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Trees, flowers, and a lake with the kiddos

Losing Caligula has been hard. I keep finding cat toys tucked behind doors and under furniture. This particular grief is definitely going to take some time to resolve, it’s been years since I’ve lived without a pet, and he was so incredibly special to me.

Earlier this month was the Jewish holiday of Tu BiShvat, known for being about trees. It was a bit too gloomy for us to go outside and commune with any trees this year, but we did want to observe it in a tree-y way, and so we did a bit of hand print tree art!

I haven’t been doing as much art with the boys as I’d like, partially because we’re still slogging our way through a cascade of illnesses every few weeks (having a kid in preschool is so fun!). Once I have the energy, I’m using it to clean the house or rotate their clothes yet again (how do they grow so fast?!), and then our activities are more of the toy-playing nature. Right now I seem to have a bit of a cold, which isn’t fun, but this is one of the more mild ones to sweep through lately.

The week of Valentine’s Day I got to experience my first four consecutive days of solo parenting. The pandemic changed a lot for us, with everyone being home for what ended up being nearly three years, MJ and I haven’t been going on any business trips like we used to. That changed last week when MJ went out of town for a conference. Our au pair was also traveling for vacation, so Sunday I had the boys on my own, and then we had a close family friend come by to watch the boys from Monday through Wednesday just while I worked, so I didn’t need to take time off.

That still meant keeping the boys occupied every morning and evening on my own, which I’m definitely not used to. I have a lot of fun with my kiddos, but having a two year old and a four year old is a lot of work, especially since the two year old still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of sleeping all night without waking up crying now and then, thus interrupting my sleep too. I was grateful to have the daytime help though, plus she was kind enough to do dishes, take out the trash, and do laundry for the kids, meaning the house did not descend into chaos while everyone was gone.

I’m not eager to repeat everyone being away, but I will say it was also kinda nice to have some time to myself. I didn’t get to write the next great American novel, but I did get to read and write a bit more than usual. I even decided that a little TV would be fine for the boys on Sunday afternoon and read with little Aaron sitting there right on my lap!

To mix up the evenings a bit, we went out to the mall via BART one evening, and I got them a new Duplo set before hitting the pizzeria at the mall. Another evening I joked that we had a rave, since the local dollar store had glowing bracelets and the boys love playing in the dark with flash lights, that bought us nearly an hour of giggly fun!

For Valentine’s Day MJ was still traveling, but sent me a couple dozen pink roses to mark the occasion. I decided to observe the day buy buying a half dozen white carnations and then using some food coloring to make them change colors. I may have created a monster with Adam though, he now periodically asks for the food coloring so we can do it again. I wouldn’t mind doing it from time to time, it’s something I hadn’t done since I was a kid and it really is a lot of fun, and very satisfying to see the flowers slowly take on a new hue.

Both MJ and our au pair returned late on Wednesday night, so I had them back for the rest of the week and MJ this past weekend. We eased into a pretty typical weekend, but on Sunday morning MJ took Aaron grocery shopping after dropping Adam and I off at a local park. It was a beautiful day and he’d been asking to go to a “beach” a lot lately. This wasn’t a beach park, but there was a big lake! He loves exploring nature and enjoys taking in scenery, so he’s my little hiking buddy. I also knew that the weather was about to take a turn for the chilly, so it was likely the last time we’d be able to get outside for a big adventure like this for a couple weeks.

And now I’m back in the middle of my work week, dealing with this cold. I’m hopeful it passes swiftly, but until then I’m grateful for cold medicine and decongestants that are allowing me to feel slightly better than perhaps I should.

Caligula has passed away

On February 7th, we said goodbye to our beloved 19 year old cat, Caligula.

That morning he was more lethargic than usual, and after peeing on the floor at the top of the stairs, he flopped down onto the tile floor. Accidents were becoming a bit more frequent for him, but not this far from his litter box, and I don’t think I’d ever see him rest on the cold tile floor before. Something was wrong. We called his vet and got him at 9:40AM appointment, I went with MJ to take him in. It was quickly apparent that he was quite sick, as the vet who had been treating him for his various age-related ailments wanted to put him on oxygen and suspected there was fluid in his lungs.

A few hours later we heard that they had indeed drained fluid from his lungs, and started on a regional search for a veterinary cardiologist who could see him quickly. It turns out there aren’t many around here right now, and our best bet in the short term would be a facility with a radiologist with a keen eye for heart problems. Our vet made some recommendations, but her predictions were still quite dire, with all his health issues, even with treatment for heart failure best case was that he only had a few more months. They kept him under observation for the rest of the day, and then gave us even more troubling news, when they took him off the oxygen treatment, he still wasn’t breathing well on his own, and they were transferring him to an emergency veterinary hospital.

On the drive over I sat in the back seat with him, and even I could tell that his breathing was labored. By the time we got across town, the emergency vet said she was surprised he had made it, and they immediately put him on oxygen before delivering the final blow to us: based on her experience, there was about a 50% chance he would pass away on his own overnight while they waited for the specialist to look at his heart. If he made it through the night, he might have a month left to live. It was time to make the decision of whether to euthanize. We agonized over it, but ultimately decided it was time, and we went home to pick up the boys.

And so that evening we said goodbye to our beloved Caligula. We brought his cat bed and one of his favorite toys. He was on oxygen as we crowded into the small exam room to give him final kisses and pets, and explained it all very clearly and directly to the boys. He passed away quietly with all of us there with him.

I was absolutely heartbroken as we left the vet that night and came home to our cat-free home. It’s taken me over a week to even write this.

We had him cremated. I picked up the ashes on Wednesday, and with that my heart broke all over again.

This grief will take some time to work through. He’d been my daily companion for most of my adult life, we’d been through so much together. I love you, Caligula. I miss you dearly.

Wet/dry January, old/new tech

It’s now the second month of 2023, and I can confirm that the arbitrary changing of the calendar year has not, in fact, made our immune systems better at fighting off every random bug that Adam brings home from preschool. At the beginning of January it was a brutal stomach bug, and we are now getting over a fast-moving cold. It does mean that we had an extremely low-key January.

It’s also been quite rainy this winter, which is excellent news for our drought-prone state. Unfortunately we got a bit too much all at once, and so our area has been suffering from damaged roadways and bridges, and mudslides. It hasn’t impacted our home directly, aside from noticing the seal on one of our garage doors isn’t working as well as it could, so I’m grateful for that.

Adam and I have also had some time to play in the rain. I got him some rain boots and a sturdy umbrella that’s more resistant to wind than the freebie ones we had been using. I now have no excuse not to take him outside on rainy days! Except that little Aaron does not enjoy wet weather, so there has to be another adult around if I want to go have rain adventures outside with Adam.

Aaron does like getting outside after the rain though, so when MJ was at the doctor with Adam one morning I brought Aaron out to one of his favorite parks… only to find the playground flooded! Still, we did manage to have some fun running around the rest of the park.

The opposite of our wet January, was my dry January. My father was an alcoholic, and while I don’t find my own relationship with alcohol to be particularly troublesome, it did seem like a nice excuse to put a pause on alcohol for a month. In retrospect, it’s kind of funny, because I’ve just come off a pair of 9-month alcohol-free stints when I was pregnant, and then greatly reduced while breastfeeding, so a month is barely worth noting. Still, it’s nice to know that I can just cut it out without much thought, or missing it much, and without external pressure like a baby to grow or feed. Like with pregnancy, it was more the social and outing aspect that I miss when I remove alcohol from my diet, since I don’t drink soda and options for beverages are quite limited in the US. At home it’s easy though, I fell in love with Hoplark hoptea when I was pregnant, and never looked back.

I’ve been bonding with my typewriter a bit lately, which started because one of the kids switched the ribbon from black to red and I had to figure out how to switch it back. Turns out, it’s actually pretty simple, but the wear on the switch made it non-obvious as I was scouring the machine for clues. But getting my hands on the machine made me remember how much I love using it for little things here and there, and that I should make some more typing art with the boys soon. I also got back to reading The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century, which has been in my reading queue since 2021 but I’ve neglected it for a while. In reading it, I learned a bit about tabulators, and my typewriter has a big Tabulator bar on it! So I plan on checking that out soon. The danger of reading this book though is that I am exposing myself to lots of beautiful old typewriters and I now have it stuck in my head that I want to get my hands on a Smith-Corona Skyriter. Help. Keep me away from eBay!

In other vintage tech news, I recently met up with an online friend who I’d planned on meeting a bunch of times, but we both have young children so someone has always been sick, for YEARS. When I noticed a gap in sickness mid-January I quickly reached out for an impromptu lunch together, and it all worked out. With the pandemic I haven’t had many social meetings lately, and it’s so nice to sit down and connect with other techy, like-minded folks in person. Plus, he brought me a geeky gift! A copy of Assembler language programming: The IBM system/360. The s/360 is the first in the line of mainframes I work on today, so it’s been a real joy sifting through the pages, seeing notes in the margins, and I even found an orange punch card inside from a programmer of yore. Plus, it inspired me to start using punch cards as bookmarks.

In new tech news, I replaced my primary phone in January. It wasn’t really planned, but there were lots of deals floating around for the Pixel 7 and we finally pounced on one through our carrier. I had extreme reservations about this phone, in particular the lack of a headphone jack. My friends will tease me about this, and my husband certainly did, but I use cheap Sony earbuds ALL THE TIME. I lose them or they break and just buy another pair, I don’t need to worry about having to charge them, or pairing being finicky that day. I just pop them in and go. A lot of this convenience goes away when you’re restricted to just the single USB-C port for everything. I had hoped I’d adapt to this, but the truth is I haven’t. I don’t regret the purchase, it is a very nice phone, but it has already been irritating more than once. I’m sure the first time I lose my moderately priced Bluetooth headphones I’m going to be particularly annoyed. Alas, this is the direction that all the latest high-end phones are going, and I had to get here at some point. It also means I’ve invested in a whole pile of USB-C to AUX adapters.

I’m continuing to struggle with time. I’ve written at length about how I struggle to balance my life now that I have young kids who I now spend so much of my time with. It feels like something in our house is always broken, and it probably goes without saying that something always needs to be cleaned. Every night I struggle with ask myself, do I go to bed early so I’m well-rested? Or do I stay up late to clutch to some down time to help my mental health? I keep coming back to moderation being the key, and that some nights I’ll get more sleep and some nights I’ll get to learn about my typewriter tabulator, or write in my blog (hello!). It’s still hard though, especially when the pendulum shifts too far in one direction, or I get unlucky and the night I decided to stay up late is also the night one of the kids has a rough night and I barely get any sleep. All things considered, I keep bringing myself back to how grateful I am to have a healthy, loving family and beautiful place to live. I may not be playing video games or hunkering down on programming hobby projects much anymore, but I have a lot to be thankful for.

20 Years of Blogging

On June 4, 2002 I started a blog with a post that simply said:

Oy… I started this just for fun.. I prolly wont continue to use it, and there is no way for me to delete my account, hmm… %)

In retrospect, this is pretty hilarious. I’ve now had a blog for over 20 years. Above, I linked to a post that’s currently self-hosted on a WordPress instance, but at the time the “account” I mentioned was on an old blogging site called Xanga. It was popular at the time and a couple people I knew had started doing this “blogging” thing over there so I decided to check it out.

I eventually moved to LiveJournal as community momentum shifted, and I brought all my Xanga posts over. A couple years later I started self-hosting with a WordPress instance and I once again moved everything over. When I did that migration, I considered doing some editing of posts, since looking back at those old posts is pretty embarrassing. I was young (20), very bored, and my writing was very bad. The early posts had the rawness of a stream-of-consciousness rather than anything carefully written. I never expected it to last, and I certainly never expected to eventually become a published author!

I am also dyslexic, and had a lot of support when I was really young to learn to read. Writing was a tremendous challenge throughout middle school, and only slightly improved in high school. When I was starting my blog, I still had a long way to go, but I just sat down and wrote every day. It was silly, self-involved, and random, but I got it down, and ultimately I kept it up. My blog posts today are much more polished and thoughtful. Seeing this all laid bare it’s a reminder to me that we aren’t born knowing how to write, it takes practice, which is what I happened to spend years doing aimlessly.

People often ask me how I got into writing. I wouldn’t recommend the aimless route I took. If your goal is actually becoming a writer, it probably makes sense to go down one of the paths of using writing prompts and doing more than just pouring “what I did today” notes into a public blog. Still, it did work for me, even if it took a long time.

As to why I did it, I think it was the same reason we use short-form social media today. It was a way to keep in touch with people, save moments of my daily life, and be part of a community beyond my desk. As the LiveJournal grew in popularity there was a community like you see on social media today, you became friends of friends after seeing their comments or link to each other’s posts, and other friends from other spaces of the web would make their own blogs that would show up on your Friends list.

By the time most people had moved on from blogging and over to mediums like Facebook and Twitter, I had started to see the value in blogging for myself as a reference and sort of autobiography. What year did we take that trip? When did I last visit that festival? Who was the intro act to that show we went to? All these questions are quickly answered by my blog! I’m reminded of this every time I fall behind on posting or am building up the momentum (and often skipping sleep) to write about something. I also know the value in owning your own words and thoughts, if I was serving up that stream of thoughts and moments to a company hosting it at no cost, with no guarantee of preservation, I’d be deeply concerned about control and posterity. I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed with what they’ve lost as the cracks start to form in our digital footprints.

A great story shouldn’t end here, but I don’t have anything revolutionary to say about this milestone of 20 years. I don’t think I’ll be making any real changes to what I do today. I don’t publish as much as I used to, but that’s really just an artifact of how much my life has changed, I simply don’t have as much time as I used to. I also found that my blog has trended to be much more positive and less raw and critical. As I’ve matured I’ve realized that I’m no longer just throwing my words into a black hole. Every time I throw a thought out that’s critical of something someone else has made, that has the potential to land with a real person, and I don’t want my thoughtless, throw-away comments to hurt someone. The positive nature of my blog today is related to this, but also a result of my struggle to write at all when I’m not in a very good mood, so I don’t. I do sometimes worry that both these things make my blog less genuine than it used to be, and that may be true, but I think I’m OK with that. I still think I’m more honest here than most people are in public, and this blog was never meant to be a private journal that I kept locked in my bedside table.

The adventures of 2022

2022 was a mixed bag. On the one hand, our three year old started preschool and ended up bringing every sickness he came across home, and we were essentially sick for half the year. We also finally succumbed to COVID-19 in July.

On the flip side, the boys finally got vaccinated! And we finally got to go back to Philadelphia, twice! I went to my first in-person conference since March of 2020, and generally things began opening up again. We’re still not back to where we were before the pandemic, but I’m not sure we’ll ever be, or if that’s a desirable state. Folks in the United States have really played fast and loose with illness for decades, and now the thought of going out without a mask when I have a cold just feels rude.

I’ve also had a bit of a reckoning with myself that’s still in progress. I’m a mother now, and in charge of a single family home. As a result, these two things consume almost all of my free time, most of the rest of which goes to attempting to get enough sleep. I keep setting milestones after which I think I’ll feel better (conclusion of breastfeeding, my youngest sleeping through the night, not being sick) but I keep being disappointed. So in 2022 I worked with my doctor to start a low dose of antidepressants, and started talking to a therapist. I also spent a day away on my own at a local resort, which was a brief respite but one that I really needed. Most days I can tell that the medication and small changes here and there are helping, but I definitely have work to do and am in need of more support.

MJ and I got to connect a bit more in 2022. It’s so difficult finding time to spend together with a baby at home, so as the boys slowly eased out of baby-hood this year, we were able to go out on a couple big date evenings (anniversary and my birthday) and have started leaving the house on weekdays as we can to do lunch together. In October we even got to go out for a quickly little day trip to a BART maintenance facility, which may not be the most romantic thing, but it was nice to get out together and enjoy something together that we totally would have done before we had kids.

I love a lot about being a parent though. I have always been happy about the fact that I never grew up too much and still know how to play and be silly, but it’s really kicked up a notch when you have kids around. Being thoughtful and creative with them comes so naturally not because I have experience with kids (I don’t), but because we share so many of the same interests and the so many of the same things bring us joy. As my boys continue to get bigger, I’m enjoying sharing my interests with them, from riding a train to looking at the stars and identifying planets (we’re big fans of Jupiter over here).

Work was quite fulfilling in 2022. We had some major product launches that I worked hard on supporting, several major events, and I was thrilled that the work I put in to preparing my promotion resulted in said promotion. I’ve become more focused with what learning I want to do each quarter, which has had the unintended consequence of strengthening my bonds with the mainframe community as I find I’m able to connect even more. In all, I’m still loving my job, and everything I’m continuing to learn.

The only trips we took in 2022 were two to Philadelphia, the first in September and the second in December, but I did still give some talks! Mostly virtual, but I did give a couple in-person at the Open Mainframe Summit while I was in Philadelphia in September. The following is my talk rundown.

As we ease into 2023, I’m hopeful that this year will bring some of the changes to my life that I need to take. I’m aiming for some more milestones at work, and I’m going to continue pursue taking better care of my self, both with regard to my physical and my mental health.

Adam is 4!

Adam turned four in early January. It’s a little hard to believe that four years ago I had my first newborn at home!

His birthday landed on a Friday and unfortunately he wasn’t feeling very well that evening. Instead of going out to dinner as planned, we spent the evening playing Lights Out! in his bedroom, where I put some LED candles around his room and we all played with glow sticks and flashlights. Given his love for the dark (and my own!) it made for a perfect, low-key evening.

And Saturday we had his party!

At his request, we had a Pixar Cars themed little party with a small group of local friends. He’d been talking about the cake for about a month, periodically reminding me that he wanted the same one his brother got last year, complete with the same car toys on top. Thankfully our friend (and former au pair) was kind enough to go to the store and order the cake while we were out of town so it would be ready for the party on Saturday.

It was nice to have people over, for the first time in ages the play room had four kids running around having fun together. Adam received a few gifts and Aaron enjoyed helping him open them. We ordered a couple pizzas and everyone seemed to have a nice time.

Their birthdays are a mere five weeks apart, with Hanukkah (usually) in the middle, and that’s been a challenge. But I think celebrating Aaron’s before we leave for Philadelphia for the holidays and Adam’s afterwards is working out well. It’s causing clear delineation between their parties which allows us to focus on each of them fully. I think we all are a little partied out by the time mid January rolls around though.

Winter Holidays in Philadelphia

On December 14th we flew to Philadelphia to spend three weeks with family and friends over the winter holidays. Things didn’t exactly go as planned.

As soon as we got into town it was clear that the kids had caught some kind of cold. A few days later MJ ended up on antibiotics, and the kids had full blown colds. Somehow, I managed to get out unscathed, but that meant I was taking care of everyone and doing sleeping shifts on the couch so I could more easily run downstairs to care for Aaron, or upstairs to check on Adam, all while letting MJ get rest so he could recover. I was also working to get my end of year tasks done at work and generally getting things squared off so I could depart for the rest of the year with as much done as possible. It was exhausting, and I kept having to pause and remind myself how lucky I was that I wasn’t sick too.

The first Saturday we were in town I also went to a Celebration of Life for CJ Fearnley, whose sudden passing I already wrote about. I wasn’t sick, but I was sure to mask up the whole time in case I was contagious. The grief I was feeling over that weighed heavy on me, and I was grateful that MJ was still feeling well enough at that point to watch the boys for the afternoon so I could go to the service. I said a few words, connected with some folks who I hadn’t seen in years, and in one case someone I knew through my work at CJ’s company years ago but never got around to meeting in person. Seeing how he touched so many lives and was soothing, and attending was a good step in my path to heal from this loss. In the time since his passing, I find myself constantly reminded at how many small ways he touched my life, he really was a wonderful person and mentor.

In more uplifting news, it snowed! Neither of the boys had experienced snow in person since we’ve been hunkered down in snow-free coastal California for the past three winters. The snow was brief, and the rest of the trip ended up being warmer and rainy, but it was enough for us to get outside for a few minutes to run around and take some pictures.

Everyone was on the mend by the time my little sister Annette and my nephew Xavier came into town to visit on December 24th. The last time we saw them was the summer of 2019 when they came out to California to meet baby Adam and spend a week with us. The pandemic sure threw a wrench in our ability to connect, and I’m really happy that the trio of cousins got to meet and spend time together, it ended up being the highlight of our trip for me. The cousins enjoyed a bunch of outings together, and some staying home playing video games (Adam played Mario Kart for the first time!) and doing things like decorating gingerbread men. It was also really nice to catch up with my sister.

With Hanukkah landing late in the year and at the same time as Christmas, we also had the treat of spending all of Hanukkah in Philadelphia. My sister and nephew got to experience the final two nights of it with us too.

The boys and I set up the model train I always bring out for the season, and I piled presents on the table. I enjoyed the train long before I had kids, but it’s nice to get to share that joy with kids who are happy to just spend a half hour watching the train go in circles as they move models around and see how much they can speed it up without a derailment.

We also met up with some folks from the Philadelphia Linux Users Group who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic and we did a little outing to the Mercer Museum in Doylestown. Adam thoroughly enjoyed exploring the labyrinthine museum and all the curious items to look at, while Aaron seemed content to spend most of the time in the children’s room, which is a new addition since I was last there over a decade ago, and one of the only rooms with heating. Afterwards we all ended up at a Hibachi place for lunch, which was also a whole new experience for the boys.

Speaking of new experiences, we quickly discovered that the change of scenery of the townhouse caused Adam to explore his surroundings a bit more, which included hopping out of his crib and running around the house in the morning. Since this isn’t really safe for him, we started evaluating our options. We hadn’t moved to a toddler bed in California yet, but it swiftly became clear that we’d have to do something. Unfortunately the way the room and door are set up, there isn’t actually a place to put a bed against a wall that doesn’t collide with a window, closet, or door. Infuriatingly, the spot where his crib lived was about 2 inches too small to put a twin bed in the same position, so some creativity was required. We ended up going to Ikea and getting a MINNEN extendable bed frame and associated spring mattress which takes twin sheets and in the medium state fits perfectly in his room. The boys enjoyed helping us assemble it, and as a bonus, I was able to move the crib down to Aaron’s little room so he could take that instead of the Pack N Play with mattress that he had been using, and rapidly outgrowing. The first few nights were a little rough, but I think they were both much happier with the final result.

There are a lot of birthdays in our family in December, so while my family was in town we invited MJ’s extended family over for a big five-person birthday party. We also got to spend time with MJ’s family on New Years Eve in a little house party that had kids everywhere! It’s so funny reflecting on how our extended family was child-free until Adam came along, and now it’s all so lively and chaotic at family gatherings, quite the change.

At the end of our trip the weather warmed and dried up quite a bit, allowing us to go to a local park with MJ’s step-sister and her son. It was nice to get a little more time in with them and somewhat make up for the first ten days of our trip when we were all sick.

The flight home was uneventful, though we did have concerns about storms hitting the bay area upon our return. Thankfully there were no delays, and while it’s still challenging, we are getting better at traveling with two young kids. A big backpack full of snacks and activities, plus their own headphones and phones loaded with downloaded content were all lifesavers.

If I’m honest, the trip had bright spots but it wasn’t the reset I was hoping for. I came home feeling more exhausted and worn out than before, and I was already quite tired coming off of Thanksgiving. But it was pretty much on track for 2022, with our oldest starting preschool it felt like we were sick with something or other all year. Plus, with the addition of a “bed project” it meant that are already disrupted plans for house projects while we were in town were further shifted, which was also disappointing.

Here’s to 2023 being healthier, or our least our immune systems being better a fighting off whatever comes along!

Remembering CJ Fearnley

On December 8, 2022, CJ Fearnley passed away after a short, serious illness. I’m heartbroken.

When I moved to Philadelphia in 2001, one of the first communities I got involved with was the Philadelphia area Linux Users Group (PLUG). I had just started dabbling in Linux with the help of my boyfriend at the time, and with the first meeting I ever attended being about Beowulf Linux clustering, I was quite out of my depth. Still, I stuck with it and slowly got familiar with the community, and the leader of the group, CJ Fearnley.

CJ Fearnley leading a PLUG meeting in 2015

CJ gave me my big break. During the dot com boom I dabbled in web development, but that quickly fizzled out along with everything else, and I ended up getting a job doing accounts payable work for a large corporation. It’s not the kind of job that one has a passion for, but it paid the bills, and I was able to keep an eye out for any contract tech work. That’s what caused me to be available when CJ was looking for junior folks to help with installing servers for his clients. I jumped at the opportunity and here and there I’d make myself available to pick up a server, drive it to the install location, haul it into the data center, or whatever closet it was living in. From there, I had my trusty Debian installation CD and would do the install and load up the default packages it needed. After a few months and an in-person which culminated in seeing Richard Stallman speak in Philadelphia, CJ offered me a full time job with his company, LinuxForce.

The first thing you need to know about working for CJ is that he’s very principled. His passion was for open source software and among his goals for running LinuxForce were spreading open source and Debian. He believed in the technology and he believed in the philosophy, and we was often uncompromising when it came to both, which is refreshing to see from someone running a company. And that company would never make him rich, but it did provide a living for himself and a small handful of employees like myself. He also believed in giving people a chance, particularly minorities in tech. He would always have me keep an eye out for smart folks with non-traditional backgrounds who might like a position where we could mentor them into success. His track record was great, several of the people he had on his payroll over the years have gone on to have remarkable careers in systems administration, and him giving them a start was key to that for all of us.

I spent six years at LinuxForce. Each day we’d spend 30-60 minutes syncing up with the latest client needs and plans for the day. This included division of labor, and frequently the opportunity for me to work on something new or otherwise sparked my interest.

When I began, I wasn’t sure what I wanted from my career, just that I had grown quite fond of Linux and open source in general, and wanted that to be a big part of my career. Early on, he asked me, “do you want to be a systems administrator or programmer?” and with the limited experience I had, I didn’t know how to answer, so his answer was to throw everything in my direction and see what stuck. I started out with Debian packaging, did a lot of programming in Perl, and then developed a fondness for systems administration. I found with systems administration I could have my hands in various technologies and still build things I was proud of, so that’s ultimately the direction I took under his mentorship.

CJ kept me on when I moved to San Francisco, and I worked a couple more years for him before I felt I had outgrown my role there and wanted to move on to something different and more challenging. What was his response when I mentioned I wanted to look for something new? Complete support, which I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone who knew him.

We kept in touch throughout my successive moves. When I visited Philly I’d often stop by a PLUG meeting, sometimes to even give a presentation on the latest thing I was working on, and we’d catch up after the meeting over pizza. The pandemic did a number on my personal relationships, and so has being a new parent, so the last time I saw CJ was in the summer of 2019 when I came by the PLUG meeting to give a presentation about Linux and open source on mainframes. We caught up as always, and I figured I’d catch up with him when I was in town again. That dragged on a bit with the pandemic, and before I knew it, I had a shocking email in my inbox explaining that he was suddenly quite ill and didn’t have long to live. I was able to get a quick message off to him expressing my care and thanks, and within a couple days he was gone. He was only 55.

Because of CJ’s influence, I was the first to jump at the opportunity to see a Buckminster Fuller exhibit that came to the SF MOMA. I went to more than a few events put on by the Long Now Foundation. In 2013, he came to my wedding with his partner Jeannie.

CJ and his partner Jeannie at our wedding in 2013

There are a lot of reasons this loss has hit me particularly hard, especially since it was so sudden, but I think the core of my despair comes from the fact that his mentorship was pivotal to me at a critical time. I learned a deep level of Linux systems administration that I think would have been difficult to gain elsewhere, especially as a woman in the field at the time. He was patient and thoughtful even when I struggled with things, and while no boss wants their employees to make mistakes, he fully adhered to failure being a part of learning, and stood by that when mistakes did occur. Tech stuff aside, he also taught me to be uncompromising and genuine, both of which have served me extremely well in my career. Losing a mentor and friend like CJ is devastating.

But he lived a full life following his passions and had the love and respect of participants from every community he was involved with. There are so many people who got their start in the Philadelphia Linux community who continue to thrive in the industry, and those I’ve spoken to since his passing have all credited him with helping them get their start. Whether it was attending PLUG meetings in high school or getting them set up with their first shell accounts, CJ was there to run meetings and help lead the way. And as one friend pointed out to me today, he “led from the trenches” which is a style of leadership I’ve come to embrace.

Audience at a PLUG meeting in 2013, including CJ in the foreground

In the small pond of the earliest Linux adopters, CJ was one of the kindest people I knew. His willingness to share his passions was the bedrock of the Linux community in Philadelphia. It’s going to be hard to move forward without him.

Thank you for everything, CJ.

Aaron is 2!

Just after the pandemic began in 2020, we learned I was pregnant. It culminated in having beautiful little Aaron in December. Which means, he just turned two years old!

Aaron has been really into buses lately, so theme-wise it was nice to do one around buses for him. Unfortunately the buses that all the party goodies focus on are school buses, and while those are fine buses, they aren’t exactly what he shouts about when a public bus drives by. So I went a bit DIY with it, and printed off some drawn buses from AC Transit (Alameda County, CA), MUNI (San Francisco), and SEPTA (Philadelphia). Add in a Happy Birthday banner, some balloons, and a dozen little cutouts of an AC Transit bus that said “Aaron Shuttle” and we were all set!

Oh, and a cake! Just like other decorations, the only cake was school bus themed, so we just went with AC Transit colors and a little Aaron Shuttle decoration.

We still aren’t doing big social things, so it was a low-key little party with some close family friends who have cared for the boys in the past. He got a few little presents and was mostly just excited to see everyone and eat cake. Adam was a fan of the cake, too.

It was also a delight the following Monday when the person who does social media for AC Transit saw the cake I shared and wished him a Happy Birthday from the official AC Transit Twitter account.

Bonus: BART did too! And if there’s anything Aaron loves more than buses, it’s trains, particularly BART.

We’re in Philadelphia now for the holidays and are going to do a joint birthday party for both the boys (Adam was born at the beginning of January) while we’re in town visiting family and friends there. So we’ll have more cake soon!

Thanksgiving weekend adventures and more IBM s390x trinkets

Thanksgiving weekend was a bit of a whirlwind. We had four days with no work and the boys at home, so my mission was to keep us all entertained during that whole time, including Thanksgiving when not much is open!

We ended up taking BART to San Francisco to go to a park. Aaron is really into buses right now, so the park I selected was the transbay terminal. At the bottom, lots of buses! But there’s also a magnificent park on the top floor that has lots of beautiful greenery to enjoy, and tables and chairs to enjoy a meal. We packed a picnic lunch of some of our favorite snack foods and while it wasn’t exactly a peaceful picnic with two little kids, it was effective and fun. While we were there we also took the little gondola ride from the street level up to the park. It strikes me as a bit of a silly thing thing, but we enjoyed it and the operator was really friendly and shared facts about the park.

Thanksgiving dinner itself was what has become our usual here in California, we picked up food to be heated up from a local diner about 90 minutes before dinner. It’s a pretty basic Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s easy and we all seem to enjoy it. This year our au pair joined us for dinner, along with one of her friends who didn’t have other plans for the day. It was a really nice evening.

Friday we went to the local Japanese Gardens before heading out to eat at our favorite local restaurant, and then made “rainbow challah” with some food coloring. After enjoying rainbow challah french toast, Saturday we kind of got back into our usual routine of outings and meals.

Sunday we made a gingerbread house! Which Aaron chomped on during construction, which I tried to stop him from at first, but then I just found it to be funny and appropriate, so the patching we had to do to compensate for the holes became part of the fun. That evening we also put up some blue and white lights for the holidays.

In other fun kiddo things, Aaron broke my glasses, and so I needed new glasses. I went a little throwback with these ones to get some sturdy solid-rim ones like I used to wear. They’re not exciting, but I’m hoping they hold up to a little abuse from the boys. I’ll also try to be a bit more careful.

In fun project-y things, I mentioned my SPARC project in a previous post, I haven’t made progress on that but I did find a lot of SLT/MST circuit boards on eBay and since I really like them for jewelry and they’re getting harder to find, I snatched them up.

Given my love for 3d-printed mainframe models, I also picked up an IBM postcard featuring a miniature IBM s/360 display that was built around the launch that makes my little models look even more like toys!

I am still struggling to find a balance between work, family, rest, and hobbies. I feel a bit sad when I’m not making things, but I also have discovered how tremendously important sleep is to being a fully present parent for our boys. I doubt there is a balance, but I do want to get to a place where I’m more satisfied with the decisions I’m making about my time.