Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saying Hello to Jacob

Jacob Alexander Baum was born at 5:49 pm on June 1st (8 lbs. 3 oz., 21 inches long). It was a long day, especially for Cheryl. Our family of four has become a family of five. I think we're a lot more relaxed about this baby than the other two. Jessica was our first, and like all new parents we were nervous and worried about everything. We had learned to relax a little bit by the time Jason arrived, but the combination of an infant and a four year old was more stressful than we had anticipated. Not that I'm complaining - it was probably easier than when you have two (or more) kids in diapers at the same time, but at the time it still seemed very chaotic.

This time is different. Jason and Jessica are old enough to take care of most things themselves in a pinch. In fact, Jessica has already been a big help with Jacob. I'm also taking more time off from work and hopefully we'll get a good routine established before I return to work.

Like any newborn, Jacob primarily eats, sleeps, and poops. And I'm happy to say that he excels at all three of these activities. Part of me is really looking forward to the fun of the toddler stage, but on the other hand I don't want to be in too much of a hurry to always get to the next phase. Looking over at Jessica reminds me that it will inevitably go by faster than you want.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Were you surprised?

Cheryl and I are expecting our third child in a few weeks. As our friends and acquaintances learned of the news the most common response is "were you surprised?" The short answer is "yes", but not for the reasons everyone assumes. Cheryl and I are both in our 40's, and our other two children are 13 and 9. I can see where people would draw the conclusion that we were done having kids 9 years ago. We thought we were done too. I remember those first few years with Jason, where it seems like adding the second kid tripled the amount of work. At the time, Cheryl and I were firmly in the "no more" camp.

But as kids grow older they start becoming more independent, and it is important to let go a little bit. It's a gradual process, but we are already seeing it happen with Jessica. Some people look forward to that process - perhaps there are things that they put on hold for many years while raising kids, and they are anxious to get to that next stage of their lives. But Cheryl and I aren't like that. Neither of us is looking forward to the empty nest and about two years ago we realized that we wanted to start over again. In an ideal universe, perhaps we would have waited until both kids have moved out before starting the next round. But there are the realities of age to consider. In fact, it already felt like we had waited too long. Cheryl was pregnant early last year, but it ended in a messy miscarriage. That was very rough on her, and I wasn't sure she would want to try again. I also started to think our chances of success were pretty low. I was kicking myself for waiting so long, and trying to let go of the expectation of having another child.

But Cheryl got pregnant again and we started counting the weeks. After the previous disappointment we hardly dared to get excited about it. I kept dreading each OB appointment... fearful of bad news. But the weeks went by without incident. The baby was growing and doing fine. I think after passing the 12 week mark we started telling people (after keeping everything secret for about 15 months we were practically bursting). And that's when we started hearing "were you surprised?" Yes, I was surprised. I was surprised that after wanting and worrying for so long that we're finally so close to having another baby. And I am still surprised. I am surprised that we are not too old. I am surprised by how enthusiastic Jessica and Jason are about having a baby brother. I am surprised at how much this one thing makes me feel younger and more alive.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mercurial at Google Code

I have been working on adding Mercurial support to Project Hosting at Google Code, and the project has finally been
announced. The news made the rounds pretty quickly, and I was pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of a git/mercurial flamewar. I understand that git users are disappointed by Google's decision to use Mercurial, but the bottom line is that Mercurial is a much better match for Google's infrastructure (see this analysis).

Anyway, it is great to see my work getting launched. There's still a lot of work to do, but I've got a great team to work with. That's probably one of the biggest differences between Motorola and Google: at Google teams actually work together and help one another. Minimal politics, backstabbing, or slackers. It is so refreshing to be working in such an environment.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


While my son Jason and I were shopping last week, he stood transfixed in front of the calculators. He has a few 4-function calculators at home, but he was amazed at the number of buttons on some of the more complicated ones He also thought it was cool how each button could do several different operations. There's really no reason a nine year old needs a scientific calculator, but I wound up buying him a TI-30XA anyway.

Growing up I was always fascinated by calculators, and I think it served me well - leading to a degree in Mathematics and a career in software. I figured if Jason showed even a fraction of the interest I had, that $10 calculator would be one of the best investments I'd ever make in his education. He opened it up on the drive home, anxious to know what every button does.

How do you explain hyperbolic cosine to a 9 year old? I had to duck that one. Actually there were a lot of buttons for which I had to say "let's talk about that another time". Even so, there were plenty of buttons he could understand and play with right away (memory, powers, roots, etc). I couldn't get over how excited he was by this calculator, more than any toy in recent memory. Plus it led to discussions about math that he hadn't learned yet. I explained factorial to him, and he then proceeded to find the biggest factorial the calculator could compute (that's probably what every math geek does with their first scientific calculator). We talked about logarithms, scientific notation, permutations and combinations. Later in the week he as asking about averages so we explored statistics and mean.

It was a lot of fun exploring these things with him. One of the best things about raising kids is that you get to re-experience things that you've taken for granted for so many years. It also led to me reflecting on the various calculators I have owned over the years. I'm sort of a sucker for a new calculator so I've owned a lot more than really were necessary. I owned a few TI calculators before being bitten by the HP bug in 1983, when I bought an HP-15C . Of course I coveted an HP-41 at the time, but it was way outside my budget.

High quality tools make a job more enjoyable (or less frustrating depending on the work). The best tools are the ones that fit you perfectly. This holds for a hammer, reciprocating saw, laptop computer, text editor, or calculator. If I cooked a lot I'd probably feel the same way about cheese graters and frying pans. In "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", Robert M. Pirsig writes about "gumption traps". For me, a mediocre tool is a major gumption trap, so I really like my tools to be good ones. The HP-15C was just such a tool, and served me well through many classes in high school and college.

After the HP-15C I went through a number of other calculators, tempted by the promise of new features and capabilities: HP-28S, HP-42S, HP-48G, HP-49g, HP-49g+. Of those, the HP-42S has remained my favorite. Excellent keyboard, compact, good battery life, really nice base conversion, and pretty much every numerical feature I have ever needed. Unfortunately the keyboard is starting to wear out and misses the occasional key press. Soon I may have to give up my favorite tool. I'm not sure what to replace it with.

Maybe I'll go back to the HP-48G. It is pretty big, a little slow, and the display can be hard to read. But the keyboard is excellent (even better than the HP-42S in my opinion).

The HP-49g+ is an interesting device. So close to being great, but hampered by a poor keyboard. I love the fact that I can completely customize it (like the 48G). The symbolic capabilities are amazing. But the keyboard is weak, the calculator is a little big for my taste, and the paint is flaking. Maybe the newer HP-50g is the answer. From most reports it seems like HP finally has keyboard quality under control again. But after the HP-49g and HP-49g+ I'm a little wary.

The HP-35s is another option, but it feels like a step down from the HP-42s.