2011 in review: The Personal Portion

by jesse in ,


Yup; it's that time - everyone and their brother is doing a post looking back at 2011 and taking stock of the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm no different - 2011 was a year that largely represented a massive shift in my life's tectonic plates.

I've decided to break this reflection into two related parts - the more personal stuff (this one) and the big-P Python stuff - both have seen shifts and changes worth noting, and both are inextricably tied for me. I've intentionally skipped all of the Python** stuff (including PyCon) that I've been working on - that's going to come next.

Personal Changes

In late 2010 I was playing paintball - something which everyone should try at least once - it truly is a blast. However, at the time I was grossly overweight (280/285 lbs heading to 300) and running around outdoors with 20+ lbs of equipment. It was a normal Sunday game when I pivoted in the perfectly wrong way - my foot had gotten stuck in some tree roots and when I pivoted, my right knee dislocated and I collapsed face-first into a pile of tree branches.

I did not realize that my knee has dislocated, just that my leg wasn't working. I slapped my knee, hard, bent it and got up and kept playing. The adrenaline kept me going for several more hours while I continued to play on a knee of questionable veracity. When I got to my car a few hours later, all I knew is that my knee felt funny, and my cargo pants where tight where my knee was.

When I got home and changed, the truth came out. My knee had swollen to the size of a cantaloupe and turned several ugly colors. I figured I has injured it, and largely ignored it. Then the pain set in the next day.

Fast forward through many doctor appointments, MRIs, and two more dislocations - once getting my daughter out of the bathtub which required my wife to come in and put my knee back into place because I was busy crying on the floor, and the second just getting out of bed. My knee, from that initial dislocation had become very weak. The doctor told me flat out that I needed physical therapy and rehab, otherwise surgery was going to be required.

He told me I needed to change things. Looking at myself in the mirror, I realized that something had to be done - I was stressed, overweight and my path was out of whack. I couldn't deal with surgery with three year old and a now pregnant wife. I got a cortisone shot and went up the street to the local Bikram Yoga studio - I had never done yoga before - I walked in, slapped down some money and went into a 120 degree studio.

This is a photo of my from June 2010:

Geliu

 

I became a Bikram convert over night - the owner of the local studio Bob is an amazing man, friendly, kind - all of the instructors helped me through learning and growing and pushing through the pain, the heat and everything that comes with a grossly overweight ex-smoker who was drinking 2+ pots of coffee a day jumping in head first. I quickly ramped to doing classes 3 times a week.

Additionally, I completely altered my diet - I've long dabbled in low-carb/no-carb/ketogenic, but this time I jumped in no-holds barred. No sugar, I cut my coffee intake to one cup a day, no carbs/gluten, period. 2011 came quickly, and I kept it up. Yoga, diet - lather, rinse and repeat. I shed enough weight that people at PyCon 2011 didn't recognize me. Good. Not good enough. Throughout 2011 I kept this up - dropping from an easy 280 lbs to 165 at my lowest. Later in the year I added weight lifting with coworkers at lunch - even later I started the couch to 5k program to start running (even doing it the "barefoot" way).

Now, as the year turns, I weigh a healthy 175 lbs - I've put on muscle mass, kept my flexibility, kept on my diet which has shifted into a more Paleo form than what it had been (mainly adding fruit back in, but still skipping carbs/gluten/sugar - I still mostly only eat meat and vegetables). I can now run for 30 minutes without feeling like death and hit 4.2 miles. My knee still bothers me sometimes, but I've dodged surgery. I can now look at my daughters and wife and hope that I'll be around a lot longer than I would have been had I not done these things. I feel more alive than ever before.

Me, December 2011:

2011

 

During 2011, I also switched to an all standing desk setup (yup, despite the knee):

I'm happy to say that this continues - thanks to an excellent gift from my wife, I even have a nice standing setup at home now. It's been over 7 months since I last sat down at work to work. Sure, I sit at lunch, and in the car - I'm not that weird, but I continue to reap the benefits I outlined in those posts.

I also started working on my mental health, and focus. Trying to learn how to meditate, working on minimizing distractions and building small improvements to my workflow. Focusing on being open to change and criticism. Focusing on things I had ignored for a long time.

You can't go and just fix your physical self - you have to take care of the mental aspects as well. I've had to learn this over and over the hard way, and it is still a daily fight between what I was, and what I want to me. I have to focus on small changes and improvements constantly - otherwise it's deadly simple to fall back on old ways.

I did a post some time ago - "On Family, Cranking and Changing" - I still read this once in awhile to remind myself where I need to go and what I need to accomplish. I can't lose sight.

Now for the hard part.

Children

2011 also brought my family to the brink - and I mean that in the literal sense. There was a time where my wife and I would look at each other hopelessly, wondering what we would do and how we would pull through. In June, we had our second daughter Addison Joy. The pregnancy was really rough and my coworkers and boss supported me through the needed "disappearing". My wife spent a lot of time in the hospital, and there were many times where we were worried that things wouldn't work out.

Luckily, my wife - and Addison, pulled through. I don't know how they did it, and I suspect we've burnt a lifetime of karma and luck in just a few months, but they both came through. Addison was born, and I once again new the joys and pains of having a new born daughter. Throughout all of this, our oldest daughter Abigail trooped on through - it was a lot to ask for a 3/4 year old, but she continually amazed me. To look at her face and see how much she worships and loves her mother - to see how she loves Addison - that's to know something you'll never see anywhere else.

Not everything was well - and we didn't know it yet, but the worst storm was yet to come.

To quote my post - "Thank you - the impossibility of "It's going to be OK"":

But, so, AJ was born - and at first, everything seemed to be fine. 10 fingers, 10 toes and pooping - that's sort of what you hope for in a newborn. We took her home, she saw her pediatrician, and that was that.

Well, no. Around the time Addison was three weeks old (shortly before my first child's birthday) my wife Dusty started noticing that Addison was behaving erratically/oddly - and if you have any experience with infants, you'd know how hard it is to actually determine "odd" behavior. Almost everything they do is odd, down to timing exactly the worst moment when to spit up on you (point of fact - it is after you've showered, and are walking out the door).

In this case, the odd behavior my wife noticed was actually a pattern - and that's when you need to worry. You want consistency in certain areas, you want to see continual improvement, you want them to consistently eat, poop and sleep. However, a pattern of odd movements tipped my wife (who is a fantastic analyst) off that something was not quite right.

What my wife found was that Addison for periods of time anywhere from 1-2 minutes her eyes would slit and roll back and she would freeze up. The best way to describe it is it was almost as if she would just "check out" - as if someone hit a power switch.

It's still hard for me to read that post - it's difficult for me to communicate the emotions - the fear, the outright terror of not knowing what was wrong with our baby girl. More hospitals, more doctors. My new born daughter with a helmet of leads and electrodes coming off of her head. Sleeping in cots in hospital rooms. My wife eloquently wrote a series of posts:

Something I say in that thank you post is something that will stick in my mind forever. When my friends and people I barely knew in the Python community heard and saw what we were going through as a family, the support we got was flooring. It still makes me tear up thinking of all the cards, well wishes and other things - a little toy for Abigail, Doug Napoleone coming over to help me out with something, everything that the Python community did for our family. It is, and was amazing. I can never thank all of you enough for what you did for us, and how you helped us pull through.

The number of emails I got from other parents in the community who suffered through things like this, the well wishes - I, I can't even go into everything that happened. Words can not express it. All I can say is that many times, my wife and I found ourselves in tears, crying with one another because of some act or gift or email from someone in the community.

In October, I did a quick Google+ post, providing an update on how things had panned out - quoting that post:

Addison's diagnosis - if you want to call it that - is Cerebral Palsy - Hypertonia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertonia). This means that she does have a disorder, but it's not one treated with drugs - just physical therapy and frequent checkups. We have a nurse and a physical therapist who come weekly and check on her thanks to early intervention. She's developing well - she's eating baby food, smiling and generally being a normal baby. All we have to do is keep up with the therapy and in theory her brain will "auto correct" as time goes on. She's 17lbs and counting at just about 5 months and just giving hints of crawling.

In addition to the hypertonia, she was diagnosed with non epileptic seizures - again, not something we can do much about other than to love her, keep up with checkups and wait.

So that's where we are - we have a happy, cooing, laughing, happy baby and just have to keep a close eye on her and work through things that come up. It's too early to tell if her problems will have long term consequences. The doctors all hope that she's "error correct" around these things and she'll be OK. But we won't know until we see her development at 6 months, 9 months and 1 year - we still have that "threat" that something could happen - her brain could stop developing, or conditions could get worse.

But its hard to think about that - because I don't see the problems - every day, I pick up and hold and play with a beautiful, cheerful baby who wants nothing more than to chew on my fingers (she's teething) and laugh. I don't think about the future much, because it's unknowable, and we'll cross that bridge when it comes. Sometimes it pops into my head - that worry, that doubt, and I push it to the side and think of what we've already gone through.

It's now December - almost January. Addison has continued to thrive - the fear and the worry aren't forgotten - we have regular visits from a physical therapist and nurse to continually check on her. She still has some issues we continue to work through, and we've got a series of appointments with neurology specialists, but its hard to think that anything is "wrong" with her at all.

She's almost 20lbs (huge baby!) - she's babbling, she's gotten her first tooth (on christmas eve to boot) - she loves her walker and worships her sister. She laughs more than any baby I've ever seen, and that laugh is angelic. I don't know what the future holds, and I don't know how long our luck will hold out, but what I do know is that I have two beautiful daughters who have changed my life forever.

I have found friends where I did not expect, compatriots and support. I have found that my coworkers, community and friends are more amazing than I could have ever expected. And Addison thanks you:

IMG 3672

 

Finally, Work

I love my job, what more is there to say? 2011 was a break out year for me personally - and a break out year for Nasuni - we've built something amazing, something that companies want. With any luck, we have begun to change how businesses will store their data and what they come to expect from an enterprise class product. I get to do what I love, with people that are awesome.

Of course, 2011 found me growing more into doing things I never really expected to be doing - I've continued a shift from the back end/glue and more into the front-end, spending most of my time working on user interfaces, beating my head against internet explorer. I've spent more time in JavaScript than I care to admit. Learning CSS, re-learning design, layout, thinking constantly about user experience, staring at color palettes for days.

And I - We - are far from done. I've mentally grown into a mindset that "UI" (user interface) doesn't just stand for the graphic design of a site - and that UX (user experience) isn't just about how things are laid out on a page. UI/UX has to be thought about from the part the user sees, feels and uses all the way down to the lowest level API of your system.

Good Design (notice the big D) means APIs matter. It means that everything from error messages, to documentation to customer support and care matter. You can't ignore any of it. You can't slap a CSS framework into place and think you're done with "Design". It means caring about the user completely, and without regard to your biases or skills.

Good Design also matters in communities - user experience, interfaces - thinking about others - of course, I'm getting ahead of myself and delving into the second post.

Wrapping this one up

On a personal level - 2011 was a year I doubt I'll forget any time soon. It's been a mixture of pain and pleasure and constant evolution and change. 2011 changed who I fundamentally am as a person, and I hope I'll never be the same.

Again, thank you all - you know who you are.

And to my family: Dusty, Addison, and Abigail (who is so smart it scares me) - I love you.

 


A Christmas Story

by jesse in


Preamble - Memories are strange.

Memories are strange things. You don't quite know where they come from - or why a particular one is more powerful than another. They pop up unbidden - some subconscious trigger, a smell, a sound, an event causes them to come to the forefront of your mind and take over your brain and emotions.

Memories, once ingrained, are impossible to rid yourself of, good or bad. You don't get to choose which ones fault in, and you don't get to choose which ones are the most powerful one attached to a trigger.

Sometimes, no matter how much you try, no matter how many new memories you try to make to replace, or subsume a given one - one memory will always stick. It can be good - or it can be bad. You don't get to choose. When that memory is a bad one, it doesn't matter how much you stack on top of it, no matter how much you try to forget - when it comes to the forefront, that is what you see, what you feel.

We don't get to control it. All we can do is try to forge new ones and hope that they are more powerful, more pertinent and more filled with love and hope than everything that came before it, so that even if the memory that comes up is a bad one - a horrible one - there's something warm, loving and caring to fall back on and hold on to when we lay awake at night staring at the ceiling trapped in throes of the past.

A story about a boy.

This is a story about a boy. It doesn't matter who the boy is - and it doesn't matter who he is now. It is about a boy and a memory, and this story is meant to get you to think about the people around you in your life, your community and your family, neighbors and friends.

This boy was young - perhaps five, perhaps six - who knows, the exact age is lost in the morass of time - it doesn't matter. This boy lived with some people who were bad, very, very bad. They were the most vile of people. This boy lived with them as, at this age, you don't get to pick who you live with. This boy, and these evil people lived together in a home filled with stink, filth and pain.

The boy was alone; the boy wasn't afraid in the common sense of the word - after all to understand fear you have to experience something other than that to appreciate the emotion itself. Loneliness however, is something all humans innately understand without context or teaching. We are social creatures, we crave attention - good or bad - we crave to walk in the lights of others eyes and be noticed.

The boy was not noticed.

The time was before Christmas time. More than anything in the world, the boy loved an old TV show - Fraggle Rock. This was something that brought him happiness no matter how brief. He loved that show more than anything else in the world.

One day, the boy was someplace else, with a different evil person. He was sitting on a bare floor in a bare apartment that stank of cigarette smoke and old people. He was watching the television - a cold, but constant friend - watching his favorite show.

An advertisement came on. This advertisement offered something magical, something special. It was something so exciting that he had to call now to take advantage of the special offer. It was a thing tied to his friend, his joy - Fraggle Rock.

The boy had no money or wealth, and inside he knew that the evil people around him were loath to give up that which they had. The boy knew that he must have the thing he saw, and while he had nothing he knew how to acquire it.

He calmly got up off the floor, knowing that no one was around to notice what he was about to do. He opened the purse of one of the people who ignored him - he may have been alone, and might have only known fear, but he was smart. He knew that the thing on TV asked for a credit card, and he knew where to get one. He stole it from the purse, and picked up the telephone.

Some how, perversely, that boy knew where he lived. Maybe it was because he had had to walk himself to school so often, or had to be driven home by the police or a teacher from the school he sometimes attended.

He called the number he had memorized in a span of seconds. The person at the other end of the telephone, again, in a strange alignment of perversion and oddity, did not question the fact that a child was on the other end of the phone.

The boy managed to order the magical thing on TV. Using a stolen credit card in an apartment that stank of cigarettes and old people.
Before you think the boy had gotten away with it - he hadn't. As he hung up the phone, one of the bad people came into the room and saw him with the phone and credit card in his hand.

Evil people do bad things to boy; the screen goes dark and the curtains go down. The boy knew that his brief glimpse of hope and joy in acquiring that thing from the TV was gone.

The boy went back to darkness.

Christmas Day

The boy did not know, or remember the thing from the TV he had gotten so severely punished for. He knew that it was Christmas time only because other children talked so eagerly about it. The house he lived in was barren, and filthy and undecorated except for a small pine tree in a corner that stood, undecorated.

There was no party, no family get together on Christmas eve. Yet still the boy lay in his bed charged with hope that somehow, somewhere, a gift might appear for him under that barren and sad tree the next day. He might not know - he was locked in his room again, but that hope stood out.

Not because he knew what it was, but because he knew what others had told him, he knew the emotions that others had about this "special" time.

The boy didn't sleep well - not just because it was Christmas. He never slept well.

Christmas morning, let's say at five o'clock in the morning, the boy was awake as he always was. He got up with trepidation and fear for waking the evil people with whom he lived. He tested the door knob - it was unlocked.

He opened the door and looked around - none of the evil people were around, there were someplace else. He was alone - and given that this was a state much preferable to the alternative, he was temporarily happy.

He walked to the barren tree, past the trash and cat waste scattered through the house and stood in front of it. At first, his eyes didn't perceive the box underneath it. He didn't see a stack of jauntily wrapped gifts, or stockings hung with care. The boy was filled with sadness.

There was, however, a bag - the type you might get nowadays from a supermarket for reuse. The boy's eyes caught the logo on that bad.

Fraggle. Rock.

Stunned beyond comprehension, the boy walked over slowly, he recognized the logo, and in fact, he recognized the bag from the commercial long forgotten. It was the magical thing he had been so severely punished for. He looked around, ensuring he was alone, and he pulled the thing out of the bag.

It was a Fraggle Rock record player. That was all - and a single, small record that contained but one song. Shaking, he opened the record player, and plugged it into the wall. Gingerly, he placed the record on the player and through trial and error, figured out how to make it turn on and play.

The boy cried as the first notes of the one song began to play. So joyful was he in this singular moment, listening to the theme song for a TV show that all the loneliness and pain he knew was forgotten, replaced with a joy so tangible he could hold it close.

In that moment, the boy knew sadness as well, as that joy was so powerful he knew the stark contrasts in the emotions he had known. He forgot loneliness, caught up in a moment so emotional that nothing else mattered.

In that moment, the boy was happy. The house was filled with that song for hours until the people he lived with came home, and took it away. In those hours, that boy knew nothing but joy, happiness and the dark contrast of sadness.

Back to the beginning.

The boy is now a man, which man is irrelevant. What is relevant is that when the first chords of the first Christmas song begin to play after Thanksgiving - when the first Christmas ornament go up that boy is thrown back to that memory of that single Christmas day.

No memories since that day matter; none of them come up and filter into his consciousness other than that one. It takes over his psyche at random, as said before - you don't get to choose how this works.

So, why?

Why am I sharing this story about a boy, or rambling about memories? Because, despite knowing that once ingrained a memory can not be forgotten, I feel that it is true that you can override memories with stronger ones with a more powerful emotion.

I feel that joy, hope and love are more powerful emotions than fear, loneliness and pain.

I share this boy's story so that I can get you to think for a moment about the people around you. Friends, colleagues, family - the person on the street, on the bus, the people in your community and the person you only know through email, IRC or on Twitter.

I share this to get you to think about those who you don't think about all that closely. The children who live as that boy did, or those children and families that have little or nothing during this supposed time of joy.

I'm not asking you to give up wealth, or toys, or food - those are all fine things, but they are simply tangental aspects of how a memory might be created. I'm asking you to think about all of these people, even those whom you disagree with or hate, or those you never think about at all, and I ask you to take a moment to reach out to them in some way.

Perhaps a toy, a book, a warm coat or meal for those that you do not know well - something that can give them the same joy that that boy felt when that song played. Maybe an email to someone you haven't heard from in a while, or warm words to someone who you normally spar with.

Thousands of people trudge through the holidays, no matter their faith, race or creed - their choice of forums, programming language, career or school depressed and alone during this time. They're trapped by memories that should have been replaced long, long ago. Maybe they never will be replaced, but maybe they can be supplemented and temporarily displaced.

I am asking you to reach out in any way that you can to help them make new memories, ones of joy, love and caring - even if it is over the internet, or as fleeting as being polite to them and thinking of them when you bump into them on the street or in the mall.

Reach out in all the ways you can, despite times of strife and division and economic depression. Help everyone you can be filled with a memory of joy, love and caring, give them that moment the boy had even if bittersweet. Show them your grace, humility, kindness and caring.

I still cry when I hear Fraggle Rock.


The Standing Desk Experiment, 5 Months in.

by jesse in , , ,


My original standing desk post - "Switching to a Standing Desk" has garnered a lot of attention - and a lot of questions. I've also seen a rise in the number of people trying out standing setups due to that post and the near onslaught of new articles and people converting to a standing setups in the months since. It seems to be quite the trend now. More studies have been coming out citing that sitting as long as we (programmers, writers, etc) do is fundamentally harmful - for me, switching to standing was less driven by those facts, than needing a change - leg pain, back pain - I needed something more. I sit enough throughout a normal day.

Studies and articles:

I figured since I'm rapidly approaching 6 months into the "experiment" - I should post a followup along with my current thoughts as well as even more information on how to setup your own rig, new studies, and other articles that have come up.

My original setup was a bit of a rig: I stole (borrowed) a table from one of the kitchens in our building and hacked together something that while serviceable, had a few obvious problems - the key one being it was wobbly (I'm not a light typist). Wobbly, while annoying, was still tolerable and preferable to the back pain, lethargy and other things that drove me to try it out in the first place. Other problems included not being at the optimal arm-height (it was close) and well - lack of desk space.

Several months ago, I was lucky enough to have my employer (Nasuni) notice my experiment and we made a deal - if I stuck to the rig for a month, and still wanted to stand, they would get me an official standing desk. I exceeded the goal a bit - not only did I stand at the setup for a month - I completely ditched sitting the first week. I haven't sat in a chair in my cube since I started standing months ago. So work pitched in and got me a GeekDesk 2.0 - victory!

Here's the "perfect" setup:

IMG 2784

The transition itself from sitting to standing was pretty easy for me - given the number of changes I've made in the past year in terms of weight loss, exercise, etc at this point I'm probably in the best physical condition I have been in my entire life. So ultimately I didn't have many of the transition issues people sometimes cite (foot / leg pain, tiredness, etc) with moving to a standing desk.

The minor issues I had mainly revolved around:

  • Feet: I had to find a non-bulky, well made pair of shoes. In my case, I started wearing New Balance Minimus Trail style "minimalist" shoes - they're form fitting (meaning no socks) and have almost no sole to them. Additionally, I had already picked up a good comfort mat to stand on - that way I had something more giving than the carpet covered concrete.
  • Getting things at the right height: I chose the Geekdesk because it's got hydraulic legs that allow you to set a perfect height - one where your elbows are at a 90 degree angle when your hands are resting on the keyboard, or slightly lower than that. This, plus my standard Microsoft Ergo keyboard means my typing posture is probably the best that it's ever been. Additionally, while I have a height adjustable monitor - I used an additional monitor stand to get my monitor position at roughly eye level (I prefer the horizontal center of the monitor to be slightly below eye level - use what's comfortable). This way I'm not looking down/tilting my head an extreme amount, in most cases I'm only looking slightly down.
  • Switching positions: When we hack/get involved in something we all have a tendency to hold dead still except for our hands - instinctually even though I was standing, I would sometimes find myself standing rigid, feet shoulder width apart with my back straight. While fundamentally not bad this can just cause your body to get tired/sore/whatever. I had to start letting my more rational brain allow my body to move, force yourself to gently shift your position. In my case I've even found myself dancing to music slightly, even when deep in coding or writing because my body now knows it can move freely.
    • I've actually found myself standing with one leg bent and my foot against the inside of the opposite knee. This means standing on one foot - I didn't notice it until someone asked me if I was doing yoga in my cube. Between this and the dancing at my desk, I think the weird-o-meter is maxed out.
  • Allowing myself a break: I set boundaries for myself - I'm no superhuman and genetic aberration. My body needs rest. My agreement with myself was this - if I stand during work sessions, I will sit during lunch and take an afternoon break of 15 minutes and sit, have a snack, something. This way I give my body a chance to relax.

Nothing groundbreaking, really. Allow yourself to move/change positions (my default is back straight, feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent) - get something nice to stand on / some good shoes and set expectations. Revolutionary science and advice, I know.

After just a few weeks I noticed a change - I had more energy, I felt more active and alive, I breathed better (not hunched), I was actually calmer, more reflective and able to focus when needed. My body felt great - my legs felt stronger, my back a thousand times better, my neck better, etc. I've had all the upsides and few downsides. I lost more weight/gained more muscle in my legs and back - good times!

I will say that people get confused - people walking by, when they see a programmer/hacker hunched over a keyboard in a chair, deep in thought see a giant "do not disturb" sign. When you're standing, hacking away deep in thought people tend to have the instinct that you're more approachable. And they like to pop in for a quick chat. Nothing bad in and of itself - a break never hurt anyone. But coworkers who don't notice your earbuds in your ears might get confused when they have an entire conversation with someone who is completely checked out, standing there.

No, I'm not being rude. While I do do yoga, I have not quite reached the level of being able to sense a disturbance in the force.

Approachability works both ways though: I find myself more approachable/less hostile to people dropping in to talk. I'm more relaxed, less aggressive and ultimately more at ease when someone interrupts me, or catches me in between things to talk. I enjoy white boarding with them more, I don't spin around in my chair and snarl at them because I was elbow deep in an epic yak shaving. I just take a breath, turn around and start talking.

I feel more refreshed; and switching "into work" and "out of work" (meaning, in and out of a task) is easier/more approachable. My body feels better - so much better that sitting actually feels awkward to me. Ask my wife, any time I work at home I whine because I end up sitting. Sitting has become something I do when I want to relax, or because I have to - not something I do automatically. Not to mention, you simply burn more calories standing than sitting still. It will help you pay down that debt you had for lunch!

Don't get me wrong - I like kicking up my legs with my laptop in my lap, and beating away on my keyboard. It's just those times are different now - almost more special and valuable to me rather than the default-of-lethargy that I had before sitting all the time. I can say sitting here on a plane typing this may quickly drive me insane however.

My two second review of the Geekdesk? It's awesome - it's the perfect height, and it can carry enough weight my four year old can ride it like something at a carnival. I've stacked my mac pro/books/etc on it and the hydraulic legs don't even flinch. I can set it at any height, or drop it down to sit (although I never have). It's well build, sturdy, and had a little cable runner thing attached to the bottom of the desk where I can squirrel cables away (but as you can see in the picture - I'm much to lazy for that). The desk space is enough for me to have my notebook to one side and my laptop to the other and keyboard on the center with room to spare. It really is great.

That said - is the Geekdesk for everyone? Yes!

Is it prohibitively expensive, hence why I don't have one at home right now? Also yes!

Most people (myself included) can't find it in our budgets to finance something like this - heck, it's the same thing with good chairs - they run serious cash. Most people will look to put together a more economical solution. In most cases, you can avoid building something yourself if you live anywhere close to an Ikea - the cheapest option I've found for something that comes close to a basic set of specs:

  • Decent amount of desk space
  • Doesn't look like crap
  • Can have the main work area set to the optimal height

Is the Ikea Fredrik desk - this used to be called the "Galant" desk, and its setup allows you to put together a standing rig approaching a rational price for your home. It's also ok for proposing to bosses who would beat you with a rolled up newspaper if you suggested spending 800$ on an ergonomic desk (although - why are you working for someone like that, Stockholm Syndrome?).

The Fredrick is the best option I've found that's "off the shelf" - there are plenty of plans out there that describe how to build one - and I applaud those who have the wood working skills needed. Here are some of the various plans and pre built desks floating around out there that I cite when asked:

Otherwise, if you're stuck in a cube or office where you can't chuck the existing decor for something more civilized (meaning, it's bolted to the walls or the cube farm would collapse like a hobo village built out of cardboard boxes if you removed your L shaped cube desk) here's a set of the best "hacks"  or attachments I've seen (feel free to share your own:

Now - remember, even if your stuck in a cube in most cases, the height of the main desk area can be changed/raised - you just need an office manager willing to listen. Most desks in cubes can easily be moved lower, or higher depending on needs. Sometimes you may have to get rid of your shelves - but what do you put there other than pretzels and books you don't read? Stability, stability, stability!

For the home? I'd start trolling craigslist for podiums or lecterns if you aren't good with tools or you lack an Ikea. Or, if you can forgo aesthetics you can go the home-depot-cinderblock route. This is the easiest if you just want to experiment. Just measure what height your current desk is, then measure the height from your bent-90-degrees and standing on a comfortable mat elbows to the floor. Subtract the height of your current desk and either go to Lowes or Home Depot and buy cinderblocks and a piece of nice, sanded and pre-finished or stained hardwood to stack on top of your current desk to raise your keyboard, mouse and monitor to the needed heights, or just buy the same to place under your desk legs to move it up.

In the latter case, if you have a desk with a keyboard tray, this works in your favor as you can get the keyboard at the 90 degree angle and give your monitor a quick boost. Cinderblocks or bricks, while not looking cool, are obviously sturdy and stable. Of course, if you have a glass-topped desk at home (as I do) I would recommend against putting it on top.

Me at my setup recently:

Jesse Aug 25 11  7 of 11

Fundamentally, it's just a matter of getting your hands and eyes at the right heights while standing. Everything else is aesthetics and noise. Switching has helped me immensely and for the better. Will I never be a "a sitter" again? Never say never. I will say that it's definitely not for everyone, and while I might sound like a card carrying cultist - even I realize it's a tough thing to swallow for most hackers.

As for the now notorious study that came out recently that stated that you would suddenly develop varicose veins and die if you stood all day? The data the researchers cited disagrees with them (take a look at the hacker news thread). While I don't disagree with the fundamental message: move regularly, stupid - I don't agree with the breathless results and reporting and age-old rehashing of "perfect keyboard angle and age old ergonomics". No one listens to ergonomics experts anyway, and most companies put +ignore on basic ergonomics. Standing while you work is a perfectly good way to improve yourself in a variety of ways, not just improving how long you can sit staring at a screen all day.

Try standing - seriously. It may not be for you, but you might be surprised. I didn't think I'd be doing yoga, didn't think I'd be standing at a desk, didn't think I'd be a dad, eating Paleo/Keto and listening to heavy metal. Sometimes a change or trying something out that seems crazy or daunting is just what you need.

Other good standing desk reads:


Thank you - The impossibility of "It's going to be ok".

by jesse in


Let me start off by saying that while this post is largely not Python related although it is slightly related in the fact that I talk about the Python community later on. Largely this post is about my family and some of the troubles that we've been going through, and how it has affected me.

If you're looking for a technical Python article then you should probably move on. I realize that it has been awhile since I've been able to do a deep post on a pure Python topic; for that I apologize. This post talks a lot about community towards the end; so it may remain of interest.

I've been writing, and re-writing this post in my head over and over again - some of it due to the fact that the problems we've been dealing with are just not something I've ever dealt with before, but also I didn't quite know how to put things into words. Throw in a healthy dose of "1 month old induced sleep deprivation" and you have a combination for scrambled brains and scattered thoughts.

Mostly, it is the emotional aspect - more importantly I've been sitting here rewriting this post over and over and over again because it is never easy for parents and it is especially not easy for me, just because of who I am, to sit down and put to words the experiences of the past month. My wife, Dusty has has organized and posted her views on what's happened over on her blog - I encourage you to go read those:

She's done an excellent job putting her thoughts down eloquently - far better than I've managed. I don't think I've stopped "working" in any sense of the word - you get busy just living, you get busier with one child - with a second child (especially an infant) - no one gets free time. Throw in a busy job at a startup, chairing PyCon, and a handful of other things and I'm pretty happy to be sitting here correcting a horribly dictated blog post.

So, backing up - on June 2nd, we welcomed Addison Joy to the world - she's the second of our beautiful children. As many of you might know - or - you've read my wife's posts - the pregancy was pretty hard on everyone involved, but especially my wife. It was touch and go and that is stressful enough.

But, so, AJ was born - and at first, everything seemed to be fine. 10 fingers, 10 toes and pooping - that's sort of what you hope for in a newborn. We took her home, she saw her pediatrician, and that was that.

Well, no. Around the time Addison was three weeks old (shortly before my first child's birthday) my wife Dusty started noticing that Addison was behaving erratically/oddly - and if you have any experience with infants, you'd know how hard it is to actually determine "odd" behavior. Almost everything they do is odd, down to timing exactly the worst moment when to spit up on you (point of fact - it is after you've showered, and are walking out the door).

In this case, the odd behavior my wife noticed was actually a pattern - and that's when you need to worry. You want consistency in certain areas, you want to see continual improvement, you want them to consistently eat, poop and sleep. However, a pattern of odd movements tipped my wife (who is a fantastic analyst) off that something was not quite right.

What my wife found was that Addison for periods of time anywhere from 1-2 minutes her eyes would slit and roll back and she would freeze up. The best way to describe it is it was almost as if she would just "check out" - as if someone hit a power switch.

Her eyes rolled back and her body would go stiff - her breathing would go robotic. My wife didn't want to scare anyone come off as the the crazy overprotective parent but it was happening more more frequently and it was happening in clusters. Basically, Addison would have these spells in groups of 3 to 4 and she was having them more frequently than you'd care to imagine through the day and night.

As this pattern began to emerge and my loving wife, the analyst, started to see the trends - she started to dig around search and ended up finding a video on YouTube of exactly what we were seeing. Unfortunately, the video matched what was happening - what we were both now seeing that the pattern had become clear - and the video was of a small infant having seizures. Patterns, especially hidden ones (like the arrow in the Fedex logo) are very hard to un-see once you've seen them, and this was no different. We knew something was up.

She passed that video, and all of our suspicions to our primary pediatrician - someone from the old-school of pediatrics. Within an hour, he had already set us up with a rush appointment at one of the best pediatric hospitals in the United States - Tufts Floating Hospital for Children. Luckily, it is about an hour away from where we live.

Within a few days, we were sitting and talking to some of the best child/infant neurologists in the area. No one was fooling around - the turnaround time to us identifying something and us sitting in a room with at least two top notch neurologists was amazing.

The staff has been amazing: from our first visit they have been kind, courteous, they have helped us manage our four year old Abby who had to come along for the ride. They answered all of our questions, encouraged us to get second opinions, etc. The first meeting we had with them, they looked us flat in the eyes and said "you're not leaving here without a plan". God help me, I could have hugged them at that point.

They watched some of the videos of the episodes my wife had captured on her iPhone - we'd been instructed to record as much as possible. We discussed the episodes and their "presentation" (what they look like, how Addison moves during them, which way do the eyes roll back, etc) and so on.

Then, in a flash, it was off to the EEG - this is where you, as a parent, feel largely like a useless appendage. They take your 4 week old daughter and stick little electrodes to her head and watch the electrical impulses in her brain fire. Shortly after the EEG my wife indicated to me that she knew they had seen something but they were being relatively tightlipped - they immediately sent us off to another department to get a sonogram of Addison head. A sonogram is essentially an ultrasound - they were looking for physical abnormalities, calcium deposits, water on the brain and tumors. Luckily, the sonogram came up clean.

Shortly after the sonogram the team of doctors that we been working with came in and told us flat-out that the EEG had been abnormal. What this means is that they noticed distinct abnormal electrical behavior in both sides of Addison's frontal lobe. Based on this, they would immediately assume she was having seizure activity and that epilepsy was a very real possibility. Therefore in order to get the situation under control we would immediately put Addison on to a drug to help control seizures - starting with a small dose, and working our way up until the seizures stopped.

Now when dealing with epilepsy in infants there are only two real drugs that doctors are willing to recommend the first is phenobarbital, which has some pretty awful side effects (and a tranquilizing affect on the infant), such as causing some serious liver problems, etc. The good news is that phenobarbital has about 150 years of use behind it - doctors know it pretty well, and it has known to help with epilepsy quite well. The problem is the side effects - well, Dusty and I agreed the side effects were too much.

The second drug is Keppra - this one is not as old as phenobarbital - but is also known to work on infants with seizures. The side effects on this one are less, but not entirely non-existent - one of the nastier ones is crankiness from the infant. Addison is a pretty chilled out baby and so giving her something that would make her angry all the time wasn't something we were looking forward to, but we went down that road.

So the plan was this: in about two weeks, bring Addison back for a 24 hour EEG so they could capture more data and record her on video for that time, so they would have as much data as they could compile. The following week would be an MRI so they could look deeply into things to verify everything was structurally sound

From the time we left the hospital, throughout the weekend, etc - the staff and doctors were emailing us, calling us and checking in on us. They were attentive, kind and making sure everything was going ok with Addison as we steadily increased her dosage of the drug - .2 mL, .4 mL - to eventually .6 mL.

As the hours passed - you could actually see the episodes changing - they were getting longer, but less "twitchy" - the clusters were shorter/different. It crazy - you could actually see her body's reaction in real-time. Unfortunately, we could also experience her attitude changing in real-time as well.

So here we are, two parents - two kids. I've got a full time job (and full time volunteer work on the side) and my wife had just been settling down to being the best damned stay at home mom you've ever seen. We're running on little to no sleep and bam. A bus slams into us. Epilepsy. Our beautiful newborn baby girl probably has a form of epilepsy.

What did we do? Did we cause this? Your fears, doubts and every little thing comes rushing into this mental void left by the explosion of this new reality.

And so there we are - drugging a newborn in hopes to kind of get these things under control and hoping for the best. As a dad, the typical thing you want to do - your typical guy response - is to fix the problem. You have to have an answer - any answer.

You want to fix your helpless daughter sitting there looking off into space.

That's not how it works though. You have to sit there and watch, and wait. You have to keep your poker face on when the doctors tell you your kid could have an incurable disease - or something she could grow out of in a few months - no one knows, and it is impossible to tell in children this young.

It is not the problem that kills you inside - it is the uncertainty - it is the not knowing and the feeling helpless to do anything. Throughout all of this, my wife - Dusty - has been my hero. She's pushed through, asked all the right questions, pushed the doctors - and me - to do better, answer more, to step up and beyond.

The following week, the MRI was shown to be clean - another exhale of breath - that means no surgery (but also, no "easy answer") - go home, keep her on the Keppra, the 24 hour EEG is coming up. Watch and wait.

Then, the Wednesday I finally decide to scrape my body out of bed at 5:30 in the morning (this is really hard with newborn) and go to Yoga, things go sideways. While I'm in yoga - my cellphone is shut off (it doesn't work well in the heat), and it is quiet. Little did I know, that while I was there, my wife was in the process of dialing 9-1-1 - Addison had fallen into a grand mal seizure, and she could not pull Addison from it/snap her out of it. The seizure went on for over 8 minutes. Warning signs.

By the time I was out of class I had a mailbox of messages and a lot of guilt - an hour had passed since my two daughters and wife had been taken via ambulance to a local hospital in their pajamas. The plan was to transfer Addison to Tufts in Boston ASAP. I had some catching up to do, and some apologies to make. I still don't feel right thinking about it - I let my family down, while I was off working out.

In the ambulance, the paramedics were able to snap Addison out of it, which was good news. Fast forward through Addison being transferred to tufts all by herself (family cannot travel in the transports if they have children - and I had yet to show up to the hospital) and me driving pretty illegally to come and get my wife and Abby and shoot downtown to see if we could beat Addison getting here.

Before this rush to the hospital visit - the diagnosis had been "general non-specific seizures" - doctor-speak for "she's too small for us to pinpoint it, but something ain't right". Then, here we are - rushed in, a video camera pointed at my 5 week old daughter's head, electrodes cemeted onto her head, rolling off the bed in a bundle to the EEG machine, an IV plugged into her foot.

Before we could say boo; they immeditely doubled the dose of the Keppra she had been on (from .6 mL to 1.2 mL) in hopes to bring the episodes under control. That started the clock - the first day there, my wife and I and Abby were there most of the day. I sent them home to get food, and a change of clothes for me - I'd be pulling the overnight shift - and so it went for the next 48 hours.

Sleeping two nights in a hospital cot with your newborn hooked up to crazy things next to you is pretty much a weird experience.

And herein lies the rub; they checked the first 24 hours of the EEG pretty quickly, and it came back up clean. They had video of Addison having the episodes, but they were not appearing on the EEG. Everyone pretty much assumed that the Keppra was keeping things under control - so for the second 24 hours - they took her off the Keppra, but kept recording. The problem of course, is that Keppra takes days to flush from your system.

So, another set of clean EEGs - this has all of us flummoxed - everyone there had video and had seen Addison slipping into these episodes. But without the EEG data to back it, there was nothing solid to poke at. It gets more frustrating when whatever small, painful answer you had is clouded over because they can't prove it (or even disprove it).

And so, they sent us home - off the Keppra, with Addison hooked up to all the electrodes cemented to her head, and a portable EEG machine recording the entire time, like a little black box. They removed that last Monday. Then last thursday, she was back in for another EEG that came up clean. The catch? They have video of her having the episodes right on camera while the EEG shows she's not asleep/out to lunch, just "frozen".

And now, here we are - diagnosed with a "seizure disorder" - we're no closer to an answer than we were before. it is hard - with children this young, it is actually really difficult to get reliable tests from them, and some of the other tests they can do - such as spinal taps - could cause more harm to her than good. We're in "wait and test more mode". Babies' brains and nervous system mature/change on a weekly basis  - so what might be true this week, may not be true the next. It makes it very, very hard to diagnose problems unless they're glaringly obvious.

Last week we involved early intervention which is actually a government program that will come and help out your child and help you with coping and identifying issues and making sure you know she's hitting all of her developmental milestones.

They did their initial evaluation - which, again, given Addison's early age means there's a lot of fudge in the numbers however, early intervention found that Addison is 30% behind the average on three of the key milestones (development stages). All of the milestones she is behind on happen to be ones controlled largely by the frontal lobe - where we have seen abnormal activity. Her physical milestones are on target - the others, well - 30% behind.

Now - that could be nothing. Babies develop at different rates all the time, Addison could just be slower developing in those three areas; however this coupled with the episodes she's been having could indicate a problem in her frontal lobe which may not fully present itself until she's older.

This also means a lot of work - we have to be a lot more focused on these milestones/stages than most parents. Talk, play music - things you already do as a parent with infants, but now we have to watch her reactions (with the help of doctors and nurses) like a hawk. We have to make sure she does not halt developing, and does not in fact go backwards in any way.

We are in for regular visits from nurses, regular visits (EEGs) with the Neurologists so that they can make sure she hasn't drastically changed. Right now, they can't put her back on the anti-seizure medication, without proof on the EEG, even with video and hands on proof of the episodes, having her on the medication without the EEG data to solidly back an epilepsy diagnoses could harm her more than help her - even if we know it does help the episodes she is having now.

So here we sit - everyone knowing - from her pediatrician, to the neurologists, to the nurses, that something is wrong. We can't ask Addison what's wrong, what she's feeling, or anything else. All we get to work on are facial expressions and crying. There's nothing you can do as a parent - we have to sit and watch her light switch shut off and her tiny hands shake, there's no drugs, there's nothing but testing, and waiting, and watching.

It brings us to an unpleasant place - a long road of doctor visits, not knowing, waiting and hoping. Hour long trips into the city to the hospital through Boston's lovely traffic. No answers, just negative ones - "it is not x, or y - right now". There's nothing proactive to be done - only reactionary. Watch and wait and react. If things get better - we rejoice, if things get worse, we react. Doctor visit after doctor visit, EEG after EEG.

So the reason I'm writing this post kind of a part catharsis and part update to a lot of friends I, and my family have out there. We're lucky - I have a great job I love, we have great medical insurance and the best hospitals in the country nearby. We have a lot of things going for us.

Despite that, it is still trying. Mentally, physically - time and attention - financially. It is not easy - but many people have it worse.

Now, if you've been following me on twitter, or google+ - much of this comes as no surprise to you. Many of you - well, most of you - are members of the Python community, the Python Software Foundation, you help with PyCon - somehow, I, or my family know you.

And we've been touched by you.

Something I didn't count on, baring my soul on twitter, or google+, or Facebook was the overwhelming and humbling support my family and I would receive from all of you. The well wishes, the emails - cards from all over the world wishing us well and offering us your hopes and prayers.

Some of you may have met me - almost none of you have met my wife and family - and yet the outpouring of support from the Python community has humbled me and brought me to my knees in thanks. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about the generosity that has been bestowed on us by people inside of this community. Something as small as a card - a box of crayons and a coloring book for my oldest daughter - it has helped my family and I and touched us in a way I don't think we've ever been touched.

It is amazing to me that I can admit to hurting or going through something like this and people all over the world will immediately start sending the resources on where to look for information or who to talk to or specialists that they know, contact information for family members that they know who have experience with epilepsy or seizures.

It has been amazing to me the amount of support that I've gotten from a community that's based on a programming language; we are all engineers and it is not something that you'd necessarily expect.

Except for the fact that at the end of they we are all humans and as God as my witness I have to say that all of you Python hackers, and friends - both internet and in person are the best, most touching human people I've ever had the luxury of dealing with in my entire life.

I've had the honor of standing up on stage at PyCon addressing 1300 Python hackers and that was stunning and humbling in and of itself - but to have people who you mainly talk to on the Internet and primarily through mailing lists and code, twitter and google - who in one moment might be arguing with you violently about something about packaging, test syntax or concurrency - to have those same people turn around and lift your family up in your time of need - it is beyond words. This Python community - our community - is something to be cherished.

There have been several occasions where out of sight of my family and the rest the world I've cried because of what the community has done for us in how much it has supported us. Our friends, this community, our family - I can't describe it.

Something as small as getting a package in the mail that has a couple of stuffed animals for my oldest daughters - that just brightens thier day, a card wishing us well or an email or tweet to my wife - it makes the day brighter. In the past month those bright days have been rough and very hard to make as a father and it has been hard to get up in the morning in the face of "ship this code, ship this conference, figure out what's wrong with your daughter, keep the boat afloat". All of the support we have gotten has helped prop me, and my family, up. It has helped us make what could have been crushing days not so dark.

We don't have family in the area (at least none remotely close) and it has been amazing having people reach out to you from completely different countries when your next door neighbor doesn't even know something is going on.

It is amazing, it is humbling - and I just want to say thank you from the deepest part of my heart. There might be more tough times coming up ahead - I don't know - but it is my job as a father to get up everyday put on that game face and ship that code, fix those bugs, and ship a conference, make money and be a dad - it is my job as a father to do the impossible everyday because that is what I do.

Its my wife's job to get up, put on a game face and do the impossible everyday, she is my hero, she doesn't "get" to go to work, a small vacation I get every day. She is in the fray all day, every day, doing the impossible.

The impossible is already hard enough - raising children, holding down a full time job and juggling a hundred other things - things parents do every day is hard enough but it is our job as parents and our duty to stand up straight and do everything that we can for our children.
In the case of our child - it is our job to do the best damn job that we possibly can, give her the best care, the most love, and to hope and pray that everything will come out all right.

And that's the odd thing throughout all of this deep down inside - if you ask my wife - I'm a starry eyes optimist, for example I believe that everyone no matter who they are or their attitude or background can be a contributor to not just Python - but its community and vibrancy as well. I believe that human beings are intrinsically good creatures - I believe that we as people and as humans are capable of doing the impossible and the incredibly difficult every single day.

Being an optimist I have to look at the situation with my daughter Addison and tell myself that it will be okay. I have to keep telling myself this time and time again because I have to reinforce it in my head that that everything is going to be okay - you know she's still a fantastic baby, she still sleeping large chunks of the night, she's eating, she interacts with us.

She's a great baby and daughter - both my daughters are great and amazing - just every so often she checks out. It is a very real possibility that in three months Addison could grow out of this and all this fright and energy was "for nothing" - it is also a very real possibility that in three months things could get fantastically worse.

It is possible it is just due to the hard pregnancy that my wife had with the hospital stays and everything else and that Addison is just catching up developmentally to things that she should've had when she was born and now chalk it up to "weird baby things"

I have to keep telling myself that she is going to grow out of it, that she is just going to be fine, and you know some part of me when sitting in a dark room might whisper to me that I'm lying to myself that it is not going to be okay and things are only going to get worse but I know that's not the case.

Parents go through things every day that are much, much worse than what my wife and I have gone through. No one wants to go through that we've gone through but other parents go through much worse and they adapt and they raise some of the best children that you've ever seen. Some of my heroes have raised children with problems such as epilepsy or autism and their children are amazing, much more amazing than me. So despite what Addison may or may not have, despite not knowing and just having to sit back and watch as something happens that I have no power over - despite all that, I know things will be okay.

Because I know as a parent and as a human, it is my job to get up every day and do the impossible. It is my job as a parent to raise the best children - not perfect children - the best children that I can and do right by them. It is my job to teach them, to love them and do everything in my power to either heal them or help them cope with whatever may be wrong. It is hard, but it is not impossible - but the impossible is our job.

Reach out to those you know are hurting, or are scared - or heck, people with one month olds that keep them up all night - wish them well, send them a card, or an email. Even if you only know them through twitter, python or something else - maybe they're a kernel hacker, maybe they're someone working on the next big deployment tool - it doesn't matter who they are or what they're doing Engineers are Humans (as Ned so aptly put it) - and all of those people trying to achieve, and fight the impossible are even more than that.

So while some part of me is scared, is frightened, is angry - that's not the part that I can listen to at all - that's the part that's been pushed into the darker corner of my brain not only because of my optimism that's baked into my brain but also thanks to the support of our friends both inside of, and outside of the Python Community and our family.

Because of the support, because of the well wishes, because of the kind words because of everything that's been done for us, on behalf of us, and because we can do the impossible.

Because of all this I know everything's going to be okay.

Thank you. From my family, and the bottom of my heart.

 

p.s. There are many families out there - probably people you know - who have children with issues, or who are struggling with issues such as these who are much, much worse off than my wife and I. My family, while going through this, is very lucky. We've been blessed with wonderful friends, this community and our family. I encourage you again to look around and see those people who are much more deserving than perhaps I, or my family is, and to help them. Even if it's just a card; everything helps.