Archive: January, 2010

Baby prep blowout weekend

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 31, 2010, 11:10 PM | comments: 0

It was all about getting real this weekend, as we did an infant care class on Saturday and hospital tour on Sunday.

The care class was a whole lot of common sense mostly, and some general stuff about what to expect on the birthday. As it turns out, I'm finding that babies aren't all that hard to take care of. I think more and more that the biggest challenges are supporting each other and working to maintain a high level of quality in your relationship as your priorities become massively realigned.

Of particular interest though is the guy who seems to have packaged together all of the things that make a cranky baby not cranky. Watching his video is like watching magic, and a lot of it just involves holding the baby in positions you wouldn't otherwise think of. That's pretty neat stuff.

The hospital tour brought mixed feelings. On one hand, it's good to see what the place looks like, but I also feel really uncomfortable in any medical facility. I spent too much time with doctors as a kid, and even though my mom was a nurse in a hospital, I generally only think of it for when she was in it for gall bladder removal, or for seeing my stepdad in there for heart surgery. That it's a place for the start of life is still foreign to me.

I have a great deal of anxiety about the big day. Routine as it might be, a C-section is still surgery, and I'm not looking forward to that. That I'll be in the room during the surgery also disturbs me, but obviously there's no choice since it's also when junior will arrive. Part of the anxiety is that it's not the doctor in Cleveland, because I found it so easy to trust her. I look forward to that time an hour after Diana is all closed up in recovery that we can just peacefully enjoy the baby.

Have I mentioned that the intensity of the last 12 months has been completely off the charts?

The Ikea experience

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 31, 2010, 12:10 PM | comments: 0

Gonch recently posted about how much he doesn't care for Ikea, and I think I understand his opinion to be that he doesn't care for the merchandise. I suppose that's a matter of taste, and that's cool. I think they have the same shit that Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn has, only for a fraction of the price, and made of cheaper materials (which is generally adequate anyway). I love my new desk and bookshelves from there. The cheap ass coffee table will be adequate as well when we get around to buying it.

Where I give credit to Ikea is not so much the look and feel of their merchandise, but rather the experience of shopping there. Think about it... you've got these giant warehouses with mass amounts of people and it looks like holiday shopping at all times. It should be the shittiest experience ever. But generally (at least for me), it's not.

There are several reasons for that. They start you off by offering cheap food (or you defer it to the mid-point in the store). Let's face it, eating makes everything better. Non-hungry, you're more likely to be content. Then they show you where to go, one aisle at a time, but never completely overwhelm you because the path prevents you from seeing too much at once. People aren't browsing and knocking into you because the big furniture boxes come at the end. The general housewares are all there being demonstrated, so you know what that light looks like when it's on, and how those curtains appear when hanging. And when you're all done, you can get some treats to go. If you hate what you got, they'll take it back, and if parts are missing, they probably have those.

They take what could be a miserable experience (i.e., going to Costco) and make it reasonable. I wouldn't consider it a tourist attraction the way some people do (and admittedly, my first experience was just that when Kara took us to the Minneapolis location), but as far as potential cluster-fuck retail goes, it's not horrible.

Ten years of CoasterBuzz

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 30, 2010, 5:28 PM | comments: 0

You know, I'm not even sure where to start with this post. Today is, as visitors would know, the tenth anniversary of the launch of CoasterBuzz. This is important for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I can't think of anything that I've done for ten continuous years by choice.

The Internet was a very different place back then. We've seen a great inversion between the number of content creators and consumers. Back then, people went out of their way to build Web sites, rich with pictures, stories, communities, etc. Sorry, but posting when you take a crap on Facebook and Twitter is not creating content (it's more like noise). Meanwhile, the users of the Internet went from a tightly connected community to a mass of humanity that doesn't stop long enough to look at anything.

Shortly after CoasterBuzz launched, we had hundreds of sites in our site database that ranged from a site for Cedar Point employee photos to sites about specific parks. There was a real vitality to it all, as the Internet made it relatively easy to publish in great deal content around something you cared about. That's part of the reason that CoasterBuzz was built, to help you find all of that stuff. Later, search engines helped with that, but unfortunately there just isn't as much out there. I finally killed the database in the 2008 relaunch, as there were few sites left.

For me personally, as every year went on, the site provided me with two important outlets. The first is that it gave me a lab where I could develop my programming skills. The second thing it gave me was a place to publish content, which I enjoyed doing given my media background. The second thing got harder over time, particularly in that coaster building boom, and I backed off of doing that. The bigger goal with the site was always to facilitate the aggregation of content, which it still does. Only a few sites ever send in their updates these days, and I do a lot of the news linking myself, but it's still getting a lot of action. In fact, since the news forum syncs with news, it has grown exponentially.

One of the guiding principles of the site has been to do what made sense, not what others do. That took some time to get used to. Remember, in 2000, all that mattered was eyeballs, and that's what you were chasing. You just wanted as many people as possible, and then, profit! Later I'd figure out that it wasn't the quantity of visitors, but the quality (and willingness to give you money for running the site).

I never really planned to make more money with it than to cover the hosting expense, but several interesting things happened on that road. The first was that it got so popular, and bandwidth so expensive, that in the first few years I had to make revenue a priority. Because hosts were measuring bandwidth in the hundreds of megabytes and not thousands of gigabytes, the most cost-effective solution in 2001 was to get a T-1 to my house. At 1.5 mbits both ways, that's hardly impressive (my cable service is that fast upstream), but it was constant and I didn't have to pay by the bi t. But the pipe cost over a grand a month. After 9/11, I had a perfect storm: A one-year contract for the T-1, I lost my job and DoubleClick began its decline and they dropped their representation. I was on the hook for $12k+ that year and no way to pay for it all.

I asked a few people in the forum if they thought it would be worth it to join a club that got them the site ad-free and a membership card. A surprising number of people said yes. The club made up for the shortfall in ad revenue, and helped pay for the T-1, the server and the software. In fact, that was about the time I became a legitimate Photoshop owner! The club still shows strong numbers today, and turned into an institution on top of the institution, so to speak. We've been having great events ever since.

There was a period of time where a vocal minority of people had a real problem with the fact that I was treating the site like a business. Certainly, it started as a hobby, but making money from something you enjoy certainly isn't immoral! The problem (or perk, depending on how you look at it) is that I continuously reinvested all of the revenue back into things that would feed the site. This started in 2000, when I bought a Nikon Coolpix 990, which cost something like $800. It was the first digital camera that was usable enough for prints, had SLR-like features, and at 3 million pixels, was adequate for publishing pho tos to the Internet. I decided to get it for use covering the IAAPA show. It was fairly adequate, and the same-day turn around with no developing was awesome.

I got into a pattern of spending money on equipment like that for years, carrying a balance on the business credit card. In the middle part of the decade I never carried that much, except when I went all out. In 2006 I bought the HVX200 and all kinds of video gear that racked up a $10k bill. I was working full-time again, so it seemed low risk. I actually made up half that amount with a few freelance gigs, and I was grateful to own pro gear. Aside from computers, cameras were the thing that I spent the most money on. In 2008 I finally had a total zero balance, but I've since racked it back up.

Did all of the spending lead to a better site? In a lot of cases, yes, and particularly since the 2008 relaunch, I've had a lot of direct impact. It also helped out PointBuzz a great deal, and as you might expect, I've done a lot more video work over there.

There were some long-term experiments as well. CoasterBuzz Games was a pretty solid sister site that hosted thousands of save games and tracks for Rollercoaster Tycoon 1 through 3 (as well as a small number of No Limits and Hyper Rails files). I was really proud of that app, and it was smoking fast. When the 2008 relaunch rolled around, it would've been hard to modify, and traffic had dried up to almost nothing, so I let it go. It was pretty neat for its time though.

The editorial path was always evolving over the decade. At first I wrote opinion pieces now and then, but eventually stopped because it made just as much sense to post in the forums with those. I also had a rumor section, but I found in the first year that so much of it was bullshit anyway, and what was correct caused a lot of friction with parks. Since I was trying to line up events for the club, that wasn't in our best interest, so I stopped. Getting people to industry news really became the focus after that.

The forum has always been a balancing act. To some degree, you let the community govern itself. To this day, we don't do any real moderation other than move topics to the appropriate forum or delete spam and naughty words. Sometimes we close the repetitive boring topics that no one actually reads, like top ten lists or whatever. But generally speaking, we're very hands-off. By we I mean me and the moderators, all of whom I approached, not vice versa. I learned by watching other forums for other interests that anyone who wanted to be a moderator was probably not who you wanted doing the job.

It still took a lot of trial and error. In the first few years I'd often let myself get pulled into drama and people would make it about me. Eventually I learned how non-productive it was, and just headed off that kind of nonsense and moved on. The forum was better for it. We still struggle with conversation quality issues now and then, especially this time of year, but it's an up and down cycle I've learned to live with. There's a pretty good core group of people in there.

Then there was the period of neglect that I went through. Once my book was done, and the separation occurred, I lost interest in a lot of things. 2005 was a fairly insane year for me, between the separation and first post relationship, complete dissatisfaction from my job and volleyball teams I was very emotionally invested in for both spring and fall. For the next two years, I just let CoasterBuzz kind of decay in terms of content, discussion shaping and especially in the software development sense. The traffic stats made this very obvious. It just didn't seem very important.

Oddly enough, this period of time was also when I started the CoasterBuzz Podcast, and it has been one of my favorite things to come out of this whole endeavor. With my first job out of college being a radio gig, this has been the closest thing to the joy that used to bring me, only without all of the negatives that went along with broadcast radio. Most surprising is the very rich friendships I've gained from doing it since then. I went two years between seeing Mike, for example, and when we hooked up it was like we had just seen each other the week before. Ditto when I see Gonch, and now Carrie is starting to be that friend as well. If only we could get Tyler in. ;)

In 2008, after ICOM let me go, the realization of the decline in the site became obvious to me, and I finally decided to do something about it. I rebuilt everything in two months and had a solid starting point to expand and improve the app as I go. It was liberating and I was excited to be in to it again. Dating Cath and Diana allowed me to let my coaster freak flag fly during those years, but it wasn't until '08 that I embraced it and got back into it.

Traffic in terms of visitors has since climbed back up, but it's the quality of the visitors that has been overwhelmingly improved. People come there and do more stuff. Building and satisfying an audience is a totally different skill these days, and I've enjoyed working on that for the last year and a half. It's very different from the days when the site first opened. Back then, the site was easy to grow by simply advertising on (which became Overture, then Yahoo ads).

Looking back, the one thing I did not enjoy was screwing around with server hardware. I remember at one point the box would lock up now and then when I hosted it from home, and that was because I had a bad stick of memory. I've been hosting now in the same place for almost six years non-stop. Although, the guys at work have put the fear of God into me that it's probably about time for a server meltdown, perhaps a hard drive failure. Jerks. :)

The biggest perk of all, as much as I try to separate myself from the site, is the social benefits. I've made best friends and had relationships because of that site that I wouldn't have today without it. What's weird about that is we're mostly friends for reasons that have nothing to do with coasters today. The site only facilitated the initial connection.

The weird thing to understand is that despite the ten year commitment the site has so far required, I don't really identify with it as a key part of myself. I don't really talk about it or think about it except when I'm developing for it or using it. It's rare that I tell Diana, "Today on CoasterBuzz..." or whatever. And yet, after this long, how could it not be a part of my story? I tend to downplay the achievement of longevity, revenue and software development, which is probably a slight to myself. I tend to think of it as unimportant in the grand scope of things, until someone tells me, "Hey, I really value what you provide," and even that makes me uncomfortable for some reason.

In any case, what a ride. Let's see if I can keep it going for another ten years!

I need to unplug and celebrate

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 29, 2010, 8:31 PM | comments: 0

I've been way too engaged this week, and the price is that I'm not allowing myself to have stupid fun. And tomorrow is a big day with a reason to celebrate: CoasterBuzz turns ten-years-old. That's a big fucking deal. I haven't done much of anything in life for ten years straight.

Brain drain and pairing

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 28, 2010, 7:53 PM | comments: 0

You know you're really engaging (or getting beat up by difficult issues) when you find yourself physically tired coming home from a job that doesn't require physical heavy lifting. That's me this week. And at least one of the other guys I work with.

I've always had mixed feelings about pair programming, because my first exposure to it while at Progressive was a shitty experience. That's partly because they were doing it wrong too. Getting paired with the same person, who has virtually no experience, means that really they just watch you, and that sucks. At this gig, we're pretty much in the same neighborhood as far as experience, and that makes a huge difference.

We do it when it makes sense, and largely on our own accord. For example, earlier this week, we had a new guy starting while I was a little frustrated with what I was tasked to do. Working together helped me introduce him to the code while he got around my mental block. Then today, a different developer endeavored to begin refactoring a particular silo of code so we could more easily maintain it, work out the toxicity of negative performance, and overall keep our sanity. I offered to jump in while he was driving, and we made what I think were some good design decisions that will get us to a better place.

Our group is fortunately not dogmatic about pairing. Some things are simple enough that there's little benefit to it, and I think as we get to a better quality code base, it'll probably be necessary even less since we'll have stronger conventions and style.

I've read a great deal about it, and various studies put efficiency at positive increases, 15% the highest I've seen, to a decrease of 20% overall. I don't know how they're measuring it, and you can't really do so in a vacuum, ignoring the quality and long-term impact. I mean, even if you lose 20%, it's still a win if what comes out of it is easier to maintain in the long run.

It certainly helps that I like the people I work with. I imagine it would be harder to do with people you don't particularly get along with.

The value of college

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 9:56 PM | comments: 0

I've discovered recently, while spinning yarns of college shenanigans, that a surprising number of people at work did not go to college. Of course, keep in mind that Microsoft was founded by a college drop out, so naturally the company culture is not one to close any doors to where it may locate talented people. There are several in our team who didn't go to school, but our lead theorizes that's probably a statistical anomaly compared to the company as a whole.

It occurred to me just now that, given their ages (generally between 28 and 31), they were also coming out of high school at a dramatically different time, when the Internet was taking hold as a part of everyday life. Many of those guys were working in some Internet related business around that time in lieu of college. That makes a lot of sense.

Some lengthy debates have erupted on CoasterBuzz about the value of college (we do talk about roller coasters now and then), and I've typically taken the stance that the value of a college education is enormous. I don't feel that there's some moral or intellectual superiority there, but I think it's a safe generalization that people who do it (and particularly those who live on campus) have a broad "life advantage." There are always exceptions of course, which is why it's so hard to argue the point. I mean, when the world's richest man is a college drop-out, how do you compete with that?

Those who contend that you don't need college, and are passionate about it, tend to not have gone. A common theme too is that they perceive it as paying for a piece of paper. While the degree is certainly an outcome of college, you don't get it just because you paid for it, and it sure as hell isn't an easy road. I see it as an achievement and I'm not afraid to say so.

The question becomes more about the value of that achievement. I've worked with, and looked up to, enough non-degree earning people to know that it's not a requirement. Some people are naturally brilliant and have born-with ability to lead. But for every one of them, I've also worked with three or four people who I think were grossly incapable of managing time, engaging coworkers and generally executing in their position.

So this observation may in fact push the differences in people beyond the college choice and to the underlying personalities. Perhaps people who succeed or suck at life or in the workplace do so because that's just who they were in the first place, regardless of whether or not they went to school. Looking at the data I've observed first hand, perhaps that's a better theory.

There are still some strong benefits to college, and it only took me a decade and a half to admit that some of them are the very things I used to bitch about. As it turns out, that "liberal arts" education exposes you to enough diverse subjects that you have a better pulse on how the world operates. I'm still not sold on the foreign language requirement, but intro classes for business, religion, science, math, etc., all provided more value to me than I was willing to admit.

The real majority of learning I still believe comes from the living in the environment though. It comes from having roommates, getting drunk, putting off that research paper, freaking out about how overwhelmed you are, getting your ass out of bed for class, going to parties, interacting with the academics stuck in a bubble... there is just so much that happened in those four years for me.

And much of it was failure. I think that's the most important aspect of it all. College provides a safer environment for failure, and risk is generally lower. The ability to experiment with lesser consequences is very valuable.

So I think I generally still feel that college is a very valuable experience, but it's not a measurement stick for how likely success comes to people. More importantly, I'm starting to think that the quality of a person is more influenced by their underlying personality.


State of the Union speech impressions

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 8:14 PM | comments: 0

I've always enjoyed watching these big annual speeches, regardless of who the president is. It's a unique opportunity for the president to attempt to set the tone for the year ahead. I remember Reagan being particularly good at this, as was Clinton. Bush Jr. had a couple of excellent post-9/11 speeches, when people badly needed to hear things were going to be OK.

I've already outlined my overall impression of Obama's first year, independent of his speech, so there's no need to go through that again. One of the bigger themes he seemed to pound on was that elected people have a job, and that's to govern, not get re-elected. He was mostly careful to place that responsibility on both parties, though his point to Republicans that voting no for the sake of your party affiliation is not leadership was particularly harsh. Sure, Democrats would do the same thing if the roles were reversed, but that's not justification, that's just the same old shit.

Horrified as they were, I'm glad he blasted the supreme court over their recent decision to overturn the law that says it's OK for corporations to fund political advertising against candidates. That makes the ability to buy candidates worse than ever. I would've liked to have seen McCain's reaction, as that was his bill. But aside from that, Obama's theme there was one of transparency, that elected folks need to get everything out there. He gave the example that White House visitors are all listed online, and that's a pretty good example. I would love to see every Congress Critter do that.

I'm glad he finally had the balls to say "don't ask, don't tell" is done. He should have done that on day one.

His other policy agenda points were really nothing we haven't hear before, though he obviously wants to make jobs the biggest priority. Trying to legislate jobs seems like a recipe for failure, since you have to implement the right combination of tax incentives, government programs and such, but you have to get Congress to do it and hope that the economy will make it work. I sure as hell wouldn't want to do that.

Overall, I think it was a pretty good speech. He's a hell of a great speaker. What bothers me of course is all of the stuffy old white guys with their arms folded every time they didn't agree. I don't know how that's good for them. Who wants to see that?

As I mentioned in that other post, it's the divisiveness that annoys me more than anything. It's not just politicians anymore, it's everyone. People are angry and they don't even know what they're angry about. There is always someone there to say, "[Current President] is ruining the country," but they can never tell you why. I think Bush was the worst president in my lifetime, but I don't think he was ruining the country, nor did I think it was his intention to make everything suck. I do think that his policy and tone, in the aggregate sense, had a tendency to cast a negative direction on our world, and there are bullet points I could point out. But even he had wins, and I can acknowledge those too. What's so fucking hard about that? Why are people so willing to be for or against, and nothing in between? That, to me, is where the failure of us as a nation comes in. Politics are treated like professional sports in terms of picking sides.

If the economic correction continues and stabilizes, as economists believe it will, certainly this president will have a good term by the time it's over. The question for me will still be if he can be the transformative force I hoped he'd be.

C-day: Tentatively March 5

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 26, 2010, 11:03 PM | comments: 0

That will likely be the start for my work leave. And, you know, something else happens that day. :)

Houses on the brain

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 25, 2010, 10:51 PM | comments: 1

People can finally get into my house, now that the snow has melted a bit. It's getting some decent action in terms of the number of people coming to see it, but people are still bitching about it not having a basement. I wonder where the expectation came from that one needs a basement. I seemed to live without for eight years, and what appears to be a majority of people out here don't have them either (maybe because people live on hills or something).

In any case, I spend a lot of time thinking about having a house. The apartment is adequate, and obviously the only suitable arrangement while owning two houses we still have to pay for, but it's hard to go back to space that isn't really yours (or your bank's). It's mostly issues of not having the appliances you like, or the ability to change the flooring, for example.

It seems like an impossibly long financial road right now, and I think that wears on me. The thing that excited me about moving out here was a chance to start over, and that's exactly what it is in almost every respect. In my ideal world, our houses would be sold by summer and we could start banking cash again. The unfortunate thing is that it'll take at least a year to save enough for a modest down payment, and that's if we were tight-asses about everything (which does not work for me given my desire for travel and likely desire to spoil the lad rotten).

But who knows... maybe the ad market will pick up and I'll have a surprising year from the Web sites. December was uncharacteristically strong (compared to the last few years), so I do have hope. That bit of "padding" could help a great deal. A strong tax refund wouldn't hurt either.

The greatest irony is that I want the housing market to pick up in Cleveland, but stay as soft as possible here until we can get into it. :)

The problem with code (and how to prevent it from sucking)

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 25, 2010, 10:44 PM | comments: 0

I was pairing with the new guy today at work, trying to blast through what you'd think was an easy set of use cases to do some integration with another system. It went horribly. Meanwhile, one of the other guys on our team was getting owned by some raunchy code we inherited. So overall, it was just one of those demoralizing kind of days around the team. We're working to get to a place where that's no longer the case, and we will get there.

I've seen this enough times that it doesn't surprise me, and honestly I've seen much, much worse. That perspective makes me less concerned. My problem is that I tend to get more wrapped up in how you prevent such things in the first place than how to undo them. There are a number of situations that create a universe of suck in the software development world. These are a few...

The original developers were inexperienced. The reasons for this are many. In the consulting world it's almost always because no one wants to pay for good people. Other times, there's just a process problem where the shape of the software is formed in a vacuum. The truth is that someone can get by and make something that "works" if it's not huge, but folks like that will make a mess of anything more involved.

At my last gig, there was an app that two guys (later canned) wrote that was all kinds of ugly, impossible to test and otherwise a spaghetti-style mess. I believe that they were doing their best, but they were in over their heads, and in an attempt to please someone, agreed that they could do the job and get it done early. The guy I had working on it wanted to poke his eyes out.

The other scenario is that there are people out there with no interest in the craft and take no pride in their work. Mediocrity is good enough, and that's where they meet their paycheck. I've seen that a hundred times as well. I think most of us get into this line of work because we're thrilled by the continuous learning and the feeling of "look what I did." Some people seem to just lose that entirely, more so in the consulting business.

So being a solutions kind of guy, what do you do about this? Well the first thing, if you're ultimately responsible for whatever the product is to be developed, hire someone who has a clue. Seriously, with all of the bullshit religion about whether or not you should use "free" open source software or commercial product, the idea seems to get lost that your true expense is people (the purchased software is a rounding error by comparison). You can hire someone for $100k, which might be high or low depending on where you live, and leverage their expertise to make something of high quality. Or you can hire someone for half of that who is not a ninja and then later either hire another person like that to try and maintain the app, or bring in the more expensive guy after the fact. Either way, your long-term cost ends up being hire.

Don't develop in a box. This is why agile/scrum/XP/team/whatever scenarios tend to yield better stuff. Open and spontaneous discussion about design matters. Code review and/or pair programming matters. The stuff where you spend months figuring something out and then disappear behind a door for more months results in shit. No one wants to use shit.

Learn. Never stop. Seriously, would it kill you pick up a book now and then? You don't have to go to college to learn about software development (you do to learn about sex, your alcohol tolerance, religion and other fine points about yourself), but you do need to make time to keep up. Cutting and pasting shit off of is not learning. Find someone who can mentor you and get everything you can from them. Learn the design patterns, not as encyclopedic knowledge, but as practical, applied knowledge (MVC on any platform is great for this, by the way). At the very least, understand what "loose coupling" means. It's not a dating exercise.

Above all, take pride in your code. But not too much. Always know that someone else, eventually will have to deal with what you wrote, so ask yourself if that code is going to make someone else miserable. Get feedback. I'm not suggesting that you need to have hour long discussions about what to name a method (though I've unfortunately witnessed that as well), but don't require guess work. That next person to see that code might be you, and you're not going to remember it. And no, comments don't help, they only indicate how bad your code sucks in the first place.

Some day this summer our team expects to bask in each others awesomeness for the job we did, but at some point, maybe a year from now, maybe five, I'll be in some other code. Please don't leave crap for me.

Abnormal sleep patterns

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 24, 2010, 11:40 PM | comments: 0

I don't know what the deal is, but I can't hit a good sleep rhythm. It has been that way pretty much since returning from Florida in early December. I can't sleep when I should, and want to pass out when I can't. I wake up a couple of times a night, too.

Diana was reading about some phenomenon where dudes have similar issues to their pregnant wives. I believe there might be some truth to that. It would explain the poor sleep, the IBS flare-up lately, frequent acid reflux, unexplained back soreness and gaining five pounds in the last two months. (Actually, that last one I can attribute to eating like an asshole, not able to resist the allure of the 'tots at work. Gross, I know.)

Of course, if sleep is challenging now, imagine what it'll be in a few weeks! The whole taking leave thing sounds more reasonable every day.

Some assembly required

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 23, 2010, 9:16 PM | comments: 0

I'm a pretty practical guy when it comes to issues of value and quality. I don't always equate spending more with quality, but I also don't equate inexpensive with poor quality. For example, I firmly believe that spending a little more on things like computers, tools and appliances generally gets you a better quality product. I'm not nearly as likely to pay a huge premium on something like a car though, because you don't have to spend $20k to get something that reliably gets you between points.

I have a similar feeling about furniture. I've bought some really nice stuff and a lot of crap, and for the most part, I've always received what I paid for. My bedroom furniture was not cheap, but it's all around solid and I hope that the only reason I'd ever replace it was because I was tired of it. On the other hand, the TV stand and stereo rack in the living room came from Target and cost as much as one of the bedroom nightstands. Again, you look at what you're getting and determine what works.

Furniture that you have to assemble definitely covers a huge range of quality though, and unfortunately that curve doesn't always mesh well with price. Diana's Ikea kitchen table is pretty damn solid, and the bookcase and desk I bought when we got here are also pretty great for what they cost. None of it is hideous either. I'm really content with the stuff. We were looking at picking up a $40 coffee table from there too. It's functional, sturdy, and pretty low risk if it's only good for a few years.

But sometimes, you get crap. Diana spotted a short dresser that we can double as a changing table that also roughly matched the crib, for about $200. I protested a little because it was from Wal-Mart, but I also wasn't sold on spending twice that for a piece that honestly would only be useful for three or four years. As it turns out, the quality was pretty poor. It's sturdy enough to hold up junior while changing him, but the way it fit together was shoddy, the screws heads deteriorated with every twist of the screwdriver, and shit just didn't line up right. I felt kind of ripped off.

Fortunately, the baby stuff won't be around forever, even if we did endeavor for a second (adopted) child. I look forward to a day when we can really build out new rooms in a house.

An unlikely good year in music

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 22, 2010, 7:55 PM | comments: 0

When I was thinking about the last year, I neglected to talk much about what it meant as far as music. I think the reason for that is that there wasn't a lot of volume in terms of musical awesomeness. For me at least, what the year lacked in quantity was made up for in quality.

The year started off exceptionally well with Schuyler Fisk. After knowing her only as half of the duet who did "Paperweight" on The Last Kiss soundtrack years before that (and the girlfriend in the movie Orange County), just by some chance we learned that she was coming to town. In the space of a week, we got tickets, bought her album and saw her perform a day later. The Good Stuff is appropriately titled. I'm honestly not sure how she's not fantastically rich by now, other than the fact that she's worked outside the record industry to get her record out. She's lyrically wise and vulnerable, can rock out on the guitar and you can't stop hearing her songs in your head. Oh, and she's so fucking charming in real life. I hope she's wildly successful.

Juliana Hatfield put out a new album late in 2008 called How To Walk Away, and it's the first one I've bought from her since 1993 or something. It's a little dark, but I dig it. It worked well with the Cleveland weather melancholy. Weezer had the red album about the same time, which I really enjoyed. U2's No Line On The Horizon was not a stand out for them, but had a couple of songs that definitely add to their amazing history.

Schuyler really carried us into spring, making great background and history with our wedding and honeymoon. But if I had to designate a summer album, tied to Cedar Point trips, bike rides and sunny afternoons on the deck, that has to be 311's Uplifter. The weird thing about 311 is that their sound has obvious influences, yet no one sounds like them. You never think they have any remarkable musicians in the band (or even good singers), but the songs are catchy. I personally never found anything that interesting about 311 beyond "Do You Right" as a single, and that was a billion years ago. But this album only has one track I could do without ("Jackpot"), and the rest is solid to above average. "Sun Come Through" on the Amazon version worked its way into my list of all-time favorite songs. It's got that great story about finding your way in life, great changes and a guitar piece in the bridge that reminds of some of the better 80's solos. I love that song.

Then there was nothing that caught my ear until Imogen Heap released Ellipse in August. We sure had a long time to wait for this album, but it was worth it. It has the dark kind of stuff you'd expect from her like "Canvas," more upbeat stuff like "First Train Home" and sonic assaults like "Tidal" and "Aha!" (the latter of which sounds like she got knocked up by Danny Elfman or something). I hate "Half Life" because of its pathetic codependent theme, but other than that, this was the fall album.

Venus Hum marked the beginning of the moving era with Mechanics & Mathematics, and it's probably their best album so far (though the Songs For Superheroes EP was a lot of concentrated goodness). The title track is some outstanding ass-shaking goodness, as is "Get Out Of The Way!"

Beyond that, there weren't a lot of stand-outs, but these records absolutely were killer. Just as the year ended, I got new stuff from 30 Seconds to Mars, which I'm getting more into, and the new Weezer album is just completely outstanding. Still, I hope there's more to hear this year, because all these changes need a soundtrack.


posted by Jeff | Friday, January 22, 2010, 3:51 PM | comments: 0

It's a cheap shot, but I can sympathize with the feeling now that I'm not there...

see more Political Pictures

We're not doing much for us

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 22, 2010, 12:00 AM | comments: 0

We were talking this evening about how strange it is that we don't really go out to eat much anymore. That's pretty strange, since at least now we have the cash flow to support such a habit. There are several factors at play here.

The first is that we just haven't found any places yet that we love going to. If I could describe the problem, it would be that restaurants here try to be too complex, whereas in the Midwest places try to be simple and comfortable. The Winking Lizard continues to be one of my favorite restaurants of all time, because I was always comfortable going back, left satisfied and never paid much for pretty solid food. I miss that.

Don't get me wrong, we've had some really good meals out here, but we want the whole package, including atmosphere, comfort food, lots of beers and inexpensive food. It seems like such an obvious concept that would work anywhere, yet it's so hard to find. (I think there's also a perception out here that anything inexpensive can't be good, but that's another blog post.)

The other problem is that I'm still not in a groove where I'm actively ready to go out after work or on weekends. I've really enjoyed just relaxing. Diana is the polar opposite, desperately wanting to get out of the house to fight the stir crazy. But she's also got the issue where she digestively suffers late in the day, so that doesn't help.

It's not just dining out though, as we really don't do much for ourselves overall. We don't really treat ourselves to anything (though Diana is clearly not in the right condition for buying clothes, for example). I find myself pounding away at the debt we racked up in the last year. I think that's why I wanted Diana to have the new laptop for her birthday, because she deserves something nice of her own, especially since it's her portal to the world right now. A minor delay in paying that stuff back wasn't going to hurt anything.

It's certainly not that "stuff" makes you happy, but as it is we're going to be very outwardly focused in a few weeks. I feel like we've accomplished so much in the last year, and haven't really rewarded ourselves for it. It really is OK to reward yourself.

So I'm not sure what that means exactly, but we're going to do something to correct it. Maybe it means buying new picture frames to fill with new pictures around the apartment, or maybe I buy myself that Lego carousel (you know, to build with the boy, six years from now). Maybe we buy a new coffee table or kitchen appliance. Shit, I should probably start with a haircut, since it has been around four months. I've even thought about trying to put holes in my body again too.

At the very least, we're going out for dinner soon. We've worked our way through local Italian places (all average at best), so perhaps we'll try Japanese next.

The studio, that's where the magic happens!

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 21, 2010, 8:09 PM | comments: 1

I've known for a long time that Microsoft had an on-site television studio, so I found a contact via their intranet site and asked if I could check it out. I actually applied to work there once, many years ago, though as I recall, I was probably completely not qualified for the job.

In any case, they've got some nice space to work with. The studio ceilings are too high (or at least, the grid is), and all of their multi-camera stuff is still standard def., but they are digital end to end. I guess I shouldn't be entirely surprised, because they probably don't do a ton of switched camera stuff. What they had in play while I was there was all single-camera shooting (in HD).

Their audio finishing suites are pretty incredible, and they double as a source for live audio as well. Lots of nice edit suites, every one of the with comfortable furniture, mixing Avid and Final Cut Pro. They've got a ton of storage too (more on that in a minute). Their acquisition equipment sounds like a mixed back of gear, and they'll also rent stuff when it makes sense, including Red cameras.

Something I hadn't thought of was that they have a capture studio, for getting Xbox video and screen captures for desktop software. Duh, that makes sense seeing as how it is a software company!

Their master control is fully capable and they've got various options to send video anywhere in the world. They can act as the head end origination for streaming stuff too. The adjacent tape room is completely amazing. They have tape machines for most every format, and of course all of the routing is digital. What really struck me as the big change from the good old fashioned tape room is that it's just as much a server room. Granted, a ton of that is a storage network, but it's neat to see the eventual disappearance of tape.

It's with mixed emotions that I see something like that, because I miss the practice of production, but I don't miss the pay or having to cover boring stuff. I really enjoy location shooting, and post production is a lot of fun as well. Fortunately I've got the gear to continue to do fun stuff at my leisure.

Cosmo, 13

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 9:08 PM | comments: 0

While most of the time, you aren't entirely sure about when a cat is born, Diana likes to designate a day. So I kind of guessed an approximate range, and we designated 1/20 as Cosmo's "meowday," as she puts it. She's about 13 now.

Cosmo was almost an accident. Stephanie and I had moved into an apartment, and decided that we wanted a cat. It was pretty early in the spring, I think March, when Steph's mom called and said that one of the charity groups had cats to adopt at a Wal-Mart. When we got there, there were two fuzzy cats, one that was I think an ugly mix of colors, and Cosmo. Knowing that I was allergic to some cats, but not all, I picked her tiny ass up, pushed my nose into her, and waited to see what happened. I was good, so we paid the couple of bucks, put her in a carrier box, and took her home.

And she began talking from that moment on. Though we didn't know she was a girl, as the charity people said she was a boy. You couldn't tell under all of that fur. Even the vet didn't realize it the first visit.

Unfortunately I don't have a lot of kitten pictures of her, if any at all. Back in those days, film was expensive and we were poor. She always had a ton of nutty personality, and in her first few years loved to do all kinds of crazy acrobatic shit.

She was very much a momma's girl in her younger years, which makes sense because with Steph in school and also doing some retail gigs, she was around more. When we got Luna a few years later, she seemed to gravitate toward me a bit more, probably because Luna needed so much care and special attention when she was sick.

Cosmo has not really ever liked most humans other than me and Stephanie, and later Diana once she got used to her. She famously gave Cousin Dave shit the week he watched her while Steph and I were in Hawaii, and to this day she seems to remember that. But she also isn't really scared of people. She'll check you out, but she still doesn't like most people.

Other animals have also been on her shit list. She seemed to tolerate Luna, but was extra tolerant when Luna was sick, especially in her last year when things went down hill. In fact, for days after Luna was put down, Cosmo seemed to be looking for her, walking around the house for hours. Cosmo really seemed to look out for me around that time.

And that was the thing that made her the best cat ever in some of those interim years between the relationships and the most difficult times. Cosmo knows when I'm not well physically or emotionally, and seems to pay extra attention to me.

She never really cared for her puppy namesake, even though the dog wanted to cuddle with her in the worst way. She never ran away with her, she just kind of ignored her. She definitely doesn't care for the Mattoni cats, and tends to avoid them. Emma mostly tries to ignore her, but the boys at times want to fuck with her.

But regardless, she's been a great companion now for 13 years. She's still pretty active and looks pretty good, but I also appreciate that she won't be with me forever. I think that's why I like being around her so much, because she's definitely the best pet I've ever had, and I want to make sure I've got quality time with her. Her gurgley-sounding purrs and talking are awesome.

Happy meowday, Cosmo!

The politically incompetent, and a look at year one

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 7:52 PM | comments: 0

I'm kind of annoyed the way a lot of people have strong political opinions that aren't based on anything. I'm not sure I understand how people get this wrapped up in ideologies that they can't explain. I'm not saying that it's a universal phenomenon, as I have friends who are outright dogmatic about what they believe, but at least they can explain why.

Today there were forums, comments on news stories, Facebook statii, etc., all proclaiming shock and awe over the Massachusetts election. Granted, this was the story in pretty much all of the media too (you know, the "liberal media" that allegedly hates Republicans). I'm not sure I understand how the outcome of one election, for which the Democrats had a pretty weak candidate, by the way, says anything. A change by 1% of the Senate's composition in this case is certainly important, but implying that it means anything other than the Republican candidate was the better fit is a real stretch. It reminds me a lot of this skit on SNL.

Predictably, the Obama haters have all piped up as well. The funny thing is, challenging people to explain why they dislike him gets you nowhere in most cases. I've yet to see any real answer from anyone I've asked to explain themselves, only implied inuendo and the use of inflamatory words like "socialism." To me that's one step away from the teabagging, er, tea partying freakshows who equate this president with Hitler. Because, you know, what he's done is just like slaughtering millions of Jews, right? Do you really want to associate with morons like this? (Seriously, watch that... it's more scary than all of the elected officials combined from my lifetime.)

With today being the end of the first year of Obama's term, I figured it would be a good time to look back at what he's actually done. In reviewing, I'm not as enthusiastic as I used to be, but part of that comes from the rampant divisive nature of politicians and those who think they know them.

He had some solid scores early on, pushing the stimulus hard. Congress already had that in motion when he started, obviously, but he pushed for TARP beyond that. You won't find many economists who think that was a bad idea, and frankly I trust those opinions over any from Washington. That banks still aren't lending enough is a problem, but that they're still around is a plus.

His foreign policy has been a dramatic shift from the status quo. He has expressly forbid any kind of tor ture, promised withdrawal from Iraq, committed a focused and time-limited effort in Afghanistan, slapped the hand of Isreael for advancing settlements, and perhaps most importantly, showed some humility and respect toward the billion practicing Msulims in the world. As an American with loosely Christian beliefs, I don't think we're out to crush Islam, but it's pretty obvious to me why anyone outside of here would think that was our agenda. Iraq characterized us as crusading imperialists, even if the real motivation was just some wacked out idea in Dubya's head, fueled by post-9/11 desire to kick someone's ass.

Obama's environmental record has been pretty solid. I'm glad he's had the balls to say that the recenty treaties and agreements are completely inadqueate. He's also removed the rules overriding California's, so they can as a state choose their own stronger fuel economy standards. I love that he's also got the nuts to call out the US private sector to be too slow to innovate in the "green" technology that represents entirely new sectors of business. We're in danger of being followers, not leaders.

Letting the Bush tax cuts expire was also a win. That's easy to say since I know so few people who were benefiting from that anyway. Some may have a philisophical issue with that, but the thing about tax cuts is that they're always made in a vacuum without matching cuts in spending, regardless of who is in the White House or who is running Congress. In that respect, with ballooning debt, a tax cut to me is no different than new spending.

The health care thing has been a mess, but I only half blame him for that. For every Democratic president who has tried to pursue health care reform, he's the first that provided some guidelines he wanted to see, but left it to Congress to work it out. I'm torn about that, because I realize that you have to make compromises to get anything done, but I think it went too far. The current bills don't fix any of the core problems. On one hand, I'm all for subsidizing premiums for the poor and banning the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, but almost everything else is junk that doesn't get to the root of the problem over why health care is so expensive. I've come to appreciate that a ton since moving, as everything here is so inefficient compared to the Cleveland Clinic. So much overhead in paper movement. Don't get me wrong, Microsoft's insurance means no co-pays or deductibles, so we now pay zero for this baby stuff, but the inefficiencies of the system are ridiculous.

I'm also not fond of Obama's half-assed treatment over Guantanamo Bay or his administration's defense of warrantless wiretapping. Two giant steps backward there. I also don't agree with the auto bailouts, because the big three's failure to compete was based squarely in their inability to innovate or build what consumers wanted.

I think overall I'd rate him at a B-, or maybe C+. He got off to a strong start, but the health care stuff seemed to take precedence over everything else. If it dies in the next few months, perhaps he can recover to his previous velocity.

I still take issue with people who pontificate half-truths and nonsense about the guy. The Hitler comparison is pretty fringe, and I realize that, but there are a lot of blatantly stupid comments that otherwise rational people like to make. For example, I fail to see how Obama is "ruining the country," and if you ask someone why, they have no answer. The notion that he's a socialist is almost as stupid, in part because socialism is something we all participate in and benefit from, and also because people equate socialism with communism or some kind of anti-capitalist movement. (Hint: Some components of our economy might function better in a socialist framework while others are obviously left to the free markets. Just ask the Canadians when it comes to health care.)

I also take issue with people who don't even understand how our fucking government works. Don't they teach you about the three branches of government in first grade? I'm saddened that some people don't even understand what a president can and can't do.

A year ago there were a lot of conversations about whether or not Obama could be a transformative leader, and obviously it's way too early to make a call on that. I think the potential is there, but he's become a little too absent for much of that past four or five months. During his campaign and the first part of his first year, he was popular for talking as directly to the people as possible without talking down to some lowest common denominator. That's what I liked about him. He wasn't afraid to go beyond sound bites. These days, we're just not hearing from him.

That the economy isn't in free fall anymore will certainly help him in terms of popularity. It has a long way to go, but it seems we can expect things have already bottomed out. The markets have been on a steady rise since March. If we can just turn that unemployment corner, that'd be awesome.

Year two should tell us a great deal about this president.

Working the 'Zoom

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 19, 2010, 11:39 PM | comments: 0

I've been spending some quality time getting MouseZoom into some kind of usable state. By usable, I mean Walt can download the source, build it and begin styling it. While I've been doing a ton of work, it just isn't quite there because I'm working on a library that the project references that isn't in the same source repository. I'm getting closer, but it's not quite there.

It's been a love-hate kind of project, because of the forums. I mean, the forums are actually fine in that they're a known quantity, they work and there's no surprise around that. On the other hand, I'm trying to shoehorn them into what's otherwise an ASP.NET MVC project. Putting Webforms crap in MVC suX0rz. That means I'm getting the benefit of MVC in terms of less code, clean markup, easy AJAXy goodness, etc., but I've had to sacrifice testability and sanity, particularly as it relates to the master page. Turns out you can't do MVC-ish stuff when the same master is being used by a Webforms page. You can do the reverse (that's the situation at work), but not the other way.

So while that did slow me down, otherwise I'm pretty excited about how quickly stuff is coming along. Part of that is because the world has changed enough to make it so easy. I mean, we've got drag-and-drop photo ordering, something I'd never spend a ton of time on since it's just for us maintaining the site, because it takes so little work to use jQuery.

The other thing that helps is that so much of this is reused stuff. I'm basically working off of libraries that have been around for a long time. The bad side of that is they're tightly coupled and not that well written, with code dating back at least six years, but otherwise it's "free" and I don't have to mess with it. I just hate that I can't use the skills I have now to make it super testable and bullet proof without huge rewrites. But that's a positive, too, that I've resisted the temptation to rewrite something for the millionth time.

Some day I'll have the time and desire to rewrite the forum app. I actually started a little project just to practice doing things "right" before I interviewed, since I didn't feel like I had enough experience in the test-driven world. All things considered, that effort went surprisingly well, and very fast. It's already about 500 lines of code, about half of that test code.

Using my creative outlet (and why It Might Get Loud)

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 19, 2010, 8:19 PM | comments: 0

I recently bought It Might Get Loud, a documentary by the dude who did An Inconvenient Truth. It's technically about the electric guitar, but it's also a mini-bio about Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (White Stripes and Raconteurs). The film explores how they became some of the greatest guitar players ever, and what their creative approaches are.

It's interesting to see how different they are. Page was about exploring dynamic range and a more aggressive sound, The Edge was all about getting the sound in his head out by way of gadgets, and White was all about embracing limitations to do more with less. What these three creative approaches share is that they all force them to push the limits of what they're capable of, and the end result is something special.

This got me to thinking about how I endeavor in creative outlets, and it brought me to two conclusions. The first is that I try a lot of creative things, but I'm not sure if I've really developed any of them to the extent that I can say I'm exceptional. That really bothers me. I feel as though I've spent a lot of time being average and I don't like it at all.

I think some people would say that as a code monkey I engage in creativity every day, and all things considered, I'm pretty good at that. Perhaps. But I don't really think of it as being all that creative because the problems you're trying to solve have probably been solved before, and I find you end up using a toolbox of well established patterns and practices. I guess I just look at it as more of a scientific occupation, maybe just slightly creative.

The second thing I concluded is that I believe my inability to fully engage in a creative endeavor in a hardcore manner is probably out of fear of failure. That's a pretty scary thing too, because I'm used to and accept failure in terms of my career and professional life. But something holds me back from writing another screenplay, designing another Web site, learning to play an instrument, pushing photography to something I've never done, etc.

I've obviously gotta get around the fear and do my best to let out what's inside of me. As a child I was ridiculously creative, and less inhibited. As I've said to many people, some of the greatest joy I've found in life is in the sheer act of creation. I need to remember that so I don't wake up one day with regrets about what I haven't done.

Weather categorization

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 19, 2010, 9:54 AM | comments: 0

I've decided that the weather here in Seattle is completely uninteresting. The Midwest has a very interesting and robust weather scene by comparison, with specific cause and effect relationships and concrete events that cause a great deal of variety and distinction. For example, there are thunderstorms that form in squall lines, generally moving west to east. These systems produce thunder, lightning and rotation. The lakes when unfrozen pick up moisture and dump it on land as snow in the winter. Distinct cold and warm fronts push the temperature around and create these windy times spans. It's just interesting, and the weather guys on TV have something to talk about in terms of how it all goes down.

Out here, the most interesting thing they can talk about is where the jet stream is coming in to make it a little warmer or a little colder. The temperature rarely has any serious variation. There's generally some potential for rain every day in the winter, and less so in the summer. It's hilarious that one of the local TV stations has a weather promo, and the best they can do in terms of weather B-roll is a shot where a wave splashes up against one of the bridges over Lake Washington. It's pretty hilarious.

I categorize weather like this:

  • No mountains: It's cloudy and rainy, so you won't likely see any mountains.
  • Some mountains: It may rain, but it's clear enough to see most mountains.
  • Rainier: (It's funny that it's spelled "rainy-er") It's clear enough that you can see Mt. Rainier and it won't likely rain.

I suspect I'll really miss the thunderstorms in the summer.

Sandy Balls

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 18, 2010, 6:04 PM | comments: 0


posted by Jeff | Monday, January 18, 2010, 9:13 AM | comments: 0

That these assholes with snow plows in Cleveland can't call me back to get my driveway cleared is starting to really piss me off.

MLK Google Doodle

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 18, 2010, 8:26 AM | comments: 0


24 start up

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 17, 2010, 11:12 PM | comments: 0

So begins another season of 24. Clearly they had to work up the excuse to get Jack back in to the thick of things, but if you'd been fucked over by the government as many time as he has, not to mention be left to die in Chinese custody, do you really want to do the right thing just because you're Jack Bauer?

That aside, this season's big historical event is peace in the Middle East, though again they have a made up country around it. CTU has become this thing that's all about technology and not human intelligence, where analysts wear sexy black dresses and everyone wears douchebag headsets around everywhere.

I guess the sci-fi geeks are wetting their pants over the Battlestar Galactica chick being in there, but I'm personally thrilled to see Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein). A little strange to see her blonde, but I'm just glad to see her on anything. I loved her in her movie (she co-wrote Stein) but never really showed up anywhere after that.

Crossing my fingers that Chloe can survive another season, if this isn't the last one anyway!

Lego Carousel

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 17, 2010, 6:49 PM | comments: 1

The mall in downtown Bellevue has a Lego store. It's small, but they've got all of the best stuff in there, including this amazing working carousel. It's one of those exclusive deals that only they sell apparently. It's motorized and the horses even move up and down.

It's so not something I need, but ranks high on the list of things I would enjoy, you know, with the boy. ;)

Current technology stack

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 17, 2010, 4:21 PM | comments: 0

Every once in awhile, I feel like I've changed enough stuff around the technology that I'm using to take a sort of inventory. Mostly I just want to be able to refer back to it the next time I feel compelled to do so.

In terms of hardware, the last year or so has been full of upgrades. Last March I replaced my laptop with a 17" MacBook Pro, because I desperately wanted more screen resolution. It's not the size that's special, it's the resolution. The 15" model I had for three years at that point was also restricted to 2 gigs of RAM, which was less than ideal.

On the desktop, I just replaced my three-year-old Mac Pro after three years. It's not that it was inadequate in any way at all. In fact, it was still pretty ridiculous in terms of its computing power. I replaced it because I wanted a bigger screen at a higher resolution (see the pattern forming here?), and the new 27" iMacs were the ticket. I was able to sell the old computer and buy the new one for about $400 difference. So for that amount, I gained a giant and bright, high resolution LED-lit screen, a computer newer by three years and only "lost" two CPU cores. On top of that, I still have the old 20" Dell monitor, and it sites next to it. I've got nearly 6 million pixels to spread out multiple instance of Visual Studio, Photoshop, browsers, chat, etc. It's also the best video editing setup I've ever had.

In other more peripheral categories, I have an Iomega 1.5 TB USB drive where I'm storing video, the Time Machine drive on the router is still the 1 TB no-name I got from NewEgg, I still use the gross (thank God it's black) Microsoft ergonomic keyboard that has been out for years (same one at work, used by nearly everyone). Since I couldn't wait to spend money in the company store, I also scored an Explorer Mouse to replace the even more disgusting one I had for five years. It glows blue when you wake it up. :)

The Web server at The Planet, tucked away somewhere in Dallas, is the same one I've had now for over six years. It's a P4 2.4 GHz with a pair of 40 gig hard drives and a gig of RAM. I can't believe it's still running. As traffic has picked up, it has shown some cracks here and there, in part because of my own poor coding, and partly because it's just so ancient. I would like to replace it, but I'm waiting for CoasterDynamix to pick up and move to their new site. I've been toying with the idea of going to SoftLayer, but haven't researched them thoroughly. I haven't had any real issues with The Planet, except for one recently, but I guess I just feel like a change.

Software has changed dramatically over the years. Chief among those changes is that I don't use a physical PC at home. I'm using Parallels 5 to host instances of Windows 7. Dedicating 4 gigs of memory to it has been awesome, and Parallels has gotten to the point where it even supports all of the eye candy and what not within Windows. As much as I hated Vista, 7 is such an enormous improvement. They really spent time thinking about little usability things, like snapping windows to the side to do split screens, for example. I started to toy with it going back as far as to before my interview, but once it came installed on the new box at work, I became a fan.

I'm still using Visual Studio 2008 at this point, not 2010. Even though I could get super new builds, I'm not sure I'd want to commit until ReSharper is updated to support it. I'm just too reliant on ReSharper now to go without.

For Web development, I'm mostly building on top of ASP.NET MVC, and will probably upgrade to the new version once it's released. MouseZoom will be MVC, except of course the forum since I'm certainly not going to rewrite that. I use NUnit for unit testing and Moq for mocking (neither of which I'm doing much of on MouseZoom since it's almost entirely composed of existing components). At work we use xUnit and Moq. For data, we've been experimenting with NHibernate, but for my home projects I've been sticking to LINQ to SQL. On the client side, the big story is still jQuery and its various plug-ins.

For Web browsers, I'm pretty sold on Google Chrome now. After using Firefox for years, it just seems to have become a dog, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the history that needs to be cleared out? I dunno, since Chrome is hooked right into Google search, I love that I can start typing something and pretty much get to where I want to go. I still use Firefox for Firebug though, as Google's tool isn't quite as slick. The Mac version still has some quirks (like a bookmark manager that only half-works), but it'll get there.

Adium is my chat client at home. It just works and is updated frequently. At work, when I use something at all, I use the Gmail chat with AIM enabled. Other than checking in with Diana, I don't interact that often with people while at work.

On the video front, I upgraded to the latest version of Final Cut Studio last fall, and I dig it. The latest version of Compressor in particular is impressive, and still super fast even with the dual-core CPU. The ProRes codec is what I've been using to edit with, transcoding the H.264 stuff recorded by my camera. Works exceptionally well in terms of performance and holding on to as many bits as possible.

I've talked plenty about the cameras, so I'll skip that, except to say that I may endeavor to buy a shoulder rig so I can properly shoot video before the baby is born.

When I stop and look at what we have available today, I'm really astounded at how far things have come these days. Cultural implications aside (i.e., real life social behavior), I'm amazed at what an iPhone can do. It's a computer, plain and simple, that can do far more than even a top of the line PC from ten years ago. That's crazy.

Our evolving roles

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 17, 2010, 12:43 AM | comments: 0

We were watching a recent episode of Scrubs tonight, where pregnant Elliot is having a freak out with the notion of never finding "normal" after the baby was born, particularly as it relates to her relationship with J.D. Needless to say, that's a pretty hot topic right now at our household.

I've spent a lot of time lately trying to take in the changes in my life, but I haven't thought about it as much with Diana. I tend to think of her as more worldly because of all the moving she's done, and just assume she's more experienced with life in general. Today I realized that having a baby is new territory for her too, duh. That her hormones are getting the best of her, and that she's so uncomfortable, tends to mess with her. Like today, it appears that her navel is bruised. How weird is that?

But more fundamental to Diana's changes, baby or not, is that for the first time in her adult life she isn't working. I think she's spending a lot of time figuring out what gives her a sense of purpose, and it seems to be making her frantic to complete tasks around the house, for the baby, and for me. It's a huge adjustment.

It probably doesn't help that people just love to give advice that, honestly, isn't as universal as they think it is. Yes, we get it that having kids changes "everything," but I still strongly believe that you make choices. I have friends who sent a kid to college this year that I've known for more than ten years, and they have always maintained balance in their relationship, kids, careers and individual interests. It's in stark contrast to friends I've known that have treated their family like a continuous burden and ongoing crisis.

Like so many other things in life, I believe that starting a family is additive in nature, not something that replaces something else. I think that as Diana and I evolve, we'll strike that balance.

Sweet sleep!

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 16, 2010, 11:15 AM | comments: 0

I slept about eight and a half hours last night, and it was fantastic. I woke up just briefly when the phone rang at 8 (stupid church back in Cleveland and their robo-calls), but fell right back asleep for another two hours. I haven't been sleeping well for a few weeks, just unable to find a general rhythm.

What probably helps is that Diana slept pretty well too. The doctor put her on Prevacid, and it seems to do the trick. Sure, she still pees a lot, but she doesn't have the constant reverse direction acid problem that makes her uncomfortable from about 5 p.m. on. So there's a lot less stirring and distress on her part as well. I dont notice most of it anyway, but I think I sense her discomfort and it troubles me.

House confusion

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 15, 2010, 11:03 PM | comments: 2

OK, so tonight me and D-Mattizle (I really can't think of a good hip-hop name for Diana) were trying to catch up on the stuff collecting on the DVR. I just haven't been watching a lot of TV since even before the move, and it doesn't help that NBC killed Trauma. Thank God 24 starts Sunday!

Anyway, we were watching House, and looked at the episode list, and we don't think we've missed any episodes. However, we're confused by several things. First, we thought that Taub quit, but he's still there. We thought Thirteen quit because of her issues of Foreman (and thank God, because she's easily the best female character on the show). A comment House made in the last show implied that Cameron and Chase were getting divorced, and she was nowhere to be found (we can only hope she realizes being blonde is not a good look for her). So did we miss something?

$1,185 pissed away

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 15, 2010, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

Attention drug addicted loser-fuckers in Cleveland: Thank you for stealing the plumbing out of Diana's house so we can pay to have it replaced. You're probably the same kind of irresponsible piece of shit that defaulted on a mortgage you could never afford and contributed to the overall crash of housing prices in the area, so in some way you probably enabled the chance to be a further piece of shit yourself.

Less gas

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 15, 2010, 5:52 PM | comments: 0

Among the many perks and benefits I've already exercised through Microsoft's discount network, I've also spent the least on gas at any time in my entire professional life. I just got gas for the first time since early December. In fact, I think it's only the second time I've put gas in my car since we moved here. Between taking the bus (savings of around $2 a day) and a one-way commute of 11 miles, I just don't use a lot of gas.

In a zone/routine/comfortable place

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 13, 2010, 11:19 PM | comments: 0

For as out of sorts as I've felt lately, the last couple of days I've felt pretty much chilled out and "normal," probably for the first time since moving (Monday's episode not withstanding).

At work I'm starting to feel like I engage pretty well, and even yesterday's frustration was overcome today by just stepping back and allowing myself to make decisions. We have to file "commitments" with HR, so that exercise has forced me to think a bit about what it is I'm doing there and what real contributions I can make. The neat thing is that everyone on my immediate team has more specific experience with certain aspects of what we do, so when one of us is looking at something for the first time or we have limited experience, someone else can jump in and help out. My niche seems to be UI design and coding stuff, with splashes of LINQ to SQL and Moq.

The one thing I need to figure out is how to take a break now and then so I don't burn out. If you go at it for four hours straight, it wears you out mentally, and I get the tingly numbness in my hands, which is bad. I've got a stack of magazines and baby books here that are unread... perhaps I need to bring them to work. Taking a break to look at Facebook or CoasterBuzz doesn't help the carpal tunnel.

At home, now that we're sort of caught up on DVR stuff, I'm trying to get away from the TV in the evenings after the news. I got this 27" monster screen in part to motivate myself to do fun stuff for my sites, learn a bit, and get that new site rolling (it's starting to come together). The healthy doses of Kool-Aid® at work get me pretty excited about all of the new stuff shipping soon, so using it keeps me sharp. People have suggested to me in the past that doing what I do for my job as my hobby as well is for some reason "wrong," but whatever. Spending all of your free time for The Man means your free time is then work (and maybe that's fine for some people), but writing code to serve roller coaster photos is not the same. It might not be snowy here, but doing outdoor stuff isn't the most possible thing right now. I suspect in the summer there will be hiking, photography and urban exploration.

I'm still a little freaked out about the baby coming soon, and the nice feeling of comfort I get right now in this groove will I'm sure go away. It's not even the baby itself that concerns me as much as all of the people who will be here at various points. In between the feeding and changing and what not, I look forward to sleeping, spending time with Diana and recreation. When he is awake, I look forward to the three of us marveling at what we did. I worry that it's going to feel like the holidays with someone always around you. I'm not saying that I don't want family here, because certainly they're entitled to celebrate the birth too, but I suppose we'll have to set limits and boundries.

I'm actually a little sad that I'll be out of work for a month, but because the leave is a pretty strong benefit, and that first month will be a sleep deprived unknown, obviously I'll take it. I'm still trying to get used to having a job that doesn't suck! It's been awhile.

Also on the radar, late March to early April, I'm going to try and make a coaster media day out east. It's too "big" to pass up. Diana is OK with me being gone 48 hours, but it sure will be weird.

But for now, I'm happy to be in a nice flow. Time sure goes by more quickly when you're working. I wouldn't describe it as slow when I wasn't, because I kept myself pretty occupied, but the weeks just seem to get to Friday in no time. I'll be a MSFT employee for two months as of this weekend. Diana, on the other hand, is finding that time has slowed to a crawl without a job, made more difficult I'm sure by her growing discomfort.

What are we gonna name this kid?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 9:48 PM | comments: 0

With today's notice about potential advanced baking time, it occurs to me that we have no idea what we're going to name this poor kid. We have a short list we've been keeping, but none of the names scream, "That's my kid!" (Diana vetoed Javier, so it was back to the drawing board.)

This troubles me. He's going to be a very real and present human being, and our offspring, in a matter of weeks.

Strange day: I haz it

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 6:52 PM | comments: 0

This was a pretty strange day. First I wake up to a call from 216 from a former VB parent asking if I know what his daughter is up to. You know, my first thought is that she's dead or something before I get back to him. As best I can tell, she's doing what most people do in their early 20's: Figure out what the hell they're doing with their lives (and make mistakes in the process).

Then I get to work, and I'm struggling with this work item I have assigned to me. Basically it requires a pretty wide domain of understanding across the entire thing, and I don't have that. One dude is out, another comes in after me, so I'm scratching my head. I don't like that feeling at all, where I don't feel like I'm meaningfully contributing anything.

A text rolls in from Diana, and the doctor says that Baby Puzzoni is awfully big for his alleged due date. Perhaps he'll be done baking sooner than seven weeks from now. Diana purchases a crib shortly thereafter. This whole becoming a dad thing is getting very real, really fast.

My Realtor calls within minutes and says I need to get someone to clear my driveway because people who want to see the house can't get in to it. Super. I was just starting to forget how I have a house that I don't live in.

But you know, as much as shit may come in waves, the afternoon was relatively chill. I even made some headway in understanding the app at work (though I still hate this slow velocity thing).

People on poopy

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 1:41 PM | comments: 0

With my last post, something happened that I never expected. I had a bunch of comments on FB from people who experienced similar things, as well as some private messages about it. I can't even describe the validation I feel around that.

Feeling better, talking out the condition

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 11, 2010, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

Now that we're approaching bed time, I'm happy to report that I'm feeling much better. I don't talk much about IBS, because people think it's gross and it's not like you bring it up in social situations. (Thank God for blogs, right? ;)) But I still think that it's something that should be talked about. It doesn't get press because there's no real magic pill that fixes it.

I've always had crappy <rimshot /> digestive health, but I started to get this constipation-diarea cycle that would last a day or two at a time starting in my late 20's. Because of my long-standing aversion to doctors, I never really found out what the deal was. Back in '05 or '06 I finally had a general diagnostic and the doctor said it was likely IBS-A, the "A" standing for alternating. Being a "syndrome" means it's hard to nail down exactly what the problem is, or how to treat it, but eating less like an asshole seemed like a good starting point. Thus the weight loss, no red meat and at least a little more activity that year.

I can generally nail down what causes it for me: Lots of fried or greasy food without adequate fiber. So yes, those frequent trips to BWW in Cleveland were frequently met with some extreme discomfort unless I countered with wheat pasta, sandwiches on the "double fiber" bread, etc. God knows it'd help if I actually ate more vegetables. Oh, lots of alcohol, especially if it's beer, doesn't help either.

The literature suggests that stress can trigger it, but I've never made that connection. I mean, if moving didn't trigger an episode, I don't think it's stress. I've been pretty symptom free since before the move.

At one point around the turn of the century, I was secretly worried that it might be Chron's or something, knowing someone who around that time had his large intestine removed (and those who follow Draeger know he recently went through the same thing). Aside from associating doctors with bad things when I was young, I think this only reinforced it. Even being married to a health-conscious, going-vegetarian biologist at the time, I refused to hear anything about eating right, because that was admitting a problem. That certainly didn't help that relationship either.

So these days, understanding the problem, I can avoid it when I'm not being a moron. I'm not sure how I slipped up this time.

Passing on your medical issues

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 11, 2010, 5:14 PM | comments: 0

With both of us being home today, I started to think a little about the baby as it related to health. I've already resolved in my head that being active and eating healthy are things that I can teach the kid from learned behavior, and I'm sure as hell not going to leave it to phys-ed class for him to learn about fitness. But what about the other side of health? I'm worried about him getting our issues.

From me, the two big ones are cystic acne and irritable bowel syndrome. I haven't any any cysts now since 2003 I think, so hopefully that's at least not a life-long issue. The IBS is annoying since it's not an outright disease and has many variations as far as causes and symptoms. Today aside, I've not had that many problems with it in the last year. Diana's biggest medical problem is easily the allergies, although there's always a chance that the change in environment may help that. Regardless, I can't help but wonder what problems the kid may have from our genetic baggage.

Can you tell the anxiety over being a parent is growing? A guy at work recently told me, "Don't worry, with the sleep depravation those first few months, you'll be too tired to worry about anything other than sleeping, getting to work on time and making time for your wife." Or as another friend posted on FB to me, "Try raising twins." Hooray for the perspective, I think.

Suboptimal day at the Puzzoni compound

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 11, 2010, 11:02 AM | comments: 0

I'm digestively a mess and have the worst headache ever. I'm trying to sleep it off. Diana has a sore throat and is coughing to the point of abdominal pain. It's really not fun being us right now. I hate skipping work for the purpose of wallowing in my own discomfort.

The Diana Forty Glass Pike Experience Science Fiction Music Place Project Museum Market

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 10, 2010, 8:06 PM | comments: 5

Finally wrapping up a busy weekend of birthday festivities for Diana's 40th. I couldn't wait to give her the new MacBook (see previous post), so that got it started on Friday night. I was thinking she could get everything the way that she wanted, but of course all that really has to be done is get stuff transferred from the old computer, so she's already been using it at full speed, and on the same first charge!

But of course we couldn't have her sitting around all weekend looking at Facebook! I felt a lot of pressure to do something "cool" this weekend, but being new in town and not having anything involving adult beverages as an option, I was worried about failing (thus the big deal gift). So we decided together to finally do some downtown touristy stuff during the day, knowing her upper GI may not approve later.

We had a pool of objectives in mind, namely attractions in the city center area and the Pike Place Market, in no particular order and with no requirements beyond that. We parked in a garage at the Science Center, and started with the Science Fiction Museum and Experience Music Project. (Bonus: Only $5 each for both museums with the MS Prime card!) These are places established by Paul Allen, one of the Microsoft co-founders, and financially haven't done all that well (kinda like TechTV). While we didn't have any explicit plan in mind, I very much thought the Sci-Fi Museum would be a good place to start since Diana has always been a Star Trek fan, and they've got quite a bit from there.

Sure enough, just inside the front door is Captain Kirk's chair from the set of the Star Trek TV show. They've got a fairly robust collection of stuff there, including lots of Trek pieces, the robot from Lost In Space, Star Wars stuff, lots of books and posters from all of science fiction, and a couple of really cool video displays. I found it interesting that many of the artifacts were actually owned by Paul Allen.

While she enjoyed the content, I think the highlight for Diana was a couple of Trekkies nearly creaming themselves over Star Trek phasers and tri-corders. It was pretty hilarious, and strange since that show was on long before they were even a twinkle in their parents' eyes. The TV show might have been cheesy, but it obviously resonated with people at a pretty basic level.

The EMP was just OK. Having the Rock + Roll Hall of Fame back in Cleveland, there's a pretty high bar. Honestly the building itself was the biggest attraction for me (a Frank Gehry). They have a big Hendrix exhibit, and an impressive guitar collection in the context of showing an evolution in the instrument. The thing that I found most interesting was the section about Seattle's music scene from the 90's, mainly the grunge thing. That was interesting to me because I was doing college radio at the time. They also have a bunch of interactive exhibits around different music skills, but they're inadequate even for the small crowds. The museum has potential though, and it's really well kept. The big drug trippy room with the lights is pretty cool.

After the museums, we saw what was left of the little mini-amusement park that was being dismantled. They had a coaster there that was recently dismantled. That area seems to be going through a real transition. Starting with the World's Fair that put up the Space Needle, there was some obvious vitality there, but it doesn't have the kind of polish it used to. That Key Arena is now going unused for basketball probably won't help it. I hope it turns around.

We hopped on the monorail south. The signs boast that it's the first public monorail "system" in the country, but honestly it's just two trains on their own rails with a stop at each end. The other end stops in a downtown "mall" and food court, where I was surprised to see a Lush store (organic bath goodies). From there we walked down to the Pike Place Market. It's a huge tourist thing, and you've seen the dudes tossing fish around on TV I'm sure. The market itself isn't that interesting to me, but the day wasn't about me. :) If you lived downtown, I can only imagine how awesome it would be to have access to that much fresh food. There's obvious a lot of concentration on seafood, which makes the market a lot different than, say, the West Side Market in Cleveland, which is more about produce and meat.

The flavor though, for me, is the people. Evangelists are shouting in the street warning we're going to hell, while a young woman sporting her punk rock look is trying to sound sweet and angry at the same time. In fact, it's the street musicians that fascinate me more than anything. I wish I would've had my good microphone.

By the time we got back to the Space Needle, Diana's guts began to protest, so we packed it in. She found a good position on the couch and managed to head off the worst of the discomfort and nausea, and got a good night of sleep for a change. Looks like her key in these last two months is to take it really easy in the evenings.

Joe and Kristen wanted to take us out, so we blocked out Sunday for that. Thank God we have someone local to show us around. They took us down to Tacoma where we had lunch at a place called Harmon Brewery. It was delicious! I didn't have any beer, which is lame I know, but I just wasn't feeling it. They had this awesome hot sauce though that was great on the chicken, and these parmesan garlic fries. It's hard to find places that don't serve greasy fries. So we finally know of a place that we really like, but it's in Tacoma!

From there, we crossed the freeway to the Museum of Glass. You know the cool ceiling in the Bellagio lobby? That dude did a ceiling in the bridge over the freeway, with some big blue glass things that look like giant sugar stick things. The two big collections they have right now are from an Alaskan guy doing what he described as modern native art, and a bunch of pieces modeled after child drawings.

The real action is in their hot shop, where there are people actively making new stuff. It's kind of like kitchen stadium for glass manipulation. Today they were making these big martini style glasses that they're selling in an auction at some point. Diana was really into it, and I'm so glad. We never did get into the glass blowing place at Cedar Point this year, which is amateur hour by comparison, but I'm so glad that she got to see this. I'm sure we'll go back at some point. Thank God we have local relatives to show us a good time, as I would've never known this place existed.

I wish that we could've flown out friends and stuff, because we're both feeling a little disconnected, but we're adjusting to our new home. Diana is lucky to have a brother near by only a couple of years ahead of us in terms of raising children. They're kind of like our cheat sheet to parenting tiny humans, as well as our tour guides to the Puget Sound region.

Sleeping, finally

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 9, 2010, 11:16 PM | comments: 0

Diana is next to me on the couch sleeping peacefully, for what seems like the first time in a very long time. The evenings lately have become a pretty crappy part of the day for her, as well as most of the nights. She's not in bed more than she's in.

I've read that about half of pregnant women get this awful acid reflux. The cause is the sphincter at the top of the stomach not getting proper closure, which in this case comes from hormones being out of whack and the obvious pressure from the baby growing. It gets worse for her, because she can't burp right. Like, the belching sound most of us can do, she can't. Instead it just sounds like a gurgle of something coming up. Now make that nearly constant, and you can pretty much imagine how miserable that makes her.

It generally starts late afternoon or early evening, which makes sense since your stomach is presumably most active at that time. The L-shaped couch we have has actually been pretty useful in giving her options to figure out how to position herself in a way that minimizes the acid and keeps non-burping at a minimum. How anyone can stay still for very long while pregnant is beyond me, but she's doing it right now.

I feel bad, because I think some of it comes from the walking around. We theorized that this is the reason that pushed her to throwing up while at Disney World. Today we decided to do touristy stuff around downtown Seattle, and while we kept a pretty slow pace, by 4:30 she started to get uncomfortable again.

As terrified as I am to have this baby among us, I look forward to his birth because it makes me sad to see her miserable every other night, especially today, on her 40th birthday. We're going out tomorrow again with my sib-in-laws, but that'll be a shorter day with more sitting. Eight weeks to go!

Old Mac's battery unhealthy

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 9, 2010, 12:35 AM | comments: 0

I'm not sure what we'll do with the four-year-old MacBook Pro that will sit idle now with Diana's new 13" gem, but wow is the battery not in good shape. At 190 charge cycles the health is 42%, which isn't good at all. And that's surprising, because the battery I replaced was at around 75% health after 250 cycles. I theorize that it hasn't been "exercised" enough, where you let it drain to nothing now and then. The theory goes that the self calibrating "brain" of the battery then understands what its limits are. I try to be religious about doing that, but I don't know what Diana's charging habits are.

This does seem like a somewhat solved problem though. At ten months with the newer 17" model, battery health is still 100%, with 150 charge cycles. Again, I tend to religiously drain before charging, and it's supposed to do some kind of charging where it considers each individual cell, not just the aggregate. Apple says that's supposed to extend the life significantly. So far, I believe that's true. Diana's new one has a similar batter, probably with a "street" charge of six to seven hours. I've had no problem pushing mine past eight, with some compromises (dim screen), but even with all out resource intensive stuff, six is no problem.

The evolution of batteries is pretty amazing, though certainly not fast enough. God knows the auto industry sure would like more bang for the buck right now.

Diana and Bumblebee

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 8, 2010, 9:30 PM | comments: 0

For Diana's birthday tomorrow, I really wanted to get her something that felt substantial, she'd use constantly and would bring her a bit of joy. After having my old laptop as her own for about a year (it's almost four years old), and watching its battery get worse and worse, I felt pretty strongly that she shouldn't be stuck with a hand-me-down. She uses it a couple of hours a day, and it's a huge part of her connection to friends back east, and obviously a future tool for documenting Little Puzzoni's future.

So because I'm working, and you only turn 40 once, I decided to get her the 13" MacBook Pro that she's looked at many times in the Apple Store. She was a huge fan of the smaller form factor. The specs probably don't matter to her, but I can say that the machine is no slouch, that's for sure.

This is the fourth time I've used the migration assistant between machines, and I can't tell you how awesome it is that once it's done, it's like she was using the same computer as far as software, docs, photos, etc. It took about 45 minutes in this case, over ethernet. It's even sm art enough to know if you're not using a cross-over cable.

I've named all of the Macs after transformers. My first laptop was Starscream, and the current one is Megatron. I like to name the laptops after Decepticons, desktops after Autobots. The Mac Pro I just sold was Optimus Prime, and the new iMac is Metroplex (seemed appropriate to name something with a screen that big after a battle station/robot). When Diana inherited Starscream, she wanted to call it Bumblebee (her favorite from the movies), but I said it was a rule that you couldn't recycle names, so she went with Rumble.

So here she is with Bumblebee, happily Facebooking, knitting blog reading and checking her bank balance. Wait until you see the face she made in the photos from her unwrapping it!

First time experiences as they relate to relationships

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 8, 2010, 12:09 AM | comments: 0

Carrie posted a link to this awesome article about the reasons that "first times" for various events in life are so intense and memorable. It's really worth the read.

Obviously the article addresses first time experiences in a more broad sense, but I'd add that the thing that also shapes your "normal" for relationships is your exposure to how others operate. The part about repeating the same mistakes over and over in shitty relationships because that's what you know to be "normal" is one thing, but imagine that the precedent was further reinforced by parents or close friends. For all of the friends I've seen do just that, settle for shitty relationships, this gives a lot of context about why. No wonder they can't break the cycle!

It also makes me ask, are people destined to risky or culturally adverse behavior (cheating on spouses, audibly farting in public, base jumping off of buildings, etc.) because they just need something different to stimulate a need for those feelings? I sense that there may be a curve in life, where you start out seeking out those intense new experiences, then you want comfort from familiarity, then you go back to seeking nutty experiences, then back to familiarity. I guess that's not a curve, it's a sine wave.

Beth's urge

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 8, 2010, 12:00 AM | comments: 0

Beth sayeth:

I have the urge to blog about things that are not appropriate. I have the urge to comment on Facebook status’s and photos. I know that it’s not socially acceptable to say the things that I think out loud so I’ll just keep them to myself, but ooh I really want to blog about it. Do it you say, well then I will have many many enemies. Friends will be lost.

This is pretty much the feeling I have every time I fire up that "new post" thing on my blog.

Things I'm tired of seeing on Facebook and Twitter

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 7, 2010, 2:32 PM | comments: 1
  • "Oh, boohoo, there's snow and it's cold!"
    No shit... it's winter.
  • "Life sure is hard, I wish I could get a break."
    Yes, life is hard, the economy sucks, etc. I get that. You can sit around and bitch and moan about it or you can do something to better your life and the world you inhabit. If all you ever do is complain, you don't improve the situation for you or anyone else.
  • "[Insert confrontational evangelism here]"
    God is good, God is great, yeah, I get it. If you want to spread the gospel though, doing so in a confrontational way only pisses people off. Most of the clever anecdotes I see intend to celebrate religion, but all I can see is, "You're a sinner, asshole, so praise Jesus or else!" And you wonder why people are flocking away from organized religion. Who wants to be told that they suck? I sure don't get comfort or serenity from that, so why would you want that?
  • "M$ is the suck"
    Yeah, enjoy that Xbox, and let me know how well all of your games and Photoshop are running on Linux. Microsoft gives away more money than most companies make. Get over it. The company isn't evil because of your dogmatic ideologies.
  • "Banks/CEO's/politicians/rich people/professional athletes/celebrities are turrible."
    Not even sure where to start about that. First off, you probably do things every day that enable the very people you loathe. Second, painting them all with such a broad brush is lazy and ignorant. Third, see second bullet about doing something about it. Since we're culturally finally getting past hating on women and minorities, do we need someone else to dislike and mistrust?

That is all for now.

I feel... not young

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 7, 2010, 2:09 PM | comments: 0

Diana came to lunch yesterday, and for some reason age came up, perhaps because of her 40th birthday Saturday. I came to find out that some of the guys I work with (or in the neighborhood of) are not even 30. One guy is eight years younger than me. That freaked me out a little.

I think the reason is that they're at (roughly) the same place professionally as me. Heck, many of them have kids already too. I kind of see where it comes from when people in their early 20's see this road map that they think they have to achieve, because that's what everyone else is doing.

I have to remind myself now and then that my path has been different, and honestly the difference, the good and the bad parts, I think have a net improvement for my life. Professionally, I've technically only been in this line of work for nine to 11 years (depends on whether coding for fun was really the start), and of that time I spent two years not working, and another year and a half doing consultant work, which has zero forward motion. Although some of that "time off" included book writing, so maybe that doesn't entirely count.

The point is that at least professionally, I'm probably better off than where I would be if I started at age 21. Well, the Web barely existed in any commercial form when I was 21, so yeah, I'm doing something for a living that I could not have conceived of when I was in college.

And even on the personal life side, I can't say that I regret how things have gone. Two kids at 28? I'm having a hard enough time rationalizing one at 36. One might look at dating in your 30's as some horrible experience, but truth be told, I think I learned more about myself and relationships in those three or four years than the rest of my life combined. I'm grateful for that experience because it will make the rest of my time on this planet that much easier to work with.

So it might just be the eternal optimist in me, but looking at things in that context, I'm not "behind" in life, but rather ahead. It thrills me to no end that the process will only continue.

Copper stealing morons

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 6, 2010, 8:07 PM | comments: 1

The plumbing work, several hundred feet of it, stolen by the fuckers who broke into Diana's house, will cost about $1,100 to replace. As it turns out, a vacant home policy doesn't insure vandalism, which is what this is considered to be. Assholes.

The assholery isn't confined to Cleveland though. There was a story on the news about this, where these idiots stole the copper grounding wire on the fences around an electrical substation. And then, today we get a letter in the mail from our cable company explaining that the outages last week were from cut fiber optic cable... cut when thieves thought they were cutting out some copper wires.

Forty festivities coming together

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 5, 2010, 8:45 PM | comments: 1

Diana's 40th birthday is Saturday. I know it's another arbitrary number, but it's weird to think about since I'm 36 and not hitting that milestone first. She's the only woman older than me that I ever really dated (I think), and I ended up marrying her. The conventional wisdom about marrying younger because women mature faster turns out not to be true, it seems.

Anyway, I was stressing about what the hell we were going to do because there are so many limitations. Going out for drinks is obviously not an option given the whole pregnancy thing. I don't really know where to go because we're new in town and my ability to navigate is impaired. People at work are no help because there's this cultural divide about what's good and what's not around town (a blog post unto itself someday). But Diana assured me that it was no big deal, so long as we did some "stuff."

So we're pretty much going to wing it. Evenings are getting hard for her because the baby is not playing nice with her digestive system, something we first started to see even before we went to Disney World. So the loose plan is to go down to the Seattle city center area and do whatever touristy stuff tickles our boat. That means we'll probably go to the Pike Place Market (will we see the Spoonman?), then head over to the area with the museums and what not. I think we'll skip the Space Needle and come back for that in the summer when the weather is better. It's a bit expensive to go up there. The Experience Music Project is there, the Sci-Fi museum, the science center (with Avatar in IMAX 3D), etc. Sunday we're going out again to a top secret location.

For this one weekend I do wish we were in Cleveland, with access to friends and familiar landscape (you damn well better believe we'd go to Melt). Of course, since it's under snow, I'm not sure how successful that would've been. :)

So if you see her virtually, wish her a happy birthday. (And happy half-birthday to Sherry.)

Cheap quiet PC still ends up looking like a Mac Mini

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 5, 2010, 8:10 PM | comments: 3

On my inaugural visit to Fry's Electronics, I saw they had some of the baby barebones PC's there. That got me to thinking, gosh, I should look into building a new HTPC for the DVR. The one I've had for nearly five years still works, sure, but I guess I'm tired of having a jet engine in my living room.

When I spec out components for one of these baby boxes, assuming that they're quiet in the first place, they end up costing about the same as a Mac Mini, which I know without question already is small and quiet. That's a no-win. The Mini is $563 with an MS discount.

The other possibility is to re-use the "stereo system" case for the existing machine, gutting it for new stuff. The trick is to find a power supply that's nearly silent, and a motherboard that would fit and in a perfect world, has passive cooling. I admit that I'm just not up on following computer components anymore, ever since I went Mac. I don't know if such a thing even exists.

It's not critical, but it is something I've been thinking about.

Talking geeky programmer stuff

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 4, 2010, 8:00 PM | comments: 0

We had a discussion at work today about all kinds of super geeky stuff as it related to the work we're doing. Stuff about the right level of abstraction, dependency injection, etc. It was sprinkled with a little insight from the inside about design decisions of some of our frameworks (ours, as in Microsoft's). I gotta tell you, I like swimming in that geekery from time to time. That's the kind of thing I really hoped I'd get out of the job, and so far, I am.

It has been so long since I looked forward to work like I do now.

Homesick, not today

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 4, 2010, 8:30 AM | comments: 0

Seeing the photos and status updates about how much snow there is in Cleveland makes me not miss it today. Although it did mean that the open house for my house attracted exactly zero people this weekend. Price drop timing fail.

2009 Review (the personal stuff)

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 3, 2010, 11:28 AM | comments: 0

As is typical of my yearly posts, I split out the stuff about the business to another post. So here's how life went this year. It took a long time to write all of this stuff down.

I think the first thing that I've really come to grips with this year is just how much I've been through in my life. I'm not sure that I'm saying that's good, bad or otherwise, just that it's staggering to think about. Sometimes when I talk to people or I'm getting to know someone, it seems that they've experienced less in their lives than I have in just the last five years. While it might not be good or bad, it does make me feel as though I can live life with the confidence that I can get through anything. While I'm perfectly aware that learning (mostly by mistakes) never ends, I'm also thrilled that I've learned as much as I have. All of the success and failure is an integral part of me that I'm thankful to have. I hope it serves me well.

Winter job

The start of the year is something that kind of started before the end of the previous December, so there are good memories of a week off around the holidays with Diana's family, and an epic Dave & Buster's outing with Kara. All the while, I was still ramping up in a new job at a small firm that did mostly online marketing, trying to bring order and structure to their non-existent development process. There was a lot about it that appealed to me, because it reminded me of my first "real" job after radio in Medina, where I'd get to create something from nothing. (They thought they had something, but really they didn't.)

Within the first week, I knew something was wrong when no one other than the owners had been there longer than six months. The developers were all kids. Actually, everyone there was green except for one of the PM/AM's, who was a fellow ICOM ex-pat. We had almost daily bitch sessions about how to rope people into a process that would assure some level of success. Meanwhile, the two owners blame each other for whatever, their subordinates accuse one of coming in high and the other of being in over his head. It was not pretty.

But I still allowed myself to become invested in it for some reason, and that was crushing my soul. My first goals were to get them into a modern development environment, which basically just meant instituting all of the things that you take for granted in any professional environment, like source control, build management and continuous integration. I got it all rolling, and did it in less than three months. That was with people kicking and screaming. I also tried to guide them toward more of a product/platform direction, so they weren't constantly chasing the next project, but the owners didn't think of it so it never happened.

The day after I got back from the honeymoon, it was definitely over, so to speak. They let me go because, as they put it, they just couldn't afford me. I wasn't even a little surprised, but I was pissed because of the assurances I had about the company's financial health when I started. The owners were a couple of assholes without vision and or respect for anyone. I was kind of pissed at myself for getting so invested in the place. Months later they posted a job opening for someone to manage all of the shit I set up, because not surprisingly, they couldn't.

Marital bliss

A lot of that job anger came just after we got back, but the wedding and honeymoon definitely set the tone for a new era. From the point of our engagement nearly a year before, we were hell bent on doing exactly what we wanted for our wedding. I had no idea how we were going to pay for it, but we're very fortunate that Diana's dad was happy as a clam to pay for whatever his little girl wanted.

So we had the ultimate beach wedding. It went nearly perfectly, aside from travel snafus on the part of the Toledo contingent and one of my friends who couldn't come at the last minute. The sun even came out just as we began the ceremony. Tyler taking the photos (a thousand of them) was perfect. The party on the boat was a blast. This particular day combined some of my best friends with a new family and the beautiful warmth of the Florida sun. And early that evening, we were able to change our Facebook relationship status to "married." That's how you know it's for real. :)

The honeymoon in Hawaii was beautiful. Arriving in Hilo the first night was completely frustrating, as we ended up in a Pizza Hut sucking down the buffet and trying to find the B&B in the rain, but when we woke up... holy crap. The place was really cool, even though we were the only couple in it, and the outside was even more stunning. It was wet, but it was the kind of lush vegetation that you probably can't find in many civilized places. That first day at Volcanoes National Park was way too brief, and next time we get to the islands, we definitely need to spend more time there.

The time on Kauai was super relaxed. We didn't do a lot of active stuff, but that's OK. Unfortunately, there was some bizarre weather system that sat over the islands most of the week, and I suffered from a mild fever/cold thing for a couple of days. I was also thinking about what I somehow knew was coming in terms of the job. We finished strong doing touristy stuff at Pearl Harbor, but things definitely didn't go as well as we hoped in retrospect. But hey, now we live closer. :) The important thing was that we got to be newlyweds in paradise.

Now what, write a book?

I immediately wanted to dive into something after the honeymoon and forced entry into "self-employment." My first instinct was, write a book, self-publish. That was ultimately what advanced my career last time, so why not do that again? I wrote a couple of chapters quickly, and the burn-out set in really quickly. I had it in my mind that I'd publish quickly, but I talked myself out of it for several reasons. The first was that the market would quickly saturate with titles in the area I was writing. It also seemed too high risk for reward potential. Given my realization about how I had to resurrect my existing business (see the post on the year in business), I decided instead to dedicate time to that.

Learn new stuff, apply it

I was really drinking the Kool-Aid® around some of the new stuff coming out, especially after going to Mix in Vegas back in March. I was fascinated with ASP.NET MVC (thus the desire to write a book about it). I pieced together the app to run my blog in a couple of days. Silverlight was also getting my attention, particularly with v3 and the out-of-browser applications. That you could click a button and make an app run on your box was entirely too awesome. I mean, it technically made me a Mac programmer. :) So that led to both a file uploading thing for a photo forum, and the feed app that ran without a browser. I also started a bunch of science projects that I started.

This was probably a pretty critical point in my career, because a part of me was wondering if I even liked to write code. With all of the change that was occurring, I was questioning everything, including my career choices. Good thing I stayed with it!

The long summer vacation

While the year before I was able to more or less pick and choose what I was going to do, the options were pretty much non-existent this year. Cleveland was bottoming out. Recruiters and staffing firms were almost entirely worthless, and even they were cutting their people internally. I had two "near misses" early in the summer. One was for a law firm, where the vacation time didn't exist, hours were strict and they required you to wear a tie. Yeah, that's obviously not me. The other job was for a furniture company that just hired an ambitious CIO who was going to rebuild their e-commerce app and its integration to their warehouse. We got close to an offer when his HR department scolded him for doing their job, and the position was cut.

As optimistic as I tried to be, anxiety started to set in by September. The business was only barely covering the mortgage, and I was starting to rack up debt again, on top of the honeymoon debt. Again, there was no major crisis immediately apparent, but the job thing was looking so dark. Again, I was not capable of a real plan to execute on to be truly self-sustaining. In the end, it was five and a half months from layoff to job offer, and seven months almost to the day that I started in Redmond.

But there sure were roller coasters and friends a plenty!

I really got my geek on again this year, and used some of my contacts for a change. Early in the season, me and Diana did a coaster trip to Eastern PA. We started by meeting up with Carrie at Hershey on a Friday evening, then a half-day after that. She got us a hook up with cheaper tickets. Going to parks with someone who considers it their "home" park definitely has some advantages. You seem less inclined to be running from ride to ride, especially since there's no pressure for them.

Later that night we got to Allentown, where I worked out a room trade for advertising, and of course the park was free from our CF passes. After some dinner, we got a second wind and spent an hour or two in the park before a storm rolled in, making for one of the coolest skies ever as we climbed the hill of Talon.

We wrapped up the next day with a little time at Dorney, and spontaneously decided to snag a few rides at Knoebel's. So glad we went, but wish we would've had more time. I never had any aversion to the place, it was just never on the way!

I made a solo trip out to Kennywood (free tickets) and met up with Tyler, who was in town for a conference. Then he and Carrie both attended Fall Affair, plus I got to see the Jandes family for the first time in almost three years. We saw Tyler and Beth again for a spontaneous closing weekend night at CP's Breakers. While hitting all of these parks was certainly a big deal, it was a bigger deal to see our remote friends as much as we did. That really made the summer awesome for me.

It's worth noting that we also hit Disney World for a week at the beginning of December. It was a little bit of a struggle with Diana being pregnant (and another freakin' "short flu" for me), but we still had a pretty good time. Disney World near Christmas really is something special.

I want to ride my bicycle

I made a totally amazing discovery when I decided to buy a bike. It wasn't that my ass was incompatible to riding, as it seemed every time I'd get on my old 1989 Bianchi, it was that the bike and its seat just didn't fit me. I bought a lightweight aluminum Trek hybrid, with skinny tires and upright handlebars. I only ended up doing a couple hundred miles, if that, but it really came back to me pretty naturally. With bike lanes everywhere around here, I hope to ride around the nearby lake this summer (22.6 miles).

The important thing is that I found some physical activity that I actually enjoy at least.  That's a real issue for me. Right now I'm happy just to get walking between the transit center and the office on campus.

Cleveland's good stuff

I tried to make it a point to find the good in Cleveland, and did a pretty decent job of it. The pregnancy, along with Diana's vertigo treatment the year before, made me really thankful to have the Cleveland Clinic. I didn't realize it though until we moved to Seattle. Not that there aren't good doctors here, but CCF definitely operates on a different level.

Bike riding made me realize how great the metro park system is, including the zoo. We made trips to the east side for museums and great food in Coventry. We took in a Cavs game. Oh, and the best restaurant in the world is in Lakewood (it's called Melt Bar & Grilled). As much as I was ready to leave, I was thankful for the comfort that the area offered. Really, if the weather sucked less, and there was actual industry there to sustain the population, it would be a pretty solid place to live.

Eagle mania

As I was trying to reach out to friends more (stir crazy from the time at home), I really made it a point to see Dr. Gretchen down at Ashland University more. She was three years behind me, but now she's a professor there in what used to be called radio/TV. I even got down there twice with Diana to look around, find stairwells I madeout in, take in the scope of the changes and kind of reconcile the good and bad times I had there. I'm not sure any part of my life did as much to shape my being as my years there.

The biggest deal though was my return to do a couple of radio shifts on WRDL. Nearly 14 years had passed since I was last on a broadcast station, and I was dying to give it a shot again. It was a blast. I mean, I was so electrified by it that I nearly teared up a bit. It saddens me that radio is dying, and it's even more sad that the college station can't even staff eight hours in a day.

Exposing myself on the Internets

Despite my record number of blog posts, I noticed myself dialing back a bit on the level of personal feeling I shared with the world. I found myself annoyed in several cases where people thought I was talking about them for whatever reason. I was also a little taken aback at what people knew about me at various coaster events. So while I wrote a great many posts about relationships and life, I wasn't as quick to connect dots to myself. I'm not sure how this has effected my writing style, or if I've become less honest with myself.

Facebook was still the big sharing point, because there's a finite group of people who got to see my photos and daily nonsense status updates. I purged a lot of "friends." I reconnected with a great many college friends, and even a high school friend. Learning the stories of people I haven't seen in years fascinates me.

Little Puzzoni

The story that dominated our much of our life in the second half of the year was that we successfully conceived, with the baby due by early March. This has been a wonderful and scary thing. We both wanted a child but the clock has been ticking. Diana delivering at 40 really pushes the limits in many medical opinions, and neither one of us wants to go to his high school graduation in a walker either. So for that reason, we didn't waste much time after getting married. We were extremely fortunate that our plumbing just worked. It took some ovulation tests to figure out exactly when to go at it, but stuff worked.

We were a little disappointed when we found out it was a boy, since we were both really hung up on having a girl. As I've said before, I don't think you can fantasize about having a child in both genders at the same time, and our fantasies were all based around a girl. Once you start filling in the blanks as a boy, you adjust. I mean, I get to play with boy stuff like Transformers and Lego.

Pregnancy seems like a really awful and destructive force for a woman. I can't believe how uncomfortable Diana is most of the time, and it started in the beginning of the second trimester. That the hernia scars don't stretch isn't helping. The digestive drama is probably the worst though, which hit its peak at Disney World. And with such good food, too!

I'm fairly terrified of being a dad. You have a small creature that's vulnerable and fragile for a lot of years, both physically and emotionally. On one hand, I want the kid to live his life and learn and grow, but I don't want to fuck him up either. I've come to the realization that 90% of my negative personality issues are rooted in my childhood. That's a lot of pressure!

The Redmond visit

In August I got a call from a recruiter at Microsoft. I was surprised, but also exceptionally thrilled because there was nothing going on in Cleveland. I was ready to move to Orlando or Portland or anywhere else if I could sell the house, and just wing it. But I had been watching the careers site pretty closely and applied for literally anything that I thought I could do. The call was for a gig working on the apps for their developer community. Gosh, I had only been working with online communities for eleven years!

I had two phone screens. The first went really well, the second went mostly well. Neither was a stump-the-candidate thing, but more of an assessment of skill and learning ability. I've come to learn since that the company culture has evolved to not weed-out candidates because of some arbitrary nonsense, like you can't name all of the members of some class in some framework. They also don't get too hung up on computer science degrees, and I find that the mix is similar to what you'd find at my last "real" job.

After the screens, they invited me out and booked a flight. I had gone down this road the year before for a PM job that I was not a good fit for (and frankly I really didn't like the people either), but given the extensive vetting process before hand, I had a good feeling about this one. I interviewed all day before going out to visit Joe and Nina. It was sunny and warm, and driving out I-90 to Snoqualmie, I kind of knew.

Two days later, I got an offer, and that night I had celebratory beers at Cedar Point with some folks I hadn't seen in years. After more than a year of shit around my career, things finally turned around.

The Great Move of 2009

It was about six weeks from the time I got an offer from Microsoft to the time I started. The last week was the actual travel. In terms of just having stuff that had to move, it was extremely easy. The movers packed up our shit and put it on a truck. Whether I move cross-country or around town, I'm never going to do it myself again. I'll pay whatever it costs (and it sounds like it costs around $12k to move 2,400 miles).

We unloaded a ton of stuff before moving, knowing that we just wouldn't have the space. The pinball machine and the living room furniture was the biggest stuff to go. I think in general we reduced our stuff, either by sale of donation, by 30%. The single hardest thing to see go was the hot tub. I really, really miss it.

Part of the relocation deal included flights, even the movement of two cats, but on careful investigation and advice from my veteranarian ex-girlfriend, we decided that flying the cats was a bad idea. Fortunately, the company would also pay for a rental, food and hotels for a cross-country trip. So that's what we did, for a total of 2,500 miles exactly (a hundred or so were from touristy and food acquisition drives at destinations).

I expected that the drive would be completely miserable, but I never even had road hypnosis, even in the plains. The cats were a challenge, and I hated the loading and unloading every night. In addition to the cats, the most expensive objects I had, like my HD cam, the Canons and the laptops, came with us. There was also a small file box for important papers, and a litter box. It all had to come in, every night.

Other than the lack of decent restaurants the first two days, the evenings were fairly relaxed. Visiting Mount Rushmore was really cool. I had one meltdown on the last day, in Nowhere Washington when a plant I was fond of went flying and cats went flying up over me. At that point I just didn't want to be in the car anymore. Getting to the temp housing and hating it made that day crappy overall.

Apartment seeking was actually kind of fun, and we already narrowed it down significantly by researching online. The place I liked even before seeing it was brand new, never before lived in, and they had fiber to the unit. Unfortunately, it was also a pretty terrible drive to Redmond from there. Ultimately we ended up in a place that was not as nice, but large and really easy to get to work from. Our junk spend under two weeks on the truck.

The true albatros is our houses. Nothing else keeps us up at night more than knowing we own and pay for places we don't live in. That's really the hardest thing about the move. That more than half of my income goes to mortgages and rent is just shitty. That situation can't resolve itself fast enough.


I felt pretty much at home in the job very quickly. The more I'm there the more I feel like working there is t he most natural fit for me ever. It'll take time to really feel out the culture and get an idea of where I'll be headed in the long run, but the important thing is that there's opportunity for learning and getting better at what I do. I was worried I may never find that again.

Regular life has been difficult at times. Particularly with the holidays, I've just felt like I don't belong here. We have no social circle at all. It's worse for Diana, since she doesn't have a job. At least I see people during the day! Combine this with the fact that getting around is often a struggle, and even things like a new driver's license remind you of how you've been completely transplanted. Sometimes the reminders make you smile though, like the beautiful scenery here.

A new start is what we wanted, but the we also want to feel comfortable. Nesting is just what you tend to do at our ages. I've been very impatient in that sense, just wanting to feel settled. I think once the baby is here I'll be too distracted to worry about it.

The year of change

When I meet someone and share my story, the other person is fond of saying how much change I've endured this year. A new job (twice), a layoff, marriage, a cross-country move, trying to sell a house, baby on the way... 2009 was insane. It feels like the end of five really insane years. All of the relationships and jobs pushed me way out of my comfort zone, but I know now that I'm much better off for it all. While much of this time period was less than ideal, I'm thankful for it because it made me feel incredibly alive.

A new chapter of life defined in part by parenthood begins this year. I wonder what I'll have to say a year from now?

Sherlock, retail chaos, restaurant difficulties

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 2, 2010, 9:25 PM | comments: 1

After the shitty news this morning, we needed to get out of the house in the worst way. Went to see Sherlock Holmes, at a much more comfortable theater in Bellevue, and it was really, really well written. It didn't try to be clever, it just tried to be a mystery with some action components and another great performance by Downey Jr. Plus Rachel McAdams got to kick some ass, which was cool to see. Two thumbs up from us.

From there, we intended to stop by Ikea to see if they had a simple coffee table we could pick up. Unfortunately, it was not available in the color we wanted. And we're talking about a $40 table here, nothing that fancy. Good enough to be functional, cheap enough to retire when we have a proper residence at some point.

Before going out there, we stopped at Fry's Electronics. My boss assured me last week that it was like a wet dream for geeks (my words, certainly not his, I'm paraphrasing), and he was pretty much right. If NewEgg had a retail store, it'd be a lot like this. Pricing was cheap too. You know that if they have USB cables for a buck-fifty, Best Buy it ain't. Even HDMI cables were like six bucks. Of course, the one thing I could really use, a Firewire 400 to 800 adapter, could not be found.

So here's the crazy thing about retail around Seattle: It's all a zoo, all of the time. Around 3.3 million people live in the metro (including Tacoma), while Cleveland is around 2.7 million (including Akron), and with a less shitty economy here, people actually get out and spend money and do stuff. The density of people, combined with hard geological boundaries (water, mountains) pretty much force people into an area, so the urban sprawl can only go so far. Every trip to a grocery store or a Target, or a Fry's or Ikea, means massive chaos. I'm starting to understand why one of the guys at work, a life-long local, doesn't like driving and considers anywhere you have to drive to "far away."

Which leads me to the continuing frustration with the inability of people to drive. It comes in two flavors: People never speed up to merge on to the freeway, and no one does anything predictable, so everyone is always extra cautious. For example, at a four-way stop, first person there is first to go, right? It's a known arrangement, and the traffic keeps flowing. Not here. Everyone will look at each other and start waving people through.

Even though my work commute is relatively painless, this is why I will resolve to take the bus as much as possible. The less time I'm driving here, the better.

And that leads me to a symptom of trying to go out for dinner: It always causes irritation and annoyance when we're not close to home. Here in town, we've been systematically trying places. All have been average at best. The weird thing is that the whole metro is really averse to franchises. Understand that I'm not a huge fan myself of most, especially the low end shitty places like Applebees or Olive Garden. But I'm fond of a few, like Macaroni Grill, BWW and Famous Dave's. Those kinds of places are very convenient when you're in a new place or part of town where you have no idea where to go, and you don't want to eat in a shitty place. You know what to expect and if it's something satisfying. Unfortunately, in so many parts of town, we can't find much of anything that isn't a teriyaki or pho joint in some little shopping center.

We want to find good restaurants, and understand that takes a little planning. I like a solid "greasy spoon" local place, as well as a nicer casual restaurant. We really liked the place we ate at for New Year's Eve. But when you're out and about, and you're tired from the retail chaos, dammit, a Cheesecake Factory is OK. You just can't find one.

This is probably the hardest thing about moving to a new place, for us anyway. At this point, I'm pretty comfortable getting around the east side, but I'm not always sure where stuff is. I'm anxious to see what downtown has to offer, if it's not a pain in the ass to get to.

The adventure continues...

Someone broke into Diana's house, stole pipes

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 2, 2010, 9:46 AM | comments: 0

We can't catch a fucking break with these houses. Some assholes broke into Diana's house and dismantled whatever pipes they could get at, presumably for the copper. They ripped out some of the heating ducts to get to it as well. The Realtor found it all this morning with the intention of showing the house for the first time since November. Apparently it's forced entry through the back door.

Needless to say, Diana is extremely upset about it, and who knows if a vacant house insurance policy even covers bizarre theft like this. We'll find out. We certainly don't want to shell out money for shit like this, but what choice do we have? I'm writing a check this week for the repairs to the siding on my house. Putting money into a place 2,400 miles away that you don't live in sucks.

We just can't win with these places. Both have been reduced in price. Diana hasn't lived in hers in two years. And seriously, suggesting that people rent is not a suggestion I want to hear again. We don't want to own the houses, period, let alone get half the mortgage from some assholes who trash the place.

We were a little stir crazy today

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 2, 2010, 1:11 AM | comments: 0

We had genuine plans around getting out of the house today, but it didn't happen. Diana hasn't been sleeping well, and has been generally uncomfortable with the baby, and I just felt crappy in the general sense with a headache. We stayed home.

But as evening set in, my headache went away, and Diana was just plain bored. I eventually managed to engage in a project, but it took most of the day. We're both a little stir crazy and miss Cleveland a little. I think it's probably because staying at home doesn't feel like home. There's a sense that we don't belong, that we're not a part of things out here. As I've said before, I don't feel that way at work usually, because I find it pretty easy to get in and engage, but I feel like I have no social life and don't know what to do with my free time. Now take that and multiply by ten for Diana, who doesn't have a day job to go to.

We'll go out and do something tomorrow, even if it's just a basic movie and eating out. Looks like it'll be too rainy again to bum around Seattle (though seriously, the weather follows no predictable pattern the way it does in the Midwest, with well-defined storms and such). We'd like to knock out some of that touristy stuff, you know?

2009 Review (the business)

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 1, 2010, 6:08 PM | comments: 0

I'll start this year's review with the business stuff, since there's less to think about there.

A year ago, I was kind of dancing around the issue in front of me: My CoasterBuzz audience was disappearing. This trend actually started shortly before I relaunched the site in September 2008. That relaunch didn't fundamentally change the site beyond dropping the site database, which was full of dead links anyway as individual sites had really been disappearing for years, but it did provide an infrastructure that would allow me to alter it and improve it on a more regular basis.

But I never really did. When I got laid-off again after the honeymoon in April, I took a really hard look at the stats and realized that there was a disaster in motion, and I really needed to do something about it. There was no big bang idea that I had, but rather a series of things that would turn it around. I was fairly inspired after the Mix conference in Vegas too, so I tried to embrace what I was learning.

The obvious thing to do was to keep engaging the audience with newsletters, which I think helped traffic, but also really boosted club membership. It was up almost a third by the time the year was done. I also increased the price, which was something that was long overdue, and the reaction was surprisingly non-negative.

As for the tech on the site, some changes were minor, others were bigger. On the minor side, I enabled a way to associate trip reports in the forum with the park database records. The links back and forth between forum topic and database really helped people look around more. I also created a forum that allowed for uploading photos, the "day in pictures" forum, and it created a lot of traffic even if it hasn't been widely used in terms of contribution. The feed has been a pretty big success, as far as I can tell. I don't have a lot of instrumentation around measuring how often it has been downloaded, I can only tell that it gets a lot of action.

By summer, things really started to turn around. The visitor count slowly came back, but the page view count went way, way up. By fall, both numbers were up over 2008 on a same-month basis. The year ended with total pages up, but visitors still slightly down because of the weak start to the year. Overall, I'm extremely satisfied.

What I did not expect was that advertising would really start to come back starting in the fall. I don't know if this could be an economic indicator, but what a turn around from a year ago. On a per page basis, I did pretty well, but the decline in traffic in the early part of the year pretty much made it a flat, no growth situation for the year. With such a strong November and December, the lowest traffic months, that implies a really positive future.

PointBuzz was pretty much exactly the same as the previous year. Traffic there is pretty simple to predict. When Cedar Point builds something new, we get slammed. It'll be interesting to see if a water ride will generate the kind of interest that a new coaster would.

Strictly from a financial view, meeting the same bottom line as last year is something of a miracle. As expected, I replaced my laptop, but then I ended the year by selling my Mac Pro and buying the 27" iMac, which fortunately only required a net $400 to buy. It's crazy to think that a computer can rock it for three years now, compared to the old days where you'd be perpetually upgrading. It's also crazy that I could get so money for a used computer.

I also bought the Canon 7D, and it has completely changed the way I look at video, because I look at it now more like film. All of the video stuff certainly adds flavor to the sites, but it's not really a source of increased revenue really. And that's OK.

My 2010 goals include making MouseZoom a reality. Beyond that, maintaining the status quo is fine since I have no idea what impact the new lad will have. I think I'll be able to keep big purchases under control, though accessorizing the 7D for video I'm sure will happen. I also need to get the business back out of debt, since most everything I made was going toward paying my mortgage instead of expenses last year.

Next new year

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 1, 2010, 11:08 AM | comments: 0

One year from today will be 1/1/11, and that will be pretty cool. I'd like to write a check, if it weren't for the fact that I don't write very many checks anymore.