I.Project: risk-taking spontaneity

This past weekend Chris and I took a trip via train down to Portland. It was my first time to go and I really enjoyed it. Friday night at the hotel I was chatting with a local guy on Scruff. He was bummed I was leaving back to Seattle on Sunday at noon. He suggested I change my trip to Monday morning so we could have dinner on Sunday. He even offered me a spot on his couch.

That’s not something I would normally do; a bit risky with more than a few unknowns. That’s out of character.

So I did it. Never even met the guy in person before changing my tickets.

We met up at a gay bar just before it closed Sunday morning, walked along the river holding hands and talking back to his place where we snuggled all night. Sunday morning we joined Chris for brunch before he left for Seattle. Then we proceeded to spend the rest of the day together just hanging out — including walking through downtown Portland, meandering through the Saturday Market, an afternoon nap together, watching Spiderman with some of his fellow rugby players, dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and watching episodes of The Last Airbender together on his couch. There were intimate moments as well, but I won’t kiss and tell. This morning we woke up and he took me to the train station.

I had a wonderful time. I learned some things about myself from the expeience, but the ultimate objective was to spend time with a handsome man — which I did.

I took a bit of a risk and acted spontaneously. Things I should do more often. I need to remember that plans can be flexible — particularly when they impact no one but myself.

And by posting this publicly, which I wouldn’t usually do, I further push myself with my goal of caring less about what people think of me and living my authentic self.

Resistance to change

Today I was forcibly moved over to the Facebook Timeline. I hate it. Why? Because it’s different. Oh, I have a list of rational-sounding, maybe even convincing, reasons why – but the real reason is simply because it’s different.

I’ve been on the other end of a UI change for an online community. Four years ago I spent months, months!, working with the PGDP community to implement minor changes to our navigation menu. That’s right – a menu. My cohorts and I felt the new menu made it easier for newbies to find their way around as well as a better behavior with narrower browser windows. We didn’t please everyone, but I think we pleased most people.

So I don’t envy the position of the Facebook UI developers when even someone like myself, who has been in their shoes, automatically jumps to hate when things change.

My experience reveals both that people are highly resistant to change and that once change happens people eventually get use to it.

I.Project: not a midlife crisis

My I.Project is not a midlife crisis. Primarily because I plan to live longer that 67. Secondly, were I having a thirdlife crisis I wouldn’t be limiting myself on how much I wanted to spend. If one finds themselves having a crisis, would they be even attempting a budget? No.

It’s been accurately pointed out that being responsible is such a core tenant of who I am, that I’m unlikely to succeed being truly irresponsible. It’s been put forth that even were I to try and do something completely irresponsible that I’d end up executing it in the most responsible irresponsible way possible, rendering the activity a mostly-responsible one.

To all the nay-sayers: you’re likely correct, but sod off. I can only do what I can do and let the bills fall where they may.

Irresponsibility Project: mixed bag of news but trudging forwards

This morning resulted in a mixed bag of news regarding things that impact the I.Project. On the plus side, this was essentially resolved and while I’m not going to celebrate before the check is cashed, it is very good news.

On the downside, B is moving out of the house come February when his lease is up and I have to figure out what to do about that. I can’t sell the house because it’s under water. Having him there meant that I had someone I could trust in the house instead of a stranger which is no longer possible. This also means I need to plan on getting the remainder of my stuff out of the house in the next 6 months or so (moving it from Denver and storing it where? selling it?).

The smart thing to do would be to abandon my I.Project and put the money towards the Denver mortgage with the intent of paying it down so I can try and sell it come March. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, we trudge irresponsibly onwards.

Irresponsibility Project: It begins

I’ve rambled on before about how I think I’m too responsible. So I’ve decided to do something about it and grow a little. Behold my Irresponsibility Project.

I’ve decided to start with money, as that’s something I’m super responsible about. I’m taking 1/12th of my 2011 gross income (we can call it a “month’s salary” if that makes things easier) and requiring that I spend it irresponsibly. Part of this money might come from the resolution of this (we’ll find out tomorrow morning) or it might not. Either way I’ll be pulling money from my savings accounts and maybe, gasp, acquiring some credit card debt to pull it off. I’ve already brainstormed some ways that this might be spent. My rough deadline for this is by the end of the year, but who knows, maybe I’ll be irresponsible enough to ignore my self-imposed deadline!

Money is only an enabler of this exercise and not the end-all. The point is to stretch outside my comfort zone as a person, to do things that wouldn’t normally do. Last night over dinner Will had some great insights into this whole exercise. He pointed out that while the bulk of the funds probably wouldn’t be spent acquiring something physical, I need to come away with some item representing this exercise to keep: a totem. He also suggested that I need at least one very memorable event as well: an experience.

Other friends have made suggestions too. Jonobie, Chris, and Nick have already chimed in with great ideas (not all of which involved taking them overseas in business class). Jonobie pointed me to this article which maps closely with what I’d already decided: buy experiences not things; many small things rather than one big thing; spend on others not myself.

In truth, spending money in this manner is going to be really challenging. Not because I don’t think I can do it, I’m arrogant enough to think I can do just about anything I put my mind to, but rather hard to ascertain what things are actually beyond what I normally would do. For instance, I would have no problem picking up the tab for a group of friends at a nice restaurant. My monthly budget (warning: responsibleness!) can fairly readily absorb such splurges. At what point does that count as irresponsible for me? Oh well, nothing like a good challenge!

Also throughout last night’s conversation I decided I needed to figure out which boundaries I am willing to flex and which ones I’m not. I don’t have a good answer for those yet. I think it’s worthwhile for me to do some more introspective work to better understand why I feel this is important and hence what I consider a success criteria. However, I’m not going to wait until I have these things all figured out before getting started (which would be my usual inclination) — instead I’m diving right in!

Making movies and curing HIV

Many of you may not know this, but in addition to being a performance test engineer I moonlight as a facilitator for making movies and curing HIV. This is true of every single person who works for Isilon.

During the hardware beta for what was released as Isilon’s S200 platform, I was working with one of the big movie studios who were evaluating the new platform. Sadly, this is not an externally referencable customer but it’s safe to say you and most children you know have seen their movies and loved them. And this customer loves Isilon. During the beta the customer sent us some sample data from their cluster for us to reproduce a problem they were seeing. The content of the files weren’t transmitted to us, but the names of the files came across and was clear what movie they were from. It wasn’t until that point that I realized that I now helped make movies.

Yes it’s very tangential and that particular movie had no assistance from me given where it was in its release phase when I started, but the point remained: Isilon helps makes movies; I now help make movies. I made a point of seeing that movie when it came out, despite not having initial interest in it. And it was a good movie, perhaps made a little better knowing what it was made on. Since then I’ve made a point of seeing every movie the studio releases, even if I wasn’t all that interested to begin with, because I helped make it – even tangentially.

A really exciting moment for me happened this past Wednesday when I was reading the July 2012 edition of Scientific American1, specifically the article Secrets of the HIV Controllers (pp 44-51). In it they call out their use of the “massive computing services at the Broad Institute”. The Broad Institute is one of Isilon’s customers, and obviously since I mention them here they are externally referenceable. The use of the resources at the Broad Institute moved forward these researchers’ work, getting humanity one step closer to understanding why some people have a rare, natural ability to keep the HIV virus at bay and preventing it from progressing into AIDS. I don’t know if Isilon’s hardware was used for this research, maybe it wasn’t. But it isn’t hard to imagine that even if it wasn’t, other researchers have used Isilon hardware at the Broad Institute or one of the other genomics institutes that use our hardware to move the ball forward on a cure for HIV, cancer, and other diseases.

This realization is huge for me. I play a but a minor role at Isilon. Isilon, however, plays a medium role in the big picture of medical research and all of this medical research eventually plays a major role improving the human condition. My part may be small but it’s important. My work is important.

Contrast this to the work I was doing at IBM. Sure it’s useful to enable people to log into their telecom provider and pay their bills (every time you log into the AT&T website to do something with your account, you interact with Tivoli Access Manager — the telltale signs are in the interstitial URL that does the single sign-on), but to me that’s an order of magnitude less in importance than playing a role in improving the daily health of millions of people.

At work we’re on the last few months of hard slog to release Mavericks, our upcoming software release, and this perspective helps on those unexciting days: not only do I help make awesome movies, I’m doing a small part in the search for a cure for HIV.

1 Nerd alert!

Dreaming irresponsibly

I spent a few hours this afternoon in a contemplative mood over the question: if I had a unexpected financial windfall, what would I do with it? Not how would I pay down a mortgage or pay off my car, or how i might budget it or invest it, the responsible things, but what would I blow it on? What irresponsible thing would I want to do with it? Here is the result of hours of thinking:


Yes, that’s an empty list. Literally, nothing. I’m not good at this irresponsibility stuff.

So I started again with a modified premise: what would someone who wants for nothing do with it? Wanting something would fall as a subset of all possible things, so make the superset list and see if anything sticks out. That list was longer:

  • buy a new car
  • buy some new gadget (laptop, phone, tablet)
  • convert it all to ones and tip lots and lots of strippers
  • move to a swank penthouse apartment for a year
  • vacation someplace exotic this year; twice
  • hire a personal assistant
  • host weekly dinners for friends at fun restaurants for the rest of the year
  • rent out a venue and host a party for 100 of my closest friends
  • set a monthly “must spend this money” budget with the consequence that any unspent money goes to Republican presidential candidate (how’s that for motivation!) — I could even recruit friends to help

Some of those things are are so outside the realm of reality that it’s just not going to happen. A new car? I barely drive the one I have. And I really hate moving so the penthouse is pretty unlikely. Most of the others, however, all seem perfectly doable and a couple I’m rather excited about. Perhaps I dream too responsibly and in general not often enough.

And now we wait for Thursday to see if that unexpected windfall comes to fruition.

The lure of irresponsibility

Loyal. Dependable. Reliable. Responsible.

These are the cornerstones of who I see myself as, although I’m unsure if they are descriptive or prescriptive. Regardless they are key components of my life and heavily influence my interactions professionally and personally. And frankly I’m a little sick of them. Some part of me wants to be less responsible, less in control, less dependable.

What does that mean? I have no idea, I’ve never been there before. Do I need to hang out with people who are less responsible to emulate what I think I want? Do I hang out with people who are more responsible to allow me to temporarily relinquish responsibility to them? Are the two mutually exclusive?

I feel like I’ve been responsible all my life. I think I want to be less so, I’m just not sure why or how.

Inherited decor

Benjamin was the one in our relationship with the fashion sense, both in clothes and home decor. When we met I had owned and lived in the Austin house for about 2 months and it looked more like a college apartment than anything else. It was Benjamin that made that house, the one in Denver, and the apartment in Seattle a home. We compromised between my minimalist style and his rich country home style and I still love what we did to all 3 places.

But time moves on and I’ve decided it’s time to take some steps to make my apartment more my own. No, I’m not going to hang up my Matrix poster on the wall (although I’d be sorely tempted if it hadn’t been sold in a garage sale back in Austin). I am, however, making a more concerted effort to find art pieces and furniture that catches my eye. I bought this 9×13 print about 6 weeks ago after seeing Lyla Warren’s work at comicon. I took it in on Saturday to have it matted and framed.

It’s time to change it up some.