LoriB.me

Rambling On…

2011 — 12/30/2011

2011

In a word, 2011 has been CRAZY! I’ve had some crazy years in my time, and while this year is not nearly as crazy as some have been, it definitely holds a place on the “Craziest Years Ever” list.

A Brief Summary of 2011:

Moving

Karen and I gave up hopes of selling our house after waiting 3 years for the economy to improve so we could move to Baltimore to be closer to K’s parents and help them out. Lorena and Tess offered to live in our house, pay mortgage, etc. so that we could move. Thanks Lorena and Tess! Karen quit her long time job that she really loved (and found a new one in Baltimore), and in April we drove approximately 3007 miles away from Oakland, CA to Baltimore, MD to live in an awesome apartment that K’s friend Lisa found for us. Thanks Lisa!

Baltimore Life

Living in Baltimore has been a challenge to say the least. When we got here, we went to the local SSI office to officially switch from California to Maryland. While filling out the paperwork in the office, we found out that I am no longer eligible to receive SSI because we no longer live in our house. It is only okay to own a house if you live in it. Surprise! That was a pretty huge blow which has been hard to recover from. So hard, that we have not recovered from it yet. Karen had to take a large pay cut as well because jobs generally pay less here than in CA.

I still do not have a Maryland driver’s license, even after going to the Maryland MVA 3 times and waiting 12 weeks for New York State to clear my record in the National Driver Registry for something that was taken care of in 1984. One more trip to the MVA should do it.

Next was The Dentist. In August, I had an appointment for a “simple root canal” that would take 1/2 hour. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign that the day started with an earthquake, but I went anyway. It did not take 1/2 hour. It is 4 months, 9 dentist/endodontist appointments, and one emergency room visit later, and I am still dealing with the aftermath. I have 2 more appointments in January to (hopefully) finish the job. Some damage may be permanent.

Work has been pretty good. Luckily, my business is portable, and I can still work for my clients/colleagues in the bay area. Even more luckily, before moving here, I met an awesome woman on LinkedIn who has hooked me up with some jobs, introduced me to some people, and let me share her office. Thank you M!

It is not all hard. I love living here. I love the city. I even like the people. K’s friends are awesome and it is good to live near her parents so we can visit them and help them out. In general, I find that people are much more down to earth here than in the bay area. I like that. Our apartment is a block away from EVERYTHING, and I found a great place to do karate. I missed the east coast. It took me 20 years to miss it, but I am glad to be back. I love the changing seasons and the chill in the air. I am comfortable here. It is also nice to be so much closer to my family!

No year is complete without a few bulleted lists:

Favorite Apps 2011:

  • Komodo IDE 7 – I have been using Komodo as my main code editor/IDE since 2009. Both the free editor and commercial IDE get better with every version. Komodo 7 is in RC1 right now and should be released soon. Some bugs that were in the alpha and beta are fixed in this version and performance is improved. This version also includes my chalkboard color scheme as a system default called Dark_Chalkboard 🙂
  • Dropbox – There are not enough good things I can say about Dropbox. Now that I am working with 3 computers and an iPhone, it is hard to imagine getting along without it.
  • Moom – A relatively new window management app for mac. I have used several of these apps over the years, but Moom is my favorite one yet. Customizable keyboard shortcuts like the others, as well as a nice visual popup when hovering over the ‘maximize’ button on any window. Definitely worth $5.

Favorite Websites 2011:

  • WPCandy – Early last year, Ryan Imel relaunched WPCandy and it has quickly become my favorite place to keep up with the crazily fast moving world of WordPress news. Thanks Ryan!
  • Facebook – There are many things to hate about Facebook, but no matter what annoying things they do, it has still allowed me to have more human interaction than ever before in a way that does not overwhelm me (or if it does, closing a browser window fixes it).
  • Pinterest – I have recently discovered Pinterest and have been using it as an alternative to Tumblr. I like that it is limited to visual things.

Favorite Places in Baltimore:

  • Baltimore Harbor – I miss the San Francisco Bay more than anything else since we moved. It is really great that Baltimore has such an awesome harbor. Great place to walk around aimlessly and lots of fun things to do.
  • Charles Village Pub – One thing that always seemed to be missing from various places I lived in the bay area was a local pub. Now, we have one down the block. A great place to stop in and have a beer or to meet people at.
  • ETC – AWESOME place for the local tech and business startup communities. This is the place where the local WordPress and PHP meetups are held, as well as the place where I share office space. It is also the home of Beehive Baltimore, “… a coworking community of freelancers, entrepreneurs, and other creative professionals sharing a common workspace in Baltimore, Maryland”.

I am hoping that 2012 will be an easier year for us. I am happy to be here and glad we made this decision and finally got to make it happen. For the most part, we are very lucky! We have jobs, an awesome apartment to live in, a great city to live in, close proximity to our families, and are surrounded by great people.

Happy New Year everyone!

The Autistic Freelancer :: Autistics Speaking Day 2011 — 11/01/2011

The Autistic Freelancer :: Autistics Speaking Day 2011

I have been running my freelance web development business for over 15 years, the last 8 of which have actually involved a business license, paying taxes, and making money. Each year, I do a little  better than the last.

Running a business can be challenging to everyone, and as with most things, can provide extra challenges for autistic people. Also, as with most things, we may have skills and abilities that give us a greater chance of succeeding despite the extra challenges.

In honor of Autistics Speaking Day 2011, I will write about my personal experience of running a business with these challenges and benefits. I have been very lucky and have had a lot of help along the way and would be very happy if I could help someone else looking to follow a similar path.

First, a  few words about luck:

I do not have the business skills to run my own business. Before Karen was my billing manager, I often forgot to bill people and could not keep track who had paid even though I use software to keep track of such things. Software is useless if you forget to supply the needed data. Every month, Karen makes sure that clients are billed and follows up when someone has not paid. Needless to say, this has had a huge impact on the success of my business!

I have also been lucky to have a community of web designers and developers that send work in my direction. Most of this community is in the San Francisco Bay Area and I miss them a lot. I have not yet met that community in Baltimore, but I have met some really great developers at local PHP and WordPress meetups. I have been especially lucky to meet one woman who has welcomed me to Baltimore with open arms, sent great jobs my way, and shares her office space with me!

For the most part, when I work with other internet professionals (designers, developers, consultants, marketing people, copywriters, etc.), I have much less client contact than I do when I am working directly for a client. If I had my way, I would have a partner who takes care of the business and non-technical client management side of things all the time.

Challenge/Benefit #1 – Communication

When I was a new freelancer, I did not yet know about the client phenomenon known as “one more thing”. “One more thing” is when a client thinks a task is very simple, when in fact it may take several hours or days to complete. “Can you just [insert complicated time-consuming job here]?”. I am often expected to do this for free, because it is part of the website that I am building for them. No, I can not just do that. It will add 3 days to the project time and cost $1000.

It is a skill to communicate to clients what is involved in creating the things they are asking for. In most cases, it is best not to be too technical because most people do not understand the jargon of web development. Why should they? By attempting to simplify things into terms that a client can understand and relate to, the amount of time and work necessary to complete a project can seem like it would be much less than it actually is.

I like to have honest relationships with my clients. I do not generally ‘read between the lines’ and I never speak between them. I am autistic. My communication skills are limited, yet for the most part, my clients seem to like and respect me a great deal. Some will become frustrated with me at some point or other due to a communication (or lack of communication) issue, but all have appreciated my honesty, attention to detail, and dedication to giving them the best site possible within their budget.

Challenge #2 – Organization

Every morning, I look at my todo list, get overwhelmed, and start my work day. The list is always long. I use software to prioritize tasks and to view them in very focused ways. Otherwise, I would not have any idea what to do first. If I have to think, I am doomed to spend hours in a state of confusion while rapidly alternating between hundreds of things for 30-60 seconds each. Very bad for productivity to say the least.

Challenge #3, Benefit #2 – Hyperfocus

When I am not serially uni-tasking at rapid speeds, I can usually be found doing the exact opposite, hyper-focusing on one thing for hours at a time, usually code. In general, this serves me well, but sometimes there is a need to come out of the code and attend to something else. I find this very hard to do at times, to the point where I can not give my full focus and attention to something because I can not let go of the code. The amount of confusion that occurs while trying to shift can be very painful and disorienting to me and very annoying and frustrating to a person trying to pull me back.

Hyperfocus can also be a benefit when learning new skills. I work in an industry where there is a need to be constantly learning new technologies and keeping up with older ones. The ability to become so engrossed in something that it becomes all-consuming makes it much easier to keep up.

Benefit #3 – Helping Each Other

At some point, I would like to work with an autistic intern/apprentice and teach them the skills that I have learned in a way that they can understand and in an environment that they can be comfortable in. I have a similar wish to teach karate to autistic people someday.

In the past 5 years, the autistic community on the internet has grown exponentially and brought thousands of people together. This has expanded to “real life” communities, government action, education, and many other areas, but it is still not enough. It is our voices that will lead the way to a better future, whether those voices be vocal or assisted by a device or person. It is our voices that will allow us to reach out to one another, help each other, and share our unique views of the world with the people who’s world is sometimes a mystery to us. It is our voices that will tell the world that we have voices.

RIP Steve Jobs, Derrick Bell, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth — 10/10/2011

RIP Steve Jobs, Derrick Bell, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth

Derrick Bell, Steve Jobs, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth
Derrick Bell, Steve Jobs, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.
(Photo: David Shankbone/Wikicommons, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

I am sad that Steve Jobs is gone. I didn’t know him, but like many other people, he changed my life. There have been many tributes to Mr. Jobs in the past week and it is easy to see how widespread his influence was. There is also some negative sentiment in which people are furious that so much attention and honor is given to the death of a corporate billionaire while the deaths of race scholar Derrick Bell and civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who died on the same day, were much less prominently noted. I definitely agree that the deaths of Derrick Bell and Rev. Shuttlesworth deserve at least as much attention as the death of Steve Jobs, but it is Steve Jobs’ influence on my life that I will write about here.

Apple IIe
Apple IIe

Like many computer geeks, Steve Jobs was a hero and an inspiration to me. He changed ‘thinking different’ from a reason to get beat up to a reason to be respected (at least as far as nerdy computer geeks go). I have been in continuous awe of the things he has created since the day my dad brought home an Apple IIe in 1983. That, along with a Commodore 64 and a VIC-20 that we used in the high school Computer Club, were the first places I learned about programming. BASIC. Loved it!

To a person who thinks of things in a very literal way and finds it hard to get along in a world where logic does not always dictate reality, programming provides a comfort, a world where actions and consequences are dictated by logic alone.

Aside from learning some PASCAL in college, I was out of the computer/media loop until 1995, when my dad told me about Windows 95. I got my first PC, a Compaq Presario 100MHz mini-tower with 8KB RAM, and read “Windows 95 For Dummies” from cover to cover. Over the next 10 years, I learned to build and fix PCs. I learned to build websites using FrontPage Express, a program that was included with Internet Explorer 4. It had a split view where you could look at the visual web site on one side and the code on the other, making it very easy to see how changing one would affect the other. I also learned more than I ever wanted to know about the Windows operating system.

By 2004, I was sick of the constant problems with Windows and had decided to switch to Linux. 2004 was also the year that the San Francisco Apple Store first opened. Lured by the promise of shiny electronic things, I wandered into the store and was completely blown away by what I saw. The operating system of the time was OS X 10.3, aka Panther. It was simple and beautiful, yet had the power, stability, and security of a UNIX based operating system behind it. That was it. The bar was raised forever. My first mac was a 12″ PowerBook 1.33GHZ PowerPC with 256MB of RAM. Somehow, that little thing ran circles around my 3GHz Pentium 4 PC with 1GB RAM.

I knew almost nothing about my new mac, which was a little disturbing considering that I could troubleshoot Windows in my sleep. Luckily, Karen knew how to use a mac and showed me the way. Before long, I realized that I was so confused at first because everything was so easy to do! I expected everything to be more complicated and unstable like Windows, but it was not. There was no need to troubleshoot in my sleep anymore. Like programming, macs made sense to me.

I currently use a 24″ iMac, a 15″ MacBook Pro, and an iPhone to do my work, learn new things, play games, and communicate with the world in a way that was not possible for me in the past. I am thankful to Steve Jobs for thinking differently and for the amazing contributions that he has made to the technical world. I am thankful to him for his inspiration and vision. I will miss him and the contributions he surely would have made in the future had his life not been cut so short.

Steve Wozniak remembers Steve Jobs

Five Ways A Root Canal Can Ruin Your Day — 08/24/2011

Five Ways A Root Canal Can Ruin Your Day

  1. It is preceded by an earthquake
  2. It takes 2.5 hours
  3. It involves numerous shots of novocaine and other random things that burn
  4. It can not be completed and you need to go back again.
  5. Your face swells to the size of a grapefruit and you spend the next morning in the emergency room.
Root Canal
Monkeyface

Numerous thanks to Karen for picking me up at the dentist last night and accompanying me to the emergency room this morning even though she has about 10 schmillion other things going on right now!

107 Degrees — 07/22/2011
My Children Want You To Know — 05/31/2011

My Children Want You To Know

My children want you to know that being of few words does not mean being of little intelligence.

My children want you to know that being socially awkward doesn’t mean they cannot be wonderful, kind, loving and loyal friends.

My children want you to know that they stim because they need to, not because they are brats with little self-control who wish to irritate you. My children want you to know that they are not “picky”, “wussy” or “incorrigible” because they cannot tolerate certain lights, sounds, fabrics or foods. They experience the world quite differently than you do from a sensory standpoint, and they are doing their best to process and handle all of it. Think of having the volume turned up on every one of your senses at all times.

Read the rest of this article…

Awwwww… Cat mom hugs baby kitten — 05/28/2011
Busy Bee in Baltimore — 05/19/2011

Busy Bee in Baltimore

Baltimore Row Houses
Baltimore Row Houses - Photo by mariozama

Things got off to a rough start, but I think I am starting to get used to living here. I thought I was busy in Oakland, but somehow seem to have gotten way busier here. It is wearing me out.

Business has been great since I got here. Working on 2 projects now, one from a new local business woman I met here and one from San Francisco. I still have not found the geek/webdev community here. It makes me kind of sad, but hopefully I will find it eventually. There is a WordPress meetup that I would really love to go to, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is organizing any meetings.

Besides from my todo list being about a mile too long, I think I like living here. It is a beautiful city with lots of things to do. I love all the bricks. I found a karate school that I really like. The pizza is much better than in California. My friend Kim lives here. Karen’s friends are great and the people here seem to be very friendly in general. K likes her job. It is also nice to live so close to Washington DC.

I am glad we can be near K’s folks and help them out. Also nice to live much closer to my family. I think I will adapt to living here someday. Right now, still feels kind of surreal. There is not much time to explore. Walking around aimlessly is how I usually adapt to new places, but even though there is hardly any time for that, things are starting to become more familiar and I am feeling less lost in general.

Have to get back to work. One of these days I will post some links, videos, and code snippets that are hanging around in my ‘things to post on lorib.me’ list.

Rejected, Dejected, but Relatively Unaffected — 04/14/2011

Rejected, Dejected, but Relatively Unaffected

Maryland State Flag
Welcome to Maryland?

Things started off so well. We made good time to Baltimore, got here to find an awesome apartment, a great landlord, and a neighborhood that has everything you would ever want within a few block radius. What could go wrong? Glad you asked. Please, let me whine for 3 paragraphs…

If I were more paranoid, I would think that the Maryland government hates me. That actually did cross my mind for a moment, but in reality, the events of the past 2 days have nothing at all to do with the fine state of Maryland. On Tuesday, Karen and I went to the DMV (aka MVA). On the first try, we didn’t realize that we needed 2 proofs of residency, so had to go back home and get them, then go back to the MVA. We registered our car, got our new plates, and Karen got her Maryland driver’s license. I was not so lucky.

24 years ago, I had my license revoked in New York due to getting 3 speeding tickets. Very shortly before it was revoked, I got a driver’s license in Florida.  I paid my giant fine in NY and assumed everything was taken care of. 4 years later, I moved to California, got a driver’s license and renewed it 4 times with no problem. I have had that license for 20 years, and it is still valid today. Still, Maryland would not give me a driver’s license because the record from New York and Florida was never cleared from the system. In order to clear it, I must mail a $25 check and a letter requesting that they clear my record to NY. There is a 10-12 week wait time for processing it. When that is done, they or I must fax the clearance to Florida, and Florida must fax it to Maryland. Not exactly sure what the point of having the whole country hooked up online when you still have use snail mail and fax to get anything done. Thank goodness my California license is good until 2013!

“What else could go wrong?”, you may ask.  Yesterday, I lost my SSI because I don’t live in my house any more, so now it is an asset. I have been trying very hard to get off of SSI for several years now, but was hoping to do it when I was making a more steady income and could afford health insurance (and rent). Luckily, Karen’s new workplace has benefits for domestic partners so I will still be able to get my medicine.

Yesterday, both me and K were in pretty bad spirits. Maybe it was all the red tape and rejection, or maybe it was because we went to both the DMV and Home Depot 2 times, but things were looking pretty bleak and we were completely exhausted. I think we are both in better spirits today. Our bed and furniture from IKEA is assembled and we can now start unpacking for real. Best of all, I can start to set up my office and hook up my big computer!

It will be good to start working again. Suddenly I feel the need to re-market my business to focus on things that bring in steady monthly income, like web hosting and website maintenance. I still have job requests coming in, so predictable income will have to wait. Hopefully I will hook up with the web development/geek communities here soon. Luckily, most of my business is done on the internet, so I will still be able to work with my current clients and colleagues. Karen will be starting work in a couple of weeks, and I am guessing that is when I will really find out what it is like to live and work in Baltimore day to day. Until then, I am hoping we can have some more fun times and adventures before we are both crazy busy again with work/life/etc!

Alternative Routes — 03/18/2011

Alternative Routes

Karen and Lori with our map.

Long day today. Exhausted. Got a bunch of maps at AAA and K planned us yet another alternative route in case the weather is bad, which it looks like it will be. K posted the exciting details on our site: http://karenandlori.com/2011/03/19/stormy-weather/