Time To Announce A BIG Change For Me

Some of you have noticed a bit of a change in my twitter feed. In fact a couple people even called me out on it: Where are the Fax tweets?

Yes, there has been a bit of a change. I’ll tell you some of what has changed today and I’ll let you in on a bit more in a week.

Ready for this? Its a big one.

Today is my last day at OpenText. Whew. Didn’t see that one coming.

Nearly eight years ago, I left Microsoft to become a Sales Engineer at Captaris. The move made a lot of sense for me at the time. I had been doing a lot of work with Sharepoint as a Technology Specialist for State & Local Government. As a former Product Manager for Sharepoint, it was a product I cared deeply about. But its big weakness at the time was the lack of a workflow engine. Captaris Workflow solved that and I was excited to work with the product. What made the role even better was the international component. Unfortunately, the international travel promise was yanked on day one, but it was still a fun job.

10 months later, I got that international flavor by moving into the training role based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Seven years in the role and I have had a blast. In that time I have been to Australia 17 times, Kuala Lumpur 4 or 5 times, Singapore 10 times, Dubai 15 or so times, along with several trips to Croatia, Norway, South Africa, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Macao, Thailand, Argentina, Uruguay, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and I am sure there are a few others I have left out. And to think just a few years before I had longed for a once in a lifetime trip to Australia.

So what’s next? Well, I’ll hold back on telling you for another week, but if you look at my recent tweets, you’ll get a feeling for the industry. There have been quite a few about javascript optimization, web performance, CDNs, and general web development. You can expect to see a lot more about these topics as well as others like Drupal, Magento, and all sorts of stuff.

I will let you know however that the new job is not in Amsterdam. Its not even in Europe. Thats right. Time to sell my apartment and move back to the US. Its a big decision and a big move. But this week is a chance to catch up on some sleep, and maybe take the train around to some of the towns I haven’t had a chance to see. If you have any suggestions of places I need to go, leave a comment below.

In a week I fly to Boston, Massachusetts for my first week on the job. I already met a few of the guys on the interview loop a couple months back and am totally excited to completely switch gears.

Its going to be a long list of firsts and firsts in a while. First startup in 13+ years since NetObjects. First US-based job in 8 years. First time in 10+ years I have worked in an HQ office. Even my last 3 years at Microsoft were spent in a branch; though I was in Redmond, State & Local Government sales was based in DC. First…well, so many reasons to be incredibly excited.

A big thanks goes out to all the people who have helped me out around the world in the job I am leaving. Watch out for the next update in a week when I fill you in on where I am going.

How Not To Kill A Mouse

This morning I expected to come downstairs to a nice surprise. Well, I guess if it were what I wanted to see, it wouldn’t be a surprise now, would it? No, what I wanted and what I got were two very different things. What did I get??? Nothin’ McMuffin! Bupkis.

So the other night, I went down into the kitchen to get an apple and I had a surprise visitor there. Growing up, these surprise visitors took the form of ants and palmetto bugs. They were everywhere and the little ant and roach traps were also everywhere. You had to set them up in places where the ants would go, but the dog would not. It was always quite a challenge. The traps would fill up, but there were always plenty more to cover any food that wasn’t protected.

Growing up, I never heard of anyone who had mice in their house (except for that guy who bred them as food for his snake). And here in Amsterdam I don’t know anyone who has seen an ant or roach in their house (unless its slang for a joint). But mice are everywhere. There are 3 or 4 places within 500 meters to buy mouse traps of various types because everyone needs the traps.

Personally I love the plastic ones that easily snap open and close. They snap close onto the mouse (or occasionally your finger) and then they snap open just as easily as you drop the mouse into the trash. But they are a bit harder to find. There is only one place I know of for those and he is out of stock right now.

The more common ones are the traditional wood ones you see in the cartoons. So yesterday I bought a few of them. In fact I bought a few more than I need since I expected to go through them quickly. While the plastic ones are very easily reusable, the wooden traps are a bit too difficult to…um…de-mouse and reset. So the whole thing goes in the garbage.

Last night I set up 5 traps in all of the various places I would expect a mouse to visit. On the kitchen counter where I saw one the other night. In the corner where it ran and hid after it lost the staring contest we had. In the other corner where I saw another one another night (it could have been the same one, they all look the same to me). And two by hole in the floorboards where I THINK they come out. To make them as enticing as possible, I stuffed a bit of ham into the little traps and hoped for the best.

Actually I wanted to sit there and wait for them. I wanted to watch the little traps go down and collect my winnings right away, but I figured a gargantuan human staring at a particular corner of the room might clue them into something bad waiting there. So I turned off the lights and went to bed.

This morning I imagined how many traps I would have to throw away. How many 1.10 euro devices would go straight into the garbage, along with their new payloads. I went to each spot in the apartment where I left the traps the night before and none of them had moved. Maybe the mice took the night off?

And then I looked closer. The little piece of ham that I carefully wedged into the little spot for food was gone. One every single one of the traps. Bastards!!! The mice (or maybe one mouse) went to each trap and ate the ham and managed to not snap the trap. Ohhhh, you make me mad. I need something stickier that requires them to really work at the trap. I think peanut butter may be the answer. I’ll try it today and let you know the results.

A Personal Transformation

I would never have classified myself as a great reader. And I never expected to become one. I read for work, when trying to learn a new skill. But the process was always a bit…laborious. I rarely ever read for pure pleasure. The books, mostly computer related, tend to be thick tomes, densely packed. So a single volume might be with me, by my bedside or in my briefcase for months. And since I was working on more than one thing, that bedside stack was 3-10 books high. The idea of reading and finishing a book in a day, a week, or perhaps even a month was too incredible to even ponder.

It’s been a long time since I was in school, but I am finally changing that relationship with books. Probably one of the most important ones I have picked up in recent years was 10 Days To Faster Reading by Abby Marks Beale. My speed of reading has easily tripled. But what’s more surprising is that the comprehension level has also increased substantially. When you factor in the need to re-read to really understand what was said, a 500-600% overall increase isn’t all that unreasonable a figure. It really is quite shocking to me.

10 days is I think poorly named….it’s more like 2-3 hours for 3 or 4 days. Then working at it (by reading) for a few days and boom! Speed and comprehension through the roof.

If you stepped into my apartment, you would probably have a different opinion of my relationship with the written word. I have a large collection of books. Books of wildly different topics. There’s a large section of cookbooks, of Russian, Nepali, Sanskrit, Hindi, Dutch, and Arabic language learning books, the Bible, Koran, Hindi texts, fiction of all sorts, woodworking, history, programming, project management, business, sales, and more. Yeah, it’s a huge collection. But while it should be a collection of read and consumed knowledge, it’s a collection of intentions. At the time of purchase, I had the best of intentions to read the material…but then life happened and they were retired to the bookshelf.

The virtual stack I have on my computer, iPad, Kindle, and phone is no different. Most of it is work related, but most of it is stuff I intend to read when the world stops, not now.

There were actually two changes recently that helped increase my ability to take in new knowledge. The second was the establishment of a great little area in my apartment where it is wonderful to sit and read. It’s so simple and I thought I had it before, but this area is so much more. Nothing in the area is new (except for the lamp) but their placement closer to the window, away from the TV, with plenty of light makes a world of difference. I would love to be able to claim full responsibility for this, but my parent’s visit to my home happened to coincide with the area’s creation.

So 30-60 minutes every morning and every evening now is spent reading. I make my coffee and sit with a book or the Kindle. I may read the New York Times, or a book I have been intending to read for years. The ratio of intentions to consumed is definitely still skewed in the wrong direction but it’s improving in my favor quite briskly.

The new area and new techniques have transformed reading from something I needed to do, to something I really enjoy…something I really look forward to each day. And thats a transformation I definitely wouldn’t have expected a few short months ago.

The Shelving Project

Ahhh, finally a weekend with nothing that needs to get done. Nothing I am doing or putting off doing. Just a weekend to do whatever I feel like. It hasn’t been this way for quite a while, and thats mostly because the big projects are mostly done. 

I bought this apartment a little over two years ago and storage was always an issue. I really should have had closets built into the place, but I didn’t. With nearly 1400 square feet or about 130 square meters, I have plenty of room for storage, especially since I live alone. And yet most of my stuff has been in the boxes I used when moving. My first storage space project is mostly done: a wall of shelves and cabinets. And what a project that turned into. 

I started planning it almost as soon as I moved in. I have one long wall that goes from the from to the back of the apartment. Towards the front there was the chimney, a fake fireplace (it had been blocked up years ago), and a mantel. I really didnt like it and wanted shelves to go in its place. When I described this to others, most thought that would be a bad idea, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I started pulling it out. I thought it would be an easy project, maybe taking a weekend. But the mantel was very well built…too well built. Removing it all ended up taking a good 4 or 5 weekends.

Then I was able to start building shelves. I had looked at Ikea for shelves, but nothing seemed right. I talked to neighbors who had shelves made for them, but the prices were high. It seemed that for what I wanted I would be paying 4000-6000 Euros. But they would be done in a month or two. I figured I could do it myself instead. Before I could start building, I needed to buy tools and then wood. Oh, and review all of my recordings of the New Yankee Workshop. Along with the books on cabinet and furniture making I had, Norm was able to give me ideas on how to do all that I needed. I ended up with a nice collection of tools including and circular saw, jigsaw, router, sander, drill, shopvac, and table which could mount the circular saw and jigsaw upside down giving me a table saw and other configuration. 

Now I had to come up with a design. One of the main inspirations was the Greek Revival Bookcase episode. I liked the thick shelves but the prices of wood here in the Netherlands made it a bit scary. I ended up making each shelf, and in fact most of the bookcases, from two 1.7cm thick pieces of plywood sandwiched together. A rough design was drawn up in Google SketchUp over a few weeks and eventually I went over to Praxis (the closest thing to a Home Depot here in Europe…Just try to imagine a Home Depot with a quarter of the selection and understaffed, mostly with people who don’t want to be there). 

One of the challenges I faced was building shelves that would eventually be nearly 3 meters tall using wood that I would be bringing back from Praxis on my own in my Volkswagen Golf. Oh, and then I would have to carry all of that wood by myself up 4 flights of very narrow stairs. 

The whole project would involve using about 8-10 sheets of 1.2 meter by 2.4 meter (which is the same size in the US as a 4ft by 8ft sheet), by 1.7cm plywood. By the fourth flight of stairs, these are very heavy. I actually had them cut down to size at Praxis but the wood is still heavy. 

At this point I have to remind you that I don’t have a normal 9-5 office desk job. I spend a lot of time out on the road. Between the first cut and the last, I ended up seeing Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Uruguay, USA, France, UK, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Dubai, Hong Kong, Macau, and more. This was over a time period of about 18 months. Looking back, 5000 Euros and two months seems like a pretty good deal.

But the shelves are mine. I made them. They aren’t perfect, and actually they aren’t quite done, but I have a very strong connection to them and I love them. My estimates for the project were blown by orders of magnitude, but I learned a lot and now have plans for a few other projects around the apartment. Coming up are a few extensions to the shelves, a linen closet upstairs, a more appropriate desk area in my home office, and more. 

Good Morning 2009

The sun is shining here in San Antonio, Texas. And its a brand new year. Looking back on the year that was, I see that there were some good times and some bad. Mostly good though. I did a lot of travel, though its never as much as I would like. I had a chance to visit new countries, like Argentina, Uruguay, and South Africa. I had a chance to visit some of my favorite spots too, like Sydney and Singapore. I had a chance to spend time with my best friends from high school at my 20 year high school reunion (Coral Gables Senior High, 1988). I met new friends by getting out and doing more with MeetIn Amsterdam. And of course the biggest achievement was moving into the first apartment I had ever purchased, and completing its renovation. On the down side, a couple of friends from my days at Microsoft died, Gary Falis and Robert Satterwhite. Then many colleagues were let go after the acquisition of Captaris by OpenText was completed. I had been told by others who had gone through the same process at other companies that the way OpenText did it was amazingly good, but it was still a tough process, even though I was among the still-employed at the end.

Looking forward on the year to come I am pretty excited about the opportunities open to me. I have come up with my list of resolutions, many of which I will not be sharing here. I am open and all, but some things I want to keep closed. But I here are some of my thoughts:

  • I am now part of a new company with new ways of doing things. I want to discover how I can best help this one by leveraging my own unique skills.
  • Photography has always been my primary hobby, but I don’t practice it enough anymore. I gave many of my photographs as presents to my family for Christmas this year and they were a big hit, but most of them were from years ago. I have a new goal of taking at least one photograph every day, then publishing one on my Flickr account at least every few days.
  • I moved into my new home back in January, but most of my stuff is still in boxes. Seriously, my biggest items of furniture are stacks of boxes: my nightstands, my closet, etc…they are just boxes. I will be addressing that issue this year, building some storage, shelves, and more myself.
  • I really enjoy my job. One of the best parts about it is the travel. I just can’t get enough of it. I am hoping this will be a year of new places just like every year before. I am hoping to be able to visit India, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greece, and maybe even a return visit to Nepal.

I have more goals, but I am going to keep those close to me and not share them. I am trying to figure out what is the right way to keep them accessible so I review them regularly. Right now they are in Evernote, but I am sure I can come up with a better solution.

Now I know that some people will say that those goals suck. They aren’t even real. They aren’t SMART, or SAFE, or they don’t abide by some other ridiculous set of rules. These goals are for me…just me. They are not so that you can judge me at the end of the year…they are just for me.

2009 could be a very good year for me and it all starts right now!

Unexpected visitor…

Tonight I had a bit of a shock. I was downstairs and I kept thinking I was hearing something upstairs. The washer was going, so I just assumed it was that. But every now and then I would hear something else. I wasn’t really sure what it was, just, well…something else.

In the 4 months I have been living in this apartment, I have been getting used to the sounds that it makes. There is the massive skylight that groans as it stretches and contracts with the warming and cooling of the day. There are the kids running up and down the stairs next door. There is the music that rarely comes through the floorboards. But it was a different sound tonight.

I decided to climb up the stairs to investigate, not exactly sure what I would find. The door to my home office was closed, though I always leave it open. The wind must have closed it. And then I thought I saw a shadow move. That gave me a fright. So I inched quietly back down the stairs so that I could clearly see through the crack at the base of the door. The setting sun allowed for a bit of light to come through. I then saw the shadow move the other way. I was pretty sure that wasn’t my imagination.  There was some rustling around in there too…boxes shifting, papers shuffling.

Now there should be nothing in that room. Well, nothing living. I live alone and I don’t have any friends staying with me, so I was at a bit of a loss when trying to come up with an explanation for what I was seeing and hearing. I inched the door open and watched out for an intruder to rush past me. There was nobody in the room…and then swoosh! A sleek black cat rushed from one corner of the room to the other and slunk out the window. Well, I assume that’s what it was. It moved so quickly that I can’t be certain, but I guess I shouldn’t leave that window open anymore…