Category Archives: Life

Dear Internet,


So how am I doing?

I wish there was more to tell you, but things are still going rather well. The day job is still there, the house is still amazing, and my three-year-old has discovered Star Wars. And as it turns out, he is a Jedi like his father before him. Even though I’m living the whole adult lifestyle, with all the responsibilities that it entails, things are pretty quiet. I haven’t had quite a routine like this since I left high school almost 20 years ago. Before, if I wasn’t worried about withering job prospects, I was worrying whether I could save enough money to buy a house, or sell the condo I already owned, or how I could keep my son alive and reasonably well-behaved.

It was only in the last year that all these questions were answered with a resounding yes. Over the past few months, I have had the chance to feel bored for the first time in years. And it feels great!

Still, because life is just fundamentally unfair, I feel like I miss that sense of struggle. I’ve lived with it for so long that I get a little sense of loss as well as a sense of relief. Of course, some other crisis could blunder around the corner and I’d feel like me again, but it just doesn’t feel right to wait for something like that.

I need to strive for something outside of my daily routine. It will help me figure out my own limits, or at the very least keep me sane. I think I can do that through my writing.

I’m not exactly happy with it, and that’s great thing about it. There’s room for improvement. I haven’t done it as much I would like, but that’s because I put most of my efforts into finding and keeping a career. Now that I’m more experienced, I don’t have to busy myself learning every technology, I just have to refine my skills with the tools that will help me with my job. That leaves me time to focus on my other competencies.

So, as of this writing, I have almost completed the first draft of a novel I started a couple of years ago. I’ve been able to finish it by dictating portions onto my phone and having it transcribed by voice recognition software. I decided to keep the writing habit going by recording an audio journal. Most of it is dull and unpublishable, but I found the more I did it, the more I had to say. So, I have two hours a day, to and from work, to write anything I want from the comfort of my car without inconveniencing me, my job, or my family. Of course, I don’t talk while I’m navigating bad traffic, but for the calm spots of my commute, I can write a little bit, every day, without too much interference.

If the material comes out regularly, I can focus on other aspects of my craft. Like if my tone is far too intellectual, or whether I need to start writing fiction, or if there’s an opportunity to get paid for my writing. Money is not the reason I love to write, but if I want a good metric of success, it’ll fit the bill. I can start off by updating this blog once a week, and I’ll look for other places to post my work. To date, I only have one rejection letter from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That was 15 years ago. For me, the undiscovered country is my writing career, and it’s time for me to start exploring.

A wish for a Nice and Normal 2016

2015 started out normally enough. I managed to hold a programming job for all of two christmases, and we had saved enough to start looking for a house. The Seahawks lost the superbowl, which may have been an omen or something, but we were all too busy talking about the guy in the shark suit at the half-time show. It wasn’t easy getting our apartment out in the market. While it was spacious with 9 foot ceilings and granite countertops, it nonetheless was only a few blocks from downtown Abbotsford, which made buyers kind of nervous. Still, Sara and I had a lot of emergency cleaning sessions, and we had to hide out at our parents’ houses a few times while strangers were checking out all our stuff.

Trouble erupted when I was laid off at the end of May. I couldn’t even properly languish in self-pity since we had to keep the apartment clean for a showing that weekend. I had managed to avoid commuting for over 5 years, but it looked like I was going to go over the Port Mann bridge once again for my daily bread.

I had buckled myself in for a long an protracted unemployment, when in late July a job offer came into my inbox from a nice online ad company in New Westminster. My luck was about to rebound in a big way. The next thing I knew I was on a cruise yacht in English Bay with my new co-workers for their Summer barbecue. That same week, we found a buyer for the apartment – but we had to move out by the first weekend of September – right when Sara would be starting school!

The race was on to find us a new home. With our apartment sold, we didn’t have to put a “subject to sale” clause on our offer. At our next property tour, we found a nice home on a country main road. It was clean and well maintained, something that we found out was hard to come by when you are buying houses. What’s more, it had a basement. A bunker for Gavin and I to call our own!

We made our offer immediately. Surely, our days of emergency cleaning would be over! The call came on Friday. They had accepted an offer from another buyer. Sara and I tried to come to terms with a possible future in couch-surfing. On Sunday, we got another call from our realtor. The other buyer had called the real estate office, and said that they were retracting their offer due to a family emergency. The house was ours.

We managed to cram everything we owned into my parents’ garage, and for the next two weeks Sara, Gavin, and I lived out of my Parents house. In late September, we moved in. After 10 years of apartment living, I was in a house again.

After a lot of twists and turns, the Strocels have ended 2015 in a safe place with a double a garage and a fridge full of food. There is so much to be thankful for! Our family and friends have given us so much in helping us move. Sara is now team leader at her school, and I love my new job. Gavin is still learning and growing like any three-year-old should. 2016 might have its own hiccups, but for now, I’m just going to savour the present.

May 2015 Review: It’s that time again!

Well then, May sure was super eventful this year! I put 2 hours into my novel, I started a new gaming project with my friends in Seattle, they announced X-com 2, something else happened in the news, and Tomorrow Land was certainly a surprise hit for this Memorial Day. Oh, and I also got laid off.

Don’t worry, I’m okay! There were no hard feelings, we have plenty of savings, and the recruiters were very happy to talk to me last week. Needless to say, it was a bit of a shake up. It probably means I’ll have to commute into Vancouver, but that also means I’ll be in touch with some colleagues I haven’t seen in a while. Last week I managed to get through a lot of IT and sysadmin work at my house. It just seemed to pile up because I was at work all the time. Of course, there’s a lot more time for side projects now.

It’s tempting to spend all my time sending out resumes, but it’s going to be the side projects that land me a new gig. They are actual examples of my work. They will carry a lot more weight than sentences “I am a detailed oriented professional capable of working individually and as part of a team.” I also get the chance to fill some gaps in my knowledge without a deadline getting in the way.

The project that I hope to get finished this month is a seating plan app I started some months ago for my wife. I also want to get really deep into that gaming project I mentioned earlier. As for the novel, well, I think I’ll give it an hour a day and just see what happens. Onward and upward!

Give and Take

 

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Another book that’s had a significant effect on me is “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.” The theory behind the book is that successful people are distinguished by their reciprocity style. First there are Takers, who focus on how they look towards the group and rush to take credit for their work. Their logic is, if I don’t look out for myself, who will? Matchers rely on an equitable system of favours to get ahead. Givers focus on helping as many people as they can. Givers are a particularly interesting case because they make up both the top and bottom performers in many different studies. Givers who help people with no regard for their own interests make up the bottom performance rung because they are too busy helping other people to focus on their own work. Givers at the top have structured their giving so that a maximum number of people can be helped for as little effort as needed.

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givetakeI took the survey on the book’s website, giveandtake.com. I may have been a little primed by the book, but here’s how my tendency results broke down: 73% giver, 14% matcher, 13% taker. You need to ask your friends to rate you for a better assessment, but I have no idea who will take me up on that!

This could have implications for how I choose my side projects. Now the book hinted at, but never really went into, how Giving can work in the digital age. The Internet is a communications network, and its greatest strength is that the cost of reaching one additional person is zero. That means you can educate one person or a thousand without any additional effort. Does this mean I should choose my projects with a bias towards stuff I could share over the internet? If I’m working on a talk, should I create a video to practice? Should I do a freelancing project that helps one person, or fix an open source bug that helps thousands? Should I take a policy that states, “If I can’t share it, don’t do it”?

I do believe that the internet’s potential remains underused. If I’m going to get anyone else to believe that, I’d better start practicing what I preach. The next time I program in my free time, maybe I should start a google hangout and post it on youtube. Programming projects always take an indefinite amount of time. It could be weeks or months before I produce something I can share. If I post my process for everyone to see, maybe that can inspire more people to take up programming, or at the very least educate people on what I do. It won’t be much, but if I’m motivated to give, I had better start doing it early, and often.

March/April Review (Sorry!)

Long story short, a combination of freelancing, holidays, and general malaise has put me a behind on my time tracking. For the interested, I put in 22 hours in March, and 14 hours in April, most of it freelancing. I did manage to make a talk proposal for CascadiaJS. It was painless. Mostly. I didn’t get in, but then again I was running against 300 speakers with more polished presentations. Unfortunately, none of my other projects have seen much time from me recently. I need to fix that this month.

There’s this book that I read (or rather, listened to) recently that really opened my eyes to some new opportunities. The first is called “Write. Publish. Repeat.: The No-Luck Guide to Self-Publishing Success”. I used to think self-publishing was just for web-comic artists and indie musicians, but it turns out that there is this entire market of self-published novelists out there. It is actually possible to support yourself as a writer entirely from the sales of e-books.

It’s not an easy process, but consider the alternative. If you write a novel, you can’t just send it in to the publisher and they’ll turn you into a bestseller. You have to send it in to an agent who will have to market your book in your stead, and they all have stacks of unpublished scripts to sift through. Even if an agent gets around to reading your manuscript and decides that it’s fit to publish, they have to contend with the publisher wanting that kind of novel for what they think their distributors will want 2 years from now. And at the end of the process, they get to keep 90% of the money made off that book, and they won’t even begin to send you royalty checks until you’ve paid off your advance.

Now, I like writing, but that process is what you might call a serious disincentive. Sure, it might build character, but by that logic, so does punching a tree.

If you self publish, you get to pick your own cover, your own type set, and you know exactly where to send readers to buy your work. Plus, you get to keep 70% of the money. At the very least, you can get a few friends to buy a pity copy and get feedback so you can become a better writer.

However, in order to get that feedback, you’ll need to have written a book first. I’m going to take a new approach to finishing my NanoWrimo novel. I am going to schedule 4 half-hour writing sessions a week. That will be my priority one project over the next month. I’ll be measuring my word counts, and my hope is that I can train myself to put out enough material so that I can start editing.