After returning from Central Florida, I once again ask myself why I don't live there. This time I was there for a vacation, but even on my previous visit, just a few weeks before for a funeral, I loved being there.
I can't entirely put my finger on why I like being there so much. It's not geologically interesting at all. It's so flat, and the only really interesting scenery is the manufactured stuff in theme parks. The job market for people in my line of work isn't terrible, and it seems to be trying to hard to be like Austin or even Seattle, but it has a long way to go. We don't have that many friends down there either.
I suppose that being Florida makes it feel like a vacation pretty much all of the time. It's summer almost every day. Some people complain that it's too hot in the summer, but honestly it's only a few degrees higher than what you'll find in your average Midwest summer. For people like me who clearly suffer seasonal changes in my mood, Florida is like Prozac.
Four years ago, I would not have had any particular reason to not move there. Now I have Simon. It's not that he wouldn't enjoy living there, it's that the schools generally suck. That's the hang up I have about that area. I love being there, but I have a kid who will start school in less than three years. I need to settle in a place where he has access to good schools.
That said, I'm not opposed to visiting Florida more often. I was going pretty much twice, even three times a year for awhile there, but Seattle made that a little difficult. I'm not saying I'm going to buy into the Disney Vacation Club or anything, but I definitely need to think about visiting more frequently.
In the madness (or stupidity) that has become of the long Thanksgiving with regard to gift purchasing, it's interesting that Diana and I have an interesting gift giving dynamic.
We grow up with certain gift giving contracts that are largely formed on the observational basis of what our parents and family members do. I've seen this result in families that try to out-do each other, or worse, are hurt if people do not receive gifts that meet their expectations.
As a child, I remember having intense feelings of want for certain toys leading up to Christmas and my birthday, which are almost perfectly spaced apart by six months. Those feelings mostly lasted from age 8 to 12. In terms of giving, I never really had any money, but I remember my grandmother taking me and my brother out one time to buy gifts for my mom and step-dad. I remember her being frustrated that we had no idea what to buy with her money and limited budget. I don't remember what age I was, but I remember thinking that getting handkerchiefs for my step-dad was really stupid, and I resented having to do it.
When I got to adulthood, and went to family Christmas gatherings with Stephanie (my first wife), we didn't really buy people stuff. Between my $29k a year and her part-time earnings as a student, it just wasn't going to happen. With most of the kids being adults, or nearly adults, and the couples in my mom's generation often complaining about money, it seemed strange that the gift exchanges were still awfully expensive.
These days, I think it's OK to buy minor things for people, but I don't think it's necessary to go nuts. Diana and I have a particularly odd 40's house wife dynamic since she doesn't work at all, so she doesn't have money coming from a different place. She's free to siphon off money to a different account, but even letting me know implies something is going on, so there isn't much that's surprising.
This year, we actually came up with an agreement up front. I asked her not to get me anything at all (though jokes about red bows and missing clothes often come up in conversation). Saving money is a gift to me these days, and honestly we've gone all out in terms of travel with a Disney trip and a forthcoming cruise. It sounds cliche, but every day I get to spend with my little family is a gift.
On the other hand, Diana is getting into quilting, and she needs a good sewing machine. As I know from experience in my own hobbies of video and photography, good equipment makes a difference, so I want her to get what she really needs. So once she feels she has done the research and is ready, I want her to buy a good sewing machine as a gift.
I think the traditionalist would perceive this as crappy, but surprise isn't that necessary or as exciting in adulthood. It's easy to meet expectations when you simply sit down and decide what would be awesome.
I really enjoy giving people stuff, but I operate differently. I have bought Diana some big things that she didn't expect, but they're once every other year (or longer) kinds of things. I bought my mom a computer once in the middle of the year. I got a friend a day at the salon once for graduating. Sometimes you just buy someone a nice dinner. The point is that for me, gift giving is not an act of routine or obligation.
I'm not suggesting this is cool for everyone, but I will say that ditching the social contracts given to you may free you. Don't buy people handkerchiefs.
Simon caused a minor accident that resulted in a broken ceramic decorative object. It made quite a crash. He immediately became concerned and told Diana that he was sorry. He repeated that he was sorry several times, and he seemed to show genuine empathy.
This is a bit of a milestone for him. Simon has a history of hurting his parents because he uses his head as a battering ram. That neither one of us has lost any teeth is a miracle. He's head-butted me in the nuts countless times. While these events have historically resulted in swearing and shouts of pain, Simon has not generally demonstrated any remorse or understanding of what he caused.
It isn't just when he did something to cause some kind of harm. I've seen Simon bring things to help his toddler friends, and he's also displayed concern for me when I'm stressed out. He's definitely starting to grasp when other people are experiencing intense feelings.
What I find interesting about this empathy development is that he simultaneously isn't able to process and identify his own intense feelings, which is pretty classic for his age. When he isn't getting what he wants, or can't do something he'd like, he tends to flip out. Trying to get his new found words out is extraordinarily difficult.
I know I've said this before, but watching him go through these stages brings back memories of my own experiences. I'm particularly excited about the feelings of imagination from my childhood that come rushing back when I see him playing with cars and trucks, driving them on various surfaces.
I don't know why it sticks with me, but when Simon was still a lot smaller and starting to babble more, a waiter at Finaghty's told us, "Just wait until that little personality comes out and he starts talking. You'll never get him to shut up!" That time is fast approaching.
While there's little question in my mind that Simon is still behind his peers in terms of speech, his progress in recent weeks has been absolutely remarkable. He's able to mimic stuff we throw at him, his inventory of nouns is far larger than we think, he's putting together sentences and complete thoughts, and perhaps most charming, he's having conversations with us.
It wasn't that long ago that we were lucky to get "yeah" or "no" answers from him. Now, Diana will ask him at night if he wants to sing "Wheels on the Bus," and he'll respond, "No Wheels on Bus, please," and ask for help covering his feet with the blanket. When sitting at a traffic light, he'll say, "Green! Go fast!" My personal favorite, when it's time to close the door so I can "go" to work, is, "Bye bye love you daddy have a fun day!"
If all of the chatter weren't enough, he's so affectionate now. Prying him off of your leg is a little annoying, but he likes to hug and lay on the floor with you. Simon is a hugger. When we watch a little Sesame Street before bed, which is getting rare given his desire to play with toys, he prefers to have an arm around him.
All of this cuteness also comes with some of the most intense meltdowns ever. When he can't do something that he wants, it's not uncommon for him to skip his new found communication skills and revert to kicking and screaming. It's really not fun, but you kind of just marvel at the tears and screams and take comfort in knowing it will be over soon.
I'm really enjoying parenthood at the moment. Every day I'm compelled to turn to Diana and say, "Holy crap, we made that." Even when it's hard, it never stops being amazing.
When I bought the AF100 video camera, I was introduced to the world of Micro Four-Thirds lenses. Well, sort of, because I bought an adapter to use my Canon SLR lenses, but I did score a couple of lenses for the run-and-gun situations. The point is that MFT is a standard that Panasonic and Olympus started using for their mirrorless digital cameras. They're kind of like SLR's, only smaller, because they use slightly smaller sensors, and don't have the mirror and prism that allows you to look through the lens on an SLR.
Canon, Sony and Nikon also have cameras in this realm. It's an interesting product segment, because it seems like they're targeting photography enthusiasts who like control and interchangeable lenses, but would also like something a little smaller and lighter. I totally get the appeal.
The big negative is the same one you have to deal with if you switch camera brands, that you have to buy different lenses. Canon makes an adapter to use their EOS lenses, but they can look a little silly, and the smaller sensors mean you only see a fraction of what the lens captures. It annoys the piss out of me that they all aren't using the MFT standard. The Panasonic lenses I bought for the video camera are pretty nice, and I could totally see using them on a small still camera.
I have to say though that I'm impressed to an extent with the progress of smaller point-and-shoots, some of which do offer a lot of control. I have the Canon S95 from about two years ago, and it does an OK job, even capturing raw files. My only complaint about these things is that they still tend to overexpose, and they rarely have wide enough apertures to get nice shallow depth of field, even at close range. As a friend put it to me, they're good for pictures, not photographs.
I'll be interested to see if the small mirrorless thing continues to grow in popularity. If I ever did decide to try it, I'd probably go with a Panasonic since I have a few lenses.
It seems like the gift buying season gets earlier and earlier every year. It's not even just a retail thing, as people start to decorate their houses the day after Halloween. It's insane.
But now people are actually willing to go out and shop for gifts on Thanksgiving. You know, the day you're supposed to hang out with family you don't see that often, crash on a couch full of food, watching football or playing video games or whatever.
I'll be the first to admit that my family relationships have never been all that great as an adult, but I would think the first gift you could give is to stay home and stop being part of the machine that keeps Wal-Mart with its made-in-China crap in business. I seriously question your priorities if you're using a holiday to score a good deal on stuff people probably don't even need (or that you would get for yourself, as I suspect is often the case). I understand the whole Friday thing, since a lot of people get that day off. But frankly I think the retail folks complaining about working on Thanksgiving are completely justified.
Let some things stay sacred and traditional.
Time Warner Cable announced last month that they were going to start charging people four bucks to lease their cable modems. I was surprised when we moved that they weren't charging, but find it no less lame that they want to charge for it at all.
When we moved to Snoqualmie, I bought a Motorola modem that supported DOCSIS 3.0, knowing that Comcast had some really Comcastic speed available, and they had modem fees that were not a good deal. When we moved back to Brunswick, the moron contractor (with ample butt crack showing) that came to install the TWC modem insisted that I couldn't use mine. I knew he was wrong, but whatever, I figured if they weren't charging for it I'd just roll with it.
(I would also mention that I reached near flip-out status over the incompetence of the first guy who tried to hook up a modem, because he had the wrong kind and also insisted he couldn't use mine. Then he blew me off the second time, and I got into a swearing fit on the phone with the fucktards in customer service who wouldn't send out someone because they said I wasn't here when their installer called.)
In any case, my modem isn't on their "approved" list, as it's a SB6120 instead of the SB6121. A little research showed they're the same thing with the same specs, just cosmetically different. Whatever. It's a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, which is what they need to talk to. I know just enough about the technology to be dangerous.
So I hook up my modem and give them a call. The woman starts by trying to light up the modem, then asks about the model and mentions that it's not on the approved list, but she'll try anyway. At this point, she calls someone else who says it's not going to happen. Mind you, at this point the modem is successfully talking to them, they just won't provision a connection.
I call her out, and very calmly explain that the difference between my modem and the approved model is mostly cosmetic, and there's no technical reason for it not to work. I then indicate that there are three options. One, you don't charge me the $4 a month to use their modem. Two, you forward me to someone who can turn on the modem. Three, do nothing and I'll file a complaint with their franchising authority, which in this case is the State of Ohio, knowing that it triggers a whole bunch of phone calls and panic. I was surprisingly polite despite being angry that I have to jump through hoops.
She chose the second option, which pushed me to someone in a "local office," presumably somewhere in Northeast Ohio. This guy pushed a software update to the modem, lit it up, and in less than five minutes we were done. No hassle or excuses, he just did the work.
Instead of it taking five minutes, it took 40 minutes. That's 40 minutes of my life that I'll never get back because cable companies absolutely suck at customer service.
Two years ago this Sunday, the first Windows Phones started to roll out, and when my officemate at Microsoft rolled in late one morning after picking up his Samsung Focus, I jumped in my car and went to get one myself. A few days later, I got one for Diana as well, since AT&T was doing a buy-one-get-one promo, and mine was already a reimbursed expense through work. We both had iPhones at the time, but we really embraced the new operating system. I wrote three reviews that December, for the hardware, the OS and the development experience.
While we have been eligible to upgrade our phones since mid-summer, we waited patiently for Windows Phone 8 to be released. The Samsung Focus phones that we had were reasonably nice, with beautiful screens and a nice size and weight, but we were never fans of the camera. As the announcements rolled out, the Nokia Lumia 920 was an obvious "want" for me because of the camera. Diana wanted something smaller, so she decided on the 820. Both have similar internal specs, though her screen is smaller and lower resolution. It's a really nice phone.
I'll break up my review into the three parts, but keep them brief since this isn't a totally new platform.
The 920 is a tank. It's huge, and it's heavy. These aren't deal breakers or things that are not manageable, but it's worth noting. With its tapered edges, it reminds me of my old iPhone 3GS, only a little taller and slightly wider. I actually like the feel of the heft.
The screen is amazing. It looks good outside in sunlight, and it has one of the highest pixel densities of any phone. You can't see pixels. Text is super readable, whether it's the Segoe font that defines "Metro," or a more traditional serif font in the Kindle app. Photos and Web pages look insanely great.
One of the big deals about the camera is that it has optical image stabilization, essentially spring mounting the lens to compensate for shaky hands. Combined with a wide-open lens at f/2 and 8 million pixels, the camera looked good even on paper. In real life, it pretty much verifies the expectations. I've done a lot of comparing to the photos my Canon S95 takes, a slightly higher end point-and-shoot I got about two years ago, and the truth is that they're not all that far off from each other. The Nokia does tend to blowout highlights at times, but the S95 does too. There is some softness here and there, but part of that is that the lens actually does narrow depth-of-field for stuff that's close to you. I contemplated not taking the Canon with me on my next vacation, because it's that good. However, I came to my senses because the Nokia does not have a zoom lens.
The overall industrial design is pretty solid. I praise Nokia for using a standard micro-USB to charge, so I don't need a special cable. The buttons are all on the same side, so you don't push two of them when you squeeze the phone. There's a slight curvature to the glass on the front. They also seem to coat the glass with some kind of exotic material that makes it super smooth to touch, and somewhat resistent to smudges. It doesn't get as gross as the touch screens on previous phones, or my iPad or Sufrace. I'm much faster when playing Wordament!
Did I mention the screen? I can't stop looking at it, changing the color and watching the live tiles dance.
The battery seemed like a disaster at first, but after a full drain/charge cycle, it seemed to right itself. Games will of course be brutal to it if you play them for hours, but otherwise, I seem to be ending the day with a charge between 40 and 60%. More gaming will get me down to the 20% battery saver threshold. I have NFC turned off, but I use ActiveSync for my Gmail accounts, and leave the chat availability on. I think I let Weather Channel do its background thing as well.
It's worth talking about the upgrade to AT&T's LTE network from a 3G phone. Put simply, it's ridiculous. I'm getting speed tests that run at 28 mbits downstream, which buries my cable modem speeds at home. Using connected apps and Web sites, it's hard to tell sometimes if it's the better hardware or the better bandwidth that makes everything feel so fast.
Windows Phone 8 looks mostly the same, but there are little changes all over the place that collectively make it more compelling. As I've said from the start, the thing that makes it so awesome is that it's useful before you even leave the store. Enter your Microsoft ID (formerly Live ID), your Facebook account, your e-mail account (particularly Gmail, since it does such excellent contact syncing), and the thing lights up. You already have photos because all of your Facebook albums are there indistinguishable from those you'd normally sync from your computer. My contacts and phone numbers are all there from Gmail.
The new start screen gets a lot of attention because you can customize the crap out of it. It supports three tile sizes now, and you can arrange it any way you'd like. It seems like more apps now have deep link pinning ability too, like a specific OneNote, though not every tile size can do live tiles. They added a lot more colors as well, which seems superficial, but I have to say that it really adds to the like factor. I change it almost every day.
One of the features I didn't think much about was the "rooms" available in the People hub. You add people to a room, and then they share photos, OneNotes, calendars and messaging. That's something that was already achieved to some degree through other services. For example, I get Diana's calendar because it's on the Google, and I just flip a switch in the settings to see it.
But what the feature enables is the ability to share this stuff and not think about it, because it just works. We actually use a OneNote for the grocery list. We also skirt our text message allocation because the room feature routes through the Microsoft Messenger service (soon to be Skype), though it transparently looks just like texting. It also works with iOS devices too, since the foundation is all these underlying services that they can both hit.
That's one of the more interesting things overall, that it's hard to see where the lines are for messaging. Text, Facebook and Messenger are all kind of stuck together, so if someone is connected in one of those ways, you can ping them immediately. We only get 200 texts a month because we're cheap and don't use it that much.
I'm not much of an app user (because the Web is the app), but I don't find anything to be missing. Microsoft is boasting that most of the top 30 apps or something like that are available on the platform. The only one that I would like, which would make the music syncing irrelevant, is one for Amazon Cloud Player. A job posting last July implied they were working on it, but no love yet. In the mean time, I still sync a lot of music and still dig the UI for it.
The Nokia apps sure are nice. The photo panorama is the best implementation I've ever seen. The turn-by-turn directions are as good, if not better than any GPS you could buy. They're really fantastic. City Lens, while not something I'll use much, is an augmented reality app that superimposes links to businesses in view of your camera.
The game opportunities are still fun, and it was nice to see Angry Birds Star Wars launch at the same time as the other platforms. Wordament is still my favorite game, and I love that you can play it from the phone and from Windows 8/RT. Brilliant in its execution of 2-minute games.
There are a few things that are a bit broken. The Kids Corner feature is supposed to let you side-swipe the lock screen and open up a limited start screen for apps and media that you choose, but the problem is that requiring a PIN to unlock also blocks the Kids Corner. That kind of defeats the purpose of letting the kid run wild. The OS still uploads Facebook video with the name of the video file as the title, which is supremely stupid. Internet sharing doesn't work unless the carrier allows it, which isn't Microsoft's fault, but it sure is annoying. (AT&T will only enable it if I decrease my data plan from unlimited.)
The most broken thing right now is Bluetooth. I can't pair the phone with my car, and Diana's phone won't do it either. There are a whole lot of forum posts with Microsoft and Nokia about it, and it doesn't seem specific to the Nokia phones. Granted, I've taken maybe a dozen calls in my car in the last year, but still. That's going to piss off a lot of people if it doesn't get fixed. I do like the way it reads text messages to you and allows you to reply verbally.
Overall, I'm really pleased with the OS as a whole. The new features really put polish on something I already liked.
There was a lot of fear and anger over the fact that WP8 apps would not be Silverlight. Well, that's not really true. They might not call it Silverlight anymore, but the XAML skills you had transfer very well here. There are some changes to get used to in terms of the state management and app lifecycle, but the new stuff to learn is not extensive.
So far I've only partially jumped in with some experimentation, but what I can't understand is why they didn't get the feature and framework parity as close as possible to that of Windows 8 "store apps." There's a huge opportunity to build stuff once, for both platforms, and they kind of blew it. When you attempt to make a portable class library for both, you end up with a pretty low common denominator. For example, the fantastic HttpClient class, essential for talking to services, isn't available on WP8. Huh?
I'll have to write more when I actually finish something, but it sure is curious. That explains too why the SDK wasn't released until the phones were.
I am not generally one to be dogmatic about food and diet. In fact, it annoys the piss out of me that a lot of people are so absolutely sure that they have all of the answers, and that they apply to everyone. The people who are all "I eat like a caveman" whilst sucking down protein shakes and energy drinks (which are so obviously prehistoric) need to be punched in the balls. My dietitian first wife apparently encounters these people daily, and they insist that they know better than she does.
That said, I think there's a logical and natural desire for people who think about what they put into their bodies to stick to things that are actually real food. They may not be completely religious about it, but they understand that organic foods aren't exposed to hormones and pesticides, that you should generally eat more green stuff, and packaged foods are often asking for death by sodium. Some people go to extremes, but I think being mildly self-aware that a package of ramen noodles is not good for you is good.
Given just a shred of this awareness, I find it insane that anyone is OK putting McDonald's food into their bodies. It's barely passable as food. If Morgan Spurlock and Jamie Oliver haven't scared you shitless into understanding what that crap will do to you, I don't know what will. How can you be OK with having dimethylpolysiloxane added to food to act as an "anti-foaming agent?" Why would your food foam?
I stopped eating fast food about seven years ago, for the most part. I've been known to stop at a Wendy's in a pinch, but even then, my last stop was over a year ago while driving across the country (choices are slim in Nowhere, South Dakota). I've done my share of "fast casual," but Chipotle uses real food, even if some of it is high in fat or sodium. I had an Egg McSomething last summer and my stomach instantly turned on me. That shit is nasty. And don't even get me started about how the french fries never decompose.
I find it unfortunate that McDonald's can exist as a business, because consumers are willing to consume it.
One of the things that I've believed consistently since I started college was that I knew better than a lot of people about a lot of different things. Looking back at those college days, I suppose I might have known better for a few things, but mostly I was just idealistic and didn't know any better that I didn't know better.
As one gets older and experiences life, it could be argued that you do, in fact, know better. Professionally, it's the thing that can prop up your confidence and aid your decision making skills. Success means different things to different people, but we can likely agree that it generally involves execution with a positive result.
For me, different jobs have yielded different results. In some cases, knowing better has made me happier and more successful. In other jobs, I've found it impossible to turn knowing better into doing better. The thing that really shakes my confidence, however, is that if I really knew better, I could be doing it on my own, or in the context of my day job. When I'm not doing that, it doesn't feel good.
What makes that feeling worse is seeing people who have managed to skate along, not having a clue about anything. I worked for a couple of guys a few years ago that were total failures in the company they owned. Sure, they managed to keep paying their own bills, but their customers hated them, they experienced massive turnover in their staff (or couldn't afford to pay them, in my case), and just generally sucked at life. I've also worked in companies where individuals contributed little to their product development beyond being "visible" to managers.
So what do you do with that shaken confidence? You might ask yourself if you're legit, or just a big phony. If you really do know better, you can do better if you choose to do so. That's simple, right? Yeah, it's as simple as knowing you have to lose weight and just doing it. If it really were that simple, we'd all have awesome abs.
I'm processing these kinds of feelings a lot lately. The course of action is actually pretty obvious in my case: Change the situation. If I can do better, it starts with enabling that kind of execution by looking for where change is possible. That can be uncomfortable and time consuming, but the end result can also be rewarding. I have to keep that in mind. I've been there before.
Many of my friends are headed down to Orlando this week for the annual IAAPA conference and trade show, which is "the" amusement industry's big show. They're all going for professional reasons, of course, since they mostly work in the industry.
When I launched CoasterBuzz in the beginning of 2000, I ended up going to the show for the first time that November. It seemed like a good idea, running a Web site that covered news from the industry. I ended up going for the entire week, staying in a crappy hotel there in Atlanta. I even came back one day to find all of my crap missing from my room, including my laptop, because they thought I checked out.
In any case, that was way too long to be there. I spent a lot of time watching the fallout of the 2000 election from my room, and did the CNN tour. I also had to live with the disappointment of what I already knew about trade shows: They're awful, like an endurance contest. Being about that industry doesn't make them better.
The next year, I went again, when the show was in Orlando. In the fallout of 9/11, I lost my job and needed something to distract myself from the world. Stephanie and I had bought passes for all of the Busch parks, so I figured at the very least I could also make a quick stop at SeaWorld and Busch Tampa. I spent about a day and a half on the show floor that time, which was enough to find some stories and do the appropriate networking. The real highlight was the social event at Islands of Adventure, where I first fell in love with that park (and famously got lost in the Dudley Do-Right queue with a couple of friends from TGG, then CCI).
As the years went buy, I did a couple of speaking gigs at the show, but 2008 was the last year I went. The reasons were many, but mostly because in 2009 I had just moved to Seattle (which didn't stop us from going to Disney World the week after Thanksgiving), then I was a parent in 2010, and in 2011 had just moved back to Cleveland. This year, honestly it's just an issue that I didn't want to incur the expense. That, and it's more of a social call to catch up with friends more than anything else. There isn't really that much of interest at the show anymore that we haven't seen before.
I have no idea what next year will look like, but I wouldn't mind going, if only to volunteer at the GKTW booth, because that would feel more useful. Otherwise, it's more of a social opportunity than anything. It's crazy to see how much my industry friends have moved around over the years, and I don't get many chances to see many of them in person.
In the days following the election, a few people have cheered the presidential results (very few), and many have crying their eyes out. I already talked about how I find both positions to be a little silly, but there were two other issues that several states faced that are very interesting to talk about.
The first is a big one, that being the four states that voted on measures to legally identify same-sex marriage. It's a big deal because all four states approved these issues. A long string of laws and state constitutional amendments have in recent years prohibited same-sex marriage (until of course they're found to be unconstitutional, as many legal scholars believe they will). Why the reversal? A part of it is certainly that a slight majority of Americans are OK with it, so I'm sure that's a part of it.
I've never understood why anyone would care about what two adults want to do in terms of defining their relationship. Some people provide these pseudo-intellectual arguments for it, but they always feel like thinly veiled cases for hating people. What annoys me more is the people who feel that marriage needs to be "defended" against something, as if hoards of card-carrying homosexuals (they do get cards, right?) are going to storm the suburbs destroying marriages with their fairy wands of marital dissolution. I've got news for you, marriage is already destroyed by half of all straight couples. I was one of them. The truth of the matter is that no two people anywhere will change what Diana and I are. If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married. Problem solved. And if it's the children you're worried about, see what this kid has to say.
The other issue that passed in two states was one legalizing marijuana. While largely symbolic unless federal laws are changed, it's still fascinating. I'll freely admit that the anti-drug message was beaten into me so hard that I used to think legalizing this particular drug was insane. (See what I did there?) I've never used it, and I have no desire to. However, the case against it is a lot weaker than I thought.
I've read several accounts from law enforcement types and judges who are happy to see the ban go. Their first comment is always that the "war on drugs," especially this drug, has a very low return on investment. It's ineffective, and the crime related to the distribution of the drug would simply disappear if it were legal. The case here is that letting people toke up is less of a drain on society and law enforcement resources than trying to stop it.
When you stop to think about it, that might very well be true. There's a secondary argument about how harmful the drug actually is, but I'm not even sure that argument matters in light of the law enforcement trade-off. It seems counterintuitive, but when you compare it to the impact of prohibition, the similarities are stunning.
This is not an issue I take a side on. I reserve the right to not pick one. I don't have enough information to have an opinion, and I don't think most people do beyond "weed is bad." It should be interesting to see how this plays out the next few years.
It occurs to me that we've been without any kind of pay TV now for a little over a year. While this means about $700 or so saved, the more surprising thing is how little we miss it. When we moved, we recognized that 90% of what we watched was on network TV, available for free over the air. So we were paying for 10% of what we watched. We decided to try cord cutting.
There's a bigger question about the role that TV plays in your life, and it's probably not one that I ever thought much about until I had a child. I don't think TV is inherently evil or anything, but I do frequently ask myself if there are "better" things to do with my time. Growing up, the TV went on during dinner in the kitchen, and there was a TV on until everyone went to bed. That seems suboptimal, in retrospect, for a lot of reasons.
The thing that has changed the most is that technology has altered the way we consume media. With DVR's, we don't have to watch anything when it is originally aired, and we can skip the ads. You can watch a lot of shows via the Internet on any number of devices. The Internet itself provides a different way to use your recreation time, and it offers two-way media, if you choose to engage that way. At the end of the week, not counting Simon's shows, we probably watch around 10 hours of TV in a week. That's about 9% of our waking hours.
Simon has a very limited number of things that he can watch, and they're all from PBS. He has a stack of episodes from Sesame Street, Word World and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. He will on occasion watch his Pajanimals DVD. We try to be interactive with him about watching, and talk about the things he sees on the screen. Unfortunately, there are times where we turn on the TV and do stuff, which always feels crappy, like we're leaving him with an electronic babysitter.
We have to tell Simon "no" quite a bit for TV. He wants to watch it quite a bit, but declining his request usually means he goes to play. That's where we see his imagination at work, and that's what we like to see. Again, it's not that we think TV is evil, as it has clearly helped him learn numbers and letters, among other things. It's just that there are more opportunities to learn and develop when we get him away from the TV.
This was one of those weekends where everything seemed to be right. After a week of professional frustration, I had a few days of personal joy, doing nothing particularly spectacular.
Friday, we took Simon out with us for lunch and some brief shopping. Saturday morning, we took him bowling. Sunday, I got up in the morning with him, and had the clever idea that we should get out of the house for a little picnic and walking out in the park. It was the evening that really sealed the weekend as awesome.
After Simon had a very solid dinner, we went down to the playroom/place-my-desk-is, and I cranked out a few bills while Simon independently started to play. He has been really into cars lately, or anything with wheels. Before we knew it, an hour had passed, and our little boy was fully engaged in imaginary driving. Every once in awhile, he had to indicate, "Green light," so his car could proceed to its destination.
Yes, this is adorable to observe, but it's part of a bigger pattern of watching him discover his world. The most mundane things to us are the most amazing aspects of his developing world. It's completely fascinating to see Simon's imagination develop along side of his personality, speech and motor skills. It's the imagination in particular that's so cool. It reminds you of how little we use it as we get older, and hopefully inspires us to use it more.
Our two year contract with AT&T has been up for awhile now, and we've been eligible for upgrades since July. We've been holding out for the new crop of Windows Phones, and they're finally hitting the streets (and apparently some are even hard to find). Diana was fairly adamant about sticking with WP, and I'm somewhat of a fan as well.
I got the Lumia 920 (I'll write a real review eventually), and I'm shocked at the amount of awesome in it. It's a tank... kinda heavy and big, but the screen is the best I've seen on any phone, and the photos are unreal. The tweaks to the OS are many, and of course everything is more fluid because it's one of these insane dual-core CPU's and whatever. It's nice to be on a 4G network, too.
Diana decided to go for the smaller and lighter 820. I kind of wrote it off as the budget phone, but it's pretty awesome as well. The camera performance in it is still pretty good, and everything feels just as fast and fluid.
What I still love most about the platform is that you enter your Facebook and Gmail accounts, and everything is synced up and ready to go. I had all of my contacts on the new phone before I even left the store. And yeah, it has always been that way, since WP7 launched two years ago. The Mac sync app is a lot more reliable, too, though it's mostly for syncing your iTunes playlists.
It's nice to get new hardware. I know a lot of people don't like to wait, and upgrade more frequently, but I'm surprisingly not that proactive when it comes to phones. We got great deals on these, as both were $50. Mine was normally $100, but since they didn't have the inductive charging plates in stock, they knocked $50 off. I probably won't even bother getting one.
Will write more after some quality time with the phone.
I was a bit of an activist (read: antagonist) in some of my college years, at least with certain issues. One of the things that really pissed me off was the politics and egos of some of the instructors in the radio/TV departement. I was pissed off that they were treating the whole thing like their replacement for the real world, where I assumed they couldn't hack it, and those intentions were undermining the academic endeavor of our degree. They acted as station managers, and our douche bag radio guy in particular insisted he do the ID's and such, I guess because he liked how he sounded or students couldn't be trusted to do this kind of brain dead work. It didn't matter if students sucked... that's what we were there for.
Looking back at it objectively, I was absolutely right in my frustration, especially from the point of view as a customer of the university. However, I wasn't particularly good at venting that frustration in a constructive manner. I did what anyone in my position would have done, and wrote a memo. (Memos were things on paper that pre-date e-mail, in case you're wondering.)
Fortunately, I did have the sense to run it by the department chair first, and her feedback sticks with me to this day. While the core arguments that I had to make were legitimate, they were laced with hyperbole, snark and a healthy dose of sarcasm. That I was being forward wasn't the problem, it's that I was being a dick by intentionally manipulating the emotions of the audience.
I wrote the memo over again, with many edits. It still wasn't as direct and plain as it should have been, but it's funny how that advice stays with me. (Incidentally, the instructors who agreed with me stood up for me to an extent, and quoted the radio guy as saying, "Who the fuck does he think he is?" I wanted to ask him the same question.)
Engineering constructive change is, as that early episode taught me, a very delicate dance. People will take things personally and get pissed off no matter what, but you can minimize the damage when you stick to the facts and data that support your case. Calling out inefficiency and ego induced waste is the right thing to do, but the colder you can be about it, without the inflammatory remarks, the more likely that you can make your case.
I've noticed that on days where I get up with Simon, he tends to be more attached to me than days where Diana gets up with him. For example, this morning I got him up at the butt-crack of dawn so we could both get a haircut at the one place I know he won't freak out. Going out without mom is even less frequent, so it definitely leads to some solid bonding time.
What fascinates me about bonding is that I find myself, as a parent, doing as much of the push-pull thing that Simon does. All at once, he wants your attention and help, as well as a certain level of independence. Along those same lines, there are times where I want him to cuddle up next to me or crash on my lap, but I also want him to deal with a minor fall or some bout of frustration on his own.
That's one of the important balancing acts that I probably over-think, the need to make a deep and meaningful connection with the goal of raising a self-reliant human being. I think about it because strong family connections don't come easy to me.
There has been so much joy in our house lately, as Simon's communication skills continue to develop. We still deal with the usual tantrums and such, but he's so good at expressing love, and we can't get enough of it. I am grateful for every minute of it.
A lot can change in four years. I got married, moved three times, had a child, had significant salary increases, and in the general sense, learned that a whole lot is possible. What I had in credit card debt I now have about half in savings. I only have one house instead of two. All things considered, to say that I'm better off than I was four years ago would be a gross understatement.
If I were the kind of moron who simply based my vote on my party preference or a four-year net gain/loss, obviously I'd go right to voting for Obama and be on my way. Since I'd like to think that I'm not a moron, it wasn't that simple at all.
In 2008, we were faced with a pool of losers on the Republican side, and two viable candidates on the Democrat side. With John McCain giving up every shred of integrity that he carried in 2000 (when he should have been nominated, and won), it was clear that we were going to have either the first female or black president. The guy with the funny name had the charisma of Bill Clinton and the symbolic qualities of a transformational leader, the likes of which we hadn't seen since the Kennedy's.
By mid-2010, however, it was clear that the president was getting a serious beat down. He started off strong with a continuation of the stimulus efforts suggested by Bush, and the various tax credits and cuts that it included, and then managed to get health care reform passed (only half of which I agree with). To his credit, he also finally got us out of Iraq. He wasn't getting much of anything else done, especially in areas of immigration, Guantanamo and deficit reduction. He didn't nut up and support gay marriage until it was politically convenient (when polls showed Americans favored it by a slim majority). In fact, I didn't feel like he was really standing up for anything, and he certainly wasn't getting anything done. Sure, you could blame Republicans who made it their platform to simply do the opposite of what the president wanted, but overcoming that kind of nonsense is exactly what you expect from a transformational leader.
With this disappointing performance in mind, I was ready for alternatives. Again, the Republicans produced virtually no one worth considering. I actually had some interest in Ron Paul, and I even voted for him in the primaries, because I generally agree with his overall ideology. However, I also think he would be the most ineffective president in history, because ideology isn't going to get anything through Congress, particularly when members of your own party base their positions on just being opposite of folks across the aisle. My hope is that Paul manages to have some lasting effect on the GOP, to wake up and realize that these clowns they keep fronting aren't going to win.
If it sounds like I'm apathetic, I don't mean to convey that. I think voting is critical at all levels, and especially at the local level. Do the research, vote for people who can do the job. People might be shocked to hear that I've been voting for the same Republican county commissioner for years, because he's kickass. Does the dog catcher catch dogs? That's how you choose who to vote for.
I never see political ads, because I have a DVR. Judging by comments on Facebook, I feel as though I'm the only one. That said, there are a number of issues that I simply don't consider when choosing a candidate. In fact, when you start to get into some of these issues, you can see why I reach the conclusion that I do.
First off, I ignore anything about jobs. I heard Romney say that he'll create jobs, but he also said that the government doesn't create jobs. In fact, I can't even say that I believe that a president can affect the short-term economy in general. It's true that a combination of factors can certainly have massive impact, but presidential intervention I suspect would account for little of it. For example, the mortgage crisis was a triple threat of failure: It was a combination of weak regulation of the lending industry, banks that were too loose with lending, and most importantly, borrowers who bought more house than they could afford and agreed to ridiculous terms. With that much blame to go around, a president can't claim responsibility for fixing it, let alone be blamed for it.
I strongly believe that the economy will continue to grow at a pace that matches the condition of markets around the world. The recession ended in 2009, and that is a fact. The recovery might not come as fast as people would like, but no president is going to change that. The more you interfere with a market, the more you risk turning it into a bubble. We've seen it with housing and higher education already.
When you take that stuff out of the equation, what are you left with? In no particular order:
I voted for Obama. While I desperately want Obamacare to be heavily revised, ditching the individual mandate in particular, he's closer to aligning with what I believe. He wants to spend too much, but at least it's not by way of warmongering. I might be naive, but I think without the pressure of reelection, he might actually stand up and fight for what he believes.
Romney, by contrast, has campaigned almost exclusively in the politics of fear. Instead of terrorism, this time it's the economy. Even his Web site is devoid of any real, specific plans. "I'll work with Congress" is not good enough.
I did consider voting for one of the third party candidates that are on the ballot in most states. There's a real question about whether or not that's "wasting" your vote, and I'm still torn on that issue. It's telling that most of them have Republican roots, and on social issues, most align more closely with Democrats. What I find interesting about that is that the alternative candidates actually seem to align more with regular people. Maybe it's just the people that I know, but I find that folks tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal, a position which seems inevitable with age and experience. Yet, the two major parties can't be these two things.
What I understand the least is how anyone could be so passionate about either candidate, whether it's for or against them. They're both assclowns in their own special way, but not to the extent where they're worth campaigning for them or spending all your spare time calling them socialists, elitists or out of touch. Some people literally hate one of these guys. I don't even have the energy to hate people I know, let alone people I'll never meet. When someone gets in my grill and says, "ZOMG how can you vote for Obama," my reaction is, "How could you care that much?" I also wasn't above taking Romney' s campaign money in the form of ads on my Web sites. October was not bad.
My other disappointment is in the way people allowed themselves to get sucked into the stupidity and propaganda. The polarization in Washington is obviously part of the problem, and for reasons I don't understand, people wanted to align themselves with that. Despite Obama's obvious failures that you could intelligently criticize, people went for the silly hyperbole instead. That's the route the GOP took as well.
2016 has to be better than this. If the two major parties can't come closer to the middle, we need a third viable option, and they have to market themselves in a way that cuts through the Republican-Democrat stupidity. In the mean time, no matter who is president, I can pretty much say for sure that the economy will slowly continue to recover, and the markets will drive the change necessary to not suck as much. In other words, a president isn't going to do that for us.
So will the president and members of Congress get the message that they need to come to the middle? I'm not optimistic, largely because the voting public doesn't want it. We get the government we deserve.
With the wave of new software development tools and gadgets from Microsoft in the last few weeks, I'm really pretty energized and full of ideas. With the darkness and coldness that comes from winter, I think I try to hang on to stuff like this to satisfy my hobbyist/side-business-wannabe self. That, and this approach has endlessly helped my career, even if it has meant some jobs that I totally haven't cared about.
I really need to "finish" my dashboarding product, not because I think it will make me rich, but because I want to use it! It's the typical problem that I encounter... the last 25% or so of work is often the hardest and least interesting. Maybe this is the reason why I desire to get away from jobs that are primarily heads-down coding. I enjoy the coding part, but only to an extent. The other parts of design, architecture and process are a lot of fun to me, and those jobs have by extension been the most fun. That's why I switched to a program manager role when I was still at Microsoft (though I made the tactical error of joining a team not interested in shipping fast and frequently, unfortunately).
With the shiny Sufrace tablet we recently bought, of course I'm anxious to put something on that. By extension, it means building something for Windows 8 since it will run in both places. I'm going to port the goofy little CoasterBuzz app for Windows Phone to see how that goes. I don't care if anyone uses it, I just want to do it! These kinds of discovery endeavors are fun. To add to the challenge, I'm trying to see how much code I can reuse between that app and the phone.
Going back to the tried and true stuff I've worked on forever, there are a lot of ideas that pop into my head that kind mesh well with some of the new tools. Since I've accepted my fate of building POP Forums forever, I still desire to innovate it into something more. A lot of those efforts over the years have been to make it do less, instead of more, to bring the conversations it facilitates to the forefront, and I think I've been successful in that. By stripping it down, I've enabled ideas for new things. For example, I added the little thing that, when you're replying, will tell you that new posts have arrived so you don't miss the discussion as you're typing. I've noticed that discussion on CoasterBuzz is a lot more orderly with things like that.
The big thing on my mind for this winter, more than anything, is a significant PointBuzz do-over. I'm not even sure when we put the current version into production, but it was way too long ago. I hate the old forum version. I think we chose wisely when we decided years ago to focus on community and photos, with the occasional feature here and there, but the photo stuff did not scale in terms of organization. It's hard to find and discover stuff. We're really going to have to noodle a bit to figure out how to approach this, and keep in mind how we transition what we have into that with minimal pain. It hurts to think about right now, but I do look forward to the challenge. I think we were on to something with the way MouseZoom was organized, with hierarchal albums, but the discovery and UI has to be better.
I've actually thought a little bit about bringing Baby Stopwatch back into my life. I always said that I built the Windows Phone app just to say that I could (and it does make a couple hundred bucks in ad revenue every year), but in the back of my mind I had a second version in mind. I know how nutty parents can be, and I think they want historical data on the way their kids eat and poop. Sounds ridiculous, but there is definitely a market there.
My biggest mistake, in the last few years, has been focusing too much on how to make a buck with my ideas. It's amazing how much that focus degrades the fun of what you're doing. I have to go back a dozen years to see that if you're passionate about something and share it with others who share your passion, you may find it's a business. The focus on experimentation does not necessarily lead to making a living with one of these endeavors, but the cost involved is practically zero. It's low risk, but satisfying and sometimes profitable.
With last week's BUILD conference, I'm reminded how much I've loved attending Microsoft conferences. I only attended one as an employee (Mix11), but I've been to four overall, and I love drinking that delicious Kool-Aid. Each one has been exciting and inspiring, from meeting people from all over the world who do interesting things, to meeting people who build my favorite products.
But with the availability of all of the sessions in video form online, the ability to learn isn't just reserved for on-site attendees. (Being on-site is still better, because of the people factor, obviously.) I've got 20 hours of video from that conference, and obviously I'll have to prioritize a bit because there's zero chance I'll ever have time to watch it all.
Earlier today, since Diana rearranged the furniture in my personal office/Simon's playroom, I was looking at the stacks of books I have on the shelf. In an honest moment, I realized that it's completely unlikely that I'll ever open any of those books again. When it comes time to move again, it would be ridiculous to bring those with me.
That my books are obsolete makes me sad. I have many fond memories of a book arriving via Amazon, cracking it open to the new book smell, and diving in. Most of my career, over a decade, was advanced this way. I mean, I wrote a book for that purpose.
Things have changed. For example, when I went to replace my C# 4.0 In a Nutshell book with the 5.0 version, I bought it on Kindle. I can now view it on my Suface, iPad, Kindle or phone. That I bought it at all has more to do with the handy nature of the series as a reference than anything else. The technology moves fast enough that most of the information I consume now comes via Internet sources, including the conference video, blog posts and ever-improving documentation.
Books used to give greater context. A well-written book gave you the end-to-end story that went beyond simple cookbook nonsense and enabled learning. That depth comes in different forms now. Part of it is that some things just aren't as complicated as they used to be. Asynchronous programming in C#, for example, is stupid easy now because of language features. You still need to understand the underlying process, but there are more than enough documents and blog posts with adequate depth.
The other big change is that I've been in the habit of taking what's new and figuring out some real world reason to use it. This really started in earnest for me in 2009, when I couldn't find a job until landing at Microsoft. I can't remember any time in my professional life that I learned as much as I did that summer. Even as I've been continuously working since that time, I've stuck to that pattern. Even now, I'm building a Windows 8 app, and will port another to Windows Phone 8, just because I can. It's what I do now.
The unfortunate thing about this is that I'm probably more of an exception than a rule. Not enough people in my line of work do this, which is why I'm constantly encouraging young people who are looking for something to do for a living to consider writing software. Rising above the pool of mediocrity would not be hard, and you could be making six figures before you know it. I would add, however, that actually enjoying it has to be a part of it. The people who plateau on their skill set clearly do not enjoy the ongoing learning process, and they hold the entire profession back.
Facebook is all abuzz with messages about the time change and getting extra sleep tonight. The people making these posts clearly don't have very young children.
I was talking with a couple last week about having children, and how the single biggest change, apart from being responsible for keeping a small human alive, is that your sleep gets really screwed up, and it takes years before that goes back to normal. In fact, I don't even know when it gets normal. I recall being kindergarten age and coming downstairs on my own and watching Saturday morning cartoons, but I'm not sure when that started.
The first few months are the worst, of course, because your kid is on a three or four hour cycle of eating. Growing is hard. Eventually they start sleeping through the night, but they go to bed before 7 and end up sleeping until 6 or 7. In the toddler stage, they still get up early. For us, even though Simon has a bed he can get out of, he still wants us to come get him.
I have to admit that I have it easier. Since I have to work and can't take a midday nap with meetings and such, Diana typically gets up with Simon and I get up generally by 8:30 (perk of working from home). It doesn't help that I'm hard-wired to stay up late. We each take a weekend day to sleep in as late as we want, and that can end up being as late as 10 or 11, if there's nothing on our calendar.
It will be nice when Simon can get up on his own and occupy his own time. I just have no idea when that is. And the thing is, once I'm up, it's not like I mind spending time with him. I actually really enjoy it.
This weekend is made more complicated by the fact that Diana is sick, and we have the time change. We kept Simon up past 9, but that's no guarantee that he'll sleep in. Hard to say. The kid managed to get over jetlag the same day when we were last in Seattle.
This is the third Halloween for which Simon has graced this planet, and it's his first for the actual trick-or-treat process. The first year, sure, he wore a tigger costume for a few photos. Last year, a few photos for an otter costume. This year, Diana went all out and made a sheep costume that was awesome. He was obligated to hit the streets. Although, it's worth mentioning that he has already been out a few times, including Boo at The Zoo.
One of our friends in the neighboring town, from Diana's former work circle of friends, invited us over to do trick-or-treating with Simon's friends. With the three of them going out, the theory went, Simon would be more likely to go along with them and see what the process is all about. Sure enough, it worked, and it was particularly funny how I he shadowed his friend Lucas, a few months older, going from house to house.
Granted, Simon doesn't really even like sweet stuff, though he's become fond of the occasional dark chocolate M&M. But it's nice to see him do something socially with the other kids.
The neighborhood we were in was a total zoo. It's one of those rural farm areas where some big plot of land was converted to a subdivision (10 to 15 years, I would guess), but it was mobbed with kids. Most houses had folks out sitting in their driveways, temperature in the low 40's, with a couple of beverages at their disposal, buckets of candy, and a big fire thing set up. All I can say is that it's very Ohio.
I know I mentioned this before, but Diana's sheep costume was awesome. She did such a good job on it, with little to go on other than an idea and some wooly looking fabric pieces. The tail really tied it together. Thankfully, Simon also tolerated wearing it, and he was super cute.
As I mentioned in my very lengthy Surface review, I ordered one right away because it seemed interesting and I knew I'd want to see Windows with the touch experience, so I could experiment with developing something for it. What I didn't really say at the time was that I had a little purchase regret at first. Given my existing indifference to tablets, I felt a little weird about buying another one. And yet, I've spent the last week wanting to do stuff with it.
As it turns out, there are a lot of subtle things about it that make it a bigger deal than I initially expected. I'm still trying to decide if it's because of what Windows 8 is in general, meaning it could apply to the other forthcoming Windows RT tablets, or if it's something about Surface in particular.
If it's about Windows, it's because of the very thing that critics have been so nasty about: The touch interface. I've been among the skeptical from the start, in terms of the blurred line between touch interfaces and mouse-and-keyboard interfaces, but my skepticism was always rooted in environments where you didn't already have both. With most Windows laptops shipping with touch screens, and even some desktops, that already changes the game. Plus, the neat thing about the "Metro" interface (that they want to call the Windows 8 Store interface because they're insane) is that it engages you just as much as you engage it. It wants to be touched, like a naughty college kid who just got drunk for the first time.
Windows RT, the version that runs on Surface (until the "pro" version based on Intel comes out), is pretty much Windows, through and through. While it can run Microsoft Money 97, it still has all of the functionality of the regular operating system. That means you can mess with the file system and run PowerShell and poke around it. It means you can have user accounts, which is huge when it comes to sharing the device with someone else, and customizing it to your liking. It means "real" Internet Explorer, not a crippled mobile version. It means the built-in stuff, like Facebook and Twitter integration, and the surprisingly useful news apps.
Those are all important, of course, but then there are features specific to Suface RT that keep pushing along its usefulness. First is that keyboard cover. Sure, the magnet attachment is neat, but as it turns out, it's surprisingly useful. I've actually pecked out a blog post on it, which is something I couldn't do on the iPad. I've posted news on CoasterBuzz, which involves writing a little bit of HTML usually, and that's definitely not possible on the iPad. Putting a keyboard in the cover was a brilliant move.
The kickstand is also surprisingly useful. Also useful, the USB port. If you want to sneakernet some photos of Word files on to the machine, you can do it. You could import photos from your camera, too, without needing an f'ing dock connector adapter that just got made obsolete by some other port. It also has a mico-SDXC port, so I added another 32 gigs of space (for $20) to store some video files for Simon, useful when traveling.
I'm not much of an app guy, since most of what I do tends to be browser based, but I've got some winners. The radar on Weatherbug is spectacular. We've already watched video on the NBC News and Daily Show apps. Angry Birds Space, got it. Kindle, Skype, Remote Desktop, got it. And of course, there's the mother of all crack-like games, Wordament.
You should buy one. This is the first computing device I've had since the original Windows Phone two years ago that really excites me.