This has become a bit of a ritual for me, to summarize my year. When I look back, it seems every year has been dramatic and full of intense changes. I think there's a part of me that really wants a nice, uneventful and boring year. This was not that year.
Another year, and another move. I wrote quite a bit about our motivation to do it back in August, the two primary reasons being proximity to friends and family, as well as the tiresome burden of the house I couldn't sell. With the job market in my field substantially better, and only moderate attachment to Microsoft, it was the right thing to do. Sure, I've questioned it almost continuously since we decided to do it, but it was right.
The financial implications of the move panned out immediately. The plan was always that I could take as much as a $20k pay cut and still be cash flow neutral, but I didn't have to take that much of a cut. For the first time in my life, I'm actually able to start working toward financial goals that aren't simply paying off credit cards. Now that I have a little person relying on me, and a grown up person relying on me to give her the freedom to raise the little person, that financial responsibility has never been more critical. That I didn't have to finance a huge loss on my house even gives us a foundation to build on.
The geography advantages won't really be obvious until spring, unfortunately. Winter in Cleveland is kind of a lateral move. But once it starts to warm up and we have a proper spring, and can do some easy driving trips, particularly to our favorite amusement parks, that will be a bit of a homecoming.
The social transition has been harder than I thought. I'm very happy to see all of our friends back in Cleveland on a regular basis, but greatly miss our Seattle circles. I didn't expect it would be that hard. The worst part is not regularly seeing my brother-in-law and his family, as it was really fantastic to have someone going through parenthood just slightly ahead of us, with Simon's cousins so close. Every day I struggle with that.
On the positive side, it is nice to have space that is really ours. We've enjoyed redecorating our house, and it really feels new again. The exterior will need some work in the spring, but generally speaking, it's a new and wonderful space to us, where we can paint and put holes in the walls and do whatever.
Work was interesting, to say the least. At the beginning of the year, I was convinced that switching to a program manager role at Microsoft would be better for me in the long run. That change, I reasoned, would allow me to have greater impact in less time, and that would be more satisfying to me. That this situation was true actually led me to a realization about the company, which I'll get to in a minute.
I started the year by interviewing for a PM job in the game studio org. It was a mix of roles leading a development team that builds various testing tools for the studios. For a process nerd like me, it was a bit of a dream job, particularly since it was in the game industry without making games. Unfortunately, I came in second place behind a guy who was already a PM, but was otherwise an equal. I can't blame the hiring manager for making that choice, but it was really disappointing.
A few months later, I stumbled into another PM gig that would be part of the cloud services team, building parts of what they're now calling "Data Explorer." It was a bit of a struggle for me, because there was so much emphasis on stuff that didn't matter, and very little on actually building stuff quickly. As much as I tried to steer the team toward that, I was directed toward making documents so I could call meetings with dozens of people costing thousands of dollars. It was culturally as foreign as can be. In the long term, I could have been "successful" at that in the HR sense, but at the expense of my soul. That nothing has shipped speaks volumes about my struggle to fit in there.
So that realization that came with the desire to switch to a PM role was that Microsoft tends to hire people because of their qualifications, then puts them in a job that is at least one notch below that. For example, I knew a CTO type who was hired as a senior SDE. Despite my lead experience, I was hired one notch below, as an individual contributor. As I looked around at people also new to the company, this was a consistent pattern for everyone except college hires (which obviously start at the bottom).
That realization in turn made me realize how poor Microsoft is for best utilizing its talent. The company is filled with talented people, but you have to follow their rigid career development structure to get anywhere. I think that's a huge failure, because the best people that I've ever worked with tend to not fit into neat little categories. Heck, I'm not purely a developer any more than I'm purely a PM (or any other variation on those roles). I think if the company ever made an effort to understand this, they would see that it isn't necessary to have an army of PM's for features (I'm looking at you, Bing), or a mess of developers to solve some arbitrary problem with documents about how to solve a problem.
Those deficiencies aside, I still very much believe in the company, and it will always be a part of me. I'd go back to it (well, in the remote worker sense) if they had the right job. However, there wasn't a clear enough path compelling enough to stay when the notion of moving came up.
Part of the reason to move back was that the job market was better, and maybe having Microsoft on the resume had a lot to do with that. In any case, the company that offered me a job before we moved turned out to be a total joke, a possibility I was prepared for. They were only interested in making sure you were there specific hours and dutifully saying yes to everything. So when I tried to innovate and offer solutions that would have improved their business, it was clear that it wasn't going to work out.
It only took two weeks to get other offers, and there has been no shortage of opportunities. I'm honestly still trying to figure it out, and take advantage of the best opportunity for me in the long run. I'm fortunate to work in an industry that, 2008 to 2010 aside, is very much an employee's market.
When I look back at all of the adventures we had this year, it's hard to believe! The previous year was robust as well, and this year turned out to be similarly interesting.
Right at the top of the year, we had what ended up being one of our best vacations yet. We spent a week in Orlando, and Simon was excellent most of the time. We stayed at Universal Orlando, because the on-site hotels and City Walk made it easy to do touristy theme park stuff and retreat to our room when Simon needed a break. His chubby butt couldn't walk yet either, but he enjoyed himself. My BFF Kara met up with us and we got to spend a day with her, after a very long time of not seeing her. We really had a good time.
Simon took us to his first rock concert, Caspar Babypants. This whole year was dominated by Babypants music, as it's pretty much the best kid music ever. It was neat to see Simon respond at the show, and he still has instant smiles every time we play the music.
There were a lot of great little lunch trips where Simon and Diana came to meet me at work, and we'd walk around the Microsoft campus and visit people. People visited Simon for his first birthday (my friend Teresa made the best cake ever), and he regularly was a source for gathering with people.
We had an off-site event at work just as I was leaving the group, which ended up being the most epic party I had in Seattle. Aside from drinking too much, barfing, and retiring to my room for an hour, it was a really outstanding time. Shortly thereafter, I went to Mix in Vegas, for the first time on the other side, as a company employee. That was a good time as well.
Diana and I had our first Simon-free overnight, as we got on a ferry to Whidbey Island and enjoyed alone time (thanks to my dear bro and sister-in-law). It was kind of cold and gray, but the time at the B&B and around Langley was really great. We actually found some really great pizza, a rarity in Washington.
There were zoo visits in Seattle and in Tacoma, and our first trip to an indoor water park and hotel. Simon just soaked it all up and had a good time. We went to countless playgrounds around our neighborhood. Simon's grandparents made visits to us. For Jeff Putz week, we got out for quality date time, while Diana got highlighted.
We made a trip back to Cleveland, where we realized that, beyond all expectations, the city could be home to us again. We raised a ton of money at Cedar Point for GKTW.
When we made the commitment to move, we turned into hypertourists. It started with a trip to Idaho to visit Silverwood, which turned out to be somewhat disappointing, but we did it. We did a Segway tour around Seattle, went up in the Space Needle, made two trips up to Mt. Rainier, went to the science museum and a Mariners game... we covered a lot of ground!
Once back in Cleveland, we became zoo members, and squeezed in a couple of visits to Cedar Point. We ended the year with a trip to North Carolina to see Diana's parents and had an outstanding time (car accident aside).
Generally speaking, we were able to really keep our challenges in check, and Simon has been a total joy. It has been fun to watch him go from this giggling blob on his back to a little person who runs around and says a few words. When I think about his state a year ago, it's almost hard to believe he's the same human.
Like any parents, the thing we worry most about is his development, and though he did get behind, he seems to be catching up now. I don't think we obsess about it, but we offer healthy concern. We definitely followed a pattern for awhile of doing too much for him, which contributed to his slow move toward walking. The hardest lesson to learn is to just let him fail and flail a bit.
I hope that I haven't done a disservice to him by moving, because our Snoqualmie neighborhood was so perfect for a kid his age. So much walking space, and playgrounds every other block. He definitely has some room to walk around here (none of the walks ending at Finaghty's), but (good) playgrounds require a short car ride.
We're starting to enter the world of discipline, which is less fun, but I think we're getting a handle on it. He knows when he has exhibited behavior that's not acceptable, and even appears to show regret.
The greatest thing about being Simon's parents is that he brings so much love to our little family. For all of the things that don't really matter, Simon brings us back to reality and perspective.
The year in music was interesting. There was very little in the way of new music from "old reliable" artists. I bought a lot of single songs this year. I enjoyed new albums from Mutemath, Schuyler Fisk, 311 and the Beastie Boys, but most of what I bought this year was new to me. The Black Keys, Manchester Orchestra, Matt & Kim, Vampire Weekend and The Naked and Famous all provided a soundtrack to life that was pretty far removed from previous years.
And I have to mention Caspar Babypants again, for the awesomesauce that he is. The former Presidents frontman writes even better kids music. The album Sing Along! is a joy to listen to. Songs like "Helicopter" and "Sun Go" are fun, and "Baby Cloud" is outright brilliant for a kids song.
Meanwhile, this was the year we cut the cord. When we moved back to Cleveland, we did not get cable or satellite TV. We took inventory, and 95% of what we watched was on network TV. So I plugged in an antenna to my DVR and TV, and that's what we watch. We filled in missed stuff during the move with Hulu, and frankly, we haven't missed cable. Good thing, too, because Time Warner makes Comcast look awesome by comparison. Just getting Internet service turned on was a fiasco.
And broadcast TV actually produced some winners this year. We don't watch that much, but we got roped into some great new shows. Once Upon A Time is crack-like in nature. Pan Am, Happy Endings and New Girl add to the fun. If it weren't for these shows, we'd be down to the three or four shows left from previous seasons. I suppose that's OK, because TV is a bit of a time suck.
This is still a work in progress, and fresh on my mind, but I suppose it's important enough to mention here. The short term problem is that it scares me to think about what might have happened, or what could happen every time one of us gets in a car. Diana had a minor fender-bender earlier in the year, and for some reason that didn't really concern me as much. I guess it's because it never happened to me before. What a mess. I'm glad we all came out relatively unhurt.
I think 2011 will be the year that I redefined my view of what wealth means. For my entire life, I approached it as having as much money as possible, or more precisely, making as much as possible. At some point, I decided this was not correct. Being wealthy means having the financial freedom to not be at risk or forced to do things you don't like, and that's achieved not by making more, but having fewer expenses. You do that by borrowing less and saving for things up front. Think about it... if you had a mortgage that was a couple hundred bucks because you saved and put a ton of money down, would you be particularly concerned about losing your job? Probably not.
It took much of 2010 and most of 2011 to go from the depths of credit card debt to significant savings, and without having to earmark that cash for selling my house at a loss, we're moving in a fairly positive direction. The goal is to hit an arbitrary amount in three to five years and put that amount down on a place where we can raise Simon and be comfortable. It's contingent on selling my house at that point, but I'm going to assume at least some pick up in the housing market by then, at least regionally. That, and a few more years of payments will at the very least get me to a neutral release from the dreaded negative equity problem.
I can't honestly say that no change is good change, but maybe I could say that I'm no worse off despite my summer love of Strongbow at Finaghty's. After the volleyball coaching fiasco just before the year started, I was denied getting the kind of exercise that I enjoy. Fortunately, when Simon started to walk, so did I (to Finaghty's). This was the year of much walking. I walked a lot on the Microsoft campus, I walked around our Snoqualmie neighborhood, around various zoos. It's not the kind of hardcore exercise I need more of, but I suppose it helped fend off other problems.
Like eating too much. I learned to stress eat again in the move transition. I had it under control pretty quickly, but I was up almost ten pounds very quickly, before reversing it all. Whew! Moving back to Cleveland also provides me a great deal of motivation to get my shit together, because the average weight here has to be 50 pounds higher than Seattle. For some reason, being surrounded by attractive people is less motivating than being surrounded by fat people.
Moving back meant we could find affordable tennis, and I was strongly considering joining the club before we went west. Now, I can, and have, so hopefully that's going to help me with being active. I learned this year that my lipid panel numbers were actually mostly in the normal range, but I could get them to awesome pretty easily if I moved around a little.
I still have urges to get more stuff pierced, but I have this annoying idea that it might not meet the approval of some. I hate that, and I'm not sure what to do with it. I have a better feel for what I'd like my first tattoo to be, but I feel like I need to get my body into better shape first, so it deserves to be enhanced.
Last year I realized that the differences in weather actually left me feeling much better off. It's no secret that a lack of sun brings me down. It's totally chemical. Seattle let me down a little this year, because summer took forever to arrive. June was so crappy, and July wasn't much better. To be fair, that's unusual, but it was still annoying. The upside is that fall held off too, so September, our last month in town, was amazing.
I think the fact that my job change in April did not meet my expectations definitely had me down a little, but when you come home every day to an amazing family situation, it's nearly impossible to not be all smiles. Hanging out with Simon and Diana, walking around the neighborhood, having wrestle-tickle fights, etc... that's what it's all about. I've never been happier in my family and relationship situations.
The location will be a little trickier, at least until spring. Coming home to mountain views day after day never got old, and put a smile on my face every day. I will absolutely miss that. Cleveland sucks by comparison. But come spring, we'll be able to do the kinds of things we always enjoyed, particularly going to amusement parks. The differences won't force me into a downward spiral of despair, but winter could be tough.
Being happy in all aspects of life can be tough, but in the last four or five years, I've identified the things that I don't like, and changed them. Starting in 2007, I decided to stop allowing life to simply happen to me. I've figured out the relationship part, the value of parenthood, where money fits, that location really matters, and the career part is definitely a work in progress. What makes me happiest is understanding that this is an ongoing process that will continue until my dying day. It's OK to have goals, but only if you're enjoying the moment.
And that leads me to the next year. I can't predict what will happen. I have some ideas about what I'd like to happen, but I simply don't know. If you told me how 2011 would go down, I'd tell you that you were crazy. I just look forward to more adventures, more good times with my family, and hopefully, a glowing retrospective a year from now.
When I started to think about how things went this year with my humble little side business, I started to realize that I pretty much didn't do anything for it. While I did all kinds of stuff for CoasterBuzz in 2010, I added nothing to it this year.
First, the hard numbers. Ad revenue dropped by a third this year. That sucks. Granted, it was up over 60% the year before, but that's still a crappy dip to deal with. I was able to partially offset the drop by spending less on travel and hardware, but it was not a good year. Google took a shit toward the end of summer, and it just never got better. Fortunately, club memberships were relatively steady, but with the higher hosting costs, I could definitely use a boost there.
PointBuzz held the status quo for the most part in traffic, while CoasterBuzz held on to visitors, but saw a 15% drop in page views. That doesn't really surprise me, because the site is getting a little stale. It's in desperate need of a refresh, after three years of sameness. The 2010 changes really gave it a nice boost, but it's time for a bigger change. I'm happy with the quality of community, but I definitely need to give more for the non-posting drive-by crowd to do. They still account for 85% of visitors.
Walt and I launched MouseZoom this year, but we never really "finished" it. The funny thing about sites with lots of photos is that you actually have to put photos on them. For me at least, I'm sitting on hundreds of photos and I just haven't got around to posting them. I spend most of my time wrangling Simon photos, I suppose. There was, however, a positive side effect of getting that site into production...
I finally finished a rewrite of POP Forums for the ASP.NET MVC engine. At the beginning of the year, as I was winding down in my old job at work, I had a burst of energy and cranked it out. While the business "sponsors" it, it's not a for-profit thing at all. It's open source. I've since published one update, and have another in the pipe, hopefully ready in a few weeks. I've really enjoyed working on it in the newer framework, though it would've been nice to get it done a year earlier.
I've thought a lot about setting up a non-profit affiliated with the amusement park sites, to donate some portion of the revenue worthy causes. It feels like the right thing to do. Playing a big role in the promotion of the big Give Kids The World fundraiser, it's like a calling to me. I'll definitely spend more time thinking about that this year.
For next year, I have to get my ass in gear and modernize CB, particularly now that I have a newer forum version ready. I also have to address some of my science projects, and see if any of them are worthy of becoming actual businesses. I just have to better maintain my spare time.
[Note: This was actually written the night of the accident, on Christmas Eve. So far, Progressive has not lived up to my expectations, and I don't know what the fate of the car is, a week later. I don't even know if it has been moved to the shop or if anyone has looked at it. Pissed.]
Today was not a good day. It could have been worse, but I'm not quite to the point yet where I can think in those terms. We split a drive down to North Carolina into two days, so we could get a head start Friday after work, leaving us hopefully rested for Christmas with Diana's family. It didn't quite work out that way.
We were sitting at a light in Bristol, Tennessee, when I looked up in my rear-view and saw it coming. A pick-up was barreling down on us at full speed, probably 35 mph or more. I started to pull up and attempt to get out of the way, but she was just coming too fast. She pushed me into the intersection, and an oncoming car turning left into a shopping center creamed me from the front, essentially sheering off the front of the car.
The impact was somewhat violent, but I suppose these things are easier to take when they come from behind. I don't know, I've never had an accident. The front was fairly low speed, pushing the car more than anything else. The car didn't even die (as far as I can tell, but it's a hybrid, so the engine wasn't running in the first place), and I was able to drive it off to the side, dragging all kinds of fragments with me.
Diana and Simon both appeared confused, but not hurt. The adrenaline and anger was immediate and intense. I got out of the car and yelled to the woman driving: "How the fuck do you hit a stopped car like that?! What the fuck were you thinking?!" Her reaction was one of apology, then anger. At that point I went back to focusing on my family. Simon started to cry, I think because he had never seen Daddy be that intense and angry. I surveyed the car, and couldn't believe that the front was essentially gone.
The car that turned in front of me was an older model "big" American car, and the body damage wasn't that substantial. Not good, but their car was at least driveable. At this point it appeared that everyone was physically OK, and I was trying my best to not even make eye contact with the woman who started it all. The crazy woman proceeded to tell Diana how sorry she felt for her and Simon that they had to live with a big jerk like me. Whatever.
Two officers and their sergeant showed up and worked out what was going on, though oddly didn't really ask me anything beyond my initial statement that the woman plowed into me. She was getting belligerent with them about something. Apparently it wasn't even the first time the reporting officer had encountered her today, but naturally he couldn't say why. The woman was cited for causing the accident, and unfortunately the other driver from the oncoming was cited for not having proof of insurance.
While the tow truck worker cleaned up and tried to figure out how to shift a hybrid into neutral, one of the officers brought over a stuffed animal for Simon, which was such a great gesture. Simon was too worried about what they were doing with Daddy's car. The cops allowed us to hang out at the police station until my in-laws could make the two and a half hour trip up to get us. I can't say enough good things about the Bristol PD. What a fantastic group of people.
I don't really care about the car. I honestly hope that it's a total loss because otherwise we have to figure out how to get it once it's fixed, and that's a huge pain in the ass. When we went back to get the rest of our stuff out of it, I noticed that the back door seemed a bit stuck. The trunk compartments had also been compressed, which wasn't obvious to me at the time. The adjuster and the tow truck guy think it's a close call. Obviously if there's damage to the frame, that's a lot more serious. Like I said, I don't really care about the car, but if I can avoid having to go back to Bristol to get it, that would make life easier (and cheaper).
Simon really came through it all like a trooper. He found that the police break room had plenty of cupboards and a door to open and close to his heart's content, and he did so for almost two hours. He was a hit with the officers who came in and out during that time. I somehow bruised my shoulder blade. Diana's upper arm somehow got bruised, by the belt I think, but like me, I think it was the emotional stress of the whole things that most takes its toll. It could have been much, much worse.
As for me, I'm still not ready to just be thankful it wasn't worse. I'm still too angry that some idiot who isn't paying attention could literally kill you and your family in a situation like that. I can accept that people make mistakes and sometimes make poor decisions that lead to relatively minor accidents. I get that. But when you plow into someone at full speed, a stopped car, that's neglecting the most basic responsibility you have as a driver and you have no business driving.
The worst part is that there's the lingering feelings of not wanting to drive, being paranoid about driving for some amount of time... just a ton of shitty feelings. And on Christmas Eve no less! Needless to say, I spent some quality time with Simon tonight when we finally got to a point where we could put him down to bed. Everything is higher stakes when you've got a little person and a spouse.
This afternoon, Diana went outside with Simon to do some walking around, and I thought about how much I like just watching them. I like to see how they interact, how they do stuff. It's kind of neat the way he surprises you. I also love seeing Diana just be a mom.
Given our unfortunate car accident, and the thoughts that circle your head about the worst possible scenario when some idiot potentially causes you harm, my thoughts have been in a bad place. It's easy to forget about how positive the future can be. You just don't know, and sometimes all you can do is watch.
What really brought it home this week was looking at all kinds of old photos, seeing Diana as this tiny little redhead, running around with her brothers. Heck, there was even a photo of Katie Holmes, probably age 5, and you probably wouldn't have guessed at the time she'd be a movie star (the family lived near Diana in Toledo). There is endless potential that you can only watch for and see what happens. Assuming the worst is not productive.
I have three or four half-finished blog posts that I'm reluctant to publish, citing privacy, perception and other issues.
WTF is wrong with me?
To say we had an eventful Christmas would be an understatement, but car crash aside (I'll write more about that later), we had a relatively quiet day for Simon's second Christmas.
We went down to visit my in-laws for the big day, up in the mountains near Asheville, NC. Diana's dad and fiance moved there almost two years ago from Ft. Myers, and we still had not been out to visit, in part I suppose because it's not a convenient trip from Seattle, but it was in our plans even if we didn't move.
Their house was... uh... a fixer-upper when they bought it. When we saw the pictures originally, I thought they were out of their minds because the interior was just hideous. Most surfaces were "Pepto Pink." But with a bit of renovation and excellent taste in decorating, it's now one of the most warm places I've ever seen. I can't stand the "country" style ordinarily, because it reminds me of a homophobic Cracker Barrel, but Helen Ann's choices are just beautiful. It's a fantastic house.
One of the things that Diana was really looking forward to was a chance for Simon to have a Christmas that put him at the center. On one hand, we hate that 75% of his grandparents are not local, but on the other hand, this year he got exclusive time with Diana's side. He doesn't quite get the spirit of gift exchange just yet, and familiar still trumps new and shiny to some degree, but he does seem to enjoy the festivities. Having a dog around that thinks he's a dog helps too.
Simon got a range of books and high quality toys that he definitely likes. We'll probably consign or donate some of his older toys that he doesn't play with. He got some cute clothes, too, and seemed particularly fond of his Thomas The Tank Engine outfit. (Side note: I hate that you can't seem to find Thomas on broadcast TV at all where we live.)
Christmas makes me very reflective with Simon. Not just because of our near-death experience with the crash, but because I'm also reminded how important it is that he has these experiences with family and traveling and what not. It also makes me realize that we've actually done a good job in that sense, because he's quite the seasoned traveler for his age. Even though he might not really remember any of it, we've set the precedent that he's a part of stuff whenever possible.
One thing is for certain, you see Christmas a bit more like a child when you have one, and that's a good thing.
I think I've started this post a half-dozen times, even before I moved back to Cleveland. I've thought about the differences between Cleveland and Seattle countless times, in every way conceivable. I'd make lists in my head about how the two places are different, comparing and contrasting. When we got back, everything seemed different, but I couldn't figure out what changed. Then it hit me that Cleveland really didn't change... I did. At some point, I'll feel comfortable talking about what instigated the realization, but for the moment I'll focus on what the realization means for me and my perceptions.
Seattle changed me in ways that I never expected, and I'm not sure if it was for better or worse. Probably a little of both, but mostly for the better. Growing up and then staying close to the place you were born comes with a lot of risk that your perspective on things will be limited. I always thought I was pretty open minded, and in many ways I was, but my imagination never quite grasped what was possible in the world. Two years and 2,500 miles doesn't make you a world traveler by any means, but for me at least it sparked visions of what could be for me.
It starts with my view on culture. I'm not talking about nationalities or ethnicities (though Seattle definitely immerses you in fantastic diversity), but rather the very will on the part of culture to drive forward and advance humanity. Most of the people I met in Seattle are driven to do greater things in every aspect of their lives, whether it be for their career, their kids, charity work... anything. I'm not saying they're all successful all of the time, but there's a desire there that is uniformly high compared to what I've always known in Cleveland. Maybe that perception is colored by the fact that it's a tech-heavy city, but I don't feel it here.
In fact, by comparison, Ohio is a place where state government is dysfunctional in an epic way, voters actually passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and no one places any emphasis on trying to solve problems. Do you know how embarrassing it is to live a mile down the street from a church with a billboard that has the biblical equivalent of "God hates fags?" No wonder I couldn't sell my house. Who would want to live here? While I know some individuals who are full of positive energy, the dominant culture lacks it completely.
My view on money, and people who have more of it, also changed considerably. Picture me in my early 20's, working for a fairly well-to-do suburb. There are a select number of people who have a bit of money, or at least you perceive they do because they have bigger McMansions and expensive cars. And every last one of them thinks they're better than you, and most will let you know it. Many of them did. It's probably where my distaste for The Man started. I'm surprised since returning to see how many of these people are still around, acting the same way.
But combine the driven culture of Seattle with the fact that pretty much everyone around you makes six figures, and the rules change. Some people buy expensive cars, but some are content to drive a Hyundai. People give as much as ten grand a year to charity, some even more. Few think that they're better than you, because frankly there's some degree of parity in terms of career, success and money. A lot of the pretentious bullshit melts away. The well-to-do are just better people.
Naturally, the professional impact of Microsoft was huge for me. While my biggest post-departure complaints about the company rest largely in the domain of talent development and utilization (they're not very good at either), I appreciate that the company mostly sees the value in its people, from a compensation point of view. It pays fairly, gives a ton of time off and springs for excellent benefits. Sure, you could argue that they can afford it, but there are a great many companies large and small that can afford it and don't fairly compensate their people. The company generally treats people as adults as well, holding them accountable to results without dictating how and when they should work. Perhaps my industry is one of few to offer this luxury, but I've learned to flatly reject any employer that can't trust its people to get work done.
My first encounter back here was with a company that insisted you work 8:30 to 5:30, without exception, and you dare not lunch for more than 30 minutes. It was never part of the pitch to work for them either. It was the strangest thing I've ever seen. People were not empowered to solve problems or encouraged to think for themselves. Innovation was dissension, and not tolerated. It was awful, and as I learned in my job search, fairly common. If companies like that exist in Seattle, they have to be rare.
My view of money itself changed dramatically. First, I loathed people with money, because I thought they were all dicks. Then I paid off all of my non-mortgage debt, and busted my ass to start making up for the fact that I haven't saved much of anything. I know now that money doesn't make you a dick unless you choose that path. I know that wealth is less about how much money you make and have, and more about how low your expenses are.
And what do you do that's such a big deal? I don't think you have to cure cancer to be awesome, but working hard to give the appearance that you're awesome annoys me to no end. There appears to be a desire among "successful" people here to let you know how great they are by way of their success, even though their success serves little beyond ego. These are not people who impress me. The woman working her farmer's market stand every week in a Seattle suburb impresses me more, because she's kind to my kid and encouraging people to locally source their food. If all you can do is wear a shiny suit and look down at me from your car, you might be "successful," but you're a douche.
What I keep coming back to though, time and time again, is that people here seem constantly bound to constraints by choice. That's a little harder to quantify, but it's a blanket phenomenon that covers all of the things that I dislike about Cleveland and Ohio. Maybe it's not even that Cleveland is stuck, but Seattle culture largely casts aside constraints. People give you the feeling that anything is possible, at every scale from your family unit up to the global economy.
And of course, stuff is just nicer in Seattle. Yeah, there's a vanity aspect, I'll admit it. There are mountains, nice houses, awesome places to hang out and a lot less decay from failed industry. Energy is cheaper, there are no state or local income taxes, religion, race and ethnicity is diverse and the air is cleaner. If preferring all of that makes me a snob, so be it.
On the surface, it might sound like moving back was the wrong choice, but that's not the case at all. The changed me recognizes that the financial advantages (caused by the disadvantage of not being able to sell my house) are a huge win, and when an actual spring rolls around in a few months, and we can drive to theme parks and other destinations, there's no doubt that it will all feel right. There's also the plan that this is not a place we'll spend more than five years in. I think we're pool and palm tree people.
Do I feel like I'm better than some people? Well, yes, if they're homophobic car-they-can't-afford driving douchebags, yes, why wouldn't you? What's particularly strange is that a part of me wants to be my college activist self and try to change things, but I also don't want to be invested in a place I don't want to stay.
As you might expect, there's also an underlying force that drives a lot of my decision making, and that force is named Simon. It's augmented by assuming a weird 50's-style "breadwinner" position, where I am the provider for my family. Everything that I want to do requires me to think about how it affects Simon's future, and Diana's happiness. They mean the world to me, and while I'm careful not disappear behind their needs at the expense of my own, I have to look out for them.
I've seen how a better life and a better world are possible, and that's what I want for me and my little family. It's what I want for the world. My tolerance for people who get in the way of that is small. As much as I try to see the world as a gray area, experience is making me feel like people are either in the world to make it better, or get in the way. It's probably not a constructive way to view the world, but even with that awareness, it's hard to change.
I don't know if the changes in me make me a better person. In some ways they do, other ways, probably not. It's just another step in my desire to be self-aware. I've changed.
I don't think there has been any time since Simon was born that all three of us were sick. There may have been some 12 to 24-hour overlap, but this is pretty ridiculous. We all seem to be on the exit side of the aisle now, but there's plenty of nagging coughs and snot to go around.
Simon had a cold just once before, I think around two or three weeks. He was a super-snot machine, but at least then we were expecting him to get up every three hours anyway. Not so much these days. He's had some great fever-and-vomit sickness, but this has just kicked his ass now for several days. If that weren't bad enough, he was salty and crabby today.
I escaped out of work a little early today to try and relieve Diana, who has also gone through various stages of symptoms, coupled with all kinds of tired since she's the one getting up in the middle of the night with him. The idea is that she can nap mid-day, while I can't, but unfortunately Simon isn't taking very good naps either.
Today I'm having short spurts of non-breathing, but the drippy throat has given way to the nagging and painful cough. It feels like tomorrow should be a better day. This is my reward I'm sure for walking around an amusement park at the freezing mark on Saturday.
Every once in awhile, the issue comes up on CoasterBuzz about whether or not you should be a paid member. I accept that different people find different value in various things, and that's fine, but I generally make the point that if you really enjoy using something on the Internet, and there is an option to financially support it, you should. That sounds self-serving (and it is), but I very much practice what I preach.
For example, this week I renewed my annual Vimeo Plus account. At $60, that may sound expensive, but I view it as something that breaks out to five bucks a month. I don't even upload a lot of video there (as much as I should, anyway), but I do view a lot of stuff on it too. I just think that it's the right thing to do. They have a great user experience, and I get a lot of value out of it.
There are a lot of sites that fall into that category of stuff, that provide exceptional value for something I'm interested in. I think it's absolutely worth paying a little money for sites like that. Even in the age of "free" stuff on the Internet, there are real costs associated with the production of these services. Someone has to pay for it. Your support of these services could be the difference between success and failure for these companies.
Walt setup an off-season nerd gathering at Cedar Point for PointBuzz folks, complete with a Chet & Matt's pizza and wings buffet. I don't remember the last time I went to a group function like this (probably 2001, at Dave & Busters), but visiting the park in the winter is a long-standing tradition going back I think to 1999 or 2000. It was weird to not have that option the last couple of years.
Truth be told, there isn't much that I haven't seen out there, although today I got to roam around under Mean Streak a bit, which surprisingly is not something I've done before. It's probably due to my contempt for the ride. I've never thought to call someone up and be like, "Hey, I'd love it if you could walk me around Mean Streak."
It's weird to think about how things have changed over the years. Twelve years ago, it was all about relationship building and working to create a reputation for the site. These days, it's all about seeing friends. I mean, I've been to weddings of friends who work there, they've been in my wedding(s)... it's so weird. It kind of stopped being about the sites a long time ago.
In fact, I couldn't help but think about all of the good times there when the park was closed. There were all of the construction tours, of course, but also visits with just me and a friend. 2000 was a particularly neat time, because the construction of Millennium Force meant you had to drive through the park, and that became a frequent occurrence (last time was probably 2009). Some days were outright historic. For example, the media day, or morning at least, for Maverick was the day that I met Diana for our first date. The funny part of that story is I spent a great deal of time flirting with some chick from the Plain Dealer that morning.
I'm always thankful that the Web sites have given me a fun distraction, but I'm even more thankful for the many social ties they've enabled. My deepest and most storied relationships may not have even existed were it not for the Internets.
I really look forward to spring, when I can bring Simon and he can see the marching bands on opening day, and hopefully be a little more open to riding some stuff. He is definitely the next chapter in my theme park memory-making endeavors.
One of the biggest challenges I've had since Simon was born is finding time to dive into my various code projects. These things serve two roles in my life, because they're my hobby as well as my side business (and by extension, a means of professional development). In the middle part of 2010, after Simon was born, I actually found quite a bit of time since he wasn't mobile. This year, it has been a lot harder because I want to spend time with him as he runs around, and frankly I think he needs the interaction.
In the last few weeks, I've made it a point to try and squeeze in an hour here, an hour there, and work on stuff. I got really deep into my science project, a possible future site/project, but got a little burned out on it because I'm not as passionate about it. I took a break from it, and started working on the forum app, blasting through the backlog of issues and new features. In terms of new stuff, the only really visible thing is the button that might tell you, "Hey, there are newer posts you haven't read," when you reply, but the big work was the extensibility feature.
Before I could ever get around to using the newer version in a new version of CoasterBuzz, I had to make it so you could alter the output of a topic, for things like the "Day in Pictures" forum, or the news, or trip reports. Tonight, I wrapped up that work, which means I'm free to start thinking about vNext of the site.
It has been more than three years since the last revision, but there have been so many new features along the way. Track record rating, the CB100, the WP7 app, automated Twitter publishing, secure login, photo submission resizing... and most of that is in the last year and a half. The last nine months have been really stagnant in terms of work on the site. Plus, I can see page views dropping, even while visitor counts go up, and that implies people are getting bored with it. It's getting stale.
I have some ideas in my head about what to do with it next. The challenge going forward is to continue to devote time to it, even if it is a little at a time. There are so many new technologies at my disposal that I simply didn't have three years ago, and it's pretty exciting. Obviously my work experiences have greatly lifted my skills since then, too. I'm happy to find a lot of that passion coming back, to build something interesting that I want to use.
Beyond all reasonable expectations, the ABC show Once Upon A Time is shockingly good. The premise of the show sounded like a sure train wreck: Fairy tale characters are all banished to a small town in Maine to live miserable lives, unaware of their origin, after the evil queen places a curse on them all. The just-born daughter of Snow White avoids the curse, and grows up an orphan in Boston or something. Then her own son, adopted by the mayor/evil queen of the town after he's given up for adoption, finds her and brings her back to town.
At first, the only incentive I had to watch the show was that two actresses I really like, Jennifer Morrison and Ginnifer Goodwin, were the leads. Morrison was the first "House hottie" on that show, and I was always kind of into her, especially when they took her character to darker places. Goodwin is the single most underrated actress in the current 30-something club. Despite all of the A-list actresses, she made Mona Lisa Smile. I loved her in He's Just Not That Into You.
But still, if ever there was an opportunity for awful writing to make an awful show, this was it. We allowed six or seven episodes to pile up on the DVR, hesitant to even start watching. The other night, we gave it a shot, and we were instantly hooked.
As it turns out, the writing is pretty solid, hot chicks do battle, and the fantasy stuff recites classic tales without being a caricature of a mockery of bad Shakespeare performance stereotypes. The characters are fairly well drawn, and a cast of female leads and a likable kid make it fun to watch. Morrison even pulls off a little sarcastic humor.
So we're pretty into it. There are a few head scratchers here and there, like why they chose to make Little Red Riding Hood a waitress who is half-naked most of the time (+1 for the red streaky hair though). Overall, it's a hit.
I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately about various technology stories and people who have achieved success that few ever see. These stories fascinate me in part because of the technology, and also because of the personality traits that allowed them to see something everyone else missed.
That got me to thinking about what is actually possible. Part of our growing up process is learning about the constraints and limitations found in every aspect of our life and our interaction with the world. I see it more than ever as I watch Simon develop. He is learning that a block can only fit into a shape sorter a certain way. It's a constraint that is obvious to an adult, but one you have to test and understand when you're a toddler.
This process continues the rest of our lives. The epiphany that I've recently had is that there are actually two kinds of constraints: physical and perceived. Not being able to put the square block in the round hole is a physical and very real constraint. It can't reasonably be overcome. It's the perceived constraints that we too easily accept as immovable objects. I would say that life experience dulls our distinction between constraints that are quite real, and those that are established some other way that is not real.
For example, I believed that one of my constraints in life was living in Cleveland. My experiences dictated that it was just a fact of life that I couldn't change. Heck, it was even a contributing factor to the eventual demise of my first marriage. Today, it's completely obvious that I can live where ever I want.
I see people believe all of the time that they can't get a certain job or break into a particular field, all because of the constraints that are established both by their own minds and also by the dogma provided by others. The biggest constraints are not real.
With each passing year of life experience, I'm starting to learn that the value in questioning authority isn't about sticking it to The Man or proving that you're right. The value comes from breaking down constraints that limit your vision of what's possible.
Constraints, real or imagined, force you to be creative, but it's annoying to realize that the imagined constraints often prevent you from getting started.
Today I realized that there is one thing that very easily can alter my mood for the worse. I don't deal well when people waste my time, or otherwise show no respect for it.
The problem today was that a number of people who were supposed to work with me, for the betterment of their skills and the project, blew me off repeatedly. Normally I can roll with this sort of thing, but I had the same recurring issue with my last team at Microsoft as well. If you say that you're going to be somewhere and do something at a particular time, stick to it. Don't commit and bail. I hate that.
I find that time respect is even more rare these days in customer service situations, especially on the phone. If you have to wait endlessly to talk to a human at Chase, the company doesn't care about your time. If you have to stand in a long line to drop-off a cable box, Comcast doesn't respect your time. If Authorize.net can't bother to call you when they fail to help you via e-mail, they don't respect your time.
I also get cheesed-off when a company causes me to spend time doing something I'd rather not do. The king of time wasters is cable companies and XM, who you have to threaten to cancel on in order to get their best deal. I have to waste time because they won't give me their best deal up front.
I've become a lot more aware about how precious time can be, particularly since becoming a parent. It's not that I don't like to "waste" time on my own terms, but there's a difference between sprawling out in the sun doing nothing and having someone else waste your time.
Philip Bloom made a great post detailing his experience with Red and the camera they sold him, and it was not pretty. The short version of the story is that he had all kinds of issues with the camera, blogged about his experiences and indicated that the value wasn't there for the price, and he was treated poorly by the company and the community that is rabid about the product. It's a fairly ridiculous story.
Red was started by Jim Jannard, the guy who started Oakley (who makes sunglasses) and eventually sold it for $2 billion. He decided that the industry wasn't moving quickly enough in terms of cameras that did super neat stuff, and that motivated him to create Red. Unfortunately, the cameras have been endlessly delayed, and apparently beta quality despite being super expensive.
We put up with software issues to some degree on our devices, but they don't cost tens of thousands of dollars, and usually the worst thing at stake is that we can't check our e-mail temporarily or play Angry Birds. People have to make money with their camera gear. How anyone can run a company and treat people like that with such huge money on the line is beyond me.
But what really strikes me is how religious people can be about the equipment they use. I can understand some degree of brand loyalty. To this day, most of the pro gear I've bought, whether for my job or my personal use, has been from Panasonic. It has been durable and relatively bullet proof, and I value that. It doesn't mean that I'm not open to stuff from Sony or Canon. In fact, outside of the cameras themselves, most stuff I've bought has been from other vendors.
What we see in the video/indie film market today reminds me a little bit of the computer gear chest thumping of the old days. People would go on and on about how a certain video card or something was the best without any regard to how it was used or how apps took advantage of it. In video, the context of your ability as a creative person is also left out of the discussion.
Which brings me to my biggest point about the video stuff. The best equipment in the world can't compensate for a lack of creative talent, but I really think some believe otherwise. In fact, much of the enthusiasm for the video DSLR market was a result of the fact that, with a little care and practice, you could do some pretty awesome stuff.
No, I don't have great photos or video because I "have a really nice camera," any more than an Iron Chef makes good food because he has a really nice stove.
Dreams can be so weird at times, because of the strange mix of people and places in time. They just don't generally make sense.
For example, last night I had a dream that I was in a shopping mall that we used to frequent when I was a kid. My grandmother was there, though she died a few years ago. I was there with Diana and Simon, and I ran into my friend Teresa from Seattle. So we're left with people who were not simultaneously alive, or even in my life, when I would visit that mall.
It gets even more strange with people I had relationships with. I can remember having dreams where the time lines were all weird. Once I ran into Cath as I was moving into my dorm in Ashland for my freshman year. If you were adjusting for time, she would have been in middle school around then. I distinctly remember having an iPhone in that dream, too, which was not possible in 1991.
Only in the last few years have I had completely fictional people appear in dreams. Truthfully, they're probably based on combinations of celebrities and people I know. They're always women, and always appear in college years or my between-marriages phase. Hey, at least I'm being temporally faithful. Although, I also famously complain that I almost never have sex in my dreams. It has been that way since I was a hormonal teenager. The one place it's safe to indulge in total fantasy, I generally can't. Dreams suck.
One thing I don't get very often anymore is dreams that reflect various anxieties or issues. I've probably blogged about the dead air radio dream a dozen times over the years. I don't remember the last time I had that dream, and maybe it's because I did a few radio shifts at my college station about two years ago.
As much as I like to think that trading cold and rainy for really cold and snowy is largely a lateral move, I'm already thinking about how much I'm ready for warm and sunny. We're at our first significant block of time with the temperature below freezing. It'll drift back up now and then, but overnights for some time will likely be freezing. I'm already not liking that.
The memories of walking all over town with Simon in Snoqualmie, with stops at the playgrounds and Finaghty's are weighing pretty heavy on me right now. To be realistic, we wouldn't be doing that much if we were still living there, but it's hard to believe that since it was 74 and sunny everyday when we left.
The short-term fix is that we're definitely going to do the indoor waterpark thing at some point next month. We had a great time at Great Wolf near Tacoma earlier this year. Simon's love for flowing water in the bath (he's filling cups and playing under the faucet) makes that a great plan. We've got three near here, and we'll probably give Cedar Point's a try.
Still no specific plans around a Florida trip early in the year. I want to do it though, but I'm not sure when or what we'll do.
One thing I do dig is that when we do have sun, it makes a huge difference at our house. Big windows facing the south are a big deal.
It's only January to March that are really hard, as I remember it. I can make it!
One of the many tech journalist types I keep up with wrote a piece about the reasons and motivation around hair style and length for women. As a fan of interesting hair color and style, I was really interested to hear what she had to say. The short version is that she believes long and/or colored hair represents facets of leisure, wealth and a certain amount of vanity. While I appreciate her stance, being a gay feminist and what not, isn't this all over-thinking it a bit?
While I get a desire to question authority and disregard the social standards of "the man," I think most people who aren't teenagers do things to their appearance because they like how it looks. People unwilling or not interested in having a radical appearance tend to suggest that others will do so for the attention, but I just don't buy that.
I've known enough people with wild hair color to know that their motivation is simply that they like how it looks. I don't know, I suppose that's vanity to some degree, but so is putting on heels and a pants suit. At the end of the day, I believe people are motivated to appear in ways that they feel most comfortable, and that's OK. The same goes for piercings and tattoos. I can say with even more certainty that people do this because they like how it looks, not for attention.
O'Dell concludes by saying that your appearance does not exist in a vacuum, and you do have to pick your battles about what you're willing to put up with in terms of the response from others. That's true, but I don't think you should have to be apologetic about it. Can't it just be as simple as, "I look this way because I like it?"
I just learned that another friend of mine was getting divorced, this time with a decade in the can, and kids. I'm often surprised at the number of people I know around my age, and often younger, who are divorced. Every one of them is someone I would consider smart and generally awesome. How does this happen to us?
At first I think it's the young-and-stupid assertion, but I can't make that generalization when I know couples who went back as far as high school. From my own experience, I can say that people can't handle relationships or make good long-term decisions at that age. Maybe that's usually true, but the key difference is likely the experience part. We all have different experience.
So instead of generalizing about people or ages, I do think it's safe to generalize about experience. It seems to always go back to something my former therapist said, that our first teachers in relationships are our parents. If they sucked at it, that's not a good start for learning about what works for relationships.
I guess having divorced parents then isn't a good start. The irony here is that I vowed not to be like my parents, but learning what not to do is not the same as what you should do. My family in general always had a lot of drama, with one person or sub-family having some issue with another. College isn't a great place to learn either, with your peers doing stuff that is likely even more toxic. It's like we all need relationship role models, and they're nowhere to be found.
That explains why smart people get divorced. They're oblivious to the obvious because the obvious isn't bad if they don't know any better. That was definitely our issue back in the day, and it was only with the benefit of hindsight that we could really understand what the problems were and how we caused stress in the relationship.
The learning process then, for those of us without relationship role models, can be a long and heartbreaking process. People who hop from one short-term relationship to the next probably never learn anything because it never really gets serious, while people who have very long relationships end up damaged because of the time and emotion invested. Surely there has to be a good middle ground there. Or a good therapist.
It makes me happy to see that a great many of my divorced friends have gone on to remarry, and it was the rightness of it that was obvious. Some still struggle, but have an awareness about them that serves them well. For the rest, I hope they're able to avoid the pain of the ultimate split.
We all need better role models.
Simon is quite suddenly using some words. He had a few basic things that he was saying earlier in the year, but then he just kind of stopped using them. He speaks a lot of "Simonese" right now, and he's a little chatter box.
He seems to be saying, "Hi daddy" quite a bit. And he otherwise uses "daddy" and "mom mom" when talking to one of us about the other. He's getting fragments out of a few foods from time to time. He actually said "abacus" two or three times, which was totally unexpected. Today, he repeated "clock" after his Fisher-Price house said it, which seemed to come out of the blue as well. It sounded more like "cock," but close enough.
He's added two signs recently that we don't use, but he has seen in his "First Signs" video. When Diana refers to "daddy," he does the sign for it, and he started signing "thank you" whenever we say it to him. Not exactly the correct usage, but he gets it.
His re-evaluation for the federal programs for speech and physical therapy showed that he has mostly caught up in terms of motor skills and what not, but he's still behind on speech. I have a feeling he'll catch up with that before too long as well, at the rate he's going. It's a double-edged sword, I know, but I'll take his ability to talk back if it means he can better communicate his needs and wants.
I have had a hard time the last few weeks trying to settle into some kind of sleep rhythm. Despite having restarted a normal work routine, I still feel all over the place. One day I'm tired and crash in the middle of the day, the next I go non-stop and can stay up past midnight. On the weekend I try to catch up, maybe fit in a nap, and I'm still messed up all week.
I guess I shouldn't be entirely surprised. I spent two weeks in Washington being a tourist, a week traveling, a few weeks working, a few weeks not, a few weeks working with holidays... no consistency.
The other thing is that I've been going at life pretty hard core. I haven't spent much time relaxing lately. Feels like there's always something I should be doing. I need to get over that. More chilling, less hyperactivity.
I've been in a pretty good mood in the last week. It's not that I've been in a bad mood lately, but the adjustment around moving has certainly taken its toll in ways that I've talked about before. I've been looking for more happy.
When I stop to think about why I've been feeling the happy, it occurs to me that a lot of it has to do with the environment I have for work. If I were to summarize, I'd say it's that there hasn't been any time in my career where my skills were more in demand, and I've never had the options that I do today. Good decisions dating back 12 years are serving me well, even though I had my share of failures and train wrecks in between.
For a long time, I've not placed much value in how I was treated or valued in terms of career, mostly because my first lay-off in 2001 endlessly messed with my self-esteem. I took the inability to find work personally, and I eventually resolved to not ever let those external factors dictate how I felt about myself. It probably reinforced my disdain for "the man" in the process.
I am willing to admit, however, that being the subject of desire for people who want to hire you is a pretty good feeling. And really, why shouldn't that be the case? When someone is into you romantically (or just outright sexually), that feels good too. We all want to be wanted and appreciated, even if you try your hardest to not be dependent on that feeling to boost your self-worth.
The same realization provides me with some level of empathy for people who can't find jobs right now. I still don't agree with people who think they're entitled or complain about what's fair, but I've been there, and I do know how it sucks.
I accept that it's a cyclical thing, and I certainly know the love can end at any time. That goes with the territory. For know though, I think I'll allow myself to enjoy the attention. It's a fantastic time to be in my line of work.
There's a video (well, audio statically showing his face) from Adam Corolla with his take on the Occupy Wall Street "movement." It's kind of funny because he gets so fired up and swears a lot, but there is also some truth I think to what he's describing. His assertion is essentially that there is a generation and/or sector of people who feel envy or shame when it comes to "rich" people. he further asserts that this is the result of an entitled upbringing (with "participation trophies"), but I'm not sure if I agree with that part.
What I will theorize is that there may be some truth to the envy/shame theory. It is true that there was a time when you saw a rich person and you'd tell your kid, "Yeah, that person worked hard and is materially successful because of it." There was some level of respect for that.
For one reason or another, that sentiment seems gone from our culture. Instead, there's a discussion that seems to fundamentally work in the realm what is fair. I can't speak for everyone, but I know I heard that "life isn't fair" at a very young age. I even tell Simon that when has a tantrum, even if I know he doesn't understand what I mean. The point is that you accept that there isn't a free ride and you do what you can to mitigate any disparity, to the best of your ability.
Now if you want to talk about "the system," it's certainly fair to say that it is not fair. It never has been, and it never will be. That said, I think it's important to have the context that it has been a hell of a lot worse. In the big picture, it wasn't that long ago that black people were expected to sit in the back of the bus, and women couldn't vote. Believe things suck, but by comparison, these are still good times.
So what do you do about things being unfair? Apparently you camp out in public places. I'd be OK with that if these folks organized and built a common voice, well-versed in the issues, but aside from random people throwing up Web sites ranging from solutions like "end capitalism" to more rational desires like "close tax loopholes," it's mostly a bunch of entitlement bitching. You'll never get my support for that. You sure as hell won't get any empathy if your only tactic is to paint hard-working people as evil and greedy.
If it was me steering the discussion, here's what I'd do. First, I'd stop talking about what's fair. Then I'd stop generalizing that anyone doing well is evil or greedy. If you do that, you eliminate the entitlement accusations completely.
At that point, I don't know if there's any point to discussion about what's fair. There are a ton of things you can talk about that would be constructive, at least for the purpose of changing some things that might be unfair. For example, you could talk about closing the gaping loopholes in some corporate taxes. Just be ready to defend yourself when the corporate defender reminds you that the corporation employes thousands of people. You might talk about repealing silly trickle-down tax cuts for rich individuals, or certain shelters that effectively reduce their liability compared to those who can't afford the same arrangements. Again, be prepared to defend negatives.
But please, enough with the fairness stuff. If that's your only talking point, you've got nothing. There will be no empathy. Wealth and success are not rights, no matter how loaded you think the dice are. Don't be a crybaby white kid with a degree and no idea what to do next. Figure it out, and while you're doing that, make change by constructively offering solutions that aren't motivated in a "life isn't fair" argument. The rest of us live in the same system, and we're doing the best we can too.