). One of my hypothesis about the reason for this is about the tools: all I get to pick are a notebook and a pen (or pencil, occasionally); once I’ve done that, I stop thinking about it until one or the other runs out.

This hypothesis is supported by my other writing experience of late; during the fall semester I took a writing class at City College of San Francisco — “Creative Writing: Autobiography”. I didn’t take the class because I wanted to write my autobiography, I took it because I wanted to try writing in a more structured way, and it turned out to be a really enjoyable, productive experience. But when I sit down to edit things on the computer, I immediately start mulling over “Emacs or OpenOffice.org? Should I be using DVCS to track my changes? Maybe flashbake? And if I do, is that one repository per piece, or one for the entire class?” This sounds ridiculous as I write it, because it is; those questions are really entirely irrelevant to the work I want to do. They’re just ways to distract myself from what the actual desired output is.

I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions; reading my abortive journal from 2004, I found a “resolutions” entry containing things that never happened, or that only happened years later. I guess my intention for 2010 is to try and focus on the desired outcome, what I actually want to do. I discovered in 2009 that I like to write. And I’ve known for a while that I like to make things. Maybe one day I’ll have the perfect toolkit, framework, theme, or workflow for that; right now, I can do far, far worse than just focusing on the task at hand.

date:2010-01-02 14:13:41
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Sugar Crème Küchen

I think this may be the first year ever that I’m not going to be in Indiana on Christmas Day. I think there were a few years that I split Christmas Day between my family and G’s family, or my family and traveling, but I’m usually in the midwest for this time of year. I went back to Indiana over Thanksgiving this year, and tomorrow I’ll celebrate Christmas with Richard, his sister, and later in the day, some friends.

Our friends are hosting a potluck for those of us in San Francisco for Christmas; I’m bringing Sugar Crème Küchen. This is a dessert from my childhood that consists of two kinds of sugar, heavy creme, and yeast dough. You can see why I love it. I think the recipe is of Swiss-German extraction, but I’ll admit that when it comes to questions of heritage, my family can be less than faithful to the source material. Until I asked my aunt for the recipe shortly after moving to San Francisco, I would have sworn the name of this was “Sugar Creama Kooga” — that’s always how it sounded when my dad, grandpa, or grandma pronounced it. I remember going to great grandma and grandpa’s when I was a kid and having this for “lunch” — the spread of cookies, cake, and other snacks served after you’d consumed a gluttonous dinner.

Ingredients

The recipe we use today is obviously, uh, “modernized”. It starts with a Pillsbury Hot Roll mix (although in fairness this is largely just pre-measured flour and a yeast packet). The recipe goes something like this:

Sugar Crème Küchen

Crust

  • 1 hot roll mix

Prepare according to box directions (1 egg, 2 tbsp butter, 1 c. hot water), allow to rise after resting 5 min. Roll carefully into large rectangle and fit into large 12×17 jelly roll pan.

Filling

  • 12 T Flour (measured) [NB: why does my aunt specify “measured”; is 12 tablespoons of flour something you’d normally just eyeball?]
  • 1 ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 3 ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream

Pour onto dough. [NB: My aunt has the following note: “I usually remove about 1/3 cup of filling to prevent overspill”; later she notes: “I no longer remove any filling; it is only necessary if you don’t get the dough rolled out thin enough.” Your mileage may vary, apparently.] Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake 375 for 25 minutes. After baking for the 1st 5 – 10 minutes, check to make sure no air bubbles in the crust. If so, poke with a toothpick.

Can also make into 4 pie pans instead of 12×17.

The Finished Product

So this afternoon I baked, and hopefully it turned out; my track record with this recipe is a little spotty. It’s never really bombed, but it’s also rarely been as good as my grandma’s. Of course, she has had a few extra decades of practice, so I guess Richard and my friends are doomed to duty in my test kitchen until I get it right.

date:2009-12-24 17:14:08
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tags:baking, christmas, cream kuchen, memories, nom