Soccer is upon us again, and I'm coaching Abby's team.  This year, I've decided to sign up as head coach, which is a big step in my head, but probably not much more than I've done in previous seasons.  Conceptually, I wanted to be able to run practices and games in a way I see fit.  It's not that prior coaches didn't do a good job - we took the field - just that I have some changes in mind for how to run things.

This season we'll be using incentives for the players on the field.  I've acquired a bunch of little soccer ball patches to give out to the kids that perform well at practice and games.  I hope this will give them some incentive to do their best, whereas in seasons past, I feel like they haven't all given their best effort for lack of it feeling like it meant much to participate.

I'm slowly constructing a training schedule.  I think this is one of the more important changes this year.  With only three training sessions before our first game, we need to fit in some quality training time.  And that's a distinction I'd like to make on the first day: We're running training sessions not practices.  Practice is what you do when you repeat the same things every day to get better.  We won't practice every day, so I'm going to be doing something else.  I'll show the players what they can practice at home, but focus our training on how players should work together during the game.

By our first practice I will have our team mantra finalized.  I know what I want it to consist of, but not how to shorten it into something memorable and effective.  Essentially, the idea is that every player is playing the game mentally all the time.  On the field, you need to be thinking about what you're going to do with the ball even when you don't have it, so that when you get the ball, you don't need to think.  I think this will effectively address some issues we've had in the past like players kicking the ball away and multiple players running to the ball instead of just one.  It should keep players looking up at their surroundings and engaged during the entire game, not just when they have the ball.

This season I want to encourage the team to become a passing team, with as many one-touch passes as possible.  I want them to grow to intuit passing routes, which I think will be my teaching focus for the season.

I'm currently planning on breaking up my three training days into basics, attack, and defense days.  Our first training session will help us get a feel for the players' abilities and how we can position them on the field during a game.  We'll drill heads-up dribbling, sprinting to the ball, shooting, down-field passing, and throw-ins.  We'll also need to identify a keeper, which always seems difficult.  I don't think I want to let the slowest kid volunteer for keeper like we have in seasons past, at least, not for entire games at a time.

One of the more challenging aspects of coaching is finding succinct ways to convey information to the players, but the same thing can be said, and is probably even more true, of conveying information to parents via email!  If I don't reduce the message to its essence, they don't bother trying to understand.

We're already seeing how fall soccer is an extra sport to keep some kids warm between other fall sports, which is kind of depressing.  Some players won't be able to attend soccer matches because they've got practices for other sports at the same time.  Why did they sign up for both?  I don't think it's fair to the kids that show up every game to have to sub out for kids that show up when they feel like it.  I realize this is just rec league soccer, but for some kids (like Abby), it's all they do, and these multi-sport kids that don't really care about soccer are taking away from those kids.  I'm sure I need a different perspective on this, because it simply seems inequitable.

I got a set of 6-foot goals to use at our training, and a set of pinnies to break the team into three small groups for some of our drills.  We've got balls from the league.  I need to check if we have cones or not, which we'll need on our first day.  Apart from the cones, I think we're good for equipment.

Here's looking forward to a good first session.

This year I've bought into a season ticket package with some other guys to go to Philadelphia Eagles football games.  I went to a couple of games last year with them, and it was a good time, so I was enthusiastic when they offered the opportunity to join them for the rest of the season.

As part of the season ticket package, there are tickets to home pre-season games.  Typically these games are on Thursday night, which makes them difficult to schedule to attend.  Combined with the fact that the big name players don't play, there isn't a big demand in our group for these tickets.  As a result, I requested all four of our tickets for the Jets game, and took Berta and the kids.

The game was entertaining.  It wasn't as busy as a regular season game by a long shot, but it was busier than any pre-season game I'd been to before.  I would say that that stadium wasn't quite half full.

I tried to convey all of this to the kids while we were heading into the stadium.  We took the train, which was probably a mistake, but always seems so convenient to Berta's work to get in and out of the city, which I really hate driving to myself.  Abby was amazed at the number of people that were in the subway with us headed toward the game.  I told her that it was just one subway train, and it that there would be many more people at the game itself.  She seemed impressed.

It's hard to convey the difference in atmosphere between pre-season and regular season games.  There isn't the same sense of urgency. The same energy isn't there.  The pageantry remains, but the crowd isn't as enthusiastic.  It's an odd thing.

Riley spent most of the game complaining about how he doesn't like football, "It's boring."  Instead of watching Philadelphia play the Jets, he watched the jets on approach to Philadelphia International Airport.  There were 25 that he counted.

I also wanted this to be an opportunity for Berta to see what the games were like to attend, since I'd be doing this every other week or so during the season.  There are some things that are a pain, like how you can't bring a purse into the stadium unless it's completely transparent.  The game itself, if you like football, balances a lot of that out.  The food prices are insane at the stadium, though.  I don't care how good you think Chickie and Pete's Crabby Fries are, that's too much to pay.  On regular games, we usually just grab a sandwich outside the stadium and pack it into the game in a clear bag.  Anyway, the game isn't always so expensive to attend.

There was a bit of a bother getting home since I hadn't taken into account the returning train schedule, and we got the kids to be a little later than we'd like.  Abby and Riley both commented about how they disliked the city -- it was dirty, polluted, full of weird people...  I was a bit sad that I have yet to convey the wonder (this is not the best word, but good enough for now) that I see in the city to the kids.  Maybe they will appreciate it more when they're older. 

Still, the evening was entertaining, and we survived.  Now the kids have been to a pro football game.  Hopefully they'll look back on it as the positive experience I was hoping for.

It's odd how memory works, isn't it?

When the kids started school this week, I was trying to remember my classes and teachers from 8th grade.  I didn't expect to remember the teachers' names, but I expected to remember what courses I had; like, what I learned in math that year.  I could not.

I do remember 9th grade math, which was geometry.  I had class in the same room as my homeroom for 9th grade.  The name of the teacher is on the tip of my tongue.  I thought the guy was pretty cool until I had him for math, but he was just another math teacher, really.  But I don't remember 8th grade math at all.

10th-12th grade math classes I remember quite well.  I remember only an impression of 7th grade geography, where I'm waking up from a nap next to the persistently closed blinds in the dark classroom where Mr. Bates only ever showed slides.  I remember home economics, and ironing material to make tote bags, and being partnered with that popular girl who wore a new Swatch to class practically every week.  I remember the TRS-80's in the special education room, my 8th grade homeroom.  I remember my cousin, immigrated from another elementary school, sitting near me in my 7th grade homeroom, and her incredulity at my academic attention and proficiency, unsurprisingly not correlating the two.

During all of this reminiscing I had a flash of Indian Acres, a place where we used to spend summer weekends with my grandparents near the bay.  I remembered harvesting the peanut plants near the shed, playing rummy under the yellow porch light that didn't attract as many mosquitos, buying the complete set of Hardy Boys books at a flea market in the teepee-shaped community center, launching the boat at the dock, diving in the public dump for salvaged refrigerator magnets.  The details of these things exist in varied clarity in my mind.

But I can't remember 8th grade math class.

Clearly, I learned math that year, or I would not have progressed.  Still, it's somewhat distressing that I don't even remember the course.  Was it pre-algebra?  Was it algebra?  Did we do something else that year?  I simply don't recall.

What if life consisted only of what memories we have (doesn't it?), and we spent our lives struggling to hold on to what memories we meant to keep?  Am I missing something significant in 8th grade math?  What am I missing from my memory that can't similar be indexed by the mere fact that I know I experienced 8th grade math in the course of my education?

It was just a year ago that I was writing about closing down my consulting business and joining ownCloud as an employee.  And now I've moved on to new digs.

Moving From ownCloud

ownCloud was a great opportunity.  I really love open source software - software that is written and distributed with the source code and the ability to change and re-release that source code.  I've been a contributor to open source projects for a long while, and have even started my own.  So the opportunity to get paid to work on such a project was a great find for me.

There were several things that attracted me to my job at ownCloud.  First, it was a product, not project work.  Rather than working on a new project for a new client every few months, this was a single product to concentrate on iterating and getting right.  Second, the daily schedule was pretty free to work how I pleased, as long as I met promised schedules and got done the work I was supposed to do.

In all, I was very pleased with my time at ownCloud.  The people there were nice to work with, and I was exposed to a different aspect of software company.

That said, toward the end, I felt that my experience was being wasted by not allowing me to contribute in significant ways to the fundamental design of the product. I felt that prioritizing some fundamental changes was more important than the things I was working on, and after sharing these thoughts, although they became more solidified in my mind, they were not the priority of the company for me to work on.  That was ok, and I understood it, but I wanted more.

I think I simply had a bad week at ownCloud, and in mentioning this in passing to a friend, I managed to discover CoverMyMeds.

What is CoverMyMeds?

The simplest explanation is long, merely because if you haven't had the problem, you might have no idea that it needs solving.

Insurance companies sometimes require doctors to specify reasons or meet certain other treatment prerequisites for prescribing certain drugs to their patients before they will approve payment on that drug.  To inform them of these prerequisites, the doctor must fill out a form which is usually specific to both the insurer and drug with that information for that patient, and send it to the insurance company.  The thing is, doctors don't keep track of this stuff, and patients usually don't find out they need it until the pharmacy, trying to get money from the patient's insurance company, gets denied their claim.

CoverMyMeds provides a system that is free to pharmacies, doctors, and patients to easily obtain the correct forms, fill them out, and submit them to where they need to go.

Interviewing at CoverMyMeds

My interview at CoverMyMeds was the most intense interview I've ever enjoyed.  Mind you, I've been at some lousy interviews - Vanguard comes to mind, ugh, chills - but half way in, after meeting the people, I could tell that they were places that I'd never want to work.  With CoverMyMeds, things were a little different.

My friend told me that my first interview would be a pretty casual "get to know you" interview with no technical questions.  But I found out quickly that they were fast-tracking things to try to hire candidates promptly.  While the technical questions surprised me, they weren't crazy; I was simply ill-prepared to answer those types of questions.  Fortunately, I apparently know enough unprepared to succeed at answering those.

I had a second Skype interview where I solved some basic coding questions.  These were deceptively simple problems, and being a little nervous at someone watching me work, I think I flubbed a couple of things that I should have easily passed.  Still, I did well there.

For my last interview component, the company flew me to their office in Columbus, Ohio.  I spent the day building a small application based on their specifications, then presenting the app, my code, and an explanation for my decisions to a group of their developers.  I answered questions about what I did, and even some impromptu javascript puzzles.

A lot of the interview was oriented toward seeing if I would be a good corporate "fit" within the team.  I really liked the people I met.  They all seemed like savvy developers, and had similar extracurricular interests to mine.  I think we got along very well.

Ultimately, I think I did well at the interview, because they offered me the job!

Working at CoverMyMeds

I've been trying to explain to friends and former co-workers what it's like to work at CoverMyMeds, and always feel like I'm coming up short.  I can summarize by saying that it's a pretty great place to work, but there are some specifics.

For one thing, they've figured out management.  I suppose this has the potential to change because such a thing is fragile, but right now, management is pretty nice.  Unlike many places that "talk the talk, but don't walk the walk", this place "walks the walk".  When they say that the company believes in the well-being and happiness of its employees, they actually mean it.  I have some silly examples, but trust me - it's pretty great and unique.

Another thing is that the development process is thought out.  It's certainly not dogma; there aren't rules for every little thing.  There are enough rules to make sure everything gets done smoothly, and make sure that everyone knows how things are supposed to be done and what's expected.  And that's it.  It sounds pretty simple, but so many places lack this discipline with their development process, it's surprising and refreshing to see it written, in place, and working.

Something that attracted me to CoverMyMeds was the chance to learn new technology.  It's a bit complicated to explain, but suffice to say that CoverMyMeds is primarily a Ruby shop.  Learning Ruby has always been on my professional to-do list.  It was difficult to pass up the opportunity to leverage the skills I have as a PHP developer while learning Ruby and being paid to do so.

CoverMyMeds does Pair Programming, which is an activity where two developers are "paired" to work together on a particular feature or project.  It's very hard to explain to family and friends how this really works, but it ultimately results in me being tethered by headset to a guy in Florida all day.  It sounds potentially awful, and I'm sure my pair would agree that it has its downsides, too, but all-in-all, it's been pretty nice to have someone to help me work through things, especially while I've been learning the ropes.

Our current project is leading us both into exciting new development waters, and when it's done, it'll be pretty fulfilling to see it in use.

What's Next?

I hadn't really thought about it before starting at CoverMyMeds, so it's both somewhat strange and oddly telling that I'm considering it now.  "What will I do next?"

Well, if I had thought of the question at ownCloud, I still might be thinking of doing something new.  And with my consulting business, I was struggling to do new things all the time just to keep money coming in.  And at Rock River Star, what I wanted to do next and what was available to do next were never going to be the same thing.

So now, when I think of the question, I don't think that I want there to be a "next".  That seems pretty good to me, and I hope that next year, when I'm writing another "State of the Job"-type post, I still feel the same way.

A year or two ago (have I been dealing with this for so long?), I did something that has essentially turned my neighbors against me.  Or at least, it feels that way.

Something happened, and I didn't handle it well.  I frequently don't handle social things well.  Its paradoxical, considering that if people - specifically, my neighbors - took the time to really get to know me (and vice-versa), they might understand why I don't handle these things well.

Not that the circumstances matter, but it had been a trying month.  I don't want to get into specifics, but suffice to say, it was an unusual evening in that my entire family had sat down together for some family time, and we were enjoying each others' company.  It was a rare occasion after such a trying month, and something I longed desperately to accomplish.

Our evening was interrupted by a doorbell.  When I answered the door, nobody was there.

I should say at this point that we had been victims of a frequent "ding-dong-ditch".  I don't know exactly why, but I think it was due to some animosity built up between our kids and the neighbor kids.

Our kids had spent their summers playing in the trees beside the house.  Under the cover of the huge evergreens, they invented club houses and "shops" for pinecones.  They played with many of the neighbors, but a handful of them didn't want to play the same way our kids did.

I don't know how to describe how our kids are different from the other kids on the street.  I'd start by saying that our kids are not "sporty", but they do play sports, so that's not the entire picture.  Our kids aren't "joiners".  Our kids are creative and empathic, sensitive perhaps beyond what tough skins kids need to have.  As a result, they don't understand kids being "mean" even when they don't mean to.  And they don't really have a tolerance for it, extricating themselves from their own play just to avoid those scenarios.

Also, I hate to call this out, but I think it colors the situation too strongly.  Riley has a tic.  It's reasonably mild, but it is noticeable.  I don't really know how other kids react to it, because he doesn't really allow himself to be close to other kids.  He doesn't like his photo taken.  He's stubborn.  He's strong-willed.  He's actively smart.  He's disturbingly like me when I was his age, and I think that's the only reason I've been able to cope with a lot of his foibles -- because I'm so like him.

The bottom line is that our kids essentially sent the other kids away from the clubhouse in the trees.  They didn't like how the other kids played.  And the other kids, being excluded, did even more things that our kids construed as "mean".  As an adult outsider, it seems like somewhat normal play.  Had our kids embraced it instead of decrying it, it might have all worked out for the good.  Instead, our kids don't really have friendship with the neighbor kids, which alienates them even more.

But I can only suggest being inclusive to the kids so much when their response is always in the tone of, "Why should I play with kids that are mean to me?"  And I don't have a good answer for that.  I can tell them that maybe the other kids aren't really mean.  Or they don't really mean it.  And maybe if they themselves were better friends toward them, they wouldn't be mean to them.  Maybe I could have been a better parent, but there's only so much you can do.  The kids will make their own choices, ultimately, even if they're hard.

So, the doorbell.

Nobody was there.  I had just sat my family down for a night of peace for the first time in a long while, and then this assault.  I had my guesses as to who it was that was doing this to us, these impressions provided by the neighbor kids' animosity toward ours.

I was about to close the door, put it out of my mind, and just get on with my evening, when I heard a dog yapping in my driveway.  The boy up the street - one with which my kids have always had a particularly hard time relating to - constantly has this little dog in tow.  He follows him everywhere.  And here was this dog, yapping at something in my driveway.  It was now completely obvious that my intuition on the culprit was correct.  Or so I thought.

From the dark, a voice.  "They're going to know it's you if he's barking like that."  An adult.

What?  What is this madness?  Encouraging your kid to do this?  Is this a joke?

It took me a moment to find my shoes and storm across the street to the neighbor's yard, from where I'd heard some noise.  Many neighbors were there, enjoying a fire pit, as often happens around here.  I'm no longer invited to these, by the way.

The particular neighbor who I am certain I heard in my driveway and his boy were present. And while everyone else was trying to have a good time, I said things that I probably should not have said.

There's no defense, really.  I have excuses.  I was tired.  Tired of the conflict in my own family.  Tired of being targeted by this miscreant ringing my doorbell and running off.  Tired of my kids being spent emotionally by the neighbor kids' attitude toward them. Tired of feeling ignored as a human by the neighbors in general, for whatever reason, whether because our kids don't play together, or we aren't "sporty" people, or we don't participate in the activities they do, or we aren't in sales, or that we both work, or that I just don't feel like I really belong in this neighborhood after having grown up in lower circumstances than the area in which we now live.

I shouldn't have done that.  I shouldn't have said those things.  At least, not there.

And now I suffer.

Today at the bus stop, I tried to speak to my neighbors, in spite of knowing that I'm anathema, but they didn't say a word to me.  Riley didn't want to be in the 1st day group photo they all took, which I knew.  We played frisbee in our driveway instead.  I wasn't ignoring you neighbors, or disrespecting you.  I was keeping my kid from starting his first day in a new grade by being miserable.

I hope Riley has a good day.  This is ruining mine.