Broccoli Confidential

This is a fun story from the first year of my marriage.

One day my wife and I were shopping at a Super Target.  We had stopped in to pick up a few groceries for the big meal my wife had planned for cooking that day.  We were buying mostly produce that day.

At the checkout, I watched the girl cashier ring us up.  First, she rang up all the non-produce items, which weren’t very many.  Then she started on the produce items.  She would pick up the produce, weigh the produce, look up the produce code in her book, and enter the produce code in her register.  This went on for a bit.

Then everything stopped at the last item.  It was broccoli.  She picked up the broccoli looked at and gave it a weird look.  She went into her book, flipped through the pages, and didn’t find what she was looking for.  And she did it again.  Looking.  Looking.  Searching. Searching.  And she still couldn’t find what she was looking for.  I didn’t know what the problem was.

Then she asks, “What do you call this?”

Without hesitation I said, “Baby Trees”.

I busted out laughing when she took me seriously and tried to find it in her little book.  My wife saved her and told her I was joking and the name was broccoli.

I still find this story funny.

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Piano: Getting to the Next Level

As many of you know, I’ve been studying jazz and blues piano intently for the past few years.  I finally found a teacher that gets me and understands my music goals.

I’ve improved a lot in the short few years.  My wife recently commented on how quickly I’m able to play and embellish a new tune from any Fake Book now.  I’m shocked how fast I can grab jazz chords now.

I’m pleased with my progress so far.  But, I fear reaching a plateau in my skill level.  I want to get that effortless sound in my playing.

How do I get to that next level?  These are two thing I want to learn to do more of in 2014.

Memorizing.
I’ve never been good at memorizing songs.  I’ve always played with a lead sheet or sheet music or even just notes of the chords.  When I was a kid, memorizing my music for a performance was often frustrating leading to traumatic experiences.  So, I avoided it all these years.

But today, when I talk to my musician friends, the friends who can outplay me, they all say the same thing: start memorizing your music.

When you think about it, all the professional pianists out there memorize.  It’s hard to imagine paying a lot of money to see concert pianist playing out of book.  It’s hard to imagine someone like %% do the same.

I hope by practicing memorization, it gets “my head out of the book” and more intently listening to what I’m playing.  And that the more I do it, the easier and less traumatic it becomes.

Recording.
I also plan to record myself practicing and listening back to the recording during my train rides to work.

I feel that when you’re playing, you might not hear the nuances in your music.  I hope by constantly hearing my playback, it slowly and changes the way I perform and approach the piano.

The difficulty in doing this is not the act of recording.  That’s easy.  You just hit the REC button.  It’s regularly going back the next day listening to it and finding all the uncaught mistakes and places for improvement.  And I mean, listening to the WHOLE recording, not just spot checking here and there.

Right now, I’ve been using the Voice Memo app that’s already installed on my iPhone. Which gets the job done, but not the greatest recording.  Also, sometimes the app will stop recording at some random point during my practice session.  I hope to get a dedicated handheld recorder for musicians soon.

I hope these two approaches get me to that next level for 2014.

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Raising A Star Wars Kid

a.3It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve written about sharing Star Wars with my eldest daughter.  Since then, she has been learning to recognize her Star Wars characters.

With the help of one of my wife’s friends, we got these amazing toddler friendly action figures.  And then, I use a shortened version of the characters’ names that a 2-year-old can say. “Vader” for Darth Vader.  “Chewie” for Chewbacca.  “Fett” for Boba Fett.

It has been fun going to the toy aisle at the store and quiz her.  “Olivia, who’s this?” “VADER!”  “Olivia, who’s this?” “YODA!”

The best part of this update was when all of us went to an evening Christmas dinner at our church.  And at each dinner table, the church had set up a Nativity set for the children to assemble and play with.

The Nativity set on our table was made of ebony, so the statuettes were all jet black.  I picked up one of the wise men and asked my daughter, “Olivia, who’s this?”

And her loud and proud answer?

“VADER!”

My wife busted out laughing.

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5 Things This Nerdy Dad Wants to Share with His Daughters

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This is a list of 5 things this Nerdy Dad wants to share with his daughters as they grow up.

5) Eating

My eldest daughter has already shown signs that she’s an adventurous eater and I hope her new baby sister takes after her. My eldest tastes every new food that’s placed in front of her.

She’s been discovering her own likes and dislikes this way, and she really expresses her dislike of something.   But I’m proud that she’s willing to try anything.   She doesn’t reject anything before she tastes it.

I hope both girls becomes foodies like my wife and I and learn the joy of going out and experiencing new restaurants, especially adventurous places.  As they get older, I hope to have daddy-daughter-and-daughter dates to places like The Publican.  I hope to also to introduce them to other cuisine like Filipino and African.

4) Video Games

I’ve debated if this should be on my list.  I don’t see myself any time soon playing first-person shooters with my daughters.  However, when they are a little older I would love to play games like Plants Vs. Zombies and maybe some Mario and Zelda.

I think the most important thing is that I play along with my daughters.  When each one of them gets a new high score, beats a new level, or discover a new game secret, I want to share in those game accomplishments.

3) Movies

I love movies.  My favorite of course being Star Wars and I can’t wait to share with them the experience of taking them to see the new ones when they’re released.  But I enjoy classics like Casa Blanca and Ben-Hur.  And Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars and True Grit. And of course musicals like Westside Story, Wizard of Oz, The Music Man, and Man of La Mancha.  I have already put together a list of my favorite movies to watch with them as they get older.

I also don’t want movies to be passive entertainment.  I hope to use movies as a gateway to explore creativity.  Such as:

  •     Creative Writing – By writing our own movie scripts or by writing better endings to movies that fell flat
  •     Acting
  •     Movie Production – Creating our own movie shorts. Using the computer to construct simple movies and special effects
  •     The list goes on …

2) Programming

Of course, I’m going to be adding computer programming to list.  It’s too important.  No matter what field each girl decides to go into, being able to program will be vital.  Being able to program just adds to your resume.  A candidate with a little bit programming stands out among the sea of resumes.

I’m not the only Nerdy Dad finds this important.  Other Dads in my office frequently talk about getting our little ones to start thinking about programming.

We talk about Scratch, an educational programming language.  We talk about Lego Mindstorms and other programmable toys.  We want to know what each Dad in the office has been up to, talking about what has been working and not working with our kids.

1) Music

Music is important part of my life and I want it to also be an important part of in both my daughters’ lives.

My eldest, who is 2-years-old, has already claimed my piano as her own, climbing up onto the piano bench and plunking down on the keys all while singing.  She recognizes the piano as a means to create music.  I’m shocked that she can already tell the difference between printed sheet music and regular print that’s in her books.

Like movies, I want them to be active participants and not passive listeners.  I want to see them dance to the beat, create their own songs, improvise, sing, express the joys and sadness of their lives like I have.

I hope by encouraging them to learn, to create, and enjoy the nerdy things I love makes them daring and bold young women.

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Technologies I’ve worked with in 2013

These are the big things I can think of.

Hadoop Ecosystem

  • Hadoop
  • HBase
  • Writing Map/Reduce jobs in Pig
  • Writing Map/Reduce jobs in Java
  • Writing Map/Reduce jobs in Python using Hadoop Streaming
  • Apache Flume
  • Writing a custom Flume Sink
  • Apache Avro

More Python and Django

  • Writing new api services in our django app for the frontend redesign
  • Authentication upgrades for our django app, utilizing ldap and a custom permission api

I also became mentor/goto person in our company’s apprentice program.

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War Stories and Job Interviews

I’ve sat on the other side of the table in a job interview. It’s not uncommon in companies for a member of the software team to evaluate a potential candidate, because it’s this team member who will be working everyday with this new person. It’s important that an actual team member gets to review a candidate and has a say in the hiring process.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself when interviewing others is that I enjoy good “war stories.” And by that, I mean I want to hear the candidate talk about how they overcame obstacles. I want to hear about crazy bugs and how they were on a mission to squash it. I want to hear about server faults and out of control garbage collections. I want to hear about this new library or language they’ve tried. I want to hear how they’ve grown. Did you overcome it? How did you overcome it? What would you have done differently? What did you learn?

I bet I’m not alone in this. I even bet other interviewers in other career fields feel the same way.

With the idea of war stories in mind, a friend of mine asked to review his resume. He has a background in doing QA work and was hoping to break into programming. The first thing I noticed right away, he placed all his QA work experience at the top and a list of his programming skills and projects at the bottom.

Why would you do this? Remember, he’s using this resume to break into software development.

It’s not uncommon for an interviewer to walk through a candidate’s resume. And in most cases, they start at the top and work their way to the bottom. If you put your non-job-related material at the top, you’ll be spending a good chunk of your interview explaining away how these bullet points are not directly related to the job you’re interviewing for. And by the time the interviewer gets to the good stuff at the bottom of your resume, it might be too late. The interviewer, in their mind, might have already written you off.

So my advice was to rearrange it, put the good stuff at the top, which also act as great lead ins to his own war stories. And that when he does, he should take every opportunity to talk about the cool stuff he’s done, even if it was on his own.

Think about it, you get about 30 to 45 minutes with an interviewer on average. You want to “eat that clock” talking about the great things you’ve done. Like a politician, you want to stay on message.

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Nerdy Dads Teach Your Daughters Well

I don’t care if she’s a girl. I’m teaching my daughter how to make stink bombs and potato cannons. And about Star Wars.

The day Olivia was born I blasted the above statement on Facebook. My wife and I decided not to find out the gender, but other people around us believed Olivia was going to be a boy. So much so, the idea of a boy got into both our heads. And for me, like all fathers, I got into my head all the things I wanted to share with him. But the moment she was born her gender didn’t matter to me; I wanted to share everything I loved with her. Just think about it, a whole new person who never seen Star Wars!

But what really stuck with me was what a Facebook friend commented afterwards. She said:

If more nerdy dads shared there interests with their daughters, then maybe we would have more female engineers.

Update
A little explanation of the photos. The very top photos are some of the characters from Star Wars. I made these myself. I plan on using them when reading a novelization of Star Wars to Olivia. The second photo are what I call Baby Operating Systems. I also made these myself. They are the logos of the Operating Systems I’ve worked with. They are smaller, about the size of my hand. I’ve been thinking about using them as a mobile over the crib.

And Moms don’t worry about Dad making your kids too jock, too nerdy, too whatever. The time Dads spend with their kids, especially the girls, can’t be bought from the store.

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