Words From Rob

Thoughts about writing, tech, and life

Category: Life

Hurricanes, Nerves, and Technology

As hurricane Irma heads toward Florida, my wife and I are worried. We both have family living there and they’ve all decided to stay during the hurricane. We’re concerned about how they will fare during and after the storm. We feel so helpless because we’re on the west coast of the US and aren’t there to help them. However, it’s been amazing how technology has been able to help us feel just a little less helpless.

There is so much our families need to do in order to get ready: stock up on food & water, make sure they have gasoline for their generators and vehicles, put up storm shutters and cover windows & doors, remove possible projectiles from the house and yard, as well as help their friends and neighbors. That is more than enough to keep them all busy morning and night.

In addition to all that work, there is a lot of information that is not only useful, but essential, to have in order to be prepared for such a major event. So, my wife and I decided that one way we could get involved and help was to become what you might call data providers.

Initially my parents were going to evacuate. They knew the roads were clogged and gasoline was getting hard to find. And, they didn’t know where to go. While they were getting their house ready and packing, my wife and I scoured the internet for hotel rooms. They were filling up fast throughout the region. We found a place outside of Atlanta and booked it for them. Next, we helped them make a travel plan. My parents are not super-tech savvy, but my mother does have an iPhone. She would be driving, so couldn’t be distracted using the phone. We set up Apple’s Find My Friends app to allow us to see where they were at all times and my wife and I installed the app Gas Buddy. We agreed that my father would call us when they were at about half a tank of gas. When he called, we’d be able to see exactly where they were and could use Gas Buddy to find a gas station nearby for them and direct them there. They didn’t have to try to explain to us where they were or drive all over looking for gas.

What an amazing feeling to be able to help in a way that reduced a huge burden from them. And it helped us feel as if we were able to do something! My parents decided against evacuating because the traffic was so bad and the gasoline shortages seemed to getting much worse. They were afraid of getting stuck on the highway in the middle of the storm. I don’t blame them!

Since everyone had decided to stay, we decided to gather and monitor as much information for everyone as we could. While they all continue preparations for hunkering down, we looked at where each family member was staying and what evacuation zone they were in. We made sure they had that information. We are gathering the list of emergency shelters in their areas so those are handy. We are following all the various emergency accounts on twitter and Facebook and are relaying relevant information to them using iMessage. This way they can focus on their preparations and we can get them important information quickly.

While we continue to be nervous about the storm and the safety of our families, technology has helped us stay connected and provide support to our loved ones even though we’re thousands of miles away. Yes, today’s technology can be frustrating and bothersome, but it can also make a huge, positive difference in people’s lives. What a great feeling to use technology for something so important.

Be safe everyone.

A Change of Focus

If you read the about me page, you’ll know that I spent my career in the technology industry. I started as a programmer and ended up in engineering management at a pretty senior level. I’ve always been very passionate about technology.

After I retired from Microsoft, the first type of project I wanted to get into was programming. My career had taken me pretty far from my roots as a programmer. It had been so long since I actually wrote code and I really wanted to jump back in. So I started learning about the Apple developer platforms, languages, and tools. I was hooked again!

To me, programming has always been a very creative endeavor. You start with a blank canvas and create something new. Of course, it can be complicated and frustrating. But, that’s part of the draw for me. It requires you to always be learning. And each new problem that comes up can usually be solved in myriad ways. That’s where a lot of the creativity comes in and solving those problems is very rewarding.

I’ve spent the past two years working on a couple of apps while adjusting to retired life. I’ve fit coding in between moving to a new state, lots of travel, setting up a new house, and exploring our new town and the surrounding area. All-in-all it has been a good start to retired life.

When I started these projects, I had two objectives: learn a lot and put a finished app into the App Store. I accomplished one of those goals: I learned much more than I thought I would. I have not, though, finished an app. I’m quite confident that I could finish and list an app, but I’ve come to the realization that I lack the desire to continue right now.

Here’s the thing. I’ve grown weary of being so deeply immersed in technology–immersed in the way one needs to be in order to write code, or for that matter, to manage a large engineering team working on a large project. I’ve spent the last thirty years of my life so immersed. I’m just tired of it.

I still love using technology. And while these app projects were a great way to kick off my retirement, I’m ready to move on to a different item on my “what will I do when I retire” list: writing.

For many years I’ve dabbled in writing: journaling, blogging (I’ve had many starts and stops), and novels. I have several novels started, waiting for me to return. When I’ve been working on those projects, especially the novels, I felt so alive. This was a new form of creativity, similar to programming in some ways and very different in others. The telling of a story, one that was emerging as I wrote, was exhilarating.

So, going forward I’m going to focus on writing, both working on a novel as well as blogging (hence this site!).

This change is kind of scary for me. Deep involvement in technology has been a core part of my life for as long as I can remember: from programmer and tinkerer, to technical program management, and then to large engineering team management. In some ways, stepping away from that deep involvement feels as if I’m losing a part of myself. I worry that a big part of my identity is going away. At the same time, I see a new door opening and something interesting on the other side.

Someone I greatly admire recently told me:

Your identity is something you get to choose, as often as you like.

That is a great way to look at this. I’m choosing to be a writer. Just typing that sentence is thrilling. I am choosing. It’s going to be an exciting journey.

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