2016 was an interesting year

I’m sitting here at my house, at noontime, on December 30, 2016…36 hours until the New Year strikes and 2017 arrives. It has been a monumental year for me personally on many levels, with my daughter being born at the top of the list, several promotions at work, and continuing personal growth. It has also been a worrying year, with the political landscape taking a troubling turn and many fascinating people passing away.

I didn’t truly realize how burned out I was from my previous gig and the first couple months of my current gig until I took my month long paternity leave in July. Being able to unplug from everything and focus 100% on my family changed me in a profound way. Knowing that now I was responsible raising a human being, I strived to redouble my own efforts for learning and personal growth. As you can see from my Goodreads list, my read books steadily climbed in 2016. 21 is well short of my 50 goal for the year, but it is probably the # of books I have read in the past 4 years combined. Next year I will hit 50.

Career wise, I have had several promotions at my current gig and I am currently building three teams. We have lots of job openings on our site, btw.

Political wise, I worry for America. President-elect Donald Trump goes against everything I believe in from a moral and policy standpoint. I am exploring ways to get involved in local politics somehow and add one small voice speaking against his policies and for something better.

I will close out with my family. My daughter is everything to me. It is often me who wakes up first thing in the morning when she awakes and her smile when she sees me and hears me say “Good morning!” is something that will never grow old for me. Today is her six month birthday and I look forward to many more with her and my wife, who has been an amazing mom herself.

A fantastic trip and some deep thoughts

Right now I am at an airport bar with my wife, having a cold brew and waiting for my red eye back home. I have been in Seattle for the past five days visiting my brother, who just moved out here a few months ago.

It’s a trip that has been amazingly relaxing and has allowed for a lot of deep reflection and thinking about where I’m headed. Already there has been a lot of changes the past few months and I’m preparing to make some more in the future. It has never been more important to me to have control of my life so I can live it to its fullest.

Time to kick the next phase into gear.

Running on empty

My wife and I hadn’t taken a vacation together in almost two years. Sure we had taken “time off” during this time period, but none of those for vacation reasons and never both of us officially enjoying that time together for an extended period of time. It’s been a year and a half of unbelievable highs and the lowest of lows.

In the past year we have experienced the death of my aunt and a few months later, my grandfather. The lead up two their deaths bringing unbelievable stress as two people I loved dearly had their health deteriorate before my eyes. My mother-in-law had one hell of a health scare, including us receiving a horrible update while flying down to see her (good news is she has fully recovered in the past year).

It wasn’t all bad news though, but even the good came with stress and huge time commitments. We sold our condo, found & moved into a new house in an intense 45 day period that even had us literally driving to our closing not sure if it would actually happen (it did, barely). My career and employer absolutely took off beyond my wildest dreams, causing many long hours and intense concentration on my part as I elevated me and my team’s game. I’ve traveled eight times this year for work (twice to England), even nice with my wife despite me working the whole time.

Point is, I’ve been running on empty for quite awhile, both emotionally and physically. Without realizing it. And it has taken a true vacation, with no commitments (other than family with a perfectly timed and much anticipated Christmas) to finally realize it.

With just under a week left in my 10 day vacation, I’m enjoying every second of it by taking pride in the little things I can do at the pace I want to do them at. Simply put, I’m letting my brain unwind and regenerate the energy I need for 2013 to be successful. My wife and I have spent some much needed time with just the two of us without a commitment in the world. It’s probably the last time we will be able to say that, so we are enjoying it while we can.

What I hope 2013 will be is…normal. No moves, reasonable among of travel, stability personally and professionally….

…and God willing, no deaths.

The most important lesson a 6-year-old can get

My great-grandfather was one of those people that no one ever forgets. Everyone knew him and he knew everyone. One of the nicest persons you would ever meet. The hardest worker you could find is what I always heard about him. For a 6-year-old at the time, he also taught me a very valuable lesson the hard way.

I don’t have many memories of him, but I have a few. I remember visiting him at work at a doctor’s office next to New London Hospital. He was a maintenance man there that helped maintain the facilities. He would often pick me up and put me on his riding lawn mower as we went around the yard there. We would also go to his apartment that he shared with the love of his life, my great-grandmother. The apartment wall was covered from floor to wall with pictures of family. Nothing meant more than family to him. I remember hearing his stories. About what, I don’t remember, but I remember sitting on his lap listening.

A long time smoker of Camels, he had quit smoking when he found out cigarette prices went from 25 cents to 35 cents. Right in the store, with my grandmother who happened to be tagging along, they both agreed to quit cold turkey. My grandmother is still here today because of their joint vow.

It was too late for him though. In 1989, he was diagnosed with lung cancer with only months to live. It devastated everyone. This man, who seemed indestructible, would only have a few months to live.

As a 6-year-old, I never experienced death before. My great-great uncle Alberton passed away three years prior, but I was just three. But my great-grandfather, I had real recent memories with him and I was about to learn a hard lesson about death. I was told he was sick because of smoking. I watched him as he kept getting more weak and sick. I wish I remembered the last time I saw him. I probably never realized at our last meeting that it was our last meeting.

He passed away on September 6, 1989. I woke up for my first day of first grade and my mom told me the news. I got the talk of how he wouldn’t wake up from sleep anymore and how he was in heaven.

As a 6-year-old, something about his loss shook me to the core. The first promise I ever made to myself I have kept and will keep the rest of my life: never to smoke. I’ve refused to do it in the face of peer and society pressure.

Thinking about it now, I am sure he would list this as one of his greatest legacies: the fact that someone he cares about never smoked because of him. He saved my life.

How fragile life is

On May 7th, which was just over a month ago, my wife and I were riding on a commuter rail heading to North Station in Boston. We were attending Game 3 of the Celtics/Cavs series and this was my surprise birthday present. We were very pumped, looking forward to the Celtics game. In truth, it was a bad night. The Celtics laid a complete egg that game, with a humiliating loss. Yet that wasn’t the worst thing that happened. Before the game started, we found out my wife’s aunt had a very deadly form of lung cancer.

We would hear reports occassionally on how she was doing. Just a week ago, we heard she was starting chemotherapy and she seemed very upbeat about the whole thing. We hoped that it was a positive sign and maybe she could beat this thing.

Today, just 44 days after that horrible news, we were traveling back from Portsmouth when my wife got a phone call. She started crying almost immediately. I knew it was bad. Her aunt passed away.

In just 44 days her aunt went from living a relatively normal life (she had health problems to begin with) to succumbing to cancer. Heartbreaking to say the least. Yet she lived a full life and had a wonderful family. As her son said today in a Facebook post, “we lost a saint today.”

Next time you talk with someone you care about, realize that in as little as 44 days, they could be gone.

Organizing my life

It has been awhile since I have written on here. I have tried to keep up with the hectic pace of life. Yet the more I try to keep up with the everything, the more I realize how unorganized I am.

Right now next to me at my computer desk, I just have a pile of paper stacked on my multifunction printer. On the floor below is a stack of paper laying next to my shredder. Below the printer is yet another stack of paper. Below is a picture of this unorganized mess. Part of it is that I don’t really have anywhere to put my paperwork. The little stand that my printer sits on has a file cabinet drawer, but it is only one. Ideally, I need two. Plus, I desperately need to go through and clean out old paperwork.

Another part is my digital life. My wife and I share a MacBook for home use and I have an employer issued MacBook Pro for work purposes. Given how I am on the computer all day at work, the last thing I want to do is spend time at night figuring out what folder to put a file. Then sometimes I am too organized on my computer, with several layers of folders that can make me easily create unneeded folders since I can’t find the one I am looking for. I need to figure out a system that works and that I will not feel like is too much of a burden.

Getting an iPhone last year fixed my chronic problem of not remembering what is going on thanks to the calendar on it. Now when I have something I need to attend or need to check to see if I am available one day, it is just a couple of finger taps away. Revolutionized scheduling in my life, but I need to make better use of it. Many times my calendar looks empty, when I really can be doing something productive around the condo.

This gets to down where I jot down some ideas here and see if I can get working on them. Some I have experimented with over the past week with great results.

  • To-do List – I need one, I don’t understand why Apple hasn’t integrated it into the iPhone yet, but I found a possible solution. Thanks to Remember the Milk with its web site and iPhone app, it is showing lots of potential. The other day I accomplished a task that I had delayed for 6 months in 10 minutes! Today I took an old TV that we had meant to recycle to the dump, something that has sat in a corner for three weeks!
  • Shredding day – Tomorrow I plan on going on a shredding extravaganza, going through and ditching any unnecessary paperwork. I am also going to look for a filing cabinet that has room so I will actually use it.
  • Finances – I was doing well with this, but have slacked off a bit. I signed up for Mint.com, plan on redoing the budget, and figuring out how I can pay the $2800 left on the Subaru Forester car loan soon.
  • Computer Files – I need to go through my computer’s Documents folder and clear out old junk. The other day I found a letter to my old landlord from 2004 telling him we would be leaving the apartment in 1 month. I don’t know about you, but that is probably not needed anymore.

It is a few small steps, but hopefully one in the right direction.

The Great Technology Battle of 2008

A week ago today, I was ready to declare war on my e-mail, address book, and basically my electronic existence. My life is built around technology. It has been part of my existence as long as I remember. It is my career. Yet, it was slowly drowning me. How could I turn this around I thought? Technology is supposed to help, not supposed to drown you. If anyone can figure out how to harness technology, it should be me. I had to do something.

The signs were clear: I had to do something…

 

  • My inbox was overflowing. I had over 40 labels in my Gmail account (many redundant), hundreds of e-mails a day, and many unread e-mail’s. Most of this was due to three e-mail accounts worth of e-mail being forwarded into my main Gmail account, years of laziness in figuring out how to organize it, and no time to do it. Most of what I didn’t read was just filtered into a folder, to be occasionally deleted without me even looking through them.
  • I had three address books (my Mac’s address book, my POS cell phone address book, and Gmail’s), none that synced with each other and none that were close to 100% up-to-date. My Gmail address book was in the worst shape due to the horrific feature of Gmail adding every person I have ever e-mailed into it. My Mac one wasn’t much better…it still had the phone number for my grandmother that was 2 or 3 numbers ago.
  • My bookmarks are scattered everywhere, between three web browsers (Safari, Firefox, and Camino), none of which were in sync.
  • My calendar situation was ironically in the “best” shape, as I had a central calendar I kept everything on. Only issue is access as it was hanging on the wall of my apartment, not very good if you need to check it from work or a friend’s place. Anything I wanted to write on the calendar would either be scribbled on the back of scrap paper (hoping I remember to take it out of my pocket before washing the pants) or worse, committed to a memory that does not remember such details well.
  • I had too many gadgets. Just a few years ago, I had 3 cell phones (2 from work), an iPod, and 2 computers. I had since narrowed it down to an iPod, a cell phone, and a computer. I knew I could do better though.

 

What did I have going for me? An immense knowledge of technology, the desire to figure out how to do it, and the will to do it.

Here is my progress:

 

  1. It was time I joined the smartphone junkies. Since there is really only one smartphone that plays nice with Macs and really only one smartphone that could do what I had planned, it was time to get an iPhone 3G.
  2. The iPhone immediately retired an aging POS flip phone and a 2G iPod Nano. Two devices become one. My entire digital personal life is now down to two devices: an iPhone and my Macbook. When I left the apartment, I knew I had to carry my iPhone and my wallet. That is it. The fog began to clear my mind.
  3. Finally I could schedule my life on-demand. The calendar on my iPhone? Always up-to-date. I enter every event into the iPhone, even when I should work out at the gym (Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 12 PM in the gym at work, reoccurring event). Plug in my iPhone into the Macbook twice a day (morning when I wake up and evening when I get home), all changes instantly synced with iCal. No more guessing, no more pieces of paper to lose.
  4. One address book to rule them all. I hated paper address books. They were typically bulky and who carries a pen/pencil around 24/7? So I kept three ones scattered online, on the POS flip phone, and on my Mac. Now it is all organized into one: the iPhone, synced with the Address Book application on my Mac. Two hours of organizing, adding, updating, and deleting later…and my address book is finally up-to-date for the first time in memory. I even added some birthdays in there.
  5. The inbox battle was delayed several days, but arrived Thursday night. By Friday morning, I went from 40 labels in Gmail to 5 (possibly going to four once I figure out how to deal with one of them). All filters were deleted. Everything went to the inbox. Any e-mail lists that I didn’t delete? I completely unsubscribed from them, roughly 25 of them to be exact. My sword was swift and deadly (and still swinging even today). When I was done with an e-mail? Delete it or archive it one of my 4 or 5 folders.
  6. My iPhone and Mac are now setup to use IMAP with Gmail. Both devices are now synced 100% together.
  7. My separate e-mail accounts became truly separate again. Instead of lumping my personal e-mail with my web site e-mail and my CSFBL e-mail, it is all separate now, ready for me to deal with each of them respectively when I can. All setup with IMAP of course, on my iPhone and Mac.
My progress is staggering. My personal digital life has changed drastically in the past week. E-Mail’s are now being answered promptly, I am no longer stressed trying to keep everything accurate/synced, and I even feel much smarter now I am organized. My digital life is now contained in an iPhone and my Macbook. That’s it. What an improvement.
What is there left to do?
  • Switch to using Safari on my Mac. It pains me to do it (been a loyal user of Firefox since Phoenix 0.1). But my iPhone syncs with only Safari. Might as well keep everything consistent and simple.
  • Time to clean up the bookmarks. Delete old ones, organize them, and bookmark only what I truly need.
  • Clean up my RSS feeds. I need to figure out how to best do this. Google Reader is great, but I have 300-400 feeds I keep track of in there, many are redundant. I need to clean house on those. Google Reader on the iPhone works alright, but I hope it either comes out with a native application soon or someone does a better iPhone RSS reader.
  • Keep the iPhone apps I truly need. Given the release of the app store a week ago, my iPhone is quite the mess at the moment, with icons everywhere. Need to clean it up and keep only what I need to use.
  • Better time management. I can be much more productive with my time. I really need to get going on reading Getting Things Done.
It is a start, but a drastic step forward. More later on this.

The Birthday Weekend

Tomorrow is the #26th time I have seen May 11th. Going to a Thrice concert with my brother Justin tonight (my brother Dan has to go to a prom tonight, the nerve) and then up to my hometown tomorrow for a cookout with my parents, brothers, and wife. Should be a good time.

It is weird how fast the world goes today. A lot has changed in the past year. Becoming an uncle, getting married, losing a dear cousin of mine, and so on.