Welcome Back to the Obituary Blog

I kid, but yeah, it seems that I post a lot about people dying.

It’s been almost 4 years since I’ve spilled any words on this thing. Maybe time to resurrect the ol’ m.net?

Layla C. Shifflett, 1980-2014

I met Layla on the school bus, back in 1994. She was friends with Susan Haring, and she was riding our bus that day to go over to Susan’s house. I had always had sort of a standoffish relationship with Susan. But this new, attractive, laughing girl was with her and I couldn’t help but be drawn to them.

And somehow, despite me being relatively shy, our initial meeting turned into acquaintance, which further bloomed into an easy friendship. Layla went to Susan’s house pretty frequently, which meant that she rode our bus frequently. I looked forward to those afternoons on the bus, where we could all just be kids and not give a crap about anything but goofing off and who likes who. But also because I got to see Layla.

Layla was my first “girlfriend”, in the way that when you’re a freshman in high school and don’t have a car, job, money or options you can call another person your “girlfriend/boyfriend” even if that means all you ever did was talk on the phone a lot.

I never kissed Layla, never felt her skin, never did anything prurient in the least. And after a little while, she called me on it; I didn’t have a good answer, and that was the end of that. I was 14 and inexperienced, and I knew that she had other “boyfriends” before so she had to know more about this “relationship stuff” than me, so I was insecure and doubting and just not equipped to process how I felt, nor how to be mature about the whole thing.

We stayed friends the way that you do when you break up with someone amicably.

After high school, I didn’t see Layla again until well after I had moved to Philly and was dating Megan. I was visiting Meg out in West Chester and Layla ended up being our waitress that evening. It was great to see her; she was her same old self. That was in 2004. That was the last time I saw her.

I heard the awful news last night that Layla had passed away after losing the fight to a long illness, at the age of 33.

I’m struck by how much debris is bubbling up in my brain

  • Her claim of having invented the “rats nest” hairstyle (before it was cool, obviously)
  • Sitting next to her in Spanish III with Sra. Johnson. One time, Sra. told Layla to put her “Gluteus Maximus” in her seat and Layla’s reaction was that she thought Sra. was saying she had a big ass. I calmed her by saying, No, that’s just the name of the muscle.
  • A long winter walk along the bank of the Brandywine near my mom’s house.
  • She loved horses. She could ride the shit out of a horse.
  • Her mega crush on Amy Eckles brother
  • She got her hair done like Jennifer Aniston (layers? I forget) back when that was the thing to do
  • The sound of her voice, echoing off the metal riveted walls of the school bus
  • We used to pass notes back and forth a lot. We used to write actual snail-mail letters to each other. Once, she sent me a lock of her hair. I remember it smelled like her shampoo. I still have it in a box in the basement, somewhere.
  • The way she said her stepdad’s name, “Bob”, had a little lilt at the end.

I didn’t know the adult Layla. But I’m sure she was as vibrant as the Layla I first met, 20 years ago.


I get told once a week at least, by strangers, friends, family members, etc., that I should have been a teacher.

The thing is, I could never do that. Not as my job.

For one, I don’t really like kids. But that’s a whole other thing.

For two, I’m only good at teaching people that want to learn, or have more than a passing interest in what I’m talking about. I remember being a teenage kid in a class that I felt was beneath my consideration or attention. But hey, newsflash: teenagers are assholes (See “For one,” above.)

But whatever, people have been saying this to me at least since I started at Maritz in 2004, 10 years ago.

I never realized or felt like I was “teaching” anyone anything. Most of the time, I was just explaining. Something that I knew and they didn’t, and they needed to know: how do I format this chart? Is there a way to make all of the cells in this column have the same formula? How did you do that without using your mouse? etc.

I never saw it the way they did. Something I’ve always thought about myself, is that I’m fairly normal. In the range of normalcy, when you plot all 7 billion humans living on planet earth into a continuum, I’m most definitely somewhere near the middle. Sure, maybe above average, but far closer to normal than the folks all the way at one end or the other.

So, I would reason, if I’m fairly normal, and *I* figured all this stuff out on my own, why can’t everyone else? Why can’t they spend 2 minutes clicking around on stuff until it makes sense? Why can’t they just google it, the way I do when I get stumped?

Surely if I can teach myself how to view source on a webpage and then learn from that source code and then write my own… can’t any other normal person?

I used to be good at drawing stuff. When I was in school, the other kids would sometimes say, “wow, you’re really good at that.” Even as a kid, I was bad at taking compliments. “I guess,” I would say.

The thing is, I wasn’t being modest. If anything, I was inadvertently being insulting to the other kids. My reply of “I guess,” somehow always sounded like, “Sure, maybe, but why can’t YOU do it?”

(Not that I’m particularly bad at drawing stuff now, I just haven’t practiced in a really, really long time.)

But back to knowledge: I think the realization at which I arrived while at Maritz is that knowing how to do something isn’t the important part. Knowing that it’s POSSIBLE is the most important part, and the HOW will come naturally. The rest will figure itself out.

A Lesson About My Job, Through a ST:TNG Metaphor

OK, so this one time, Picard is staring across space at a Romulan warbird, eyes flinty. The Enterprise has just been hit! The inertial dampeners temporarily go offline (screen shakes) and power to the bridge is interrupted (lights flicker)…

The atmosphere is tense, everyone is on edge. Picard spits out one single word.

Or like maybe this other time, the Enterprise is cruising through space at warp 5 (the mandated warp “speed limit”) and suddenly one nacelle begins to fail and the Enterprise is thrown into an uncontrolled spin at warp speed. The saucer separates from the star drive section and there are several hull breaches. Intact, the bridge is alive with activity; conn trying to regain helm control, engineering trying to reconnect failing power, and Worf is wondering if he’ll have time to grab his bat’leth on the way to Sto-vo-kor.

And still, amidst this chaos, Picard utters a single word.

Or, I don’t know, that time some other thing happened. Like a ship sized alien sending the Enterprise away in a defensive shockwave. Or when Q made that energy wall appear in empty space on the way to Farpoint station.

All those weird things, and Picard still said that one single word:


A command, inherent in which a subordinate is being tasked with providing an accurate, succinct and actionable assessment of the situation. Elegant in it’s simplicity and brevity; powerful, in that it is a demand.

He’s saying, in that one word, “Your lives depend on this, so give me the fucking info I need, so I can be your captain and deal with this [threat of the week],”

I never really thought about it before, while watching it, but the whole ship was set up for reporting. All the displays were information rich. LCARS was a great idea for information display. Worf or Data could rattle off ship stats in seconds. Reports would come in from “all over the ship” – but within seconds. The apparatus needed to be in place, such that Picard could depend on information in order to proceed with a plan. Operating totally blind is almost never part of the plot, unless they’re specifically calling attention to the fact they they ARE operating blind.

It might surprise you to know, that for years, I’ve lived in that role of looking at processes and making that into information. I try to be a human LCARS.

I got a new job about three years ago. Shortly after I posted this. I’ll probably make a post someday about my new job, but suffice to say one of my major tasks has carried over from my old job: reporting. I get to make all kinds of reports.

And it helps make a company operate and grow by a significant amount each year. I do my part and defend our ship against all manner of foes, simply by being able to capture, store and report meaningful information.

Romulans be damned, captain, because here’s the information you need.

Nineteen Ninety Seven

I talked about past lives in a previous post, available here.

1997 was the summer before my senior year of high school. My junior year was the only year of high school where I felt like I fit in, and that I had real friends. I was comfortable with myself, and who I was turning into. I had basically no prospects for post-high school education, I was disinterested in academia, and just wanted to be left with my cameras in peace.

I worked at a Camera Shop (now owned by Ritz… I think they eventually just dismantled the Camera Shop Inc brand…) and for that particular summer, I had the pleasure of working with my brother at the Painter’s Crossing store on many, many occasions. He was the manager, so he was sort of also my ride to work. This was the summer that I “woke up” and realized that photography was awesome and it was something I wanted to do all the time. It captured my imagination, since after all it was equal parts craft, science and art – three things that have basically always appealed to me. All rolled into one hobby! One extremely expensive hobby.

Also during this summer, I took on a full time role at the Longwood Camera Shop. See, my brother had left the Longwood store to go work at the Painter’s Crossing store as the manager. I sort of… “filled in” for him after he left, though I was often reminded that I had big shoes to fill. And while I never broke the record of 13,500 prints in a single day, I *was* able to get the best Noritsu Paper Cartridge Changing time: 29 seconds from when the darkroom door closed to when I emerged with the changed drum. I was badass, what can I say?

Anyway, I also got to work with some other awesome people. I learned an awful lot about light, chemicals, film, glass and technique. From a lot of people. A lot of people. It was this summer that made me eventually decide that I wanted to pursue learning photography after high school in a more official capacity.

I met my first girlfriend this summer. Actually, I met her mom. Her mom, while picking up her prints one day, got my number “because her daughter needed some help with her portfolio” or something. What can I say? Moms have a thing for me? It must have been the vintage plaid suit jacket that didn’t fit me properly.

(Well, that’s not true. I had met the girl in question before, but for about 5 minutes. In her giant station wagon. With her brother. She played Milli Vanilli via cassette tape. This was 1997, like, 8 years after Girl You Know It’s True came out, and definitely well after their careers had been totally destroyed. Thinking about it now, I think they took all their stuff out of print because of the lip-synching scandal. I wonder if she still has that tape.)

So 1997. I think back on it as one of those ‘endless summers’ that people tend to get misty about. Staying up until 4AM doing my first oil painting. Going on photographic expeditions with my brother. We got pics of Hale-Bopp using his 500mm reflex lens on his Minolta X700. I think he used a 2X teleconverter, too. And like, Tri-X pushed to 6400. It was the year I reclaimed his old darkroom from entropy.

I would spend my whole paycheck on chemicals and paper and sink whole days at a time in the darkroom that summer. I fell in love with latent silver images, rapidly revealing themselves in the tray.

It was this year that I stopped hating pictures of myself. I met some new friends and said goodbye to others. It was the first year after many without, that I had hope. Hope that the world out there would be easier, and for a long time it turned out to really be much easier.

I’ve been thinking about 1997 a lot lately. In the past couple years, I’ve had existential crises, been depressed, lost some hair, changed careers, grew the missing hair back, stressed myself the fuck out, and a handful of other terrible things for my body and psyche. I remember 1997 as the year when I knew myself. When the worst kind of stress I could have revolved around whether I could afford some RC paper and maybe some Rodinal to play around with.

Is it weird to ask yourself regularly: what would my 17 year old self do in this situation? Because that thought crosses my mind two or three times a week.


Steve Jobs resigned yesterday.

I applaud that he’s making such a tough decision with grace, and it helps to know that he’ll still be around at Apple. I’ll echo Woz in stating that he just needs some Steve Time. And he’s certainly earned it.

My problem isn’t so much with him resigning, as it is how this is making me think about stuff I don’t like to think about.

Since I was a senior in high school, Steve has been back at the helm of the company he founded, churning out one ridiculously well polished device after another. More than just a CEO, he was the public facing figurehead of a company that made products that spoke to my desires as a creative individual. As a person, he was representative of things within all of us that I can’t verbalize right now.

It’s been obvious for a while that his health has been failing. The pancreatic cancer. His liver transplant a few years ago. His steadily declining waistband. I know it sounds melodramatic, but it really has been like watching a loved one decline into old age, body going along with it.

Apples surge in popularity has lessened the whole “creative individual” angle for me, but that in no way diminishes the quality of their products and the user experiences they garner. I make a living on a Mac. And an iPhone.

Whether you want to admit it or not, he has influenced your life. If you’ve never used a Mac, never held an iPhone, or never listened to music through iconic white ear buds, you can still not deny that this one man has impacted all of us.

Even if you don’t know his name, Steve Jobs made changes in the world that made your life better.

My Day Job.

I’m stressed out. My job, it is stressful.

For some background: anytime someone asks me “What do you do?” I find the easiest thing to do is tell them that I have Chandler’s Job. In fact, they actually are probably the same job. People usually say, “… What was Candler’s job?” and I reply that is exactly the point; I have a generic knowledge-worker job, in a cubicle for a big company: the details aren’t so important in casual conversation.

My official title is “Information Manager” which is to say, I manage information. As anyone knows, information is the life blood of an organization: you need info to make decisions, you need info to move the process forward.

Let’s say you make a mistake. That’s bad. But not knowing how large the impact of the mistake will be? Well, that’s worse. You need information.

So I work for this company, for some real smarties. The best in the particular industry in which my company is known. I’ve learned a ton from them. I learn new stuff every day, without exception.

I actually started there as a temp back in 2004. Doing data entry. I had just left Educom and was basically getting paid the same money to do like, 30% of the work, and 20% of the thinking.

They had a Rube Goldberg style setup for getting data from the client’s system to ours. It wasn’t really my job, but I somehow took ownership of getting this process more organized. Ultimately, this extra work made it easier for me and the 10 other temps on the team to actually do the work and get stuff done. Since so many hands were touching the process, a single person (me, by default) had to exert constant vigilance on the process to ensure we were meeting our deliverables and that nothing “got lost in the cracks” or whatever we used to say back then.

To keep track of it all, I made my very first Excel spreadsheet. I was 24 years old and had never used Excel. Ahem. I spent a good deal of time in that file, made it look nice, made it easy to read. I basically applied anything I knew from web development (most of which wasn’t applicable, but still)

Since the process to which I was attached was under some scrutiny by the client, I was involved in some meetings or conversations with folks that normally wouldn’t “deal” with a temp. During the course of reviewing the process with the client and my superiors, someone recognized that I was doing all this extra organizing, and they moved me to a team of people just like me: anal retentive, detail oriented, and technically inclined. The Information Management Team. The guy in charge of the team took a chance on me, I’ll admit, since I didn’t really have much on paper to show anyone the things of which I was capable.

I got started with Office. I had never used Access before, so I grabbed some basic survival skills. Same with Excel, Word. In web development, these weren’t really file formats I had used, nor software I had needed. Also, I used Macs and anything Microsoft just felt icky to me. But now it was every day stuff. Within a year, I had a reputation for being “that guy” to go to when you have an Excel or Office question.

Over the past 7 years there, I’ve been promoted, gotten raises, moved between 4 major clients. Between 2006 and 2010, I’ve built reports covering over $150 Million. In 2010 alone, I reported on $60 Million.

So the stress. Back to the stress.

Lately, on any given workday, I receive maybe two or four ad-hoc report requests. This is in addition to the normal day to day tasks that constitute my job. Weekly and daily regular reports, monthly stuff that takes a ton of time, year-end summaries, ENDLESS slide decks, conference calls, emails, traveling to the client’s onsite location, etc.

I interact with third party vendors and perform a QC on information that they feed back to us. If anything is wrong, I have to go back to them for conflict resolution. I report on their ability to meet goals set by our client.

We’re also at a particularly sensitive time of the year where we focus heavily on meeting market share commitments to certain preferred partners in the marketplace. I refresh a projection in service of this at least once a day, though often twice or more.

I also conduct QC on our internal team and the data they influence.

And there’s always a random project going on. A semi-annual or semi-quarterly internal team review. Internal task forces get assigned frequently to tackle larger issues or organizational problems in the process.

Oh and add to all this: a common misconception is that I work in IT. I do not; it’s just a coincidence that I have the word “Information” in my title, and also that I’m a giant computer nerd and love to know how stuff works. Something that occurs quite frequently is that as soon as someone knows I’m “good with a computer”, they immediately ask me to do something that is not really my job.

So, all this stress? I’m going on vacation. Far, far away. We leave this Friday. Can’t wait.

So, I Quit Facebook

Yeah, about a week ago. In fact, I didn’t just deactivate my account, I salted the earth on the way out. Think “Russian retreat during French invasion” style scorched earth: I untagged myself from every picture, I deleted all my photos and albums, I deleted as many posts as far back as it would let me, edited all my profile information to be blank, changed all of my privacy settings to only allow ME to see my content, and then I de-friended everyone in my friends list. And THEN, I deactivated my account.

And yet, on the “Goodbye, hope to see you again” screen, Facebook basically says, “Hey, we’ll keep the seat warm for ya, in case you ever decide to come back. Just log in with your old credentials, and things will be just how you left them!” So there’s that, I guess. You know, because my profile is so robust now that it has no info, pictures, friends or status updates.

I got to a point where I was tired of “Hiding” people because their kids or jobs or politics were just so annoying. I had to dodge embedded youtube videos of musical artists for which I didn’t really care. I saw the same stupid internet memes posted again and again. What color is your bra? ugh. And farmville, fishville, happy aquarium, mafia wars, etc… double ugh.

After a while, I realized that there were only 4 or 5 people that I didn’t have fully hidden. And these were the 4 or 5 people that I actually talked to in real life with any kind of regularity, so why did I need to read stuff they would just tell me the next time I saw them in person anyway?

I don’t know if this is permanent or not. I like the fact that people can’t assume I know all about their lives when I see them now, and they have to tell me what’s going on. I don’t like being the last to find things out, though.

This is Going to Be a Little Nerdy.

Warning: the following post is some seriously specific and nerdy stuff. If you couldn’t care less about iPhones or clipboard managers then you can stop reading right now.

Still there?

So, Pastebot. From Tapbots, the makers of Weightbot and Convertbot.

I should mention that I’ve used Weightbot pretty consistently since August, and I love it. It’s chock full of little visual touches that add up to make a very polished product. They have perfect sound design – most actions are accompanied by some audio clip that sounds robotic or hi tech. I think the way I’m describing it makes it sound more annoying than anything, but the effect is that the app conveys a feeling of responsiveness, hi-techness, and fun.

I’ve also used Convertbot. A similarly high level of attention to detail went into this app as well. Though I much prefer Convert for my unit converting needs, Convertbot has an intuitive and creative interface, excellent auditory and visual feedback and it’s obvious that a lot of time and thought went into its design.

With these apps in mind, I would often wax poetic about any forthcoming ‘bots from Tapbots. To my utter astonishment last week, John Gruber at Daring Fireball dropped a link to the newly released Pastebot.

What is Pastebot? It’s a clipboard manager. When iPhone OS 3.0 was released, Apple finally provided a system-wide mechanism allowing users to copy and paste text and images. Pastebot extends this functionality in extremely useful ways.

Text. To use Pastebot, you must first copy something. In this case, say you’ve copied some text from an email or a webpage. When you first launch Pastebot, it will import whatever is currently on the system clipboard into the Pastebot clipboard. In it, you can store a maximum of 99 items. As you add more than this limit, the oldest items will drop off to make room for the new. So that text you copied? Well, now that it’s in Pastebot, you can do interesting things to, and with, it.

Pastebot offers something called ‘Filters’; as of this writing, they’re available in two flavors: text filters and image filters. For text, you can do things like wrap the text in HTML tags that you specify, encode or decode entities for URLs, and my personal favorite, Find and Replace text (the effect of replacing the text ‘live’ as you manipulate the ‘find’ and ‘replace with’ boxes is very cool).

The image filters allow you to rotate the image, adjust brightness, convert to black and white, adjust saturation, invert colors (negative) or turn the image sepia. Pastebot also offers an intuitive image cropping function.

Tapbots has indicated that more filters are on the way. A Contrast filter for images would be a great one to include, ahem.

Once you have doctored your clippings, simply tapping on them in the clipping list will copy it back to your system clipboard for pasting into any other app. The currently selected item will have a bright blue “LED” light to indicate its status as the item currently occupying the system clipboard. Aside from this, you can do other things with your clippings. Like send them via email, save them into your photo library (in the case of an image clipping), perform a google search (in the case of a text clipping), and finally, move the item to a folder.

What? Oh yeah. The app offers folders. If the 99 clipping limit for the built in clipboard seems a little anemic to you, you can create your own arbitrary number of folders into which you can store whatever clippings you want, permanently. The app allows you to customize the folder icons from a pre-defined set of six types, like “Documents”, “Settings”, “Email” etc.

And this feature, the folders, is where Pastebot veers into interesting territory. In this regard, the app seems to mirror features found in other note-taking or mind-mapping apps such as Simplenote or Evernote. After all, you can create new text clippings from directly within Pastebot, and it offers the full text editing interface found in other apps like Notes or Simplenote (or really, ANY apps where you can edit text) – much like Evernote, you can create a hierarchy of clippings for use as mind-mapping. As a on/off user of both Simplenote and Evernote, I find myself coming up short on reasons to not consolidate down to just one app.

But wait, there’s more. Seriously. Tapbots has released a free companion Mac app, Pastebot Sync, which allows Pastebot from the iPhone to paste items directly to your Mac and vice versa, via wifi. After the process of pairing the phone to your Mac, you simply tap and hold on any item in Pastebot, and it will be pasted to the position of the cursor in whatever the currently open application is on your Mac. It’s really cool.

So far, I’ve been focusing on the good things. To be fair, there are an overwhelming number of good things to say about this app. However, I have one gripe, which is something that is probably outside of Tapbots control. The need to open the app in order for an item to be imported into the Pastebot clipboard feels stunted. If this were automatic for EVERYTHING copied to the system clipboard, this app would be unstoppable. It would be such icing on the cake, such a smooth flow to go with such a well designed app. Perhaps some enterprising jailbreak enthusiast could hobble together an automatic bridge between the system clipboard and Pastebot?

Nice, Bright Colors

Oh man. So, for some reason, I’m not taking this very well.

I had a hard time moving from film to digital. Not because of any technical hurdle; it just didn’t feel right. Like, film felt so real. There was urgency. Scarcity of film meant you had to make every shot count. It kept you on your toes.

I had a long history with film. We were buds. Twelve years of my life, getting acquainted with one specific medium. I rebuilt my brother’s old darkroom that had fallen into disrepair. I expanded it to more than 4 times its original size. I really, really got intimate with some chemicals. And light headed. Four summers in a row, every day spent cooped up in a darkroom, developing tons, and tons, and tons of negatives and prints.

I still have my N90s body, and an old Nikkormat FT-3. I grab a few rolls of T-Max or Tri-X, and mess around with them every year or two. Jon (my brother in law. Hi Jon!) has my FM-2n – a camera that is seriously no joke. “You could hammer nails with it,” and all that. It’s seriously a beast, especially with the MD-12 motor drive. 3.2 frames per second! Using 1982 technology! I still have all the old darkroom gear sitting at mom’s house. I guess I’d just need to grab some fresh developer and fixer and I should be all set. Still have tons of hypo-clear and photo-flo and a really nice stainless film tank. Jonesin.

So this whole Kodachrome thing. Ouch. I shot a lot of slides with K25. K64. Those film bases are like maps to parts of my adolescence. I might try to buy a box and stash it in the fridge, and make it a point to use the film cameras every month. If for nothing other than to have some slides from the very, very end of the Kodachrome era, as proof that I lived to see it.

I'll miss you, old friend