This kind of crept up on me... CoasterBuzz has been around for 15 years. OK, it didn't really creep up on me, I was thinking six months ago that I wanted to redesign it in time for this birthday, but that didn't happen. I can't really wrap my head around the time, because it feels like I just wrote about 10 years with the site.
That previous post does a good job of telling the story, so I don't want to retell all of that. Since that time, I rebuilt everything again, and put out the new bits in April, 2012. Working from home that year, every day, and dealing with winter in the months leading up to that time, I was totally stir crazy and really committed to that rebuild. My priorities were really different that time around compared to the previous re-do. I was all about developing POP Forums, because open source is good for the career. In fact, the development in general was more of the motivation over the idea that I was creating this thing for an audience. In 2000, I was still in that career transition, where "the show" was what I was all about. In fact, I might even credit the wanting to build something on the Internet with the transition. I never thought about that before, that the site may just be a factor in my professional life.
That 2012 technical endeavor actually helped out with search optimization and brought in a lot of traffic, and boosted the performance too. That's not that interesting to most people, but you know, it's what I do. It's my playground to build stuff.
As a business, it isn't what it used to be because of the way the ad market has taken a shit over the years, but I'm surprised how so many people still maintain club memberships. That's gratifying because a lot of the time, maintaining a site is a thankless job. I'm fortunate that the community that resides there is largely self-reguating, and low-drama, but it wasn't always that way.
My observations at 10 hold true at 15, with regard to how things are with online community:
We've seen a great inversion between the number of content creators and consumers. Back then, people went out of their way to build Web sites, rich with pictures, stories, communities, etc. Sorry, but posting when you take a crap on Facebook and Twitter is not creating content (it's more like noise). Meanwhile, the users of the Internet went from a tightly connected community to a mass of humanity that doesn't stop long enough to look at anything.
Last weekend, at a wedding, a couple of guys thanked me for my role in the coaster nerd community, which I generally shrug off and get a little uncomfortable about. But one of them made the point that it was improbable that he would be there if it weren't for CoasterBuzz. Indeed, if I think about it, I wouldn't have been there or known one of the grooms, and there were at least 15 people there ranging from a best friend to decade or more acquaintances I don't think I would have ever met. It stands to reason that if my social circle was affected that dramatically, it's likely true for others. That's probably the most important thing that this 15 years has brought for me.
That same conversation also surfaced some observations, maybe even regrets, that things have changed so much since then. The connections we make online aren't nearly as deep, and we prefer more generalized mechanisms like Facebook and Instagram over niche communities. Everyone has an online identity now, while back in the day, you had a minor online identity that wasn't particularly indicative of who you were, surfaced in forums and such, and the rest of the time you were meeting up in real life. It was more special then.
I've said for years that online community is only as good as its members and the effort put into it. As the group that I know graduates to their 30's and 40's, it's hard to say if another one will appear. It seems like online interaction is all about selfies and check-ins, and not about getting to know people. I don't entirely blame the seemingly narcissistic tendencies of the medium, because it seems we tend to expect that people are creepy and not trustworthy when we meet them online in certain contexts.
In any case, CoasterBuzz has been with me now for a third of my life. I can't think of anything other than school that lasted that long. I think it will continue to be around for as long as I enjoy maintaining it, regardless of what the motivating factors are. It has played an important role in my life, even if it's something that rarely comes up in conversation among friends and coworkers. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get a new version out this year!
One of the very beneficial side effects of the rise of MVC in the ASP.NET world is that people started to think a lot more about separating concerns. By association, it brought along more awareness around unit testing, and that was good too. This was also the time that ORM's started to become a little more popular. The .Net world was getting more sophisticated at various levels of skill. That was a good thing.
But something I do remember vividly was that a lot of tutorials were using a generic repository pattern. In other words, there was some kind of contextual data object that was used to query the data from a number of other places upstream. This was certainly better than finding data access code in the code-behind of an ASP.NET Webforms page, certainly. Those generic repositories still have some value, for example, when paired with UI elements (namely the grids made by various component makers), though that flexibility certainly comes with a price.
So what price is that? Well, there are quite a few negatives that I've found. In no particular order:
There are a lot of advantages to repositories that are domain specific in their contract. So for example, you have a repo for customer data, with methods like "GetCustomer" or "UpdateCustomerAddress." You have to think about how you work with context and transactions, but I think that's a problem solved by dependency injection. A lot of people will debate over whether or not you use data transfer objects (DTO's) or entities, or whatever, and that's fine, but my preference is to not rely on entity change tracking to decide what you persist. In other words, I prefer a method takes a couple of parameters like "customerID" and "address" and not read an entity, change it, then save it. That process requires knowledge of the underlying persistence layer or data access framework.
I know not everyone will agree with me, but I don't care for unit testing data access code either. Part of it is that it makes the tests slow, but mostly it's because I have no desire to test ORM's (which are presumably well tested), and if I'm using straight SQL, if it's at all complex, I'm already doing a lot of testing trying to get it right. Do I end up with bugs in the data access code this way? Sometimes, sure. It's a trade-off.
But then there's that whole thing about not coupling your app to the persistence mechanism. The usual response to that is that no one ever changes the kind of database they're using, and six or seven years ago, I would have agreed with that. But a funny thing happened when we started using new caching tools, load balancing across servers got cheap (yay cloud!) and all of these document databases and table storage mechanisms started to get popoular. As it turns out, now there are good reasons to switch up your data store.
I have two recent examples. While none of it is ready for production use, I started experimenting with shared caching on my POP Forums project, first with Azure Cache, then Redis. For years I used the HttpRuntime.Cache, which is super unless you want to run multiple instances. Trying to make that pluggable with generic repositories would have been hard, but it was really easy with repositories that defined a bunch of domain-specific functions. Similarly, I had another project that involved storing images in SQL, but (at the time) it was cheaper to store those images in blob storage (which could also be directly accessed via HTTP, and put behind a CDN). The project used generic repositories (with Entity Framework, in case you were wondering), so we had to break upstream code to pull it out into this cheaper storage. The changes for more specific repos would have been a lot faster, and therefore less expensive and risk prone.
What am I getting at? I'm not at a all a fan of generic repositories. They work OK in low volume apps that don't need to be changed much, but they're harder to deal with in big volume, always changing apps.
When I was doing college radio, I had it out with a couple of the faculty members because they considered their jobs to be station managers instead of instructors. They insisted that there were certain things that they do instead of students, which as a tuition paying student bothered me. I made it an issue, which led to the one guy calling me names, belittling me, and putting me down to other faculty members (who all told me about it). This damaged his ego a great deal, but knowing what I know now about ASD and how my thought patterns fit into that spectrum, to me it was just about what I perceived to be the rules of academic engagement. Us students didn't have all of the answers, and we weren't very good at our craft, but that was kind of the point... we were there to learn even if it meant doing it wrong. Paying for a private school myself, I was very sensitive about getting everything that I could out of it.
While this seemed like a very matter-of-fact arrangement, my approach was to communicate in a somewhat more dramatic fashion and take stabs at egos. In my limited life experience at the time, that seemed silly, but also the only way you could get people to respond to you. The department chair, who sided with me and coached me in the process of communicating, encouraged me to take the drama out and stick to the facts. To her point, making an emotional case only invited an emotional response, and the underlying issue would end up a footnote in the process.
I feel as though, lately, the world keeps reminding me of that experience. While the go-to action was to make emotional drama, there was an underlying premise that fit with standards and expectations. I'm not entirely sure if I would describe them as facts, but at the very least there was an argument to be made that had nothing to do with the emotional stuff. Our world is like that, too, but the tendency is to toss the facts aside and revel in the drama.
Look at anything science related. Climate change is a very real thing, and we live in this bizarro world where it's challenged as an emotional issue. Vaccinations suffer the same problem.
In fact, politics are dominated by this. Decisions and efforts aren't driven by any kind of critical thinking, they're driven by emotion, and mostly pandering to an electorate that also has no time for critical thinking. You wonder how democracy can survive like this.
And yet, I hold on to the hope that facts ultimately drive the bigger outcome. We had a court case here in Orange County where, just last week, the school district won over the county in a dispute about zoning for a new school. The county's denial had no basis or precedent, and was made entirely out of consideration for some well-to-do people living down the street from the site. It was a victory for everyone who understood the greater good, but mostly it was a victory for the facts.
Making the right argument in my professional career, based on honest and critical analysis instead of emotion, has certainly served me well. Not only has it helped me get what I was after, but it has also steered me away from things that, upon a deeper look, were not what I was after. That's probably what makes this process difficult... sometimes it leads you to a conclusion you might not want.
Passion is important, there's no doubt about that. It's how you apply passion that determines how you move forward. Sometimes it gets in the way or drives you down the wrong path, but other times it helps steer you toward better conclusions. Wisdom and experience helps you figure out how to apply that passion.
A couple of Ohio friends, David and Jeff, got married yesterday at Walt Disney World. It was the single most epic wedding I've ever been to, and the bar has been raised impossibly high going forward.
Yes, they're both dudes. I'm not exactly sure when I met Jeff, but I'll go with 2005. As is the case with probably most of the people I know that aren't related or coworkers, we met in roller coaster enthusiast circles, and a number of common friends led to our frequent intersection. At this point, I've known him almost as long with David as without, and I was very excited in 2013 when they announced that they were getting married.
Marriage equality is a hot issue that is finally going the right way, but it's certainly been a struggle, and there is a ways to go. The wedding and the reception involved a strange paradox where, for once, the love of this couple wasn't about the politics and the law, and yet, by it taking place, it was. Obviously, everyone there was on the same page, so to me it felt like any other wedding you've ever been to in terms of the idea that two people who love each other were committing.
The day started at the faux beach at the Typhoon Lagoon water park. Mercifully, it ended up not being early in the morning because weather both closed the park, and pushed out the start time to noon. It was cool, but the sun felt wonderful, and they were good enough to fire up the wave pool for a fantastic background. The ceremony involved mimosas and an excellent narrative. It was really lovely.
Some hours later, a bus picked folks up from the various hotels (in one of the cruise ship buses, no less), and it took us backstage around Epcot to the Seas pavilion, where we were escorted to a private room above the Coral Reef restaurant. That's when it became very apparent that this was going to be insanely awesome.
When you get up to the room, via a generic door and up some generic stairs, you reach this remarkable room that has windows into the main tank of the attraction once known as The Living Seas. In fact, they still have a sign up there identifying it as such. You can watch the sea turtles, sharks and fish endlessly swim by. In fact, at one point, Mickey Mouse showed up at one of the windows in scuba gear, holding a "congratulations Jeff & David" sign, for a photo op.
The bar featured something called an "Under The Sea Martini," which had the blue stuff and a whole lot of alcohol. It was delicious, but that was a sipping drink for sure. The bigger hit seemed to be a delicious rum punch. I don't think I saw anyone drinking beer, just the fruity drinks. Insert joke here. The appetizers included all kinds of smoked cheese, crackers, and oddly enough, what appeared to be naan.
The main course included the best macaroni cheese ever conceived, some very juicy baked chicken (which never happens in buffets!), salmon and some carved beef something or other. It was all mind-blowingly delicious. The cake was this beautiful custom thing with the shipwreck from Typhoon Lagoon on top, and it didn't disappoint either. Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but the waffle fries and tots that came out later, complete with an array of things to dip them in, brought the whole thing to another level (presumably because of the alcohol).
The DJ was solid and didn't get in the way, as many do. Apparently he also does the Incredibles dance party at Magic Kingdom! There were some party crasher characters there as well, which means that WDW is not only the place for character breakfasts, but character drinking. Oh, and the table decor was lovely and matched the green and blue color theme of the ceremony, clothes, and even the wedding rings.
For me personally, the thing I most enjoyed was getting to spend a little time with people that I've known for years, ranging from great friends to long-term acquaintances. It's a social circle that really took shape ten or more years ago, and this particular event was one of those rare occasions where we all intersect. I think I take that for granted. I also have to credit the Internet, because that has a lot to do with why this social circle exists at all. (That's another post by itself, soon.) In a world where drive-by hate is easy and of little consequence online, I have to remember that it can be used for good as well.
Disney can execute an event like this with extraordinary precision, that much is clear. I feel honored to be a part of it for a hundred different reasons. I look forward to a day when nobody cares that you went to a "gay wedding," and you just went to a "wedding." For now though, Diana and I will continue to enjoy sitting here in amazement, a day later, repeating, "That was an awesome wedding," over and over. Thank you, Jeff and David, for inviting us to be a part of your special day!
This is a bit of a ramble, without any real specific point. Just a lot of observations.
I think it's safe to say that I've been a fan of Microsoft since 1998 or so, when I started to learn more about their software tools at the start of that career transition. At the same time, I found myself being a very outspoken, and even hostile critic (honestly I was hostile about everything when I was younger). When I worked there, I felt like the company was so behind on many of its product lines, though not in the software tools area. I also felt that there was greatness all over the place, just begging to burst out. I remember the first time I saw Kinect in some MSR demos, and I thought, yeah, I could be proud of this company.
When I left in 2011, I declared that I didn't leave because of Microsoft, but I didn't stay because of it either. That damn house and nostalgia just barely won out in the struggle to stay or go, but it was probably the right decision at that time. I wasn't that crazy about the group I landed in (it never did ship anything, as far as I know). But knowing about different things going on around the company, I was still a fan. Like most places, its weaknesses were people and process problems.
Outsiders have been quick to predict Microsoft's death and make generalizations about it for years, but as my first manager there pointed out to me, it's really like many smaller companies and hard to generalize. That said, the two years following my departure saw a lot of people leave that I greatly respected (many of whom work together elsewhere, not surprisingly). The way I see it, the biggest problem was the way they approached HR, with an obsession on promotion dictated by stack ranking. They eventually stopped this, before Ballmer retired, but the damage was done.
Stack ranking was straight forward: There's a curve of people in terms of performance, and everyone had to fit on that curve. Managers spent insane amounts of time on this. The worst part is that bad teams had to pick winners, and great teams had to pick losers. Even more ridiculous, people not moving upward were ranked lower. I mean, if you have a mid-level developer who cranks out a ton of great work, but has no desire to manage people, why do you create a disincentive for that? Stupid. Not only that, but if you have to be better than the guy you're sitting next to, what incentive do you have to help each other out and collaborate?
It kind of effected me when I changed from a dev to a program manager. The logic was, hey, you're in a new role, so now you have to prove yourself and work your way up. So when I switched, they had me at a "4," which is the lowest rank not counting "5" (which meant you should start sending out resumes) The "3" group was the huge average section. Later I realized that, OK, I interviewed my way into a better fitting role, which benefits the company, and you reward me by putting me in a lower spot with less of a raise and bonus? Thanks?
I'm not sure what it's like now, but countless great people left in part because of all that madness. The year I left, they also shifted a lot of compensation out of stock awards and into salary, which hopefully helped. What they really needed to do was flush out the old school "Microsoft people," who believed there was one way to do things, one way to structure their business and worst of all, rely solely on what they knew from inside. They ditched Steven Sinofsky, who ran Windows and propagated a lot of that crap, so that was a good start.
I think at the time I left, there were also small pockets of people that saw that the big bang release cycle of products, going back to the old days of Windows and Office, were not sustainable or efficient. They had these plaques that they gave us that said "Ship It" on them, with BillG and SteveB signatures on them. Working on a Web-based product my first year, you can imagine how absurd that seemed to me. We shipped something every two weeks! I didn't see any reason why even Windows could not roll that way.
But when I switched to the PM role, that's where I saw the old guard's influence. We were coming up with the vision for a product with no feedback loop. We had one session with a focus group that mostly led them to the conclusions we wanted to validate, and started to write specs for a product with no intention of putting it in front of anyone to make sure we were building the right thing. I insisted we do it, and my skip-level manager said, "We can't do that, we're Microsoft. People expect us to get it right before we ship it." No joke, that was 2011.
After yesterday's Windows 10 event, you can see how radically things have changed. They are getting early product in front of more people and iterating quickly. They flat out said that they see Windows as a service in the future, continually improving it. Given my experience with the guy in my reporting line, you can understand why I'm really impressed by this brave new world. Heck, as a customer of Azure, I see how that division has been embracing this approach for years. There are improvements almost weekly!
Of course, the most public and visible change is that there's a new CEO, and he's so not Steve Ballmer. People give Ballmer a lot of shit, but his passion and knowledge of the existing business was for real. He just wasn't much of a visionary, and not quite brave enough to allow his people to run with things. I met Satya once at a meeting, when he was running the server and tools business, and he's intensely technical while understanding there's a business to run. He impressed the crap out of me, and when there were rumors that he might get the gig, I was thrilled.
I can't possibly know what his leadership style is, and how it influences the company as a whole, but I suspect it's positive. There were some piles of awesome spread out throughout the company, waiting to break out. Azure was starting to gather momentum, Xbox people were surprisingly forward about iterative and fast development (especially the online and Xbox Live folks), some of the phone people were bright, and MSR folks were looking for every opportunity for product groups to pick up their stuff. The announcements and previews yesterday showed me the good stuff is breaking out.
People are really impressed with the HoloLens thing, and rightfully so. I can't believe they kept it secret for that long. Augmented reality is what we see in all of the science fiction movies, and there it was, if a little clunky in its current form. (Hey, we all want the Star Trek Holodeck to be real.)
I used to think that the operating system doesn't matter, but the company seems hell bent on figuring out this unified world of traditional PC's and touch screens. After plenty of mis-steps, I think they're making it happen.
Microsoft was a company that had lost its way, but that seems to be changing. I'm a fan, and my biggest frustration is that nothing they talk about ever comes out fast enough. I want a new amazing phone today. I want the next generation dev frameworks (open source!) to be ready today. I want Halo 5 today.
I'm not really trying to draw any conclusion, other than state that I knew the potential was there. I think the company can be cool for the first time ever, not because of marketing (though they really kind of suck at that in the consumer space), but because the products are really that good. From a competitive standpoint, they have an opportunity, especially with all of these services getting involved. They do services really well.
For the record, my device world is still pretty split. Our laptops are Macs, and it's hard to get away from those with their pretty screens and insane battery life. (I run Windows in a VM for software development.) Our phones are still Windows, even though there's no hot new hardware. I scored a cheap 8" Dell tablet more than a year ago that I still prefer for web content consumption. For services, we're Amazon people, as that's where our music is, and there are no shortage of video apps that run on a Fire TV.
After two failed attempts at seeing a rocket launch out on the coast, including the awesome Orion launch, I finally saw one up close. This was an Atlas V with a little satellite, but it was still pretty impressive. I brought along Diana and Simon as well. Simon seemed pretty impressed, going on about how cool it was.
I've gushed about what a space nerd I was growing up, in love with the Space Shuttle program, and with the relative frequency of rocket launches, it seemed ridiculous that I had not seen one after living in Central Florida for more than a year. I mean, I've seen them from home in West Orange County, but that's not the same as seeing the fireball, hearing the sound and feeling it in your chest. I'm particularly bummed that I missed the Orion launch, because that was a seriously big-ass rocket pushing heavy stuff into space, and it was easily visible from my "secret" viewing spot. It was silly for me not to go back for the second attempt.
In this case, it was worth going and bringing Simon, even on a school night, because the launch window was pretty short, about 45 minutes, and I knew he'd sleep in the car anyway. There were about 25 minutes of delays, but at 8:04, they lit that candle.
There were two big surprises for me. Being a night launch, I couldn't believe how the initial burst of flame lit up everything on the ground along the horizon. It isn't quite daylight, but it sure is bright. The light levels do fall off pretty quickly as it climbs, but it's so awesome.
The other big surprise is the sound. I knew we were a few miles from the launch pad, but it's crazy how long it took to get to us. When it did, it was unlike anything I've ever heard. You can feel it in your chest and under your feet. That's really what I was there for, and it was awesome.
It was almost entirely clear, so we could see the rocket pretty much the entire way up. Being that close, you also appreciate how far down range it goes, over the ocean. Seeing these launches from points directly west, it's as if it's going straight up.
I look forward to seeing more of these. It's one of the unexpected perks of living here.
I think I've had the sites on Azure now for seven or eight months, and in that time I've been pleased to see the overall expense for hosting go down by about a third. I swear I won't tell the story of having a T-1 to my house at a grand a month again. Unfortunately, ad revenue isn't what it used to be either, in part because of the mobile thing, but it did at least seem to stabilize a bit this last year.
The move to the cloud has been technically a little bumpy at times, but it's pretty awesome to see that we're finally making a significant change in how we approach web applications in terms of cost. A third less cost is pretty important after about five or six years of flatness. It seems like the cloud pricing on a steady decline, too.
But ad revenue... what a mess. I'm having the typical erratic January following the typical dismal December (hey, my subject matter is largely seasonal). The wild swings in rates from day to day make it so impossible to predict how much you'll make, and the days of reliably banking a grand every month are long gone. Dammit I miss those days.
I'm not depending on the revenue these days to pay my mortgage, so it's certainly not the end of the world if it isn't meeting my expectations. However, the big thing I'm after these days is the full redundancy story. Traffic split across two "servers," the ability to failover, and maybe even distribute traffic to the right geography. Heck, you can even scale up instantly if you get slammed with enormous traffic (unlikely as that is). Why? Because you don't need a million-dollar budget to do it anymore!
Mind you, my apps can't physically do it just yet anyway. They still have little optimizations and caching tricks designed for running from a single location. But I've done enough proof-of-concept work with them to know it's not far off.
These are the kinds of science projects that eventually you get to use in your day job. Granted, I'll likely never work on anything that does 100 million page views a month again (the MSDN forums, if you were wondering), but it's always fun to know that you could if you had to.
It's weird to think about how devastated I was when I got laid-off for the first time, in 2001. It really messed with my self-esteem. Mind you, it was a six-month struggle, and that period after 9/11 was hardly a feel-good time. When I finally got back to work, I coasted for a year and a half in an awful company with little direction. I got laid-off from there as well, but by that time I had resolved that I would never tie my work to my own sense of worth.
But even in that situation, I kind of knew that separating work from myself was partly a self-defense mechanism. Right at that point I was getting plenty of attention from recruiters, I was learning at a rate I had not been able to before (because that job didn't have much to do), the book I would write was starting to form as a proposal, and my success as a volleyball coach was looking solid again. The challenge wasn't the association of work with my identity, it was the definition of work.
Many years later, I understand that what you do for a living takes many forms. Sometimes you're working for yourself, maybe contracting, consulting, or working for The Man. Even volunteering can be work. There's a pretty staggering range of things you could be doing. It's OK to mingle your identity and work, just keep your definition of work a little flexible.
In college, I figured I would start a radio career and own a radio station some day (absurd considering the salaries in that field). Similarly, a friend of mine landed her dream job in under two years after college, much faster than she expected. Another friend got to her place and stayed there for years before she completely ditched the industry entirely and moved on to something else. The problem with measuring your success and work identity is that you're chasing something very malleable, and ever changing.
These days I do believe that work is a part of who I am. Maybe this comes easier because I've done it on my own terms. Last summer I went back to full-time employment, but what a difference in how you view work when the company respects its people and empowers them to do their best work. As much as I enjoy the freedom of self-employment and consulting arrangements, there's something intoxicating about being a part of something awesome.
I'm not sure what inspired me to write this, other than a song that triggered a memory of those weird days over a decade ago. It's just funny how your thinking about life can evolve like that. First it was, "Career is meaning!" Then it was, "Work, whatever, I won't be pigeonholed!" Now I'm at, "Work is meaning if I want it to be!" Not only is my view a lot more flexible, but I think the scope of it matters less, too. I look at Diana re-entering the workforce, and while it's only part-time, she's a part of something very cool, and there's no question that it's OK to identify with that.
We've had a rough few days with Simon. He hasn't been agreeable to much of anything. Even going out, which is where he used to shine in terms of behavior, has been pretty terrible. Part of it was the constant hitting, which isn't out of desire to hurt, but more of the sensory issue he has. But combine that with a steady stream of defiance and screaming at us, and you can imagine how spent we are in trying to deal with him.
Today we got back from a short Epcot run that we took because he asked. It was 72 and sunny, and with him (and Diana) being sick for weeks, we weren't going to squander it. He randomly wanted to do the Piggy Bank Adventure (how he remembers stuff like that is beyond me), so whatever, we didn't have any better ideas. He was actually very happy and pleasant doing this, but virtually everything else led to whining, defiance and other assorted ugly behaviors.
He yelled at us the whole way home, as if he was a different child. The meltdown continued all the way home, and in the battle to get him to take a nap, I actually waited it out in bed with him until he calmed down and exhaustion finally got the best of him. To my surprise, maybe blocking out the angry little voice that wasn't getting his way, I had an epiphany about what was going on with him. Much of what we've been battling has been his increasing struggle with being flexible.
He doesn't eat what we give him because it's not something from the routine. He gets angry when we don't respond to him interrupting because he said "excuse me," and that's the way he learned to get our attention. He flips out about going to lunch in a different place because it deviates from the routine. Ditto for getting "his" table. A toy that doesn't stay assembled causes grief because it's supposed to work as designed. An online game that has a bug causes stress because it isn't working as it should.
These all sound like issues of him not getting his way, right? Well yeah, in a neurotypical way, that's exactly what it would be. But an ASD brain observes an arrangement and its outcome, and gets frustrated when that outcome is different. Inflexibility is one of the most common attributes of kids in the autism spectrum, so the typical parental response can be largely ineffective. The typical kid will test boundaries and look for ways to manipulate authority in order to get what he or she wants. The ASD kid isn't interested in that process at all, only that input A results in output B.
This is why the usual response isn't working at all for us. Mind you, we haven't been nearly as consistent as we should be, but simply taking away an object or privilege does not motivate him to change the behavior. His inflexibility disregards consequence because A gets to B, and those are the rules. The consequences we offer in some ways only serve to complicate the situation. The worst part of this is that the real world operates that way whether he likes it or not, so we have little choice but to essentially make him (and us) miserable.
I think this is the biggest thing we're struggling with right now, because we don't have a good therapist. I have been reading tonight about something called "differential reinforcement variability," which is an approach that essentially introduces change to routine in small bits, and is often augmented with visual schedules and other techniques we know about. Certainly we're not the first to encounter this, and I'm sure we won't be the last.
I recently reconnected with one of my volleyball "kids" from more than a decade ago, when Facebook seemed to almost randomly suggest her as a friend. Naturally I reached out, asked how life had been and such. I was surprised to find out that she was a recovering alcoholic, almost four years sober. She was spiraling out of control before that, not just boozing it up, but trying everything else as well. I wasn't surprised just because of her past, but because she was so forthcoming about it. Indeed, you can't get better if you can't recognize your addiction.
I've always been sensitive to alcoholism, in part because there's a fair amount of family history. This dramatically influenced me in college. My first two years, I almost completely avoided alcohol and situations where it might be found. It wasn't out of some concern of some moral issue, I just saw what it did to others. It really came to a head when my hall director (yes, the one that told my Indian staff-mate that he was going to hell), organized an off-site morale event for us. The primary goal of this was to drink, and I was not having any of it. Later he had the balls to reprimand me for the situation. I was complete angry about it.
That following summer, I had a number of "safe" opportunities to drink a little, and I kind of navigated the world of self-control and understanding my limits. I certainly had my share of drunken college nights, but I remember so vividly that I was always worried about making it a habit.
These days, I don't worry so much about it because my body gets a little pissed the day after I've had enough to tie one on, and I don't forget. In the coming years, I have to pass along my experience and concern to Simon, and hope he makes good decisions (and hope he doesn't have the genes). Even preventing addiction starts with recognition, and I think that helped me out.
As for my adult former athlete, she recently made a blog post that was honest in a way that I suspect few addicts can be, and I salute her for it. I can only imagine how hard her journey has been so far, but it's clear that people who help themselves get a lot more help from everyone else as well. That's what recognizing addiction can do.
I'm insanely intrigued by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX. The guy is only two years older than I am, but he has managed to change the world. After cashing out as the largest shareholder of PayPal, he went and started an electric car company, and a commercial space company. Can you think of any two more ridiculously hard things to do? I would argue that these are two of the most important new businesses in the world right now because they dramatically challenge the status quo and improve the world.
Musk could have just retired and sipped fruity drinks on the beach for the rest of his life, but it doesn't seem like money particularly motivates him. If it did, I don't think he would have taken the risks he has with these new businesses. He's taking on Detroit with one, and giant companies completely integrated into the industrial-government complex. Neither has had to try all that hard to innovate (though this indifference nearly killed the auto makers).
It's interesting that these really big bets, requiring a lot of money, come a lot easier if you've already won. I'm not sure you could endeavor into these industries at all without all of that money, but at the very least you're certainly less likely to try without having already achieved success.
I'm surprised to realize that success can buy you a lot of freedom to take greater risks. I might even say that they're not even risks at that point. I mean, think about it in a scale normal humans can understand. If you busted your ass to save everything you could and bought a very modest house with cash, at that point, your expenses are pretty easy to meet. You can try anything without any serious risk to your wellbeing.
It's exciting to think about, and I'm glad that others are taking the big risks to move us forward.
Just over two years ago now, I bought a Nokia Lumia 920, which at the time arguably had one of the best cameras in a phone ever. No one else in the world likes Windows Phone (unless they're developers like me), but this was the phone I wanted for two years. It has optical image stabilization, and like all Windows Phones at the time, a dedicated camera button that does a half-press focus, like "real" cameras.
I've had a lot of photos I'm fond of from that phone, but this one stands out. It was around Thanksgiving 2013. My best friend Kara came up with this wonderful "parking lot" for Simon's cars, made on a set of board game boards. (This is why I love it when she babysits for us.) We were at the same level, and again, the foreground seemed to draw me to Simon.
This isn't a hard photo to compose, you just need a really wide lens. It's important to me because the Space Shuttle was something I was obsessed with growing up. Seeing Atlantis at KSC was a life-changing experience for me. If it makes me a dork that I want to go back and just stare at it for an hour, so be it.
I'm not sure where the idea for this came up, but it ended up being the photo we used on our "we moved" cards that we sent people. We didn't do this because we wanted attention for buying a house or whatever. We're pretty realistic that there isn't anything particularly special about it. But closing on the house meant that we finally had a place that could be uniquely ours, something Diana and I haven't yet had. I put the timer on the camera, and after six tries, we managed to get one with all of us up in the air.
I'm not sure I can really take credit for this one. Diana spotted this reflection of the chandelier in the atrium of the Disney Dream cruise ship, from deck 4 looking down. This was also with the S95.
Last summer, Team Puzzoni and BFF Kara went up to the zoo in Sanford. I guess the best way to describe it is that it's very Florida. In any case, for a few bucks you can feed the giraffes. Kara likes these critters (because they're tall, too?), so she split some of the food with Simon. In this case, the pure and intense joy that she felt was so obvious in the pictures. You can't fake something like that. I think the giraffe enjoyed the encounter as well.
Fireworks are a little tricky to shoot if you haven't tried before. And then if you have, so much time passes in between that you forget what you did last time. You have to stop down the lens to preserve the color, and find the right shutter speed to get enough streaks but not too much. On July 4, I took the tripod out on the roof of my garage and pointed the camera at Magic Kingdom. I rattled off about 30 shots, and this is the only one I was satisfied with, which is coincidentally the finale.
This photo isn't great to anyone but me. I'm not a fan of selfies. This one is out of focus and my finger got in the way of the flash. But still, this is us at the Rose & Crown at Epcot, after a day of Segway'ing out at Canaveral, and consuming beverages. It was a fantastic overnight trip, just us. The photo isn't great, but it is with my darling wife, and what's not to love about how cute she is?
I'm sure there are other photos, but there are a lot to review. I have years and years of stuff on negatives that I'd love to review, and I will eventually send those to a company to mass-scan them.
Continuing with a big pile of cuteness, this is another shot of Simon in his first few months when we lived in our apartment in Issaquah. I did a bunch of these, and they're all pretty much just as cute. I actually used this photo with a background of radial lines as the splash screen for my little Baby Stopwatch app that I cranked out years ago. I call it the 40-Year-Old Virgin shot, because it reminds me of the poster with Steve Carell for the movie.
I have to admit that it's hard not to make a great photo when your subject is something pretty. This is just such an example. It is of course a shot of Mt. Rainier from the south side, at the Paradise visitor area. I have this on a canvas on my wall, and people seem surprised when I tell them I shot it. Again, how do you screw this up? I have a similar shot with a brief time exposure that blurs the water, but I'm not sure if I like it. This visit is from 2011, a month or so before we (mistakenly) moved back to Cleveland.
You have to shoot a lot of photos of your kid to get the really cute ones. It seemed like it was even harder, however, to get one with Diana in the same shot. It's like the stars have to align just right. This still isn't exactly what I would have liked (you can't really see Diana's face), but it's yet another golden light glowy situation and I love it. This is from a deliberate photo shoot we did behind Towslee Elementary in Brunswick, Ohio, at the playground. It was September, 2012, so Simon was about 2.5.
This next one is technically a mess because it's out of focus, the lighting is awful, I didn't really color correct, etc. None of that matters, however, because it's a priceless moment of Simon with my mom on one of her visits to Cleveland. It was January 2013, so Simon wasn't quite 3 yet.
This is where our Disney Cruise problem began, in February 2013. It was a pretty well-orchestrated surprise for my father-in-law, where we joined him and Helen Ann and my bro-in-law's family. It was a lot of fun, especially since we don't get to see them very often since moving. I took this shot on our last evening as we were pulling away from Castaway Cay, and just before dinner. Simon looks reflective, but mostly he was just fascinated by the movement of the water. I love the trail of the wake in the background, how it curves to the left. This was shot on my little Canon S95, which continues to serve me well after nearly five years.
If I could identify a moment where it was clear that we were done with Cleveland weather, this might have been it. It was March 25, 2013, and we were blasted with snow, very suddenly. I believe I was working my contract gig from home that day, so I busted out the camera with the long lens, and took a few shots of our back yard and the sledding, from inside. I have to admit, however, that the easement behind our house was actually an awesome sledding hill, and of course I got out there for a few runs myself later on.
It's also worth noting that this is the first of the series that I shot on the Canon 7D, even though I first acquired it in 2009. Because of the smaller sensor, and love of wide angles, I don't use it as much. It's a fantastic camera, I just don't want those 17mm focal lengths cut down. On the other hand, when you've got a long zoom on it, it works to your advantage, as was the case here.
Next time: Spacecraft, animals, and... groan... a selfie.
Continuing on... In 2008, I decided to allow myself the opportunity to buy a better camera and some lenses. That's when I upgraded to Canon's original 5D. I still have it, and I still use it. One of the lenses I bought was a 50mm f/1.4, which does really shallow depth of field, if you so choose. It has a pretty serious vignette when it's wide open, but whatever, it was relatively inexpensive.
So what do you do when you want to see how it works? You take pictures of your cats, of course. This is Emma, Diana's eldest cat. She's half Russian Blue, so she's really beautiful, and every bit as soft as she looks. My cats have always hated me shoving lenses up in their grill, but Emma held still and I managed to snap this beautiful photo.
I'll admit, this next one is a bit voyeuristic, but this is a favorite of my favorites. My Web partner and I wanted to do a Walt Disney World site (which we launched, but never really followed through on developing an audience), so we spent a few days photographing the shit out of the parks in 2008. I was shooting a bunch of wide shots of midways, near the hub of the park, where the now-defunct Sorcerer's Hat was. That's when I saw this family posing for a photo there, and I just snapped the photo of them being photographed. There's so much going on there... the posing pre-teens, the slouching disinterested teens, the mom wearing all black, and the tall guys obliviously ready to walk into the shot. I guess anyone who has ever taken a family vacation can identify with what's going on here.
Again, I'm not big on shooting sports, but I dig this. The player is Novak Djokovic serving in the Cincinnati tournament, in 2008. Everything about the guy is intense, and I just happened to get the speed of his previous serve on the display in the background. As it turns out, 1/1000 of a second is a pretty good speed for freezing the players while showing some motion in the ball. I shot at least a thousand other photos that weekend that were total crap.
There isn't much to say about this, other than it's the petting farm in the Planet Watch section of Disney's Animal Kingdom in 2008. Yes, it's a goat. Smiling at me.
In February of 2009, we very hastily bought tickets to see Schuyler Fisk. Prior to that week, I knew her only as the redhead from the movie Orange County, and half of the duet on a song called "Paperweight" on the Last Kiss soundtrack. The day before the show, I believe, her first album came out, and it felt like the first good music we had heard in years. Getting a chance to see her in the tiny Beachland Ballroom near Cleveland seemed like a great opportunity, and we were not disappointed. She's an extraordinary talent, and about as down to earth as anyone could possibly be. Growing up in show business (her mother is Sissy Spacek), she's exactly the opposite of what you would expect. Meeting countless jackasses while working in radio, she was the total opposite, and I love that she took the time to talk to us. This is another shot using the small point-and-shoot.
My next favorite wouldn't come for more than a year, shortly after Simon was born. I think I can be honest now, that despite hundreds (thousands?) of photos of the kid in his first few months, he wasn't cute in very many of them. But when he managed to sport a more grown-up looking pose while napping, how can you resist? A few weeks old never looked so cute.
Next time: Lots of nature, and growing up.
I've been thinking a bit about the thousands of photos I have, and I'm surprised that there are a number that I often recall as if they were songs. The "language" of them always sticks vividly in my head. I decided that I wanted to share some of them. In many ways they're like a pictorial history of my life, the way I saw it at the time.
Many of these are probably unremarkable because they don't have context for anyone other than me. Others aren't technically "right," and have flaws. Believe it or not, some were taken with $4,000 worth of camera and lens (hey, digital was expensive at one time!), others are taken with my cell phone. Some are even from film. Regardless, I cherish these. They're presented in chronological order, but many of the images I have on film simply aren't scanned. I'd like to add these to my list, eventually, because most of these are from within the last 15 years, and more than half are just in the last five.
First, this is Cedar Point's Monster, in 1998. It was shot on Kodak film, ISO 400, using an Elan II body. What I love about this is that it was the only one of its kind that I shot on that roll. Making around $27k a year, I was kind of cheap about buying film and processing it. A year or so later I doubled my salary and was more liberal, but experimenting was expensive, and the feedback was not immediate. So I set up the camera on a garbage can next to the ride, did a long exposure, and this is what I got.
I shot this photo of Cedar Point's Raptor on a Canon D60 in 2002, which was arguably the first DSLR that normal humans could sort of afford. At 6 megapixels, with an APS-C sensor, it had some compromises, but it was so freeing. I had to order it from Canada to find one. I instantly loved this photo because of the expressions of the riders, which vary from horror to total euphoria.
I've never been a big fan of doing portrait photography, but sometimes people look at you when you're trying to do candid. My first wife, Stephanie just happened to do this while we were having dinner at a Holiday World event in 2003. Right around the time this photo was taken, maybe a little before, a tragic accident killed a rider who came out of a coaster train on the other side of the park. That might be part of the reason I love this photo, because our reality, and the memory I choose from that day, includes this beautiful moment. That perfect light near sunset just lights her up and brings out the vivid red of her hair.
That was also one of my first shots with the Canon 10D, which replaced the D60.
I've never spent a ton of time trying to nail down sports photography. One of the hard things about coaching volleyball was that I obviously couldn't photograph my own kids while coaching. Fortunately, I was able to do so during their high school seasons, while I had them during the USAV junior season. This is one of my favorite kids of all time, Caity, playing for Midpark High School in her senior year. She went on to play for Marietta College. She wasn't that tall, but she had a natural talent as a setter that was exceptional. I love the airtime she had on this set. As a typical coach, of course, I had to criticize her for not being more squared to her target (it was an outside set). She was a joy to coach because she always wanted to be better, no matter how good she was.
This is another unintentional portrait. My girlfriend at the time, Catherine, had started vet school at OSU in Columbus in 2006, so naturally we did stuff all over town. I think we ended up getting into the zoo there for free because of her student status. It was a chilly day, but I thought it would be neat if she climbed on this tiger sculpture for a photo. At the last moment, she leaned down to give it a hug, and this is what I got. Like the photo of Stephanie, the sun got involved in just the right way. The wind kind of spread her hair around in a flattering way. I think the joy in her face might have been rooted in the fact that she was so happy about the path she was starting down as a vet student. Things obviously didn't work out for us in the long term, but I claim a little bit of credit for her meeting her husband, because this is the photo she used for her online dating profile.
This is one of several photos that is technically not ideal. The exposure is really terrible. I captured it with a Canon Powershot A710 IS. I include it here anyway because it's one of my earlier shots of Diana, and it captures some of the things I love about her. One might argue it's fitting considering my accusations of her being a crazy cat lady, but understand that Oliver is a total people cat. I also love the way her hair is spread out. I just think it's generally pretty, if not particularly artistic.
Next time: Sports, animals, rock stars and an early photo of Simon.
If at one time I felt like I had a gadget problem, and should have been ashamed of it for some reason, then I would prove to myself how much I've changed by pointing out that I waited more than a year to buy an Xbox One. That's some serious restraint. But after the price drop for Christmas, and a $50 credit from Amazon, and most importantly, a remastered Halo collection, I caved.
I'll be honest, I'm not much of a gamer. I used to buy and play a lot of games, but it's not my thing. That's probably part of the reason I had no issue switching to Macs and letting go of the constant churn of PC upgrades. (That, and my Macs have all lasted three to five years, without upgrading them.) But if you open the drawer below the TV, you'll find a whole bunch of Lego video games, as well as a bunch of Halo games. Oh, and Tomb Raider. You'll find some Wii games, too, but honestly no one has played a game on that thing since 2011, in Seattle.
The new console came with Assassin's Creed, but I haven't even started it. I bought the Halo Master Chief Collection, because I could totally play those games over and over. They're decent shooters with a story, which is often what it takes for me to get interested. I'm not going to lie, playing the original Halo at the crazy high frame rate, and anniversary updates, was like playing it again for the first time. The only negative was remembering how repetitive some of the level designs were.
But the totally new experience was the remastering of Halo 2. I think that was easily the game that redefined console shooters, in part because of the online multiplayer, but also because of the sheer scope of the game. Short as the game was (and abrupt as the ending was), it felt like the environments were just so completely huge. That was a beautiful game to play in its new clothes. I don't suspect 3 and 4 will feel as shiny, but I assume they'll at least play at the higher frame rates.
I also bought Forza 5, a racing game, because I happened to catch it half-price as a direct download. I totally suck at it, but it's a lot of fun and works well as more of an arcade-style racer. It's interesting that it appears to create representations of your friends and how they drive, and puts "them" in the game to race against you. The Internets are awesome.
Still, wow, I've spent a lot of hours in the last two or three weeks playing video games. I'm not sure at what point in my life I started feeling like this was a waste of time that I shouldn't enjoy because I'm not actually producing anything, but I have to change that attitude. It's OK to do stuff you enjoy that adds nothing to the world. You know, like blogging!
Sports rivalries are a very global phenomenon (ask soccer fans), but it seems like Americans take these rivalries to an entirely new level. I mean, Ohioans seems obsessed with Ohio State, and Cleveland fans have an insane undying devotion to their teams no matter how much they suck. I can't explain it.
What frustrates the shit out of me is that it seems most people treat every issue like a sports rivalry. Right now, our entire political culture is predicated on the idea that you have to pick a side, and "cheer" for the opposite of whatever your opposition stands for, if anything. Look at the last presidential election, which wasn't based on the merits of any policy or position. Instead it was based on the opposite of whatever Obama did, which was ironic because he really didn't do much of anything. (That's a future post, on that topic alone.) It's like saying I'm going to drink only cold drinks because you drink hot drinks. It's stupid. Why pick a side if they both suck?
Or look at the recent topic around police action and civil rights. Here we have a number of very public deaths of people at the hand of police officers. The two teams are, "Cops can do no wrong, so do what they say," and, "Cops are out to get us." The reality isn't either one of these extremes, especially in the context of any given incident. The truth is that there are police who blatantly abuse their power and commit civil rights violations, and there are criminals with no regard for the law. Anyone taking a side is suggesting that we can't support our law enforcement officers while having high expectations for their performance. Those two things aren't mutually exclusive.
How about immigration? There are the people who don't want anyone not born here to immigrate, legal or not, and the people who want to make it easier so they can legally contribute to society. It doesn't seem like anyone is willing to find a middle ground on that one, even though it probably makes the most sense.
The worst thing is that the sports fan analogy ends at commitment to a side, because beyond that it devolves into a divisive and hateful stance where people dig in their heels. Some literally hate the other side.
Personally, my frustration comes with the unwillingness of people to find the middle ground as an acceptable solution to our problems. I often have strong opinions about things, but I do my best to shy away from any particular extreme. The extremes don't move us forward.
We finally got the Christmas tree down today, and by "we" I mean Diana. Decorating is wholly her thing, not because I'm disinterested, but she's organized, deliberate and in control of the process. I dunno, I like that. I help out when asked and get out of the way. But we weren't in any real hurry, because we love Christmas, and with Simon and Diana being sick, frankly it was nice having something celebratory for a little while longer while everyone was stuck in the house.
This bout of nostalgia and afterglow makes me think a lot about Simon growing up. The holiday season, from mid-November to early January, certainly comes with associative memories. While many in the middle part of my life thus far aren't great, those with Simon have been extraordinarily memorable. Being a year apart, they also serve as a mechanism to understand just how much he's growing up, and it's happening really fast.
Since he's feeling better, Simon is being very physical with me. He doesn't intend to hurt me, this is just his sensory issue manifesting itself as hitting and debilitating strikes to my junk. He's been so stuck in the house, without much physical input, and that's driving his brain's desire to fill his sensory diet. Sometimes I try to restrain him, but I realized today that it's getting harder and harder. He's just too big. I think Simon is just over 44 inches now, closing in on four feet. Just under five years ago, I could football hold him.
The good news is that when he's very tired, or sick, he's quite the cuddle monster, which is such a relief given the SPD and ASD challenges. But even there, you realize that Simon is getting big. The small blankets we could both cover up in aren't big enough anymore.
I know it's me being dramatic, but I feel like he's going to be driving a car before too long. He won't be pulling my hand, dragging me through Magic Kingdom to Thunder Mountain forever. It's funny how as parents we do the same thing he does. He wants to simultaneously assert his independence, while wanting our help. I want him to be more independent so I can do other things, but I want him to need me. It feels like this window is really small.
I have never really celebrated the New Year in my adult life in a way that was particularly, well, adult. OK, that's not entirely true, I've been engaged in some very adult things at the time the ball drops (the jokes pretty much write themselves there), but I've never gone out to a big party. At best it has been low-key stuff with family.
This year, I was commenting to Diana that we never really do anything like that, not in a way that was regretful, but more of an observation. Honestly, I don't have it in me to be up late and binge drink like I'm 24, and that wouldn't interest me anyway. I would like to do a night at Universal or Epcot one of these years and stay on the property, but I'm not sure if we can really make that happen with the little man.
In any case, we thought, why not invite our neighbors over? We've gotten to know three families on our street with kids of more or less similar ages, so why not? That's exactly what we did, and they all came over for drinks, a massive play date and lots of junk food. It was a lot of fun, and if that's what our normal is, I'm totally OK with it.
Only one other family made it to midnight, but seeing as how they live down the street, all still had the opportunity to watch the midnight fireworks at Magic Kingdom (they were awesome). I couldn't believe that Simon made it, but other kids tend to fuel his ability to stay up late. If we can just get him to stay up that late on the next cruise!
As you may know from the headlines, the same-sex marriage ban in Florida was overturned, effective today. My work office is next door to Orlando City Hall, where the mayor agreed to perform a ceremony for dozens of couples this morning out on the steps. Indeed, I thought my first same-sex wedding was going to be that of some friends on the Disney property later this month, but I felt like there was something historic going on here that I should see for myself. I'm glad that I did.
It wasn't easy to fit the couples into a box, as they ranged from young to old. In fact, the mayor said one couple had been together for 40 years. That's a long time to wait. One couple had a very young baby. For all of the times I've seen this change on TV, state by state, seeing it happen gave me a different perspective.
To this point, my advocacy was largely centered on two ideas, the first being that it's really not up to anyone (or the government) to dictate which two people are allowed to love each other, and the second being that same-sex couples should have every kind of legal protection that I have with my wife when it comes to property rights, employment benefits, probate issues, child custody, etc.
But despite having gay friends going as far back as college, back when it wasn't particularly safe to be "out," I guess I never really put forward the idea that two human beings shouldn't be denied the basic human respect that they're entitled to. While I would certainly not care what entities recognize my marriage, I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't be hurtful if others could enjoy that recognition and I could not. What I saw today on the faces of those couples was not just the typical tears of joy one has when they're married, but a burden lifted that said they were no longer treated differently in the eyes of the law, and likely in the long run, of society.
Today was a step in the right direction, though we certainly have a long way to go. Ohio is still backward, and I find that embarrassing. On the other hand, I was surprised to see today that Publix, the grocery store chain, has said it would offer health benefits to all of its employees' partners, regardless of whether or not they lived in a "legal" state.
So congrats to the couples that made it legal today! I'm happy that I was able to be there.