I'm so glad that Diana is now using my old iPhone. She's able to check her e-mail around town or at lunch (slow as it may be, via Edge), and we can finally text each other. I don't do a lot of texting, and in fact we both have 200-message plans, but it's a nice tool to have.
I'm also still amazed that a phone is good for anything after two years, after having throw away phones pretty much since mobiles have been affordable for normal humans. That first brick of a Motorola I had wasn't disposable, but it wasn't something that fit easily in your pocket either!
This is a really strange evening when I think about the week ahead. There are so many things that are in play but without specific direction that I'm not sure how to act on.
First, there's the job thing. The local company I talked to is either blowing me off or just not particularly organized. Meanwhile, there are these two Microsoft gigs where I'm not sure how or what gears are turning. I'm thinking of writing another audition piece to get their attention again. I want to stay proactive, but it's hard not knowing what's going on. Financial considerations aside, I need something I can sink my teeth into.
Then there's the IAAPA thing. Several potential advertisers are uncertain while I try to close deals, and my preferred producer/talent hasn't committed either. I'm also waiting to find out what kind of access they can offer on the ticketed events. I really think that project could go either way right now.
We're also considering some travel options. Disney World has extended the free dining plan offers to December, room rates are crazy low, and it looks like we can do five nights and six days for about $1,100 with park hoppers and the dining plan. Flights would be purchased with airline miles, since we couldn't use them for upgrades on the Hawaii trip. But still, we've gotta think about the financial impact. I make the assumption that I'll have a job by then. We're also looking at North Carolina for Christmas, since Sam-in-law is moving there.
In more immediate terms, I'm thinking about bringing a friend (as in, I haven't determined who) to Cedar Point this week on a comp ticket I have, since you can pretty much own the park this week. I still haven't been on Magnum, Raptor, maXair or Wicked Twister yet this year, which is exceptionally odd.
Despite the busy week with the GKTW fund raiser (which occupied much of Thursday as well since I had to return to get my laptop, which Tim picked up from the BWW where I left it), I actually cracked open the very old and confusing code project for the next site and worked on it a bit. I hope to get more on that this week.
Too many things are in flux right now, and it's just weird. I feel completely out of sorts.
I was one of the nerds that went to church, er, the Apple Store, yesterday to pick up Snow Leopard, the OS X update. For $29, I think it's a pretty reasonable upgrade price (are you listening, Windows 7 pricing people?), considering it's an evolutionary upgrade and not feature heavy.
The first win was getting back 10 gigs of space from my hard drive. I thought it was supposed to be only 7, but I'll take what I can get. My Mac Pro's system drive is also where I put my iTunes library, and it's getting crowded.
Booting and shut down is faster, as they said it would be. Time Machine backups are crazy fast now, where it used to be that the icon would swirl for ages without anything new to even backup. Everything in Finder seems snappier, though it's hard to quantify it. The slider in Finder windows for icon size is a welcome addition. Spotlight seems faster. Stack navigation out of the dock is far, far better now that it scrolls.
I wonder if they haven't tweaked memory management. Parallels seems to be more responsive when I've also got Photoshop and/or Aperture open. Perhaps it's the CPU core management. It's all that under the hood stuff that's hard to measure.
Lots of little tweaks that I've read about, but not encountered, are intriguing. That it can figure out what time zone I'm in and adjust the clock is really cool. Definitely a worthy and inexpensive upgrade. And did I mention there are no install keys or other such nonsense?
They keep showing Devil Wears Prada on cable, and it occurs to me that the premise of the movie (however fabulous Anne Hathaway appears) annoys me. She basically has to choose between her career and her social life.
That's complete bullshit. Where does culture get off suggesting that everything is a zero-sum, binary condition? With a baby on the way, obviously life balance is something on my mind, and it annoys me when people suggest everything is one or the other when it comes to how you conduct your life. If you think that from experience, then I'm sorry for your loss. The happiest people I know do a pretty job balancing family, friends and career, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the model I'd rather follow.
I keep an eye on job openings at Microsoft, of course, and since their online app system requires no context beyond "click to apply," I'll click that button on anything that sounds interesting. The company is on a very short list of big companies I'd like to work for. Awhile back, I mentioned a specific gig that I'd like (a program manager position), and while I think I've made some solid moves to get noticed, I'm not sure where they are in that process.
A recruiter e-mailed about a developer gig, specifically working in the group that maintains the apps running on a number of different community and developer oriented sites. I think that'd be a pretty cool opportunity. They wanted to set up a phone screen for that one, which would require relocation. The other one does not.
I'm not really sure what happens next, because one of the things they asked is if you're talking with anyone about another gig, which apparently in a company that size is hard to determine. I told them I had some conversations with the the hiring manager of the other gig, so now it went from scheduling to "getting back to me soon." I'm not really sure what that means.
I sure hope there's something positive in the works here. Having been down this road before, only to be disappointed, is hard. Fortunately, I tend to be an optimist when it comes to new jobs.
Wednesday was a very cool day. As I mentioned when I first got the word that we were doing the fund raiser for Give Kids The World, I felt like it gave me some purpose in a time where I'm kind of wondering what my next move is. Once we got to the day of the actual event, I was not disappointed.
The day before, I got up to the park late in the afternoon just to get out of the house. Met up with Tim and then had a pow-wow with Susie and Pam from GKTW. Bryan was sick, so Tim ended up running things. Was good to see the logo on a T-shirt (even though Bryan used the old color version). I had a little dinner and beer at Famous Dave's, hoping to wind down a little.
CP put me up in one of the executive apartments, the big temporary living spaces on the south side of the Cedars dorm. The building is old, and you can tell as it's slightly musty, but all of the furniture is new in the last few years. The room I had slept six, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was ridiculous! That night before, I met up with Jeff and Rebekah and finally got a spin on Millennium Force for the first time this year. I still don't have one on Raptor. I just haven't been to the park much.
We loaded up at 6:15 a.m., and drove around. Man was that early. It was still darkish and the lights were on in the Gemini station. We had a tend down on the midway to chat with the public.
I only did a couple of rides at the start and at the end, and spent most of the day talking with, and getting to know, Pam and Susie. Pam is an incredibly interesting person with many stories, and she's just done so much stuff in her life. As she put it, she's thankful to do something that easily gives her a sense of purpose. Not a lot of people get that in life.
It was also fun to get some face time with Susie. I think the first time I talked to her was 2002 to set up an event at SFGAm, but didn't meet her because I had to coach that weekend (Stephanie was the CoasterBuzz rep for that event). The next year, she split for Universal. There, I missed the days she was working. Then she went to Kings Dominion, and before we could set anything up there, she ended up at GKTW. So aside from meeting her briefly at IAAPA, we had barely met in person! Spent a lot of time trading stories, talking about the industry, mutual friends, pets and life.
In the middle of the day, I also got to do some visiting and schmoozing. I know that's cheesy, but I've not done a good job maintaining relationships for the last year or two. That's important because it helps to be on good terms when you're trying to do events, whether it's the club or the charity.
I also had a conversation with one of the sweeps who had stopped to talk to us. She spent a great deal of time in the hospital as a small child because she was born with one leg separated from her hip. Then she had some kind of surgery to make one leg not be longer than the other. She really identified with what GKTW was all about, and that was kind of moving.
So for me, as the day went on, there was a certain realization about how much I liked the charity, which shouldn't surprise me that much since already I consider the most rewarding things in my life to revolve around working with kids. A lot causes and charities seem like kind of a black hole when it comes to giving them money, and you don't really know what your dollar does. But this one is pretty black and white. That they can also staff thousands of volunteer hours a week is also remarkable. And of course, when you get to know the people running it all, and you really like them, that doesn't hurt either.
I really felt like something changed by the end of the day. It's hard to describe. It felt really good to be a part of something like that.
Had our second on ride photo (as I like to call it) today. Everything seems good so far. It looks less blob like now at 12 weeks, and its head is not as freakishly huge. In fact, it's obviously part Italian, as it seemed to be talking with its hands, as if to compete with the mess of sound waves. Definitely a Mattoni.
The more I see of this kid, the more freaked out I get. Not in a bad way, per se, but in a holy crap kind of way.
The event was a huge success, and I have a million things to recount about the day. Total amount raised today was $7,823 (as of 5 p.m. anyway... money is still rolling in). Considering the short notice and relatively small number of people, that's amazing. Really enjoyed the time spent getting to know Pam (the president of GKTW), and Susie, who I've known for years but had little face time with.
Exhausted from getting up after only 4.5 hours of sleep, which culminated in me leaving my laptop at BWW after dinner. Stupid. Will be retuning to CP tomorrow now.
Other than that, what a day!
Today was the first day in a few weeks that I felt something like normal. I'm not sure what it is, but everything has just seemed out of whack lately. I did my normal Monday wings lunch with my laptop, got the podcast up, and get this... actually did a little coding.
It's amazing that I felt like it was all good, because it seems like everything in life is so up in the air right now. On the job front, I'm in the early stages courting two employers, with no timeline or estimate about whether or not they're interested in the long run. I've got a hundred things about November and CB's editorial calendar in flux. I have no idea what to expect when March rolls around. We think we have financing figured out for the loss on Diana's house, but we're not sure, and we don't know what the next offer is like. I can't remember a recent time in my life with so much uncertainty. I think that's why I haven't been blogging as much lately. Everything is in an uncertain transition.
Some of the focus this week I think is rooted in the GKTW project. We're closing in on $6k, which is phenomenal considering we've only got about half the people participating I hoped for. I'm really proud to be a part of this community for its ability to step it up, and with so little notice.
Tomorrow afternoon I'll be heading up to CP and staying in one of their "executive apartments" there for the night, which I'm excited about. It's like a mini one night vacation that I don't have to pay for. Hoping to get to eat with Tim at some point too. It'd be nice to get on Millennium Force and Raptor, since I've not been on them at all this year. Heck, I haven't even been to the park since June.
I feel like life is about to positively explode, or at least it has great potential to. Maybe I'm finally getting a chance to redeem those karma points.
I finally finished reading Tribes. It was OK, but kind of repetitive and scatterbrained. The overreaching thesis is that positive things happen when people lead, but not manage. Oh, and that leading the tribe is a key to happiness or something.
Among other things, he does make the distinction between religion and faith, which wasn't that remarkable to me as I've understood that there was a distinction for at least 16 years. He does frame it a little differently though, in explaining that the reason people are so hard-headed about religion is that they take it as an attack on their faith, because most people simply believe they're the same thing. It's the whole with me or against me thing, which is in turn the failure of management over leadership.
He also rants quite a bit about people he calls heretics, who challenge the status quo and by extension lead. I'm not sure that I'd make a blanket statement that the status quo is inherently bad, as all states have some shelf life or we wouldn't arrive at them in the first place. I would've liked for him to make that distinction.
What I most got out of it was, get off your ass, do something, success will come. That's something I can definitely agree with, as it has been my experience as well.
Saw the first showing today, and I loved it. I'll go see anything Tarantino puts out, as I generally feel that Pulp Fiction is one of the greatest movies of our time. I've been waiting a long time for something as good, and this one gets pretty close. Jackie Brown and Kill Bill didn't do much for me. Death Proof was a pretty great movie, but it's hard to think of it as much beyond the greatest car chase ever with really hot chicks.
Tarantino's unconventional story structure is his greatest asset and his biggest liability. Doing Pulp Fiction out of order served the story toward the end of a redemption story. The speech that Jules does at the end wouldn't have had the same impact if you didn't know that Vincent would get killed. Other times, the splitting of a story into several long distinct acts can get on your nerves, or worse, result in a two-part movie (Kill Bill). Inglorious Basterds works as a story in five parts. The strange asides and narrated parts are a little jarring (with uncredited Sam Jackson), but in some ways it's better than trying to do some clever flashback with a blurry wave transition. Regardless, the odd story structure works really well in this case.
Also risky is the long dialog heavy scenes for which he's known. Sometimes they just don't work. The one in Death Proof with the girls talking in the restaurant served no purpose at all other than to show gal pals having a good time. But each scene in this movie has a purpose, and every word is surprisingly concise. Some of it simply builds tension, some of it gives insight to the characters. I found myself interested in every word.
Brad Pitt is completely brilliant. Why this guy doesn't have a closet full of Oscars is beyond me. He draws characters in such a rich way that you forget you're watching Brad Pitt. His comedic timing is well placed in a movie like this, which is otherwise dark and violent.
The rest of the cast, however minor or significant, is excellent. The French actress who plays the young escaped Jew is amazing and central to the entire story. I'd go as far as to say the movie is really about her. Diane Kruger, of National Treasure fame, stands up well against all of the tough guys, but doesn't get as much screen time as I'd hope. The Nazis are all convincingly evil, just as the Basterds are completely nuts.
Much of the cast is in fact German and/or French, and as such, many scenes are entirely subtitled. I'm not sure how to feel about that. It seemed distracting at times, since reading subtitles across a big screen is like watching a tennis match from the center line. In the end though, I suppose it lends a certain credibility, and also paints the Nazi's as creatures of another world.
Or perhaps it's intended to balance out the graphic violence, which is also kind of jarring and I'm not sure I understand Tarantino's decision to use it. It's over-the-top and fantasy stuff in most cases, but I'm not sure I understand the point. For all the criticism about Pulp Fiction being violent, most of it is implied, and not on camera. This one may have been better that way, but it's so over-the-top that perhaps it also keeps the film from getting too serious.
The thing I liked best about the movie is that you can't really be sure how it's positioned with regard to history. Is it some kind of fictional sub-plot of real history? Is it a rewrite of history? Is it based in any kind of reality at all? The truth is, you don't know until the end. You hope it'll end a certain way, but you just don't know. Not only that, but Tarantino has a long history of killing off which ever characters he wants, when you least expect it.
In the end, it's not better than Pulp Fiction, but it's a sigh of relief that Tarantino has gone back to writing a very rich story with interesting characters and dialog. I anxiously await this on video. I loved it.
Diana was unfit to eat when she got home from work today, so I made myself a little whole wheat pasta with Alfredo sauce (yeah, it's like putting chocolate syrup on your salad), along with a glass of Riesling. (Thanks, Jennie!) It was delicious.
The pregnant woman still felt sick thinking about pretty much any food except fried chicken, so I kinda knew where that was going. Then she settled on making some quesadillas. We didn't have sour cream, and were almost out of milk, so it looked like a little grocery store run was in order. Sadly, the fried chicken was long gone. I picked up a few other things too, mostly that I didn't need, like the Doritos I was craving (well, baked anyway), ice cream, chocolate Redi-Whip and Weight Watchers ice cream sandwiches because they're only two points. Wait, who is the pregnant one?
Once I got back, Diana settled on Cheerios. This has to suck for her, being a foodie and all. And unfortunately, even being married to the Husband of The Year doesn't help make it better. We had a close call last night too at the Lizard for dinner.
Meanwhile, I'm still having sympathy digestion issues too. I've been exposed to entirely too much medical information lately, and it freaks me out. I'm getting better about trusting that her body is doing all the right things, and that the creature inside is too. But when I think about the complexities of the body and all of the potential for it to malfunction, I get freaked out even by my own body. Like what was really going on with that rash? As I said to the OB on our last visit, there's so much information that I've self-diagnosed at least four kinds of cancer for myself over the last ten years!
Another visit tomorrow, and hopefully the ultrasound will be from the outside. After that, I'll have a little lunch and go see the Tarantino flick. Nothing like some film violence to lighten the mood.
We don't have any snacks in the house. No chips, cookies, crackers, nothing. At least when I'm in the grocery store, that's my choice, as being home most afternoons would lead to the worst temptation for eating. Diana gets stuff now and then, but when it's stuff like Nutter Butters (yuck), there's no danger of me eating them. And hey, I'm down about eight pounds in five weeks, so I can't complain too much.
But what I'd do right now for a bag of cool ranch Doritos.
I've said before that one of my chief complaints about the compact form factor of the low-end pro cameras is that they get difficult to hold for long uninterrupted shooting. And that's bad, because back in the day I could sling around a shoulder mounted camera for long periods of time without issue.
I'm seriously considering one of the rigs from Red Rock Micro. These are the same guys that make the 35mm adapter packages with matte boxes and follow focus and all of that. I don't have another battery system, but if I would think about the back plate for my wireless receiver.
So if this skinny chick can hold it (that's my camera on there, actually), I suppose I could too.
As CoasterBuzz and PointBuzz have seen a significant spike in traffic the last few weeks, I was starting to get some performance weirdness. So among other things, I started doing SQL traces to see what was going on. Turns out that I somehow missed creating an index on a particular table when I last relaunched the site. Not sure that's the biggest issue, but whatever.
I accidentally landed on a line in the trace output that just struck me as wrong. There was a call to delete from the session table where SessionID < @SessionID. You probably don't need to know my code to know that should probably be SessionID = @SessionID. As these are random numbers, it was deleting big bunches of sessions at a time. Duh!
At least the mystery of why the user count would go from 150 to 30 is solved. Not that it served any purpose other than being cosmetic, but at least now I know.
Thank God that a Congresscritter finally had the nuts to stand up to someone being a moron. You know, I'm all for debate of the issues, but don't be a moron. It makes all Americans looks stupid.
(Side note: I recently read about some ultra-conservative magazine that claimed if Stephen Hawking was British, he would've been left to die under their health care system. Hawking is, in fact British, and says he's thankful for that system. Again, sticking with issues sure would be a good change of pace.)
I feel like there's a good chance that the string of weirdness and discontent I've been experiencing is coming to an end. On the work front in particular, it seems like I'm getting calls for real gigs again. It seems like there are opportunities on the horizon.
Some of that is self-made. For example, today I did a post on my tech blog, for the express purpose of getting the attention of a certain person at a certain company in Redmond (since such posting is part of the gig), and I got his boss to Twitter about it in under 15 minutes, which of course he got too. The initial plan was just to produce something timely and job appropriate, but this turned out way better.
Yesterday I had a phone screen for a local gig, and it actually asked good questions that didn't require some encyclopedic knowledge of MSDN. That alone gives me confidence that it's a good company. It also surprised me because, holy crap, I've been doing this for a really long time and I know this stuff. I guess I just didn't realize it.
In my own business, I will reach an incredible milestone this month. For the first time ever that I wasn't working, and relying entirely on the business, I'll have a positive cash flow. What that means is that I'm making enough money to cover the mortgage and monthly expenses, but that's it. Obviously I'm not paying on the honeymoon debt or anything. But still, I've worked my ass off to improve CB (and figure out how to optimize advertising on PB as well), so the sense of accomplishment is important to me. To be trending up in visitors and page views makes for great affirmation.
I did a budget for IAAPA coverage, some rough ideas about what to cover, and I'm looking into sponsorships. If I can nail even one, I'll pull the trigger and commit before I get the rest. I've been talking with someone out west about being the producer/talent too (from the tech media circles) so I can raise the quality level a bit. Bottom line is that if I commit, I want it to be the best show coverage on the Internet, period. That's phase two of my CB revival plan, and also satisfies my desperate need to do more video work.
Meanwhile, in the personal realm, I'm starting to settle into the pregnancy thing. I have a lot of anxiety wrapped up in Diana's health, and the baby after that, but I'm trying to accept that nature generally does a pretty good job with this. With the issues in the last few weeks, I think my mind had just been trained to expect the worst, and the reality is that the worst isn't happening, and odds are against it happening.
All of that physical manifestation of stress is I think finally starting to subside. The bizarre rash relapsed, but is going away, I'm starting to sleep pretty solidly with dream time and I'm not constantly tired. I'm still having digestive issues, but I know that's partially because I'm not drinking enough water or eating enough fiber. Sure, I've been sticking to the old points system, but you can still game it and eat crap. It's true, you can lose weight by eating less crap! But Hot BBQ sauce at Buffalo Wild Wings is delicious, so what are you gonna do?
I'm not sure what to do about the Disney World trip we'd like to take, in part because it's the last week of Diana's second trimester (typically they say no flying after that), and there are the what-if's about having a job, especially if I cover IAAPA two weeks before that. Plus if we book and the baby (or baby doctor) says we're grounded, then what? How'd it get so complicated?
So life feels like it has forward motion. I'm doing stuff every day, and enjoying it, while keeping an eye on the future. The stagnation I felt in the early part of the summer is going away.
I don't know if you've seen the ads in your market (I suppose it depends on whether or not Chase has banks in your area), but there's a TV spot showing the new Chase ATM's that suck in bills and checks without envelopes and will even print pictures of them on your receipt. My local branch just got one.
With the Fall Affair coming up, I'm getting registrations in now, and most are checks. So I rolled up with four checks, fed them to the machine, and about 20 seconds later, it figured out the value of each check and added them together. Of course, I didn't trust it, so I viewed the pictures of each by pushing a button on the screen. Sure enough, it got them all right. Awesome. It says that it can handle up to 30 checks at a time. I had a business sized check too from one of the ad reps, but I didn't realize that I could do the entire stack until after I did that one (RTFM!), but I assume it could handle the different sizes.
Does anyone remember ATM's that had a little narrow horizontal window, and behind it, there was a wheel that spun to the right message for you to read? No CRT's, let alone LCD touch screens. By the time I was old enough to have a bank account, they did have those green or amber CRT screens in the Diebold machines, and it seems like those lasted for at least ten years.
It's cool that the way we interact with machines is getting to a point where it's only limited by our imagination.
It might be more apparent now why I haven't been blogging as much, or why I've been tweaked out. I did make some private posts about the pregnancy, but without them the reason for my recent distraction was not entirely obvious.
We've had a pretty serious string of what I'd call less than ideal life events the last few months, literally starting the day after our honeymoon. I think that's one of the things that has made the miracle of conception seem like non-reality, in that we seem to be getting used to things not going our way. The first month we tried, no pregnancy, which set a weird tone. Throw in the non-employment, the house situation, the awful job market and my relentless self-imposed pressure to make something of my own business and it just seems like we're destined for bad things.
The scare we had last week really was a near-breaking point for me, because I feel as though it's my responsibility to be the strong one while Diana's body does weird things to her body, mind and spirit. As such, I don't allow myself the opportunity to decompress. The scare reminded me of how many friends and family have struggled with pregnancy, and the pain that goes with that. I think a lot of the fear can really be distilled down to that for me, with the added concern about our ages. Diana will be 40 when she delivers, and I'll be 36. A bit of a late start for both of us.
I think as time goes by, we're getting into a better mindset that this is real, and the risk is decreasing. We've been living with a lot of fear. Finally telling people helps with that too, because as you would expect, it brings people a lot of joy. Make no mistake, we've been "kid shopping" since last fall, long before we got married. You know, that's when you're walking around Disney World, and you think, hey, that could be our kid. As you might expect, the redheads in particular tend to bring on that response.
So we're about ten weeks in to this adventure, and from what we (mostly Diana) have read, her side effects have been relatively minor. No barfing, fortunately, but lots of cramping, bloating and gas. And when her belly gets spherical and stiff, that's kind of funny. She's only had one serious craving incident, and it was for KFC (yuck). Oh, and our doctor looks kinda like the actress who plays Chloe on 24, in that sexy-ugly kind of way.
The first book that Diana read said that husbands tend to exhibit a lot of sympathetic physical symptoms. I thought it was bullshit, but perhaps it's not. Between the crazy rash that I broke out in a few weeks ago to the horrible diarrhea-constipation cycle, I think it's 100% true. I've been physically a mess, not sleeping well and can't turn off my brain. I'm already worrying about things that are six months down the road.
I've thought a lot lately about how blessed I feel to have Diana as my partner in this. For all of the various things contributing to our stress, we don't contribute to each others' at all. Our actions simply never cause the other to be stressed. That's not something I take for granted. I don't think any other human being that I've ever interacted with possesses that quality, and this is the one that is my wife and mother to my future child! I can't explain why this is the case. More than two years in now on this relationship and we've never even had an argument. I can't decide if it's unnatural or just completely natural.
Ten and a half weeks down...
I mentioned in a previous post that my friend and former ICOM mentor George was motorcycling to exotic locales in Canada. Well, things took a crappy turn when he crashed. It sounds like he's fine, but the bike and his Canon 5D Mark II are done for. Insurance will likely cover the losses.
First off, I don't know that I'd have the balls to do something like this in the first place, because motorcycles frighten me. But I can only imagine what it does to the soul to be trucking along on such a huge adventure, only to have it cut short like this. On the other hand, I suppose it's a bit kick ass to say you walked away from it relatively unharmed.
This has been a fairly intense week. I spent a fair amount of time on site related stuff, but did not write a single line of code. That's the first time I've done that I think since getting back from the honeymoon in April.
The week began with the house stuff and that stress, then some other more personal stress that was worse (which I'll probably talk more about next week), and then a strange positive streak that has led me to push harder toward certain goals.
First, there have been actual job prospects as of late, and not shitty code monkey contract work either. Right now I'm chasing two gigs that are competitive, but it's kind of invigorating even to be in the process. It's one of a number of signs that lead me to believe that we've at least turned a corner, even if we're not in economic recovery mode.
And truth be told, I actually have positive cash flow right now, give or take a few bucks, which seems like something of a miracle. It shows me that mastering my own destiny is possible, which is something I think I give a lot of lip service to, but don't always believe. I still want to go back to work though, for a number of reasons, which I'm sure I'll also talk about in the coming weeks.
The second thing is that I have a strong urge to cover IAAPA in a big way. Yes, the Blue Man Group tour is certainly a motivator with that, but there are several challenging aspects to it that drive me as well. The first is the fund raising challenge, to score enough advertising or sponsorship or room trades to make it financially viable. I've broken into a network of people I didn't know a week ago, and I feel good about the possibilities. Because I want to do serious video work around the coverage, I've also been thinking about hiring someone to help, who has actual experience producing Web-based segments. I'm talking with someone now who might be interested, and I think she would be a good fit for the gig, given her impressive credentials. And the Dippin' Dots are free.
The IAAPA thing also comes on the heels of what I can only call the CoasterBuzz renaissance. I've not seen a rise in traffic like this in a long time, and the fact that I can link it to specific actions I've taken is gratifying in ways I can't even begin to express. I really let the site slide during the "in between years," and refocusing, particularly working for myself, gives me the confidence in this chaotic career environment that I have a clue after all. When I say that page views are up 50% over April, and 20% up over the same month last year, yeah, I'm going to take some pride in that.
Life has been so up and down lately, but this is the most positive I've felt in awhile. I look at my calendar, and I see a lot of positives. And I'm working hard to see that this very moment is one I should be enjoying.
Tyler has made a few posts about how better camera gear makes for better realization of the things you want to create, in this case, photographs. He has a friend discovering that good glass and a full-frame body remove all kinds of limitations, and he experienced that himself when he had my Canon 5D for a couple of months prior to shooting our wedding. Indeed, when I first got the 5D and took it to Walt Disney World, it was like I was shooting for the first time again.
When it comes to photography, this scenario causes you to gain sharpness, resolution, greater control of depth of field, wider angles and lower light shots with less noise, among other things. There's a cost associated with the gear, unfortunately, and few things are as frustrating as financial constraints when it comes to feeding your passions.
I'm the worst when it comes to this sort of thing. In 2006, I bought Panasonic's first shot at bringing professional HD to the mid-market, at a cost of around $7k at the time (plus three or four more in accessories since). I had potential freelance work that I eventually did land, and made back more than half of it, but even with the remaining amounts, I've had the chance to create the quality of video I did when it was my primary job function. That pleases me.
A little over three years ago, I also stopped buying computers on the cheap, since I was more or less throwing them away in a couple of years or having to upgrade them. Since these are the tools of my trade, I now realize that getting something more solid is worth the expense, considering how much I use them.
Some people buy a hundred pairs of shoes in a year. Other people load up on DVD's. I don't think that buying tools that help you create other things is in the same category, and as such, shouldn't suffer from the pre-purchase regret and guilt.
You know, the legacy left by parts of my forum app still bite me now and then. One of the things I did poorly, and many years ago, was build an e-mail queue. It's very memory and disk intensive and not efficient at all. Not one of my prouder moments. So if I do a mass-mailing for CoasterBuzz, for example, the memory usage gets high, which ends up causing disk thrashing as it pages to disk, and before you know it the whole server starts slowing down.
I had one of those moments tonight. Some of the problem is just the server itself, but I can't really afford to replace it right now. I get a good deal on the one I have, but it's a single-core P4, I think running at 2.4 GHz, and only a gig of RAM. It's the RAM that's probably the biggest constraint. It would definitely benefit by having more.
Perhaps next year. I've been saying that for years, but this time I really mean it. :)
Gosh, I've seen a bunch of movies lately and haven't really commented on them, aside from my rant on how terrible GI Joe was. So here's a quick round up.
This afternoon I saw A Perfect Getaway, because frankly you can talk me into seeing anything with two of the most beautiful things in the world, Milla Jovovich and Kauai. I was expecting mediocrity for some reason, but holy crap, it was a pretty awesome flick. I haven't seen a good suspense film in awhile, but this had some serious edge-of-your-seat moments. The real star of the film (aside from the amazing Na'pali coast) is Timothy Olyphant. I admit, I've had a man crush on that guy since The Girl Next Door, because he can be so badass. Even in Catch and Release I thought he was badass, and that was a romantic comedy. Go see it.
Last weekend we saw (500) Days of Summer, and it wasn't bad. I'll see anything with Zooey Deschenel in it. It was only showing in one theater, a really crappy Regal in Akron, and the matinee price was $7.50 (first showing at the nice Cinemark near me is five bucks). It wasn't a bad movie, exploring the concepts of fate and "the one" and really shitty relationships. My complaint is that the Tom character (the 3rd Rock kid) is just so pathetic that you can't really sympathize with him. I was that guy once for half a year over a girl, and I hated myself. So I hated him. Again, movie was OK, but not as good as I hoped.
I think I mentioned that The Hangover was surprisingly witty and well written. Beyond that, there haven't been a lot of titles I've been that motivated to see this summer.
Microsoft recently posted what I would consider to be my dream job with them. I want it, really, really bad. The competition will be huge I'm sure, and honestly I don't know what I'm up against. All I can really say about it is that I've been waiting for a position like this to come around for a long time.
My first interview attempt with Microsoft did not go well, and I'm not sure if that's because of a recruiting mismatch, poor expectations (for me or them), or something else. Probably a little of all of that. While I was disappointed with the outcome, I also knew before I left Redmond that it wasn't right.
But this is a gig that I was bugging one of the VP's about earlier this year, right about the time they announced they were making cuts. Many moons later, there it is. I've applied, I've made my pitch to the hiring manager, and crossing my fingers. I have some ideas about what to do next. We'll see how it goes.
Yet another blog post has hit the airwaves and become all atwitter about Flash and Silverlight, the competition, Adobe vs. Silverlight, etc. While this makes for interesting pundit fodder, I just think that the people observing the situation don't really, well, get the situation.
Earlier this year, just after Mix in Las Vegas, I was asked by a client about what Silverlight is, because he read about how it was supposed to be "Microsoft's Flash killer." If I had a dime for every headline like that, right? I told him that there were different perspectives on what its role was, but killer wasn't one of them in my mind. I believe the root of the difference truly comes from the history behind Silverlight and Flash.
Flash began its life as a way to make stuff dance on a Web page. Let's not kid ourselves, it was a cosmetic thing. Over time, it introduced more UI elements and a scripting language to make it more than just a timeline of moving objects. Silverlight, by comparison, set out to be a great many things, rooted in its big brother, WPF, a UI technology intended to (in my view) kill the awful Windows Forms. Remember that Silverlight was once called "WPF/E" for "WPF Everywhere." I think these two technologies started from two different angles, and today can do many of the same things. Yet their origins still largely dictate their dominant use.
Initially, I felt that Silverlight's greatest strength was the ability to build line-of-business apps that didn't suck, and deployment was a snap. If you've ever worked in a corporate environment where dozens of barely maintained Windows Forms apps get passed around on network shares or installed by phantom IT forces, then you know what I'm talking about. Learn a few important concepts about WPF/Silverlight, and you're well on your way to leveraging hoards of .NET code monkeys to make good stuff. This is hardly the goal of Flash.
When you really let go of the punditry, link baiting and scandalous headlines, and God forbid put on your business hat, you see that in the current universe, Flash and Silverlight seem intended for two different things. I'd never put Silverlight on the front page of a marketing site because the penetration rate. But on the other hand, you bet I'm using it today to handle file uploading deeper in a site. Then I added a simple out-of-browser app for my most passionate audience, and guess what my Silverlight 3 penetration rate is now? 20%! Add another 20% for version 2.
With the forthcoming Winter Olympics being broadcast via Silverlight, I suspect we'll see another bump in penetration. But all of the predictions about a winner are silly. Advertising will be Flash for a very long time to come. Silverlight will be the dominant line-of-business platform on corporate networks as soon as skillsets align with it. I'll push my audiences on public sites toward it because they're passionate enough to want the content it brings.
So what has Microsoft truly accomplished? They put browser-based rich UI (and dare I say, animation) in the hands of a bazillion .NET developers, using tools they already know. My prediction is not that there are clear winners here, but a long-term coexistence. The versus debate causes a needless holy war that non-technical management types will read and want a VHS vs. Betamax prediction instead of leaning toward the right tools for the job.
A couple of different times on TV news, I've seen these crazy angry people going off on their Congresscritters about all kinds wacked-out made-up shit about this health care bill. It just makes you scratch your head. Where are they getting this stuff? And then Palin posts stuff on Facebook about the feds being able to overrule living wills and power of attorney? For real?
I particularly don't know where this notion of "rationing" health care comes from either. What I've read about the bill is that it intends to eliminate the real rationing that our insurance companies already do with regards to existing conditions and what not. That anyone should ever be financially screwed because they have cancer is ridiculous.
ABC had a good story on some of this today (the guy talking about what's on page 16 would be funny if it weren't so sad), and it's about time they went beyond covering the angry mob and actually dug into the boring facts. FactCheck.org has probably the best stuff on the subject overall, as they've been fairly reliably non-partisan about politics for some time, and they attribute everything to the source. They've shown brutal shortcomings about the financial side of it.
The things that the various health care reform bills would implement for the most part strike me as being good for health care overall, when it comes to treatment. This wacky stuff coming out of God knows where doesn't change my opinion about that. I think the real center of this debate should have nothing to do with the medical side, or what Joe Taxpayer gets for it all. I think the cost and its impact on the federal budget, national debt, private insurers and the economy overall are the things that deserve the most attention. That's where I want to hear experts weigh in.
I've gotta say, one thing I love about Cleveland is having access to the Cleveland Clinic. The doctors are amazing, their online access to your own data is amazing, and even their billing is amazingly simple. We've been lucky that our insurance covers most of what we've had. But even then, Diana's post-vertigo physical therapy wasn't entirely covered, and that sucks. They don't seem to want to pay for anything preventative or anything that can help prevent recurrence. I don't get that at all, especially when many companies are encouraging more proactive health care to reduce bigger health issues down the road.
The pregnancy continues to mess with Diana with all kinds of bloating, pressure and discomfort, which continues to scare me. Last night, she was bleeding a little and it really freaked her out, which in turn freaked me out and led to a sleepless night for both of us. I was already mentally preparing for the worst at that point. It wasn't exactly a great day to begin with, and the whole house thing was causing a great deal of stress.
The doctor got her in this morning and we had a seriously thorough ultrasound with a tech and a med student observing. They had to do it vaginally again because it's still too early to do one externally. This was intense because even at seven weeks, you can see a heartbeat, so at nine and a half, we'd know almost immediately if something went wrong.
And within seconds, there it was. The tiny little blob had grown into a slightly bigger blob with nubs for arms and legs, and an enormous melon that was clearly drawn from my genes. And at the center of it all, a heartbeat going 144 bpm. It was at this point that we both breathed a sigh of relief, and for me at least, it all go a lot more real that there was something starting to resume a human, my child in there.
The tech took about 30 shots to pass off to a radiologist, and in doing so was telling the med student about all of the things she looks for, none of which were there except for what may be a small fibroid. They're harmless most of the time. The doctor was concerned about the bleeding but said everything seemed OK otherwise. Diana also mentioned her previous three hernia surgeries, which the doc really didn't want to hear. (By the way, she looks a little like the actress that plays Chloe in 24, in that "sexy ugly" kind of way.)
I've been trying very hard to be the strong and rational one, particularly as the hormones are taking her all over the place, but I'm starting to reach my limits. This, the house, the lack of work, etc., are all starting to wear on me pretty heavily. Outside of the house thing, I'm not even particularly stressed about money, but I feel like I'm going to break sooner than later. I feel like ever since we got off the plane from Hawaii, we've been living in a shit storm, save for the conception.
After the doctor and some comfort food at the Winking Lizard, we came home, watched a little Animal Planet in bed, and took long naps. I feel a lot better. Hopefully this is the last serious speed bump on the way to delivery.
For those suffering from insomnia, I recently uploaded my 1999 demo reel with stuff from my old cable TV gig. It's on my media page.
Most of it is so boring, but there are two things I like on there. The first is the "Megan" voting PSA, because I recruited a volleyball kid at the time who was just charming enough to pull it off. I also look fondly back on the motion graphics on the end. I used to be able to screw around with After Effects for hours.
First-time home buyers who have some cash on hand aside, this is not a good time to be trying to borrow for real estate if you're a "young" borrower. By young, I mean you've been in the homeowner game for less than ten years.
Diana and I both fit in this category for our respective houses. In trying to unload hers, there has to be a loss. There's no getting around it, and we know it. The question is, how much of a hit can we take?
So far the shopping for an equity line against my house isn't going well. I suppose I should be happy I even have equity, but that's of little good when the market is in such a crapper that you no longer have enough for a solid LTV ratio. Here's how it played out. Stephanie and I were able to buy the house on 10% down for $180k with a second mortgage for $9k to get us to 15% down on the primary loan. Lenders were more than happy to do that in 2001. When we got divorced in 2006, the house was appraised around $195 I think, and I had to give half of the equity to her (I think around $18k). I'm not angry or bitter about it, that's just what it was. So I refinanced for $165k with a no-cost loan and had theoretical equity around $30k, still at 15%, and banks were comfortable with that. No PMI or anything. A year and a half ago, looking at sales around the neighborhood, it looked like I could easily get $205k if I wanted to sell, so that put me in the $40k range, and that made me happy.
Of course, you know about all the bullshit since, and a realistic view now is back down to $195k. The trouble is, the lending standards are higher. My current bank wouldn't even refinance at this point because now they want an LTV of 80%. One minor win for the day: they were able to do a rate adjustment on my current loan, more than a half-point down, for a $100 fee. It lowers my payment by $51 a month, a $600+ win per year.
So shopping around and looking at terms, in a best case scenario, I might be able to find an equity line of $10k (some lenders will go up to almost 90% LTV for equity lines), and probably not at a good rate. That gets us somewhere, if not anywhere great.
Then there's the issue where I think the new Realtor priced us too low. I think that because an offer came way too fast (after a year of nothing at a higher price) and researching sales around as of late makes for a higher average. It's not that I don't trust his research, but I think our priorities are slightly at odds. He wants to move a house quickly so he can get paid, we want to avoid being totally hosed. We're trying to come up with a number at this point that is the absolute lowest net-to-seller line, and it's contingent largely on what I can get out of my house, which isn't much.
Needless to say, this is taking a huge emotional toll on Diana. It causes me stress, but I'm trying to avoid emotional reaction since there isn't anything I can do about any of this. All I can really do is hope that one of these job leads pans out and I can quickly build a reserve of cash. Or some Brits randomly offer me $100k for a domain name again, but I'm betting that's not gonna happen. ;)
At the end of the day, all we can really do is look at this as a suboptimal scenario, but it's not one that will cause financial ruin or tragedy. Things won't suck forever.
A few weeks ago, I decided to jump in and do a "science project" with Silverlight 3. My prior experiences with Silverlight involved a simple DeepZoom viewer that happened to use a Web service as its tile source, and a file uploader that cut up multiple files and sent them to the server. The latter is being used as a part of a plugin to the forum on CoasterBuzz, and it has served me very well. With the out-of-browser option on Silverlight 3, I figured it was a perfect chance to give my audience another reason to stalk the site, using a small "feed" app that they could run on the desktop.
I had a few design goals in mind up front. I wanted to iterate quickly and just ship something, to club members first. (CoasterBuzz Club is the paid, ad-free experience for the hardcore roller coaster nerds who form the core of the audience.) I was less worried about coding things "right" than I was making something function. I had already learned my proper lessons around dependency properties and data binding and layout and all of the things that made Silverlight cool, so I'd worry about polish once it worked. That's the benefit of a small project. Secondary goals included the OOB deployment and some trivial use of the new 3D projection just because.
As with most projects, and especially a relatively small one like this, I started by just sketching and scribbling. UI, architecture, data, whatever... just get it out of my head and organized.
The nice thing about paper is that it's pretty cheap, so whatever you decide isn't worth your time, you scribble out or throw away. I started with a simple sketch of what I thought the UI should look like. I wanted to syndicate new forum topics and posts, news items and additions to the photo database. Each one would simply appear shortly after the event on the client, and clicking on any particular item would take you there on the site.
At this point, I got a little into the weeds with data structures and implementation details, even though I wasn't ready for that. Ironically, my motivation for feeling out UI first is so that I don't end up placing constraints on myself that are founded in implementation details. I stepped back and got to thinking about architecture instead. This is all pretty simple stuff here. No need to over-think it.
Right away, I saw some potential for reuse, and at that point already started to toss away the just-get-it-working mentality. I suspect that's the result of having worked on various frameworks before. I've worked on projects where you would record all kinds of data, often not even knowing how or if it would be used, so making this kind of generic, both in terms of the data coming in and the way it was consumed, seemed like a good idea.
I wanted to have some kind of publisher that could accept input from anything, and at that point decided to throw any kind of strongly-typed data out the window. Yes, this eliminated any kind of compile-time assurance that I was recording the right things, but I saw no compelling reason to do anything other than record some kind of event type name, a time stamp, and a spoke table of various properties (user names, post ID's, whatever). If I came up with a compelling reason, I'd worry about it at some refactoring point. So the deployed service simply sent a List<EventItem> collection, and each EventItem had an event type indicated by a string, a time stamp and a Dictionary<string, string> for the spoke data. Easy to serialize, easy to digest, very flexible.
I also wanted the publisher to not worry about what it was recording the data to. So it simply takes a collection of IPublisher objects that do whatever they do. The obvious one is to record to a database, but I figured that I could just as easily publish to Facebook or Twitter. In fact, those will probably be among the next things I do.
I still felt like I wanted to contain a few things in one convenient package though, for reuse. So I did a Visual Studio project that included the publisher, a publisher interface implementation to the database, and a fairly abstract WCF service that could spit out whatever was in the database. I started to consider server-side user options and maybe even specific authenticated user data, but decided to leave that out for now. Just focus on event publishing! The pieces that landed in this project are surrounded by the dotted line in the sketch.
The first attempt was just to get the app pulling and displaying data. That actually went pretty fast. By using a UserControl as the DataTemplate of an ItemsControl, I could have the UserControl act as a factory to load the appropriate UserControl for an item type. Simple switch/case, no problem. The ItemsControl is bound to an ObservableCollection fed by calls to the Web service.
With this basic functionality in place, I felt like the hardest work was done. Next I wanted to have a small control panel that might allow the user to filter the kind of items displayed, but for now figured that version number and status "lights" about connectivity were adequate. And what better place to try projection?
This is where the tooling inside of Visual Studio started to annoy me. I don't need a drag-and-drop design surface, but it's nice to see that when you tweak some XAML, the result is there to see. Rebuilding every time is a pain in the ass I'd rather not endure. I finally gave in and used the Expression Blend 3 RC. Admittedly, that made trying out the animation of the projection transitions a lot easier to see.
The important lesson learned about animation is that it simply holds the last position, and is in fact still "running" when it's done. The various display properties have not actually changed, and if you call Stop() on the animation, you'll see this is the case. You need a little extra plumbing to set objects to their end state, especially if you intend to reverse the animation.
My last step was to engage in the OOB installation. I used Tim Heuer's video on implementing out-of-browser, along with the connectivity and update checking. Wow did Microsoft get this right. My only complaint is that there's no particularly simple way to debug when you're out of the browser like this. It's cumbersome to rebuild, relaunch, see the update, relaunch again, then attach the debugger to the host process. To combat this, I built in a button that would launch the proper app while still in the browser, but only if it was running from localhost.
Once the club members had their chance to hack away at it for awhile, I did find some problems. One of them was that the WCF service, when using the binary binding, has an 8k message limit. The client was choking when it started up and had to receive a large number of feed items.
One of the things that I like to do with new features is a short video that explains stuff. I did this with the "day in pictures" forum that allows you to upload photos into the forum via a Silverlight app (video here) and it went over pretty well. I did it for the feed as well. Notice that YouTube is hosting much higher quality these days?
In any case, the "finished" product is live. I say "finished" because I'm sure I'll add filtering for the various event types at some point. Getting these bits out of the way, I feel much better equipped for more ambitious projects when they arise.
Got an offer on Diana's house today. It's completely unrealistic. There is no universe where we can take a $35k bath on this thing.
I'm going to try and visit the bank where my current mortgage is and try to find out what we can realistically borrow against my house. At the end of the day, that's where the magic will happen or not. I truly have no idea what's possible. I'm not that stressed out about losing equity in my house at this point. When I have a day job, I can generate a lot of cash in a relatively short amount of time, and we can rebuild quickly. The shitty job market and shitty housing markets won't last forever. Even advertising is picking up.
Still, I could do without the stress. I don't like the way it makes Diana stressed. She feels like it's hopeless, and I can't make that better.
The other day, we busted out Return of The Jedi as something to kind of just watch in the background. Diana said she was pretty sure that she'd never seen any of the movies on DVD, oddly enough, let alone any special features, so I popped in the primary doc that came on the special features disk with the original trilogy. We had it playing tonight as background while she went to sleep.
Combined with my previous rant of disgust toward the horrible GI Joe movie, I started to wonder if we'd ever see something like Star Wars again. Everything about it was a game changer and it managed to stay relevant decades later.
I think the Lord of The Rings movies got close, but being based on existing books that everybody knew means that, at the very least, what appeared had at least been imagined. The Narnia movies were pretty solid, but again, existing and known mythology. The Harry Potter series might be a contender, both for its relatively straight forward story telling and for its iconic characters. They'll have to make a strong finish with the last two movies.
I don't feel as strongly about the prequels, because they exist for little reason other than to establish the origins of Darth Vader, as far as I'm concerned. Really, I don't know that Lucas is really that good of a writer as much as he's excellent at bringing together a visual story. It could be argued that the two Star Wars movies he didn't direct were actually the best.
In any case, it's fun to think about how the films became bigger than movies and are so ingrained in our culture.
Not sure why it took so long for someone with money to replace it, but this is still entertaining. Or horrifying.
For all of the shit that Michael Bay gets, I think he did a pretty good job with Transformers. The second one was mediocre, but I still enjoyed it and it played true to much of the mythology established by the cartoon and comic. Meanwhile, they barely promoted the other Hasbro toy/comic/TV show of my childhood, and I think I see why.
GI Joe is the biggest steaming pile of shit I've seen in a long time. It was only five bucks, but wow, it was bad. I guess when Dennis Quaid and Marlon Wayans are the only true "name" actors, you should probably expect this. Beyond being a childhood favorite, I wanted to see it because Rachel Nichols was in it, and I loved her in Alias as what I can only describe as the "replacement Sydney" in that show. That, and she looks fantastic as a redhead, playing Scarlett. She was the green chick in Star Trek as well. Aside from Wayans, who had a few funny lines, the characters were boring and poorly drawn. That Channing Tatum guy as Duke is fucking terrible. Yeah, he's the Step Up dance movie guy. Are you fucking kidding me? He can't even talk, let alone act. The kid from 3rd Rock plays Cobra Commander. Can you believe it?
First off, just because you can do anything in CG doesn't mean you should. The 80's GI Joe, from the toys and TV show, to the comic, were at least somewhat rooted in reality. There was some science fiction (remember the "mass device" in the cartoon?), but it was still dudes in planes and tanks blowing shit up, trying to stop Cobra. The movie is supposed to be in the "not too distant future" where apparently physics don't matter, and micro robots can fuck with your brain and eat anything.
And why do so many action directors have to shoot everything so close? Ray Park (Darth Maul in Star Wars, Toad in X-Men) is a fantastic fighter, and gets to play Snake Eyes. Unfortunately, you don't see any of his moves, because every shot is close up on him, where he's wearing a visor that hides most of his face anyway, so there's no emotion. Constant explosions and dudes jumping around erase all sense of speed or direction, and it's just a mess.
Just like the "plot." The movie I think only serves to play out the origins of Cobra Commander and Destro, which ends up being so fucking stupid that you can't stand it. There are two subplots, where Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow have some storied past going back to their childhood, while there's an equally stupid subplot between Duke and The Baroness, all told through randomly placed flashbacks. And for fuck's sake, 15 minutes into the movie I have to hear Dennis Quaid say, "And knowing is half the battle." Someone audibly laughed out loud. Did I mention it was terrible?
What a disappointment. Remember how if you were a fan of Tomb Raider you overlooked that the first movie was mediocre and you were glad at least it had Angelina and some kind of potential for sequels? Yeah, this doesn't even have that going for it.
At lunch today, I was talking with a friend about building a viable online business, and focusing on the right things. I've worked for a lot of different online businesses, and I've seen some great success stories as well as colossal failures. So on the drive home from lunch, it got me to thinking about where it's best to focus, and what you should really worry about. I came up with a few generalizations.
The first thing is to not be driven by what you think the competition is. I'm sure MBA's would tell you that's crazy, but I don't think it is. Worrying about competitors is a distraction for a number of reasons. You can't control what they do, trying to be like them makes you a commodity, and worst of all, imitation likely dilutes your own goals and composite view. At the various gigs that I've had, I've been in on projects that sounded like, "What would [some other entity] do?" For the most part, few of these projects led to success or an improvement in the product. I started CoasterBuzz in 2000 with a rumor section, and I quickly found that it interfered with credibility and discussion quality. I only did it because someone else did. Today it'd be difficult to imagine having that "feature."
The second thing is to have real revenue that you can count on. Back in the Penton Media days, revenue was an afterthought when it came to the Web because, like every other form of media, it was seen as a "value add" to something else. If you aren't making money with your business, it's not a business. Are you listening, Twitter? Spending VC money is not a business. My business happened by accident, but truly had to become a business once the expenses exceeded hobby level.
Then there's the eyeball thing. A decade ago, everyone just figured that there was a connection between traffic and profit. While you need traffic to make money, the correlation between the two is not something that fits on a static graph. Chasing eyeballs is stupid. Chasing the right people who will be your customers, or consume your product in a way that's valuable to advertisers, that's smart. The Web creates mountains of data, and with that data you can figure out who is important and cater to them.
Iteration with measurable results is the key to growth. You have to be able to move fast, and evolve your online business so it keeps up with your audience. This is more of a personal lesson than anything in my case. I let CoasterBuzz suffer literally for years, and watched traffic and club memberships slowly decline. Over the winter, I finally started engaging the data and learning about what people did to bring focus to their actions, and I've been seeing 10 to 20% growth month after month.
You must trust in people. If someone works for you, they're not of much use to you unless you trust them to act relatively autonomously. Give them a stake in what you're doing, and they'll do the right thing most of the time. This isn't necessarily an online thing, as it applies to all types of businesses, but it's very frequently disregarded when the business is seen as just this thing in a Web browser.
Finally, you have to be willing to fail, especially when it comes to doing something new. That's why it's so hard for me to engage in new stuff, because I don't want it to fail. Without risk, there is no reward. One gig I had involved a bleeding business, with no vision, and a completely unwillingness to try anything new. The fear was crippling.
These ideas have served me well, even if I don't always stick to them. Hopefully they work for others as well.
I had lunch today with a friend from high school. Actually, the last time I saw Nikki was in a chance encounter at the mall circa 1995, but obviously I didn't have frequent contact with her from the time I graduated in 1991.
In any case, at some point I decided that I wasn't really interested in keeping in touch with people from high school from the standpoint that, while we share common experiences from high school hell, over time we're not the same people anyway. Then Facebook came along and you almost can't avoid running into people, even if it's only virtually. We exchanged the thumbnail version of our life stories, and having both been through divorce and career changes, I felt like we had more to talk about than I expected. So we had lunch today.
I'm glad we met up. Certainly the theme we both share is that if your life isn't what you want, change it. We both spent time in dysfunctional relationships and left the relative security of jobs to do new things. We both had post-divorce dating stories that didn't work out. We're both frustrated by friends who bring on their own suffering from suboptimal relationships and jobs they hate.
That you can find people who share these kinds of things with you isn't in and of itself a big deal. Obviously many of the people close to me fall in those categories. I was just surprised to find that someone I went to high school with got it too! We traded stories that we'd heard about former classmates, and how so few of them ended up as you'd expect. The big basketball star of my class gave up his free ride and dropped out of school to be a loser deadbeat dad. Two of the "pretty-popular" girls I ended up going to school with, and they were actually very cool, not stuck up bitches as you might perceive in high school. Some just never changed at all, never challenging themselves to do anything. Others went right into the get married, make babies, enter the grind mode.
I know I'm frequently accused of thinking that following a non-conformist path in life is what makes you a better person, but it's not that at all. I think what rounds you out and feeds your soul is the action you take to explore your universe, fail, succeed and regularly re-evaluate your state frequently. Sometimes, you may end up with a Stepford life, and that's fine. But the journey seems infinitely more interesting when you really consider everything.
I've started to be like that, with certain aspects of my life, really just in the last five years. Divorce has a way of shaking you out of complacency, that's for sure. It sounds like Nikki has gone through the same thing, and has reached a point in her life where she's driving toward something, but not in a way that consumes her. Her relationship and career status is good for the moment, and she somehow combines that with ambition and drive in the right places. It occurs to me that's what I want out of life... to be growing, but not at the expense of enjoying today.
It was a lot of fun catching up. It sure is amazing, all that can happen in a person's life over the years.
I think I mentioned in passing that I was getting back on "the plan" in terms of not eating like a moron. The Weight Watchers point system is pretty idiot proof, and I can use my phone to track points and not pay them. After three weeks I've knocked off about four, perhaps five pounds, so things are going about as expected.
Even now I'm about 20 pounds under my early 2005 weight, but I'd like to drop seven-ish more to reach the point I was at about this time that year. I'm already feeling better physically, and surprisingly, my body remembers how to eat "normally" without being hungry all of the time. We went out the other night and I took half the food home. If I have something big for lunch, like BWW or Chipotle, I have no problem having a very light dinner. Getting more of the high fiber cereal, breads and such, with some soy stuff in the mix, is keeping my appetite happy as well.
I'm not quite getting as much exercise as I'd like, specifically on the bike, but it's just regular enough that I don't get on it feeling winded or tired every time. In '05 I had the benefit of having volleyball every day (which, by the way, takes a certain emotional toll on me right now), so I need to make a better effort at staying active.
My only real motivation is just to be average healthy. I'm not interested in being able to run marathons or bulk up or any crazy shit like that. I already have a 34" waist; I'd just like to feel a little less doughy, that's all. I also want to retain the better eating habits and stop treating food like something that comforts me. I've been able to mostly avoid outright crap (like McDonald's) for years, but I still get my urges to take down a bag of chips now and then.
The near-term goal is to get to my Fall Affair '05 weight by Fall Affair '09, which should be pretty easy. Only this time, I'll be sure to wear pants that aren't enormous.
It looks like everything is a go to do a Give Kids The World fund raiser at Cedar Point. We're going to do a ten-hour marathon on Gemini, for the first 60 or so people to sign up with donations of $50 or more. Hopefully we can net $6k or more. Actually, I won't be doing that much riding once the park opens, because I'll be helping handle media and pitching people on the midway once the park opens.
One of the obvious benefits of having a relatively small industry is that you can pull things together like this pretty quickly. Everyone involved knows each other and it just happens. (Actually, it was supposed to come together with a certain other large organization that fails at getting a lot of things to happen, but whatever.) The folks at CP I've known forever, and I know Susie at GKTW from being at three other parks. When they approached me about hitting up my audience, that was a no-brainer. Can we get coaster nerds to ride something all day in exchange for raising a little money? Duh! I'll have the details posted in a day or two.
I really needed something like this right about now. I need to get my head into something that involves good news for a change!
There's a great article on Ars Technica about the way Word is no longer the right tool for most of the communication we do in an office setting. I particularly like this quote:
Like many conventions of society (such as mutual gift-giving) we keep doing things in a certain way simply out of habit, long after the original need (a barter-based economy) has vanished.
Not being bound by the past is hard.
The weirdness continues! Diana has been having a bit of a rough time in the last week, as the hormones are really starting to fuck with her. The other day she burst into tears because the chicken broth she was heating up spilled over the pan, and then the gas was on with no flame, then she couldn't get it to boil without it running over. Hardly things to worry about for most people, but the hormones made this an epic event for her.
My perspective so far has been one of me worrying about her health. It may sound strange, but at this point I don't give a shit about the health of the baby. I worry about Diana and the effects on her. I worry about a delivery that doesn't put her at risk. Given her hernia history, it scares me. It's supposed to be a foregone conclusion that she'll have to do a C-section, which frankly to me sounds less scary than trying to push a baby out the normal way.
She's been physically weird too, but apparently not as bad as most. She's been bloated and her abdomen gets tight and swollen from time to time, but she's not yacking up a lung every day or anything gross like that. Other than being tired, I think she's doing pretty well. I always say she looks ten years younger than she is, and I hope her body's ability to have a child shares that sentiment.
We were at the zoo today and it's amazing to me to observe the range of parenting skill. You see the kid who is completely incapable of behaving in public, and others who are very clearly engaged in what's around them, and look at it all with a sense of wonder. I hope I can cultivate that kind of attitude with this kid.
We went to Diana's house today to do some touching up and to kill the shit growing in the basement. It ranks up there as one of the things I want least to be doing, but the house goes back on the market on Monday. This realtor doesn't seem to suck the way the previous one did, even if it does mean they're being honest about what they think it will sell for.
The house represents a great deal of anxiety for me. If I were working full time, I'd worry about it less, as I know we're going to take a loss on it. I'm just not confident that we'll be able to pay for that loss. While we both have excellent credit, I'm not particularly confident that there's any way I can use the equity in my house either, given the crappy credit market.
We're probably a strange married couple, because we don't even have a joint bank account. I think part of the reason is that we don't really have any expenses that are "ours" yet. We both have our own mortgages and utilities, our own credit cards, our own investment accounts, etc. We tend to share the costs of groceries and eating out, but that's pretty much where it ends. There aren't any trust issues or anything of that nature, but given our different anal-retentive ways we track our finances, this is probably for the best for the time being. It removes added stress too, because we don't have to worry about the considerations of each other, drawing from a common pool. Again, it'll be easier with one house.
We're both fairly anxious to get out of this house too. It's not that it's a bad house, but it doesn't feel like "our" house. While I have a thousand good memories here (if these walls could talk), I just feel like I'm ready to close out a portion of my life and get on with the next. The house is symbolic of the old life. That's all very weird to think about, because ten years ago I had no desire to up and move anywhere. Funny what the whole divorce-therapy-dating-remarriage cycle can do to you in that respect.
In any case, I'm trying to be positive about Diana's house, and she has to be too, because it's the only thing we can do.