Dear Js,

You know what sucks about being a parent? Not being able to quit. If you play a game and had enough, you can just walk off the field or court and say ok I’ve had enough. You can’t do that with kids. I guess some parents do. But that’s cold considering you’re abandoning humans who can’t care for themselves. I guess some children are better off without their real parents. I shouldn’t complain. As bad as we have it, we don’t have it as bad as the single parents. At least with your mom and I, if one stumbles the other gets to cover for a little bit.

But man, you can’t even poo in the right place yet. Mama asked, did you make kaka? You said, no, she did (pointing at your sister). Then later, I take your undies off and a pool of brown cottage cheese is cradled between your legs like a hammock.

I’m cranky because my patent application was rejected. But I’m not upset it got rejected. I’m upset because I chatted with the guy who rejected it. Writing a patent is nothing like writing for a human. It’s writing for a machine. There is nothing valuable you can learn from filing for a patent, except for learning what it takes to get a patent. There are no skills you can transfer to any other part of your life.

I remembered, Patents are Bullshit.

I can say this because it’s not my first patent. My first one was awarded for something “novel” by patent standards but nowhere as valuable as what I submitted this time. It was a stupid 2-D array data structure (which is described in every “coding for dummies” book), but what was “novel” was that it was used for something “novel”. It got accepted because I had way more time back then, so I could spend more time adding enough detail for it to be “novel”. (Silly patent tip: when you split hairs fine enough in any patentable area, you’ll eventually come upon a sliver of hair no one else has patented before.)

Anyway, I slept on it, and I woke up next day still thinking, “This is bullshit.” But I wanted to turn this bullshit process into a process I liked and one I can learn from. Also, even though patents are bullshit, the bullshit decisions are made by decent people, so I was going to use everything I know and not be mad at the game but focus energy on the people instead.

So, I sent the gentleman who rejected my application an email:

Subject: thanks for patent chat
Hi _____,

Thank you for coming over to explain the patent process to us.

After the meeting, I had an idea and I wanted to know what you think.

Is it okay if we email you a short paragraph summary before we submit our applications?

We will have a few more applications going your way, so I think this can be a quick “sanity check” to make sure we don’t waste your time and ours. It will also make sure that you’ll get higher quality applications from us.

E.g., we can send you:
1. Description of invention: 1 sentence
2. The “Old way”
3. The “New way”
3.a. List of specific novel things
4. Detectability
5. Did I miss anything?

Then, you can reply with a quick 1-line yes/no/tweak-this. Then, if we get the green light, we can flesh it out and submit the full draft to the legal dept.

Of course, you may still reject it later, but at least our time is better spent on valuable activities.

What do you think?

They laughed at me and said there’s no way he’d say yes. But he did. He even offered to walk from his building to ours and discuss over a whiteboard (instead of email). Some reasons why I think it worked: I made him feel important, I explained how it was valuable to him, and how it would end up saving him time. I also proposed a simple template/checklist that would speed up all future applications. (If everyone used this, we would save mucho man-hours and dollars.)

Anyway, I’m still upset. So I’m going to talk about our dryer. Dryers are boring, but I’m not talking about our dryer because dryers are interesting. What’s interesting is what we did last weekend that involved a dryer that smelled like burning.

We emailed our landlord, who said it’s okay, “my dryer smells like that all the time.” But our dryer was right next to the heater. And the heater was right under your room. So mama didn’t want to risk it. Mama called a repairman who said he wanted $70 just to grace us with his visit to look at it.

Little did he know, my new toolset arrived recently. We ordered it to replace the one that was stolen from our garage last month. So fixing the dryer became my Saturday challenge.

I started by looking at the exhaust port outside. There didn’t seem to be a squirrel or bird nest there. I was afraid to stick my hand deeper, so I went back in to see what I could see from the garage. I shifted the dryer out. Lint everywhere. A carpet of lint on the floor, lint all over the back wall. The exhaust pipe fell off the back of the dryer. It looked like it was supposed to connect to the hole I saw outside. I peeked into the pipe and it looked clear.

I started by picking up all the lint on the floor. Then I looked in the dryer. In the back of the tumbler were two grilles, on the left and the right. Both were more than 60% plugged with lint. I had to take the back panel of the dryer off to see.

I found the right socket for the screws. I turned a few, then thought. Hey… you might want to see this. After all, you were driving mama crazy inside and she was trying to put your sister to sleep. Maybe it might even be educational. I called you, mama asked if you wanted to, you said yes, and she put your clothes on. (You had stripped yourself down to your diaper. Don’t ask. I don’t know.)

You came out in your pajamas and pointed to your chest, “LOOK! BEAR!” OK bear, come here. You are my helper. I’m the grownup. “Why can’t I be the grownup?” Because you are two years old. Remember, you always need a grownup to use sharp things and tools like this screwdriver. “Okay.”

I said here, help me unscrew these. You tried with one hand. “I cannot do it.” I said use two hands. You tried and your eyes lit as your brain shot you with happy drugs. The game was on. I pointed you to the screws. You took them off one by one. After we took all of them off, you were still looking for something to do so you started unscrewing the metal panels where there were no screws. I stopped you and redirected your attention, Look – it’s dirty.

“What is it?” Lint. This is called lint. I cleaned it up into a plastic bag. Then I went back to look into the dryer, then came back around. I said, I know what the problem is. You said, “I KNOW WHAT THE PROBLEM IS!” You do? What is the problem? “The dryer is dirty with lint.” Yes, that’s right. But what I was going to say was, I know why mama smelled burning. There was one vent that lead from the heating element into the tumbler. And another vent that led from the tumbler to the exhaust. The one that was burning was the one from the heat. The heat couldn’t flow into the tumbler – it was trapped in the plugged lint at the grille.

I think the only reason the dryer didn’t explode in flames is because there wasn’t enough oxygen. I asked for your help to unscrew the two vents to unclog the grilles. The one plugging the heating column was singed brown and slid off like a crispy pancake. As I was fishing around for lint, you complained that you wanted to help, but there were no more screws. So you went to sweep your scooter, then the garage floor. Then you ran out of the garage into the courtyard and I freaked out because I couldn’t see you. You ran back around the car, squeezed yourself through the car and the dryer to get back to me and got your fleece pajama covered in lint.

We put it all back together. I connected the pipe and said WE FIXED IT! We can tell mama the dryer is not broken anymore. You ran back into the house, “Mamaaaaa we fixed your dryer!” Can you tell her what the problem was? “It was dirty with LINT!” How did you fix it? “I used a screwdriver and cleaned it.” We had lint all over us.

Here’s what happened when mama fired it up: I went outside to check the exhaust port. There was a thick stream of hot air. I went back into the garage. The dryer had never been quieter. It was breathing like a snot-free nose. Also, I don’t remember the garage being that cool while the dryer was on. The garage used to get warm every time we ran the dryer. Which meant that all this time, the dryer had been heating the garage, not our clothes. When Julie’s clothes came out, they were crispy toasty. Mama said they were even a little fluffy.

So it was nice. What started as a chore turned out to be a nice moment I had with you. I didn’t get to take a picture of you working the tools. But I took a mental snapshot and I called mama to see. She teared up and smiled. I think the best part of it is not that I got to share some father-son time with you. But the fact that I could share with you the joy of wrestling with a problem, working with your hands and making something work.

That’s a satisfaction you can’t get anywhere else. It made me realize it’s something I should try to find more of. Playing and toys and books and communicating and observing and experiencing new things is good. But working together to beat challenges is as rare as it is important. I mean, how many other parents would have just fixed the dryer all by themselves in peace without a toddler, or called the repairman?

It also made me realize how much you love to work. You wanted to be helpful and useful. I was telling mama that it could be why you’ve been such a troublemaker. You might be bored. Mama thought back and said the days you are more pleasant at home are the days when she gives you work to do.

I didn’t think turning screws would be exhausting, but you almost fell asleep eating lunch. You napped until 6. When mama went to your room, you still weren’t ready to wake up.

We read two books before bedtime as usual. One on the couch, one in bed.

Your new favorite book: Violet the Pilot.

My brain is fried. My voice has died. The Achilles workshop was a success. At least, I think it was. It was madness. I’m just glad we survived. I never felt in control but we fought through. It felt like a boat that seemed okay from the dock, but as soon as we hopped in psshhh 3 leaks sprang. And as soon as we plugged them (I had help from the co-host), more holes popped up like a Warner Bros cartoon. We had way too many people. If I didn’t have help answering questions it would have been a disaster. I made sure to thank my co-host later, and he immediately looked up our next workshop. 10 people. He said, “We should close this. No more people.”

We had 15 people this time. Each had different problems and questions. While I was leading the training and answering group questions, my co-host scurried around fighting fires and plugging leaks. Half-way through, I realized we weren’t going to make it. So I had to change the agenda on-the-fly, and, while answering questions, design a new agenda in the back of my head, map out the (new) exercises we would do, and devise the (new) solutions as we went. It felt like I was trying to cross two islands by dropping planks in front of each step and running over them really fast before they sank. All while pretending that I’m in control. It was a brutal 3 hours. I never had to work so hard in 3 straight hours since grad school. I don’t think all those guys there jammed so much learning in 3 hours either.

After it was done I wondered why I volunteered for it. I wasn’t planning to work this hard. I just wanted to go home and take a nap. My eyes were burning, my throat was weedy and I was loopy on caffeine. Good news is, they seemed to have found it valuable. I worked them hard. But it was just the right amount of torture that none of them quit. It seems that as long as you can break the pain into small enough problems such that they feel the bang of victory every few minutes, they’ll keep pushing through walls. Building camaraderie like “we’re in this together” helped too. And after a certain point, you can’t quit because “we’ve come this far.” (Zeigarnik effect.)

Looking back, one smart thing we did accidentally was we didn’t have 10 different/separate exercises. Instead, we had 1 exercise after another, with subsequent ones building on the previous ones. This avoids the Sisyphus condition where you feel your efforts are wasted if each exercise is a throwaway exercise. When they build on each other, you know you have to make each one work. Otherwise, it’s Game Over because you can’t continue. I’m so brilliant.

If you’re curious, below is the letter I used to fill the workshops. I made sure to send a personalized email to each person. The bulk of the text was copy-pasted, but I made sure to make a few tweaks. The idea was to make it feel that I was speaking directly to each person. I wanted them to feel guilty if they ignored it. And I wanted them to feel guilty if they saw me in the hallways and hadn’t replied. Which happened a lot. I’d get stopped and they’d apologize profusely then sign up.

Subject: “will you be interested in a group workshop?”

Hi _____,

Would you be interested in a group Achilles workshop?

Since we last chatted, a number of people complained that I went “too fast” and many asked for something more like a step-by-step “how to create your first application”.

So, ____and I are going to have a group workshop to walk everyone through:
* the basics of Python and the web2py framework
* how to develop your first “Hello World” web application
* how to customize an existing application (e.g., “QOR hunter”)
* how to create a simple application from scratch
* send data to your Achilles server
* save the data in the database
* retrieve data from the DB
* post-process the data
* render an interactive report
* Bonus: fun with Google Charts

We’ll work on some exercises together, and we’ll help one another out so we’re all on the same page. Then, what you’ll get after the “Workshop”:
* you can add “web applications” to your resume
* you can replace your boring Learning and Development goal with “Achilles”
* develop web applications for your own project, your group, or for the whole org

____ said that if we have enough numbers, we can take over a conference room for a few hours and he’ll get us free food.

Shall I add your name to the list? We plan to have it this month or Feb. Please let me know soon so we can organize it.

I got so many replies we had to split them up into two batches. We even have a waitlist for a third. We were supposed to have 10 in this first one, but people forwarded the invitation around and 5 people came uninvited. One guy was furious as soon as I started, “What am I doing here?” He demanded I give a proper introduction and more background, because he didn’t understand why this was so important to him and why it’s so much better than what he was already doing. Problem was he didn’t realize he missed the first 1 hour presentation and the round of 1-on-1s I had with all the people I invited. I dove right into elbow grease and he started drowning. I said we had no time for background but I’d try my best to accommodate him, but if it wasn’t working I won’t feel bad if he just grabbed some food and excused himself. He had his arms crossed so hard and chuckled at what he thought were problems that were “too hard” because I didn’t provide enough context. He thought it was up to me to convince him or make it easy for him.

Little did he know, everyone who showed up was already sold. They were there to get dirty. So he left a few minutes in like a wet puppy. Typically I’d have left it at that, but god help me if I have to keep running into his sour face in the halls. So later I hunted him down and apologized that he felt like shit. He said it wasn’t my fault, but I said well I know it doesn’t feel good to feel lost. He then went on to brag about the fancy set up he had (which was why he was cross-armed to change). Sonofabitch I was tired, but I humored him. Nodded and cheered. I was ready to get up and leave but then he wanted me to tell him why my system was better. He wanted me to sell him. I laughed and said I have no intention of selling you. If you have something you’re happy with and it’s working out for you, then that’s cool. You don’t need this.

The plan backfired. I didn’t mean to, but I unleashed the forces of “Takeaway selling” and “Loss aversion”. I kept trying to end the conversation and push away. But, because he didn’t get a fight he expected, each time I pushed he kept pulling me back. Fine, I said, let me go get my laptop. I came back, showed him something. He made excuses. I closed the lid and got ready to leave. He’d stop me again. I opened my laptop, showed something else, he’d resist, make another excuse or brag about his fancy contraption and I’d close the lid again. I really wanted to leave. But before long, his defensive pride turned into horror when he realized that this was the future. And I was closing the door on him. Well, I really didn’t mean to, but our conversation ended with him thinking of using Achilles for future projects. I said oh that’s cool, you can ask that other guy if you have any questions. He said no that’s okay, I’ll come to you. Me? Fuck. Okay bye. God damnit. Anyway, I got what I wanted I guess, which was to be able to walk to the restrooms and break rooms in peace.


Potty training with #1 is going well. Not really any accidents anymore. You’re wearing undies during the day now. #2 is still work in progress…

J2 – OW. You’re biting hard with your teeth. Mama couldn’t nurse you to sleep tonight. So she rocked you to sleep, then slid you into your crib. It was the most excited I have seen her this year. She couldn’t believe it. She could take her shower in peace. She didn’t have to worry about you rolling off our bed. We could do things you take for granted like turn on the lights and talk normally, without waking you up. It was strange to not have you close. So of course, because it was tooooo quiet mama kept running to check on you. Which J caught since he’s your neighbor.

“Screw crawling, I’m walking.”

Walking with Gators. You stick your tongue out when trying something hard. Mama says she does the same and has to be careful when she works out.

Walking with Gators. You stick your tongue out when trying something hard. Mama says she does the same and has to be careful when she works out.

This week in pictures

Remember I said your favorite book is Violet the Pilot? Airplane:

Our neighbor gave us her balloons from her baby shower. She had her baby on Wed. Mama’s been trying to see how she’s doing but she’s not been answering. I hope they’re okay.

Trying to fly?

Not sure if trying to fly? I had my camera ready just in case.

At the museum with mama and J2. Those are "flight goggles" around your neck.

At the museum with mama and J2. Those are “flight goggles” around your neck.



Making sister laugh:





Happiest seat in the house

Happiest seat in the house



I need my space. This is not a puzzle.

I need my space. This is not a puzzle. This is why you have your own bed. That’s my blanket.

Mama kicked out of the bed at 5 am

Mama kicked out of the bed at 5 am



P.S. Mama’s new business cards arrived (Front / Back). Can you spot the sneaky?