Archive: September, 2013

I'm not a sports guy

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 29, 2013, 4:34 PM | comments: 0

I'm not sure why it is, but I grew up to not really be into sports. I tried to get into football as a kid, but it never stuck. Baseball had even less of a chance, because it was so boring. Basketball was a little more interesting, and I've been interested in that on and off, mostly at the pro level. So when people talk constantly about sports, I'm totally not interested. This actually might be good for Diana and I, because she's not much of a sports person either.

There are some exceptions. Obviously I love volleyball, and it's a sport that I understand at a very deep level. The problem is, unless you happen to be into the collegiate scene, there isn't a lot to watch. The Olympics offer the biggest show, but they only come around every four years. And if you don't have cable, good luck seeing it on TV. I don't get to play very often.

I'm also into tennis, but that's a pretty recent thing, since meeting Diana. That's more of a year-round thing on TV, and there is plenty of it on cable. I really like to play it as well, but haven't much in the last year.

I can't explain why I'm not into it the way other people are. I think it's because the terrorists won.

Fitbit One first impressions

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 28, 2013, 11:53 PM | comments: 0

Having a kid who loves to walk, combined with nice weather most every day, and a whole lot of theme parks in the neighborhood, means we walk a lot. That's a good thing to counter the fact that I mostly sit on my ass for a living. I really like walking, I just didn't know it until I started raising a tiny walker.

So with all of that walking, I was starting to get curious about measuring it. I've seen a number of friends using a Fitbit, so I figured I would give it a try. The tiny device isn't the core win as much as the online app that goes with it. You can track all of your activity, food intake, weight, etc., in a way that's super convenient. It really serves two purposes, in that you can "game" your fitness and diet, and use the information as power toward your decision making.

That's really the key to where fitness works in my life. It has always been that way. Exercise for the sake of exercise is something I'm not even remotely interested in. Get me on a volleyball court, or on a bike in my high school days, and I'll tear it up. The cycling was something easily measured, too, because you always had miles to count. Even on the eating side, Weight Watchers points made sense to me because I put a number on everything. The key to diet and fitness for me has always been numbers, because it's data. Data is actionable. Emotional issues are not always actionable.

Which by the way, is why I hate the fitness "industry" as a whole. All of the touchy feely group hug nonsense to sell product annoys the piss out of me. Billions of dollars change hands because people who have product to sell want you to think you're fat, or will get fat, if you don't buy into their gym, product, supplement, or whatever. I hate that.

But make it about the numbers, and I can understand that. The equation of burning more or about what you take in is logical. It's the science of self-preservation. This finally dawned on me eight years ago, when I weighed about 30 pounds more, and I went from there. Unfortunately, I kind of fell off the wagon over time because it just wasn't that important to me. I didn't gain the weight back, but I certainly could stand to lose more. What has changed this time is that I care less about the weight and more about feeling generally fit. That, and I turned 40, and I have a wife and kid who need me.

So Fitbit helps me make it more of a game, with measured results. It wasn't that I was feeling particularly broken or bad about my physical self, as much as it was knowing I was way out of my rhythm. The food part has been getting better recently, but I definitely need to be more accountable in terms of activity. The Fitbit logging really marries the two. I'm excited to see if I can keep those numbers in the right spot.

The fascinating world of hair

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 27, 2013, 10:31 PM | comments: 0

I'm not sure how widely known it is, but I love hair. Not so much mine these days, because I don't have much, but more specifically, hair on women. It's not a sexual thing, but rather an interest in the methods of cutting, styling and coloring to create a desired outcome. It has always been interesting to me, and to this day, I'm fascinated by just how much there is to know. I give good stylists a lot of credit.

Coloring has always been one of the more interesting parts. I used to color my own hair back in the day, because I thought my natural brown was kind of uninteresting. My first wife, Stephanie, used to go super dark, and for awhile she had an interesting ritual of bleaching the shit out of it so she could color it various shades of red. And of course, every once in awhile I would encounter some random woman with really wild colors.

At some point, highlighting became a common thing, and it ranged from chunky to subtle. Then someone figured out low lights, combined them with highlights, and started creating a whole range of interesting textures. Then it became common for different layers or portions of hair to be different colors. Again, I admire the stylist who knows how to use the "technology" to do anything.

Cutting and styling hair is also fascinating. All of the teasing and forced big hair of the 80's was pretty ridiculous. That gave way to a lot more natural styles, fortunately. It was interesting that wavy and curly hair gave way to straight hair, and it seems there is still a surprisingly strong desire by a majority of women to go very straight.

Earlier this year, Diana decided to embrace her curly. She's had some pretty cool styles in the chin length and longer category, and a fair amount of straightening from time to time. Now she's going long, and she has learned so many techniques for really bringing out the curl. Some of it is product, and some of it just how you let it dry. There are entire web sites devoted to the science behind curly hair.

Tonight I helped her apply a bit of henna to bring out the red. That's weird stuff, because it is after all organic matter. It feels and smells like dirt, and nothing like the chemical coloring stuff. She has a lot of hair now, so I applied it in layers and did my best to make sure it covered everything. It's really hard because of the odd consistency, but it's fun to "paint." If I ever wanted to quit the software thing and learn a new trade, I think this would be it.

Connecting participation and attendance: The anti-results-driven world

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 26, 2013, 11:24 PM | comments: 0

My coaster nerd buddy linked on Facebook to an opinion piece in the New York Times about the ridiculous phenomenon of participation trophies. In the comments that followed (which included a frightening statistic about recent college grads bringing a parent to interviews... really?), there's a correlation there about grownups equating attendance at work to performance, and the entitlements that should come with it. I never connected those dots. We're setting that expectation with kids now.

I've been fortunate (or picky) to not ever work anywhere long term that had specific and "required" hours. There was one awful place, but on the same day that I interviewed elsewhere, they decided they didn't like me questioning the policy and showed me the door. Indeed there are places that still believe that simply being present is the same thing as being productive and adding value. Heck, Cedar Fair, a company I've watched very closely, used to be like that in the old regime. A lot of people spent more than a decade there only because they put the time in... it didn't matter if they got results.

The more excellent modern businesses don't behave like this. I think my favorite version of this concept, which I admit most businesses are probably not ready for, is Netflix. They don't even have a vacation policy beyond encouraging people to take time off when they feel it's appropriate. Think about what that means. The company trusts you to take the time when you think it's best, and it judges you strictly on the results and value you deliver. If you don't deliver results, you don't get to work there. That lack of attendance scenario doesn't work in every situation (things like police and teachers come to mind), but I think it's fair to say that most white collar office jobs could work that way.

And back to the kids, I can't think of any bigger way to start setting them up for failure. If every kid that plays a sport is a winner, they all think they're special, even though none of them are special. If there's no incentive to add value, and showing up is good enough, how is that helpful?

I sucked at every sport I tried to play. Even volleyball, which I really loved, I was awful. I got cut from my high school club team. Twice. It wasn't until my second time in college club tryouts that I got there. I didn't really get good at any of it until I had several years under my belt of teaching kids to play. Now it comes naturally, but I had to work my ass off to get there.

Because I'm optimistic about these kinds of things, I do think that the younger generation who does show up to work every day, does just enough to get by, and is frustrated by their lack of professional development, will eventually come around and figure it out. If anything, perhaps they just had the wrong expectations set for them, and they'll adapt. Heck, my generation was told you just had to bust ass in college and you'd be successful. We didn't view it as an entitlement, but we did think there was at least causation there. That expectation was false.

I'm trying to keep this in mind in daily parenting. Simon is 3 and a half, and at that age, his emotions can get pretty intense when something isn't going his way. My first instinct is to let him get his way to spare us all the emotional drama, but that won't do him any favors. I have to set the expectation that sometimes you just don't get what you want.

Career advice? From me? 6 things to drive your decisions

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 26, 2013, 10:46 PM | comments: 0

A friend of mine is exploring some career options that are coming up, and that friend wants my advice. At first I thought, "Advice from me? You know how many jobs I've had?" Hold that thought.

Before launching into the advice part, it did seem a little strange when I thought a bit about what my career path has looked like. Then I thought about how it isn't that unusual for the kind of work that I do. Some family and friends don't understand even when I explain it. The fact is that I've changed jobs a lot because it's par for the course. We have this really strange thing going on where software people are like a commodity, and yet they're expensive to hire. Business doesn't commit to long-term development or hiring of software people, which is frustrating to me because that would solve a lot of the problems of quality and professional development. But whatever, it is what it is. In some markets, even 18 months in the same gig is unusual.

So with that said, the unexpected benefit of the many jobs I've had is that I've been exposed to an insanely wide range of company sizes, cultures and personalities. I've seen many things. With that experience, there are several general points I can make about work.

1. Don't chase the money.

It's probably hard for people to really buy into this, but as silly as it sounds, money doesn't make you happy. The first time I ever did a contract gig, it paid $52 per hour. I took the gig on the strength of that number alone, and I hated it.

I'm not saying that money isn't important. It most certainly is, provided it's for what I call the important financial goals, like savings, retirement, modest living arrangements, feeding your kids, etc. It's good to have goals. I would even add buying experiences in that category (read: travel). If your motivation for more money is just to buy stuff, like a nicer car, or more house than you can afford, that's stupid. It's not worth a job you hate.

2. Go where the personal and professional growth is.

If there's one thing that makes you a better human being over time, it's growth. You can call it experience, practice, whatever, the point is that you're getting better at life and work as time passes. Personal growth will happen almost everywhere, whether it's a good place or bad place. A bad situation can still help you grow, though probably not as much as a positive situation.

Professional growth is trickier. Some places will claim to "invest" in you, but look at what that investment is. If the result of the investment is you being broadly better at life and work, that's good. If it's designed to constrain you with non-transferable compliance just to the way they do things, that's not ideal.

3. Don't settle.

If you know you're better than the work you're doing, move on. If you feel like your own morals and ethics are at odds with the work, move on.

I learned this lesson after spending about a year and a half at a job that was never going to go anywhere, run by people of questionable ethics. When they finally started to feel the squeeze financially, they laid me off. Frankly they did me a favor. Some time after that, I worked for no less than three companies that asked me to lie to clients in some way. (What is it about agencies?) I didn't stick around in those situations. Compromising to that level is selling your soul.

4. The people matter.

I didn't get to where I am because I'm awesome. Granted, I had something to do with it, but it was the people around me that ultimately made the biggest difference. Surrounding yourself with brilliant people is a sure way to improve your job satisfaction. It's also a huge factor in your professional development. Some occupations are more trade like than others, but the apprentice-mentor relationship makes a difference.

I got lucky when I landed at a startup full of brilliant people, but as I was interviewing at the time, it was almost immediately obvious that the people I would work with were better than those at other gigs. When the company started to fall apart two and a half years later, it wasn't because of the brilliant people, and I hated that I wouldn't work with them every day.

5. Location location location.

There are a lot of people who will accept very long commutes. I say that's a bad idea. If your commute is a half-hour one way, that's about ten days per year you spend in your car. Much more than that, and I think it's not worth it. Try to work closer if you can, or move closer to the job. Both are hard to control if you change jobs a lot.

I happen to think we're in a place now where telecommuting is becoming a more realistic option, if an employer is open to it. Don't be afraid to explore that route. There are pros and cons, and it might not be for you, but it's worth a shot.

6. Popping your bubble.

This one is a more recent revelation for me. Prior to the Baby Boomers, people could land a job and potentially work there their entire life. My grandfather worked the same job for as long as I could remember, right up until his retirement. In the days of skilled trades, that was an excellent model. Today, technology and the change associated with it make that hard. If a company tends to isolate itself and not look around, mix in new blood, or otherwise keep a pulse on what's going out in the world, it risks stagnation. If the company is stagnant, so are you.

I would describe this as the one phenomenon that hurts software and IT folks more than anything. For example, several friends left Microsoft recently, each after working there a decade. Their first impression in new jobs? They had to unlearn so much of what they knew. They worked in somewhat insular roles that perpetuated a process that was not optimal, and the rest of the world moved on to better things. If you find yourself in that kind of bubble, it's worth getting out.

Like and share!!!!!11!!

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 9:45 PM | comments: 0

What I've been feeling lately, in graphical form.

Contemplating volleyball

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 9:01 PM | comments: 0

I've reached out to a couple of volleyball clubs here in the area about coaching volleyball again. There aren't a lot of clubs here in the central part of Florida, presumably because there just aren't a lot of high school students (relative to any of the metros in Ohio). Of course, after you've been in the Ohio Valley Region, the biggest among the USA Volleyball regions, everything feels smaller. So far the clubs seem interested, but don't communicate very well, leaving me a little unsure.

There are a lot of pros and cons around coaching again. I regularly put it among the top things I've ever done. I've seen kids play in college. Many keep in touch and have said the kinds of things about the experience of playing for me that make me tear up. Even parents have been quick to compliment me (well, the non-insane parents, anyway). I can't put a price on the joy and satisfaction that comes with knowing you somehow had a lasting and positive impact on the life of young people.

And of course, there's the game. Over the years I found a lot of different ways to make kids better as a team, and individuals. I've shed a lot of the typical focus on specialization and replaced it with broader expectations for kids in every role. I've broken skills down into the simplest, most easily reproducible actions. I like to think I've taken a lot of really average and inexperienced kids and helped them achieve success.

Coaching is a part of life that I greatly miss, but I keep asking myself what the effect will be on me if I do it again. Life has changed dramatically. I remarried and had a child, and those two relationships are my biggest priorities. The kind of work I do has elevated to a high level as well. It's not an issue of time, but rather the mental bandwidth it requires. If my brain is squishy, what do I have left?

So I'm a little torn at the moment. When I get on to a court and see the word Mikasa or Tachikara bouncing around between kids, it's like crack to me. In my general life of non-athletic prowess, this is the one sport I'm good at, and understand in a very deep way. Figuring it out is going to be difficult, but tryouts aren't far away now.

The evolving tablet scene

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 10:05 PM | comments: 0

Microsoft announced updates to their Surface and Surface Pro tablets on Monday. The regular version has a much better screen and is more powerful, so that's a bonus. I have the first generation one, and the browser performance isn't great when you get something really heavy into client-side script. I'm not sure anyone will really buy it, but it looks like a nice, incremental improvement. I haven't used mine much since I don't go out to lunch the way I used to when I was working from home.

The new Pro is really just the ultimate laptop in a tablet form. That sounds awesome, right? It's certainly what I would like to have. The problem is, I think I'm an edge case. It looks like a fabulous idea on paper, but who actually needs that? It's a remarkable piece of hardware, but it's certainly not for the masses.

As I've said before, whether it's the iPad or the Surface (I have both), I'm not much of a tablet guy in either case. I have so little use for apps (that includes the phone variety), and I don't even use the core built-in apps like mail. I'm not "normal" in that sense. Still, since getting a little Kindle Fire HD, I totally see the potential for tablets. The smaller size makes sense. The UI on that thing is just awful, and the browsing performance isn't great, but for $159, this is the device for everyone. You can be apptastic, update your Facebook, watch video and read books. It's a great consumption device.

It seems like the world is still feeling out the tablet thing, even with a bazillion iPads sold. Clearly they're a thing to leave on your coffee table. They still aren't really my thing, because I create as much as I consume. You still need a laptop for that.

Wood smell

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 9:46 PM | comments: 0

As you might imagine, we've spent a little time recently looking around in incomplete houses. Even on the longer walks we take around our current neighborhood, we pass a number of new houses under construction. With that comes the smell of wood, particularly if it has recently touched a saw of some kind. I love that smell.

It reminds me a little of the smell of my previous house, naturally, when it was new, but it also reminds me of other things. For example, I remember cutting blocks of wood and burning designs into it at the city summer camp I went to before my first year of high school. I also remember cutting pieces of wood, with a hack saw, to put together some simple stuff. Diana reminded me of yet another thing... the theater scene shop. For my freshman year of college, at least, I vividly remember the smell of freshly cut wood.

I always talk about how music can take you to places in your memory, but smells can do the same thing.

My decaffeination

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 22, 2013, 7:19 PM | comments: 0

At some point around the time I moved, I decided to ditch caffeine, to a degree at least. When I bought some basic supplies for the hotel I was staying in prior to landing a rental, I chose Sprite, because it didn't look like Coke, and of course didn't have the caffeine. Mostly, I just knew that it would already be hard sleeping alone in the hotel for a week, starting a job, and stressing over landing a place to live, and the last thing I needed was one more thing to keep me up.

Once we were moved in, I decided to stick with it. The interesting thing is that it wasn't the sugar I was attracted to, it was definitely the caffeine. I still keep some Sprite in the house, but I've resorted to the smaller 1.25 litre bottles, because I don't drink the 2's fast enough before they go flat. Less soda is less needless calories.

I still jump in and have a Coke now and then, mostly when we eat out, but overall my soda intake is way down. I really didn't drink all that much before (the typical 2 litre would last around 8 days), but I figure it's an easy way to knock off something I don't need. I have to admit that I've hit the can (the Cherry Coke can) a few times at work, too, on mornings where I needed the drug. I can't stand coffee.

Political exhaust

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 21, 2013, 11:54 PM | comments: 0

I've been looking for things to write about this month, in part because I want to get back to a point where I'm averaging one post per day. I haven't hit that stride since March, and before that, last August. I started to realize then that I rarely write about politics anymore.

There are good reasons for this. The first is just exhaustion, I would say. After last year's presidential race, I think it sucked all of the politics out of me. It wasn't because I felt strongly for the guy I voted for, it was more because of the reality that both guys weren't that great, and everyone else seemed hell bent on picking a side. And both sides were weak.

But the other problem is that I started to feel like I was just another blowhard with a cable modem. Why should my opinion count any more than others? (Well, that I actually read into the facts and research might be one reason.) As much as I try not to talk out of my ass, honestly, I might often be talking out of my ass.

I'm still very much interested in politics, and I think everyone should be. The thing is, once you've taken the very correct approach of not picking a side, there's less reason to start aggregating your thoughts into a platform. Your reality is that there are a ton of intellectual fuckwits battling it out for not the right thing, but the opposite thing of the people they don't agree with. That's not politics, that's stupidity.

I've been thrilled to see some solid discourse lately though. Heck, even on CoasterBuzz, we had a pretty solid discussion on healthcare. I really enjoyed it. If only the rest of the world could come along for the ride.

Gadgets: Does it really matter if you can't have it now?

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 21, 2013, 11:44 PM | comments: 0

Apple released another iPhone, and again people were lined up like crazy to get one. This time around, it appears the vast majority left empty handed, as there weren't enough to go around. I don't get it at all. Not entirely, anyway.

When the first iPhone came out, I bought one a day or two after it came out. I walked into an Apple Store when it was convenient, and was out in ten minutes. The next one I would buy was the 3GS, which was probably the biggest of the game changers because it added real GPS. I bought that one mostly on a whim as well, and certainly didn't queue.

Things have changed to some degree. Facebook was an interesting mix of things. Some people had to get the new phone that day (and failed). I just don't understand that desire. Others were considering it. Still others upgraded the OS on their previous generation and said things like, "I upgraded just to have different fonts?" So the magic has, to some degree, faded.

But again, what makes a person commit hours out of the day to stand in line for a gadget, that they can likely get instantly at some later time? I totally get enthusiasm for stuff, but not this. I think what really brought it home for me was this segment on Conan with Louis CK. I totally agree with him. Smart phones have become this thing that people use to make it feel like they're never alone.

And by the way, I have a drawer full of cell phones.

Home decorating bug

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 21, 2013, 11:02 PM | comments: 0

We dropped by the house that isn't ours today, where they've mudded up the drywall and sprayed the texturing stuff on the walls and ceiling. I think once they start doing cabinets, we'll really understand the kitchen, but they will likely start locking the doors by then! Meanwhile, they've set the plumbing and framing for the foundation on our house. I still keep getting that sinking feeling of, "What if the bank changes their mind in January?" Gotta let that go.

Seeing a number of houses all coming together in that block (surrounded by a buffer of empty fields and roads that go nowhere), I'm starting to feel the desire to decorate. It has been a long time since I've been able to really decorate space as my own, and the last time I bought a house (2001), I didn't have much money to do any decorating anyway.

Diana has started to explore color for paint. There are a number of schemes that some of the paint companies offer as starting points, which is very cool. She got the bug for a blue in one of the models we looked at, and I think that will be our bedroom. I'm totally on board with that, as I think it will contrast well with the dark flooring and the lighter furniture. The rest of the house is up for grabs.

Not sure how we're going to paint, but the more I look at renting a sprayer, the less confident I am with that. Sure, the house will be empty, but you need to cover everything to the extreme because of all that airborne paint. Might just have to stick with a brush. We have 9-foot ceilings downstairs, but no insanely high cathedral deals.

The exterior was something we had to choose from a limited number of schemes, because of alternating requirements established by the builder and the developer. That's fine with me, I like what we picked. I do think I would like to explore some of that low wattage exterior lighting though. I think it might look nice with the columns out front, though it would have been more badass if we could have afforded the stone accents. That would have cost a minimum six grand extra.

The kitchen has three design points for us to consider. First is cabinet hardware, which is a pretty simple thing, and it gives me an excuse to use my drill. Then there's the backsplash, which is going to be tough to choose something that matches the cabinets and countertop well. To me the most important thing is the extra lighting. We ordered extra wiring for a pendant light over the sink, but I imagine we'll do something tracked there, since it's a big open counter space that we could potentially eat at. The lighting is the thing that I think makes the most impact in my brother-in-law Joe's kitchen.

As much as it's kind of an uninteresting box space, I'm also looking forward to making the covered patio awesome. It's not huge, but some nice outdoor furniture, and perhaps some Chinese lanterns or something, would be very cool. I think at some point we may consider expanding the patio, but we'll see.

One thing I want to mostly avoid is blinds. I don't understand the obsession here in Florida with blinds. It's the sunshine state, open those bitches up! It's strange to see blinds in every window, closed. Not me. I hate them.

There are a few other minor things, like ceiling fans and such. I want to make my office comfortable as well, but not sure how that will go exactly. This is still all subject to budget constraints, because I don't want to blow through a ton of cash before we've even been in there a month!

Not moar TV!!!1!

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 19, 2013, 10:36 PM | comments: 0

I noticed that the fall TV season was starting up again, and I immediately started to think about how I don't really have time for that. We have a ton of stuff still on our DVR from as far back as January! We decided to dive back into Revolution, because we actually stopped right about the time it started to get interesting.

I have noticed that while I've intentionally reduced my consumption of all kinds of media, meaning TV, movies and Internet content, I'm not sure I'm better for it. While I tend to think of these as passive entertainment, there is something about it all that stimulates my imagination, and that stimulation has been noticeably absent lately.

Everything in moderation, I suppose. I think my negative feelings toward TV comes from the cost and the people I know who seem to only talk about what they watch. Not sure if we can keep having cable... too much HGTV watching at our house.

The completely strange world of racism

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 18, 2013, 10:00 PM | comments: 0

Apparently it was big news last weekend when a woman of Indian descent won the Miss America pageant. Of course, she was American, as that's kind of the point. While I didn't even realize that such an absurd thing as beauty pageants still existed, my second thought was, "Huh, I guess we're finally coming around as a nation, if the superficial ideal is no longer Barbie." And I'm not afraid to say that she is super pretty (especially in clothes reflecting her heritage instead of a bikini). I've always had kind of a thing for Indian women though, so I'm definitely biased.

Then I heard about the apparent outrage and hate unleashed on social media, and I realized that the US still has a long way to go before it shakes its reputation as a nation of morons and bigots. It was really toxic stuff, implying that she wasn't American. Because, you know, no one is the descendant of an immigrant or anything, white or otherwise. Still others equated her with being Arab, which is even more baffling. I mean, if you're going to hate on someone because of their race, at least know the difference between two groups of people. It got even worse, as the people who confuse Arabs and Indians also apparently believe that all Arabs are terrorists. Mind you, there are more Arabs in the world than Americans of all races combined, but whatever. Dipshittery knows no bounds.

This makes me sad. I'm sure part of it is the field I work in, which is rich with diversity, but I don't understand the desire to always have someone to hate. I've had the pleasure of working with people from all over the world, following different religions, speaking different languages, steeped in fascinating culture entirely different from my own. Learning about where they came from is awesome, putting a face and people on something I otherwise understand only via books and the Internet.

Even more sad is that people turn to the very resource that could educate them and instead use it to spew all this toxic nonsense. I keep having to remind myself that the human race has mostly improved throughout history.

Speak and demo

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 16, 2013, 10:55 PM | comments: 0

It probably comes as no surprise, given my broadcast background, that I really dig presenting stuff to people. The unfortunate thing is that I haven't really done it very much in recent years.

I've already done it twice at my current gig, presenting and demonstrating stuff to our developers. Granted, this is pretty informal, and I don't exactly prep for it hardcore. I'm also going to speak to the local user group, but not until February. It's a lot of fun, and hopefully it means I'm tackling, in some small way, my complaint about how developer education isn't what it needs to be.

I should probably do more in an online way to build a brand and do all of the things that make it possible to really thrive by speaking at conferences and such, but that's a lot of work unless that's your actual job. I've also noticed that in most jobs, I'm not working on stuff that I can easily share information about anyway.

Not our house

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 15, 2013, 8:33 PM | comments: 0

There are two copies of the house we're building going up in the neighborhood finally, so we're getting our first chance to see the layout in for-real-vision. I spotted it last week on a drive-by, and we did a quick walk through. Since then, they put up the drywall, so now we have a much better feel for how it will actually look. They started pushing dirt (sand?) around in our actual lot.

For the most part, it's about what I expected. The "flex" space downstairs, which could be a dining room, but Diana will use as her sewing studio, seems smaller. The master bedroom and loft upstairs seem bigger than I imagined. Overall the house feels huge, and I hope that I'm not second guessing myself in terms of what we decided to go with. I think the thing that helps with perspective is that the 3,000-foot+ model has space that's clearly useless, and we have almost 400 less. Aside from a bedroom, we more or less can figure out what we'll do with the space.

We'll have the fourth house down, and another few houses and it's a block around a retention pond. The house faces west, and our neighbor to the south has a single-story. That's great for the sunny side of the house, and we'll be able to see fireworks from Magic Kingdom from the second floor, if we so choose. The fourth bedroom, which I think will be the guest room, faces the north side, and neighbor windows, so that would be suboptimal if we were using that room regularly.

We're already thinking a lot about paint and a few of the things that we need to do. For example, we have the kitchen wired for pendant lights, but we need to put those in ourselves. We'll also do a backsplash. We are waiting to see where the warm spots are before we install any ceiling fans, though the bedrooms are all wired for them.

I very much look forward to seeing the house go up, and moving in, but it still causes anxiety just because of the bad experience around the previous house in terms of selling. That doesn't really make sense, because we're not planning on moving again for a very long time. The developer (and by extension the builders) seem to have a pretty good plan for the area, and it sounds like there are a lot of plans for retail, office, schools and even a hospital. As long as the economy doesn't fall apart again, it should remain a good area. I'm still just a little gun shy about buying.

It's interesting to see the differences in construction for a Florida house. The most obvious is that the entire first floor is masonry instead of wood framing, in part because of termites and carpenter ants, and it probably helps keep out the giant roaches too. The furnaces are obviously just electric because they're rarely used for heat, and they're often tucked away on the second floor in the middle. And of course there are little things, like the way the roof is attached to the structure to reinforce it for high winds. No basements, of course.

This is fortunately not one of those developments with the giant walls and gates and such. I don't know what the fascination is with gates in Florida. I've seen it suggested that they're not any more or less prone to burglary. The developer seems OK with higher density, and has custom builders doing the lots along the big lakes. The HOA takes care of the lawn and pest control for a reasonable cost. So far the existing houses are on an appreciation tear, with around 200 built out of something like a thousand lots. There's a spot for an elementary school, and the district is apparently looking at a high school in the next community. There's a whole lot of potential growth in the area.

So around the new year, the house will be nearly done, and as soon as we can close on the loan, we'll drop some roots. Even if it is a little scary, it's nice to think about not moving after what will be five moves in just over four years!

Sound City

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 13, 2013, 11:28 PM | comments: 0

I really love documentary films, though I have to admit that most of them suck. Music docs have high potential, but they were ruined in part by the old Behind The Music shows that aired on VH1 back in the day. The last music doc I saw was It Might Get Loud back in 2008. It brought together Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White to talk about playing guitar. It was solid.

This year brought with it Sound City, a doc about the shit hole of a recording studio in Van Nuys that arguably was home to some of the most important albums of all time. It was directed and produced by Dave Grohl, of Foo Fighters and Nirvana fame. The subjects in the film cover decades of music royalty, with quite a bit from Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Rick Springfield (even Barry Manilow!). The modern era is well represented by Grohl himself, Trent Reznor, Butch Vig (drummer from Garbage, but producer of Nirvana's Nevermind and many Foo Fighters records), Frank Black and others. Oh, and it even includes a Beatle.

The first two thirds of the film are about the history of the studio itself. Its first big break came literally from the formation of Fleetwood Mac as we know it, as Buckingham Nicks met Fleetwood there. Springfield's success, and the important relationship with the one of the owners, further propelled the studio.

The 80's nearly destroyed the studio as "artists" chose other, fancier places that didn't compare to Sound City's analog and rough appearance. It's worth noting that rock music really went to shit in the later part of that decade. That's weird to think about for me, as it was the 80's that I started to really get into music, but today don't recognize very much of it as important. There is a ton of music from the 70's that I may not care for, but understand that it's good stuff.

Then a three-piece from Seattle packed up their shit and recorded an album with a naked swimming baby on the cover, and in the span of a year, rock music recovered from the hair band era. It wasn't long before bands were flocking to record there again.

The studio apparently closed in 2011, as the tools required to make music just didn't require a studio anymore. This is where the last act of the movie takes a turn from historical documentary to love letter for the studio, and the human process of recording music. Grohl bought the mixing board from Sound City, as he felt it had to live on. He then proceeded to record an album on it that brought back many of the people who had success via the old studio. At first this appeared completely self-serving, and maybe a little masturbatory, but the authenticity of Groh's passion for recording and music is very much genuine. Remember, this guy could have quit years ago on the strength of Nirvana and Foo money.

And what better way to pay homage to music than ask a member of the Beatles, Grohl's reason for getting into music in the first place, to join him. So Paul McCartney joins the surviving members of Nirvana, with Foo's, and they record together. I have to admit, when I saw them do it live on SNL late last year, it was the most interesting thing I've seen Sir Paul do in my lifetime. It was fantastic.

If you're a fan of rock music, and appreciate everything that has come out from the 70's to today (leaving out the late 80's, of course), this is one of the coolest things ever. I really enjoyed the movie. It's currently streaming free for Amazon Prime members.

Those lingering feelings of regret

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 13, 2013, 7:40 PM | comments: 0

Today was the annual Red Cross mini-golf tournament at Cedar Point. I think I did it 11 times before moving to Seattle, then again last year. This year they moved it to the fall, which reminds me of Halloweekends at Cedar Point. Collectively, these outings remind me of happy joy feelings, good friends and good times. Buried in that is the feeling of escape and relief in the one thing I liked about moving back to Cleveland. It helped me suppress the feelings of regret about that move.

Feeling good about this move, even though missing fall and CP is a minor downer, it makes me think about just how much I knew moving back to Cleveland from Seattle was a horrible idea. I know, the banking worked out, but when I look at photos from places we went, even prior to that move, I remember having thoughts that it was the wrong thing to do. Those thoughts popped up at Mt. Rainier, on the four days of driving, the day I started that awful job, that Christmas Eve when we had the car accident, etc.

During most of last year, those feelings subsided. Working from home, and enjoying what was really a beautiful summer, I was pretty happy overall. As December arrived, bringing winter, the feelings started coming back. By March, when we determined that we would move by the end of summer (Seattle and Orlando were both on the table at that point), I think I audibly sighed with relief. When we had that snow storm in March, double sigh.

It's strange to look back at 2011 and try to understand how we arrived at that decision. I mean, if I read my case for it, I sound like I'm trying to convince myself it's right. I'm somewhat disappointed that I didn't listen to my gut.

It's all water under the bridge at this point, and I've certainly made peace with it. The first few months in Cleveland were icky, but we had a nice and comfortable routine and saved a ton of cash. It's the reason we were able to move and build a new house. There were no shortage of fantastic vacations, many of them driving trips.

Now I know to listen to myself. That sounds stupid, right?

Five things to remember when trying to change a company

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 12, 2013, 11:16 PM | comments: 0

One of the recurring things I've seen at companies large and small is that they often have really great people who don't necessarily have the breadth of experience to push processes in the "right" direction. It's happening a lot less in software circles than it used to, in part because people move around so much, and they build big boxes of best (or better) practices. Still, some people will only have experience moving between suboptimal environments, some will have long-term engagements that simply don't expose them to new things, and others will be the kind of stakeholders that by default won't expose them to alternatives (specifically, small company owners).

Let me make it clear that I'm not dogging these people at all. As I've said before, questioning everything in order to innovate is exhausting. Furthermore, we're all a product of our experience. Frankly we're often too busy executing what we do to stop and take a look around and see if we can do things in a better way.

This means that you might come into a situation where you can clearly see how changing some things around would benefit the company and everyone involved. The hard part isn't a technical problem, it's a people problem. You have to deal with a mix of personalities, and people are naturally adverse to change to varying degrees. Here are some tips you can follow to make those changes start to roll.

1. It's not about you.

I think your gut reaction is to throw your hands in the air and say, "You're all wrong, do it my way!" I'm guilty of that. It's a career limiting move, certainly, but I don't have to explain why it isn't effective. Your motivation for changing things can make for a great resume bullet point down the road, but ultimately, to keep the cause focused, you need to make your desired outcome all about the team or company. Remove your own ego from the equation.

2. Campaign, don't order.

If you were running for office, you wouldn't put all of the voters in a room and tell them to vote for you because you've got it right, and your opponent has it wrong. That wouldn't work. When you're trying to change processes, the more radical the change, the less likely you can get people in a room and get them to agree with you. I've made that mistake, too. It doesn't matter how logical you are, or the data you have to back up your position. The crowd will beat you down.

Instead, once you have some understanding about the people involved, you can go to them individually, and explain to them why you want to make the change. Get them to understand why it's good for them, and it's good for the team. Repeat that process, and you'll start to get momentum and consensus.

3. Don't try to be the life of the party.

When you enter a new social situation, or start a new job, you don't show up and try to be a big hit with everyone. Even if you have decision making authority (or pour the drinks), you quietly hang out in a corner and observe what's going on. The same thing is true when you're trying to change how things operate. You need to build rapport, understand who the players are, see the vision of the business.

4. Consider the context.

Early in my volleyball coaching career, I came up with a system derived from a number of things I had seen at different levels of the game, packaged it up, and decided to go all-in with a team to try it. The results were astonishing, and I felt like I cracked the code.

The next year, I tried to do the same thing, and it was falling flat. Once I stopped and looked at what was failing, I started to realize that everything I knew was still mostly correct, but I had to make some changes to apply to this different set of girls. You have to make the same changes when you're trying to apply a process you know to be better in a new environment. Taylor the process for the people and context.

5. Incremental change is easier than the big bang

This one is the hardest. We're anxious to institute massive changes as fast as possible because we want the better outcome as fast as possible. Make no mistake, people are going to get in your way, and fight you at every turn if you try to change everything all at once.

It's easier to break things down into smaller chunks and attack them separately. If you're really slick, you might even be able to do a number of these chunks concurrently, with different people involved. That's when you're a process changing ninja. They don't even know you're there.

The disappointingly boring Apple

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 11:30 PM | comments: 0

People on Facebook are apparently tired of me mocking Apple and some of its most recent "innovations." I've been quick to point out that iOS's use of flat colors and multitasking looks an awful lot like Windows Phone, and now with the release of the iPhone 5C, it looks a lot like the Nokia Lumia 900 that was released a year and a half ago. Through much of 2010 and 2011, I complained that no one was making nice phone hardware other than Apple, and now they just appear to be copying others.

I'm not an Apple hater. Swear. I've had three Mac laptops since 2006, and they're my favorite machines of all time. My previous unit even lives on in the hands of one of my friends. I bought the original iPhone two days after it was released, and felt pretty fancy that I could look at a Web page from anywhere, any time. I loved my 3GS, too.

When I switched to Windows Phone, since it was free, I was disappointed with the hardware, but loved the OS. Live tiles and the ability to light it up with all of your digital life before you left the store, just by entering various account credentials, was like magic. When Nokia finally started making great hardware two years later, I felt like it arrived, even if its market share continued to be mediocre.

But in that time, iPhone (and frankly the iPad) didn't go anywhere new. The OS wasn't evolving, and the "icon grid" UI seemed dated and not useful. Even with iOS 7, it hasn't truly evolved. The hardware decisions have been strange, too. The iPhone 5 is visibly beautiful, but because of the edge-to-edge glass, even on the back, one drop and it's prone to breakage. You can't get away with not having a case.

Apple lost me on the phone front. The camera ability of my Nokia 920 alone is worth it, and the 1020 would be a huge slam dunk.

The tablet story is a little murkier, because I'm not a huge tablet user. Or at least, I wasn't before. The iPad is a beautiful piece of hardware, but again, iOS fails to excite. What I like most about it is the LTE without contract. The crazy thing is that the cheap, $159 Kindle Fire HD fits my tablet use case far better, because it's smaller, it does Kindle books and Cloud Player music, has a small form factor, Facebook, Twitter and a browser, for a fraction of the cost. The UI does kind of suck, but when it's that cheap, who cares?

At the laptop end of things, Apple still has me. The MacBook Air is a total engineering triumph. Even with the relatively low resolution of the screen, I love doing development work on it. It's light and fantastic for travel. It's so fast. The newer models also have ridiculous battery life, which compels me to upgrade.

But even there, it's not an iron grip on me. Samsung and others are making some really remarkable machines now. The Surface Pro 2, and the rumored specs, are the most compelling version of a tablet-laptop hybrid yet.

Putting my Windows bias aside, the real threat to Apple is Android. The truth is, they're eating Apple marketshare because these cheap Android phones are "good enough" for most people, and it's a commodity world. Apple has always been a premium product, and the growing market easily offsets the share, but that won't last forever. Blind fanboyism won't last forever either.

Competition is good, but I don't want to see Apple get stagnant. It's too soon.

Time for another product release wave

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 9:53 PM | comments: 0

One of the earliest memories I have working at Microsoft was the wave of products released in the first six months or so that I worked there. There was Windows 7, of course, but also Visual Studio 2010, and all of the associated technologies that DevDiv produced (where I worked). My team was mostly concerned with making the forums on MSDN suck less.

The next big wave of stuff came in 2012, after I left, and included Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Surface and Visual Studio 2012, which had to be released together (largely because of the politics and influence of Sinofsky, the way I understood it). That was a pretty exciting wave of stuff. This year we've got Windows 8.1, which has some nice refinements, and VS2013 and updated frameworks in the dev space.

What's interesting this year isn't that there's any particular earth-shattering update, but the pace of evolution with development products is really, really fast compared to what it used to be. The tools are so freaking good now. The whole stack is getting down into the roots of what the Web is (HTTP), and they're going a long way toward decoupling from what the core of what ASP.NET is (System.Web). The reason that's so cool is that this stuff isn't just the domain of a Web server anymore... you can really run it anywhere. As my boss and I were discussing today, that's kind of a future state sort of thing, but it's still exciting.

Heads down development for me is largely the domain of my personal sites and projects, not my day job (it's mostly issues of architecture, compliance, code reviews, etc.), but it's still really energizing to see all of this new stuff coming down the pipe. I'm anxious to learn more about it, and really dig in and do stuff with it. It's like my experiment with Azure in May... I didn't have to do it, but I wanted to. It keeps me sharp.

Not everyone in the field of software development is like that, unfortunately. That's a shame, because the tools and products have become so incredibly useful. Our experience isn't the biggest roadblock to creating awesomesauce anymore.

Strange nostalgia

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 8:12 PM | comments: 0

Enough time has passed now since 2001 that, as someone who wasn't there in New York (or DC), I'm just about ready to not think about 9/11 anymore. And worse, people who weren't there chanting "never forget" are starting to sound like a cliche of sorts. It's like suggesting you'll forget someone cut off your arm.

I'm not suggesting that what happened was trivial or unimportant. If I'm being honest with myself, the worst thing that affected me personally is that I lost my job (the company I was working for was hit hard when it had to cancel a trade show it was running). All things considered, it was "just" a horrific event on TV. I can't erase the images of people jumping out of buildings from hundreds of feet, but I want to.

Social media has come a long way since that time. Back then, we had CoasterBuzz, and I setup a special forum to talk about what happened. It was the only time I ever setup something off-topic like that, but it seemed like the community needed it. Now, with Facebook, Twitter and a ton of domain-specific communities, we connect with people in all kinds of different ways, and we do so a lot. When I started this blog, it was almost a novel thing. Now, not so much.

With that prevalence has come something of a strange thing I can only describe as nostalgia for 9/11. It's weird. Every year, people start reposting images from the day, and the "never forget" meme is loaded with different meanings. On one hand, of course, you want to remember the innocent people who died that day, but on the other, there's kind of a passive aggressive suggestion that we need to issue payback. That second part led us into one war that had nothing to do with 9/11 that had catastrophic consequences for our own military and the country we invaded, and another war that was completely open ended.

There was a "humor" blog post today that really brought it home for me with regard to how much we've lost our fucking minds. We've reached this completely strange point where we consider kids playing pranks with explosives to be terrorism. We willingly submit to virtual strip searches at airports. And now, we let the government warrantlessly observe us, and the guy who blew the whistle on it all is considered a fugitive instead of a hero for telling us what the government constitutionally shouldn't be doing. Anecdotally, I would also add that the group hug we experienced in the year following the attacks has been replaced by hate for people not even because of the religion they follow, but the region of the world they live in.

The terrorists won.

Fortunately, I'm an optimist. I want to believe that this is only a temporary situation, in part because it would just be too depressing to think otherwise. That a terrible thing would cause us to be more stupid is counterintuitive, at least in the long run. I still believe that people are good at heart, but allow themselves to be swayed into moments of stupid by their environment (I'm certainly not exempt from this). That Americans are standing up and saying, "Hold on, I don't think we should get involved in Syria," is certainly indication of this coming around.

9/11 sucked. While it's an important point in history, the take away is not to wallow in it, but learn from it.

Pre-schooler Simon

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 10, 2013, 8:56 PM | comments: 0

We got word today that Simon qualifies for pre-school in our new district. That's a huge relief, and at the same time, disappointing because it means our concerns about him being so behind in certain developmental areas are validated. Regardless, he'll get a couple of hours a day, and that will include speech therapy, and possibly physical or occupational therapy. They already have set goals for him.

He was already on track to start school back in the Cleveland 'burbs, and we decided when we moved that we would put him in school regardless of what the local jurisdiction decided. The new school tested and rated him on a number of different things, and some things I never even considered are issues. For example, he's lacking maturity in how he responds to frustration. I figured that was just him being 3.

The thing I'm most looking forward to is that he'll be spending time with other kids. His weekly routine of play dates and library stories stopped when we moved, and Diana is still in the process of ramping up and meeting people. I really think that this socialization will help.

Again, at this stage, the evaluators and experts don't classify him as having any particular disability, which is also a relief. Still, he has essentially two years to catch up so that he's ready for kindergarten, and we need help getting him there.

The disconnect of goals and changing your mind

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 9, 2013, 7:52 PM | comments: 0

If there's one thing about the Internet that you can count on, it's that it is full of people trying to help each other from being miserable. Get happy! Live the dream! Reach your goals! (And yes, much of it comes as sales and marketing in the guise of help.) I'm all for attaining such things, but there's also something psychologically dangerous going on here. I'll get to that.

I was talking with some people about politics, when the classic subject came up about an elected official committing the sin of the "flip flop." On the surface, sure, I get that changing your opinion about something to pander to voters is annoying, but regular people, and even politicians at times, change their opinions because they've considered more inputs that have altered their conclusions. For reasons I can't explain, this is viewed as weakness, that you should instead stick to your guns. However, I consider this a sign of maturity. Sticking to something despite information that invalidates or alters your disposition is just being a stubborn jackass.

This line of thinking eventually got me thinking about goals of varying scope. We all set goals, as small as minor tasks or as big as some life achievement. Having goals isn't inherently bad, but I've noticed that people tend to all share certain bigger goals. They want to be richer, more fit, have a certain career stage, be married with a family, etc. Again, I'm not sure that these aren't worthy and important goals, but I can't help but notice that I've met a lot of really miserable, rich, fit, C-level people with a spouse and two kids (and the material stuff that we all know doesn't really matter). Makes you want to stop and look at what's going on here.

All of these big goals are largely a product of our cultural domestication. We didn't come up with these on our own... they were given to us. The picture of the American dream is pretty well drawn, and frankly reasonably attainable if you're willing to work for it. We don't question if the juice is worth the squeeze though.

Here's a for-real example from my own life. Way back at the ripe old age of 31, I landed my first gig that paid the equivalent of six figures. I couldn't believe it. I had been trying to get there for a number of years, and I finally did it. I doubled my income every three years over the span of nine.

As you probably guessed, I hated it. I was so bored, and it wasn't what I expected. The money wasn't worth the soul-sucking dissatisfaction over the work. At that point in life, I had a lot of the things I thought were part of the dream, the things I made as goals, and I wasn't particularly happy. What I did at that point was quit my job, and write a book. At least in terms of career, I started to consider the information and experience that shaped my views. Shortly thereafter, my first marriage started to fall apart, and I started putting it all together... that this process of goal setting was inherently flawed.

This is the psychologically dangerous thing that I was talking about. Setting goals and then mercilessly pursuing them is predicated on the idea that the goal you set is immutable and a permanent destination. Changing your mind, in part, means failure to meet your goal. Failure sucks. If it's not failure, then it's compromise, and compromise means half-assing it. The problem is that this mindset is completely incompatible with the notion that the ongoing absorption of information changes the entire premise of every belief, thought, and yes, goal that you have. Goals can become obsolete.

That sounds horribly unromantic, and maybe tragic, doesn't it? You have some grand thing to shoot for, only to learn over time that intervening information makes that grand thing suboptimal. If that weren't bad enough, and you're a real type-A personality, attaining the goal might leave you feeling empty because it's no longer something you're moving toward. You have to fill that hole with something.

I have largely replaced long-term goals with a lot of vague ideal conditions. I'm not looking for discreet end results, in part because the stuff that happens right now is chock full of awesomesauce. Some of it helps me move to those vague ideal conditions, sure, but the journey is what I'm in love with. If I come up with some kind of design or prototype at work that is clearly going to add value, that's a good feeling regardless of whether or not it leads to something bigger. Sometimes being around others yields that same joy, whether it's Diana mastering a quilting technique or Simon quoting funny things from a TV show. Those things might not be goal-oriented, but that's the point.

I'm not down on setting goals. They're a useful device for achievement and time-boxing work. What I'm against is the cultural suggestion that abandoning goals in the face of reason is somehow weakness or a personality flaw. Quite the contrary, I think it's a sign of maturity.

Blue Man Group 12

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 8, 2013, 10:02 PM | comments: 0

Last night I saw Blue Man Group for the 12th time. When they made major changes to the Orlando show last year, I was determined to see it again. Seeing it in Chicago last year was something of a preview, though I also assumed that the smaller venue there would certainly limit what they could do. I was right.

A few months ago, I offered to take my BFF to the show as a graduation gift, though admittedly I had no idea when I would be able to make good on the offer because I had no plans to be visit Orlando. Then we moved. Problem solved. On top of that, Simon has been watching the DVD of the arena tour for the last year, and he's quite the fan. I figured he was more than ready. Then throw in a Florida resident promo... it was time!

Of the 12 shows, this was the 8th theatrical version (the others were the arena show), and this was by far the best, topping the Venetian at its best. I haven't seen the new one at the Monte Carlo.

The intro is almost something of a variation on the arena show, and is a hundred times more visually interesting than the old three-window thing they did for years. They also did a really cool new version of "Rods and Cones," with new backpack instruments that were lit up. I miss the zoetropes, but the net result is an improvement. The finale with "Shake Your Euphemism" is a lot of fun. The pacing of the show in general is the tightest it has ever been, with the only slow part being the Twinkie feast, and even then, it only felt slow because I could see Simon getting bored with it. The last half-hour or so is almost all music, which makes it particularly excellent.

The really special moment for Simon was one I've seen countless times, the "Drumbone" routine. It was pretty early in the show, and as soon as Simon saw them bring out the tubes, I think that's when he made the connection about what he was really seeing. I really want to build those pipes.

Now that we're local to one of these shows, I think we have to limit it to one a year. Mind you, the tickets aren't that expensive for residents, and it's really great that they have kid prices. Oh, and this was the first time since January 2011 that we even set foot at Universal. I suspect we'll be back next year, after the new Potter stuff opens.

The weather, yes

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 6, 2013, 10:59 PM | comments: 0

I'll be the first to admit that the amount of time people spend talking about weather borders on silly. It's the subject of small talk, and the first thing people complain about or praise. But make no mistake, it was a serious consideration in terms of us deciding to move. We'll certainly miss a "normal" fall in the Midwest or Pacific Northwest, but there's no missing winter.

My mom used to tell me all of the time that she felt better living in Florida, both in terms of physical and mental health. I've never had any real physical issues (aside from a slight soreness in my knees before spring rain), but with her joint issues, the weather has little to no impact. And in terms of mental health, I can tell you that seasonal affective disorder is very real, and has always been a huge problem for me. Now, even in the rainiest months of July and August, I see the sun every single day, and I notice how much better I feel. I'm just generally more positive. I'm actually a little freaked out by how much influence the weather has on my mood.

If you're a fan of thunderstorms, there are plenty of those here too. It's a little hard to predict compared to the Midwest, where stuff generally moves in a predictable fashion from west to east. If Toledo or Detroit was getting hammered by storms, you could bet Cleveland was going to get it in another three or four hours. Stuff just pops up here with all of that moisture, and if it isn't spontaneously developing, it's coming from any direction.

Summer is the winter here. It's the time that some people find the most uncomfortable, and prefer to stay inside when it's 92 degrees every day. I personally don't mind it, and prefer it over actual winter up north where it's not just uncomfortable outside, it can kill you.

I can't tell you how I'll feel about the weather five or ten years down the road, but for now at least I can tell you that I dig it. Evening jacket weather in the 60's isn't far off now, and that's a pretty comfortable and non-extreme season swing I look forward to.

A good (parenting) day

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 6, 2013, 10:33 PM | comments: 0

Like Ice Cube says, today was a good day. It was one of those days where Simon was our darling little boy, mostly sweet as he could be. We needed one of those days.

Diana was itching to get out of the house, and he definitely needed it, so they went to Magic Kingdom this afternoon. He was a happy boy, energetic, and sweet. When I got home from work, he continued to be very sweet, asking me to sit with him on the couch, and he cuddled up with his book. At dinner, he sucked down everything in front of him without a protest. I really wanted to blow off some steam, and despite the rain, we went to Epcot for a few hours to walk around, have adult beverages and snacks. To end the night, Simon cuddled up on my shoulder for a few minutes before he peacefully climbed into bed. It was fantastic.

Not every day is like that, and lately it feels like there are more difficult days than good. There are really two issues we're trying to tackle. The first is that we aren't getting adult time. For me, I mean that I'm not getting one-on-one time with Diana. Her situation is much worse though, because she's not getting any real adult time with anyone. We're still meeting people, and she doesn't have the kind of routine of play dates, library stories and such. It's all Simon, all of the time, and that's hard with a 3-year-old who is constantly challenging you.

The other, and more serious issue, is that Simon's developmental delays are starting to cause us some anxiety. Most of the time we can handle the 3-year-old drama, but getting him to do basic things kids his age should do is causing stress because we're not getting anywhere. Potty training is a total fail because he won't do it, and we don't want to force him because of the guidance that suggests this can cause resistance to using the toilet at all (something I know all too well from my childhood). His reluctance to try certain things, like getting undressed or putting on his shoes, is another battle that's tiring and stressful. We can't get him to take interest in drawing or writing of any kind. And while his vocabulary is clearly growing, it's so mixed with babble we don't understand.

This isn't a hopeless situation, it's just a passing issue, hopefully. We'll figure out our night out thing on a regular basis. Simon has also been evaluated by the school district to see if he qualifies for their preschool, and even if he's not, we'll figure out a way to get him the help he needs. (Bonus: that would be 12.5 hours per week that Diana would get for herself.) Even the dress/undress thing is starting to show a glimmer of progress. It's just hard because the clock is ticking... two years to kindergarten.

But for all of the struggles, there are days like today that are fun and filled with love.

The cone of negativity

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 4, 2013, 11:20 PM | comments: 0

Today was one of those days. It felt like the world was being a dick in every possible way. I was engulfed in a wave of negativity. As the meme suggests, ain't nobody got time for that.

Life will be pissy at times. That's just the way that it is. I think we can make choices to minimize the negativity, but eventually, we're exposed to it whether we like it or not. What I've noticed, however, is that there are different ways to deal with it, and some are more effective than others.

The least effective, and easily most annoying if you observe it, is the over-compensating, human motivational poster. I'm sure you know someone like this (especially if you work in software). They're being beaten to death with crappy situations and lame people. And still, they put on a brave face and tell you that they're good to go, all the while wallowing in misery. They're the type who make Facebook posts with catchy phrases of hope and prosperity to mask the fact that they're not happy.

That has to be the worst possible thing you could do. I don't understand the cultural standard that suggests suffering builds character or makes you better. No, it just makes you miserable. It's dishonest and destructive.

The first step in breaking out of the cone of negativity is to simply identify it. It's OK to say, "This sucks." You can't improve anything if you can't admit something isn't right. That's why I'm always a little suspicious of anyone who is switched on at all times. It's not natural.

From acknowledgment, there are all kinds of options in front of you. The obvious thing is to bail and get away from the situation, but that might have even more negative consequences. So you work the problem, being honest with yourself at every step, until the problem goes away.

I've learned to be a fairly happy guy, but it took a lot of practice. Self-awareness works for you, so own suckage so you can act on it. Don't be the human motivational poster who is crying inside.

House design locked-in

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 2, 2013, 9:15 PM | comments: 0

We had our second meeting to lock in all of our design choices for the house on Sunday morning. We actually cut a fair bit of stuff and got down under budget by a grand or so, but I don't feel like we made any serious compromises.

While I'm still working through issues of purchase regret and the specter of a previous house I owned for far too long, I'm at least feeling a little more excited about having our very own place. What I like most about my life in the last five years is the surprising amount of agility we've had. Another way to put that is we moved a lot. A house sounds like something that ultimately ties you down, but having one didn't tie us down, technically. It only influenced poor decisions.

What that ramble really means is that while I like the idea of ultimate flexibility, I also like the idea that we can make a space something uniquely Team Puzzoni. It's a space that no one else has lived in, and we can decorate it any way we want. Owning a house isn't an investment, it's a lifestyle choice. When you look at it that way, it changes your attitude.

I think it will be fun to see the house go up. Construction is very different here in Florida, too, since the first floor is pretty much always masonry. This builder (and the other in the neighborhood) fortunately doesn't do boring box elevations either, which is also un-Florida-like. It looks more Northwest, sans the siding.

Wannabe filmmaker motivation

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 2, 2013, 8:56 PM | comments: 0

Philip Bloom, who is very much my hero when it comes to shooting beautiful things with unlikely cameras, posted a review last week of the new Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema camera. It definitely has some issues (lack of built-in ND filters being the biggest problem), but I'm amazed at what he is getting out of it. The size and extraordinary bit rates make it a pretty amazing little camera.

While I admittedly want the camera in the worst way, and even have a couple of great lenses I could use with it (my AF100 has the same Micro Four-Thirds mount), I'm going to hold off, given my current financial priorities. Still, I've got a little bit of a bug for shooting right now, since I haven't really done much of anything since GateKeeper opened at Cedar Point.

I volunteered to shoot a promo for GKTW, and shot about half of what we need on Saturday. It won't be short film material, but I want to find excellent music for it. The quality of what I shot was all over the place, but I think I can make it pretty in post. One super annoying thing is that one off-camera line from one of the subjects has poor audio because of a mic that got tweaked in the wrong direction, and I feel like an amateur dick for not having better headphones with me for monitoring.

Bloom tracked the short he did with the pocket camera with something from The Music Bed. It's not cheap, but the quality of the stuff there is awesome. It's not the typical shitty synth crap production music. Some of the artists you might have even heard of before. So I was browsing around there, and found a track that I absolutely fell in love with, and I want to use it as background for a short film with Simon and Diana. It sounds like a silly project when I say it out loud, but in my head it's something that could be completely awesome, and a great snapshot of my family.

Beyond a short music video film, that service inspires me for something feature length as well. Editing is a lot like music to me. I see in terms of cuts and beats. There are songs I love that I would likely never be able to afford to license, and it bums me out to the point that I don't even want to write. But there is a ton of stuff I could work with there.

Making stuff for the screen was energizing when I did it for a living, and my skills evolved so much. I don't want to totally let go of that.

A different fall, without our favorite tradition

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 1, 2013, 10:17 PM | comments: 0

I can't believe it's already September. This fall is going to feel very different for us, because of the difference in weather here in Florida. Our first shot at any kind of real evening "jacket weather" won't come until late October at best.

I really learned to hate winter and cold weather, and never cared much for spring either, but I did love fall in Northern Ohio, as well as Seattle. But the thing I will miss the most is Halloweekend Fridays at Cedar Point. That has become my single favorite thing about fall, and it will be hard to not have that this year. So many good times with friends there, along with the smells of kettlecorn, the Nutty Bavarian and of course the fries. Cool air coming off of Lake Erie, the sound of Arrow roller coasters climbing up their hills, and the warning of, "Arms down, head back and hold on!"

I remember way back when Stephanie and I first started buying season passes, and in those days there was no Halloween event. You had a few "bonus weekends" to visit the park in September, and that was it. Now they find a way to open all the way through the end of October, and the crowds are completely insane. I introduced Diana to the phenomenon in 2007, and we had another two great fall seasons in 2008 and 2009 before we moved.

The way our moves landed, we only had one fall back in Cleveland where we had season passes. We did sneak in a couple of times in 2011 on some comps, but of course this year we are already relocated. It definitely makes me sad. We could probably make it up there, but taking time off costs more than the travel itself, and I'm trying to be fiscally conservative the next few months as we approach our move to the new house. It just wouldn't be very smart this year.

Moving away from Cleveland did not have many downsides, and we've actually come to realize that the only thing we truly felt strongly about was Cedar Point anyway. Living here, Universal is too intense at Halloween (and not included in passes), and Disney is almost too tame (also not included with passes). And of course, it's not jacket weather and we won't see our friends.

Hopefully we can get up there next year, and perhaps take in the new and improved Breakers. In the mean time, the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot starts in a few weeks, and after that, the epic Christmas stuff around WDW.