Archive: December, 2010

2010 Review: Parenthood

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 31, 2010, 1:07 AM | comments: 0

As I mentioned previously, this year's look back will be divided into three parts: Personal life, business and parenthood. Life with Simon gets its own post this year!

We had two months at the start of the year before Simon was born, and this was the time that Diana really finished up her nesting activities in the little room where Simon would live. Those last few weeks in particular were kind of intense. Since Diana was having a scheduled C-section, due to risk associated with her previous hernia surgeries, it was weird to know that on a specific day, I would be a dad.

Simon's name was something I added to the list fairly late in the game, because I wasn't that enthusiastic about the others. Diana wasn't crazy about it at first, but in the last days before he was born, it seemed to grow on both of us. We nailed it down on the drive in to the hospital.

That drive lives so vividly in my memory. In the back seat was an empty car seat, and it would have a child in it on the way home. Even now, I can't wrap my head around that.

I wrote a fairly detailed post on the time in the hospital, and one for the first day or so at home. In fact, as you might suspect, there are many posts from March about those first few weeks. Since I was off on leave, I had plenty of time to write.

The first month was difficult with Simon, because he required so much attention. He wasn't awake for very long, but he wasn't asleep for very long either. That month was all about him eating, and us sleeping any chance we could. By the second month, the cycles got longer, but it was particularly hard on Diana since she was taking overnights when I had to work. The lack of sleep was no doubt the reason I got sick, and I had wild IBS swings that made me incredibly uncomfortable.

Things did start to get easier by summer, and we had a lot of really wonderful moments as a family. Even the first week we brought Simon home, we tried to not avoid doing stuff just because we had him. If we could bring him, we did. Not counting movies, we really didn't do anything less. We still don't eat out as much as we did in Cleveland, but that's partly because we can't find the favorite type places we had there.

Travel became an important part of our time with the little guy pretty early on. We had a couple of extra days off granted before Memorial Day, so we did a driving trip down to Portland at the end of May. Simon wasn't quite three months old by that time, and we were still being regularly challenged. He had some meltdowns in the car because he was hungry, but we weren't responsive because we couldn't believe he wanted to eat more. The Portland part of the trip was kind of a bust because of the weather, but it was a good trial run.

By August, six months along, we took our first plane trip, and as of today he's been on a total of 8 different aircraft. He'll see 12 before he's 1! He definitely has his cranky spurts, but for the most part he travels well, and we've become fairly adept at caring for him in transit.

One of the hardest things about going to a day job is that I don't get to spend very much time with him during the week, so evening routines have been an essential part of being daddy for me. In his earlier months, a lot of that was getting to feed him one last time before midnight.  I bought him this little star field hanging lamp for his room that he just loves. There was nothing better than feeding him, then trying to get the burp as he started to fall asleep on my shoulder. The subsequent diaper change would be fun too, particularly once he started to giggle. He sleeps through the night more or less these days, but on the occasions that his teeth are bothering him, I cherish that feeding time.

The other fun thing that has always been one of my things with him is bath time. Up until a month ago, I would usually stick my foot in his little tub with him, a habit I started originally to get a feel for water temperature. Now I'm more of a bystander, but it's so much fun to watch him play. It's wild to think about how much his baths have evolved, in terms of his ability to pick up his toys and splash.

Which brings up the next point about development. Simon has always been at the high end of the scale, literally and figuratively, when it comes to his size. He's been slow to lose the chubby, and he's really tall for his age. He's been an overachiever with teeth, too. He's been slightly slower with some of the developmental stuff, like rolling over, but not in a way that is cause for concern. It has been wild to see him go from breast feeding, to bottle, to liquified foods, to solid foods, to finger foods. Now he even holds his own cup when he drinks. The progression is fascinating to watch, and even though I'm in no hurry for him to be truly mobile, it'll be crazy to see him walk.

Simon's personality seemed to develop very quickly. Some of the other PEPS kids, when they were really little, kinda didn't do anything interesting (they all do now, of course, and I was probably biased then). Our little guy started to do funny stuff pretty early on. He would react when Diana read to him, or one of the cats got close. Baths and diaper changes were his chance to be the center of attention, and he would react strongly when you talked to him or touched him. By summer, he spent a great deal of his time laughing. When his teeth aren't bothering him, he's just so happy all of the time. Now that he's "talking," every day seems to bring new expressions and sounds.

One unfortunate thing is that his super-teeth routine has meant the kid drools like it's his job. He's had to wear bibs most of the time since he was two months, because without them, his shirts become totally saturated in an hour or less. You know the scenes in the Alien movies where the monster opens his mouth that the stuff comes dripping out? That's Simon. With two of his four molars finally getting through, we're hoping he's close to a non-drool stage. Poor kid has a bib in practically every photo!

The turnover in gear has been nuts. At the last consignment sale, Diana sent off his swing. That was a nightly part of his wind-down routine for months. A ton of clothes have come and gone. Toys have been retired and replaced. He outgrew several carriers. He's a couple of inches away from outgrowing his first car seat (hopefully lasting through our Florida trip). I really don't see why some parents buy a ton of new shit that lasts at most a couple of weeks. I mean, he never even got to wear newborn socks at all.

Of course, I can't talk about the year in parenthood without talking about how awesome the other half of that equation is. Diana is a fantastic mother in every way. I was worried early on that she would overdo it (which I read is normal for new moms), but she really does the right things pretty much all of the time. She takes the job of motherhood very seriously, but doesn't get so lost in it that she becomes miserable. She's very much the family CEO, and she's awesome at it. She has great instinct for what Simon needs.

Most importantly, from my perspective, is that Diana is an excellent partner. Having a baby is really exhausting, and very hard at first. We know from talking to other couples how potentially toxic relationships can get, and we haven't had that problem. I can't emphasize enough that I don't think there are many people on the planet that I could coexist with in the context of being a parent. Communication has been constant and thorough. It wasn't always perfect when we were tired out of our minds, but we frequently check in with each other to make sure things are going well. Throw in the additional stress of a day job, finances, unsold real estate, etc., and on the surface it sounds like the whole endeavor of procreation is a disaster waiting to happen. Looking after a baby is easy by comparison, I think. The real test is how the parents get along.

Simon has brought a kind of love into our lives that we didn't know was possible. He was so fragile and vulnerable when we brought him home (I was going to say small, but that kid was never small). Every day he gets to be more like a little person, and every day we marvel at how adorable he is. We know this time won't last, and we don't take even a minute for granted. Even at his worst, which is generally associated with teething, he brings something to our lives that is too spectacular for words. I can't wait to see what he does tomorrow.

Thankful for great relationships

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 30, 2010, 11:35 PM | comments: 0

Sometimes things come up that remind me how fortunate I've been with prior relationships. Let's be honest... relationships end either by break-up or death. That's just the reality that you have to deal with. So if you're not having an epic love story, something that transcends the inevitable break-up, why bother?

I've had five of these relationships total, though I still question if the first qualifies because I was kind of a pathetic moron at the time (college). I also have no contact with the first, while I do have fairly regular contact with the three in between. I'm also fortunate that Diana is not threatened by this continued contact. She genuinely understands that these are people that were an important part of my life.

So what got me to thinking about this? Music, of course. XM pretty much made it worth the entire year subscription on the commute in both directions today. It was like it was playing my life's soundtrack back to me. One of those songs was that Pearl Jam song from earlier this year:

"Oh I'm a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I've love. Some folks have one, yeah others they got none."

OK, so I'm only counting on one hand, but that lyric sticks with me every time I hear it. 

One might argue that these relationship "failures" couldn't be that epic if they ended, but you know, the fact that we remain friends demonstrates just how epic they were. The last time I had to date, the thought crossed my mind several times: "Is this someone I could be friends with after a break-up?" I figured if you couldn't pass that test, you certainly couldn't be marriage or parent material.

And in case you wonder, no, I have no desire to ever add to this total. I'm pretty happy with my baby's mama. :)

The forthcoming grand retrospect

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 10:13 PM | comments: 0

I like to do this annual retrospect thing on my blog, to really take inventory of where I've been. The last few years I did one for my personal life, and one for my business. I think this year, I'm going to split it up even further, because parenthood is such a big deal that it deserves its own entry.

As I've been forming thoughts in my head, I've come to a lot of interesting, and sometimes horrifying realizations. On one hand, I've managed to not screw up a new, dependent human being after nearly 10 months. Awesome for me! On the other hand, I did not get on my bicycle even once the entire year. At all. I'm an asshole!

While I was living the dream in 2009 in so many ways, it's clear that I froze up in some ways for 2010. Clearly I need to check-in with myself more often to prevent that. Should be an interesting set of posts this year! (To me at least... I don't honestly care if anyone else thinks so. :))

Top 10 gadgets (I have three)

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 8:41 PM | comments: 0

Wired did a top 10 gadgets list for the year, and I was really surprised to see that I have three of them. I have the Canon S95 (#9), the Samsung Focus (#4) and a Kinect (#3).

The Canon was a big surprise. As I wrote last fall, this is the first time I've been really happy with few reservations about a point-and-shoot, especially one this small. Little cameras are notorious for substandard glass and noise, but this one doesn't suffer much from those issues. Manual control and raw files are awesome. Control scheme is killer. It's such a great camera.

The Focus, which has kind of become the embodiment of Windows Phone 7 (unless you're on T-Mobile, where it's the HD7), really is a great phone. The annoyance about where they put the power button not withstanding, I really don't miss my iPhone at all. In fact, when I go back to use my iPhone (for the Chase check depositing, and the remote app for the Apple TV), I've come to appreciate just how much better the WP7 navigation paradigm is superior, and far more consistent across apps.

I've had Kinect now since some time over the summer, when I was beta testing it, and I think the first time I saw it in real life was in February. Back then it seemed kind of a novel trick, but I worried that the novelty might wear off the way it did with the Wii (for us, anyway). Now that it's out in production, and the games have matured, I see that it actually has a lot of potential for things no one has yet thought of. We've only really played Kinect Adventures, but I did get Dance Central as well. Feedback from others over the fitness "games" has been good too. It's like magic.

The surprising thing about the iPad, which is #1 on the list, is that I never bought one. When they first announced it, I was sure I would. But then it was released, and I didn't. I wanted to, but when I really got down to it, I couldn't justify it. The things that I would use it for were already being well served by my laptop(s) or phone (iPhone at the time). It's not like I'm not enamored with Apple products, because God knows I want the new MacBook Air (#7 on the list). 

Overall, I was pretty good about not getting gadget crazy this year. Probably has something to do with having a baby. My hardware line item was much smaller for the year.

Responsibility and pressure in parenthood

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 7:38 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that came up the last few days, whilst feeling crappy, is the issue of responsibility. I am very much responsible for my family, particularly in the financial sense. Diana is worried that this creates a lot of pressure on me.

I don't think of it as pressure, really, because I knew what I was signing up for. It's just normal responsibility that I would associate with being a parent. It does seem like a big deal, especially living out here with the higher cost of living, and the old house, forthcoming taxes, etc., certainly don't help with the perception.

What has changed the most for me is the focus on long-term safety and risk reduction that would prevent any "serious financial events." For the last year, it meant vigorous attention to debt reduction, which ended up being a $30k effort, and minimal use of credit going forward. Now I'm shifting more to some kind of accumulation scheme, mostly to piss away saved cash on the inevitable loss for my house. I can't keep paying for two places indefinitely.

Working only 50% of the time during the three years prior to coming out here, I've gained an appreciation of how much you can get away with in terms of income (or lack thereof), but also how being more proactive can keep things from getting out of control. This is all stuff I wish I had been doing since I was a naive college graduate.

I think our biggest expense for Simon is easily the formula. That shit is crazy expensive. I'll be happy when he no longer requires it. Health care would also be a huge expense, were it not for the very awesome insurance from Microsoft.

So while I do stress a little over my responsibilities, I wouldn't describe it as pressure. Diana will likely continue the stay-at-home mom job until Simon starts school. Part of that job, by her own doing, involves a lot of bargain hunting, consigning, and other saving efforts, which help enormously. I don't have the patience for that kind of thing, so her efforts without question save us a ton. She's just as much a part of the debt elimination in the last year as my paycheck.

Not being well = sleep disruption

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 12:19 AM | comments: 0

I shouldn't complain. I haven't taken a sick day since before Simon was born, other than to stay home to look after him and/or Diana when they were sick. Alas, something has decided to kick my ass today.

The worst part of it is that your sleep gets all screwed up, and you feel crappy but can't do your best to sleep it off since you were napping or whatever. Sigh. This is not what I had in mind when I said I wanted more time off.

Christmas summary

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 26, 2010, 8:51 PM | comments: 1

When someone asks me about my Christmas, really, all I have to do is show them this photo:

I think that sums it up.

A measure of success

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 26, 2010, 8:35 PM | comments: 0

I read with great interest Time's Person of the Year story on Mark Zuckerberg. A lot of people questioned whether or not he really deserves this attention, but I really think he does. He has, without question, managed to transform our culture by way of Facebook. I can't imagine it failing easily at this point due to its scope. It has changed the world.

Of course, there's also the part of me that is jealous and maybe a little bitter that I didn't think of it. I actually had a vision for a social network a year before Facebook launched at Harvard, but I had two fatal flaws in my idea: I wanted to charge for it, and I thought that long-form sharing between friends, i.e., blog posting, was what people really wanted. Status updates and pokes seemed impossibly stupid and shallow to me. So yeah, I was not headed for billionaire status. I was beyond wrong.

Which is OK, because that level of success has odds of a billion to one. Clearly, I needed a more realistic view of what success looks like, but to this day, I'm still not sure. I'm still surprisingly idealistic for being in my late 30's, and I cling to that because I truly believe that combined with life experience, you can lead a better life.

My modern interpretation of success comes in two flavors. There's the kind of success that you achieve in the context of someone else's rules, climbing a ladder and kicking as much ass as you can. I think this is the typical route that people associate with the American dream, the thing that "they" sold us growing up. The pro to this approach is that it's relatively safe. It comes with health insurance, and it's a steady routine. The downside is that it's crazy slow and it does have a bit of a ceiling to it that's hard to crack through. I think there's also some risk that it becomes more about the money than whether or not you enjoy the work, which for me at least would suck.

The other kind of success is the entrepreneurial variety. The biggest negative right off the bat is the risk. It's not stable, you need a good idea, you need the ability to execute, etc. Failure is entirely your own. But the positives are a sense of freedom, self-accountability first, doing what you like (if you're doing it right) and a genuine pride that you're serving yourself first.

Zuckerberg is the ultimate manifestation of entrepreneurial success. In the Internet age, I think we unfortunately associate that level, the massively huge dotcom or IPO, as success. Even as much as I've been drinking the 37signals Kool-Aid for a few years, my idea about what that success should look like has been ridiculous, and I think that's part of the reason I've never really pursued it at the level that I should. Realistic entrepreneurial success starts at $60k profit in a year, if you want to be realistic. That's not a lot of money.

Why am I thinking/blogging about this? Because I'm headed into the retrospective spirit that I fall into every new year. As my social and family situation has stabilized, I'm thinking more about what's important in terms of career and such. I'm starting to realize that I've really straddled the world of traditional work and entrepreneur work for years. I'm questioning how this arrangement has served me. Not questioning good or bad, just evaluating the level of work and commitment to each side relative to the reward, both financially and spiritually, if you will.

Simon's first Christmas

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 25, 2010, 12:35 PM | comments: 0

It's still in progress, but I couldn't help but jot down a few thoughts while he's napping.

His Grammy sent a rocking horse from Florida, and it has an animated head and tail. He's a little too small to stay on it on his own, but he thinks it's really cool. Diana got him some neat toys at the last consignment sale, as well as a little rolling thing with gears. He got a ton of cute clothes, but you know, like any kid, he's not that interested. Of course, the wrapping paper alone is probably is favorite thing!

Christmas for me lost a lot of its charm for me in the last ten years or so. It seemed to always be marked with drama and dread. I also seemed to get sick around it every year, but this is two years now I've escaped that. But when you have a baby, it's all different. The best gift you can have is that little human. And with less than a year, he doesn't know anything about gifts or anything, just the joy of being with his mom and dad. It's kind of a Christmas reset for me.

We're off to Joe and Kristen's for dinner soon, where Simon can play with two other Christmas miracles. Be safe, warm and content!

The wrong state of mind

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 24, 2010, 2:31 PM | comments: 0

I find myself in the wrong state of mind this Christmas Eve. I'm trying hard to change it.

Work pissed me off to no end in the last week. On one hand, that's how I know that I'm into it in a way I haven't been for any job in years, but on the other hand, holy crap, I'm into it in a way I haven't been for any job in years. Simon has been a mess lately, with the teething screwing up his sleep routine and leading to hysterical fits of screaming. I feel ill-equipped to help him. I've put enormous pressure on myself to accomplish things before the month ends (and I am at least getting somewhere on that). The bottom line is that I can't turn my brain off, and that makes me a bit of a self-loathing shit. What I really want is to just relax and enjoy the remarkable world around me.

I'm getting there. It's pretty hard not to be excited about tomorrow, which will likely be the best Christmas since I was a child myself. So excited for Simon.

CoasterBuzz for Windows Phone 7

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 23, 2010, 11:24 PM | comments: 0

It was a totally random science project, but it ended up taking about 15 hours total between last weekend and this. It is CoasterBuzz for Windows Phone.


Basically, I opened up a service on the server, wrote some junk for the phone to consume it, and opened access to the park and coaster databases from the phone. For the most part, I stuck to the design guidelines and didn't try to get too fancy. Much of the time spent was just trying to understand some of the navigation weirdness and maintaining state.

If it gets any real attention once it's live in the marketplace, I'll consider adding some features. Right now, it's just something I wanted to prove to myself I could do in as little time possible. Hooray for iterating quickly!

Late night feeding

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 23, 2010, 12:27 AM | comments: 0

It never gets old. I wish I could do it more often. There's nothing better than having that sleepy little boy in your arms, then the giggles and yawns on the changing table. It makes me kind of sad that you don't get to do that forever. I do not take these moments for granted.

You gotta start with the idea

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 22, 2010, 1:36 PM | comments: 0

Never thought Kevin Smith would be fit for motivational speaking, but this is the second time this week that he said something that struck a chord with me:

"But before all of that, you gotta start with the idea - and not just the idea for the story/movie/novel/installation/song/podcast/whatever. You gotta start with the idea that you can do this - something that’s not normally done by everybody else. Since it’s not second nature to take leaps of faith, you have to SMotivate yourself. Even invent language, if you have to. Embrace a reasonable amount of unreasonability."

God knows I have no shortage of ideas.

"Only guy I ever heard of who got an amazing life literally handed to him was Hal Jordan. Don’t wait for a dying alien to give you a magic ring: just do it yourself, Slappy. We can’t all be Superman, but we sure as shit can train hard, and with loads of practice, we can elevate our simple, non-Kryptonian selves to be the Batman. And who the fuck doesn’t wanna be Batman? Batman has an impeccable moral compass. He’s clever & mysterious. And when fucktards get sassy, he punches them in the face. Plus, that car."

Sold my FUN

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 22, 2010, 9:18 AM | comments: 0

I sold my Cedar Fair units today, at the market high for the day so far. I'm not sure if it's accurate, but Sharebuilder says I lost about 40% overall, which would put the average price of the units at $24. Granted, a ton of that was automatic reinvestment on the distribution, but that's still a bummer. It looks like I might be able to deduct some portion of the loss though, and God knows I need deductions this year.

Have I mentioned that I love being a dad?

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 20, 2010, 9:52 PM | comments: 0

Simon has had a lot of tough days lately, with the quad-teething action and what not. But you know, I have to say, it's not so bad given the smiles and love he creates when he's feeling better. The three of us had some nice quiet moments this evening when he got up from his nap. All at once he's making new sounds, rolling around, thinking about standing against stuff longer, having a great time in the bath... so many wonderful moments.

My favorite thing right now is that he hugs, not just when he's tired, but when he's excited. Baby love is so different from any other kind. It's hard to describe. Isn't it funny how as adults we have countless failed relationships stemming from an inability to communicate effectively, yet you can have this completely instinctual relationship between a child and a parent without a single word spoken.

Being a dad is awesome.

Making happy out of what you can control

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 20, 2010, 8:33 PM | comments: 0

I think I mentioned in a recent post that I've recently found a level of happiness that I haven't had, maybe ever. After today, and excuse me if this is ambiguous, I found out that some of what I thought was going swimmingly, isn't. That's a real kick in the nuts, and it makes me angry, upset and fearful, all things I don't like to be.

My experiences in life have enabled me to generally achieve a level of awareness about things going on around me, and be generally aware of my own state in relation to the universe. I don't always like what I observe, but I do feel generally empowered to influence things. It's a skill that has served me well, and I can attribute a lot of my success (whatever that is) to it. There are a lot of things I can't control that have caused me a lot of stress (see: my house), but I don't generally blame anyone. I try to take responsibility for myself, even in light of extraneous circumstances.

But from time to time, you encounter situations where you ask yourself, "Is this a problem that I created or failed to manage, or is this external shit I can't control?" You can see the dilema there. On one hand you didn't do something right, and on the other it's just some component of the world not working with you. The reality is something in the middle a lot of the time, but it still seems like a continuum of either sucking at life or behing dishonest with yourself. Identifying when it really is just the world pissing in your Cheerios is hard.

With my current life issue, I find myself taking some responsibility, but after significant reflection, I feel as though there is a lot of arbitrary stuff going on that I can't control. That doesn't make me feel better about it, it just means I have to come up with a better game plan about how to deal with it. That's the hard part.

And don't worry... my little family is fine. No issues here in the Puzzoni household. :)

You get paid to do it, you're a pro

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 20, 2010, 11:55 AM | comments: 0

Silent Bob said...

"Ignore the flock of Wah-Wahs, focus on what you love to do, and earn off it. And remember: once you get paid to do 

it, doesn’t matter whether someone thinks you’re good at it or not; opinions pay imaginary rents, kids. You get paid to do it, you’re a pro."

There's so much truth in what that self-labeled "fat fuck" says in this post. It's so obvious that I can't understand why it's so scary to do what he says.

Windows Phone 7 review: The OS

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 19, 2010, 11:48 PM | comments: 0

I previously wrote short posts on developing for Windows Phone 7 and the phone I have, the Samsung Focus. Now I want to write about the bigger picture, the operating system itself, and everything that goes with it. This is the thing that ties the various phone models together with a common link. I again make the disclaimer that I work for Microsoft, and therefore got my phone for free. I got another free for Diana, since AT&T had a two-for-one deal. I also had an iPhone (original and 3GS) for three and a half years, and it's no secret that I'm a big Mac fan. In both cases, I think I try to be fair and honest about what I dislike about Apple and Microsoft, even though I work for the latter. iPhone comparisons are inevitable, as it really established the bar for modern smart phone expectations.

The unlock screen is the very first thing you see, and it's useful! Small icons show the counts for new text, phone and e-mail messages, as well as the next few things on your calendar, in addition to the time and date. I've been wishing that the iPhone did this from the day it came out, and I don't understand why it still doesn't. Because people are so accustomed to touch, there is no slider switch, you just slide up anywhere. If you aren't aware of this, touching it causes it to bounce up a little and show you what's underneath, encouraging you to slide it up. Brilliant.

Let's talk about the start screen. It is without question the thing that differentiates it from all of the other phone platforms. They clearly spent a lot of time thinking about it, and it shows. I wouldn't go as far as to call it revolutionary, but it is definitely an evolution from the "icon grid" found on iPhone and Android. Because developers can do whatever they want with these tiles, there is plenty of innovation to come here. You're not limited to a simple numeric badge. These things can do anything you want. Pinned people tiles are a little bit of a gimmick, but the Weather Channel app shows current weather, the people tile is always putting up new pictures that draw me in, the music/video tile reminds me what I was listening to, and of course the traditional phone, message and e-mail tiles have current counts. The advertising talks about the "glance and go" this involves, and I think it delivers on that... if it weren't so inviting to jump in and look around.

The visual cues in scrolling are smart as well. Scrolling to the top or bottom causes the icons to squish a little, giving you an indication that you've reached the end. When you get to the bottom, the side arrow to the full app menu does a little bounce to point you to where there is more stuff. These simple actions make it so intuitive and obvious. It's really smart design.

The full app menu is fairly unremarkable, but since it's alphabetized, logical. If you want to arrange stuff as you would on the iPhone, you can do that on the start screen, only you'll be scrolling vertically instead of horizontally.

They've been really careful about cultivating consistent UI experiences in the various apps, with the panorama control being one of the dominant things you'll see. The disrespect for capitalization aside, what I like about this is it too lends itself toward discovery. You can see there are additional things to navigate to, and there's a hint about what they might be.

The color and background themes are a pretty good idea, emphasizing white on black or black on white, with an accent color. The e-mail app doesn't respect the colors, and most of the better apps don't either (see IMDB, Weather Channel and Netflix), but that's OK. I will say that these default themes are a complete pain in the ass to override in your own app, especially since you can't do implicit styles yet, the way you can in Silverlight 4 for the desktop.

As I said, the panorama convention is effective, and the sub-menus and icons that pull up from the bottom are good ideas. The back button concept is a better idea than I thought it would be. Given the limited screen real estate, adopting Web page-like navigation works really well. That it can actually work across applications is a pretty neat trick too.

One of the greatest strengths the platform has is its aggregation of data. You can add accounts for Windows Live, Google, Yahoo and Facebook and it will mesh contacts from all of these sources. There's an option to not include Facebook friends that don't also appear in other contact databases, which doesn't default to on, but you'll want that. It manages to associate some accounts right away, like Diana from my Gmail gets matched with Diana from Facebook, and it gets her address from Facebook but her e-mail from my contacts. It works incredibly well. Joining a pair of contacts it didn't match is also easy, and it often suggests who to merge. So while I might know a Jeff who uses "Jeffrey" on Facebook, but I called him "Jeff" in my phone/e-mail contact, it figures it out.

The people hub does a nice job of looking at what's going on with people from Facebook, better so than the actual Facebook app. It's very fast, shows who you've recently been stalking, and has an alpha list, again filtering if you have the "all friends" option disabled. You can further pin people to the start menu, where the tile will rotate between photo, name and status. From the "me" tile, I can quickly update my FB status.

In an era of gradients and rounded corners, there was some criticism about the minimalist graphic design, but I think I really like it. In the text messaging, for example, the text is so sharp and readable, vastly superior to the iPhone. In fact, text everywhere is rendered exceptionally well.

E-mail works pretty well, even though I tend to avoid using a mobile device for it. I just don't feel like I need to be that connected. Again, I find that it's extremely readable. Not having a consolidated inbox doesn't really bother me, as I like to compartmentalize different accounts anyway. Gmail is a little quirky, in that "deleting" e-mail does in fact archive it, but I can't seem to "move" it to the real deleted folder. I do archive most e-mail, but marketing e-mail and account notifications and stuff I don't keep.

The calendar works pretty well, and it's standard stuff. The tile tells you what's coming up, and that's also pushed to the lock screen. Again, I can't understand why Apple doesn't do this. The whole month view isn't that useful, since you can't see what's scribbled on each day, and I wish they had a week view. That would be useful in landscape orientation.

Internet Explorer as the browser scared me, particularly since it's a hybrid of IE7/8, but it seems to work OK on everything I've looked at with it. I can only imagine that once IE9 is baked, they'll push it to the phone, and that will be a very exciting day. IE is something we developers curse at, but especially in a phone factor... meh, it's just a browser. It works.

The mapping is amazing. First of all, it's prettier than Google Maps. Again, the text is super readable. The UI for directions is just easier to follow, using the upper third for the map, which you can tap for a bigger view. It also does the zoom out, move, zoom in flow when moving between steps, which gives you a fighting chance at seeing at the least the general direction you're going, instead of just racing over a dataless grid. Love that.

The Xbox Live integration is absolutely great. So far I have three games: ilomilo, which was free, Need For Speed and Solitaire, all three of which score achievements and gamer points. You can mess with your avatar, see other avatars, and do all of the friend interaction stuff that you'd normally do on the Xbox. Live translates surprisingly well to the phone experience, and it's very polished looking. You can tell they've been doing this for a number of years.

I was very skeptical of the whole Zune music experience. I have no interest in doing the Zune subscription service, since I have XM in my car and I don't spend that much on MP3's, but the UI for browsing music is really quite good. What I particularly enjoy is the background pictures and bio information on bands that it pulls down. It also seems to find album covers that iTunes can't find. There's a panorama that shows what you've recently listened to, and what you've recently added. I particularly like that new pane, because I don't have to hunt for stuff I recently bought or added. That's such a great feature. This too is vastly superior to the iPhone experience. One little tweak I'd like to see: Put a semi-opaque background behind the bio text... some of them are hard to read over certain background photos.

I stopped buying from iTunes when Amazon started selling DRM-free MP3 and undercutting the iTunes pricing. I reluctantly paid Apple for the honor of freeing my music and "upgrading" it to DRM-free. I still have two or three albums they haven't upgraded, and at this point I think I'm out of luck. But generally speaking, all of the AAC stuff plays fine on the phone. The .m4v files I made from my own video, as well as the music videos from iTunes, also play no problem on the phone. The newly updated beta of the Mac Connector syncs to iTunes well, including playlists. I'm very happy about that. Diana has had less success with the iPhoto sync, but I suppose since it's beta they get a pass.

Let's talk about sync for moment. Generally speaking, you don't really need to sync much of anything beyond music files. Your various accounts are where most of your stuff actually lives. That said, it would be nice that if something bad happened, your apps and associated data could be restored. The Mac Connector doesn't do that, but neither does the Windows-based Zune software, which is absolute crap. I don't get this at all. I had to zap the phone when I got the memory card (see previous posts), and it meant reestablishing all of the account associations, losing save game data, reentering account info, redownloading apps, etc. Total pain in the ass. I suspect this is a rare event, as I only had to do it when upgrading my iPhone in the past, but I wish they had a solution for this.

The photo hub is nuts. By the time you get to it the first time, you'll find that it sucked in all of your albums from Facebook. In other words, there really isn't even a need for it to sync with your desktop, since presumably your Facebook albums already appear as edited "best of"collections of photos. This is what all of that cloud nonsense is really about. Plus, the "what's new" page will actually show you a photo stream from all of your friends.

The camera needs some work. A lot of work. I'm convinced that the hardware in my Samsung Focus is actually fairly nice, and I love that it has a dedicated button to get to it, but the software driving it is total crap. First of all, it doesn't retain settings once you leave the app. This is unlike every camera in the entire world. Nowhere is this more annoying than with turning off the flash, or setting the video mode to record in HD. I just don't understand how it shipped that way. It also prefers to do slow shutter speeds instead of just cranking up the gain, like any other camera. The result? Anything not outside will probably be blurry. Shit, even most of the photos using the flash end up blurry. Setting a minimum shutter speed isn't an option either. This is a simply awful implementation for a camera. For all of the amazing wins throughout this OS, I can't believe this sucks as much as it does. It has to be better in the next version. I'm tired of seeing my fellow employees upload blurry shit to Facebook. Although uploading is really fast, with an extra tap to do so. It even seems to upload the photo while you put in the caption. Would be nice if you could tag people in said photo. Did I mention the camera needs a ton of work?

Not often talked about is the Office hub. Do most people really care about viewing spreadsheets and Word docs on their phone? I'm gonna go with no, but it's there. The real strength comes from OneNote. It syncs your notes with your Live account, and you can go from your desktop using any browser (even Chrome) to a totally Web-based version of OneNote and edit the synced documents. It's awesome. This is totally undersold. I'm really impressed with this functionality.

In terms of other, third-party apps, so far I've been impressed with the ones I used the most in the iPhone world, and most are better than their counterparts. IMDB, Weather Channel and Netflix are pretty outstanding. The free Stocks app should've been installed by default, but it's also nice. The Facebook and Twitter apps need a little work, but they're not bad. This platform is so easy to develop for, that I'm not surprised with how fast the app store is growing. A full compliment of fart apps are ready and waiting for you! :)

The marketplace itself does not make discovery very easy. But then, I never found it very easy on the iPhone either. This is a problem that will only get worse as there are more apps. I criticize, but I don't have a solution, and it's a problem not limited to this platform. The best stuff still comes with brand names you know and recommendations from friends. I'm sure that's not going to change.

There are some issues I encounter now and then that need to be resolved. The marketplace will crash now and then, and the only way to get back into it is to reboot the phone. That's odd. You also can't change your LiveID at all without resetting the phone and starting from scratch. Look, I understand that causes a massive sync problem, but you don't need to protect me from myself. This became an issue for Diana and her Xbox Live account. The ringtones all suck, and I hate that you can't add any (again, a forthcoming feature, they say on the Internets).

All things considered, the platform overall is a winner. They need to trash the camera app, polish up a few areas, and add the cut-and-paste to quiet the idiots who think the phone is useless without that (honestly, I used it two or three times total since it was introduced on iPhone). I think the whole thing is a remarkable effort, and I think it will succeed in the long run. It generally feels evolved over the now ubiquitous "icon grid" of iPhone and Android. I'm a fan, even with my frustrations. Aside from the camera issues, I can't say that I miss my iPhone. That's surprising. I think the platform has a bright future.


Weekend time management

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 18, 2010, 4:28 PM | comments: 0

I find myself being extremely frustrated this weekend because of a lack of time management. One might say, "Weekend: ur doin it woung!!11!," because weekends are for chilling out. I would mostly agree, except to say that part of what I do to chill out is work on stuff for my various projects. Whether or not it's good for me to make my part-time business something I use my free time for is probably debatable, but not something I want to consider right now.

Last weekend was damn near perfect. We got out twice for meals, I wrote a ton of code for the forum app, I got plenty of one-on-one time with Simon, and it felt like I was getting so much out of every waking moment. This weekend, so far, not so much. Part of it is that I need uninterrupted stretches of time for the working part, and with Simon being needy and teething on and off, that just isn't happening, unfortunately.

Something I will have more of is time the next couple of weekends, as we'll have back-to-back four-day weekends. There are social and family events in there, but still lots of free time. I don't want to manage how to relax, because that seems neurotic, but I do want to make the most of the time leading up to our vacation so I can truly blow off everything not leisure related!

Phone nuggets

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 17, 2010, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

Microsoft released an update to its beta Mac Connector app, to sync music and photos between the phone and Mac via iTunes and iPhoto. It works extremely well now, and that means I get all of my playlists from the last howevermany years. Hooray!

Aaron and I visited Commons the other day and popped in the AT&T store, where they had some nice cases for the Samsung Focus. Accessories were 50% off for employees, so I got two. Diana and I both have semi-hard cases now with rubberized sides, and they really improve the phone overall. The buttons are easier to feel for and the damn thing won't slide out of my pocket.

I got e-mail this morning from the corporate vice president of communications. That made me nervous to see his name, but as it turns out, he was thanking me for standing by the phone on a rather bullshit "analysis" about sales so far. I shared this with my boss, who made the case that if I put my writing talents to better use, I could probably carve out a position for myself in the company the way a few others have. I know he's right, and I don't know what stops me.

I did see one extrapolation that puts the phone, all carriers and models, at around 700k sold in the first month, which would actually be more than I would expect. The company is being pretty tight about the figures, but I can't say I blame them, since tech pundits are idiots who expect every product launch in the consumer space to sell at the rate of the iPhone or it's a failure. Mark my words... it'll be a win in the long term.

One month so far, and I don't miss my iPhone at all. Still gotta write up that review though!

Getting your panties in a twist over "happy holidays"

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 17, 2010, 9:58 PM | comments: 0

Have you noticed this time of year the people who get all pissed off when someone says, "happy holidays?" They launch into a rant about how it's Christmas and there's some ploy to assert political correctness over everyone or some such nonsense. And nothing says celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ like being an angry jerk!

You know, the more simple explanation is that the period from Thanksgiving to the New Year, with Christmas in the middle, are in fact, collectively known as "the holidays." I understood that when I was 5 years old in 1978, before the term "politically correct" was even born. Why do people interpret this as some kind of assault on Christianity?

Perhaps my view is skewed, too, because I could even buy the political correctness angle. The world looks fairly diverse from where I sit. I have close, personal friends who are Jews and Hindus, and it would be kinda silly to wish them a "merry Christmas" if it's not a holiday they observe. I don't think Christmas observers have a lock on good cheer, peace on earth and what not.

I just happen to believe that spending a lot of time being angry over something that has nothing to do with what you believe is a complete waste of time. Get over it. Do something for charity, decorate your tree and go on living your life. And happy holidays!

Ordered a new Xbox

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 17, 2010, 12:12 AM | comments: 0

I think I've got the "buy something" urge out of my system. I ordered one of the shiny new Xbox units. Why when I already have an Xbox?

  • I've had it for five years, which is an awesome run, but that means it has one of those original tiny 20 gig hard drives. Downloadable games keep getting bigger, and loading disc games onto the drive makes them sooooo much faster. We're out of room!
  • Upgrade drives, even with the discount, are too expensive for what they are.
  • The noise and the heat. The old model gets hot, and it's already sitting in a crowded space. The fan noise also sounds like a jet, which is annoying when watching movies (it gets some solid Netflix action), and in the new place, the high ceiling makes it worse.
  • New model can power the Kinect without a power supply.
  • You can never have too many controllers (except when "You are the controller!").
  • The bundle comes with Forza and Alan Wake.
  • Built-in WiFi. That's yet another wire eliminated.
  • Two words: Employee discount. It's stupid cheap.

I've kind of rediscovered that gaming is a nice release, and I'd like to do it more. And yes, I have Dance Central, hoping it's as fun as DDR (even if you look even dumber playing it). Diana is getting into Xbox Live as well. She has over 1,600 gamer points. Bottom line, we'll use it like crazy, I can afford it, and it's shiny.

Working in the cloud

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 16, 2010, 7:44 PM | comments: 2

If you watch technology news, you've probably heard Steve Ballmer talk about how Microsoft is "all in" for "the cloud." Combined with media outlets that further dilute the meaning of the term, most people don't know what the hell it means. But in a broad sense, "the cloud" is simply "stuff" that runs on that Internet, blurring the lines of computer and network topography. If you've used a Web-based e-mail app, I'd say that qualifies as a cloud service. We just scored a big contract for the USDA or something to have hosted Exchange e-mail and calendaring stuff, so they don't have to own servers or maintain software and what not. The promise of cloud services is that businesses (and consumers, to some degree), don't have to own servers or update software or install things on their computers. It's not a new concept, but for most of the last decade, there wasn't enough bandwidth or cost efficiency for IT folk to consider it (plus, I think they wanted to preserve their own jobs).

For my sub-team, we're working on a new system that is entirely cloud-based. Our company offers the Azure platform, which includes Windows Azure, essentially a one-off instance to host an application, storage accounts for no-SQL table storage, SQL Azure which is basically a hosted database and some related stuff (including full-blown VM's). What's particularly neat about it is that you can add new instances very quickly, and the load balancing happens automagically. Heck, we even deploy with a button push at this point.

You could actually run the entire thing on one server, in theory, but doing something with a high transaction volume is not ideal like that. The biggest problem is that if you outgrow the single server, then what? If a queue or service goes down, what happens to the other things that depend on the system? Then there's the issue of having operations folks who need to patch the servers, deploy when you make a change, etc. For a big system like this, using actual servers we own would be probably about the same cost right now, but undoubtedly will go down sooner than later.

Our system is very distributed, with three worker process instances, a couple of queues, a SQL database and two Web instances (one's a REST-based API, the other a Web admin app). We don't know for sure just how big it has to scale, but the cool thing is that it won't curl up and die if any particular piece goes down for any reason. It's pretty exciting to build something like that.

It has been kind of quirky, because the Azure products are not that well documented, and a bit of a moving target. As much as I'd like to criticize the company for that, really it beats the big bang release stuff that most of the company does (see: Windows and Office), and I love that they're iterating relatively quickly. I can see how there is definite cost savings for distributed systems, even if the learning curve is a little rough up front.

Part of the satisfaction comes from building something totally new, which is pretty rare in any software development job. But it's also fun because of all this new tech. My own involvement has been pretty deep too in the overall architecture, something I really enjoy thinking about. I love to whiteboard that kind of crap!

I think it will probably be awhile before the cost comes down to a point where it makes sense to host my own sites on this stuff, but I can definitely see it getting there. I love the idea of not having to maintain a server, and just paying for each individual app as needed.

As for what we're working on, I don't know if I can talk about it yet, but I think in January we'll launch a beta. It may or may not sound like something cool at that point. :)

In search of a physical reward

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 15, 2010, 11:57 PM | comments: 0

I got my referral bonus today for recruiting a former ICOM'er into the Microsoft fold. Easiest grand I ever made. Good timing, too, because it means I'll be able to pay off the old credit card after incurring the moving expenses. I had my first stock vesting on Monday as well. When I compare things to a year ago at this time, things feel a lot better than they did. At the very least, I'm not sitting on nearly $30k in credit card debt. Yes, I hate making mortgage payments to a place I don't live in, and the prospect of writing a five-digit check to the IRS for the short sale "income" bums me out (I planned for it at least), but things don't suck even remotely as they did last year.

Life has been very rewarding this year overall, in part because of that little redheaded kid that arrived in March. When I start to think about how this year shaped up, there's little doubt in my mind that I've been able to be happy in a way that I've never known before. I can't even wrap my head around that.

But given the extreme fiscal discipline I exercised this year, I still feel like I deserve to buy myself some kind of physical reward. I have no idea what that even is. I don't buy cars and houses and luxury status crap. I'm a T-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I don't really need any particular gadgets, and I got some things for free lately (phones, Kinect). I even gave more to charity this year than I ever have before. I don't really need "stuff," and yet I want to buy something frivolous in appreciation of, uh, myself, I guess.

I used to feel like it was always something that I wanted to buy, but now I'm not even sure if there is a something. Perhaps I'll have to settle for a vacation next month.

Epic rainfall

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 14, 2010, 11:23 PM | comments: 0

I can see where Seattle gets its reputation for rain this winter. Last year, we had a lot of the drizzle that is apparently representative of the area, but in the last week or two we've had some epic rainfall, even Midwest-style downpours. Last night we had a classic thunderstorm, with two orderly squall lines moving west to east, just like back home. The city proper gets 9 inches on average in December, and so far has had 5.5. I can't find data for where we live, but I suspect it's way higher. The river flooding around the Puget Sound area has been fairly serious in places.

But despite all of that rain, there's still one aspect of it that makes it more tolerable than Midwest winter: You still get to see the sun. In the last week, there were only two days where I don't recall seeing the sun at all. Most days at work we have to pull the blinds down or we can't see our computers. Today was like that, and I put up with the glare to feel that warm sun on the back of my head.

The proof is in the lack of seasonal affective disorder. I used to get really depressed in December and January in Cleveland. Last year I had it a little, but I think that had to do with the stress of moving, starting a new job and expecting a baby. This year, not only do I not feel depressed lately, but I actually feel happy in a way that I haven't in many years. Granted, I have a small bundle of reasons to be happy, but I really think it has more to do with the amount I see the sun.

I would still like to have less rain. I want to get out more, walking around the neighborhood, and around campus at work. Rain drops off by 2 inches in February, and then another 2 in April. By July and August, it's less than 2 inches total. That's what I'm talking about.

Windows Phone 7 review: Development

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 13, 2010, 9:30 PM | comments: 0

I reviewed the actual hardware in my last post, and next I'll do the OS itself, but I wanted to record a few thoughts about developing for the phone. Baby Stopwatch is hardly complex, and wasn't hard to develop, and that's kind of the point.

If you're not writing a game, you're probably using Silverlight. Silverlight has somewhat of a learning curve, in that you have to understand layout and the way the threading works against the UI. If you've used it for a browser or out-of-browser app, it's not foreign territory. Beyond that you need to learn about the way the phone apps start and stop, and how to deal with the local isolated storage to save state as necessary. None of it is that hard to learn if you already get C# and basic object-oriented development.

The tools are pretty solid, which is not surprising because they had a lot of baking time, something like seven months before the phones. Visual Studio is already a pretty awesome tool, so again, if you already use it those skills are transferable. Spinning up and deploying the app is pretty fast overall, though it's not like I was building a huge one. The only thing that I found to be a negative was that the phone emulator won't work in a VM, which is a bummer since I tend to run Windows in Parallels. I had to spin up a Boot Camp partition just for this.

The submission process to the marketplace is dead simple. Once you sign up ($99/year), you upload the .xap, some icons and screenshots, and the automated system does what appears to be an overall smoke test to your app, clicking buttons and navigating around. If it finds something, I think a human pokes around. For example, on my first try, it found that if you push the back button after trying to set a background photo, it bombed. The person wrote up steps to repro and it was easy to fix.

I don't think they work on weekends, but otherwise the turn around seems like a day or so. They've finally got reporting up and running, so I have some idea about how often it gets downloaded.

Overall, it's a pretty satisfying and relatively easy experience. At this point I'm just thinking about other apps to build. I'd like to do something a little more robust, I'm just not sure what. I think the ease bodes well for apps. The exploration of the marketplace is the thing that has to improve at this point. I imagine it will evolve.

Super Snoqualmie Falls

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 12, 2010, 6:13 PM | comments: 0

This waterfall is down the street from us. It's quite lovely most days, but it just looked angry today. I'm just pulling a number out of my ass, but it looks as though the volume of water is about five times what it normally is (looking at photos I have). Not a good day to live near this river, that's for sure.

Windows Phone 7 review: My hardware

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 11, 2010, 7:40 PM | comments: 0

Now that I've had my phone for awhile, I figured I would write a little about what I think of it. There are really three things that I want to cover, so I'll split between three posts, for hardware, development and the OS. In all three cases, there will be a ton of iPhone comparisons, because I had one since the time it was introduced. Let's face it, iPhone set the standard for what a smart phone should be.

Like most anyone who was with AT&T, I got a Samsung Focus. The other two models offered weren't really as rational in terms of features, so it was a pretty obvious choice. I did like the HTC HD7 on T-Mobile, but it was kind of large, and I wasn't as comfortable with T-Mobile's data coverage maps. It's important to consider that this phone is not Windows Phone 7 beyond the fact that it has all of the requirements to run the OS. Beyond that, the manufacturers can generally do whatever they want in terms of design.

The thing that draws you in on the Focus is the screen. Samsung apparently has a corner on the market for Super AMOLED, and I have to say, it's impressive. It really makes the primary colors of the OS pop. Text is particularly beautiful. There has been some criticism that the resolution requirement wasn't higher, but I have to say that I don't think it's a negative at all. It's quite stunning.

Sound is much better than on the iPhone, both from apps and for speaker phone. The speaker is on the back though, so it's best when you have your hand behind it, reflecting it back at you. That's pretty normal, for games in particular. The included headphones have volume controls and a mic, and work similar to their iPhone counterpart. Unfortunately, they're completely uncomfortable, so I don't use them. The iPhone headphones work plugged in, but the mic does not. The clicker does start and stop music, fortunately. Not sure why they didn't just copy Apple here. And by the way, call quality is much better than iPhone, by a long shot. That surprised me. Yes, sometimes people use their phones for calling people!

The construction of the phone is generally pretty solid, and on par with my iPhone 3GS. The glass is apparently the "gorilla glass" also found on the iPhone 4, and I haven't had any worries that it will get scratched or anything. The plastic used on the back and sides does feel kind of cheap in terms of texture, but it doesn't flex or squeak or anything (surprising given that the back comes off for battery, SIM and microSD access). It's a little on the slick side. I'd like it if there was something like the hard InCase cases available, but I haven't seen one yet.

The positioning of the buttons is a little less than ideal, but I'm not sure how much of that is iPhone routine. The power button is on the side, instead of on top like most other smart phones (including the HTC WP7's). That wouldn't be that big of a deal if it weren't for the fact that the volume is on the opposite side. I do like the little sliding cover over the micro-USB port though. While it never seemed to be a problem, I was always troubled by the fuzz that collected in the iPhone's dock connector.

The memory card thing has been kind of a mess, in that a card's "class" isn't enough indication that it will be fast enough to sustain certain read/write speeds. While some people report outright failures with some cards, my story has been "mostly OK," I suppose. I bought a 32 gig card. Once you install it and format it, the card is essentially bound to the phone, exercising the "secure" part of "SD." That's fine, as my intention is just to have it in there to carry all of my music. I've had three instances of a weird restart that looks as if the phone was reset, with none of your data, and the default tiles on the start screen. Rebooting the phone fixes it, and everything is back to normal. Reading various forums, I theorize this is a symptom of the memory card use (Diana has no card, an no such problems). It feels like something that might be corrected in software of firmware, so we'll see.

One minor complaint is that the required three face buttons (back, start and search) are touch buttons instead of physical hard buttons. This seems to be the case on most models, and it requires a little getting used to so you don't accidentally tag them when using the phone in landscape mode, especially for games.

The camera takes nice photos in daylight... when the software allows it. I think the hardware is fine, but the OS software driving it is definitely a work in progress.

Overall, the hardware itself is pretty good, even with my complaints. The screen alone is such a thing of beauty (and knowing it has awesome glass helps), that it hides any complaints I have. I can see why the similar phones that Samsung did for Android are so popular.

A modest start for Baby Stopwatch

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 10, 2010, 11:34 PM | comments: 0

When I first endeavored to build Baby Stopwatch, the only real point was to build any Windows Phone app and get it published. I get reimbursed for the app hub membership (some day), so why not? It involves very, very little code. So far it's had around 230 downloads, which actually seems pretty good considering there are already 4,000 or so apps in the marketplace. It's also generating around 50 cents a day with its ads.

I would still like to build something more involved for it. I'm not sure what, but something that's connected would be interesting. At this point though, I think there are other things that are higher priority, like getting the forum done. I'd like to do that before the end of the year, though I realized today that's not very far away.

Red Delicious is having a good time with her Windows Phone, as am I. There are some quirks, but we're still digging it overall. I'm pretty confident that, as long as they continue to market it well, it will gain market share over time, especially when models are available on other carriers in a few months.

Miller Hall, and the changes at AU

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 9, 2010, 8:50 PM | comments: 0

My friend Gretchen, who was three years behind me in radio/TV at Ashland University, and is now a prof there, posted this photo taken earlier today...

Miller Hall was old. The thread on Facebook when she uploaded the pic seemed to indicate that most people we know had "Exploring the Bible," a required religion course, in there. I seem to recall there were some business classes there as well. The building was old and drafty, but there was a certain quaintness about it. Now they've decided that it's too expensive to maintain, and it's coming down. When kids come back after the new year, apparently it will be gone.

I squeezed in some radio shifts before I moved, and as I mentioned, the school has changed so much since I graduated in '95. The building boom was pretty ridiculous after that, starting with the student center. It's all very modern, and I suppose that's cool, but I don't think they did a good job really giving it a classic feel. Even the older buildings left, like Jacobs Hall, where I lived one year, were made on the cheap and were uninteresting. It's not like John Carroll University near Cleveland, where every new building is a beautiful piece of architecture that looks both timeless and classic.

As a side note about old buildings, there aren't very many out here.

Recycling garbage

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 8, 2010, 9:12 PM | comments: 0

Something that has been on my mind since we moved is how relatively inefficient they are around here about garbage and recycling. I suppose we were ridiculously spoiled back in Medina County, Ohio, because of the central processing facility. Recycling is easy there: Throw all your shit in a bag and put it on the curb.

Naturally, this costs more, but it makes it stupid easy to recycle, and you don't have to leave it to people always wondering, "Gosh, should I recycle this?" The estimate I heard is that people who are already being fairly conscious about the packaging that they were buying to start with end up recycling 70%+. That's awesome. Plus they pick out stuff like electronics, TV's, appliances, etc.

Here it's a pain in the ass. You have one truck coming to pick up the recycled stuff, and another to pick up the garbage (in some places there's a third to get compostable stuff). And they charge you based on the size of your garbage can, with surcharges for when you have extra trash. It all strikes me as inefficient and error prone, especially the part about having multiple trucks pick the stuff up. Already that's twice the carbon footprint for pickup alone.

It strikes me as odd that they haven't figured out a better way here, what with all the treehuggers and more Prius drivers per capita than most places.

The teeth! The teeth!

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 6, 2010, 7:51 PM | comments: 0

I was telling the guys at work how Simon has been the worst teether ever, and how cranky he has been. And by comparison, he still appears to be an over-achiever. It's just that these molars are taking so long to surface, and it looks like at least two, maybe four, are coming out all at once. It causes him to drool like the aliens in the Alien movies.

He was a mess yesterday, and most of today. You know it's bad news when you come home to Diana napping and he's had all of 90 minutes of nap the entire day. Fortunately, he got a good one in this time, and woke up pretty happy. I actually got to spend two quality hours with him tonight.

Simon has been developmentally interesting in other ways lately, so it's not all bad. He's vocalizing all kinds of new sounds almost on a daily basis. He's kind of getting what clapping is. He can do the thumb-forefinger pinch for food now too. Sitting up from a slouch is pretty easy, and I suspect it won't be long before he figures it out from being flat on his back. Now that he can grab stuff, he seems more motivated to get stuff. I won't be concerned if he holds off on that for a bit. :)

The sleeping scenario is much better than it was even a month ago. Some nights we do end up having to feed him between 9 and midnight, and rarely after that, but he's mostly sleeping over night. Some days he even gets up after 7. That's an especially big deal for Diana, since she gets up with him during the week, so I can squeak out 6 or 7 hours of sleep for work. The napping during the day is a lot more hit or miss, but that's probably because of the teething.

I was looking through photos of him on Facebook, and I can't believe how little he was. I mean, he wasn't really little for a newborn, but compared to now, he was tiny. Doctor tomorrow, so we'll see what his stats are.

Weekend coding results

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 6, 2010, 12:02 AM | comments: 0

The weekend did not quite go as I expected, which is what I should expect. I'm finding it very hard to figure out how to be a dad, husband, entrepreneur, full-time worker and generally responsible adult all at once (who also has fun now and then). I suppose that's a post for another day! Saturday was kind of a bust, in part because I just felt so worn down and tired.

I did solve two hard, or at the very least involved, problems. The first was the bit I mentioned Friday about sending e-mail to users who subscribe to a forum topic. By itself, that's not hard, but there are so many underlying things it has to rely on, like sending e-mail to a queue, formatting the mail, making sure you don't get more than one since the last time you viewed the post, etc.

Today I snuck in just enough time to get forum filtering done in a way that performs reasonably well. We have forums that are private, so you shouldn't be able to view them. I finished up the logic for that for individual forums a long time ago, but I never got to stripping them off the home page, or keep them from appearing in lists like the recent topics, search or topics where a user has posted. I think I beat those in a manner that's better than last time around, with a combination of caching and better querying. We'll see how it goes in the wild.

Most people will never appreciate how much work really goes into this stuff, so I only have myself to find it gratifying. Fortunately, this particular stuff actually lends itself well to a number of work items on the list, so perhaps things will move faster going forward.

Nine months of retired baby stuff

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 5, 2010, 1:16 PM | comments: 0

Simon is nine months today. Hard to believe! He's such a giant. Instead of a warm-fuzzy retrospective, I thought I'd write about all of the stuff he no longer needs. A friend at work is expecting, and he often asks if he needs this or that. What I find funny isn't whether or not you need something, but rather how long you need it.

The bassinet was toast after a month. We got Simon into his proper crib pretty quickly. His hangy jumpy bungee thing was something he got to use maybe two or three times. I don't even have to tell you how many clothes lasted a month or so at most.

We're retiring his swing already. Since we moved, I think he used it two or three times, and we realized that he didn't really need it anymore before bed. Plus, he was starting to try and lean out of it now that his mobility is much improved. He never actually slept in it, except maybe once or twice.

Diana packed up his Miracle Blanket today, the thing we used to burrito him in for bed. That was a lifesaver. For a long time, he couldn't sleep without it. Now we look at it, and I can't believe he ever fit inside of it. These days, he sleeps in a sleep sack, which allows him free arm movement, but keeps him covered and warm no matter how much he squirms around.

We haven't cycled through many toys, though we do intend to limit the number that he has. Some stuff isn't useful anymore, like the play thing he used to lie under (he prefers to sit up).

We've been through a few carriers already, partly for comfort issues for the parent, partly because of his size. I really liked the Baby Bjorn, but he's way over the weight limit now for it.

Fortunately, Diana is very proactive about getting retired stuff into consignment, so we're not bleeding ourselves dry on baby stuff. I think overall we've been fairly low maintenance in terms of "equipment" for Simon. There are products for everything, but for the most part we haven't bought that much of it.

Ancient hackery

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 3, 2010, 11:22 PM | comments: 0

I've mentioned on several occasions recently that I really want to make a focused effort to get POP Forums v9 to a production worthy state sooner than later. I'd like it to be something that folks could actually use when MVC3 is released. Having the burden of knowledge about that time line, and looking at how much I have to do, I'm not exactly filled with optimism about reaching that goal.

I got virtually nothing done over the Thanksgiving break, which is not really anyone's fault, there was just more going on than I expected. But I decided that this weekend I'm going to use every moment I can to work on it.

Tonight I finished what I started more than three weeks ago: the subscription stuff. You know, the stuff that sends e-mail to everyone subscribed when a new post is made. Holy crap that was a lot of work. It required touching about 20 files, required 18 tests (probably should be a lot more), and required way more code than I thought. But comparing to the old app, confidence is super high that it works as it should, because of the tests, and it's still less code, loosely coupled and generally "better."

I've tried to generally not look at the old code, because I want to do things using my current knowledge and experience. A lot of that stuff is based on code over seven years old. It's positively awful. I keep encountering ancient hackery that's so against everything I know today. The funny thing is that most of it is "good enough," because my sites have been running on it for a very long time without incident.

The truth is that I hate writing this forum stuff these days. It has been with me for 11 years. And yet, there's a part of me that thinks, "Wouldn't it be cool to do this or that?" It's like a curse I can't shake. What I really want to do is get it to a respectable state, put it in MouseZoom, and finally launch that site (I've only been talking about it for three years).

Let's see how my follow-through goes this weekend...

More phones, more fun

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 2, 2010, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

There were rumors on the Internets that if you recently bought a Samsung Focus from AT&T, that you could go back and get their buy-one-get-one deal. Seeing as how Diana has had two hand-me-down iPhones now, I figured I'd check it out. And what do you know, I brought her home her very own, all shiny and stuff. So now we're both Windows Phone users.

Now that I've had a couple of weeks with it, I'm generally pleased with it, but there are a lot of little polish issues that I hope they resolve in the often rumored January update (I honestly don't know if that's real or not). The comparison to iPhone, after having one three and a half years, is impossible not to make. I feel like the move is kind of lateral at the moment, with the one really obvious plus being that I can write apps for this one pretty easily.

I still want to write an end-to-end review soon, including the developer experience. It's generally positive, and certainly I want to see my employer do well here. Late to the party or not, I really feel like the direction is right, even if it's not perfect today. I think it competes exceptionally well with iOS and Android, and I can't wait to see more models for AT&T and the other carriers.

A baby and an emotional awakening

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 2, 2010, 11:10 PM | comments: 0

When you decide to have a child, you expect that there will be big changes in your life, and everyone tells you what those will be. Almost nine months in now, I can honestly say that most of the things people told me to expect were crap. Maybe crap isn't the word, but the negative things in particular just haven't come to fruition.

What I have noticed is that I've had an emotional reawakening. When I was in college, and really for many years after that, I was emotionally intense. I remember about a year into my first real job, I had a bit of a breakdown because I believed so much in what I was doing, but the politicians I was working for just didn't get it. Part of that was just being young and stupid, sure, but I remember very vividly that everything in life seemed so intense back then.

Over time, everything became more bland. I didn't respond emotionally to anything the way I did before. This wasn't me leveling out or maturing, I don't think. I'm not even sure why I got that way. I think it was a combination of work that was not satisfying, a relationship that I knew deep down had issues and a general lack of ambition. I just didn't get fired up about anything.

The divorce was a bit of a starting point for reversal of that emotional dullness. I remember coaching and my first new relationship that year being intense. With the pain came heightened ability to love and be passionate about things.

Fast forward to this year, March 5, in the delivery operating room. My self-defense mechanism kept me stoic, but when I saw that little guy, all purple with red hair (Diana was, by contrast, white as a ghost), things were definitely going on inside, and an hour later life got very real.

Every day since then, I've noticed that my emotional intensity grows exponentially. The love that a child can bring into your life is like nothing I've ever experienced. As much as I want him to sleep through the night, every time I get to feed Simon and hold him in that dark room, it becomes one of the greatest moments of my life. I'm not even kidding. You have great days like college graduation, tropical vacations, your wedding and such, and every time I get that little quiet time with him, it's like that.

There are some amazing positives that go with this. It means more love in my marriage. It means more passion toward things I care about. It means intense drive to be a better person, do a better job and make the lives of others better.

But with all of that intensely positive emotion comes a great deal of negatives. I find that I get angry more easily. I don't like myself at all when I'm angry. I also feel a great deal of fear, and that's something I've really spent many years letting go of. But now a lot of everyday things that I used to let roll off cause me anxiety, like money issues, things at work, and of course that fucking house in Cleveland. I don't want to live with all of that anger and fear when there is so much love and happiness in my life.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I'm reliving my early 20's, because everything feels so intense. The truth is that I feel so alive. It's breathtaking. The challenge now is to embrace the intensity and shape it with the wisdom that comes from the last 15 years or so. I'm at peace with the idea that pain and pleasure seem to go hand in hand, but hopefully I'm better equipped to process the former more efficiently and enjoy the latter richly.

Top Chef All-Stars

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 8:52 PM | comments: 0

I hate reality TV, and I don't care for the contrived competition crap. I really don't care for the cooking competition shows. But Top Chef has always required my attention because because the people on it are typically real chefs who make beautiful, and presumably delicious food. Invite back a bunch of them who didn't quite make it, and you know it has to be good.

They invited some back who I was surprised didn't win the first time. I thought Jennifer was a sure thing, Richard made some great looking stuff, Spike seemed like a contender, and even Mike was strong even though he's a douche. And of course, I love Jamie, because of her hot tattoo freaky chick style. (Being into TV women is silly, but being into TV women who are also lesbians is probably even more silly.)

Good times. I'm glad the genre hasn't been completely bastardized.

Secrets and governments and politics

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 12:12 AM | comments: 0

I have to say that the reaction to the latest set of docs released by WikiLeaks has been interesting. Most people I think could care less, which might be why few of the stories in the press are dealing with what these documents actually say, and instead concentrate on what blowhards in Washington think.

I've been trying to keep up with the stories that the New York Times has been publishing, and they're really quite fascinating. I haven't seen anything yet that really falls into the category of putting lives at stake, as people on TV (and Bill Clinton) suggest. That's not to say some of it might, but mostly what I've seen is accounts of history that you just don't get to ordinarily see. You get to see just how difficult it is to be a part of a complex and often scary world. I was particularly interested to see the accounts of how hard it has been to close down the Guantanamo prison, finding willing partnerships from various nations to take those guys.

Putting the political rhetoric aside for a moment, the question you have to ask is whether or not it's OK for the government, your government, to keep secrets. Like anything, there's no black and white way to answer those questions. I find that secrets are often toxic, which is why I try to keep as few as possible, but in an international context, it's more complicated. Do you give out the name and location of a deeply embedded spy trying to infiltrate a terrorist organization? No, of course not. If you're any kind of new organization, do you publish accounts of morally questionable dealings between governments, even if they're embarrassing? Absolutely.

And that's why I don't get the crazy shit that pundits and politicians are spouting. Senators are talking about going to war with this WikiLeaks guy, cyber-attacking the Web site (which is, in fact, down) and even shooting the guy. What the hell is that all about? Why aren't they suggesting the same thing for the editor of The Times? It's the press' responsibility and right to find out what the government is doing and report on it, and let them use their own moral and ethical judgment to decide what to print. This is an American tradition that has served us well for more than two centuries now. That many of these voices are the same people calling for less government involvement in our lives and the world, the suggestion to stop it by all means necessary is ironic.

I'm not going to sit here and say that releasing these diplomatic cables is OK, because the truth is that I have no desire to read all 250,000+ to decide. But a cursory look at what the papers are reporting on so far leads me to believe that there are great historical lessons unfolding right in front of us, and that's absolutely in the public interest.

So with all of that in mind, more harmful and scary to me is that crazy shit I was talking about. Talking heads are calling for WikiLeaks to be declared a terrorist organization? Really? I get really nervous when people, elected or not, start talking about declaring people terrorists, shutting down Web sites and the like. It's the same thing that went on with Watergate, the Warren Commission, Iran-Contra, and God forbid, the Lewinsky affair (although that last one was hardly a matter of national security).

I'm also scratching my head on why Republicans are using this opportunity to attack Obama for not doing anything. When will this party get its shit together? The AG can't do anything about this because the First Amendment has been pretty clear that you can't do anything about it. You can bust the guy who stole the documents, and they have, but even if you find the WikiLeaks guy to be doing something morally wrong, I don't think you have to be a Constitutional scholar to see that his actions are protected free speech, to say nothing of the fact that he's not a US citizen anyway.

While I'm at it, why does Sarah Palin continue to get any attention at all? Her resume includes tanking a presidential bid and quitting her job as a governor so she could be on reality TV. I've never heard her offer even one constructive proposition for policy of her own on anything. She has no official Web site detailing her position on issues. With her calling herself a Republican, no wonder the party can't get anything done.

All things considered, this whole affair is an interesting exercise in free speech and diplomacy. For all of the enabling of stupidity on the Internet, maybe it's potential isn't as far off as I thought.