Monday, August 17, 2015

And now for something somewhat different

A somewhat wise traveler walks a path in deep desert.

He comes across a turtle that has fallen on its back. Having some wisdom he carries the turtle to its shelter. As he turns to his path a clap of sound and light announces a Djinn.

“Oh wise traveler, you have proven your worth. For you I grant a great gift. I shall open a gate to the garden of paradise. From there you can choose a flower of immortal beauty to bring you joy and peace for all your life. Come and enter …"

“Ok. Stop there. I know this one. It’s that paradox of choice schtick. I enter the garden and everything is so wonderful my brain is like, totally blown. I wander the path but, of course, I can’t go back. Only forward. Every flower is more beautiful than the last — but I can only pick one. At first my path seems unlimited, but then I see the end in sight. I start to panic. Finally, in desperation, I grab the last flower. It’s kinda nice, but I’m left a bitter wreck for all the better flowers I coulda picked. Yeah, nice try, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Get thee hence Devil!"

The Devil, for the traveller has seen correctly, smiles and tips his hat. You are indeed wise, he says. Then he blasts the not-wise-enough man to eternal hellfire. [1]

When the Devil plays, you let him win.


My job died.

Our relationship lasted between 16-20 years, depending on whether or not I count time at an acquired startup. I started out a country doc, did a health informatics degree (thank you NLM), and I became a corporate health care IT R&D guy. For lack of alternatives I was "product management", but mostly I invented and implemented tools for health care workers to use - usually for patient care, more recently for analytics and population management. My real love was making docs smarter — that’s why I went into the business. In my GP days I was frustrated by not knowing the right stuff quick enough to provide the best care to my patients.

We had our ups and downs my corporation and I. My place in that world required skills I wasn’t born to; it was a fascinating challenge to learn those and survive (many thanks to several of my managers and mentors!). The corporation had its own issues [2], so the relationship required mutual forgiveness as well as mutual need. Like most relationships. Even during not-fun times the job was good for my family.

Alas, over the past few years the business changed. Eventually there was little need for a clinical decision support expert. Even I couldn’t see a way to justify my cost — the work didn’t exist any more.

My job died, but it left me an inheritance -  some time to choose my flower. Or invent it.


When I have to invent a solution, I look for constraints. Constraints are my friends; without constraints choice explodes. I have some constraints.

Age is a big one - I can see the garden’s exit. My exercise hobby gives me back some things, but it doesn’t change time. It would be good for my family if I earned some money. My family medicine board status expires this year, so i have to make a choice there. My family is strongly rooted, for the moment, in the most excellent Twin Cities of Minnesota. I have duties to my family that are perhaps above average.

Within these constraints there are things I’d like for myself. I’d like to give something positive to the world, something that might last a few years, something that I have a meaningful part in choosing and building. I would prefer not to join another large publicly traded corporation; I’ve done that one. I have a particular interest in cognitively disabled people. I’d like to do something I haven’t done before.


I did decide to take my (last) family medicine board exams. Over the past 3 weeks I’ve completed the qualifications to write the board exam in November. That process was considerably more painful than it needed to be, but that’s not my battle to fight (age teaches something). Preparing for that exam will take me 10-20 hours a week for the next 4 months.

I have technical debt from years of juggling work and family and health to manage. I’ve had a surgery I’d delayed. I’m cleaning up finances that got cluttered over decades. Family photos and videos, home stuff — things like that. More importantly, focusing on some special needs of my children, and taking each child on a plane trip (Montreal and San Francisco down, next up - London!). Oh, and taking my 93 yo father to visit his sister in San Francisco (just keep breathing for another 3 weeks everyone). That’s taking another 10 or so hours a week.

Then there’s exercise - mountain biking, road biking, CrossFit, inline skating — most of which also serves the needs of one child or another. That’s another 10-15 hours. Household maintenance takes time, it’s been a rough month for bikes and phones and computers. Writing, because that’s how I think and pay my geek dues. Exploring new tools and techniques especially on my post-corporate MacBook Air [3]. Learning FHIR and JSON data wrangling, catching up on 5 years of JAMIA articles, and other deferred professional obligations.

That all leaves a few hours a week to figure out my next move.

I’ll probably write about it.

- fn -

[1] I remember reading the original version of this story, but Google can’t find it for me. Maybe it was another universe. Related: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

[2] Contrary to the Supremes, corporations are not people. They have their share of quirks though; partly cuz they contain people, partly because they’re slouching towards Bethlehem.

[3] It is insanely bad luck to say that this is the most trouble-free and immediately useful device I’ve every purchased. I love buying mature Apple hardware, though I note that the iPhone 6 and new MacBook have had less quality issues than I expected. Now if Apple can only fix their software quality issues and seven years of lousy products ...


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