Body and Mind Hacking (An experience with physical therapy and conferences.)

ng-conf 2015 logoSo recently I went to the excellent ng-conf in Salt Lake City, Utah. Going to conferences has always been something that I have enjoyed to one degree or another, and ng-conf was no different. The people have a passion for what they do, and how they do it. Except for one person, which I will relate later.

Going to ng-conf opened my eyes, again, as to why I am a developer and why I love what I do. Sometimes what is needed to take a look at yourself and your condition is to do something different for a while, and the conference did that for me. It allowed me to think about the work I am doing and see the architecture I develop through the eyes of the presenters and the people I met at the conference. This fresh perspective is something I will take back with me to my team, and I sincerely hope that I can give them at least a fraction of the energy and insight I gained from going.

Meeting other developers and talking with them in a positive manner is a great way to learn new things, introspect the things you are doing, and to come up with better solutions for things that have been pain points in the past. Doing this is similar to my experiences with physical therapy that I have had recently. (See that segue there? As smooth and soft as a gravel driveway.)

I’ve had back pain for years, many people do. You wouldn’t see commercials about it, billboards, internet ads, and all manner of snake oil offering ways to cure it if it wasn’t a big problem today (at least in the United States). I’ve lived with it, done some exercises, gone to a gym and hired a physical trainer for a while to see if I could solve it. Inevitably, it comes back, and recently the pain has been one that has been more localized than what I was used to, at times preventing me from standing up out of a chair or picking up things from the floor. Sounds bad, right? You would think I was eighty, but I’m not, not for a while yet anyway.

The situation was intollerable, and I want it gone. (I’m not out of complete pain yet, but I am working on it.) So I did the sensible thing, I talked with my doctor. I had talked with my doctor before about the pain, so he knew it was a recurring issue, and he listened as I described the slightly newer kind of pain I was in. He gave me some possible areas the pain could be coming from, and some of the options I had in treatment. I love my doctor, because he’s both a person, and a knowledgeable medical practitioner, and has intelligent and reasonable discussions with me about my care.

So after talking it over with him, we both knew I didn’t want something more invasive like surgery, or even imaging, which I had done a few years back. Physical therapy sounded the best, and the main reason I chose it is the same reason I enjoy going to conferences. It gives me perspective on myself, shows me things that are part of me yet I am not aware of myself, the invisible things that you don’t see without someone else holding up a mirror and showing them to you.

I wanted physical therapy because I wanted to know what was wrong, but more importantly, have the knowledge to how I could continue to improve and prevent a relapse like had happened before. To get a set of exercises and life changes that could make my pain go away. (My daughter likes to jump up and hug me, which I love, but at the wrong time can murder my back.)

You remember that guy I mentioned earlier? The one that wasn’t passionate about being at ng-conf? I said I would talk about him later, now is later. During one of the first parts of the first day of the conference, I sat down in the audience to listen to the talks. I was enjoying them, listening to them with an open mind and thinking of how at least the concepts of the code being talked about could help my own work, even if the library or code couldn’t be used directly. Inevitably, the man would scoff, or shake his head, or utter a ‘yeah right’ as a point would come up or some new innovation was presented.

It was distracting, but it was even more concerning for me. After all, this man had come to this conference, I assume willingly, and was here to participate right? I have seen developers, people, like him before. I can only assume what his life was like up until I met him, but to me it seemed he was usually under pressure, dealt with timelines, unreasonable expectations, or broken promises. I felt sorry for him, and I also realized, that I have been like him at points in my past. Points I didn’t realize at the time that I had the power within me to change.

Coming back to my physical therapy. Up until I spoke with my doctor, I dealt with my pain. I said to myself that going to the doctor was too much trouble, hassle, he couldn’t do any thing for me, all manner of fleeting excuses that was me telling myself that I could just live with it and be lazy by not having to leave the house on an errand. I was like that man, complaining about the pain, but not actually doing anything about it.

Eventually, the incidents of pain became too much, and I realized that treating the problem now was going to be a lot easier than treating it when I was eighty. Not to mention that I would have many years of pain if I waited that long to treat it. I want my kids to be able to jump on me, and to be a superhero for them. It was that decision that changed me from the man complaining about things, into someone who was taking control over their own body.

I love hacking. I’m a programmer, woodworker, writer, electronics enthusiast, you name it. If it has a puzzle involved, I am all for diving in to solve it.

I decided, and this is important, I had the presence of mind to decide to look at my physical therapy as a puzzle. My back pain is something that I can solve. I need help, information, on how to hack my back, and so I looked for good resources, my doctor, and my physical therapist. That mindset has made a world of difference. I am hacking my back, and I’m getting results.

Where am I going with this rambling tale? I’m sure that I haven’t been entirely clear on my point, in fact, there are several points inside my narrative, so let me see if I can tease them out for you.

  • If something pains you, do something about it. Gather information you need, and solve that puzzle.
  • Be self-aware. If you don’t look at yourself, you won’t see places you can make change, only feel the pain of the things that are wrong.
  • Get a mirror to help you see. If something is paining you, code, your body, your relationships, anything, then find something or someone to help you get a perspective on it.
  • We only live the one life we have, so why suffer, in any way, to just get through it. Make it the best life you can live. Will you fail at things? Sure. There’s information there, learn from it, and then use that to go at it again.
  • Be critical, but not closed minded. Look at new things with a critical eye and you will always find some grain of knowledge that you can tease out of it that can help you on your journey.

This was written just after the closing of ng-conf 2015. I’m riding a pretty good high of energy and excitement from the things that I learned over the last two days. I’ve also got a head swimming with thoughts and ideas, which accounts for some of the excited ramble above. I hope to organize my thoughts more over the next few days, but I also hope not to lose any of the excitement, the passion, that I have absorbed.

If I do, then you can expect more articles from me here, and I will make the effort to have them be a more focused version of my enthusiasm.

On a positive note…

Reviewing the last several posts, it would appear that for a few months that I have been in the doldrums of despair. While that is partly true, it is not where I have spent the majority of my time.

At work, I’ve been working on several projects dealing with online video, digital publishing, and helping out a team re-architecting several systems within a client’s structure. In other words, work has me busy and it’s been the good kind of interesting.

If you’ve been paying attention to the weather in the mid-western United States, then you can guess that I have been mostly indoors during the record cold and snows this year. It’s put my woodworking, and anything in the garage on hold, almost everything.

Earlier I had a picture of a cat resting in the partly assembled shelves of a bookcase I build last year. That cat, Angel, is kind of the neighborhood cat, and since her original owners didn’t take her in anymore, we’ve had her wintering in the garage. She’s quite happy there, but a little stir crazy like all of us since she can’t go outside. She’s even gotten into the house a few times, and while our dog likes her, the cats in the house, one of which is a daughter of her’s, definitely do not like sharing the house with the newcomer.

I’ve been working on a talk about Grunt, a task running utility that I use at work to reduce the redundant things I do (building, running tests on code, and making deployments). I’ve applied to give a talk at Chicago Code Camp in a few months, and plan to give the talk before then to the people at work.

I was planning on going to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) this year, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards given the current focus of projects at work. Though I should be seeing Jim Van Verth next month, and he will be speaking there. He is wicked smart, and now works at Google. Sometimes I hope by being in the room with him that I get better at my own math skills.

So until it warms up outside, I plan on continuing the inside hobbies. Oh, I’ve also played far to many games while stuck inside this winter, finishing Batman Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Tomb Raider, and playing many levels of Orcs Must Die 2 with Erin (my wife). When it warms up, the workshop will be aired out, and I can continue on the secret project. Until then, I am endeavoring to not distract myself from writing and editing the writing I have done. It’s a losing battle right now, but I hope for at least a Pyrrhic victory over my procrastination.

Erin hasn’t seen the Avengers movie yet, and I am making sure that she is fixing that gap in her knowledge now. So until next time, stay warm.

I am now the answer to life the universe and everything.

I tried to get this out on September 27th, when it was actually my birthday, but… well, you know how things go some days.

What has this last year been like? What have I gained? What have I lost? What do I look forward to?

As much as the answer just asked more questions in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, turning 42 is no different.

Over the last year at work, I have worked on several great projects. One for a major sports franchise doing an app for SmartTVs. Another for a major creator of yearbooks and rings. I’ve worked on the Randori framework, an open source project that allows developers to work in the language they like (currently ActionScript is supported), and have  it output to HTML5, with abstractions for allowing designers to now have to touch the code. I worked for a large bank, doing enterprise development work that handled billions of dollars of reporting data. I even wrote a book!

At home, I’ve been writing more, and raising my wonderful daughters. I’ve been working on building a deck, which has been no mean feat so far, maybe I can get that done before I am 43. I’ve been working on a secret project that early in 2014 I can talk about. My father-in-law has moved in with us, and my own parents have moved from Tucson to Indianapolis so we can see them more often as well.

It has been a full year.

So what have I gained and lost?

Time, in both senses. When I started working on the book, I had such a short set of deadlines to get the chapters in that I cut out all of my computer gaming entirely. Since I had been playing the Champions MMO, that had been a not-insignificant change. I miss the people there, and the role-playing of the life of a super hero. I don’t miss the time it took from me though. I am constantly surprised still at the amount of time I have for the rest of my life.

I have less time now too, both in my overall life, and in my day to day. How so for the day to day, David? You just said you have more time since you cut out gaming! Well, yes, but a vacuum likes to be filled. That time was filled with writing, with being more with my kids, with other projects, with going to bed at a reasonable hour. So I do have less time, however, I *feel* better about it than I had been. I have been more productive overall, and that makes me feel that time is well spent. Overall, a net positive.

I have slowed down my pace, though if you look at the list of things to do I seem to have increased. The difference has been focus. Doing one thing for a span of time, rather than trying to multitask, has been the key. Right now I am writing, but I have my laser engraver, my deck, and my secret project to work on today. Right now, I am writing, not doing all of those. Which has been the key to getting things done for me, your mileage may vary, but it works for me. It’s why you will see this post, instead of having it sit as a draft for another month.

What do I look forward to?

This year, everything. Life right now is really good. I’m employed, I have a great family, and the projects I am doing have been things have scratched a Maker itch that has been pestering me for a long time now. There aren’t many clouds on the horizon, and I hope that it stays that way. I have always believed that people make their own fate, though I have not always followed that belief. Now however, I am. I have the reigns firmly in hand, and I am controlling this horse called life.

What do I have planned for this year?

Good question! I have a lot of things planned. Not all of them will get done, but I will get to them as time allows. I plan on finishing the laser engraver within the next month or so, as long as nothing further goes awry (more on that in a future post). The deck certainly needs work. I am planning on writing a series of short books on 3D printing, now that the first one is out I realize there is a lot more that I can say on the matter to help people get into the hobby side of things. The secret project definitely needs work. I had a breakthrough late last week, and it was what I needed to get my enthusiasm for it ramped back up.

On the horizon is editing the fiction book I co-wrote with Katherine Guevara-Birmelin, working title of Sky and Storms. It’s massive, and written over email, so it has a *HUGE* amount of editing to do. I have a setting for another fiction novel in my head, spawned by the fallout from having to cancel Vegas After Midnight. Mick still has the fire in him to get his version out, and I encourage you to check it out.

From my desk here in the basement (moved here since the office is now the father-in-law room) I hear the pitter patter of little feet upstairs, which sound much larger than they used to only a few years ago, I know I need to wrap this up. Until next time, so long, and thanks for all the fish!

For those interested in 3D printing, I wrote a book!

Over the past several months I have been working on something. I’ve touched on it a bit here and there in posts about writing a book. Now I can actually talk about it!

The book is called Instant Slic3r. It is meant to be a beginner to intermediate level introduction to the software Slic3r, which is one piece of software you can use in your 3D printing suite of tools. As part of it being an introduction, and in Packt Publishing’s Instant series of books, it weighs in at around sixty odd pages.

Writing it took some effort, and is one of those things that I mentioned in yesterday’s post where I had to really focus. My workload for the book was 2 pages a day, and juggling that with work, family, commuting, and sleeping I had very little time for anything else.

Over the last few years, I have dug deep into the 3D printing community. Learning about various printers, getting in on a Kickstarter for one of my own, researching how they work and how they can be improved. It’s a big area to explore, and Slic3r is a small, though integral, part of it.

Instant Slic3r front coverThe book comes out soon, hence my ability to talk about it now. I don’t have an exact date, but I am told that it will be out and available in 3-4 weeks from now. When I get more information, like links to the book page itself, I will post them.

I hope if you are interested in 3D printing, you’ll pick up a copy. If you want any more information about the book, let me know in the comments.

Oh! Before I forget, I get to show you the cover too!

 

[UPDATE] The book is now available for purchase from multiple vendors. The main Packt site also links to the other places it is available: http://www.packtpub.com/turn-virtual-model-into-a-physical-object-using-slic3r/book