Father, Uncategorized

Getting ROI from Kids

The ROI on kids is not particularly good.  At least, not at first.

For those unfamiliar with the term, ROI – “Return On Investment” – is a common business term used to evaluate whether something is worth spending money on.  If investing in that faster email system for $10,000 lets you earn money twice as fast, there’s a good (5x!) ROI if you normally make $50,000/year and now make $100,000… and a terrible one if you normally make $1000 and now you make $2000, because you spent $10,000 to earn $1,000… so it’ll take 10 years to payback that investment.

Babies have a terrible ROI.  The first six weeks is almost all “I”, in the form of sleepless nights, unproductive days, and a constant give, give, give for all your baby will take, take, take.  Your primary R is a smile here and there, and a sense of accomplishment for all that you’re investing.  Toddlers are only slightly better.  Grade schoolers definitely have more “R” because they’re more fun.  Middle schoolers even more so.

The ROI becomes more obvious as your kids grow.  They gain self-sufficiency.  They help you out with chores, sometimes even without prompting. You don’t spend $75+ on baby sitting for dinner and a movie.  As they grow older, they become your sidekicks, your cribbage partners, your avatar.  They’re the home team you’re rooting for in life.  They’re the source of so much proudness.

And don’t get me started on grandparenting.  From what I’ve observed, that’s when the kid thing pays crazy dividends.  Not to mention it becomes up to them to take care of you, eventually.

Of course, all of this is bullshit, too.  Because love doesn’t keep score. And parenting isn’t measured on ROI.

But still… it doesn’t hurt to get those moments where one kid is running around at soccer practice, and the other is on the playground with grade school friends, after the three of you finished dinner and had some ice cream, as a comfortable fall evening wraps up.  You look around, take a deep breath, and say to yourself: “This is a joyful moment.”

Citizen, Human

Look for the Helpers

One town north of me, a tragedy has unfolded. Problems with an over-pressurized natural gas line led to dozens of explosions and 70+ houses on fire. Three towns have evacuated their residents.

Local news has been reporting nonstop on the craziness. But they’ve also been pointing out the places that evacuees can go for help. Firefighters from dozens of miles away rushed to the town to help. Churches and schools on the outskirts are opening their doors as temporary shelters for hundreds. Local hotels are offering their extra capacity rooms to displaced families. A local pet boarding service has offered boarding for free to displaced pets. Neighbors and friends are opening their doors and setting up air mattresses.

Fred Rogers was right. The world is full of people willing to jump in and help.

Father, Musician, Uncategorized


I am not a heavy metal fan.  I rank it just above gangsta rap and country music in my mental list of “least favorite music genres.”  I tend to dismiss the songs as so much noise, much as a connoisseur on the other side of the spectrum would be dismissive of an operatic aria.

Perversely, my 13yo son is now a huge Metallica fan.

It’d be too easy to slip into the role of doddering father, shaking my cane and muttering “turn that crap down” and “kids these days” and “back in my day”, even though technically I’m pretty sure Metallica was “back in my day.” I’ve been humoring his excited explanations of why he liked certain songs. I’ve marveled at his ability during drum practice to capture the patterns of some of his favorites. I’ve been perplexed at his recall of song names, albums, lyrics, band member names as they’ve come and gone… these are from the 80s.  I guess it’s the equivalent of if I had been a teenage fan of alternative 50s music — not Elvis Presley, but perhaps Tony Bennett or Mitch Miller.

(Of course, play a symphonic piece and I can almost certainly name whether it’s from 100, 200, or 300 years ago, if not the composer and the piece itself, but I digress…)

Today he played me “Spit Out the Bone” on the way home from soccer practice.  As I was adjusting to the percussive assault on my brain, he explained the lyrics and the post-apocalyptic man vs robot setting.  He pointed out how Lars Ulrich is achieving those sounds from the drum set, and the different “fills” involved. He mentioned it’s from a recent album rather than something from the 80s.  He noted the patterns and rhythm and how there’s actually some music and chord structure going on. That evening I read up more on the song.  I learned about the philosophy of transhumanism which is, to some degree, advocated by the song’s narrator, implying criticism by the band given that said narrator is trying to convince humans to give themselves over to technology and essentially commit suicide.  It’s commentary on our smart watches and faces buried in iPhones and desire to stay plugged in all the time.  Given that context, the music makes sense, and I understand the emotion behind it.  And suddenly I have a glimpse as to what a lot of heavy metal is about, and why it’s music, and why he likes it.

In short, I got a music lesson from my son.  That was awesome.


Copy editing

“You’re gonna come crawling back to the humanities,” said Mrs. Thomas, my 12th grade English teacher, as I headed off to get my engineering degree.

How did she know that years later, I’d take joy one evening in going through a draft of a marketing datasheet, and…

  • Replacing passive voice with active
  • Making sure bullet points follow parallelism
  • Killing unimaginative verbs like leveraging, enabling, and allowing
  • Removing first person
  • Cutting up long sentences into shorter, clearer ones
  • Ditching a comma splice
  • Adjusting product names to comply with trademark guidelines
  • Cutting redundancies like “new and emerging”
  • Fixing hyphens: no in “frequently changing,” yes in “hands-free”

And enjoying it the whole time? Programming in English is something I enjoy doing. Mrs. Thomas knew it but it took me many years to figure it out for myself.


Coming back from the hiatus

First there’s one distraction. Then another. Maybe an excuse. Perhaps a legitimate reason to deprioritize. Suddenly the personal project that started off as urgent and important, became less urgent but still important, until it slipped into that nice-to-have bucket that means it’s on the backlog of activities that will never really get done.

Fortunately, we reassess. We recognize what was lost. We remember why it was important even if not always urgent. And we bring it back to the forefront.

This time it’ll be better. This time we know what to avoid. This time we won’t lose sight of the role it plays.

Ehhhh, who are we foolin’? Yeah, maybe we will still lose it in the shuffle again. But there’s joy in trying to keep it back on top.


New blood

If only every organization could bring in a new member every few weeks.

The energy and enthusiasm brought by a new hire, early in his or her career, who’s just happy to be there and excited to contribute, could power a small city.  “Eat this brick,” you could say, and the new hire would go NOM NOM NOM and wipe off the brick crumbs and say, “What else you got?” Those people are ready to take on the world and prove themselves.

Better yet, it gives a boost to the rest of the organization.  It reminds everyone why they’re there in the first place.  “Right! If I’m doing it right, this is supposed to be fun — or at least, fulfilling.” As all of us slowly get lost in the mundane, in the ever-growing task list, in the race to the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the quarter… we don’t always remember to poke our heads up and say, why are we here?  Seeing someone define that during that first day, that first week, that first month, serves to help all of us renew our purpose as well.

Father, Human

The Day Back

At some point on vacation, it can hit you.  No matter how much fun you’re having.  No matter how relaxed you are.  No matter how far the rest of the world has melted away.

At some point you’re ready to go back.

You want to sleep in your own bed.  To have your shower, your covers, your pillow, your kitchen, your routine, your diversions, your comfort food, your familiar everything.

It’s the corollary to “how can I miss you if you don’t go away” — how can you vacation without a baseline every day that you’re leaving behind?

Embrace the return.  Celebrate the ordinary.  Be glad for normalcy.  Before you left, it was the rut.  After you return, it’s the comfortable routine.