Farewell to Austin

Austin morning

So begins a new era.

Austin has been my home for the last decade. In many ways, it’s where I grew up. It has taken me through my twenties and into my thirties. It’s where I made the transition from a student to a professional. In my time in Austin, I’ve made many close friends and gained two wonderful nephews. Austin has been more than the place I have lived; it’s been a great home to me for all these years.

Austin has been the setting for an amazing chapter in my life. But, like all things, this chapter has come to an end. However, endings are also beginnings; and so begins a new chapter in my life; a chapter of my life that I will build with my beautiful and wonderful wife, Hang.

So begins my life with Hang in Arkansas… and may it be the start of something truly spectacular.

I now realized that Arkansas has been pulling me all my life… even before my life began. It started in 1981 as my family made a three month trip to see the country. While traveling through Arkansas, my parents came to the realization they might have picked up another member on the journey. About 9 months later, I joined the world. About 10 years after that, our family visited Arkansas once again with the intent of moving to start an organic farm in the shadow of the lush Ozark mountains. While this move never came to be and I continued life as a Michigander, Arkansas finally pulled me back to where I was first discovered. As of early May, I’ll finally be an Arkansan.

My decade as a Texan has been a good one, if unexpected. It was about 6 months before moving to Austin that I declared that I would “gladly live anywhere in the world EXCEPT Texas!” Less than a year later, I’d be eating those words. Ten years later, I’d come to see them as rather hilarious.

Austin is one of the best places to have spent the last 10 years and I’m grateful for every moment.

Austin is home to family; to my brother Jason, my sister-in-law Cheryl and my nephews Nash and Gray. Being nearby to family for the last decade has been wonderful. I’ve been closer to my brother than ever before and was introduced to Cheryl, Nash and Gray. Over the years, I’ve watched my nephews grow from belly bumps to talented and charming boys. I’ll miss them greatly; but I know we’ll always be close, even with the distance.

Austin is also home to many great friends; friends I hope to keep over a lifetime. From my running friends to my film friends to my work friends to those who are just friends, I have many ties to Austin that cannot be broken by distance. Friends are not easy to replace. I dare say they can never be “replaced.” However, more great friends await in Arkansas… as yet undiscovered. Still, I will miss my Austin friends.

Austin is where I started my career as a professional. I will be leaving my position at Dell with the Rugged team. Rugged has been a part of my life for over 8 years, from the growth of the first seeds at the Augmentix Corporation to the current stellar product lineup that I helped to create and bring to market. It will be sad to leave my team… but once again, endings are also beginnings.

I will be beginning a new phase of my career at Walmart. I will work in the Home Office in Bentonville as a Manager II, Store Communications. With my new team, I will help to craft excellent messaging and communications to Walmart associates in stores across the country. This will be a chance to hone my writing and make use of my graphic design skills as well. As I say goodbye to all I have known in the last 8 years, I look forward to what I will learn in the next phase of my career.

So, goodbye Austin. Goodbye for now. I will miss you always.

But… here is to what’s next. Here is to my life with Hang and the family we will create together. Here is to a new chapter, full of new and exciting possibilities. Here is to the start of the rest of Hang’s and my life together in our new home. Here is to Arkansas!

Top 12 Albums

I was nominated to name 12 albums that have stayed with me throughout my life. Here is the list I came up with:

  1. The Cure – Disintegration
  2. Portishead – Dummy
  3. Massive Attack – Mezzanine
  4. The Beatles – White Album
  5. James – Laid
  6. Radiohead – OK Computer
  7. New Order – Republic
  8. Depeche Mode – Violator
  9. Gorillaz – Demon Days
  10. The Smiths – Louder than Bombs
  11. Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues
  12. Deathcab for Cutie – Transatlanticism

Honorable Mentions:

  • Blur – Modern Life is Rubbish
  • U2 – War
  • Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
  • Tricky – Maxinquaye
  • Sting – Dream of the Blue Turtle
  • Postal Service – Give Up
  • Deltron 3030
  • David Bowie – Hunky Dory
  • XTC – Black Sea
  • Notorious BIG – Life After Death
  • The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
  • Peter Gabriel – So

My 2015 playlists

Every year, my brother and I share our list of top 100 songs discovered each year. My 2015 playlists are now ready on Spotify. Here are the links:

Best of 2015 – A playlist of my top 100 songs of the year.

Rest of 2015 – This list is made up of all the runner-ups that didn’t make the top 100 cut.

Top Albums of 2015

Here’s a little more about how it works… Every year, as I discover (or rediscover) a song I like, I add it to my list for consideration. These songs don’t have to be released during that year (though generally are). For older releases, either I discovered it for the first time during the year, I rediscovered it, appreciated it under a new light or it had some particular significance to an event that happened during the year. At the end of the year, I whittle the list down to the top 100 songs and drop the rest in the runner-up list.

The top 100 is not necessarily a list of my 100 favorite songs… there are other factors to consider. To keep this list more interesting, I limit myself to no more than 3 songs for any particular artist. So, a song that might be one of my favorites may get banished to the runner-up list because there were 3 better song from that artist (so it’s theoretically possible for my fourth favorite song of the year to not make the cut). Songs near the cutoff line often get promoted or demoted based on how well they fit into the sequence, so some great songs got kicked off just because they didn’t flow well with anything else. New songs are more likely to make the top 100; older songs I’ve previously heard are more likely to go on the runner-up list; I might drop a preferred song to make sure a particular artist is represented at least once, etc. In any case, there are some really great songs on both lists.

The lists have both been sequenced very carefully. There isn’t any thematic structure, but I’ve paid attention to the way each song flows into the next. I try to build blocks of songs with similar feel with transitionary songs in between blocks. The sequencing isn’t always perfect, but I’m mostly pleased with the flow.

So, hope you enjoy the lists and discover some great new music!

Happy Holidays 2015!

Happy Holidays 2015!

Friends and family,

Happy Holidays! I hope this note finds you all well. It has been a great year for me and I want to give everyone a quick update about some of the highlights.

I’ve had a wonderful 2015 with many great experiences. First and foremost has been my relationship with Hang. For those of you who haven’t yet been introduced, I’d like to tell a bit about my new and lovely fiancé. She’s beautiful, funny, talented and is just a very caring and genuine person… if you haven’t met her yet, I hope you can do so soon! It’s just the begining of something great and I hope to see it evolve over the coming years. 🙂

IMG_1753_heart

I still run almost every day. I ran the 3M Half-Marathon in January and got a new personal record (01:29:07) for the half-marathon. I am currently training for the 2016 Austin Marathon in February.

I’ve been at Dell for three years now, doing marketing and product development for the rugged computing division. Notably, I traveled to Alaska this year to oversee a commercial video production. It was a great shoot and great chance to get back to a beautiful place.

With another spin around the sun, I’d like to express my gratitude for everything and everyone who has made this a great year. I hope everyone also had a happy and productive year. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Happy New Year! Here is to an even better 2016 for all of us.

Thank you for being part of my life; I deeply value your friendship, familyship 🙂 and support!

cheers,
Justin

Download the card here.

Top Albums of 2015

Last year, inspired by Sound Opinions, I decided to start the tradition of making a yearly list of my favorite albums released that year (give or take a little bit). I did my first list last year and you can find it here. So, here goes my second annual list…

Top Albums of 2015

Honorable Mentions

AKA, a list of really solid albums that (also) should have made the top ten list.

The List

  1. Deathcab for Cutie – Kintsugi (iTunes | Spotify) I tend to like Deathcab for Cutie best in their more stripped-down, sparse moments… along these lines, I’d consider Transatlanticism and Narrow Stairs their best work. Those albums had catchy pop, but stayed a bit rough around the edges. In their first album without Chris Walla, Deathcab went the other direction with a much more lushly-(dare I say over)-produced sound. So, while it’s super-slick, I don’t think it rises to the level of their best work. Still, it’s a worthy addition to their catalog. It can be a little syrupy at times, but is always poppy, hooky and catchy. All said and done, I recommend avoiding comparisons to Transatlanticism/Narrow Stairs (or even the poppier Plans) and just enjoy it for what it is: the smoothest, most polished, most guilty-pleasure Deathcab for Cutie album.
  2. Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves (iTunes | Spotify) Strangers to Ourselves could be accused of being paint-by-the-numbers Modest Mouse. However, paint-by-the-numbers Modest Mouse is still a lot of fun. Isaac Brock still can’t sing to save his life. There are plenty of off-beat, weird songs; and plenty of infectious, catchy hooks. It’s nothing new, but it’s Modest Mouse doing what they do best.
  3. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (iTunes | Spotify) Grungy rock and just a hint of chill trip-hop are perfectly mixed in this album. It’s sometimes heavy, sometimes soft and occasionally a bit of both. From the haunting opening track to the end, this album grew on me after a few listens.
  4. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color (iTunes | Spotify) I liked the first album (Boys & Girls) by the Alabama Shakes quite well, but it seemed a bit too much of a retro “genre” album. The sound was classic, but seemed a bit like it was trying to sound intentionally “classic.” Sound & Color has much of the same classic sound, but it seems much more natural. Where Boys & Girls sounded retro, Sound & Color sounds fresh and modern with a classic sound.
  5. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 (iTunes | Spotify) Vince Staples was a new name to me, but I’m really glad to have been introduced. This is smart, moody hip-hop at it’s best; with well-constructed rhymes over rich, atmospheric backing tracks… well-crafted and catchy!
  6. Blur – The Magic Whip (iTunes | Spotify) A lot has happened since the last time Damon Albarn and Graham Coxen teamed up. For one, Albarn’s numerous solo and side projects… most notably the Gorillaz. Albern’s diverse musical styles have been brought introduced into this new Blur album, but it’s still recognizably Blur. Blur has never stopped evolving its sound and this album is no exception.
  7. The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (iTunes | Spotify) This album doesn’t have quite as much personalty as many Decemberists albums before it. No eight minute sea songs about being swallowed by a whale; no rock-opera concepts… this album doesn’t have the normal dose of Decemberist weird. However, it probably has some of the most polished songwriting of the Decemberist’s career and is musically diverse.
  8. Low – Ones and Sixes (iTunes | Spotify)I liked Low’s last album, The Invisible Way, but found it a touch forgettable. However, Ones and Sixes got under my skin. This is great late-night music layered with infectious, haunting melodies. It’s quite and slow but also dark, moody, beautiful and surprisingly catchy.
  9. Divine Styler – Def Mask (iTunes) Wow… what happens when top-notch hip-hop meets the sci-fi aesthetic of Blade Runner? Pure awesomeness! This is one of the most stylish things I’ve heard in a long time. Moody, futuristic and just plain cool. (Sadly, this one isn’t on Spotify)
  10. Blackalicious – Imani, Vol. I (iTunes | Spotify) Blackalicious hasn’t come out with new music for a while, but this one is 100% solid… perhaps even better than Blazing Arrow (debatable). In any case, it shows that they haven’t lost a step.

Thanks for checking out my list. Hope you enjoy!

Running 26.2 with TeamFX in 2016

It’s that time of year where I lace up my running shoes and start hitting the trail, building step by step, mile by mile, until I get to 26.2. Yes, I’m training to run the Austin Marathon on Sunday February 14, 2016 as a member of TeamFX Austin. TeamFX is a group of Austinites with the goal of keeping fit and healthy as well as supporting our community. We are running to support the Austin Children’s Shelter and to create a world without child abuse and neglect, one step at a time. This will be my 6th season with the team and my 7th full marathon (along with a few half-marathons).

The Austin Children’s Shelter is part of SAFE (Stop Abuse For Everyone) Austin and provides emergency shelter, high quality care and hope for the future to the abandoned, abused and neglected children of our community. The shelter offers a variety of critical services and programs to reduce the emotional trauma suffered by child victims of abuse and neglect in a safe and nurturing environment. Through these programs and individualized care, Austin Children’s Shelter lays a foundation of hope for the future of the children it serves. For more info about the Austin Children’s Shelter, you can visit their website at safeaustin.org/austinchildrensshelter/ You can watch a quick video about how the shelter helps kids in need in Central Texas at youtu.be/WuOZGhfHM8M (I edited this video for the shelter several years ago)

Team FX Austin

To date, TeamFX Austin has raised over $271,000 for the Austin Children’s Shelter. This year, our goal as a team is to reach $30,000 which will go toward supporting programs offered by the shelter. Because TeamFX Austin is funded by local business partnerships, 100% of all donations goes directly to the shelter itself. All donations to the Austin Children’s Shelter are tax deductible.

If you are able to, I’d like to invite you to join me in my efforts and be a part of TeamFX 2016. If you’d like to take part, you can find my personal fundraising page by clicking my name on our team’s page at

bit.ly/DonateTeamFX

Any donations are made directly to the Austin Children’s Shelter. With a donation, your name will automatically be entered into our raffle for a chance to win the new iPad Air or other prizes, to be drawn at our marathon after-party! More information is available here.

Whether you are able to donate or not, I appreciate you taking the time to read this post. I wish you all the best!

Happy Birthday USA!

On the birthday of my country, I have to say that I am very proud to be an American.

However, this is not an uncomplicated statement. The United States of America is a great country with a great amount of prosperity and opportunity. However, this prosperity and opportunity isn’t universally shared by all of its citizens. The United States of America is a country of great diversity. However, it also has a troubled history (and current reality) of racism and general intolerance. The United States of America has done a great deal of good in the world. However, it has also imperialistically pursued its agenda at great cost to some people and parts of the world.

Simply put, the United States is far from perfect. Still, no country is. We have our problems, but we are a great people and are capable of fixing them. Let’s take today to celebrate all the wonderful things that we are and all the wonderful things we can be; but let’s also take today to acknowledge our faults and shortcomings. There is no shame in admitting our weaknesses. Patriotism can be unconditional, but it should never be blind. We can love our country while admitting that we aren’t always in the right. When we admit to our faults, we are one step closer to correcting them and improving ourselves.

Also, the love of our country doesn’t need to be exclusive. There are so many great people and places in this world. We should never take an “us vs. them” approach to our patriotism. Patriotism can be about loving the people that we are, but we should always have deep respect and love for the rest of the world as well. We’re all in this one together.

The United States of America is far from the only wonderful place in the world and it’s not perfect; but it’s my home and I love it. Happy birthday America!

1280px-Flag_of_the_United_States

My 2014 Playlists

2014 Spotify lists

My 2014 playlists are now ready on Spotify. Here are the links (and direct Spotify links) to the playlists:

Best of 2014 (Direct Spotify link) – A playlist of my top 100 songs of the year.

Rest of 2014 (Direct Spotify link) – This list is made up of all the runner-ups that didn’t make the top 100 cut.

Here’s a little more about how it works… Every year, as I discover (or rediscover) a song I like, I add it to my list for consideration. These songs don’t have to be released in 2014 (though generally are). For older releases, either I discovered it for the first time during the year, I rediscovered it, appreciated it under a new light or it had some particular significance to an event that happened during the year. At the end of the year, I whittle the list down to the top 100 songs and drop the rest in the runner-up list. This year, 164 songs were up for consideration.

The top 100 is not necessarily a list of my 100 favorite songs… there are other factors to consider. To keep this list more interesting, I limit myself to no more than 3 songs for any particular artist. So, a song that might be one of my favorites may get banished to the runner-up list because there were 3 better song from that artist (so it’s theoretically possible for my fourth favorite song of the year to not make the cut). Songs near the cutoff line often get promoted or demoted based on how well they fit into the sequence, so some great songs got kicked off just because they didn’t flow well with anything else. New songs are more likely to make the top 100; older songs I’ve previously heard are more likely to go on the runner-up list; I might drop a preferred song to make sure a particular artist is represented at least once, etc. In any case, there are some really great songs on both lists.

The lists have both been sequenced very carefully. There isn’t any thematic structure, but I’ve paid attention to the way each song flows into the next. I try to build blocks of songs with similar feel with transitionary songs in between blocks. The sequencing isn’t always perfect, but I’m mostly pleased with the flow.

So, hope you enjoy the lists and discover some great new music!

My Serial Theories

WARNING: If you are still listening to Serial, this post contains SPOILERS!

Now that season one of Serial is over, here are my thoughts on the most likely scenarios:

Like Sarah Koenig, I agree that there isn’t currently enough evidence to convict Adnan from a legal perspective. There is just too much reasonable doubt about Adnan’s guilt. With that doubt, the jury should not have convicted him. That said, I’m leaning toward feeling that he is most likely guilty, but have my doubts and alternative theories.

Of all the possible suspects that Hae knew personally, no one had any real motive to kill her. From all accounts, Hae was pretty universally loved and wasn’t a girl with many enemies. No one in her circle had any reason to do her harm. That includes Adnan… a breakup just isn’t catastrophic enough to incite murder, even in the most extreme situations. We’ve all experienced heartbreak and it’s not easy on any of us; but Adnan would have had to be pretty crazy to turn a broken heart into motivation for murder. He just doesn’t seem that crazy. That said, lacking any possible motive from anyone else at all, Adnan is pretty much left as our only possible suspect. Jay’s recent interview does make Adnan’s motive seem a bit more plausible by implying that it may have been more of an unintended crime of passion rather than pre-meditated murder. If Adnan did it, Jay’s new retelling sounds like the most likely scenario.

I’ve heard a lot of “Jay did it” talk, but I don’t buy this at all. Jay had zero motivation to kill Hae and just doesn’t seem like a killer, especially with no motivation. After reading his recent interview, I’m pretty close to 100% sure it wasn’t Jay.

If not Adnan, I’m pretty convinced that we’re looking for a random serial killer such as Ronald Moore or one of the other un-named suspects the Innocence Project has identified. In the serial killer theory, Hae stopped for gas and was picked out by some psycho hunting for their next victim. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time… the victim of a more freak, random crime.

The trouble is that this still leaves the question of Jay’s motive. If neither he or Adnan had anything to do with the crime, why would he go to the trouble of turning on Adnan and implicating himself as an accessory? My answer to this is simply that false confessions are not uncommon under intense pressure during police interrogations. Jay could simply have cracked under some pressure and confessed to something that never happened.

Here’s how this scenario would have played out… The detectives were out of clues, but suspected Adnan. They found out that Jay had been with Adnan for much of the day Hae went missing. If Adnan did it, they suspected that Jay should know something. Jay wouldn’t have known much (if Adnan was innocent) but may have had some good reasons to want to please the police with a good story. Jay was a small-time drug dealer and made it clear that he often felt harassed by the police (his explanation as to why he didn’t notify them about the murder earlier). The police could have very easily threatened to make his life rough if he didn’t come clean about Adnan. He already had experience as a cooperative witness in a prior case. This experience would have made it clear to Jay that good things happen when you cooperate with the police and the prosecution… bad things happen when you don’t. Plus, it’s possible that Jay also suspected Adnan after hearing the detective’s theories. Jay was not with Adnan all day, so could have thought Adnan did commit the crime during the parts of the day that they were separated. So, it makes perfect sense to me that Jay would have filled in the gaps and concocted a story that implicated Adnan. It got the police off his back and he may have even believed the basic backbone of it. In Jay’s mind, better to be cooperative and be taken care of than be harassed as a drug dealer. So, he cooperated.

If this is the case, it explains why he knew where Hae’s car was. It’s very possible the police had already found the car and it would have been very easy for the police to leak this information to Jay. Keep in mind, I’m not implying there was any conspiracy going on here… merely that, in an attempt to solve a tough case, detectives employed pressure on Jay and helped feed him some information… and this worked out a bit too well. It would not be the first time something like this happened. False confessions are a reality.

So, if all of this is the case, it’s possible that we can throw out the more incriminating portions of Jay’s testimony, which are almost all of the tangible case against Adnan. If Jay’s testimony is indeed a false testimony under pressure, Adnan and Jay were just two teenage kids driving around the suburbs buying weed and getting high… nothing more sinister than that. This would leave the actual crime to someone else outside of the circle of suspects. Again, because Hae had so few enemies, I’m lead to believe the only motivation to kill her would have come from a random, sick, twisted individual. These types of murders aren’t as common as Dexter would have us believe, but it’s still a distinct possibility.

In Jay’s recent interview, he sticks pretty clearly to the narrative that Adnan did it and he was an accessory. This new telling seems significantly more clear and believable than any of his official testimonies, so doesn’t look good for Adnan at all. However, I don’t discount the possibility that the story he’s telling now is still a continuation of an earlier false confession. In any case, I’m pretty sure Jay genuinely believes Adnan did it. I must admit, I’m starting to find Jay more credible after hearing his new retelling of the story.

The only thing we can do now is wait on the Innocence Project‘s findings of the physical evidence to see if this sheds any new light on the situation. If Jay’s retelling is correct, Adnan’s DNA should have been left at the scene (an eyelash, hair, etc.). Only time will tell.

I’d like to close with these three thoughts that all Serial fans should keep in mind while we theorize. It can be fun to try to solve the mystery, but we should not forget that this is a real story with real people; not fiction.

  • Hae Min Lee is a real human being who lost her life. We should have respect for her (and her family) and find out who did harm to her so they can be brought to justice.
  • Adnan Syed is a real human being who may be falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit. If he did and it can be proven, he deserves to be where he is. However, if he’s innocent, he deserves to be released from prison to live his life.
  • Jay Wilds is a real human being trying to live his life. We shouldn’t drag his name through the mud with wild theories that aren’t backed up with solid evidence. We have nothing to suspect he was more involved than he admits to, so let’s not ruin his life over this story.

So, let’s theorize, but remember to tread lightly and have respect for the real human beings involved.

Happy Holidays!

Friends and family,

Happy holidays! I hope everyone is doing well. Tis the season that I reach out to those I care about and give them a quick update about what’s going on in my life. So, here it goes…

2014 has been a great year for me, both personally and professionally. I discovered a lot about myself and what I want out of life… and have grown as a result. I made a few big leaps; one of which was becoming a homeowner. I bought a condo in northwest Austin in March and have been adapting well to the experience.

I ran the Austin Marathon in February and got a new personal record (03:36:24). I am not training for the 2015 marathon, but I’m still doing a lot of running. I will do my first 3M Half-Marathon in January.

Professionally, I celebrated my second year with Dell, doing marketing and product development for the rugged computing division. We’ve been very busy launching new products and promoting them.

So, as the year draws to a close, I’m very thankful for everything this year has brought. I sincerely hope all of you have had great years as well. I’m looking forward to a great 2015 with new challenges, adventures and growth. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Happy New Year! Thank you for being part of my life and for your friendship and support!

cheers,
Justin

…and a classic Calvin and Hobbes for your enjoyment!