Career, Coding, Life, Philosophy

On Building

One of the most satisfying things with being a software engineer (or a coder, developer—whatever you want to call the act of slinging code for a living) is, at the end of the day, I’ve usually built something that other people can use, interact with. Most times, it’s a way to share content through an API. Or maybe it’s going through a checkout process to donate to candidates you believe in. Or maybe it’s just a little snippet of code that automatically connects you to Google’s servers (I call it goog).

This act of building, of writing code, still makes me smile. It’s still a rush when I get things working. But, it is still code; it’s an ephemeral object. It’s not something you can hold. It’s not something that smells when you sand it. I have missed working with my hands, of holding physical objects and putting them together to create something new.

Since moving out to Lincoln, I’ve built about half the furniture in my little cottage. First was my platform bed. Then a standing desk. Both were rustic. Looking at them, you’d know they were made by a novice woodworker. Then I build a little side table and lightly stained it. It was still rough and not very finished. But I learned a few new tricks. I saw where I could have done things better.

build3August came around and I was tired of my rustic, shoddy standing desk. So, one Sunday morning, I took apart the standing desk and spent 9 hours building my new farm-style, 6′ long desk. There is something immensely satisfying letting your hands make the decisions rather than your mind. Feeling things out; the vibration of the orbital sander reverberating up my arms; methodically cutting, drilling, screwing, sanding, staining my way to a desk that has supported my daily writing and coding for the past 2 months.


 There are a lot of similarities between writing code and building. At the end of the day, you’ve built something of substance. There’s a sense of pride in the act of building. And a sense of self-determinedness. Now I want my own workshop.
Career, Coding, Life, Personal

Minimizing My Online Footprint (it’s not a conspiracy, I promise)

When I was visiting friends and family in Denver a few weeks back, I happened upon Mr. Robot, the new USA television series. I don’t have cable so I ended up binge-watching the first 4 episodes, much to my dismay and delight (my inherent capability to binge watch is the primary reason I don’t have cable or TV; I would never get anything done. As it stands now, Netflix is a hard enough beast for me to defeat each evening I get home from work). I liked the show immediately; crazy protagonist and kick-ass supporting characters. Watching it, it reminded me just how easy it is to give your information away to anyone that offers something shiny or a service that everyone else is using. The little imp inside me started picking at my brain threads.

When I got back home, I deleted my Twitter account. I had already deleted my LinkedIn account earlier in the year and never got involved with Facebook. At the same time, I deleted my Spotify and Soundcloud accounts. I culled my Pocket list, removed that account, and installed Wallabag on my personal server. Tiny Tiny RSS has been installed on my server and I’m slowly going through all my code repositories, transferring them to my own Gitlab Phabricator installation self-hosted git repositories on my server*.

A bit extreme, to be sure, but hear me out. I’ve got quite a few reasons to minimize my online footprint, limit communication with people, and take the time to deal with the frustration of installing services that are easier done by just clicking “Sign Up.”

Let’s take Twitter. I’ve loved Twitter. It’s how I used to get my news from news sources that I cultivated. It’s how I kept in touch with some of my Aereo colleagues. It allowed me to interact with a larger group. But, in reality, it fostered shallow relationships and anyone could find out a lot about me based on my tweets and who I followed. It’s natural to make assumptions about people but when those assumptions are based off of 140 characters and a list of feminist, LGBT accounts that I had followed, that’s a one-sided view of my multifaceted life. And those feminist, LGBT accounts tweeted about topics I was interested in but in not following opposing viewpoints, I had created my own filter bubble. I failed to see the larger picture. The proverbial nail in the coffin was when I bought an iPod Touch; each morning I’d open up the Twitter app, scroll through the tweets from the night before, before drinking coffee or even getting out from under the sheets, getting into a tizzy before understanding the whole story behind a tweet.

Granted, I’ve given up being able to easily reach out to former coworkers. A few times they helped me through a coding issue in my new job through tweets. But, deleting my Twitter account doesn’t prevent me from reaching out through email, which I know leads to a better conversation and a wonderful by-product are stronger friendships.

Giving up Spotify and Soundcloud doesn’t prevent me from listening to music. I still pop on Soundcloud but an account isn’t required to listen. I’ve rediscovered the glory of radio, often piping the WGBH Classical station through my headphones while I code at work or on my stereo at home while typing out this blog post (A Celtic Sojourn, on the WGBH news station, is a favorite of mine on Saturdays between 3pm and 6pm; can’t recommend it enough). Not having the ability to cultivate my own playlist allows me to practice tolerance and patience when a song I don’t like comes on the radio. It may be minor but that is what life is made up of—all the minor things. The $10 a month cost is also something I don’t want to be paying for (again, small things add up).

As for Github, I’m not too sure about that yet. I need to keep my account for some work projects but all of my personal repos are slowly being moved to my Phabricator installation. I’ve been worried about what happens when it’s time to find a new job but I can just point to my Phabricator repos rather than Github. Git, by its very nature, is a decentralized system; I shouldn’t be worried that I’m hosting my own repos (in fact, it may improve my chances at getting a job).

I took the time to install Gitlab and the various other services because I wanted to learn how to do it. I wanted the knowledge. It’s the same reason why I know how to change my oil, build a desk, or wire up new lighting in a house; I’m not dependent on other people to do things for me. I’m self-sufficient, self-reliant and, if I don’t know how to do something, the power that comes from knowing that I can learn it is greater than the ease I get from using Github or Twitter or Spotify.

Ultimately, removing my external online accounts has allowed me to focus. I’m not reaching for the iPod to view the latest tweets. I’m not chasing down one interesting story to the next. I’m discovering some great music and learning to appreciate classical. I’m increasing my knowledge of Linux and servers in general. Some of my relationships are stronger. I have lost some things but what I’ve gained is much better for me. This also ties into my personal goals with learning to live with less. To decrease not just my online footprint by the footprint I leave in the physical world.

* [Edit 1]: After having quite a few issues with Ruby processes running my server’s memory off the charts, I just didn’t want to deal with that issue any more (seriously, ruby was running over 600 Mb of memory!). So, I spent a few hours today (Sunday) installing Phabricator.

[Edit 2]: Nope, after putzing around with Phabricator’s settings for too long and not being able to figure out how to set up a home page that could be viewed publicly, I just set up the repos on my box directly, not needing a front-end. I’ll be building out eventually to show the repos but, for now, I can just manage them through the command line like normal.



I can’t believe he died shortly after this.

Sometimes, I think I am always just missing out on the great things, only to find out about them after they’ve passed. Thanks to the great Maria Popova for this entry on her Brain Pickings site (she’s been on a few podcasts lately; the one from On Being was particularly wonderful).

Life, Random Thoughts, Verbal Vomit

On Realizing I am a Petty, Whiny Human Being

6:30. Sunday morning. Sitting outside at my little cobbled together patio area, cup of strong chicory coffee placed beside the laptop. The woods around my little cottage pulsate with early morning activity as the sound of cars on Route 2 come in waves. It’s a cool 60 degrees and the pugger just finished his breakfast so his tongue is going a mile a minute as he lays in the chair next to me. This. This right here is why I love living out in the woods (although, I do need to invest in a few citronella candles).

It’s not that I abhor cities. It’s that I missed being part of this. The smells and sounds (I could do without Route 2 though; I have to pretend that each wave of cars is the waves of the ocean surf). I missed feeling an expansiveness that is lacking in a city. When each viewpoint ends in the corner of a house or the angle of a street corner, it does something to me. Since moving out here almost 6 months ago, the tight knot of my mind has unfurled into a calmness that I didn’t know I needed.

This post is kind of hard to write. I start to write about how 4 and a half years living in a city, knowing something was wrong but not doing anything about it—whether that had to do with my job, the ex-spouse, or just my ridiculous inability to take ownership for how I felt—was a minor hell. But then I think, “Oh Nicole, don’t dramatize so much. You’re life is so goddamn simple. Get over yourself,” and I erase what I had just written. Because, honestly, who the hell wants to read about woe-is-me crap? I certainly don’t and I have less of a penchant for it than I once did. The difficulty in writing this post is knowing the whiny, oh no, petty, silly human woes is a part of me. And that it has been part of me for quite some time is even worse. The last thing I want to do is dwell upon it.

My focus now is becoming a better me, a better person. Kinder and wiser and more loving. I see this happening at work. Tasks are accepted happily, completed quickly and with good spirit. I get feedback that I’m doing a good job. I do have my weaker moments though. I verbally vomited all over a project manager this past week and felt so bad afterward. The old habits still creep up. Life and growth is never one single, continuous, forward movement but rather a stiltedly, halting, stumbling crawl up the mountain.

I look back on these past 4+ years and think how very little I have to show for it. And by have, I mean a rich, active, social life. I did not come out of those years with any lasting friendships, which is heartrending to me since I spent almost every day of my life with my coworkers during that time and the most interaction I have with them now is in 140 characters or less. This is such a departure from the rest of my life. And the glaring thing I notice about that time is that I did not like who I was; how was anyone else going to? I want to reach out to a few of them but what do you say, “Hey so-and-so, how are you? I know I was a small, ugly, petty person but how are you?” I can’t imagine they’d be receptive to hearing from someone who was so self-involved for the entirety of the time they knew me.

So I chalk these past years—The Boston years—as a learning experience. Because that’s what it was. It completely opened my eyes to how complacent I will allow myself to become. How unhappy I will let myself feel. I feel like I’m in control of myself again, in control of the decisions that are going to shape the next 4 years of my life. I don’t know exactly what city it will bring me to next, or when that will be, but I know that if I ever think that I’ll just tough out a city or situation without being fully invested in it, it will be the wrong decision. Choosing sanctity of soul over all else is what I’ve taken away from The Boston years.

Experiments, Life

The Second Experiment: Some Beginning Thoughts

I’ve been a voracious coffee drinker for as long as I can remember. Some of my most fond memories are drinking a cup of black, unfiltered coffee in the morning around a fire after a night of camping. Or waking early on an October morning to catch the sun rise over the Atlantic ocean, a fresh cup of cream-and-sugared coffee in between my cold hands. But lately, I’ve been drinking those silly K-cups at work, often downing my last cup around 4 or 5 in the evening, trying to eke out one last push to finish a project. The coffee is bland and uninspiring and I felt that my consumption was becoming just a little too fanatic.

Along with my increased coffee consumption, the amount of videos I have been watching has been…well, it’s been horrendous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends 2.8 hours watching television a day. Granted, I don’t have a television but I did have an Amazon account, a Hulu account, and, at one point, a Netflix account. Not to mention the amount of YouTube videos I watched.

My average day started with the alarm at 5am, which turned into another one at 6 with me finally rising from my bed around 6:30. I’d grabbed my cup of coffee (good coffee at home), make a few eggs, shower, and head into the office where I’d have anywhere between 5 and 8 additional cups of coffee. I’d get a serious afternoon slump, which I tried to cure with more coffee, and make it home around 7-ish. The rest of the evening was watching 3 or 4 episodes of whatever show I was in the middle of while making dinner. I’d hop into bed around 10:30 with a book that I maybe spent 2 minutes reading.

What bothered me about this whole ritualistic lifestyle was that I wasn’t accomplishing anything I wanted to do in my free time. Sure, I made a few pieces of furniture (I’m sitting on my raised platform bed right now as I type this) and sure I had moved to rural Lincoln but, instead of sitting outside reading a book or taking a hike on the numerous trails around me, I stayed inside watching some meaningless moving pictures across my screen. And, I haven’t been writing. None of this sat well with me.

Back in May, I decided to run an experiment. I decided to stop drinking alcohol (it may have become a little excessive) and stop eating fast-food (McDonald’s was a welcome sight after a long day at the office and what felt like an even longer commute). Unfortunately, I made it 2 weeks until my mother’s birthday where we sat around drinking sangria on her porch. At that point, I figured I failed my little experiment and went back to drinking and eating fast-food, although not in the same quantities as before.

I wanted to retry this experiment, as well as add to it. What would happen if I stopped drinking coffee and watching videos? Would I begin writing more? Would I read more? Would I make more experiences? How would I feel letting my body go through its natural stages?

I started this little experiment on June 1st. To be honest, it’s been disorienting. For the first 5 days I had immense headaches; the pain a throbbing, pulsing pressure in the back and sides of my head. My hips and back were constantly sore; so bad one morning I could neither sit nor stand for a good hour. Lying on my chest with my butt in the air in a somewhat askew downward dog pose was the only relief I could find. I’ve been sleeping intermittently, waking around 3am having to pee since my water intake has gone through the roof. I usually go to bed around 9 and wake up around 6:30; if it wasn’t for the fretful sleep, this would be the longest night’s sleep I’ve had since I was a teenager. My mind has been unfocused and cloudy and I have been ridiculously tired the entire week.

Yesterday, the 6th day of the experiment, was the first day without a crushing headache. I also took a sleeping pill both Friday and last night, which allowed me to sleep through the entire night. I feel better today but a headache has begun creeping in (not sure if that’s because I was sitting in the sun reading for a few hours). And, this is the first time I’ve written since I’ve begun this masochistic experiment. I’ve only seen 1 video this week but it was a video my friend shot of his son, which was all of a minute—I don’t consider that cheating.

The days are starting to feel better. But, something still is off. My writing feels flat and stale. My shoulders hurt. I would love a cup of coffee in the morning. The alcohol and video isn’t really missed, nor is the pre-package crap food (although Stop & Shop vegetables aren’t that great either…the peppers I bought yesterday almost taste like flavored cardboard). Another 3 weeks to go. I’m hoping things will even out soon enough.

Life, Random Thoughts

A Well-Behaved Child

When I was a child, I was wonderfully well-behaved. I had a truth-telling streak in me that couldn’t be rubbed out or halted. An immense guilt washed over me when I kept the truth inside my chest. I don’t remember lying much as a child but you’d have to ask my parent’s if that is the truth. I believe most parents can see through their children’s lies. But truth-telling was only the beginning of my well-behaved childhood.

I am a kind soul. If there is one indisputable fact I know about myself, it is that I am kind. My kindness bubbles up from the depths of empathy that I know not where it comes from or sometimes how I can control it. The day the Boston Marathon bomber was captured, I gulped in air in between racking sobs because I could feel all the hatred directed at him; it was as palpable as being smothered with a warm, wet blanket. My emotions swim at the surface of my body. I’m able to put myself into not only another person’s shoes but their entire being. If I remember correctly, my 3rd grade teacher told my mother that I was going to have a difficult life because I felt so much.

So, being kind as an ingrained trait, I was naturally a well-behaved child. I also had a ridiculous desire to follow rules; to live inside the box. I rarely got into trouble and often had high remarks from the teachers. As I got older and became more aware of myself in this world, I was tired of being well-behaved. I started smoking cigarettes and skipping classes. I started drinking and smoking pot. I don’t remember being explicitly mean but I know I stopped being as kind or as empathetic as I once was.

The funny thing about all of this though is that my reputation as a well-behaved, kind child prevented me from really ever experiencing any consequences. When I would skip classes my senior year or get caught coming back onto campus after going to the store to buy cigarettes, nothing happened. Teachers would tell me to just get the assignments in or the security guard would give me a stern look and tell me to not let her catch me again.

I should have realized then that rules were never rules; that they were selectively applied based on who you were. But I didn’t. I just stopped caring whether there were rules or not. I found a self-destructive streak that I took comfort in; it pushed away my empathy for a while. I reveled in myself and became a narcissistic asshat. Some of it was necessary to assert myself in this world. In order to claim my identity, I needed to stop worrying about whether I was following the rules or caring about what others thought (caring about what other people think about you is a powerful force; one that can still hold sway over me).

Empathy has found me again. It isn’t always a good thing. It’s lead me to do things because other people needed it when I didn’t. But it feels good to reconnect with my well-behaved, kind, empathetic childhood self. There’s a comfort in coming home, so to say.