Things I've Learned in 2013

Inspired by a post Patrick Rhone did at the end of 2011, and another at the end of 2012, I thought I'd put together a list of things I've learned in 2013. In no particular order...

  • It's almost always better to sleep on an article draft and edit it the next day, rather than publish it immediately.

  • Although it sometimes hurts to cut things from my articles, even my favorite and most "clever" bits, they usually turn out for the better that way. Even if it means starting over from scratch.

  • Time spent on fiddling with my blog's design is better spent on writing.

  • It's best to ignore threads about my work on sites like Hacker News and Reddit. Even a large number of compliments can't stop those few detractors from getting into my head.

  • Don't give much thought to pageviews. A huge surge of traffic to the site can seem absolutely crazy for a few days, but really this sort of attention is fleeting. It's better to have a smaller, truly supportive audience that always has your back, than a large one that will bounce without a second thought.

  • Babies will always, always choose to throw a screaming fit at the most inopportune times. This is a universal constant.

  • Some of the most well-received pieces I've published have been the ones I spent the least amount of time editing or put the least thought into. The internet works in mysterious ways.

  • After I lost my job and we started having to budget ourselves more strictly, my wife and I discovered we can get by on surprisingly little money. Eating at home rather than at restaurants has been the biggest factor for us.

  • I have just about everything I need in life, despite having a lot less income. I have a loving wife, a supportive family, a two-year-old son who makes me laugh, and a roof over my head. Like anyone, there are plenty more things I wish I had (more gadgets, a bigger house, etc), but really my life is quite comfortable at the moment. I consider myself extremely lucky.

  • My wife is even more supportive of my writing endeavors than I previously thought. She's amazing.

  • My parents and other family members don't really have a clue what I do for a living, despite my attempts to explain it.

  • It's often better to try calmly talking my son down from one of his hysterical fits rather than lose my own temper about it.

  • Let kids experiment with their environment a little. It might be annoying when they make messes, or that they want to get a cooking pot out of the cabinet and start hitting it with a spoon, but they're just exploring and learning about the world around them. Don't immediately shut them down all the time or you risk stunting their curiosity and creativity. (Unless they're about to accidentally hurt or kill themselves, obviously.)

  • When interviewing people, it's difficult to find the balance between staying out of the interviewee's way and maintaining a certain flow to the conversation, but so rewarding when that balance is found.

  • I need to journal more often.

  • I need to read more books.

  • Audiobooks are more engaging than I thought they would be. I never really gave them a chance until a roadtrip we took earlier this year, and now I wish I'd done so sooner.

  • Being off the internet for a week wasn't so bad, and I hardly missed anything important. I should do this a few more times a year.

As a writer, my goal is to inspire others to be more creative and do their best work. If my writing has helped or inspired you in any way, please consider supporting this site with a modest donation or by signing up for the $3/month membership subscription.

"A False Choice"

John Dickerson hypothesizes that capturing the moment and living in the moment are not mutually-exclusive ideas:

“It's also true, though, that for some people, talking too much or taking a thousand photographs is the way they experience the world. They are not interested in your Zen moments. A life of frantic self-interruption may be their therapy.”

Although I do appreciate having those "Zen moments" myself from time to time, I never feel like I'm missing out on something just because I've taken out my iPhone to film or photograph it. Capturing these moments allows me to later revisit and relive them all over again, and I think that's just as valuable as the memory itself.

On Working from Home

A couple weeks ago, Shawn Blanc asked on Twitter,

“Do you work from home (remote or for yourself)? What’s the best thing about it? What’s the worst?”

I gave a quick reply then, but I think this a question that deserves a more detailed answer.

Now, I've only been doing the “work from home” thing for a few months now and I'm definitely not making a ton of money yet1, but I feel like I'm starting to at least get a grasp on which things I like and dislike about the experience.

The funny thing I've noticed is that it seems like each pro is also its own con. I know that sounds silly, but if you check the responses to Shawn's tweet, a lot of other self-employed people feel the same way.

I'll explain myself a bit more in the sections below.

More Time with my Family

The upside: When I was doing the corporate stooge thing, I felt like I rarely got to see my wife and son during the work week. I would leave early in the morning, come back late in the evening, and maybe get a couple hours with them before bedtime. Then we'd try to make the best of our weekend time, but of course it just flew by like that and it was back to the grind. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But now, I'm just as much of a stay-at-home dad as I am a work-from-home guy. I get to set my own schedule, which means I get to wake up and have coffee and breakfast with Chelsea, then a little playtime with Brendon, before I sit down to get my work done.

This has had a profoundly positive effect on my relationships with the two of them, especially with Brendon. Now that I'm actually around more often, his attitude towards me has improved noticeably — to him, I'm no longer just the guy he used to see sometimes, but “Daddy”, and that means the world to me.

The downside: There is no such thing as an office (or basement) in my house, not even so much as a real desk. My “workspace” options are: the living room, the dining room table, bed, or somewhere outside like the front porch or back yard. And really, that's one of my favorite things about working at home, but there is nothing to truly separate me from the goings-on around the house.

Brendon is too young to understand that there are things I need to get done, and that it can't always be playtime whenever he wants. I can always lock myself in my bedroom and let Chelsea watch him, but he knows where I am and he'll sometimes just stand by the door and cry for me, which I have a hard time ignoring.

There are times when I can leave the house and work from a coffee shop, but I tend to stay home more often than not because we share a single car and my wife needs it to run errands.

More Freedom

The upside: Like I mentioned earlier, I'm able to set my own schedule. Since my work is all web-based and the internet never closes, I can work at any time I please. Maybe I'll write after breakfast, maybe I'll do it in the middle of the night after the others are asleep — the choice is entirely mine. I can also take breaks or get some house chores done whenever I want.

The downside: With such an open-ended schedule, I'm discovering just how hard it can be to stay focused on my work. I've written about focus before, but that was when Unretrofied was more of an after-hours project rather than my primary gig. Man, was I ever naïve.

No, working from home requires focus of a far higher order of magnitude. I no longer have a boss watching me like a hawk and micro-managing the things I do. I am completely responsible for myself, for better or for worse. If I succeed at writing something awesome, or if I fail (probably because I wasted time repeatedly checking my various inboxes), that's all on me.

There's a lot of pressure involved with that. It sort of feels like graduating from high school only to find out that my doctoral thesis is due tomorrow.

Another downside is that when I do manage to get in the zone and start being productive, it can be hard to draw the line on when to stop. There have been times that I've stayed up until 4am writing something when I should have long been asleep. Allowing myself to stop working on a half-finished project, and being okay with its incompleteness, is harder than I expected it would be.

Less Social Interaction

The upside: I realize it's somewhat fashionable these days for people to dub themselves introverts, but that is truly the way I feel. I don't want to sound like an asshole about it, but being around other people tends to exhaust me after a while.

It's so nice not having to deal with the kind of silly small-talk I had to endure daily at my corporate job. It was a call-center position and I was on the phone with chatty florists all day, so you can maybe imagine how much I began to hate it after five years.

The downside: Just because I tend to prefer solitude doesn't mean I don't want any interaction with the outside world. I'm at a point in my life where most of my friends are off starting their own families and having full-time jobs and everything else that comes with being an adult. I can't even remember the last time I hung out with someone other than my relatives, and even that is only on occasion.

This is somewhat alleviated by social media – in fact, I think I interact with my internet friends more than my real-life ones at this point – but it's not quite the same. I feel like Paul Rudd's character from I Love You, Man, as if I need to go on a bunch of man-dates to feel normal again. (I'm only half-kidding.)

* * *

Obviously, there was no way to fit all of this into a tweet. There's a lot of nuance in how I feel about working from home, and although there are some downsides I'm still trying to work through, I'm very glad for the experience and I hope to continue doing it as long as possible.

As a writer, my goal is to inspire others to be more creative and do their best work. If my writing has helped or inspired you in any way, please consider supporting this site with a modest donation or by signing up for the $3/month membership subscription.

  1. I could not completely support even myself on the money I'm making, much less my wife and son. My wife's dance school is our primary source of income, with a little help from what I make writing on Tools & Toys, as well as from my membership subscribers

'Perfectly Unbalanced'

David T. Lewis reflects on work/life balance, and how it doesn't necessarily mean the same for creatives as it does for others.

“I had spent a lot of my 20’s trying to fight off these urges, now approaching 40 I can’t help but think that any – mild – success I have had comes out of this worldview. By embracing this idea I can stop apologizing for it, I can actually appreciate how lucky I am to be exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to do.”

Next Week

Starting tonight and lasting through next Sunday, my wife, my son, and I will be leaving town for a vacation. A Disney cruise, in fact, one that we started saving for last year and purchased many months ago — long before I lost my job.

It feels strange to be leaving for such a trip, what with our low spending budget these days. I keep having to remind myself that the money's already been spent, so I might as well enjoy it.

Anyway, the point of this announcement is that there will probably be complete radio silence around here for the next 9 days or so. Our devices will be in airplane mode for most of this trip, and we're not 100% sure if we'll have any WiFi to work with at any of our port destinations.

That means: no social media, no email, no blogging, nothing else of the sort. Of course, my wife and I both have this irrational fear that we'll be missing important things while we're gone, but that's just the addiction talking. Hopefully a week away from everything will be healthy for us.

See you on the other side!

"One Fleck of Dust"

Matt Fraction, the writer of one of my all-time favorite comic book series, answers a reader's question about depression and suicide. Powerful stuff.

“[I’d] say the things any of us don’t know, especially about tomorrow, could blanket every grain of sand on every beach of the world with bullshit. And to simply assume you are done tomorrow because you are done today is a mistake. a factual mistake, an error, a critical miscalculation.”

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Mediocrity

It's a pattern as old as civilization: an amateur, unsure of themselves, will obsess over what their heroes might think or say or do in a given situation, rather than simply hunkering down and doing the work for themselves. It's a perfectly human behavior, and something I've certainly been guilty of in the past.

Some even take it a step further, attempting to re-create whatever it was that made their heroes successful.

“I did what most writers do at their beginnings: emulated my elders, imitated my peers, thus turning away from any possibility of discovering truths beneath my skin and behind my eyes.”
Ray Bradbury

Over the years though, I've reached the same conclusion that so many others surely have throughout history: there is no shortcut, no secret sauce, no magic bullet, that will make your work great. Emulating your heroes can undoubtedly be a useful learning method in the short term, but in the long term it's no more effective than being that kid in middle school who cheats on tests and never learns anything.

Eventually, you must find your own voice. Nobody's going to do it for you, especially not your idols. I guarantee you they had to go through the same process themselves when they first started pursuing their passions, and they'd tell you the same exact thing I am now.

Here are a few tenets I encourage you to keep in mind:

  1. If you do great work, it will speak for itself.
  2. If you are passionate about what you do, then you are sure to do great work.
  3. Don't be too concerned with your skill level in the beginning. You might not be very good at first (and truthfully, almost nobody is), but with time your skills will grow. Just put something, anything out into the world, and the rest will come.
  4. Don't be desperate for attention. Aspire to reach a level where your heroes will want to work with you as peers, not just notice you from afar.
  5. Lastly, don't fawn over your heroes. I'm 100% serious because I know how easy it is to fall into this trap. You'll either creep them out or they'll ignore you the same way they ignore all the other gushers out there. It's okay to point out something awesome they've done, but keep it professional.

I'll leave you with a quote by Josh Long that gets right to the heart of what I'm talking about:

“The people that we look up to are no different than we are. They still wake every morning with their own routine and their own ambitions for the day. They have the same fears, challenges, set backs, and epiphanies.

The difference is that they ship.”

The Scary Part

Today, I lost my job. I can't say it was totally unexpected — I'd been feeling it coming on for quite a while, but usually just pushed the thought to the back of my mind. After five years at this soulless job1, I'd become complacent. Comfortable. Bored. And so I continued coasting, just as I'd been doing for months, maybe years.

I guess it finally caught up with me.

Now I'm sitting here at my dining room table, typing these words and wondering what happens next for me. I have absolutely no clue, even about tomorrow. And if I'm being perfectly honest here, it fucking terrifies me.

This is the scary part. I've thought countless times about what it might be like if I were ever put into this situation, but I just never could make a decision. I didn't plan well enough. I didn't use my time effectively. I feel so stupid and angry at myself at the same time.

But maybe it doesn't have to be all doom-and-gloom. This could be an opportunity to try something crazy, something I never would have thought to do while I was “comfortably” employed. I've got a whole list of ideas for creative passions I've always wanted to pursue, and this could be the time to finally do those things. Maybe my firing was a blessing in disguise.

I'm standing at the precipice, waiting to leap. Into what, I don't yet know — but there's no reason it couldn't be something incredible.

  1. For those wondering, I've been working as an over-the-phone support technician for florists at a fair-sized corporation known as Teleflora. You probably know them from their shitty Super Bowl ads

'The Time You Have (In Jellybeans)'

A video by Ze Frank, using jelly beans to depict how little time we truly have in life for our creative pursuits. Neat concept, although I disagree with the way he divides the 'Work' and 'Creative' portions up from one another.

For creative people at least, I think the goal is to have those two aspects of life coalesce into something harmonious, not treat them as separate, untouching buckets of time.

Finding Your Own Meaning

Ever feel like your life has little to no meaning? That your existence is very likely non-essential, and the world probably wouldn't be much different if you weren't around?

Well, you're probably right!

Each and every one of us, even our celebrities and world leaders, are infinitesimal motes of life living on a speck of dust (relatively speaking) in a galaxy that itself is merely one of about 176 billion. Our ~100-year lifespans are practically nothing compared to the universe. Makes you feel pretty insignificant, doesn't it?

Tooting Your Own Horn

A little while back, I heard about an email newsletter through Patrick Rhone called The Listserve, and it sounded pretty interesting so I signed up. I'm glad I did.

Essentially, what they do is pick a random person every day out of their ever-growing list of subscribers (currently numbered at 23,310) to write about almost anything they want, and it will be sent out to the rest of us a few days later.

The stories told within these emails – which are from people of all ages, all over the world – are often inspiring, thoughtful, and educational, and it is truly a joy to receive in my inbox every day. I can't recommend it enough.

About a month ago, one particular email – titled "Tooting Your Own Horn" – stood out to me in particular. It was written by a guy named Connor Tomas O'Brien, and something about it really struck me, because it addressed something that's been on my mind for a while now.

Here's a quote from the email:

“It’s a shame that, in some cases, those who are most comfortable with self-marketing are those without anything interesting to promote in the first place. Meanwhile, some of the greatest living artists and thinkers are right now almost certainly working in obscurity, lacking the confidence or the platform to show the world what they’re doing.

For those of us that aren’t prone to shouting about ourselves, we risk being drowned out by those that can and do. The presumption is that if you don’t say anything, you don’t have anything to say, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Those that are quiet are sometimes just waiting for a gap in the conversation. They’re waiting to be invited to speak.”

Man, it's like he's speaking directly to me. In a world full of people constantly shouting to be heard, my voice feels very small indeed.

Readers may or may not recall that back in December, I started up a membership subscription for this site. Since then, I've not talked about it much publicly at all, nor have I tried doing anything like a membership drive to encourage sign-ups. I merely placed a link in the top navigation bar and left it at that.

The result? Well, let's just say I'm not exactly close to quitting my day job yet.

It's a difficult thing, putting oneself out there and asking for people to support what you do. I've never been comfortable with sales or marketing, but I feel very strongly that writing this site is what I'm meant to be doing.

So, I'm setting my meekness aside for a moment to ask that you check out the membership subscription if you haven't done so yet, or make a one-time donation if that's more your speed.

Any support you can give goes a long way, and is very much appreciated :)

Today's Meditation on Being a Father

I'll say it right off the bat: being a father can be aggravating at times. My son Brendon, who is nearly 17 months old now and has started walking, has apparently been studying ways to push my buttons and send me from 0 to upset in under 6 seconds.

That mischievous smile he gives me right as he's about to tip my drink over on purpose.

The umpteenth time he tries to climb over the back of the couch and kill himself, giggling as we save him from himself.

His habit of getting into the DVD cabinet and throwing the cases all over the living room, or even opening a case so he can get a disc out and scratch it up.

The way he insists on cramming food into his mouth until he chokes, no matter how many times it's happened before.

Those little tantrums where he just throws the nearest available object in a huff.

The public crying/screaming fits where he is completely inconsolable and causes a scene, probably making people wonder if I'm hurting him or something.


But sometimes, he'll do something so simple and affectionate that it makes all the frustration worth it. This morning was like that.

My wife was in the shower and Brendon was still asleep, so for a few brief moments, I had a quiet house all to myself. I like to take advantage of these moments to do a little morning meditation and think about the upcoming day.

I was sitting on the living room floor cross-legged, focused on my breathing, when Brendon walked into the room, apparently having just woken up and climbed down from the bed without crying for Mommy or Daddy (which is unusual). He looked me in the eye, turned around, sat down in my lap, and leaned back against me.

He said nothing, made no noises, didn't bring any toys to play with, didn't bug me to give him a drink...he just sat there with me and we enjoyed the quiet together for a minute. Of course, he eventually got restless and shuffled away to go play with something noisy, but I cherished that single minute more deeply than any anger he's ever caused me.

Moments like that are why I became a father.

'The Good, Racist People'

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in an NYT op-ed:

“I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.”

It's disheartening to know that racism is still this prevalent in our society. As a white male and lifelong Oklahoman, I've never been the direct target of racism but I've been a witness to more of it than I care to remember.

I grew up around the kinds of rednecks who proudly displayed the Confederate flag on their trucks, or went into the military so they could exact revenge on "towel-heads" after the events of 9/11. There are still parts of town white people won't venture into at night, assuming they'll be instantly mugged at gunpoint.

A friend of our family, who happens to live in an upper-class area, once had the misfortune of attending a neighborhood meeting where people were upset about the black family that had just moved in. Apparently they thought the family was bringing down the property value of the area.

My own grandfather—who was a great man in other respects—was always extremely prejudiced towards black people. The best compliment I ever heard him give to a black person went something like, "At least he ain't lazy like other [n-word]s." When he found out that I had a crush on a black girl in high school, he told me matter-of-factly that I wouldn't be allowed to bring her over to visit. I never asked her out.

The realist in me understands that these kinds of racial prejudices will be around for many more generations, but the idealist in me yearns to see the day where they are a thing of the past.

The Coolest Experience I Had as an Apple Store Employee

It was a particularly busy day, which is a bit of an understatement. I don't quite remember which product had just released that morning, but it was the kind of thing that had attracted a long line of campers outside the entrance the night before. The store was so packed it felt like working inside of a sardine can all day.

Somewhere in the middle of this hectic rush, a group of about 15 high school kids came through the door, accompanied by their teacher. It seemed like an odd day to take a field trip to the Apple Store, I thought. My curiosity was piqued though, and since I happened to be free at that moment, I went over to talk to them.

The kids basically ignored me, but the teacher was happy to speak for the group. She said that their school—which sounded to me like a small, upper-class, private institution—was providing one MacBook for each of the students. No Pro models or anything, just the low-end plastic ones. They'd all been given an Apple Store gift card to purchase with, so they would all be rung up individually.

Each student was given the choice of a black or a white 160GB MacBook. I supposed they had all been brought to the Apple Store to check each one out at the last minute and see what they liked best, but it didn't take long for the students to form a line next to the teacher with their minds already made up. And then the teacher walked off to handle a student who was being particularly rowdy.

And then it dawned on me that all of these students were all speaking to one another in sign language.

They were from a school for the deaf.

While the teacher was tied up with the troublemaker, the first student in line began signing something to me. Now, I had taken a 6-week sign language course in high school, but that was years ago and I couldn't remember how to sign much more than "thank you" and the "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" song (it was our final project, don't ask me why). I had no idea what this kid was saying.

I put my hands up and started doing that thing where I'm mouthing words and kind of adding an airy whisper, you know, the way you might do with someone on the other side of a car door window. I've never really understood why people make that noise, when we know the other person can't hear it.

Anyway, the point is, I was trying my best to communicate to him that I don't speak sign. Once we finally established that, a light bulb went off in my head and I walked him over to the nearest iMac so we could open TextEdit and simply type back and forth. What else was I going to do? It was insanely busy and there was still a line waiting outside the door.

Our text conversation was pretty curt:

-how are you doing?


-cool. so you're wanting a macbook?

yeah i like the white one


and so it went until he had paid for his MacBook and the next student stepped up. I had a version of this text conversation with every single one of these kids. I suppose I could have been more efficient by getting all their MacBooks at once, but instead I ended up walking back and forth between the sales floor and the stock room to grab each one individually.

It wouldn't occur to me until later that the teacher could have jumped in as translator at any point after I had rung up the first kid, but she chose to let me communicate with the students via text messages on a screen instead. I remember thinking that we could have saved a lot of time and effort, but I wasn't too perturbed by it or anything.

I mean, the kids were mostly friendly, and it was an overall enjoyable experience. Kinda fun, actually. It was certainly a nice distraction from the other craziness going on that day. Eventually, all the students had their MacBooks and were saying their "thank yous" in sign as they left.

This is the point where the story should have ended, in my mind. But fast-forward a few hours, when the craziness in the store had died down a little and we were finally being allowed to start staggering our lunch breaks. When my break time rolled around, I headed to the food court upstairs (did I mention my Apple Store was in a mall?) to grab some grub.

You know who was sitting at a big table together up there? You guessed it, the group of students and their teacher. But...imagine my surprise when they were all talking to each other out loud, no more sign language involved.

I must've stood there dumbfounded for several seconds before one of the students pointed me out. The teacher turned around, laughed at the look on my face, and got up to come talk to me about what I was seeing. She explained that none of the kids were actually deaf, although the part about their school getting them MacBooks was true.

Apparently, the teacher had decided to turn this outing into a strange assignment/experiment. The idea was for the group of kids to spend the entire day at the mall, going store-to-store and behaving as if they were deaf to see how employees treated them. After explaining all of this, the teacher told me that almost every single store they'd visited had treated them a bit terribly. As if they were annoyed that they had to deal with all these "deaf" kids and preferred to be finished with them as soon as possible.

The next part of her story made me feel awesome inside: She said that I was the only person they worked with all day that had treated them like real people, and actually tried to be as helpful as the situation allowed. They had all been impressed with my idea of using TextEdit to communicate, because nobody else in the mall had even bothered to grab a pen and some paper.

The students got to learn a real lesson about how the world treats those who are a little different, and I got a bunch of hugs and handshakes in return, along with a few tears shed all around. They even bought my lunch! We sat around and chatted for a while before I had to go back to work, and we exchanged a few more hugs before I left. I haven't seen any of those kids since but they all seemed like a good bunch so I'm sure they're all doing well somewhere.

It was one of the most feel-good, warm and fuzzy experiences I've ever had, and I will remember it forever.

Update: Wow, I really didn't expect this story to blow up the way it has. I've never had anything voted up on Hacker News before, much less gain the top spot. I'm still not convinced it hasn't all been a fever-dream.

The generally positive response I've been getting from readers all evening has been incredible. I've received tons of emails/tweets/ADN posts from people who have been kind enough to share their similar stories with me. Many of them are far more touching than what I published here today and deserve all this attention more than I do.

Tonight has been a strange, wonderful, exciting, nerve-wracking experience. I'm not sure I can ever express my gratitude for all the support I've received. Thank you, everyone.

Now, here is a picture of my son looking super smug for your enjoyment:


My Path to the iPad

Time for another piece about my personal life! Apologies in advance if you're getting sick of these :)

As I stated recently, I've been wanting to overhaul the tech situation in my life for a while now. To recap: despite having been an Apple Store employee a while back (October '07 - December '08), and having access to decent discounts on Mac products at that time, I've never been able to comfortably afford an iMac or MacBook. Also, long-term budgeting for big tech purchases isn't something I have much experience with.

You see, I grew up in a humble mobile home (albeit a double-wide model) which was on a dirt road at the outskirts of a small town. Because of the location, the only internet connection available my whole life was 56K dial-up. It wasn't until after I moved out in my early 20s that my parents could even get a basic DSL line run to the house. (My dad now uses that connection to play World of Warcraft, which sure is...something.)

Needless to say, we weren't big computer purchasers. There wasn't much of a reason to be, honestly. I mean, we were using AOL as our ISP, with all the requisite dialup noises that were enough of a deterrent alone. Of course, this means that I missed out on a lot during Web 2.0's heyday, but overall I think it was probably a good thing because it forced me into a not-overly-consumerist mindset that is still a big part of who I am today.

My first Apple purchase only came about when I managed to scrape together enough money to pick up an iPhone 3G several months after it released. Rather than upgrading every year, I waited three years before picking up an iPhone 4S (which is still my current phone), and that's where my Apple product history ended until Friday.

When I think back on this stuff, it seems odd even to me that I would ever have thought to apply for a job at Apple, given that my only prior experiences with Macs were with the old machines at my elementary and junior high schools, and those were mostly used for playing Oregon Trail or Math Munchers. I had no real sense of what a Mac could do outside of playing games.

Let's just say I had a lot of learning to do.

To this day I've still never owned a Mac, but I certainly developed a strong interest in them while working at the Apple Store, and nearly all of the tech blogs I keep up with even now are pretty Apple-oriented.

After my cheapy Windows 7 laptop crapped out, I didn't bother replacing it with another cheap Windows machine because I was too busy salivating over the 15" MacBook Pro model of the time (not literally you guys, ew). And I still couldn't even afford that computer without cutting out a ton of other expenses and living on ramen noodles for a year or two. Didn't seem worth it at the time.

The iPad had become pretty popular by this point, but the thought of replacing a laptop with such a device seemed crazy to me. My thoughts at the time sounded something like this: "It looks nice and all, but how could it possibly do all the things I want?"

The answer wouldn't begin to hit me for several months. Many people were proclaiming the iPad as the device to lead us into a post-PC era, but deep down I never believed them. Surely they couldn't be serious.

But then, more and more people started making the switch, ditching their old MacBooks (or other laptops) and instead preferring instead to carry around an iPad exclusively, often with a physical keyboard setup. This happened to be around the time I started taking a serious interest in writing, so something in the back of my mind began to wonder if I'd been enturely wrong about the iPad.

Then, Shawn Blanc published a piece explaining how his iPad had all but replaced his MacBook Air as a mobile workstation, and Federico Viticci began writing a series of articles showcasing the ways iOS apps can work together to complete fairly complex tasks with minimal input from the user. Lots of other writers got in on the fun as well, but there are far too many to list here.

Eventually, I became convinced by these kinds of testimonials. The iPad started looking more and like a suitable and legitimate replacement for a laptop, although admittedly, it couldn't have gotten there without the help of the App Store.

The abundance of 3rd-party writing and productivity apps has created an environment where people can accomplish just about anything they want as long as they've got the right app(s) and they're willing to work within the inherent limitations of iOS. As it turns out, a large and ever-growing population of people are perfectly willing to do just that. It was quite a recurring theme throughout 2012 in fact.

Fast-forward to today. I've been at my full-time job for 4.5 years and I've got a few pay raises under my belt. My wife's Irish dance school has slowly been growing and she's got a decent number of students now. We're still not making a ton of money by any stretch, and I've grown of tired my dead-end day job, but we're at least living a little more comfortably now than our previous years of living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Several months ago, my wife and I decided that we would finally try to invest in the Apple ecosystem and we began budgeting ourselves pretty strictly. The goal was to set aside a little extra money each month after we'd paid the bills and put money into our emergency fund. We weren't always successful but over time we've managed to build up a decent-sized 'Apple Fund'. Eventually, the question became: which devices do we need, exactly?

With the iPad's newfound role as a legitimate computer replacement, it seemed feasible for each of us to get one of those for mobile use and then get an iMac for the house at some point. I considered this scenario in my previous piece:

"If we've got an always-on iMac powering things at home, we could feasibly do the iPad thing and have no problems at all. She doesn't care about getting into the nerdy stuff, and most of my usage will probably be reading and writing, so really it just comes down to how much I want to tinker with scripts and stuff on the go."

I've since decided that having the ability to tinker with scripts just isn't worth the additional expense to me. Like I said, my main uses for it will be reading and writing. An iPad is well-suited to (and more than capable of) accomplishing those tasks, and even with the additional purchase of a keyboard/case it's still cheaper than buying a MacBook Air. Plus, I can always do that sort of thing on the iMac whenever we decide to get one.

So, I took the day off work yesterday and went back to visit ye olde Apple Store. After playing around with the various iPads one last time, I went ahead and picked up a 16GB wifi-only iPad 4 w/ Retina display. I'm still a big fan of how light and portable the iPad mini is, but the bigger Retina display won out in the end.

Now that I've finally made a decision after months of consideration, what do I think about the end result? Well, I've been spending the better part of 72 hours toying with this thing and it already feels like I made the correct choice.

I still have yet to get a physical keyboard, but I've already done some writing on the device (in fact, I'm writing this piece on it right now) and it's been a sheer joy so far. I'll probably never reach 90-100WPM using the on-screen keyboard like I can on a physical keyboard (HUMBLEBRAG FULLY INTENDED), but it's noticeably easier to write with than the iPhone keyboard I've grown accustomed to these past few years.

I want to mention just how friggin' beautiful the Retina display is on this thing. I've found myself becoming lost in photo blogs, Vimeo videos and comic books. All apps just look nicer than their iPhone counterparts. Even the text I write is rendered gorgeously. Talk about encouragement to write more!

I'm also in love with a couple of the multitouch gestures:

1) "Pinch" the screen with 5 fingers to exit an app to the homescreen. I don't have to care where the home button is in relation to the iPad's orientation.

2) Swipe up with 4 fingers to bring up the app switcher tray. Much better than double-clicking the home button.

These are completely natural-feeling interactions and my workflow already feels 10x better just from using such simple gestures.

So that's where my tech situation is at right now. I will continue to gradually add new things into the mix, such as a keyboard and some sort of bag to carry this stuff around in. The iMac will be further down the line, hopefully before the end of 2013.

I'm only getting started but I'm already super excited about all this. Not to suddenly get all "consumerism is the bee's knees!" about it, but after going through life without a lot of nice things to my name, it feels nice to treat myself for a change.

Viticci: 1 -- Cancer: 0

Earlier this week, Federico Viticci announced via Twitter that his PET cancer scan came back negative, meaning that for now he has a clean bill of health. He's been posting updates about his treatments for a while now, and I've been rooting for him from the sidelines because I think he's a great guy and I enjoy his work over at MacStories.

This morning, he published a piece on his personal blog, expanding on that tweet. My favorite bit:

"To the oncologist who told me I couldn’t survive: fuck you."

Well said!

In response to Federico's blog post, Greg Pierce, the developer of one of my favorite apps, wrote about his own experiences with cancer 22 years ago:

"I learned a lot about unconditional love from the incredible support I got from family and friends. I learned even more about courage from the other patients at N.I.H. – most of whom faced much more questionable outcomes than I."

I had no idea Greg had gone through such a thing until today, but I'm just as glad he made it through as I am for Federico.

Nate Boateng also provided some thoughts of his own about how Federico's journey, and that of another close friend, have inspired him:

"You can't get time back, so make it count. This week was a true demonstration in how wonderful, joyous, and horribly unfair life is sometimes. Don't waste it."

Reading all of these guys' posts has really inspired me this morning. I encourage you to go read them as well.

"Hanging Literally by a Thread"

At the end of an interesting piece about meeting his doppelganger, Eric Puchner sits on his daughter's bed to tell her a bedtime story and finds himself contemplating the ephemerality of life:

"If someone told me I was going to die tomorrow, I thought, I would still want to be sitting right here. Because it was going to happen someday—very soon, in fact, in cosmological time—and it mattered immensely where I was. There was no time not to waste."

Words to remember.

Letting Children Fail

Jessica Lahey, writing for The Atlantic:

"These are the parents who worry me the most — parents who won't let their child learn. You see, teachers don't just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.

Excellent piece, and I recommend reading the whole thing.

This is something I think about often, because I want to avoid being "that" parent. The one who coddles their children, never allowing them to learn from their mistakes and thus creating a sense of entitlement that will set the child up for inevitable failure in adulthood.

It's an easy pattern to slip into, I know. Even now, I sometimes find myself making excuses for Brendon when he's acting bratty. "Oh he's just a baby, he doesn't understand what he's doing." And maybe that's true to a certain extent, but my role is to be a father, not a buddy.

When I see that he's about to hurt himself in some way, my first instinct is to reach out and prevent that thing from happening, but I have to remind myself that sometimes I need to hold back and let the lesson be taught. (Obviously I still step in if the damage is going to be severe.)

At some point he must learn what is right and wrong, and I'm trying to instill these values in him early on so we can avoid the whole "damage control" thing years from now, when it will be too late to reverse any coddling we've done. Is there a better way? I don't know, there was no manual handed to me when I became a dad.

One thing I do know though: it doesn't feel good to tell him no, but it must be done.