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Bachelor this week

Rachel and the kids have gone down to her parents’ in Eugene, Oregon, for a little rest and relaxation. There’s nothing like Mom to help you feel better. πŸ™‚

That means that I’m a bachelor for a few days – until the weekend at least. I have a ton of blog/podcast related stuff that I’ve been wanting to work on, but things have been so crazy since Gabriel was born that I haven’t had a chance.

Not that I want to get everyone’s hopes up, but I’ve been feeling antsy about not updating much here, and I’m going to do something about it. Hopefully, it will be interesting and worthwhile.

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Wish us luck (updated)

Rachel goes in for her gall bladder removal surgery in a couple of hours. We’ve got good friends watching the kids, and it’s only a day surgery, so hopefully, by this evening, we’ll be recovering peacefully at home. It’s amazing what they can do with laproscopic surgery – 4 tiny incisions, fill up the abdomen with air, and go in with tiny cameras an instruments. In a geeky way, I sort of wish I could watch, but then, I really don’t want to see it done on my wife. πŸ˜‰

Thanks to everyone who’s sent good wishes and kind thoughts. We really appreciate it.

I won’t be live blogging this one, but I’ll post an update once we’re home.

Update: We’re home now. Surgery’s over, and Rachel is doing fine. It’s been a rough 24 hours for us all, and I haven’t slept much, but we’re happy. The surgery was originally scheduled for noon, but once we got in to the hospital (including filling out paperwork, Rachel changing into a gown and getting an IV started), they told us that they were really busy/backed up, and wouldn’t be able to get the surgery started until about 6:00 PM. They sent us home, and we came back later.

Since they were getting started so late, that meant we had to stay overnight at the hospital. Emma was already staying overnight with some friends (thanks, Kris and Kip!), but the babysitter we had for Gabriel was only until the afternoon, so we picked him up, and he spent the rest of the time with me. Rachel didn’t actually get into surgery until about 7:30 PM, so by the time she got out of recovery and up to her room, it was about 11:00 PM. I spent the next 12 hours taking care of Gabe and trying to take care of Rachel, and then we were discharged.

We’re all at home now. Rachel’s sore, but doing well. Emma’s happy to be home, and Gabe is, well, acting like a seven week old baby. πŸ™‚

We want to thank everyone who has been so willing to help us – family, friends, and acquaintances. We wouldn’t have made it through without you, and we really, really appreciate everything. We’ll do the same for you – just let us know! πŸ™‚

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So many thoughts, so little time

Besides all the crazy stuff going on in my life right now (my wife’s hospital stay, second major re-org in 6 months at work, reporting to my third manager in as many months, and, oh yeah – having a six week old baby and a three year old daughter… ;-)), I’m re-reading The Cluetrain Manifesto again (the whole text of the book is available there for free – required reading for anyone who participates in the web, if you ask me). I try to do it at least once a year or so, and it never fails to kick a whole bunch of exciting ideas and feelings loose in my brain and in my heart.

I want to write about all of them, but I just haven’t had time. Heck, I’ve even toyed with the idea of recording some podcasts about some of the stuff, just because audio is higher idea-bandwidth than typing.

I’m going to get to all of it. I don’t know when, but I will. Maybe next week – Rachel’s going to be staying at her mom’s for a few days, to relax during her recovery (she’s having her gall bladder out tomorrow – yikes!).

So expect a whole bunch of stuff from me soon – stuff that’s from the heart, and from my brain. One of the things I realized from the Cluetrain reading is that I’ve been filtering/censoring myself. Letting my fears about what people/my employer might think prevent me from writing anything interesting. I’ve been playing the “professionalism” game, and it’s been stifling my voice. No more of that.

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At least Vonage 911 works (or: how my wife spent her birthday weekend in the hospital)

(This is a really long post on a totally non-geeky family emergency. Part of me wants to share, and part of me just needs to vent. You’ve been warned.)

It’s been an interesting few days…

Sunday was my wife Rachel’s birthday (I won’t tell you her age – she’d answer 29 if you asked her ;-)). We hadn’t planned anything big – an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins per her request, and we did some fun stuff on Saturday as a family (breakfast at Tom’s Pancake House, went to the farmer’s market, etc.). We ordered Pizza Hut for dinner, Emma and I picked up the ice cream cake, and we all generally enjoyed a Family Fun Day(TM).

That night, Rachel woke me up at about 2:00 AM, saying she was having really bad pain in the center of her back, coming through to her chest. She was starting to get a little panicky (wouldn’t you?), and I did my best to keep her calm while trying to figure out what was going on. I suspected some kind of indigestion, since we had greasy pizza for dinner, and I had some pretty bad heartburn myself. But we quickly ascertained that it wasn’t likely something she ate. By this point, she was starting to feel faint and nauseous, and was getting clammy. Not good. Of course, we’re both thinking the worst at this point – heart attack…

Not knowing what else to do, and preferring to err on the side of caution (isn’t that what my fancy insurance from Intel is for?), I called 911. Somewhere, in the geeky recesses of my mind (yes, they function during crises in the middle of the night) I knew that we had Vonage, which warns you about E911 compatibility, and the fact that when you call 911, your address might not be displayed correctly to the 911 operator. Apparently, that wasn’t the case. The operator immediately dispatched an ambulance, and kept me on the phone, asking questions. She told me to turn on my porch light, and unlock the door, which I did. Turns out the ambulance station was only a few blocks away, because the EMT crew was there within a couple of minutes.

So, within 5 minutes or so of waking up, there was a crew of three young, blonde, attractive women in my bedroom, asking questions and taking vitals on Rachel. And me just standing there, in my underwear. πŸ™‚ Don’t think I’m a pig for mentioning this part of the story – Rachel and I have been joking about it, and I have a feeling that it’s going to be one of those things we can refer to in 20 years, and still have a chuckle.

They checked Rachel, and didn’t find anything indicating immediate or obvious cardiac problems, which was simultaneously reassuring and distressing. They wanted to take her to the hospital to find out what was going on. At this point, a million thoughts about the logistics of the whole thing popped into my head – should I follow the ambulance in the car? What about the kids? Gabriel we could just throw into his carrier and bring along, but three year old Emma was asleep in her bedroom. Rachel gave me the name of a friend from church to call, who could come over and stay at our house with Emma. I hate to call anyone in the middle of the night, but before I even had a full explanation of the situation out, she was telling me that she was getting dressed, and would be right over. Thank you for being so willing to respond, and serve, Carol. We can’t say how blessed we felt to have you watch after Emma.

The ambulance headed out with Rachel aboard, no lights and sirens, but moving quickly nonetheless. I put Gabriel in the car, and waited a few minutes for Carol to arrive. During those few minutes, Emma woke up, and came into our bed, as she sometimes does. She must have been puzzled to see the lights on, the bed empty, and Dad dressed and getting ready to leave. I explained that mama was sick, and I had to take her to the doctor, and that a friend was going to come and stay with her. She was still asleep, though, so I doubt any of that sunk in. She curled up in our bed, and went back to sleep. The next day, some other friends from church took Emma, so she could play with their kids in a familiar setting. Thank you, Kevin and Kelly, for taking care of our Emma for us, and thank you Emma, for being so flexible and easy, and handling the unexpected events of the last few days like an angel.

Now, here I am, driving to the hospital in the rain at 2:30 AM, with my six week old son asleep in the back, wondering what’s happening with Rachel. I confess that I exceeded the speed limit most of the way, but not too much, since it was rainy, and my rush to get to the emergency room was tempered by the thought of Gabriel and I getting into an accident on the way. By this point, the adrenaline had subsided a bit, and crazy, dark thoughts about what might happen flooded in. What would I do without Rachel? What would Emma and Gabriel do without their mother? How would I be able to provide for our needs, as well as care for them? Like I said, dark thoughts. I wouldn’t wish those types of thoughts and feelings on anyone.

When I got to the ER, I went inside, and got my little visitor sticker for the ER room number Rachel was in. When I walked in, she was in the middle of having an EKG – there were about 15 little stickers attached to various places on her body, each with an electrical lead and a wire connected to a little laptop cart, recording the EKG data. She was awake, and considering the circumstances, looked OK. She was still in pain, but there were no signs of any heart problems. That was the good news. The bad news was that they didn’t yet know what was wrong. They gave her some IV morphine, which stopped the pain, and pretty much from that point on, we were playing a waiting game.

We spent the next 12 hours in the emergency room, while every couple of hours, Rachel was wheeled away for one diagnostic test or another. Chest x-ray, more EKGs, CAT scan, ultrasound, etc. We passed the time taking care of Gabriel, trying to snooze, and listening to all the activity going on in the ER around us. Listening to the radio calls from incoming ambulances was particularly interesting, in a morbid, train-wreck sort of way. After all the waiting, the verdict? 15 to 20 gall stones. Her episode of pain was likely caused by the passage of one of the stones.

That said, there had been just enough abnormalities in some of the tests (a slightly irregular heartbeat, etc.) that they wanted to be very sure that there was nothing wrong with her heart. That meant being admitted to the hospital. We had to wait a few hours for a room to open up on the cardiac floor, and after a while, we were whisked up there. Rachel was hooked up to a portable telemetry monitor pack, hung around her neck, and sternly warned that if she left the 6th floor, or any of those leads came off, nurses would come running with a crash cart.

Suitably indoctrinated, we settled in for what would be 24 boring hours of uneventful waiting. Rachel felt fine – after the initial attack, which the morphine squashed, she had no more pain. So, we watched TV (a “What Not to Wear” marathon was on TLC – I told Rachel that was her birthday present – she loves that show ;-)), tried to sleep, and called family and friends to let them know what was going on. Gabe was the star of the show, and charmed every nurse and staff member who met him – at one point, we took a walk around the floor, and all work effectively came to a halt as we passed by the nurses station. πŸ™‚ Thank you to the St. Vincents nurses and staff that made us as comforable as possible while we were there.

The surgeon wanted Rachel’s gall bladder to come out, but didn’t feel that it was urgent, so we were discharged on Monday, and Rachel will be going in at the end of this week for the surgery. It’s going to be done laproscopically, with only 4 tiny incisions, and it’s a “day” surgery, meaning no extended hospital stay. I’m going to be around to keep things running at home, and let Rachel recover. She’s on a bland diet, and will likely be for a while – the ice cream cake is waiting in the freezer at home.

Once things settled down, I told Rachel that the next time she wants some kind of exciting adventure for her birthday, to just tell me. I don’t know if my heart can handle any more excitement of that variety. πŸ˜‰

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Video Camera Recommendations for the beginning Video Blogger

Paul Colligan is dipping his toes into the video blogging waters, and asks what kind of camera he needs to get. Below is what I wrote as a comment to his post, which grew into kind of a long list, so I’m reposting it here, in no particular order.

What advice/recommendations would you give?

Digg!

Just about any digital camcorder that writes to MiniDV tape is what I’d recommend. I have a Sony DCR-HC40 – it’s tiny, and it works great. Make sure it has a Firewire port (also called IEEE1394 or i-Link) – Ignore whether it has a USB port or not, because you can’t pull video off of the tape over USB (even USB 2.0). And you’ll need a firewire card and cable for your PC. I paid $10 for a firewire card from NewEgg.com – don’t pay much more than that. And don’t pay more than $10 for a firewire cable. Retail outlets will try to rob you – get a cheaper cable from NewEgg or someplace like pchcables.com here in Portland/Hilllsboro (see my post on the outrageous price of cables). For a laptop, you could go with a PCMCIA firewire card if your laptop doesn’t already have a port.

With cables, be aware of the difference between 4-pin and 6-pin connectors. Most camcorders have the smaller 4-pin connector. Most firewire cards (and Macs) have the larger 6-pin connector (the two extra pins are for power, which doesn’t matter on a camcorder). Purchase your cable with the right ends.

I’d stay away from hard-drive based models – too new and too expensive. Ditto for DVD-based models – the media is expensive. When you think about it, MiniDV is a darn good deal for media. For $3, you get 60 minutes of 720×480 digital video, which works out to be around 30 GB or something per tape. I buy 6-packs of TDK tapes cheap at Costco.

Most camcorders have a “nightshot” mode, but that makes everything look like the Blair WItch Project, and is really only useful for dramatic effect. Like digital still cameras, more optical zoom is nice (20x is common), but digital zoom is basically useless. Image stabilization is another common feature, which is desireable, especially if you’re not going to use a tripod.

Speaking of tripods, I had a heck of a time finding one in the Portland area (west side). Magnolia HiFi and Video Only didn’t have any, and the ones at Best Buy were really expensive (I ended up getting a little $60 one). I later discovered that Fred Meyer has a great selection of tripods, all cheaper than Best Buy.

Ignore HD for now, unless you want to spend $1500+. For video podcasting, HD is not worth it yet, since you’re most likely going to be transcoding and distributing the files at a smaller resolution (like, say, 320×240 for the iPod).

I spent $500 on my camera new a few years ago, could have found it cheaper if I tried (I had some store credit, so it didn’t matter). You could find a good Canon or Sony MiniDV camcorder for less than $300.

Remember that in a pinch, your digital still camera can probably take decent video, especially if it’s less than a year old. I’m really impressed by the video I get out of my Canon SD700 IS. It doesn’t compare to my camcorder, but it’s very usable for video blogging, and even if the quality of your camera isn’t great, it can be better than not getting the video at all.

Get something with an external mic jack (powered, if possible), because the built-in mic on the camcorder isn’t great for interviews, etc., where you’ll want a lav mic or something you can get closer to the person speaking.

MiniDV tape quality doesn’t matter, since it’s all digital. Either the bytes are stored, or they’re not. There’s no picture quality difference between cheap and expensive tapes, like with analog (VHS, 8mm, etc.).

Oh, and camcorderinfo.com is the place to go for in depth reviews, etc. They’re super picky, so if they complain about the image quality or color, etc., just remember that they’re videophiles.

Update: Media wizard Jake Luddington has a post on 10 Tips for Buying a Digital Camcorder.

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Video: Model Rockets

Here is a little video collage of 5 or 6 model rocket launches that I did with our Cub Scout pack a couple of weeks ago. The camera was mounted on a tripod, and I sifted through about 45 minutes of footage to capture these good parts. End result is about a minute and a half long, 14.5 MB.

It started getting dark, but that made the fiery launches that much more impressive.

Of 4 rockets, we suffered two losses – one small one of mine, and one of the Scout’s were lost into a neighboring orchard. My big "Fat Boy" rocket flew successfully twice. This is the one that I’m going to modify to include the CVS digital camcorder, as seen in Make Magazine #7 – expect more cool rocket footage as soon as I get that done! :-) 

This video was originally shared on blip.tv by Josh Bancroft with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.
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Photos from the Portland Waterfront

Salmon Springs Fountain, originally uploaded by JoshB.

On Saturday, we went down to walk around the waterfront in downtown Portland. The Portland Spirit, the Willamette river, the bridges, and the Salmon Springs fountain are all icons of Portland to me.


I took a ton of photos, including a few panoramas put together by Autostitch. I’m pretty pleased with the way most of them turned out – you can check them out in this photoset on Flickr. They’re all geotagged, too, so you can see them on a map (zoom in close and switch to hybrid view to see exactly where they were). I’ve got all but a couple dozen of my 1600+ photos of Flickr geotagged – a lot of work, but it feels good to have that metadata added to all of my photos.


Let me know what you think! πŸ™‚

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One of my favorite bloggers inside Intel is now posting on the new blogs.intel.com/it blog

Just saw a post from Jeff Moriarty come through my aggregator, on the IT@Intel blog on the newly minted blogs.intel.com. Jeff is a legendary poster on the internal Intel blogs, and I am stoked to see that he’s one of the people chosen to post on Intel’s public blogs!

Do yourself a favor, and subscribe to the feed, if for no other reason than to not miss out on any of Jeff’s posts. He’s an amazing writer, and has a way of expressing what a lot of us Intel employess are feeling. And he’s hilarious. I don’t know if he’ll be busting out the humor and parodies on the IT@Intel blog, but even if he doesn’t, I will be hanging on every word. πŸ™‚

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Introducing blogs.intel.com, starting with the IT@Intel Blog

I’m happy to announce that blogs.intel.com has gone live. I wasn’t directly involved in the engineering/creation of this site, but I did work closely with the folks who put it together, offering suggestions and insight as a blogger. They did a great job of listening to my feedback, and putting up with me and the crazy things I insisted on. πŸ™‚

The first blog that’s available is the IT@Intel blog, written by various managers in the IT organization at Intel. You can subscribe to the feed for the IT@Intel Blog in your favorite aggregator. (EDIT: Actually, I recommend subscribing to the Atom feed, instead of the RSS feed, as for some reason, the RSS feed is not full text. The Atom feed is.).

The site is powered by MoveableType Enterprise, which I’m not too familiar with, but it does offer RSS feeds (0.92 and 2.0 flavors, as well as Atom), and feed autodiscovery. Comments are allowed on posts, but they are moderated. There’s a linkblog of some other IT/CIO focused sites, too.

The content is obviously targeted at IT managers, but if you’re one of those, that’s not a bad thing. Hopefully, in the future, there will be more blogs to choose from at blogs.intel.com, including individual employee blogs (we have internal blogs, but it would be nice to let Intel employees have a voice outside the firewall, like Microsoft, Sun, Adobe, IBM, etc.). The first post is by Marty Menard, my boss’s boss’s boss in IT.

While not the first external Intel.com blog (the Intel Software Network group gets that honor!), I’m still happy to see Intel take one more tip-toe step into the blogosphere.

Let me know if you have any feedback about the site, or suggestions for content or other improvements. I’ll get it to the right people. Thanks!

Update: Robert Scoble posted about the new Intel blogs, via Byron at Textura Design, who created the blog. There will probably be some good conversation in the comments.

Update 2: Shel Holtz has a post about blogs.intel.com, and Rohit Bhargava (who does some PR stuff for Intel) mentions it, too, as well as an intriguing post about Intel doing a Second Life event. Gotta go learn more about that one…

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