PAX: Looking forward, not backward

Blow it up. That's what I learned at my first Penny Arcade Expo last weekend. My gaming queue is a logjam of classic titles I've "got to play" and which I therefore acquired without the free time to spend on them. Blow it up. I don't think anyone will notice or care if I default on my gaming debts. In the time it would take me to finish Final Fantasy XII, I could probably get through both Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2. When phrased that way, my choice is clear.

And those two games are already aging, yesterday's news. The next wave of games reaches yet farther, threatening to leave me farther and farther behind. The last game I finished was the original Mass Effect, but seeing the graphics on Mass Effect 3 left me feeling ridiculous. It's time I put aside my guilt at never having finished Bioshock, let alone System Shock 2. Or Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment.

In hindsight, I should have arrived at this conclusion earlier. In all aspects of my life, I want to embrace the idea of living in the present instead of working always towards the future. From now on, I'm only buying games I want to play now, not games I want to save for a nebulous later.

Independence Day

I figure we got our trip to Monterey and Carmel about half right. Next time, we'll stay in still touristy but more luxurious Carmel-By-The-Sea, instead of Monterey. We'll leave Starla at home, since our only positive experience bringing her on vacation was our honeymoon in Fredericksburg, where our cottage was isolated enough that she had no early risers at whom to bark walking just outside. And maybe we'll have better luck avoiding cloudy skies. Which is to say that the trip went well enough that we're looking forward to our next visit, potentially very soon.

I'm hoping our vacation was just the start of a new era of increased leisure time. Ever since I started at Apple almost two years ago, I've had one project or another consuming most of my free time. For more than a year it was my thesis. For the last half year it was buying a house, moving, and unpacking. We still have that last 15% to unpack and some gaps to fill in our furniture, but these projects seem less urgent and more fun. For the longest time, I feel like too much of my life has been on hold, but for the first time in too long, I feel like the future is now.


Three Irish guys moved all of our stuff from San Francisco to Campbell, and we've begun the painstaking process of unpacking. Boxes litter every room of the house, and we still need some furniture and appliances that became necessary upon moving from an 850-square-foot apartment to a 1650-square-foot townhouse. But so far, so good. Starla managed not to destroy anything during her initial inspection of the premises, content to find that her customary perches still remain. We originally thought we would need a second car, but it turns out Apple recently added a shuttle route from Campbell. Compared to the San Francisco route, the ride is a fraction of the length, and both the seating and the wifi are much less congested. My stop is a 10-minute walk from the house, at one end of the historic downtown shopping area, which we discovered firsthand has one of the region's better farmers markets.

I think it's a good thing that we tried living in the city, since we always would have wondered what it would have been like had we skipped that step. But life in Campbell more closely resembles life in Austin, which we discovered that we missed dearly.


Bay to Breakers offers an awe-inspiring cross section of San Francisco. The 12K route begins in the financial district, just blocks away from Ferry Plaza, among the gleaming glass and steel of Moscone Center and the Metreon. It continues out Hayes and Fell, residential neighborhoods enlivened into one big block party, whose raucous music and onlookers cheered runners on and up the Hayes Street Hill. The second half of the course, through Golden Gate Park, took me past waterfalls and bison I didn't know existed within the city. The last half mile emerges from the greenery of the park to reveal an expanse of blue, broken only by, yes, the roaring white of the breaking waves. Spectacular.

Although I have to admit I still spent most of the time people watching, not staring at the backdrop. Supposedly the city has cracked down on the drunken party atmosphere of previous years, but the costumes at least did not disappoint. My only previous exposure to costumed races was the Cap 10K in Austin, but Bay to Breakers puts it to shame. For better or for worse, some parts felt as much like a Halloween parade as a race, with walkers spanning the entire width of the road. I'll have to decide whether to find a costume for next year or to register earlier to secure an earlier start time.

Until next time, it will be hard not to construe Bay to Breakers as a farewell tour. Sarah and I will move to South Bay in the next couple of weeks, and while I can't wait until we move, I will miss city life, at least in the abstract. I will miss the idea of being enmeshed in a vibrant urban center, surrounded by a dazzling panoply of human life. But in truth, life in San Francisco, almost an hour from where I work, in a cramped century-old Victorian flat, simply hasn't been practical for us. I still think it's a nice place to visit, but soon it will no longer be home.

Pulling the trigger...

We're a go. After a couple months of waiting for the current occupants' two lenders to sort things out, we're in contract for our coveted townhouse in Campbell. The most agonizing part of buying a short sale, that long wait, finally seems over, leaving the normal home-buying process. So far, this part seems much more hectic. We have until May 20th to close escrow. We need to acquire a mortgage and lock in an interest rate, pore over the HOA documents, go through the home inspection, and whatever else our agent springs on us. The inspection is the scariest thing, since it's the most likely reason we won't wind up in this house. Anything that's not a deal breaker we'd have to fix ourselves, since the seller is broke.

It's scary. I believe we're doing the right thing, but I can barely wrap my head around the amount of money involved when you buy a home. Still, most of my fears are along the lines of "what if we don't get the house?" so my gut still tells me we're going in the right direction. We just need to get there.
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Starla on the mend

I worry that we'll look back at our time in San Francisco as an uninterrupted string of assorted maladies. This past week was Starla's turn again. The vet removed a tumor from her last Tuesday, and we had no idea how miserable Starla's recovery would be. (Sarah has written a post with all the miserable details.) She was inconsolable right after the surgery. Then I stayed home on Thursday to help and promptly hurt my back.

The good news is that we both seem to be on the mend. Starla has begun to regain energy, to the point that we need to encourage her to keep lying in her dog bed in the middle of the living room, looking pathetic in her dig cone head collar thing, since at least then she isn't agitating her slowly healing incision.

No, the real good news is that the biopsy showed the tumor was benign. It's an immense relief, to say the least. You know, I never considered myself a dog person before we adopted Starla, but now she's an essential member of our family. I couldn't say when exactly this bond formed, but it's hard to imagine life without it.

Kicking the tires

We found a townhouse in Campbell last weekend that impressed us so much, I spent a couple of hours this morning test driving the commute. I spent an hour just reaching Campbell from San Francisco, passing Apple at the 45-minute point. (I could not have tolerated the last year and a half without Apple's private bus service.) Leaving from the prospective house at 7:20 and taking the route suggested by Google, it took a disappointing 24 minutes of annoying highway driving to go 9.6 miles. The level of disappointment told me just how much Sarah and I had fallen for this place. So I drove the 15 minutes back and tried again, this time taking more pleasant local roads. That route shaved 25% off both the distance and time, to 7.2 miles in 18 minutes, despite leaving after 8:00. I wonder if I could do even better starting at the likely time of 7:00 to get to Apple's gym by 7:20. It would sure beat what I did most days last year, leaving the apartment at 6:10.

Although we've been talking about moving for a long time, we only started our housing search in earnest in the last week or so. Yet, despite the process intimidating both of us, we might very well make an offer on this house in the very near future. It's both scary and exciting. The biggest obstacle is the fact that the listing is an unconfirmed short sale, so some bank would have to approve our offer. We'd want evidence that the sellers know what they're doing, so that we have every reason to believe that the approval would come through. In some ways, our situation seems suited to the typically lengthy time needed to close short sales. With a month-to-month lease, we're not on any hard schedule, and we could use some more time to unwind after last year before tackling the actual move.

Off the air, again

It's official. Sarah and I are completely out of step with American tastes in television. Last week we learned our favorite new show this season, Terriers, had been cancelled. Tonight, after we almost caught up on The Good Guys, we learned that show won't get a second season, either. Sigh. Why can the market support a hojillion CSI and Law & Order spinoffs but not one comedic buddy-cop show with throwback 80s-style car chases? But as fun as The Good Guys was, the real loss is Terriers. The fact that I can't tell you exactly what genre it fit probably has something to do with its cancellation. I guess you could just say it's about two unlicensed private investigators who get in over their heads. That synopsis completely omits that Terriers had perhaps the deepest characterization and tightest writing of any freshman show I've seen. I just wish these shows had more of a chance to find their audience. I guess I should know better after Firefly.

Open season

Sarah and I embarked on our housing search yesterday by attending a slew of South Bay open houses. Escaping our miserable Victorian flat in San Francisco is among our top priorities for 2011, so we were relieved finally both to feel well enough this weekend to get out of the house and get started. This time, we won't allow the amazing walk scores and the cachet of city life tempt us. We want more than 850 square feet. We want a modern floor plan, not one devised 107 years ago. We need the air filtration of HVAC. We want a yard in which Starla can run around and be a dog. Now that I'm not working on my thesis, I'd happily trade the two hours I spend every day in solitude on the bus for more time with my family and friends.

On our first day, we already found one strong contender, although we assume it can't be right even to contemplate an offer so early in the process, before we really know what we're doing. Still, it was a tremendous relief to find so quickly a home where we could see ourselves living. We also learned quite a bit about how to refine our next open-house expedition. We've only just started, and the prospect of buying a house seems so intimidating, but so far it's nevertheless exciting to imagine the possibilities opening up for us.

Turning the page

In hindsight, I knew that working full-time for Apple while working on my thesis would suck. I just didn't anticipate—perhaps, just wouldn't accept—that it would take so long. It seems reasonable to say that I've lived a double life from the moment Sarah and I married in April 2009, when we were already looking to our future, through Zach's New Year's Day wedding, at which point I still had some loose ends from the graduate study I began so long ago. In truth, it's more accurate to say that my thesis more or less supplanted my social life for the last year and a half or more.

The weddings that bookmarked this period of my life underscore for me the social isolation that Sarah and I have endured. At least I know what my New Year's resolution should be. Although we have plenty of mere goals, the most significant being a new home, I resolve to emerge from my cave, to renew friendships near and far, and to forge new friendships, too.

Alas, I am still dealing with the aftermath of 2010. I've taken three days off from work (so far) to recover from some relatively minor but terribly inconvenient surgery (the details of which are best omitted) that was originally scheduled for last November. Nothing sucks more than waiting in the surgery center, IV in your arm, for a surgeon who's not going to show. But this year I will turn the page. For too long "next year" has been a bright hope tantalizingly out of reach, but finally I can feel it in my grasp.