Archive: June, 2004

My neighbor is an idiot

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 27, 2004, 6:00 PM | comments: 5
This stupid woman next door cuts her grass at least every three days, two days if it rains. It gets better though. Instead of mulching the grass she bags it and puts it on the curb so it can take up volume in a landfill instead of spread across her lawn (and yeah, she pays extra for this privilege).

This is the same woman that, during a sprinkling ban prior to her having a lawn, would wash the blowing dirt off of her driveway daily. I kid you not. I guess nothing reflects more poorly on you than dirt on your driveway when it's surrounded by a dirt lawn.

It gets better. We can hear her vacuum her house daily in the summer, when the windows are open. She's obviously the kind of moron that must have vacuum streaks in the carpet at all times.

The woman just annoys the piss out of us, as does her little shit of a kid. Why can't we have the young hip neighbors we can invite over for barbecue?

I bought the wrong chipset

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 23, 2004, 11:46 AM | comments: 3
I bought the wrong chipset last night... a poker chipset. I'm fascinated by the game and would like to start playing, so I bought a $150 set of chips and a case. They're the good stuff, the heavy clay chips that make the cool noise, with an indestructible metal case.

First off, the cost. Yeah, I know that's steep, but this is nice stuff. It's actually not a selfish thing at all. The truth is that when I have people over as a guest at my house, I like them to have a good time. That's why our parties are held in such high regard. We buy good alcohol and food and try to be hospitable. I wouldn't want to go to a party where people are cheap, so why throw one on the cheap?

The second thing is that the game itself is interesting because it combines so many things I enjoy. There's the logic component, of course, something code monkeys can get into. There's the social aspect, seeing as how it's supposed to be fun. There's the psychological angle too, as you can learn a lot about a person by watching how they play.

I have to admit that the poker on TV inspired the interest in the game. Not the world series crap, but the celebrity poker. Career players aren't nearly as interesting to me, but the celebrities, famous as they might be, are just like you and me when it comes to poker. That's fun to watch.

I don't plan on having any high-stakes games or anything, but I look forward to having a little fun. Heck, maybe next time I'm in Vegas I'll even play a couple of hands.

Self-employment: One month later

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 21, 2004, 7:01 PM | comments: 3
It has been a month almost to the day that I declared my independence from The Man. So far, this is how it's going.

The primary focus has always been to concentrate on writing my ASP.NET book. I've got about five chapters done (by “done” I mean ready for editorial review by the publisher) plus the intro. Those are key chapters, and I'm waiting for some friends to get back to me to see how well received they are. The book is about a third done, and I have two months and a week left to finish it. No problem.

To learn the new ASP.NET v2 features, naturally it's helpful to apply them to a real project. To do that I've been working on the next version of POP Forums from time to time. I have a very long list of features and things that I'd like to add to it, to really “compete“ (if that's the word, since I offer it for free) with other products. I think as a programmer tool it's already among the best, if for no other reason than it provides a good tool for manipulating user information and roles (until Whidbey comes out). It's not perfect (requiring you to have global.asax to inherit my class instead of using an HttpModule wasn't a good idea), but it's at the core of all of my sites. Thousands of users at any given time and my CPU still doesn't break a sweat. I know it can be better though, and while I get nothing for all of the work, it's satisfying to know it's all me.

I had grand intentions of eating better and exercising, but the first part of June generally sucks because of my allergies so I haven't been motivated in those areas. It's the only time of year I have a problem, but they kicked my ass. Claritin helps, but in some ways just makes me uncomfortable in other ways. It dries me out.

The good news is that while I never felt “fat,” I always knew I was a little overweight. I dropped some pounds last December and I managed to keep them off while at my last contract job. Since going solo, I've dropped two more. I've had fast food perhaps four times this year. So while I'm still not eating my vegetables, at least I'm eating less crap. I'm feeling energized enough to start playing DDR again and bought a cool bike rack for the car.

The money thing is a little scary, but nothing to get really freaked out by, as I knew that cash flow would be somewhat negative for awhile. The good news is that online advertising has seen a slight rebound, as traditional branding campaigns (i.e., not cost-per-click) are starting to take hold. I'm planning to launch another site in the next couple of weeks, a port of an existing site for a new topic. If it can add even $500 in revenue a month quickly, life will be grand.

Consulting and freelance work doesn't interest me at the moment. It's something I'll want to get back into in the fall, but right now I'm enjoying getting up when I feel like it, working when I feel like it and enjoying the summer sun. I'm working hard, and it's hard to see the tangible results in the short-term, but it's all on my terms, and that's a great feeling.

So that's where I'm at today. I'm not pulling in the bling, but I am ridiculously happier and less stressed. I get into my grumpy fits of course (just ask Stephanie), but I'm trying to get to a place in my life where I fit into the general scheme of things. I think I'm finally getting closer to that place.

Oreo cookies and my tax dollars

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 17, 2004, 1:51 PM | comments: 3
This sure puts things in perspective. It's a damn shame when you look at what your tax dollars in the US go toward.

Your free service got shut down. Cry me a river!

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 16, 2004, 11:50 PM | comments: 1
It irritates me when people get all pissy that something they used on the Web for free gets turned off. See: 3,000 blogs lose their voice.

I've been through this cycle with people on my sites. Back in 2000 when I launched CoasterBuzz, it was for fun. At some point, when bandwidth was less cheap, I started to allow pop-up ads. In late 2001, I also started a coaster enthusiast club, which included the site ad-free and a couple of minor extra features. I had to do this because I wasn't going to keep paying for it out of pocket as it got more popular. This was a time when renting a box with lots of bandwidth was running a grand a month.

There was a lot of backlash from it, believe it or not, when I started to offer subscriptions. I said then what I still say, and that is that everything on the Internet has to be paid for one way or another. That's just the way it is. The thing no one counted on was that people will pay for things they care about if the price is right. Turns out $20 a year isn't so bad when you pay more than that for some magazines, and you certainly get more mileage out of a daily site than you do a magazine. Offer the right value proposition and people will pay.

But still people bitched and moaned, but yet couldn't stay away. It didn't make any sense. Now it looks like some people are going through that with this blog site. I'm surprised that Live Journal still offers freebies. I would've quit that a long time ago.

There's still another wave of disgust on the way though, and that's one where people who can make a few bucks off of their sites get blasted for being capitalist pigs. It's like you're supposed to give all that time and energy just out of the goodness of your heart and let that be your reward. I know that the coaster enthusiast community has a bit of that already, and it's ridiculous. Just as TV shows are rewarded with higher ad rates due to popularity, so it goes with Web sites. I'm not going to apologize for success. It's not like I'm buying a yacht and 4,000 square feet on land from my little Web sites!

It seems like yet another thing about the Internet that defies logic. If history is any indication, this too will eventually adjust itself to something resembling normalcy.

New Beastie Boys today after six years

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 15, 2004, 6:16 PM | comments: 1
The new Beastie Boys album was released today, their first in six years. Scary that the kid in front of me buying the CD at Best Buy wasn't even born in the Licensed to Ill days. They're still the best thing in rap today.

I paid $1.69/gallon for my gas today. Now if the Pistons win tonight, the universe will be ultra-fabulous.

Four quick movie reviews

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 14, 2004, 11:13 PM | comments: 2
We rented movies for the first time in ages. Brief reviews...

Along Came Polly: I don't want Jennifer Aniston to be attractive because I don't think much of her as an actor. She looked pretty good in this movie though. Ben Stiller did his normal guy character pretty well, and the story wasn't bad. I think what would've made it more interesting is having the two leads be more extreme; Stiller more anal and Aniston being more of a free spirit.

Monster: Charlize Theron deserved the Oscar. Brilliant performance. I give credit to any movie that let's you feel sorry for someone so messed up. It was disturbing, but you couldn't look away. Particularly weird were the love scenes between Theron in her ugly makeup and Christina Ricci. You know there are hot chicks under all that, but it's still creepy.

Big Fish: Another brilliant story that is classic Tim Burton. Hard to describe it except to say you should go see it.

Thirteen: You've probably heard the summary about two thirteen-year old girls that spiral into a world of skipping school, shoplifting, drugs and blowjobs. The little girl from "Once and Again" (now 16, actually) was excellent and really delivered a class performance. What surprised me is that the other girl co-wrote the film, and it's semi-autobiographical. Scary shit I guess because you wonder if any measure of parenting could prevent it.

Broadcast to Web: A journey in media

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 13, 2004, 1:48 AM | comments: 0
Every once in awhile I run across a blog entry from Jason Salas, a code monkey apparently working in a broadcast environment. Sounds a little bit like hell, but interesting work to say the least.

Broadcast media is my roots. Even in sixth grade, I was fascinated by radio, and the air personalities that filled it at the time. (This was before hard-core automation and when ownership limits prevented Clear Channel and Infinity from owning everything.) I did some government access TV in high school, then in college made radio/TV my major, fortunately having the good sense my last three semesters to double in journalism as well. My senior year I got work at a commercial station in Mansfield, and shortly after graduation, managed to enter the Cleveland radio market. It was a hell of a ride.

But radio kicked my ass because the money was horrible and the decay of local radio was already in full swing. Having to obligate someone else's contract for sucking in the Arbitrons, I got shifted to a part-time gig and quit.

Six months later (and a term working at a CompUSA), I landed in another government access TV gig. It was perfect... know-it-all kid lands a job in a department that doesn't exist yet. Being the only person there, I was free to do everything I loved about TV, from the engineering and production, right up through air talent. I even got to build a little Web site. I spent nearly a half-million dollars before I left.

Fast forward to 1999, and the lure of the Internet and its money. I made a radical change and left broadcast behind to be a Webmaster at Penton Media, the company that would eventually own Internet World, among others. The Internet was really still kind of crude unless you had a lot of cash to throw around and hire real programmers. At that point in time I knew HTML, and a little Perl and ASP. Fortunately, working with an outside firm, I also got to know COM, SQL and application architecture.

You know how things went after that. Penton eventually was de-listed from the NYSE and the ensuing shit storm of business failures caused by a lack of common sense put me out on the street. .NET appeared in 2001 and that eventually led me to where I am now, contracting at ridiculous rates and writing an ASP.NET book. What a crazy ride.

But I still think about traditional media and its relationship with the Internet. When I went to Penton, it was essentially print media, and not totally outside of my expertise. I was able to thrive in my radio days because I “got it,” and that media savvy got me in the door at Penton. It turned my hobby Web sites into a business. But the question remains, how is the Internet different?

If you put the Cluetrain Manifesto clichés to rest (”markets are conversations” my ass... stop conversing and put out a fucking product), the thing that makes the Internet so different from traditional media is that your audience knows better than you do. The problem is that if you don't give them what they're looking for, they won't bother to tell you what it is they want. They might not even know, but they'll know it when they see it.

There are times when you can get lucky and mimic something else, of course. My inspiration for CoasterBuzz was to mimic VoodooExtreme, only instead of video game stuff, it would be roller coaster stuff. The premise was simple, and even back in 1998, it was what we now identify as a blog. Get news from your audience, post it as you go and let them comment on it. Turns out that's what my audience was looking for, and my site dominates that market.

Other times you come up with something people don't really need. CampusFish was supposed to be blogs and photos for dummies. Actually, it was more for me than anyone else, but I figured I'd open it up to see if anyone else was interested. A few people were, but it never really took off. What I've seen since launching that site is that the audience isn't that dumb, and much of the blogging audience can set something up themselves, even writing their own style sheets.

Programmers are the worst at identifying audience needs, which is ironic given that most I assume have had to deal with requirements at some point in their careers. Most programming sites suck, but a few have made good marks. There's so much fragmentation in the market that it's hard to find someone that really does it right and covers your specific interests and level of expertise.

Don't even get me started on Channel 9. I mean, the theory was pretty good, but the execution ended up being way too narcissistic and “look at me!” for my tastes. With all of the brilliance in Microsoft, you'd think they would've understood that the personalities, outside of Ballmer, aren't even remotely as interesting as the things they're doing. I'd add that those things are better communicated in text, not video.

So with all of this in mind, I'm trying to figure out what my next big idea is. Even with the media experience I have, my success has largely been dumb luck or right-place-right-time. It's time to be more deliberate. I'm done being interpretive and reactive.

My Canadian girls

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 8, 2004, 4:29 PM | comments: 0
Last two drops I got on iTunes were the new albums by Alannis and Avril. Love those Canadian chicks.

I feel like I've grown up at about the same rate as Alannis. Her music is a little less dark and angry than it used to be, but it's certainly a lot more mature. You've probably heard the song "Everything" by now. Nothing mysterious about that song, it's just about people loving and appreciate the whole package, good and bad, of their significant other. That's something you don't get when you're a teenager. It totally reminds me of my marriage, not so much about Steph's faults, but my own. You know it's real when someone puts up with you and loves you even when you've got problems.

The rest of the album is typical of her earlier stuff, only cleaner. She seems to be adding fewer syllables to her words. I dig it.

Avril's second album is just a tad more angry and dark, which you kind of would expect because she's not a young teenager anymore (Michelle Branch, another Canadian, went through the same thing on her second album). Overall it comes off a little more mature than the last album, and they're mostly good songs. The first single is one I think every teenage girl should listen to when it comes to boys.

Some of her comments outside of her music are kind of annoying. She trashed Britney for her choices in wardrobe and such. Come on, Avril, you're more like her than you think. Her fans might be selling out to Aberblondie & Bitch, but your fans are selling out to Hot Topic. Lay off the punk integrity a little bit, because it's cheesy. Be strong, be yourself, but don't play into that.

Speaking of Michelle Branch, she dissed Jewel in Maxim a couple of months ago (ironic considering the skin Michelle was showing). She complained that Jewel was getting too far away from what she was about, and said the same for Liz Phaire. That's a comment only an early 20-something would say, because by the time you finish your twenties, you realize that your tastes, actions, belief system, etc., are constantly changing.

Anyway, I love my Canadian girl singers.

Who cares about the Lakers?

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 7, 2004, 12:51 AM | comments: 4
Game 1: Detroit tops LA by a dozen. Yet everyone on the planet went into tonight saying it would be all Lakers, and that they might even sweep.

Even during the game, the announcers and analysts just continually kissed the asses of Shaq and Kobe. Um, scoreboard? Who gives a fuck about the Lakers? I am so insanely sick of hearing about the two-dimensional team.

I'll give Kobe some credit, because he's a very above-average player, but his attitude sucks. I really can't stand Shaq. Being huge and doughy is not a skill or being athletic. Any guy who gets paid that much and puts up free throws like a third grader is not a real athlete. A real athlete would work his ass off to make it better. His attitude sucks as well.

It would be a beautiful thing to see Detroit win the series. Even with millionaire players, watching them is fun because it's clear that it's still about the game.

Two weeks on my own

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 5, 2004, 6:15 PM | comments: 0
Well, I'm wrapping up two weeks on my own after quitting my job to write my book, and take in the concept of independence while I wonder how I might work for myself permanently. I've got about four months before I evaluate if I'll keep this up, and so far, so good.

So far the challenge has been to feel like I've accomplished something, or have some metric for accomplishment. I've done a little writing, some revising, and a lot of playing around with Visual Studio 2005. If I had to guess, I'd say I've spent about 30 hours each week doing these things. I just don't have a lot of physical stuff to show for it (aside from experimental code).

I've also got a client project I need to finish up. I'd say the thing that's different about not working for The Man is that you tend to work when the motivation strikes. In that respect, I put in lots of time, but not in four-hour blocks before 5 p.m., as you would in a day job. You really need to look at things differently or you might think you're not really doing anything. It might appear that way to your spouse, too! ;)

Regardless of what might come of the book or the future, doing this has been liberating, and an amazing experience so far. Anyone not happy in the IT industry needs to give it a shot. The worst you can do is go back to work for The Man.