I've noticed lately that I start to feel a great deal of anxiety in my spare time. It's every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. Let me explain the typical day.
I get up, go to work, and do work stuff. Work stuff recently changed with a new position, but suffice it to say that I'm still doing Microsoft stuff. I think I'm going to really enjoy the job and people. I roll into work around 8 or so (a little later if I don't take the Connector), and I typically leave a little after 4. I'm home by 5 if traffic allows, and I get to spend some time with Simon for an hour or two. I wish it was more, but he goes to bed when he get tired.
So by 7, I'm certifiably in the spare time zone for about four hours. My first instinct is to sit down at a computer and bang out some code for one of my many projects. I worry a lot about whether or not I'm spending enough time on that stuff, for two reasons. The first is that my little business requires time to maintain itself. If I had no ambition to make it into something more, it would still require time to maintain. That extra income has saved my ass during unemployment (I haven't collected unemployment in ten years, despite periods of non-work), it helped me dig out of debt and it finances my gadget habit. The second reason I worry about it is because, somewhere deep down, I think it could be more. I don't even know what that means, but that bug was put into my head in '08.
For a few weeks, after getting laid-off from Insurance.com, I worked for a guy who ran a small consulting firm. He promised me lots of cash and a killer project to work on. Unfortunately, that business never came his way, and he couldn't pay me to do nothing. But he had a parting conversation with me about my future. I mostly thought he was full of shit, especially listening to him talk to clients on the phone, but this stuck with me. He said, "I fully expect that one day you'll come up with a good idea, and you'll never work for anyone again."
I think he might have been right, but I'm not sure that I necessarily want that. At least, not right now. Working for The Man is actually a lot of fun, for the first time in years. My entrepreneurial endeavors are accidental in the first place. But more importantly, I fear that spending too much time on this stuff makes me dull and one-dimensional.
I have a very diverse set of interests. There are so many things that I want to do, many of them kind of half-started. I want to make a film. I want to read more. I want to write more, maybe even another book. I want to learn to love my bicycle again. I want to travel more. I want to sit on my ass and play video games. I don't want to be the dull person who uses spare time exclusively for the side business.
There is one other motivating factor, I think, and that's the idea that working harder on the business will lead to greater long-term financial comfort, which means a house and a yard for my little family, and that will make me happier. But I know that's bullshit. I'm having some of the happiest times of my life today with Simon and Diana, as things stand today.
I've got pretty solid life-work balance today, and I need to avoid turning the life part of that into a secondary category of work. I have to better engage in all of the things I enjoy, not just the mini-entrepreneur story.
We're finally going to have some nice weather this weekend. We've had freakishly cold weather for three weeks straight, averaging about 10 below the normals. It has really sucked. Last Friday and Saturday were solid, but then we reverted back to the crap.
With the nicer weather comes the inevitable feeling that something is missing though. That missing thing, of course, is the opening of Cedar Point. It typically started with a pre-season drive around the park (two years ago I had to photograph my car on the midway for giggles), the Red Cross mini-golf fundraiser, Buffalo Wild Wings with the Walsh family and CP pals, a media event in some years, the actual opening day and those fantastic weekday trips before schools let out, when you owned the park.
Just thinking about it, the sense memories are so vivid. The colors of fresh paint, the new construction smell around the new attraction at the media day, cool breezes off the lake, the first smell of fries, the sound of Raptor and Millennium Force, first whiff of the Candle Shoppe mixed with fresh blacktop sealant... all things that made you feel like you were home after another shitty Midwest winter.
And of course, there was the social satisfaction of it all. That weekend would often be one of the first times I'd see Tim and his family, I'd see Walt if we didn't manage to make the same off-season visits, John, the GM, would offer his warm greeting to another season and give a run down of some of the less obvious things going on, friends I probably wouldn't even know were it not for the park would come out of hiding.
What makes it so hard is that this spring ritual was with me for about a decade. Through all of the crazy turmoil around romantic partners and jobs, the May Cedar Point routine was a constant. Last year, I was so rocked by having a baby that I didn't really have time to think about the change. This year, life is almost in the neighborhood of being some kind of "normal," and it has given me more time to think about how much I miss this particular aspect of spring.
Don't get me wrong, there's no way in hell I'd want to be living there again, but I wouldn't mind if I could spend just a week enjoying that routine again. As much as I've learned to embrace change, I wouldn't mind if it was padded with a little more familiar comfort.
A couple of months ago, I got a $50 AMEX gift card at work. Truth be told, I don't remember why exactly, but it was a nice gesture. In any case, I figured that the best way to use it was an all-or-nothing transaction.
So earlier today I order something online for more than fifty bucks, and it lets me pay two ways. I send $50 to the gift card, and put the rest on my regular credit card. An hour later, I get e-mail that says they can't make the charge and blah blah blah. Shit. OK, so let's see what the balance says.
I go to the AMEX site to find that the vendor did a $1 auth against the card, which means that they can't then do a full $50 auth against the card, because it's only worth $50. Shit again. Later I decide to look deeper into it, bring up the AMEX site again, and find that they've attempted a second auth against it, this time for some random $29.32. So now there are two authorizations against it, neither of which is the $50 I wanted to use it for.
I guess I could hate on the vendor for doing random test authorizations against the card, but I'm still not impressed. The user experience for the cards just isn't very good.
This was the first week that we were really getting down to work in my new gig. It sure has been different, for sure, but it's pretty exciting.
The biggest change is of course that I'm now in a program manager role and not a developer. I've had components of that role in most of my jobs in my post-college life, but this is the first time in ten years that it includes no significant hands-on coding responsibilities. That background helps because it gives me such a strong technical background, but it'll probably take me awhile to really feel out to what extent I should get "in the weeds." That's something to worry more about when we actually start building stuff.
So far, I don't feel like I'm contributing at a high level, because there's still a lot of discovery and definition going on, and most of my co-workers have been thinking about and living this stuff for months. I tend to approach a new job like I do a party full of strangers. I do a lot of observing at first, to get a feel of the people and moving parts, before I start to engage. I'm not the type to show up and try to be the life of the party instantly. We'll also start to specialize in certain parts of the product as time goes on, which will also help give focus.
But overall, it's pretty cool. The project is interesting, the people are scary smart, and there are opportunities to work with many different groups around the company. There's a lot of desire to make the ideas real things as soon as possible, too, which of course appeals to my developer sense. The next four or five months should be pretty extraordinary!
It was about one month ago today that Simon began crawling, rather late, frankly. Right now, he's walking short distances between things and/or people, about five or six steps, typically. Today, he also did something unexpected: He climbed the stairs.
When we've walked with him holding his hands, we've tried to show him how to step up on the landing at the bottom of the stairs. He struggles, but he gets it. When he's on his own, he tries to step up on it himself instead of climbing up, but he's still too little for that. I thought that meant he wouldn't be particularly ambitious about trying to go higher. I was wrong.
Oliver, his favorite cat, took off up the stairs because I think wanted to opt-out of any toddler torture coming his way. He usually sits there and takes it, but he clearly has his limits. Simon thought it was hilarious, and he pursued him. For fun, I got behind him to see how far he'd go. There were a couple of instances where he slipped back a step or two, but ultimately, he got all the way upstairs, on his own, and out of breath.
I'm really proud of him, because I feel like now he's making up for lost time in terms of his motor skills and such. It was only a month ago (give or take a day) that he would protest about even getting up to a sitting position without help. He was so lazy. It's a relief to see him trying to over-achieve now.
I have to say that I'm starting to become somewhat alarmed at the deterioration of ad revenue this spring. Granted, when you're "only" in the ~10 million annual page view business, your overall sample is still relatively small for identifying trends, but given essentially the same traffic, you kind of expect to have the same revenue.
I've never 100% expected my little side business to be even remotely my primary source of income (though I suppose it was, by default, during my non-employment runs), but I do want it to maintain a certain level for a number of reasons. The obvious thing is that I want it to enable is reinvestment. Keeping up on software is expensive. Keeping up on hardware is expensive. Monthly expenses aren't terrible, but a few hundred bucks is still not something I want to spend out of pocket.
Ten years ago I decided to augment ad dollars with subscription revenue, and to this day, that still does generate a good chunk of cash. But it's not something I can rely on unless suddenly six times as many people sign-up. Knowing this, what do I do? Endeavor to build more ad supported sites. Duh.
I really need to shift focus to actual products. I have an idea for one that I'm building on now, from time to time, because it's something I need as a side effort to some existing stuff. If that works as expected, then I'll "productize" it for the world at large. That would be an interesting exercise.
Hopefully things will pick up next month, because that's when traffic picks up in a big way, especially on PointBuzz, after Cedar Point opens. It's just that I'd rather "know" this sort of thing, instead of "hope."
It sucks to be the president these days. In addition to dealing with the mess of several unfunded wars and an economy in the crapper, you have to deal with a political climate akin to grade school playground name calling. The real issues have no quick or obvious solutions, while the stupid parts just get in the way.
The whole "Obama isn't a US citizen" thing ranks as probably the most ridiculous thing hurled at a president in my lifetime. The worst part of it is that the fringe voices in the GOP, and its reality TV personalities (Palin, Trump) were the ones making this the biggest issue, with Fox News watching intellectual zombies playing into it. Speaker Boehner was smart enough to say it's a waste of time, but it's sad that even the most prominent Republican is being ignored by his own party. So when the president finally had enough, and sent his lawyer to Hawaii to get some kind of legal exception for a copy of the damn long-form birth certificate, he was dammed either way. Romney says it's a waste of time, while the reality show people ask why he didn't do it sooner. I'm with Romney, except that I don't recall him standing up and telling his colleagues to shut up and concentrate on real issues.
I think ultimately, sticking to facts and issues, to things that really matter, and avoiding stupid shit about personality and social causes that have no impact on government, can win an election. One might argue that Obama won on charisma, but Palin (and, uh, that guy she ran with) has plenty of charisma too. She's also about informed as a sock, and Americans didn't buy into it. It's a shame that the McCain of 2000 didn't come back in 2008.
At this point, I think Obama is doing a mediocre job. His approval rating with me is somewhere in the middle, because he hasn't been able to nut up and be the transformative president that I think he could be. He's just too careful. Maybe he has to be, to make those compromises to at least get something done, and that's unfortunate. I mean, I see the candidate still in there every now and then. We saw it in his speech in Arizona, demonstrating his ability to lift up and inspire people. Even better, his recent open mic recordings went to great lengths to show just how focused on issues he is. Why can't he be that way in the open? In that context, he sounds like a good manager who can get things done. It would probably piss off his opponents, but I think John Q. Citizen would respect that a lot more than dancing around trying to keep everyone happy.
I think about a meeting I had today in my new team, where we're debating a number of things with regard to our new product. We all have strong opinions about things, but ultimately we find flexibility in those opinions because we want to build something that kicks ass. It's a shame that government doesn't work similarly.
I've noticed lately that I've backed off blogging to a huge extent. Some of it is just a time issue, as you might expect. With a toddler bouncing off the walls and a new job, plus any other number of things I enjoy taking time, I'm just not doing it as much.
But there's also another factor. I'm actually thinking a lot about what I want to spill and how it might be received. That's insane. One of the reasons I've enjoyed blogging, and apparently one of the reasons so many people read this stuff, is because I tend to put out a level of honesty that is completely raw. Sure, there are some things you won't find if you look back. I never talked much about my divorce, break-ups, or certain relationships at all. I've only gone into limited detail about some of my former employers. But generally speaking, I tend to say what's on my mind.
I haven't been doing that. I've been avoiding writing big rants or expressing displeasure, because some part of me feels that, in the context of my life, and compared to others, I have no "right" to do any complaining. What a huge load of bullshit that is. It's bad when other people invalidate what you feel, but when you do it to yourself, that's tragic.
I also find myself waffling on what I believe. I know that this is just the ongoing process of growing up (even as I approach 40), but I miss those days when I had very clear beliefs and opinions. Now it's hard to be assertive. I don't feel like I stand for anything, and to some degree I devalue myself for that.
What it really comes down to is that I'm not outwardly processing life, and that's bad news. I'm not being honest with myself, and if I can't do that, I can't truly reach the level of happy functioning that I've worked so hard to cultivate. I have to stand up and say what I want, and feel free to act on it.
So far, there are a few events that we, the Puzzoni's with Simon, have done that really stand out in my mind. The trips to Ohio and Holiday World last year certainly stand out. Our Orlando vacation was also fantastic, and exceeded my expectations in almost every way. But this weekend was also great, and without really doing anything particularly grand.
It was really a perfect mix of weather and the timing of Simon's many developing attributes. I've enjoyed being his dad, and Diana's husband, more in the last weekend than I can qualify.
I took Friday off because of the nice weather. Diana was watching Mason, so we took the boys to the Cougar Mountain Zoo, a little zoo in Issaquah. Joe has a dual-seat wagon that we borrowed, and we took the kids up to see the tigers and other little critters. It's not a big zoo, probably an hour endeavor at most, but they just loved it. It's fun to see Simon pay attention to the animals.
After the afternoon naps, we walked up to Finaghty's for dinner, where Simon enjoyed their mac-n-cheese, and he sat in his booster with me in the booth. Sure, he still chucks certain things at times, but overall he's become such a good eater.
Saturday morning, I got up with him early, and we played in his room, read books and had more good bonding time. We spent time on the patio, in the sun, for the first time since we moved to this place. Later we walked up to one of the playgrounds for some good times there, and then walked all around the extended neighborhood, and even saw one of his PEPS friends, a neighbor about a block from us. The evening was filled with all kinds of mobility fun, and a great bath.
For Easter, we went over to Joe's for an early dinner. Simon got a bit cranky later around his nap time, and completely flipped out when we tried to put him down in Mason's bed. I picked him up and rocked with him for about 15 minutes, and it was really wonderful, like in his first month. I kind of miss those times. I really want him to chill out and be more flexible about where he sleeps, but as soon as I tried to move him he flipped out again, and I brought him home (where Joe and I played co-op Portal 2). The evening was filled with more fun play time.
All through the weekend, Simon giggled a lot with his great laugh. We did lots of assisted walking, and I swear he's going to do it on his own before we know it. He hasn't even been crawling for a month, but he's just so excited and proud of himself when he walks a few steps on his own. This is the most exciting time I've had as a father so far, and Diana and I still can't believe that we made such a cute kid. For all of the anxiety I've had lately over my house and switching jobs, this has been such a great weekend. I'm sad to see it end. I know parenthood isn't 24/7 superhappytime, but this was awesome in all of its simplicity.
The lovely weather this weekend got us out of the house a bit, and we went walking to some of the deeper parts of our neighborhood. It's a really huge series of developments, with the apartments and town homes near the front, and the big expensive ones in the back. A pretty typical arrangement overall, but the range goes from the $300k multi-unit town houses to giant places worth well over a million. It's quite a difference from the average suburban Ohio subdivision, ranging from $160k for 1,600 square feet, to $220k for 2,500 square feet.
In any case, there was one house that was just beautiful from the outside. I estimated it was probably way over a million. And I was sort of right. If you ask Zillow (which is hotly debated over its accuracy), it was worth $1.2 million... in 2007. Today it's in the $800k range. It has a ridiculous 4,600 square feet. That's two and a half times the size of my Cleveland house!
We saw another, slightly more reasonable house for sale around the block, 2,600 square feet (still giant by my standards), where they were asking for $615k. Zillow says it's worth $485k. It didn't look like much from the outside, but the photos show a beautiful interior with amazing views of the Cascades and a golf course in the back yard. At the Zillow price, it would actually be a steal, I think, and easy to afford on a typical Seattle tech salary.
It's a fantastic time to buy a house around here, and it looks like the prices continue to drop. None of this matters, because I still have a house I'm not living in, 2,500 miles away.
While that sounds something to be annoyed or angry about, it's not exactly. At least, it's not because it prevents me from buying another house (only because I continue to pay for a place I don't live in). There are a lot of reasons I'd love to buy a house, but there are so many reasons I'd rather not. My mindset has totally changed from what it was five or six years ago.
The first issue is one of mobility. I don't expect my employment arrangement to change any time soon, but I will say that not owning a house would certainly leave more options open. I'm not even sure why that matters to me. Two years ago, I would have never thought that I'd be that open to moving. Being a home owner in Cleveland certainly didn't stop me from moving to Seattle, but buying a house here is a far more serious financial commitment.
Then there's the general gun shyness that I associate with buying a house. Today, it's not an investment, it's just a lifestyle decision. You're mostly paying for the right to be there, and you could still pay dearly if you have to or want to leave. Not counting any of the payments I made in the last ten years, I fully expect to lose $40k on my house. Figure in all of the payments, and I'm somewhere approaching $200k to live there, with nothing to show for it. That stings. It's hard to voluntarily expose yourself to that again.
There's a certain practical side to it as well. Houses in the areas we like here tend to be crazy big. If they're smaller, they're not very nice. I don't think the three of us need 2,500 square feet. More house means more to maintain. I just want a place to park a hot tub, a little office space, a nice kitchen for Diana's culinary desires and room for Simon to make his own as he gets older.
This weird home situation will probably be with us for a long time. It will take at least 18 months, if not two years, to start over and save for a new down payment once I sell my house. Everything liquid we have saved will probably go toward making that go away. In the mean time, we're pretty comfortable in our rental, even if there are some things we're not crazy about. It's just frustrating that this part of life doesn't cooperate.
A side effect of dropping into NAB for an hour last week was that I visited the Redrock Micro booth, since it was they who got me the comp pass to visit the show. As it turns out, they were also running a 10% off promotion during the show on everything they sell, so it seemed like a good time to get the matte box that I wanted.
A matte box does two things: Keep light off the lens and give you a place to put filters. It was hard to believe when I first started looking into adding one to my kit, that some cost thousands of dollars. Thousands! I'm used to pro gear not being cheap. I get it. Limited production and high quality result in high cost. But there was no way I'd pay that. Fortunately, Redrock has a whole line of stuff that is high quality, without being ridiculous. Last year I got my follow focus and a set of rods from them, and I was totally satisfied. They make nice stuff.
So some time before I finally shoot my short (I've got notes, there's a plot forming!), I still need a decent monitor, and probably a shock mount and fish pole for my shotgun mic. Most of the stuff I own now can be mixed and matched, so I'm not horribly locked in to any particular camera. The support rods, matte box and follow focus in particular are all pieces that I can use forever. I haven't figured out audio recording though if I continue on with the DSLR. Beachtek makes a little box that takes XLR inputs, has phantom power, and injects a high frequency noise into the camera to keep its auto gain from jumping around (my 7D has no meters or audio adjust), but it's $400 and if I move on to some other camera, I won't need it anymore.
If I really enjoy making the short, and decide to move on to something feature length, I'd really like to sell my HVX200 and get the AF100 (plus Birger engineering's lens mount, if it ever materializes as real). Then I can use all of my Canon lenses. Heck, it will even be practical to shoot casually in a normal form factor with that. But one step at a time... I need to demonstrate that the toys can help me tell stories first! I plan to do a lighting and color grading test with the current setup as soon as Diana will be my model.
I've spent much of tonight and last night (about six hours total) playing Portal 2. For the uninitiated, the first Portal was a game included in the Orange Box bundle, which was mainly comprised of Half-Life 2 games. The game took the 3D engine of a first-person shooter, and made puzzles with it. Using a device that makes portals on flat surfaces, you can move your character or objects through the portal pair, getting to places otherwise inaccessible, or manipulating your movement to take advantage of physics. For example, if you put a portal on a wall high up, and put the other portal at the bottom of a long drop and jump into it, your vertical motion is converted to horizontal motion and you're "shot" out of the portal on the wall.
The first appeal to the game was that they took something known for pointless violence, the first-person shooter, and totally turned it on its side. You never fight anyone, and you don't shoot anyone or anything (though the portal device I suppose is a "gun" of sorts). The next great thing about it is that the puzzles you have to solve are so clever. Most don't require any kind of "physical challenge" gaming trick. You just have to figure out what the right things are to do to get through the level. The design is just completely brilliant.
What made the game even more fun was the simple story line. When you start, you have no idea why you're even in there. A computer is guiding you through this test facility "for science," eventually turning on you and attempting to kill you. In the end, you have to destroy her. It turns out, she killed everyone else.
It wasn't a long game, but it was completely fun and engaging. I think most people would've been happy just to get a sequel with new levels, but they went all out. It appears that you learn more about who you are, where the evil computer came from, the history of Aperture Science (the company conducting the tests you're doing), etc. It took everything I had to stop playing tonight. I desperately want to know how it ends, solving puzzles along the way. It has already taken an epic turn.
There are also an entire set of co-op levels to play. I'll dive into those with Diana when I get through the single-player.
I wish the video game industry made more games like this. It's interesting how a relatively small number of games appeal to me, yet when I do find one that I like, I'm totally into it.
I've got a screenplay idea in my head. It has a beginning and an ending. It's the middle part that I'm having trouble with.
As my friends and readers know, I've been looking outward for a short screenplay to shoot, because I figure that if I have no part in the writing, I can concentrate entirely on the craft of shooting and directing. Unfortunately, I haven't seen anything that I'd want to shoot. I've looked around the Internet for stuff (and have been browsing Amazon's studio thing too, but I'm not fond of their terms), but nothing tickles me.
So the idea in my head really comes down to one thing. I have to decide if it's a comedy or drama. It could go either way. Comedy is hard because if it's not funny, you're left with nothing, but drama is hard because you're always at risk of being preachy or cliche. I think the comedy route might be easier. Whatever I might choose, I need to get something on paper. Ten to fifteen pages shouldn't be that big of a deal. It might not even need to be that long.
This is something I should have gotten out of my system at least two years ago. Once I have a draft I like, I need a little more equipment, a couple of actors, and hopefully friends to crew. I think I could pull it off for under a grand. If I can get that in the can, then maybe I can consider something feature length.
It's right there in front of me. Perhaps if I commit this fact the blogosphere, it will motivate me to follow through. There are all of these "leisure time" things I enjoy, and aside from still photography, mostly of my kid, I'm not doing them. I can't be a talker, I need to be a doer.
Recently on one of the TV shows we watch, a pretty young blonde character was taking crap from the frumpy older character, when she accused the older character of hating "the pretties." She pointed out that attractive people pretty much get their way up through their high school years, and then in adulthood, they tend to be discriminated against. You know, like Regina George.
This sounds absurd, but when I really thought about it, I think that there's some truth to it. I find myself experiencing one of two feelings around attractive women. Either I discount them as people, intellectually or otherwise, or I feel in some way intimidated by them. That's particularly absurd since I've been good friends with, and dated, "pretties" in the past.
It's pretty stupid that anyone would play into this cultural bias. I mean, most sane people wouldn't do the same for race or religion, so why hate on the pretties? My personal therapy for this has been to not say stupid things about attractive people, admit they're attractive and potentially good people. They can't help it that they're pretty (just kidding).
Simon became mobile just a couple of weeks ago, finally crawling. Because he had been cruising for some time before that, he's also walking with help like it's his job, and standing a few seconds at a time without touching anything. He's even doing a dive between us as his first steps toward independent walking.
All of this mobility has naturally made him much, much happier, and he now approaches everything with ten times the enthusiasm. He's like a totally different kid, in a good way. Sure, it leads to a fair amount of bumps and bruises, but now his curiosity literally knows no bounds, and it seems to encourage all of his other development as well.
But just as all of this new awesomeness comes about, he's got a few new issues. The first is, and I don't know why we should be surprised, he just might be working on those two-year molars. He's putting his hand deep into his mouth and drooling again, and has been having some strange whiney discomfort that seems just like his teething days.
All this change is the reason I wish I could spend more time with him. You only get one chance to see your kids go through this. The crazy rate of change will certainly level off before too long, but what a ride it is for now.
The second day of the conference was very dense, and the last session wrapped at 6. They even split the after-lunch hour into two, so there was double the action there. It was getting difficult to assimilate anything toward the end of the day.
The keynote went into a lot of details about the forthcoming updates for the phone, mostly from the developer perspective, as well as some stuff about Silverlight 5. They also did some interesting demos with Kinect, using the PC-based SDK. One demo had a motorized chair controlled by it. I slipped out just before the end, which is a bummer because that's when they announced that attendees would all receive a free Kinect (employees not included). I did hear people go ape shit from the hall.
I talked to virtually all of the contacts I've made in the Windows Azure org, and made some new contacts with the guys who are covering the new AppFabric caching service, which is awesome. At some point I'm gonna adapt the forums to use that, and see how they roll in Azure.
I think this was the most engaged I've been in any day of any of the four Mix conferences I've been to. The quality of the content this year has been completely awesome. It was nice to wind down the day seeing Lion King.
On the third day I only went to morning stuff, because of my flight time. With NAB ending as well, I did not want to mess with long waits at the airport. I think my concern was well founded, because I just got through, and it was already a 20 minute wait. Lots of time to kill, but I just saw "Major Nelson" (the Xbox Live guy from Microsoft), so perhaps I'll make some conversation with him.
Pretty solid conference. If I'm here next year, I suspect it might be to work in some fashion, instead of just absorb content, but that's OK.
Went to see The Lion King on stage at Mandalay Bay tonight. It was completely awesome. Not perfect, exactly, but definitely amazing.
I remember the feeling I had when the opening sequence ended the first time I saw the movie. It blew my mind. Similarly, the stage show has the same effect. It's easily the most beautiful thing I've ever seen staged. The sets aren't the most complicated thing, but the costumes are completely amazing.
Musically, the show is almost entirely composed of music from the movie, and the Rhythm of The Pridelands "inspired by" soundtrack. In fact, I thought the latter was in a lot of ways better, because it had the Lebo M "African flavor" that was frankly the soul of the movie. The second act starts with "One By One," with the chorus spread around in the audience, and frankly I found that even more mind blowing than the opening "Circle of Life."
The kids that performed tonight as young Simba and Nala were shockingly good. Their grown-up counterparts were even better. The singer who did adult Nala in particular did a song called "Shadowland," an adaptation of "Lea Halalela" from Rhythm, that I couldn't believe. Granted, I was eight rows from the stage, but I could hear her directly over the sound from the PA. Amazing. The actor playing Mufasa was excellent, as was Scar (though he sounded almost too much like Jeremy Irons from the original part).
Given that everyone knows the film, even when it opened a dozen years ago or whatever it was, I had to wonder what they would do for stage version. They borrow heavily from the screenplay, but add some good stuff to it. There was one additional scene that seemed completely out of place, where Scar decides he wants to hookup with Nala. It was creepy and jarring. They also added a song that the hyenas do that isn't very good.
Overall though, it might be the afterglow, but it could be the best musical I've seen. I was really into it. I'd like to get back to Vegas before the end of the year to see it again, especially with Diana.
I've got a little break, so now is a good time to crank out a quick trip log...
Pretty smooth flight in on Monday, and got to the hotel around 4 or so. Mandalay Bay has a nice casino, and nice restaurants, but honestly the rooms are just not all that nice. They're not clean enough, and the furniture and carpet are long overdue for a refresh. They also seem incapable of replacing feather pillows. I wouldn't stay here on my own dime.
In any case, I quickly headed down to the Open Source Fest by 6. The thing got mobbed! Attendance went way, way over what they expected. I talked to a lot of people about POP Forums, which was kind of unexpected. It's always hard to tell how interested people are in open source projects, beyond the download counts (over 1k so far, which is sweet considering it's not final yet). Talked to a really young guy working at Stack Overflow, which was... interesting. Also a lot of drama between different projects, which is hilarious.
Turned in at a reasonable time, and got up early on Tuesday. I snagged breakfast, then skipped the keynote (it was mostly about IE10) to make a quick visit to NAB. This is the enormous trade show for the broadcast/production industry. Always wanted to go when I was in college and then working in Medina. I've since then developed a hatred for trade shows, but really wanted to see some of the new cameras up close. I saw the Panasonic AF100, and it's awesome. Also met Jan from Panasonic, who hangs out in various forums. Got a discount code from Redrock Micro, and ordered a matte box. I was at the show for about 45 minutes.
Getting there was interesting. I used the Mandalay Bay tram to go a few blocks down, then walked forever through MGM to get to the monorail. The joke is that no one ever uses it, but it was packed with NAB people.
I got back to my conference in time for the first 11:30 session, and enjoyed sessions all day. I met a lot of interesting people, too, including some guys from PPG in Pittsburgh with some interesting work stories.
This conference always gets me energized for the Microsoft platform, and now that I'm in the mothership, I'm even more into it. It's exciting to see how receptive people are to customers as well, and how engaged the customers are when we do previews and such.
After the conference sessions ended, I tried to Skype Diana and Simon from my room, but it totally choked with the in-room Wi-Fi. Sigh.
For dinner, I met up with my friend Allison, who now lives out here. She was the first person I ever hired and supervised (at the ripe old age of 24). I wasn't a great boss because we became pretty good friends. She's got a couple of young kids now, so we're in similar places in our lives. It was so good to catch up with her. The Internet makes keeping up easier, but it's just not the same as face time. Despite all of the changes in our lives, I'm surprised at how much I still hit it off with her. We're both so grown-up!
I finally got to bed around midnight, and was disappointed to find that my phone died. I suspect it's because I had no signal most of the evening. Vegas seems notorious for cell phone black holes in the casinos, and I wonder if that's on purpose. The conference area seems fine, and there's also Wi-Fi there, but as soon as you leave, it's like the outside world doesn't exist.
For Wednesday... more sessions, plus Lion King!
My head is filled with things that are somewhat unprocessed. Again, I'm not writing much lately, which is odd because God knows I've got plenty on my mind. I wonder what the reasons are, but it's so far back in the queue that I haven't gotten to it.
Friday was my last day in STO, and that kind of made me sad. As I mentioned in my bigger post about the new gig, that group pretty much is my social circle these days, and it will be exceptionally weird to not see them every day. That will take some adjustment. Meanwhile, I technically start the new gig tomorrow, but not really because I'm going to Mix in Vegas. I'll be soaking that in, seeing some of "our" stuff go public finally, and meet a lot of people. It's weird because this time, they're customers to me.
This will be the longest I've been away from Simon since he was born, and that is exceptionally weird. Three nights doesn't seem like much, but I don't like it. Some days he just mentally exhausts me, but it's a worthy trade for spending time with him. I'm not even exaggerating when I say that he does something new every single day, and I don't want to miss anything. I really think he'll walk any day now. He's bold enough now to take a few steps with just one hand to hold. His babbling is starting to sound like words.
Big conferences like this are also exhausting, but having been to this one three times, I'm always amazed at how energized I am by it. The timing of that with the new position is excellent. The session agenda is excellent, though the keynotes will be stuff I've mostly already seen. I'm also going to try and sneak down to the convention center and spend an hour or two at NAB, since I got a free pass. I hate trade shows, but I'd like to see some of the Panasonic gear up close.
I'm eating like a moron. I don't think about what I'm putting into my body at all, and that's problematic. It reverses years of progress toward a better lifestyle choice. I make excuses. My entire GI is suffering for it. I'm in that 5-pound weight range where I appear like I did in 2005 (sexy) or 2004 (not so much). This realization is only made more obvious by the fact that we live among the pretties, jogging by our house everyday.
I want to buy an iPad when they're not scarce. I don't need one. My justification is that someone in my line of work should spend more time with that specific variation of user interaction. Plus I wanna play with Garage Band.
POP Forums v9 is very nearly done. It has had over a thousand downloads since I posted the first preview version last year, despite not being final code. It doesn't do everything I would have liked, but it's a good base to build from, and not the mess that the old version was. It's a new mess, but a mess that I understand better, and hopefully others will as well.
I don't thank Diana enough for being the CEO of our little family. She really keeps things going, and I don't give her enough credit.
We watched The Social Network again recently, as well as the special features. I still believe it's a great movie, regardless of how real life it is. Now that I've watched the specials, I think Fincher is a psycho control freak, and I never want to work with him on a movie. Apparently, shooting digital is an excuse to do 99 takes for one scene, even if it's 10 pages/minutes long. Sorkin might write dense dialog, but really, what are you gonna get out of that much? Trust your actors, dude.
One thing I didn't get as much out of the first time I saw it was that Zuckerberg was in college at a pretty amazing time. In fact, a really awesome decade started in '96 to be in college, because the opportunities for the average college student were huge. I think about how different my college experience would have been if the Internet was more than Pine Mail and Mosaic (and that wasn't until my senior year). If I had CoasterBuzz when I was in college, I wouldn't have been poor, and in fact would've had my own apartment. Of course, the flip side is that I also would've been arrogant enough to not even try to find a day job, but at that age, before marriages and mortgages, maybe that would've worked out too. I do like my life, but it's scary to think just how much influence the environment would have had.
I'm about 60% through Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The good... it's the most beautiful game they've done so far. The bad... they created too many new conventions (use this gun/character/ship for this/that) and there are too many things not obvious enough. They introduced a RTS element, but it's too hard for the Lego platform game genre. I'll do my best to go for 100%, but I think Diana will hate it. Portal 2 comes out in a little over a week.
I'm playing a lot of Full House Poker, mostly on the phone, sometimes on the Xbox. I've come to realize that my problem is impatience. I get into the medium-sized blinds, and I just start making stupid bets on mediocre hands because I'm tired of folding.
Diana had a coupon for photo book, and after spending several days working on it, and another couple of weeks waiting to receive it, it's here. It's pretty awesome. Basically, it's a review of Simon's first year. I really like it. I like the photos I've captured with him, and I like that Diana was able to be infinitely creative with the layout. Digital photos are great, but there's still something satisfying about seeing them in print.
I haven't been sleeping well. Not sure why. I fear for tonight, because I have a long day tomorrow.
Next post comes from Las Vegas, and I bet it'll be different visiting without the jet lag!
You ever just have one of those days where things aren't bad, exactly, but they're definitely not good? I had one of those today, and I need to spell it out so I can let it go.
Hopefully tomorrow will be less annoying. There will be cake for my last day in STO, which already makes it better. Teresa makes sweet cakes.
Last week, Diana decided to try out some subtle hair highlighting. Being a natural redhead, it probably wouldn't surprise you that she's always been hesitant about doing any kind of color treatment, but she wanted to try it. It's very subtle, and if you look at the photos I posted on Facebook from our weekend mini-break, you might not even be able to tell. But what's funny is that she said she'd like to try making it a little more obvious.
That's what happens. Hair coloring is a little like heroin. You try it, then you don't want to stop. I bought a friend a day at the salon as a gift a few years ago, and she's been going ever since. I colored my hair on a fairly regular basis for about ten years. I liked it being lighter. Then I met Diana, and I got lazy, and I stopped. Well, that, and putting chemicals in my already thinning hair didn't seem like a good idea. But I kinda miss doing it. (No, I'm not sitting here singing, "I Feel Pretty." Bite me.)
If you really think about it, the addictive quality comes from the fact that few things can alter your appearance as drastically, and temporarily, as hair color. I suppose you can change clothes, but they're not an integral part of your body. (Yes, I'm aware that hair is dead.) Other physical alterations are trickier. Tattoos are permanent. Body piercing can be temporary, but at the cost of a small Asian man pushing a 16-gauge needle through your nipple. Hair coloring can make you feel and look different, quickly, without the commitment.
There used to be a lot of negative perceptions around hair color for a lot of people, even 20 years ago. I think that's because it was primarily associated with white trash women bleaching their hair with uneven and ugly roots. Hair coloring technology and technique has come a long way in that time, to the extent that darker roots can actually be a component to a stylish look, if done right, with the right cut. Highlighting often involves more than one color. You can do various unnatural shades or red and it's OK. People still aren't digging on blue or purple, but to me even that can look great on the right person.
I haven't been good at coming up with my own ideas to write about lately, but Carrie is my muse of late. She wrote this:
"There has to be a balance between choosing a less negative approach to viewing the world around you and still being realistic about the facts as they present themselves. I fear there is too much emphasis today on teaching people (particular kids) that they should build their realities around how they perceive things to be."
I tend to agree with this sentiment. (DANGER: Rant ahead.) I also firmly believe that the real key to dealing with your world effectively is self-awareness. Every time someone tells me that "things happen for a reason" or some other bullshit I want to punch them in the balls. That offers me no peace or consolation, and it sure as hell isn't a reason to accept what happens. You deal by understanding what's going on, not by blowing it off to cosmic forces or trivializing it relative to someone else's situation.
In other words, you make yourself aware, and then you take responsibility for the next step. This is called being a grown up. Shit happens. Identify the shit, then clean it up, toss it aside, whatever is required.
That Carrie brings up jobs as an example is pretty classic. People love to bitch about their jobs, and worse, act like victims. I recently met a guy at work who is like that, and will bitch to anyone who will listen. You know what, grow a pair and do something about it. That annoys the piss out of me. I also can't stand when people suggest that you should be happy just to have a job. Really? Like it's some golden privilege that's been bestowed upon your lowly carcass? Please. If that's the bar with which you measure your life, you will be one miserable bastard.
So much of life can be better when you're self-aware. I'm not suggesting that you should be critical of everything you do to a fault, I'm just saying that if you're honest about life, the universe and everything, you have the right data to act on it. I have a list of things I don't like about myself, but I can choose to change them. I have a list of things that I also know I'm really good at, and I try to use those traits to improve my life. I do my best to be aware of the constraints, the opportunities and the environment at large to make better choices.
Yeah, everything happens for reasons, and they're rarely hard to find. Just don't sit there and act like a victim.
We wanted to do a quick getaway for our anniversary this year, the first time entirely without Simon. Just a quasi-local driving trip, while Simon stayed with his cousins down the street. Diana researched B&B's in the area, and settled on the Country Cottages in Langley, on Whidbey Island. It's a little tourist town, which is not particularly busy this time of year, and fortunately they were good enough to let us book just one night.
Our real goals for the weekend were pretty modest: See a new place, relax in a hot tub, sleep in. Everything else would just be bonus. We generally scored on all of those accounts.
We dropped off Simon after his morning nap, and headed out in crappy weather. I-405 was closed for the weekend (they're tearing down a bridge), so we took I-5 through downtown Seattle. Huge mistake. It sucks trying to go north and south to begin with in this area, but it's intolerable when you close one of the two freeways. Throw in some accidents and a disabled truck, and it gets even worse. What a mess.
It took us about an hour and a half to get to the ferry, but at least the rain stopped once we got there. This was my first time using a ferry in Puget Sound. I give a +1 to the WSDOT for doing an efficient job with these. The sound is really quite lovely too. I was a little disappointed that I couldn't use my ORCA card for the passenger though. Microsoft gets everyone one of those, but I'm not sure what all it covers. I think all the busses and trains for sure, but I thought it covered ferries as well. In any case, the Prius got to float in almost-Pacific water for the first time since it arrived from Japan.
Once we arrived at the B&B, we dropped off our stuff and headed back up the road to the Whidbey Island Winery. We did some tasting, bought some bottles. Given my over-consumption at the work off-site, I wasn't that into the taste, but the smell of some of those was really good. They had this beautiful, fat, orange cat there too.
Later we walked around the little village, which is not particularly hopping given the off-season. Most places were closed, and none of the restaurants really jumped out at us. Or at least, didn't jump out at me. I'm too picky. But there was a pizza joint that smelled amazing, so we went there. It was super delicious. I'll refrain from repeating my rant about a lack of good pizza in this town.
Back at the room, we chilled out in the hot tub for awhile. It has been a long time! It was even longer for Diana, since the last few months in Cleveland, she was pregnant and couldn't use mine. There aren't many things that I miss about the old life, but the hot tub is a big one.
We did some serious relaxation, watched a movie... it was wonderful. We did miss Simon, of course, but it was nice to be "us" the way we were before we had him. I think we also felt like being "us" with Simon is better. Our challenge is trying to be both, but we manage.
One of the most vivid things about being out there was the sound of the insects. They were so much louder than anything I've heard since we moved. It's almost like we've traded the sounds of nature, like bugs and thunderstorms, for a more visual nature, mountains and the sound.
We had our first chance in a very long time to sleep in, together. That was nice. I almost forgot what it was like. Unfortunately, the breakfast they offered was not something I'd eat, and I'm a little surprised that they'd bring out a plate with bacon on it without asking if I wanted it. You can't spit without hitting a vegetarian out here, and I don't dig on swine.
Since the town was so inactive, there wasn't much reason for us to hang out, so we headed back. Again, an easy ferry ride. We took a similar alternate route to the one we took Friday coming back from Tulalip, to avoid the I-5 congestion. Simon was enjoying lunch with his cousins, and super happy. It was a very successful weekend overall. Hooray!
We had a big off-site "meeting" Thursday and Friday, for the org that my org is a part of (I'm guessing around 300-ish people). It was at the Tulalip (too-lay'lip) resort and casino, about an hour north. It was really pretty nice overall. My impression of tribal casinos has never been good, probably because of all the crap in the places bordering Ohio, but wow did they do it right here. Apparently they're not above some state law where they can't comp alcohol, which makes gambling a lot less fun to me (might as well get something other than the gameplay for the money you're pissing away), but it's a fairly nice place.
I'm switching jobs officially a week from tomorrow, so this was in some ways my self-designated last hurrah with my crew. That's really the hardest thing about the switch for me, because my co-workers are pretty much my entire social circle out here. Not that I won't still see them periodically, but not every day. And in the social capacity, the outing was a really good time. There was one guy from our core group not there, but otherwise it was well attended.
Three of us car pooled, and I drove. We observed a lot of crazy flooding, and even had to detour on the way home. I guess it isn't that crazy to the locals, but some of these rivers in the valleys that take the water melting off of the mountains, and lakes appear around them. Lots of closed roads.
The first day of the meeting wasn't at all interesting. I just didn't learn anything new. In the afternoon, they put us in groups with people we didn't know to play The Go Game. If you've done the Kim Possible thing at Epcot, you kinda know what it is in terms of the tech. You have a cell phone that tells you what to do, and you score points for basically doing a scavenger hunt. Only in this case, the game kinda sucked because the phones never worked. It wasn't even redeeming as a team building exercise, since frankly they made groups of people who may never speak to each other outside of that meeting. I didn't get it. I think with people I work with every day, it would've been more fun.
The food was outstanding. So was the bar. Actually, this is where things took an unfortunate, if temporary turn. There were drink tickets, but they weren't really taking them. That, and given the diversity of the org, many people don't drink anyway for cultural or religious reasons. Tickets would not have been a problem. Given my incredibly infrequent alcohol consumption, a side effect of having an infant/toddler, it would appear that I've lost my ability to tie one on and then sustain the buzz without over-doing it.
At 9:30, I went back to my luxurious room, and barfed in the luxurious toilet. That sucked. That's #4, lifetime. Not a proud moment. The thing is that I didn't feel all that drunk, so I wonder if it was food related. I was also slightly angry with myself for having too much. But whatever, I resolved to not miss out hanging with my friends. I propped myself up on the bed and took a little nap.
An hour later, I wake up, text some friends, find out where they are, and head down to the casino floor. At this point, I was still strongly buzzed, but feeling extraordinarily functional. I found some friends at a blackjack table and sat down. I played $40 ($5 minimum) and left with $25. My boss told me the next day that I wasn't slurring or anything, but I was confused about which hand was mine. I remember why too... he was in the last seat, but his betting circle on the felt was not the last one, so that confused me.
From there, we went into one of the little clubs, where they were playing some really shitty music. Places like this feel more and more ridiculous to me every year. It was a total 20-something meat market, except for the lot of us from work, who were mostly married. I witnessed all kinds of embarrassing things going on that I won't describe here. Drunk dudes were all over hitting on one of my friends too. She was taking care of herself just fine, but I still wanted to punch them in the balls for being cheesy assholes.
Later, three of us retired to the big bar in the middle of the casino for cigars. We were there talking about crap until 2:30-something, about life, work, relationships, sex and casino architecture. We may have outlasted everyone else, which is hilarious because of how f'd up I was four or five hours before that. It helps to have switched to water only. :) Really good times though.
The next day, I did not make it to breakfast, or the morning part of the meeting. I suspected that might occur. So I got to lunch, where the whole crew convened. It was a pretty nice feeling to get away like that with so many friends. I wish Diana could have been there.
One more week in Building 5 for me...
One little piece of Carrie's blog post yesterday made me think:
"My entire life I have leaned toward the belief that most people when of sound mind, are generally good and try to have good intentions. I fear, however, that having that conviction has allowed me to get bullied more than I should have been."
I would argue that we hold this belief about people because we must. No one really wants to live in a world where we assume people are douchebags. That's not a reality anyone wants to embrace. We'd end up letting all of the awesome people slip through the cracks. And then how would Carrie have met me? ;)