Sam’s Story: Week 135

For those of you keeping track, Sam’s latest thing is to ask what you’re doing. This kind of casual conversation making is flattering at first –most people don’t really seem to give a crap what I’m doing, and attempts to educate them usually result annoyed requests to “Put that thing down.” Like many things I’ve come across in life, though, Sam’s interest turned out to be equal parts joy and tedium. A typical conversation goes like this:

“What are you doing, Daddy?”

“I’m washing the dishes!”

“And what are you doing?”

“Uh, still washing the dishes. Different dish now, but the same principle.”

“And what are you doing now?”

“Still washing dishes, Sammy.”

“What are you doing, Daddy?”


I didn’t get it until one day when I caught her studying the following flow chart:

I wish I knew who gave her that. The only way I’ve found to deal with this is to just throw the question back at her and ask “What are YOU doing, Sammy?” This usually stumps her for a couple of seconds, then she rejoins with “What are you doing, Daddy?” and we’re back at square one. It passes the time, though, and after about half an hour it kind of reaches this zen-like place so I think I may be on to something big here. Somewhere there’s probably a Buddhist monk sitting on a mountain top in search of ultimate enlightenment and chanting “What are you dooooooooing?”


As you can see, we took some time off from asking what we’re doing to blow some bubbles on the patio, which Sam is getting much better at despite her proclivity for inhaling bubbles instead of blowing them. Fortunately there were no inhalation incidents this time around.

Sam’s Story: Week 134

This week’s memories are dominated by three progressively weirder conversations I had with Samantha. First was this one, which took place as we sat on the bouncy bed:

“Watch me, Daddy!”

“Sam, don’t–“




“Oh, Sammy, awww, come here. Did you hit your head?”

“Yeah. I did.”

“Sammy, you know what?”


“That wasn’t a very good trick.”


Then there was this one as we sat at the kitchen table:

“Sammy, did you just toot?”

“No. I didn’t.”

“It’s okay if you did. Just say ‘Excuse me.’ Everybody toots.”

“Everybody toots. Grandma toots and Nana toots and Uncle Brent toots.”

I’m not sure what these three family members did to earn the title of most flatulent in Sam’s estimation. I would have asked, but I was laughing too hard.

And then finally there was the king of all non-sequeters as I was changing her diaper. Sam grabbed my head in both hands, turned it sideways, and peered intently at the side of my skull.

After a few seconds I asked, “Sam, what are you doing?”

“I’m looking in your ear,” she whispered.


“To see if there’s any poop in it.”

“…Well? Is there?”

And now, here are pictures:

There are some pretty cool pictures of the swimming pool complex that Ger took Sam to this week. I didn’t make it there (work and all that), but it sounds and looks like some kind of aquatic Xanadu, replete with fountains, waterfalls, and many kid-friendly activities. After hearing about it I nonchalantly said that I’d have to make it there later in the year. This prompted Geralyn to give me a quick refresher on the chemistry of water and how it freezes solid under certain circumstances, such as those fostered under winter in parts of the world that aren’t Southern California. How quickly I forget.

I also like this picture, even though the composition is off a bit. Over the weekend I plugged in Guitar Hero for the Playstation 2 and started to, as we say in the music business, rock out. Within seconds Sam came running in and started clapping, squealing, and jumping like my own little toddler groupie. She totally go into it, even if my attempts at teaching her to “throw the horns” were rebuffed by a vigilant Geralyn. Still, Sam was soon requesting songs (her favorites seem to be “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand and “Hey You” by the Exies) and either singing along or chanting “red, red, blue, yellow, green, green” in response to the on-screen signals.

I gotta say, playing some Guitar Hero with my daughter has been a lifelong dream. No, seriously. This has turned out to be like the best reason for getting a kid yet. Two more and I can have a whole set of backup singers.


I like to count photography among my hobbies (I’d better; I’ve spent enough on it), but sometimes I have to remind myself to take pictures of something besides Samantha. Sometimes I just like to play around with the camera. Like in these pictures:

These are actually little tchotchkes I brought back from a conference I went to last week. The first two rows are rubber balls that light up when you bounce them (or smack them hard enough against something) and the last row is a spinning top with a little light on it. I thought it would be cool to turn off the lights, set the camera on a tripod, and queue up a really long shutter speed ranging between two and six seconds. Nothing incredible, but kind of neat.

Book review: Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done

Ironically, looking in to the GTD (Getting Things Done) system has been bouncing around in the back of my head as something to do for quite some time now. This approach to maximizing productivity is popular among the nerdegalian, probably because of its minimum bullshit approach to actually processing, classifying, and executing what the author David Allen calls “stuff to do.” This book discusses the GTD system in its entirety and, more importantly, teaches you how to put it in place.

What I really liked about Allen’s work is that it’s very straight forward and focused on implementation. It seems like other self-help books in this vein that I’ve perused are all about inspiration, defining values, motivating yourself, getting in touch with your inner being and letting loose the full potential of you. To those authors I’d like to say the following: No. Stop it. I don’t need nor want that, so you can cram it with walnuts, buddy. GTD, in comparison, is prescriptive. Allen gets touchy-feeling in a few places (such as discussing prioritization or project definition) but the vast majority of the book takes a very practical approach to digging yourself out of whatever mountain of commitments you’ve gotten yourself under and how to stay on top of it once you get there.

In short, GTD focuses on getting “stuff” –commitments, to do items, reminders to gather information, requests for information or actions, etc.– out of your short-term memory and into a physical, highly organized system that will remind you of the right stuff at the right time. Dumping everything out of your short-term memory allows you to do something that’s very critical to productivity: focus on one thing at a time. If you’re confident that your other commitments or to-dos are safely stored away somewhere and will not be lost or buried out of sight, you can devote all your attention, time, and mental energy to one thing before knocking it out and moving on to the next. I like to think of the system as an artificial, external, and infinitely scalable attention span that you can connect to and disconnect from as needed.

That’s all well and good, but it’s probably not beyond the ken of your average retarded monkey. The tough (and in some places nonintuitive) part is the implementation. Again, there’s tons more detail, tricks, and tips in the book, but I’ll try to capture the gist of it. There are four major parts to the GTD system:

  1. Collecting incoming stuff
  2. Processing the stuff
  3. Doing the stuff
  4. Regularly reviewing your system to make sure your action items and project lists are up to date

Collecting stuff is easy. That’s just letting stuff accumulate in your physical or virtual receptacles like inboxes, voice mail, or e-mail.

Processing stuff is more involved. It requires sitting down with your inboxes and emptying them. That doesn’t mean immediately doing the work associated with each piece of stuff as you pick it up –prioritization is important. It means taking a piece of stuff –an e-mail, a document, a voice mail– and doing something with it: act on it right then, file it, trash it, delegate it, or create what Allen calls a “Next Action” item associated with it. Again, the book is replete with practical tips, hacks, tools, and rules of thumb for deciding which of these things to do and how to keep it all straight. Therein lies some of the book’s best value, but it’s too detailed to go into here.

Doing the stuff is self explanatory, but again I’ll emphasize the value of being able to focus on one thing at a time without worrying that other things will be forgotten. It’s much more productive and much less stressful.

Regularly reviewing your system is also important, and comes in two flavors: as needed and weekly. You may review your action item list (a.k.a., your “to do list”) several times a day as needed, if for nothing but that endorphin rush that comes with checking things off as “done” and deciding what to tackle next. Weekly reviews are also important, and are different in that you take the time to check on your list of active projects and make sure you have a Next Action item for each and every one.

So I really like the book and its system. I’d recommend it to anyone who feels like they’re not being productive enough or getting buried in work. Allen only gets mushy and non-specific in a few places that make it seem like he’s trying to pad the page count, but the majority of the book is specific, direct, and practical. I also like that Allen is in tune with the modern technology that most professionals encounter. He spends appropriate amounts of time discussing things like e-mail, Outlook and voice mail. He also talks about implementing GTD with high-tech tools like PDAs, Web 2.0 systems, and palmtop computers, but while GTD lends itself well to these kinds of toys, at its heart it is technology agnostic. You could do the whole thing quite effectively with a pen, some paper, and a bunch of file folders. Indeed, some parts of the system, like the tickler file work best that way.

Overall, I like it and have been following the system for a few weeks now. In the next few days or so I’ll follow up this post with another one about how I personally am implementing the GTD system at work. In the meantime, you can find out more about GTD at these places: Wikipedia’s entry on GTD, 43 Folders, and Black Belt Productivity. Or you could, you know, read the book.

Sam’s Story: Week 133

Often when I sit around and fantasize about being interviewed about this blog, I think of the question of how it has changed my relationship with my daughter. In my mind I lean back in an overstuffed chair, cross my legs, clench a pipe between my teeth, and gaze into the gently crackling fireplace for a moment before saying that it has made me more of an amature anthropologist working with a live subject. I pay attention to Sam’s new behaviors, note them when they emerge, and mark the passing of old ones.

I mean, let’s take a specific example: Samantha’s understanding of time. When she was younger, everything was in the moment out of necessity. Absolutely no thought went into the future and no brain power was spared to retain the past. It was ALL about processing and experiencing what was right in front of her at that second. This was, in a way, a very pure existance that I was sometimes jealous of. Even after she started talking, if you asked her what she did earlier that day, she’d probably give you a blank stare. Or she’d say something she had done days or weeks ago like “I went to the playground!” or “I stabbed the cat!”

Just in the last couple of weeks, though, I’ve noticed that Sam has tuned in to the concept of time. Now when I come home from work and ask her what she did, she’ll give me a report that is corroborated, usually, by Geralyn’s. She’ll now talk about a planned trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for days leading up to it, and yammer for days afterwords about what she did. And now if she tells me she stabbed the cat with her Winnie The Pooh fork, I can be pretty sure the wounds are still fresh.

This has, in fact, changed my life for one very important reason: Samantha now remembers promises I make her and she holds me to them. Yesterday morning, for example, I had gotten March of the Penguins from NetFlix and told Sam that we could watch it that afternoon after her nap. She alerted me to her nap’s end that day by shouting “I CAN WATCH THE MOVIE ABOUT THE PENGUINS NOW!” through the baby monitor.

And can we take a moment while we’re on the topic and discuss how if you’re planning on showing this movie to your two-year old you might want to reconsider? Not too far into the flick Sam and I were smiling and watching the titular birds start their trek to the breeding grounds when the camera cut to a lone penguin separated from the herd, shuffling and scooting across the ice. Sam glanced at me and asked “And what’s that penguin doing, Daddy?”

Before I could respond, Morgan Freeman broke in with his the dulcet tones and said something along the lines of “But for the ones who start the journey too late, the winter’s chills are harsh and chances of survival are remote.” Then, quick cut to a close up shot of a penguincicle -horrible, dead, and frozen solid.

Sam paused for a beat, then turned to me and said “What’s he doing now?”

I had just a second to consider what my answer would be. Should I lie? Should I tell her the uncomfortable truth? “He’s sleeping,” I said. Turns out that my respite from teaching my kid the reality of death on the frozen tundra was short lived, though, as I was hard pressed to apply the same explanation a few scenes later when a father penguin drops his egg and watches it freeze solid in seconds. And the “sleeping” ruse was completely useless a few scenes after that when an errant penguin chick gets mauled and murdered by a sea gull.

But at least now that discussion with Sam about death and the circle of life is out of the way and I’ll never have to talk to her about it again. Whew!

And now, pictures.

I particularly like this shot because it looks like she’s posing for some film noir or pulp fiction paperback cover. And actually, she really was posing for me on that one, which is a rarity. This one is a close second, though. There’s nothing not to love about blowing bubbles on the back porch.

My Extremely Tenuous Link to Penny Arcade

One of the cool things about moving to a new house is that you uncover neat stuff you had long ago crammed into some cardboard box and forgot that you even had. Sometimes that stuff turns out to be real treasures, like original artwork from one of the creators of the mega webcomic Penny Arcade. Here’s a scan of the art that I recently rediscovered, had framed, and hung above my desk:

Great, right? No? Well, a little background to fill you in on the sentimental value:

Back in my days with GameSpy Industries, a lot of what I did was product development, management, and launch. These were web-based products, most often websites that rendered some kind of service like for which I’d create a business cases, functional specifications, and project plans. Then I’d be in charge of managing the team of coders, artists, and writers needed to get the thing launched. And by “managing” I mean wrining my hands, wandering from programmer to programmer, and asking “Is it finished yet? Is it finished? OH GOD, THEY’RE GOING TO TAKE MY THUMBS IF IT’S NOT FINISHED!”

One of these projects was, a network-wide system of messageboards that our friends and enemies could use to post messages and communicate. Messageboards were all the rage back then. One of the things that we usually did to add character to our sites was hire a guy named Mike “Gabe” Krahulik to create illustrations. Gabe was the artist on a burgeoning webcomic called Penny Arcade, a webcomic that, with the help of writer Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, went on to become one of the most popular and profitable of its ilk, a kind of Internet sensation that just about any gamer at least knows about if not reads religiously. It’s kind of like Funky Winkerbean except it’s totally awesome and people love it. Gabe had done many illustrations for my friend Fargo’s exelentacular (but long discontinued) Daily Victim feature, and we consigned him to create some illustrations for the launch of ForumPlanet, too.

The picture at the top of this post is a draft of some of the main imagery that would make it into our advertisements and general use for the site. Fargo delighted me by getting the original artwork from Gabe, framing it, and giving it to me to celebrate the launch. I remember having it up at my office at GameSpy, but when I moved to San Diego I must have packed it away and forgotten about it. Shame.

So maybe that’s not really a “link,” tenuous or not, to Penny Arcade. It’s really more of a “hey, I’ve got some original, signed artwork by one of the guys who draws it.” But wait, there’s more. One of the other things we commissioned Gabe for is to create caricatures of all the major GameSpy editors for use in our newsletters and articles. As the senior editor of FilePlanet, I wrote a weekly e-mail newsletter (here’s and archive of one to give you the idea) and thus needed such an illustration. Check it out:

I mean, I have a lot of reasons to say I’m glad I did the whole GameSpy thing, but being drawn by one of my favorite cartoonists is near the top.

So tune in next week when I glibly drop more names from the world of webcomic superstars and tell you about how Scott Kurtz of another massively popular webcomic PvP Online went and included me in one of his comics and how I took him out for chineese food. …Well, actually, that’s pretty much the whole story. That and how he signed for me a copy of his comic book with a picture of Skull the Troll saying “To the Loooove Doctor, Jamie.”

Good times.

The Myth Books

One of my most childhood (well, teenagerhood) possessions is a pair of graphic novels based on Robert Asprin’s “Myth” series, illustrated by Phil Foglio. I also read most of the books themselves and enjoyed them nearly as much. When I recently decided to re-read the first three books (Another Fine Myth, Myth Conceptions, and Myth Directions) I was surprised to find out how well they held up. They’re still really fun!

Now while “fun” isn’t the word I’d use to describe most books in the fantasy genre these days, these books certainly are. On the surface they’re about a newly master-less magician’s apprentice, Skeeve, who is mentored by a demon, Ahz, whose wisdom and experience are only matched by his panache for con jobs and profit. Each book is essentially a caper where Asprin weaves a huge cast of vivid characters into entertaining and often amusing situations. The author has a real gift for plotting to the point where even when the situations are outlandish and complicated, you can trace a clear line of how the characters got into them.

And that’s the point at which the real entertainment usually starts –when the characters have to get out of one mess and usually end up in another. What I like about these books is that Skeeve and Ahz and company don’t win the day by being the strongest or the most powerful. They win it by using guile, trickery, improvisation, wits, and imagination. It’s really satisfying to see these traits win out over seemingly impossible odds, and again Asprin has a gift for making it all believable within his own (admittedly self-created) rule set for the world he’s constructed.

It’s also worth noting that the books are consistently upbeat and lighthearted, with minimal violence and only mild sexual inuendo. The humor is situational and character driven, but also makes extensive use of puns and pop culture references (though some of those are a bit dated at this point). I’d highly recommend them to people of just about any age. I plan on reading more of the series whenever I want to take a break between other books for something more refreshing and fun.

Sam’s Story: Week 132

Not a particularly eventful week this time around. We’ve been having a fair number of things delivered to the new house to fill in some of the blank corners, nearly all of those things arriving in brown cardboard boxes that it is, for some reason, my responsibility alone to open. I’ve developed a kind of game with Sam where I ask what she thinks is in the boxes as I open them. Her invariable answer is “Toys! Toys for Sammy!” even though the unearthed contents of the cardboard tombs have yet turned out to be so. Still, she’s optimistic, and you’ve got to appreciate that.

And here are some pictures.

Power problems have continued through the week, viz a viz Sam’s attempt to seize it at inappropriate times. As I’ve mentioned before, she has delighted in testing whatever boundaries present themselves and seems intent on instigating a one-person junta whenever we let our guard down. Still, we remain strong in the face of these rebellions.

For example, the other night at the dinner table (and isn’t it so quaint that I say things like “at the dinner table?”) Sam noticed that her blanket had gone missing. Probably on account of her having dropped it in the basement when she noticed some breakable thing I’d accidentally left out. After an initial verbal inquiry as to the blanket’s location was made with unsatisfactory results (i.e., it didn’t magically appear when she spoke its name), Sam gave an airy wave of her hand and announced “Mommy wants to go get it” like the world’s most ineffective Jedi. When Mommy signaled that no, in fact, she did not intend to get up from dinner to go get it, Sam tried the other branch of her family tree. When I followed up that request with a similar denial, Sam tried screaming and crying, the implication that the blanket’s absence was causing some kind of psychological and probably physical scarring and that we should remedy this immediately if we loved her. This got me moving, but with the announcement that she was in for a time out. Next thing I know she’s halfway down the basement stairs, shouting “No I get it!” as she went. She returned a moment later, dry eyed and blanket in hand as if nothing had happened.

I plan on seeing if I can get similar results next time someone tries to delegate unwanted work to me in a staff meeting. Wish me luck.

Don’t mess with a 2 year old’s classification system

“And what’s Daddy doing?”

“I’m playing a game. It’s called World of Warcraft.”

“He’s flying!”

“Yeah! He’s riding on the back of a Griffin.”

“It’s a bird.”

“Actually, Sammy, it’s got the head and wings of an eagle, but the body of a lion. It’s called a Griffin.”

“…It has WINGS, Daddy. It’s a bird.

“It’s kind of a make believe–“


“Look, I’ve got a dictionary, I can–“

“It’s a bird, Daddy.”

And then, her point made, she just kind of walked away.