I can't even tell you how many times I've written blog posts in my head lately, in the car, at lunch, or even while watching Sesame Street with Simon. My writing frequency has reached an embarrassingly low level lately. It got me to thinking about all of the other things I'm not currently doing that I would like to be.
This was kind of a rough week. The stress of Diana having surgery took its toll on me mentally. Then add in having to take off work (mostly involuntarily, because of the holidays), some frustrations at work, restarting the whole paperwork nonsense with the lender, figuring out the right ways to work with Simon in light of the dyspraxia issue, trying to keep Diana comfortable and healthy while not totally exploiting my extended family, getting Simon up and on the bus for the first time, Simon getting me up overnight... it all took its toll. I can genuinely say that I was a little unhappy, and I haven't felt that way since early this year (for different reasons).
The thing I realized is that life is full. At the moment, it's overflowing, and that's probably what was getting to me. In fact, when I really look at life objectively, I'm actually happy about the fullness of life. Time management is the hard thing.
If Simon and I are both awake and in the same place, I can generally say that we'll be together doing stuff 75% of the time. Maybe that's more than most parents would do, but I love it. Whether it's getting him showered or taking him to occupational therapy (the tourists call it "Disney World"), I engage with him a ton. I've also got my darling wife to look out for, and be her partner and husband, which is also awesome because it's very much a reciprocal arrangement. Add in another 40 hours plus commute time every week for work, and you can see that most of my time is accounted for.
This leaves me in a difficult place, because there are so many things that I want to do, for leisure, hobbies, or my little side business, and there is no time. I don't want to reduce the father/spouse duties, because those are the things that make my life so genuinely fantastic. And yet, it causes me some distress that I'm not doing that other stuff.
The motivational speaker nonsense about, "If you want it, go get it," is such a dramatically oversimplified view of life. It's incompatible when you don't want to give up the things that already make your life a happy thing. Again, where I beat myself up is that I can't do the other stuff as well.
I'll eventually figure this out, of course. I'm living the dream, and I have a great life because of the two very important people I'm with every day. I just don't want to lose the other things that have always made my life enjoyable... especially the endeavors that are creative, imaginative and sometimes intellectual. I'm reminded every day about how important these things are via the eyes of my little boy, who sees the world in a fascinating way. I love that sense of wonder.
Diana had surgery today to correct a bunion, which I recently learned was not a growth or tumor or anything like that, but rather the result of the big toe growing out in an abnormal way. Not only did the doctor do some magic on that toe, but he shortened the second one as well so everything aligns correctly. There's no narrative here, but I do have a brain dump on all kinds of things related to this.
I have been carrying a Fitbit now for about two months, and have dropped about 10 pounds in that time. I was really shooting for 12, but honestly didn't fully commit at all times. In fact, today was the worst, where I actually ate just slightly more than I burned. I was stress eating today due to Diana's foot surgery and a number of other things on my mind.
Today aside, I'm really pleased with the practice of tracking activity vs. food. I've said this for a long time, that weight loss isn't that complicated, but it's certainly more effective when you can measure things in a low friction way. That's what's cool about the Fitbit, or more specifically, the online component. The calories burned is definitely a best guess based on your height and weight, but the food part is reasonably accurate. Most weeks I come in about 4,000 to 6,000 calories under-budget.
As much as I may focus on the weight loss as a result, it isn't exactly the primary goal. I dropped about 30 pounds back in 2005, under the pressure of a failing marriage and a decade-early midlife crisis. But even then, that was more an exercise in learning how to eat right, and in the right amount relative to my activity level. That's largely what I'm trying to do now, but also be accountable to some minimum bar of activity, primarily walking. I'm not eating differently as much as I'm eating less. I know I still need to back off the sodium to a certain extent (mainly from eating out).
I'm not sure where I'll level off. In my mind, I'd like to drop another 20. That's still not quite the ideal range by various measurements, but those tend to suck and don't account for things like muscle mass or bone density. I mean, I had a 24-inch vertical leap when I was 32, which is off the charts high. It's probably not that high now, but I can feel when I get on a bike that much of that muscle is still there.
It only gets harder to take care of your body as you get older. Officially in the 40-and-older range, now would not be a good time to slack off.
There was a great piece on Slate about how an entire generation, now closing in on 30-years-old, is incapable of functioning in the world. I hate the idea of generalizing about an entire generation, especially after mine was labeled the slacker generation (and fuck you, by the way... we brought you Google, Amazon and laid the foundation for Facebook, you're welcome). But there seems to be more and more evidence that American society has done a shitty job of raising "kids" who are now around 30 and under.
The reasons are important only because I want to understand them, so as not to cause Simon to turn out the same way. This might be harder for us in the short term, because he has already been identified as having dyspraxia, and some degree of autism spectrum is somewhat likely when he's tested for that. Things are already a little harder for him, so it's hard to decide when to let him struggle a little, and when to help. I labor over decisions already for the most ridiculous things, like whether to give in to his demands to get water, or help him when a shirt is difficult to get off.
The bigger theme seems to be the "helicopter parenting," which means that parents are constantly hovering over kids to help them make every decision, and protect them from failure. I can understand this to an extent, because no one wants to see their kid be miserable or unhappy. But it also seems obvious to me that if a kid can't experience failure, and understand the balance of risk and reward, action and consequences, how can they ever do it on their own?
College seems to be another issue. There's a strong feeling among members of this generation that college entitles you to some measure of success. I think in this case, there's plenty of blame to go around. My generation was urged to go to school in our high school years, but it seems like that emphasis now starts when the kid is born, and never lets up. Worse, it's made out to be your ticket to success. College definitely matters, but it surely isn't the slam dunk competitive advantage it used to be.
I think there are two things that are important for making a self-sufficient human being. The first is to help them develop the basic life skills that get them through life... decision making, playing nice with others, handling conflict, self-care, etc. Ironically enough, in questioning the need for college, I think college is a great place to develop those skills if you live on-campus.
The second important thing is education, but not in the blanket, one-size-fits-all approach. Maybe college is the right thing for a kid, maybe it isn't. Regardless, I think it's important that they have context about what their options are, where the opportunities are, how they get there, and maybe most importantly, that they can always change their mind. I keep hearing about the shortage of qualified electricians here in our area, but that's a very different training path than one for becoming a doctor.
I try not to over-think this stuff, and it still feels like parenting is to a degree an exercise in not screwing up your kid too much. :)
We had a non-event of sorts yesterday, when we stopped by the house to find what we thought was totally the wrong tile installed. Convinced it was wrong, I looked at the paperwork, which matched the order. But the photo I took in the design studio looked much lighter, and the stuff on the manufacturer's website looked much darker. So they brought a tile to the design studio (which happens to be next door to work), and I went over at lunch to see that it was exactly what we asked for.
I kind of feel bad for being a pain in the ass, but only sort of. As we're finding out, it seems like it's largely up to us to act as QA people for the construction, which seems a little odd for a situation where you're spending a ton of money on a house. Prior to the drywall going up, we found a whole bunch of things that were totally wrong. They got the bathroom sink plumbing in the wrong spot. They mounted the light switch for the pantry where the fridge is supposed to go instead of in the pantry. The kitchen lighting wasn't particularly placed in logical places. The wiring for surround sound speakers (admittedly a splurge) was pretty much in front of where you would logically put your couch.
The other thing that I've noticed is that some of the contractors are a total pain in the ass for each other. For example, drywall guys appeared to have scraped off their tools on the exterior over the stucco, and obviously someone had to scrape that off before painting the exterior. The stucco guys apparently crushed the roof vents over the garage, so now someone has to fix that.
I have noticed watching some of the other houses in our row that some folks do really quality work. The tile guys seem solid all around, and any of the people doing finishing work (plumbing fixtures, exterior touchups, and the guys who clean up all of the wall dings and other issues) do great work.
The house is going to be so done a month before we close. Nothing we can do about that, but I'm sure our sales rep is going to stress about it. I'm still a little worried that the lender is going to flake out, just because life is otherwise going pretty well. I'll be a lot more relaxed when I've got the keys in my hands, and we can start having a little fun with painting and such.
One of the many possible components of Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition called dyspraxia. The short definition is that people who have it often have issues putting together the right motor activities to perform some skill. That's pretty hard to wrap my head around, because it's not related to intelligence. I've often heard it said that our hands manifest thought, but it turns out that's only true if our brains are fully wired to do so.
Since Simon has been identified as having this condition, I've spent a little time reading about it. The literature suggests that it's pretty hard to know for sure with a young child if they'll develop their way through it, and I can't help but wonder if I've been living with some level of it my entire life. Maybe I'm just trying to rationalize sucking at sports when I was a kid.
It's pretty clear that we're going to have to get him in as much occupational therapy as we can. I'm not so much worried about him being able to catch a ball as much as learning to speak effectively, since that's one of the ways the condition manifests itself in early childhood. It's pretty interesting to me that so much of the treatment involves forcing him to interact with his environment. I happen to know some great places here that have lots of stairs, turnstiles, queues, games and other stimulating environments.
I'm not at all gloomy about this, and in fact it probably gives me more reason to be more patient with Simon. I'm not going to coddle him or protect him from "normal" failure, but I'm also not going to throw my hands up in the air when he gets frustrated and doesn't want to do something.
I finally caved last Friday and bought a Surface 2. As much as I've been "meh" about tablets, I'll concede that they're nice to have. There were several reasons I decided I "needed" one.
The first was that the iPad has been mostly commandeered by Simon, with a big squishy red case around it. The quasi-educational games on there are really engaging, and I think they're helping him with fine motor skills. My Kindle Fire HD is great for reading books and listening to music, but it's so underpowered for browsing, and even its Facebook app is slow. So I was basically without something to use for content consumption activities at lunch and during the nightly wind-down ritual.
For the second version, they fixed both of the issues. The new screen is fantastic, and usually I don't see pixels. The pixel density is not quite as high as the iPad, but it's just over 200. By the time you get to 220 (I think the Retina 15" MBP is that high), the dots are totally gone. The Kindle app looks great. It's no longer slow, either. Everything I've tried so far is very responsive. The reason I settled on it over some other choices were largely the same things that drew me to the original, specifically the keyboard covers, and the kickstand, which now opens at two angles. When you're eating and browsing, it's a pretty great arrangement.
In addition to the improved kickstand and screen, the unit is just slightly thinner and lighter than last year's. In fact, it's thinner than last year's iPad, and about four or five grams heavier. They've also moved to a light gray color for the magnesium shell, which doesn't get all gross and fingerprinty the way the black did. They improved the cameras a little, but like the iPad, it's not an f'ing camera beyond doing Skype.
In terms of software, it's still the ARM-based flavor of Windows, but this time it's 8.1. There are a ton of tweaks to the OS that really let you customize a lot more. The core apps are much better, and business users should be thrilled to see it now comes with full blown Outlook. I don't use it, but some people are all about it. One of the better additions is the arrival of an official Facebook app, which works pretty well for 90% of the typical functionality. The People app is much better, and I love how it aggregates the Twitter in there, but it doesn't do the same kind of contextual sharing and such like a full FB app.
Oh, and I sure do love multitasking. It's such an improvement to be able to browse and use IM, for example, at the same time.
So despite my anti-tablet sentiments, I have to admit that I dig it. It still has some quirks, but I think there's a lot of value for what it costs. I'm sure it's mostly my tastes, but I like a tablet that's almost a laptop, but not quite, and still portable like a tablet.
We got the word last week that Simon definitely demonstrates symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder. This is something typically diagnosed by an occupational therapist, and there's a wide range of severity and variations on the condition. The side effect is that it can affect development in terms of motor and language skills. Basically it means that the brain doesn't take sensory input and translate it into fully appropriate responses. So for example, you would normally not think about the size, shape, velocity and vector of a ball that was thrown to you, because your brain takes all of that input and puts your hands in front of you to catch it. SPD means there's a lack of that foundation that connects the environment to your physical reaction. You treat it in early childhood with lots of practice.
In Simon's case, he doesn't have the issue of over-stimulation (though he does seem texture averse to certain foods), but generally his brain craves more intense simulation. This explains why he tends to be somewhat violent in pushing on us, or wants us to "squish" him when lying on the bed. It might also explain why, now that he has tried them, he likes the feeling of circular amusement rides and roller coasters.
This doesn't mean that he's broken, it just means that we need to work with him in different ways to help him catch up. He shows signs of more complex cognition that are surprising, like his ability to navigate and remember landmarks, but alternating feet when walking up steps is hard for him to coordinate. Simon can organize objects into precise patterns, but he's more likely to catch a ball with his face than his hands.
So we're going to have to try and figure out how to get him more OT, outside of school. Fortunately, we have seen quite a bit of progress in the last six months in all of his developmental areas. His vocabulary and sentence structure continues to improve. He isn't outright avoiding difficult situations the way he used to. We have to remind him to alternate feet on steps, and he's surprisingly willing to get into difficult balance situations. He even prefers to stand now on the monorails.
The doctor still wants him tested for autism spectrum, which is often associated with SPD. Again, these aren't end-of-the-world situations, it just means we need to adjust how he learns and make sure he has the right help for these situations. He's still our sweet little boy, and I would prefer that people not get real wrapped up in any labels.
The big amusement industry trade show, the IAAPA Expo (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) is this week, and I took Wednesday off to roam the show floor and catch up with industry folks I haven't seen in awhile. It was really fantastic. Too much time has passed since I've seen some of those folks. And I had my FitBit on, and was amazed to see that I walked about seven miles on the show floor, over 16,000 steps!
My perspective was a little different this time, and I found myself looking at slightly different things. I've had inside knowledge for many, many years, that folks have trusted me with. But this year, I was an insider because I work in the industry. It was a really subtle difference, but an important one for me. I'm in a place now where I'm contributing to the business, not just observing it.
I picked Wednesday because Matt Ouimet, the CEO of Cedar Fair, was doing the keynote at the Owners & GM's Breakfast event. It's no secret that I'm crazy about the guy, and feel smarter whether I get to spent five minutes chatting with him or two hours. There are few people I respect in terms of their leadership abilities the way I do for him. His speech was about leadership and innovation, and he knocked it out of the park.
My favorite part was a story he shared about one of his first walk-throughs at Disneyland when he began to run the resort. There was a churro cart in front of the castle, and it troubled him that it would likely be in every photo that people inevitably would take of the iconic location. A foods manager, who to that point had not met him, said she was concerned about moving the cart, because other locations dropped the revenue from it in half. At first he was hesitant, but asked how much the cart made there. She said about a million dollars, and he decided the cart had to stay. His point was that, as leaders, we frequently want to make decisions and have influence, when what we should be doing is listening.
The usual roller coaster parts were on display, as well as other moderately interesting things, but at the end of the day, the show is mostly about a lot of business being conducted. That's one of the reasons I stopped covering the show extensively for CoasterBuzz... the audience isn't really the business audience.
But again, for me it was a great chance to network and talk to people I just don't get to see very often. After being there nearly 11 hours, I left feeling overwhelmed and at least mentally energized about all of the things that might be ahead. I'm still processing it. I even had a little left to help out GKTW, which I admittedly haven't done enough for since moving here.
Tomorrow is the last day of the show, and to all my friends returning home, safe travels!
I almost forgot to write about this... it was more than a week ago! The Disney Parks blog has been doing one-day sweepstakes for various tours and things about once a week for several months now. They're kind of weird in that they notify winners the same day, they schedule it for the next week, and you can't bring a guest. Regardless, they had one for a backstage tour at Animal Kingdom, and I was picked.
The tour was in two parts. The first part was a walk around the animal hospital with one of the vets. As you can imagine, this isn't the most glamorous thing ever, but you do get to see the scope of what they do to care for their animals. The same department has duties with the marine life at The Seas over at Epcot. Basically they can treat any animal there under 500 pounds, which is most of them outside of the elephants, and one of the lions who needs to lose a little weight. The facility is pretty nice, though not nearly as extensive as the vet hospital at Ohio State (where former girlfriend Dr. Cath was going when we dated). One of the treatment rooms is "on stage" where you can watch, back at the Conservation Station area. The vet described giving one of the gorillas a colonoscopy there, which apparently was riveting for guests. Gross.
The biggest take away from the vet is that zoo medicine is hard, because there are so many different species to look after, and they're all a little different. And of course, animals are already more difficult than humans in many respects, because few can tell you where it hurts. One advantage that Animal Kingdom has over many zoos, however, is that because they're a for-profit entity, there's little issue over giving the care and meds that an animal needs.
The second part of the zoo was in the area behind the lion exhibit in Kilimanjaro Safari. As it turns out, they have five lions all together, but they exhibit in two groups, three days on, three days off. The two groups never see each other, though they can obviously smell each other. One pair is a bit older, while the other three are younger. There is one male in each pack, and the younger group may at some point mate. If you wondered why the lions were willing to hang out in certain spots, it's because they have a water-cooled metal plate out there that you can't see.
The two older lions were back in the enclosures that day. I was perhaps ten feet from them, heavy steel fencing in between us, as they slept. It's so strange that they have all of the features of a house cat, but they're just flipping enormous. The male was around 450 pounds, and his mane was just ridiculous. The keeper said all of them have very distinct personalities, and they like to play like house cats, but by the way, they could certainly kill you if given the chance. They're really beautiful and wonderful animals.
Naturally they don't want you taking photos backstage, which is a bummer, but there really isn't much to see anyway. The size of that park is actually the largest, even if it's the smallest for guest foot traffic, in part because of the safari area and the remoteness of the Planet Watch area. It seemed to take forever to drive back there. They also have loaner bikes all around, so employees can get to various areas faster.
I could see the new Festival of The Lion King theater, which is, not surprisingly, exactly like the old one. The area where the old one is will allegedly be the Avatar land they insist on building, despite the nearly universal consensus that it's a dumb idea.
I'm no stranger to backstage tours at theme parks, but I have to admit that this one was pretty cool. You don't get to see lions that close under normal circumstances.
I was surprised this morning to see on Facebook that one of my high school classmates, in fact I think she was alphabetically one or two names before me in my class of 500 or so, announced that her mom passed away. Christine Popovich was mom to Lee Ann, in my class, Laura, a year ahead, and Lynn, two years behind. Lisa graduated before I knew her, but I do recall talking to her a bit since she was obviously at her sisters' athletic events.
The girls almost had a royal quality because there were so many of them, and they were all total sweethearts. My high school experience was not ideal, but the girls I went to school with were always very friendly toward me. Since I managed the varsity volleyball team (yeah, I lettered in girls volleyball, don't judge), and the three who were there when I was active in the program all played, naturally their mom was a fixture in the bleachers. And by fixture I mean audibly present.
While I would go on to coach many volleyball teams, in high school and club, Mrs. Popovich was arguably one of the greatest volleyball moms ever. Of course she would yell and scream at stupid calls by the officials, but most of the time she played by the rules that governed her daughters. Sure, she would disagree with coaching decisions from time to time, but she was careful about how she talked about them, so as not to undermine the coach's authority. Even better, if one of her kids simply wasn't performing, she wouldn't coddle or endorse a half-assed effort. She would be the first in line to say, "You didn't try hard enough." I loved that about her, and mistakenly thought most parents were that way when I went on to coach. Plus, she was fucking hilarious. She was one of those personalities that didn't have to try to be the life of the party, because it just came naturally.
And for me personally, Mrs. P always treated me like an adult, and was always kind. I struggled so much trying to fit in at school, having moved in to Brunswick in the middle of grade nine. The athletic director at the time, Judy Kirsch, kind of took me in to get me involved despite having about zero athletic ability (volleyball didn't really come to me until my junior year of college). Putting me in the loop with the volleyball coaches really gave me a place to belong, and the awesome parents of the day only made that easier. All of the Popovich girls played one or more sports, so I saw their mom quite a bit, year-round. She always made time to talk to me, and never hesitated to give me a lift home after events if I didn't have one.
As difficult as it seems sometimes to raise just one kid, she did it four times, and you've gotta respect that. But even more importantly, she was kind to others, regardless of age. That's something you have to keep in mind as you go through life. You might not think much of about it at the time, but looking out for kids, even in the most subtle and seemingly inconsequential of ways, can make a difference in their lives. I needed adult friendships, and Mrs. P was one of those people.
My sincerest sympathies go out to her family. I know that today was most certainly a sad day, but I hope their memories are as good as mine are!
We did a quick run through of the house last weekend to see if all of the wiring and plumbing was correct after seeing a few errors, and it is in fact good to go. They'll likely start on drywall this week, which is when the space becomes a lot more real. We'll no longer be able to look from one end of the house to the next!
While we're still a few months out from closing, it's completely odd to think this will be the first place we've lived in four or five years that won't be transient. I mean, anything can happen, but we don't intend to up and move again any time soon. (Or if I'm really managing expectations, the lender could conceivably flake out still before we close.) With this newness comes the opportunity to really make the house our own, something we've wanted to do since the time we moved in together.
For inspiration, we made a trip to Ikea last weekend, and did a little bit of window shopping. I know some people don't care for Ikea, but they have some nice stuff. Their "expensive" furniture looks pretty much like the stuff at "real" furniture stores, but at half the cost. It's probably all made in China regardless. In addition to furniture, there's inspiration to be had with rugs and lighting.
There were several take-aways from the visit. The first is not to stick by this ridiculous notion that all of your furniture has to match. I'm not sure where that comes from, but I've bought two sets in my lifetime, and they were matching sets. So while we're sure we will likely buy a couch and some kind of chair at some point for the living room, they don't have to match.
Lighting matters, and you can do some really interesting things with it these days. You can hide LED lighting pretty much anywhere. There were some really nice LED lights for under the cabinets. They're expensive, but I think it will add a nice touch that's also functional. The backsplash will definitely impact that as well.
Speaking of lighting, I look forward to choosing some kind of pendant lighting for the area over the kitchen sink. The recessed lighting will be over the rest of the counter space, but that we had wired for a separate switch. We just have to figure out what to put there. The same is true for the patio lighting, and we want something cool, and perhaps slightly whimsical.
Shelving is hard. We have now toted around a bunch of cheap bookshelves over 6,000 miles, and if you had to look close to see if it was cheap before, there's no question now. What surprises me is that really nice freestanding shelves can cost hundreds of dollars. There is a little hallway area between my office, the foyer and half-bath that is a good candidate for shelving, because there's nothing else to realistically do with that space. I think that's where the books will go.
Open floor plans are hard for painting. The living room fades into the dining area, which fades into the kitchen. There aren't a lot of distinct boundaries. To make it more tricky, we opted for rounded wall corners, and there will be a lot of them on the first floor.
The thing about decorating is that, if you get too carried away, you run the risk of either junking up the space or making it look like a showroom. I think we'll be OK in that sense. I'm also excited to put some photos on the wall, especially around the stairs. I even have an idea of where my Mt. Rainier canvas photos can go.
It's going to be a lot of fun making the house feel like a home. It will probably take awhile, which is definitely OK, because it would be expensive to go nuts all at once. Because of the transient nature of our rental, my college dorm rooms had more personality than this place.
I've been a fan of roller coasters for a very long time now. A big plus for friends (and significant others) has been the sharing of that enthusiasm, and I think it's fair to say most of my friends I know because of this nerdness. When Simon was born, it occurred to me that I had high hopes that it was something I could share with him, though at the time it wasn't something I thought much about given our residency in Seattle.
Still, at about a year and a half, I dragged him on to the Tiny Toot at Silverwood in Idaho. It's a small powered coaster, and he was not a huge fan. I hoped that I didn't ruin him forever at that point! A month or two later, we were back in Cleveland, and I hoped he would do Jr. Gemini at Cedar Point. He only sat in the ride, but gave it another shot the next spring and he was hooked. Before long, he also took on Woodstock Express. I was very proud of him, and very excited.
When we got to Orlando in July, he was still asking to go to Cedar Point. He didn't quite understand that Disney World had all kinds of rides, but he was immediately pulled in by the transport rides like the monorail, train, People Mover, etc. Eventually we got on Barnstormer at Magic Kingdom, and he really enjoyed it.
Our visits have leveled off a little, but last weekend we spontaneously went to Magic Kingdom on a whim. We went to Animal Kingdom late in the afternoon, where we could catch his favorite shows (Nemo: The Musical and Festival of The Lion King), play in the big playground and run off some energy. We closed the park, and we asked if he wanted to go to Magic Kingdom, even though it was late. He was all in. Simon was now into the circular rides, doing the Triceratops at AK, and Dumbo and Flying Carpets at MK. This was also the first time I heard him do his roller coaster howl on Barnstormer, and it was hilarious.
Today, we made our first priority some Fastpasses for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The height requirement is 40", so he qualifies. It's really not any more aggressive than Barnstormer, just longer. He was apprehensive, but Diana asked him to try it, and he agreed. The really cool thing is that they allow three across because it has bench seats with a single lap bar, so we got to ride together.
Simon wasn't sure at first, probably because of the noisy anti-rollbacks in the tunnel, but by the time we hit the final brake run, he gave a clap and a "yay," and clearly loved it. Once we got off, he was asking to go again! I told him we would get more Fastpasses and come back.
And that we did. This time, a little girl sitting in front of us had her hands up, and peer pressure kicked in. Simon did much of the ride with his hands up! It was a proud moment for me, to watch him enjoy the ride like he did. He wanted to ride again, but we told him he would have to wait until next time.
It's really exciting to share something a little more grown up with Simon. I don't want him to grow up too fast, but I love the idea of sharing something like this with him. We're pretty fortunate to have the theme parks so close to us, where we can have adventures any time we want. Being a little vacation constrained this winter, it's a relief that we can have really fun half-days like this.
Fortunately I'm in no hurry to buy any electronic devices in this tax year, because of the whole contracting thing and the need to demonstrate income for the benefit of the house lender. It has to wait. That means I've really sorted through my desire to fill some perceived gap in my toys/tools.
The first thing I've accepted is that my desire to have a thing that's both a laptop and a hybrid might be somewhat misplaced. They're actually two different use cases that don't overlap very much. I really like having a laptop with a keyboard. I've been quite enamored with the Surface Pro 2, and while it's a killer piece of hardware, it's too chunky for a really practical tablet, and too awkward for use as a laptop. So I've kind of let that idea go, for now.
In terms of laptops, my MacBook Air from last year is still a fantastic computer. It's definitely my favorite laptop of all time. There are a number of things that motivate me for something else though. Diana's laptop is going on four years old, and it's slow and heavy. I also want more pixels, and a year ago there was no 13" Retina MBP, and once there was, it was overpriced. There are some beautiful new laptops from Samsung and Lenovo, the latter of which can do this neat tablet-like convertible thing, but the new MBP's are actually a better deal. Never thought I'd say that about a Mac. Plenty of time to sort that one out.
Then there are tablets. Yeah, I'm the guy who used to say that I never had any use for one. Indeed, the first iPad didn't get much use. The replacement was mostly to score the no-contract cellular connectivity. It didn't get much use until recently, when we started loading stuff on to it for Simon. I just sold my original Surface, in part because the performance wasn't great, and the screen resolution wasn't either. I still liked the OS. So what I'm left with is my Kindle Fire HD, which is great for reading, music and video, but the browser just completely sucks. Don't get me wrong, I still believe it was a steal for $159, but I'm a little frustrated with browser rendering and performance in some apps.
So there are three tablets I really like, and believe it or not, they're all Windows or RT tablets. The current line of iPads seem too expensive (with reasonable storage). I also really like the Windows way of multitasking, having two things on screen at a time. Other nice perks, like picture passwords and multiple accounts, are big pluses. So here are the options, I'm thinking about:
Surface 2. Yes, I sold my first gen, but they fixed my two biggest concerns, namely the crappy performance and screen resolution. They feel lighter and thinner, too. I'm still not sure about Windows RT in a world where Atom processors can run "real" Windows, but it's really nice hardware. The kickstand and touch covers are fantastic, and they're super ideal for what I call "lunch browsing." Then Scott Hanselman showed how you can do "real" work with one using a remote VM. I tried it... I'm sold. I still have my touch cover.
Nokia Lumia 2520. Here's one I didn't see coming. It's essentially a giant version of my phone, and in the same colors no less. This one is an RT tablet as well, but the remarkable feature in this case is that will include no-contract cellular capability. Honestly, I've only used that feature on the iPad four times in the last year and a half, but it's handy. I imagine if it's like the phone, it will feel good in the hands. Still, if I need cellular, I still have the iPad.
Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 2. This one came out of nowhere. It's smaller, 8 inch screen, and it runs full blown Windows because it has an Atom CPU. It's stupid cheap at $300. The screen resolution is the same as my Kindle Fire HD, but with a screen that's bigger by an inch, I'm not sure if that hurts the readability. I'm sure you'll see pixels, if only subtly. With it running real Windows, you can run anything, including Chrome.
They're having a party in Sandusky tonight in honor of John Hildebrandt, the retiring general manager at Cedar Point. I wanted more than anything to make it up there, but I couldn't really make it happen at a reasonable cost.
John's history with CP is well documented elsewhere, but the short version is that it encompasses almost his entire professional career. That almost never happens anymore. For the last eight years or so he has been the general manager at the park, coming up through marketing.
I met him in 1998, I think, but in some way he had an impact on my summers growing up on the North Coast for most of my life. And if you think about it, he had some effect on the summers of millions of people over his tenure. How many people can say they've had a career that involved that?
I never worked for John directly (though I did some contract work for the park at various points), so I can't really speak to whether or not he was a good boss, but most people speak highly of him, even if they didn't necessarily agree with every decision he ever made. People on the outside, as guests have even higher praise for him. I can definitely attest to that as well. He always made time to talk to me. He did me favors, like showing some Seattle friends of mine around. After some suboptimal experiences in the accommodations, he even gave me his cell phone number to call him directly in the case of any further issues. As a guest, he was always world class to me.
And if I'm being honest, he certainly didn't have to be. We know each other today because of PointBuzz, which was Guide to The Point before that. Imagine 1998, when the Internet was still a bit of a wild west situation, and this unofficial site appears with a growing community talking about your product, unfiltered and (relatively) uncensored. John was running marketing at the time, and that new territory was all his. Our relationship was always interesting in that sense, because I was stuck between the site visitors and the park's way of doing business.
After a few years of weirdness though, I always felt welcome by John and his marketing team. That continued when he was GM as well. Let's just say we have an extensive collection of lanyards for various events!
Sure, technically, Cedar Fair owns Cedar Point, but no one really owns it in the long run. I think they just care for it on their watch. John was an ideal steward for the park. As he put it, people have a very strong emotional bond with the place, and you have to respect that.
Even though we moved (again), I'm sure we'll make it back to the park at least once a year. But it will be weird to go there and not see John walking the midways. He's just as much a part of Cedar Point to me as any of the rides there. But you never know... I may just see him here in Florida!
I was talking with my boss today about some things that were frustrating me a bit. I would put them in the category of things that individually aren't a big deal, but if you have to deal with several at a time, you start to feel like they're beating you over the head. Combined with some other things, it led to a discussion about compartmentalizing different aspects of the job, as well as home and work stuff.
Splitting work and personal life isn't always easy, because some amount of your social life is going to occur at work. I think the bigger challenge is to keep the negative aspects of each from entering the other. I don't think most personalities can really turn those things on and off like a switch. For me it has always been directional. In my worst personal times, I've never brought that to work, but I have at times allowed suboptimal work to interfere with home life. This is especially true when I'm invested and engaged in a job (as I am now).
It's worth noting that this is also why entrepreneurial efforts are so hard. Creating and running your own business is intensely personal, and it's nearly impossible to draw lines between work and your life. It's also why I flatly reject the motivational poster bullshit cheerleading that suggests that if you don't want it bad enough, you can't have it. Nonsense. Life is far more nuanced than that. There are a hundred little decisions you have to make every day in the way you choose to spend your time, and if you're me, that means sometimes the things that make you happiest are things that have nothing to do with your business.
While at work, trying to put different aspects of work into little buckets is easier for me, but not without its challenges. For example, over the years I've been able to put my ego aside and allow myself to be wrong, if I think that it's ultimately the better thing for the team or business or whatever. It doesn't mean that I don't require validation now and then, but indeed the journey itself is every bit as satisfying as the outcome.
Putting my personal life into distinct buckets comes surprisingly easy to me. I can manage different interpersonal relationships apart from each other, keep things like finances apart from relationship quality, enjoy hobbies without having to involve others, etc.
There is a fair amount of utility in trying to keep different life concerns separate from each other, but I'm sure it depends a lot on the personality. I can do it where it makes sense, and I'm successful in some ways more than others. At the end of the day though, all aspects of life in some way uniquely define me, so allowing for overlap isn't inherently bad.
Around the time I started to coach volleyball, at the young dumb age of 25, I started to realize how different people were. It was obvious in kids, as their personalities developed and their abilities varied. At some point much later, when I had opportunities to manage adults at work, I realized it was really true for everyone of all ages. With that realization comes the idea that while everyone should be equal, it doesn't mean there aren't different ways to treat people.
At no time is this more true than in education, I'm learning. The funny thing is, I should know this from my own experience. I think back, and in retrospect, I could have been labeled with all kinds of things that didn't have diagnostic names back in the day. I remember being scolded by grade school teachers for not showing my work with addition. While the teacher would say 36 + 49 means add 6 and 9, carry the one, I would see 36 + 50 = 86, then subtract 1 to get 85. They would probably label that as something in the autism spectrum today.
By the time I got to high school, I started to struggle a little with honors classes, not because they were hard, I just didn't give a shit. I remember getting to the first week of the A.P. math class, where we were supposed to prove that 1 was greater than 0. I couldn't believe it. I dropped that class like a bad habit. That would probably qualify as ADD today.
When I got to college, on an impossibly high ACT score (96th percentile) and remarkably average GPA, I found some things pointless and scraped by, but would blow the curve on something like broadcast law. By then I started to see a therapist, not for any specific reason other than it seemed to help one of my friends figure out herself. He had me do an IQ test that implied I was a few points away from genius, something I wouldn't tell anyone until years later because it embarrassed me relative to the other metrics that indicated I was average. I was told through much of my youth that I was smart and lazy.
The take away from those experiences was that I might very well suffer a bit given the social contracts and expectations prevalent in our culture. At some point, I stopped worrying about the "smart and lazy" label, and accepted that perhaps I was wired a little differently than other people. I owned that, for all the good or bad that might be associated with it. You can modify your behavior to the extent that your brain will allow it, but if you have to fight it at all times, I think you'll be miserable.
That realization didn't come until my early 30's, not surprisingly when I was in the midst of a divorce and questioning everything about myself. What came after that was a few women who understood me and loved me for who and what I am (Diana be one of them, obviously), and a growing circle of friends who also understood me, at least enough to want to be my friend. These days, it's nearly impossible for me to understand people who spend a lot of time digging deep into the reasons a person is or is not someone they choose to associate with. I can't imagine overthinking it like that.
Now I'm a dad, and Simon's doctor would like him to be tested for ASD, SPD and such, because of the concerns with his developmental delays. That can be a little scary too, because of the overwhelming concern that your own child will potentially be categorized and labeled. It's not a good feeling to have as a parent. But the thing is, while I can see how the markers might in fact indicate an "issue," I can also see a kid who is surprisingly smart in ways I wouldn't normally expect (his crazy navigation ability comes to mind). He's making progress, even if he is still behind, and any diagnostics that help us figure out how to help him will be a win.
At the end of the day, he's still our boy, even if he's wired a little differently. I am too. I can't control, nor will I concern myself, with the way family, friends or others perceive him. The best I can do is help him to succeed, and prepare him for the world.
As someone who works in software, I obviously have a fair amount of knowledge about servers, networks and what not. In an architecture role, especially these days, I honestly don't think a ton about the innards, because it largely doesn't matter to me. For example, I understand the idea of a "load balancer" and having a number of "servers" servicing whatever other things have to call them. I put those terms in quotes because I know that what I'm logically referring to is distributing the computing load across resources for the purpose of redundancy and scaleability.
But honestly, I don't care if these are physical servers and load balancers at all. These things can be virtual as well. In fact, if I can not think about them at all, even better. From a software standpoint, I'll design for this, and figure out ways to share state when necessary, make configuration something that's self-contained, etc. When designing a system, the general categories of components are important to understand, but whether they're virtual or physical is unimportant. There are people who are really good at understanding and building the physical building blocks that we run software on.
And that's where the world of cloud services makes life awesome. Just as we would prefer not to concern ourselves with why our smart phone works or what the parts are (compared to the PC's we had in the 90's), we don't really want to know about all of that infrastructure either. I've seen that progression even with my own Web sites. I once hosted them in my house, with a Cisco router on a T-1 line. Then I rented a server, which took a day to provision. Now I rented a server that took a half-hour to provision. Next time I move, it will be to a "server" that comes to be in about a minute.
Unfortunately, every place that I've worked, excluding Microsoft for obvious reasons, has been slow to embrace cloud infrastructure or platform (more on the latter in a minute). The concerns are generally around security, that since they don't own the physical components, they're more at risk. I would argue that the big cloud providers, like Amazon, Microsoft or Rackspace, are likely more physically secure than having a rack colocated somewhere, it's just that the stuff is configured in a different way. It will take time for that trust to be realized.
And then there's the whole platform as a service (PaaS) thing. While cloud infrastructure, that is, spinning up virtual servers to use as if they were regular servers, is a step in the right direction, it still comes with all of the baggage that involves administering the "box," patching it, etc. That's the boring pain in the ass stuff that I dread, and frankly hate wasting time thinking about. With platform components, you have a black box that does one thing. Web sites are just places you put stuff to run. Storage is just storage. A service bus, cache, database, etc., are all just what they are, without having to give thought to the underlying infrastructure. That's awesomesauce that nearly eliminates the need for the regular IT operations that we're all used to.
So when do I move all of my crap into the cloud? I think it will be soon. The pricing has come down to the point where it's getting comparable to where I would pay the same thing I do today for a server that I rent. Mind you, I would get less "machine" and bandwidth, but it would free me from a lot of the caring and feeding responsibility of my own server. I look forward to those days.
It seems like health insurance is all the rage to bitch and moan about, so why not, I'll do that too. I'm not sure why the 80% of people who get their insurance through work are bitching about Obamacare, because aside from the typical annual increases, it's business as usual.
I decided this year to do the contract thing for a number of reasons, most of which was the ability to bank a bunch of cash so we could move, and also afford to take a little time off in the spring. As it turned out, the job I got here in Orlando is also contract. Regardless, part of that extra money is always dedicated to buying your own health insurance. It comes with the territory.
The ACA has had the effect that the individual policies offered have to meet certain requirements, which is a load of crap because these kinds of policies are typically based on high deductibles. I learned quickly that these make the most sense for a family of three, including a toddler/preschooler. My existing policy will have to be replaced because it won't be offered, and that doesn't matter since my carrier doesn't write policies in Florida anyway. My preliminary shopping shows about a 25% increase, which blows. Even if the Healthcare.gov site worked (what a steaming pile of shit that is), there's little point to even trying because I make too much to qualify for subsidies.
While the consumer protection parts of the ACA are wins, I've never been a fan of the individual mandate. It was always a flawed idea. (A real "public option" should never have been taken off the table.) The bigger problem is that the ACA doesn't address several of the fundamental problems:
And if you've ever had any treatment of any kind, you can see the kind of stupidity that makes the cost worse. We had "the scare" this year with Diana. They saw something they didn't like on the mammogram, did the follow up high resolution scan, and eventually a biopsy. It turns out she's fine, after five figures of necessary care.
We'll hit our deductible, which I expected. We did it last year with Simon's pneumonia. Again, you just budget for it. But for Diana's treatment, the claims just sat around with no action, until the Cleveland Clinic was like, yeah, here's your bill. The insurance company wanted more information about whether or not Diana had some pre-existing condition, which is the provision of the ACA that doesn't kick in until next year (fuckers... that's completely immoral). So because it just sat there, the clinic hasn't been paid, and that kind of stupidity costs them money.
I don't mind paying for health insurance. I don't expect anything for free (unless it's something I get as a taxpayer). But the system is so fucked up that no one can think through it and lead us out of the broken system. Honestly I feel a little dirty sometimes having worked for an insurance company, because they're certainly part of the problem.
I've had the FitBit for about four weeks now. My goal in buying it was to be accountable for activity (or inactivity) and track how much I was eating. Not surprisingly, playing the numbers game means that I've been able to drop about six pounds in that time. It's pretty simple: burn 3,500 calories more than you take in during a week, and you'll lose a pound. You can do this by a combination of burning more calories (exercise) and eating less. So if I get that differential to 5,250 every week, I'll lose a pound and a half.
I'm essentially trying to get my behavior back to what it was in 2005-2006. Back then I was doing the same thing with Weight Watchers, only with their "points," which are an abstraction of calories, fat and some other factors in a formula. I like the FitBit way better, because it's more real. It doesn't demonize fat, but it still makes you think about your choices. At some point I hope to reach a good point to level off, at which point I'll learn how to maintain.
On the exercise front, I hate exercise for the sake of exercise. Nothing has changed there. However, I do like being outside. That's what living in a warm climate is all about. Walking is pretty low-hanging fruit, because an hour of brisk walking will knock out 300 calories. Do that every day, and that's 2,100 per week. More to the point though, I'm at an age where I just can't afford to be inactive, and that's hard when you sit most of the day. The little piece of wearable technology reminds me when I've been sitting too long because it has really low numbers.
On the food end, I'm not really eating all that differently, I'm just eating less. I've tried to avoid the really "bad" foods for years, the obvious stuff like excessive deep-fried food, mounds of packaged snacks and chips, etc. I'm probably a little high on sodium and cholesterol still, but at least there's less of it in my diet. I can't help myself but to have BWW at least every other week. I also try to plan, and yes, I had the buttery creamy goodness of the alfredo the local Italian joint has. It's delicious.
So far, it has been remarkably easy to roll with this, and I'm only hungry if I go really under budget for a day, say a 1,000 calorie differential. That's rare, but I have done it to offset some big eating days. It's just so easy to track it all on the FitBit site. When you distill it down to numbers, there's little room for interpretation or cheating.