As March wraps up, I was looking deeper into the ad revenue for the sites. Specifically, I compared the dollars to March of last year, and discovered it was down by about two-thirds. Naturally, my next move was to compare the traffic, which was essentially the same. That's a little demoralizing.
When I started the first site back in 1998, I thought it was amazing that I could make $20 in a month because I published a site on the web. The next month, I covered the $50 that it was costing me. In 2001, the expenses were ridiculous, but I was able to cover the $1k per month to cover the costs (in no small part because I asked people for money).
The last six years have been incredibly unstable. The problem is that we (as in, most of the Internet) have largely been dependent on how Google's AdSense performs. The inconsistency is crazy. The way we work it is to set a minimum effective value (revenue per thousand page views), and anything they can't fill at that rate falls through to other ad providers that we've used for years with varying success. However, Google doesn't always respect the minimums we prescribe, and no one is paying the rates we saw years ago.
On the positive side, yes, the costs for hosting these sites has gone down considerably. On the other hand, software isn't any less expensive, and some of it has gone to subscription models which make it a lot harder to skip upgrades every three years or so (I'm looking at you, Adobe!).
Even though income was never the reason I got into these, it sure has helped me stay in them. It's a lot of work to keep it up and feed these things, and keep them fresh. I mean, it took us I don't know how many years to update PointBuzz, and that's a team effort! I'm looking at how CoasterBuzz needs another refresh too, after three years. My point is that it's nice to get a little something for the work you put into it.
Maybe the thing that bothers me the most is that I don't have any obvious plan of action to fix the problem. Shitty linkbait sites BuzzFeed and the like have devalued the page view to historic lows, so revenue by ads is not the model that it used to be. It's super frustrating.
I did a talk last weekend at Orlando Code Camp (which was completely awesome, by the way... ditto for everything I said last year), which was largely about anti-patterns. I had a couple of questions during the last talk, and in the hallway after, about the fact that people in our profession, developers and managers alike, often fail to question anything about process. Specifically, people never stop to ask if what they're doing is adding value.
I had brought it up in the context of testing code, that people will often test the most uninteresting thing that can't fail because there is no logic to test, just so they can say that it's covered. In the further chats we had, there was a broader point made about spending time on things that don't add value. Endless requirements, forms no one looks at... there is a pretty long list you could make.
So what is the problem? I've made the case before that software developers aren't the best at taking a vested interest in the problem. I suppose you could chalk it up to certain personality types that just want instructions and will go off and do the work, but I think that's an increasingly small percentage of developers. I think many want to understand the business that they're serving on a deeper level. It's a cultural shift that I've seen happening slowly the last ten years.
The thing is, narrowing the context to software developers probably doesn't do the problem justice. I think this is a widespread problem across all industries. It's not just that individuals don't bother to ask if they're adding value, it's that in many cases, they simply aren't permitted to. Managers and policy makers are in the same rut. They continue to check boxes because "we always did it this way," or some other silly position. Because they want to maintain order in a command-and-control hierarchy, they don't ask if what they or their people are doing are adding value either. It's not just an issue of efficiency, as this cultural establishment also stifles innovation and creativity.
In our line of work, there are certainly places that are changing the value questions (or lack thereof). Flat organizations, empowered, self-organizing teams and trust make it a lot easier to ask, "Is what I'm doing right now adding value?"
For all of the talk about whether or not theme park employees deserve higher pay, I'm often surprised at how often I see examples at Disney where people can ask the value adding question. For example, I've seen cast members get a dessert for an unhappy kid, or sacrifice ride loading efficiency to give an ASD kid the front seat. They're trusted to make a decision, even if it does mean breaking from convention. I dig that.
It's certainly not news to any parent that you have days where you just wish you could walk away for awhile. It's those days where your little saint seems more like satan. That's enough to enrage you, but then you find all kinds of reasons to invalidate your own feelings. That leads to resentment toward your kid and yourself.
Simon is one of the greatest things to happen in my life (though I won't call it an accomplishment, as reproducing is not generally complicated, health issues not withstanding). Every morning I make sure I see him before he goes to school, and I peek in to his room every night before going to bed. There's a whole lot of love in my life because of him.
Like any kid, he has his moments, but then throw in the ASD related stuff on top of it, and sometimes I just can't react logically anymore. As soon as I cross that threshold, I feel like a shitty parent. I start to think, well, at least he's physically healthy, and I know parents who have to deal with far greater issues like having a non-verbal kid. My problems aren't that bad, after all, right?
It's such an awful, self-destructive line of thinking, because it's not like there's a contest where the parent who has it hardest wins something. If it feels shitty in the moment, then it feels shitty in the moment. Sometimes it outright hurts. (Simon hits a lot, not to injure, but because of his related sensory issues. My nuts have taken the impact more times than I can count.) I just don't feel like I'm allowed to complain about the situation.
I'm getting better at this, because I'm starting to learn when to keep perspective, and when to allow myself to react and process anger and distress. Aside from a few brief issues last weekend on our cruise, Simon was awesome. I felt like we had a really special weekend. I have to allow myself to be frustrated with the moments that aren't like that.
Diana and I were talking the other day, finding something we surprisingly had in common about our previous careers in theater and TV. Neither one of us spent a lot of time in a performance capacity in our jobs, but with her as a stage manager and me directing a lot of live production, the fact is that we were essential to making our respective shows happen. There was a pretty serious high associated with that.
I won't speak to her experience, but her calling a show reminds me a lot of directing, so I totally get the rush that's involved with the gig. I did a lot of public meetings, which were totally uninteresting most of the time, but several times a month I had talking heads shows, and winter was filled with what I called "PBS orchestra concerts" at the high school, and my favorite thing, basketball games.
The games felt really rock-and-roll, because I had all of the gear in anvil cases. I was particularly proud of the racks, which were super clean in terms of all the internal cabling. Everything was cut to length and labeled. The two racks had an umbilical cord in between, connected by breakout panels. The cameras traveled in an obnoxiously padded trunk, and I had an ever bigger one to chuck in the tripods and camera cables. I loved the process of setting up before a game, running cables and stuff.
The funny thing is, I generally had volunteers operating the cameras for me, usually high school kids, but they did a pretty good job. We weren't shooting in HD in those days, so we could get away with a little bit of soft focus. I was always particularly impressed with the kids who could use the shoulder camera down on the floor, and not bitch about how much it weighed. My commentators were my one employee and a teacher (the latter of which eventually got busted for propositioning a student, eww).
Alas, while those were good times, the pay was terrible, and the hours made it a bit of a lifestyle job. I don't think I could do it now. I know Diana feels similarly, in that even a part-time commitment would be rough on family life. Right now she only works one or two nights a week as an usher, and that actually works out pretty well as far as not interfering with home life.
We finished our fifth cruise today, setting our Disney Castaway Club status to gold. That mostly doesn't mean anything, but we can book a little earlier for some itineraries and certain other things like port adventures (and cabanas). Oh, there's a reception with the crew as well for 4-night and longer trips, which we've yet to do.
So why have we done the 3-night Bahamian trip five times? The first was part of a plot to surprise my father-in-law, and having not done a cruise, we were surprised at how much fun we had. The other four were all booked once we lived in Orlando, and while not what I would describe as inexpensive, there are many reasons we like these short trips:
It's not boring or repetitive. This time in particular, we mixed up quite a bit of our activity. I do look forward to doing it with friends again, and that is on the radar. We very much want to do longer itineraries, we're just waiting for the right time and circumstances in relation to Simon.
This time, we had a particularly good waiter, and had some different food options. In fact, he pretty much threw the menu out the window to get dishes from the other restaurants (I'm a big fan of the tomato basil soup from Enchanted Garden, which you can get any night if you know to ask). He was also really good with Simon, which we needed given some of his recent behavior issues.
We also saw quite a few movies. The Buena Vista Theater is a really first-class movie theater. We finally saw Big Hero 6, and we loved it. Diana saw Into The Woods, and I saw Cinderella. On the last night we did see the stage show Believe, which is the best of the three. Also in the live-E category, I did the presentation about the making of the ship. Simon took to the mini-golf and foosball.
This was a big trip for us, because Simon has been challenging lately, and I was worried that this was going to affect our ability to travel. While there were a few instances of him being "hangry," he was a good boy most of the time. It's so good to see him interacting with other kids, and grownups. Those sweet moments with us don't hurt either.
There are about a million things that I love about living in Central Florida, but the water is not one of them. It isn't heavily treated because the soil it passes through before being pumped out of the ground does a pretty good job of filtering out the stuff that's really bad for you. It's not so much the hydrogen sulfide smell that bothers me (like a lot of things Orlando, it reminds me of vacation), but rather it's the hardness of it. Bathroom surfaces get filmy, and I swear my skin has reverted to having issues as if I was in college again.
As far as drinking water goes, like any other modern fridge that has a water tap, there's a filter. It does a remarkably good job of even getting out the hydrogen sulfide smell. But the problem is that I don't know that you can really install a whole-house filter or softener. People don't have basements here, so it's not like a single pipe comes in from underground and then distributes water around the house. A pipe comes in and enters your foundation, where it splits out. If you wanted to install one thing into the line, I assume you would have to do it in your front yard, between the house and the valve (which I think is somewhere in the lawn).
I guess that's the price of sun and palm trees.
It's crazy hard to believe that I launched v5 of CoasterBuzz almost three years ago. It still feels sort of new to me. I think I'm finally on the up swing of paying attention to it. My coaster enthusiasm admittedly waned a bit the last year and a half. Life has been busy, and there is definitely a cycle. It's time for a refresh.
That last update did quite a bit for traffic. The long-tail organic search traffic was crazy good after that. People aren't really making it a habit to hang around and contribute much, but even with declining ad revenue, those short and infrequent visitors are strangely more valuable (on a per-page basis) than frequent visitors. Go figure.
Some of the reason I'm interested in overhauling it is so I can start using the newer version of the forums, which is already in play on PointBuzz. To do that, I need to redo all of the markup to use Bootstrap. That's probably a good thing, because it gets to the responsive design that I should be using. Three years ago I went the route of different views for mobile, which I still think is a good idea in certain circumstances (way less markup and CSS), but for stuff that's more content than form UI, as this site is, responsive makes more sense.
So I'm not after anything new, just "roughly equivalent." It's mostly tedious and uninteresting work, but there will be some efficiencies for sure. I'm not going to go nuts on a new look, though I do want to try some new typography (which I hate doing).
One of the things that I always encounter in these redesigns is the square logo. Square logos are a pain in the ass. I know everyone hates Buzzy, but he's been with me for 15 years. I think I'll keep him, but I need something inspired by it that's horizontal.
There is one other motivating factor here: ASP.NET 5 is going to be radically different in terms of project layout and convention. Getting the forums there, and then a real site, is going to take some time to get right. I don't want to get too far behind on that. I feel like that's pretty important in terms of professional development.
It's not lost on me that all of this effort doesn't really consider the audience much, and I totally realize that. The problem is that I go through these long three or more year cycles, during which time frameworks and tools change enough that there is a ton of work just to stay current on that. Feature work almost becomes secondary. But I am still thinking about features... I just haven't decided what to work on first.
The weather comes up in conversation constantly. It's the basis of small talk with strangers, and the source of headlines in the news. (This just in: It snows in the Midwest and Northeast in winter!) I think people might spend more time talking about it than politics.
I have to come clean. I admit that I talk shit on Facebook about how awesome the weather is where I live. And why shouldn't I? It's just the opposite extreme of car dashboard photos with negative temperature numbers, or driveways full of snow.
But closing in on two years already in Central Florida, a deliberate choice in places to live because of the weather, I have to say that my general existence is made better by all of that sun. By January 2013, just a little more than a year after we moved back to Cleveland, we were done. The gray and the snow was so negatively impacting us that we had to get out. Seattle, by comparison, was tough in November and December, but the rest of the year was fine. And no part of the year locked you inside.
When my mom moved down here, I remember her saying how much better she physically felt after the move. Psychologically she felt better too. This all made sense to me, because summers in Cleveland are fantastic. Seattle isn't as warm, but there's considerably more sun than in Ohio (it's true... look it up).
The OC is not perfect. But let me tell you, the weather has an amazing way of making you feel more positive and filled with energy. I regret not moving and figuring this stuff out at least 10 years sooner.
One of the things that was rough about our first six months or so in Florida is that I took almost no time off. It's the trap you fall into when you work a contract job, because you don't get paid when you don't work. If that weren't enough, I was marathon saving for the house down payment. I was pretty burned out at that point.
There are some people who do nothing but work, neglecting most everything else in life that matters. Those people generally strike me as miserable. Even if you like what you do, you need to disconnect and take time off. American culture seems so against this for some reason. I used to bank a ton of time at my first "real" job, and I don't think I really understood the value of unplugging until I had no choice (when I was first laid-off, after about five years of post-college work). While that was a difficult time, at first it wasn't so much scary as it was a relief.
A vacation doesn't have to be a trip, though if you can afford it, you certainly should get away. There's something to be said for breaking your routine. Nothing exercises your mind like thinking about something different, or nothing at all. It restores perspective.
The problem I have is that I live where I took countless vacations, and I make the mistake that I feel like I am taking little vacations. This week, for example, some of our friends from Seattle were in town, visiting Walt Disney World. We went out to meet them for a few hours on Sunday, then again on Wednesday after work. We had such a good time, and my focus was entirely in the moment, enjoying their company. (They were part of our parents group, and Simon hasn't seen his friend in a little over three years.) We have days like this at least once a month, and they kind of push off the fact that we haven't had any extended time to engage in recreation.
And by the way, it's not just for me in my day job, but Diana's general household operation and supervision of Simon, along with her part-time job, is every bit as much work as my job.
We do have something on the books this summer that will go four or five days, and I welcome that. It should be a lot of fun, and we can mostly unplug and relax. We're still parents, but we're not engaged in our daily routine for trips like that. And by the way, that's why I like the cruises, even if they're not particularly original at this point. We show up, they float around and feed us, and you don't really need to think about anything. No usable Internet access either.
Use your vacation time, folks.
At some point late in 2004 or so, I stopped eating beef. It wasn't an intentional decision, really, but I had a more general feeling that I was eating way too much of it. I didn't feel healthy. By the time spring came in 2005 and I hit the life crisis what was my separation, I started to pay a little more attention to how much exercise I was getting and how much I weighed (which was about 25-ish pounds more than I do now). I decided at that point to stick to not eating beef. My cholesterol was ridiculous.
A decade later, and I still don't eat it. I don't miss it. It might be psychologically silly, but I associate it with being overweight and feeling like crap. Back in the day, I had way too many burgers (mostly fast food). Logically, the action to take would have been to just eat less, but I started to experiment with veggie burgers and many different ways to prepare chicken. Given the stressful time, I think I was grasping to take control of something, and these diet changes were symbolic of that.
I guess there aren't many commitments in my life that have been long term, so chalk this one up as something I'll continue to stick to. Marriage v2, going on six years. Beef-free, ten years. CoasterBuzz, 15 years.
While Simon actually turned 5 on Thursday, and had some desserts with friends at both of his classes, the festivities were really on Saturday.
Diana is of course the best mom ever, so she landed two awesome plans. First, she arranged a play date with Simon's neighborhood friends in the morning. There are three other families that we've gotten to know over the last year, with kids in Simon's range (one of the parents is also my coworker). We had a nice, no-pressure, no-gift requires little meet up that included cupcakes. I kind of liked this better than a big production of a birthday party, and Simon really enjoyed it too.
Mom's other score came from a coworker, who happens to also work at Blue Man Group, and she scored some comp tickets to see the show. Of course I've been a fan for almost a decade, but I introduced Simon to one of the videos a few years ago, and he was hooked. How convenient that moving to Orlando meant there was a local show! This was his third time seeing it, and he was really into it. We're so lucky to have such easy access to stuff like this, not to mention a network that gets us in free.
As far as gifts, to this point we've been lucky that Simon isn't much of a "I want that" kind of kid (though he's starting to understand that you can take things home from Target if you give them money). We actually had a couple of things in the queue already. We had at Christmas a Spaceship Earth (Epcot) toy that we got super cheap as an open-box. It's a poorly designed toy, but the kid loves the ride. Diana also encountered this really cool car/track toy at the local science museum called NeoTracks, and we bought that hoping he would be willing to experiment with different layouts because it's so easy to snap apart and together. We're just trying to use more imagination, so we'll see how it goes.
Even though we didn't ask for gifts, my coworker bought him another parking lot tram, one of his favorite wheeled toys, and one of the other neighbors brought him a ton of Lego that they acquired. He got hooked up!
I hope the birthday was memorable for Simon to some degree, but at least I know it was memorable for us. He's been a handful lately in terms of doing what we ask (a problem spreading to school, unfortunately), but he was generally pleasant and sweet this weekend. This afternoon, while Diana was at work, we've had a nice quiet afternoon at home. I love that little boy so much, and even though he's not good at chilling out and watching TV for much more than 10 minutes, I'll take that cuddle time and cherish it. I know it won't last much longer.
I think there will definitely be some challenges this year, but we're pretty engaged with him, and getting a better feel for when we should help, and when he should struggle to learn. Who knows what the next year will bring!
This post isn't about that fantastic song by Elle King (seriously, check it out), but rather my ex's. I've noticed lately there is an expectation by some that you can't or shouldn't be friends with your ex's. I think that's crap.
Now, I have to make the usual disclaimers that this is not a universal truth. I have friends who learned that their spouses were going to be featured on "To Catch A Predator," and others who were the victims of intense physical or emotional abuse. Other were with convicted felons. These are absolutely not situations where your ex should in your life. Let's use common sense.
Something that is a universal truth is that every relationship ends in a break up or death. I'm not trying to be morbid or anything, it's just a fact. People split for a variety of reasons, but presumably they had some kind of intense connection at some point. There was time and emotion invested in it. It probably wasn't friendly when it ended, or it was friendly, with accepted differences and agreement that it was time to move on. Things change at that point, and you stop seeing each other naked, you don't cohabitate, etc. It doesn't mean that you can't be friends anymore.
Including Diana, I've had about four great loves in my life. (Maybe five, but the first was so immature that I'm not even sure it counts.) The previous relationships vary from marriage to something not easily defined, but they were real, they were intense, and they were important to me. Today, I'm still friends with them all, they've all met each other, and we're all adults. I credit Diana with not feeling threatened by this, but also for understanding that these are people who can't just be undone as a part of who I am. She even has the running joke of her "Thing 2" T-shirt (from Cat-In-The-Hat) indicating that she's my second wife. And you know, if it were a contest, she wins because we are in fact married.
There are definitely psychological reasons to persist these friendships, not the least of which is that you want to have something from the time you put into it. You shared good times, and were probably there for each other, so unless one of those really toxic things mentioned above were involved, I don't see why you can't continue to be friends even though the romance is gone. It would be hurtful if you couldn't eventually get to that point.
Maybe what bothers me more is that some people can be judgmental about it. That's a statement on a bigger problem though. People get all judgey about a lot of relationships that may be perfectly functional even if you don't understand them (you know, like inter-racial or gay relationships, polygamy, non-marriage partnerships, etc.). I'm sorry if you can't be friends with your ex, but if someone else can, it has nothing to do with you.
Where do I start? My little boy is 5-years-old. I can say without question that nothing in my life has ever been more insane than having a child. It's not that I was unprepared or anything like that. In fact, it's every bit as awesome and hard as I expected.
That day that he was born seems like yesterday. I remember every sleep-deprived moment of it in every detail.
The kid lived in five different places before he even turned 4, which I don't feel good about. I want him to remember though that he was born in Seattle. Being a white kid without any serious ethnic or national identity without going three generations back is a drag, but he at least was born in one of the most beautiful places in the country.
Simon has been overflowing with personality since day one, even if it was just in the funny way he started to verbalize. He has made us laugh so much over the last five years. It's not always puppies and rainbows of course, but the love he has brought into our lives is immeasurable.
When Simon was diagnosed with ASD last year, and SPD before that, there was never any particular sadness or despair on our part. In fact, it was very much a welcomed message for us because it meant we could take action on how to help our boy. These certainly add some challenges to raising him, especially in his early years, but we've committed a lot of money and energy to making sure he has the help he needs. His prospects are pretty good overall, and the experts see no issue with him going on to college and being successful, if he chooses that route.
Can he be difficult? Absolutely. He shares some of my less desirable traits. It's funny how someone who did not exist 37 years ago, when I was his age, can teach me so much about myself and why I am the way I am. And of course it scares the shit out of me that I'm responsible for not screwing him up too much. At the same time, his potential for greatness is a rush.
Despite the difficult parts, it's hard to top those moments where he bounces off of the school bus or comes running to me screaming "Daddy!" when I get home. It's not easy, but it's worth it. I love seeing this beautiful little human being evolve into something more. I can't wait to see how the next five years go!
The Internet is ripe with stories of epiphany, where someone makes some life-changing realization that causes them to instantly shit rainbows and puppies, for the rest of their lives. This kind of breakthrough narrative isn't particularly inspirational for me, I suppose because the realizations are rarely non-obvious. If there's one thing that I've tried very hard to be in the last 10 years, it's self-aware. If you can commit to that, it's funny how so many things about life are obvious.
So as far as epiphanies go, I've had plenty. They aren't very hard to come by. Practicing these great nuggets of life-altering joygasms is something entirely different. For example, when I unexpectedly re-entered the world of dating, my goal was largely to land a new partner and live happily ever after. More to the point, I was entirely focused on outcomes and the future, and almost completely incapable of living in the moment. Moments were about worrying if there would be more moments.
Then one day, while having a moment with someone I was hoping I would have more moments with, it occurred to me that I was completely focused on when we would next have a moment. The intensity and joy of the moment was nearly lost on me. That was when I had the epiphany that I needed to live in the moment. I was having a human connection in a way that perhaps some people may not get to have at all, and I was squandering it.
That was an important moment for me. But as important as the realization was, it didn't change my behavior instantaneously. It has taken a great deal of practice to get it right, and I still don't always remember. With Simon, I've tried to enjoy the simplest moments, and really take them in. Whether it was just rocking with him as an infant, or watching his smiles and screams on a roller coaster ride, I try to slow down time and take it in. Similarly, I've tried to enjoy the times in those romantic and friend relationships.
Still, I get hung up on the future. I think about how I have to save money. I get anxious if I don't have my next vacation planned. I worry that I might be getting away from life in the moment, maybe because I'm heading toward mid-life.
The need to live in the moment is just one of many epiphanies I've had about ways to make my life better. I can't say any of them are easy. Self-awareness, as it turns out, isn't enough to instigate meaningful change. Change isn't that easy.