Handyman! Who knew?

The other day, just in time for our month Iron Chef dinner parties, our oven decided to die on us. The burners worked fine but after several hours of baking a ham, it still hadn’t finished pre-heating. So it wasn’t totally dead, but in the words of Princess Bride, it was “mostly dead”.

So after lamenting the possibility of having to buy a new oven, I decided to look online and see what I could find out. I found out that it’s usually the baking element (that wire thing at the bottom in an electric oven) having problems if the oven won’t ever come up to temperature. So I opened up the oven and checked the element. It looked a little funny, so I touched it. It fell apart. Guess that needed some help.

So we went on Ebay and ordered the part. It showed up today and I took out the old one and put in the new one (go me!). I turned on the oven and there was heat. So now we just have to be able to cook a meal and not have the house burn down and I’ll feel it was a success.

Here’s a shot of the old heating element.


Why I Didn’t Like the Dark Knight

Yes, I finally got around to seeing the Dark Knight last night. They joys of having a 2 year old!

Before I get around to explaining my disagreements, I should start out by saying that as far as acting and accomplishing an emotional reaction, I thought the movie was very good. And I can definitely understand why Heath Ledger got the Academy Award.

But my disagreement with the movie stems from the fundamental premise of the movie. If it hadn’t been a “Batman” movie, I would have avoided it, since I’m more of an action or fun movie type of person. This is my same beef with the new James Bond movies with Daniel Craig.

I disagree with the movement to take these larger than life characters and dragging them down into the degraded,
“real” arena. These characters were meant to be larger than life. Of course they had their fatal flaws, but good always triumphed over evil in the end and the good guys came out alright and the bad guys were locked up or dead. And you usually felt better after watching them!

The fact that I fell like writing something like this after watching the Dark Knight should be enough to point out that I didn’t feel better after it, regardless of it’s technical expertise as a theatrical art piece (which was VERY impressive). I know the current trend is toward “reality”, but there’s a reason that a majority of the timeless classics (I know not all) are of the love story that works out in the end (i.e. Cinderella) or the where the hero triumphs over evil. I mean, who would have remembered the Cinderella story if she had ended up with a small house, two kids and a job?

I think the characters like James Bond and Batman, which have long histories of being the grandiose, larger than life superheroes, should be left that way. I don’t think if Batman had started out like he’s portrayed in the Dark Knight, as someone who has to suffer to do right, the franchise would have made it through innumerable comics, a TV series and a bunch of other movies.

And maybe these new movies are meant for a different audience, but while I continue to hope for the best and shell out my money to see them, I’m not impressed. I think the world needs it’s heros and fantasies. They bring people up and remind people that a more ideal scene is possible, even if only in the movies and books for now. If I want a dark story, I can look on the news. There’s plenty of that in real life. Want to talk about suffering, look at India. Want to talk about unsung heroes, look in the plethora of wars over the past years. Want some really crazy people, look at the Unibomber or the guys that flew into the World Trade Center. But that’s not what I want when I go to the movies–especially when it’s based on characters that have a long history of winning against all odds and keeping their sense of humor while doing it.

And my point doesn’t include movies like Watchmen, which are meant to be more “dark” from the beginning. They’ve never been something else, so they stand on their own metaphorical feet when it comes to drawing an audience.

But I guess I don’t like horror flicks either, so there’s plenty of people out there that will disagree with me. But I want to point out one thing: the biggest money making genre is the action movie, where the heroes are inevitably larger than life and usually come out in the end beat up but having triumphed over all.

Gas Prices

I think it’s funny (though not really) that we now view gas prices around $3.25 as low. What a joke! It’s definitely lower that the $4 we were approaching/hit, but it’s still ridiculously high. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that gas is quick to follow the increase in the price of barrels of oil, but quite slow to follow the deline. I’d love to get a copy of the plans and programs that some of these high oil executives are operating on. I think they’d make interesting reading. Almost as interesting as those behind the banking/money industries!

Canceled Flights

I’m once again off to DC for work, but on the way this morning I got a call from the person that booked my ticket for me that the airline had changed my itinerary and I was going to spend the whole day and night in airports and airplanes and not get there until tomorrow morning. Needless to say this wasn’t workable either from a work standpoint or from the viewpoint of keeping my sanity.

So first off, I should say that this was with US Airways. And so far I have been quite unimpressed with them as an airline. They charge for everything. First checked bag: $15. Drinks on board (like water and soda): $2. Snacks on board: $5. It’s brutal. Instead of handling the tough times airlines are having by having good service and promotion, they just are opting to charge for everything.

So back to this morning. Here I am in the car already to go to the airport and I get this news. I was going to be early anyway so I just decided to handle it once I got there and I told myself to remember that it wasn’t the people at the desk in Portland that made this blunder so I shouldn’t take it out on them–though I was prepared to do so if things didn’t get sorted out.

But I got there, and the ladies were very nice. They ran through all sorts of scenarios to try to figure out how to get me there, including trying to book me a hotel (at the airline’s expense) in Baltimore so that I could fly to that airport. Finally we found a flight on American Airlines that I could get on that would get me in only two hours later than I was going to be, plus I didn’t have to fly on US Airways (saving the baggage fee and I should get some drinks in flight!).

So here I sit waiting for my flight having averted what could have been a very disastrous and upsetting day. And I wanted to point out that while I think US Airways as a whole is a crappy airline, the individual agents in Portland were very nice so it worked well to not lose the individuals within the conglomerated mass.

Extreme Programming

For those of you that don’t know “extreme programming” is actually a real term that has to with a certain method of programming that follows certain rules and tries to make projects as successful as possible.

But I don’t mean that. Those of you who know me technically know that I can get a very good product, but that I can be cavalier at times (we can get into that some other time :).

But lately I’ve been given several projects and some of them have been presented as “we have this HUGE target and we need it done NOW or we lose a LOT”. I love these kinds of programming assignments, though I’m sure my wife isn’t so thrilled with them as she gets ignored a bit. These assignments often turn out to not be as bad as was initially thought, but the crunch time is where I have the most fun. There’s not enough time to think or try a bunch of things or have lots of meetings or whatever other distractions can come up. It’s just a straight line of intense pressure to the end. I love that. I guess it’s sort of like the geek equivalent of jumping out of an airplane or being that guy in the movies that has to disarm the bomb as the clock ticks down–what a fun job.

And I’m pretty good. I don’t usually miss on these. I usually get them done and have everything calmed down in the process. It’s the slower projects that are much more methodical that I have more of a hard time with since I just get bored. I have fun planning it all out and figuring out what needs to be done in what order, but then most of the game is already handled and it’s just plodding along the path. It’s sort of like copying a book by hand at that point. I can’t imagine being a monk in the old days!

I guess I’ll just have to keep getting the high pressure, big jobs to keep my interest up (not to mention my paycheck, since these kinds of projects usually pay a bit more 🙂

Personal Yardstick

I was talking to a friend today about a job offer and he decided he would try to sum me up. He said he figured I was (and I’m paraphrasing) very competent, but that others probably thought more of my skills than I did and that self-promotion wasn’t my strongest area. Basically that I’m really good at what I do and not so good and promoting myself, but have impressed people with my abilities. I thought that was a pretty fair estimation considering he hasn’t known me for very long. I’ve always called it being “quietly competent” and openly acknowledge promotion and sales not being my favorite areas (funny considering web sites and that type of thing are primarily promotional tools).

In the course of the conversation, I said that I was never worried about my confidence or competence, just that I always figured there were a bunch of people that were much better than me. But that the last couple of weeks have started to disabuse me of that idea. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I guess I am pretty good at what I do (not to mention the other skills like some business knowledge, communication skills, care for people, etc. that I bring to the plate).

But that got me thinking a bit on the drive home and I think I finally nailed it on the head. I’ve lived a fairly isolated life career-wise. I’ve only had to have a couple of jobs and have worked for myself for many years. So I haven’t worked in the hustle and bustle of the IT world. The few people that I have worked with that knew the same areas that I did were very good and so I had very high opinions of them. Not to knock myself but that was my yardstick to compare myself to. And since working with those people I have sort of imagined my yardstick to be someone much better than me.

But recently I’ve been helping with some programming code that others have written and realized what I am capable of compared to some real life people that are making good money doing what I do. And one of my friends that used to be “so superior to me” (and I do still think he’s an excellent programmer and count him among my best friends) started to occasionally ask me questions.

So after thinking about it a bit in the car, I came up with what’s so weird about the whole new situation I’ve found myself in lately with job offers and seeing myself in relation to the field that I’m a part of. This whole time I’ve been using others (real or hypothetical) to measure myself by. And once I passed those up, I started to look at things like salary, but that is really a bad measure because I do what I like, I help a lot of people, I get to work from home and play with my wife and baby girl when I want to, etc. etc. etc.

So the weirdness of it is that I’m out of yardsticks. I can look at what other people do and I can learn from that. But I can only measure my success by things like “did I accomplish what I set out to do”. Making more money will be nice as time goes on. Having a nicer house or a farm would be great, but as my friend said today, “it’s just stuff”. So I guess it’s like the runner who finally catches up to everyone and then just has to run for whatever reason he’s running for. There’s no more people that he has to catch up to.

Does that mean I’m the best ever? No. I’ve plenty more to learn. And there are many mountains to climb. And there are plenty of other areas in life where I still have a ways to go before I’m done comparing myself with others. But career-wise, it’s nice to know that I’m competent. I’ve always known that, but now it’s just “I’m competent”. Not “I’m as good as”. I can get the job done and that’s all I need to compare myself with.

So my thanks to those who set the bar high for me to shoot after, my thanks to those who think so highly of my abilities and my thanks to those who I have been able to and will be able to help for being there for me to be able to learn from while helping.