Two weeks gone…

My good friend and colleague of close to six years…

Alex Johnson passed away unexpectedly at the much-too-young age of 38 years old two weeks ago today. I’ve been at a nearly complete loss at losing him and today is the first day where I’ve felt like I could even attempt to write about my friend Alex without dissolving into a blubbering, crying mess. I had the honor of telling a group of well over a hundred people about my friend Alex at a service in his honor this past Sunday in Washington State, but there I was very much crying and couldn’t say all that there is to say about Alex. This post won’t achieve that either, but it will make a better attempt.

Alex was the best developer I’ve ever worked with…

…and I’ve worked with well over a hundred developers at this point in my career. Apologies to all my wonderful developers for this, especially the talented team at Chaotic Moon. I love you all and you’re all the best.

But Alex was the best of the best.

He was one of the 3 most technically skilled backend / server / web developers that I’ve ever worked with, he was one of the 5 best architecturally-minded developers I’ve ever known, and he beat out all of them because, while he was confident in his skills and capable of calling bullshit when he needed to, he was never self-satisfied enough to really fully appreciate how good he was, and unlike the vast majority of geniuses that I’ve worked with, he didn’t have that “asshole” chip on his shoulder. He was always direct, but never judgmental towards people approaching things the wrong way. He was a great mentor to every developer at Chaotic Moon; and this includes his would-be peers: skilled Architect-level developers working in iOS and Android.

He was also, unlike many developers, extremely capable of interacting with every level of customer and every type of person who worked with us at Chaotic Moon. He could be the nerdiest nerd developer and geek out with us like the best of them, but he also could relate and work well with Sales, and Project Management, and QA, and everyone.

I thought I would be working with Alex for the rest of my life.

After I left Ceros and was looking for new opportunities, I had about four different clear places I could have gone. Although ultimately, I made the decision to go to move my family to Texas and join Chaotic Moon with my wife, Kristin, that decision was largely informed by numerous conversations I’d had with Alex. I remember one conversation in particular where he said, “You should go to Chaotic Moon. We already know them from working on The Daily with them. We know we can help them. And I’ve always wanted to work directly and clearly for you, and as EVP of Technology, you’d clearly be my boss.”

I have about 3 good ideas for products that he and I would discuss sometimes as something we would do in the future should we ever leave Chaotic Moon.

He made us better.

Alex made me a better manager. He made me a better EVP of Technology. He made me a better friend and a better person, and I’m better for having known him, but I honestly feel a bit lost with him no longer here. I no longer have that trusted confidant, consiglieri, and lieutenant who I always knew could take care of things as I expected them to be taken care of consistently every time.

He got excited about things and made you excited about them too, and had this amazing ability to marvel at small things.

Alex was incredibly tall. He was one of the only people that I used to hug on a regular basis where I felt small in the hug. He would do this thing sometimes, when he was excited where both his eyebrows would raise, he’d dip his head forward and down towards your level, and smile saying “Oh yeaaaaah!” or “Oh, wooooow!” nodding his head slightly in excitement. He would do this over ideas and nicely crafted things.

One of my wife’s favorite memories of Alex was from the first time he came over to our house in Austin, we had just received a CSA delivery for the first time and it came with fresh eggs, which being ungraded and organic “straight from the chicken” were of odd shapes and sizes. Kristin opened the eggs and said something about this, and Alex came over excited, did his head dip and lean in and said “Oh wow these are soooo goood. You know what they are right?” Just fascinated and marveling at nature.

He had an all-in laugh

We often called Alex our gentle giant or our warrior monk. He was the most peaceful kind person, but he was also stern in what he believed in and would call out anyone who he thought was being unfair or wrong. But he did this without any sort of judgement. This was great for me, because he often helped me realize when I was being too severe or too stern with someone. It also meant that although I have the most wrong sense of humor on the planet, whenever I’d make a particularly horrible joke he would laugh one of those all-in laughs of his, finding joy in my joke even though he was shaking his head in a “that’s just wrong” sort of way about it, but somehow with no judgement that I ever felt directed towards me.

He touched so many software products used by millions of people who will never know…

Most of our work is under NDA. But Alex did so much and touched so many cool products that have been used and brought smiles to millions of people’s lives. He wasn’t one of a thousand developers working on something huge that seems like it should be small, like Twitter. He was one of at most a dozen developers focused working on products that he actually steered towards their awesomeness. That deserves to be known.

I’ve cried more than I did when my father died…

The day my father died, I was in an all day meeting with a potential acquirer of Chaotic Moon, and I didn’t have the time to really cry. Also, I knew it was coming. Jackson and I had visited my dad in the hospital the weekend before, because things weren’t looking good, and shortly after we left, he was moved to hospice care. I remember finding out that morning and during an early break in our meeting apologizing to the rest of the Chaotic Moon management team for not being as “on” as I usually am, because my dad had died. They all came in and hugged me and I cried. That lasted for about 3-5 minutes and then I went to the restroom, composed myself, and returned for the remainder of my all day meeting.

I cried profusely at my father’s service, and his passing definitely changed me. I’ve been more emotionally raw since he passed. And more aware of my feelings.

But Alex was the first close friend that I’ve ever lost. And he’s the most unexpected loss that I’ve ever experienced.

One of the great things that happened this year was that Alex and I—who had only ever worked together remotely for years, seeing each other here and there quarterly as we flew in to various code jams or client meetings—had both moved to Dallas, Texas to help open Chaotic Moon’s Dallas office this summer. Finally we were physically working together in the same place. Seeing each other nearly every day. Kristin and I always sent him all the okra and other odd vegetables from our CSA that we didn’t eat. It was great.

We were laughing in his office in Dallas on Tuesday afternoon before leaving work, talking about the new house that he and his wife Michelle had just bought in Dallas and were in the process of renovating. They were knee deep in kitchen renovation, and I was saying how Kristin and I needed to have him and Michelle over soon, since our house was finally past the renovation phase and entering into the habitation phase. He was taking the next day, that Wednesday off, because he had been working hard on a very successful client delivery that had just shipped and I’d been trying to get him to take a day for a few weeks. He and Michelle were going to work on their new house.

That’s what they did. Then sometime late on Wednesday he didn’t feel so well. Then he got sick and thought he had food poisoning. He sent me an email in the middle of the night saying that he would not be into work because of the food poisoning. The next morning, Michelle texted me from his phone to tell me that they were in the ICU, and that there was some sort of infection but everything seemed to be under control. We texted a few more times that day and at the end of the day, Alex had gone to sleep and just needed to rest.

Sometime in the middle of the night, she sent a text to me and several other people that he wasn’t doing well. I slept through that. At about 5:25am, two weeks ago today, my phone vibrated on my bedside table and woke me up. I sat up, having missed the call and looked at my phone and saw that I had missed both a phone call and a text message from Michelle. As I was holding the phone, reading the text, and thinking “Oh no…” it rang again and she told me the news. I immediately started crying.

Then I called Ben. Then I called our HR department. Then I called and tried to reach all the people I felt I need to talk to one on one at Chaotic Moon before communicating to the larger company. Then I wrote the email to the company telling them what had happened to one of our beloved family members who had meant the world to our company.
I spent most of that Friday calling people from 3 different companies, telling them the sad news and crying together on the phone and between calls. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in a single day. Sometime late in the day, after I felt like I had told everyone I could, I tweeted it.

The next day I felt hung over and wearied from the day before.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a mixed bag of happy to visit my mom and brother and his family in Mississippi and feeling sad both about Alex and my dad. The Saturday after Thanksgiving we drove back to Dallas.

Dallas to Seattle

I unpacked the car, then my bags and repacked them for the trip for Alex’s service. I went to bed early, got up at 4am, drove to Dallas Love, flew on a 6am flight to Seattle, landing at 8:30am.

I picked up my rental car, drove over to the hotel where both Brian Alvey and I were staying and picked him up. We went and had breakfast at some place that we named wrong, and talked and laughed and were sad together for most of the morning.

Then we drove an hour to Alex’s Celebration of Life right outside Olympia, Washington. When I arrived Michelle told me that I would be the first one to speak. I did. I cried. Many people came up and thanked me for what I said.

When I met his mother, we both burst into tears. When I met his father we both burst into tears. When I met his step-father we both burst into tears. I told them all I loved their son. They told me that he loved his work and loved me. When I met his oldest daughter, we both laughed about Alex, and she asked me if she could have a hug, and said she was so happy that she got to meet me.

I told Michelle that I was going to leave. She said that we both were married to Alex and that we both were strong and would get by. We said goodbye and I left.

That night, Brian Alvey, Brian & Lynn Abent, and I had dinner together, and drank and laughed and talked about our missing friend Alex. The next morning I flew home. Tuesday I was back in the office and felt normal again. Until I drove home, was listening to grunge music, thought of Seattle, thought of Alex, and ended up crying singing “Come as you are as you were as I want you to be” while driving home.

Every day is a little better. But I’m still crying here and there.

I miss you, Alex. You were my brother. I won’t forget you.

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71

My entire life, my father’s birthday following mine in the year always made him 30 years older than me. Today, he would have been 72. But he will always only have been as old as 71. Now only 29 years separate me and him at his oldest and year after year that number will decrease until eventually, if I am lucky, I become older than he did. 

That’s an odd thing. 

Happy Birthday, Dad. 

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Cutting the cord has been a great decision so far

Not even a week into this new lifestyle choice and I’m loving it. In case you missed my previous post on the topic, I finally decided to ditch cable TV and save close to $1500 a year in the process. It looks like a lot of people are doing this now more than ever. I suspect HBO Now was a tipping point for a lot of people. I know it’s one of the things that got me and Kristin talking about it.

Pain Points aka why can’t I pause live TV anymore…

Now there are some slight pain points to cutting the cord. The one most noticeable to me has been the lack of DVR capabilities on my live TV solution (HD antenna). I keep pressing the pause button on my remote out of habit when I am watching live TV and am still somewhat shocked whenever it doesn’t work (especially since all the streaming services that I do use have the ability to pause). Also, the inability to fast forward through the commercials on Hulu Plus is a bit grating. I started to look into DVR solutions that would work with an antenna, but TiVo appears to have cornered the market and there’s no device only option. I just want a DVR that will provide a buffer and maybe let me record one show while I watch another. The only solutions I’ve found that don’t involve me building it myself, so far, entail a lot of options that are lacking in any really good reliable online reviews. I’m sort of lost as to whether a cheap option like this will work, or if I need to spend a few hundred dollars.

Legit help in finding what to watch…

The other thing about cord cutting is what I mentioned last time: you’re free from the schedule of network television. This is great, but it can also be a little daunting for someone who is used to flipping through a bunch of channels and settling on something to watch. Instead you have the option to look through ALL THE GOOD VIDEO EVER CREATED and perhaps binge watch an entire show.

I don’t like binge watching though, unless it’s something like Big Tuna / Deadliest Catch in the background while I’m doing other stuff. I want more variety and it’s a bit difficult to create that organically with the plethora of options that all the various streaming services offer you.

What helps with this is apps like Andrew Busey’s Legit. Legit is a great app (iOS/Android/Facebook) that logs in via Facebook and lets you rate shows and movies and discuss them amongst your Facebook friends and compare the way you rank them to how your friends have. Sounds simple, but it has a great What to Watch section that makes recommendations to you based on your social network and links to various ways you can watch the TV show / movie immediately. There’s even an Apple Watch app for Legit.

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I finally cut the cord (and so should you)

This week, I finally got sick of paying a premium for ALL THE CHANNELS provided by Time Warner Cable. Our primary DVR/cable box in our main room died a horrible death of infinite reboots on Sunday, and I took it in to the local Time Warner store to swap it out for a new one on Monday. The new one had a different problem that made it unusable. Tuesday I went back to exchange that box. They told me I was in luck, that their brand new amazing box that lets you record 7 channels at once was available… but, then, the support person assisting me couldn’t get the system to actually let her scan the new device out of their inventory and onto my account, so I left with a duplicate of the same box I was returning. And guess what? It also suffered from the same insufferable bug that made it unwatchable (it kept toggling between 480p and 1080i every 20-25 seconds, even though I changed its settings to only allow 1080i).

That was the final straw.

I called Time Warner up and told them I wanted to cancel everything except for my high speed internet. I no longer wanted the phone service that I never used and only got because it kept the bundle price lower than if I had done only TV & Internet. They transferred me to another agent who evidently is trained specifically to avoid letting people cancel service. I didn’t mess around, I repeated the story of my last several days and said “Please cancel my television and phone plans immediately, or I will ask to cancel the internet too and take my business entirely elsewhere.” He immediately made the change and told me that as soon as I turned in my actual equipment it would go into effect. I did this yesterday morning, and now I feel free from the shackles of cable television.

How I watch TV now

Here’s the breakdown of services I am now subscribed to, their cost, and their use cases:

  • Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month / $95.88 a year)—Next day viewing of all the shows worth watching that aren’t on HBO; this is your On Demand / DVR replacement.
  • HBO NOW ($14.99 per month / $179.88 a year)—HBO Now = Game of Thrones live when it airs. This was a must have. Plus tons of movies and other original series. Plus it works with HBO GO and the only requirement is that you have some sort of iOS device (an Apple TV, which I have already, is ideal).
  • Netflix ($7.99 a month / $95.88 a year)—I’ve been a customer since Netflix ate Blockbuster. This is specifically for all the older TV and movies and recently some of the best original content. Daredevil, for example, is the best show currently “on TV,” in my humble opinion. Netflix is also how my wife and I already handle 90% of our children’s TV allowance.
  • Amazon Prime ($8.25 a month / $99 a year)—I’ve been a customer since the only perk of Amazon Prime was Free 2-day shipping and reduced pricing on some items. Now, it includes Prime Video which, like Netflix, offers great original programming and lots of older TV shows and Movies for free viewing. It’s also how my wife and I handle the other 10% of our children’s TV allowance.

What about non-HBO live TV?

Who cares? One of the great things about cutting the cord is it frees you from having to watch your TV on a schedule dictated by the networks. Unless you like to watch sports, in which case you do have an option.

All the major networks are available to you via this contraption called an over-the-air TV antennae (and in full HD). Cheap ones cost about $35. Expensive ones are more in the $50-125 range. I just bought this one, which gets me ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, The CW, a variety of PBS networks, as well as a bunch of Spanish-speaking channels that I don’t watch.

And this is all saving me money…

My monthly cable bill via Time Warner for one of the better Internet packages, robust TV with HBO, and a phone package that I never used for anything other than to actually lower my monthly bill, totaled about $225 per month or $2700 per year. Now I’m paying $95 a month for just the high speed internet, plus the addition of $23 extra per month for Hulu Plus & HBO Now, for a total of $1416 a year, saving me close to $1300 per year.

Does this all sound good to you? Time to cut the cord.

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Chaotic Moon Sponsor from Hell reel for the Moontower Comedy Festival, starring me!


I think I was tweeting a lot last week about how tiring it is to be an actor. I was literally exhausted and became sick with a 102.5F fever after the two and a half days of intensive filming we did putting together the above shorts for Chaotic Moon’s sponsorship of The Moontower Comedy Festival, which is happening today through the 25th right here in Austin, Texas. If you go to the show, you’ll see some of these between the acts. If you’re there Friday night, hopefully I’ll see you there!

Big thanks to my good friend, Ben Lamm, for trusting me to portray him in these, and thanks to Jim Ritts, for being an excellent co-star. Also, great job by Chaotic Moon’s marketing department, especially Chad Darbyshire, who was both writer, director, and puppeteer, and Zack Daschofsky, who wrangled most of the props together.

I have a new-found respect for actors too. I don’t think I could ever do this as a full-time job. You have to be too intense for very short bursts, followed by sitting around bored out of your skull while lighting is being set up.

UPDATE: Check out the raw cut of that maniacal laugh…


Also notice how red my face turns. I totally had a headache after that take. But, hey: I commit to the bit! #comedy

UPDATE NUMBER 2: Check out the official press release…


Here’s the details:

For Chaotic Moon, the festival is a great opportunity to support local and international comedy talent. “It’s also a great event for our clients and let’s us reward our entire organization,” said Lamm. “Our team works very hard, they deserve to kick back and have some fun at the show.”

The videos feature a series of increasingly outrageous exchanges between Lamm, played by Chaotic Moon’s EVP of Technology, C.K. Sample, and the actual Jim Ritts. Among other things, the sketches parody the involuntary tattooing of festival comedians, an attempted blackmailing of Jerry Seinfeld and a menacing taser drone employed to persuade Ritts into Lamm’s way of thinking. The rest of the cast is made up of Chaotic Moon employees, including a cameo by Mike Erwin, Chaotic Moon’s co-founder and CFO, as an annoyed elevator repairman.

Originally, Lamm was cast to play himself, but his heavy travel schedule, due to the company’s rapid growth and new offices in Dallas and Houston, caused a last minute casting change. “I was bummed, but I knew C.K. and Jim would kill it, and they did.”

#nailedit

Posted in Acting, Chaotic Moon, Media, Personal | Comments Off on Chaotic Moon Sponsor from Hell reel for the Moontower Comedy Festival, starring me!