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Reflections on the new Administration

January 21st, 2009

As I watch the Obamas dance in, what I am told, is their fifth ball of the evening, I can’t help but pen some thoughts on the new Administration and what it means to me. CNN reports a crowd of 2.2 million were on hand to see the speech in person and there were predictions that the TV viewership would surpass any other TV event in history. Polling indicates that President Obama enjoys higher approval ratings than any incoming President. Globally… well, all I can is my Aunt — my Aunt who lives in Nicaragua and has more or less dedicated her life to fighting U.S. policy in Latin America — is genuinely proud of her country’s President, and may even, one day, call him her President.

Obama is now at the Western Ball, which includes not only my home state of Washington, but my adopted state of California. Seems like a good time to think about what this all means for me. I already wrote a few words about transitioning from the Loyal Opposition to the Party in Power. But there are other personal implications. For example, this is the very first time I have voted for a winning presidential candidate. It’s also the first time I gave any serious money to a candidate… like, got fancy high donor letters thanking me sort of serious. It’s the first time I feel like I contributed, both morally and materially, to a campaign that mattered.

It’s also a great honor to know people who are preparing to join the White House staff. For the first time my generation is in a position to contribute in a very direct way to our nation. They may not be the most high level jobs ever, but they are in the halls of power and they begin the process of training to, one day, run the nation. My hat is off to them, for their sacrifice (those jobs don’t pay well, or offer much in the way of rest and relaxation) and for accepting the heavy burden that comes with being the future. I hope some day I can join them.

To the Administration as a whole, I have but a few words. I told one of my friends who is starting a new White House job that they will have the unique opportunity to make the world a better place, and not just in the metaphorical sense… they could actually go into the office in the morning, and thanks to their work, come out that evening the world would actually be a better place. After saying it, I realized I had transfered my unrealistic expectations of Obama onto his team… which I suppose is only natural, if a tad unfair.

My words then, are this… it’s okay to fail in meeting our soaring expectations. But it is not okay to fail alone. The government of America is powerful and can do great things, but the people of America are more powerful yet and we are your greatest resource. If you try to carry the burden alone, and fail, you will not only have squandered an opportunity, you will have turned against the ideals of the campaign you work for. Have enough humility to understand your limitations and seek the wisdom of your fellow countrymen as you seek to fulfill our greatest destiny.

With that I say, good luck America. We’ve done a great thing today but much remains to be done. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

probonogeek Personal, Politics

Engagement

December 28th, 2008

Sarah and I got back from our two week trip to Nicaragua visiting my Aunt and taking in the sights. I’m hoping to get photos online soon, but am still waiting for a little DNS magic before the new photo site goes live.

In the meantime, just to make it even more internet official (as if posting it on Facebook wasn’t good enough), on December 20th I asked Sarah to marry me, and to the hushed surprise of everyone, she said “yes.” The engagement will probably be about three years, which we realize is a tad long… but makes sense given Sarah’s academic schedule.

Thanks to everyone who provided assistance and advice to the planning and execution of the proposal, I will see you at the wedding!

probonogeek Personal

Promotion

November 22nd, 2008

Seven days ago marked my year anniversary with Articulated Man, which Sarah and I celebrated with a bottle of wine we have been saving from her trip through the Champaign region in France. It was most delightful.

On Wednesday I flew into Chicago for a week long Development Sprint, which is serving as the kickoff for a large internal development project that will hopefully be the engine of the company for the next couple of election cycles. I had requested an annual review to go over whatever stuff I might be able to improve upon, and since I was going to be in town we figured we could just do it in person, which we did last night.

The good news is that I seem to be doing well and got positive reviews. The better news is that I am receiving a raise and a title promotion to reflect the job I actual do, as opposed to the one I was hired for. Which is not to say I don’t still do that job, which was “Developer”, but that I really do a ton more stuff on a day-to-day basis that Developer really doesn’t encapsulate. The cool part is that I get to select my own title.

The current list of possibilities include:

  • Lead Systems Administrator
  • Systems Director
  • Information Systems Director
  • Information Technology Director
  • Information Technology Manager

I’m not a big fan of the first, since “Systems Administrator” evokes images of a dude working in the basement… and while I don’t really have a problem with that image per se, it really isn’t the sort of title I would want to use as a platform to go other places. Don’t get me wrong, I expect to be with AM for many years to come, but someday I’d like to go into policy and sysadmin doesn’t exactly scream policy proficiency. But the term director and manager are certainly more sexy and can mean some cool things going forwards. I’m open to suggestions if there are others out there, otherwise I plan to make my decision in a couple of days.

Update:

I went with Information Systems Director.

probonogeek Personal

A Dutch Experiment

October 16th, 2008

While visiting The Netherlands earlier this year, Sarah introduced me to Bitterballen, a dutch snack food traditionally eaten with beer. They were so good that all of us visiting Americans insisted on ordering them at every meal where it made sense. After leaving the country, I figured I wouldn’t get to eat them again until I returned. But this weekend I decided nuts to that and went about researching how to make them myself.

After checking out several different recipes on the internet, I settled on the following:

  • 4 tbl. butter or margarine
  • 1/2 lb ground beef or veal
  • 1/4 cup carrot, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • A grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 tbl. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbl. parsley, finely chopped
  • 5 tbl. flour
  • 1 cup beef broth or milk
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water
  • Oil for deep frying

Heat one tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over moderate heat and cook the meat, carrots, and onions until the meat is browned and the carrots are tender. Drain the meat in a colander, then place in a mixing bowl. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice, and parsley and stir to combine. Set the meat mixture aside. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over moderate heat and stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook this for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the beef broth or milk. Continue heating, stirring constantly, until the sauce boils and becomes quite thick. Combine the sauce with the meat mixture, stirring to combine them thoroughly, and chill this mixture for at least two hours in the refrigerator, until it has become solid. When the mixture has solidified, roll it into balls about 1 inches in diameter, using your hands. Roll the balls in the bread crumbs, then in the egg and water mixture, then in the bread crumbs again. Fry a few at a time in a deep fryer with at least 2 inches of oil at 375 degrees until golden (about 2 to 3 minutes). Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

I chose my friend’s final debate watching party as the testing grounds, hoping that a wide group of people could give feedback. Sadly attendance was far less than the previous debate parties, but overall the reviews were positive.


Preparing for construction

I made the constituent elements the day before. The green bowl there is a three times the recipe above and took several hours to prepare.


Ready for frying

Each of these balls has a double coating of breadcrumbs. In retrospect, I wish I had made them a bit smaller.


The deep fry!

It was not easy to keep the temperature constant. Poor Mike was constantly checking the temperature and adjusting the heat.


The first batch

I feel this was the best batch in terms of color. I didn’t have a proper timer to count the frying time, leading to uneven cooking.


Ready for muching

This is the first 16, but I would end up making 13 more, for a total of 29 delicious little balls. I also have easily half of the filling left over. Looks like I’m going to have to make more this weekend.

probonogeek Personal

Renaissance Faire

October 1st, 2008

I accepted an invitation from Brett and Timber to attend this year’s Northern California Renaissance Faire. It was my first time attending a Faire, which is considered a bit of a cultural necessity in geek circles, so I felt it was time. I took some pictures, which I uploaded to Flickr as an experiment.

I didn’t take very many photos of the attendees, though they were by far the most interesting aspect of the faire. The costumes came in a wide varieties, from the simple to the ornate. The only unifying theme I could find was the obsession with corsets on the female form. Since I’m entirely too shy of a photographer to take personal shots, here is one I took of a large group.


Later on this group would setup a life-size game of Janga which they played blind folded…

We took in two different jousting events put on by the Knights of Avalon, a full contact jousting troupe that is also a 501(c)(3) rescuing horses. Interestingly, the Knights of Avalon are sponsored by Monster Energy, if the stickers on Black Knight were to be believed.


Dudes had some serious armor

They actually hit each other with sticks going very fast

Of course, no Faire is complete without food. I purchased a roast beef sandwich that proved unexciting. But Timber purchased bread and cheese, seen here.


You could also purchase this with a sausage, in which case the entire thing was served on a stick

While eating we enjoyed minstrels and players on stage. In addition to the Irish music and dance group shown below, we also saw a rather clever 30 minute bit about Shakespeare that was rather intelligent. You needed to know a decent amount about Shakespeare to appreciate their humor.


The photo of the players was totally lit wrong, so you get this far less exciting photo of music

Perhaps most critical to truly appreciating the event was to join in with the costuming. Brett, as is traditional, was a bump on a log. But Timber got into the act with a garland that matched her dress.


Who wouldn’t want ribbons flowing off their head?

I decided to take the whole concept a bit further and made a true investment in ridiculousness. Behold, my new fluffy hat:


Now my Bowler Hat has a friend

It’s worth noting that I got a deal on the plumage, talking them down to just $15 for the three extra feathers, which apparently was quit a bargain. Here’s another shot of me standing in a rustic setting, with the hat.


Now I have something for Halloween

probonogeek Personal

"Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city"

September 17th, 2008

This week marks an new chapter in my employment with Articulated Man. As of Monday I have my own office situated in downtown Santa Cruz. The office is actually part of a larger office space housing the venerable Stone Soup literary magazine. It’s amazing how many people I’ve mentioned this to know who/what Stone Soup is. But truth is the office culture doesn’t provide much opportunity for me to interact with them, so it’s really just me.

The space is roughly that of a Haggett Hall double room, sans beds and hexagonal shape, so it’s not exactly spacious. But, there is more than enough room for a desk, some shelves, and most importantly, my still relatively new bike that I’m always worried will be stolen when I lock it up on a bike rack. I think all those years on the UW campus have put the fear of bike theft into me. On the plus side, it has windows overlooking one of the major streets in town and on Wednesdays it looks right over the Farmer’s Market.

I made the move for several reasons. First, Sarah is back from Holland and will be spending more time around the apartment when she is not at school. While I love her dearly, two people shouldn’t occupy such a small space 24 hours a day… a little separation does, in fact, make the heart fonder. More importantly, I feel like I’ve been drifting at work recently. Not that what I’ve been doing is uninteresting, but that I haven’t been really focusing the way I feel I could be, or the company deserves from me. The hope is having an office will provide a dedicated place to concentrate and dig into what I’ve got to do.

Making the switch isn’t going to be easy. Before the relocation, my morning consisted of getting out of bed at 8:55am, stopping in the kitchen for a bowl of cereal, and then the arduous 30 second commute to my desk in the living room to be “at work” by 9. Now things are a bit different. I’m up before 8am to check email and make sure there are no emergencies. Then from 9am to 10am I’m exercising, showering, and biking to my new office. Then I’m at the office until 5pm or when I get done with what needs to be done. It’s quite a bit more regimented, which was sort of the point.

Currently I’m working off my laptop, which I bought three years ago as a note taking device for law school, not as a web development platform. So far it has not been up to the challenge. The hope is some added RAM will fix things, but expectations are not high and I’m mentally preparing to relocate my desktop over there until I have a better solution. I did get a fancy new monitor and keyboard, so that’s exciting.

For those who made it all the way to the bottom of the post, I have a little treat for you. Starting this week I’m going to be doing a little more political blogging than I have been, probably going through until the elections. Handful of topics have arisen that I feel the need to talk about, and since Sarah hears from me every day, I guess it’s time I blab to you all.

probonogeek Personal

Newest Family Member

March 27th, 2008

Last night Sarah and I adopted a two year old cat from our local animal shelter. She came with the name Ginny, but we are fairly certain we are going to change that… just not sure to what.


Ginny?

She’s very playful… and doesn’t seem inclined to sleep at night, thus ensuring both Sarah and got very little sleep. Hopefully tomorrow she will fall into a more regular sleeping pattern.

Update

Ginny turned out to be name Sage… who knew?!

probonogeek Personal

Changing Course

March 16th, 2008

I started this blog a while ago now… back when I was still in law school. I’ve stuck with Blogger as a platform for longer than any other, so I feel like I have something invested here. Since it’s inception, Pro Bono Geek has been a decidedly political blog, emphasizing the Pro Bono over the Geek. My law school and student government experience provided a lot of good fodder for blogging… and while the online comments I received were never great in number, I was always surprised at how many people at least read what I posted and told me in the “real” world.

But since I’ve moved to Santa Cruz, I’ve been posting a lot less. I think being out-of-sync from actual political discourse has been a big part. My political world is pretty much Sarah and the Washington Post. On top of that, I’m not entirely certain I have anything new to contribute to the larger discussion. For the most part I’m just recycling what you can read elsewhere tempered by a bit of market-idealism. Yes, I’ve got the occasional intellectual property rant, but I think those were more for me than anyone else.

The question remains: if the blog is to continue, what will it be about? I think, perhaps, the answer to this question lies where I started this post: Pro Bono Geek. Except, this time, maybe we need a bit more geek. I feel like I’m got an interesting viewpoint on the larger technical universe right now. Author of the world’s formost legislative simulation website, a sprawling Perl CGI application in desperate need of love (mod_perl anyone?); system administrator for one of the largest Zope deployments around hosting some of the biggest names in Democratic politics; a lieutenant of David Chelimsky world renowned Agile evangelist and core contributor to R-Spec with whom I will developing some kick-ass stuff in the next couple of years; power-user of Debian GNU/Linux and KDE; and javascript wizard for a leader in political web design. For better or worse, my life has taken a decided turn towards the geeky end of my personality, and it’s time I embrace that way of life.

To that end, I’m going to start posting again (trying for once a week) about the interesting technical/geeky stuff I’m doing… tragically, not everything I do can be disclosed, but it’s not like a Google-NDA, so I’m freer than most to discuss my latest thoughts on all manner of topics. For some of you, this may be that final excuse to kick me off your RSS reader… and I understand that. For others, you might finally be interested in what I write here. Others may be interested in just continued life updates, and I’m hoping to get back into the swing of that too, but no promises.

Oh, and if you were hoping I would stop posting political content all together, I have some bad news for you.

probonogeek Personal

Life is Sweet

November 21st, 2007

I realize it’s been an unforgivably long time since I last posted… and that post was some strange rant about the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which doesn’t exactly make for the most stimulating reading. I apologize and hope to do better in the coming months. But let me take this opportunity to tell you, my faithful readers, what’s up in my world.

First, I’m writing this post from the deck of my new apartment, sitting in my new deck furniture, overlooking palm trees and the pool, and only a block from the beach. The complex itself is sort of old, but it’s undergoing a lot of refurbishment, with new appliances, new landscaping, structural improvements, and a “purge” of sorts to remove members of the community who are not quite responsible tenants. The rent is a tad steep, but I figure if I’m going to live in a California beach town, I ought to live by the beach.

Sarah and I just finished a bit of a spending spree to decorate our new place. In addition to the deck furniture, we bought a sofa and this sort of mini-couch sleeper thing, a super cool “storage” ottoman, a side table, a “C” table (truly the most brilliant development in furniture production in the past 50 years), a table lamp and a floor lamp.

And how, you might be wondering, did I manage to afford all of this? No, not mail fraud, but that’s a good guess. No, it turns out that my skills as a webdeveloper are in high demand, especially when you have good customer relation skills. After founding Pro Bono Geek a few months ago I ended up earning way more than I had ever expected. So much I felt compelled to go on this orgy of spending I described above.

All this time I’ve been working at Evans Data Corporation. Things were going very well there, with a successful corporate site launch and a massive reorganization of their IT infrastructure. But 40 hours a week at EDC followed by 30+ hours a week doing consulting from home, I was finding myself a bit worn thin. And just around that time I got a job offer to come on full time with Articulated Man as a web developer, making a whole ton more than I was at EDC!

Of course, Pro Bono Geek and Articulated Man are/were essentially competitors, although we had worked on several projects collaboratively. But with my new employment came the end of my private consulting work. Which is great, because I’m still making good money, doing what I enjoy, and I don’t have to put in 70+ hours a week to do it. As a bonus — as in signing bonus — I was able to get a new car!

That’s right, as of this weekend, I’m an official car “possessor.” I say posses because I didn’t end up buying it outright, but instead I’m leasing it. Still not sure why I decided to go that route, but it felt right at the time and I haven’t been able to come up with a slam-dunk argument against it. So, I’ve got a three year lease and we’ll see where I stand at the end of it.

Oh, what kind of car is it? It’s a 2008 Magnetic Grey Prius (this is a photo of a 2007… couldn’t find a 2008 online). It has a start button, I kid you not, and so long as the key is in my pocket the door unlocks automatically and the car will start without having to put the key in the ignition. The thing is unlike anything I have ever seen before. It’s not the kind of car I would say is a blast to drive… not that it’s not fun, but it’s no sports car. What it is is the kind of car I won’t feel bad driving around town to do errands.

Now, the close reader may have been wondering, how was it I was able to move to the beach and yet still get to my old job downtown. That’s a good question, and if you didn’t think to ask it, you’re not paying close enough attention. Either that, or you didn’t know me well enough to learn my most closely guarded secret. As a child I never learned how to ride a bike. That’s right, never complete with italics and everything. So, when work became a 40 minute walk it was not just a simple matter of hopping on the bike. But with the help of some very dedicated friends I managed to teach myself how at the ripe old age of 26. Now I’m a regular speed machine, zipping up and down the streets of Santa Cruz on my new Trek hybrid bike. It’s a hybrid because it’s half mountain bike (good for hills and stability) / half street bike (good for going fast).

So, that’s the sum of things. I’m headed out now to attend my first Santa Cruz Obama organizers meeting to see if there’s something I can do to help with the campaign. Looking forwards to meeting some new people, since the new job is home based.

Thanks to anyone who kept checking during my hiatus, I promise to be better for at least a little while.

probonogeek Personal

My Green Thumb?

May 20th, 2007

I wouldn’t have believed it a year ago if you had told me, “Sean, you’re going to be able to grow living plants and keep them alive,” but, believed or not, it would appear to be true. As evidence, I submit the following photograph


My glorious impatiens

I planted these about a month ago in the planter pot I got Sarah for her birthday (technically these are her flowers that I grow on her behalf). When I first got them I expected two, maybe three, blooms per pot. But now, with some tender love, consistent watering, and the eclectic mix of music played by the neighboring spa, my little flowers are blooming all over the place. More than a dozen in some pots.

The bottom six pots have a mix of different color impatiens and are all doing splendidly. The top pot has a flower that Sarah purchased, so I don’t know the species, but it has had a tougher go of things. At first it started dying, dropped all of its flowers and the stalks flopped over the edge of the pot. But I kept watering it, trimmed away the dead bits, and slowly but surely the plant has risen once again.

Due to the nature of the porch it lives on, I have to rotate the pot with some frequency to ensure every flower gets roughly the same amount of sun. I haven’t decided if they do better in the sunlight or in the shade, but I know that not turning the pot leads one side to die and the other to do better, so rotation is now part of regular maintenance. In addition, I water my little plants with a trusty spray bottle, which I feel more realistically simulates rain water like the flowers long since forgotten ancestors must have known before cultivation and greenhouses forever changed flower production in the industrialized world.

Sarah is also trying her hand at flower care this season, having killed off her long lived green plant. Here’s a wide shot of our little garden.


Sarah’s plants are in the green planter and brown terracotta planter

She is also keeping a hanging plant which lives up in the rafters


I’m not quite sure how she gets up there to water it?

Sarah’s project is quite a bit more ambitious than mine, but since these are the first plants I’ve ever successfully grown, I’m happy with the results to date.

probonogeek Personal