Remembering Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy passed away earlier today. If you asked many people, they might tell you that they hear Morgan Freeman’s voice in their head when they imagine the voice of God. To me, it will always be Leonard Nimoy. That placid, chain-smoking-induced growl that, in part, made Spock such a wonderful character of his fills me with awe.

Hipster Spock

As a child, in addition to Star Trek reruns (both the original series and the animated series), I grew up watching Nimoy host Nickelodean’s Standby: Lights, Camera, Action!. That show was a wonderful look at how movies are made. Nimoy was a wonderful host, engaging in demonstrations of special effects and occasional gags. His love of movies was evident. In a time before the internet, Wikipedia, and movie blogs, it was a source for me to learn about movies, actors, and directors. In fact, it was there that I first learned1 that the original Star Wars were the middle piece of a larger trilogy, and someday there would be prequels (before the word prequel existed, even, I think) and sequels2. I also learned about Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the Klingon language from the same show. Of course, that film was directed by Nimoy, who’s involvement in movies and television grew beyond acting.

It’s said to never meet your heroes, as they will only disappoint you. However, I do truly regret never having had to the chance to meet Leonard Nimoy in person. He truly seemed like a beautiful person in most every way and Gene Roddenberry once called him “the conscious of ‘Star Trek'”. A wonderful quote from Nimoy:

Whatever I have given, I have gained.

It’s very sad to have lost Nimoy but I’m so glad that he was able to continue to appear in popular television and films, even up until very recently. His character of Spock is a cornerstone of pop-culture and it’s due almost entirely to Nimoy’s acting. In a show that is remembered for some cheesy plots and hammy acting, as well as some rather uneven movies, Nimoy was a gem in Star Trek. Honestly, if you can watch the scene of Kirk and Spock in the radiation chamber at the end of Wrath of Kahn and not get choked up, you are possibly more Vulcan than human:

It’s hard to think of a better way to remember Nimoy that with a performance like that. Live long and prosper.

  1. Well, either there or my Mom, who perhaps also learned it on the same show!
  2. More recently, JJ Abrams &emdash;who cast Nimoy in his series Fringe as well as bring Nimoy back as Spock in the re-envisioned Star Trek films&emdash; has taken over those sequel films. In fact, in no small part does the willingness of Abrams to continue to use Nimoy as an actor gives me appreciate of Abrams’ taste and ability to pull off such a daunting role.

SS Coleman

My father retired from his law practice about a year ago. More recently, he and his wife sold their home and moved west to Arkansas. In this process, he’s been trying to both downsize their household as well as get rid of many years worth of office items. My brothers went to help clean out a storage unit a couple of months ago and returned with one of the ’50s-era, metal office desks that my father had in his law office.

Metal Desk

The desk is battleship gray, with quite a few dings and scratches. However, it’s very sturdy (as it’s made of approximately 1,000 tons of sheet metal) and still in pretty good shape. The damage it has is more along Wabi-sabi1 than disrepair, so I’m okay with it for the most part.

This, along with a similar style desk, were in my father’s office since I was very young. Also, since I was very young, I’ve always been fascinated with not only space exploration and technology, but the aesthetic that is associated with those things. If you can imagine the desk that an engineer at either NASA or IBM might have sat at sometime in the early ’60s, you’re thinking of a desk like this.

This particular desk has an interesting feature where a corner of the desk is lower than the work surface to accomodate a typewriter (no doubt, sized for a 1961 IBM Selectric).

Metal Desk: Keyboard Shelf

This desk also has drawers (!), unlike my old wood desk. I just need to clean up the glides a bit. I’ve of course never heard a dying pterodactyl, but I think I have a very good idea what one might sound like based on the bottom drawer opening.

  1. It’s worth noting here that my wife doesn’t particularly care for the desk. Probably for two reasons: 1) She (rightly) notes that it really doesn’t fit in with pretty much any other furniture in my office, let alone the rest of the house and 2) she —at some fundamental level— doesn’t recognize the concept of Wabi-sabi. That is, not that she doesn’t get the idea, just that in her opinion, it’s just wear and tear that should be fixed rather than aesthetic appeal.

A Decade of Us

This post is a technically a couple of days late for our tenth wedding anniversary, but you can skip all the stereotypes about the husband who forgets that sort of thing. That’s not at all why it’s late. Rather, Angela and I were off on a family vacation and not bothering to post it to the internet (that occasionally happens to me).

Despite the most wonderful ten years of my life (and hopefully Angela agrees on that), we didn’t celebrate with a fancy dinner. Instead—in the wee early hours of the morning—we found ourselves sharing take-out pizza in a hotel room bed with our kids while clinking cheap-yet-overpriced wine in a pair of plastic cups. We decided to take the kids on our first big family vacation and went to Disney World in Florida. While not a traditional date, even for us, we’ve always done things our own way and therefore it seemed fitting. Besides, our kids are as much a part of our marriage as anything so it felt right to include them (though they didn’t get any of the wine; there wasn’t enough in the little hotel bottle to share). Our actual anniversary was spent on a long drive home. We joked we’d spend an hour on the road for each year we’d been married. In a way, also fitting as we spent the day after our wedding on a long car ride back home to Virginia. I don’t think we’ll try that for any future anniversaries, though1.

Not to stretch the driving metaphor too far, but it has been an amazing journey these past ten years (and the years together even before then…). I’ve got a friend and partner. Anytime I described a dream of mine, she’s never tried to stop me but instead asked “when do you want to get started?” She’s not only supported me but pushed me to always be better and do more. Everything good that has happened to me since we’ve been together has been in a very large part because of her. To have had a friend like that even for a short time is a gift and she’s been married to me for ten short years (and two days).

Here’s to ten times ten more, should we be here for so long.

  1. We do plan to go out for a quiet date night to share a nice dinner later this evening.

Looking Ahead into 2012

I tend to write this sort of post every year. It’s not really a set of resolutions, just goals. That is, I rarely say to myself "I will do this from now on." but rather "This is what I’d like to try to accomplish this year." Small difference, but probably worth noting.

So, in no particular order (though numbered anyway):

  1. Blog more about the kids

    They’re getting older and doing more. As Angela noted in her remark on Facebook about getting a minivan, it’s just a matter of time until we’re taking them to soccer practice.

  2. Become more fluent in XML development

    I can still recall the day Jason Johnson explained to me about what XML was. It seemed so simple then… Now I’m writing XSL transforms as part of my job and concerned with information architecture. It’s been absolutely fascinating and a way to actually do some programming with a real goal1.

  3. Visit more family & friends

    Despite every means of communication that mankind has ever conceived, we (our household, that is) still somehow remain out-of-touch with so many of our relatives. As our kids are getting older2 we are at a point where we can just do it the old-fashioned way and visit (no letter writing campaign just yet, though). We certainly have some older members in the family and it would be a shame to someday have to explain to the kids why they never met.

  4. Create more

    Photography, videos, writing, drawing, and so on. Our daughter has become very interested in art and has shown a real creative streak. I remember when I used to just draw,write a short story, or make up a tune for fun and I need to get back there somehow. Will I end up with dozens of unfinished bits? Most assuredly. However, the point to this is enjoying making something; not necessarily the final product.

  5. Eat healthier

    Okay, so I have to admit that this is starting to sound like a classic New Year’s resolution. Surely, he’ll mention going to the gym more next, right? Of course, losing weight may be an added benefit, but I’m really just interested in trying out new foods. I’m married to a real foodie and it’s really something she loves that I’d like to take a bigger interest in. Certainly, I’d like to add in things like fruits & vegetables that have never really been a staple of my diet3. We’ve always tried out best to cook a lot at home and the kids are starting to even get involved. So, as much as it sounds like a simple, shallow New Year’s resolution, it’s a much a part of the previous goal as it is just trying to be healthy.

  6. Exercise

    Yes, yes. This guy just doesn’t want to admit he’s make resolutions. But Angela really inspired me this past year by setting out some goals, running some big races, and doing really well. So, I’ve already signed up for a big half-marathon this year and I’ll try to run at least a short race every month.

So, it all looks a lot like most of my goals for previous years. That doesn’t mean that I never accomplished those goals; just that they were good ones and worth moving the goal line to get more out of them.

  1. Aside from just learning, which is a good-enough goal; just one that takes a lot more dedication than I’m usually willing to throw at it.
  2. And, oh yeah, that insanely nice minivan.
  3. I recently tried Brussels sprouts for the first time in my life and, man, are they good!

Mike Rowe on Trade Labor

Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation this past Wednesday. The entire written testimony is worth reading. I can guarantee you that it contains the most heart-warming story of plumbing repair you’ll read all day.

I completely agree with everything he says. Even in a bleak economy with high unemployment rates, our country faces a shortage of skilled laborers (which actually started long before the economy tanked and certainly didn’t help prevent it). Rowe:

In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it.

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

We really need to re-orient our notion of success away from how much we have, how much we make, or how little we have to work for it. The subtext to the question So, what do you do? should be what do you do to help society?. Labor isn’t something to be ashamed of as a society nor is something we should considered relegated to those less worthy. The people who construct and repair our homes, our places of work, and our infrastructure the interface between life and civilization. It’s about time we started taking a lot more pride — as a society or country — in the class of professions that make it happen.

Perhaps this all sounds a bit hypocritical coming from a college educated guy and that’s fair enough. However, I do what I do because I love it. I’ve always been fascinated by building things and how things simply go together. So, as a product of my environment, I became an engineer and now a writer (about engineering software). But I still value every moment that I get to use my hands and some tools to make or fix something. As Rowe describes, those are some of the best memories I have and I know that I learn a lot when doing those projects. I also have learned to have a great deal of respect for those who do it for a living.

An analogy of where we — as a society — seem to value trade labor: the phrase chef to the stars seems like a reasonable (if not pretentious) thing to put on one’s business card or web site. However, electrician to the stars seems like a joke punchline (or possibly a new reality series on TLC, which I’d argue is the same thing). But, honestly, what is the difference between the two professions in terms of body of knowledge or skill sets? Both require years of experience, apprenticeships, and even formal training to master. But the idea of our kids becoming a chef seems to have more appeal than an electrician because, why, exactly? We’ve just somehow decided it’s not as worth and that needs to change.

Twenty Ought Nine – Goals in Review

Well, it has been a really rough past couple of months. We’ve been passing around who-knows-how-many viruses. We had several holiday get-together with friends and family here at our house (not including tonight’s NYE party1. Wyatt has learned to crawl, so our lives have only become that much more insane as we attempt to keep him out of trouble. I’ve also been in a beard-growing contest and while you might think not shaving would only save me some trouble, the efforts to do some creative photo documentation have taken up a not-so-small chunk of my dwindling free time. To top it all off, of the four products2 I’m writing for at work, all of them attempted to have releases in the same week (immediately before Christmas).

So, excuses aside, I really wanted to look back on the goals I set out back in January on this site to see just how far I got, in terms of my plan.

  • Write More In terms of blogging, this is already looking bad. I think I had even fewer blog posts here and for Bentley than I did last year. I still wrote a lot (did I mention all those work projects?), but I can only say I’m disappointed in the lack of online writings.

  • Take More Photographs and Video – This one fared a good bit better. I don’t know that I took many more general photos than last year, but I will say that between a new baby boy and doing Whiskerino, I’ve spent a lot more time trying to take better photos.

    Given that the amount of video I shot in previous years amounted to almost nothing, this was a pretty low hurdle to clear. I did shoot a good bit more video and even shared some clips this year. I managed to capture some very wonderful moments with both kids and even with some family members. Most special to me was that I got to record one of my Grandfather’s stories during his visit back at the beginning of November. I certainly want to share that with my family and children (who are far too young to appreciate that sort of thing). I only regret not doing some more of that.

    If nothing else, though, I very proud of this video birth announcement we did for Wyatt:

    The Birth of Wyatt Paul from Jason Coleman on Vimeo.

  • Learn an Object Oriented Programming Language – This one stalled out pretty early on, I must confess. It was always something of a low priority and this simply wasn’t a year to get around to anything that didn’t have flashing sirens and flames shooting out of its openings. It is certainly still something I’d love to pick up again and my O’Reilly book isn’t going anywhere.

  • Learn to use Regular Expressions– I really did get into the meat of this one, though. Two of my work projects involved taking a lot of legacy content and updating or integrating it into new documentation of my own. I simply couldn’t have done the amount of work I accomplished without a tool like RegEx and the utility software I used to learn/apply3 it.

    In the coming year, I’m going to be getting into structuring legacy content (both my own and that from others) even more. I’ll be forging a lot of my own path in developing document conversions with RegEx and spending some hours learning even the fundamentals is going to pay off.

  • Take Ainsley Swimming – We did take Ainsley swimming in our neighborhood a few times. What’s more, we dedicated a large portion of time this summer to taking to a swim safety course. The results were nothing short of amazing and I recommend this to anyone with small children. We fully plan on taking Wyatt in the next year.

    Ainsley’s Swim Class from Jason Coleman on Vimeo.

  • Finally Get Something Out of Twitter – I really ramped up using Twitter this year. I purchased Tweetie for both the mac and the iPhone and began to follow loads of folks, both near and far. Twitter also went entirely mainstream this past year, which didn’t hurt in finding people of interest to follow.

    However, Twitter has become a double-edged sword. It makes finding and following so much easier, it has supplanted blogging and feed-reading a great deal. It seems I’m not the only person who has noticed this, too. Were blogs used to be filled with comments and trackbacks, now we just get shortened links via Twitter. Link blogs are all but dead now (though fortunately some are still strong, such as Gruber or Kottke, and other old-timers) as we constantly are fed a diet of bit.ly links inside of 140 character chunks. I’m not arguing that one is really better than the other and certainly blogging can be a time consuming hobby. But it is important to acknowledge that the way we use Twitter can actually diminish other activities.

  • Run One Short Road Race Per Month – Oh, God, no. That just didn’t happen. I barely ran at all. That’s not to say I’ve not at least made some effort into getting a bit healthier (I’m already down about 12 pounds from just three months ago). I ran a couple of races, true, but nothing like one a month.

So, there you have it. I’m not disappointed in how things went this year on the whole. I do think I came closer my family, friends, and colleagues; which as I said back in January, was really the ultimate goal here. Two-thousand nine was a tough year, but in a far better way that its immediate predecessor. It was difficult because of the new challenges of a second baby, new work projects, learning to use (or get more out of) the tools I have. In fact, looking back, those are best kind of challenges I think anyone can hope to be up against.

Happy New Year and may twenty ten be a wonderful year for all of us.

  1. Tonight’s party is actually going to be kind of a early event, as we’re getting together to watch Virginia Tech play and, hopefully beat, the Univ. of Tennessee. There will be food and drink, but I suspect we won’t last much past midnight.
  2. I inherited a huge responsibility in the form of STAAD.Pro’s documentation. I made some great strides in updating it over the past three months but I still have a long road ahead of me. Other than that, I worked on the documentation for our soon-to-be released structural modeling integration toolset as well as the two STAAD(X) Tower products.
  3. I purchased RegEx Buddy about 6 months ago. Even though it was at my own expense, it saved my bacon ten times over and was worth every penny.

Some Nerd Treasures in the Attic

Pile of Old Disks

We’ve been in Spring cleaning mode here around the house. Angela went through our old file cabinet, combing over records for the past decade plus. We also both chucked most of our papers and files from college. That alone ended up being ten boxes to take to the document shredding & recycling place.

In the process, I ended up with a rather large pile of 3.5″ floppy disks to get rid of. I decided to go through them and copy any files before we had them destroyed. Of course, we actually don’t own anything with a 3.5″ floppy drive! Even my old linux box in the garage only has a optical drive. Fortunately, Angela’s dad has a USB floppy drive he was able to loan us.

So, in the process of going through some of the disks (many of which included programs for obsolete operating systems), I managed to find a few gems:

  • Lots of photos from around 1998-99, when Angela and were first dating and she was going off to pharmacy school in VA. It probably goes without saying, but we’ve aged a bit in the past decade.
    Our first ever big date, almost 11 years ago.
    Our first ever big date, almost 11 years ago.
  • The first help document I ever wrote for software. It was for a DOS program called Plane Frame & Truss (PFT, for short, because filenames back then couldn’t exceed 8 bytes). It is written in a very snarky voice; probably not something I’d try and reproduce in my current writing (okay, maybe here):

    How to use Dr. Noel Tolbert’s Plane-Frame-Truss Program (PFT)
    By Jason Coleman

    First of all, PFT is not user-friendly, regardless of what Big-Daddy-Tolbert may say about it. However, if you are using PFGTAB (the quasi-graphical version), simply read everything it tells you until you are more comfortable with the program. The questions the program asks are not always clear at first, so take your time with them.

    How PFT works: (This is more-or-less from the horse’s mouth)

    This will cover, for the most part, how to use the graphical interface, PFGTAB. You have to be at an MSDOS prompt, and not simply in a Windows Shell. In a windows shell, you can only run a program once, and then the shell more-or-less quits, and when using PFT, you actually have to run two programs consecutively. That’s one of the many non-user-friendly features of PFT.

  • The first program I ever wrote in Visual Basic (or anything that had a GUI, for that matter). It was a program for Advanced Mechanics of Materials grad. level course which would determine the stresses in a curved beam member under a specific loading. It wasn’t exactly anything very useful (unless you need to design clamps for a living), but it also didn’t look too bad for a first attempt:
    Curvbeam.exe's screen.
    Curvbeam.exe's screen.

So we found a few nerdy treasures from our past lives. That’s one of the fun things about cleaning out so much of that sort of stuff: you find the things that really mean something and can put them somewhere you can access, instead of buried in a tomb of junk.

Gary Gygax Passes Away at Age 69

From Wired:

Gary Gygax, one of the co-creators of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, died Tuesday morning at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, according to Stephen Chenault, CEO of Troll Lord Games. Gygax designed the original D&D game with Dave Arneson in 1974, and went on to create the Dangerous Journeys and Lejendary Adventure RPGs, as well as a number of board games.

Gygax’s legacy is that he helped to create much of what we now call gaming – be it with dice, on a computer, or on a console. His game was played by pretty much everyone my age (well, the males, anyway). He certainly won’t be forgotten.

D&D - Remembering Gary Gygax


Weeks Roll By

It’s a tired cliché of blogging: apologizing for not posting in so long. The excuses are always the same, and this is no different. There has simply been too much going on here take any time to write down [or type – ed.].

The Job

I started my new job at the beginning of January (before the move, for those keeping track of such things). I received a warm welcome (mostly all by e-mail) and did my best to get right into things. My position is sort of a new thing, though, and not personally knowing people I was working with made getting much traction difficult at first. I did fly out to Southern California1 to meet a number of my co-workers and higher-up types. That proved to be a very good trip and I really enjoyed getting to meet all the people there. I feel confident that I made the right choice in this career.

Flying home through Chicago in the dead of winter, however, was incredibly dumb. In my defense, it was also not my choice to do so. I sincerely wish I was able to make my own business travel arrangements again.

The Move

As soon as I got back, it was time to try to finish packing the house, get a U-Haul van, and let the movers do their work. Of course, moving is never simple. This was off the scale, though. Despite the best efforts of many of our friends2 and all of Angela’s hard work boxing stuff in my absence, we simply were not prepared for moving when the time came to do it.

I’ll keep it sob stories short, but after renting a second truck plus tow-dolly for Angela’s car and putting all of our gardening and power-tools on a mobile storage unit left in Richmond and not finishing doing touch-up paint in the house before leaving, we were still a day late in getting out of there. Fortunately, everything worked out just fine (as life does more than not, thank God). However, the last night laying on an inflatable mattress in our house I was so sick to my stomach I just couldn’t sleep. To be honest here, I think that night I got more planning for the remainder of the move than I had done in the weeks and months up until that point.

When we finally got it all packed up and were ready to leave, a sense of relief swept over me. That really seemed to pick up my spirits for days to come. I needed it, because it was a truly sad moment when we left our keys inside and locked the door of our old home one last time. We loved that house very much and had put a great deal of time and effort into it. In yet another bout of poor planning, I had packed my camera away somewhere in our SUV and never got a chance to take one last photo. I’ll make it up during our next trip up there, but I don’t think it’ll mean as much to me.

Then again, as painful as some of the other photos we did take there recently have been to look through, it may be just as well. It really feels like a part of us is gone. Angela and I hadn’t lived in a place for that long since our childhood homes (both of which are no longer in the family, either). Despite all of us being content where we’re at now, thinking about what we gave up — having those friends close by, a home we loved to be at, just living in Virginia — kind of hurts.

…The New Place

Though it’s taken us about three weeks, we finally feel like we have a nice home in our apartment. Though going from a home of your own to an apartment kind of sucks, it was nice to just call up someone to come fix leaky kitchen faucet — and not have to pay them. Ainsley made out great, with her new room being more than twice the size of her old one. It feels like most of that square footage came out of our bedroom, though! The best part though has to be the closets.

My God! Closets! Apparently, usable closets weren’t invented until sometime after our old house was built.

Even though the drive down was on a nice sunny day, the day we ended up unloading the moving vans into our apartment (and garage and storage unit…) was cold, wet, and windy. The movers were great, though; and Dave even drove down to help out for a bit. We got it all moved in and mostly all in the right places. Angela’s parent’s came down the next day and stayed with us for the rest of the week. That helped out tremendously. Angela and I were able to work while they watched Ainsley and we were able to unpack bit by bit in the evenings.

We’ve been unpacking ever since, it seems. However, at this point there is just one last small box of engineering books by the door that is waiting to make its way down to the garage. Otherwise, there’s little evidence of all the recent turmoil around our lives.We’ve got some paperwork still to fill out and make it all official, but we’re Tennesseans again.

  1. Orange County probably isn’t the most scenic part of California, to tell the truth. However, it did make a number of Arrested Development jokes suddenly make sense, so I’d say it was worth it.
  2. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t give a huge thanks to Jason J. for driving that 26′ U-Haul giant down to TN for us. Just to tell you how much we trust him, we never gave a second though to the well being of most of our Earthly possession being in the hands of a guy whose never driven anything bigger than a family van. Also, Michelle and Robert P. were absolutely tireless. They gave up their whole weekend to help out and were in a good mood the entire time, which is probably what kept us sane. Kushal S. also came over to help pack things up. Thanks, guys.