Archive: December, 2008

Post-holiday quiet

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 6:37 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I were kind of struck by the peace of a quiet house today, just us and the kittehs. It was certainly nice, but also kind of sad I think.

Diana's dad and girlfriend Helen Ann (I'm gonna call her that even if no one else does) arrived last Wednesday and left Monday morning. During that time, we also had the Seattle Mattoni's over on Friday. There was much Wii Sports, and Baby Boomers playing physical video games is non-stop funny. There were many baby photos of Nina.

Unfortunately, there was also the plague. About half of the family was hit, including all three of the other occupants here. I can't believe I managed to escape that, although, who knows, I feel like crap today.

Then Kara came down to visit on Monday for a two-night stay. Our favorite Minnesotan is always super fun to hang out with, and we wish she didn't live so far away. She insists we all need to move to Orlando to remedy this, where she can "babysit your future redheaded babies."

In addition to exposing her to Melt, we also saw The Spirit, which was a seriously fun comic film. It didn't take itself nearly as seriously as Sin City, and Sam "Windu" Jackson was the tits. Totally over the top.

Last night we went to Dave & Busters, shot some pool, had poor dinner service and played many games. I got fairly drunk, which I'm still paying for, but we had lots of fun. We definitely need to make it a point to do that more often. We all f'd up Deal or No Deal for many tickets as well. Good, good times!

Tonight, we're low key. Movies, Mario Kart and Ryan Seacrest. We need some quiet time.

Geeky stuff withdrawal

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 29, 2008, 12:26 AM | comments: 0

I realized this evening that I haven't really even thought much about geeky stuff for many days, specifically programming stuff. That's OK though, because certainly human stuff is better for you.

Even though I'll barely see any time at work this week, I do need to get some library code written and well tested so it can be handed off. It's nothing particularly hard, just time consuming. And hey, given my somewhat supervisory and managmentish role, I need to get it right to set a good example.

A discussion last week with some CB peeps got me to thinking about ways I could make the forum app a bit more extensible. I was thinking about ways to create plug-ins for specific forums, and to my surprise, it's very doable. I actually wrote it mostly right. Lots of ins and outs and whathaveyous, but I think I've got a direction to go on that.

What I'm still hating myself for is that I still haven't wrapped up the rewrite of the photo app so I can plug in deep zooms or whatever else. I suck.

Last week I finished reading jQuery in Action. OK, so it's hardly a subject that needs a book, but it does provide some nice background on the design decisions behind the library. I've actually used it a bit already, as it drives the drag-and-drop for track records on CB.

The book I've yet to crack open is the Silverlight 2 book I ordered after the first one I got kind of sucked. It's a subject I'm very interested in, even if I don't have an obvious idea for using it just yet. Actually, I think you could make a nice upload control, not to mention do some sweet video players.

But this stuff will have to wait, as the next few days are all about partying like it's the end of the year. Not really, I'm not that intense about the year ending.

Christmas is finally done

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 28, 2008, 11:13 PM | comments: 0

So we finally finished Christmas stuff today, making it over to Diana's bro's house today. About half of the family still felt crappy today (pun intended), and poor Nina spontaneously combusted all over the place. It seems like for the most part everyone has worked through it though. Tomorrow I drop Sam Sr. and Helen Ann off at the airport.

While I feel like I didn't do a great job with gifts for Diana (although she moans with pleasure using the super elite knitting needles I got her), she managed to score neat stuff for me. She got me some Family Guy action, and, to my surprise, the entire series of Sports Night on DVD. I forgot that I even liked that show. Truth is, I loved it. It's smart, well-written, and about a TV show. How could I not like it?

She also scored the Lebowski book I previously mentioned. I had to watch the movie again last night.

My Seattle-in-laws got me Gears of War, which is pretty cool because it's a lot cheaper now that the sequel is out. I've been kind of itching for a shooter, since I finished up the Orange Box games last spring. Blowing shit up is really satisfying.

I still may buy myself something, just because I've been good and haven't in awhile. Granted, I'm buying myself all kinds of stuff with the honeymoon that I hope to have squared away by the end of the week.

Overall, Christmas went reasonably well, though it sucks so many people got sick. I feel fortunate that I did not. I'll never quite understand why some people do and others don't. I'm sure it's not my strict regimen of unhealthy food and lack of exercise!

Plague update

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 27, 2008, 11:51 PM | comments: 0

So as it turns out, Diana's sudden illness was not an isolated case. Her aunt in Toledo was yacking much of this morning. My adorable little niece was too, poor thing. Sam Sr. was complaining about aches this morning, and by the time he returned around 8, went straight to bed.

Diana's temperature is something approaching normal, but she's still got the sub-optimal waste processing. Late tonight she at least resembled human again, but slept most of the day. We watched Lebowski together, and I made her some soup.

I'm crossing my fingers that I've escaped unharmed. This morning I cleaned out and refilled the hot tub, and while cool, the fresh air was awesome. Then tonight we squeaked in a new record high at 65. It felt so good to breathe the outside air. I feel exceptionally good. I hope it lasts.

Incidentally, I wonder if they all ate something bad in Toledo, but I can't imagine it would take that long to make them sick. I don't think it would've been anything they made yesterday either, because Kathy in Toledo obviously didn't have any of it. Hopefully everyone will feel better in the morning.

Sick irony

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 27, 2008, 11:54 AM | comments: 0

Stephanie and I had an e-mail exchange, and she asked if I was sick this year for Christmas. I have a long history of being sick pretty much right on the day, or close to it. Heck, the first holiday we were together, my senior year of college, I got so messed up that I couldn't even sit up. I remember the furnace decided to go out that day too, and Steph called her dad to help. I've missed many Christmas festivities since then.

But this year, I'm totally fine. I theorize that it's because I don't work in a cubicle farm near a hundred people who have kids who bring crap home. Now I work with fewer than 20, most of which are younger than me and sans kids.

Sadly, Diana is not so lucky. I remember hearing her at 7:30 this morning say, "Oh no," get out of bed and run to the bathroom. She's got some kind of stomach flu bad, and a temperature of 100. Today was supposed to be Christmas proper at her brother's house, for which she spent much of yesterday cooking. How much does that suck? No eating any of that stuff, no holding the baby, no seeing all of the nieces and nephews... ultimate shitty timing (no pun intended).

So I'm staying home with her, doing my best to take care of her and read her most awesome gift to me. I wish there was more that I could do. This has been a sub-optimal couple of months for her, what with the vertigo and now this. It's very obviously draining her, denying her of tennis and everything else she likes to do in her spare time, like knit for hours or play Zuma.

Here's to a speedy 24-hour recovery!

Taking stock of our journeys on Christmas

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 26, 2008, 12:39 AM | comments: 2

I survived phase one of A Mattoni Family Christmas. From what I'm told, it was the first time that so much of the family (in Toledo) had managed to get together in the same place for a reason other than a funeral.

Diana's dad, Sam, and his "special friend" Helen Ann, who was also friends with Diana's mom, are staying with us for the long weekend. After we got home, we crashed around the living room, sipping beverages and talking. It started with the way kids connect with grown-ups. I strongly believe that kids are just as willing to engage if adults initiate the contact, but the only thing truly different is that kids get together and play video games instead of playing with action figures.

I gave them the history on my family relationships, and how they've often been sub-optimal. I told them how I found out today that my brother was in jail for a DUI. Indeed, these are things that are largely out of my control, but you learn to roll with them because it's really the best you can do.

Eventually we got on to a conversation about how Helen Ann's "boys" (and by boys, I mean grown men around 40) have made it a habit to preach at her about getting divorced from their (step) father. This began to go down just two years ago. Always enjoying the opportunity to be an armchair therapist, obviously a symptom of my own many sessions, I listened and got to understand the bigger story. While their reactions aren't rational, it's easy to understand how they got there.

We got to talking about how ultimately people all take their own journey to figuring out how to be happy, and in a lot of cases they end up making others miserable in the process. I think that's what her kids are doing, and she's taking the ugly end of it from them. But she correctly states that she has to be happy and enjoy her life, figuring that she's got 20 good years left. She certainly doesn't want to spend them in a marriage that didn't work.

The thing I've noticed about virtually everyone's journey is that they spend a lot of time trying to make others happy, often at the expense of their own happiness. I'd go as far as to say that the midlife crisis that most people have, whether it involves buying a Porsche or having an affair or whatever, comes out of trying to understand what makes you happy. While it's an ongoing process for sure, just acknowledging it at all is a turning point in your life. And it's sad that some people start too late or never figure it out.

When she mentioned that her sister felt she was the happiest she had been in years, that struck a chord with me. People have said the same thing to me. In fact, the four of us sitting there clearly had two or three very tough years. Me and Helen Ann both lost our marriages. Diana lost a mom, while Sam lost a spouse. And yet, here were the four of us, just being happy with ourselves. When you dismiss the silly doctrine that says looking out for yourself is being selfish, it's freeing to see how happy you can be with each other.

Above all, we have to release ourselves from any liability to others that prevents us from being happy. Others must not exert that power over us. The power to be happy resides inside each of us. We need to take care of that power. When we truly own it, every Christmas on our journey can be the new best Christmas ever.

Merry Christmas!

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 24, 2008, 11:35 PM | comments: 0

Not a great gift giver

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 24, 2008, 8:50 PM | comments: 0

I have to admit, I'm not a great gift giver. In fact, I don't give a lot of gifts. I don't place a lot of importance on giving them or receiving them. I don't care much for cards either.

As you may suspect, I do have some damage around that area, being exposed frequently to gift giving as a measure of how much you love someone. That's a pretty horrible trap. If anyone feels they're owed something for that reason, that's just f'd up.

I went through a phase where I thought I was kind of a bastard in this sense, but it occurs to me that I give a lot of gifts without them being obvious gestures. I always buy people lunch. I show people a good time. I bring them with me to travel. I randomly send them stuff from Amazon. I even give silly large tips now and then to total strangers. If I were to actually keep score, I think it'd be fair to say that I'm fairly generous, actually.

But I have a hard time with designated gift giving dates. They don't seem that important to me. I know this gets me into trouble with people. To me it just feels as though you should be doing things all of the time for people, because you want to, not because of the date.

Xbox 360 Jeffy

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 24, 2008, 3:15 PM | comments: 0

Henchmen 21 and 24 sing an already bad Christmas song

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 24, 2008, 9:55 AM | comments: 0

Yes, 24 died on the Venture Bros. this season, but apparently not before he and 21 recorded a cover of what is already one of the worst Christmas songs ever. Enjoy. (Look for the MP3 inline player below the graphic.)

Latest laptop failure

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 11:15 PM | comments: 2

While using my laptop for my short-lived work in October, it developed a problem where it would just drop the wireless connection and then couldn't reconnect. There was a brief period of time where it did this when I first bought it as well. Regardless, it's annoying.

I want to believe that it's a software problem, but hell if I know what causes it. I hoped that the recent OS X update would have solved the problem, but it still happens. The only remedy is to reboot.

God really wants me to have a new one.

Forum search win

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I checked to see how CoasterBuzz's search index was going today, and was pretty shocked to see that it now as about 15 million rows. Can't say that I've personally written anything that generated that much data on its own before.

Once upon a time, POP Forums used SQL's FullText service to index posts. The frustration that came out of that black box was two-fold: It was grinding the disk and CPU, and frankly the results sucked. Long before I ever got v8 into a usable state, I prototyped the current search engine against data from the old version.

Building something like that is one of those exercises where you worry about all kinds of scalability issues instead of just trying to build something and refactor when you fail the first time. That's why it took me so long to just try something. Eventually I passed that brain block and wrote something, which predictably sucked. I kept refactoring until I had a workable solution.

The solution went like this. Find all of the words in a topic, toss out junk words like "the" and other things people won't search for, and score them based on frequency. Bonus points if it lived in the topic's title. Then save the words, along with their topic ID and score.

To search, simply find the topics that rank highest by averaging the rank for each word. There is an absolutely horrible query built ad-hoc in the data query that does it. It's partly ugly because it has to page the data, so there are some weird common table expressions being formed. It's so hard to read that I'm not even sure where I'd start to refactor it! But despite this, it works surprisingly well.

I think the one thing I'd tweak is the scoring, but aside from that the searching part works pretty well. I'm sure that I'm not the first to think of it. The joy comes from the fact that SQL Server is fast enough to get the work done. One of these days I'll see if I can get a guru to look harder at it and see how it can be made even faster.

Lost in the chaos

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 10:54 AM | comments: 2

It's hard to strip away all of life's bullshit from time to time to get to the core of what things are really about. People who thrive on chaos and generating bullshit make it even harder.

Makes the action plan pretty obvious, I think.

Lunch with Shari, dinner with Cath

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 22, 2008, 2:07 PM | comments: 0

I got to do some catching up last week. Monday, I had lunch with my friend Shari. We went to school together at Ashland, where she was two years ahead of me. She could pretty much do it all when it came to TV stuff. I always thought she'd end up on an anchor desk somewhere (an assumption made because she's pretty), but she settled into a long-standing producer role at one of our local affiliate stations. Late on she bailed and went into a marketing/PR gig for an insurance company, where she was absolutely on the VP-with-perks track.

We've been friends for a long time, though not particularly close. Still, when I worked downtown, we'd hook up for lunch now and then to just keep up. I hadn't seen in her in a couple of years, so when I thought I wasn't working, I agreed to meet her for lunch. The catch? She was moving out of town in a couple of weeks.

Despite the textbook definition of financial and career success, she wasn't the least bit happy with her job. Her action plan was straight forward: Find a market she would like to live in, find something sports related in terms of marketing and/or PR, move there. If she didn't find a gig, move there anyway. As it turns out, she did find the gig, and she's moving right after the new year, working for a firm doing marketing and PR for Indy racing.

I've gotta say, that takes some balls, to up and move with or without a job in this economy. She also managed to sell her condo and not take a bath. I admire her courage.

Later in the week, Cath was in town and we had dinner. We stopped dating almost two years ago now, but it's nice that we can just kind of pick up the conversation where ever it last left off. She's through the hardest part of vet school, going as far as to say that she was bored this quarter.

She's always been kind of transient with grad school and such. So it comes as no surprise that she's always on the move somewhere. She spent last summer in Portland interning and removing sex organs from pets. Her knowledge base of veterinarian medicine keeps getting more enormous, and she even won a trip to Europe with two others from the OSU vet school, paid for by one of the pharm companies.

Vets don't get the same respect that hoomin doctors do, which seems odd considering you need to know a lot of the same stuff, only apply it hundreds of different species. Having been there when she started the journey, I really appreciate the difficulty of achieving a degree in medicine, animal or otherwise. I'm really proud of her for pursuing it, and owning it.

I write about these two people I think because the stories that people have fascinate me, especially the things they're able to accomplish for no other reason than they decide to do it. It's inspiring.

Getting behind on movies

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 22, 2008, 1:50 PM | comments: 0

I hate that so many films are released in late December, because it's hard to keep up with them. Already out that I'd like to see: Seven Pounds, Yes Man, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Out by the end of the week: The Spirit and Valkyrie. Odds of me seeing them all? Pretty slim.

The anti-niche

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 21, 2008, 11:52 PM | comments: 0

Gonch and I were chatting a bit after the podcast about how traffic to our sites was down this year. Initially he made the assertion that it was competition, but in reality, there are fewer coaster sites than ever. I think that's actually a symptom of the problem, that people aren't as interested as they were back in the old days. I sure miss the days of Millennium Force and Superman, of the ridiculous building craze that Six Flags did.

But the bigger problem, if I just look at my own Web surfing habits, is that I spend a lot more time on sites that simply didn't exist five years ago. I spend a great deal of time on Facebook, able to focus on a much more narrow community of people that I can closely control. I use Google Reader to aggregate the stuff that I'm most interested in reading. Heck, even I don't visit my own sites as much as I used to. There is too much competing for my attention.

That brings me to an interesting realization: That the niche sites that made the Internet so interesting have largely taken a back burner to the bigger picture social networks. And why wouldn't they? The group of "friends" I have on Facebook are far more diverse in their interests than any group of coaster nerds, so why wouldn't I want to engage them more?

It makes me wonder then what the problem is with niche sites. Is it a technical or cultural problem? Seeing as how ad CPM's have actually gone up to partially offset lesser traffic, at least media buyers still think they're relevant. But why spend time at a Buffy fan site when you can share your enthusiasm on Facebook?

Sometimes I wonder how much we can really affect the Internet. The forces at work are much bigger than any of us individually.


posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 21, 2008, 11:36 PM | comments: 2

Tyler can bite me...

Old school comprooders

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 21, 2008, 7:43 PM | comments: 0

In the carpet shuffle I pulled out a couple of old computers. One is an ancient Pentium II that my parents used for a couple of years. It has two hard drives, 1.5 GB and 600 MB. That's pretty old!

I also have a pretty decent computer that I think was mostly the server that fed my sites for two years, when I had the T-1 to the house. Those were some good times. The expense of it all was insane, but I really miss having a server where I can mess around with it and endlessly upgrade it.

Anyway, it's an Athlon XP 2000+ with a half-gig of RAM, and a pair of 20 gig, 7,200 RPM drives in it that I used with a Promise RAID controller. There's a lot of history in that box, and I guess a part of me wants to keep it. But it's just too damn big and my house too damn small to be keeping crap like that.

The funny thing to think about is how much things have changed. When I need to experiment or screw around with a computer, I can simply make a copy of a virtual machine. That's a far cry from having "spare" computers around.

The ghosts of Christmas past

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 21, 2008, 1:05 AM | comments: 1

This Christmas should be interesting, as I'll be living the total Mattoni family experience. The out-of-towners are coming to Ohio, and we'll be visiting Toledo again as well.

I can't emphasize enough that I'm glad to be a part of this new family. That said, it's so different that it serves as a reminder of how much things have changed in the last three and a half years. It's not even that the change is entirely bad, it's just that it makes me sad to some degree.

I think the sadness comes out of the fact that I just never expected any of it. Maybe I'm even a little scared of further change. There are so many memories tied to the holiday season, and every year you keep packing in more. It gets a little overwhelming when you think about it.

There's a part of me that also believes that I need a holiday to just be about me. I know that's selfish, but whatever, it's what I feel. Fortunately, I get to share that kind of day in April with Diana. As much as I don't like to need external validation, you have to admit that it feels good when people are looking out for you and providing for you. Holidays too often become about a shit-ton of accommodating other people at the expense of your own needs.

So I'm trying to keep perspective for the next two weeks. Things are different, but they are different better. Redefining the season is not easy, but I've gotta do it.

No breathing easy

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 20, 2008, 5:24 PM | comments: 6

I've never witnessed the kind of allergy suffering that Diana has, even with her meds, so I almost don't feel right complaining when I have such issues. But today I had a new perspective.

First off, I've found myself wheezing a lot the last few months, mostly at home, but not all of the time. As I mentioned previously, it became painfully obvious what the effect of scented fabric softener was on me. In March I had the problems in Seattle, and then when Diana used it on some of her own clothes, it sent me into a mess of coughing and discomfort.

But with that gone, I still have problems, and I'm not sure why. This morning, Diana started doing some cleaning, and the floor cleaner stuff bothered me a little, but nothing I couldn't manage. I endeavored to vacuum, and then the fun started.

The dirty secret about a Dyson vacuum is that it while it won't lose suction, the brush can get caked and wound with stuff, especially new carpet fibers. So I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to clear that, expelling a fair amount of dust, cat dander and God knows what else. Then when I went to empty the canister, I was tapping the outer can and it came off, crashing into the garbage can and sending out a plume of dust. Not good.

I brought it upstairs to the bath tub to clean it off. When I turned off the water I realized that I was breathing fast but feeling like I wasn't getting enough air. Diana was in the other room wrestling my sink to clear the drain. I went into the bedroom and spread out on the floor.

At this point, realize that just trying to be calm and slow my breathing isn't working, and I start to freak out a little. I tell Diana that I'm freaking. She suggests to get some Benadryl in me immediately, which I do. I also get some fresh air. At this point I start to breath a little slower, but I still feel like I'm not getting enough air.

That was about 40 minutes ago, and I'm still having a hard time breathing. Diana says that what I experienced was like an asthma attack, which is troublesome because I've never had anything like that before. Judging by the weird pain in my arms (does anyone else get that?) and the sneezing now, I think it was definitely allergy related.

We're going to get out for dinner and see if that helps. Between all of the dust and chemicals, the house is probably not a great place right now to breathe right. I'm still a little freaked out.


posted by Jeff | Friday, December 19, 2008, 3:57 PM | comments: 0

Follow me. I dare you!

The end of Boston Legal

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 17, 2008, 11:18 PM | comments: 1

Well, stick a fork in it, it's finally over. After years of putting it in shitty time slots and lots of Emmy and Golden Globe wins and nominations, ABC put it out to pasture. This year they scaled back the cast to about a third of what it used to be, and the writers took every opportunity to take shots at the network.

The show got pretty wacky as time went on, much the same way that Ally McBeal did, but the core characters were consistently entertaining. The core story lines throughout the show's run revolved around the friendship and antics of Capt. Kirk's character and James Spader.

Spader's character, Alan Shore, enjoyed a transformation from an ethically challenged bastard (established in The Practice, where Boston Legal was spun off from), to a guy championing various just and moral causes.

On top of that was the constant political agenda, which wasn't even a little subtle. It was right out there. A lot of it was very left leaning and timely, but I was still surprised at how they'd often sit on a neutral line on some issues that made you really question the issue.

There were a lot of memorable characters over the years. Rhona Mitra, the original Lara Croft model, also went came from the parent show and was on for a few years. The Katie Lloyd character in the last two seasons showed great promise too, though she was minimized the last season despite being the only person in the regular cast under 40. Recurring guests like Michael J. Fox I think really gave the show a lot of credibility despite the silly factor.

Interesting gossip about the end of the show here, but I do think it had a pretty good run overall with four and a half seasons. I'll definitely miss it.

Year to year performance of the sites

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 17, 2008, 7:10 PM | comments: 0

Now that the year is nearly over, I can start to asses how the Web sites did this year. Generally speaking, not as well as I hoped.

Traffic overall was down, which is not at all surprising to me. CoasterBuzz was getting stale in appearance and the industry just doesn't capture the imagination the way it used to. Similarly, Cedar Point didn't build anything, so naturally PointBuzz saw somewhat of a slide too.

The big surprise though is that club membership was only slightly down. I expected it to be totally proportional to the traffic, but it wasn't even close. That sends the signal that the most dedicated part of the audience is, well, dedicated, and I need to listen more to them. Also surprising is that ad revenue was down, but not proportional to the traffic. On a per-page and per-visit basis, it was paying out higher than last year. And the biggest kicker? Reducing the pop-ups to once a day for CoasterBuzz (unless you use IE ;)) did not adversely affect overall ad revenue.

The silver lining in all of this is that the redesigns for both sites helped. PointBuzz got its overhaul late last year, and the simpler-is-better approach absolutely showed people were viewing more pages and spending more time there. CoasterBuzz also benefited from the rebuild in September, with people spending more time there. Hard to do a true comparison in raw numbers, since November is always miserable compared to August, but the fact that the people who do visit are spending more time there is encouraging.

I really wish I could spend more time focusing on the sites. I enjoy the coding stuff when I can really dive in and give it my fullest attention. The business aspect turns me on too. And ultimately, I love that it serves as a connection point for so many people. And for almost nine years at that!

Now I wish I could devote more time to that next project. I swear that between the holidays and the new job, I might as well write off this month.

DDR Pad Engrish

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 17, 2008, 12:17 PM | comments: 1

I totally got this same insert with one I bought a few years ago...

Injured Cosmo

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 16, 2008, 10:40 PM | comments: 1

Diana was petting Cosmo yesterday when she noticed a pretty serious scratch around her eye, undoubtedly caused by one of the boys. That makes me sad, because it certainly wasn't her choice to gain three roommates, and she has never cared much for other animals. She tolerated Luna, and they were known to be slightly touching sometimes, but it was rare.

I worry about her because she's getting up there in age. She's gonna be 12 next month. She certainly has a few years in her, but I worry about her ability and desire to defend herself going forward. She'll get slower and probably have the sight problems or arthritis or whatever. She's not showing anything like that yet, but with ten years on Oliver and no claws, she's certainly at a disadvantage. I'm sure that if it was Oliver, he didn't mean to hurt her, he just plays rough.

Cosmo is really selective of who she likes, but she really does love spending time with me (she's curled up next to me now purring like crazy). She went through a phase, when she was two or three, where she was kind of a bastard, but she mellowed out. Once I was the only human living here, she would follow me around, often competing with Luna for attention.

I know she won't live forever, and I'm mostly OK with that. She's had a pretty good life and been a great cat. I just want her senior citizen years to be sweet. I'm just not sure how to make the other cats understand they have to be easy on her.

I'm sure she'll be thrilled to get a visit from her puppy namesake later this week!

A meh year for music

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 16, 2008, 4:40 PM | comments: 1

I know we've still got two weeks to go, but I've been thinking about music this year, and how it was mostly average. This is not to say that there wasn't anything awesome, just not enough of it.

The year started out fun with the Juno soundtrack. Strange mix of new and old stuff, but it worked so well together. Appropriately good music for a great movie.

The next big release for me was Supreme Beings of Leisure's 11i. I've been a big SBL fan since 1999 or whenever it was that their first record came out. The first one was pretty good, if somewhat repetitive, the second was better if a little too disco influenced, and this one was a total slam dunk. This is easily one of the most listenable albums I've bought in a very long time. It plays well as an album too, which is unfortunately rare these days. Especially on a drive, I can just get lost in it, start to finish.

It seems that the Blue Man Love just kept on coming, with the release of the live album for the Megastar tour (which came with the DVD of the performance, actually). I loved the album, and was surprised at how much Adrian Hartley grew on me as the female singer. It really captured the energy of the show. That said, I also think I'm done with Blue Man for awhile (recordings anyway) until they come up with some new material.

R.E.M. put out a pretty good album, Accelerate. The last one I bought from them was Monster like 14 years ago. Nothing they did in the mean time grabbed my attention at all. Good stuff, finally.

Bitter:Sweet did a second album and it's tons of fun. You've already heard "The Bomb" in TV commercials, trailers and apparently the opener of some show. It's not ground breaking, and it is totally derivative of certain styles, but very entertaining.

Portishead put out an album and nothing jumped out at me except the single "Machine Gun." The rest didn't hold my interest. Bummer.

I picked up the James live album, which I somehow never caught wind of when it came out a couple of years ago. Loved it. The live version of "Sound" reinforces it as one of my favorite songs ever.

Alanis put out an album, and it was largely forgettable. I gave it lots of chances, but it just never grabbed me. I don't think she's suffering or as sad/angry as she used to be. The result is less inspired music.

Nine Inch Nails did The Slip, and in a fuck-you to the record companies, Trent Reznor simply gave it away, because he could afford to. I didn't think much of it at first, but the more I listened, the more it felt like the great 90's stuff. "Letting You" makes you want to bounce off the walls and punch someone. Only not really, which is what makes it so clever.

While Imogen Heap has not yet finished her new album, she did do a remake of "Hide and Seek" for the Free Tibet album or whatever. I dig it. And her video blog is ridiculously interesting.

The other slam dunk this year, about on par for me with the SBL album, is Jem's Down to Earth. Absolutely fucking brilliant pop music. Because she's her own song writer who happens to like working with a variety of producers, she seems to come up with these rich ideas that turn out vastly different from each other. And yet, it's another album that listens remarkably well.

I'm still getting into Dido's new album. It's the most mellow thing she's done, and it doesn't have the electronic flavor of her previous two albums. I think that's OK, because I think it's her voice and lyrics that people are attracted to. Most people I suspect won't get it or will write it off quickly. The more I listen, the more I like it.

Keane's new album... gosh, I'm not even sure what to say. They've got a ridiculously talented group with a very unique sound. This new album tries so hard to emulate 80's pop-synth that it becomes distracting. I'm going to give it time, but so far it's hard to get into.

Britney has a pretty good single to start her new album. The rest of the songs sound similar. I'm on the fence about buying it. I doubt she'll ever top In The Zone which, manufactured or not, was one of the greatest pop albums of all time as far as I'm concerned.

You know what I can't stand? What is it with hip-hop and R&B and the various hybrid artists and that stupid fucking Cher "Believe" vocal effect from ten years ago? Who pushes off this Kanye shit as music, and why do people dig it?

I'm crossing my fingers for a more interesting 2009 in terms of music. Several great albums this year, but overall I was unenthused. I need a soundtrack for my life, dammit.

The buying urge, restrained

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 15, 2008, 12:34 AM | comments: 0

I've more or less suppressed the urge to buy the new laptop. That means I'll likely genuinely follow through to my original expectation that I'd get three years out of it. The three-year mark is, coincidentally, the day I'm getting married. (Really strange realization... I think it's also the day Stephanie and I decided to get divorced.) The challenge will be freeing up enough space on the comprooder for photos and video from the wedding and honeymoon. Right now I've got around 25 gigs, and I can probably get it to 30 if I nuke all of the photos in there now (they're on my desktop as well).

Meanwhile, I still feel like I want to buy something for myself. I can't really explain why. There is a lot of expensive stuff in my immediate future, including the honeymoon, rings, the carpet and I'm sure other things I haven't thought of. Not working much hasn't been great for the bank account. That's helped me to not be irresponsible.

I've been keeping myself busy with books, and it's nice to have my Xbox back. I really want to dive into my big project, finish up the photo management app rewrite I was working on, and get my ass in gear, but it'll take awhile to get into a sane free time routine again. It's weird, but I get home and I don't know what to do first!

Jeff's social m.o.

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 14, 2008, 10:43 AM | comments: 1

So we're at this party last night, mostly tennis people that Diana knows, and someone says it's good to see you and that you're much more talkative this year. WTF is that about? Like, I felt as though I should be offended by that remark.

Here's the thing about how I interact with people. In any kind of group setting, I'm very much an observer at first. I want to understand the personalities and the dynamic to some degree before I start interjecting my shit into the mix. That's just how I roll. It doesn't mean that I'm shy or don't care for people. But I'm just not one to jump in with superficial bullshit about the weather.

In this case, last year's party was the observation period. This year there was some level of familiarity with the atmosphere to know how to interact appropriately. It's how I roll.

A good dream

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 14, 2008, 10:29 AM | comments: 1

I was having a lot of disturbing dreams prior to this week, due in part to anxiety and fear about not working. It's funny how your subconscious brings out the root of what dominates your mind like that. A few nights ago I had a good, even silly dream, the details for which I don't remember. But then early this morning I had a very complete good dream. Like a movie even, it had a beginning, middle and end to it.

It was some variation of a going to school dream. In the middle there were conflicts with other people, a hot tub and some driving of large vehicles. The ending though involved me having to write some big thesis, and I couldn't get it to print. So these hard ass professors or something call time and say I'm screwed. Some girl comes running in with a stack of paper and says this was printed a half-hour ago, and it's my paper, and they have to accept it.

It turns out to be the best one, and I get an award and there's much fanfare. I even get the girl, with pictures being taken of us. The girl was ambiguous, not anyone specific (which is odd), and I didn't get to have sex with her. I never get laid in my dreams, which is so strange.

I'm not sure what to make of the dream overall, except perhaps that in the face of adversity, I still have some level of confidence. That's hard for me, in part because I've been conditioned to think that confidence equals pride equals conceit, and I don't want to be that guy. That's something I need to get over because there are many things that I have expertise in, and should be free to demonstrate that.

I'm not surprised the dreams have been coming either, because I find myself being a little wiped out this weekend in terms of sleep. I didn't get enough of it during the week, and I've gotta adjust to having a regular work day again.

Are you a thruster?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 14, 2008, 10:10 AM | comments: 1

Diana and I made the connection that we're bothered by the way some people drive. We call them thrusters. They don't keep a steady speed, but rather "thrust" and coast over and over again, making for a lot of motion that becomes somewhat uncomfortable over time. Their speed drops down a little, and they give the gas a good push to get it back up. I can only imagine how terrible their gas mileage must be.

They drive you nuts when you're in the car with them, but you can see spot them on the road too. Usually it's when they think they're gonna pass you, so they're next to you, fall behind, then push ahead suddenly, repeat.

Mixer still cheap

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 12, 2008, 4:35 PM | comments: 1

The mixer I bought Diana last year for Christmas is still much cheaper in the matte finish licorice color, for reasons I can't explain. It brings kitchen enthusiasts much joy, in case you happen to have such an enthusiast in your life. :)

Xbox return

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 12, 2008, 2:11 PM | comments: 4

I was surprised to see last night that my returned Xbox has the same serial number, because I had read a lot about people getting refurbs. I suppose internally it's different, but I never did see what the console ID was before sending it away. All of my downloaded stuff still works, so perhaps they did the license transfer automatically.

I got back into some Lego Batman last night. What a great distraction. The games I like the most have components of exploration, puzzle solving and a sense of accomplishment. These Lego games really do all of the above.

With the whole XNA thing out there now, I wish I could come up with a good enough idea for a game that I could code it and sell it on Xbox Live.

Bettie Page

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 12, 2008, 10:32 AM | comments: 0

Bettie Page died today. For those not familiar, she was arguably the "original" pin-up girl in the 50's, known for her short bangs (a look that still today is very popular) and her photos in S&M gear. She was an early challenger to the moral standards surrounding sex, and I think should be applauded for that.

Check out the bio-pic The Notorious Bettie Page if you can.

Hot tub... oh deer!

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 11, 2008, 11:13 PM | comments: 1

I settled down in the hot tub, with the lights of our main roads lighting the cloudy skies, when suddenly I noticed Bambi's mom standing up on Windows XP hill behind my house looking at me. It scared the fuck out of me! She sensed my agitation and began moving across the hill, when I noticed she had a friend.

That was definitely a first.

Oh how I've missed you

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 11, 2008, 11:11 PM | comments: 2

Honeymoon travel queries

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 10, 2008, 10:46 PM | comments: 6

I did talk to my local AAA travel agent a couple of months ago about Hawaii, but while not working I never really acted on anything. Last night I started poking around to see what kind of online pricing I could get for airfare.

It has been my experience that human travel agents can actually do some magic, even in the Internet age. When I talked to her, she quoted air travel around $1,600 a piece for the basic parts, from Ft. Myers to Lihue and back. Last night I found a series from Ft. Myers to Honolulu, Honolulu the next evening to Lihue, then the series of flights back to Cleveland the next week, for about $1,200 per person. What was really strange is that Travelocity was quoting $1,800 each at first, and then they had a "Wow we found rates 30% lower than normal" all of a sudden.

What's discouraging is the price of inter-island flights. They're about $200 each round-trip, which puts a hole in my "day trip" island hopping scheme. For example, having been on the big island (and flying over it) for about four hours, I feel confident that I want to see it, but not stay there. It's oddly expensive with some over-developed resorts, but much of it isn't very attractive, what with the old lava fields. I guess I have to rethink it a bit.

I have something against Oahu that I can't explain too. I guess since it has the largest city and a Daytona-like beach area, I just write it off as too touristy, which isn't something I'm into. But we do want to spend one night there and see Pearl Harbor. It makes the most sense to spend the first night there, with the following day to move about.

There's a dilemma about when to book in my mind, with travel articles in the news predicting a catastrophic first quarter that will yield all kinds of great deals. But still, we've got about three and a half months to go, so I can't wait too long. I need to get my ass in gear and figure out what we want to do and which islands we want to see.

On being a technologist, and getting things done

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 10, 2008, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

It's clear now that my role at my new job involves guiding process and determining how the team should optimally build things (as the title "architect" would imply). In my initial thought process about how this will go, I find myself asking interesting questions.

First and foremost, I have to think about efficiency and value. That's something that they used to really beat into us at my last gig, and it's a good thing to think about. You have to get things done and deliver stuff, and solve today's problems. That's not to say that you can't account for the future, but you can't account for it at the expense of delivering value. That's an interesting line to walk.

It also means I get to explore and evaluate technology. That's something I've always done, but mostly out of my own curiosity, not for work. If I'm not doing a lot of hands-on coding, and I doubt I will as the company grows, that leaves time for a lot of experimentation and critical thinking about how new stuff rolls into real life.

Again, I'm cautiously optimistic about this job. It's a lot of responsibility, but in a good way.

Cold pissy day

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 9, 2008, 9:11 PM | comments: 0

This was one really pissy day. It was dark and rainy all day, and I really let it mess with my mood. Then I was asked to investigate a problem with some previously developed software that was sub-optimal to say the least, while just trying to get my computer in a usable state (small companies don't have IT departments to do that stuff for you). So in addition to the weather, I couldn't do much to advance the big picture things about the new gig that excite me.

It felt like things continued to be crappy at home, when I was having Wi-Fi problems. I hoped to work on my projects, but I wasn't motivated for that. And with the weather, hot tubbing is out of the question. Oh, and where is my f'ing Xbox?

Yeah, I'm a whiny bitch today, but whatever. I know my "issues" today don't mean shit in the big picture, but sometimes you just need to whine and get it over with. I feel a little better now.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that the heat ceased to work on the bottom floor at work.

First day of school, er, work

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 9, 2008, 12:15 AM | comments: 1

The first day at a new job is a lot like the first day at a new school. You're not entirely sure what to expect, and you hope the kids like you.

When I got laid-off the second time in my dotcom career, in 2003, I became a bit jaded about work. I felt as though you couldn't rely on The Man, and the idea that you could work anywhere for long periods was little more than an ideal at that point. I think that's why with nearly every job I've had since, I've felt a little defeated when I started anew. It's like I haven't solved the problem.

While I still get that feeling to a certain degree, ICOM showed me that there are pretty good companies with very smart people out there. It took awhile for me to admit that, mostly after I got laid-off. I consider my time there a great success, even though I never quite had the opportunity to take ownership in something the way I would've liked to.

And ever since then it has been a goal of mine to find a gig where I'd get to come in on the ground floor and shape process and influence vision. It's not something I desire out of ego or a notch on my resume, but rather it's because I love being able to create things. It's something I've mostly only accomplished via coaching. Guiding a process that leads to something bigger is extremely gratifying.

The offer on this gig was very similar to the one I had for the one that, uh, didn't work out. But I looked at the environment, talked to the owners, and felt strongly that there was some serious potential there to settle into the kind of role I've been looking for.

I felt pretty good about where things were headed when they gave me a conference room for an office. That was a pretty good sign. Lots of room, giant whiteboard... and windows. I really felt like I was being taken seriously, which is an empowering feeling.

I haven't really had the chance to talk to anyone at length yet except for the project managers, but it feels like there's a pretty good sense of collaboration there. The first week I'm sure will be very telling.

So I'm cautiously optimistic. After 2.5 years at my last job, I believe that there are jobs out there than can last. Hopefully this is one of them. I really don't want to look anymore.

Super awesome credit score

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 8, 2008, 6:54 PM | comments: 17

I got some thing in the mail today that was the result of a settlement of some class action against Progressive years ago, the result being a printed credit report and credit score from Experian. Of course, you're already entitled to a free report every year from each of the three agencies, but the scores you typically have to pay for.

It says I have an 805, which is better than 99.97% of all people they track. How messed up is that? I don't do anything particularly special in terms of credit. I just pay my bills. My student loans are history, and I've had a couple of cars, so maybe that's a contributor. I just can't imagine that the percentage of people who have a lesser history is that enormous.

How much connection do you need?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 7, 2008, 11:50 PM | comments: 8

We got into a big sidebar discussion on the podcast tonight (will be published tomorrow some time) about being connected all of the time, and how much is too much. (Sidebar to the sidebar, because I know Diana will laugh... "I would!")

The discussion came first out of the purpose behind Twitter. Then we drifted into Blackberries and iPhones and Mike eventually got us to the brilliant point that just as our culture is high consumption with material goods, so it goes with information. I think there is definitely some truth to that.

But what drives that desire? I admit times when I'd leave my IM on at all times, or frantically check e-mail constantly, but for the most part I only did that when I was single. I think I've regressed a little by checking Facebook more frequently, but part of that comes out of the recent rush of many college friends suddenly getting on. I just want to catch up with them.

What I still don't get is the people who need to have their e-mail pushed to them at all times, or have Twitter send text messages outlining in 140 characters or less that so and so just took a dump. How much information is really that critical that we need it immediately?

I consume a lot of information. My window to most of it is Google Reader, where I subscribe to a dozen personal blogs, a dozen tech blogs and sites, a half-dozen news sites and about 20 programming blogs. Not counting the MSDN master feed, there are about 300 new entries posted per day. But given all of that data, I still consume it when I feel like it. Knowing the latest post from icanhascheezburger is not that critical.

The best moments in life are still those when I wake wake up next to Diana, or I'm having dinner with a friend, or even sitting in the hot tub alone watching the sky for shooting stars. These moments are far too great to be interrupted with constant data. I can't be the only one who feels that way.

The radical culture change that the Internet has brought on is fascinating to me. It certainly has changed my life, working in businesses that didn't exist prior to its establishment in the mainstream. I'm not yet convinced that life is better or worse for it; only different.

Moving in... again

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 6, 2008, 6:13 PM | comments: 0

Nearly a year after Diana officially moved in, today we moved in the rest of her big stuff. With family and friends coming in over the holiday, we need places for people to sleep!

I've been dreading it for a long time because, well, I strongly dislike moving stuff. I haven't really moved very many times since college, and only one included real furniture (and the damn pinball machine). The truth is, this wasn't that bad. We just about filled a 10-foot U-Haul truck with the two beds, various end tables and dressers.

Fortunately the ground was so frozen that it was no problem to pull up the truck to the front door in Brunswick. I couldn't believe the truck actually worked the whole time. The weather was rapidly deteriorating, especially in the burbs, so I was anxious to get that damn truck out of our life quickly.

We still have stuff all over the house, but it's in the house, most of it generally near where it will end up. We were home napping by 3:30.

It was a little sad for Diana at her house. Granted, there is still some stuff there, all of which can be boxed or donated. But that was really her very own place, and she feels somewhat transient. This isn't "our" home, and I'm not sure if it will be. We both feel like we're supposed to be somewhere else eventually. I'm sure we'll figure it out. Perhaps we need to concentrate on getting married first!

A very good, and intense, day

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 6, 2008, 12:02 AM | comments: 3

As I mentioned before, today was going to start with an interview at the marketing/design firm. The company has actually existed in several forms, the earliest being quite large and a great example of dotcom excess. I interviewed with that company back in 1999. It grew, disintegrated, merged, failed, and was reborn with the current owners. I talked with them again in early 2006.

This morning I met them in their new building, a beautiful old converted mansion. There are 18 people there, and they manage some very nice online brands with certain food companies in particular. I learned a little more about their marketing efforts and have a better, if not complete, idea of what they've got their hands in.

It was less of an interview and more of a discussion. The co-owner remembered me pretty well, and filled in the gaps with the experience on my resume and talking sheet. They described the kind of position they wanted to fill, I said it was the kind of work that I wanted. I left being generally impressed, which isn't something I've been at any of the places I've visited the last few months.

From there, I made a Target run to pick up some junk. I got some neat LED-based flickering faux candles. And cat litter. And TP. Can't go too many blog posts without mentioning poo or cat urine, I guess.

Then I met Randi for lunch, one of my ICOM friends. I was early, so I had a Christmas Ale. I didn't really like it. But wow, it fucked me up really quickly. Glad I had some time for it to metabolize. At the end of lunch I asked Randi if anyone from the old gig would be hanging out at the watering hole, and sure enough, tonight was just such a night.

Once I got home, I had a flurry of e-mail to deal with. I talked to our awesome rep at the hotel in Ft. Myers about rooms. I messed around with an arrogant recruiter for awhile too (thanks Walt!) who seemed representative of the local staffing firm scam. And I got the flickery faux candles in place.

When Diana got home, we headed across town to the alley for a drink and to see my former fellow insurance nerds. I really miss a lot of those people. Regardless of my frustrations there, they were all good people, even when I didn't agree with them.

We went to Stir Crazy for dinner. It was super yummy as always. I love it when you can have brown rice. Other than a soda snafu and too much of a good sauce thing on Diana's dish, yummy.

We stopped into church briefly. I keep forgetting that I have a gift card for it that Kara got me last birthday.

Upon arrival back at home, I logged on to find that my Xbox has been repaired and shipped, and I have a new job as a technical architect. It's about time I had a good day.


posted by Jeff | Friday, December 5, 2008, 10:57 PM | comments: 2

I have an offer, and I'm gonna take it.

Calm : Busy

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 4, 2008, 10:38 PM | comments: 1

I finally got out to the hot tub for the first time in more than a week. Wind, rain and furniture in the kitchen all prevented me from getting out there. I forget how much 20 minutes out there can center me and give me perspective.

The sky was super clear tonight, with the moon a little past first quarter. I saw two shooting stars tonight. It's strange that this natural phenomenon can mean so many thing to me. The first thing reminds me how relatively meaningless the chaos on earth is compared to the scope of the universe. The second thing is that I went three decades without taking the time to stop and realize how common they are. I can't allow that to happen again.

My days this week have been busy, which is really strange for someone who has no day job. Mornings are usually spent on the job hunt, following up on e-mail, looking for the new positions, and, realizing I was relying too much on shitty recruiters, actively watching various companies that I'd like to work for.

After or just before lunch I try to post news on CoasterBuzz. After that I catch up on the various things in my Google Reader. The rest of the afternoon varies, but it usually involves blogging, reading various programming books or catching up on other things around the house. Throw in interviews, movies, lunch out, or anything else to get me out of the house to prevent losing my mind.

What I haven't done well is engage in my own projects (Walt's gonna kill me), and I don't have a good reason for it other than I've been too anxious about the job situation to really dig in. Actually it's less about a job, per se, as it is funding the honeymoon and be in a solid position to handle whatever happens with Diana's house (still on the market). She feels like I'm carrying a lot of burden for those things, but I accept them myself because I'm a giver/provider type, and my profession has a lot of earning potential.

I have to say that despite the despair I see around me, I'm feeling surprisingly positive. That's something of a Christmas miracle, since I associate this time of year with loss. I think it helps that I'm marrying a Christmas addict!

Interview musings

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 4, 2008, 4:20 PM | comments: 3

I had an interview yesterday with some radio stations for a Web gig. When we got to talking money, they gave me a kind of deer-in-the-headlights look, so I'm not optimistic that anything will become of that. It was interesting to hear how well off the company is, especially since they're not Clear Channel. Local radio isn't quite dead yet.

Tomorrow I'm interviewing with a firm that builds and designs mostly marketing sites for some national brands you've heard of. I've actually talked with them before, once before ICOM, once after. They made an offer once, but the time off was a sticking point. I wasn't asking for a month off the day I started, but I don't want to wait forever to get something either. We'll see what they say this time around.

ICOM spoiled me in that respect, in that there you get vacation as you go. That's how it should be. The longer you work there, the more you get each pay period. Progressive had the same system. You shouldn't have to wait a year just to take a three-day weekend.

Musically lost

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 4, 2008, 12:43 PM | comments: 5

They announced Grammy nominations, and I've never felt so out of it. A lot of the artists in the more popular categories are strangers to me. And Robert Plant is doing country? WTF?

I might attribute getting musically stuck to getting older, but I don't think that's it. When I discover something I'm into, I get really into it. But the discovery is a problem. Radio started to suck, and simultaneously, the iPod in the car phenomenon began. Those two things combined to limit my exposure to new things unless I looked really hard.

Granted, some of what has been dished out to become popular hasn't interested me anyway. The whole pop-punk-emo thing isn't that interesting to me (Fallout Boy, Paramore, etc.), and what I'd call the new college rock (anything from the Last Kiss soundtrack) didn't consistently grab my attention. Still Amazon's MP3 store does make some good recommendations now and then. Today it suggested A Fine Frenzy to me (which is apparently one person), and I think I like what I hear.

I bought the Dido and Keane albums that came out while we were in Florida today. Hopefully I'll dig those. If only Imogen Heap were closer to getting her new album out!

Life happens anyway

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 4, 2008, 12:31 AM | comments: 0

Sarah Lane says that life is happening right now, regardless of whether it's good or bad.

Wise words. Sometimes I need to remember that.

The faltering economy: Calacanis has it wrong when it comes to work

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 4, 2008, 12:02 AM | comments: 0

I have a real love-hate thing with Jason Calacanis. His solution to our woes is that we all work more. For what, I don't even know. Sometimes I think he's a smart guy with the right view on the world, other times I think he's someone who got lucky in the right place at the right time. This is one of those times I think he's got it wrong.

I think that we can agree that over-consumption across socioeconomic lines contributed to the financial mess our country is in. The jerk across the street in the neighboring McMansion driving a Hummer and buying his trophy wife a Coach bag is a disgusting display of excess and vanity, and I know this because my neighborhood might be new, but it isn't high end. But what Calacanis doesn't understand is that not everyone is an ADD-prone entrepreneur who gets off on working most of the day, every day. I don't know anyone personally who lives around Silicon Valley, but I suspect most people who are like that in the rest of the world over-work to support their over-consumption in the first place. The two are related. My neighbor is not like Calacanis.

Remember, the US is the country that sucks at taking vacations. So what is the reason we work at the expense of our non-work lives? Obviously it's the consumption addiction. People work more hoping to make more to feed the need.

My suggestion is that we need to work smarter, not more. Balance your life with work, play and family. Make sure the work component is rational and supports a rational lifestyle. Calacanis is wrong about Google. When we're in a grind to deliver a feature or make just one more sales call or whatever, we're using finite time resources that could otherwise be used to solve problems or create opportunities in novel ways. Innovation doesn't happen when you're in a constant grind.

Have I taken work home or stayed late when something was on fire? Yeah, of course I have. I understand that particularly in technology jobs, sometimes you just gotta put in the time. But in my last job in particular (the last long-term one), the one recurring theme about those instances was that we would figure out how to prevent them next time. We worked smarter, not more, and that's sustainable execution in business.

Calacanis points to a collective "sloth" and then starts waving the flag and talking about how awesome we are. Well, which is it? The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I know librarians having to sell their cars to cover health care costs for their kids and professionals being cut to part time. Work more is about the most asinine thing I can think of when unemployment nears 8%, as it is here in Ohio.

Massive changes in consumer behavior have already begun. Savings are suddenly up and consumer spending is getting kicked in the nuts right now. Go to the mall tomorrow and see how uncharacteristically non-crowded it is for December. I think people are doing the right things, and doing what they've got to do. Not all of us can be dotcom millionaires and pontificate about what we should be doing. We can grit our teeth and try to get through it the best we can, not by working more, but by working smarter.

Auto unions could sabatoge Detroit

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 3, 2008, 7:00 PM | comments: 6

I'm not anti-union, but I've always been critical of the auto unions because they ultimately seem to be the source of pain for much of the American auto makers. In a report on ABC today, they mentioned that they're paying more than $73 in pay and benefits per hour for line workers. Toyota pays about $30 less. The cost includes everything else, including pensions and this absurd layoff fund.

For some perspective, a computer programmer in the Cleveland market, who has to have a college degree and a couple of years of experience, can pretty easily get around $55 per hour as a contractor. Obviously you pay for your own benefits, but at most that's going to knock off three or four bucks per hour.

So does it make sense that someone gets paid wages and benefits 40% higher without the educational requirements or experience? The unions argue that these workers only get something in the $30 range in terms of take home money. OK, so then where does all of that money go? If these costs are associated with union demands, then it does seem to me that the unions are the issue. So why are they so hesitant to make concessions?

When unions prevented virtual slave labor and kept working conditions safe, that was a good thing. When unions began to alter the natural curve of workforce supply and demand, and the relationship between skill and education with the nature of the work, that's where things went wrong.

I don't want to see Detroit die, but I'm not convinced the companies or the unions are qualified to fix their problems, let alone take out a loan from the government.

Wanna buy something

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 2, 2008, 11:42 PM | comments: 16

I have a lot of anxiety lately, mostly over paying for my honeymoon. Two years ago I would've just said, whatever, who cares, I'll charge it and play 2.9% tag between credit cards. But now that I'm (relatively) debt free, I want to stay that way.

So it's ironic that I want to buy something to calm my anxiety. The thing I want most is a new laptop (my lack of disk space is frustrating me), but part of my incentive there is I want another deduction item before the end of the year. I should probably stick to a video game or something, which was part of the reason for my last post. It all seems materialistic and stupid for me to think this way, but I suppose since I'm not one who buys expensive cars or status-luxury items, I should keep some perspective. That, and I actually very much use the toys I buy for myself.

A lot of my self-imposed pre-guilt I'm sure comes from the economic environment we're in. It's interesting to read how even the most well off and financially secure people aren't spending money right now (duh, trickle-down doesn't work), for no other reason than it doesn't feel right.

Certainly I need to get back to work, and I'm hopeful that companies around here start hiring for actual salary positions again soon. Everyone is hiring for short-term contract code monkey work which I can't stand. I did that lifestyle for awhile and it was soul sucking no matter how much it paid (which was a lot). Putting off reasonable offers over the summer waiting for that job that ended up completely sucking ass was a strategic mistake. Meh. You live and learn.

Then there's the issue that I can't realistically give this year. Our local Toys-for-Tots has had half of its typical donations, and that sucks. Charities like that make a huge difference, and it was a similar local charity that hooked me up with new shoes once as a kid. The only thing I've done this year was for the usual Red Cross thing in the spring. That weighs on me.

In the mean time, I have spent time investing in myself, which I've learned each time that I wasn't working is probably the greatest thing you can do. I've spent a fair amount of time and money on books in particular to raise my game and learn new things. Here's hoping that pays off.

Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero World Tour?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 2, 2008, 3:35 PM | comments: 5


Big pile of stinky carpet

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 2, 2008, 10:51 AM | comments: 4

The enormous pile of cat pee carpet is gone from my treelawn, and I can finally enjoy living in my house again. And I can park my car in the garage.

That's today's little victory. I think I shall go see a movie.

Social graph shakeout

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 1, 2008, 9:35 PM | comments: 12

When I first thought about it, I wondered how we got along before social network sites like Facebook. I then realized that, actually, we got along by way of lots of niche interest sites. The flaw there, at least in my perspective, is that it's a lot harder to branch out and meet new people, something that I didn't start to realize until things Facebook started to open those doors.

But with the announcement today that Pownce was shutting down, something that I never used, by the way, I started to wonder if the overall online social system was fragile. Then, as if tech blogfolk were reading my mind, Om Malik wrote this piece asking if online social media should aggregate or federate. It's all pretty fascinating to me, especially the technical challenges involved.

The problem with a lot of these discussions is that they ignore a bigger reality that transcends technical problems. The first is that someone has to own something. Your stuff has to live somewhere. The second reality is that it costs money, and someone, in one way or another, has to pay for it.

For example, you know why I haven't started using Tumblr? I don't own it. It could disappear tomorrow and all of what I put into it could be gone. Perhaps I'm just a digital pack rat (I have something like 40,000 e-mail messages synced into Gmail by way of IMAP dating back to 1996), but what I choose to post online is very much a history of my life. Perhaps that has no value to anyone but me, but I'd hate to see it disappear.

There are curves the are largely the inverse of each other that describe the relationship between cost and scale, but I'm not sure if they can ever totally meet. For example, in 2001, I had to make my sites a commercial endeavor or they would simply cease to exist. The cost of running them was too great not to ask for money through subscriptions or ads or whatever. Eventually, the hardware and bandwidth came down, and serving a niche like that is no longer a bank-breaking effort. It's still not free, but at least I don't have to charge up credit cards to do it.

That's all well and good for a niche audience, but what happens with the more universal and broad appeal of a Facebook or Digg? Hundreds of servers and staffers have to care and feed for that kind of thing, which absolutely makes it a bona fide business. If the money runs out, we lose all of the intangibles that we put into it.

Like I said, it's fascinating to watch. I'd hate to see anything ever happen to Facebook, because it's the lifeline that keeps me connected to more than ten years of kids I coached, college friends, former co-workers, etc. Even if the level of some of those relationships is relatively superficial, I still value them. God knows many of them help me out professionally. I just hope that someone figures out the answer to where our online social graph lives and how we pay for it.

Banjo-Kazooie on Xbox!

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 1, 2008, 5:07 PM | comments: 1

How strange... the classic Nintendo64 game is now available on Xbox 360! I have fond memories of that game. Good times indeed!

Where did I leave off?

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 1, 2008, 4:58 PM | comments: 0

Between the holiday, the carpet and the vacation, it has been nearly three weeks since I've touched any of my own code. That's really strange! I'm trying to re-engage with it and I don't remember where I was headed with the one project in particular.

Indeed, it's strange in the general sense that I have been coding nearly every day, as I did when I was working. I lined up an interview this week, for which I'm highly skeptical of the company, but we'll see. I can't stand being home all of the time.

I'm starting to remember why I'm so laptop dependent in the winter. My office space/family room gets chilly in the winter when the sun isn't out. My laptop isn't quite as powerful (did I mention the new one is down another fifty bucks on Amazon?), but I can use it in the living room or upstairs where it's warmer!

Google thinks I'm in France

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 1, 2008, 11:07 AM | comments: 3

Apparently there must have been some redistribution of IP addresses or something, because Google seems to insist that I'm in France. Every couple of weeks, Firefox's search bar bounces me to the French Google, and I get AdSense ads from my sites in French now and then.