Words From Rob

Thoughts about writing, tech, and life

Category: Life

Vacation, Apple Watch and Relaxation

I recently spent almost three weeks in Hawaii. This was my first opportunity to take my new cellular Apple Watch Series 3 on a trip and see how it performed. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. I upgraded from the original Apple Watch and wondered if I would notice any meaningful difference. Well, I did!

First, a quick note on how I use my watch. First and foremost, it’s a watch so I check the time and date. I probably do this more than I need to, but I have a terrible time remembering the date and day of week. I get notifications, which I really like. It’s so nice not to have to pull out my phone when some app or person is vying for my attention. I check the weather and stock market information. I use the timer when I’m cooking. I use Apple Pay when I can. I try to fill my rings every day. I track workouts. And when I’m driving, I really like the taps on my wrist to alert me of upcoming turns.

The first thing I noticed about my new watch is that the battery life is vastly superior to the original. There were several days where I was out and about exploring and really didn’t use my watch that much and would have 75% battery remaining before going to bed. My old watch, while not bad, would usually be around 30% with similar usage. Even on the days where I used the watch more, I was amazed at just how much more battery life I would get.

I was quite curious about the usefulness of the cellular connection. I’ve always hated taking my phone to the beach because no matter how hard I tried, I’d end up getting sand all over it. And sand is not good for the screen. I would always come away with a scratch or two. But, I didn’t want to be out of touch, so I would grudgingly take the phone knowing I’d have that issue.

On this trip, at the beach and pool, I left my phone behind. It was really amazing to be lying on the beach and receive a message from my son. It was also pretty cool to look across the water, wonder how far away the next island was, and ask Siri on my watch to tell me. Not only did she give me the information, but the watch displayed a nice map with my current location and the location of the island.

Since the original Apple Watch was not made for swimming, I’ve never had the luxury of just not worrying about my watch near water. With the new watch, it was wonderful to be able to jump in the water, swim for a while, all while being able to receive calls and texts, as well as other notifications. I can see that the cellular connection is a major addition to an already very useful watch.

The biggest thing I noticed by leaving my phone behind was how much more I relaxed. Why? Because I didn’t have the internet with me (not really). In the past I’ve always had my phone with me and I would use it to read Twitter and Facebook, scan emails, etc. while relaxing at the beach. This time, with no phone along, I simply sat quietly with my thoughts. I haven’t really done this in a very long time. Sitting on the beach, listening to the waves roll up, hearing the birds, and letting the sun warm me, with no other distractions, was wonderful. I was able to focus my mind on something without distraction. I was also able to let my mind wander as I enjoyed the environment. This was the best part of this whole experience. It reminded me of a time long ago, before we had cell phones, pocket computers, and the like. I used to sit and think for long stretches back then. As technology has invaded more of my life, I find that I rarely do that now. I grab my phone or iPad and check the news or social media as a way to break boredom. But here’s the thing, I’m remembering that boredom can actually be a great way to solve problems, come up with new ideas, or simply relax. I am so glad that this trip, and the Apple Watch, helped remind me of that.

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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