Archive: March, 2004

Going solo or taking a year off

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 31, 2004, 8:58 AM | comments: 3
There was an interesting little piece on MSN the other day about taking time off to do, well, whatever. I can't tell you how long I've wanted to do that, on my own terms. Now that I've been laid-off a number of times, not working isn't nearly as scary as it used to be.

That article was a little more geared toward people who have no alternate income to sustain themselves. That's not really me. I've got a little money coming in from my freelance consulting and my sites, so I won't starve. It's looking positive that I'll have a book contract soon, and the publisher's marketing people think it could be huge. I'm looking into coaching high school volleyball again as well (I coach the more interesting, more competitive junior Olympic ball now, as organized under USA Volleyball). Bottom line is that I'll have lots to do, and it will mostly be things I like to do.

There is of course the risk that I'll have negative cash flow, for who knows how long. The upside of this though is that .NET jobs are plentiful in my area, and at some point later in the year, having a book to your credit might not make you rich, but it's a nice touch that few developers have on their resume.

All told, I think there are a lot of opportunities, I just have to accept that living the J-Pizzie lifestyle will be a bit less extravagant than perhaps I'm used to, for the time being.

Triumph to tragedy

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 30, 2004, 8:34 AM | comments: 0
A week or two ago I mentioned how we recruited a new girl on my team to replace the one that I lost. I was pretty excited because I've known her for years, and she's a great kid. One of my favorites of all time.

Our club director had no problem entering her into the system for our region, but then when she tried to register her for the national qualifier, it rejected her, because of her birthday. It turns out that her birthday is August 2, and you must be born on or after September 1 to play on a 17's team. Nevermind the bullshit that the J.O. season is long since over by then.

So I had to tell this girl, who absolutely loves the team, loves the game, and has a long standing relationship with me as her coach, that she couldn't play for us. It was the single worst thing I've ever had to do in six years of coaching. The moment I got it out she was hysterically crying. It was a total melt down.

The team wasn't happy about it either. It changed everything faster than it had changed when the other girl left. I never, ever want to be put in a position like that again where I'll have to hurt a kid like that. It was horrible. I wouldn't wish this on any kid I've ever coached, but especially not this kid.

I can't stop replaying her reaction in my head over and over again. It tears at my soul. Even more difficult, I have to try and carry on and keep the team moving forward and focused.

I know that time will help this, but it absolutely sucks right now. I guess we'll carry on with the eight girls, with my "ninth" as an unofficial assistant, friend to the team and sometimes cheerleader. It's not the role she should have, and it's not what she deserves, but I don't foresee USA Volleyball making an exception.

Victory is mine!

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 29, 2004, 8:19 AM | comments: 0
My kids won their tournament yesterday. In all fairness, it was filled with ten easy teams, then us and the team we played in the final. The day was not without its drama.

The really easy teams we ended up struggling against in the second games. We would blow them away, then get bored and play down. I hate that! We nearly blew our shot for the gold bracket in the last game of the last pool match against a team we should've destroyed. Squeaked by 17-15 in the third game. I guess they like to keep it interesting for the fans.

Gold semi, owned the other team. Then in the final, the other good team. We fell apart in the end of the first game and lost by a couple of points. In the second game, we blew a nice 11-3 lead but finished 25-23. Too close! Fortunately, after dropping the first three points in game 3, we won it 15-12. My kids had their first gold.

That was an important game to win, because they demonstrated to themselves that they can bounce back from a tough time and get the job done. It wasn't convincing, but they did it. The next challenge I think is trying to figure out how to keep them having fun and balance being serious with keeping things light enough. When they get too serious, they get quiet, and quiet is bad in volleyball.

Now to complicate my life further, a couple of the parents are encouraging me to coach their high school team. One can't do that when you have a regular day job.

Rethinking volleyball attacks

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 26, 2004, 9:20 AM | comments: 0

Having some talented kids on your team really makes you think about volleyball differently. I've already been thinking differently because I run a swing offense, but this in turn has led to other variations in the way we run attacks.

I was talking with our "floating" skills coach a couple of weeks ago about teaching the standard attack approach. I made the observation that teaching the kids how to hit quick (where the ball is set just off the setters hands and the hitter is either there or they're not) eliminates the need to worry about timing and concentrate on performing a strong approach.

Normally, when the kids are younger, we teach them the entire package, where we toss the ball to the setter, and as soon as the ball is released from the setter's hands, they leave and time their approach to meet and hit the ball. The result is a lot of broken approaches, if you ask me. Even some of my kids don't approach the ball well. They take too many steps and it's a clumsy, slow and ineffective motion that limits their jump.

Hitting a quick is about putting your trust in the setter that when you get there, the ball will be there. If it's not there, that's the setter's fault, not yours. What a difference this makes. Conventional thinking is that quick hits are difficult, but I think nothing is further from the truth. My kids, which are all forced to hit quick sets in various plays, are proving my theory.

Another continuous problem I've had is that kids tend to get very close to the net and jump very close. This is bad because, obviously it presents a danger where they may touch the net, but it also keeps them from fully extending their arms and getting a good follow through on the hit. It's also easier to block.

Our left side attacks were not fast enough, and the approaches were kind of ugly. I didn't fully appreciate this until I started forcing left side hitters to slide right, behind the setter, and having them hit there. Huh. What a difference. So for the left side, I started pushing them further back and tried to get them jumping from eight feet off of the net. Magic happened!

Suddenly every single kid was hitting harder, was hitting more down (because the ball was out in front of them), was jumping higher, and above all would have more flexibility against the blockers because there are more options when you're off the net. The best part is that every kid knew this.

I'm excited about the things I'm learning this year. Volleyball for me is moving beyond the realm of "best practices" that we've taught for years. I'm moving into new areas and innovating. There's a lot of trial and error still, but every week these talented kids can do whatever I ask, and the result is faster development of my own skills, as well as their own. It's really very cool. We'll see how they do this weekend.

I beat the bug! Fuck you bug!

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 25, 2004, 9:49 AM | comments: 4
I got to work yesterday feeling, well, not right. That's actually normal any day because I don't much care for the job.

But by noon, I was feeling warm and achy, which is never good news. By the time I got home around 5, I was on fire. Really not good. So I covered up in two blankets and started the chill/sweating cycle. I was immediately determined to kick the bug's ass and not be sick today.

When I went to bed at 10, my balance was all screwed up and I was still feeling pretty shitty. Over night, I started with the chill/sweat thing again. I woke up at 12:30 and was still doing it. At 3:30, I woke up to pee, and the fever had backed off a little. At 4:30, I woke up in a puddle of my own sweat, yet I was freezing. The good news is that the fever seemed to have gone.

When I got up for good at 6, I didn't feel great, but certainly not as bad as last night. I still get little bouts of sweating this morning, but I think, overall, I beat the bug, and did it under 24 hours. Thank God! It's about time being sick didn't mean two or three days of shittyness. The only real problem I'm dealing with right now is that I'm insanely tired.

I beat the bug!

The nuclear holocaust dream

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 24, 2004, 8:48 AM | comments: 4
In addition to the radio dream where I can't get songs queued fast enough and have dead air, I also frequently have a nuclear holocaust dream.

There's never any death or even significant destruction in these dreams, but generally it's kind of dark and dreary, and the real conflict in these dreams is that I'm always looking for someone. When I was in high school (yeah, I've been having this dream that long), I was never looking for anyone in particular, but in the last ten years or so I'm always looking for my wife, Stephanie.

There are always other people I know that I run into, mostly family members and some friends, but I always bypass them and keep looking for Steph. I'm never in an outright panic in these dreams, but rather I try to play like everything's cool, and I'll hook up with her pretty soon. If I stay sleeping long enough, sometimes I find her, and other times I don't. In those cases where I wake up, I try to fall back asleep to continue the dream.

I try to look at the dream from some kind of abstract point of view, to figure out what it means, but I never really arrive at any conclusions.

In some instances there are some peripheral details or sub-plot. Last night, I had to get some children into a shelter just before the blast. Then I saw the blast, but it was more like a theme park special effect than an actual nuclear explosion. After that, I ran into my aunt and uncle who had parts of a Huss Enterprise ride to put together, so the kids could ride it. Some guy, someone from the neighborhood I guess, didn't want me to put it together, and the kids were sad.

A shrink could have a lot of fun with my dreams.

Crisis and resolution for my volleyball kids

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 19, 2004, 8:42 AM | comments: 1
Here's something I didn't expect. One of my kids quit the team yesterday. The short story is that she felt she couldn't commit the time for practices because of work, and was planning to miss regionals and the qualifier in Baltimore. It's a damn shame, because she's insanely talented. She already missed three practices and half of a tournament. I tried to convince her that she has to work the rest of her life, have fun now, but she didn't buy it.

In an even more unexpected event, I drafted one of my players from last year and two years before that as her replacement. This girl is a senior, actually, but she's up one year for some reason. So she's "older" but not really. It never occurred to me that she was still young enough to play 17.

She's been to a few practices to hang out, she already knows the offense and the kids seem to like her. I think she'll be a pretty good fit. Now I just hope she can help us get that trip to Houston.

No progress is made without being unrealisitic

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 17, 2004, 1:10 PM | comments: 0
If you've ever read Fast Company, you know that they have very brief pieces on "influential" people, basically including something important they have to say. Well, this one really stuck with me:

"No progress is made without being unrealistic."
-Eric Lander, Professor of Biology, MIT

That's enormously profound to me, because being realistic is what's currently holding me back in life.

See, I'm a creative person that needs to participate in the act of creation to feel like I'm making the most of my time. When I don't have that, the "work" that I do is substandard or causes me to appear lazy and unmotivated. I have all these things swirling in my head that I want to do, and in the long-term, some of them might even allow me to make a little money.

But up and quitting my boring contract gig seems unrealistic because, well, my other endeavors don't exactly pull in a ton of cash. Since I can't be unrealistic, no progress is made, and I'm stuck.

Indeed, I suppose I don't take a lot of risks, which is ironic because it was risk that got me to this level of income in my field in the first place. I'm a freakin' broadcaster in the world of code monkeys. I was never realistic about "making it" in this field, but yet, here I am.

Progress really needs a kick in the ass right now.

Creative energies and seeing people feel good

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 15, 2004, 2:46 PM | comments: 1
I saw that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition the other day on ABC for the first time. It reminded me of Queer Eye in many ways, because the basic premise of the show is to do something really nice for some people who just need a little help. You practically have to fight back the tears to watch people be so happy.

That got me to thinking about when I was working in TV for the city and schools. One thing I often did was tape holiday concerts in the schools. They were a huge hit. My favorite annual shoot was the multi-camera shoot we did for the high school orchestra concert. It was real PBS-quality stuff.

I started to think about those two things... being creative in your occupation and making people happy as some result of what you were doing. I think those were the things that made me the happiest in any of my previous jobs, and they're two aspects that are sorely lacking in my current day job.

There are little components of these things in some other things I do, but not for the 40 hours a week I put in to pay the bills. For example, I have to be creative and help people to succeed as a volleyball coach. That's the single most rewarding thing I do. People apparently get some joy out of my sites, particularly CoasterBuzz (otherwise it wouldn't be the first place 11,000 people go when big news breaks in the middle of the off-season).

I'm on the edge of being able to be creative and do things that result in happy people, it's so close. If I can only push toward it quickly, through all the little endeavors I have on the radar, I can drop this megacorporate crap job and make a living from it. If only I could keep enough energy after eight hours at that dump to make it happen!

Staying positive is a real challenge at times, as you find the balance between being a responsible adult and hanging on to the idealism of your youth. I think without the latter, you don't have much of a life.

The sweet smell of success

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 14, 2004, 11:06 AM | comments: 3
A few days ago I was bitching about the melt down my kids had at their first tourney, today I'm singing their praises.

Mind you, the competition was not nearly as intense this time, but the bigger point is that they finally realized what it means to be a team. They were loud, they encouraged each other, and every last one of them was "on." It was incredible to watch them execute the offense, dig ridiculously hard hits, make smart blocking decisions and generally do what I always felt they could. What a change from just a week before.

We ended up placing second in gold. I think we probably should have won that one, but the format of the tournament worked against us. We had the last match in pool play, then had to play right through the bracket without stopping. That's four straight matches without a break... four hours. I was fried and I wasn't even playing. They were trying to fight back the pain, but you could see it in their faces that their spirits couldn't compensate.

Still... my confidence is restored. That shot at qualifying for nationals doesn't seem so far fetched.

An end to an eventful week and start of an interesting weekend

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 12, 2004, 10:21 AM | comments: 1
Wow... what a crazy week this has been. It started last Saturday with the purchase of a new car, a horrible tourney Sunday, extreme distaste for work Monday, a marathon work session Tuesday to finish a Web project, Microsoft DevDays Wendesday morning, followed by constant buzz around the Cedar Fair/Six Flags Worlds of Adventure deal, Thursday, more discussion about the deal, disgust over Microsoft's further delay of Whidbey, then an intense race to finish that Web project. Finally, today, I can breath a little.

So once I get out of this dump for the afternoon, I'll return home to an empty house, as Stephanie is flying out to Ottawa to visit some Canadians. I'll probably make some tweaks on that Web project, maybe take a nap. What I really need to do is write another article for Regardless, I probably won't sleep well tonight because I have a tourney in Kent tomorrow.

I'm enjoying the new car. This cheaper car is actually more interesting to drive. It doesn't isolate you so much from the road. Plus it has new car smell.

My iPod commercial

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 9, 2004, 5:13 PM | comments: 4
Did you see that they made a TV spot about me, my iPod and the Black Eyed Peas? See if you can pick out which one is me.

The bitter pain of failure

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 8, 2004, 1:24 PM | comments: 1
My volleyball kids had their first tournament yesterday, and it was a miserable failure.

You may have seen in previous entries that I was (am) very excited about the potential for this team. They're enormously talented, reasonably tall, and generally good kids. This tournament, and specifically our pool, had two of the top teams in our region (which consists of Ohio and portions of the surrounding states). Lucky us!

The good news is that we started out keeping up with these teams, never getting more than a few points away from them. Then midway through the first game, my kids would tank. In fact, they tanked so badly that they gave up their last match to an absolutely horrible team that had lost every match. We won only one match the entire day.

It was clear to me even before that point that they have a confidence problem. Individually, these girls are all enormously talented. Unlike the kids on these "power" teams, they don't have the experience of playing for a team that wins consistently in high school, or on a good club team. It's not that they want to lose or play poorly, it's that they don't have the expectation and faith in themselves to know they can get the job done. There wasn't a team at this tournament that we couldn't have beat or at the very least kept it very close.

In various other parts of my life, it has recently become obvious to me that the thing I fear more than anything is failure. It's the reason I don't take a lot of risks. Seeing this team tank like that felt like failure at the time, but after having some time to reflect on it a little, especially considering I identified one of the core problems they're having, maybe I haven't failed them.

The next challenge is not teaching them some plays or sharpening a skill, it's figuring out how to get them to believe in their own capabilities. This is new territory for me, because I'm used to having kids that are fairly average in their abilities. When I look at them, I think of all of the underdog sports teams that they make movies about. There's all of that potential there, but someone has to make them realize it, or guide them to self-realization.

In some ways, the tournament reminded me of one we had later in the season last year. We had won several in a row, then went to this tough event (same location), and had a pretty bad day. This time, hopefully, I can expect the positives and the wins to come next.

I've not changed my opinion about qualifying for nationals. It can be done.

A new car in the garage

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 6, 2004, 5:54 PM | comments: 2
Well, I went and did it today. I got a new car. There's a white, loaded 2004 Toyota Corolla LE in the garage.

I was dreading it, as I mentioned a few days ago, but for the first time I can ever remember, things actually turned out better this time. Despite having the Camry for only 2.5 years, I decided to ditch it. It had a lot of weird vibration issues, 51k miles and I frankly never really liked it that much. I was paying $353 a month for it because I really didn't put anything down on it, had a little negative equity on the trade and didn't get that good of a loan rate either (this was pre-9/11 when the manufacturers all went nuts with low-to-no finance charges).

I don't remember now off hand what the purchase price was, but with tax, title, fees, etc., it came to around $16,800, which was $250 under invoice (or so they said, but I had the numbers from Edmunds and it was damn close to that). The actual amount financed was less as I put a grand down and got some coupon in it that actually starts next week. The payment will be $276, financing around $15,800. That's $77 less than I had before and I'll save at least $25/month on gas.

People don't generally get less of a car when they buy a new one, they buy a "better" one. With the ridiculous amount of money I'm making right now, I could have just as easily gone across the street and bought a Lexus instead. There were a lot of compelling reasons though to get "less" of a car. First, it's the third Corolla I've had. They've all been perfect over the years. Stephanie is actually driving the second one, and at 90k+ miles it has never needed anything other than normal maintenance. Second, the gas mileage is better. You can push one of these things to 40 mpg on an all-highway trip. Given the travel we do combined with my long commute, that's important. Third, I don't take care of my cars, so why buy something expensive? Finally, they're at least visually appealing this year. So what if everyone has one! One other thing is that if I can make an honest go at working for me, or have to starve while writing my book, I have a smaller car payment.

In any case, it's nice to have one less thing to worry about. I've never had a sun roof either, and oddly never anything like anti-lock brakes or some of the other little tweaks either. The only thing this one doesn't have is alloy wheels (which I hate anyway) and leather, but the dealer said that they see maybe three or four of those a year tops. Toyota still doesn't mix up the inventory much. It's all the same group of options.

Lucky me, I'll have to spend two hours in it each way tomorrow on the way to Toledo for a tournament.

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Cars! Cars! Cars!

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 4, 2004, 12:57 PM | comments: 5
Actually, Sunday is tournament day, and that's a different topic.

The Cleveland Auto Show is happening right now, and of course everyone on the planet is trying to move cars. What's worse, my car is starting to frighten me. It has a lot of weird vibration problems that aren't related to alignment or wheels (because I just had one and my tires replaced/balanced). That concerns me.

Truth is, I never really liked the Camry. It seemed logical to get one after having a Corolla for years, but I don't know, I just don't like it. I really like the new Corollas. If I got one today and broke even on the Camry, I could get my payment down under $300. I'd likely save another $25/month on gas too.

But I can't have a new car. Steph gets the next new car because I got the Camry in 2001 and she got my hand-me-down Corolla. That's not fair.

I hate cars. I really do.

Mind won't stop racing

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 3, 2004, 8:26 AM | comments: 3
It's crazy how some days I can't get my mind to just relax. I have so much on my mind and I can't just let it go. Many are good problems to have, but I need to relax.

I'm starting to get, I don't know, stressed isn't the right word, but intense regarding volleyball. Sunday will be a big test for these kids, and I think I've allowed my expectations to get pretty high. That's bad, because possibly the number one team in the Ohio Valley Region will be at this tournament, and they in turn have three kids from the div. I high school state champs. My kids are pretty good, but I don't know if they're that good.

Then there's the whole book thing. I have a call with the publisher late this afternoon. If they offer me a development deal, then I need to make some serious decisions. I don't think I can realistically work a full time job and write a book, but the money from the book, when it actually comes, isn't exactly a ton of bling. Assuming the book sold well, I'd still need to eight or nine books a year to make what I make now.

Then again, if I can put together enough revenue on the side, perhaps from my existing sites, some new sites, and some consulting work, I could "get by." That's still not ideal though, because we live a pretty good lifestyle that I'm hesitant to not be able to support. I guess I have to weigh that against the misery working for The Man can cause.

The other side of the book thing is that, once published, it creates instant credibility for me. I mean, wouldn't you hire someone to consult for you that wrote a book?

One side effect I realized is that if I can make working in a non-traditional sense a reality, perhaps I can explore the idea of coaching high school volleyball again. There's no way I could do it with a regular job, but maybe I could take a stab at it.

The final issue is that I have a site to develop for a client on deadline. Not hard work, just labor intensive.

Oh, and while still brain racing, I'm hungry all of the time and I haven't been sticking to my diet.

Da Peas

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 2, 2004, 9:13 AM | comments: 2
"We drop enough shit to keep them toilets clogged... We keep it stankin'..."

-Black Eyed Peas, "Smells Like Funk"

I think Fergie has made my celebrity "do" list.

My screenplay is here if you need something to read (or something to wipe the funk off your ass with).

Getting a book published

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 1, 2004, 1:23 PM | comments: 1
I got a second round of editorial reviews from a certain publisher for a book proposal I did. Wow... the feedback was almost all positive, up from 50% thumbs down, with the remaining negatives really being differences in opinion (the various reviewers contradict each other on certain points). I'm supposed to have a conference call with the publisher later this week.

This is weird stuff, because I never thought I'd be writing an ASP.NET book. Late last year I was helping out my friend Walt on some coding issues he was having, and I was making the case for code reuse and a certain kind of class design for what he was doing. At about the same time, I was doing a little .NET training for a small dev shop that is transitioning out of Cold Fusion to .NET. I jokingly said to Walt, “I should write a book on this.” He said I was right.

I won't get into the focus of the book, because it seems that competition between publishers, and to a lesser degree authors, is pretty fierce. Suffice it to say that I identified a market that I don't think current books serve, so I wrote a proposal and started sending it out to publishers.

The one that wrote back is the one that, quite frankly, is doing the most exciting stuff around our platform these days, so I'll feel pretty good about landing a deal with them if it all works out. The only other response I got was from a publisher that everyone knows, and it was outright negative and not constructive. The irony there is he was ragging on my style when he couldn't spell or use correct grammar himself.

People ask me why the hell I would ever want to write a book. It's certainly not for the money. It might be for the ego, but that's only a small part of it. I think more than anything I want to give back to the community, because the community got me to where I am in only a few short years. I'm not a Jedi master, but I stand out, in no small part because of the help and direction I've had.

Another consideration is that I did actually go to school to write in the first place. I double majored in radio/TV and journalism. Aside from a couple of letters to the local paper and a few trade rag articles, I've written very little since graduating from college.

As an aside, I finished a screenplay last weekend. It's not great, but I wanted to get something done for Project Greenlight just to see what the feedback would be like. It sucks as it stands now, but I figure it'd be fun to see what all the film school types think of it. Like my ASP.NET book proposal, I think it has a good premise, it's just the execution that would make or break it.

Oscars and eye candy

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 1, 2004, 9:11 AM | comments: 4
Award shows generally suck. The only thing interesting is to see what people are wearing and what they're looking like.

The Oscars are long and boring. It was good to see Lord of The Rings sweep, and the only other disappointment was that Johnny Depp (or even Bill Murray) didn't get best actor.

Catherine Zeta-Jones continues to be the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. She's so pretty that you can't even think about her in a sexual context, because she's too clean for that. Renee Zelweger looks 100% better with her "Bridget Jones pounds" and I hope she stays that way. Nicole Kidman leads the way for how not to look. Julianne Moore still looks fabulous. Angelina, braless and sans the Billy Bob tattoo looks as good as ever.

The hottest moment was when Liv Tyler put those glasses on. Did that not make her jump about ten times up the hotness scale?

Some day we'll actually care about the awards themselves.