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27 May

Doubting one's self

[Up-front note: this won't be an epic, Ulysses-length blog post like last time. Relatively speaking, I'm keeping this one tight and short.]

This has been a weird couple of weeks leading up to a Memorial Day weekend where I don’t really have any assignments due or pending stuff. That sends me into a little bit of a panic (weird in that it’s a panic about not having anything to panic over). Then I start to feel guilty for not having something major to stress about right now, a big piece of writing to embark on or a pending project to edit over and revise.

It’s probably not healthy, this worry about things that don’t exist or aren’t happening. It’s like worrying about ghosts but not believing in God. You’d think you could just relax and hang back and enjoy a time when you’re not being haunted, but instead you’re in your haunted house thinking, “This doesn’t seem scary. Something’s up.”

This is why I’m not great with taking real vacations or hiatuses. I can be happy without work on my plate, I really can, but it’s not when I’m happiest, you know? I’ve been filling some time playing video games, doing more reading than usual, spending lots more time with the kids on the weekends since there haven’t been a lot of places I need to rush to-and-fro lately.

It’s nice and lazy and not at all my jam, but I’m trying hard to enjoy it for what it is. Last night, after Mad Men, I lay on the floor with the TV off and looked up at the ceiling intensely and then I dozed and then woke up and stared at the ceiling some more and then I rolled over and dozed with my face against a new rug we just bought and then I woke up and thought, “Well, that was a thing I just did. Dozing and gazing. That wasn’t so bad.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity and creating things and the ways in which we sometimes have control over the things we make. Other times, we’re making things for someone else, or at least to someone else’s specifications-for-hire, and that’s totally all right too. You can be really creative and make neat things even when they’re not things you technically get to own.

Luck, for me, and just sticking with things has had a lot to do with being able to get to create things where I’m pretty much left alone to do them. The column I write for work is very much self-generated. Every now and then, my editor or someone else I work with will suggest a topic, but 95 percent of the time, it’s just a list I keep in my head or in our planner of stuff I want to write about in the future. Ideas are sometimes discussed and fleshed out and tweaked, but there’s nobody telling me, “No, don’t write about that.” It took a long time to get to that point of trust.

Same with Statesman Shots. We’ve had suggestions for guests and for topics from inside and outside the newsroom, but ultimately, Tolly, I and in an increasing number of cases, our great audio/video producer Alyssa, are the ones deciding how it’s gonna go from week to week and what the conversations will be. I don’t take that freedom for granted. It’s what makes the show special.

In other projects, even within groups, I’ve been able to have a lot of control over my own material.

But it gets a little weird when I venture into areas where I don’t know the lay of the land (say, publishing). I’ve had a couple of experiences over the last few years where instead of people telling me, “Yes, and…” it’s been more like, “No, but good luck” and it’s been difficult. It makes me feel like I’ve been shielded for too long from the realities of rejection and it makes me blink and stand there and say, “Wait, what? What do you mean no? That’s not how this is supposed to go.”

And because I’ve been so lucky for so long having the things I work on accepted and carried on and published and produced (in newspapers, on stage, on the radio, etc.) it throws me for a huge loop and fills me with self-doubt. And it’s weird and I’m not used to feeling that way and instead of keeping a cap on it and understanding that it only has to do with the one thing that’s being rejected, I swallow it whole and start letting it define me, feeling that I’ve somehow been talked down to.

I start to believe that I can’t write at all, that the other things I’ve written are no good, that I’m way past my peak and that younger, more energetic writers are doing much more interesting things with much more room to grow.

And then it becomes very easy to lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling and roll over on the new rug and just lay there believing you have nothing to say and no words to share and not even a decent Tweet all weekend to prove that you exist and are worth following.

It’s not self-pity or wallowing exactly and I don’t suffer from depression (thank goodness). But I have been wrestling a lot with self doubt lately, with not throwing out the ego baby with the rejection bathwater when things don’t go my way. I’ve been pretty spoiled by having lots of avenues to push work through and to even get paid at it. But I’ve hit an age where I worry that there are only so many constructive paths left to pursue and that some of the goals I had from so long ago, even as a teenager, maybe just aren’t who I am anymore or what I want. That maybe there should be more focus and less daydreaming, less shooting for the moon and more nosing that grindstone.

Did people really put their noses to grindstones? On purpose or were they forced? Late at night, when no one was around, did perverted workaholics put their balls on a grindstone? That must have been horrible when the inevitable trapped-sack incident occurred and they had to call someone in to take apart the grindstone and free some poor bastard’s grinded-down giblets.

Boy is this off track. No wonder I got rejected. I’m writing about testicles. Why does everything I write turn into scrotums?

So that’s what’s up lately. A little self-doubt, some ceiling-gazing (it’s comfier than navel-gazing) and trying really hard to enjoy the everyday pleasure that early summer is bringing to my wonderful little waterpark town.

Writing this helps. It starts to chip away at the doubt.

Statesman Shots

We’ve had a really great couple of weeks of Statesman Shots episodes. Here’s the two most recent:

Episode 17 with Kristin Finan, my editor! This one’s special because Kristin has been a constant behind-the-scenes advocate for “Shots,” championing its existence before we ever recorded one and continuing to encourage us along the way. Kristin also happens to be our travel editor, so it was a pretty easy decision to ask her on to talk about summer travel and work/life balance given that she juggles a family with all of her work travel. The video below was about one of the short episode topics, ’90s music. Gaze with fear at my aging CD collection!


Episode 18 with Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson of the ATX Television Festival: I interviewed Caitlin and Emily last year for a story about TV binge watching and found them to be hilarious and charming on the phone. We talk a lot about TV on the podcast, and knew it would be fun to geek out with them as the third season of their TV fest approaches. They were great on the show and just the kind of pop-culture geeks we enjoy hearing from.

In the videos below, we talk about monsters from TV and movies we love, spurred by the recent release of Godzilla, and about tips for parenthood. This was the last episode we did with Tolly before she went on baby leave (as far as I know, baby is still pending as of this writing!); she’ll be back and we’ll have guest co-hosts while she’s away. Speaking of Tolly, she also wrote a great blog post for the Shots blog about the parallel releases of Bernie Tiede (subject of the movie Bernie) and Michael Alig (subject of Party Monster).

Statesman stuff

The Great App Purge '14

Last week’s Digital Savant column was about ways to clean up app clutter on a mobile device or laptop. Got way too many apps on those home screens? This column should help you round them up and purge what you don’t need.

This week’s column is another advice/service piece about a pretty hot topic right now, whether you should cut the cord on cable or satellite TV service and if so, what your options are. This was a tough one to get down to a reasonable length and still feel fairly comprehensive, but I’m happy with the way it turned out.

I also did a Digital Savant Micro about Twitter’s new mute feature (handy! Dangerous!) and a short blog post about some of the guys from Rooster Teeth appearing on Chris Hardwick’s show @midnight. (They did very, very well. No wonder they have so many fans.)

I’ve got two videos in the pipeline for this week and we’ve already recorded next week’s Statesman Shots (the first without Tolly) with past guest Addie Broyles as our guest co-host and the great Wendi Aarons as our guest. It’s a really fun one.

Other stuff

That’s really about it except for a few photos to share. I’ve been doing a fitness training program that I’ll tell you about next time and we have a trip planned to New York next month that should be pretty exciting. It’s finally summer here and that means lots of summer fun.

Turtling at Schlitterbahn

New bike day

Lilly explains Bar Mitzvah for class: \"they truned into mans.\"

My mom still has a lot to teach me, like, \"Don\'t forget your sunglasses.\"

Happy belated Mother’s Day, kids’ bike day and whatever else you’re celebrating!

The vacationer

10 Dec

Quick caption sidebar: this is one of the images that came up when I did a paid image search for "Staycation." I have NEVER had a stay-at-home vacation that looked anything like this. Why are they so happy? Because they DIDN'T go to Paris? Are they making fireplace toast? Is that a white people thing? This image just depressed me far more than having multiple staycations ever could. [/End of Sidebar]

Quick caption sidebar: this is one of the images that came up when I did a paid image search for “Staycation.” I have NEVER had a stay-at-home vacation that looked anything like this. Why are they so happy? Because they DIDN’T go to Paris? Are they making fireplace toast? Is that a white people thing? This image just depressed me far more than having multiple staycations ever could. [/End of Sidebar]


“Where did you go on vacation?”

I felt like that was the wrong question even though it was asked of me multiple times. And not just by one person. Several people asked. And each time, I thought, “That’s not the right question. It should be ‘what did you do on vacation?’ Who cares where I went? I got some serious shit done! Right here! In my house!”

I didn’t leave my house very much is what happened.

But! It’s all right! I’m used to it! I have two kids. This is not a life you choose for jet-setting unless your children are Spy Kids. I don’t go to The Club. My life is boring sometimes, but in the best way possible.

So here is what happened: I ended up, with two months left in the year, with a lot of vacation time left to burn. I didn’t get sick this year, really, and the various times my kids had to go to the doctor always fell on days when I could work from home and knock out a quick appointment or had help from my wife, parents and in-laws.

We took a week of vacation for Disney World, but when you factored in work make-up days for stuff like South by Southwest, it was still a lot of vacation/sick days (which for us are rolled together into one big Ball of Time). So I’m in the middle of vacation time after having just taken vacation time in November and am looking forward to going back to work next week and then taking time off again.

It was a lot of time to burn.

It didn’t occur to me to book a trip or sign up for skydiving lessons or anything like that.

On my vacation, what I really needed to do was pick up boxes that had been boxing it up on the floor of my home office for months with no one to pick them up and deal with their content.

I needed to buy a new car, something I said I was going to do a year ago and that just seemed like too big a hassle to take on at any point in the previous twelve months.

And I still had things to write on the freelance tip (more on that below) and work-related emails to at least glance at even though I was “not working.” In fact, the first few days of my vacation, I exhausted myself just writing and organizing and them sleeping half a day away because I was staying up all crazy hours as if I was not a person who had to get up at 6:30 a.m. every day because my vacation did not mean my kids were on vacation. No, it was pretty much the opposite of that.

So it’s been a weird couple of weeks where my expectations of leisurely relaxation, iPad propped on belly and a continuous row of beers extending off into the distance, would keep me company as I hung out on the porch in unseasonably warm November weather.

Even that part didn’t quite work out. It was rainy and then super-fucking cold, the kind of weather where if I had been working I would have had trouble even driving in.

“Where did you go on vacation?”

I probably should have planned to go somewhere, all right! The whole concept of a vacation that lasts more than a few days was so foreign to me that it didn’t even pop into my head that there was enough time allotted to get on a plane and go see some stuff in a place that is not here. But that’s just it. I wouldn’t want to go on a vacation trip thing without my wife (who doesn’t have time off like I do and reminds me of it at least once a day with, “Must be NICE!”) or… OK, maybe the kids, too. If they’re behaving. Holy crap, that trip back from Disney World might have put me off of flying with children forever.

What else I did on “Vacation”:

    • I went to Austin a few times to attend some going-away events for 17 of our beloved newsroom colleagues.
    • After some weird performance anxiety and a few months of second-draft editing, I sent the first few chapters of the novel I finished in the summer to my literary agent. Yes, I have a literary agent; I signed with him more than a decade ago. No, I’ve never written a book before. Yes, he’s the most patient person in the world.
    • I put in some major video game time, which I haven’t been able to do in a while as things were so busy in November. Super Mario 3D World is really fantastic, as is Resogun on the new PS4. Not too crazy about some of the other PS4 games I’ve tried, honestly, but the system itself has impressed me, especially the game-streaming stuff, which I never thought I’d care about.
    • I put up Christmas lights. Then I ran out of special staples I use and had to use stickies and stickies are terrible and fall down, so I’m going to have to do a re-do.
    • Thanksgiving turkey. I didn’t cook it, but I sure ate some.
    • This was a little bit before vacation, but I had a tech gift guide slide show run on Television Without Pity. An annual tradition!
    • Started working with Raul Garza and the other writers on the next Mexcentrics sketch comedy show! I was dubious about the timeline we have to work with, but in one meeting, we pretty much sketched out the frame for the show and ended up with more than a dozen solid ideas. Latino work ethic ftw! This show is scheduled for February.
    • Wrote this blog post! What? This was on my to-do list!

Statesman writing stuff

I’ll keep it short, unlike last month’s barrage of stuff.

Digital Savant column took a short vacation as well, but there was a column that is running in Tuesday’s newspaper, my look at the state of social media in late 2013, from selfies to Snapchat and more.

On the Micro side, I advised a reader about large-format e-ink-based ebook readers.

Last time I mentioned we did a pilot episode of a new Austin culture podcast. The response was really good! My editors and other folks I worked with really seemed to like it and we’re planning what to do next. My hope is we can get moving in January to continue what we started, but we’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of logistics stuff that needs to be worked out. But I’m so glad people seemed to enjoy what we did and that a year of anticipation seems to have paid off. In related news, podcast co-host Tolly is pregnant! Congratulations to her and her husband who have a lot of great times (and little sleep) in store for them.

And that’s it! Vacation!


Oh, Canada!

I think there’s only one more episode of How I Met Your Mother before they go on a little break for the holidays. My most recent Show-O-Matic about it is for this last season’s Episode 12, which was a gigantic ode to Robin’s Canadian heritage.

Governor Bloody Jerkface

More significantly was the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead where lots of characters died and much mess was made of converging plotlines. It was a ton of work visually recapping in Particles form all the late-episode action, but somehow it all worked out. The show returns in February for eight more episodes.

In space with simians

New Space Monkeys! comics:

Gobble Gobble

Only one, but it’s a Thanksgiving comic that I really enjoyed writing. (It was very little writing, honestly)

Last things

Dr. C

Carolina got a haircut (not pictured) and a medical degree.

We went to a comic book convention in Austin and THIS HAPPENED:

The gentleman (Giancarlo Esposito) and us

I can’t top that. Talk to you next time.

In conclusion

2 Sep

The littlest cheese truck!

Child and tiny truck. Missing: one tooth.


As every summer ends in New Braunfels I always lament that I didn’t go swimming enough or that I didn’t go tubing or enjoy all the fun, outdoorsy stuff there is to do here. By October, I’m full-on bitter about the cooling weather and how it means no more swimming.

I somehow forget that I’m not really that outdoorsy and that even though I love swimming, I hate being out in 105-degree heat and get cranky if the air conditioner doesn’t stay well below 77 degrees in the house.

This summer is different because instead of somehow feeling like I lost the time due to summer lethargy, it’s actually been jam-packed with activity for me and for the whole family. There’s been more travel than I’ve done since before the kids were born, the conclusion of something I’d been working on for a while (or at least the next phase of work on it), a door opening for a new site that I had been wanting to write for but that I hadn’t been able to commit time to and, honestly, the best summer I’ve had with my girls yet.

That’s been kind of of the showstopper around here. Several times a week my wife and I will exchange a look as our daughters are calmly playing together or doing something completely new and we’ll say, “They’re getting bigger.” They’re growing up. They’re not babies or even toddlers. Our Lilly turned 6 a few weeks ago. Only a few days later she lost her first tooth (no worries; it was painless and she didn’t even notice it was gone until I pointed out the gap). As I write this, she’s completed her first week of 1st Grade. Her sister, the curly-haired wild child, is still destructive and prone to bursts of turbo energy that exhaust us all, but she has also grown sweeter and kinder and more in love with us and her sister than I could have hoped.

She’ll make a huge fuss about taking something to school (a toy, a paper with writing on it, anything) and after giving up on trying to convince her she shouldn’t, I’ll find out that she only wanted to take the item to school to show it to her favorite teacher because she can’t keep something she loves to herself and wants to share.

This summer we got to take the girls to Disney World, we were able to make a beach trip, Lilly went on a bunch of field trips with her older-kids daycare to places I’ve never even seen, I went to Las Vegas for my first work trip in a very long time (more on that in a bit), my wife did some work traveling and I attended my 20-year high school reunion. We sold our damn Austin house, relieving years of stress.

I haven’t been tubing yet (there’s still time!) but as Labor Day approaches and the summer winds down, I don’t feel like I missed much. In fact, I feel like I’m ready for things to calm down and conclude. It was a great summer, but not for all the reasons I usually expect.

Double decker shopping

Work writing

A really busy couple of weeks at work. Here’s what was in the paper and online.

Sam Killermann, one of the working-at-coffee-shop experts I spoke to for my story. Photo by Deborah Cannon / Austin American-Statesman

Sam Killermann, one of the working-at-coffee-shop experts I spoke to for my story. Photo by Deborah Cannon / Austin American-Statesman


Digital Savant columns:


Sony SmartWatch


Digital Savant Micro features:

Other random stuff:

A lengthy blog review of the Leap Motion controller.

A silly blog post suggesting new names for Microsoft’s SkyDrive.

A blog post about a new Austin-based video commenting tool called FrameBuzz.

Las Vegas

Work trips are super stupid-boring, so I won’t subject you to the details of a trip I took for Vegas, but I’ll just say that because of the nature of my beat and the nature of working at a newspaper with a limited travel budget, I don’t take a lot of trips to cover stories outside of Austin.

Since last year, when it was announced that South by Southwest Interactive would be doing a conference in Las Vegas, my then-editor and I assumed I would go, but even a few months before the event in August, I still had my doubts that I would actually go. Things have been so busy this summer that I began to like the idea of just not going but when my editors approved my travel plans, I started to get excited about it again.

I’m so glad I went. Not only where there plenty of things to write about before the SXSW V2V, as the Vegas conference was called, but I had a lot more fun there than I was expecting, a combination of knowing a few people from Austin and other places that I got to hang out with, a really upscale venue with killer hotel rooms (The Cosmopolitan) and an overall laid back and accommodating vibe that wasn’t as crazy or as hectic as the SXSW I’m used to in March in Austin. No matter how wild things might get or how late I stayed out, I didn’t have to worry about a 45-minute drive home, which is always in the back of my mind at SXSW Interactive.

As I tried to make clear in my stories, there’s a lot of change happening in downtown Las Vegas and techies are beginning to take notice that there might be some big opportunities there (MyStatesman version here).

As for what I actually wrote, I did a Digital Savant column about how the event came together and a Sunday business story about the Downtown Project aspects that helped draw SXSW to Las Vegas.

After the event was over, I did a wrap-up of the overall event. (MyStatesman version here.)

I also shot a video at V2V that was expertly edited quickly by Emma Janzen. You can find that below.



Other highlights from Vegas: playing blackjack with friends one night drinking endless Manhattans (my new favorite get-drunk-quick drink!) and woke up to the worst hangover I’ve had since my 20s and maybe ever. I literally could not look at a computer screen for several hours.

And then I thought about how that might look on Twitter.

I went to Ellis Island for karaoke and had the time of my life. Vegas is the perfect karaoke city.

I finally got my ass to the pinball museum, which was pretty great but won’t replace the soft spot in my heart I have quickly developed for Austin’s Pinballz.

I had my doubts about The Cosmopolitan because the first impression it gives is pretty douchey, but my goodness the rooms are enormous and the dealers are super friendly and the restaurants there are incredible. Highly recommended, just don’t let the freaky lobby freak you out like it did me:

I put a whole mess of Vegas photos on Flickr. You can view the whole album here. I put a few of them below as well.

Inaugural #SXSWV2V sushi and fried chicken and Google Glass meetup!


Chris, Claire, Sweet John and Me.


My power

Steve Case keynote @ SXSW V2V


I mentioned the launch of a while back, a site created by the founders of Mighty Big TV / Television Without Pity and featuring lots of alumni as contributors.

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to write for people you love and respect and enjoy working with, but even after the launch, I hadn’t approached them about contributing to the site because I was trying to force myself to stop freelancing and to finish the novel I started before the start of the year. With that finally done in late June and me pretty far into the second draft/editing of it (about 210 of 360 or so pages), I finally sent a query and was thrilled to be welcomed aboard.

My first piece for Previously ran last week and was an “I Am Not a Crackpot!” suggesting that the part of Marc Maron in the TV show Maron should be recast.

This week, I wrote a story about The Walking Dead’s lead character Rick Grimes for the site’s Career Week and I’ve got another piece in the pipeline.

It feels wonderful to be a part of that team and if you’re not already checking out that site and making it part of your daily reading, you’re missing some really fun, creative TV writing. I mean, this Tales of the Gold Monkey post alone… my God. Consider it indispensable for the coming fall TV season.

Those space monkeys

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 12.35.04 AMWe’re still updating the space-faring adventures of Bobbo, Meany and the crew in weekly fashion and their Twitter account has been pretty active of late.

Also, we’re about to hit 300 “Likes” on Facebook. More of those are always good, hint hint.

It’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog (mostly lethargy, but also I didn’t feel like I had much to say till now) that if you haven’t kept up, you’ve missed five whole new comics!

They are:

We’ve been nothing if not extremely topical.


The All-updates update

27 Jul

A sea turtle

This is what is happening, in bite-sized updates:

That whole selling our Austin rental house thing

Sold! We got three offers the first day and one the second day and then no more offers. We were told by our fantastic realtor that this is common in this market and the good news was that two of the first three offers were serious and we got into a little bidding war situation. We came out about 5 percent above asking price and we closed on Friday, so a combination of a scorching hot Austin seller’s market and good timing means we came out pretty well ahead.

That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t put a big, scary amount of money into fixing the house up for sale, but the investment and the worry paid off.

Now I need some margaritas to celebrate.


Because of kids, we rarely go anywhere, but this year has suddenly been full of travel. We did Disney World and shortly after that, I went to my 20-year reunion in Oklahoma. We ended up going on a shorter second vacation two weeks ago to sunny S. Padre Island which the girls enjoyed almost as much as Disney.

On that trip, I got to really relax and enjoy myself, eat a lot of seafood and see some rescued sea turtles (above), which I immediately chose as my new spirit animals. As opposed to a cranky crab, which I can be when I’m not at the beach (below).

Crab, man

My wife took a just-concluded work trip, so I’ve been juggling taking care of the kids with work, which has left me exhausted. But the kids behaved, which they always seem to do when one of us is away (do they think they’re in trouble or something?), so it went well. My wife will be taking her turn going solo when I go cover SXSW V2V next month in Las Vegas. I like Vegas, but it’s a work trip and it’s no fun going there alone. Hope the conference is exciting and has good energy.


I feel weird saying much about this because like all superstitious writers, I fear the jinx, but the quick status update is that I took a few days away from the material and have since spent the last week and a half just reading back through it without trying to edit as I go. I was expecting to be horrified and to want to rewrite huge swaths, but instead I’ve been surprised by stuff I don’t even remember writing and pleased with a lot of it. Next step will be to give it a hard 2nd-draft edit/revision and to get some feedback from a very tiny group of people I asked to read the first draft. Not sure what’ll happen after that, to be perfectly honest but I’m definitely not going to just put it away. This year for me has been primarily about this project and very little else.

Things that have brought me joy lately

This video (which I was very late to seeing), this song, this blog post, this Tumblrthis T-shirt, the photo below.

Don’t worry, we were able to reclaim her arm from the seaweed virus before she ate Megatokyo.

Stuff I wrote

My Digital Savant column last week was a roundup of reviews: the video games The Last of Us (depressing!) and Gunpoint (clever and funny!), as well as the Nikon D5200 SLR camera.

This week’s column was about the nonprofit Austin Free-Net, which has been around since 1995 and has been doing great work in the Austin community to bring Internet access and computer services to those who wouldn’t otherwise get it.

I also did some Digital Savant Micro stories about clickjacking and about Google’s just-announced Chromecast dongle.

One new thing at work is that it looks like I’ll be doing more video stuff soon. More on that as it happens.


Monkeys who hump and more

The Space Monkeys! really liked the movie Pacific Rim(which I still need to see) and this week did a whole lot of sexing in honor of “Hump Day.”

Give them a Facebook Like, won’t you?

I made some tacos and they ended up in a book

Through one of those random Austin things that happens from time to time, a friend of mine found himself working on a book about breakfast tacos and he asked if I’d like to be included. This involved me making some tacos and taking them to a photo shoot and writing up a little bit about my love for and history with the humble breakfast taco.

The book turned out beautifully and a launch party for it drew a huge crowd.

Buy a copy. I promise it’s worth your money and time.

In the taco book

On Twitter

Two out-of-the ordinary things that happened on Twitter recently.

The night of the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman verdict, I tweeted something I thought was very vague and of course that’s the thing that people latch on to retweet hundreds of times.

You can’t really see the responses or how some people reposted it anymore, but what was interested was the responses said way more about the person than the original Tweet did about me, I think.  It was a very weird, bad week on multiple fronts and in some ways it just summed up the bummer that was in the air that night.

The other Tweet was much more recent and came from my daughter. I think it may have had something to do with a dinosaur exhibit she just saw, which must mean she thinks her father is about to become extinct:

I wish I’d had a good response to that other than, “Damn. You got me. Well done.”

Voyage to the past

3 Jul

Official 20-Year Reunion Photo

10 years ago, I went to my 10-year reunion and it never even occurred to me that I was already writing on this site at the time and that of course I documented it. I sometimes forget I have this whole diary thing that dates back to 2000.

But in a way, I’m glad I didn’t read what I wrote before I flew to Oklahoma City on Saturday for a super-quick round-trip 20-year reunion. I’m glad that the fog of parent brain and 10 years passed made me go into it with no expectations other than that at least two good friends of mine would be there and that I really wanted to see them.

Because it turned out to be a weird night in a lot of little, wonderful ways.

I can’t imagine there is anyone who goes to a 1o- or 20-year reunion and doesn’t find it a little strange, unless you live in the place you went to school and are in close contact with all the people who came up with you. I imagine reunions have always been a little weird, a mix of the people you remember clearly, the people you remember but never really spent much time with even when you were in close daily proximity and then the people who unfortunately completely left your brain and don’t return in memory even when the older version of them is standing right there in front of you.

And then there’s the Facebook effect. I’m pretty sure a lot of people didn’t come to the reunion specifically because they feel they already get the nostalgia/curiosity hit they need from The Social Network and that a $400 plane ticket and accommodations aren’t going to add much to their mental picture of how their peers ended up.

I went alone. My wife has no interest in going to her reunion and had much, much less interest in going to mine and I completely agree with that decision. Unless you’re into people-watching and hearing second-hand stories of glorious old inside jokes, it’s just an uncomfortable thing to be the spouse at these things unless your relationship is new and you’re still in the figuring-out-your-mate stage where everything is a window into their past and personality. If you’ve been with something for 15+ years, it becomes more of the same shit that you’ve heard hundreds of times, more like.

The reunion did make me more aware than ever of the strange things constant online contact (again, mostly Facebook) have done to us. There were people at the reunion who spoke as if they interest nearly every day and the people that I do actually talk to on Facebook seemed like people I’d seen around within the last few months, not 10 whole years. When the night was winding down and people were saying their goodbyes, it wasn’t, “I’ll see you in 5 or 10 years,” it was, “I’ll post some pics and tag you” or “I’ll let you know on Monday what I find out.”

The people who want to stay in touch are still in touch. Even the people we didn’t really want to be in touch with necessarily all the time we’re still talking to.

Me, Marcus, Candace and Jeremy

Me, Marcus, Candace and Jeremy

I’m not saying that’s good or bad; for me it’s nice in a lot of ways and only negative once in a blue moon. But it is different, it is weird and I’m not sure that my generation has figured out what to do with it beyond simply ignoring it and moving on.

I did have a good time, though. It took place in a strange and awesome building in downtown Oklahoma City (I went to school in nearby Midwest City) at some eccentric rich person’s house. I mean rich like having the kind of money where you say, “Screw it, I’m putting cars in the living room and getting poker playing dog throw pillows. And putting a DJ on the rooftop!” It completely blew away our 10-year reunion, which was in a boring ballroom that nobody remembers.

I’m glad I went, the expense was worth it and at the end of the night, I had gotten to spend (not enough) time with some very close friends I never get to see. Sometimes just a few minutes of that is worth the money and the trouble.

Some photos and Tweets from that night:

This was, no joke, the entrance to my 20-year reunion. It turns out it's a freight elevator to an amazingly eccentric rich person's house. Bruce Wayne, maybe.

This was, no joke, the entrance to my 20-year reunion. It turns out it’s a freight elevator to an amazingly eccentric rich person’s house. Bruce Wayne, maybe.


Marcus and dog mentioned in Tweet below

Marcus and dog mentioned in Tweet below


Nope, nothing weird about this!

Nope, nothing weird about this!




Work stuff and monkey stuff

I was on vacation for a week when the Digital Savant column and Micro didn’t run, but it’s been nearly a full month since I’ve updated, so here’s what I’ve had in the paper in the interim:

Colin Anawaty, left, and Jason Bornhorst are co-founders of Filament Labs. Photo by Mark Matson for the American-Statesman

Colin Anawaty, left, and Jason Bornhorst are co-founders of Filament Labs. Photo by Mark Matson for the American-Statesman


I wrote a column about how complaining on social media about a product or service doesn’t always reward you with a happy ending (though it does work for some people). Last week’s column was about whether health- and fitness-related apps can really change your habits and make you a better, happier person. A MyStatesman account is required to view that article, but I also wrote a free blog post with supplemental information on the topic.

This week’s column was about civic hackathons and the impact they’re making on the Austin community. Like the last one, it’s on MyStatesman, but I’ve been told a few times via Twitter by readers that it’s also available elsewhere on the web. I have nothing to do with that if that’s the case.

The Micros recently were about movie-related apps Anything After and RunPee, a definition of the digital locker concept UltraViolet, what to do with old VHS movie tapes  and an explainer of Google+ Hangouts. We’ll be doing a Hangout on Tuesday to coincide with a column that runs that day in the paper. (Info on that in the Hangouts Micro.)

I kept busy with a few other stories and blog posts: there was a story about Austin tech guy Whurley and his UnGrounded innovation flight to London; a story about the Win8 version of the ACL Access app and Dell’s involvement with that; a post about coping with the end of Google Reader; a post about an Austin-made orthodontics app called Mighty Brace (which will run next week as a “Raising Austin” column in expanded form); and a short story about family mobile company Famigo.

Vacation sketch

Space Monkeys! has rolled along with a new comic about parking problems and, because Pablo and I were both traveling, two vacation-themed sketches over the last two weeks, one themed to Costa Rica, the other themed to my Disney World trip.

A bit’a meta 

Wow, that’s a lot for having been on vacation. Speaking of which, I wrote a huge chunk of blog about my Disney World trip, which happened before my reunion, but this blog post is already far too long so I’m splitting it into two blog entries.

The good news is that it’s already written, but I’m saving it for next week to time it to my next column, which ties directly in with that trip.

Sorry for the long break. It’s just been busy-as-crazy around here and I’m excited that I’m very close (days close) to finishing up a huge writing project that I’ve been working on since December. It’s been a lot of that and very little blogging here, but that ratio should change soon as I get done. Hope to tell you more about that in just a bit.

All of the lights

23 Dec

This year, for some reason, I got really into our Christmas lights.

We had bins in the attic of lights including some we bought last year in the post-Christmas sales, but except for the ones we put on the tree or around the house, I never messed with trying to set up lights outside.

It always seemed like too much of a hassle and I never had enough time as Christmas chugged, Polar Express-style, toward us at high speeds. (See also: why we haven’t sent out a family Christmas card in a few years.) It seemed exhausting and a little dangerous (what happens when it rains? Does your house just explode in a shower of sparks?) and I just had no solution.

But maybe it was a sudden burst of energy I was having at the end of the year, or a restlessness of not doing enough stuff outside with my hands that got me going, but I made the decision to put up lights. Or lay them on the ground. Or something. There were going to be lights, dammit!

So I started setting up the lights. In my mind, we had all the stuff necessary to do this stashed away, including extension cords, electrical posts, plenty of lights that all matched and (imaginary) items that would hold everything in place perfectly. It was all in the bin just waiting for me to set things up.

In reality, it was a mismatched heap of tangled indoor lights, one shady-looking green electrical post that looked like it might shock me if I looked in its direction and maybe one set of six 3M sticky tabs that probably wouldn’t work with our stucco and stone outdoors.

So I bought lights. And then I bought more lights. And then I bought some extension cords. Then I bought a bunch of hooks and adhesives and a holiday staple gun that shoots staples as well as plastic staple protectors, as if the stapler were afraid of getting a loathsome disease and is blowing through dozens of tiny little condoms.

They also keep you from stapling through the electrical cord and killing yourself, I think, so sure, why not. Staple condoms.

I set up a line of big bulb lights (not LED, it turns out, but the old school ones that burn you if you try to touch) along the yard. I didn’t have stakes or clips or anything to hold them down. In fact, three different gigantic stores told me they had sold out of crates and crates of these. So, I tried to make some makeshift stakes by tying the lights to some skewers and you can image how shitty and lame and ineffective that turned out. So the lights were basically just lying on the ground in a loose row, ready to be tripped on or blown away by a strong wind. Success!

I had better luck with a set of tiny globe LED lights that I stapled up around the garage. Near the stucco is a spongy border and that turned out to be perfect for the staples. I set everything up, brought my wife and the kids out to see the glory of my gorgeous lights.

Half of the set that I had just put up didn’t come on. I had forgotten to check before I put them up.

Another trip to the store. More lights, Lots of cursing.

I finally found some stakes at the grocery store and I was able to lock down the lights around the sidewalk, or at least keep them from wandering off.

When it was all finished and I taped up the ends with Duct Tape to keep water out, it all looked really nice even if it was a pretty simple setup with nothing for the bushes or in our yard. We have the lights down the sidewalk, some lights around our garage, some lights going around the side of the house, a little LED tree and bear in the doorway and that’s about it. Next year, maybe we’ll add some stuff to the yard, but I felt pretty manly-man enough with just this first effort.

I couldn’t tell you why I needed to to this this year. I think it’s that the kids (now 3 and 5) like it and the things I used to really not care about seem to matter a little more when there are kids involved.

All this happened before recent events in the news made that even more clear to me. It’s so easy to just let the holidays fly by and to try to get through it and look forward to days off and a new year. But this year, I’m trying to enjoy it moment-by-moment and not let is rush past too quickly before I’ve gotten to really let the glow of the lights illuminate the darkness a little.

Lights 2

Recent writing stuff:

I’m finally on vacation through January, but here’s what’s run recently (and one thing that’s running tomorrow that’s pretty significant).

In the Digital Savant column, I did a piece going over my 2012 tech predictions from last year and then looked ahead and made more predictions for 2013. Will those pan out? Wait a year and find out! One neat thing was getting to see the word “Omarstradamus” in display headline type in the paper.

The column for Monday, Christmas Eve, is a roundup of all the apps you should download if you happen to get a new smart phone or tablet. It’s impossible to list anything even close to comprehensive, especially if you’re trying to include more than just iOS and Android, but I tried to focus on stuff people who are new to these kinds of devices might need. Even trying to narrow it down, it was a pretty impossible task to cover all bases, but I think the list is a good start for most people.

Fairway Solitaire: current addiction

I included Fairway Solitaire, the mobile game I’m currently addicted to. Please don’t download it. It will eat your life.

The Walking Dead: my video game of the year

Other stories I wrote since the last blog entry: a piece about the Statesman’s new digital offerings, a story about top Austin searches on Google for 2012, a review of the full first season of the brilliant “Walking Dead” video game and a write-up of two Austin-made games, God of Blades and Arcane Legends, that are worth a look on iOS.

For Digital Savant Micro, I wrote about why you might need a dual-band router, what the Hell Snapchat is and what a “Chromebook” laptop is all about.

I was also on the radio last week, talking about holiday tech gifts (it’s a bit late for that, I know, but maybe you’ll get some ideas for post-Christmas gift exchanges) with The Daily Circuit on Minnesota Public Radio. You can hear the full audio by following the link. The other guest was Dana Wollman from Engadget.

The last thing is that Carolina turned 3 on Friday. As much as Lilly keeps us on our toes constantly, it’s Carolina who makes us laugh, who always does or says something completely unexpected, and who seems to always have mischief and smiles in her eye for everyone she meets.

I’m not sure if it’s a phase or if it’s just part of her personality that she constantly tells us she loves us. I hope it lasts a good long while.

Carolina at 3