Archive for July, 2013


Things I want to work on

July 16, 2013

I finished up my last contract, other than a few weeks of answering questions. Old clients want new things but I think that’s just a few weeks of work. And then I have a big open space (right after the family vacation).

Those used to make me nervous but I’m getting better at being excited to have time to work on my own ideas, if only to freshen my skills. I’m not as worried that I’ll never find a new client. For a little while (at least), I’ll be choosier with contracts (such a luxury!).

A friend asked what I want to work on. I think he has entrepreneurial motives though I’m not ready for another turn on the startup merry go round. In trying to figure out how to answer him, I’ve sat down and thought about what I really want to work on. Not the technology or location or industry, but concrete things I think must be happening that I particularly want to be a part of.

  • Smart prosthetic limbs (feet):  measure surface something (electrical impulses? micro movement? tension?) on the remaining limb and use it to control things like artificial toes for enhanced balance.
  • $5US clothes washer (the TED talk about how washing machines change everything really got to me). I suspect other things would do: a $5 ereader (put a whole encyclopedias on it) or a $5 something else that can make a huge difference to someone outside the US.
  • Use chemical sensing MEMS to make a pocket mass spectrometer/gas chromatography system (bomb sniffing, tricorder, being able to visualize 1/100 of what my beagle smells).

Thinking about concrete examples is difficult. I want to work on something innovative but my innovative ideas are smaller than I want to work on, smaller than a company could sustain. (Though, my ideas get bigger as time goes on so this may not remain a problem.) There are other things I can identify as great things about my next potential contract:

  • I’ve done a bit of work with devices that attempt to use game-ification as a motivation tool. I’d like to see a focus also on pet-ification. Many people tend to nurture more than compete. I don’t know if I want to apply this more to fitness or to education devices. Either. Both.
  • A genius’ vision of something that make the world a better place. While there are a lot of things I don’t want to work on/with (application, methodologies, and companies), I really didn’t want to make this a negative list. If I were to make this a list of things I don’t want about my next project it would be “I don’t want to work on something designed by committee”. I find those projects increasingly unsatisfying. However, the times I’ve worked with someone who had a plan and could articulate how my help was needed, those have been great projects where I have learned a lot and provided a lot of value. (Hey, Elon Musk, if you read my blog, please consider how my embedded software skills can help you with the LA/SF 30 minute transporter thingy (Hyperloop).)
  • Proof of concept prototype for a skunkworks. This is kind of like my recently complete project. I like shipping things, it is incredibly gratifying. But I also like proving something unlikely is actually possible.

I suspect I’ll find something interesting that pays bills while I ruminate further on my plan to take over a tiny portion of the world. In the meantime, I’m enjoying this thought exercise. And break.




July 6, 2013

Every week this year I have a resolution, something to make me healthier, happier, or more productive. A friend mentioned that Jefferson did something similar through his whole life, focusing on one virtue for a fortnight before moving on to another, cycling through thirteen of them. I’m trying out all sorts, opening up myself to different ideas.

My resolution for the last 3.5 weeks is “no sugar”. And by that, I mean no sugar, no sugar substitutes, no honey, no maple syrup, no fruit juice (*), no dried fruit, no agave syrup, no sorbitol, no xylitol (which is poisonous to dogs!), nothing sweeter than fruit, eaten as fruit.

I’m hoping to get control of my sweet tooth, reset it to a different level so I don’t crave FROSTING levels of sweetness. My goal was to make it 4 weeks. I don’t think I’ll have a problem with it though it has been both easier and harder than I thought.

I consciously made an exception for alcohol; I have been drinking wine and sake. And I had one fruit juice cocktail (that was yummy but tasted way too sweet though it did an excellent job of delivering rum to my overtired system). There were a two other intentional exceptions: cough drops and calcium chews. There were two sweetened foods that I repeated even knowing they were sweetened: teriyaki sauce that didn’t end up on the side of my salmon and grape juice sweetened blueberries encrusting the Trader Joe’s goat cheese (rationalization: this was so good, killed sweet cravings, and I was already drinking grape juice).

I have been reading labels, put back potato chips, salad dressing, bread, (veggie) deli met, and frozen vegetable packages that had sugar (or other sweetener) as an ingredient. I came to the conclusion that sugar is lurking everywhere. I ordered dishes in restaurants that had the least likelihood of being spiked (except for salmon teriyaki).

We cleaned the house of ice cream, cookies, popsicles, and sweetened crackers. We talked about how we’d keep the house sugar-free for the foreseeable future (ideally forever) and limit our sugar intake to outside the house. But that plan would start after my 4 week long no-sugar plan. Even so, merely talking about it led to me daydreaming of going to the bakery, getting an icing shot (yes, our bakery has little cups of their excellent frosting available for purchase), and just doing the hit of sugar, right there, on the street.

The minute-to-minute implementation of being unsweetened wasn’t that difficult. Snacking on potato chips or bread and butter or string cheese sticks, there are always foods to eat (I didn’t lose any weight). Yogurt was tough, though after a 2 minute wait frozen fruit + plain yogurt leads to cold fruit covered in frozen yogurt. Actually, the latest technology for frozen berries without ice crystals has been wonderful, I’ve eaten a lot of still frozen fruit. That got me though the heat wave we had.

Breakfast was the hardest meal. I usually eat protein bars (I usually want to work with I wake up; making a nice breakfast gets in the way of me melding with my computer). I thought oatmeal and cream of wheat were a lost cause but when I went savory (adding sundried tomatoes and parmesan and a bit of butter), those were surprisingly yummy. Once I got oatmeal and cream of wheat working, I’d mix those up with the uberfast hunk of baguette and microwaved veggie sausage. I really didn’t have trouble finding good food to eat.

It was the daydreams and cravings that nearly killed me. Upon hearing my resolution, three people told me that they’d heard about a study that showed sugar was as addictive as crack. Two of them were eating dessert in front of me as they said this.

The worst time I had was at a birthday party. The social pressure of sharing cake is one thing, the vision of my husband scarfing up the moist cake and frosting (!!!!) haunted me for days. (Just writing about that, my mouth is all watery.) He ate maybe three bites but, still, to do it in front me… (never mind that everyone else there had a plate of cake, he gets all the blame).

I had a dream one night that I ate a bite of that cake. I could taste it. And since I’d broken my resolution, I woke up thinking I might as well have pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast. Lots of syrup.

If I felt about alcohol the way I feel about sugar, I think I would be an alcoholic. I’m embarrassed at how much time I spend plotting to get sweets and the many, varied forms that I want to consume. It is dumb and annoying, making me feel less in control of my life. Really annoying. Really embarrassing.

Like the resolution to eat whole grains, I’m happy I chose this as a resolution. It has given me a new bar for living as I want to live. It has made me comfortable with turning down sweets in social situations, enough that I think I could do it in the future. Keeping the house sweet-free is obviously the way to go (why didn’t we do this before?).

And yet, I’m still very much looking forward to this resolution ending and what I’m going to have for breakfast on Wednesday morning.

Taken in the salad section of a deli in a Flagstaff.

Taken in the salad section of a deli in a Flagstaff.