Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Time for a New Adventure


On October 15th I will move on to my next career. It is time for me to say goodbye to Right Media and Yahoo!. The past 3.75 years have been an amazing experience, and without that experience there's no doubt that I would be ill prepared for my next job. GarageGames has hired me to be their Vice President of Technical Operations.The office is on 5th and Charnelton here in Eugene, so it's not only an exciting opportunity for me, but it means that my family doesn't need to relocate, either. Over the past two years we have come to love Eugene, and it didn't take that long. The prospect of leaving Eugene at this point is not interesting to us, so the timing and fit of the GarageGames job is perfect.

So, what does a VP of TechOps do, exactly? Well, it's my job to help the company figure out how to scale their systems. GarageGames has just announced, and I will play a key role in figuring out how to make sure the backend supports the demand of the number of users we hope we'll get. There's a lot of process and policy to put into place, and GarageGames is in a terrific spot for me in that I'll get to start in pretty much at the ground level and design that process and policy from the very beginning.

Friday, August 10, 2007

It's easy being green!

Our new Prius

Well, it is a bittersweet day in the Emerson family. My beloved '99 Honda Civic with lowered suspension and beautiful TSW wheels and 104,000 miles on it is gone. I never got the chance to add neon running lights underneath, or to add hydraulics or airbags to lift the car up while cruising the streets of Eugene.

On the other hand, last night Becca and I went to the Eugene Toyota dealer, traded in the Civic, and bought ourselves a brand new Toyota Prius. It's Silver Pine Mica (a really striking shade of green), and it's a package #6, which means it has leather, nagivation, bluetooth connection to cell phones, an upgraded stereo system with an AUX input for an iPod, and I'm sure it has a button to make waffles and hot cocoa somewhere on the dashboard. Becca did all of the negotiation and we got exactly the deal that we wanted, and our buying experience was smooth and painless. Huzzah!

Lena in our new Prius

Since we bought it late last night, Lena didn't see it until this morning. We went out and Lena had the key fob and went up to the door and held the handle, and the car unlocked for her. She then got in the driver's seat and turned on the auxillary power by pressing the Power button (the car won't actually start unless your foot is on the brake) so that she could roll down the window and have me take a picture. It's wonderful to have a car that gets such amazing gas mileage, and Becca really appreciates the fact that her spine doesn't get shaken when she goes over the bumps around our house.

I haven't driven our Prius yet, although we did take a different one out for a test drives some weeks ago, and really liked it. When you first start driving it, it runs completely off of the battery, which will take some getting used to.The view out the back window will take some getting used to as well, due to the horizontal window split in the rear, but the car does have a backup camera that activates when it is in reverse, so I'm not worried about backing over anything or anyone. The only problem with the car is that Eugene is filled with Priuses (Prii?), so we might need to put a Red Sox license plate holder on the car to make it stand out a little bit!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lena's new glasses

Lena’s glasses

Lena has new glasses! During a routine 5 year checkup, the doctor discovered that Lena's right eye is not seeing well. We then scheduled a meeting with an ophthalmologist, who determined that the communication between Lena's eye and her brain was not right. Apparently this is a reasonably common occurrence, and if caught before the age of 7 or so, can be reversed to at least some degree. He also gave her a prescription for glasses. So, Lena and Becca went eyeglass shopping, and this past Wednesday, the glasses arrived. I took Lena to the optician and watched her get fitted and adjusted. She looks beautiful, of course!

Lena’s glasses

She is very excited about the glasses, and is working out how to easily put them on (they wrap behind the ears, so they're a little more complex then normal glasses). She's wearing them all the time except when showering or sleeping or swimming.

Lena and Laura

Lena will wear the patch over her good eye for a number of weeks to help retrain her eye. Then she'll go back to the ophthalmologist for a re-evaluation, and we'll go from there. At first she was quite shy and didn't want anyone to see her eye patch, but the glasses have helped, because she really likes the way they look. Becca said that Lena tried many different shape glasses before choosing the ones she has, and in my opinion, she picked exactly the right pair.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Miniature Golf Memories

Thursday night was once again date night for Becca and me. We went to McMenamin's on 19th and Agate, and weren't terribly excited. We like the McMenamin's on the North Bank better. After dinner, though, we went on Franklin Street to Camp Putt Miniature Golf. They've got 36 holes of golf split into two courses. We did the "old" course (according to the 16 year old manning the desk). The course consists of tricky angles and "natural" obstacles such as boulders that you need to navigate around. On a number of holes, you have to hit the ball hard enough to jump the river, but if you go too hard, your ball will skip out of bounds.

Although this style of mini-golf is quite a bit different than what I remember playing with Papa and Mama (my mom's parents), I remarked to Becca as we were driving home (4 over par for me, and Becca's ... still learning!) that it brought back a flood of memories for me. I remember seeing Papa's scorecard on his dresser in the funeral home, so I must have been pretty young. I remember either the first or second hole had a yellow loop-de-loop that provided constant frustration. I remember Papa being really good. And I also remember the last hole, which had a sloped clown's face, and if you got the ball in the right place (the clown's nose, I think), you got a coupon for a free game.

Memories like these are what I want my children and grandchildren to have.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

A Waldorf Education

Lena and Laura in October

Our older daughter Lena turned 5 this past April, and that means Kindergarten. There are times when I look back on my post-college life and wonder how it has possibly gone so fast, and the realization that Lena is now going to school is certainly one of those times.

Becca and I have done a lot of looking at schools in Eugene. The public school system that we are in has a reputation of being quite good. But we investigated an alternative private school, and ultimately decided to apply and send Lena there for at least the first year, if not the K through 8 years. That school is the Eugene Waldorf School. The philosophy of the school is very different from the normal public school.
The Rosebud Preschool offers a warm and beautiful environment for 3 year-olds as they begin to explore the world beyond their home. Three mixed-age kindergartens give 4-6 year old children a loving family circle within which they are free to play and imitate in their natural way of learning.

As children begin Waldorf elementary school they are guided by a class teacher who begins with the first grade and carries the same group of children through the eighth grade. The goal of the grade school program is to support all students in developing their highest potential by encouraging the child's artistic, creative, and imaginative life and by providing a strong base in academic studies.

Subjects are taught in such a way that the whole child is involved in the learning process, from writing and illustrating their own lesson books beginning in Grade 1, to sowing, harvesting and baking wheat in Grade 3, and modeling a relief map of the western hemisphere in Grade 5. The Waldorf Curriculum provides an interdisciplinary approach to a wide range of academic subjects including mathematics, grammar, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, physiology, history, geography, and foreign languages in blocks of 3-4 weeks per subject. Teachers strive to bring the subject alive, first within themselves, and then through their presentation awaken the enthusiasm and interest of the students.

(From the Eugene Waldorf Website)

Parents of students at the Waldorf school are strongly encouraged to not let their children watch television, movies, or use computers. I am excited about the prospect of Lena joining other kids who have not been exposed to a deluge of hour upon hour of television time. Wikipedia has a good overview of the Waldorf philosophy.

One concern for some prospective Waldorf parents is the Waldorf philosophy about reading; first graders in normal public school environments are essentially expected to be able to read. In the Waldorf schools, this is not the case. The Waldorf School of Cape Cod has a nice FAQ addressing this 'concern':
Children entering the first grade in most public schools are expected to be able to read. In a Waldorf school, children start to learn to read in the first grade and are allowed to develop this skill relatively slowly. Why is this?

There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues unto adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.

Lena is excited about going to school next year. We want her to be excited about school for a long time. The Waldorf school may be a wonderful path for her. We'll see!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Microhoo!? Yahoosoft!?

Astute and devoted reader 'Sister Sarah' was fast on the draw to point out today's speculation that Microsoft is eying a merger with Yahoo!. What does this potentially mean for me? Well, at this point, it's just a rumor, and it's just a rumor about discussions. It doesn't impact the Right Media deal with Yahoo!. If a deal were to go through, it certainly would have an impact on the 200 former Right Media employees, 12,000 Yahoo! employees, and 71,000 Microsoft employees. But it's not worth worrying about or diverting attention to. Right now, I want to get into Yahoo! and learn as much as I can to help our integration process be as seamless as possible.

Looking at the challenges ahead merging Right Media into Yahoo!, I can't quite begin to imagine the challenges integrating Yahoo! with Microsoft.

Update: Looks like they're not talking anymore.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Yahoo! Here We Come

Right MediaYahoo

I've been working at Right Media since January of 2004. Yesterday it was announced that Yahoo! will acquire the remaining 80% of Right Media for $680 million. Once the merger is complete (a month or three), I'll be an employee of Yahoo!.

Life certainly has a way of throwing curveballs, and when I look back at how I got involved in Right Media in the first place, my mind boggles more than a little bit. Over Thanksgiving of 2003, my wife Becca's cousin Matt Philips and I were talking about Right Media, who at the time was looking for a sysadmin to come work for them. At the time I was employeed by Yale University, first as a sysadmin at Workstation Support Services and then as a perl programmer for the Statlab. Weighing the pros and cons of leaving the job security of Yale and joining the potentially risky life of a small startup company was no easy task. After talking with Matt, I did a phone interview with Brian O'Kelley (CTO), and then went in to New York City to interview with Brian and Mike Walrath (Founder and CEO) and Ed Kozek (lead UI developer). The pitch they gave showed me that this was not a dot-com company spending their money unwisely on pool tables, fast cars, and lavish company mansions, but a company with a solid business plan that wouldn't go under in a month or even a year. After a lot of conversation with my better half, we decided to take the plunge, and I became the eighth employee of the company.

In March of 2005, my second daughter (Laura) was born. Shortly after that, a few Right Media employees from the Eugene, OR office went on a business trip to NYC and signed a congratulations card, not knowing that it would change our lives significantly. When I took the card home, Becca asked about Eugene, and I told her about the tiny office Right Media had. This led to a discussion about potentially moving from New Haven, CT (where my commute was approximately 1 hour and 4o minutes on Metro-North) to Eugene. Upon further investigation, it turned out that Brian is from Eugene, and biased though he may have been, he thought that I would love Oregon and gave his thumbs up to relocate. The entire family flew out to Eugene in May, we found just the right house for us, and by June we were residents of Oregon.

Fast forward to October, 2006. Yahoo!, along with Redpoint Ventures and other investors, invested a total of $45 million in Right Media, and gained a seat on the board of directors. My job was now focused on three main areas: monitoring, metrics, and ad server operations. Using open source tools such as Nagios and RRDTool, as well as a plethora of perl and PHP code, we're monitoring all of our applications and processes, and trending hundreds of metrics over time. We've written deployment code to move from one version of the ad server to another without disrupting service, and we've written code to manipulate the many ad servers we have in parallel.

On April 13th, 2007, Google announced that they would acquire DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. Soon thereafter (I make no claims of cause and effect), I was called to New York to meet with various Y! executives to dive down into monitoring, metrics, and ad server operations. Yesterday, the deal was announced, and here we are, on the verge of becoming Yahoo! employees.

The prospect of becoming an Yahoo! employee and the changes that will happen as a result are both exciting and daunting at the same time. For the past 3.5 years I've been a part of Right Media going from a handful of employees to more than 200. Now, I'll be a part of a company that has 11,400 employees. The big wins for my team include access to Yahoo!'s vast knowledge base on how to do monitoring on a large scale. The good news there is that in talking with various Yahoo! executives, I saw a lot of nods of agreement as I was walking through how we do monitoring at Right Media, and it became clear that we've walked similar paths. This will certainly help the integration process. Another big win for us will be the centralizing of operations and getting my team off of level 1 support. In other words, my team won't be the first line of defense for dealing with ad server problems. That will probably eventually be handled by a 24/7 dedicated NOC team. Although all indications to date are that the Eugene office will live on, I don't know how long that will continue, nor do I know how long it will be until Yahoo! wants my team to be focused on things other than Right Media ad server operations. Integration is going to take some time, for sure. After that, we'll see. In all of my talking with various Yahoo! executives, it has become clear that Yahoo! and Right Media are culturally an excellent fit. I'm looking forward to watching the acquisition unfold; it's my first time through an experience like this, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.