One of the best things about having friends with kids that are older than Simon is that they kind of offer a preview of what our future looks like. Thanks to Facebook, we get a play-by-play.
For example, our dear friends and cruise-mates in Chicago have two little girls, the oldest of which is reading in front of her class for the first time. Another friend that I went to school has a teenager now going to football games. Sure, these are moments that every parent will have, but these are friends of mine, my peers. It means we're next.
I have a lot of anxiety around Simon's developmental delays, if that wasn't completely obvious. But it still seems pretty inevitable that he's going to read to a class and go to a football game too. It's just weird to think about it. Right now he's a preschooler, and he just today, for the first time, went upstairs and got his pajamas on without either one of us being there. They seem like such minor milestones, but they're not.
This morning, Simon crawled up into our bed when his clock turned green (it's an alarm clock in that sense). Diana was already in the shower, but he cuddled under the covers with me. When Mom came out of the bathroom, he said, "Sorry Mom, I'm sleepin'!" That was pretty cute. Those moments won't happen for very much longer.
TL;DR: I eventually saved money.
I wrote about the migration of my sites, which is mostly CoasterBuzz and PointBuzz, from a dedicated server to the various Azure services. I also wrote about the daily operation of the sites after the move. I reluctantly wrote about the pain I was experiencing, too. What I haven't really talked about is the cost. Certainly moving to managed services and getting out of the business of feeding and caring for hardware is a plus, but the economics didn't work out for the longest time. That frustrated me, because when I worked at Microsoft in 2010 and 2011, I loved the platform despite its quirks.
The history of hosting started with a site on a shared service that I paid nearly $50/month for back in 1998. It went up to a dedicated server at more than $650, and then they threatened to boot me for bandwidth, so I started paying a grand a month for a T-1 to my house, plus the cost of hardware. Eventually the dedicated servers came down again, and for years were right around $200. The one I had the last three years was $167. That was the target.
Let me first say that there is some benefit to paying a little more. While you won't get the same amount of hardware (or the equivalent virtual resources) and bandwidth, you are getting a ton of redundancy for "free," and I think that's a hugely overlooked part of the value proposition. For example, your databases in SQL Azure exist physically in three places, and the cost of maintaining and setting that up yourself is enormous. Still, I wanted to spend less instead of more, because market forces being what they are, it can only get cheaper.
Here's my service mix:
My spend went like this:
So after two and a half months of messing around and making mistakes, I'm finally to a place where I'm beating the dedicated server spend. Combined with the stability after all of the issues I wrote about previously, this makes me happy. I don't expect the spend to increase going forward, but you might be curious to know how it went down.
During the first month and a half, only the old web/business tiers were available for SQL Azure. The pricing on these didn't make a lot of sense, because they were based on database size instead of performance. Think about that for a minute... a tiny database that had massive use cost less than a big one that was used very little. The CoasterBuzz database, around 9 gigs, was going to cost around $40. Under the new pricing, it was only $20. That was preview pricing, but as it turns out, the final pricing will be $30 for the same performance, or $15 for a little less performance.
There ended up being another complication when I moved to the new pricing tiers. They were priced that any instance of a database, spun up for even a minute, incurred a full day's charge. I don't know if it was a technical limitation or what, but it was a terrible idea. You see, when you do an automated export of the database, which I was doing periodically (this was before the self-service restore came along), you incurred the cost of an entire day's charge for that database. Fortunately, starting next week, they're going to hourly pricing starting next month.
I also believe there were some price reductions on the Web sites instances, but I'm not sure. There was a reduction in storage costs, but they're not a big component of the cost anyway. Honestly, I always thought bandwidth was my biggest concern, but that's because much of what I used on dedicated hardware was exporting backups. On Azure, I'm using less than 300 gigs out.
So now that things have evened out and I've understood how to deal with all of the unknowns from previous months, coupled with a lot of enhancements the Azure team has been working in, I'm in a good place. It feels like it should not have been so difficult, but Azure has been having an enormous growth and maturity spurt in the last six months or so. It's really been an impressive thing to see.
Last Friday, I had a very unique opportunity to tour the Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts. It's supposed to open later this year, and so far it includes the main theater, a black box theater and an arts school. After additional fundraising, they'll build a third theater as a concert hall. It's an enormously ambitious project, and the Walt Disney Theater in particular is likely to rival most theaters built anywhere in the last few decades. The mayor's office reached out to local businesses to invite people to see inside (my work office, which I go to twice a week) is next door to city hall and across from the center. I got lucky, as no one else from the office could be there.
I'm sure I've mentioned that I minored in theater for about three semesters, and while I never had the experience or street cred that Diana has (with her fancy degrees and union card and all!), I have always enjoyed it. In particular, I always loved lighting, and I got to do some shows for the community theater back in Cleveland. I've also seen a few shows, so I'm practically an expert. (Kidding.)
To put it simply, the theater is absolutely beautiful. It's both intimate and enormous. The furthest seat in the balcony of the 2,700-seat theater is apparently just over 100 feet from the end of the stage. I mean, it's amazing to stand in there and see the scope of it all, while simultaneously feeling that it's "cozy."
The black box is also interesting because it's so configurable. They can do anything in there. Apparently even local community theater will be able to use the space, which is very exciting.
I'm hoping I can find some way to see it again before they load-in their first show, which I believe will be the touring Phantom company. I'm curious to see some of the technology. While I never worked in the field professionally, I admit that I would have loved being part of a team doing a show every night. Even without being on the stage, there's a high that comes from doing that.
I suspect we'll consider a season subscription, as there are a number of shows we would like to see. It might be something we also donate to, as we certainly feel that the arts are a very important component of a thriving community.
We're having a lot of fun driving our shiny new Leaf. If you've ever driven an electric go-kart, it's a lot like that, only bigger and with satellite radio. The 80 to 100 mile range hasn't really caused any anxiety, and even doing the slow-ass charge from a 110 outlet at home has been adequate. I mean, in four days we've already put 200+ miles on it. Gotta remember we only get 1,000 per month on this lease!
Today I drove it to work for the first time, and I plugged it into one of the four stations in the parking garage that mostly go unused. The local utility has gone apeshit installing these things all over town, which is a huge win. I could drive to and from work, maybe twice, on a single charge, but it's actually slightly cheaper at these stations. They generally charge 13 cents per kWh, while the cost at home after the first 1,000 is a little over 13.5 cents. (The math works better at home when we're not running the air conditioning all of the time and using less than 1,000 kWh per month. The first 1,000 are about 11.3 cents.)
This gives me a real price of electricity on the spot, and I could compare it to miles. What it came down to was 3.5 cents per mile. And keep in mind I was driving like a dick, mashing the pedal from a stop or through turns because that's what makes it so much fun.
So how much does this energy cost compare to gas? That's pretty straight forward to figure out since we know mpg, and gas around here is currently about $3.20 per gallon:
Assuming we put 12,000 miles on the car, that means the Leaf saves $864 per year in energy costs over Diana's old car. That's not too shabby. Granted, you're talking about a car that was $18,500 (adjusted for inflation) versus one that was around $23,000 (after credits, rebates and haggling), so it's not strictly a win. But hey, if you were coming down from a Chevy Suburban, then you save about $23k on the price of the car and $1,716 per year on fuel costs.
People don't like to have those debates, suggesting you can only compare to a car of similar size, but I tend to think mostly in terms of cost. The Elantra will cost you less if you keep it for six years (assuming constant energy costs), but only just barely. I think in terms of cost because 95% of what I do in a car is tool around town, and any vehicle can do that. If I need to road trip or carry cargo, the Prius V is exceptional at that.
The numbers are fun to think about, and while I enjoy the hippy tree hugger zero-emission story, I was attracted to the car because it's so damn fun to drive. I've been interested since I rented one last year. Now the challenge is to remember it's a leased car. I did OK with the 2010 Prius that was totaled in an accident, so hopefully it'll be OK on this one.
Simon is a theme park nerd. When we moved back to Cleveland, and stared bringing him to Cedar Point at the age of 2, he was totally engaged in the place. Large as that park is, he was also very content to walk all over it without the stroller. It was probably where his love of trains began, and he loved to watch the rides. A couple of years later, living next door to Walt Disney World, he not only enjoys walking around and observing, but he's taking a close look at the mechanical devices and the procedures, to the point where it's a big component of his imaginative play. That's a relief because, prior to the last nine months, there wasn't much in the way of imagination with him.
Of course he's all about trains and monorails, but the thing he loves the most, anywhere, is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. He rarely asks about Magic Kingdom in the general sense, as it tends to be about specifically riding Thunder Mountain. He even refers to his wooden trains as Thunder Mountain. Before yesterday, we hadn't been to any Disney park in more than two weeks, since before we went to Cincinnati. With school starting, therapy and I think a general desire to just chill out (and maybe a little August heat), it hasn't been a priority. Plus, the People Mover had been down for rehab, and that's a favorite too. We were overdue.
Things started out a little rough, with Simon being defiant about where to sit on the parking tram. Then inside the park, he tried to insist sitting on the outside on Dumbo, which isn't allowed because adults have to sit on the outside. He was generally being cranky and ready to flip out unless we were doing exactly what he wanted, and that was a hint of things to come.
When we got to Thunder Mountain, we used our Fastpasses to board pretty quickly. It isn't a rule, but we prefer he sits between us, because he is still kind of little, and we just feel like it's safer. However, this time, he wouldn't get in the train unless we both got in first. Not being one to hang up a dispatch, I picked him up and put him in, where he tried to keep me from sitting down on the outside. Diana warned him, he shouted no, and that was it. I picked him up and carried him, kicking and screaming, off of the platform. It was a scene for sure, but hopefully brief.
What followed was a true meltdown. Tantrums are where a kid looks for a reaction and stops when he gets his way or is ignored. This was not a tantrum. It was intense rage, and nothing we did was going to help. It just had to run its course. The interesting thing about Simon is that he's somewhat self-aware about the situation. From there we got on the train as an express route to get to the front of the park to leave (cut short at the Fantasyland station due to the parade). On the train, he asked for help because he couldn't stop crying.
The parenting fail is obviously that we've been letting him get away with not following directions. This was the worst time to have that realization, but it's certainly a lesson he needed to learn. The problem is that it's hard for him to learn these kinds of lessons because he doesn't always understand the underlying reasons for us to demand his compliance. It's another one of those social contract issues that some kids on the autism spectrum have. "Because it's a rule" doesn't really mean anything. Not only that, but as I can see so much of myself in him, I understand that in a lot of cases he wants to do the less safe thing, ignoring instructions, because there is something he wants to more closely observe.
We're very fortunate that these are rare occurrences, and that he tends to not have the issues that a lot of other kids have. For example, he's exceptionally polite, and doesn't toss manners aside because he doesn't get that social norm. Heck, he queues like a champ in theme parks, which is one of the classic autism social rejections. But there are arrangements that he simply rejects, not out of defiance, but because they don't meet some rational standard in his head. Defiance is fairly easy to respond to and discipline. Stuff like this is harder, and it's still not clear if the discussions you have with him later, when he's calm, are things that he understands.
While I'm happy he's in six hours of school every day, I hate that he can't continue to see the same therapist, because she's awesome for him, and very helpful for us. She would be able to tell us exactly how we deal with situations like this.
As necessary as these "teaching moments" care, they sure can suck. This is especially true because he has been a very sweet boy lately, full of personality. It's fascinating to watch him use his theme park experiences in imaginative play. Today he was methodically swinging a Little People toy swing (without the people), indicating they had to hold on and wait for the ride to come to a complete stop, then exit carefully and watch their step. It's pretty adorable. He was obviously empowered by the ride ops at Kings Island who let him push the button in the Eiffel Tower elevator.
After some test driving and other considerations, we ended up replacing Diana's car with a Nissan Leaf. It's the first non-Toyota new car I've ever had.
Our intentions were basically to try on all-electric for two years, and by the time the lease is over, we can explore other options as battery life and range continue to improve. The motivation was not any kind of green street cred or an idea that we would save on fuel costs, but the economics are still pretty good, as is the green story. Based on some industry study, even using electricity generated heavily by fossil fuels, and the manufacture of the car, it ranks first as having the lowest carbon footprint. And the cost per mile for energy is about a third of the Prius, a fifth of the car it replaces, a Hyundai Elantra. With the federal tax credit being passed to you from Nissan ($7,500), this particular trim gets you from $32k sticker to $24.5k, so your starting point is already below a Prius. Mind you, it's a smaller car, and people want to compare it to its gas using Versa cousin, but I've never been one to compare cars on size.
I don't remember what our net cap cost was after the trade and cash, but the residual wasn't great and the money factor was very nearly free. You do pay a little extra for a short lease. We got the payment down to $106, which I can live with. Other than going off of what other people pay, it's hard to know exactly what you can get away with because of the subsidies and rebates. But based on some of the research tools, I think I did OK. I might have been able to squeak out a few extra dollars.
Our sales rep was solid. He was a total "Leaf geek," as we put it. He owned one, he knew everything about it, was up on EV's in general, and could nerd about everything. And good for the dealer putting a guy with a bunch of tattoos in that position, too. His appearance was not typical for the usually squirrely car sales jerk. He wasn't condescending or patronizing either, and spoke to both of us as equals.
Unfortunately, the sales manager was a total asshat. Not only did he not understand why I wanted all of the lease numbers (cap cost, residual, money factor), but he didn't even know that Nissan basically took the tax credit off the top for leases (if you buy outright, you get that $7,500 back when you file). When he suggested I put more down to reduce the payment, we walked. I felt bad because the rep spent a good two hours with us, but that last hour was wasted. You absolutely have to be willing to leave the dealer if you feel you're being fucked with or not getting what you want.
I emailed the rep as we had lunch (I was really "hangry" at that point), and told him if he could get the numbers where we wanted, we could work it. He got back to me later in the afternoon, and he made the deal I wanted. Basically they reduced the sale value of the car by about $2,200, a little under their invoice and the top number before the manufacturer rebates and incentives, which totaled around $8k. Our real cost, the trade plus cash plus monthly payments, comes out to $356/month for 24 months. Being a lease, of course you have nothing to show for it when you're done, but our conventionally financed Prius V comes out to $450/month over five years and will be worth around perhaps $9k if values hold. Purchasing works out better for you if you intend to keep the car longer than it's financed, but again, we didn't want to commit too hard to electric.
Mini-rant: Why do car dealers suck at getting you out the door once you have a deal? We ended up spending a little over two hours there again before we signed and left. Or rather, Diana did, as we kept this one in her name to keep the license plate transfer simple and keep some credit in her name.
It's worth mentioning that I did drive a BMW i3, and it was awesome. It corners like it's on rails, and the motor is much more aggressive and "torquey," which is saying something because frankly the Leaf torques like a boss as well. Electric motors are awesome like that. I nearly fell in love with the BMW, but I just couldn't justify spending around $450/month on a car. I just couldn't do it. That's three cruises a year, in the concierge rooms at at that. The one thing I did not like about it was that the regenerative braking is super aggressive, to the point where you don't need to brake much in city driving. It's weird, and probably even more weird for other drivers because they don't see brake lights. The Leaf has this feature, but it's not on by default. It's a setting on the Tesla Model S as well.
I'm glad that's over. Buying cars is an awful experience, especially since no one around here would negotiate via email except the BMW guy, and ultimately the "Leaf geek." I'll write some more after we've had it a few months, and see how we do with range anxiety and charging configurations.
Last Friday, just as Diana was approaching our house, her car (a 2008 Hyundai Elantra) was spinning high RPM's and not going anywhere. We were in separate cars, coming back from dinner. She pulled up and suggested I drive. Sure enough, it was struggling to accelerate or shift out of first gear, and I immediately assumed there was a transmission fluid problem. The burning fluid, with it dripping all over made that pretty obvious.
My first car had all kinds of problems, and a leaky gasket on the transmission pan was one of them. It was a pretty easy fix though, so I assumed it had to be something like that for this car. Wanting to assert my manhood or something, I checked with an auto parts store to find a gasket, and they said the car didn't have one. Meh, whatever, let's pay for the tow, because this to me sure sounds like it fits under the drive train warranty.
As it turns out, this car circulates transmission fluid through the radiator, another surprise as I've replaced two radiators that did not do this. (Is it obvious my car repair experiences are all almost 20 years ago?) The dealer found that the hose was simply not there, thus the very fast emptying of transmission fluid. On top of that, the car told a computer that the transmission gears were messed up. The diagnosis was a new transmission, and fortunately it was covered under that 10-year, 100,000 mile drive train warranty. Phew. Parts alone were about $1,300.
I'm disappointed that the car has under 60k miles and had this kind of catastrophic failure. Ditto for the fuel line problems we had in the first few months, a weird defect that required two overnight stays. The plastic plate under the car came off in the first year too, and we dragged that along the PA Turnpike. I suppose it has been a solid car otherwise, but with some Cleveland weather corrosion under the hood, tires in need of replacement and what not, I'm not comfortable nursing the car anymore. We were already considering a replacement this year, but now it feels more urgent.
Right now we're considering four options. None of them are a Tesla, because as amazing as that is, we could take 30 cruises for the cost of that car, or 10 ten-day cruises around Europe. Experiences, not stuff, you know? The zero option is simply to do nothing, but that means buying tires and hoping nothing else breaks. Otherwise, we would like to lease because in two years, we suspect there will be better options for electric cars, which we're very interested in.
The first and safest option is to get a regular Prius. The fourth generation models are apparently delayed, supplies are a little higher than demand, and it's a known quantity. We easily get 46 to 48 mpg out of the V, so we know the regular will do mid-50's in flat Florida. It's totally unsexy, and we'd be that family with two hybrids, but we like our Prii.
Next there's the electric Nissan Leaf, which has been something of a great curiosity for me ever since I rented one on my interview trip to Orlando last year. It was so flipping fun to drive, and an 80 mile range is perfectly adequate for commuting. It's a poor man's tiny Tesla, full of gadgetry and wonder for a nerd like me. There was a lease deal last year, in the midst of our "financial quiet period" prior to buying the house, where we could probably have traded the Hyundai and have no payment and get money back. We might still be able to get such a deal if we can get enough for the trade, or at least get close.
And finally, at the completely unlikely end but still curious, we could look at a BMW i3. It too is all electric, fairly ugly, and apparently the kind of engineering you expect from BMW. It gets good reviews, but it's fairly expensive in typical option packages, so it's hard to convey value I think to someone who thinks the Nissan is pretty cool.. I'm not a car guy, but I could see how something like this would make me an electric car guy, with carbon fiber body parts and all. I just can't get over the price, as it would be an expensive indulgence. Again, I'll check it out, but I doubt it's a real option.
It would be neat to have a car that doesn't actually have a transmission.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Things are going poorly in your world of software development, and someone makes a suggestion.
"If we just use [framework or technology here], everything will be awesome and we'll cure cancer!"
I like new and shiny things, and I like to experiment with stuff. I really do. But every time I hear something like the above statement, it's like nails on a chalkboard. You know, most of the NoSQL arguments over the last few years sound like that. It's not that the technology isn't useful or doesn't have a place, but when I'm looking at it from a business standpoint, I have a perfectly good database system, that happens to be relational, that could do the same thing, is installed on my servers, will scale just fine for the use case, and I employ people who already know how to use it. Maybe I have something in production that uses it wrong, but that isn't a technology problem.
I'm sure we're all guilty of this at various points in our career. We've all walked into situations where there is an existing code base, and we're eager to rewrite it all using the new hotness. It's true, there are often great new alternatives that you could use, but I find it very rare that the technologies in play are inadequate, they're just poorly used. That kind of thing happens because of inexperience, poor process, transient consultants or some combination of all of those things.
The poor implementation is only a part of the people problem. There is a big layer of failure often caused by process, which is, you know, implemented by people. For example (this is real life, from a previous job), you've come up with this idea of processing events in almost-real-time by queuing them and then handing them off to various arbitrary pieces of code to process, a service bus of sorts. So you look at your toolbox and say, "Well, our servers all run Windows, so MSMQ will be adequate for the queue job." Shortly thereafter, your infrastructure people are like, "No, we can't install that, sorry." And then your release people are like, "Oh, this is a big change, we can't do this." You bang your head against the wall, because all of this kingdom building, throw-it-over-the-wall, lack of collaboration is 100% people problems, not technology. Suggesting some other technology doesn't solve the problem, because it will manifest itself again in some other way.
What do you do about this? Change itself isn't that hard (if you really believe in the Agile Manifesto), but people changing is hard. If you have the authority, you remove the people who can't change. If you don't, then you have to endure a slower process of politicking to get your way. It's slow, but it works. You convince people, one at a time, to see things in a way that removes friction. Get enough people on board, and momentum carries you along so that everyone has to follow (or get off the boat). I knew a manager at Microsoft who was exceptionally good at this, and his career since has largely been to convince teams that there was a better way.
At a more in-the-weeds level, you get people engaged beyond code. One of the weakest skills people in the software development profession have is connection with the underlying business. Mentor them so that they understand. Explain why the tool you use is adequate when used in the right context and will save the business time and money, compared to a different technology that has more cost associated with learning new skills, licenses or whatever. It's like the urge to buy a new phone every year to have the new hotness... It's fine when it's your money, but not so much when it comes at the cost of your employer.
As technologists, yes, we want to solve problems with technology. Just don't let that desire obscure the fact that the biggest problems in our line of work are rarely technological in nature.
Simon went back to school this week, and it occurs to me that I haven't really written about him in awhile. So here's the update.
About the time Simon's "special" preschool ended in the spring, he started to see an ABA therapist who came to our house twice a week, for two hours each time. This was entirely out of pocket (and the bills somehow haven't been making it here, so now, ouch), but it was worth every penny. It's not just Simon who benefits, but us as well. We're better equipped to understand how to relate to him, how to discipline him effectively and we've seen that he can focus on tasks. His wonderful therapist also saw a lot of things that indicated something I was hoping for, that despite the developmental delays, there's very obviously an intelligent little boy in there.
Simon also spent some time in a Montessori school, for three hours a session, a few times a week. He really enjoyed that, which doesn't surprise me, because the method is a combination of structure and self-directed learning. That's something I see in him that is very much me, that he often has no desire to do something just because someone expects it of him. It's a social contract he has little use for, and I know it made me a miserable child in school at times. If that carries over into grade school for him, I feel bad for what he's in for.
Now that the school year is back, he's actually going to school twice. In the morning, he goes to regular preschool, with 17 other kids. In the afternoon, he goes to the smaller (8 kids or less, I think it was) class with kids who have similar developmental issues. It's a little inconvenient, because Diana has to go out and get him in between for about 70 minutes. He's also tired out of his mind by the end of the day, and sometimes a hot mess. Still, the afternoon gets him the individual attention that certainly helps him, but the morning puts him in a much bigger social context, which I think he desperately needs.
Where is he? It's hard to say, because all I can do is compare to other kids, because I'm not a professional. On gross motor skills, he seems to have come along, but lacks confidence sometimes in things like jumping off of a two-foot platform. For fine motor, he's much better at using eating utensils, iPad games and dressing, but he clearly has a long way to go for writing. He knows his alphabet and a few words, but I don't think he's connecting them to what he can speak. His speech is the thing that seems the most behind, despite a ton of progress. That's the hardest thing for me... seeing the progress, but knowing he's not where his peers are.
Ultimately, my hope is that he can start kindergarten on time next year. My largely uninformed opinion is that it could go either way. I can see the reasoning to hold him back a year, but I also think that could backfire because the smart kid inside with the extreme pattern recognition and memory will get bored when he does catch up. Again, I can certainly relate to that.
I was doing one of my periodic check-ins last week, looking at traffic and ad revenue and all of that for the sites. There was a time that I did it almost daily, but obviously my priorities have changed a great deal over the years. I should probably look harder, because the story isn't great.
At the end of last year, the story was that traffic was up, but revenue was flat. That's not a great story to tell because it means more people doesn't equal more money. That's important to me this year because I've replaced equipment and I'm spending a little more on hosting as I've moved to a cloud provider (though this month should be less after optimizing some things). Sure, I do this stuff because I enjoy it, but as a technologist and someone who enjoys extra income, I certainly don't want to move in reverse.
I looked at the data more critically, and I'm finding that the reason for the slide isn't because of ad rates. Actually, for the ads being displayed, they're paying more than they did last year. The problem is that not as many people are seeing them. That's because many are viewing on mobile devices which don't display the ads, and others (on CoasterBuzz at least) are viewing the mobile interface, which has crappy mobile ads that don't pay much. If all things remained constant, and everyone was going to the site on a browser on their computer, ad revenue would likely be 80% higher. That's frustrating.
There are several things outside of my control. I can't stop people from using mobile devices, and I wouldn't want to. I can't control what the ad providers do either. This doesn't leave me with a lot of choices, so honestly I haven't thought much about what I can do. The irony is that I had a lot of pride around just how fast I was able to make the mobile version of the site. If your connection is solid, you can barely tell you're connecting to anything.
This is the point where I start to rant. I don't enjoy the app culture. I mean, do you remember the old days on your desktop computer (when you didn't have a laptop), when you had to buy software, install it, and when you finally had the Internet, you could install updates to the software that was broken. But when the Internet did come a long, so much of what you could do didn't require downloading anything at all. You just opened your browser and you did stuff. In fact, this is largely true today. Most of the "apps" you use are just Web sites. You never have to update them, you can share links to various points inside of them, and it's awesome.
But the phones (and tablets) are the old desktop model. You don't need CD-ROM's, but you do need to install stuff. Then when they realize it's broken the next day, there's an update and you have to get that before you can use it. And if you want to use it but don't have it, you have to go to an app store and download it first. You can't just type in a URL and go. You certainly can't share that "page" in the IMDB app with your friends either. This experience completely sucks, but it's mostly embraced by everyone. It's totally bizarre to me.
From a development standpoint, it's a mixed bag. I mean, professionally, if you can crank out mobile apps, it's an enormous career opportunity. But if you're largely independent or small, as is the case for me and these little sites, forget it. I don't have the time or money to build this stuff, to support two (or three) different platforms, plus the site. Even if you go hybrid with HTML-based apps, the last 10% of the effort ends up being specific to each platform, and takes the longest.
Businesses go there anyway, because it's where the people are, unfortunately. But I can tell you from experience that getting something on to a mobile platform is so much more expensive than the straight Web.
In a lot of ways, this is just further proof of what I've seen happening the last few years, that ad-supported content and community is not a very good game to be in. I just don't have any clear ideas about how to address the problem. Of course, if The New York Times doesn't know what to do, I think I get a pass.
I've been reading Roger Ebert's memoir Life Itself on and off for the past few months. While some parts are interesting, others seem like lots of extraneous detail that no one would care about. So while on a plane last weekend, I wondered how this flavor of narrative would go if I was writing it. The results are below. I don't know if it's something someone would read in a book or not. -J
I never quite knew how much my step-father made, and had even less context about how much that would be in context with other people. I never felt like we didn’t have “stuff” that we needed, but I do remember there being mentions of value when it came to camping. Ohio had quite a state park system, and many of them had campgrounds where we could land for a few bucks a day. In fact, I remember hearing David complain about it when one of the parks hit $10 per night. Whatever our income bracket was, it’s clear that camping made for a really economical vacation.
I remember going with my parents once before they divorced (before Jason was born, so I couldn’t have been older than 3). The standout memory of that trip was my dad comforting me because I thought I was in trouble for waking them up in the small tent. I remember playing with one of those toddler toys with the magnetic letters in that tent.
We started camping again after David and my mom were married. I’m certain that our first trip was to Alleghany State Park in Western New York. The massive park was actually divided into two parts, and the Red House Area was the better part for a number of reasons. The campground was hilly and heavily wooded, the road around the lake was designated as one-way, so you could freely bike around the inside lane. There was also a beautiful old lodge that had a little museum in it and a restaurant.
We only camped in site C-4. When you entered from the main road, you passed over a little concrete bridge and by the check-in station. Then it was up the hill slightly right. C-4 was great because there was so much room there. We didn’t start with a camper, but we soon had a pop-up, which didn’t take up a lot of room in the average campsite. We would always move the picnic table perpendicular to the camper, under the roll-out awning. That left room for us to put up a tent, a smelly old canvas thing, where we could hang out and put our toys. There was a tree toward the back, beyond the fire pit, ideal for chaining up the bikes at night and stringing up a line for hanging beach towels.
The real action was down toward the main road and the creek. Creeks there were not like those in Ohio, because they were so rocky. It was no trouble to find salamanders and other critters, and the water was so incredibly clear. There was also a big playground there, the best anywhere. They built playgrounds with big logs and old, giant truck tires. Again, the Ohio parks couldn’t touch such amenities. Even the signage fascinated me, because they used the big Century 21-style signs, with one slat of wood hanging for each item on the sign, and chain links in between.
When it rained, you could go into the nearby Salamanca, and maybe catch a movie. There wasn’t much to the town, but it had a museum for the Seneca Indians.
Camping was a bit of a routine, once the picnic table was in place. The cooler, stocked with generic soda cans of every flavor you can imagine, was positioned under one of the pull-out beds of the camper. Wood, usually purchased at the camp store for that campground, was piled neatly near the fire pit and covered with a tarp. The second camper we had required a hand crank to raise the roof, and I would help with that after getting the bikes off of the roof. Mom had a specific menu planned out, and it generally included packaged food side dishes that were easy to cook in boiled water. That water had to come from a tap somewhere in the campground and into our container. That was another perk of C-4: The tap was right there.
Arriving was not a relaxing process. David would be kind of crabby, and he would generally sweat a lot (sweatband around his mostly bald head), and he would be breathing heavy to the point where I worried that he was genuinely at risk of a heart attack. Generally Jason and I would be dismissed soon enough and not be seen again until dinner. We would either take off on the bikes, or take my boom box down to the playground to hang out.
The Ohio State Parks had a junior naturalist program back in the days when they were well funded. The naturalists did all kinds of programs to teach kids (and adults) about the environment and the plants and critters that lived there. The program involved completing a number of different sessions, and they gave you little patches, four of them to match the big round one, and I remember getting them all. I still have them, in fact. By the time I got the last one, I remember having a bit of a crush on the very young naturalist at that last park.
My change in camping agenda was, not surprisingly, well aligned with my age. In the early days, it was all about those playgrounds, or exploring the woods. There were no shortages of trails to follow. By the time I was in middle school, the emphasis had shifted a bit to meeting girls. I had no idea what the outcome was supposed to be, I just know that I liked pretty girls and wanted to be around them. I remember once, on a trip to a park near Zanesville, meeting Rachael and Jennifer and hanging out with them for a few days, after grade 9, I think. We wrote letters back and forth for a year or two after that.
One of the things that annoyed my parents is that Jason and I liked to be inside of the camper. Think about it though, a pop-up camper was like a blanket fort that you towed with your car, and that’s awesome. One of my favorite things was unzipping all of the windows around the end bed, and taking an afternoon nap there. It was so peaceful and the breeze felt wonderful. Sometimes I would put headphones on and listen to some crappy local radio station, or maybe cassettes, and soak in nature without it biting me. That was a great feeling.
In high school, I got into bicycling in a meaningful way, in part because my dad encouraged it. He was doing it as well, and we would do organized rides of varying lengths (some of which I did not finish). This meant that for camping trips, I would take it upon myself to ride where ever I could, even if it was outside of the park. There was one in particular that had a lake, and it was about 20 miles around. I got into the habit of time trialing myself, to see how fast I could get around. It was the first time I really managed to challenge myself in some kind of athletic endeavor.
By the time I got to college, I wasn’t much a part of the camping trips. I do remember one to the nearby park, Findley State Park, where I helped mom out to the park one morning (to get a good site), and followed behind in my car. David would come out after work. Mom decided to go through a beverage drive through to pick a few things up, and turning into it, she completely nailed the corner of the camper on the entry way to the drive through. It was not pretty. That day was the first day I drove the car with the camper attached, and because my stepdad wasn’t a great driver, I took it upon myself to back the thing in to the site. I think it was the first time I really thought about my parents getting older, and me being a grown up.
I don't remember where or when, but I recall seeing a guy with a T-shirt that said quite plainly, "I piss excellence." I giggled at the time because, well, it's funny to me. Juvenile humor has its place in the spectrum of giggles.
I'm not perfect, but I try to be excellent to the best of my ability. I try to be a part of a way forward, not be intellectually lazy, give as much as I can, stand up against oppression... you know, all of the things that are "good." I'm lucky enough to work with people who are good at what they do, and that makes me particularly happy. I have friends and acquaintances that are changing the world.
Unfortunately, while the Internet does in theory show great promise for making the world better and spreading knowledge (and I do believe to an extent it has), it's also full of stupidity, or anti-excellence, if you will. It's no secret that this frustrates the shit out of me. People don't want to understand science, hear differing opinions, gain a deeper understanding of history and politics or otherwise soak up knowledge, even though it's all readily available.
The go-to reaction to this is to bitch and moan about it. I don't think that I'm better than the people practicing anti-excellence, but it's also ridiculous that wanting to piss excellence is somehow being elitist or something. To me it's just wanting to be a part of a functioning society that can get past blowing itself up.
Complaining isn't excellent, and that's the thing I find that I have to work on the most. It's not easy because I'm completely impatient. Some people don't want to be excellent, and I suppose those people can't be helped. But I believe, perhaps naively, that people want to be better. I just don't know how to approach them. I don't want them to simply accept my word for anything, I want them to learn and make learning a priority. Being excellent isn't about being the smartest person in the room, it's about figuring out stuff you don't know and using that to better the world. The scope is unimportant, whether you're giving a high-five to a kid who did some simple task for the first time or curing cancer.
Much has been written about the suicidal death of Robin Williams. I don't need to be another talking head in the noise, but it makes me sad as anyone to see someone who deeply impacted our culture pass like that. By most accounts, he was a good man.
What frustrates me the most is that our society is more concerned with curing baldness or getting unnaturally white teeth than it is recognizing and talking about issues of depression and mental health. We seek help for aches and pains, but not for problems within our heads.
I still think about my friend Mary, who took her own life a little over two years ago. If it weren't for the candid conversation we had more than a decade before that about her struggle with eating disorder and mental health, I would have never known she had a problem. That's really the trick though... people need to be willing to seek help, but you can't force them. To that end, I do think it's important that we culturally change the conversation so it's OK to talk about mental health, just as it is OK to talk about cancer or heart disease.
When I said I wondered what people who live in Orlando do for vacation, I wouldn't have guessed that for us it would mean going back to Ohio. In fact, this was our second trip to Cincinnati to visit Kings Island this year, the first being opening weekend and the Banshee media day.
This particular trip was in part to attend BeastBuzz, an event that dates back to 2002 as the first event CoasterBuzz ever had. The owners of Kings Island have changed since then, as has pretty much everyone working there, but the ride collection sure has improved. We don't do many events these days, mostly because the parks tend to do a lot of club-agnostic events and there isn't much point to doing "private label" events. Even for this one, I didn't care what club people belonged to... I was just hoping for a nice group of around a hundred people to share in the good times.
We flew out on Allegiant Air this time. They fly out of Sanford, which is a little out of the way, but they have direct flights to Cindy. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. We saved about $250 between the three of us, but everything is so cheap about them. The seats are terrible, no snacks or beverages, and it's Sanford. They lure you in with cheap fares, but then charge you extra for everything, including carry-ons and choosing your seat. They don't let you use electronic stuff at all during takeoff and landing, unlike everyone else. My bigger concern was probably the idea that if there was some delay or cancellation, we would have been screwed because it's not like there are a ton of flights going out of Sanford that could act as an alternate.
Random: CVG doesn't require you to remove shoes, bags of liquid, laptops or belts. At least, they didn't in the line we went through. Weird. Also random, Simon went through the magnetometer in Sanford and told the TSA agent, "Lookin' good!" She thought it was hilarious.
In any case, we stayed at Great Wolf Lodge next door to the park. (Disclaimer: Diana represented the company as an "ask-a-mom" panelist last year, and they've been very good to us.) This is actually our third stay there, as we did one in April and a quick overnight early last year when I came down for the coaster steel fabrication tour I did in Batavia. We're big fans of GWL. It might seem a little pricey, but I think there's a lot of value considering the room quality, which is a weird mix of durable and really great soft goods, and you get the water park access. They do a nice job and I always feel taken care of there. And you know I'm a hotel snob!
After a nap where Simon didn't actually sleep, we popped into the park for a little bit on Friday. It was incredibly "un-busy" for the most part. My junior coaster enthusiast is all about Woodstock Express, and he's obsessed with sitting in the very front or the very back. He also learned to queue for the adjacent car ride completely independent, though we did have to guide him a little when some other douchebag parents would just push on past him when he was watching the ride. I was pleased to hear the restored band organ on the carousel, and I wish more parks would do that. Needless to say, Simon really enjoys the elevator ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
For the day of the event, I went early while Diana and Simon came a little later. There I met Mike and his nephew, and it's awesome to see at least part of Team Jandes more than once a year. I'm once again amazed at how good the park looks with Banshee there, and I can't give enough credit to the P&D team.
I'm not going to sugar coat it... I think Banshee might be one of my favorite rides anywhere. It's definitely the best of the B&M inverted coasters, and if I did rank rides, it would easily be one of my top three favorites. It's just insanely relentless in its forces. From the time it pulls out of the vertical loop around the lift, to the time it hits the brakes, it just kicks your ass (in a good way).
Once Diana and Simon arrived, she did one lap on Banshee with me, and one on The Bat (with the whole train to herself!) before we moved on to Diamondback. This was the ride that surprised her the most on our visit in April, so she wanted to make sure she did a few laps. We alternated while watching Simon, who decided it was his job to open and close the exit gates after every cycle. The ride ops thought that this was completely adorable. I swear that kid is going to be ride operator in his first job. Diamondback is a really fantastic ride, especially toward the back. I remember now why I couldn't keep re-riding all day when it opened for its media event... it can get to you a bit. What a great ride.
After the morning ERT, Mike went off to do some power riding, I followed my family back into Planet Snoopy where Simon again began his ritual of rides. By 11 I joined up with the group to see Banshee from behind the fence. Mike and I stopped for beverages after that at what used to be Lt. Dan's Backyard Bar, where we had some good memories during his mobile bachelor party back in 2005.
Our group was treated to advanced seating for the park's Cirque Imagine show, which was solid considering they pack the theater for every show. I was impressed overall with the show, which was quality stuff considering the size of the park. The live band they had between the fountains and the Eiffel Tower was also pretty amazing. It's great to see Cedar Fair as a whole investing more in live entertainment. That area was so neglected in the Kinzel era.
Lunch was burgers and chicken tenders, the latter of which were pretty good for food service type stuff. There was however a snafu with the beer that I bought for the group. Last year they drained the keg, but it wasn't all at once. Apparently they use larger cups this year, so some people didn't get even a first round, let alone a second. I agreed to buy another one at my expense, which kind of sucks, but it was the right thing to do. Now I know.
The park was getting insanely crowded late in the afternoon, so I headed back to Great Wolf for a little break. Simon had a good solid nap, and we had a breakfast for dinner at the local Perkins. We didn't get back into the park until 8-something.
The night time ERT started with Banshee again, and it was even more incredible than the morning. Those were some of the best rides I've had on any coaster anywhere. Even when I felt like I had enough, Mike made the point that you just don't get that kind of access very often, and I did it again. I think I did ten laps overall for the day, and every single one of them was amazing. I haven't gushed about a roller coaster in a long time.
The night ended with ERT on The Beast. Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed by the ride this time. I did two laps. The first was in a middle seat, and while I enjoyed it, I can't say that I have any strong feelings for the ride. The second lap was not in a middle seat, and I didn't enjoy that at all.
Overall it was a strong event, and I logged 22k steps, 10+ miles and 22 floors on the Fitbit. That doesn't include the short period of time in the break that we spent at the water park, where at the very least I added four floors going up the stairs to the family water slide. It was an epic day.
Originally, we had planned to go to Stricker's Grove on Sunday, but after Team Puzzoni set a new sleep-in record of 10 a.m., I thought it would be a better idea to just relax. We spent a few quality hours in the Great Wolf water park, where Simon made more independent strides going down the kid slides, and surprisingly he even endeavored to do some floating along the side of the pool in his life jacket. He loves the lazy river with the buckets that dump on your head, too.
We did sneak into Kings Island for a little bit that evening, and enjoyed some pizza and ice cream there. Of course, we did Woodstock Express again.
This was a really fun vacation for us. Granted, the bar was set low after the disaster that ended up being our Cedar Point trip back in June, with the water main break that shuttered the park. That's three trips to Ohio this year. Even with the cheaper air, it's kind of expensive to fly three people anywhere. This is why I enjoy cruising from the Space Coast.
One of the mental blocks I often have for doing creative things is that I don't want them to suck. This isn't so much an issue of having low self-esteem, but more of an acknowledgement that good creative work takes a lot of time.
Shooting "film" in a high quality fashion is exactly one of those situations that takes time. If you want an image to really look good, you have to light it correctly, and without it looking like you had to light it. But whatever, I wanted to shoot some video of my kid because I want video of my kid. That meant breaking out the camera and shooting without a tripod, under little to no lighting, and dealing with whatever I got. Then I had the bright idea of setting it to music, if I had enough material.
"Baby Cloud" is a wonderful lullaby by Caspar Babypants, a.k.a., Chris Ballew, also known as the front man for the Presidents of The United States of America. You know, "Peaches" and "Lump" and what not. It turns out his kid music is brilliant, and we witnessed first hand the preschool mosh pits that ensued at his free shows around Seattle. This particular song always resonated with me as a future love letter to your child... the idea that you want them to be safe and protected, but you'll let them go when it's time. The vocal by Rachel Loshak very sweetly conveys that sentiment. I remember driving up Snoqualmie Parkway with it on in the car, Simon sleeping in the back, and thinking, "This would make for a great music video of him doing kid stuff."
So despite the video being kind of amateurish, poorly exposed and noisy from low light situations, I figured I'd cut it anyway. There are some edits that I don't like, but I'm happy to have an evening with Simon on record. I emailed Chris (Mr. Babypants?) and asked if it was OK to post online, and he said absolutely. He liked it so much that he wanted to add it to his official YouTube channel, which is OK with me. I'm honored that he liked it!
So here's a couple of hours after dinner with Simon on a typical day, edited down to a little over two minutes.
Last week we had a guy from the neighborhood, who was recommended by others, do some painting around our house. He did the kitchen-dining-living room area, as well as the master bathroom. He did an amazing job, much more accurately and faster than we ever could have. I complain that I suck at painting, but if I'm being fair, I do it once every few years at most. I suspect our neighbor does it hundreds of times every year, thus his non-use of tape around the edges. Worth every penny.
The biggest impact of the paint is that now it seems like someone lives here. Much of the house is sparsely decorated, which is to say it's not decorated at all. I did my office shortly after moving in, but only because I had a bunch of stuff to hang on the walls that I had in previous residences (and now that I'm working from home 60% of the time, I'm glad I got it done). The kitchen is in a good place with the lighting, and this ginormous clock that Diana scored. After the paint, Diana put up a set of family photos, and she already accessorized the bathroom. I put in the matching sink faucets and towel rack (to go with the tub and shower), and now that room is essentially "done." We also have three ceiling fans in place, pendant lighting in the kitchen, some spot lighting in the short hall between my office and half-bath (we have shelves there) and Diana also went the distance to trim down some Ikea curtains for the bedroom.
Having a new house doesn't mean it's "ready" when you move in, it just means you have a blank canvas instead of having to cover up someone else's poor choices. I'm already a little tired of the home improvement, both in effort and expense.
We aren't really done though. I don't think either one of us is interested in covering the walls with arbitrary shit or having something to place on every horizontal surface, but there are some things that we need to make things a little more comfortable. For example, we need a coffee table and an end table in the living room, because we're using stand-in stuff. The bedroom needs a rug to tie the room together. The hideous $1.99 hallways lights taunt me too. Most of these are smaller things, but again, the fatigue is setting in.
I'm not complaining though. We've wanted a place to make our own for many years, and this is the first chance we've had. I just want to enjoy the place and not think about what else we "need" to make the house a home. I have to remind myself that process is a marathon, and not a sprint.
I'm not sure what made me think of this other than a combination of things I saw on the news today, because it's totally morbid. I try to be reasonably zen about death, if for no other reason that it's inevitable. I'm not saying that I'm careless about stepping in front of traffic, but I know I won't live forever.
But there is one situation where no longer being of this earth scares the hell out of me: As Simon's dad. I don't mean 40 years from now, as I would expect that he will have gained some big boy pants and figured out how to deal with that. I'm talking about for as long as he's in the nest, and then some. I might be overstating my importance as his father, but that's important to me. Of course I extend this to Diana as well, because I don't know how I would ever explain never seeing a parent again to a child.
This is another in a wide array of feelings you never really knew existed until you've procreated. It's weird. I mean, I try to live for myself to an extent. Like I know that I have to be somewhat active and not eat burritos every day if I expect to see old age, but having a child reinforces this knowledge in a surprising way. I wouldn't say that having a kid forces maturity (we all know our share of irresponsible parents), but for me at least, it changes how I look at the world.
I don't know if you're familiar with the Lego series of video games. I think the first one might have been for Star Wars. I remember outright dismissing the idea as stupid, until I actually tried the trial version of one through Xbox Live. I really enjoyed it, and I think I've bought all of them except for the Lego Movie variety. They've covered Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Pirates of The Caribbean, Lord of The Rings, Batman (the sequel for which covered all of the DC universe) and Marvel Super Heroes. Each game has a story mode, where you play through a bunch of levels, button mashing and collecting things. When you're done, you've started to unlock features that let you do more things, and eventually you can achieve the "100%" mark, where you've done everything and collected everything. I've done it a few times: With Pirates, the two Harry Potters and Batman 2. I got close with Lord of The Rings, and I'm not sure why I didn't finish. Some of them are nearly impossible (the Star Wars Clone Wars games breaks from their winning formula so badly that it isn't really even that much fun).
I don't know that hardcore gamers give two shits about these games, because they're not really challenging, and there is no online component. They're just kind of fun time wasters. Diana has hit 100% on a few of them too, and she is definitely not a gamer. My biggest issue is that they appeal to certain obsessive compulsive qualities of my personality. And I like it.
I doubt that I would ever be diagnosed with full out OCD, but it definitely shows up in selective areas of my life (none of which would contribute to me getting rich or something useful). For example, I'm obsessive compulsive about locking doors, loading the dishwasher, turning bottles in the fridge so the label faces outward, and back in the day, some kind of CD sorting scheme that I can't explain to anyone. OK, so saying that out loud does sound a little nuts. Whatever, I embrace it.
In any case, a few weeks or months ago we scored The Hobbit version of the Lego games. It uses a lot of the same stuff from the LOTR game, so the conventions are similar. I could never get into the book, and didn't see the movie, so it's all just for fun. This particular game looks like it's possible to get the 100%. I've found myself up late a couple of nights gathering treasure and red bricks to complete the game. Provided it's not overly difficult, I enjoy the process. It doesn't require much to engage in, but it's still really satisfying.
I was thinking about that need to finish something, because you can't really bottle it. There has to be some kind of intrinsic motivator behind the effort to be totally locked into finishing. I observe that Diana gets this out of quilting projects. I get it sometimes for certain software projects, but not as much as I used to since by their nature they're never really "done." I definitely had it when I was cutting video for a living. I think it's that I like having some finished product for something I work at.
Testing that theory that obsessive compulsive completion behavior is tied to intrinsic motivators would be interesting. Seems like a strange place to find joy, but there it is.
A few people who know me better than the rest of the world know that the song "Sound" by James is my all-time favorite song. It's hard to explain why, because it's really simple lyrically, but "big" in its sound. There are times where I'll listen to it and I feel like I'm instantly over any particular thing that's troubling me.
The line that used to stand out the most to me was this:
Do everything you fear. In this there's power. Fear is not to be afraid of.
I think that's still an important thing to remember, though the weight of it has been somewhat reduced by the last few generations turning "no fear" into a cliche and a T-shirt slogan. Fuckers.
These days, likely because of age and experience, the line that sticks out now is even more simple:
Laugh at the wonder of it all.
It's so easy to get wrapped up in shit storms, drama and the evil in the world that the most simple and amazing things are obscured. We stop noticing all of the old cliches that came before no fear, like flowers, puppies, baby smiles and rainbows. But you know, seeing my kid ride a tricycle is a wonder. So is the concentration Diana has when quilting, or the sleepy grooming habits of one of our cats. How do we sweat the small stuff but never see the important small stuff?
We have to remember to laugh more.