August 15th, 2014 § 0

Image from, used with permission

Image from Used with permission.

After much deliberation, I think I’ve reached an important fork in the road of my professional career.

And while this might violate my rule of trying to keep it clean when writing online, I can’t think of a better way to say this: It’s time for me to shit or get off the pot. This is something I’ve been thinking about for months, but only within the last week has it become much more clear to me the roots of all I’ve been feeling lately.

When I got started in web development a decade ago, I didn’t have any formal training. I was working for a newspaper and was doing page layout, and was interested in what the web was becoming. I’d get some books, sit in my car during the lunch hour and read, then go home in the evening and tinker on the computer. That’s how I learned. Eventually that lead to an entry-level job doing something web related, and I did web work on the side to make a little income.

More experience meant more discovery which lead to a different job and more income. Life was good.

But then, something tragic happened. I stopped pushing myself and got complacent. No longer was I the guy who was buried in books and experimenting with things. The guy that tried building things put the Legos on the shelf and became content with what I had done to that point. And therein lies the problem.

Since then, my profession blew up. The tools and languages and frameworks and (blah, blah, blah) that are part of my profession now feel almost endless and overwhelming. I know I’m not alone in my feelings as evident in the reaction to Ed Finkler’s The Developer’s Dystopian Future

Finkler wrote:

All of these problems would be solvable, given time and motivation. But motivation determines how I use my time, and I am just not terribly motivated to use what spare time I have to change the situation. There are other, more important needs in my life that are not related to programming languages.

What I’m most scared of, though, is being left behind.

I relate very much to his post. Probably the one difference is that Finkler sounds like he might feel like he’s very strong in one or two areas. These days I don’t feel particularly strong in any one area. At one point I’ve might have said I was strong in a handful of things, but because I let some of my skills atrophy for awhile, it makes me wonder where I fit on the scale above. Am I a jack of all trades, master of none or dilettante? I’m not a supreme genius, that’s for sure. I know several developers who I just get nervous being around because they’re that good.

I’ve had a lot of growth in the past year or so, but I still feel like I’m playing catch up.

On the interwebz, I read something along the lines of “Is there an easy way to tell someone that they should find another line of work that doesn’t involve programming?” I could only wonder: Maybe he’s talking about me.

There is a possibility that I have reached a stage necessary for growth and that this is normal. Earlier this week I was talking with another developer who is in a similar situation. We decided we are, so to speak, in a pubescent state. That made a lot of sense. When you’re going through puberty, it’s very difficult to see what you will become. And that’s where I am now. I’m not sure where I’m going. Granted, the young teen will come out of the experience as an adult. But what kind of “adult” I will become? Now, I have no idea.

But I do feel like the time has come for me to make some decisions and see what happens. I can’t teeter on mediocrity anymore. I need to find my center.

It’s time to figure out where I’m going. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll just end up like this:

It’s getting harder and harder in this industry not to just get up and walk into the welcoming arms of the sea.

Ending the compromise

July 28th, 2014 § 0

Cut up your credit cards. If you use a credit card, you don’t want to be rich. — Marc Cuban, How to Get Rich

What seems like forever ago, my wife and I were on a crusade to eliminate our debt.

A friend had turned me on to Dave Ramsey’s plan, and we went after it with a vengeance. We killed our credit card and automobile debt and had money in the bank.

When our first child was born shortly after, everything stalled. We didn’t incur new credit card debt, but we weren’t making the kind of progress we were on other debts pre-kid. And then kid No. 2 came along. We needed a van, which we bought on credit.

The compromises began. We got credit cards again. And then in 2010, we purchased a house. Along with that came its own expenses, and because we weren’t following Ramsey’s plan, the expenses mounted up. The credit card bills started rising. We were fools.

A year ago, my wife and I took our 10-year anniversary vacation, and while we were traveling across the great state of Arkansas, we got to discussing all of those things above. We decided to change. We couldn’t let things go any further, so on Aug. 1, we refocused our efforts on getting out of debt. I took on more side jobs, and by the end of the year, we had paid off the last of the credit cards.

Except we didn’t; when you have a credit card you tend to use it. We didn’t typically carry a balance, but it happened a couple of times. Finally we realized: any credit card was too many.

Since my wife closed her business in May, we’ve found that by embracing the constraint of a temporary smaller income, we can live within our means just fine. It’s a challenge, but certainly doable. And so, we’ve decided to cut the last safety net and embrace constraints even more.

Today over lunch, I shut down the last two credit cards. We are done; no more of this. We will use cash and our debit card, and focus our remaining efforts on paying off the student loans for good. Perhaps the best part was that instead of using my children as a crutch for why we couldn’t get out of debt, they’ve now become a driver for why we will. And so, I had them help me get rid of the last one.

So now, forward. We have no auto loans and no credit card debt. The only thing we owe is our student loans. For the first time since we graduated college, we paid extra on the student loans this month. And when those things are gone, it’s “Hello, Disney World!”

It’s a good feeling to be where we are today. Today is a good day.

Dealing with stress

July 17th, 2014 § 0

The past three months have been a bit of a roller coaster.

Things have been stressful and I haven’t dealt with them very well at all. Stress at work, changes around the home, summertime activities, car issues, the daily grind … you name it. It’s been rather relentless.

I got to a point where I had to take a week off from work. I just couldn’t do it anymore and needed a break. My week off work was filled with lots and lots of “honey dos,” which were surprisingly refreshing. It seems I feel better when I  exhaust myself with some mild physical stress.

And so, I’m beginning to realize I need to do some things to better deal with stress. The ways I handle it now are terrible, and it’s starting to show. I’m up for some ideas. How do you handle stressors in your life?

The end of a chapter

May 30th, 2014 § 1

After almost four years in business, my wife, Amy Gruber, is shutting down her business, Tiny Tykes Playcare. Today is its last day.

This post is in praise of Amy.

Amy Gruber

Amy Gruber

When we got had our first daughter in 2006, Amy was working for a school district 30 miles from home. It didn’t take long for her to determine she didn’t want someone else to raise her child while she went off to work. She finished out the school year, and then found other employment that allowed her to be mom in the day, and worker bee in the evening.

And so, when we had our second daughter in 2009, she got to thinking about how she could stay at home with her children, yet continue to make a living. She decided upon the idea of using her teaching background and created a preschool in our home. Her desire was to create an intimate, manageable setting for teaching young minds, while still being able to be mom.

She did it. With very little advertising, no media coverage (I tried, but I guess they weren’t interested), and mostly guerrilla marketing, she transformed our home into a school. She was able to achieve everything she set her mind to, and was blessed to have a steady stream of customers while educating young minds in the process.

Running a business is quite difficult. I’ve watched how much it’s consumed her time and her mental energy. From the (quite idiotic) regulations she had to keep up with, shopping for food for her kiddos each week, keeping up with a curriculum, training, and constant cleaning, she pulled it off fantastically — all while being mother and wife. I don’t know if many people knew just how good the hands were that their children were in. I realized I am biased, but I assure you: those kids were in excellent hands.

Perhaps most importantly, when our children look back at their lives, they will remember a mom who was there for them. This was the primary goal, and she achieved it.

But now we’ve turned a page in this chapter. We are expecting our third and final child in late August. She won’t be able to continue doing Tiny Tykes Playcare with a newborn to take care of. We’ve taken steps over the past few years to whittle down debt, raise some income, and build some savings. Our ability to learn to live within our means will allow her to just focus on being a new mother.

We certainly feel blessed.

And so, she’s reached the end of this chapter, and is starting a new one. Congrats to you, Amy. You have done excellent.


May 19th, 2014 § 0

The other day on my way to work I had to take a different route.

School is out, and the college kids are leaving for the summer, so that means the city’s street construction is ramping up. Most of it is in my path in and out of Lawrence, so I’ve been getting creative in finding ways across the city to the highway that takes me to work.

In the eastern part of Lawrence, I was stopped behind a couple of cars at an intersection when I noticed a young woman pushing her child in a stroller. After she crossed, I noticed her looking up at one of the houses, seemingly examining its features. She looked relaxed and casual and in no particular hurry.

I found myself wanting to trade places with her for the day.

Life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride as of late. Work has been insane. My hometown was hit by a tornado so we went there so I could assist with the cleanup. Our vehicles each had issues days apart of each other, which I repaired myself. We traveled to watch my mother-in-law’s graduation from college for her Master’s degree. The house has had some projects I needed to take care of.

Add all of that up along with daily life, and it’s been a busy time. It has started to dawn on me: I’m burning out and need some sort of a break.

Typically I save up my vacation time for late July, when the kids go to the grandparents during our anniversary week, and the wife and I enjoy a week to ourselves. I’m not sure I’ll make it until then. I’m feeling wore out.

But taking time off right now really isn’t that feasible. The kids are still in school, so time off wouldn’t afford me the ability to do anything with the family. A co-worker is going on vacation next week, so that’s pretty much out of the picture anyway. After that, it’s off to DrupalCon. That might sound like a vacation, but my experience last year taught me it’s a week full of stuffing my brain with ideas and then walking everywhere.

And then, my birthday. I’ll be 38 on June 8.

So, what should I make of all of this? I don’t think this hints of anything exceptionally wrong, but just that I’m learning how to really listen to my body. It’s a lot like when the temperature reaches above 74 degrees in the house; I don’t need to check anymore. I get uncomfortable and know it’s time to turn on the air conditioning.

My body is telling me I need to get some things in my life under better management. My workouts have, for the most part, dwindled down to nothing. I haven’t gotten outside much lately, which I need to change. A weekend camping trip sounds like it would do me a world of good right now.

I am in need of some balance. Time to go find it.

In KC: Austin Kleon and The Minimalists

April 24th, 2014 § 0

Wednesday turned out to be author night in Kansas City.

I’m not sure how I missed it until Wednesday morning, but I found out Austin Kleon (as he puts it, he’s an author who draws) was speaking at the Middle of the Map Fest. I jetted down to OfficePort and enjoyed hearing him speak. I’ve read two of his books — Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work — and if you consider yourself a creative type, I highly recommend them.

It was great seeing him talk (and draw) live. By the time I discovered Kleon, it was past the point he had come to Kansas City to speak at TEDx. I’d say this made up for it.


Austin Kleon speaks at Middle of the Map Fest at OfficePort in downtown Kansas City. Man, I take a crappy picture.

Admittedly, Kleon wasn’t my first pick for the evening. For months I’ve had arrangements to hear The Minimalists speak, and I wasn’t disappointed last night. After listening to Kleon, I bolted north of the river to a nice little event space called Black on Burlington to check these guys out.

The Minimalists are two best friends: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Together with their vagabonding friend Colin Wright, they spoke about their journey to minimalism, how the audience could get there, and what to expect from the journey.

I’ve followed their writing on their blog for awhile now off and on. The message of the minimalist philosophy is appealing. Imagine what your life would look like if you had less things in your life. Would you have more experiences? Better relationships? More personal satisfaction with life? Would your mind be more free with less?

I like to joke that I struggle with what I call sentimental attachment disorder. There are these things from my past that hold great sentimental value to me, but I haven’t let go of them. Their artifacts of the past, mementos of a live already played out,  yet I hold onto them. Why?

One of the oft-repeated messages of the night was this: When you go to purchase something, ask yourself: “Will this thing add value to my life?” If the answer is no, then don’t buy it. It’s because we don’t say “no” enough, we get all this crap. What happens when we cut out the stuff? Will we be willing to live with what remains?

I had the pleasure of speaking with all three of the aforementioned men after the show. I was chatting a bit before I got in line and ended up being dead last. They insisted on greeting me with a hug (as they did everyone else) and I obliged. It was … nice. Excellent, really. We talked. I talked. And actually, it seemed as though they listened. They were not simply waiting for their turn to speak. I’m guilty of that. How about you?

Their message was convincing, enough so that I think I’ll try their 21-day challenge. And I’ve already started asking myself the question quite a few times, just today: Will this thing add value to my life?

To close the night, Millburn gave a little thought to take with us. I’ve illustrated it below.


The Minimalists and Colin Wright speaking at Black on Burlington in Kansas City.

The bookshelf

March 22nd, 2014 § 3

One of the benefits of living in an age where manufactured goods proliferate is that the cost of things goes down while their availability goes up. Unfortunately, that can also be a curse.

It’s not a big secret, but a lot of the “easy-to-assemble” furniture you can buy in a store isn’t of great quality. I’d love to purchase more high-end furniture, but it’s often out of a price range I’m willing to pay. But for those times when I did spend the extra cash, I’ve been pleased with the purchase.


The old bookshelf is falling apart. Note the sides of each shelf where the sides are pulling away. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

My girls have tons of books. After fixing their particle-board bookshelf to keep it from falling apart late last year, I decided that would be the last time. I would build them a bookshelf. I put it on my list of goals for 2014. In the evening of Jan. 17, the start of a three-day weekend for me, I started the work.

My goal was to work hard and fast and get it completed no later than the following Monday on Jan. 20. You see, I’m a great starter but not a great finisher, and I wanted to prove to myself I could beat my own bad processes.

As I got going, I found myself giving in to my temptations. This was for my girls, so it had to be perfect. I kept finding imperfections in the wood that I would keep sanding away at. That process was exacerbated by my refusal to buy an electric hand sander. After buying all the wood, brass screws, and paper and a few other things, I didn’t want to shell out another $30 plus for a sander.

The refusal to buy a sander proved to be the most idiotic decision of this build. At first it seemed almost romantic. The sandpaper in my hand, I caressed the wood. It seemed to talk to me, telling me how it wanted to be shaped. I examined every detail, and when I found an imperfection I’d spend minutes on that one area making it absolutely perfect.

Eventually I needed a break. Covered in sawdust, my hand cramping, losing time, I told my wife why it was taking so long.

She asked, “You think $30 is too much for an electric hand sander?”

“I don’t now,” I said.

I didn’t finish by Jan. 20. My minimum viable product hadn’t been achieved, and I ended my three-day weekend with the project undone.

Then the cold hit. The snow came. Weeks upon weeks of frigid temperatures  made it undesirable to work in my garage. The bookshelf sat there until we had a break in the weather. I propped open the garage door and worked more on it one weekend. Things were looking good.

And then more cold came, with more snow. More delays. My dad gave me a saw I needed to finish the back. Finally last weekend the weather was great enough for the final stage: a few coats of clear lacquer.

My desire was to put on one more coat before I attached the back and called it done. But this week, the shelf my girls’ room began to deteriorate very quickly. It was the end of the road. I needed to finish the shelf. I needed to ship.

After breakfast today, I made coffee and headed to the garage. I nailed in the backing, and carried it inside.

The finished bookshelf. It's rock solid.

The finished bookshelf. It’s rock solid.

The bookshelf has some imperfections. This is not the build of a master craftsman. There are some pencil marks I didn’t get fully sanded out. The backing has some uneven cuts in places. The lacquer isn’t perfectly smooth. And I would have really liked to put on one more coat.

But all of that really doesn’t matter. Done is better than perfect.

It is done.

Art of self-denigration

March 19th, 2014 § 3

After leaving work early yesterday with what would become a massive head cold that kept me awake most of the night, I’ve spent the day trying to recover. Thus, I’ll write these words with the thought that I might not be fully in my right head; or that I might be incredibly lucid.

I’ll let you be the judge.

I’d like to believe that the midlife crisis is a myth that can be overcome, but I must accept the very real possibility that the opposite is the truth. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I am, what I’ve done, and where I’m going.

For instance, I’ve been a horrible finisher. I’ve had more than a trillion ideas of things I want to achieve, but they’ve yet to materialize. I went to Paris in 1999 and presumed I would have gone back by now; it hasn’t happened. Student loan debt paid off? Hasn’t happened. The feeling that I’m not still living like a college student? Nope. How about those projects I said I’d work on, those websites I said I would build, those songs I’d record or those projects I’d get around to soon?

You can definitely, absolutely not be able to count on me.

The signs keep popping up that I’m not alone in my failure. I stumbled across Nathan Kontny’s post Lost Momentum last week. Today it was Anas Ambri’s I Don’t Want to be a Programmer that did me in. Talk about hitting a nail on the head. I’ve had the privilege of being around and working with some amazing developers, and I’ve come to think that I’ll never be like them. No, I’m a failure, an imposter, a charlatan. I can’t even say I’m lucky enough to be able to tie my shoes, because I’ve even found a way to slip those on without have to use that menial skill.

Even the things I think I’m halfway good at or passionate about don’t really matter. For instance, Daylight Saving Time is commonly (and yet, incorrectly) referred to as Daylight Savings Time, and that was beaten so much in my head when I worked in journalism that it can’t help but dig at me when I see it used incorrectly. I don’t usually say much to the average person about its use, but when a colleague used it wrong, I sent her a quick note thinking she’d want to make a quick edit. Apparently she didn’t, only replying back with “Seriously?” to my message. That reminded me of a quote from the unlikely philosopher Phil Anselmo of Pantera: “Is there no standard anymore?

And so, I find myself a bit lost. Do I double down? Does any of it matter? Is there any hope for someone like me? What will my kids think of me when they get older and realize I’m a nothing? I look at people my age like Tim Hibbard, who is doing well successfully running his own company, or Jeff Triplett who created the cool web app Is The Lead Safe and think, “Well, I’m done.”

Perhaps I’ll hire someone to yell at me on a regular basis. I once heard a story about a first-century rabbi named Akiva, that is recounted on this website and goes like this:

Many centuries ago in the land of Israel, one of the early rabbis was returning home from a long day in the House of Study. It was later than usual, and as he walked home, the sun set.

Lost deep in thought, he took the left fork – Instead of the right –when the path split. Instead of nearing home, he was walking toward a Roman outpost.

“WHO GOES THERE” boomed a deep voice in the dark, shaking him from his thoughts. Shaken and confused, the rabbi tried to figure out who this was at his home.

“WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” thundered back, as a massive centurion stepped into view. The rabbi quickly realized the mistake that he must have made.

Instead of answering the centurion’s question, he replied, “How much are you paid to stand here every day?”

”Three drachma” replied the centurion.

“I see,” said the rabbi. “I will pay you twice as much to stand in front of my door and ask me the same questions every single day.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I’m a decent dad, I think. The jury is out on whether I’m a good husband or not, but probably not. I do what I can to make sure I’m there for my girls, to show them love, to train them in the way I think they should go. But even then I wonder if they’ll look back and think I should have done more. Did we do enough fun things? Did we have good experiences? Did we make good memories?

We have been having a lot of fun playing the Wii together lately. Sometimes I watch them and sometimes they watch me. I’ve really enjoyed playing Super Mario 3 with them cheering me on during the winter.

Although, I must admit, I haven’t been able to finish it.


February 24th, 2014 § 0

When I got married, my wife was surprised and a little bit relieved that I didn’t like to watch sports.

I grew up as a sports fan, a little bit, but in my adult years I didn’t see the point in it. I played Little League baseball, and would like liked to play more football, but a rare disease called osteochondritis dissecans forced me to sit out of sports for several years.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my doctor said I was in the clear and that I could play anything I wanted. “I want to play football,” I told him, and did until I finished high school. Since I didn’t have all the years of experience that my peers did, I really wasn’t that good. But I had a lot of fun, and lessons learned playing the sport have resonated throughout my life’s journey.

In recent years, I’ve been more interested in watching sports, much to my wife’s shock. I didn’t really have a way to explain it, until I heard an interview with Michael Douglas on Alec Baldwin’s show, Here’s the Thing.

You can hear the episode where, 5 minutes and 36 seconds in, Douglas puts to words exactly what I’ve been thinking.

Baldwin: “What is your relationship to going to the movies now?”

Douglas: “I’m really embarrassed to say this, but, I’m not a moviegoer. I don’t see many movies.”

Baldwin: “Why not?”

Douglas: “I waste so much time watching news and sports. I love watching sports because, you know, I can’t tell you how it’s going to end. My problem with movies is, you know, you get halfway through a movie and … ‘You see, I was right.’ I love making movies, but I’m really bad Alex when it comes to seeing them.”

Many of today’s movies have become copies of each other. Like Douglas, I find myself watching a movie and figuring out the finale way too soon. Documentaries are no different. I used to love them, but once you’ve seen a movie about how bad our food supply is, the fall of Wall Street, the corruption of money and government, or how everything around you sucks, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

Sports is a crapshoot. You just don’t know how it’ll end. You think you know, but you have no idea. I totally thought the Broncos were the darlings everyone said they were and that they’d win the Super Bowl. Seeing how I dislike the Broncos so much, I was pleasantly surprised (and the Seahawks gained a new fan) when they lost big time.

Tonight, as the Jayhawks play the Sooners, I’ll gladly watch to see who will win.

Surprise me.

What’s in a name?

February 17th, 2014 § 0

The other day my oldest daughter asked me, “Daddy, what does Gruber mean?”

Oddly enough, I wasn’t sure, so I told I sent her a link to

Just kidding.

So I looked it up. I found this definition at

German (Grüber) and Jewish (Ashkenazic): topographic name for someone who lived in a depression or hollow, from (respectively) Middle High German gruobe, German Grube ‘pit’, ‘hollow’ + the suffix -er denoting an inhabitant.

I found this very interesting. I’m a transplant to Lawrence, Kansas from southeast Kansas, which had a large mining history in its past. You can read more about that from the LJWorld story, “Mining’s Legacy, A Scar On Kansas.”

Southeast Kansas is known for its “strip pits,” which removed a lot of the earth in pursuit of precious materials and, in turn, left behind quite a few ruts (and places to fish). And so, quite literally, I am Eric J. Gruber, and I come from a place with pits.


In my search, I also found another less common definition from Urban Dictionary:

A bearded-stallion of a man. Always heterosexual.

That one gave me quite a chuckle. Stallion!

Eric J Gruber