Two years ago today, after spending the early morning at Maverick's quasi-media day, I met Diana for the first time in a shitty little bar near her work. The Cavs had a game that night, and were headed for the playoffs. I've told the story before.
In any case, the crazy thing to think about this year is how much has happened in just two years. I would have never guessed that in about 22 months I'd be married to her. Even before I bought the ring, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not it was the right path. All I could find wrong with her was that she loaded the dishwasher funny and interjected the word "so" superfluously into phone conversations. Seriously, if those are the biggest negatives you can come up with for someone, I'd say they're a pretty good candidate for marriage.
I guess that's the most striking thing about her, is that there's no significant drama. I can only think of one instance where I was ever actually angry with her, but even then, I don't even remember what it was about. She has challenged me at every turn in terms of my expectations for what a relationship is supposed to be. As a former therapist once said, you learn about relationships from your parents, and then it evolves from your own experience. It never occurred to me that I could simply have one that was drama free.
There are still things that I negatively expect sometimes, like today when she was working outside I felt guilty as if I were supposed to be doing it too, but that's just not how she rolls. I'm grateful to be sharing my time with someone who makes it so easy to just be.
Yesterday morning I started to get a bit sneezy and snotty, which I should have expected after gleefully declaring on Friday that nothing was messing with my allergies. Diana suggested a Zyrtec, which she consumes like candy because of her crazy year-round allergy issues. As a popular 24-hour solution, you know, it'd be good for me. I was worried about the sleepy factor though, as I took one up at Kara's place last fall and passed out.
Less than an hour after taking it, I was passed out on the couch, sleeping hard. About 90 minutes later, she woke me up to go to a grad party out in Toledo. About half way through that drive, I fell asleep again. I didn't pass out drooling in a corner at the party, but I wasn't particularly alert. I managed to stay awake the whole drive home, listening to the Cavs begin to lose, and eventually came to bed just after midnight. I got up at 9:30, passed out on the couch, and slept two more hours.
"May" cause drowsiness? How about, "Will put your ass down for the next day?"
I can't believe that after such an amazing season that the Cavs would completely fall apart the way they did. Not to take away from Orlando, because they were pretty awesome, but the Cavs never established an offensive rhythm, and defensively left the outside open constantly. It was horrifying.
This off-season will be very telling. The MVP and coach of the year will have to get the full support of everyone in the front office as well as the other players, or they're going to lose James. He shows the kind of class of a Jordan or Byrd or other players who have had long careers with one team, but as Reggie Miller said in the commentary, if he gets big city stars in his eyes, he's out of there.
Sigh. Well, I guess I can let go of basketball until next winter.
Me and Red Delicious went to see the flick, and while I admit that I was entertained, I wouldn't describe it as a good movie. The story was completely weak. At least the others approached the morality issues relating to war and technology, and had some relationships. This had none of that. It mostly had explosions and robots.
Dare I say that it's the TV show that's really carrying on the franchise. Time travel gets you off the hook for alternate timelines and continuity (just ask JJ Abrams with Star Trek), and they've got a good story arc going. I dig it.
If you were planning to see this one in the theater, I'd suggest just waiting for the video release.
This could quite possibly be the best day of the year so far. It's sunny, not humid, not too warm, allergens seems to be minimal, and wow, it's really sunny. I couldn't help but get more, so I jumped in the hot tub.
One of my friends asked me yesterday if that made sense in the summer, and I told her absolutely. I tend to turn it down to about 98 or 99 degrees when it's warm, so it's around your body temperature. When it's really hot, 96 or 97 feels down right refreshing. I never thought that the variation across five degrees would feel so different. I never turn it up even near the max, which on mine is 104. Even 101 seems to make you sweat and it gets uncomfortable.
This makes me realize that I think I would want a pool if I lived in Florida. I know that's enormous additional expense, but I realized while staying at Diana's dad's house that it totally makes sense down there. I'd probably prefer it instead of a hot tub.
But for now, the tub is like a tiny pool you can't swim in. Yet another way for me to justify something that I had enormous purchase regret over. At first, anyway.
The last "substantial" ride I took was a week ago Tuesday, and between the traveling and the weather I haven't had another chance. It was chilly this morning, but it felt pretty good after lunch, so I took it down to the park and did five miles.
Five miles is "easy" to say the least, and can be done in 25 minutes or less. My brain still remembers good riding technique, but it's mismatched still with what my body is actually capable of. I used to be able to climb without losing too much speed, but now a slight grade causes me to down shift two gears just to keep my cadence up. If I could reach a less quantitative goal this summer, it would be to not have that condition.
I went down to the Metroparks, which kind of surround Cleveland in the "emerald necklace," as they say. The problem is the points closest to me are nearly at the highest evolution, so going west/north is a whole lot of down hill. Going east is more up. The bigger problem is that going east is a whole lot of non-interesting. I went west/north this time a mile and a half and it was actually pretty even, so I may continue to push in that direction.
I want to do an hour of riding on these park trips, which would probably settle around 12 miles depending on what the terrain and elevation change actually is. I'd be happy if I could get into enough of a routine to do that three times a week.
After feeling tired running around hilly east PA parks last weekend, it only reinforces that I need to get into some measure of fitness, post haste.
At lunch today I mentioned to my friend that it always felt like I was on summer vacation when I was out and about in the middle of the day. She asked if that was good, and yeah, of course it is! It also got me to thinking about the differences between working a day job and being self-employed.
There's one fairly enormous difference that I never really considered. When you work for someone else, you always have someone else setting the agenda, regardless of your role. Even as the head of a department or in a management position, there is someone else who says what you're after. When you work for yourself, there is no one to do that.
I know that sounds fairly obvious, but I suppose I've never really thought about it. What it tells me is that for all of my self-criticism over non-execution of my ideas, I've never really specified which ideas I should be executing in the first place. Funny how a totally obvious thing can be a moment of clarity!
So the action item, to use corporate parlance, is to list what the ideas are, which are interesting, the work involved, the earning potential, and whatever other factors there are. I can tell you what none of it is, and that's client work. Granted, the idiots I worked for sucked at what they did when dealing with clients, but I don't want to put up with external people like that, always chasing the next project. I like being content-oriented, and making money in my sleep.
The book is still very much on the agenda, I'm just not sure how it fits into the grander scheme, and what the timing is. Gotta nail that down too.
I was talking to a friend today, divorced, who indicated that today was her would-be anniversary. Like a lot of divorcees, she believes that she's better off, and it was the right thing. But the date still makes her very sad. A lot of her well-meaning friends tell her, "Oh, it's just another day, nothing to be upset about."
But it's never "just another day." Not only is it OK to be sad about it, but I think it's the right thing to remember it. Conventional wisdom is that there is some binary condition when it comes to the sad things in your life, like they matter or they don't. I don't understand why we're so eager to dismiss the bad and only remember the good.
I know I've heard similar advice on my "ex-aversary," but it still makes me sad every year. Getting re-married doesn't make it all go away, and honestly, I wouldn't want it to. We had some good years and it's a permanent part of my life. The sad part doesn't take that away.
It's another example of how our relationships do not replace one another, but rather continually add to the mix of who we are. They take practice, and for better or worse, sometimes we need to get them wrong before we can really get them right. That process never stops, even when we're married.
Me and Diana were watching the news last night, when they had a story about how existing home sales are picking up, and that we "might" finally be at the bottom. They mentioned how parts of Florida were seeing ridiculously low housing costs. You know, if we didn't have her house in Cleveland, we'd probably buy one in Florida just because we could afford it, then move whenever it made sense.
It's weird though, because around these parts, it doesn't look like the foreclosure problem is in the 'burbs, as houses around me are selling pretty much for what they should. It's not like Las Vegas, where 2,500 sq.ft. homes are going for half-price. It seems like our drag is more in the city.
I still subscribe to two magazines: Wired and Fast Company. I fancy myself as a little of both.
The big thing I get out of these rags is inspiration. I spend a lot of time, probably too much, trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing with my professional life, and feel like I never get any closer to answering my own questions. But reading about the success that other people have, in trying new things and sometimes just stumbling into the "right" thing, makes me happy.
There was a time where I could always see myself doing something in the future, regardless of my inner feelings about whether or not I actually would do that thing. These days, I'm grappling with, and accepting, the idea that it's very unlikely I'll ever know anything about what I'll be doing even a few years from now. (There's a certain peace that comes from that.) But the thing that the magazines do for me is remind me of the nearly limitless possibility.
I saw today a link from someone that Cameron's house from Ferris Bueller's Day Off was for sale, and I couldn't resist but pop the movie in. It is without question one of the most classic movies to come out of the 80's. It's a comedy, sure, but there's a lot you can learn from it. I wish I would've had more adventures when I was a kid. It's funny, because on our recent trip to the art museum, I totally forgot about the scene in the movie where they go. And Jennifer Grey was funny, even though she drove a Fiero. Nobody puts baby in the corner.
That made me think of Pump Up The Volume, which came out four years later in 1990. Yes, anything that Christian Slater is in is likely of questionable value, but between the pirate radio, disenchantment with high school, and his character's desire to question everything, it sure struck a chord with me while in high school. Yeah, I had a crush on Samantha Mathis (who I last saw on an episode of House), but I was into the flick. It's on our stack of, "Hey, we need to watch that" movies.
This pretty much encapsulates much about the way I feel about life. And yes, I'm two months behind on my magazines. FC can be hit or miss in terms of content, but I like this piece.
Check this out... an albino dolphin!
Tyler blogged about this silly list of things you're supposed to do when you're 25, written by some anonymous woman who I suspect has reached the old and grump stage of life.
Here's the thing... you don't know shit when you're 25, because you haven't made enough mistakes in life. It doesn't matter if you tell someone that age what they should do, because they're not inclined to listen. Shit, I'm 35, and generally disregard my own advice (and I give a lot of it), let alone advice from others.
I'm generally annoyed by the suggestion of "growing up" when it's defined as a series of cultural norms that you're a piece of shit for not adhering to. While some of those things may fall in the category of basic human respect, what kind of fucked up world would you live in if you couldn't ask friends for help moving or stay with friends or be expected to wear heals or a tie?
"In order to create a company that has this enduring value, that is going to be here 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now, you have to focus on delivering value first and profit second, especially considering we are only two years old," Stone said. "We have time to work on what will be our business model."
Am I the only one who finds that very 1999? Time will tell if they're right (I don't think they are), but as long as you're running on someone else's dime, you're somebody's bitch.
I'm really starting to get discouraged over my lack of progress on writing this book. There's a part of me that just wants to bail and forget about it, and get back to writing code. There's so much detail to get right, and it feels like every little thing I need to research to make sure I'm telling the right story.
Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to think more clearly about it.
I love how these idiots talk about "preserving" and "protecting" marriage, as if it were in some danger to begin with. Like I'm somehow going to be less married if a couple of men or women are married. The horror. Call it what it fucking is: Civil War era bigotry. This country has never been at peace without hating on someone, whether it be the natives, African-Americans, Mexicans or homosexuals.
I remember when I was in college and first started shopping for my own groceries, that I would often compare the cost of restaurant dining to the grocery store prices for food. Now I do the opposite. I justify a $5 marinade when I figure the cost of it plus chicken is still less than those ingredients in a restaurant. That's messed up.
Do you remember that Britney Spears special that MTV ran back in December? We DVR'd it but never got around to watching it until tonight. It wasn't really as big of a deal as I think people hoped, but at least she was forthcoming in the reason for doing it, that being she needed some positive PR.
I will say that I was surprised to see how really her problems aren't any different from anyone else, it's just that the magnitude of her mistakes are amplified by her fame. She has had to grow up in public where her mistakes are headlines.
Her biggest mistakes, clearly, were in her relationship choices. She said the Justin breakup was difficult, and the K-Fed divorce was even worse because she had kids with him. What makes me think that she's doomed to repeat this is that she said fame can push her into loneliness, and that when she's in love, she's all in. Those seem like two things that will ultimately lead to more suffering.
I can actually relate to that (not the fame part), because even being in a dysfunctional relationship creates a certain high that leaves an enormous hole when it's gone. You want to plug that hole in whatever way you can, even if it comes at the expense of your own well-being.
We were having a discussion about this over the weekend, about identifying the compromise you make in your relationships, and the point at which it's not worth it. It seems like with each relationship you have, and subsequently lose, you better understand the things you do that sell yourself short for the sake of occupying that relationship slot. That, in turn, causes you to wonder when you really "know" if your ideals are being satisfied.
I'm not sure if you ever truly know this, because the variables involved between any two people are vast in number. I think culturally we're expected to believe that significant compromise is the only way a relationship can work, and I think that's horrifying. It makes me sad that I've engaged in relationships, really going back to college, where there was drama and contempt, all the while convincing myself (as Britney does) that everything is super, and that I'm happy with how things are. I don't regret those times, but wish I didn't have to endure them to understand what a truly functional relationship is supposed to be today.
Certainly, with a second shot at marriage, I had to be damn sure that I wasn't making compromises, and I don't think that I am. In fact, I find myself thinking I should be short-circuiting my own beliefs and ideals at times, only to find Diana telling me not to. Those are the only assurances I have to know that I'm getting it right, because my own bias may always prevent me from seeing things entirely as they are. That's a lesson learned from lots of counseling as well.
Who knew? We're all a little like Britney.
We settled on a PA coaster trip for the long weekend, as it was the most economical of our choices. Our hotel stay in Allentown was free, so our total expense was two tanks of gas, one hotel night and Hersheypark tickets. Not counting food, I don't think we spent more than $250. That's a plus because I'm po.
We arrived in Hershey on Friday around dinner time, and met Carrie M. at our hotel. We went to dinner, and she used some season pass coupons to get us $31 tickets, a far cry from the $52 gate. Do people really pay that much? That seems really high. In any case, you can get in the night before for 2.5 hours on your ticket, which is incredibly awesome. Being a holiday weekend, we were nervous about what we may encounter. Friday night, hoards of band geeks were leaving as we got there, and the only thing we had to wait for beyond a few cycles was Fahrenheit.
Fahrenheit is a pretty solid ride overall. As others have said, the first few inversions are a little slow feeling, but beyond that, it's a lot of fun. The short trains really offer a lot of flexibility. It's very quick in the turns. The first drop is better than Maverick's since it's longer, but it obviously lacks the same kind of speed. It's a nice addition overall.
I finally got a "good" ride on Wildcat, which is to say that it was tracking well and mostly smooth, except for some jackhammering near the end. But it's really not that interesting of a ride, unfortunately.
We also got spins on Lightning Racer, which is still running extremely well, the Wild Mouse with almost no brakes, Great Bear, one of the most underrated of the B&M inverters and Comet, which appears to have an adult, single-sex crew this year and is better for it. We finished on the Arrow flume, which is a total classic of a ride. It makes me miss White Water Landing.
Saturday we returned to the park, after a night at the Quality Inn which was just OK. I dunno, it didn't feel clean enough. The park was surprisingly not all that busy, and we had no problem rounding out the coasters we didn't already ride, save for Storm Runner which was closed. That sucks, because Diana has yet to be on an Intamin hydraulic launch. The new water park was an absolute zoo. I've never seen a line like that for a lazy river. Zoomerica was wholly unremarkable.
Service and operations are a mixed bag. Some crews are better than others. Food service is hit or miss too. We tried scoring ice cream under Great Bear's zero-G roll, and the kid was filling in circles on his cup lid, not even bothering to look up. I should have asked if I was bothering him. On the other hand, the kids at the potato chip joint were eager to help.
Overall, it was fun to visit Hersheypark, and it's still one of the nicer parks I've been to. They have a nice mix of rides.
We left Hershey in the afternoon, and made the hour drive to Allentown. The hotel that we're plugging on the CoasterBuzz Club page for 20% off is really solid, and it's literally across the street from Dorney. We went to a Carrabba's down the street for dinner, and got a second wind and decided to go into the park.
I told Diana it was like "little Cedar Point," and that was exactly the impression she got. The park has really filled in a bit since my last visit, which was in 2001. Talon looks fantastic. The water park crowd had spilled out, so we decided to snag a few rides and get out, as the fatigue started to set in again. We got laps on Steel Force, Hydra and Talon.
Hydra is awful. I doubted all of the haters, but there's something fundamentally wrong with it. I don't think it's poor train maintenance, because you don't see any of the shimmying around of the cars that you see on Hulk, for example. It's so rough. Something ain't right.
Talon, on the other hand, is just as awesome as I remember it. I remember now why I thought it was one of the best B&M inverters, right up there with Fire, Raptor and Montu. We got up to Talon's station just as a line of serious thunderstorms, with ample lightning, was rolling in. They closed the ride as soon as we got back. What a fantastic setting that was, at dusk with the storms. The forces that thing pulls are outstanding.
On Sunday, we slept in and missed another "complimentary continental breakfast," and got to the park at around 11. I was shocked at how non-crowded it was. We endeavored to hit the rest of the coasters, and even snagged a credit on Woodstock's Express.
It's funny to think about how Superman-Steel Venom-Voodoo-Possessed has now had four names in two locations. The ride looks pretty good there, with the new paint and all. I will say that I like how Six Flags originally put the electrical room under the ride, as it made the ride feel more open. It's a little sad to see Laser missing.
We did everything we wanted by 1:30, and decided to make a run for Knoebels. I originally let the idea go feeling we wouldn't have enough time, and I couldn't justify full wrist band purchases, but found a way to make the park "on the way" and had no problem spending ten bucks on a couple of rides know in enthusiast circles as being legendary.
Being an open picnic grove kind of place, I shouldn't have been surprised at how crowded it was, but yikes. Fortunately, with most people riding via tickets or spending time in the water stuff, there was almost no wait for either coaster.
So I finally understand what all the noise is about when it comes to Phoenix. What a fantastic ride. Great crew as well, really taking pride in moving people through there. See, this is a ride that was worth preserving, because it has something going for it other than age. Total air time machine, start to finish. Loved it.
Twister was a solid ride as well, particularly if you're a lateral fan. It's one of those things where when you consider the constraints of a piece of land, you get something interesting like this.
Overall, there are a lot of things I would have liked to have done at the park, if we had more time. Didn't get the flyers, which is some kind of sin, I know. In order for us to get home in time to see at least half of the tragic Cavs game, we couldn't hang out much. Food pricing looked reasonable, and we enjoyed some ice cream, which was delicious. At least now we have a better idea of what's there, and can plan appropriately. No idea where we'll stay, as there aren't a lot of hotel options near by, and I'm no camper.
In the end, we spent time in three different parks inside of a 36 hour window, which really brought back my inner-coaster geek. I can't remember the last time I took a multi-park trip that wasn't Orlando. Good times.
We left Carrie and Hershey around 4 this afternoon, after getting more than enough time there. We were feeling pretty wiped out, and I'm glad we made the trip to Allentown earlier so as not to be driving around in the dark.
After getting dinner at a Carrabba's (never been there), we got a slight second wind, so we dropped in to Dorney. That lasted about an hour, and after riding Steel Force, Hydra (shitty) and Talon, we headed off the coming lightning storm and retired to our (free) hotel room. Now we're uber-tired.
Arrived around dinner time here in Hershey tonight, and met Carrie for dinner. She hooked us up with discounts (because the park is a staggering $52 without), and you can use the tickets the night before for 2.5 hours before closing. We rocked out and hit every major coaster except Sooperdooperlooper, the mine train, the boomerang, and of course Storm Runner since it's not running.
Fahrenheit is... not bad. The drop is killer, but not nearly as "violent" as Maverick because the curve of the top is really big. The first several inversions feel like slow-motion, but it has a strong finish. Neat lift system too.
Ended the night on their old Arrow flume. Makes me miss White Water Landing. It's sad that no one has flumes like this anymore.
Tomorrow we'll get to really take it easy and enjoy the park without being pressured to get in long lines for credits. They're opening the new water park stuff, so I'm hoping people are flocking there.
I was just looking at some of my personal finances, relieved to see that if this job market continues to suck, I'm still good to go all summer. That's a positive note.
Obviously that entails looking at the business as well, and I updated my ad revenue spreadsheet for the last four months. Wow, I guess I didn't truly realize just what kind of world of suck we've been living in since last fall. I look at two measurements, the obvious one being the total ad revenue from all of the ad networks. Wow does it suck. 2008 was pretty brutal, and this year got off to a rough start. This month is better, but only because Federated Media is really saving my ass.
The second thing I look at is the actual cost per page view, and that's down almost 50% from last year. If it weren't for a solid rise in traffic, I'm not sure what would happen.
Two things help, the first being club memberships. Just as it was in 2001, I'm not sure if I'd still press on with the site if it weren't for that. I'm really grateful that people think it's worth paying for (though I know some do it just for the events, which is fine). The other thing is self-sold advertising, but unfortunately, we didn't get any at all this year from hotel listings, which is a damn shame. Those were nice scores in previous years.
I think part of the drag comes from the comparison to late 2005 to early 2008, which were ridiculously awesome. Those were good times. But those times also came after a long post-2001 recovery. I sure as hell hope it doesn't take four years to come out of this!
The positive around this is that I've been working on things I can control to help improve the situation. I've been looking at radical traffic growth lately due to a combination of SEO, marketing, tweaks and various strategic efforts, and they're paying off. I don't know why I've used that expertise in my day jobs for years but wasn't applying it to my own sites, but I am now. I suspect that if I wasn't writing a book, I could do a lot more!
Now that I'm getting back into my roller coaster nerdness a little more, I have to admit that this is all a lot more fun again.
A recruiter got me all excited about a possible gig, and once I talked to people at the company, a law firm, it largely confirmed what I feared. It's a rigid work hour, shirt-and-tie kind of affair. You can imagine that as someone who is nearly 36 and never even owned a suit that this isn't the kind of place I'd fit in very well.
There's a part of me that wants to believe that these kinds of places still exist and that there's some rational reason for it, but it surprises me in a world that expects more without giving more. I knew things weren't right when the guy I talked to said something about "guys in T-shirt and ponytails." I'll have you know that pretty much describes some of the most brilliant people I've met at more than one job.
I also think this is part of the reason that I'd really enjoy working at Microsoft if I had the chance. The culture, at least in the areas that I would be interested in, is very cool. People are energized, they have offices and they wear whatever the hell they want. VP's do presentations in jeans and red polo shirts (The Gu!). The focus is on getting things done and delivering stuff, not when you got there and what you were wearing. Appearance does not command respect, only not sucking at what you do can earn that.
OK, Cavs game is getting too close, so now's a good time to take a break from writing. I really thought this book would come along faster, but it's not.
There are two problems I see. The first is that it takes a lot of concentration for long periods of time. I've been at it today on and off for about ten hours. It's a strange sensation to just feel like you can't do any more thinking. The other problem is that translating what I know into a way that I think makes for good teaching is time consuming. I have no interest in simply regurgitating documentation or what others have written. My angle is to explain things in a way that is easier to understand, and with context. I was a writer long before I was a programmer.
Without a traditional publishing contract, I'm not held to any external time line, which is a problem. I'm not bound to getting things done, or even finishing, and have to do it all myself. I need to find a renewed sense of purpose here and better manage my time.
I keep kicking myself in the nuts for not working on the book, and yet I'm being strangely domestic. So far today, laundry, hot tub maintenance, wasp removal and I'm trying to cover up our "mulch pile" (read: five years of weeds, mulch and shredded landscape fabric) with a tarp so our neighbor isn't annoyed by it.
If I start vacuuming again, that would just be weird.
I'm having one of my BWW lunches today, though I was supposed to meet a friend for lunch. People bail, whatever.
I have an issue though with this kind of arrangement. I'm not one who keeps score, and I try to accept friendships as they are. But my damage includes a lot of history of people letting me down. Sometimes it really starts to wear on me. You try not to take it personally, because it's not about you, but it's almost never that easy.
One upside is that I try not to be that way toward other people. I don't always succeed, but I do try. It's strange that we often try to mold ourselves not just by what others do, but by what some don't do.
I feel much better today, fortunately, and had no problem getting out of bed and going for a spin on the bike. Doing only four miles, I made some discoveries.
On the positive side, the bike is remarkably comfortable. Even the stock seat is pretty decent. I can't believe how much better the ride is than on my old bike, which shouldn't come as a total surprise given the larger wheels, but it's fairly dramatic. The shifting is smooth, and I really like the trigger shifting. While not super light, it doesn't feel like I'm carrying a huge steel thing around either.
On the negative side, my body frustrates me. My head remembers how I used to ride, muscling up a hill quickly, but my body isn't even in the neighborhood of working that well. I have to adjust and lower my expectations because I'm out of shape. It'll take awhile to get myself back to a place where I can naturally ride the way I used to.
So while I found myself climbing a slight hill at a sad 9 mph, it sure felt good going down it at 22 mph. On flat land I had no problem going around 14. The bike handles really well, and it feels good.
I had a dream that I bought a new hot tub, and Diana was furious about it, even though I bought it for her. The idea was that it had "better" jets to message her back or something. Also weird, I was installing it in some kind of garage-like part of her dad's house, where I also had a bunch of friends show up for a party, and some were recording a podcast.
It all seemed completely random.
Today was crappy for me and Diana. She's had some pretty serious neck and shoulder pain, probably from some combination of stress issues, which may be bringing her to a migraine, which would I'm sure reverse aggravate the muscle pain. This sucks, because we thought this was addressed when she had the physical therapy following the vertigo problems. I hope to God those don't resurface.
Meanwhile, I woke up with some kind of sinus/ear/head thing going on, with blocked ears. It was accompanied by the fatigue and vague ache-all-over feeling. I just felt wiped out and ended up napping for an hour this afternoon.
In my case, not engaging in the things I want to accomplish sets off a big round of self-imposed guilt issues. I'm freaking out a little that I'm not getting as much writing done as I thought I would. May is more than half over now. I'm not pleased with myself.
To my credit, Mondays are days that pile up with stuff, and I did execute on all that junk. I spent entirely too much time talking to a recruiter about a six-week gig that the company says I'm "over qualified for" (seriously, then what's wrong with six weeks of getting really good help?). Then I had a more positive phone call about something cool for the fall.
I never did get on the bike either, which also blows. Tomorrow has to be different. Hopefully Diana is feeling better. We're trying sleeping in her old bed to see if we can at least take one thing out of the equation for her strange pains. Both of our mattresses are 12+ years old and in dire need of replacement.
It troubles me this year how I've been kind of slug like. Not working has made it worse because I'm not even walking to and from my car to go to work! After walking around Cedar Point yesterday and feeling shitty, I decided that I've had enough.
My classic problem is that I hate fitness for the sake of fitness. I have no desire to ever step foot in a gym, muscle tone serves no purpose to me and how I appear is only marginally important. So there are only two athletic endeavors that ever held my interest in any way. Volleyball is of course one of them, and while I miss coaching, I just don't know that I have the capacity for it right now. The other is cycling, which I haven't done in years, and I hate my old bike.
I first got the bike in high school, and it's about 20 years old. It was an early mountain bike, before anyone really bought mountain bikes. It's made of steel alloy, so it's heavy. It has 26" wheels and sub-optimal gearing for cruising speed. And it's heavy. I just feel like I outgrew that bike 15 years ago.
The obvious remedy to that was to simply buy a new bike. I almost bought one last year, and was ready to do it right. I was budgeting for something in the $1,500 to $2,000 range, carbon fiber, road bike... do it right. I never pulled the trigger because I wasn't sure that I would really commit, and that would be an expensive thing to not commit to.
Last night I started window shopping for bikes, and I was surprised to see the range of inexpensive hybrids, that fall somewhere between road and mountain bike. Initially I figured, you know, spending somewhere under $500 is something I could justify, even while not working. I went to Eddy's today to see what they had.
The really inexpensive bikes were a little on the heavy side and the components were a little on the cheap side. Probably not unworkable, but sloppy shifting is something I wanted to avoid. I also wanted aluminum and not steel. Trek, Specialized and Cannondale all had nice stuff in that range. After taking it for a spin, I settled on a Trek 7.3 FX. The frame was light enough, the shifting was solid and the braking was really responsive. At $579, it was a little more expensive than what I wanted to spend, but again, I didn't want cheap components.
It's not a tricked out road bike, but I think it's about the level that makes sense for the seriousness I'm willing to take. I haven't decided on any goals, but I think 750 miles for the year would be reasonable. Perhaps doing a metric century (100km, or 62 miles) would also be a good goal. I need to look around at the local bike clubs and see what they've got organized.
I did a quick spin around the neighborhood, 2.3 miles, and on one hand it felt good to ride, but it also made me realize how out of shape I am.
As Diana mentioned, we went to Cedar Point yesterday. It ended up being pretty much a failure of a day, through no fault of the park.
Expecting morning rain, we decided to go in late. Well, the rain didn't get there in the morning. The forecast the night before said it would likely hit from 6 to noon, or about that range, so we slept in and didn't get to the park until 12:30 or so. The first thing we did is go to Famous Dave's for lunch, and it was yummy.
After that, we caught up with the Walsh's when the OSU band played. It got cold, so we went back to the car so I could get a jacket. Going back in, it started to rain a little. We got on Paddlewheel Excursions to see the tree removal, which really takes away from the ride, but I'm sure it has to be done.
We hung out in the queue shelter for awhile, and then made our way around. I like the new sign at the Frontier Trail/Town border. The lights for the light show are not nearly as incognito as I hoped. I hope it's something that I just stop noticing after awhile.
By the time we got up to the front of the park, it appeared to be raining for real, and none of the big rides (except Power Tower and maXair) were running. I came up with the brilliant idea that this would all pass, and people would go home, so we went into town to see a movie (Angels and Demons, if you were wondering).
Sure enough, when we got out, the sun was shining brightly, and we headed back to the park. The part about the crowd thinning out? Didn't happen. It was still crazy crowded everywhere. Even Raptor had an uncharacteristically long line for the post-dinner time frame. Power Tower was without line, so we did get on that. But the lines were ridiculous everywhere, and we're really line averse, at least at that park. We started to think about eating, but couldn't bring ourselves to overspend money on CP food.
So while we did get some nice exercise roaming around, we split at 8. It just wasn't meant to be. You never know what you'll get on an opening day. Some years you can walk on everything, others it's a zoo.
We finally got around to watching the Scrubs finale. It wasn't anything particularly earth shattering, and didn't get too nostalgic. One very cool thing they did is bring in a ton of people from over the years to appear in one of his last fantasy cut-aways, including the dead characters.
What I really loved about that show is that it was able to go from serious to funny and back without ever missing a beat. I saw parts of myself and my closest friends in those characters, as neurotic as they were.
After watching the show for eight years, I mean, whoa, who works anywhere with the same people for that long? It seems unheard of. In fact, when that show started, I was working at Penton, was just married (the first time) and had only been working in an Internet role for a year.
I can't imagine what it's like to wrap on a show like that after doing it so long. People who work in that environment say it's like summer camp, now imagine doing it for eight years!
I'll miss that show.
Ugh, I can feel it in my chest. I get a sneeze now and then, but I can tell worse things can't be far off. My allergies have come and gone throughout my life, but last spring was particularly crappy. In years that I've had issues, they've typically been at the end of May or start of June, and last a few weeks.
I've been feeling a little congestion lately, and last night apparently I had a light snore going on. Not a good sign. Of course, I feel like a big baby to complain about it, because Diana's allergies are about a billion times worse, and she's heavily medicated to deal with it.
I have to admit that it's pretty bad news to hear about all of the car dealerships that are closing, both from Chrysler and GM.
But what struck me as crazy was that the Chevy brand sells as much as Toyota, only with three times as many dealerships. Wow! When you look at the economics of that, frankly it only makes sense that a great many be closed. The economic impact might be pretty bad, but how could they have not seen that coming? Certainly someone at some point had to have noticed the disparity.
It's sad to see the industry that we invented incapable of evolving.
I'm not making the kind of progress on the book that I hoped for this week. I find myself daydreaming about what I want the current chapter to say, but I have yet to get it on paper. I'm easily distracted.
I got some feedback about it from my contact at Microsoft, who thinks it's a fabulous idea, and he put me in touch with a few other people for further direction. Also got the down low on product cycles and development, with approximate ranges for release dates, which also helps immensely. (Obviously I can't say what they are, since it's all under NDA.) I have a pretty good feeling about it all, so I really need to execute.
I have found myself thinking more critically about CoasterBuzz lately, since it's obviously what's paying the mortgage right now. The ad network that had been doing pretty well is down about 60% for the same month last year, which is pretty dramatic and very disappointing. Thank God for Federated Media, which is kicking ass and taking names.
I've been trying to make tweaks to the site that cause it to make more money. In the old days you could just put more ads up, but not anymore. That also tends to annoy people, which I'd rather not do. Ultimately, people want solid content, so that's what you have to give them. I've been very lucky to see a steady increase in solid discussion, which has a high read rate. I'm glad to see quality and thoughtful people participating more.
Looking over my stats, I realized that few people ever looked at photos on the site. Tuesday night I elevated a random photo tease to the home page. That caused a 20% boost in page views per visit! Such a small tweak, with dramatic results. Photo pages only have the main banner ad, so they don't make a ton of money, but they do engage people, which is certainly what I'm after.
I've said before that I would rather have a thousand paying members than ten thousand regular visitors, in part because the ad revenue is so hard to predict. Not only that, but people who pay money tend to be a lot more in to what they've bought. I realized shortly after re-launching the site last fall that it was simple enough to simply ask people to join now and then. I've found that about 5% of the time, they accept the offer. That's pretty amazing.
I have to say that it's so much easier to really think about this stuff these days, thanks to Google. At this point they do analytics, ad serving, e-mail and Webmaster tools to see how you're really living in their search engine. The analytics in particular are so ridiculously useful. It's funny how various "tools" like Alexa aren't even close to real stats, but back in the day, it was the best we could do.
Once this book is done, I need to build something new, preferably one of the projects all ready in motion (right, Walt?). The coaster thing is still a finite audience and I doubt I can squeeze much more out of it in terms of growth.
I've been keeping a Ta-Da List for awhile of what I consider the best songs of all time. Technically, it's more the best songs of my time, which isn't quite 36 years. In fact, it's more like 26 years, because the only thing I heard frequently before that were my mom's John Denver records. And the soundtrack to Mary Poppins.
This list will likely grow and/or be refined over time. Some of these songs changed my life, some may change yours. You don't have to agree.
In no particular order...
"I Have To Save The World" - Venus Hum
From the Songs for Superheroes album, this song immediately struck a chord with me. Lyrically it's about all kinds of people depending on you and feeling trapped because no one has your back when you need it. Any coach can relate. It's such a solid electronic sound, too.
"The Stairs" - INXS
From the oft forgotten X, INXS had a lot to offer before Hutchence selfishly took his own life. It comes down to a few lines:
"Do you lead, or are you lead?
Are you sure that you don't care?
There are reasons here to give your life,
And follow in your way.
The passion lives to keep your faith,
Though all are different all are great.
Climbing as we fall,
We dare to hold on to our fate,
And steal away our destiny
To catch ourselves with quiet grace."
"Sound" - James
This is one of several songs that kind of builds up until it's bursting with sound. It has a key line as well: "Do everything you fear, in this there's power. Fear is not to be afraid of." This song really will shake you out of mediocrity, I guarantee it. I rediscovered this song just this year when I discovered they had a live album, which is completely awesome. The live version is even better. I mean, real fucking musicians all over the place, including trumpet.
"Edge of The Ocean" - Ivy
First heard this I think on the TV show Alias, as well as various movies and other shows I'm sure. This is the biggest stand out from the "soft female vocal over electronic music" genre. It always leaves me feeling relaxed and has over the years helped me feel that love is a real thing.
"Shine" - Tracy Bonham
It might not be everyone's thing, but this song could be the best song period. It says the kind of thing that I've said to many people close to me, that what they bring to the world is immeasurably good, and they need to know that.
"I'm Burning" - Jesus Jones
Another track from the band only really known for "Right Here, Right Now," they pushed an interesting industrial-pop-electronic sound, and this song is all about that feeling you get from someone who drives you crazy with desire.
"See The Sun" (Live version) - Dido
I always liked this song, even when it came out, but it had special meaning for me later on, during the separation and divorce. It competes with "Shine" for favorite song. This is another I rediscovered with the live version, where she just belts out the bridge with intensity not found on her studio albums. Appropriate given its lyrics, which saved my ability to really love, I think: "Do you remember telling me you found the sweetest thing of all? You said one day of this was worth dying for. So be thankful you knew her at all, but it's no more."
"In Your Eyes" - Peter Gabriel
This song is old enough that I don't tie it to specific memories or people, but it's such a good song. The live version is pretty cool too.
"I Am Superman" - R.E.M.
This is on the end of Life's Rich Pageant, and I doubt many people know it. It's short, but is really one of R.E.M.'s best songs.
"Shout" - Tears for Fears
The 80's included a lot of crap, but this was very much proof that popular music didn't have to suck. It wasn't afraid to be a long song, either, which was unusual for radio.
"All in All" - Toad The Wet Sprocket
Toad was all about the interesting harmonies, and this song in particular combined that with a certain "big" guitar sound.
"Pride (In The Name of Love)" - U2
The "Martin Luther King" song, "Early morning, April 4, shot rings out in the Memphis sky. Free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride." Most appropriate use in film: Elizabethtown.
"Drown" - Smashing Pumpkins
This was on the soundtrack for Singles, the movie that put a face on the Seattle grunge phenomenon of 1993 or so (even though the Pumpkins are from Chicago). This song has three or four minutes of glorious guitar feedback and noise, and if you like that kind of thing, it's easy to just lose yourself in it.
"Kim The Waitress" - Material Issue
Another band lost because of a suicide. While "Everything" was covered by another band, this was one of their greatest songs. It captures that feeling of desire for someone completely out of your league, and has a wonderful Middle East sound to the guitar at times. This band could have been so huge.
"Up To The Roof" - Blue Man Group
The anthem for everyone who is tired of living what they were sold. The original had Tracy Bonham singing, and the live version has Adrian Hartley, and both do it well. This gem is why I wish BMG would trust themselves to do more actual song writing, and integrate those songs into the stage shows.
"Wanted Dead or Alive" - Bon Jovi
If growing up with this song didn't make you want to learn to play the guitar, I don't know what's wrong with you. This is one of the only songs that I can ever recall working perfectly with a music video. It really captured the life on the road feel of the lyrics.
"Girlfriend" - Matthew Sweet
I'm never sure how to describe Matthew Sweet to people, but I guess I'd say take pop lyrics, put some driving but accessible guitar to it, and rock out, and you've got him. This is likely the best song of his that I've heard, and it really stand up to time.
"Supervixen" - Garbage
Their first single from their first album. I'm not sure if it's as good as I think it is, but it seems like the perfect start to introduce you to the band. It suffers somewhat from feeling over-produced (something they loosened up on a little with time), but I still love this song.
"Stripped" (Live) - Depeche Mode
Ah, 101 makes you want to punch Dave Gahan for saying "Thank you!" over and over, but this track is such a definitive picture of what Depeche Mode sounds like, and it sounds fabulous loud. I was lucky enough to see it performed live and in the front row (in Cleveland, not Pasadena). They've been hit or miss, but they've still got a corner on their sound.
"Skinny" - Filter
Another "building up" song, I love that it shows how the singer can sing and rock and roll scream. One of the band's best songs, easily.
I've been engaging in the real world enough that I've not done much here on the Intertubes the last two days.
Tuesday, Walt sent me a link to Google's new Ad Manager application, which essentially allows you to manage advertisements in a very enterprisey way on your Web site. It's easily better than any of the big commercial systems I've used in various jobs, whether hosted or purchased. The really nice thing is that it also allows you to set "virtual" CPM's on the remnant ads you place. What that means is that it can decide, based on the contents of your page, in real time, if it's a better deal to display one of their AdSense ads instead of yours. That's pretty cool. I ended up messing with the system for most of the afternoon.
Since the advertising on my sites is my biggest form of income right now, I need to be more proactive in making sure that I'm getting as much as possible out of it. I hate worrying about it, messing with tags and checking stats all of the time, but you know, paying the mortgage is kinda important.
Yesterday was the Red Cross mini-golf fundraiser at Cedar Point. Hard to believe I've been doing that now for 11 years. We didn't even place this year, which was disappointing. Sadly, it rained the entire time again this year, so we only did 18 holes. They crammed everyone into what's now a little Subway restaurant. Me and Diana didn't even win door prizes. But in any case, it's for charity, and it's good to get face time with some of the people we torment online when the park does something suboptimal.
After, we held the tradition of going to BWW. It's another one of those things that makes me think of all the time that has passed and the variety of people I've hung out with over the years. It was just team PointBuzz plus 1/4 of team WDD this year. The Walsh's unfortunately had a school thing to go to.
Today, I'll be spending much of the afternoon at Diana's house waiting for the fucking gas guy. She has an inside gas meter, and since she doesn't live there, naturally they can't read it. They can't give you a specific time either, which is annoying as hell.
So here it is Thursday, and I feel like I haven't done anything to advance my goals, which makes me anxious. I gotta figure out how to manage that feeling.
I've made it a quasi-routine to get out to BWW about every other week to hang out with my laptop for a couple of hours and enjoy boneless wings. It's part of my get out of the house to avoid going crazy strategy, and it works.
I was having a good chat with Carrie over lunch about the things that influence our decisions and walk through life. At the core of our discussion was the reasons we accept sub-optimal conditions.
There are two things that can steer us out of bad situations, whether we're talking about bad relationships, bad jobs or bad anything. The first is experience. Everything about our lives colors our experience, whether it be how we were brought up by our parents (or witnessing their relationships), who we've dated, where we've lived, where we've worked. You do what you know, and I think what we don't know often binds us to crappy situations.
The second issue is that our minds create the biggest self-defense by way of imagination. When something is not ideal, we fill in the blanks and imagine things are better than they are, simply as a self-defense mechanism. I know that has kept me in crappy jobs longer than I should have stayed, and I've watched others do the same to stay in crappy relationships.
If we don't know of something better, how can we act? Unfortunately, people telling you about "the better" has limited impact, since it doesn't compliment our own experience, and our brains compensate to create an ideal that isn't actually there. And when you think about it in that context, it seems we're all doomed to a great deal of suffering and unhappiness in life.
I don't know how you fix that, but as someone who wants to procreate, it's on my mind. I don't want my kid to live like that. I accept that they must fail, and fail a lot, to learn and succeed in life, but I don't want them to experience as much suffering as I have. I want them to have the right grounding, even though they won't have all of the answers.
Indeed, I suppose it ultimately comes down to the ability to accept that the wisdom offered by others has a value that you can't ignore, and must be open to. Our own experience and self-defense must not dominate our vision.
Got a call from one of the very few recruiters that don't suck, and he got laid-off yesterday. I suppose that only makes sense, since people who fill jobs can't easily work when there are no jobs to fill.
A couple friends from my last gig got canned too. Not surprising at all, given the train wreck nature of that dump. After they get over the shock of being on the street, I'm sure they'll feel like they're better off in the long run.
I found myself strangely busy today. It's after 5 now and I haven't cracked open a code project or the book yet. Granted, I spent an hour this morning playing Lego Indiana Jones for old times sake, but still, where did the day go?
I got the podcast cut and posted, and searched in vain for news to post. I had a growing stack of bills and statements to reconcile, and that was a bit out of control. Finally reached the bottom of that stack, and then hit the CoasterBuzz Club membership cards. It was a pretty busy weekend with new members, so I wanted to make sure I didn't get behind there with events coming up.
Before I knew it, the "business day" had ended! I feel reasonably motivated today, so aside from 24, which we may watch on delay, I think I can tune in to my projects.
The weather is looking good for mini-golf on Wednesday and opening day at CP on Saturday, so it's looking like a really positive week! I also scored a comp room for our trip to PA, which is very cool.
Good start to the week!
Babies seem an unavoidable topic lately. All of my friends are doing it. We want to. It's scary, but not in a bad way. Uncertainty is just a part of life, as evidenced by the fact that nothing ever works out quite like you planned. Usually it works better, to be honest.
Talking with Mike tonight after the podcast, that's certainly evident. He and Artemisa just had their second daughter, while he's trying to get out of his job because it just isn't important to him. I've certainly been there.
We shared experiences of poorly run businesses, and the addiction that keeps us working at them longer than we should (really fat pay checks). People like us have ideas constantly, but when we're stuck in a soul-crushing gig, the ideas just get squished.
Oh right, I don't have said gig right now! He made the point that I'm in a pretty good position to pretty much try anything I can think of, and indeed he's right. He pointed out that I didn't even waste time jumping into something, like this book project. I guess for all of the worrying I do about my own ability or initiative, I overlook my own sense of forward motion.
It all ends up coming back to money, and living in a state of fear that you're not going to have enough of it is no way to go. Right now, at the very least, my little projects and Web sites will cover my mortgage, which is one hell of a safety net. I want a big cushion, yes, and I'm not sure how to achieve that, but it looks like I'll have a few months to start trying stuff whether I like it or not.
I'm really excited about everything in front of me. The book is going to be a crazy sprint, but I feel like I can cross the finish. There are no fewer than four Web site ideas I have, two are easy to build, two are not. The point is just to execute and iterate. With any luck, at this time next year, I could be a stay-at-home dad.
No matter what happens, I need to rise above all of the bullshit and mediocrity in the world today.
After seeing the trailer a couple of times, Diana felt we should throw in the movie and watch it again. (Sadly, it's one of those I have on HD-DVD.) She cries every time when they capture Bumble Bee. I admit that the first time I saw it, I got a little misty when Optimus Prime shows up and the Autobots all introduce themselves. The toys, comics and TV shows were so important to me as a child, and the movie really exceeded my expectations in every way. They took a beloved franchise and did great things with it.
Can't wait for the sequel. When the credits rolled on this one, I immediately recognized the names of the screen writers, and sure enough, they did the Star Trek movie. They've also been writing Fringe, the TV show.
Since the first movie, for some reason, Shia LaBeouf has gotten on my nerves, and I'm not even sure why. He was good in the Indy movie too. But hey, Megan Fox is total eye candy, and that doesn't hurt. I'm still most thrilled that they got the original guy to voice Optimus Prime. Probably the best cartoon voice ever.
Once I was up and showered, and I cringed at the idea of being in this house again all day. I made the executive decision that we would venture to the east side of Cleveland.
First up was a slightly late lunch at Tommy's. For all of the restaurant failures you encounter, you wonder why more places can't figure it out. It doesn't seem that complicated: Make good food that people want with quality ingredients. All of my favorite places are like this.
I had this thing they call the Sharpy Burger, a turkey burger on a hoagie with pizza sauce and mozzarella. We shared a giant plate of fries. I had a milkshake that rocked my world. We left very full.
Coventry is such an interesting little area that has beaten the world of strip malls, and I wish it was closer. Trendy-freaky-smart people hang out there, and that's a group of people I can identify with. Lakewood is trying hard on the west side to be like that, but it's just not quite there.
Since we were in the neighborhood, relatively speaking, we headed over to University Circle to visit a museum. The Cleveland Museum of Art has finally reopened in some sections following the rehab of the original building. The new east wing will open in a few weeks, and the project is about half way through to its final expansion, which will be done in 2012.
I haven't been there since third grade, so naturally there was almost nothing familiar about it. The original 1916 building is clearly old, but so beautiful and clean, as if it were new. And yet, it holds pieces that are hundreds of years old. I'm not much of an art person, but just the sheer ago of some of the objects fascinates me.
I was a little bummed that they don't yet have any of the Egyptian or Asian pieces placed back in the halls, because that's easily the most interesting stuff to me. The impressionist and modern stuff has all moved to the new wing, which has a few more weeks to go. I definitely hope to go back once it's open, and since it's free, I certainly should!
They had an expedition for Lee Friedlander running, and I was immediately taken aback by the description at the start of the exhibition written by some curator from a museum in New York. It ready like copy for the side of a coffee can. That's something that troubles me about art, when there is all of this bullshit wrapped around it by "art people" who know better.
There were a few really interesting photos in the collection, but I noticed that much of what made them interesting at all was that they would combine small and large objects and almost balance each other out, because he seemed to always use very wide angle lenses and get close to the small object.
The nudes were on a pink wall, while the rest of the exhibit was white. That made me laugh. Nude photography is really, really hard. I've tried it. Either you're trying to capture some expression or the interesting lines that a woman's body makes, or you're trying to make an arousing composition. Sometimes I wonder if the two are mutually exclusive. I've not looked at a lot of "porn" really, outside of SuicideGirls.com, but some of their photogs I think try to do both.
Much of the still life photography was not any more interesting than the things I've seen Tyler shoot. In fact, a lot of his photos at least evoke some kind of response, which is more than what I could say for many of Friedlander's. Just goes to show that art is what you think it is.
All in all, it was a fun little adventure to take. We even drove down most of the Euclid corridor, which is the first time I've been down there since it re-opened with the double-bus lanes. You see parts of Cleveland that are so nice, and so positive, and it's hard to believe there could be crack houses a few blocks away.
And the Cavs are now 7-0 in the playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks were completely robbed, unfortunately.
Almost forgot to mention... the car I just paid off (2004 Toyota Corolla) hit 100,000 miles on Thursday (at the temperature of love), on my way home from Ashland. It has been to Chicago, Baltimore three times, Columbus countless times, various places in Michigan including Mackinac, East Lansing and Muskegon, Holiday World three times, Cincinnati at least three times, Eastern PA twice, plus the usual commuting, which at certain times was pretty brutal.
Never had a single problem with it.
We went out to see Star Trek tonight, which pretty much made a liar of me when I told JeffP that we never do that. In this case, Diana wanted to keep her weekend afternoons free for gardening, and it wasn't a school night.
And I remember why we don't usually go at night. Nine bucks? Really? We typically do the first matinee for five. Ouch. Plus the theater was crowded, including a bunch of obnoxious pre-teens who stood up and yelled surprise when some girl walked in... during the first scene. WTF? I was pissed.
But anyway, yeah, Star Trek. It was awesome. The casting was great (Simon Pegg as Scotty was an excellent choice), it was visually stunning, and the story brilliantly made it so that the "reboot" of Star Trek can boldly go where no Star Trek story has gone before. I won't post a spoiler, but I will say that the decades of history created by the previous movies and TV shows means absolutely nothing going forward. I'm not really a Trek fan, or not to the extent that Diana is at least, but I was into it. And best of all, they worked out all of the classic Star Trek cliche lines, without them sounding like cliches.
The only thing that was really missing was some kind of political or social theme to it, as the previous movie and shows typically had. Sure, there was some inter-racial-inter-species love, but that's more or less accepted these days. And if you really wanted to stretch it, you might infer that there was some lesson about letting go of a culture's past aggressions, but that's really thinking creatively.
Regardless, I loved it.
Looking over the cast on IMDB, holy shit did I know a lot of those actors, even though I couldn't place them. The green chick with red hair was in Alias, in the role that presumably would've replaced Jennifer Garner's character had it not been cancelled (she'll be in GI Joe with red hair as well). The bad guy was the dick in The Other Boleyn Girl. Sulu is of course Harold/MILF kid. House hottie Jennifer Morrison is Kirk's mom. One of the bridge crew members was Marshal's wife on Alias.
Last weekend we saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine. All I can really say about it is that it was OK. I generally love the stuff out of the Marvel universe, and it was entertaining, but it wasn't particularly memorable either. I don't know how much it stuck to the existing mythology or whatever, but I just felt so indifferent about it. Lots of action and explosions, mutants, and of course Xavier shows up. If they plan to do similar movies for other characters, I hope they're better.
It's a pretty rough chapter, but I think it has the general shape that I've been going for...
Aside from all the nerdy radio and TV stuff at AU, I talked to Gretchen at length about baby making and career changes. Her little guy is a year old now. She was, in my opinion, an incredibly smart TV reporter headed for huge "success" that was just about killing her in the process. Like so many of us, it just wasn't worth it to stay in the business.
She said that if you can get through the first three months of hell with a baby, the rest gets easier. She was adamant about making the point that she didn't think her and Ken were limited by being parents, but rather just had to approach the things they did differently. That's encouraging to hear.
We talked a bit about grad school as well, and dare I say that I finally get how it could be useful. Given my love for teaching and mentoring, yeah, a masters sure wouldn't hurt me. My total fantasy of teaching some kind of media related production classes and coaching volleyball at the college level could certainly be realized in that sense (both require graduate degrees). I just don't know if it's for me. I struggled to stay interested in school the first time around. At least for grad school you can get assistantships and not have to pay for it. But that's very much a plan B kind of scenario for me, I think.
Gretchen was a freshman when I was a senior, and I thought even then that she was more talented and would likely go further in the biz that I would. And that she did. But her story was also the perfect example of just letting the journey take you around without getting into specific expectations and time lines. Her and Ken didn't get married until several years of dating, and they put off a child until they were 31.
If I thought about those series of choices, even those that I've made, it sounded so non-committal when I was younger. Now I get it. It's not a question of whether or not you'll experience a great many changes, it's when. If someone could have told me that when I was 21 (and if I would've actually believed it, because I know people did tell me), I don't think I would've been so eager to set and try to achieve big life goals. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing back then, and I don't think anyone really does. I wanted to own a radio station by now, but the reality is that I'd never want to be in that business now. I thought I'd be married with two kids too, but holy crap, my life would've been way different, and I have no assurance that it would've made for a better life.
Putting this in perspective surprisingly puts me in the same position today. While a little more than a decade has passed, I'm starting to see that setting all kinds of big expectations and time lines is a complete waste of time, even as a 30-something. The more specific you try to be in your expectations, the more you may let yourself down.
So enough with that. I have no idea what next year may bring, and it doesn't matter.
As I already mentioned, I spent some time at my alma mater today, and I was amazed at the way things have changed, and also how some have stayed the same.
The rooms used for TV have been changed around quite a bit, and the most obvious thing is the presence of Avid machines in place of tape machines. They got new JVC cameras in the studio, and it's kinda neat that they're the HDV cams with studio configurations. Didn't know they made those! Nice prompters and pedestals too. The TV control room was fairly consolidated too, as it just takes less to make TV now.
It's still weird to see the changes in the radio station because they gutted that whole area and started over just after I graduated. It's a much more logical layout now. I have to say, I got a little teary when I got close to that audio console. So many things that helped define my college experience happened behind or near that microphone.
We got to talking a little about how some things really haven't changed too, in that things like shot composition and lighting don't change substantially as the tech evolves. There are a lot of basics that don't change, and they're skills that endure. What does change is the way the media is consumed. When you look at some of the video I've posted over the years on my sites, you would have never been able to pass that stuff off in old school media and still consider it acceptable for viewing.
That led to another conversation about podcasting as well. Talk about a format where all of the rules are irrelevant. High production values don't really count for anything. You don't have to sound like NPR or some shitty Clear Channel station, you just need to have content that people care about. Performance isn't that important either. Good thing, too, because I wouldn't exactly put my podcast on an audition tape!
I gotta say, that walking into that building, just hitting the smell of the building, took me back. It's hard to even describe all of the emotions and memories that overload the brain. Then throw in the passage of everything in my life that has happened since for perspective. What an incredibly rich experience I had there. If the weather can just hold off a little on Saturday, we might go down just to walk the campus, so Diana can see where the Jeff Jones phase of my life began.
Saw this story on our local ABC affiliate today about a retiring teacher. I'm glad these kinds of people are still out there, despite our messed up education system.
That, and we all need a little good news now and then.
I went down to Ashland today get a hair cut, and show Darcy photos from the wedding. Also had lunch with Gretchen, er, Dr. Gretchen, one of my former classmates. We talked about a world of different things. I'm still trying to get my head around it all, in fact. I also talked to Tom, who was one of the engineers back when I was there.
Standing behind that audio console in the radio station, man, I almost got a little teary.
More on all of that later...
Tonight I finished the first real chapter for my book. I say "real" because the introduction doesn't really count as much. It's more of a mission statement than anything else.
Since the book is about ASP.NET MVC, and my approach is to write it from the view of someone with a regular ASP.NET background, this first chapter lays out all of the nuts and bolts. Beyond that, the rest of the book will concentrate on the specific use cases found in every day Web app development, giving the MVC analogs for each. I think it's a novel approach to get busy and skip past all of the stuff that millions of developers probably already know.
Again, it's hard to say if this is something that will sell, but I'm all-in now, so I'm going to finish it, and beat a lot of other books to market. That's my goal. If I don't make anything, well, it'll be a lot like the last book despite selling thousands of copies! (I made a little, actually, but it wasn't much.)
Writing about writing code is kinda hard, because you can't just refactor and wiggle your way around until you get it right. You have to get it right because the reader is counting on you to know what you're talking about. This particular project has forced me to fill in some gaps, but I'm so much better off having to know more detail.
The bug I encountered the other night is still in the blog app, but it's not about MVC. The bug is in the way that comments are parsed (pulling out naughty HTML). Parsing text is always a pain in the ass.
But I feel pretty good about getting that chapter done. Looking at the rest of my agenda, I feel like I can crank. Granted, I still need to get the app into better shape, since it's the example used throughout, but that's in pretty good shape too, if not good and pretty yet.
Diana has a four-day weekend coming up around Memorial Day, so naturally we'd like to get out and do stuff. Time is getting short on us. The problem is that I feel like we shouldn't be vacationing since I'm not working, which is stupid because it's not like I'm not making any money at all. We've talked about three options, starting with the most expensive...
We could go to Busch Gardens, flying into either Richmond or Norfolk. With [certain ride] closing after this year, Griffon and my desire to show Diana just how beautiful that park is, I'd really like to go. I can get free tickets. The problem is that airfare adds $400 right off the bat, at least, plus a car and hotel. It's an $800 trip at least.
The second option is Washington, DC, which I've been tossing around for a long time. No amusement parks, but it just pisses me off that I've never been to our nation's capital. I've only driven around it. DC is totally drivable, and I suspect it can be done in under six hours. It can be done for around $500 in hotels, gas and whatever attractions we decide to go to. Smithsonian is high on my list. Photographing monuments will be good too (appropriate given the weekend).
The cheapest option is a swing out to Eastern PA to visit Hersheypark and Dorney. It would likely only be a three-day affair, hitting Hershey on Friday night for the free preview, then all day Saturday, and a half-day at Dorney on Sunday with a drive home. That's $250, plus gas and Hershey tickets (one of a few places I don't have any real connection for comps). It'd be all new for Diana, plus new rides for me at both parks.
Not sure what to do... but I really want to do something that weekend.
Good news to find that the douche bag mayor didn't get re-elected. Granted, the mayor in my city is largely a ceremonial position that pays almost nothing (we have a city manager government), but I knew of him back when I worked for the city and couldn't stand him.
Our .5% income tax passed, though not by much. We have a strange situation because our income tax is 1.35%, much lower than the 2% found almost everywhere else in the state. Last year they put on an issue to raise it to 2.15%, which was crushed. This new tax is specific, as the funds can only be used for safety forces. If it didn't pass, they'd have to close the fire station a few blocks away, which would suck if I were on fire or having a heart attack.
The school's renewal operating levy passed, which isn't surprising. Fortunately, people here have the good sense understand that the quality of the schools has a lot to do with their property values, and unlike most of the state, ours are holding fairly steady for now.
I made a quick run out before the Cavs game because we needed kitteh fud. I left $60 lighter. WTF? How does that happen every time? Sure, $20 was for the cat food, but how did the "few things" add up to the other $40? The only thing I got that was a little expensive was Corona, for Cinco de Mayo.
Diana does a much better job than me, that's for sure. Granted, she'll go more than one place, and looks for deals. My tolerance for shopping is one place, get what I want, get out as fast as possible.
Apparently ABC is doing a series. Here's the second part. (Love that woman's hair in the video!)
After seeing this one, the thing that struck me as odd this time was that this is some kind of shocker. I think people my age, hopefully, tend to expect that relationships are a partnership. Granted, we all wish we could be Gonch, but I don't know any dudes my age who wouldn't enjoy being a "stay at home dad" or whatever. All of the most solid relationships I know generally involve absolute bidirectional respect, so why should it be any different in the distribution of roles?
Diana went for one of her woman exams today, and of course she wanted to talk about making babies. We're more than aware of the time constraints we face. Diana will be at least 40 to give birth even if we conceived today, and if we have a child, it'd be nice to see them graduate from college before we retire. We're making a late start.
The advice of the doctor was pretty straight forward: Don't waste any time. We're not getting younger. I guess this reality did not really hit me until today. We want a child, and one way or another, it's gotta happen soon. If natural means don't work, we'll adopt.
The timing is weird since I don't have the slightest idea what I'll be doing a year from now, but again I draw some confidence in the way my new brother and sister-in-law have been able to rise above the challenges while moving forward with their careers, traveling and having the cutest little girl on the planet.
We're definitely entering a brave new world. It's scary as hell.
So the guys from around the corner who cut my grass got their first cut in today. Mid-stream, my jackass neighbor stops him and asks him to not let my weeds blow into his yard. Hilarious, right? Perhaps not unexpected from the morons who cut their grass twice a week, and bag the clippings for trash pickup. And wash their driveway. Real environmentalists.
Well fortunately, the grass cutting guy said if he'd like my grass cut differently, he could pay him to do so.
He has definitely secured my business for another season. :)
Today I went back to working on the blogging app because it obviously needs to be in good enough shape to actually write about it for the book. I got to the part I've been putting off for a long time, namely parsing comments. You know, you have to parse out naughty HTML and things you don't bad people inserting into your page.
That means regular expressions, the quasi-language that has been around for decades for the purpose of manipulating text. I hate it. I mean really, really despise it. For some reason, it's something that has never clicked in my head.
I finally found the matching pattern for what I wanted to pull out and manipulate, only to have it not work in code. After much banging my head and posting a question to StackOverflow, I realized that I wasn't escaping the string or designating it as a string literal. In other words, in C#, you precede the string with an @ to say, "Hey, those back slashes are really supposed to be backslashes, not things escaping other characters." I felt like an ass. It's one of those things I don't use enough to remember how to do it right.
But whatever, I got it done. The biggest surprise, after several hours of work, is that I actually ended up unintentionally rewriting a portion of the forum code that has pissed me off literally for a decade now. It's one-third as long, easier to read, and undoubtedly performs better. At some point I'll have to roll it backward into the forum. (For the nerds, it was code to make sure that HTML tags were properly nested and closed.)
The time is late, the book isn't any more written than it was Friday, but I feel generally accomplished.
While much of the general soul searching I do surrounding work leads me to believe that money is not the most important factor when choosing what to do with your life, there's no way to deny that it does matter. Every moment you're working you're not recreating, so there should be some cost associated with that. In a perfect world that means that you should enjoy your work, but even in the best case scenario, it's not likely that you enjoy yourself at all times. I've been close, but not to the extent that some of my friends that have enjoyed their jobs.
That got me to thinking, especially since it is my job right now, what do I really make running my Web sites, down to an hourly basis? Is it worth my time? The answer is probably yes regardless, since I enjoy it most of the time.
There are two ways to really look at it. The first is to decide that many of your expenses are things you'd buy anyway, which in my case means computers, cameras and such. Sprinkle in some travel as well, which is often an expense to run events or collect photos or whatever. Approaching it that way, and taking into consideration last year's time spent rebuilding CoasterBuzz as well as normal weekly duties and the podcast, it was a moderately busy year. Now take all the revenue and only deduct the monthly expenses like the Web server and Internet connection. In that case, it works out to around $40 an hour for my time. That's not quite the consulting rates I've had in previous jobs, but it's not bad either.
The problem is that not deducting expenses like computers and cameras requires having a regular day job. Suddenly the story isn't nearly as good then. It means the actual take-home is more like $10 an hour. Again, I enjoy it, so it's still worth it to me.
The good news is that this scales well. In a year that I'm not rebuilding a site, I doubt I spend more than 250 hours working on the sites, which is a far cry from the 2,080 hours of a normal working year (not counting in vacations and holidays). If I spent more time on it, producing more sites and more content, the expenses don't change, unless I need more hardware for higher traffic.
This line of thinking inevitably leads to me asking why I haven't gone full throttle to do it. The answer always comes back to the volatility of the ad market. It's completely out of my control. In mid-2001 I was flying high with DoubleClick writing me checks, sometimes as high as $2,000 a month. Still not quite mortgage and car money (unless you don't eat), but not bad. Granted, expenses back then were also much higher, on the order of a grand a month. But then DoubleClick bailed and I was nearly screwed. That's when CoasterBuzz Club was born, to keep me from losing my shirt.
Expenses are much lower these days, but ad revenue changes monthly, and not in relation to traffic. April was decent, but it's the first truly decent month I've had in a year, and mostly because Federated Media has thankfully been running some sweet run-of-network campaigns. As is often the case, they could disappear at any time.
This is one of the reasons I'm such a fan of 37signals, because they're building online apps with renewable revenue that customers actually pay for. That's where there is a make-a-living opportunity. The challenge is finding something that isn't already being given away for free, or so ridiculously better than the free stuff that it's worth it (think PlentyOfFish vs. eHarmony).
One of the other things that I suppose keeps me from really committing to that path is that I like working with smart people, and it's actually easier to work for someone else. Twice in the last year people waved dollars in my face, though I should've known what the outcome was as soon as I learned the true nature of their businesses. So the trade off is that it's easier to make money, but entirely dependent on the ability (or inability) of someone else to run a business. It's surprisingly like the ad market in that respect.
All of that being said, there's no doubt I'll continue to do these sites, and a few more before too long. Day job or not, I like spending time on them, no matter what they're worth.
I just saw this story on ABCnews about the changing gender roles, especially in light of the recession where three-fourths of layoffs are men. It really touches a nerve for me, because it makes me realize that much of my own anxiety is rooted in my need to be a provider.
The first time I got laid-off for real, back in 2001, it really messed with my self-esteem. I was supposed to be the bread winner in my mind, especially since at the time, Stephanie was in grad school. I figured my role was to be the provider. I still feel that way to some degree.
I'm not sure where that sense comes from, because honestly I don't think it was instilled by family or any particular relationship. But ask anyone that I've dated and they'd tell you that I have a sense of duty toward them when it comes to being a material provider.
Indeed, there are many reasons to challenge the way this is all perceived. Being a provider certainly can leave you vulnerable to being taken advantage of. I don't think I've ever had that issue, and doubt I will in marriage. I think I'm pretty sensitive to being taken advantage of.
There's also the issue that women are (slowly) becoming equals in the workplace, so their earning potential is slowly reaching toward parity and there's no particular reason why men should be expected to carry the burden, especially in two-income households.
In fact, the concept of "work" in general has become something completely different than what we were told as kids was normal. There is no pick a skill, do that your whole life, retire. People are finding ways to work independently, at home, men are taking bigger roles in raising children and telecommuting is no longer a foreign concept.
I guess this all causes me to realize that I'm not wandering around in the dark as much as I think I am.
(Trivia: It was the Loverboy song of the same name that I always started out my Saturday night radio shifts with. Embarrassing but true.)
Diana took to the front yard this weekend, which looks a lot like a vacant lot. Because I don't care much about landscaping, it just got out of control over the years. Paid some assholes to fix it two years ago, and frankly they didn't. So she went to town on the middle "island" around the tree, and got up years worth of decayed mulch and shredded landscaping fabric. She made some progress.
We're not sure what to do with all of the crap she pulls up. For now it's piled up on the side of the house, which is not ideal.
I feel bad about this because I don't even cut the grass. I still pay someone else to do that. I absolutely hate yard work. Unfortunately, with all of my Republican, SUV drivin' neighbors, it kind of looks bad. It bothers Diana even more.
Meanwhile, I mostly took it easy for the weekend, dealing with some crappy GI cramping most of Saturday after a night of poor sleep. Last night was better, but we spent the day going to and watching movies, mostly. Tonight I managed to write code for about three hours, working on the blogging app, which is kinda important if I'm gonna make the book work.
It was a lousy week for job searching, with a grand total of four relevant job postings on Monster, one of which wanted VB6 experience from 1999, a sure sign you don't want that gig. I talked with one of the better recruiters who said things were just brutal, and he himself was not happy in his job because of it.
But I also had a good lunch and might eventually find some limited contract work at ICOM, so I'm upbeat about that. There isn't a damn thing I can do about the economy or the job market, so my attention is best turned to things I can control.
That's probably why I'm going forward on writing this book. The risk is that I may not make any money at all on it since I intend to self-publish, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.
I'm trying to concurrently think about finishing up or starting all of these other projects that I've let go for many moons. I remember how good it felt to do that sprint to rebuild CoasterBuzz last fall, and I really want to engage in that kind of feeling again. It's good for my self-esteem!
Financially, I'm not concerned as much as I miss the relatively easy access to regular cash. April was a surprisingly upbeat month for ad revenue, defying all logic. If that keeps up, I'll be in "maintain" income range, but not getting ahead or paying off the honeymoon, which originally I expected would come easy after six weeks or so. Now I'm just holding on to as much cash as possible since the future is such a question mark. Right now I feel good about getting to mid-August even without negative cash flow.
I'm at that crossroads once again where I feel like I can throw one or two things at the wall over the course of the next few months and see if anything sticks. I'm not fond of business plans because they're contracts with yourself that you'll never honor. I'm not interested in trying anything capital intensive because you don't truly own what you do.
The next week will be very telling in terms of what kind of actions I'm able to take with the book and the other ideas I have. I don't fear failure right now, but I'd sure like to succeed.
I guess this week begins the true "blockbuster" summer movie season. As usual, I'm pretty excited about the things coming out, but suspect that at summer's end, I won't even remember what I went to see. The only thing I truly remember from last year was Indiana Jones (and I loved it, regardless of what anyone says).
Perhaps in glow of non-employment (and I don't say unemployment since I make too much from my Web sites to collect unemployment benefits), I'll finally make that movie of my own this year.
I find lately that I spend a great deal of my time in some kind of deep intellectual space, and it causes me to want to switch off and be vulgar. You know, drink, fuck or blow something up. Not in that order, necessarily.
It makes me wonder, what if the people who spend most of their time drinking, fucking and blowing stuff up would take a break from that and do something intellectual? I bet the world would be a different place.
Looking to give my brain a break, I popped in the doc film Startup.com. Still a fascinating look at the rise and fall of an Internet company in 2000. What's particularly fascinating to me is the money chase. I'll never quite understand why there had to be so much bloat and cash and people to launch something new. The Internet is supposed to make it easier, not more bulky.
Also reminds me a little of the idiots I used to work for in terms of their inability to execute or come up with a coherent strategic direction. I'd suggest they watch it, but they're generally too busy convincing themselves of their greatness.
Working for a start up is an interesting experience, and honestly the capability of a company has little to do with its age. ICOM could probably still be considered a start up, and despite its setbacks and lay-offs last year, there's little doubt in my mind that it will be successful. On the other hand, the publishing start up I worked for briefly in 2001 didn't stand a chance. It has been acquired and renamed several times since then. There are solid businesses that adapt and thrive, and there is everyone else.
I posted the introductory chapter of my next book over on my technical blog. Not a lot of meat, since it's an introduction, but hopefully it "sells" the approach I'm taking.
The first chapter will be the biggest, and I'm about eight pages into it. It's not going as quickly as I'd like, and it's hard to keep banging on it for hours on end. But I am enjoying it though. Understanding the rhythms and sprints that make pages is easier than it was five years ago, when I wrote my first book. I'm surprised I've retained any of that experience, since it was so long ago.
I'm still not sure what it will take to get the thing on paper, and what kind of work it will take to make it print ready, but I'll figure it out. For now I'm trying to concentrate just on the content.