One Month on the Road

I sat down to blog about our trip, and only just now realized that already one month has elapsed. Whew! The rest of my family is doing a better job of posting regularly. You can see all of our aggregated roadtrip posts at

A lot has happened. We’ve camped and/or visited in seven states (Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska). We’ve camped in a wide variety of locations - state parks, KOAs, private campgrounds, a city park, on the street in front of a house, and Sara’s family homestead. We’ve visited three National Parks (Glacier, Yellowstone, Badlands) and several more Historical Sites. And I’ve given my library program twice.

By far the biggest challenge has been mechanical in nature. Our slide out broke, and is currently (as Sara puts it) a “stuck in”. There are lots of trailers our size without slide outs, and they are arranged to allow easy movement within. Ours is not, the layout depends on an open slide out, and suddenly things are very cramped indeed. We can basically move around, cook, and so forth, but doing so requires a lot of cooperation, flexibility, and generosity of spirit. So we’re coping, but it’s inconvenient at best. Though, as we often say, it beats a tent. Spending time outside helps, so we hope to get it fixed before the weather gets cold and wet.

It’s hard to get a slideout fixed when you’re constantly on the move, and my schedule of speaking engagements means our calendar isn’t very flexible. But we have an appointment next week in Minnesota to have it looked at, and depending on the exact problem we could have it fixed in anywhere from ten minutes to several weeks.

The next biggest challenge has been finding the time and place to work. The key is to take advantages of workable situations when they happen. Electricity? Dependable wifi? A dry place to set up my Cintiq? I’ve learned to drop everything and work as much as I can. The farther ahead I am on work, the more flexible I can be about waiting for the next such dream situation, and fortunately my strip buffer is getting comfortably long. When there’s good enough reception I can tether to my iPad’s cell data, though that’s expensive enough that I do so sparingly. And I don’t really need Internet connectivity to do most of my work. I can draw and write and read and respond to email offline, and then connect up when possible. Increasingly this is what I do.

Mostly working on the road just demands a new level of discipline, something that has never been my strong suit. So here’s to growing that particular muscle.

I am very much enjoying spending more time with my wife and kids, which is one of the challenges in working enough - they’re pretty fun to begin with, and of course they’re having all sorts of fascinating and hilarious homeschool adventures. I want to play too! Staying home and working some of the time requires the most discipline of all.

But, warts and all, we are having a fantastic time and you are justified in being fiercely jealous of us.

Tags: roadtrip


We said goodbye to Mason Wednesday afternoon, returning him to the rescue agency we got him from. 

It has been a heartbreaking week, really testing my limits of holding onto the both-ands of life; knowing rehoming Mason is absolutely the safest thing for him and the best way to take care of him AND missing him like crazy and wishing he could be with us every moment of the day. 

It’s a good thing I know having my tears about the things that don’t for me in my life is good and important. I’ve been bursting into tears unprovoked for about 5 days now and pretty much cried myself to sleep the past two nights.

It really is hard to love something so much and then let it go. Especially when they are such a soft fuzzy goof that loves to cuddle and play so much. He’ll be in our hearts forever and hopefully we will get to visit him at his new home when we return. 

Thanks for everyone’s warm wishes and help reaching out to help find a new home for him.


We said goodbye to Mason Wednesday afternoon, returning him to the rescue agency we got him from.

It has been a heartbreaking week, really testing my limits of holding onto the both-ands of life; knowing rehoming Mason is absolutely the safest thing for him and the best way to take care of him AND missing him like crazy and wishing he could be with us every moment of the day.

It’s a good thing I know having my tears about the things that don’t for me in my life is good and important. I’ve been bursting into tears unprovoked for about 5 days now and pretty much cried myself to sleep the past two nights.

It really is hard to love something so much and then let it go. Especially when they are such a soft fuzzy goof that loves to cuddle and play so much. He’ll be in our hearts forever and hopefully we will get to visit him at his new home when we return.

Thanks for everyone’s warm wishes and help reaching out to help find a new home for him.

Mason Needs a New Home

Update: Mason appears to have found a new home, or at least we assume so as he is no longer on the website of the rescue agency. We hope that they did a good job finding an appropriate home for him so that he doesn’t have to go through this process all over again. He deserves the best. We miss him.

Update: Mason is in a foster home via the rescue agency that we got him from. We have had several inquiries about him, but so far he has not been placed, so if you’re interested please let us know and well forward your name. I will update this post when we find out he has been placed.

We need to find a new home for our beloved dog Mason, and unfortunately we are in a hurry.

Mason is a five year-old neutered male black lab mix, about 90 pounds. He is extremely friendly and affectionate, with a very sweet and goofy personality. He is gentle and patient with children, and everyone who has ever met Mason has immediately fallen in love with him. He is healthy and active and loves to swim, fetch, play soccer, and roughhouse with other dogs.

90% of the time Mason is everything you’d want a family dog to be, but he can be extremely territorial. In these situations he is difficult to control, and occasionally he has been aggressive to us when we try to restrain him. Defending his property is his top priority.

We have reluctantly come to the conclusion that our city home is not the right fit for Mason. Our trainer thinks Mason would be an excellent dog for a rural area or any situation where a dog defending his home is a desirable trait.

On July 29 our family leaves Seattle on a year-long road trip, and so we don’t have much time. Please spread the word about our sweet, lovable, and protective dog so that we can find the right home for him.

Please contact us by email or phone (206-949-7272).

Thanks, Sara, Bill, Theo, and Rosie

I made you a song

As one of the stretch goals for our Library Ranger Badges Kickstarter I promised to write and record a library anthem. I made this, essentially a pastiche of Unshelved comic strips in musical form.

I wrote the lyrics and music, sang the words, and played the tenor ukulele. I am releasing the song (and this recording) under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license, because I know people can do wonderful and terrible things with it, and I want to hear them all.

I had promised a duet with Rita Meade a.k.a. @ScrewyDecimal, and indeed she was kind enough to make a recording with me when I was in Brooklyn in May. She sang like the angel she is. Sadly I am a musical newbie and really messed up the recording. We still hope to sing together again one day, but since I was under deadline I turned to my friend/teacher Eli Rosenblatt to produce this recording:

Eli Rosenblatt is a Multi-Instrumentalist, Performer, Producer and Composer based in Seattle, Washington, USA. His music spans the globe, incorporating sounds from the Americas to Cuba to Eastern Europe to Africa and beyond. Performance calendar, music, video and more info @

Gene Ambaum provided moral support in the form of not getting involved. Major thanks to the anonymous fanperson who bought me the wonderful ukulele I played here. Look - I did something fun with it!

I have a clever plan for a video. Stay tuned.

Like the looks of those badges? We still have a (rapidly diminishing) supply for sale here.

Here are the lyrics, along with how to play it:

What Can I Help You Find Today?
by Bill Barnes (
Some Rights Reserved (

C          /                     G            /
  Where is the bathroom 'cause I need to take a bath
F              /             G          /
  Please do my homework now, especially the math

C         /       /      G           /       /
  What is the capital of London, is it France?
  G        F           /            /     G      /          / / (then mute)
  Will you show me how to teach my dog to do a sexy dance?

                             C / \ / \  G / \ / \ F / \ / \ / G
  What can I help you find today?
             /               C
  What can I help you find today?

         /           /
  I want to get divorced
    G            /      /
  I need to find a wife
F           /        /
  Where can I rent a horse
    G           /       /
  I need to get a life

C           /           /        G           /
  Where are my parents' parents' parents' parents from?
  G       F              /          /      G         /          / / (then mute)
  Help me find out which disease I have by measuring my thumb.

  What can I help you find today?
  I don’t have all the answers
F                 G
  But I know just where to look.
C            G
  Online or in a database
     F          /    /  G    /    /   /          /    /  /    /     / / (then mute)
  We might just find it in a book! (I might just find it in a book)

  What can I help you find today?
            /             /      G             /       / 
  Where are the tax forms if you don’t like paying tax
F        /            /      G           /      /
  I want to send this 8 inch floppy disk by fax

C        /      /        G           /       
  I need a photograph of Moses, make it quick
  /        F             /     /        G           G         /
  Standing right next to a dinosaur, or Jesus, take your pick

C              G
  I don’t have all the answers
F                 G
  But I know just where to look.
C         F
  In a forgotten archive
     /          /    /  G    /    //         /     /   /    /     / /    /     / /    /      // (then mute)
  We might just find it in a book!  (I found my answer in a book!) (in a book!) (in a book!) 

  What can I help you find today?
     /     /
  La la la la
  G  /     /
  La la la la
  F  /     /  G
  La la la la la

  (repeat until library closes)

Ground Rush

Preparations for our impending road trip have reached the “frantic” stage, and Sara and I have abandoned our usual bedtime in an effort to get it all done in time. Sleep: you can always do it later!

We are in the midst of extreme triage. For every item in the house we have to decide whether to:

  • Bring
  • Store
  • Purge

Due to space/weight concerns, we can take very little with us. But if we can live without something for 13 months, can’t we live without it forever? The result of this line of thinking is that we’ve taken five truckloads of (let’s be frank) crap to Goodwill or Half Price Books, and we’re not done yet. It feels pretty fantastic, actually. I am very curious what our life (and house) will be like when we return from this trip.

Meanwhile I am drawing and writing as fast as I can so as to be as many weeks ahead on Unshelved and Not Invented Here strips as possible. Because, with traveling and doing programs, there will be days on the road when I just can’t get any work done. Plus Gene and I have a couple of secret projects we’re trying to make headway on.

The result of all this is a fair amount of stress. So far we’re keeping it together. It helps to know that it has a fixed ending. We drive away from Seattle two weeks from today. I can’t wait.

Tags: roadtrip

Slowly but surely I’ve been upgrading Cuddles. I replaced the standard fan vent in the bathroom with a Fantastic Fan. I added a ProPride 3P hitch, dramatically improving the safety and comfort of towing this big boy. And I added a Go Power 160W solar panel to the roof. I had a lot of help from my kids, which is itself a bit of a revelation. My kids are old enough to actually help!

I’m not done yet. I still have to a second Fantastic Fan to install (in the bedroom), figure out how to wire in the Go Power 1500W Inverter, and modify our dinette to support storing our 4 bicycles during transit. The bike thing has to happen before we leave (just 3 weeks from now), everything else can happen while we’re on the road.

Tags: roadtrip

Apple’s Long Game

Swift logo

My favorite part of the WWDC 2014 keynote starts at the 104:35 mark. Craig Federighi teases the notion of changing Objective-C, creating a huge buzz in the audience. Then he drops the bomb - a whole new language. And the crowd goes wild. (And how much fun must it have been to be Craig right then?)

I hate hate hate Objective-C. Always have. C was my third programming language after BASIC and Pascal, but it was my first love. I loved how concise it was, how expressive, and how I could practically see the machine code it generated. Objective-C’s extensions made it look messy, unfamiliar, a different language entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I hated C++ too. And Java. They all seemed like messy steps in the wrong direction (or, rather, three wrong directions). That trio of C replacements actually scared me away from development for many years.

What brought me back was C#, the thinking man’s replacement for C. C# started off pretty clean and actually got cleaner with every revision. I started coding again, using it to write the first and second versions of But the ASP.NET framework was not as pretty as the language it utilized.

Then DHH wrote a web framework called Rails using an obscure language called Ruby, and changed everything. The dynamism of the language made for a very concise, very expressive take on writing websites. Microsoft eventually came back with ASP.NET MVC, which I used to write the third version of (which cohosts with This was a good try, but even with the beautiful piece of technology called LINQ it couldn’t really keep up with Rails or its open source community. I became a Rails programmer, and in my capacity as an independent contractor created several websites for a friend’s company. I really like coding in Ruby.

For years I’ve been wanting to write iOS apps but Objective-C scared me away. I played with RubyMotion a bit, but it felt like one of those things where I’d be continually hamstrung by not understanding the language the APIs were written in. I was pettily determined never to learn Objective-C.

Swift brings everything back around. Just hours after it was announced I was reading the manual on my iPad on the plane home from NYC to Seattle. It’s a great language, a beautiful merging of C# and Ruby and several other languages I don’t know. Again and again, as I read the book, I saw where the syntax was optimized to make common pain points go away. And, coming from Apple, and clearly intended as a first-class peer to Objective-C (which will sadly still be around for many years to come), there will be no hamstringing. The API docs already reflect both languages. It’s a no-brainer. I’m already planning the iOS apps I’m going to write, starting with making some simple SpriteKit games with/for my kids. And clearly I’m not the only one. Twitter is full of folks excited to come on board with iOS now that the hurdle of Objective-C is gone, replaced by the newest, best-to-date inheritor of the C crown.

But what has me in awe is not that Apple made a great thing. It’s that they kept it secret for four years. Just think about that. While people like me were bitching about Objective-C, they stayed silent. While actual Objective-C developers struggled with the limitations of the language, they stayed silent. They didn’t make explanations. They didn’t tease concepts. Objective-C was their full-hearted answer until the moment it wasn’t anymore.

I know I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have slaved away silently at such a thing of beauty, knowing how happy it would make people, the problems it would solve, for so long. (It probably helped that iOS wasn’t exactly hurting for developer support in that time. Folks more motivated (and less petty) than I learned Objective-C even if they didn’t want to, used it even if they didn’t like it.) But still. They held this card incredibly close to their chest until it was ready to be played.

What other cards are they holding?

Full disclosure: I own a bunch of Apple stock and buy more whenever possible.

Tags: apple swift

Somehow I ended up on a BEA panel on Worst Social Media Advice Ever with two of my favorite authors, Maureen Johnson (Name of the Star) and John Scalzi (Agent to the Stars), moderated by Ron Hogan.

In the weeks before BEA we had exchanged a number of emails to get ready. At one point Maureen really wanted to incorporate this ditty, but we talked her out of it. The morning of the panel I decided to sing Maureen a song of my own composition. I wrote the lyrics on the subway on the way to the Javits center, transposed the chords in the green room 5 minutes before we went on. Pro tip: when you do stuff at the last minute there’s no time to have stage fright. John Scalzi was the best straight white male backup singer another straight white male could hope for.

The rest of the panel was fun too. has a great summary (but that’s a Flea ukulele, not a mandolin).

Here are the lyrics

Social Media, it’s why we’re here
Social Media, no need to fear
IRL we’re awkward and tongue-tied
Online we’re all social butterflies
Never before have we needed more

Social media, connects us all
Social media, it makes us “lawl” (that’s how you pronounce LOL, right?)
I’m sure all our high school nemeses
Have much fewer followers than we
We’re no longer nerds, we’re masters of words on

Social media, here’s how it works
Social media, just be a jerk
That’s why, Maureen, I will read ta ya
All the rules of Social Media
So that you’ll love Social Media too

First Days

Sara and our parked rig

Cuddles the Shadow Cruiser 290DBS arrived safe and sound. We parked on the street, spent the day washing and admiring our new rig, showed it off to friends and random passing strangers, and spent that night in the trailer.

Some takeaways from our first few days as new trailer owners:

  • Always level the trailer. We extended the slideout during the day, but closed it at night so that no one inadvertently drove into it. It rained during the day, and the trailer was not level, so rain gathered on the slideout roof against the trailer. This is no problem, as there are watertight seals that prevent rain from entering the trailer when the slideout is open or closed. However, as we learned, it does not prevent the rain from entering the trailer when the slideout is closing. So a couple of pints flowed into the trailer and pooled on the floor. It took a while to work out the mechanics of this, so during that first night I was often worried that our new trailer has a flaw. It didn’t. We did.

  • RV mattresses are not very good. This wasn’t really a surprise. It only took one night to decide to get a new mattress (or at least a mattress topper).

  • Trailers don’t fit in city driveways. We had negotiated to rent a neighbor’s driveway until we left on our trip, but the reality of a 8’x33’x10.5’ trailer was bigger than we anticipated. We had several other offers, but either the driveway was too small, or the street was not conducive to the wide approach we’d need to park this big boy.

  • Storage units lie. After a couple of nights parked on the street we were ready to find a better home for Cuddles. Sara called around to several storage units in the city. One said it was a pull-through, so we drove over, but it was an impossibly narrow parallel spot with very tight approaches. They sent us to a second location which actually did have a pull-through, but again the approaches were too tight.

  • Seattle streets aren’t designed for RVs. Driving around town with the trailer looking for parking was pretty stressful. Most of the lanes we drove on were exactly the 8’ width of our trailer, which meant there was no margin for error on either side of the rig. Sara did a beautiful job wrangling Cuddles in some dicey situation.

  • You can park on the streets in Seattle, sort of. We ended up parking that night on a different street near our house. An anonymous neighbor called to complain, and Sara got a call from a Seattle parking enforcement officer, who explained that it could stay there for three days if attached to a tow vehicle. This was actually good news, as we had thought we couldn’t legally park at all. It means that we can bring Cuddles to our house for a few days at a time to pack and make upgrades.

  • Park outside of town. We ended up finding a spot (see photo above) at a secure lot in North Bend, which is not super close to our house but actually quite convenient: a drive down Rainier Avenue (which is an arterial designed for wider vehicles) and then half an hour on I90.

As you can see our first few days could have been a little less stressful, but lessons were learned and now we have a secure place for Cuddles to stay before our trip and after.

Tags: roadtrip


Inside Cuddles

Our trailer arrives in a few days and our household is in a fever pitch. The reality of our impending trip is starting to hit us. Deciding to do the trip was kind of an abstract thing. Trading in our minivan for a real tow vehicle was a concrete step in the right direction. But an actual trailer, well that puts us more squarely on the path to driving around the country for a year. (The final piece of the puzzle is signing a lease with the folks renting our house, something that should happen in the next few days. After that we pretty much have to go.)

The last time we bought a trailer… sixteen years ago… we custom ordered it from the factory. At that time we opted out of an air conditioner, because we had been advised that a couple of Fantastic Fans would keep the rig as cool as we needed, just using battery power. This was excellent advice, and saved us a little money, a lot of weight, and about 8” of clearance. We also had the dealer upgrade it with two solar panels and an inverter, so that we could live off the grid for many days at a stretch. Which we did, happily, many times, and not without a certain amount of self-righteousness.

This time around our trailer comes standard from the factory, so we’re stuck with the AC, because it will be more work to remove than it really buys us. But we still plan never to run it, so I’m going to replace the standard ceiling fans with Fantastic Fans. And we’re also planning on adding solar panels and an inverter, budget permitting, and I’ll need to install the ProPride 3P hitch to the trailer.

One thing that will help the budget is doing it all ourselves. I’m really more of a software guy than a hardware guy, but I have a handier friend helping me out. Plus the web is full of how-to videos and photos, so it’s easier than ever to do stuff like this yourself.

We will also probably add some black-out curtains, add a few shelves and hooks, and maybe buy a better mattress. Somehow this weekend our trip got upgraded from twelve to thirteen months long, so I’m more anxious than ever to make sure our setup meets the needs of a family living in close quarters for an extended period of time.

P.S. My wife Sara is also starting to blog about our trip over at her blog.

Tags: roadtrip