Website, Reboot

General ramblings about web coding, life and other stuff


One month of exercise

So it’s time to change my life. It’s October 1. I want to be healthier. I currently weigh 216 pounds, which is the most I have ever weighed, and according to the health assessment I did last month at work, I burn 1870 calories just sitting on my butt and I’m something like . To this end, I have

  • Restarted my account at MyFitnessPal to track my food intake
  • Cut out sugar and white bread as much as I can
  • Bought a new bicycle to bike to/from the Metro on mornings where it’s not raining
  • Added a pedometer app to my phone to count my steps with a goal of 10,000 steps a day
  • Installed the 30 Days app on my phone to challenge me every day for strength
  • Committed to writing a blog post every week

If you want to join in, find me on MyFitnessPal as cajunjoel. See you on Monday!


The Art of Doing Nothing

This seems to be a rough week for everyone when it comes to emotional stuff. A close friend reveals they are depressed for the first time in their life. Another is a raw nerve, hypersensitive to the usual crap that seems to always happen but never go away. Another is struggling with relationship issues they hoped wouldn’t happen, but did anyway. So many people seem to be struggling.

And then there’s me. A guy. A typical guy in that I want to DO something to help these folks. Relieve their pain, find a solution, a way out, something to help.

But in cases like these, I can’t do that. I have to do what in the past had felt like doing nothing. I have to stand back and let the situation be what it is. From my “old me” perspective, I have to do nothing.

But the newer me, the one I am trying to embrace and develop, can do something. Something that seems so illogical to the old me that it’s almost absurd.

I can be there.

I can listen.

I can empathize.

I can refrain from offering solutions.

And I can send pictures of cute baby animals when they are requested.

I’m finding that this takes practice and time. My gut wants to offer solutions or try to understand. But most, possibly all, of the time, I can’t do those things. They don’t help the person who is having a hard time… In fact they help ME feel better because I’ve been able to offer a solution to their problem!

How incredibly selfish.

Selfish because in their time of needing acceptance, acknowledgement, and understanding, by offering a solution they are getting none of that.

So I’m learning, by doing nothing that helps me, I’m doing something that greatly helps them. It’s almost an art form that takes practice to master. The art of doing nothing.


In support of Zoë Keating

I’m writing this on my phone because it’s on my mind and it needs to be said.

Zoë Keating
was a performer on JoCo Cruise Crazy 3 in 2013. I had not heard of her before the cruise announcement, so I opted to not listen to any of her music before the cruise and instead enjoy the experience of hearing her for the first time in the shared experience that is JCCC. (If you’ve been on this cruise then you know what I’m talking about.)

The result was no less than I expected from JoCo Cruise Crazy. Zoë is talented and downright amazing. Her music is unique and magical and I enjoyed every moment of that performance.

Later in the cruise, I was volunteering to check badges at the doors of another performance and as things got quiet out front, I went inside where I could watch the show and still see the doors. Back there near me was Zoë Keating and her husband and their toddler, a child at that age where they want to roam around and explore their environment. It made sense that they were at the back of the hall, enjoying the performance of one of her colleagues while still attending to the newfound wanderlust of their child. I didn’t intrude, but I watched from afar, as it were. It may be a commonplace thing to do for a patent, but to me I found it endearing. I enjoyed their interactions and probably smiled at them once or twice. It’s something I’ll remember for a long time.

Today, Zoë Keating and her family find themselves in a crisis. Her husband has recently been diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. Cancer sucks, I agree, but this is a bad situation.

My husband Jeff has been sick with a mysterious illness for several months. It’s not so mysterious any more. My man, my best friend, my soul mate, my partner-in-crime for 16 years has cancer. All. Fucking. Over. Lungs, brain, liver, bones.   Read more…

Which brings me to my point…

I’m asking you to support Zoë Keating. Check out her music. Buy a song, buy an album. She is a professional musician, so this is her livelihood. The tours and concerts and album she had plans for this year are all on hold while she is with her husband. I promise you won’t regret adding her music to your collection.




Silverlight Getting it Wrong

It’s monday. This is a rant.

I work in Google Chrome, it’s my browser of choice. Today, I got yet another popup reminding me to update Microsoft Silverlight. So I said to myself, what the hell, I’ll update it finally, despite the fact that I see nothing horribly wrong with my browsing experience. (N.B. Our shop uses a Microsoft backend, including heavy use of Sharepoint.)

So after clicking through to update Silverlight, I am presented with this.

Get Silverlight | Microsoft Silverlight

I think I stared at it a full minute before figuring out that I had to click the link for the “Current Version”. Current Version implies to me that it’s the version that I have installed on my computer. I had to compare the version numbers to see that the “Current” version was really the NEW version I needed to install.

Every other “Update this software now” installer I’ve used either A) started downloading the software immediately or B) at least provides a big bright UPDATE NOW button to send you on your way.

And people wonder why Microsoft is fading. They can’t get something this simple right. This smells like design by committee. Or design by people who don’t use their own software.

I think that everything else was just confusing the matter. Looking further, I have a 9×10 chart (NINETY different elements!) to look at to determine which version and OS Silverlight works on. As I said, I am on Chrome. I’m also on OS X. So if when I dug deep enough into this chart, I found that Silverlight is not compatible with Chrome on OS X 10.5.7+.

But wait, Silverlight was capable of telling me I needed to upgrade it, so SOMETHING was running on Chrome. But apparently it’s not compatible. Or maybe it’s no longer compatible. But compatible enough to harass me to upgrade every damn time I went to my company’s intranet homepage.

So, in summary, I have been badgered into updating software that is infuriatingly vague to install, but won’t provide me with the features it’s supposed to bring to my internet experience. Way to go, Microsoft.

At the very least, I hope that upgrading it will stop it from ever bugging me to upgrade.

UPDATE (Dec 4):

After updating Remember the big “INSTALL NOW” button I was looking for? It’s actually created with Silverlight. So if it’s not running because it needs to be updated, you don’t see it and the page isn’t confusing. I guess a PNG is too difficult to create at Microsoft.


On vacation

I find I have too much on my plate to keep this blog up to date with interesting things. So this is my official “I’m taking a break until I can re-prioritize things.” I hate doing this and I will not wear my “busyness” as a badge of honor as if my life is somehow more meaningful because I have a lot of stuff going on, but something is slipping and this is it. Until next time, take care.


Thoughts on Running

Run for your Lives logoI don’t know how it came up, or what conversation it was in, but I was sort of half-challenged to run a Run For Your Lives 5K zombie run in June.

Me? Running? Unheard of. I’ve always felt that I was never a good runner. I have weird things with my knees and problems with my feet. Running would be a bad idea.

Also, my loathing of running goes back to high school when we had to run around the track and I could barely make it a quarter mile without practically falling over. I wasn’t an overweight child, I just wasn’t athletic. I now realize that the coaches in high school had it wrong. You can’t just drop kids onto the track and expect them to run a half mile without any training.

I got an app on my new-to-me used smartphone and started with the Couch-to-5K plan. The first week, was pretty straightforward. Hey, this isn’t so easy. A treadmill cushions the ankles and knees and I have a shower and gym at work. Pretty nice when it’s 30 degrees outside.

Now that it’s warmer, I’ve been running outside. I just started week five, I’m all “Hey, I’m running! Holy crap, I never thought I could do this!” Of course, I’m still in training and taking audio cues from a disembodied computer voice from my phone, but it’s something. It’s almost fun. I find myself getting into “the zone” sometimes, where I am not concerned with how far I have left to go. I’m definitely getting the sense that this is mind-over-muscle. In some ways, I am working a part of my psyche that has never really had this kind of workout. It feels good.

Couch to 5K logo

I think I’m hitting my first challenge, though. Today I hit the treadmill with the symptoms of a cold caused by the insanely high pollen counts. Lung capacity is reduced, so I didn’t quite make my three intervals of 5 minutes each. I’ll have to repeat that again.

So far I’m enjoying how I feel having exercised. Overall I feel a bit stronger and a bit more accomplished at doing something I never thought I could do. Whether I lose my “brains” to a horde of “zombies” is still up for grabs, there’s hope that I will survive the run and obstacle course in June.


Solving the Email Problem


You have an email problem. So do I. We all do. We get too much of it and we don’t know how to handle it. We sit down at our desk and see an inbox of hundreds of emails, maybe even thousands, and we despair. It’s too overwhelming. Too much to deal with. How do you get through that mountain?

I hope to be able to help you. It’s a simple system and I’ve done it for 10+ years. I used to get a few hundred emails a day. I still get over a hundred a day now, but my inbox usually hovers between 10 and 20 messages. Right now, I’m at 12, but mostly because I haven’t processed them yet.

It’s important to remember that reading email is not your job. It’s certainly part of your job, but producing widgets (or code, or reports, or whatever) is your job. The goal is to reduce the amount of time you spend mucking around in email. Is “Reading and responding to email in a timely manner” part of your job description or performance plan? I didn’t think so… :)

So here we go.

Getting Started

First, don’t look at your email as it comes in. The popups, the notifications, the “You’ve got mail!” alerts. Turn them off. Seriously. Go do that right now. I’ll wait.

Ok, done? Look! The world hasn’t ended. You don’t know if there’s something urgent to respond to! Oh no! In all reality, if it were truly urgent, someone would call you. Or send you an instant message. Or direct message you on twitter. Or something. Generally, the email can wait a half hour or an hour. (We’ll get back to urgent messages later.)

The reason for turning off the notifications is to turn off the distraction so you can actually work. Because the constant checking of email really does get in the way, doesn’t it? Slows you down. Saps your attention. Distracts you from the thought processing needed to write that report, code that module, update that content. (By the way, the same goes for twitter, facebook, google chat, etc. Turn those off, too, if you want to work.)

Enjoy the blissful focus. Put on some music even, knowing that your trusty mail program, whatever it may be, will store your emails reliably until you, and only you, decide to read them. Because checking your messages as they come in is allowing someone else to dictate the flow of your day.

The Overview

Clock-iconThe general process goes like this: set aside two or three times a day (no more than this) to sit down and process your email. I’ll get into processing in a moment. You may also choose to check your email once an hour should you think you might get some truly urgent, business critical message, but when you do check, you’re only checking. You’re not processing. You’re not acting. You’re only checking. If it’s not urgent, it sits until your next processing time. When you’re done, close or hide your mail program.

When to process? For me it ends up being mid-morning and mid-afternoon.  Maybe 9:30 or so and 3:30-ish. These are flexible times but generally I process my email twice a day and I look at it roughly once an hour otherwise. Since you’re only processing twice a day you could even close your email program! (or gmail window) I know! It’s a crazy thought! I can’t tell you how much work I’ve gotten done when I’ve accidentally had my email program completely closed.

The Processing

Here’s where the fun begins. Processing your email means reading it and making a decision. Try to do this in an uninterrupted manner. Deciding what to do with a message means a bit of focus and you don’t want too many distractions.

My experience has shown that my email comes in three forms. Yours probably does too.

  1. Something you need to do.
  2. Something you need to remember.
  3. Something you need to read but not remember.

That’s it. Each message will fall under one of these three headings. Let’s look at them in detail, starting from the bottom.

Also, process your emails from the oldest to the newest. If you always start with the newest, the old ones tend to not get any love from you and may stagnate. This will account for when you are out of the office for a day or even a week. The oldest things will not get forgotten. And believe me when I say that you can use this process after a week-long vacation. You may have 400 emails to process and it may take you two hours, but it will work.


#3 is the easiest. It’s a funny article someone sent you or a notification about that bake sale where they always have the yummy chocolate chip cookies. But you don’t really need to remember it, so you can delete it. Read it, delete it. Boom. Done. Gone. One less message to worry about. (If that bake sale needs a calendar entry to remind you, this message is a #1, not a #3.)


#2 is requires a little more explanation. This type of message is something you might need to refer to in the future. An article related to a project you’re working on. Some instructions for logging into that website that you’ll need from time to time.

There is some setup work is required on your part for these messages. You must set up some folders (or the equivalent) in which to move and store your messages. For me, it’s often broken into the projects I’m working on that year. I tend to create folders (in OS X Mail) as I need them and based on whether I think that I will have more messages to add as the year goes on. (We’ll talk about the “this year” idea later.)

I’m writing this in April, so since January I have created 14 project folders and one “Miscellaneous” folder for things that aren’t project-related but I do want to remember.

What’s the point of all these folders? Well, first they are all searchable. But you can also search within a folder for emails related to only that project. Regardless, it’s not always helpful to have one giant folder containing all 5,000 messages that you’ve saved. There have been times where a search has failed me and I’ve had to go through and find the message by hand. Doing this in a folder containing a few hundred is much easier than a few thousand.

Remember that for all the emails that fall under #2 you haven’t actually had to do anything with them. It’s just read and file. Read and file.


#1 is the most tricky because these require some more decision making above and beyond whether it’s #1, #2 or #3.

(Note: The process I describe in #1 is a small part of the GTD process taught by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.)

Read the message. If it’s something you can complete in 2 minutes or less, do it now. Go ahead. Just knock it out. Send the reply. Make the setting on the website. Fix that typo in the content. Make that calendar entry. But the rule is less than 2 minutes. If there’s the possibility that it will be more than that, don’t do it now. Let it wait. When you’re done with the 2-minute task, reply only if necessary (hah! Does the reply take less than 2 minutes?) and file or delete. (Because once you’ve done the task, it’s now a #2 or #3 message so you can decide to keep it or not.)

If it’s more than 2 minutes, then it needs to go somewhere. This is where the GTD process really comes into play. I’m not going to get into it here, but the core of GTD is to have a todo-list sort of thing that you trust to keep you on top of the things you need to do. Since the email message is something you need to do, make an entry in your todo list and then file the email message.

Above all else:

Do Not Use Your Inbox As Your ToDo List

This is crucial. If you use your inbox as your todo list, then it’s a todo list that other people can add to. This is the path to crazy land. By consciously moving the item to your own todo list, you are making the choice to take on that task. If you don’t want add it to your list, then you can reply to the message, discuss an alternate solution, or decide who might be better suited to the task.

I understand that this is getting into the area of what your responsibilities and duties are, which is a more philosophical discussion and is not really suitable to this post. How you take on work is totally part of where you work and your corporate culture, but you can still have a todo list.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “But what if my todo list just starts getting insanely long?” Well, by only processing email twice a day, you’ve given yourself more focus to actually do your work. But you’re working from the todo list, which is always open, whereas your email is closed or otherwise hidden. (Right?)

(That said, there are things that have been on my list for months. Apparently they are low-priority. I hope…)

Long-term handling of your email

Over time, projects will begin and end and your list of folders will need to be managed and culled. The routine is simple: At the end of the calendar year (Dec 31 or even a few days before) move all of you project folders into a folder for the year, “2012”, for example. On Jan 1, start creating new folders, even if they end up being the same as last year’s.

This helps keep the number of messages down within each project folder and yet you’re still able to go back and search last year’s folders. My experience has shown that by the time March rolls around, I’m never checking the prior year’s folders for current projects. After that, it’s probably once or twice a year that I will need to go back in time to search any of my archives at all.

And this begs the question: did I need to file all those emails after all? (oooh, deep question!)

How to reduce the amount of email overall

Document-Help-iconWe get and send a lot of email. There are a few things we can do to reduce the amount that we send and receive.

First, sometimes adding your entire message to the subject, especially if it’s short, may save the person from having to open the message. Something like “Pls call me when you get a chance?” They don’t need to open the message which saves a bit of time. (Also, use “EOM” in the subject to indicate that the message doesn’t need to be opened. EOM = End of Message.)

Second, send things that are only necessary.

  • Want to see if someone’s available for lunch? Call them. :)
  • If there’s a back-and-forth that’s needed, set up a 15 minute meeting. It’ll be faster to talk than to type anyway. (A good rule of thumb is whether or not the discussion will need more than one reply. One reply, email. More than one, face-to-face.)
  • If the whole body of a message is “Thanks” or “Have a great day”, maybe saying that in person is a better option. Some people may even like being thanked in person! And they don’t have to spend 5 or 10 seconds reading and deleting the message.

Third, if the message is an FYI or an article of some sort, include some information at the top about why the message is relevant, or include a crucial excerpt that highlights the importance of the message. If you’re relaying a news article or a message to everyone in your department, make sure it’s applicable to everyone. If it’s not, send it to those who would most benefit from it.

(As an exercise, Let’s assume you have 100 people in your organization, the message is applicable to 10 of them, and 90 of them have to take 30 seconds to skim the message to decide if it’s important. That’s a total 45 people-minutes of company time lost due to one email message.)

Fourth, if it’s applicable (“Here’s the info you requested…”) you can indicate to someone that they don’t need to reply to your message by adding NNTR (No Need To Reply) at the end. This may save them from typing the “Thanks” message and save you from reading it. Eventually people will catch on and start using it themselves.


I know I’ve covered a number of things here, but the important bits are:

  • Set aside time twice a day to read email. Close or hide it completely otherwise.
  • Process your emails in the order you receive them.
  • File messages you need, delete messages you don’t need.
  • Do it now if it’s 2 minutes or less. Add it to your todo list if it’s more.
  • Don’t use your inbox as a todo list.
  • Use good etiquette and don’t send unnecessary emails.


Cruise Crazy ³

A third year, a third JoCo Cruise Crazy, a third year of insane fun, late nights, good friends, excellent music, mediocre dinners and did I mention the good friends? Yeah, that.


Jonathan Coulton, the man of the week

The week started off on a middle note for me. I was a bit angsty about things early on and I was a bit snappish with people. This was pointed out to me by my ever-patient wife. I did my best to keep my cool, but there were times where I forgot myself and I let my temper get the better of me. If you were on the receiving end of that, I humbly beg your forgiveness.

It got better, though, and I was finally able to relax and let go by tuesday or wednesday and truly enjoy the cruise. It seemed to go pretty fast, but when I look back, there was so much that was going on that things that I remember seemed to take place weeks ago, when it was really days ago.

So here are some highlights:

On saturday, we learned that an important suitcase had been forgotten at the airport. Sara Chicazul needed to pick up her rental cello from the music store. I had a car. You can see where this is going, right? :) We drove. A lot. To the airport, to the craft store, to the music store, back to the hotel. We were gone about 4 hours. We talked a long time (what else is there to do?) and covered a lot of topics, all of which I won’t go into here. I got to know my friend much better. She is a quirky, some would say, strange woman, but also terribly intelligent, perceptive, kind and caring. I think that road trip is one of the highlights of the week for me.

Also on saturday, we learned that two of our good friends weren’t going to make it on the cruise due to the weather in Boston. We were very sad because we were looking forward to seeing them very much. Early the next morning, we heard they had a lead on a flight that had been rescheduled and were going to  try to make it. Later in the day, about an hour before everyone had to be on board, I texted him. Moments later, they walk into the conference room for registration. Woohoo! Rejoicing! My snorkeling buddy made it! it was awesome!


Sunken canon and fish

Speaking of snorkeling, I am definitely doing that again. The snorkel part, which shall remain unnamed, was fun, to a point. It seemed to me that the company who owns the snorkel park was doing the bare minimum to get tourists to give them money. The park was situated on a rather rocky shore, but we still did see some fish and a sunken helicopter, an old cannon, a barracuda, some nasty looking spiny sea urchins and some fish. The best part of the day was getting to spend it with my friend, which was really worth it.

Concerts, parties, drinking, hot tubbing at midnight in gale force winds. Those are things that happend. I will not recount them.

The best I can say is that though I had a good time, it was a mixed week for me. Overall, the week went by very fast. I didn’t get much sleep and was busy doing something all the time, be it running errands for the staff, partying it up, dining, going to shows, trying to tie a &$#@! bowtie. But the week started off on a down note and picked up over the course of the week.

A few hiccups on my part early on with the volunteering thing kinda got me down, but I had to force myself to let it go and start enjoying myself. Eventually things fell into place and I forced myself to have fun, but maybe not to go so far as singing karaoke. Maybe next year.

And yes, we are going again next year. How could we miss this? :) The best part for me is seeing friends I don’t often get to see, and making new friends. Next year, more friends, right? Right.

See more photos here!


A New Year

A launch of the space shuttle. Suitable as I am sort of relaunching the site.

A launch of the space shuttle. Suitable as I am sort of relaunching the site.

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It’s been eight days since my last post. I have thought of posting every day since the, but I find it hard to. See, even though I have this blog and I have a general persona on the web, I am still worried about posting too much deeply personal stuff on the web.

Ok, that’s a lie. I’m lazy. Plain and simple. (But I also like to keep private things private.)

At the beginning of the year, I told myself I would post at least once a week, and so far I find it hard to remember or think of something to write about or make the time. So this time, now that I’m sitting here, I think I’ll give you a stream of consciousness as it were and tell you the first thing which comes to my mind, which is who I am.

Is it telling that the first thing that I gravitate towards is my job? I think so. Why do I first identify that when talking about myself? Is it the old Washington DC thing of asking people what they do for a living as small talk? Forget that. Small talk is lame. (But I do love my job, more on that later)

So who am I? What am I? I am a husband, a friend, a companion, a caretaker, a problem-solver and a cook. I am intelligent, often ingenious, rational, and possibly too intellectual for my emotional side (something I am working on.) I am generous and kind, understanding and friendly. I am fun loving and enjoy spontaneity.  I work for possibly one of the best organizations in the world and I am proud to be part of such a group of amazing people. Three years in, I still find myself tickled that I work there and that there wasn’t some MENSA-like test that I had to pass to work there.

That’s not to say that I am not challenged daily in a variety of ways, both professionally and personally. I think this blog is a place in which I can easily get into the professional challenges, but the personal ones are a bit more difficult as they don’t always just deal with me. That’s a fine line to walk. A lot of the challenges that I encounter on a daily basis do stem from my internal processing of what goes on the world. Something that I think that is probably average for everyone but in which I see flaws in me that I can improve upon to be happier, healthier and so on.

So as the new year begins (OK, we’re over two weeks in) I’m reevaluating what this blog is going to be and what it will mean and hopefully will give the seven of you who are reading this a reason to keep coming back.


MAGFest 2012

So… Mag fest happened. I didn’t really known what to expect, except for

  • A lot of nerds (9000 as it turns out)
  • A lot of fun (goes without saying)
  • Very little sleep (also goes without saying)

The con went from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon, which was more time than I had from work what with the New Year holiday the weekend before. Too much going on at work meant that I couldn’t take that much time off from work. That’s OK, this time I could afford to miss some of MAGfest in order to balance things out.

First a side note: I am not as wired as most of my friends. I do not have a smartphone with unlimited text and data or whatever so the biggest headache was not really being able to be in contact to coordinate with people for dinner, panels, hanging out or whatever. My dumbphone can do text, but it’s damn hard to type on and the battery life is iffy.

So, I figured out that I need to have a better way of being able to find people and communicate with them during the con. This is a must for PAX East. Currently I am looking at something under the Virgin Mobile banner since I really don’t want the distraction of being connected all. the. time. and I’ve pretty much gotten over the whole 2-year contract garbage from the other carriers.

Part the second, I need to plan better to go to the things I want to go to and the things that I want to see. Ahead of time. And stick too it. Not that I am complaining, I had an amazing time doing what I did at MAGFest, but I know that for PAX East I will need to be a bit more attentive to that and plan a bit better and make a decision to do this and not that and know that I am making the choice (or not making the choice).

I think the highlights of the weekend are topped by the after-party in a hotel room (that wasn’t shut down by security, though they did pay us a visit) in which I got to met some of the members of The Protomen right after seeing them for the first time ever. They really rocked the house. Both times!

That’s a highlight on a weekend that was lit up by spending time with my friends the entire time, some new and some old. I reserve the word epic for rare cases, but this came close. If PAX is anything like this then it’s going to be truly epic. :)

Some personal notes:

Zulahni, it was awesome to meet and hang out with you on Saturday. JCCC3 is going to be awesome!

Nicole, I’m sorry we didn’t hang out more but I know you were working and I am grateful for them time I did get to see you.

Rhaje, if you tell me there is an after-party in a smelly dark alley, I will go, no questions asked. Forget “Team Joel”, OK, the guacamole was good, but good guac doesn’t compare to the incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting. Team Rhaje!! (P.S. were you there when the googly eyes showed up? Yeah, that.)

And to all the people I met, Rachel, Abby, Danimal, Q, Mags, A.J., Josh, Christie, L.A., Casey, Ian, and (60% of) the Protomen, I hope to see you you guys next time!