Nicholas Zakas' Personal Blog A deviation from my usual tech writing


What is a successful relationship?

"And look what that got you."

It's the type of sarcasm-drenched retort I've come to expect from my friend Jackie. She's a woman of many words and is unafraid to share them with you at any point in time.

I had just finished explaining to her some of the circumstances around which I met my last two girlfriends. My point was that you can't tell from the very beginning whether something is going to work out; her point was that I'm currently single. Touch´┐Ż.

That exchange left me with an interesting question: what does it mean when a relationship is "successful?" I suppose in the traditional sense, a successful relationship is one that leads to marriage. Then again, in bygone days, you probably wouldn't have dated that much (if at all - arranged marriages were popular) and got married young. Perhaps then a successful relationship was not just one that led to marriage but one that resulted in children and not abuse.

So is your only successful relationship the one you end up keeping? If we're to assume that success is defined by marriage and that most people will get married once (I know that's a tough hypothesis in this day and age), that means only one of your relationships is a success and all others are failures. If that's truly the case, then you really shouldn't be dating someone that you think you won't marry. Why have another relationship failure? That logic doesn't make sense to me.

If ending in marriage isn't truly the criteria for success, then what is? Is a relationship successful if you were happy with that person? If you had fun? If you felt loved/protected/cared-for? How about if you learned something about yourself or the world? To me, all of these indicate some level of success in the relationship.

All of our relationships, romantic, friendly, and familial, have an effect on us. Most often, and if we're lucky, the friendly and familial relationships are lifelong ones, it's just the romantic ones that flicker in and out like a candle in front of an open window. Due to the often-too-quick expiration date and impactfulness of romantic relationships, we tend to gaze upon them with our critical eye more readily than the others.

"Don't you think a relationship is successful if it teaches you something? If it prepares you for the next relationship in some way?" I immediately winced, preparing for the onslaught of sarcasm to continue.

"Not really," Jackie said rather calmly, "so have you bought your ticket out here for my wedding yet? It's just five months away!"

Well played.


2008: Year of healing

Happy new year! I don't know about you, but I'm glad to kick 2007 in the butt and out the door. Aside from sports (Red Sox win the World Series again, Patriots go 16-0, Celtics off to the best start in 20 years) and work, I'd have to say that 2007 sucked royally.

I have a great deal of people close to me, myself included, who went through some personal struggles in 2007. Therefore, last night I proclaimed (together with my friend Shelby) that 2008 will be a year of healing. There! It's been proclaimed! With this proclamation, 2008 becomes the year that physical, psychological, emotional, and financial healing happens for everyone. It will erase the crappiness of 2007 and replace it with good stuff. How do I know? Because I just proclaimed it, weren't you paying attention?

(The preceding written on a definite lack of sleep.)

Happy new year, everyone!

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Back from Hawaii

I just got back from a five-day Thanksgiving vacation in Hawaii. This is the first actual vacation I've had in years. By actual vacation I mean I didn't have to do any work and the trip wasn't to see family (like when I go back to Boston). I left my watch and my laptop at home for the first time...well, since I got a laptop. I went to Hawaii with clothes and a camera. And you know what happened? I survived.

I didn't once feel the urge to check email or any RSS feeds. I honestly didn't expect that to happen, since I'm never far from a computer when at home. But I didn't miss it at all. And my watch? Completely unnecessary. I mean, my body was all confused due to the two hour time difference so I just ate when I was hungry, slept when I was tired, and just generally did whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. No tech hangover, not at all. If you've never done this before, I highly recommend it. Now, where was I...


A horrible tenant – being a landlord sucks

Important Note: It has come to my attention that there is an attorney named Shannon Jamieson that lives in Massachusetts. This is not the person to whom I am referring in this post. My former tenant was certainly not an attorney, did not own a house, and as far as I know, is still living in Peabody. It is unfortunate that more than one person can have the same name and thus can be confused with each other online. Please take note of the specific details I've given in this post before assuming you know of whom I'm speaking.

When I moved out to California, I had to decide what to do about my condo in Peabody. I only had it for two years before leaving, and the housing market had collapsed, so I thought I'd just rent it out. Since I would've lost money selling, it was an easy decision. I had to rent it for less than my mortgage payment, due to the aforementioned collapsed housing market, but it was worth it to get some money back.

I hired a realtor who found me a tenant. A twenty-something girl named Shannon Jamieson. The background and credit check were fine, so we signed papers. Three months into the 12-month lease, the nightmare began. It started innocently enough: the rent didn't arrive for May. After a week, I sent her a nice letter reminding her that her rent was due. After another week I called and left a message. Another week went by, another letter. Then I called a lawyer. This is where it began to become apparent just how crappy Massachusetts law is for landlords.

The lawyer informed me that I had to send a 14-day notice to quit. The idea is to notify the tenant that they must pay within 14 days or else...we'll do something else. So after already being about a month late, she got another two weeks. Big surprise, we didn't hear from her. So after the 14 days were up, I talked to the lawyer again. We had to file a claim in court and wait for a court date...that took another month. The date was for district court. The week of the hearing she got it moved to housing court which, you guessed it, took another month to schedule a date. If you're keeping count, that's now three months that she's been living in my condo for free.

My dad was nice enough to represent me in court so I didn't have to fly back. During the hearing, Shannon claimed that the trust fund she was drawing from had magically disappeared (she had no real reason). The lawyer and my dad agreed to give her three weeks to vacate the premises. They signed an agreement to this. Now the fun part is that if she didn't leave, then we'd have to go back to court to get the order of execution to actually get her evicted.

On the date she was supposed to turn the keys into my lawyer, she called me up (from a restricted number so I couldn't call her back). This was the first time in the now five months that she had contacted me. She apologized for the trouble and gave me a sob story about how hard things have been for her. She then asked if she could have two more days to clean the place before she left. I said fine, and that she should call the lawyer to setup another time to drop off the keys. I'm sure you know what happens next.

She didn't leave when she was supposed to. The day came and went and she didn't drop off the keys. Back to the lawyer who had to go back to court to get the order of execution, which took another four business days. During this time, she was continually going in and out. With the order of execution in hand, a constable was dispatched to seize the property. As soon as possible, I had the locks changed (we found out afterwards that she was still trying to get in after the locks were changed). She also didn't turn in the keys; we had to track those down ourselves.

Finally getting into the condo, it was a mess. She clearly didn't clean much if at all. The carpet most certainly wasn't shampooed as she promised she would. The walls were filthy. The kitchen and refrigerator were disgusting. She has been running the dryer without it being attached to the dryer vent. The place was a mess. I hired someone to go in and clean and then did some more work myself.

So this woman, Shannon Jamieson, was my first tenant. She got to live in my condo for free for five months. I got to keep the security deposit and last month's rent, effectively meaning I lost out on three month's the money I spent cleaning up the place and lawyer fees of $1500. All in all, she has cost me over $5000. The lawyer said I can sue her to recover that, but I'd probably never see a dime. Shannon Jamieson was a horrible tenant who stopped paying her rent three months in and then proceeded to live in my condo without paying for five months. And the law let her do that.

Now I need to find a new tenant that will hopefully pay on time and I'm trying to dig myself out of the financial turmoil that this sudden fund drain caused. I don't understand why it takes so long to get someone out that isn't paying. It's my condo, if someone stops paying I should be able to call the police and have her removed, not wait three more months to finally get her out.

Why am I sharing this? First, to vent some frustration that I have after receiving the bill from my lawyer. Second, I believe that many employers and landlords search the Web for information about people before doing business with them...I want to make sure that the name Shannon Jamieson will be tied with the phrase "horrible tenant" from now until the Google index goes stale. I apparently have no legal recourse, so the only thing I can hope to do is try to help other prevent other people from being victimized by this person.


My first earthquake

A little while ago, I complained about not having experience an earthquake since I moved to California. Well tonight that changed in a big way. As I was sitting here, eating dinner and watching TV, I started to hear a loud noise. I thought, "oh great, what are my lousy neighbors up to now?" But then it got louder. And then the building started shaking. And it continued shaking.

I sat there mesmerized, watching as the walls and my entertainment center swayed rhythmically back and forth. I really had no idea what to do, so I just sat there. After about ten seconds it was over. There was no damage aside from my rattled nerves. Now I feel like I've had the whole California experience.


Can you be at a crossroads or can you only have been there?

I've been going through a bit of a reflective period here the past couple of months, trying to figure out where my life is going and if it's really heading in the direction I want it to be. Some might say I'm at a crossroads, but I'm wondering if you can be at a crossroads presently or if it's something that you can only identify in hindsight.

The definition of crossroads, aside from a young Britney Spears' attempt at acting, is a critical or decisive point. It's often used in relation to people who are in crisis, such as drug addicts and alcoholics. I don't think crossroads need be so dire, nor do I think that they are terribly obvious at the time. Am I at a crossroads right now? I don't think so, I think the crossroad happened a couple of years ago for me.

In 2005, I was living in a condo in Massachusetts that I had bought with my own money. It was my pride and joy, the only place that felt like home other than my parents' house. It was an expression of my independence and an outlet for my creativity as I attempted (somewhat successfully) to decorate it. I also had a good, steady job with good pay. I was friendly with almost everyone in my building. I was friends with the older woman who lived beneath me as the guy who lived on the top floor who used to give me free guitar lessons. The old couple across the hall from me used to leave me food and fill me in on the local gossip. I had a wonderful, intelligent, caring girlfriend named Emily that I had been dating for almost two years at that time. My family was nearby as well, so I had all the support that I needed. I had what one might consider to be a stable life: a job, a home, a published book, and a relationship, all in great working order. It's at this point that a lot of people start to settle down (I think). But for some reason, I didn't.

It would have been easy to settle down at that point, marry Emily, live together for a few years and then buy a house and have a couple of kids. I know that's what she was envisioning anyways, and after being together for two years and both of us rapidly approaching 30, I really couldn't blame her. My job was going well, I got a decent raise and still had stock options that were looking like they'd be quite valuable. I believe that's the point where my crossroads existed.

Realizing that someone isn't "the one" is a very sad moment, and it was crushing for me. Everyone loved Emily, and sometimes I thought my mom actually liked talking to her more than talking to me. Regardless, I felt like marriage was not in our future and after two years of being together, I thought the best thing to do would be to call things off. It wasn't fair to her to keep her hanging on when I couldn't give her what she wanted. Emily will make a wonderful wife and mother someday, I have no doubt about that. Part of me wishes she was "the one" for me, but it wasn't meant to be.

The rest of my life really started to unravel after that point. I grew restless in my job. The condo that felt like home before started feeling like a grave dedicated to our failed relationship. Then the opportunity came up to move to California and join Yahoo!, so off I went, basically ensuring that stability was something I wouldn't have for a long time.

Now the most stable part of my life is my job. And thank God for that. This job has been and continues to be the best one I've ever had, and at points, it's the only thing keeping me sane while the rest of my world remains unstable, unpredictable, and oftentimes, exhausting. I wouldn't say I'm miserable out here but I definitely feel very unsettled. Part of that is, of course, the issues with my apartment. But I also realize that I have very little of the stability I had in 2005: there's no neighbors to hang out with, no little old ladies looking after me, no relationship, no home. And it was breaking up with Emily that set me down this path. That was my crossroads and I can't help but wonder how my life would be different now had I made a different decision then.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference

- The Road not Taken, Robert Frost


The sorry state of housing in NorCal

A lot of times I get asked what I think about living in California since I moved out here last year. I usually give the same canned answer: it's just like living in Massachusetts except without the extreme weather. I wake up, I go to work, I write, I play with the computer. The only real difference is that I don't have to check the weather before leaving because chances are it's going to be just like it was the day before. That's the short answer. The long answer goes into one of the areas of life out here that I think really sucks. That part of life? The housing market.

Prices for real estate, both owning and renting, are ridiculously out of control in this area. Tiny houses with little or no yard go for more than half a million dollars. We're talking about houses whose square footage is comparable to my apartment. For a million dollars, you can get a decent one-level home with perhaps a small yard. To get a condo comparable to the one I have back in Massachusetts, it would be around $600,000...I bought mine for $249,000. Are there places that you can buy property for $249k? Of course there are, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Making matters worse is the sheer volume of huge apartment complexes everywhere. Each one of them is in it to make a buck, meaning that you can expect your rent to go up about $200 per month each year. There is no interest in finding or keeping good tenants, it's only about making profit. A scene that plays out every year in leasing offices around the Bay Area finds a poor tenant who suddenly has 30 days to find some new place to live because they can't afford the outrageous rent increase. So you end up with apartments that are lived in for a year before people need to move to some place with a more reasonable rent. Oftentimes this means downgrading from a two-bedroom to a one-bedroom. But the one-bedroom apartments aren't immune from the price increases, so where do you go when you can't afford that anymore?

Families are forced to live in apartments or rented houses. To me, this is the saddest part of being out here: that families can't afford to buy houses. Without families buying houses, it's impossible to build a nice neighborhood. You constantly have people moving in and out which essentially means that there will never be a sense of community. Don't get too attached to your neighbors, they may not be here long.

Right now I'm stuck. I really don't like my apartment but I'm having trouble finding another place to live. I can either move into another huge complex and probably face the exact same problems (noise, rude neighbors, ridiculous rent increases) or I can try to find something in a smaller complex and roll the dice that it will be okay. One would think that since I'm making more money here than I did in Massachusetts that I could look into buying out here...yeah right! Not unless the next Mrs. Zakas comes complete with a trust fund.

I get down fairly often thinking about what I could buy for $500,000 in Massachusetts versus the little shack that it would buy out here. I now understand why some people come out here for only a few years and then go back to where they came's too damn expensive! What use is making a good salary if you're blowing it all on housing (that you don't even own)?

By the way, right now I'm listening to my upstairs neighbor seemingly banging things against the wall and my downstairs neighbor screaming at his daughter and slamming doors. Is there a patron saint of finding new places to live?


Fame has its consequences

People who know me, even a little bit, know that I don't really take myself too seriously. That's why, when I came across this today, I started laughing so hard that I had to share:

Oh, this was so interesting

Though I don't really feel the need to answer this question, I will respond with a quote from Finding Forrester:

Jamal: Women will sleep with you if you write a book?
Forrester: Women will sleep with you if you write a bad book.

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What is this blog about?

Recent readers may be wondering what this blog is about. Hey, this guy Nicholas wrote these JavaScript books, so his blog must be about JavaScript, right? I know many book authors stick to their subject matters on their blogs, and many bloggers have common themes that they try to post around. I am not one of those people, and here's why.

I don't just blog about JavaScript or Ajax or programming because that's just one part of my life. In the grand scheme of things, it's actually a rather small part of my life. My job as a software engineer and author represents my professional life, but my entire life is made up of so much more.

I was drawn to writing long before I started writing about JavaScript. I kept a journal for a long time and wrote letters to express myself, even if there was no real recipient. Words are the way I communicate and this blog is another way that I can flex that muscle.

So what is this blog about? It's about me, my life, and everything it entails. Sometimes it's programming, sometimes it's social, sometimes it's relationships, sometimes it's sports; all the time, it's me.

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Reflections on year one

A year ago today, I hopped on board an American Airlines flight at Boston's Logan Airport. The destination: San Francisco. I came out without knowing where I was going to live and with most of my stuff packed away in boxes on some huge truck on its way cross country. This was the biggest move I'd made in my entire life, from Boston to California, and I was scared out of my mind.

You need to consider that this is a guy who commuted to college all four years and didn't move out until 25...and that condo was about 10 minutes away from my parents. Go ahead and chuckle (I still do), but those are the facts and I am not ashamed to share them. I was, for most of my life, fearful of major changes and transitions. It led me to question many times what business I had even contemplating moving across country to a place where I didn't know anyone or anything. Was I out of my mind? Had I completely lost it? I knew it would be hard, but I really had no idea how hard it would be.

This past year has been an amazing journey. I honestly feel like I've lived several lifetimes in the course of these 12 months, growing and experiencing at such a rapid pace that it makes my head spin. In a single year I found a place to live, found doctors and a dentist, got an awesome job, helped launch an amazing product, wrote another book, got homesick, felt overwhelming joy, made new friends, fell madly in love and had my heart broken (more accurately, torn out, thrown on the floor, and danced upon), gave my first public talk, had all my mercury fillings replaced, wrote for the YUIBlog twice, cried myself to sleep, watched more football than ever before in my life, called home at least four times a week, learned qi gong, played poker, improved my diet, met some amazing software engineers, laughed, been in awe of my surroundings, went on my first (and second) hike, and learned a lot about myself.

I still have trouble fathoming how I got where I am right now. I had no idea what to expect when I moved out here, and every time I thought I was nice and settled in my life, something would happen that would throw me into a tailspin that I'd have to fight hard to pull out of. At those points, I often ask myself, "Why did I do this? Why did I leave my nice, quiet, stable life in Massachusetts and travel west? Why did I leave behind my family, my friends, and my condo?" The answer: because it was time for a change. For once in my life, it was time to stare fear in the face and say, "bring it." And I'm glad I did it. I still don't feel like my life is stable at this point, but this past year has been an amazing journey that I will always be thankful for. I can only imagine what experiences the next year will bring.