Archive: May, 2012

Five years ago I met Diana

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 31, 2012, 4:49 PM | comments: 0

I was up very, very early on the morning of May 31, 2007, because Cedar Point was doing its delayed opening of Maverick, and wanted some media attention before the park opened. I was single at the time, but for the first time in my life, a confident dater. I finally felt good about myself, and didn't hesitate to skip on women who didn't seem like a good fit.

But that night, I dragged my tired ass out to a little bar called the Ice House on Brookpark Rd., where various employees of Key were known to drop in. There I met Diana for the first time. We had been corresponding for a few months via eHarmony while she was in Florida, caring for her mom, who died just before we met.

At this point, I only knew that she seemed honest about her intentions, she was a redhead (hot, always had a thing), and she was very independent in terms of house, career and such. Put another way, she didn't seem to have any serious issues beyond a cat problem. After meeting her, I was impressed with her independence, her travel and the totally dorky explanation she gave about rehearsing cues for one of the shows she stage managed. She was kind of a nerd about some things, like me.

I've told that story before, but after five years, what's most remarkable is how things just keep getting better. In a relatively short amount of time, we've had a whole lot of adventures, and I suspect the best adventures are yet to come. In five years, she's lived in four places, we've moved cross-country twice, we had a child and our roles have changed dramatically. Objectively, it has been a pretty intense few years, and I credit the strength of our relationship for making a relatively difficult time pretty painless.

It's not always puppies and rainbows of course, but where we do have issues, we generally know what they are. For example, we're not very good about asking each other for help. I've got the suck it up and be the breadwinner mentality, she's got the suck it up and be the mom mentality. But we try to check in and look out for each other, to avoid any kind of building resentment over things left unspoken.

We have so many funny stories. On our third date, at Cedar Point, some Web site stalker kid wouldn't leave me alone in a queue. One time, Diana's neighbor came banging on her front door, worried that he heard screaming coming from the house. (He did... you figure it out.) There was a night at Universal Orlando where we "enjoyed" the hotel club level "cocktail reception" and ended up pushing Diana around in a rental stroller. We went through a prolonged Big Lebowski quote phase.

Then we had Simon. I'll be honest, I wasn't sure if I wanted a child after my divorce. But after a week of "shopping" for children at Disney World, it became obvious that we wanted to go for it. If our equipment couldn't do it, we were perfectly happy to adopt. But our junk worked, and Simon was born less than three years after we met. It changed everything, but it also stayed the same, if that makes sense.

As much as I advise people be really, really sure before they get married, lest they become a statistic like me, I would multiply that advice times a thousand when it comes to procreating. It's the hardest fucking thing you'll ever do, and if you don't have as close to the ideal partner to do it, the consequences will be dire for you and your offspring. To that extent, Diana has been a true partner in parenting, and honestly taking most of the responsibility because she's alone with him half of his waking hours.

What really makes me smile is that every day, she's better than what I expected. Even if she weren't my wife, Diana would still be one of the best human beings I know. She's sweet, kind and kickass. She makes me twirly as ever. She's RedDelicious109, a gardener, a knitter, a union stage manager, a mom, a wife, and everything else. I'll never take for granted how lucky I am.


Had enough of the sick

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

If you don't want to read about snot, skip this post.

Diana and I have been battling sickness since last weekend. For her, she got all gross in the chest, but was fine on Sunday if you ignore that her voice was gone. By late that night, I had broken into a full fever, and she was coughing.

Monday, my fever persisted into the afternoon, and I felt generally awful. It was still entirely an upper respiratory phenomenon. Diana's coughing got worse. Last night, we both had coughing, and I've been draining ever since. That's two nights without any meaningful sleep, and we're struggling to keep up.

I sure hope tonight is better. Simon appears to be beating the odds, not symptomatic of anything, though he has been waking up with a great deal of coughing. Perhaps his frequent tantrums keep his sinuses free and clear.


How I got "into computers"

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 4:38 PM | comments: 0

Inspired in part by Hanselman's post on how he got started using comprooders, I thought I'd write something similar. In fact, it wasn't until I read his post, filled with similarities, that the intense feelings around my own experience started to come back to me.

I remember seeing TRS-80's at Radio Shack and the Atari 400 and 800 in Sears stores when I was in the last years of grade school. Of course, the only computer that most people had in their homes back then was the Atari 2600, which enjoyed a very long run. I think we got ours for Christmas in 1981, maybe the year after. I still have it somewhere.

In grade six, 1984, my Cleveland elementary school, Ben Franklin, had a TRS-80 on an AV cart, meaning you had to sit next to it and look straight up to see the TV on top of it. I was intensely interested in messing with it, and if there's any recurring theme in my childhood about wanting to use computers, is that I always felt guilty for asking to use them, and adults were quick to write me off as a nuisance for asking.

About the same time, my dad went to some time share presentation or something, and scored an Atari 600XL for his time. He would give that to me within the next year. During the summer of 1986, I spent about two weeks with my aunt, uncle and cousins in New Hampshire. They had an Atari 800XL, with disk drives, and a whole lot of software that I don't think they paid for. Of course, most of the time spent was with games, but I was endlessly fascinated by what the little machine could do. I also thought it was neat to see what Print Shop, probably the best selling software of the time, could do.

The bigger tease that summer, however, was from the math teacher at my junior high who made a casual remark about borrowing one of the IBM PC jr.'s for the summer. The intensity of desire around even the idea that I could spend the summer writing BASIC programs that did, I dunno, draw stuff on the screen, was huge. But the oppressive guilt imposed by previous teachers and family members prevented me from ever following up on it.

I did some fun stuff with the Atari, writing little programs and saving them to the cassette tape drive. One of them was a Wheel of Fortune knock-off. It was text based, but the "wheel" spinning made clicks and progressively slowed down. It's probably the only thing I've ever written that I'd consider an "algorithm."

In 1987, my step-dad got laid off, and for his troubles, they gave him an Apple II+, complete with a pair of disk drives, a green monochrome monitor, and a wide carriage dot matrix printer (that printer went to college with me). In addition to playing Might and Magic and other games, I wrote a program that maintained a Dungeons & Dragons character stat sheet, and saved it to disk. That was awesome. I also figured out how to wire a jack to it to plug the audio into the stereo.

Through high school, my attention shifted to video production, as the city's cable TV studio was in the building. I'd actually work there my junior and senior years, after just popping in and asking about what went on there. I did take a Pascal programming class, and aced it, but I mostly thought about how bad I wanted to make out with cheerleaders (I failed miserably at that).

I double majored in college in radio/TV and journalism, but computers were becoming a big deal in our field. In 1994, we scored a pair of networked digital audio machines, one in the production studio, one in the on-air radio station. We also got a still store, a machine that let us save graphics and pull them up for use on screen. I also got my dad's old IBM PS1 Model 25, the last computer I'd ever have without a hard drive. I did nothing beyond write papers and play Prince of Persia with it.

In 1998, digital video was nearly "affordable" in terms of editing (if a $10k system was affordable), and I bought a system at work. At the same time, I was trying to figure out how to put video online, because the Internet was clearly not going away. It was at that point that I realized you had to learn how to write software to do anything useful on the Internet, and with the acquisition of Alex Homer's Active Server Pages book, I began the road that got me to where I am. (Oddly, he did one of the peer reviews when I wrote my own book.)


Tantrums and tribulations

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 29, 2012, 3:45 PM | comments: 0

We've definitely entered a very challenging stage of parenthood. Simon is very much a 2-year-old, and the whole "terrible twos" thing is becoming pretty obvious to us now. The other day, Diana's aunt observed that Simon attempts to test us in almost every little thing he does. She didn't witness any true tantrums though, and that's where it's getting difficult.

When the Spawn of Puzzoni doesn't get his way, or fails at some task after just one attempt, we are witness to the most epic of meltdowns. There's kicking and screaming. At this point, it's not even the difficulty of communication with him. He's got the basics covered, and he understands us. He just started skipping several steps and began to flip out when he doesn't get his way. The thing that I hate most about this is that I don't know if I could identify if he was actually seriously hurt, because the tantrums sound the same.

Generally speaking, only one of us gets completely frustrated at a time. Usually if one of us can't deal with him, the other steps in. I think Diana scores bonus points in that respect, because Simon spends half of his waking hours alone with her. As much as I've said I'd enjoy the stay-at-home dad role, I'm not sure if I could do it. She works very hard to expand the work his occupational and speech therapists begin, and most of the time is able to ignore the tantrums and do the right things.

He's not all terror all of the time. He still has his charming toddler moments, when he says new words, giggles endlessly in tickle fights and walks around looking cool in his sunnies and hats. It's just that we have to really try hard to keep in mind that he isn't always a pile of tears and unhappy stomp-dance.


The purpose of a blog

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 29, 2012, 3:01 PM | comments: 1

A couple of my good friends wrote blog posts about, well, having a blog and writing. I think they're both worth talking about.

Gonch says that he doesn't write in his blog much anymore. On the other hand, he does a lot of drive-by status updates and photos on Facebook. He also gets all emo declaring the blog's potential death. What can I say, he likes pro wrestling too. :)

Tyler frames his lack of writing more on the tools required to pen meaningful thoughts. Specifically, iPads and phones are great consumption devices, but pretty much suck for composition. Like Gonch, Tyler also posts a lot of stuff in drive-by mode.

And the truth is, so do I. Facebook is really excellent for that, especially if you want to maintain some level of privacy (because I'm a person who actually bothers to figure out what that means). Older versions of my blog could actually receive photos from my old camera phones and what not, but today, that functionality is long gone.

Silly techie pundit types who contribute little to the world were frequently quoted as suggesting that the Twitter would make blogs obsolete. Anyone who would suggest that clearly didn't understand what the value of blogs really are: They're an ideal place to write long-form. You'll never get context out of 140 characters. A Facebook status update becomes obsolete and off the radar in a few hours, if not minutes. Your blog, however, is more like forever, if you choose to keep it on the Internets.

I write in my blog a lot less than I used to. However, I'm more particular about what it is that I write. I don't write the kind of, "Today I pooped and had a burrito" kind of posts that I might have made five years ago. That's status update fodder. It has no long-term value.

The classic blog is far from dead, it just has a more focused use case.


We went on vacation

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 25, 2012, 2:03 PM | comments: 1

I guess I didn't recap... we went on vacation last week. I've been so busy this week that it seems like it was in the distant past. We spent about a week with my in-laws down in North Carolina, near Asheville (the less gay-hating part, in town at least). They have a wonderful little "mountain house" there, which is one of the most comfortable places I've gotten away to in a long time. It's where we spent Christmas as well.

We didn't really have any objectives for this trip, other than to get out and give Simon some time with Nana and Papa. I've been itching to get out and do as little as possible, and not think about computers. For the most part, that's what I got. It's hard to say if I came back feeling "rested," but driving trips (nine hours each way) are like that.

Diana and I got out for dinner and a movie. It's such a fundamentally simple kind of date, and not particularly creative, but I miss doing that on a regular basis. It's nice to relax and cuddle in a movie theater (provided they have make-out seats, with the arms that lift up) and some popcorn. It's nice to sit and be able to just talk and eat, without having to worry about the well-being of your offspring. Don't get me wrong, we love Simon dearly, but sometimes he obscures the relationship that led to his creation. It's getting easier, fortunately.

We also went and played some tennis, or at least, Diana kicked my ass. It got a lot of frustration out for me, at least, but it's still painfully obvious that I've only been playing for about three months.

One of the highlights was going out to Blue Ridge Parkway for a picnic. It would've been better if it was sunny, but it was still a pretty neat place to go. It reminded me a lot of Washington, sans the snow caps. Scenic as it might be, I can't see driving long portions of it... the turns are exhausting.

We went to the Biltmore Estate and toured the house. To be perfectly honest, it's a little expensive for what it is. In a 250-room house, you're only seeing 10% of those rooms, and of those there are really only five that are exceptionally interesting, from an architectural and decorating standpoint. I'd honestly find it more interesting if they'd let you see the rooms that are not restored or kept up, because it challenges your imagination to think about what might have gone on there. More museum-style exhibits, photos and artifacts would also make it better. Oh, and what are they really protecting by not allowing photography inside?

The trip almost went without incident (no car wrecks, at least), but then we had Simon's fall and the subsequent ER visit. He turned out to be fine, but we just weren't willing to take chances once he hurled. No regrets on that decision.

Diana also did a little local shopping, and got a pedicure. I got some quality Simon time, walking around the house and climbing stairs and such.

The last hour home was kind of tough for Simon, but in the general sense, he has been an excellent traveler. We haven't done much of it the last six months, and after his initial 20 flights in his first two months, he's been pretty local. We still roll with the low expectations, not knowing how he'll be, but I feel like we're able to push him a little more in terms of his flexibility. The day we went to the Biltmore was clearly too much for him, but it happens.

We ended the week with the trip to Dollywood, which was about an hour and a half away. I already wrote about that trip. I definitely need to remind myself not to wait so long to take time off. You really forget when you work from home.


Imminent death as a motivator

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 10:56 PM | comments: 0

You are going to die.

No, seriously, it's true. I'm not trying to be morbid, it's just the way it is. What got me to thinking about it is how often the fear of death is used as a motivational device. It's pervasive in our culture. People ask the classic question, "If you only had 24 hours to live, what would you do?" (Answer when you're 14: Find a willing partner and have as much sex as possible.) It's used as a plot device all of the time in books and movies. (You have cancer, you're 50, now stop having sex and see the world.)

Fear of death is actually a useful thing. I mean, it has helped human beings survive by looking for food, avoiding lions in the wild and, yes, motivated us to procreate. Now that we're all civilized and stuff, we don't fear death the way we used to. Wild animals are not commonly encountered.

And if we're being honest, most people choose to engage in faith because they either grew up with it, or they use it to minimize the concern that there might not be anything after death (afterlife, reincarnation, energy transmission, or whatever). Faith is also useful for explaining away death of others, because "shit happens" is too hard to accept. Not knocking faith here, just demonstrating how it helps delay concerns of imminent death.

I think death very subtly stays there in the back of our minds, however, and it often motivates us. Maybe it causes us to strive for some arbitrary metric of success, or obtain major life events like marriage or having a child. It's probably the root of the midlife crisis, that, "Holy crap, what have I done with my life?" moment.

I admit that I'm no different here. From time to time, I ask myself if I'm really making the most of my life, or if I'm squandering it by spending an hour or two on the couch to watch TV. I think, gosh, I could have cancer or get hit by a bus, and what will I have missed out on? What more could I have done? It really gets to be a meaning of life question.

The problem might be that we tend to treat imminent death as a plot device in our lives. Without the threat, and the perception that we've got time, it's just easier to not do anything that adds value to our lives. Then when we start to ask about what adds value, we're back to the meaning of life question. It's exhausting!

Ultimately, for me at least, I hope that if I were to be hit by a bus, I'd be OK in my last moments with what I've done. Being at peace with who you are, influenced by all of the good and bad in your life, is not an easy proposition. I don't think you need to "live every day like it's your last," because honestly a lot of the best moments in life come just by observation (just ask any parent during a baby's first year). I do think, however, that if you feel like you don't do enough to make what you think is a meaningful life, you need to redefine meaningful or stop making excuses.


The triumphant return of Garbage

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 11:04 PM | comments: 0

There was a live Garbage show from NYC tonight, broadcast on the Internets, and it was awesome. They even did their James Bond theme, and I got chills. I saw them last about seven years ago, just before they bailed on the industry that they got tired of operating in. That story has been well documented in the press as of late. When Shirley Manson posted on Facebook that she had been hanging out with the other band members in February 2010, I hoped beyond hope that it meant we'd see them again.

Today, Not Your Kind Of People became generally available (read: not just on iTunes), more than seven years after Bleed Like Me. After waiting that long, you'd think that expectations were impossibly high, but I'm happy to report that after three trips through the album, I'm thrilled. I'm not prepared to review it or anything, but several songs grabbed me immediately, and I can't wait to listen to it again.

I remember the first time I saw Garbage, at Peabody's Down Under in the Cleveland flats, late in 1995. Tiny little club, and while a few people knew the song "Queer," they were still largely unknown. I didn't even realize at the time that the dummer was the dude who produced Nirvana's Nevermind a few years before (I didn't know what a big deal that album would be in the long term, either). Shirley Manson seemed almost uncomfortable on stage, and later I'd see quotes from the band indicating they never expected to be anything more than a studio project.

In the next year or so, they opened up for Smashing Pumpkins on an arena tour, and quite frankly, showed them up. The powerful Shirley Manson that we know and love today started to emerge around that time. While not a perfect singer live, her confidence and stage presence makes it impossible to look away. She doesn't really fit the conventional definition of attractive, but you can't help but be into her just for being who she is.

They're an interesting band that has always been hard to categorize, not particularly radio friendly, and yet they still millions of albums and generally get kind attention from critics. During their first ten years, I think they were symbolic of everything I liked about "alternative" music. They made pop music for people who didn't care for pop music, which is something you could probably say about most bands during that time period. The only difference is that they've managed to endure (seven year break aside).

As the music industry continues to implode, or at least, only produces blockbuster but forgettable music, and terrestrial radio continues to suck, it feels like we're having a resurgence of the nineties early oughts scene. There's great pop music for people who don't like pop music again. It's silly to call it alternative, but whatever, I'm glad it's there.

Long live Garbage.


Trip report: Dollywood, May 19, 2012

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 4:26 PM | comments: 0

We had our first event at Dollywood last weekend. While I'm not happy with the number of people we had, or the time we had to promote it, the small group ended up having an extraordinary time.

The Family Puzzoni was already spending the week near Asheville, NC, so we were a quick 90-minute drive to the park. We shared a cabin with the Neus, who have a boy just a year behind Simon. It's fun to do a little trip like that with other young parents, trade stories and what not.

We rented one of the Dollywood cabins, and a week or two before, they upgraded us for some reason to a larger one. The amount of space was pretty ridiculous, but our little guys enjoyed it. Truth be told, we didn't use the hot tub or seven TV's. Our room even had two DVD players, for some reason. We did use the theater room for Simon's Pajanimals DVD. It was also his first time sleeping in a "big boy" bed, in his own room. Overall, it was fairly nice, and worth the $300/night with taxes, especially split with another couple. The only serious complaint I had was that I was sticking my toes on carpet tack strips all over the place.

Tyler and I started the day early at the park for the backstage tours while our boys and wives stayed at the cabin. First was a walk-through of Mystery Mine, starting in the maintenance shop. The ride has a neat scissor lift to bring cars down to the shop, which is under the station. The park's lead maintenance guy walked us through the technical aspects of the ride. There's a fair amount of complexity because there are so many blocks, plus stops and starts. On top of that, there's the show pieces that interact with the ride.

After the mine tour, we walked up the hill for some interesting views of Wild Eagle. Fortunately the ride was running, as they had early entry for season pass holders. It's remarkable how well the ride fits, sitting on top of the hill in the middle of the park. It's an excellent use of the topography, and they built a beautiful station for it.

Our families joined us around 10, and we made the call early on to get a Q-bot. (That reminds me, I owe Tyler $30!) At $15 per person, this was a no-brainer. This is probably the fairest of the virtual queue systems (if you care at all about fairness... I don't), because you still have to wait, just not in a line. We didn't entirely think it through. Because we had the kids, someone always had to stay behind. Either we should have got the Q-bot for three, or get two of them, for two each, so we could ride in pairs while the other pair watched the boys. Meh, it wasn't a deal breaker, but now we know if we ever do something like that again.

We didn't go to a single show, which is unfortunate, but I don't know how realistic it would have been to do so with the kids anyway.

The park overall has a great deal of charm, and people are very friendly. The emphasis on being nice really carries over to every part of the park. It probably doesn't hurt that there are a great many retirees working there.

In terms of operations, I thought they were generally pretty solid. Waits for food were a little on the long side, but my perception was that this was just because of volume, not incompetence. Ride operations were also, for the most part solid, though I think Wild Eagle needs a little work (I'll get to that).

We started with Tennessee Tornado. Wow... everything people have said about it in terms of it being the best Arrow looper is right on. It's a little short, but what a fantastic ride. That the classic simplicity of those trains works well on better designed track is interesting to me. Excellent use of the terrain.

Blazing Fury seems to get a lot of love and hate, but it was mildly interesting for what it is. My friends indicated it used to have a splash ending, but that's gone. At first I wondered how anyone could call it a coaster, but it got there eventually.

Thunderhead was the biggest surprise for me. GCI rides tend to be interesting, but other than Lightning Racer, and maybe Renegade, I haven't been that excited about them. Since we were Q-boting, we decided to ride in the front. It was hands down one of the best wood coasters I've been on. It was relatively smooth and felt expertly engineered. From the front, it seemed every direction change or hill was an airtime moment. It exceeded my expectations in every single way.

I didn't get Mystery Mine until the ERT, and unfortunately, Diana did not, as she took Simon back to the cabin. We had Q'd it earlier, but it was down a good chunk of the afternoon. ERT got pushed an hour later because they kept the park open an hour later. Overall, I really liked it, even having seen all of the spoilers on our morning tour. I found it to be fairly smooth in the way it tracked, but as was the case with Spongebob in the Mall of America, I think Gerstlauer pushes too hard on turns and dips because the platform allows it. Extend the radius of curves and hills, and the dynamics won't be so adversely affected by nuances in temperature and wheel material. In any case, conditions were right for a really nice ride, and I was into it.

We Q'd Wild Eagle twice during normal hours, both times in the front left seats. Let me start by saying that B&M has come up with their best variation on seating to date. It's better than the inverted model. The sensation of flight is really fantastic. The feel of the ride is solid, inside or outside seats. The only minor complaint I have, and I didn't notice until I had several re-rides, is that the "vest" tends to compress you a bit as the ride goes on, to the extent that it might cause some back discomfort. My taller friends (read: all of them) indicated this was a problem. Actually, Diana, who is shorter, said it bothered her as well.

Dollywood went all out on the ride. The location fits nicely on the hill, the station is one of the nicest I've seen for any ride, anywhere, and the eagle sculpture out front is something to behold. As B&M rides are often considered the nicest to own and maintain, it makes sense to build something nice around it.

For the haters who complain about B&M being "forceless" or whatever, that word does not apply to Wild Eagle. Ride in the back, and it yanks you over the top. Ride anywhere, and feel the G's at the bottom of each drop. The pullout on the first drop is compact, and it feels like it (especially if you just had a milkshake). You can feel the turns. The ride is surprisingly intense, and I didn't expect that at all.

Apparently, they're doing about 800 people per hour, which is kind of low, but there are some obvious reasons. The first is 7-row trains, which I found odd. The second is that the ride operators are almost too busy being nice to people, and not checking restraints fast enough. Also, it seems like there are an unusual number of people too large to fit in the ride. I watched one guest do the walk of shame only to be replaced by another one who did the same thing. I thought maybe the test seat should be more prominently placed at the entrance, but who wants to be embarrassed in a more obvious place? The one thing they could do is consistently get the gates open as soon as possible. It varied by operator, with some opening right when the train stopped, others when the outgoing guests were on the move. Surprisingly, despite the awkward loading to both sides, opening the gates immediately was effective.

I did the two front seat left rides before close, and I think that's the money seat. During ERT, I did 8 more laps, including two on the right front, two in the back and the rest in various places. I should have quit after four, because that milkshake was killing me on every drop, but it was hard to walk away when the front seat is open. One more lap and I might have had a second look at that milkshake. Others quit before I did, but I was on the last train. It's a really outstanding ride. It's really special in the dark, though the on-ride photo camera flashes really screw with your vision... wish they could turn those off.

We almost had a disastrous encounter with some jackass on an electric scooter. He had a little girl on his lap, and went flying into a group of people standing next to me and Simon, and hurt a little girl in the process. A few dozen inches to the left, and he would have hit Simon, who was looking through a railing at a water feature. I can feel the rage building just thinking about what I would have done if he hit him. I bring it up because the scooters are out of control at this park, and the paths are narrow.

Overall, I was really impressed with the park. There were a lot of things I would have liked to do, but that's how it goes when you have a toddler. My expectations were still exceeded overall, and I can see Dollywood becoming a place that we'll go back to in the future. It certainly helped that so many of distant friends were able to be there (we missed you, Carrie!). As nice as it is to keep up with folks via the Intertubes, it's better to see them in real life. Dollywood was an excellent place for that to happen.


Tattoo dream

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 9:22 AM | comments: 0

Likely prompted by the fact that virtually everyone who drove through the "strip" on the way to Dollywood said, "We should get matching tattoos," (there were a lot of shops), I had a strange dream where Diana and I went to get tattoos. I don't remember what exactly I was going for, but Diana wanted to get a half-sleeve with a comic strip that wrapped around her arm. Totally bizarre.

I need to follow through with my idea that I've had for a few years. I'm not even sure what I'm waiting for anymore. I've also decided I want to get some words, maybe on my forearm or something. I've narrowed it down to "Nothing is permanent" or "Fear is not to be afraid of" (lyric from "Sound" by James), preferably in a monospace font.

I'm not getting any younger.


Vacation = fantastic

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 20, 2012, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

Wow, did I need that vacation. While I hate that it was over, I had a really good time, and even managed to relax a bit.

There is a lot to write, but I'll say now that what made the trip great was the chance to see people I don't get to see very often. I suppose any trip can be a good time, but when you can see be with friends and family that you don't see that often, that's really the best. The Internet makes it easier to keep in touch, sure, but it's still not the same as seeing folks in real life.

For now, my 500 mile driving self needs sleep. But what a great week.


Simon's nasty fall

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 8:50 PM | comments: 0

Simon has become a very adept climber, which is pretty exciting given the concerns his OT had about his core strength. My in-laws have a couple of stools in the kitchen, just over three feet if I had to guess, and he really enjoys sitting up on them. It's great to see he can get up on them by himself.

This morning, I was sitting next to him while he was eating some breakfast. He turned around toward me, tried to brace himself using air, and fell off backward. He landed pretty solidly on his back and definitely hit his head, and the cries were epic. It took quite awhile to get him calmed down, and eventually he was happy to lie in my arms on the bed for awhile.

I don't have to tell you how awful I felt, even though logically the only way I could have prevented the fall was to not allow him on the stool. Operating in that mode would mean he'd never do much of anything, but it doesn't make me feel any better.

In any case, we went out to do touristy stuff, and ended up being out pretty late into the afternoon. Simon did not have the opportunity to nap, and he wasn't having it in the car either. Before we got home, he started to scream in a way that was not characteristic of his normal complaining about being in the car. He also kept grabbing the back of his head, so you can imagine what Diana and I were thinking at that point. My cousin's little boy just had a pretty serious head injury, so that had us well versed in the genre, and we know that problems can take many hours or days to manifest.

When we got home, he yacked, big time. That was the symptom I worried most about, and the one that general advice suggests you get your ass to the hospital. We didn't even hesitate to decide to take him to the ER.

He was pretty mellow, and obviously very tired. We had been there nearly an hour, after seeing the triage nurse and the ER nurse, before he started to perk up a little. At least it seemed like the lethargy was lifting.

The physicians assistant examined him (there were more serious things going on in the ER), and said that his neurological indicators were all normal, but the symptoms (the non-normal crying, head grabbing and vomiting) were absolutely consistent with a serious head injury. I kind of needed that validation, because I spent much of the day worried about him even without any symptoms. She also warned that we absolutely need to watch him carefully. The symptoms could also be from fatigue, dehydration and sun, but he could still have a problem, even if it is unlikely.

It was just a scary time for me. You don't want to overreact, but there were just too many things put together that concerned me, and I was selfishly satisfied that she told me it was right to bring him in. I usually stop just short of letting Simon play with knives, but now I'll probably be second-guessing every decision. Parenting is hard.

By the way, we miss the efficiency of the Swedish Hospital ER in Issaquah. That place was awesome. This ER, not so much.


Our first family opening day at Cedar Point

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 9:46 PM | comments: 0

I just realized that I didn't write about opening day at Cedar Point. After missing two years, and generally loathing Ohio lately, this was exactly what I needed.

The interesting thing about Cedar Point isn't the roller coasters or anything like that, it's that the park is one of the most consistent things in my life. Isn't that odd to think about? Places don't go anywhere, you do. You can always go back to places, even if the people come and go. Through two marriages and a child, the park has always been there.

It was pretty great to bring Simon to the park and do stuff. We didn't do a single adult ride, but Diana and I took him on a few things. He's still isn't sure if he enjoys the rides, but I don't think he dislikes them. He just gets bored with sitting in them. I look forward to taking him on Jr. Gemini, eventually.

The park has a link with Diana as well, because we had what I think was our third date there, on the day of Coastermania no less. She was a little freaked out by the 13-year-old kid who stalked me in the Maverick queue, who knew me only from the Web sites. She still ended up staying with me.

Simon seemed to think that the new dinosaurs were kind of cool. I think he'd be more into it if he were a year older. He's definitely more of an explorer than anything else at this point. He just likes to move around and see what he can find. He likes to help people with doors and gates. It's what he does.

For me, there is a great comfort in spending time there, and seeing friends who work there. There are a lot of memories there, mostly good, a few bad, but always opportunities to make more. It's definitely my favorite summer tradition.

I think we'll have some good times out there this year. Maybe we'll even get to ride some adult rides! Really looking forward to the night time stuff next month.


Hanging on to, or longing for the past

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 13, 2012, 9:05 PM | comments: 0

I was just hit with a mess of nostalgia that's making tonight slightly harder. Tonight, we got to use the Facetime on our iPads to see my bro-in-law's family in Seattle. The weather is beautiful there, and my niece and nephew are getting so big. We're not there, and that sucks.

We also got to watch a little big of Sprout, the preschool cable channel, on cable that isn't ours. Where did we last watch that? Seattle, of course. Watching classic shows like that, well, classic to Simon prior to seven months ago, makes us long for those days.

This is a new struggle for me. For the most part, each discreet chapter of my life has been one I was happy to remember, but in no hurry to repeat. Now I have this amazing, transformative period of my life that I long to continue, and I'm not sure what to do with that.

It's not that complicated, I suppose. There are only two real courses of action. The first is to happily remember it, the second is to figure out how to get back to it in some way.


The business of respect and results

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 11, 2012, 2:41 PM | comments: 0

I have to admit that I get a little joy from the story about the Wall Street analyst who is bitching and moaning about Mark Zuckerberg wearing a hoodie to investor presentations. His assertion is that it's disrespectful to the "institution" of Wall Street. I'm not sure how anyone can say that with a straight face, given the cultural disdain for banks and the investment industry.

It's true that I've never owned a suit. I'm not even sure if I have a tie hiding in my closet anymore. When I was a young and naive kid who thought he knew everything, my anti-tie stance was largely rooted in rebellion and distrust for the establishment. Now that I'm older and can admit I don't know even a fraction of what I think I know, my stance is more rooted in the simple notion that the dress code just doesn't matter. It especially doesn't matter in business, which as you might guess is only reinforced by the many years of wearing shorts to work and being paid handsomely anyway.

American business culture is a little screwed up. For most of our history, a job meant you manufactured something, and even today, for a huge number of people, it means you work in some kind of service industry. In these situations, certainly it matters that you be on time, and probably adhere to a uniform for the purpose of branding and customer experience. I totally get that, and it makes sense. However, the world of white collar work tends to still operate as if its people are punching a clock, while a system of reward and punishment crushes the employee's soul. If you're lucky, you work in a place where the only real focus is on the results you provide.

In the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the author compiles a lot of research that demonstrates how broken the dominant business model really is. To summarize, human beings tend to perform better and be more productive when they are intrinsically motivated. Business tends to operate on a model of extrinsic motivators. As Matt Ouimet, CEO of Cedar Fair said in a recent interview I did with him, people want to be respected, valued and appreciated. Naturally that doesn't work if money and the threat of not meeting arbitrary and unimportant expectations are your primary motivators.

Issues of respect and results are highly related. If there's anything I've learned in business, it's that the clothes certainly do not make the man (or woman), but really, only results truly define a person and whether or not they deserve respect. Mind you, I'm not taking about basic human respect, like being polite and holding a door for someone, but in the context of business, I care a great deal more about what you can do than what your title is. I've spent a fair amount of time not working because of people with "C" titles making poor decisions.

Zuckerberg has created a business that no one else ever has, and is heading into an IPO that investors are clamoring to be a part of. This one guy has done the work that will make hundreds of new millionaires, and it seems to me that if anyone deserves respect, it's him. His fashion choices are a non-issue.


Vacation goals

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 10, 2012, 10:33 PM | comments: 1

For reasons I can't explain, other than perhaps the fact that I work from home, I haven't taken any time off in more than four months. While I certainly take week-long vacations now and then, it's more typical that I do three and four-day weekend periodically. I guess I wasn't paying attention.

I won't say that I've been burning out, but at the very least, I think I'm getting mentally fatigued. Work has been challenging, I spent about 10 weeks of free time on the CoasterBuzz re-do, I budget our financial future almost daily... my brain is tired.

So once I take that vacation, my primary goal is to not think about software, if I can at all help it. I think I've already started to follow that desire, given my renewed passion for video lately. I need to spend more time doing right-brained things, like photography and writing. A little roller coaster riding would help, too. A secondary goal is to not allow anyone to destroy my car while traveling.

Above all, I need to commit to doing very little and being OK with it. I don't know how I got to a point where I couldn't relax. I'm a man of leisure.

When I'm back, then I'll tackle my next science project. Maybe. If I feel like it.


I won I won I won!

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 10:59 PM | comments: 1

We made our triumphant return to the annual Red Cross mini-golf fundraiser at Cedar Point today. Prior to moving, I think I had done it 12 straight years, and some years, we even sponsored two teams. We had a team in 2010, but I wasn't there, and then last year we didn't have anyone. Turn out this year wasn't great, with fewer than 36 teams. Some years, they had to double up teams on most of the holes. This year it was me, Diana, Walt and my friend Jeff.

In any case, the first and biggest change this year was having Simon there. For the most part, he was pretty good about running around the course with us, though he kept charging the green ahead in front of some very understanding ladies. Some dickhead kid behind us made some smartass comment to Diana about him holding up things, getting in the way while we played, but we were generally waiting at the next hole every time. Whatever. He really liked the water features, and he got some practice walking up a few steps here and there without holding on to anything. That was fantastic.

I guess we didn't win anything as a team, but that's OK. Obviously the event is about fundraising, and I'm happy to say that I've donated more to charities this year than probably any prior year. There's a part of me that gets a lot of satisfaction from philanthropy, and while I haven't always had money to donate to stuff, I wish I would have done more in other ways.

This event always has a ton of door prizes, and a raffle to win a stay up in one of the big Breakers rooms. I didn't win the raffle, but I arguably won the best door prize... a night at Great Wolf Lodge! It's good for a year, minus obvious blackout dates, so we'll probably use it next winter, and add a night. The only prizes I've won previously were some golf balls and a $20 certificate for TGI Friday's. Considering the number of years I've done this, I think it was karma that I finally won something awesome!

I've always been hesitant to give money to the national Red Cross, but this local chapter pretty much turns around all of their money and gives it to victims of local disasters, typically house fires. I can really get behind local organizations that have that kind of impact.

It was kind of nice to be back in this particular spring routine. Visiting Cedar Point won't be like it used to be, because clearly we won't get to do as much riding (unless we find more friends willing to watch Simon while at the park), but introducing him to stuff there will be a lot of fun.


Another season of The Voice

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 11:11 PM | comments: 0

They wrapped up another season of The Voice, and even though we generally hate all of the reality/competition bullshit on TV, this one had us hooked to the end, again this season. I think there are a lot of reasons for that, which I'll get to in a moment.

First though, I have to bitch and moan that once again Americans have poor taste in music, and reward sameness. People like to hear the same shit over and over again. That's not a dig on the winner, Jermaine, as I truly believe that he had every right to be up there, and in the top four. It's just that I feel like I've seen him before, and I'm kind of tired of him. I would have actually put him last (Chris third, Tony second).

I said from the first episode that Juliet Simms should be the winner. Hands down. While she had a couple of performances that weren't great, most of them blew me away to an extent that few female singers ever have. I'd buy tickets to see her perform haikus. The power, control and feeling in her performance is something so rare. She is the real deal, rock-n-roll to the core. And if her ability weren't enough, she's flipping gorgeous.

There were a lot of standouts that didn't make the finals, especially Jamar Rogers, Lindsey Pavao and Katrina Parker. Even that little teenage country girl, RaeLynn, was impressive. I think they've all got a future if the screwed up music industry will allow it. For the most part, the entire field of the final 16 or so was exceptional, and much better than last year.

What I dig about the show, more than anything, is that it really celebrates live performance. The blind auditions get people in the game for the right reasons (though, let's be honest, they've been screened by the producers). I think the middle part of the season, the battle rounds, are full of contrived bullshit. I don't care for that part.

When they do get down to the last few people though, the whole tone of the show changes. Let's be honest, the final four will all likely get work if they choose to. So to some extent, the pressure is off, and the competition matters less. When they sing with each other, and their coaches, it's a lot of fun to watch. When Tony and Adam covered the Beatles, that was one of the most special things I've seen on the show. Similarly, to see Juliet do "With A Little Help From My Friends" with some of the eliminated folks, it just makes you a fan of music, and live performance. It doesn't get more awesome.

Fortunately, we DVR'd everything, so we could skip through the non-contestent appearances that add little value to the show (ratings aside), but otherwise, it was really satisfying to watch. The coaches seem very genuine, too, and especially now that they have more of a rapport, are fun to watch. I have a lot of respect for them.

I can't wait to hear what's next for the finalists, especially Juliet.


EZ Passing

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 7, 2012, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

Got my EZ Pass transponder today from the Ohio Turnpike Commission. I don't know what the usage rate is in Ohio for the thing, but it's clearly underutilized, given the empty toll lanes almost at all times for it. It seems like it gets a lot more love in PA, and in Illinois around Chicago.

It costs .75 a month to have one, but the toll savings seem to negate that pretty quickly. At the absolute bare minimum, I calculate we'll save two years worth of monthly charges before the end of summer.

Ohio was pretty slow to get on this bandwagon, as I recall, and they were also slow to implement it. But now, I wonder why it isn't used more. I would think that anyone living in Northeast Ohio, and not in the city, would use it enough to justify it. Perhaps I'm wrong.


Simon in the garden

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 7, 2012, 8:40 AM | comments: 0

For all of the challenges we've had with Simon lately, it was completely awesome this weekend for the way he was mostly the sweet little boy we hope for. Saturday, Diana took to the little corner of our front yard that prominently said "vacant lot" prior to our return here, and yesterday she finished it up. We had a little helper.

In the morning, Diana started digging out the edge so she could drop the bricks in that I bought yesterday. I vacuumed out the cars, which were in dire need given our smallest occupant's tendency to be messy. Simon helped by bringing mom tools and asking that I be "all done" (he's not a fan of the vacuum cleaner).

For lunch, we packed some stuff and headed out to one of the local parks, where Simon ate a great lunch, enjoyed the playground, pooped twice and did some walking. We had great weather for it. He happily went down for a nap, kinda late, at 2.

He woke up in a good mood, and Diana started to do some planting. Simon instantly wanted to be out there with her. He started yelling "Mom!" in the last day or so, and it's kind of cute. He sat next to her, and "helped" by talking her through the planting process and doing a little hand raking.

It was one of those days that you didn't really do anything "special," exactly, but enjoyed to no end for its simplicity. Put another way, spending an unremarkable day with your wife and little boy is probably one of the best days you could ever have, and I'm thankful for it.


Remembering MCA, and life soundtracked by the Beastie Boys

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 4, 2012, 11:26 PM | comments: 0

I was very sad today to hear about the passing of Adam Yauch, better known as "MCA" to fans of the Beastie Boys. I was also very surprised to see how many people on Facebook, older and younger, were also struck by the news. The story even made NBC Nightly News. As it turns out, the Beastie Boys are still a big deal to a lot of people.

It's a little hard to explain to non-fans why they're a big deal, and I have to admit that there's a lot of nostalgia I connect with them (more on that momentarily). But I think it's interesting to look at the scope of their work and how it has changed, while staying the same. One of my favorite MCA lyrics is:

"People come up to me, and they try to talk shit, man? I was makin' records when you were suckin' your mother's dick."

That's wonderfully vulgar, circa 1988. It's not particularly clever by B-Boys standards, but it made me smile when I was 14, and it makes me smile now. Consider that this is also the group that, years later, recorded these words in the song, "An Open Letter to NYC:"

"Dear New York, I know a lot has changed
Two towers down but you're still in the game
Home to many, rejecting no one
Accepting peoples of all places, wherever they're from
Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin 
Black, White, New York you make it happen"

In fact, they did a lot of growing up (never letting go of f-bombs, fortunately), and were engaged in politics. MCA was a Buddhist, and very much into efforts to make Tibet an independent state.

More importantly, they helped define and mainstream the rap/hip-hop genre, as part of a relatively small club that includes Run-DMC, LL Cool J and maybe Public Enemy. They were big into sampling, but in a way that they made something totally new from it. Yeah, I'm pretty much calling out all of the crap out today as unimaginative junk. The genre has been getting continuously worse for 15 years, with few bright spots. And yet, through all of that time, the Beastie Boys have been innovative and entertaining. (That's not old man nostalgia talking... I've recognized and enjoyed several resurgences in other genres.)

Lyrically, these cats have packed more pop culture references into their songs than anyone else. I don't even know what most of them are, and I could spend hours looking at the annotated lyric Web site learning about what it is they're talking about.

In terms of the music, they've worked with brilliant DJ's and producers. Again, it's one thing to sample, but quite another to use samples that sound like something new. They've done this consistently. They also fancy themselves as instrumentalists, and while I'm not really into much of that music, I definitely respect it.

And you can't forget the music videos. MTV as Music Television is becoming a distant memory, but a new Beastie Boys video was always a treat. "Sabotage" alone might be one of the best videos of all time.

I was in middle school when Licensed to Ill came out. Honestly, I didn't even understand half the lyrics in "Fight For Your Right." I mean, what's a "porno mag" and why would my mom throw it away? (I don't think any future generation will get it either.) I bet that album was huge in college dorm rooms and at frat house parties.

My favorite is probably Paul's Boutique. I listened to that thing a thousand times. I remember being on a camping trip with my family the summer it came out, and on a rainy day we went to a mall in Zanesville, Ohio. There I had to beg my brother to loan me a dollar so I could buy the cassette, for $8. It was a red tape, too. I listened to it over and over on headphones. I can still feel the warm breezes on the end of the pop-up camper while I listened.

Putting the nostalgia aside, I probably would have to rank Hello Nasty as their best album. It's completely brilliant, start to finish. "Body Movin'" in particular is one of my favorite songs, and I still know around 80% of the words. I very much associate that album with the start (and end) of my broadcast career, leading up to the turn of the century. I can't pin it down to any one moment, but I associate it with driving my blue Corolla, visits to Cedar Point and cranked air conditioning in my cable studio office.

There's no telling what happens now, but honestly, the Beastie Boys without MCA is just weird. Their finish-each-others-line style has been emulated a thousand times over, but no one could ever do it like they did. I think we're all lucky to have had this group in our lifetime.


Balance via creativity

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 3, 2012, 11:23 PM | comments: 0

When I look through a lot of really ancient blog posts, where I talked myself into thinking that life was going pretty well (when clearly it wasn't), I notice I had a consistent theme of life balance. Do this as well as that, and you just function at a higher level. While I was just slightly more full of crap in those days, I'm starting to remember how true the need for balance is.

For example, I'm really getting back into video again. My enthusiasm for it is hitting a level it hasn't seen since I bought the HVX about six years ago (which I finally might be selling). I credit the new camera to an extent, but also the ability to use all of this stuff I've bought over the years. Funny how the cameras change every few years, but all of the audio gear, lenses, lighting and other stuff doesn't. I feel like I have some great tools at my disposal, and it energizes me.

It's true that I get too one-dimensional in what I devote time to. Obviously, being a dad is a high priority, but beyond that, I spent much of the year so far trying to bang out code and do nothing else beyond work. Then I added tennis, and that helped. Then I started planning all of these film projects, and that helped even more.

To be more specific, I think it's the nature of highly creative endeavors that really balance me out and make me happier. If I really look back, I've let this part of me sit on the sidelines for about two and a half years, about the time that the moving and childbirth madness began. Being all left-brained most of the time makes me suck. And yet, when you allow yourself to be creative, it seems like that left-brained stuff you do is consistently better.

So the mental note that I leave myself with is to be creative more. It makes me better. I can't let life be all analytical and logical, because there's no release in that.


A past past professional life, and new adventures

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

I met up with a friend and former mentor from the old Insurance.com group tonight, as he and his wife are moving to Seattle to work for Amazon. There were a number of old ICOM'ers there, and it was exceptionally weird to be sitting on the patio where so many after-work drinker were had. You know, if I were still in Seattle, fully one-third of the dev team from when I started would be out there.

As you might expect, this gathering brings a lot of emotional response for me. I see them starting an adventure that I started on two and a half years ago, and terrifying as it was at the time, it was awesome. For me, that adventure has been interrupted and on hold, and it makes me sad. For a hundred different reasons, I identify far more with the place I live for two years than I do the place where I lived for 36. What do you even do with that feeling?

We talked a bit about our experience at Insurance.com, and one of the things that really stood out was that our dev team had a great deal of longevity, which is rare in our line of work. Sure, some of the earlier folks were waiting for a pay-out that would never come, but we had no real turnover until the layoffs came. Why? Because I think we generally liked working with each other, in part because of good personality fits, but also because professionally we all made each other better. Few things are as satisfying as working with smart people. We collectively think that kind of group just isn't possible anymore in the Cleveland market. Many of the best folks have left town, and businesses don't see the value in building great teams.

There were down sides, of course. With the senior people hanging out for stock pay-outs, it meant the rest of us really had nowhere to go. I was certainly feeling restless when the layoffs came. You need a certain amount of responsibility to stay engaged, and those of us in the class of 2006 definitely weren't getting that.

We took a lot away from that business. We all learned how to think in a higher context about a great many things when it came to software development. It's rare, even in sophisticated shops, to find developers who understand and care deeply about the business of what you're doing. I think we also saw, in retrospect at least, that it's easy to get wrapped up in shit that just doesn't matter. We often automated and engineered stuff that had little return on investment, and invested great effort into things that might yield a .01% better customer conversion rate.

Some of the folks I worked with aren't likely to ever leave Cleveland. I never thought about it back in the day, now I think that sounds kind of sad. Others are already gone. Then there's me, who is back, and in some ways tortured by that. To live in the house I couldn't sell (but at least we sold Diana's), and to end up working remotely for a company that isn't even in the same state, makes for a completely weird situation.

Every day I wonder if the financial wins of our move-back are really worth the emotional toll of it all. It hasn't been a bad seven months, but I feel like I'm missing out on something. My niece and nephew keep getting bigger, friends are doing cool new things in Redmond, the mountains are still awesome... it's tough. I feel like the adventure is on hold.


An AF100 field test

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 8:49 AM | comments: 0

The weather cooperated enough on Sunday that a little visit to the zoo was in order, offering a chance to finally get out of the house and shoot some stuff with the new camera. As it turns out, this arrangement isn't great for us, because while I carry the gear and shoot, Diana pretty much is a single parent with Simon. I should probably save this kind of thing for solo trips.

In any case, I also bought a new tripod, because my little 12-year-old Manfrotto was really too small to use when you added a lot of gear around the camera. The head in particular was too small for the weight. I decided to stick with the Italians (get it, "stick," as in tripod?), and got a 546B with the 504HD head. I love it. It has the smooth drag of the pro tripods I had back in my broadcast days, only with better controls. It's a little heavy, but not horribly so, as I couldn't justify the carbon fiber anyway.

I also had a bunch of Redrock Micro support gear that I was able to reuse for this camera, including the follow focus and carbon fiber rods. I can't say enough about their stuff. It's really fantastic. The new piece I had to buy (other than the LiveLens) was a lens support, as a precaution, to relieve some of the lens weight from the camera.

Moving around was pretty easy with the entire rig. I brought just my Canon 70-200mm f/4L lens. That made it pretty long, but still easy to cart around by the handle. I mostly moved from one location to the next with the tripod legs' bottom third extended, putting the camera at nipple height. I've wanted a ball socket tripod for years, and dropping it and leveling is stupid easy.

In terms of operation, the camera is ergonomically pretty well designed, and very familiar if you've used Panasonic cameras before. This if the fifth Panasonic pro camera I've used consistently, and it feels super familiar. With that big lens, I wasn't even going to try to do handheld, but around the house with a short lens, it seems pretty manageable. The follow focus was fantastic to use, and I never found myself having to "reset" the gear position at the end of the focusing range (meaning if you hit the end of the range you would eventually end up with the clamp knocking the focus gear). What I really like is how easy it is to go into variable frame rate mode. You just push the dial and you're there. It doesn't record sound in this mode, but it's good enough to tell you that with a big graphic in the viewfinder that says "A.REC" with a red slash through it. Everything I shot was at 60 fps.

The red peaking focus assist works extraordinarily well if you have things with sharp edges in the frame. For example, a lot of the critters had grass around them, and as you turned the focus, you could see the red move near and far from you. Whiskers and eye glints also work well, as does some of the more textured fur. Focus can be pretty dodgy in HD, but with a little practice, I found myself getting it pretty quickly.

Exposure generally went pretty well, except for the gorilla, who was behind glass. I was able to fix it enough in post to be satisfied with that shot. I looked at the waveform once or twice, but the zebras (exposure in the viewfinder, not the animals) generally kept me on target, avoiding blown highlights. Using the LiveLens to adjust aperture isn't as nice as the dial on the camera for "native" lenses, but even in this on-the-go scenario, it wasn't a big deal. The neutral density filters are beyond awesome, though I didn't pay much attention to which one I was using. The lens if f/4, so I have to see what happens when I'm outdoors with something faster, like the 50mm f/1.4 I have. In bright sun, I probably can't go much beyond f/4 without some external ND filters. The camera's slowest speed is ISO 200, unfortunately.

Overall, the effort to get what I did was not large. I wasn't particularly careful, I obviously don't have control over lighting, and the results were still pretty solid. Thoughtful indoor use or on a set should yield outright amazing results.

The image quality is exceptionally good, and the noise in the shadows is surprisingly not upsetting. AVCHD compresses the crap out of the images, and yet, I don't see significant artifacts or compression noise. They're there, but it's relatively minor. Yes, I suppose if you were really concerned about it, you'd want to record externally, but considering most of what I shoot will be delivered via the Web, I'm winning.

Post workflow is something I'll have to think a little more about. I can use Premiere Pro and edit natively, but scrubbing across video, especially with an external drive, isn't particularly quick. The CPU on my 27" iMac gets a little choked up. I suppose transcoding to ProRes or something would make sense.

So far, I couldn't be more pleased with the camera. I absolutely love using my Canon lenses, even if the camera sensor is smaller than the full-frame SLR's. The Four Thirds sensor is actually not that huge of a departure from the APS-C size of my 7D. I generally feel that I have lenses for most use cases, the one hole being a faster wide angle for low light situations and, of course, shallow depth of field. My 24-105mm f/4L could benefit from a few extra stops. I suppose if I get a lens to cover the wider range, it will likely be a Canon so I can use it for all of time. Not sure I want to commit to buying Four Thirds lenses.

Here's the result of some of what I shot. I cut in Premiere Pro CS5.5 and color graded (a little) with Colorista II. I <3 Colorista. (Watch it full screen for HD goodness.)

The rig with the 70-200mm f/4L and the Redrock Micro LiveLens:

Shooting the cheetahs:


The intense feelings around alcohol

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 11:47 AM | comments: 0

One of the stories that comes up a few times a year on CoasterBuzz is the application of various amusement parks for alcohol permits. First of all, the comments by locals on the newspaper sites border on hilarious, but even the comments on my site include a sample of people who assert that amusement parks are "family oriented" and therefore they shouldn't sell alcohol.

First off, let's point out that the Disney parks, not counting Magic Kingdom, all sell alcohol, and I can't imagine any other place more associated with families. In fact, Epcot even has its food and wine festival. Universal sells so much alcohol that I often wonder how they manage to get away with it and still maintain the atmosphere that they do. So at the end of the day, I'm not sure how people equate the sale of alcohol with hordes of drunken lunatics engaging in douchebaggery at every turn.

I'm no stranger to alcoholism and substance abuse. It runs in my family. It's an ugly thing. However, I just don't get how people make the leap that offering beverages somehow means everyone who has one is a drunk. And not just a drunk, but a fall-over vomiting schmuck. I also don't understand how the presence of alcohol is anti-family. (I'm suspect of anything labeled "anti-family," for that matter.) I can't remember a single family gathering in my lifetime where someone didn't have a beer or a glass of wine. And in all of those years, the only person I ever recall being drunk is me, mostly during my college years.

I think the use of alcohol falls into the same category as a great many other things that you teach your kids about. People will do what they do, and the best you can do is try to teach your kids to understand how to be responsible. I can do that even if Legoland sells a few beers.


The altered soul

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 12:19 AM | comments: 0

A friend of mine is moving away from Northeast Ohio after 30-some years, to Seattle no less, and watching him do it fascinates me. Maybe it's because I've been there. Maybe it's because I want to go back there. Maybe it's because I've seen so many friends make the leap to a new life in this way, and it's always striking how it fundamentally changes your soul.

In fact, big moves are on a short list of things that change you in immeasurable ways. What's really cool about that is the changes are permanent. You can't really go back to your previous state. I experienced a ton of these things in a very short, concentrated amount of time, and the changes, I think, made me better in so many ways.

Having this altered soul keeps me a bit on "vibrate" at all times. Life changing events have a funny way of making you realize just how many possibilities there are, if you're willing to see them. I mean, people might think of Hawaii as a place for vacations, but rarely consider it a place you could call home. I'm not considering it (yet), just using it as an example.

And yes, it frustrates me that I didn't figure this out earlier in life. I'm not sure that I'd describe this as regret, because I can't legitimately describe myself, professionally or personally, ever truly "stuck," but taking a few more chances when there was less risk would likely have had positive outcomes.