Owning michelgoldstein.com

So I just bought michelgoldstein.com mostly because it was available. The problem is that I don't know exactly what I want to do about it. Right now it points to this website. Three options go through my mind, in order of amount of work required:

  1. Do nothing (i.e. let it continue just pointing to this website)
  2. Move this website there and kill movingdownstream.com
  3. Create a whole new website that is more focused on personal things (basically this website) and transform movingdownstream.com into something else (like a projects blog)
  4. Transform michelgoldstein.com into a disambiguation page for all Michel Goldsteins out there. I "know" one (that added me as his friend on Facebook just randomly) and I know others exist out there.

What I really want to do is #3, but the problem is that I don't think people really care about something like that. I'll spend a good amount of time working on it and in the end I won't get any other Michel Goldstein to actually be interested in being listed there.

Anyway, as I mentioned in the previous post, probably I won't have time to think about it for a few months. Maybe after that time I'll have a better idea of what to do with it.

2013 Retrospective

I don't know if I'm really ready for a 2013 retrospective... It has been a very interesting year, indeed. At the same time, not a lot of "resolutions" happened. So it feels like a year that lacked achievement. And that takes us to theme 1:

Theme 1: effort, but unresolved achievements

One thing it didn't lack was effort. I've worked hard for those "non-resolved achievements" and they are still underway. I'm still working on a secret project at Amazon that hasn't launched yet. I can't really talk about when it's supposed to launch (even if I knew that answer), but I can say that we are working hard on it and the team is still growing.

Now that we've gone through theme one, even if very vague and hand-wavy, let's move on.

Theme 2: board games

This year I played and bought a lot of board games. But that trend did fizzle out towards the end of the year, as some internal intrigue started happening with my gaming group. But I did play a lot of really interesting games. Hard to list them all, though... So I'll leave some highlights of games I've played more than once:

  • King of Tokyo: easy to play, a little too luck-driven for my taste. Always fun, though.
  • Ticket to Ride: well, I had to add this one as it's pretty much the only game that I've been able to play lately with Amy. It's fun, though. There is some luck involved, but strategy and being able to read your opponent's goals sometimes helps on offsetting that luck component. Does play better with more than 2 players, which is something I don't have a lot of opportunity to do.

There are a lot of games that I've played only once and I wished I had played more, like Guildhall, Flash Point, X-wing... And some games that I bought and I haven't played yet.

Another game-related thing that I did was organizing a Magic: The Gathering tournament at work. It was quite a lot of fun, even though attendance was lower than I was hoping for.

Theme 3: tech news

Well, that's my industry, but I have to admit that this year I was paying more attention to what was happening in the tech world than around the rest of the world. Multiple times I was surprised by people asking me if I had seen what happened in some place in the world and I had no idea what they were talking about. Maybe I'm in the US for too long and starting to not pay attention to what is going on outside my world. I hope to revert this tendency for next year.

Theme 4: woodworking

I can't really leave out one of the things that occupied most of my weekends for a good part of the year: the big living room furniture project. Phase 1 is over and I think that's all I'm going to do (at least for some time). It was an interesting experience, but there are a few things that I learned are harder than I thought (and made things not work as well as I was hoping):

  • The world is not square! So the wood might not be square, or the floor that you are trying to place the furniture on might not be square.
  • Large pieces of furniture are hard! That's for multiple reasons:
    • They make non-square things just even more out of alignment
    • It's hard to find good-looking wood in large pieces
    • It's hard to make good-looking joints if you don't have good looking wood pieces
  • If you don't know the "fundamentals" of the furniture hardware that is available out there, it's hard to make the right design decisions.
    • There are lots of parameters around a door hinge or drawer rollers that are not evident when you buy the piece. Only when you try to install you notice that things don't really work the way you thought they would. Fortunately my 3D printer helped me a lot on making small adjustments to things.

And I think that mostly sums up what I think was different this year compared to previous years. Some things are still the same, like cooking (and I've been potentially cooking more lately because Amy has been through some challenging food restrictions that limit what we can eat out), playing computer games, watching Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV shows and reading books (even though I have done less of the latter than average). My electronics projects have been moving slowly.

I do have to mention a couple of important events this year (not in any particular order) before I finish this post:

  1. The birth of my first nephew (I already have a niece), Luiz Felipe, in March
  2. Going to Brazil and hanging out with family and some friends in end of August/early September.
  3. Trip to Utah to go around taking pictures of red rocks
  4. Participated in Movember, even though I didn't raise much money on it. In any way, I'm very grateful for all my friends that did contribute to it.

Not a huge year, but at least there were things that were put in motion for next year to be at least as interesting. So far it seems like I'll be going again to Brazil towards the end of the year to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. No tickets booked yet, but it's the current plan. Hopefully I'll have time to see more of my friends this time!

 

2013's best books list

End of the year you get always those "best of" lists. And unfortunately I always get sucked into them. This year the one that was the most fascinating was Amazon's Best 2013 books. What is fascinating about them? Well, it's the difference between:

2013 Best Adult Print Books

2013 Best Adult Kindle Books

One might think that they would either be pretty similar, or their difference would represent books that are still not available in Kindle format. I found actually that it's not true (and I've heard about this trend before): Kindle books are flooded by romance books. It almost feels like 50% of all the top 100 books are romance novels! That's not a real number. I thought of counting them, but I actually can't tell by just looking at the cover and title what the books are about. And I didn't have the time to go one by one and see what they were about to generate a count. Just go and look. It will be quite evident.

The conclusion for me is that if I want to see what the interesting books are according to Amazon customers, I should look at the print ones.

There are some that you won't find in Kindle edition, or that don't sell very well on that format. Namely cookbooks and diet books. I have a few in Kindle and I have to admit they are hard to use. I'm sure people have thought about it, and have tried to work on it in the past (and are probably still working on it right now). It's a tough one to figure out. If you want a searchable book, the internet is so much better and more comprehensive. Cookbooks are books you browse to be inspired, and going a page at a time, or jumping through well-defined paths makes this "browsing" hard.

Anyway, if you hoped you were going to see my list of best books of 2013, sorry to disappoint. I'm not sure my 2013 list is very good. I actually haven't read too many books. Perhaps because some of the books that I read took a long time to finish (like A Dance With Dragons or The Curse of Chalion). Or maybe I just have been reading more papers trying to catch up with what has been going on in the world of research while I was focused on other things. Next year so far doesn't look like it's going to be much better, but things can change. Perhaps I'll choose shorter books!

Movember time

This year I decided to stretch my comfort zone for a good cause. I'm doing Movember , What does that mean, you might ask. A few of things:

  1. I'm trying to raise awareness to men's health issues.
  2. I'm trying to help to raise money to support research and programs around men's health issues. 
  3. I'm growing a mustache!

What do I look like with a mustache? Well, that's an interesting question... I'll be posting pictures as it develops. One of the things is that you are not supposed to start growing the mustache until Movember starts. Being the third day of the month, it means that it's not that "in your face" yet. But here is a first picture. Be scared! :-)

 Movember day 3

Movember day 3

Anyway, if you want to help the cause and donate, my donation page is:

http://mobro.co/7323557 

And I'm open for suggestions of what to do with my mustache. Whoever donates (even if it's just $1) can post a vote (in the comments on the above page) on where I should go with it. Note that I don't have that much time to grow crazy things like handlebar mustaches, so I don't even go there. And Amy will always have the ability to veto whatever is suggested.

When all computers fail...

Suddenly this week both my computers decided to give me some grief. First was my Mac that is running low on disk space (it's all those pictures that I keep taking and filling my hard disk). It's interesting that when I'm below 8 GB of hard disk free things can get quite weird. Part of it is because I have 8 GB of RAM on my computer and that creates 8 GB of swap/restore space. And that space is not always taken, so at some point I could have 5 GB free and a few minutes later I only have 44 MB free. At that time is when all software in the computer freezes and I have to drop to terminal to do anything. Solution: free more space (which is not straight-forward, but I'm trying).

Then comes to my windows machine... As I mentioned before, I have a Windows 8 machine that has been working reasonably well. Then Windows 8.1 came out and I thought: well, I heard good things about this upgrade, so maybe I should do it. Oh, if only Microsoft agreed with me! I download it and start installing. After it reboots I get a very quick blue screen with a sad face and after rebooting again I get an error after I log in saying that the upgrade failed and it rolled back to Windows 8 with a cryptic error code (0xC1900101-0x20017). There are lots of conflicting reports about what could be happening, but none of the solutions that I've heard (forcing install of all driver updates, running disabling the network) worked for me. I did try to find the log and look for information on what is going on, but I couldn't find anything useful yet. Very frustrating!

But fortunately there are "workarounds"  for both my problems:

  1. Mac: free disk space
  2. Windows: don't upgrade

And that's what I've done. Boo...

I'll report again if I'm able to upgrade Windows one of these days. As for my Mac, maybe it's a sign that I should upgrade my now 4.5-year-old laptop...  New MacBook Pros have just been released, so it's a great time to upgrade..

 

9 years at Amazon, huh?

I forgot to mention one thing on my last post: today I celebrated 9 years at Amazon... Who would have thought I would still be around? But I'm having fun (most of the days). Still learning. I've had some quite successful projects, and some that didn't last for as long as I was expecting. I can't talk about my current project, but I can talk about some highlights about previous projects: 

  • Adding semantics to how products are defined at Amazon, supporting easier category expansion.
  • Auto-classification of products
  • Richer rules for cleaning up structured attributes in data, including handling crazy (and I really mean crazy) apparel sizing
  • Embedded and sandboxed HTML5 application environment

There were lots of other things that I've worked on. But these were probably the ones that had the biggest longer term business impact (even though the HTML5 app project was canceled not long after I left it - but it planted a seed onto different systems that hopefully will continue making Kindle products more innovative). 

Who knows, one of these days I might talk about what I'm working on right now. If everything works as planned, it will certainly feature on my list of accomplishments above. There is just so much left to do... 

So the trip is gone... Life has just been speeding away

So, yes, I have been in Brazil. A long time ago! And I barely met anybody besides my family. At least that part was successful. I had a good time hanging out with my sister and my niece and nephew. Then I came back missing my friends more than when I left. But I guess that's how it works. I just need to figure out how to go back more often than once every 3+ years.

And how has Seattle been since I've arrived? Quite busy, unfortunately. Work has been a little crazy (7 days a week, many hours a day crazy), but hopefully things will quiet down a little soon (hope is the only thing left for me). Building some really interesting things, but I wished I had more time to be home and work on my projects at home. They now include:

  1. Finishing my entertainment center phase 1B (it's missing a door that I messed up when I made a hole on it, and I need to fix the drawers that don't open and close very smoothly)
  2. Work on a replacement alarm clock for the bedroom: I'm very frustrated by not being able to find an alarm clock that has all the features that I want, so I decided to build one. 
  3. Managing the Seattle Jewish Chorale website.  It uses GoDaddy's website builder tool, which is quite challenging to work with. That's why it's very hard to make the design work (besides the fact that I'm a terrible designer). But I'm slowly trying to clean it up and streamline the maintenance of it. My next project is to support a way for choir member to post events for other members to be aware of. The most challenging features of this is the need for privacy, but not require new login. So it's going to be a lot of pseudo-secure Javascript code. I hope it works well enough.

And, yes, I still have a wife with her projects, like her Turkorah . It's been quite busy in our household.

 

Preparation for the next trip

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Brazil, I finally finished organizing (mostly) my pictures from my last "bigger" trip: to Utah to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Both very interesting in their own way (with their own red rocks): 

SmugMug Album: Utah Trip

I don't really expect to take too many pictures in Brazil, though, as it's mostly going to be around hanging out with family. Things are quite chaotic at work and I'm actually glad that I was able to take two weeks off (mostly because I planned this before things got this chaotic). And part of these two weeks is going to be Rosh Hashanah, which also limits the amount of time I'll have to hang out with friends. But hopefully I'll be able to do some if it too. What I probably won't be able to do is to be a tourist. Oh, well... Next time!

Hey, you: hands off the keyboard and step away from the computer!

Some developers really need to step away from their development job and study some things before getting back. And that's not to say worse things... I was navigating a Brazilian website today and suddenly I get a popup error that said (I've omitted some things and slightly changed some other things in order for this information not to be used by malicious people that might not have seen this error):

ERRO: /home/httpd/htdocs/[omitted].php (569) - mysql_connect() [<a href='function.mysql-connect'>function.mysql-connect</a>]: Access denied for user 'sistemabruboun'@'186.233.145.65' (using password: YES)
[BACKTRACE]
...
[FIM DO BACKTRACE]

Who in their right mind (or otherwise) would decide to add a username and password to a database in the error message??? 

Google+ is strange, and the bugs don't help

From time to time I look at Google+ for a reason or another just to see if there is any interesting reason to use it. But every time I do that I find things that just make no sense. For instance, twice already I had Amy on my circles and suddenly she wasn't on any circles anymore and Google+ was suggesting me to add her to circles. Huh? And I had to explain to my wife TWICE that it's not that I removed her from my circles. Fortunately she doesn't use Google+ so it wasn't a big deal.

Today I had a new one. I received an email that somebody that I don't know added me to her circle. So I went to Google+ to see who the person is... Not much information was provided, so I decided to look at the people that have added her to their circles. Google says: 8 people have her in their circles. I click on it and I get 5 people!!! But it gets better. In the bottom it has a small notice: "People who've recently circled <person> may not be shown." and a question mark. I clicked on the question mark and...

Thanks, Google!

Mountain Dew as a breakfast drink

I was reading this article on the Seattle Times today:

Mountain Dew introduces breakfast drink with a jolt

And the first thing that came to mind is: oh, Mountain Dew is not a breakfast drink? I don't drink it, but I've met multiple people that drink Mountain Dew all day long, including breakfast. So I'm not really sure how much market they will be able to get here. Maybe it's just that they can charge more and make more money out of the people that will switch just because PepsiCo now says that this one is "good to drink in the morning", so it must be healthy? It has juice (5 percent of it!) and vitamins! And, who knows, it might not have neon green color!

Anyway, thinking back on it, if people that drink Mountain Dew for breakfast change it to drinking this Kickstart, maybe they will be better off. It might have less chemicals, and some small nutritional value. It will have the same amount of caffeine (5.75 mg/oz), which could make people not drink more of it. So, go PepsiCo!

Happy New Year!

Amazingly 2013 is here! 2012 was a tough year. It was busy but not really as busy as 2011, but it was more introspective. It's hard to pinpoint what the problem of 2012 was, but now that it's over, maybe I can just leave it behind and move onto 2013. And there is lots in store for it already:

  • On January 14th I start in a new team at Amazon working on yet another secret project. My two years at Kindle were amazing. I learned a lot of what it means to do device and HTML5 development and handle working with a lot of people that are not on the same city I'm in. I've worked with some great people that can handle change in direction, or sometimes staying on the same direction for a long time, and still be fun and hang out from time to time.
  • End-of-march-ish my younger sister will become a mother of my first nephew (I have a niece). So that means I'll be heading to Brazil at some point during the year, but I don't know when yet.
  • More friends locally are going through the transition of becoming parents, which is also interesting.

Not much really changed in 2012...

  • After singing bass/baritone for about 16 years, I was now moved to being a tenor 2, and it's working alright so far.
  • I've started making bread more often (see other posts for more details)
  • I've gone on my first cruise (to Alaska)
  • I finally went to Victoria, BC, Canada.
  • My parents came to visit (they are here right now)
  • I've talked to my friends less (as much as it pains me to admit it)

Let 2013 come and bring joy to us all!

Breadth vs. Depth

Lately I've been very concerned that I haven't really been able to communicate very much with friends. I have not sent enough emails, posted enough on my blog, or called. Part of the reason is that I feel like I just can't find enough energy to spend time on a long-form prose or conversation, which I deem necessary in order to do any of those things. That's not a good thing to continue this way, so I have been trying to decide how to fix it.

One of the options is to abandon those modes of conversation altogether and adopt shorter-form ones, such as Twitter and Facebook. Start sharing things that I'm thinking about without having to spend time trying to draw conclusions or do a deeper research on it to see if it is something that I really have an opinion on.

At first I thought that short discussions were just too shallow. After some time I realized that I was missing an important part of it: the fact that it was a less filtered view of what is going on. I don't usually need to know what the person thinks about a subject, just that they are interested on a subject.

There is certainly a limit, though. You don't want really to know all articles I read, or songs I listen to, or things I buy. There is a level of noise that starts to muddle the message. We all read things that are not really that good, or listen to songs just because they were recommended to you, or they were randomly selected, or you just wanted to just not think too much about selecting your song and just listening to it. That information that you are then listening to the song has very little signal, tells very little about yourself. But because you are not really saying anything about it, just that you are listening to it, or reading it, it becomes impossible for somebody casually looking through your "life stream" to recognize the difference and that's when value is lost.

Another very important thing that you get on Facebook and Twitter that you don't usually get on a blog is discussions. Yes, people can leave comments on blogs, but that doesn't happen that often. Well, sure you can claim that this doesn't happen on this blog because almost nobody reads it... And that almost nobody reads it because I don't post anything here... And we are back to where we started.

The other side of the coin to discussions is that it is only useful if the people involved on the discussion are keeping up with it. It quickly loses the interest if it becomes one-sided because the other side just was never able to get back to it. That's what sometimes keeps me away from Facebook and Twitter (especially the latter): if I don't have time to check it at least once a day (sometimes more often), discussions with me end up not being very "enriching".

Back to the initial problem as mentioned above: what is the solution to the communication conundrum? I wished I knew. Maybe one of these days I'll find one. Until then, I'll just have those weekends where I post multiple times and those other 51-ish weekends of the year when I don't post anything.

The cost of being busy

Lately things have been quite busy. Between events with friends, work, and traveling to Cupertino, I haven't had much time to sometimes even look around. And that's why I ended up missing the fact that my favorite restaurant around work has closed: On The Fly... How disappointing! And it has been closed for almost 3 weeks now and I didn't even know! See what I do even with my favorite restaurants???