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Approaching the grid again

April 22, 2009

As I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been off the blog grid for a while now.  My day job has been unusually packed with work (a good thing, for sure) for the last several months, but I’ve also been working on a few “extracurriculars” since late 2008, and especially since January.  Something had to give, and my blogs were it.

The first project was the birth of my second daughter, Lucille in January.  I think my wife and I have gotten into a decent rhythm now, so I think I can start working in things around that.

The second project is really related to the first.  My wife started back teaching last week after being on maternity leave since January, so the week before that was spent trying to give her time to get caught up with the school emails and getting her plans together for the first week back.

The third project is the Kalamazoo X Conference, being held this Saturday.  That has really been a draw on my time in the last month especially, but it’s something I’ve been involved with since mid last year.  Don’t get me wrong – I am very excited to see it come together as it has, but I will also be very relieved to see it done with.

I’ve been maintaining that once April was over and done with things the insanity should drop back down to a more manageable level, and I’ll be able to get back to some of the other projects that have unfortunately been sitting idle.  What do I have in store?  A software project for an endeavor with my brother and dad, revising a novel that my wife and I wrote, a home automation project, a software development “approach” project – basically I have work for at least the next two years.  From all of this I will also be returning to more regular (and frequent) blog posts.

Thanks for your patience, and stay tuned for more.

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Lucy, she’s home (Part 2 of 2)

January 21, 2009

So, as you may recall from Part 1 of this post, everyone got the green light to go home on Wednesday (the 14th).  One of the required checkout items was a car seat inspection.  The nurse looked up our model in her book, making sure that there weren’t any outstanding recalls issued for it.  After everything checked out we asked her for a brief refresher on how to buckle Lucy in (after all it had been 6 years since we last used this car seat).  Pack-horse Dad walked down to the lobby carrying almost everything, while Mom got to ride in a wheelchair.  (Sheesh, who’s going through labor now?)

I pulled the car around while everyone waited inside (it was a bright sunny day, but bitter cold out).  Everyone got buckled in and we pulled out of the hospital parking ramp.  We went about half a mile, stopped at a red light waiting to turn, and then BAM!  We got rear-ended – luckily not all that hard, just enough to push our car forward a foot or two.  My wife jumped.  I jumped and went for the horn (don’t ask; I don’t know why that seemed to be the sensible reaction, but it did).  Lucy slept.  The other driver and I pulled into a parking lot to inspect the damage.  The other driver’s car had no visible damage – well, at least no visible NEW damage.  It looked like she had close contacts with at least a couple of fire hydrants already – the bottom third of her bumper didn’t exist.  Mine had a small scratch on it, but otherwise was unscathed.  We let it go, and continued on our way home.  (We would call the nurse that inspected our car seat later that evening to thank her, and explain what had happened less than a mile from the hospital.)

After letting the adrenaline wear off for a few minutes, I made the comment to my wife, “It’s a good thing that happened when we were driving home, as opposed to on the way to the hospital.”  Her eyes got REALLY big, and she said, “Oh jeez, I would have told you to just keep going.  It’s not a crime to drive away from the scene of an accident if you’re the victim.”  After giving it a few more seconds, she added, “Either that, or I would have gotten out of the car and ripped someone’s head off.”  Yep, that’s the wife I know and love.

We spent the next couple of days getting Lucy’s blood drawn to make sure her jaundice was clearing up.  By Friday, though, her bilirubin levels were still going up, so our pediatrician recommended that Lucy be admitted to Bronson Methodist Hospital, the other major medical facility here in town, since they still had their pediatric unit (Borgess used to, but not anymore).  My wife and I were disheartened to learn that we would have to go back to ANY hospital, but we knew it was for the best, and the odds were good that she would be out in a day or so.

We checked in to Bronson at 7pm Friday night and they had the room already set up for Lucy.  Lucy would be on a biliblanket, but she would also be under two sunlamps.  Being doused with light would make the bilirubin water soluble so Lucy could just pee it out.  The light therapy doesn’t work unless the light can reach her skin, so she was stripped down to her diaper and put in an isolet (basically an incubator) so she would keep warm.  The lights were extremely bright, so to protect her eyes they needed to give her essentially a sleeping mask.  Now, you can’t just put a mask with elastic strings on a four-day old – that’s just asking for trouble.  What you CAN do apparently is attach self-adhesive Velcro to her temples, and then put a piece of felt across her eyes.  Basically, Lucy would be on a weekend sunbathing vacation.

The plan was to have Lucy lie on her back on the blanket to maximize her exposure to the biliblanket and the lights above.  What we found, however, was that Lucy likes sleeping on her side – a lot.  We’d place her on the blanket, and she would almost immediately bring her legs up to her chest and roll – well, fall – onto her right side.  We’d set her back up and she’d roll/fall over again.  To make sure that SOME part of her stayed on the blanket, we started to put her on her back just to one side of the blanket so that she would fall onto it.

That worked for the first night, but then we got the bright idea to roll up a pair of cloth diapers and place them at her waist level on either side to keep her in place.  That way her back would be completely on the blanket, and the overhead lamps could do their job.  As a colleague of mine pointed out, we were chocking her like you would an airplane tire.

The meals were the other interesting thing about this stay.  Technically, Lucy was the one who had been admitted to the hospital, so she was entitled to the meals.  However, since she being breast-fed and couldn’t take solid food yet, all of those meals went to my wife.  My wife would do the job of converting eggs and hash browns, chicken sandwiches, and steak and potatoes into breast milk.  It was highly entertaining calling room service to order those items on behalf of a 5-day old.  It was even more entertaining having the food service person show up and confirm that he or she had the correct room by asking “Order for Lucille Gilbert, born 1/12/2009?”  “Yep, that’s us!”

Being that this was the pediatric unit, everything was decked out with murals and fun things to look at – ceilings, walls, and floors.  It also meant that there were lots of kid-friendly things available for the patients (and presumably their families).  I mean, if you were a 10-year old stuck in a hospital for an extended period of time, the last thing you want to do is flip between the Weather channel and C-SPAN all day long.  Our room (and I assume all of the rooms on the floor) had a DVD player hooked up to the TV, and the unit had stacks of family-friendly movies that you could check out.  They also had a Wii, a Playstation 3 and an XBox360 that you could play with.  Unfortunately, convincing arguments for why my 5-day old wanted to play Guitar Hero (let alone HOW) eluded me, so those resources went untapped during her stay.  Sigh.

Saturday came and Lucy’s bilirubin levels had dropped a good chunk, and by Saturday night it had dropped enough that they turned off both of the overhead lamps.  Lucy was discharged late Sunday morning, and we were eager to get home.  Much to my relief, no moving violations were involved in the second drive home from the hospital.

Lucy continues to do well, and we’re all adjusting to a fourth family member.  My wife could really use a six-pack of bottled sleep right now, though.

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Lucy, she’s home! (Part 1 of 2)

January 19, 2009

For most of the last nine months, my wife and I have been working on getting ready for a new arrival, and no, it was not my new computer.  We found out in April that she was pregnant with our second daughter.  We were thrilled, but we knew there was a lot of work to do ahead of time.  Budgets would have to be analyzed, rooms would have to be rearranged, and tubs of baby clothes would have to be cracked open.

Sigh.  If only we could bottle sleep.

Then TheProject came along.  Probably the single largest project I’ve been involved with.  Huh, it starts in November.  Double-huh, I’m the Lead Developer/Solutions Architect/Deployment Guru on it.  Oh look, it’s slated to be deployed on 1/19.  Ahem.  Can you see where this is leading?

  • Theoretical date of delivery for Baby Gilbert: 1/27
  • Realistic date of delivery for Baby Gilbert, which takes into consideration that our first daughter was two weeks early: 1/13

Yeah.  With my luck, my wife would go into labor the week that TheProject was slated to be deployed.  Needless to say, the Project Manager was a little, um, concerned.  So, more plans were laid – notes were kept up to date, backup developers were briefed, and gift bags of Valium were pre-ordered (it’s considered bad luck to have the PM wig out, right?).

About a week before the deployment, my PM happens to catch me in the hall.  Here’s how that fateful weekend went:

Friday 1/9, 4:30pm.  PM says, “I’m fully expecting to get an email from you this weekend saying that your wife delivered.”  I chuckle.  “I don’t think I want to take that bet.”

Saturday 1/10: No baby.

Sunday 1/11: No baby.

Monday 1/12, 6am: No baby.  I think to myself, “Woohoo!  PM’s bet was wrong after all.”

Monday 1/12, 6:05am:  Wife says, “I’ve had two contractions this morning.”  I reply, “Uh, were they the Braxton-Hicks type?”  Wife replies, “Uh, no, I’m pretty sure they weren’t.”  I think for a second, and say the most intelligent thing I could come up with at that moment, “Huh.”  I then run downstairs and craft email to PM and team explaining that I may be leaving early today to head to the hospital.

Monday 1/12, 8:40am:  I drop my first daughter off at school, then I call Wife.  “Hi honey, how are you doing?”  Wife replies, “Well, the contractions are coming about 7 minutes apart now.”  I use the same intelligent response as before, “Huh.”  I was then able to follow it up with something slightly more useful, “I guess I’m working from home today.”

Monday 1/12, 8:45am:  I arrive home, craft another email to team explaining that I’m working from home, and then scramble to get the last minute things ready for the trip to hospital.

Monday 1/12, 10:45am:  I’m still at home, and the contractions seem to have leveled off, so I decide that I can probably do an 11am conference call with PM and a partner after all.

Monday 1/12, 11:00am: “Hi everyone, this is Mark.  I may have to leave the call suddenly because my wife is having contractions.”  Collective “awwww!” ensues.

Monday 1/12, 11:30am: “Ok everyone, my wife just let me know that I have to wrap it up now.”  Everyone wishes me well and I hang up.

Monday 1/12, 11:50am: I call the hospital to give them a heads up that my wife has started labor, the contractions are close enough and strong enough that we don’t want to wait any longer, and we’ll be coming in soon.  Of course, as soon as the nurse answers the phone, that message gets condensed ever so slightly to “Hi, this is Mark Gilbert, my wife and I are coming in.”  It only took me three more tries to provide the nurse with enough information that she figured out what the h*** I was trying to say.

Monday 1/12, 12:30pm: Check into the hospital.

Monday 1/12, 3:37pm: Lucille “Lucy” Gilbert was born.  Hang on a second – did I just miss something here?  Like the whole labor thingy?  Oh wait.  Hang on.  I think I remember being mangled by my lovely wife during each and every contraction.  “Here’s an arm, do with it what you need.”  “Yes, dear, you can have both arms to squeeze.”  “Please dear, try to grab the side of my leg, not between the two.”

The payoff was definitely worth the effort, though:

LucilleKellie1-13-09

Many thanks to the wonderful L&D staff at Borgess Health – they were awesome.

The rest of Monday was fairly quiet by comparison.  Lucy got cleaned up.  Mom got cleaned up.  Dad finally got to eat lunch about 5pm.

I sent around a quick email to everyone letting them know that Lucy had arrived.  Our eldest daughter was nice enough to call my brother and my sister-in-law to let them know the good news.  I found out later that the message to my brother was something to the effect of “Uncle James!  Lucy’s out – she escaped!”

On Wednesday the 13th, everyone got the green light to go home.  But of course, nothing is ever that easy.

(to be continued)

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Jockeying for Better Position

October 26, 2008

“So, you’ll at least think about it, right?”  asked Merrick, hopeful.

Kaysa walked into the room, carrying a pile of papers from the election.  She glanced at Merrick on her way past and said, “Resorting to talking to yourself, now?”

Merrick jumped, and in his zeal to cover up the mirror he was peering into he nearly toppled the stack of books next to it.  “I’m not doing anything.  Er… I mean no, I’m not talking to… I mean, yes, I was just talking to myself.”  He cleared his throat.

Kaysa put her load down, put her hands on her hips, and raised an eyebrow.  “All right, let’s hear it.  You don’t jump like that unless you’re up to no good.”

Merrick looked down at the floor sheepishly.  He cleared his throat again and meekly replied, “I was just talking to TheAuthors about the next book.”  He raised his head just enough to see her reaction.

Kaysa looked surprised.  “TheAuthors?  Really?  What did they say?”  She frowned a bit, “What did YOU say?”

“I was just… well…  Ok, first you can’t tell Tam or Alina, and especially Alcander.  Ok?”

Kaysa looked unimpressed.  “I’ll reserve judgment until after you spill it.”

“It’s just that in ‘Alina’s Gambit’ I had a small part – it was a fun role, with a little adventure, but it was a pretty small part.  I mean, nearly everyone got more page-time than me, well, except for like your folks.  Especially Alina, she seemed to be in every chapter.”

Kaysa smirked.  “Well, Mer, I would expect a book called ‘Alina’s Gambit’ to involve Alina to some goodly extent.  How would it look if Alina just showed up at the end, announced ‘Here I am!’ and called it a day?”

“I know that, and I’m not bitter or anything about Alina’s part in the book.  I was just…” the rest of his sentence trailed off in mumbles.

Kaysa stepped forward a bit, “You were just what?”

Merrick huffed, and blurted out, “I-was-just-trying-to-convince-TheAuthors-that-maybe-the-next-book-would-do-well-if-the-main-character-was-me!”  Merrick quickly closed his eyes and waited for Kaysa to start laughing.  He opened one just enough to peek out.  Kaysa was smiling, but not jeering.  “So you want a bigger role in TheSequel?”  she asked.

It took a moment for Merrick to realize that she was taking him seriously, or at least giving him an honest opportunity to explain himself.  “Well, yeah, I mean I still want to be the funny one, but I was hoping I could make some key discovery that would unravel the entire story on page six, or something like that.  You know, something that people would remember.”

“If you managed to unravel the story on page six, I think TheSequel would end up being a short story rather than a novel.”

“Ok, ok, but something like that.  You know?”

“Yes, I know.  I’m sure TheAuthors won’t forget what you did in ‘Alina’s Gambit’, and I’m sure they will give you some good parts in the next one.  Come on, we have work to do.  The future and TheSequel will work themselves out in their own time.”  She began walking out of the room, but glanced back over her shoulder.  “Besides, if you want to do something people would remember, how about letting TheAuthors record an enchantment session of yours gone wrong?  You know, give yourself rainbow-colored eyelashes or something?  I know I wouldn’t be able to forget THAT any time soon.  In fact, I would probably have nightmares.”

“Hmmm.  Rainbow-colored eyelashes.  That has potential.  Thanks Kaysa!”

Kaysa rolled her eyes and said, “Oh jeez, what have I started?”

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Are you ready for the Mirror Blocks Rubiks Puzzle?

September 30, 2008

Over the last year I’ve picked up a couple of Rubiks Cubes – the original 3x3x3 puzzle – just to learn how to solve it (which I have, hundreds of times over now).  I’ve thought about buying one of the 4x4x4 or 5x5x5 cubes, but a colleague sent me a link to something that is far cooler – “Mirror Blocks”: http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/rubiks-puzzle.

Instead of the sides being colored, the individual blocks are all different sizes so solving it involves getting the puzzle back into a nice, neat cube.  To make things even more challenging, the sides have no color at all – they are all mirrored.

Unfortunately Mirror Blocks are only being sold in Japan at the moment, so I’ll have to wait, but the link above has a short video of someone showing one off.  What amused me most was that this person spent nearly the first full minute of the 3 minute video just trying to get the cube out of the box.  Ahem.  Are you really ready for the puzzle when the packaging it arrives in stymies you for sixty seconds?

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Story Bits for 9/7/2008 – Bubble Wrap Cryptography

September 7, 2008

What if coded messages were exchanged via bubblewrap, and the message was encoded in the bubbles that were pre-popped?  Might not make for a very resilient communication medium, but it might be funny for a children’s story.

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Story Bits for 8/30/2008 – Mining our Foundation

August 30, 2008

John Scalzi tells the story in his post titled “The Big Idea: Tobias Buckell” of how Buckell came to the setting for his recent novel “Sly Mongoose” – a planet called Chilo.  Chilo is a world modeled after Venus, where air suitable for humans is actually a lifting gas, which means airships and floating cities are all the rage.  It sounds a little like Cloud City in the Star Wars universe.

In Star Wars, the economy was focused around gas mining.  For today’s Story Bits, imagine a world like Chilo or Cloud City, and over the decades the gases that have been holding the cities up have been so overly mined that they are threatening the overall stability.  Could the city residents mine the “unbreathable” gases steadily enough to eventually drop their cities to the surface (essentially terraforming the atmosphere)?  Would they have periods when atmospheric conditions throw the cities around like corks in the ocean during a storm?  Is there something on the planet’s surface that the government is trying to keep hidden, and the mining is threatening to reveal it?