22 bandages

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 16, 2018, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

Tonight I helped Simon take off 22 bandages before taking a shower. As horrible as it sounds, it was 25 last time, so this is an improvement. The bandages cover the places on his skin that he picked until it bled, mostly on his forearms and lower legs.

I've been thinking about whether or not I would write about this for some time. I used to write about his autism spectrum disorder diagnosis quite a bit. There was something that seemed obvious about the path for that, even though ASD can encompass so many things and every kid can be wildly different. In Simon's case, it was clearly an issue with inflexible thinking, but socially he was still a loving kid and he didn't seem to be cognitively impaired. Even now, I don't feel like he isn't smart enough, but a double knot or shoe laces that won't stay tied are a show stopper, and seeing a word problem in school preempts him from attempting to solve it (I think this is because he sees it with pre-ADHD med eyes, not because of the ADHD).

But the ADHD challenge, and some of the things that may or may not be associated with it, are different, and harder to talk about. Still, I want to write about it capture how I'm feeling at the moment, so I can refer back to it, but also because I know that parents have a way of finding this sort of thing and taking comfort in knowing they're not alone. So here we are.

I hate that we're medicating the kid without therapy, but we have little choice. There are no qualified therapists even remotely near us, and they're not covered by insurance. The pediatric psychiatrist that we do see is on the other side of town, collects a $50 co-pay each visit, and there are at best two or three people who do what she does in greater Orlando. That's frustrating because I'm not at all satisfied with her results, but we don't have a lot of choices. The school concentration drug prescription took some experimentation, but we have something that sort of works now (after a $300 DNA test explained what works and won't).

His concentration in school is better, but again, there are certain things he won't even attempt. We see this at home with the simplest things, but sometimes that might be because we've offered him shortcuts or accommodations. I don't think that's what's going on for school work, because if he knows he'll be penalized for incomplete work, the reaction is intense and emotional and crushing on his self esteem. It's not the reaction I would expect if he simply wasn't interested (something I was intimately familiar with in school).

In addition to the amphetamine he takes on school days, he's also on a med for anxiety (which was something initially prescribed so he could participate in therapy), and another one that kind of amplifies the amphetamine effects and might have reduced the picking. He's picked his fingers for a long time, the pads, not the cuticles, but at some point it started on his arms and legs. This is the most upsetting thing. I can roll with academic challenges and social contracts his ASD brain can't reconcile, but this is something completely different. We have him wearing long sleeves and pants at all times now, as well as some long tube socks so he can't get to his legs. Sometimes we have him wear gloves. This is only going to work so well in Florida, where it will be 90 degrees every day again soon.

His teachers the last two years are nothing short of saints for doing their best to help him. We've been pretty lucky for two years in a row. They've given insight to his social scene, too, which isn't ideal, because kids can be real dicks. He's kind of the "weird kid" at times, and being covered in bandages isn't going to make that easier.

Also, as an aside, the support of kids who have any kind of psychological challenge in public schools is completely inadequate. You could add a school psychologist to literally every public school in American for the price of 7 stealth bombers that the joint chiefs say they don't need, but you know, no one will touch that sacred cow.

I'm not looking for sympathy or attention with this, I just need to vent. Tonight, after peeling off all of those band-aids, I watched him in the shower and kept him on-task, making sure he didn't pick. I dried him off and immediately followed him to get his pajamas on (long sleeves/pants). I monitored his teeth brushing, then trimmed his finger nails and put a few new bandages on his worst fingers. I used Band-Aid® antiseptic stuff on all of his wounds, which will hopefully get a little breathing overnight. Then I laid down next to him until he fell asleep to make sure he didn't hurt himself anymore tonight.


Amazon Echo vs. Google Home: FIGHT!

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 15, 2018, 10:49 PM | comments: 0

We've been Amazon Echo people for more than a year. I bought one on a whim, and the some Hue lights and other stuff, and I got pretty hooked on all of that connected gadgetness. Before you knew it, we had five Echo Dots around the house. They're useful for shouting out a question about cups to ounces or whatever, and definitely helpful to turn lights on and off or tweak the air conditioner. But really, the killer app for me is the music. The little speakers don't sound all that great, but for the ten minutes you're in the bathroom, it's good enough. In my office, I have one plugged into my computer speakers, and in the living room, I have one plugged into the stereo.

In 2010, I think it was, Amazon opened up their music service to let you upload 250,000 of your own songs into their storage, for $25 a year. I put about 5k files up there. Truthfully, I did this mostly for the backup angle, but I was able to listen anywhere from a web browser. It wasn't until I finally flipped from Windows Phone to Android that I could start doing it on my phone, late 2015. Then the Echos put it everywhere in my house, and we were shouting at Alexa from all angles. They even baked it into the FireTV, which we already had.

Then, last year, they announced that the music "locker" service was going away, not counting anything you bought from them. It's still unclear what they mean though. They're not taking on new customers, for sure, but the messaging on Amazon's subscription page seems to imply that as long as you keep renewing it automatically every year, you can keep everything up there. So I don't know what exactly will happen, but it has me spooked. You might ask why I'm not just content to use one of the streaming services, and that's a fair question. Simply put, I want to own my stuff. If some artist doesn't strike a deal and their catalog disappears, that sucks. I'm possibly a relic from the old days of physical media (collectible as it was), and that's fine.

When me and my team won a bunch of Google Homes at the Intuit hackathon we did in November, I wasn't exactly sure what I'd do with the speaker, but I did plug it in and cast some songs to it. I was surprised at how good it sounded. When the Amazon announcement came, I found out that Google let you upload a bunch of music for free into their service, so I tried that out. The phone app is way better than Amazon's offering, so at the very least it seemed like a compelling alternative. I don't have a ton of playlists to convert, so jumping ship would be fairly low friction.

The freebies didn't end there. When we ordered Pixel 2 phones, (in addition to $200 in Project Fi credits and $395 in trades for our phones), we scored free Google Home Mini's. So all of a sudden, we're at system parity with Amazon. I had to buy a $35 Chromecast to make the music to my receiver work (the Home Mini won't send audio via Bluetooth to the receiver the way the Echo can), but that fills in the YouTube gap caused by the nonsense between Google and Amazon over FireTV. Here are some comparisons between the two ecosystems.

Music

As I said, Google has the better music app over Amazon, at least on Android. The web app is even better, and makes it super easy to cleanly edit metadata when necessary. The matching algorithm had split some albums on album artist for some reason, but it didn't take long to resolve. Playlist editing is better on the Google UI's as well. And of course, if you're a new customer, you can't upload anything to Amazon's service anyway.

Related, the sound of a Google Home Mini is vastly superior to an Echo Dot. I'm sure a full-size Echo sounds good, but the Dot model isn't much better than a cell phone. Not a big deal when it's answering commands, but music should be better. It's still not going to impress audiophiles or anything, but it's pretty solid for that pre-bed ritual.

There is a snag today. Some albums won't play on the speakers, saying I need a subscription even though it's in my library. Others will play, but skip most of the tracks. I used the chat on a help page, and apparently there's a known issue that they're working on. The support agent promised to call me tomorrow, if you can believe that. Playlists work fine.

Home Automation

There isn't a ton of difference here. Hue responds faster on Google than Amazon for some reason, if that half-second matters to you. Google doesn't know how to do Hue scenes, which the Echo treats as devices.

Configuration App

The Alexa app and Google Home app have similar card systems that are generally useless, but Google's is still better in the way it allows you adjust volume and change settings on devices. It also allows you to direct output of media to different devices, so you can have your living room Home Mini output sound to the Chromecast, for example. It's also just laid out more logically, with "devices" a top level skill.

Assistant Stuff

Alexa can read your calendar from Office 365, Gmail and G-Suite, whereas Google can only do Gmail. That's a huge failure if that's important to you, especially because it won't do G-Suite, which is where my stuff lives. Figure that out... Amazon can do it, but Google can't do it and they own the product. Beyond that, it will do the usual kinds of reminders and alarms and such. Amazon technically wins there though, because you can have Alec Baldwin wake you up, and that's amazing.

Video

This really comes down to control issues. FireTV comes with a remote and a full on user interface to navigate Amazon offerings as well as third-party apps like Netflix and Hulu. If you buy movies digitally, it almost doesn't matter where you do it now that all of the services tie in to Movies Anywhere, despite a few studio holdouts. The FireTV is also the conduit to all of the free stuff that comes with Prime. Some of it is pretty damn good, especially the original stuff.

The Google world centers on the Chromecast, which is like a FireTV but without the apps or a remote. Instead, you use the apps on your phone to "cast" stuff to it. This is a sweet arrangement in a lot of ways, because there's no pairing to do as with Bluetooth. I can browse and push music to a speaker with my phone (and using either Google Play Music or Amazon Music, no less), which is better than trying to shout out the name of the album you can't remember. But for video, I'm not a huge fan. I'm just running down the battery on my phone doing complex browsing instead of arrowing a cursor around. Obviously I don't get the Prime exclusives, but at least I get the YouTube back, which we mostly use for rocket launches.

Summary

For music, as long as they get the album problem worked out, Google wins hands down. The apps are so much better, and the little speakers sound better. Video is better with FireTV. The home automation and peripheral stuff is all kind of a draw. At this point, it doesn't cost me anything to have both, but the music situation is the one I care most about. 

Oh, and before you offer some freak out paranoid rant, seriously, I have no shits to give about who might learn when my lights are on (hint: when it's dark) or when my air conditioning is running (hint: when it's hot). I realize that there are some privacy implications and trust issues around the use of data generated by the gadgets, but the very fact that I'm blogging about it in detail should give you some indication about why it's not that important.


Social media, and how the Internet was supposed to be

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 10, 2018, 11:58 PM | comments: 0

I'm not sure when the term "social media" was coined, but it didn't seem to really get tossed around until it was clear the Facebook and Twitter weren't going away. It just feels silly because long before these institutions were founded, we had things like AOL Instant Messenger (RIP), Usenet, countless forums and even Live Journal. Heck, my idea for Campus Fish predated Facebook by several years, and even targeted college kids (I mistakenly thought they'd pay for a place to post a blog and photos, though in my defense, this was pre-Napster). My point is that getting out among people in a virtual sense was hardly something invented by the big services, they just refined it and hit the critical mass first.

Before the days of ubiquitous connectivity, which started to really come into its own with the second iPhone and public WiFi starting to appear all over, the Internet was largely tied to desktop and laptop computers. The gateway was the browser. There was something fantastic about the fact that popular sites were not made by any of the "old" media companies. Every niche had its own home-grown players. Sure, Google started owning search early on, but the best stuff often came from recommendations from friends. Anyone could win on the Internet, you just needed something compelling that people would keep coming back for. There was even a rich system of companies anxious to sell advertising on your behalf. I paid my mortgage that way for a long time.

Then certain players emerged as bigger winners. Facebook and Twitter were the biggest in terms of mind share and engagement, even if they didn't make money at first. Google won not only as the gateway to everything, but also started owning an alarming portion of the ad market. For a lot of people, Google and Facebook are the Internet. The mobile transition made this even worse, with apps and shells in the mobile operating systems walling you off from the Internet at large. Entire industries cropped up around trying to game Google to make sure your thing showed up first in the search results. YouTube, part of Google, became the de facto Internet TV station.

With these established platforms, we've seen another strange phenomenon: People who get famous for no particular reason. I've been seeing these stories lately about this Logan Paul guy and the stupid shit he's been doing on YouTube, apparently making a ton of money. It has caught up with him, in that Google is suspending his pay for violating "community guidelines" or something, but he's still defiant and doesn't appear to be learning anything from the experience. How weird is that... a person with no life experience or clue about how to conduct yourself as a contributor to society makes money for that inexperience. That's what our culture is rewarding. (Which you already know... we elected a morally bankrupt reality TV star to the White House.)

The promise of the Internet was that it was the great equalizer. Anyone could make something and be the next big thing. What happened in practice is that a half-dozen companies are the platforms, instead of the Internet itself being the platform. And the stuff that has risen about has in many ways been of the lowest possible quality. That's discouraging, but considering the way reality TV took off even before the Internet became a daily fixture in our lives, I guess I'm not surprised. The most frustrating thing about that is that it's never been cheaper or easier to respond to popularity. It once cost me a grand a month to keep my little hobby sites on the air. Today, with half that amount, I could scale up to accommodate massive traffic with some button clicks if I had to.

It's not all bad. The ability to raise money for non-profits has become extraordinary. Ubiquitous connectivity means the death of locally installed software, and software-as-a-service is what I do for a living, competing against incumbents with inferior product. Buying basic essentials doesn't even require making lists and going to a store, as you can just push a button on a refrigerator magnet to get more soap delivered. Connected devices figure out the most efficient way to heat my house and put my lights on timers that I can turn on from anywhere. I can talk to my car and it maps out directions on a 17" touch screen. I even bought that car without having to fuck around with a morally questionable dealership. The Internet has without question made life better.

I'm not sure what we do about it, but the difference between me and the people who watch this Logan Paul guy is that they watch him and I don't. Despite the fact that the Internet has almost everything to do with my professional success, it's not a substitute for real human interaction and meaning. Social media is great for keeping in touch with the friends I've made all over the world, but at the end of the day, I want to hang out with my wife and kid, people in the neighborhood, real-life friends. When I do consume electronic media of any kind, it has to have some value to it beyond, "That's popular." Why have we lowered the bar so much?

My going theory is that nothing has really changed in terms of human social behavior, it's just more obvious and pronounced now because the cost of surfacing it (loudly) is so low. That's why I'm annoyed when people make some kind of "kids today!" comment. I'm still not convinced that any generation is worse than the previous.


Two stressful things

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 10, 2018, 6:19 PM | comments: 0

In November, I downloaded Chip Gaines' book Capital Gaines as something of an impulse buy as I boarded for a cross-country flight. It's pretty light reading, and while he seems like someone who you'd want to have a beer with, you wonder if anything ever gets to him. His life advice is a little flowery, but the wisdom of his and Joanna's decision to quit doing their show Fixer Upper is pretty solid. They believe that you only really have bandwidth to do two things really well. They had the show, their business and their family, and something had to give.

I think he's right, but I would extend his philosophy to suggest that you can only effectively deal with two stressful things at a time. I feel like I'm coming up for air. I've had three situations: An impending product launch at work, delays in the closing of my house sale and a kid wearing 25 bandages because he can't stop compulsively picking holes in his skin. The product launch happened, and I'm hopefully closing in a week or so. The hardest of those situations is still with me, but with the others subsiding, I feel like I can cope.

So if you've got more than two big stressful things affecting you, what do you do about it? We can control the things we go full-on into, but the things that cause us stress are often things we can't abandon. You know, like our child. I try to make time to do stuff that is more me-oriented, and get physically away, but this is hard. As fond as I am of saying, "We all make choices," I don't always follow through.

You don't need permission to exercise self-care, but you can tell others that you need it. That's where I often have a hard time. I need "me time" and instead of asking for it, I start to resent everyone around me. That's certainly not healthy. You also need to make it a frequent practice, maybe even schedule it, if it helps. I for one tend to consider vacation time my self-care opportunities, but sometimes I go months in between. Heck, last time I didn't even go anywhere, and I just spent the week at home.

If your stressful thing count is over two, take a break. You won't feel better by wallowing in your stress.


American inspiration comes from making things, together

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 10:58 PM | comments: 0

Today was a big day for SpaceX, as it successfully launched its Falcon Heavy rocket, a device that can lift twice the mass into space at half the cost of its nearest competitor. If that weren't enough, they then landed two of the boosters, simultaneously, which is awesome in part because they had already been flown previously. The third booster failed to light two of its three engines to land on the drone ship at sea, but the cargo is now headed into an elliptical orbit that will intersect the Mars orbit at the far end. That's a whole lot of achievement for a test flight.

Falcon Heavy is a thing because there are 6,000 people working at SpaceX to make it happen. They're led by Elon Musk, an immigrant who changed the way we exchange money (PayPal), drive cars (Tesla), power islands and our homes (also Tesla) and now put stuff in space. In an era where it seems like America exists only to consume and not to create, to put down instead of lift up, we have this industrialist who continues to change the world and prove that we can in fact make things while making the world better. Today an American company put a sports car in space (instead of something generically heavy) just to prove it could be done.

I don't have much in common with Elon Musk, except perhaps my overly optimistic timelines. For the last year and change, I've been leading product development at a startup that is growing very quickly now. My initial mission has been to get it to a place where it could scale and be maintained, and it took longer than I expected.

Today, we put a customer on that new platform. It was a big day for us, too. When I started that effort, I decided we should code name the project "Gemini," because it was the second big release for us, just as it was the second major era of human spaceflight for NASA. We don't have 6,000 people working on it, but we do have around a dozen. We're not changing the world, but we're definitely changing the lives of our customers in ways that excite them every day. The impact is powerful and exciting. We're making things.

It seems like hate dominates our political and cultural discourse these days, and gets to be a drag. That's why I find the SpaceX story, and indeed my own, to be a source of inspiration. I've written many times about intrinsic motivators, the real things that compel us to achieve things. Spectacular outcomes are certainly one of those motivators, but so is the opportunity to work with excellent people. It's my favorite thing about my profession, that I get so many chances to work with smart people from all over the world. 

Ask yourself, every day, "What am I doing to create something great?" It's not all on you alone. Surround yourself with great people, encourage them and they will inspire you. That, to me, is the American dream.


Review: HP Spectre x360 laptop (13", late 2017)

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 5, 2018, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

(If I'm reading the Internets right, the laptop I bought is the third iteration of HP's convertible 2-in-1 laptablet thingy. For clarity, it's the one that has an i7-8550U CPU, the newest iteration of Intel's 4-core mobile thing. I'll also add that this review is largely from the perspective of a developer who is Windows-centric in terms of tooling.)

I wrote about this previously, but I had an extraordinary run of 12 years of Apple laptops. Going Intel was the thing that made me an Apple convert, because I always liked OS X (now, er, again MacOS) as a daily driver. It meant that I could do regular computer stuff, before smart phones took off, on a better OS, and then run Windows when I had to do work stuff. In fact, it might be kind of weird that for a dozen years, I was using Macs for all of my development work, even though my career has mostly revolved around a platform that was Windows-based. (I say mostly because technically, the latest bits run on most any platform, despite being from Microsoft.) Virtual machines got it done, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future on my desktop iMac, which is what I use for work, remotely.

Funny though how my computers are running a parallel to phones, just in a slower sense. My last iPhone was a 3Gs, before I flipped to Windows Phone for four years, then Android. It's not that I had anything against the iPhone, and iOS has still been the dominant tablet platform at my house. It's just that the phones had a short update cycle and were way more expensive than most options on the WP and then Android platforms, without being worth the premium. That wasn't the case with laptops... spec for spec, the Apple laptops were better hardware at the same price point. That was the case when I bought my last MacBook Pro back in 2014, and frankly it was the only choice with a high resolution ("retina") screen. I love me some pixels, and having text that looks "painted on" the screen.

My last MBP came out in late 2013, so it was 4-year-old technology. It only had 8 gigs of memory, meaning dev work was contained to a VM that had only 6 gigs. In terms of raw performance, it was still adequate, but hitting 6 gigs and swapping memory to disk came fast in a development world where you're using all kinds of distributed computing on a local environment. I needed more memory. A 16 gig MacBook Pro was well in excess of $2k, which is too much. The reviews for the latest iteration of HP's 13" Spectre x360, with 16 gigs of RAM, a 512 gig SSD, the latest i7 CPU, a 4K screen, pen input and tablet mode clocked in at $1,400 on sale at Best Buy. There's no universe in the Apple world that comes even close to that. They're not even using the new CPU parts yet.

Build quality

I don't know what the materials are that this machine is made from. It's some kind of metal, and unlike the really nice Dell machines made for the last few years, it feels metal. I got the "dark ash silver" color, which is not silver in any way. You know the "antique bronze" that's all the rage in door knob, lighting and kitchen faucet hardware? It's that color, with the more gold-ish color on the sides and trim. It's really lovely, and not feminine like the rose-gold that Apple is doing. it feels very solid in every way, which is no small accomplishment with a machine where you can flip around the screen all the way back to make it a tablet.

As a laptop, the palm rest is large enough to be comfortable, and it doesn't have the sharp edge that my MacBook Pro had, irritating your wrists. I worried that the touch pad should be taller, but it has felt totally right, and it has a bona fide mechanical click to it (another thing the newer Macs don't have). The fingerprint sensor, one of several ways to login, is on the side, right where you'd pick up the machine. Everything about the machine looks and feels premium. When I think about the last HP I had, circa 2005, it's a night-and-day difference.

Connectivity, hardware and accessories

USB-C is an awesome thing. I've had it as my phone charging and accessory port now for more than two years. On most laptops, it's even better, because they're pushing the data bandwidth of Thunderbolt 3 over it. So you have the cable spec that can push up to 100 watts for charging (included charger does 65W), and data transfer that's four times the speed of USB 3.1. You can connect a high-end graphics card in an external enclosure if you need to, which is intriguing if I wanted to do high end gaming. Overall though, there are two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and you can use either one for charging, and real type-A USB 3.1 port, and this seems more than adequate for any external connection. The power supply is right out of Apple's playbook, with a collapsible plug interchanged with a grounded cable.

As I said, the fingerprint scanner is along the right side, where you would naturally hold the laptop by the sides. There's a volume rocker switch there, too. The left side has the power button, which lights with an LED when it's on or in sleep mode, and there's a headphone jack that supports the usual 4-conductor headphone-with-microphone device.

Like most laptops, there are fans that will crank up when you start demanding a lot from the CPU or GPU. During the course of usual web use, video viewing and Outlook or Word use, they don't come on. The machine stays pretty cool to the tough. Start installing software or doing something CPU-intensive, and yes, the fan noise will be audible.

The keyboard has really nice key travel, about on par with my 2013 MacBook Pro, and the backlighting is similarly good. What I love having as a developer is an insert key. If you use Resharper in Visual Studio, you know why this is great from a keyboard shortcut standpoint. The track pad is super smooth and great, even though I can't tell what it's made of. As I mentioned, it has real clicks (as opposed to the haptic thing), and it does all of the usual gestures. It might be a setting I haven't found yet, but it doesn't do the "inertial" scrolling that the Mac does. Only sometimes does that feel weird, but it would definitely feel complete if it did that.

This is a touch screen model, with a 4K screen. At my last job, I had a Dell with an HD (1920x1080) screen at 15", and while it was a great screen, there's something to be said for the higher pixel density of Apple's "retina" screens, and this panel at 3840x2160. It reminds me of the invisible pixels on better phones of the last 6 years or so. It's better than standard HD, and I can feel it. I can't tell the difference between it and my 13" MacBook Pro, but the rendering and typography on Windows definitely benefits from a higher resolution. The higher resolution comes at a battery cost, and whatever it is, it's worth it. Also, being able to touch the screen trumps Apple's silly touch bar thing, and not just because you get to keep your function keys at all times (another developer thing, I'm sure).

So what about that tablet mode? I have a Surface Pro 3, which is a remarkable piece of engineering. To rip off the keyboard and have a real tablet is great. But as a PC, it's awkward. The kickstand works, but not so much if you're not at a desk or table. It's "lapability" isn't great. So as a hardware designer, you have to ask yourself: What are the hardware use case proportions, and should we design for the majority scenario? I think I probably have used by Surface Pro in tablet mode 3% of the time, and even then with a pen. I love it, but it's a rare scenario. The HP allows you to fold the screen back to make a (relatively) chunky tablet to touch or draw on with the included pen. This is ideal, because it's the exception use case, not the rule. I love to sketch out a UI with the pen in OneNote, but I'd rather have something chunky for that rarity than a laptop that doesn't sit on my lap well.

As a side note, I haven't used it as a "tent" to Netflix and chill or whatever, but when traveling, I could see why that would be awesome.

The stock BIOS setting suck, but you can roll with that. Until you mess with them, it won't show your time remaining for the battery in Windows. There were other things as well that I don't remember, but the only real trick was knowing you had to jam the ESC key to get the menu to do F10 to change the settings. You'll figure it out.

This comprooder has not only the fingerprint sensor, but also an infrared camera that enables Windows Hello, the mechanism that allows you to login with your face. Holy crap, it's awesome. Open the computer after sleeping, and it flashes its infrared lights at you, and you're logged in because you have pretty blue eyes like me. If I'm being honest, this is not any more remarkable or convenient than the fact that I'm already picking up the computer by the sides and putting my finger where the fingerprint sensor is, but it's still pretty cool. I know iPhones do this as well (years after Windows computers), but at least in the Pixel world, I'm picking the phone up and it's authenticating me where my finger already is before the screen even comes on.

Battery life is hard to peg down so far, but I'm assuming that for basic non-developer work, you could probably get 10 hours out of it. For developer work, with multiple instance of Visual Studio open, doing "developer stuff," I'm guessing 8 hours. I just haven't put together enough continuous hours to have a good sense of things yet.

Software

OK, so this isn't typical, but I had to blow away the Windows install and do my own. No offense, HP, but I just don't know what all that shit you loaded in there does, or why I need it. Sure, there are about a dozen driver packages to install from HP, and a BIOS update that makes thermal management a little less noisy, but once I got there, the clean Windows install was good. The slightly annoying thing for me was getting Windows to accept an MSDN license key for Windows 10 Pro instead of Home, which I wanted so I could enable Bitlocker (it encrypts the drive). It took several tries.

Actually, it took a day of dicking around with Windows to make everything work as expected. In the old Mac world, this was rarely an issue because once you have a Windows VM setup the way you like it, you don't have to do anything ever again. You just copy it from machine to machine. It also doesn't have to deal with drivers and exotic stuff that varies from computer to computer. Windows still does some infuriating stuff and buries settings all over the place. For example, I changed a group security policy, so I could delete anything regardless of file ownership, and this broke setting up Windows Hello (biometric) logins. WTF? Why are they even related?

This is kind of a hardware issue too, but I think that Windows' Bitlocker tech is pretty great. Essentially it uses your login information, in combination with a TPM (trusted platform module) chip in the computer to encrypt all of your shit. Sure, the Mac kind of has this as well if you set it up, but this is full-on encrypt everything, including the OS outside of your home folder, and you can unlock it with your cloud-based Microsoft account.

Windows still is kind of messy to mess with compared to MacOS. I imagine that 80% of people don't need to mess with it, but I still find myself going into various management consoles to do stuff. My darling wife points out that this is probably not most people, and most people would be just fine not doing a fresh install of Windows. She's probably right. But even in my VM's on MacOS, sometimes I would have to go in and mess with some obscure thing just to roll with daily use. I think objectively, MacOS is a better platform for John Q. User, but it too has compromises. Security is probably better on Windows if you use Bitlocker (never thought I'd say that).

Development

I make software for a living. Or as my coworkers would suggest, I develop in Outlook and Visio. (Jerks.) In any case, I spend a lot of time using tools like Visual Studio, SQL Server Management Studio and things that simulate cloud environments like Azure Storage Simulator or Redis cache (fired up through the Windows Linux Subsystem running Ubuntu). So far, the most I've pushed is 10 gigs of memory, but this illustrates why 16 is better than 8.

Building is fast and furious, as is loading a big solution with lots of projects. Having Resharper running with Visual Studio doesn't seem to exact any penalty, which is a nice feeling, and frankly not one I've had on my other computers recently.

The keyboard and track pad feel right, with good travel on the keys and enough room to swipe around. More importantly for a developer, the function keys are all actual physical keys, and there's a BIOS setting to make them default to F keys, requiring the Fn modifier when you want to use the hardware functions (brightness, volume, and such). There's also an insert key, which is used by default in a lot of keyboard shortcuts.

Windows typography choices aren't great, though some of this is a function of screen resolution. Old school, low density monitors make text look chunky regardless of font, but you can see a difference between MacOS and Windows. A 15" laptop running HD (1920x1080) makes this better, but it's still not great. However, put four times as many pixels on a 13" screen, and the text looks painted on regardless of font. Consolas never looked so good, the way it does in UHD.

Conclusions

The big story here starts with price. I found it on sale for $1,400, which is an extraordinary deal for something so well designed with high specs. It doesn't have killer 3D hardware, but that probably doesn't matter if you're not a gamer. Dell, Acer and the like can compete sometimes, but even then, HP's design is still better. (Dell: When will you listen to everyone telling you not to put a camera at the bottom of the screen, looking up noses?) And Apple, we know they operate on enormous margins, but the new MacBook Pros aren't $900 better. They're not better at all if you go on specs.

Windows 10 is a lot better than it was, but sometimes the tablet-laptop straddle is an awkward thing in software. In hardware terms, this makes for a chunky tablet, but as the secondary use case, it's more than workable. For those few times a year where I start sketching out stuff, this is more than adequate. For the rest of the time, it succeeds where my Surface Pro 3 did not: On my lap.

So far, so good. I'm really happy with this new shiny thing.

EDIT, 2/16/18: After almost two weeks, I can confirm that battery life does vary wildly based on the use cases, but general web stuff, email, Slack and such will definitely get you through 8 hours, maybe 10 or more. Screen brightness has a lot to do with it. In low-light evening work, 40% is way more than adequate. You really only need 100% if you're out in bright sun or are obsessed with seeing the "painted on" nature of text on this amazing screen. For dev work, I think I could probably get close to 8 hours, depending on how often I had to fire up the debugger, but not if I were out in bright sun. And if you're asking why I would be, come on, I live in Central Florida!

 


The end of a 12-year-run with Mac laptops

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 2, 2018, 9:21 PM | comments: 0

As you might expect, I had been around Macs as early as college, when we had one in our residence life staff office in the hall where I was an RA (a Mac SE, I think). In my first TV job, I got to buy one for use as a video editor. Some years later, Stephanie bought an iBook, when the stopped making them colorful. I didn't buy one myself until 2006, when Apple flipped over to Intel CPU's. Prior to that, I had four other laptops, the only one of which that didn't suck was a Sony (that cost a remarkable $2,500 in 1999, and I can't believe I spent that much). That first Intel Mac was the best I ever had to date, and was the first of many, though it was not without its problems.

  • 2006: First Intel MacBook Pro. About 18 months in, I had to have the entire logic board replaced, at my expense, around $150 I think.
  • 2008: A 17" model, when they started doing the machined aluminum. It was huge, but awesome. Two years later, I swapped out the optical drive for an SSD, which breathed new life into it. The battery lasted forever. Sold it to a friend, and I think he's still using it.
  • 2010: Diana got a 13" for her birthday. I don't think that one ever had an issue, and we sold it four years later.
  • 2012: Tried to buy the new Retina 15" machine. It was crazy fast and wonderful, until the screen burn-in started. Seeing the ghost of a previous UI when working on another one got old pretty fast. Returned it for a replacement that had the same problem. Eventually gave up and returned that one too.
  • 2012: A 13" MacBook Air, which while lacking the pretty screen, was wonderfully light. After only 500 charge cycles, the battery capacity dropped to unusable levels and had to be replaced at three years, for about $180. Diana uses it now, and the battery is at 87% after 600 cycles.
  • 2014: A 13" MacBook Pro. Bought this one because I desperately needed more SSD space so I could have more than one Windows VM. Still in pretty good shape, but 8 gigs of RAM isn't enough anymore when I'm running lots of different things in a VM on only 6 gigs.

And that brings us to now, when I've found that getting another Mac laptop is financially insane. When I bought the last one, if you wanted a good laptop with the specs I got, the pricing was pretty much the same across the board, only the other manufacturers had crappy designs. What I call the "Surface influence," the act of Microsoft making really nice, thin hardware with the Surface Pro, hadn't really made an impact yet. Bit for bit, Apple still had the best stuff with very little premium paid for it being from Apple.

What a difference four years makes. HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and the like all make really nice hardware. It's not that the Macs are less nice, because they're still pretty great (if generally behind a CPU release cycle for extended periods of time). It's just the price difference. I ended up getting HP's Spectre x360, with its nutty flipping screen for when you want to use it as a tablet, for $1,400. That's the latest quad-core CPU, 16 gigs of RAM, a 512 gig SSD, under three pounds with a 4K touch screen and insane battery life. The equivalent MacBook Pro, which would still be behind a generation of CPU's and not have the great screen, would cost $900 more.

Yes, I have to deal with some of the weirdness that is Windows (I immediately flattened the computer with a clean install), and I do love the general typography and ease of use of MacOS, but they've really blown the value curve for me. Congrats, HP... what a huge difference compared to the awful piece of crap I bought from you 14 years ago!


Chief Wahoo is emblematic of an American problem

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 29, 2018, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

The Cleveland Indians baseball team announced that they are retiring the Chief Wahoo logo. It has been a source of controversy for a long time, which makes you wonder why it's even still a thing.

When I was growing up, it was normal for a white kid to play "cowboys and Indians" in the neighborhood. Heck, the Indians in Peter Pan were the bad guys, not to mention the stereotypes in various cartoons. But even in the late 70's and early 80's, you started to learn in school that the Native Americans were here first, and they were nearly erased from North America by European settlers. As a kid, on camping trips to Allegany State Park, in Western New York, we would visit the Seneca-Iroquois museum in the neighboring town. And of course, at some point you start meeting actual Native Americans. (Admittedly this was somewhat unremarkable for me, growing up in a largely Puerto Rican neighborhood and going to mostly-black schools in the desegregated Cleveland system. Diversity has always been my normal.) Experience starts to force a change in perspective.

I was never much of a baseball fan, but in my late 20's, passing the stadium every day on the way to work, I always had a squeamish feeling about the name, to say nothing of Chief Wahoo. But it's pretty easy as a white person to just brush it off and chalk it up to tradition. The problem is, America has made racism a tradition for its entire history, and we're long overdue to stop doing that. You can chalk Wahoo up to tradition, or the opposition to "political correctness" or some such shit, but if you really approach it logically and let go of whatever nostalgic attachment you have to Chief Wahoo, you know in your heart that this is really about basic human respect.

In the last few years, I've been continually amazed by the lack of empathy on the part of a subset of white people. Just calling it out puts people on the defensive. "I'm not racist!" they say. I theorize that the disconnect is that lacking racist intent can somehow excuse you from something that is in fact racism. I don't think Indians fans standing behind the logo hate Native Americans (maybe that's naive), but it's easy to not see racism if you can't stand in someone else's shoes. The lack of intent doesn't give you a pass for what the race in question finds universally offensive. Certainly, a pro sports team doesn't get to decide what is offensive to a minority.

My hope beyond hope is that this is being sorted out generationally. Not every Gen-X kid had my experience, but when I see the diversity that my son experiences in school, I have hope. It's up to every generation before his to set them up for success, and get over America's oldest problem. Basic human respect has to win over tradition, regardless of intent.


Does easy access to Walt Disney World ever get old?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 28, 2018, 3:28 PM | comments: 0

We visited Magic Kingdom yesterday for the first time in a while, and in a rare move, hopped on the monorail and did a lap around Epcot for the first time in a month. We inevitably talk to other families while on the monorail or in a queue, and it often comes up that we live just outside of the Disney property. This generally leads to comments like, "You're so lucky," and I refrain from saying, "We all make choices," but as we close in on five years of living in the western part of Orange County, Florida, is it still a big deal to visit Walt Disney World?

Frustratingly, Simon has no idea how lucky he is. He doesn't know how lucky we are to see Toad The Wet Sprocket during the Food & Wine Festival, or that the biggest reason for riding Space Mountain today is that it's Tuesday. Mind you, the ASD colors his perceptions a little differently than most kids, but I'm trying to figure out some way for him to understand that this isn't normal for most people. I think when he gets a little older, getting him into some volunteering at Give Kids The World or United Against Poverty will help. For now, he does view every lap on certain rides as the best time ever, especially Test Track.

The bookends of the year make it special for us. The day after Halloween, the parks are transformed with Christmas decorations. This is about the time we start to have some cooler days, so in lieu of full-on winter, the decorations with jacket weather help us feel like it's Christmas time. We try to make every park once during that period, but this year we missed Hollywood Studios. We didn't get out much at all, relative to previous years. The week after Thanksgiving in particular is typically very quiet and an ideal time to visit. With Simon in regular grade school, it's harder to do it on school nights. Then we hit the two weeks of black out dates for our passes, and we go without for a bit, which makes me appreciate visiting more after that. It was awesome to be in Epcot last night, and hear some live music (Disney on Broadway running right now).

We hit a relative lull in attendance late spring (though Magic Kingdom is rarely not busy any time of year), and then summer rolls in. Believe it or not, sweating my ass off at the parks in summer reminds me of when we moved here, which is a good memory. I don't mind it at all. When we turn the temperature corner in late September, I'm grateful for it, but Big Thunder Mountain on a hot day followed by Dolewhip is a great way to spend an afternoon, even though the crowds suck.

The Food & Wine Festival at Epcot is the best time of year. It's now two and a half months long. Last year it was the last day of August through mid-November. What makes this amazing is the food and beverage, which is actually in reasonable gourmet portions, and then the Eat To The Beat concert series. Sure, a lot of the bands are nostalgia acts, but last year I saw Toad, 10,000 Maniacs, Everclear, Sugar Ray, Postmodern Jukebox and American Authors. I never get out for shows anymore, so this is a great opportunity. I can load up on a cider or wine flight, enjoy a crazy good dessert and hear live music, a couple of miles from my house. Oh, and this is also when we do Epcot lunches, while Simon is in school. When I can make the time at work, we can round-trip it in 90 minutes, and put 7,000 steps on the Fitbit in the process.

So if it gets old, we're definitely not there yet. It's not that I'm particularly huge Disney fan or anything, but I do like good food, drink and entertainment. Despite the increases in cost, I still feel like we get that. I hope that when Simon is an adult he'll appreciate how great he had it. Another great perk is that most everyone we know, from every period of our life, eventually finds themselves visiting here. There aren't many places you can live where that's true.


Anti-social media

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 28, 2018, 11:36 AM | comments: 0

One of the few things that I don't like about the Internet is the way that it has enabled attention whoring. It's not a new phenomenon that came with Facebook and YouTube, it's been around since the start of the commercial net. Social media has definitely made it worse, and the funny thing is that there's nothing really "social" about narcissism because it's totally a one-way interaction.

It's one of the reasons that I don't get the ephemeral features (or entire point) of some of these platforms. Snapchat in particular, but also stories on Instagram and now Facebook (which with one minor UI tweak, people are now using). What's the point of a drive-by post that disappears? That's a very one-way interaction. What am I missing?

The way I use Facebook has changed a lot since having a child. What I post is generally intended for friends and family that are not geographically close, so they can see what we're up to. Conversely, I look for the same from them. My "friend" count hasn't changed much the last few years. Where years ago I'd try to keep up with everything from everyone, chronologically, now I submit to the algorithm or use my "close friends" list to make sure I don't miss anything from those folks.

The biggest thing though is that I find the site to be a great historical record. Life has involved so much change for me in the last decade and change, but it's even more dramatic when you have a young child. Pretty much every year is different. I get a lot of value in seeing that change because it makes me appreciate life more. That context makes for a happier me.

Am I being a judgey hater for people who crave likes and shares? Yeah, but that's OK. Everyone needs to be loved, it's just that most well-adjusted people seek that from someone other than anonymous strangers. I don't think that human behavior has fundamentally changed with the advent of electronic social opportunities, I just think they're amplified.


State of the CoasterBuzz, 2018

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 27, 2018, 2:00 PM | comments: 0

This is something I sent to the CoasterBuzz mailing list, and also posted in the forums there.

It has been awhile since I've written you. This is typical of winter, because there isn't much going on with roller coasters, but this year I've been even more disconnected because of my professional and home life. Indeed, there are a lot of things that lean personal that I'd like to share with you.

For those of you who have been visiting CoasterBuzz since the beginning, you'll recall that one of the site's primary goals was to connect to you to all of the amazing content that people were creating. In the wild west days of the Internet, it seemed like every park had unofficial fan pages, and there were even pages for seasonal employees at some parks. Sure, the sites sometimes looked terrible, and the photos were bad, but there was a lot of passion. CoasterBuzz had a directory with hundreds of links, organized by park, and the news that was posted frequently promoted those sites. By 2008, the site directory was gone, and the news shifted almost entirely to mainstream sites.

The consistent thing throughout the site's history has been the community. This is where things get weird. CoasterBuzz has been growing in the number of users almost every year since its inception. With the exception of 2010, there has been growth every year, and in fact the site sees 35% more users on a daily basis than it did 10 years ago. The problem is that they don't engage the same way. I'm sure in the age of social media and mobile devices this doesn't surprise you, but visits are short and people post less.

The revenue story is much worse. Half of our traffic is mobile now, which is harder to monetize unless you use really obtrusive and obnoxious ads (and I refuse to subject people to that). Where we used to have four ad companies filling the inventory, there is mostly just Google. And if that weren't enough, Google keeps cutting about a third of their payout, saying it's for "invalid traffic," which of course no human at Google can ever explain to me. Club membership revenue is down too, in part because there are fewer big events, and when Coastermania stopped being free, that negatively impacted us as well. On the plus side, hosting is fairly inexpensive compared to what it was in 2001, when it was more than a grand per month. Still, I have to spend about $3,000 per year on hosting and related expenses to make sure the experience is awesome, and that doesn't count software and hardware of my own to build and maintain the stuff.

I'm not even going to pitch joining CoasterBuzz Club specifically, but I would encourage you to spend a little money with any site or app that you find valuable. I still pay Vimeo $60 every year, even though I probably only upload two or three videos a year, because I love the community and quality of the things that I find there. I probably spend about $300 a year on subscriptions, because I want those resources to be around. Compared to the cost of cable TV, I think it's a great value. For small and independent publishers, it may be the difference between carrying on and shutting down.

With all of that out of the way, I've worked hard over the years to make sure the technical experience is awesome. CoasterBuzz went all-secure almost two years ago, it works great on mobile and most pages come to you in under a quarter-second. About every six or seven years, the platform the site is written on sees some significant changes, and I'm about at that place again where I have to port the whole thing. That work is already in progress, and it should result in even more speed.

This leaves the bigger question: What do you want CoasterBuzz to be? Product development is what I do in my day job, and my first rule is always to not assume you know better than your customers in terms of what they want. I'm leaving this totally open ended, and I'd like to get your feedback in the forums under the "State of the CoasterBuzz" thread. For more than a decade I've assumed that you want a forum, news, a park and coaster database, and lots of photos. Please challenge my assumptions.

Thank you for being a part of CoasterBuzz!


Positions, not parties

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 22, 2018, 8:00 PM | comments: 0

Continuing on the theme of crappy political discourse, I'm sure you notice that if you were to criticize a politician on the Internets, you're already, in the mind of someone who doesn't agree with you, playing for one team or the other. Now, I realize that the party system forces elected folks to tow the party line (well, it doesn't have to, but it seems they don't have the spines to stand up for anything on their own terms), but there really isn't a lot of incentive for you as an individual to sign-up red or blue. As I've said a hundred times, you can't treat politics as a sports rivalry. Trust me, I'm originally from Cleveland, and I know what aligning yourself with losers is like because of the Browns.

Consider this: You're a thinking person with diverse experiences, and you're taking in new information every day. The inevitable outcome is that your thinking will evolve on various issues, because that's what having an engaged brain does. You can change your position, and deviate from the party because you're committing to the position. This also frees you from having to associate with a particular elected person if they happen to be immoral in some way, like a racist or a someone who has admitted to assaulting women. Taking a position without the party says, "I have strong feelings about this, but I will not align with everything some party has to say."

Besides, both parties do the same silly shit. The Republicans want you to be scared of brown people, the Democrats want you to be scared of rich people. The former spend money on unfunded tax cuts, the latter on social programs. You don't need to pick a side with equally crappy ideologues.

I find this arrangement convenient, because the third party I really want doesn't exist. As I said back then, you can't pick and choose civil liberties. I think health care is a right, but not a college education. Unions are great for safety advocacy but unrealistic for wage advocacy. You can't engage in these seemingly diametric positions if you pick a team.


Careers, before we met

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 21, 2018, 7:22 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I were talking the other night about various work things prior to us meeting. We met a bit late compared to most couples, in our 30's. I was married before, and in some ways, she was married to her career.

People are often surprised to hear that Diana was a stage manager, working in New York and Cleveland. When I say she was married to her career, I mean that because anything in the theater is a lifestyle, not just a job. You work nights, and when you're not working nights, you're spending all kinds of intense time ramping up for a show. It's not that she didn't date, but that arrangement is not very conducive to a regular social life. In any case, she left that life before I met her, so I never had a chance to see her in that element, calling shows or telling people to head toward their first positions. These days she works part-time in a front-of-house position, but the old life is still every bit a part of her, and I get to hear the stories.

I minored in theater for a year, and gathered enough tech knowledge to be dangerous (or at least kick ass in lighting and sound for community theater), but I landed in a field that was similarly poor in terms of pay and lifestyle: Radio and television. I started in commercial radio at the end of my junior year of college, but it only lasted about nine months after school. A year after graduating, I landed in a government TV gig with no equipment and a tense few months justifying my existence while I waited for the gear to be legislated into existence. I'd end up doing that for about three years before leaving for software and the Internet. Fortunately, Diana has seen me behind a microphone, when I went back to my college to do a few shifts for fun, just before we went to Seattle. I've sort of stayed in video by doing the occasional mini documentary or whatever, so she knows I can do it.

It's weird that we had these fundamentally different professional lives before we met, and while we know about this different life, we weren't there for it. That's so weird, knowing someone that well but not having been there during those times. I'm glad she works in the theater now, even if it is in a different kind of role, and I'm glad I sometimes bust out the gear to make stuff.


Actually, Trump is your president

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 20, 2018, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

Political discourse in the United States has been, you could say, worthless the last few years. It seems like people don't care about reality, facts or each other. That's about the only way you explain how a reality TV star got elected as president, despite doing and saying things that would disqualify most of us from even the most simple jobs. Seriously, you couldn't work in fast food part-time if you went around telling people you "grab them by the pussy" or insult the service record of veterans. And yet, here we are.

A friend of mine, that I love and respect, has made a number of posts pointing out the absurdity of this all, and often concluded with some variation on the phrase "not my president." I found myself taking issue with that, and we argued a bit about it, too. It's a divisive thing to say, and not constructive, because it serves only to further drag down the discourse. It's the same kind of thing that got the guy elected in the first place.

More to the point, the person in the White House is your president, and to reject that is to release the president from accountability and excuse yourself from engaging in the process. It's apathy disguised as outrage, and again, exactly the reason that we're in this situation. There is no evidence that anything resembling a majority of Americans are OK with this toxic and undignified behavior, and Facebook activism isn't going to make a difference.

Outrage is easy, action is harder.

American citizenship comes with a civic duty to engage. It's not just voting, it's holding your congresscritters accountable, and letting them know what you believe is moral and just. It's encouraging others to ask hard questions and apply the same standards to all parties, even if you insist on picking a "team." Donate not to PAC's, but civil rights charities and individual candidates. Volunteer for on-the-ground campaigns.

Trump is the guy representing you as president. Denying that doesn't make it less true. Hold him, and those that support him, accountable.


Loving your child is exhausting

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 20, 2018, 7:08 PM | comments: 0

I think it's fair to say that one of the things most people live the most for is love. (You wouldn't know it by looking at social media.) Before you have a kid, it's all first kisses to getting married and having anniversaries. Once you're a parent, you're introduced to a new kind of love that is completely different, and significantly more intense.

Simon is almost 8, and on most days I can't wait to give him a squeeze and talk to him about whatever it is he wants to talk about. I'm completely horrified that he's not the tiny little boy I could put on my shoulders and carry around anymore, and equally horrified that he now has opinions. He has some additional challenges, specifically with the ASD and ADHD, which adds to the stress. All anyone really wants is for their kid to grow up happy and be functional. I don't have many doubts about his success, and that's mostly because he has an excellent mother.

Still, I struggle. When I was a kid, it seemed like most adults were trying hard to limit my time using computers or playing video games, and I find myself doing the same thing to Simon. I never know what the right level of accommodation is for him when he struggles with something, and I have internal battles about letting him struggle or giving him an easy way out. When I do lean toward the struggle, I almost always feel like a dick, even though I know he needs to have that experience. I get impatient with him when he can't stay on task, which I know is sometimes because of the way he's wired. I get super pissed when he starts yelling at us over something relatively unimportant, and I respond by yelling back at him, which is totally counterproductive.

At the end of the day, Simon still loves me, and I'm grateful for that, but I know the impact that parenting has on a child. I've found it hard to change and get over my own flaws rooted in childhood experiences, and that's not lost on me now that it's my turn. It's exhausting. The weird thing is that I can't imagine life without that love now. Indeed, sometimes you don't appreciate the joy without the struggle.


CodeMash 2018 was awesome

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 18, 2018, 9:14 PM | comments: 0

Way back in 2010, when I was working at Microsoft, my team/officemate, Aaron, went to this conference called CodeMash. I was amused by this because I had just moved from Ohio, and he was going back to it for a week. He's originally from there too. Over the years the conference has grown to be an impressively large event in a place most would consider the middle of nowhere, an hour west of Cleveland in the Sandusky area. Most people know it for Cedar Point, which of course if the subject of a little hobby I've co-owned for almost 20 years called PointBuzz. But this clever non-profit also knows that conference space and rooms come pretty cheap in January in Sandusky, and the gigantic Kalahari facility in particular is a great place to land 2,500 attendees plus another 1,000 spouses and kids.

I've been kind of recreationally been thinking about doing more speaking beyond the annual Orlando Code Camp and local user group stuff. Career development and improving the quality of the developer workforce in the US is a serious passion of mine, and I believe that sharing what you know is key to that improvement. I was on the mailing list for CodeMash at some point, so when the call for speakers came up, I jumped on that and submitted a few proposals. They invited me, and with the hotel room covered by them, and work paying for my flight, it's a relatively inexpensive development opportunity for me.

The first two days are long-form sessions that do deep dives into stuff. The sessions available were varied, but I made a mistake in that I expected to kind of half-work during this time, including guide a deployment for a new customer. That wasn't smart, because deep dives require you to pay attention. What I did end up doing was drift in and out of sessions and still get some better feels. I learned about the latest "official" language/environment for Android is about, drone racing, process and professional development topics. If I go back, I'll commit the time and turn off Slack.

The third and fourth days are the more traditional hour-ish sessions, and that's what I presented. What was unexpected was the depth of the professional development stuff, but the few other sessions I dropped in on were really solid (API's, design patterns, microservices and other buzzwordy sounding things). It didn't feel like this conference was chasing trends as much as others, though it's hard for me to quantify exactly what that means.

My own session went really well, with around 50 or so people attending, and at least the initial star ratings were good. They'll get the legit feedback to me in a few weeks. The group was really engaged and seemed into it, and the conversations continued with three of attendees in the hallway. I love that environment.

The parties and entertainment were great too. The food was good. I really enjoyed the exclusive water park time. As it turns out, my friend Aaron was also there, so we had a chance to catch up and swap work stories. We've seen a lot of stuff in the last seven years. It was also interesting to hear that the work we did back then still holds up today, relatively unchanged.

CodeMash was awesome. I was getting jaded with conferences because of the hyperbole and egos that often go with them, but I didn't get much of that at this one. I would consider doing it again if they would have me. It was so well organized and executed, start to finish, and better than the events that are run by the big national for-profit companies.


Adjusting your career path is not compromise

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 15, 2018, 9:53 PM | comments: 0

Still haven't entirely written about Codemash last week, but being a speaker at the event meant I got to talk to a lot of people. Not surprisingly, many of those conversations were about career development, which is one of the reasons for such events to exist. It's why I enjoy speaking at events, because career development is the biggest problem we have among software developers. There aren't enough people who are good enough at what they do to fill the available jobs, and it's only going to get worse.

One of the things I frequently do hear is that a particular job isn't quite what they want it to be, or the company they work for isn't what they hoped, or their career isn't even what they want to be doing. This isn't unique to any particular field. We can all feel this way. Certain personality types have it worse, because the over-achievers create lists early in life, boxes to check, and deviating from that path is something akin to failure or compromise. Others will land somewhere quite randomly, and not even realize that their distaste for the gig isn't a personality flaw, it's because they really don't fit there.

Let me interject something here before I get into it. We all have learning to do, and it never stops. There is a lot of it to do early in our lives, so it's important to understand the difference between feeling entitled and not having the direction that you need to move forward. What that means is that having a degree doesn't entitle you to a corner office or a particular salary, and your job shouldn't be easy. What your job should do is be contextually relevant to what it is you want to do in the long run. My first "real" job after college didn't pay much at all, but it did eventually give me two things I knew would serve me: fiscal responsibility and one employee to supervise. The money sucked, the hours sucked, but it was absolutely something that would move me forward and build the skills that I wanted to have. Staying in that job was not a compromise.

However, it is entirely possible to land in something that does not move you forward or build you skills. You may work in an industry that wasn't as great as you thought. The work might be dull and meaningless to you. This self-awareness shouldn't be met with the notion that making a change is compromise unless there is a survival angle in play. I worked for a year and a half at a job once that didn't flex any of the muscles I was good at using, and ended up having to get laid-off to realize it. That was my "a-ha" moment to actively manage my career, and not look at a change as some kind of failure.

Strangely enough, this kind of realization can come in the opposite extreme, too. A good friend of mine was in what she thought was her "dream job" about a year out of college. Indeed, her response at that point was, "Now what?" She could have easily done this job for years, and been really great at it. But believing that trying something else would be selling herself short would have inhibited her potential.

The idea that changing your mind is compromise is a silly ideal. Not changing your mind about something when you have more information isn't compromise, it's stupid. Only politicians are supposed to arbitrarily stick to something even when they know something to be contrary. Just kidding, they shouldn't do it either. If you're not getting better at what you're doing, and the environment is the cause, it's not unreasonable to figure out how to improve the environment or find one that makes you better. Self-awareness is key to success.

My story is an example of making hard decisions. I ended up in my current job not because I was particularly unhappy at the last one, but because I wasn't able to stick to a specific product long-term. My career goal is to commit to a product over the course of years, from nothing to a bona fide business. I've had a bunch of short-term successes, but I wanted to prove to myself I can be a part of something bigger. What are your goals? How will you pursue them?


I have to rant about the weather again

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 14, 2018, 9:45 PM | comments: 0

Last week I was in Sandusky, Ohio for the outstanding Codemash conference (post forthcoming), and the weather was pretty typical for Northern Ohio. Schools were closed the morning I arrived because of ice, and I was reminded about how to drive in it after a five-year absence. By Thursday it reached 55 degrees, only to plunge into an icy mess again by Friday afternoon.

Five years ago was about the time it was obvious to me that we couldn't live there anymore. Living in Seattle for a few years opened my eyes to the idea that I didn't have to settle for living anywhere I didn't want to (specifically Cleveland). It's one of my few life regrets that I needed a whole lot of life upheaval to realize this, and 15 years into adulthood, no less.

As I pulled away from the rental facility, I started sliding around pretty quickly until I got on to the freeway, which was in better shape. As I drove down I-480, through North Olmsted, the crappy weather and general grayness sucked me back into late 1995. It was near the end of what turned out to be my short radio career, and I worked at a CompUSA in that town. The ice scraper left on the seat brought back memories of scraping my windshield. And in a strangely specific memory, I remember going to a show with some of Stephanie's floor mates from school, embarrassed that my passenger had to kind of keep her feet up to avoid the coolant pooling on the floor from the leaking heater core behind the glove box.

And then there were the countless years of shoveling and/or blowing snow. The depression and strong desire to hibernate through the winter. The terrifying instances where I managed to drive through and avoid accidents. The car accidents of friends and family. The time in college that the furnace died while I had a ridiculous fever.

Are there good memories? Mostly of that first significant snowfall every year, but that's about it.

I'm sold on sunshine, even if I have to put sunscreen on any time I leave the house in the summer. I get to eat lunch outside in January under a blue sky. Life's challenges can still get me down sometimes, but weather isn't one of them here.


Shithole countries

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 12, 2018, 2:11 AM | comments: 0

This week I've been attending a conference called CodeMash, in the completely unlikely location of Sandusky, Ohio, an hour west of Cleveland. It's a resort town that enjoys the success of Cedar Point, the greatest amusement park in the world, which is obviously not open in January. I kind of know this town because of a site I've run that has paid homage to Cedar Point for nearly 20 years. It's kind of a big deal.

I've been to a lot of conferences, because that's what software development people do. We work in a completely underserved profession, and get away with higher than normal salaries because there just aren't enough people around to do the work. In fact, there are so few people that often we're not above hiring people in India or Ukraine or where ever to do the work we can't hire for. Even then, we hire immigrants from around the world on-site, because there aren't enough corn-fed Midwestern white boys to do the work.

For as long as I've been in this work, almost 20 years now, I've worked with women, immigrants, people of color, LGBT folks and any other minority I'm not immediately thinking of. This is my normal. If I had any prejudices against any of these groups of people (I don't), I'd have to let them go anyway, because there's too much work to do to filter people out based on race, religion, gender or nationality. Heck, this is apparently the best job in United States right now.

So when the President of the United States, elected beyond any rational thought, refers to people wanting to immigrate here as being from "shithole countries," I'm sad, embarrassed and ashamed. Just in the last few years, I've called people coworkers or neighbors from Albania, Macedonia, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, Syria, Brazil, Chile, and of course, the United Kingdom. They are the most beautiful, excellent people that I've worked with or lived next door to. They've made great contributions to our nation and our economy, and they're my friends. They're every bit as valuable to our nation as the guy who grew up near me in Clyde, Ohio, then worked with me.

This is important, my fellow Americans. We are a nation that seeks entitlement as a birthright, instead of opportunity. We're a nation founded and built by immigrants, and now we shun them. We're a nation that, after two centuries, can't get civil rights and equality right. This isn't OK. Our founding principles are being corrupted with this fucked up sense of nationalism and protectionism that is not only immoral, but impractical.

Know this, my immigrant friends. You are every bit my brothers and sisters as the people born along side of me at Fairview Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. I value you as human beings who bring our average up. We will continue to embark on a journey together that makes humanity better, regardless of borders. We know this is the path forward, because in our self-awareness, we know this is the only choice there is.

My guess is that I'm about three generations removed from immigrants on my mother's side, probably four or five on my dad's side. I'm about as much a "native" white guy as there is. But this young nation was founded by immigrants, and that's not something up for debate because it's the honest truth. Despite centuries of discrimination against African-Americans, Europeans, Asians and countless other racial and ethnic groups, the truth is that they all moved us forward. Together we'll all move forward, because all boats rise with the tide.

President Trump is a fucking racist. Racism has no part in our culture or national agenda. We've been half-assing the obliteration of it now for more than two centuries. Reject this nonsense. We're better than that. Our path forward does not marginalize the people who are not like us, whether they were born in the United States or not. Please join me in the insistence that this is not OK. Some of my dearest friends are counting on us.


Front-end development, I'm doing it wrong

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 5, 2018, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

This week, between my various duties as VP of Puppies and Rainbows at work, I took a story to wire up notifications between some of our back-end processes and our UI. These are some long-running things that are triggered from the UI, but then we have another thing actually doing the work. The app used to do this by spawning a thread and disregarding you from there, so that there's any indication that something is working at all is new.

I'm actually writing more code at this job than I did my previous two gigs, and more work in general. When I have written code in the last three years, it has mostly been around said back-end processes. For whatever reason, I ended up handling a lot of performance problems, which is cool, and it's certainly among the most satisfying stuff I've done. For this story, the back-end stuff I pulled together pretty quickly, and was stoked because I was beating my estimate. Then I had to get the last mile done in the UI, which is wired up using the front-end framework Knockout.js, which I haven't used, and given its infrequent development, wouldn't choose going forward.

The time I gained on the back-end stuff I lost doing the front-end work. Some of it was my non-familiarity with KO, but also with some poor decisions made before my time. Part of it was also the fact that I just haven't been in enough real-life situations where I could work with front-end stuff. So much of the time lost was just to stop throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, and learn how this particular tool works. (Did I mention I'm not impressed? At the hackaton we did at Intuit, we tried Vue.js and I found it super obvious and easy to use.)

This takes me back to a conversation that I had with my first boss at Microsoft about eight years ago. (Eight years?!) We spent a lot of time talking about career development, and it's funny how much of that stuck with me. He suggested at the time that there would likely come a time when I simply wouldn't be able to be as hands-on as I was accustomed to, because too many other things would demand my time. Some months later, when his boss was appointed, I met with him to find that he was doing all kinds of bleeding edge stuff in his spare time, and he wondered why more people in our line of work didn't do something like my side projects. (To be fair, this was a guy who also learned Spanish just because and had a kid in his 50's.) I don't know how he did it, but I thought, shit, this guy's got street cred even at twice my salary.

I walk away from today's experience with new knowledge, but it's for something we're probably going to ditch in the long run. Honestly, my hires in the last year were strong in part because they have more experience with current front-end stuff than I do, so we're covered, but I'd really like to get my hands dirty with more of it. I imagine it's a lot like anything else, I just need to prioritize it. It just seems to get harder as I level up in career and parenting. I could really use a new science project, too.