How I spent my winter staycation

How I spent my winter staycation

Summary: I had a great staycation, but I did sorely miss all of you. It's great to be back, back on a schedule, and back to work.

TOPICS: After Hours

Wow, it's good to be back! Welcome back to the real world, everyone! Vacations and holidays are over, the apocalypse turned out to be a non-starter, and the silly season has left the building.

It's even nice to be up and writing at 7am again, after spending almost two weeks sleeping in, sometimes as late as 9am (I know, crazy, right?).

To be honest, I'm not a holiday fan. It's not that I don't like the winter holidays, I just don't like holidays. I'd much rather see my loved ones during times when the rest of the world isn't doing the same thing. Even so, this holiday break was quite pleasant, indeed.

Holidays disrupt my normal patterns, projects get put on hold, people who are normally all very easily accessible on my Google Chat are grayed out, and somehow, we're all supposed to switch into some sort of festive spirit.

Not my thing. I like my job(s). I really enjoy the people I work with, and I enjoy my projects. That's why I'm so excited that all the ZDNet bloggers will be trickling in over the next few hours, and my colleagues at CBS Interactive will also be back online again. I even missed you ZDNet commenters out there!

So, what did I do for my staycation?

I worked on a number of projects. My biggest effort was finally (mostly) solving the sound problems in the Skype Studio. In order to stay on budget when I first built the Skype Studio, I decided to reuse some old (as in Bill Clinton was President, old) sound gear, including a very cheap mixer and a Radio Shack lapel mic that I'd had sitting in a bin for over a decade.

As a result, sound was inconsistent. It was sometimes adequate, but other times was absolutely terrible.

I decided this was the time to fix that. I bought an interface, a new mic, and decided to hook them up. I tried to cheap out by still using my ancient mixer, but it's become apparent that's got to go since it has crackling noises. I'll go over the details of the sound project in a future article, but it was a fun staycation keep-me-busy thing.

After I got the sound working, I recorded five short lectures for my UC Berkeley extension students, to help them understand the course I'm teaching and some of the practical aspects of programming. That was also a fun project, and I think it will help my students.

Another project I worked on was moving my home content management server off of a very low-end Atom-based PC onto a Mac mini (a machine that's probably 20-times faster).

I just moved the Linux VM over to the Mac, and created an XP-based VM for some of the other maintenance scripts, and got myself a fast overall speed increase with almost no work. I'll probably tell you about this in more detail sometime soon, but the takeaway is that the Mac mini makes a nice little home VM server.

I somehow didn't get around to doing any programming (it was on my list, but I just wasn't in the mood). Instead, though, I set up a slick little blog site for my wife, so she can write about her hobbies and share her posts with her friends. It was fun seeing her so excited about having her own hobby blog.

Good eats

Beyond tech, my wife and I learned how to make a rib roast (it's easy -- and a lot of meat). That was great fun, especially since what comes out of the oven is one of my favorite cuts of meat.

Like everyone else during the holiday season, we ate way too much. The highlight was oatmeal peanut-butter fudge. The addition of oatmeal does wonders for the texture of the fudge. Yum.

We also watched a lot of movies and TV.

We had a fun movie marathon watching all three Men-in-Black movies together. I like doing movie marathons because you notice things you might not otherwise have seen when you let a lot of time pass between movie viewings.

We saw a fascinating movie call The Conspirator, which was all about the disturbing trial of Mary Surratt, the woman who owned the boarding house where some of the Lincoln conspirators plotted Lincoln's 1865 assassination.

I also re-watched the 2009 Star Trek movie reboot, which was a lot better on the second watching. If you haven't watched it a second time (especially on Blu-ray), I can't recommend it highly enough.

We played video games. She's been playing an action platformer, while I started Assassin's Creed III. My big surprise, though, was playing Dishonored, a stealth game that's sort of an alternate-history steampunk. Great game, although a little short.

Finally, we watched a lot of Star Trek Voyager and I started back in on my Smallville collection. I've just made it to season six.

All-in-all, it was a great time to freely choose projects and activities, to eat a little too much, to sleep a little too much, and to work a little too little.

I had a great staycation, but I did sorely miss all of you. It's great to be back, back on a schedule, and back to work.

I wish you all a healthy, hearty, and productive 2013.

We're back, kids! We're back! How about you? Did you have a good break? What did you do, watch, eat, make, or get? Post your winter break experiences in the TalkBacks below.

P.S. I know this article lacks links. It's only 7am on my first day back. There's not enough coffee in the world.

Topic: After Hours


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • What break?

    I had Xmas and New Year's off. Both were spent visiting with family and friends and other assorted leeches. I did have to replace a failing drive in my desktop machine yesterday -- fortunately the old one wasn't so bad that it couldn't be cloned.
  • Staycation

    I also stayed home. One reason is I deliver about 180 newspapers every day, rain or shine, 365 days a year. Thanksgiving papers are the largest.

    My son who is a Marine came home for the holidays. Good to see him. We played a lot of board games: Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Space Alert, etc. I got a gift pack from my wife that included some Johnny Walker Blue Label in it. Got my 14-year old daughter a Nikon D3000. Wish I'd done a bit more research first and gotten her a D3200, but I spent less and it's still a very good starter DSLR. Wrote two chapters of a novel and put them up on Scribophile for others to critique and did some critiquing also.

    Relaxed a lot. Didn't overeat, but I could've done with less chocolates in my stocking this year.
  • That's funny...

    At some point one evening after shoveling 6 inches of snow from my driveway, I did end up watching a few Voyager episodes, and I did finally start playing the AC3 gift that came with my new gfx card (was disappointed sadly).

    Family came into town, did some barhopping. I remember some massive high fives and screaming across the bar as the Bengals kicked the winning field goal against the Steelers to make the playoffs a 2nd year straight for the first time in 20 years.

    Managed to get a little hungover/queasy after several bourbon slushies on x-mas eve combined with a Turducken. Did our x-mas gift exchange the next day, now I need more hangers for all the new clothes. Met some friends for New Years, had a blast. I pretty much did everything I wanted to over the holidays minus go skiing. Strangely, I was actually looking forward to getting back to work today.
  • Any regrets?

    ... so, your guy, President Obama, just did a deal where he gets $62 billion in revenue (static, not dynamic modeling, which doesn't measure economic impact), while increasing spending, and overall the deal has NO impact on the $1.2 trillion deficit! What leadership. What brilliance. What a bi-partisan tone. What BS! Oh, did I mention we're close to default AND another credit downgrade? Remind me, again, what qualifies you to meander through politics and economics in what most of us come to as a "technical" journal?
    • default?

      Close to default? Not in this or any other universe that I know of. The U.S. is currently borrowing at less than 2% interest, which when you factor in inflation means that investors are actually paying Uncle Sam to borrow their money. That doesn't happen with a county that's "close to default." For comparison, look at Greece, a country that actually is close to default. Before the most recent bailout, the country was borrowing as high as 25‰. Even now interest rates on Greek government debt are well above 10‰.
  • my vacation

    My vacation? I spent it clearing my relatives' hard drives of malware and Trojans. (To be honest, I think I enjoy that sort of thing more than the usual holiday chit chat around a fake fire.