I hate feeling bad for feeling bad about my child

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 7:40 PM | comments: 0

It's certainly not news to any parent that you have days where you just wish you could walk away for awhile. It's those days where your little saint seems more like satan. That's enough to enrage you, but then you find all kinds of reasons to invalidate your own feelings. That leads to resentment toward your kid and yourself.

Simon is one of the greatest things to happen in my life (though I won't call it an accomplishment, as reproducing is not generally complicated, health issues not withstanding). Every morning I make sure I see him before he goes to school, and I peek in to his room every night before going to bed. There's a whole lot of love in my life because of him.

Like any kid, he has his moments, but then throw in the ASD related stuff on top of it, and sometimes I just can't react logically anymore. As soon as I cross that threshold, I feel like a shitty parent. I start to think, well, at least he's physically healthy, and I know parents who have to deal with far greater issues like having a non-verbal kid. My problems aren't that bad, after all, right?

It's such an awful, self-destructive line of thinking, because it's not like there's a contest where the parent who has it hardest wins something. If it feels shitty in the moment, then it feels shitty in the moment. Sometimes it outright hurts. (Simon hits a lot, not to injure, but because of his related sensory issues. My nuts have taken the impact more times than I can count.) I just don't feel like I'm allowed to complain about the situation.

I'm getting better at this, because I'm starting to learn when to keep perspective, and when to allow myself to react and process anger and distress. Aside from a few brief issues last weekend on our cruise, Simon was awesome. I felt like we had a really special weekend. I have to allow myself to be frustrated with the moments that aren't like that.

There's something about putting on a show

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 7:34 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I were talking the other day, finding something we surprisingly had in common about our previous careers in theater and TV. Neither one of us spent a lot of time in a performance capacity in our jobs, but with her as a stage manager and me directing a lot of live production, the fact is that we were essential to making our respective shows happen. There was a pretty serious high associated with that.

I won't speak to her experience, but her calling a show reminds me a lot of directing, so I totally get the rush that's involved with the gig. I did a lot of public meetings, which were totally uninteresting most of the time, but several times a month I had talking heads shows, and winter was filled with what I called "PBS orchestra concerts" at the high school, and my favorite thing, basketball games.

The games felt really rock-and-roll, because I had all of the gear in anvil cases. I was particularly proud of the racks, which were super clean in terms of all the internal cabling. Everything was cut to length and labeled. The two racks had an umbilical cord in between, connected by breakout panels. The cameras traveled in an obnoxiously padded trunk, and I had an ever bigger one to chuck in the tripods and camera cables. I loved the process of setting up before a game, running cables and stuff.

The funny thing is, I generally had volunteers operating the cameras for me, usually high school kids, but they did a pretty good job. We weren't shooting in HD in those days, so we could get away with a little bit of soft focus. I was always particularly impressed with the kids who could use the shoulder camera down on the floor, and not bitch about how much it weighed. My commentators were my one employee and a teacher (the latter of which eventually got busted for propositioning a student, eww).

Alas, while those were good times, the pay was terrible, and the hours made it a bit of a lifestyle job. I don't think I could do it now. I know Diana feels similarly, in that even a part-time commitment would be rough on family life. Right now she only works one or two nights a week as an usher, and that actually works out pretty well as far as not interfering with home life.

Yes, we did another cruise, and it was awesome

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 23, 2015, 7:15 PM | comments: 0

We finished our fifth cruise today, setting our Disney Castaway Club status to gold. That mostly doesn't mean anything, but we can book a little earlier for some itineraries and certain other things like port adventures (and cabanas). Oh, there's a reception with the crew as well for 4-night and longer trips, which we've yet to do.

So why have we done the 3-night Bahamian trip five times? The first was part of a plot to surprise my father-in-law, and having not done a cruise, we were surprised at how much fun we had. The other four were all booked once we lived in Orlando, and while not what I would describe as inexpensive, there are many reasons we like these short trips:

  • There is no travel stress. We get in the car, and in about an hour, we get on the ship. No air travel to worry about.
  • Sometimes they're about the price per night of a 5-diamond hotel, only the hotel moves around, and it includes as much food as you can eat, fantastic entertainment, and a day at the most beautiful beach you may ever see. Even at more expensive rates it's worth it to me.
  • Because the Dream does 3-night trips departing Fridays most of the year, it means taking only one day off. We're home around 9 a.m. on Monday morning. I can bank those vacation days for longer trips.
  • The disconnection is fantastic. I love getting away from computers, email, my sites and the heap of toxicity that the Internet can often be. Seriously, I don't know why it's so hard to do.
  • There is no other circumstance where I've felt as looked after as I have on these cruises. With the pressure of being a provider, even if it's self-imposed, I need that now and then.

It's not boring or repetitive. This time in particular, we mixed up quite a bit of our activity. I do look forward to doing it with friends again, and that is on the radar. We very much want to do longer itineraries, we're just waiting for the right time and circumstances in relation to Simon.

This time, we had a particularly good waiter, and had some different food options. In fact, he pretty much threw the menu out the window to get dishes from the other restaurants (I'm a big fan of the tomato basil soup from Enchanted Garden, which you can get any night if you know to ask). He was also really good with Simon, which we needed given some of his recent behavior issues.

We also saw quite a few movies. The Buena Vista Theater is a really first-class movie theater. We finally saw Big Hero 6, and we loved it. Diana saw Into The Woods, and I saw Cinderella. On the last night we did see the stage show Believe, which is the best of the three. Also in the live-E category, I did the presentation about the making of the ship. Simon took to the mini-golf and foosball.

This was a big trip for us, because Simon has been challenging lately, and I was worried that this was going to affect our ability to travel. While there were a few instances of him being "hangry," he was a good boy most of the time. It's so good to see him interacting with other kids, and grownups. Those sweet moments with us don't hurt either.


Don't drink the water

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 19, 2015, 10:58 PM | comments: 1

There are about a million things that I love about living in Central Florida, but the water is not one of them. It isn't heavily treated because the soil it passes through before being pumped out of the ground does a pretty good job of filtering out the stuff that's really bad for you. It's not so much the hydrogen sulfide smell that bothers me (like a lot of things Orlando, it reminds me of vacation), but rather it's the hardness of it. Bathroom surfaces get filmy, and I swear my skin has reverted to having issues as if I was in college again.

As far as drinking water goes, like any other modern fridge that has a water tap, there's a filter. It does a remarkably good job of even getting out the hydrogen sulfide smell. But the problem is that I don't know that you can really install a whole-house filter or softener. People don't have basements here, so it's not like a single pipe comes in from underground and then distributes water around the house. A pipe comes in and enters your foundation, where it splits out. If you wanted to install one thing into the line, I assume you would have to do it in your front yard, between the house and the valve (which I think is somewhere in the lawn).

I guess that's the price of sun and palm trees.

It's time for another CoasterBuzz

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 11:47 PM | comments: 0

It's crazy hard to believe that I launched v5 of CoasterBuzz almost three years ago. It still feels sort of new to me. I think I'm finally on the up swing of paying attention to it. My coaster enthusiasm admittedly waned a bit the last year and a half. Life has been busy, and there is definitely a cycle. It's time for a refresh.

That last update did quite a bit for traffic. The long-tail organic search traffic was crazy good after that. People aren't really making it a habit to hang around and contribute much, but even with declining ad revenue, those short and infrequent visitors are strangely more valuable (on a per-page basis) than frequent visitors. Go figure.

Some of the reason I'm interested in overhauling it is so I can start using the newer version of the forums, which is already in play on PointBuzz. To do that, I need to redo all of the markup to use Bootstrap. That's probably a good thing, because it gets to the responsive design that I should be using. Three years ago I went the route of different views for mobile, which I still think is a good idea in certain circumstances (way less markup and CSS), but for stuff that's more content than form UI, as this site is, responsive makes more sense.

So I'm not after anything new, just "roughly equivalent." It's mostly tedious and uninteresting work, but there will be some efficiencies for sure. I'm not going to go nuts on a new look, though I do want to try some new typography (which I hate doing).

One of the things that I always encounter in these redesigns is the square logo. Square logos are a pain in the ass. I know everyone hates Buzzy, but he's been with me for 15 years. I think I'll keep him, but I need something inspired by it that's horizontal.

There is one other motivating factor here: ASP.NET 5 is going to be radically different in terms of project layout and convention. Getting the forums there, and then a real site, is going to take some time to get right. I don't want to get too far behind on that. I feel like that's pretty important in terms of professional development.

It's not lost on me that all of this effort doesn't really consider the audience much, and I totally realize that. The problem is that I go through these long three or more year cycles, during which time frameworks and tools change enough that there is a ton of work just to stay current on that. Feature work almost becomes secondary. But I am still thinking about features... I just haven't decided what to work on first.

My features form with a change in the weather

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 13, 2015, 8:54 PM | comments: 0

The weather comes up in conversation constantly. It's the basis of small talk with strangers, and the source of headlines in the news. (This just in: It snows in the Midwest and Northeast in winter!) I think people might spend more time talking about it than politics.

I have to come clean. I admit that I talk shit on Facebook about how awesome the weather is where I live. And why shouldn't I? It's just the opposite extreme of car dashboard photos with negative temperature numbers, or driveways full of snow.

But closing in on two years already in Central Florida, a deliberate choice in places to live because of the weather, I have to say that my general existence is made better by all of that sun. By January 2013, just a little more than a year after we moved back to Cleveland, we were done. The gray and the snow was so negatively impacting us that we had to get out. Seattle, by comparison, was tough in November and December, but the rest of the year was fine. And no part of the year locked you inside.

When my mom moved down here, I remember her saying how much better she physically felt after the move. Psychologically she felt better too. This all made sense to me, because summers in Cleveland are fantastic. Seattle isn't as warm, but there's considerably more sun than in Ohio (it's true... look it up).

The OC is not perfect. But let me tell you, the weather has an amazing way of making you feel more positive and filled with energy. I regret not moving and figuring this stuff out at least 10 years sooner.


posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 12, 2015, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that was rough about our first six months or so in Florida is that I took almost no time off. It's the trap you fall into when you work a contract job, because you don't get paid when you don't work. If that weren't enough, I was marathon saving for the house down payment. I was pretty burned out at that point.

There are some people who do nothing but work, neglecting most everything else in life that matters. Those people generally strike me as miserable. Even if you like what you do, you need to disconnect and take time off. American culture seems so against this for some reason. I used to bank a ton of time at my first "real" job, and I don't think I really understood the value of unplugging until I had no choice (when I was first laid-off, after about five years of post-college work). While that was a difficult time, at first it wasn't so much scary as it was a relief.

A vacation doesn't have to be a trip, though if you can afford it, you certainly should get away. There's something to be said for breaking your routine. Nothing exercises your mind like thinking about something different, or nothing at all. It restores perspective.

The problem I have is that I live where I took countless vacations, and I make the mistake that I feel like I am taking little vacations. This week, for example, some of our friends from Seattle were in town, visiting Walt Disney World. We went out to meet them for a few hours on Sunday, then again on Wednesday after work. We had such a good time, and my focus was entirely in the moment, enjoying their company. (They were part of our parents group, and Simon hasn't seen his friend in a little over three years.) We have days like this at least once a month, and they kind of push off the fact that we haven't had any extended time to engage in recreation.

And by the way, it's not just for me in my day job, but Diana's general household operation and supervision of Simon, along with her part-time job, is every bit as much work as my job.

We do have something on the books this summer that will go four or five days, and I welcome that. It should be a lot of fun, and we can mostly unplug and relax. We're still parents, but we're not engaged in our daily routine for trips like that. And by the way, that's why I like the cruises, even if they're not particularly original at this point. We show up, they float around and feed us, and you don't really need to think about anything. No usable Internet access either.

Use your vacation time, folks.

A decade without beef

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 10, 2015, 9:57 PM | comments: 0

At some point late in 2004 or so, I stopped eating beef. It wasn't an intentional decision, really, but I had a more general feeling that I was eating way too much of it. I didn't feel healthy. By the time spring came in 2005 and I hit the life crisis what was my separation, I started to pay a little more attention to how much exercise I was getting and how much I weighed (which was about 25-ish pounds more than I do now). I decided at that point to stick to not eating beef. My cholesterol was ridiculous.

A decade later, and I still don't eat it. I don't miss it. It might be psychologically silly, but I associate it with being overweight and feeling like crap. Back in the day, I had way too many burgers (mostly fast food). Logically, the action to take would have been to just eat less, but I started to experiment with veggie burgers and many different ways to prepare chicken. Given the stressful time, I think I was grasping to take control of something, and these diet changes were symbolic of that.

I guess there aren't many commitments in my life that have been long term, so chalk this one up as something I'll continue to stick to. Marriage v2, going on six years. Beef-free, ten years. CoasterBuzz, 15 years.

The best birthday weekend ever

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 8, 2015, 4:53 PM | comments: 0

While Simon actually turned 5 on Thursday, and had some desserts with friends at both of his classes, the festivities were really on Saturday.

Diana is of course the best mom ever, so she landed two awesome plans. First, she arranged a play date with Simon's neighborhood friends in the morning. There are three other families that we've gotten to know over the last year, with kids in Simon's range (one of the parents is also my coworker). We had a nice, no-pressure, no-gift requires little meet up that included cupcakes. I kind of liked this better than a big production of a birthday party, and Simon really enjoyed it too.

Mom's other score came from a coworker, who happens to also work at Blue Man Group, and she scored some comp tickets to see the show. Of course I've been a fan for almost a decade, but I introduced Simon to one of the videos a few years ago, and he was hooked. How convenient that moving to Orlando meant there was a local show! This was his third time seeing it, and he was really into it. We're so lucky to have such easy access to stuff like this, not to mention a network that gets us in free.

As far as gifts, to this point we've been lucky that Simon isn't much of a "I want that" kind of kid (though he's starting to understand that you can take things home from Target if you give them money). We actually had a couple of things in the queue already. We had at Christmas a Spaceship Earth (Epcot) toy that we got super cheap as an open-box. It's a poorly designed toy, but the kid loves the ride. Diana also encountered this really cool car/track toy at the local science museum called NeoTracks, and we bought that hoping he would be willing to experiment with different layouts because it's so easy to snap apart and together. We're just trying to use more imagination, so we'll see how it goes.

Even though we didn't ask for gifts, my coworker bought him another parking lot tram, one of his favorite wheeled toys, and one of the other neighbors brought him a ton of Lego that they acquired. He got hooked up!

I hope the birthday was memorable for Simon to some degree, but at least I know it was memorable for us. He's been a handful lately in terms of doing what we ask (a problem spreading to school, unfortunately), but he was generally pleasant and sweet this weekend. This afternoon, while Diana was at work, we've had a nice quiet afternoon at home. I love that little boy so much, and even though he's not good at chilling out and watching TV for much more than 10 minutes, I'll take that cuddle time and cherish it. I know it won't last much longer.

I think there will definitely be some challenges this year, but we're pretty engaged with him, and getting a better feel for when we should help, and when he should struggle to learn. Who knows what the next year will bring!

My ex's and oh's

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 8, 2015, 3:27 PM | comments: 0

This post isn't about that fantastic song by Elle King (seriously, check it out), but rather my ex's. I've noticed lately there is an expectation by some that you can't or shouldn't be friends with your ex's. I think that's crap.

Now, I have to make the usual disclaimers that this is not a universal truth. I have friends who learned that their spouses were going to be featured on "To Catch A Predator," and others who were the victims of intense physical or emotional abuse. Other were with convicted felons. These are absolutely not situations where your ex should in your life. Let's use common sense.

Something that is a universal truth is that every relationship ends in a break up or death. I'm not trying to be morbid or anything, it's just a fact. People split for a variety of reasons, but presumably they had some kind of intense connection at some point. There was time and emotion invested in it. It probably wasn't friendly when it ended, or it was friendly, with accepted differences and agreement that it was time to move on. Things change at that point, and you stop seeing each other naked, you don't cohabitate, etc. It doesn't mean that you can't be friends anymore.

Including Diana, I've had about four great loves in my life. (Maybe five, but the first was so immature that I'm not even sure it counts.) The previous relationships vary from marriage to something not easily defined, but they were real, they were intense, and they were important to me. Today, I'm still friends with them all, they've all met each other, and we're all adults. I credit Diana with not feeling threatened by this, but also for understanding that these are people who can't just be undone as a part of who I am. She even has the running joke of her "Thing 2" T-shirt (from Cat-In-The-Hat) indicating that she's my second wife. And you know, if it were a contest, she wins because we are in fact married.

There are definitely psychological reasons to persist these friendships, not the least of which is that you want to have something from the time you put into it. You shared good times, and were probably there for each other, so unless one of those really toxic things mentioned above were involved, I don't see why you can't continue to be friends even though the romance is gone. It would be hurtful if you couldn't eventually get to that point.

Maybe what bothers me more is that some people can be judgmental about it. That's a statement on a bigger problem though. People get all judgey about a lot of relationships that may be perfectly functional even if you don't understand them (you know, like inter-racial or gay relationships, polygamy, non-marriage partnerships, etc.). I'm sorry if you can't be friends with your ex, but if someone else can, it has nothing to do with you.

Simon, 5

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 5, 2015, 12:00 AM | comments: 0

Where do I start? My little boy is 5-years-old. I can say without question that nothing in my life has ever been more insane than having a child. It's not that I was unprepared or anything like that. In fact, it's every bit as awesome and hard as I expected.

That day that he was born seems like yesterday. I remember every sleep-deprived moment of it in every detail.

The kid lived in five different places before he even turned 4, which I don't feel good about. I want him to remember though that he was born in Seattle. Being a white kid without any serious ethnic or national identity without going three generations back is a drag, but he at least was born in one of the most beautiful places in the country.

Simon has been overflowing with personality since day one, even if it was just in the funny way he started to verbalize. He has made us laugh so much over the last five years. It's not always puppies and rainbows of course, but the love he has brought into our lives is immeasurable.

When Simon was diagnosed with ASD last year, and SPD before that, there was never any particular sadness or despair on our part. In fact, it was very much a welcomed message for us because it meant we could take action on how to help our boy. These certainly add some challenges to raising him, especially in his early years, but we've committed a lot of money and energy to making sure he has the help he needs. His prospects are pretty good overall, and the experts see no issue with him going on to college and being successful, if he chooses that route.

Can he be difficult? Absolutely. He shares some of my less desirable traits. It's funny how someone who did not exist 37 years ago, when I was his age, can teach me so much about myself and why I am the way I am. And of course it scares the shit out of me that I'm responsible for not screwing him up too much. At the same time, his potential for greatness is a rush.

Despite the difficult parts, it's hard to top those moments where he bounces off of the school bus or comes running to me screaming "Daddy!" when I get home. It's not easy, but it's worth it. I love seeing this beautiful little human being evolve into something more. I can't wait to see how the next five years go! 

After Dinner from Jeff Putz on Vimeo.

Epiphanies are easy, practice is not

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 2, 2015, 9:49 PM | comments: 0

The Internet is ripe with stories of epiphany, where someone makes some life-changing realization that causes them to instantly shit rainbows and puppies, for the rest of their lives. This kind of breakthrough narrative isn't particularly inspirational for me, I suppose because the realizations are rarely non-obvious. If there's one thing that I've tried very hard to be in the last 10 years, it's self-aware. If you can commit to that, it's funny how so many things about life are obvious.

So as far as epiphanies go, I've had plenty. They aren't very hard to come by. Practicing these great nuggets of life-altering joygasms is something entirely different. For example, when I unexpectedly re-entered the world of dating, my goal was largely to land a new partner and live happily ever after. More to the point, I was entirely focused on outcomes and the future, and almost completely incapable of living in the moment. Moments were about worrying if there would be more moments.

Then one day, while having a moment with someone I was hoping I would have more moments with, it occurred to me that I was completely focused on when we would next have a moment. The intensity and joy of the moment was nearly lost on me. That was when I had the epiphany that I needed to live in the moment. I was having a human connection in a way that perhaps some people may not get to have at all, and I was squandering it.

That was an important moment for me. But as important as the realization was, it didn't change my behavior instantaneously. It has taken a great deal of practice to get it right, and I still don't always remember. With Simon, I've tried to enjoy the simplest moments, and really take them in. Whether it was just rocking with him as an infant, or watching his smiles and screams on a roller coaster ride, I try to slow down time and take it in. Similarly, I've tried to enjoy the times in those romantic and friend relationships.

Still, I get hung up on the future. I think about how I have to save money. I get anxious if I don't have my next vacation planned. I worry that I might be getting away from life in the moment, maybe because I'm heading toward mid-life.

The need to live in the moment is just one of many epiphanies I've had about ways to make my life better. I can't say any of them are easy. Self-awareness, as it turns out, isn't enough to instigate meaningful change. Change isn't that easy.

Mini-review: Lego Fairground Mixer

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 28, 2015, 11:05 PM | comments: 0

It has been out for awhile, but a couple of weeks ago I realized that the Lego Fairground Mixer had long since been announced and I didn't buy it. I've mostly resisted the various adult collector Lego sets, especially the Star Wars stuff, but I have to draw the line at amusement rides. That's why I bought the Carousel back in 2010, and this thing, which is essentially a trailer mounted Scrambler, had to be mine. Lego is such a great part of my childhood, and Simon enjoys the end product too (he's starting to get how to follow the instructions to build).

There isn't really anything particularly difficult about the build, and I'm guessing it took just over four hours. It consists of a smaller truck that carries the ticket booth, a working dunk tank and a hi-striker, and a big tractor-trailer that carries the actual scrambler ride. There are also a butt-load of mini-figs in this one. If you have the motor, you can attach it to operate the ride. I have the one that came with the carousel, though the battery pack isn't the rectangular one they suggest for mounting on the truck (although I have that one too, as it came with the train set I pull out around Christmas).

Mechanically, it's relatively simple. The motor (or included crank) connects to a gear box in the center of the trailer, which turns a vertical shaft that the ride mounts on. The three sweeps collapse down for transport, but when they're open, each has a wheel that drags over a flat surface over the gear box. That wheel drives a shaft to the end of the sweep, with a gear that turns the vertical rod that has the seats on it. It works like a champ.

There is also a safety fence that surrounds the ride. While bulky, it does fold up and sits on the trailer. There are quite a few nice details, like glow-in-the-dark pieces on the ride, $100 bills in the ticket booth, a bed inside the truck cab with a TV, real dunking action in the dunk tank, and even the hi-striker really works (though it doesn't ding, since the bell is obviously plastic). There's a juggler on stilts, too. The whole thing is surprisingly solid for something with so much dynamic movement.

These "grown up" sets are kind of expensive (this one is $150), but they're a joy to build. I suspect that Simon will be able to build this himself in a few years, and I do hope he'll be interested in building this, under close supervision.

Is a brain diet a thing?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 6:38 PM | comments: 0

Back when Simon was diagnosed as having Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), one of the initial therapists talked about him needing a "sensory diet." In other words, he needed a certain kind and volume of stimulation to help his brain practice taking input. That sounded strange, but I suppose it ultimately made sense to me. While we've given him outlets and opportunities, we've never really had a diet exactly, so maybe that's on us when he seems erratic in his physical behavior.

I started to wonder if this concept could be applied to a broader context in life. If I've learned anything in the last five years, it's that being happy requires deliberate action. When I was a teenager, I figured all I would need is my own place and the chance to have sex every day, which may partially explain why I was often a miserable teenager. Now that I'm older and wiser (well, older at least), I understand that it's not an accident.

There are three general categories that I believe contribute to your happiness, roughly grouped as relationships, environment and professional life. And yet, there are things in each of those categories that you seem to require in order for life to be at its best. In relationships, you need that range of superficial to intense interaction. In the environment, you need everything from comfort to unfamiliar. In work, you need things to vary between challenging and easy. Without this diet of activity, it's like some things are less enjoyable or don't go as well as you would like.

For example, I've noticed that I'm more into creating software (whether it's coding or leading a group) when I take time to mindlessly lose myself in video games. I'm a better parent when I learn about the challenge of others. I'm generally more relaxed and able to adapt when I regularly take vacations. I'm more likely to do home projects when I play with construction toys. I'm better about maintaining friendships when I spend time with any friend.

So it's like a more generalized brain diet. Practicing at life makes you better at life, and by extension happier. Sitting around in dull routine does not.

Obama haters: You are the problem

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

OK, you're not really the problem, except when you are. The title is link bait to an extent, because like everything in politics, it implies that if I'm for something, I'm against something else. The truth is, I happen to think Obama has been a total disappointment, incapable of getting anything done. I don't blame his opposition, because I voted for him because he talked a good game of bringing people together and solving problems. I don't hate him, and frankly I haven't hated any president in my lifetime. But as with Bush before him, I disagree with much, but not all, of his policy and his approach.

I've been thinking about this for a long time, but it wasn't until Giuliani's completely absurd comments about Obama's lack of love for America that I really understood the heart of what was going on. Obama's opponents have already established a platform that isn't about policy, but rather simply it's about opposing him. To add to that, now it's about ad hominem attacks.

And if you engage in hero worship for someone like this, look at the other blowhards like Palin, Trump and Cruz. None of them are taking any positions on policy or offering solutions to anything. They're arguing about who amongst them is more patriotic, more conservative, more whatever. It's like they're trying to win superlative titles in their high school yearbook, not lead a nation.

So let me break it down for you: When you legitimize this bullshit, you are helping the very president that you're so intent on hating. Step by step, this is what happens:

  • Obama attempts to execute or propose some ill-conceived policy.
  • Opponents oppose Obama, but offer no counter policy.
  • You endorse the opponents who offer no policy, and legitimize high school bullshit.
  • Because no counter policy exists, Obama's policy is the only game in town.
  • Obama's policy wins by default, and he is not accountable because his opposition is not accountable.

So when you engage in this nonsense with your Facebook faux-activism, you play right into the asshats' agenda. No one has any good ideas, and they're not held accountable because you're perfectly content to make everything concerning Obama about his apparent desire to kick puppies and hate the flag. The asshats don't need to lead or do anything constructive, because you do exactly what they want by focusing energy on everything but real intellectual discourse.

I'm not actually too cynical to believe that it doesn't have to be this way, but I've never seen it go to these depths. We will continue to elect ineffective people from both parties as long as we keep the discourse in the shitter. Is that not obvious?

Full-time vs. self-employed vs. entrepreneur

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 23, 2015, 11:10 PM | comments: 0

The other day at work, we were talking a little bit about the kinds of work we go after. In the business of making software, it's interesting that we have all three major flavors of work: Working for The Man, self-employment and entrepreneurship. Various forms of these categories are often glorified as the ultimate thing, but I don't think there are any clear winners or losers among them. Your personality, interests and life in general have a lot to do with what works and what doesn't. (See what I did there?)

Working for The Man gets kind of a bad wrap in certain professions for some reasons, because of some implied servitude or something. Working for a company comes with a lot of wins, not the least of which is that you aren't likely putting your own money at risk to conduct business. As long as the company is stable and you're adding value, there's a good chance that you'll be in a good place. If the company culture is particularly awesome, you'll get to collaborate with great people and be a part of something interesting.

On the flip side, it's not uncommon to work with people who add very little value and fly under the radar, maybe for years. They might lose the ability to innovate and improve on their work. They're free to make a radical shift and suddenly decide they don't need you anymore. In some places, it might be difficult to have any impact at all that you feel good about. And of course, the big corporate culture of constant promotion is not for everyone.

Self-employment, which is different from being a true entrepreneur, can give you a great deal of flexibility. It's the kind of role where you may augment full-time staff, or be a consultant. Depending on the arrangement, it's very possible that you have extreme flexibility in when and where you work. You can choose the interesting work and let the uninteresting stuff go to others.

This has it's drawbacks as well, not the least of which is that you're always on the lookout for the next thing. In good times, it's not a big deal, but when the economy isn't great, it will seriously wear on you. You're also not really a lasting part of anything, which may or may not matter to you.

Being an entrepreneur is often regarded as the ultimate job. You start a company, and you build it. You choose the people you work with, and you bring something to market. You get to be the boss, and you make the rules.

This is obviously the most risky work mode. You might be able to set your own hours, but you have to work your ass off to make things happen, especially early on. People depend on you to do things right, because you also sign their checks.

I've spent all of my professional life in the first and second scenarios, and I've experienced all of the pros and cons. While I do have my own business, it's certainly not "stay home money," it's just a hobby. It's crazy that each of these situations can get you out of bed in the morning, and the same situations can make you want to never get up. As much as we want to decouple our sense of self from work, the truth is that we want to be vested in what we do, to connect to it. When those businesses fail, or contracts end, it doesn't feel good at all if we were into the gig. Jobs can be like relationships in that sense.

One of my former coworkers just set out on his own a few months ago, and I give him all of the credit in the world. He left a really good thing that I'm enjoying a great deal. But it reinforces my point, that there is no perfect way to work. It just depends on your life situation.

The little developing mind

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 22, 2015, 11:10 PM | comments: 0

I had a really good weekend with Simon. Honestly, I needed that, because I feel like I've been very impatient with him, and he doesn't deserve any hostility from me. Diana worked Friday night and Sunday afternoon, so we had some good time together. Saturday, all of us went to Magic Kingdom for a few hours, which was somewhat challenging because he's not adapting to crowded situations lately, unfortunately (another marathon weekend, lots of people).

The biggest part of our bonding was around the construction of a new Lego set that I bought, the Fairground Mixer. It's a brilliant design, an amusement ride that folds up and mounts on a truck. This is the third such guilty pleasure I've bought in the last five years, one of the expensive sets intended for adults. I don't buy a lot of "toys" anymore (in the literal or figurative sense), and like many people, Lego was a part of growing up. For me it was one of the most fond memories I have of my childhood.

I've done some building with Simon on one of the newer "junior" sets, and he did pretty well. His fine motor skills are still not great, but he's able to put small pieces together. He seems to get the spacial relationships in the instructions, too, though he isn't very confident. On something like the mixer, obviously he's not ready for that, but he sits with me and does the kinds of things you might expect from an ASD kid. He picks out the wheels and stacks them up (he did an unprompted stack of Luigi's tires from Cars, which was awesome). He also pulled out all of the seats and organized them by color.

When it was finally finished, he had no interest in watching it operate with the motor, preferring to crank it around by hand and watch how it works. Imaginative play is still not his strong suit, he can spend hours watching how something works, and I do think he's taking it in and understanding. It's fascinating to see how that little brain is working.

I see so much development, which is a constant cause for relief and concern. While his writing is dreadfully behind, we notice him reading words more and more. He doesn't seem to understand the act of coloring is to shade in an area, but he'll watch one of my roller coaster videos frame by frame to find the brakes and point out how the kicker wheels move the train in to the station.

I think it's hard for us to just take it for granted that he'll figure it all out, and I'm sure he will, because we don't want him to get behind. That's a thing that sticks with a kid even after he's "caught up." There's clearly a brilliant kid in there, even if he's not "neurotypical," as they say. Hopefully we're helping him develop that brilliance.

The state of fake and real news

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 8:51 PM | comments: 0

A lot of people have been pretty bummed out about John Stewart's announcement that he'll be giving up his post on The Daily Show. In a world where real journalism has been hard to find, it's strange, but a lot of people have found solace (and entertainment) in Stewart's show because he's made calling out politicians and cable "news" a sport. He's often labeled as left leaning, but he's been pretty brutal on Democrats. I tend to theorize that the fringe right is just a lot nuttier than the fringe left (or at the very least, there are more nutty voices to the right).

People were bummed about Stephen Colbert leaving his show to replace Letterman, but I have to say, Larry Wilmore is really outstanding. I never really got Colbert's schtick, but Larry hit his stride very quickly. I haven't missed a show yet.

Then there's the whole Brian Williams controversy, where he exaggerated his proximity to some action during the Iraq war. As important as journalistic integrity is to me, given the degree and all, I'm actually willing to cut him a little slack. The practice of "embedding" reporters in military units during that war by its very nature influences the narrative, as the reporter is no longer an observer, but a participant in the story. It's the whole basis for "gonzo journalism," a la Hunter S. Thompson. One could argue that whether or not Williams was in the helicopter that took fire is irrelevant, because the narrative of what happened is still about the same.

But, more to the point, cable news networks make shit up and "report" talking head opinions like fact every day, and no one gets fired or suspended for that.

In the 80's we could more or less trust that what we saw on the "big three" TV networks was legitimate news, and relatively free from bias. I think that's still somewhat true, as those news divisions do enjoy a certain amount of autonomy. The Internet, I always thought, would be the great thing that surfaced truth, but mostly it just reinforces people who aren't interested in truth if it's at odds with their beliefs. Still, it's possible to get a lot of perspective if you're willing to look around for it. The US broadcast networks, combined with the big newspapers and other sources like the BBC and al Jazeera America, tend to give you a well-rounded reality.

It's fantastic that we have sites like Politifact and Factcheck these days, because at least someone is holding politicians and pundits to some level of anti-bullshit (even if no one is apparently listening). I tend to think that the existence of truth is less of an issue than people not being interested in learning what it is.

How my electric vehicle fascination changed

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 6:45 PM | comments: 0

My initial interest in electric cars was largely based on the fascination over energy efficiency and the general technology used to make it happen. The combination of software and battery science is nerdy, I know, but that's kind of my thing.

Now that we've had an electric car for almost six months, my interest has evolved into something of an anti-combustion thing. When I go back to drive the other car, I think, "It's absurd that I'm getting around by having this thing burning liquid and making thousands of small explosions every minute to make the car go." Doesn't that seem crude and ancient?

I know that sounds totally like the anti-car-guy, but you're talking to a guy who has always been content driving a cheap Corolla. In a practical sense, I've generally viewed cars as utilitarian things to get you between points. It was a pretty big leap for me to spend more on a hybrid, and even then that was more about the tech. Ditto for the Leaf, which is a little pricey for its size.

But the first time I drove a Leaf, a rental on my prospecting/interview trip to Orlando, the torque was pretty exciting. I had driven electric gokarts before, and it was like that, only on the street. I've driven powerful gas cars, but it's just different because those feel powerful in the mid to fast range, whereas electric launches from a dead stop.

So these days, it's about the torque, the cheap energy and the software. It's all really exciting to me. The problem is still the cost, which is high. If GM can really deliver on the Bolt, and therefore put pressure on Nissan and Tesla, things could get really interesting in 2017. I can't justify an $80k car, even if I made two or three times as much as I do now.

Sorting out my contribution to the world

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 15, 2015, 10:53 PM | comments: 0

I've spent a lot of time lately thinking, "Well, how did I get here?" (No, this has not involved any bad chroma key.) When I look at the world lately, it feels a lot more fucked up than it ever has. Whether that's actually the case or not, and I have no idea how one objectively measures that, is hard to say. There is just so much hate in the world, and it bums me out.

In so many ways, I got lucky. It's a fundamental truth that we are in many ways a product of our environment. I could have been born and raised to be something completely different. We're afraid to admit it, but our religion and even our patriotism are not things that we chose. We adopt them because they were given to us. We don't like to admit this, or challenge it, because it's not just our beliefs we're talking about, these are things that are core to our very identity. Not only do we fear questioning who we are, but what others might think.

Think about that for a minute. If those are things predetermined by the place of our birth, it's no wonder that the evolution of humanity is so slow. It explains how we could rationalize slavery or follow Hitler. As I approach midlife, I realize that experience can help us challenge what we learned the first 20 years of our lives, but only if we have resolved to question everything about ourselves and the world. What's worse is that it seems people seem to get more set with age, clinging to what they know, instead of seeking greater breadth in their experience.

Am I any different? I hope so, but I don't know for sure. My experience thus far, tied to my profession, has exposed me to diversity in ways that I would not have had otherwise. I've embraced this amazing world of different cultures and religions, and I don't have the time or desire to hate on people like that. Where I struggle is what to do about people who can't be like this. They have to hate on someone, because to not do so would question their sense of identity.

Optimistic (and probably naive) me believes people like that will eventually be left behind while the rest of the world rises above it. It makes sense then to not throw my arms up and give up, but to focus energy on what can be changed, what can move humanity forward. I'm not sure that there is any other choice.

Maybe other people are well suited to changing minds. I don't think I am. I get so frustrated with people who choose to be ignorant. I'm going to try to make a more concerted effort to focus on what good I can do, no matter how small or large the scale is. That's constructive use of my time.