House envy revisited

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 24, 2015, 6:55 PM | comments: 0

We were out driving around today, first going to a BWW in Clermont (free of tourism), and then to the Home Depot there. It's actually not crazy far for us, and it's always interesting to go to a part of Florida that's actually hilly! In any case, we were at the Home Depot to get a fan for our patio, and a few replacement lights for downstairs, as the default $10 builder specials were starting to get on my nerves.

On the way home, we drove by the new school where Simon will go in the fall, and then through the Hamlin Groves development. It's the one next to us, but it's also where the "town center" concept will be for Horizon West, the special planning district here in the most western part of Orange County. It was literally all abandoned orange groves a year ago, but the build-out has begun.

We stopped to look at some new "urban cottages" going up there, built by Taylor Morrison. We've driven by them a few times, and we were intrigued because they feature detached garages with a covered walkway, and they have an option for an in-law suite above the garage. All of the floor plans have this amazing, lots of windows section in the middle where you can look down from the upstairs. Really beautiful, ranging from 1,800 to 2,500 square feet, and kind of a cross between townhomes and regular single-family houses. They're the most sensible units ever. If that weren't enough, they're going to be walking distance from the retail there, including the grocery store. For reference, this is the thing we loved about our spot in Snoqualmie.

I'm not gonna lie, because of the walkability, the one thing we lack now, and couldn't find in Horizon West when we started looking two years ago, it's fantastic. They've sold 20 units in 12 weeks, and I can totally see why.

Now, dialing back my enthusiasm a little, the idea of moving again, and trying to sell this house, makes me cringe (mind you, our house "new" right now is priced about $30k higher than it was when we bought it). Also, part of our enthusiasm comes from the fact that the designers and home stagers do a pretty amazing job and fill us with ideas. We're not happy with our design decisions either, though much of that was a function of budget, which we already went over.

Logically, what I think we're really after is decorating our own house, which frankly we haven't really done. We have furniture that we mostly already had. Half the house isn't painted at all. Our secondary bathroom and half-bath are all standard and uninteresting. The kitchen could benefit from a backsplash. I don't think we'll revisit flooring until we destroy some of the carpet we have, but there are ideas there too. Some things we can't change, like the size and placement of windows (and wow, one of those cottages had a three-pane sliding door that was amazeballs).

At risk of sounding uppity, I think we might have to consider consulting a professional decorator. I know I'm sure as hell not creative enough to figure it out on my own.

Avoiding getting sucked into the world's vortex of shit

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 23, 2015, 10:42 PM | comments: 0

I've said before that I'm struck by the number of people who are totally convinced that the world is going to hell, and the fear that they live in. (And it's all, apparently, Obama's fault.) I mean, people go beyond pessimism into a swirling vortex of shit, and I don't think there's any coming out for them.

I see stuff that makes me sad, not the least of which is the racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. There's war and destruction on the other side of the world constantly. Politicians no longer serve the people, and we keep electing the same ones anyway. Even my home town of Cleveland seems uncivilized, where no one is accountable for dozens of bullets killing two unarmed people. Things aren't supposed to be this way, you know?

Fortunately, there are people who are not only paying attention, but they're raising their voices. I'm not talking about the fear-mongering people who hate everything or think that reposting on Facebook is activism, I mean people who really think about stuff and want solutions.

My issue is that I find it harder and harder to join the ranks of those people. There was a time when I would see something that bothered me, spend time thinking about it, and hurry to my keyboard to blog about it. Some of the time I was angry, but every year I became more measured in my response. It's much harder to do that now. Part of it is that I don't feel like I can really influence the scope of change necessary, but mostly I just don't have the mental bandwidth for it.

That puts me in a weird place. Lately, I am very focused on the good that people can do, and the positive change that's slowly happening in many aspects of our civilization. It's weird because a part of me feels like I'm putting my head in the sand to avoid everything that sucks. The thing is though, this is another way that I'm understanding that the scope of influence is not nearly as important as the quality of it. That I raise money for GKTW may not be huge, but it has serious impact on the lives of people. That a few people are able to waste time on the distraction of my web sites now and then has impact. That I'm a part of a group of professionals who make great software has impact. I'm never going to have the impact of the Gates Foundation or Elon Musk, but that's OK... the scope is unimportant.

And that's why I try to avoid getting sucked into the world's vortex of shit. Much of it is out of my control, and I have limited ability to change it. But I do have the ability to make the world a little better in other ways. I have to choose to focus on that, for my own sanity.

It's mainstream kindergarten for Simon

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 22, 2015, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

The school year is almost complete, and Simon has made it through like a champ. I think it was kind of a rough schedule for him, with standard pre-K in the morning and his exceptional class in the afternoon, but it's also pretty clear to me that it helped him a great deal and made it obvious that mainstream kindergarten is a no-brainer for next year. He'll still have an IEP, but there's no reason at all to hold him back or put him in a class with other ASD kids.

Academically, Simon is easily where he is expected to be, which is awesome considering the number of developmental experts who believe the widely held expectations are too high and out of line for kids of that age. He's good with numbers and letters, and he's starting to read a little bit. His writing skills aren't great, but again, not necessarily behind.

Socially, in most ways he doesn't fall into the ASD stereotypes at all. This is the kid who will introduce himself to anyone at the playground, and wants to help adults at every opportunity. This might be one of the things that made it obvious he needed to be in a "regular" class. He doesn't care for his exceptional class much, though this may in part be because he sees his morning friends (including our neighbor) getting to do fun stuff in the afternoon that he can't be a part of.

Still, there are some things that Diana and his teachers are talking about with regard to his IEP. He has what seems like an attention issue, but we theorize that it has more to do with the fact that he won't engage if he's not interested. It's not that he can't focus, it's that he chooses not to. We've seen it when he has coloring homework... he'll look around at stuff other than the paper when he's doing it. In general, he doesn't really care to be told what to do much of the time. I wonder where he gets that from.

Simon also finds it challenging to deviate from routine or his expectations. This is one that has led to a lot of bona fide public meltdowns. It's particularly frustrating for me, because he used to be a lot more flexible. The crying manifests itself in situations like not being able to sit at a certain table for lunch, or not sitting in the first car of the monorail when leaving Magic Kingdom. He'll sometimes flip out when you turn off the TV and don't leave it for him to do it.

Challenges aside, this is where I hoped he would be, and it's a serious relief. I feel like him being behind by a year is a stigma he would have to deal with for a dozen years, and that would suck. So next year he starts in a brand new school, and I think starting in second grade, he'll start in an even newer school down the street from us. Assuming we're here for the long haul, then he'll be in a new-ish middle school, and a new high school that will be only a few years old when he gets there. While certainly the people matter, there's no question that new buildings carry a lot of enthusiasm for excellence, so it's a solid arrangement. I'm proud of all his progress in the last year.

My job makes me fat, sort of, but it's a long story

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 21, 2015, 7:35 PM | comments: 0

In the general sense, I like what I do for a living. Sometimes I complain that I'm exhausted from thinking about stuff, because there's a whole lot of deep thought you have to do at times, but I can say without question that my body is not exhausted. At all. In fact, since I work from home about 60% of the time, it's possible to barely crack 1,000 steps in a day on the Fitbit unless I deliberately get out and walk. It's not as simple as eating less than I burn for me, because when I'm inactive, I'm convinced my metabolism goes nowhere.

OK, so my job doesn't really make me fat, but it enables a lifestyle that is the opposite of active. And I also don't think I'm fat, and really OK with appearing slightly "doughy." (Sidebar: I'm apparently obese on the BMI scale, but I was 10 pounds "overweight" in high school by that measure. If you knew me then, and how skinny I appeared to be, you can imagine why I largely ignore BMI.) And while my appearance doesn't concern me, I do notice feeling less fit and frequently more tired when my weight is higher.

I was 175 when I started college, which shocked me in that physical. I distinctly recall the doctor suggesting that, while high, it may be normal given my bone and muscle density. I was pretty scrawny, so if there was any muscle density, it had to be in my legs from all of the cycling in high school. I had total noodle arms.

Given the unlimited nature of the relatively excellent food in college, not to mention the frequent pizzas (and lots of beer by the time I was a senior), I put on some pounds in school. But it was the years right after where I slowly started to put on weight. I remember walking up the stairs in our apartment, to the third floor, and getting winded. That's when I first realized there was a problem, and the scale was not kind. There are photos of me from that time, and I can't believe it's me.

About 10 years ago, when Stephanie and I split, it became even more clear that I had a problem. Those kinds of events tend to trigger a great deal of reflection, and when you feel like things are out of control, you also grasp for things that you can control. For me, one of those was getting off of the fucking couch.

At the time of the split, I was wrapping up a JO volleyball season, which was going kind of average. We didn't have as much practice time as I would have liked, and I didn't play with the kids as much as I had in previous years. I bailed on a contract job that banked a fair amount of money, and agreed to coach a high school team. Few things could have been as well timed. I had keys to a gym and a bunch of kids who wanted to play as much as possible. Along with that, I started logging my food consumption online using Weight Watchers' points system, and the pounds melted away. I bottomed out that fall, 30 pounds under where I started. In fact, I often look at weight loss in those terms instead of some arbitrary ideal. Right now I'm at -22, but my range in the last 10 years has been between -11 and -30.

This week I started to stick to the plan for eating, and hit 10k steps (almost five miles) every day. After 7 days, not surprisingly, I dropped a pound and a half-ish. I hate real exercise unless it involves a tennis or volleyball, so this will have to do. I want to get beyond my 2005 self, which is hard because I like to daydream and eat. Fitness freaks think my approach is some kind of compromise, but whatever. Nothing is more boring to me than thinking about fitness or doing anything related to it. The only reason I do anything at all is because I want decades of fun ahead of me without diabetes. Happiness doesn't have anything to do with it beyond the fact that heart disease wouldn't be fun.

So I'm back to a better lifestyle, if somewhat reluctantly. Midlife isn't going to let me eat like a lazy teenager.

When does unconventional appearance become conventional?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 7:10 PM | comments: 0

There was a recent story in the news about a kid who showed up to work at Cedar Point and was turned away because he had dreadlocks. It might have been a non-story if he didn't say that he was told in the interview that it was OK, and even though I think it sucks, I understand their position. Similarly, a friend was telling stories about working at Disney, in a total back office capacity in IT, and being told he had to keep his beard a certain length. Then they had him speak to some high school kids, gave him a Disney polo, only to tell him he had to cover his tattoos. (Ironically, the company pulls out their VP with the pony tail and 40 pounds of earrings for TV all of the time.)

I find these kinds of mandates a little odd these days. Sure, my younger self probably felt this way because of a desire to challenge authority, but now it just feels like the energy put into these issues of compliance and conformity are a waste of time that don't add any value. Let's be clear that non-conventional appearance isn't the same as being unclean. It also has nothing to do with status (though people certainly make it about that). I can guarantee you that my friend with the beard and the tattoos makes more than 95% of all Americans.

My friend is in my line of work, so he's not going to starve or have a hard time finding good work. He's also good at what he does, and people like that are in short supply. So you have to wonder why a company would set a standard like that based on arbitrary tastes when it means overlooking the best people. It's only slightly less insane than passing on people due to their age, race or gender, in my opinion. And yes, they are arbitrary tastes... they are not indicative of a person's ability.

Some companies seem to embrace the non-conventional. You'd be hard pressed to find someone working in an Apple Store without at least one visible piercing or tattoo. (I guess that's unsurprising for a company built on "think different.") Technology companies in the general sense are pretty liberal, not just with appearance, but also with clothes. I've been interviewed by people banking a half-million dollars a year wearing flip-flops.

I definitely get the desire of businesses to manage perceptions for a skeptical public, but it's pretty odd that our culture trusts a kid with dreadlocks to setup your iPad but not strap you into an amusement ride. I understand corporate cultures that require suits and ties even less. I'm skeptical of anything that doesn't add value. That the problem is sometimes the public at large and not the employer doesn't make it better.

Diana and I saw a young woman in line ahead of us last weekend at Universal Studios with pink hair, green lipstick, tattoos and the cutest Harry Potter tennis dress you've ever seen. It was a really fantastic, put together look. I'm not sure why people would find her weird instead of interesting. That's unfortunate.

The world doesn't suck, pessimistic people do

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 18, 2015, 11:03 PM | comments: 0

I have to say, I'm riding a wave of optimism lately. It's not so much centered on any aspect of my own life, but where I can see the world going. You're probably thinking that's completely absurd. If you watch the news (I mean the stuff that isn't cable "news"), you have racism issues that we should have been over decades ago (not to mention people who think we already are over them), an entire region of the world that seems to be growing more unstable, a vocal and insanely stupid segment of the population that thinks science isn't real... there are a lot of reasons to think the world is going down hill.

But two things got me thinking in the other direction this week. The first is around all of the reviews for this Tomorrowland movie coming out. The critics are pretty split, but they agree that the premise is straight forward enough, that the optimism for our future has eroded to the point that negativity in our culture is creating a self-manifesting destiny. Indeed, Walt Disney himself was fascinated with this look at progress, as in the Carousel of Progress, and the idea that technology and innovation could lead to a better world. That was why he was driven to build an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which unfortunately only became Epcot.

The other part of my realization around optimism is rooted in what I've said previously. You have to avoid dramatic people if you want to avoid drama. There's a deeper meaning to that though. Miserable people spread misery. Honestly, misery doesn't love company, it loves people who can get you out of it. I think about the time around my divorce, the hardest transition I've ever had, and how there were certain people I just needed to steer clear of to make myself better. To this day, I just can't be around people who think that everything sucks and the world is going down the tubes.

Sure, life is pretty good. The last ten years have been an enormous turn around for me. It had its ups and downs, but certainly it has been a net improvement. I didn't get there by wallowing in shit and proclaiming that everything will suck. Admittedly, it has been a battle to not fall into that realm, and I haven't always succeeded in staying out of that mode.

There is a lot of good in the world, and I can see it improving things. You have to choose to see it, and understand that the scope is irrelevant. It's the aggregate that counts. I see friends working at non-profits that are changing lives. I see people volunteering time and money to help those institutions. I've gotten to know people who have overcome some serious tragedies to drive significant change, even in the context of for-profit business. Then I see people like Elon Musk who are hell bent on changing the way the world consumes energy, all the while making money off of really expensive cars. Oh, and I think I've mentioned this before... we carry super computers around with us that can access most of the information in the world almost instantly. Put yourself in 1985 and ask yourself if anyone could have understood that was possible in our lifetime.

So if you're some punk-ass Debbie Downer, get out of the way. The world doesn't suck, you do. We're standing on the edge of an amazing world, dramatically and amazingly better than the one we had even ten years ago. Stop taking sides among the fuckwits running for office, turn off the goddamn cable news, and look around. Stop being scared of everything. There hasn't been a time in human history where we were better equipped to improve our world. Be a part of the solution.

Everything happens for a reason, sure, and it's logical and has nothing to do with fate or a higher power

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 18, 2015, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

The kicker story on NBC Nightly News tonight was about a woman who ditched an ad agency job to start making greeting cards that weren't stupid cliches. Apparently the number one selling card is one that says something to the effect of, "Let me be the first to punch the next person in the balls who says that everything happens for a reason." As a cancer survivor herself, I sure get where she may be coming from.

I absolutely cringe when I hear someone say that phrase. I totally understand that people mean well, but I can't think of anything less satisfying and borderline patronizing than this. My reasons are many, but let's start with the obvious: Things happen because things happen. In my mind, there's something freeing about accepting this. People get cancer because some environmental or genetic circumstance triggers it. People die in car accidents because humans aren't always great at operating machines. People get divorced because they are not optimal partners.

What people are often after is that there is some bigger reason that supersedes the logical reasons I just mentioned. There are so many reasons that I reject that. Fate is not a thing, and to the extent that we can, we're all empowered to greatly influence the direction of our lives. And yes, we make a lot of bad decisions. Others defer to "God's plan," which I've always rejected, even when I had less ambiguous faith. If God allows people to suffer for some bigger reason, that's not gracious wisdom, it's cruelty at a cosmic level.

I get the intent, but please, think about how it may make someone feel. When someone is having a rough go of things, the last thing they want to hear is that their pain is the result of some seemingly random and impossible to define force.

First time to Universal in more than four years

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 17, 2015, 8:42 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe that we had annual passes, while living in Cleveland, for Universal Orlando in the two years prior to our move to Seattle. In fact, I had maxed out Loews Hotels loyalty program by staying on the property so much. I've had a lot of good times there. We made our last visit while still living in Seattle in January 2011, just before Simon turned 1. Since moving to Seattle, we've only been there to see Blue Man Group shows (three times). It just hasn't been a priority, given our proximity to Walt Disney World and at least a perception that there aren't as many things for Simon to do there.

With so many friends working there, we've had plenty of opportunities for comps, and I don't really know why we haven't taken up any of those offers until now. Simon spent some time with Kara (who took him to Fun Spot and Aquatica!), and Diana and I had a chance to get out today.

First thing I have to comment on, which was also true for the BMG shows, is the parking garage situation. Literally every visit I've ever had prior to being here involved staying at the Royal Pacific, so we never had to park there. It's kind of a pain in the ass. Magic Kingdom has that issue because of the lake, but at least there are trams, monorails and ferries.

Fortunately it was not a horribly busy day, and our goal was mostly to see the newer Harry Potter stuff at the studio park. Bonus would have been Transformers, but unfortunately it was closed when we tried to get on.

Escape From Gringotts is a strange ride, because while the conveyance means is very much a roller coaster, but aside from a few moments between scenes, I hesitate to call it a coaster. Overall, the ride is pretty well done, and I really enjoyed it. I'm not sure if it's better than Forbidden Journey, but I think I would need to ride it a few more times.

The overall Diagon Alley execution is just over the top amazing. I mean, they nailed Hogsmeade too, but this was even better. I love that they don't even have any signage into the area from the London street that faces the central lagoon of the park. Once in, it's like you're in the films. Granted, the attraction is mostly retail and food, but that's OK, the atmosphere is really amazing, and mostly covered.

The Hogwarts Express used to cross between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is absolutely brilliant. Not only does it keep them in the business of two-park tickets, but it provides a really seamless transition between the two areas. I was concerned that using video projection inside the train would be weird or feel uncomfortable since there's an actual moving train, but it wasn't bad at all. Stepping on to 9-3/4 (complete with the visual gag of going through a wall) is a pretty special moment.

IoA is still a beautiful park, but it felt different. Once we left the Potter zone (with a quick, 25 minute wait for Forbidden Journey and a couple of Butterbeers), the magic of the park isn't what it used to be. The first thing is the awful midway games in Jurassic Park. What a theme killer. Then you get to the construction area for the new King Kong attraction (which seems to have, at least for now, displaced the Jurassic Park entry gate), and it seems totally out of place because it's not an "island," and it breaks the tradition of everything at IoA having literary roots. The Toon Lagoon area is full of tired IP, and the Marvel area doesn't match the shiny universe that the films have been developing.

Overall though, we had a good time just taking it in, and doing a few things here and there at a leisurely pace. They really nailed the Harry Potter stuff, twice now. I look forward to returning at some point, maybe when Simon is a few years older.

Apparently, we're a "hip" couple

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 16, 2015, 11:33 PM | comments: 0

While we were out in the neighborhood today, we stopped at one of the models (that we loved), and the sales person there was very chatty after we discovered that the curtains they had in one room were the same fabric as those that Diana made for our living room. As we were about to leave, she mentioned that she loved that I had "that in your ear," and pointing to her nose and then Diana, "that." Of course, she could have been just kissing our asses, but it struck me as flattering in some weird way.

I've been into body piercing for a long time, and I still hate that my industrial got all weird and gross back in '07. After Simon was born, I figured I'd try just one hole in the same ear and got a 16 gauge hole in the same ear, and it healed like a champ. I like it. I don't know if it's because it makes me feel pretty or I just like the feel of it, but whatever. In late 2012, while Diana and I were traveling for our longest vacation ever with Simon, a hotel clerk had a tiny nose piercing, and she turned to me and said, "I could do that." Shortly after getting back home, that's exactly what she did. (I totally want to get a matching one, but I'm probably not as cool as Lenny Kravitz to pull it off.) Since then, she rotates between the subtle "work nose ring" and the more badass hoop for parties, vacations and other occasions.

We're not high maintenance people. I'm a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of guy, and Diana doesn't go out of her way to stock up on sassy outfits. Piercings are kind of easy in that respect... you go do it and the result can last for the rest of your life, without a lot of effort. It's still just slightly in the realm of non-conventional enough that people may still notice, though I suspect that won't last much longer. If I had to guess, some of that is just the neighborhood we live in. Folks tend to be slightly more conservative and concerned about appearances here, which is very much the opposite of us.

I don't know what "hip" really means, but as I discovered at a co-worker's party recently, I definitely seem to identify more with the tattoo-and-piercing crowd than I do with the McMansion-and-German-car crowd. I don't have anything against the latter (unless of course they're pretentious douchebags), but I suppose it's just the circles of people I've known over the years. I imagine this has to do with my attraction to creative people, a couple of years in Seattle, and my general disregard for convention.

So here's to you, home selling lady. I don't know if we're "hip," but I hope we're being true to ourselves.

House envy? I feel dirty

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 16, 2015, 8:41 PM | comments: 0

One of the builders in our development (it's a master-planned Starwood thing), Beazer, did a big open house thing for the new town houses that they're building. They're really nice, and I wish I had the cash to do a little real estate investing. The location is even amazing, and I'm sure some of the buildings you can see Cinderella's Castle.

But since we were out and about, we popped into one of the D.R. Horton models, which matches a couple of the houses they built behind us (and are for sale). It's enormous, almost twice the size of our house, but it was so beautiful. Completely unnecessary, but like a resort, only you live there.

I hate myself a little for liking it. Our thing is not about stuff. But the napkin math is that we could afford to live there pretty easily, it just means saving less and/or doing less travel kinds of things. It also means putting money into something of questionable return, but I suppose that's no different from anything else. Probably the bigger problem is that it commits you to a certain cash flow. As someone who would like the flexibility (even if I never use it) to take six months off from working just because, I don't know that I would want that.

I like nice things. That's going to get me into trouble at some point.

Rich and poor people suck? Only because you're making stupid generalizations

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 14, 2015, 9:36 PM | comments: 0

President Obama had a discussion at Georgetown recently, where he made the point that Fox News had been propagating a narrative that insists that poor people are poor not because of any particular circumstances, but because of their poor character. Of course there will always be schmucks who take advantage of the system, but to trivialize a massive group of people by suggesting they're all "bad people" and ignore the larger socio-economic context is lazy and stupid.

But wait a second... the right doesn't have the market cornered on being lazy and stupid (though they do have an entire cable network for that). The other side isn't much better. Outside of the issue of whether or not well-off people should pay higher taxes, there's a ridiculous narrative, pushed mostly by Internet pundits, that everyone with money is a scumbag. They're immoral to the core, and made their money by ill-gotten means. This isn't much better than generalizing about poor people. Mind you it's in technology circles, but I've known a lot of people who have done really well for themselves, not by lying and cheating, but by working their asses off. Why do we now disrespect success and generalize it as immoral?

If you play into either of these narratives, you're playing into the fear mongering. It's bad enough that people need to be scared of virtually everything, but you don't need to be scared of the poor or the rich. You don't need to hate them either. Their situations are not the exclusive result of character flaws. This divisive bullshit has got to stop. It doesn't move us forward.

College, 20 years later

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 11:18 PM | comments: 0

One of my college classmates pointed out that today is the 20th anniversary of our graduation from Ashland University. That's honestly harder to wrap my head around than my age or any other arbitrary number measuring life.

My college experience was a mixed bag, for sure. I'm definitely better off for it. I wish the academics would have been stronger for the radio/TV major, but I think doing a double and picking up journalism helped make up for that. My grades might have been mediocre, but I finished a double major in four years and still had to pad my senior year with bowling and volleyball officiating.

It's funny to think about how each year was so different. My first year I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I belonged, which led to an obscene number of hours on the radio at times that no one else wanted (read: Saturday nights). Then on weekends I would try to pull together TV shows, often recruiting volunteers from outside of the department because of that damn suitcase college problem. I even minored in theater for that year. And of course, I had a crush on the girl upstairs who just wanted to be friends.

My sophomore year was a total train wreck, and I remember now how miserable I was. I was an RA in a dorm I did not care for, with a hall director who was the wrong kind of "Christian." My crush quit school, and I moped around over that instead of moving on. I hated my classes (especially French), and I was being pushed around a lot by the two instructors who saw themselves more as station managers than teachers.

Things started to change a bit my junior year. I was an RA again, but had an awesome room that made up for the homophobic and racist rednecks on my floor. I became very good friends with a woman who would end up being my roommate the next year. I was making some minor progress at getting the instructors to loosen the reigns and let students actually do stuff. I didn't date anyone seriously, but I had a series of interesting encounters. When my advisor left mid-year for something better, it opened my eyes to the idea that you have to make your future. By the end of that year, I got a part-time gig in commercial radio, resigned from my student position, and started writing opinion columns for the student newspaper.

By the time my senior year rolled around, it felt like a formality. Residence Life wouldn't give me an assistant hall director position, so not content to be an RA a third year, I broke off campus and shared a house with that friend and one of her friends (who turned out to be a total freakshow, but fortunately wasn't around much). I had the chance to do a ton of "real" radio, working for a PD that really knew his shit. I spent a lot less time in R/TV, but committed to the double major. I started dating the first woman I met that year (and ended up marrying her), and branched out into new social circles a great deal. While I kind of felt bad about my reduced R/TV involvement, I felt better about trying new things.

Those four years seemed to go by so slowly, especially when I compare to how quickly my kid turned 5. I loved the energy of living on campus, even one where people disappeared on weekends. I probably should have looked at more schools (AU was the only one I even applied to), but I was drawn in by the shiny toys they had for the major. The density of self-learning, and sometimes self-loathing, was very high in those years, more than any other time in my life.

I've been back to AU a few times, now and then, and one of my classmates is now a professor in the very department (or its evolved offspring) that we got our start in. The last time, in 2012, it was just completely weird to be there with Simon and Diana. In 2009, just before we moved to Seattle, I did a couple of radio shifts on WRDL, and had a total blast.

Despite being a schmuck my sophomore year, I wouldn't change the rest. I didn't have it all figured out by graduation (though I thought I did), but it set a good foundation for the learning that continues to this day.

My kid's childhood will be less independent, and that sucks

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 9:26 PM | comments: 0

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to a story about how some things you do with your kid these days will get you arrested. The short version is that letting your kid do anything on his own is pretty much going to be considered neglect. The woman who let her 9-year-old ride the subway alone, and wrote about it, has even made it a cause to let your kids be more "free range."

As we think about Simon going into Kindergarten, I think about doing the same when I was 5. I walked the three blocks to school on my own, and walked home. I had a key on a string around my neck, and came home to an empty house when both parents had to work. The bus stop I had for 2nd and 3rd grades was even further away, but I went to it myself every day, and walked home myself. This was inner-city Cleveland circa 1980. I wouldn't describe it as particularly "safe" or awesome. By grade six, I would routinely ride my bike 20 blocks in any direction.

If my parents were me, today, even out here in the suburbs, I would undoubtedly find myself in foster care and they would be in jail. Why? What the hell happened? I'm at the point now where I wonder, gosh, my kid's school, when it opens in two years, is about six blocks away. Will he even be able to leave it on his own accord at the end of the day and walk home? If not, I'm going to be super pissed.

I just don't understand how we got to a point where paranoia and fear started ruling everything about our culture. If this is how things were for the people entering the workforce now and taking their mom to interviews, no wonder they're so screwed up.

We walk a fine line trying to understand when to let Simon fall and make mistakes, and when to help him out of genuine need. It angers me to think that this kind of stupidity is going to require pacifying kids for the most fundamental things that they can handle on their own.

Our vacation priorities

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 7:21 PM | comments: 0

I was having lunch today with my BFF, and she was giving me a little shit for the routine in our travel. She said we should branch out beyond cruises, the annual trip to Cedar Point and going back to Seattle. She also said we needed to see more of Florida, to which I responded that I vacationed around Florida for my whole life before moving here, and if I'm being candid, most of the state does not interest me. I love the theme parks of course, and I've grown to love the city of Orlando as a place to live and work, but there isn't much outside of The OC that I'm really anxious to do. Miami and the keys are all I haven't seen.

I think we have different priorities and goals when traveling, but aside from her assertions that I'm boring and bound by routine, and my dickish responses, the conversation did challenge me to think about where it is that we do want to travel. Diana and I certainly have talked about a ton of places. The hardest thing right now is that Simon is at an awkward age. While we've never avoided travel since having him, we have tried to stick to itineraries that made sense for him in recent years.

In terms of domestic travel, I don't think there is anywhere that we couldn't go, provided we budget for it appropriately. That's why we didn't buy too much house or expensive cars, so we can do stuff, not have stuff. A lot of these have been deprioritized to an extent because of Simon's age. Either he wouldn't appreciate the things we see or do, or we'd be stuck in our hotel at 9 messing around on the Internet, something we could do at home. The list includes:

  • San Francisco, lots of wine touring. I always figured I would get there as part of a tech conference, but it still hasn't happened and that annoys me. I almost went to a conference last year on my own dime, to the tune of $4k, but I came to my senses.
  • The national parks. Mostly I'm thinking Yellowstone, Glacier, and Rainier again, and certainly as part of a big driving trip likely originating out of Seattle.
  • Las Vegas. Shows, food, light gambling, Diana and I had our one brief visit there messed up by a crazy and wrecking sinus infection I had. I want a re-do.
  • Washington DC. Yeah, historic and government stuff. It just seems ridiculous at my age that I haven't done that.
  • New York City. Diana lived there for awhile, and while I'm not a big fan of big cities (I tolerate Chicago, but can't say I love it), it would be excellent to spend a few days there.
  • Charlotte/Carowinds. This is the one deliberate coaster trip we want to do. We're hoping to do it in the fall.
  • Puget Sound. We haven't been back to Seattle in more than two years, and we miss it. That's not so much a vacation effort as much as a chance to reconnect with family and friends, but we also wanted to spend more time exploring the islands.
  • Hawaii. It's my favorite place on the planet. A former co-worker in Seattle tends to go every year, which makes sense when you live there. This is actually a very doable one in my mind, because even with Simon, it aligns well with my vacation goals (more on that later).
  • Alaskan cruise. Technically, it's international since it starts in Vancouver. This one is high on the list, and doable with Simon.

On the international list, we have a lot of ideas, but I think they largely have to wait if we intend for Simon to be a part of them. These I imagine need at least a year of planning and saving for.

  • UK. Diana lived there for a semester, so that's part of the reason to visit. But you know, castles, churches, royalty.
  • Scandinavia. I'll admit it, I never thought much about it until Frozen was a thing. The more I see it in photos, the more I feel like I need to see it in real life.
  • Italy. It's hard to nail down a specific agenda there, because everything I know about it so far varies a great deal from one end of the country to the next.
  • River cruises. Of course I'm a big cruise fan, but the appeal of these is that you end up stopping in a lot of small towns in the various countries they sail in, which are presumably a lot less touristy.
  • European cruises. I like the idea of sampling many countries to get a little flavor in each, yet sleep in the same place every night. Then you can go back another time to the places you liked most. A great starter for someone who hasn't been there. Not sure if I'm more anxious to do the Northern European or Mediterranean itineraries.
  • Japan. I had a Japanese roommate for a month one summer in college, and his description of living in Tokyo (the parts I could understand) were fascinating to me. Then when I saw Lost In Translation many years later, I was fascinated at how different everything is, even though there's a clear western influence.
  • Australia and New Zealand. What's not to love about those two countries? The latter is flipping Middle Earth! Seriously though, everyone I know who has gone has just glowed about the places and the people.

So what are my priorities today, and what do I want out of a vacation? Put simply, I want to not think about anything and just be taken care of. That's been my m.o. for the last year straight, so you can understand why I've been a big fan of the cruises we did. Right now, I'm not in it for the adventure or the variety, I'm in it for the ability to turn off my brain. Most of the places in the list above don't really fit that mold.

Still, it's good to have a list, and I think next year we can start thinking more sincerely about that domestic list. The international stuff, maybe a few years after that. I would love for Simon to be a part of it, but in the near term I don't think he would really appreciate what he was getting to see.

Working for fulfillment isn't the problem

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 11, 2015, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

One of my former coworkers posted a link on Facebook to a spiel from a comedian about the fruitless search for fulfillment from work, suggesting that following your bliss and trying to revert to more of a trade-and-barter economy would likely be better for you. I can dig that to an extent, but he suggested that people were largely motivated to pursue this "life in boxes" at companies to advance their career to make more money and buy more crap. I think this is too much of a generalization, and confuses too many issues.

First off, I firmly believe that you can find some level of fulfillment in work regardless of if you're doing it for The Man, or yourself. The underlying things we need, like being a part of something, the social interaction, having pride in what you produce, can potentially be found in any environment. I know this first hand, as I've done small scale work for a little money on my own time, and I've worked for one of the biggest companies in the world working on a web app that serves millions of people every day. The scale is irrelevant. Great or crap work may happen either way.

Second, I don't believe that the thing that motivates people in the general sense is more money for more stuff. Certainly there are people who do this, immediately negating any advancement in income by buying a bigger house, or a better car. I can't relate to that, but I know people who are that way, and I assume they're motivated by status, appearance or something else that ultimately is not fulfilling.

I will be the first to admit that finding fulfilling work is seriously challenging. The harder thing might even be having the courage to ditch what you don't like to find something else, in part because of the fear surrounding a lack of income. Multiply by 10 in a poor economy. But get a little more abstract, and I think you'll find that the fulfillment problem is larger.

Simply put, you can't find fulfillment in work alone. Not only that, but you can't wrap your entire existence in what you do. I don't know what it is about our culture that puts this on us, but I'm certainly guilty. My first layoff in 2001 just wrecked my self-esteem, and it took awhile to get over that. It would be years before I realized how screwed up that was.

Think about it this way, if you work 40 hours per week, there are at least 60 more waking hours each week that you're not working. What are you doing with that time? Work can certainly be a part of the thing that gives you meaning and purpose, but it shouldn't be the only thing. If it is, I think that you're doing it wrong.

Looking for meaning in life is a strange thing. I certainly don't have all of the answers, but I get it from a lot of places. Work contributes to that sense of purpose now, but it didn't always. You have to decide for yourself how much it should do for your sense of self.

That time I boasted about Orlando weather

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 11, 2015, 12:54 PM | comments: 0

I'm not shy about going on about the weather in Orlando during the winter months. The number one reason to move here was to get away from crappy winters involving loads or precipitation and gray skies. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it improves the quality of life.

I do know a few people here though that really don't like the summers. Once June rolls around, daily highs are regularly in the low 90's, overnight lows around 70, and pretty high humidity is normal. You don't get a break until toward the end of September. Real "jacket weather" isn't routine until November, but it lasts until early April.

Yes, the summers seem pretty brutal, but honestly I don't find them to be all that different than the Midwest. The big difference is that it isn't confined to just July and August. That's the trade-off you make here. In exchange for seven-ish months of awesomeness without snow, you have to roll with four-ish months of hot summer. Until I can afford to be bi-coastal, and live in Seattle during the summers (74 and sunny every single day), it's a pretty solid compromise.

We're unfortunately getting it a bit early this year, running about five or six degrees above normal. That's a bummer, but I still don't own a snowblower.

Everyone needs a day, but then there is Simon's mom

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

I'm not going to lie... I kind of loathe what I call "greeting card" holidays. Valentine's Day, Sweetest Day, Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, even Software Developers' Day (for real, it's September 13). I guess some part of me finds it ridiculous that everyone has to have a day to feel special for one reason or another. I try to make a very small number of people understand on a regular basis that they're special to me, not the least of which is my wife and mother of my child. I don't know if I'm entirely successful in this, but I try.

Mind you, I'm also aware that this way of operating may not be compatible with everyone, as some people certainly seek and even expect recognition on whatever their special days is. See, I did learn some things from previous relationships! (I'm also thankful that a lot of poor dating decisions didn't lead to bigger things during the very concentrated time of dating in between the big relationships.)

Even more to the point, I think Diana goes well beyond what many moms do in caring for our little guy. I love Simon with every fiber of my being, but I know we frequently have to walk away and let the other parent take over. I may have many opinions about what he needs, but Diana is the one who does the work to understand what the options are.

My hope this weekend wasn't to have some grand gestures, but at least some solid family time. We did get some of that, with mini-golf on Saturday to start. He's really into that suddenly (but we certainly can't afford to do it at Disney or the touristy themed courses frequently... it's expensive!). On Sunday, Diana scored some free tickets for Dinosaur Train at the Dr. Phillips Center, so Simon finally got to see a show in the lovely theater where Mom works. We hoped for a great lunch, but had to settle for Jimmy John's after our target restaurant failed to be open at the time their website indicated. Diana got to sleep in one morning, and me and the boy put together a new cat tree.

As I said, I hope I remind her enough regularly that she's the best mother ever, because I know there are days that any parent feels like they suck at life. Hopefully this weekend helped too.

YouTube and Google are just awful as far as UX goes

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 9, 2015, 12:25 AM | comments: 0

I cut, at best, one or two videos a year with some kind of nerdy roller coaster stuff. When I do it, it's usually something that I want to make to flex the muscles a little that I conditioned 16 years ago when video was a profession and not a hobby. Opening Thunderbird is just that kind of effort. I like to tell a story for the sake of telling a story, not because I seek something for it.

Still, it seemed pretty silly that I would post this stuff on YouTube under my own account, when they had "channels" you could set up, so I figured that I might as well create one for CoasterBuzz, if only to have at least some consistent branding there.

What followed was a complete pain in the ass. Everything about the user experience sucks, mostly because of some weird, poorly defined association with a Google+ page that makes no fucking sense at all. I don't give a shit about all of this other Googley stuff, I just want to post some videos under a specific account name. About the only thing that was straight forward was associating the channel with my AdSense account, though I had to hunt for it.

And sure enough, this is why I pay for Vimeo, as I mentioned before. Monetization is not a priority, I just want to share this stuff. Vimeo is really good at it. YouTube, not so much.

Good user experiences are often hard to find. With stuff Google builds, it's damn near impossible.

Remembering how to vacation

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 8, 2015, 11:59 PM | comments: 0

Yeah, I'm writing about vacations again. I'm obsessed thinking about it lately because a) I'm starting to feel a little bit of burnout because I've been going at it pretty hard this year, and b) I need to take off 12 days before the end of the year or risk losing some accrued time. So far I can only account for three or four. What I really want is a solid week, I'm just not sure where in the year that happens.

As I've said before, it's easy to forget what vacations look like when you live in Orlando. Tonight, we finally got out as a family to Magic Kingdom, which is something we haven't done in at least six weeks. It's hard when Simon has school and Diana has evening work. We're doing a lot of stuff this weekend as a unit. In any case, we ended up at the Polynesian Resort for some Dolewhip (my version of crack), and got to talking about how expensive the rooms are there. That got me to thinking about the hotel on Kauai from our honeymoon (in actual Hawaii!), and it brought back the feelings of what a true vacation feels like.

I have a surprisingly straight forward list that describes what it means to vacation for me:

  • Disconnection from your regular life.
  • People taking good care of you (admittedly, not the stuff of adventure travel).
  • A certain degree of gluttony and just-short-of-binge drinking.
  • Being with your favorite people.

As we were walking through the Poly, I realized that criteria is what made our series of cruises so much fun. Those little three-nighters consistently cover the criteria, they're just not long enough.

All of these short trips are great, and they help you recharge a little, but now I'm seeing that I need something a little longer. Two years ago, I had that time built in between me leaving the contract gigs and moving down here. With no intention of changing jobs, I need to be more, uh, intentional. That smart ass girl from the MasterCard commercials is stuck in my head... "They're paid vacation days!"

Opening Thunderbird

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 8, 2015, 10:00 AM | comments: 0

It took two weeks, but I finally finished up cutting the video that I shot at Holiday World for their new ride, Thunderbird.

I'm very happy with the content that I got out of the interviews. They're good people there, super passionate about their park. After the ugly lawsuit over ownership between family members, it felt like this particular event was the turning point where things were back to "normal." It's still sad to think that Will Koch is no longer with us, but if you believe in any kind of afterlife, you have to imagine that he's thrilled with the direction the park has taken.

Indeed, I think one of the most interesting things about this project is how far it ups their game. The station for Thunderbird and the surrounding area are above average nice, as nice as anything you would find at a bigger park, or even in Orlando. They didn't skimp on the details. If anything, it creates a problem because you can go back down the hill to The Voyage, and the station feels cheap with exposed particle board and vinyl siding. It's definitely a new era.

As for the video, I was a bit frustrated that I couldn't realistically bring more gear. My light kit would have made the exposure on the interviews much better (not to mention some back lighting would have helped with depth). I also recall how hard it is to shoot on that camera in bright sunlight without some kind of external monitor, where you can better see the white balance and focus. The image quality of that camera in the general sense is pretty good, but if you don't get the exposure right, you lose detail on the bright end and introduce a ton of noise into the bottom, even when you shoot on a relatively flat color profile.

Still, it's content that matters, and I feel like there was a solid narrative to pull together. I was more interested in telling that story than compiling more ride footage, which everyone has seen elsewhere. I hope the folks at the park like it too!