The once and future lawnmowing man

My monthly “don’t have a lawn that embarrasses me” budget has increased dramatically over the past few years. It has gone from a good buy (about $30/week) to eye-wateringly expensive (a little over $100/week). Part of the increase is that we changed lawn services from a company that did a poor job to one that did a good job. I have tried to shop around for a cheaper, but still good, service, but haven’t found one yet. My wife doesn’t want us to revert back to the old, not-so-good lawn service we used to use. Even if we did, I’m sure we would get a much higher rate than we used to, because prices have increased all around.

Since this summer, I have been bandying about the idea of mowing my own lawn again (it’s been 10 years since I last did, when my mower broke). This week I decided that, by next spring, I will buy a good electric mower and make time to mow my own lawn each week. Despite having to buy a mower, which could cost $700-$800, I wills till save hundreds of dollars per month for a relatively small amount of my time.

It’s true that I won’t be able do as good a job as the service does with edging and weeding, but I don’t care. I will also have to figure out how to buy and use herbicide, which is the main secret to a non-embarrassing lawn in my area; I think I can do it. It will feel good to know that I am saving money. I also think it will feel good—most weeks, at least—to get a little more sunshine and exercise each week.

It is stupefying to me that Apple’s new low-end iPad supports the first-generation Apple Pencil and requires a special adapter to pair and charge it. Who thought that would be a good idea?


I stopped writing blog posts a couple months ago for no reason whatsoever. It has been very hard to get back into the habit of posting something regularly.

I have not lost interest in blogging. Something stranger has happened: I have lost interest in myself. I don’t completely know why.

I am not overly depressed or anything—just maxed out. My general feeling about the past couple months has been that I have put in more effort, and reaped fewer rewards for that effort, than I have in years.

It is my family’s annual drive off to vacation day. We are all excited. I will be driving pretty much all day.

Rubik’s Cube

I taught my daughter how to visualize and calculate volume using one of my Rubrik’s Cubes tonight.

Since school ended I June, she and I have covered most of the fifth grade math curriculum and some of the sixth grade math curriculum, too. We are just starting volume calculations, and still need to cover measurement unit conversions and graphing on a coordinate plane. Geometry is where things get tricky.

She told me tonight she wants to get 100 on all her test so she could move up to the highest math level at the end of the year. I think she can do it, as long as the school will let her.

JSON with my son

To my surprise, my son1 asked me to teach him how to use JSON in Python today. His grandfather showed him JSON files from his website earlier today, and now my son is mad for reading and writing JSON himself.

We graduated from Turtle graphics to data structures and file I/O. I introduced to him Python dictionary and the list, showed him how to converted both to JSON, and then showed him how to write the JSON to a file. In Python, it is very easy.

My wife is looking for computer science courses for him now.

  1. Who is 5. ↩︎

I am excited to teach my daughter division by unit fractions this evening. I have been telling her that multiplication and division, much like addition and subtraction, are inverse functions. Now I get to show it in action, and it may blow her mind.

Summer computer science

I started teaching my son Python turtle graphics this week. He’s only 5, but he is absolutely mad for computers and is thrilled to get to use them to do something.

I first learned to program using turtle graphics in Logo when I was in third grade. It was back in the 1980s, when computers were too expensive for my family to own, so it was also the first time I ever used a computer. My mom signed me up for a class at the local community college. We all used Apple IIs in the computer lab, which were probably old even then. Most of those machines had green monochrome monitors, and all of them had two 5.25” floppy drives. Now, of course, he is using my old MacBook Pro on my couch, and coding with Python in Visual Studio Code.

We have been working through some simple exercises, like finding different ways to draw a square. He understands looping already, and asked how to create an infinite loop to draw the square (and watch the turtle move) endlessly.

He and I are progressing very slowly, mostly because he asks lots and lots of questions, and partially because he is interested in doing things with turtle graphics that I was not prepared to teach him. (I had planned to teach him to draw lines and shapes. He is more interested in turning the turtle into a rocketship and moving it all around the screen.)

He is getting it. I installed Pythonista on his iPad last night, and this morning he used it to write a Python program all on his own, starting with:

from turtle import *

It’s pretty cool.

Summer math

It took a few days of cajoling, but I somehow convinced my daughter to study math with me over the summer—at least until we go on vacation in about a month. We are going through a “step up to fifth grade” packet that her math teacher gave us. I am making up my own problems based on the material and challenging her to think mathematically, too. She is an A+ student in the middle level of math in her grade, but she has been unable to pass the school’s rigorous, though largely arbitrary, criteria to gain entry into the highest level. I am hoping to be able to help her break through whatever glass ceiling the school is imposing on her. Our math studies have been a very rewarding part of our day.

My son, the programmer

Today I showed my son how to do a couple things in Python for the first time. We only spent about half an hour on it, but it was a lot of fun. First, I showed him how to to use a Jupyter notebook in Visual Studio Code. We made Markdown and Python cells. For the Python cells, I walked him through a Hello World example. I then had him print out whatever he wanted many times in a for loop. That was the first fun thing I used to do in BASIC on the Apple ][ in school. In a short amount of time, he learned print, for, and range, which is pretty good for a five-year-old’s first lesson. I plan to get turtle graphics (maybe this, I’m not sure) installed on his machine soon.

Today was my son’s first playdate, which has been long delayed due to COVID. We met our son’s friend’s parents, who were very nice, and had a fun cookout this afternoon. I even made coffee ice cream in my new ice cream machine.

I did my first workout at my new gym tonight. I am happy I did, and am proud to say that it was not as hard as I thought to get back into cardio and weights again after many years away from them.

I joined a gym 💪

I joined a gym today. It has been 12 years since I last had a gym membership. Getting to the gym has seemed impossible to me due to work and kids—and then the pandemic. Last weekend, my wife said I should try, and I jumped at the chance. I hope I like it, and can find time to go—probably after my kids are asleep (or, at least, sopposed to be asleep.

Today was the first 90º+ day of the year for us in Central New Jersey. I took my family out for ice cream, and later to the beach, to beat the heat. I think everyone had a great day.

Thinking about my next role at work

I spent nearly all of my writing time this evening drafting a job description for the Senior Data Analytics Manager job I hope to be promoted to, sooner or later, at my firm. I feel good about what I wrote, which describes the specialist position that I have carved out for myself at my company, but I’m running it by a couple mentors for feedback anyway. I had a great year at work this past year, but promotion is by no means guaranteed. I am hopeful, though, that I will earn it soon.

I am starting to write a job description for what will be (I hope) my next job—or at least my next job title. As a start, I am researching all the other similar job descriptions from open job postings. I hope I can cobble together something good by the end of the week.

I finally caught COVID

My blogging interlude this month has been brought to you by COVID-19.

For a long time I didn’t know I had it. It entered my house just as peak tree pollen season started, and its symptoms mimicked my springtime allergy attacks.

At present, I am still getting over it. I hope to feel 100% by the end of the month.

My seasonal allergies have been worse this week than they have been in years. I can’t think straight. I’m hoping pollen season ends early this sprint. 🙁

Working Late

Because I seem to get far less done in the daytime hours than I think I should, I found myself working late tonight. I created a short presentation on data validation using Python. I dared to include a tiny bit of source code in this one. It will be fun to see how that goes over.

Ah (Choo!), Spring

I did bit enjoy being in an allergy-induced brain fog all day. My son’s allergies are much worse than mine. He is too little to willingly take his allergy medication, which makes helping him difficult. My wife identified a bush near our front door that flowered for the first time I years, and seems to be a major source of our allergies. She is wants to get rid of it, which is understandable, but it hard for us to do quickly enough for it to matter.

I’m writing my self-evaluation tonight for work. I’ve blown past the suggested length, but hope it will be OK. I’m that good, after all. 😀

Feeling old

Playing basketball with my kids this weekend and moving a bunch of unwieldy deck planks around my property today made me feel old in ways that I was not expecting. I am not sure how to get back into shape at this point, because I have been away from strenuous exercise for so long, but know that I have to start out slowly.

Prepping my old MacBook Pro for my son

My five-year-old son is really into coding. He doesn’t know how to do anything yet, but he wants to learn. Currently he plays around with Swift Playgrounds a lot on his iPad (which is a little too old and slow to run it properly). He also orders his grandfather to program a collection of JavaScript games, utilities, and other doodads for him on a personal website. I’m going to start him on Scratch and Swift Playgrounds on the Mac. Because he is very interested in websites, I promised to introduce him to HTML and “Hello World!”-level JavaScript.

To get the ball rolling on this endeavor, I decided today that I will let him borrow (or use most of the time) my 15” 2013 retina MacBook Pro. It’s a little too big for him, screen-wise, but it’s the only machine I have. Tonight, I spent a half hour prepping it for him. Tomorrow, I plan to get NextDNS set up for web content filtering, and also to explore what other safeguards I can put on the machine to keep him out of trouble. He has a history, believe it or not, of setting up accounts on internet services and contacting the companies via web forms or email. I locked down his iPad, but he started to find ways around it today. I know I will have to keep a close watch of him.

I know he’s going to love using a real computer, not only for programming, but for Pages, Garage Band, and Photos as well. I hope that things go well.

A keynote address

This morning, my presentation group and I presented our InsurTech webinar for a third time. This time, our audience was a group of insurance regulators attending an in-person training seminar. We presented remotely to a large room that none of us ever saw. From our side, it was the same as presenting a webinar, except we got even less feedback from the audience until the Q&A period at the very end.

Because we were the last presentation of the entire seminar, I called it the keynote address, which my group appreciated. I’ll be sure to remember that term when it comes time to brag about it for my annual review.

My wife and I hired a cleaning service for the first time since the COVID pandemic started. Of course we spent most of today frantically cleaning the house to prepare for them. 😅