It's funny how we mark a lot of our time in life around various schedules. Despite having graduated from college years ago, I've always had people close to me in school, or I've coached, or whatever, so the calendar year often doesn't really match with distinct periods of my life. 2006, for me, really kind of began in the fall of 2005.
The fall was kind of a turning point for me, when I really started to feel like life was going to continue despite Stephanie moving out that previous spring. It was that fall that I fell in love with someone new, and started to really gain a little clarity about how life can be. That was an evolutionary process that continued, and goes on today. It's weird how sometimes you need someone to make you feel good, in order to realize you have all the reason in the world to feel good about yourself. I still think happiness has to come from within, but it doesn't hurt to have it sparked by someone else.
As I mentioned in my business/career post, March was a turning point for me in terms of career happiness. I also decided it was about time to get some other things rolling.
The first thing was to get back into the video business. HD finally became affordable, and that meant that I could do standard def stuff for money, and have the tools to shoot a movie. I didn't really do as much movie watching as I would have liked to, but the bug took hold. Unfortunately, the writing thing is holding me up in terms of actually getting bits recorded, but I'm OK with that. I did some little projects and posted some stuff on the Net. The short and the feature will come along eventually.
Steph and I realized that dissolving the marriage was the best thing to do in March, and made that final in July. As much as it seemed like the natural course of action, it was hard. Strangely enough it didn't hit me as hard as it did when she moved to Colorado just two weeks ago. It's not like I wanted her to come back or anything, but that was a more final ending to a whole lot of years, you know?
The second thing I wanted to do early in the year was start dating. In April I started dating Catherine. Weird how someone can come out of nowhere and change your life. We had some really great times almost immediately. In addition to introducing me to the Four Agreements (be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions, always do your best), she has helped me to realize what the core conditions are that I require in a relationship. I've always felt that my requirements were simple, but now I have it well defined: Love and allow yourself to be loved, hide nothing and be honest about what you feel, never cheat or cause mental or physical abuse (I know, that last part is rare, especially for a dude).
I've lapsed a little in terms of taking care of myself. I gained back a few of the pounds I lost last year. Of course I blame work, vacations, time, amusement parks and other such shit. :) I'll get my shit together I hope soon, because it's thing I consistently don't like about myself.
This was the year of the Blue Man Group. After being bummed out about not seeing the Complex tour, I took the opportunity to see them in Las Vegas, twice. Then when I heard they were firing up the tour again, needless to say, I was first in line to buy tickets. I drew Cath into the phenomenon, and got Kara hooked last year, so I brought them both to the best arena show ever. Then when I realized that Cath lived in Columbus, duh, I had to get tickets for that show. She flew her mom in and I took them to that show up in the nose bleeds. You see, it's not just about enjoying the show, it's about sharing it. :) I'd pay for a private show for all of my friends if I could! (And only if Tracy Bonham could play the show.) And yeah, I'm seeing them in Dayton, and for the new theatrical opening in Orlando.
I got back into the amusement park thing this year, oddly enough because Catherine encouraged it. At the start of the summer, she had never even been on a roller coaster, and we went to not only Cedar Point, but Geauga Lake, Hersheypark, Holiday World, the Disney parks and Universal Orlando. She's even been on Millennium Force. I got my money's worth at Cedar Point, and had many good times there.
Music wasn't the best this year. There wasn't a lot of stuff I really latched on to. But an old favorite came back, that being Dido's "See The Sun Again." That song really saved my mood countless times. Later I'd get sucked into liking Natasha Bedingfield, especially "Silent Movie" and "Sojourn." I also discovered Jem, who is Dido-ish and put out an album a year or two ago. With all of the Blue Man stuff, I finally got hooked on Tracy Bonham, who is totally amazing. It was a good year for me listening to girl singers.
The coming year is like a big question mark, and that's a little scary, but exciting. I don't know where my job will take me, how well my business will do, or really anything other than I'll probably still be alive. Basically I'm hoping for good health, good music, and a sense of peace.
So as I've been reflecting on the year, I've noticed that I can generally divide my thoughts into two parts: The personal, romantic and social side, and the business, career and financial side. I'll start with the latter.
Just before the previous year ended, I found myself getting bored and stagnant. I was doing contract work when I felt like it, spent the holidays alone and did a lot of soul searching. I knew I could go until March without any additional work, but I wasn't that motivated to do anything in my own domain in terms of business.
I found only one job listing that seemed particularly interesting, and it was posted by the company itself and not a recruiter. Keep in mind that those people were calling me constantly, all with mundane and boring contract stuff. But I responded to the Insurance.com ad, talked with them, and they lured me in. In my second meeting they began talking signing bonus, and I figured that would at least get them three months of my time.
I hated it at first. I mean, really, really, hated getting up in the morning and driving 25 miles to this place. Most of that was just me not having to be on someone else's schedule, and some of it was that I wasn't getting any challenging or interesting work to do. At first I felt like I was making the same mistake I did at Progressive, going in for the money and little else.
In March, I went to the Mix06 conference in Vegas. While seeing Bill Gates was cool, the thing I most got out of it (aside from the free registration) was that smart people inspired me. What sucked about contract work was that I was often the smartest person in the room, without actually knowing as much as I wish I did. With this realization, I started to align myself with the right people and the right projects at work, and by summer I started to feel like I was really getting something out of it, probably for the first time since I was at Penton in 2000. There are three guys there I get a lot from, one of which is scary brilliant. That influence is the reason I feel like I'm a better code monkey today.
But it was a close call too, because those first few months, I started to wonder if I wanted to write code at all. Maybe it wasn't my thing, despite having written a book and spending so much time developing my skills. I really do enjoy it though, so long as I have the proper motivation to do so.
Meanwhile, my company churned on, largely in the background. Revenue was more or less flat, and traffic was up a little on my sites. I blew most of my profit on new toys this year. I bought an HD camera, which I absolutely love, and I made the full transition into the Mac world. My laptop and desktop are both Intel-based Macs, and I would never go back to using Windows for anything outside of software development.
The company debt, which is essentially still my own debt, only I can deduct the interest, reached an astounding $30k after buying all of that stuff on top of what I was already carrying. I'm proud to say that I'm now flirting with just $10k again, since I didn't draw a ton of cash out of the biz. When I finally get around to making that film (a subject more for the personal reflective post), it'll be easy to finance, and I've already got most of the gear. My personal debt I should have eliminated by March at the latest, though I'll be borrowing again to recarpet my house.
One of the things I've often struggled with is actually delivering something, a finished project. When it's for other people, it's no problem (I paid for a little less than half of my camera doing contract video projects), but on my own time line, for my own use, I suck. I've been talking about rewriting my forum app, POP Forums, for years, and it in turn has held back deploying a redesign for CoasterBuzz and PointBuzz. I really beat myself up about that.
Fortunately, when I started feeling good about writing code again in the summer, I started to feel a little more motivated. In September, I started to work more earnestly toward the rewrite. In recent weeks I've tried to step it up even more, giving a self-imposed deadline of 1/1 to have a functionally equivalent beta version done. I'm getting really, really close. It doesn't have everything I want for it just yet, but it's getting there. I want to spend time on the CoasterBuzz redesign around the forum app, and then go back to the forum after it's launched to start iterating some more.
Meanwhile, ad revenue held steady, but when it's flat and you have more traffic, that means the per impression prices is dropping, and that sucks. I heard either via a podcast or Wired or something, that this career media guy, John Battelle, started a new firm called Federated Media to sell ads for the trendy new Web properties and blogs. I made a case for them representing CoasterBuzz, and with a little luck and some sweet talking, they actually picked up the site. Here I am with a couple million of page impressions per month, along side of sites like Digg that get millions every couple of hours. It's nice company to be in, and frankly motivates me that much more.
So what's on tap for this year? Finish and start selling the forum, obviously. Relaunch the two big sites, too. If FM can start really selling, that's a bonus as well. The film experiment will be under the LLC as well.
Overall, 2006 was a pretty good year in terms of my professional life. Next year looks even better.
I talked them into getting a Mac for the testing team at work, indicating the market share is too large to ignore at this point. :)
Julie (Kara's roommate) just got a MacBook, the ever sexy black one. She's part of the family now too.
And I'm ready to declare that my MacBook Pro is the single best piece of technology I bought this year, even greater than my HD camera. It's my favorite computer of all time, and I've had a lot of them!
Wow, so I started mashing the keyboard as soon as I got home today, and I just stopped. The forum rewrite had been the bane of my existence for almost three years, but the last few weeks I've been like a machine.
Tonight I added the original code that I prototyped at least two years ago to do search. I managed to integrate it in just a few hours, do some tweaking, and it appears to run correctly. To really see if it will work, I need to run it against some production data (namely the gigabyte that is CoasterBuzz) and see what happens. Converting that data is gonna suck, but I suppose it has to be done.
A lot of the other things on my milestone list have just been melting away, and I feel pretty good about what I've written. I might just make my 1/1/2007 deadline to get to a feature equivalent point, though it's gonna be close.
Now I really need to go to bed...
You know how it goes around the new year, when everyone starts reminiscing and thinking about their lives. I figured I'd start to do this toward the end of the week, but the truth is that I'm already thinking about it.
Kevin Smith started a blog post about his fascination with Bruce Willis by talking about how lucky he is to have his life. I mean, listen to him gush about how great things are going for him professionally, not to mention he has a cute wife and adorable daughter as well. I'm happy for the guy (though I wouldn't want his weight problem), and it's inspiring to see someone who is so... inspired.
The scene he describes when waking up (though I can "see my cock" at least ;))... have you ever had days like that? I most certainly have, but maybe not to the extent that he's talking about. For him maybe it's a little easier, because he's doing exactly what he always wanted to do. With most people, what we want to do when we grow up is a little more fuzzy. It often starts out clear when we're young and stupid, but eventually most people get a little older and stupider and become a little more flexible to the possibilities. Wait, actually, that's smarter.
The last two years of my life have been, without question, the craziest of my life. In a relatively short period of time I've experienced everything from ultimate heartbreak to the most mind blowing joy (you know, the kind where your eyeballs roll back into your head... ;)). Professionally I've published a book, earned the respect of my peers, commanded big money and finally (recently even) figured out how to enjoy what I do. I brought two volleyball teams to levels they never thought they could reach (and I'm trying to forget one that had no desire to do anything). I financed new "toys" with the business and financially I've never felt better about things.
But I feel like something is missing, like I'm not quite ready to be totally happy. Maybe I'm still mourning the divorce. Maybe I'm a little scared about the future. It's all so exciting and yet unsettling.
And that was the recent realization I had. I feel like in many ways I've got a second chance at starting life, just like when I graduated from college. The difference is that this time I have a little more life experience, and I'm not do damn poor. Like I said... exciting and unsettling.
I think because I've only been to Universal Orlando in the off-season, and it's typically not busy at all, I've become spoiled and feel like it belongs to me. I got my first taste of exclusivity in 2000 when IAAPA had their social for four hours in the Islands of Adventure. Good memories of the dramatic entry through Jurassic Park, marathoning Dueling Dragons with Mike from CCI, and getting beer tickets from others.
After processing our passes the day before and getting Cath an introduction to both parks, we set out in the morning to find some breakfast. The Web site said the place across from Mummy in the studios had a big buffet, but when we got there, it turns out it didn't. In fact, the studio park has no breakfast to speak of at all, which was incredibly disappointing. We hoped to spent the morning and afternoon in the studios, but ended up going over to IOA to the place that has been doing a character breakfast buffet for years in Port of Entry. Expensive, but it was pretty good food.
This time we worked our way counter-clockwise around the park, starting in Seuss Landing with The Cat in The Hat. It's an old-school, Disney-style dark ride, but I love it. It's very much a new classic. After that we headed up to ride The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. It was weird walking up that ramp knowing that the station had been there since the park opened, and Mack did a nice job with the replacement ride. While I admire them for using the existing supports, it is a little disappointing that they built truss-style track as it violates the "no straight lines rule" of Seuss Landing.
On to the Lost Continent, we started with Poseidon's Fury. It's such a neat show, but I can't understand why the wait is always so long. It's the only attraction that I find myself always waiting for. To my horror, the talking fountain was down for refurbishment. Seriously, that really bummed me out. We snagged rides on Ice and the Flying Unicorn on the way out. Still love those dragons!
In Jurassic Park, we saw a "dinosaur" hatch in the visitor center. I've never seen them do that before. Sure, it was a little cheesy, but for as much space as JP takes up, there isn't much to do there. I never did get to see the Triceratops Encounter, and I fear I'll never get on Pteranadon Flyers.
We skipped through Toon Lagoon, where the iVillage Live show was being shot, and on to Marvel Super Hero Island. Spiderman was a walk-on via the Express entrance. Cath found herself getting a little weird after riding it, right around the climbing/falling sequence. It is pretty convincing, even after all of the times I've been on it.
We went back to the hotel for a nap, then headed back to Universal Studios for a some action there. First up, the Animal Actors show. That was fun, and it has a lot of animal "celebrities," including Frank from Men In Black. They showed how they can use a trained bird to fly in place in front of a chroma board using a high speed fan, and then shoot that for compositing into a film. That was pretty cool.
We got on E.T. next, and took the Express shortcut around the queue. The two of us got on bikes by ourselves, which was cool because you could actually hear E.T. say our names. Seriously, if he had to do eight names, we would've passed by too quick to hear any of them.
Cath wanted to do MiB again, so we did, and once again were the only people in our car. I beat her this time, but our average was just short of beating the people in the facing car.
Next, we jumped in for Earthquake. They ended up stalling at the end of the pre-show for some reason, and then when we got on the train, we were sitting there for a while. Must have had some kind of issue with the ride system. While this is one of the original attractions, I do hope that they'll it there, because everyone loves explosions and rushing water, right?
This time we were able to get on Revenge of The Mummy. I'll spare the details, but I will say that with a full train, the launch was just at the right speed to float you over the top of the lift and the following airtime hill. Very nice. Also good to see that the first Mummy was mostly functional. He was covered in a black shroud with a projected face when I was down there in March, and that was incredibly lame. He still doesn't lift his hand up vertically and "suck" the soul out of the intern though, the way he did when it opened.
By this time there was a pretty healthy drizzle coming down. How appropriate, then, to jump in for Twister. I still think it's a pretty cool attraction, though the tornado didn't seem as well-defined as it did the last time I saw it a couple of year ago.
After the show, the park was almost closed, and the drizzle had turned into a full downpour. I wonder if they were even able to have the Macy's Parade an hour before in those conditions. As much as I would have liked to have gone out to City Walk for dinner, we stayed in the Royal Pacific and ate at Jake's. We rented the movie Thank You For Smoking in our room, and it was quite hilarious.
In our final day, we didn't have a ton of things to see, so we really took it easy. Pastamore, on City Walk, had some cheap breakfast food, so we started the day there. Kind of fun to sit and watch the people stream in from the parking decks.
The Shrek film was first on our list at the studio park. Very well done, and the pre-show is very funny. I'm really glad we stopped to see it. Before leaving the park, we took another lap on Mummy. With only four people in the car, the airtime was much more ejector than the floater we had the day before.
On our way over to IOA, like the dork that I am, I took a picture of the trenched-out path that will be the walkway to the new Blue Man Group theater, between the Hard Rock and the Universal Studios gate. See you in June!
Our time in IOA was pretty mellow, since we hit most of the important stuff the day before. Not only that, but it was becoming very apparent that an entire week of doing theme parks is not really very vacation like. It's kind of exhausting. Granted, it was a lot less work at Universal than it was at Disney, but even still.
The next morning we said goodbye to the RPR, and caught a shuttle to the airport. The flight sucked, filled with kids who were coughing, vomiting, and stinking up the place with diarrhea diapers. Not one of the better flights I've had. Still, we had quite a bit of fun that week, and I feel like I don't have to see Disney again for at least another five years. Universal, however, I'll see again in June.
I talked for a little while with John Battelle today, the founder of Federated Media (and co-founder of Wired, Industry Standard, author). CoasterBuzz was recently accepted into his "federation" for ad representation, and I have to say that he really, really gets it.
We talked about quite a few things, but what really impressed me is that he's taken what he knows about the magazine business and applied it in a logical way to the online world. That's something most every old-school media company (including Penton Media, my former employer) has largely failed to do. The most important distinction he made is that the advertisers themselves, and their agencies, haven't changed all that much. The truth is, they're not as interested in reaching a demographic or niche as much as the online ad industry has led us to believe. They still want to align themselves with brands and see an attractive package, not just that they reach x number of 18-34 males who like golf (because where do you find people like that? ;)). That's why they invited my site, doing just a million pages a month, along side of giants like Digg. Anchors like Digg's entertainment section are the cake, and CoasterBuzz is like the icing, the decoration that makes it even more attractive.
He said the typical ad network now deals in a commodity market. It's cheap inventory that's hard to sell because there's little indication about what the quality of the content is. I would go as far as saying that's precisely the reason that Google ads work: Your ad dollars go where the quality content is that people care about. The FM approach is more labor intensive than Google's, but it obviously does work.
He got called away while were talking, and said he'd like to talk more later. I'm very interested to hear some of the other things he has to say.
I'm having the hardest time keeping up with things this week. I'm glad that I decided to leave a day between our return from Orlando and work, but it wasn't enough.
Kara and Julie were here for a couple of nights visiting. It was great to see them but I wish I didn't have to work. I don't feel like I had quality time with them. Then last night we went to a Cavs game to hang out with The Freezes, and that was too brief as well. Today I have to drop off some stuff with my cousin for Christmas, but I can't stay long. It's ridiculous!
We're going to visit Cath's family for Christmas, but aside from the actual travel, it should be pretty laid back. I'm not sure what we're doing, if anything, for the new year, but that seems ages away.
I need a vacation from the holidays!
Half of my professional life I worked for government, where there is no such thing as a holiday bonus. Since then I've worked for failing old media companies, start ups and stingy family operations that can't or won't afford bonuses.
So imagine my surprise when I get back from vacation to see that I got paid a little less than half of a very substantial bonus last Friday. And it's the biggest one I've ever had, even though it's only a portion. They operate on the base percentage and multiplier system that has become popular in a lot of places, the multiplier being based on some company performance metric between 0 and 2.
I hesitate to call this "corporate America" since it's still very much a dotcom start-up, but it's nice to work for a company that rewards its employees for the company's success. I thought that was starting to become a scarce concept. There have always been three things that I didn't like about working for The Man: Lack of growth or advancement potential (skills/responsibility), disregard for financial rewards and no independence in terms of how and when you work. Admittedly that last thing I still don't really have, but the time off and flexibility for leaving early now and then makes that a little easier to deal with.
If I'm really careful, and pay myself out of the business a little, I might finally pay off all of my personal debt. That's pretty exciting since I started the year at around $15k in the hole (not counting business stuff). I give myself a lot of credit for being so disciplined and still manage to live the J-Pizzie lifestyle.
Now if I can get the biz under control in the first half of the year... life will be financially pretty cool.
[url][url]Waking up for the last time in Disney's Pop Century, fairly late in the morning, we snagged some greasy breakfast from the cafe there and brought it back to a table at the pool outside of our room. For the first time since we arrived, it actually felt kind of peaceful there.
Cath had gone for earlier in the week and saw the entire complex. I was curious to see the unfinished side, so I went walking. The open part is the 50's to 90's, while the unfinished part is 00's to 40's. The only thing they've done so far is the central hall, where the desk, shop and restaurant will be, as well as a couple of the hotel buildings and foundations. It appears it'll be exactly the same as the existing complex, with another 2,800 rooms. [url="http://local.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&cp=28.350921~-81.545591&style=o&lvl=1&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&scene=3951112
"]There's a neat view of it on Windows Live. I'm not sure why they just stopped... I mean there's no construction action anywhere, it's just sitting there dormant.
We checked out at 11am and took a cab over to Universal. Sure was busy on I-4 for being late on a weekday morning. Total fare was about $28, which I guess isn't horrible given the distance.
I can't even tell you how excited I was to arrive at the Royal Pacific Resort. Pop Century was clean and adequate, but it's not a nice 4-diamond hotel for a hotel snob like me. Our room was not ready, as you might expect arriving that early, so we checked our bags and went in to process our annual passes. We took the water taxi, for the atmosphere.
I bought the passes online, at $180 each. It made more sense to get these instead of the $90 five-day tickets, since we were planning to go back in June for the Blue Man Group opening. As it turns out, the perks make it well worth it. You get 15% off on food at the parks, and to varying degrees the City Walk restaurants. You also get 20% off merchandise. I'm sure by the time we left we saved more than $50 by the time we left.
Pass processing was pretty efficient. I bought online, then used the machine to get printed tickets. We used them to get into Universal Studios, then went to get our pictures taken. Took only a couple of minutes, and we were on our way.
Initially, I didn't expect that we'd spend any real time there, but since we were in anyway, and the place was practically dead, why not?
I've never seen the T2 show, so that was first. It's really, really good. I thought it was a perfect extension to the movie, with a good mix of action on screen and off. I can't believe I went so many years without seeing it.
Next, we acquired food. The first place we looked, next to Back to The Future, they had a variety of better than average quick service offerings. I had Asian, Cath had fried chicken. It was all pretty good, and it wasn't chicken tenders and fries like everywhere at Disney. Cath made a massage reservation at the spa in Portofino for that night.
We walked into Men In Black and, to my surprise, Cath enjoyed herself so much that she beat my score. This is the woman who tells me video games rot your brain, mind you. :) Beginner's luck!
OK, so what's the deal with these idiots at Universal who are trying to sell you something? It's like walking down the strip in Vegas. Seriously, this is one of two major complaints I have about the way they run things there, and it ranks high on my list of things that border on offensive. I don't even know what they're selling, just that it annoys me.
Jaws was kind of neat, as I haven't been on that in years. Our "captain" was an off-the-charts spaz, but in a good way. Very entertaining.
We were hoping to get on Revenge of The Mummy, but it just went down mechanical, and it was starting to drizzle a little. I had a phone call that our room was ready, so we headed back to the hotel.
For whatever reason, after getting our bags, the keys we were issued earlier didn't work. I went down to get replacements, and when I got back discovered that our room was not a king as I reserved. Sounds a lot like the Pop Century issues! Fortunately, they were able to move us, but it was a whole lot of running around and we were (again) pretty tired.
Our room in Tower 1 was on the side facing Islands of Adventure, which was pretty neat to see. It's also just short of eye level of the lighthouse, so it lit up the room every few seconds at night. But so what, that's atmosphere!
We changed into our swimmies to ride the water rides. I haven't been on a river rapids ride since, well, I dunno. I thought at the time maybe not since the year Thunder Canyon opened at Cedar Point, but I may have been on Roman Rapids at Busch in Williamsburg. Regardless, Popeye's Bilge Rat Barges is the best. It soaks you like any other ride of its type, but I was totally blown away at the size of the lift, and the sheer speed in several sections. Needless to say, we got soaked.
On to Dudley's Ripsaw Falls, which I had hyped up as the greatest flume ever before riding Splash Mountain. When I was down there with the Michigan girls in March, it was closed for refurbishment. I'm kind of wondering what they did, because it appears to need a lot of paint and rust repair in several places. The water curtain on the lift wasn't doing its thing either. The skipping "boards" over the drop don't even pop the way they used to. Still, a whole lot of airtime on that thing, and a solid second place behind Splash Mountain. I could do without the direct in your face coin-op water canons though.
We ended the day on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Here's another ride that needs a little love. One of the dinosaurs is entirely gone from the first lagoon, and the others move like they have seizures. On the flip side, the T-Rex looked better than he ever has on any of my visits.
Despite the water, we did sneak on to the Hulk before we left. While we got right on using the Express perk of being a resort guest, it seemed pretty odd that they were running only one train. This isn't the first time I've complained about this. Here's the thing, Universal... people go in the off-season because of shorter lines. So why do you insist on disrespecting the value of their time (with shorter operation hours) by making people wait? The excuses about maintenance and staffing are irrelevant. Guests don't care.
After a nap, Cath went for her massage treatment and I bought a day of Internet access to catch up on e-mail and see if the lights were still on. I wandered over to City Walk and enjoyed a really good cover band before meeting Cath at NBA City for dinner. Excellent food, didn't expect that. The NASCAR joint was closed for refurbishment, but who cares, it was a dump with crappy food.
It was nice to be in the non-busy Universal kingdom.
We saved Magic Kingdom for the last full day on the Disney property. At this point it was very much a get up whenever we get up thing, because we were pretty tired. We tried to get breakfast in Cinderella's Castle, but apparently missed the cut-off by a few minutes. (I should mention there was a huge crane next to the castle doing something.) We settled for crappy chicken tenders and fries next to the castle on the edge of Tomorrowland. I swear it's the only food you can find at Disney.
The first thing we did was get a Space Mountain Fastpass, though it proved to be unnecessary. We went to the new Stitch show in Tomorrowland, which used to be the Mission to Mars venue. It has roughly the same arena, only instead of shaking seats, there's a harness of sorts that pipes sound into your ears, blows stinky air at you, etc. The animatronics are really impressive here, including the robot in the pre-show (voiced by Richard Kind, the guy from the TV show Spin City).
Space Mountain is as fun as ever. It's amazing how well it runs despite its age, and it's a fun ride. A real people eater too with the dual tracks.
We made our way to the road of many dark rides and got fast passes for Pooh. In that time we did a number of different dark rides, all of which were somewhat forgettable. The real score was the Pirates of the Caribbean, which is excellent as it ever was. The new Johnny Depp characters are very lifelike, right down to the drunken pirate thing.
The Enchanted Tiki Room is under "new management" with Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King. The show is still entertaining, but they cut the "Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" song and that sucks. Bastards.
Splash Mountain had about a ten minute wait and no Fastpasses, and wow do they run a lot of boats. We got stopped so many times as boats moved around through the blocks. They were six deep at the base of the lift to the big drop. It wasn't nearly as cool as our ride a few nights before because of the crowding factor.
We also did Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with a Fastpass, I can't believe how smooth that ride is given its age. It seemed a lot faster the last time I rode it, maybe because it was dark that time.
The Hall of Presidents was cool as always, if a little creepy. I mean come on, humans don't move their heads that slow! Animatronic Dubya's speech really calls him out as a hypocrite who isn't true to his own alleged beliefs. Overall, the show makes you proud to be an American, but at the same time makes you sad by showing how far from our core ideals we've drifted.
We ended our Magic Kingdom visit in the early afternoon at a small restaurant off of Main Street that wasn't bad. Very nice waitress from South Africa took care of us.
Returning to our room, we tried to make reservations at the Japanese restaurant in Epcot, but it was booked solid. Instead we got a reservation at Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco, a real branching out for me.
Upon returning to Epcot, we worked our way around the countries from the east this time. It was, again, ridiculously crowded. We didn't really see much this time, but there was a very neat tin toy exhibit in Japan. A really good live band was playing in Morocco and a fake Beatles cover band played in England. Really great live entertainment overall.
There was a live chorus playing in the big outdoor amphitheater across from The American Experience, and people were lined up in both directions to get in. You could hear and see it just fine from the midway later on.
When we returned for our dinner reservation, I was initially alarmed. The restroom was a disaster, and there was something nasty on the side of our table cloth. But our waiter was excellent, and when a musician and belly dancer came out, I was more at ease. Cath got chicken couscous and I got chicken kabobs. Absolutely amazing food and I'm really glad we got to try something different.
After dinner we walked on to Test Track. It was kind of fun. The high speed part is pretty neat. Cath recognized the "test guy" in the video pieces from some movie (I think maybe Best In Show).
While I was not really excited about dealing with the enormous crowd around the lake gathering for the fireworks show, I was drawn in by the big flaming torches, so we hung out on the edges to watch. I'm glad we did, because Illuminations is a pretty remarkable show. I can't believe they do it every night!
Being on the south end of lake, we got out really quickly and were among the first to board one of two buses. For the first time since we arrived, we were able to get back to the hotel quickly and with minimal inconvenience.
Back at the hotel, Cath got a strawberry milkshake and I enjoyed the big chocolate chip muffin I snagged from Magic Kingdom earlier that day. We had a lot of good times at Disney, but pushed ourselves to the point of exhaustion. I would welcome the relative calm at Universal the next day...
I've never been much of the work out type. I got exercise in high school because I was into cycling, and I got a little in college from volleyball the years that I was playing. But honestly, I have no idea how to work out.
Cath talked me into a little DDR tonight, and honestly I felt like I needed it. I always know I'm going to feel better afterward, I just have such a hard time getting started. It might not be the best form of exercise ever, but it helped me a lot last year. Without volleyball this spring, I'll need to stay active.
After DDR, Cath put in a workout DVD, and I'm blown away at the shape this woman is in. If you look close, she's probably in her 40's, but her body is in amazing shape. I'm sure some of it is just good genes, but wow.
Even though I don't take as much action as I'd like, I feel really good about the awareness I have about my body compared to 18 months ago. Amazing what a few traumatic life experiences will do for you. A lot of it is just attitude. I used to think, "It sucks that I can't just get by on eating crap and sitting on my ass," but I'm slowly being drawn into the feeling the afterglow offers.
We were pretty fried by Monday morning after running all over the place the day before. Slicing off my finger tip didn't help either. But we were in a nice warm king size bed, and that certainly did help.
We started the second day at Epcot, and had breakfast there in The Land pavilion. While making a brief stop at the other three parks a few years ago with Stephanie, I had not been to Epcot since 1990. I hate to say it, but it left me a bit indifferent this time.
While in The Land, we did the boat tour of the experimental agriculture facility, which is really cool. It appealed to the science dork in me. We skipped Sorin' out of respect for Catherine's potential yack factor. ;)
The Living Seas aren't living anymore, they're just The Seas, perhaps because they cannibalized one of the neatest things Epcot had going for it, and replaced it with a bunch of Nemo stuff. I'm not hating on Nemo, I'm just so disappointed in the way the actual marine life has been deemphasized and reduced in scope. Sea Base Alpha is essentially gone, and I didn't notice the restaurant that used to look into the main habitat.
I thought that Spaceship Earth was going to be down as they changed it, but apparently that overhaul came and went. We ended up getting stopped twice in the ride. I can't believe how loud the thing is. Despite the noise, it's in remarkably good shape overall, and it does make you think a bit about how far we've come in terms of our ability to communicate. Then you get a little sad when you realize the potential being wasted on MySpace. :)
We zipped over to Test Track and got Fastpasses, but would not ride it until the next day.
The World Showcase was always the part I found most interesting, and the flavor of each country is so unique with all of the natives working in each one. We started in Mexico on the boat ride, which is a little cheesy, but I love the location with the restaurant there. Next was Norway (land of the blonde giants) and really like their boat ride. I especially liked the ride op who declared us "brave vikings" at the end.
We had lunch reservations at Alfredo's in Italy, and of course had to have the Fettuccine Alfredo. Needless to say, it was awesome. The pasta is made there, and unlike the Italian chain restaurants in the US, they actually emphasize the cheese and not the cream, so the sauce is a hundred times more tasty. Yes, it's death on a plate, but it's super yummy. Our waiter was a complete douche, falling into the Italian male stereotype, unfortunately.
After lunch, we headed back to our room for a nap, still not quite recovered from the day before. As it turns out, we ended up napping most every day, mostly because we could. At least the bus rides were tolerable mid-day.
Instead of going back to Epcot, we went back to Disney-MGM since we didn't get Rockin' Roller Coaster the day before. They also had extended hours, so it made sense to enjoy the park a bit more. We snuck into the last Little Mermaid show, which was cute even if the lead wasn't a great singer. Sadly, we ended up eating chicken tenders and fries (again) because it was the best we could find. There was some kind of big private catered event going down in the Indy pavilion.
We walked through the area with the lights again, and peaked into the Pizza Planet, where Cath was disappointed to see no claw machine with three-eyed aliens.
Rockin' Roller Coaster was a lot cooler than I remembered. The music coming out of the train was loud and clear, and I can't believe how fast they move the trains between unload, load and launch. It's really impressive.
Other than a little shopping, that was largely our day. With one more day on the three-day tickets, we still had plenty of time to get around and do the things we wanted.
I'll also say here that I'm annoyed with the lazy fat-ass culture that Disney caters to. By the time we left Disney, I got really tired of seeing 40-something people who choose to rent an electric scooter and not get on their own two feet and walk. It's not that I feel I was inconvenienced, but rather people, especially kids, who had real problems. We watched as one of these people got on a bus, most of which hold two chairs at most, while a pre-teen kid suffering from some degenerative disease that made his limbs essentially non-functional, was left on the curb waiting for the next bus. That really pissed me off. Elderly people, who generally get up and walk when they can, were similarly displaced by people who are lazy, angry at everyone and unwilling to do anything about their health. One of these idiots ran into Cath three times the day before in line at Animal Kingdom and never so much as apologized. It didn't ruin my day or anything, but it just made me sad that people like this abuse the accommodations made by the parks.
On the third day...
Late last August (2005), when I achieved my initial weight loss goal, I got my industrial piercing. It's one of my favorite piercing types because it's non-conventional without being too "look at me."
In March, after going to Vegas for a conference, I got really sick. This irritated the piercing very seriously and the skin around it grew little bumps around the holes. I thought over time it would correct itself, and after doing the sea salt washes, tea tree oil and most recently, nothing at all for several months, it hasn't gotten any better. It got irritated and bled a little while on vacation last week.
So I have to make a decision that is disappointing any way you look at it. Either I take it out, which will suck because I like it, or leave it in and probably deal with the continued issues. It's a no-win any way you look at it, and it kinda bums me out.
We arrived in Orlando Saturday morning, where my mom picked us up. My mom and step-dad, aunt and uncle and grandparents all moved to The Villages, a retirement community north of Orlando. Sounds like a place to go and die, but honestly it's a pretty amazing place to live the last couple decades of your life. Lots to do.
I took my parents and Catherine to Medieval Times. The first time I went, years ago, Stephanie practically had to drag me there, but I had such a good time that I've enjoyed going back every chance I can. The show is the same it has been the last few years, and as usual my knight lost. But my slave topped off my beer many times, so it's all good.
After the show, my uncle dropped us off at the Pop Century Resort at Disney. They managed to hose my reservation and gave us a room with a pair of small double beds instead of the king I asked for. I was not pleased. The front desk was non-helpful, but the reservations guy I talked to figured it out for the next night. They explained that they ran out of rooms, and could not explain why there was any point in having a reservation in the first place.
A few words about Pop Century. First of all, it was packed. Disney considers this the "value season" with the cheapest pricing, but I can't believe how many people were there. I wonder why they haven't continued building out the other half of the century. They built the central hall, and a few of the room buildings, all unpainted. It's also the hotel furthest from Magic Kingdom, by a lot.
Pop Century begins the cattle wrangling in their cafeteria. The breakfast food was OK, but expensive for what it was. That's a recurring theme at Disney.
We started the first day at Animal Kingdom. Stephanie and I went the year after it opened, and honestly it was cool, but not more than a five-hour park. They've since added Expedition Everest and the Finding Nemo musical, and now you can make an eight-hour day of it.
The Nemo musical is amazing. The music was very well done, the sets top notch and the costumes and puppets (which kind of blend into one) were outstanding. The show is about 45 minutes, and the actors are not some second string Broadway rejects. Cath was theorizing that they might be testing the whole concept for Broadway, in which case I'd say they could easily pull it off.
Expedition Everest is a pretty cool ride. Disney does not screw around with capacity either. The ride is well paced and a lot of fun. It's not hour wait fun, but a worthy addition to the park. My only complaint is that you don't get a very long look at the Yeti.
With a 5pm closing, we went back to our room for a little break. Our stuff was moved to the new room, and with some new keys we were in. This one was on the ground floor in front of the pool in the 50's quad.
Let's talk some more about the buses. The reason I wanted to say on-property was the convenience of not having a car and being able to jet around the empire. The truth is, though, that the buses are slow, arrive infrequently and get packed with stinky people with kids who don't know how to behave in public. Hell, half the parents don't know how to act in public. In a nutshell, we had more than our fill of those stupid buses.
So next we dropped in on Disney-MGM Studios. My only real goal was to hit Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, but the park was really more beautiful than I remembered it. They had their giant holiday lighting display too. We ate at this place where the tables were cars in a drive-in (think Jack Rabbit Slim's). Food was OK. The coaster was down, but we rode Tower and it has a particularly good program on that run. Cath hates drop rides.
Magic Kingdom was open for its extended hours, until 11, so we park hopped again. The bus dropped us off at the transportation center. Remember that, it's an important detail.
The park was ridiculously crowded, and the fireworks ended as we arrived. It was like swimming upstream. Fortunately we got wristbands outside of the park. We did the Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain, and that was enough. I loved Splash Mountain, and had never been on it before.
We got back on the monorail to the transportation center, to find that the buses back to the hotels didn't load there. It seemed logical to me that they would be there, but they were actually just down the hill from the main Magic Kingdom entrance. I didn't notice any signage to that effect either. That was annoying. Back on the monorail, and about 90 minutes after we left the park, we got back with other sweaty and smelly people.
That was a long ass day. I ended it by reaching into my suitcase and slicing off the top of my right ring finger on a new razor. Think paper cut times a thousand. It bled like a dripping faucet. As if I wasn't exhausted enough.
All in all, the first day at Disney really surprised me because it was so freakin' busy. It didn't keep us from having a good time or anything, as we used Fastpasses and took it easy. One thing was for certain though, that if things were like this in the supposed off-season, no way would I want to come here in July or August!
I've been home only for a few hours, I'm totally fried, and I can't sleep. The fact that my asshole neighbors are setting off fireworks does not help. What the fuck is wrong with them? I've called the police several times but they've yet to catch the bastards.
My house is in disarray from Stephanie moving out some of the furniture while I was in Orlando. It's a neat opportunity to redecorate, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little weird. Everything just feels so... unsettled. Combine that with the obvious need to replace most of the carpet and I just feel like things are in a perpetual state of upheaval. I'm trying to accept that there's nothing I can do about it tonight, so I can sleep.
Catherine brought out her fake Christmas tree and put it up almost immediately after we got back. It still needs to be decorated, of course, but it already goes a long way toward saying, "The holidays are here, and this is a warm and friendly place." It's exactly what I need here.
OK, the mini-Epcot show is over... I'm gonna have another go at the sleeping thing.
I'm in my 7th floor room at Universal's Royal Pacific Resort, overlooking The Hulk, which is running for a buy-out right now with many buses flowing in the back way. Taking a little break after three days of Disney World.
And relax we shall... this place is dead! Disney was one cluster fuck after another. We had a good time, but I can't believe how crowded it was. Today we got our passes processed (15% off for food and 20% on merchandise, yay!) and hit the water rides I'd never do in street clothes. Got adequately soaked.
So now I'm checking up on e-mail and such, seeing how the house sitting is going, how Stephanie's move is going, etc. Oh, and buying Cavs tickets, which hopefully I can still do for good seats next week.
Many trip reports to follow...
I got the fifth and final season of Alias on DVD, and watched the special features.
I missed most of the season because I just got behind and didn't watch the episodes. The story writing got a little weird in the fourth season, and I think with J.J. Abrams working almost entirely on Lost, I think the overall direction of the story was not as strong as it could have been. But they do apparently tie everything together and bring back a lot of characters. With all of the quasi-archeology surrounding the Rambaldi character, there are a lot of loose ends. I look forward to watching.
The fifth season introduced two new characters that I started to grow fond of, and I thought maybe they were setting up new leads in case Jennifer Garner decided to bail as she started doing more movies. I think they might have been to carry the show, but the story got so complex and weird and I suspect they lost a lot of people. Not only that, but I think the only reason a fantastic spy show did as well as it did, for as long as it did, was Jennifer Garner. She's hard to take your eyes off of because her screen presence is so amazing. For someone who is so goofy in interviews and outtakes, she conveyed sadness and despair the way few actresses can. She's doing three movies so far for 2007, a comedy, a drama and an action movie.
One of the things I always liked about the show was that each one was like a movie in terms of its production value and scale. The only other show that could compare was 24. The twists from one episode and season to the next were insane. Honestly, watching the show reminds me how disappointing TV is these days.
I don't know where Eric lives, but I might have had his day if I ventured out to work today.
Right now we're having what you might call "the perfect storm" for Northeast Ohio. When the wind comes out of the northwest and Lake Erie is not frozen, and it's below 32 degrees, we get lake-effect snow. The wind sucks up moisture out of the lake and drops it down on us as snow. It can do it for hours and hours, and sometimes for a day or two. No amount of plowing will keep up with it entirely, and you can't get plows down freeways when they're full of cars. Last time this happened, it took me three hours to get home from work. Work is the snow belt, I'm in the secondary belt. No thanks!
There's a certain peace and quiet that comes with a heavy snow (well, except right now it's blowing hard enough to be horizontal snow). Sound is deadened, and when you walk in it there's that satisfying crunch under your feet. When I don't have to travel in it, I guess I don't mind it that much.
So I'm sitting here on the couch with my MacBook Pro, Cosmo keeping my feet warm and some soft tunes playing. I'm getting some work done and I feel relaxed. Catherine is done with exams, and I'll be heading to a warmer climate soon. Life is good.
Stephanie and I had lunch today. I don't know when I'll see her again, as she's moving to Colorado. While we'll keep in touch, of course, our next face-to-face contact is uncertain.
We ate at the cafe in the local organic grocery store. It's one of the things we always did, not so much as a routine, but just something that was an "us" thing. We had a lot of things like that, including bookstore visits where we'd look at tattoo magazines, see every movie we had time to see, play video games, etc. We had a lot of good times, that's for sure.
We said goodbye, and like something out of a movie, drove our separate ways out of the parking lot. As I watched "Ol' Blue" (her car) get smaller in my rear view, our entire decade together flashed in front of me, starting with her walking toward me, down the aisle. I couldn't believe how sad it made me.
Even thought the dissolution was final in July, something about our meeting today made it a lot more real for me today. I know our lives are both better than they were, and it's not like I want to get back together with her, but it's so hard to reconcile the whole experience. The feeling of loss is pretty intense. It's not about her, my self-esteem, how I'll be in other relationships, or feeling alone... it's just that feeling of loss.
The ins and outs of why things didn't work out are pretty obvious to us now (hey, therapy works), and there isn't anyone to blame or be angry toward. We'll always feel love for each other, even though we just aren't cut out to be married. After a decade, the friendship you build doesn't just disappear.
So with her masters in nutrition (her second masters degree), she'll take the national exam to be a licensed dietitian, and there is no state exam in Colorado, so she'll finally be set to work professionally after a very long journey to figure out what she wanted to do when she grew up. And from the pictures she has shown me, she'll wake up to see mountains every morning. She'll do well in her new life.
As for me, well, if you read this blog you know that I've seen more opportunity than I know what to do with. I feel like I'm in a pretty good place in my life, with a great deal of stability, and at the same time, limitless possibility. It's almost like I get to do my post-college years over again, only this time I have the earning power and life experience to do it my way. I couldn't have started writing this chapter ten years ago.
I tried to go to bed almost two hours ago, but Luna has been throwing up quite a bit.
There are two problems when she gets one of these bad episodes. The first is that she gets really needy. She absolutely won't leave me alone. She walks all over me, fidgets, won't lay down... it's bad.
Then there's the smacking noise. She'll do it for minutes at a time, and it's so maddening that you have to remind yourself it's not her fault. In long drawn out episodes like this one, she also does a little sad crying before she finally vomits.
This is the first time in at least two months that she's been like this. She's had very brief episodes about a week or so apart, where she throws up and then like a switch she's back to her normal self. That's why it's so discouraging, because it seemed like the meds were having a pretty dramatic effect.
When I get back from vacation she's going back to the vet for updated blood work and to have a cardiologist look at her heart. That should give us a better overall picture of her health beyond the hyperthyroidism.
Now, another try for bed...
Yesterday I was chatting with the guy I consider the resident genius at work about some of the things I was working on. He said if he has time that he'll look at some of my forum stuff, which is awesome because I feel largely like I've been working in a vacuum. He already helped me in one regard, to finally realize that storing something like a profile picture is OK to do in the database.
I feel like I've made some pretty good strides with it lately. I keep checking things off "the list," even if I do end up adding some minor things to it. The next major thing on the list to implement is the paging for topics and threads. The database part of that isn't hard at all. It's the caching part that is fairly challenging. One of the reasons it's so slow today is because it caches an entire thread at a time, which is a lot of database reading to do.
I'm supposed to get code from Federated Media today, and since the business day hasn't ended in San Francisco, I expect that I will. It'll be interesting to see what kind of ads they serve from their remnant inventory. Good high paying stuff is still a couple of months out as their sales force gets to selling CoasterBuzz. Pretty exciting stuff if they can deliver.
I blame the guys I do the podcast with, but while out for lunch getting cat food, I went into the neighboring evil empire (Wal-Mart) just for shits and giggles to see if they had a Wii. I felt dirty the moment I walked in there and creepy until I left.
Anyway, they didn't have any, which was no surprise, but they had a sign saying they "may" have some Wednesday morning at 8am.
So should I be one of "those people" and try to get one, or just wait until I randomly encounter one? I'm thinking I'll just wait. In fact, I decided that maybe I'll buy one as a reward for completing the forum app. (By "complete" I mean getting it "feature equivalent" to what I already have, though it'll already have a lot more inside with new features.)
I probably don't actually need the distraction.
I mentioned previously that I had several exchanges with Nitza, from the Cirque du Soleil Delirium tour. She sent out e-mail to all of the people she had chatted with and said something that really struck me:
The countless exchanges of emails and conversations (that I love to do personally) has furthered my belief that there exists artistry in each and every one of us and that, we are interchangeably both Muse and the Inspiration...
Very true with regards to the relationships of our lives. The people who are both are the people I most want to spend time with.
While playing the role of supportive guy while Cath freaks out over vet school exams, I figured I'd use the opportunity to get some real work done on my forum app. I want it done, or damn close, by the end of the month.
And like Tyler, I got up after a "normal" amount of sleep, and was tempted to go back to sleep. So I did for about an hour or so. Then I did it again in the afternoon lunch because Cath wanted to nap. I was initially feeling shitty about this, like a slacker, but I'm starting to realize that I need to listen to my body. I got up early, really early one morning, all week, while staying up late to work or play video games. Duh, that makes me tired.
I'm pretty excited to work on my own projects again, especially in light of the deal with FM to represent me. I mean, I've got a call with John Battelle himself next week, which is seriously bad ass. I can't wait to pick his brain and find out why he has a better system than the specialty ad networks before him. Kind of interested to ask him if Business 2.0 is still going to survive with such a thin ad page count (he writes for them, on occasion).
I'm sure Tyler can appreciate this, but here's a neat color scheme picking app, the best I've seen:
Also, I ordered CSS: The Missing Manual today. I looked at it at Border's today (not paying full price), and I have to say that it's the single most impressive book on the subject that I've ever seen. It's not just a reference, it actually shows how best to apply stuff to common problems. Very cool.