Posted by & filed under Personal, Philosophy, Quotes.

“Always remember, there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”

Those lyrics are from one of my favorite Avett Brothers’ songs, “Murder in the City”. Providing instructions to loved ones in the event of your untimely death is something most people my age (38) don’t have to seriously contemplate. I’m in the minority that has had to do just that.

Last fall, I started getting intense migraine headaches. After trips to three hospitals, at Mass General we finally got definitive word that my symptoms were caused by brain cancer. On Nov. 29, a phenomenal neurosurgery team at MGH performed a craniotomy and removed a large tumor from my right frontal lobe. It was the size of a small human fist.

Just before my operation, I’d learned that high-grade glioblastomas have a 5-year survival rate of 10%, and a median life expectancy of 18 months. As a healthy 30-something, this was hard to fathom. As the loving father of two amazing daughters (aged 4 and 6), as a devoted husband, and as the primary breadwinner for my young family, this was hard to accept. Harder still was hearing a week later that the pathology report indeed showed it to be grade 4. This meant the successful operation was not a cure.

Six weeks of intense radiation treatment (with chemo), and ongoing monthly chemo, would follow, as would the final pathology report that would include the detailed genetic analysis. Incredibly — and despite an initial test to the contrary — my tumor, though technically a grade 4, had a specific genetic mutation known as “IDH-1”. This meant that, unlike with most high-grade brain tumors, the radiation and chemo could be expected to be effective at destroying any microscopic traces of cancer and keeping recurrence at bay. My prognosis changed from grim to simply unknown but hopeful, my condition from terminal to manageable. Given my relative youth, physical strength, improved diet and regular exercise, there’s no reason to believe I shouldn’t live a long and healthy life.

I spent my 3-month medical leave physically recovering and spending my days with my family. It’s impossible to describe my gratitude, appreciation, and overwhelming love that I feel, daily, for my amazing daughters and incredible wife. There is so much beauty around us, so much love, so much to be profoundly grateful for every day. But too often as fathers, as parents, we don’t appreciate what we have.

Six months have now passed since my surgery. I’m still on my monthly chemo regimen but am happily back at work. My first bimonthly scan thankfully showed no signs of cancer growth, and my second — surprisingly — even showed no traces of radiation’s after-effects. For all intents and purposes, I have a normal, healthy brain.

The perspective I’ve gained from this experience has changed me in so many ways. Some of them are outwardly visible (as I’ve become mostly-vegetarian and taken up running, losing about 25 lbs in the process). Others are more subtle (daily meditation, and an increased level of acceptance of life’s many uncertainties and challenges). But I feel, and hope, that I may have become a better father in the process. I also owe a large debt of gratitude to my own father, for his abiding love and calm and presence throughout my ordeal. He’s an incredible role model and I’m so lucky to have him in my life. For my own part I still am prone to getting frustrated and annoyed with my daughters’ behavior. But mostly I’m just so deeply grateful for our shared lives. And I hold them close and tell them, many times each day, how much I love them.

On this Father’s Day, I’d ask the dads among my friends and family and colleagues and broader social network, and you readers, to pause for a moment and imagine your own life hanging in the balance. Picture your children and your spouse faced with the prospect of life without you. What would you want them to remember about you? What message would you give them? Maybe instead of waiting, today would be a good day to tell them. There’s no time like the present.

[P.S. This post was the first version of a piece I wrote for my company’s blog. It went through a bunch of iterations, eventually published at …but I wanted to share this version too. So here it is. :)]

Posted by & filed under How To, Personal, Philosophy, Work.

You know you have a good boss when you can take a project you own that isn’t going as well as it should, bring its status to their attention, and get this kind of response.


“Things aren’t going well. I’ve got a late-breaking blocking issue. Even if/when that’s resolved, the results of this work are likely to fall short of our hopes and expectations. I’m sure I can knock down this specific barrier given a little more time, but needed to catch you up where things stand.”


* I understand the challenges you’re facing.
* Some projects generate big returns on investment; others take time and are less fruitful.
* You’ve learned a lot during this process so it was worthwhile regardless.
* Take your time fixing the late-breaking issue you uncovered; time pressure only makes it harder to solve problems, so just focus on solving it, I’ll handle others’ expectations.
* Don’t forget you can still look forward to the next [more fun] project when this one is done.

I also think it says a lot about your boss if they engender the kind of mutual trust and respect that make bringing up bad news a naturally met obligation. Everybody wins.

Struggling with something at work? Tell your boss.
(If you don’t, you’re harming an important relationship and missing an opportunity to strengthen it.)
And it will probably make things better.
(If it doesn’t, maybe you should find a better boss.)

Posted by & filed under Technical, Work.

I am pretty stoked about this milestone.

Here is a lightly-edited email I sent around at this morning:

Last night I published’s very first Open Source software on Github!
(Github is the primary “social coding” platform for open source software projects, where developers — ranging from individual coders to huge companies — share their code.
It makes it easy to use and contribute to each others’ projects, and everyone gains.

Last fall in working on the International platform I ran into some front-end problems unsolved by the Grails community, so I wrote a tool to solve it myself.
The tool is called “Lesswatcher”.

In November I had published it in a public but relatively obscure repository (the “npm registry”) where it was not as visible as on Github.
Then a month ago I got an unexpected email from a complete stranger who had found it, liked it, was actively using it, and had gone so far as to:
* find and fix a minor bug AND
* implement the 2 meaningful “TODO” features on the project’s roadmap!

… and he wanted to know how to contribute his changes, since the project was not on github.
That was the catalyst I needed to tidy it up and publish it properly, which I did last night (with help from the inimitable Jon Palmer who manages the caredotcom account).

For non-engineers this might not seem too exciting, but the idea of having useful features implemented for us for free by talented strangers, and engaging in a meaningful way with the huge and thriving open-source community, is a pretty big deal to us.

So, HUGE THANKS to Jon for helping push for OSS at Care and setting up the caredotcom github account; to Ryan and Charlie for crucial beta testing and feedback; to Dave K and Diane Musi for approving our OSS process and Lesswatcher’s release; and to Jacob for letting me spend some time learning Node and implementing this tool.

Have a happy Wednesday everyone! 🙂

Best Regards,

P.S. URLs of interest: = official public project repo = npm repo (for easy installation by users of the tool)
[Redacted: a couple internal wiki links.]

Posted by & filed under Culture, Philosophy.

It’s easy to fall into an “us vs them” trap at the best of times.

In extraordinary times like we’re seeing in the Boston area this week, it’s almost impossible to avoid. I’m doing it myself even as I consciously try not to. But I keep thinking, it would be so much better if people could use this experience to identify more closely with other innocent victims of random or unjustified violence. We’re all connected, all of us. And across all cultures and geography, MOST people, most of the time, want exactly the same things: love, respect, peace, opportunity, freedom, health, happiness….

I hope we* can remember that and not just focus on bad guys vs good guys and our* strength and resolve.

(*See, even now I’m doing it!)

Posted by & filed under Personal, Quotes.

Abi’s already beyond me.

Six years old, not yet done with kindergarten, and already I can’t keep up. Example:

A: “Harper, tomorrow is Monday.”
Me (overhearing): “Actually guys, tomorrow is Sunday!”
A: “No, dada, it is opposite days because today is Happierday instead of Sadderday. That makes tomorrow Monday instead of Sunday, cause ‘mon’ in Monday is for moon, and it must be the moon-day instead of the sun-day, get it?”
Me: (chuckling, shaking my head) “Wow. I get it, honey.