The Couch Table

This weekend, we finally had our new couch delivered.  (We ordered it in October.)

New couch, who dis?

One of the things we planned to do when it arrived was to build a couch table.  You may not have heard of a couch table before, but I promise that they are a thing.  (A quick search shows lots of examples.) The main idea is to create a 4-6 inch table behind your couch, and in my example, also bring the hidden power outlets from the wall up to an accessible location.

It should be noted that I am not an experienced furniture maker, nor much of a woodworking expert, so any advice or ideas you gain from reading this are entirely your fault.

Planning the Table

I really wanted to minimize how much space this table took up, so I started with the features that mattered most to me: the power outlets.  I spent time in the aisles of Lowe’s and Home Depot, but there wasn’t much variety, and the prices were pretty high.  I took a chance on a brand that had high ratings on Amazon, and was pleasantly surprised by the build quality and price.

Power outlet with cord

One of the things I liked about this outlet type was that it was narrow.  The width of the entire face plate was just over 2″, where a standard outlet face plate in the United States is 3.5″.

Outlet with dimensions.

This meant that I could build a table with a 4″ wide top (actually 3.5″, because the entire lumber industry is a secret society of liars) , and still have a comfortable amount of space on either side of it.  With a wider face plate, I probably would have been convinced to make it 6″ wide instead.

The only other part of planning was determining two dimensions: the length of the couch, and the height of the table.

Our couch, with the chaise extension, is 117″ long (that’s almost 10 feet!).  So that’s how long I want this table to be.  The back of the couch is actually much lower than the back cushions, so an ideal table height would come right to the edge of the back.  That is 28″ from the ground.

With those dimensions, I came up with a plan that looks like this:

It basically became a 2×4 base, with four structural 4×4 columns.  That structure is then completely covered in 1×4 poplar on the top and sides.  You should be able to easily modify this for the length and height of your couch.

Building the Table

Building this wasn’t terribly difficult.  A few long wood screws, and you’re on the right path.  I initially had aspirations to attach the poplar board with dowels, which would mean I wouldn’t have any screw holes, but the further I got into that project, the more daunting it seemed.  (It makes me appreciate the precision that IKEA engineering must have!)

4x4 with dowels

Eventually, I drove screws through the poplar boards to attach them, and filled the holes with wood filler before staining it. I also wanted to make sure that, once assembled, the table would fit in its intended location.  So we brought it inside to test it out before staining it.

Couch table with outlets

It looks like it is going to be perfect!  I’m still debating whether or not I want to use a router to accommodate the trim on the bottom of the wall.  It would allow the table to sit flush against the wall, but I don’t have the tools I’d need to do this in an efficient manner, and it looks pretty good without it.  I can always do this later if I change my mind.

Here’s a photo of the assembled table, with stain, but before the polyurethane has been applied.

Stained table.

To cut the holes in the top board for the power outlets, I started by tracing the box I wanted to cut.  Then, with a 3/4″ drill bit, I drilled a hole in the corner of my intended box.  From there, I used my jigsaw to work my way around the edges of the box.  It was certainly not as precise as I would have liked it, but it definitely got the job done.

The Final Product

This turned out even better than I could have hoped for.  As I said at the beginning, I’m no expert on any of this, but it was a fun project to put together.


Tips & Tricks for Playing Video with APL and Alexa

I am currently in the process of building an Alexa skill that contains all of the knowledge of the Star Wars Universe.  This includes characters, droids, weapons, vehicles, planets, creatures, and even different species and organizations.  It also includes the ability to request the opening crawl videos from each of the movies in the Star Wars saga, and the trailers for the movies, television shows, and video games.

It’s the videos that have brought me here to share what I have learned.

Alexa is available in a wide variety of devices.  Some small, some big, some with screens, others without.  For those devices with screens, I want to be able to provide my users with a simple workflow.

  1. Ask for a specific video.
  2. View the requested video.
  3. Continue the conversation when the video ends.

For the first two steps, this was surprisingly easy to implement using Alexa Presentation Language (APL.) . For the third step, it required some research and trial and error, but I have it working successfully now.

Identifying the Video a User Requested

While there is nothing complicated about identifying a user’s request, I’ll show you how I am handling this so that if you want to build your own version of this, you have everything you need.

In my Interaction Model, I have an intent called “CrawlIntent.”  This is there to handle all of the ways a user might ask to see the opening crawl of a specific film.  It looks like this:

  "name": "CrawlIntent",
  "slots": [
    "name": "media",
    "type": "Media"
  "samples": [
    "show me the {media} crawl",
    "{media} crawl",
    "can I see the {media} crawl",
    "show the crawl for {media}",
    "for the {media} crawl",
    "to show the crawl for {media}",
    "show me the {media} opening crawl",
    "{media} opening crawl",
    "can I see the {media} opening crawl",
    "show the opening crawl for {media}",
    "for the {media} opening crawl",
    "to show the opening crawl for {media}",
    "play the {media} opening crawl",
    "play the {media} crawl"

When a user says something to my skill like one of the utterances above, I can be confident they are looking for the opening crawl video for a specific film.  I also have a slot, called media that contains a list of all of the films and shows that I want my skill to be aware of.

  "values": [
    {"name": { "value": "Battlefront 2","synonyms": ["battlefront 2", "battlefront"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Clone Wars","synonyms": ["the clone wars"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 1","synonyms": ["the phantom menace"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 2","synonyms": ["attack of the clones"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 3","synonyms": ["revenge of the sith"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 4","synonyms": ["a new hope", "new hope"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 5","synonyms": ["empire", "the empire strikes back", "empire strikes back"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 6","synonyms": ["return of the jedi", "jedi"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 7","synonyms": ["the force awakens", "force awakens"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 8","synonyms": ["the last jedi", "last jedi"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Episode 9","synonyms": ["rise of skywalker", "the rise of skywalker"]}},
    {, "name": { "value": "Rebels","synonyms": ["star wars rebels"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Resistance","synonyms": ["star wars resistance"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Rogue One","synonyms": ["rogue one a star wars story"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "Solo","synonyms": ["han solo movie", "solo a star wars story"]}},
    {"name": { "value": "The Mandalorian","synonyms": ["the mandalorian"]}}
"name": "Media"
This slot allows me to match the user’s request against the list of items my skill can handle, using Entity Resolution.  This allows me to be certain that I’m choosing the right video for their request.


Playing A Video Using APL

For the code of my skill, I am using the Alexa Skill Kit SDK.  This makes parsing through the JSON that Alexa provides far easier, and gives me greater control over building responses for my users.

To add APL to my skill’s response, I do something like this:

var apl = require("apl/videoplayer.json");
apl.document.mainTemplate.items[0].items[0].source = media.fields.Crawl;
  type: 'Alexa.Presentation.APL.RenderDocument',
  token: '[SkillProvidedToken]',
  version: '1.0',
  document: apl.document,
  datasources: apl.datasources

Line #1 refers to the location of my APL document.  This document is the markup that tells the screen what to show.  Line #2 is dynamically updating the source of the video file to be played, so that we can play the appropriate video for the appropriate request.

As you’ll see in the APL document below, we define a Video element, and include a source property that indicates a specific URL for our video.

The important lesson I learned when building this is that I don’t want to include any speech or reprompts to my user in this response.  I can send this APL document to the user’s device, which immediately starts playing the video.  This is completely counter-intuitive to everything I’ve ever considered when building an Alexa skill, but it makes sense.  I’m sending them a video to watch…not trying to continue our conversation.

Adding an Event to the Video When It Is Finished

Finally, I had to do some exploration to figure out how to not only identify when the video has concluded, but also prompt my skill to speak to the user in order to continue the conversation.  This is done using the onEnd event on the Video element that we created earlier.  Here is the entire APL document.

  "document": {
    "type": "APL",
    "version": "1.1",
    "settings": {},
    "theme": "dark",
    "import": [],
    "resources": [],
    "styles": {},
    "onMount": [],
    "graphics": {},
    "commands": {},
    "layouts": {},
    "mainTemplate": {
      "parameters": [
      "items": [
        "type": "Container",
        "items": [
            "type": "Video",
            "width": "100%",
            "height": "100%",
            "autoplay": true,
            "source": "",
            "scale": "best-fit",
            "onEnd": [
              "type": "SendEvent",
              "arguments": [
              "components": [
          "height": "100%",
          "width": "100%"
    "datasources": {}
This is the second lesson that I learned when building this.  By adding this onEnd event, when the video finishes playing, it will send a new kind of request type to your skill: Alexa.Presentation.APL.UserEvent. You will need to handle this new event type, and prompt the user to say something in order to continue the conversation. I included the argument “VIDEOENDED” so that I’d be confident I was handling the appropriate UserEvent. Here is my example code for handling this:
const VideoEndedIntent = {
  canHandle(handlerInput) {
    return Alexa.getRequestType(handlerInput.requestEnvelope) === 'Alexa.Presentation.APL.UserEvent'
    && handlerInput.requestEnvelope.request.arguments[0] === 'VIDEOENDED';
  handle(handlerInput) {
    const actionQuery = "What would you like to know about next?";
    return handlerInput.responseBuilder
With these few additions to my Alexa skill, I was able to play videos for my users, but bring them back to the conversation once the video concludes.
Have you built anything using APL?  Have you published an Alexa skill?  I’d love to hear about it.  Share your creations in the comments!

Questions about Careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)

I was recently asked by a high school freshman about my thoughts on careers in STEM.  I thought maybe some of you might also be interested in my answers.

What is your job and what do you do in your job?  How does it relate to STEM?

I am a technology evangelist for Amazon Alexa.  First and foremost, I am a software developer, but the primary responsibilities in my job fall into three categories: learning, building, and teaching.

For the learning part, Alexa is constantly learning how to do new things.  It is my responsibility to be an expert on Alexa, so I am always keeping up with the latest news and releases.  It also means that I need to understand how to use the new technology to write better software.

For the building part, I spend almost 50% of my time creating new things for users to do with Alexa.  Two things I’m currently working on are a giant trivia game, and a Star Wars database.  The Star Wars database will be able to tell you about anything in the Star Wars universe, including droids, characters, vehicles, weapons, planets, etc.

Finally, the teaching part of my job is my favorite, but it’s only possible with the first two parts.  I have to spend a ton of time learning and building to become a credible expert to teach.  I travel all over the world speaking with software developers that want to make their own apps for Alexa.

My role really sits in the middle of all of the STEM letters.  Science is a big part of it, because we are experimenting with artificial intelligence to make Alexa work.  This requires things like hypotheses and controlled experiments to determine what works, and what doesn’t.  Technology is an obvious one, since we make technical devices, and run Alexa as software in the cloud.  Computer engineering is an important part of creating software for Alexa.  Understand what is (and isn’t) possible, and the mechanisms to accomplish them is important.  Finally, there’s math.  Any software developer will tell you that they use things like algebra every day, but this goes even deeper with voice applications for  Alexa, where we use math to determine what you said, the probabilities that it matches our expected outcomes, and to generate responses.

What education did you pursue to achieve your job?

My educational path was a little different than most people in the software industry.  I got a bachelor of science degree in Psychology, where most of my peers have degrees in Computer Science or something similar.  Most of my knowledge and experience in software development is self-taught.  I would take apart the source code of interesting websites, or read books about software development to get better at it.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in the STEM field?

There are a couple of obvious advantages: STEM jobs pay really well.  Last I checked, a software developer fresh out of college can make over $70,000 a year.  Even more with some experience.  STEM jobs also have the advantage of being flexible.  It is primarily “thought work,” which means you can often do it whenever and wherever you choose.  This allows me to live in Ohio but work on a team located in Seattle, for example.  We have different time zones and locations, but still work well together.

One of the disadvantages is that most STEM careers require a commitment to constant learning.  If you stop keeping up, even for a few years, it’s easy to get so far behind that you almost feel out-of-date.  The software industry moves incredibly fast, and you really need to keep up to maintain success and relevance.  STEM roles also tend to not be very diverse, which is a huge disadvantage for those involved.  Diversity in the workplace makes software better, because it brings everyone’s perspectives together.  When there is a lack of diversity (85% of software developers are men, for example), the end product is worse for everyone.

Why do you believe STEM is important now?

I think people are talking about STEM today because the diversity problem needs to be solved at a much younger age.  Women and girls are often talked out of pursuing technical careers as early as 6th grade, which leads to the diversity problem I mentioned earlier.

I also think it’s important because it is estimated that there will be almost 2,000,000 STEM jobs that will go unfilled by 2022 because there won’t be enough people with the right education to do them.

How important do you see STEM jobs being in the future? What new jobs might need to be added to the field?

The future is science, technology, engineering, and math.  Every company will need software developers.  Those that avoid it will struggle to compete against those that do.  It adds efficiency, streamlining, and accuracy.  Many of the jobs that require physical labor will be replaced by robotics.  Many of the jobs that involve drivers will be replaced by self-driving cars and trucks.  But this also means there will be a huge need for robotics experts and mechanics to maintain all of this automation.  (It also means scientists will need to figure out how to create human organs soon, because 20% of all organ donations today come from traffic accidents, and self-driving cars will ultimately eliminate those!)

I can see a very near future where an entire restaurant is supervised by one person, but run by computers and robots.  A future where nobody owns or drives a car anymore, but just calls for a self-driving robot to take them where they need to go.

And with voice, where scheduling appointments with your dentist is as easy as telling your voice assistant to schedule one.  The assistant compares your calendar with your dentist’s calendar, checks your dental insurance to make sure it is covered, and makes the appointment.  It probably also books you that self-driving car to get there. 🙂

#21: Han Solo, Hardware, and Hoodies

Han Solo

Speaking of Han Solo, you may have already gathered that I am a pretty big Star Wars fan.  I fell in love with the films as a kid, survived the prequel trilogy enough to defend it, and have really enjoyed sharing the sequel trilogy with my children.

So it might seem natural for a guy that works at Alexa to want to make sure Alexa knows everything about Star Wars the same way that I claim to.  So I am.

A few weeks ago, I started a new project on my Twitch channel, where I spend time live-streaming software development, smart home stuff, drones, and technology in general.  It’s a great outlet for me, because I get to share my passion with others, record it for those that couldn’t tune in live, and explaining things is the best way I’ve found to be sure that I understand something.

So far, it is able to tell you about nearly every character, droid, creature, vehicle, weapon, technology, species, location, and organization.  It can also play the original trailer and opening crawl videos from each of the films and television shows.  It can also quiz you.  So you can say “Quiz me on Episode 5” and it will choose a random thing from that film to give you clues about.  Or you can say “quiz me about vehicles” and test your knowledge about vehicles from around the Star Wars universe.

It’s not done yet (so you can’t ask Alexa for all of these awesome things yet), but it should be coming soon.  In the meantime, if you want to have some input on what it does, or just see how it is constructed (like a Death Star), come join me sometime!  I live stream every Monday and Wednesday from 10am – 12pm Eastern time.  You can also subscribe, so you’ll get a notification when it happens.


I love computer hardware.  I’ve built my own Alexa device from a Raspberry Pi.  I have a device attached to my garage to open and close it.  I have a ceiling fan I can operate with my voice.  The point is, I love to make cool hardware do cool things.  And this January, I’m taking that one step further.

At one of my favorite technology conferences, Codemash, I’m working with a good friend of mine, Brandon Satrom, to run a 4-hour technology workshop that combines my passion for hardware with my passion for voice technology.  The first two hours, you will assemble and create your own IoT device, complete with sensors and lights.  In the second two hours, you will build an Alexa skill that is specifically designed to control your newly created hardware.  Change the color of the lights, ask for the status of a sensor.  You get the idea.

I’ll be publishing all of the instructions, code, and tutorials as we get closer to the event, so keep an eye on my GitHub.  And then even if you couldn’t make it to Codemash, you’ll be ready to build some cool hardware for yourself.

Hooded Sweatshirts

I fought the term “hoodie” for the longest time, but it appears to have stuck, and I’ve been caught using it from time to time.  It’s not my favorite word, by far, but it IS one of my favorite articles of clothing.  I’m very particular about the types of hoodies I’ll wear, though.  I tend to aim for lightweight, and generally prefer polyester to cotton.  (Cotton is generally thicker, and it never sits nicely, so it gives my bulgy body extra bulges.) There are a few models of sweatshirt that I really like, so I thought I’d share my nuanced take on the most comfortable hoodies available.

Nike is the king of athletic wear, and this hoodie is at the top.  The biggest problem I have with it is that it’s expensive.  But that’s the ONLY problem.  The Nike Showtime Hoodie is generally at $100 or more.  It’s soft, and has a really smooth texture.  It keeps you warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.  And it just looks fantastic.  This one is white, but I’ve seen it in red, black, and gray, too.

This is Nike’s 2nd best effort.  The Nike Dry Training Hoodie is just excellent.  It’s usually around $60.  The polyester in this one is spun to feel like cotton (rather than the others which are that more “athletic” feel.) . It’s warmer than the others, but you’ll also note that both of the Nike entries here have a higher neck.  I love that higher neck.  It just feels cooler.

This is the Champion AO100.  It’s $22.  You generally don’t see these in stores, because they’re generally used to make branded logo apparel.  That’s actually how I discovered them.  I generally get something made for my team at Alexa for our big events, and this was last year’s entry (in black.)

This is the thing I see most of my teammates wearing when I go to the office.  It’s just comfortable.  It’s a tri-blend material, made from polyester, rayon, and cotton.  It’s so soft, and super thin, almost like a t-shirt.  Can’t recommend this one enough.

This is made by Amazon Basics, actually.  It’s $29.  And I know what you’re thinking: “Jeff, that has a full zipper.”  I know, I know.  But because it’s made of a soft polyester, it hangs on my body properly.  I only wish I looked as good in it as this guy does.  It also has a higher neck, but it just fits “right.”  I own several of these, and at the price point, it’s hard not to.

Also, if you haven’t taken a look at Amazon Basics clothing, it’s actually pretty fantastic.  I just bought some undershirts, and I am very impressed with the quality, especially for the price!  ($20 for 6!)

#20: Growing Up, Goose Game, and Gumlines

Happy Tuesday!  Time for more ramblings from my brain!

Growing Up

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what it means to be a grown-up.  An adult.  I sometimes question whether or not I’ve actually made it there yet.  I still make gross jokes.  I still think farts are funny.  I certainly don’t clean up after myself as well as other adults in my house might prefer.

But what does being an adult really mean?  We hear the word “adulting” all the time these days, as a reference to doing something that adults do, but fully insisting that we are not actually adults ourselves.  Opening a bank account.  Cleaning your carpets.  Starting a 401k.  I don’t think those are actions of adults, however.  Those are activities that are just boring, and nobody wants to be boring.

I want to assert that adulthood actually starts when you learn empathy.  The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel.  Some never do.  Think about the adults in your life, and think about the things they do that seem childish.  They make selfish choices.  They unintentionally (or intentionally) hurt others.  They put their own superficial wants above those around them.  They don’t consider the advantages they have over those that are less fortunate.  I contend that most of the representatives in our government have yet to make it to adulthood, because they haven’t yet grasped empathy.  For example, with empathy, there isn’t a single situation in which separating families and putting children in cages should ever seem acceptable.

Selfishness is an attribute of a 3 year old.  Not someone in their 70s.

The entire point of humanity is to make being a human better.  For everyone.  Not just for yourself.  Find someone your junior at work, and offer to mentor them.  Volunteer with a non-profit.  Donate your time or money to a food bank.  Share your knowledge and experience with those that need it.  For free.

Lifting others up is far more rewarding than stepping on them for your own gain.  Think with empathy.  Be an adult.

Image result for empathy

Goose Game

I recently discovered Untitled Goose Game on the Nintendo Switch.  What a delightful, simple, amazing game.  My quick summary is this:  You are a goose, and you start by terrorizing a farmer in his small city farm.  You steal his crops, his keys, his radio, all while honking your head off and hoping not to get caught.  You have a simple checklist of tasks you need to complete, and then you move on to the next part of the city.

The personality and animation of this goose, though…it’s hilarious.  When you grab something heavy, his head stays low and drags the item across the ground.  When the item is light, he can sprint away, with his head bobbling along and his wings flapping.  Someone really studied geese to get this right, and I think it was worth it.  They invested their time in goose physics instead of game naming, and it’s fantastic.  I give it five honks.

Have you played it?  What’s your favorite thing to steal?  Did you name your goose?


Let me start this part with a couple of disclaimers:

  • My father was a dentist, and I grew up with excellent dental care.
  • I have never had a cavity.  I never wore braces of any kind.

One of the things that my current dentist tells me regularly (my father retired a few years ago, and let me tell you, going to my first non-father dentist in my late thirties was a weird experience), is that people with really good teeth tend to have problems with their gums as they get older.  Maybe it’s overconfidence, but for a while, I thought it was a long running sales pitch.

They’ve been monitoring my gumline for years, six months at a time, and I’ve observed that my gums tend to bleed a little when I’m at the dentist, or when I floss (which isn’t that often).  So I finally gave in, and took their offer to try something called periotherapy.

In short, periotherapy is about four hours of treatment.  (We divided it into two separate sessions of 2 hours.) . They have 5 different sonic pressure water tips that they use to flush out the spaces between your gums and your teeth.  So imagine using a high-pressure power washer to blast your gums away from your teeth briefly.  And then doing that, for your entire mouth, five times.  Once for each tip.

Your gums are sore for a few days.  It feels like you have a fever in your mouth.  You also have to use special toothpaste with a chemical called Xylitol to aid in the healing and prevention of bacteria.  There’s also a special mouthwash.  There’s also these anti-bacterial tablets that you need to dissolve in your mouth each night.  It’s awesome.

Now that it’s all done and healed, my gums don’t seem to bleed when I floss.  It removed any of the bacteria that was living inside my gumline.  But I have noticed that a couple of my molars seem to be a little more sensitive to cold drinks and ice cream.  I’m hoping as time progresses, that this sensitivity will subside.

Have you gotten anything like this done?  What did you think?

#19: Followers, Friends, Family, and Funko

Happy Wednesday!  How was yours?


I’ve been a technology evangelist for over 12 years now.  It started with Microsoft in 2007, and it continues with Amazon Alexa today.  Much of my time is spent using new technologies, and building things with them.  But the rest of my time is spent finding an audience, and talking to them about what they like, what they need, and what they want in the future.

Developing a “following” is obviously important to my job.  I want to be useful, educational, and relevant to the people (software developers) that I’m employed to help.  Most of the time, I know that if I create great content, and provide utility, people will find me.  And that has been true for this incredible ride I’ve been on.

But there’s also times where I wonder if I’m doing enough.  I start to compare myself to others in my industry, and wonder how they gathered such a huge following.  It takes a large heaping of self-confidence (and a dash of hubris) to be able to remind myself that I’m good at what I do, and that my follower count is not a direct reflection of that.  Followers are nice, but I’m writing this for what is currently an audience of 50 people.  Do I hope more people will read it?  Absolutely.  Am I going to be defeated if they don’t?  Nope.  I’m writing this for me.

But what if I was a teenager today?  I’ve been doing lots of reading about this subject, and it scares me.  Children are basing their entire personal esteem value systems on the number of likes, follows, and streaks they have.  It’s the currency of this generation.  Your value to others is measured by viral posts, not by your quality as a human.  I don’t think it’s limited to teens, either.  How many of you would say that your “social media persona” is the same as your real persona?  We shine up the rough edges, use just the right filters, with the right lighting and the right camera angles.  We only talk about our successes, and don’t bother with our failures.  (Not sure?  How many divorces have you seen posted on social media?  How many baby gender reveals have you seen?)

My point is that it seems to be getting out of control.  We need to remind our children (and our friends) that we are the only one that can measure our own value.  It is up to us as individuals to determine our own self worth.  By allowing this measurement to be determined by complete strangers on the internet, we are setting ourselves up for nothing short of disappointment and failure.  And you’re better than that.  We all are.


Why is it so freaking hard to have friends?  I don’t mean people I’m connected to on Facebook, or Instagram.  I mean real – I’ve seen you in person in the past 30 days – kinds of friends.  I can count the number of friends I’ve seen in the past 30 days on one hand.  And I don’t think I even need all of the fingers.

We’re all busy, I get that.  But what are you doing this Friday night?  Let’s DO something!  Board games?  I’m in.  Hockey game?  Definitely.  Dinner and drinks?  You betcha.  And that’s the real problem.

Did you see how I framed that?  I’m waiting for you to ask.  If you invited me to a hockey game, I would drop nearly anything to make that happen.  Why didn’t I call you?  Why didn’t I ask someone?  Because that’s harder.  You might say no.  You might not like me.  It’s just more difficult.  But it’s what I need to do.

My mom said something to me when I was in my early teens that I will never forget:

“If you don’t call and make plans with people, nothing will happen.  They’ll never call you.”

I don’t say this often, but she was absolutely right.  Nearly nothing has been more true in my life than that statement.  I need to plan things, I need to make the call.  And so do you.  Your friends like you, and they’d probably jump at the chance to hang out, but the daily hustle-and-bustle distracts from the important stuff.  Spending time with the people you love in your life is more important than nearly anything else.  And we do a really shitty job of actually making that happen.


Speaking of spending time with the people you love, Thanksgiving is quickly approaching here in the United States.  An opportunity to eat the best comfort food your family lineage has invented.  An opportunity to be thankful for all that you have.  An opportunity to sit in awkward silence as your uncle defends his not-so-subtle racism through talking points he picked up on Fox News.

Are you looking forward to Thanksgiving?  What’s your favorite thing to eat on that day?


I have a problem in my life.  And its name is Funko.  For those of you unfamiliar with this word, Funko is a toy manufacturer based in Washington State, and their most successful line of products are called Pop!

If you haven’t heard of them before, you’ve certainly seen them on the shelves of nearly every store you can imagine.  There are exclusive figures at stores like Walgreens, Hot Topic, Barnes & Noble, Target, and even Foot Locker!  I started collecting these with my family five or six years ago, and it was a slow process.  We would find a character from something we loved, like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Marvel, and we just had to have it.  And the collection grew.  And grew.

When it started exploding was sometime last year.  I discovered there was a Funko app, and it would allow you to track your entire collection digitally.  Here’s what got me, though: once I’d entered my collection, they also assigned a dollar value to each one, based on recent sale prices at websites like eBay and other auction sites.  Some of earlier figures we had purchased were worth close to $100 each!  This completely changed my perspective on this collection, and future purchases.  “Will this be worth anything?”  “Is it rare?”  And that’s how we ended up here:

I’ve generally slowed my collecting way down.  There’s a few times a year that something interesting will come out, and I’ll be quick on the trigger to get one before they sell out.  The most I’ve ever spent on one is $15.  The most recent additions are:

So I’ve shared my collection.  The good, bad, and the ugly of it.  Now it’s your turn!

What do you collect?  Do you have anything from Funko?  What’s your passion?  I’d love to hear from you, friend.

#18: Elephants, Energy, and Excuses


I visited Denver, Colorado about a week ago, and with the proliferation of Safeway grocery stores there, I was reminded of a fantastic joke.

You: “How do you get an elephant into a Safeway?”
Them: <puzzled look>
You: “It’s easy.  You take the ‘F’ out of Safe, and the ‘F’ out of Way.”
Them: …

Them: “There’s no ‘F’ in Way.
You: You’re right!


I am 43 years old.  I’m old enough that I had to do the math to remember how old I am.  I have daily lower back pain, the hair in my nose and ears grows five times as fast as the hair on my head, and I groan every time I lean over or get up from a chair.  I’m an old man.

But it’s my energy level that’s the most concerning. I am tired ALL. THE. TIME.  I’ve been offsetting that with a daily Red Bull, but that’s no longer having much effect.  (Yes, I know it’s not a great choice.) . I don’t want to be tired.  I want the energy my children seem to have.  I started running every day a few months ago, and I think it helped a little.  I have been traveling a ton over the past month, and it has definitely slipped, but I got back at it this morning, and I noticed that I actually missed it.  I was still able to run at a good pace for a few minutes.  I was still able to catch my breath while walking at 4 miles an hour (a brisk pace).  I’m going back tomorrow, too.  I can get to the gym every day, right?

But I still think it’s more than that.  I’m heading to my doctor next week to figure this out.  Maybe it’s sleep apnea, maybe it’s allergies that have me congested all of the time, or maybe I’m just old and this is how it works.  I’ll just get more tired and grumpy until eventually I pull out of parking spaces without looking backwards, and yell at kids to get off of my lawn.

How are you feeling today?


Much of the stuff I mentioned in the energy section of this letter have become my excuses in life.  I don’t like it.  I have a huge presentation I need to finish, and I always seem too tired to work on it.  I’ve been livestreaming a ton on Twitch (give me a follow!), and afterwards, I tell myself I need a break because I feel so tired.

My wonderful, talented wife has a ton of cool home improvement projects percolating in that beautiful head of hers, and I find myself making excuses for why we shouldn’t do it.  Bad timing, too much money, back hurts, you name it.

Why am I making excuses to avoid things I would normally LOVE to do?  It’s time to get my head on straight, focus on what is important, and keep building the life and home I want for my family and me.

What are your excuses?  If you hate your job, why do you stay?  Same goes for that relationship!  If you’ve been meaning to learn something new, what’s the excuse you use to skip it?

If I told you that your life would be exactly the same 10 years from now, would you be happy about that?
So why are you constantly avoiding change?

Stop making excuses.  Get your ass out there, TOMORROW, and make the change in your life that you want!