Category: life

2015 Television Rankings

Posted by – July 3, 2015

A couple of years have past since my last rankings. Let’s do it again!

New rule: I refuse to add a show for which I’ve only seen one season. Sorry, Fargo and Better Call Saul, as much as I love you, I’ve been burned in the past (I’m talking about you, House of Cards).

  1. The Wire
  2. The West Wing
  3. Twin Peaks
  4. Breaking Bad
  5. Rescue Me
  6. Sherlock
  7. The IT Crowd
  8. The Shield
  9. Black Mirror
  10. Silicon Valley
  11. Freaks and Geeks
  12. Broadchurch
  13. Sopranos
  14. Friday Night Lights
  15. Louie
  16. The Walking Dead
  17. Game of Thrones
  18. The Black Donnellys
  19. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  20. Lost
  21. Sons of Anarchy

A few additional notes:

  • There are several newcomers to the list. There’s some amazing TV on right now, plus I finally left my US-only comfort zone.
  • Dexter was removed from the list due to the last couple of terrible seasons and an atrocious series finale
  • House of Cards was removed after the second season was a flop. The third season was better, but it still doesn’t belong on the list
  • Orange is the New Black had a great first and second season, but Season 3 was so bad I still haven’t made it past episode 7
  • Lost dropped in the list because as more time goes on, I’m more annoyed by how it came to an end
  • The Fall was removed because of a lackluster second season
  • Sons of Anarchy dropped in the list because of the final 3 seasons. Those were so bad, I came close to removing it from the list, but damn, that series finale was SO good

My favorite television shows

Posted by – September 1, 2009

Over the last year and a half, I’ve been using my laptop as a bedroom TV. This started when Samantha was born. When she was sleeping in our room, the light from our TV would keep her up, but my laptop screen wouldn’t. (Noise was never an issue as I’ve always used wireless headphones)

Sam has long since migrated to her own room, but I’ve grown accustomed to using my laptop as a TV. I actually find it a more intimate viewing experience. I spend an hour or two every night unwinding in bed (or wrestling with my insomnia), watching DVDs from Netflix. For the last year, I’ve been catching up on all of the television series that I had somehow missed over the years.

My favorite shows have been:

  1. The Wire
  2. West Wing
  3. Sopranos
  4. Twin Peaks
  5. Lost
  6. Rescue Me
  7. The Shield
  8. Sons of Anarchy
  9. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
  10. Dexter
  11. Mad Men
  12. Breaking Bad
  13. Californication
  14. Band of Brothers
  15. Generation Kill
  16. Friday Night Lights
  17. The Black Donnellys

Update 01/06/11: How could I forget The Black Donnellys?!

And some top-rated shows that I tried, and probably should’ve liked, but didn’t.

  1. BSG
  2. Deadwood
  3. X-Files
  4. Alias
  5. Six Feet Under
  6. Oz
  7. Weeds
  8. Big Love
  9. Arrested Development
  10. Rome

How I got my groove back

Posted by – July 27, 2009

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t written a single line of code in nearly a year and a half.

For over a decade as a manager / director/ VP, I hadn’t gone longer than a month without at least writing some code. But as soon as I accepted my first CTO job, coding became a thing of the past. It’s as if I had completed the final phase of my metamorphosis from programmer to suit.

My career as a technologist began when I first discovered the web in 1993. I had very little computer experience back then, but was mesmerized by the web and felt an overwhelming need to contribute to it. I taught myself HTML and Photoshop and UNIX and built my first site, “the eye of the storm,” a hideous homepage that utilized every Photoshop filter available.

Soon I became bored with static HTML and spent every waking hour teaching myself Perl/CGI. Like many in those days, I started with a simple contact form, then moved on to dynamic pages, administrative tools, intelligent 404’s, etc. I built my first full-fledged web app, Dr. Iptscrae, in 1995. It was a tool that automated the scripting and configuration of Palace servers. Under the hood, it was a shit storm of cruft Perl – lots of repetition, no commenting, no error handling. Yet was good enough that I sold the code to the folks behind The Palace and walked away with more money than a starving college student knew what to do with.

I never became a rockstar programmer, but over the years, I hacked together more than fifty web apps in Perl, ASP, Java, and PHP. I built web apps for tiny companies, that were used by only a few people and apps for start-ups used by millions of people. I’ve done it as a one-man show, as part of a team, and as a manager. I was that guy who slept in the office and worked from home during vacations, even when my managers begged me to take a break.

But somewhere along the way, building web software became tedious. The excitement of learning and creating was replaced with an assembly line mentality. Every app required the same old methods, business logic, database queries, etc. In hope of recharging my passion, I shifted my focus to process-oriented things like gathering requirements and writing specs. When that became mundane, I moved on to design patterns, code optimization, and hardware tuning. Then I moved on to UX and IA. Finally I moved on to the non-technical realms of launching web applications like marketing and sales.

This is the path that led me to obtain my first executive position — a fantastic opportunity to challenge myself in unfamiliar territory — and use my experience, not my coding, to help guide a new start-up. Nine months after taking the job, I conceived the strategy for, and led my team in the development of a sophisticated social web app. The project lasted nine grueling months, and throughout it all, I didn’t contribute a single line of code.

And to my surprise, I missed it.

I missed being part of those all-night coding sessions. I missed the creative problem solving. I missed being pissed off at the death-march schedule and constant feature creep. After all those years of trying to distance myself from coding, the one thing that finally brought my passion back was, not coding. I found myself with all of this creative energy, and no outlet. I can’t draw, paint, or play an instrument. I’m not a very good writer. I don’t sing or dance. I don’t even like the outdoors very much. As it turns out, I like building software.

I had come up with an idea for a pet project years ago, but was always too fried to build it and was so soured on all of the languages and frameworks that I knew, to use them again on a personal project. I had read a lot about Rails and wanted to learn it, but didn’t have the energy to teach myself yet another framework. I’d been down that road too many times, and while the outcome had always been rewarding, the process could be downright maddening.

And then a couple weeks ago, after a particularly grueling day at work, I woke up at 2AM with a mixture of frustration and creative energy. Instead of fighting it and going back to sleep, I opened up my laptop, and began following a Rails intro tutorial. By 9AM, I had the shell of my new app created. I was coding again! And holy crap, Rails delivered on its promise to make coding fun. Sure, I’ve had some head-banging moments, but in only a couple of weeks, I’m further along than where I’d have been after two months in Java.

I’ve now spent all my free time on the project, which isn’t a lot after a full time job and a four-month old baby. It’s not the next Google — far from it — but it’s something that I’d use as a developer/manager. More importantly, it’s my chance to take everything I’ve learned over the last decade and incorporate it into one (potentially final) web app. I’ll build it myself, design it myself, market it myself, etc. No specs, no mockups, no revenue projections, no meetings to discuss the progress. Just me, my laptop, and a problem I’d like to solve.

Let the experiment begin.

A different type of labor

Posted by – June 24, 2009

My last blog post was about the birth of my daughter. This one is about another nine month project, which resulted in the birth of another type of baby — a web application.

* brief pause to let every mom in the world scream at me for that awful comparison *

OK, so for the past nine months or so, I’ve been leading a web app project to help everyday people manage their environmental footprint. Think of it as a weightwatchers.com for people who want to reduce their impact on climate change. It’s a work-in-progress, but we wanted to release it as early as possible to get a solid feedback loop going. Check it out and let me know what you think.

The site allows even the most passive of environmentalists to track their habits, reduce their footprint, save money, and share their experiences in a VERY social environment. But the BEST part is that I have a unicorn badge in my profile. Maybe a unicorn badge isn’t worth nine months of blood, sweat, and tears to you, but to me, and the three others who earned this badge, it totally is. Right, guys? RIGHT?!

Finally, I have about 25 start-up themed draft posts collecting dust in this here blog. I’m going to start dusting them off and getting back into the habit of blogging regularly. Seriously. Probably. Well, maybe. And yes, I realize that “I’m going to be blogging more real soon” is the new “under construction” animated gif of the web.

We has baby!

Posted by – March 9, 2009

Friday morning I awoke to Jonna standing over me. She was saying something, but I couldn’t hear her. I wear earplugs to drown out the noise of her and Sunny’s synchronized snoring, so all I saw were her lips moving.

I looked at the clock. It was 6AM. Being a night owl, the only reason I’m ever up at 6AM is to catch a flight or attend a funeral. Jonna knows this better than anyone. So, if she was waking me up at 6AM, something was up. And seeing that her due date was on Saturday, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on. I yanked out my earplugs and she calmly said, “I’m pretty sure my water just broke.”

During the days leading up to that moment, I was a complete headcase. Every time she sneezed, a wave of anxiety consumed me. Every time she made a strange face while touching her belly, I started the car. Yet, that morning, I was miraculously calm. We both were. She called the hospital and explained what happened and they told her to come in. The hospital was an hour away (long story), but they said she had time to shower, walk the dog, etc.

I’ve worn a Red Sox cap nearly every day of my adult life, but on this day I wanted to go for a clean-cut look. First impressions are everything and I didn’t want my child to think she had just been born to a punk. Unfortunately, I needed a haircut badly. So while Jonna was getting ready, I shaved and gave myself a terribly unprofessional haircut. Then while she was walking the dog, I jumped on my laptop and began sending out emails, tweets, etc. I was calm to a fault. Eventually she reminded me that she was, you know, in labor, and that we needed to get moving.

Thankfully, it was a gorgeous morning, which was a blessing for the first week of March in Vermont. The drive up to Burlington was quite peaceful. Our first stop was dropping Sunny off at the doggie daycare place. The staff there showed no reaction when Jonna announced “we’re dropping Sunny off for a few days because I’m in labor.” I’m not sure what type of reaction I was expecting, but business-as-usual wasn’t it.

We made it to the hospital around 8:30AM and the staff quickly determined that Jonna’s contractions were only eight minutes apart. She wasn’t in advanced labor yet. Their suggestion: go take a drive, get some breakfast maybe, then come back at 11:30AM. UM, WHAT?! There I was, breathing a sigh of relief that we made it to the hospital, and I wouldn’t have to deliver the baby myself on Route 7, and they’re telling me to get back in the car and take a drive?

I looked the nurse right in the eyes and shouted, “ARE YOU CRAZY? WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE. GIVE US A ROOM AND DELIVER THIS BABY!” … actually, that’s not what happened… we got in the car, drove 15 minutes to a diner, and had the most awkward pancake breakfast imaginable.

The best part was that while in the diner, Jonna called her mom to tell her that her water broke, and the waitress overheard everything. She gave us a crazy look and asked, “Did I just hear you say your water broke?” “Yes,” we replied. “You know you guys should go to the hospital when that happens, right?” “Yup, can you bring us more syrup, please?”

After pancakes it was still only 9:30AM. I hated being away from the hospital, so we drove back and just sat in the lobby of the ER. Her contractions were still 7-8 minutes apart and very faint, so we just hung out and people-watched. The whole thing was quite surreal.

Around 11AM, I couldn’t take it anymore, so we grabbed our bags and marched up to the birthing center, intent on delivering our baby. This time the staff was a bit more welcoming. They got us settled in our room and hooked Jonna up to the monitors. The baby’s heart rate was great, but the contractions were still very light. It had been five hours since Jonna’s water had broke, so they suggested we move forward with a Pitocin drip to speed things up. Part of Jonna’s informal birth plan was to avoid Pitocin, but given the situation and her doctor’s advice, she decided to give it a try.

Finding a vein for the IV was miserable. The nurse tried and failed three times. Not a good start. Eventually, she brought another nurse in and she got it in the first try. They turned on the Pitocin, with a very slow drip, and told us to hang out for a bit. It was around this time, when we were alone in the room, that a password prompt came up on the monitor. The prompt covered a good portion of the screen, making it hard for me to keep an eye on things. As a technologist, data is important to me. When the nurse entered her password earlier, I only heard three keystrokes (yes, I pay attention to those kinda things), so I grabbed the keyboard and typed in “123”. Got it in the first try!

The next 4-6 hours are a blur. Jonna’s contractions increased in frequency, intensity, and duration. I’m not really an empathetic, mushy, supportive type — I’m more of a tough-love kinda guy — but holy crap, I just sat there and watched in amazement the entire time. Jonna was in OBVIOUS pain, but she kept her sense of humor and gutted through hours of contractions. Finally, around 6PM, at six centimeters dilated, her pain was unbearable. She had tried so hard to avoid narcotics due to an unrealistic fear of potential complications and some “doing it naturally” silliness. It took convincing from me and the nurse to get her to finally agree to an epidural.

I’m not gonna lie, the epidural was scary. The anesthesiologist was a total pro, but I held my breath during the whole procedure. My entire world — my wife and my child — hinged on that anesthesiologist not making a mistake. But of course it went perfectly and within minutes Jonna was calm, cool and talking nonchalantly while the monitor clearly showed she was going through a big contraction. Fantastic! It was around this time that I ran down to the cafeteria and had two of the best slices of pizza I’ve ever had.

The pushing began around 8PM. My plan was to stay off to the side during the delivery. Or at the most, by her FACE. But plans and child delivery don’t really go well together. I found myself holding one of Jonna’s legs upright and watching the entire process. Jonna was a friggin natural. There she was, 14-hours into labor, pushing with everything she had. I’m pretty sure if they said she had to lift a car to deliver the baby, she would have. It was a jaw-dropping experience, one that gave me an entire new appreciation for my wife.

I have a nervous laugh. The type of laugh that comes out during funerals. It’s awful. So, there I was, marveling at Jonna, surrounded by the medical staff, and suddenly I began to laugh. Each time Jonna pushed, she kinda screamed and groaned at the same time. And each time she did that, I chuckled a little more . There I am, wearing my Sox cap (the self-haircut just wasn’t working), laughing at my wife, during the most important moment of my life. Go me!

Thankfully, Jonna had this “only Jonna” moment around that time. She had just finished pushing. She had sweat dripping down her face. She was minutes from delivering her child… and she looks at me and says, “I feel stinky. Can you get my deodorant out of my bag?” That was the perfect opportunity for me to get all that nervous laughter out. And yes, I got her the deodorant she asked for.

Twenty minutes later, with one final, gut wrenching push, I watched my child enter the world. Samantha Brooke Rubin. I saw her first breath and in a split second, I became THAT guy who thinks it’d be a good idea to film a birth. It was the second-most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life. There she was. A perfect, living thing that we had created. Just an indescribable moment.

You may be asking yourself, “did he just say that seeing his child enter this world was the second-most amazing thing he’d ever seen? What the hell is the first?”

The first came about thirty seconds later, when Samantha met her mom for the first time. Jonna melted. She just kept saying, “It’s you! It’s you!” I sat back in the chair which the nurses had inconspicuously placed behind me, folded my hands over my head, and just watched the two of them with tears streaming down my cheeks. For nine months, I had worried about the health and happiness of my wife and my child. And here they both were — happy, safe, and madly in love with one another.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Jonna & Samantha