These days I don't write code for a job (unless you call email and Slack "writing code"), and though I do get my hands a little dirty with architecture, I get the itch periodically to exercise those coding skills. Fortunately I have those sites that have been with me for about two decades, plus POP Forums, which even had a couple of pull requests in the last year. I feel like niche community sites have some potential for a minor comeback, with all of the distaste for "big social" (I just made that up).
Here's the thing, the forum app does everything I need it to do today, so there's no huge incentive to mess with it. It's super SEO friendly, works mostly well on mobile and can scale to hundreds of requests per second if it had to. Just by cloud scaling the app (up, not out), I could quite easily get it to 500 rps with no code changes at all and it would still be reasonably responsive. I totally don't need that personally, because real traffic tends to burst to maybe 10 rps on a normal day. I've not even tried scaling out. Still, being as old as the app is, it needs to catch up in some ways. It took me almost three years to bring it to .Net Core, as I started from the early betas and it changed so much that it was a pain to get it there. But at least from a back end standpoint, it's reasonably modern. I have a wish list...
That all will keep me busy for a long time, I suspect. Walt and I have vague and poorly defined desires to update PointBuzz, which is still running on the "old" ASP.NET MVC. Part of that might be exploring some traditional social media-like features, in which case having a solid base is important. I enjoy working on this stuff, but it's not the easiest thing to do as a hobby because it still requires you to be really plugged in and focused. That's not always easy when you just want to have a glass of wine and passively hang out after work.
I still, casually, wonder if I should work the app into a hosted, multi-tenant solution. That's a surprisingly uncrowded market. The persistence layer is so well isolated that it wouldn't be hard to get there. It would be worth it even for a few hundred bucks a month of slush money.
I made the mistake of looking at Twitter today, because on occasion I see interesting things about musical theater stuff or software development that's interesting. But these worlds don't all live in isolation, and of course politics bleed in. A software guy asserted that losing friends over politics means they weren't really your friends because politics "ain't that important."
I find that to be a wholly stupid view of the world.
Politics in America have the strange distinction of being both the reason and solution for our worst attributes. For example, politics both codified and eliminated Jim Crow laws. That it can change at all is likely the reason we've managed to keep the nation going at all, because without that hope that it's possible to change the things that are wrong, we wouldn't make it.
Generally, I hate the term "privilege" because it has been co-opted to trivialize any kind of achievement. Like, I may achieve milestones in my career, and some will use that term to imply that it was easy because I didn't have the obstacles that a person of color would have. It wasn't easy, it just wasn't made harder by a lack of whiteness. I wasn't entitled to reach those milestones. Regardless, privilege is absolutely the notion that you can be apathetic toward politics because you don't have anything at stake. The wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., explains it best in the Birmingham jail letter:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
That last part is really important. Out of concern for other humans, it's important not to be complicit in their harm.
A friend of mine that I worked with a decade ago posted a photo of his oldest kid on Facebook today, and it occurred to me that she looked so... big. I commented that, "Our little humans don't stay little very long." He replied, "It's a bittersweet process if there ever was one." Another mutual coworker from that time responded, "I believe that our children are our clocks." That perfectly puts into words what I think every time I see a photo of Simon from even a few years ago. He'll never be that chubby little person again.
I think this is one of the reasons I've been somewhat anxious about aging in a way that I never have before. Simon is the only child we'll ever have, and he's almost as close to being a legal adult as he is to his birth date. The time has gone quickly, and it's not going to slow down. That might be why I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a good parent, because it doesn't seem like there's much time to course correct.
Our late start certainly makes it feel more urgent. Late 30's is a late time to get into parenthood, and inevitably I compare to friends that are quite literally grandparents now. My adult reboot is effectively 12 years in progress, which simultaneously feels like a lot of time and not that much.
But back to the kid... he'll never be this again. He'll never be younger again, either. It seems like every year brings different kinds of joy, different kinds of pain and unexpected challenges. The thing to keep in mind is that so far we have this epic series of memories, and we continue to emphasize those experiences. I try to keep that as my focus, and enjoy my time with the little man. There is more joy, pain and love to come.
The headlines around Facebook lately are not good. If being complicit in aiding the worst of humanity and playing a part in the social manipulation of people by foreign agents wasn't bad enough, now we've got reports about the executive team doing really douchey stuff.
My personal dislike of it has more to do with the way it has made niche publishers and communities somewhat obsolete. Sure, people share stuff via Facebook, but people don't really click through and read stuff. And for communities on any topic, any idiot can make a page and build a community instead of going to some independent thing. Facebook (along with Google) is the Internet for a lot of people, and it's the very opposite of what made the Internet so awesome, the widely distributed, anyone can force their way in nature of it.
To be sure, it's not that it's all a shit show and doesn't have utility. I've been able to maintain some long distance friendships for more than a decade, and might not have been able to otherwise, because of Facebook. It's strange how there are some friends from college that inevitably roll into Orlando, and we can pick up as if we never missed a day, despite thousands of miles of moves and kids and jobs. That is every manner of amazing. I've also found it valuable as a journal of sorts that records my travels and important events.
Social media in general also gets a bad rap for things that it is probably not inherently responsible for. Narcissists and people who lack humility would probably be that way without the Internet. I also don't buy that we only share a sanitized version of our lives online, because frankly I wouldn't share the worst of life in person with people I encounter at work or social circles. I do think the whole "influencer" thing and the micro-celebrity phenomenon is wholly ridiculous, but it's just a bigger version of the small town/big fish phenomenon.
Still, Facebook survives its bullshit for one reason: It's where the people are. If the people I care about stop using it, I will too. What sucks about that is that I'm not sure we'll find somewhere better. I've gone on record with saying that I would happily give money to a new social network where there were no brands, no ads and I was the customer instead of the product. The problem is, I don't think people would ever go for that, and that's unfortunate.
Richard Nixon was president when I was born, which I'm embarrassed to say I didn't realize that until today, because I never stopped to do the math. Gerald Ford came a year after I was born. Jimmy Carter was the first one I actually remember. Ronald Reagan was president most of my childhood. George H. W. Bush was elected my sophomore year of high school, so he's the first one that I knew in the context of learning about government and politics. I remember thinking at the time that it just seemed natural for a vice president to go on to president. I was sad to hear of his passing this weekend.
Presidents are first-hand witnesses to an extraordinary amount of history, but Bush might have seen the most, relative to a single term. The end of the cold war and the Soviet Union were extraordinary on their own, but then add in the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War. I also remember his leadership around getting the ADA passed, and his environmental concerns. The importance of volunteerism that he talked about also stuck with me. He was very moderate in retrospect, and his many philanthropic partnerships with Bill Clinton after his presidency make it clear that he was a man of solid character.
I'm a lot more politically aware than I used to be. I imagine that I would be fairly split on Bush's policy today, but he still represented what a president is supposed to be: A voice of leadership and hope even in difficult times. As much as I didn't care for Bush's son's horrible foreign policy, he was the person we needed for 9/11. It's incredible, how important a president's words are, even if their policy has less obvious effects.
My thoughts are with the Bush family. "Poppy" had an extraordinary life.
A few months ago, I wrote about the general observation that scaling is always the problem in a wide variety of life and work endeavors. I still believe that, but the problem definition itself scales... it's not just one thing. Experience is a problem, too, and I don't think it's always valued the way that it should be.
I lived through (no, experienced) a period of time where we roundly rejected experienced people in business because they were too stuck on the old ways of doing things. This was the dotcom expansion. We were correct in that those people didn't have the experience to guide us through this Internet revolution, but we were also arrogant to believe that we had all of the answers. More specifically, we didn't have the experience to figure things out. No one did because we didn't really have a situation like that. No one did.
It didn't last, as the expansion was replaced by some painful contraction. We had to learn a lot of new things because we had no mentors, since they didn't really exist. We gained experience by doing since it was the only way to get there. By the end of the last decade, as people stopped chasing Internet unicorns as a business opportunity, realizing that there were enduring practices and principles that could help us build sustainable businesses, we started to learn from people who had the conventional experience that we rejected only a few years before.
This cycle demonstrated to me that experience is vitally important, and you can't really buy your way into it. You either have it or you don't, and if you don't, you need to get it. It comes by learning the hard way, or learning via mentors and people who already have that experience. The latter is far more efficient, obviously.
I was catching up with a friend recently, comparing our long-term experiences, and also how those compare to what others have. In our cases, we both had a series of jobs where we worked with really great people that taught us how to be professional software developers. We've rarely had to be the "smartest" people in the room, because someone else was always better. Even as we've reached more of a management stage of our respective careers, we rely heavily on people who are better at the things that we're not good at. It's how you hire.
The times in my career that I've struggled the most are the times I had to learn without reference or help. I had to invent things that frankly had already been invented, but you don't know that without people to tell you as much. I remember a consulting gig I had a dozen years ago or so, because I only had one other person on the project, and he was very junior. This was a great thing for him, because he got a ton from me, but I had to figure stuff out, which was not great for me. A few years later I learned a bunch of stuff from others that was like, "If only I had people to teach me this stuff back then." I'm sensitive to that these days, because there is a significant technical cost when you don't have mentored experience to build stuff up. The self-learned experience can be a liability to an extent.
Knowing whether or not you or your people have the more efficient experience is another one for the self-awareness bucket that I value.
We got some surprising and very sad news today on PointBuzz, that one of our original members, going back 20 years, died Saturday night after having a massive stroke. Pete was a fixture in Cedar Point social circles. He kept his boat in the Cedar Point marina for at least 11 years. I could generally count on him to be at the park most any day I was there. He played on our charity mini-golf teams and did most of the fundraiser events that we did.
I was at Pete's wedding to his previous wife (she passed last year), and in my in-between dating years, I could expect to randomly run into him at the park when I would go there by myself. He worked at Case in IT for decades. His relationships were complicated, his views on the world were, a bit much. I couldn't unpack the reason for all of that, and frankly he wasn't interested in therapy anyway. Pete just wanted to have a good time with people. I don't think I've ever known a grown man who could get away with that and still be considered an adult, but he sure did.
I remember one Coastermania in particular, we had arrived in the afternoon and missed the morning part of the event, for work reasons I believe, so we had some drinks at the hotel, and decided to see what that would feel like on maXair and Millennium Force. It was a difficult time for me, and Pete was the right person at the right time to help me engage in some questionable behavior.
I last saw Pete in April at the media day for Steel Vengeance. I think Pete was on "the list" for most of the two decades I knew him, because I remember him at most of the events. Like most of us, he thought the new ride was easily the best at the park, and he got a few more laps than I could stand. If his health put him in peril, it wasn't obvious from the way he was riding that very intense ride.
It seems like my reaction to Pete's death is not proportional to the amount of time I spent with him, or the depth with which I knew him, but it's more about the context. For all of the change and chaos (and periods of extreme discomfort) I've experienced in the last 20 years, Pete was a constant. And now I'm over 40, and people I know that aren't an entire generation ahead are dying. As much as I can roll with change, this is change that is final in nature, and it scares the shit out of me.
There is a lot of general animosity directed toward social media, but these niche communities, which were definitely social media before it had a name, connect people in meaningful and lasting ways. I would not have likely met Pete without PointBuzz, and others knew him only via the site. I'm glad we had beers, and I'll definitely be thinking of him the next time I cross the Surf Lounge at Breakers.
I'm working for a growing company, at a strangely familiar place where it crosses into 100+ people. This is the fourth time I've lived through this process, and the last two had split results (one company failed, the other did not). I was talking with family last night about the crazy amount of business state variety that I've seen first hand, and how so much of it revolves around company size. There are a lot of pros and cons at each stage, and I'm not sure that there's an ideal situation for me beyond feeling that I'm doing good work.
At the bottom is the super-tiny, probably working on contract thing. I did this just once, and it was a miserable failure that lasted about two weeks. This dude bought a small consultancy, and he had a doctor client that had a half-built fat client medical records system. You know, the kind of thing that giant corporations haven't even solved very well. His direction was just to make it work, but there were no requirements and he couldn't understand why it was difficult to make any headway. The lesson there was don't trust people who buy companies that they don't understand. Also be skeptical of anyone that makes you use your own computer.
Then there's the 10+ startup/small business company. These are a mixed bag, and rely heavily on the experience (or inexperience) of the founders and leaders. When you come into them from the outside with a wide breadth of experience, you can impact them quickly. You get to wear many hats, which exercises a lot of muscles since you tend to get your hands into everything. You get the right personalities together, and it's highly collaborative and fun. It's also the easiest level to fall into the trap of over-working, so you have to be aware of that. I've seen this up close twice, and it's fun as long as they can afford to pay you.
Then there's that growing over 100 category. These are exciting, because they almost always have a validated business model and there's a scramble to keep up with the growth and keep it going. There's a maturing process that has to occur, and it's a combination of organic discovery and outside influence. You celebrate the achievements of the past while trying to be self-aware enough to transition to something bigger. It's a puzzle. The first one of these I ever worked in I was very mid-career with a bunch of folks that were more established. It was probably the longest stretch of intense learning I've ever had, for the right and wrong lessons. Not being a primary decision maker, but being near all of the decisions was great. It set me up for everything I've seen since.
I haven't been anywhere in between that stage and a billion-ish-dollar company. Those are different, because they're large and established enough to be what we generally identify as "corporate." They could be big and dumb, or big and agile. I've only been at two, and both were mostly big and dumb. I learned that it had a lot to do with senior leadership, because the attitudes toward innovation and optimization came from the top. I've seen a similar company, from the outside, have the exact opposite because of the difference in CEO. The environment can be stifling or empowering, and again, it just depends on how things roll from the top. At this scale, it's easier for people to kind of "hide" in plain sight, get paid and add little value.
Then there's the super-gigantic megacompany. I've been at three of those. The first was Progressive, and while it was only a contract gig, it was interesting to see how they were future focused, in a strangely "corporate" and deliberate way. They were relying heavily on external experts to coach them how to be better at certain things, and it seemed to pay off at the time. I actually had a few opportunities to go back there, but never did because the commute was insane. Humana was another megacompany, but it was a picture of waste and inefficiency. I could have hid there for a long time, but even being remote I didn't care for it. Then there was Microsoft, my favorite of the huge companies, in part because it was really many companies with the same address. It's impossible for me to generalize about it, because it just depends on where you work in it.
There are two other general categories that aren't really size oriented. The first is government, which is a totally different scene because it isn't profit-driven. The other is a true entrepreneurial effort, where you started something yourself. To this day, the scariest thing about those, to me, is being responsible for the livelihood of other humans. That's a lot of pressure.
I can't say that any of these situations are better or worse, because it just depends on your personality, your career stage, your goals and what makes you happy. It's only important to know where you fit, and if you fit.
An acquaintance of mine, who is about a decade younger and therefore entering the 30's, wrote recently about how life seems to not get easier with time. Things change, plans don't work out, people die, bad things happen. I have no idea where the expectation comes from that you grow up and being an adult makes everything easier, because I don't know many people who really have an easy go of it. Everyone has something.
When I take inventory, I find myself being disappointed with the way things turned out post-college to some extent, but also I'm happy about how I've spent the last decade and change turning it around as best I can. Now, in the midst of parenthood, it feels like life is hard again. I've kind of resigned to the fact that all we can really do is manage the challenges as best we can and choose to embrace the best parts of life. Choosing to be miserable seems like a waste of time.
Thanksgiving is a weird holiday in the United States, because originally it was really a harvest event rooted in European tradition. But in the long run, the holiday evolved into something more important for families and friends, to gather and reflect on the good parts of life. And eating, which is fantastic for someone like me who loves turkey.
So what am I thankful for? I realize that despite our challenges, we do have comfort. When things are hard, we still get to eat good food and reside in a very comfortable home. That situation is not lost on me. Our bigger picture could be more difficult. Something about fall and cooler weather reinforces this... a combination of sweaters and blankets and fires and cuddling with your significant other. That's all rooted in the feeling of home.
This is our second Thanksgiving in the "new" place, and this year we're having my in-law family in, including my brother-in-law's family from Seattle. It's gonna be a tight squeeze in Puzzoni World Headquarters, but I'm excited to share the comfort of our home with Simon's cousins.
I've had a few conversations over the last few weeks with people from past lives and various industries talking about what success looks like, and what the enemy of success is. There's an overwhelming consensus that the things that you don't know are what really get in the way. Ed Catmull talks about this a little in Creativity, Inc., where it's extra perilous in creative fields. In my line of work, it's often that experience isn't gained until you, uh, experience it. I've also seen it happen where sales people, company founders and others struggle because they don't know what they don't know, and aren't listening to the right people to tell them what they don't know.
I've made these mistakes before. In my current gig, I did the things that I always do, that have served me well, but did so without regard to the change in context. I found that what works in smaller groups does not work in larger groups. People told me it wasn't going to work, but I didn't listen. The macro changes really made a lot of sense, and still do, but drilling down to the implementation level, the changes did not. I was half-wrong, but it didn't feel good to be half-right either.
This is one of the reasons that I value self-awareness as one of the most important qualities among leaders and people I consider successful. It's a hard thing to practice because no one really feels comfortable with getting it wrong. You would also think that giving yourself a pass for the things you don't know would go a long way, but it often doesn't.
When I was about to graduate from college, I was fairly convinced, as a matter of fact, that I would pursue a career in radio, and eventually, buy a few stations in rural areas and live a fairly modest lifestyle with a mini-empire of broadcast licenses. This path was borne partially out of arrogance, sure, but it was with zero expectation that the Internet was going to fundamentally change how we listen to music. I mean, I listen to music in my car now from individual audio files coming from a streaming service over a cellular telephone connection built into the car! Not only did I not see the Internet coming in that way, but I didn't see ubiquitous connectivity as a thing. It will be coming from low-orbit satellites before you know it.
On the plus side, once you have a little bit of that experience, it can go a long way. A few years after college, I abandoned the broadcast world for the Internet that was taking over everything, and that experience helped me see a more obvious future. When I was working for Penton Media, I was telling the publishers in my group that the printed vendor guides, and eventually their magazines, were going to go away as they knew them. People were still working with dial-up Internet connections then, but I said, just you wait, it will be everywhere eventually. I mean, we had Palm Pilots then, which weren't connected, but it was an obvious future. The publishers weren't having it, because, "But you need a computer to look up the directory," and, "No one wants to read things on a screen." You know how that turned out, but Penton eventually fired almost everyone and was delisted from the NYSE.
In my own career progression, it's funny how some of the things you get by way of experience are things you don't apply directly. My last few gigs, especially when consulting, included red flags that I saw early on, and I eventually ended up issuing "I told you so's" (tactfully, of course). In those cases, you have to let the people you work with come to those conclusions themselves, which is still not super fun.
This idea that what you don't know you don't know is frightening. Seriously, who wants to engage in risk if it's the things that you don't see coming that could bring you down? Maybe the real trick is getting just slightly ahead of the scary things before you get blindsided.
I was talking with a friend the other day, a first-generation American of Indian descent, about the election. His parents have been citizens his entire life, so while he certainly identifies with his culture, he only knows life in the United States, and he's concerned with the way racism is getting worse instead of better. I can see where he's coming from, because when I think about the civil rights struggles of the 50's and 60's, and having lived through school desegregation in the 70's, I can't understand why a half-century has passed and we haven't solved this problem.
Let me just get this out of the way: President Trump is a racist. When you make generalization about any group of people based on their ethnicity, culture or skin color, that's what that is. He's done it countless times, before and after he ran for president. When you draw moral equivalence between Nazis and the people who protest them, that's racism. When you point out an instance of violent crime by an immigrant to defend your policy, even when statistics in blatant terms show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, that's racism. When you re-tweet white nationalists, that's racism. He endorsed Ray Moore, who is a slavery apologist, and pardoned an Arizona sheriff who engaged in racial profiling, and that's racism. He called a Latina Miss Universe "Miss Housekeeping," which is about as racist as it gets. Even if Trump had any real policy driving governance, and he really doesn't, would it be worth supporting him in light of the racism?
History is ripe with examples of fascism, and fascism doesn't end well. Fascist leaders start by appealing to hate and fear that longs for the good old days, which weren't actually good. In the US, those days where white males ran everything and racial, cultural and gender minorities were all marginalized, were not good days. You can't "make America great again" because it was never greater in the past. That ideal was never real. Then you create as much division as you can, declaring your opposition as your enemy, because if you can get people to take up sides like everything is a sports rivalry, you can get a subset of the population to come along with you. Polish it off with lies and your own version of reality, which is convenient because if you can divide people, those on your side don't care about the truth anymore. And of course, reinforce it all with calls to persecute the other side, outside of law or reason. It may sound like I'm describing Trump, but it could just as easily be Hitler or Mussolini. That's not my opinion... the three men actually have these attributes in common. How can you get behind that?
But if we really want to get back to basics, which of the following would be offenses for which you would fire someone working for you? Would it be calling out racist stereotypes? Saying you could easily use women and "grab them by the pussy?" Call a decorated veteran and war hero names and repeatedly disrespect him? Or maybe just dial it back to the fundamental point that you have to actually get some kind of results because that's what you get paid for. In two years, Trump signed a tax cut that resulted in a few one-time bonuses but not generally lifted middle class wages, while increasing the federal deficit exponentially. The rest of his "accomplishments" have been a lot of executive actions ruled unconstitutional. He hasn't actually done anything.
I'm used to people in positions of authority disappointing me, and I'm sure I've disappointed others in leadership capacities. There hasn't been a single president in my lifetime that really lived up to what I expected, but this is something different. I remember how viscerally I disliked W., because his foreign policy got a lot of people killed at great financial cost, but it never felt like his intent wasn't at least grounded in some kind of moral standard, even if it didn't match mine. At the very least, he understood decorum. Today, people do mental gymnastic to try and rationalize the actions of an immoral man, or worse, dignify it by suggesting someone else would be worse (the "but Hillary" argument). How would you respond to your child if he set fire to a dog and said, "Well, at least it wasn't our cat?" That's literally the argument you're making.
This isn't about not liking Republicans. When being a Republican meant you wanted a balanced budget and to generally get laws out of the way of liberty and free markets, I was down with that (until it started to hurt people). The party has to find its balls and get back to that, even if it means they lose out on a few election cycles. Defending this clown in the White House is doing real damage to the founding spirit of the nation.
Diana is a member of the Orlando Modern Quilt Guild, and they organized a retreat up in Daytona Beach where they got a big old ballroom to hangout in and sew. Epic as this is (so many sewing machines!), it's not exactly my thing, but since there was a hotel on a beach involved, it only seemed right to invite me and Simon along for the ride. I was pretty sure that Daytona Beach was kind of a shithole (confirmed), but it seemed like a good chance to hangout with Simon in a way that doesn't involve three hours at Magic Kingdom.
He was super excited to go, to the extent that he "are where there yet"-ed us in a non-ironic or comical way several times in the relatively short drive. As soon as we unpacked the car and Diana went to setup her rig, we headed down to the pool. The lazy river was broken, which was the first of many ways that the hotel disappointed us, but the slide was functional, and he was super impressed. From there we headed down on to the beach to experience what was probably the most intense surf that he has seen. He was surprised by the rip current, so we spent a little time talking about ocean beach safety. The joy on his face though was something to behold. This is a kid who didn't even want to walk in the sand barefoot just a few years ago. I smile just thinking about how much fun he was having.
That night we hung out in the room watching Incredibles II, and I introduced him to the old game Flight Control, which I forgot about entirely, on his iPad. He expressed gratitude several times for bringing him on this trip, which is something of a developing skill for him. Living next to Disney World completely screws up your sense of normal, and empathy is hard enough for an ASD kid, so he doesn't generally recognize when people are kind to him. It wouldn't be the last time that weekend.
On Saturday morning, we headed out to the speedway to do the tour. There was some kind of minor race going on, so I knew they wouldn't take us out on the track itself, but it still seemed like a cool opportunity to go into the infield, walk around near the pits and go high up into the stands. We were a little early, so we walked around and got to talk about... stuff. Whatever came into his head, I tried to engage with him. We went up on the big foot bridge spanning the street, and talked about why the fences caged in the whole thing, what the suspension cables were for, how many people might walk on it, etc. We talked about how cars worked (gasoline is "stinky" and why aren't the cars electric?), why Toyota has their name all over stuff and what the solar panels out front do. He's curious about so many things.
We stopped briefly the day before at the Tesla Supercharger to top off a little (we didn't need to, but I wanted the "credit"), and I noticed that there was a Chuck E. Cheese there. Normally, I would consider this to be a horrible place to go, but Simon mentioned that he'd like to try some games in the hotel arcade, which I knew was coin-operated, and I never have cash on me, so this was a possible alternative. I got him to eat one partial piece of pizza, no small gesture, and from there we played $25 worth of redemption games. Where we bonded the most was Skee-Ball, proving that he's definitely my child. We played close to 50 games between the two of us, and the repetition seemed to give him some insight into the physics of the game, even though it was a cheap knock-off with non-wood balls.
As we prepared to drive back to the hotel, Simon said, "Daddy, I really love you when we have fun, thank you." Again, I'm not used to hearing him say stuff like this, and I can only take what he says at face value. He doesn't do sarcasm or try to invoke guilt, so this was a very matter-of-fact statement that he appreciated what we did.
That night, we took to the pool again, but it was too cold. He experienced dancing at Johnny Rockets, which he thought was hilarious. Later we watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, where the thing that upset him wasn't the people being eaten, but the fact that the dinosaurs all went free at the end. He cried hard on that. You just never know what's going to upset him. I only let him watch it because a friend let her son watch it, and he's all about dinosaurs.
As we packed up on Sunday morning, Simon was willing to help with the usual elevator and doors, his obsessions, and carry stuff when prompted. On the drive home, I felt like we had an experience that we really needed. I've been trying to be more patient with him and look for these pal around opportunities, because we both need something to balance out when I'm the disciplinarian or task runner. I also need the perspective that being Simon's dad, and being Simon, isn't a constant struggle. We have our challenges, but I want him to have a happy childhood as much as possible. I hope he's old enough now to remember weekends like this.
It was only a few weeks ago that I wrote about how Simon was struggling to roll with the testing that he inevitably has to deal with. There are some other things adding to the stress. His teacher feels confident about his progress, but Diana and I don't share her enthusiasm, in part because of what we see after school.
First off is the medication situation. Simon has rotated through a number of different medications, and even with (expensive) DNA testing to see what should be more effective for him, it doesn't seem like they're helping. When he first started more than a year ago, that first thing he took seemed to have immediate impact in his personality and focus, but it didn't seem to last. He's back on another flavor of amphetamine right now, but the doctor questionnaire that his teacher filled out seems to indicate that it's not working. They may suggest a higher dosage, but the problem with this one, and even more with the previous one he took, was it caused him to pick at his skin obsessively. The experimentation with different drugs is a long process, which sucks, because he ends up cycling through an academic quarter between doctor visits. It's hard to iterate that way, and that f'ing testing is on the horizon. My concern about getting out of third grade isn't just that being held back would mess with his already fragile self-esteem, it's that doing it over would make him bored and more disengaged.
Then there's the challenge of tutoring days. Simon gets extra help after school a couple of days a week, so on those days, he gets to school a little after 8, gets home around 4, then has homework and online lessons to do. I don't know if you remember what it was like to be 8, with our without ADHD or ASD, but that's a long day to be that plugged in. I'm generally of the philosophy that a kid has to learn to be responsible, and sometimes do stuff that they don't want to do, but we can see the difference between "wants to do other things" and "mentally spent." These long days definitely fall in the second category. Even the things that he's good at become difficult for him to engage in. I've seen him on a weekend plow through a reading exercise online, anxious to get back to something else, but on a tutoring day he can't even choose a lesson. There are tears for not getting your way, and there are tears from just not having anything left.
Most days, the worst of the drama associated with this has run its course by the time I get home after work, so not only do I stress about Simon's state, but also Diana's since she's on the front line. I don't know what to do to help two humans feeling defeated, especially when I'm a little spent myself from work. I can be supportive, but it doesn't resolve anything. What I feel like I need but can't provide is a faster iteration cycle around the drug experimentation (and I'm not an expert to say that it can even go faster) and the right kind of home instruction approach to get the boy feeling confident about simple things like remembering multiplication facts. And by the way, that's something to fit into the two and a half hours every evening that I'm there before he goes to bed.
I don't have any particular conclusion to reach for with this post... I mostly just want to get the words out and remember what this feels like. Simply talking about problems out loud helps me. Maybe tomorrow something will be more obvious.
On November 1, I was elected to my community's homeowners association, as it was turned over from the developer to the actual members. I wasn't sure if I was going to actually run, and initially volunteered for the transition committee to get things started prior to election of the board, but there were so few people overall interested that I figured I'd give it a go in the HOA's formative years. I figure my experience managing budgets, delivering on stuff and even the government work early in my career might be a good fit. I don't know if I'll still be interested after two years, but it feels like a good idea to serve our community of 315 units right now.
There probably won't be much for me to write about beyond this, partly because most people wouldn't care, and partly because the board has only met one time, and it was a closed session with the attorney to iron out some legal things up front. This is the third place I've owned a home in an HOA. The first time was a joke, as the association had very little teeth and no interested leadership. The second time was pre-turnover in a build-out that spanned more than eight years (it still hasn't turned over), and that one seemed headed for mob rule by people who weren't good at anything. This one, honestly, seemed to be filled with reasonable people who wanted to do right by the community, and I think that's what we got.
HOA's are like little mini-governments, but this is about as close to politics as I think I want to get. I think legislative bodies (councils, commissions, boards, state and federal legislatures) are where most of the real work gets done, especially at the local level, so this at least aligns with what I see as the more valuable part of these governance structures. HOA's are actually non-profit corporations, which is a little weird, but they work similarly to school boards and county commissions in many ways. They need the members to approve rule changes, but otherwise have the discretion to set budgets, manage vendor contracts and such.
I'm the "at large" member, so mostly I just need to understand what we're discussing, contribute where I can and vote on issues. We're fortunate to have retirees who have been CEO's and even run association management companies. There are plenty of opportunities to learn from them about what makes a well-oiled HOA work. I look forward to helping run something that isn't technology related for a change.
One of the big considerations around installing residential solar is the issue of return on investment, or the time it takes to make back that money with "free" electricity. The calculation is pretty simple: Take the system cost, subtract the federal tax credit, and add up all of the electricity generated until it totals that amount. For us, that means about $24k, -30% to get $16,800 for the net cost.
We're producing just under 1,200 kWh per month, and we would normally pay about 13 cents per kWh. That's about $156 worth of power every month. It doesn't matter how much we actually use... we're just trying to calculate the time to pay back. At this rate, we're looking at about 107 months, which is just under 9 years. The system should last around 30 years, so after 9, it really is free power. Twenty years of power, if the rates stay the same, is $37,440 worth of electricity. Not bad. Don't forget that it's cost we theoretically get back if we ever sell the house, too.
Hours of daylight in Orlando bottom out in mid-December, as they do anywhere in the northern hemisphere, with two less hours even now than we had in August. The trick is just how sunny it is or isn't. We still get decent production unless it's super overcast, like Ohio winter style. The problem in July and August is the almost daily afternoon thunderstorms, which cause a sharp drop in production. To that end, it sounds like April and May might be the best months for production.
Putting the ROI aside, the more interesting, monthly impact is just around cash flow. With two electric cars, we use around 300 kWh per months just to get around. (If you're wondering, it comes out to around 3.25 cents per mile. Even if you have a gas car that gets 50 mpg, at current gas prices you'll spend at least 5 cents per mile. At 20 mpg you'll spend 12.5 cents per mile.) Our biggest problem though is air conditioning. Even a new, energy efficient Florida McMansion is hard to keep cool, so despite a slightly cooler October, we still used almost 2,000 kWh. That would normally flirt with a $300 bill, but with the solar, we only paid $116. Based on last year's usage, with inadequate insulation as we later discovered, there's a good chance we could get close to a credit this winter, as long as it's generally sunny.
If I knew I was going to be commuting again, I would have installed a slightly larger system, but it's still great to see where we are. The technology exists today, and sustainable energy is a solvable problem. It doesn't make sense that we culturally can't grasp that, and worse, hang on to powering stuff with dead dinosaurs.
My PointBuzz partner Walt and I have been at this Cedar Point fan site thing for 20 years now. That still sounds weird to say out loud, because what does anyone do in their spare time for that long? In "Internet time," it might as well be a hundred years. The enthusiast crowd tends to be, let's say a little entitled, but we've tried to stay pretty realistic about where extreme fandom fits in the bigger picture. We've never expected much from the park, and we've helped them out when asked and it was appropriate, so they've been good to us. I don't think we fit into any kind of historic narrative about the park.
So imagine my surprise when Walt forwarded some text from a new book about Cedar Point that recognizes us and PointBuzz. John Hildebrandt, who worked at the park for most of his adult life, eventually retiring as its general manager, just published his memoir, Always Cedar Point. Like I said, I don't figure that we would even be on the radar as far as park history goes, but he wrote this:
Other fan sites devoted to Cedar Point cropped up over the years, some quite good and others very amateurish, but in my opinion Jeff and Walt's site has always been the gold standard.
That's high praise for something we did for fun (and a few bucks) out of love for the park. John served as the marketing boss when we started in 1998, and I/we got in trouble a few times for spilling the beans on stuff accidentally posted to the official site early or otherwise learning from leaks about plans. But the real challenge for the park, and John as a marketer in particular, is that there was this new medium with a growing audience that couldn't control the messaging about the park. John writes:
It was great seeing so much information about the park being shared with so many fans, but it had a dark side, as PointBuzz provided a forum for everyone or anyone who had any kind of beef with Cedar Point. We knew we weren't perfect, but we were surprised to find out we were that far from perfect. PointBuzz predated Facebook by several years. It was really our introduction to social media... To their credit, Jeff and Walt created guidelines for posting which discouraged bad internet behavior and have continued to refine those guidelines.
There's so much validation in that passage that I don't know what to do with it. I've told people we were social media before the term was even coined, and usually (and maybe rightfully) I get eye rolls. But the bigger validation is more that we've chosen to moderate it from the start. We don't discourage differences in opinion, and frankly let that get borderline aggressive, but we've never allowed racism, sexism, homophobia or any similarly despicable behavior. Heck, we've insisted on the use of real grammar, and the community has largely been self-policing in that regard. We don't have to bounce more than one or two people per year, generally, and we've been told literally since the start that this strategy would be our end. It's still running, two decades later.
John and I first met probably in 1999, a year or so into what was then called Guide To The Point. I was just transitioning into my software career, but I admired John because he already had a ton of experience vaguely related to my former broadcast life, and he understood writing and why it was important. Being a know-it-all 20-something with all of the answers, I wasn't always open to seeing experience for what it is or why it's important, but this was different. While I didn't always agree with John, in marketing or as a general manager, I did respect him. When he eventually took over the GM role, and I visited him in his office off of the ballroom, I felt reassured that he was the right guy to oversee the park. He literally embodied the spirit and history of the park and took it seriously.
If that weren't enough, he had on a number of occasions looked out for me as a customer. We had a rough experience one late-season weekend staying in the cottages, and when I told him about that the next year, he gave me his cell phone number and asked me to call him if anything wasn't right. We did have some housekeeping issues, so I called him, and they were taken care of right away. We were just one family, but it was important to him that we had the best experience. How can you not respect that?
People you look up to professionally, and I do consider this a quasi-professional relationship, often let you down. But I liked John and the chance to talk with him every time, right until he retired. He was always gracious with his time, and he didn't owe me that, and he certainly wasn't obligated just because I ran a goofy web site. I was honored to call him a friend, and I hope he's enjoying retirement after not having summers off for decades.
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the day we closed on our current house. Yes, I still use the slightly mocking name because it's a little absurd to live in a big house when there are only three of us. But you know, between Diana's quilting, my periodic telecommuting and our relative perceptions on value (stuff costs half as much here than it did in Seattle), it still felt right.
I'm honestly just getting to the point where I feel like this is really home. The ridiculous year we've had has made it hard to enjoy it. The first wrinkle was the fact that the first buyer on our previous house fell through. It was ridiculous for the mortgage company to even approve them in a provisional way, and the only non-refundable part of the deposit was $1,800. They strung us along for a few months. We ended up going five months with two mortgages. Right after that I lost my job, and I needed to juggle the cash for the car replacement and solar that were already in play. As a result, I still haven't recast the mortgage, but I'm only a few weeks away from that, finally. I should have known better than to try to do all of those things at once, because in the end it basically erased a year of savings.
We're enduring a backlog of warranty work right now. Our upstairs hallway wasn't entirely level, there were trim problems I didn't see until we had been here awhile, some stucco issues outside, screens that didn't sit well, mostly minor things. Pulte's warranty guy wanted to fight me on some cabinets that we started to notice appeared scrubbed with an abrasive, once the sun started shining on them at dinner time, and he tried to pin it on us. Then, all of those photos I took during construction came in handy when one appeared on Facebook, showing the damage. They're replacing those now. The carpet is total shit, and I expect we'll have to replace it in a few short years.
Now I'm working again, the car and solar project are done, and our overall cash flow is almost back to where it was a year ago, I can finally enjoy the house instead of having it remind me of all the problems surrounding buying it. This is the first place I've lived that it felt like I was really comfortable, and could see a future in it. I mean, I'm never going to call it a "forever home," because if career doesn't take me away before then, we'd like to live near the ocean after Simon graduates, and that's only a decade out. But I like the idea of staying put and making this the base for what I expect to be some intense years of parenthood and work. The last place, at three and a half years, was definitely an "ours" place, not rented, and not with history, but in retrospect we probably should have gone a little bigger in the first place.
Getting the place settled is still an ongoing process. I just finished installing cabinet hardware in the bathrooms a few weeks ago. The living room went without a rug for about 10 months. Stuff has very slowly made it onto the walls, and the only room we painted was Simon's. Even the chair in the living room is a recent addition. I'm so glad that we sucked it up and got the hardwood floor downstairs and the iron railings, because being slow decorators, those features are already something nice we didn't have to do. This ridiculous 20-foot wall in the living room desperately needs something. I love the sun coming in every evening, but it points out how remarkably featureless it is.
I love my office, and it pains me that I'm not working from it very often. Since the job change, I've worked from home I think three times. It's really comfortable, but it doesn't make sense for me to hangout there because I'd be in there alone. The playroom has become a cozy spot, especially since I bought a cheap TV for that room on Prime day. Our bedroom really is a retreat, but we don't really spend any time there not sleeping. The patio is wonderful, and I like to spend time there even when it's 90 outside. Then during the half of the year that is non-swamp-ass, we can open up that big sliding door and it's like adding square footage. Oh, and the fireworks every night, reflecting in the pond, that doesn't get old. Independence Day and the New Year are particularly epic.
Of course, what makes any place special is the people. We have pretty great neighbors, and there are a ton of kids in the neighborhood on what is essentially a cul de sac (once the construction is done, at least). We've only had two parties, but have been grateful for the friends and family who have visited us. Sometimes it's just nice to have my darling wife here, cooking something with garlic, or Simon cuddled up to watch a movie. It feels warm with the people.
I still don't view home the way that the freakshows on HGTV do, but this one does make me feel comfortable and happy. I feel like mostly good things happen here. It feels like home.
In 2003, I started a site called CampusFish.com. The idea was that people would give me money, and I'd give them a place to put a blog and host photos, and even upload them from their crappy flip phones of the time. On the home page, there was an activity feed of the latest posts that you could click through to. It was focused on college kids, who seemed open to sharing this sort of thing, and if you could refer enough people to signup, it would be free for you. I made a couple hundred bucks a year for two or three years, and we had a nice little community.
About a year later, some little shit at Harvard came up with a similar idea, but gave it away, and that little shit now basically owns half the Internet and 2 billion users.
This is not about my inability to execute on that idea. I was almost eight years out of college, the Iraq war was happening, I had a job that I didn't like, and I guess even then I subconsciously knew my marriage wasn't going well. The problem with that whole idea was mostly that I wasn't in college at the right time, when the Internet could have made me a whole lot of beer money. (Side note: Last year I hired a guy who did make some solid money back in the day on the Internets during his college years, and I have crazy respect for that.) Also, people were starting to steal music, so those weren't good times to ask for money on the Internets.
What this is really about is the fact that we don't really own what we share on social media. Sure, Facebook will let you export the data, but the format of that package is generally not very useful, and there's no way to relate it back to other real life people. It's just a dump of photos and text. But realistically, what else can people do?
In the oughts, with a little bit of easy to learn technical expertise and a relatively little money, you could set this stuff up yourself. You could own your own domain name and all of the data of stuff you posted up there. Hopefully you knew how to back it all up and such, but it was doable. I definitely don't miss maintaining servers and such, but I literally had a T-1 connection to my house and a server under the desk for a few years (at horrendous cost). That's the reason I have almost two decades of really immature nonsense still living on my blog, and it demonstrates how far I've come (or regressed) since my 20's.
The real benefit of something like Facebook is reach relative to effort. I have a friend that largely retired his own blog to post stuff on Facebook. His domain name just redirects to Facebook, where he posts stuff publicly. I kind of hate that. I mean, it's cool in that we can share a place to converse, and there are notifications and stuff to facilitate conversations, but his own content isn't really his. As people seem to be less interested in the big social networks, they'll eventually move on. Then what?
Sometimes I think about revisiting the CampusFish model, only private. Facebook has a pretty creepy business model around advertising, and their trust is in the shitter with the Cambridge Analytics scandal and the countless foreign state trolls trying to manipulate people. They can't do that if the only purpose of the network is to share stuff privately with a specific group of people. Sure, you would still be using a social network for all the things, but at least you would be a customer of that network and not the product.
Angie put 1 stamp on each of 7 envelopes. How many stamps did Angie use?
This is not a hard word problem. It's obviously 7 stamps... to most of us.
Simon knows it's 7 stamps, too. But imagine that the answer is so obvious that you're convinced it isn't right, that there's some kind of trick in play here. You're so convinced that you're going to get it wrong and that you're being tricked that you can't even move on. That's where Simon sometimes goes, and I remember having exactly these same conversations in my head. I mean, it's multiple choice, which in some ways makes it worse. Why would they give so many options for something so obvious?
The testing system mandated from on high to local school districts is so ridiculously broken. The teachers know it, probably anyone who engages with kids who have special needs knows it. The effort placed on successfully taking the tests should be a pretty good indication of how ridiculous it is. You could logically conclude that you are somewhat evaluating the child's ability to perform academic tasks, but it seems mostly like you're evaluating their ability to take a test.
I'm actually one who might want to argue that standardized tests are good. After all, the year I took the ACT (generally accepted as much as the SAT, especially in Ohio at the time), I scored in the top 2% of all kids nationwide, while getting a pretty mediocre GPA, even with weighted "honors class" grades. To me that says the way we evaluate kids academic development was broken then, and it's worse now. This is particularly true in the grade school years. We've seen Simon get ahead and behind in the same year on different skills. I've seen research suggest that kids don't really level out to more consistent standards until at least 10th grade.
I see how he gets stressed, and it stresses me out. I'm worried about him.
The last weekend in October used to be a special time for me. I'll get back to that.
Today was the kind of awesome family day that we desperately needed. The daily challenges of life have made it hard for us to just live in the moment and enjoy each other's company lately, even for Simon. The forecast was for 73 degrees and sunny, bona fide jacket weather in Orlando, and we nailed down some last minute Fastpasses for Magic Kingdom. I haven't been there in four months, which feels weird, living 11,000 feet away from Cinderella Castle. They do a nice job dressing the place up for Halloween, and with only a few days left, we wanted to make sure we got to see it.
We ended up doing seven rides via Fastpass, plus a lap on the People Mover, with lunch and Dolewhip in there as well. We did all of that in under five hours. There was no drama or behavior issues. We even mixed it up and took the ferry back and forth to parking, because Simon wanted to see how the ramps at the docks worked. Back at home, we were still able to open up the house and enjoy the fresh air. (The solar produced 48 kWh of electricity with the AC off, which is an extraordinary net win... always thinking about energy.)
The cooler temperatures and a trip to our local theme park is the closest thing we get to closing weekend at Cedar Point, a tradition that I stuck to for a decade or so. Last year, I didn't make it up there at all, while this year I did at least get up there for media day. Starting I think in 1999, Stephanie and I would go up every closing weekend, and stay in the hotel or one of the cabins. I kept doing that through divorce and dating, sharing a room with various friends from Chicago and Nashville. The weather was unpredictable. Some years it would be rainy and cold, others sunny and warm. There was something to waking up to those train whistles and the sounds of roller coasters climbing the lifts on test runs in the morning.
I didn't do it in 2009, because we were packing for Seattle, and the year after we had just moved again, this time to Snoqualmie, so 2008 was the last year. We did stay an October weekend in 2012, a few weeks before close, so that was at least a similar experience. I don't get that nostalgic about many things, because frankly there haven't been many times in my life that were consistently awesome, but those closing weekends certainly were.
Now, the last Sunday in October is just another day. We don't have seasons here for theme parks. I'm sure Cedar Point as a location had something to do with my strong feelings for closing weekend, but mostly it was the people. Year after year, even in difficult times, I got to spend quality time with people from all over that I didn't get to see that often. Fortunately, a lot of those same people do make it down here to Orlando. Everyone comes here, eventually.
So to my friends closing the park today, I hope you had fun. It doesn't look like the weather was very good. We can go to our "home" park again tomorrow, if we want, but we made today feel like those great fall days at the point, even if our friends couldn't join us. We hope to see you soon.