Play time

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 25, 2015, 3:53 PM | comments: 0

I'll admit it: I haven't enjoyed parenting much lately. I think being a parent is hard enough under typical circumstances, but add in the challenges that come with ASD, and it can be completely maddening. Simon has been very inflexible about everything lately, over things that most kids would consider unimportant, and it's hard to keep a rational head and not react emotionally.

But there have been a couple of instances in the last few days where I've seen him quietly playing with toys in much the same way that I did as a young child. He lets himself just be lost in his imagination and play. He creates scenarios in his head, and also observes the mechanical nature of certain toys (in a somewhat obsessive way, but again, I understand him completely). There's a beautiful simplicity in seeing him play like this. It wasn't that long ago that he couldn't use the bathroom on his own. The challenges disappear, if only temporarily, when I see him like this.

Don't get me wrong, I love that he's also taking to certain academics in surprising ways. His online coursework through school (yes, that's actually a thing, and in kindergarten) is something he is totally into, voluntarily, and we're not even half-way through the year and already he's at the first grade level. That's amazing. Ironically, the same challenges that come with ASD may also give him this edge.

Still, it's that play time that strikes me as so important. Intrinsic motivation is the only kind that matters to kids, and they need the time to explore the things that interest them the most. I'm not a developmental expert, but I do understand the foundation that is laid by having some amount of freedom learn what they want to learn. It runs so contrary to the odd private school mentality that pushes for over-achievement at an age where it's arguably developmentally in appropriate to be pushing kids. No recess or phys ed? That can't be constructive.

As a parent, one that feels emotionally drained entirely too often, seeing that play time in action is such a relief. It makes me smile. Having an only child may not be entirely ideal, but when he does have his alone time, I love seeing how engaged he can be. It's that moment where you can think, "Yeah, we made that." They're wonderful moments.

With independence, you may miss the reliance

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 20, 2015, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

It's appropriate that Simon's elementary school is named Independence, because it very much describes the thing that he is gaining, little bits at a time. It's so weird to think about the day we brought him home from the hospital, this tiny little human who couldn't do anything for himself. Tack on memories of frustration where he would cry for hours for reasons we couldn't completely understand (one instance in a hotel, in particular, stands out when he was about six months).

In the last few weeks he has taken an interest in showering by himself. To this point, we've mostly helped him in the bath tub, in large part because one of his "challenges" has been allowing water to pour on his head. It still freaks him out to an extent. But now he wants to shower himself, and he's very proud of himself when he is able to hold his head under the water long enough to rinse the shampoo out of his hair, which he (mostly) washed himself. It won't be long before we simply aren't involved in this process at all.

And it's weird to see that push-pull sentiment in action. Even now, there are times where he'll get upset if we won't hang out in his room while he gets dressed. He can do it himself, and insists, actually, but he wants us to be around.

As the parent, I find myself in the same position. I want him to do as much as I can by himself. It's not really that I have better things to do, but some days I don't want to do the mundane things I have to do for myself, let alone someone else. Still, as this transition continues, it means he needs me less and less. I can't help but feel a little sad about that.

This parenting experience is a part of a broader set of emotions that clearly come with this particular age. At this point in life, I've had a lot of experiences. I'm very aware, every day, of the extraordinary volume of experience, good and bad. It's strange to think about how happy the moment can be, thankful for every one, and simultaneously be stuck on the nostalgia of the better moments of the past. I'm attending a conference at one of my favorite vacation spots this week, which is now local, and it exemplifies this phenomenon in every way. That will have to be another blog post...

Peaceful inactivity

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 14, 2015, 7:42 PM | comments: 0

We hit our weather sweet spot today. It topped out just below 80, and we had a nice breeze all day. It feels good to open up all of the windows and turn off the air conditioning. This afternoon, I stole a few moments to crash out on the patio and doze off, just thinking about... whatever.

I think many would argue that this is an example of being lazy, but I believe it's just the opposite. I don't think people just switch off to be with their thoughts enough. I've known a lot of people who seem so frightened by the idea that they pack every minute of their lives with something to do.

I used to spend more time doing this when I was a kid, and when I was in college. Obviously, we don't have as many obligations in those stages of our lives. I try to find time, but it seems like there's always something to do, even if it is a leisure activity. I'm not sure if I would call it mediation, but to simply resign yourself to a peaceful place, with no obligation, no screens, no agenda... there's something freeing about that.

Try it. Force yourself to think about the moment, and your place in it. You'll come out feeling better even in times of chaos and strife.

My Android "Marshmallow" review

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 8, 2015, 8:44 AM | comments: 0

I jumped on the smartphone train when it really became a legitimate thing, with the first iPhone in 2007. I followed up with the iPhone 3GS. I switched to Windows Phone in late 2010 in part because the phones were free, since I worked at Microsoft. I would end up sticking with that operating system, through its different versions, for five years over two phones. The Nokia Lumia 920 was a great phone that I used for three years, and the camera ability in particular was fantastic. The OS evolved a bit slowly in terms of features we all take for granted, but I was able to overlook that because the design tenants around continuous flow of information (no paging or breaks, live tiles, panoramas, etc.) and a far more centralized means for managing the way apps interact with the phone.

During that time, I still kept in touch with iOS, obviously, because we've had iPads. It has added a lot of incremental minor things, but the thing that disappoints is that they haven't deviated from the "dumb grid" app launcher design. If there is anything I've admired about good software design, it's the ability to get to productivity sooner. iOS doesn't do that beyond active notifications, which I liken to constant distraction.

Android didn't really start to take off until 2010, and the really hot hardware probably didn't come until a few years after that. Still, I messed with it now and then as part of various jobs, and it mostly seemed like a poor attempt at a "me too" to iOS. Couple that with fragmentation among manufacturers and carriers (because the OS is open source, and it can be customized as desired), dreadful energy management and some minor amount of compatibility, and I just wasn't interested.

Google has been putting out its own devices, commissioned to various manufacturers, since the start, and they at least solve the fragmentation problem. And with this year's Nexus 5X and 6P, they finally have really outstanding cameras, too. The new OS version, "Marshmallow," makes great strides in energy management. In other words, the 5X was a pretty solid choice. At more than $200 less than an iPhone for similar hardware, it seemed like a no-brainer for a guy with a 3-year-old phone and fear that Windows Phone will continue to whither. I won't get into the phone itself, as it has been well-reviewed. It's very nice, very thin, solid battery life, crazy fast charging, and the camera is strikingly good.

The TL;DR version of this is that in terms of the OS, I feel like I'm trading a better app ecosystem for a less refined operating system. It's probably a good trade, but if Redmond could get some serious app parity (or start running Android apps), I'd go back.

While I'm critical of the iOS grid-o-useless-icons, Android added widgets fairly early in its history. These are essentially little pieces of UI that you can embed within the icon grids. They do the kinds of things you would expect, like display calendar data or weather. They kind of work, but there are some issues that make them feel more tacked on as an afterthought. The OS really looks at them and app icons as two different things, and they appear disjointed, without standard sizes. Many don't have obvious functionality, like message or notification counts (like the red badges in iOS, or whatever the developer wants in Windows live tiles). That, and the paged groups of icons are an inferior paradigm compared to inertial scrolling on Windows that doesn't have those breaks. I suppose since the icons don't tell you anything, maybe that matters less.

The overall settings around the OS are fairly easy to find, fortunately, and the instrumentation in particular has come a very long way since the last time I played with Android. I remember friends complaining about how a rogue app could zap the battery, and they wouldn't know which one. The battery app now makes that easy to figure out. The data app is also great for diagnosing obscene data consumption, and it even lets you set the data collection period to match your billing period. Other than Google services obnoxiously uploading stuff when not on WiFi (I was able to restrict it), I've not had any real data or battery issues. I did notice that it's not great about limiting what I call "data banging," which is what happens when you have weak connectivity and everything is desperately trying to phone home, but that issue isn't unique to this platform, and it's definitely not good for battery life.

My biggest frustration is that the OS lacks a lot of native features that are there on other platforms. It doesn't do visual voicemail. It doesn't read my texts when I'm on Bluetooth. There are apps in some cases to handle this (AT&T makes the voicemail, and it looks like Cortana will handle the text reading), but it feels like it should just be there.

Then there are other weird things, like a total lack of centralized notification management. You can centrally decide which apps can't notify or can break through quiet hours, but deciding how they appear (sounds, vibration, visual) is left entirely to each app, and some don't let you get that specific at all.

Another native thing... the camera app takes entirely too long to start. I already hate the compromise of not having a hardware camera button that lets you half-press to focus, but having the app take so long to appear, often as much as four seconds, isn't cool. Then it saves more than one picture sometimes. I thought this was only when you had the HDR setting on, but it happens regardless, but only on the first shot.

Putting the quirks of the operating system aside for a moment, the big win is of course that the app ecosystem is much better than what I had for Windows. Mind you, I'm not a big app user, and I never have been. Still, there are two that I really like having: Amazon Music and the Walt Disney World app. The few others I use also exist on Windows, but they're far less robust, specifically Facebook. While I'm not a heavy user beyond curiosity, Twitter and Instagram are better too. The mail client is actually superior here, because as it's intended to use Gmail, it has proper buttons for archiving and for deleting. While I'm not crazy about the calendar app, it does at least allow you to see all shared calendars because, again, it's made by Google. Oh, it's nice to use the official Tesla app instead of the unofficial Windows port as well.

One nice thing that Microsoft has done is get its software all over Android. That means that I was able to install OneDrive and not miss a beat as far as backing up photos to where they already were. Heck, it will even allow you to do it over cellular, which wasn't possible on Windows. That's nice since it would seem to me that immediate backup is exactly what you want when shooting memories, not waiting until you're back home on WiFi (or lose your phone in the interim). The OneNote app is every bit as simple and good as it is on other platforms, so we're able to share our grocery list and other notes between us. Word, PowerPoint and Excel are there too. Also in beta is Cortana, which honestly has been one of my favorite things about Windows Phone. It solves the text reading problem allegedly, though I haven't had a chance to receive a text in the car yet since installing it. (I turned off the Google Now stuff, because after two weeks, the only thing it would tell me is the commute time home... as soon as I got to work.)

Chrome really shines as a browser. It's so fast, especially compared to Safari on iThings, and also to MSFT Edge (which admittedly is on my 3-year-old previous phone). Stuff renders as expected, and Javascript performance is surprisingly good.

At the end of the day, I feel like I've had to trade a really excellent, well thought out core experience for better apps. While Microsoft is making it easier to port iOS and Android apps to Windows, it doesn't mean that developers will do it. On the other hand, if they actually ship the "Astoria" feature that makes Android apps run on Windows phones, that would be killer. I'd go back in a heartbeat. For now, it's kind of a limbo where I'm happy enough with the Nexus 5X despite its flaws. The trade-off will be something to keep thinking about.

Refocus at home

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 6, 2015, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

Sticking with that theme of retrospective and change in the fall, I've been feeling a bit that I might be missing out on something that's right in front of me. Specifically, I need to remind myself that Diana and Simon are right there, and they're an important part of my life. Probably the most important. It's not that I neglect them, but certain realities make me think that I need to reprioritize a bit.

Simon is 5, and he's in kindergarten. An obvious observation, perhaps, but I can't help but think about how fast he seems to have gotten to this point. After spending time with Catherine and her charming little Will last weekend, just under a year old, it's not hard to think back about how little Simon was a short time ago. OK, so he was never really "little," but he was certainly a baby. Now he's this little person with opinions and things to laugh about. It seems sudden, even if it's not. It doesn't help that Facebook reminds me every day how little he was a short time ago.

Diana is heads down into some fantastic quilting work and, more and more, well networked in social media. That's pretty cool to see. She's also back in the workforce, part-time, and very engaged into the question about what comes next. And with ever slight improvements in Simon's independence, it's getting a little easier in certain ways to engage more in couplehood, which is tough when you've got a child with some amount of special needs.

Meanwhile, I think I've been a little too in my head to really engage with them the way that I think I should. Some of it is work, I'm sure, as I just ended a project that really took a lot out of me mentally (though as far as I'm concerned, I nailed it). I feel like I'm coming out of a little bit of a fog in that sense. My interests in everything else are starting to light back up, and I want to make it more of a point to hang out with family and friends.

It's funny that I've understood the importance of balancing your life for the better part of two decades, and yet it's still hard. I suppose self-awareness still goes a long way.

Taking back the fall

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 6:59 PM | comments: 1

When I look at this time of year in a long-term historical context, there is a lot to be said about the awesomeness of fall. In high school it was the girls volleyball season, in college it was, well, going back to school after summer and reuniting with friends, I got married the first time in the fall, had my first post-split romance in the fall, countless fantastic Friday nights and closing weekends at Cedar Point... all coupled with cooler temperatures and a lot of miscellaneous good times.

But in 2011 we moved back to Cleveland in the fall, and that decision almost immediately felt wrong. I've written about it countless times, about how the financial implications of it certainly worked out, but it led to a little over a year of regret. At the very least, it made me finally understand that nothing has to be permanent, and that's why I live where I do now.

For some reason, I have a hard time letting go of that regret, even four years later. I'm not sure why. It was hardly the most tragic or sad time in my life. At the time I really felt that I was mastering my own destiny. Socially and professionally, it turned out to be cosmically stupid, and that still stings.

Even in the warmer climate, for some reason I still associate the season with that decision. It left me in a very strange place in the long run, where I absolutely love my life and where I live, and simultaneously wish we never left Seattle and the wonderful people and career potential it held. The thing that I'm slowly reconciling is that it's OK to view two different situations as your ideal, not with one better than the other, just different. It's kind of like the argument that I make about parenthood. It isn't that it changes you, per se, it just makes you this other thing in addition to what you were before.

We've had three fall seasons now in Orange County, two of them in our house. We were still too preoccupied with our move in the first one to think much about it, and the second was similar, only we were settling in and getting to know our neighbors. This one was a little too warm, and we had the special experience of cruising for Halloween. There is no routine or tradition in our fall at the moment, but I want to figure out a way to "take it back" and not make it about the poor decision before the course correction.

That's something we've already managed to do with the holiday season. Diana is a Christmas nut, and we have our yearly movie viewing, the Lego train, and the beautiful events and attractions now at WDW. Thanksgiving has annually involved my in-laws. Last year we had a bunch of the neighborhood families over for New Year's Eve, with the wonderful fireworks at Magic Kingdom, and I hope we can do that again this year. I want to extend that season of memory making into October and November as well.

Cruise report: Disney Dream, Halloween Weekend, 2015

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 3, 2015, 10:18 PM | comments: 0

I'll make this quick, because from the outside, I'm sure these seem repetitive as this was our seventh sailing. The important points this time around include the fact that we joined my friend Catherine and her lovely family, and also that it was Halloween. Oh, and also, this was just the second sailing for the ship since its drydock enhancements.

I've said this before, but it's definitely more fun to cruise with other people you know. Part of it is that you of course have the company of good people, but for us they also remind us of how awesome the experience is when some of it feels somewhat routine.

The Halloween theme around the ship was super fun. They had a tree in the lobby atrium that sprouted jack-o-lanterns after the first night. They had trick-or-treating, characters in costume and various themed events throughout the weekend. It wasn't quite as all-out as their Christmas effort last year, but still a fantastic time. My only criticism was that they had very loud club-thumping music in the atrium during the treat rounds, which Simon could not handle.

On a related note, this was the first time since our first cruise that we went to see all three of the stage shows. We tend to skip Villains Tonight, but it was pretty solid. Believe is still their best show, and this time in particular it was pretty amazing. I was able to see Bridge of Spies in the movie theater, and we ended up seeing Inside Out again, too.

We again struggled with Simon a bit in terms of his separation anxiety, and couldn't really get him to hang out in the Oceaneer's Club. He did decide to go when we explained there was some cupcake decorating, and he spent a good 20 minutes in there (with Diana waiting outside, just in case). Then there was some kind of misunderstanding, where he apparently thought he wouldn't get a cupcake, and that led to tears. When we got him calmed down enough back in our room to decipher what may have happened, he was able to go back, and ended up spending a bit more time there. It's a struggle, but it's progress.

Our beach day had Simon being quite the fish again, which is fantastic. You get a lifejacket on that kid and he's reasonably confident to go out to the platform. Unfortunately, the sunscreen we were using must have been old and completely ineffective, because the poor kid got quite the burn on his arms. He was tired and spent by noon, and he crashed for a 90-minute nap back in the room. I think it was the reason he also barfed, for seemingly no other reason, after dinner. It's not a cruise without him spewing.

The improvements to the ship were often subtle, but others were obvious. The official blog has the highlights, but it was the little things for me that shows they were paying attention. There were new shade areas in several places on deck, including a new family wading pool in front of the forward funnel on deck 11. They even covered much of the stairs for the Aquaduck queue, and added more glass wind repelling walls on deck. The mini-golf course was refurbished, too. You could find new carpet and paint all over the place. I think they may have been replaced the railings outside of our room. The concierge area has a new hot tub (can't believe they didn't have that already) and some new shaded areas. It looks like much of the hull got fresh paint, too. It's such a beautiful ship.

Overall, another successful weekend. We still didn't get to do everything we would have liked, but I'll take that when it means not having to plan stuff or think too much.

I've been shaving wrong for at least two decades

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 25, 2015, 10:33 PM | comments: 0

I recently had the revelation that I had been buying the same razor blades for nearly two decades. I never really thought anything of it. They sent me the handle and a cartridge for free in the mail, and I just kept buying refills. For 20 years. Mach 3 Turbo. At some point I started getting them by the case from the likes of Costco, at great expense, but I never really spent time thinking about it. Before that, I used cheap disposables.

Then, a few years ago, Dollar Shave Club started to become a thing, but I still didn't think much about it. Then Harry's started being a sponsor on This Week in Tech, and on one of my long Tampa round-trips listening to it, I wondered why I haven't ever changed my shaving routine. Two things came to mind: That I definitely don't change the razors often enough, resulting in facial carnage, and was the Mach 3 Turbo any good in the first place?

So what the hell, I decided to try Harry's, and I promised myself to figure out how many shaves I could get before my face got irritated. The first thing I noticed was that it was a much, much closer shave. Then I noticed how much less my skin ended up itchy or red. I'm kid of pissed that I've been doing it wrong for literally half of my life.

The verdict is that I can get about three or four shaves, plus one "manscaping" session, out of each blade. I only shave every other day. That's more or less one cartridge per week, and at a little under two bucks, I don't know why I didn't start doing it sooner.

First impressions: Nexus 5X

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 25, 2015, 8:25 PM | comments: 0

After three years with my Lumia 920, I've been pretty stubborn about replacing my phone. As I've said a hundred times before, my phone use may be somewhat atypical, in that I use it mostly for photos, checking email, and posting complaints to social media. A 3-year-old phone can do that pretty well (though the 920 is and was pretty solid for photos). When Microsoft announced the 950 was finally being released, I finally saw my upgrade path.

Android screenshotNow I'm not sure.

I bought Google's Nexus 5X, which is actually an LG phone, mostly because I wanted something I could experiment with in terms of app development. I haven't played much with Android in two years, but what really bothered me about it was the OS fragmentation caused by the carriers and manufacturers, and their inability to update the OS quickly (this was especially true in the last year as several vulnerabilities came to light). Google's phones don't have that issue, because they're the "pure" version of the OS, and they control it, it's first to get updates. The phones sell unlocked and work on most any carrier, so no contracts or lock-in, just put your SIM card in and go. At $429 up front (for the 32 gig version... the 16 is $379 but that's too small), that's fantastic hardware $120 less than an iPhone that has half the storage. You don't get the shiny aluminum, but the 5X is a really solid feeling, thin phone. I got the white one, and I love the feel of it.

Android is still a little clunky in places (the home screen/launcher needs a lot of work), but in terms of the ability to jump around between things and be efficient, it's as good as iOS and Windows, and maybe slightly better even. The new version seems to be pretty solid about not letting things get too nuts in the background, and it has excellent instrumentation to show what's using energy. I loaded a bunch of crap on there and nothing was zapping the battery.

Hardware is nice too. Not only is it a very solid phone, but the camera seems pretty good so far, and I'm shocked at how much putting the fingerprint reader on the back makes sense. The screen resolution is stupid high, and I wonder if the manufacturers aren't engaging in overkill at this point that just contributes to energy consumption for all those pixels. USB-C is long overdue, and that you can throw 3 amps at it to charge in a hour is fantastic. Unfortunately, new chargers need to put out that energy, because "old" USB does not. Also disappointed it doesn't do inductive charging.

I'm rethinking about whether or not I'll even bother with the Lumia 950 at this point. I never really thought about it, but with the expectations around my typical use cases, this phone really does what I need. And now that I have apps like Chargepoint and My Disney Experience (and I got Chase back, which was dropped for Windows), I'm not sure if I want to go back to not having those.

Stay tuned...

Yeah, I ordered an Android phone

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 6:54 PM | comments: 0

It's true. After three years with my trusty Nokia Lumia 920, a Windows Phone, I've ordered a Nexus 5x. With Android account for over 80% of worldwide sales, and 50-something% of users in the wild using it, I feel like I need to get a better look at it. The curiosity is partly professional (as in I want to make something with the Xamarin subscription I was comped), and partly just the desire to experiment a bit.

I'm not abandoning Windows, exactly... I fully intend to buy a Lumia 950 next month. The app gap doesn't bother me because I'm not a big app guy beyond weather and Facebook. And I love me some live tiles. Plus the camera on the 950 will presumably be excellent. I imagine I'll switch off now and then. We'll see.

The Nexus 5x got my attention because it's priced really well for an unlocked phone, it has a pretty good camera (not something 90% of the Android field is known for), and most importantly, it's the latest Android version straight from Google, free of crapware from carriers and manufacturers. It will always be first to be updated.

It should be an interesting experiment. The reviews have mostly been favorable.

Financial responsibility vs. victimhood

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 20, 2015, 11:32 PM | comments: 0

I suspect one of the reasons I'm so dissatisfied with politics these days is because I think both sides are completely full of crap. On one hand, you've got the Republicans who think you can balance the budget or reduce debt by reducing the taxes of the people who can afford it the most. On the other hand, you've got the Democrats who insist that everyone is against you in a loaded system where you are the victim and they can save you. (Disclaimer: The system does suck to an extent, but the victimhood pisses me off.)

I got to thinking about this in one of the many discussions we've had on CoasterBuzz about wages of theme park employees and the rising prices of tickets. I often wonder if my position, which doesn't fit conveniently into either of the traditional camps, is out of touch because I do OK in my profession. I wasn't born this way, and I have worked my ass off to get to where I am, so I know what it means to not make a lot of money. After ditching radio, my first "real" job paid about $27k. Stephanie worked retail in grad school, so we were not bankrolling big money, but we made it work. And yes, we even traveled around to visit theme parks. I'm not sure I'm out of touch when I remember so vividly where I came from.

Going back to that theme park vacation context, I think everyone gets to make choices. Culturally, we seem to have settled on the idea that it's OK to use credit excessively, buy more house and car than we can afford (largely to exhibit some bullshit status), and not have any long-term financial strategy. I lived by credit abuse when I was younger, so I'm guilty of at least one of those. But even on my crappy little local government salary, I still prioritized so I could visit those theme parks. It meant eating out less, driving inexpensive and practical cars, and living in a relatively modest apartment. Those were our choices. As time went on, I made more choices to pursue a more lucrative career. It didn't always make me happy, but I still made deliberate choices.

I am sensitive to the socioeconomic factors that keep people down. It's never as simple as, "You can make it happen just because." For example, it's pretty strange to me that people can write off a group of folks living in poverty who deal with racial discrimination and substandard education as just being "bad people." Hope doesn't exactly flow freely for people born into a situation where they can't see a positive outcome. What I am insensitive to is the people who do not have extraneous circumstances feeling that they're victims of something. I don't know what causes that beyond an expectation that you are owed something for nothing.

It sounds a little preachy, I know, and probably like I'm boasting to an extent. That is not at all my intent. I try to be very humble about where I came from and try to be kind to people who are struggling. At the end of the day though, we have to make choices. We all need help now and then, but bettering our situation begins with self-awareness.

The funny thing about money is that I like having it, I don't mind earning it, I try to give it freely where I think it will make a difference, but the whole "root of all evil" thing has some truth to it. The people who have it can exert influence to keep more of it. The people who don't have it react, sometimes violently, in ways that further split a cultural divide. I don't have a better idea... it's just an observation.

Living with a kid with autism

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 19, 2015, 8:41 PM | comments: 0

Diana spotted a hilarious list of memes around being an "autism parent." It may sound almost mean, but sometimes all you can really do is laugh about this stuff. What choice do you have?

I've said it before, but we're lucky that Simon isn't much worse off. His intelligence seems extraordinary, as we see him understanding mechanical things and reading at least a year beyond his age. And yet, he struggles with so many things that you would think were obvious, like buttoning his pants.

The jokes above kind of give me comfort, because it's good to feel like you aren't alone in what you experience. Because I have to clench my teeth whenever someone suggests "he seems normal." People never see when you have to battle over eating a french fry that has a slightly browned end, or getting his pants turned outside-in. When we struggle to engage in imaginative play over simply lining things up.

I love that little boy, but some days, I just wish it could be a little easier to get through the basics.

ASP.NET 5/MVC 6/.NET Core is going to be a tough adjustment for some

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 17, 2015, 9:48 AM | comments: 0

Wow, time flies when work is keeping you extra busy. I haven't done a lot of work on POP Forums in a few months. Fortunately, there's something new to talk about.

.NET and ASP.NET (and MVC, obviously) are undergoing a pretty massive overhaul, all before your eyes as a series of open source projects. It's pretty crazy to see, and it's awesome. When I started to see MVC as a much better way to build web apps in 2009, it was still kind of stuck on top of ASP.NET, which was primarily engineered to support WebForms. In retrospect, WebForms was something of an ugly abstraction to make the web work like VB6. The more we started using Javascript to do stuff, the more obvious that became. I would suggest that ASP.NET 5 is very much a bold departure from that old model.

As ASP.NET 5 is now in its final beta (8!) before the first RC, I figured now would be a good time to be a bit more serious about understanding it. As excited as I am about it, it's starting to feel clear to me that it's not something that you're going to be that anxious to port existing apps to. It's very different, and it breaks a lot of things. Naturally, my first attempt at understanding it is to port the forum app, because nothing says real life like, uh, a real app. Doing greenfield work is going to go a lot more smoothly, that's for sure.

In any case, after spending a few evenings with it here and there, here are some of my initial impressions:

  • Adopting the OWIN pipeline model makes a lot of sense, and I don't think anyone is really going to miss the event model of the previous ASP.NET. HttpHandlers were already made largely obsolete by MVC, and middleware takes the place of HttpModules.
  • System.Web is gone, but the things that it did can be found in a number of other places. You just have to look around. Sometimes, a lot.
  • With FormsAuthentication going away (as best as I can tell) in favor of claims-based auth, all of the samples you find depend on Identity. This annoys me to no end. Remember the Membership API? It was awful. Identity is better, but it still tries to be everything to everyone, and in the end, I'm not generally interested in using it, or writing my own replacement for the EF provider. I'd like code samples and docs that cut through the magic of the middleware and let me do what I want with the claims (especially for the 3rd party auth).
  • You will encounter strangely broken things. For example, data readers apparently now make the Close() method private. It will get called when you Dispose().
  • Did you use HttpRuntime.Cache back in the day? Me too. It's the reason why the forum is so fast. Unfortunately, you can't do that in multi-node web apps, but if you want to, there is an in-memory cache package, as well as one for Redis. That's awesome.
  • Dependency injection is built in, and that's cool and all, but obviously I have no idea how good it is. I'm a big fan of StructureMap, but for now I'm using the built-in containers, which you have to manually configure. That's why I love SM... the convention-based config.
  • It sure seems like you can package an entire app or area as a NuGet package. I have no idea how, but it's something I'm already thinking about.
  • Old school resx files for resources work, but it's apparently not the way going forward. I haven't read up on it, but hope it's not a huge change.
  • The new configuration scheme is so much better than the old, and infinitely more flexible. Sure, you should still be building strongly typed wrappers around your configuration, but using JSON over XML is very nice.
  • ViewComponents and tag helpers are a great evolution when it comes to chunking out pieces of UI. Remember how you would typically have to get everything in your model (or ViewBag, puke) that you might want to display? VC's get around that. They're especially excellent for layout pages, and they come with all of the DI magic.
  • Speaking of which, you can inject services right into a view now. I know, academically you probably think that's a bad idea, but I've always had a great use case: formatting dates/times based on the user's time zone. I've never liked formatting somewhere upstream and sending it down as part of the view model. Now I don't have to.

There's a lot to learn, but I'm pretty enthusiastic about where we're headed. I've got a ton of refactoring in front of me for the forum app, but I suspect the new frameworks will help me a great deal in making the app easier to deploy and integrate.

A car that gets better and adds features over time

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 16, 2015, 8:07 PM | comments: 0

One of the really crazy things about the Tesla Model S is that it's always improving. The company pushes software updates to the cars on a fairly regular basis. This week, they're pushing out the v7 software, which adds the "autopilot" features if you paid for those and have the hardware (it started shipping with cars late last year). I didn't spend the extra $2,500, and don't intend to do the $3,000 to buy it after the fact, but it includes auto steering, adaptive cruise control and parallel parking. Still, it has quite a few changes that do apply, and they're free. The biggest change is arguably the configuration of the dash, but I'll get to that. Here's what I'm into:

  • Faster and more efficient climate control. Not sure how this is achieved, but living in Florida, I noticed it gets cool much faster.
  • Brake hold. If you're stopped, press the brake a little harder and it will hold even if you pull your foot off. This is particularly useful when stopped at hills, so you don't roll back.
  • Smoother acceleration and braking at low speeds. This one is super noticeable. It already felt very precise, but now even more so. That precision is unexpected for something that can launch you to 60 mph in a few seconds.
  • Collision avoidance to cars in your blind spot. While graphically it shows them now on the dash, the car will actually steer you away from a car if you're changing lanes and there's a car there.

Keep in mind that while I didn't pay for autopilot, the hardware does a bunch of other stuff, too. The front radar will hit the brakes before you can to reduce the impact of a frontal collision. The proximity sensors around the car measure the distance to stuff, which is particularly useful when parking, and it shows the distance on the dash. A camera behind the windshield finds the lines on the roads, which is used in the lane departure warnings (and for autopilot). It also reads the speed limit signs and reminds you when you're speeding.

There is some amount of "controversy" among owners about the dash changes. Some people would have liked to have opted out of the changes. I admit, it's a pretty weird thing that they can just change the way it looks. I think it's more functional, but it's not as pretty. I liked the gradients. Still, what the new interface provides is a better way to see the blind spot warnings, as they used to just draw a quarter circle around the speed gauge that you couldn't see with your peripheral vision. Here are the before and after shots, including the parked and driving screens...




posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 15, 2015, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I'd like to think that I'm a fairly open-minded guy when it comes to sexuality. I honestly don't care what people are into or who they are. I've never took issue with homosexuality. If people choose polygamy, or engage in polyamory, I'm OK with that too. As a coach, boyfriend, husband, etc., I've always been very "girl power." I don't think that feminism necessarily means being devoid of sexuality or that there isn't any power in it when viewed in the context of being a cultural minority. The existence of porn doesn't bother me either.

What is it then about "breastaurants" that bothers me? You know what I mean... places you go to eat where the servers are all women, generally above average attractive or otherwise lacking coverage of their attractive parts. It's not a sense of discomfort, more of a feeling like we as human beings are beyond this. The feeling seems to conflict with my above statements about how I'm generally OK with all of the above.

Mind you, there are different levels to this. You have Hooters, which has shitty food and servers in tight tops and little shorts. This week I was introduced to Wing House, which apparently is a franchised thing, and that involves tank tops and butts hanging out of even smaller shorts, with some kind of hosiery presumably because, well, they do serve food. More mediocre food, though not outright shitty like Hooters. Then you have something a little more classy like Brick House, which has really good food, and more covered but strikingly attractive women who were not hired strictly for their ability to carry food.

Maybe it's the damage of my youth, where I didn't think attractive girls would talk to me (largely because, as I eventually figured out, I didn't talk to them). Perhaps it's me who finds it insulting that the secret to solid tips and acceptable service is flirting with me. It doesn't even seem like blatant objectification to me, it just feels... silly. Perhaps it just isn't my thing, as I'm more interested in dramatic hair color, unique but cute clothes and some degree of tattoos and piercings. Throwbacks to 70's Playboy models, not so much.

I don't know how I'm going to earn my dirty old man card with this view.

Charging infrastructure for electric cars doesn't matter (much)

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 11, 2015, 10:12 PM | comments: 0

It's been a pretty big year for EV's in the press. They're getting a lot of attention, in part because of the headlines that Tesla grabs regularly, and partly because the Germans continue to take it seriously, and GM is in the game in a big way too. What I see along with all of that press, in the comments online, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to own an EV.

"Is the charging infrastructure good enough?"

Yes... it is. Why? Because everyone who has a garage already has the most important charging station. You start every day with a "full tank," without fail. For us, that means the Model S can go 200+ miles, and the Leaf can do close to 100. In fact, not having to ever go to a gas station is one of the best things about having an EV.

The point is this: The public charging infrastructure is (almost) irrelevant. You almost never need to use it.

Of course, the standard response to this is the anecdotes and edge cases that people have. It's not that they aren't legitimate, it's that they aren't average. The feds (USDOT) say that 92% of Americans drive less than 35 miles each way to work. 73% are under 20 miles. Both of our cars have most of Americans covered for work driving.

DC fast charging is becoming more and more available for cars that can use it, but Tesla has the specific advantage of its Supercharger network. These are located typically around 150 miles or less from one to another, and you can put on 150 miles of range in about 20 minutes (for "free," which is to say that it's subsidized by the price of the car). So to that end, we can drive the Model S pretty much up and down the east coast, or even to California, without issue. Heck, we can drive it to Key West. I routinely do round trips from Orlando to Tampa on one charge (but there's a convenient supercharger near I-4 and I-75, if I needed it).

Yes, there are minor or infrequent limitations to driving an EV, but for most people it's not an issue, most of the time. If it is, you can always rent a car to cover your fringe case. Otherwise, the technology is evolving faster and faster, and your day will come. I commuted with the Leaf for a full year, without issue, 25 miles each way, at a cost of 3 cents per mile. Even at $2/gallon, your 35 mpg car is going to cost almost twice as much at 5.7 cents per mile. At $3/gallon, 8.5 cents. And if you drive something that gets 20 mpg, even at $2, you're still paying a dime per mile.

All of the reasons you can't drive electric are tired. That, and I can promise you electric is more fun.

Ugh, stress

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 9, 2015, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

I'm not gonna lie. I've been enduring a lot of stress the last few weeks. It has been a mix of work, Simon (his after-school behavior has been challenging) and some short-term health issues with Diana. Any of these individually I could probably roll with, but aggregated they have aggravated me.

I haven't felt this way in probably a few years. Even the process of moving the last time did not particularly stress me out. If there's a silver lining, it's that I don't usually get emotionally involved in things I don't care about, so to get that connected with work, wife and child, is an indication that I'm in the right spot. It's true that if you don't feel, life is not nearly as rich.

I was chatting the other day with a friend about therapy, and it occurs to me that I haven't seen a therapist in almost a decade. And mind you, that's probably good, because it means I've been effectively managing stress. For as much as I loathe engaging in physical health issues when they arise, mental health is something I'm not shy about addressing. I wonder if I need to revisit that or if the stress is just something that will diminish soon.

Regardless, take care of your heart and your mind, folks. It's important.

Microsoft's latest product announcements

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 7, 2015, 1:10 PM | comments: 0

I'll never forget the time that Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone. Eight years later, it's crazy to think about how that product transformed the world. The announcement also set a blueprint for how you launch a technology product, and it's one that Apple has used ever since. A few years ago, Microsoft started using that blueprint as well, but it always felt cheap, insincere, and a caricature of what Apple did. Heck, Apple's own announcements these days feel like a cheap caricature of what Apple did.

Yesterday, Microsoft squeezed a bunch of stuff into a 2-hour presentation, and while the impact of the products is something of a question mark, they definitely hit a stride with the presentation, for the first time ever. They had the right people on stage, and I was excited for them. Perhaps that's the nostalgia for me having worked there, but I want them to succeed.

As for the products, they did another HoloLens demo, and this one was pretty staggering, because they started wrapping augmented reality around the player, with a glove and a shield during a game demo, then had robots busting through walls that it calculated the placement for in real time. It was pretty cool. I look forward to seeing what people do with that product.

I was mostly looking forward to the announcement of the phones, the Lumia 950 and 950XL, which offered no surprises since most of the information had been previously leaked. The phones themselves are wholly unremarkable in appearance, but I'm not even sure what you're supposed to do differently these days. The specs were solid, and they continue to emphasize great cameras (that's what I care most about). The only real surprise is how seamless their experience is when you plug them into a little box with a monitor, keyboard and mouse.  While I don't entirely understand the use case, it's very impressive. I look forward to having one of those phones (gotta see how big they are in real life) to replace my 3-year-old Lumia 920.

Next up was the replacement for the Surface Pro 3, the Surface Pro 4. It's mostly just a faster version of the same thing, only with a bigger screen (or smaller bezel). The real iterative improvements are on the new keyboard cover's bigger track pads, better key spacing and a fingerprint reader. Those new keyboards are compatible with the 3, so I'll definitely look at one.

The quasi-surprise, though it has been rumored for years, was the introduction of the Surface Book, which is a high end laptop. This is where they also got showy, because after selling how great it was, they popped the screen off to show it's actually a tablet, with a discreet GPU living in the keyboard portion of the unit. It's definitely impressive, but also crazy expensive.

While the Surface business is in fact profitable for them now (finally), the going sentiment among the pundits is that this hardware is mostly to show how great the Windows platform can be. There may be some truth to that. Google doesn't make phones to change the world, they do it to show how good Android can be (when carriers and manufacturers aren't junking it up). Still, that Apple suddenly wants to explore the hybrid market with pens and such, something Jobs stubbornly wrote off as silly, is serious validation for Microsoft, that there is in fact a market for it. Their initial execution was a train wreck for sure, but three years later, they're getting it right.

I won't be selling my MacBook Pro and Surface Pro 3 any time soon, but it's still great to see Microsoft iterating so quickly. What a big change from even five years ago.

I have to stop making assumptions about well-off people

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 4, 2015, 6:14 PM | comments: 0

We were in Windermere today on an ice cream run, at the fantastic Allen's Creamery. For the uninitiated, Windermere is one of the most exclusive areas of Orange County. The houses are expensive and on lakes, sitting by the road is like watching an exotic car show, and famous people live there. (My friend/neighbor/coworker actually spotted Shaq running there, and stopped him for a selfie.)

While waiting for Simon to finish up his ice cream, two late high school-age girls came in. You could tell everything about them was expensive, from their clothes and purses to hair and makeup. This stood in stark contrast to the girls working in the store, who were working their asses off to serve the steady stream of people coming in. I'm not sure why, but I got super judgmental. I immediately assumed that these girls never had to work for anything, that they were used to getting everything that they wanted, and they were the kind of people I loathed.

I don't know why I immediately go there, except that strictly working from appearances, they were the kind of people I loathed in high school when I moved into the suburbs, and that feeling was reinforced ten times over in college. In reality, the exchange they had with the girls working there was beyond nice and polite, and I couldn't possibly know anything about their upbringing, work ethic or how grounded they were. That's shitty, and I don't like myself for being like that.

There is in the general sense a wedge being driven between the classes in this country, fed mostly by our incessant cultural need to hate someone. It's like the American way, and in my relatively short life the focus has shifted around from African-Americans to homosexuals to Latinos to any immigrant back to African-Americans to Muslims, and a continuous range among them all. The energy spent on the hating is staggering. The silly "occupy" movement was frankly just as ridiculous, because it fostered the idea that anyone doing really well, "the 1%," got there by evil means and was out to oppress everyone else. And of course there were people who fit that description, but lumping them in with honest, hard working people was stupid.

There are selfish, asshole-ish people at all income levels. Most people that I've known who are truly in the 1% are good people who work hard, engage in philanthropy, and generally lift others up. It's unfair to assume the worst, especially of their kids.

Quality of life may be mostly perspective

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 3, 2015, 10:34 AM | comments: 0

I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook last night when I saw a post from Shirley Manson that really stuck with me. Mind you, I guess I've been slightly obsessed with her and Garbage for 20 years, but it's funny how the things she has ranted about over that time have closely mirrored my own rants. That makes sense, as she's about three years older than me, so we've grown up in a similar time period. But she got to be a Terminator on TV, so she wins.

In any case, she remarks about how happy she is in her life, that it's exactly what she wants it to be. I can completely relate, but for me, it's certainly not something I've been able to say most of my life. As she reminds us, life has its ups and downs and can change for the worse at any time. She starts to get into the why of it all, how "life changes or devolves." It's with that in mind that I start to wonder if the quality of your life is largely measured by your perspective.

I think about how I described success or an ideal life when I was 21, and it was kind of stupid, or naive, at least. I've noticed younger friends make similar assessments at that age. At the time you think that anything else is just compromise, as if you're not allowed to evolve your perspective. As time passes, and you experience life, ideal changes.

For example, there's a dude that I went to school with who always posts pictures of himself with famous people, and he's always gotten off being around those folks (I believe there was some inherited privilege there, as he was that way in school as well). I started to experience a little of that working in radio at that time too, but it didn't take me long to see how shallow it was, and unfortunately how disappointing famous people were. (If I ever meet Shirley Manson, I hope she's not like that.) So while the dude from school is still posting those photos, I'm posting silly selfies with my kid and my wife, and I feel like that's objectively better. 20-year-old me could never have envisioned this life, but it's awesome. The other dude, well, seems sad and lonely, but maybe he doesn't think he is.

I think Shirley Manson and I are happy because our lives are exactly what we want them to be, whether we ever knew it was what we wanted or not. Life isn't an act of settling or compromise, it's an act of discovery. I didn't know that making software for a living, in Florida, with a little boy and a second wife, were going to be life as I want it. I do know that I choose every day to be happy with this arrangement, because that's my perspective.