Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bachelorhood Journal Day 3

Day 3. Couldn't understand why I woke up periodically to the sounds of the drier running in the basement. I haven't done laundry yet (and maybe I won't). It turns out they make bathroom clocks awfully noisy these days.

Continuing last night's productivity, I went through most of the mail that accumulated, got more groceries, dropped off a check at the credit union, and made a copy of the house key for when I inevitably lock myself out or lose my keys. Now to find a place to hide it.

Otherwise, all day was spent inside the house programming or otherwise being lazy. Maybe tomorrow, I can make it over to Discovery Park for a walk -- my foot will cooperate.

I'm doing reasonably well at making actual meals for myself. I may yet survive this next three weeks. A lesson learned, though: corn tortillas will fall apart if you so much as look at them funny. Should have bought flour tortillas instead.

I also busted open the rather good coffee liqueur Mike & Carrie gave us for Christmas. It may not be snowy here, but it's at least a White Russian Christmas. It's an interesting change from the steady flow of rum & coke I had in Minnesota. Oh, how I miss Captain Morgan at $22/1.75L.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Bachelorhood Journal Day 2

Day 2. Made it to work with a broken foot. Random fact: It's 798 steps from the corner of 3rd and Virginia to the elevator at work, 399 of which emit that annoying velcro-coming-apart sound.

Save for about two hours, I was the only person from my team in the office. Put in an 11 hour day and made some good progress. Made it to the bus stop around 6:30pm -- one minute after the bus left. Bummer. Had to wait another 30 minutes in the 45 degree weather, which was quite nice. But at least they decorate the streets:

So I made it to and from work safely without re-injuring my foot. Small miracles.

Cooked myself a simple dinner, made a latte, and I got some programming for fun in! It's been a very productive day.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bachelorhood Journal Day 1

Day 1. Had a good trip back to Minnesota for Christmas, spending time with both families, +Aaron and +Elissa, and even my former LexisNexis coworkers. All good things must come to an end, so here I am back in Seattle.

On the plus side, the weather is about 45 degrees warmer here than in MN. No need for my winter coat here. Or long underwear. Or a good, strong Scandinavian-sized beard. 

Spent much of my trip back to Seattle hobbling around the airport, up and down the jetway, and a bit in downtown Seattle. Got plenty of funny looks from otherwise sweet old ladies.

While in MN, we visited my parents' new lake place. The boys found some fun new headwear:

I ventured outside today to get groceries. Milk, eggs, butter, bread, low-fat alfredo sauce. Just the necessities. The world's a scary place for a dude with a broken foot, but it looks like I may just survive on my own until +Andrea gets back.

Travelling takes a lot out of a guy, so until next time, I'm going to make like Reed:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The end of the era of rock climbing

Fifteen years ago (roughly), I started rock climbing at the BCC. Over the years, I put a lot of time into it. It was my favorite hobby, and I attribute it in part to Andrea and me getting together: when she took her breaks from working on the pool deck, she would visit me in the rock wall while I was climbing or belaying. In fact, our first date together was to the Monticello Community Center to go climbing:

June 2000 when I sported the "butt cut."

I was such a climbing fiend that I even (partially) scaled the fieldhouse at BHS -- until the principal caught me and told me to not do it again.

Proof that you can climb in Doc Martens.
Early on, my two better climbing partners were Aaron M and Mandy. She and I climbed at Becker and at Vertical Endeavors.
This Nine Inch Nails shirt was worn long after it should have been thrown away.
About halfway through college, though, after climbing several times a week with Roomie -- indoor and outdoor, winter spring and fall -- I cut back on my climbing, spending more time on my computer science. By the time Andrea and I got married, I was mostly out of climbing.

Every so often, I would go again for the heck of it -- never doing particularly well, but always having fun. On a few occasions, we were able to get Ryan and/or Luke to join us, and good times were had by all.

As a birthday gift to me in 2008, Andrea got a group of friends together for one more trip to VE. Even with our new family started, I was fortunate to be able to get some climbing in on occasion.
Baby's first visit to a climbing gym at age 7mo.
Now that we're in Seattle, there are plenty of locations for me to climb, but it seems fewer and fewer opportunities to go. So the other day, I decided that it's time I hang up my harness and shoes and call it quits for good.

A brief digression

Over the last few years, I've become acutely aware of how attachment to physical things can be negative. It's not that having things is negative, but the exaggerated attachment to those things is negative. The inability to part with something that no longer has any use often causes problems.

For many years, I would hold onto every single letter or card my Grandma sent me. I had a box of papers in my closet of things from school that I wanted to keep. Any number of random trinkets that had some perceived value or meaning were tucked away somewhere. I found that getting rid of those things was initially very difficult but ultimately cathartic.

In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt discusses (among many other things) how people adapt to their environment. Buy a bigger house and you'll fill it with stuff, for example. Our house in Clearwater is just shy of 3000 square feet, and when we moved, we got rid of a huge amount of stuff that we never or very infrequently used. Now that we're in a 1400 square foot house, I feel like it's still oversized for our need, and we could fit into an 800 or 900 square foot house without hardly noticing.

Combine Haidt's lessons with those of Daniel Gilbert's from Stumbling on Happiness. Not only do we adapt, but we don't know that we'll adapt. In 1950, the average house size was 983 square feet; today, it's around 2500 even though the average family size has decreased. (See House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes.) I assert, as do a growing number, that having fewer things can be much better for us.

That being said, I've had a difficult time translating that belief from the realm of physical things to hobbies. I've been more than passingly interested in climbing, camping, hiking, biking, photography, psychology, meditation, learning the guitar, learning Japanese, small business ownership, iPhone development, machine learning/recommender systems (which, by the way, is what I am doing at my new job), and a host of other topics.

So I think it's time to take my own medicine and apply it to the things I do and not just the things I have. While I love climbing, it's time to adapt.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's like looking 27 years in the past

Last night, I was musing about how much Jacob and Reed are like me. Two things last night made me think of this: climbing and peanut butter.

While memory is a fickle thing, I recall snacking on pure peanut butter - directly from the jar - with Matt many years ago (possibly shortly after we moved to Minnesota?). Last night, the boys wanted an alternate dinner, so Andrea told them they could make their own PB&J sandwiches if they wanted. I retrieved and opened the two jars for them, but I left the whole process to them so they could learn. While they did make a mess, it was extremely entertaining for me to watch the two of them. They were so happy to be going through the process of making a sandwich.

Jacob made his dinner first, and when it was Reed's turn, he had a "dirty" knife, which he had to lick clean. Then he dipped the knife into the peanut butter and spread it on the bread haphazardly. Then the knife was dirty again, so of course he had to lick it clean. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This was one of my transcendent moments of parenthood.

The second topic is climbing. Andrea took a wonderful video of the boys climbing the kitchen doorway a few days ago. They've grown accustomed to climbing it, which is usually amusing for us but can occasionally become frustrating when we're trying to get something done in the kitchen. One day after Andrea told Jacob to stop climbing, he replied, "But Mom, I need to climb!"

So this weekend, while my parents visited, Dad and I built a very simple 2x4 frame structure that will be used for as much climbing as the boys can reasonably get. At some point, I'll add monkey bars, a cargo net, and all sorts of other goodies. For now, it's just a simple frame that they can climb up, and last night, I drilled a small hole on one side and put one of my old static climbing ropes through it. I then tied a few knots in it and showed the boys how to climb a knotted rope. They did quite well, and we then got a video of them trying it out:

All of this got me thinking about how much I perceive that my boys are similar to how I was. There's the whole topic of nature versus nurture, and it seems to me that with every new research paper I read on the topic, I tend to believe more long-term behavioral traits tend toward nature.

Of course, loving peanut butter and an inherent need to climb things also seem to be typical of young boys, so these similarities may very well be due to the fact that I was a young boy once that liked to climb on stuff and eat dollops of peanut butter at a time. Nonetheless, I really enjoy watching my sons doing things that I enjoy so thoroughly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

That was a lot of rain

Today was my first commute in the Seattle rain. Amazing.

I had this nice, surprisingly warm, only mildly misty ride in this morning starting just after 6:00am, and I stuck around work until 6:30 or so, took a few pictures of the drizzly awesomeness that is Seattle, then called it a day.

For those that find the rain gloomy, this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that our floor has a kegerator with an amber ale, though the carbonation is all hosed up:

After a while I went out and left the office and biked back to the house in the rain. (See what I did there?)

I learned - firsthand - a few rather valuable lessons on my seven mile commute home this evening:

  • The Novara rain jacket I picked up at REI is great for keeping my upper body dry, but it's awesome at making me crazy visible.
  • Even with the basically waterproof pants (also courtesy of REI) I had, without a fender on my bike, my lower half was completely, ridiculously, amusingly drenched. As were my shoes, which will probably suck tomorrow since I'm sure they won't dry out tonight.
  • A nice Kelty day pack (also REI), while great for hiking, is no good for biking in the rain.
  • Some sort of eyewear to keep me from squinting at night is probably a good idea.
  • Seattle is a pretty awesome city for bicyclists.
And most importantly, with the exception of those transcendent moments with my kids, I think biking in the rain is satisfying in so many ways that I am perhaps at my peak happiness. This is approximately equal to, by the way, the experiences I've had hiking in the BWCA with Luke, et al, and climbing Mailbox Peak recently (which, unfortunately, I neglected to post about).

For as long as I can remember, my dad has worked at a desk day in and day out, and when he gets home, he enjoys nothing more than working with his hands. He's quite adept at woodworking, but he also does a lot of mechanical repair, metalworking, cutting and chopping wood, and a plethora of other things. I spend much of my time in front of the computer -- both because I'm a software engineer by day and because I am a coder for fun by night. Over the last few years, though, I've discovered that my solitude in biking, hiking, climbing, and so on, are where I am extremely happy.

Life is good.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Camping gear round-up

This coming weekend, I plan to hike Seven Fingered Jack with some coworkers. This got me thinking a lot about the gear I take with me. Most of my hiking has been in the BWCA, so this will be a much different terrain and experience.

Because of our move to Seattle (and thus my sifting through my gear), this upcoming trip, and because I've been creating my zombie survival pack, I want my hiking and camping gear to be lightweight, compact, multi-purpose, and all-inclusive to the greatest extent reasonably possible. The purpose of this post is to briefly discuss the camping gear I have for several people who have asked me for info.


Even when hiking with others, here's some gear that you need (can't be shared with others in your party).


While not necessary when travelling with others, these are handy. There's shelter (which may or may not be shared with someone in your party):
  • Two person tent
  • ENO DoubleNest and a SingleNest hammock (AmazonREI) with homemade suspension system (aka tree-huggers)
  • Hydration pack (see below) and/or water bottle
And there's miscellaneous stuff that's always handy:
  • Gerber multi-tool
  • Paracord (Amazon, REI)
  • Biners (I've simply picked up a handful of $0.40 quick links from Fleet Farm just like these on Amazon, but a bit cheaper)
  • Butane lighter, matches
  • Bandana or a smallish towel
  • Headlamp
  • Toiletries
    • Toilet paper
    • Toothbrush, toothpaste
    • Soap (Amazon, REI)

For food and water

I've found that one stove in a group of up to four is fine. Having a second probably couldn't hurt.
Having some cotton-free clothing is particularly useful, as you tent to get sweaty carrying so much gear, and when cotton gets wet, it keeps you cold. If you don't have good moisture wicking, quick-drying clothes, then having a spare change of clothes so you can be dry and toasty warm at night is a good second. I've used my rope for an impromptu clothesline, hanging my damp clothes overnight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

First day of preschool

Yesterday was Jacob and Reed's first day of preschool at Our Lady of Fatima, just a block and a half down the road from us. This is particularly special, I think, for Reed since he's not been to preschool before, though it was definitely easier for him than Jacob's first day back at Clearview -- he has the dual benefit of having gone through detachment by way of daycare as well as of having seen and heard of his brother going.

The Shirey boys enjoying a pre-preschool picnic.

Reed gets ready for the commute.

Starting the long haul to school.

The boys had a great day with Teacher Gina and their new classmates. They also have a newfound tree love of climbing thanks to trees large enough to climb (contrast with the 18" tall pine trees we had in Clearwater).

Friday, August 24, 2012

Of Coffee and farmers markets

We haven't quite settled into Seattle living yet. As part of my relocation package from Amazon, we're provided with temporary housing until we find a permanent residence. We're all set for that, but it's not available until about September 1st. Our stuff isn't delivered until we're in our new residence, so we're pretty much living with whatever we fit into our four pieces of luggage.

That's not to say that it's bad, but it limits our options for what we can do around the apartment. We've spent a lot of time at Lake Union, but the water is cold to begin with, and the weather is cooling off. Instead, we've been trying to find things to do with the boys around Seattle. That's been including a lot more coffee, trips to parks and other neighborhood attractions, and expeditions downtown.

Last week, my boys and I went to Rudy's Barbershop for a haircut. It occurred to me that Reed had never had his haircut at a professional establishment, so I got a picture of his first professional haircut. We explained to him that you wear a cape to keep hair off your shirt, and it's kind of like what a superhero wears. That immediately prompted him to hold his arms out like he was flying:

My superpower is sitting still for minutes at a time. 
He and Jacob did well and were very polite.

We also have been to the awesome REI Flagship Store, where the kids can play both inside and out:

Last weekend, we hit up the Magnolia farmer's market, got some amazing blueberries for the boys to snack on, got coffee at Serendipity Cafe, and played at the local playground. I was able to convince the boys to not eat all the blueberries -- they will usually eat every last berry of any kind -- and I made some blueberry scones for breakfast a few days later.

We also explored the area around the Seattle Center (which, most notably, includes the Space Needle). There is a great pizza place, Zeeks, where they gave each of the boys a chunk of pizza dough to play with while they waited for lunch:

Jacob made a hand with his pizza dough.
Reed did not.

One evening, we walked around Pike Place Market:

And on Wednesday, the Personalization Platform team (that would be me and my co-workers) went on a team outing to Blake Island. This shot is from our trip back into the city:

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's Day 1 At Amazon. For real.

Amazon never grew up. It's been around since 1994, but it still thinks and acts like a start-up. So there's this saying: "It's still Day 1 at Amazon." Today was my Day 1. I had a nice short walk to work, met a few interesting people (many fewer software engineers than I expected).

Since I'm not sure how much information I'm permitted to disclose due to my NDA, I'll just say that Amazon is growing (and thus, hiring) like crazy, and they've got their onboarding down pretty efficiently. My "hiring class" was much larger than I expected would have been hired, there was another engineer hired onto my team in addition to me, and I really only had to wait in line or have one-on-one attention for maybe a half hour at most.

I met my team today -- the Personalization Platform team, responsible for "P13N" across Amazon and its subsidiaries. For the most part, they're guys about my age, most of whom seem to be interested in rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and other crazy stuff that I'm into. Not more than ten minutes after I got into our office space, I had already tentatively agreed to go on a day hike to Mount Saint Helens.

I'm a big fan of learning. That may be and often is new experiences -- like moving to Seattle when you've lived in Minnesota nearly all your life -- but it can also be forcing yourself to re-learn something from many years ago. I had been at LexisNexis for six years, and I like to think I became pretty fluent in the nomenclature. It was automatic that I knew what the terminology meant, the contexts in which they were used, the implications thereof, and so on. I forgot what it was like to be the new guy; I didn't give it much thought when the last few people to join our group had to learn what terms like FCRA, GLB, score overrides, et al, meant.

Now I get to be that newbie again, for better or for worse. Similarities versus personalization, ML, dimensionality reduction. I sat in our team meeting today trying to keep up as best I could, and I like to think that I did fairly well, actually.

In other news, I expect we may have our long-term housing locked down tomorrow. We've been looking all over the Magnolia, Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford and surrounding areas. I got word today that our application on a house in Magnolia went through; now we just have to decide if we're going to pull the trigger on it. It's a pretty decently sized house with a fenced in yard. It's a bit farther to Amazon than I would prefer, but I can't complain too much.

With many fond memories of my friends at LexisNexis, the adventure continues.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The first 24 hours in Seattle

We've survived our first day in Seattle. Yesterday, we moved into our temporary apartment, which is about a half mile from Amazon.We've had a wild ride the last few days. On Tuesday, a crew packed up all of our stuff while I was at my last day of work at LexisNexis.

This is only a sample of the tons of stuff we own.
Wednesday was Andrea's last day teaching at Talahi, and the movers loaded all of our stuff into the truck. It was supposed to be a pretty quick job, but the oppressive heat and humidity made it last from about noon until 9:00pm.

Also, we had a very unfortunate change in our family plans: while we had planned to bring our rescued beagle, Robby, with us, he was hit by a car and we had to euthanize him.

Wednesday was pretty rough, but we crashed at my parents' place for the night, wrapped up some loose ends on Thursday, and headed to the airport first thing Friday morning.
In the first leg of our trip to the airport, Andrea and I rode with my parents.
After some emotional good-byes, we made it to our flight. Airlines are... interesting businesses, though; by some esoteric logic, when you buy four tickets at the same time for the same family -- all with the same last name -- they put only two seats together and the other two are isolated from everyone else. We had to specifically request seating together, lest one or both of our boys fly for almost four hours without a parent nearby. Nice work, Delta.

We ended up with two pairs of seats together; Jacob and me, Andrea and Reed.

After a pretty uneventful flight, we got to SeaTac airport and grabbed our bags. With four checked bags, four carry-on bags and two car seats, it was a pretty severe ordeal to make it to the shuttle to the rental car site, but once we got there it was fairly smooth sailing.

A short drive to our new apartment and an hour or two later, we were mostly settled. I would be remiss in my geek duties to neglect mentioning the awesome Android app I found for our Roku. After a long, tiring, emotional day of travels, we lay low, met the neighbors upstairs via our patio, listened to some Pandora and watched a little bit on Netflix.

This morning, we started to explore our new city by going to its skyline icon, the Space Needle. We started by grabbing a coffee:
Andrea starts her morning off right with an Americano.
...Reed with water.

... and Jacob with a blueberry muffin.

Across the street from Uptown Espresso is a Tesla showroom, so Reed and I took our own picture in front of it.
Admittedly, I was more interested in the Teslas than Reed.
And only a few blocks from there is the Space Needle.

It took us a while to get through the line, but when we got to the top it was worth it for this shot of Mount Rainier, which doesn't do justice to the view we actually had:
About 75 miles away, this mountain is a freaking sweet.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Skydiving for Dad's birthday

For Dad's birthday last year, Mom told him she'd send him skydiving with me and Nate. Andrea decided she'd also go with. We finally got around to it this weekend, though Nate opted out.

We went to Westside Skydivers in Winsted. It took a while for us to finally get through the queue of jumpers. In the meantime, one of the awesome staff members (whose name eludes me) took my camera and got an awesome action shot of Jacob and Reed ready to jump out of the plane:

We got ready for our jump in the hangar. The boys had been pretty squirrely. You can see on my hand the altimiter that let me know when to pull the rip-cord.

Currently at two feet above ground.

We got in the plane with a total of about 15 people. It promptly fell backward with too much weight in the rear. Not exactly a great sign. We unloaded, shifted people around, and took off. Dad brought his digital camera with him and snapped a few nice pictures.

Me and my jumpmaster, "Mini Mike."

Andrea and Ron.

We jumped from 13,000 feet and fell for nearly a minute at what I figure was shy of 90 vertical miles per hour. All of us had altimiters on, and when we hit 6,000 feet, we each pulled our own rip-cords to deploy the parachutes. Unlike my first jump, the cords didn't get wound up. Mike and I floated back to the ground and had a nice smooth landing. Andrea and Dad both loved jumping, and neither of them were freaked out by it.

As I did last time, I took a video of this jump with my handy-dandy $15 helmet camera, and again, as with last time, the camera was tilted slightly up, leaving most of the awesome stuff just south of the camera's frame.

The full album of pictures we took is available within my Google+ albums.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Shireys are Moving to the Emerald City

It's now official: our little family is moving to Seattle, Washington. Now for the back-story.

A little over a year ago, I had applied on a whim to They found my resume to be not horrible. They called me, they interviewed me, they interviewed me again, they asked me to fly out to Seattle (which I did), they interviewed me in person, and they offered me a job... Which I turned down.

Andrea, somewhere near Westlake Ave.

Fast forward this May when Amazon solicited me for a position doing machine learning. Again, they called me, interviewed me, flew me out, and offered me a job. While I love the people with whom I work at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, I felt that I needed to find a position doing something more fitting my personality and passion. It was an extremely difficult decision that I discussed at great length with my awesome wife, my very supportive parents, and somewhat surprisingly, my very understanding and encouraging boss at LexisNexis.

The Space Needle. And us.

After nearly six years at LN, I will be sad to go, but we're looking forward to the adventure of the Emerald City. After only a few days of discussing with friends and family, we've already had a great outpouring of support, for which we are very thankful.

This picture looks somewhat familiar.
So long, and thanks for all the fish!