Archive: January, 2005 turns five-years-old

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 31, 2005, 3:20 PM | comments: 8

On January 30, 2000, I launched, a news/portal site for roller coaster enthusiasts. It was kind of a hobby, but it was something I wanted to be a big deal in the long run.

Back in those days, there were new coaster sites every day. It was hard to keep track of them, so I figured having a directory for them was a good idea. It was also hard to keep up on news from around the industry, so having a central place for that seemed like a good idea. We were doing similar things at Penton Media back in those days for the vertical markets we covered, so in terms of design and content, I didn't need to do anything radically different. The more interesting twist was that news would come from not just traditional news sites, but also from these niche enthusiast sites out there.

Five years later, it hasn't changed much. It has been rewritten two and a half times since its launch (the half coming with changes to POP Forums). It still serves many thousands of visitors every day. It's also home base for an enthusiast club, CoasterBuzz Club.

Keeping up with it has really been easy most of the time. The day-to-day time requirements of running the site aren't significant. I spend probably less than an hour a day looking for news, since most of it is user-contributed anyway. Moderating the forums isn't a big deal either, because for the most part the community is self-governing. I can't remember the last time I had to delete something inappropriate, aside from the occasional spamming incident.

Hopefully the site is at a turning point. Back in the days when I spent a lot more time on it (because content management wasn't as easy at the time), I used to have to spend a lot of money as hosting costs went up and ad revenue went down. These days, there's a lot of money to pay back from that era, but expenses are relatively insignificant compared to what they were. If I could only pay off that business credit card, life would be grand.

The highlight of running the site these days is probably the events we do. In particular, we have a great event at Paramount's Kings Island every year that is a total blast. Last year we had well over 200 attendees. I'm not the hardcore enthusiast I used to be, but I enjoy spending a full day in the park on that day.

The site is more of a business than a hobby these days, and I'm happy to see it thrive. There is certainly a revision in the site's future, but it's more of a function of my writing projects than it is a deliberate need to update. The site doesn't really define me the way it used to, as my interests have diversified quite a bit over the years. I need to keep in mind though that the site has been the testing ground for so many other things I've done professionally, not the least of which is write a programming book. It deserves my ongoing attention since it and its community are bigger than my own needs at this point.

So after five years, I hope that there will be five more. In terms of the Web, not many things have stuck around that long. It's weird to realize that there are things (other than my marriage) that I've really committed to long-term. :)

Feel good TV

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 30, 2005, 10:13 PM | comments: 6

I'm such a sucker for feel good TV. What can I say, I like to see good things happen to deserving people.

Tonight I watched Extreme Makeover Home Edition, where they rebuilt the house of a family with a woman that spends her time as an advocate of disabled people. Of course they did an amazing job and it was great to see the family's reaction when they returned.

Do you think a show about doing nice things for people would have ever made it on the air even five years ago? I'm skeptical that it would. I think it says something about what people are feeling these days. In a lot of ways, I think it's easier to have faith in God than it is in the human beings around you, so a show like this, however motivated by corporate profit and television ratings, is something people very much want to see.

It's interesting though how TV can have positive effects that were not intended. Look at Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. There's another show that's essentially about improving the lives of people. People love to see that. And the nice side effect in this case is that, hopefully, people aren't such assholes about people being gay.

Iraqi elections and a dark year

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 30, 2005, 7:15 PM | comments: 0

The Iraqi elections today appear to have gone relatively well, or at least they've been fairly peaceful. The turnout hasn't been as good as the American media would like us to believe, but that's why you have to read press from around the world.

We saw Farenheit 9/11 this weekend. I can't stand Bush, but the film was pretty horrible. The first half of it was so preachy and drew such ridiculous points that it was hard to take even remotely seriously. The second half of it was I think more of a documentary, and even showed signs of being balanced here and there. Whatever bit of credibility that part of the film might have had was destroyed by the nonsense in the first part.

Anyway, whenever there's something going on in Iraq, I've always been sure to check out al Jazeera, because frankly when you combine that perspective with that of the American media, you can find something more resembling the truth.

This was a bummer of a year. The biggest disappointment that I have is that Bush was re-elected. What bothers me about it is that about half of Americans voted for the guy in light of the increasingly obvious notion that every reason for his war was bullshit. 1,400+ of our people came home in a box, more than 10,000+ have been wounded, and the forgotten statistic, tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq have been killed.

What I struggle with the most is that the people that signed up to protect us, our military service people, have to participate in this. I realize that it's what they signed up for, and that it's their job, but I'm astounded by the number of soldiers that are out there doing a job they don't believe in. I guess they're better people than I am, because I could never do that job out of a sense of duty. Regardless, they shouldn't have to die for a "cause" that doesn't serve our broad interest.

I hope we can get our people home soon, and I hope that Iraq is able to find strong internal leadership. The Sunni's seem pretty disenchanted, and I fear that's going to lead to civil war or continued violence.

Rethinking the way we teach hitting

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 30, 2005, 5:35 PM | comments: 0

I arrived a bit early to practice today, so I got to see our 12's scrimmage a group from another club. Aside from being "miniature people" that are fun to watch, these kids are remarkably talented. Back in the late 90's when I was coaching freshman, I had a hard time getting them all to serve right, yet these kids, younger and smaller, can all do it. Even more surprising is that they do it correctly. I've always theorized while coaching the older kids that the ones that put their entire body into a serve are doing that as a hold-over to when they were younger, but perhaps I was wrong.

So that got me to thinking about how we teach hitting. Whether it's by tossing or using a live setter, we teach kids at a young age the entire package: Drop back, approach, jump, swing, get the timing right. It all makes perfect sense... except for the timing part. Here's why.

In the fast offense we run, we do a lot of one balls, moving hitters all over the place. Even our higher sets require the hitters to be in motion before the ball leaves the setter's hands. This obviously puts a bigger burden on the setter in terms of timing, and should in theory free the hitters to just make the best approach they can. However, it's so hard to break them of this need to get their timing right.

This gets back then to teaching hitting at a young age. I remember the timing being such a huge issue for even the freshman I coached. It never occurred to me at the time to just have them work on the approach and everything else other than the timing, doing a careful toss to simply put it in their hands. You see where I'm going with that? Perhaps it's better to teach everything but the timing first, then start to add it later. Start by teaching kids how to hit one balls instead of high outside sets.

Here's why I think it would work. My 17's are now learning to hit shoots. For the first time in all of my years of coaching, more than half of them could do it instantly, and the rest I'm confident will get it soon. I was shocked, and very pleased. Immediately after trying that, we did a play with a more traditional higher set, and then came the problems. There was hesitation, odd step patterns and a lot of lateral drifting, all to compensate for what they thought might adversely affect their timing. When I told them to think of it more in terms of getting up there and putting faith in the setter, as they did with shoots and one balls, most of the kids made the strong and powerful approaches one hopes for.

Could we teach hitting this way to younger kids? Tough call. With a coach tossing the ball into their swing, I would say yes, you can teach this. In fact, with a coach standing there, at least you're more likely to get them to back off and not approach so close to the net that they have to drop their shoulder to swing behind the ball (this is the single biggest problem I deal with at this age group).

Can you teach this way using a live setter? That's a lot more questionable. I've seen some very talented setters in the 14 range, but I don't know how well they could set short stuff, let alone learn to adjust the timing to higher outside hits. I'd love to hear from people that coach those younger ages to see what they think.

Pieces of April

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 29, 2005, 12:43 PM | comments: 0

I'm not a hardcore film geek or anything, but I do know what I like even if I can't always describe why. A lot of indie/art films appeal to me, so I figured I'd check out Pieces of April.

Obviously seeing Katie Holmes play a freaky chick has the potential to be worth it, but the fact that it was shot on video and is clearly low-budget appeals to me. Most indie low-budget stuff I think tends to suck because it's so poorly written, but I figured if you could get a few reasonably well known actors it couldn't be that bad.

The good news is that the movie really delivered. Despite being somewhat thin on dialog, it conveys a lot of feeling. It's basically a story about a girl estranged from her family, and in particular her mother, who is dying of cancer. Knowing it's likely the last Thanksgiving they will ever have together, she invites the family to come to her and her black boyfriend's run-down NYC apartment for dinner. The story from there splits between the drive in of the family and April's impossible effort to cook dinner despite having a non-functional oven.

I think there are aspects of the family relationships that probably anyone can relate to in one way or another. It's just a simple but well-written story, and that's what I love about it. It doesn't preach or spell-out the point, it just is what it is. It makes me want to write and direct a film.

Volleyball kids can be real perverts

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 26, 2005, 5:11 PM | comments: 3

One of my former volleyball kids, a senior now, is seriously a pervert. She had this up on her away message:

Top 10 Reasons to Date a Volleyball Girl:
10. we're good with our hands.
9. We've got good endurance.
8. We like to bump.
7. Spandex. 'nuff said.
6. We've got good ball control.
5. We know how fast or slow to hit it.
4. We can do it in any position.
3. We're good on the floor.
2. We can get 'em up.
1. We can handle it with or without knee pads.

That's so wrong and icky on so many levels (unless of course you're talking about the much older Misty May, then it's OK).

Holy gas bill!

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 26, 2005, 4:57 PM | comments: 13

Our gas bill this month was $200! WTF!? Our gas bill last January was $150 for about the same usage (169 CCF). That means that if our actual usage next month matches last year, we can expect something like $250. Has the cost of natural gas risen 25% in one year? That's insane!

Related to this, how is the state legislator OK with charging sales tax on natural gas? That's like taxing food (which we don't do in Ohio). Just as we have to eat, we have to keep warm. Could be worse I suppose. I remember my cousins lived in New Hampshire back in the day, near the Massachusetts border, and you'd cross depending on what you wanted to buy. One didn't tax food, but the other didn't tax clothing. The idea was that it's against the law for you to walk around naked, but not to starve.

Not feeling like myself, then there's music

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 25, 2005, 10:49 PM | comments: 4

You ever get the feeling that you don't feel like yourself? Stephanie used to tell me she felt that way probably not long after we met, but I never really "got it" until probably a few years ago. I totally get it now.

It's like you're unhappy or something isn't quite right. It sucks because for the most part you think that everything is right, yet you feel weird. I was feeling like that today. I hate that feeling.

So I just fired up iTunes to play a song as a stupid joke for Steph, but then three songs later I totally feel normal again. I've also come to realize that I've not been listening to much of anything in the last week or so, and that's bad. Music is insanely important to my well-being, as it makes me generally more motivated and happy. I don't know why I just haven't been listening.

Then there's the other issue that there's nothing new I can fucking stand right now. A month into 2005 and my 2005 playlist in iTunes is still empty. WTF? As Steph says, we need something new, and not this pussy crybaby Coldplay bullshit either. I need something that makes you want to kick someone in the nuts or feel like speeding while you're driving. Back in the day, you could always rely on KMFDM or Lords of Acid for this, but they just kept putting out the same shit over and over. Bummer.

Ugh. I'm going to have to start exploring. With the new season of Alias starting, they have to tip me off to something new. Either that or we need something new from Supreme Beings of Leisure, or maybe even Garbage (in April!).

I guess while I'm at it, this is how the 2004 playlist ended up. It's really different compared to previous years. Keep in mind that these songs may not have been released in '04, but it's when I discovered them...

Ivy - Edge of The Ocean
Dido - White Flag
Toxic - Britney Spears
Pass That Dutch - Missy Elliott
Hey Mama - Black Eyed Peas
Hit That - Offspring
Figured You Out - Nickelback
Superfabulous - BT
Don't Tell Me - Avril Lavigne
Everything - Alanis Morissette
Ch-Check It Out - Beastie Boys
Up To The Roof - Blue Man Group (with Tracy Bonham)
Forbidden Colours - True Form (from Armin van Buuren A State of Trance 2004)
Honey - Venus Hum
I Have to Save The World - Venus Hum
Vertigo - U2

The cautiously optimistic coach

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 24, 2005, 11:34 PM | comments: 0

Normally this is something I'd write on my volleyblog, but this is more about me than volleyball.

I'm trying to be cautiously optimistic about my volleyball team's potential this year. I've got ten girls this year, doing 17 open again. Generally at this point I'm optimistic mostly as a self-defense mechanism, but this year they're giving me legitimate reason to be optimistic. Tonight and yesterday we easily dominated playing against our 18's. There are a number of reasons I'm feeling good about things...

  • My setter is better than I thought she was. I mean a lot better. I'm starting to see her leadership qualities come out, and she pretty much does anything I throw at her.
  • Defensively, it's not an uphill battle. My libero is super solid, and even my middles can pass. It's not just serve receive either, these kids have outstanding court vision.
  • Strong transition. This one is another surprise. These kids get off the net and never stop. They move right into the next play. It's the fast style of play that I crave, and they can do it all day long.
  • My "projects" are coming along very quickly. Every year I know after tryouts that I'm going to have to work hard to get certain kids up to where they should be. This year there's one in particular that I saw during the high school season quite a bit, and recognized her potential. She was a risk, but I've got her hitting correctly and she says she can actually feel the difference.
  • Related to that, I think I'm finally getting to be a better skills coach. I've always felt deficient in that area, but especially by looking at video, I'm finally starting to get the mechanics and translate it into useful instruction.
  • These kids have history. About half of them were together as 14's when they went to nationals. Every last one of them played for our club last year. I think only two never played together. They have instant chemistry and they all seem to get along really well.
  • They're talkers. I've yet to tell them, "Hey, speak up!" Even between plays, there's a lot of encouragement and hand slapping, all of it unsolicited.

I'm sure there are other things, but those are some of the main points. It just feels right, and to see them in action, it's all business while remaining fun. They seem to have high expectations, maybe even as high as my own. It's a refreshing change.

Here's hoping we get a ticket to Eutaw...

Watching things come together

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 24, 2005, 11:29 AM | comments: 0

Things are starting to finally come together with my volleyball team. As I indicated in earlier posts, I was worried that my strong emphasis on getting skills more technically correct would hinder the overall team progress, but I'm finding that's not true at all.

We have six practices before our first tournament, and it's a big deal with a lot of big deal teams. It wouldn't be the end of the world if we did poorly, but the mental effects of doing well could carry us throughout the season.

At this point, the team goal is to have them executing six plays efficiently, which is actually like 12 different hitting possibilities. I think that's an adequate start. Defensively they're mostly on target. There are two or three individuals that I need to work with to improve in certain areas, and I'm confident that will come with time. I'm trying to prioritize without neglecting anyone.

I finally posted another VolleyBuzz article in the article section of this site on teaching defense. I've been sitting on it for awhile. I hope you like it, and I welcome feedback.

The role of risk in our lives

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 22, 2005, 1:30 AM | comments: 0

There's a thread on the private Burst Media forums about growing your Web site business. This discussion inevitably led to a discussion about taking risks in your business. This got me to thinking about risk in the broader sense.

In business, risk is generally defined as the chances you take in conducting some kind of enterprise. There is generally some kind of investment involved in any business, and there's a chance that you may lose it. You can mitigate the risks in business a number of ways, the first and most obvious of which is not going into a business that you feel has a high probability of failing. You can't always control the environment in which you conduct business, but you can certainly choose not to conduct that business at all.

Stephanie got me to thinking about risk in terms of your health. Those risks are a little more tricky. We can certainly mitigate health risks by choosing not to step in front of a speeding car, not jumping out of airplanes, eating right, exercising and generally using some common sense with regards to how we treat our bodies. Unfortunately, we can't always manage or control the environment we live in, or the genetic code we're given. We can't stop an idiot on the freeway from killing us or choose not to have a cancer gene.

So where does that put risk in our lives? Like many things, we want to control risk as much as we can. We need to find a balance in life between taking acceptable risks and letting go of the things we just can't control. Sometimes that's easier said than done.

I knew a guy at a previous job that was a brilliant manager. To this day he's still very much a success in the publishing field. I remember at one point that one of his children became very ill with some disease (I forget which one). Here's a guy that's used to eventually getting what he wants by way of managing risk, but was totally helpless in this respect. All of the success in the world couldn't cure his child, and it clearly affected him emotionally.

So what do you do about that? In my case, I've spent many times on long solo drives or sleepless nights considering all possibilities. That's how eventually I arrived at the idea of working for myself. I know that for the foreseeable future, I'll probably spend more than I make. That's a risk, but I know that I can go back to a day job at any time. In fact, having written a book in my self-employment makes that even easier.

Then there are health issues. Living with a vegetarian and future dietitian certainly gives you a certain perspective. In the last year or so, I've lost a little weight, mostly eliminated fast food, eat a lot more organic food, and eat a lot more fiber than I used to. None of these are earth-shattering behavioral changes, but they're a step in the right direction. It's slow going after nearly 30 years of doing a lot of things wrong, but I go at the pace that my mental issues will allow me to.

What I can't do is go the route that my friend did. He lived in fear of risk. He wanted to manage everything, and when he encountered something he couldn't, it made him miserable. Being in constant fear of the risks the world throws at you is no way to live. By all means, mitigate the risks, but don't fear them or try to manage them all. I fully accept that I may never be able to make it as an entrepreneur. I also accept that a part of life is death, and that I could die in a car accident or get sick by eating something. But I can't fear those risks to the extent that I stop driving around or stop eating.

Probably the most extreme example of this was a woman that worked as a secretary in my office a few years ago. You should have seen the stack of shit she carried around. You know those wire baskets with the wheels that old ladies use to take groceries home? That's what she brought to work every single day. She was prepared for virtually anything that could happen to her (I think she even carried a gun, but I never saw it). In addition to various toiletries, a change of clothes, and God knows what else, she also had products for everything. I'm not talking about a bottle of Tylenol, but a full medicine cabinet. Diarrhea, dry skin, 'rhoids, colds, jock itch... shit, she has something for everything. How does someone live like that? How can you not just chalk up some of life's problems to "shit happens?"

So as I go to sleep tonight, I can accept that any number of things could happen to me while I sleep. I've mitigated the risks by locking the front door, turning the heat up, tested the smoke alarms and made sure the stove was off. That's about all I can do. Tomorrow I'll try to work a little on mitigating other risks, but I won't spend a lot of time worrying about the risks to the extent I can't live life. It's just too short.

A little sun goes a long way

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 21, 2005, 11:11 AM | comments: 0

Disregarding for the moment the impending doom the weather people are predicting for tomorrow, the sun is shining. I'm down in the red room on the lap top where the six foot windows are making everything warm and summer-like (if you aren't looking out at the snow, anyway).

It sure feels nice. You need that now and then in the winter to fend off the SAD. This morning I posted news on CoasterBuzz, took a relatively quick shower and banged out more book proofing. It's probably the only productive couple of hours I've had this week. Seriously, I look back and it all seems like a big waste of time. Not accomplishing something on a regular interval causes me anxiety.

Unfortunately, the sun doesn't appear to be making Luna feel better. Poor thing has been barfing all week. I think it's separation anxiety from Stephanie being at school. But what's weird about it is that she's fine the rest of the time. Usually when she gets into a prolonged "episode" she doesn't do anything for the duration. She's in her "sick pose" right now, only slightly distracted by the birds outside.

Livejournal suXorz teh big one!!!!11

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 20, 2005, 11:31 PM | comments: 3

I was reading the other day about how Livejournal went down because of some massive server failure among their hundred servers or whatever. I tried to go there today and just got a blank page. That's nice stuff. When it finally appeared it was slow as hell.

Internet success stories interest me. LJ is certainly a success story, and it's neat to see the "little guy" rise above. Still, it's also a story of being in the right place at the right time, and that irks me. A group of people I worked with and I thought up years before it became a reality, but never had the support to make it happen. In other words, I hate when good ideas come to fruition despite poor implementation.

I found some documents on how LJ is set up, and quite frankly it looks like a horrible system. I've read too many case studies about systems that do far more with less hardware. Maybe it's the software. Maybe it's the platform. I wouldn't know. I do know that giving stuff away for the sake of being popular might feel good, but it certainly doesn't pay the bills.

Why do I care? I dunno, I guess it's because I see Six Apart buying the company and I can't stop scratching my head. I absolutely don't get how they expect to monetize the thing. Maybe I just wish someone would throw a bunch of cash at me for something I did (hey, scored me $100k, so you never know). I'm also irritated by them because they constantly wear the words "open source" on their sleeve like it entitles them to a medal of recognition or something. Oh, and they use Perl. Honestly... in this day and age, doesn't that seem stone age to you? I'm not usually one for platform religion, but it's not exactly a platform for a massive enterprise like that.

Fighting off a cold, perhaps, plus new semester thoughts

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 19, 2005, 11:51 PM | comments: 1

I think I'm fighting off a cold. As soon as I feel better, I start to feel crappy again. Tonight I relapsed into the precursory aches and sniffles, as I have twice in the last week, but not the full blown cold.

I took some faux-NyQuil. Shit... I forget how tired it makes you. I thought I'd do a little writing tonight but there's no chance. I'm going to bed as soon as I finish typing this.

The good news is that I'm quickly getting back to a good sleep schedule. With Stephanie leaving in the morning for school I now have a cue to wake up. Of course, the downside is that I wake up alone (Luna gets so upset about her absence that she barfs), but at least I get her to myself over the weekend, even if that's study time for her.

We actually only really came to blows once that I remember over the break. I think that's pretty fabulous for a couple of people that spend nearly every day together for a month. Sure, I do more work with alone time, but I miss her companionship even if it's just her being in the room. It's nice when there's someone around that has your back.

So I'm off to crawl into bed so we can keep each other warm. :)

Lack of focus is getting the best of me

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 19, 2005, 12:27 AM | comments: 2

You know what they say... time is money. I feel like if I don't spend my time working on my various projects, I won't make money. That said, I can't focus on my projects.

I've got a few things that I need to make serious progress on in the next month or so. I have a nice list and everything. But when I sit down at the computer, I find myself constantly distracted by everything and nothing at the same time.

And it's not like I'm even doing anything useful like cleaning or emptying the dishwasher or messing around with the cats. OK, I did snow-blow the driveway today, but that was barely a 20 minute endeavour.

I think that maybe the problem is that I get stuck on one particular project instead of jumping around to stay interested. For example, right now I'm trying to finish up my ad serving software. It's boring me to tears though and I just can't sit down and bang it out. Perhaps if I took a break from it and worked on something else for awhile I could come back to it refreshed.

I guess to be fair, I did proof seven book chapters today, and that took a few hours, and a lot of concentration. I found some mistakes that weren't caught earlier, and honestly I'm surprised that even I caught them because I'm too "close" to the material.

I feel really energized about rewriting the forum software, but I'm stuck on writing the requirements. Like a "mature" developer (as GregLeg put it), I feel I need to get those requirements down on paper instead of winging it like every previous version. I wouldn't wing it in a project for a client or employer, so why would I for myself?

Motivational issues reversed

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 16, 2005, 11:48 PM | comments: 0

The kids had a scrimmage on Thursday, and it went pretty well, or at least what I expected. We only practiced actual game play in one practice, so I expected it would be rough around the edges. There were some obvious issues we need to deal with, but it wasn't nearly as disorganized and chaotic as I expected.

A couple of years ago, I had an assistant coach that said to me, "You can't make them care." I know that he was right, but I still put a lot of responsibility on my own shoulders to get them to care. That's what coaches do! I get frustrated when kids don't show up because of a little snow or because they're a little sick or whatever.

Today I kind of realized that brief lapses in intense commitment are not the end of the world. I see this because today at practice I had a hard time staying motivated. Last night we had a surprise birthday party for my wife and I was tired and exhausted this morning (particularly surprising since I didn't drink at all). I don't feel like I was giving the kids a full on effort today.

This year so far I've found a lot of balance in everything I do as a coach, and motivational expectations appear to be yet another thing that requires balance. I want to go to nationals in the worst way, but regardless of the season's outcome, I'm going to make a difference no matter what. I have to keep that in mind.

Stephanie's surprise birthday party

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 16, 2005, 11:36 PM | comments: 8

Steph turns the big 3-0 Tuesday. I was relieved to see on Queer Eye that the 30's are the new 20's. Whew!

Anyway, I decided about a month or so ago that she was getting a surprise birthday party. The plan was that I'd take her out to dinner and we'd come home to her finding all kinds of peeps at our house.

As it turned out, Steph decided she wanted Thai food in Cleveland Heights, which is about 45 minutes from us. I had only budgeted about 30 minutes of a drive each way, so that wasn't good. Nicole would show up around 6:30 while guests would show around 7. I smoothly got us out of the house around 5:30, because I complained I didn't want to wait for a table by going later. Good thing we got there when we did.

Then 7 rolls around, and I realize we're not getting out as fast as I expected. I go to the crapper, acting all uncomfortable from eating a lot (the farting was, however, for real), and ducked out to the "restroom" to call Nicole. I briefed her and we left about 20 minutes later.

We pulled into the driveway at around 8:10. Steph went to the curb to get the mail and I went inside. She noticed the curtains were pulled totally shut, which is not how they were when we left (because Cosmo was sitting in the window at the time). This tipped her off. When she got in, she noticed the kitchen table stuff was all on the floor, so she just stopped in the downstairs room. Nicole walked out of the darkness and said something like, "Surprise, or whatever," and everyone else got up, laughed, and that was that!

I feel a little guilty because, while I initiated the whole thing, it was Nicole that did most of the work contacting people and such. Only three of the people I invited showed up (though we expect that Freeze only shows to 50% of the parties he's invited to). Nicole coordinated food and the invite of her school friends, and keyed into the house while we were out. She gets "mad props" for kicking ass (and looking cute, as usual).

It wasn't the crazy blow out I envisioned, but I think it was just about right for my darling little introvert. She gets easily overloaded on people.

Happy birthday, baby! I love you!

Too many blogs

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 13, 2005, 1:13 AM | comments: 0

I actually have three blogs now. My personal one is the on you're reading, and it's chock full of the general crap I like to post about.

The second one is my technical blog for the ASP.NET community, not surprisingly on

The third one is on my little volleyball site, which is really just for me and not much of an attempt at making a buck:

The trouble is that there are frequently times I write something that could cross over. I write about career junk all of the time on the tech blog, and that could obviously fit here as well. I love coaching volleyball to the extent that it's a huge part of my life, so there's cross over there too.

I know that there are RSS protocols now that allow you to post all over the place, but there are so many standards floating around that it's hard to keep up. I was just excited to make trackbacks work!

Windows open

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 12, 2005, 12:54 PM | comments: 2

As much as I've grown to loath Ohio weather and would rather take my chances with hurricanes in Florida, most winters the weather briefly redeems itself once or twice a year (last year was not one of those years).

I opened up some windows, and it's about 60 outside. It feels nice just to get some air flow. Tomorrow we'll get more of the same (and rain), then back to the 20's on Friday. But seriously, if we had days like this perhaps ever week, I could deal with winter a little more.

Are Americans really that illiterate?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 11:45 PM | comments: 4

You know, at times it scares me to find a post on the Internet where the people writing it are functionally illiterate. I'm not talking about a typo or the misappropriation of a homonym, I'm talking about people that can't put together a sentence with everyday simple words.

Even with my fancy English degree and a book to my credit, I'm not perfect, and I make typos (I'm slightly lysdexic), but I'm genuinely fearful for the future of our country by the general illiteracy I see everywhere. I fear that chat shorthand could make it worse with the young people, but I'm not sure if that's something to worry about or not (my volleyball kids, at least, communicate like normal humans via e-mail).

New Garbage album, April 12

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 10:36 PM | comments: 0

Finally! Garbage is releasing a new album on April 12. The name of it is "Bleed Like Me" and it will have 11 tracks.

Understand that Garbage is probably the only band in ten years that I still like after, well, ten years. Even my high school/college Def Leppard obsession didn't last that long. Reading Shirley's blog, it sounds like they're really happy with the record, which has to be a first for them. Between her blog and comments they've made to the press over the years, they sound like endless tweakers that can't just let go of a recording and put it out into the world (huh... that's a lot like writing software). If they like it, that has to be good.

With three albums so far, I've liked every one. Each was just different enough to be interesting, without being something totally different. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect this time around, and regardless of my expectations, I can't imagine I'd be let down. More importantly, if they tour, I will travel to see them this time. I can't go four years at a time without getting to see them. They kick an amazing quantity of ass for a bunch of old farts and a tiny little Scottish woman.

Good things have happened to coincide with Garbage records...
1995 "Garbage": My first radio job, saw them in a tiny club.
1998 "Version 2.0": Finally realized the Internet would set me free, started to make the move to programmer from broadcast tool.
2001 "Beautiful Garbage": Changed jobs, bought a house (though that year went to hell in the fall, as it did for many people).

I'm feeling good about 2005!

Sumi Das on CNN

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 1:31 PM | comments: 1

You may recall that Erica Hill made her way from TechTV to CNN Headline News as an anchor. Well, the absolutely lovely and very smart Sumi Das, once the host of Fresh Gear on TechTV, has made it to CNN as a reporter. I saw her today reporting from the presidential inauguration grounds.

I hate to talk about her as a pretty face, but I totally had a crush on her when I first got TechTV at home. I loved when she had the little bob, but she's still quite striking with long hair.

Thank God another former TechTV personality has moved on to much better things.

How not to grow your fanbase

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 12:03 AM | comments: 1

Apple is suing a Web site for posting unreleased stuff about its products.

Regardless of whether or not they have a case (I personally don't buy the bit about trade secrets), it seems really, really stupid to be suing the people who are your biggest fans. It's even more stupid considering all of the excitement and hype that comes out of these fan sites.

Bad move.

Off-court team building

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 9, 2005, 5:55 PM | comments: 0

If you work in corporate America and mention "team building," you probably hear a lot of groans. I feel your pain. I've been there. It's rarely effective or interesting.

But it gets results in a lot of other situations. I was first exposed to it in college as a resident assistant. Our hall staff would work our way through initiative courses and other similar activities, while the hall directors and assistant hall directors would also do high ropes courses.

Sports teams obviously are good for this as well, especially girls. Really pushing their emotional boundaries and getting them to trust each other and believe each other is crucial to their success. I've seen great teams fall apart just because of personality issues.

This year I did a lot of research on various team-building activities, and I've used them all. Today I had the kids over my house, and my wife and I cooked them lunch (I'm the chicken grill master). After lunch, we did a few of the things that didn't make sense for the gym.

First, we did a variation of the stranded-in-snowy-mountains scenario where you could only keep certain items from a list. They have only a few minutes to unanimously agree which items they could keep. Obviously this is a lesson in communication, as the answers don't really matter. You get them talking afterward about the frustrations of not getting your way or not feeling your voice is heard. Not a lot of conflict with my group this time, because a lot of them know each other pretty well.

The second activity had them broken into groups where they had to write a poem and perform it aloud to the rest of the team. Hilarities ensue. This one is just about feeling comfortable around each other, not being afraid to look stupid. Helps bring out the shy ones. Each poem was about a particular type of player (D.S., hitters, setter), so everyone got to feel special.

The third activity was a lot more serious. Each kid writes on a card some serious fear, then you mix them up and give everyone someone else's card. Really deep stuff here about death, insecurity, being alone... the most basic and primal fears. Each person has to say how they can identify and understand the fear. It's a very emotional thing for them, to hear someone else identify with some deep-seeded fear. The "debrief" for this activity leads to all kinds of things about trust, understanding and looking out for each other. Even without knowing who wrote what, a lot of connections were made. It was really awesome to see them come together.

Finally, I had the kids play Dance Dance Revolution together. Mark my words, this game will increase a kid's vertical by several inches. I've been doing it for years, and even at 5'8" I can block every kid, regardless of height. It makes a huge difference.

So at this point I think I've finally got them working together as a mental unit, trusting each other and enjoying each other's company. It will require maintenance as the season progresses, but I think I've got a good foundation to work with. We've done a lot of skills work as well. At this point, I can finally start getting hard-core into game theory and get to playing. That, in my opinion, is the easy part.

I expect practice is going to be very cool tomorrow...

Insomnia and balance

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 8, 2005, 12:40 AM | comments: 3

Here I am again with my iPod and Stephie's iBook (see, Apple really is about lifestyle), on the couch writing this because I can't really sleep.

I think the problem is that with Steph home for break, I don't really have a set schedule. When she's in school, she leaves around 8:30 or 9 and I get up. But without her cue to say she's leaving I just kind of sleep until whenever, which combined with staying up late and napping every other day has me all screwed up.

Tonight I'm actually fairly tired. I only got about six hours of sleep last night (up until 3 writing code), and we had just a 45 minute nap. The problem now is that my mind is racing about so many things. For example, I'm already thinking about volleyball tournaments that are months away, finishing code that's just going to take awhile, securing another book contract, paying the taxes, taking another vacation, wanting a child some day (or adopting one), making a film or short film, wondering if I could audition to be a Blue Man... it just never ends!

What's so irritating about all this is that I wasn't like this a few months ago. I remember over the summer how chilled out I was. Steph asked me if I was depressed or something because really nothing phased me. I liked just being relaxed, sipping orange juice on the deck with some toast in the morning, writing the book when I felt like it, spending half an hour messing with the cats... I was so relaxed!

I guess at the time I was just so relieved to not be working for The Man that all was right with the world. That's still a great feeling, but now that I have so much purpose for being I'm getting myself all unbalanced and not relaxed. Nothing racing through my mind is particularly threatening or terrible really. I wouldn't say I'm stressed. I just can't let the stuff filter out of my head and let more basic things fill my head, like enjoying the warm bed, thinking of ice cream, sex or a warm breeze (not necessarily in that order).

Steph says to make a list of things to let them go. I think that perhaps writing them out here is kind of like that, so hopefully now I can get to sleep.

I feel so left out...

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 6, 2005, 2:42 AM | comments: 3

Everyone else in the CampusFish community has made their own fancy style sheets but me!

Seriously though, it's really kick ass that everyone is doing it. I didn't think anyone would bother trying. I'm glad to see I was wrong!

Ugh... look at the time. I spent the last few hours getting rid of the shitty credit card processor I was using. Out with the old, in with the new! (And let me know if you try to renew here or on one of my other sites and it chokes.)

Mechanics to play dynamics

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 4, 2005, 12:49 AM | comments: 0

So far I've spent a lot of time on really specific skill mechanics in the four practices I've had so far. I used video to break down their approaches and that made a huge difference. We've had real breakthroughs with at least half of the kids in terms of understanding what they're doing wrong and how they can fix it.

I've always felt that I'm not a very good skills coach. Now I'm starting to think that maybe I'm just not a good skills coach for young kids, because with the 17's I'm making a lot of progress.

I did notice today that I think they might be getting a little bored with that, so the next practice is going to be almost all play time, what I call "scenario work" to expose them to specific possibilities that happen during play. It also starts to develop the court dynamics that allow them to move instinctively among each other. They've also got a scrimmage next week, so I need to get them playing together.

The pressure is on to a certain degree, because we're playing in an early season "power tournament" mid-February. These are worth more points for rank in the region and the competition is top-notch. I'm cautiously optimistic, but it's hard to know just how things are going until I put them in front of another team.

Year-end look at my business

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 3, 2005, 2:38 AM | comments: 0

Seeing as how I have to live off of my own stuff, I've been looking at all kinds of numbers given that I can do a good year-to-year comparison.

The big surprise is that, contrary to what I expected, CoasterBuzz traffic overall grew by around 15%. Revenue on a CPM basis was down, but up overall in terms of dollars. It was a weird year, with certain months being miserable for advertising.

So now I'm wondering if I need to rethink my content strategy for the site. I still don't think the audience can get much bigger than the few million visits I get now, so in terms of return on investment, I need to budget time in a logical fashion.

That said, that site accounts for 75% of my revenue, which is far too much. I'd like to get that down to 50% this year (which would be easy if I considered my book into that figure).

Consulting money was a little higher this year, and I'd like it to be higher. This year it was all "found" money, and I didn't actively pursue anything myself. I've got some friends in various places that could lead to some nice gigs if I keep on them.

Expenses were drastically reduced this year because hosting has become a lot less expensive. I'm working now on a new mechant account arrangement as well. Bank fees kicked my ass at around a grand. I think I can cut that in half.

Right now I'm working on the forum rewrite. The snag at the moment is finishing my requirements document. It's boring stuff to write, but I know from experience that it makes all the difference in producing a great product. Technically, I have nothing to gain financially, but this software opens doors in terms of building my own stuff and in terms of recognition in the Microsoft community.

Goals this year:
Cut the business debt in half, or eliminate it entirely.
Sell my new book proposal and finish it by July.
Release v8 of the forums.
Finish my ad serving software, and perhaps sell it.
Revise CoasterBuzz in time for ASP.NET v2's final release.
See Hawaii again.

Looking at the US after spending time in Japan

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 2, 2005, 3:23 PM | comments: 2

I caught this blog entry from an American that just returned after nine months in Japan. Interesting perspective...

Finished Halo 2... not what I had hoped for

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 2, 2005, 3:07 PM | comments: 4

I finished Halo 2 this afternoon. It seemed rather short. Overall, it started out pretty amazing, but the ending and last few levels fell a bit short of my expectations.

I know there has been a lot of hype surrounding the game, especially its multi-player Xbox Live ability. I agree, it sets a new standard. However, what really separated the first game from all other shooters before it was the story. It was a really fabulous story, and the only games other than Half-Life and Max Payne that made me think, "Wow, that was an interesting story."

The problem with the story telling here is two-fold (although here's a good summary). The first problem is that the cut scenes are not made clear enough. It's hard to orient yourself after blowing shit up for 30 minutes and understand where you are, which characters are there, and where you've left off. It's even more difficult if you aren't playing through the entire game in one sitting.

The second problem is that critical stuff can happen while you're fighting, and you'll miss it. I don't know how many times Cortana or one of the profits are blabbering about something, and you can't tell what they're saying because something is blowing up. In the last boss battle, I fell to a lower level of a set of platforms, while my buddies were still hacking away at the boss. Meanwhile, Miranda Keyes is talking to the Oracle guy about how to shut down Halo, and I have no idea what they're saying over the explosions. I finally get back up to the higher level, find the boss, and two shots later he's dead. Worst last action moment ever.

I can deal with the fact that they wanted to setup Halo 3 (and with the first day sales alone of Halo 2, you know there will be a third), but the ending left a lot to be desired. Cliff hangers are fine if there's some kind of story closure and a whiz bang moment, but this had neither. Granted, the destruction of the first Halo in the first game was pretty hard to top.

The first game had a real sense of wonder about it as you started to learn about Halo and what it was for. You could even overlook the ridiculously repetitive level design (which wasn't quite as bad in 2). But this time, the story largely revolves around the growing civil war among the Covenant, and has something to do with some big talking plant that is introduced without warning or explanation. Without some clues about the plant, there's not mystery as there was in the first game, just distraction.

Story telling is what sets games apart these days. You can go all the way back to the original Sierra games like Kings Quest and Space Quest to understand that. Halo 2, while a lot of fun, fell short in the story telling department. They had a good story too, it just wasn't told very well.

Oh well. When the third game comes out (hopefully we won't have to wait for Xbox 2), I'm sure I'll buy it. I'd love to see this series made into a live action movie, because the story is really pretty good, even if the second part wasn't translated to a game very well.

Obligatory 2004 retrospect

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 1, 2005, 3:17 PM | comments: 1

Lots of great moments in the last year. Several things stick out.

First off, I finally learned what it was like to make six figures a year. The money was awesome, but I was fairly miserable. I didn't have enough to do and the hour commute each way was killing me. I lasted five months, then quit.

I quit for two reasons: One, to work on my book, and second, to try working for myself. Now that the year is over and I have results, I can see that this lead to an 80% pay cut. I get a little stressed about cash at times, but on the whole I'm happier than I've ever been in my professional life, and that makes me happy in my personal life.

I wrote a book this year. I spend a lot of time trivializing this in my mind and to people I know. Regardless of how well it sells or how much I can make from it, dude, I wrote a fucking book. I don't know why I make that out to be less than it is. Maybe it'll be more real for me when I can hold it in my hand.

I really solidified some relationships with some of my volleyball kids this year. While it gives me the parent itch, this kind of relationship really fills a certain void for me. I talk to them frequently, and they tell me what's going on in their lives. Even if it's stupid teenager/college bullshit, I don't know, it's gratifying that they want to share it with me. It's like I had enough impact on them for them to reciprocate the effort in some way. I've grown really fond of my all-star setter in particular. She's such a smart kid, and I can tell she's destined for success in anything she does. I want a kid just like her.

I developed a great deal as a programmer. Some of that I attribute to my experience at Progressive, and a lot of it I attribute to writing the book. I feel more comfortable than ever in my abilities, and I get off on the idea that each new thing I try will allow me to learn something else. When I go to the book store, there aren't books I want to buy, because most are now beneath me. I'm transitioning from absorption mode to creation mode. It feels good, considering my total lack of formal training in college.

I barely had any fast food in 2004. I realized late in 2003, when I managed to lose around 15 pounds, that it's just generally not good for me. I'd still like to lose perhaps another 20 pounds, but without fast food, I at least don't have the digestive issues I used to have. I'd get the shits every other week when I had fast food on a regular basis. Now if I could just adopt some of my vegetarian wife's ways in terms of eating green stuff.

We didn't travel as much as in previous years, but we had some nice trips. A volleyball trip to Baltimore got us into another Medieval Times, we had good Japanese food in Chicago, a killer CoasterBuzz Club event in Cincy, and a really nice stay at Universal Orlando.

I think the highlight of the year, for me and Steph, was just better understanding what makes us happy. For her, it led to a new graduate program and career outlook, for me it led to self-employment. I'm really proud of her for all of the realizations she's had and the courage to react to them. For me, my realizations involve short-term risk, mostly financial, but to get up in the morning and look at a to-do list that is wholly your own is an awesome feeling.

All things considered, it was a pretty good year (after three shitty ones). Let's see if I can make 2005 even better.