When you made a big career mistake

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 12, 2019, 9:18 AM | comments: 0

I hate Facebook for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it's a terrible company, but it's where the people are, and I want to stay connected at least superficially with the people I've met across thousands of miles of moving. I like the memories function though, because it's neat to see where I was on this day years ago, with 13 years of history. Sometimes though, you can't help but get some icky feelings.

In 2011, this time of year, we had moved back to Cleveland. I won't rehash the reasons for that again, but suffice it to say that we were wrong about the social aspect, totally right about the house situation, and I correctly predicted that we'd end up in Central Florida. It all worked out, but the regret of leaving Seattle sat with me for a very long time.

By the time I landed at Microsoft, I was in active career management mode. Being a huge company, there is probably something well suited for you once you get there, but it may or may not be hard to find. I got so close to what I would consider a dream job at the time, running a development team that made test tools for studios using Xbox Live. The hiring manager was honest with me: I could have done the job, but the other guy had just a little more experience. He was even trying to get budget to build a second team, and put me on that one. That would have changed the outcome entirely, and I still wonder "what if." Where I did end up was a team that was "old" Microsoft in its approach, and trying to change it was hard. It left me with indifference.

So I landed at this marketing agency in Cleveland. I've worked for various organizations like that one, for periods ranging from two weeks to four months, and every one of them was a disaster. In this case, I had nothing to do. Imagine you worked on an app for the world's largest software company that processed 100 million interactions per month, and then you've got nothing to do. Then they complained that I was arriving and leaving early, 7:30 to 4:30, which has been my m.o. always in order to avoid traffic. They didn't trust people to be grownups, so they fired me.

I sensed it was going to be a disaster, and quite literally had an interview elsewhere at lunch that day. But that intense feeling of, "What have I done?" was such a sinking feeling given my desire to actively manage my career. The next few weeks were actually loaded with opportunity. I had offers to decline even before I got back to Cleveland, and then I randomly was flown to Louisville to speed date/interview with groups there for remote work. It ended up being a terrible company to work for, but it was still valuable experience. I just remember the constant gray skies of Cleveland, and thought, "What have I done?" In retrospect, that was probably the source of much of the regret.

In an expanding economy where you do something that's in demand, career mistakes are temporary. I'm not alone in making these kinds of mistakes, as my friends have all been there (especially those on the west coast). When you make them, it's important to stop and be deliberate. What are your goals, personal and professional? Where do you want to live? What income do you need to make your financial goals? How long do you have to do it?

We were in Cleveland for less than 19 months before I got back on track. The work here in Florida has been generally good, and now I'm at a company that's growing fast. It's challenging, but it's the part of a company lifecycle that I haven't been a part of before, and with significant responsibility. The mistakes were OK in the long run, if only to give me focus.

The path to success is not well defined

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 11, 2019, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

I read an interesting career advice essay today that made me realize what I already know, but rarely define out loud: Success, and the path to it, are not easily defined. He was using it with the lens of west coast technology companies and startups, which is not at all representative of most everything else, but still, that itself shows how squishy these definitions are.

For me, I suppose my definition looked like this: Find a field that you are interested in, get solid, white collar jobs, make enough money to retire and own a modest house. That was the basic starting point. Then it got more complicated over time... longevity became increasingly unlikely, especially with economic volatility and tech companies having wildly unpredictable outcomes. The gig economy became lucrative and its lack of long-term commitment had a certain feeling of freedom even with the uncertainty. Then for the better part of the last decade, I've wandered between pure technologist and manager, so the professional accomplishment definition of success has been fluid too. And what does winning look like? A certain salary? Title? I don't know.

If that weren't enough, there's a completely different dimension if you own your own business. I've had a business for two decades, that I started by accident, and outside of the online ad boom 15 years ago, it's mostly been a hobby. I've not deliberately started anything for the purpose of my own sustainment. With all of the experience I've gained in companies from tiny to gigantic, shouldn't I be qualified to do that, and do it well?

This sounds pretty midlife crisis, which is appropriate because, well, that's where I am. At the same time, the late start to parenthood, and starting over with a second marriage, I have the life priorities of someone in their 20's with the life experience of someone with two extra decades. Given what's important to me, defining success can still have a basic starting point, it's just different now. My goal is to be able to provide for my child and my wife, and make sure the latter is well taken care of in a decade when we're empty nesters, even if something were to happen to me. I think as we get older, we transition success from "more" to "enough."

So that's well and good, a solid base to shoot for, but where the anxiety starts to creep in is looking at how we get there. I spent money like an asshole in my 20's, running a negative cash flow for a number of years, and while I had that under control by 30, I didn't really reverse it until later. I'm behind on saving, and suspect that Social Security will be a fantasy when I retire. I've only got half of what I should saved if you don't count home equity (and I sure don't). If financial planning is a measuring stick for success, I sure don't feel like I'm doing it right.

Success for me, today, has more to do with my little family unit. It was never about keeping up with the Jonses. It's always been about personal satisfaction though. I have to combine it with what is practical now, and those are sometimes hard to reconcile.

The tribalism is getting worse, on both sides

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 9, 2019, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

I've written many times that people treating politics as if it were a sports rivalry is I think the core problem in our culture. I seem to recall in my teen and college years that there was a healthy skepticism of all politicians, regardless of party, but maybe I was just naive at the time.

In the obvious case, average Joe's and career GOP politicians are lining up behind the president, defending him for the indefensible. Look, this is a guy who did and said things that no person would excuse as an employee in a minimum wage job before he was even elected. Now the guy released evidence showing he asked a foreign power to investigate his political rival, then did it in public asking another country to do the same. Forget whether or not it was quid pro quo (it was, look it up), the whistle blowers, the Democratic opposition... they're all secondary to the thing you can plainly see he did wrong. Now the same people, who took an oath to defend the Constitution, are calling the impeachment process unconstitutional when it's literally enumerated in the Constitution. We've landed in bizarro world.

The other side doesn't get a pass. Last weekend, Ellen took in a football game with George W. Bush, and she took all kinds of shit for it. Now, it's no secret that I'm about as far from a W. fan as possible. Years beyond his presidency, I think he made some terrible decisions on the basis of even worse information, for sure (though the special place in hell belongs to Dick Cheney), but at the end of the day I can't really do anything about any of it. It's already more than a decade in the past. He's a human being, and there isn't a reason that Ellen can't be kind to him. We have to stop this ridiculous fucking with-me-or-against-me nonsense.

I'm more centrist than I ever used to be, probably because the constant extremes are exhausting. Admittedly, there is no moral equivalence between describing white supremacists as "some good people" and subsidizing college, so even if I don't agree with either one, I'll side with the college because it's not going to get anyone killed. But the tribalism prevents us from even talking about anything. Congress hasn't done anything useful in at least six years and keep passing record deficits. People vote for the dog catcher based on party instead of ability. We have the government we deserve.

Just stop it with the sports rivalry politics. Let's go back to the healthy suspicion of both sides, engage in critical thinking, and stop enabling the shit show.

POP Forums and the accidental entrepreneur

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 5, 2019, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

I've spent a lot of time in the last week, my staycation week, working on the hosted version of POP Forums. The idea is that you give me money, and I'll host a copy of the forum for you. Diana asked the appropriate question about this: "Does anyone want this?" It's a valid question... I'll get back to that.

In 2000, my little hobby sites, Guide to The Point (now PointBuzz) and CoasterBuzz, were making a surprising amount of money from advertising. Those were pretty awesome days for content publishers. You could make a lot of coin without a lot of audience. It didn't even matter that everyone was doing it, either. There was so much ad revenue out there that everyone could make money in their spare time. (If only that had been something 7 years earlier when I was in college... I would not have had student loans and had my own place.) The promise of the Internet as an equalizer in all things was real back then.

As the story goes that I've told a million times, I wanted to own the whole experience, and since my sites had a forum as their core, I wrote my own, and so POP Forums was born. I figured, since I wrote it, I might as well sell it, and I did as downloadable software, $175 a hit. This was the reason that I first acquired a merchant account to collect credit card payments, and it came in handy in 2001 when I started offering CoasterBuzz Club. I made OK money selling the forum, even though I really wasn't much of a software developer in those days.

Eventually I started giving it away as an open source project, in late 2003. It wasn't until 2010 that I started also developing it in the open, hosting the repository on CodePlex (RIP). I moved it to GitHub in 2014 when Microsoft left CodePlex to die. As an open source project, it attracted enough attention to be translated into six languages, and sometimes I get someone interested who does a pull request and contributes. It's been forked dozens of times, and a half-dozen people clone it everyday. That's not a wildly popular project, but the bottom line is that some people find it useful, and that's gratifying. I would be building it anyway for my sites.

This has been my approach to entrepreneurship from the beginning: If I'm building it anyway for myself, there's no real risk to selling it because it's not a deliberate business. That's a huge cop out, for sure. You can't fail if you didn't intend to "make it" in the first place. It's also the reason that some of the arbitrary things that I've started "for the money" rarely were finished or had any follow through. It's weird, I can get into something in a day job as an objective with a team, but if it's something I'm starting on my own dime, and I don't have my head into it, it never materializes.

I vaguely remember the time when a number of web-based software packages started to become software-as-a-service (SaaS), and thinking that was nuts, but I've been working on commercial SaaS products now for more than three years. It's not nuts. Getting back to the earlier question, I don't know if hosted forum apps are something that people want, but there are a few players in the market today that suggest that it's a thing. A few are making in excess of $3 million a year, even. It's not a huge market, but it's not crowded. I'd be content to make a grand a month. It would more than pay for the expenses. 

As I mentioned, making it real is what makes it work for me. So we're planning to migrate the PointBuzz forums there as the first "customer." I know the app isn't perfect, and lacks features, but so what? If I wait for that, it will never be out there. The UI needs a fair amount of modernization, but the upside is that it's really, really fast. I'm very proud of the performance, with most pages loading in 100ms or less from my decidedly erratic connection at home. I don't know what the upper limit of scaling is, but in tests I've found that it can do 1,000 requests per second pretty easily on cloud infrastructure.

Some part of my nights and weekends will be devoted to figuring this out for awhile, but I'd like to launch it before the end of the year. I've got most of the hard parts finished... multi-tenancy, taking money, provisioning... the only big part left is recurring billing, but that shouldn't be very hard. I've got complete continuous integration environments set up already. The only quasi challenging thing on the radar is provisioning free secure certificates for customers who want custom domain names, but I'll figure it out.

My hobby is for fun and hopefully a little profit. 😁

Solitude and struggle

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 3, 2019, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

I've been thinking a lot about solitude and struggle in a number of different contexts. Not sure if I have a point, but I need a brain dump.

First, I realize when I'm being reflective that I've spent a lot of time in my life in solitude. I mean, shocking volumes of time by myself. As a kid, I didn't really hang out with other kids. In high school I had my roles helping out in athletics, where I cared a lot about the other kids and their families, but I didn't have a lot of deep connections. In college I spent the first two and a half years not having any idea where I belonged in the bigger picture. It's not that I don't connect with people, it's that I don't value superficial connection. Deep connections don't come easy or often, so that explains the solitude.

The post-divorce time taught me a lot about how to be alone in a constructive way, which is to say that relationships should be additive to who you are. You can and should value relationships, but you need the foundation of having a good relationship with yourself, and that's a huge struggle. The parts with other people are easy by comparison.

I see my son going through a lot of the same things already at age 9, and it's heartbreaking. It's a similar struggle. He spends a lot of time alone, and doesn't find social connectivity to be easy. His relationship with himself isn't great. I don't know how to help him, because it took me literally decades to get even partially comfortable with myself, and being by myself. Telling him he's smart enough and good enough isn't going to do anything. It would help if he could find one kid who wasn't a dick to him, but like him, I found it was only the adults who really could be that person. There's a brilliance in his thinking, and I need to help him learn how to express and value it.

I spent most of today alone at my computer, writing code for my side hustle. I enjoyed the time to myself, but I feel guilty that I'm not spending the time with Simon and Diana.


I was talking to a friend who recently started therapy to help unpack a lot of damage. I've been in and out of it since college, and it helps a great deal with self-awareness. The underlying theme of all those sessions is about the struggle. Life is struggling... with relationships, family, parenting, work... it doesn't seem like it ever ends. That may sound kind of depressing, but I will say that you almost need that contrast to see the joy and happiness in life.

My last therapy session was to talk about the struggle, and how much of it was self-inflicted. We definitely put pressure on ourselves in a lot of aspects of our lives, which creates some of that sense of struggle. I've noticed discreet times in my life where I was happiest, when I ran out of fucks to give about whatever felt like a struggle. There's a weird dynamic there: You have to find the combination of action (or non-action) that allows you to be a reasonably productive member of society, while also letting go of the struggle. In other words, don't be a worthless bum, but stop doing the things that hurt.

The period of my life I can best point to in order to describe this struggle reduction was 2013. I bailed on a terrible job, picked up contract work that was slightly better but didn't matter, and resolved to reboot and move to Orange County. The second half of that year was strangely low stress, even with the big move. I was working a contract job that may not have been renewed or converted to full-time, and it was OK. I had seen enough chaos to know that I could figure it out. That was freeing. Parenting wasn't super hard yet either.

The truth is, I don't know that the solution is that you simply need to walk away from the hard things. I think it's how you perceive the hard things. Look, I'm not a Type-A personality (which I assure you is an anti-asset at this stage of my career). I have the capacity to see the relative importance of hard things, and there's a huge scale, all of which lies below the fact that I'll be worm food someday. It's surprising how easy it is to forget that.

Trip report: Coronado Springs, Walt Disney World, 9/27-10/1/19

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 2, 2019, 4:35 PM | comments: 0

We haven't done a real "theme park trip" in a very long time, and considering that we only drove three miles for this one, I'm not sure it counts either. But the situation was straight forward enough: I was overdue to take a week off, Simon missed his entire first week of school to illness so we couldn't pull him out, and I was overdue to take a week off. Some weeks ago, I saw an ad for Florida discounts on rooms at Walt Disney World, and found that Coronado Springs, a moderate resort, was down to a little under $250 per night, with tax. We had never even been on that property, but folks seemed to like it. I figured, OK, it's around the corner from Simon's school, it will be unfamiliar, and that will have to be good enough for a brief retreat.

The resort has a Mexico-Southwest feel to it, and the new tower they added made it more classy. The rooms were all recently renovated, as were a lot of common areas, and quite frankly it's all very beautiful. We stayed in one of the older Casitas buildings, but the room was brilliantly new. It follows the usual convention of tile flooring, granite surfaces, a great shower, and room under the beds to stash your suitcases. It's rounded out with an unusually large TV and LED lighting. The room wasn't as large as those we've stayed in at Beach/Yacht Club, but it was more than adequate. We had a slight snafu where the fridge had someone else's leftovers, but a manager came by and cleaned it out.

This particular property is probably best known for "The Dig Site," a centrally located pool complex that includes a Mayan pyramid and a water slide. There's a great waterfall that flows from the top of the pyramid, and a small bar and food stand sits next to it. As pools go, it's one of the best I've seen on WDW property, second only to the one at Beach/Yacht Club. My only real complaint is that it wasn't heated, but that's clearly a Florida life problem.

This is Disney's convention property, so it's huge, with over 2,300 rooms. There are a lot of restaurant and bar options, including a few places in the tower that we did not make it to. However, there's a great full-service bar right in the lobby. We had breakfast at the counter service restaurant, which wasn't bad. We had one dinner in the Rix sports bar, and it was kind of shitty. They advertised turkey burgers but didn't have any, and the boneless wings I had instead were overcooked. The surprise was the Three Bridges restaurant that's, as you might imagine, at the center of the three bridges across the lagoon. It has a small food menu, but the food is extraordinary, as is the service and beverage options. We managed to sneak out there for a 90-minute date night while Simon watched a movie back in the room. It was a weekend highlight for sure.

Our boy strangely never had an on-property stay, so he was excited to stay there and ride the buses that he's watched for six years. They're not always conveniently timed, but we had one long wait, and others that were perfectly timed. The one night, I met a friend at Disney Springs, and was happy to have that option with the strong beverage I had at Jock's Hangar Bar, and the jug of sangria with dinner earlier. I do find it lame that the resort now charges for parking.

Overall, I give Coronado an enthusiastic thumbs up. It very much felt like a vacation, even if we were close to home.

As for our theme park outings, we finally endured a wait for Smuggler's Run at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in Hollywood Studios. I think it ended up being just under an hour, but the line kept moving. The theme of that land and attention to detail is amazing. When we sat down in the Millennium Falcon, I'm not going to lie, I got a little emotional, but there are things to do immediately so no time to screw around. Simon and I were pilots, where I did lateral movement, he did vertical. Unfortunately he didn't hear that it was inverted, like a real plane, so, he crashed into a lot of stuff and we scored 20%. It was still pretty cool.

Beautiful as Galaxy's Edge is, there isn't a ton to do there. The lines for the Cantina are insane, and Rise of The Resistance doesn't open until December at best. It will definitely be a more complete experience with the other ride.

We spent a few hours at Magic Kingdom on another day, where I discovered that Pecos Bill's has a rice bowl that I'll eat, and it was delicious. More importantly, there's something I'll eat that isn't deep fried. I also have new appreciation for the air time in the back seat of Space Mountain. That was nuts.

On Monday, I met up with a friend from DC, and we did an Epcot drink-around-the-world tour: 11 drinks in 11 countries. I did this once before when Diana and I had our first child-free vacation some seven years ago, but this was planned. As I suspected, this isn't really that much of an achievement. That many drinks over nine hours probably won't even get you buzzed. But it was fun to have good company and people watch. The jerk chicken in the Caribbean stand is amazing, and I still love the cheese bread in Brazil. We had dinner at Le Cellier, which is still crazy expensive, but the food and service are great. We all had fruity drinks with glowing ice cubes, and the waitress immediately caught on to Simon's distress over this and brought one for him. We definitely reported this kindness and attention to a manager.

The big event was the last show for Illuminations. I've not seen it that crowded in a long time, and definitely not that late in the day. Rain almost made things miserable, but it stopped just as the show started. Unfortunately, they didn't really do anything special for it, but I've never heard anyone cheer for a nighttime spectacular like that. The show will certainly be missed.

So for four nights, we did Disney like tourists, and despite the familiarity of the parks, the resort made it feel like a vacation. We had a really good time. It's clear that Diana and I need another long weekend away though, and we need to figure out how to make that happen.

Impeachment is no reason to celebrate

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 27, 2019, 12:08 AM | comments: 0

I've generally refrained from writing about the president in the last year or so, because there's little I can say that hasn't been already. And while the man is unquestionably immoral, my real frustration is with the tribalism, which I distill down to an equivalent sports rivalry, that causes people to accept behavior from the leader of the free world that would get any of us fired from the simplest McJob.

As the Ukraine scandal seems to get worse by the hour, first with the clear ask of a foreign government to investigate a political foe (the quid pro quo implication doesn't even matter at that point), then the allegations of covering up the call, it's mostly forced the hand of House Democratic leaders to start the impeachment ball rolling. I've felt all along that it was a horrible idea to go down that road unless there was something that was clearly illegal, but this is it. This is the responsibility written into the Constitution. The nonsense about Democrats just being butthurt about the election three years ago is insane. This is actual collusion to affect the next election. Can you imagine if Obama did something like that when facing Romney?

So while some are cheering with "finally!" on the Internet, I would argue that it's not a reason to celebrate. Impeachment, successful or not, is a last ditch effort to correct where democracy has otherwise failed. The election of Donald Trump is not really about him, or Hillary Clinton, or any other figure. It's not unfair to consider him the disease that has brought racism out of the shadows. I do think that he's set us back a few decades. I hope we can jump back ahead once he's gone, but there's real damage there. Still, I believe that he's the symptom of a number of problems, not so much the disease itself. A relative minority, mostly white people who feel disadvantaged and seek scapegoats for their state, got this guy elected while a larger majority let it happen. He didn't have the popular vote, and only 27% of eligible voters actually voted for him. That small percentage of Americans voted for a reality TV personality who had never held a public office, sexually assaulted women in his own words, disparaged veterans and their families, mocked people with disabilities... all before he was even elected. That's the real failure.

Unless this keeps getting worse, and who knows, maybe it might, I don't see a world where the Senate would vote to remove the guy from office. Although, it doesn't hurt to get Senators on record. This will all shake out while the planet keeps burning, Americans go without healthcare and prescription drugs, we accept mass shootings as routine, and the federal deficit and national debt keeps getting worse.

Nobody wins. We get the government we deserve.

Body betrayal

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 24, 2019, 10:00 AM | comments: 0

In the last few months, I've noticed that my eyesight has changed. When I'm tired, I find it hard or slow to focus on things that are closer to my eyes. The optimal minimum focal point has always been less than a foot away, but now it's more like 14 or 15 inches. This isn't a big deal for most anything that I do on a day to day basis, but sometimes now the small print on a product label has to be a little further away. Everything is otherwise sharp the way it has always been, and far away things I can generally read without any effort. This is actually amazing, because genetically, I should have terrible sight. Both of my parents wore glasses very early in childhood, and my boy started wearing glasses in the last year.

This degrading of sight happens normally after 40, I've learned. While it isn't functionally troubling, or requiring glasses yet, it doesn't feel good to know that it's happening. To date, the only age-related thing I've really been able to complain about is controlling ear hairs. But this feels like a betrayal by my body, and I don't like it. Sometimes I find my knee hurts for no apparent reason at all (likely all the volleyball stops and jumping back in the day), and that's even more scary because I saw what bad knees did to the quality of life of my step-father. I worry that my body could do something else terrible, like make cancer or reject my appendix or make carpal tunnel come back or make my mind go soft.

I really do try to be zen about aging. I'm likely halfway between diapers and diapers again, and I can't do anything about it. I'm just not arrogant enough to believe I'm so important as to be bigger than the circle of life. But I want all the parts to work as well as possible until such time that I don't need them anymore. Dare to dream, right?

A movie about white rich British people in the 20's

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 22, 2019, 8:55 PM | comments: 0

On the surface, that's what you'd call Downton Abbey, now a movie taking place after six insanely great seasons of television. But if you're a fan, you know that would be over-simplifying things a bit. The series is really about the slow decline of the aristocracy in the early part of the 20th century, and the complexity of a social class system that would eventually break down. The film goes a step further by including the monarchy this time, as the plot revolves around a royal visit by the king and queen to the estate.

The thing that I loved dearly about the series was that, while the people upstairs and downstairs lived in seemingly different worlds, they were all troubled by the same human problems. The writing was skillfully composed, because with few exceptions, people at both ends of the class system were fundamentally good people, a trick that was easy to demonstrate with a number of characters who crossed the barriers of status. Whether you're an immigrant cook looking for your place, or a wealthy daughter of an aristocrat, everyone seeks meaning and purpose in life.

The movie chases that theme of purpose, just as the TV series did. It's even more clear, by the late 20's, when the film takes place, that the way of life that had been in place for generations was changing, as the world itself rapidly was. There are some surprising parallels to our own times. Technology was making the world smaller for them, especially with transportation (Lindbergh made his trans-Atlantic flight the year the movie takes place), and machines were becoming common place in most facets of life. The Internet, for better or worse, has changed the size of our world. Technology, more than ever, changes how we exist in the world.

I don't know what the budget for the movie was, but it is beautifully shot. The glamour shots of the building are there of course, as the opening sequence cleverly leads to it. But it's everything else as well... the costumes, the countryside... it's all quite lovely. Sure, it's a lot of comfort and nostalgia for fans of the show, but it's still wonderful. It won the weekend box office, which is probably not a shock when it was up against a Rambo movie (seriously, with Stallone). A good showing means we might get another movie, even though this one, like the TV show, seemed to have the intention of being an ending.

Managers and makers

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 20, 2019, 5:36 PM | comments: 0

My time working at Microsoft was extraordinary. There was so much change, so fast in my life then, with the getting married, procreating and moving 2,500 miles to a new city all in the course of one year, that I'm not sure I really was able to take everything in. The seeds of the amazing transition that the company would make were already planted then, even before Satya took over as CEO. I saw it here and there, and it was exciting.

One of the lingering problems at the company was its stupid stack ranking system for its employees. The short version of the story was that it deliberately looked at churning the "bottom" 15% or so in terms of performance reviews, where managers would fight for the people they thought were the best. I don't have to explain to you why this was toxic and gave people incentive not to collaborate with their peers. It didn't really adversely affect me in my two years there, but I saw how it could if I didn't find an ideal path for myself. This was made worse by the expectation that if you weren't moving up in the company, you were destined to be in the bottom of the stack rank. What that meant, essentially, was that you had to eventually be a manager if you wanted to keep in it.

There was a program manager (a title that means a million different things) that I worked with who was enduring this kind of nonsense, and eventually he left the company. He enjoyed his job, he was good at it, and he had no interest in managing other people. He was a maker, not a manager, and that was OK. It wasn't so great for his career within the company in that scene. They did ditch the stack ranking after I left, and from what I understand, there is room for makers to be productive contributors for the long haul now.

Still, that observation really affected my world review. Year's later, when I read The Manager's Path, it became even more clear that there's a larger cultural expectation that you have to be a manager to succeed and advance. Heck, some professions arbitrarily pin "manager" on the title of beginners, even, when frankly they don't really manage anything, they just do a job.

There are a couple of problems. People advance in their career and often are promoted to a manager position arbitrarily. We do this in technology constantly (something Path points out plainly). How often does an amazing sales person get promoted to sales manager, and they suck at it? We do the same thing with software developers. And then we pin the failure on the person, who frankly may not have wanted to do that. Indeed, they are makers, not managers.

I struggled with this for the better part of 10 years. I've been in software for nearly two decades, so if you're doing math, yeah, that's half of my career. At some point, I had to think very hard about what I'm good at. As an in-the-weeds software developer, at least with the technologies and platforms that I'm intimately familiar with, I'm a slightly better than average developer. It took me a long time to get there. Back in 2009-ish, I discovered that I was really good at assembling a small team and delivering stuff. Since then, I've bounced back and forth between maker and manager, sometimes doing both, until I landed where I am now, and have to be mostly manager with a much larger team. It hasn't been easy, but I can see now that it's the right future.

This doesn't change what I learned in Redmond, though. In any profession, we have to respect that makers are vitally important to the success of any organization. We put a lot of faith and emphasis on managers to deliver, as we should, but I wouldn't go as far as to say that they're more important than makers. It's just a different role. You can't have one without the other.

Build and deploy and cloud magic

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 19, 2019, 10:58 PM | comments: 0

I've really got a drive to build out a software project that I've been thinking about for awhile. I've been committing a lot of time to it because I now have a practical use for it. One of the early steps you get into on these kinds of projects is setting up all kinds of automation to build and deploy it all. That's particularly relevant because we're doing some of the same things at work right now on some new and replacement stuff (when I say "we," I really mean my team).

This kind of set up seems like something I do only once a year at best, and usually it's even less often. Even when I was working consulting gigs, most of the time all of the magic was set up for me already by a previous team, so it's like I have to relearn it every time. It changes a lot, too, so the infrequency adds to the friction. But once you get it all done, you feel good pretty much every time it runs. For the non-technical, what this work really means is to write some code, and when you save it, it triggers all kinds of magic that makes it run on the Internets.

The coolest thing about this is that it's all pretty much free. I use a product called Azure DevOps, and it can literally do anything that I need it to do to get bits on the air. In fact, the lack of constraints is one of the things that sometimes makes it hard to learn, because without a box you have to really think through what you intend to do. But now, when I commit code, within about three minutes, the web app, the functions and the database update are all done with no manual intervention. We live in the future!

I'm also amazed at how far we've come in terms of the cost of the technology, and the speed with which you can start using it. I can provision all of the databases that I need, and my code runs on Linux, which is a big deal for a guy who specialized on tech that used to only run on Windows. And even then, it doesn't really matter, because with cloud services, all of the underlying details are abstracted from you anyway. All I know for sure is that it lights up way faster.

I'll share more about the project when it gets further along. I've been so excited about it that I've actually asked a designer to make a new logo for me!

Six years of Fitbit

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 13, 2019, 10:00 AM | comments: 0

About six years ago, I bought the tiny little Fitbit One. Moving to Orange County, Florida, was something of a life reboot, and holding myself accountable to regular movement was something that I felt strongly about. I really wanted to improve my eating habits as well. The little fitness tracker and the app where I could log food made it non-ambiguous about how I was eating and moving. Two months in I could demonstrate weight loss.

I have stuck with the movement tracking, but have wavered in commitment to exercise and eating. The last year in particular was bad, because I did a whole lot of stress eating. That means that the measurement mostly serves to shame me, which doesn't feel good, but I'm getting to a point where I can simply treat it as self-awareness. I really like having it, because even on relatively inactive days, I know what it means to be truly sedentary, as I often was in my early 30's. I'm never like that anymore.

This tiny thing cost $90 back in 2013, and I struggled for days about whether or not to buy it. But a few weeks ago, it had very suddenly given me a low battery warning just two days after charging it, which was unusual because I used to go three weeks between charges. Then the other day, it outright died the same day that I charged it. It appeared that six years was the limit. Diana, who bought hers about six months after I did, lost hers a few months ago. She replaced hers with one of the newer models, now $70 and with a wristband and some notifications sent from your phone. I was reluctant until I found they had an optional belt clip this week so you didn't have to wear it on your wrist. I bought the replacement.

In six years, I might have had one or two days tops that I wasn't wearing it. In that time, I logged 13,047,796 steps, or 5,814 miles. It also includes 18,945 floors (I'm sure hundreds of which include cruise ship climbs). Unfortunately, the new one does not track stairs, but that's OK.

These trackers are valuable, because as they say in business, you can't improve what you can't measure. A lot of technology has questionable value (like 90% of the time wasters on smartphones), but there's little question in my mind that these devices and software are valuable.

Going to a different school is different

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 6, 2019, 10:11 PM | comments: 0

We're a couple of weeks into school now, after Simon missed the entire first week due to illness, and already, it's like a completely different world. What a difference the principal makes in setting the tone. He switched schools this year because the constant growth had us rezoned to yet another new building.

First off, there isn't any homework. Well, not technically... there is some social studies reading and writing they have to do on Fridays, and if they don't finish it, they can take it home. But that's it. He gets to come home and be a 4th grader and do kid stuff instead of more school stuff. I'm not categorically against homework, but having it every day in grade school strikes me as silly and there's no real proof that it changes outcomes.

More importantly though, there is zero emphasis on standardized testing at this school. It's just not a thing. We were incredibly fortunate that the new principal agreed to attend Simon's IEP at the end of last year, at the previous school, and she was in total advocate mode. In the course of that conversation, we talked about his anxiety, to the extent that he's medicated for it, and how the FSA testing pressure kind of wrecked him for the better part of several weeks. This was not the fault of his teacher, mind you, it was a school-wide thing. The new principal, maybe as a dig to the previous school, said something to the effect of, "We don't use the letters 'FSA.'"

If you're wondering, Simon got a 3 for the reading part of the FSA, the average and the automatic pass beyond having to prove other ways to be promoted. For math, he got the maximum 5. So explain to me again why all of that fucking pressure is necessary and comes at the cost of real learning.

The net result is that he at least seems to be pretty engaged, and even excited to learn. He has his subject preferences, for sure, but we know they're never going to cut science time to teach test taking strategies. He still has his social challenges, as I'm sure he always will given the ASD, but there's little doubt in my mind that hating school the way he did last year, despite having the sweetest, most caring teacher, would do him harm.

Now if we could just find kids that he really identified with. I know it's hard. I had very few friends in school. It's still hard for me to form deep friendships.

Old hardware doesn't have to be obsolete

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 5, 2019, 10:07 PM | comments: 0

Android 10 came out today, so I updated my phone once I was done for the day. I haven't quite had it for two years, but I seem to recall it shipped with 8, so I'm glad that it's current. Unfortunately, that's not the case with stuff as it gets older, and I'm kind of annoyed with that.

First off, I went to get the Lego Powered Up app to put on Simon's iPad, because it controls all of the new train models. I went to install it, and it couldn't because it doesn't support the version of iOS on it. I wasn't paying attention, but it looks like it stopped updating the OS quite awhile ago. This iPad came out in 2012, so yes, it's 7-years-old, but so what? The thing about computing devices is that, computationally, they tend to last way longer than they did back in the day. This is especially true for tablets and phones.

While I'm picking on Apple, I also flattened our aging first iMac, as it's getting close to 10 years now. It's been on Simon's desk for years, but since I built a desktop I wanted to pass down my 2015 iMac to him. I couldn't update that older iMac to any remotely recent version of MacOS, and that's super annoying. That computer is still viable considering almost everything you'd do with it these days is in a browser anyway. If you don't develop software or play games in 4K, you don't need a ton of hardware. (And soon, you won't need it even for those tasks.) Stop making stuff disposable!

I complain about Windows and all of the baggage it still carries, but I hilariously still use QuickBooks'99 to keep the books for the business, so there's something to be said for that. We don't have to throw away technology all of the time. Phones aren't making any serious improvement year to year. Computers last five to ten years. I think this unnecessary upgrade cycle is forced by the companies who sell the gear and our irrational consumerism. That's gotta be legit if me, the technologist, feels that way.

All the feelings, as an artist and human

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 4, 2019, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

One of the cool things about spending a lot of time seeing musicals is that the people in them tend to be interesting, and often young artists. In the last year, we've started following a number of people who were on the Hamilton #PhilipTour, and pretty much most of The Prom original Broadway cast. A number of people from the Ham tour just peeled off (those guys are endlessly entertaining on Instagram), and Prom just ended entirely, prematurely, if you ask me. That group in particular was pretty emotional about it, because it was an important, almost universally loved show. I was catching up on my RSS feeds and found a blog post from one of the women there who found that closing the show was pretty much the worst. There's a lot of intense feelings there. I imagine that working on a show is a lot like a really long summer camp, sometimes for years. Making a movie seems like that too, only shorter in duration as far as the actual shooting goes.

Art makes us feel, for sure. For me it can be pretty intense, and I'm just consuming it, not making it (most of the time). The thing is, I love that feeling, and it's the thing that makes me feel alive. Certainly live musical theater does this better than anything, in my opinion, but even a good 4-minute song can have that effect. If this feels so good, or bad, as the case may be, and that's what makes us feel the most human, do we try to find it in everything we do? These musical theater folks, they're a wreck, a lot, but not in a bad way. I'd love it if my day job made me feel that intensely. (I think... maybe it would be a bit much.)

Some parts of life are inherently prone to intense feelings, starting with parenting. Sometimes, when I put Simon to bed, and we're lying there for a minute talking about our day or whatever, I run the whole range of feels, from the wonder that he quite literally did not exist ten years ago, and now he has opinions, to the reality that he won't want to talk like that for many more years. Then as I'm walking away, I wonder if the things I did today helped him, or just irreparably fucked him up. There's stress or psychic weight around that, for sure, but I'd rather have it than not.

Work was this way more when I was doing more creative work, in radio and video back in the day. When I flipped to software developer, getting laid-off two years into it, I was guarded for a very, very long time and cautious not to get too emotionally invested in the work. In more recent years, I've injected more of that into it, but almost to a fault in some cases. Being more manager than technologist makes this even worse, because I'm responsible for the livelihood of a bunch of people. That's weird, having the intense feelings without the primarily creative intent.

This is a weird thing to ponder, because I'm simultaneously frustrated with the willful ignorance that people engage in, especially with science, and a general lack of critical thinking. But deep feeling is good when it makes us better people, to ourselves and others. I'd like to have more of that.

Dodging Dorian, and the different rules inland

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 3, 2019, 8:08 PM | comments: 0

We got pretty luck with this hurricane, largely at the expense of the northern islands of the Bahamas. Had the track from last week stuck, we probably would have seen a direct hit on the coast in the category 3 range, which is really bad news for the coast, but for us would have just been bad... -ish.

When Irma hit almost two years ago, I confirmed what I already kind of knew. The highest recorded sustained wind speed in Orlando proper was about 86 mph in 2004, with Hurricane Charley. That was pretty serious, certainly, and I remember seeing all of the blue tarps on houses on my next trip here. But while roof damage is possible, maybe even likely if you have an aging or poorly built roof, new construction since 2010, as a result of that year's hurricanes, prompted higher standards for much of the state. Andrew already in 1992 prompted higher standards. For us in most of Orange County, new houses have to be able to withstand 3-second bursts of wind at 130 mph. The science suggests this is a "700 year" scenario, where sustained winds would likely be around 100 mph. Again, the recorded history tops out at 86 for Orlando (presumably measured at MCO).

That's why Walt built his theme parks here. There's a good trade-off between the risk of serious weather and endless summer. Heck, if things were to get super serious, I'd consider a stay on-property, because they have their own power company and it's unlikely that their Internet would go down. They also happen to be in the business of feeding tens of thousands of people at a time.

So it's not really a place that you evacuate from. It doesn't mean your house, even if it's new, won't take damage, but having built two of them now down here, I understand some of the fundamental design considerations that make them pretty durable. The roofs are tied down all the way to the foundation with a series of beams, straps and such. The first floor is all concrete block, the exterior is stucco. The difference compared to a Midwest house is staggering. You also don't need to stock up on gas and food this far inland, because it's unlikely that you're going to go weeks without. This is the opposite of being on an island. There won't be shortages or any real delay longer than two or three days. Heck, the Amazon Prime delay would be even shorter.

That said, you don't want to be cavalier about the safety or short-term potential for pain. Power can and will go out, maybe for days, so you have to plan accordingly. You could lose water as well for a few days, so you fill a tub up so you can at least flush your poop. You definitely bring in everything from your patio or porch. Plan on being inside for at least 24 hours, maybe 36, because it's not the wind itself that's dangerous, it's the stuff that gets airborne.

For Irma, I believe our sustained winds were in the mid 50's, gusts in the 70's. That was certainly "exciting." A direct hit from Dorian would've likely been a little more intense than that, but not seriously so.

We have a beautiful sunset right now, with the clouds moving by incredibly fast. Our sustained winds are about 20 mph, and it's gusty on top of that. Morning will bring the peek, probably not more than mid-20's. We got lucky this time.

Lightning repairs complete, now Dorian

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 31, 2019, 10:09 AM | comments: 0

After a stressful week, things were restored to normal late yesterday afternoon. Monday's lightning hit ended up costing over $2,600 to repair. Most of that cost was the air conditioning repair. Insurance already cut a check, but that's after the $1,000 deductible, so that's not exactly ideal.

On the stress side, we ended up sleeping downstairs on couches and a kids' Ikea mattress, because the upstairs was over 80 degrees. Every morning, I woke up with stuff hurting more than the day before, so that was not ideal. Also stressful, the metering mechanism in our power gateway, which determines how to distribute power with our solar and backup, was dead, meaning that in the event of a power outage, we couldn't run off of the battery and disconnect from the grid. With a hurricane on the way, you can understand why that's bad news. Tesla is completely fucking terrible at supporting their energy products, as I've said before, so after I finally convinced them to send a guy out, he came and went in the morning and didn't fix the problem. The service request didn't even detail the problem, so as far as he was concerned, it was working. I had to call scheduling to convince them otherwise. Anyway, we're back up, ready to go if the power goes out. We can't run the high voltage stuff, like the AC or oven, but we'll have lights and a cold fridge.

On a happier note, I posted on the Twitter the scorch marks inside the Nest thermostat base, and the Google reached out to me. They asked me to send in the serial numbers of my fried thermostats, and they sent me new ones, even though they were certainly out of warranty and destroyed by an "act of god" anyway. That's pretty great of them. Of course, they also know we're good customers, with five of their phones in the last four years, five Google Home speakers, two Nests and a Chromecast, so it wasn't bullshit when their email said, "Since you're a valued customer."

Now we sit around and wait through the long weekend for Dorian to roll in. Regardless of its eventual track, which keeps changing, the consistent forecast for Orlando proper is winds in the low 70 mph range. Because we're inland, it's not likely to go higher than that, but I guess it could go lower if the storm weakens. I expect it to be a lot like Irma almost two years ago. As long as nothing gets airborne and hits the house, we should be fine. I imagine we'll get some water intrusion here and there, but we'll see.

What I don't understand is the way people this far inland react. Everyone is so concerned with having a tank of gas and weeks worth of food, as if the storm will cause massive delays to getting stuff here. The gas in particular I don't understand, because you're not going to be driving anywhere for at least 36 hours, and even then, you're not going to go 300 miles to anywhere.

We have a little extra water, stockpiled some ice, not fundamentally changed our food stock, have adequate propane for cooking, and we'll fill the bath tub for flushing if we lose pressure. We also have a lot of liquor. What does suck about hurricane insurance is that the deductible is huge, but it's intended to cover the catastrophic scenario.

The great lightning strike of 2019

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 28, 2019, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

Monday, our house took a nearly direct lightning strike. I don't think it was the house itself since I imagine asphalt roofs and stucco walls aren't particularly conductive, and also because our neighbors also lost rooms full of electronics, pool filtration systems and who knows what else. We lost a bunch of stuff.

First and most serious is that one of the AC heat pumps outside seemed to take the brunt of it, while introducing the electricity into our house. The HVAC tech hooked up pressurized air and immediately you could hear leaking. He took it apart to find a big old hole just off the compressor, and another in the coils. This happens to be the unit that feeds the bedrooms upstairs, so we've been camping out on the couch for three nights so far, still waiting for the shop to get back to us with parts. They've been non-communicative for a day, which is not encouraging. This seems to be par for the course, which is pretty weird in a place where it's damn hot all summer. I guess, on the plus side, we're using far less power than usual. The fix is going to be expensive, for sure, and it looks like my homeowners deductible is a grand.

That hit also fed through the transformers in both air handlers that power the thermostats, and both were fried. These are Nest E thermostats (the less expensive ones), and it was actually the bases that burned out. I didn't know this, but they have a bunch of electronics in them. I took them apart to find a big circuit board inside, and the charred remains of some component that fed the common wire power into the unit. Google doesn't sell just the bases, so I complained about being out $350 to replace them on the Twitter. Amazingly, Google asked me to get in touch with them, and an hour later, they offered to send replacements. How great is that?

When the hit happened, it also did something naughty to our lights. Actually, at least a half-dozen LED bulbs in the recessed lightning got hosed, but the bigger problem was that the entire circuit that feeds our kitchen, pantry and dining room lights was permanently tripped. I thought maybe it was the breaker, so I replaced that, but it still tripped. Finally got an electrician out today, who started looking in switches and outlets to find some wires that welded themselves together. But on the plus side, the breaker replacement was legit, and better me spending $45 than $80 by the electrician. Just cost the labor at $100.

Internet went out to, and that was the worst part of waking hours. Half the neighborhood went out, and when they "fixed" that, a bunch of us were still down. Me and my neighbor both had the fiber to coax converters get zapped, which seemed strange since the fiber wouldn't carry a current. However, the converter is powered by a $2 transformer inside the house, which in our case got blown out in the hit and fed that down to the converter. Once those were all replaced, we were back to streaming Netflix comedy specials, and without spending money.

The meter sensors in our power gateway apparently stopped working, which is bad news, because it means we can't do the switching to charge the battery and cover us in a power outage, which is the whole point. Tesla is going to try to get us back up before Dorian gets here, but I'm not optimistic. They don't have a great track record for delivery.

The couch sleeping is getting kind of rough though. My back was feeling pretty bad all day. If the AC doesn't get repaired soon, I might be wrestling the mattress downstairs. Not sure where to though, because in front of the massive patio windows isn't a good idea during a hurricane.

I'm glad we've got all of the lighting and internal power back to normal, but the HVAC is going to hurt, physically and financially for a bit.

Photo management after a decade

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 25, 2019, 7:50 PM | comments: 0

About a decade ago, I bought Apple's Aperture software to manage photos on my computer. I generally liked it, because you could make the basic edits you would want and it would retain your tweaks to exposure and such. I also liked that it worked on a file reference arrangement, meaning you could organize the actual files any way that you wanted, and reference them with a folder and album structure however you wanted inside of the software.

Some weeks ago, I decided to build a computer for the first time in forever (I'm loving it, by the way), and that meant abandoning the Mac. I had to abandon Aperture eventually no matter what, because they stopped maintaining it years ago, and future versions of MacOS wouldn't support it at all. And if that weren't enough, I was still using a version of Adobe's Creative Suite that I bought in 2011, before they switched to a subscription model. That was a bummer, because I would generally buy new versions of the Adobe stuff every three or four years. While $1,800+ for the software was high, it wasn't so bad if I could use it for three years or more. Alas, even Photoshop stopped working right in the most current MacOS versions on high resolution screens.

I had been considering jumping in to Adobe's $10/month Lightroom and Photoshop plan for a long time, so moving over to a Windows computer seemed like the right time. Functionally, Lightroom works about the same way as Aperture, but it doesn't do referenced files. Instead, it uploads a copy to their servers for backup and safe keeping. I guess this is OK, but to accommodate the 350 gigs of photos I have, it meant having to upgrade to their bigger storage plan, an extra $5 per month with a current promotion. This is kind of redundant, because I already use a backup service, but I suppose there's no such thing as having too much backup. I'm just being kind of cheap.

What I didn't like about Lightroom is that it stages the photos in a hidden data directory until they get uploaded, so at first I thought this was a huge fail, because I was using an extra 350 gigs of disk space for no reason. Then after reading up, I discovered that they were removed once in the cloud. I wish they'd just do referenced files.

It is kind of neat to use a version of Photoshop that isn't 8-years-old. It's faster and more responsive, too. I don't completely hate Adobe for the subscription model, but it makes justifying the whole suite, for which I used Illustrator, Premier and After Effects on a semi-frequent basis, a lot harder. Sometimes I get a promotional rate of $40/month, but normally it's $60. I know that's not terrible considering what I used to shell out, but on a 3-year upgrade cycle I essentially paid $50/month, and it went down to $37 if I stretched it to four years. I know, I make software for a living. I should probably get over it.

Do people experience wonder anymore?

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 24, 2019, 10:00 PM | comments: 0

I had a lap around Kennedy Space Center today, and I'm still in awe of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Sure, it ended up being an over-engineered and suboptimal vehicle (the cost and turnaround time for reuse was pretty terrible, despite that being the stated goal), but it was still an extraordinary achievement to be able to fly that thing, people and countless cargo pieces into space. We, mankind, achieved something.

But I couldn't help but notice people bowing to their phones, seemingly bored minutes after seeing it for the first time. I'm not being judgmental about kids here either, it was people of all ages. I appreciate that the Shuttle program was more special for a kid who grew up with it, witnessed the horror of the Challenger explosion (and disbelief of Columbia's demise 17 years later), but space flight is an extraordinary thing, and this big thing went there 33 times.

This admittedly is a cynical view, but does anyone experience wonder about anything anymore? Our culture is completely preoccupied with narcissism and tribalism, colored with a side of entitlement. No one seems to believe that anything is amazing. That makes me sad.

Sometimes I find wonder in things we otherwise take for granted. Sometimes I look at my phone, and I realize that I have a tiny supercomputer in my hand that's connected to nearly all of the world's information. That's extraordinary, and the power that comes from that is part of the reason that I've been able to craft a successful career, and maybe make the world a little better than it was when I came into it, however small that impact might be. Sure, it's easy to find wonder in my phone, when growing up telephones were things wired to walls with dials on them, and the closest I could get to a computer was a desktop calculator.

I'm suggesting it doesn't even have to be something about technological advancement. Whether it's the mountains of Alaska, the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean, or the awesome force of a hurricane, it strikes me as impossible not to feel overwhelmed. Heck, I've lived in Florida for six years, and geckos, those tiny dinosaurs, inspire wonder and joy every time I see them (and I giggle when I catch them procreating). 

Or how's this for wonder: I met another person who wants to be my partner for the rest of our brief time in the world, and together we made this little human that keeps getting larger, has opinions, and expresses love toward us. That should inspire wonder.

It's so easy to get lost in all of the bullshit. In the cosmic sense of things, we're meaningless and absurdly temporary. It's all bigger than us, and to me that's a reason of wonder. Exploring all that inspires wonder is the point, it is our reason for being.