One gun fewer

I was upset too. I hugged my wife. Kissed my baby girl. Mourned for the children and teachers. I was sad about the lack of mental health resources and angry about the guns.

The more I thought about guns the more upset I became. I laid awake for hours on Saturday night in sadness and anger. I found myself contemplating my own gun experiences - mostly just shooting guns as a kid. I decided that I want fewer guns in my family's future. Then I thought about one person that I know who has a gun, someone I trust and who trusts me. I decided I would call him up and ask him to consider destroying his gun. This idea didn't help me to sleep.

It wasn't easy. My voice was shaky. I did not manage to coolly and clearly explain the data that describes why guns in homes are dangerous. I did not win a debate but the conversation didn't devolve into abstract politics. I wish that I was more sensitive ("having a gun to defend yourself is a stupid idea") but conversations in the real world are like that. I'm not sure if I will succeed, but I'm trying to care for people I love and make the world a better place one relationship, and one gun fewer, at a time.

Read ebooks hands free

Every year for Christmas I try and make Claudia a Christmas present. Sometimes it's a big success (an old laptop I turned into a digital photoframe that shows local bus positions, bike share station status and more recently streaming video from our baby monitor) and sometimes less so (a fish scale modified to set off a buzzer when pulled too far that was supposed to teach our dog not to pull on the leash). This past Christmas, my wife was pregnant so I decided to build something that would help us get through the late nights of breastfeeding.

Claudia loves to read, and we now buy a lot of digital books, which Claudia reads on an old Kindle and I on my phone. I decided that I wanted to come up with a way that would enable Claudia to read hands free while breastfeeding our baby. Besides Kindles and phones, Amazon also lets you read books on their kindle cloud reader. You just go to, sign in with your kindle account, and all of your books are there and ready to be read.

When you put the browser in full screen mode, it makes good use of the screen. You can adjust the text size and spacing so that it is quite readable, even at a distance. Of course you can click an icon to change the page, but you can also use the right and left arrow keys to flip pages. With all of this in hand, the rest of my solution was pretty obvious.

I really only had to buy two things:

A music stand:

Musician's Gear Heavy-Duty Folding Music Stand Black

A set of foot pedals:

Scythe Usb-2fs-2 USB 2 Foot Switch Version 2

The music stand is adjustable to hold the laptop at eye level, is sturdy and easy to move around. The foot pedals basically work like a keyboard with two keys. I used the included software to configure them so that the right pedal would send the right arrow key, and the left pedal would send the left arrow key.

Needless to say, I was pretty psyched when I plugged it all in, went to the and everything worked perfectly.

Now that Annika, our little baby girl, has arrived, my wife is using the system around the clock and it seems to be working flawlessly. With the background color set to black, it barely even lights up the room, which is helpful when you are trying to keep the baby in sleep mode.

Ways to improve it

It turns out that having a computer around really helps pass the time for breastfeeding mommies. Besides reading books, she has been watching a lot of movies and TV shows. It would be great if you could program the pedals to send "space" to pause a TV show. If the pedals could switch modes and send the right keys depending on which application had focused - then that would be awesome. Or simply allowing long presses or combo taps (left, right, left, right) to send other keys or key combinations would allow you to also launch new applications. Then she could scroll on websites or browse iPhoto. Maybe I can use voice recognition to do this...

Twitter Strategy for Humans

Another from the Recent Emails I have Sent Department:

The most effective Twitter strategy is to use Twitter personally (as yourself, not as your organization) and engage in (and start new) online discussions about things that you feel strongly about. This includes education strategies, new products and, yes, sometimes even what you had for breakfast. The reason is that twitter is about online community and conversation, sort of like Facebook, but with people (not products or organizations) that you often have never met personally. No one wants to talk to a press release, or a corporate department they want real people (who eat breakfast). It is useful to have a corporate twitter identity, but mostly it’s just as a mechanism for real people to share press releases – the real value add happens in public discussion that everyone can see. Often those online discussions turn into post-conference meetings or drinks when people pass through town, and that is usually when the most important opportunities and discussions happen. One more thing – using Twitter during a conference is a great way to establish thought leadership, get followers, and participate in a discussion that is often much more interesting than what is going on at the front of the room.

[An entirely new strategy will probably be necessary once @horse_ebooks begins reproducing.]

Ode to Coffeescript

(this started as email to a friend but I thought it might be useful to share)

I’ve been using coffeescript for about a year. Other than using it for my own projects, I have learned it's syntax from the coffeescript website and from the random coffeescript snippet that I see here and there.

I started using it to try and write expressive code that reminded me of Ruby. I like my code readable, with very descriptive (and sometimes long) variable names (never abbreviated) and few comments. If I can’t understand the code by reading it, then I probably need to split up my one-liner into a few lines or make a new function or two.

Being able to abandon a lot of the extra braces and parens for indentation helped for readability (I actually agree with Python over Ruby on this one), especially relative to the javascript that I was writing before.

Initially I used all of the looping shortcuts that coffeescript comes with, but now I tend to use underscore.js whenever I am looping/mapping/etc. I am not sure if this is what @jashkenas had in mind (did this guy really write coffeescript, underscore and backbone??) but I think coffeescript + underscore results in a really nice compromise.

I have only recently really understood that everything is an expression in coffeescript. Using it really helps me to modularize my code

Here’s an example I have just written that sort of sums up what I like about coffeescript:

Line 1. Takes advantage of "everything is an expression". Whatever the block indented below line 1 returns, will be set to formElement. This is so much better than initializing an empty string and then setting it.

Line 2. Note that I am using underscore to check if the value I am interested in is in an array. If so, then line 3 just returns the screen which bubble back to line 1. Same thing with line 4-5.

Line 7. See how we can do ruby style string interpolation. That is huge - so huge. Javascript doesn't let you do sane multi-line strings, nor can you interpolate. But wait - check out the crazy interpolation of line 8 - I start a multi-line map (underscore again!). Coffeescript basically enables quick and dirty templating inside any string. It's a bit dangerous to mix too much logic and templating, but for small things it is awesome. (I use handlebars.js for the big jobs)

Anyways, it's not the greatest code in the world, but it's real code I wrote yesterday and it's helping me get the job done.

I am one of those people that think you should learn a new programming language every year or so – and indeed coffeescript has made me a better programmer. So if you are learning it, I recommend that you stick with it. You’ll get it and be better for it.