Alex's Personal Blog

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2013, a Look Ahead

Posted: Sun, 06 Jan 2013 by

This is a follow up to my Goals for 2013 post from earlier this week.

I've given my goals for 2013 some thought and have come up with some good and reasonable ones. I've tried to make them as measurable as possible so it will be easy to decide how well I'm doing throught out the year. These are mostly related to personal improvement of the usual new years resolution sort. Without further ado here are the goals I have for 2013 so far (obiously subject to change).

Books

I don't remember how many books I read last year but want to at least feel like I've read more. Given the normal, every day routine reading a book a month is probably too much while one every two months is too few. I'll commit to reading at least 8 books (one every 1 and a half months). Some books I hope to read:

  • A Storm of Swords: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Three - With Season 3 of A Game of Thrones (on HBO) just around the corner I want to get ahead of it a bit on the book front. This will be the first book I'll read by February 15th or so.
  • Steve Jobs - I've had a copy of this since it came out more than a year ago. Steve Jobs was an incredibly fascinating person. I found his dedication to simple design and the user-experience incredibly compelling.
  • Enders Game - A sci-fi book that was recently recommended to me by a friend. Apparently this is one of those "I can't believe you haven't read this" kind of books.
  • Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas - Another recommendation from a friend about how to convince people of your opinions and the like.

There will definitely be others but this is a good start.

Technical Books

WARNING: Geek speak incoming.

While I feel like I grew a lot as a developer at Amazon last year after switching to my new team in December I really want to extend myself this year and learn some new subjects, mostly unrelated to what I do at work. Here are a few books I want to get through:

  • iOS SDK Development - I've been wanting to learn how to make apps ever since I bought my first iPhone more than 4 years ago. I have some simple ideas to get me going. I'll try and tackle this book by the end of February though I may end up extending that a bit to make sure I can get the most out of it.
  • Programming Ruby 1.9 - I have some experience with Ruby and love what I've seen so far but want to learn the language in a bit more depth, to the point where my skill in Ruby can actually be marketable.
  • Agile Web Development with Rails - Along with Ruby learning the ins and outs of using Rails to write web applications (what my website is written in). I know some of the basics but similarly to Ruby want to know it significantly better.
  • Effective Java - I've been programming in Java since I was in college and it's definitely my language of choice. This book is a collection of best practices and design patterns for the language.
  • Java Concurrency in Practice - I've got a good amount of experience programming concurrently in Java but my knowledge lacks the depth it should to be as effective as possible.
  • The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master - One of the must reads for Software Developers that I've somehow managed to avoid for years. It's about time.

END GEEK SPEAK

Running

I've been running regularly now for the last 3 or 4 years. I've run a handful of half marathons and other shorter races and even my first full marathon in 2011. Starting in 2010 I started tracking my runs so I could look back and see how I've progressed. For both that year and 2011 I ran just over 800 miles which is great. After I ran my first marathon my running petered out quite a bit. My running distance dropped by about 250 miles last year so I want to try and get that number back up as much as possible for 2013.

I have two goals in mind:

  • Run an average of 15 miles per week. In general that works out to three five mile runs per week. Along with extra and longer runs and any races I run this should be very doable.
  • Run at least three races. I only ran a single race last year (the Seattle Half Marathon in November) but really want to do more. The three I'm definitely going to sign up for are the Mercer Island Half Marathon in March, the Rock & Roll Marathon (not sure if I'll do the half or the full yet) and the Seattle Half again. Some others I want to try and do are the Victori Half/Full Marathon in Octoer, and the Ragnar Relay: Northwest Passage in July. There may even be some shorter ones like the St. Patties Day Dash in March or the Furry 5k in June.

Home Projects

Last but not least there are a handful of small home projects that we want to do this year:

  • Get the tree trimmed out front - We have a lovely tree in our front yard which has grown a bit out of control. We need to get it trimmed, not only to prevent our house from being damaged but we also want to have it to decorate for Christmas next year, since we don't get Christmas trees.
  • Get the stairs cleaned and repainted (so it lasts this time) - We have two sets of concrete steps in the front of our house. We repainted them last year but the paint has chipped off pretty drastically so they look terrible. We need to clean them, repaint them and make them look great.
  • Get in touch with a contractor/architect to pitch ideas for improvements to the house - We have some great ideas for architectural improvements to the house but have no idea how much any of the ideas will cost. We need to run the ideas by a contractor and get a basic idea of the cost both monetarily and time-wise.
  • Clean the moss of the roof - The moss growing on our roof has pretty much gotten out fo control. This spring we need to clean it off and then treat the roof to prevent it growing back if possible.

Most or all of these goals we'll probably do in the Spring or Summer.

Conclusion

We're a week into 2013 and I've already accomplished my first goal. Not a bad start. One last goal I have is to check in at least once a month. I'll start at the end of January and every month there after. I'll probably make adjustments to this as the year progresses.

Updated: 2013-01-06 20:56:12 -0800

Goals for 2013

Posted: Thu, 03 Jan 2013 by

Almost 4 years ago, around this time I wrote about doing new year's resolutions differently. It's funny to look back that far and read about my good intentions in that single post but not reading anymore about my goals that I mention again. This year I'm going to attempt to identify what I've done wrong in the past and do things differently so that I can feel like I accomplish more in the year and avoid insanity.

Lets have a look at the goals I set 4 years ago and see how I've ended up:

  • Writing more: Technically I did write more (from 0 to some) but certainly far less than what I had intended by saying "more".
  • Continue to improve healthy habits: This is probably the one I've done the best at. Though I was hesitant in the original post I did end up running my first half-marathon in 2009 and have run several races since, including a full marathon in 2011.
  • Accomplish more personal projects: There have been a few minor things that I've done under this high-level goal though the only specific thing that I can think of is writing my own blog platform which I only just accomplished in 2012 (and am using now to share this post).

What exactly was it that was missing from the goals I set back then? First of all they were too vague. Take the writing goal for instance. The goal that I set didn't provide any specific means for measuring its success or failure. Again, technically I met the goal given that I wrote more than nothing but I don't feel that the goal was met. If I had come up with something more specific like "Write at least one blog post a month" it would've been much easier to measure the success or failure.

The second thing I should have provided for the goals was a time frame for accomplishing them. The "once a month" goal above would've have worked well for the writing goal. Really any timeframe other than "by the end of the year" would've been a big help in preventing procrastinating with regards to the goals.

One last thing that I can think of that would've helped is occasionally checking in to see how much progress I was making towards the goals to see if the goals should be adjusted, if they ended up being too unrealistic or weren't specific enough.

Now that I have these things in mind what goals am I going to set for 2013 you ask? While I have some specific goals in mind but I want to give some time to thinking about what those goals are and put together a plan for how I want to accomplish them. So really my first goal for the year is to come up with goals for the year. Sounds kind of silly but if I take the time to plan them out I think I have a much better chance of accomplishing them in 2013. I'm committing to coming up with more specific plans by Sunday evening (Jan. 6). That's not to say I'm going to have the whole year planned but at least have a few specific plans in mind to get started on.

Hopefully by this time next year I'll be able to look back and feel like I've accomplished what I set out to.

Updated: 2013-01-03 09:42:16 -0800

The Cynical Voter

Posted: Tue, 02 Nov 2010 by

They get you through television, radio, mail, and by calling you. For the last few months we've all been bombarded with half (or less) truths from an array of candidates and groups supporting one initiative or another. With every election I find myself becoming more and more cynical. So cynical in fact I've threatened to not vote just out of spite though I know that won't solve anything. Each of the candidates spends more time putting down their opponent(s) then presenting exactly what it is they stand for and why they would make the best next whatever. Not to mention the fact that millions upon millions of dollars are spent to get the word out for the different campaigns. It's gotten to the point (and has been that way for a long time) where regular Joes can't run for an office of their choice simply because they don't have the money.

Some might say that that's what fund raising is for, but I say why should it be necessary to spend so much money when it could be put to much better use. I really think it's time that we overhaul our political system. I'm certainly not holding my breath though.

Tagged: propoganda vote
Updated: 2012-02-25 15:51:26 -0800

Shit-Storm with a Silver Lining

Posted: Tue, 05 Oct 2010 by

This has been an interesting few months, to say the least. It's been quite the roller coaster ride.

A few months ago my Mum was diagnosed with colon cancer. She started chemo and radiation treatments right away and has been dealing with the related side-effects since. I have to confess I've been in a bit of denial about the whole thing. I've never been really close to anyone with the cancer, or any life-threatening disease for that matter so it's been new territory for me.

At around the same time we found out our house was infested with ants, we found out we made a mistake on our tax return for 2008 (I won't go into details except that it was a stupid mistake) and as all four of our animals are getting older we're dealing with one health issue after another, one of which required minor surgery just last night. It has truly felt like a constant shit-storm of negativity. If you've read this far you're probably wondering where the silver lining is? It has to do with my Mum.

I went with her and my father to a pre-surgery appointment at Virginia Mason after she finished her chemo and radiation treatments about 6 weeks ago. They ran some tests and I'm happy to report lots of good news. The tumor on her colon has decreased in size by about 50% and along with that her colon is looking a lot more healthy than it was before the treatment. There's also no sign of the cancer having spread to other parts of her body.

She's still not completely out of the woods yet. She has her surgery to remove the tumor at the end of October and will likely have to endure more radiation and chemo just to be on the safe side but just getting this good news is a huge relief. Your continued thoughts and prayers are very much appreciated.

Tagged: mum cancer
Updated: 2012-02-25 19:28:56 -0800

The Trouble with Project 365

Posted: Tue, 11 May 2010 by

For those of you that I'm close to you know that I recently picked up a camera and committed to doing Project 365. That is taking and sharing a picture a day for a year. So far the undertaking has been a lot of different things. At times it's been exciting and inspiring and at other times frustrating and desperate.

Unfortunately for the last few weeks (or month even) most of my "efforts" have been pure desperation to get photos for each day. At just over 100 days in this is, from what I understand, I pretty classic place for project-goers to get stuck. I've spent the first few months of this project exploring my neighborhood and around where I work. It's been really great to see these two areas from a different perspective but it's become more and more clear that, as far as my inspiration is concerned, I've almost completely exhausted the possibilities of this limited scope. At least for the time being.

While I've grown in my photography a lot in the last few months I truly believe that my biggest growth is yet to come. I think that if I can really get myself in the habit of visiting some new and different places my desire to take photographs will return. Even visiting some familiar places and trying to get a different perspective on them would be helpful. Of course this is easier said than done given that my weekdays are generally filled with work and running.

Updated: 2012-02-25 15:52:56 -0800

And All of a Sudden I'm an (Amateur) Photographer

Posted: Thu, 31 Dec 2009 by

I've always loved photography. I got some of that love from my father and sister who are both incredible photographers. Until just recently however 100% of what I've done has been simple point and shoot. I've been able to get some great quality pictures but really wanted to take it to the next level.

A couple of months ago Chase Jarvis, a professional photographer, came to Amazon to promote his latest book "The Best Camera is the One You Have With You". He was clearly very passionate about his work and wanted to get everybody else in the room fired up about photography too. That's really when I started to  give photography a bit more consideration. I hatched a plan to save up for a new DSLR (a Nikon D90), signed up for a beginning photography class at the nearby community college (which I start Tuesday) and have started to make photography part of my everyday life.

More recently I started reading Digital Photography School and came across an article about the concept of Project 365. The idea is that you commit to taking and sharing one photograph a day for a year so you can see how you progress with your skill and also to integrate photography into your every day life. Since I'm starting to take the art more seriously I thought I'd give it a try and joined the Project 365! group on Flickr and took my first photo this morning:

Since I'm only just getting into the details of photography I'm excited to see how quickly my skill and technique improve.

Updated: 2012-02-25 19:29:28 -0800

The Bug Won't Go Away

Posted: Mon, 18 May 2009 by

I've been noticing lately how significant my desire to travel is. It's been just over a year since we left for Europe and that has been a bit difficult to digest. A whole year!? Where has the time gone? Over the last several years I've come to realize how much I love exploring. Not only from a physical stand point but also a cultural one.

On the bus tonight three foreigners (Scandinavian I think) boarded the bus and elicited help from the other passengers to figure out how they needed to get where they needed to go. It was fascinating to watch them ride the bus constantly being distracted with things which were likely brand new and wonderful to them. It's certainly a far cry from the everyday, boring ride which I experience.

I often wonder what locals thought of us as we struggled to just fit into the largely alien culture that was Paris. Not to mention the constant butchering of their language, though all that we came across were more than happy to lend a hand and even teach a little bit without being condescending. While occasionally difficult and draining I feel like we experienced Paris in a way we wouldn't have been able to otherwise. I hope that we'll be able to start traveling again soon. I must feed the bug!

Updated: 2012-02-25 19:30:16 -0800

A Short Walk

Posted: Tue, 31 Mar 2009 by

This morning Amazon had an "All Hands" meeting. I thought it was at Benaroya Hall so I took my normal bus downtown and it conveniently dropped me off right outside the Hall. Upon arrival I quickly noticed that the normal throng of people outside was just that; normal. No Amazonians in sight.

Checking my trusty iPhone I was dismayed to discover that it was actually at the Paramount Theater!I walked quickly through several city blocks downtown and eventually ran into the migrating masses of Amazonians headed to the theater. On the way I ran into something curious; a smell. Yes, a smell, a pleasant smell by the way. Not just any smell. A smell that reminded me of walking through the streets of Paris . I'm not sure what it was that I was smelling. Pipe smoke? Fresh baked... stuff? It doesn't matter really. I love the fact that something as simple as a smell can trigger memories for me (for us) so overwhelmingly.

Unfortunately it was also a sobering reminder that it will be a year next month that we went to Paris and London. Time to plan another trip. The travel bug is starting to bite again!

Updated: 2012-02-25 19:30:58 -0800

More House Maintenance

Posted: Sun, 15 Feb 2009 by

I've always been incredibly intimidated by having to do any sort of home maintenance. Mostly it's the stuff that involves using tools, touching wires, and other crazy things of that sort. Owning my own home for the past two years has proven that there's no time for intimidation you just have to get off your ass and do it. Every time we think of something to fix or change about the house I jot it down in a to do list especially for house stuff. It's become apparent to me recently that the list was only growing and not getting any smaller. With Sari gone for a bit on Saturday I decided to "get off my ass" and do something about our ever growing list.

There were a few little things that I wanted to warm up with which included a new toilet seat, shower curtain and drip guards for the shower, all an absolute breeze. The big one was replacing our aging thermostat. It didn't keep track of the temperature very well and we would often be terribly cold or experience sweltering heat in our house. It was so old in fact that the small glass container of mercury was easily exposed by lifting the cover. It was kind of neat to watch it roll around in there but a bit scary at the same time knowing how detrimental to our health it could be if let loose.

I made several trips to Lowe's which is luckily only a few blocks away and eventually settled on a nice, touch-screen model. If I was going to go to such incredible lengths to replace something like a thermostat the new one better have some seriously cool bells and whistles and last a long time, which I'm confident this one will. The next issue was figuring out how to wire the new one up. Unfortunately the wires connected to the old thermostat weren't marked very well which had me a bit panicky for a few minutes. Luckily the manufacturer had been cool enough to scan in the old installation guide which looked like a photo-copy of a photo-copy but was enough to help me figure out which wire was for which. That in combination of the quarter inch thick manual that came with the new thermostat made it surprisingly easy to get the wires connected correctly and, as an added bonus, the base and frame was large enough to cover up the crappy job that the previous home owners did when installing the old one.

There's nothing more satisfying then putting effort into fixing a problem in your home and having the solution work the first time. In this case it was adding batteries, mounting the thermostat, turning up the heat and having the furnace click on. Cool stuff! We can now program the thermostat based on the day of the week which will be really helpful. Not only that but being able to accurately keep track of the temperature will mean the furnace not being run when it shouldn't be and thus paying a bit less on our electricity bill.Next up is patching all the walls in our home from the electrical work that we had done several months ago. It's fun owning your own home!

Updated: 2012-02-25 19:31:27 -0800

Amazon Anniversary Adventure to Pike Place Market

Posted: Sat, 24 Jan 2009 by

This week is my fourth anniversary of working at Amazon. Most years I've forgotten about the date until several weeks later so this year I decided to go on a little adventure. As always there's some sort of necessary background first...

The characters in The Historian are constantly traveling all over Europe; partly for business and partly for the adventure of the book. When I was reading the book the other morning on the bus two of the characters were taking a train into Paris. They arrived at Gare du Nord, the same station that we traveled from when we went to Paris, and had lunch there, enjoying baguette sandwiches before continuing on another train. We had also enjoyed sandwiches which we often purchased from street vendors or small holes in the wall but they were the most delicious sandwiches we had ever eaten. They also, naturally became synonymous with our trip to Paris. While reading this part of the book I could feel my mouth start to salivate. I decided then and there that it was high time we make and enjoy some sandwiches like this so I promised myself that before the week was over I would take a trip to Pike Place Market to get the goods.

Early Friday afternoon I threw on my jacket and left work in search of the perfect sandwich. I hopped on a bus in the bus tunnel and arrived a few blocks away from the Market a few minutes later. When I was growing up and I would go visit my Mum at work occasionally we would frequent a French bakery in Pike Place Market called Le Pannier. I'll always remember the smell of freshly baked bread wafting out of the shop while walking in. The same wonderful smells greeted me at the door and I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the signs in the store in French and even the cash registers were adorned with French. Since I was in Paris the last time I had ordered something from a French bakery I toyed with the idea of ordering my baguettes in French but as everybody else was speaking English I thought I might get some strange stares so I opted to go with the flow.

While I was originally only going to get the baguettes at the Market I thought it would round out the adventure nicely to get everything we needed for the sandwiches there so I ended up buying fresh lettuce and tomato as well as some Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese.

Last night and again today we ate some very large, very delicious baguette sandwiches. Here are a couple of pictures of the finished product.It's strange to think that after having worked downtown for four years this was the first time I had really left work to go explore the city a little bit. It was a really nice afternoon and was great to see Pike Place again as I haven't been there in years. I think I found myself a new non-New Year's resolution.

Updated: 2012-02-26 16:21:14 -0800