Archive: April, 2012

What does it take to do something extraordinary?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 29, 2012, 11:27 PM | comments: 0

We watched We Bought A Zoo a few days ago, and recently the special features, and it really is a pretty great story. In the fictional movie version, a guy loses his wife, presumably to cancer, and decides to move his family to a property that includes a broken down zoo. Of course he's looking for bigger meaning in life and a sense of purpose.

The thing is, his story is familiar in terms of people who do extraordinary things. It seems like the impetus for these actions is often some catastrophic or otherwise life changing event. It's certainly not a story limited to fiction either. There are plenty of examples in everyday life.

The question is, does it really have to be that way? Does something big, good or bad, have to happen to us in order to do extraordinary things?

I think you first have to figure out what "extraordinary" is. I think as time passes, it's easier to lower the bar. For some, getting through the next day is extraordinary. For others, raising a child who is at minimum not a drag on society is a big deal. For me, I think I believe that you have to positively affect others. I'm not entirely sure if the scale matters. It might.

That issue of motivation is a big one. The easier thing is always to not do hard things. We definitely seem to follow a curve in terms of desire to do those hard things. When we're young and the experience of life hasn't persistently tried to beat us down, we want to change the world. As we close in on 30, issues of comfort, safety and a lower tolerance for risk cause us to get complacent. In our 40's, I think we start to become acutely aware of the passing of time, and may not do things that one would describe as extraordinary, but definitely less safe and comfortable. By the time we cross 50, a lot of our ability is simply rooted in experience. The more practice you have at life, the better you can be at it. As I theorized before, though, a catastrophic event can render that curve meaningless.

I don't think that ego or desire for recognition plays into it much. A little, perhaps, but I don't think it sits high on the scale.

I think we're in a volatile time in our history where we need people to do extraordinary things. It doesn't matter if that means they write a good song or build a house or cure cancer. Our culture is so fatigued with war, hate, suffering and general malaise. It can't take much more. We all choose to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.

Parental failure

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 28, 2012, 11:22 PM | comments: 0

Diana helped out this morning with the sale of child stuff up at the high school, so it was another one of those half-days where I got to have some exclusive Simon time. Typically, I enjoy these times and look forward to them, because it gives me a chance to be the dad I want to be. Except when I'm not.

Simone had no fewer than three meltdowns this morning. It's easy to write it off as something a 2-year-old does, but I felt like I should be doing more, and working the problem. Most of Simon's frustrations come from either a short tolerance for not being able to do what he wants, and more often, the inability to communicate what he feels. So imagine how I felt like an asshole when, after melting down because I was trying to get him to sit down for lunch, he led me up to his changing table to change a poopy diaper I didn't notice. And by that time, I had become short with him as well, which makes me feel worse, because what the hell is wrong with a grown man that gets angry at a kid who has a vocabulary of a few dozen words?

If it were just a one-off occurrence, I'd just move on, but I feel like this is happening a lot lately when I'm with him. He gets upset about something, I don't know what, and then it's obvious. I sound like a crazy person when I articulate the feeling, but it really messes with my self-esteem as a parent. Nothing makes me feel like more of a failure than when I can't provide for Simon. And if that's not bad enough, my spiral of self-loathing causes me to be short with Diana and anyone else I encounter. If that weren't bad enough, he had epic vomit after dinner in the parking lot tonight. I mean, the result looked like it was from someone who had gotten drunk and revisited several dozen wings and chips. That made me wonder if he was feeling suboptimal all day, and that makes me feel even worse because I never considered it.

Tomorrow, the perspective that comes with a night of sleep (sometimes) will make me see that I'm probably over-reacting tonight. My lack of vacationing and leisure certainly has me holding on too tight. It's just that when it comes to Simon, I sometimes feel like the stakes are impossibly high. I've had so many disappointing relationships in my life, and if I'm only going to have one child, I can't let that happen with him. That's a lot of pressure, even if it is self-applied.

The thing that gives me comfort is that I think Simon sometimes knows how I feel. Last night, he insisted on rocking with me a little before bed, which is ordinarily not a fun time for any of us. Tonight, after his bath, he sat on my lap and held my fingers during his nebulizer treatment, and wasn't shy about cozying up to me during his Sesame Street time.

Stir crazy angst

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 26, 2012, 11:51 PM | comments: 0

I have been completely bouncing off of the walls lately. With this bouncing comes a lot of angst that is directed toward a number of different circumstances. Overall, I feel like I'm kind of whining. Nobody likes people like that.

The stir crazy part is pretty easy to explain. I work from home and we haven't had a vacation since Christmas. Furthermore, that was not exactly restful because of the car accident. I don't even remember the last time I went four months without, at the very least, taking a nice long four-day weekend. The working at home part surprisingly doesn't make this easier, it makes it worse.

The angst comes from a lot of different places, not the least of which is also the home I work and live in. While it's a comfortable place that we enjoy, it's also one that is the embodiment of many of our troubles the last few years. In fact, we wouldn't even be here if we sold it two years ago. So even if I like it, it feels a bit like a prison, and now I even work in it! It's a completely bizarre situation.

And that leads to some of the issues around living in Cleveland. I'm always reminded of the scene in the movie Orange County where Kevin Kline tells Colin Hanks that the best writers all exhibited an intense love-hate relationship with the place they were from. Unlike the Hanks character, however, I will not likely embrace the place I used to live. I hate it here. I expend a lot of energy hating it. OK, maybe hate is too strong a word. It's probably less about hating it and more about liking Seattle better. I felt like I belonged there, while I feel like I'm just done with Cleveland.

That causes me to second guess my decisions on a daily basis. I strongly felt that moving back was mastering my destiny, particularly the financial part. Even with the dollar crisis of the car accident and a lot of money spent on home improvement, the planned outcome has, so far, more than come to fruition. But does all of that monetary rightness compensate for living in a backward, homo-hating, income taxing, government failing state make up for it?

Fortunately, things are balancing out a little without any particular action on my part. The first thing is that we've got travel plans. Some plans are more specific than others, but we have the flexibility to drive so many places that we just couldn't go before. That will certainly ease the location issues, for the time being. I even had some scenarios recently crop up where I could see myself being here a lot longer term, and that's quite unexpected. And of course, I'm not a politician, so I reserve the right to change my opinions or feelings at any time.

When I "got home" from work today, Simon was so happy to see me, and my beautiful wife hugged me, and it all felt like the world was right. I felt anti-entitled to be bitching about anything. I've got it good in a lot of ways, and I'm working on the stuff I'm less than happy with. I just need a few more weeks and I'll be able to relax a little. And heck, with Cedar Point opening soon, I can have the kind of summer fun that has been sorely absent in my life.

Ouimet interview

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 26, 2012, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

I posted the Ouimet interview today on CB (and Walt on PB). Really happy with the content, but would've liked the technical side of it to be better. Even with the lighting I had, it was difficult and overcast in places. If I had a grip, I'd have someone with my reflector! Audio was pretty solid though. Buying all of that wireless stuff and a variety of microphones has paid for itself a hundred times over.

With some documentary type stuff this year, I'm going to try and shoot with the AF100 instead. That camera has more dynamic range, and less noise, so as long as I don't blow out exposure (pretty easy to avoid with proper zebras), I'll have an easier time color correcting. The HVX is frustrating because there just isn't enough to work with. Well planned and lit stuff works great, but hostile run-and-gun without a second person doesn't work as well.

I bought a new tripod with the AF100, too, because as soon as you put big lenses, rails, a follow focus and other accessories on it, it starts to get too heavy for my trusty old tripod. That, and I really wanted something with a smoother head and a ball mount so I could quickly level it. I couldn't justify spending on a carbon fiber rig, so the Manfrotto I bought is kind of heavy, but it's really solid.

Video geeking

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 26, 2012, 12:04 AM | comments: 0

Aside from shooting some overcranked shots of Simon using his nebulizer (because the mist coming out looks really cool in slow motion), I haven't really shot anything interesting with my new camera. I've been busy, the weather has been poor, and really the little guy is just now getting back to his normal self anyway.

That said, I love being able to use my Canon lenses on that thing. The relatively inexpensive 50mm f/1.4 that I bought way back in the day with my 5D produces really beautiful moving pictures. I never thought that some day I'd shoot video with it, but there it is. If anything, it benefits from being on a smaller sensor camera because the slight vignette that it normally exhibits when wide open is masked because the camera simply doesn't see the corners.

The sensor size is something I'll have to work out in the long run. It's just a little smaller than 35mm motion picture film, so the focal length of lenses obviously aligns with that. Where 50mm is the "normal" for still photography cameras, a 25mm is roughly equivalent on this camera. That means my 50mm is effectively a telephoto lens. That's not a huge problem at all. Working in the f/2 or f/2.8 range on people six to eight feet away gives you a good close up and a nice looking, shallow depth of field. However, if you want more, you need to move back a bit.

This is where being a traditional video guy is hard, because I'm so used to zoom lenses. The average $15k ENG camera I used 15 years ago (with fancy "new" digital tape!) typically shipped with a nice Fujinon lens that could zoom up your subject's nose. Now, I'm relearning how to shoot with prime lenses, mostly as a practical matter. Zooms that have wide open apertures are really expensive, and you want that because all of that light on that big sensor means less noise and gets you the cinematic depth of field you desire.

Canon makes some sub-$500 prime lenses ranging from 20mm to 35mm, with apertures from f/1.8 to f/2.8. They only make one zoom that goes that wide and f/2.8, and it's crazy expensive. I got a 14-42mm cheap lens with the camera that gets the coverage I want no problem, but at full wide it only opens to f/3.5. That's great for shooting landscape type stuff (that's why I bought it), but not as great for shooting indoors or where you want shallow depth. So in the long term, I'll have to think about what I want to do.

My trusty 24-105mm f/4 L is fantastic as ever on that camera. It's really heavy when you're doing handheld, but zoomed out it gets that "normal" field you want. I just wish it opened another stop, to f/2.8. The 70-200mm f/4 L I have also looks pretty good, and that poor lens doesn't get a lot of use other than for sports, which I rarely shoot. I can't wait to take that one to the zoo. I fully expect to capture some great stuff that way.

There's also the issue of handheld shooting and using the tripod. If you're shooting planned films, tripods and prime lenses are awesome. Run-and-gun documentary style stuff is a lot harder, and that's where having a zoom sure would help, especially indoors.

So immediate goals are to do shorts with zoo critters and a music video with Simon. Those little projects will really let me put the camera through its paces. I'm also working on a plan for a documentary that I'll start shooting very soon, and will probably release as a series of three or four episodes. That will be a really cool project. It'd be better if I can get Morgan Freeman to narrate it, but I don't think he does pro bono work for dorks like me.

Making of a TV monster

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 23, 2012, 12:45 PM | comments: 0

Simon has watched a lot of TV in the last few days. I'm not crazy about this arrangement. At first it was just something for him to engage in while he wasn't feeling good, but then it expanded into a distraction while he was getting his nebulizer meds.

That said, his playlist is very limited. There's the stack of Sesame Street on the DVR, his Pajanimals DVD, and a disc we got from the library, something called "Letter Factory" or something. That last one in particular, through sheer repetition, has pushed him to recognition of most of the alphabet practically overnight. The other day, I was wearing a T-shirt with "Baltimore" on the sleeve, and he pointed at the "B" and identified it verbally. Watching Sesame Street last night, he pointed at the "N" during the "brought to you by" review and made the "N" sound. Granted, we try to reinforce this stuff with him when we play with his letter puzzle and some of his other toys, but this seemingly came out of nowhere.

I'm not sure why, but I just don't like him watching a lot of TV, even though he's clearly getting some benefit from it. I watched a lot of TV growing up, and I'd like to think I didn't end up developmentally deformed, but I just think there are better things for him to do, especially with his speech delay and a few lagging motor skills. Fortunately, Simon isn't one to veg-out in front of the TV anyway. He gets bored with it. At the same time, he does ask to watch quite a bit.

I can't believe this is stuff I worry about.

Mostly unplugged

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 22, 2012, 11:23 PM | comments: 0

I spent most of the weekend unplugged, and it felt good. I'm not saying I didn't use electronic devices, but I wasn't going to that Internet over and over again. It felt good not doing so.

Of course, Simon is requiring a high amount of attention right now, so that's part of it. But I watched movies, played with my boy, fetched carry-out and just did stuff. Tonight, I had to take a break from movie watching to try and calm down that little boy, who was not sleeping. Sitting on my lap, he grabbed his old burp rag, put it on my shoulder, then climbed up and put his head there. It was pretty much the cutest thing he has ever done, and that moment was one of the best dad moments so far.

As a very important person told me this week, "You know, it's all about your wife and kid. The rest is just a rounding error."


posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 21, 2012, 11:02 PM | comments: 0

Diana took Simon to the doctor on Friday after a particularly rough night with a whole lot of coughing. He's had cold-like symptoms or a week, but up until that night, he seemed to be getting much better. They did a chest x-ray after the doctor felt that his breathing didn't sound right, and sure enough, they diagnosed very early stage pneumonia.

Normally, I think I'd be freaked out by this, because it's not a good condition for anyone particularly young or old, but obviously if it were serious, he'd be in the hospital. His treatment is the pink stuff, on the assumption that it's a bacterial infection, and some kind of medication to aide in clearing up his lungs, inhaled via a nebulizer. The first time using it was almost ten minutes of horror, but he has since gotten pretty used to it. TV is a good distraction.

This morning he woke up with a fever, shivering, and I just felt awful for him, because I know what that's like. I put him on my shoulder and covered us up, and tried to get him warm enough to stop the shivering. That's the weirdest physiological phenomenon to me, that you can have a burning fever and shiver. The body is weird.

Other than that little episode, and some shivers in the tub last night, he has generally been in pretty good spirits. He's not eating particularly well, but he's drinking a lot, even without a lot of prompting. He's active, though we're admittedly throwing a lot of TV at him so he's more or less resting. Today he pushed a car around a bit, but that was the most physical play he did. I think we're mostly holding him back, which is OK.

With all of the snot and sneezing and such, the kid is a fluid mess. So are my clothes, for that matter. I've been sub-optimal today in terms of respiratory state, and I wouldn't be surprised if I suffer from something gross the next few days. I've been feeling like I'm on the edge of something for two weeks now, but not quite sick or symptomatic, just tired. I suppose if it's going to happen, it might as well be on a crappy weather weekend.

We've been really lucky with Simon. He has been a remarkably healthy kid, for the most part. I suppose pneumonia qualifies as serious, but unless he starts having a hard time breathing, he should be just fine.

AF100 first impressions

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 21, 2012, 9:07 PM | comments: 0

I pulled the trigger on buying a Panasonic AF100 last week. Nothing announced at NAB last week was interesting (or affordable) enough for me to consider an alternative. I've been wanting something that can do video "cinema style" that wasn't a DSLR for a long time, and I just haven't been satisfied with what I've been able to get out of the 7D.

My criteria was simple enough. It had to cost less than $10k (otherwise, I would've bought a Canon C300, which is way over that). It had to have proper audio connections and monitoring, SDI output, a reasonably video camera-like form factor, records to cheap media, and most importantly, the ability to use Canon lenses.

I first saw the AF100 in person at NAB last year, and what drew me to it was the similarity in terms of controls to the HVX200, which I've had now for about six years. The HVX has been a great video camera for me, with the biggest problems being the crazy expensive recording media and the fixed lens with small sensor that makes it look like, well, video. Not that there's anything wrong with that, because it's fantastic as an ENG camera, but it doesn't let you get particularly artistic with how you shoot.

The AF100 has a Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) mount and sensor size, which is a standard that's a bit smaller than full-frame or "crop" sensor DSLR's. It's actually 1/4 the size of a full-frame DSLR, so a 50mm lens is essentially like a 100mm, in 35mm DSLR terms. (I kind of hate that "conversion" theory, because a 50mm lens is still a 50mm lens in this case, it's just that the camera only sees part of what the lens is capable of.) There are adapters for practically anything ever made, and there's a lot of enthusiasm around old eBay'd manual Nikon lenses in particular. Using my Canon lenses is trickier because you need a special mount that can operate the aperture of the lens, since it's all electronic, but fortunately it's a problem that Redrock Micro already solved with the cinema adapters that they've sold for years. It's a really nice piece of precision gear, too.

The camera itself is much lighter than the HVX, in part because it uses a lot of that weird composite material instead of metal, and also because it doesn't have a tape machine or a 3-CCD prism. At first I thought that was a cheap feeling, until I messed with it a bit, and now I'm thankful for the lightness. The only thing I found that felt cheap was the control nipple for navigating menus. Everything else, like lens mount, the LCD and viewfinder hinges, the battery lock, etc., are all really solid.

The menu system is still kind of ghetto compared to offerings from other companies. This is true for Panasonic's consumer gear, too. Things are kind of weird to find, though the things most important to you have buttons and dials, so it's not a huge issue.

I got a really cheap 14-42mm MFT lens, just so I could have something that could go really wide for outdoor landscape shots. I think it only opens up to f/3.5 when you're wide, so it's not a great lens for indoor or shallow depth of field. Still, it's handy and solid even inside for shooting video of my son or my cats or whatever. If you use it in 1080/30p or 720/60p, it will even autofocus for you. When you're in manual mode, because it's a native MFT lens, it also talks to the camera and shows you the focus distance on screen.

The real magic, however, is using my Canon lenses. While they can't go as wide with the smaller sensor, they score the image I was really after. My least expensive lens, a non-L 50mm f/1.4, looks really outstanding, and surprisingly sharp when it's wide open. The camera has something called focus assist, which will make the edges of anything in focus glow red. That's an awesome feature, because focusing in HD without a bigger monitor is not always easy. It also does zebra at a user-set percentage so it's super easy to catch over-exposure. I also plugged in my 24-105mm f/4 L, and it looks just as amazing as it does on my still cameras. Opening it to f/4 doesn't make super shallow DOF, but it still looks pretty great.

Exposure is really easy to deal with, in part because it has built-in neutral density filters. The lowest gain setting is ISO 200, and it's really clean. Open up a lens, however, and you'll blow out everything without the ND filters. This was another one of the issues with the DSLR shooting, that you needed ND for every lens you had, or you had to put them in a matte box. That's fine if you're shooting a movie, but a lot harder when you're running around shooting documentary style. It will go up to ISO 3200, which I tried, and it doesn't look horrible, just not great. Actually, hooked up to my TV via HDMI, it's not bad at all, but recorded with the AVCHD codec, the compression isn't great for noise. That's where an external recorder (with that SDI port I wanted) would come in handy. I don't think that's something I truly need, however, until I'm shooting a proper long-form film.

I can't tell you much about the image quality, because all I've done is shoot the cats. However, when Philip Bloom posted this short film over a year ago, shot on a prototype of the camera, I was pretty sold even then.

So far, no huge negatives. Like I said, the noise in the shadows at higher ISO's doesn't compress very well, but it's not horrible, and it can be minimized in post. I'm a little annoyed that Panasonic subtly changed the battery mount, so you can't use the batteries that the HVX uses. Jerks.

I hope to get out to the zoo with my long lens and see what kind of animal porn I can shoot. I was hugely dissatisfied with what I shot on the 7D a few weeks ago. Animals do cool stuff, as do kids who are excited about animals.

Here's the LiveLens mount, with its aperture setting buttons:

Sometimes, it's really not about winning

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 19, 2012, 11:33 PM | comments: 0

I've often felt that people who say, "It's not about winning," are losers. As a coach, I can at the very least tell you that losing sucks, especially when it's a habit.

There are times, however, when we compete without regard to the outcome. I'd like to think that any sport with very young kids, this is true. In fact, at that age, losing builds character. It's also true when you're an adult and starting to learn a new sport, or are engaging in it just to get a little exercise. That's me and tennis.

I've now taken two six-week group classes, and four individual lessons. It has been expensive, but in many ways I'm pleased with how relatively fast I'm getting up to speed. I certainly won't be joining the tour any time soon, but I'm really pleased with where I'm at coming from a dead start.

I decided I'm going to try playing in a competitive league, for about ten weeks. I have almost no expectation beyond getting better than I am now. I don't care at all if I win or lose, though obviously a few wins would be OK. With a few weeks before starting, I also hope to get in a few more lessons. Beyond that, I need to find a way to play less expensively!

At the end of this last six-week session, our instructor actually had the balls to say that he didn't recommend playing in a league because we weren't experienced enough. What the hell is that about? If he had to preface it by saying, "no offense to anyone," that should have been his first clue not to say it. But more to the point, it goes against everything I believe as a coach about getting better at a sport. You can practice indefinitely, but it's not a game until you keep score. While I started this in part for the fitness and social aspect of it all, I also did it because I like engaging in a little competition now and then. And, in this case, it doesn't matter if I win or not.

I'm anxious to see how it goes. It could be a disaster in terms of win-loss ratio, but that's OK. It took me years to get any kind of progress in volleyball.

Slightly sick little guy

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 19, 2012, 10:17 PM | comments: 0

For all my earlier ranting about how Simon was so difficult lately, he woke up from his nap with bright red ears and cheeks, sporting a slight fever. Poor little guy. He was somewhat active in the afternoon, but by the time we got to pajama time (an hour before bed), he was clearly chilling out.

In fact, putting him to be tonight was probably the easiest it has been in months. He was very sweet and cuddly. Unfortunately, an hour and a half in, it started to sound like he was drowning in his own snot. So much coughing, some of it sounding like he was going to throw up. We went up and I held him upright while Diana gave him meds, and clearly last night's issues, whatever they were, have made him super tired tonight. He couldn't even lift his head off of my shoulder.

Diana went up to sit in the chair with him for awhile, because the coughing and gagging isn't getting better. Being on his back is clearly not going to make it better! It's just heartbreaking to hear him like that, especially since he's so tired.

It's funny how being sick can bring out deeper connections between people, whether it's with your small child or your spouse. Granted, I'm probably just as big of a baby when I'm sick as I was at Simon's age.

Handful doesn't begin to describe my little boy

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 19, 2012, 10:53 AM | comments: 0

"Terrible twos" is the term that people throw around to describe the difficult behavior of two-year-old kids. As we neared that birthday with Simon, I though, "Not my kid, he's an angel."

About six weeks after his second birthday, I no longer feel that way.

Simon is in the classic push-pull mode, seeking independence by defying what we ask him to do, and then turning around and giving us hugs and kisses. If he doesn't get his way, whether it be out of frustration for something he can't figure out how to do, or by way of us telling him he can't do something, the tantrums come in epic proportions.

While it's mostly annoying for me, it's outright exhausting for Diana, since she spends most of her waking time with him. Now add a couple of nights this week where he wasn't feeling good, waking up hourly, and augment the exhaustion with sleep depravation.

The worst part of it is that I don't know how to manage any of it. The only way I know that it can get better is for Simon to grow out of it. This is where Diana's parenting skills also exceed mine, because she has pursued the county subsidized speech therapy, which will help get Simon to a place where he's effectively communicating with us. I think that will help a great deal, because right now, he can't always tell us what he wants. He certainly can't explain if his stomach hurts or he's experiencing muscle aches typical with growing up.

I don't want to paint a picture that it's all bad. This morning, Simon was being a pain in the ass and not coming downstairs so Diana could take him to a play date. I grabbed him off the stairs and physically brought him down. There was brief crying. When they finally got to the door to go, Simon waved to me, puckered up, and walked over to me to give me a kiss. Then he did it again. He has these moments where he can be such a sweet kid, but they're becoming more obscured by the tantrums.

I have to keep reminding myself that this is just what kids do, and before long, he'll be asking to borrow the car.

Camera conclusions

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 11:46 PM | comments: 0

Nothing particularly awesome was announced at NAB this week in terms of new cameras. Canon has this bizarre new video DSLR that will cost something like $15k. I still can't figure out who that's for.

In any case, I recently spent time shooting with my Canon 7D. I've spent a lot of time trying to get it to behave like a video camera, and it just keeps disappointing me. I followed Simon around a playground a few weeks ago, and the striping on his shirt caused awful moiré. Then I took it to the zoo the other day, and saw that animal fur also caused the moiré. Marry that with the "jello" rolling shutter found in zoomed-in pans, and the lack of built-in neutral density filters, and I've finally come to accept that it is not, in fact, a proper video camera.

I have a proper video camera, the HVX200, and it's a nice video camera. I used it today for some ENG-style shooting, and for the first time watched its output on my 55" TV. It's really quite stunning. The problem that I've been trying to overcome with it for years is that it looks more like video than film, and that's frustrating. As I fancy myself a documentarian, it's frustrating. The video DSLR's, with their big sensors and great lenses, were supposed to help with that, but the above mentioned problems (not to mention no serious audio capability and zero useful monitoring) cause it to fall short.

So I'm pretty sure I'm going to buy the AF100, which is almost a cousin to the HVX (at half what I paid for it, no less). With an adapter, I'll be able to use my Canon lenses. I can finally start approaching motion pictures the way I do photography, and that will make me exceptionally happy.

The new CEO

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 11:25 PM | comments: 1

It was very last minute, but I got the chance to interview Matt Ouimet today, the new CEO of Cedar Fair. It's not often that you get time with the boss of a billion-dollar public company, and I figured, at best, I'd get a half-hour of his time. I got three times that.

Naturally, I'll eventually edit the video and do a short write-up on it, but I'll say now that few people that I've met, in any industry, can really live up to the kind of leadership expectations that I have. This guy is the real deal. By the time I circled the park and eventually left his office, I was so enamored with him that I started to wonder how I could work for him. This is a guy who you'd feel comfortable meeting up with for a beer, and at the same time, play in traffic if he asked you to.

What it really comes down to is respect. He respects customers, investors, and employees from seasonals up through his fellow executives. You can see it in everything he has done so far. When I first met him, he made no assumptions about what I knew about him. He said, "I'm Matt," and went on not talk about himself, but ask me about what I do. He could have easily discounted me as the coaster Web site running schmuck that I am, but he didn't. That theme was recurring throughout my conversation with him. He seemed to ask me about my opinion on everything they were doing. He made it a point to say, twice, that his expectation of his people was to question him on everything, because that's how you avoid costly mistakes. He doesn't want to be the smartest guy in the room. How can you not respect someone who respects everyone else?

I've never seen a company change so quickly. I've been loitering in the halls of various administration buildings up there now for a dozen years, and while the people and the place are the same, it's like a different company. It's both odd and exciting.

What a great guy. His leadership style of empowerment has had nearly instant results. It's really exciting to watch.

Too busy for the Internets

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 16, 2012, 11:59 PM | comments: 0

About four days without a blog post... yeah, I've been busy. I don't think I have it in me anymore to do drive-by posts. It's like I want what I write to have at least some value.

There are some things I want to write about. Coming soon, in no particular order:

  • You might be aware that I relaunched a certain Web site. That didn't go as well as I had hoped, and mostly for one really stupid mistake I made.
  • Simon has been a real handful the last few days. I had some exclusive Simon time over the weekend, and I found myself getting so impatient with him. I don't know how Diana does it every day. The weird thing is that he's simultaneously very charming, most of the time.
  • Speaking of which, we are in dire need of a little mini-vacation to hold us over until we have a bigger one. Believe it or not, we're considering Pittsburgh for Kennywood and Ikea. Roller coasters and Swedish retail. That's how we roll.
  • Tennis. Holy shit, I have racked up one serious bill. This sport is expensive (and that might explain why it's a little douchey). But on the positive side, I feel like I've come a very long way in 12 weeks.
  • More camera experimentation has caused even more frustration. Experienced the rolling shutter and moire at the zoo, frustrated by the lack of ND... it's time for a video camera that can shoot cinema style with SLR lenses. Nothing attainable from NAB this week, but Panasonic's AF100 is the same price as a Canon 5D Mark III.
  • The feeling that we're missing something at the other end of I-90 keeps getting worse.

Most of that is not as negative as it sounds. I'm just feeling a little overwhelmed with life lately. I think it's starting to level out a little, though you wouldn't know it this week.


posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 12, 2012, 12:04 AM | comments: 0

Simon is at a difficult stage lately, with his typical 2-year-old push-pull routine. The kid tests boundaries like crazy. One minute he's the sweetest little boy on the planet, the next, he's kind of annoying.

But he has also come to a point where he likes to cuddle-wrestle. Usually this means lying down next to you on the couch, bed or floor, and squirming around, flopping over you and giggling. Since I "go home" for lunch, we do this pretty regularly, and in the morning before I boot him out when I "go to work." It's really fantastic, and I can't put into words how grateful I am for this time with him.

In general, he's become very affectionate in the physical sense. He's even giving hugs and kisses to his teachers these days. It kind of makes up for tantrums over simple things, or when he's not getting his way. I only wish he'd also learn to be still and enjoy the moment the way we do. He has no capacity for being vegetative, in front of the TV or an open window (though I'm certainly not complaining). I do hope he'll eventually figure out how to chill.

Mental player

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 11:04 PM | comments: 0

Tonight at tennis I experienced something I haven't seen since my college club volleyball days. I was totally stuck in my head. I couldn't do anything right, because I was over-thinking everything, and mostly thinking about things that had nothing to do with tennis.

It's a classic problem for anyone engaging in an athletic endeavor. I've honestly seen it way more as a coach than as an athlete (because I'm really only good at one sport). I've had kids that melt down after one mistake, and others that have the day of their lives after a parent goes to the hospital, deathly ill. Some people exhibit an amazing toughness, almost machine-like in the way they execute the skills of their game.

Like anything else I do, I do it better when I have awareness. I understand that I forget the little mechanical things that make me more consistent. I see that I'm not getting to a ready position. I know when I'm half-assing the footwork. All of these thing collectively bring me out of the game and into mental town.

I will say that part of it is the instructor for this group class. He talks a lot and we don't get enough repetition. I know from volleyball, after teaching many kids, improvement starts with "muscle memory" and routine. It might be boring, but it works.

I originally wasn't going to do a private lesson this week, but I ran into my instructor on the way out and was like, dude, I need your help.

Rebuilding CoasterBuzz, Part IV: Dependency injection, it's what's for breakfast

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 4:49 PM | comments: 0

This is another post in a series about rebuilding one of my Web sites, which has been around for 12 years. I hope to relaunch soon. More:

If anything generally good for the craft has come out of the rise of ASP.NET MVC, it's that people are more likely to use dependency injection, and loosely couple the pieces parts of their applications. A lot of the emphasis on coding this way has been to facilitate unit testing, and that's awesome. Unit testing makes me feel a lot less like a hack, and a lot more confident in what I'm doing.

Dependency injection is pretty straight forward. It says, "Given an instance of this class, I need instances of other classes, defined not by their concrete implementations, but their interfaces." Probably the first place a developer exercises this in when having a class talk to some kind of data repository. For a very simple example, pretend the FooService has to get some Foo. It looks like this:

public class FooService
   public FooService(IFooRepository fooRepo)
      _fooRepo = fooRepo;
   private readonly IFooRepository _fooRepo;
   public Foo GetMeFoo()
      return _fooRepo.FooFromDatabase();

When we need the FooService, we ask the dependency container to get it for us. It says, "You'll need an IFooRepository in that, so let me see what that's mapped to, and put it in there for you."

Why is this good for you? It's good because your FooService doesn't know or care about how you get some foo. You can stub out what the methods and properties on a fake IFooRepository might return, and test just the FooService.

I don't want to get too far into unit testing, but it's the most commonly cited reason to use DI containers in MVC. What I wanted to mention is how there's another benefit in a project like mine, where I have to glue together a bunch of stuff. For example, when I have someone sign up for a new account on CoasterBuzz, I'm actually using POP Forums' new account mailer, which composes a bunch of text that includes a link to verify your account. The thing is, I want to use custom text and some other logic that's specific to CoasterBuzz.

To accomplish this, I make a new class that inherits from the forum's NewAccountMailer, and override some stuff. Easy enough. Then I use Ninject, the DI container I'm using, to unbind the forum's implementation, and substitute my own. Ninject uses something called a NinjectModule to bind interfaces to concrete implementations. The forum has its own module, and then the CoasterBuzz module is loaded second. The CB module has two lines of code to swap out the mailer implementation:


Piece of cake! Now, when code asks the DI container for an INewAccountMailer, it gets my custom implementation instead.

This is a lot easier to deal with than some of the alternatives. I could do some copy-paste, but then I'm not using well-tested code from the forum. I could write stuff from scratch, but then I'm throwing away a bunch of logic I've already written (in this case, stuff around e-mail, e-mail settings, mail delivery failures).

There are other places where the DI container comes in handy. For example, CoasterBuzz does a number of custom things with user profiles, and special content for paid members. It uses the forum as the core piece to managing users, so I can ask the container to get me instances of classes that do user lookups, for example, and have zero care about how the forum handles database calls, configuration, etc. What a great world to live in, compared to ten years ago.

Sure, the primary interest in DI is around the "separation of concerns" and facilitating unit testing, but as your library grows and you use more open source, it starts to be the glue that pulls everything together.

The Instagram and Facebook story

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 10, 2012, 12:23 PM | comments: 0

I am endlessly amused at the reaction to Facebook's billion-dollar acquisition of Instagram. I mean, it really makes me smile. I'll get to the reasons in a moment.

But first, let's offer a virtual high-five to the founders, who in two years went from zero dollars to a billion. I don't care how much you enjoy technology or starting companies or whatever... when you get that kind of pay-out, you buy a nice place on an island somewhere and take a nice long vacation. And build a roller coaster in your back yard, obviously. Good for those dudes. They beat the odds and ran with something simple that became huge. That's so awesome.

Now, about my giggles. The reaction is funny first because of what the service actually is. It's a super simple way to share photos, which is great. It's also a way to take those photos and apply glorified Photoshop filters to them, mostly to make them look like crappy old film photos that have been sitting in a shoebox in the back of your closet for a decade. The sweetest irony of this, as a friend pointed out on Facebook, is that a billion bucks could have bought the bankrupt Kodak several times over, a company that hung on to making crappy film photos for too long.

Then there's the reaction of the hipsters who liked Instagram because it wasn't Facebook, and it was so cool make photos look all vintagey with extra grain and dramatically reduced dynamic range. The irony of hipsters trying to be ironic is that, again, poorly exposed film did this before most of them were born. If hipster cred is measured in part by obscurity or uniqueness, then using a service with a bazillion users hardly adds to your cred.

But perhaps the most amusing thing to me is that the backlash is a pattern that has repeated countless times on the Internet. It just happens to be at a stunning scale this time. Someone puts something on the Internet that people like, a community builds around it, and eventually, the time comes when it has to either make money or disappear. I saw it happen early on with CoasterBuzz ("You mean you're making money? That's practically immoral!"), I saw it happen when ads creeped into search and it will happen again elsewhere (just wait until it happens with Tumblr).

That's the funny thing about the Internet that has been different from businesses in the physical world. Something can be created and be wonderful and feel like a great new thing for people, but someone, somewhere, has to pay for it eventually. That's just how it is. The Internet has empowered feelings of freedom and free stuff, but everything has a cost. Few things can enjoy the kind of financial arrangement of Wikipedia.

Getting back to Instagram, I think the silliest part of all of this alarm is that Zuckerberg said outright that they have no desire to mess with it, and want it to remain independent. All of the alarm and fear and stupid black photos are entirely premature. I suspect that nothing will change for the foreseeable future.

Designer imposter

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 9, 2012, 11:33 PM | comments: 0

With the bulk of the more involved backend work for vNext of CoasterBuzz finished, I've started to turn my attention now to the design. Which is to say I've tried to eliminate as much design as possible. Call it the "Metro influence" of Windows Phone and Windows 8, I suppose, but I've really gotten into less-is-more. I suspect a lot of people, including designer friends, will hate it.

The Web has seen a lot of trends. It went through a big texture phase around the turn of the century, and that lasted for awhile. That gave way to gradients, and they've been with us for a long time. During much of that time, I was all about thick, bold lines, and that carried over into the current version of CoasterBuzz. Rounded corners might never go out of style. Lately, the world is about white space, and for some reason, stitching patterns for borders. I don't really get that one.

I have to admit that I've been a big fan of Facebook's style, really from the start. The shades of blue already lend themselves to getting out of the way, but they do a nice job of taking an information dense site and keep it readable. They still do some stupid things from time to time (see if you can find the photo options to make a profile photo, delete or rotate the image), but they also tend to iterate quickly and improve as they go.

CB is not going to have a lot of "chrome" around stuff. No rounded corners, few lines or bold type, no gradient backgrounds. I'm trying to make the content, especially the photos, really take center stage. I'm continually messing with typography, paying attention to letter spacing and readability. Color is used in a minimal way as well. No messed up yellow on gray, blue on black or anything hideous like that. Oh, and I'm not supporting old browsers. I'm cutting that cord. If it looks like crap in IE6, that's not my problem.

It's hard to say how people will react when they finally see it. I'd be lying if I said I didn't care, but I want to care less, if I can. The big win for me, and this includes the programming side of it, is that my many years of experience developing software have brought me to a point where I can iterate and improve very quickly, without a lot of effort. It used to be such a pain, and high risk, to change anything. That's no longer the case.

I'll be glad to get it in out into the wild so I can stop thinking about it for awhile. I've been too close to it recently to look at it objectively anymore.

Potential energy

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 8, 2012, 12:09 AM | comments: 0

I've been seeing the world a little differently lately. I generally accept that the world has constraints, and that those constraints cause you to get creative. Constraints are almost a good kind of barrier, that introduce challenge and might lead to more meaningful accomplishment.

But what if the constraints are largely the product of your own doing? I'm starting to think that I might invent a lot of my own constraints, that I think in a single dimension that causes me to believe that things are harder than they really are.

Let me explain where this is coming from. A friend of mine is about to make a leap similar to the one I did about two and a half years ago. Watching him do this, it brings back a flood of feelings and excitement that I experienced. I think some of it may have been obscured by the other major life event that came shortly thereafter (namely parenthood), but there was a kind of optimism there that I've never felt before.

Indeed it was a sense for the potential that my life had. Uncertainty brings with it a certain amount of fear, but if you've experienced enough of it, and have seen positive outcomes, the uncertainty starts to feel like limitless potential. That energy, I'm realizing, is like crack to me.

So my line of thinking, as of late, is that the potential for asskickery might actually be very high if I toss some of the self-imposed constraints I feel. For example, moving back to Cleveland was a decision based largely on financial constraints. Spending half of your income on living in two places sucks. Living in the place that symbolizes the very reason you left a place you liked is pretty awful too. When I look carefully at the constraint, I see it melting away. I see a path away from it that includes careful money management and improvement to the house that makes it more sellable.

There are other things, big and small, that I encounter every day. Look at my new fascination with tennis, for example. I used to put up all kinds of issues that prevented me from diving in to it, like being out of shape, not having time because I'm a dad and husband, or whatever. The constraints were made up. Remove them, and the potential is high. I could be pretty good at tennis.

It's a great lesson for me. Now, I ask myself what I truly want, and honestly challenge any constraint that I think gets in the way. If it's bona fide, I work it. If it's not, I toss it aside. It's funny how you can try and talk yourself out of things, and that's a waste of energy.

The world feels so full of potential right now. I wonder what I'll do with it.

Anniversary three

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

Today was our third wedding anniversary. We didn't really do anything particularly special beyond go out for lunch, but we've got a date night coming Friday.

Our wedding seems like yesterday. At the same time, there's a whole lot of adventure in that three years. Consider these statistics:

  • Three years
  • Four homes
  • Three moves
  • One child (who is now 2)
  • Roughly 40,000 airline miles (each)
  • Five cars
  • About 10,000 photos

And that's not counting nearly three years of dating and engagement.

Still, I often wonder what makes a marriage work, and what makes one fail. I've got some experience with the failure part, and I've certainly seen others crash and burn as well. I think a part of it is the discussion that breaks out now and then among friends, when someone suggests that marriage "requires work." I can tell you that this one for the most part doesn't require a lot of work. We certainly have our issues, not the least of which is that sometimes we get overwhelmed and don't ask each other for help, but it never feels like it's really hard.

My only personal comparison comes from my first marriage, but there was no one thing that you could chalk that up to. I think in some ways, we might have gotten married because, after a lot of years, it just seemed like the next thing to do. I'm not saying there wasn't love there (because there still is), but the funny thing is that love isn't enough for the commitment of marriage. Putting time into it isn't a good reason either.

We were talking today about how we moved from wedding to parents really fast, and how that didn't give us a lot of time to be newlywed party types, but obviously we had to think a bit about biology. Having a child at 40 is high risk, and if you wait too long, you end up wearing diapers as soon as your kid is out of them. But the velocity in our case also had to do with the high level of respect we had for each other. We wouldn't have even gotten married if we thought there were too many compromises to make.

When I think down that path, I like to think that our prior experience had a lot to do with the confidence that getting married was right. Diana didn't have a prior marriage, but she did a lot of dating. I dated for about two years, after my divorce and before I met Diana, and there were many take-aways from that experience.

From the positive side, dating Cath was a big deal. Given her strong personality, it wasn't often that I didn't understand what her thinking on anything was. We ultimately had our differences, but she taught me about communication.

Conversely, the shorter-term, in-between dating, revealed a list of qualities that I had to learn were not worth settling for, even if it was just to not feel alone. It's stuff that should be obvious, but people put up with anyway. It's passive-aggressiveness, trying to induce guilt and a host of other toxic elements that you just can't stand for. Passion and love can nearly force us to overlook these shortcomings and settle, and if you have to pick a reason for a 50% divorce rate, I'd say that's it. People can't be honest about being in a shitty relationship. You don't need to have a partner who hits you for it to be abusive and toxic.

When Diana and I had our first few dates, it wasn't clear that anything was going to happen. There are stories with her best friend that I almost didn't make the cut. But as time rolled on, I started to realize that there was no drama, no anger. I had no relationships that were without drama. It was a shocking realization. Even when we moved in together, the only thing I can think of is that Diana loaded the dishwasher "wrong." Obviously that doesn't matter!

We're certainly not perfect, but it's rare for anything to escalate. I catch myself being impatient at times with things that don't matter much, and I'm sure Diana finds things that she does toward me that aren't good. And as I mentioned before, sometimes we forget to just ask each other for help when we're overwhelmed. She does it as the strong mother, I do it as the family breadwinner. I think we both learned how to be independent to such a degree that we forget we're now in a team sport!

We've had a lot of adventures in these three years, and if things work out the way we hope, the next three show no sign of being less exciting. There is no shortage of love in our little family, and I'm often surprised at how much having a child brought us closer together, especially with first-hand experience about how issues with children can drive people apart. That day in Sanibel Harbor led to some very awesome things!

I do wish we could have our wedding over again. That was one hell of a party. Perhaps that's a future anniversary. On a boat. That's how we roll. 

Happy anniversary, darling!

Just a reminder: You could be dead tomorrow

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 10:29 PM | comments: 0

From time to time, it seems like there is a perfect storm of reminders that you could in fact be living the last day of your life. It's like life has a way of telling you that you're temporary.

Today, the reminders were not particularly personal, but they were numerous. It started on the news. Tornados wipe out lives at random. Some dude shoots up a college. People get cancer. Then I saw on Facebook that an author in my programming circles died (didn't know him, just knew of him).

When I couple this information with my own displeasure over some relatively minor problems I've had recently, it wakes me up a bit. In the simplest sense, I got to carry on today, but there are no guarantees about any day going forward. Even if that's scary to think about, it's a somewhat useful motivator to get off of your ass and avoid feeling sorry for yourself over the things that trouble you.

It's actually kind of crappy to think that the pain of others can motivate you to feel better, I admit. Then again, knowing pain has a funny way of making you appreciate pleasure even more. There's something to think about.

Rebuilding CoasterBuzz, Part III: The architecture using the "Web stack of love"

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 12:45 PM | comments: 2

This is the third post in a series about rebuilding one of my Web sites, which has been around for 12 years. I hope to relaunch in the next month or two. More:

I finally hit a point in the re-do of CoasterBuzz where I feel like the major pieces are in place... rewritten, ported and what not, so that I can focus now on front-end design and more interesting creative problems. I've been asked on more than one occasion (OK, just twice) what's going on under the covers, so I figure this might be a good time to explain the overall architecture. As it turns out, I'm using a whole lof of the "Web stack of love," as Scott Hanselman likes to refer to it. Oh that Hanselman.

First off, at the center of it all, is BizTalk. Just kidding. That's "enterprise architecture" humor, where every discussion starts with how they'll use BizTalk.

Here are the bigger moving parts:

It's fairly straight forward. A common library lives in a number of Web apps, all of which are (or will be) powered by ASP.NET MVC 4. They all talk to the same database. There is the main Web site, which also has the endpoint for the Silverlight-based Feed app. The site handles redirects, which are generated when news items are published and sent to Twitter. Facebook publishing is handled via the RSS Graffiti Facebook app. The API site handles requests from the Windows Phone app.

The main site depends very heavily on POP Forums, the open source, MVC-based forum I maintain. It serves a number of functions, primarily handling users. These user objects serve in non-forum roles to handle things like news and database contributions, maintaining track records (coaster nerd for "list of rides I've been on") and, perhaps most importantly, paid club memberships.

Before I get into more specifics, note that the "glue" for everything is Ninject, the dependency injection framework. I actually prefer StructureMap these days, but I started with Ninject in POP Forums a long time ago. POP Forums has a static class, PopForumsActivation, that new's up an instance of the container, and you can call it from where ever. The downside is that the forums require Ninject in your MVC app as the default dependency resolver. At some point, I'll decouple it, but for now it's not in the way. In the general sense, the entire set of apps follow a repository-service-controller-view pattern. Repos just do data access, service classes do business logic, controllers compose and route, views view.

The forum also provides Scoring Game functionality. The Scoring Game is a reasonably abstract framework to award users points based on certain actions, and then award achievements when a certain number of point events happen. For example, the forum already awards a point when someone plus-one's a post you made. You can set up an achievement that says, "Give the user an award when they've had 100 posts plus'd." It also does zero-point entries into the ledger, so if you make a post, you could award an achievement based on 100 posts made. Wiring in the scoring game to CoasterBuzz functionality is just a matter of going to the Ninject container and getting an instance of the event publisher, and passing it events.

Forum adapters were introduced into POP Forums a few versions ago, and they can intercept the model generated for forum topic lists and threads and designate an alternate view. These are used to make the "Day in Pictures" forum, where users can upload photos as frame-by-frame photo threads. Another adapter adds an association UI, so users can associate specific amusement parks with their trip report posts.

The Silverlight-based Feed app talks to a simple JSON endpoint in the main app. This uses an underlying library I wrote ages ago, simply called Feeds, that aggregates event information. You inherit from a base class that creates instances of a publisher interface, and then use that class to send it an event type and any number of data fields. Feeds has two publishers: One is to the database, and that's used for the endpoint that talks to the Silverlight app. The second publisher publishes to Twitter, if the event is of the type "news." The wiring is a little strange, because for the new posts and topics events, I'm actually pulling out the forum repository classes from the Ninject container and replacing them with overridden methods to publish. I should probably be doing this at the service class level, but whatever. It's my mess. doesn't do anything interesting. It looks up the path, and if it has a match, does a 301 redirect to the long URL.

The API site just serves up JSON for the Windows Phone app. The Windows Phone app is Silverlight, of course, and there isn't much to it. It does use the control toolkit, but beyond that, it relies on a simple class that creates a Webclient and calls the server for JSON to deserialize. The same class is now used by the Feed app, which used to use WCF. Simple is better.

Data access in POP Forums is all straight SQL, because a lot of it was ported from the ASP.NET version. Most CoasterBuzz data access is handled by the Entity Framework, using the code-first model. The context class in this case does a lot of work to make sure that the table and key mapping works, since much of it breaks from the normal conventions of EF. One of the more powerful things you can do with EF, once you understand the little gotchas, is split tables by row into different entities. For example, a roller coaster photo has everything in the same row, including the metadata, the thumbnail bytes and the image itself. Obviously, if you want to get a list of photos to iterate over in a view, you don't want to get the image data. The use of navigation properties makes it easier to get just what you want.

The front end includes Razor views in MVC, and jQuery is used for client-side goodness. I'm also using jQuery UI in a few places, for tabs, a dialog box and autocomplete. I'm also, tentatively, using jQuery Mobile. I've already ported most forum views to Mobile, but they need some work as v1.1 isn't finished yet. I'm not sure if I'll ship CoasterBuzz with mobile views or not yet. It's on the radar, but not something in my delivery criteria.

That covers all of the big frameworks in play. Next time I hope to talk more about the front-end experience, which to me is where most of the fun is these days. Hoping to launch in the next month or two. Getting tired of looking at the old site!

Is getting funding really more important than building the actual business?

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 2, 2012, 11:52 PM | comments: 0

As a fan of the book Rework, it's no secret that I value businesses that can continuously execute in a sustainable way. I like the idea that you can identify a need, bootstrap a solution and eventually have an entity that exists on its own accord. However, as someone who follows technology news, I tend to see more stories about how to fund businesses than actually operate them.

So here's the question: Am I totally getting it wrong? I have some ideas for technology businesses, and some of them I believe have a decent shot at making a reasonable amount of money. And yet, if I were to believe what is reported from Silicon Valley, the "right" way to do it is to pitch your idea to venture capitalists, who will give you millions of dollars, and it will all be rainbows and puppies. Oh, and by the way, they'll have a lot of say in how you do stuff, and they'll want some of that money back eventually. But don't worry, they throw money at a lot of stuff, most of it fails, and they get lucky now and then. It's the Hollywood blockbuster approach to business.

I just can't help but think that's insane. If the initial push is to get a wad of cash, then the next push will be for some kind of payout or "funding event," whether that means an IPO or getting someone to buy you. I'm sure those are rewarding things, but does anyone care about building something awesome, and then seeing it through in the long term?

I have to admit, if someone came along and wanted to buy CoasterBuzz tomorrow for a million dollars, I'd sell it in a heartbeat. But even then, that's largely because it started as a cash-bleeding project I started myself, and I've watched it roll now for a dozen years. The goal was never to sell.

One of the things that perhaps I struggle with a little, in my industry, is that we're very much a left-brained enterprise. We use technology to make stuff. The thing is, I sort of fancy myself as a bit of an artist, or a wannabe artist, at least. The act of creation, to be a vital part of something, that's the kind of work that gets me out of bed. Money is an extrinsic motivator, and without question, very important, but I can't imagine a world where that's ultimately the goal.

Progress is my middle name, coaster priorities

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 1, 2012, 11:42 PM | comments: 2

I managed to get a lot done on my CoasterBuzz vNext project this weekend, thanks in large part to Diana doing a lot of block-and-tackle with Simon. I was also up very late last night.

At this point, I'm nearly done with all of the boring rewrite stuff, eliminating the crusties that date back almost ten years. I haven't much enjoyed it. On one hand, there's the satisfaction that the re-do requires almost half of the code as the original, but on the other hand, most of it just hasn't been that interesting. I'm trying to do more stuff the right way, so when the next thing to plug it all into comes in ten years, it doesn't require so much from-scratch work.

Now I think I can concentrate more on fun stuff around the front-end design of the thing. I don't think I'll ship with even a fraction of the stuff I'd like to, but at least I'll have a clean slate to work from. Seriously, I can't believe I got paid in this line of work back in 2003. Progress has been made.

One of the things that strikes me as very different, particularly compared to the quasi-rewrite I did in 2008, is how disconnected I feel from the subject matter. As spring starts to creep in, I'm not even able to tell you where all of the new rides are this year. This has been almost a theme for me and my podcasting pals (if that weren't obvious by the fact that we haven't done a show since November). Heck, Gonch didn't go to a single park last year, and didn't feel all that bad about it.

For me, there are a lot of obvious shifts in priorities. Living in the Pacific Northwest for two years changed things, too. I spend a lot of time thinking about being a dad and a husband. In that sense, CoasterBuzz has in many ways become less about coasters for me, and more about acting as a lab to tryout technology that I wouldn't ordinarily get to use in most day jobs. I used to be all about going to IAAPA every year and trying to go to every media day I could, but now it's more about keeping the lights on for the site.

Granted, a lot of the enthusiasm is coming back to me, especially living where I can drive to stuff again, but the context is so different. Now I think about riding stuff with Simon for the first time, and reconnecting with friends, many of whom are experiencing similar adventures in parenthood. The site and its community tend to exist in a very different context, though I've noticed that when you bring up family stuff, the folks with families tend to participate more.

I tend to do self-check-ins now and then with things I do, to evaluate whether or not they still serve me. These sites still do, just in ways that are different today. They're surprisingly useful in the professional sense, again, because they're a lab where I'm free to try anything. It's also good to show people in an interview that you've been at something for a dozen years or so, and you even make a little money on the side doing it. There's a social benefit to it as well, though the friendships I've made over the years, both in the industry and out, would likely persist without the site.

Hopefully I can get this project wrapped up in the next few weeks, because there are other things I want to do. I won't ship it with everything I originally planned, but hopefully there will be a few new things that capture the members' interest. The new forum version alone is a pretty big feature.

A change in Simon's routine

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 1, 2012, 11:06 PM | comments: 0

I've mentioned before that bed time has not been a good time lately. For a short time, Simon thought it was really novel and grownup to go "nigh nigh" by lying down on his pillow and having us tuck him in. Heck, he does it for pretend all of the time in the spare room. However, at this point, he absolutely hates going to bed.

It goes a little more smoothly at nap time, though that might be in part because it's only one of us who put him to bed. Today he protested, but for whatever reason, after letting him jump up and down and protest for a moment, he crashed.

The evenings are broken entirely. It used to be, we'd get him into pajamas (bath every other night), then sit on the couch with a little snack for about 40 minutes of Sesame Street on the DVR (we skip past the fairy school nonsense). After that, he would enthusiastically go up stairs, we'd brush teeth, read a few books, and he'd go to bed, all smiles. Now, part way into The Street, he starts to get restless. It leads to running around, or thrashing on the couch for our attention. In the good old days, this wind-down for him was also a chance for us to knock out a few games on our phones or read up on some news. No such luck anymore.

Simon will then protest going upstairs, and half of the time we end up carrying him up. He runs around and won't get his teeth brushed, and he won't sit with us to read books consistently. That part in particular is troublesome because he's doing so well at identifying things in books, taking a stab at new words, and such.

Then the lights go out and he completely flips out. He jumps around in bed and swings his arms around, at which point we leave the room. After allowing him to scream for literally a few dozen seconds, one of us goes back in and tucks him in, and it's done.

Overnights haven't been easy lately either. He seems to wake up a lot, and he's also peeing a lot more, pushing diapers to overflow at times. Diana speculates, and I agree, that he understands control already and is choosing not to let it go as much during the day. Hooray then if we have a head start on potty training, but sleeping through the night would be nice.

We're trying to decide now how to mix it up at night. We think that significant interactive play time after dinner is part of the key, especially afternoons like today where he couldn't go outside. We're going to reduce TV time as well. None of it may matter, in the end, because Simon is at the age where he's trying out tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants. Basically, he's being a 2-year-old. It's frustrating for us, because a moment later he's the sweetest little boy you've ever seen.

These are the joys of parenthood. I wouldn't trade them for anything.