Four Years of a Life Time

His name was originally Bart. A listing had popped up on PetFinder for a 2-month old great dane puppy available for adoption. I immediately reached out to the dog rescue to see if he was still available. He was! I let myself get excited. Today’s blog post is entirely about dogs. Specifically, dogs I’ve owned.

I am a firm believer that the phrase, “We don’t deserve dogs,” is quite often true. Dogs are animals who have been bred to love us and so often we take them for granted.

All my life I have wanted a big dog. I grew up with a husky and then a golden retriever during childhood and adolescence. There was a beagle (I think it was at least) when I was a young kid but I only barely remember him.

The husky, named Lady, was our family dog when I was a kid. I was probably 10 years old at most when we rehomed her. Looking back I didn’t appreciate her for what she was, I thought of her as just any other toy – no different than an action figure or a matchbox car. I only wanted to play with her on my schedule. I mean, we walked her and fed her and loved her, but it was purely perfunctory and what was required. Rarely did we do a lot more than that.

After having her for a few years I hit that childhood age where I had a lot of activities after school, so did my sister. My dad worked and mom was driving us around often. And as a result Lady was often left tied up in our back yard while we were gone. She had food and water and everything but, thinking back I feel guilty that that is what her life was. I didn’t realize and I didn’t appreciate her nearly enough. Eventually she got pregnant and she had puppies and, for some reason, the parents let us keep one of her puppies. My guess is they thought that doing that would reengage us with the dogs but instead it went the other way and the family was quickly overwhelmed. Our schedules didn’t change, but the time needs had increased. And we weren’t able to do that. So we found them, Lady and her puppy, a new home.

The golden retriever we adopted was named Chester, named that way because I was trying to think of Clifford the big red dog but our family couldn’t remember Clifford and landed on Chester. I was a little older and wiser when we got him, and I played with him more, but still life interfered often. School, sports, church, boy scouts, etc. Life kept me busy, and when I got home I would rub his belly and scratch behind his ears before starting on homework. The family kept him until my sister and I both went off to college.

Chester, in our family kitchen. Around 1999 I think.

Chester had a propensity for taking off and running if he could slip out the front door. We never managed to train him (or Lady for that matter) to stay inside and only exit with permission. A thing which was manageable when I was at home and able to help catch him and bring him home, but once me and my sister were not at home it became problematic. So they rehomed Chester. I was pretty sad about it but I understood, both of my parents were getting up there in age and I was off at college, it was a logical decision.

It wasn’t until years later, at this point what society would call an “adult” when I would get my next dog. I had moved in with my then girlfriend, that we took a trip to the dog pound “just to look” and we ended up adopting a little cocker spaniel who we named Mattie. We named her Mattie for two reasons: first, her fur was badly matted and knotted; second, we had just gotten home from a trip to Manhattan and we felt it was a suitable nickname.

Mattie looking a bit furrier than usual, but her ears did an adorable flopping when she looked up at you.

Mattie was a sweet little old lady, she loved to have her but rubbed and treats. She loved to eat. But having her, I discovered the truth was that I really wanted a big dog, not a small lap-sized dock. I dreamed of getting a big dog, a Trick sized dog. (For those of you who are unaware, I am 6’6″ or 198cm for you wise metric folk.)

Tyson dozing on one of our couches. His eyebrows were wonderful.

So, jump forward 4 years to 2011, my wife and I drive across the country and move to Seattle. We drive our Honda Element with Mattie, the Mattie cocker spaniel, and Tyson, who was a black Schnauzer mutt, riding with us. Tyson was a wonderful sweet dog who we inherited from a friend. He was closer to a big dog, and just wanted you to love him. He also had a habit of howling along with emergency vehicle sirens. Unfortunately he was struck with stomach cancer in 2012, within a year of moving to Seattle and so we had to put him to sleep to remove his suffering. It was heartbreaking.

For several years here in Seattle, Mattie was our only dog. She was a sweet princess, hated walking in wet grass, hated dog parks as she much preferred humans to other dogs. And we still had her when I saw that puppy listing on Petfinder.

The deal between me and Katie had been that I could get a big dog when we bought our first house. So, as soon as we closed on the house, I had begun searching for the puppy. And six months later Bart appeared.

It was four years ago yesterday that we took our trip to get Bart, which turned into a bit of an adventure thanks to some car trouble.

He was out in Yakima, which was a two and a half hour drive from our home. Thankfully I worked half-days on Fridays and so we got to head out with the sun still up. It was a cold January day and we headed out to meet with the rescue. We were, ostensibly, just going to see Bart. I hoped we’d come home with him but it wasn’t definite. That is, until we actually met Bart.

Katie likes to say I got out of the car and held my arms out for the puppy immediately. And as soon as she saw me hold him she knew we were leaving with him. He was so tiny. He was just 14 pounds!

Our drive back from the meeting was rather eventful. We were outside of a town named Ellensberg, in pitch black on a series of hills, and as we are going down one of the hills I notice that my foot on the gas pedal is on the floor and the car isn’t accelerating. My accelerator seemed to have no resistance and did not do anything for the car. Uh oh.

I navigate to the edge on the side of the road and turn on our emergency blinkers, then make use of our AAA membership. Thankfully the tow truck driver was more than happy to have us and our new tiny puppy in the cab with him. He had three dogs of his own and was happy to talk about them.

It was in the cab of that truck that I came up with the puppy’s name. We knew we didn’t want to leave his name Bart. So we began brainstorming and tossing names back and forth. It was in the tow truck, with Bart in my lap, that I came up with the name: Elwood.

The AAA truck dropped us at the dealership we regularly took our car to, and we had a friend come pick us up. He had the reward of being the first friend to meet our new puppy. Thanks again, Scott!

And so our life with Elwood began. Mattie wasn’t too happy but she endured him when he was a puppy smaller than her. But that did not last long. Within a matter of weeks he had grown to be her same size, and then as he grew larger than her, she grew to like him less and less. She was a little old lady and she just wanted to be left alone. Elwood only became more playful, trying to constantly get her to play with him.

One of the quiet moments with Elwood and Mattie.

It ended up that she spent much of her time retreating and hiding to get away from him. She tried to get him to understand but he was determined and kept annoying her. It got so bad that she eventually took to making messes in the house out of stress from him and that’s when we had to make the hard decision: We decided to rehome Mattie.

We found her a wonderful home that had several similar older dogs, all sharing her temperament. The parents worked from home and they had kids who would give her plenty of love. She would not want for anything from them. I miss Mattie, she’s still on my desk picture frame, but I’m glad we could find her a happier home for her.

The question of rehoming Mattie vs rehoming Elwood was one several friends challenged us on when we talked about what we were doing. And the reality is I truly believed then, and still do today, that we would have an easier time finding a home for Mattie than for Elwood. Elwood is a great dane and I don’t think a lot of people who adopt them understand what they are in for, and I worried he would just end up going to another home and another after that as he grew. I could be wrong, but that was the logic we followed.

With that change though, we became a one dog (or depending who you ask, one small horse) family. Katie was emphatic that this was my puppy. Not in the sense that she didn’t want it, but that she knew animals tended to quickly grow an affinity for her and she didn’t want to interfere with me and Elwood bonding.

For the first three nights while he adjusted to our home, I slept on the floor next to him and poked my fingers into the cage for him to sniff and lick, trying to help him adjust to his new environment.

Over these past four years he’s become my fur baby. My friends make fun of me for the amount of photos of him I take and share. And I couldn’t be happier. I’m hoping for many more years of happiness with Elwood.

A snapshot from Cedar River Dog Farm, where we kennel him when we have to travel.

Moving Back In

Devoting myself again to building this site into something which is more central to my life online.

I can’t remember the name of the site now, but my first online journal was on some now defunct journaling website when I was in high school. From there I eventually launched a blog using Blogger (pre Google’s acquisition of the service.) As I grew to enjoy blogging and getting into other people’s blogs I started wanting to do more. To do things I couldn’t do on a free blog provided by Blogger.

That is when I started RoninCyberpunk.com (my first self-hosted blog, using Movable Type as I recall.) By then I was in college, some 15 years ago. In 2007 I registered TrickJarrett.com and transitioned my blog over to it. I think I felt RoninCyberpunk.com was no longer representative of who I was, and I wanted to present a more professional face.

My online evolution continued with the rise of social media sites. That, combined with my professional career providing me an outlet to write, caused my own blog to decline in use. In the past two years I’ve only made two full blog posts prior to this one: One was a list of books I wanted to read in 2018, and one remembering Anthony Bourdain. The only innovation coding-wise on here was done in the middle of the year when I began to track my “Media diet” as a means to share movies, books, and TV. But that too quickly fell by the wayside.

A few weeks ago WordPress updated to version 5.0 and I updated the theme I used without thinking. Doing that broke the new media diet functionality and so I found myself having to re-code it. The silver lining was that by doing it the second time, I did it the right way and made it better.

So, as you might have surmised: I’ve been thinking about this blog and wanting to use it more.

Then, this week, I read this article, linked to by Kottke.org. Secondly I read Mike Elgan’s Nicebook post. Both come from the perspective of quitting Facebook. Elgan’s is a walthrough of his implementation for photo sharing using Google Photos. The first is an article discussing how and why Facebook dominated, but noting it doesn’t have to.

Both of these articles echo wants which are similar to mine, though I’m not looking to explicitly quit Facebook yet. As problematic as it is, I do still value it as a communication platform with an array of friends, acquaintances, and family.

For me one of the drivers for this is that so much of my time online is devoted to just a trio of websites: Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. So often I’ll close a tab of one of those websites and suddenly find myself opening a tab to go there just seconds later. It’s done without thinking. So deeply ingrained is their presence in my mind.

These websites are addictive because they are the conveyor belt of content. We can just refresh and be presented with new stuff, or as it often is, the same stuff for the ninth time in ten minutes. It might be nostalgia, but I miss the days when there were thousands of individual websites that had to be discovered.

(All of this is ignoring the issues that sites, most recently Facebook, have raised in how they present content and target users. Those too weigh on me in this discussion.)

To step back and put it more philosophically: I want to create more rather than consume when I’m on the Internet. I want to write and build my own thing here again.

Back during my peak, I could honestly name my blog as one of my primary hobbies. If I wasn’t writing on it, I was tinkering and changing how it looked or I was coding some new functionality. Generations before me might have had a car they worked on in the garage, or a woodshop to work in. I had my blog. And I miss that. I miss having a website be one of my primary hobbies.

I’m moving back in.

Looking Back Over 2014

Farewell and good riddance 2014. That could be my comments on the year in its entirety but that is slightly unfair. So, to help me to look back over this year, I downloaded my Twitter archive and reread every tweet I posted in 2014.

January

This tweet took on unimaginable significance given how this year progressed.

I’d been doing WhatTheCast for years with the same crew of guys, but our lives changed. We moved. Changed jobs. Grew. And life changed around us. And so we made the decision to end the show.

February

A simple tweet that just shared the link to my blog post where I discussed grief around the loss of my grandmother. In many ways 2014 was a truly brutal year for me. I lost my grandmother and my father, while Katie lost her grandmother and her aunt.

Kudos to House of Cards for providing one of the most powerful moments of television of 2014.

Reblogged from my Magic Twitter account, because I truly enjoyed visiting Valencia and our venue was spectacular. I did do a fair bit of wonderful travel this year, including Valencia, London, Nice, and more.

March

Of course one of the most stirring international political incidents of the year, we can’t review 2014 without realizing that Putin launched his gambit this year.

teaching

My sister and I have always been fairly close, but this year I feel like we grew closer and definitely utilized social media for communicating more.

This tweet came after I made (and killed) a presentation at work.

April

This year is definitely marked by the fact we’re now homeowners. This is the first tweet I made acknowledging the process and in fact it was the day we put the offer in on the house that we would eventually close and move into.

May

Professionally this year was very much about learning to be a manager. Ed Catmull’s book was my favorite of the year that related directly to business and being a manager.

While this year was marked by loss, it was also marked by new life. I added both a niece and a nephew to the family, and it just so happened the niece was born as I was already flying to Atlanta for work.

This tweet encapsulates my love of Android tweaking and the World Cup. A good capture of the year.

June

How I announced that we had officially closed on the house.

This habit of dad’s was actually brought up by my nephew at his memorial service. It was a very endearing habit of his to click like on every post.

Facial hair is a subtheme of the year, with this shaving mishap and then my Movember beard it proved a diverse facial hair year.

I got very excited for the World Cup and USA’s performance at it.

Evidence my wife loves me very much, when getting cable set up in the new house they had some problems. It so happened the US Men’s team played that evening. She demanded Comcast get us set up and they sent out a cherry picker to fix the cable wiring.

Another tweet which is all the more poignant at the year’s end.

One of the first real big lessons which showed me how much I have to learn about being a homeowner. I couldn’t figure out why the washer was rocking hysterically, it literally damaged the floor it was on. As I learned, it was basically working with the parking brake on.

July

I did a fair bit of disc golfing this year, far from enough though. This comes from the arrival of two friends who moved to Seattle. I’ll have to look to do more in 2015.

From my trip to London, a truly awful selfie. But, I regret nothing.

August

Watched and read a lot of awesome things this year, including classics.

While not a member of family, given his improv background and his general omnipresence for much of my life, his death hit me pretty hard.

The biggest social movement of the decade, if not my life, happened in front of me and online. I am one of the unaffected but it still shocks me to see things like this happen in today’s world, when we’re supposed to be so sophisticated and, well, better than this.

As I mentioned above, this year professionally is about learning to manage as my team at work expanded to 7 in 2014.

The World Cup definitely fanned the already burning flame for my love of soccer, but I had several days like this where the entire day was watching soccer from around the world.

September

Work brought me back into the iOS world with a work iPad.

I bought the tickets back in 2013 and finally I got the opportunity to see Neil live when he came to Seattle in September.

October

Yeah.

Turned 31.

My buddy Drew flew in for my birthday and we went to the Sounders match that weekend.

As I learn to be a photographer here’s four snaps from a camera safari one day with Drew.

November

See, facial hair.

Moving into and customizing the new house continues.

December

The Sounders lost the western conference finals to Los Angeles, who went on to win the MLS Cup.

I could have kept the beard but decided to shave it off for the time being. It might make a return, we’ll see.

Some snaps from Nice, France.

Picked up a bug in France, and came back to the States feeling like crud.

‘Tis the season!

After a bunch of flying, and also headaches on various flights, it feels very awesome to finally get Gold on United. It brings a handful of benefits which are good, such as lounge access, but also picking seats (including extra leg room) at the time of booking.

Adding to the new tech of the year, an Asus Zenwatch!


And there we are, caught up to today, that’s the end of the year via my Tweets.

Words For My Father

Three stories I shared about my dad during his memorial service on October 11, 2014.

This weekend I spoke at my father’s memorial.

He passed away three days before turning 73, after a seven year war with cancer where he won three separate battles. Below is the text I wrote for his memorial. A recording of the service won’t match this verbatim, as I followed the outline and spoke freely except when things would get tough. I did my best to keep it light and fun, only turning serious and mournful at the end.


Good morning.

Many here watched me grow up, but for those of you who didn’t, my name is Patrick. But to dad I was more often Paddy. Or son. Or honey. Or sweetie. Or once or twice I was even Chester, which was the dog’s name. He had many names for each of his kids, but all of them conveyed one important thing: love.

My dad loved his family. He loved us more than anything else in the world. He loved us so much that much of my childhood is filled with memories of him bragging on me and my siblings to friends, customers, and strangers in the line at the grocery store. Anyone who would listen was subjected to these stories.

This habit of his was only slightly mortifying to a gawky teenage boy. And so, with that in mind, I stand up here to accomplish two things:

1) exact just a little bit of revenge on my father by sharing stories of his life, and

2) make us all smile and laugh a little as I share.

Dad would have loved to be here to see all his friends and family gathered together. It seems like that is said for every memorial but I know it’s the most true it ever has been here today. He would have loved to catch up and hear about what everyone was up to, and of course brag on each of his kids and grandkids.

Dad loved being involved in anything his kids did. For me that ranged from church choir to scouting to watching me play football. Dad felt football was a great teacher of resilience, teaching me to get back up after life knocks me down.

I was a sophomore at Edgewater and practicing with the JV squad after school when the coach came around asking if anyone “knows who that guy is in the bleachers?” We all turn around to look and there’s my dad. He had finished up work early and was just enjoying the Florida sun, the Orlando Sentinel (something he read cover to cover each day), and most of all his son’s football practice.

Coach Campana was quite upset by this spy in the stands. He clearly thought a competing school was doing some scouting. You have to understand doing that was tantamount to a declaration of war. So, he was visibly upset trying to figure out if we were under siege.

And so, slightly embarrassed to have stirred up this ruckus, I had to raise my hand and say, “That’s my dad sir.” I don’t know what I expected, I think I expected it to be something that would lead to me running laps or something. I’m not sure why. But the truth is that once the mystery was solved it wasn’t a thing at all.

So after practice, I told dad about what his appearance stirred up, and he just laughed and laughed. He loved that story. And as I think back I honestly can’t think of another parent who came and watched the team practice, just dad.

As I said at the beginning, dad never left anyone in doubt of where they stood. His kids and grandkids all got asked an important question, to which there was only one correct answer.

He loved to ask “Who loves you?” To which the correct answer was only “You do!”

But kids being kids, most of us discovered another game we could play, sometimes to exasperating levels for dad I’m sure. He’d ask us “Who loves you?” And we’d name anyone, everyone, and everything except him.

Mommy does.

Sister does.

God does.

The president does.

The dog does.

On and on we’d go. But he was persistent. You weren’t free to go until you said the all important, “You do.”

This was just one of the ways he made sure you could never doubt… never question… his love for you. For us. For me.

Another feature of dad was his keen engineering mind. He was always curious how things worked. He loved marvels of engineering and space, both were endlessly fascinating to him. He loved to explain how things worked, he loved to teach. I’ll tell you a story of one of his more unusual venues for a lesson I learned.

In 1988, when I was five, the family took a trip to Colorado for skiing. Being five years old I was old enough to believe I could do anything grown-ups could. Including ski.

Now, dad made sure both Charlotte and I took ski lessons and and then once we had mastered not falling down on the bunny slope through careful use of the all important snow plow, dad took me up on a green slope and after successfully making it down, I was handed between family members to keep me out of trouble. Dad… mom… my brothers.

My brothers, not to be dissuaded by being saddled with their five year old brother, decided that I was a good enough skier to join them on a slope more difficult than the beginner level “Green Circle.”

Now, for those of you who don’t go skiing, given the fact we’re here in Florida I am guessing there might be a few of you. Ski slope difficulties go bunny slope, Green Circle, Blue Square… Black Diamond.

Now, my brothers meant well, and knowing me I probably begged them to take me on a big boy slope. So when I tell you they took me up the mountain to a black diamond, don’t judge them too harshly.

I mean, I’m here today, I made it down in one piece. I knew enough to fall down quite frequently as a way to manage my speed. Get up, ski down, fall over, stop. And so on. And so we reached the bottom of the slope and I had survived.

Later, when my father learned that my excursion with my brothers had included this… experience. I think the only fitting word is that he was apoplectic.

As any good father would be.

BUT… and here’s the thing that is just so dad. Rather than let that experience just be what it was and admonish me to never do it again…

He took me AND Charlotte up to the slope again, and made us ski it again. So that he could show us how to do it properly.

Dad believed strongly in making sure his kids were prepared. Always prepared for what might come. And he wanted to make sure I knew how to handle a black diamond slope in case I should ever find myself at the top of a ski slope again whether by my, or my brothers doing.

I could go on and on with stories like this.

My dad’s legacy is in this family. He poured his soul into the family. He wasn’t perfect. But with those imperfections he loved us all and wanted nothing more than for us to love him and to love one another.

I visited with him just a few weeks before he passed and at the time he knew what none of the rest of us knew – he was dying. I wasn’t ready to accept it and I tried to convince him otherwise, but we ended up having the talk that only really happens in the movies. We talked as if it was our last conversation. Quietly, lovingly, holding hands. We got to have a closure he didn’t get when his father passed away.

He told me he was proud of me. He told me he was so excited for the family I’d eventually raise because he knew I’d be a good father and sad because he wouldn’t be around to see it. And of course he told me he loved me.

That conversation will stay with me for my entire life.

I don’t believe what he told me was unique, but that I think I was simply the recipient of the message from him. A message which is meant for the whole family.

He was proud of each of us. He was excited to see what the family would become, whether children of our own or just how it would grow. And he loved each and every one of us.

As if there was any doubt.

The Evil F-Word: Fine

Businesses have discovered that the less we move, the more they can market to us. Whether on our couch, on our phone, or in a theater, so long as we’re listening or watching their content then our wallets are open. Like slot machines, they have to keep pulling our levers and waiting to hit jackpot. Give them enough spins and they will hit. For this reason it is in their best interest to make sure we move as little as possible. If it means we all weight four hundred pounds and are more akin to sumo wrestlers—so be it.

In fact, I feel like as we are enveloped in a modern world which does everything to help us down the path to the dystopian Pixar-envisioned future in Wall-E. A future which seems all too scary to envision for the ease with which it could transpire. We’re already a Dr. Oz special away from drinking a slurry mixture for three meals-a-day.

Time for lunch, in a cup!

The truth is that it is very hard for marketers and businesses to make us truly happy. And they’ve discovered that it is much easier for them to manufacture happiness for us. The up beat music at the end of movies to convince you that you enjoyed what you just watched. The advertising campaign around convincing you that you find happiness in the bottom of a fry holder. The manufactured joy that comes with a shopping bag. It’s easier to convince us that what we’re feeling is happiness, simply because we can’t tell the difference. If I’m not in active pain, then I must be happy, right? I must be fine, right?

This future won’t arrive as part of a conscious decision to accept it. It isn’t a future being created by some super villain who is hatching a plot to ruin humanity through heart disease. No, it will arrive as we continue to take small steps towards comfort, accepting the comfort improvements as they come. Tiny offerings which drive our life to be unthinkingly “fine.”

Syndrome from Pixar's The Incredibles

In case you couldn’t tell, I have a serious problem with fine.

If you think of a scale of -10 to 10, -10 being “very bad” and 10 being “very good” then, to me, fine should occupy the space from 0.1 to 2. But life usually forces us to have it be -2 to 2. We’re fine when we’re acceptably bad. We’re fine when we aren’t happy, but aren’t bad enough to take action against whatever is making us that way. Markets go further and they mask what we might feel, or convince us that -2 is actually 0, or even 2. They convince us that where we are is good, and it’s easier to just believe them.

Happiness is, as my friend Joe put it recently, a choice. And the truth is that enduring happiness is more than that, it’s work. Either you work to accept the reality you’re given so that you can be happy, or you work to change your situation so that you are actively keeping yourself in your, yes I’ll say it, happy place.

This is my call to action for you all: Strive for a life that isn’t fine. Either be good or bad. Recognize where you are and if when asked how you are, your inclination is to answer with the F-word, then look around and figure out what you need to do to get to “good” even if that means going outside your comfort zone.

Society wants you to think you’re happy, but they want to do that by spoon feeding you endless amounts of fine and telling you it’s good. Smack society’s hand away and grab your knife and fork and cut off a slab of the steak that is true happiness. Continually work to get out of your comfort zone and never look back.

Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone

Me, Neil, and the Great Cosmos

While I mostly skated through school with minimal effort, science was something which, once I progressed beyond the basics, continually confounded me in school. I want to be clear: I do not blame my teachers. This wasn’t a single year where I failed. It was a repeated failing from middle school into college. This remains, to today, a major consternation for me.

I joke that as far as I’m concerned all science is, is magic. But that’s a joke to cover my discomfort with my relative naivete with the subject.

Neil deGrasse TysonSo when I tell you that I have been eagerly waiting for the new Cosmos series for two years, I want to make clear it is not because I am some sort of science nerd. When news broke that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth MacFarlane were working on it, I was cautiously excited. And for two years I would occasionally check in on the show looking for news on its production.

Finally they announced the air date and I marked my calendar. March 9, 2014.

I will be honest, the reason I am so excited for this series, is that I hope to perhaps break through the wall which has stood between me and more-than-casual understanding of science. I am hoping Neil deGrasse Tyson succeeds where I and my previous science teachers have failed.

But more than that, I hope he succeeds in igniting the spark of science in those younger than me.

The first episode succeeded in many ways, it opened my eyes and explained things which I didn’t understand before. From the multiverse theory, to the rings of Saturn, to the utter depth of time since the universe began.

Here’s to next week’s episode!

My Winter Holiday Plans

A look into my plans for the winter break of 2013.

One of the perks of working at Wizards is the fact that the company closes down between Christmas and New Years Day. I’m putting some vacation to use and as such I am off work until I return to the office on January 2, 2014. Since Katie and I aren’t travelling I’ve put together a starting list of things I am going to do during the break.

Box Up Unused Clothes – The truth is, I wear a fairly slim section of my closet. So I plan to box up clothes which I didn’t wear at all in 2013. Some of them haven’t been worn because I can’t fit into them, others because I no longer want them. So they need to be boxed up and either donated or stored in the garage.

Chores – There are some chores which have built up. Need a good cleaning around the house.

Wedding Website for a Friend – My go-to wedding gift for friends and family is to give them a wedding website. I am working on a website for a friend and so I need to work on it over the holiday.

Learn to Develop Android Apps – I love my Nexus 7 tablet and I have a handful of app ideas. So I’m going to learn how to develop for Android (which is based in Java.)

Exercise – With so much time when I’m not in the office I am making sure I get to the gym here in the apartment complex and exercising. Today’s workout was jumping rope and walking on the treadmill!

Reading – I have built up a small pile of eBooks I’ve been eager to read. I’m aiming to read these five books over the break:

The schedule and plan are still coming together as to how this plan will happen but I’m super eager to enjoy these days off and dive into all these projects for the next two weeks! We’ve also got some plans to get together with friends so that will also have to play into the plans.

Header image taken from Flickr user Sebastien Dooris and is Creative Commons licensed.

Vacation Part 5 – Sickness and the Giant’s Causeway

When we got back to our hotel room we collapsed for the night and slept. We slept the sleep of the dead. Between our bodies still adjusting to European time and what we would soon learn was illness, the day’s tour proved utterly exhausting and our beds infinitely comforting.

When the alarm went off the next morning Katie and I had a half-mumbled conversation where we unanimously agreed to keep sleeping and reschedule the tour for the next day. So for a few hours more the city of Dublin passed us by while we slept. It was only as we awoke that we discovered that our bodies had been at war during the night, that a vicious flu of sorts had laid siege and broken through our defenses. While my flu was bad, it was Katie’s which proved far worse.

Bless Katie’s heart, she spent the vast majority of our time in Ireland, in the hotel resting. All of Tuesday was spent resting. We stayed in bed, watching TV and playing on our tablets or computers. Between my travel supply of Sudafed and rolls of toilet paper, we battled our stuffy noses.

Eventually the the day was over and the sun had set, we curled up and passed out again. During the day I had called the tour company and gotten our tour rescheduled for the next day, hoping we would feel healthy enough to take it.

Even though I was stuffy, I didn’t really feel sick. I didn’t have the aches, I wasn’t exhausted – so, when the time came to wake up for the tour, I did and determined I felt good enough to go. Reluctantly, I woke Katie up to see how she was. I knew what the answer would be, but I didn’t want to risk being wrong and have her feel up to the tour and miss it. As expected, she didn’t feel well, so she opted to rest. She was also extremely forceful in telling me that if I felt up to, I must take the tour and take lots of pictures to share with her.

So I got up and got dressed, and again caught a cab. This time the cabbie was quite talkative and charged me roughly half what the other guy did (thus confirming my suspicion we had been taken advantage of the first morning.)

During the ride he asked where I was going and I told him that I was going to see the Giant’s Causeway. To which he told me how he had grown up in Dublin and had never been to Northern Ireland.

mirelandNow, I need to admit something. Before this trip I had a very very scant understanding of the issues between Ireland and Northern Ireland. All I knew was that there was the IRA in the 80s. As far as I knew up to a week ago, the island of Ireland was entirely the same country. That is not true. Northern Ireland is technically part of the UK, they don’t use the Euro, they use the Pound Sterling. The political tension has eased a great deal in the recent decades but it’s clear that it’s an issue not too different from the old feelings which still pop up about the “South” versus America during our civil war.

So, the cabbie pulls up to the Tourism office and again I’m early. This time though I’m so early there is literally no one else there. The cabbie is clearly questioning whether I’m in the right place, but I insist I am as I pay him.

The truth is, I really considered climbing back into the cab and going back to the hotel. I’m tired, it’s cold, my nose is dripping, and as the minutes tick by with me sitting by myself on the stone steps I begin to worry. Did the tour company forget to tell me the pick up location had changed? Was the person on the phone wrong to tell me I was okay to come, was there actually no tour today?

I did my best to control my anxiety as I waited. And for that I was rewarded as eventually people began showing up. Soon enough the bus pulled up and I hopped on board, finding a window seat and promptly passing out. Again we had a long day’s drive ahead of us as we crossed more of Ireland, this time heading north.

Unlike Mike, Robbie was a man in his fifties and he was still fairly new to the tour bus driver business having done it for less than a year. He didn’t have the personality of Mike, instead opting for a more down-to-earth approach with a fairly constant patter of facts during the tour. After a gas station stop for breakfast (well, for me I stocked up on tissues, OJ, and a few snacks) we headed into Northern Ireland. The driver, Robbie, did a good job of setting the stage and explaining some of the political background to it all.

Our next stop was a small fishing village on the northern coast. Here we were again just stretching our legs, but the stop was next to a nice little marina for a half-dozen boats as well as a pier. Since it was still early I got a few nice shots and this one is another of my favorites.

From there we loaded up and our driver gave us the bad news. Part of today’s tour was supposed to be a rope bridge which had existed (and been updated) for hundreds of years to connect an island to Ireland. Unfortunately due to the day’s windy conditions it was closed so we weren’t going to be able to stop there. This time we stopped for lunch before the tour’s main attraction, lunch was again a fairly simple affair. We stopped at a restaurant which has to be almost wholly supported by tour groups, they had wifi and the food was good.

Next up, the main attraction: The Giant’s Causeway.

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There’s a legend about the Giant’s Causeway as being the battleground between an Irish giant “Fionn mac Cumhaill.” He was also known as Finn MacCool, and he built the causeway as a place to battle a Scottish giant named Benandonner. When Benandonner came ashore, Finn ran and hid with his wife, having her dress him in baby clothes. Benandonner came looking for him and he saw a giant in baby clothes and exclaimed “If that’s the baby, I’m not waiting to meet the father!” He ran off, destroying the causeway so that Finn could not easily pursue him.

Standing among the stones, I don’t find this story hard to believe.

The stones seem otherworldly, formed by some alien or supernatural force, appearing as if they were formed on purpose into the hexagonal columns. The weather as I was there began to turn so I made the most of my time, snapping photos and hiking a bit past the main area to try and get some other shots. After getting as far as I dared I made my way back and sure enough as soon as I neared the bus pick-up the rains began sprinkling. I let the brief shower blow over and I huddled next to a rock formation to find this unique tradition: coins in the cracks.

After re-boarding the bus there was only one more notable stop on our day’s tour and that is the capital of Northern Ireland: Belfast. I didn’t honestly see much of Belfast. I was tired and I wanted to ensure that I didn’t get lost in the foreign city so I hung close to the drop-off spot and snapped only a few photos of the capital before finding a coffee shop with wifi and hot chocolate to pass the time. I relaxed in the shop and enjoyed my warm drink as I surfed the web and posted on social media.

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Eventually the time came to return to the bus, and at that point I was exhausted and yet completely fulfilled. I had seen two life-goal destinations on this trip and it was time to turn my focus to work. I spent the bus ride home staring out the window and enjoying the landscape as we rolled back to Dublin from Belfast.

This final post in the series is long overdue. For whatever reason I lost momentum in my posts and this one languished as a draft. Ireland was a wonderful trip, and is a country I will eagerly look forward to visiting again and again.

Beating Bowser

On the importance of nostalgia as I grow older thanks to the journey of beating Super Mario Brothers 3.

Nintendo’s NES was originally released in the US in 1985, four days shy of my second birthday. It was the first move by Nintendo to move from the arcade into the home. Almost 62 million units were sold worldwide before it was eventually discontinued, but not before it had an impact on my life.

I can remember video games at home before Nintendo. The parents would code games into our personal computer, but at the time I was too young to fully appreciate them. I can vaguely remember watching my brothers play King’s Quest and a specific scene where there was gold under a bridge, but that’s it. The NES was the first gaming system that I really got to play.

It was 1990, after we moved to Orlando, that we finally got it. It was a brisk Florida night, probably January. We drove to Wal-Mart and went in as a family. I remember us rolling the Nintendo box out to the van and I held the box in my lap the whole ride home. I was ecstatic. We got the NES with Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt, and man I could not wait to get into it.

It was a family game system, I clearly remember both my mom and my dad playing with us. We’d gather in the family room in front of the TV and we would take turns and pass the remote, or we would have boys play Mario and girls play Luigi.

On level 3-1, the first above ground dark level, there is a place where you can bounce a turtle shell off the steps repeatedly before taking the flag. The way Mario games work is that if you chain events together the points awarded continue to increase until it begins awarding extra lives. So if you repeatedly bounce a turtle shell against a wall such that you can keep jumping on it without hitting the ground you could gain a very large number of lives.

Super Mario Brothers 3-1

My dad excelled at the timing needed to rack the lives up. Even if I was playing the game by myself, when I got to that point I would pause and go run and get dad and ask him to come get the extra lives for me.

As I grew bored with Mario my dad issued a challenge: $100 if I could beat Mario twice back-to-back. And I can say that doing it is perhaps my greatest video game success of all time. I don’t think I’ve ever come close to that level of satisfying when it comes to beating video games.

See, when you first beat Super Mario Brothers it loops you back to the beginning but this time all the goombas are replaced by the beetles. In the first Mario the power-up was fire, which killed all the bad guys except the beetles. This was a brilliantly simple way for them to make Mario more difficult for the second run. So I had to beat the game without using warp tunnels to skip any levels. I did it of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be part of this story. As far as I can recall I used that money to buy more NES games, including Super Mario Brothers 3.

Super Mario Brothers 3 was the video game which I can easily say was the most impactful on me as a kid. It was mainly just me playing, sure my mom and my sister might play, but my dad sort of waned in terms of his interest.

This week I connected our original NES to our 55″ tv and proceeded to lose myself in the nostalgia of playing Super Mario Brothers 3 again. The NES is actually my wife’s and not mine, and is in perfect working order.

The first game I put in was Super Mario Brothers 3. As I played it, I kept laughing out of joy as things I had forgotten about came flooding back to me. But even more often than that I found myself simply automatically going towards hidden areas or secret power ups. It was as if I was at the fairground standing in front of the Zoltar machine wishing to return to my childhood. I sat cross-legged on the floor far too close to the TV and enjoyed the world of Mario.

Super Mario Brothers 1 required players to always move forward, never backward off frame. This let players know that the important thing was exploration and continuing down the rails of the game experience. Super Mario Brothers 3 rocked my world because it not only allowed me to go backwards on levels (and sometimes required me to) but the ability to navigate a map and choose which level I wanted to play. Sure it was still a limited pool of options but at the time it felt like a completely open world for me to explore.

As I played again, I found myself doing things without thinking. Ducking bad guys and jumping traps without thinking, pure muscle memory from twenty years ago. I played Super Mario Brothers during my formative years, the time when ‘my brain was a sponge’ and I have, in the annals of my mind, locked away hundreds if not thousands of facts and tricks to the game.

Meanwhile I can barely remember what I ate for dinner three nights ago.

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Last night though I can clearly remember it. After playing on Friday and then leaving the Nintendo on overnight I sat down and beat Super Mario Brothers 3 on my first play through. I think it took roughly four hours of play. I beat every airship, though I had two warp whistles I didn’t use a single one. I kept maybe half a dozen levels unbeaten since I could bypass them, and then on level 8 I put to use the clouds and skipped several of the levels. Oh, and I got 30 extra lives on level 1-2.

Beating Bowser on Super Mario Brothers 3 is a theoretically simple task: You have to use Bowser’s size against himself. Every time he lands you want him to land on the bricks such that he breaks a level of them. The area you face him on is three rows deep, so you need him to land in the same area three times. When he does, he falls through and tumbles to his death. It’s easy enough once you understand how it’s done, but definitely still requires twitch timing. And I did it in the first go.

When this screen came up I had a gut wrenching moment of panic trying to remember if indeed this was just another castle, but thankfully it wasn’t. And I was left to enjoy the end of this epic love story.

Super Mario Brothers 3 Win Screen

This screen is literally the end of the game. There’s no denouement sort of wrap up, or epilogue. In today’s world where usually there is a story of richly animated wrap-up, this brief finale made me laugh out loud. The NES is my time machine, transporting me back to my childhood, and reminding me just how amazing many video games of that era were are.

Thanks to my brother Adam and my sister Charlotte for their assistance and proofreading this post.

Iron Horse

My second hike of the year leads me to discuss modes of transportation, Chicago, and the paradoxical perception of trains as indestructible things while our bodies appear weak but if both are maintained, they could last forever.

Yesterday was my second hike of the year. I took advantage of a glorious blue skied day here and met up with two friends to explore a new trail. Well, new to me. The Iron Horse Trail is a fairly flat path that used to be a railroad track, it runs east-west across Washington and used to be part of a rail line which ran all the way to Chicago. When I heard this was what we were going to hike I wasn’t sure what to expect. I think I expected it to be more ‘Stand By Me
‘ with actual rails and rail ties. In fact it had all been cleared out and left a nice broad, flat, walking path.

I met up with Ben and his friend Joe. Together we walked 4.5 miles out before turning around, it was an easy walk on almost entirely flat terrain but it was still a nice long walk round trip. When they had looked up the trail they had thought there was an impressive bridge we’d come to, but it wasn’t there. At least, not in the amount we walked. That’s alright, this was a nice way to burn calories and enjoy time away from Facebook, Twitter, and life.

I honestly don’t know the last time I walked nine miles. Today I still feel it. My calves, my knees, and even my hip flexors are tender.

The walk was the first amount of exercise I’ve had in the last few weeks. February ended up being a month of treading water. I badly wanted to continue exercising and working out but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, I wasn’t motivated, I was fighting inertia. I always found an excuse. Thankfully, I haven’t suffered any major setbacks or backslides in terms of weight. I was able to simply tread water and see only minimal weight change.

This period of inactivity is only partially frustrating for the loss of progress on my weight loss, it’s also troubling as my first-ever 5k is fast approaching (as in this coming weekend) and I just know I’m going to suffer for these past few weeks. Today I am recovering from yesterday’s excursion but tomorrow I will be on the treadmill and preparing for that race.

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This isn’t the first extended period of treading water for me. Last year there were roughly two months worth of time that I wasn’t actively moving forward. So I’ve been through this before. These happen to everyone. For anyone working on their own weight loss it’s vital they understand that these are just temporary pauses in the march towards progress. It takes an iron will to push through these times, but it is easily doable.

In some ways, yesterday’s wilderness stroll being on the ‘iron horse’ trail feels fitting. I love the term ‘iron horse;’ it’s such an anachronism of a phrase in today’s world. The steam engine, while still critical for much of the world, is completely outmoded in modern America.

The thing is, as outdated as it is, that name is perfect.

Through the lens of the Victorian era 1800s it perfectly describes a train. A world where horses were the peak of transportation technology were now faced with this new marvel – an iron, man-made, steam-powered, behemoth which could do more than had ever been done before. They played witness to the birth of the steam engine and the railroad. Rails spread across the world, in America it played pawn to the great rail barons — making men richer than Croesus and sending others to the end of the bottle.

Today we are still fascinated by trains. They’re a very real and very understandable representation of physical power. These forty or fifty foot long engines at the head of hundreds of feet of train. Those are iron horses, rolling in and out of the biggest cities in the world: New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago.

Chicago…

At the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

I took a trip to Chicago when I was younger. My first ‘real’ trip after college. I traveled on my own. I stayed in a hostel and explored Chicago for a week. I saw the sites, checked out the museums, the architecture. I wanted to see a Cubs game but didn’t get to. Whenever I travel my dad had a list of suggestions of things for me to do or see. Chief among his suggestions for Chicago was the Museum of Science and Industry. He recalled going and seeing the train they had on display there.

That trip was a fantastic experience, in fact I was in Lincoln Park when I got a call that was a job offer for my first programming job. It’s interesting but I was on my way to that museum when that call arrived. After getting the good news I went to the Museum and I saw it for myself. From their expansive model train rig to engine #999.

I think perhaps the other thing about trains that draws people to them is this: they appear to be indestructible. They’re not built with an expiration date. The boiler gets as hot as the sun and yet it is built to be a furnace on wheels. The wheels aren’t rubber, they don’t get pierced and go flat – they churn thousands of miles. Sure things break and they need to be repaired but the engine will go on.

The thing is, this is an illusion. They must be treated and cared for, protected from the elements. They cannot simply stand against the elements.

I find that our bodies are the opposite. Where a train’s daily routine is to do endless work with little apparent strain, our bodies are most happy at rest. Where a train appears to last forever, ours appear wilting and prone to flabbiness.

In one way they are the same: If you work to maintain them, they both appear to last forever.