Archive: June, 2010

Allergies in the Northwest

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 10:25 PM | comments: 0

With allergies that have come and gone over the years, the theme in my 30's has typically been to have issues toward the end of May, lasting two, sometimes three weeks. Of course it varied a bit depending on weather. Last year I can remember a few days where I was really bothered with sneezing, but turning on the air conditioning helped.

Since moving, I expected things would be different because of the climate and plants out here. I can't quite target when I noticed actual sniffles, but I think it was around a week or so ago the first time. It's definitely much later than the Cleveland symptoms. What's weird though is that it's not consistent at all. I'll have a short bout at work, when I'm mostly indoors, but go outside and shoot a few hoops and be fine. I also have little sneeze-fests before bed. Then there's the issue where just having allergic symptoms, some smells that wouldn't otherwise bother me (cosmetics, foods, etc.) trigger annoyance. I couldn't tell you what plants cause the issues.

Diana, who is one of the worst allergy sufferers I know, has had a slightly easier time. In Cleveland she would be on generic Zyrtec and a prescription nasal spray pretty much year-round, but since having Simon and finally being able to take anything, she's just doing Zyrtec. It seems like she has a somewhat easier go of it.

What's fascinating to me is the biology of it, in terms of what produces the right spores, pollen or whatever to agitate a person. Clearly the triggers are less here, and I wouldn't be surprised if the air quality was better anyway. The lack of 80-degree days is strange, and dare I say I don't like it as much, but I'll take the reduced allergy reactions.


A little help, here?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 8:27 PM | comments: 0

Have you ever noticed that culturally we seem to be conditioned not to ever ask for anything? Even at Diana's PEPS meeting today, they had a guest who mentioned, when it comes to couple cooperation, that "if you don't express it, don't expect it." Seems obvious, right?

In the context of relationships, I've seen enough of this for a lifetime. Fortunately, with me and the D, it's not something that grows into resentment issues, but we do neglect to speak up about things we want. With me it's typically small things, like a little back rub or just some arbitrary contact. What can I say, it chills me out. :) But we're both guilty of more serious things, like not asking for help when Simon overwhelms us. There's that thing in the back of your mind where you feel as though asking for help is some kind of admission of defeat or failure. That's pretty stupid.

We do it even professionally at times. That leads to needless frustration in my line of work. I recently worked on something that one of my coworkers had messed with, and I didn't entirely get it. Had I just asked about it, it would've saved all kinds of annoyance.

I'm not sure where this strange conditioning comes from, but it sure isn't good. Most of the time, people are pretty willing to help you with anything. So why the hesitation to ask?


Financial brain dump

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 28, 2010, 11:41 PM | comments: 1

Getting rid of Diana's house caused me to obsess a great deal tonight about finances. (So much for working on projects!) The very surprising reality, and I truly didn't expect this, is that we should be able to clear personal credit card debt in six weeks. The business looks more like eight to ten if Google keeps kicking ass with ads. But still, the point is that we entered the state of Washington with around $25k. Excuse me if I want to pat myself on the back a little!

On the non-liquid saving side, we're probably about eight years behind, mostly because of my own youthful douchebaggery, but it doesn't look hopeless or anything. Upward market correction alone (if you're optimistic enough to believe it'll eventually come) will knock a few years off of that.

The truly strange thing for me to think about is that, if I can get rid of my house, I will have the lowest monthly financial obligation I've had in about ten years. And that's while making more than I ever did back east, having one income and a child. Given the higher cost of living here, that's completely strange and unexpected. Not that I want to, but I could theoretically live on half the income at that point, which makes the world a lot less scary.

So lesson learned for not properly investing as a 20-something. I mean, maybe it was good because I didn't have to split that kind of stuff in the divorce, but even if I did at least I wouldn't be so behind. Put some shit away, my young friends, and do up the 401k and the IRA. You'll thank me later.

You know what I really look forward to though? Not having to think about this stuff so much. It really is a drain on me. I'd rather think about what I want to do for Jeff Putz Day, or if Simon is going to get how to eat cereal tomorrow, or really anything that's truly now. Having goals is fine, but not at the expense of just seeing what's in front of me at this instant.


One down, one to go, one to buy

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 28, 2010, 8:55 PM | comments: 0

It's official... Diana's house closed today, for a net loss to the bank of around $48,000. That becomes taxable income for us, but we'll have that covered. It took about two years to get the house sold, and even then, the outcome wasn't exactly ideal. But whatever, we can at least move on. A completed short sale is actually something of a rarity, it seems.

Now on to my house. I have a new agent in place, and he seems to think I'm already asking too little. I'm not sure exactly how that will translate to a sale, but I'll take his word for it. My hope at the moment is that there's actually competition that I think works in my favor. Around the corner, a same-model house is on the market for $20k more than mine. It's on a smaller lot with a pathetically short driveway even. The only thing "better" about it is that they have a nice oak staircase and a slightly larger deck. I bet my carpet is better too. Hopefully it helps me out.

I'm not very enthusiastic about buying a house, because we're just not in a good position to do so, unfortunately. That kinda bums me out, because I'm so done with apartment living. In fact, we're five months from the end of our lease already, but even if I sold my house tomorrow, I'll have no equity, and our cash situation isn't great. It's like we're starting over (though at least our investment situation, especially long term, isn't bad).

The worst part about not being able to get into the market is that the interest rates are so low. But around here, the kind of house we're looking for, comparable to what we had in Cleveland, will probably be around $400k, depending on whether or not it has a view. Views cost extra. :) So assuming the banks are cool with 15% down, that means $60k. In a best-case scenario where we didn't travel anywhere and not having any idea what Simon's impact is, and assuming the ad market keeps up, and that I sold my house tomorrow, I think I could get to $40k one year from now. That's pretty daunting to think about.

Now if the banks were more liberal about loaning, even with their bullshit PMI nonsense (the biggest scam ever), we could afford to buy a house the day we sold mine without a down payment. I mean, think about it, between my current mortgage and rent, it's still more than payments, taxes and insurance on a $400k loan, with cash to spare. Sadly, I'm pretty sure that even with a credit score of 800, that's just not going to happen. Bummer, too, because it even fits into the magic number the financial advice people give, about not exceeding 28% of your gross income for housing.

As dark as all of that sounds, it's not that I'm unhappy. I have a great job, I dig Microsoft, no winter is a bonus, and we have a cute little family. This is just the piece I'm highly motivated to resolve as fast as I can.


POP Forums v9 for ASP.NET MVC: Now on Codeplex!

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 27, 2010, 10:29 PM | comments: 0

[This is a repost from my tech blog, and super geeky. -J]

For those who have followed my blog for the last six years or so, you know that I've always had a love-hate relationship with the forum app that sits at the core of my own Web sites (CoasterBuzz being the "money maker," so to speak). For more than a decade, I've had POP Forums in my life in one way or another, dating back to the old ASP days. At times I sold it, then I gave it away, then I gave it away hoping you'd give me money for it. Today, I can safely say that the next version is going open source. For good.

POP Forums v9, in early preview form, has been posted to CodePlex. It just feels right. Since joining Microsoft in November, I've had the pleasure of working in the Server & Tools Online group, and that includes CodePlex. When you eat lunch with those guys every other day, and you hear about what they're doing, you get curious and want to get more involved with the open source community that they support. It was time to get this app out into the wild in a meaningful way. The app uses the Ms-PL license, and I hope you'll give it a look.

This is a project that I started last summer when I wasn't working, as an eventual replacement for vNext of CoasterBuzz and some other sites. After the birth of my son in March, I found that I consistently had a couple of hours most nights to devote to it, and I started to ramp up again. It has a long way to go, but I was anxious to get an early preview out. To be clear, this has nothing to do with the forums you use on MSDN, Technet, and a bunch of other places. I can't even begin to explain how different that app is (though in some future blog post, I'm sure I'll talk about some of the things that have gone on there).

So visit the project site, read the FAQ, and feel free to submit feedback about what's there so far. At this stage, because it's so feature incomplete (it doesn't even parse HTML yet), I'm not looking for feature requests. The goal is to get some parity to the old Webforms version and then go from there. This is the first true ground-up rewrite of the app since it was converted to ASP.NET in 2002. There's a lot to do!

While I'm excited to get this app out there, I do realize that it's one of a mess of existing projects that do the same thing. Perhaps you feel the world doesn't need another. That's OK. Just keep in mind that this is an app that I'm building for me first, so if I'm the only one who gets something out of it, that's OK too. However, it's my hope that people can build great communities around it the way I have. It's time for the forum to evolve, and I look forward to being a part of that evolution. 


Cute family morning

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 27, 2010, 12:03 PM | comments: 0

Diana came back to bed around 9-something this morning after putting Simon back down for a nap. I was still in bed, since I didn't turn in until 1-ish. Anyway, about a half-hour later, we could hear Simon talking to himself.

I went to check on him, and he was all smiles. Like Gerber baby smiles. That's a relief since he's had some periods of high discomfort because of his little teeth. I picked him up and brought him back to the bedroom, and we all had some giggles together. Even the cats, all four, were near by.

Simon is a handful at times, but moments like these are so worth it. He's such a cute little kid. Today he even figured out how to lock his legs and stands (supported) on a consistent basis. Poor kid is growing faster than his development will allow in some cases (rolling over is an example), so it's a relief to see him do this.


Facebook's QA process sucks

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 25, 2010, 2:40 PM | comments: 1

I'm sure I've bitched about this before, but I'll do it again. Facebook's QA process sucks. I'm astounded at how much crap gets into production there. I know Gonch, Diana and others have complained that the RSS importer to their Notes app was spotty at best, but now I can't even get it to accept the URL for my site's RSS feed. I can't actually make it accept any RSS feed.

And don't even get me started about the quality of the official iPhone app.

You'd think they'd be more careful, what with the assload of ad revenue on the line, and very vocal opposition any time they screw up.


He's growing up so fast!

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 23, 2010, 10:10 PM | comments: 0

We were going through Simon photos today, likely putting together one of those photo books, and I'm amazed at how big he is already. I mean, he was always a big kid, but now he's giant. He's the only one under four months cracking teeth in his PEPS group. He's doing at least one new sound a week.

It's also interesting to see how awful I look in that first month. I had dark circles around my eyes in almost every photo. Like green and yellow, as if I were wearing zombie makeup.

As he gets a little easier to manage, some of the time anyway, I have less anxiety about traveling with him. It looks like we'll be doing air travel in August, September, October and December. I hope he isn't "that baby" on those flights. When we go back east, clearly we'll be going with direct flights regardless of cost.


Post-allergic reaction freak-out

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 22, 2010, 9:58 PM | comments: 0

I'll admit it, I was pretty freaked out last night as the rash continued to cover most of my body. Plus, you know, I'm a man, so naturally I have to be a baby about it. But as is the case with the Interweb self-diagnosis of cancer a dozen different times, the prognosis for the reaction scared the shit out of me.

When I went to bed last night, Diana suggested taking two Benadryl. I hate that stuff because it knocks me out. Most drugs seems to cause more side effects than treat the condition for me. The one time I've ever had to take Vicodin it fucked me up, totally stoned. But I took two, and because I was on high alert over fear of additional symptoms (the inability to breathe was the one I was most worried about), I fought the drowsiness as long as I could. At that point, the rash started to get serious on my forearms, though I had the itching mostly under control with anti-itch lotion. When I fell asleep, it was more like passed out. I didn't wake up all night.

When my alarm went off in the morning, the rash was mostly gone from my sides and my back, and had diminished on my arms a bit. It was still somewhat serious on my legs, and since the night before, new on my lower legs. I was mostly relieved to be breathing, even if that was an irrational fear to begin with. My legs were seriously itchy. I decided to skip work because I was uncomfortable, and another Benadryl would likely knock me on my ass. That's what sick days are for.

Simon is all out of whack too because of the teething, but it actually worked a little to our advantage in the morning. He got up way too early, but was tired enough to take a good morning nap, something he typically sucks at. By 9, I couldn't even sit up, and I fell asleep on the couch.

Three hours passed. Ugh. That's why I hate taking that stuff. It wasn't like light sleeping either, it was out cold, can't-wake-up-from-messed-up-dreams sleeping. I don't know what else I was expecting, since that's why I didn't go to work, but it still felt like I was wasting the day.

By dinner time, the rash had mostly subsided, except for some traces on my legs. My hands are a little itchy too. I suppose getting a couple of meals and lots of liquid through me helped expedite things.

The whole thing still freaked me out, mostly because by this time in your life, you know what you're allergic to. Or at least, you think you do. I had all kinds of what-ifs had the reaction been worse. So staying away from almonds, that's a good plan. You know, it's weird how things come back to you, but I recall once that Stephanie and I stayed in some hotel that had some kind of fancy exfoliating natural soap that had almonds in it, and I used it and broke out in a rash all over. It's the reason I always travel with my own soap, to this day.


Dorney Park fan

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 22, 2010, 6:15 PM | comments: 1

It looks like I have a stalker, er, fan, at Dorney. There was a little something extra in my T-shirt order. I wonder how many they sold because of the buzz over these sweet shirts.


I think I have an almond allergy

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 21, 2010, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

I don't generally care for nuts. I never really even liked the texture of them. My mom insisted on putting them in cookies constantly. I always liked peanut butter, the smooth kind, and still have it as a component of ice cream now and then. And God knows I've had my share of stuff fried in peanut oil too. But I never liked peanuts. And yes, I know that peanuts are legumes and not actually nuts, but whatever. They're an allergen.

So tonight, Diana made some chicken crusted with breading that included almonds. It's an America's Test Kitchen recipe, and this is actually her second attempt. The first time around, the brine they wanted you to soak them in pickled them, so we had to toss them, unfortunately (and you better believe she gave feedback on it!). This time they came out pretty well. I found it to be kind of an average recipe, with no strong feelings either way.

About two hours later, I felt itchy. I just attributed it to maybe being sweaty from the way I was sprawled out on the couch, or because my laptop was charging on my lap. As Diana was going to be, I looked in the mirror, and what do you know, I had a rash all over my mid-section, up my sides and on my arms.

I jumped in the shower just to cool down a bit, then took some Benadryl. While showering, I was trying to think of what may have caused it. The only thing remotely icky I could think of that I touched was cat litter, but hello, we have four cats and that hasn't changed in years. Laundry soap hasn't changed either, so it wasn't the shorts I put on. Then I counted back through foods, and the only thing I could think of that was truly out of place or a potential allergen was the nuts in the chicken breading. I Googled it, and sure enough, a rash is a symptom.

I'm fairly alarmed, but I don't seem to be having any other symptoms. Hopefully it stays that way.


iOS 4 impressions

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 21, 2010, 8:43 PM | comments: 0

Snagged the new operating system for the iPhone today. I guess I was expecting more as a major version number change, but honestly it feels mostly like an incremental upgrade.

First, I need to bitch. They've hard-wired the double-tap of the home button to a mostly useless task manager of sorts. That sucks, because you could previously set it to do more useful things, like load up the camera. Jerks. Having one-button access to the camera was infinitely more useful.

Most of the changes are largely cosmetic. There are new ways to organize stuff, and you can lock the orientation to portrait mode (I can't believe that was ever a requested feature). Generally, there's just not anything revolutionary, as we had previously come to expect. I suspect that the new whole version number is rooted in the fact that it does quasi-multi-tasking now, so you can do VOIP and Pandora, but those were mostly edge cases to begin with.

It's not really multi-tasking in the true sense of the word, and you don't need it on a phone anyway. They should have called it, "selective background threading" or something. Seriously, do people not remember all of the early smart phones with two-hour battery life because of countless crap that would run all of the time? I understand there are certain Android apps that do this even today, that you have to be careful with. Selective background threads and proper notification services were the right thing to do though, so yay for Apple doing that.

The mail app was heavily overhauled, and that's a plus. That you can do multiple Exchange accounts in particular is a huge win. Personally, I don't have a lot of use for that because I don't check work e-mail with it (our security policy requires a passcode, which is annoying), but it generally feels more responsive overall with Gmail. The calendar syncing seems faster too.

I'm a little underwhelmed, but at least I can change my wallpaper now. :) I guess we're spoiled because we've come to expect these big quantum shifts with each new version. I wonder if the Apple case for the new shiny will continue to hold as Android phones gain market share, and Windows Phone takes an entirely different direction for UI. Now is not the time for Apple to get complacent if they want to continue on their current growth curve.


My miserable little guy

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 21, 2010, 7:12 PM | comments: 1

Ugh, it's just brutal to see Simon right now. The teething is in full swing now, and the worst thing about it is that it interferes with his favorite thing to do, eat.

When I got home, I passed Diana walking around the apartments with him in the Bjorn, and it was his first opportunity to be calm since he got up. He was unhappy, but not crying as long as you picked him up. I gave him a bath, and he actually did pretty well in there. He's so amused with splashing, and he loves his mini-spa treatment. Bath time is my favorite. He started to melt down a bit when I got him in his pajamas.

It was the feeding that was really hard. He gets some sucking in, then starts to hurt and get frustrated. The crying is so intense. It takes so much love and encouragement to get him through the whole bottle. He made it almost to the end of the bottle. My little champ!

Going to bed was hard as well. I don't think he was hurting as much as he just wanted the comfort of being with mom or dad. It's funny how even when he's a baby going through something intense with you, you bond more strongly. He's so happy a lot of the time now, so I hope that'll help offset his temporary misery.


Beverage run

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 21, 2010, 2:12 PM | comments: 0

Me: I'm going to the coolers, you want a beverage?
Aaron: Uh... sure. Can you get me a ginger ale?
Me: Want some hard candies and Depends with that?

(aside: Yes, even ginger ale made the cut over Cherry Coke.) 


My first Father's Day

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 20, 2010, 2:45 PM | comments: 0

It's hard not to know that today is Father's Day, what with the Facebook wishes appearing in force this morning. (Memo to those of you back east: Diana wanted to be first, so keep that time difference in mind. :))

I admit that I kind of poo-poo the idea because it feels like another greeting card holiday, and I strongly dislike those, but it doesn't mean that I don't fully embrace fatherhood. In fact, I don't need a special day really, because every single day is pretty special. Simon is pretty much the coolest thing ever, and I can't tell you how often Diana and I stand there over his smiling face and say something like, "Holy crap, we made him."

It's pretty weird to think that there was a time before Simon. It seems like he's been with us forever, but in really it has only been three and a half months. It's remarkable to see how fast he's growing up, how fast he develops, and how much of a personality he has. I don't ever take for granted that he's little and in this interesting stage, because I know he'll be going to school before you know it, and riding roller coasters.

I don't feel like daily life has really changed all that much, since I still spend weekdays going to work (Diana can tell you a very different story), but what I can say is that the bigger picture of my life has a lot more focus because of Simon. A lot of little things I may have spent time thinking about before simply drop off the radar, because there's something new on the importance scale that's so much higher.

Every day is better when I get to see my little guy. And the unexpected thing is that having him actually makes my relationship with Diana exponentially better, because he forces us to over-communicate and act as a team.

So I might not be a fan of the holiday, but I'm a big fan of being a daddy. That's something I celebrate every single day. How can you not when you have the world's cutest kid?


The teeth are coming

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 20, 2010, 1:49 PM | comments: 0

I know that all of the books and what not say that teething tends to start somewhere between four and eight months, but I knew my boy would overachieve in that too. He started drooling a lot a week or two ago, and his lower gum looked and felt hard in the front. I knew it was coming. I didn't put it together though until this morning, when Diana pointed out one was starting to break through. That explains the cranky Simon, the weird sleeping and eating patterns (now that they were getting regular) and the strange gnawing on the bottle nipple.

They grow up so fast. :)


Diana at 2-1/2

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 19, 2010, 7:10 PM | comments: 0

Diana pulled out this photo from when she was about 2 and a half years old:

Diana at 2.5 years

Much time and Facebook comments are devoted lately to how much Simon looks like one of us. There's little doubt he has my eyes and ears, but I do think the rest is up for grabs. We were wondering about his nose in particular. We both have fairly robust noses. Mine is proportionately large, and Diana's is more angular and properly Italian. Baby noses mostly look the same to me, but we were thinking his would be more like mine. Then we saw this photo of Diana, and now we think it could go either way.

And how cute was she, by the way?


I'm a dick

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 18, 2010, 7:30 PM | comments: 0

I made Diana cry today. She bought something that I thought was kind of pretentious (more by association than anything), and it was pretty much the worst kind of invalidation at the worst time. She just wanted to buy something nice for herself, which is certainly something I can relate to.

It's a pretty weird financial situation for both of us. She doesn't work, for the first time in her adult life, at 40, and really we never had any kind of merged finances at all until we moved here, despite being married. It has never really been an issue of hers and mine, it just seemed easiest not to bother doing shared accounts and what not. She's reluctant to buy stuff for herself, and even this purchase came from the remnants of her own checking account.

So I was a dick, and I feel bad.


Stupid code of the day

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 17, 2010, 10:16 AM | comments: 0

This was just too good (or bad) not to blog about. We found this gem today...

[System.Diagnostics.CodeAnalysis.SuppressMessage("Microsoft.Design", 
"CA1024:UsePropertiesWhereAppropriate")]
public static string GetSiteMapsKey()
{
    return "sm:all";
}

That's right... it's such a wrong thing to do, and they knew it, that they made it so no code analysis tool would catch it and warn them they were being stupid. Awesome.


Making an app feel more real

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 16, 2010, 11:30 PM | comments: 0

When working on my own projects, I often find that I get deep into the weeds writing code and ignoring markup. This is particularly true when you try to be relatively test driven. With MVC you can get even more extreme, since you can know for certain that your UI will get the right data without actually having any UI.

But I get a sense of achievement from something that looks real, and I used to be pretty hard core about letting UI drive everything on the back end. I still feel this way to an extent, but in this case I'm not really challenging anything about what I "know" a forum should be. That'll come later. For now I just wanted get some of that view data in a usable form. So I went from this:

before

...to this:

after

This is hardly anything revolutionary or even different from what I have today, but at least when you get to this point it's not just an academic science project. It will change and morph and get uglier before it gets prettier, and that's OK.


So much sucky software, plus update on my new server

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 16, 2010, 7:16 PM | comments: 0

I find it amazing that there is so much crappy software out there. In my entire career, I've only had one job where most of what was built before I started was solid. In my current job, I suppose it could be argued that what we have isn't the worst since it does generally work (no, seriously, working isn't as high a bar to shoot for as you'd think), but most of what was done by the team prior to ours is far from optimal.

For example, we found out after changing some of our caching infrastructure that the app was hitting the database to lookup an anonymous user. A lot. If you're saying, "Why would you look up someone who is anonymous," yeah, you get what I'm saying. It's bad news when you're pushing 24 CPU cores to the brink. What frustrates me is not the lack of optimization, but rather the complete disregard for thinking, "How can I get away with doing as little as possible to serve this Web page?"

I recall a consulting gig I had in 2005, where we were trying to save an app where a couple dozen people were doing data entry from Windows client apps. The developer they worked with did the classic wrong thing: Get vague requirements from the client, disappear for a few months, and return with an app that failed. They had a database that was choking because it was poorly designed. Given the number of users, it should have barely got warm.

As much as I like to bitch about this kind of thing, I prefer to think through the solutions. Most issues like this are the result of developing for a big bang moment. That's a ton of planning (read: guessing), and putting something out there that simply isn't going to work the way you hope despite the planning. That's why I'm such a fan of agile development, iterating quickly and keeping everyone involved. A bug isn't a big deal when you only have to live with it for a week or two!

And speaking of performance, I'm happy to report the new server is so much over-kill that it's funny. The graph below is CPU usage when it's busy. No joke. The old server generally ran about 5 to 10% at peak times, with little spikes here and there. This one is less than 1%. Disk usage almost doesn't exist, probably because it has four times the RAM. Is it worth the extra $64 a month? Hard to say. Most pages on all sites render in under one tenth of a second, and Google's Webmaster tools say the average download time is around 110 ms. That's pretty awesome. We had one of our biggest traffic days in years on Monday (for a tragic reason, unfortunately), and the server still never got even remotely stirred. The benefit to me is less about the better hardware and more about the efficiency and speed of IIS7. Happy to finally be up to date.

On that note, I wanna go work on my own stuff. I haven't done that in about a week.


Life, death, age and feeling a little bored with myself

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 15, 2010, 8:59 PM | comments: 0

Life and death sure has been on my mind lately. Last week a high school friend died in a freak accident, this week we lost Will Koch, and a guy at work I don't know lost his child to SIDS. I'm not used to so much death that close by.

I don't think I'm generally that worried about death in a general sense. I mean, I accept it as a part of life, and I don't fear that it's coming. I can even rationalize that if my belief system is wrong and there is no afterlife, that's OK too since I won't be able to worry about it. I'm reasonably at peace with the end game. It's the worry that I'm not doing enough with the time I have that gets to me.

Oh sure, there are still things that creep into my head. I mean, when Randy Pausch (the "Last Lecture" guy) was interviewed by Diane Sawyer, he mentioned how his poo floated, a side effect of pancreatic cancer. Now every time I get a floater I wonder if I have cancer. Weird how the brain can work you over like that.

But in the event I were ever to get bad news like that, I don't know that it would be death I'd be most worried about. It would be more about knowing that I did enough with the time I had. I'd like to think that I've had a pretty great life so far, even with the pain parts, but I don't know if I've really contributed. There's no real standard for measurement, I suppose. Big and grand gestures or achievements are one thing, but I think even small things can be big things. For example, I'd like to think that through coaching I've helped a young girl become a better and more positive person as an adult. That counts.

But then there's the recurring feeling that I get where I feel as though I might be getting bored with myself. It's like, I'm in my late 30's, and I don't feel as exciting as I used to. Or maybe I wasn't exciting enough when I was a kid. I'm not looking to be the life of the party, but I do want to go to bed thinking, yeah, I'm really embracing life.

It's like my body piercing fascination. I get the urge to get something else pierced all of the time, especially lately. I can't explain why, though having to take out the industrial in 2007 has a lot to do with it. I miss that. But now I ask myself if I'm too old, which is pretty stupid (especially since I got my first hole at age 31). Why would I even care what people think? See, it's that line of thinking that makes me bored with myself. I mean, I live in Seattle. Grandmas have piercings here.

Feeling free in a world of constraints is something often achieved by successfully improving yourself. That's pretty vague, given the aforementioned lack of objective metrics. It's hard to really identify your own expectations as well. I know people who spend so much time thinking about these things that they're completely miserable, so thank God I'm not like that.

I think some of this is just seeing how well life is going overall, and having time to devote brain cycles to other reflective tasks. The instances of death just kind of guide toward this flavor of thinking. Self improvement is not an all consuming task for me (funny to label body piercing as self improvement, I know), but you know, I want to be what I'm capable of. That doesn't seem like an unreasonable expectation.


Imogen Heap in Seattle

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 15, 2010, 8:27 PM | comments: 0

I've been to a lot of shows. I doubt I could even name everyone that I've seen. But I can still say that last night Imogen Heap likely made the top three of all time for me (the other two being Garbage at the Agora in Cleveland, 2005, and Nine Inch Nails at the Palace at Auburn Hills, 1994).

I saw Imogen in 2006 in some tiny club outside of Detroit with Kara and Tobe. At the time, I basically knew the songs from Speak For Yourself, which was suggested to me by iTunes. I knew a few of the songs from I Megaphone. She was charming in that little room, without a band. She stripped down a lot of what she did, or used tracks. It was a great show, and I was excited about her future.

Unfortunately, the next album, Ellipse, didn't come out until years later, in 2009. It was worth the wait. I really love that album, and I couldn't wait for the tour. I recently blogged about how she was having a tough time making any money on tour.

The show started with her introducing the local group that would later join her on stage to sing "Earth." I guess she's been doing this on much of the tour, auditioning via YouTube. They were pretty interesting, and when they did sing with her, got a standing ovation. In fact, I couldn't believe how good it was. You just don't get to see things like that live very often.

Imogen Heap has stories, and she's very quirky in her delivery and interaction. Her strange social sense is part of her charm. If she was the weird kid growing up, I bet she's the person everyone wants to hang out with as an adult.

The other opening acts, also part of her band, were the Geese, who make noise with violins, and they weren't very interesting. I like noise, but even ambient noise has to go somewhere or do something. Ben Christophers was her guitarist, and I thought he was quite good.

The set list was pretty varied, and not nearly as current heavy as a lot of people get. In fact, she did quite a few I Megaphone songs, including "Come Here Boy." One song I didn't recognize at all, and it might have been one of the Frou Frou songs I don't know. The only songs I kinda missed were "Candlelight" and "Daylight Robbery."

She's really quite a musical genius. She started "First Train Home" by sampling the sound made from rubbing wine glasses. She kept adding sounds to the loop until she had that train-like "choo choo" rhythm that the song is known for. It was really amazing.

For "Just For Now," she did it a capella with the audience. She set up the three-part harmonies with the crowd, and went with it. It was one of the neatest things I've seen as far as crowd interaction.

Another thing she's been doing on tour is improvising a song, based on a melody and key suggested by the audience. She records it all, then posts it to her Web site to raise money for a local charity. Again, she's just got this natural genius to put things together and create something.

Some of my favorite moments included hearing "Canvas," with "The Fire" leading into it. That's such a great song, and to hear it with that intensity and volume was awesome. She did "The Moment I Said It" in a new arrangement that kind of cleared it from being a song that stings a little to this day (given the subject matter and timing that I first heard it). So many other favorites too. She ended the band set, explaining that's where they would do the fake ending, with a completely rocked out, loud and noisy version of "Tidal." She even had the stagehand bring out shades for her with her keytar and did a flying leap to end it. It was rad.

She ended center stage with her keytar and did "Hide and Seek," again relying on the crowd to fill in the background with the "ransom notes keep..." part toward the end. She got the standing-O. It was well deserved. About two and a half hours on stage is impressive for any artist, but especially one with only three albums.


We're going to miss Will Koch

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 14, 2010, 9:12 AM | comments: 0

The news this morning that Will Koch died over the weekend is really awful news to take. I doubt there are many in the coaster enthusiast community who haven't met him, shook his hand and had a laugh. The amusement industry as a whole has lost one of the best overall people to come along in decades, and it sucks.

I've had the pleasure of interviewing Will several times, both in person and on the podcast. This is a person who understood at a very fundamental level that treating people right was the core value that led to success in business. It's in the very fabric of his park. His non-conventional thinking has made waves in the amusement industry, baking the cost of soda into park admission. Year after year his staff is voted the most friendly. That all comes from the top.

It's going to be a little sad to visit Holiday World this fall and not see Will. It frustrates the shit out of me that such good people down there have had to deal with so much sadness, despite being in the business of good times.

The world is a better place because of Will.


Simon has a bad day

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 13, 2010, 1:59 PM | comments: 0

Wow, I was just talking about how being a parent is hard at times, and today has been one of those times. Fortunately, Diana is out doing errands, because I don't think she could take another day like this.

Simon has been cranky, spitting up, not sleeping, since this morning. And I'm talking screams and tears, too. I've been telling Diana that she shouldn't take it too seriously or personally when he gets like that, but I definitely appreciate how hard that is. I think he finally burned out, because I put him to bed and he passed out as soon as I put him down. Crossing my fingers now for a good nap and a bed time that's between 6 and 7.

The funny thing is that he can turn it around pretty quickly. When he flips into a good mood, he's too cute for words. It's just the times when he goes hours between cute that it's really hard.


Sometimes it really is hard

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 12, 2010, 9:47 PM | comments: 0

I've had a number of messages from people since Simon was born, thanking me for posting honest confessionals about what parenthood and relationships are like. Most interesting to me is the range, from a college classmate my own age, to someone much younger who isn't married but looks forward to having a family. I'm glad that someone is getting something out of it other than me!

And I will say that this parenthood thing is hard sometimes, even for a couple like us. I would describe us as highly functional compared to most couples, but we're not perfect. Our life experience does a lot to shape how we handle ourselves, and issues can creep up as you go.

One of the things that's difficult now is figuring out how to be good providers without melting down. My biggest concerns are of course financial, since we're essentially starting over (if I can ever sell my house). I honestly don't get too stressed out about it, but it does wear on me a bit. Diana's stress comes from worrying too much, about everything, and she doesn't verbalize it enough. Coupled with her strong reaction to Simon's crying and need to complete as many housewife-ish tasks as possible, she gets pushed pretty hard. That can unintentionally lead to resentment toward me, so we have to constantly keep that out in the open. You can imagine how bad it gets when you're tired and exhausted.

We do our best to prop each other up. Some things are getting easier with time, other things are getting harder. The key is to really check in with each other as often as possible. That's hard at times, when she's pushed to her limit on one of Simon's crabby days, and I'm brain-fried from work.


A good week at work

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 11, 2010, 11:45 PM | comments: 0

Even before I applied to work at Microsoft, I had it in my head that it wasn't clear what the company's long-term prognosis would be. Sure, it's been fashionable to bash the company for more than a decade, but I've been realistic to think that the Windows and Office cash cows wouldn't last forever.

As it turns out, the company made a nice save with Windows 7 (to the extent that Apple doesn't know what to rag on now), and it's still the the most profitable non-oil company in the world. I also learned pretty quickly that, internally, I don't think anyone is under the illusion that Windows is the future of the company. To my relief, people have their heads on straight in that respect.

Even though I was joining an agile team, I was still worried that Microsoft as a whole was generally slow and suffered from dumb big company syndrome. And yes, there are still parts of it that are big slow waterfall process products. This week, after hearing from a great many speakers in the internal Engineering Forum conference, I learned that the agile process is spreading quickly, and the culture is actually shifting very quickly. There are some serious success stories.

I'm also enthusiastic about Windows Phone 7. Still not sure if the name is a liability or a plus, but everything I've seen about it in the technical and design sense is beyond encouraging. I've touched it, and I think it's better than iPhone. Android has shown that you can wiggle into that market (not surprising since phone consumers have always been fickle), so if the execution is right and the companies that make the phones make them shiny, we've got a pretty good shot at competing. The guy running that division was a marketing exec or something, so hopefully it has the right message.

In my own group, I feel like we're sometimes hindered with stuff that just doesn't matter, but I also see progress there. My team is very vocal about doing just what matters, and doing it quickly. There are still cultural and organizational challenges, but it's not hopeless or anything.

Every day someone is predicting the end of Microsoft, but I have to say that after this week, I feel a lot more confident about the company not only staying relevant, but even kicking ass. Oh, and next week is E3, so Project Natal will allegedly have a complete and public story. Having seen it... wow. I can't wait. Already wondering what the discount price will be at the company store. :)

A friend of mine from the old gang wrote me tonight asking about dev gigs, and we just happen to have one in our group. Wouldn't that be wild?

It was a good week at work.


United Nations of babies

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 11, 2010, 10:56 PM | comments: 0

Diana posted this photo to her blog, but I wanted to repeat it here. These are the kids in the PEPS group that she joined. One of Diana's friends on Facebook mentioned that it was like the "United Nations of babies," and it's funny because that's pretty much what it's like to live and work out here. The diversity is pretty cool. It's very un-Midwest, and I dig that.


Mark Savage died

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 11, 2010, 9:25 AM | comments: 0

A guy that I went to high school with, Mark Savage, died in a freak accident last weekend in Erie County, Ohio, while camping. Apparently, he was trying to secure the awning on the camper, and the wind knocked over the camper and pinned him down.

I haven't spoken to him or seen him probably since high school, but he was kind of the token big funny guy of our class. He sat behind me in French, and it was hilarious to hear him butcher the language, at the frequent displeasure of the teacher.

He had a band with a couple of other guys too, playing bass. Despite this rock-n-roll, he was into Milli Vanilli (weren't we all?). The thing I remember most though is that he was so damn funny, without even trying. Some people just have that gift. That he became a lawyer, a decidedly unfunny profession, is ironic in a way that seems suitable for his personality when I knew him.

It sucks to hear about anyone you've known dying, but it's even worse when it's someone your own age. It's a reminder that you can't dick around through life waiting for things to happen, or wallowing in some kind of misery. The truth is, you don't know how many days you have left. Better enjoy today.


Religion review

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 10, 2010, 9:17 PM | comments: 0

The other day I posted a photo on Facebook of Simon passed out on Diana's shoulder at Mason's baptism, and slugged it, "Simon in church." One of my aunts posted the comment:

You go to church now? I'm liking this new wife and baby if they're making such a positive change in my once skeptical nephew.

There really isn't any possible way to interpret that in a positive sense. It's loaded with all kinds of accusations and judgment.

I know I've blogged about it before, but I'm reasonably at peace with my beliefs, despite the ups and downs of my experiences. I still don't understand why people can't live and let live when it comes to what people want to believe. The particularly weird part about it is that most people adopt a religion because they were raised in it, and for no other reason. By that I mean, yes, they likely made a conscious choice to engage their faith in a certain religion and commit to it, but the choice of the religion was likely rooted entirely in the fact that it's the one their parents put their faith in. I doubt most people ever thought, "Hey, I'm gonna look into this Buddhist and Jewish thing."

And really, that's OK. I had the same experience. Diana had the same experience. I'm annoyed not so much that I never had the choice, but that I didn't even have the awareness about other religions.

The measure of your goodness, relative as it may be, is revealed in your actions, not the place you spend Sunday morning. A wise pastor of mine told me that in my college days, and it has stuck with me ever since.

Naturally, the topics of faith and religion come up for us now that we're parents. Personally, I'm fairly indifferent about whether or not Simon is baptized. Diana very much wanted him to be baptized in a Catholic church, and I was fine with that. That started to get problematic when issues of membership and commitments came up, and I think she got a little worn down with the hoops to jump through. She went through similar drama trying to be the godmom of her BFF's kid, where they wouldn't even accept it if you weren't a part of the right sub-denomination of the Catholic church. Can you believe that?

It's funny because after reading Rework, there has been a lot of talk about it at work whenever someone brings up ways to add more process that adds no value. It occurred to me that many religious institutions suffer from similar problems, adding little value to faith.

So the natural question that we as parents had to ask ourselves is, what do we teach Simon? The short answer is... everything. When he's at an appropriate age, we'll teach him about the variations of Christianity that we were raised on, and likely expose him to different kinds of churches. We'll also introduce him to other faiths (with guidance from people who practice those faiths). From there on out, we'll let him decide what he wants to do. If he wants to engage in a church community, we'll support him and go with him.

Until then, I thank God every day for my life and the little miracle that is my baby.


Totally off day

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 10, 2010, 6:59 PM | comments: 0

You ever have a day that's not quite right, from start to finish? That was me today.

I woke up a little early to cover Simon as Diana got ready to go out for an early doctor appointment. If getting up early wasn't off enough, Simon was oddly not talkative in the morning. I figured that because he at least took an hour nap that he'd have a good day for Diana. He didn't.

When I got to work, a little before 10, I ended up parking in the big garage instead of under the building, which is fine because at least I get exercise by parking on the roof. When I enter my building behind some other dude, he actually follows me because he didn't think I swiped my badge. He was a disrespectful douche. He didn't even have his on him visibly as you're supposed to. I should've asked to see it.

At 11 I went to another session for the internal conference called the Engineering Forum (which has been awesome, by the way), and the session started 15 minutes late. That kind of annoyed me for some reason.

After leaving the conference and heading back for lunch, the Tesla guys were there with their car, so I got a look inside and under the hood. I asked the guy when the real "grown up" model (the S) was coming out, and he seemed genuinely offended by that, launching into a big defensive spiel about how the tech was new and blah blah blah. Seriously? I was just making a funny. There are more Porches then there are Toyota Corollas around that place!

We learned by e-mail that a guy in our group (I've never met him) just lost his son, the apparent "cause" being SIDS. As someone who just had a child, you can understand how that would freak me out. Anything called a syndrome (irritable bowel syndrome comes to mind) is frankly worse in my mind, because it's so undefined in terms of the cause and effect relationship. I mean, cancer at least is obvious, even if you can't beat it. A syndrome has no obvious preventative care.

In the afternoon, I got really tuned into what I was working on. OK, that's actually a good thing, because it's really un-fun. I'm backing out a piece of data no longer used by the app, and it's built in a way that you just keep going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of dependencies. I usually can't stay focused on stuff like that for very long, but today I did.

Once I got home, Simon was being a bit of a terror, and Diana was hitting her frustration limit. He has been doing that every couple of days, a combination of residual hunger, fatigue and maybe just good old fashioned crankiness. He wears you down and you just can't figure out how to get him to chill.

So I guess I can't say that it was a bad day, but it was strange.


Sleepy smiles

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 9, 2010, 11:49 PM | comments: 0

I know I keep talking about it, but I just love the little bit of time I get to have with Simon when he gets up to eat a little before midnight. Once he's had his bottle, he squirms and smiles on the changing table, and gives me a giggle or two. Then he gives me a mellow yawn and smile as I swaddle him up and take him back to the crib. I've got one adorable kid.


Sesame Street memories

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 7:32 PM | comments: 0

Having a child now, Sesame Street is likely to come back into our lives. We both watched it avidly as a child, and I honestly credit it with giving me a jump on reading and math. First grade seemed like a waste of time in retrospect, because basic reading and math was all pretty obvious for me at that point.

Watching the new episodes, it has changed a lot, but it seems to have a lot of the same basic approaches to learning while entertaining. A little too much Elmo for my taste, but that's OK. Most hilarious was a recent episode where Anderson Cooper from CNN tried to interview a couple of grouches about the letter G. It was pretty hilarious, with stuff obviously intended for adults as well.

Diana got a DVD from Netflix with a kind of "best of" from the first 20 seasons or something, and it's pretty remarkable to watch. I remember most of it. But as an adult, the context of it all is interesting too. I grew up in the inner city, so it wouldn't have mattered to me anyway, but 30 years ago they were incredibly diverse in the kids and cast they included. Gordon actually had hair, and not just hair, but a robust afro. They use sign language and Spanish. There are kids in wheelchairs. This is decades before "political correctness" became something to complain about.

One of the things I remember most was the episode where they explained that Mr. Hooper died. Big Bird's reaction was pretty intense the way they wrote it. Because my mom typically had the TV on during dinner, I remember the evening news covered the controversy around this, as a lot of parents thought it was in appropriate to talk about it in the show.

We definitely don't want to let the TV be a babysitter, and try to limit what he watches, but Sesame Street is definitely OK.

"A loaf of bread, a container of milk and a stick of buttah!" Oh, and "Nooney nooney noo..." :)


World of Color at Disney California Adventure

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 1:13 PM | comments: 0

Now this is a light show...


Close your laptop!

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 9:50 AM | comments: 0

I know it doesn't matter, but this annoys me. There are a lot of people at Microsoft who walk around in awkward places (cafes, conference rooms, shuttles) with their laptops open. They get in the way. If they do it because they're trying to work and walk, they're stupid. If they do it because they don't want the computer to sleep, they should know they can be set not to sleep.

Ah, college graduation

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 7, 2010, 11:13 PM | comments: 0

NBC did a nice piece on college graduates this year, and I've gotta tell you, I got a little misty. I know I've had a lot of discussions lately with friends and colleagues about the need for a college education, but there's something about that day when you're recognized that you did it.

For me, that day was filled with a wild set of emotions that ranged from relief that it was over, to anxiety about what was next, to pride, to an overwhelming feeling of hope. It's a unique time in your life when you have few constraints, limitless possibility and big dreams.

I think we need to do our best to hold on to all of that as we go forward into the world.


iPhone 4 impressions (and Windows Phone 7 comments)

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 7, 2010, 8:26 PM | comments: 0

I scanned the live blog coverage of the "Stevenote" today, and kept waiting for the "one more thing" that was going to make the iPhone 4 a slam dunk. It never really came. I think the design is a significant improvement, and the high res screen is also a win, but it's not really a $300 win (plus whatever it would cost given that I'm not even a year into my 3GS contract). That, and the new OS version will run on my 3GS.

The iMovie stuff is actually pretty impressive, but the video isn't all that important to me given my Canon 7D lust. I am glad that someone is taking cameras on phones seriously at least.

Maybe my indifference is because we already knew what it would like since it was leaked. I dunno. I suffered similar indifference when the 3G was introduced, and it took the 3GS to really convince me to upgrade. Heck, the durability of these things (Diana is still using my original iPhone, going on three-years-old) in some ways lowers my interest in upgrading. That's actually a plus, after all of my other phones for all of time have been mostly disposable.

Part of it might also be the distractions of the other platforms. A couple of guys at work have Android-based phones, and the truth is that some of them (with the better hardware) are pretty compelling. That they're making apps for them (in Java!) with relative ease is also a bonus.

Then there's "our" phone, Windows Phone 7. I don't know much about who all will make these, other than Dell since it was leaked to one of the gadget sites, but with the required hardware specs, we can at least expect that none of them will be underpowered. The battery life is the only real question I have there. There are all kinds of things I've seen internally that I suppose we're not supposed to talk about that give me great confidence as well.

But the real draw for me there is actually the stuff that's quite public. You can download the dev tools today and emulate it on your computer. You can see how the OS is shaping up. It gets away from icon grid mania and actually pays attention to what users are doing most with their phones. I love the idea of having apps available, but integrating the entire "home" experience to the kind of work one might typically do is a pretty cool evolution. For example, I can make a live tile for Diana that would show her Facebook status or show her latest photos or whatever. And the UI is generally pretty hott, if you ask me. It's new and shiny.

Will the hardware vendors make something sexy enough to match? I have no idea. If some of these new Android phones are any indication, I'm guessing they will. And yes, the other win for me is that I could actually develop apps for it with my existing skills. I have no interest in learning Objective-C.

The one thing that keeps me a little rooted in the iPhone world is syncing to iTunes. I have to admit that's an issue. I like having all of my music on my phone, and at least today, we don't know if someone can come up with a clever way to port your iTunes library to the Windows phone and allow it to coexist.

I have noticed that the tech press this time around was a little softer on iPhone 4, which leads me to believe that Android is making a dent, and there's finally a real competitive environment emerging. If Apple stays on top in the long, that wouldn't bother me as a consumer (it would as a MSFT stockholder, of course), provided they're forced to push their game. And support Flash. ;)


Presidential ass kicking

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 7, 2010, 8:05 PM | comments: 0

Obama has an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show tomorrow (whoa, time warp), and NBC teased it with this quote regarding the oil spill and the talking heads saying he isn't doing enough:

"I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick."

That's awesome. Not at all presidential, but it was still pretty cool. That's change I can believe in. :)


It's the little things in your living space

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 7, 2010, 4:46 PM | comments: 0

We're grilling chicken tonight. For all of the things that currently annoy me about apartment life, not the least of which is I can't plug in a hot tub, there are little things that make it tolerable. Having a place to put the grill is one of them.

Three weeks, and it'll be one mortgage down, one to go, then we start rebuilding.


Why the NBA is screwed up

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 7, 2010, 11:26 AM | comments: 1

First they fired Mike Brown, and now Danny Ferry is leaving the Cavs. Why? Because again they failed to win a championship (or even make it to the finals). Doesn't all of that suck and smell bad when the person really responsible for the failure is someone else completely?

Yeah, I'm talking about you, Lebron James. The person really responsible for the failure of the Cavs not only can keep his job and demand a bigger pay check, but he also can do so anywhere in the league. That's messed up. It's gotten to the point where the players have all the clout and none of the responsibility. All that bloodshed around the Cavs organization, and the one person who really should have made the difference is getting his ass perpetually kissed. Lame.

And now I have to watch Kobe be a smug asshole yet again.


Mason's baptism weekend

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 6, 2010, 6:46 PM | comments: 0

I was a little bummed out prior to this weekend, as all my fellow coaster geeks went to one of the two big events this spring. Our time will come in the fall, but it's still odd not to have the parks as a part of our spring.

Fortunately, Simon's cousin Mason had his baptism this weekend, which is kind of a throw back to before we were even engaged, and I visited Seattle the first time, for Nina's baptism (Mason's sister). I could not have imagined that I would live and work out here, we'd be married with a child, and Joe and Kristen would have their second. I can't even wrap my head around that.

But in any case, I offered to take pictures again. For Nina it was Joe's sister (Diana) and Kristen's brother as the godparents, this time it was Joe's brother Sam and her sister in law. There weren't as many people in town this time around, but Sam hadn't met Simon yet, and of course Diana's dad will take every chance he can get to see his three west coast grandkids.

It was nice to have a chance to be social outside of work. They had a neighbor's backyard fire thingy, so I got to be around a campfire after all! The neighbor works for The 'Soft as well, so we talked about free soda and bus routes.

Simon actually did pretty well. He was quiet in church, when he wasn't singing along. The timing of his feeding just happened to work out right. Mason was pretty hilarious, as when the priest did what we affectionately call the "Lion King moment" after the baptism, holding him over his head, he gave a big smile and giggle for the congregation. He did this with Nina too, though we weren't expecting it, and it made everyone nervous because both kids were wearing what is less affectionately known as "the dress." Kristen's family has a satin baptismal robe that I guess kids in the family have been wearing for something like 70 years now. It may sound goofy, but it's kind of a neat tradition.

After dinner, I actually got to hit a volleyball around with the neighbor girl. She's about middle school age I think, and when I got too tired to chase the ball around, I resorted to coaching her. The gratification that comes from seeing a kid respond to your instruction and feel empowered came rushing back to me. Clearly I need to get back into coaching.

Diana got to finally partake of some alcohol, and we seemed to have moved Simon at all the right times so there were no meltdowns. Poor kid has been messed up since we had our vacation last week. Today, unfortunately, he had a harder time. We went back to their house for some additional visit time, but he got kind of cranky. When we got home, he stayed happy long enough to feed him again, get him a much needed bath, and then he passed out.

I picked up an awful sniffle last night, and I've been trying to keep my happy face on all day. I think it was the flowers at the church that triggered it, but the smoke from the fire clearly made it worse. The podcast should be interesting.

Overall though, a pretty solid weekend. Good to spend some time with Simon's little cousins too!


Imogen getting squeezed on tour

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 4, 2010, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

Gonch just made another post about how f'd up the music industry is when it comes to actually trying to make a living at it. Coincidentally, I saw an article today about Imogen Heap, and how screwed she's getting trying to tour. (Also: Imogen on the BBC.)

The articles point out an even worse situation than the labels not getting it, and that's the completely fucked up arrangement with tickets and venues in this country. If the Ticketmaster/Live Nation monopoly doesn't own a venue, they have exclusivity agreements with it. The $26 ticket becomes nearly $50 by the time you pay all the extra fees to Ticketmaster. What exactly is convenient about a fucking convenience fee? It's only convenient for Ticketmaster because it doesn't have any value to anyone else.

I first saw Imogen at some little club in suburban Detroit a few years ago with Kara and Tobe (sleeping on his couch), and I honestly don't think we paid more than fifteen bucks for each ticket. This time we paid nearly $50 to see the forthcoming show at a theater here in Seattle, and it annoys the piss out of me that a self-funded artist, who has a hundred times the talent as the hacks being pushed by record companies, will see so little of that money.

I suspect Schuyler Fisk is in a similar boat (imagine what the fans of those two could do together), in that she apparently told the labels to piss off and she does her own thing. We saw her in a tiny little dive in Cleveland last year the day after her album came out. Again, I don't think we paid more than $15. I'd gladly pay more to see her or Imogen any day, if I knew they were actually going to get some of that money. I get a lot of joy out of music, and I can't put a price on that.

So buy the albums (or MP3's), reluctantly buy the tickets, and be sure to get a T-shirt or something.


Necessity is the mother of reinvention

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 4, 2010, 9:01 PM | comments: 0

Last night, we watched the season finale of Parenthood (which is awesome, as it should be given what they must be paying for that cast). Haddie, one of the teenage daughters, I think she's supposed to be 15, has a teen crisis of identity over a boyfriend and feeling dull, so she dyes her hair black and freaks out her parents. Later, she explains what she's feeling to her mom, and how she just needed to change to not feel so complacent.

At first I think it's easy to write it off as a stupid teenager thing to do, but later I realized how much I identified with her. Everyone goes through that, probably several times in their lives. Changing your hair is probably one of the easiest ways to feel like you're taking control and overcoming complacency, but some people buy new clothes, or when they really need drastic change, get piercings or tattoos.

So I found myself challenging my initial impression that this was an act of immaturity for the TV character, when I realized that I've made drastic changes in my appearance twice, both following periods of unhappiness. The first was in college, the summer after my sophomore year of college, where I was a self-loathing and miserable douche over a girl for much of the year. I grew out my hair quite a bit and got it cut to match one of my volleyball heroes at the time, Adam Johnson. The second major changes came for me when my first marriage started to fall apart, and I lost a ton of weight (which I needed to do anyway) and took an interest in body piercing (I still hate that my industrial got gross and had to come out).

I've forced professional changes as well. After radio failed to live up to my junior high dreams for a career, and even "safe" government TV failed to satisfy me, I completely changed careers to be a developer. I wasn't happy, so I took control. I suppose looking elsewhere for work after decades of living in Northeast Ohio, that was a drastic measure as well.

My point is that sometimes reinvention is what we have to do to make our lives better. It's not something we do out of desperation, as it may appear, but something we do out of necessity. I don't view it as a response to fear, but an act of courage. Change is hard.


I hate the term "rock star developer"

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 4, 2010, 6:02 PM | comments: 0

Yes, I've used the term "rock star developer" before, but now I decided I hate it. Why? Because it's a bullshit term used by people who define a great developer in the wrong ways.

We saw a video clip today at work that made me realize how stupid and misplaced the term is, and how more often than not, businesses measure the value of these people in the wrong way. So this guy in the video was talking about some dude who knew 15 programming languages or something. OK, and why does that matter? Every job I've had, we've used only one programming language (and the same one, at that). More on why that doesn't matter in a moment.

I remember a recent job posting from Calacanis for Mahalo where he talked about how he wanted a rock star, or someone he called a "killer" (I blogged about this before, and he even responded). To him, a dev has to have poor life-work balance, sacrifice everything and apparently have the productivity of several people. Again, what does this have to do with being a good developer?

I've interviewed many developers and had to assemble teams in a quick ad hoc fashion for consulting firms. What I look for is different than what others look for, but the best developers really require only three things to me:

  1. They need to know how to code. Duh. They don't need a masters in computer science, or know a dozen languages, or whatever. I suppose they're nice to haves, but it's not required. I can coach and teach a developer to be better at their craft, so as long as they have very strong fundamentals, I don't care if they wrote a compiler.
  2. They need to understand the fundamentals of business. Honestly, in my experience this is the thing that is most lacking among developers. Everything you do has a business context to it, and in some places, the decisions you make on things you develop can have an impact on whether or not the business makes money. I'll take it a step further and say that they shouldn't only understand the business, they should enjoy making the business work.
  3. They need to look at development as a creative endeavor, particularly if what they do interacts directly with humans. Seeing a toolbox of radio buttons and text boxes and composing them into something is not being creative. That practice ignores the requirements of the end user and what it is they're trying to accomplish. That's why most software sucks. "Engineers" get so hung up on making something on the screen flash that they never ask why it should flash in the first place.

These three ideals should make for obvious requirements, but I don't think they do. The first is like any profession, where you need to know what the tools are and how to use them. The second gives you a higher purpose for the work you do, above simply "coding," because it defines the reason you have a job in the first place. The third leads to better experiences with your customers, which means they'll keep using what you offer.

The next time you hear someone is looking for a rock star, ask them if that comes with a guitar.


Simon's anti-sleep field

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 4, 2010, 5:25 PM | comments: 0

Today was one of a handful of days where Simon decided that sleep was not a priority, and that would mean he would be miserable and make Diana miserable. I got the call around 3, and fortunately our boss gave an informal blessing for us to leave a training seminar that was frankly not valuable, at least, not to people on our team. My co-codemonkey and I found a comfortable place to tinker with our own science projects, so we weren't working on anything critical anyway.

When I got home, Simon gave some laughs and acted like he had been fine all day, but the fact that he was rubbing his eyes and was so tired that he'd sit in your arms (he's usually too busy to do that when awake) told a different story. Diana left for her knitting group, and I took over trying to coax him into at least a nap before his long evening sleep.

He didn't object to swaddling, and he generally seems to love it as long as he's not hungry. As soon as I tried to put him into his crib though, the crying began, with actual tears. The Internets say different things about tears, but imply that he might be old enough where tears mean an actual emotional response. So perhaps in addition to being physically tired out of his mind, he doesn't want to be alone.

I put him down on the couch next to me, tried to sooth him a little, and eventually stretched out myself. I started to doze off, but I still have the impossible need to make sure he's breathing when he's sleeping near me. I lost a lot of sleep that way his first month. In any case, he finally fell asleep after 40 minutes, and I'm still sitting next to him.

Something I try to be mindful of is how I essentially get a break every work day, whereas Diana does not. I try to pick up later feedings with him on weekends and focus on him for his last two waking hours after work. That has been a good balance for me, but I think Diana definitely needs a little more time off from him. It all works better as a partnership.

Well, looks like this nap is only gonna last 30 minutes. I guess that's better than nothing!


Changing time is happy time

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 11:30 PM | comments: 0

Simon has his crabby moments, like any baby, but it's amazing how consistently he loves changing time. As soon as you put him on that table, most of the time, it's all smiles and giggles. It's so adorable. Even when he's sleepy and up for a night time feeding, he tends to give you a smile and a happy noise.

I have to say, I'm going to miss it when we don't get to change him. How ridiculous is that? I suppose at three months, we still have a long way to go, but it's just so remarkable how big he's getting. It looks like he'll be in the 90th percentile or higher again on height and weight (eyeballing it, anyway), so perhaps it's just an optical illusion. He just has so much personality and it feels like he's developing so quickly. It's going by so fast!


New Digg might be relevant to me again

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 10:09 PM | comments: 1

I've been a fan for a long time of Digg, and Kevin Rose for him executing on the ideas that made it popular (even though they were never really new ideas). He posted a short video previewing the new version of the site, and I have to say, it's a lot more compelling than it used to be. I honestly stopped going to Digg, because the stuff in the tech world was adequately covered in the RSS feeds I subscribe to (between Ars Technica and News.com, mostly covered). I didn't really give that much of a shit about what was generally popular, but narrowing it to people I know may make it significantly more compelling. We'll see.


Career anxiety

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 9:38 PM | comments: 0

As we get close to the end of the fiscal year, the performance review and all of that stuff is ramping up at work. (I've never taken more HR-related surveys or filled out evaluations and mountains of other documents as I have at this gig, by the way. The volume is so high that I wonder how much of it is actually valuable.) This process doesn't cause me anxiety, because I'm fortunate enough to have a manager who is very proactive in keeping expectations obvious and letting you know where you stand. In fact, this company has a surprisingly positive culture for making sure that its people are successful. It can't bait people with the million dollar stock paydays that it did in its early history, obviously, but at least within our group, there's a pretty solid emphasis on work-life balance and advancement. I think in the long run, I'd have to be a real screw off to not be successful there.

Obviously, this year, nothing really happens. I haven't been there that long, and my ramp up time was slow given the move, the holidays, the baby, the houses... it has not been easy to engage. Even now, I don't feel like I'm operating at the level I should be, but again, my boss is working to help me figure that out. The opportunities are there, and I'm working them. The point is, I know where I stand, and there aren't any surprises.

The anxiety is rooted in the slightly backward step I took in terms of my career progress to get into the company, and the review process is kind of a reminder of that. While you can certainly make more money there than you would in the Midwest or other areas (which is also a function of cost of living in Seattle to some degree), people tend to enter the company one title or level below where they might have been elsewhere in the industry. The company has its justification for that, and it makes sense to a degree.

Prior to this job, I was guiding processes and teams of people. I don't like to say "manage" because I genuinely believe that while you can set vision for people (and evolve it as the needs of business change), you don't have to tell them what to do in the classic factory worker sense. From teenagers to people 20 years older than me, I find that giving them the means and trust to execute just works. ICOM aside, I've come to realize that nearly all of my jobs in my entire professional career have put me in a "management" position. In my first real job after leaving radio, I had an employee and a half, and a budget of $100k. Since then, I've had a track record of creating things. Seeing tangible results that come out of these situations is gratifying. It's like conducting an orchestra, where you might not have written the music, and you don't have the same skills as the players, but under your guidance you get amazing music. There's an enormous high that comes from that.

So instead of being a lead/manager/sensei, as in previous jobs, my position is that of a senior dev. I dig that, especially at this company because you're in such good company of people who make you better every day. In fact, with a company this enormous, you'll never run out of people who can make you better (unless you wake up one day smarter than Ray Ozzie, which is not likely to ever happen). I've also been in that stuck position, at ICOM, and perhaps I still have some lingering feelings of not knowing where to go when I was there. I need to get over that, because as I mentioned, those limitations don't exist in a huge company.

But I'm still anxious to get back to that point, not just because I enjoy it more, but also because I feel like I have to make up for lost time. Something about this whole experience of moving, along with the birth of my own child, has made me acutely aware of the passage of time. It's not that I fear death or anything morbid like that. I'm also not one of those crazy work-until-you-burnout types who know no satisfying level of achievement. My motivation is more simple: Provide for my family with a very high level of comfort, don't make the same financial mistakes as the rest of my family and satisfy my deepest desire to create things and have meaningful impact on the lives of others. I believe that the next level at work gets me a lot closer to those goals, and frankly, I'm better in that level-up role than I am in my current position.

I'm not entirely sure where that will lead me. Maybe it'll be a discipline change from dev to program management. Maybe it'll be in an entirely different group. I'm starting to get a real feeling for the company in terms of what's hot (or not) and where the action is. I feel like I have the support to figure it out. It's just the time that causes anxiety. It feels like Simon starts college next year. :)


The grabbing hands

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 1, 2010, 10:34 PM | comments: 0

Simon's new thing is grabbing stuff with a level of hand control he hasn't had until recently. I snapped this ridiculously cute picture of him in the hotel last weekend as we were returning to the room, little tiger thingy grasped firmly. That's one adorable kid we've got!