31 August 2007

Oh Yeah!

Watched a somewhat goofy "World's Funniest Commercials" show last night, and one really stood out: It's about some kids and a train - watch it here.

Definitely worth the time!

30 August 2007

It's a Flat World?

One of the first things that struck us about Ohio is how flat it is around here, particularly when we flew in. Our house in NY was on a big hill - so steep, in fact, that the kids weren't really able to ride their bikes. And of course we've been around the Adirondacks for quite a while.

So our house here is on a much flatter place. At least, that's what I thought until I went for a run through the neighborhood.

Turns out "flat" isn't quite the correct word. We're at the top of a bit of a hill after all - and the last few minutes of my run can be pretty rough...

No pain, no gain, right? Whew!

29 August 2007

Starting School Again

I spent 12 years getting ready to go to college. By the time I got there, I was pretty much at the top of my game, academically speaking.

It's been 13 years since I graduated, and now I'm back in the class room again. Yes, I picked up my first master's degree doing the night school thing - but even that was 7 years ago.

This will be interesting.

I took a "math assessment" test today, trying to demonstrate how much calculus I remember. There were 50 multiple choice questions, worth 2 points each. By the end, there were 5 questions that I knew I definitely got right... so when I found out I got 18 right and my final score was 36, that meant I "guessed real good" on 13 questions.

Most of the material looked familiar - it's things I'm pretty sure I used to know. But there were a few questions on topics I'd never seen before. There were even a couple questions I wouldn't have been able to read out loud (yikes!). Fortunately, we'll spend the month of September doing refresher courses, before the real stuff starts on 1 Oct.

Like I said, this will be interesting.

Simplicity Cycle Review!

the User Experience Soapbox blog wrote a very nice review of my Simplicity Cycle book. Here's a short excerpt:

I also like that it helps answer the question, "Hey, my product is complex AND successful, so why should I worry about design?" There's a limit to how many features you can add to a product before they become self-defeating. When your customers start to request features that are already in your product, it's a safe bet that adding even more features is going to be trouble.

28 August 2007

NaNoWriMo 2007?????

I'm not sure how I'll be able to do NaNoWriMo 2007.

They say the academics are pretty intense around here, but that's not the main obstacle. Rather, it's the fact that I have to get B up at 6 to get her ready for the bus, which comes a little after 7. That means I'm up by 0530 on a regular day, just to make sure I have enough time for a shower, shave, etc before I start rounding up the youngsters...

I could try getting up at 0430 to write, but I'm not sure that's going to work.

Yes, I've already completed one Boomer Sisters novel this year (The Boomer Sisters In The City), during DaNoWriMo. It's being illustrated as we speak. But I was sort of thinking I'd do NaNoWriMo again anyway, either to do the 4th Boomer Sister book (final BS book?) OR... to do the sword & sorcery novel I've been thinking about for the past year or so.

I'll have a better idea what my schedule will be like by October, when classes start for real and life settles down a bit. But I should really have a plot outline before November. And that means I should pick which book to write. And as I said, at this point, I'm not sure if I'll get to do it at all... (at least not in November...)

Watch this space.

27 August 2007

Sam Adams

I'm sitting here enjoying a delicious Samuel Adams Octoberfest brew, after mowing my new lawn for the first time. I mention this because 1) I don't drink beer very often and 2) There's a reason I'm drinking Sam Adams and not some other kind.

Why did I pass over "Rogue Brew" (!), in favor of Sam? Frankly, it's the commercials.

The commercials are honest, informative, human and engaging. They show the actual brewers, and they talk about how and why they make the beer. Why do they use brown bottles for every brew? Why don't they use screw-top caps? And did you notice the carton for holding the bottles is tall? There's a reason for it all - and I learned it in a 30 second spot.

It doesn't hurt that the beer lives up to the ads. It's good stuff...

26 August 2007

85 Copies!

I signed 85 copies of my Simplicity Cycle book last night, and boxed them up to mail to Olin College on Monday. It was fun to see so many copies in one place, and even more fun to know that each one was paid for and destined for a student might actually read it!

I hope they find it useful on their journeys of design...


We've got a family of hummingbirds living in our backyard. I know a group of crows is called a murder and a group of finches is called a charm. What do you call a group of hummingbirds? A chorus? A choir? Anyway, I've seen as many as 3 at once - guess it's a trio of hummingbirds.

I haven't figured out how to edit photos on my Mac yet, but I figured I'd post this shot anyway. It's through a screen, so sorry for the fuzziness.

At any rate, I'm really enjoying watching these little guys.

Code Monkey

I just heard a song titled Code Monkey by Jonathan Coulton on the radio the other day, and it's a lot of fun. Found a few different videos on YouTube, but my favorite is this one (so bad, it's good).

Do check it out... I'm not even a coder and I love it. :)

25 August 2007


I tend to agree with Heinlein when he said "Specialization is for insects," and I think I even mentioned that concept already.

So, I was delighted to learn a little more about the diverse skills and accomplishments of a true polymath whose work I have admired for years. I'm talking, of course, about the remarkable John Lithgow. I still remember seeing him receive an Emmy for his work on Third Rock From The Sun - with great joy and enthusiasm, he noted that he would never be taken seriously as a dramatic actor ever again, a fact which did not seem to disturb him in the slightest. I recently found out he actually has four Emmy's, two Tony's, etc, etc. And in addition to movies, plays and television, he's also a musician and a writer. His books for children are fantastic - I'm particularly fond of The Remarkable Farkle McBride. He's got a new book of poetry coming out soon. Wow!

Check out the Q&A on Lithgow's website.

I'd put Mr. Lithgow right up there with the multi-talented Will Smith, who does comedy, drama and action, television and movies, music... and for all I know has written a book or two...

And of course, my admiration for these men is in line with my admiration for a couple of other, much older polymaths - G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. While their accomplishments were primarily literary, Chesterton was actually a fantastic artist in addition to a writer, and both wrote in a bewilderingly diverse range of genres, from theology to children's stories, fiction and mysteries and travellogues and academic tomes.

Yeah, that's the kind of stuff I want to do.

Books, part 1

Got a big-ish shipment of copies of my Simplicity Cycle book, to send around to a bunch of people (Andy - they're coming your way). Still waiting for the remaining 81 to show up, so I can autograph them all before sending them off to my first "big" customer!


Look, Ma - No Wires!

After a somewhat-longer-than-expected delay, our wireless router showed up, and after somewhat-more-work-than-expected, I got it hooked up last night, so we're wireless!

I still need to go pick up a receiver/wireless card or something to get our PC online (It's way upstairs, and the cable doesn't reach that far), but at least we're not limited to working at the kitchen counter anymore (I'm on the couch in the TV room now - whew!).

One of the reasons for the delay is we went with Vonage for our phone service, so I couldn't monkey with the modem and wireless router while the phone was being used...

But we got it done. So, for those of you keeping track at home, that's 382 tasks completed, only 2,542,345,927 left to do!

24 August 2007

Comment Spam

For some reason, a company named Gateways International Movers offered to help me move - by leaving a comment on a blog post that talked about the fact that we'd already moved (Dan Is In The House). They wrote:

Gateways International Movers will guide your relocation effectively.

At Gateways International, we understand that shipping your belongings is one of the most complex and sensitive concerns, while moving worldwide...

blah, blah, blah.

What Gateways International Movers apparently doesn't understand is when I write "I'm in the house," that means I've already moved, so I don't need their services. Also, as a general rule, I tend to think a blog's comments section is a lousy place for a commercial advertisement, but if you're going to do it, at least read the post...

But really, this is a place for people to have a conversation. If your only contribution is "Moving? Did someone say moving? At Gateways International, we understand that shipping your belongings..." then you're not really part of the conversation, are you? If you're not listening/reading and understanding, with all due respect, please butt out.

I might have responded more positively if they'd 1) found a post that said "I'm moving in a few months," and 2) Posted something along the lines of "Hi, I'm Bob from Gateway Movers. We're a new/established/big/small/whatever moving company, and we'd love to help you move..."

That's what the blogosphere is about.

23 August 2007

Bad Designs!

I really like the new area, love the house, and am thrilled with the assignment (getting paid to learn? Are you kidding me? Does it get any better?)

But my house is haunted by several instances of Bad Design.

The built-in microwave, for example. I have to push the "cook time" button, then turn a knob (?!?!) which advances the time in 15 second increments. Apparently I'm not allowed to cook something for 10 seconds. Nope, it's gotta be 15 seconds. Then I push the knob to "select" the cook time. Then I push the start button. Figures the microwave is built-in...

I needed to adjust the hot water heater temperature. That meant cutting the power to the water heater, then unscrewing two different panels, both of which were held in place by phillips head screws. Underneath the panels, apparently next to high voltage lines, was a flathead screw I could turn to adjust the temp. At our old place, there was just a knob... Oh, and it's not like it's an old heater. It was installed in 2005.

There are others, but the Colbert Report is on...

Good news!

The drier is all set! The coffee maker is set! We found the toaster (in a box labeled "toyes")!

Oh, and we figured out why the washing machine always seemed so hot. Turns out the blue knobbed faucet is the hot water, and the red knob is cold water. Of course it is!

Get 'er done...

I imagine I'll be unpacking boxes, repairing/replacing household things, attending briefings & classes, etc for many more days to come.

That means I won't be sitting down at a computer very regularly, often, or for very long.

That also means I'm not sure when my blogging will get back to normal. But as things get settled I'll find a new pattern and will pick up the blog thing again like before. No worries.

For now I'll just mention that I'm a section leader here at AFIT, responsible for watching over 15 other students, including two from Turkey. I've also met officers from Argentina and Australia. I'm having a great time, and am looking forward to the real work beginning.

As my lovely wife put it, things are going slowly, very fast. :)

21 August 2007

Mental Bandwidth

I'd forgotten how much mental bandwidth is eaten up by moving, settling in, etc. My brain is full of Things To Do, like fix the #$%^$# drier vent (again and again), install/replace window shades, change the addresses on everything (credit cards, magazines, utilities), find schools, pizza joints and figure out how to get from A to B when the main road is closed down... whew! You'd think I didn't know anything at all about simplicity.

I know I'll do some serious writing again some day, and I know it only feels like it's been forever, but wow, I suddenly realize I didn't really appreciate my job in NY and how much mental freedom I had...

But we'll get the boxes empty and the routine established again sometime soon. Well, maybe not soon, but sometime.

20 August 2007

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs...

I didn't plan it, but I seem to have taken a series of photos of signs, which I now present for your viewing pleasure:

"Wait for green light?" Um, isn't that always the rule?

Saw this one in a little coffee shop - it made me laugh.

Mmmmmm, warm soda! (Did they really think that sign makes sense?) And what's even funnier, the sign is right above jugs of juice!

Found these three signs in a shop, arranged just like this. They sort of sum up my life philosophy.

Moving Is Like War

It struck me the other day that moving is a bit like war.

It's exhausting.
It's destructive and expensive. We've thrown away, left behind and otherwise had to replace a LOT of stuff that was perfectly good (trashcan, pooper-scooper, salad dressings, propane tank, etc)
It should not be done lightly, and should be avoided if at all possible.
It's sometimes absolutely necessary and unavoidable.
It's an adventure.
It involves painful losses and opportunities for heroics.
Even when it's over, there's a lot of cleaning up to do.
You feel so much better when it's over.

Next week: How Moving Is Like Hitting Yourself In the Head With A Hammer


I cooked our first dinner-in-the-house last night (chicken, tortellini and broccoli with pesto - even the kids like it!). This morning I went for my first run (in a long time). Tomorrow is B's first day of school. Wed is my first day of real inprocessing.

We've got chairs, a coffee maker, silverware and (just in time for dinner last night) real plates!

Now if I could only find the toaster...

18 August 2007


We've got sheets on the beds, chairs around the table, and both kids' rooms are all finished and ready to play!

Next up - find the coffee maker! Get the kitchen put together so I can (finally) start cooking again. Oh, and finish hooking up the !@##$%^& drier vent (spent all day on it yesterday - and it's not finished yet).

Oh, and I've got firefox now too!

So much to do - why am I blogging? 'Cause everyone else is still asleep, and I don't want to make any noise...

Simplicity Cycle & MAKE magazine

In all the craziness with the move, I never got around to mentioning that the Simplicity Cycle was featured in MAKE Magazine's "Tip's N Tools" (TNT) eNewsletter. It starts out like this

Dear Readers,

Ah, the dog days of summer...days where it truly is "dolce far niente," sweet to do nothing. I'm talking about RSS (Really Simple Stuff) here. None of these reviews are particularly dramatic or about complicated things; they're about simple stuff done well. Like a flight tracker that actually works, or a site that lets you skip out on pesky email registrations for online stores. The Simplicity Cycle, by Dan Ward, takes simplicity even more seriously; it's a whole book about elegance in design (as a result of, well, uncomplicatedness). The other reviews are about using the things around you in new ways to make your life easier (heck, you don't even have to go to the store since you probably have a spice rack and some grey tape lying around the house or garage). If cleanliness is next to godliness, then simplicity must be next to sweetness. With heat waves in most of the country, doing "nothing" seems like a pretty good idea right now.

Arwen O'Reilly
Staff Editor, Make Magazine

And then goes on to give a little review of the book, written by none other than my good buddy Gabe! You can read his review here.

16 August 2007

Mac Blogging

I like my mac, but I've noticed some strange things when I'm online. For example, Blogger doesn't show the text editing options (bold, italic, colors, etc). All I've got is a spell check button and a photo insert button. There's a preview link, but no "edit HTML" link.

Similarly, in Gmail, the "reply" button is only at the bottom of the message - using IE there was a reply button at the top of the message too...

Oh well, I'll have my PC back soon.

Dan is In The House!

I'm officially in my new house, and on "casual status" until 22 Aug. The movers were supposed to be here between 8 and 9, so I got the kiddo's up very early, fed them breakfast and drove here from the hotel... then got a call saying the truck would be here around 10... ugh!

But, it's good practice, because it looks like Beth's bus will pick her up around 7:10 each morning... wow! In NY, she'd still be in bed at that time! Mornings around here will be very different than they used to be. Will be interesting to see how NaNoWriMo goes!

The drive from NY to OH was fine - but don't let me ever do that again, ok? Google said 9.5 hours - which translated into 12 for us, once we added in food and potty breaks. So, we got here at 9pm Monday night, horribly tired and a bit dizzy... The kids were fantastic troopers throughout. We're very, very blessed parents.

Got a tour of AFIT yesterday - I felt like Hermione on her first day at Hogwarts (yes, in Harry Potter, I'd be Hermione). Pardon my geekiness, but I'm SO EXCITED to start classes, even if I probably won't learn the petronus charm. Technical refresher classes begin in Sept, and real class begins 1 Oct. Did I mention that I'm SO EXCITED?

Went to the commissary yesterday - first time in 7+ years we got to do that! Prices were great, but we still managed to spend quite a lot. We're moving some serious coin around these days, between selling and buying a house, eating in restaurants, moving, gas, etc. I'm really looking forward being able to cook again.

And I saw a little girl across the street yesterday, looked to be around the same age as my two... so hopefully we'll be able to swing over and say hello later.

So here I am, with the kids in an empty house - but fortunately we've got an internet connection. Oh, and we went with Vonage for the phone service. I like it so far. Ask me again in a month or so.

And what do I miss the most? Chairs. Definitely chairs. Or really, anything to sit on...

11 August 2007


Here I am in the Red Roof Inn, after a crazy, exhausting week, finally making my first post with the new mac laptop... so many stories to be told, so many funny photos to take... but it's late and I haven't had internet connectivity for a while, so I'll just post a quick photo and go to bed.

07 August 2007

The Packers are coming! The packers are coming!

As the title of this post suggests, the packers are coming to Chez Ward tomorrow morning. They're going to put an enormous quantity of my prized possessions into countless cardboard boxes. The computer will go too.

So, I'm guessing I won't be blogging much for the next week or so...

I'll write again when I get to Ohio.

Frenchtoast Fun!

And lest this blog turns into all serious economic discussions and stuff, let me say what a fantastic post French Toast Girl had on her blog today. Yeah, it's about living well, but with a very fun, artsy, lively bent.

Forget distributism. Go read French Toast Girl, then walk around outside in your PJ's!

The Enough Movement

"I have enough. I will keep striving, because to strive is an essential part of being human, but I am not going to strive for more."

I've been thinking and blogging (not necessarily in that order) about economics, distributism and related topics for a while now. In the back of my mind a crazy little idea has been taking shape, influenced by guys like E.F. Schumacher and G.K. Chesterton. I'm calling it "The Enough Movement," and in the relatively near future I'm hoping to put it together in some sort of coherent, comprehensive-ish form. Maybe a manifesto on ChangeThis. For now, I'll just post a few bits and pieces here and there.

This Enough idea is fundamentally about three things: contentment, gratitude and generosity. It's about doing what you can, producing a manageable amount - enough for me/my family and some to share, either by selling at a fair price or giving it away, so that others can have enough too. It's about having good priorities.

As I previously mentioned, I don't want to be rich - I want to be happy, and from what I've seen, riches tend to decrease happiness, not increase it.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure I'd really want to be part of this "Enough Movement." On some level, I still associate more with better, more with happier. Previous posts notwithstanding, I sort of do want to be rich. Also, I've got a family to provide for, and I still think they'll be happier if I can give them more (and I'll be happier too). So I'm still working this out, in my own head and my own life. I think I'd like to take some sort of vow of poverty, if I could do so without subjecting my family to it... but maybe that's just a convenient excuse for not doing it. Who knows?

Schumacher wrote "The aim should be to obtain the maximum well being with the minimum consumption." I suspect the link between well being and consumption is indeed inversely proportional (after a point).

He also wrote "the essence of civilization [is] not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of character," and he bemoans the way "our fathers luxuries become our necessities."

So, I'm wondering - what am I going to do about it. We'll see.

06 August 2007

I'm a Mac...

I just got my very first Mac. It's a MacBook, and I'm in love.

All I've done so far is turn it on and poked around for about 10 minutes. I took some silly pictures of myself (yes, you'll probably see them later). I opened Garage Band and ComicLife, but haven't even connected it to the internet yet.

It's a beautiful machine. Even plugging it in was fun.

I'm so excited!

Freeways Aren't Free

I've never really thought much about roads (have you?). Even though I drive on them all the time, I never spent much mental energy thinking about how much it costs to build and maintain them, who pays for it, etc. I sort of assumed freeways were some kind of divine right, without giving it much thought. If I thought of them at all, I guess I thought of them as some sort of community commons, benefiting everyone equally. It turns out I was probably wrong.

The Distributist Review has a fascinating entry today about free markets and freeways. It begins by asking for a definition of "free market," then explores one example of a government subsidy: freeways.

"Of course the government should build the roads; that's what governments do." Yet, gentle reader, would you not be surprized if we shifted the focus just slightly, and spoke of "free railways" or free airlines"? Any yet, why should one form of transportation be so privileged over these others? The point here is not that the government shouldn't be involved in the road-building business; that may be the most convenient way to do it. Rather the point is to determine who should pay for them, and how. Three-fourths of all "social justice" issues are simply a matter of accurate cost-accounting; that is, of allocating costs back to those who cause the costs.

He concludes with the following thought:

As it turns out, nothing is quite as expensive as a freeway. But on the other hand, nothing is more conducive to self-respect than paying your own way. One measure of a free market is that each person pays for what he or she consumes.

It's a provocative position, this assertion that people should pay for what they consume, or that the poor should not be taxed in order to support the rich, or that economists should think about thinks like morality, self-respect or social justice.

He's blowing my mind. I hope you'll surf over to The Distributist Review and read that posting.

05 August 2007

A Few Comments on Comments

Like most bloggers, I love getting comments. It lets me know that someone is out there and gives me an opportunity for this to be a discussion, rather than just a series of short monologues. Comments are very good.

If you leave a comment, I usually post a reply, so be sure to check back. I definitely hope John from Australia read my response to his comment about my Crazy Horse post, for example.

It's also OK to not leave comments. You're welcome to just stop by occasionally, check out the posts, and then move on. Don't feel bad if you don't have the time, etc to leave a note. It's ok - really!

03 August 2007

Total Annihilation: Kingdoms

This morning, rather than blogging or writing (as I should be), I've decided to play Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, a crazy little epic medieval warfare video game...

One last chance before the kiddo's come home and the move starts in earnest.

See ya later.

02 August 2007

One more Schumacher quote

In Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher writes about giving "a new direction to technology development, a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of man, and that also means: to the actual size of man. Man is small, and therefore, small is beautiful. To go for giantism is to go for self-destruction."

Small Is Beautiful

I'm about 1/2 way through E.F. Schumacher's wonderful book Small Is Beautiful. I'm really, really, really enjoying it. It's not so much that he's a genius or an amazing writer as much as that he is a genuine human, and he writes with real warmth, insight and relevance.

The book is about macroeconomics, and it's downright engaging. He talks about things like courage, romance, faith and hope... but not in an irritating, wishy-washy, touchy-feely way. In a regular human way. Without using the word "distributist," he lays out a very strong case for distributism.

And, imagine my satisfaction when I read the following line:

"Any third rate engineer or researcher can increase complexity; but it takes a certain flair of real insight to make things simple again."

Hmmm... where have I read that concept before? In my own Simplicity Cycle book, perhaps?

01 August 2007

BJ's Dream

An excerpt from The Boomer Sisters In The City, the third volume in the Boomer Sisters series. It's almost ready to be sent to the illustrator... and the finished book should be ready by Christmas (if not sooner).

In this scene, the older sister (BJ) has a dream. Jekka is her younger sister. The imagery probably makes more sense if you've read the first 1/2 of the book, but I think you'll get the general sense...

That night, BJ dreamed she was riding a silver unicorn through the streets of New York City. Jekka was with her, dressed like Tonto and singing Silver Bells over and over again. They came around a corner and found a tall, skinny, bald man in a gray suit. He had huge paint brushes instead of hands, and they were dripping with white paint. He moved his arms up and down, laying wide strips of white paint on every building he could reach. The paint made the buildings disappear, and BJ somehow knew that if he painted the whole city, Jekka wouldn’t be able to sing.

A tiny man in a brown robe appeared. He was carrying a bell, and he winked at BJ, then began running towards the paint brush-handed man, waving his bell over his head and ringing it loudly. The little man rang his bell louder and louder, but BJ’s alarm clock woke her up before she found out what he was going to do.

Thoughts on "The Simplicity Cycle "

All my books are basically experiments. They are attempts to understand something, to make something, and to communicate at least some of that something to the world outside my own head. I write them for my own amazement and my own amusement, and am always thrilled to hear that other people find them worthwhile.

Chet Richards' recent review of The Simplicity Cycle got me thinking about that book in particular. His review really captured what the book was about and what I was trying to do with it. A positive review is nice to have, but a positive review that praises the book for all the right reasons - that's priceless.

The Simplicity Cycle, as Dr. Richards pointed out, is not a cookbook. I wasn't trying to instruct and inform so much as to guide and stimulate. The "examples" are really provocations intended to plant seeds of ideas which can flourish if given time and thought. I was aiming to remind more than to instruct, and, in the original sense of the word educate, to draw-out ideas and concepts from within people's minds. I was aiming to lead people forward, to the next step of design wisdom.

The book is theory, not practice, but it's practical theory. It is, in a sense, metaphysical, or at the very least philosophical. It is about subjective judgments, opinions, and shoulds, rather than objective analyses of mechanical optimization.

And it was a ton of fun to write!