Archive: July, 2004

Phone users in movies

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 30, 2004, 4:12 PM | comments: 0
Here's a fun story of a couple that got maced for talking on the phone in a movie theater.

When you take out the racial component, you know you'd want to do the same for the sheer irritation of this kind of idiot. It's not like she couldn't get her ass up and leave the theater.

Another great luau

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 27, 2004, 12:48 AM | comments: 3
The third annual luau was a success. This time we didn't have much over 30 people total, and that meant that I actually had a chance to talk and catch up with people.

As usual, it was a strange mix of people. People I've worked with, people I've worked for, coaster geek friends, Stephanie's school friends, volleyball kids and their parents, my newlywed cousin and wife... good times.

This year we drained the mai tai, all 12 litres of it. The Hawaiian-style burgers were a hit, and we had plenty of vegan fare as well. Yet again the neighbors were out of town, so we didn't get a chance to piss them off.

The party made me wonder why it's so hard to keep in touch with people. Why does it take so much effort and energy? Some of these people I barely see three or four times a year, and it sucks, especially since I have very little connection (or interest) to my family. I've gotta work on that.

Fabulous afterglow... can't wait for a certain someone's 30th birthday next January...

Photos here.

Some religions suck

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 24, 2004, 3:24 PM | comments: 4
So these door-to-door fundamentalist Baptists were out roaming the neighborhood today (the kind that demand that their women wear long skirts). I didn't answer the door, but they left a little flyer on my door knob.

What a bunch of assholes. They basically say four things in their little statement:

  • God loves you, but...
  • You are a sinner.
  • Only Jesus can save you.
  • You're going to hell if you don't accept Jesus.

Here's the funny thing about faith. If you don't question it, why would you believe it? Honestly, if you questioned the above, how would you find it rational enough to live by?

I did a lot of soul searching in college about religion, and eventually arrived at the conclusion that faith and spirituality have nothing to do with organized religion. I think that all major religions fundamentally teach the same core values, the only problem being that most require you to reject all others, as the non-believers are wrong and going to hell.

I believe in some form of Christianity, kind of my own denomination, but that's only because it was what I was brought up with. People don't believe for God's sake, they do so for their own well being, because they need it. That's selfish, but so what?

What irritated me about this pack is that they're the kind that keep their women in long skirts. It pisses me off when a culture teaches their women that they're dirty like that.

Saturday is the party of the year: 3rd annual luau

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 22, 2004, 1:52 AM | comments: 1
Our annual luau is fast approaching. To the regular attendees, it is widely regarded as the party of the summer. For me, it's a chance to get my friends together all at once because it's so damn hard to see them during the course of a year.

We scaled back the guest list to about 40 this year. Last year we included family because it doubled as my 30th birthday. The 16-litre mai tai will only be 12 litres this year. Instead of kabobs, we're doing Hawaiian burgers (teriyaki marinade with grilled pineapple). Saving a couple of bucks this year since I'm not working.

Today we bought the mai tai alcohol. 1.75 litres of Bacardi Gold rum and 2 litres of Disaronno. It's the fairly good shit, worth all $75 because it tastes good. It's not a matter of vanity... I won't drink the cheap grocery store shit, so why would I serve it to my guests? Last year we did a 16 litre batch, this year I'm going with 12. We had two or three litres left over last year.

A couple of my volleyball kids are coming with their parents as well, which is really cool. My two favorite girls will be there. It's weird spending like seven months with these kids and then suddenly you don't see them anymore.

The party brings together a weird assortment of friends that includes past co-workers, a couple of coaster enthusiasts, Stephanie's school mates, and others. Good times... I can't wait.

Today's funny shit

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 21, 2004, 2:02 PM | comments: 0
Here you go... this is funny as hell.

The realization of misery

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 18, 2004, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

Almost two months ago I quit my day job. I justified it (rightfully so) by knowing that I had to dedicate adequate time to writing my book. What sealed the idea is that I could at least get by with the little book advance and advertising revenue from my sites. I wouldn't be rich or able to live the J-Pizzie lifestyle, but I could at least pay the mortgage for a little while.

The last two weeks in particular have led to a number of realizations, most of which have to do with the fact that three years in corporate hell sucked the soul right out of me, and made me a miserable person. The thing that's so fucked up about it is that I thought that for the most part I was pretty happy.

When the bubble burst in early 2001, and Penton Media was going down the crapper, I split for Pfingsten Publishing. After only a few months and 9/11 related problems (not to mention a bunch of cheeseball big company personalities in a worthless start-up), they laid me off. I spent six months on the "government payroll" with my self-esteem in the crapper, unable to find a job. I was at least able to learn .NET during that time, which got me a job at an even more shitty payroll company. A year and a half later they laid me off too. Barely missing a beat, recruiters calling every day, I got in on a contract job with a gigantic insurance company, breaking the six-figure barrier. Four months later, it was May, 2004, and I made the break.

Many things became very clear during those three years. The first was that money isn't the key to happiness, or a measure of self-worth. I doubled my salary in three years, and the more I made it seemed, the less interested I was in the work.

The second thing is that, for better or worse, your self-esteem is tied to what you do. Prior to this time period, I worked for three years creating, programming and engineering an amazing government cable access operation, and I loved it. I would've stayed had it not been for the fact I'd never break $30,000 on the salary scale, and the people I worked for would have no part in making a raise happen. (Money isn't everything, but skilled professionals need to have some minimum standard.) Even at Penton, I believed in what we were doing at one point. Every job thereafter I didn't care. It wasn't interesting, and that made me feel worthless.

The third thing is that the fire to do great things elevates your work ethic to a higher plane. I was doing great things in that government job, and worked insane hours to make it happen. The sheer act of creation is a natural high, and one I never got out of those three years. I would briefly have moments of satisfaction when I finished a revision for CoasterBuzz or something like that, but for the most part it was rare.

Fourth is that balance is key in life. I've talked about it in online journals for three years, but in reality I was never practicing it. Finishing Masters of Doom, I realized that lack of balance is what put Carmack's and Romero's ventures on a perpetual downward spiral (if the timing is right, you can still make millions even if you screw up). If you keep at it too hard, you'll burn out and alienate everyone else. If you live carelessly, failure will kick your ass. Somewhere in the middle, you can succeed and be happy.

Finally, the inability to take risks will keep you forever stuck in the same place. That's probably what was eating at me the most. In college I was idealistic and optimistic, heading into the worst business in the world, radio. I had a bright career ahead of me in an industry that killed more people's spirits than it elevated. The crappy jobs took those qualities away from me. Only now am I realizing that I missed out on three years because I wouldn't take any risks. Sure, I'm "poor" for the moment, but the long-term benefit of writing a book and taking time to "find myself" again will help me out.

Fortunately my dear wife Stephanie didn't take off during those years. She had a lot of realizations herself with regards to career and education, so naturally things could've been really bad between us. As of today, I feel better about myself, my surroundings, my skills, my interests and my future than I have in years. There are a lot of things I still want to change about myself, but I finally feel that I can evolve with a little time. I'm not stuck anymore.

Now I'm not just saying it anymore... it really is fun to be me again.

American education is messed up

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 16, 2004, 3:11 PM | comments: 5
In responding to a post by Alex, I realized that American education is screwed up. It's not that there aren't many great teachers (among them my wife and many friends), it's that the standards they have to follow are stupid.

The first is this stupid "accountability" based on proficiency testing. These scores go up because the kids are being taught how to beat the tests, not to learn real skills or information. Teachers hate this, and they hate spending time on it.

What's worse is that many board-imposed curricula prohibit anything even remotely experimental or new to be taught. For example, my brain developed thinking in somewhat more abstract terms. When I had to add 47 + 19, my brain saw it as 47 + 20 - 1, which would allow me to quickly arrive at 66. This was unacceptable to my teachers, when I wouldn't show any work. The funny thing is, when the authors of workbooks gave you something like 723 + 99, they were thinking in the same terms I was! Add a hundred then subtract one!

I fear for our educational future.

What happened to the 80s pizza joint?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 14, 2004, 6:13 PM | comments: 5
I was reading Masters of Doom today, which chronicles the lives of John Romero and John Carmack, two of the founders of id Software. In talking about their youth, Romero spent a lot of time going to pizza joints to play video games, because that's where the games were generally found.

This made me stop and think, where did these places all go? I can think of three that used to be in the area around my house growing up in Cleveland. I always looked forward to going to these place because if I could convince my parents to spot me a quarter, I'd get to play Pac-Man, or even better, Ms. Pac-Man. How awesome was that?

Now, it's rare to find a pizza place at all where you can go in, have a slice and play a few video games. Pizza is all about the big chains and delivery. Arcade games are harder to find outside of places like Dave & Busters. It's so odd that the era has come and gone.

The weird irony is that you can buy the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga combination cabinets now in small, medium and cocktail versions. In fact, some are targeted for home use, without the coin slots.

How Comcast could learn from radio with the G4-TechTV nonsense

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 14, 2004, 12:57 AM | comments: 0
In the blog entry that will never die, “McMike” asks why they would kill TechTV shows and stick in a bunch of G4 shows on the newly merged G4TechTV. The more I thought about that the more I started to draw parallels to radio. More on that in a moment.

First, let's think about the TechTV audience. I think it's safe to say that it ranged from novice techie to tech junkie, and they're people that can afford to buy nice stuff. That's why they had car commercials for better cars on the channel. It's a nice demographic to have.

Compare this to the G4 audience, which I'm fairly certain (judging by their message boards) is the young gamer types that can barely peck out English. Certainly a niche, but not a demographic that will make you rich.

Comcast bought TechTV to exponentially expand their audience because TechTV had a huge subscriber base on satellite and cable. However, you'd would think that they would also realize the revenue potential in a more diverse demographic.

This is where it reminds me of radio. In the early 90s, radio experimented with a format commonly called “Z Rock,” which appealed mostly to 12-24 males. A niche you could corner, certainly, but what the hell do you sell those people besides heavy metal CD's and zit cream? Not much. Needless to say, the format died quickly. It has been reborn to some degree as “Xtreme radio” as of late, but you don't see those stations making any big scores outside of the same demographic. The only thing different now is that Clear Channel and Infinity own everything, so they can segment the market because they are their own competition.

So the programming geniuses at G4 got the demographic that spends money and attracts bigger advertisers, only to piss it away to emphasize its original demographic. The rules aren't that different than they were in 90s radio. What do you sell that audience other than heavy metal (and hip hop) CD's, zit cream and now video games? What's the ROI for advertisers?

I hate to keep complaining about it, because I know nothing will change. It's just that I really feel like I lost something. I didn't watch that much TV to begin with outside of Alias and 24. Now that's all there is.

Bookstore visits just aren't the same

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 10, 2004, 4:18 PM | comments: 2
Visiting my local Border's bookstore just isn't the same as it used to be. There was a time when I would anxiously head back to the computer section and browse the many .NET books, especially the Wrox Press books with the red covers. There was so much to learn!

These days, none of the books cover anything I don't already know. Just before the old Wrox became whatever it is today, there was a flood of specialty books like C# Threading handbook, Professional ASP.NET Performance, Professional .NET Network Programming and C# Text Manipulation, among others. I bought them all.

These days, it's not that I know everything (I should know a lot more about XML and Web services, for example, but I already have those books and they're boring), but the really detailed stuff isn't out there anymore. This isn't that surprising anymore, because I know some publishers won't even touch a book unless it can sell 10,000 copies. That's a shame, because while the Internet does have a lot of fabulous resources, it's still too much of a mess at times to get a clear vision of how to do accomplish something. Books make it so much easier.

I hope and pray that my book meets that five-digit sales figure. It's one of the few really intermediate books out there, in my opinion, and I think it's a market that has been neglected, or at the very least books haven't been positioned for that market. I've got eight chapters in the can, nine to go.

Incidentally, I've bought lots of non-computer books lately. Rebel Without a Crew, Masters of Doom and now My Life, are the most recent. Weird that they're all biographies or autobiographies. The last computer books I bought were Test-Driven Development in Microsoft.NET (remarkably useless for anyone that has heard even a little about TDD) and Managed DirectX9 Kick Start (thin on theory, as intended, but an outstanding introduction to the subject).

On being a coach...

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 7, 2004, 2:42 PM | comments: 2
Coaching volleyball has a lot of ups and downs, but this IM I got from one of my kids today is the reason I keep doing it...

"hey jeff... i wanted to say thanks for all your help... bc no joke after going to open gyms i realized i'm such a different player now... much better.... and something actually clicked and i'm hitting kinda good now... weird eh.... but seriously being on your team helped so much... thanks so much."

That's what it's all about.

I need to make a short movie

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 5, 2004, 12:11 AM | comments: 1
I just finished the Robert Rodriguez book. It's fairly clear to me that one of the things I need to get out of my system is to make a movie, even a short one.

I assume a "short film" is anything under 30 minutes, and I think I can write a script about that long. The key is writing a story that I can shoot in places I have access to, and idea largely inspired by the book. I'll have to find friends willing to act, and not care if they end up sucking. The last movie I made was my senior year of high school, and it couldn't be worse than that one. I still have the 3/4" master somewhere. Anyway, with probably less than $500 I could get the equipment I'd need.

To do a feature-length movie, I'd need a better camera. The golden camera right now it a Panasonic unit that can shoot 24 frames per second progressive scan, and my version of Avid understands that kind of video. It's a $3,000 camera, but it'd be worth it as motivation to shoot. I'm not sure if I'd want to make Third Time, my first feature script, as it's a bit rough, but maybe it would be a start. It'd be hard to shoot the cheerleader scene because I'd need a squad and an actress willing to train for the scene (for free, of course).

I guess with all of this technical writing for my book, I feel a need to be creative, be behind a camera again, and create something. I used to get off shooting and cutting stupid documentary stuff, imagine how it would feel to tell a story...

My birfday and other musings

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 3, 2004, 7:59 PM | comments: 1
Yesterday was my 31st birthday. It was a lot less stressful than my last one, presumably because you only really freak out on the ones that happen every decade. I don't feel like I'm aging too quickly or anything, or that I'm missing opportunities. The only age-related thing I ever think about these days is children. I'd love to have one (preferably a girl), but I just don't want one now.

So with that, Jeff Putz day was pretty laid back. We hit Chipotle for lunch and did a little shopping. Somehow only Stephanie got stuff out of that, but seeing her happy with new books is a gift in itself. I contemplated buying some video games, but I have some that aren't finished yet. I also have a couple of books to read, a book to write, and some miscellaneous code to write. I've got plenty to do!

After shopping, we went and saw Spiderman 2. Hands down better than the first. It makes you laugh and cry, it's insanely well written. I'm a little biased because I love Kirsten Dunst. She's a cutie (if a bit thin for my tastes), but for being young she seems to be really in control of the roles she'll play and the life she chooses to lead. Anyone in Hollyweird that can do that gets props from me.

After the movie we hit Outback for dinner. I almost never get steak there anymore. It's really all about the cheese fries.

We settled in for a quiet evening of TV and reading. I'm almost through Robert Rodriguez's Rebel Without a Crew. You might know him as the director of the El Mariachi movies, including Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, as well as Spy Kids. Basically, as a 23-year old, the guy struggling to get a break in film school went out and made his own movie from under $7,000. He's hands-on everything and thinks that Hollywood is a fucked up mess of studios, unions and financial waste. He broke into film-making by doing, just sheer will to make a movie, warts and all. Great special features on the Mexico DVD that show him shooting himself, editing and writing music at home, and best of all, shooting digitally. The guy is a real inspiration to people like me that need to make a movie.

Thursday I did something I almost never do. I wrote some code for the pure fun of it, to see if I could. I wrote a very simple SMTP client that sends basic e-mail. It talks back and forth to the server and, aside from a lack of error handling, does the job. It was kind of like the virtual equivalent of having an erector set to build something just for the satisfying feeling of creation. I guess it's true... I'm really a geek.

I should probably mention that last weekend's BeastBuzz at Paramount's Kings Island was a huge hit. We had 226 attendees and the marketing staff there made it an incredible event. Absolutely outstanding, and the biggest CoasterBuzz event yet.