Farewell Robin Williams

Three months ago I said farewell to my friend Tim Tripcony.  Tim was a kind gentle genius, who felt that he needed to leave us far too soon.  This past week, I learned that a childhood idol of mine, Robin Williams, felt he had to do the same.

It’s a horrible feeling to write back to back posts about people who felt they had no other option to combat the darkness they carried with them.  Depression is a very real disease, and I’m thankful that I’ve never felt that level of despair.  For my friends that do occasionally fight this disease, please know there are people out there like myself that care, and will be there for you.

Now, onto Robin Williams.  Robin was a stand-up comedian and actor whom I adored growing up.  When I was a young kid, I was introduced to Robin as Mork on the TV show Mork & Mindy.  Then (when I was probably a little too young) I fell in love with his stand-up.  He was such a funny comedian.  I remember laughing so hard I cried during his routines.

When he was on talk shows, there was this manic energy that emanated from him.  He could ad-lib, improvise, and make anything funny.  And he was ALWAYS like that.  That’s why you were drawn to him, he was uplifting and funny.  He had a comeback for everything.  I loved that about him.  I wanted to be him, wanted to always have that comeback, and always try to be funny.

Then there were the funny movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, The Birdcage and even Aladdin.  Then you had his serious side, like Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, and one of my favorite movies of all time, Dead Poets Society.  Dead Poets Society also made me cry.

For someone who was so funny, to be able to be so uplifting, touching and inspirational in their serious acting was something that was so impressive to me.  I admired that skill, and wanted to emulate it.

In my Junior year of high school I was president of both the Speech and Drama clubs.  For Speech that year, I did two things.  Improvisational Acting, and Dramatic Acting.  On the Drama side, I did a compiled monologue from the Vietnam war play Tracers by John DiFusco.  I took on the personas of soldiers and it was dark and sad and I made myself break down into tears while performing it.

For Improv, we drew two characters and a situation, and 30 minutes later we had to act out a scene we improvised.  I had a formula where the two characters were part of the same person with multiple personality disorder and they were suing each other for whatever the situation was.  I had stock characters of a drugged out Judge Wapner and others, but I always tried to made it the funniest most outlandish scene I could come up with.

So like Robin, I wanted to do it both.  I wanted to do the drama and the comedy.  I did, and made All State in both categories.  In fact, I was one of only 30 high school students in the entire state of Iowa to do so.

When we went to All State, my dramatic was first and it went well.  After all the actors had performed, you had judges who would critique you in person and give you pointers.  I got some great advice on the dramatic side.  Then it was time for improv.

I don’t remember what characters or situation I got, but whatever it was I went for it.  I left everything on that stage and I remember getting an incredible reaction from the crowd and judges and I couldn’t have been happier.  Or so I thought.

After everyone else had gone, it was time for our critiques.  A couple folks went first and got the standard fare.  Then it was time for me to stand up.  When I did so the first judge started laughing.  I hadn’t been on stage for 15 minutes at that point, but he looked at me and laughed.  

After a bit he stopped and said “You remind me of Robin Williams.”  I don’t remember what he said after that, because quite frankly, that was the highest compliment anyone had ever given me.  To laugh and compare me to my idol was something special, and something I’ll always remember.

So this past week, we lost another person who shaped my world view.  I’ll miss his humor, and I’ll miss his tenderness.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Indeed, thank you Oh Captain My Captain.

Farewell Tim Tripcony

My friend Tim Tripcony passed away this weekend.  As many others have said, he was a kind, caring soul who always gave of himself, and it’s a tragedy that he is no longer with us.

Since hearing the news, I’ve been haunted by something he said to me one time.   One night after too many drinks at Kimono’s or some other Lotusphere party, we were talking and he no-so-jokingly said that he always felt “like he didn’t fit in.”  When I asked “Where?” his answer was “Anywhere.”  It lead us to a long talk about being an awkward introvert, and I explained to him that he very much fit in within our community, and our group of friends, and that he would always fit in with me. I was proud to call him my friend.

The thing that saddens me so much, is that he never got to see the outpouring of love that came from this community this week.  There were tributes and blog posts and tragic tweets of disbelief from all over the globe.  I’m in no way exaggerating when I say that Tim was universally loved, respected, and looked up to by a great many people.  Myself included.  I really wish he could have been able to appreciate that before he departed this world.  I’m sure it would have made him smile.

So I ask you, for those friends of yours around the globe you care about.  Let them know a little more often.  Check in and say Hi out of the blue.  I’ve done a lot of texting and emailing this week doing just that.  Chances are, if you read this blog, I call you a friend.  And I love a great many of you.

So in a few minutes, I’m going to mix up a white russian, and connect to a Google Hangout celebrating his life.  I’ve posted the video to Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart for Awhile.”  Tim always kind of reminded me of a redheaded Warren Zevon for some reason (check out the resemblance in the black and white footage of Warren playing the piano) and this song, while it almost always makes me cry, is a perfect sendoff.

Farewell Tim, I’ll definitely keep you in my heart for awhile.

Create the infamous Pretzel Cookie at Home!

Lotusphere Pretzel Cookie

Lotusphere Pretzel Cookie

Alrighty, my awesome wife found a recipe at cookiesandcups.com that emulates the taste of the infamous Lotusphere Pretzel Cookie almost perfectly.  It requires the following:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, melted and browned
  • 1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs + 1 yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed pretzels
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

How to Make

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan melt 1 cup butter over medium-low heat. When butter is melted continue to cook, swirling butter constantly until it becomes a golden brown color. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  4. In bowl of stand mixer mix butter and sugar together until combined. Add in eggs, extra yolk and vanilla. Mix until smooth.
  5. Add in baking soda, salt and flour. Mix on low until incorporated, then mix in crushed pretzels.
  6. Finally stir in chocolate chips.
  7. Using a large cookie scoop, drop dough on baking sheet about 2 inches apart, baking until just golden at the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Centers might not seem done yet, but remove the cookies and allow them to cool for 3-4 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

I hearby declare my love for Shelly over at cookiesandcups.com.  If you want to see everything step by step, it can be found here.  My wife made them as shown in the tutorial, and the taste is perfect.  The size of the cookie is still off though, so we will have to experiment with that to get an exact duplicate.  That said, they taste the part, so I’m not sure they have to look the part at all :-)

Some other beginning’s end…

Some other beginning’s end…

I spent the past week at a conference in Orlando Florida like I have fifteen times prior.  IBM Connect (Lotusphere until last year) is an IT conference that focuses on IBM software and technologies.  It’s been a place where I’ve networked, met lifelong friends, learned all about the software that manages our business, engaged with IBM and had some fun along the way.

I think this might be the last time I’ll make the trip.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought the conference was great this year for the most part.  Having a host (Jay Baer) run the keynotes helped keep things moving.  Online a-lister Veronica Belmont hosted a bunch of events in the social cafe, and that was excellent as well.  American Authors opened the show and rocked the house, Seth Meyers shared some laughs with us, and Scott Adams of Dilbert fame gave a great session as well.  It wrapped up with a really inspiring session from NASA’s Dave Lavery and how the Mars Curiosity Rover came to be.

All of those things were awesome, but didn’t really speak to my business needs.

The opening general session showed a fake bank increase its fake profits with its fake website.  And while for a demo that’s fine, I would have really liked to have seen something demoed from an actual customer.  Call me crazy, but nothing ever works as well as the pie in the sky demos.  Seeing real world use would have made me happier.

And you could tell the old time Notes and Domino crowd hungered for something more tangible.  Hell, when the loudest cheers came for the brief time Ron Sebastian graced the screen, I don’t think that bodes well for your demo.

Next was yet another re-branding.  We’ve been through this before, and I don’t have a huge problem with it, but I really wish IBM would pick an angle and stick with it.  Changing Sametime’s name back in the day worked out so well, why don’t we try it again?  So it will be Connections Chat, Connections Meetings, Connections Mail… and will Connections be Connections Connections?  Is there a Connections Notes?  A Connections Domino?  It wasn’t as clear as it needed to be, and I bet downloading software from Partnerworld will now be so much easier right?  Right?

Next, let’s get to the technical tracks.  I saw a lot of really great stuff, and two of my team presented this year.  That said, my staff could really teach a lot of the XPages classes themselves, so I’m not sure those help us that much when considering paying again for another year.  I know I’m blessed with a particularly excellent team, so other companies probably get a lot more out of those classes.

In past years, almost every timeslot required a decision as to what session to attend.  Sometimes you could find three or four you wanted to see.  It was much easier last year to choose slots, and this year it was particularly trivial.  Other than a few minor exceptions I only had one session that would really stand out to me.  In fact there were several timeslots that didn’t require my attention at all.  I’m just afraid that the technical classes will continue to dwindle, and the HR, marketing and other Kenexa type stuff will slowly take over.  I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

One of the reasons I doubt it were rumors of long time folks responsible for the show stepping aside after this year.  I also spoke to several speakers who said they were done as well.  And these weren’t small name draws either.  People whose sessions you may have attended for years might not make the trip next year.  I just expect that after this year, there will be a precipitous drop off in the amount of things I want to see.

And you know what, that’s okay.  Things change over time, and I’m not really that upset.  Maybe it’s me growing up, the hair getting pointier, or simply getting old.  But I had a great week, and it seems like a great time to move on.

It’s not that we are moving on from IBM Technologies.  Far from it.  We just put in Connections, and will look to roll that out by mid-summer.  We already have Sametime 9 (Er, Connections Chat) in place.  Our business runs on XPages apps on Domino.  All of our mobile devices connect via Traveler.  I’m really interested in the new IBM Connections mail that was shown off (as soon as it’s available on premises.)  So we’re still very much an IBM shop, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

All in all, I felt that is was a very nice IBM Connect.  I learned a lot, was entertained and got to hang out with people who are genuinely like family to me.  I love this community of people and always will, but the community isn’t tied to one event, or one location, or one week throughout the year.  These friendships will survive whether or not we all migrate to Orlando once a year.  With all the good memories I’ve had of this conference, I’m going out on a high note, and these sixteen years will always be an awesome memory.

Like Semisonic says “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Indeed.

*I completely reserve the right to change my mind and go again next year, but I don’t think I will :-)
Cheating on the iPhone with the Google Moto X

Cheating on the iPhone with the Google Moto X

As part of my job is to evaluate technologies, and I just cannot help being Android-curious, I decided to give the Google Moto X phone a try.

The Moto X is the first real new phone out of Motorola after Google bought them and started inserting its influence.  As such, it’s a little different and more ambitious than other phones Motorola has released in previous years.

First off, when you order the phone, you have a wide variety of choices through the Moto Maker site.  You can choose the color for the front bezel, the color of the back of the phone, the color of the highlights (buttons etc.) What home screen graphic you want it to deliver with, and whether or not you want it already set up with your personal Google services.

In fact, they now even have a wooden bamboo option for the back of the phone for something truly unique.

So there are thousands of possible customization options (as opposed to black, white and gold.)  I think it’s a very cool thing to do for a phone, but I doubt we’ll see this proliferate to other vendors.  I think it’s simply too much work with too little return for the phone maker.  In addition, many folks utilize cases anyway.  So why customize the phone, only to cover it with a case?  So while cool, I do think it’s kind of a novelty.

Well what about the phone itself?  First off the Moto X runs an almost pure version of Android Kit Kat with very few customizations.  One thing I hate (about Samsung phones in particular) are all the extra skins and bloatware thrown on the device from the manufacturer and the carrier.  The Moto X is very clean software wise, and that makes for a really excellent experience.

In addition, back when I reviewed the Galaxy S3, the software simply wasn’t as good.  The back button would give unintended results depending on where you were, and some of my favorite apps just weren’t available.  That’s not the case anymore.  Pretty much everything I use on a daily basis is available now on Android.  There’s only one big thing lacking, and that’s a good Twitter client.  I tried a ton and nothing compared to Tweetbot or Twitteriffic on iOS. More of a nuisance than a deal breaker.

The additional killer feature on the phone is the fact that it’s always listening for voice commands.  You spend some time training it, but then the phone is always waiting for you to say “OK Google Now.”  Once you do this, the phone wakes up and awaits your voice command.  Doing things like saying “OK Google Now, Navigate Home” or “OK Google Now, Open Rhapsody” are great when you are driving in the car.

For the most part, the voice commands work well, but you do need to know the commands the phone is expecting.  It’s far more rigid when it comes to natural language than Siri currently is on the iPhone.  That said, you have to hit a button to get Siri to start listening, whereas a simple phrase will wake up the Moto X.

This can also be a little bit of a problem, as sometimes other people saying “OK Google Now” will cause your phone to go into listen mode.  It’s supposed to customize to your voice, but I’ve been able to get display phones at Best Buy to respond every time I’ve tried.  So if you are around a bunch of Moto X users, your phone may get confused.

Another nice thing is the screen while in lock mode.  Since the screen is OLED, Motorola can selectively light up pixels to show information.  So if you pick up the phone, or get a notification, it can only light up that information without having to light the whole screen.  This does wonders for battery life.

You would think that having to listen for commands all the time would really drain the battery, but Google has included a low power consumption chip that is doing that listening.  That, along with the selective pixel notifications, really help the phone battery last.  In fact, it’s the best battery life I’ve tested in an Android phone.  Granted I haven’t tested them all, and something like the huge Razor MAXX would probably have more, but either way you will not be disappointed.

Back to the screen for a minute.  It’s 4.7 inches and is really vibrant.  It’s really easy on the eyes, and even looks good in direct sunlight.  The size makes it still usable with one hand too.  My thumb can reach everything it needs to without too much trouble.

The phone itself has a slightly curved back and fits really nicely into my hand.  It’s well made, solid, and feels like I’m less likely to drop it than I am my 5S.  That said, the back is a little slick, and I would prefer it to feel a little more textured or rubbery for lack of a better term.

Next, one of the most important things for me on a phone has to be the camera.  I’m really spoiled with the iPhone 5S and the Lumia 1020, so if a camera is less than stellar, it could be a deal breaker for me.  As for the Moto X, it’s just so so.  It’s not horrible, but it’s not great either.  It was passable to use for a couple weeks, but I felt myself missing the camera on my 5S a lot.

So, that said, I did go back to my iPhone 5S.  It wasn’t just because of the camera, but it was due to very few reasons.

  • Lack of good Twitter client
  • So So camera
  • iOS eco-system lock in
  • I like the fingerprint reader on the 5S
  • Power and headphone jacks on opposite ends of the phone

Okay, I know this last one sounds kind of dumb, but I mount my iPhone in the car for my commute.  I plug in a cable to the AUX cord on the car for audio and I plug in a lightning cable for power.  On the iPhone, they are both on the bottom of the phone, so the cords come out on one side.  On the Moto X, having one cord come out each side was a little unwieldily.    Very dumb minor thing, but it does affect me.

As for the eco-system lock in, Messages is a biggie.  In addition, my family shares an iTunes account that allows us all to share software, and they all have iDevices.  As such, I save a lot on money when buying applications on iOS.  If I buy something on Android, it’s just me.  So it’s not that the ecosystem is better at this point, it’s just where I happen to live most of the time.

All of that said, this was truly the first Android phone that made me think I could ditch the iPhone.  It’s well made, sleek, feels great in the hand and has some unique features that make it stand out from the rest.  If you like Android, you will love this phone, guaranteed.  If you are an iPhone user, this just might make you want to switch.

I Resolve That 2014 Will Rock

I Resolve That 2014 Will Rock

Every new year, I like to come up with my resolutions here on the blog so they are public for all to see.  It gives me a little more motivation to actually complete some of them.  So, for 2014 my resolutions are as follows:

Lose Weight (Again) – Two years ago I did really well on some Biggest Loser contests and lost a lot of weight.  This past year wasn’t as easy and I gained some back.  I miss how I felt when I had fewer pounds on this frame.  So I would like to get back under 200 pounds.  I definitely think it’s doable, I just need to have the willpower.

Have Fun with Photography – The last couple of years my photography has consisted mainly of gymnastics meets, dance recitals, and food.  I want to re-ignite my passion for taking pictures.  Now I have a great camera on me with the iPhone 5S or Nokia 1020 pretty much at all times, so there’s no excuse not to take more shots.  I also need to break out the DSLR and go take pictures more often.  I think I can make it more fun again.

Learn More – I want to take the time to learn more stuff.  More software, more about managing folks, more techniques for developing photos.  I need to take more time to read, and more time to sit down and simply learn.  We have lynda.com at work now, so I think I’ll have an easy time with this resolution.

Keep a Good Work/Life Balance – This upcoming year promises to be my busiest yet.  We have a ton going on at work and I’ll really have a lot going on, and a good amount of travel.  I want to make sure I still have time to spend with my girls, my wife and my friends.  No matter how much work comes at me, family comes first.  I’ve seen people lose family this year, and you can never get this time back.  My family will know they mean the most to me.

Put Some Reviews Here on the Blog – In my job, I play with a lot of technology.  I play with new phones, tablets and computers all the time.  I’m also a gadget addict on my own time, so I pick up cool stuff for holidays and such too.  Since I actually review this stuff, I want to write up my thoughts and share it here.  It will get my post count up for the year too.

I think these are all attainable goals and I’m really looking forward to an exciting 2014.  I just need to spend less time in front of a TV and more time enjoying life.  I can make it happen.  Here’s to a great new year!

How ‘Bout Those Resolutions Fat Boy?

Well we’ve completed another trip around the sun, and I always like to look back at the prior year to see how I did on my resolutions.  Kinda half and half this year, so let’s see how I fared:

Enjoy my family - On this one I think I did very well.  I made it a point to schedule work trips around recitals and gymnastics meets, and made it a point to say yes more often when I get asked “Do you want to play?”  Could I still be better?  Sure, but for the most part I didn’t let work consume me, and was able to let my family know they were important.

Maintain my weight and Exercise SOME - Nope.  Not even close.  I’ve gained back about 15-20 pounds since last year at this time and I’m not happy about it.  I just need to get my head back in the right place.  I’m sure this will be something for 2014.

Play more Games - I absolutely excelled on this one.  I completed both Startcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm and Bioshock: Infinite.  I got sucked into the addiction that is Minecraft with my daughters and spent many an afternoon or evening building and mining with my girls.  We also played a lot of Settlers of Catan, and Ticket 2 Ride on the board game front.  Santa brought Risk: Plants vs Zombies edition, Tsuro, and Zombie Dice for Christmas.  My parents also bought us Sour Apples to Apples.  I’ve got Plants vs. Zombies 2 and the next Walking Dead series queued up on the iPad.  So I feel I can once again call myself a gamer.

Learn some stuff - Once again, not really close.  I try to tell myself I’m too busy, but unfortunately the times I could be learning I tend to plop down in front of mindless TV.  I know I’ll do better in the coming year.  I just signed a two year contract at work with lynda.com.  I’ll make sure to take advantage of that.

Update my personal websites - I actually completed this as well.  I tried a couple new themes here on the blog, and have come up with one I like.  In addition I took roling.com and set it up to point to all of the places I spend time online.  I figure I’m putting content in a lot of places, so I should make those places easy to find.  They might evolve more in the coming year, but I’m happy I finally got around to completing the updates as my places were feeling kind of stale.

So like I said, I was about 50/50.  I really need to get healthier again, and that’s the one I’m most upset myself for failing on.  I’ll definitely turn that around in 2014.  Now to think about what else is important to me for the upcoming year…

Da Coach Mike Ditka’s Number Retired

On Monday night, the Chicago Bears retired the number of legendary tight end and coach for the team, Mike Ditka.  I’ve always liked Ditka, even when I didn’t like the Bears, so it was awesome to see.

After seeing him honored at half time, it reminded me of a time when my good friend and co-worker, Declan Lynch, and I got to meet the coach at one of his Chicago restaurants.

It’s one of my favorite stories of all time: Declan Does Ditkas.  Check it out.

Things I’ve learned

Things I’ve learned

My 43rd birthday was back in October, and I had planned on doing one of those inspirational “Things I’ve Learned” posts to share what little wisdom I bring to the table.  So it’s taken a few months, but here are things 43 years of living have taught me.

  • There is no better feeling in the world than returning home to be greeted by a happy dog, except being greeted by happy children.
  • You will never regret hard work.  If you work hard at something, it means more.
  • Do not be afraid to fail at new experiences.  Failing = Learning.  In addition, you just may find yourself enjoying something you’ve never tried.
  • You’ll regret the things you were afraid to try much more than the things you did try.
  • Be nice to your ex-loves.  You loved them for a reason, just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean you need to hate them or tear them down.
  • Tip well in every situation, it can only benefit you.
  • If someone is mean to the waiter or waitress, that person is not someone you want to associate with
  • Don’t trust people who don’t like dogs.
  • If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.
  • Try new foods whenever you have a chance, your palate will surprise you.
  • The only truly healthy way to lose weight is to eat healthier, consume less, and exercise some.  You just need willpower, not drugs or a system.
  • Hug your family every single day.  You’ll miss it terribly when you no longer can.
  • Keep your word.  If you promise something, come through.
  • Don’t promise too much.  Always under-promise, then over-deliver.
  • Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself.  It’s good to decompress.
  • If your car costs as much as my house, you can wait to merge into traffic.
  • Be kind to the planet. It’s the only one we have.
  • I don’t care what your belief system is.  If it brings you peace, that makes me happy.
  • You shouldn’t care about my belief system.  It brings me peace, and I am happy.
  • Music should be part of every day
  • Take lots of photos. They are the best way to document the life you live.
  • Don’t worry about things you cannot change.  The sooner you can “let go” of that stress, the happier you will be.
  • There’s nothing wrong with nudity. The human body is beautiful, and people who can’t handle seeing a nipple or a woman breast feeding are idiots.
  • Cursing is not inherently evil.  Words are simply words.  Know when to fucking use them as punctuation.
  • You should live with someone before marrying them.  Loving someone does not equal the ability to live with someone.
  • You’re never too old to play games
  • Be an individual, never be afraid to be YOU.
  • Statistically, half the world are idiots.  If you run across one, don’t bother trying to figure out their motivations.  They are just idiots.
  • Life is too short to hate your job.  If you hate what you do, change what you do.  You have the ability to make that leap.
  • I don’t care what you do behind closed doors as long as you aren’t hurting anyone.
  • Everyone deserves to be happy

I wish I would have known some of these things back when I was a kid. All I can do now is help others. Hopefully this does help in some small way.  Have a great weekend everyone.

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