Archive: March, 2005

Life is pretty groovy right now

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 31, 2005, 9:47 AM | comments: 1

With the sun shining and the temperature already flirting with 70 on the way to the client's office this morning, I couldn't help but smile and take a little inventory.

First of all, I'm going to a gig I really believe in. The arrangement is very much like self-employment, except I didn't have to find the client. The hourly rate is insane.

My book at least appears to be selling pretty well. We won't have preliminary numbers for another month or so, but the fact that Amazon nearly sold out of it (only five left!) is a good sign. Bookpool also sold out once. If it sells 7,000+ copies by the end of June, we're going back to Hawaii this winter. No question about it.

Advertising on my sites is showing a little glimmer of recovery. That's good news. I have to admit that I don't pay attention to the sites enough, but hopefully this summer I can. Half of my income at the moment is derived from them, so you'd think I would pay attention more.

I've reached a high level of satisfaction with the performance of my volleyball kids. There were a few disappointments in Baltimore last weekend, but placing anywhere in the top third at a Qualifier kicks ass as far as I'm concerned. I'm really proud of them. I have to admit I'm kind of getting attached to them!

Stephanie is a little stressed out by school, but she's doing a nutrition program for our volleyball kid and starting a vegetarian organization at Kent. Clearly this makes her happy and gives her a sense of purpose beyond just going to school. A happy Stephie leads to a happy Jeffy!

I moved the grill out of the garage and back on to the deck. Enough said.

2004 was probably the best year I've had since 2000. This year is already showing a lot of promise. Figuring out what's important in life and living it on your own terms sure does make a person a lot happier. I can't say I've got it totally figured out, but at least I got a clue now and not 30 years from now.

Garbage coming to Cleveland and Columbus

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 29, 2005, 2:26 PM | comments: 4

Garbage announced tour dates for Cleveland and Columbus, fortunately, so we won't have to go to Detroit to see them. They posted the video for "Why Do You Love Me" on their site, and Shirley is looking very cute again. Not that she was ugly with the short blonde hair, it just wasn't her.

The single sure kicks a lot of ass, and sounds a bit more raw than what you're used to hearing from them. They're already getting great reviews. I can't wait to see them again!

Super Size Me is about stupid people

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 29, 2005, 12:03 AM | comments: 3

I finally saw Super Size Me. Good film, very interesting documentary. I guess the single most shocking thing about it is that Americans are more stupid than I thought.

Yes, McDonald's probably deserves to be vilified to a certain degree, and the corporate machines that lobby to keep their crap in front of kids should be exposed, but still I find the most striking thing to be that people don't take responsibility or exercise common sense in the decisions they make.

Being married to a vegetarian and future registered dietitian obviously has a certain influence on me. I won't pretend that's not true. However, with all of the stupid fad diets (yeah, I'm talking to you Atkins and South Beach people) and all of the people that want a magic pill, the same basic principles of a balanced diet and exercise have been known truths now for decades. Shit, even sensible portion control is a step in the right direction.

In late 2003, I virtually stopped eating fast food. With few other changes in diet, that alone allowed me to drop 16 pounds in about 12 weeks. I didn't even have to work for it. Prior to that time, I was eating that shit at least three times a week. Since that time it's still rare that I eat the stuff (it gives me cramps), and I haven't gained any of that weight back. Again, no other diet changes or significant exercise change.

I'd still like to lose a little more. I don't feel unhealthy, but I'm not getting any younger and I don't want to be one of those inactive senior citizens. I guess to do that I need to make some drastic lifestyle changes in terms of diet and exercise, and try to make some plan to do it in manageable stages. I suck at that because the ROI from change is rarely immediately apparent.

More on Baltimore (non-volleyball)

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 28, 2005, 2:40 PM | comments: 1

Wow, after spending the weekend in Baltimore, it's hard to get back into a routine. It's also weird that Stephanie has to go to school and I'm here at home ("work" doesn't have anything for me to do right now). It's nice being together for days at a time.

Steph researched vegetarian joints downtown, and wouldn't you know it that the one we tried to walk to doesn't exist anymore, despite its Web site still being online. It got turned into a snooty wine bar or some such shit. Bastards. We ended up getting shitty Subway.

The kids and their parents organized a big team dinner at this little place called Crabby Dick's. Neat place, but not really great for us since Steph is veggie and I don't like seafood. There was no way in hell we were going to have garden and beef burgers again, so we went down the street to a little Chinese place. The food was pretty good, and very reasonable.

The really sick thing about the trip is that I noticed a lot of kids, like kids I'd like to have. There was a girl on one team that I only half-jokingly said would be our offspring. She was a little goth girl with black hair and plugs in her lobes, and she kicked ass. That would be our daughter, with Steph's fashion sense and my love for volleyball.

Then Steph noticed this little tiny girl on one of the younger teams playing as a libero. She loves small things because, well, small things are cute! We've both kind of got the baby bug, and that scares the shit out of me.

The other thing that always comes up on trips like this is the subject of moving. We're both pretty much ready to get the hell out of Northeast Ohio. It's not that it's a bad place to live, but shit, there are other places out there, and most of them don't require that you own a snow blower. I have a feeling that when Steph is done at Kent, we're going to move. It's time.

Clearly we need to get out of town more, that's for sure.

A good weekend at the Northeast Qualifier

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 28, 2005, 10:07 AM | comments: 1

My kids and I went to Baltimore last weekend for the Northeast Qualifier. It's always one of my favorite events because it's a great opportunity for the kids to go out together, for the parents to get to know each other, and to play lots of volleyball. Good times.

This year we placed 21st out of 70, registered in the 17 club division, which is the best of any team I've had so far. The kids feel we could have done even better, but while I'm inclined to agree, I still think we had a nice run.

The first day we won our first two matches, tanked the third, but then had to watch the last match to see if there would be a three-way tie (and subsequent tie-breaker). All matches in our pool went three games except our second one, and were the last pool playing in the convention center. We had to cheer on the Cheetah Volleyball Club to win and prevent a tie, and fortunately they pulled it out in the end. I still can't believe they ended up going to the bottom half, because they were a really solid team, especially that number 13!

The second day we played in the morning. We won the first match, then nearly beat fellow OVR team Premier before giving up a lead and losing. That one kind of hurt to lose. They're not a powerful team at all, but my God are they consistent. We lost the third match to an impressive team from Memphis, and landed in third for the pool. No gold flight for us, but even at that point we couldn't do anything lower than the upper third.

Sunday morning the kids choked. They got beat by a younger team and simply didn't show up. I talked with our 18's coach after that and we both have the same problem. You can lead them to water, but you can't make them drink. We both refuse to just accept that, but at the same time it will drive you crazy if you let it. Like I said, I'm just pleased that they finished so high, and I'm proud of them.

Despite our screwed up seeding system in OVR, this finish hopefully secures us a spot in our own bid tournament, as it boosts our rank. We've also had (at least) three teams in the region score bids, so they're out and everyone else moves up.

I'm enjoying myself this year, and finally keeping a healthy dose of perspective. For whatever shortcomings I feel I have as a coach for the team, the progress of individuals is drastic and I'm really pleased. I really look forward to our final four events.

Frank's resume is more or less online

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 23, 2005, 11:14 PM | comments: 3

One of my good friends from college and best man in my wedding has a shit load of credits from his Hollyweird job of getting film in and out of his employer's computers. For shits and giggles I thought I'd look him up on IMDB.

I haven't talked to him in ages. Last time was probably in 2001. Since then I've lost track of his e-mail and phone numbers, and it sucks. If I ever get around to actually shooting my own movie, I don't think I'd trust anyone other than him to be my DP. He knows the tech and he's got an eye. In college, that crazy bastard would hang from a tree to get the right shot if he had to.

I hate that with all of the technology in the world today, it's still hard to maintain friendships and contacts.

Total lack of productivity, etc.

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 23, 2005, 11:08 PM | comments: 0

Ugh... I feel like such a slug this week. The contract job didn't score me any hours at all this week, which annoys me. Wow, never thought I'd be wanting to work as of three weeks ago. I just really like the project and want to get moving on it. It's a good opportunity and it challenges me for a change.

I didn't do any work on my own stuff this week either (well, except finally get a beta of my ad serving software out). Stephanie worries that's her influence, being home for break, but honestly it's not that at all. I blame the weather. This cold wet crap makes me want to not do anything but sleep.

But hey, we have cranked through about half of season five of Buffy. It has really taken a dark turn in the writing. Lots of death and loss. The introduction of her sister seemed kind of silly, but it's starting to make more sense now.

Bad vibes and bad seeds

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 23, 2005, 10:32 PM | comments: 0

We placed third in our tournament last Sunday. As inconsistent as my kids are, they sure are consistent. Do well in pool play, choke in the bracket.

The day started with kind of a bad omen. The tournament was at Youngstown State, which is a total dump. They had floor boards taped down with duct tape, and there were actual wood screws sticking out of the floor just off the court. There's not enough room at the ends to serve without stepping in. And to make matters worse, I lost my setter in that room back in 2002 when she sprained her ankle in grand fashion.

Despite all that, my kids came roaring out in the first match and executed better than I've ever seen. Better than any team I've ever had, actually. It was the swing offense finally realized. It was beautiful to see, and we beat a very good team out of the Western New York region.

The second match didn't go so well. We couldn't seem to get a break on the most simple little things. We won, but the games had to go 26-24 and 27-25. The third match they just choked. Regardless, it was good enough to be in the gold bracket.

And again, that's where things got worse. No one was having fun at all. Serious Jeckyl-and-Hyde action. Then in the second game, the official decided it was ok for the other team to start jump serving with both feet in the court, quite the opposite of what was discussed in the coaches meeting about taking one step in. I made a stink about him changing the rules until he threatened to throw me out. My kids couldn't stop the bleeding, and that had me fired up. I hate that I interjected additional negativity into the whole mess.

In any case, we had a good practice yesterday. The kids decided they were at their most serious when they were having fun. I totally agree there. This weekend we're going to the Northeast Qualifier in Baltimore. We're registered for the 17 club division, 88 teams for two bids. I'm not even a little hung up on the idea of winning a bid, just doing well in general.

Because of the ridiculous and illogical seeding in the Ohio Valley Region, we're now in danger of not even being able to play in our own region's bid tournament. They're only taking the top 24 teams, but because of the way it's setup, you get bonus points for playing in big out-of-region or other events. That means one team that placed 19 out of 23 in one tournament actually gets ranked higher than us for getting 3rd out of 8 in three tournaments. That doesn't make any sense. The Baltimore tournament could boost us up, and hopefully several of the teams will get bids at qualifiers, but if we don't get in, I'll be super pissed. It's not even about winning a bid, it's just about the chance to earn one in our region.

My book in the store

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 23, 2005, 8:23 PM | comments: 1

Another exciting moment in publishing... I found my book at the local Borders. Still crazy to see!

Are Comcast and G4 run by 13-year-old kids?

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 19, 2005, 11:33 AM | comments: 1

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, G4 has decided to rename The Screen Savers, formerly the best tech show anywhere on TV, to "Attack of The Show."

Do you ever wonder who is running that network? They obliterated a well-known brand, alienated and dismissed an audience that bought BMW's and Oracle software instead of monetizing it, and decided that running video game shows all day, every day, most of them repeats what a good idea.

Rarely do I say that I want a business to fail, but this one should. They deserve it. No media acquisition in recent memory has made less sense than this. Read the various blogs of the people that either got canned or left, and it gives you a good perspective about what goes on there. Paul Allen should be ashamed for ever having sold the network.

The irony in all of this is that the one last TechTV hold-over is X-Play, and it has gone relatively unchanged. It's ironic because TechTV did that one show better than G4 did the rest of the network.

Putting the swing offense in the hands of the players

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 18, 2005, 12:07 PM | comments: 0

Last night at practice, I did something I probably should have done prior to our first two tournaments: Give them control.

The last two years, I had a team that really embraced the swing offense. They improvised and made stuff up, and called plays on the fly. That's what's supposed to happen. I guess I never explicity told this group that they could do that! I had to watch the tapes to realize, "Gee, after the first volley, they're just kind of standing around to see what happens."

So we did two things. First we went through every rotation (it's generally pretty set), and explored the possibilities. All of them. Now my setter feels a lot more comfortable in seeing, "Wow, I can run a red-3 or blue-4 here, cool!"

The second thing we did is just put them out there and started tossing balls to the setter and let them call what they want. What surprised me was that they were calling for the harder stuff that they weren't used to. The outside hitters were asking for shoots or 1's. What surprised me even more is that some of the hitters didn't even need to call out a play, they just started moving and my setter keyed in on them. That's fun.

The thing I've learned about this group is that I underestimate what they can do in terms of skills, but overestimate what they can do mentally. As a coach, I'm starting to realize that as much as you can grow in terms of knowledge, you still have to learn about each group, and its individuals, year after year. There are no universal patterns, there are always variations. I need to learn how to start recognizing that early on.

Garbage is coming... to Detroit

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 17, 2005, 11:37 PM | comments: 2

The new Garbage album is out next month. They've announced a few tour dates, and unfortunately none of them are Cleveland. We've seen them now four times, once for each album plus an opening spot for Smashing Pumpkins. So far, the closest tour date is in Detroit at the State downtown. It's on a Wednesday. Do we do the college-aged thing and go to the show? We did see NIN that way in Detroit (or technically, Auburn Hills).

I just don't want to miss them. Seeing them four times sounds great but that was over the course of ten years! The last time was three years ago, in 2002.

As an aside, what's that part of Detroit looking like these days? It used to be a dump, but I haven't been there since probably '96, before the new ballpark.

"Wicked" dead at 33

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 16, 2005, 5:10 PM | comments: 1

Billy "Wicked" Wilson died at age 33. He was the creator of Voodoo Extreme, a gaming site that, as he would say, "kicks more ass than Gary Coleman on a crack binge." It was essentially a blog site, back in the days when no one knew what the hell a blog even was. He linked you to the good stuff, every day, and gave you his opinion the way few people could. I think he coined the term "thimble dick," which to this day makes me giggle.

VE eventually got too big in that era where great sites got expensive to run and the advertising dollars just couldn't cover the expense. I don't know the specifics, but apparently he nearly lost everything, got divorced and the domain was eventually sold to IGN. Some of the stuff I've found indicates he was too proud to ask his audience for money. He fairly recently co-founded Gaming Groove, where you'll find several postings about his death.

Billy's version of VE really inspired me, and honestly it was the reason that I started CoasterBuzz. He demonstrated that you didn't have to be a corporate tool or follow traditional media conventions to attract, entertain and retain an audience. It was editorial-journalism about the journalism and the gaming industry.

Details on his death aren't clear, but he was apparently sick in the hospital for a few days. Regardless, it sucks. He is survived by his ex-wife and son.

Coca-Cola with Lime

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 14, 2005, 9:19 PM | comments: 12

I don't know if they have it yet in your market, but they've been selling Diet Coke with lime now for quite a while here in Northeast Ohio. Then about two weeks ago, they started selling regular Coke with lime.

It's awesome. Seriously. I don't know if we're a test market, but I'd be really surprised if it didn't catch on everywhere.

No Sunday night dread

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 13, 2005, 11:46 PM | comments: 1

I remember when I was working last spring at a job I didn't care about how every Sunday night I would get this horrible feeling of dread. I mean like nasty depression. It sucked. I hated feeling that way.

I'm not getting that with the job I'm on now. Maybe it's because I actually like it. I've mentioned before how I like the people, and I like the project. The ideas that it's part-time and on my own schedule has a lot to do with liking it as well.

I don't even know how much I'll have to work this week. The first week I did 39 hours, last week I did 18. Tomorrow I'll work at least half of the day. It's a nice schedule overall, given that I still have time to work on my own junk, which is something I'm getting more into again.

Apple: Brilliant minds, stupid lawyers

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 12, 2005, 8:43 AM | comments: 1

In case you didn't see it, Apple won the first round in court to get the sources of leaked information to some Apple fan sites. That's not right.

Just because it's not The New York Times doesn't make it any less journalism. If The Times posted the same information, nothing would ever come of this. You know I'm right. This nonsense about what is a "bona fide news agency" is ridiculous. If there were any real standards to hold a news outlet to, Fox News would have been sued and disgraced years ago. Indeed, this same standard must be applied to The New York Times, ABCnews and my local Medina County Gazette. The precedent has been set.

The most disgusting thing about it is that Apple suffered no loss, and more than anything benefited from the publicity. The information wasn't leaked early enough for any competitor to act on it, and just as is the case every time there's a leak, it built hype for the company.

This is about chest thumping at Apple, sticking it to the guy with no lawyer. That's really lame, Steve. Taking on your fan base is a really stupid idea.

Working for The Man isn't so bad after all

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 11, 2005, 1:19 PM | comments: 1

When I quit the last day job I had last May, I was fairly bitter toward The Man. I had some odd realization then that The Man had been keeping me down and beating me into submission. Going solo was a liberating experience in that respect, because there was no one to tell me what to do.

Two weeks ago I picked up a contract job because I need extra money if I'm to avoid getting IRS'd into oblivion. Was I reluctant to take it? You bet. The money thing didn't even concern me as much as I thought I was failing myself in some way, falling just short of generating enough income to pay taxes.

These last two weeks have changed my perspective. For one thing, I might be working on a W-2 basis, but everything is structured in a traditional contract consultant format. I work when I want, and unlike a contract, I can walk away whenever I want. It's just like any other gig only the checks are made out to me instead of POP World Media, LLC.

The other thing is that The Man isn't always evil. Heck, this time it's not even a man! The client of the company I'm working for is full of good people that care very much about their business and want experts to help them get where they need to be. One of the execs even ordered a copy of my book, even though he has no idea what it's about! Working for good people makes you work harder and take more pride in what you produce. That's a good feeling.

It's exciting to work part-time too. I'm finally at that stage in my career where I can work 20 hours a week and still make a nice bit of coin, so combined with what I'm already making from my own business, it's not about the money. Getting paid feels a lot more like a bonus for doing something I like, and this from someone that doesn't do anything free unless it's for charity.

The bottom line is that The Man, for the better part of the previous six years, was an asshole, and that's what made me hate working for other people. When The Man is good people, it changes everything.

Eight qualities of a great blog

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 11, 2005, 11:25 AM | comments: 0

The more things change, the more they stay the same. John C. Dvorak wrote a column in April 2002, about the eight things that make a blog great. Quasi-funny stuff...,4149,27443,00.asp

Real Life vs. The Internet

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 9, 2005, 8:16 PM | comments: 5

Yep... this is today's funny shit, sent to me by GregLeg:

Classic stuff, and I'd love to make it required viewing for every little socially challenged tool that ever posted anything on a message board.

A retrospect on writing a programming book

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 8, 2005, 11:29 PM | comments: 2

It's still so weird to see this bound book here with my name on it. My wife (who kept her last name, and of course has the dedication in the book) noticed that the spine simply says "PUTZ" and that's bound to get at least a few people to look it over. ;)

I first wrote the proposal, sample chapter and preface for the book back in November, 2003. On December 16, 2003, I sent the proposal out, unsolicited, to every publisher I could find contact information for. I felt that the idea was solid, to write a book that took beginning ASP.NET developers solidly into the realm of object-oriented application development, instead of script-based, one-off page development. I felt that forums everywhere were filled with developers struggling to make that transition, and that market was being ignored.

I only got two responses back after sending the proposal to a dozen publishers. I won't say who it was, but the first one was absolutely brutal (in a non-helpful kind of way) and unprofessional. I was shocked to get a response with incorrect spelling and poor grammar, and frankly would expect that they wouldn't manage a first-time author very well anyway. This was a major publisher too.

The second response I got was from Addison-Wesley Professional. This was about the time that they started publishing all of those .NET books with the spiffy checker-board style covers. I felt they were quickly becoming the new Wrox Press in terms of covering .NET subjects in a very complete way. The editor there said she was sending out the proposal to various folks for editorial review, and she'd send the responses in a couple of weeks. At that point, even if no one liked it, at least I wasn't having my dreams crushed by one grammatically challenged guy not in touch with what was going on in the world.

In mid-January, eight reviews came back. Two of them were anonymous, and not flattering or helpful. The rest were critical, but helped enormously in getting me to think about how to revise the proposal into something more marketable and more focused. Most of the reviewers felt I was on to something, but revisions were in order before moving forward.

Most intimidating was a review from Alex Homer. It's not that he wrote anything awful, it's just that this is the guy I credit with getting me out of the dark ages of static HTML. It was his ASP books that started me down the path. Now I wanted to write something to sit on the shelf next to his books? That was a little scary to say the least.

Based on the feedback, I revised the proposal, it went through another round of reviews, and in March I got to read those. While some were contradictory in terms of what each reviewer thought the book should be, they were overall a lot more positive. The executive editor pitched the proposal to the sales and marketing folks, and in April I got a contract. I was going to be an author!

In early May, I quit the contract job I was working at Progressive to focus on the book. My time there heavily influenced my decision in particular to devote some time to test-driven development. I had some basic familiarity with the subject, but once I saw it in action on the scale that it was being used there, it seemed not only like an important topic, but one that made a pretty obvious case for developing applications in an object-oriented manner. The point of the book was, after all, to get the audience thinking in those terms.

Editorial reviews began on a rolling basis as I submitted a few chapters at a time. By September, the book was essentially "done" in the broad sense of the word. The following months would lead to more editorial review and revisions, until it was finally ready for production I think in October.

The copy editing was surprisingly painless. I expected the editors to hack apart everything I had written, but that wasn't the case. They made a lot of things more clear (which makes me look good), and so much of it was stuff I was too close to notice. That was really cool.

I think it was January that I got the first PDF's of the laid-out book. Tracking down errors at that stage was pretty easy, I assume because whatever automated process they use just makes really obvious mistakes.

Then today, when I got home from a morning meeting with a client, there was the UPS package at my door. What a great feeling to finally hold the thing in my hands. I'm really pleased with the result. The entire process, however long, was really a great experience. I love that AWP helped me develop the project early on, then run with it once we had a solid outline. It really is a classy organization, and it's an honor to have my name on the same spine as the A-W logo.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I have no idea what I'd write about, but I'd love to do another one. I did write a proposal for another book, but it appears the timing is pretty bad as there is a predictable flood of new titles on the way and being developed.

As of right now, if I never saw another dime for the work (outside of the advance), it would still be a success in my mind. On the other hand, if I'm ever going to write another one, this book better sell well enough that I don't get dissed. :) The way the crazy royalty payments are worked out, I won't see anything more until October for sales in the first half of this year (yep... that's 22 months after I wrote the proposal). While this project has never been about the money, it will be nice to see what at this point just feels like "extra" income in the fall. Oh, and remember, I get an extra $1.20 or so if you buy via my Amazon affiliate link!

I can cross off one significant thing on my life-long to do list. :)

My dead trees have arrived!

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 8, 2005, 1:18 PM | comments: 7

Here it is... my first book. Now it feels for real.

Gwen says: "The shit is bananas"

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 7, 2005, 10:33 AM | comments: 1

You've probably heard at least one or two tracks by now from Gwen Stefani's solo album, probably "Rich Girl," the interpretation of the Fiddler on the Roof tune.

Truth be told, the album is a winner. It's not No Doubt at all. Given her age (she's a couple of years older than me), I see a lot of influences from things that I've heard or listened to. Aside from the Fiddler reference, you've got the Grease-like "Bubble Pop Electric," the quasi-gangsta slow jam "Luxurious," Japanese school girl rap-style "Hollaback Girl" (something that I don't think US audiences will ever get), late 80's alternative "The Real Thing" (think "Bizzare Love Triangle," because it sounds a little like it), late 80's pop songs "Serious" and "Danger Zone." Oh, and there's the Andre 3000 socio-political jam thrown in for good measure.

The first time I listened to it all the way through, I wasn't sure if I liked it or not, but the more I listened to it, the more it sounded like a new take on stuff I've listened to for years.

Yet another example of pop music that doesn't suck.

R.I.P. TechTV

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 6, 2005, 9:17 PM | comments: 1

Comcast obviously has given up trying to save any of the TechTV audience. They've officially switched the name to G4, "Video Game Television."


"It's like putting off doing your homework"

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 6, 2005, 8:30 PM | comments: 0

We had our second tourney today, and squeaked by in pool play, winning all three matches. Wow, the kids were up and down the whole time. We dropped the gold semi, unfortunately, but I think this was the first time I really got to see the team's potential.

My libero made the observation that the team kind of procrastinates, meaning they put off getting points early on. It's like putting off doing your homework. She sure was right about that. We had one game where we were losing 1-7 and pulled it out in the end with a solid win. The sense of urgency just to get the next point is only there about half of the time.

Putting it that way was a win in its own right, because it was kind of a breakthrough that brought the best out of several kids. I saw a lot of cheerleading and positive personality emerge. That will help in the long run.

In terms of skills and play execution, when the passing was on, they were solid. I'm going to have to cut some of the video together to show them this. When they execute quickly, they don't get blocked. It's that simple. I think I have to push my setter to mix it up just a little more, but clearly when they turn it on and pass well, it's solid. I always had a lot of hitting success with my quick little teams of previous years using the swing offense, and I can see little glimmers of the same thing with these taller girls when they're on.

So overall, while it was kind of a bummer to lose that last match, the day was certainly positive overall. We have one more regular tournament before we go to Baltimore for Easter weekend. I think that if they try to keep it fun, they'll do well. The fun thing about that tournament is that you always remember the time you spend with the team, regardless of how well you do. Looking forward to it.

U.S. education sucks, and other observations

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 3, 2005, 11:02 PM | comments: 2

When the top folks at Intel and Microsoft think our education system is, to understate things, inadequate, I think that's a good reason to sit up and listen.

All the bullshit accountability that the Bush administration, and to a certain degree the Clinton administration, has forced on the public school system has done is force schools to teach kids how to beat standardized tests. I know it's a common complaint for young teachers that they feel like they've become a slave to this nonsense.

On my current contract gig, I work with an Indian guy that also spent a lot of time in Singapore. Culturally, he found it odd that I have no formal education in computer science, but accepts that I've made up for that in terms of real experience. Still, he makes a strong case for off-shoring not in terms of cost, but in terms of available brains.

One thing he said that struck me as not-so-obvious is that India and Singapore spent so much time under British rule that one of the biggest influences that came out of that was one of European education. He feels that India's constantly expanding middle class exists because there's so much emphasis on learning technology trades, in the way that the U.S. once emphasized industrial trades. The problem is that we never switched our focus. There just aren't as many well paying blue collar jobs around anymore.

Personally, I see the failure of our educational system every day on the message boards I run. I don't want to call the kids stupid, because I don't think that's it. They're just so incapable of forming complete, written thoughts (with actual grammar and spelling) that what they say is not readable. Heck, my wife sees this failure all of the time as a graduate assistant grading undergrad papers.

What's the solution? I don't actually know. I'm not suggesting that we should be a nation of rocket scientists, but if we don't get our shit together, we will fall desperately behind the rest of the world. Trade issues can't be solved by legislation... we're living in a global marketplace now.

Jeff: The architect? Another twist in my career

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 3, 2005, 7:13 PM | comments: 4

Yet another unexpected event in my ever-evolving career...

It was an interesting day at the contract job. It became obvious to me, and anyone else that saw it, that the ASP.NET project we were given to do a face lift on is in dire need of being scrapped entirely, along with the backend system and Windows app that go with it. It's the most poorly designed application ever. I hesitate to even call it an application.

After an "I saved your ass" security fix that unintentionally made me look like a hero, we explained the state of things to the client over lunch. While certainly not happy about it, I think they started to grasp that if they want to continue growing the way they have, they're going to have let someone rebuild their system, and do it correctly.

So what does this have to do with me? Well, the project manager asked if I felt comfortable in facilitating the requirements gathering and design of a new system. That's somewhat tricky because this is the client's busiest time of year, and frankly they have no requirements. The possible plan he laid out was perfect, as it would likely not be a full-time thing (given the limited availability of the client's experts), it would be a chance to be the point man on the architecture of an enterprise-class system, and I would continue working on an hourly W-2 basis (something I insisted on because it's a lot harder to take advantage of you).

While I've been exposed to plenty of giant and grand application plans (the mother of which is easily the one I was involved with at Progressive), it has always been a following role, not a leadership role. I've had leadership and management roles many times before, but generally at a lower level in the grand scheme of things. This would be the first time that I get to actually decide on how to build the beast. The scale is much bigger than what I've had to do for previous gigs (and personal projects) where I was the architect. This could be a remarkable learning experience.

Earlier this week, I felt as if I had somehow failed as an entrepreneur because I went back to a job that required me to put pants on in the morning. Now I'm starting to realize that perhaps I've been a little too critical of myself, and when I take inventory of the last two years, I've come a long, long way.

First off, I went from negative revenue in 2003 to a point where I made enough to at least survive (if not live the J-Pizzie lifestyle). During the last year I wrote a book and didn't do much else. Even without a bona fide business plan going forward, there's still plenty of opportunity for growth. Generating a coulpe grand in profit a month for doing a few hours of work a week is a good start.

Second, about five years ago, I wasn't a code monkey at all. See previous points. That's a hell of a shift to make in terms of career.

Third, going back to a day job hardly makes you a failure when you've built your qualifications to the point that recruiters are calling you or sending you e-mail every day. Boy did I feel stupid when I realized that. I have friends that wish they had that problem.

In any case, I made a lot of realizations today about myself, my career, and most importantly, what kind of experience and work would better qualify me to do certain jobs or even allow me to be better prepared to work for myself. Recognizing your deficiencies is such a ridiculously obvious way to better yourself, even though it's not always obvious!

Banks suck at projecting escrow payments

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 3, 2005, 6:36 PM | comments: 8

For the fourth consecutive year (that being all of the years we've owned our house), the bank has managed to make a piss-poor estimate at how much we should be paying toward our escrow account for taxes and insurance, and again we're short almost $600.

Our insurance went up by more than $130 for the year, which is insane. Our taxes went up nearly $200 a half, which is also insane. I don't recall any new tax levies passing, only renewals. Then again, who knows, because if it's for the schools I probably voted for it.

So now I can either pay the nearly $600 short amount, or roll it into the next year's payments at $50 a month. I don't really have a choice. I can't afford right now to drop that much money into the account, so it's pretty obvious what I'll have to do.

The first year was the worst, because they projected it wrong by something like $1,200 for the year (they were calculating on the value of the unimproved lot). I guess I'm sort of getting off easy this year.

Veronica Mars is the shit

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 1, 2005, 11:06 PM | comments: 2

If you're not watching Veronica Mars on UPN, you're missing one of the best shows on TV right now. It's one of the few shows that advances a continuous mythology and story arc while still doing one-off plots contained to an episode. It's very well written and clever without being predictable or annoying. Sure, we've heard of "Who killed Lilly Kane" before, but even this far in the season, I can't say whodunnit.

There's also the issue that Kristen Bell, the star of the show, is absolutely adorable. She's so cute I could squeeze her. (If I keep referring to young hot girls like this, she's 24, they're going to reject my application for the Dirty Old Man club.) She manages to be the superhero/fallen popular high school girl we all want to cheer for, but still pulls off the vulnerable type when it counts. She's supported by a pretty good cast all around, including Enrico Colantoni as her dad.

Clock watching already

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 1, 2005, 2:15 PM | comments: 1

Wow, I really suck. Second day on-site and already I'm watching the clock constantly. I think I'm going to leave early today because stuff isn't set up yet to do any actual work. It's hard to imagine getting through this week, let alone four weeks!

I'm also annoyed at the way everyone, the men anyway, interact with the girl in the next cube. She was an athlete at the high school I coached volleyball at back in '97 and '98. The older dudes play the dirty old man thing and the young dudes all try to be sly. It's really annoying. She's 23 for God's sake!

Wouldn't you know it that now that I'm not home, the list of things I would rather be doing seems so much more important.

Must hang in there for another couple of weeks.