Finding a substitute for MyPublisher

Posted in photos at 1:13 am by wingerz

Just putting this out there in case it’s useful for others. I was always a huge fan of MyPublisher; I’ve been making annual photo books (usually their classic size, but a big 14″x11″ layflat for my wife) with their software for about 12 years.

Mixbook works quite well. The web UI for laying out photos is snappy. Unfortunately they only have a layflat option for their smaller books, not their 13″x11″ book. I put together a few smaller books. One thing that’s nice is that once you’ve uploaded all your photos, you can edit your book from anywhere, which is something I haven’t been able to do before (since all my photos are most easily accessible from my desktop computer at home).

I’m using Blurb to make my big photo book. I got my hopes up since I saw there was a Lightroom Blurb plugin (and clunkily laid out a few sample books), but it doesn’t support layflat for 13″x11″. In looking around it seems like exporting to PDF and then converting wasn’t a good option either (I also couldn’t find the right settings on the website). I downloaded Bookwright (their desktop software). I added bunch of templates (from their website) and combed through them looking for good 4-8 photo layouts with no text to add to “My Layouts.” I ended up spending a few hours putting together some custom layouts myself by making some slight changes to their templates.

We’ll see how the books turn out! I’m excited to get them sent off and printed.

Follow-up a few weeks later: I haven’t been super happy with the printing results. Nothing compares to the layflat glossy MyPublisher book. My original Blurb book (Standard Layflat Matte) had a stain on the cover so I was able to order a new copy with the Proline Pearl Photo paper. It was better, but the photos don’t jump off the page in terms of clarity and brightness like the MyPublisher book. It’s possible I got worse at photo editing this year, but hopefully not (I’ve been using the same camera for 4.5 years and the same workflow for even longer than that). I looked at my parents’ Mixbook Layflat as well and I still prefer the old MyPublisher books, maybe I’m just used to them.

Other comments: Blurb customer service is really good; I just had to send a photo of the damage and they immediately sent me a coupon for a reprint. The BookWright software failed to upload my book the first few times, so I panicked because it was 110 pages, but a computer restart fixed the problem. I was a little too aggressive with placing photos into the Blurb book – some of my layouts have photos that are too small.

Will probably need to pick some of my favorite 2017 images and assemble books across a variety of services to really nail this one down. Sounds like the next service to try is Shutterfly.


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Posted in games at 12:20 am by wingerz

It seems fitting that the last blog post here was about Bloodborne, my previous video game obsession. It’s been replaced by Breath of the Wild as my new favorite game. It seems that every Spring some game is released that is all-consuming (last year it was Dark Souls III). But instead of doing one hour a night, it ended up being over an hour and a half a night (80 hours in 51 days).

That extra half hour a night represents the thing that makes Zelda special – I had the intention of going to sleep every night after playing an hour, but there was always one more thing to check out, which would lead to another thing to check out, etc. The sweeping landscapes are full of visual landmarks and gorgeous scenery, and this is the first game I’ve played where it’s fun to get lost looking through the map; the points of interest all have such alluring names.

The most powerful form of this came last night. I finished the main story elements leading up to the last area of the game. I intended to play for an hour and go to sleep at 10pm. I went to collect something, and happened to be on the doorstep of the final area, so I wandered in. I kept meaning to turn around but there was always one more thing to look at – an interesting set of ruins or a tunnel or a wall to be blown apart or an enemy to fight or flee from or something else. At midnight, after I had consumed nearly all of my food, the end credits were rolling.

I still have a very long to-do list for the game and intend to finish most of them. I’ve only found about half of the shrines (mini-dungeons) and about 5% of the Korok seeds. The scale of the game is staggering.

I’ve loved every moment of exploring the landscape, as well as the wonderful feeling of walking through uncharted territory for the first time (there’s actually still a lot of it). I’ve really enjoyed discussing the game with friends and colleagues – we’ve all run into unique situations, and talking about them has been like the elementary school days of bringing up “did you know you could do this?” In addition, many of the rare shared experiences are so distinct that people know exactly what you’re talking about (various islands and puzzles and enemies).

I can’t remember the last time that I didn’t want a game to end; with life being so busy I usually want to crank through something as quickly as possible and move onto the next game. It’s amazing that this game has been able to capture me this way, in perhaps the best 6 months of gaming I’ve ever experienced (PSVR, Resident Evil 7, Switch release, Mario Kart 8 coming out this Friday, I’ve ignored Nioh, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nier Automata, Rise of the Tomb Raider).

[I still regularly write a fair amount but it usually gets posted to our private family blog or sent out to my colleagues.]


Nightmare Slain

Posted in games at 1:31 am by wingerz

I’ve finished Bloodborne. Clocked in at 50 hours and 10 minutes over the course of 51 days. Since I have a full-time job and two young children, this basically meant getting one less hour of sleep a night for the past two months (further constraints on my schedule were placed by our 10 year wedding anniversary and Mother’s Day). It was all worth it. I’m happy to reclaim that hour of sleep but sad that it’s over – I’m already plotting a New Game+ run and maybe going through the game with another character.

This was my first Souls game. It was completely engrossing and beautifully designed. I played through it at night, in the dark. A few times I was startled by my wife or daughter coming into the room. The game makes you fight for every inch of progress; you learn the movements of every enemy and how all the different areas of the game world are connected. The pacing is nearly perfect – once you’ve made some progress you start getting very nervous about whether you should go on or run back to the last save point to cash in some Blood Echoes to level up (if you die, you lose them and get one chance to reclaim them in the spot that you died). Of course, just around the corner could be a door to unlock or elevator to activate that will be a shortcut back to the save point. I made my own maps, mostly due to paranoia of missing out on one of these shortcuts.

There is a whole other level of design that I was mostly oblivious too. The architecture and artwork in the game, the sound design (the music is pretty subtle; I didn’t even notice the lullaby that plays at the beginning of one of the last bosses), the item descriptions – I unfortunately have to say that I am not very perceptive on this front. It didn’t actually matter because the core mechanics and the world were so immersive. In addition to recommending the game to me, JR gave me some spoiler-free hints at where to go at certain points in the game; I probably would have bumbled my way through and missed out on some fun areas without his coaching.

Overall a remarkable game.


Starting Bloodborne

Posted in games at 12:28 am by wingerz

I’ve been playing Bloodborne this week. Initially it felt like an extremely ill-advised purchase; the only Souls game that I played previously was Demon’s Souls, which I never fully got into (I think I got to the first boss after a few hours). Generally I’m not one to shy away from challenging games (Cave Story, Donkey Kong Country Returns), but I was worried that I wouldn’t have the patience for Bloodborne since I can only piece together a few hours of gaming a week.

I’m still only a few hours in, but it’s really started to click in the past two nights. The initial mob encounter killed me over and over. I finally got through but died in the next section when the ogre got bored of banging the gates and came looking for me. Nearly every new enemy killed me at least once. One of the turning points was when I started becoming more aggressive with my use of bullets and blood vials (they’re pretty much everywhere so they don’t really need to be conserved). Getting to the first boss was a revelation – despite the fact that I got destroyed, I was finally able to level up myself and my weapons (didn’t realize I had to repair my blade until I realized it was taking much longer to take down enemies). Last night I beat the first boss, played through a new area of the game without dying, got some fancy new attire, and can now kill ogres with relative ease. Of course I still get killed by easy guys once in a while if I don’t pay attention.

The atmosphere is incredibly creepy; the enemies are strong but some of them are really dumb. It’s really satisfying to feel myself getting better at the game. In general I’m not very good with directions/maps in games, but I’ve gone through some of the areas so many times that I can picture them in my head. Looking forward to playing more, hopefully I’ll continue to make progress.

In other gaming news, I beat The Last of Us Remastered earlier this year. I missed it on the PS3, really enjoyed playing through it. I don’t feel like I ever got very good at it, but it’s got one of the best video game stories I’ve seen. Meanwhile on the Wii U, still making my way through Captain Toad, which is a far cry from zombies and plagues.


On cooking

Posted in books, food at 1:36 am by wingerz

A couple of recent things have inspired me to cook more:

Over the past few years, there have been a lot of food-related services that have popped up, many of which we tried last summer when Max was born. But for some reason for now I’ve continued to insist on weekly visits to the market and, much to Jen’s chagrin, a never-ending cycle of dirtying and cleaning all of our pots and dishes. With two kids I definitely found myself wondering whether I was being irrational, whether I should be focusing my efforts elsewhere on things that couldn’t be streamlined out of my life.

And then I read Cooked. The book is structured in four parts, one part for each fundamental element (fire, water, air, earth). In each part he dives deep into a particular method of cooking (barbecuing, braising, breadmaking, and fermenting) – I was completely hooked even before I got to the chapter that talked about Tartine bread. I share the same reasons for enjoying cooking:

  • It’s so different from what I do all day: sit in front of a computer.
  • There’s an immense amount of satisfaction that comes from constructing something from raw materials, even if you could have acquired the end product for less time and less money. If nothing else, it creates a deeper appreciation for those who have mastered their craft.
  • It’s a way to show your love for others. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than to cook a meal and share with loved ones.
  • One more that I’ll add to the list – I’m not sure why this is but I really enjoy using stuff up, whether it’s sticks of butter, bags of flour, meat in the freezer, vegetables that comes in our CSA box.

This weekend I baked my first loaf of bread in several years.


My experience with Blue Apron has been interesting. I got a free week from JR, and I didn’t realize I had to cancel six days in advance so we ended up with two weeks (six meals). Overall I think it’s a good service, though not for me.

You get a large insulated box full of ice packs and everything you need (except for salt and olive oil) to make six meals. The packaging gets the job done but is borderline comical, there’s just so much of it. The recipes were tasty and well-balanced (not many leafy vegetables – not sure if it’s always like that or if it’s because transporting them would be hard). The portions were a good size (probably wouldn’t have been big enough for me 10 years ago, but I’ve slowed down).

On a weeknight I have about 20-25 minutes to cook dinner so that we have enough time to eat and then get the kids into bath and bed. Of the six, I cooked two on weeknights (patty melt, spiced pork), the rest I saved for the weekend.

In any case, I’m already going grocery shopping multiple times a week. It is really nice to have the peace of mind of knowing that you have the exact right amount of all the ingredients you need. If we cooked less often and didn’t go to the market and grocery store so often I could see this being more compelling.


I definitely have my favorite recipes these days; the things I cook the most frequently are ones that I can whip up pretty quickly with minimal fuss. I’m probably getting into a bit of a rut with my salads and desserts and things (still tasty, but probably boring).

Getting a pressure cooker has helped with that – tonight I was able to make a pot roast in less than 2 hours (instead of 4). I affectionately refer to my pressure cooker as a ‘pot full of science’ – it really is a time saver. Beans in 10 minutes, stews in 25, roasts in 90 (times under pressure). Still trying to master it; I overcook things more often than not, but it’s been a lot of fun.


Anyways, it’s obvious that I’ve been blogging a lot less about recipes (and blogging here a lot less in general), but cooking continues to be a big part of our lives. It seems strange that something so fundamental has become something that I’ve started to question – modern day life has let us optimize away a lot of our daily routines. But I don’t think there’s a replacement for picking and handling raw ingredients, filling the house with wonderful aromas, and sitting down together to share a meal.


On middle-age

Posted in personal at 12:35 am by wingerz

Today is my birthday and I am well into my adulthood. The past few years I’ve noticed my attitude towards things shift, especially as more and more overlap between dealings in personal and professional contexts overlap. A few things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Don’t take anything that’s important to you for granted. I feel extremely fortunate to be constantly surrounded by loved ones. Every day I am delighted to spend time with Jen and our kids. Thanks to Jen for being the foundation for everything good in my life.
  • Identify the right tradeoffs. In the past I think I’ve always been looking for a way to do it all, and I have gone into situations thinking that there would be some absolute best outcome. Over the past few years I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much about looking for the absolute best thing, it’s much more about identifying the important factors and trading those off against things that aren’t essential. It’s also about making a good decision with the (sometimes limited) information available. If you don’t know what you’re trading off by pursuing a path, then you probably aren’t aware of the entire situation. This applies in all sorts of contexts – obviously at work in engineering complex systems, but also at home. There aren’t people in the world who ‘have it all’ so much as people who know what makes them happy and seek it out above other things.
  • Build people and culture. Over the past few years I’ve read a lot of parenting books and management books. The ones that resonate the most are generally about putting people in good situations, trusting them, giving them autonomy (including the freedom to make mistakes), and supporting them wholeheartedly. Channel the best parts of human nature – love, generosity, curiosity, and creativity. Creating a strong culture and value system makes that possible, especially when you can’t oversee every decision (because who wants to do that?).
  • Luck and execution both matter to success. Somehow, despite highly valuing both of these things I’ve underestimated both of their impacts. Every success story requires ‘being in the right place at the right time,’ no individual has the power to manipulate the environment to the extent required to set up these situations. But that’s not enough, once someone’s in that situation it’s up to her to execute, which can only be done reliably well with discipline and mastery of craft.
  • Confidence is elusive. Impostor syndrome has been getting a lot of buzz lately; engineers may be predisposed to it, and engineering managers even more so. I think it’s only been in the last year or two that I’ve felt fully confident in my ability to lead a team, despite having done it for nearly half of my career. I’m not sure what would have gotten me there sooner, maybe fewer people telling me that I was smart when I was growing up.

Other random tidbits:

  • Take care of yourself. Sleep, eat well, exercise.
  • Wake up at the same time every day.
  • Take care of your personal finances.
  • Don’t skimp on spending when it comes to the things you use frequently.
  • Travel before you have kids.
  • Life’s best and most basic pleasure: good food with friends and family.


Smoking things

Posted in food, meat at 1:09 am by wingerz


One of my colleagues moved to Hamburg, Germany this past weekend. He gave me his smoker before leaving, and I used it for the first time this past weekend.

I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I started preparing Wednesday evening – got an 8 lb pork shoulder and applied a rub to it. On Saturday I started warming it up around 7am and had the meat going by 9am, where it cooked for 8 hours. Afterwards the meat rested for an hour, and then we made delicious pulled pork sandwiches out of it.

Smoking is awesome for the following reasons:

  • The anticipation is amazing. I daydreamed about this for several days, and was super-excited to check on it all day Saturday.
  • It smells so good. I sort of liked my clothes and hair smelling like smoke, it reminded me of what was going on in my backyard.
  • It was low-stress. Didn’t require constant attention. I checke dthe temperature and swapped chips every 1 to 1.5 hours. Was able to go out to the farmers’ market, grab lunch, get a haircut, go for a walk to get some ice cream all throughout the day. It felt like even if I missed checking on something for 30 minutes, nothing terrible was going to happen – as long as the smoker temperature stayed below 250F, something tender and delicious would emerge from the smoker. My biggest worry was that some of the wood chips would ignite and make it too warm.

Things didn’t work out perfectly. I think it could have cooked for another hour or two (got up to 175F internally). The meat wasn’t as smoky as I had hoped, I’m pretty sure that’s because I wrapped my foil packets of wood chips too tightly. So I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again soon, had to restrain myself from firing it up again today.


Building my own computer

Posted in personal, technology at 12:53 pm by wingerz

My earliest memories of playing around with computer hardware were in high school, when my mom agreed to buy 8MB of RAM so that we could upgrade from the 4MB that our computer came with. Back then it was over $300, an inconceivable amount of money. I struggled with putting it in and I think we eventually figured out that I was being too delicate with the motherboard. In any case it was quite a stressful situation.

Later on in college I got a 3DFX card and it was amazing. Since then most of my computing has been done on a laptop (Thinkpads for 7 years and then MBP for 5 years). I had never put together an entire machine myself.

In any case, JR has been wearing me down over the past few months. For the most part it’s been easy for me to ignore his advice to get a gaming PC. The last thing I need is another platform to collect games that I don’t have time to play, no matter how cheap they are on Steam. But eventually I started looking into it. I still couldn’t justify the cost, but then the power of rationalization kicked in. I figured that if I installed OSX on it, Jen and I could use it as a family computer (mainly for organizing photos), which is something we’ve been wanting for a while but unwilling to splurge on a nice laptop or Mac Pro. Plus it could be a fun opportunity to build my own computer for the first time, something that was missing from my resume.

The research phase was really fun. I probably collected 40 links to PC-building websites that I’ve saved away. In particular:

Newegg and Amazon made it incredibly easy for me to quickly turn a whim into a pile of parts on my doorstep.

I raced to read every instruction manual and online resource I could find, and put the machine together over the course of a couple of evenings. Of course, when I went to turn it on, nothing happened, which was my biggest fear all along. I fiddled with a few ore things before taking the entire thing apart and trying to test individual components (which was really hard since I didn’t have any tools or extra parts).

I found a computer repair shop that (for a small fee) offered to help me test my motherboard and verify that most of the computer was working, so I swallowed my pride and brought some of my parts in. The guys were super-nice and excited on my behalf. My motherboard turned out to be broken, so I ordered a new one and we put the computer together and now it’s working.

A couple links that were helpful:

I’ve got all the parts hooked up now, but need to spend another few hours organizing the cables and putting all of the fans in. Right now it’s a mess of black wiring. But it works! Some highlights:

  • Dual boots Windows 8 and OSX, each OS has its own SSD
  • Windows: Bioshock:Infinite runs nicely, along with some cheap Steam games I’ve been accumulating over the last few weeks.
  • OSX: Lightroom installed and working. Will probably do some development on this side.

Overall building my own computer turned out to be a really fun experience. I obsessed over it for a few weeks. There are definitely some fun problems to wrestle with, mostly on the spatial front (in what order should these components get installed into the machine? Where do all these cables go?), and who doesn’t love looking around for good deals on components? In retrospect I probably should have been more patient with the whole process. Jen was super-supportive throughout the entire thing, even when we had a pile of parts that were assembled into a completely unresponsive paperweight. I also borrowed a lot of evening and weekend time from her and the kids.

I also realized that it would be a waste for me to only build one machine after doing all this research. So I’m on the lookout for friends who are looking to build a computer (or reasons for having more than one computer in the house).

Finally, thanks to everyone who got excited on my behalf and offered support on this project all throughout the last few weeks.


My favorite non-technical books

Posted in books, technology at 2:36 pm by wingerz

I’m kind of a sucker for business and management books. I’ve read quite a few over the years (actually, ‘read’ is a pretty strong word, usually I just skim and take notes on things that interest me). These are the ones that I keep referring back to (and recommend to people on my team).

Tribal Leadership (Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright): The language used by members of the team tells you a lot about its coherence; this book proposes that there are 5 successive stages of team culture. It’s a nice framework for thinking about how to coach a team along from one state to another to improve effectiveness.

Great by Choice (Jim Collins, Morten T. Hansen): My favorite Jim Collins book with a lot of useful lessons on how the best companies are incredibly disciplined and careful with their investments.

Crucial Conversations (Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler): Super, super helpful both at work and at home (even if you don’t memorize all of the helpful mnemonics). Except when I get in trouble with the wife for telling her to stick to the facts.

Kanban (David J. Anderson): My favorite software process book; it’s guided a lot of the things that I’ve tried to do at Yelp over the past few years. After working in a scrum environment for a couple of years I didn’t think that it would quite fit with what we were trying to do. Kanban emphasizes focus, teamwork, and incremental change.


Gaming in 2013

Posted in games at 11:04 am by wingerz

It’s been tough to find time to play video games this year, but I’ve managed to squeeze in a few hours here and there.

Most recently I finished Guacamelee and The Wonderful 101. Both are highly creative but playing them together really highlighted how amazing Guacamelee is.

The Wonderful 101 was fun overall but kind of a grind at times, and occasionally confusing and buggy. The controls worked pretty well (there were some complaints in reviews about drawing shapes for special moves). The characters weren’t that interesting. The continue system would let you restart midway through a battle which took away some of the satisfaction of beating something. Definitely not as polished or enjoyable as previous Platinum games like Viewtiful Joe but I’m still glad I played through it.

Guacamelee is a pleasure to play. It’s a Metroidvania-style game with simple (but gorgeous) graphics, tight controls, fun combat, and hilarious content (there’s a move called the ‘Dashing Derpderp’ and a funny little goat man). The platforming is devious at times and the bosses are satisfying to beat. Also a lot of reviews call out the game as being beatable in under 6 hours as a negative, but that’s actually a huge bonus in my book.

Also I should call out Super Mario 3D World as my favorite game of the year. In an uncharacteristic multiplayer gaming binge, I was able to finish the game with a couple of friends over the course of a weekend. Multiplayer Mario works much, much better in 3D. This game is an absolute pleasure to play.

Other random gaming thoughts:
* It took a few months but I finally didn’t regret owning a Wii U. Played through Pikmin 3 (perhaps the most beautiful Nintendo game ever). Working my way through Rayman Legends, which of course is gorgeous, fun, and polished (after a half year delay). One sad thing is that we finally have a HD Nintendo system and one of the big selling points of the system is that you can play it on a little non-HD tablet (which also runs out of batteries incredibly quickly – they are finally making bigger battery packs available).
* Tomb Raider was really good. Kind of creepy at times, but gorgeous. Uncharted 3 was not bad, but all the Uncharted games are kind of blending together. I enjoyed Uncharted: Golden Abyss more than I thought I would.
* Finally beat Chrono Trigger. I have a letter from my buddy phil dated 7/13/95 asking me to buy the game and beat it. No problem, Phil, it’s done! Overall a fun year on the 3DS. Played through 999 in the hospital when Max was born. Against my better judgment I got Animal Crossing and Pokemon Y but didn’t play either one as much as some of my work buddies (how do you log 100 hours of Pokemon in under 3 weeks?). Now I’m playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

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