It turns out my clean, agile, software developer livin’ is helping me stay sane as we move into parenthood. I can see that it would be easy to be let yourself be sucked right into the tumbling, rumbling avalanche of YOU NEED THIS that follows a positive pregnancy test. Every baby website has a hundred (sponsored) products to shove at you. Every baby-stuff-selling store has a list of Must Haves that is a mile long. The baby shower tradition (a rather uniquely American one, I’m learning) is for the mother to be downright smothered in a pile of baby stuff, essential and frivolous. All the recently-minted parents have bushels of baby goods they’re looking to ditch… erm, hand down. And naturally each parent found those one or two lifesaver items that they will insist we need… and there’s curiously little overlap there, so if we listened to all that, we could open our own baby store with all the stuff we’d accumulate.

Most people love this. It is the way of our people. But it just doesn’t sit right for me, I do not like collecting material possessions. (I can see the irony.) My style is more of a do it lean, do it yourself, keep it simple aesthetic. After a couple decades of doing application design and development, I can smell an over-engineered problem pretty easily, and lemme tell you: baby-having stinks of over-engineering to high heaven.

That said, of course there are some things that we really do need. In the approach to software development I use, you start simple at first—stupid simple—and only add in new features in an incremental fashion, when a real need is truly justifiable, and add them in priority order. This is how you make sure that the important stuff gets in there, instead of being sidetracked into adding features that seem important but wind up unused or irrelevant.

So, okay, what does my baby TRULY need? Food, shelter. That’s kinda really it. Food has an easy answer, it’s what my boobs are for. Shelter, well, we’ve got a house. Done. We’re pretty much guaranteed to succeed right there.

Ah, but the boob route may not be so simple. There’s a learning curve there. It may take time for my milk to come in, there could be latching problems, I may find myself incapacitated if delivery goes sideways. I may need to pump breast milk, so I’ll need a pump, and bottles, and nipples. And a way to sterilize the bottles, and warm the bottles. And storage bags for my breast milk. And a drying rack for the bottles. And nursing pads for when my breasts leak. Am I going to need nipple shields? Oh, and nipple cream, because ouch. And a special nursing bra, but which style? This mother insists on one style, but this other mother insists on a different one. Better get both! Oh dear, what if I can’t get the milk going fast enough? I’m going to need formula, just in case. And I was lactose intolerant, so what if my girl is? I should get soy-based formula, too, to be safe. Hm, we’re going to need bibs. And a car adapter for the breast pump. And this paddle game. And this chair. And this magazine. And… and…

If we were building a piece of software, someone would have spat out the words “feature creep” right around the words “I’ll need a pump.” Feature Creep is the bane of every developer’s existence, it’s how interesting ideas and good intentions make a project balloon into something unwieldy and undeliverable. Good developers know to nip it in the bud quickly. If you try to anticipate everything in advance, you will anticipate the wrong things, and you will fail. Instead, you keep yourself flexible (“agile” in programming parlance), and react calmly and realistically as new desires enter the picture, always keeping a weather eye on the large picture. You continually remind yourself to keep it simple, to do just the bare minimum first, and to add in a new idea or a new feature only after considering how much you really need it, and why. Now this approach, I like.

Okay, back now to the boob & house solution. We do know that the hospital will not let us leave unless we have demonstrated that we have a properly installed car seat. I can get behind this, we will likely want to take our baby places. That becomes our highest priority after boob and house. Car seat. So that’s the first thing we purchased (actually, my Mom did. Thank you, Mom!).

The kid is going to want to do some sleeping, and our floor is pretty hard. The guidance for SIDS prevention suggests that the best option is to have the baby sleeping in the same room as you, but not in the same bed. Like security considerations in software development, safety considerations are a constant running question in the background, and are a key quality concern. We keep it simple—stupid simple—but not unconscionably simple. So, some research is done, and a co-sleeper bassinet is selected. A crib, well, a crib can wait. Don’t need it yet.

The Baby Stuff Selection process has been happening for us in this way for the past few months. Question, research, prioritize, occasionally select, and even more rarely, purchase. It’s not just about saving money, it’s as much (more?) about saving space, saving sanity, just living streamlined. What happens when I need formula after all? Well, I go to the 24 hour supermarket that stocks lots of different formulas and is half a mile from our house. It’s not exactly a looming catastrophe.

This isn’t to say that we’re not going to do a full preparation before the baby comes, I know now is the time and it will become harder later. We’ll get the crib sorted before she’s here, but since it’s lower priority, we’ll make sure we take care of higher priority questions first. And thankfully, while purchasing isn’t my style, researching totally is, so I’m having fun reading up on all our options in case we need to make decisions quickly.

I figured out a few weeks ago that I need to keep in mind a lesson learned from our wedding. There, too, I did not buy into the Matrimonial Industrial Complex, instead opting for a simple, homemade affair. I had naysayers, so many naysayers. And I had a wonderful wedding, and wouldn’t change a thing about it. This is scary, uncharted territory for us but I need to be true to myself and do things the way that feels right for me. My instincts have steered me true in the past, and more likely than not, they will again.

And my instinct says I do not need much.

p.s., I do like traditions, and I really like parties, so we are having a little celebration. Check your Facebook event invites for The Trottening 2, and RSVP if’n you can. If you want to be even more traditional, we do have a registry. Please, please, please no pink!

Pier 9, home of Lab Zero, photo from

I’ve not been able to say much about my work for ages now, because all of my work has been under pretty tight non-disclosure agreements. Most of you probably know that I work on Pier 9 on San Francisco’s waterfront, at Lab Zero, and not much more. Lab Zero is a group of consultants: product designers, graphic designers, scrum masters, content shapers, user experience folks, and most of all, software developers. We’re a sort of strike team of professionals who can drop into a company and make a product or project happen. It’s a smart move for lots of different kinds of companies, a sort of turbo-charged ramp to the future, a just-add-water team that can make a concept reality (where “water” = “money”). Much faster than trying to hire a whole new team of people, much safer than distracting an existing team of employees with an untested concept. And dammit, we’re good.

It’s a lot of fun… we have great and diverse clients, and the folks who work here are some of the most intelligent, talented, interesting, well-rounded people I’ve ever worked with. (No small feat; I never thought any place could top working at the Institute for Systems Biology.) I’m proud to say that Lab Zero does good work, and I’m lucky to get to be a part of it.

For the past year, my own work slate has been dominated by one Megaproject with one Megaclient. It’s been fascinating, and has had lots of new and intense challenges, but it’s also been a lot of very focused-in-one-area work and long hours. My strength is as a generalist, and I needed to stretch my legs a little. So a few weeks ago, I made arrangements with Lab Zero to shift off of the Megaproject for a while. When discussing what my next step should be with Lab Zero’s CEO, he said he’d understand if I want to step away for a bit and “have a life”. My instant reaction was to point at the Pier and say “This is my life, I don’t want to be anywhere else.” He high-fived me.

“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers

Consulting work can be rather feast-or-famine, and thankfully it’s been much more of the former than the latter for a while now. I’ve found myself smack dab in the middle of a unique opportunity: I have enough savings in the bank to support myself while I work on my own project for a while. It’s the sort of thing I’ve daydreamed about for years and years. Right this moment, I’m not only able to make it happen, but do it from Pier 9, surrounded by the best danged coworkers I could imagine, with Lab Zero work as a safety net should my bank account start creaking. So for now, and for a squishy amount of the future, I’ve hired myself. I’m making a New Thing. It feels so good. And getting to do it from Pier 9 is… god, just pinch me.

Rich has continued to do what he always does: believe in me, stand by me and root for me. That guy. He’s incredible.

So, I still can’t talk about what I’m working on. I’m under my own NDA now. But hopefully some time in the next few months I’ll have a New Thing I Made to share with you. I can’t wait. In the meantime, the clock is ticking, and I’m a coding, designing, planning, creating fool. And I have a big dopey grin on my face.

I submitted the song below for NASA’s contest to pick the song that would wake up the astronauts on the final shuttle mission later this year. The public will vote to pick a winner. But NASA didn’t even pick this song as one of the ones that could be voted on, which frankly makes me question everything about the space agency.

The song was written by Anu Kirk and Rich Trott with a line or two (and the whole idea of writing a song for the contest) suggested by Jessica Forys. The song is performed by Palace Family Steak House and features the Final Frontiersmen. Performers on the recording are: Anu Kirk, Rich Trott, JP Lester, Joel Primer, and Ted, Kelly, and Greg from the Final Frontiersmen.

Look what my awesome wife got for me!

The New York Times Cook Book

The word glögg appears in a chapter title—no joke!

This can only mean one thing: I will embark on an attempt to cook every recipe in the book in the order in which they appear.

Stay tuned.

Our Christmas Tree

It only looks like a gray alien tree in the photo. In person, it's lovely! Like the nice parts of Dickens!

Our first Christmas in the new house has been slow and quiet. I’ve had a couple of weeks off from work (SLAC shuts down for two weeks every winter), and Trott’s had some extra time off thanks to the University of California furloughs. We stayed home during the holidays. We saw most of my family during a Seattle trip in early December; Rich’s family is Jewish, and “Hanukkah” is short for “Hanukkah Is a Minor Holiday.” I did make some rookie-grade latkes (too wet), and some professional-grade wassail (too much). We went to a few friends’ parties, and I put a solid dent in the Smuggler’s Cove menu. We’ve also made a little progress on some of our house projects, but—whoa nelly—do we have a ways to go.

But we have made some solid progress on the wedding, which is a relief. I met with my friend Thayer, who is going to help me with some alterations to the vintage wedding gown I found on eBay. Rich and I finalized our guest list, and have started getting out Save the Date information.

We discovered that our neighbors across the street got married in their house, too (on May 15, no less!), and they even saved the tent they bought for the occasion, and have offered it to us. The layout of their house is nearly identical to ours, and they gave us some great logistical ideas. The list of reasons we love our new neighborhood keeps growing and growing.

Next step: invitations.

Oh, no, wait… next step: pupusas. Then invitations. Mission Terrace is the bee’s knees.

It’s probably not very hard to figure out which one of us carved which pumpkin…