I had the privilege of watching Juan Martin del Potro come from 0-3 in the third set to beat Novak Djokovic for a spot in the BNP Paribas Open final against Nadal.
I shared this privilege with my father and brother. It was the first time we had been to a tennis tournament, which was a bit odd since my dad and I have been playing since our respective youths. We’ve played each other on weekends throughout our lives. We’ve played against my grandfather and uncles. When we can afford the time we watch matches on tv, but this was the first time we actually got to see players in the flesh.
When Christmas came around last year I was under a bit of stress. I didn’t have a stable source of income since I had recently returned from my year-long sabbatical in Ecuador. I had just started freelancing. I didn’t have too much money to buy any meaningful material thing. My presents to my parents in previous years, though expensive, ended up being things they didn’t really use. Now I was really at a loss as to what to give them.
Luckily, the answer came, not because I asked, but because I was listening. A young friend, on an even tighter budget, mentioned the gifts that he got for his parents. Tickets to the symphonic orchestra for mom. Tickets to a classic rock show for dad. Of course, he bought tickets for himself to go along with them. I realized he wasn’t gifting things. He was gifting experiences.
I had recently learned the true value of experience. I learned of it in Ecuador, where I finally begun to lay my fears of life to rest. Living out of a back pack, roaming through mountains and coastline taught me how unimportant most material things are. Experience was invaluable.
I gave my mother the experience of the Nutcracker. She mentioned before that she had wanted to see it, and so I got us some seats front and center. We’ll never forget it - the principal dancer had tights so thin it was borderline pornographic. We laughed for days afterwards.
For my brother and father, the gift of Rafael Nadal’s grunting. I don’t know how the idea of the BNP Baripas Open came about but I’m glad it did. It really put the difference between professionals and weekend warriors into perspective.
Wonderful experiences like these are what make life worth living, and I shared this one with the closest people in my life. This is the only photo I took, but I would probaly only need one to recall these memories. HGPA
How to write the Tibetan letter “A” (or syllable “ah”.) There is another way to write it.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
From: Hector Parra
Subject: Re: *** Financial ***
Regarding FQHCs being the only clinics receiving Prop 1D equipment: I find this decision to be unethical.
The taxpayers approved bonds of “(a), the amount of two hundred million dollars ($200,000,000) [that] shall be used for capital improvements that expand and enhance medical education programs with an emphasis on telemedicine aimed at developing high-tech approaches to health care”. Dealing only with FQHCs denies not the original education goals of such funds, but it denies the communities they were designed to serve, particularly with intra-community concepts such as inter-clinic communication and clinic-satellite communication, e.g. clinics to schools. There is a wealth of medical education and research opportunities here. If a medical department can cover the IT costs to support such a deployment they should be allowed to use this equipment.
I understand there are faculty who wish to deploy this equipment specifically for medical education purposes. I explained that under current policies they won’t be able to use such equipment. I told them if they wanted to do so they should express this directly to the dean. HGPA
[The federal and state healthcare system, and everything involved in it, is broken. Likewise, you can’t give grant money to an entity that is also acting as a corporation. I quit a month later.]
Dave McClure has said things that I’ve always wanted to say, but have prevented myself from doing so in fear of what future employers may think. I feel just like him, having experienced many of the same things, and like him I still have gas in the tank, and quite a bit of spark.
I spent some final moments tonight speaking to a New Yorker who works for the United Nations. He validated what may be my reluctant but necessary decision to return. I’m not the only one with plans to live abroad, but as he reminded me, I have to grind my teeth where it is appropriate.
Good luck Mr. McClure, I’ll be fighting the good fight like you and so many others. HGPA
Before my employment at Calit2 as a software engineer, I worked there in the summer of 2007 as a student. The job title was Database Manager. I remember preparing for an interview filled with questions about esoteric SQL queries. Turns out the job was much simpler than I thought it would be.
Calit2 at the time kept a FileMaker database of all their business contacts. My job was to add new features and redesign the interface. Unfortunately, it had to be done with version 6 or 7, before FileMaker got serious about how a database should actually behave. Nevertheless, I made the database as relational as possible, bending the limits of what that particular version supported. Among many things, I added the ability to append notes with file attachments, relate contacts with interests and events (which were themselves tables), and implemented a design using familiar UI elements and that cozy, corporate feel.
Before I left Calit2 I made it a point to return to the business office to take screenshots of the database interface. It is only now, while searching for these images to add them to my portfolio-ish CV, that I notice the note that Stu attached to my profile. Coincidently, what he is referring to I just mentioned days ago.
I look back at this job fondly. I was able to design and implement. I got to interact directly with end-users to discover requirements and received feedback from actual deployment. Months after my initial work I returned to add reporting and label printing features. It was a successful project which was still in use when I left Calit2 in April 2011. It may still be! HGPA
When I left the USA in August of 2011 I did not intend on anything. I was just going for a stroll through South America. Earlier that year I committed to attending my cousin’s wedding in Aruba, and afterwards accompanying my parents for a weeklong stay in Venezuela. I had become increasingly unhappy with my employment but had planned to stick it out until I had recovered from a major surgery I was scheduled to have. In the end, a nasty cold delayed the operation and gave me an opportunity to think about it further. I decided against it. It was dangerous, scarring, and expensive. I kept my money and quit my job.
Now, what I really wanted to do was start a business, but the only individual I trusted to join me declined. He had his reasons. Accordingly, his name wasn’t on the Y Combinator (YC) application that Paul and Co. rejected. I’m sure they had many more reasons besides me being a single-person startup. It was too bad, since it was (is) a good idea that I knew I would execute well. I had already developed a portion of the technology, I had my own capital, and I already had a revenue model based on tariffs from the money transferred between users. The pieces all seemed to be in place, other than the fact that I was alone. If that was the only reason YC said ‘No’ then I would agree. For three years the majority of my work was in solitude. That among many things, burned me out. I had developed such an aversion to technology that I couldn’t look at a computer. I didn’t want to repeat this mistake. I let the vision die. A year later I learned why I felt the way I did:
I can’t state this enough: Programmers don’t burn out on hard work, they burn out on change-with-the-wind directives and not ‘shipping’.— Mark Berry (@markab) March 18, 2012
(Never let absent non-programmers steer the ship.)
A month later there was a brief illusion that Google wanted me, but it turned out that the recruiter was just wasting my time. I was unemployed, with some spare cash, and a paid ticket to South America. My next move seemed fairly straight forward.
The plan was simple: I was going to travel from Venezuela to Colombia, down the Andes, across to Argentina and up to Brazil and returning north to Venezuela to stay another while before heading back home. Of course, if you do visit Venezuela (which I don’t recommend) you will understand why you can’t travel there. I was going straight to Colombia when my great aunt invited me to follow her on a family visit to Ecuador, and so I did. I’ve been here since October of 2011. To cut a long list of reasons short: I’ve learned some powerful lessons about myself and the world here. I have a kind extended family here. I’m now a citizen, and can stay here indefinitely, and would like to do just that.
And therein lies my problem. This was not planned. I didn’t come with the right things to move. I left some things back home undone. And most importantly, I no longer have any money. I can work odd jobs to keep myself afloat, but a Stafford Loan payment forces me to make a certain amount of money per month. I can make a decent living as a software engineer anywhere, and I recently shook my case of coder’s block and technology aversion. In fact, I found a new passion for my art.
The experiences at my previously employer left me pretty fried. By the time I left, I was unable to deal with a computer. I would sit at one for an hour or two before walking away in disgust.
I had to return to why I became a programmer in the first place, a decision I made back when I was 14. I had always loved creating things that could be experienced, whether it be theatre, music, or websites. I love engineering design. I shouldn’t be working, I should be making a living doing something I love. On this trip I’ve met a few people who were successful in doing just that, and as a result they experience a priceless freedom.
My return to technology was forthcoming as I had begun to edit my photographs, but the major push resulted from a feeling of responsibility: I received important changes to Ruby SerialPort, an open-source project I maintain for the community. People depend on this thing. It’s been downloaded almost a 1000 times since I released the new version in late May.
Afterwards, I became excited about building a website on Puerto Lopez, a fishing town on the Ecuadorian coast that I’ve called home for the past two months. There is so much here but the information in travel guides miss so many important details. I decided I could do a better job. It’s a work in progress, but the “Isla de la Plata” page already contains details not found in books. In the process I’ve been getting up to speed on technology that was released or updated this year. I’ve also started learning new things, like Adobe Illustrator. Enjoy the following indigenous whale!
Unfortunately love alone won’t result in greenbacks for Uncle Sam. Paying work will. Now that I’ve updated my website and work history an aggressive effort will be launched tomorrow. So tell your friends Hector is opening his doors. I will take payments in the US, and will pay US taxes. Likewise if I don’t make it I’ll be needing a job when I return.
I’m giving myself two weeks to find work. While I’m not researching leads and sending out emails I’m going to be working on VisitPuertoLopez.com.
If things don’t come to fruition then I will use the money I have to book a flight back to California. Most likely from Quito, but perhaps Panama if my family decides to not visit me and I want to go on one last adventure. We’ll see.
I don’t like the idea of returning to the USA, but it may be the only option. Whatever the case I will immediately go to work like many immigrants do: focused and determined.
Only time will tell my destiny.
If you’re a programmer I encourage you to look at Schoonover’s “Solarized”, a color palette with unique properties that makes it easy on the eyes. Configuration files are available for popular text editors and IDEs, including Emacs & Textmate. Yes, there is one for Vim too.