Gwen is Amazing

Gwen(7) is an amazing, happy kid. People universally love her. Like, REALLY love her. (She remains stubbornly blonde and giggle-y, despite times being what they are.)

Gwen is very-severely autistic. At 2, she couldn’t crawl. When she was 4, she couldn’t communicate much of anything – even her own name.

About two years ago, I took her to see my parents, since they hadn’t bothered trying to see her in several years. My father said, literally within 30 seconds of our arrival, when I asked her if she need to use the restroom, “Isn’t she a little old for that?” My step-sister responded to a video of Gwen reading the letters in an “Emergency” sign backwards (and in the correct right-to-left order), by saying “That’s a talent!”

It’s not a “talent” – at least for anyone that can read. That revealed such an utter disconnect between expectation and reality that I didn’t know how to respond. For a kid that had only recently learned to say “hungry” or “potty,” it was huge.

I’m well aware that my daughter will likely never liver on her own. I’ll never get to walk her down the aisle. I’ll never get to… so many things.

Today, I got to braid her hair. Several times.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Over the years of trying to get her to communicate, I’ve gradually come around to the idea that we need to learn how to communicate with her. She communicates just fine – just not in the way that we expect.

She’s got a lot to say. We just need to find a language that we can both understand. It’s not always verbal and it’s certainly not easy for us or her.

But, when she says “Hair up now” and then sits down next to me, pulls my arm around her and holds my hand, I know what she means.

“I love you, daddy.”


“I’m tired of this sci-fi crap. Play Moana already. Sheesh.”

I mourn what might have been. I choose to celebrate what is.

Because THAT is pretty awesome.

Why Should You Frame Your Diploma?

So, here’s the thing.

I didn’t get a diploma (at first). I got a job instead.

Eventually, this little thing called the “Internet Bubble” (poorly-named in my opinion) burst, and that left a lot of people – talented or otherwise – without a job.

At 25, I was married, had a mortgage, a shiny Corvette (I’ve since discovered that I’m more of a mid-engine guy) and… debt that I wasn’t really aware of. When you’re 25 and people keep writing checks, one might assume that you can spend what you make.

At 45, I can say: DO NOT DO THAT. I’m an engineer. I’m fairly-decent-mostly-okay-some-of-the-time-but-I’m-a-pain-in-the-ass-to-work-with at my job. I’ve made some really cool stuff at a few places, currently got a really awesome gig in the AI space with a phenomenal team. If luck prevails, this will be the place where I spend the rest of my career.

So, the title. Why should you frame your diploma?

A friend taught me many things. A few are:

  • They don’t print your GPA on your diploma.
  • I’m busy, why would I bother framing that thing?

He’s right, and very successful (and rightfully so).


There are times – like, several times a day – when I’m working on something so involved that I’ve lost track of daylight. Not in the “what time is it” sense, but more “which way is up because I can’t find the bubbles.”

I’m chatty – really, really talkative. Verbose. Loquacious. A flibbertigibbet. This annoys many people. I’ve found that a) hey, it’s me, you get what you get, and b) it works out more often than not.

I also suffer from frequent bouts of self-doubt. My story is not boring (or so I am told) and I have earned whatever measure of success I’ve obtained. But, I still feel inadequate / under-qualified / unprepared several time a day.

My job is difficult. There aren’t a lot of people who do what I do, and I’d have a hard time explaining it to anyone that doesn’t already understand it. But, I love my job. I love my team. I believe in our organization & company. And, it gives me the best perk ever:

I still get to pick up Gwen from school at 12:45 every day, take her to ABA, and then pick her up from ABA at 5 pm. Those few minutes are the high point of my week.

So, back to the title: why should you frame your diploma?

My friend didn’t really see the point. It hadn’t bubbled to the top of his priority list. To me, the diploma was a sort of validation: something I could show to others and say “SEE! I DID THAT!” For him (at least I think), it was a step, something he’d already done and he was on to the next task.

Part of the difference comes from being at different stages of life: ~10 year age difference, marriages, career trajectory / obligations, etc. But, a big part of it is attitude.

If you look at your next goal as a finish line, then that’s where you’ll stop.

If you see your next goal as a step, that’s where you *might* take a breath and a drink, and then keep marching.

I admire my friend greatly. I’m not sure either approach is really the best.

But, back to the post title: why should you frame your diploma?

When I get bogged down in a problem and start to think “I am simply not capable of this,” I have a visual reminder that I Did Something, and that Something was REALLY REALLY HARD. (Which is Latin for “Electrical Engineering.”)

I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m pretty good at what I do. It’s nice to have something on the wall – diploma, kids, friends, LEGOs – to remind you that you are human, that you existed, that you kicked ass and took some names and that, at the end of the day, there are some things that no one can take from you.

  • Your mind
  • Your passion
  • Your accomplishments
  • Your pain
  • Your experience

Whatever you’ve done and been through: you’re stuck with it. Celebrate the good, mourn the bad, but own it. And hang a picture, a plaque, or a certificate or a diploma on the wall so that, the next time you see it, you know:

I did that.

That happened.

I am still here.

And then move on to the next step. What comes next is entirely up to you, just like it was yesterday. And the day before.

Eventually, a wonderful woman found me and gave me four(!) amazing kids. Whatever else I’ve accomplished since is in no small part due to her support & encouragement & occasional whack-to-the-back-of-the-head. My steps are no longer framed in terms of finance or recognition. Rather, “success” means “what makes US happy” and “what can WE do.”

It’s a great step that comes with lots of things to hang on the wall. The diploma is there, but at some point it’ll be buried behind the rest. Just as it should be.

Cheers. Happy 2022 (or, as I call it, 2020 part 3.)

2020, So Far

So, here we are in 2020. A few things have changed since my last update in… 2018??

On COVID-19 & the novel coronavirus: what’s there to be said? It sucks. Most of us will get through this. Our president is a freaking moron.

In February, after four years at AMD, I started a new gig on the AI performance team at Unity. So far, the team is amazing as are the projects. It’s great to work on projects in which I’m interested and capable of delivering great results. (Writing PowerPoint presentations about GPUView traces is not what I’d call thrilling.)

Here in Texas, as in other parts of the world, we’re in a sort of lockdown-lite mode. Restaurants are open for takeaway orders only. Most other businesses are following the same model. Our neighboring county is enforcing a more strict mode where only “essential” businesses are open, which makes a lot more sense. But, for that to really be as effective as it should, all of the neighboring counties should follow the same policy.

Oh, well. No one asked for my input.

The kids are stuck at home since the schools are closed. Gwen(5)’s autism program has been shut down for weeks which isn’t doing her any good. It’s nearly impossible to get the boys to do their school work. Google Classroom does not have the most intuitive UI. Asking a 10- and 7-year-old on the spectrum to sit at a computer for hours each day is just ridiculous. We’re doing the best we can, with limited success.

All race events have been pushed to later in the year. Which is fine, since I need a clutch and a timing chain. When the weather clears up, I’ll do the chain (it’s really not difficult on this car). A friend is going to do the clutch for me since he has, among other things, a lift. Clutch swaps also aren’t complex, but they’re a horrendous pain to do on jackstands.

My next garage will have 10′ ceilings and a two-post lift.

Speaking of which, we’re spooling up a remodel and house addition. It’ll likely be months before actual construction can start, though. Having more space for the kids, a real workshop and more than two bathrooms will be great. I am NOT looking forward to the inevitable property tax increase. Our city has the highest effective tax rate in the state. It sucks. But, the schools are amazing, the people are nice and the traffic is statistical noise.

Cheers! Stay safe, everyone.

The Problem with VR

One of the coolest things that’s come along in recent years in my field is virtual reality.

I’m lucky enough to have an Oculus Rift, touch controllers, and an HTC Vive sitting here in my office. If you haven’t had the chance to use one of these devices, you’re missing out. Exploring a completely synthetic environment in glorious  stereoscopic is initially mind-blowing. The first time I put on a DK2, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Now, Facebook (which owns Oculus) is starting to push the social aspects of VR. Watch a movie with friends, play a game together, etc.

To be clear: I think that’s really cool. I have friends in other parts of the country (and other parts of the world) with whom I’d like to communicate in a more immersive way than what we get from Skype calls. The current iteration of VR ecosystems has the potential to improve that experience.

But – and it’s a big “but” – VR is also inherently isolating. When I put on a Rift or a Vive, I become immersed in a virtual world. But, that necessitates an effective exit from the real world.

The built-in headphones on the Rift are amazing. They also keep me from hearing what’s going on in the real world. The optics are very convincing, but (duh) prevent awareness of what’s happening in front of me.

Walking is very entertaining, and potentially dangerous.

(Honestly, I’d just love to be able to see my feet!)

AR has the potential to address some of these concerns, by blending the synthetic environment with the real world. I feel that, for social applications to reach their full potential, we need a system that is not so isolating. We should not have to drop out of the real world to enjoy the virtual experience.

(Also, if you have small children, like I do, you probably know that leaving them to their own devices for extended periods of time rarely ends well. )

I’m impressed with the state of the art, and with the advances that are in development. But, what I want, more than anything, is the ability to utilize this technology without increasing the isolation that it requires.

I’m sure we’ll get there.



CNC Router Progress

I’m nearly done with version 4 (or maybe 5) of my CNC router. Last year, I started building this from parts I had on hand, including unsupported steel rail and linear bearings, red oak, some crappy lead screws and HDPE (aka, Walmart cutting boards.)

The mostly-complete version 1 router.
The first version of the CNC with unsupported aluminum rail and misc. wood and HDPE cutting board components

Original X/Z carriage made from plywood, red oak, aluminum plate and HDPE
Version 1 X/Z carriage with HDPE cutting board router mount for the RIDGID trim router

That version mostly worked. But, it wasn’t the most accurate machine.

So, I started replacing wood with 1/2″ aluminum:

Version 2 of the X/Z carriage, from 1/2″ aluminum riding on 20mm steel rail

That worked pretty well, but the unsupported rail had a LOT of deflection. I could easily twist the two rails over an inch in the middle of the 38″ span, which is not sufficiently rigid when cutting hardwood.

I had to decide then between different linear motion systems, including fully supported rail, flat carriages, or wheels. I went with OpenBuilds c-beam aluminum extrusion and hard Delrin wheels. I was initially skeptical about the wheels as I suspected they might compress under load. However, so far they’re pretty awesome.

I made custom plates for the carriages and motor mounts and went with a belt drive the long (49″) axis. The short axes use T8 ACME trapezoidal lead screws with Delrin antibacklash nuts.

The mostly-complete version 4 router
New version using OpenBuilds C-Beam, dual lead screws and belt drive

Y/Z carriage made from two sheets of 1/4" aluminum and lots of OpenBuilds wheels
Custom plates and motor mounts from 1/4″ aluminum

I used my OpenBuilds minimill to make all of the end plates and carriage plates from 1/4″ 6061 aluminum. I broke at least five endmills before switching to a 1/4 router bit. That worked significantly better, but due to the nature of router bits, I could only take off about 0.25mm per pass. It took a little over 30 minutes to cut each of the large carriage plates. But, it’s worth it.

The belt drive is (unsurprisingly) very fast, and so far is accurate and rigid enough for my purposes. Next up: cable routing and dust collection. Depending on how the accuracy tests go, I may need to add some sort of gear reduction system to the belt-driven axis.

Fun, fun, fun! I wonder if this is what it was like to have an erector set as a kid.

CNC Build Part 1 – Electronics Test

I started building a CNC router a number of years ago, but never really got around to finishing it. Kids, school, job, cars, and occasionally being in the same room as my wife sort of took priority.

While working on the table, I needed to plane some rough sawn lumber. But, I don’t have a planer.

So, I dug up part of the frame for the CNC, bolted up a sled, and did a pretty decent job of flattening the stock. (See pics in the previous post.)

Of course, that made me want to finish the CNC. I’ve assembled most of the frame, other than mounts for the motors, lead screws and nuts, limit switches and, oh yeah, I still have to build a Z axis. But, it’s a party.

See the video for some electronics test fun with an old laptop, Mach 3 and an XBOX controller.