Thursday, December 30, 2010

The End Of 2010

Another year has come and gone. Time to write another retrospective on the year. Turn back now if this is too self-serving or boring!

Any year in which you maintain your health, family, and economic base is a good one, so 2010 was a good year.

My mother is ensconced in her new home. I thought we'd be doing well if she was transitioned by spring, but she's well ahead of that deadline. She sounds happy in the new place whenever I talk to her. What a relief! She's a marvel of good humor and optimism. I hope I can follow her example through my life changes to come.

My youngest sister had her second child, a boy. What a happy occasion! My oldest sister's son announced that he and his wife are expecting their first child in the spring of 2011. It'll be my mother's first great-grandchild. We're all happy to see the first of another generation arrive.

I was lucky enough to change groups at my current employer. The new gang is doing work that I enjoy a great deal more and the people are terrific. It's such a pleasure to work with folks that actually smile and laugh once in a while. There's a lot to be done, but I'm grateful for the chance to do something good with people I like.

My oldest daughter has moved to New York City to work and go to grad school. She's doing a great job of figuring out how to manage herself as an adult. My youngest daughter continues to make progress towards her undergraduate degree. We're still on track to get both of them through school without debt.

This fall was the first time my wife and I have been alone in the house for an extended period since our eldest was born. I was concerned at first: would I be enough? Would my wife be happy with the children gone? I was relieved to find that everything was great. My wife still has the capacity to surprise and delight me, even after 29 years of marriage.

As usual, my athletic and technical goals were the most measurable things I did all year.

I had my best swimming yardage total ever in 2010, topping my "unbeatable" record set in 2008. I started the year off with a bang: I had "best month" totals in seven of the first eight months of the year. My attendance was stellar. I had resolved to make 2500 yards my new daily standard, and I kept to it. "90% of success is showing up" rings true in this case.

I was on a pace to exceed 600,000 yards for the year back in June, but I tailed off in the last third of the year. The last four months weren't nearly as good as the first eight. Work pressures start to get in the way.

I expect that the trend will continue in 2011, but that's not a bad thing. Rather than pushing myself to greater heights, I'm planning to take another direction. A yardage total exceeding 400,000 yards would still be in my top five totals ever, so that's what I'll be shooting for.

Instead of merely piling up yards, I'd like to change the way I swim. One thing that I did this year was train myself to breathe every other stroke. I've always been comfortable with breathing to either side, but now I can do waltz time over long distances. I think it makes my stroke more balanced and efficient.

I tried an experiment before the holidays: if breathing every three strokes is good, would every five strokes be better? It takes greater lung capacity and discipline. I did a set of 20x50 on 1:00 one morning, breathing every fifth stroke. It was hard, but I was able to do it. I counted strokes per length the whole time. I found that my stroke count ranged between 16-19; my three breath stroke usually takes 19-21 strokes per length. Making five strokes per breath my new standard will be a goal for 2011.

I'd still love to work my way up to 200 yard butterfly. That's a stretch goal.

Mostly I'd like to weave more cross-training into my life. I've maintained my yoga practice all year. It's making my flexibility, balance, and core strength better. I think I need to work in some strength training. Muscle mass is something that declines with age. I need to start fighting the good fight on that front.

My cycling fell off a long way when compared to 2009. I still rode to work with my friend Michael, but not nearly as much as I had the previous year. My cycling mileage dropped by almost 50% in 2010, and it was a small fraction of the 2,500 miles that Michael logged for the year. I'll try to improve on that next year.

I had a pretty good technical year. I made a lot of progress in learning Python. I have a new IDE in PyCharm to help. I've been poring over some good books. I wrote a lot of code on my own. Now I need a focused effort at an application to pound it into my head. I've got some ideas that are worth pursuing. I'll see if I can bring that home in 2011. In the meantime, I'm glad to have more of a development role during my core hours. It helps to not have to do all my saw sharpening on my time.

I had a fine year with Toastmasters. I achieved "Competent Communicator" status by completing ten speeches, entered and won a competition, and was elected an officer of my club. I'm actually a mentor for two newer members of our club. I hope to complete my "Advanced Communicator Bronze" and "Competent Leader" designations for 2011.

The economic debacle that I feared back in 2008 didn't happen, but I'm concerned that nothing significant has been done to prevent it. We're in a holding pattern, convinced that our past behavior can continue without change. The alterations to come could be neither orderly nor our choice. I don't want to find out how deadly hyperinflation can be. I fear the rise of the political and religious right in our country. 2011 will bring a new Congress to power in the United States. I hope they don't accelerate our slide in the coming year.

profile for duffymo at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Keeping Faith, Keeping Contact

It's a cold, rainy Sunday morning here. Icing conditions were predicted, because the jet stream has dipped down and brought arctic Canadian air all week. I heard a sanding truck drive down the street early this morning.

I was concerned about driving conditions because I had agreed to have breakfast with two friends, one of whom had left the company about eight months ago. We've sent messages back and forth on Facebook, but there's been no face to face contact since he departed. I was looking forward to the meeting. I hoped the weather wouldn't interfere.

I was relieved to find warm conditions and rain when I went out to get the paper. The ice line was north of us.

Breakfast was great fun for me. The two young men aren't too far in age from my oldest daughter. It's more likely that they'd come by to chat her up and ask for a date than to spend time with her father. I'm flattered that they'd want to.

We fell into a little work talk to catch up, but not too much. We talked about working life, women, car problems, and strength training. I've had a great swimming year - my best ever; more about that in a later entry - but I've neglected strength training all my life. My flexibility problems are less critical now that I've made yoga a regular feature of my week. I'm thinking that a good objective for 2011 would be to work something into my routine to help improve strength and retain muscle mass. These two guys are perfect sources of information. I was glad to be able to ask questions and soak in their knowledge.

I've accumulated a long list of people that I like very much after hopping between jobs as often as I have over the last fifteen years. The problem is that they leave my life once we lose the shared context of work.

It seems to me that regular, face to face contact is the only anecdote there is for this malady. Technology won't do: all the cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging, chat, and Facebook applications you can think of can never fill the void.

Breakfast is the perfect way to sort this out.

It's a meal that's unobtrusive: early in the day is transparent to my wife. It takes at least an hour to order and consume, so you have time to sit and chat. It's inexpensive - we met at a diner and had simple breakfast food with coffee. I met the man who is the best friend I have early in my engineering career. Since I've switched to software development we've made it a point to get together for breakfast once a month before work. We get to catch up, discuss our favorite topics, and make it to work without a hitch. I wouldn't miss these get-togethers.

I enjoyed the conversation so much. This morning's meal was a reminder that I should expand its reach. I need to make sure that all these terrific folks I've met don't diffuse out of my life.

profile for duffymo at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Like A Little Death

I helped my mother to move out of the house that she and my father moved me and my two older sisters into a few months before my first birthday.

She decided that keeping the house up was more than she could manage on her own. The yard is spacious by the standards of the town. It's one of the property's best features, but all that grass doesn't cut itself. The housing market in the US isn't as frothy and wild as it was two or three years ago, but interest rates were still low enough to keep buyers off the sidelines. She put the house on the market in the spring with a starting price that was reasonable, below the median for the area. She entertained a steady stream of viewers in several open houses throughout the spring and summer, but no offers were forthcoming.

While she was waiting for a nibble she was looking at places to move into . She found a lovely condominium in town had the location and features she was looking for. It was in a community that was mixed in age, not one of those warehouses for seniors.

She got her first sign of interest late in the season, but the low ball offer wasn't acceptable. A few months later, the buyer came back with a serious offer. Things moved quickly: she negotiated an acceptable price that allowed her to buy the condo and left her with cash in her pocket, even after paying the capital gains taxes.

Next came the hard part: playing Solomon for decades of accumulated stuff, deciding what to keep, pack, and move and what to discard. A stack of cardboard boxes and many rolls of bubble wrap was procured for the keepers; a dumpster was dropped in the driveway that became the final resting place for the discards. It took several weekends of work to sort it all out, but the day finally came this week. The movers arrived early on Tuesday morning to ferry it all across town to the new location.

My youngest brother was the last into the house; he was also the last to leave. He stayed in the house to direct the movers. My assignment was the new condo. The hardwood floors were bare, so it was the perfect time to wash and clean every surface for the new occupant. I had a bucket, a sponge, some heavy duty knee pads, several squeeze bottles of Murphy's Oil Soap, and cleaning agents for the tile, bathroom, and kitchen. I emptied a dozen buckets of hot, black water into the drain after a morning of hard labor. By the time the movers arrived at mid-morning the place was spotless and ready to accept furniture.

The movers did a brilliant job. It pays to have professionals do these things. The whole job was done by the time darkness enveloped us at five o'clock. The hard work of unpacking and settling lay ahead, but the emotional job of leaving the house and all its history behind was done.

My youngest brother took some beautiful photos of the house, including the picture that accompanies this entry. It was a fittingly overcast, somber day. We were all left with our memories. This was the house where my mother spent her entire adult life with her husband and six children. All of her children had their own memories of time spent together in the house, yard, and neighborhood. We celebrated lots of birthdays, including memorable surprise parties for milestone birthdays for our mother and one brother. Two sisters were married in town and had unforgettable parties in the house at the end of their wedding days. Our father passed away in the house; one brother was nursed almost to the end in the living room.

I kept my mind on the work at hand all day. I did my best to be grateful for our mother's courage to make such a decision. I didn't dwell on the past. I reminded myself that home was where our mother was; the house was a mere building. The time that I've lived away from that address is now twice that of the time I called it home.

But the enormity of it all hit me when I returned to my own home. Maybe it was the time of day: dusk on a quiet, cold December weekend. The waning of the day, year, life itself. It's like a little death. It's final; it's a bifurcation point in our history, dividing time into Before Move and ever after. It's a reminder that our mother still has her health, her marbles, and her grace, but time is passing by.

It says I'm not young anymore, either. Someday my children will be faced with a similar chore and remember all the time they spent in my house.

I'm glad that we had the time that we did. It's time to move on.

profile for duffymo at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers