Extra Life 2017 – A Change of Plans!

If you’d like to contribute regardless of what I’m doing, please donate here! Otherwise, read on for more information.

Hello, friends!

In most years, this is the post where I would tell you that I’m running my Extra Life marathon tomorrow, as that’s the assigned Game Day for the program.

However, I have outstanding commitments for the entire weekend that will prevent me from doing the Extra Life thing on the assigned day. So this year, I’ll be moving it around a bit and am also planning on doing more than one of these. I may not be able to do anything 24-hour based on my various commitments, but I’m looking at a handful of 12-hour-plus runs.

The first one of these is going to be on November 11th, and will start at 9:00 a.m. Central. I’ll be starting Super Mario Odyssey, and will take it as far as I can. I’ll stay on Super Mario Odyssey for the marathon series as long as people continue to donate – for every $5 donated to my Extra Life campaign, I’ll find one more moon in Odyssey, up to 100%ing the game before the end of the year.

You are guaranteed I’ll get the minimum number of moons for a game clear. Money donated will go to moons past the minimum.

I’ll post more information as we get closer to the marathon and will also post more regarding additional mini-marathon dates as they are going to happen. (Expect something around Destiny 2’s first DLC release.)

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Destiny 2: Month Two Gallery

I find myself hitting the screen capture button fairly often in this game, which is kind of nice. It gives me a record of what I’ve been doing and the things I’ve been messing with in the game.

My son and I are still playing together almost nightly, and it’s been a lot of fun. And we recently joined SafeGamers, giving us some groups we can play with who are respectful of our time and of us—a welcome change from a lot of online gaming experiences.

I’ve managed my first Destiny series raid, and cleared it a few times since then. I expect fewer screenshots next month, if only because I’m exhausting a lot of the content in the game prior to the first DLC release coming this December. (And I included the Legacy screenshots, which showcase some pretty neat art from various experiences I completed in the first game. I’m hoping my next Legacy is much more complete.)

Also, I’m aware there are some resolution problems with the carousel for these images; if you want to see the (much sharper) originals, use the button that appears when you are browsing the images in carousel.

New Laptop Time!

I’m fortunate to work at a great company that refreshes our laptops with new tech every couple of years, and today was MacBook Christmas for me: my new Touch Bar MacBook Pro showed up.

Whenever I do a laptop refresh, I choose to install everything new instead of using a system transfer, specifically so I can reevaluate what apps I use, whether there are other options available, and find new things in those apps’ settings that I might not have seen before.

As part of this process, I’m going to do a series of blog posts showcasing the apps I use on a regular basis and explaining why I choose to use them and how they fit into my personal workflows.

Once I have them going, I’ll post a link to the archives here, but if you’d like to know when I post them, feel free to follow my blog. :)

WordCamp 2017 Talk Submissions

It’s time to look forward to WordCamp US at the end of the year: seeing lots of familiar faces, attending fantastic sessions by creative and knowledgeable people, and volunteering to help create a great event for every attendee.

Last year, I gave a lightning talk on code review that I thought went very well; it was an adaptation of a talk I gave earlier in the year at WordCamp St. Louis based on the experience I’ve had with code review as a culture-centric thing at Automattic and specifically on the WordPress.com VIP team.

The deadline for talk submissions for this year is tomorrow, and so far, I have submitted two talks (I’ll bring up the third in a bit here):

Security, the VIP Way

My VIP team colleagues suggested this topic. We deal with some pretty large sites with lots of users, and can be the target of attacks by unsavory people, so we have developed security policies and best practices that we have found to be successful. I think I could relay some of these practices and give good examples in an engaging way.

I submitted this as a 50-minute talk, but it could be adapted as a lightning talk. I think this talk is pretty straightforward and would need some creative slide deck management to make it my particular style of engaging.

User Support: Playing to Win

OK, so this one is a long shot—and to be honest, I haven’t written it yet, but it’s nearly-fully-formed in my head. Support has been my career for over a decade now.

I have also played fighting games for a huge chunk of my life, but only in the last few years have I taken playing them seriously and competitively.

Fighting games are about resource management, spacing, timing, and adaptation. It struck me at one point that a lot of that is very similar to how I approach support interactions. I want to find a way to bridge those metaphors in a talk.

This would almost definitely be a lightning talk, and I submitted it that way. The slide deck would be really challenging and enjoyable to create. I’m secretly hoping this one is chosen.

A Third Talk?

Just a bit earlier this evening, I considered submitting a third talk based on my blog post from last night, regarding advice for applying to Automattic. After I wrote it, it occurred to me that a lot of what I talk about in the back half of the post is less specific to Automattic and more interesting in the context of open-source-related companies, of which Automattic is one.

But when it came time to write the abstract, I couldn’t come up with a good way to frame the talk that wouldn’t come across as “hey, you should come work at Automattic.”

The concept I had: I would talk with some other people at other WordPress-ecosystem and maybe even other OSS-ecosystem companies, and gather some more information from them about their workplaces and what they like to see.

In the end, because of where I work, there are optics to consider. Does it come across as a recruitment effort? Some people might look at it and think that it does, especially since I would be referencing a post that’s specifically advice for people who might want to work here. What I would love to get across is that there are lots of great companies in WordPress orbit people can work for, or could start, and I suspect they share these open-source traits. It’d probably be interesting.

But I won’t be submitting that one. I feel comfortable talking on my own space here about the work culture of Automattic and why I love working there (and I do this often because it’s all true), but I’m not comfortable making that the subject of a talk at one of the two large-focus gatherings of people from all of the WordPress community. It could be interpreted in a way I’d rather not evoke if I can avoid it.

How’s The Third Talk Different from The First Talk?

(Thought I’d address it because I know someone will think it.)

To be concise: I think there’s a big difference between sharing best practices concerning the WordPress software and supporting users and giving a talk where my workplace is a focus. Bonus: at VIP, we work in partnership with various agencies and WordPress users, so many of those best practices have developed in active collaboration. I feel comfortable sharing those practices in a broader arena without making it overly Automattic-centric.

“How Do I Get a Job at Automattic?”

I get about a half-dozen emails a year via my contact form asking me this question or asking related questions, like how to craft a resume, or what it’s like to work at Automattic. I thought I’d jot something down so I can just send a link the next time this happens, as my advice hasn’t changed much over time. :)

I’ve been here for seven years as of this writing, so I thought I’d share what I tell people who ask me this question (in a slightly expanded format). I’m not involved in hiring. This is not “official” advice of any kind. It’s just what I say to people, made public and repeatable.

First things first:

I love working at Automattic. You might not.

I will extol the virtues of my job whenever you ask me about it. It’s the best place I’ve worked, and I have found it to be very rewarding.

Not everyone will feel this way. The amount of freedom we have to get or not get our jobs done is unlike anything else out there. It can be very isolating and lonely to not see your team in person more than two to three times per year. I think even those of us who have embraced what we do struggle with this from time to time, and for some it can be significant.

But if you are willing to engage without having to be asked to do so, love working with people who are intelligent and come from all walks of life, and are down with being challenged often, you’ll probably fit in well.

So, how to get a job here? Let’s talk.

Read through our open positions and see if something is right for you.

You can find Automattic’s open positions here. Take a look and see if you spot something you’d enjoy doing and think you can do well. Read the job description and requirements to make sure you understand them and know how you would theoretically fit in the role.

Now, take a strong, focused look at the part of the job listing that talks about how to apply. This is going to be very important. :)

Follow the instructions regarding how to apply. Read them twice.

There are some things you will see in every job listing regarding how to apply. Take note of them and follow them. They are not there at random. Basically:

  • Make a resume/CV/whatever you want to call it. Prioritize and emphasize experience and skills that would directly impact the job role, but don’t ignore even side things that make you unique.
  • Attach it to an email sent to the address provided in the job description. The email is your cover letter. Introduce yourself. Be concise. This is your first impression, and it’s text-only. (As we are largely a text-communication-driven company, you should get used to this idea.) Make sure you include anything that’s specifically requested in the job description call for applications.
  • Double-check your spelling and grammar. Fix anything you need to fix.
  • Check it again.
  • Once more.
  • Send and wait. :)

You might get a trial; you might not. But putting yourself out there is the first step.

(Oh, and if you don’t know about how our hiring works with the trial process, where you perform contract work to see how that goes, you should probably read about that.)

I’m not lying when I say that’s pretty much it. When you boil down the process of applying for a job here, it’s pretty simple. That said:

Here are some focuses/traits I believe in based on my time at Automattic.

Again, let me stress this is my opinion and not in any way “official.” Nothing I say here is even remotely a guarantee, and I don’t have anything to do with hiring (really, I don’t), but these are things I will usually recommend to someone when they ask me personally what they can focus on.

These are mostly things I really like to see or admire in people I work with. :)

Be open to criticism.

It’s totally possible you’ll be rejected for the job, either before or during the trial process. When this happens, you may receive some reasons why you were turned down. Or you’ll receive some constructive feedback during your trial. Be open to it. Embrace the idea that you don’t know everything, because believe me—as a full-time employee for many years now, I still realize this often.

Be dogged in adapting to and implementing that criticism.

I applied to Automattic three separate times over a year-and-a-half before I received a trial. I had to change focus mid-trial before I was hired based on feedback. Some of the best colleagues I have at Automattic went through a trial, received feedback and a rejection, and then trialed again later with success. If and when you receive feedback, take it to heart and then apply it. Or apply again. Or both. :)

Be willing to say up-front when you don’t know something and be open to learning.

I would rather work a million times over with someone who is willing to admit when they don’t know something or are stuck on something and ask for help than someone who tries to fake it. Admitting you need help is not a weakness. It is literally impossible for everyone to be an expert at everything.

Be willing to help others.

I’m big on leading by example. Everyone has gifts and strengths, and everyone is at a different level. Just as you should be willing to let others help you, be willing to share your knowledge and experience with others. Be kind and instructive. Don’t always offer to just take charge of things—though on occasion, that’s necessary—but aim to level up your (potential) team.

Be yourself.

Automattic contains the most diverse and interesting group of people alongside whom I have ever worked. It is an amazing collection of individuals from whom I have learned much and with whom I have enjoyed spending time during meetups. Embrace this and be willing to commit yourself to it as well. (BTW, if the real you is introverted, that’s totally OK. There are lots of us here. If you have to take a break, we understand.)

Have at least a passing familiarity with the Automattic suite of products.

How much of this depends greatly on the job for which you are applying. Some positions might not require a lot of PHP or familiarity with WordPress. Others will be based almost entirely around this. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to at least know the core business of Automattic and what we do before wanting to work here. :)

Embrace open source.

An open source ethos drives Automattic and is core to our identity. Know what that means. Past and ongoing contributions to open source projects, whether it’s code, testing, design, documentation, or whatever, will give you valuable experience in what it’s like to work with those types of projects and is a bonus.

(Again, this will somewhat depend on your desired job role.)

Get comfortable with text-only communication. And in learning how your writing tone can be interpreted.

To be honest, I still have trouble with this sometimes. Text communication is hard. Without vocal inflections, facial expressions, and other body language, it’s easy to read something and get the wrong impression.

It’s a skill to craft your text communication in a way that others will understand your tone and intention. Dedicate yourself to learning that skill. (Yes; sometimes this means using emoji. They are very, very helpful for establishing tone.)

This space reserved.

I’m sure there are things I’m not thinking of, but I have been writing this blog post for three days and I should probably just publish it. If you are a fellow Automattician and reading this, and I forgot something obvious, ping me and let me know. If you are a reader and you have additional questions, feel free to contact me. I’ll edit some things in to this post later if needed.

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

A Farewell to Bach at the Sem? Some Bits and Reminiscence

I’m going to tell a story and get all wordsmithy in a bit here, so for those of you who are not interested in such a thing, here first are some facts for you regarding Bach at the Sem, the May 7th performance, and what performers for that concert have been told. If you have information that contradicts my understanding, please send me an email to let me know so I can make corrections to this post.

  • The American Kantorei (the chorus for Bach at the Sem) was informed a few weeks ago that the May 7th performance is set to be the final performance for our group and that we will not have a season next year.
  • To my knowledge, no announcement has been made to the patrons of Bach at the Sem, no mention of this being our final performance has been posted to any social media or other communications channels, and no releases have been made to the broader St. Louis arts community regarding this fact.
  • The reasons given to us for the end of our participation have been that fundraising had not been successful and that the seminary cannot shoulder the burden of paying for the costs to bring the concert season to the St. Louis arts community.
  • The only word from the seminary I’m aware of is the following response to a Facebook post I previously made:

    As we look ahead to the 2017-18 academic year — during which the milestone 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be celebrated — we are looking at how best to offer the music of Bach to the St. Louis community and beyond. We look forward to sharing our program schedule as soon as the dates and details are worked out.

  • No mention of any further program as alluded to in that quote has been provided to the American Kantorei at the time of this writing. As far as any of us know, the May 7 performance is our final one as an ensemble as part of Bach at the Sem. I do not have any inkling as to what the planned program schedule for next year may contain.

As it’s not clear to me whether people are aware of these facts, please share this post among your social media channels if you are willing and able. It is my hope and prayer that the attendance at the May 7 performance is greater than the space can bear, to show to Concordia Seminary the value the St. Louis community places on this concert series.

Again, if you have any information that would either shed light on these facts or would contradict them, please contact me via email as soon as possible so I can make corrections to this post. I reached out to the Bach at the Sem publicity account on Facebook to ask if they would like to provide a statement for this post as well, but at the time I published it, they had not yet responded. Should they do so, I will likewise update this post.

Those are the facts as far as I know them. Now, to that story I warned you about…

Prologue

I was a freshman in college, and with zero choral experience, I’d tried out for the Concordia University Kapelle on a whim. I had no formal voice training, but a very trusting person by the name of Kurt Amolsch took a chance on me.

That spring, he gave us the first choral score I’d held that was bound like a book. We sight-read the opening chorus to the St. John Passion—my first experience with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

I couldn’t keep up. There were so many notes on the page. So much was going on at once. I stopped singing and did my best just to follow along. I was clueless and adrift, feeling a fraud amongst others who had seemingly instant command of the material compared to myself. Bach had defeated me.

I left rehearsal crying, thinking that I could not possibly learn to sing such technically demanding music.

Two months later, I had a passable command over the material. We performed the work twice that spring. The St. John Passion remains one of my favorite works in the history of music.

Learning Bach

As a first year seminarian, my wife had seen the call in the school’s daily announcements for open auditions for something called Bach at the Sem. She convinced me to try.

I still didn’t know what it meant to audition for a group. I had no prepared material. I had only a single quarter of vocal teaching. I had no formal sight-reading training. (I still largely learn by ear, a fumbling of trying to read notes off the page, a lot of effort, and a sharp memory for music.)

Robert Bergt brought me into the American Kantorei, the group he had founded and then directed. He had been a student and teacher of Johann Sebastian for many years, and he imparted that knowledge and love not only of Bach but also of the broader baroque to those would listen.

I listened as much as I could.

For ten years, I performed with the group under his direction. It took many attempts for me to understand what I was doing, and in some ways I still don’t. He continued to trust me to be part of the music.

After Robert’s death in 2011, Bach at the Sem engaged in a series of tryouts to find the right director to take the helm of the program. I stuck with the ensemble, hoping to see the process through and learn from someone new. For the last few years, I have learned the music of Bach in a different and complementary way from Dr. Maurice Boyer, whose presence to the program has been a boon. He has also trusted me to bring my talents to the American Kantorei.

I have now been with the group for fifteen years, learning, sometimes struggling with, and performing the music of Bach. In my uneducated and humble opinion, the artistry of his music is unmatched. It transcends notes on a page. It conveys messages, emotions, and understandings that are more than the sum of its parts. Each piece I learn is burned into my mind.

It is in no small way a part of my life.

Generations

In those same fifteen years, we have added five children to our family. They have benefited directly from Bach at the Sem and the American Kantorei. We have brought them to performances from a very early age, provided them with music with which to follow along, and encouraged them to engage with the works of Bach.

As a seminarian and later a working parent, and not always one of means, I have always been proud of the gift Bach at the Sem has provided to the arts community of the St. Louis area. My wife brought my children to these performances for absolutely no charge, and they could learn through the artistry of the accomplished musicians performing the material as well as the scholarly program notes provided for each piece of the gift of the music of Bach.

I believe it has enriched their lives and brought them joy—not to see their father standing at the front, but to know and learn this music as patrons. And this has been made possible by the exceedingly generous free admission to all Bach at the Sem performances, in turn made possible by generous donors and the seminary as host.

I’m sad and disappointed to lose this resource, not only for my own family, but for other young people who may not now have the opportunity to sit at the feet of Bach and learn from his virtuosity.

Epilogue?

So, here I am, almost a full twenty years from being that adolescent who was thrown into the works of Bach and left crying, feeling a fraud.

I still feel like one from time to time. It takes a lot of work for me to prepare the music. I have been fortunate to learn from not only good directors, but talented instrumentalists and vocalists standing beside and around me as we bring to life the works of this 18th century composer, who is the author of hundreds of instrumental and choral masterworks.

The selections for what appears to be our final performance could not be better. They are meditative and benedictive works, drawing on themes of evening and of the need for protection and safety from an uncertain night. Bach knows from where this protection comes. He demonstrates so in the music.

Bach at the Sem has been the sole output for my musical talents for the last fifteen years. I find it hard to contend with the reality that I will soon unwillingly be forced to say goodbye, to watch the evening fall on something I and so many others have worked so hard to make a worthy endeavor.

And so, I am sure there will be some in the audience who will wonder why I am crying on May 7, as both figurative and literal evening comes. It will not be because I am unable to contend with the technical nature of the work of Johann Sebastian Bach as so many years ago, but because I will be unable to contend with its emotion.

Open 17.2

Well, this was definitely a thing.

The Workout (Scaled)

12-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible):

  • 2 rounds of:
    • 50-ft. weighted walking lunge
    • 16 hanging knee-raises
    • 8 power cleans
  • Then, 2 rounds of:
    • 50-ft. weighted walking lunge
    • 16 chin-over-bar pull-ups
    • 8 power cleans

Alternate between hanging knee-raises and chin-over-bar pull-ups every 2 rounds.

Dumbbell weight is 35 pounds.

Results

39 reps, which is only halfway through the second round’s worth of lunges.

This was a pretty bad one for me just because of the lunges. At first, I thought this wouldn’t be horrible and I was just thinking that I would get to the pull-ups and then have to stop scoring at that mark because I still can’t manage a single pull-up.

But instead, I had neglected to realize that doing lunges with a 290-pound frame while putting two 35-pound dumbbells on your shoulders is not easy. I had to psych myself up for almost every one of them, twice forgot which lead leg was next, and a few times got down in the lunge and then just couldn’t get back out of it. I might have done better if I had thought more about the lunges and less about hating the pull-up requirement.

Apply the same weight-based knowledge to my knee raise grip and that’s a decent start. At least my power cleans were unbroken? And I didn’t tap out.

I’m not sure I’m happy with myself this week. I gave it a lot of fight, especially at the end, so maybe this is just not a workout I can get much further in. My legs are sure feeling it right now. (I hate stairs.)

Progress

I mentioned last week that I was upping my activity to every day; here’s how it’s going:

Attendance: I missed this past Thursday because I didn’t have the car for most of the day and couldn’t get up early enough after going to see a concert the night before. It was active recovery day, so I got out and moved a bunch instead and so today when it came time for the Open workout, I didn’t feel too bad. Hit every other day, though.

Muscles: Holy crap, uh, this is a new level of soreness. Sunday morning after 17.1 was the worst. The interesting thing is that it’s not the “I don’t want to get out of bed” level of soreness I was seeing when I was going two days a week. This is more just soreness distributed more evenly throughout my body, and at a low level but it’s always there. I will say that in general, I feel better than I did when I was not going as much in a given week.

Stats: One new PR (2-rep power snatch). Weight is actually up a bit, which you know, whatever, I guess?

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 15.50.39

I was hoping to see at least some weight loss in the first couple of weeks after making this change, but so far that’s not panning out, which (at least for my state of mind) sucks. But my Withings body fat mass measurement is doing this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 15.50.59

So you know, whatever? The human body is weird.

Open 17.1

I haven’t written much of anything about Crossfit and my journey for about two years, so in the aftermath of the first workout of the 2017 Open, I thought I’d say a few things and talk about what I have been doing and what I’m going to do.

I purposefully avoided talking about this in my birthday post for the year or my year recap, but with the Open in full swing it seemed a good time to make some changes.

What’s This “Open” Thing?

I’ll keep this short. Every year, Crossfit as an organization holds open qualifiers for the Crossfit games. For five weeks, every Crossfit affiliate holds exactly the same workouts for every member athlete in the world. The workouts are usually demanding and tough and over the course of the five weeks will measure pretty much every way you can measure athletic ability.

17.1 is the first week’s workout of 2017.

It’s a bit crazy, but one of the neat things about it is that for five days each year, I get to do exactly the same workout as the other Crossfitters at work, since we are fully distributed and I don’t live near anyone else. If you set yourself to it, it can be a lot of fun.

Results

First, some words about 17.1, which is a workout not made for beef. To preserve any chance I had at getting some real work in, I did the scaled version:

For Time (20-minute cap):

  • 10 DB snatches @ 35#
  • 15 burpee box step-overs @ 20″
  • 20 DB snatches @ 35#
  • 15 burpee box step-overs @ 20″
  • 30 DB snatches @ 35#
  • 15 burpee box step-overs @ 20″
  • 40 DB snatches @ 35#
  • 15 burpee box step-overs @ 20″
  • 50 DB snatches @ 35#
  • 15 burpee box step-overs @ 20″

I time capped at 105 reps, which is the first three rounds. I tried for some additional snatches into the fourth round, but was just completely out of fuel in the tank. I didn’t really expect to do more than those three rounds, because at my weight, that many burpees with box overs is just a lot of moving your own body, something I’m very, very bad at in terms of exercise types.

After it was over, my judging coach took this picture, which is what I want to talk about a bit today in terms of changes I’m making with my regimen and some disappointments I have with myself over the last two years:

And so:

Two Years

In the past two years, I have attended between 2 and 3 times per week in an average week. I miss some weeks completely due to work or vacation, but when I’m home, I go for the most part.

In those two years, this is what my weight has done:

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 14.52.03

I cannot even begin to describe how massively frustrating this has been to me and continues to be today. In that picture I reposted above, it’s pretty clear that all of my weight sticks in the same spot on my body, and whenever I think about it, I find it alarmingly embarrassing.

It also, due to my diabetes, is likely to be the thing that kills me unless I am able to do something about it.

People have told me over the last two years that I look better than I did before. I’ll be honest—and this is not a fish for a compliment—I don’t see it, because I have a hard time seeing past both that number and the size of my midsection. I haven’t lost a shirt size. I haven’t lost more than a single belt notch. It’s demoralizing.

With the Open coming up, I figured I should make a choice. I either needed to just stop doing it and treading water, feeling like I’m not improving, or I needed to up my game and see what would happen.

So I’m Upping My Game.

Starting this week, I’m actively trying to increase my attendance frequency from two to three times per week to every weekday. I have paid lip service to this idea before, but have always chickened out from it and used my post-workout soreness as an excuse.

Instead, I’m using the Open as an excuse to start going every day and making a real effort at this thing. I suppose the worst that happens is that I’ll just be able to move my heavy weight around better than before.

I did this over this week. There hasn’t been a drastic change in my weight, which I suppose I hadn’t expected anyway because change takes time (even more than the two-plus years I have put in already).

With any luck, I’ll start seeing some kind of positive movement over the five weeks of the Open, and to try to record this, I’ll keep making update posts here once a week talking about my experience.

I’ll apologize for any complaining you hear from me in the meantime. The first week was pretty rough and by the end of it today, I didn’t have much left in the tank. Hopefully, next week will be better.