Four years ago tonight, Diana and I were sitting in the Coho Cafe in Issaquah, Washington, facing the very real condition that we were going to be parents in a little more than 12 hours.
The day of Simon's birth was such a sleep-deprived birth, which is one of the reasons I wrote it down as fast as possible. In the four years since, being his parents has been easier and harder at the same time.
As with any aspect of your life, it's easy to get bogged down in being a parent. In recent months, we finally got the formal information around Simon's diagnosis for Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neither problem is for sure necessarily a long-term detriment, but it definitely adds extra layers of complexity to helping him develop.
That said, the difficulty does not outweigh the joy that Simon brings on most days. I love the way this kid loves to be outside and moving (a "symptom" of SPD, actually). Being in Florida has been good to a boy who preferred to walk as soon as he could, and he hasn't seen a stroller in more than a year. He has no problem dragging his Grammy around Disney World, walking more than 8 miles in a day.
Simon's sense of discovery is developing as fast as his language skills. Right now he wants to describe everything he encounters no matter how mundane it might be, even if he doesn't have all of the words. The biggest leap he has made in the last year, and really just the last few months, is his transformation into a conversationalist. He wants to talk to anyone who will listen and converse.
And what comes with conversation? Personality. Simon is loaded with personality. He loves to giggle over all kinds of things, and he's developing his own catch phrases, like, "What's going on here?" and, "That's OK, Dad." The best part though is that when he's sleepy and happy, he's quite the cuddle monkey. It's another thing that he didn't do as much in his early years, but now he'll be perfectly happy to crash with you in the beanbag chair or spread out on the couch under a blanket with you.
More than anything, it's his capacity to love that makes him a great contributor to the world. There's nothing more awesome than meeting up with him somewhere, and he runs with excitement to greet you. And it's not just family, but even new people he meets, especially kids. While he certainly has more than his share of defiant moments, he's also quite the warm soul.
And as of tomorrow, Simon is 25% of the way toward driving age. Yikes.
I've been really stressed out the last few weeks. A lot of it had to do with the final weeks and days of getting the financing done for the house. Some had to do with the issues, most of them minor, with the house construction. I've found myself frustrated and short with Simon, as his behavior has been difficult every few days and I'm not dealing with it in an effective manner. I think I'm also dreading the June end of my contract, not because I won't be able to find work, but because I kind of like what I'm doing and the people I work with.
All of that negative energy takes its toll. When I stop to gain a little perspective, I always realize that these are not really big problems, but I infrequently have that perspective in the moment. I've been trying to find a little peace, though I haven't really looked in any particular place for it. Today, it found me.
We were at the new house this evening, doing a little bit of work. I went out to the patio, which is currently inhabited by a couple of cheap camp chairs, and I sat down. It was the first time I really got a feel for the neighborhood noise, which is fairly natural most of the time. Then I heard the distant sound of a steam train whistle, obviously from Magic Kingdom.
My brain tripped like a scene from The Matrix, rushing me squarely in one of the deck chairs on the patio of a Lighthouse Point cottage, at Cedar Point. I could feel the breeze off of Sandusky Bay. I could almost see Mean Streak, and hear its trains climbing the lift. It was so rich and vivid of a memory, and it was filled with so many friends, lovers, wives and even my little boy. The sound of the CP&LE Railroad, as it turns out, connects me to my new home where I can hear the Walt Disney World Railroad.
It's so easy to get bogged down by life sometimes. While I'm often critical of people who are so tied to the past that they can't move forward, there's no question that memories and familiarity can provide great comfort. Today I got all of that from the sound of a train whistle. It makes me happy that I might hear it every day.
Earlier this week, I wrote about the hell that was financing our f'ing house. Just putting it that way should imply that much of the joy of building a house was completely sucked from my being. But now that it's behind me, the angst is slowly subsiding, and I'm starting to look forward to living there.
From a strategic standpoint, it still made sense to build. The market is still pretty solid around here, and there's a surprising amount of growth. Interest rates of course certainly aren't going down. Also a bonus, the house already appraised at almost $4k more than we bought it for. I'm in no hurry to leave Central Florida, but at least if I did, I'm comfortable that we could unload the house and get the equity back. Also a bonus, the mortgage is way less than the rent was, and only slightly higher than what I had in Cleveland, for far more house and zero snow.
More to the point, I think it will be fun to make it home. I joke about "McMansions" and what not, and it does seem like a little more space than we really need, but there's something kind of neat about walking into the finished structure and see all of those white walls and new carpet. It's like a blank canvas. Between the rentals and that cursed house I couldn't sell, this one is ours to mold and change. I am slowly and cautiously allowing myself to become slightly attached to it.
Last weekend we moved some of the loose boxes of stuff that we never unpacked. I also spent a few hours (too many) installing hardware on the kitchen cabinets. We had a new couch delivered. Diana painted one bedroom wall, and almost two walls of my office. The fridge comes this weekend.
I'm trying not to go nuts, because I would like to restore some of our savings, but there are a few more minor things we would like to do soon. We need a lighting fixture for over our kitchen sink. We had it wired, but we're choosing what to put there. I have something in my mind that I haven't seen anywhere yet. We're also considering a backsplash around the kitchen, and honestly, we'll probably just pay someone to do it. Thinking stainless now, which I swear is not us just copying my brother-in-law Joe. It really just looks pretty sweet. A couple of fans for our room and Simon's are also in order (again, wired for it). I would like to think of some kind of cool patio lighting, too, but still exploring options.
I want to decorate my office, too. I want to put up some photos, spanning life beyond the last seven years. I love my life since meeting Diana, but I feel disconnected from the ups and downs of my previous years. College might be a little more challenging unless I get some film scanned!
I'm coming around to being excited about the house. It's going to be fun having our own, never-before-lived-in space.
The spectacular flameout of a woman who runs an email job list in Cleveland after replying to a LinkedIn request with massive toxicity has been interesting to read about. It's funny because I'm not sure I quite get the value of LinkedIn, but sad because someone who seemed to be doing a community some good managed to show everyone what a jackass she really is.
My bigger issue, however, is that she took anonymous contact, described how trivial it was, and made it non-trivial by spending a lot of time on it, and then made far too many generalizations and personality assessments about someone she didn't know. Specifically, I grow tired of people dissing and generalizing about the kids and 20-somethings just coming out of college. Enough.
As a bona fide Gen-X'er, we largely were given the problems of the Boomers with very little in the way of mentoring or guidance from the sub-generation in between. The world was changing rapidly, and we weren't very well prepared for it, at least at first. We were labeled slackers, but as you well know, we've managed to wiggle our way into a lot of places once reserved for people 10 to 20 years our senior.
I'm sure that a subset of Millennials are everything that people claim they are, but as they've advanced into adults, I'm impressed with what they're becoming. They're practical and ambitious. They don't seem as likely to fall into the trap of SUV's, McMansions and status. They definitely seem more philanthropical (especially compared to my generation).
The point is, they're going to have your job if you're not careful, so stop discounting them. They need to be mentored and guided, as every generation does. Trying to tear them down serves no one.
One of the things that has become really important to me since assuming a job that has "architect" in the title is the need to be legitimate. What I mean by that is I don't ever want to reach a point where I'm involved with designing software systems without actually understanding how to code and use the latest frameworks and tools. This is important now because I've never had a gig where I write this little code.
While it's hard to define exactly what my career path looks like going forward, it will either be something like the gig that I'm in, or managing developers and process. In either case, it involves assuming some amount of technical leadership. I think that the success of the team you work with is affected by how up to date you are. Stuff is changing constantly. No one wants to be told how things should be based on a what made sense a decade ago.
I jokingly tell the devs at work, "Those who can't, architect," but I'm mostly kidding. I never want them to think I don't know what's going on. That, and I don't want to actually not know what's going on!
So with that, I'd like to say that I wrote a few lines of code tonight.
Thursday night, I gave a talk to folks at an Orlando .NET User Group meeting, telling them all about how easy it is to spin up all kinds of computing resources to serve a Web app for a short period of time. There were a little over 30 people there (some were recruiters and left after I started), and it was really well-received. You can get the code on CodePlex.
The genesis of this little open source project was last year's media event at Cedar Point for GateKeeper, where my PointBuzz partner Walt and I decided to "live blog" stuff that day, and through the weekend. Building it in a way that would make it scaleable and impossible to knock over was total overkill, but I suppose I was looking for a reason to do it. It was not time consuming.
In the last few months, I decided it would be fun to clean up the code a little and release it as open source. As it turns out, it's also a good topic to present, and obviously it does sell Windows Azure a bit as something amazing and awesome.
I really dig sharing stuff this way. Most of my career advancement can in part be attributed to the shared knowledge of other people. I feel like I have an obligation to pay that forward. It helps me play a part in solving the problem of not having enough qualified people to do the every increasing body of work there is.
We closed on the new house today, and that is a relief. I haven't yet turned the corner toward excitement over it, but I'll get there. Right now, I'm just mentally exhausted from the financing process. I'll talk about the ordering process another day. I need to put all of this nonsense behind me.
Let me jump back a few years first. If you knew me circa 2011, or read this blog, then you know that part of the reason we moved back to Cleveland from Seattle was that I couldn't sell my house. That was likely a mistake, but regardless, I was a little bitter and angry. The housing crash happened in part because lenders and buyers assumed too much risk and were stupid (I also blame the feds in their deregulation craze that made the risky stuff possible). In the end, I sold that house last year after 12 years, at a loss. Why was I bitter? Because I did everything right, in that I bought only a house I could afford, I was always on time with payments, and I did everything right. The pile of suck was rooted in the fact that everyone else did stupid things, and that hosed the market and me.
This year, we decided after being in Orange County just a few weeks that we would build a house here. It's quite a reversal in my thinking, but rates were low, prices were low, and both were going up. It felt relatively low risk, and frankly we've been dying to have a place that was purely a Puzzoni endeavor. I didn't want to dump everything we had into a house, especially investments, but with cheap credit, it felt right.
Again, I feel like I've been doing everything right. I had a credit score of 800, no debt other than a car payment (which I suppose I could have paid off), no credit card debt, haven't missed or been late paying anything ever, significant savings, and I've been banking bigger money than average because I've been contracting. Some would even characterize this as starting your own small business. In common sense terms, I'm about the best person ever to lend money to.
The builder's default lender, as well as a local credit union, outright rejected me. In their mind, since I was working contract, and not W-2 as I did last year, I was literally not making any money. That's how the underwriting robots looked at it. At that point, I was ready to just give up, and sit on a pile of cash and/or investments until things made sense again. Then, at the last minute, the builder found a lender who could roll with the issue. Since the house would take six months or so to build anyway, he said it would all be good once we filed taxes showing I actually made money.
That's exactly what we did, though prior to that I had to send some of the most ridiculous and absurd things to keep in the game. It wasn't just months and months of bank statements, but some really absurd things. I had to peck out a letter (one sentence) indicating that I lived at two Seattle addresses because I was working for Microsoft. I had to get my accountant to write a letter indicating that the move to Florida wouldn't impact the business' ability to make money. Can't wait to see what she bills me this year. It was one ridiculously stupid thing after another.
Then, this week, days before closing, they were like, "Yeah, you need to pay your tax due. You can't wait until April 15." Shit. My tax due was significant, because I didn't pay a quarterly estimate for the second quarter, and even then I was mostly guessing because working contract wasn't really what I had planned for 2013. I would have the money, but I needed the two intervening pay periods.
But no, that wasn't good enough. In the end, I took out some money from my Roth IRA, just the contribution part, in the hopes that it was small enough to not incur the penalty. That's the opposite of what I wanted to do, but coming down to the wire, I really didn't have much choice. On the plus side, I don't have to pay the taxes in April, but it still sucks.
It was one hoop after another, to the extent that I was almost ready to just completely walk away. I was tired of the stress, and frankly the ridiculous and constant interrogation into every little thing I did financially. The process sucked the joy out of something that should have been exciting.
Whatever, it's over now, we have keys. Once the lease break terms are settled, we'll actually be spending about $400 less per month on a place to live, for a lot more space. The house was already appraised for $3k more than we bought it for, so at least the short term potential for appreciation is good. Tomorrow I can start feeling good about the purchase.
There was a discussion about labor, unions, wages and such on CoasterBuzz today, where I made some fairly vague generalizations about where unions get it wrong, and it's hard for me to identify with people trying to negotiate higher wages for unskilled work. I don't think unions are inherently bad, and I don't believe people should be exploited, but I don't care much for the victim mentality either when it comes to low-wage, part-time jobs.
That comes off as somewhat of a right-wing dickhead stance, right? I think my reasoning is somewhat sound, in that the simple market forces of supply and demand have a lot to do with the wage dynamic, and not just "greedy" multinational corporations trying to exploit the little people. Interfering with that can mean disaster. Just ask Detroit how that worked out. To me it isn't an issue of what's "fair," it's an issue of the choices people make and the macroeconomics of the world's economy. Roll in countless factors of culture and comfort, and it's complicated.
Not surprisingly, this is probably incompatible with my take on a whole range of other issues. Same-sex marriage? Go for it. Legalize weed? I'm coming around to the idea (and I've never even touched the stuff). Single-payer health care system? I'd love to try that out. Heck, socialism has worked out really well for me, given the roads I drive on and the school my child attends. Stronger environmental regulations? Go for it. Oh, but more nuclear power, please, based on new technology, not reactor designs from 1970. There isn't much "right" in those beliefs.
This is probably why I'm so disenchanted with the asshats that run for office. The truth is, I don't need anyone to adhere to a platform, especially if it's mostly predicated on being the opposite of the competition. As it turns out, the world is full of nuance and gray areas, and some things just aren't that simple. Hard things require hard work to find solutions. Let's try that on and see how it fits.
I was 7-years-old when the first Space Shuttle was launched into space. Even without the Internet and cable TV, the shuttle program was easily the biggest thing happening in the news at the time. Going to school in an inner-city Cleveland school, just after desegregation started (or "bussing," as we called it), a small number of kids were able to sit in a class room with a TV on a cart to watch the second launch. I don't know why this second grader got picked, but I felt like the king of Charles Dickens Elementary school.
I knew I was witnessing something that was historic, and possibly very dangerous. It was the most amazing thing human beings ever accomplished in my mind. For awhile, they seemed to show the first launch on the news every night earlier that year, and I could never see it enough. Someone in my family understood how fascinated I was by the shuttle, because in the next year or so I received the Space Shuttle Operator's Manual. This book was so cool because it had diagrams of all of the control panels, and a second-by-second procedure checklist of what to do leading up to, and after liftoff. So yeah, I was the kid who read through it and "switched" the switches as I went. (I still have the book somewhere.)
A few years later, shuttle launches seemed to almost be routine, and getting to watch them live was pretty rare in school. They didn't get much attention in the news, either. But one January in grade seven, waiting in my life science class, the bell rang, and we had no teacher. Ms. Smith was a notoriously evil kind of woman, and she was never late. The details of that classroom are vivid as ever. It had been renovated the summer before, which was good because Whitney M. Young Junior High was not a new building. It had the smell of new construction and the chemicals you associate with a biology class. The table tops were the kind of material you'd find in any new science classroom, but having gone only to old schools, it was new, and cold.
Ms. Smith came in without saying anything, despite the slightly rowdy honors class. I think that's why the class instantly quieted down, because it was weird. Somber in a way you would not have expected from this unpleasant woman, she just got to the point.
"The Space Shuttle... blew up."
Instantly I assumed she was wrong. There was just no way, and I thought she was oversimplifying things. The rest of the afternoon, it was all I could think of, and I raced home to watch TV. Of course the networks were only covering this at the time. Within hours they were already looking at video of a flame spurting out of one of the SRB's, and my book showed that's where the joints were between sections. It must have leaked. That's the only thing that made sense. Of course, that's exactly what happened, and we now know it caused the booster to separate and penetrate the external tank, causing exactly the kind of ultimate structural failure that you would expect.
It would be more than two years before the next shuttle mission, and by then I was in high school. While my interests had shifted a bit to things like girls and computers, I was still a massive fan of the space shuttles. It still seemed like the most remarkable feat of humanity to repeatedly launch people into space. That's why it stung just as much when we lost the Columbia crew years later. I remember that day first because the SQL Slammer worm was infecting my server (hosted at home) because I didn't have SQL patched and had the port open, and one of Stephanie's Canadian friends brought us out to a hockey game in downtown Cleveland. I remember sitting in a cafe still trying to wrap my head around what happened.
In the years after that time, I saw the Space Shuttle three times, from far away, and not by design. On three different trips to Walt Disney World, I happened to see the launch from Orlando. Totally random coincidences. I would have liked to have seen the final launch, but couldn't make it happen. When they announced the various places they would park the decommissioned orbiters (Seattle was robbed, by the way, and LA getting one is a joke), I was excited to finally be able to see one up close.
Atlantis was brought home to the Kennedy Space Center, and early on it was clear that they were going to build a fantastic home for it. They did not disappoint. They have a short film in two parts in two different rooms that you watch, leading to a see-through-the-screen reveal that is pretty dramatic, with the inverted Earth on a screen in the background. I'm not gonna lie... I got a little misty.
Being able to stand there, a few feet away, was pretty special. Knowing what that machine did, the number of laps it did around the planet, the speeds and distance it went... it's hard for me to put it into words because I didn't have any words to offer.
I hate that space travel and the science that goes with it is no longer a priority. That people no longer see the value in it is mind boggling. Just the intangible value of people having pride in what is accomplished, as the human race instead of as a nation, was huge. In a lot of ways, the space program was Kennedy's great legacy, and it's unfortunate that we no longer have, or seek, that kind of transformational leadership.
It was a good day, seeing Atlantis. I look forward to doing so again.
Our little vacation last weekend was rather quick, but it sure helped me find some clarity around all of the stress I've felt lately. I can partially attribute this to the disconnected nature of a cruise (though bandwidth is pretty cheap onboard, so I can't rule out status updates from the next cruise).
This isn't one of those generalized observations on life posts... it's specific to my own. Namely:
The bottom line is that a little time away gives perspective, and helps you work out the things that weigh heavily on your brain. I can never wait that long again. Life is pretty good, and one has to look around to remember that.
It was almost by accident that we ended up taking a cruise. It was definitely just chance that it would be the same dates as the one we took last year. We were looking into booking one with some friends for the spring, when we noticed a quasi-last-minute offer for Florida residents that was a pretty outstanding deal. I wouldn't characterize it as cheap, but given the food, entertainment and service value, it was a great deal. We haven't been on a proper vacation since we moved, and it was long overdue. We were planning a long weekend without Simon around our anniversary, but being close to spring break, room rates were $300-400, not counting food or entertainment. So we celebrated two months early, with our son.
Our first cruise ever was on the Disney Dream last year, a much larger and very new ship. We weren't sure if we would like it or not, and the impetus for going was to surprise my father-in-law for his birthday. As it turned out, we really had a good time, and couldn't wait to do it again. We said we'd like to do the 4-day trip to the Bahamas, but the deal was the same 3-day itinerary we did before, and that's OK. Again, desperate to get out.
The Magic just underwent an extensive overhaul, where they stripped it down and repainted it, replaced most of the carpet and outright replaced entire areas of the ship. For the most part, it really showed, because it didn't feel like a 16-year-old ship. There were a few places here and there (like the "Signals" sign for the bar by the adult pool) that had obviously been around for awhile, but mostly things were shiny and new.
The pool areas on deck 9 included the new Aqua Dunk slide, which I unfortunately didn't get time to ride, and a new Aqua Lab kids area. As was the case on the Dream, these areas get really busy at times, but it's easy enough to just skip out and come back at another time. There is plenty to do.
It was a bit cool the first night there until we got further away from the Florida coast. We met some characters, and spent a lot of time exploring the ship. We bailed in the middle of dinner because Simon was starting to have a really hard time without a nap. They actually sent dinner up to our room, fresh, which was very nice. He did get a second wind, and we saw the first of the three theatrical shows. It was pretty solid overall, a twist on the Cinderella story.
The second day port was Nassau, and we stayed on the ship. It started with the epic breakfast that I really associate as the signature cruise meal. Sure, dinner is fancy and delicious, but the breakfast buffet is what makes me fat. It's really fantastic.
After making fun of how ugly the Carnival ships in the port were, Simon actually asked to get his swimmies on, and we headed up to try stuff out. He was disappointingly tentative about doing anything once we got up there, but the boy does love to hang out on beach chairs. We also tried a movie for the first time, in a theater. They were showing Planes, and we made it through an hour before Simon was totally bored with it. I'm curious about how it ends, but it didn't really grab me either. We ended the afternoon with some nap action.
Our second night dinner was in Animator's Palette, which is not the same as what they did on the Dream last year. Video screens around the restaurant show characters being drawn, and after dinner, the all-white restaurant is animated with colored lighting, set to music and video. It was kind of neat. We passed on the theatrical show, because it was the same as one we saw last year. We checked Simon into the Oceaneer's Club and had some alone time (and beverages) at various places around the ship. We spent some time up on deck 9 for the pirate dance party. It was quite a spectacle, and kids and adults both seemed to love it.
The third day was our day at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island. Here we had some excellent breakthroughs with Simon. He has always had issues around textures, both feeling and eating (presumably due in part to the sensory processing issues), and last year he absolutely hated touching or walking in the sand. The island just wasn't much fun for him. But somewhere along the way, he learned about sand castles, and wanted to make some. We were on the beach five minutes before we went down to the water, and Diana scored a few paper cups to make little castles (which he promptly knocked down). He waded in the water, got full of sand, and tried to battle the little waves as they came in. I admit that I was pessimistic about our time there, but he totally surprised me.
The food on the island wasn't particularly good, unfortunately. The chicken was a bit dry, and Diana indicated the fish was as well (though it was well seasoned). It was a little disappointing, but fortunately there's no shortage of the core American junk food onboard, including some really good pizza, chicken tenders and what not. Simon had been battling a cold all weekend, and he and I went back to the ship for some nap time, while Diana stayed behind to read (and actually came back shortly thereafter with the threat of rain).
Our final night was in the Brazilian themed restaurant, where I had soup that blew my mind. I'm not a soup kind of guy, but this chicken and vegetable stuff with lots of heat was fantastic. Loved it. Unfortunately, none of the dishes used chicken as the protein, which is unfortunate because they were all prepared in ways that appealed to me. Simon got a little sick (likely from snot and putting too much food in his mouth), so we took dessert back to the room. We were fortunate enough to have a very nice, young family as dinner tablemates, and I hope they follow up on our contact info.
After a little rest, we went down to the theater for the third show, which was pretty spectacular. As art, I'm not sure how to value it, because it is a lot of recycled Disney intellectual property remixed, but the skill of the performers and technical crew was top notch.
We were up bright and early for breakfast, and off the ship around 7:30, with no friction at customs. We saved money by not having to fly anywhere, but parking was a bit steep at $60 for the three nights. It was also a buzz kill to go directly to work from the port, but you know, these are the hard things about living in Florida.
Once again, I can't emphasize enough how excellent the service was, from the wonderful woman who took care of our stateroom, to the servers that we saw every night at dinner. There's something completely fantastic about sitting on your verandah and seeing three different views, as well as the soothing sound of water rushing by the hull at night (which is quite beautiful, as they have lights that illuminate the blue foam). I'm seriously hooked, and can't wait to do it again.
It's no secret that while home improvement is somewhat exciting to me, it's not something I'm particularly good at. When things go smoothly, it's all good. It makes me happy. When things don't go well, it bruises my ego and I get completely frustrated. This is a lesson I learned more than two years ago when I started updating the house in Brunswick.
Still, as so much of those improvements involved lighting, when a friend asked me to help mount a light, I was confident and figured it would go smoothly and easily. Been there, done that, I thought.
I was wrong.
Things didn't go smoothly, mostly because in this situation we were mounting a light to a spot where there used to be a fan. Fans have these big plastic half-cylinders mounted on to the joists or beams, whereas lights tend to have a recessed box that isn't designed to hold as much weight. The boxes allow for all kinds of wiggle room for bracket spacing and screw length. The fan mounts don't... they're nearly flush. This was the source of much angst that eventually prevented me from getting the light up. In this case, there was no hardware store or convenient Home Depot nearby to get more appropriate screws. Drilling around to make recessed holes (to give the screws room to adjust) wasn't really possible either because of the position of the joist.
The timing is interesting because we will at some point be doing some work at our new house (again, provided everything goes OK with the mortgage). There is one light to add in the kitchen fairly quickly, and I suspect we'll consider fans in certain rooms at some point before summer. At least in this case we're dealing with a virgin house, and I've seen everything (and photographed it) before the drywall. I don't anticipate any real surprises.
I suppose home improvement is easier when you have more experience with it. I've owned only one other house, and it was new when I moved in. Everything else was a rental where I didn't have to do the work. Still, I think I would enjoy it if I wasn't so easily frustrated by it.
Obviously one of the most frustrating things about having a child with speech delays is that communication is so difficult. Around the time we moved to Florida, it was great to hear that Simon was using more words, but communication was still largely in one direction, from us to him. You couldn't really talk with him, it was more at him.
Fast forward to today, and we're finally having conversations with Simon. He will answer questions about school and what he did today. He'll tell you in excruciating detail about the things he wants to do. (Today it was, "We have to go to Magic Kingdom and get ice cream Mom and Dad and get it on our tongues.") We're at a point now where it seems like every day brings some new phrase that I wasn't aware he knew.
There's a part of me that gets slightly bummed out that I'm even having these feelings of wonder now, because they're overdue to an extent. But on the flip side, this evolving little personality is coming out, and it's really charming. He's a lot of fun.
I give Simon's teacher so much credit. Having that kind of attention has helped him enormously, and helped us understand how best to reach him as well. I don't know if she really understands just how big of a deal her influence is, and the impact it will have on the rest of his life. Diana is going to let her know, regardless.
Facebook came online at Harvard ten years ago today. It seems both obvious and unlikely that it has really been that long, but of course, it didn't hit the general public until the fall of 2006. That's when things got really interesting.
I don't know when the term "social network" became a thing, on the Web at least, but we had social networks online many years before that. I started one in 1998 called Guide To The Point (later PointBuzz.com), and another in 2000 called CoasterBuzz. Most online social networks in those days were a lot like that, serving a fairly specific niche, with a forum as the hub between people. I can honestly say that half of my friendships are rooted in those sites. I experimented with a blog-based community back in the day called CampusFish, too. It had limited reach of maybe a dozen people, but it was definitely an online social network.
Facebook changed things for a number of reasons. It wasn't a niche social network. It got legs as a niche network, at a university, but it broke out of that niche in just over two years. I remember thinking at the time that status updates were completely stupid, in part because I enjoyed reading and writing a blog. Like a lot of other people, I too post whatever random shit comes to mind.
Mounds have been written about how Facebook is used today, but for me it doesn't necessarily fit into the mold that is often described. I still have a (relatively) small number of friends, and most are people I know in real life, and have at the very least met. When I do post something, I don't have a general audience in mind, but a specific group of people: About two-dozen of my closer friends, and probably some family. The rest, well, I guess they get it too, but it isn't "for" them. I also post for myself. In some ways putting your thoughts in front of others keeps you more honest with yourself.
I do not post to the public. My privacy settings are specific like that. Furthermore, I have a "no looky" list of people. I'm fine having them be able to contact me or have that electronic link, but they don't get to see everything I post.
Initially, almost everyone I became friends with was in college, and most of those people were former volleyball kids. That shouldn't be surprising, since they were all on Facebook for at least the prior year. Next came a few co-workers and friends. After that, college friends. It was at least five years before I started seeing people from high school. And of course, as I've traversed life, I've met people and they've come along for the ride. My total friend list is still under 400, and of those, two are deceased. (Not sure what you're supposed to do in that case.)
People often ask if we're better off with the Internet in general, and Facebook in particular. Of particular interest is the quality of the relationships people have via the online world. I think it's too broad of a spectrum to make any generalizations. I personally can't imagine spending a lot of time watching what people I don't know do or have to say. Whether it's Facebook or elsewhere, I have a finite amount of time to consume what's there. For that reason, I try to make what I have count, and not be superficial.
For example, one family we're friends with I met for the first time more than a decade ago. Through all of the chaos and changes, they've always been "there" and in touch with me. We see each other in real life maybe once or twice a year, sometimes vacationing together, and we always seems to just pick up where we left off. I have a number of similar friendships like that, and they were all born via online channels, and they're very valuable to me. I wouldn't have these relationships were it not for the Internet. I can say for sure that my life is better for it.
There are a great many friendships born in real life that would be hard to maintain were it not for the online world, and this is especially true for people I've worked with. After all of the moving, in the old days, these would be hard to keep up. Some people ask if you should hold on to them at all, and I say absolutely. Having a network of people is insanely valuable.
One of the interesting things about this online connectivity is that it's largely passive. As long as the people participating contribute, posting what they're doing, photos of their kids, or whatever, you keep up with each other. It's very efficient. Where it falls apart is with the people who do not actively share their lives. I have one close friend who basically doesn't exist online, and it's frustrating because it's a friendship I very much want to persist. There is no solution to that problem.
Pundits are constantly declaring Facebook is dead, but as long as it's being used by the people you want to keep in touch with, I think it will be around for a long time.
Well, here we go... the final two weeks or so of house drama. As you may recall, we initially had all kinds of problems around getting financing because I was working on a contract basis. Never mind my 800 credit score or the incoming cash to my bank account from my job... as far as the lenders were concerned, I didn't have any income. Finally, one stepped up and said it's all good, you just have to file a tax return showing your income in January.
That time has come. The tax return is more or less done, and it will be in the hands of the IRS on Friday. My gross was actually slightly higher than I expected six months ago (and so was the amount I owe), but I can now prove I made money without being a full-time employee. I suppose there's still no guarantee, but at this point, it's all in the hands of the lender, and there's nothing else I can do. Cross your fingers and all of that. I'm tired of thinking about it.
Truth be told, most of the process sucked, and I didn't really enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. I'm endlessly annoyed that we've had to act as the quality assurance department for the builder. The number of things that would simply have been let go is staggering, and some of them were really serious. Our sales rep to this day couldn't answer questions about the developer's plans for development, or didn't try to find the answers. Frankly, I haven't enjoyed the nagging about when my taxes would be filed either.
I did enjoy picking out options, so there was that. It's also good to see that the base prices on the houses are up almost $20k on average, so assuming the neighborhood holds value, that will boost equity in the short term. I just want to know I'm moving for sure, and that I'm not renting. This has been a mentally exhausting experience.
Diana and I make jokes to each other about some of Simon's quirks, in light of his recent ASD diagnosis, and I suppose there are a lot of reasons for that. The biggest reason might be that, at this point, it's not like we were shocked, and his quirks that are likely tied to the disorders aren't new either.
But there's still a lot of anxiety that I think we try to mask. I think my coping mechanism is rooted in the, "Well it could be worse," frame of mind. I have friends with kids that have issues ranging from the mega-autism-meltdown and doesn't talk much variety, to another whose son had three heart surgeries in his first few months of life. The thinking goes that your problems aren't nearly as serious, so what right do you have to complain? That sort of self-trivialization of your feelings is obviously not healthy, but I know I do it.
You start to feel weird about terms like "normal" and you can see how some things just seem "broken," and it sucks. I'm still working through the anger over the suckage, I think, so I can just put the energy into being his dad.
Last night, we went for a quick two-hour trip to Magic Kingdom, just me and the boy. Diana needed to get some groceries, and probably a little break. I felt like Simon needed some recognition, too, because he has been really good about wearing underwear, even to school, without accidents. Taking a dump on a toilet is still not going anywhere, but he's starting to drain consistently if we keep asking him. Amusement rides also seem to be good for the "sensory diet" he needs, as his body and brain seek more intense sensations (part of the sensory processing disorder stuff).
Things were going pretty well, and on our way back, he got into his routine of repeating on the monorail, over and over to anyone who will listen, that the doors will open and close. (That's the repetitive and obsessive behavior problem, of course.) We were parked at the Polynesian, but when the doors opened at the TTC, he bolted out of the train and hauled ass toward the exit. I yelled to him three times and he didn't stop. I caught him at the exit, grabbed him, and got back on the train where I promptly yelled at him for not listening and running away. It was intense because, on one hand, he scared the shit out of me, and all I could think about was him getting lost. On the other hand, the yelling and argumentative tone he has been taking with us lately was absent, and he instead cried as you would expect most kids to when they're being disciplined. There was a strange sense of relief in that.
Tonight, we cuddled on the couch and talked a bit about his day, which started poorly and got worse at school. While he's trying to be conversational, it's still hard for him, so I focused on the feelings he had today. He was able to tell me he was angry, even if he couldn't tell me why. That was progress. While I was holding him, I still had those feelings of fear and anxiety, that things might just be a little harder for him than other kids, and that made me sad.
Still, I have to think about the progress. Diana had an excellent blog post today about how far he has come, largely in part due to school. It's actually really easy to frame that perspective, because we moved six months ago, and the change is dramatic.
I was having lunch with a colleague the other day, talking about the strange state of affairs that is software developer hiring. There's a great desire at the executive and accounting level to hire people on a contract basis, with the perceived benefit that you can scale the work pool up and down, and that doing so saves money because you don't have to pay out benefits. In practice, those of us in the profession know that you never really scale down, and because demand exceeds supply, the prices you pay for contractors are exorbitantly high.
But my colleague made a more important point about their perception. They believe that developers are simply interchangeable. This is probably the most harmful misconception. As anyone who does the work knows, not all developers are created equal. If the vast differences in experience and skill weren't enough, there's also the issue that it takes a considerable amount of time to ramp up in any situation. Depending on the complexity of the systems, it can often take a good two months before someone is really proficient working in the code. If you're talking about a six-month contract, you're looking at paying higher rates and getting perhaps as little as two-thirds the productive time. Oh, and all that domain knowledge gained? It leaves at the end of the contract. Rinse, lather, repeat. It's so inefficient.
Still, as strange as this is, it does represent a different kind of opportunity. There is already a trend where companies are shifting their dollars to services, instead of building and hosting their own stuff. Sure, there are still a lot of irrational fears and kingdom building that happens among people who don't want to give up some sense of control, but it's happening anyway. The big use cases are already going that way, especially e-mail. Heck, Salesforce has been around for almost a decade and a half, back when everyone was like, "You can't always be connected to the Internet, it will never work."
What's interesting is that there is a long-tail of niche markets that can be filled as well, and I'm interested to see where that goes. There's a fairly large opportunity there for folks already working on a contractual basis. Maybe you can "productize" the niche, or maybe you can simply build a reputation as an authority in the niche.
Granted, there is some risk associated with this. I'm not a fan of outside investment, and think that bootstrapping your business is a better way to go. It's easy for me to take this position after falling into some relatively minor income 15 years ago with my hobby sites, not having to put in a ton of hours to maintain those things. But it's quite another thing to really build something up, perhaps employ others, etc. It's also hard to work a day job and build a business, and as I've famously come to understand, devoting your free time to something like a business at the expense of your family can be a non-choice.
This is partly me trying to look at the bright side of a profession that has gone totally away from the century-old model of "climbing the ranks" in other industries. I explain to my family that the average longevity even for full-time software people is likely 18 months, and they can't believe it. Companies do not invest in us, and see us as interchangeable. What's crazy is that it's a commodity view with premium pricing. It's probably a contributing reason to the lack of quality people to do the work too, since you can't stick around in any one place to be mentored (glad I've had a series of really solid opportunities for that).
I'm incredibly optimistic about what technology can do for humanity, and hope that humanity will eventually realize the potential it's sitting on. I dream that the Internet could really be the source of another renaissance, only instead of the slow propagation of books published in old Gutenberg-style presses, the enlightenment and development of our world would happen quickly.
Tonight I stood in the back yard and watched as a rocket fired off into space. The launched happened 65 miles away, and I could see it in the night sky until about the time it reach 40 miles above the surface of the earth. It's not the first launch I've seen (with one other here, plus the strange coincidence of three shuttle launches while visiting in previous years), but it's still remarkable no matter what. And that's not even being close to the cape!
Humanity put a very heavy object into space today, and that's awesome.
But the news headlines today, excuse me, the "breaking news," was that Justin Bieber, a marginally talented singer and child star, was arrested on DUI charges. This is the same guy who has recently been caught urinating in public places and saying really stupid things on the Internet about Anne Frank. Don't pull "the media" bullshit over this either, because the idiots occupying the space previously held by journalists are only serving up the nonsense people want.
This makes me sad, and it certainly tempers my optimism. I'm not suggesting people can't have fun and be entertained, but American culture at least seems to be obsessed with being the opposite of engaged and knowledgable about the world around us. Again, we live in an era where you can find out almost anything instantly, with a device you keep in your pocket. You might have to validate it across many sources, but knowledge is there.
I think I remain optimistic because the alternative is too depressing to consider.
Early last year, when we decided to consider Orlando as a possible place to move, I put a simple question to my BFF who was already living here: What are the pros to living in Orlando? One of the things she came up with (and it was an epic list), was that your friends inevitably will come to visit.
Sure enough, after six months here, we've seen so many friends, ranging from my college roommate to former coworkers. I mean, these are people I haven't seen in years in some cases, and yet we've crossed paths here in Orlando. Heck, my good friends from Chicago booked a cruise, and we're climbing aboard with them. It has been more than a year since we've seen them. That's fantastic.
I get more than ever that there's not perfect place to live, but especially when your circle of friends is so distributed, this is not a bad place to catch up with them.
One of the things I was really proud of in my last rebuild of CoasterBuzz (spring 2012, I think) was the development of a dedicated mobile view. It wasn't just a responsive design, but a slimmed down alternate view of the site. It's very fast and low on bandwidth, and looks decent on a small screen. I'm happy with the performance viewed from my phone.
There is, however, a problem. The traffic using the mobile view now accounts for 30% of all traffic. I was not expecting that. It tells you a lot about how people are using the Web. The problem is that I can't high-five myself on building the mobile views, because it's eating away at ad revenue. While there is an ad on the page, the CPM is just awful. Club members of course don't see ads either way, but they're only 3% of traffic, and they've been awesome and paid $25 up front.
I'm considering a number of options, and what I'm leaning toward is making the mobile view available to club members only. Since they account for a huge portion of the site's revenue, that seems fair to me. The days of banking tons of cash on as revenue alone might be behind us. Looking back at 2005 to 2007, those were damn good years. Phones and tablets have really changed things.