All posts by Andy Soell

Lucy: Month Twenty Four

Dear Lucy,

Last night was the first time you tried to run away from home. You were very upset with your mama and I because it was almost bed time, and we wouldn’t let you use your finger paints. You gave out a short little anguished cry — but only the length of a second or two. Then you marched with clear purpose to the front door and tried to push it open. I asked you where you were going and you replied with a succint-but-emphatic “out!” So I unlocked the door for you.

You made it about one step onto the porch when you turned back and said, very quietly to yourself, “But it’s cold,” and then “Papa, sweatshirt!” So I helped you put on your sweatshirt.

Once that second arm was through the final sleeve, your resolve returned and you strode back to the door. As your tiny hand pressed against it to start out on your own, I heard you mutter “Might get wet… better button up.” I helped you get the zipper on your sweatshirt pulled up so that, in the event your journeys took you to wetter climates, your Yo Gabba Gabba Foofa shirt would stay dry.

You returned to the front door one more time, noticably slower than the first two times, and turned to me to ask “Boots?” I pointed out that you already had sneakers on. You contemplated this for a good ten or fifteen seconds, looked at me, cocked your head slightly to the side and said “Color? Crayons?” That seemed like a reasonable compromise, so I helped you out of your sneakers and sweatshirt and took you to your drawing table.

I can’t believe how big you’ve gotten, especially compared to the last time I wrote one of these letters. A lot has happened in nine months. Nine months ago you were just beginning to master walking, now you’ve got a pretty good handle on running. “Hurry hurry hurry! Quick quick quick!” That’s what you yell as you’re running down the aisles of the grocery story with us at full-tilt.

As funny and energetic and outgoing as you can be, I still get really happy to see little bits and pieces of your introvert papa shining through in you. Every now and then you just get a little overwhelmed with it all. A few weeks ago, we were shopping and you had clearly had enough of us. You got up off of the bench that you and your mama were sharing, walked the ten feet to another bench, and just sat by yourself with your head hung down. Every now and then a stranger would come and sit by you, trying to make small talk, and you would high tail it back to your mama. But as soon as that bench was empty again, you went right back for it.

I really can’t believe how much fun you are these days. You’re just a little sponge, soaking up all the little things we do and things we say only to spring them back on us after a few days of thinking about them in that tiny little head of yours. Several times a day, one of us will catch you contemplating a drawing you’re working on saying something very adult like “Let’s see here,” or you’ll greet one of our friends who has come to visit by saying “Oh hi, I missed you!” It’s very sweet. And I know that someday you will learn to actually read, but I’m just enjoying the pretend “reading” you’re doing now. 

If there’s one thing you really need to work on, little girl, it’s your negotiating skills. I’m not sure what your strategy is by asking me for “colate” (chocolate). “One colate, please? One?” You’ll insist. “One colate? Two?? Two colate please, thank you?” Sadly, though, this form of negotiation has proved effective more than once. So well done on that count.

Little Lu, I’m excited to see what this next year holds for you. I’m sure your vocabulary is going to continue to explode, you’ll continue to push your boundaries and our buttons, and I have every reason to believe there will be at least one more attempt to run away from home. Your mama and I will be there when it happens, ready to help you on with your sweatshirt and make sure you’ve got some string cheese in your pocket, and maybe try to convince you to just stay the night instead. You know, so you can get a fresh start in the morning. 

Or maybe just draw instead.

The Art of the Hand Typed Email

I don’t email as much as I used to. After college, email was a great, easy way to keep up with my closest friends, now scattered across the midwest. Sometimes it was a quick, one-off comment about whatever was going on, but at least once a week you could count on someone sending a moderately lengthly update about what was happening at their new job in their new city. With the rise of Twitter and Facebook, I think we’ve lost the art of the email.

I do, of course, recognize the irony of this. Ten years ago, when all this email writing was going on, the generation before us was decrying the loss of the art of the written letter. “Young people don’t know how to properly write a letter anymore,” we were told, as we rolled our collective eyes. A decade later, though, our decline in quality of communication has taken the next step.

There’s nothing wrong with social media; Facebook and Twitter are great ways of keeping updated on the daily goings on of friends we might otherwise lose complete touch with. But I think the fact that we see these daily updates gives us a false sense of closeness. That, because I saw what you ate for breakfast on Instagram, I have an undestanding of what’s going on in the lives of my friends who live several states away is a lie that prevents us from really keeping each other informed of what we’ve been up to. And so the months go by knowing more about our friends dietary and nail polish choices than how they’re feeling and what they’re really going through.

And so I’m trying to renew in myself the lost art of the written email that is longer than a sentence or two, and learn a bit more about what my friends are really up to in 2013. If you have any interest in knowing more about my life than what book I’m reading or what local restaurant I’ve dined at recently, I’d love an email to start the conversation. It doesn’t require a big time investment to write more than 140 characters, just 5 minutes and a little bit of thought.

A Comeback Story?

2013 is poised to be a really interesting year for the mobile device space. I’m a long time Apple fan, having used every iteration of the iPhone since the 3GS came out in 2008, but I think things are due for a shakeup. And that very likely could start today.

Like a lot of people, I’ve generally laughed at the slow and steady decline of Research in Motion, makers of the once-popular BlackBerry devices, since the rise of the touchscreen phones last decade. They were arrogant and played it all wrong. “People want physical keyboards!” they cried. “If people want to write apps, go ahead, but we won’t help!” was the other major complaint. And so, with most of the tech / geek sector, I wrote them off.

Over the course of the past several months, as I’ve been curating smartphones and tablets for our local device lab, I’ve been fortunate enough to get a bit of a sneak peek into what RIM has been working on, and I was surprised at my response. A little backstory, first; In December, I approached RIM’s regional BlackBerry Evangelist about possible donations to our device lab. We had a candid phone conversation about where RIM’s at and what they’re doing to “right the ship.” He talked a bit about the operating system strategy and offered to send us out some Playbooks — RIM’s 7″ tablet — for our lab. 

They arrived a few days later, and I was curiously surprised at their quality. It’s not nearly as polished as the iPad experience, but it was far more user friendly than the Kindle Fire that we purchased late last year. The lone detractor from the experience was the apparent lack of third-party app support available. There is no Netflix app, no Hulu, and certainly no Instagram. I wasn’t even able to find an official Facebook or Twitter app. It doesn’t matter how great the hardware or operating system is, if there isn’t a large library of third-party apps available it’s not going to success.

I think RIM was thinking the same thing, because it was just a week or so later that I became aware of the last in a series of “Port-A-Thon” events they were sponsoring, trying to motivate iOS and Android developers to port their apps over to the new BlackBerry 10 system. Beyond just going out of their way to make it super easy to do this, they were also offering a monetery incentive: $100 per app ported over. As easy as it was, it seemed foolish not to do it. So a few of us met up that weekend to work on porting our apps over, and by the end of the day we had 13 apps in the review queue.

bb10portathon

Something funny happened over the course of those few weeks. I went from laughing at the idea of a RIM comeback to being a minor cheerleader for them. Today is their “big reveal” of the new BlackBerry 10 platform and phones, and I’m really hoping that they’re able to pull it off. I’m not completely sold that what they have is better than Apple, Android or Windows Phone, but I’m a little excited about another option being there to help push the other three. They have an uphill battle on their hands, for sure. They’re going to need a few key killer apps to convince those of us already using Apple and Android devices to give them another shot. But if they come out of the gates with some really good looking hardware, an official Instagram and Netflix app, and the support of the developer community behind them, I think they stand as good a chance as anyone does.

What about you? Have you completely written RIM off, or are you curious to see what they have up their sleeves. I know I’ll be watching their press event to see if this turns out to be their last stand or the beginning of their comeback story.

2012 Retrospective: Books

In 2011, I don’t believe I even read a total of 10 books, so I’m excited to even be able to talk about my 10 favorite books of 2012. Below is a quick look at all the books I was able to read last year, with my ten favorites at the top.

The Night Circus On the Beach 11/22/63 The Sense of an Ending Timequake Einstein's Dreams The Maze Runner On the Road First Meetings in Ender's Universe After Dark My Horizontal Life Lord of the Flies The Trial Freedom A Wild Sheep Chase Gentlemen Cloud Atlas Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? Nigger Then Everything Changed In Cold Blood Me Talk Pretty One Day The Stranger The Lemur The Time Machine Overgrown: Tales of the Unexpected The Kill Order Ready Player One

2012 Retrospective: Music

Every year, I like to compile a playlist featuring music that has served as the soundtrack for the past year. They aren’t all necessarily songs that were released in the previous year, but are generally songs I’ve first been introduced to in the past year. 2012 started off slow; I don’t think I got to ten tracks until the Fall, but it built quickly from there to the point that I had to pare it down from nearly 30 tracks to it’s current set of 15 songs.

If you would like to listen to the Team Soell 2012 Retrospective on Rdio, you can listen below. If you’d like to take it with you “to go,” you can download it in MP3 format.

What about you? What are you best tracks of the year?

52 Books: Weeks 49 – 52

52books december

Here we are. 52 weeks after I set my goal of reading 52 books in 2012, and I made it! This past month was a bit of a challenge, as I had six books to read, but I made it a little easier on myself by only reading books that were 150 pages or less. With that as my criteria, I actually charged my way through the last six books in only two weeks. So if you’re looking for some good, short reads to help you get to your goal, or just get you back into the habit of reading, these are some really good choices.

The Old Man and the Sea

When I first started getting back into reading eight years ago or so, I specifically wanted to read a lot of the books that most people read in grade school that I either hadn’t gotten to, or had completely forgotten about. The Old Man and the Sea is definitely one of those quintessential books that most people read at some point before graduating high school, and at only 96 pages you can even get through it in one sitting. On the surface, it’s the story of an elderly Cuban fisherman catching an enormous marlin, but the themes of the book go much deeper. Beautiful book, if you haven’t read it yet, but it high on your list.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – 4 stars

 

Einstein’s Dreams

This was recommended by my best-friend-in-law Tasci, and I’m really glad she suggested it. I have a rule when rating books, that I won’t give out a 5-star rating unless I’ve read a book at least twice; I’m breaking my rule on this one, because I loved it so much. Each chapter in this book is a fictionalized examination of a universe in which time, or the way we are affected by time, is somewhat different than we know it. In one world, time is circuitous, so that all of life’s events repeat over and over. In another, time moves more slowly as your elevation increases. But while it sounds like a scientific thought exercize, it’s really more of a philosophical investigation. At 144 pages, it’s really the perfect book to spend a rainy, thoughtful weekend with.

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman – 5 stars

 

The Stranger

I’m sure I’ve read this at least twice before, but all I really remembered was that it focused on a man who killed an Arab on the beach, and was standing trail for his crimes. I don’t think I’ve been in a place before where I could really appreciate the story for the themes the author was trying to explore until now, so I’m glad I gave it another read. Only 123 pages long, it’s not a huge commitment, and it’s really not as heavy as the philosophers among us would have us believe. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. At the very least, it can just be read as an interesting story of a troubled man’s life, and it’s perfectly enjoyable at that level. If you haven’t read this classic — or at least haven’t in the past five or ten years — maybe it’s time to give it another try.

The Stranger by Albert Camus – 4 stars

 

The Lemur

I found this book listed on the Lawrence Public Library’s blog post featuring 50 good books, 150 pages or less. It didn’t have great reviews, but the story sounded interesting, and I’m glad I gave it a shot. It’s not the best mystery I’ve ever read, but it was a short 132 pages and I was able to knock it out in just more than a day. It’s nothing memorable, but it was an enjoyable whodunit style novel.

The Lemur by Benjamin Black – 3 stars

 

The Time Machine

The classic story of time travel, Morlocks and Eloi. I was shocked at how quickly Wells jumped right into the story, without nearly the amount of setup that went into the movie version. While the result is a compact 104-page read, it was surprisingly difficult to get through. Something about the writing style of these older books makes it a little more sluggish to get through. Not to say it isn’t well written or enjoyable, but just noticably more concentration was required to get through it. If you’re into science fiction at all, though, you owe it to yourself to read this classic from one of the fathers of the genre.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells – 4 stars

 

Overgrown: Tales of the Unexpected

For my last book, I decided to read this collection of short stories from a collective of Columbus-based authors. Some were very good, some were mercifully short, but overall it was a very easy 112 page read. I don’t completely understand how the seven stories were supposed to be connected thematically, but that may be nitpicking. At the crazy-low price of $4, I will definitely check out some of the other collections from the Columbus Creative Cooperative.

Overgrown: Tales of the Unexpected by Various, Columbus Creative Cooperative – 3 stars

 

That about does it! I’m planning on a wrap-up article early next month, featuring my top 10 books that I read in 2012, along with some details about my reading challenge for 2013, so be sure to check back.

How did you do on your reading challenge? Any goals you’re setting for yourself in 2013?

52 Books: Weeks 46 – 48

52books november

October was a pretty crazy month and I was only able to read one book, so I knew I had some catching up to do if I was going to meet my goal of 52 books in 2012. In order to help get back on track, I decided that my November reading would consist solely of books 350 pages or less. I managed to get six books in over the past month, so here’s a quick look back at what I’ve been reading.

The Long Earth

My good friend Jason has recommended many of the books I’ve read over the years, and this recommendation didn’t disappoint. I’ve always been a sucker for scientific “what if” scenario books, where the author explores what would happen to our society of some random change was thrust upon us. The Long Earth explores the question of what would happen if it was suddenly discovered that there were an infinite number of earths, and that anyone could travel through them with almost painless ease. Suddenly gold and silver isn’t quite as rare as it once was, entirely new continents are available for exploration and development, and overpopulation is a concept that simply doesn’t exist anymore. I really enjoyed reading this book, and the only reason I’m docking it any stars is that I wish it had explored the idea a bit further, and possibly not let me down quite as much on some of the big mysteries that were presented early on.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter – 3 stars

 

The Sense of an Ending

I’m actually not sure how this book ended up in my to-read shelf, but I’m glad it was. I was browsing my list for something short to read, and stumbled upon this one. It’s an interesting story about our perception of ourselves and our life experience, and how malleable it is based on how we choose to remember things. Tony, the story’s protagonist, is a middle-aged man who is suddenly put faced with dealing with some events from earlier in his life, and he gradually realizes that the things that happened when he was younger didn’t go exactly as he had recalled, and perhaps he didn’t behave quite the way he remembers behaving. I wasn’t completely sold on the way the book was wrapped up, but the style of writing really spoke to me. Lots of highlighted quotes in this book, and definitely a story I’ll be going back to in the near future.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – 4 stars

 

Timequake

I love Kurt Vonnegut. He writes with an honesty that I really enjoy. His final novel, Timequake, is a strange mashup of memoir and fiction that was a little hard to follow at times, but it had a really conversational tone that I had fun reading. I’m quite certain that I ended up highlighting at least 25% of this book as I read it, and while it wasn’t a very cohesive book, I was absolutely worth the time.

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut – 4 stars

 

Blue Like Jazz

This was “the book” in Christian circles several years back, with everyone insisting that it was amazing and that it would change the way you thought about your faith. On our drive out to California in 2009, January and I read a different Donald Miller book to each other and I remember really enjoying it, so I was hopeful that I would also enjoy this earlier work of Mr. Miller’s. Unfortunately, I felt like it just came across as a strange mix of self-deprecating and self-congratulatory. Repeatedly, the author would write about some thoughtless, thing he did back when he was younger and it turned out to be something really smart instead. It just got kind of grating. I have no doubt that the author is a good guy, but it just didn’t feel all that genuine.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller – 2 stars

 

In Cold Blood

Truman Capote’s classic non-fiction novel about the murder of a family in rural Kansas in the 1950’s. My problem with this book may have been my expectations. I didn’t really know much of anything about the actual events the book was based on, but I was expecting a sort of true crime novel, and that’s not really what I got. There was no mystery, no suspense. Within the first chapter, Capote tells you exactly who perpetrated the murders, and then just spends hundreds of pages going over what happened, from the days before the murders through the prosecution and sentencing, and agonizing detail. “Agonizing” being the key word here. I was just really bored through the entire book, with the exception of the killers’ confession.

In Cold Blood by Truman Copote – 2 stars

 

Me Talk Pretty One Day

This is the book I was referring to when, on speaking with January one of the first times we met, I said that I didn’t “read books other people read.” This book seemed to be everywhere at the time, and I think I found it kind of annoying. I did read David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d finally give this one a chance. Like Holidays on Ice, this is a collection of short stories, and it’s really easy to read. Each chapter took anywhere from 5-15 minutes to read, so this was a great one to read in small bits over the course of a day or two. If you like clever, self-deprecating humor, definitely put this one on your list.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris – 3 stars

 

One month and six books left to my goal of 52 books in a year, and I’m feeling pretty confident. The holiday season will be busy, but I’m also taking a week off work between Christmas and New Years, so I’m hopeful that six more short books won’t be hard to pull off. Check back in January for my final reviews, after which I will, naturally, put together a top ten list of this year’s best books and quotes.

52 Books: Weeks 41 – 45

It’s a short one this month. With all the work we’ve been doing on The Salt Mines, I’ve been left with very little time to do any reading. In fact, the only reading I was able to get in was a furious 48-hour session during a business trip to DC. But one book is still progress, so here’s the review.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect when I started this book. It’s one that pretty much everyone has been aware of since becoming super popular over the past several years, but I still didn’t really know anything about it. I got the vague impression that it was very raw and gritty, and while it didn’t turn out to be that intense, it was still fairly dark. If you’re as unfamiliar with the story as I was, I won’t spoil anything for you, but it’s a pretty heavy mystery novel wherein the protagonists are working to solve a crime whose trail has, at least seemingly gone cold more than forty years prior. As with many grand crimes of this scale, nearly everybody comes under scrutiny at some point, and by the end nobody is really left untouched by what is discovered. Really easy read, and if you enjoy crime novels it’s definitely recommended.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – 4 stars

 

So, two months to go, and 12 books to read. Check back next month, when I review six very short books.

The Salt Mines

It’s been a quiet month here on the blog, but it’s been far from quiet otherwise. Yesterday, January and I opened up two new businesses in our neighborhood, so we’ve been running around like crazy getting last minute renovations and details ready for our grand opening last night. Now that I finally have a minute to catch my breath, I wanted to write a little bit about the business that I’ll be most directly involved with: The Salt Mines Coworking Space.

When we bought our house back in 2007, two bedrooms seemed great. Four years later, we lost that second bedroom office to our little Lucy, and my office turned into whatever chair I happened to sit in around the house. By the time she learned to walk, she started to get confused about why Papa couldn’t play with her during the day. So we started to look for some space outside of the house where I could go during the day to get work done.

So when we saw a storefront office space available less than half a mile from our house, we were definitely interested. The space was pretty perfect, but the rent was a little higher than we could justify on our own. We wondered to ourselves if there were other people in our neighborhood in similar situations, who just needed some space outside the house where they could focus on work during the day. So we took the leap, did some minor renovations on the space, and opened it up as The Salt Mines, Clintonville’s newest coworking space.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, coworking spaces are offices where individuals — usually the self employed, telecommuters, or small business owners — can rent some office space with other individuals to work. Typical office setups are highly collaborative, without cubicles or walls, so people can work on their own or bounce ideas off each other as the need arises. Our space is fairly small, but we have room for a dozen or so people to come in, set up their laptop, drink some coffee, and get some work done.

If you’re interested in coworking, you can read more about The Salt Mines web site. I’m excited to have a new office space to go to every day, and I can’t wait to see who joins me over the coming weeks and months!