Relationship Goals

The past couple years, I’ve made New Years resolutions related to advancing my career. I’ve already started thinking about plans for next year. These goals have helped me focus on making some serious improvements. While I haven’t met every goal, they’ve been very effective in upping my game.

While I’m pretty happy with where my career is going, there are other parts of my life that could also stand some improvement. I’ve recently been focusing on my weight. I’m down 16 pounds, with another 9 to go; and I’ll probably see if I can extend the weight loss by another 10 or 20 pounds.

My relationship with my wife has suffered a little over the past few years. She’d been busy with school the past 4 years. Earlier this year, I had spread myself too thin with my involvement in local user groups, volunteering, and conference presentations. I realize that we have to work on our relationship in order for it to stay strong and healthy. I’m not really good at knowing how to do that. But I’m going to try setting some goals that will have a positive effect on my relationship.

Finishing Things

I always have a lot of things going on at once. I seem to thrive on multi-tasking. But one down-side is that I leave a lot of things hanging. This happens with many of my side projects, as well as chores around the house. One example is when I do laundry. It often takes me days to fold the laundry, and then sometimes a couple more days to put the laundry away.

So I’m going to start making an effort to be better at finishing things. I’ll put the clothes away as soon as I fold them. I’ll put my dirty dishes in the dishwasher when I’m done eating.

Putting Things In Their Place

This is related to the previous item. It drives my wife crazy when I leave the door to the new pantry open. And it drives her crazy when I leave shoes and clothes (and lots of other things) around the house. While I think she goes overboard in her need for order, I know that it helps her focus on other things when she doesn’t have to worry about the house being cluttered.

It should only take a little bit of effort to meet her half way. I’ll focus on keeping the house less cluttered — or at least confined to my own spaces. I’m sure it’ll have a positive impact on me as well.

Being More Conscious of My Time

When I over-extended myself earlier this year, I had more extracurricular activities than I had time for. I didn’t do a very good job of planning my activities around each other. I had to give up one of my major activities (being involved with the UNIX and GNU/Linux user groups). Even with that, time for my relationship suffered.

I’ll need to plan my time better, so that I’m not stressing out with all the things that I need and want to do. I also need to procrastinate less. Being mindful that it’s affecting my relationship will hopefully help a little.

Family Retrospectives

I’ve had this idea for a little while. I’d like to do a family retrospective. I’m a little less sure about this one. I’m not sure I could do a good job of running a family retrospective myself. But I occasionally go to the therapist with my wife. I’d like to do that more, so we can focus on our relationship in that setting. But I’d also like to do some of the things that teams do in Agile retrospectives. Like check in on how we’re progressing on our goals. And brainstorming ideas on things to try to improve things. Perhaps this list will give us a starting point of things we can talk about.

Focus on the Relationship

Probably the biggest thing I need to do is to set aside time just to spend with my wife. Quality time. Date night. Spending time with my wife always makes us both feel better.

Using a Shared Calendar

As a practical matter, we really need to start using a shared calendar. Well, actually, we already do. But it’s a paper calendar on the wall at home. That makes it hard to use when we’re not at home. Finding an electronic calendar that we can both see would be helpful in planning my time and planning date nights.

As my wife always tells me: happy wife, happy life.

Losing Weight

I’ve lost 15 pounds over the past several months. I’m hoping to lose at least another 10 pounds over the next few months; hopefully more like 20 or 30. This is only the 3rd time in my life that I’ve lost weight. The first was when my mouth was wired shut due to jaw surgery. The 2nd was when a doctor told me to lose 12 pounds to get back to 200. This time was also instigated by a doctor, telling me to lose 25 pounds to get back to 200.

So now I’m going to tell you how you can lose weight. But you’re not going to like the answers.

Stop Drinking Alcohol

The first time a doctor told me to lose weight, I did it without even trying. I had also stopped drinking for a few months. I hadn’t connected those 2 things, until I mentioned them both to my aunt.

I only drink maybe 2 drinks a week. That isn’t really enough calories to make that much of an impact. The only thing I can figure is that alcohol has a big impact on my metabolism.

So when the doctor told me to lose 25 pounds, giving up alcohol was an obvious first step. I knew it would have an impact.

Don’t Go on a Diet

Going “on a diet” is a terrible idea. After you’re done dieting, you’ll go back to the same old habits as before. You’ll go back to eating the same things, consuming the same number of calories. If you consume the same number of calories as before, you’ll end up reaching an equilibrium at the same weight you were at before.

Instead, you need to change your diet — for the long term. Create new habits. You can’t think “I only have to do this for a few months”. Instead you have to find changes you can make permanently.

Maybe you’ll work a little harder until you reach your ideal weight, then let off the gas a bit. But you really have to go in with the mentality that you’re making permanent changes. Otherwise, you’ll end up gaining back the weight.

Learn to be Hungry

As an American in the 21st century, I have easy access to an abundance of food. Much of it is empty calories — sugar, fat, grease, carbs — junk food.

So when I get a little hungry, I find something to eat. I’m a terrible snacker. I love donuts and cookies and cakes and pastries. One thing I had to learn is to not just go and get some food at the first sign of hunger. Or just because I’m bored.

And when I do eat when I’m hungry, I need to choose better options. Low-fat food doesn’t work; it’s got added sugar. Low-sugar food doesn’t work; it’s got added fat.

The doctor recommended high-protein shakes. They’re low in calories, relatively filling, and usually have sucralose or stevia instead of sugar. I’ve used the shakes to varying degrees. They do help lower the calories I consume in a day, while quenching my hunger pretty well.

Get Really Sick

My weight loss started to slow down after a couple months. I went a few weeks without making any progress. Then I got a really bad flu. It only lasted a day, but I couldn’t keep anything down. My entire gastro-intestinal system was completely emptied out. I lost 7 pounds in a day or 2.

On the bright side, I was able to keep 5 of those pounds off permanently. I don’t know if I’d recommend this, but it definitely kick-started another round of weight loss for me.

Stop Drinking Soda

This was the hardest thing for me to change in my diet. When the doctor told me some things to do to lose weight, I told him that giving up soda wasn’t likely to happen easily. It was several months in before I made a significant dent in my soda consumption.

My a-ha moment came during lunch at Panda Express. I ordered a Pepsi like usual, along with my orange chicken and SweetFire chicken. My co-worker had a water. Then it occurred to me, why did I need a sweet drink to go with this sweet food? Since then, I’ve been more judicious at deciding when to have a soda, and when to have water instead. If you need to, try some zero-calorie water flavorings, like Mio.

A 12-ounce can of soda is about 150 calories. I typically drank about 2 cans a day, perhaps a bit more. Now I’m drinking probably about 1 can per day.

If you take the standard advice that 3500 calories will lead you to lose 1 pound, and you drink 3 sodas a day, that’s 1 pound per week. Things aren’t really that simple in real life, of course. But cutting back on soda can make a significant dent in your caloric intake.

I’ve seen some reports that say that Americans’ increase in soda consumption is responsible for almost all of the weight gain in American society over the past 40 years.


This is the one area I need to improve on most. I haven’t made much of a change to my exercise level yet.

Losing weight really is about inputs versus outputs. Just sitting on the couch, someone my size burns about 2000 calories a day. If I eat 3000 calories (which isn’t really that difficult), then I have to burn an extra 1000 calories. To burn 1000 calories, I’d have to do about 90 minutes of strenuous activity, or walk 10 miles.

I just have a hard time finding the time to exercise. I do enjoy doing some yard work, but that’s only a couple hours a week, and not year-round. I’ve tried reading while walking on the treadmill, but that makes me a bit dizzy.

Some sort of fitness tracker is helpful. I’ve got a FitBit. It does help me walk a bit more. I try to walk to lunch most days. But that’s only a couple thousand steps.

I need to find a way to add more exercise to my life, both to help maintain a better weight, and to improve my health in general.


I think the real key is making a commitment to make changes in your life. I’d like to not have a beer belly. I’d like to be healthier. But the real impetus to change came from my doctor. He asked me to make a commitment to lose the weight. That commitment made a big difference.

So that’s how I’ve been able to do it. But everyone’s different. Maybe some of those things won’t work for you. Maybe you’re not able to make some of those changes. You have to find what works for you. But if it’s something you need to do or want to do, make a commitment to change your life long-term.


I Made a Mistake

I made a mistake. Even worse, it hurt someone that I like, admire, and respect.

What Happened

I was at a conference, and one of the attendees tweeted a picture captioned “Bros everywhere”. The implication was that the ratio of women to men was seriously imbalanced. I replied that another conference had better diversity, and they should ask how they did it.

One big problem — I was wrong. There were definitely more people from underrepresented groups than the other conference.

The organizer called me out. He pulled me aside and let me know that he did not appreciate my comment. I was confused at first, not understanding what I had done wrong. But I listened, and could clearly understand that he was hurt. So I tried to engage my listening and empathy skills. (I’m not sure how well I did, but I think I did OK.)

I apologized and asked what I could do to fix my mistake. I deleted the offending tweet, and replaced it with a tweet more in line with what I meant — that the community has a lot more work to do to get more women involved.

Why It Happened

I made several mistakes actually. The first was using the term “diversity” when thinking only about gender diversity. But “diversity” also includes racial diversity and other forms of inclusivity. Many of the talks at the previous conference were about diversity and inclusion. I think this colored my perception of that conference as being more diverse — as an exemplar.

Another interesting problem with my perception was that underrepresented people tend to cluster. (To make them feel safer — this makes sense.) From my vantage point, I didn’t see many of them.

But the biggest mistake was not thinking about how my words would be taken. I should have known better. The organizer happens to be a black man. I know him well enough that I should have known that he’s worked hard to improve diversity. I wish I knew why I didn’t think about that.

What I Learned

Being an ally/advocate can be hard. But this had nothing to do with that. (Other than the fact that you’ll make mistakes.) This was just stupidity.

My initial perceptions were wrong — very wrong. It was a mistake to trust my perceptions without taking some time to verify them.

Good intentions don’t count. If you hurt someone, they’re hurt. If you do damage to your cause, then you’ve set back that cause. If your intentions are truly good, then you need to own your mistake and fix what you messed up.

I felt really bad about my mistake. I still feel bad. But I think that’s a good thing — the strong emotions will have a bigger impact on me, to help me remember to not make this kind of mistake in the future. It’s weird to embrace feeling bad, but I think it’s important.

I think my biggest take-away from the situation was that my efforts at working on empathy helped me. It was easier to own up to my mistake by considering how the other person was feeling. And owning up to my mistake allowed me to fix my mistake, instead of trying to avoid responsibility. This isn’t easy for me, but I’m working on it.



There’s been a lot of talk recently about Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner. One of the controversial aspects is whether her coming out as transgender was heroic. This got me thinking about what it means to be heroic or courageous. To me, those are pretty similar concepts, but I’ll concentrate on the “courage” side.

What does it mean to be courageous? I believe there are a few aspects of courage:

  • Doing what’s right, even if it’s difficult
  • Being vulnerable
  • Putting others ahead of self

In some ways, I think those are alternative definitions — you might be courageous by exhibiting only one of those. But they can also work together.

Doing What’s Right

So was Caitlyn Jenner coming out “right”? This is probably the most controversial factor. People who don’t believe that being transgender is “right” couldn’t possibly believe that coming out as transgender could be right. ”Right” is a matter of culture and the times, and to some degree personal taste. Our society is (fairly quickly) accepting LGBT people though, so it seems that the number of people thinking being transgender is “wrong” will quickly dwindle.

Put it this way — Martin Luther King was pushing for civil rights when that was not popular in the greater society. But now, the ideas are accepted as mainstream, and the idea of withholding basic human rights from black people is seen as wrong by almost everyone.

So I’m not sure I can make a very good determination on the rightness of her coming out. I believe it’s right, but I don’t believe that “right” can ever be objectively determined.

Doing Something Difficult

Apparently, Bruce Jenner knew from an early age that he was experiencing gender dysphoria. To wait for over 50 years to publicly disclose this was obviously not an easy decision. As with anyone coming out as having an identity that is not (yet) socially acceptable, she’ll be subject to public scorn and ridicule. That can’t be easy.

Being vulnerable

Courage seems to involve an element of risk. In the stereotypical act of courage, the hero puts themself at risk of personal physical harm. But I don’t believe that the risk has to be physical. Emotional vulnerability is often more difficult that physical vulnerability.

One thing about emotional vulnerability — definitely the case here — is that it’s more likely to be pre-mediated than a physical act of heroicism. Caitlyn must have spent years thinking about whether to come out. The fact that she still made the decision despite all that thinking about the consequences shows an even higher level of courage.


The remaining question is whether Caitlyn’s coming out was for herself or for others. Certainly there’s an aspect of freedom in revealing your true self. I think that was probably her main motivation. I don’t think that there’s any self-promotion involved here — she’s already got plenty of fame and fortune.

The fact is, by seeing a famous person come out as transgender, young trans people will have a role model — someone to look up to. Transgender people have a ridiculous suicide rate (40% attempts, as opposed to 5% for the general population). Having someone to look up to will help some of these people cope better.

So Caitlyn coming out will save lives. And I think we can all agree that saving lives is heroic.

Too Damn Loud

I’ve gone to several concerts and shows over the past few weeks:

  • Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally (May 10 – Peabody)
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson (May 13 – Peabody)
  • Rush (May 14 – Scottrade)
  • Zac Brown Band (May 21 – Riverport)

I enjoyed them all to varying degrees.

But I was rather disappointed by Rush. As seems to be the case too often, it was just too loud. It was so loud as to hurt my ears. More importantly, the loudness seriously distorted the music, making it hard to listen to.

All 3 members of Rush are known for their technical proficiency. To distort their music to that degree is an unforgivable sin. I was bored the first half of the show, because I had a hard time picking out words and melodies. I’m not a Rush superfan, but I’m pretty familiar with most of their music (excluding the last few albums). And I enjoy their music enough that I can appreciate listening to their songs that I’ve never heard. But not when it’s a jumbled mess.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We were in the pit in front of the stage at Zac Brown. I was directly below a huge stack of speakers. It was loud, but not to the point of hurting or distorting the vocals or music. So I know it can be done well. And I’ve been to concerts at Scottrade Center that weren’t so loud as to be distorted. (Although the problem seems to be a lot more common at Scottrade.)

So I don’t understand why bands would allow such crappy sound at their concerts. There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate reason for it, and it detracts from the concert-going experience.

Finding your way

I’ve been following the situation in Ferguson pretty closely over the past 6 months. I’m not sure what happened between Mike Brown and Officer Darren Wilson. I think my sister-in-law said it best when she said that they probably both ended up operating from their “lizard brains” — adrenaline and emotions taking over — and the result was more violent than it otherwise might have been.

Whatever did happen on that August day, the subsequent events that unfolded brought a lot of issues to my attention. I obviously knew that black people in this country have a more difficult time, but I didn’t really understand the extent of the problem, and how systemic it is.

I believe that every kind of oppression needs to be stopped, and if it’s in my own back yard, then I should especially be willing to take a stand to stop it. So I’ve tried to figure out what I can do. I’ve gone to marches a few times. And while it feels good to help amplify the voices that aren’t being heard, I don’t feel like it has a very big effect. So I’ve struggled with how I can have a real impact.

Back in November, Alex Miller from Strange Loop tweeted a GoFundMe link called “Build Ferguson Youth Tech Program“. They wanted to raise money to teach underprivileged youth a course in web development. I immediately sent the organizer an email volunteering to help.

This past Saturday was the first class. There were 10 students, from about 17 to perhaps 24 years old. There were 8 mentors, a couple organizers, and a couple instructors. Each student was given a Mac laptop and we started teaching them HTML. It was a long day, but they got to learn how to put words on a web page, and made some good progress. Classes are Saturdays for the next 6 weeks, plus Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

I don’t know how much these kids are going to learn in 6 weeks. They certainly won’t be expert web developers. But that’s not really that important; what’s important is that they get the opportunity to become web developers if that’s a path that they’d like to pursue. Opportunity is what’s missing in these kids’ lives.

The other important thing is that I found my way to make an impact. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the workshop is called “Tech Impact”.) Thank you so much, Abby Bobé for organizing this. You made it really easy for me to find my way.

If you’d like to help, please sign up here.



One Person Can Change The World

I grew up in North St. Louis County, a few miles Ferguson. My family has roots in Ferguson. My grandpa had a barber shop there. I remember visiting my great grandmother in Ferguson. My mom said when she was a kid, she liked to go there because they had squirrels.

I live 25 miles from there now, so I’ve not been directly affected. But it’s had a strong effect on me emotionally. It hurts me deeply to see people oppressed, especially in my own community. But to have that oppression continue and worsen for 4 days was even more heart-breaking. I’ve been sad and angry, but like the people in Ferguson, felt powerless to make a difference.

I had strong emotions again today, but of a different sort. When Senator Clair McCaskill spoke, she spoke with compassion and understanding. She gave us hope that she could help make things better. Then when Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson was put in charge, there was more hope. Hearing that Captain Johnson was standing down the SWAT teams, and then seeing him talking to and walking along with the protestors, it became clear that tonight would not be like last night. Then seeing all the pictures from across the country for the National Moment of Silence brought more tears to my eyes.

All these things turned hopelessness to hope. I know that we’re not going to solve the problems with oppression in this country overnight. But at least we’ve stopped the bleeding. Honestly, the hope we have tonight feels like the night Barack Obama was elected. I feel like we might have a chance to make a real difference.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this change was the quickness of it. Literally one day. And the majority of it because of one man. So I decided to write him a letter, which I’d like to share.

Dear Captain Johnson,

You showed leadership, courage, and heroism today. I’m sure you’re a humble man, and don’t think of yourself as a hero. I’m sure you had many people behind the scenes helping you, but you showed the leadership that was so lacking and so necessary. You were the one person today who made a tremendous difference in the lives of so many people.

To those in Ferguson trying to express their feelings, you gave hope. You gave them back their freedom — to assemble, to speak, to seek redress from their government. You lifted the boot of oppression from their throats.

To those of us in the St. Louis area, you brought pride. Many of us were disgusted by the actions of the police this week — stifling protestors, arresting reporters, denying people their rights, and inciting more violence. You showed respect to the people you serve, took their concerns to heart, and did what was right.

To those in the United States of America, you showed that policing doesn’t require a show of force. Today will hopefully be a turning point, proving that the militarization of our police is counterproductive. You learned the lessons that the former Seattle police chief has been trying to teach. You showed that power comes from cooperation and doing what is right, not from force.

From all of us, thank you for making a big difference in our lives. I’m once again proud to be a St. Louisan.

Craig Buchek

So I hope everyone reading this will remember that this one man made a difference in so many lives in a single day, just by having the courage to do what was right.