42, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 29, 2015, 10:15 PM | comments: 0

My birthday is coming up, and it's an important year for me. If you are a fan of clever British humour and science fiction, you probably get the joke. Even if you aren't, well, you know that there are stages of life that we go through.

In the clinical sense, a midlife crisis is a bad thing involving depression, a lack of happiness, constant questioning of your place in the world, all encouraging poor decisions. I happen to think that there is something like that, but it isn't a crisis as much as a grander sense of self-awareness. The resulting behavior may be similar, because the difference between self-destructive, poor choices and healthy experimentation are very subtle.

For me, the thing that I associate with my age is a great sense of self-awareness, optimism and sense of what I want to be. I have more data about life than I ever have, and that honestly gives me a certain amount of confidence in terms of what to do with it. Most importantly, I think my place in the world is something I can measure by acknowledging the combination of my "birth lottery" (being a white, straight American) and the work that I've done to achieve my relative happiness in life and work. It's a measurement that hopefully guides me in the right mix of humility, confidence and drive.

There isn't some arbitrary date that has me thinking about this either. I've been thinking a lot about how I'm setting up the near term parts of life for a couple of years now, and trying to make deliberate decisions where I can. The career part is a little squishy, in part because the market is always changing, but I've been with a good company for a year and I hope that lasts. Financial stability has been a work in progress for years, and I'm finally seeing it. I'd like to spend more time focusing on my relationship with myself, as well as Diana and Simon. I'm accepting that I have a very sedentary job, and I need to compensate for that.

I have a lot of work to do, and there are changes I still need to make. I need to learn to be more patient with my kid, but not coddle him in a way that will get in the way of his life. I definitely need to stop engaging miserable assholes on the Internet. I don't have the capacity anymore to converse with people who think the world sucks and is getting worse. There's no changing them, and I won't be sucked into their shitvortex. I need to cement the good habits I have in terms of exercise and food. I need to make charity about giving time, and not just money.

Maybe the most important thing I'm learning right now is to not wait to do things. It seems like I can pull the trigger on gigantic life-changing things like moving, but smaller things that may or may not be a big deal end up in the "eventually" column. It's not even an issue of risk, I just put things off. Travel was a big one, but I'm getting there. We're going to Alaska next summer, and we'll figure out how to make Europe work the year after.

So in lieu of a midlife crisis, I'd like to propose a midlife celebration. No binges on hookers and blow for me, but I wouldn't rule out cars, body mods, trips and generally more fun. Mortality does not scare me, but it certainly is a time constraint that I don't want sneaking up on me.

Consideration of the electric sex

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 27, 2015, 6:14 PM | comments: 0

It's no secret that I'm a little obsessed with Tesla Motors. I was always super curious, and of course we've had hybrids for five years, but leasing a Nissan Leaf really pushed me over the edge. Even this relatively modest car causes me to wonder, in an era of iPhones and the Internet, why do we still drive cars powered by thousands of little explosions that burn dead dinosaurs? (Well, mostly dead plants, but you know I mean.)

I won't go into the financial turn around we've been working on for six years, but it has been intense. It's the first time in my adult life that I've felt "stable," through a great many difficult decisions and focus. I finally feel like I can give to charities I care about without having to exercise extreme budgeting. There's something left over at the end of the month that isn't committed.

There are two issues I have with even looking at an expensive car. The first is that I've always viewed cars as a necessary evil. I mean, I drove Toyota Corollas for years, and getting a Prius seemed like an indulgence. I'm not a car guy. But the reason I initially was interested in the Prius was the gadgetry that it embodied. Tesla takes that to another level.

The other issue is that expensive cars feel like something you do to show status. I realize not everyone does this, but I look at something like a Cadillac Escalade, the most obnoxious of gas-guzzling ego-cars (they cost about as much as a Tesla), and I cringe. I literally have a physical reaction seeing someone get out of those cars. But then I realize, hey, the people buying Iron Man's sedan are nerds and scientists. They're people that appreciate the engineering progress they represent.

Indeed, the pretentious factor and practical factor were mental roadblocks to me. But some friends on Facebook made some good points ranging from, "Fuck everyone else and what they think," to, "Treat yo'self," and, "It's OK to buy yourself something nice." One friend suggested that I might be taking the "experiences not stuff" mantra too far, especially since a car can enable experiences. Mostly, I think I've had to come around to the idea that it's the intense interest in the science and industry that the car represents that trumps issues of perception and practicality. Just because I tend to be practical in terms of housing, and rarely care about fashion, doesn't disqualify this thing. It's for science.

So will we pull the trigger?

A historic day for equality

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 26, 2015, 9:59 PM | comments: 0

The decision today by the Supreme Court that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states today is an unprecedented win for equality. It's remarkable how fast the change in attitudes and culture came on this issue. There is still a lot of work to do, but legal unions are an important step in the right direction.

I started the year by going to a wedding for two dudes, and I remember thinking at the time, this really isn't any different of a circumstance than any other wedding I've ever been to, so why are people so scared of it? (The reception, however, was the single best I've ever been to.) This particular issue has always been a perplexing one to me. If you think it's icky, that's cool, no one is making you love someone of the same gender. If it's your religion that steers your objection, that's fine too, but the existence of same-sex couples will not interfere with your faith (unless you're doing faith totally wrong). More importantly, your faith is not something that is legally binding on others.

Florida finally got it right late last year, but with so many friends living in Ohio, the sad place that put a constitutional amendment in place, this is what we've been waiting for. It's a historic day indeed. Love is a big deal, the world needs more of it, not less. It makes me so happy to see things changing for the better. It's been a rough week for the world. I think we needed some really good news.

Keeping your head as a parent is a lot like managing adult relationships

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 22, 2015, 8:20 PM | comments: 1

I made it a point to see a therapist as I went through the divorce process. When you're a part of a failure that affects you in such a deeply personal way, it doesn't hurt to get some help understanding how to cope and what you have to do to make better choices going forward. In that time, there were some emerging themes about your sense of self. Specifically, you need to learn that the language you use about your life and toward others matters, that invalidating your own feelings gets you nowhere, and above all, you have limits and need to "recharge." I was catching up with a friend today when this came up, and it was as if I forgot.

Language is funny. You have to describe the issues you're feeling, and when it comes to your kid, you often feel "guilty" about what you feel, or "resent" your kid or the commitments required to care for him. Using that language is obviously very toxic. If you simply stop classifying your thought process using those terms, you're left with a reality that you just need more time for yourself.

Indeed, we make excuses about things we feel all of the time, invalidating them as not worthy of complaining about. I find this to be especially true in issues around ASD. When I see a kid completely melting down, or a 10-year-old flapping his hands around among a crowd of younger kids, I think, "Well, at least I don't have it that bad." That's such complete bullshit. I don't know why we try to score our issues against those that others have. The mere existence of more difficult situations does not make our own less difficult.

Above all, we reach a point where we just don't have anything more to give. We need to recharge. As parents, we try to back each other up, but real life is that we all have limits. We need to be OK with that. Life, work, kids, relationships... they all draw from the same "batteries" and they will be depleted, and that "recharge" metaphor is real.

I think we've both been pushing up against those limits lately, but have engaged a fair amount in the above behaviors when it comes to being parents. We don't do it that much in the context of our interpersonal relationship (or at least, I hope we don't!), but the allegiance to Simon does direct it toward parenthood. I've gotta work on that.

What exactly do these people want to go "back" to?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 9:36 PM | comments: 0

If there's a common theme among Republicans and anyone else who doesn't like Obama, it's that they want to "restore" something or go back to something. What exactly is it that they want to return to? Seriously, I'm asking. And "a president who isn't a black guy with a funny name" is not an answer.

Obama has been a total disappointment, to say the least. I get that. But even still, things are a whole lot better than they were eight years ago. Like, it's no contest. That he likely had nothing to do with it doesn't even matter.

I'm listening to politicians talk about this at great length, and I wonder what exactly they want. Speculating, do they want to go back to days of slavery, no Internet, hunting for food... what? If I look around, I'm looking at a world where:

  • According to Zillow, the house I couldn't sell for years near Cleveland, that I sold for $10k less than I paid, is now worth $20k more than that, in less than two years.
  • Similarly, the house I live in is allegedly worth $20k more than when I bought it a little over a year ago.
  • My career opportunities sure have increased in the last ten years, even with the rough spot in 2008/2009.
  • Gay people increasingly can be identified as a legal couple.
  • That Internet makes it possible to learn about anything, even if an alarming percentage of people prefer to use it just to bury their heads and reinforce their own beliefs.
  • We have technology companies leading our economy with completely new businesses, and even an auto company that isn't in Detroit, pushing renewable energy and making headway.
  • We have super computers in our pocket, and now on our wrist, connected to the entire world's knowledge.
  • We're landing space craft on fucking comets!
  • The mix of cultures is happening at an unprecedented rate, especially in the US, and we're all clearly better off for it.
  • Private companies launch rockets, for less than the feds could ever do.
  • Our ability to communicate, collaborate and have real influence on our world has never been greater. Everyone has a voice.

I don't know what world people want to go back to, or what America they want to "restore," but I'm pretty happy with the one we've got. In fact, that tends to imply that politicians have very little to do with the asskickery that we have available to us these days.

I'm bored, so now what?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 6:13 PM | comments: 0

I've been in kind of a funk lately. Not for any broad reasons I don't think, but it happens this time of year for me. I'm transitioning on projects for work, Simon just ended school, and life just feels like it's in a transition of sorts. Nothing gets me out of bed in the morning other than the desire to knock out my walk before it gets too f'ing hot (and we're still trending above normal temperatures).

What am I passionate about? It seems like writing about this sort of thing helps me, because at the very least I can look back at it and say, "Nice job, dickhead, you followed through on exactly nothing." Seriously, when I think about some period of my life, it's surprising how often I can look back at the blog posts now after almost 15 years.

In no particular order...

  • Spend quality time with Simon. The kid needs it. With school over, he's constantly asking us to play with him. I need to figure out some way to make it constructive and awesome. With the Broadway season over, Diana isn't working as much, so we're not even doing our weekend Disney visits.
  • Be social with friends. To my surprise, we have quite a few friends here, many of them neighbors. I'm not sure what to do with that exactly. We all have kids (or significant others), and jobs, so how do people hang out as adults. It's completely weird that I don't understand how to do this. I try to have lunch with my BFF weekly, but between the two of us we've been too busy at work and haven't done that in weeks. I only ever see one neighbor, because we work together. I think I'm doing it wrong.
  • Write some code! In my winding-down project, I wrote more code than usual for my position, and I'll probably write a lot going forward because my team is mostly just me on the next project. That's usually not good for me working on my own projects. I need to get some commits in for my open source project (plenty of issues in the backlog), so I can renew my open source license for Resharper.
  • Photographs some stuff. I have a beautiful kid, wife, friends, etc., and I don't bust out my camera enough. I also live next door to one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in the world. Yet all of that gear isn't getting used. Lame. I also have this new mirrorless camera (a Panasonic GF7 that is beautiful with the lens I bought a few years ago for my video camera), and it's really great in low light. That, and I have this "L" glass for my Canons. No excuses.
  • Vacation like I mean it. I'm doing a quasi-staycation in July. We're gonna do a few days at Legoland and stay at their new hotel. It's not a great deal, but it's the only deal if you want to stay in a Lego-themed hotel. The rest of that week, I need to figure out some other activities. I'm pretty sure we may do a cruise in August as well. The ships are my happy place, and I don't know if I feel more relaxed anywhere else.
  • Think about home improvement. We've dropped into a lot of area models lately, and we've had this itch to move somewhere else. Believe it or not, we really liked a smaller "cottage" property because it's about to be surrounded by walkable retail and such, and there's a lot of appeal in that. Awesome as that would be, I think we agree that we just haven't spent a lot of time making our house awesome. It doesn't matter that the house is new, we still have to put our mark on it. Aside from some awesome custom curtains that Diana made, and a few fans and lighting fixtures, we haven't really "decorated" the place. I think the "bird cage" is something we'll consider this fall.
  • Build "something." I'm not even sure what this means. I've been thinking for some time about the fact that I have a Mac Mini, now five years old, sitting underneath my TV that I used to use as my BeyondTV DVR. It's a great little computer for emulation, and it might be fun to build an arcade cabinet from scratch and use it to power an arcade emulator or something. (Although, if I can find a powered antenna to once again pull in OTA TV down here, it might just go back to being a DVR.) An arcade cabinet is just an example. I feel like I need to learn how to use more power tools.
  • Write a screenplay. I've been talking about this for at least a decade, and I'm an asshole for not following through. Seriously, a five-page screenplay, a simple short, is all I really need. Then I can go shoot it. I have the technology. Why can't I follow through on this? (Hint: I don't think anything in my head is very good.)

So there we go... let's see what I can do.

Our happily unremarkable cars

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

The family was out doing stuff the other day, when the "change my oil!" light came on in our Prius V. That led to my commenting that we had over 50k miles on it in just over three years, which led to Diana making comments about how much she has enjoyed having that car.

It has been a fantastic car, doing nothing but oil changes every 10k miles (synthetic). I suspect tires are in order soon, but other than that, it has been maintenance free. With gas around $2.60, and fuel economy averaging 48 mpg, we're spending about 5.4 cents per mile. It's comfortable, sits up fairly high, and has an enormous interior that tops most small SUV's. It's not particularly interesting or fun to drive (unless you turn on power mode so it isn't neutered by software), but it's about as functional as it gets. In practical terms, I don't see how that car isn't more than adequate than for 95% of family use cases.

When we traded in Diana's Hyundai last fall, after having its transmission replaced under the drivetrain warranty (the hose to the radiator came off and trashed it), we started leasing a Nissan Leaf. With the mileage restriction and the need to drive to Simon's school twice a day, for almost 40 miles each day plus any other errands or whatever, we couldn't easily use the Leaf, so the V became her daily use car. That's why the fuel economy has been pretty solid, because it has mostly been city driving (though still not as high as a standard Prius, because the V is bigger and heavier).

The Leaf has been our commuter car for the last nine months, with one of us driving downtown on average four or five times per week, just under 1k miles per month. It costs squarely 3 cents per mile to drive. We've never had any issue with range anxiety, because we often charge it at work, or overnight at home (on a slow 120v outlet, no less). Despite being a small-ish car, it sits up high, and it's really comfortable. It's also crazy fun to drive. I mean, you want to stop at red lights if you can be first to go, because it gives you a chance to exercise that ridiculous acceleration. Of course it's no Tesla Model S, but the quiet and smooth acceleration is so much fun.

I've laid out the economics before, but strictly on an operating basis, we're spending about $30 per month on electricity instead of $80 for the gas the Hyundai used. That's $600 each year. Yes, it's a smaller car, and has about zero luxury points (though the heated seats ended up being handy for a few days last winter), but it's a pretty inexpensive way to get to work.

I'm super happy with our cars, because they're not expensive, and we never have to really think about them. We just get in and go places. I won't pretend that I still don't have an unhealthy obsession with the Model S, and so far I've been able to keep that obsession in check.

The clinical and cuddly dad

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 15, 2015, 9:17 PM | comments: 0

I don't think that we could state in any clearer terms that Simon has been a bit of a handful lately. He's just being 5 (or maybe 4, getting to things late). With school ending, it's more difficult because he isn't someone else's problem for 7 hours of the day. Well, that, and he was rarely a problem for other people anyway. He has reserved that honor for his beloved parents.

I'll be the first to admit that I've been getting it wrong. I can blame life, work or whatever, but I've been reacting emotionally to the actions of a tiny human. He's not being a dick, he's just being a kid. Yelling at him just makes it OK for him to do that to me, and it doesn't really come with any consequences. I've gone into clinical mode, responding very much in the way that his therapist (the good one) did last year. I'm prepared for the fact that this will lead to meltdowns that mostly he has to cope with, and so far I think that's working. But I've also discovered that there are some instances where they're not meltdowns, but they are in fact conventional tantrums. I've described the difference before, where a meltdown is really the product of him being incapable of reconciling the actions and consequences as logical (a typical ASD thing), while a tantrum fishes for attention and he checks in to see if we're responding. There are a lot of tears, and I've really pushed him to the point of taking him entirely out of whatever he was doing, carrying him to his room. It isn't pleasant, but I wonder if he's understanding that talking back and refusing to do what we ask is a poor choice.

On the flip side of this, he still prefers mom, but he's really trying to cuddle a lot lately, especially when he's tired. Yesterday, I was sprawled out on the couch upstairs where he was playing, and he literally climbed on top of me, asked for a blanket, and fell asleep. Today while playing, I was sitting with my legs crossed, and he just kind of plopped into my lap and put his head down and arms around me. Then at bed time, I laid down with him briefly, and he pulled my arm across him and fell asleep within a few minutes. I really love moments like these, and understand they won't last much longer. It's also reassuring that he still likes me, despite often playing the role of ultimate disciplinarian. Not that he wouldn't like me exactly, but I think keeping a close relationship with him is going to be tricky.

Being a parent is exhausting. I don't think it's getting easier, it's just getting different.

Jurassic World was awesome

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 14, 2015, 8:31 PM | comments: 0

I haven't been out to see a movie in a long time, but I really wanted to get out and see Jurassic World, partly because I didn't want to play the Lego video game through without seeing the movie first. Diana was graciously OK with me going, so I went to the 10:30 matinee this morning. I totally loved it, which surprised me in part because I totally groaned when the movie was announced.

The first two sequels weren't terrible, but they did not live up to the amazing first movie. I never did get around to reading the book, but regardless, I think Spielberg made a completely believable and inspiring movie. I remember seeing it in the theater and getting a little misty at the big reveal shortly after Grant arrives on the island. Dare I say it was a magical point in movie history. The sequels did not repeat that feeling.

Like I said, I groaned and simply thought, "Ugh, cash grab," when they announced World. That they cast the voice of the Lego dude seemed absurd too. But the marketing was clever from the beginning, with "live" webcams of the "real" theme park, and shallow guy that I am, I was intrigued by the redheaded Cleopatra with perfect bangs in the teaser trailer. Hey, don't judge, it's how I ended up getting into the Hunger Games movies.

I'll avoid spoilers, but you probably already know the movie takes place 20 years after the original, in a fully operational dinosaur park. Because theme park fans are fickle (a hilarious truth about the biggest fans), they need to up the ante by genetically engineering a super dinosaur. What could go wrong, right?

There are a bunch of things that I loved about it, but mostly that they found a way to honor the original. It takes place on the same island, there are some subtle (and not subtle) references to the original park, and of course, they immediately plunge into the ethics of resurrecting extinct dinosaurs. This time they really make the animals seem real beyond just being things that eat people (though the petting zoo is a little silly). The movie is surprisingly self-aware, as the blockbuster mentality of Hollywood is the story of a bigger, badder, dinosaur. Everything in the park is for sale to sponsors, and they're all there.

Chris Pratt works as an action star because his comedic timing is superb. He doesn't take himself too seriously at all. Bryce Dallas Howard starts as a total Type-A stereotype but, if somewhat predictably, melts into the capable character you want her to be. I didn't even now that Jake Johnson (New Girl) was in it, but he's hilarious as well. Sure, they're not complex characters, but they tell a great story. One of the kids also, presumably has ASD, even if they don't call it out.

Of course, the dinosaurs are significant characters as well, and they play interesting parts with a lot more personality than in the previous films. You've also seen in the trailers that Pratt's character is essentially the raptor whisperer, so there has to be some character development there. Let's just say there is a dinosaur battle that had people in the theater cheering. It was amazing.

Maybe my biggest surprise is how well fleshed out the theme park is. It's a lot of little details, like the way they queue and dispatch the "hamster ball" rides, or stage the aquatic show. And like I said, everything in the park is sponsored, too.

I just loved it, and had a ton of fun. I can't wait to see it again, and own it on home video.

Our family in transition, no SOP

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 13, 2015, 11:43 AM | comments: 0

There are a lot of changes right now here at Puzzoni World HQ. The end of the school year means that the bulk of the routine we had is out the window, and I think it's going to take some getting used to. School wasn't just good for Simon, it was good for Diana as well because it gave her more time for hobby stuff and running the household. After just one week, we're finding that Simon is looking for a lot of attention. And as we head into summer, we're in less of a hurry to be outside in the afternoon. She's planning some structured school-like time starting next week, and he'll also start OT.

I'm trying to find a rhythm for life as well. For about a month now I've been averaging more than 10k steps a day to battle the inactivity that goes along with my job, and most of that has been by walking first thing in the morning. I've been skipping it on days I go into the office, making it up the other day. I've actually gone to the theme parks with the specific purpose of knocking out some walking time because it doesn't feel like exercise that way (and it gets Simon out of the house).

Beyond that though, I'm not very motivated to do anything with my free time. I've been pretty content to do passive things like watch TV, which is not my thing. I'm not writing code for my projects or sites because I've been spending a high percentage of time doing that for work. I'd like to go see more movies, but I'm convinced that isn't going to happen much until Simon is in high school. I'm in a weird place where I'm not sure how to engage in recreation.

Things might get really interesting in the fall, as Diana is considering going back to work full-time. I'm not sure how that works with school and child care. It's new territory for us.

It's weird how life can sort of be on auto-pilot for extended periods of time. There's a certain comfort in routine for sure, especially for a family like ours that moved five times inside of five years. If change fatigue is a thing, we totally had it. Fortunately, this change doesn't involve boxes, new jobs or anything similarly disruptive.

One year at AgileThought

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 11, 2015, 9:56 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe, but next week will be my first anniversary working at AgileThought. You know you've got a solid job when you barely notice a year.

The year-long contract I had at SeaWorld Parks was a pretty solid job as well. There were a lot of challenges to deal with there, and a culture that was not as experienced as what I'm used to, but the problems were interesting and I liked a lot of the people there. I was sad to see it end. But I took a number of deliberate steps to get the kind of gig I was hoping for, and as the process unfolded, I was surprised it ended up being a company with an agency model.

I've had a few false starts over the last 15 years with agency type companies. Two of them assured me of their stability only to let me go after a few weeks because they didn't have the work they said they did. Another I left after a few weeks because they wanted me to tell clients that we could do things that we clearly could not do. But in this case, AT had an excellent reputation, an impressive client list and people I knew were some of the best. In a world where companies want to get out of the business of making their own software (unless that is their business), you would think this would be the case more often than not, but it isn't.

Right away they trusted me enough to take over a very complex project, and it was a big success. After that I had a smaller greenfield project that I'm wrapping up now. In that time, I've been blown away by the quality of most everyone who works there, the strength of the leadership and owners and the path the company is on. It has been a long time since I've consistently enjoyed work like this.

I've enjoyed working remotely again, but it has been better this time around because we can optionally go into the Orlando office. Many of us do at least twice a week. Remote is great because at the very least you're getting back an hour a day that you're not commuting. Technology makes collaboration easy enough. Then when we do go in, it gives us a chance to talk about what we're working on, trade information and generally be more social than you can be at home.

I know it's "normal" for people in my line of work to change jobs every 18 to 24 months, but I'm really hoping this one lasts for a good long time. The people make me better, and the process is the special sauce that makes us extra effective. Good times.

Review: Cedar Point, June 5-8, 2015

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 9, 2015, 9:26 PM | comments: 0

While there's a long history of writing a trip report in enthusiast circles, I figured I would make this a review instead. For one, we only get to Cedar Point once a year, for another I don't think a play-by-play of what I did with my 5-year-old is that interesting. Again this year, our mission was to represent Give Kids The World during the Coasting For Kids event on Sunday.

I think the biggest story at the park is the Hotel Breakers renovation. If anyone has stayed there in the last 10 years, you know that it was kind of a worn down mess. The decor was dated when the tower opened in 1999, and it had not been updated since then. The hotel was always generally clean when I stayed there, but the beds were almost impossible to sleep on and there were still 20" tube TV's there. Paying top dollar for that seemed like a scam, but if you wanted to stay on the property, it was what it was.

So the company sold a water park in San Diego to finance the massive renovation of the entire property. It was money well spent. The result is beautiful, modern but faithful to the historic building, and above all, a proper beach resort. (Disclaimer: Part of our stay was comped because we were there for GKTW.) The rooms are light and comfortable. The lobby and main entry are stunning, and the rotunda is now the beautiful gathering place it should be, with a bar and a Starbucks. When you go outside, now through the doors centered on the building, you pass the fire pits, and everything on the beach just looks tied together. If that weren't enough, they had a band playing, beach volleyball courts with actual boundaries, chairs, umbrellas... it was as if people suddenly realized there was a mile-long beach there.

All of that new stuff actually translates well into a new level of service. The check-in was fast and friendly, the bartenders at the Surf Lounge were fantastic, the housekeeper was friendly, and they turned around a maintenance request super fast (our tub was clogged and one of the window curtain handles broke off). There's a lot of pride there. I've read that it hasn't been perfect for everyone, but clearly they're working their asses off to get there. They also have some common areas to refresh, and minor details in some rooms will be updated next year. I don't know if they'll pursue it, but I think they're on their way to 4-diamond status. They can get there.

On a related note, we had takeout from Tomo, ate at Perkins and a had few drinks at Surf Lounge. Great service all around.

Rougarou is the new attraction this year, which is to say that it's Mantis with floorless trains. I don't recall what they spent for the conversion (or if they even said what it was), but I think it was a bargain regardless. Rougarou rides exactly as I expected, but since it has been probably eight years since I had been on Mantis, I forgot how intense it was. Now that they're not trimming it on the way down, it's pretty crazy. The part after the turn over the station up through the mid-course is nuts. Total win, and it looks like they have at least the potential to make that ride a people eater.

Speaking of retrofits, the restraints on Maverick are an enormous improvement, to the extent that the ride went from "interesting" and "has potential" to "OMG that ride is among the best ever." I've always liked Maverick, because it's one of the more imaginative coasters anywhere. The old restraints were a little uncomfortable in the turns, but now it's just crazy direction changes and a great dynamic start to finish. It was like a new ride almost. I was a little disappointed that the train crossing signals were not functioning in the tunnel, however.

Ride operations in general seemed a little slower in a lot of cases, and from what I've read on PointBuzz, this has something to do with the adoption of some corporate wide standards established by some consultants. Having Walt Disney World in my backyard, I have a lot of opinions about operations. It doesn't make me a qualified expert. Still, when you watch Magic Kingdom run a Vekoma roller skater with two trains, often not stacking, and giving nearly two million rides a year, you wonder why it takes upwards of five minutes to unload and load a half-full train for a similar ride at Cedar Point. The seat belts that need a key, the strict loose article policy, etc., you wonder why things are so different.

That said, it's a new era at Cedar Fair. Certainly they'll see capacity reduced, and they'll ask the hard questions. It's not impossible for front-line people to have an opinion and for it to bubble up, but it will take time.

Things also seem to be changing for the better in terms of foods. Well mostly, anyway. The pricing on some food items is insane, making Disney look like a value. Almost seven bucks now for the fries. Pricing aside, I've noticed a lot of experimentation year to year on what they serve, and while the service is hit or miss in terms of speed, it's definitely getting better. I think what I would change is having locations that serve six or more entrees in one place. If you're in a family or group, you end up having to go to a bunch of one-off locations for pizza, burgers, or whatever, which is not convenient. Again, parks like Disney or Universal certainly have the one-off places for ice cream or elephant ears, but for meals, you can stop into one place and have many options. Random: They have surprisingly good chicken tenders around the park.

Catering is clearly going in the right direction. I met their new person, who came from Kings Island, where they've been doing it right since the Paramount days. I wonder if this will have the halo effect that the hotel gives. They have a new pavilion on the beach that's just beautiful, and pretty enormous. The options they're offering are pretty diverse. And if that weren't enough, again, the way they treat guests is something of a huge turn around. We had a delicious spread in the morning for Coasting For Kids.

Let's talk about live entertainment. In 2010, it was in a pretty sad state. Live bands were cut, show casts got smaller. What a complete turn around. This year's Luminosity is the best of any year so far, with excellent creativity and vision driven largely by Cedar Fair people (from Worlds of Fun, I believe). The shows are more ambitious, the talent keeps getting better. You've got a live band on the beach, and one on a trailer rolling through the park. This dramatically changes the entire tone of the park for the better. And mark my word, as the park's reputation continues to improve in entertainment, I think they'll keep getting more of the best talent.

When I think about Cedar Point in most of my adult life, beyond the new rides, I think about it as being a consistently average guest experience. These days, I think they've become an inconsistent above average guest experience. We did have a negative experience at one point just before we left for the weekend, but there's a whole lot going right. I think the park is learning how to be excellent in a way that it never has, and that's pretty exciting.

My May writing challenge

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 31, 2015, 8:24 PM | comments: 0

I was being reflective in April, as often is the case in spring, when I recognized that I haven't been writing as much the last few years. I made it a goal in May to write at least once every day, and commit it to this blog. As May wraps up, I can say that I did it, at least averaging one a day (34 total), and in this case exceeding every monthly count going back to December 2010 (which was 39 posts).

I definitely filter a lot these days, and choose my words more carefully. More than anything though, I think it's that I just don't want to make more noise on an Internet that's already become mostly noise. Words are so cheap these days, and their overall quality isn't great. I don't need to make it worse.

The hardest thing is to try and write in a positive way. I feel pretty positive that the world is an awesome and amazing place, but as I wrote earlier in the month, it's hard not to get sucked into the vortex of shit. It definitely takes practice.

I can't tell you if I'll write as much in June, but I'd like to. It definitely helps me process life and form more thought out opinions. Hopefully that's less noisy.

The meltdowns borne of misunderstood social contracts

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 31, 2015, 8:08 PM | comments: 0

We've been lucky with Simon in that he does really well with many common social contracts, compared to many kids with ASD. The basics of being polite, for example, are something he is generally very good at. (Although he's often too rigid, insisting that every "thank you" be followed by a "you're welcome.") In terms of general social skills, he's generally got it nailed down.

The classic ASD meltdown is often caused when a kid reaches a point where he or she can no longer reconcile data and circumstances in a logical fashion, causing an unusual amount of stress and frustration, and there's little to do but let it run its course. We've seen this with Simon many times around his inflexibility in certain situations, like sitting at a particular table for lunch, or riding in only the first car of the monorail. But I'm starting to wonder if he's also melting down in disciplinary situations because he simply doesn't understand cause and effect.

I certainly could be wrong, but to this point I've generally blown off his behavior issues as the usual act of testing boundaries and being pissed when he doesn't get his way. It just seemed like the response at times was too extreme for it to be that simple. But in another unusual but fortunate circumstance, Simon is getting really good at expressing his feelings in words. So after today's meltdown at the pool, where he refused to get out of the water or put shoes on, we talked later.

His position is one he has shared before: In response to one of us asking him to do something, he says, "I was mad because you weren't listening that I didn't want to." Remember, this is a kid who can be so literal that he says "no" when you asked him if he read a book at school, because technically he didn't, his teacher did. I'm starting to put together that his meltdowns may be the result of the irreconcilable series of events that he sees. He doesn't want to do something we ask, so he says no, and he can be justifiably angry about it and tell us that, just as we've asked him to do. Reprimanding him or punishing him may seem wrong to him, because he's done what we asked in terms of expressing his feelings in words. Simply put, he doesn't understand that there's a cause and effect that starts with his rejection of our authority.

I'm not sure exactly how we teach him that the arrangement begins with him complying with our instructions. The punishment seems to be completely illogical to him, and therefore completely ineffective. He's not being a spiteful douchebag, he's expressing his frustration that he believes he's doing everything as he should. It's another one of those subtle wiring differences that we have to figure out. This one is particularly hard. It doesn't help that it's so hard for me to keep a cool head and not react emotionally. I take it personally sometimes.

People are strangely cavalier about human lives

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 31, 2015, 6:59 PM | comments: 0

Something I've noticed about our culture that really bothers me is how cavalier people can be about human lives. Let me give some examples.

During the course of most any discussion on foreign policy, a lot of people are pretty quick to go to the "bomb or kill them" option. Are people that desensitized to war and death to just blurt that out? It's not even just the countless lives we lose from our own armed forces, but the even bigger casualties where the conflict occurs. That's innocent people guilty of only being born in the wrong place.

I see it also with people who believe that some of the high-profile shootings of unarmed people by police are potentially justifiable. I can't understand that at all. People make this bizarre rationalization that because police are sometimes gunned down by criminals, it's OK to shoot unarmed suspects in the back. I can't figure that logic out at all. Human lives ending is tragic, period.

Again, I think a lot of it is just people making snap judgments from their computers with little to no stake in the situation. If it's far enough out of your bubble, it doesn't matter. Every once in awhile, you encounter something that causes you to think a little harder about it. In my case, a friend recently attended the funeral of a coworker who was murdered. We all know people who died, but cold-blooded murder is not something many of us ever really get close to. Two degrees of separation for me is close enough. It literally shakes your faith in humanity.

We are not civilized. That's the only conclusion I can arrive at. There are still people among us who believe killing each other is the right thing, using an "us or them" line of thinking. I fear it will perpetuate forever. As optimistic about the future as I generally am, this is one thing that brings me down. I hope I'm wrong.

The lottery of circumstance and the people in your life

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 30, 2015, 10:57 AM | comments: 0

I recently posted a link on Facebook to a cartoon that tried to explain how a great many factors can play into the socioeconomic outcome of a person. It used the term "privilege," which I hate because it's a loaded term used to imply unfairness and douchebaggery, but I still think it made a good point about how our circumstances and environment can have a huge impact on how we mature into adults.

I'm generalizing, I'm sure, but it seems like a lot of people who have done "OK or better" are quick to discount the "failure" of others by attributing their circumstances to a series of choices. I honestly don't understand how people can think that someone who grows up in a crappy house with absent parents, in a high-crime neighborhood with underfunded and ineffective schools can't be heavily influenced by that environment. (Or if you want to take it further, put the kid in some civil war-torn country in Africa or parts of the Middle East.) Conversely, I also don't understand how people can think that someone who grows up with supportive parents in a nice suburban neighborhood with A+ schools doesn't have a better shot at making it.

Part of the problem is that I think as adults, we fail to recall how things around us can influence our actions and view on the world. (Seriously though, do you not remember doing stupid things just because other kids did them?) I often equate this to the pattern where people suck at relationships, mostly because their first teachers were their own parents, who didn't get along. Take the same concept and apply it to, well, everything.

I suppose I could say that in my own life, I won the lottery for at least being born into a white, middle-class, Christian family. Beyond that though, there were specific people I encountered as a teenager that had a profound effect on my ability to belong and succeed. I had a boss with my city job that gave me responsibility to record public meetings on my own for cable. I had coaches that asked me to support their teams in various roles (because God knows I couldn't actually play any of the sports at the time). Even our athletic director paid me to do various jobs. I also had three teachers in particular who were not afraid to call me out for be a lazy dick, and recognized that I was capable of more.

And these environmental circumstances don't even get into issues of mental health. People who deal with depression, ASD and other challenges can't simply turn them off. They sure as hell didn't make a choice to be afflicted with things that make it hard to conduct their lives.

Look, I'm big on personal responsibility. I really am. But to be apathetic and believe that circumstances and people play no role in how someone arrived at their current place in the world is pretty naive in my eyes.

Pre-K almost done, IEP ready

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 28, 2015, 9:20 PM | comments: 0

Simon is almost done with the crazy year that has been pre-K. And by that I mean his double class load. He was in a regular pre-K class in the morning, and then an exceptional class in the afternoon for more specific attention around his developmental delays. I was worried about his ability to have that much schooling as a 4-year-old, and I think he definitely had his weeks that were exhausting, but he did it. If that weren't enough, he's academically doing really well, and socially he's doing really well. His teachers this year were completely awesome.

Today we had the meeting to agree on his IEP for next year, which is a bit of bureaucratic stuff to get through (not sure how educators can deal with that stuff). He'll continue to get some individual therapy apart from the regular class, and he'll be in regular PE with his classmates. He'll have some minor accommodations, and we'll evaluate how well he fits after the first quarter, but for the most part he has made a ton of progress since last year.

This news is all a relief to me, but Simon's progress is mostly because of his awesome mother and his teachers. I certainly have my opinions, but I put a lot of trust in everyone else to help Simon out, and that trust was well placed.

There are certainly challenges ahead, but I can already see the path that one of the professionals suggested was ideal early on his ASD diagnosis. The short version is that he will acquire coping strategies and learn to operate in a neurotypical world, possibly to the point of it not being obvious that he has any challenges at all. That will take many years, but I get it. I think we're fortunate because he's a super smart kid, and he'll figure it out.

We're pretty lucky to have Simon. For me personally, I'm amazed at how much he has taught me about myself, and the challenges that I assumed were just personality things. I'm convinced that I would have been diagnosed with ASD myself, because it explains so many things about the way I've interacted with the world. I wish I had that awareness 25 years ago.

So on to kindergarten in the shiny new school next year!

Obsessions can be weird

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

PointBuzz, formerly Guide To The Point, has been around for 17 years. In that time, the geekiest of coaster geeks have obsessed over the strangest things, like survey markers and paint sprayed on the sidewalk, all hoping for clues about what the next attraction is. I get it, it's exciting to think about what the park might build next, and our little place on the Internets has been a fun place to cover the modern era of the park that began with Millennium Force.

But even after all this time, there are some things that I don't get. There are folks who seem to watch the live web cameras for extended periods of time. I mean, stuff doesn't change much, so I'm not sure what they're expecting to see. Still others compile lists of seemingly unrelated things to "confirm" that they're going to build a roller coaster. And you know, they're always right, because of course they're going to build a roller coaster... eventually.

I admit, I poke fun at this obsession a little. Speculation has a way of festering into absurd fantasies filled with excruciating detail. To be fair, the CP obsessed folks are pretty "normal" compared to the ear-wearing, pin-trading Disney geeks. Some of those people live in a separate reality, and that's part of the reason that I've never really been able to engage in those online communities. Seriously, 20,000 Leagues has been gone for years... let it go!

We all have things that we're passionate about, for sure. It's definitely possible though to be so into something that it doesn't bring you joy, and I don't understand people like that. There are coaster nerds that would be awful to visit an amusement park with, because it doesn't seem like they even find the rides fun anymore. Don't ever be those people.

Right now, I'm obsessed with cruising, walking at least 4 miles every day and interior decorating. I expect those obsessions will change.

The ups and downs of being Cleveland

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 9:26 PM | comments: 0

I've seen an awful lot of my home town on TV lately, for good and bad reasons.

It's very sad to see people protesting in Cleveland. I mean, it has been relatively constructive, but people marching down Euclid Ave. for something that should have never been is heartbreaking. I think the only reason things aren't worse is the timing of the DOJ investigation of the police force. It's hard to believe that a bunch of people can empty guns into a car with unarmed people inside and no one is held accountable. It also sucks that the city is now a part of that overall police narrative of abuse, which includes an overtone that discredits the true professionals who bravely serve their communities.

On the other hand, we have the Cavaliers. I was so turned off by the way Lebron left Cleveland, because he gave up, and then he was an arrogant dick about his departure. I wasn't quick to forgive when he decided to come back, but a part of me hoped he realized that a legacy is hard work, and opportunity to truly lead is what makes an all-star. He still has his crybaby moments, but he's saying all the right things with his team, and it's staggering to see how hungry the Cavs are. It seems pretty clear that they'll go to the finals, but from what I've seen and read, it isn't clear that they could win.

I still give Cleveland some crap now and then, mostly because of winter, the awful Ohio government, the unwillingness of the city to find someone better than Frank Jackson to be mayor, mostly winter. But for my entire life, the city has been this place trying to come back from something. It's always on the cusp of being something more. I know a lot of people who still live there feel that it already is that thing, that "more," and that's fine. I hope that's a sentiment widely held. It's still hard to beat the other two metros I've most recently lived in, even if I can't call either one my home town.

Work pride

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 8:31 PM | comments: 0

I'm really happy to see Diana happy in her return to the workforce after five years. I think her decision to be a stay-at-home mom in Simon's early years was totally the right decision, and since we could afford it, there weren't many downsides to doing so. I think it's awesome that she got back into theater as well, even if it's the other side of the house. She's had a lot of success very quickly, and has been recognized for it.

In an ideal world, we all take pride in what we do. It's also important to derive some pride from your work. It's a subtle but important reversal. For better or worse, we do place some value on our work in the bigger context of our lives. That's probably not an entirely bad thing (it certainly was the first time I got laid-off back in 2001, especially for my self-esteem). I think it feels good when you can think, "I do this, I'm really f'ing good at it, and other people acknowledge that." You shouldn't be arrogant about it, but I think it's OK to feel that to an extent.

I guess there's no getting around it, that we'll always try to find the balance between working to live and living to work. The two are interconnected. For me, accepting this is hard, because I spent a lot of time in the work equivalent of bad relationships... failing companies, ethically questionable companies and outright incompetent companies. I've had two good years now of non-suck (changing jobs only because the first was a finite contract gig). It's a weird place to be proud of your work and the company you work for, but I sure hope it lasts.