The quest for the die-cast monorail toy

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 20, 2014, 10:41 PM | comments: 0

I don't know if it's parental influence or intrinsic motivation, but Simon does not generally desire toys. Even at 4, while he understands the process of purchasing things, he doesn't really ask for them. Many of his toys are hand-me-downs or used, and he tends to lock in on certain things for awhile and then defers them to standby status.

He really likes vehicles on tracks, but he kind of does the same thing with the variations he has (and there are several). He lines up the included or native vehicles, then adds cars trains or whatever to them, lines them up, and that's his "play." Honestly it was one of the earliest signs of ASD, before he was even 2, when he "parked" cars in size order against the wall. He doesn't have much of a history of imaginative play, which is something that has deeply concerned me.

A funny thing happened though, when we moved to Orlando. As we traded Cedar Point for Walt Disney World, Simon was now exposed to a world of transportation that included trains, buses, boats and of course, the iconic monorail. He eventually figured out who Mickey Mouse was, but it was the transportation that seemed to capture his obsession. Before too long, he was reciting cast members and recorded spiels. Even though he was struggling with language, he was moving toy cars around and talking about them coming to "a 'plete stop."

A friend of mine generously gave us his toy monorail, the thing that's $80 in the gift shops. While probably not an ideal toy for a kid Simon's age, he was completely enamored with it. More importantly, he wanted to accessorize it with a place for people to get out. The Duplo platform was born with some help from us, and it was followed by other things like a "hotel" that was sort of inspired by the Contemporary. Sure, we put him up to it originally, but more spiels came, and he started to tell us about how things were supposed to work.

At about the same time, we were struggling a bit with potty training. The kid wouldn't drop a deuce in the toilet, even though he knew how. He preferred to get a diaper on and go there instead. We happened to be in a gift shop at WDW, when we saw they had die-cast parking lot trams. One of his favorite things is to sit in the back row and talk to the spielers, so one of us came up with the idea that we would incentivize pooping on the potty with the tram. He earned the requisite number of stickers in almost no time flat. It worked like a charm.

Like I said, this isn't a kid with strong desire for "stuff," but his borderline obsession with Disney transportation and our desire to get this done were a good match. We repeated this with autonomous butt wiping, which he needed for school (Disney buses), and in the last few weeks, peeing standing up (a smaller, die-cast monorail). The monorail train was really hard to find, and the kid was crushed when we couldn't find it on Saturday for our first family visit to Magic Kingdom in many weeks. Diana went the distance, and found a number that pointed her to the gift shop at the Swan hotel of all things. She brought it home today, and we kept our end of the bargain.

Simon still does his parking exercise with the transportation vehicles, but I feel like we hit another milestone for imaginative play. He kept the box, and he's parking the new monorail in it as if it were a hotel. He explains it has to stop just so, that way the people can get on. It's a step in the right direction. I understand now that he's wired to think about doors, elevators and the order and alignment of objects, and we can't change that about him. But we also see that we can help him develop the imaginative play in addition to those stereotypical behaviors.

We have a new therapist starting with Simon, and it will be interested to see what she can bring out of him. He seems like he's on the edge of a major and rapid breakthrough on language skills, which is a huge relief. We're definitely dealing with some severe sensory issues (he's pushing his head or chin into us in very painful ways lately), but clearly two sessions of school per day are having a serious impact on his learning.

Spicy chicken and waffles

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 19, 2014, 6:29 PM | comments: 0

My BFF asked me how I make my spicy chicken and waffles, so I figured I would just blog about it and share my gift with the world.

I cut chicken breasts length wise first. The Schwan's cuts I use make about three strips a piece, but grocery store tits will definitely be larger. Marinate them for at least six hours in this mixture:

  • Lime juice
  • Sriracha sauce
  • A little soy sauce
  • Olive oil

After the chicken has soaked that stuff up, make three little pans:

  • Egg (Beaters or equivalent are fine, maybe better)
  • Flour mixed with generous amounts of Penzey's Berbere seasoning
  • Panko bread crumbs

Spray some cooking spray on a baking sheet. Dip each strip of chicken in the egg, then the flour-Berbere mix, then the egg, then the panko bread crumbs. Put the strips on the baking sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 18 minutes. Serve over waffles with butter and maple syrup (not that fake corn syrup shit). Enjoy!

Why I'm not writing much lately

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 17, 2014, 9:29 PM | comments: 0

There was a time where I used to blog like the words were diarrhea. If I didn't get the words out, they were uncomfortable and I felt all cramped up and uncomfortable. As it turns out, I often blog in my head in those moments where I have the brief opportunity... while driving, standing in the shower or while having a movement. Sometimes that's good enough to alleviate the mental cramping.

And sometimes I worry that I won't have something documented that I'll want to look back on. For example, I can look at posts from 2005 and 2006, scary but in some ways amazing times, and get a pretty good feel for how I felt back then. That's despite the fact that I left a whole lot of details out, specifically my split with Steph, and some extremely important relationships during that time.

I want to write more, but there are things holding me back:

  • I don't have the mental bandwidth. Part of the evolution I went through in writing, especially from 2004 to 2009, was to think more carefully about how and what I would write. A short rant about something isn't my style anymore. That kind of consideration means letting the gears turn. The gears are already fully involved at work and trying to think rationally about how to respond to challenges at home with Simon. Sometimes I just don't have anything left.
  • My time is prioritized differently. While my key writing time used to be late in the evening, I tend to go to bed a little earlier and get up earlier for work, despite working from home 60% of the time. I want to play with Simon, talk to Diana, learn about new things and maybe even play some video games now and then.
  • I don't want to add to the noise. It used to be that people who wrote on the Internet had something to say, and tried to be informed about their opinions. Sure, I'd like to think that's me, but I worry that I would be just another asshat, like the talking heads on cable "news."
  • I've dialed back on what I feel I want to share. Back in 2006, I openly wrote about starting a job and not caring for it at first. No one I knew read that stuff. Now I have my name in the domain name. I'm not hard to find.
  • The deterrent that I'm least proud of is the fact that I'm actually tired of hearing from people criticizing my sharing and observations around Simon's ASD issues. I famously disregard what people think of me, and here I am worn down by it. Acknowledging this causes a fair amount of self-loathing.
  • Stop me if you've heard this one. I feel like some of the things that I want to write about are total repeats. I might be running out of stories, or my life is far more repetitive than I realize.

The truth is, life is good, my job is pretty kick-ass, the sun shines almost every day, there are people who love me and that I can love back... things are generally peachy. It's just that writing isn't serving me right now, and I've never done it for an audience.

I'm sure I'll come around eventually. There is no shortage of topics in my brain.

People need to be scared of something

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 12, 2014, 7:42 PM | comments: 0

I have a million thoughts about this subject, but I don't have the patience to write about it right now. People, or specifically, Americans, don't seem content unless they're scared of something. Politicians know it, and they play into it. Whether it's the economy or terrorism (and now Ebola), they're selling fear. Various forms of media know it too, because it retains an audience.

I can't related to people so intent on being scared.

What do I do with my time?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 12, 2014, 7:27 PM | comments: 0

Today I had a strange urge to just sit around and daydream. I used to spend a lot of time doing that when I was younger. I don't mean living in my head and overthinking every little aspect of my life, but just letting my mind wander to whatever, fantasize and let go. I honestly don't think most people can do it.

My first instinct was to feel bad about it, like this wasn't a good use of my time. How did I arrive at that? I can only assume it's a symptom of getting older, with some vague notion that time is not unlimited. But how am I spending that time, and what's wrong with spending some of it daydreaming? I was a lot more creative when I spent more time doing it.

I sleep about 50 hours per week, which seems like a lot when you think about it. Sometimes it's less, because I end up staying up late, which always leaves me feeling tired the next day.

It's easy to calculate time spent working. Since my job involves client work, we have to make sure we reflect the time accurately so they know how much to bill. As you would expect, I spend something between 40 and 45 hours a week working. When you like what you do, that's perfectly reasonable. While I do get the growing urge to unplug from it over time, it's nice to enjoy it.

During the week, I spend about three hours a day total with Simon, which isn't a lot when I think about it. Weekends, we're pretty much together all day, though Diana and I trade off a bit when he requires attention or supervision. After he goes to bed, Diana and I have time to connect, catch up and such. That time also involves TV or Internet stuff, but it varies.

I probably spend 8 to 10 hours per week coding for fun. I likely spend 5 to 8 a week reading news on the Internet, most of it around technology. Eating and thinking about eating is immeasurable. Then there are miscellaneous leisure activities that are random in amount, like visiting theme parks, shooting video or photos as a hobby, playing video games, etc. There used to be a good 5 to 10 hours per week in engaging in physical activity, but I've totally slacked on that, and I feel it sometimes.

What would I like to do be doing with my time? Mostly the same stuff, but in different proportions. Ironically, the two things I would like to do most on a weekly basis oppose each other. I'd like to get out walking more, and I'd like to have a three-hour lunch in a cool outdoor place while I write code for fun. I'd also like to have date nights with Diana more regularly, but we haven't been great at making that happen.

It's OK to be that forum guy

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 10, 2014, 10:55 PM | comments: 0

I've joked about how Internet forum software is almost a curse, especially after I worked on the MSDN forums at Microsoft for awhile. That's when I got more serious about making POP Forums open source as well. I think at some point I decided to just embrace it, that the app would be with me for a very long time. I've definitely not been consistent in giving it attention, but lately I've been making a lot of commits.

Part of the desire to maintain it has always been to stay sharp regardless of how much coding I was doing in my day job. I wasn't doing much at all in my time at SeaWorld Parks, and in my new role, I do some bug fixing, a lot of pairing, code reviews and such, but as a percentage, it's not a lot of coding. And that's OK, because that's the career band I'm in, and where I want to be. What's motivating me now is that I work with such excellent people that I feel like I can and should raise my game.

I've actually done quite a bit of feature work, some of it obvious, some of it not. I did a lot of work to make it scale in a multi-node environment, pulling out all of the caching so it can run across many servers and be redundant. I finally did post preview, too. I adopted Bootstrap for the UI so it's easier to skin. The biggest feature is enabling Q&A forums, which is something I wanted to add for awhile. I need to roll it into CoasterBuzz to confirm it all works, then I'll do a release.

I suspect there will be significant refactoring to do after this release, when vNext of the various frameworks is real. That's why I haven't done any significant refactoring around the code (and it definitely needs it).

I need a vacation

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 8, 2014, 6:52 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I did very poorly last year after moving to Orlando was take time off. Part of this was because I was contracting, despite higher rates, and time off meant no money. Given my militant saving practice for the house, I didn't take much time off. The other thing though was that I made the rookie Floridian mistake of feeling like I was sort of on vacation just by living here.

Now I have a salary job so I don't lose out for time off, either by personal time off or holidays, so that's awesome. I still get the Florida feel though, and I keep needing to remind myself to use some of that three weeks off I'm earning. I've already got about a week to use. But I've only used one day so far.

I really like my job, and I never get up thinking I don't want to go. It has been awhile since I've had a gig like that. The desire to have time off has nothing to do with job satisfaction. It's just that it's too easy to get mentally burned out if you don't get a solid break now and then. Sometimes I forget that, but I'm feeling it. I'm near the end of a specific product, and I've tried my best to bring my "A" game and do what I do. It's almost time for a break.

Fortunately, the holidays aren't far away, and given the time I started, I do have to use about two days of my time before the end of the year (there's a limit to what you can carry over). I look forward to spending time with Simon and Diana this year, seeing the lights at WDW (we didn't get to much last year due to Diana's foot surgery), and making our first home together feel Christmasy.

I do need to bank some time next year, because there will be some trips up north for sure. I'm not even sure where, but Sandusky, Charlotte and Santa Claus sure are on the list!

Charitable giving is a personal thing

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 6, 2014, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

I think anyone who says they weren't tired of seeing crappy vertical cell phone video of people dumping water on their head on Facebook during the ALS ice bucket stuff is totally lying to you. It blew up and faded away in amazingly record time. Anthropologically inclined people found the whole thing fascinating, and understandably so. I think it's great that it raised a lot of money for ALS research and awareness, but I was a little troubled by the tone of the participants at times.

There were two things that left me uneasy (well, three, but the part about people doing the stunt and not donating anything is hard to quantify). The first was the desire of some to publicly shame others who were not interested in participating. I mean, we're talking about adults who were exerting peer pressure and bullying tactics toward others. Still others would get in to pissing matches about whether or not they were doing the challenge right. Seriously? If someone donated and encouraged others to donate, who cares?

The other thing that was uncomfortable was that giving to any charitable cause is, for many, an intensely personal thing, and this was a decidedly public display. I understand that's how these social media phenomena work, but I think we all get involved in certain things for certain reasons. I mean, would I throw as much time and money as I do toward Give Kids The World if there weren't some deeply personal reasons that I believe in the cause? Probably not. And while I will solicit donations from others, I do understand that not everyone will be interested. That's cool, I'm not going to judge. We all have limited resources and are careful about how we choose to use those resources.

At the end of the day, we give of our time and money to things that we feel a connection for. The satisfaction we get from that should first and foremost be the support and execution of a non-profit's mission. That's what really matters.

Why does everything have to "kill" something else?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 2, 2014, 11:31 PM | comments: 0

It seems that every time a new something or other comes around, it has to be described as a potential "killer" of something else. It's completely annoying.

It's especially bad in technology. It seems like everything has to be a Google, Facebook, Apple or whatever "killer." Why can't something just be what it is, even if it's just occupying a parallel subset of space? Is it because we like the idea of some upstart underdog taking down some established thing? Is it because we're obsessed with the big hits, and anything less is failure?

It's crazy how much people talk about what the biggest and most popular things are. Business is like that, too. A guy can't open a burrito stand that does a few hundred G's a year without someone comparing it or expecting to be the next Chipotle.

Movement routine disruption

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 2, 2014, 9:41 PM | comments: 0

One of the best things about living in Central Florida is the fact that you can pretty much do stuff outside all year, and it's rare that you need more than a light jacket. That said, I've had a pretty awful time prioritizing life in such a way that I'm active, and I'm feeling it.

The good news is that I haven't gained any weight. I'm actually down a few since my binge-eating stressful spring. I'd still like to drop another 20, but in the last two years or so I've been more focused on whether or not I feel fit and not the scale. And lately, I feel slightly crappy and unfit.

I'm up against several things I haven't managed:

  • Since Simon started school, he's out more than 7 hours a day. That means earlier bed time, and that we aren't doing our little boys' nights out at the theme parks. We would easily walk four or five miles on those excursions, probably once a week. It's great bonding time for me and the little man, and we don't have time. Even getting out into the neighborhood after dinner is difficult, with the window between dinner and pajama time an hour at best. And you know, sometimes he just wants to play at home, and I respect that.
  • It's been damn hot and or extra rainy. July and August are a bitch, with high humidity. I'll still take that over being snowbound for three months of the year, but it's gross. Last year I beat this by going to the mall near work once or twice a week to walk around indoors.
  • Speaking of work, I spend more time at it. I'm not killing myself, and I generally top out at 45 hours at most, but some of the problem is that I don't respect boundaries because I'm at home typically three days a week. I start at 8, bring lunch to my desk, and quit a little after 5. I don't have an excuse... I should be making an hour to get out and walk, go to the pool, the gym or something. And when I'm at the office downtown, I have access to this beautiful park around Lake Eola. I've circled it only twice in four months.

I know there's a problem because when we do get out to the parks for a few hours, lately only every other week, I feel it in my feet. I think I'm at a pretty critical age where if I don't use it I'll lose it. It's harder to come back the older you get.

Slowly working off the regret

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 30, 2014, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

I can't say I've ever had any true regrets once time has passed, but I do have one that has been nagging me for a couple of years. Today I had another of a series of events that have helped me correct it.

I've made no secret that I think moving back to Cleveland after two years in Seattle was a horrible decision. I think this despite the fact that financially it exceeded my expectations in every way, and to be sure, we had some really good times and made some great memories there. More than anything, it was the professional regret. While I wasn't crazy about the team I switched to in those last six months at Microsoft (because it never shipped anything), I think in the bigger context there was a place for me there. At the very least, there was no shortage of great opportunities around town. The weird thing is that I remember standing at a window in Building 34, looking out at the mountains, accepting a job that I knew deep down was probably a mistake. But I put that instinct aside with the thought of finally getting ahead and not paying for two houses. That, and summers at Cedar Point.

About six weeks later, I started that job in downtown Cleveland, working for a marketing agency. I remember something about an email exchange I had with my would-be boss during the drive cross-country that set off red flags, though I don't remember specifically what it was. As fall was setting in, and Cleveland went from green to gray, I was already getting a sinking feeling, like I made a horrible mistake. I felt like I had failed and I couldn't even tell you why.

After a week and a half at that job, they still had no work to give me. Not content to sit around, I spent a couple of days prototyping something that I thought they needed, and that would differentiate them from other agencies around town. I brought it to a partner, and we did some napkin math around what it would take to build it. It felt like something interesting was happening, finally.

By the end of the third week, the only billable work I had to do was to FTP some files for someone. That wasn't exactly something that was using my skills. That day, they called me into the office and let me go, not because they didn't have any work for me, but because I didn't adhere to their strict policy about office hours. So they wanted me to physically be there until 5:30 and navigate awful downtown traffic at that time after doing only whatever I could find to keep busy.

What had I done? I moved my new little family for that? Was I, in some way, just being unrealistic? I was so used to working with amazing people. I felt awful for the stress I was putting on Diana over the situation. Fortunately, it was bonus and vesting time just before I left Seattle, so there was no real financial danger. I also never really stopped looking, and had an interview that very afternoon. It wasn't long before I had an offer from Humana, and began working remotely. Still... I remember being in that dark, downtown office in a trendy repurposed century building, and thinking I made an awful decision.

Now, to keep some amount of perspective, even then I knew that the feelings of regret were over something that was likely short lived. I had been there before. The layoffs in the early part of the decade and in 2008 most obviously led to new things. Life isn't permanent, and as it turns out, not much that happens in life is either.

Since that time, there have been several events that have helped heal that regret. I haven't been able to totally let go, but I'm getting there.

It started with my year at Humana. While the work and the position wasn't always as challenging as I would have liked, what was completely validating about it was the fact that I was working remotely. For me, it not only proved that I had the discipline to do it, but it proved in the general sense that distributed teams can work. It meant that geography wasn't nearly as important as I thought.

I did leave Humana to be proactive (I wasn't convinced my position would be there much longer), but after some less than stellar contract work (that did pay insanely well) and the whole desire to change climates, we landed in Orlando and I got a year to work at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. The work wasn't unfamiliar, but the scope was insanely huge. I was making design decisions that would impact the company for some time to come. I was having opportunities to mentor developers, learn new things about security and compliance, work with some great vendors, and, oh yeah, it was a theme park company. I don't know that I would've had an opportunity with that kind of scope and responsibility when I was in the PNW.

Then there was something that happened today. Keep in mind that I've had a number of false starts with companies that make software on a sort of agency model. I joined one early last summer, sort of. While it is a company that makes software as a third-party, its methodology is a lot closer to what a pure software player would do, and does it exceptionally well. In fact, it's not really an agency model at all. The short version of my position is to run a development team in a technical capacity, which can include everything from design and code review to in the weeds coding. I have a lot of autonomy (and work mostly remote again). Today one of the senior managers from the client I'm working with cornered me after a meeting, and was just gushing about how awesome our team has been on this project. I deflect most of the credit to the team, but secretly it feels awfully good to get that kind of validation that you're doing it right.

I miss Seattle every day, including everything from the people to the mountains. But there's no question that the future I've tried to make since then has been remarkable. There's an important lesson there, that I've learned before, but don't always retain. There are few things that end in your life that don't make way for something new, and you're likely going to be better for the experience. Being in that shitty office in downtown Cleveland on a dreary day in October felt gross, but it gave me focus, and I'm in a better place because of that seemingly poor decision. That regret is finally starting to fade.

There is no typical autism

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 25, 2014, 10:58 PM | comments: 1

We've met a great many parents of kids on the autism spectrum, as you would expect given school, therapy and community groups. Obviously we're not experts on the subject, and always learning given Simon's challenges. The thing that has surprised me the most is how different every kid is. The course of therapy and education is dramatically different for everyone.

Not only are the therapies different, but so are the range of issues, which is part of the reason that they lump all of these things into a "spectrum." There isn't a lot of awareness around this range unless you're in the middle of it. I'm trying not to react with anger when I hear people say things like, "He seems normal," because the truth is that they just don't know or understand what autism is.

If you're my age, your first exposure to autism is probably the movie Rainman. Later you had people associating it with Aspergers specifically due to the "Jerry" character on Boston Legal. Then you have any number of TV and movie kids, to say nothing of news stories, about kids who don't talk or make eye contact. You know how many of the kids I've met exhibit any of these specific issues? Zero.

In fact, we're very fortunate that Simon is the exact opposite of some of the most stereotypical behaviors. The kid queues like a champ, and is super polite to adults, almost to a fault. He can make eye contact, and be very expressive (if not understood) when he wants to. On the other hand, he plays in the stereotypical ways a lot of the time, organizing and aligning toys instead of using his imagination. He struggles to adhere to directions. He has the classic meltdowns periodically. It's completely strange how no two kids share the same checklist. And if that weren't hard enough, there are varying degrees of the behavior and the ability to modify the behavior.

So sure, Simon seems "normal," and I suspect he will seem so even more if his therapy and IEP are successful. The mystery that is autism includes a lot of circumstances where kids can learn to learn in a way that suits their different wiring. That's the reason it's so important to be proactive.

My displeasure over the "normal" comment (and for the record, the best thing I can come up with is "atypical wiring") might be tempered to an extent if people could just understand that what they perceive is an oversimplification of the reality. I don't think my kid is broken, and by me talking about it, neither should you. I share because despite the uniqueness of every situation, sharing information is what makes this all a little easier for someone.

The takeaway for you should be this: There is no typical autism. It's an enormous range of stuff. It's usually not Rainman. We're not being overbearing or overcautious parents. But it would be a disservice to our child if we didn't do everything we could to address what professionals have identified. He's a beautiful kid, and he's the joy of our lives.

Bootstrap in POP Forums, and why I resisted

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 8:58 PM | comments: 1

I haven't been writing much lately, in part because I spent a good portion of my free time in the last week overhauling the POP Forums UI to use the Bootstrap framework. You can see what it looks like on the demo site. It took me a long time to cave and do this, but I think I had pretty good reasoning.

The forum app has always been at the core of my personal site projects, chief among them CoasterBuzz. I'm a little meticulous about markup and CSS. I hate having too much of it. I hated using jQuery UI because it felt like bloat. Grid frameworks always seemed to require more markup (and they still do) and global CSS almost always causes trouble with other stuff when you drop it in. All prior experiments with these things failed, and let's be honest... a two-column layout is a nut that has long since been cracked and requires very little markup or CSS. In order to bend the forums a little to match the rest of the site it would be contained in, there's incentive to keep it light in terms of CSS.

I mostly achieved this. The number of overriding classes was not huge, and more global stuff around common elements mostly worked. You could basically drop the forum inside of a div and be on your way. It even worked pretty well on tablets, and in my last significant set of tweaks back in 2012, doing a responsive design didn't feel like a priority.

And then there was the mobile experience. One of the trade-offs for responsive is that you typically end up with more markup and CSS instead of less, so I wasn't ready to fully embrace that. Some people still weren't on LTE networks either, so I was bit conscious. Since the UI rendering was done by ASP.NET MVC, it was easy to strip down the UI to mobile-specific views, and it only took a few hours to do it for the entire app, as well as CoasterBuzz. I also didn't force it, and users could choose mobile with a link at the bottom of the page. In fact, you can see it today on CB if you scroll to the bottom. It's super fast, super light weight and concentrates on the reading of text. You can debate the merits of different views vs. responsive all day, but in this case it did exactly what I wanted with very little effort.

Around the time of that CB release in 2012, Twitter open sourced Bootstrap and it was starting to get popular. Early last year, it seemed like the web in general was starting to adopt its own look and feel, largely due to Bootstrap. It's like the web as an OS started to have a UI style guide. I was finally starting to think seriously about it because its use was so widespread, and they were even baking it into the MVC project templates. Then they released v3, and it broke a lot of stuff. That threw me back into caution mode.

Since that time, several things have motivated me to reconsider Bootstrap. Again there's the bigger issue of adoption, which has become pretty epic in scope. Then there's the large number of themes, which are available in great numbers, and range from free to cheap. It isn't hard to make your own either. I've also been dissatisfied with using mobile ad formats, because they don't pay, and the regular ones aren't well suited to mobile specific UI. After two years of phone upgrade cycles, more people have more bandwidth and faster connections. On top of that, the devices themselves are faster at rendering. Oh, and most importantly, Bootstrap itself has very clearly matured. That's pretty compelling.

So I made the revisions and committed them. The admin pages haven't been updated, but I'll get there. I feel like this gives me a good fresh start to make more changes and continue to see its evolution.

One month with an electric car

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 2:48 PM | comments: 0

Time flies when you're being a smug EV driver. Just kidding, I'm not smug. We've had the Nissan Leaf now for a month, and I thought I would share our experiences with it.

First off, this is a commuter car, and it's practical because we have a second car that runs on gas (well, it's a hybrid, but you know I mean). I obviously can't take the Leaf to Tampa because its range is limited to around 90 miles. That's OK, because when I need to go that far, I can just as easily drive the Prius V. So for the people who ask that question, no, you probably can't use it as your only car if you need to travel further. I know some people who don't have a car at all, so I suppose it depends on how you roll.

The range is completely a non-issue then. Unless we're leaving Orange County, it's completely unlikely that we'll ever need to drive 90 miles. In practice, it looks like you could squeeze 110 miles out of it pretty easily in ECO mode and no air conditioning, but I'm not sure why you'd want to. When I drive it into the office downtown twice a week, there are charging stations there. Diana takes it GKTW Village about once a week as well, where there is a free charger. Believe it or not, we don't charge it at home very often at all.

At this point, I don't think we'll install a 240v charger in the garage. The advantage would be that you could get a 100% charge from zero in four hours, or zero to 80% probably in two or three. Given our driving habits, that's never necessary. For one thing, we never get much lower than 25%, and the conventional 120v charger has yet to not finish overnight. It's rated for 20 hours for zero to 100%, but again, it's usually the last 20% that takes the longest.

In terms of comfort and space, it's surprisingly cozy for a small car. Even the back seat isn't terrible, though anything is smaller when comparing to a Prius (no idea how Toyota squeezes so much space into those cars). I especially like the arm rest on the console, which is soft and squishy for my delicate elbow. In great fits of irony, this is the first car I've ever had that had seat and steering wheel heaters. You know, now that I live in Florida.

Then there's the whole thing about driving it. The acceleration of an electric car is addictive. I always had hints of this when driving the Prius in PWR mode, but being purely electric is something amazing. From a dead stop, you can launch it. It's not like a muscle car either, because the wheels don't spin, though they will screech a little around corners as the car will slide a bit. And honestly, because the cost per mile for energy is about half of what a hybrid is, and almost a fourth of that of bigger cars, there isn't much expense to driving like a bit of a moron. All of that acceleration is cheap!

The car has a "B" braking mode, which is the equivalent of engine braking, and familiar to people who have a Toyota hybrid with a continuously variable transmission. The guy at the dealer plugged this as an enhanced regenerative braking mode, and while that's true, it's not really what it's for. It's for going down hills, down-shifting as it were with a typical automatic or standard transmission. If you want the more aggressive regenerative braking and somewhat neutered acceleration for the sake of range, it has the ECO mode for that. It might give you five or six more miles on a charge, but it makes it considerably less fun to drive.

The verdict at this point is that it's a pretty great car to drive, and surprisingly inexpensive to own and operate with the tax incentives (in this case given to Nissan since it's a lease), the rebates and the cheap energy. Even if our electricity here is two-thirds oil generated, it still comes up pretty green because of the efficiency of that electric generation over the single-car combustion engine. The net carbon footprint is obviously substantially lower, by half or more compared to an ICE car, depending on which research study you look at.

We like it, and it's definitely the most fun I've had driving any car in my garage. It's no Tesla, sure, but it's still a lot of fun.

Waiting in line to buy a phone is silly

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 20, 2014, 9:11 AM | comments: 2

Yeah, I'm going to say it out loud, I think people waiting in line for hours to buy an iPhone are ridiculous. It has nothing to do with the iPhone specifically, I just think it's a colossal waste of time.

First people will make an argument that there's some kind of scarcity, but that's silly. History has shown this is rarely the case. Not only are there usually plenty to go around, but you could just order one and have it shipped to your house. As a friend pointed out on Facebook, you could walk into a Best Buy near him and buy one instantly.

And that's not even the point. Even if there was a scarcity issue, why do you need it right now? How will it make your life better than if you get it a few days later? I bought the first iPhone the day after it came out, and was at the Apple Store all of five minutes, avoiding the chaos of the day before. Do people not value their time? Not only that, but it's just different hardware. If you have the previous iPhone, you already got the software update. The thing won't cure cancer. There isn't even an exclusivity angle there, because millions of people have the same object.

Another friend compared it to waiting in line for an amusement ride, but that's a straw man argument. If you want to ride the latest ride, your choices are to wait or buy into some kind of premium queueing. You don't have a choice. There is always a choice to buy a gadget, and there's a difference between buying "stuff" and having an experience. And no, I don't think waiting in line to buy something is an experience.

I have a gadget problem, I'll admit it. I've owned seven different tablets in a category that has only really existed for four years. I get it. As much as I've tried to focus discretionary income on experiences and not stuff, I still buy some stuff (an electric car, even). But I draw the line at subjecting myself to inconvenient circumstances just to have an object a little faster.

I think a part of my distaste for this gadget lust is rooted in a broader concern that people are so busy being plugged in that they aren't engaged in life around them. I see this all of the time at the theme parks, and it annoys the shit out of me. People run into you because they're busy looking down at their phones (admittedly, the parks encourage their use with info about wait times and such, but people can't be looking at that all of the time). More sad is the kids who are ignored by their parents because they're too busy texting or looking at Facebook or whatever. It's not that you can't do this, but know when to stop. You're in the happiest place on earth... look around you!

The next time you absolutely have to drop some cash on the next shiny object, I challenge you to wait a few days. I think your life will be just as robust, and you won't have wasted any time.

Time to think about phones again

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 9:19 PM | comments: 0

Diana dropped her phone the other night, and the screen bit the dust hard. The outer glass was fine, it was the LCD inside that broke. Of course, the timing is horrible, because we're about two months away from the end of our typical two-year contract. And don't be fooled by AT&T's early upgrade... what it really means is that you can pay full price on a phone and make payments. No thanks! I ended up getting her a Nokia 520, no-contract phone for a little under $50. The camera sucks, but it's not bad for a totally unsubsidized phone.

Diana had a Nokia Lumina 820, and it was a damn good phone. It's guts were the same as my 920, only with a lesser camera and not a high-resolution screen. We're pretty sold on Windows Phone still, at least to the extent that we've been happy with the operating system and the specific hardware we've had. The 920 has been fantastic, in part because of the great camera, arguably one of the best of any phones ever, and the high res screen.

Still, it's good to look around, so I've had my eye open. I'm really impressed with all of the Android hardware out there. The OS is getting better, but while the widgets are getting more robust, it's still a weird mix of that with the icon grid that doesn't tell you anything. The carrier reluctance to push updates quickly also is a bummer.

I was encouraged to see that Apple finally made the iPhone bigger. That was long overdue. I'm also glad to see they made a nice curved edge phone. That said, they're still making it unnecessarily tall with that extra bevel space at the top. It also reveals two OS issues. The first is the convention of putting buttons at the top, which are now out of thumb reach. The "reachability" feature is kind of a hack to address that, and it seems awkward. The other thing is that the OS has no "responsive" conventions, where stuff lays out in a natural and flowing way (like HTML or XAML), meaning they end up scaling stuff. My frustration with the iPhone is mostly that it still doesn't really tell you anything on the home screen beyond some count badges. No calendar items, no weather forecast, status from my wife.

I think it's pretty much a 90% certainty that we'll get Windows phones again. My hope is that the 830 hits AT&T soon, because that would be a suitable replacement for Diana. For me, well, it's hard to say. The HTC M8 that they just put out in a WP version is pretty amazing, but I need to see some photo samples. It's hard to beat the good Nokia cameras. There's a 925 that's aging, and the 1020 has been out for awhile. The closest replacement is the Icon or 930, depending on which carrier it's on, but neither is available on AT&T. We're staying put there, because the share plan with the corporate discount is too good to leave.

Truthfully, I don't need to really upgrade. The battery is still in pretty good shape, getting me through a long day without issue. Diana needs a new one, because that camera is terrible in the cheap no-contract unit. We do have a 4-year-old who does cute things, after all!

Theater vs. theatre

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 14, 2014, 12:16 AM | comments: 0

One of the parts of my life that I often forget about or don't make room for is my love of theater. See, the problem is, I started to get interested in high school, and I wasn't even cool enough to mix with the theatre crowd. I was always less interested in the academic angle, where people got knee deep in interpreting the text and studying the finer points of acting. I was more about sound and lighting than anything else.

But in college, I went in with theater declared as a minor right away. It kind of made sense, because radio/TV majors had to do a semester or two of stagecraft anyway. In that year, I had a really good time getting involved in a number of shows and getting to really dive into lighting as both a theoretical topic and a technical one. Heck, I was the only one in R/TV who cared about lighting. One of my instructors thought I was crazy for bringing the only light kit we had out on shoots for my sophomore documentary. I got a lot out of that year.

But after that first year, the theater department's technical professor got canned (rumor was he slept with a student or something), and I just didn't feel like it was something that would make any difference professionally. In the summer before my senior year, I did get involved with community theater in my home town, and that was a lot of fun. It appealed to my need to contribute, because they never really had anyone who thought about lighting beyond, "Can you see the actors?"

Fast forward to 2007, and I meet this woman who was a union stage manager with off-Broadway experience as well as work in the many Cleveland theaters. (Believe it or not, Cleveland is one of the top cities in the country as far as the breadth of professional theater in one place.) By that time, she was working a more manageable job with a bank, but she still cared a great deal about it. That woman was Diana, and obviously I married her.

I've always enjoyed hearing her stories (she has a good one about riding in an elevator with Alec Baldwin before a show), but I've always been hesitant to bother her with my own interest, I guess because it seems insignificant compared to hers.

Today I think we made a minor step toward sharing the interest, in that we've talked about getting involved at the new performing arts center here in town. She's exploring work and volunteering, and I'm searching for a way in the general sense to get involved. I know that they're using some of the space at times for community theater too, so I need to look deeper into that. At the very least, we know we're going to buy some tickets to some shows. I hope people realize what they have here in that awesome facility.

So I'm not much of a theatre geek, but I do like theater. I don't remember where I first saw someone make the distinction, or insist upon it, but it was probably high school. I don't have much in the way of street cred, and I won't apologize for liking a popular show, but I do enjoy the art. It's still something that is vastly different from any other kind of entertainment, especially musicals.

That missing fall tradition

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 13, 2014, 11:19 PM | comments: 0

This was the weekend that Halloweekends started at Cedar Point. I'm not going to lie, this is one of the last few things about living in Cleveland that was awesome and that I will always miss.

For the unfamiliar, this is the time of year where the amusement park is only open weekends, through the end of October, and they open up haunted houses, scare zones, and place "fall stuff" all over the place like pumpkins and corn stalks and what not. Throw in the cooler jacket weather, the leaves changing color and that scent that goes with that time of year, and it's a pretty magical thing. Sure, they have some extra ticketed stuff that goes on at WDW, but that's not even remotely the same thing. In this case, the location and tradition matters.

I had a tradition spanning several relationships where I would get a room up there for closing weekend. So many friends and romantic relationships and awesome times, it's hard to capture it in words. In the general sense, the park has been an integral part of my life for most of it, and particularly in the last 18 years or so. The thing I didn't really expect was that so many good friends would end up working there, so it can be hard to see them having a good time (at their jobs no less) and I'm not there. Our disaster of a trip earlier this year, when the water main broke and we spent two days looking for something else to do, makes it sting a little more.

Fall is a little tricky here in Orlando, because it doesn't really start until November in terms of temperature, and by that time you're fully engaged in holiday mode from Thanksgiving to the new year. But there is something to be said for that. We do get our jacket weather during the most festive time of year, and we don't see snow. The holiday stuff at the Disney parks is pretty intense too. Seeing the Candlelight Processional, the lighting of Cinderella Castle or the Osborne Family Lights just doesn't get old.

I hope that next year we can get back up there in the fall. It's definitely a trip worth making.

Vacation anxiety

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 6, 2014, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

I have vacation anxiety. I'm anxious because I don't have a single vacation planned. That's entirely weird.

A year ago, we had just set up shop in Orange County, and honestly, it was a long time before we felt like we were not on vacation. I mean, when you first start to live in the place you spent so much time traveling to for leisure, it's an adjustment. If that weren't enough, we were in uber-saver mode so we could buy a house. We were free of any mortgage obligations from our previous houses, but had nothing to show for it, so I banked literally a third of my income. That meant we pretty much weren't traveling anywhere.

As we got close to buying the house, and were comfortable with what we saved, we took a sort of last minute cruise. At the same time, we booked a second one to take with our friends from Chicago in the late spring. We also planned two trips to Cincinnati and one to Cleveland. Last weekend we even did a child-free overnight locally. Basically, we've tried to make up a little for the non-travel of last year.

This has in many ways led to a different kind of anxiety, because we haven't really recovered from that savings purge with the house. And the funny thing is, we're paying significantly less than we did in the rental. However, while our monthly expenses are lower, there have been all of the little house things to buy that have added up, Simon's therapy bills, and obviously, the travel expenses. I have to remind myself that going to a regular salary job means I'm doing the 401k thing again, so I shouldn't be freaked out by the small savings.

Yes, I'm sure some people wish they had these kinds of problems. However, the financial makeover I've tried very hard to achieve over the last five or six years led me to the realization that I'm way behind for any kind of retirement, and having cash around is critical for emergencies when you're a one-income household and have a child. These rules would apply regardless of my level of income.

But getting out and seeing the world is also part of the life that I want. I spent too much time in my 20's buying crap instead of traveling, and that was stupid. The "where" in terms of travel isn't that important at this stage (largely because of Simon's age), as long as I'm making memories and enjoying myself with my little family and my highly distributed friends.

I have the anxiety until something is on the calendar. Some people look forward to weekends, but I look forward to the next trip.

Awesome is right there in front of us

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 4, 2014, 11:41 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I've been very vocal about in recent years is my frustration with the fact that we have unprecedented knowledge at our fingertips, and we largely squander it. Our culture even seems to prefer living in ignorance. Maybe it's largely an American phenomenon, but I don't really know.

Tonight I watched Episode 12 of the new Cosmos series that aired this year: "The World Set Free." Among other things, it explains climate change in scientific terms. If it seems like the science is so easy to understand that Al Gore can present it, that's because it really is that easy to understand. It's just known physics, and it was theorized even before the industrial revolution brought us into a mode of CO2 emission. I can't explain why people make it a political issue or insist that it isn't real, given the fact that few things in science are so agreed upon. I suppose it's the need to feel that we as a species are too above nature, or maybe it's just good old fashioned defense of capitalism.

One of the neat sidebars on that show included the history of solar energy. It had many significant false starts, the first in the later part of the 19th century. The idea that all of this free energy was there for the taking was, not surprisingly, usurped by the cheapness of fossil fuels. It's a mistake we continue to make over and over.

But despite our cultural issues that prevent us from moving forward, we have the technology today to reverse climate change and embrace energy that won't bake us in the process. In fact, we have the ability to solve a great many of the world's problems, if only we will ourselves to do so. Think about that sincerely for a moment, beyond the obvious cheerleading for humanity angle. How can you not be excited about that? Awesome is right there in front of us, if we choose to embrace it.

This doesn't mean we all need to get PhD's and become uber-scientists. It does mean that each of us has to use our energy on less of the things that take up a lot of our bandwidth. We have to stop hating and fearing each other, for one. It's the root of everything that has gone wrong throughout human history. Of course we need to enjoy our lives with some things that we might consider meaningless (like reality TV), but it can't consume us. Above all, we each need to take more time to understand the world around us. That isn't going to happen watching cable "news" networks. I think we're generally pretty good at helping each other out, but it seems we only do it when things are at their worst. I hope that can change.

I'm naively more optimistic about what we're capable of than I ever have been. I want to be a part of that capability. I don't know if I can play a leadership role in that process, and honestly it doesn't matter if it's me or someone else. I want Simon to see that awesome is possible. It's right there.