Left Penumbra

April 24th, 2020 by helava

So, at the end of 2017, I joined Penumbra in order to build up a software team for a VR system they had started working on.

Over the last two years, I built the team up from nothing to something like 38 developers. We figured out how to build a series of VR activities to help with upper body stroke rehab. We restarted big chunks of the product that had been in development by other teams, and brought them in-house to get them up to the necessary quality.

I ran the software side of the project from zero to the point where it was ready to go out the door. I built up a team of people I loved working with, and through that network, made a lot of new connections with people I now love working with.

It was difficult. It was stressful. 2019 was hands-down the most professionally challenging year of my career, but we got it done.

And now I’ve left.


Well, officially, I wanted to spend more time with my family. And while that’s true, it’s obviously not the whole story. For those who know, there are echoes of the past in there. Suffice it to say, when you build something that’s as valuable as what we built, there are always people who want to control it.

But, I can rest easy. After Wonderspark, my confidence was utterly shattered. Now? It’s totally fine. Give me a problem space with a really high degree of uncertainty and enough money to fund a team of 5-20 people for a few years, and I’d go toe to toe with anyone in the world.

I’m sad to not be able to be part of the iteration that’s necessary to make the thing we built truly great – that’s unfortunately the nature of these things – you launch, and *then* it becomes great. But the thing we built? It’s the best thing like it in the world, by far.

I hope it reaches the people it’s supposed to. As for me, I’m sure the same thing will happen as before. It’ll go on to be worth a bunch of money, I’ll be erased from its history, and that’ll be that.

I don’t care. I know what I did. I know who helped me do it.


December 31st, 2019 by helava

Didn’t write much this year. Mostly because it was a crazy year, and an exhausting one. My dad survived, as I probably mentioned, which is great. Work was hugely challenging almost nonstop all year. The kids were great. Growing like crazy – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

We went to Tahoe at the end of the snowy season, which was a really nice trip. Read all of Dragon Ball & all the available English-translated Doraemon. Also Whistle. All of which were really good.

I went to a swim meet for the first time in 20+ years.

The kids were super into Pokemon Go, Let’s Go, and Sword.

We went to Russian River. Twice. Wicked Slush is delicious.

We got the entire backyard redone, basically from the ground up.

We went to Oahu, and stayed in Ko Olina. Hung out with the Kimizukas for Thanksgiving. Went back to Kailua. Ate at Boots & Kimo’s. Snorkeled with the kids & played in the waves. My favorite vacation, ever, to date.

So here we are at the end of the year. Lots of good things, but overall, too much work, not enough life. Something I need to change in 2020.


  • Sleep better. My new formula is: In bed by 11. Blue-blocking glasses on at 9. No food after 8. No drink after 9.
  • Release the thing we’re working on. My hope is that by the end of the year, we’ve helped 10,000+ people.
  • I spend lots of quality time with the kids, fully-engaged with them, and not just perpetually exhausted from work.
  • Cook more interesting things.
  • Develop a physically-active hobby of some sort.

Well. It’s Been a While

October 26th, 2019 by helava

Been a bit since the last time I’ve written anything. What’s happened in 2019? My dad survived prostate cancer almost killing him. That’s certainly the most significant thing that happened in the first part of the year.

Through the rest of the year, for me, it’s mostly been work. Lots of work, lots of stress. Trying to ship a combination of novel software and novel hardware turns out to be even more difficult than I’d thought. And I wasn’t expecting it to be anything but hard.

Kids are good. 1st and 4th grade, which still feels crazy. We recently redid our backyard, and the result is really, really great. If you haven’t seen it, come over some time.

I was never able to resuscitate my iMac, which is kind of a bummer, but having a PC in the house is useful for gaming, and if I ever decide to do some independent development, it’s nice to have something I can actually do non-iOS stuff on. Unreal’s been really neat to learn – even though I’ve basically forgotten everything I learned at the start of the project, knowing more about the state of the art re: tools has been a great experience.

Mostly, though, still just chugging along. Trying to get this shipped. Trying to spend as much meaningful time as possible with the kids. Trying to get enough sleep and mostly failing.

Life’s good, though.

2018 pt 2

December 30th, 2018 by helava

And yeah – the end of the year post is supposed to be sort of reflective, right? I’ve already mentioned my dad’s health, which is hands-down the big negative of 2018 aside from the dumpster fire of American politics.

The kids have been spectacular. Both of them are reading up a storm, they get along like gangbusters, and it’s just great to see them grow into their own, different, little people. K writes little stories, and he likes singing and dancing. J isn’t so much into dancing, he sometimes likes singing, but really likes drawing. Both of them like drawing. They make up little games to play, and have also been playing a bunch of games as well. GBA Pokemon Emerald is the only videogame they’re playing (though they were exposed to Smash Bros. at Sean & Hoa’s place, and J was smitten, so I expect that’ll change), but they’ve also been playing Bug Bingo (gift from Kim & Jussi), Go Nuts for Donuts, Uno, and more. They gave Dos a shot, but didn’t like it nearly as much.

They’re taking swimming lessons, and mostly getting the hang of it – they clearly like just bouncing around in the water aimlessly more, but eh, what’cha gonna do. I told them they’ve gotta keep at it until they both reach a certain level where they can comfortably swim across the pool, and if they can do that by next summer, we can stop & get a membership again @ Piedmont so they can play.

Work’s been great – chugging along. Project still secret, so there’s not much to say about it other than I’m really happy at work, I love the team I’m working with, and I think we’re doing something both interesting and meaningful. What’s not to like?

So yeah. That’s where I’m at right now. How are you?


December 30th, 2018 by helava

So. Basically the end of 2018. I dropped the kids & Ei-Nyung off at the airport in the very early morning, and will spend the next week alone at home while they’re in Atlanta, visiting Ei-Nyung’s side of the family. I was out of PTO days, and given my dad’s recent issues, it seemed like it made sense to stick around. So here I am.

We’ve got some handy-folks coming starting tomorrow to fix the drywall issues that resulted from the water line to the kitchen faucet bursting. That was no fun. They’re going to be doing some other things, too – mostly finishing up details in the house that we’ve spent 10 years without finishing, like painting trim, finishing and painting the drywall under the stairs – stuff like that, and adding trim to all the windows that still have that shitty, rounded-corner finish from the original contractor, who’d done an abysmal job.

I spent the entire day today trying to prep for that by cleaning up where I could so that there’s actually space to move around. Which is good, but geez. Spent the entire day at it, and didn’t even come close to finishing. Hopefully they’re willing to move some stuff around in order to get access to the things they need to get access to. ūüėź

My dad’s still in the hospital. Still struggling. While recovering from the colostomy operation, they’ve started him on chemo, radiation, and hormone therapy, so he’s getting pummeled on all sides, and it’s taken a huge toll on him, which then takes a huge toll on my mom. I get out to the hospital when I can, which is basically every day I have off, and I try to leave early one day a week mid-week to relieve my mom early. I basically haven’t had a “down” day since he went to the hospital in the beginning of the month – it’s either kids, work, or my dad – I can handle two okay, but all three is definitely grinding me down a bit more than I’d have hoped. Still, while he’s miserable, everything is kind of “best case scenario given the circumstances”, so hopefully things start feeling better sometime soon. We’ll see.

It’ll be interesting – the kids & Ei-Nyung left, and when they return, the house will be different – mostly in subtle ways, but they’re touching every single room in the house in some way or another. Gonna be an odd week.


December 10th, 2018 by helava

Yeah, sure – but ignoring the last post, what else is new?

The kids are great. A wonderful team. Neck deep in Pokemon. J’s been playing Pokemon Emerald on the Game Boy Micro, which is pretty hilarious. K also plays sometimes, and watches. This is the first non-mobile game they’ve played, and it’s pretty neat to see them understanding the rules and narrative and all that fun stuff.

I’ve been on a board-game bender that has lasted the better part of a year. I have way more games than I can play, but there are still a bunch of fairly interesting things, and I find that the mechanics of board games are really satisfying to read through. The social and tactile nature of boardgaming is something I’ve really found to be missing from most videogames – mostly because social videogaming is such a cesspool of humanity – it’s not fun to just endure people screaming into the mic, or an endless barrage of misogyny, homophobia, etc. Gamer culture sucks.

But yeah – it’s late, time to sleep.


December 10th, 2018 by helava

So, the big update is that my dad has prostate cancer. The last week or two have been pretty rough. Because of his paralysis, he was diagnosed fairly late – the tumor is already quite large, and one of the reasons they found it was that he was essentially having some bowel obstruction – which was, of course, the tumor.

In order to fix the immediate problem before starting to address the bigger one, they had to give him a colostomy – where they pull part of your intestine out your side, and you evacuate your bowels that way. Obviously not a trivial surgery, but not an outlandishly difficult one. The operation went well, and he spent the weekend recovering. But Tuesday evening, just as I arrived at the hospital – I’d left work a little early that day – he was looking extremely pale. Literally the moment I walked in the door, the nurses found that he was bleeding severely – which is why he was pale, and his blood pressure was dropping.

This’ll get a little TMI, but I want to write it down so it’s there – basically he was bleeding out of the colostomy, and also out of his rectum. He was basically lying in a pool of blood – but because of the paralysis, he couldn’t feel anything, and the sheets were such that it wasn’t noticeable until you actually looked fairly carefully.

The entire evening, we were convinced he was going to die. The problem wasn’t just the bleeding. There was an infection from the surgery – bacterial – and he was also weak from essentially required malnourishment before the surgery. He’d lost so much blood that the nurses spent 45 minutes trying to give him an IV and failing. He’d wail at the pain when they’d puncture his arm – I imagine it must have been more severe than a normal IV puncture, because it sounded horrifying – and this went on, progressively stressing everyone out, for nearly an hour. They had a vein scanning device, trying to find something to tap into, but there was nothing.

And because of that, no blood transfusion, no liquids, nothing – it was like a progressive downward spiral there was no way out of. They took him to get a CT scan, to see if they could stop the bleeding, but nothing was obvious – and it wasn’t clear whether whatever it was was still bleeding, or whether it had stopped. So we just watched the blood pressure readings going lower and lower, and I did my best to try¬† and stay level-headed.

We called his immediate relatives, and he got a chance to talk to his brother & sister (and my other aunt), but we didn’t get a chance to get in touch with my cousin. My mom was getting more distraught – she was still holding it together in front of him, but she was clearly not going to last any longer.

The bleeding had indeed continued – the doctors had said if it was still going that they’d do another scan and try to embolize the bleed. Oddly, the company I work for makes products that are used in embolisms – they essentially stop the bleeding by going in through the artery (vein? I dunno) in the groin, and finding the bleed from the inside, then injecting a physical blocker to plug the hole. It’s a balance, though, between stopping the bleeding and blocking the bloodflow, so again, not a thing without some risk.

During this operation, which took an hour and some, my mom and I sat in the waiting room & talked. In part about all the things that she hadn’t said to my dad. Things she wanted to say – for forty-plus years – and hadn’t.

My parents haven’t had the greatest relationship. They’re both stoic and reserved to the point of ridiculousness. Affection, physical or otherwise, is … hard to come by. They’re both incredibly critical, perfectionist micromanagers, stubborn as hell, and self-righteous like nobody’s business. It’s amazing they’ve gone as long as they have without killing each other, but they’re also strangely suited for each other in a bizarre sado-masochistic kind of way. I say that with love, but it certainly wasn’t easy growing up as their kid.

So that they’d go their entire relationship and never talk to each other about the good things they feel for one another isn’t the most surprising thing in the world. It filled her with regret.

For my part, I think I’ve said the things I need to. Maybe not everything, maybe not the best way, but I think the important things have been said, and if something sudden happens, I’m okay.

The embolization went well. The bleeding stopped. They gave him a “central line” IV which tapped into something near his collarbone. I assume the “central line”. But they were able to basically give him sufficient blood to get his pressure back up, enough fluids and nutrients to survive, and by 2am, he had stabilized enough that it looked like there was nothing else to do. So we went back to my parents’ house and slept.

When we came back in the morning, he was still looking better. That was last Wednesday – it’s Sunday now, and every day has been a little bit better. He’s starting radiation tomorrow for the tumor. The infection is decreasing but not gone.

Most things are looking as good as they can, but the problem now is that “as good as they can” still isn’t great. The tumor is large. It could start bleeding again at any time. Who knows how hard radiation’s going to be on him, and what the actual odds of that succeeding are? It’s going to be a long, hard road from here forward. As long as he’s up for the fight, I’ll be helping support him.

Oh – and Wednesday morning? My mom and dad had a talk. Not a long one, but the moment I realized they were talking, I stepped out of the room. She walked out a few minutes later, and it was clear that they’d said some of the things they needed to.

Don’t wait. Tell your loved ones you love them. Tell your kids you’re proud of them.

Social Media Poison

August 15th, 2018 by helava

So, I’ve quit Twitter. How quit? Requested my archive, deleted my account quit. All my accounts – old ones, like Nonsense Industry & Give Me Fuel, my public one, and my private one. All gone.


Two major reasons:

  1. The people on the service. Yes, there are some wonderful ways that Twitter provides an outlet for marginalized voices, and real-time coverage of events in a way that hasn’t been possible before. I will miss those things. But the problem is that Twitter also enables and incentivizes a brutal hyper-aggressive toxicity and mob mentality that … well, it doesn’t provide me with anything. I’ve been caught up in the internet outrage mobs in the past. I’ve felt the thrill of being able to join in, yelling at someone doing something stupid. And I don’t need it. More, once it became really obvious that this was¬†what Twitter is cultivating, I definitely needed it even less. But there was at least some tradeoff – marginalized voices, grist for the outrage machine.
  2. The company. @jack runs a poisonous company¬†because he has no morality. Morality isn’t what you believe. It’s how you¬†act. And the way Twitter¬†acts is as though they highly value Nazis, Gamergaters, other hate mobs, and they don’t value the victims of those mobs. For a long time, I handwaved it away as part of the “well, things come with some good and some bad,” until Gamergate, which initially drove me off Twitter in disgust. Then there was the election, and their continued support of the “President”. And then there were the Nazis. And yeah, you know, when you’re talking about a company that supports Nazis and gives them a platform, and supports Alex Jones/InfoWars/Breitbart/etc. and gives them a platform, you haven’t just gone a little overboard, you’ve completely lost sight of what it means to be a decent human being.

And I don’t want any part of it. I will miss pithy little exchanges, sure. I’ll miss being exposed to some really interesting, timely, and unique voices. I’ll miss weird little mostly-passive interactions with friends who are too far away to see regularly. That sucks. But there has to be something¬†better than this shit. And having run some online communities, a community is¬†what the company enforces. The behavior you get is the behavior you allow, and there isn’t a way to maintain a community that isn’t toxic shit without having a set of enforcement guidelines and values that stem from¬†believing something about the kind of community you want.

And not enforcing anything – taking the “free speech” route as a cop-out,¬†is making a statement. The statement is that you don’t value the voices of the victims. You believe that Nazi mobs, gamer manbabies, and the like have the right to harass and threaten innocent people – sometimes because of their gender, sometimes because they said something that made you feew a widdle sad. And that shit doesn’t fly.

The thing is, once I articulated that to myself, and said, “This is what I believe,” a lot of other online things became less tenable for me to participate in. I think Facebook is fundamentally, fatally flawed because they will never act as a¬†social network that connects people, they will always act as¬†an advertising company that is targeting you. That’s their business model. That’s what they do, and it’s reflected in how they treat your “private” information, all the way down to a foundational level. They pitch you fake news because¬†that’s how they make money. That’s their Unique Selling Proposition is that they can target you with propaganda¬†better than anything else in history, and if that isn’t fucked up, I don’t know what is.

Reddit? Ugh. There are parts of Reddit that are¬†amazing, and there are parts that are the absolute worst the internet has to offer. I don’t want to give up the amazing, but holy shit, if I could have even the slightest impact on the negative shit that it hosts, I feel like I have to quit it. And on and on and on. Quora, which ostensibly is a Q&A site – big chunks of it are clearly just Russian propagandists trying to stir up shit, and Quora doesn’t stop it because it drives engagement. So at some point, I have to ask myself, “Where is the line?” and then actually act as though I have a belief about what it means for a company to host toxic shit.

So. Yeah. How are you?


July 5th, 2018 by helava

Lovely trip so far. I assumed a lot of this trip would be spent dealing with helping my cousin, but circumstance seems to be that we haven’t ended up being able to do much for him, which is a little bit of a bummer, but it’s certainly a heck of a lot easier.

We’ve spent most of the vacation at the lake. Started out in Montreal for a day, since I’ve been¬†near Montreal a few times, but never actually in it. We went to the science museum in the morning, and hung out with my friend Alex & his girlfriend in the afternoon. Ate Texas Barbecue the first night, and basically tapas the second day. No smoked meat, no poutine. WTF. The science museum was excellent. Big exhibit on Dreamworks (which is weird, since our friend used to work there) which was neat – maquettes, concept art, etc. A neat super-wide screen dragon flight clip, based on the How To Train Your Dragon series.

We then went upstairs, where most of the interactive exhibits are, and one of the things we had to do was try to make a little device to pull a weight down an alley that a fan was blowing down. I ended up making a binder-clip & straw “car”, which did the job, but K stuffed some foam into a tube & the tube did just about as good a job. :O

Got to Lake Meech that evening, and met up with Jussi & Kim, Kari-Michael & Deb, and hung out a bit. I think most of what we did Monday & Tuesday was just hang out & talk. Nick, Kim’s nephew (I have no idea what that makes us as relations, but it’s always nice to hang out with him), was there as well, and it turns out he knows some of Ei-Nyung’s co-workers! We might end up at the a conference he recommended this year re: accessibility. That could be pretty cool.

We went to the Ottawa Science & Tech museum, and saw the Lego Art of the Brick exhibit. Great to see in person – I’d seen pics for ages. The whole museum is really impressive, though the iPod they had on display is newer than the one in my closet. :\

Still, if you’re ever at a Wheel Of Urine, you’ve gotta spin it.

Today we hung out, went to the beach, didn’t do a ton of anything, which was great. It was the first day that J & K actually went *in* the lake, instead of just looking at the fishes, and I think they had a good time.

It’s nice up here. Hot as hell this week, but Jussi & Kim have a great setup here, and it’s also interesting to hang out with them – they eat simply, but well – the food’s nothing like what we make at home, but it’s also super delicious. It’s nice. Slower. Things can take a little more time. Obviously that’s vacation speaking, but it’s nice to slow down a bit sometimes and just relax.

I’ve been reading Dan Pfeiffer’s Yes We (Still) Can, and he was at one point hospitalized for stroke-like symptoms brought on from extreme stress & really high blood pressure. I feel like that’s where I’m at a good portion of the time. Being able to take a minute & slow down, brew coffee slowly, cook a simple meal, and just stare at the lake for a bit… yeah. It’s what I needed.

Nothin’ Much

June 23rd, 2018 by helava

Not a lot going on. Working, kids, summertime. J’s in summer camp (Sarah’s Science) all summer, mostly. I’ve been getting my old Cannondale Super-V back in shape, and tomorrow I’m likely gonna swap out the in-need-of-service-I-can’t-provide rear shock, and try to strip down the front shock & get it back in working order. It’s been pretty nice to get it back up & running. I’m hoping at some point in the not-too-distant future to get both of the kids on bikes, but this summer the big goal is “get really comfortable & safe swimming”, so that’s what we’re doing on Saturdays.

Been playing a board game called Charterstone with Sean, Ghia, and David, and it’s really fun. Not super complicated, but quite elegant, and the evolution of the game from session-to-session keeps things really exciting and fun. I’ve got a bunch of other games I’m really interested in trying out, so after Charterstone runs its 12-course session, we’ll see if that group continues with something else. Max, Hannah, and Francisco have come over and we’ve played Azul, which is¬†excellent, and I really can’t recommend it enough. Awesome game.

I biked to work one day last week, and it was great. It’s basically 19 miles round-trip, and I did it with an electric assist via a “Copenhagen Wheel” which gives your bike a boost. It’s a neat wheel, but it’s got some glitchiness that I’m not entirely sure is fixable. We’ll see. I’ve been e-mailing them regularly to try to see if we can figure it out. It’d be a bummer to have to return it. ūüėź

K’s looking forward to Kindergarten. We went to a little Monte Tavor picnic today, and it’s kind of crazy to think we’ve been with them nearly 8.5 years, and it’ll be over in just about two months. Crazy.

Work’s going well. Project’s making solid progress. Every once in a while there’s a step backwards, but for the most part what we’ve been doing has been received so well by the potential customer-base that I’m pretty certain we’re gonna make some waves when we launch. ūüôā Really looking forward to it. It’s odd, because it’s not just “really looking forward to it because maybe that’ll finally mean revenue,” but when it’s “really looking forward to it because we make a real positive difference in peoples’ lives” it’s kind of a different level of motivation.