Archive: December, 2001

2001: What the hell just happened?

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 31, 2001, 12:56 AM | comments: 0

Magazines and TV are all about retrospects this week. I honestly can't even believe that 2001 was real. It started out with so much promise. I met my goal of doubling my income in three years, I started coaching junior Olympic volleyball, I changed jobs and got away from a failing company, I bought a pinball machine and Steph and I bought our first house, a new one at that.

Summer was fun, spending a great deal of time at various amusement parks, even hitting the East Coast in August. Then September 11 rolled around. To this day it's hard for me to really absorb what happened that day. I was sitting in my little cubicle hell when one of the other IT guys told me a plane hit the World Trade Center. Of course, my first thought was that it was some little plane and a few dozen people may have died.

Within half an hour, I knew something more had happened, because anything on the Internet that might supply news was unreachable. So while I fumbled around, I got Greg, one of the moderators over on CoasterBuzz, on instant messenger. He was sitting in front of the TV, and provided the play-by-play. He bounced me over a URL to some site that had video of the second plane hitting the second tower. I had much of the office standing around me. None of us could believe what we saw.

I tried to hit the foreign news sites, but they too were crippled with traffic within an hour of the first attack. The sites I could get to were scaled back dramatically. No ads, few graphics, only the basics. Finally I got to the Washington Post, which apparently had some kind of backup plan, as their site was being handled by Akamai and distributed that way.

We all pretty much know what happened that day, so I won't go into it again. The scene at work wasn't business as usual, but it was business, and that bothered me. Steph was at the Museum of Natural History, and took the long way home because of the mass exodus from downtown Cleveland. I wanted to be home as well. If the shit really hit the fan, the last place I wanted to be was with an employer that I didn't care that much about. Those idiots could go on doing whatever, but I for one couldn't think about work.

I left a little before 3 p.m. On the way home I was listening to some ABC radio affiliate, where they were interviewing a bishop or cardinal, who was describing the way he gave some dying cop his last rights. I couldn't help crying. That was too much.

When I got home, the little pictures I saw on the Internet were magnified a hundred times with the images on TV. I'm a loyal ABC News viewer, so I didn't see the images of people jumping out of the buildings, but the destruction was enough. It was such a beautiful sunny day in Cleveland, and that made it even more surreal.

That night I built the server that CoasterBuzz is now running on, as the parts arrived that day. I remember that it was hard to focus on programming, so I didn't really do any of it.

In any case, my employer cancelled their big trade show, much to the dismay of the exhibitors and attendees, anxious to have something else to think about, and the company took a huge hit. Knowing that the morons had already let hundreds of thousands of dollars in invoices go unpaid from exhibitors, I knew the company was going to have a serious cash flow problem. A month and a half later, I was a victim of "restructuring."

I was really fucking pissed off. It wasn't really the attacks that pissed me off, it was the way the company was managed. The layoff could've been avoided, and it didn't help that I got to see all of the mismanagement first hand. Combine this with the fact I was assured when I was hired that layoffs weren't an issue (the reason I was looking in the first place) and my boss even indicated they intended to grant longevity or retainer bonuses to the IT staff. What a joke. After about a week, I tried to put it behind me and get moving forward.

The first step was to get CliqueSite in order. CliqueSite is the content management software that runs this very site. It's worth five digits to developers, and even more if I build sites for small to medium-sized companies. After three months of work on it, it's finally ready. Good thing, too, because the job market sucks. Now I have to play Mr. Salesman.

I don't think we can really relax yet, and I'm not sure if we ever will. However, it is clear that we need as much dumb shit to distract us as possible. I don't want to hear that "everything is gonna be OK," I want to hear that some religious freak is calling Britney Spears a whore and that Nicole Kidman ditched Tom Cruise because he's gay. It's pointless distractions like these, regardless of validity or importance, that make it easier to get around from day to day. I've got to get my ass off of unemployment and pay my mortgage. Do I really need to hear that some monster on the other side of the world wants to shove a plane full of anthrax up my ass? I think not.

On that note, be gone, 2001! May all of your insanity become a memory. It's time for healing, a new start and a better focus on our family, friends and personal liberties.

God bless our planet, and happy New Year!

Gaming with a Halo

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 23, 2001, 12:58 AM | comments: 0

Despite being unemployed, I couldn't not buy an X-Box video game console. Microsoft has done a good job courting the right developers to make outstanding games. So far I've finished two of them. Munch's Oddysee was hands down the best platformer I've ever played, especially with regards to visuals. Halo is the other game, a first-person shooter.

Shooters are a little weird on a console because they're played on the PC with arrow keys and the mouse. Well, what do you know, using two analog joysticks is actually an even better way to do it. After I got used to it, I found it to be much better than the keyboard/mouse combo.

Let me say right now that I'm not a big shooter fan. Quake and the others bore me. I've played two other shooters I like, the first was Half-Life and the other was Max Payne. Half-Life in particular had a good story, even if it got really weird late in the game.

Halo is even better. I'd say that with a little bit of development, the game could be made into a movie. The premise is that you, and your fellow humans, are fighting these bastard aliens called "The Covenant." They get on board your ship and you end up landing on this giant ring. The ring is larger than a planet and has an organic environment along the inside. You're not sure what it's for, but the aliens are all over it, and seem to think it has some religious value. Your mission is to figure out what they're doing, stop it, and in the process figure out what the ring (which the bad guys call "Halo") does.

That means blowing shit up... lots of it. It means vehicle driving, lots of guns and a variety of ugly bad guys. You do all of this in what is easily the most beautiful environment ever made for a game. Some of the interior locations are boring, but when you're outside and look up into the sky to see the other end of the ring, it's pretty amazing.

So why am I all jazzed about it? Well, I played it tonight for, I'm not sure, many hours, because when the major plot twist happened, I had to know what was next. There is a classic movie element in this. Some things become familiar and wonderful, only to go sour later on.

If you like to blow shit up in a video game, this is the one. Buy it now.

What happened to the holidays?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 18, 2001, 2:00 AM | comments: 0

Steph and I whipped out the Dogma DVD tonight for something to watch. Not only does the movie show that Kevin Smith can be a brilliant writer and director (as opposed to the dumb shit of "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"), but it reminds us that people generally miss the point with religion, and it's up to you to make it right at least for yourself.

When I think about that, the holiday season makes me happy, and glad to be a Pseudo-Christian. But then I look at some other things going on, stare up at the sky, and ask, "What the fuck?" For example, people on the road are generally more assholish than I remember, stupid sports fans are throwing shit at officials and stupid kids are posting outright sexual and disgusting things on my Web sites. Top that off in a year where people crash airplanes into buildings in the name of their god, and one can't help but feel a little uneasy.

That's when you start to take inventory and issue reality checks. As usual, I find that all of my fingers and toes are in tact, the sun is still rising and J-Lo still has the best ass on the planet. Yeah, things aren't all that bad when push comes to shove, it's just a matter of channeling all of the positives to the front.

Some days that's not easy. I know my tolerance to stupid people is at an all time low right now, perhaps because being unemployed shelters you from them until you get out into the world a bit. It's like you're not used to them or something. But at the end of the day, I still have a beautiful wife who loves me, a nice house, a bastard of a cat (I mean that in loving way), a brain smart enough to realize this stuff and the realization that society keeps on functioning, despite all of the evil and hate throughout the world.

I do think that people are fundamentally good, but unfortunately encounter environments that make them less than good. I mean, look at Americans for the last 200 years... none of them were ever born racist but there are still racists. I guess we just have to continue to evolve (provided we don't force our own extinction through mass-destruction or the gradual destruction of our habitat).

The old "shit happens" bumper stickers still hold true. In the mean time you have two choices: The first is to sit around with your thumb up your ass crying about how much the world sucks, the second is to maximize every minute you've got on this planet and rise above all of the pathetic mediocrity.

Which will you choose?

Cleveland football fans = morons

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 16, 2001, 11:51 PM | comments: 0

I watched the local news here in Cleveland in horror this evening, as lame football fans were throwing shit all over the field following a bad call by one of the officials. Now, excuse me, but it's fucking football, not a war, not social injustice and not anything else that's worth showing people on national television what kind of moron you are.

If that wasn't bad enough, the CEO and owner of the Browns get on and act like the whole thing was perfectly OK. What kind of leadership is that? Why don't they just get up and say, "Hey, next time you stop by a game, feel free to act like a complete asshole and injure someone just because you're not getting your way in a stupid game."

The reporter from WEWS was fired up and seriously pissed off, as he got hit twice. I say good for him, he had every right to be pissed, especially after reporting on the comments of the CEO and owner. You don't see a sports guy get that upset over anything, so I give him a lot of credit.

You know what the worst thing is? Later on the officials explain the entire thing, and said that the replay tapes proved conclusively that the play in question (a missed catch) was indeed not a fair catch, and that the replay request did come down before the next play had taken place. Bottom line, what happened was apparently fair, however unfortunate it might have been.

In the end, it's still embarassing to see that kind of dumb shit happen in your own town. Today it sucks to say I'm from Cleveland.

Balancing act isn't easy

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 14, 2001, 12:03 AM | comments: 0

You know, the funny thing about being unemployed is that you don't have the normal routine that you do when you have a regular job. I stay up until 3 a.m., get up around 10 a.m., spend the early part of the "business day" looking for more job postings, eat more often than I used to and generally spend way too much time at home.

This is not a balanced way to be. I find myself suddenly needing to let some of that stored energy out. So I need to find a road map for that, the way to balance.

A lot of people would first say that religion is the key there, but that's not it. Religion is always there in good and bad times, and for me at least, it's a very personal thing that doesn't involve churches or reading scripture. I've never really felt any comfort in organized religion, so I kind of invented my own little denomination of Christianity that suits me well. It's based on all of the Sunday school growing up, but centers on the part about God being loving and forgiving, not the endless rules some denominations go on and on about.

My balance over much of the last year, work aside, came from travel. It's just awesome to get out into the world and take a look around. It offers perspective you can't always get at home. My trip to Orlando last month was a great example. I was there covering the big amusement industry trade show for CoasterBuzz, and doing tourist stuff while I was there. The real unfortunate part is that Stephanie (my wife) wasn't with me.

One of the things that has brought me the greatest joys in life is coaching. Last year was my first year coaching club (junior Olympic) volleyball, with two years of high school freshman experience prior to that. I had a 16 club team, which means my girls were not older than 16 and it was not a national qualifying team. This year I'm doing 17 open, which means we can go to "the big show."

What makes it fun and rewarding for me is that, for one thing, it has nothing to do with the Internet or real work. The other thing is that you build relationships with kids that look up to you, and in return for your instruction they do their best to be better athletes and people. It's an amazing process. I jokingly tell people it's like having kids only I get to give them back at the end of the day, but in all honesty there are some that I'd be perfectly happy having as my own daughters. They're good kids, and I miss not seeing them every few days.

So volleyball starts next month, and I think, regardless of my employment status, I'll regain balance.

First Post!

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 13, 2001, 2:09 AM | comments: 0

I have this T-shirt I bought from Think Geek that says "First Post!" in a little comic thought bubble. I thought that shirt was hilarious because you see crap like that on unmoderated (or poorly moderated) forums all of the time. Really, who gives a monkey nut that you've decided to post something as uninspiring as that?

So then I guess I might be guilty of the very same thing. But see, this isn't about anyone but me. This is where I take inventory and organize my thoughts. As far as the public is concerned, I'm aware that some things I do or say aren't worth much to anyone but myself.

In any case, I need to write more. I used to love doing it in college, and I particularly enjoyed getting a rise out of people with sticks shoved so far up their asses that they could taste the sticks. It's kind of like when some moron speeds up on the freeway so you can't change lanes. Flipping him off as he drives into your back seat gives you a certain satisfaction. Those are good times.

I don't know if anyone will ever read this stuff. I'm not even sure if I care. It's just good to be pecking out a thought now and then.