Welcome Home

After we closed on our house, we couldn’t wait to go see it.  Our apartment was small and noisy, and we wanted to move as soon as possible.  As soon as we walked in, we found out that the dining room was flooded.

The house had been “winterized” while it was vacant.  Basically, someone turned off the utilities and drained the hot water heater.  We had to pay to have it dewinterized before it could be inspected.  A few days later it was winterized again.

The bank insisted that the house be winterized to avoid damage in case any pipes froze.   They also insisted the utilities be transferred into our name before closing.  Unfortunately, the people who winterized the house the second time didn’t close the valve on the hot water heater after they drained it.

So, when  the water was turned on earlier that day, it went straight through the hot water heater and out onto the floor.  Luckily the guy from the city noticed that the meter was spinning and turned the water off after a few minutes, but the damage was already done.

We spent the first evening in our new house soaking up water with every towel we owned.  The next day, Paige called a company that pulled up the carpet, treated the walls, and setup fans.  A few days later they replaced the carpet pad and put the carpet back down.

The bill for their services was about $800.  We talked to our agent and he talked to the bank’s agent.  The bank did nothing.  Our agent talked to a lawyer.  The lawyer said we should sue the bank, the company that winterized the house, and even the city.

Guess what we did?

Nothing.  That’s right, nothing.  We paid the bill and went on with our lives.  To me enjoying our new house was a lot more important than $800.  Suing everyone involved would only make the lawyers rich, and it would take months to resolve.  It just wasn’t worth it.

I had honestly forgotten all about this until I wrote the post about us moving the other day.  I think too many people spend so much time focusing on the bad things that they miss the great things that are happening all around them.

I believe that you can choose your attitude, and I choose to be happy every chance I get.

Continuous Improvement

Some people probably think I’m crazy.  I’m always reading at least two books.  I research new things on the web daily.  I love to challenge myself both mentally and physically.  I have an endless thirst for knowledge.

I still remember answering a series of questions offered by the professor in my Object Oriented Programming class while the rest of my peers sat with blank looks on their faces.  One of the other students asked me “So, do you go home and read C++ headers every night?”  I replied with a grin “Not every night.”

I was hired by the school district in the spring of 1999 as a PC Tech.  I went around fixing people’s problems and installing upgrades.  The summer after I was hired, the district starting wiring all of the classrooms and installing servers on each campus.  It seemed natural for me to move up and take over the network.

There was only one problem, I knew little about networking and nothing about servers.  So, I bought a stack of books about Windows NT and started reading.  I would work all morning, go home and read for an hour on my lunch break, then go back and work all afternoon.  I read every evening from the time I got home until I fell asleep.

I tried to stay a few steps ahead of what I was working on.  I still remember trying to set up DHCP for the first time.  I had to bring one of my books to work and follow the steps as I set it up.  This made me a little uncomfortable because I wanted everyone to think I knew everything.  I made sure no one else saw me looking at the book while I worked.

By the end of the summer I knew enough about networking to pass all six tests required to become a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.  That really made me happy because my boss had recently tried one of the tests and failed it.  There was also a pretty significant pay raise to go along with my new title.

I was happy being the network manager for several years after that.  It seemed like there was always something new to learn about networking.  Once I felt like I had mastered Windows, I moved on to Linux.  I read everything I could get my hands on and even ran Linux on my home computer for over a year.

I was also looking forward to the day my boss would retire and I would be promoted again.  He was already grooming me to take his place.  I was learning about the budget and E-Rate applications, and felt like I had a part in many of the “big” decisions.  It wasn’t as interesting as networking, but it was something new to learn.

Finally, my boss retired and I was promoted to Director of Technology.  The day I had been looking forward to for years had finally arrived… and I was miserable.

Instead of constantly learning new things, I felt like I was in an infinite loop of meetings and paperwork.  I spent most days staring at the dull walls of my office, talking on the phone, and responding to e-mail.

I realized something else after my promotion — this was as far as I could go at the school district.  I would never be promoted above Director.  I didn’t have the qualifications for anything higher.   The thought of staying in the same place for the rest of my life scared me.

So, after working for almost 10 years to finally reach my “dream” position, I started casually looking for a new job.

Crawling Back Out Of My Shell

On September 1, 2008 I took a trip to Austin to interview for a job.  This was not an unusual occurence.  I had applied for other jobs prior to this one, and even been out of town for a few interviews.  But, I did seem to have an unusually optimistic feeling about this one.

Even though it was a four and a half hour drive home, I was back at work the next morning.  Most people didn’t even realize I had been gone.   I was grinding my way through e-mail and voice mail after the three day weekend when my phone rang.  Less than 24 hours after the interview, I was offered the job.  And, they wanted me to start October 6.

This meant we had one month to pack up everything we owned, sell our house, and find a place to live 300 miles away.  I hadn’t even told my boss that I interviewed for the job yet, and now I had to tell him that I was leaving.  That made for an interesting conversation later that afternoon.

My wife and I spent the rest of the week cleaning up the house and working on the yard.  We also starting packing in preparation for the move and gathering up things to sell in a garage sale.

On September 10, the realtor put the “For Sale” sign up in our front yard.  The next day, we received an offer on the house for our full asking price.  (Housing bubble?  What housing bubble?)  The buyer wanted us out as soon as possible.  We agreed to be out by the end of the month.

That weekend we had our big moving sale.  We were hoping to attract potential buyers to the house by having a moving sale with the for sale sign out front, but I didn’t mind that it had already sold.

I spent my days furiously documenting and organizing things at work.  I developed a Google site to document everything I knew about the network.  I backed up everything on my computer and reloaded the OS.  I filed what seemed like years worth of paper work and filled a bookshelf with binders.

One of the last things I did was take down the degrees and photos that I had on the walls of my office.  I still remember one of my coworkers had to leave the room while I did that.  I have a lot of good friends back in Paris and I still miss them and think about them every day.

On September 20, we took another trip to Austin to look at apartments.  We had spent the last week researching online.  We narrowed our search down to two different apartment complexes.  We picked the one we liked and put down the deposit the same day.

The next weekend we loaded up the biggest moving truck you can rent and with the help of my mom and step-dad moved to Austin.  We spent the next 7 days learning our way around Austin and the following Monday I started my new job with the Texas Education Agency.

What I Learned About Networking From WoW

I’ve finally broken my addiction to World of Warcraft (again, but that’s a post for another day). Although it was mostly a giant $15/month waste of time, I do feel like I learned a few things from it.

In the few months that I played, I went from being an unknown, to an officer in my guild and a friend to all. I helped people every day with quests. And if I ever needed help, I could always find someone to stop what they were doing and lend a hand.

The list below is my attempt to take my experiences in World of Warcraft and turn them into lessons about networking with other people:

Be Helpful – Find out what you can do to make someone’s life easier and do it. 90% of people will respond with a simple “ty”. Some won’t even bother with a response. But a few people will remember you and look for your help again. These are the people that will help you someday in return.

Be Giving – Everyone likes to receive gifts. If you’re a programmer, contribute to an open source project. If you’re an artist, give away some of your work for free. If you have a web hosting account, host someone’s domain for free. Again, if you give things away, someone will return the favor one day.

Be Humble – This is a fine line to walk. You want everyone in the world to know what you’re capable of doing, but no one likes a braggart. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to do the opposite.

Be Grateful – Let someone else be the hero. Ask for help when you need it, and then praise those who help you. If someone does a nice thing for you, remember them and pay them back when you can. Follow up with a thank you note, an e-mail, or a mention on your blog.

Be Consistent – It’s important that you’re almost always available if you want to build relationships with people. It’s hard to become friends with someone who’s always asleep when you’re online. Let others know when you’re available and how to get in touch with you.

Be Selective – Ignore the idiots in the world. There are always going to be people who’s goal in life is to make others feel bad. Some people think the only way to lift themselves up is by putting other people down. Ignore these people and they will die alone.

I’m going to continue trying to translate these ideas in real world practices and see how far it takes me. If you have any ideas about networking with people online, I’d love to hear them.

Too Shy For Web 2.0?

This may be surprising for those of you that know me, but I can sometimes be a shy person.

For some reason I’ve never been very good at interacting with people online. I have profiles on MySpace, FaceBook, and LinkedIn, but I’ve never used those to meet new people. The only people I’m connected to are people that I already knew, or met some other way.

I read lots of blogs and other web sites, but I wouldn’t think of contacting the author of any of those sites directly. I rarely even leave comments on other blogs. I follow several online forums and mailing lists without ever posting.

The strange thing is, I’m not shy in real life. I have no problem walking into a room full of strangers, introducing myself, and interacting as a member of the group. My brain just doesn’t work the same way when it comes to online interactions.

I’m starting to think that this is holding me back. How can I expect to be successful online if I can’t carry on a conversation with other people? I have the skills to accomplish whatever I want, but no one ever got famous in isolation.

Aaron Swartz wrote an interesting article a while back called How to Get a Job Like Mine. In it, he says you should “gab”. I totally agree with him.

I think I’ll make this my next goal for 2008 – improve my online networking skills.

Now, who wants to be my friend?

Welcome To My Temple

If you’re reading this, then things are working on my new host. This site has been moved from DreamHost to Media Temple.

This move has been coming for a long time. As I said before, the quality of service from DreamHost has been slipping for a while now. I received a 3-month Media Temple gift card some time last year and I finally put it to good use.

Now all I have to do is move the rest of my sites over to Media Temple and everything will get back to normal… whatever that means.

Too Successful For Their Own Good?

I’ve been building websites since the mid-90s. I’m not sure exactly when I started but I do know it was before 1995. My first experience was using edit in DOS to create HTML files and then viewing them in Netscape 3 on Windows 3.1.

I still remember having problems the first time I uploaded my files to a real web server. I called support and they told me that my file extensions had to be html instead of htm. So after uploading the files to their Unix (Linux?) server with FTP, I had to rename them so they would have the correct extension. Those were the days.

Things have changed a lot since then. I’ve been through 2-3 other web hosts. At one point I was using Modwest. The service was good, but I wasn’t pleased with their support. One day I tried to bring up my site and instead got their default “Parked Domain” page. It turns out the credit card information they had on file had expired. Instead of sending my an e-mail to explain this, they just turned off my hosting. Nice.

About that same time, I heard lots of people talking about DreamHost. They offered lots more storage and bandwidth than Modwest for a comparable price. They had all of the features I needed. For $19.95 a month I could have unlimited domains with PHP, Perl, MySQL, SSH, etc. It wasn’t long before I moved my domains over to DreamHost.

At first, everything was great. It seemed like everybody was talking about DreamHost, and everybody was happy. As time went on, I started noticing things slowing down. It wasn’t every day, but sometimes things just didn’t respond as fast as they once did. More time passed, and I started noticing that my site occasionally timed out completely.

A few months ago, DreamHost announced that they were now the 16th largest web host in the world. They are currently hosting over 600,000 domains. That probably explains why my little personal web site is so slow sometimes. DreamHost offers shared hosting which means all of my web sites are on the same server as lots of other web sites. There’s no way (that I know of) to tell how many other sites are on the server I’m on, but I’ll bet it’s a lot more today than it was a few years ago.

Even with the slowdowns it hasn’t really been worth it for me to move to another host, until this morning. A little before eight I received an e-mail from DreamHost billing. This is normal, I get one of these every month for $19.95 plus $9.95 for any domain names that need to be renewed that month.

Unfortunately, today’s bill was for $438.90 and it has already been charged to my credit card. Instead of charging me for February, they charged me for the rest of the year. Not only that, they charged me twice for each of the 11 months. Needless to say, they got a prompt reply. I didn’t panic like some people, but I was not happy.

DreamHost has updated their status blog with a post about the billing issues. So far their are 608 comments on that post. I obviously haven’t read them all, but here’s one of my favorites:

LOL! nice going DH

its cheap for a reason!

My thoughts exactly.

It’s funny, I was thinking about moving the automatic billing from a credit card to our debit card just the other day, but I hesitated for some reason. Scrolling though the other comments on that blog post, I see several people complaining about checks bouncing and not having access to cash. I guess there’s a reason I didn’t make that switch. Gut feelings are almost always right.

Fitness Goals

I try to work out at least three days a week. We’ve been going on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings so Matthew can stay at the “Kid’s Club” at RACE.

Something really nice happened Tuesday evening. First, I beat my personal best time for jogging a mile. My best is now 10 minutes and 51 seconds. After I stepped off the treadmill I weighed myself and found I had lost 6 pounds since the week before.

I only changed one thing to make this happen. I stopped eating meat. You might remember I gave up beef about a year and a half ago. At the time I said I would probably never become a vegetarian, but things have changed.

So far this year I haven’t had any chicken or pork. I’ve only had seafood twice, and I’ll probably never eat it again. It seems like what we eat is just what we’re used to eating. I wouldn’t think of eating a steak now.

I honestly feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. I feel healthier and like I have more energy. Ten days is not enough time to see how this will affect me long term, but so far I wouldn’t change a thing.

With this in mind, here are my fitness goals for 2008: I will jog a mile in 10 minutes or less and get my weight down to 200 pounds or less. These are both things that I can easily accomplish if I just keep doing what I’m already doing.

I Can’t Do It All

That title is one of the hardest things I’ve ever typed. I don’t think I’ve ever said it out loud, but it’s true. I can’t do everything. No one can.

It seems like I spend most of my days either worrying about all the things I have to do the next day, or feeling guilty about the things that I didn’t get done the day before. That’s no way to live.

I tend to take on more than I can accomplish. I also sometimes procrastinate which means it’s too late to ask for help when I finally realize that there’s no way I can get something done. Since getting promoted to Technology Director, I’ve had to get really good at delegating tasks. This is not an ability that comes naturally for me. I’ve always been one to just do things myself.

With this in mind, I think another one of my goals for this year should be to make fewer promises and get more done. I think it’s better to tell someone “Sorry, I can’t do that” up front than to agree to something that I’ll never get around to finishing. I’ve actually been working on this for a while now. I stopped working on people’s computers a long time ago unless they were friends or family.

The hardest part is telling myself no. I’m constantly coming up with ideas for new projects I want to try, but I never have the time to finish any of them. From now on, I’ll focus on whatever project seems the most interesting at the time and push everything else back to my Someday / Maybe list.

Hopefully by this time next year I’ll feel a lot less overwhelmed and maybe even have fewer gray hairs (or at least still have some hair to worry about). If anyone knows a good way to squeeze more hours into a day, I’m all ears.

Happy New Year

I’m back at work after a wonderful two-week vacation. That’s got to be the best part about working for a school district. Believe it or not, I rarely even touched a computer during those two weeks.

Now that 2008 is here, what should I do? Seth Godin says the first thing to do this year is Google yourself. Sounds good to me. This blog is now the 8th result for “Anthony Lewis”. The New York Times columnist and author will probably always outrank me. He’s now 80 years old, so I don’t think anyone will confuse the two of us.

ResolutionsGoals

I’m still working on formulating my goals for this year. It’s easy to spout off a few resolutions like “lose weight” and “get rich”, but I want to really focus on what I’m going to do this year. I’ve been reading some great posts on Zen Habits and Get Rich Slowly about setting goals for 2008. I’m trying to keep their lessons in mind as I plan out the next year.

One thing I’m not going to do is make a promise about posting to any of my blogs. I’ve done that several times in the past and it never works. NoBloPoMo was a complete failure for me.

Writing

I’ve been blogging off-and-on since 1999. I used to write all the time. I was generating so much content that I felt the need to split it up into multiple blogs. A funny thing happened after I did that. It seems like by defining what I was going to write about I took all of the freedom and fun out of the process. Within a few months I wasn’t writing anything.

Almost a year passed before I finally created this site to try to get back into writing. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I wanted this site to mainly be just for me. It wasn’t long before I fell into the same trap as before. I decided that the main focus of this site should be on web development.

By attempting to define what I was doing, I effectively shut down my creativity. Not only did I stop writing, I also stopped working on the projects that I was writing about. Not good.

Two weeks off was exactly what I needed to clear my head and prioritize things again. From now on, I’ll write whenever I feel like writing and post it wherever I want. If I happen to write something relevant to one of my other blogs I’ll post it there. Otherwise, it will end up here.

I have a feeling 2008 is going to be a great year.