The Spectre of Wasted Time

The most difficult part of fatherhood is not finances or employment or providing.  It is the quiet space after the children are in bed when I realize that my time with them for the day has ended and that tomorrow we must awaken and be separated for some time. It is then that I question the wisdom of my decisions and attitudes and am haunted by the spectre of wasted time and failure to lead and love them as they need and deserve. Time is the most precious thing we can share with children.  I pray that ours is well spent and that God blesses me with wisdom and discernment.

Quoth the Ashley

Last night after putting the kids to bed, I went to the living room to play my 12-string.  A few minutes later, Ashley came downstairs and asked, “Don’t you have all day tomorrow to play guitar?  Can you do that when I’m not trying to sleep?”

Browser Plugins Kill Kittens

This is from an email I sent this morning to the NAGW listserv.  It’s a little narrative from real life to illustrate why we should avoid making websites that require weird plugins whenever possible.

My daughter is in a ballet program and her recital tickets went on sale this morning at 10:00.  I sat here refreshing the page like a madman until “NOT YET” turned into “BUY NOW”.  I clicked in to start the process.  I selected 4 tickets (the max per order) and then went to choose my seats.

BANG!  “Your Java plugin is not the correct version.  Go update it.”

A few four-letter words later, I was on the Java site trying to get the plugin to update, but the download was creeping.  I guess every other SCAA parent using Chrome was trying to do the same thing.  So, I opened IE really quickly and went back to the site.  By the time I got to choose seats, all the good ones were gone and the mediocre ones were filling up as quickly as I could click them.  And so continued my silent tirade of colorful metaphors.

Now, thanks to a plugin requirement, I get to watch my daughter’s dance recital from a distance of about 12 AUs.  Parents will understand my frustration.

So, next time you are considering technology for a CORE FEATURE of your site (for a box office, buying tickets is probably a core feature), think about this bummed-out father who had to fight his way around a plugin to buy tickets to his daughter’s dance recital.

On that note, I need a chocolate milk.

And in case you don’t know, an AU is an astronomical unit: the distance from the sun to Earth.

Job or Service?

Retail sales associate. Job requirements: arrive on time in whatever uniform is required, stock some shelves, run a register, sweep a floor, smile, control your bitterness, pretend you’re not thinking about punching every customer.

But some of us do not approach our jobs as mere jobs.  This is a lesson on which all of us should reflect.

This weekend, Christie and I put on our parental armor and took the kids to the mall — a place we rarely go even without the kids.  After dragging everyone to FYE (Ghostbusters DVDs) and Hot Topic (Impending Doom record) with me, Christie wanted to go into Bath & Body Works.  I knew we were in for a rough time when David protested, “It’s all girly stuff!”

After trying to contain the writhing ball of atomic energy for about 10 minutes, a sales associate who had been quietly moving bottles of hand soap from one place to another and had taken notice of the situation approached David.  She told him that if he helped her fill bags with bottles of hand soap, he would earn a prize.  David was into the idea, so she asked my approval and we set off to see how he could help.  David dove into his task, moving bottles quickly but carefully from the shelf into the bags she had laid before him.  He finished his task and graciously received a bag of M&Ms from a basket behind the register.

Not wanting to leave Ashley out, the associate asked Ashley if she would like to help unload the bags into drawers.  Either because she’s a natural servant or because she didn’t want to be outdone by her brother, Ashley quickly accepted the assignment.  I accompanied her to her job site where she set about filling drawers with bottles from the bags David had just packed.  She worked quickly and diligently, ensuring the labels and spouts all faced the same direction even though that requirement was not part of her instructions.  After she had emptied both bags of soap dispensers, Ashley received a Reese’s reward from the basket.

After Christie checked out, the associate presented Ashley and David with Bath & Body Works name tags.  They were immensely proud to wear those name tags.  They were at least as proud of the name tags as they were excited to eat their snacks — perhaps more so. name tags

Clearly, this employee understands something so few of us do: our jobs are so much more than paychecks.  They provide us with opportunities to serve each other.  She could have just ignored us or quietly complained about David’s behavior and my apparent ineptness as a father with her coworkers.  Instead, she provided an awesome solution for me, a guy she’s never met, to redirect my son’s energy to a positive outlet.  Brilliantly, she solved my problem while still accomplishing the task required by her employer.  Also, my children had a great lesson in the rewards of service (although they will someday learn that the rewards are often more intrinsic than chocolate).

Just yesterday at work, my brain referenced this several times when I found myself feeling frustrated by job stress.  I hope I can continue to take a long view of temporarily unpleasant situations and see how I can manipulate them for more eternal benefits.

Traveling Anxiety

Some of you who know me well — especially those who see me in person daily — may be aware that I am leaving on Monday to go to Cincinnati for the NAGW 2011 conference. You may also have heard me complain about going. I feel I owe an explanation to the conference organizers, my boss, and those who have heard me complain (even if no one ever reads my blog).

First, I am truly excited to go.  Actually meeting some of my fellow NAGW members in person for the first time will be very exciting.  I’m looking forward to learning lots of cool stuff from the different conference sessions. I’m extremely excited for the PHP/MySQL class where we’ll write an email subscription application.  Aside from the web stuff, I’m really going to embrace the free and quiet evenings to sit in a hotel room and read (and maybe find myself at a record store with my friend Tim).

In case that’s not enough, I also get to fly. I love flying. Because I had to buy a cheap ticket, I don’t have a direct flight. This means I get to take off twice as many times as if I had a direct flight. I see value in this.

Clearly, the NAGW trip is going to be awesome, right? Well, of course. But a few things began to hit me pretty hard last week.

First, I’m going to be away from my wife and kids for five days. That’s the longest I’ve been without my kids for over a year; I’m pretty sure I’ve never been away from Christie for that long since we got married. Let’s face it: I’m completely co-dependent and whipped. I love my family and I anticipate missing them a ton.

Related to missing my family is my son’s health. He’s sitting beside me on the couch right now feeling absolutely miserable with an earache and a headache. If he’s not better by the morning, we’re taking him to the doctor. What if we find out he has an ear infection? Now I’m leaving my wife, who has her own current respiratory malaise, to deal with a sick kid by herself. I would hate to have to abandon her to this task.

Also, trips cost money. I recently found out that my meal per diem from my employer is a reimbursement, not an advance. This trip unfortunately falls right in the dead zone between paychecks where there is no money left. Even though the County offers an extremely generous per diem (seriously, it’s more than sufficient), I’ll be heading the a grocery store when I arrive in Cincinnati to get peanut butter, jelly, bread, and a knife. Aside from food money, it’s stressful to go on a trip with no extra cash for emergencies or indulgences. I have some eBay auctions running right now and they will end on Wednesday, but I’m pretty sure they won’t net me more than $30.  I’m still not sure how I’m getting from the airport to the hotel on Monday and back on Friday.

Speaking of the County, I’m technically still “working” on this trip, so I’m likely to receive  a few phone calls about work while I’m there.  Unlike when I’m on vacation, I can’t simply ignore them.  Will I need to run out of sessions to hop on VPN and fix web stuff back in the office?  Will departments heed my warnings about my time out and not submit feature requests while I’m gone?  What if something disastrous happens while I’m gone?  When I’ve been on vacation in the past, I’ve never been more than 10 minutes from the office, so this has not been a concern.  Being in Cincinnati, however, changes my ability to respond quickly to unforeseen trouble.

Then there’s just normal travel anxiety. I guess there’s such a thing. I never travel, so I have no real idea. Will I be allowed to take my snacks on the plane? Will my bag meet me in Cincinnati? Will the hotel wi-fi work? Will I forget to pack my toothbrush or underwear? What if my flight from Dulles is running late and I miss my flight away from Charlotte?

So there you go.  NAGW 2011 is going to be awesome if I can navigate these minor complications.

Tatooinian Hay Baler

Last night I had a dream. In this dream, my father-in-law decided to become a farmer. He bought a used piece of farm machinery that was supposed to be a hay baler, but it appeared more like the Jawa-driven transport that picks up C-3PO and R2-D2 on Tatooine. This hay baler could be operated by standard car-like steering controls in the cabin or a remote control.

After he purchased the massive baler, he decided to take it for a spin on the cul-de-sac where we all apparently lived — an unlikely place for farming. Anyway, I was afraid he would have trouble turning around at the end of the street, so I decided to help with the remote control he had left in the living room. I ended up driving the baler into a neighbor’s wall. It must have been a sturdy wall because I did not do much damage to it; however, I managed to knock the bumper off the front of the baler.

Rick, my father-in-law, wasn’t very upset about it. That’s what I remember.

I Don’t Care What Maddox Says

My daughter’s silly magnet-board art is awesome.


Four Dogs, Four Cats

And now four humans. (S)He is due October 25.
3D of new baby

2D of new baby

2D of new baby

My Little Prog Fan

After dinner, Ashley and I watched some of Dream Theater’s Live at Budokan DVDs. There’s an incredible jam in the middle of “Beyond this Life” that nearly doubles the length of the song. The first half is a thrilling guitar solo and the second half is some really mad keyboard vs. drum material where Portnoy and Rudess explore the boundaries of the term “wailing” and how it can apply to their instruments. It’s a prog nerd’s dream.

This insane jam began as Ashley was squirming in my arms, but she became totally limp when Portnoy and Rudess got down to business. I looked down and saw a dumbfoundedly blank expression on her face. She seemed completely transfixed by the stunning performance on the screen and kept her eyes in place until the band transitioned back into the rest of the song; she still paid attention, but nothing else hypnotized her. I was excited to realize I have gained a music buddy. So, should I start saving for drums or a keyboard? A keyboard is cheaper and can be turned down, but drums are really fun for Daddy, too.

After the DVD, it was time to relax.

Thanks, Shel

“Picture Puzzle Piece” by Shel Silverstein

One picture puzzle piece
Lyin’ on the sidewalk,
One picture puzzle piece
Soakin’ in the rain.
It might be a button of blue
On the coat of a woman
Who lived in a shoe.
It might be a magical bean,
Or a fold in the red
Velvet robe of a queen.
It might be the one little bite
Of the apple her stepmother
Gave to Snow White.
It might be the veil of a bride
Or a bottle with some evil genie inside.
It might be a small tuft of hair
On the big bouncy belly
Of Bobo the Bear.
It might be a bit of the cloak
Of the Witch of the West
As she melted into smoke.
It might be a shadowy trace
Of a tear that runs down an angel’s face.
Nothing has more possibilities
Than one old wet picture puzzle piece.

From A Light in the Attic. © 1981 Evil Eye Music, Inc.