Saturday, April 27, 2013

Cajun Code Fest 2013

Friday I finished another grueling 27-hour coding marathon at Cajun Code Fest in Lafayette, LA. Last year my team won the grand prize of $25,000 (along with bragging rights, mine and Betty's picture in the paper, and a "Mom's Favorite" award for a year), but this year we weren't so lucky.

You can't win all the time. Or maybe we could have won, had I only sabotaged the other teams' computers. Damn my sportsmanship!

This year's theme was "Own Your Own Health." That's a pretty general theme, and my team - consisting of me, my coworker John Harvey, Chris Burriss (my teammate from last year) and Chris's fiance Tara - couldn't decide what we wanted to do. We literally discussed this topic for three weeks straight.

During this process I found all the best food and drinks in the CC's and Starbuck's surrounding my house. Did you know that they have elephant ears at the Starbuck's in the Barnes and Nobles at Perkins Rowe?! They also have pizza pretzels. I think I single-handedly supported the Starbucks baristas for three weeks.

We had a thousand ideas, some good, some bad, and a few that we thought were great. We sketched out information exchanges, patient portals, phone apps, fitness and diet wizards, artificial intelligence for health apps, and the APIs to connect everything in the world... you name it, we thought of it and fought about it. Probably more than once.

To keep things light, I kept throwing out the idea of a phone app that would find the two laziest people in a certain vicinity, alert TMZ, send out notifications on Facebook and Twitter to all their friends, and then watch the two unlucky contestants fight for the right to not be Supreme Unhealthiest Person Alive. It would be like an instant reality show. I suggested it so often that now I'm thinking of really making that app.

But my personal two favorite pitches were as follows:

1. I wanted to make an abstracted health score based on health data. People could upload their health data into Microsoft HealthVault, which is a platform to store health data, which over 200 devices can write to. Then we'd create scores based on facets of your health - like say, Strength, Dexterity, Stamina, etc. You might recognize those as Dungeons and Dragon-type scores, and you're right - that's what I was going for. We'd create the algorithm to devise the health score, then we'd create an API to use it in a game, and then we'd try to have some Microsoft XBox Kinect game developers incorporate it into their titles. Why not just have Kinect see your movements? Why not have it also let you - all of you, even your health - be a part of the game? Maybe you can't storm Normandy as fast in Call of Duty if you don't have good health, or maybe you unlock secret items if you hit certain health milestones. I pitched this idea to Sean Nolan, the chief architect of Microsoft HealthVault, and he thought it was an interesting idea, although he could have been just humoring me; and

2. I wanted to make a Disney PhotoPass of Health. You get a receipt from a doctor, it has a code, you enter that code into an account online, and BOOM you see your data. Link your health insurance ID to your new HealthPass account (as I call it) and then you automagically get anything that goes through your insurance. Want a copy of your health records? We'd have them. The best part is that you wouldn't have to already be a part of the system to end up getting the data - just enter the code that you got from the doctor at whatever date and time is convenient for you, and then you'd have your info.

We ended up not doing either. Instead, we came up with the idea of putting the patient's health data under source control. For you non-software people out there, source control is what software people use to keep track of who checked in software files that make up an application. For example, I'm currently working on a project at work that involves 30 people in-house and 60 people offshore. That's 90 people working on the same set of files. How do we keep from waiting on other people to finish with a file before we check in, or make sure that we're not overwriting other people's files, or stop ourselves from killing each other? Source control.

We reasoned that if 90 people working on the same project from all over the world can manage to work with the same set of data at the same time with very few issues, then surely my primary care physician, ENT, allergist and radiologist can all work with the same set of data with no issues. Whenever I'd go to the doctor, I wouldn't have to tell them what medications I'm taking or what drugs I'm allergic to - that information would already be accessible to them. They'd be able to maintain their own version of my patient chart, but could sync it up with my patient chart under source control. We'd write APIs for other software developers to include in their apps, so that they could easily (and cheaply) interact with this unified patient record.

I write billing software for a healthcare company, and so I know that your doctor gets paid for every visit you make to him - but not for long. We're moving to an outcomes-based payment system where doctors will get paid more for treating you better. Why keep paying a doctor who makes you continuously go to him to get treated? Pay doctors more to treat you better. Doctors get paid per visit, and that's why you get double-booked and have to wait in the waiting area for an hour. Having access to a unified patient record would ultimately allow that doctor to provide better care for you because he or she would have a better picture of your health, which would then allow that doctor to make more money in the outcomes-based reimbursement system.

It's all about the Benjamins, baby.

It would also help with insurance costs. Insurance would ultimately pay less because patients would be visiting their doctors less frequently, because they'd be healthier. I talked with a health insurance broker at the conference, and she liked our idea so much that she gave me her number and wants my team to help her figure out if we can actually integrate our idea with some of her clients.

A lot of other teams at Cajun Code Fest worked the analytic edge, saying that they could provide information for scientists, governments or patients to show how their health fit in with the grand scheme of other patients, using Big Data analytic approaches. We included that in our app as well. But we thought that giving patients advice on how to improve their health is risky if you don't have the full picture of the patient's health record, and so that's the issue that we were trying to solve.

We liked our idea, and I'm very proud of my team. We didn't win, but we made it into the top 6 out of 17 teams. I think we got 5th or 4th. I also got free crawfish, which was the whole reason for signing up in the first place, so I'm happy.

The first place winners created an application to track a patient's medicine. I really liked this app. You could put your phone up to a bottle of medicine, and it would mark that you had taken that med. You could also print out a bar code or something similar to put on your weekly medicine pill box, in case you take a lot of pills and get them organized for an entire week. Last, if you didn't take your medicine, it could alert someone so that they could check on you. I have some friends who take a lot of medicine for various reasons, and when I told them about that app, their eyes lit up.

I also liked that application from the approach of a provider. My grandparents are in retirement homes, so they are given their medication by a nurse. How cool would it be for a home health nurse or nurse in a retirement home to scan in when a patient took a med, and then that person's family could look at the health record online.

There was a student group who created an app to track exercises - not just by miles run or how many times you exercised, but by intensity. I thought it was a great looking application, and was really impressed by the amount of information that the app provided.

Thanks to the great people at Cajun Code Fest for putting on another wonderful event. I'm always amazed at how many incredibly talented people we have in this area, and I always feel re-energized after just being around them.

We'll see you next year.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Butterfly Rampage

A month or so ago my mother-in-law got the kids some caterpillars. We put them in a terrarium, and we watched as they formed chrysalises and then emerged as butterflies. After we watched them flap around their terrarium for a few days, we decided it was time to let them out.

Ah, to be a kid. You see, this was a fun moment for me, but this was a SPECTACULAR moment for my kids. I wish that I could be this excited about things nowadays!

Here are the kids before we released the butterflies. They're intrigued, curious, pensive. I call this one, "Your move, butterflies."

[Awaiting the butterflies]

The butterflies didn't immediately fly out, so my kids bent down to take a closer look. "Come closer... closer...."

[Come closer....]

And then... whoa boy! A butterfly flew out! Chaos! And dancing!

[Chaos and/or dancing]

Seriously, tell me that I won the lottery and I might do an Irish jig, but I still wouldn't be as excited as these two little munchkins! It's pure joy!

[Happy happy joy joy!]

Watch out! Another butterfly flew out and zoomed right past the kids!

[Butterfly attack!]

There goes another! I am never this excited about anything anymore! Why am I so jaded?!?

[Chaos!]

Whew, that was close! Once the butterflies settled down and stopped rampaging around our yard, one sat still for a portrait. I call this one, "Butterfly in repose."

[Come closer....]

Wow, I'm tired just looking at those pictures.

I love getting to share these moments with my kids. Being a kid is awesome. But being a dad is pretty awesome, too... especially when you have fun kids.

Thanks for the butterflies, Grammy! We all really enjoyed them!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Imagination: Moved!

On Saturday we took the kids to see Imagination Movers. Betty and I were just as excited to go as we were to the Elton John concert! We were probably more excited than the kids.

If you don't know who Imagination Movers are, then you most likely don't have kids under the age of 10. And if you do have kids that young but don't know who the Imagination Movers are, then you are most likely either living in a post-apocalyptic nightmare and are the sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust (who somehow found blog material from the distant past) or are missing out on something really spectacular on Disney Junior.

Either way, check them out if you get a chance.

We like Imagination Movers for several reasons: 1) They're good, wholesome fun for the whole family; 2) they have great songs that Betty and I love singing with the kids; 3) they're from New Orleans; and 4) they're much better than Barney, the Wiggles, Teletubbies and Doodle-bops combined.

Did I mention that we had sixth row floor seats?

Floor seats to Movers!

Scott Durbin was the first Mover out on stage, and we didn't know who he was at first because he had cut his hair. We're not used to seeing him like that, so it was a little weird at first, until he joked that his mom loved his new haircut. I'm sure that was true! When he said that, I had a flashback to when I shaved my head for the soccer playoffs in high school and my mom cried.

Here are Rich and Scott rocking out on stage, and that's Scott in the back on the keyboards.

Rich and Scott moving our imaginations

Each Mover took turns jumping off the stage and running through the crowd. They made efforts at walking up every aisle so the kids could see them and give them high fives. Annie and Peter got to high five a few of them, and the look on their faces afterwards was priceless!

At one point, Rich (the lead singer) was walking down the aisle right past us and was having issues with his guitar strap. He was also holding a microphone. So he looked around and handed the mic to me - yes, ME - while he adjusted his strap. I like to think that I saved the day.

Another idea emergency solved!

After the Movers each had a turn to sing and play their instruments throughout the crowd, the kids pretty much stormed to the front of the stage. And after the concert, the Movers gave away guitar picks, drum sticks and other fun stuff, and they signed things for the kids.

Rich throws guitar picks

We scored a drum stick from the drummer touring with the band.

Drumstick from the movers!

And while I didn't score the set list, I did ask the person who got it if I could take a picture.

Set list

So I said earlier that the Movers are from New Orleans. They are - and three of them lost their houses in Hurricane Katrina. The only one who didn't - Smitty - is a New Orleans Fireman, and his fire department lost their building.

Fireman / Mover Smitty!

After the concert we wanted the kids to stay up for the long ride back to Baton Rouge (so that they would nap when they got home, which means we would get to nap), and the only way to do that is to pump them full of sugar. So we went to Cafe Du Monde in Kenner and demanded beignets stat!

Feed me sugar!

Cafe Du Monde's mascot is apparently a fish with a little hat. I made the kids make fish faces for this picture.

Fish faces!

Did our plan to hype the kids up on sugar work? Well, see for yourself: here's a picture of Peter and his cousin David playing with invitations for Peter's birthday party (which Betty made as light sabers because Betty is incredibly talented). Peter was Darth Vader, and since he's my son and I'm writing this blog, I'll say that he destroyed David's Obi-Wan Kenobi. (But did that only make David's Obi-Wan Kenobi stronger? Hmmm...)

Light sabers!

All in all, it was a fantastic concert. The Movers were sweating their butts off from all the hard work they put into the show. I'm younger than most of them, and I was tired just watching them! I don't know how they do it. They also sang some songs from other bands, like Ho Hey from Lumineers and What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction, which sounded great.

Thank you to the Imagination Movers for coming back to New Orleans to play for us, and thank you to the Archdiocese of New Orleans for bringing the Movers back to New Orleans!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I Dreamed a Dream in Time Gone By

I like to think that I'm old and cynical. But in reality, I'm still blown away by amazing things every day. I just don't like to tell anyone - it ruins my vibe.

But today I just can't help myself. Today Betty and I went to a school performance of Les Mis at the Dunham School, where Betty used to teach Kindergarten. And I'll be honest, I am in shock at how great it was.

Betty taught many of the kids who were in the performance. The kids from her first class are now in high school, and her last class is in fifth grade. She wanted to see them perform, and I wanted to make her happy, so I went with her.

I had never seen Les Mis or read the book by Victor Hugo. The latest theatrical release of Les Mis is on my NetFlix queue. But I sort of knew what it was about: France, independence and prostitutes. That's what most movies about France are about, right?

I don't know if kids have always been this talented, and maybe I hadn't noticed because I've been too busy watching Futurama and Archer on NetFlix, but these kids had some serious talent. They weren't shy, they didn't smile at their parents in the audience - they were all in. I thought I was watching a Broadway play.

It was fun learning about the students in the play as well. For example, one of the leads apparently plays football and had never been part of any kind of performance. The story is that when he told his dad that he was going to help with the play, his dad said, "What, you mean like moving boxes?" That kid had the part of Javert, the main antagonist of the play, and he was fantastic. And his parents didn't even know he could sing. Incredible.

Our friend Sydney was one of the leads as well. She had the voice of an angel. She also sings in a band, where she rocks out, so it was fun seeing this other side of her.

All in all, Dunham's performance of Les Mis makes me feel like I wasted my time in high school. What was I doing all that time? I mean, these kids in Baton Rouge just put on a Broadway-caliber play! All I did in high school was go to class, play soccer, and occasionally stay out twenty minutes past curfew just to see if my parents would get angry.

Kudos to the teachers and students at the Dunham School for their work on Les Mis. It's obvious that they put a lot of time and effort into their performance, and it shows. Sign us up for season tickets.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Happy Birthday, Annie!

Five years ago I became a parent.

[First day!]

My life changed at that moment. I don't know if you're ever really ready to be a parent, but when parental responsibility is thrust upon you, you just adapt. For example, before Annie was born, I was terrified of holding a baby. I had held a baby maybe twice in my life. I thought I would drop it or make it cry. I had definitely never changed a diaper. But when I held my beautiful baby girl in my hands for the first time, I looked down at her and I knew that I would never drop this sweet bundle, and that I would do everything I could to protect her and help her grow into an amazing person.

We never put her down when she was a baby. I couldn't! I would leave for work, be sick that I couldn't see her all day, come home late and then hold her all night. It was the only time I could spend with her. I would rock her in my arms, sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for hours, and love every minute of it. And she would fit perfectly over my belly.

I still remember leaving her that first day back at work. I was heartbroken that I was leaving her.

Fast forward five years. FIVE YEARS!

[Fifth birthday cake!]

Am I old enough to have a five year old?

Well, she's no longer small enough to fit perfectly on my belly. Although it's not for a lack of trying on my belly's part - it's been growing at the same rate as Annie.

[No longer small enough to fit on my belly]

We have so much fun together. Annie has an amazing imagination. She's more imaginative than I am, and I'm a middle child. That's imagination! Every night we go exploring, fight dragons with light sabers, have tea with princesses, save mermaids stuck in rapids, fly away to Neverland with either pixie dust or a magic carpet, climb Jack's beanstalk, heal sick patients, do heroic deeds as Super Girl and Wonder Dad... the list goes on and on! It's nonstop imaginative play at my house.

It's like I'm a kid again. And I'm not gonna grow up this time!

(My son, Peter, is usually Darth Vader or Spiderman during these fantasies. He's really good with a lightsaber.)

To celebrate Annie's birthday, we had an Easter Birthday party over the weekend with our family and then today we had a party for Annie's friends. Betty throws the best parties with the best food, so when Annie said she wanted a Strawberry Shortcut party, Betty went out and made some tasty treats made with strawberries, such as:

Strawberry Shortcake (made with pound cake, strawberries and cream cheese icing). This was probably one of the greatest things I've ever eaten in my life.

[Strawberry shortcake]

Chocolate-covered strawberries:

[chocolate covered anything is amazing]

Oh, and you know, a few other things like strawberry cake, peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches, ginger snaps, pimento cheese wraps, muffins, salad, scones with homemade lemon curd.... I'm getting hungry again!

[Mmm... food!]

Not satisfied with having delicious food to share with Annie's friends, Betty's mom got the kids some caterpillars that formed chrysalises and hatched into butterflies during the party. You can't time that any better!

[Butterflies!]

Cake and ice cream are a must at birthday parties, but we played dress-up before Annie blew out the candles. That's Peter in his Spiderman costume. He wasn't really playing dress-up here... this is his usual outfit at our house. He was keeping bad guys away from Annie's cake.

[Cake!]

After a nice fun day with family and friends, we took Annie out to eat for her birthday. She decided to go to Frank's in Prairieville, which is one of our favorite places to eat. The kids hadn't napped during the day and traffic was bad, so Peter ended up falling asleep on the way there. He also slept through dinner (but don't worry, he ate a fruit pouch at 10:30 pm because I'm a sucker).

[Frank's!]

I've loved every minute of being a father. And I'm so proud of my little girl. I can't really remember what life was like before we had kids, and frankly I don't want to. I know that Annie won't remember a lot from these first five years, but I know that our experiences will help shape who she will be for the rest of her life. I hope that she'll look back one day on this blog, our photo albums, Anne and Pete of the day (which I'm in dire need of updating), and see how much fun we had. That she sees how much we love her. Peter, too, of course! Betty and I are so lucky to have two beautiful children. (I take all the credit, of course.)

Happy birthday, sweetheart. Daddy loves you.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Thank You and Goodbye

This is my 1,297th blog post. It's also my last.

To be frank, maybe 10 of the 1,297 were any good. But you, my great family and friends, have made me feel like all of them were fantastic. That's been part of the reason why I've written for so long - I've loved getting your comments and responses telling me how funny something was or how interesting a link was. I've loved helping to keep our conversation going throughout the years.

It's bittersweet to end the blog, but it had to happen some time. Thank you for reading all of these years, for taking part in my adventures, and for letting me share my life with you.

The blog will remain up online forever, or until Blogger starts charging me for it, whichever comes first.

Thank you again, and good luck!